Lump On: February Wrap Up
February has been so much more interesting than January and oh my god what a gift. There have been big releases all over the place. Alt-J, Metronomy, Beach house, Cate le Bon. Singles from the likes of Kanye, Liam Gallagher, Willie Nelson, the musical year feels like it has properly started now in a way that January didn’t. I spent most of this month listening to the same two albums which i'll be talking about in a sec but this was so much less of a chore than last month felt like at times. There was so much on my radar this month that i’ve not even got round to listening to yet, there has been a lot going on. Two of the albums I’ll be talking about this month I know for sure will be on my album of the year list and as always there are releases I loved that I won’t be talking about here, mainly in the interest of variety and highlighting things that people might heave missed or not been aware of. For example a huge one is I love you by Fontaines DC, a track I won’t be talking about here but one of my favourites of the year so far and another hint towards their new album possibly being their best. It does pain me slightly to leave off things which I enjoyed so much, but it would be impossible to talk about everything and id rather give you interesting than just talk about my subjective view of what the best was. This explains why the last album I’ll be talking about this month, made it on to my list. I think in music we expect and want the experience to be pleasant but really in other forms of art this isn’t really the case. Take painting for example and the example of Hieronymus Bosch. An incredibly famous, influential and successful artist who’s work was anything but pleasant and the intention was probably to be the exact opposite and to be unpleasant. It was the execution of the art itself not the pleasantness of the emotions it conjured. In music - possibly because of the viscerally emotional way in which it is interacted with and consumed - if something isn’t pleasant and really enjoyable to listen to then thats how it’s judged most of the time. But if we are to take music seriously as art then we should explore intent and execution in terms of conjuring negative emotions. Making a listener feel uncomfortable and unpleasant is just as valuable in music - when taken as a true art from - as making someone feel good is. Something I think everyone should seek out every once in a while, just to reconnect themselves with what music is as something other than essentially an exercise in commercialising positive and pleasant emotion.
Album Release: Black Country, New Road - Ants from up there
Listen to: The whole album, honestly.
In my opinion this is the best album released so far this year. I think everything good about Black Country, New Road has been improved and - due to the departure of frontman Isaac Wood - taken to near it’s full potential. I was a huge fan of the first album but I always thought that it was no where near as good as the band could be. To the extent that, coming into this album, I wasn’t hugely excited for the second record due to the the strength of the debut. Rather I thought - and still think - that any band that has Athens, France and Sunglasses as their first two singles are, at any moment, capable of dropping something stunningly brilliant and the first album did not show BCNR reaching the heights that they are so obviously capable of in my opinion. Before the album dropped I always thought that the biggest strength of BCNR were when the songs were serving Isaac Wood’s ability to inject his fidgety emotional intensity into any context and providing the platform for him to stage his rambling, heavily metaphorical monologues. Going back to those first two singles, they really are the perfect example of this. Sunglasses displaying the skill of Isaac and Athens, France showing how compelling and catchy the band can be musically and rhythmically when the band don’t stray massively away from any alternative rock influence they have. I always thought if they concentrated on doing those two things better then they’d be winning. Rather than going too far on the avant-garde and the weirder post rock thing. Staying within and defining the album by the conventions of hooks and choruses have served Ants from up there to no end. Any songwriting potential I thought that Athens, France had shown was reached 37 seconds into track Good will hunting when the application of the most simple drums I’ve heard make me want to nod my head off my own shoulders. Any potential that I thought Sunglasses displayed for Isaac’s ability to introduce intense emotions into seemingly irrelevant slices of life - or more obvious metaphors - was absolutely blasted to bits by Tracks like The place where he inserted the blade which had shivers down my spine listening to lyrics which are about preparing food. I don’t know what happened to that poor man but there is so much gut wrenching material on the record. One of the most prominent is the recurring reference to Concorde in the context of a relationship. Concorde obviously being a hugely costly and doomed endeavour. Maybe the best example of how much the band squeezes out of Isaac’s sublime use of metaphor is on the song that shares the same name, Concorde. The ability to pack so much depth into every moment. The fact that Concorde at one point was the pinnacle of transport alongside the self comparison to a hill racer and the obvious inferiority that it evokes when compared to whoever he’s on about. Never mind the fact that Concorde in real life was ultimately a very costly failure which adds even more depth:
‘And you, like Concorde
I came, a gentle hill racer
I was breathless
Up on every mountain
Just to look for your light
But for less than a moment
We'd share the same sky
And then Isaac will suffer
Concorde will fly’
And it’s these playful yet seriously delivered interactions with such surface level things, like having crumbs in bed and soup makers alongside the heavily metaphorical, such as comparing relationships to the doomed and costly aviation endeavour Concorde, which make the album feel like so much more of a personal exploration of Isaac’s. I don’t what happened to that poor man. It is such a shame that Isaac has decided to leave the band, but what a way to end it. This album has left me not wanting anything else from it. What a way to call it a day.
Album Release: Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Listen to: Whole album again
Called it didn’t I eh?
It was evident what this album was going to be from the singles. An absolute spellbinding album packed to the brim of songs that don’t really need any form of analysis or explanation other than they are the self evidently some of the best that indie folk has to offer. This album sounds like the band just said ‘F*ck it, let’s write exactly what we feel like and the result is a record that will be hovering around album of the year year lists come December. The record was recorded in 4 different locations with 4 different engineers (upstate New York; Topanga Canyon, California; the Colorado Rockies; Tucson, Arizona) and the result is a track listing which sounds varied and expansive. Across the 20 songs on offer Adrienne Lenker gives her best performance to date, at points almost whispering her beautiful dreamy delivery into the microphone, other times speeding her fastest melodies ever sang on a Big Thief record. It’s hard to really dive into and talk at length about why this is one of my favourite albums of the year so far without writing a string of incredibly boring simple statements. The reason that this album has taken up so much of my February is the same reason that last month I predicted its review score. And that reason is - frustratingly for me trying to write about it, but nonetheless true - that the value and brilliance of these songs lie plainly on the surface. The vocals are simply sublime, the melodies are simply catchy, the instruments simply well played. There’s not a lot of prodding below the surface required in order to genuinely love this record. This is where those 4 blocks of recording locations pay dividends. Those 4 sessions being mixed throughout the album in a way that has the track listing stay fresh and varied allows the songs to be taken as they are without becoming boring especially over the course of 20 songs. Take for example the song Spud Infinity which features the hill billy boing of a Jaw Harp and fiddle in a deep south throw back hoedown played straight after Time Escaping which is a completely modern sounding number featuring what sounds like some sort of un-amplified cigar box guitar or something plucked in order to create a layered percussive effect…honestly who knows but thats not the point. The point is that this sounds like a band that have dropped all expectations that they themselves might have had for how they should sound. Big Thief seem to have entered this project freed from expectation and with a creativity unburdened by trying to be too much. Which, ironically, has led them to more than they ever were.
The thing with trying to keep up with new releases is that most of the stuff you end up listening to is just meh. And the amount of time you pour into listening to artists you’ve never heard of to get nothing out of it is just sadly a part of the process. Most of the time you have an expectation that what you’ve just pulled up on Spotify is gonna be pretty boring and normally you're proved right. It’s just the way it has to be, if everything you listened to impressed you then nothing would stand out and what would be the point. Sometimes though, something goes against your expectations and the surprise ends up forming a closer relationship with the tunes on offer. This next pick is 100% that. There’s loads of others I could have talked about here but in the interest of keeping a few smaller acts in the spotlight here on of those releases that surprised me.
EP Release: Goon - Paint By Numbers, Vol 1
Listen to: Fruiting Body, Hi from beyond, Siren rising
“What I’m after is that sad and comforting feeling, the way it is when you’re out in nature but you can still hear the highway not far off.” Says band leader Kenny Becker in a press statement about Paint By Numbers, Vol 1. And although I don’t necessarily agree with the statement from an emotional point of view I think it’s a great metaphor for the sound of the EP. Meaning that as much as it drenches itself in and defines itself by the dreamy sounds of psychedelia, indie and folk it never strays far from the goal of being sounding contemporary and palatable. Something I find happens a lot of music that sounds like this is it becomes lost inside of itself and becomes a directionless example of certain sounds. Which is fine for certain genres or song types/lengths, not when you’re trying to make an EP of a handful of short songs and I’ve heard countless smaller acts fall into the trap of producing what ends up being a musical mush. Straight from the first track Garden of our neighbour it becomes clear that this isn’t an issue here and it is actually quite the opposite. Yes the dreamy vocals are here and nice the fingerpicked guitar, there’s even bird sounds in the background but 49 seconds in the chorus suddenly becomes something that sounds like if Granddaddy did ket and all started to melt. The first sign that there is actually something to grasp here. Throughout the rest of the EP the sounds stay relatively similar. Third track Hi from beyond when the guitars become fully positioned inside of the grungey indie aesthetic and even has a bridge which forms similarity to bands like Belly and Pixies. The closing track Siren Rising is probably the biggest divergence in sound and is a fully realised psychedelic electronic effort which wouldn’t sound out of place on Kevin Parker’s cutting room floor. The whole thing has a runtime of 16 minutes 21 seconds for 5 tracks which keeps the whole thing so easy to come back to and enjoy again when normally so many of these sorts of releases are - like earlier discussed - so drained of any promise by a head down run into directionless boredom.
Track Release: Porridge Radio - Back To The Radio
Every now and then when a track is released it becomes obvious that this is the sound of an artist reaching their full powers and this month we’ve been blessed with a new release from Porridge Radio. Talking about the album Dana said that: “Back To The Radio” feels like a huge introductory hello or a big ceremonial goodbye. I wrote it at the end of 2019 when we were gearing up for the release of Every Bad and I felt like a lot of things were coming that I wasn’t sure I knew how to handle. The song grew out of a feeling of intense loneliness and being unprepared for what everybody was promising me was about to happen – and a strong desire to escape without knowing what I wanted to escape to. To me there’s a huge feeling of catharsis in this song, of letting go and letting it sweep you away.” And how that catharsis is written into the track is the reason that this track so heavily hints at a new level. The rigid two chord repeating guitar, layered over by the chirpy synth then later in the versers accompanied by the perfectly positioned drums, the track never stops moving towards its conclusion. To have that forward movement and tension in a song without a normal chorus structure and to do it with the Porridge Radio trademarks is not something they could have done by accident and to display the ability to keep that much energy inside of a verses without a chorus shows an understanding of how to right catchy music that cant help but get me excited. The band have shown they can do this by keeping all the tense, squirming, emotional rawness of their sound. Dana Margolin’s familiar emotionally charged vocals that shake and break up under the weight of the lyrics she’s singing are as much of a focus here as any of their work. And If Porridge Radio turned their hand fully to writing more hooky material like this for an album, then it will catapult them into a space that they should already be in my opinion. Which is to be one of the most relevant bands in the country. The tension and the ‘Catharsis’ mentioned In the quote comes roughly halfway through the song where the drums open up and everything unfolds into the release of what was building into the verses. All the musical elements show themselves fully, the vocals settle in to the melody accompanied by soft group chanting and essentially a sing along ensues for the last half of the song. Perfectly venting and capitalising on the tension built into the 1st of the song. The album 'Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky' is set to release on the 20th of may and all i’m saying is that it might be worth keeping an eye on it.
Album Release: Keeley Forsyth - Limbs
Listen to: I stand alone, Bring me water, Land animal
I first became aware of Keeley Forsyth a couple years ago when she released her debut album Debris and was sucked in to the brooding, desolate sound that she was producing. It’s hard to draw comparison to anything else really in terms of sounds, it’s almost as if A24 stopped making films and produced an album. You only have go and watch her performance at the crossing border festival 2020 to see the uncomfortable and strange atmosphere that she wants to evoke. I listened to this album at night in the car when there was no other cars on the road it seemed like and its fair to say that I got pretty creeped out which is pretty impressive in my opinion. It’s not something I’m going to listen to again in a hurry, it’s definitely not something that I am going to shuffle or add to a playlist but I was moved by an album in a completely different way than what I am used to. Its useless for me to try and explain this to you because I lack the knowledge to properly draw comparisons to anything else like it. Its experimental minimalist creepy vocal music that’s honestly probably the best way to think of it. It sounds l you’re walking through the Yorkshire moors in a post apocalyptic winter and its very cold. There are points across the album where the songs swell into melody and positive sounding moments and the contrast is effective but these moments are rare. The only reason i’m talking about this album is because it’s a reminder of the commercial framework that everything we listen to lives inside of. Music more than most is an art form influenced heavily by the market. Wether you’re spending money or just the attention and time required to consume it, music has to form itself into something that grabs you. I am not saying that this is a good thing or a bad things, it’s how it has always operated even back to watching classical concerts. No-ones going to go and watch or listen to the composer who’s concert makes you feel like uncomfortable and cold. But the fact that someone can create that space in your mind where you feel these things as lucidly as you feel the positive ones takes just as much skill and it’s a reminder of the power that music has to evoke emotions and experiences. Especially in the first album since it’s about Forsyth’s deep depression. There are plenty of artists making sad music and we all love and listen to that sort of thing. But most sadness that you feel listening to those sorts of songs is normally an outpouring of catharsis brought upon by the ability to relate to art or artist, mostly enjoyable, sometimes feeling sorry for yourself in way you enjoy. There is heavy music where the aggression is the catharsis and the release. But with Forsyths work there is often no release. At least for me personally I am simply inside the space that the artist has created, to feel and experience often uncomfortable and cold things (especially when that voice start wailing) and it’s very rare that I have been made to feel like that by an artist just for its own sake. Rather than as a vehicle for some sort of cathartic release. I get little out of this work other than an appreciation of it’s ability to execute its intent. That sounds like I should then think it is bad music and not for me, but why? How many great paintings depict awful gruesome scenes? For me the opportunity to appreciate the objective effects of an artist completely divorced from personal enjoyment in music doesn’t really come around that often. And although I might not listen to this album again throughout this next year, it is a prompt to think about the boundaries that exist - wether for better or worse - inherently inside of songwriting and the potential for great art that will be missed due to how personally we feel the negative effects of unattractive uncomfortable music. This album isn’t the strangest thing you’ve ever heard and they’re are points which are enjoyable on both albums especially the closer on the first which is had shuffled a few times. There are an infinite number of more experimental releases out there. But this album just got me thinking this month, and for that reason it needed talking about.
Right well there you go. Another month gone.
I do try and mix it up with what I talk about to balance the expected with the fresh or unexpected.
Join me next time where we’ll explore what March has had to offer. I have a feeling that, due to black country, new road and Big Thief, February will take some beating but we will see.
Beach House - Once Twice Melody
New Dad - Banshee
Heurco s - Plonk
Eve Adams - Metal Bird
Orville Peck - Bronco: Chapter 1
Chubby and the gang - Labour of love
All in my mind - Georgia Harmer
Music loving, opinion giving Barrovian