Song, by Toad

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Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust

CVG_ShrinkDustLPJacket_Working Well this is apparently not his best album by any means – so say my Chad VanGaalen-loving friends at least. Funnily enough, though, this is actually the first of his albums I’ve actually sat down with properly and listened through to and my perspective is probably a bit different from theirs.

I’ve heard the name around for ages, of course, although actually he’s only been releasing albums as long as I’ve been back in Scotland (although that’s probably a far longer time than I care to admit). Even this album has been out for months now, I just got it late because I ordered it with a bunch of other things and rather foolishly selected the ‘ship when everything is ready’ option.

I’ve only listened back to his older stuff very briefly since getting this, and I suppose this does sound a bit smoother and less awkward than some of the earlier recordings. Normally I would complain about this, but I haven’t really had time to listen to the older albums properly so I don’t have that slightly weird allegiance which is so easy to develop to earlier incarnations of someone’s sound.

The only reason I bought this album, actually, is because Meursault did an absolutely brilliant cover of Rabid Bits of Time on their last release, The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, and so when I saw this was coming out I thought fuck it, why not have a go.

And fuck the purists, this is brilliant. I suppose I had no real expectations (apart from a curious half-idea that it might be a bit like Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, which is total balls) so I guess I was listening with a pretty blank slate, which is often quite a hard thing to achieve.

At times this embraces lo-fi singer-songwriter stuff, but there is plenty more to come and go, moving the album around nicely. It can be glum and morose, it can be droney and bit unpleasant, and Leaning on Bells is a raucous, old-fashioned garage rocker. But then some of the most euphoric songs have this gorgeous choral feel in the, erm, well in the choruses, and it allows the record to drift from tense, to introspective, to grumbly, and yet still be able to lift itself into something supremely uplifting and lovely here and there when it wants to.

The fact that the chorus of one of these beautifully uplifting tunes is simply “I’m a monster” is something I’ll just gloss over, I think. Weighted Sin is another song which sounds absolutely gorgeous but tells a tale of rather brutal self-judgment. I know from Rabid Bits of Time not to expect breezy, trivial lyrics, I suppose, and I think I need a bit more time to settle into every song on the album in that sense, but it’s something I will certainly be taking the time to do.

It may take a bit more attention lyrically, but in a musical sense this is far more immediate. Whilst the old fans might find it displeasingly smooth compared to past work (at least, I am guessing that’s what they’re unimpressed with – I can’t think of anything else), for me that made it easier to get into. Hell, there’s even clarinet in the first song, in amongst the disturbed swirling of, well, whatever it is making that noise.

Compared to my thus-far superficial skims through earlier stuff, it doesn’t, I suppose, have that sense of aggravation. I mean, that’s still there, but the music seems fuller and less hesitant and unsure of itself, which perhaps makes this feel a little more purposeful and accessible, but I guess I’ll know more when I go back and listen properly. For now I am perfectly happy getting to know Shrink Dust entirely on its own merits, because it’s a fantastic album. It doesn’t exactly scare you, and it’s not bleak or miserable exactly, but there is plenty of that in there, and the mixture of this stuff and the gentler, more soothing stuff keeps you on your toes throughout.

So, if it’s apparently not his best album, I think I’m going to have some fun finding out which one is!

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Beck – Morning Phase

Beck_Morning_Phase Okay, first things first, despite some initial confusion it turns out I am no more than a very occasional Beck fan. You know what I mean: I kept hearing good things about him, bought one album which I thought was fucking incredible, and then kept buying disappointment after disappointment in the mistaken belief that I was a huge fan. Turns out I’m not.

The album I absolutely love is Mutations. I did from pretty much first listen, and I still do. Midnight Vultures has some decent stuff on it, I like moments here and there on Guero, and I guess Sea Change is almost all excellent. I’ve been told that some of his really early, really rough stuff is absolutely great too, but I’ve never made time to listen to it (One Foot in the Grave and earlier, I think). So, you know, two albums out of fucking loads and loads isn’t particularly good odds, but I do like those two albums an awful lot.

Sea Change is the one which gets referenced a lot when Morning Phase comes up, and I suppose it’s a mostly-valid comparison. The sound is very similar, I suppose, but I am not sure that the feeling I get from the album is all that comparable.

What do I mean by that? Well, as I said, the overall sound is quite similar; pace, instrumentation, vocal delivery, intensity – all that stuff seems pretty similar across the two records. What’s different, though, is the overall emotion which seems to drive the songs themselves. Sea Change is an overwhelmingly sad album. It sounds defeated and heartbroken, and this just doesn’t. It maybe sounds exhausted in a way, or burned out. I dunno. It’s mellow, but it sounds like shit is just fine.

To put it another way, I would listen to Sea Change if I was devastated about something and wanted to lose myself in that feeling. I would listen to this with a glass of wine in the evening when I was having a cuddle on the couch with Mrs. Toad. If you wanted to be unbelievably snide, you could very easily dismiss this as easy listening music for ageing, middle class, ex-hipsters.

Ouch. I know. But then, I really like it. I am, after all, an ageing, middle class, ex-hipster. Or maybe an ageing, middle class, aspiring hipster. This is music which is relaxed and warm. It feels nice. It feels comforting, it’s hummable, it’s like the aforementioned glass of wine in the evening. Or maybe a cup of tea on Sunday afternoon.

That’s about as well as I can do, actually. It sounds like a massive insult, but this album is just enormously pleasant to listen to – not in a dismissably inoffensive way, but in a wonderfully enriching way. And while it’s not quite as compellingly brilliant as Sea Change or Mutations, I think it’s probably my third-favourite Beck album. Until I properly explore that really nasty early stuff of course.

Buy from Amazon.

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Adam Faucett – Blind Water Finds Blind Water

adfaucAdam Faucett is someone who we discovered on Meursault’s March tour of the States, after SXSW. He played with the band at Boone in North Carolina, which sounds hugely unpromising, but was actually just about the best show of the tour, give or take.

On the bill that night were Adam and his band, and fucking hell they were good. So much beard. Such glaring! They were lovely guys actually, but the sheer volume of facial hair still made them look really intimidating.

I don’t know if you saw Meursault much before their last ever show at the Queen’s Hall last month, or if you’ve seen Neil play solo recently, but if you have then you might well have noticed Day Drinker from this album featuring pretty regularly in his set ever since.

Listening to the album immediately after the show was a bit of a surprise, I have to say. On stage the band were fucking fierce, and Faucett himself was playing a Fender amp which was failing, but in a way which only made everything sound more nasty and awesome. The album is a lot smoother, for starters, but also more dominated by slower, more pensive songs, and that took a little getting used to after such a brilliantly ferile set.

They’re great though, those quieter songs. Not what I was expecting, but really good nevertheless. Day Drinker, for example, is a particularly unflinching tale. Walking Home Late is a brilliant wee song as well: reflective and a little maudlin. Poet Song is another one.

I suppose in some ways this album’s problem is one of it’s greatest triumphs: Melanie, the second song, is such an awesome beast of a swaggering, Southern rock song that you can be fooled into spending the rest of the album waiting for the next one, and it doesn’t really come. I think that’s what happened to me when I first heard the album too. Live, Melanie had produced that moment of ‘holy shit, who the fuck are these guys‘ and I sort of expected that to be the album I heard.

And it’s just not. Faucett is actually an really talented painter of pictures. Melanie is one of those pictures just as much as Walking Home Late, so actually the two songs have way more in common than you would think, despite being musically very different. So I went into this record thinking ‘big, nasty, snarling riffs’ and slowly realised that it’s one to be played with whisky and properly listened to, not one to throw on when you want to bounce around doing air punches.

It’s just come out on vinyl too, and mine just arrived, which is what prompted me to write about it. Seriously, if you’re tempted, just fucking do it!

And here’s Day Drinker. The sound on the video is pretty rotten, but hopefully the song itself still comes across properly:

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Michael Cera – True That

michael I have to confess I am kind of amazed by this album. There is no reason to assume that a famous actor won’t have musical skills of course, but if you’re my age it does remind you rather worryingly of our generation’s attempts to bridge this particular gap. Russell Crowe’s Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts, for example. Or Keanu Reeves’ Dogstar. Or Juliette Lewis and the fucking Licks.

Well this generation has no such worries. Instead they have Ryan Gosling’s fantastic Dead Man’s Bones. Gosling, it must be said, has quite enough going for him as it is so I am not sure it is entirely fair for him to be awesome at music as well, but there’s no denying that he is.

Michael Cera is a little different, of course. Yep he’s a star, but hardly a super-smooth ladies’ man, and funnily enough this album ends up suiting that difference in perceived style pretty much perfectly. It’s eccentric, a little muddled and bumbling at times, but utterly charming and in the end an entirely captivating listen.

I’ve not looked much into whether or not True That is genuine, but the Guardian seem convinced, so I am prepared to both take them at their word and also to not really care if it happens to be the work of someone else after all. It’s still bloody excellent.

Mostly instrumental, and resolutely lo-fi, it sounds almost as if most of it could be improvised, meandering along as if it feels no particular pressure to go anywhere except where its fancy leads, and that might be the crux of the charm of this record. It seems to feel absolutely no pressure to be anything other than what it wants to be.

It seems weird to think of a world-famous movie star as being able to make something as approachable, unaffected and just plain friendly-sounding as this. I would at least have expected it to struggle with self-consciousness, but it doesn’t. I’ve listened to a fuck of a lot of this kind of music, remember, and I am very much used to bands trying to affect either modesty or indifference to mask either cast-iron ambition, crippling insecurity or snobby style-consciousness and I really don’t hear that here at all. It just is what it is.

Which is not to say this album is going to be the next big hipster thing, I don’t think. It’s too odd and self-contained for that, and there aren’t really pop songs, per se. There’s a cover of Blaze Foley’s Clay Pigeons I suppose, and Ruth is really nice, but lots of the album is composed of solo piano gently pottering along, or perhaps accompanied by minimal keyboards or a bit of acoustic guitar. Half the tunes are a minute or so long, some a bit jazzy, others slightly more folky, and while not so many of them have that wide-eyed sense of thrill, exactly, they are absolutely lovely and even the least structured have their place – there’s no filler here.

I don’t really know what he wants to do with this, either. Maybe nothing beyond this simple Bandcamp release. It certainly doesn’t need anything more than that but at the same time, whilst it doesn’t seem like the kind of release which would suit a massive PR campaign, it still seems a bit of a waste for it to just sit there on the internet with no fanfare whatsoever.

Weird, interesting, and surprisingly completely natural. Fine work, sir.

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Deathcats – All Hail Deathcats

deathcats In some ways I feel like a bit of a pillock writing a review of an album you can all stream for free simply by scrolling to the bottom of the page. I mean, it does seem a little redundant doesn’t it.

Still, fuck it, that’s the nature of media in the 21st Century I guess, and I write this blog because I enjoy writing it (yes, still, even after ten years) not because I particularly expect anyone to really read it or care about it. It’s just fun to do.

I love Deathcats, I have to confess. It’s funny when you find a band you like, sometimes you just jump in head-first dribbling about how they are TEH MOST AWESUMEST EVA!! but in this case, as sometimes happens, I thought ‘yeah, oh wait woah steady there, oh hang on no they really are ace’. If you, er, know what I mean.

You’d think that after ten years of writing about music I really would be a bit better at it by now, eh.

But my initial enthusiasm for the band was tempered a little as I tried to figure out exactly what they were all about. Initially I just heard the latest hipster guitar band out of Glasgow, basically. That’s no criticism, I happen to love hipster guitar bands as you well know, but it is still a fairly definite pigeonhole, and one which it turned out they didn’t entirely fit – just enough to be deceptive, though!

Initially I heard nasty, surfy garage rock all drenched in reverb. It was well done, with some absolutely ace tunes and an awesome live show, but the retro mixture informing a lot of these tunes has a slightly different makeup to a lot of the other hipster guitar music I am into, and that is British 90s indie influences. People think of British 90s indie as being mostly Britpop, and I suppose to a large extent it is, but it is most definitely not cool to be a Britpop revivalist.

But in amongst the surf and the typical US indie influences, these guys seem to have absorbed a healthy dose of British indie rock from that period as well. Ian, who helps me run the label, said to them after a gig a year or so ago that they sounded really quite like Ash at times, before hurriedly pointing out that in their early days Ash had done some really good stuff, and he wasn’t trying to criticise them.

I was maybe at my most uncertain about the band at that point, but then they released The Raddest EP a few months ago, and it was absolutely ace. A couple of their most ebullient pop songs and a surfy instrumental jam hinted just a little about where the band were going, and subtle variations of style aside, the EP contained plenty of strands which have come together so well in this album.

As well as Deathcats usual boisterous pop tunes, All Hail Deathcats is actually a really well-assembled album. There are two-minute belters like the awesome Danny Dyer – the kind of thing we know them for already – but then there are sludgey wig-out instrumentals, and the music drifts from surfy tunes to more British-leaning stuff like the album opener Solid. These variations mitigate the fact that the songs are all really short and pretty much all delivered at full throttle, preventing the album sounding a bit samey and making sure it doesn’t wear out your ears.

So it’s a really well-done album, this. And not just musically, but in every sense. Deathcats have never really been embraced by the Scottish musical establishment really, but instead of hopping up and down waiting to be noticed, they’ve just kept right on doing their own stuff and putting it out themselves. This is released on Fuzzkill Records who have also worked with Fruit Tones, Future Glue and CLEAVERS, but I think the label is just basically a pal of the band’s from uni.

So after ploughing their own furrow with a genuine sense of not giving the slightest shit about who else took notice, they’ve now gone all the way and released a really, really good album  as well. And finally, after GoNorth, I had Vic Galloway turning up at the Paws album launch in a Deathcats t-shirt telling me how awesome they were in Inverness, and asking if I had heard of them.  ‘Yes Vic,’ I said, ‘I’ve put them on in Edinburgh twice now. You should come to more of my shows.’

You should all come to more of our shows. They’re awesome. We put on bands like Deathcats.

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Myriam Gendron – Not So Deep as a Well

well I’ve said before that given the absolute ocean of solo acoustic performers, I can find it hard to say what makes one particular performer stand out to me above another.

At the moment the best answer to that question seems to be ‘well, if they release with Mama Bird Recording Co…’ After ending with first Barna Howard and then Vikesh Kapoor in my top albums of the year list in the last couple of years, I would be amazed if this didn’t make it a hat-trick.

Myriam Gendron is a Montréal-based singer-songwriter, and this album is of songs made from the poetry of Dorothy Parker. I’ll admit to knowing pretty much nothing about either, unfortunately, although apparently Gendron has a bit of a track record when it comes to taking poetry and turning it into song.

Musically this may be, I suppose, unadventurous. I can see people who don’t like it just thinking ‘ah here we go again, vocal, guitar, a bit of self-harmonising – yawwwn’ and I suppose that’s inevitable when there’s so much of this stuff out there, but I really think this is special.

I don’t know what it is, particularly. I suppose having someone famous for their verbal skills in charge of the words makes a big difference, but the delivery is absolutely stunning as well. This is what I mean when I say that Angel Olsen should tone it down a bit and have confidence in her voice being great whether or not she accentuates her idiosyncrasies. Gendron is pretty much the embodiment of keeping your delivery straight, disciplined and modest, with confidence that if you have a voice as inherently warm and expressive as this then it will shine through just fine.

I say expressive, but she doesn’t even seem to try too hard to inflect her vocal or fill it with emotion, there is just something beautiful about the tone of her voice, and the calm, lovely delivery. It could have been recorded fifty years ago, this, and it would stand up against some of the most lauded performances from that era – and that was long enough ago that we really only remember the very best.

Given a lot of similarities of pace and arrangement there is a bit of a sense that this album sort of blends into one a little. I’d generally use that as a criticism, but in this case I don’t think so. The instrumental title track prepares you for the album to wind down, The False Friends sounds almost like Kimya Dawson, with just a little of what sounds like fairly improvised percussion lending the tune a bit of lightness and purpose, before Ballade of a Great Weariness descends into melancholy and a vocal which rises and falls so subtly that it has an almost drone-like quality.

So there is variation here, although it is subtle and may take a while to sink in. Fortunately the whole sound of this record is so lovely that repeated listens are still a pleasure whether or not the individual tracks have come into focus yet, and playing it over and over is a pleasure. Instead of being bored by the quantity of acoustic music, I am amazed and impressed that someone can make something so lovely and with so much character with so few tools to work with. Gorgeous.

Pre-order your vinyl here – it’s currently being re-pressed.

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Broken Records – Weights & Pulleys

BR weights Broken Records, like Paws, are my pals, and I have been following their respective careers pretty much since the start, so while I try to not to just blindly lavish them with praise you should also not expect an objective review on these pages. Not that any music reviewing is objective, no matter what the pretensions of the writer, but I thought I should at least flag them up early.

But you know the rules around here, if you’re my pal and I don’t like your record I just won’t review it, so the only reason this is hear is because I think it’s awesome.

Broken Records albums have always intrigued me, in the sense that I’ve always found myself wondering if it would reveal that I had significantly misjudged the character of the band. Listening to a band’s artistic touchstones at least suggests something about who they think they are, even if interpreting them is a bit haphazard.

In the case of their first album, we’d waited so long for it, and in the case of the second the rather extreme reactions to the first one (both from the press and, if I’m honest, from within the band) meant that I was truly intrigued by what I was about to hear.

In this case the three year gap since its predecessor has seen a lot of changes. Band members have come and gone, a record label – and a significant one at that – has come and gone, and the individual members of the band have seen some pretty significant life changes.

Opting for a self-release this time is not perhaps as big a jump as it might seem. I remember the first time I interviewed the band being told that Broken Records had originally been conceived as a sort of collective-cum-label, and I do know that a couple of members of the band also have their own solo projects, so this is something which must have been at least vaguely in the back of someone’s mind since the beginning.

So after a three-year break, who are Broken Records these days, then? Well the jump from album number one to two was pretty significant, but this feels less drastic. They’re a moody indie band now I suppose, in the broadest of terms, embellished with violin, piano and trumpet. Generally though it’s the rhythm section which controls the pace and feel of the songs, although that sounds like a rather redundant statement.

Still, if you listen to it, while there’s not really any shoegaze in the music per se, you can hear washes of what I am going to *cough* elegantly refer to as shoegazily played guitar – all shimmers and textures. It is the mood of the drumming and the density and darkness of these guitar textures which really seem to define the feeling you get from the music more than anything else – such as the light, borderline jauntiness of You’ll Be Lonely (in a Little While), the momentum of second single Winterless Son or the sense of yearning which permeates the gorgeous Toska.

Take a bit of time with this as well, because the first few times I heard this I thought little more than a generally positive ‘yep, this is good’ but on subsequent listens I like it more and more. Subtler parts start to really stand out too, like the rise and fall of the excellent guitar part at the forefront of So Long, So Late. or the touching vocal delivery of the lovely closing tune All Else Can Just Wait.

I suppose if I were to nit-pick I’d say that the choral vocals aren’t always entirely my cup of tea elsewhere on the album, although funnily enough, one of my other favourite moments is the big vocal end of Nothing Doubtful, a song which seems to hark back to earlier times. There are a couple of tracks like I Won’t Leave You in the Dark, I guess, which are decent songs but perhaps not much more than that, but in general this is a really good album with barely a weak spot, made by a band who seem to be on a remarkably even keel considering all the changes over the last couple of years.

They never got as big as people expected them to, and they never went away when people expected them to either, and now when people have stopped expecting anything at all they’ve come out with a fantastic record. You can buy one here, if you like.

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PAWS – Youth Culture Forever

paws_fatcd129_cover Alright, this time, THIS TIME Paws’ album is bound to end up on the Scottish Album of the Year shortlist isn’t it? I mean, come on people, be sensible.

The disparity between the rest of the world’s taste and my own gets me down sometimes, but I think Paws might be the last band I really liked to come out of Scotland and actually achieve something. Their last album was great – joyous (assuming you didn’t listen to the words too closely) and exuberant, and a pretty accurate snapshot of the kind of energy, commitment and pop nous which made them such firm favourites up here, before relentless touring and the assistance of Fatcat Records introduced them to the rest of the world.

Oddly enough, for a band with such strong DIY instincts, their last album ended up sounding relatively polished. It worked just fine, but definitely emphasised the pop side of the band. This album is self-produced – a relatively bold decision, I suppose, for a fairly young band – and I have to confess I far prefer the sound. It’s denser and nastier and by the time the absolutely fucking awesome cello kicked in halfway through Alone I was pretty much punching the air with delight. In fact the whole van (I listened for the first time when on tour with one of our bands) pretty much all exchanged that ‘holy fuck, that is nasty‘ look in unison. But in a good way. A very good way.

As ‘difficult second albums’ go, in fact, this whole record pretty much laughs that whole cliché off as if the phrase had never been coined in the first place. Rather than difficult, this sounds like a band who have really worked out how they want to sound and gone about making a record of exactly that.

Oddly enough, though, I think that for all this is a better album than its predecessor Cokefloat, it may actually be a little less consistent. Tunes like Someone New and Give Up might be a bit lyrically obvious for my liking, and the trademark Paws arpeggiated chorus (whatever the technical term is) is perhaps a little too strong as well. That might actually be what makes these two of the standout pop songs on the album, but in personal terms they are possibly my least favourite.

To balance that, of course, there are some of the best songs Paws have written, not least the absolutely fantastic 1-2 which starts the album.That glee I experienced when I first heard the cello in Alone was matched when I heard Erreur Humaine as well. I’ve said it about Paws before, but it sounds quite a bit like the unfairly unremembered Marcy Playground. It’s followed by Tongues, a tune which is also relatively gentle by Paws standards, and between them they may not indicate revolution, but they definitely make it pretty clear that this is a band developing from their early material and pushing on into new territory.

When a band have a such a knack for sprightly pop tunes I am always keen to see them show that they can do more. Not that I underestimate the skill behind a good pop song of course, but if you can blend them with a bit more then you have a band with genuine longevity, and it looks like that’s what we’re seeing emerge here: a band with real depth and range.

The epic wig-out track seems to be becoming quite common amongst bands I like at the moment, and Youth Culture Forever ends with one: the rather excellent War Cry. It’s a proper beast of a song and ends with Paws doing what they do best – absolutely fucking going for it. After an album which brilliantly shows all the other strings they have to their bow, this song almost reads like and big fat fucking ‘I told you so’.

There’s something in the mentality of the band – although maybe just in Phil Taylor actually – which seems to be drawn disproportionately to the doubters and the obstacles of a musician’s life. For someone whose band is a pretty big success by comparison to most of their peers you still get the impression that just participating in the modern music industry is something they don’t really relish. What they do like, though, is making music, and by the time War Cry is over you get the impression that’s what is being said. Fuck all the other stuff, we’re a band, we make records and here is what we can do – stick that in your fucking pipe and smoke it.

After all the feelings of self-doubt and not particularly generous self-analysis expressed in the record it seems suitable to end it with something of a war cry. This is what we do, this is why we love it, and this is why I love them.

Paws play Glasgow tomorrow and the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh on Saturday. If you can’t make it along to either of these shows you can buy your copy of the album here. You won’t regret it.

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Wozniak – Pike’s Peak

I think that when I first wrote about Plastic Animals I said that I didn’t immediately think they were great – in fact I had my reservations about their very earliest recordings – but there was still a kernel of something there which told me to keep an eye on the band, and that they were capable of doing really good things. The fact that we are currently recording the band’s debut album should tell you all you need to know about how that worked out.

Wozniak are a band I think I would describe similarly. Their first recordings, rather than bowling me over immediately, had a glimmer of something I really liked about them, and like Plastic Animals every subsequent encounter has improved upon that impression.  New EP Pike’s Peak (pre-order here) is no exception: after their first single you can hear the band slowly coalescing into something more complete.

Basically this is shoegaze music, I suppose, albeit with touches of krautrock and psychedelia. There’s a lot of good stuff operating in that vague territory these days; for some odd reason shoegaze seems to operate on a much shorter cycle than the standard twenty year recycling towards which the fashion world tends.

Nevertheless, despite their kind efforts to make a radio edit of El Maresme, the song at the top of the page, there isn’t a lot of pop to be had here. A lot of it is heavily dependent on noise, and with music like that I tend to find it best to do something else and let it wash over me, then do the same thing the next day, and then the next. You find out pretty quickly that way if something is sticking in your head or if the whole thing just passes you forgettably by without ever making much of a lasting impression.

The problem with this method from a blogger’s perspective, however, is that it can be really rather hard to articulate what it is about a piece of music which makes it feel like it works. Particularly this kind of music. There aren’t a lot of tunes here, per se, instead you get lots of washes and thrums, and the odd descent into little more than feedback and guitar grumble.

Paper Hat is a little lighter, which is a good thing, because you can’t just hammer away at people like this with no respite, particularly when you consider that the final track Gesamtkunstwerk is basically a four and a half minute buzz (which strangely isn’t crap). Either way, they haven’t given much ground here. Not much quarter is given to the concept of ‘pop music’ and I guess this won’t make them famous, but to me it sounds like a band who started out with some promise, and are getting better every time I hear them. More please.

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Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

burn After the intensity of the frothing over this album, I have to confess I ended up ignoring it for a good while (it’s been out for ages now) so that I could listen to it without my inner misanthrope refusing to like it just because it caused so many other people to touch themselves in bad places and collapse into fits of twee hipster-ecstasy convulsions.

Anyhow, the sound of panting seems to have died down by now, and I’ve been listening to this a fair bit recently. I remember when I first wrote about Angel Olsen I said that there was something in there which I almost loved, but not quite. Her early work maybe took the knowingly retro vocal delivery just a little too far and some of the more intense yelps were unlistenably grating.

Mostly it was beautiful, but just a smidgen too often it went a bit too far, and I haven’t yet been able to listen to an album without reservations. This one, frustratingly, goes too far in the opposite direction. Again, a lot of it is utterly gorgeous. Her voice really is stunning, and when there is little else to vie for your attention it is one of the most compelling things I’ve heard in ages.

This album is far less stripped back than previous work, and recorded with a full rock band at points, but whilst that has indeed sanded off a few of the rough edges in many ways it goes too far. It seems ludicrously simplistic to say it but honestly the slow songs on this album are generally fantastic, but the rock songs are generally pretty dull.

There are tunes on here like Lights Out and the absolutely gorgeous White Fire which are really, really fucking good, but others like High and Wild which are just stodgy. It’s driving me nuts. Somewhere in all this stuff there is a version of Angel Olsen which I am sure I would love just as much as everyone else, but one album is just a bit too wild and the next ends up being just a bit too sensible.

I’ve said this before about people who embrace full bands when it may not always suit them, and I will say it again: what makes Angel Olsen special is Angel herself. Her voice, her style, her delivery… it just all has so much character, and I think the more densely arranged songs on this end up just smothering that and making something special sound commonplace. It’s a good album, and has some stunningly beautiful moments, but all in all I still think it contains too many forgettable songs, and find it a little disappointing overall. So another Angel Olsen frustration, but again, I feel so close to absolutely loving it that it drives me nuts.