Wolf Alice – Visions of a Life...

Stephen Rubbathan gives his verdict on the new album from Wolf Alice.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Skeleton Tree...

Destined to be remembered as his masterpiece – The Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave.

Teenage Fanclub – Here...

Heart-warming stuff from one of the best bands of the nineties, Teenage Fanclub.

DIIV – Is The Is Are...

Brooklyn Dreampop outfit DIIV return with a sprawling, enthralling follow up.

Big Thief – Masterpiece...

If you are going to call your debut album Masterpiece, it better be good. Big Thief deliver.

M Craft – Blood Moon...

One of the best albums of 2016: M Craft – ‘Blood Moon’

School of Seven Bells – SVIIB...

Recorded before the tragic death of founder member Benjamin Curtis, SVIIB is a fitting footnote to the School of Seven Bells story.

The Apartments – No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal...

It’s rare that we review albums so long after their release date, but No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal by the Apartments is a rare and recent find. Once again, Pat Barrett of the Hedge School introduced me to this and it is his words that eloquently describe this album’s impact.

Daughter – Not to Disappear...

A worth successor to their stellar debut album – Daughter deliver with Not to Disappear.

David Bowie – Blackstar...

A creative tour de force – Blackstar adds significant weight to the outstanding legacy of David Bowie.

Anna Von Hausswolff – The Miraculous...

Like music from another time: Swedish singer-songwriter Anna von Hausswolff sweeps us away to a darkly seductive fantasy realm on her third album The Miraculous. It’s an incredibly striking brew of Goth, Prog-Rock, Folk and Doom Metal, with Von Hausswolff’s lithe and dexterous vocals commanding our attention at the centre of it all. Von Hasswolff would have slotted very comfortably onto the 4AD roster during the record labels most fruitful period during the eighties – there are strong echoes of Dead Can Dance and the Cocteau Twins (to a lesser extent) on this album. A dominant feature of the overall sound on the Miraculous is the use of the Acusticum Pipe Organ, one of the largest instruments of its kind housing an impressive 9,000 pipes. This, along with Von Hausswolff’s operatic vocals, lends the album much of its Gothic ambience, the dark heart beating at its very core. Opening with the nine minutes of ‘Discovery’, the record quickly hits its stride – Hausswolff lets her imagination run wild with ambitious arrangements that fuse and splice so many different genres. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Come Wander With Me/Deliverance’ another track that spares nothing in laying bare her vision – the sparse, ethereal intro slowly dissolving into feedback and chaos and a bludgeoning two note riff. It’s Von Hausswolff’s fearlessness and lack of restraint in terms of the arrangements that is both the albums weakness and strength – there are times when the whole thing sounds like it might collapse under its own semi-pompous weight. But the words and music are delivered with absolute conviction – there is no hint of irony or humour, even when it is at it’s most shrieking and dramatic. It would be no surprise to see ‘Evocation’ feature in the best tracks of 2015...

Girls Names – Arms Around A Vision...

Belfast natives Girls Names have been making slow and resolute progress since their formation in 2009. With a clutch of EPs and a brace of albums behind them, third album Arms Around A Vision bears the mark of a band who have finally arrived at a sound that has their own defiant stamp. Their last record ‘The New Life’ was a bold attempt at shifting away from the more generic leanings of their earlier recordings;  Arms Around A Vision is the sound of a band comfortable in their new skin – the discordant jangle of the giddy instrumental album intro segues neatly into the clean lines and Post Punk snarl of ‘Reticence’. ‘An Artificial Spring’ surges forth, a blaze of brash, punkish noise, reminiscent of one of the godfathers of the original Post Punk scene, Magazine. Singer Cathal Cuddy sounds like a graduate of the Nick Cave/Mark E Smith/ Ian Curtis school of rock – he slurs and spits out his words with bags of attitude and more than a little brattish venom. Songs like ‘Desire Oscillations’ and ‘A Hunger Artist’ lock neatly into a pleasing Krautrock groove, while ‘Malaga’ is taut and tightly wound,  ready to cut loose. ‘Dysmorphia’ is drenched in howling feedback, another track that threatens to unleash hell, but is held in check. Throughout the record, the band show a willingness to explore new sonic terrain, to push their sound in different directions, without ever losing their focus. In terms of their contemporaries, the create a noise not too dissimilar to Danish outfit Iceage, drawing from the same pool of influences. What the album might lack in terms of a real standout killer track is more than compensated for by the cohesive, uniform strength of the twelve songs contained here. Arms...

New Order – Music Complete...

When it comes to iconic bands of the eighties and nineties, Manchester’s New Order must be somewhere close to the top of the pile. Rising from the ashes of another act that has cast a long shadow over the independent music scene, what they achieved was quite extraordinary. The tragic loss of Ian Curtis, the central figure and main songwriter in Joy Division could very well have been enough to bury any hopes of continuing  but to their credit, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris somehow pulled through, re-shaping the band with a completely new sound and rebranding that sound as New Order. With additional member Gillian Gilbert on board, they went on to forge a hugely successful career, one of the true ground-breaking acts of their era, fusing indie and dance music in a way that nobody else came close to matching. Inevitably, the band fractured, and the unseemly spat that ensued has continued to this day with bassist Peter Hook touring classic albums from Joy Division and New Order with his band The Light, while the rest of New Order continued as an entity with both factions firing very public broadsides at each other along the way. Heralded by some as a triumphant return,  New Order’s tenth album Music Complete will either delight or disappoint depending on which version of New Order you prefer. There is the New Order of pre-1987, as represented by the excellent 12″ singles compilation album Substance and there is the New Order of post 1988, when the burgeoning acid house and Madchester scene began to influence the bands sound to a greater degree. It is this latter version of New Order that the band return to, the Balearic beats and smooth electro pop of that incarnation, eschewing the harder edge...

Low – Ones and Sixes...

The eleventh album from Minnesota trio Low and it’s another beauty.

Beach House – Depression Cherry...

A missed opportunity – undeniably lovely but it’s more of the same from Beach House.

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool...

Stephen Rubbathan reviews the debut album of one of England’s most highly touted indie bands.

Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People...

Chicago’s prince of oddball pop Ezra Furman takes a slanted and enchanted approach to making music on third album Perpetual Motion People.Furman follows up the highly acclaimed 2013 release Day of the Dog with a record that mixes up the pop jigsaw pieces to produce something that is hugely inventive, rewarding and constantly surprising. It’s fuelled by a nervous, twitchy energy and pulls from a bewildering array of influences, hopping genres with consummate ease.  On opener ‘Restless Year’ Furman riffs over a clattering beat, name checking Dostoevsky and Tom Sawyer while singing ‘Making my rounds in my five dollar dress,  I can’t go home, no I’m not homeless,  I’m just another savage in the wilderness,  And if you can’t calm down you can listen to this..’ with admirable ferocity. Furman’s vision of pop is one that seems blissfully unaware of current trends and fashions – the doo-wop backing vocals and sax attack of ‘Lousy Connection’ form the backdrop for one of the many hook laden tunes on an album generously stocked with them. ‘Haunted Head’ has an authentically Bowie-esque feel while ‘Hour of Deepest Need’ mines more grizzled territory, the low-fi country charm of Neil Young an obvious reference point. On ‘Ordinary Life’ Furman claims ‘I’m sick of this record already..’ but songs like ‘Tip of a Match’ and ‘Body Was Made’ continue in the same impressively raucous, inventive vein, ensuring that boredom is never a factor. Furman’s genius is in his ability to marry a diverse array of sounds and influences and turn them into something cohesive and uniquely his own. With Perpetual Motion People, Ezra Furman has produced one of the 2015’s most wildly inventive pop statements – he continues to operate in the margins, some distance from pop music’s rigidly formulaic core and...

The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil...

The path to success in the music business is littered with the carcasses of musicians that grasped for a little too much, far too early. Bands that attempted to graduate from the garage to the stadium on the back of a promising debut and the speculative flattery of the music industry. Listening to The Districts second album, A Flourish and a Spoil, you get the feeling that they are well placed to avoid that fate. Hailing from Pennsylvania, their blog offers a simple declaration of what they are about: ‘we write honest music and are passionate about what we do’.  There was a time when that kind of earnest sincerity in Rock circles would have drawn scorn and ridicule – you get the sense that now, it might just be the thing that sees them through. They may be operating out of the increasingly sterile category that is indie guitar rock, but they are a cut above so many of their peers. A Flourish and a Spoil is an incredibly assured sophomore effort, displaying a little of the brash confidence of early Arctic Monkeys. There is a freshness about their music, perhaps explained by the fact that the entire band are under twenty one. The musicianship is uniformly excellent and in vocalist Rob Grote they have an astute lyricist who can actually sing, as opposed to someone who just happened to be the one least reluctant to take on vocal duties. In short, they are the complete package; raucous opening track ‘4th and Roebling’ sets the tone – a rumbling bass, Grote’s measured vocals rising in intensity when the inevitable wave of distorted guitars crash in. Grote writes about growing up, everyday life in a small town, and he does it with an insightfulness...

The Hedge Schools – At The End Of A Winding Day...

Somewhere along the line, in the very modern pursuit of making everything instantly accessible, we fell out of love with the idea of craft, with the notion that something created with love and care has a greater value. Mass consumerism was taken to another level with the advent of the internet – literally everything became available at the click of a button, instant gratification at our fingertips.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the music business. The process of making and releasing music went from a multi-stage process where creative input was required on many of the steps along the way to an accelerated operation that eventually spews out music as a stream of bits and bytes, recorded, distributed and promoted in the digital world. We all benefit from the readily available, instant access to the music we like but what do we lose? What have we traded in to get to this point? A few days ago, a package arrived in the post.  Inside was an album from a Dublin musician who I have never met, but know through various exchanges on Twitter and Facebook.  From our brief and infrequent online interactions, I know Pat Barrett to be someone who is passionate, knowledgeable and opinionated about music. I also knew that he had been working on this album for some time. It was obviously a labour of love for him but nothing I knew could have prepared me for the fruits of that labour, a beautifully luminous surprise on a cold January day. At The End Of A Winding Day by the Hedge Schools comes wrapped in a gorgeous, simply designed cardboard sleeve; before a single note is played the packaging screams craft, love, care. You know instantly this is an album made...

Women’s Christmas – Too Rich For Our Blood...

Mere babies on the Irish music scene, Women’s Christmas impress with debut album Too Rich for Our Blood, a riotous blast of indie guitar noise. Formed in 2013, and comprising of members of Villagers, Jogging and No Monster Club, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is some throwaway side project but on the evidence of this thrillingly fresh debut, this is very much a band in their own right. A song like ‘Chalklines’ is typical of the kind of fare to be expected on this twelve track debut; there are passing nods to the Wedding Present, Wolf Parade and the Replacements but it’s all bundled up in one exuberantly cacophonous package. Women’s Christmas offer further compelling proof that right now, the Irish music scene is as richly diverse and exciting as it has ever been. Well worth your full attention. (3.5 / 5) Too Rich For Our Blood by Women’s Christmas...

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader...

Since their formation in 2011, English three piece The Wytches have been described as many things. They have been labelled as psych rock, doom surf, goth punk and any other colourful combination of genres you care to splice together. But really, at heart, the Wytches are a proper garage band in the traditional sense. Debut album Annabel Dream Reader reeks of the kind of energy created when a group of teenagers with that newly awakened passion for music get together and cut loose, no holds barred. It is gut instinct rock music, conceived from that initial love affair with loud guitars and visceral noise. Reputedly recorded over just two days on an eight track recorder, it has that raw immediacy that suggests these songs were honed long before the record button was pressed. And it is all the better for it – the Wytches make a hugely impressive racket, a dark and youthful explosion of energy that sustains the thrills right across the thirteen tracks of this infectious debut album. The surf rock comparisons are not without some foundation – it’s there in the Tarantino-esque twang of the lead guitar lines – but this is more Graveyard Girls than California Girls as the Wytches scuzz things up with buckets of distortion and Cobain- like screams. ‘Digsaw’ drops us right into ear bleeding territory, alternating between sinuous guitar lines and blasts of grunge noise. ‘Grave Dweller’ features squealing feedback and an obvious nod to influences like the Pixies and Nirvana, but there is something very English in their sound, with echoes of the dark psychedelia of Syd Barrett on ‘Track 13’ and the rousing ‘Crying Clown’.  ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ is as obliquely sinister as its title suggests while ‘Beehive Clown’ could be the White Stripes...

Morrissey – Your Arsenal (Re-issue)...

Love him or hate him, you have got to admire the manner in which Morrissey managed to survive the devastating split of arguably the most important British band of their generation. When Johnny Marr decided enough was enough and walked away from The Smiths, he effectively severed the most prolific song-writing partnership since Lennon and McCartney and in the process, cut Morrissey hopelessly adrift.Without the musical genius that was Marr, there was always a chance that Morrissey might have faded away quietly, embittered by the loss of a band that were the perfect vehicle to deliver his eloquent outpourings. In fact, quite the opposite happened –Morrissey went on to thrive and enjoy even greater levels of fame in his solo career, a point he is at pains to make at great length and with tiresome regularity in his recent sprawling, but highly entertaining autobiography. Your Arsenal was Morrissey’s third solo album; released in 1992, it came hot on the heels of Viva Uncle, an album that even he concedes was somewhat lacking. Your Arsenal saw Morrissey assemble a proper band for the first time, dispensing with the hired hands that had featured on earlier solo records and the results bore immediate fruit; Your Arsenal marked his arrival as a solo artist in his own right, with a more muscular, confident and assertive sound. Produced by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, the songs drew heavily on the Glam rock sound of the 70s with the Rockabilly influences so evident in the music of the Smiths, also still to the fore.  ‘You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side’ is a strident opener, a heavily distorted Eddie Cochran riff and Mozza gallantly offering his services before ‘Glamorous Glue’ blatantly ‘borrows’ Ronson’s own Jean Genie guitar riff for the...

The Antlers – Familiars...

Third album Familiars from Brooklyn-based trio The Antlers lacks doesn’t quite have the same impact as their previous offerings.

Swans – To Be Kind...

Who could have seen this coming? Thirty two years since they first emerged as the enfants terribles of the New York music scene, Swans have just delivered the year’s most uncompromising, thundering and blindingly brilliant album so far. Nothing even comes close to this;To Be Kind is two hours of music of gut-wrenching intensity, a series of never-ending peaks that take the rudiments of rock music and summons up something that is strikingly original. With To Be Kind, Michael Gira and his cohorts have delivered an album that surpasses their critically acclaimed 2012 release The Seer in all respects. The days when listening to a Swans record was something of a masochistic experience, a brutal form of aural punishment are long gone; To Be Kind is arguably their most accessible album while still challenging and demanding more from the listener than any other rock band would dare to. It’s a record that requires patience – two hours of music spread over just ten tracks with every minute resonating with a clarity of purpose and a vibrancy beyond the capabilities of most contemporary rock acts. Michael Gira turned sixty this year; it is incredible to think that he is still making albums as edgy and vital as this while his peers have settled for the merry go-round of endless greatest hits tours and lame rehashes of past glories. Picking out highlights on a record as consistently brilliant as this is almost pointless – the slow, low slung blues of ‘Just a Boy (for Chester Burnett)’ and the manic ‘A Little God in My Hands’ with its long blasts of dissonant horns set the tone – Gira prowls, growls and yelps his way through these tracks, utterly convincing as some kind of deranged shaman. ‘Bring the Sun / Toussaint...

Elastic Sleep – Leave You (EP)...

Cork-based shoegazers Elastic Sleep are a welcome addition to an increasingly diverse and interesting Irish music scene. Their debut EP Leave You displays enough promise to suggest that they are a band worth keeping a close eye on in the future.Although their brand of ethereal Dream-pop owes a considerable debt to bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, there are signs scattered across these six tracks that they could yet find their own unique path given enough time to develop. Opening track ‘Leave You’ is classic shoegaze – the dreamy vocals of Muireann Levis and the heavily effected guitars combine well on the records most melodic and instantly memorable track. Chris Somers takes on the vocal duties on ‘I Found Love’, an altogether darker affair; the gloomy Post -punk guitars and strident chorus violently pulling us down to earth after such a dreamy opener. ‘Deep and Blue’ is where things get really interesting, offering a glimpse of a side of Elastic Sleep that sounds a whole lot less generic. Levis takes us floating through the ether as the band keep things nicely restrained, providing a more ambient sonic backdrop. With ‘Tzar Bomba (No More Tears)’ we are back in more abrasive territory; the EP closes out on the light and airy ‘Splish’ and the dark fairytale that is ‘Stay’. Leave You is an impressive opening statement from a band that have already shown that they can comfortably match the best that the new wave of shoegaze bands have to offer.  Given time, they will gain the confidence to take a few more risks with their sound and that’s when their real potential will be realised. (3 /...