For a band whose core duo – Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski – met whilst attending Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, there’s a distinct lack of pretentiousness to the songs that make up the eponymous debut long-player from new Mexican Summer signings Quilt. Forsaking the knowing humour and sharp angles usually associated with such studious types (think Talking Heads or Pulp), Butler and Rochinski, along with drummer John Andrews and Taylor McVay (who has since parted company with the group), favour a freewheeling soft-rock approach where guitars jangle and chime and soaring two- and three-part harmonies cast a dreamy spell. It’s a more psychedelic sound than, say, Fleet Foxes’ gentle acoustic pop, but like the Seattle group’s Helplessness Blues, Quilt is heavily indebted to late-60s/ 70s electric folkies like Fairport Convention and Pentangle, with tracks like “Rabid Love” and “Children Of Light” evincing an old world, almost ritualistic quality. Indeed, the group are at their best when following their more primal urges: locked into “Milo”‘s trance-inducing groove, stomping through banjo-led hoe-down “Lost and Lewd” or whooping with joy as duelling guitars set light to “Cowboys In The Void”, their blissful jams sparkle and shine like offerings to the gods.

Listen: “Young Gold”  http://soundcloud.com/mexicansummer/quilt-young-gold

Quilt is out now on Mexican Summer

Ten In Twenty

Ten albums that have been on the Foam Hands playlist this week, in no particular order, described in 20 words (or thereabouts):

1. Black Tusk Set The Dial (Relapse) – Anthemic Southern sludge meets Motorhead punk-rock-and-roll on the hot favourite for metal album of the year. Listen: “Crossroads & Thunder”   http://soundcloud.com/relapserecords/black-tusk-crossroads-and

2. Thee Oh Sees Carrion Crawler/ The Dream (In The Red) – Confusingly titled second album of 2011 – and best yet – from the ultra-prolific San Francisco Kraut-psych-garage outfit. Listen: “The Dream”   http://soundcloud.com/rockedition/thee-oh-sees-the-dream

3. Damu Unity (Keysound) – Impressive debut from Manchester producer, combining pitch-shifted vocal samples, hazy atmospherics and futuristic, club-friendly beats; like Burial on happy pills. Listen: “Don’t Cry In My Bed”   http://soundcloud.com/damu/dont-cry-in-my-bed

4. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Soul Time! (Daptone) – Another helping of muscular, politically-minded, old-school funk from the world’s greatest showband and the Queen of Soul, still strutting at 56. Listen: “New Shoes”  http://soundcloud.com/goutemesdisques/sharon-jones-the-dap-kings-new

5. Water Borders Harbored Mantras (Tri Angle) – Ghostly, vaguely danceable soundscapes from Coil-obsessed San Francisco duo, incorporating skeletal techno, dub FX and synth-centric gothic industrial vibes. Listen: Harbored Mantras (full album)  http://soundcloud.com/wegetpress/sets/water-borders-harbored-mantras

6. A$AP Rocky LiveLoveA$AP (self-released) – The future of rap? Sony/BMG seem to think so, and this – 2011’s most hyped hip-hop release – suggests they might be right. Listen: LiveLoveA$AP (full album)  http://soundcloud.com/nickraymondg/sets/asap-rocky-live-love-a-ap

7. Blouse Blouse (Captured Tracks) – Warped synth pop from female-fronted Oakland trio, filtering the energy of post-punk new wave through shoegaze’s lo-fi haze. Listen: Blouse (full album)   http://soundcloud.com/fadermedia/sets/blouses-s-t-lp

8. The Field Looping State Of Mind (Kompakt) – Axel Willner brings in a live band to beef up his repetitive, minimalist techno jams, to stunning – and typically hypnotic – effect.Listen: “Then It’s White”   http://soundcloud.com/kompakt/the-field-then-its-white

9. EYE Center Of The Sun (self-released) – Epic prog-rock leaning heavily on stoner psych and Krautrock, available on a “pay what you like” basis from the group’s Bandcamp. Listen: Center Of The Sun (full album) http://eyemusic.bandcamp.com/album/center-of-the-sun

10. Florence + The Machine Ceremonials (Island) – Bombastic, stadium-ready second, bursting with heavenly choirs and sweeping orchestral arrangements, from the Kate Bush of the Arcade Fire generation. Listen: “Shake It Out”  http://soundcloud.com/listenbeforeyoubuy/florence-the-machine-shake-it

Cass McCombs : Humor Risk

Humor Risk is Cass McCombs’ second release of 2011. It’s not an EP, or even a “mini-album”; it isn’t – as seems to be common practice nowadays – a “companion piece” to April’s WIT’s End, or a collection of outtakes from the sessions that produced that sinister masterpiece. This is a second, separate full-length album, and although it arrives hot on its heels (a mere seven months later) it certainly isn’t WIT’s End Part 2. Polar opposites in tone and texture, Humor Risk‘s subject matter is far lighter than its predecessor’s Edgar Allen Poe-like tales of lonely dolls and being buried alive; here, McCombs unravels long, winding yarns about cross-country drug traffickers and Biblical talking snakes, peppering them with surreal, literary detail and treating his studies of complex human relationships with typical levity (sample lyric, from “To Every Man His Chimera”: “Not you again/ I thought you’d died”). Musically, too, the mood is much more relaxed; whereas WIT’s End was built mainly around piano, harpsichord and sparse woodwind arrangements, Humor Risk sees a return to the familiar guitar/ bass/ drums set-up, alternating between fuzzy, chugging Velvets rockers (“Love Thine Enemy”, “The Same Thing”, “Mystery Mail”) and hazy, down-tempo country-pop numbers like “The Living World” and “Meet Me At The Mannequin Gallery” that recall McCombs’ finest moment to date, “Dreams Come True Girl” (from 2009’s Catacombs). One might argue it’s a step back into his comfort zone, but after the trip to the dark side that was WIT’s End, you can hardly begrudge McCombs that luxury. Besides, showcasing two totally different sides of his songwriting – and personality – has resulted in two of the year’s finest albums, and that in itself is an outstanding acheivement.

Listen: Humor Risk (full album)  http://soundcloud.com/dominorecordco/sets/cass-mccombs-humor-risk

Humor Risk is out November 7 on Domino Recording Co.

Summer Camp : Welcome To Condale

London duo Summer Camp are a group clearly concerned with giving back a little bit extra. As part of the PledgeMusic plan, where fans’ donations help fund the recording of an album, Elizabeth Sankey and Jeremy Warmsley repaid their followers’ generosity with – among other things – exclusive tracks, home-made cakes and tickets to shows. They’ve also put together a fake but minutely detailed “fanzine”, available online, detailing the events and characters that populate said record, itself an intricately constructed semi-concept album that weaves together stories featuring residents of the fictional titular town. Of course, all of this is just window dressing in the case of Welcome To Condale, which – without any need for fuss or frills – stands up as one of the finest pop collections of recent years. Produced by Pulp’s Steve Mackey, there are shades of Jarvis Cocker’s literary lyrical wit (kitchen sink relationship drama “Last American Virgin”), as well as sly nods to glam rock (“Brian Krakow”), sugar-rush punk (“Down”) and sample-happy bedroom electronica (“Losing My Mind”) that recall a host of British indie-pop subversives, from Felt to Kenickie to the Go! Team. Sparkling end-credits theme “1988” suggests an obsession with that decade’s coming-of-age Brat Pack movies, but if there’s a single stand-out reference point, it’s Swedish diva Robyn, who is mirrored in both Sankey’s combination of geeky vulnerability and catty Mean Girls cool (sample lyric: “If I could I’d squeeze your hand so tight that every knuckle would crack/ I’d wrap my arms around your neck and snap every bone in your back”) and the pair’s ability to jump effortlessly from one genre to another – be it shuddering slow-motion electro, upbeat synth pop or Italo disco – without seeming in the least bit contrived.

Listen: “I Want You”  http://soundcloud.com/summer-camp/i-want-you

Welcome To Condale is available now on Apricot Recording Company/ Moshi Moshi. Take a look at their special “fanzine”: http://issuu.com/summercampmusic/docs/summercampcondale/1