Jape – .wav goodbye...

Mairéad McGuinness reviews an 8 track collection of studio out-takes from one of Ireland’s most successful singer-songwriters Richie Egan aka Jape.

Mogwai – Central Belters...

Scottish Post Rock outfit Mogwai mark a hugely prolific twenty years of making music with a compilation that  showcases just why they have endured and thrived for so long in what some consider a niche genre. Bands in the Post Rock/Instrumental category often struggle to grow beyond the somewhat narrow expectations of fans of that genre. Any deviation from the Post Rock formula is not generally met with approval, but to Mogwai’s credit, they have always been a couple of steps ahead of the pack and it is for this reason that they are often recognised as such a pioneering act. 2014’s Rave Tapes was a marked  evolution in their sound, and also provided them with their biggest selling album to date, a long overdue vindication of their single minded and uncompromising approach to making music. Central Belters is a beautifully packaged three CD digipak (six LP vinyl box-set) containing just under three and a half hours of music. It offers a comprehensive overview of the bands work, plucking songs from their very earliest recordings right through to their last EP ‘ Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1’ released in late 2014. It is obvious that a lot of care and attention went into choosing, sequencing, and packaging these tracks; by and large, the very best of their work is represented here – some fans will no doubt focus on what has been omitted, but it is hard to quibble with so much of what is included here. From the ear bleeding assault of early tracks like ‘New Paths To Helicon Pt 1’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ through to the more textured, synthetic feel of ‘I Know You Are But What Am I?’ and ‘2 Rights Make 1 Wrong’ it comes as something of a surprise to ...

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...

Max Richter – Sleep...

Apple’s iTunes has often been cited as a contributing factor to the death of the traditional album – the advent of mp3 technology and iTunes in particular, gave consumers the ability to cherry pick tracks and created the ‘shuffle’ generation. As a by-product of this, our collective attention span when it comes to music seems to have taken a nosedive – if those thirty second audio clips don’t reel us in, it’s a case of ‘next please’ and we have wandered somewhere else. How richly ironic then that ambient classical composer Max Richter presents the full length version of his latest album to the world exclusively through iTunes, a mammoth, eight hour excursion into the world of sleep, designed to be an aid to, and an enhancement of, an experience that takes up just under a third of our lives. The irony is compounded by the fact that Richter operates in a genre where patience is a pre-requisite for listeners – ambient classical music is completely devoid of instant thrills, the antithesis of the iTunes generation. Richter has been at the vanguard of the ambient/classical  movement and with Sleep, he has created his most challenging but arguably his most rewarding work to date. It’s hard to establish just how serious Richter is when he invites listeners to press play and drift off to this 31 track recording, that flows seamlessly from one piece to the next – to do so reduces it to nothing more than some bog standard, slight and inconsequential piece of New Age fluff – it is anything but that. There is too much beauty here in Richter’s delicate piano pieces, adorned by sombre strings and a melancholic serenity that takes the breath away.  ‘Dream 1 (before the wind blows it all away)’ is based...

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.

Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow...

On very rare occasions, we discover new music and it feels like we have uncovered buried treasure. All attempts to ‘review’ or critique this kind of music are rendered useless; we are forced to let the music weave its spell, take a deep breath and just gush. Slow Meadow is the first release on Post Rock duo Hammock’s new label. It is the latest project from respected ambient artist Matt Kidd and it is utterly gorgeous.  So much of the music of the ambient genre acts as nothing other than a gentle wash of sound, but there is much more going on here. The slowly shifting chords form the backdrop as guitars, synths, strings and cello sob and sigh their way through a suite of instrumental songs that is at times, incredibly moving. The music makes the perfect soundtrack for this time of year as summer slowly drifts towards the heavy melancholy of autumn – the airy, pastoral feel of Linen Garden (Part I) conjures up  images of blue skies and summer magic – by the time we reach Part II, the final piece on the record, the mood has changed to one of bittersweet beauty. In between we get the breathtaking ‘Summer Vigil’ and the shoegaze melancholy of ‘Every Mournful Breath’, profoundly beautiful compositions that move at the same glacial pace, but never once is the spell broken across these eleven tracks. Hammock guest on the opening and closing tracks but their influence is subtle and sympathetic to the mood of quiet rapture that Kidd creates.  Listening to this record on headphones, it is easy to lose track of time, to immerse yourself in the wondrous textures and wordless magic of music as astoundingly lovely as this. A rare and precious find –...

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...

Yucatan – Uwch Gopa’r Mynydd...

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way first – Yucatan are Welsh, make music of sky kissing beauty and sound more than a little like Sigur Ros. It might be a lazy comparison, but it’s one that is set to dog the band for as long as they stick closely to the blueprint sound patented by Iceland’s most successful recent musical export. It’s not just that Yucatan choose to sing seven of the eight tracks here in their native tongue – their music employs a similar arsenal of sonic tricks; its the Sigur Ros playbook with all the epic grandeur that goes with that. None of this should deter you from checking out Uwch Gopa’r Mynydd because it is one of 2015’s loveliest records – a dreamy, light infused album of gorgeous music, with its roots in  Post Rock but with just enough personality of its own to make the Sigur Ros comparisons melt into the background. It’s a record reportedly forged and inspired by the natural beauty of Snowdownia – the band resorted to the novel approach of streaming the album a week ahead of release at the summit of Snowdon for those devotees willing to make the trek. ‘Ffin’ makes for a perfect introduction to the album – a beautiful lovelorn melody replete with sighing strings and wide open spaces. The guitars kick in and we are skyward bound. ‘Cwm Llwm’ trails in with twinkling glockenspiel and a ring of familiarity – it’s a few bars in before another lazy comparison springs to mind. Super Furry Animals were one of the first mainstream Welsh bands to sing some of their songs in their native tongue and there are definitely elements of what they do here in the strong melodies and singer Dilwyn...

Muse – Drones

It’s all a little bit absurd – Muse are back with more of their brand of bombastic rock.

The Drays – Look Away Down Collins Avenue...

I first encountered Stephen Ryan as a callow teenager circa 1986. A Friday night in the cramped confines of the Baggot Inn.  Ryan and his band the Stars of Heaven regularly played at this most iconic of venues at a time when the Dublin music scene was at its most vibrant. Our relationship got off to a rocky start.  In truth, I wasn’t particularly taken with him. The band and Ryan in particular, projected an almost haughty disdain for their audience, an arrogance that seemed borne of a belief that they were better than this. It didn’t take long before I succumbed and shared that belief. The Stars of Heaven made two albums and a couple of EPs before splitting up in 1990. Everything they released was magnificent. In the context of the Irish music scene, they were quite simply peerless. Their music, a deeply unfashionable shade of country rock, had an elegant beauty at odds with a local scene obsessed with unearthing the next U2 or Simple Minds. After the Stars split, Ryan re-emerged sporadically to remind us of what we were missing – two albums of sustained brilliance with a new band the Revenants were released in 1993 and 1999. And then nothing. It seemed almost criminal that one of the great Irish songwriters of his generation should drop off the radar, as a succession of charlatans, spoofers and fakers with a fraction of Ryan’s talent went on to enjoy considerable success.  News that Ryan was ready to end his self imposed exile and release a new record under the fresh moniker The Drays was greeted ecstatically by his loyal coterie of acolytes. Look Away Down Collins Avenue is the first fruits of his newest venture and it’s an absolute pleasure from start to finish. Closer...

Colm Mac Con Iomaire – Agus Anois An Aimsir...

Guest contributor Pat Barrett of the Hedge Schools is smitten by the new Colm Mac Con Iomaire album ‘Agus Anois an Aimsir ‘.

METZ – METZ II

Excitement used to be the true currency of rock and roll. The raw-boned thrill of music played at volume with nothing held back;  Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground,  the Sex Pistols, Nirvana; musicians who incited a primal, feral response from audiences. We are currently going through a particularly barren spell for Rock music. Some commentators have already pronounced it dead and buried. Others continue to wait, holding the view that these things go in cycles but twenty years have passed since that last truly exciting band to capture the public’s imagination had their day.  Nirvana were that band – since then Rock music has been in free-fall, the bland leading the bland. You don’t have to look very far to get a snapshot of where Rock music is at in 2015. Two of the biggest bands to emerge from this country in the last 10 years – The Script and Kodaline. Melodic, musical, technically accomplished, clean-cut, presentable. Nice. Zippo Rock. Perhaps if we look close enough we can trace the decline of Rock music back to the time when it began to elicit nothing more than a desire to whip out a lighter and hold it high in the air. Canadian trio METZ don’t do Zippo rock. They don’t sound nice or presentable. But they are exciting. In fact, they pack more excitement in the first sixty seconds of opening track ‘Acetate’ than most bands manage in a lifetime. They make a furious, taut and explosive noise that hits you right in the gut. Is it Punk? Perhaps, but there is a little more to them than that. The guitars squall and buzz, with a little hint of early Sonic Youth. The Nirvana comparison is not without some foundation...

Mew: + –

Some twenty one years after they formed in Copenhagen, indie Rock quartet Mew remain one of the music scene’s best kept secrets. Feted in their homeland, they continue to enjoy relatively modest success throughout the rest of Europe and the US despite releasing a string of consistently superb albums since their inception. They do have a fervently devoted cult following and it’s evident why once you get to see this band in the flesh – their live concert in the Academy in Dublin 2009 is still one of the best shows I have seen in the last decade, an ambitious mix of high tech visuals and epically bombastic guitar anthems. They are not a band that play the corporate Rock game, eschewing the easy path to success to follow their own strangely, beautiful star. They have all the tools to be a massive arena rock act, but they are too quirkily cryptic, a little too otherworldly to meet the expectations of the masses. That said, sixth album + – (another one of their eccentricities, the enigmatic album title) edges them a little closer to mass acceptance.  It’s an album that mixes Prog Rock arrangements with their ear for deceptively addictive hooks and melodies to deliver their most mainstream sounding album to date. This is the acceptable face of grandiose Rock; accented power chords, drum fills last heard on a seventies era Yes record and singer Jonas Bjerre’s ethereal falsetto combining to make a deeply unfashionable but wholly satisfying noise. ‘Satellites’ opens the album in panoramic fashion – widescreen synths give way to big hair guitar guitars and we are off and running. Bjerre manages to make the vaguely bitter lyrics sound impossibly sweet. ‘Witness’ keeps things on the up and up, indie guitar rock with that special Mew twist.  ‘The...

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress...

They don’t make it easy, do they? Canadian ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been making their stubbornly obstinate, wilfully singleminded music for over 20 years now. Never once have they wavered; their fire and brimstone, apocalyptic vision of the world rarely leaves room for even the merest sliver of light. Fifth album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress doggedly follows the same blueprint – and herein lies its strength and its weakness. For the second album in a row,  GY!BE mix the sublime with the infuriating. Like 2012 release ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend’, there are just four tracks stretched across a relatively brief (by their standards) 41 minutes. The similarities don’t end there – two of the tracks are as good as anything they have released and when GY!BE are good, they are simply untouchable. But just like on their last album, the other two songs included are entirely forgettable slabs of unstructured noise, lazy inclusions that serve only to test our patience. It all starts so well – opening track ‘Peasantry or Light! Inside of Light!’ screams into action, bold and dramatic, the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Everything that makes GY!BE so special can be heard here – those end of the world blues guitars, the heart pounding climaxes, the off the cuff chemistry that makes these extended jams sound both loose and meticulously prepared at the same time. They follow this with ‘Lamb’s Breath’; ten minutes of the kind of noise you get when a band down tools at the end of a show and leave everything humming. A fitting way to end a gig perhaps, but a whole lot less interesting on record.  ‘Asunder, Sweet’ is another turgid piece of music; more feedback, more drones, increasing in intensity as the track dissolves into the...

Calexico – Edge of the Sun...

Edge of the Sun is the ninth studio album from Calexico and is set for release on the Anti- label. Hailing from Tucson, Arizona the band have been recording as Calexico since their 1997 release Spoke; Spoke was also the name the band went by before Calexico. Recorded in Tucsons Wavelab Studios and coming in at 40 minutes long for 12 songs, there isn’t much time for over-elaboration and long into/outro solos on the record but that doesn’t stop Joey Burns and John Convertino and co from highlighting their multi instrumental talents. This release features a vast number of guest appearances from (to name just a few) Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses),members of the Greek instrumental group Takim (No, I don’t know them either) and Carla Morrison (Mexican Indie/Pop singer). I must admit that this is the first album of theirs that I have ever listened to the whole way through as  Americana / Tex-Mex (their description not mine) usually it isn’t the kind of thing I would go for musically. However I am now thinking that not listening to Calexico may have been a bit of an oversight on my part. The opening two songs ‘Falling from the sky’ and ‘Bullets & Rocks’ set the tone for what is a very good album. While ‘Tapping on the line’ is possibly its best song and ‘miles from the sea’ isn’t far behind this. The writing process took place in Mexico City and the city’s influence is very evident on songs like  ‘Cumbia De Donde’ and ‘Beneath the city of dreams’  and also on the instrumental track ‘Coyoacan’ all of which sound like they could have been recorded by a Mariachi band. Things take a little bit change of direction...

Scuba – Claustrophobia...

The early nineties – indie kids look on in horror as dance music begins to infiltrate their cosy, dimly lit world of jangly guitars and art house noise bands. Eventually, they are forced to succumb as the influence of the acid house scene becomes all-pervasive – Madchester and baggy is born and your new favourite band is likely to be sporting bell bottom jeans and oversized sweatshirts. It’s all about the bass, the beats and whatever it takes to keep you happy and dancing all night long. For many of us, our distrust of ‘real’ dance music ensured that while we could stomach a little Happy Mondays or Primal Scream, that’s as far as we were prepared to go, choosing to  remain blissfully ignorant of the music that influenced these bands. Since 2003, Scuba, a.k.a. Paul Rose, has been making the kind of music that only true aficionados of the underground club scene really get. Invariably categorised as Dubstep, Techno, House, Garage or some flavour of all of the above, Rose has been at the cutting edge of a scene that remains impenetrable for your average music fan. Fourth album Claustrophobia offers a way in for those of us with a passing interest in electronic music – the thing that strikes you on first listen is just how sonically well constructed this album is. Rose has created the kind of album that revels in its attention to detail. The swirl of ambient sounds and tinkling glockenspiel that prefaces opening track ‘Levitation’ is the kind of detail that sets this record apart from your average club record. ‘Why You Feel So Low?’ is darkly thrilling, scanning similar terrain as Jon Hopkins while ‘Drift’ and ‘PCP’ form the core of an album that mixes conventional club land fare with something a little...

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell...

So I had this whole review typed up, ready to go. You know the kind: a little bit of background about the artist, a few carefully constructed sentences that attempt to describe the record in the context of the artists earlier work. And there was a genuine effort at remaining coolly detached, objective because that’s what those who write about music are supposed to do, right?   Except I am first and foremost a music lover, someone who still finds magic in melody, who is still moved by a few simple chords and words that are sung with genuine heart and feeling. So I listened to Carrie & Lowell one more time last night. One final distraction free run through, an affirmation listen if you like, before publishing the few words I had pulled together about the record. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t publish those words because they didn’t reflect in any real way just how affecting the experience of listening to this record had been. Objectivity and cool detachment seemed to hold sway and because of that, they read as dishonest and insincere. So this is my attempt to start again, to convey  just how much beauty and compassion can be found in this heart-breaking music. Carrie & Lowell is a record that examines in moving detail Sufjan Stevens’ complex relationship with his mother. When he was just an infant his mother abandoned the family and spent most of the rest of her life battling alcoholism and depression before she passed away in 2012. Contact between the family and their absent mother was sporadic at best, with Steven’s recollections of her confined to a few faded childhood memories of summers spent with her and her husband at the time, Lowell Brams.  It is an album that attempts to address the...

Inventions – Maze of Woods...

Inventions is the result of two talented musicians from very different genres leaving their respective comfort zones to create something compellingly unique. Matthew Cooper has been writing and recording under the moniker Eluvium for nigh on twelve years now. He is one of the most innovative artists on the ambient classical scene; Copia, released in 2007 is an essential album for fans of that genre. Mark T Smith is a guitarist with Texan doyens of the Post Rock movement, Explosions in the Sky. Both have been so successful in their respective niches, that they are in danger of becoming slaves to the expectations of their fans, somewhat bound to the rigid, formulaic blueprint of their chosen genres. Inventions affords them the opportunity to push the envelope a little, and Maze of Woods, the second album recorded as Inventions, is a side project that may have delivered the best music either has produced in quite some time. Of the two, the influence of Eluvium seems more pronounced; Maze of Woods definitely edges a little closer to Ambient/Classical than it does to Post Rock – the guitar fireworks that are such a feature of the music of Explosions in the Sky are not evident anywhere here. But there are other elements that neither musician has utilised on any of their previous recordings; the cut up vocal snippets and stuttering beat of opener ‘Escapers’ is very different to anything either has done before. ‘Springworlds’ features the kind of ambient textures synonymous with the music of Eluvium, with Smith adding some nice, understated guitar work into the wash. On ‘Wolfkids’ and ‘A Wind From All Directions’ Inventions show a hunger to experiment with different sounds and textures while the beautiful ‘Moanmusic’ is based around a simple piano motif set against a jarring sonic backdrop. While...

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...

Champs – Vamala...

Brothers Michael and David Champion have been busy boys. Barely a year after the release of striking debut album ‘Down Like Gold’ they are back with Vamala, a sophomore release of gorgeously melancholic pop. Operating in the saturated indie pop market, Champs still managed to make an indelible impression with their debut; some have attributed it to the band’s Isle of Wight origins. The sense of isolation and otherness conveyed on songs like ‘Too Bright to Shine’ and ‘My Spirit is Broken’ seemed to support that theory – Vamala is a different beast, building on the promise shown on their debut with a record that is a definite move towards a sleeker, more mainstream sound. French producer Dimitri Tikovoï shifts the point of attack just a little – Tikovoï has worked with acts like Goldfrapp, Placebo, The Horrors and Girls Aloud and his influence comes through strongly in the less organic approach adopted in recording these songs. Once again, it is the honey layered vocal harmonies that get star billing, and rightly so – songs like ‘Sophia’ float along with a crystalline beauty, due in no small part to the gorgeous vocals. Latest single ‘Desire’ opens the record and it is immediately apparent that Champs are making big strides towards mainstream success – this is an album with obvious commercial appeal. There are a number of anthems in disguise sprinkled throughout the record – teaser track ‘Blood’ is one of the best songs of 2015 so far, a dreampop gem which positively glows while ‘Send Me Down’ is destined to be a live sing-a-long favourite. ‘Forever Be Upstanding At My Door’ sounds like a song from another era – there are echoes of Simon & Garfunkel in the tight harmonies and simple acoustic arrangement. With Vamala, Champs have taken everything that was...

Father John Misty-I Love You, Honeybear...

Let’s start with a confession – I have never been a big fan of the Fleet Foxes. Somehow, warped as this may be, I hold them collectively responsible (stand up Mumford & Sons, you own a share of this) for the explosion of lank haired, watery indie folk and bearded hipsters that threatened to engulf the music scene a few years back. So the idea of a solo album by the drummer from a band that left me distinctly underwhelmed wasn’t exactly lighting my fire. So then I did a little digging. J. Tillman was the drummer for the Fleet Foxes, but he was also an acclaimed solo artist in his own right, long before the FF thing started. A solo artist that had released seven albums by the time he underwent some kind of Road to Damascus transformation and became Father John Misty in 2012. And that’s when things got really interesting – Fear Fun, the first album released under the new moniker introduced us to a different side of Tillman. Edges and flaws. Exposed and human. And so to I Love You, Honeybear. Jesus Christ. This is good. Not just good in ‘album of the week’ good, but good on a level approaching modern classic. I am not kidding. The thing that strikes you on first listen is the sheer musicality of these songs – Tillman has gone for it in a big way, the shackles have been thrown off and a host of potentially deeply unfashionable influence have been scrambled together to produce something incredible. Glen Campbell, The Eagles, Clifford T Ward, Elton John (yes, that Elton John) 70s Laurel Canyon soft rock – they are all in there, in the syrupy string drenched arrangements and little melodic flourishes that pop up with dazzling regularity. And we haven’t even...

BC Camplight – How To Die In The North...

We all love a good comeback story. Is there anything that stirs the soul more than tales of triumph over adversity? New Jersey born song-writer Brian Christinzio (aka BC Camplight) has quite the tale to tell. His first two albums (released in 2005 and 2007) were hugely acclaimed; Christinzio’s flair for writing naggingly addictive melodic tunes was immediately apparent, but just when things seemed set for take off, BC Camplight fell off the radar. Disenchanted and dejected, Christinzio retreated and what followed was a dizzying spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, depression and temporary homelessness. Moving to Manchester in 2011 might have seemed like a hopeless last ditch attempt to turn things around, but it’s from there that this most unlikely comeback story started to follow a different narrative. The move sparked a period of creativity that resulted in the ironically titled How To Die in the North, an album that marks a spectacular return to form and hopefully, a change in fortunes for this talented songwriter. How To Die in the North is an album of wonderfully skewed pop music, sounding like Pet Sound’s weird younger brother filled with sun-kissed melodies, celestial harmonies and oddly brilliant instrumental flourishes. It’s the little musical surprises and quirky, sometimes biting lyrical sound bites that prevents it from degenerating into some kind of 60s Beach Boys pastiche. The music might sound bathed in the afterglow of the summer of love, but this is completely at odds with Christinzio’s sometimes pessimistic if not downright jaundiced outlook on matters of the heart. On the closing track he poses the question ‘Why Doesn’t Anybody Fall in Love Anymore?’ against the backdrop of dramatic piano chords and his soaring falsetto – the effect is semi-cheesy, but the question is left hanging in...