Miles : Faint Hearted

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“Miles” is Miles Whittaker, who over the last decade has recorded as MLZ and Suum Cuique and as part of Pendle Coven, Demdike Stare and Millie & Andrea, the latter alongside Andy Stott, and like Stott’s excellent Luxury Problems Whittaker’s long-overdue debut solo album has finally seen the (dark) light of day via Manchester’s Modern Love label. Faint Hearted is an electronic music odyssey, a crate-digger’s dream taking in deconstructed drum & bass, ambient neo-classicism, industrial techno that is as multi-layered and endlessly rewarding as last year’s long-player from Stott; listen to the whole album below.

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Mudhoney : Vanishing Point

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In August 1988 Mudhoney released their debut single “Touch Me I’m Sick” on the fledgling Sub Pop label; now, 25 years later, they are back at their spiritual home with their ninth album Vanishing Point. They may be in their 50s, but Mark Arm (the man who coined the term “grunge”) and his band of punk survivors still know how to rock, and how to bury a tune under layers of swampy, fuzzy guitar noise; as the strutting, snarling ode to “minimal production… limited appeal… dingy basements (&) low expectations” “I Like It Small” proves, these guys are better at being the Stooges than the Stooges are these days. Listen to the scabrous, howling blues of “The Only Son Of The Widow From Nain” below, and stream the whole thing via Exclaim.

Kvelertak : Meir

The Quietus have just published my review of the new Kvelertak album Meir; you can read their edited version, but here it is in its original form:

In January 2011, in an incident widely reported by the Scandinavian press, a thirteen year-old boy walking home from school in the town of Rakkestad, Norway found himself face to face with a pack of wolves that had wandered out of nearby woods. Bravely, the quick-thinking teen decided to launch a pre-emptive strike: remembering a piece of advice his mother had once imparted, he stood his ground, pulled the headphone lead out of his mobile phone, turned the volume right up and – accompanied by the tinny racket hissing through the its miniature speaker – waved his arms in the air yelling, causing the wolves to retreat. When the story made the news, most headlines focused on the “Heavy Metal Saves Boy’s Life” angle, and if that wasn’t entirely accurate – the animals were more likely put off by the lad’s flailing, and he was listening to Creed, which isn’t particularly heavy and certainly not metal – it was indicative of the spell the genre has cast over the Norwegian people. Over the last two decades it has produced cultural icons and national bogeymen, with churches burned and murders committed in its name; there is probably an exponentially larger number of currently active Norwegian metal bands than there are Jamaican reggae artists, and – whilst I’m by no means an expert on the subject – I’d be willing to bet that none of them sound quite like Kvelertak.

On their second album Meir (simply, “More”), the Stavanger six-piece haven’t exactly refined the kitchen sink formula that made their eponymous 2010 debut one of the most welcome surprises of recent years; rather, they’ve bottled it, destroyed the recipe and knocked back gallons of the stuff like Vikings at a post-pillage feast. As fearless as that wolf-defying schoolboy, these Norse wild-men have thrown together a whole bunch of influences – some heavy, some not so much – that really shouldn’t gel as well as they end up doing here and magically turned them into brain-meltingly brilliant hard rock party anthems. There are probably a dozen metal sub-genres represented in some capacity over the course of Meir‘s fifty minutes, and whilst you might expect black metal and stoner rock, or folk metal and hardcore punk to coexist about as happily as hungry dogs squabbling over a dropped steak sandwich, they actually end up playing very nicely together. All metallic life is here, from Slayer to GNR to Mastodon to Converge (whose guitarist Kurt Ballou produces), but there are also nods to more mainstream heavy rockers, both past (Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf) and present (Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age), Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, Slade and melodic pop-punks NOFX, to name but a few. On paper it’s a train wreck, a mess of contrasting ideas and opposing ideologies, but these guys make it work, belting out hoarse-throated Cookie Monster vocals and terrace-style group chants over three-part guitar harmonies, thrashy solos and a rhythm section that turns on a dime from grindcore blast beats to glam rock stomp and back again. This is a band that seem genuinely unconcerned with stylistic boundaries, who would no doubt be just as happy opening for Dave Grohl’s Sound City project as they would touring with more obvious contemporaries like Torche or Kylesa; what’s more, you can be sure they would end up converting every crowd into a rabid, rapturous mass of wild-eyed believers.

So, will Meir make Kvelertak the biggest heavy metal band on the planet? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Although it lacks the element of surprise that boosted the debut’s stock, Meir is a better, stronger, more accessible record overall; however, whilst kudos is due to new paymasters Roadrunner for allowing the band to use the same producer and even the same cover artist (Baroness’ John Baizley) as before, they might have missed a trick by not insisting they throw a few choruses into the mix for non-Scandinavian fans to scream along to. Are American frat-boys really going to flock to download an album by a band whose name they can’t pronounce, whose lyrics they can’t understand and whose artwork suggests some kind of Game Of Thrones-on-acid fantasy bullshit over the English-speaking likes of Darkthrone or close spiritual cousins Turbonegro? Unlikely, but will Kvelertak give a flying fart? Certainly not, and neither should we: it doesn’t matter one bit whether they’re singing about burning bridges or finding trolls under them, and if you’re going to choose a moniker that doubles up as a battle cry (it translates as “chokehold”), then who can blame them for going full Motorhead and recording a band anthem with the same name? Besides, coming from a country where heavy metal is basically the music of the gods, Kvelertak are working for a higher power than the global marketplace, and as long as they keep coming up with this awesome AC/DC-meets-Kiss-meets-Metallica racket, with music that feels this vital, then I’d no sooner argue with them than I would with Odin himself. They may not take themselves as seriously as notorious compatriots like Mayhem or Burzum, but nobody could question the fact that these guys mean it with every fibre of their being, and Meir is music to make Norway proud; a new majestic fanfare to welcome hog-riding warriors into Valhalla.

Meir is out now via Roadrunner; listen to “Bruane Brenn” below.

Vondelpark : Seabed

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UK trio Vondelpark share their name with a picturesque open space in Amsterdam that boasts bars, restaurants and an open-air theatre, where – a few years back – plans were very nearly approved to allow people to have sex in public, and if chilled-out, vaguely trippy early releases like 2011’s NYC Stuff & NYC Bags EP suggested a kinship with those happy to spend an afternoon relaxing on the grass with a beer and some weed, admiring sculptures and watching strangers bump uglies, debut album Seabed finds the band upping the ante and providing the soundtrack for the whole orgiastic affair. Soulful and seductive, this is cybersex music, electronic R&B so silky smooth and futuristic you can imagine it being played on a loop in the master bedroom of Prince’s space-age bachelor pad, and we’re not talking clumsy quickies here either: with original sole member Lewis Rainsbury now joined by Matt Law and Alex Bailey, these songs take their time, sprawling out to include luxurious piano chords, funk bass lines, guitar solos and live kit sounds. At its most immediate – opener “Quest”, for example – electronic and acoustic elements (a grinding machine-made beat, warm, shimmering keyboard washes, xylophone) combine to stunning effect, but Seabed‘s real charms are the ones that reveal themselves more warily; tracks like “Dracula” and “Come On” may lack obvious radio-friendly hooks, but their slow-building, multi-layered structures hint at a band more concerned with building lasting musical relationships than being the latest flavour of the week. On the down-side, much of the album is somewhat one-paced, so any deviation from that formula is bound to stand out and best of all is the re-recorded version of previous EP track “California Analog Dream” (below), which introduces an element of Teutonic discipline with a simultaneously loose and rigid drum pattern ripped directly from the pages of The Jaki Liebezeit Guide To Rhythm & Timekeeping. With its man-machine beat inducing the same kind of trance-state serenity as a cruise-controlled ride along the Autobahn, the track finds the band flexing their muscles and pushing the boundaries of their “Sade-meets-The XX” sound in the most compelling way. An impressive debut from a band showing great promise.

Seabed is out April 1 on R&S Records and is streaming now via Pitchfork Advance

Schoolboy Q : Yay Yay

Exciting news from the hip hop world, via Kendrick Lamar‘s Twitter page: “aye. @ScHoolBoyQ new album will live 4eva doe. #Oxymoron.” For the benefit of my dad, or anyone else not down with the kids, here’s the translation: “Hello folks, Kendrick Lamar here. My fellow Black Hippy crew member ScHoolBoy Q will soon be releasing a new long-playing record, which is really rather good. The title of said record is Oxymoron.” At this point there isn’t much information available about the album, except that it will be released via Top Dawg Entertainment some time this year, but if Kendrick’s excited about it I am too. The new, Boi-1da-produced track “Yay Yay” may or may not feature; listen below.

Generationals : Heza

New Orleans duo Generationals have come up the old-fashioned way, honing their skills and building a reputation through hard work and perseverance, and third full-length Heza could be the one that sees everything snap into place for them. Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer’s first release for Polyvinyl Records (out April 2) has something for everybody – sleek indie rock (“Awake”), trashy bubblegum punk (“I Used To Let You Get To Me”), wonky Kraut-pop (“Say When”), dreamy electro (“You Got Me”) and even Vampire Weekend-esque Afro-dub (“Kemal”) – but, like Spoon or the Shins before them, the band assimilate all these various elements into an impressively cohesive whole and stamp their name all over it. Watch the video for “Put A Light On”, and listen to racing surf-rocker “Spinoza”, below.

Lescop

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If you’re a Savages fan, you’re a) most likely very excited about their forthcoming debut album Silence Yourself, due out May 8, and b) quite likely to enjoy Matthieu Lescop‘s eponymous LP, which was released last year in his native France and will see a full UK release in June via Pop Noire, the label co-run by Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth. Mining similarly moody post-punk territory to the London band, Lescop’s understated take on no-wave and dark disco provides some seriously intense moments, but there’s a pop-savvy lightness of touch, too, which has seen him praised recently by compatriots Phoenix; indeed much of the record – in particular “La Nuit Americaine” – comes across like a Gallic LCD Soundsystem, simultaneously paying homage to New Order, Bowie, PiL and Suicide, and recommendations don’t come much higher than that. Watch the Sylvie Verheyde-directed short film accompanying “La Nuit Americaine” and Jehnny Beth’s video for “La Foret” below.


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DJ Koze : Amygdala

Electronic music is often criticised for being “faceless”, but Hamburg’s DJ Koze has never adhered to that stereotype. On the cover of his latest album Amygdala – his first studio full-length since 2005’s Kosi Comes Around, out March 25 via his own Pampa label – Stefan Kozalla sits astride a reindeer in front of rolling pink hills, wearing a crash helmet and what appears to be a dressing gown, and the epic 78-minute opus is packed with similarly quirky touches that push the producer’s larger-than-life personality to the fore: sampled car horns and animal noises, backwards voices, marimba, funk guitar, off-key strings and free jazz brass all drop in and out of the mix, spiking these tech-house floorfillers with a pinch of surrealist humour. A few like-minded friends help out here too, with Apparat, Hilde Knef, Matthew Dear and Rhye’s Milosh among those providing vocals and/or additional production; listen to the Caribou collaboration “Track ID Anyone?” below, and stream the whole thing over at NPR.

Thee Oh Sees : Floating Coffin

You’d think the law of averages would dictate that any band releasing (at least) an album per year would soon start showing diminishing returns in terms of quality of output, right? Tell me, then, how it’s possible that San Francisco garage rockers Thee Oh Sees keep going from strength to strength, with latest LP Floating Coffin – their seventh studio record in six years (and twelfth in a decade if you count earlier incarnations such as OCS), out April 16 via frontman John Dwyer’s Castle Face label – as solid a representation of their psych-punk-beat pop hybrid sound as, for example, 2010’s Warm Slime or last year’s Putrifiers II? As long as they keep coming thick and fast, perhaps it’s best not to ask… Listen to “Toe Cutter/ Thumb Buster” below.

Julian Lynch : Lines

Ridgewood, New Jersey’s Julian Lynch may have come up through the same close-knit musical community as members of Real Estate and Titus Andronicus, but the solo career he has forged for himself over the course of four albums – recorded whilst working at the Smithsonian Folkways label and studying for a Ph.D in ethnomusicology – shares little in the way of common ground with indie pop or punk rock. A skilled arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Lynch’s woozy fusions of traditional American folk music, post-rock and gently skronking free jazz are meandering, sun-dazzled pieces to go scrambling up hillsides or floating downriver to and his latest long-player Lines (out March 26 via Underwater Peoples) is his loveliest yet, playing like the soundtrack to an imaginary Wes Anderson film. Listen to “Gloves” below, and stream the whole thing over at NPR.