Being a critical favourite is an odd spot to occupy within the exalted indiesphere. Your records will garner enough attention to draw punters to your shows but crowds might stand in a state of mass confusion, assuming that the critic knows something they don’t and giving a difficult act the benefit of that doubt.
Previously I have stood before Dirty Projectors contemplating the fuss. I get why they’re lauded; on-point, skittering rhythms, an obvious auteur out front, some otherworldly harmonising. But the ‘difficulty’ that one critic might adore left me cold. I could sense great songs somewhere under the whooping and wailing and wondered why the band and its mercurial leader Dave Longstreth fought so hard to hide them.
Swing Lo Magellan is the moment where the shtick is dropped and songs are allowed to be songs. You can hear a new directness on the single Gun Has No Trigger, or the pastoral title track. The mashed genres and kitchen-sink melodicism remains, but it fits more comfortably. More importantly, there’s a comfortable awareness of the ridiculous skating across the LP. You glimpse it in the first few awkwardly hummed bars of opener Offspring Are Blank, and again in the coughs and tics left on tape. The sweet chastisement of vocalist Amber Coffman on Unto Caeser brings the point home – the band knows that they’re right on the edge of chin-stroking parody and they’re embracing it. This record is fun as a result.
In short, Dirty Projectors seem to have grown into themselves, filled out, learnt how to work the gawky limbs of the previous affectations. They’ve become a significant, perfectly proportioned outfit unlike any other currently working within the margins of pop culture. Critics might mourn the yelps and the frequent excursions into nu-jazz time signature oddities, but let ‘em. Swing Lo Magellan is a funky, lovely winner.
While James Ford and Jas Shaw's preceding album as Simian Mobile Disco, 2009's Temporary Pleasure, offered up their most collaboration-packed collection yet, with the likes of Gruff Rhys, Hot Chip and Beth Ditto making appearances, three years on this third album, Unpatterns, is a considerably different proposition.
Gone are the more overt electro-house hooks of SMD's previous albums in favour of a darker, minimalist collection of predominantly instrumental tracks. Indeed, the sole 'real' vocal collaboration arrives here in the form of Put Your Hands Together, which sees Jamie Lidell's signature falsetto yelp being cut-up and looped into another rhythmic element amidst a sheeny backdrop of tech-house rhythms and proggy electronics. With Unpatterns, SMD seem to be reaching for the same sort of territory populated by the likes of Slam and Underworld – i.e. one that balances a penchant for soaring main room tunes with a more 'underground' sensibility. For the most part, they succeed in conjuring up plenty of dark drama, with opener Waited For You offering up this album's grittiest moment as vaguely Italo synths flit against a relentless backdrop of grinding machine rhythms. Elsewhere, though, there's frequently the sense that the deployment of slightly anodyne vocal loops over throbbing tech-house beats veers more to the 'functional' side of things, to the point where you're practically hankering for a 'proper' just to liven things up. Beautifully crafted, yet slightly dull.
After signaling their intention to cease recording full-length albums back in 2009, this ninth album, Choice Of Weapon, sees heavy rock veterans The Cult soldiering on. 30 years in, they have joined forces in the studio with QOTSA's Chris Goss and the much-maligned Bob Rock, responsible for some of the band's biggest moments.
It's telling that the one album where Ian Astbury and Co. ventured into more contemporary styles (1995's self-titled effort) received the most uneven reception from their fanbase. It's for perhaps this reason that the ten tracks collected here see The Cult focusing on what they do best – delivering meaty rock hooks welded to some of the most unselfconscious cock rock vocals you're likely to hear. It's been interesting to see this sort of approach cycle in and out of trend while The Cult have more or less stayed the same, and given the number of latter day acolytes (The Darkness, Steel Panther) it's actually pretty refreshing to hear the original article. The Wolf sees them more or less directly rewiring Fire Woman's DNA for a thundering stadium-ready flameout, while first single Honey From A Knife swaggers with a QOTSA-meets-Primal Scream tribal drum shuffle as Billy Duffy's guitar solos reach for the sky. There's also the obligatory ‘lighters aloft’ song in the form of OTT weepy ballad Life > Death. Those fearing clichés need not apply.
It's been a while since somebody debuted with a sound you’d attribute to mid-‘90s hip hop from Brooklyn. Simple beats with soul; honest lyrics about the streets, ruminations on politics in the USA and the plight of black Americans; references to the legends of the past and the eternal hip hop hooks; personal, romantic and social reflections. Think Illmatic or Reasonable Doubt.
At 17 years old (sounding as seasoned as they come), Joey Bada$$ has a strong opinion on how hip hop ought to sound and he’s executed it in such a way that modern deviations seem unnecessary. He’s collected beats from producers who evoke that: MF Doom, J Dilla and Statik Selektah among others. They serve him well but the beats aren’t what stick. The greats from that era, in a throng of MCs rapping about the same things, did it in such a way that they shone through.
Joey Bada$$’s hook is he doesn’t want to sling drugs, smoke weed and fuck bitches. He wants a family, a life worth living. He wants to look himself in the eyes with a dignity he’s earned. He can harden up and spit over a rude cut but the tracks that set him apart are the ones on which he doesn’t gun for fame but asks for an out. He becomes a real person in your mind.
There are tracks you could take or leave but it’s usually not Joey’s fault. As a member of ‘Progressive Era’, Bada$$’s mixtape features verses from fellow members. They’re the weakest elements but some of the finest production comes from Bruce Leekix and Vin Skully, also members, so it evens out. This is solid hip hop; you’ve heard it a million times before but it’s still refreshing. Look it up online. It’s a free DL.
They’re calling this new Liars’ album the most immediate and listener-friendly of their career. Which, if you know anything about the band, means absolutely nothing, because, as in all things – especially deliberately abstract garage art funk rock – it’s all subjective and shifting shades of grey. Liars are pathologically terrified of the easy path; they launched aggressive no-wave vamps in the mid-2000s only to follow with disquieting ambient drones before leapfrogging back to neo-funk, all the while burying melodies beneath walls of noise. Not everything worked but Drums Not Dead remains brilliant art rock.
WIXIW eschews most things organic and stakes its claims on the electronic think banks of drifting synths, faraway vocals and monotone, anaesthetic drum beats. The obvious touchstone is Radiohead’s Kid A but Liars aren’t as self-obsessed or portentous so don’t expect anti-capitalist doom or post-millennial tension; this is more personal and vocalist Angus Andrews sounds more confused than agitated: “I wish you would come back to me,” he pleads on the percolating title track.
Whilst not as immediate as suggested, WIXIW takes time to ingratiate itself but when it does it’s glacial, unhinging and beautifully simple, yet not afraid to ramp up the skronk (Flood to Flood) or galloping dour electro-pop (No. 1 Against The Rush). Most probably years ahead of its time, for the here and now it’s equal to the band’s best and one of the most compelling and consistent albums of the year.
While these days they occupy separate cities – Jay Annabel living in Canberra while Brad Stafford resides in Sydney – space-rock/shoegaze duo The Longest Day have built up a steady back catalogue of material, punctuated by the occasional live show. This fourth album, Beyond Your Skies, their first since 2008's Night Falls, represents something of a big step forward for the duo, and clearly illustrates just how far they've come since their early laptop and drone-based days.
From the very outset it's their biggest-sounding collection to date, with the increased emphasis on lyrics and discernible vocals revealing a pop heart drawing equally from the likes of MBV, Codeine and Flying Saucer Attack. It's also a song cycle that makes most sense when listened to right through, with almost all of the duo's facets covered over the ten tracks here. If opener Sleep In Silence evokes Swervedriver's shoegaze crawl as jagged noisy guitars arc against delayed-out vocals and clattering tribal drums, The Tempest offers up almost the polar opposite as gossamer-thin layers of guitar harmonics trail out against melancholic cello and viola arrangements (courtesy of Fourplay's Peter and Tim Hollo). Elsewhere, All Is Quiet offers up this collection's centerpiece, with a ten-minute wander through oceanic guitars and gentle vocal harmonies that's easily the most dreamlike and lulling moment here. Haunting and epic stuff as well as a quantum step forward for The Longest Day.
Well-known for their fondness for dressing in black and white, Swedish garage-punkers The Hives have unleashed a fresh tide of belligerent yells and aggressive licks in Lex Hives. The opener is the essence of punk, with the furious repetition of ‘Come On!’ at a crazy velocity. Simplicity can be a very effective recipe. Go Right Ahead keeps it uncomplicated too, with added howls, yowls and drooping fag-end attitude. The guitars have a gorgeous catchiness that rises in pitch with the invitation to misbehave. This track carries the CD’s quirkiest songwriting: “Our god is a zilla/ our king is a kong.”
The surface messages are anthems to greed, insatiable appetites and a supreme self-confidence: “I’ve got 1000 answers, one’s gotta be right.” However, The Hives are using their high speed music to spread the word that we are living too fast and wanting too much. Pel Almqvist’s pugnacious vocals make every blow count as he blasts out lyrics that resonate with thinly-veiled sarcasm. Only once does the band descend from the punk pedestal to catch some gutter blues in Without the Money, but the effect is less successful than the bulk of the material. But most of it is right on the money, with the hip thrusting vibe of I Want More and the fuzzy raggedness of Take Back The Toys. It’s sure to have the departed members of The Ramones dancing in heaven.
It's always a rather fantastic event when an electronic music figure you thought lost to the mists of time and ever-fickle trends suddenly comes bouncing back out of the ether. UK-based producer Dobie (real name Anthony Campbell) is certainly one of those figures. Back in the nineties, Dobie was one of the most high-profile names in UK hiphop/soul, working on the first two Soul II Soul albums whilst also remixing the likes of Bjork and Tricky. Since then he's only made sporadic appearances, with this impressive four track EP Nothing To Fear showcasing some significant shifts in his sound. Hustle With Speed kicks proceedings open with a distinctly post-Burial woodblock garage rhythm, before grafting the entire undercarriage onto dark robotic synth stabs and horror movie orchestration as sudden rewinds zap back and forth. State Of Flux shifts the pace more towards rattling, pneumatic tech-house as eerie Chicago-tinged synth pads gradually get overtaken by a mass of acid 303 squeals, while Gillet Sq N16 offers a sidestep into funk as rattling Brazilian percussion thunders against elastic fretless bass runs. Finally, E2 Da P offers up the one dubstep-tinged moment here as distorted sub-bass bursts growl beneath a clattering backdrop of steel-edged beats and g-funk centred synths. A more-than-worthy return from Dobie – on the evidence of this EP appetiser, his upcoming album should pack plenty of thrills.