Album Reviews 2018 (January to March)

Another year, another surge of albums to add the world’s collective pool of musical output, but what have that rabble from Overblown been listening to? Here are some of the records we’ve been ruthlessly subjecting ourselves to during 2018’s embryonic months:

ACTORS – It Will Come To You

After releasing several singles and a few EP’s establishing their sound, Canadian quartet ACTORS released their debut full length LP It Will Come To You on Artoffact Records in March. The record is an inventive update of the 1980’s new wave and post punk styles with front man and guitarist Jason Corbett showcasing his knack for writing refreshingly infectious melodies. Each track sounds fantastic with layers of dark buzzing guitars, atmospheric keyboards and instantly memorable choruses built upon a killer foundation of energetic percussion.

This record is meant to be played at high volume in the car at night while you pump your fists on the steering wheel screaming the lyrics into the dark. Highlights like “Slaves” and “L’appel Du Vide” will be favorites right away but the rest of the tracks are equally as strong. “Crystal” offers more of their new wave influence and is a standout track with a more danceable feel. The intro is stripped down with a slowly filtering keyboard rising over a four on the floor beat that will have you moving even before the dueling call and response guitars arrive at the chorus. It Will Come To You is an early indie rock highlight of 2018 and hopefully only the beginning for this Vancouver band.

Jeff Haight

Anenon – Tongue

Anenon, the minimalistic ambient project from saxophone wizard Brian Allen Simon, returned with a raw expressive record Tongue out now on Friends of Friends. With this new collection of songs Brian showcases his ability to blend his chosen instrument with layers of enveloping field recordings, loops and transcendent tones to craft songs that are both accessible and experimental. There are echoes of Steve Reich, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Keith Jerrett on Tongue but this record feels like Brian coming into his own with his style and finding his voice in modern classical music.

Recorded in the quiet solitude of Italy, the songs are meditative and hazy, yet the ambient fog often fades away to reveal elements of humanity that can be missing in this style of music. Especially on ‘Two for C’ and ‘Mansana’ the soprano saxophone playing from Brian is exceptional and the reverberant space he allows for the horn adds to the atmospheric feel. It’s a beautiful collection of songs that will appeal to fans of modern jazz, electronica or classical music.

Jeff Haight

Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us

Joey Burns and John Convertino are as reliable as ever on the Arizona genre-bending veterans’ ninth studio album. Better than reliable really, this is diverse and eclectic, with anthems like album opener ‘End of the World with You’ and ‘Eyes Wide Awake’ standing out, while ‘Flores y Tamales’ sees the band go from Americana to Mexicana.

It’s unlikely you’ll like every song on this album, but at the same time, you’d be hard pushed not to find anything on it that pricked your ears. Lend this one your time.

John Murray

David Byrne – American Utopia

American Utopia is the Scottish-American’s first solo release in 14 years, and it’s a treat… in parts. Throughout the album, you hear Byrne at his finest; quirky, zany, challenging and boasting some impressively wicked guitar outbursts. The lead single from the album, ‘Everybody’s Coming to My House’ (made with longtime foil Brian Eno) is a proper jam and Byrne at his best with art-horns and canny drum beats.

On the record, ‘Every Day Is a Miracle’, by contrast, the album might just tip-toe beyond quirky for my liking, with Byrne explaining that “the pope don’t mean shit to a dog and the kiss of a chicken is hot.” Maybe it’s me, but is he not coming across as a stoned teenager talking gibberish with his friends with lyrics like these? It’s clear that he has taken risks with this album and fully immersed himself within the record, the fact he did not hire a single woman, on a project that includes collaborations with some two dozen musicians and producers, is another topic entirely, but we won’t get into that here. Overall, I liked the album. I’ve listened to it a lot now. Byrne is one of pop’s most refreshing characters and songwriters, and if the new album ensures we will see him touring our towns again, I for one am a happier individual.

Ryan Ferguson

Dream Wife – Dream Wife

There’s a real skill to writing music with edge, but at the same time giving it a poppy and melodic twist complete with singalong choruses. Overdo it and it becomes cheesy, but hit that sweet spot, and it’s about the most all-round enjoyable type of music there.

I also love it when a band is confident enough to start their debut album with a lyric as bold and direct as a shriek of “Let’s make out! Are you too shy?” Dream Wife’s Icelandic frontwoman Rakel Mjöll almost makes me think (as unlikely a comparison as this may sound) of a young, female Mark E. Smith, with her stage presence confrontational yet disengaged, and her vocals often more spoken than sung. Sounds like ‘Fire’ could be massive if enough people hear them, and I’m torn as to whether I really want them to.

John Murray

Hookworms – Microshift

Easily the most radio-friendly release to date from the Yorkshire neo-psychedelia merchants. It really doesn’t take that much of a leap of the imagination to think of tracks like ‘Static’ and ‘Ullswater’ being played on your local FM radio station, even allowing for the latter’s seven-minute length and 9/8 time signature.

There’s little of the drone rock that formed the backbone of 2014’s The Hum, and krautrock now seems to be winning the battle over psychedelia. Like fellow Leeds band Eagulls did with their last album Ullages, Hookworms have portrayed a different direction here and pulled it off very nicely. This album sees them at a crossroads, but an exciting one.

John Murray

The Lovely Eggs – This is Eggland

With song titles like ‘Dickhead’ and ‘Would You Fuck’ I don’t think it’s hard to see why This is Eggland is one of my top albums of 2018 so far! I have been a huge fan for a couple of years and this album for sure has some of their most solid work on it. Produced by Dave Fridmann it has a sonic edge that seems to amplify The Eggs’ sound! It swirls through all the tracks with a psychedelic punk fuzz of energy! ‘I Shouldn’t Have Said That’ also speaks to me as I often have this thought at some point each day and if you are having a day where you feel you need to give yourself a shake or the world around you, blast this and find that it will share that feeling with you and leave you at the other side of it like you’ve just done some primal scream therapy!

Leona Irvine

Ought – Room Inside the World

A long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Sun Coming Down, and Canadian four-piece Ought pull off their third album with artiness and aplomb.

Tim Darcy’s distinctive vocals remain the main thing that hits you – crooned, warbly and frequently out of key, but bringing real character and tenderness to the music. The closest comparison I can think of is Robert Smith, and a resemblance to The Cure continues on ‘These 3 Things’ (bass like ‘A Forest’, keyboards like ‘Lovesong’), but overall this is a band like nobody else. Ought effortlessly switch from polished to raw, often within the same song. This is best illustrated by the superb ‘Take Everything’, where an almost waltzable verse transforms into a gritty, industrial chorus.

John Murray

Preoccupations – New Material

Following their much-publicised name change a couple of years back, Preoccupations are a band quickly regaining their identity. Their excellent self-titled 2016 album helped and now they bring us a record that, thanks to its greater variety, I would rank as even better.

Fast pace and backing vocals make opening track ‘Espionage’ notably different to anything on the last record, and the industrial nature of tracks like ‘Antidote’ and ‘Doubt’ (the latter reminding me of Bauhaus) is a welcome addition. Personal favourites are the spiralling guitars of ‘Disarray’ and the scrabbly ‘Solace’, both with peculiar time signatures I could only have a vague guess at.

With Interpol a little dull these days, New Material cements Preoccupations’ current status as the best of their ilk.

John Murray

Shame – Songs of Praise

Snarling, dirty and physically throbbing with energy, this record has had a similar effect on me to IDLES’ Brutalism this time last year. It feels like just what we need – a dose of scything post-punk from a boisterous bunch of British upstarts with an awareness they’ve no right to at their tender ages.

Like IDLES, they’re not afraid to tackle serious themes in controversial and somewhat ambiguous ways (see the allusions to racism and homophobia on ‘Tasteless’) and vocalist Charlie Steen even sounds a little Liam Gallagher-esque on moving last track ‘Angie’.

With ‘Concrete’ and ‘One Rizla’ already classics to me, we need to believe the hype about Shame.

John Murray

Shopping – The Official Body

What do you get if you take straightforward post-punk and get highly talented musicians to perform it? Confidence, swagger, creativity, proficiency and a feeling that the trio can do this in their sleep, and why shouldn’t they? Throw in plenty of pedigree in the production ranks courtesy of Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins, and you’ve got a pretty dazzling third album.

Shopping are at their best at their bounciest, with ‘My Dad’s a Dancer’ being a standout thanks in no small part to the vocal trade-off between Rachel Aggs and the two male backing vocalists. With a touch of electronics coming in on ‘Wild Child’ and an elements of funk on opener ‘The Hype’, it’s half an hour of finesse and fun.

John Murray

Soccer Mommy – Clean

Bedroom pop is always very nice. The problem is it’s often not much more than that. Luckily, Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, succeeds in giving the genre real substance on her much-anticipated debut.

All the coolness, chilled vibes and lo-fi acoustics are there, but it’s not twee or simplistic. Whether it’s the brooding, Kim Deal-esque bass on the likes of ‘Skin’, the heartfelt lyrics of ‘Last Girl’ or the dark undertones of ‘Your Dog’, there’s a depth here that you don’t often get with this type of music.

I love that you can hear minor flaws like a change in recording volume during opener ‘Still Clean’, and her fingers squeaking along the fretboard on ‘Blossom’. Warts and all. Superb stuff!

John Murray