As festival season fizzled out, August’s releases gave us no reason to mourn the dying embers of summer. Here are a few albums that made us shut up and listen.
12. Batteries – The Finishing Line
The Finishing Line is the 2nd album in the space of a year from Batteries and it takes everything the debut album did well and pulverises it into a beaten, twisted, chewed-up-and-spat-out punk rock blast. The crunching guitars of opener ‘Fall in Love Club’ set the tone for the entire record. Recent single ‘Pankhurst’ sounds like something you’d find on an AC/DC record before it bursts in to one of the best rock choruses you’ll hear anywhere. Despite the frantic pace there’s hooks and tunes galore. Songs twist and turn inventively, spinning the listener inside out and leaving you breathless but once you’ve crossed The Finishing Line you’ll be rushing right back to the start.
11. Cowtown – Paranormal Romance
What are you doing for the next 25 minutes or so? Well, if having fun comes anywhere near the top of your priority list get involved in Paranormal Romance, the 4th album from Cowtown. This is frenetic Devo style punk at its very best. Tracks like ‘Clock In’ even make getting to work sound cool (I can listen to this album twice on my train journey – fun!). ‘Tweak’ sounds like Sauna Youth on happy pills. Every song is crisp, clever and insanely catchy. It’s hard to stand out amongst all these songs but ‘Buggin’ Out’ towards the end of the album has a frantic rocking riff that’ll make you look like you’ve got a rottweiler snapping at your heels on the dancefloor. Get involved with Paranormal Romance.
10. JEFF the Brotherhood – Zone
Garage-rock siblings JEFF the Brotherhood hit us with their third album in the space of 18 months, and it’s so grungy it hurts. You can almost feel your ears getting clogged up with scuzz and feedback in tracks like ‘Punishment’ and ‘Roachin’, where Alicia Bognann from Bully comes along to provide feisty vocals in contrast to the deep drawl of the Orrall brothers.
JEFF have a clever knack of making periods of nothing in particular, like the three minutes of drum-crashes in ‘You’, seem strangely captivating, while the feedback and almost analog effects behind the guitars bring a wholesome crunch to pretty much every track.
If this album could be any more textured, bits of it would physically crumble out of your speakers. Sweep it up while it’s hot!
9. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim
For the trademark ‘difficult third album’, Irish indie-folker Lisa Hannigan seems to make light work of the whole rigmarole with a beautiful collection of 11 dreamy, carefully crafted songs.
Hannigan’s distinctive sometimes hushed, sometimes husky vocals could brighten up the dullest dirge, but she can’t half write a song. The somewhat morbid pairing of ‘Prayer for the Dying’ and ‘We the Drowned’ are wonderfully accentuated by her dulcet tones. And despite multiple listens to ‘Ora’, I still can’t decide whether it’s haunting, comforting, or a bit of both.
I’m as guilty as anyone of listening to music while doing something else, but this is one to sit down and give your fullest attention to.
8. Mi Mye – The Sympathy Sigh
The trick isn’t in finding music that sounds simply beautiful, that’s too easy. The trick is finding beautiful music that feels like it was written specifically for you. Music that makes you angry, calm, happy, sad or even just content. Music that makes you play it again and again because you know the effect it’ll have on you and the importance of it in your life. The Sympathy Sigh is packed with moments like this. Its gentle indie-folk is soothing but comes with a definite undercurrent of uncertainty. Sometimes that’s in the lyrics, sometimes it’s in the production, the way something seems to be feeding back in the background, almost inaudible but definitely there. This is a record that might mean nothing to you, but to the lucky few it’ll mean everything.
7. Nots – Cosmetic
Possibly not out until September? Let’s not get bogged down by calendar months and celebrate this brilliant follow up to 2014’s We Are Nots. Cosmetic is a biting, caustic screech of a record. Basslines rumble and pulse threateningly over pounding drums throughout while guitars scratch and claw at your speakers. Synths are used with brilliant effect, sometimes slightly lightening the sound but more often than not adding further menace. Listen to the brilliant ‘Inherently Low’ as a perfect example of how effective Nots are. Think somewhere between Pissed Jeans and Perfect Pussy but better than both. Nots self-defined weird punk is absolutely essential.
6. The Parrots – Los Niños Sin Miedo
Being something of a traditionalist, I like it when British bands sound British and American bands sound American, so it’s comforting to me that the Madrid-based Parrots sound so very Spanish.
The likes of Hinds and Mujeres have certainly dragged more attention to the country’s music in recent years, and The Parrots are the latest Iberians to flex their muscles with this uncompromising debut. With their heavily-accented, bratty English/Spanish vocals (it’s not always easy to tell what language they’re singing in) and their clanging, echoing guitars, the trio are in your face like a wasp at a barbecue.
It’s as rough and lo-fi as anything at times, which may put off the more casual listener, but for me it’s acerbic and original, showing The Parrots are no copycats.
5. Posh Lost – Posh Lost
Minneapolis five-piece Posh Lost have undergone a change of name and a fairly drastic change of sound in the space of just four years. The result is a catchy and arresting debut smothered in dark pop and post-punk.
A heavy Joy Division influence runs through the vein of the album, with serious yet wavering vocals reminiscent of Ian Curtis, and the bass often ousting the guitars a la Peter Hook. This is particularly noticeable on ‘Fabricate’, while ‘Limerance’ offers a fine gazy opening, with the cleaner vocals delivered at just the right volume to float above the murky backdrop.
Posh Lost’s inspirations may be obvious, but they’re using them wisely.
4. Russian Circles – Guidance
I’m perhaps admitting to my weakness as a reviewer here, but with instrumental post-metal like this, it’s often hard to say why it’s good or why it isn’t good. There’s no doubt, however, that Guidance is good!
I suppose it’s just all about maintaining the right variation of pitch, pace, volume and acoustics to create some kind of theme or soundscape and not just playing the hell out of the same riff, which Russian Circles never do. At the end of it all, you just want some parts to stick in your mind, like the knackering drumming of ‘Vorel’, the grimy guitars of ‘Mota’, and the slow-burning ‘Overboard’ leading up to the driving, aggressive intro of ‘Calla’.
It works and I can’t stop listening to it. I’m not sure I can explain it any further.
3. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
In the space of little more than a decade, Thee Oh Sees have put out enough material to fill a small record store, with July’s Live in San Francisco album followed by a frankly ridiculous eleventh studio album since 2008. When it’s this good though, why complain?
The big difference on A Weird Exits is that the garage-rockers have added a second drummer, and it’s made tracks like the fast-paced ‘Gelatinous Cube’ even more intricate, and slower ones like ‘Ticklish Warrior’ even more brutal. The latter sums up everything they do well, taking a simple riff and butchering it with disorientating reverb, buzz-sawing guitars and bellowed vocals. Final track The Axis offers something very different, with notes of the Velvet Underground or Suicide audible as John Dwyer almost croons over a four-note keyboard loop that doesn’t so much fade out as fall to pieces.
Belting stuff from a band rapidly achieving cult status.
2. Tobacco – Sweatbox Dynasty
Black Moth Super Rainbow mastermind Tobacco blitzes back onto the scene for his fourth solo album and it’s, well, different. Different to what anyone else is doing, that is, although entirely similar to what he normally does.
If you’re at all familiar with BMSR, or the somewhat reclusive Pennsylvanian behind them, you’ll have good idea what to expect here – tape loops, analog buzzes and whooshes, vocoded singing. It’s often sinister, confusing and slightly frightening, as you never quite know when one bit of ‘music’ is going to jump wildly to another.
Tracks like ‘The Madonna’ and the outro of ‘Let’s Get Worn Away’ feel like channel-hopping between midnight and 6am in the 1980s, jumping from one Open University programme to the next and creating a mishmash of synthesised jingles. Despite this dissonance, Tobacco does somehow manage to maintain subtle rhythm and melody throughout.
Listen, enjoy and be slightly creeped out, but don’t expect to have a clue which track you’re listening to.
1. Album of the Month – Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
In an era when bands from long ago are reforming left right and centre, Dinosaur Jr. are one of the few bands whose reunion seems to have gone down well with everyone. It doesn’t feel like they’re cashing in on an established brand name, but rather putting out material true to their grungy core, yet fresh and modern enough to hook in a new generation of fans.
Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not is the legendary trio’s fourth and arguably best album since their 2007 comeback. It starts in classic Dinosaur fashion with anthemic singles ‘Goin’ Down’ and ‘Tiny’, before we get to the nitty-gritty of album highlight ‘Be a Part’, where J. Mascis’ unfailingly weary-sounding vocals bring the band’s trademark blend of melancholy and togetherness to the forefront.
‘Lost All Day’, ‘Knocked Around’, are these happy songs or sad songs? Alright, they’re downright miserable songs, but they don’t make me feel miserable. Mascis encaptures that feeling of comfort and solidarity in misery in a way that only Evan Dando can rival.
The material is none the worse for a seemingly more prominent contribution from Lou Barlow, who takes the lead vocals in ‘Love Is’ and the superb closer ‘Left/Right’.
It may be more than 30 years since Dinosaur put out their debut, and it’s fair to say that they’ve never tried to change their formula a great deal, but why should they? It feels like they have years more of this left in them.