Damaged Bug: Hubba Bubba

Google the name John Dwyer and you’ll notice one word that keeps on popping up: “prolific”. With his band Thee Oh Sees (previously OCS, then Thee Ohsees) he has recorded at least one new studio album every year since 2004, and toured most of them internationally; he also runs his own Castle Face label, oversees the ongoing program of TOS live records, and last year published a book of his own photography. Dude’s a tireless workaholic, seemingly incapable of relaxing even when he’s meant to be taking a break: in December it was announced that Thee Oh Sees would be going on hiatus, and yet just a couple weeks ago came news of another new studio LP – Drop, coming out in April – as well as the forthcoming live reunion of his old band Coachwhips. On top of all this Dwyer (working under the pseudonym Damaged Bug) has somehow found time to record a solo album, and it’s pretty darn great, although – let’s be honest – that’s no real shock. What is surprising about Hubba Bubba, out this week on Castle Face, is the way that Dwyer all but ignores the guitar – his main weapon of choice for the last decade and a half – in favour of a particular Radio Shack synthesizer, the Realistic MG-1, that he coveted as a kid. Inspired by the likes of Suicide and Chrome – the first wave of punks to embrace keyboards and drum machines – and the electronic experimenters of the mid-’70s (Eno, Kraftwerk), Dwyer managed to track down said Moog and set about rebooting his songwriting process, and whilst tracks like “Gloves For Garbage” and “Sic Bay Surprise” are obviously cut from the same cloth as much of his previous output (jittery, rattling rhythms, angular psych-rock riffage), the overall vibe is darker and more industrial, acknowledging the influence of iconic proto-techno acts like Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk without taking itself seriously enough to walk into a nightclub wearing sunglasses. In fact, despite its electronic backbone, for the most part Hubba Bubba couldn’t be further from a “dance” record: with its low BPM beats and spitting, sizzling circuitry, the closest thing the album offers to a floor-filler is “SS Cassidinea”, a sparse, lurching Krautrock groove driven by Dwyer’s bone-dry live drumming, but that’s not to say it isn’t a whole lot of fun, and even taking into account a couple of mis-steps – “Catastrophobia” smacks somewhat of someone pressing as many buttons at once as possible and seeing what kind of noise they can make – it measures up surprisingly well against the best of Dwyer’s considerable back catalogue. A labour of love, then, rather than the half-baked side project it might have been, and proof that a change is as good as a rest; listen to “Eggs At Night” below.

St. Vincent: St. Vincent

Half a century ago, back when pop music itself was still a sulky teenager, the Kinks’ Ray Davies sung of people taking pictures of each other “just to prove that they really existed“, a theme that Annie Clark updates on “Digital Witness”, an early preview from her eponymous fourth album as St. Vincent: “If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me/ What’s the point in doing anything?” she asks, mirroring the anxieties of selfie-sharing Tweeters, Facebook addicts and over-zealous Instagram users the world over who seem utterly convinced that if any moment in time – from their kid’s first nappy change to what they ate for lunch – isn’t captured immediately and made available for the whole world to see and comment on it will somehow be forgotten and lost forever. It’s easy to assume irony on Clark’s part, but it might well be that she’s just as obsessed with broadcasting the minutiae of her life as everyone else. St. Vincent is full of lyrical details that paint the singer as alarmingly open, even exhibitionist, and certainly not afraid to (over) share: on “Rattlesnake” she decides to strip naked on a secluded nature trail before being sent scurrying for cover by the titular serpent, whilst “Prince Johnny” finds her “prostrate on the carpet“, swapping pillow talk with an unchivalrous lothario about the time they crushed up and snorted a stolen piece of the Berlin Wall. On the jittery “Birth In Reverse” she’s even more forthright, ticking off items on her daily to-do list (“Take out the garbage, masturbate“) with the mischievous flippancy of someone who’s all too aware they’ve just steamed up the horn-rimmed glasses of thousands of doe-eyed indie boys. She’s hardly flooding the social networks with half naked photos of herself smoking joints in strip clubs, but it’s fair to say Clark isn’t exactly a recluse either.

Not that she needs to raise eyebrows to secure her place in rock history: her debut album Marry Me set Clark apart as a prodigiously talented arranger and multi-instrumentalist, and each subsequent release – Actor, Strange Mercy and 2012’s David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant – has found her honing those skills, her stock rising accordingly to the point where she’s now equally likely to feature in the pages of The Guardian or Guitarist magazine, and be praised to the heavens in both. St. Vincent contains much to delight all sections of her fan-base: for those in love with her voice there’s the way Clark’s purr turns to a roar as effortlessly as a sleepy lioness admonishing her overly boisterous cubs, and there’s enough technological trickery – courtesy of producer John Congleton – to keep the gear nerds puzzling for months. There are the finger-in-the-mains solos that come out of nowhere and still manage to shock a dozen listens later, and the clipped, funky beats that sound as if they were played by a robot programmed to sound like a human drummer pretending to be a robot (actually the Dap Kings’ Homer Steinweiss and Midlake’s McKenzie Smith); there are nods to McCartney (“Regret”) and Bowie (“Severed Crossed Fingers”) and, of course, Byrne and songs so clever and so catchy you won’t even realise they’ve mutated into something else entirely by the time they finish. There’s elegant, understated Annie (“I Prefer Your Love”) and scary, over-the-top Annie (“Bring Me Your Loves”), experimental Annie, raunchy Annie, bruised Annie, funny Annie and more, and these songs are their profile photos, the pictures they take of each other to prove they really existed. Whether they ever did is another matter – Clark blends fact and fantasy as skilfully as any writer – but amongst so much inane digital waste (“Dinner@Pizza Hut!! #GoodTimes” etc.) it’s irrelevant; these are status updates that actually deserve your attention, from an artist that truly deserves your love.

St. Vincent is out February 24/25 via Loma Vista; check out “Digital Witness” below and stream the album via NPR.
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Tracks of the week


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Ten of this week’s best…
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Ex Hex “Hot And Cold” (Merge 7″, out March 18)

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Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks “Little Fang” (from Enter The Slasher House, out April 8 via Domino)
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Datasette “Helvetica Calcium” (from Cagney XOR Lacey EP, out March 10 on Apollo)

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Shlohmo & Jeremih “No More” (from forthcoming Wedidit Collective/ Def Jam EP)

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Vampire “Under The Grudge” (from S/T Century Media LP, out March 3)
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Young Widows “Kerosene Girl” (from Easy Pain, out May 13 via Temporary Residence Ltd)

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Wild Beasts “Sweet Spot” (from Present Tense, out February 24 on Domino)
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TRUST “Capitol” (from Joyland, out March 4 via Arts & Crafts)
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Todd Terje “Delorean Dynamite” (from Olsen LP It’s Album Time, out April 8)

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Little Dragon “Klapp Klapp” (from Nabuma Rubberband, out May 13 on Loma Vista/ Because)

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The Notwist: Close To The Glass


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They may sing in English, but it’s hard to think of another band that sounds as German as The Notwist. More so than Kraftwerk’s playful proto-techno or even the driving rhythms and proggy arrangements of what we now know as “Krautrock”, the music made by Markus Acher and company is precise, mechanical, clinical, solid; not the most complimentary of adjectives, admittedly, but when their recorded output is as finely-tuned and beautifully engineered as a brand new BMW, it’s clear that such descriptions are well-intended. A quarter century after Acher and his brother Michael founded the group in Weilheim, seventh studio album Close To The Glass finds The Notwist restlessly kicking the walls of their comfort zone, experimenting in the studio with multi-instrumentalist Martin Gretchmann not only playing but also processing and manipulating his bandmates’ performances even as they recorded them, and yet somehow the resulting twelve songs still emerge sounding like every tiny detail was mapped out beforehand using some kind of algorithmic program. As usual, machine-like rhythms play a major role, with “Signals” spilling haywire electronics over a crunchy hip hop beat and the heavily percussive title track using what sound like pitch-bent hand drums to accent its sinister, twisting melody; “Run Run Run”’s clanking metallic electro is a hefty gut-punch, whilst “Into Another Tune”, with its hypnotic coda, is the kind of Can impersonation Radiohead could only ever dream of pulling off. The shoegaze squall of “Seven Hour Drive” and acoustic ballad “Casino” serve as timely reminders of the band’s early guitar-rock outings, but it’s “Kong” that stands out here: an organ-driven power-pop gem set against a propulsive Dinger-beat, Acher recalling his family home being flooded when he was a child and wishing that superheroes would fly in and carry them to safety, a hint of emotion almost – almost! – breaking the surface of his typically deadpan vocal. Indeed, whilst The Notwist’s music can sometimes come across as a little cold, there’s a fuzzy glow to much of Close To The Glass that suggest these earnest sonic scientists have casually and without fanfare synthesized the formula for perfect experimental pop. It may not feel as groundbreaking as their bona fide classic Neon Golden did on release twelve years ago, but in terms of quality and consistency Close To The Glass is every bit as good. How very German.

Close To The Glass is out February 24/ 25 via City Slang/ Sub Pop; check out the video for “Kong” below.
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Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness


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Angel Olsen is living proof that it needn’t take much to make a big impression. On her debut full-length Half Way Home, she entranced listeners with a collection of fragile, mostly acoustic folk ballads, sung as though to herself at night on the front porch of her childhood home in St. Louis; only occasionally did she raise her voice above a near-whisper, and it was these quiet, controlled explosions – her dry, cracked croon suddenly catching fire and curling up into the sky like smoke – that saw smitten critics likening her curious mix of calculated cool and quirky charm to artists as seemingly diverse as Connie Francis and Joanna Newsom. Such moments are more common on Olsen’s sophomore album Burn Your Fire For No Witness, but familiarity does nothing to lessen the impact. Compared with its sparse, spectral predecessor, this is a testy she-wolf of a record, Olsen baring her fangs between strained smiles on grunge-coated rocker “Forgiven/ Forgotten” and imagining herself as some kind of elemental goddess “singing the stars back into the universe’ (“Stars”), her new band – Stewart Bronaugh on bass and drummer Josh Jaeger – and producer John Congleton the perfect creative foils, adding depth and texture without drawing attention away from the real star of the show. And what a star Olsen proves to be: on “Hi Five” she’s the cool girl at the barn dance, shimmying to countrified glam pop with a beer in her hand, oblivious to the drooling cowboys sniffing at her heels whilst “High & Wild” finds her later that same evening, emboldened by booze, taking the stage and winning over the ladies too with an impassioned turn that bounces from Emmylou to Sandy Denny to Polly Jean and back again. In this kind of company, the small handful of songs that revisit Long Way Home‘s hushed, intimate sound – “Enemy”, “Dance Slow Decades”, Cohen-esque dirge “White Fire” – are almost startling in their skeletal simplicity, Olsen apparently exerting less effort than it takes to speak in order to create music of almost overwhelming intensity, and it’s this balance of rockers and ballads that makes Burn Your Fire so powerful, and Olsen such a rarity: an album that will break your heart and warm your soul, and an artist that makes both seem as easy as breathing.
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Burn Your Fire For No Witness is out February 18 on Jagjaguwar; check out the video for “Hi Five” below, and stream the album in full via NPR.
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Tracks of the week


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Ten of the week’s best new tracks:
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Chad VanGaalen “Where Are You” (from Shrink Dust, out April 29 on Sub Pop)

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D. Charles Speer & The Helix “Wallwalker” (from the Thrill Jockey LP Doubled Exposure, out February 24)

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Doomsquad “Waka Waka” (from Kalaboogie, out February 24 on Handdrawn Dracula/ No Pain In Pop)
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Future “Move That Dope” ft. Pharrell, Pusha T & Casino (from forthcoming Epic album Honest)
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Prolife “Gold Leaves” (from Overheated 7″ on Sacred Bones)

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Pender Street Steppers “Openin’ Up” (PPU 12″)

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Africaine 808 “Lagos, New York” (12″, Golf Channel)
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Owls “Ancient Stars Seed…” (from Two, out March 25 on Polyvinyl)

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The Body “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain” (from the RVNG INTL LP I Shall Die Here, out March 31)
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Chimurenga Renaissance “The B.A.D. Is So Good” (from riZe vadZimu riZe, out March 25 via Brick Lane)

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Illum Sphere : Ghosts Of The Here And Now

Now well into its third decade, the London-based Ninja Tune label seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance of late, its current roster boasting some of the biggest names and brightest young talents in electronic music right now, including Lee Bannon, Falty DL, Machinedrum and Actress; add to that list Manchester DJ, remixer and producer Ryan Hunn AKA Illum Sphere, who follows singles for Tectonic and Young Turks with his debut long-player Ghosts Of Then And Now, out February 10. Exhibiting the same genre-jumping disregard for convention as his Hoya: Hoya club nights, Ghosts finds Hunn wrong-footing those expecting more of the house and techno stylings that characterised early singles like “H808er” and “Birthday” with a surprisingly mellow set fusing jazzy neo-soul melody lines and airy guest vocals from Mai Nestor and Bonnie “Shadowbox” Baxter with lively bass, swooping strings, bells, chimes and gently propulsive percussion; the throbbing John Carpenter synths of “Sleeprunner” and “At Night”’s glassy electro funk feel more familiar, detouring into darker and dancier territories respectively, but the overall vibe – lush, warm, organic – is far more seductive than anyone could have predicted. Check out “Sleeprunner” below, and stream the album in full via Pitchfork Advance.
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Let’s Wrestle : Let’s Wrestle

Let’s Wrestle are a very different band now to the noisy rabble that came tumbling out of North London six years ago, and we’re not just talking about line-up changes or re-distribution of song-writing duties. The trio’s self-titled third album, out February 10 via Fortuna POP!, is what one might reasonably call their “coming of age” record: taking its lyrical cues from front-man (and now sole tunesmith/ arranger) Wesley Patrick Gonzalez’ recent transition from teenager to young adult, and its musical ones from a variety of classic ’60s and ’70s rock and pop influences, Let’s Wrestle presents a more mature version of the group than we have come to expect, albeit one whose past punk rock exploits – recording with Steve Albini, songs with titles like “Bad Mammaries” and “Dick In My Zipper” – are not easily forgotten. Whereas 2011’s Nursing Home (recorded with the legendary Steve Albini) made obvious the band’s affection for American alt-rock, Let’s Wrestle is a decidedly British album, and despite echoes of Laurel Canyon troubadours such as Crosby Stills Nash & Young in a handful of mid-tempo country-tinged numbers, Gonzalez’ biggest influences are clearly home-grown: shot through with self-deprecating wit and folksy melancholy, tracks like “Always A Friend” and “David You Know” recall the Kinks’ acidic beat pop and Syd Barrett’s woozy psychedelia, whilst “Rain Ruins Revolution” pairs a none-more-English scenario of bad weather sending insurrectionists running for cover to a giddy Squeeze-indebted melody. Listen to that track and another, “Codeine And Marshmallows”, below.

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Tracks of the week

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Ten of the best tracks heard for the first time this week (time is against me, so no hyperlinks, sorry):
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Banks “Brain” (single, Harvest Records)

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Wye Oak “The Tower” (from Shreik, out April 29 on Merge/ City Slang)

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Cam’ron & A-Trak “Humphrey” (from Federal Reserve EP, forthcoming on Fool’s Gold/ Poppington/ Dipset)

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NO BRA “Magic Cocksucking Fairy” (from Candy, out February 24 on Address)

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Ought “Waiting” (from forthcoming Constellation LP)

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Thug Entrancer “Death After Life I” (from Death After Life, out February 11 via Software)

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Migos ft. Gucci Mane “Get Down” (from the Gangsta Grillz Solid Foundation mixtape)

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Francis Lung “A Selfish Man” (7″ single, Atelier Ciseaux)

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Excepter “Maids” (from forthcoming Familiar LP, Blast First)

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Communions “Children” (from the Cobblestones EP on Posh Isolation)

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