Pure X's debut album Pleasure was my favourite album of 2011. Though it’s a loud and noisy album featuring an overwhelming abundance of reverb, it is concurrently underpinned the whole way through by a pop sensibility. Pleasure wasn’t just a record that you could listen to once and know all of its secrets, it required the listener to invest their own time in it in order to fully appreciate all that it had to offer.
Last year’s underwhelming Crawling Up the Stairs alluded to a more accessible Pure X (‘Things in My Head’) though the record often felt uncomfortable; hung up on its backstory and with the band not entirely confident of the musical direction that they were heading.
With the release of their major label debut, Angel, in just three weeks, Pure X have fundamentally redeemed themselves, presenting what is so far one of the strongest albums of the year. No longer only hinted at, Angel is a pop record through and through with the theme of love embedded from start to finish. What Pure X have managed to produce on this record is a staggering accomplishment. The opening bars of ‘Starlight’ set the tone for the rest of the album as their unique blend of shimmering rock begins to open up around you. The songs are always slow and the bass is constantly wandering as, vocalist and guitarist, Nate Grace utilises his falsetto to gently express himself. The addition of a second guitarist has only expanded their sound which seems to draw from the skewed, left of centre, pop that Unknown Mortal Orchestra produced on II .
While there are many high points on the album (would I be allowed to say that every song is a high point?), ‘Heaven’ is the standout track. Combining their trademark delicate groove with soft, feel good lyrics. Grace earnestly sings “Heaven is a feeling, one that I can believe in” and his sincerity makes you believe it too.
The best record I’ve heard this year, Angel is out 1/4 on Fat Possum
"If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me, what’s the point of doing anything?" asks Annie Clark on her latest single under the St. Vincent moniker. Having had numerous discussions with my own friends regarding the topic of self-advertisement, including how people will avoid doing things that can’t be turned into a status, tweet or gram, it is nice to see Clark revisit this idea after previously writing about it on her collaboration with David Byrne.
Horn blasts and reserved percussion lay the track’s foundation before the above chorus sweeps in revealing lush synthesisers and a guitar line that echos Clark’s powerful voice. While St. Vincent pushes new boundaries for Clark, it shows that she is very much aware of where her own strengths lie. Her music evolves from album to album and yet she never falls victim to over reaching like so many other artists do. Though there is far less of her skilled guitar work on display in ‘Digital Witness’, St. Vincent still retains the sound that is uniquely her own.
St. Vincent’s self titled fourth album, St. Vincent is out now through Republic Records.
Having been in Central America for the last two months it’s great to come home and have such a long list of albums to work my way through. Before I get into all of the new stuff (and there is a lot), I thought I’d quickly post my 15 most listened to songs. They got me through some long bus rides; Listen to ‘Part Past Part Fiction’ by The Chills up above.
It’s not often that I find myself actively taking notice of a song’s lyrics. I rarely pay any real attention to what is being sung, instead having them typically serve simply as something catchy for me to sing along to as I go about my day. I could easily rattle of the lyrics to hundreds of songs though I’d be hard pressed to actually tell you what any are about. “Split” however, the title track off of Melbourne powerhouse The Ocean Party's most recent record, is something different.
With so many great songwriters in the band (its members additionally head up Velcro, Snowy Nasdaq, Pencil and Ciggie Witch) it’s interesting that this track is the very first song written for The Ocean Party by drummer Zac Denton. Weaving his vocals between the laid back guitar lines and his own relaxed drumming, Denton manages to sum up the universal feeling experienced by every young person as they undertake the transition into adulthood. Earnestly singing, “I’m torn between what I want and, what I have to do…I’m split”, Denton never comes across as anything less than sincere.
It’s easy to see why they are often compared to bands such as Real Estate though there is more to them than just their laid back, relaxed vibe. With a turn of phrase akin to an early Stephen Malkmus and an attuned knowledge of song structure, The Ocean Party are definitely a band that everyone should be watching.
My favourite Australian release of 2013, Split is out now on Spunk Records.
My first introduction to Western Massachusetts punk band Potty Mouth, was through a review by Michael of Awkward Sound (now Recommended Listen). In it, he describes their intimidating presence at one of their shows which resulted in him leaving early before anyone took to the stage.
While many reviews have been quick to file Potty Mouth under the Riot Grrrl banner, comparing them to bands such as Bikini Kill and L7, a lack of political motivation on their behalf means that this is mostly due to their gender and not their music. Explosive guitars and powerful melodies result in Hell Bent being one of the most consistent and well formed debut albums released this year.
'Damage', the album's first single, is a raw and energetic track that displays Potty Mouth at their 90’s best. Featuring fuzzed guitars, gritty vocals and propelling drumming, it’s the type of track that’s upbeat enough to appeal to the casual listener while at the same time maintaining its aggression in the songs undercurrents with vocalist Abby Weems asking “How real were you? Cos I’m finding out the truth”.
More melodic than most punk but heavier than your average indie rock band, Hell Bent is out now on Old Flame Records.
Having to replace your band’s frontman is a notoriously difficult task and so when Daniel Blumberg’s departure from Yuck was announced, I assumed the end of the band was approaching. It’s an understatement, then, to say that I was surprised to hear the announcement of Glow & Behold, Yuck's follow up to their hugely successful self-titled album.
'Middle Sea', my first taste of the upcoming record, floored me. Despite the turmoil that has been going on behind the scenes, the UK indie rockers have managed to write what is probably one of their best songs yet. Featuring the same thick distorted guitars and catchy melodies that they drew upon on their debut album, 'Middle Sea' shows Yuck soldiering on as if nothing has changed. With guitarist Max Bloom now covering vocal duties, it seems like the band can only go from strength to strength.
Not just a turning point for the band, ‘Middle Sea’ represents a significant moment for Bloom personally. Having always been in a supporting role to Blumberg’s lead (he played guitar in Blumberg’s first notable band Cajun Dance Partyas well), Bloom appears to have relished the opportunity provided to him, using it to prove his capability to carrying Yuck forward.
Following the release of the underwhelming Hebronix album, I’m hoping Blumberg isn’t regretting his decision to leave Yuck behind. Glow & Behold is out 30/9 on Fat Possum/Pharmacy and could easily be one of the best surprises of 2013.
Currently obsessing over both this song and album so hard. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia (like so many other greatbands) Mood Rings create this strange combination of murky psychedelic dream-pop where catchy guitar lines speak more for them than any chorus could.
Initially displaying some serious Interpol vibes with its complex bass line and shifting drumbeat, ‘Pathos y Lagrimas’ soon settles into its own as it takes on a more Ariel Pink / Hooray for Earth feel, featuring hushed vocals and intermittent guitar play. While lyrics such as ”I miss you the best” along with the refrain “You never, ever, ever cared” appear to describe the ending of a relationship, the instrumentation hides any feelings of sadness, instead opening the song up with a powerful sprawling guitar line that you wish would just repeat forever.
My favourite release of the year so far, VPI Harmony is out now on Mexican Summer.
Washed Out's debut album, Within and Without, saw chillwave mainstay, Ernest Greene, fully realise the sound that he had pioneered on his critically acclaimed EP Life of Leisure. Though some claimed it was repetitive and pallid, Within and Without had enough substance to successfully silence those that claimed the genre was just a passing fad.
Since chillwave’s initial peak in 2010, Greene’s most notable contemporaries have diverged into other styles, with Neon Indian now creating futuristic synth-pop and Toro y Moi lending his hand at dance-oriented R&B. Interestingly, ‘Don’t Give Up’, the second single off of Greene’s upcoming sophomore record Paracosm, sees Greene maintaining his focus as he continues to mine at the heart of chillwave with exceptional results.
Initially, ‘Don’t Give Up’ could be mistaken for a prime cut from Within and Without, though this would not be giving Greene the credit he is due. As the song develops, it soon becomes clear that ‘Don’t Give Up’ expands well beyond anything previously released under the Washed Out moniker.
Exploring both textures and melody, this new single from Washed Out reveals that Greene has spent his downtime focused on enhancing his music in every way possible. While the track remains awash in the reverb that typifies the genre, the song is noticeably crisp thanks to the detailed mixing and mastering that has taken place.
Featuring an absolute bumper chorus, I’m looking forward to this soundtracking my summer. Paracosm is out August 13 on Sub Pop.
I’ve been enjoying ‘Painted Indian’ for the last couple of weeks but have been so caught up with life that I haven’t had a chance to write about it. Brooklyn goth-pop band Minks released their debut album By the Hedge in 2011 to much acclaim. Though I was already aware of the band through their earlier 7“‘s, one of which featured the incredible summer-bummer ‘Funeral Song’, I never actually made it around to listening to their debut effort.
Two years down the track and Minks are back on my radar in a more straight forward capacity. The opening chords of ‘Painted Indian’ reference their previous work, before the song changes direction, jumping into an incredibly catchy chorus that (and I apologise for this next bit, though teenage me would have loved it) weirdly gives off a Tokyo Police Club / Born Ruffians mid-2000s vibe.
No longer indulging in the goth-pop that initially brought them popularity, though still fitting comfortably within the Captured Tracks roster, ‘Painted Indian’ is a tightly focused pop song that now only hints at, rather than draws directly from, luminaries like The Cure.
Minks second album Tides End isdue out August 6 on Captured Tracks. I look forward to seeing if this change runs throughout the album or is confined to this one song.
Obvious Disclaimer: I don’t listen to DJ’s / mashup / dance music. A lot of your typical ‘electronic’ music just does not appeal to me. I have no interest in that scene (i.e. I would choose a dive bar over a club any day) or the monotonous and overly repetitive 4/4 bass beats that accompany it.
One electronic musician that I do listen to though is Pictureplane. Since releasing his fantastic future-pop LP Thee Physical in 2011, bar a remix LP that was released the same year, all has been quite from Travis Egedy, the man behind the Pictureplane moniker.
'Pure War' marks Egedy's return and while it is not as immediate as anything off of Thee Physical any new output from him is warmly welcomed. Released as part of the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game soundtrack (the track makes much more sense in this context), ‘Pure War’ introduces itself with an intimidating heartbeat-style sound and numerous attacking synths that are eventually joined by a thick distorted bass line. It’s great to once again hear Egedy’s voice, and I for one am hoping that this is a sign that we will have some more new Pictureplane material coming in the near future
The Injustice: Gods Among Us soundtrack is out now.
It’s been a long wait, but LA duo Io Echo's debut album Ministry of Love has proven to be well worth it. Mixing eerie dark-wave with an increasingly popular gothic style, Io Echo show a clear understanding of current trends leading Ministry of Love to tick all of the right boxes for 2013.
The title track is both powerful and anthemic, nodding its head to The Big Pink with whom guitarist Leopold Ross played bass for during their A Brief History of Love tour. Heavy instrumental layering provides an appropriate foundation for the seemingly epic choruses that Io Echo's songs inevitably build up to, while Ioanna Gika's haunting vocals, reminiscent of Zola Jesus, remain present and powerful even when surrounded by crushing guitars and splashes of electronics.
With a much talked about goth aesthetic, it would be easy for this duo to allow their visual appeal to take precedence over their music. While Ministry of Love does play up to current trends, Io Echo have created a strong set of songs through which their imagery runs as an undertone.
The first single off of Weekend's upcoming album Jinx has them continuing down a familiar path. After releasing their debut, Sports, in 2010, a brilliant mix of noisy fuzz and pop hooks, and following it up a year later with their more refined, yet equally great, Red EP, ‘Mirror’ continues to clean up their sound while cementing their place as one of the best post-punk/rock bands going around.
Though no longer as overwhelmingly noisy as they used to be, ‘Mirror’ shows Weekend experimenting with song structure and style, creating a more contained version of their previous work. Where walls of guitars and noise would at times threaten to derail certain parts of Sports, it seems that Weekend now better understand how different sounds work within the scheme of an entire song. Knowing where their strengths lie, they have retained the core of what made them great (unbridled guitars and a driving rhythm section) as they strive to produce a more complete and coherent sound.
Easily the best ‘Weekend’ named band, I’ll be glad when I no longer have to explain in conversation that I’m not talking about the R&B The Weeknd (that shit sucks).
'Mirror' is a promising glimpse of what is looking to be an excellent album. Jinx is out July 23rd via Slumberland Records.
Wavvves was the last Wavves album that I really loved. While I was able to enjoy the majority of King of the Beach, I could never really work past the feeling that I was listening to a modern-day Blink 182. Wavves had changed from abrasive lo-fi ‘slacker’ rock into a watered down version of itself in order to be more ‘bro-friendly’ and it was something that I was going to have to get used to.
Since King of the Beach every new Wavves release has been met with feelings of apprehension and the question of just how complete will the crossover from Nathan Williams to Mark Hoppus be this time?
Credit where credit is due, Williams can write a damn catchy song and ’Sail to the Sun’ is a great album opener. Once the xylophone intro is out of the way, ‘Sail to the Sun’ essential boils down to what Williams does best, loud guitars with songs functioning purely as a means to deliver big choruses.
As a whole, the album is fine but it’s a long step from the Wavves that I love. I don’t expect musicians to make the same album again and again (as Williams’ once said in an interview: “I don’t want to be 50 and singing about skateboards and pizza”) but I feel that some of his initial appeal has been lost in the newer records. If you have the time, it’s definitely worth checking out the oft-overlooked non album track ‘Cool Jumper' that was released back in 2009, it features Zach Hill (Death Grips, Hella) on drums and just rips!
With his fifth album Wakin on a Pretty Daze due out in just under two weeks, Kurt Vile has released a second track, titled ‘Never Run Away’, demonstrating his penchant for laid-back summertime folk-rock.
Displaying the same strong lyrical content and guitar proficiency that he brought to 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, ‘Never Run Away’ brings with it a level of familiarity that fans of his previous work will welcome. This time though, with a noticeably more ‘complete’ and bolstered sound than before. His trademark drawl which was used to great effect on ‘Puppet to the Man' is again featured alongside a well crafted chorus and even a… Rihanna-esque "eh eh eh" post-chorus
Definitely something to look forward to, Wakin on a Pretty Daze is out April 9 on Matador Records
2013 has been in a bit of a dry spell recently as far as I’m concerned and so I’ve decided to take a quick look back at Parquet Courts’ debut album Light Up Gold. Originally released on their own Dull Tools label in August of last year, it has now been re-released by What’s Your Rupture?, coming to my attention after they successfully bulldozed their way through both Festival Nrmal and a string of SXSW dates.
At times drawing from their stronger punk influences, while at others allowing subtle touches of country to seep through, this is in-your-face indie rock at it’s finest. Parquet Courts display a style and energy similar to what Eddy Current Suppression Ring brought to Primary Colours, packing Light Up Gold from start to finish with a series of high-powered riffs. While Light Up Gold does lean on the more aggressive side of indie rock, it’s catchy enough to not turn off the casual listener, finding itself covering similar ground to what Pavement did in the louder moments of Slanted and Enchanted.
'Borrowed Time' is the best representation of the album; overdriven guitars, exerted vocals and pounding drums all fashioned into a catchy two and a half minute indie rock gem. At 15 tracks in 33 minutes, this album barrels along with barely a break between songs. Light Up Gold is out now. You can get it here.
Girls Names' second album, The New Life, is pretty much the only thing I’ve been listening to over the past two weeks. A dark and, at times, morose look at the world of post-punk; this four-piece from Belfast have excelled, creating what is currently my favourite album of the year so far.
Using the formula outlined in 2011’s Dead To Meas a framework, The New Life proves itself to be a stronger and far more durable album than its predecessor. This time around sees guitarist and chief songwriter, Cathal Culley, taking a more varied approach to his band’s music. ‘Pittura Infamante’ an intense and brooding song, is broken up as a bright guitar emerges from nowhere before once again dropping away to leave only a pulsing bass line while ‘A Second Skin’ purveys a sense of threat as its clever guitar/bass combination plays throughout.
While every track on the album has earned its place, it is the second single that really shines. From the start ‘Hypnotic Regression’ is ambitious. Echoing guitars are quickly joined by drums and bass, gripping you until the guitars re-emerge as a force. Faster and with a strong sense of purpose, it marks one of the best tracks on an already great album.
Cold Cave's new two-track EP (which is technically a 7” unless it turns out that the b-side is at least 11 minutes long), is a great return for the band whose last release was their somewhat overlooked sophomore album Cherish the Light Years. Immediately hitting you with racing drums, Cold Cave founder, Wes Eisold, pulls back the usual wave of synths instead choosing to flood the track with heavily distorted guitars. While Cold Cave is an outlet for Eisold to experiment within the dark-wave genre, this track definitely touches on his hardcore past as it moves towards it’s frenetic ending.
I have a strange relationship with Beach Fossils. When they first appeared back in 2009, they were one of only a handful of bands involved in a very specific style of summer-infused indie rock. Jump forward to 2013 and a quick search will pull up any number of bands doing similar, and better, things. While I consider Beach Fossils to be an excellent band, their only release that has ever really held my attention was their 2011 EP What A Pleasure.
What A Pleasure brought about a noticeable shift in Beach Fossils' sound. Allowing John Peña (bass, now Heavenly Beat) and Zachary Cole-Smith (guitar, now DIIV) to influence the songwriting, and pairing up with Jack Tatum (Wild Nothing) for ‘Out in the Way’, introduced an urgent pulsing quality to their previously nonchalant style.
Since then, both Peña and ZCS have departed from the band to focus on their own projects. This has left Dustin Payseur in a difficult position and has made it glaringly obvious as to how much he depended upon the input from those past members. Stating that this would be ‘a harder and faster album’, I was under the impression that he would be following the direction that DIIV took in the hopes of jumping onto some of their success. Instead Clash the Truth presents a more direct sound than before, crafted around a forced songwriting style.
Clash the Truth isn’t a bad album and Payseur does know how to write good songs, my main problem with it is the mostly lacklustre first half. Opening track ‘Clash the Truth’ is one of the low points of the album, featuring unimaginative guitars entwined with a particularly embarrassing spoken word section. Cutting the three unnecessary instrumental tracks (not saying that all instrumental tracks are unnecessary, just that the three on Clash the Truth serve no purpose acting purely as padding) and removing the painfully dull ‘Sleep Apnea’ would have made Clash the Truth a far stronger record, tightening its focus.
New single ‘Careless’ and the meaner and more aggressive version of the previously released ‘Shallow’ are perfect examples of where Dustin gets it right. Hard and fast tracks, filled with an abundance of energy and buzzing guitars, these make up some of the best songs on the album showcasing Payseur’s post-punk influences.
I don’t mean to seem too negative, again, this isn’t a ‘bad’ album and there are enough enjoyable tracks that will ensure I return periodically, it’s just that my expectations had been set to such a height. Clash the Truth shows that while Payseur has plenty of good ideas, if his songs are to be truly great he needs to learn how to transform these ideas on his own without relying on the help of others.
Listen to album highlight and closing track ‘Crashed Out’ above. Purchase Clash the Truthhere.
I don’t really understand why, but for some reason I feel a little embarrassed to admit to liking Haim. They are far cooler than another three-sibling band and their music is this pretty great type of catchy R&B-infused indie rock that is subtly reminiscent of Twin Shadow. At the same time however, probably just because it’s quite different to what I normally listen to, I feel a bit lame admitting that I enjoy it.
Surrounded by ever-growing buzz after releasing their debut EP last July, and being named the BBC’s Sound of 2013 at the start of this year, Haim have just announced a follow up EP with the release of the title track ‘Falling’. Built on subtle background guitar work and these repetitive stabbing bass lines, the song later launches into this fully formed Fleetwood Mac style chorus.
Definitely worth checking out, their second EP Falling is to be released April 1st with all likelihood of an album being ready towards the end of the year.
I don’t listen to Pure X's debut Pleasure nearly as often as I should (in 2011 I listed it as my favourite album of the year). Since then though, I haven’t heard anything about them, it seemed as if they had disappeared. Until today.
The first single off of their follow-up album Crawling Up the Stairs has just been released and has me really excited. Dropping the waves of distorted and heavily modulated guitars in favour of a cleaner approach (much like Thee Oh Sees below), Pure X have created something that draws from their underlying Texan/Americana/Easy Rider roots while still maintaining what made Pleasure so excellent.
This album will be a perfect accompaniment to any night time driving. Crawling Up the Stairs is set to be released May 14.
San-Francisco’s most prolific band Ty SegallThee Oh Sees are getting ready to release their seventh album under their current moniker titled, Floating Coffin. Our first glimpse of the new material comes in the form of ‘Minotaur’ which passes over the usual frenetic noise in favour of creating what could only be called.. a garage lullaby. The clashing guitars and propulsive drumming are no longer present, replaced by background harmonies and gentle guitar lines (though still thick with distortion), I think there may even be a violin hidden in there somewhere.
Floating Coffin is out April 16
EDIT: I knew this sounded familiar, 100% sure they closed their Melbourne show with it.
Haunted Hearts - ‘Something That Feels Bad is Something That Feels Good’
Over the weekend I put some time aside to listen to the new 7” by husband/wife duo Haunted Hearts. While it can’t be considered a stretch away from either of their previous musical projects (husband Brandon is a member of Crocodiles while wife Dee Dee is a member of Dum Dum Girls) it has turned out to be my favourite release from either’s catalogue. Side A ‘Something That Feels Bad is Something That Feels Good’ incorporates their usual droning guitars alongside dual vocals and far superior song writing. This thing is cool.
Released on their own Zoo Music label, buy it here.
Melbourne based Cool Drinks released their new single ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ late last year. Specialising in bummed out vocals placed over the top of woozy synths and layered guitars, it’s the steady beat that keeps this track from losing its way. If John Hughes ever makes another “coming of age” film, this would fit perfectly into its soundtrack.
My first introduction to Boomgates came last Thursday as they belted through a great set in support of Thee Oh Sees. I’ve been kind of vaguely aware of them for a while though without actually knowing much about them. Made up of members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Dick Diver, The Twerps, Teen Archer and Trial Kennedy, they form a pretty phenomenal ‘supergroup’ (ugh) of sorts.
Sharing vocal duties, Steph Hughes’ cool demeanour combined with Brendan Huntley’s chaotic presence makes their live shows something to be seen. I haven’t been this entertained by a set in a long time.
Check out their track ‘Layman’s Terms’ above off of their album Double Natural
First post. I feel like I should write about something really important and eventful (say.. My Bloody Valentine’s first album in 21 years). Or maybe I could talk about the awesome shows put on by Woods and Thee Oh Sees last week in Melbourne. Despite these events, I feel it is more appropriate to begin Animal Ghosts with a track from one of my favourite bands my favourite band of all time.
Yep, Pavement are just the best. I was lucky enough to find a 7” of ‘Father to a Sister of a Thought’ for $5 at Pitchfork Festival in 2011. If my house ever burns down, this is what I’ll save.