After a great January of great new albums, I was expecting a pretty quiet period up to Easter. How wrong could I be. As always, only a few of this monthâ€™s music recommendations come from anywhere near what you might call the mainstream. But hey thatâ€™s what this column is for, helping you discover some of those rare musical nuggets buried in a miasma of mediocrity.
ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
Sian Alice Group â€“ 59.99
White Rabbits – Fort Nightly
The Sian Alice Group have one of the worst band names ever. But their debut album 59.99 (the time it takes to listen to the record) is anything but dull and predictable. Their music mixes pop melodies with improvisation to create music of epic proportions, not dissimilar to the best of Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine. While, the band claim inspiration from Jeff Millsâ€™ Detroit techno, the soundtracks of Angelo Badalamenti, and the minimalism of Steve Reich. Although London-based, they are signed to a small US label, which may suggest why the British music press have been particularly slow on the uptake (although they did play an NME showcase gig at SXSW recently). You can listen to some of their music here.
If you want to put a bet on the next US indie to break through Arcade Fire-style, then the 10-1 favourites are White Rabbits. Their dÃ©but album has just got its UK release via the label responsible for Coldplay and Keaneâ€™s earliest output. The album garnered rave reviews in the US on itâ€™s release last year, and deservedly so. Opener â€˜Kid On My Shoulderâ€™ bounds alone on a two-note keyboard riff, then grabs you by shoulders and drags you along, as it gallops towards the finale. While â€˜March Of The Camelsâ€™ sounds like some bastard-son offspring of the Specials ‘Ghost Town’.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
The Charlatans – You Cross My Path
Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
Hot Chip â€“ Made In The Dark
You donâ€™t find many artists that make one of their best records at the fourteenth attempt, but thatâ€™s what Nick Cave has just gone and done. He certainly seems rejuvenated after his exploits with his side-project, Grinderman, delivering some of the most primeval and raucous music heâ€™s made since his days in the Birthday Party. Itâ€™s hard to believe, that at 50, Cave can make something so feral and vibrant. It certainly gives hope for those of us who are rapidly closing in on the old half-century.
The Charlatans have not only out-lived most of their Madchester contemporaries, but many of the Brit Pop bands that followed on their coat tails. Ex-Creation recordâ€™s boss Alan McGee now manages the band, and their latest album – You Cross My Path â€“ proves that they may be down (currently without a label), but definitely not out. The album follows the now well-trodden path (did I just say that) of being released as a free download, while the physical CD is available as part of a bundle with the tickets for their upcoming tour. And the good news for all fans, itâ€™s the best Charlatanâ€™s record in quite some years. You can download it for free here.
Once again Goldfrapp, have taken their music off on a totally different tangent. Their fourth album, Seventh Tree, has gone all nu-folk on us, eschewing the glitter dancefloor stomp of their previous album, Supernature. What is it with British acts; as soon as they get close to mainstream success they change direction? Or was it that they simply got sick of Madonna trying to nick their sound. Who knows? This album took some time to reveal itâ€™s charms, but itâ€™s worth sticking with.
The pre-release publicity for the third Hot Chip album suggested that this was going to be a genre-busting classic, but sadly it struggles a bit too hard to live up to expectations. At times Made In The Dark is so wilfully knowing that it becomes plain annoying, with â€˜Bendable Poseableâ€™, being the worst culprit. But when they get it right, as on the opener â€˜Out Of The Pictureâ€™, itâ€™ll have you cutting up the living room rug. As the ever-reliable Pitchfork summed up, “Good record but not a great one”.So thatâ€™s the â€˜bigâ€™ names out of the way. So what other delights have we unearthed for you this month?
The Ruby Suns â€“ Sea Lion
El Guincho â€“ Alegranza
High Places – 03/07 – 09/07
The Ruby Suns are Californian born Ryan McPhun, who moved to New Zealand and found some like-minded friends to make music with. His debut album was a bit too in-debut to Brian Wilson, but this new album broadens our the sound, bringing in world music influences to broaden the musical palate. And this album is all the better for it. The harmonies on ‘Oh Mojave’ are taken not from Pet Sounds, but original Maori chants!
El Gunicho is Pablo DÃaz-Reixa who hails from Barcelona, and his debut album is a hot favourite in Londonâ€™s Rough Trade shop right now. Iâ€™m not sure which genre these world music mash-ups belong in, but it seems to be catching.
eMusic are branching out, launching their own e-label – eMusic Selects – to distribute new music to a wider audience. The pick of the first two releases comes from Mary Pearson and Rob Barber who make up Brooklyn-based duo, High Places. This release collects the band’s work on one release, along with a number of exclusives. The music is a mix of simple, almost childish vocal melodies, with music that nods at everything from Lee Perry, Boardâ€™s Of Canada, and the aforementioned Panda Bear! A fascinating and charming record. All three records would make excellent additions to your iPod playlist this summer, and certainly complement last year’s excellent Perfect Pitch by Panda Bear.
AmpLive – Rainydayz Remixes
Kelley Polar – I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling
AmpLive‘s Rainydayz Remixes, is effectively an 8-track hip hop reworking of Radiohead’s In Rainbow album, featuring raps from the likes of Too $hort, Jurassic 5, and Del the Funky Homosapien. Mark Ronson, proved you can make Radiohead funky with his re-make of ‘Just’ from the Bends album, but this takes their music one step further. Radiohead werenâ€™t involved in the making of the record, but have sanctioned its release as a free download. The highlight is Del the Funky Homosapienâ€™s rap over a stuttering cut-and-spliced mix of ‘Videotape’. You can download it for free here.
Kelley Polarâ€™s second album – I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling - is what might have happened if Scritti Politti had decided to get into House, Disco, and Techno, rather than R&B, Hip Hop and Reggae! This could be this yearâ€™s Matthew Dear, Junior Boys, Hot Chip-type dance crossover record that it’s safe for indie kids and Guardian readers to like. This is the sort of music the Human League could be making right now â€“ with a definite 80s electro-pop feel.
Cath And Phil Tyler â€“ Dumb Supper
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Fleet Foxes â€“Sun Giant EP
Little Fish – Little Fish demo EP
Traditional folk fans seem to have a problem with the nu or freak folk of Devendra Banhart and the Espers. However, Cath and Phil Tylerâ€™s debut album is a bit of a rarity, as it seems to have received praise from both camps. â€˜This raw, lean, authentic and sometimes spooky sounding album could have been recorded on the front porch of a mist-shrouded shack high in the Appalachians in the fiftiesâ€™, claims their label. I think they mean the 1850â€™s.
Bon Iver, or plain old Justin Vernon to his mum, is now signed to 4AD in the UK, and was apparently one of the highlights at this year’s SXSW. This is simple stripped down music that reminds me of Jose Gonnzalez and Mark Kozelek, of Red House Painters/Sun Kill Moon fame. Haunting, yet lovely.
Seattleâ€™s Fleet Foxes on the other hand seem to have come from a time when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ruled the earth. Which is no surprise as they claim to have grown up with the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, Love, Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan. Their harmonies are sheer loveliness, and so is the music, which is incredibly understated and subtle for a five-piece band. Signed to Sub Pop in the US, their debut EP is released on Bella Union in the UK.
Little Fish a little bird tells me could be about to become big, very very big, with one of the worldâ€™s top â€˜songwriters-to-the-starsâ€™ flying in to the UK to check them out for her new label. Juju (female, guitars and vocals) and Nez (male and drums) have yet to release anything other than a four-track demo (available from Music Glue) but is worth every penny of your money. Check out their myspace page for info. Musically they remind me of both Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Theyâ€™ve got a showcase gig coming up in London on the 3rd of April at 229 Great Portland Street. So go check â€˜em out, we’ll hopefully see you down there…