Albums Of The Month – May 2016

albums of the month May 2016

The maybug interbred with the earworm last month and laid all kinds of hybrid larvae in our ears. Here are some of the new albums that locked horns with us during May.

10. Eagulls – Ullages

Fittingly for an album that’s an anagram of the band’s name, Ullages takes the components of what we expect from Eagulls and arranges them differently. George Mitchell’s snarling vocals and dry lyrics remain, but the tempo and volume are dropped considerably. The result is not so much a soundtrack to youthful rebellion, but to walking alone round a dark, damp northern council estate while constantly looking over your shoulder.

Even the biggest fan of the band’s 2014 self-titled debut had to admit that things got a tad samey at times, so it’s commendable that Eagulls have shaken things up a little. In particular, Mitchell’s voice is more decipherable, being less drowned in the hubbub of reverb and echo effects, allowing the listener to pick out what are actually some very smart and gloomy lyrics (“Is our future grey as the slabs on our drives?”) and a constant sense of loneliness and paranoia. Mid-album tracks ‘Velvet, and ‘Psalms’ are worth a special listen for this reason.

I’m torn between missing the drive of the first album, and enjoying the new direction of Ullages. It will be really interesting to see how the Leeds five-piece develop in the coming years.

John Murray

9. EAT FAST – Fenham Dread(Lock) EP

It’s refreshing that in the modern era we know pretty much absolutely nothing about fuzz pop bad EAT FAST. We know for certain that they are a trio and they are based in London. We deduce that the band, or members of the band, are originally from Newcastle as they have two songs named after Byker and one track and their debut EP named after Fenham. Both of which are areas in Newcastle.

Regardless, the trio can afford to let the music speak for itself, as it strikes a wonderful balance between lo-fi, fuzzy and ridiculously melodic and memorable.   The first track I heard was the rather splendid ‘Byker Drone’, which is a nonchalant balancing act between shoegaze, lo-fi and pop. The rest of the EP follows a similar blueprint but is often more rambuntious and is always great craic.

Jamie Coughlan

8. Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial

With this being the tenth album that Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest) has released since 2010, no one could ever accuse him of not being prolific. His latest record, and first of new material for Matador Records, is narrated with the aid of his alter ego/companion ‘Joe’ and chronicles the modern disconnect of the Millennial.

The inclusion of a full band on record for the first time and production from Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees) means that this is the meatiest effort that Toledo has offered so far. However, this never causes the music to descends into empty bluster. On the contrary, Toledo uses the extended palate to explore ideas that he never had the means to before.

Take the 12 minutes of ‘Ballad of the Costa Concordia’. With the ambition of Pink Floyd filtered through the modesty of indie, Toledo draws a comparison between the selfish captain of the doomed cruise liner that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013 and the struggles of a young man on the verge of adulthood (“How was I supposed to steer this ship?” and “How was I supposed to know how to hold a job?”). All the while garage fuzz is offset with grandiose horns, keyboards, reflective instrumental interludes, and a random Dido verse seamlessly plonked into the centre of the whole thing.

It’s a tour de force.

Jamie Coughlan

7. PUP – The Dream is Over

It’s a testament to a band’s propensity to scream and shout that PUP frontman Stefan Babcock has been medically advised not to do it. As such, his bandmates now help him out in the Dropkick Murphys-style group shout-along choruses of the band’s second album, generally proving that four voices can do the job as well as one.

The album’s title comes from a quote from Babcock’s doctor on observing his shredded vocal chords, and the melancholy of opening track ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will’ might make you think you’re in for a sombre, reflective album, but second track ‘DVP’ will soon make you realise that the Canadian punkers actually maintain much of the same energy and volume of their 2014 debut.

Particularly enjoyable are pop-punk loser anthem ‘My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier’ and the furious profanity-loaded ‘Old Wounds’, while ‘Familiar Patterns’ is a middle finger to the obstacles the band now faces. The dream isn’t over for PUP, it’s just been slightly compromised.

John Murray

6. Ealadha – Limit Of Our Sight EP

Cork based post metal trio Ealadha explore a sound on their debut EP Limit Of Our Sight that ranges from the brooding thud of Justin Broadrick’s Jesu to the angular rhythms of Tool to the euphoric catharsis of Sigur Ros. All over just four tracks. The EP focuses on the more reflective and restrained end of the post metal spectrum, never breaking into the chugging aggression of Cult of Luna or ISIS. Instead, the intensity of songs like ‘Hurricanes’ and ‘Dive’ comes from lead songwriter Dom Murphy’s ability to imbue the group’s unusually constructed songs with an abundance of hooks and melody.

Never is the record abstract for the sake of abstraction. The goal here is to marry the impressionistic with the straightforward. While the songs are concise and tightly constructed, they do not adhere to the familiar verse/chorus/verse structure established by tradition rather they build and develop over their running time to crescendos or explosions. The result is an accomplished and promising debut. As Sigur Ros would say, “A good beginning”.

Jamie Coughlan

5. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere

I confess that I haven’t really kept tabs on Thrice since 2003’s The Artist in the Ambulance, which was
one of the go-to albums of the popular screamo scene at the time. It seems I’ve missed quite a lot, as the band’s transition to slow, grungy rock perhaps mirrors the changing tastes of their now aging fan base.

A listen to the Californians’ last two or three albums fills in a lot of the blanks, showing that the band have dabbled in electronic and experimental rock. On this, their ninth album, Thrice are bringing us cleanly produced rock in the vein of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, with opening track ‘Hurricane’ being the highlight of the album. ‘Blood on the Sand’ is about as close as we come to Thrice’s post-hardcore roots, while ‘Black Honey’ is a slow-burner with some arresting imagery.

Some tracks pass me by, with ‘Stay with Me’ sailing too close to a Hollywood soft-rock ballad for my liking, but credit to Thrice for diversifying and keeping their sound fresh.

John Murray

4. White Lung – Paradise

White Lung’s new poppier sound will probably win them more fans than it loses them, and rightly so. After all, they’re not “selling out”, dumbing down or losing their roots – they’re just developing their hook-heavy punk sound. The pace and fury are still there too, with the Paradise clocking in at under half an hour.

Mish Way’s lyrics are at the same time feisty and self-depreciating (“I will give birth in a trailer”), dealing with heavy themes like miscarriage (‘Dead Weight’) and sleep disorder (‘Narcoleptic’). The Canadians struggle to top ‘Hungry’ though, which is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. At first it just sounds like a great tune (which it is), but as Way urges “baby your weak, baby you’re starving” at the diet and appearance-obsessed protagonist of the video, it gains a darker undertone. We’re meant to take these lyrics literally, aren’t we?

John Murray

3. Magic Potion – Pink Gum

Stockholm’s Magic Potion present a twee and laidback fuzzy pop rock on their debut album Pink Gum. Released via the wonderful PNKSLM Recordings, the album is a breezy and effortless trot through ten tracks of bedroom jangle pop joy that are saccharine and terrifically well written. Tracks like ‘Deep Web’ and ‘Booored’ recall summer evenings and generally having plenty of time to do nothing.

Simplicity here is key. In lesser hands the simplicity could become trite, but Magic Potion display an ease with unadorned melody that Evan Dando did with aplomb at his peak. Recorded on an old reel-to-reel, the album possesses a wonderfully warm and nostalgic sound that is both comforting and buoyant. Plus you can get the album on rather exquisite pink vinyl.

Jamie Coughlan

2. Yak – Alas, Salvation

Packing a considerable clout on their full debut are Wolverhampton-based Yak, whose frenetic live displays of psychedelia-tinged alt-rock are captured effortlessly in this nutshell.

Opening track ‘Victorious’ immediately sets a volatile pace, reminiscent of the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, and it’s followed by ‘Hungry Heart’, which proves that you can get a great chorus out of simply shouting “again and again” again and again. Yak are at their best at their most chaotic, with the title track being a glorious minute-long blast of guitar thrashes and sardonic lyrics, but the album is nicely balanced out with bluesy singalongs like ‘DooWah’ and outdoorsy lo-fi gems like ‘Roll Another’, all of which creates a diverse yet focused debut.

Keep an eye on this lot, they could be serious trouble!

John Murray

1. Album of the Month – Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

On Radiohead’s latest opus they look back as much as they look forward. Not necessarily to their own history, but often to before their debut album Pablo Honey. Witness their nods to the drop d folk of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ on ‘The Numbers’, the Bert Jansch inspired guitar riff of ‘Desert Island Disk’ or the Vangelis penned Blade Runner Soundtrack flourishes of ‘Ful Stop’. The Oxford quintet take these ideas from what Young might call the ‘middle of the road’ into atmospheric and mournful territory as is their modus operandi.

Elsewhere, the group explore the piano balladry that they have perfected over the years in the form of ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Glass Eyes’ and ‘True Love Waits’. Only infrequently do they head into the tense and unsettling work that they became known for in the post Kid A era. What is most remarkable is the confidence and sense of purpose they maintain after nearly 30 years in the game. Here’s to 30 more.

Jamie Coughlan

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