Gaggle : From The Mouth Of The Cave

As any man with half a brain cell will tell you, a woman shouting is a pretty scary thing, so just imagine how scary an army of women shouting in unison would be. From The Mouth Of The Cave, the debut album from 21-piece all-female choir Gaggle, out this week on Transgressive, is a stunning validation of the musical vision dreamt up four years ago by Deborah Coughlin and her writing partner Simon Dempsey, and a defiant two fingers to those who might have dismissed the group as some kind of novelty act; for whilst a vague whiff of “performance art” lingers in the air, the album is full of big, powerful avant-pop songs that take in everything from Animal Collective-style tribal rave-ups and schoolyard hip-hop chants to folky ambience and orchestral neo-classicism. More Riot Grrrl than Spice Girls, the album manages, impressively, to sound ramshackle and immaculately polished at the same time, a battle-cry warning of a well-planned, all-out assault. If the Military Wives sounded anywhere near as fierce as this, we’d be sending them to war instead of their menfolk. No Soundcloud player available, I’m afraid, but you can stream the album at The Guardian website now, and here’s a pretty great mixtape compiled by the band’s many members, featuring influences as far-ranging as System Of A Down, Bjork, Outkast and Yoko Ono:

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Ty Segall Band : Slaughterhouse

Ty Segall – the poster boy and de facto figurehead of San Francisco’s indie scene – may be something of a one-man garage-psych hit machine, but he’s also earned himself a reputation as a jaw-droppingly awesome live performer, and Slaughterhouse, out this week on In The Red, does a pretty damn good job of showing us why. Recorded with his long-standing touring group – guitarist Charlie Moonheart, drummer Emily Rose Epstein and Mikal Cronin (whose own eponymous album, produced by Segall, was one of last year’s overlooked gems) on bass – the album marks the first time the ultra-prolific maverick multi-instrumentalist has entered the studio with a full band, and the resulting live-to-tape approach captures the essential energy of rock ‘n’ roll perhaps better than any of Segall’s previous offerings. Announcing itself with a burst of gnarled feedback, opener “Death” imagines the “Arnold Lane” being ridden ragged by a rampaging Motorhead and the fuzzy ferocity barely lets up thereafter; subjecting his usual ’60s psych-pop touchstones (the Who on “I Bought My Eyes” (below), the Kinks on “Muscle Man,” Love on “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”) to a punk-rock roughing-up, Segall and friends rip through half an hour’s worth of crunching, overdriven guitars and machine-gun drumming, a sweat-drenched, breakneck cyclone of sugary harmonies and razor-sharp metallic noise that slows down (slightly) only once, for minor-key Stooges-meet-Sabbath dirge “Wave Goodbye.” This is rock ‘n’ roll as youthful rebellion as much as sweet release: kids running wild in a sweet shop and smashing the windows on the way out, songs that owe as much to Nirvana as they do to the Beatles. Segall has described Slaughterhouse as “evil space rock,” and whilst “evil” might be a bit strong, it certainly is dirty (a cover of the Bo Diddley/ Beefheart standard “Diddy Wah Diddy” collapses into chaos as the singer snaps “Fuck this fucking song, I don’t know what we were doing.”), occasionally ugly (“The Bag I’m In” features a vocal that sounds like Segall is vomiting into a transistor radio at the bottom of a well) and often bullishly brutal. But guess what? That’s exactly how this music is meant to be, and fuck me if it ain’t just what we all need right now. In the 1950s a generation of concerned parents argued passionately that rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music; that horny red fella might have all the best tunes, but it sounds like he’s given a few of them to Ty Segall.

Slaughterhouse is out now on In The Red

Shintaro Sakamoto : How To Live With A Phantom

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Until recently, Shintaro Sakamoto was the frontman of Tokyo psych-rock trio Yura Yura Teikoku, a group who were – by all accounts –  big in Japan throughout the ’90s and Noughties, but whose success further afield was limited to one of their later albums (2007’s Hollow Me) being given a low-key worldwide release by the good folks at the DFA label. Sakamoto’s first post-split solo album, How To Live With A Phantom, was released late last year in his homeland on his own Zelone Records imprint, and will next month become the first full-length release from the newly-formed Other Music Recording Co., owned and operated by the world-famous New York record store of the same name. Collating a whole world of influences – from American folk-rock and jazz, disco and French pop to tropicalia, African funk and Krautrock – it’s a laid-back, upbeat affair that utilises warm bass grooves and airy melodies, vintage synths, horns and crisp rhythms to deliriously bright and breezy effect, taking in everything from samba to the kind of sax-fuelled AOR pop Dan Bejar explored on the last Destroyer album. This is the kind of music you’d expect to hear in some velvet-lined 1970s gentleman’s lounge, and Sakamoto would be leading the house band in his flared suit, cocktail in hand: suave, stylish, king of all he surveys. Listen to opener “In A Phantom Mood” over at Other Music’s Soundcloud page, and the smooth, funky “You Just Decided” below.

2012 : Halftime Report

Since we’re pretty much mid-way through the year, I thought I’d provide a handy checklist of the fifty 2012 albums you really should be listening to. In the interest of fairness (to you guys and to the bands involved), I’ve only included titles that are already available right now, either commercially or – in some cases – for free (with the artists’ blessing) on the internet. You’ll also notice the list is in alphabetical order, rather than ranked numerically; that will, of course, come with the full list in December. Although most entries link directly to previous Foam Hands posts, complete with audio, there are are a few you’ll have to research yourself but I promise you it’s worth the effort.

Blues Control : Valley Tangents

Blues Control: Valley Tangents

Is being in a musical duo with your life-partner the latest “in thing” amongst the indie-rock community? Looking at Foam Hands’ latest posts one would certainly be inclined to believe that theory but, like Peaking Lights, Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse – the Pennsylvania-based ex-New Yorkers better known as Blues Control – are much more than some hipster-hyped novelty act. On Valley Tangents, their fourth album and debut release for the esteemed Drag City label, the pair demonstrate an almost telepathic talent for semi-improvised jamming that fits their loosely-structured, jazz-influenced compositions like a glove. Perhaps inspired by last year’s collaboration for the FRKWYS series with cult ambient artist Laraaji, Cho and Waterhouse have taken a more abstract route this time around than they did on 2009’s Local Flavor; whereas on that record they used rudimentary drum machine rhythms, piano and guitar to pump out stately, propulsive epics indebted to the likes of Neu! and Harmonia, here the same basic arsenal is re-purposed to pay subtle homage to ivory-ticklers like Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans (“Open Air”) and contemporary alt-rock axe gods such as Marc Ribot and Nels Cline. Channeling Krautrock, ambient noise, jazz, classical music and more, the blueprint is familiar but there are new sounds too, used sparingly and to great effect; live drums underpin the endearingly sloppy ragtime piano of Guaraldi-esque opener “Love’s A Rondo,” a flute solos wildly during the first half of “Opium Den/ Fade To Blue,” whilst on “Walking Robin” a harpsichord bursts suddenly through the fuzz before disappearing just as quickly. Elsewhere, there are moments that almost resemble hooks: the off-key trumpet that heralds the crunchy, clanging “Iron Pigs” (below) will leave you puzzling (is it real or simply a synthesized keyboard preset? Is it meant to sound so off-key? Is it a joke?) but you won’t be able to get it out of your head, and by the time closer “Gypsum” rides out into the sunset on a strutting, martial groove you’ll find yourself wondering how something so unclassifiable and so defiantly odd can make so much sense.

Valley Tangents is out now on Drag City and can be streamed in full over at Ad Hoc.

Peaking Lights : Lucifer

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For the recording of their third album Lucifer, Peaking Lights – AKA Wisconsin husband-and-wife team Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis – have gained a new member: the couple’s baby boy Mikko. Barely a year old, he’s already accompanied his parents on tour, and his arrival has not only influenced their new record’s title (it refers in this case to “Venus, the bringer of light,” as opposed to its more commonly used Satanic meaning), but also their loveliest set of songs to date. On “Beautiful Son,” Dunis beatifically extols the joyous wonders of new life through a heat-haze shimmer of delay and reverb as gentle dub rhythms ricochet off a plaintive piano melody; the little fella even gets a musical credit for lead single “Lo Hi” (below), his sampled infant gurgles forming part of the track’s churning beat. The stoned hippy vibes continue throughout with a heavier than usual reggae flavour informing the bass-bin busting skank of “Cosmic Tides,” but the record really comes alive with a pair of tracks that could – in some parallel universe – almost be described as up-tempo: “Midnight (In The Valley Of Shadows),” with its dead-eyed diva vocals and glitter-ball synths mines the same sort of slow-motion disco territory as Johnny Jewel’s Chromatics, whilst the hypnotically propulsive “Dreamboat” twitches and throbs like some lost Krautrock gem given the DFA remix treatment, its springy keyboards and trance-inducing rhythmic pulse seeming to gain momentum with each ecstatic repetition. New ideas may be thin on the ground, but those expecting any kind of radical departure from the sound that brought last year’s 936 such plaudits are probably missing the point; Peaking Lights’ music is all about celebrating the primal, transformative power of repetition and, as such, I’ll happily take as much as they want to give.

Lucifer is out now on Weird World/ Domino and can be streamed in full here.

Neneh Cherry And The Thing : The Cherry Thing

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My review of Neneh Cherry’s collaboration with The Thing for The Quietus is online now; read their edit here, or the version I submitted (with added contextual ramblings) below; also, as I’ve already featured stunning album highlight “Dream Baby Dream,” scroll down for the awesome Four Tet remix.

Having been born about a decade too late to appreciate the early ’80s’ post-punk boom whilst it was actually happening, I have to admit to being less than familiar with the finer details of Neneh Cherry’s thirty-year career in music. In my mind, she’s always been a more “urban,” less commercially successful alternative to someone like Lisa Stansfield; an obviously talented mainstream pop artist to whom I – as a kid who had just discovered Public Enemy and GNR – never really paid any attention. I knew “Buffalo Stance,” of course, and “Manchild,” and later “7 Seconds,” the actually quite lovely duet with Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour that (through no fault of Cherry’s own, I’m sure) became so suffocatingly synonymous with images of starving African children that it now provokes a Pavlovian desire to stamp on my own toes every time I hear it. But I knew nothing until years later about her past involvement with the On-U Sound affiliated New Age Steppers and post-Pop Group punks Rip Rig + Panic, or links to Massive Attack and the Bristol “trip hop” scene, and it wasn’t until I realized that jazz was more than just dinner party music even further down the line that I found out her stepfather was the late, great cornetist Don Cherry.

With that information retrieved from the memory’s “useless pop trivia” section, the singer’s latest venture – a full-length collaboration with Scandinavian free-jazz trio The Thing – seems less of a “WTF” prospect than it did when I first saw the two names together. Cherry was born and currently resides in Sweden, and it was there that she was introduced by a mutual friend to fellow Skane resident, saxophonist and The Thing bandleader Mats Gustafsson, who formed the group with Norwegians Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love after they performed some of Don Cherry’s compositions together at a tribute concert in 2000 (some more trivia: The Thing named themselves after a track on Cherry’s 1966 long-player Where Is Brooklyn, which featured Pharaoh Sanders on sax). Now, it’s entirely possible that Gustafsson’s suggestion that they work together was born of some kind of deferred hero worship; after all, the chaotic, violent noise the band usually creates hardly lends itself to the smooth, honeyed tones of a vocalist like Cherry. Better known for their interpretations of tunes you don’t hear the milkman whistling (by artists as diverse as James Blood Ulmer and Lightning Bolt), and collaborations with the avant-rock elite (Thurston Moore, Jim O’Rourke), the trio’s music has always focused on the ability of semi-improvised jazz to recreate the brutal catharsis of punk. Here, however, by luck or by design, they’ve stumbled on something altogether different: by adding Cherry’s soulful vocals to the mix, they’ve created a thing of true, transcendental beauty.

Comprising six covers and an original composition apiece from Cherry and Gustafsson, The Cherry Thing’s tracklist is as varied as you might expect, but with Ms. Cherry on board the threads tying together these song choices are more apparent. Cherry Sr. is represented, of course, in the form of his own “Golden Heart” and also “What Reason Could I Give” from Ornette Coleman’s 1971 album Science Fiction (Don contributed pocket trumpet to two of that record’s tracks), whilst Neneh’s own past is referenced by way of “Too Tough To Die,” a strutting, bluesy number originally recorded by Martina Topley-Bird, former muse of Cherry’s Bristol buddy Tricky. There’s even a daring nod to the singer’s previous flirtations with hip hop in a bizarre reading of Madvillain’s “Accordion,” Cherry scatting her way through MF Doom’s surreal rap as Madlib’s boom-bap beat and melancholy squeezebox hook are reimagined with clattering drums, flatulent double bass and droning woodwind squall.

The album’s towering twin highlights, however, are two inspired choices of no apparent significance to either Cherry or The Thing. On the Stooges’ “Dirt,” Gustafsson and Haker Flaten double up to offer a steroid-pumped take on Dave Alexander’s iconic proto-sludge bass riff as Cherry unleashes her inner goddess, putting contemporary (so-called) soul divas like Beth Ditto and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard firmly in their place with a performance of such primal, sexual ferocity that even Gustafsson’s blistering solo sounds timid in comparison. The quartet’s version of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” fares even better: whereas the original had Alan Vega gibbering like a speed freak on the verge of a nervous breakdown over Martin Rev’s frantically ticking drum machine, here Cherry turns the fever-dream into a calming mantra, and when – after five hypnotic minutes of that gorgeous, endlessly circling bass hook – Gustafsson finally succumbs to his better instincts and lets rip with a truly glorious sax freak-out, you can’t help hoping you never wake up. The Cherry Thing won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; yes, it’s raw, but not in the uncompromising way long-term Thing followers might prefer, and certainly not Like Sushi. Instead, the point in the middle where the two parties meet turns out to be a particularly sweet spot where jazz, punk, soul and even a hint of pop blend together beautifully, and for many adventurous listeners that is a dream come true.

The Cherry Thing is out now on Smalltown Supersound

Jaill : Traps

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Milwaukee-based psych-pop trio Jaill have just put out their second full-length release for the esteemed Sub Pop label, Traps, and it’s a bit of a cracker. Breezy melodies are set to strutting ’70s-inspired bar-rock interspersed with axe-hero guitar solos, dubby sound-FX and surprising, handbrake-turn arrangements, hinting at a sound palette influenced by Panda Bear as well as Pavement. Listen to the whole thing, courtesy of the label, below:

http://soundcloud.com/subpop/sets/jaill-traps

Merchandise : Children Of Desire

Children Of Desire is the second full-length release from shadowy Tampa outfit Merchandise, a band with their roots in hardcore punk but whose music – a sometimes chilly, sometimes pretty, always enthralling mix of gritty post-punk, shoegaze, Krautrock  and New Romantic machine-pop – has truly transcended that scene. It’s one of the albums of the year, and the group’s label Katorga Works is being super generous and letting you download it for free here. Get on it.

SpaceGhostPurrp : Mysterious Phonk

Whilst some old-school indie fans might be shocked to see a rap album bearing the 4AD logo, what is surely more surprising is that it’s taken so long for it to happen. When the similarly iconic Sub Pop label finally embraced hip-hop last year, one couldn’t help but feel the alliance they forged with Seattle outfits Shabazz Palaces and Theesatisfaction owed as much to shared geography as musical common ground; on the contrary, whilst 4AD has long been synonymous with a particular strain of hazy alt-rock, its roster has grown recently to include, amongst other things, neo-soul (TV On The Radio), bonkers avant-pop (Tune-Yards), dancefloor-friendly electronica (Zomby) and dubstep (Joker). Miami’s SpaceGhostPurrp, then, becomes the company’s first rap signing, debuting with Mysterious Phonk, a mixture of exclusive new tracks and previously released mixtape cuts fittingly subtitled The SpaceGhostPurrp Chronicles. As is customary within the genre nowadays, SGP has come up through the underground ranks over the past 18 months or so via a deluge of self-shot YouTube videos and free downloads, and despite a slight spit & shine re-master (courtesy of his new paymasters) the low-key, DIY aesthetic remains intact; forging his murky, minimalist soundscapes from the barest of essentials – rarely more than a spectral synth hook underpinned by the bass-heavy whirr and thump of the dirty South’s ubiquitous “trap muzik” beat – SGP’s productions actually have a lot more in common with the queasy (bad-) dream pop upon which 4AD built its reputation than they do with most “traditional” hip hop. It’s certainly more of a musical experience than a lyrical one: whilst he knows how to ride a rhythm, switching seamlessly from a steady, deliberate drawl to menacing whisper and back again, Ghost’s topics for discussion seldom extend far beyond the stereotypical wannabe gangsta cliches – sex, drugs, money, power – and when they do it’s usually to indulge in a spot of introspective misanthropy (“I always try to smile but the world is fake/ The world is a house with a yard full of snakes”). But if he pales in comparison to the likes of Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky in terms of clever wordplay, SGP’s way with a memorable chorus is uncanny, repeating the song titles, mantra-like, until they lodge themselves like fish-hooks into the subconscious. Of course, it’s unlikely many radio stations will be play-listing the likes of “Suck A Dick 2012,” “Get Yah Head Bust” or “Grind On Me” (“I got your bitch on my dick”), but I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear at least one of those refrains booming out of a pimped-out car or being yelled by some drunk hipster before the summer’s out. Musically, the hypnotically repetitive nature of these tracks and the inspired samples buried deep in the mix (RZA-esque piano loops, warped West Coast funk, shimmering 8-bit explosions, er… porn tape sex noises) means that Mysterious Phonk sits comfortably alongside albums from fellow 4AD weirdos like Bradford Cox, Ariel Pink and Grimes, but whether you’re looking for raw, rugged hip hop or skewed outsider art this impressive showing from one of the underground’s most distinctive new talents has plenty to offer.

Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles Of SpaceGhostPurrp is out now on 4AD and is streaming in full over at Rolling Stone. Listen to “Tha Black God” below.