January 2015: the best of the rest

2011 until 2014 cover art
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The last couple of weeks have been unusually busy for this time of year, so here are a few releases that missed out on “record of the day” honours but deserve a mention…
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Percussions 2011 Until 2014

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Bjork Vulnicura

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The Body & Thou You, Whom I Have Always Hated

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Jack Name Weird Moons

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Disappears Irreal

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Cotillon Cotillon

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Pond Man It Feels Like Space Again

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Noveller Fantastic Planet

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Jib Kidder Teaspoon To The Ocean

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Obnox Boogalou Reed

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Young Ejecta The Planet EP

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Siskiyou Nervous

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Sick Feeling Suburban Myth

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Joey Bada$$ B4.Da.$$

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St. Lenox 10 Songs About Memory & Hope

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Mark Ronson Uptown Special

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Aphex Twin Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 EP

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Lord Dying: Poisoned Altars


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From Revolver:
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“Fusing Crowbar’s booming guitar tone and gruff vocal delivery with High on Fire’s relentless chug and the occasional Pantera groove, Oregon brain-blasters Lord Dying deliver a severe riff thunderstorm on their second album, the follow-up to 2013’s heralded Summon the Faithless. Led by vocalist-guitarist Erik Olson, who saws off head-caving licks like a younger, more hessian Tad Doyle, the band navigates a thick, sludgy underworld where trauma comes in two forms—bodily and psychic— and churning, pit-starting metal is the law. Recorded by Toxic Holocaust mastermind Joel Grind and featuring a guest shot from Red Fang vocalist Aaron Beam on the aptly named “An Open Sore,” Poisoned Altars is a full-blown face-ripper.”
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Poisoned Altars is out now via Relapse; check out “An Open Sore” below.
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Jessica Pratt: On Your Own Love Again


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From NPR:
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Jessica Pratt‘s verses wallow, at times, in tortured confessional rhymes, yet somehow, in spite of the faux-exotic accent and the quirky clustered phrases that avoid the common cadences of folk and rock, her words evoke and describe states of being that are more nuanced than their literal meaning. They seem to call from remote states, inviting listeners to visit this place that sounds familiar but isn’t. With little more than a weary sigh, Pratt flips the banal into the magical; she makes listeners wonder about the circumstances she describes. There’s more. You can feel it in the pauses, the implications, the breath. Preserving and extending the contemplative vibe of her debut, with On Your Own Love Again Pratt creates a series of dream-like miniatures that feel intimate and mystical-fantastical at the same time. Some transform the familiar into the deceptively sublime: on “Strange Melody,” Pratt quotes the doo-doo-doo-doo refrain of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf” in a sultry, musing way that fits perfectly into her scheme while magnifying its genius. Likewise, the blithe “Game That I Play” is anchored by a tightly scripted acoustic-guitar pattern that’s rooted in California folk-rock of the ’70s. The refrain continues the reference, with a bold Mamas And The Papas-style wordless vocal hook. But the remainder of Pratt’s vocals, especially in whispery lines that trail off into space, blur that time-stamp: suddenly we’re miles from civilization in the melancholy mists, and it’s not entirely clear how we got there. On Your Own Love Again is full of these swerves. Pratt writes in short, windswept episodes — hook after hook, Taylor Swift-style, except they seem to refract common pop devices and send them into weird, otherworldly places. Just when there’s a solid declaration to grab onto — like the line in “Game” that observes how “people’s faces blend together like a watercolor you can’t remember” — it’s followed by something fleeting and indistinct, a shadowy hum or an unexpectedly ingratiating wisp of nearly inaudible private melody. These little asides are vital to Pratt’s understated, often cryptic songs, which glance at the conflicted emotions of Sandy Denny’s solo work as well as the stark, lingering introspection of Nick Drake. With Pratt, you pay attention to just the words, and then the breaths that follow, the echoes, the wistful vapor trails receding into the distance. There are epic stories swirling around inside of that stuff, and they might not necessarily be the same stories she’s telling in words.”
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On Your Own Love Again is out now on Drag City; listen to “Back, Baby” below.
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Zs: Xe


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Brooklyn’s Zs are a band in a seemingly perpetual state of flux. Fifteen years in, founding saxophonist Sam Hillmer remains the sole constant, the group having welcomed and then waved goodbye to enough temporary members to service a small orchestra, becoming in the process something of a NYC avant-garde institution. But the fluid nature of the project has thus far only served to keep its creative juices on the boil: 2013’s Grain, for example, was comprised of the unreleased final recordings of the previous line-up, digitally manipulated and remixed into two 20 minute movements by the new members, guitarist Patrick Higgins and drummer Greg Fox. For their first proper release as a trio, Hillmer, Higgins and Fox have pulled off something pretty spectacular. Like previous Zs records, Xe is an unclassifiable amalgam of punk-jazz skronk, sizzling circuitry, electro-acoustic noise and neo-classical minimalism: guitars sing like sparrows and clang like cracked church bells, febrile future-ritualistic rhythms shuffle in and out of focus and Hillmer’s sax whispers and screams like a nervous but enthusiastic ghost on a first-time haunting. But Xe was recorded live, in one take. Yep, you read that correctly: last year, Zs went into Future-Past studio in Hudson with A-list producer Henry Hirsch, rehearsed the shit out of the five-song suite and then nailed it in a single, miraculous take. With that in mind, you wanna skip back to the start and listen again? Good idea, and whilst you do, consider this: although Xe isn’t a jazz album per se, any more than it’s a post-rock opus or a Throbbing Gristle tribute (that is to day, it kinda is, kinda), one of the few records to which it owes an obvious debt, Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, needed a band more than twice the size and some serious proto-copy/ paste editing to bring it to life. Which effectively makes Zs a better group than one of the most celebrated musical ensembles of all time. How d’ya like that Herbie? Seriously though, these guys are locked in. Each player shines – Higgins the mad professor with a lightning rod for a guitar, channelling morse code messages from outer space; Fox bringing the same elastic intensity as he does when thumping the tubs for Ben Frost or Liturgy or his own Guardian Alien project and still managing to sound as solid and precise as a state of the art drum machine; Hillmer wringing bruise-blue drones from his horn and conjuring up blizzards of sweet apocalyptic digi-noise – but nobody’s acting the star here; there are no egos jostling for the spotlight or trying to prove they can shout the loudest, just three dudes in a room vibing off each other in the most impressive, engaging way. Given the fact they have only been playing together in this incarnation for two years, such intuitive interaction is remarkable, but somehow Zs have managed to locate the exact spot where careful composition and controlled chaos meet and – in doing so – find harmony in the eye of the storm. The band’s revolving door policy hasn’t hurt so far, but let’s hope this particular line-up stays together a while longer: more of this would be a most welcome proposition.
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Xe is out January 27 on Northern Spy Records; listen to “Corps” below.
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Jan St.Werner: Miscontinuum Album

Jan St. Werner – Miscontinuum Album
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From the label:
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“Miscontinuum Album documents an impressive new work by seminal electronic musician Jan St. Werner, whose innovations with Mouse on Mars and Microstoria are well documented. Over a period of approximately four years Miscontinuum has been developed and refined as an operatic live performance in Munich, as well as a radio play. This recorded incarnation of the work is the third entry in Werner’s lauded Fiepblatter series, and features contributions by Dylan Carlson (Earth), Markus Popp (Oval), Kathy Alberici, and Taigen Kawabe (Bo Ningen). It is a challenging listen not compromised for casual music consumption habits, but with time and close listening it yields vast rewards; a radical convergence of sound exploration and storytelling that has few precedents. The central concept of Miscontinuum explores misconceptions of time and memory, inspired by unique acoustic phenomena derived digital phasing and musical time stretching techniques. There is an aura of doom that pervades the work. Much of the album’s evocative nature comes from the interplay of Werner’s electronics with Alberici and Kawabe’s voices and the contrast between those organic and inorganic elements. Popp, a longtime collaborator with Werner in Microstoria, wrote the libretti, which is presented in five distinct scenes and recited redolently by Carlson. The surreal plot involves a progressive distinction of time as a force rather than a structuring system, and an individual who can shift consciously between states within that force. The high concepts and unusual creative partners combine for an album that is uncommonly emotionally resonant.”
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Miscontinuum Album is out January 27 via Thrill Jockey; check out a preview below.
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Natalie Prass

Natalie Prass SB006 Cover Art - Lo Res
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From the label:
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“Stroll up to that jewelry store shimmering on a hot Virginia night, under the neon “Spacebomb” sign and take a look at the latest gem – glowing, sparkling, radiant with light. The debut album from Natalie Prass is the sound of an artist and community working together, replete with lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry, soaked with the same sweet perspiration and small-town spirit that ran through Memphis, New Orleans and Muscle Shoals. It is both an utterly timeless and perfectly timed affair. Using the experience from producing Matthew E. White’s Big Inner, Spacebomb joined forces with a true kindred spirit, Nashville singer and songwriter Prass, to travel deeper into its universe of sound. The sheer quality of her voice and songs gave collaborators the freedom to push their craft to the limit: Trey Pollard’s gorgeous, technicolor strings rising from the coastal plain; White’s muscular R&B horn signatures driving and complicating the dance; everything locked down to the rhythm section of Cameron Ralston and Pinson Chanselle riding a supernatural groove. Natalie Prass is a thoughtful collection of music, nourished by reverence for past eras of big band and jazz and infused with the crisp detail of late 70s & early 80s R&B, a diamond for everyone, a sophisticated soul-pop triumph.”
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Natalie Prass is out January 26 on Spacebomb Records; listen to “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” below.
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Twerps: Range Anxiety


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From the label:
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“Formed in Melbourne in late 2008, Twerps enjoyed immediate success, releasing a series of vinyl singles and cassettes on various labels around the world. The release of their 2011 self-titled debut album led to appearances at SXSW and CMJ and tours with Real Estate, Mac DeMarco, and others, and now Merge brings you Twerps’ second full-length album, Range Anxiety. The band has always worked and thrived on a precarious balance of moods and cooperation. Alex Macfarlane joined the band in early 2013, and the new lineup has seen the band refine their mode of operating in an intuitive way. As singer-guitarist Julia McFarlane says, “We tried to be open-minded to new processes.” This open-minded approach led to improvisations that sound perfectly planned: singer-guitarist Martin Frawley tricking Julia into believing “I Don’t Mind” is about a bank heist, just to see what she would come up with; Martin turning a hangover into a story about being in a difficult relationship with “Back to You”; and the call-and-response of “Adrenaline” that advocates for the enticing oblivion of obsession. Range Anxiety is a worthy showcase of the creativity and vitality Twerps bring to their music. At first listen, nods to The Go-Betweens and the band’s beloved Flying Nun influences are clear, but upon closer examination, Twerps expand into a sound uniquely their own.”
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Range Anxiety is out January 27 on Merge Records; listen to “Back To You” below, and check out the whole record via Hype Machine.
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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Euclid


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From the press release:
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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith‘s solo debut Euclid (primarily written on a Buchla Music Easel synthesizer) was inspired by her love of mbira music, early electronic music pioneers like Suzanne Ciani, Laurie Spiegel, Oskar Sala, and Terry Riley, and euclidean geometry. Each of the first six songs on Euclid were initially structured using euclidean geometry, an idea which Smith explored while attending a class at the San Francisco Conservatory. As Smith explains, “We each chose a 3D shape and assigned our own guidelines to the different components that make up the shape. For example each point of the shape represents a different time signature, each line between the points represents a pitch, each shape within the closed lines represents a scale, etc. And then you play the shape.” Despite their heady geometric origins, the songs have a playfulness and warmth that makes them inviting and memorable. In addition to the buoyant grooves of Smith’s synthesizers, some of the songs feature wordless vocals, which energize the otherworldly songs, while grounding them with Smith’s earthly presence. She slows things down for the second half of the record, which features a collection of twelve short pieces, “Labyrinths I-XII”. Originally composed as new soundtracks to old silent films she found online, Smith says the tranquil Labyrinth pieces are “intended to feel like one is walking through a holographic labyrinth and encountering different experiences such as hang gliding, viewing microbes under a microscope, ice fishing in Alaska, and watching glaciers collapse.” Despite their brevity, most of these songs feel like mini odysseys, effortlessly casting a cinematic hue on the the listener’s world. Throughout Euclid Smith consistently delivers sonic puzzles draped in a warm Pacific mist. At times these songs feel so alive — like the musical analog to roots growing deeper and stronger, leaves on branches bending towards the light, or the sun peeking over the horizon, briefly igniting the air with a primordial swirl of warm and cool colors.”
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Euclid is out now on Western Vinyl; listen to “Sundry” below.
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Boxed In


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From the press release:
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Boxed In is songwriter and producer Oli Bayston. Having played in indie band Keith, written for The 2 Bears, sung for George Fitzgerald and produced for the likes of Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs, Rosie Lowe and The Bohicas, Oli is bringing his array of talents to his solo project. It brings together Oli’s two greatest musical loves: Krautrock and house music. Inspired by the motorik rhythms of Can, Cluster and Neu! as well as house producers Pepe Bradock and Theo Parrish, the art of pop song writing is at the heart of Boxed In.”
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Boxed In is out now via Nettwerk; check out “No Joke” below.
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Viet Cong


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From the press release:
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“It takes less than sixty seconds for you to decide that Viet Cong is a winter record. The album has barely begun, and the guitar doesn’t snarl until the end of that opening minute, but it still presents a palpable iciness in just a few short moments. It’s bitter. It stings. But once you’re in it, and you’re bracing yourself and charging ahead, opener “Newspaper Spoons” moves from a punishing, almost militarized drumbeat to a melody that’s still menacing but also delicate, almost celestial. That instinct for humanizing a stone-cold song is Viet Cong‘s greatest gift and sharpest weapon. It’s harsh, but exhilarating. Themes of deconstruction and disintegration, of hardening and crumbling seem to come from every direction. But time and again, they are rescued by something — a little bit of humor, a cathartic moment, even a basic human goof. Recorded in a barn-turned-studio in rural Ontario, the seven songs that make up the album were born largely on the road, when Matt Flegel and band mates Mike Wallace, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen embarked on a 50-date tour that stretched virtually every limit imaginable. Close quarters hastened their exhaustion but also honed them as a group. With all four members traveling in one car, the mood conflated with the soundtrack, the soundtrack with the cities around them, and so forth. There was repetition, but it was all different. This —combined with the grey, chilly emptiness of Calgary— rendered a record with a viscerally rugged vibe, one that Flegel even describes as “shit earth.” As the album pushes forward, the six-minute “March of Progress” is when it begins to really take flight. A lengthy, almost industrial march chugs along for a full three minutes before the floor gives out underneath it and gives way to a spare little riff and the album’s first real melody. Later still, that negative space gives way to a richer melody, and it’s here that Flegel sings “we build the buildings and they’re built to break,” a declaration that is in many ways this album’s thesis. The repetition throughout Viet Cong hypnotizes but it also softens, leaving a space that is deceptively personal. “Continental Shelf” orbits a thousand-watt hook with a thick crackle and a battering-ram drum line. It’s so arresting that you barely notice it doesn’t have a chorus, and then in comes a line like “if we’re lucky we’ll get old and die” and you can’t believe Leonard Cohen (or Trent Reznor, or Nick Cave, or Sinatra) didn’t get to it first. “Silhouettes” is a tripwire of a song, opening with an almost Joy Division-esque exposition and moving at breakneck speed — frantic and pitch-black at a thousand miles an hour — until before you know it they are howling. Actually howling, and maybe you are too. You can designate records as seasonal, and you can feel Viet Cong‘s bleakness and declare it wintry. But the only way you get a frost is when there’s something warmer to freeze up. So yes, Viet Cong is a winter album, but only until it is a spring record, then a summer scorcher, then an autumn burner, then it ices over again. They build these buildings, and they’re built to break.”
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Viet Cong is out January 20 via Jagjaguwar/ Flemish Eye; check out “Silhouettes” below.
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