Black Bananas : Rad Times Xpress IV

The Quietus have just published my full-length review of Rad Times Xpress IV by Black Bananas, former Royal Trux front-woman Jennifer Herrema’s latest crazy venture. You can read the review here, and why not listen to the sort-of title track “Rad Times” while you’re doing so.

Rad Times Xpress IV is out now on Drag City


John Talabot : Fin


Barcelona-based Oriol Riverola Soto, better known as John Talabot, has been the dance music flavour of the month among the indie community for a while now, with his remixes of tracks by Glasser, Delorean, Teengirl Fantasy, Shit Robot and the XX, as well as his own productions, making their way into mixes from the likes of Four Tet and the DFA crew as well as superclub sets from big name DJs around the world. Following some big, critically acclaimed singles – “Sunshine”, “Afrika”, “Matilda’s Dream” – Talabot’s long-awaited debut album fin comes courtesy of Berlin’s disco-loving Permanent Vacation label, but despite a steady 4/4 pulse the Spaniard covers much more of the electronic spectrum than just the parts illuminated by glitterballs and light-up dancefloors; the shuffling percussion and tribal chants of opener “Depak Ine”, for example, lean towards futuristic Afro-funk, while “El Oeste” and “H.O.R.S.E.” combine queasy, synths and clanging, industrial beats. But for all the unexpected detours – the loopy “Last Land” imagines Burial gone Bollywood – the album’s strongest moments are the ones that offer variations on the classic house blueprint, be they slow and spaced-out (“Missing You”), jacking (“So Will Be Now“), blissfully Balearic (“Journeys”) or, on highlight “When The Past Was Present”, evoking those hands-in-the-air Hacienda moments where New Order and Mr. Fingers meet.

fin is out February 6 on Permanent Vacation

Cloud Nothings : Attack On Memory

In the nicest way possible, Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi seems like a real punk; not just in musical terms – although that is a major factor – but also in the anachronistic, once-derogatory (see also “bum”, “scallywag” etc) sense of the word. I guess it’s not his fault: you can’t blame Baldi for being so gifted so young (he’s only 20), but surely the guy could show some consideration for the feelings of talentless old codgers like me by, y’know, not rubbing our noses in it? In 2010, the young Clevelander made available Turning On, a collection of scrappy, self-recorded demos that held its own admirably alongside commercially-released efforts from like-minded souls such as Male Bonding and No Age; less than 12 months later, official debut Cloud Nothings bumped up the production values and sharpened the edges of the punk-pop hooks to stunning effect, resulting in one of 2011’s most overlooked albums. Sophomore LP Attack On Memory marks Cloud Nothings’ transition from one-man band to “proper” group, enlisting the help of the same players (guitarist Joe Boyer, TJ Duke on bass and drummer Jason Gerycz) that backed Baldi whilst opening for Foam Hands favourites Fucked Up last year, and this sudden expansion is indicative of the frightening rate at which this prolific, prodigious talent is developing. But whilst the sound is undeniably bigger, I wouldn’t start throwing words like “mature” around just yet. Grinding curveball opener “No Future/ No Past” may be worlds away from the salt-spiked sugar rushes of Baldi’s earlier work, but the Cobain-esque razorblade howl he employs is one long cry of adolescent angst; in fact, despite claims that Attack’s creation was influenced by heavy rock heroes like Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, an equally obvious audible precedent would be ‘90s second-wave emo, with the perky hooks and bruised-heart lyrics of “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” recalling the melodic hardcore of bands such as Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. Flipping from bittersweet, lovelorn nostalgic to moody, petulant rebel at the drop of a hat, it’s a persona that Baldi wears well, even if it does draw attention to his tender age; to wit, this amusing interview with Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly, where the singer describes working on the record with the legendary Steve Albini – a dream for most musicians – in less than glowing terms, shrugging off the experience like a stroppy teenager simply because the producer didn’t give him his undivided attention. Regardless of whether or not they clicked on a personal level, Albini’s trademark bare-bones makeover has done wonders for the Cloud Nothings sound, drawing the raw aggression out of a band that are surprisingly tight considering their relatively short history together, particularly on the epic, Wipers-like “Wasted Days” where they hammer the shit out of a single chord for five pile-driving minutes without ever losing steam. Like other iconic Albini-recorded albums (Nirvana’s In Utero, the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, the Jesus Lizard’s Goat), Attack On Memory is both immediate and a grower, like a gut-punch that burns more fiercely every time you prod it, and although it’s hard to picture him in Kurt’s generational figurehead role, here Dylan Baldi has taken some simple, sound advice – surround yourself with a solid group of musicians and concentrate on the songs at their most basic level – and casually knocked out an album that might just blossom into a modern classic.

Attack On Memory is out now in the U.S. on Carpark Records, and February 6 elsewhere on Wichita Recordings

Grimes : Visions


Following last year’s rather tremendous label debut proper from Tune-Yards, the 4AD Finishing School For Girls presents its first Class Of 2012 graduate. 23-year old Claire Boucher has been releasing low-key, lo-fi electro-pop under the name Grimes for the past two years, attracting the attention of mainstream publications – she was recently the subject of a short profile feature in Vogue – and indie taste-makers alike, but it’s her forthcoming third long-player Visions that has earned the astonishingly prolific Montreal native a place on the roster of one of history’s most iconic labels. Boucher’s DIY productions may indirectly reference past and present 4AD touchstones like the Cocteau Twins, Gang Gang Dance and Atlas Sound, but her bigger influences are more far-reaching, with obvious nods to Prince, Warp-style “intelligent” techno, Max Martin’s glossy factory-line pop and the kind of sensual, diva-led R&B that ruled the charts throughout most of the 1990s; indeed, whilst there are faint echoes of Talking Heads spin-off the Tom Tom Club all over Visions, it’s a fairly safe bet that Boucher is a bigger fan of Mariah Carey’s mega-hit “Fantasy” than the 1981 TTC track – “Genius Of Love” – it samples. As anyone following Grimes on Twitter will know, Boucher’s passion for music of all kinds is boundless: she can often be found tweeting through the night, gushing about some obscure disco tune she heard at a club or linking to a YouTube clip of TLC singing on TV back in the day, and she’s equally vocal about her own work, posting giddy updates every time she records a new track, utterly convinced each one is the best she’s ever written. Such wide-eyed enthusiasm is infectious, and although it’ll probably appeal to people who’d rather dance in their bedrooms than in a nightclub, it’s hard to keep still while listening to the bouncing bass-lines, snappy beats and insanely catchy melodies that form the backbone of this wonderful record. Highlights are too numerous to mention (although the cautiously curious would be well advised to check out the Cassie-esque “Oblivion”, perfect future-pop song “Circumambient” or “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)”, which sounds like Liz Fraser emoting over chilled-out Euro house), but whilst the music alone is good enough to earn Visions the title of “2012’s first truly great album”, the best thing about it is knowing Boucher is already hard at work on a follow-up; at her current rate of improvement, that’s a very good reason to get very excited.

Visions is out February 21 in the U.S. and March 12 elsewhere on 4AD/ Arbutus

Prinzhorn Dance School : Clay Class

There is no other contemporary artist whose musical tastes and opinions I trust more than James Murphy: I once spent an afternoon listing every band name-checked on LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” in case there was some obscurity I hadn’t heard of that I needed to track down. But I could never fully get behind his decision to sign the duo of Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn AKA Prinzhorn Dance School to his DFA label. Their self-titled 2007 album appeared to be the work of a couple of pranksters intent on ruining a semi-decent Gang Of Four impression with half-spoken beat poetry and some seriously annoying yelping, and seeing them in a live setting – supporting LCD on the UK leg of the Sound Of Silver tour, backed by a live drummer – only served to baffle further. Truth be told, I had them pegged as an anomaly, a name that would be swept under the carpet when the time came to write the DFA story, but here they are again, back with a second LP recorded in their own Red Shed studio in Oxfordshire, and guess what? It’s good. In fact, it’s very good, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that they’re doing differently; their sound is still angular and ultra-minimal, close-mic’d and dry as a bone with sinister, wiry guitar motifs struggling to fill the space in between thick bass grooves and propulsive drum tracks that sound like they are being played on a kit with several pieces missing. The fact that Horn yelps less this time around certainly helps, as do Prinz’s more coherent (and, as such, more palatable) lyrics, and whilst they haven’t lost their sense of mischief – as proven by the intentionally disjointed and endlessly fascinating percussion – one can’t help but feel the pair have suddenly decided to take themselves seriously. Though still a defiantly “love it or hate it” prospect, Clay Class could convert a few non-believers, and whilst it’s a long way from the hip disco many still think of as their label’s trademark sound it isn’t hard to trace a line from the group’s oddball art-punk back to the likes of the Fall, Devo and Talking Heads. In that context PDS and DFA seem like obvious, perfect bedfellows; Mr. Murphy, I apologise for ever questioning your judgement.  Listen: “Happy In Bits”

Clay Class is out January 31 on DFA Records


2012 looks set to be a big year for Thrill Jockey, with the esteemed Chicago label marking its 20th birthday with a packed release schedule that will include reissues of classic albums as well as new offerings from old favourites and new additions to the roster. Who knows, we might even get the new Boredoms album we’ve been promised for the past five years! Hot on the heels of the lovely Jason Urick album comes the debut collection from Rhyton, a new experimental power trio featuring Dave Shuford (D. Charles Speer & The Helix/ No Neck Blues Band), Jimy SeiTang (Psychic Ills) and Spencer Herbst (Messages); originally conceived by Shuford following the recording of his album of traditional Greek music, Arghiledes, as a means of incorporating his collection of middle eastern string instruments into a more contemporary, improv/ psych setting, Rhyton transports the listener to a seriously far-out headspace with fuzzy riffs and SeiTang’s trance-inducing bass throb bouncing around the stereo field like tape-delayed distress signals from stoned aliens about to fly straight into the heart of the sun. It’s a sprawling, psychedelic mess that continually threatens to spill out of control, but Herbst’s nimble Krautrock-y drumming does an impressive job of keeping his comrades reigned-in. Check out a few of the LP’s lengthy jams at the group’s Soundcloud page.

Rhyton is out January 24 on Thrill Jockey

Craig Finn : Clear Heart Full Eyes

Craig Finn - Clear Heart Full Eyes

Between 2005 and 2008 I saw The Hold Steady more times than I can readily recall, every time they came to the UK, sometimes twice or more on the same tour; once I even ended up on stage during the encore, bashing the drums with Bobby Drake’s spare sticks (which now sit atop my CD shelf along with the two dollars bassist Galen Polivka paid for one of my wife’s cigarettes). In my late twenties, I had finally found a group deserving of the full-blown fanatacism usually shown by teenage girls towards the latest boy-band, and I preached their brilliance to everyone I knew, turning friends, work colleagues and even my father-in-law into fellow believers. But I have to admit that I was apprehensive about frontman Craig Finn’s debut solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes. THS’s last long-player Heaven Is Whenever – whilst, by no means, a bad record – was a disappointment in comparison to its predecessors: not only had the in-jokes and recurring characters that populated Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday, Boys And Girls In America and (to a lesser extent) Stay Positive disappeared, but it felt like a lot of the punk-rock spirit that had always made them such a convincing party band had gone too. Clear Heart solves that problem by presenting Finn in a completely different context; whilst his lyrics (or should I say stories?) are still largely character-based, they seem more like characters based on himself at 40 – more world-weary, less optimistic – than on drug-addled drunk teenagers and, as such, the change from Springsteen bar-blues and Thin Lizzy-influenced hard rock to a downbeat, often acoustic, country-based sound is one that makes perfect sense. Recorded in Austin, TX by Spoon producer Mike McCarthy, with a band including members of White Denim, Phosphorescent, Heartless Bastards and Centromatic, the album is a mid-paced, atmospheric listen, and although it’s more suited to nights alone with a whiskey bottle than beer-soaked mosh-pits, it includes plenty of typically cryptic couplets (immediate favourite, from “New Friend Jesus”: “People say we suck at sports, but they don’t understand/ it’s hard to catch with holes right through your hands”) to rank with Finn’s finest. You can stream the whole album here, courtesy of NPR.

Clear Hearts Full Eyes is out January 23rd on Vagrant/ Full Time Hobby

Jason Urick : I Love You

Marco Ferreri’s 1986 French-Italian satirical drama I Love You tells the tale of a recently dumped man (Christopher Lambert) who becomes obsessed with an electronic keychain that responds to the sound of a whistle by speaking the titular phrase. All is well and good until one day Lambert’s neighbour passes by whistling, prompting the keychain to “betray” him. It’s a sad, strange story, and one that stuck with Portland-based sound artist Jason Urick who adopted the phrase as a mantra throughout the recording of his second Thrill Jockey album. With this in mind the title suddenly seems fitting, hinting at the way meaningless noises, when repeated and/ or removed from their proper context, can eventually become significant and vice versa. Urick’s gentle manipulation of a few choice notes and voices certainly plays with this notion; it takes more than one listen, for example, to realise that the pained, pitch-shifted refrain at the start of “Don’t Digital” is actually a digitally warped loop of the word “happiness”. Later in that same track accordion, harmonium and melodica gradually, almost imperceptibly, bleed into one another to create a kind of distorted dub, whilst elsewhere droning sub-bass tones and jackhammer synth arpeggios collide like tectonic plates, producing an overwhelming, rhythmic noise that swells and rises like lava about to spew forth from the cracked Earth. It’s hard to know how to describe I Love You (ambient minimalism? Neo-classical? Avant-noise?), but while more established artists like Tim Hecker grab the plaudits, Urick is making some of the most emotive, affecting music of its kind. Listen: “The Crying Song”

I Love You is out January 24 on Thrill Jockey.


The 2 Bears : Be Strong

Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard has been a very busy boy lately: not only has he just finished recording the band’s fifth album (due out later this year), but he also released one of 2011’s best singles, the skipping funky garage anthem “Gabriel” on the ever-dependable DFA label. But evidently the dilligent chap felt he still had some spare time that could be better spent in the studio, as The Guardian is now streaming Be Strong, the debut album from Goddard and London DJ Raf Rundell’s light-hearted dancefloor project The 2 Bears. If you sometimes find Hot Chip to be a little too… tongue-in-cheek for your tastes, you may want to steer clear of Be Strong: the album is as unabashedly joyous and silly as anything the group have ever put out. But for those that like their dance music euphoric, this should be just the ticket; from the brassy pop vibes of “The Birds And The Bees” to the carnival steel drums and gospel crescendo of “Church”, with all the soft synths, piano loops and 4/4 beats you could ever wish for in between, Be Strong is a glittering discoball of a record that is sure to blow away any lingering New Year hangovers. Listen to the album in full here.

Be Strong is out January 30 on Southern Fried/ DFA

Pop. 1280 : The Horror


With the music industry as we used to know it on its last legs, it’s good to know there are still certain institutions that you can rely upon to bring you consistently new and exciting sounds. Like Warp or Sub Pop did in the 90s with electonica and grunge, NYC label Sacred Bones has become synonymous lately with the very finest heavy psych, acid-fried folk and avant-rock, its instantly identifiable album sleeves serving roughly the same purpose as the universal quality standard stamp; last year alone saw full-length releases from Cult Of Youth, Moon Duo, Religious Knives, The Men, Zola Jesus, Human Eye, Psychic Ills and Amen Dunes, all of which deserve a place in any self-respecting record collection. The latest addition to an already impressive is the debut long-player from Big Apple “cyberpunk” quartet Pop. 1280, whose EP The Grid – I’m ashamed to say – completely slipped my mind when compiling my Best of 2011 lists; The Horror, produced by Zs’ Ben Greenberg, sees the group (Chris Bug and Ivan Lip, alongside new drummer Zach Ziemann and bassist/ sonic manipulator Pascal Ludet) chewing up a bunch of post-punk, hardcore and industrial influences and spitting them back out into the storm drains of some rain-streaked, neon-lit near-future dystopia. With squealing synth drones and spidery guitar lines vying for space with grinding low-end hooks and gut-punch drums, song titles like “Bodies In The Dunes” and “Beg Like A Human”, and lyrics that often revolve around vague threats repeated like mantras, it’s an album that oozes violence and menace and recalls a long list of awesome bands – Pussy Galore, Jesus Lizard, Cop Shoot Cop, Cabaret Voltaire, DAF, Swans, Liars – that you wouldn’t neccessarily want to spend a weekend with. The record is quite appropriately named: it’s gruesome stuff, but like the best scary movies it’s a thrill-ride that will set your pulse racing. Listen to “Bodies In The Dunes” here.

The Horror is out January 24 on Sacred Bones.