Nights In

Fatima XBerg's picture

The Twenty-Four-Hour Song

What's it called?: 
7 Skies H3
What does it sound like?: 
The Flaming Lips are known for wacky concepts (like a 4-CD album where you're meant to listen to all 4 discs at once) and this is one of them: in 2011 they recorded a 24-hour song (yes: it lasts for 24 hours!) and sold it on Halloween (each of the 13 copies came in a real human skull, and the price was 5,000 $). Then they put it on a continuous stream (you can still listen to it: http://www.satelliteheartradio.com/24/), and this year issued a 50 minute version on vinyl on Record Store Day. The music is mostly ambient, floating soundscapes (a bit like Porcupine Tree's instrumental jams such as "Moonloop"), but there are also noisy weirdo passages. In the middle there's a five hour improv session, recorded live (known as the "Metamorphosis Section"), that is pure bliss: like one of Eno's more melodic ambient albums, but played with electric guitars, drums, and that trancy psychedelic synthesizer from the "Yoshimi" album. One of the most beautiful pieces of music I ever heard.
What does it all *mean*?: 
You certainly begin to think about how to spend your time, what music means to you, and how you listen to it. I mean, the introduction lasts for three hours!
Goes well with …: 
A flatrate internet connection, a cozy sofa or bed, a bottle of whiskey and some sandwiches.
Might suit people who like …: 
to spend some time with music. Certainly not for the "life's too short for a six-minute song" brigade.
RubyBlue's picture

Hurray for the Riff Raff

What's it called?: 
Small Town Heroes
What does it sound like?: 
I knew nothing about them before buying the album so thanks for the recommendation. I’ve not ready any reviews apart from the ones on here, and I don’t really know much about the genre either (folk rock? folk blues? Or simply folk? Something else?) Thanks for the suggestion- I always like to broaden my horizons although it takes a bit of a shift in attitude and an investment of time. Themes: country, rivers, New Orleans, murder, the South, guns, death, love, tradition, the past. Some dark themes, some lighter and Alynda Lee Segarra’s lovely, beautiful , honey voice means it’s a deceptively easy listen. I have to confess that this didn’t grab me immediately; I had to dig a bit deeper due to being largely unfamiliar with this kind of music.It’s not my favourite genre(s) but willing to give it a go. (I had thought it was a little one-paced but I was very wrong about that- see below.)
What does it all *mean*?: 
Important because: • The lovely voice (and fiddle); • The genre blurring; • Female reflections on history, traditional songs and styles.
Goes well with …: 
• Whiskey on the porch. • I was mainly listening to this on very long walks on hot sunny days and it didn’t fit really; another sundown record, maybe. • Road trip down South. (America, not Brighton, perhaps.)
Might suit people who like …: 
•Old murder ballads mixed with feminism mixed with Ani DiFranco mixed with roots;•Johnny Cash;•Gillian Welch;• Gene Clark/ Byrds:‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’;• Country Dylan;• Laura Marling?• Natalie Merchant;•A darker Cowboy Junkies; •American Gothic.
RubyBlue's picture

Lana Del Rey

What's it called?: 
Ultraviolence
What does it sound like?: 
A few caveats: 1. I haven’t read any reviews of this at all, partly so I could come to it fresh without any more preconceptions than I already had. 2. I’ve never reviewed anything before. 3. I adore ‘Video Games’ for personal reasons so I had a relatively positive bent towards LDR from the start. As an aside, this is a wonderful album cover- how I miss full-size LP covers. Overall, the themes and imagery include: dangerous boys; crazy, damaged girls on the edge of a breakdown; anger, self-destructiveness; the Bible; guns; cars (and girls); childhood; ‘America’ (I think); fame; dresses and flowers; wanting more more more. She has a much warmer voice that I expected; I thought this would be colder, more detached and chilly, and the production kind of is: clear, shiny, metallic and light but the voice redeems it for me and brings back a bit of connection. It is a much more interesting album that I thought it would be – more serious. Comments on the tracks below.
What does it all *mean*?: 
• A new seriousness- Lana as serious artist. • A reflection on female self-destructiveness in the face of dangerous yet seductive men. • Fame: it’s a good thing, it’s a bad thing. • She has a truly beautiful and clear voice.
Goes well with …: 
My first listen was at sundown on a Sunday with a couple of drinks; I was in a reflective mood and this suited that feeling well. Good for that 3am time when you can’t sleep and melancholy takes over.(Won’t help you get back to sleep, however.)
Might suit people who like …: 
Wonky Pop: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonky_pop ; the more outré and dirty aspects of Tori Amos; Kate Bush; Ani diFranco; drama; female pain; women who swear a lot.
bargepole's picture

Yes

What's it called?: 
Heaven and Earth
What does it sound like?: 
Having witnessed a seemingly rejuvenated Yes on their recent tour, expectations were reasonably high for this release, the first by the current line-up of the band. That optimism hasn't been totally justified. Although this isn't a bad album overall, indeed there's nothing to really dislike about it all, there isn't any outstanding material that you feel will be a long standing part of their future repertoire. As you'd expect, the playing is exemplary and Jon Davison sounds remarkably like Anderson at times. However, the songs themselves are a bit much of a muchness and at some points veer dangerously close to blandness. The production by Roy Thomas-Baker doesn't add as much to proceedings as anticipated, but there is some nice Roger Dean artwork to look at. However,the proggier side of the band has been pretty much neglected here in favour of more commercial shorter songs - a shame as there's still a big market out there for the longer, more complex pieces.
What does it all *mean*?: 
If you're hoping for the Yes that produced prog classics such as Close To The Edge etc then this album is perhaps not for you. It is more in the vein of latter day releases such as 'Fly From Here', a more AOR oriented 'Yes-Lite' sound if you will.
Goes well with …: 
Bands with a back catalogue of classic material will often face a struggle getting their audience to take on board newer material, and that could well be the case with this album unfortunately.The closing 'Subway Walls'is as close as we get to prog.
Might suit people who like …: 
All in all, something of a curate's egg and perhaps a missed opportunity, especially as the recent tour showed a band which obviously enjoyed playing the longer proggier pieces,and still had the ability to do so - yet there are none on offer here.
bargepole's picture

Jethro Tull

What's it called?: 
A Passion Play - An Extended Performance
What does it sound like?: 
Another Steven Wilson job on a classic 70's album. This is Tull's 'difficult' 1973 album, together with the aborted sessions for the proposed sequel to 'Thick As A Brick' recorded in France earlier that year. Both now have a new stereo mix on the two CDs here, while the two DVDs boast a variety of 5.1 surround mixes of the same material. The DVD also features video of 'The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles', together with intro and outro films from the subsequent tour. Wilson has thinned out the complexity of the mix on the original album, leaving a sound that, while still complex, is somewhat less dense than the original. This beautifully put together package also includes a great 80 page book, with reminiscences of the original sessions, details of the remixing process and memories of the 1973 tour - and much more!
What does it all *mean*?: 
This is maybe not the place to start if you're a newcomer to Tull, but for the diehard fans this sheds new light on an album which divided fans on its original release. Needless to say, the sound quality is excellent throughout.
Goes well with …: 
It's fascinating to hear at last the full aborted sessions from the chateau in such good quality - as fans will know, some of this material ended up on APP, while a few others surfaced on subsequent albums and the remainder languished in the vaults.
Might suit people who like …: 
Fans of Tull will already have formed their opinion of this work long ago, but maybe now is the right time for a reappraisal of this classic 70's album. If you're not familiar with it, give it a try anyway - you might be pleasantly surprised!

Sturgill Simpson

What's it called?: 
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
What does it sound like?: 
Possibly the worst title for an album ever. The contents however are an entirely different proposition and a conundrum. The first 7 songs are fairly straight country songs - country of the edgier variety, think Ryan Adams, Steve Earle etc. Then things start to get turned on their head with the 8th track Just Let go and go completely bonkers by track 9 It ain't all flowers. It starts as a country song and then wigs out into a psychedelic jam replete with backward loops and all manner of cosmic noises and completely changes the perception of the album as a whole. Daring and adventurous, I can't help thinking that this is only the start of a new direction for Sturgill Simpson and his next album will almost certainly veer further off the Country road. Still he has a great voice and a good line in tunes.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Country music doesn't have to confine itself to the Nashville straightjacket. Those of us who are fans of the genre knew that already of course.
Goes well with …: 
Not really sure - I bought the cd after hearing the 'crazy' track on a cd in a shop in Rotterdam. If I had heard the other tracks first they may not have grabbed me in the same way but it definitely grows.
Might suit people who like …: 
Country outside of Rhinestone and Hats box. His voice is similar to Garth Brooks but without the Schmaltz and big production. After three listens I am hooked.

x (Deluxe Edition)

What's it called?: 
x (pronounced Multiply)
What does it sound like?: 
x is the second album from Ed Sheeran. The first track, One, recalls the loss of his love, Alice, a frequent theme on his first album, +, and one continued into I'm a Mess, a faster-paced guitar based track with a harder edge. Sing, the most radio-friendly track, produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams, is followed by Don't and Nina before yet another tale of loss, Photograph, the R&B/hiphop tinged Bloodstream, Tenerife Sea (probably 2014 song of choice for lovestruck holidaymakers), then back again to the more radio friendly R&B of Runaway, another Justin Timberlake inspired song co-written and produced by Williams and then the rap of The Man. Thinking Out Loud and Afire Love, a tribute to his grandfather, who died during the writing of the song, are both slow tracks which bring the regular-sized album to a close. The R&B/hiphop/upbeat feel continues on the deluxe version with the rap of Taking it Back and uptempo Shirtsleeves.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The sentimental Even My Dad Does Sometimes and I See Fire, a song previously released on the Desolation of Smaug soundtrack close the extended version. Producers Jake Gosling, Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams add the seal of quality to the product.
Goes well with …: 
Younger, female company, perhaps even older ladies who secretly want to mother the tousled, flame-haired ruffian. And definitely a bottle or two of chilled white wine.
Might suit people who like …: 
Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, et al. Not intended for consumption by prog devotees or grumpy old dads.
bargepole's picture

Steve Hackett

What's it called?: 
Genesis Revisited: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
What does it sound like?: 
Steve Hackett returns with this 2cd/Dvd/bluray package from his 2013 show at the Albert Hall, showcasing material from throughout his tenure with Genesis from 1971-77, a period which many regard as the band's classic era. Vocalist Nad Sylvan sounds remarkably Gabriel like at times, and a number of guests also put in an appearance - John Wetton, Ray Wilson and Roine Stolte all perform admirably. The one disappointment is Amanda Lehman, whose voice does not seem well suited to Ripples, great song though it is.Hackett's playing is flawless throughout of course. The set reminds listeners what a prolific and creative period the 70's was for Genesis, and the selection played covers most of the bases. If you were asked to compile a 'best of' covering that era, then the tracklisting wouldn't differ much from what's on offer here.Inevitably there's always a song or two that you wish had been played on the night, perhaps Cinema Show in this case (a personal favourite), but that's a minor gripe.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This is a first class note perfect performance of a back catalogue crammed full of fantastic music. It highlights the huge contribution Steve Hackett made both to the composition and performance of these songs, and of course to Genesis as a band.
Goes well with …: 
If you're a fan of Hackett or Genesis, or indeed just classic prog in general, then this would be a great addition to your collection.It comes as a standard 2cd/dvd set and also as a limited edition 2cd/2dvd or bluray.
Might suit people who like …: 
As above really, prog fans will love this as an unparalleled collection of great Genesis tunes from their 1970's classic era. Also don't miss out on the opportunity to catch these songs, and others not featured here,played live on tour in October.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Tobacco

What's it called?: 
Ultima II Massage
What does it sound like?: 
At first, simply wonderful. A distorted, warped and decayed video-nasty aesthetic as applied to French House, pop and R&B. Opener Streaker is one hell of a curtain-raiser, coming on like Daft Punk gone Witch House and setting the scene for a brill-bags first section of torture-chamber pop, and dark, neon-splashed analogue electronica. Shame yer man Tobacco (aka Tom Fec from Black Moth Super Rainbow) can't maintain the Lucio Fulci atmospherics, and a second-half devolves into sub-Four Tet noodlings, which might please those wanting a next dose of Lone or Flying Lotus but is a bit of a disappointment for those of us grooving on the black stuff. Dipsmack and Omen Classic struggle to maintain their erection, but by then it's too late and I've gone off the idea altogether. Sorry, love.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means I shouldn't really recommend albums on the basis of the first track. Ahem.
Goes well with …: 
A feeling of slight disappointment.
Might suit people who like …: 
Lone, Four Tet, Flying Lotus, John Carpenter, Salem, Monster by Kanye West
Wheldrake's picture

Rival Sons

What's it called?: 
Great Western Valkyrie
What does it sound like?: 
Let's be clear, Rival Sons wear their influences like a badge of honour. The Ghosts of Zeppelin and Electric era Cult stalk these tracks. This is Classic Rock writ large. That said Rivals Sons manage to be their own entity too. The drums are loud and propulsive; new bassist Dave Beste drives the songs along with verve and Scott Holiday's guitar work is superb. But it's the soulful vocals of Jay Buchanan that lift this above the crowd. Blessed with a great voice he uses it to its fullest on every song. The album starts with a bang with Electric Man and, despite a few silly lyrics along the way, pulses with vitality all the way to current single Open My Eyes. After that things slow down a bit until we reach the awkwardly titled, 7 minute epic that is the closer Destination On Course. This album demands to be played LOUD.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That it's still possible to make great classic rock music. If the Kings of Leon can be huge with their brand of refried Southern Rock, there is no reason why Rival Sons more classic sound can't be huge too.
Goes well with …: 
A long drive, windows down, music blasting. It's a great driving album.
Might suit people who like …: 
Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Cult......in fact any classic rock.
bargepole's picture

Rick Wakeman

What's it called?: 
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth 2014
What does it sound like?: 
Wakeman afficiandos will recall this work being originally released as a live album back in the dog days of 1974.Now,40 years later, it's back in a bigger and better version. This is the first studio recording of this piece - the original was recorded live to keep costs to a minimum. The original score was also pruned to fit on a single Lp, but fear not for these missing passages have now been recreated and reinstated in their rightful place.Original vocalist Ashley Holt is still present and in fine voice,although sadly his musical partner in the original version, Gary Pickford-Hopkins, passed away last year. After all these years, this remains one of Rick's finest works, right up there with Six Wives and King Arthur.
What does it all *mean*?: 
With Rick's frequent appearances on light entertainment shows, it's easy to forget what a supremely talented player he is, as amply demonstrated throughout these extended pieces retelling Jules Verne's classic tale.
Goes well with …: 
Any fan of Mr Wakeman's work will love this.In addition to the standard cd, there are also limited and deluxe editions, as well as a vinyl version, all with new Roger Dean artwork. The 1999 sequel Return to the Centre of the Earth is also reissued.
Might suit people who like …: 
If you caught Rick on his recent UK tour you'll know what to expect from this release - if not, then treat yourself to this piece of classic era Wakeman and hear what you missed - a man still at the height of his musical powers!
James Blast's picture

Inside Story: Caddyshack

What's it called?: 
no.4 in a series of Inside Stories, tales about the movie
What does it sound like?: 
Quacks like a duck! No offence! The greatest 'goofball' comedy, so far. Behind the scenes of Jaws, Scarface, Silence of the Lambs and last night... CADDYSHACK!!! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, yes! as Butthead might say. Many major leads are missing but it's still a riot and Lacy Underall's boobies have got bigger. "No, Offence"! Dangerfield, Chase and Murray ad-libbed most of it. Bill Murray was a minor character sans dialogue, until... Basically they couldn't hold him down and CC and him came to blows over it. It's a riot, almost like seeing the movie, first time over again.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It has been an outstanding series, so far, but this is an epic!
Goes well with …: 
Lot's of alcohol, salt, and a chomp of lemon.
Might suit people who like …: 
goofball comedies like Animal House.
tiggerlion's picture

The Black Keys

What's it called?: 
Turn Blue
What does it sound like?: 
Everything about this record is huge. There are epic melodies, big choruses, floor drums resonating through the earth, guitar solos echoing through the stratosphere and an all-enveloping bass. It is stately, authoritative and rigorous, a record made by a band three albums into its imperial phase. Essentially, it's the work of three men, Dan Auerbach on guitars, keys and vocals, Patrick Carney on drums and Brian Burton (Dangermouse) on keyboards. Less frenetic than its predecessor, El Camino, they embellish their rock template with a blues feel and are confident enough to experiment with falsetto vocals, elements of dance, string-like backing and a gentle piano ballad. Never self-indulgent, even on extended guitar solos, the music is given room to breathe and is all the better for it. Turn Blue is already an irresistible commercial success and will be ubiquitous on the radio and in bars throughout the summer. It's probably wise to surrender now. The discerning Afterworder might like it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The Black Keys are shaping up to being THE rock band of the teenies. Three great albums in a row since 2010. Their relationship with Dangermouse is the equivalent of Talking Heads' with Eno. It may not last for ever, so enjoy it while you can.
Goes well with …: 
A hot day, cold beer, double denim, open-air stadiums (Glastonbury?), basement clubs, a rock-chick/rock-guy on the arm, whistling with fingers, a rebel outlook, a willingness to turn up to eleven, living in the moment and a devil-may-care attitude.
Might suit people who like …: 
Free. This album reminded me of the carefully constructed, unhurried Free albums of the seventies. The Black Keys are a rock band with a broad scope and a real desire to progress musically, whilst succeeding commercially. Long may they reign.

Matt Berry

What's it called?: 
Music for Insomniacs
What does it sound like?: 
Matt Berry had trouble sleeping for a time last year and when he did he would go into his studio and make music. He ended up make a very personal album which he plays all the instruments. It consists of two 20 minute pieces of lush synths, strange sound effects and ghostly choirs. Designed to help you sleep Berry has said that you shouldn't make all the way through either piece, in fact you may never hear all of it! In the interests of research I did managed to stay awake and can say that it is brilliant. Many mood changes throughout the pieces with some lovely sounds. But it is nothing like this other albums so it may not be for you if you liked them.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Well, it should send you off to sleep. Not been successful for me so far but that may be that I found it so interesting and compelling to listen to.
Goes well with …: 
Bedtime? And I found it great to cook along with!
Might suit people who like …: 
Eno, Budd, Jarre but mostly Mike Oldfield.
softdog's picture

Thousands

What's it called?: 
The Sound of Everything
What does it sound like?: 
Maybe I'm cheating here but this isn't new, it came out in 2011, but there's something about this record that makes me want to let folks know that's it's deserving of their attention. Thousands are two guys, two acoustic guitars, one sings most of the songs and one does some backups. it's a very traditional structure and a well worn path. The wonderful thing about Thousands is the way they wrest as much beauty (and occasionally plaintiveness) from two guitars in counterpoint, they never rely on straight chord strums, their style is one of forward moving arpeggios and little supporting riffs in a finger style. Nothing new again, it's just a focus on arrangements that makes their songs special, the way 'Red Seagulls' starts as a rolling, Simon & Garfunkel-y tune then 2/3 rds of the way in changes abruptly to a really slow, achingly lovely static chord sequence. It's not quite an straight Americana/folk record, it's something else I think, but will appeal to fans of such.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The Sound of Everything? It was recorded mostly in the open air, and it's balanced really well to make you feel you could be sat in with the music. The sounds of the Pacific Northwest are there in the background.
Goes well with …: 
Feeling a bit wistful, train journeys, saying goodbye to a loved one, travelling. Also their most recent record is fantastic too, it's called Dream Isle - http://thousands.bandcamp.com/album/the-sound-of-everything-sample
Might suit people who like …: 
Simon & Garfunkel, Joni, Will Oldham (especially Palace Bros), Gastr Del Sol, Bert Jansch. Some links - http://open.spotify.com/album/1Qh2iLefTdLWI8IczYFE4N - http://vimeo.com/38483379
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Swans

What's it called?: 
To Be Kind
What does it sound like?: 
Only a fool expects an easy listen from Swans, but even by their standards this is a pulverising experience. Set over two hours, with a centrepiece that clocks in at over 30 minutes and includes what sounds like a crucifixion, there is screaming and there are swathes of punishing guitar and vast, sky scraping crescendos, and there is an epic, biblical quality, with frontman Michael Gira a deranged prophet laying his soul bare like a man opening his veins with a kitchen knife, one by one. But wait! There's also the odd funky moment. A Little God in My Hands provides some pleasant respite from all the thunder, and She Loves Us establishes a lolloping 17-minute groove, with Gira screaming things like, 'I am your God!' and 'Your name is fuck!', as only he can. Meanwhile on Some Things We Do, he duets with Crass's Little Annie, and it's really quite sweet. As a rule, though, anything quiet is swiftly followed by something very intense and noisy. Consider yourself warned.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For me it means what I imagine will be the best album of the year.
Goes well with …: 
Thinking that Swans have had three distinct phases to their career: the pre-Jarboe torture years; the Jarboe years, during which they more or less invented post-metal, and the now years, and that incredibly, after 32 of them, the 'now' is the best.
Might suit people who like …: 
Other Swans, especially anything from this third bit of their life. Also Godspeed, Boris, Isis, Om, Grails, Earth, Neurosis etc.
tiggerlion's picture

The Brothers And Sisters

What's it called?: 
Dylan's Gospel
What does it sound like?: 
In 1969, Lou Adler brought together a bunch of the best backing vocalists, put them in a large room with some crack musicians and recorded 'gospel' versions of ten Dylan songs. The singers are superb, including Merry Clayton (responsible for the greatest rock vocal ever on The Stones' Gimme Shelter) and Clydie King, who went on to actually work with Dylan. The Sisters easily outshine The Brothers. It does sound as though they are performing in a church, with plenty of echoey space and backing from piano, organ and, even, tambourine. Dylan's song drip with biblical references and the bite and snarl of his delivery is replaced by the intensity and clarity of purpose of the heavenly voices. There is some incongruity by the inclusion of three of his most lustful songs; Just Like A Woman, I'll Be Your Baby Tonight and his then current hit, Lay, Lady, Lay. This reissue is a great success. If you dislike Dylan's voice, it's definitely the place to start appreciating the beauty in his songs.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Dylan wrote some fabulous songs. At times, I find the lack of a middle eight draining but these versions, neatly arranged by Gene Page, transport them into something rich and majestic. That Lou Adler certainly knew a good singer when he heard one.
Goes well with …: 
Crack open some champagne and revel in the sheer joy of singing. The human voice is an amazing thing, especially when it belongs to Gloria Jones and Edna Wright. If you sing along, do so alone. Please don't let your noise spoil it for anyone else.
Might suit people who like …: 
Forces of nature, well thought-out and perfectly delivered projects, the joyful bass playing of Jerry Scheff (who also went on to play with Dylan), music that transcends time and genre, and the warmth, love and support of a group with a common goal.
bargepole's picture

Ian Anderson

What's it called?: 
Homo Erraticus
What does it sound like?: 
This is the third album in the sequence begun in the early '70's with Jethro Tull's seminal Thick As A Brick and continued more recently with the somewhat uneven TAAB2. Although a solo album, and sadly not featuring the talents of Martin Barre,this is by far the most 'classic Tull' sounding of Anderson's solo works, and is all the better for that. Anderson's voice is seemingly back in fine fettle,contrary to the evidence of some of his live shows over the past few years. He also handles production duties, while mastering and mixing is left in the very capable hands of Jakko Jakszyk (notably of King Crimson fame,and who has recently done the honours on the remastered version of ELP's Brain Salad Surgery). Jakko also provides a 5.1 surround mix on the cd/dvd version of the album. A very nice booklet complete with lyrics accompanies the album,while the dvd package,as well as the aforementioned 5.1 mix, also features a documentary about the making of the album.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The thoughts and musings of Anderson's alter ego Gerald Bostock once again form the central conceit of this concept album, which ranges over key events from the very beginnings of British history up to the present day and on into future prophecies.
Goes well with …: 
If you like the sound of classic era Tull but thought it was gone for ever, then give this album a try. While not up there with the likes of,say,Aqualung or A Passion Play it certainly ranks alongside other works from that band's glorious heyday.
Might suit people who like …: 
At the grand old age of 67,Ian Anderson has managed to come up with a prog album for the 21st century, belying the thought that his best work was perhaps behind him. Truly there is life in this old dog yet - catch him on his current tour if you can!
tiggerlion's picture

Talking Heads

What's it called?: 
Performance
What does it sound like?: 
Live in 1979, Talking Heads carried a real threat. Recorded three weeks after the release of their darkest, most malevolent album, Fear Of Music, this, ahem, performance bristles with tension. The audience at The Berklee School of Music, Boston, had already been treated to the sparkle of The B-52s and were open to anything The Heads threw at them, even unfamiliar material. Of course, that material had already been moulded on the road and the album had been recorded almost live, so they were sharp and slick in their delivery. Byrne is captured at his unhinged best, especially vocally. The thrash of guitars and keyboards is thrilling. Tina's bass is well to the fore, in what is actually a muddy mix that puts Chris's drum kit at a disadvantage. At this point in the Talking Heads development, Tina carried the melody and did so with aplomb. I much prefer this lean 1979 Talking Heads to the expanded version that created Stop Making Sense. This is their live album I'll play most frequently.
What does it all *mean*?: 
One week later, they played Edinburgh Festival. In the early evening sunshine, they outdid The Undertones and Van Morrison. Talking Heads were one hell of a live band. It's a pity, they only played four UK gigs after this tour, all in London.
Goes well with …: 
A good memory, a nostalgic soul, big speakers, skinny jeans, huge lungs, lively dancing and a heart that loves to skip a beat. I recognise it will be difficult to locate all these things in one place at the same time, but it's worth the effort.
Might suit people who like …: 
the kind of music and performance that makes it feel good to be alive, even released after all these (thirty-five!) years . A special mention for Jerry Harrison, whose calm, assured playing holds everything together and allows the others to go nuts.

Natalie Merchant

What's it called?: 
Natalie Merchant
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds like she is back with a vengeance. Natalie has been responsible for 2 of my favourite albums - In my Tribe with 10,000 maniacs and her solo album Ophelia. It's too early to suggest this album ranks with those but repeat plays this week suggest it may. Lush orchestral arrangements where needed, sparser fare elsewhere - she certainly has a knack with getting the right mood for the right song. She sounds sassy on a couple of songs and after the whimsy of Leave your sleep it is a welcome return to her adult themes whether it is a lament for a remembered film star (Lulu) or Hurricane Katrina (Go down Moses). I really hope she comes to these shores to tour this album as she is a great live performer too.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Natalie Merchant doesn't sound like anyone else and no-one sounds like Natalie - she has a unique voice that I really like. This is possibly my favourite release this year and so little fanfare too!!
Goes well with …: 
Times to reflect - curled up on the sofa with a coffee or a glass of wine or your tipple of choice.
Might suit people who like …: 
10,000 maniacs or any other Natalie solo album - if you like Natalie you will love this.
johnw's picture

The Delines

What's it called?: 
Colfax
What does it sound like?: 
For a debut album that I'd heard none of, I was, perhaps unreasonably, expecting a lot of this album. I was not disappointed at all. The last Richmond Fontaine album had a female singer on it and it kind of fitted perfectly with the music and made it even more plaintive and the stories seem more real than usual. This is lead Richmond's new (music) project and features another female singer. This time round though, she sounds like a young Lucinda Williams which is hard to imagine would be a bad thing and it's certainly not. I think this would appeal to anyone that likes Lucinda Williams and, although, once you know of Willy Vlautin's input, the Richmond Fontaine joins are fairly obvious, this quite definitely not another RF album with another singer.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that tickets seem to be disappearing fast for their UK tour. I've got mine for The Lexington.
Goes well with …: 
Daydreaming!
Might suit people who like …: 
Lucinda Williams, Richmond Fontaine (of course).
softdog's picture

Regal Worm

What's it called?: 
Use And Ornament
What does it sound like?: 
Full disclosure - I am a reader of Prog magazine, don't judge. I am definitely not a fan of some of the music covered within and the cover CD is routinely hair-raising, but I do like a bit of Avant Pop. Remember I Monster? That one song, well Jarrod Gosling, one half of said band has made this lovely record that will resonate with anybody partial to a bit of home grown, kaleidoscopic pop-psychedelia. Saxophones, handclaps, itchy time sigs, the rub of careworn corduroy on a lawn chair whilst taking tea in a walled garden, it's all here. 'Use and Ornament' is, at it's heart, a gently rocking record, cheerful and self-contained in places not a big twisty PROG meisterwork. However it does have a lot of forward momentum, shifting arrangement ideas and a couple of 10+ min songs. So plenty for those of a certain disposition to chew on.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Well, some sample song titles... Zinc Ferment - 6:17 PM The Aunt Turns Into An Ant - Confession From A Deep And Warm Hibernaculum - So, you tell me...
Goes well with …: 
Smoking a pipe, crouching under an antique turtle's shell on a mound, hiding in a bush in a damp corner of a National Trust garden, wearing a floppy hat.
Might suit people who like …: 
Whooo, Syd, Kevin, Robert, Daevid, Bevis, Early Julian, Ivor, Bill, ummm....Canterbury?
Wheldrake's picture

Roddy Frame

What's it called?: 
Seven Dials
What does it sound like?: 
Roddy's Fourth solo album, his first set of new songs since 2006's Western Skies, finds him in fine voice. He's not reinventing the wheel here, just playing to his strengths, which are perfectly crafted pop songs that don't outstay their welcome. Only one is over 4 minutes long. In fact the whole album is under 40 minutes. This is a good thing. The music is lush and soothing, without being soporific. This is classic adult pop music and while it doesn't quite have the verve of The North Star (for me still his finest solo moment), it's a consistently good album. In fact I'm almost certain it will grow better with repeated listenings. Stand out tracks include Postcard (sadly not about the legendary Scottish record label), the jaunty Forty Days of Rain (harmonica solo!) and Into The Sun, but to be honest there isn't a weak track here. My copy came with a free live at Buxton Opera House CD, which as yet I've not listened to. The album will be on repeat for a while yet...
What does it all *mean*?: 
That Roddy isn't a spent force, which is good news. At fifty he sound more confident, his voice soulful and rich. Let's hope it's not eight years until the next album.
Goes well with …: 
Headphones and a nice glass of wine. Or anything...it's one of those albums that worms it's way into your head and you find yourself singing snippets to yourself...
Might suit people who like …: 
Perfect Pop Music, Aztec Camera, Crowded House
tiggerlion's picture

Melanie De Biasio

What's it called?: 
No Deal
What does it sound like?: 
No Deal is a brooding rumination on the meaning of love. It is created by four Belgians, led by Melanie, who stayed in a room together for three days, the first of which was spent setting up. Voice, flute, piano, drums, clavinet and synths. She sings in English with a sultry Gallic flavour of cinnamon and rose. The music is still and quiet and taut, giving the illusion of suspended space and time. Each of the seven pieces blend into one another. It wears its influence on its sleeve, which, itself, is a tribute to the cover of In A Silent Way. Listening to it is like luxuriating in a thermal pool, surrounded by dark, malevolent mountains; at once reassuring and unsettling. Melanie describes the songs, aptly, as 'crepuscular'. This is one of those rare albums that creates its own world and defies categorisation. It is dizzying with genuine depth and mystery. It may be the point at which duco01 meets Poppy Succeeds. I will be amazed if a better album is released all year. Please buy it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
You can hear Melanie's heart throb, it's so full of desire and hope and ambition. This is the second high class female jazz vocal album in as many months, after Zara McFarlane. Just when I thought a format was tired and old, I find myself confounded.
Goes well with …: 
It really doesn't matter. As soon as you start to play it, you will be mesmerised, lost in its subtleties and complexities. It feels like it was designed to be heard at twilight, alone or as a couple. If so, a fine brandy is entirely appropriate.
Might suit people who like …: 
Genuinely experimental, exploratory, ground-breaking music, carefully thought-through and played with poise. This may be jazz but it seems so much more. It is thoroughly unique. Melanie and her three colleagues have achieved something very special.
sven garlic's picture

The War On Drugs

What's it called?: 
Lost In The Dream
What does it sound like?: 
Apparently he is a big Dylan nut which comes through en route via The Waterboys through a trendy, shoegazy, ambient-style filter with dreamy, lovely guitars evoking The Cure at times with even a touch of Dire Straits and post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac, but it sits easily also with the likes of Tame Impala and MGMT, so it sounds very much of now as well. That might give you an idea of what to expect but it's more than just a combination of influences, which it's unfair to reduce something to anyway, although it helps greatly with description so what the hell. Waterboys and Dire Straits being Dylan derived to an extent, this has a copy of a copy of a copy aspect to it but I think that works in it's favour to make the copy element have a nice, worn patina - that drifts in and out of focus. It could be great background music but it also has hooks, rhythmic patterns and textures that you get caught up in, plus the whole thing is rather moving. It's really great.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that modern records which remind us aged, music-buff farts of half a dozen reference points are a positive sign since young musicians clearly are open to anything without the prejudices we have/had.
Goes well with …: 
Late nights home with a few close friends and a bottle of whiskey.
Might suit people who like …: 
the idea of Lloyd Cole And The Commotions meets My Bloody Valentine?

Dan Wilson

What's it called?: 
Love Without Fear
What does it sound like?: 
After wrapping up his band Semisonic it appears that Dan Wilson became a successful songwriter for other people such as Adele, Pink, Taylor Swift, Dixie Chicks etc. So if you write songs for / with others as your day job does that mean a solo record gives free-reign to your experimental side or pulls together the leftovers that no-one else wanted. Actually neither, this is a straightforward singer songwriter album that just happens to have the best collection of songs I’ve heard in ages. It’s one of those records where you find a new favourite every time you play it and where tracks offer up new best bits (apologies for lack of music reviewer lingo here) with each listen. My current favourite is the horns on We belong together or perhaps it’s the end section of disappearing….
What does it all *mean*?: 
That you can’t go wrong with a good tune and whilst a song can be about anything it's most often about love.
Goes well with …: 
Seemingly anything that I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, driving, working, prevaricating about working etc.
Might suit people who like …: 
Semisonic, World Party, a bit of twang on guitar here and there.
softdog's picture

Tycho

What's it called?: 
Awake
What does it sound like?: 
In the past, Scott Hansen, the sole member of Tycho has given the impression of someone who has analysed and adapted the mysterious softness in certain Boards Of Canada tracks and moulded his research into a dreamy sound-world. Music that sounds custom made for viewing a dusty Californian desert sunrise perhaps. On this latest release, he has integrated the Tycho touring band into the arrangements and made a more rhythmically itchy and propulsive recording. The trademark delicate analog synths and reverberant production of the past are still intact, but chiming guitars and chunky basses are often given equal real-estate, lending a more humanistic feel.
What does it all *mean*?: 
By subtly tweaking the sounds of previous records Hansen has made one that may appeal to a less expressly Electronica/IDM/Whatever fan-base, but no compromise in atmosphere and that intangible quality that he brings to his music has been made.
Goes well with …: 
Imagining yourself reclining on a moulded plastic chair on the set of Space 1999's Moonbase Alpha, idly watching a puce coloured planet drifting by.
Might suit people who like …: 
Air, Boards of Canada (obviously), the more shoegazery end of Electronic music, anybody with a desire to listen to something that could have potentially have been the soundtrack of a mid-seventies Science documentary.
bargepole's picture

Yes

What's it called?: 
The Yes Album CD DVD Bluray
What does it sound like?: 
The next in the series of remixes by Steven Wilson has arrived. Jon Anderson mentions in the sleeve notes that this 1971 work felt like the first real Yes album, hence its title. For the uninitiated, this is the first Yes album to feature Steve Howe on guitar, and was keyboard player Tony Kaye's swansong with the band (until the 90125 era at least). What you get is the original album remixed on the CD, with two additional tracks - a studio take of 'Clap' and an extended version of the largely forgotten 'A Venture'. The DVD adds a 5.1 surround mix of the album, together with high resolution stereo mixes of both the original and the remixed album. If that wasn't enough, there's also an 'alternate' version of the album produced from a combination of live tracks from '71, the two bonus tracks already mentioned and the single version of 'Starship Trooper'. The bluray adds an instrumental version of the album, live takes of 'America' and 'It's Love' and a couple of single edits.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This is the first classic Yes album - Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper, I've Seen All Good People and Perpetual Change all make their first appearance here. The remix by Steven Wilson has superbly recaptured the original clarity of the sound.
Goes well with …: 
If you like Yes, you'll love the magnificence of the 5.1 surround mix - Squire's bass, Howe's guitar, Anderson's voice, Bruford's drums and Kaye's keyboards (check the organ on 'All Good People') are all pristinely restored to their former glories.
Might suit people who like …: 
If you liked Wilson's efforts with Close To The Edge, then this is a must have - this is the sound as it was in the studio back in '71, and it is glorious. In their pomp, Yes were untouchable, and there was still plenty left to come! (thanks to Dec)
tiggerlion's picture

Miles Davis

What's it called?: 
MILES AT THE FILLMORE – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
What does it sound like?: 
It's hard to believe but a stellar Miles Davis septet, at their commercial peak, were the support act for the sweet Laura Nyro in 1970. 45-60 minutes per night across four nights in June of challenging fusion was greeted by nonplussed audiences. Originally released on double vinyl, with each night truncated to fit one side of vinyl, we now get to hear the whole lot. The set list is similar each night but the result is very different. Dave Holland's bass is the anchor, Steve Grossman's sax is much better in its proper context and Airto Moreira brings some wild jungle colour. Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett weave such a dense electronic bed, the absent guitar isn't missed. Jack DeJohnette's drumming is superlative, heroically striving against the flow with relentless energy. I never realised he was so good. Miles is at his best; aggressive, controlled, gentle, his trumpet unsullied by mute, wah-wah or fuzz. There is a lot of music across these four CDs and a lot of it is fabulous trumpet.
What does it all *mean*?: 
1970 was a peak for Miles. Bitches Brew was released, his 'rock' masterpiece, Jack Johnson, most of Big Fun and some Get Up With It were recorded. Plus, there were The Cellar Door concerts. Now we can hear the full Fillmore, it all makes sense.
Goes well with …: 
This is demanding music that could clear a room, so it's best digested alone, accompanied by hard liquor. However, that means headphones can be discarded in favour of powerful floor speakers, cranked up to the max for full surround sound pleasure.
Might suit people who like …: 
to listen to the whole of Bitches Brew in one sitting. If you prefer a gentle melody, Laura Nyro is a better bet, but those searching for experimental, trailblazing jazz at its best, look no further. I believe this to be Miles Davis best live album.

Parker Millsap

What's it called?: 
Parker Millsap
What does it sound like?: 
Recommended to me by an American chum, this eponymous offering is ten tracks of the most astonishing melange of old timey country, blues, gospel and soul. Not sure how that sounds on paper, but to the ears it is a thing of wonder; raw, heartfelt and musically wonderful. (Please note, I have absolutely no idea of how to write about music. Perhaps this will help - http://alleyesmedia.com/clients/parker-millsap.) Parker's two companions provide the perfect back-up to his self-penned songs and there's not a weak track, nor a cliché, to be found on the album. Almost impossible to believe that he's produced something as good as this at the age of 20!
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that there are still true and original voices out in the undergrowth, and perhaps some of them are strong enough to hack their way through to the sunlight.
Goes well with …: 
An oppressively hot day, a log cabin, a bottle of rye and a bible to thump.
Might suit people who like …: 
Blues, country, gospel, soul; but I'm sure it has a wider reach than that.
tiggerlion's picture

Zara McFarlane

What's it called?: 
If You Knew Her
What does it sound like?: 
Zara opens this beautifully poised album wounded by a broken affair and ends it in a reverie of love. In between she unravels a knot of myriad emotions and experiences. Half the tracks feature a traditional jazz trio, led by Peter Edwards on piano. The other half feature Zara and just one other musician. These stripped down performances are the ones that are most brave, vulnerable and rewarding. Her voice, in mid-range is a tad metallic but when she whispers, roars, swoops, hums, trills or whoops, she raises the spirits. She has a smooth rhythm and a perfect understanding of the joy in repetition. Just lose yourself in her multiple variations of the word 'trouble' on You'll Get Me In Trouble. Her love of reggae is revealed in two of the covers, Police & Thieves and Duke Reid's Angie La La. The latter is unrecognisable. The basic trio is augmented by harp and Leron Thomas on trumpet and vocals, whilst Zara pulls off a wonderfully improvised scat that even Ella would have been proud of.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Zara is young, British and a supremely talented jazz vocalist. She is also an imaginative composer, arranger, producer and musician. This album means there is, at last, fresh vibrancy in female jazz vocalese. This young lady is a star in the making.
Goes well with …: 
Intelligent, inventive, open, honest music. In attitude Zara is a fearless, youthful Nina Simone, a point she underlines with a delicate cover of Plain Gold Ring. But, it's the quality of her own songs and her musicianship that impress the most.
Might suit people who like …: 
Zara dedicates the album to "strong, beautiful women with strength, courage, empathy, humour, wisdom & love". This, only her second album, features all of these qualities and more. It is a confident, accomplished work and a uplifting, soulful listen.
bob's picture

The Hold Steady

What's it called?: 
Teeth Dreams
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds like The Hold Steady, sure enough, but as hinted at on the previous two albums, it's a Hold Steady who are getting older and sadder, albeit no quieter. You feel the presence of what Craig Finn calls "that American sadness" all the way through this record. The big Hüsker-Dü-meets–E-Street-meets-Replacements crunch is still present and correct (with more than a hint of Tad Kubler's beloved Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy coming to the fore), but the old unison WHOAH-OH-OH fist-pumping is entirely gone. The band seem finally to have settled into having no piano player, and it's perhaps right that Franz Nicolay's twinkling keys aren't a part of what THS are doing here: Franz leavened the sound, made it more barroom. This record is still set in bars and dives, but there's precious little partying going on. Instead, The Hold Steady's intensity is a more emotional one on "Teeth Dreams", less propelled by the good times and the fallout from them. It rocks like hell, but it's more sombre.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Franz Nicolay left when he started to suspect that THS had already done all they could do with their ingredients. This album shows that, after a few missteps, he was wrong. They've evolved, while retaining their soul and their impact.
Goes well with …: 
Their second album, Separation Sunday. Although I detect no Holly or Charlemagne or Gideon in name, Craig is still telling their story as they creep into age.
Might suit people who like …: 
The Hold Steady. It might even suit people who don't, but I think if a non-fan was ever going to be converted, that ship sailed with Boys And Girls In America. This is a wonderful record, but I don't see it as anyone's entry point into THS.

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey

What's it called?: 
Going Back Home
What does it sound like?: 
Sounds a bit like Dr. Feelgood fronted by the bloke out of the 'OO, what more could you want? Top notch R n' B played by people who know what they're doing, it's even on the Chess records label.
What does it all *mean*?: 
A positive celebration of a man's life as he faces the end with incredible dignity.
Goes well with …: 
Beer and fags (although I'm reduced to an e-fag at this point). It would be knock out stuff live no doubt.
Might suit people who like …: 
British R n' B, early Stones, Who and the Feelgoods themselves.

Real Estate

What's it called?: 
Atlas
What does it sound like?: 
I can not come back to this neighbourhood/Without feeling my own age/I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives but some how you're still here. Atlas sounds like the soundtrack to the last summer of youth, the one where the inner warmth of life's infinite possibilities has been marinaded over beers on the beach at midnight only to be chilled by the following cold autumnal morning's confirmation that life's inescapable responsibilities will constantly remind you of your own mortality. Gorgeous jingle jangle guitars pluck and strum gorgeous tunes as Martin Courtney's plaintive vocals finely balance the wistful mood. This band understands the power of a well-timed minor chord in a major progression. Their wholesome and pure attachment to melody is built from understated craftsmanship; they're naturally respectful music makers who, if carpenters, would look to the grain of the wood for inspiration rather than the cabinet in the showroom.
What does it all *mean*?: 
A good record is a good record is a good record. It's liberating to be reminded that in music, as in life, it's invariably the simple things that deliver the most fulfilling and deep-seated pleasure.
Goes well with …: 
The yearning for a sunny day to never end.
Might suit people who like …: 
Jangly guitars, tunes, keeping it simple.
Rigid Digit's picture

Stiff Little Fingers

What's it called?: 
No Going Back
What does it sound like?: 
It has been 11 years since their last release, but the same targets of old remain, and the time was right for the band to produce another batch of songs fronting up to these injustices and sometimes difficult situations. Unscrupulous politicians, the banking industry, record companies, equality, hypocrisy and intolerance are just some of the subjects to make an appearance on the latest release. The 12 new songs that make up the album bear all the hallmarks of the bands history. Echoes of previous outings, replete with hammering riffs, soaring guitar, solid bedrock bass and pounding drums are much in evidence. The songs retain an anthemic quality, with a call to arms in places, and the ability to provoke thought and discussion by offering a new way, or a personal viewpoint on a particular situation. In short, this isn't just a bunch of old geezers continuing recording for the sake of it, this album offers valid comment on the world around them.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The new album started life as a PledgeMusic campaign and the target was achieved in 12 hrs (demolishing the 2 months originally planned Stiff Little Fingers have got something to say, and with the support of fans, have only gone and bloody done it
Goes well with …: 
The SLF back catalogue, if only to show the marked difference between version 1 (78-82) and the current incarnation.
Might suit people who like …: 
If you like tuneful rock music with an honest message and passion, this album will not disappoint.

Benmont Tench

What's it called?: 
You should be so lucky
What does it sound like?: 
This album is a joy from the first song 'Tonight I took your picture down' to the final rollicking take on Dylan's Duqesne Whistle which is superior to the original. Throughout the playing is exceptional from a band of crack musicians including Ethan Johns, Don Was, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings amongst others. Benmont's piano playing is wonderful none more so on the aforementioned Duqesne Whistle. On the instrumental Wobbles he manages to sound remarkably like Dr John in his more reflective moods and his voice although a higher register has echoes of Tom Petty at times - no surprise given their length of time playing together. The album to my ears is upbeat but at the same time has moments of reflection.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For me it is great that Benmont being an integral part of the Heartbreakers has a chance to break out on his own and play a selection of songs he has written over the last 3 years. The only other cover on the album is Corrina Corrina which also sound
Goes well with …: 
Heard it 3 times straight on a fairly long car journey and was completely relaxed - the album washes over you and leaves a warm glow - think of coming out of the sea to sunshine.
Might suit people who like …: 
Definitely anyone who likes Tom Petty, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and muscle shoals music. Will be in my final end of year reckoning unless there is a miraculous glut of fantastic albums round the corner.
Mike Hull's picture

Elbow

What's it called?: 
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
What does it sound like?: 
On first listening, Elbow’s 6th studio album seems quite low key. Actually it isn’t, but it seemed that way compared to the last album. It lacks the more obvious catchy hooks associated with their last two studio albums and in many ways has more in common with earlier work such as Asleep in the Back. If you found some of the tracks on Build a Rocket Boys! a bit forced, such as Open Arms, this will come as something of a relief. It is interesting that, now they are an arena band, Elbow on this album have avoided the bombastic crowd pleasing approach. For example, think of how U2’s last few albums have played more to the common denominator, with diminishing results. It is to their credit that Elbow have seemingly put creativity first and obvious crowd pleasing second. This album is not dark or difficult, but it does take time to reveal itself. After several listens, I think that Elbow have equalled Seldom Seen Kid and have possibly surpassed themselves.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Elbow, a band that have been together for 22 years without a change in line up and now hitting 40, have kept their feet on the ground and can sing about how life is to them now. They are not a young person's band and are maturing nicely.
Goes well with …: 
A decent malt whisky with a splash of water.
Might suit people who like …: 
Music that looks forward as well as backward. More of the review is in the comments below....
tiggerlion's picture

Little Feat

What's it called?: 
Rad Gumbo: The Complete Warner Bros Years 1971-1990
What does it sound like?: 
This is a 13 CD collection of all the albums released up to 1990, with the addition of the 2nd bonus disc of Waiting For Columbus and the outtakes collections of Hoy Hoy! and Hotcakes. All are in faithfully replicated covers, including the gatefolds. I had seen Little Feat live before I'd heard a record. I was impressed but not smitten. Then, in 1974, a needle hit a groove, a syncopated conga was supported by a deep bass and a piano trilled. Dixie Chicken had barely begun and they had captured my soul. The first five albums are peerless and wonderfully remastered. Sailin' Shoes benefits the most, sounding so magnificent that I'm beginning to think it may be their best album. Waiting For Columbus is a great live double and there is much to commend the derided Time Loves A Hero & Down On The Farm. I just can't bring myself to play the last two George-less LPs. Rad Gumbo covers Little Feat in their full glory, every delicious, slinky track. All it lacks is a booklet with decent info.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Little Feat are the finest group of musicians that ever existed; they had the feel, the chops and the creativity. George may have been the talisman with the charisma but the competition for lead vocal and songwriting, in the end, tore them apart.
Goes well with …: 
Lowell George's solo album, Thanks I'll Eat It Here, on which the outtake on CD 13, China White, belongs, and Electrif Lycanthrope, the best bootleg ever, which, regretably, may never get an official release, despite being mixed by George himself.
Might suit people who like …: 
To readjust the past. The Feat liked to repeat a good song. Willin' appears on the first two LPs, for example. There is a wealth of strong material in the outtake CDs to fuel the imagination of a Feat revisionist armed with the iTunes edit function.

Allman Brothers Band -when too many guitar solos are barely enough

What's it called?: 
Play All Night - Live At The Beacon Theatre
What does it sound like?: 
If you don't like duelling guitars, don't like extended guitar solos, don't like the chiming, bouncy sound of southern rock - look away now. There are certain guitar sounds you can fall in love with and for me this sound is a favourite. There are heaps of Allman's live recordings coz they were at their best live and jamming. This double CD was the reunion concert from 1992 at the Beacon in NY. It prompted them to reform and continue to perform there every year since.It's pre Derek Trucks Allmans. Dicky Betts is back is back,before he was booted out again and Warren Haynes has just joined.Tom Dowd engineered and Warren H produced. The sound is superb - crisp and clear with guitars and percussion right up front. Blue Sky, Jessica and Mountain Jam are excellent though the jaunty version of Hoochie Coochie Man is well...odd. I was working outside with this on, did some chores, came back in and they were still jamming on the same song....just how it should be.Now where's the DVD?
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means there's still a place for extended jamming and for duelling guitars just like there is a place for taut, short pop songs.
Goes well with …: 
Jack Daniels and coke, southern fried chicken, fat guts, beards, denim and cowboy hats.
Might suit people who like …: 
Guitars.
Rigid Digit's picture

Henry Priestman

What's it called?: 
The Last Mad Surge Of Youth
What does it sound like?: 
Musically rooted in folk, country, americana and punk stylings (albeit in attitude, not so much in instrumentation and time signatures), similar to his debut release, the album is a collection of songs about honesty, reflection, frustration with the world, and loss (both perceived loss of the past, and two songs of genuine loss (both of which may lead you to believe you have something in your eye)). The playing and arrangements are confidently delivered, and the sequencing of the album and the production is spot on. Yes, there are moments of grumpiness, but this is tempered by moments of sheer tenderness and not taking oneself to seriously. There's genuine sadness ("At The End Of The Day", "I Cried Today"), tenderness ("Valentines Day") and frustration with the world ("Rant and Rave", "Goodbye Common Sense"). There are also two moments of great humour and sublime self-deprecation ("In My Head", "A Pint Of Bitter and Twisted")
What does it all *mean*?: 
The debut was described "Music For Grumpy Old Men". A fair headline, but that debut and this release offer much more. Yes, there are moments of grumpiness, but this is tempered by moments of sheer tenderness and not taking oneself to seriously.
Goes well with …: 
The arrangement, playing and subject matter are relatively downbeat - my first impression was it was a "proper Sunday morning album", but its just the right tone to make you realise that the world isn't that bad after all
Might suit people who like …: 
This is an album for anyone who's getting older, but still feels the inequality and unfairness inherent in life. Rather than stewing on it, put this album on and laugh, cry and jump around your kitchen - I promise you'll feel a whole lot better

The Soul Fire Boxset

What's it called?: 
The Soul Fire Boxset (Rare sides from the Soul Fire Catalog)
What does it sound like?: 
I bought this on a whim because I liked the cover. To say I was not disappointed is an understatement. If you like your funk as dirty as it comes this is a treasure trove. Mainly instrumental, I didn't know any of the bands but no matter. They serve up real funk with attitude. Imagine being in a a smoky backstreet bar in Brooklyn or Philly with a bad clientele looking for trouble. That sets the atmosphere for hammond, sax and thumping bass. Pick of the bunch are The Fabulous Three and Bronx River Parkway but all are good. 35 tracks over 2 cd's. A shade under £9 from the Tax Dodgers - If I get a better bargain this year I will be well chuffed.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Like most genres Funk can be misrepresented and finding something this good by accident makes me realise why I love buying music.
Goes well with …: 
This is dancing music, forget quiet reflection get up and shake your ass. Party music for people who want real music.
Might suit people who like …: 
Average White Band were name checked on this site last week - a similar vein but grittier. The Dap-Kings rhythmically but most tracks are instrumental so minus Sharon Jones. Check it out, you will not be disappointed.
Carl Parker's picture

Rosanne Cash

What's it called?: 
The River & The Thread
What does it sound like?: 
Rosanne Cash has never produced a bad album in 35 odd years of making music, so when people start talking about the best of her career, it's not about a 'return to form' but an assessment against a very high bar. I've listened and absorbed this CD for over a week and it could well be a new summit. It's inspired by the American South, by her family history and the wider history of that area. The Sunken Lands relates to how the New Deal saved the Cash family; Etta's Tune is inspired by the 65 year marriage of Marshall & Etta Grant; he was her dad's bassist. When The Master Calls The Roll is a Civil War ballad co-written with ex and current husbands. Musically it's diverse and and is indebted to many styles. Opener A Feather's Not A Bird begins like a Ry Cooder record. There's country, blues, folk and soul in the mix. The strong lyrical content is supported by some cracking tunes. Those already noted are great but Money Road, Modern Blue and 50,000 Watts are splendid too. Simply splendid!
What does it all *mean*?: 
Creating music in the shadow of the genuine legend that was her father must be daunting, but Rosanne has gone from Queen of mainstream Nashville in the 80s to a creator of brilliant inspiring music that she and John Leventhal believe in and love.
Goes well with …: 
Interestingly Rosanne is now on the Blue Note label and while jazz is one musical influence not heard on the album the overall mood calls for relaxed but attentive listening to absorb the flavours of the album.
Might suit people who like …: 
This album's appeal isn't limited to people who like country. I've avoided the 'A' word because while in some respects it represents the very best of that genre (whatever it is,) anyone who loves a gorgeous voice singing great songs will adore it.
Rigid Digit's picture

Len Price 3

What's it called?: 
Nobody Knows
What does it sound like?: 
This is the fourth album from the Len Price 3, and continues in the same vein as the previous collections. I feel I should qualify this, and say that this is a GOOD thing. 'Nobody Knows' continues the tradition of spiky garage/powerpop, with melody and harmony a-plenty. The touchstones of The Who, The Small Faces and The Kinks mixed with viscarel punk(ish) sounds and a dollop of psychedelia to boot. You get 13 tracks all done and dusted in 35 minutes with changes of pace at just the right moments. The slower pace tracks like "Swing Like A Monkey" or the relaxed reverie of "Medway Sun" sit perfectly against the high energy tracks like "Wigmore Swingers", "Billy Mason", "My Grandad Jim" or the title track "Nobody Knows". Indeed, the title track is almost an object lesson on how to start an album - the click of drum sticks counting in, and then BANG! and we're off.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The album is more than just a nod to the past. As a whole entity, 'Nobody Knows' is a properly contemporary album in style, sound and delivery. The closing track ("The London Institute") is an epic conclusion to a truly blistering album.
Goes well with …: 
The Len Price 3 are best heard in a live setting (that in no way detracts from the power of the album), and you lucky people can experience that thrill at the Retroman/Mondo event on 26th April at The Railway, Southend
Might suit people who like …: 
Mod, Punk, Indie, anything with a guitar and a slice of high energy. Honestly, there is probably something for anyone who appreciates tunes, melody, harmony served up with a side-order of adrenaline.
Twang's picture

JaR

What's it called?: 
Scene 29
What does it sound like?: 
Possibly of interest to Steely Dan fans, the J of JaR is Jay Graydon, he of the superb guitar solo on "Peg". He's had quite a career, winning songwriting and production Grammys as well as being a first call session guitarist for years. JaR is his project with keyboardist and songwriter Randy (the R, geddit) Goodrum, which combines sophisticated chords, great playing, smarty pants lyrics and Graydon's stellar soloing into an appealing Dan-lite package. I've grown to like it a lot. Rather than use a revolving door of session musicians they play pretty much everything themselves. And as you can see from the video below they have the quirky humour and great-for-radio image of the Dan too.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Errr, there's always a market for tuneful, groovesome, well played, intelligent jazz tinged pop/rock. Well, to a certain demographic!
Goes well with …: 
I really like it when driving. But cooking works too.
Might suit people who like …: 
Steely Dan, 70s FM etc. There are a few of us around. Guitar players will get a few unimplementable ideas from Jay's mind bending solos.
Joncocteau's picture

Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana

What's it called?: 
Mehliana: taming the dragon
What does it sound like?: 
Record label Nonesuch seems keen to describe the collaborative album ‘Mehliana: taming the dragon’, by Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana as the product of an ‘electric duo’. Putting aside the fact that 50% of the band is the incredible yet distinctly non-electric drummer, it strikes me what the label is really trying to avoid is to tell it like it is. This album is…. prog jazz! Now then, hear me out. The decider for me was coming across standout track ‘Hungry ghost’ a few Sunday mornings ago on 6 Music. It’s a beautiful tune, meandering like a dream over feverishly excitable drums, but Mehldau’s Fender Rhodes has its controls set firmly to the progressive end of the musical scale, so if that rattles your bag, you’ll be in for a treat. Where I think this album lets itself down is the opening, title track, with its pretty corny spoken word sections. My heart sank. And yet get past that and you’re in for an eclectic, restless, quality piece of work.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The aim is to confuse. I’m pretty sure of that. On fourth listen I’m still no nearer the heart of this album, and yet that makes repeat listens all the more rewarding.
Goes well with …: 
A few student dormitories will get rather ‘smoky’ whenever this one's brought out. And I doubt it will do much to dent the current fascination with beards.
Might suit people who like …: 
Fine jazz drumming, Herbie Hancock, Yes, early Genesis.
Carl Parker's picture

Suzy Bogguss

What's it called?: 
Lucky
What does it sound like?: 
An album of Merle Haggard songs that isn't a tribute. "These songs are perfect for me... They just happen to all be written by one guy" says Suzy. In many ways this album exemplifies that truism that country is white man's blues, but despite all the songs of drinking and lost love, often combined, this is a joyous album. The band's playing is exemplary and Suzy is in as good a voice as I've ever heard. It's a thing of beauty, it's a thing of joy. It's not any sort of compromise; it's not pitched at an Americana audience this is Country with a capital C and if you don't like that, it's a crying shame. I wasted so many years hating country. If you don't like it, give Suzy a listen. She is wonderful and every time I listen to this I break into a great big smile and my heart is lifted. Album of the year and it's not even the end of January.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This is on Suzy's own Loyal Duchess label, so she's beholden to no-one. She put out a Kickstarter appeal for funding, so I have it before the official release date as I contributed. This has freed her to do as she pleases and not what others want.
Goes well with …: 
Get a crate of beer and really get into Merle's moods.
Might suit people who like …: 
The last albums by Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg, both of whom play on it (teaching Twang and SteveT inter alia to suck eggs here) and anything else with lashings of steel guitar.
Joncocteau's picture

Pat Metheny Unity Group

What's it called?: 
Kin (<-->)
What does it sound like?: 
The laws of audio physics demand Pat Metheny will one day run out of notes, yet somehow he still manages to take us down new avenues and up to greater sonic heights. Album opener ‘On day one’ begins with a wash of piano, cymbals and rolling drums, suddenly changing to a solo Latin percussive beat, around which the various members of the band gradually wind themselves before showcasing their individual talents. Metheny is up first, then tenor sax player Chris Potter adds fresh new riffs over some speeding rhythms, while Ben Williams offers bass passages veering from contemplative to hook-soaked. None of the tracks on this album stays still for very long, taking us on curling rollercoasters of melody before sometimes heading to screeching finales. This album demands that you be drawn into its world, with its ever-changing time sequences and restless percussion. There’s a real sense everyone involved set out with the intention of making a bloody good record. And this is what they did.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Pat Metheny has stated that this record represents the Technicolour, IMAX version of what his relatively new band can do. The scope is certainly huge, but it never loses the warmth of individuality.
Goes well with …: 
I haven’t tried it yet but this would definitely spice up those tedious motorway journeys, although it’s often very tempting to break into spontaneous jazz dancing, which doesn’t go well with driving.
Might suit people who like …: 
Anyone who wants to hear experienced individual talents coming together to create a thundering love child of varied jazz styles.

The Gloaming

What's it called?: 
The Gloaming
What does it sound like?: 
A record that warms the mind, bursting with life affirming beauty in places. There's been a bit of a buzz about this project from some of the leading exponents of Irish traditional music since they played a number of shows over the last year or two. This release arrives fully formed and captivated me immediately. Two fiddles, a sean-nós singer, guitar and piano connected via a palpable bond. This is music that breathes and exists on its own terms. In its own space. At its own wonderful pace. From the opening bars of 'Song 44' all the way through to the sublime closer ' Samhradh Samhradh' it takes you on a journey you'll want to repeat again and again. Most of the lyrical content is in Irish but there's no language barrier here. This is music of, for and about us all. Try it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The spontaneity of all this is key. You can almost feel the connection between the players. The way in which instinct drives things. I'm finding it hard to be objective about this at the moment... maybe someone else should take over!
Goes well with …: 
The recently aired (on Irish TV) documentary, Moment to Moment, which details the genesis of The Gloaming and the recording of the album. Play it first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Might suit people who like …: 
Traditional music, something fresh, a change. Music that matters. Soul food.
JoLean's picture

I Break Horses

What's it called?: 
Chiaroscuro
What does it sound like?: 
I Break Horses have been described as chillwave, nu-gaze, dream pop, shoegaze and electronica just for starters, proving - if nothing else - that describing music is a)quite tricky and b)probably futile. This second LP from the Swedish duo is a shimmering electronic pop beauty. These are, on the surface of it, relatively plain songs, layered with uneven, choppy synth sounds, almost 80s-sounding, but without the production slickness that implies. Plenty of use of loops and reverb and clearer vocals than I've heard from them previously. It is still melancholic - they've not turned into jaunty funsters - but certainly some songs (excellent opener You Burn, Ascension and Denial for example) are more extrovert than you'd expect and *almost* hopeful. And some are *almost* catchy. Every listen has revealed something new and delightful to me: this is music to spend time with, savouring the sounds, atmosphere and charm.
What does it all *mean*?: 
*Sigh* I don't know what it means & I don't care. It's synth and vocal based alt pop that sounds gorgeous and that's more than enough for me. The title of the LP means something in Italian, I understand, but didn't bother finding out what.
Goes well with …: 
Listening on good headphones upstairs on a double decker bus on a cold, crisp night. Sitting in a comfy chair with a large gin and tonic. A long hot bubble bath with a large gin and tonic.
Might suit people who like …: 
This LP will appeal to those who like a bit of melancholic synth-pop: I was reminded of the Cocteaus, the Icelandic soundscapers, a less experimental Knife and at times I was even reminded of Dreaming-era Kate Bush.
dogfacedboy's picture

Bruce Springsteen

What's it called?: 
High Hopes
What does it sound like?: 
Sadly the title track of The Boss' 10th UK chart topper doesn't have him gravelly intoning "Whoops there goes another rubber tree plant". Many of the songs here are old but not *that* old. Its a rag bag of new songs, old songs, some familiar to concert attendees of the past 15 years which results in a bit of an uneven listen. 'Frankie Fell In Love' sounds like a 70's out-take, on Harry's Place, Bruce lets an f-word or two fly to show there's still a little fire in the belly and 'Down In the Hole' is haunting and moody. I would have preferred that live versions of 'American Skin' (always an emotional gut punch), 'Tom Joad' and especially 'Dream Baby Dream' were included rather than studio takes. On the 'Devils & Dust' tour his reverb drenched pump organ & harmonica take was truly heavenly. That's not to take anything away from these versions which capture the sturm und drang of RATM\Bruce hybrid 'The Ghost Of Tom Joad' with Morello cutting loose in familiar style. Definitely a grower.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Feels a bit like a palette cleanser, a project getting studio versions of some of these songs played live before the rest of the band fade away - the ghosts of Danny Federici and Clarence 'Big Man' Clemons appear fleetingly for the final time
Goes well with …: 
Despite the new "old" songs there is still enough for the devoted to get their teeth into and for it not to matter to the casual admirer. I first gave it a couple of spins whilst driving through rain & then cold winter darkness. It suited both fine.
Might suit people who like …: 
Recent Bruce, the production team & its sound remains the same. Perhaps not the best of his recent run but certainly in no way average and workmanlike. There is the usual intensity, passion and gravitas that remains his touchstone.

Phil and Don

What's it called?: 
The Everly Brothers - The Essential Collection
What does it sound like?: 
As well as two CDs crammed with what sound like original versions of their earlier hits, including timeless folk songs from Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, the album includes a DVD of The Everly Brothers Reunion Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. A mere 10 years after their first falling out, Phil and Don reunited for a spectacular two nights at the Royal Albert Hall. The event was directed by guitarist Albert Lee, who appears alongside Pete Wingfield (piano) and Mark Griffiths (bass), Martin Jenner (pedal steel), and Graham Jarvis (drums) from Cliff's backing band. There are various releases of this performance available, but even in 4:3 ratio as originally transmitted the BBC/Arena presentation makes the whole package even better value for those now thinking of investigating the Everly Brothers. The audience, almost absent on some CD releases of the gig, livens up the dynamic of the DVD's audio track, and Mark Griffiths' bass is prominent in the mix, but the musicianship is top notch.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Back then they didn't seem that relevant but I'd always had a bit of a soft spot for them, and the Everlys' Reunion Concert reignited my love for the Everly Brothers 30 years ago in 1983. It's still there today, and even more relevant given the news.
Goes well with …: 
New Year's Eve and a sparkling bottle of wine made for a perfect occasion to revisit the gig. The Everlys will probably get a good airing this weekend too, and not just at my house. Many other Everlys' performances on CD/DVD out there to choose from.
Might suit people who like …: 
Rock'n'roll, folk, close harmonies, sad songs (some laughably so), or just simple good old-fashioned musicianship. A bargain at £5.99 from HMV, but I'd expect prices of some CDs will inevitably rise following the sad news of Phil Everly's death.
bargepole's picture

King Crimson

What's it called?: 
Red - 2013 version
What does it sound like?: 
This is perhaps the pivotal release in the Crimson canon. An astonishing album by the core trio of Fripp, Bruford and Wetton, this was the last release before Fripp called a halt to the band for the next few years. What do you get in this 2 cd set ? The original 1974 album augmented by the full version of Providence, originally available on the Great Deceiver set. This is accompanied by a second cd - and this is the key selling point - of a 2013 stereo mix newly created by Fripp and the ubiquitous Steven Wilson. Musically this is a stunning experience, ranking alongside Wilson's recent work on Yes's Close To The Edge. Make no mistake, this is one heavy album, and that is really brought to the fore here. The original track listing is supplemented by trio (pre overdub) versions of the title track and Fallen Angel, both of which reveal hidden depths to these pieces and are certainly well worth checking out.
What does it all *mean*?: 
As with the USA set reviewed elsewhere on here, this album is also available as part of the Road To Red box. Forty years after its original release, this is still a magnificent piece of work, and its influences continue to resonate today.
Goes well with …: 
Anyone wanting an introduction to King Crimson could do worse than start here - to these ears the album still represents the epitome of this trio's work, and this reaches its zenith on the peerless Starless, still their masterpiece.
Might suit people who like …: 
KC fans will have this already in one of its incarnations, but the 2013 mix is certainly worth shelling out for, either for yourself or to bring a little seasonal cheer into the heart of any prospective prog fan who is seeking an introduction to KC.
bargepole's picture

King Crimson

What's it called?: 
USA 40th anniversary cd/dvd
What does it sound like?: 
This landmark album has been given the 40th anniversary treatment by Mr Fripp and his cohorts. It is as stunning now as it was on its original release way back when, capturing the band at the peak of their powers on their 1974 USA tour. The cd features a new 2013 mix of the full album, now incorporating what were originally bonus tracks on previous reissues. The DVD takes this and adds the 2005 mix, the 30th anniversary remaster and a transfer of the original vinyl. Its nicely packaged, and is also available as part of the 'Road To Red' box set. The 2013 version adds new power and clarity, and the transition from the ambient intro music from Fripp and Eno's No Pussyfooting to the the jarring Larks Tongues In Aspic still stuns the senses after all these years.The highlight though has to be a magical rendition of Starless, still unrecorded at that time, perhaps the archetypal Crimson piece....and then all is rounded off with the old chestnut 21st Century Schizoid Man.
What does it all *mean*?: 
As mentioned above, this is also part of the Road To Red set - the 2013 mix certainly adds a new sense of the power and majesty of the band in concert in their heyday. Maybe the extra versions on the DVD are a bit surplus to requirements but hey.....
Goes well with …: 
Want to hear a true innovator at his peak, then check this out. As if that wasn't enough to persuade you to part with your cash, there's also peerless percussion from Bill Bruford and Wetton's voice is in fine fettle throughout.
Might suit people who like …: 
Prog fan, rock fan, fusion fan, there's something for you here - there's even a few hints of the Mahavishnu Orchestra going on at times ! Quick - ask Santa to put one in his sack for you while there's still time!

XTC

What's it called?: 
Nonsuch (CD+Blu-Ray 5.1 Surround Edition)
What does it sound like?: 
The first of a series of expanded and re-mixed surround sound 5.1 editions by sound wizard Steven Wilson, Nonsuch is the last of the Virgin albums before the groups 'strike', released in 1992 and named after Henry VIII's grandest building project. As always with XTC the quality of song-writing and music is second to none. This edition brings a totally new dimension with the multi-layered tracks really jumping from the speakers. The stereo mix is stunning but the 5.1 is amazing with Peter Pumpkinhead booming out, Dave Mattacks drums cracking the plaster and the piano lead on Wrapped in Grey sounding crystal clear, it sounds like you are with them in the studio. I find it impossible to pick out favourites but if forced to 'The Disappointed' is a stunning pop song which any group would be proud to have written but only Andy P can and 'Bungalow' is Colin M's best I think, with the English melancholy that he does so brilliantly. Thanks to Declan@Panegyric,Bargepole.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It should have meant that XTC had some huge hits in 1992 but of course the cloth-eared public didn't buy enough! This edition means that you can really hear everything, Steve Wilson has really worked his magic on this. Roll on Drums & Wires!
Goes well with …: 
A Winters afternoon, a crackling fire, a House on the South Coast and a half-decent surround system.
Might suit people who like …: 
Quality, quality and more quality.
dogfacedboy's picture

Little Me

What's it called?: 
The 1964 London Cast Recording
What does it sound like?: 
Well the sleevenotes call it a whopping whirling burlesque so you can imagine the overblown Mermanesque delivery of Belle Poitrine - and her tale of Hollywood stardom. But the star of the show, see mugshot above, Bruce Forsyth in his first musical plays several roles in several similar accents. His French haw-he-haw accent is sublime in the saucy 'Boom Boom' pitched somewhere between the leering Maurice Chevalier in 'Gigi' and Gordon Kaye in 'Allo Allo'. If they were ever to make a 'Psycho musical then they could easily drop 'Real Live Girl' straight in with no alterations "Pardon me miss / But I've never done this / With a real live girl". There a fair bit of polka here and there and a-whooping and a-dancing. As a story its got everything - love, sex, murder, a "hooker with a heart of gold" and I'm sure the choreography of Bob Fosse was first rate but what ain't it got, it ain't got tunes!
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that Jolean has been buying me her unique birthday gifts again
Goes well with …: 
A strong drink and maybe a hint of chloroform
Might suit people who like …: 
Root canal surgery without anesthetic - the shrill whine of the lead actress would chime so nicely with the dentist's drill. (If JO is reading this - I actually quite like the ridiculousness of it all :-))
tiggerlion's picture

15.60.75 (The Numbers Band)

What's it called?: 
Jimmy Bell's Still In Town
What does it sound like?: 
Something was cooking in Ohio in the mid-seventies that would soon flourish in the emergence of Devo and Pere Ubu. 15.60.75 (The Numbers Band) were gnawing away at the blues, mangling it with some freaky jazz and underlining it with colossal rock grooves. This album was their debut, recorded live in 1975, and has long been unavailable. David Robinson is relentless and energetic on the drums, ably supported by a panoply of percussion. Chrissie Hynde's brother, Terry, skronks away on sax, entangling with the guitar of Michael Stacey in a struggle for dominance, whilst Robert Kidney (so-called because he needed a transplant as a child) referees determinedly on vocals. Somehow, all the pieces hang together beautifully, each element unified by the clear purpose of hitting the listener in the gut. This is no aural mess. It is six tracks of poised, committed rock, rhythm and blues of stupendous quality. It is an exhilarating listen, the sort of album that makes your eyes shine with pleasure.
What does it all *mean*?: 
15.60.75 served the same function as Dr. Feelgood in the UK, reminding bands of the visceral quality of R&B and the essential nature of live performance. They were exciting, stimulating and inspirational. They deserve a much wider audience. Try them.
Goes well with …: 
A bleak industrial landscape, populated by dedicated enthusiasts who are familiar with the band's repertoire well before they see the inside of a studio. Powerful beer with a hint of petro-chemical flavour and clothes unembarrassed by sweat and oil.
Might suit people who like …: 
Great live albums of the seventies, especially Slade Alive! and Stupidity, that capture the atmosphere of a band on top form interacting with an adoring crowd. Bands that grow organically rather than manufactured and pro-tooled with vocoders.

Elvis Costello

What's it called?: 
All this Useless Beauty
What does it sound like?: 
In the countless discussions I have been party to about the best Costello albums this one is hardly mentioned if at all. Inspired by the Mystery Dance documentary I got this cd (the expanded version) out of hibernation and have been playing it a lot this week. He wrote these songs as gifts to other singers - the fact they didn't use them is not his fault - I can quite imagine Aimee Man singing The Other end of the telescope. An album that contains such beauties as Why cant a man stand alone, Complicated Shadows, Little Atoms and the magnificent title track would be a high water mark for most artists yet is only an also-ran in Mr Costello's oeuvre. Most odd.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This was the tail end of the Attractions but Steve Nieves piano is majestic throughout - even maybe some of his best. EC mainly sings in the higher softer register that I generally prefer and the melodies are excellent.
Goes well with …: 
The rest of his catalogue - many of these songs are still performed live which suggests he is still proud of them.
Might suit people who like …: 
Masterful songwriting. The bonus disc has a couple of Costello songs not found elsewhere and the wonderful Mistress and Maid which he wrote with a certain Mr McCartney.

The Velvet Underground

What's it called?: 
White Light/White Heat (Super Deluxe Edition)
What does it sound like?: 
The word 'deluxe' seems strangely at odds with this notoriously scuzzy, no-fi record. Fear not, it still sounds like it was recorded on a roll of masking tape and even this buffed-up remaster still renders your treble controls useless, there is no bottom or top just a dense thicket of middle frequencies. It's a good opportunity to revisit the most extreme of the VU ouvre and one I've neglected in favour of the comparatively catchy, toe tapping debut and eponymous third. 45 years on the title track still predates Sonic Youth (only Bowie recognised the catchy pop song trying to escape the mid-range murk), Lady Godiva's Operation still unsettles with ghostly moans and groans, Heard Her Call My Name still splits open into amped-up lunacy, The Gift (avaiable in both instrumental and 'story only' versions) is still totally ace, and Sister Ray can still have even the most ardent Throbbing Gristle fan showing a clean pair of heels.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The deluxe version is rather pricey over £50 for 3 discs, and contains little a big VU fan won't already have especially if they have the Peel Slowly box set, other than a decent sounding 1967 live set. The Mono mix is distinctly different though.
Goes well with …: 
Salt Pills, Vitamins and a Strawberry Daquiri. Note, a cheaper 2 disc option is available sans Live LP, and the download (which I'm listening to) should be cheaper still if you're not bothered about the big box and the book.
Might suit people who like …: 
The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, MC5, The Doors, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana, Stereolab, Can, Neu!, Psych/Garage/Nuggets etc.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Foetus

What's it called?: 
Soak
What does it sound like?: 
Since his major-label skirmish of the mid-90s, JG Thirlwell has more or less dispensed with the industrial tropes on which he built the Foetus name. These days it’s the distinctive Thirlwell growl and his terrifying lyrical preoccupations that provide the main link to the past, though the sheer scope of his current sound won’t surprise anyone who thrilled to the baroque grandiosity of Ramrod back in the 80s. Indeed, what emerges most forcefully in his post-2000 work is a sense that his talents as an arranger now meet his ambition. Soak, then, is a companion to 2011’s Hide (a masterpiece), and nearly as good. You might argue its opening show-tune stylings are overdone, and I wouldn't disagree, but a cover of Warm Leatherette that’s as sumptuous as it is sinister kicks things into a high gear, a rework of the Halloween theme takes the original's malevolence and writes it large, and Spat is pure Morricone. Soak's overall effect, as ever with Foetus, is a kind of manic delirium.
What does it all *mean*?: 
These days JG Thirlwell is artist without portfolio: impossible to categorise, but getting better and better. I've been a Foetus fan all my music-loving life, and it continues to be the most rewarding and exciting obsession of them all.
Goes well with …: 
Marmite. I'm not kidding myself here. You're either going to think, 'What the hell is this overcooked mess, Poppy?' or be open-mouthed in amazement.
Might suit people who like …: 
Difficult one. Any of JGT's wonderful side projects, obviously, plus a love for soundtracks would help, and perhaps an appreciation of Goth's dark theatre.
bargepole's picture

Yes

What's it called?: 
Close To The Edge 2013 cd/dvd/bluray
What does it sound like?: 
Even though I hadn't heard them, I had convinced myself that the Stephen Wilson remixes of classic albums by Tull, Crimson and now Yes were mere smoke and mirrors, more style than substance, which added little to the originals. How completely and utterly wrong I was! This cd/dvd package is a triumph in every way, the album restored not just to its former glory, but in a way that actually exceeds its original majesty. The cd includes new stereo mixes of the album and America, plus a rough mix of the title track. The dvd then adds a plethora of extras: a new stereo mix and a 5.1 surround mix together with original stereo mixes of the album - and the same treatment is then given to America. There is also an alternate album of rough mixes, plus single edits of various tracks. For a couple of quid more a bluray version is available with all of this plus even more content - a new stereo instrumental mix and a vinyl needle drop transfer of the album.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This is an essential purchase for any Yes fan or indeed for any prog fan. Stephen Wilson's remix reveals new aspects of this classic album that had hithertoo been hidden during the many times I have played it over the last 40 years.
Goes well with …: 
Any lover of prog,young or old, will enjoy this - it's an absolute steal at the price for this comprehensive set of material - and it all comes with a booklet of extensive new sleeve notes and both original and new Roger Dean artwork. Go buy !!
Might suit people who like …: 
Prog fans who want to hear a classic album in a new light. I'll certainly now be checking out Mr Wilson's previous work on albums by Jethro Tull, King Crimson et al.

Waterboys

What's it called?: 
Fishermans Box
What does it sound like?: 
As the owner of both Fishermans Blues, its deluxe counterpart and the other album of outtakes Too Close to Heaven I wasn't really sure If I needed this boxset but I am a huge fan and decided it was a must. By track 14 of disc 3 of a 6 disc set I knew my decision was completely vindicated.Soon as I get home in this version is a 25 minute jam with the most extraordinary interplay between Steve Wickhams fiddle and Anto Thistlethwaites sax - woth the price of the set on its own. The unique way that the band work means there are entirely different versions of the songs we knew and loved from the first incarnation and they are all good in their own right. Mike Scott must have had one hell of a job deciding what to include and what to leave out of the original release such was the quality on offer. 121 tracks of which 85 are previously unissued, 6 cds for a mere £22.00 must represent one of the years bargains.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This version of the Waterboys is without doubt the definitive one - you sense a real bond between the musicians and is a real band not just backing musicians for Mike Scott. Yes there are throwaway pieces on this set but also much greatness.
Goes well with …: 
There is a rowdiness in parts that suggests the sessions were enlivened by alcohol - listening after a night at the pub is a good place to start.
Might suit people who like …: 
All things Celtic - with Horslips releasing their own compilation in recent weeks it seems there is a resurgent interest in music from the Emerald Isle - Spiddal must have been a magical place. Looking forward to the gig next month.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

The Stranger

What's it called?: 
Watching Dead Empires In Decay
What does it sound like?: 
The Stranger is Leyland Kirby, who also records as The Caretaker. You may well be aware of The Caretaker. No doubt taking his name in honour of The Shining's Jack Torrance, the project specialised in ghostly band music, as though played in distant, haunted ballrooms, the overall effect not unlike that of Gavin Bryars's The Sinking of the Titanic. The Stranger is less mournful and nostalgia-sounding than The Caretaker, the sound more akin to an old, scratched soundtrack – imagine Burial meets Philip Glass and you'd have the measure of Providence or Fate – and much, much darker. Where Are Our Monsters Now, Where Are Our Friends? sounds like incidental music for a Judge Dredd movie and on We Scarcely See Sunlight, industrial sounds are wrought into a tangible sense of despair. For me this is even more bewitching than The Caretaker.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Leyland Kirby's a man of many talents, and quite prolific, but I'd place this alongside Persistent Repetition of Phrases as 'classic' Kirby..
Goes well with …: 
Winter.
Might suit people who like …: 
Gavin Bryars, instrumental Jim Thirlwell, The Caretaker, Library Tapes, Max Richter

Cabaret Voltaire

What's it called?: 
#8385 Collected Works
What does it sound like?: 
The Cabs back catalogue has been well tended to over the years, but now their somewhat neglected mid-period era gets the deluxe treatment. This immaculate box set covers the period from 83-85 when The Cabs decided to turn their attention to the dancefloor and exploit the electro rhythms that were always bubbling away under the scything guitars and scary Dalek vocals of their earlier material. Interestingly, as Richard H Kirk mentions in the liner notes their record deal with Virgin/Some Bizarre was dependent on "a little bit less processing on the voice" although in some ways the chanting vocal style Mal adopted is equally peculiar and relentless. It's fascinating to hear them wrestle with the new technology and hear the band who made incredibly dense and awkward music in the 1970s attempt their take on dance music and electro pop. Under the lid are the 4 LPs, a disc of 12" mixes, an excellent disc of dub versions/soundtracks and DVDs of 2 live sets and the 'Gasoline in Your Eye" film
What does it all *mean*?: 
A very timely release. This era of CV material has weathered very well indeed. What sounded a bit dated and blunt to my ears when I first heard it (ten years after the fact) in the 90s sounds very current, relevant and way ahead of its time.
Goes well with …: 
Cold war paranoia. Note that the artwork of the sleeves has been altered to remove the contribution of original designer Neville Brody. They look good but don't expect facsimilies of the original sleeves. I wonder if CV have fallen out with him?
Might suit people who like …: 
Throbbing Gristle, Depeche Mode, Human League, DAF, Fad Gadget, New Order, Boards of Canada, Factory Floor, Autechre and ripe for rediscovery and essential homework for anyone tracing the roots of House, Techno, Electro and all that followed.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

NRSB-11

What's it called?: 
Commodified
What does it sound like?: 
As one half of the genuinely seminal Detroit electro pioneers Drexciya, Gerald Donald's place in electronic music history was assured way before the untimely death of his musical partner James Stinson in 2001. Since then, however, Donald has gone on to a series of projects (Dopplereffekt, Arpanet, Japanese Telecom) which, while never quite as heady as the heights reached by Drexciya (though this album comes close) have never been less than fascinating. His modus operandi is a constant – thematically related works, scalpel-shape electro – his ability to craft something beautiful from electro's base elements absolutely unparalleled. Witness here how the dystopian Detroit crackle of Consumer Programming bleeds into the gorgeous, Boards Of Canadaesque Bioethics; wallow in the mournful Laundered or the dark John Carpenterisms of Dead Civilisation. Extra tracks on the CD version tip it into too-long territory, but who cares when they're as lovely as 685-471 2.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Detroit electronic types do love a theme and Drexciya, with their undersea worlds inhabited by Africans thrown from slave ships, were masters of it. Here Donald creates a world torn apart by capitalism. Whatever it means, it's deep.
Goes well with …: 
Anybody who's heard Arpanet knows Donald can go it alone, but as Donald's partner here is Sherard Ingram (aka DJ Stingray) perhaps Gerald himself 'goes well with' a musical sounding board. See what I did?
Might suit people who like …: 
In terms of sound, the Detroit Techno/Electro of Elecktroids, Aux 88, The Other People Place etc., but I really feel that this an album that will interest all fans of electronica and IDM and I urge you to give it a try.

Joseph Arthur

What's it called?: 
The Ballad of Boogie Christ - acts 1 and 2
What does it sound like?: 
Despite the pomposity of the title this is a mighty fine album - might well be my late contender for album of the year. Have been a fan of Joseph Arthur for years - he is very prolific but without doubt this is his best effort to date.It is his equivalent of Eels Blinking Lights in that it is a labour of love. Very accessible, he has a way with a tune but without doubt the lyrics are the icing on the cake. In parts very Dylanesque, it is clear he has a very wry sense of humour and a clearly anarchic nature. The music is spread over 2 discs and there isn't a bad song among them. In the current climate in the music industry it is great credit to Peter Gabriel's Real World that they funded a 2 disc set by an artist not known for significant sales. Not only that but a lavish booklet features Joseph Arthurs art which he is also clearly adept at and on the disc luminaries such as Ben Harper and Garth Hudson amongst others.
What does it all *mean*?: 
If Dylan had written the lyrics to these songs in the 60's it would have been hailed as one of his masterpieces. Instead given how things are these days it is likely to get buried without a trace which is frankly criminal.
Goes well with …: 
There is introspection but also some pretty robust stuff too - the album is actually Kaleidoscopic in nature and bears repeated listens where it will reveal something new to the listener investing time in it.
Might suit people who like …: 
This is the part I don't like answering - why doesn't something have to be compared to something else? Best comparisons would be a M.Ward, Wilco and maybe a Willie Nile. Go out and get it, you wont be disappointed.

Dub Spencer and Trance Hill

What's it called?: 
The Clashification of Dub
What does it sound like?: 
It's no surprise that The Clash's music should lend itself well to a dub treatment, and this is a cracker. Dub Spencer & Trance Hill, as far as I can make out, are two Swiss guys who are playing rock material in a dub style, a bit like how I imagine the Easy Star Allstars' reworkings of Dark Side Of The Moon et al to be. A lot of the material comes from the reggae end of the catalogue (Guns of Brixton, Armagideon Time etc) but there are also excursions into the rockier stuff, which lead to some fantastic reinventions - The Call Up becomes an eight minute wasteland of bass and ghostly harmonicas, Lost In The Supermarket is the theme to that Jamaican spaghetti western you've never seen, and Should I Stay Or Should I Go is an unrecognisable thing of throbbing portentous doom. I've enjoyed this hugely over the last week or so, and I urge any Clash fans here to check it out (it's on Spotify)
What does it all *mean*?: 
You can't go wrong with massive bass and a lot of echo, really.
Goes well with …: 
the usual reggae stereotypes
Might suit people who like …: 
Dub reggae and The Clash, mostly. If you like those, you'll like this a lot. If you don't, then move on.
tiggerlion's picture

David Bowie

What's it called?: 
The Next Day Extra
What does it sound like?: 
Finally, the album of the year gets the Extra treatment! Three discs in a neat minimalist box: the album itself, sounding all the better for ending at the desolately creepy Heat, a DVD with all four videos, each startling in different ways and a 40 minute disc of ten bonus tracks. Three were on the deluxe version: the brief, sibyllic So She, the doomy instrumental Plan and the hard-rocking I'll Take You There. Love Is Lost gets a ten minute clapping chorus James Murphy mix (Lord, I miss LCD Soundsystem) & I'd Rather Be High has its edginess smoothed over in a Venetian mix. Atomic is a full on let's-get-started guitarfest, including Earl Slick, David Torn & Gerry Leonard, God Bless The Girl is a euphonious tart-with-a-heart tale and Like A Rocket Man is pumped with chemical substances. The Informer is cheerfully murderous whilst Born In A UFO riffs Brooce in the chorus and Dylan in the verses. Extra is great fun. Everyone involved sounds as though they are having a blast.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Extra confirms The Next Day is a triumph with its moodiness, energy and anger. Three or four of these tracks are genuine contenders for inclusion but Bowie and his team made all the right choices. Yet, these throwaways outclass almost everyone else.
Goes well with …: 
A sense of satisfaction. All of the pieces of Bowie's creative renaissance are brought together in the one place, videos and all. There is expected to be an EP of the seven tracks not included on the deluxe version. You may prefer to wait for that.
Might suit people who like …: 
You have to like The Next Day already. This package is not going to win any converts, indeed there will be criticism about cashing in. Best of all, it proves Bowie is back and fully rejuvenated . The world is watching. I can't wait for his next move.
bargepole's picture

Fish

What's it called?: 
A Feast Of Consequences
What does it sound like?: 
It's been a bumpy road following Fish since his Marillion days through his patchy solo career. His 2007 album 13th Star showed something of a return to form following a few mediocre efforts, but then was followed a lengthy hiatus due to vocal problems. Happily this new album shows a real resurgence of the man's talents as both songwriter and performer.From the 10 minute opener Perfume River, through the cracking but all too brief title track, through to the album's centrepiece the High Woods Suite. Clocking it at nearly half an hour, this five song suite deals with various aspects of one of the bloodiest actions in the Battle of the Somme and its aftermath.This song is worth the admission price alone! Disregard the inconsistent run of albums in the late 90's/early 2000's - this builds on and surpasses the good work done on the 13th Star album. If you've given up on Fish in recent years, give him another chance - you won't regret it!!
What does it all *mean*?: 
The Deluxe version of this set includes the cd, a very watchable making of DVD,and a superb 100 page book of illustrations by Mark Wilkinson, which really adds to the album itself. The whole caboodle comes in a sturdy nicely designed slipcase.
Goes well with …: 
This is possibly the best Fish album since his debut 'Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors'.Don't expect Marillion era prog type songs,this is the work of a mature artist who has found his own niche after years of hard graft.
Might suit people who like …: 
Christmas is coming so put this on your presents list - pay a bit more for the Deluxe version if you can run to it - you won't be disappointed! (Note - this album may only be available from his website rather than via the usual commercial outlets.)
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Jeff Mills

What's it called?: 
The Jungle Planet
What does it sound like?: 
The seventh album in Mills's Sleeper Wakes narrative finds the Sleeper, now the last human in existence, travelling to the titular planet in search of a dream archive. Fittingly, these mainly beatless techno soundscapes sway like alien plant fronds, with Mills's trademark strings adding depth and tension, the judicious use of white noise giving it an eerie, airless quality. Use them as audio incarnations of the narrative or absorb their cinematic sweep in isolation; either way, I could listen to this music forever, because literally nothing is outside Mills's grasp now: this is the producer who as part of Detroit techno's second wave reclaimed the genre's African-American component from the version sweeping Europe, stripping it back to the bare bones of fierce, primal funk. Beginning with Atlantis in 1993 he's pursued an Afrofuturistic path that has led to this -- a supremely ambitious and perfectly realised project. I know genius is an over-used term, but hey if the cap fits...
What does it all *mean*?: 
According to Mills, it's about "the structure, preservation, limits of the human species and existence, the assumed realm of other intelligent life forms, the other dimensional worlds and realities beyond the horizon of our imagination."
Goes well with …: 
Headphones.
Might suit people who like …: 
Drexciya, Carl Craig, Robert Hood.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

The Field

What's it called?: 
Cupid's Head
What does it sound like?: 
It's been touted as his dark album, but in actual fact The Field's latest, though undoubtedly less Bestival-friendly than before, bears a more cosmic imprint. Influenced as much by shoegaze as he is by minimal techno (the opener sounds not unlike Fuck Buttons), Alex Willner manipulates his customary loops in order to create kaleidoscopic mini symphonies. The difference is that where before his concerns were earthbound and pretty -- an approach that's won him considerable critical and commercial acclaim -- now they roam feee, transcendent galactic tours. Black Sea seems to throb with restrained power. The title track aches with nostalgia and beauty. On A Guided Tour complete immersion in the world of The Field is guaranteed.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That if Willner came from London and not Stockholm, he'd be collecting his second Mercury Prize any day now.
Goes well with …: 
Sunday morning, as it turns out!
Might suit people who like …: 
Jon Hopkins, Fuck Buttons, Four Tet, Ulrich Schnauss, anything on Kompakt.
tiggerlion's picture

Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band

What's it called?: 
Safe As Milk in mono
What does it sound like?: 
When I was small, my aunt brought her boyfriend to babysit. He had Safe As Milk with him. He regaled me with the Captain and his Magic Band's quest through the desert, sustained by rattlesnake and cactus water, to find the secrets of all music. And it's all here. There's blues, of course, rock -> Cream, jangly guitar pop -> Byrds, doo-wop, soul, freaky electronics, hippity-hop nursery rhymes, songs laced with love and songs dripping with lust, plus full-on wig-outs. I was smitten, taped it onto reel-to-reel by placing the mike to the speakers and played it forever. Until the tape wore out. My own quest for a replacement, through vinyl, tape, CD, was disappointing. It wasn't the same. It was always a poor stereo mix. Here it is, finally, in full, multi-coloured, majestic mono and it is glorious! The bass rattles the windows, Ry Cooder's guitar is ascerbic, Taj Mahal's percussion stunning and Drumbo is awesome. This is The Magic Band at their peak. And the Captain sings some tunes, too.
What does it all *mean*?: 
My aunt's boyfriend was a sailor. I never saw him again. He must have been the only person to have obtained the record because it sold nothing. He visited my house some years after its release but he left an everlasting mark on me. I'm grateful.
Goes well with …: 
A pair of ears willing to listen. Come on, be honest. How many have heard Safe As Milk, or even listened to any Beefheart? Sundazed Records have restored Richard Perry's mono mix beautifully. You will be astonished if only you give it a chance.
Might suit people who like …: 
Enthusiastic youth, liberated by a true maverick. This was the start for Beefheart's eccentric approach to songwriting and performing. None of his records sold whilst he was alive. His paintings made him more money. Time to redress the balance.
tiggerlion's picture

Earth, Wind & Fire

What's it called?: 
Now, Then & Forever
What does it sound like?: 
Once you get over the fact that this can never be the Earth, Wind & Fire of youthful exuberance, there is much to relish on this, their first album without their spiritual and musical leader, Maurice White. Indeed, the first track, Sign On, makes a diehard fan of forty years wince; it's a song with a social commentary, how very dare they. There are a lot of writers but Phillip Bailey jnr carries the major load. The musicians are exemplary, the horns are stellar and the voices angelic, just as you would expect. The ballads, medium pacers and instrumentals are performed with almost casual confidence. This is second nature for EWF. Love Is Law has an irresistible momentum, Guiding Lights is very lovely and Got To Be Love is intoxicating. By the second half and the third listen, the dance numbers really convince, especially Night Of My Life, which is every bit as exultant as any of the beautifully remastered greatest hits added as a bonus to this disc. It's an album that's a joy to behold.
What does it all *mean*?: 
In a year of great soul albums and amazing comebacks, this is one of the best in both categories. Nothing compares to I Am, but this is one of the most soulful and complete albums EWF have ever produced. It fair warms the cockles of my heart.
Goes well with …: 
A long-standing dance partner who understands your moves instinctively. That means both of you will have slowed down and mellowed a little but that won't stop you giving everything you've got. A vintage wine should help loosen the joints
Might suit people who like …: 
Deep grooves, rich tenors, soaring falsettos, syncopated percussion, funky horns and well constructed, compelling songs. EWF were never really disco despite being able to effortlessly fill a dance floor. But they still make the world a better place.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Vatican Shadow

What's it called?: 
Remember Your Black Day
What does it sound like?: 
Warning: I’m about to invent a word. And that word is ‘mollasic’, meaning thick and dark, in order to describe Vatican Shadow and their electronic dirges. Their -- wait for it -- ‘molassic’ electronic dirges. Thematically these tracks represent missives from The War on Terror; the cover art, plus titles like Contractor Corpses Hung Over The River Euphrates see to that. But like a lot of electronic music the theme is administered on a ‘we’ll take your word for it’ basis, for these could just as easily be soundtracks to a future of industrial dystopia, the camera panning across landscapes of post-apocalyptic desolation. By the ironically named Enter Paradise (currently my personal favourite) the bass hits have really kicked in, and a filthy looped guitar provides suitably ominous texture. Not the Son of Desert Storm, But the Child of Chechnya adds chanting and distorted tribal drums to the mix, for an experience that sums up the album's epic melancholy.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Vatican Shadow is Dominic Fernow. Fernow also records as Prurient, whose Tangerine-Dream-meets-drone Through the Window is also one of my albums of the year. So it means Mr Fernow is a very talented man.
Goes well with …: 
Darkness and rain. Scaring the hell out trick-or-treaters. Trust me: leave them at the door while you 'go and look for sweets' as Tonight Saddam Walks Amongst The Ruins plays loudly in the background. They won't be there when you return.
Might suit people who like …: 
Anything else on Blackest Ever Black (ace dark techno label, set up by Fernow), John Carpenter soundtracks, Sandwell District, Silent Servant.
Moose the Mooche's picture

Giovanca

What's it called?: 
Satellite Love
What does it sound like?: 
Is Giovanca famous? She bloody ought to be. A month ago I wouldn't have known this Dutch songstress from Edam (sorry) but a mate viraled me a track from this album and I was impressed enough to invest. Rather splendid it is too. This is mostly what you would call proper soul music (or, perhaps, *shoul* music), with a couple of modish flashes of disco to remind us we are in the era of G*t L*cky, along with some singer-songwritery mellowness. By real soul music I mean it is the sound of someone singing with some people in the background playing instruments, rather than an autotune machine on a bed of meaningless sub-G-funk thumping. La Gio has an unfussy, careful vocal style and the band really swing. The latiny Uphill even has a vibes solo on it! My two favourites are not really soul at all - the gorgeously sweet I Will Wait and the album closer Come Around, which starts with an unassuming little piano figure before rising without trace to become something big and magnificent.
What does it all *mean*?: 
At just under an hour and nothing that I've felt like skipping in a dozen listens, it's good value . Splendid cover image too. I'm pleased to note that this is her third album, so I'm heading back in time for further Dutch treats.
Goes well with …: 
It's nicely eclectic. There's some Saturday night and some Sunday morning on here, stuff to chill out to, stuff to (ahem) "move" to. Clogs, skunk and dykes not entirely necessary.
Might suit people who like …: 
The jazzier, musicianlier end of mid-70s soul. The only complete track from it that I've managed to find online is How Does It Feel (see below) which, Afterworders take note! - features a jazzy flute *and* scat singing. Hurrah!
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Roly Porter

What's it called?: 
Life Cycle Of A Massive Star
What does it sound like?: 
Stars of the Lid gone bass music, or the lost soundtrack to the most portentous and bafflingly profound sci-fi movie ever made. Back in 2006, when dubstep broke, Vex'd were the only producers who consistently gave me what I wanted from the genre: i.e transmissions from the end of the world. Dubstep, of course, went on to become a dirty word; Vex'd's Roly Porter, however, has pursued his muse, going solo and dispensing with the restricting grid of the genre for ambitious, expansive projects like this one. Life Cycle of a Massive Star is an epic-sounding (though, at 36 minutes, short) meditation on the life of -- yes! -- a star. Apart from a brief moment on Birth when it all goes bit 'planetarium soundtrack', it's an immersive, transporting experience, using drones, strings and synths, as well as speaker-warping levels of bass, to form a compelling narrative: from the the unbearably gorgeous strings of Gravity to the distorted, exploding bass of the album's closer, Giant.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For one thing it means that Poppy backed the right horse in 2006, so go me!
Goes well with …: 
Floating adrift in the cosmos, knowing that somewhere below you a family you will never see again have their faces turned to the stars.
Might suit people who like …: 
Stars of the Lid, the Dead Texan, Vex'd, Sunn O))), Earth.
tiggerlion's picture

Agnes Obel

What's it called?: 
Aventine
What does it sound like?: 
Her debut, Philharmonics, is an album of glacial elegance in which her piano notes and voice intertwine like delicate snowdrops cascading from a black sky. For Aventine, everything is miked up close in a small room. So, the sound is softer and more intimate, the songs are warmer and more humane and the voice is gentler and more emotional. Even the instrumentals feel more personal and less circumspect. In addition, there is a greater conversation with acoustic string instruments, deployed gracefully and beautifully sculpted, as they pick their way through the intricate, unhurried melodies. The pizzicato violins and the cello are especially arresting. There is so much thought and care in every small detail, the listener cannot help but be engrossed by Obel's singular world. If Philharmonics is frosty white, Aventine is auburn and gold. Aventine is more than a follow-up, it's an artistic development, a growth, a step forward. It's really very wonderful.
What does it all *mean*?: 
We are witnessing the establishment of a major talent. Aventine proves that Philharmonics was no one-off and demonstrates that Obel is maturing and improving. The album was written, produced, arranged and mixed by Obel herself.
Goes well with …: 
This is an album for lovers, best enjoyed cuddled up in bed with a full-bodied red and the lights dimmed, whilst the wind howls and the monsters stalk the streets outside. Failing that, real pleasure can be found buried under high quality headphones.
Might suit people who like …: 
Their music stately and beautiful. Some may think Obel melancholic but she is actually spiritually uplifting. My favourite Afterword adjectives "flawless", "exquisite" and "gorgeous" are all perfectly justified. Every home needs an Aventine.

Brinsley Schwartz

What's it called?: 
"It's All Over Now"
What does it sound like?: 
Prompted by a posting last month, I dropped that nice Ian Gomm £15.50 and he sent me a newly re-mixed copy of the never released last Brinsleys record. And what joy, reminding me exactly what fun was and is all about, evoking memories of blokes dancing together alone in crowded pubs, eyes closed, beer clutched to chest for safety. Nothing fancy, nothing clever, just exceptionally well played pop music. Very early 60s in style, albeit without the overproduction, strings and brass of tinpan alley. 5 covers and 6 band originals, it's sometimes hard to guess which is which, as the pastiche is so well and truly taken, with love and respect. We Can Mess Around, later, I think, on a "solo" Rumour LP, and an early Cruel to be Kind open the running brilliantly, Bob Andrews effortlessly channeling Garth Hudson. Surprisingly redolent of the later new waves of Gregson, Costello and, later still, Richard Hawley, this made me smile. Enormously. At least as good as any other of theirs.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Not a lot. A reminder that music can and should be pleasurable, i.e. to give pleasure. I can fully see why it never appeared at the time, being too recent for retro in the 70s. And a reminder of how, in their way, maybe the Brinsleys were the UK Band
Goes well with …: 
A grin, a bop and some beer. Maybe even a pickled egg.
Might suit people who like …: 
All this sort of bollocks.
tiggerlion's picture

Various Artists: Peter Gabriel

What's it called?: 
And I'll Scratch Yours
What does it sound like?: 
After Peter Gabriel's album of covers, Scratch My Back, this is the 'reply'. Here, those covered cover a Gabriel song (although Neil Young & Radiohead are replaced by Joseph Arthur & Feist). Gabriel restricted himself to backing by piano and strings. Individually, each track is superb but over the whole album, the melodrama is wearing. And I'll Scratch Yours is much more fun with a far greater variety of styles. David Byrne, Eno, Lou Reed and David Merrill produce quirky, idiosyncratic versions on their covers. Eno's take on Mother Of Violence is especially disturbing. Bon Iver, Regina Specktor, Elbow and Paul Simon all enhance the beauty of the songs by keeping the sound simple and getting to the heart of the melody. But, the best by far, is Randy Newman with Big Time. By stripping away the bravado and making a minor adjustment to the lyric, he reveals multiple layers of irony in a song that was already tongue in cheek. Only Arcade Fire's copy of Games Without Frontiers disappoints.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Covers albums reveal much about the performer and, sometimes, even more about the song. When they are perfectly matched as in Newman and Big Time, there is magic. But, inevitably with so many artists, there will be some rougher stuff to tolerate.
Goes well with …: 
An open-minded flirt in pursuit of a good laugh, who is quite capable of being serious as the shadows lengthen and the demons begin to emerge. Salt-free nuts, chilled, unassuming beer and a music machine that can repeat Big Time over and over.
Might suit people who like …: 
A karaoke-style singalong. Carefully constructed, well-considered singing and playing. A liking of Peter Gabriel isn't necessary, unless you use the best buy method where you get both albums in a single pack. And Randy Newman. Did I mention Big Time?
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Zeitgeber

What's it called?: 
Zeitgeber
What does it sound like?: 
Autopsied electronica, courtesy of Jochem Paap and Stroboscopic Artefacts label head Lucy. Paap is aka Speedy J, whose contributions to Warp's Artificial Intelligence series were notable for their warmth. Not this -- this is pitiless. Like a clinical dissection of electronica, its component parts offered up for inspection, whole tracks built from a blanket of bass, soft pulses and bursts of static. Accordingly, not a lot happens -- the line between music and sound design is further blurred, and there's very little in the way of beats to speak of. It's not quite ambient, nor is it techno and it's glitch without any actual glitch. In tbe end it's the *sound*, the detail of the piece, that give it it's character.
What does it all *mean*?: 
At times it's sinister -- Skin reminds me of the flashbulbs at the beginning of the Texas Chainsaw massacre. At times soft and immersive. I'm avoiding the question. I never know what to say here.
Goes well with …: 
Stroking your chin and wondering, 'Whither electronica in 2013?'
Might suit people who like …: 
Speedy J, Lucy, Alva Noto, Raster Noton acts. other acts on Stroboscopic Artefacts.
Mike Hull's picture

Roy Harper

What's it called?: 
Man and Myth
What does it sound like?: 
This album is unmistakeably Roy Harper - it could be no one else, either lyrically or in terms of his vocal delivery. Compared to most of his albums released since the early 1980s, this has a fuller, more produced feel and is the better for it. There are seven tracks in total, with several having a full band, others being acoustic in their setting. Harper has mellowed with age, but he still manages some venom in 'The Enemy', 'Cloud Cuckooland' and 'The Stranger'. Having reached the age of 72, he is more reflective than of old, more aware of passing time and his mortality. This gives a more balanced outlook perhaps than in the past, but his world view is essentially unchanged. The longest piece 'Heaven Is Here' is the one that takes the longest to get to grips with, musically and lyrically, but after 3 or 4 listens, I'm appreciating it as much as the other songs, which I liked instantly. The closer 'The Exile' has a gorgeous keyboard arrangement overlaid with electric guitars.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Thirteen years since The Green Man. I had thought Harper probably wouldn't release any more new material. Critical acclaim from a younger generation and the fact that he still has something to say, has given him a new impetus, which I hope continues.
Goes well with …: 
I've listened to this album in many environments - on the hi-fi, on the iPod whilst gardening, in the car and it sounds great in all these contexts. Not exactly dinner party music, but worthy of your attention.
Might suit people who like …: 
Harper always maintains his music isn't for everyone, but once you discover it, it remains with you forever. I've been a fan for 33 years and his music was a starting point for a lifetime of exploring non-mainstream music.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Drumcell

What's it called?: 
Sleep Complex
What does it sound like?: 
Plastikman refashioned into monolithic slabs of torture-chamber music by Trent Reznor. The found-sound police-channel talk of Dispatch might well remind older campaigners of Scanner, while those who like to keep abreast of such things will be thinking of releases on Perc Trax or Avian. Perhaps it's the apex of industrial techno, maybe it's the nadir. Either way, and though I can't wholly and unreservedly recommend it, tracks such as Disturbance, and the album centrepiece Speak Silence (think Consumed-era Hawtin under extreme duress, complete with strangulated 303 and captured mantra) keep me coming back for more, like the techno junkie I undoubtedly am.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Techno's narrative shift from maximal to minimal, from precise scientific to rusty industrial, finds itself here, an album that is as much Coil as it is Derrick May; in fact, *much more* Coil than Derrick May.
Goes well with …: 
I can't quite remember such an equipment-specific album. It takes on a different perspective depending on where you listen to it.
Might suit people who like …: 
Perc Trax, Avian, Surgeon, Regis, Traversable Wormhole.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Senking

What's it called?: 
Capsize Recovery
What does it sound like?: 
Brutal excursions in bass weight conducted many fathoms deep, their crushing blackness interrupted only by occasional bursts of melody, like unexpected strobes of light from within the dark. This is Senking's third and best album for Raster Noton, the German electronica label noted for its minimal elegance, and it cements his reputation as the label bad boy. He's minimal all right. But any beauty is of a Hieronymous Bosch persuasion. His bruising bass drones seem to billow menacing and fog-like into your space. Whispered voices within the murky depths provide an unsettling counterpoint to the almost pretty tinkling of Tiefenstop. Nightbeach sounds like a experimented-on, mutated Jaws theme. Murders, the most dubsteppian track here, is a darkside masterpiece.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Brilliant, addictive, visceral, and certain to be one of the electronica albums of the year. It's an album you don't so much listen to, as experience. Terrified, you absorb it into your DNA.
Goes well with …: 
Floatation tanks, acid flashbacks, repeat viewings of The Abyss on mute.
Might suit people who like …: 
Emptyset, Chain Reaction, Skull Disco, this chap, and those mentioned... http://theafterword.co.uk/content/these-hidden-hands
Poppy Succeeds's picture

These Hidden Hands

What's it called?: 
These Hidden Hands
What does it sound like?: 
Like an army of the undead marching across your chestplate. Like fat kickdrum hits strewn over syrupy sub-bass, church organs repurposed as sinister drones, soaring melodies left to decompose and distort. These Hidden Hands is actually the alter ego of Tommy Four Seven, a man who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jonathan Rhys Meyers and is usually to be found banging them out on Chris Liebing's CLR label. Here, however, the 4/4 beats are discarded in favour of slow and crushing disruptive elegance. Imagine techno left to wander the corridors of the Overlook Hotel.
What does it all *mean*?: 
As techno burrows deep into the sub terrain it embraces dubstep, IDM, hauntology and drone creating a kind of mildewed, decayed version of the real thing. Techno? Haunted House, perhaps? (I very much doubt I'm the first person to make that joke).
Goes well with …: 
A bruising re-examination of the self.
Might suit people who like …: 
Burial, Autechre, Vex'd, Surgeon, Blackest Ever Black, Raime, Regis, Shackleton, Vatican Shadow, Outer Church, The Caretaker, Haxan Cloak, Demdike Stare, Mordant Music, Prurient, Jesu, Isis, Sunn O))), Earth, Pelican, Cult of Luna.
dogfacedboy's picture

Kathryn Williams

What's it called?: 
Crown Electric
What does it sound like?: 
This is the best album of her career so far. Her confidence and pride in the material has at last emerged in her voice and the results are dazzling. From the workaday pressures of 'Monday Morning' , 'Underground' to meditations of aging and death like the peerless 'Sequins' Kathryn's 10th album is damn near perfect. Collaborations with Ed Harcourt and James Yorkston work magic, particularly on 'Darkness Twilight' with Ed and Kathryn harmonizing so beautifully you yearn for a full album from the pair. Much of Kathryn's music deals with the battle between dark (fear, panic and lack of self belief) and light (love, family & acceptance) and how both can be found in simple everyday life. Time also ways heavy on the album as Kathryn stops to take stock of where she is, what she has gained and how precious the time she has is. Ben Trigg's string arrangements serve the songs beautifully giving depth and emotion to what may well be my album of 2013.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The one of this country's most gifted songwriters has finally been able to stand up and be rightly proud of her work. Whether you know her work or not I think you'll be astonished by the emotion and sound of this record.
Goes well with …: 
A dark night, maybe a bit of thunder and lightning, some soft lighting and a glass of whatever gets you through the night.
Might suit people who like …: 
Mature, thoughtful, melancholic music with wit and bite. 'When you supposed to know you're in your prime until its behind you?' Kathryn muses during 'Out Of Time'. She needn't worry - with this album she's at the top of her game.

Anathema

What's it called?: 
Universal
What does it sound like?: 
Marillion, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Porcupine Tree. I'd say more but I've tried to post previously and it doesn't seem to be accepting my entries....
What does it all *mean*?: 
That I can still be surprised by a live album.
Goes well with …: 
Headphones and darkened rooms.
Might suit people who like …: 
Anny of the above mentioned bands.

Cian Ciarán

What's it called?: 
They Are Nothing Without Us
What does it sound like?: 
TANWU is Ciarán's (Super Furry Animals) second album. Arriving almost one year on from the release of debut Outside In, that first record had a low key home-studio quality with Ciarán building the album around his skills on keys and way with a ballad. It's a shock then to discover TANWU is heavily guitar-based and, better still, a more sonically adventurous album that shows no loss of quality in his song-writing. It's an album begat of confidence and experience and is perhaps closer to a Furries album in many respects. Opening track '5c Cotton 40c Beef' comes across as Oasis re-interpreting Peter Gunn, while the droning psychedelic riffology of '43,000,000' is like the Pixies' finest Led Zep moment. It's the two long tracks though, No More and Pachamama, that best illustrate why this album bears repeated listening; the former a panoramic psychedelic country-soul gem that evaporates into a sparse but beautiful ambient outro, the latter a space-ballad heading off to orbit Planet Mogwai.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Contender for my album of the year: ambitious but accessible, melodic but experimental.
Goes well with …: 
Any records in your collection that you consider hard to categorise and therefore indispensible.
Might suit people who like …: 
Albums you can't quite pigeon-hole and devotees of Bowie: imagine if he had had his Station to Station to Lodger phase while fronting Tin Machine. Whisper it: this is better than The Next Day.
tiggerlion's picture

Emeliána Torrini

What's it called?: 
Tookah
What does it sound like?: 
Emiliána Torrini has a voice of flawless cut glass. She flirted with international success with a hit single, Jungle Drum. She co-wrote Slow for Kylie and performed Gollum's Song but, then, returned to her native Iceland to become a mother and settle down. Tookah has been 4 years in the making with long-term producer, Dan Carey. To begin with, she seduces us with five warm, gentle ballads, set against acoustic guitar and folky electronica. But, listen carefully and things aren't as cosy as they sound. Autumn Leaves, for example, seems to be about a stalker who steals the singer's husband. Track six introduces some dance beats and track seven, Speed Of Dark, is an accomplished pop gem. By the final two tracks, Torrini seems to have lost her mind or is living a nightmare. Their titles, Blood Red and When Fever Breaks capture their harrowing flavour perfectly. They bring a rather lovely album to a disturbing conclusion. Tookah is a lovingly realised album that is deceptively strange.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Tookah is a made-up word meaning a balance of good and bad. It also means Iceland remains the most productive nation in the world for music and the arts. Emiliána has an intelligent, yet peculiar world-view, characteristic of her countrymen.
Goes well with …: 
Frosted gin and tonic with a slice of lime, a quiet night in, a warm blanket, a womb-like bath and an inquisitive mind. It is best for solitary listening when the words can be listened to with care. Tookah rewards close, intimate attention.
Might suit people who like …: 
There is no escaping the Björk comparison. Emiliána's father gives her some Italian fire. Her voice is technically superior and her peculiarities are better disguised but there's easily room in a generous, curious heart for both.

Muchacho by Phosphorescent

What's it called?: 
Muchacho
What does it sound like?: 
A mate put me onto the eclectic suite of albums by indie Americana artist(as they say) New Yorker Matthew Houck. From a Wille Nelson tribute in 2009,a 70ish soft rock album in 2010 to this latest - all ambient dreaminess with lots of electronic and vocal overlay.At times the strength of the songs gets lost in the production but it's good, really good. Think plaintive vocals a la Flaming Lips and Spiritualised, a bit of Fleet Foxes in the intro and outtro pieces."Haunting pastoral heartbreak" said Clash mag. Uncut said "mixing country jams with claustrophobic electronica and mournful Mariachi horns to create a beautiful but discomforting album"Discomfort schmumfort I love it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means you should give it a listen. It's on spotify . Here's his website http://phosphorescentmusic.com/
Goes well with …: 
Red wine a pliff perhaps ,open fire, solitude
Might suit people who like …: 
.

The Temperance Movement

What's it called?: 
The Temperance Movement
What does it sound like?: 
Classic '70s rock - close your eyes and you'd think it was Free. The same classic British rock voice with great riffs (check the first 30 seconds of 'Be Lucky' to see what I mean), slide guitar solo's and lyrics/themes that while not being banal are about girls and good times ( and what's wrong with that?). Contains a couple of tracks from their 1st EP. Solid rocking tracks like 'Ain't no Telling' , 'Morning Riders', which could come straight from a Bad Company album, slower ballads (remember them?) like 'Pride' and even a bit of country rock ('Chinese Lanterns). There's even echoes of The Faces in there, and again.... what's up with that? I'm told that they've got a good live reputation. Well I'm seeing them in Norwich later this week, and if they can cope with an early evening gig (the venue has a club night starting at 10pm so all us oldies need to be moved on for our warm milk) I'll be even more impressed
What does it all *mean*?: 
A '70s revival anyone? Loons??
Goes well with …: 
Watney's Party 7, perhaps a bottle of Hirondelle or Blue Nun for TGLW, and a Vesta curry .........mmmmm
Might suit people who like …: 
Well to be honest most of the people on this site

Elvis Costello and the Roots

What's it called?: 
Wise up Ghost
What does it sound like?: 
First off it isn't hip hop. For fans of Elvis Costello this album will be intriguing to say the least. It is an aural Alice through the looking glass in the way that it revisits not only the lyrics of old EC songs but odd lines and odd snippets of melody. The highlight for me is Stick out your tongue which is a reworking of Pills and Soap. Although fonds of the originals lyrics I always found the melody clunky. Now with the backing of the Roots it has a deliciously funky backbeat and lyrics with a new menace all of their own. The title track Wise up Ghost has the strings from Can you be true from North and the line in the chorus She's pulling out the pin - the title of a song from The Delivery man. For all these references to his past this is anything but a re-hash and there are great songs aplenty and lots of fine playing from his new found mates The Roots.
What does it all *mean*?: 
He still has the ability to surprise and this is a fine example of his questing nature and restlessness. Not all of his musical diversions have hit the mark - I am not keen on The Juliet letters. This one hits the target though.
Goes well with …: 
It's halfway between music to dance to and music to think about - it is rare that EC's lyrics are straightforward and this one is no exception but it will get you finding a groove.
Might suit people who like …: 
I have heard Curtis Mayfield cited as a reference but more recently maybe The Streets. He certainly keeps us on our toes.
Rigid Digit's picture

Manic Street Preachers

What's it called?: 
Rewind The Film
What does it sound like?: 
The opening line: "I don't want my children to grow up like me" prepares the ground for what is to come. 12 brand new tracks, presented in the main in acoustic bareness, with a theme of reflection, and the omni-present feeling of loss. The sound of the album is a departure from the expected punk/stadium rock which they are known for. There are touches of folk, stabs of Motown/Northern Soul horns and even a gospel departure. Many of the tracks can be described as un-typical Manic tracks, and then you hear the voice of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wires reluctant backing vocals and the oft-employed string arrangements which bathe a selection of the songs, and it's back to business. The Manic Street Preachers are at their best when they are plugged in and turned up to 11, but this album works without the need for bombastic drums, histrionic guitars or stadium-pleasing anthems. 12 tracks of contemplation, reflection, and (as is always conveyed with their albums) honesty.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For me, it's a competitor to 'Send Away The Tigers' and 'Postcards From A Young Man' as their most complete album. If you are conversant with the Manics back catalogue , be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the noises of this album.
Goes well with …: 
Use as a soundtrack to getting older and accepyting it. Add a touch of navel gazing and thoughts of the past ... (I'm not really selling this am I?)
Might suit people who like …: 
Guest appearances from: Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon and Richard Hawley - so that should widen the appeal from the core-Manics crowd.

Laura Veirs

What's it called?: 
Warp and Weft
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds uplifting and intimate. Her voice is crystal clear and the instrumentation veers between sparse and lush often in the same song. I first heard part of this album on a visit to Fopp - now that I own it, it sounds different than I remembered maybe because I am listening to the whole as opposed to snippets. She is still interested in the elements as shown in the wonderful opener Sun Song. However the standout song is That Alice a song about Alice Coltrane that is reverent and impressed my that much that I want to visit her back catalogue as I only really know her husbands music. Judging from a sleeve photo of Laura heavily pregnant I imagine she is a new mum - if this is her legacy for the next couple of years it is a very good one.
What does it all *mean*?: 
There are dozens of female singer songwriters trying to make a name for themselves in an increasingly difficult medium to make money in. Not even sure Laura Veirs has made it big but is a perfect example of an artist with a great talent to write well
Goes well with …: 
Listened to it whilst driving today - played That Alice four consecutive times. I dont do that very often.
Might suit people who like …: 
Neko Case appears on the album and is an obvious choice of someone in the same vein. Laura Marling too when she is not being introspective.
Poppy Succeeds's picture

Carcass

What's it called?: 
Surgical Steel
What does it sound like?: 
If you're a Carcass virgin, it sounds like Iron Maiden, if Maiden played really fast and in gravel-gargling voices sang songs about slaughterhouses and medical experiments. For Carcass fans, it sounds like Carcass, but not like Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction-era, when they were really gnarly. And definitely *not* like Swansong era when they turned into Bon Jovi. More like Necroticism and Heartwork period when they added polish to their blast beats and produced their finest music. Yes, this is the primo Carcass, and they are in very fine voice indeed, combining ambitious, symphonic moments with thrilling foot-to-the-floor shredding freakouts. I'd been on a techno-only diet until the first 'die!' of Thrasher's Abattoir reached my ears, and now I'm wolfing down DM like there's no tomorrow. Such is the power of Carcass. Choice song titles include 'Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard', 'Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System' and 'The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills'.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Carcass have turned back the clock to a time when they were an interesting, progressive DM band, and this return is way better than we had any right to expect. 'The sun never sets! The blood never dries!'
Goes well with …: 
Why, crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of the women, of course!
Might suit people who like …: 
They are in a league of their own, but this joyous album has sent me off on a voyage of Grindcore/Death Metal rediscovery, so Godflesh, Obituary, Bolt Thrower, Repulsion, Doom, Dr and the Crippens etc.
tiggerlion's picture

Mark Lanegan

What's it called?: 
Imitations
What does it sound like?: 
If God could sing, he'd sound like Mark Lanegan. I'm also a sucker for a covers album. So, Mark Lanegan singing songs from his mum's record collection should be perfect for me. He obviously has great respect for these songs, maintaining their basic structures and keeping the arrangements simple. His voice has every opportunity to shine and, when it does, there is magic. The most heartfelt, effective performances are those with the least instrumental backing. Best of all is You Only Live Twice, in which his sonority is offset by acoustic guitar alone. It is gorgeous. However, there are times when he strains to achieve a smooth tenor croon, some way above his comfort zone and the strength drains away from him. Brompton Oratory, for example, is quite a mess, including a horn section that seems to be playing a different song. Overall, however, Imitations is a qualified success, with the magic outweighing any mess, enough to make his mum feel proud.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means the list of flawless covers albums remains short: Just A Little Lovin' - Shelby Lynne, A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night - Nilsson, Covers Record - Cat Power, Kicking Against The Pricks - Nick Cave & World Gone Wrong - Bob Dylan.
Goes well with …: 
A quiet night in, pipe & slippers, a warm fire, a family evening, a collie dog, an aromatic brandy, blue cheese, fresh bread, a warm bath, a furry dressing gown, clean sheets, hot chocolate and a little blue pill.
Might suit people who like …: 
their cover albums to have a few warts, like Pin Ups, Rock 'N' Roll & These Foolish Things. The kind of album you can go back to over and over and find something new to cherish. And their mums. It suits people who love their mums.

Goldfrapp

What's it called?: 
Tales of Us
What does it sound like?: 
Autumn. Tales of Us works as a companion piece to Goldrapp's debut Felt Mountain and a seasonal prequel to Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow. The disco/glam beats and hyper-sexual beastly theatrics have been dropped along with the squelching, belching electronica that smacked around their poppier verse/chorus/verse sensibilities. Instead the duo have crafted symphonic tone poems that conjure up images of a bucolic English countryside where mist, failing light and a cold, damp air have created landscapes wrapped in a veil of ghostly beauty. Acoustic guitar, piano and orchestrated strings dominate proceedings with a light sprinkling of atmospherics to help delineate themes and emotions. Percussion is sparse with only the driving Thea breaking through the delicate pastoral mood and adding a hint of the Oriental to this collection of musical dreams of Albion. Less immediate than any of their previous albums this is perhaps best described as a modern take on the English Folk Song Suite.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That the collaborative talents of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory remain beautifully entwined as mutually dependent muses allowing their respective roles of singer and arranger to seamlessly merge.
Goes well with …: 
A drive at dusk along an unmade road into the hills with a flask of tea and a desire to see no human being for the remainder of the day.
Might suit people who like …: 
John Barry's The Beyondness of Things, the aforementioned Kate Bush and music that goes only where you want it, rather than providing you with a map and directions.

Foy Vance

What's it called?: 
Joy Of Nothing
What does it sound like?: 
I first stumbled across Foy supporting Bonnie Raitt in 2006. I've got everyting he has released since (one album and some E.P's) and now he has the difficult 2nd album out. His voice is stunning, soaked in blues and soul. The songs are beautifully memorable and superbly produced. They go from the epic opener, 'Closed Hand, Full Of Friends' to the delicate 'Feel For Me' which he closes his live set with, bravely walking off leaving the audience singing the chorus. Spine-tingling. Bonnie Raitt sings on one track and took Foy out on her recent European tour, again. We caught up with him at the Royal Albert Hall and, although he confessed to being overawed, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. The album has more of a band-feel than his solo, live gigs but the songs benefit from that. Recorded in the wilds of Donegal this is a wonderfully atmospheric collection of songs, sung by one of the best voices around. Be good to yourself and buy it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Apart from being Norn Iron's finest, Foy has one of those voices that gets inside your head, just as he gets inside a song. He is one of those that lives and breathes his music. He touches you, simple as that.
Goes well with …: 
I've done hundreds of miles in the car this week, with Joy Of Nothing for company. It hasn't got tired, it has made me whoop, made me shed a quiet tear when I got really tired. It is a Joy.
Might suit people who like …: 
If you like real singers, people with distinctive voices who cannot help but pour their heart and blue, blue soul into their music. Foy Vance is one of those, a rare breed.

Justin Currie

What's it called?: 
Lower Reaches
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds like everything else JC has done so that means.... melancholy, clever, thoughtful, heart breaking, dark humour, love lost and found, love never found in the first place, stomach churning, soulful, light, dark, musicality, voice, range, power, emotion, thought provoking, intelligence, heart, mind, drum machine (grrrr), piano, guitar, harmony, joy and pain, sunshine and rain...... Ok enough of that. It's brilliant, "Bend To My will", "Every Song's The Same", "I hate Myself For Loving You", "On My Conscience" and "Half of Me" are song titles that let you know what you're getting. There's a great lyric along the lines of "Everything is heading south, but i'm enjoying the view" which leads me to believe his tongue is in his cheek but don't care I believe every word. Some artists just "do it" for you and Mr Currie has "done it" for me again.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means if you love something you love it until it breaks your heart. He has yet to break my heart, others yes, him no
Goes well with …: 
A night in alone, a bottle of something and a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you love and hate in equal measure
Might suit people who like …: 
Justin Currie
tiggerlion's picture

Buika

What's it called?: 
La Noche Más Larga
What does it sound like?: 
Buika is a Spanish singer rooted in flamenco, copla, jazz and soul; an intoxicating cocktail. This album is her artistic flowering. Recorded in New York and Madrid, she is completely in charge, producing and writing five of the songs herself. She's hired a couple of crack musicians, too, notably the piano maestro, Ivan 'Melon' Lewis. She starts with a couple of looseners, but in the middle of track three, something visceral happens between her voice and the bass, something sensual. It's as though oil has been poured on her raging soul. She soars, she sweats, she oozes pheromones. The percussion fizzes discretely and politely, whilst the piano and bass, cajole, tease and lead her astray. She may be singing in Spanish but she's talking sex, lust and passion. Her classy voice is bewitching and authoritative, bringing great emotional depth even to the old, familiar songs. This is the opposite of a cool, relaxed 'world' record. It's edgy and earthy and intense and well worth investing time.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Love and lust are a universal language. There is nothing quite like a woman in command, who knows what she wants, with a straight back and a relaxed approach to clothing.
Goes well with …: 
swaying hips, fluttering hearts, smoky red wines, spicy food you have to tear with your hands and teeth and good company, unafraid to laugh and bare their souls.
Might suit people who like …: 
to feel their blood roaring through their veins. Music that gives flesh and bone purpose. Especially, dance music that moves more than just the body.

Midnight Juggernauts

What's it called?: 
Uncanny Valley
What does it sound like?: 
Midnight Juggernauts have been compared to the likes of ELO, Kraftwerk and Hawkwind, but really they sound like none of these bands, though the music has elements of all three. If I had to state a genre, I would go with "progressive/electronic/dance". This is the Melbourne trio's third full length album, and in my opinion their best. (The first two, "Dystopia" and "The Crystal Axis", are also very good.) The music is highly danceable, yet far more interesting and intelligent than most dance music, a genre that I normally hate. The lyrics show a fascination with science, space and war. Check out the quirky video for "Ballad of the War Machine". But for me the highlights come further in, with "Streets of Babylon", "Sugar and Bullets", and especially the closing track."Melodiya", which comes with a warning: the chorus is the most persistent earworm I have heard in a long time.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Gone are the days when Australian artists were content to be pale imitations of American or British acts. This record is of international standard, and shows that music can be danceable without being mind-numbingly repetitive.
Goes well with …: 
A warm dreamy evening. Not too late at night though - this is not music to relax and go to sleep to, you will find yourself moving your feet at some stage.
Might suit people who like …: 
Progressive rock, but who don't mind a bit of electronica and are not afraid to move their feet.

Fat Freddy's Drop

What's it called?: 
Blackbird
What does it sound like?: 
Ambient, spacey and experimental melange of extended dub, reggae and soul workouts. The FFD sound is muscular and tight but extends beyond simplistic, retrospective genre classifications through the warm punctuation of the meaty horn section and the deft touches of electronica that bring elements of funk and deep house into the mix. Throw in some modern pop smarts and the classy soulful imploring of Dallas Tamaira on lead vocals and you have a band that showcases talented musicanship without ever compromising the quality of song or melody simply to keep in a groove. But boy, do they know how to groove.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It all means that New Zealand continues to punch above its weight in throwing out classy acts who understand the rudiments of music and the lasting appeal of a band dynamic. It also means I have to see this band live asap.
Goes well with …: 
being nestled between your King Tubby and your Bill Withers.
Might suit people who like …: 
Pulsating grooves that are so fit and healthy they'll never break into a sweat.
Burt Kocain's picture

Woo

What's it called?: 
Whichever Way You're Going, You're Going Wrong
What does it sound like?: 
Like nothing else. I know there are more than a few albums that fall into that category, but this is one of them. It's mostly instrumental - acoustic guitars, clarinet, rhythm box, keyboards, singing bowls, pixiephone - but none leaps out at you, they're all busy contributing thoughtful little melodies, trip-up rhythms. Woo are English brothers Mark and Clive Ives. Yes - Clive Ives. This is what the rascals got up to in their bedroom back in '82, when they should have been masturbating or playing Subbuteo. We can be thankful. Fabulously tuneful, endlessly *interesting*, unfailingly pleasant (sometimes weirdly so) this is blissful Mad Hatter teatime music.
What does it all *mean*?: 
If I still had my original vinyl (Sunshine Series) I could probably buy another house our here on the proceeds. But let's not regret, eh? The music comes around again to delight me, and I already have a house, so it's all good.
Goes well with …: 
Whatever you're doing, whatever you're thinking, wherever you are.
Might suit people who like …: 
Nick Haeffner's "Great Indoors", and wished Eno had more tunes.
badger_king's picture

Cloud Boat

What's it called?: 
Book of Hours
What does it sound like?: 
A unique blend of ambient folk, chillwave and post-dubstep (popular genres of course...), "Book of Hours" is the first album by London duo Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke and simultaneously sounds like the sounds of the future and a half remembered dreams from years before. Employing semi tribal beats on tracks such as the hypnotic "Ember Road", with whispered vocals and murky production give the album the aural equivalent of a heat haze. Single "Youthern" is another great example of Cloud Boat's style, being fantastic blend of rugged Ray LaMontagne-esque vocals with post-rock guitars and glitchy electronic blends. The video for single "Wanderlust" perfectly captures the tone of the track, depicting a man in bandages being haunted by two children on a beach, a sense of nostalgia lost in some strange nightmare. Throughout, the ambient dreamscape the album concocts is a thrilling blend of haunted beats, mysterious harmonies and ethereal guitar. The sound of the past/future colliding.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that there are still sonic blends out there that have yet to be discovered, that two men with a laptop a guitar and a couple of microphones is all you need with a bit of inspiration.
Goes well with …: 
Being an album of juxtapositions, the album goes well with lounging on a summers day (useful at the moment), and travelling home late at night on the London underground. Sleeping pills aren't recommended accompaniments, as it may induce narcolepsy.
Might suit people who like …: 
Burial, James Blake, Stumbleine, Jamie Woon, Bon Iver, Ray LaMontagne
tiggerlion's picture

Kanye West

What's it called?: 
Yeezus
What does it sound like?: 
Whilst Kim Kardashan cooked his bun, Kanye busied himself making this album. After the gloriously eclectic My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy & the crowd-pleasing Watch The Throne, Yeezus is brutal. It's a stomach-churning listen. The sound platform has been built by gargantuan, industrial robots and the raps are unapologetically priapic. He is lewd, aggressive, misogynistic and broken. He seethes against the ill-treatment of black men by the system and, beneath the bravado, he is sadly, bewildered by women. There are few gentle moments, certainly nothing as tender as New Day, a meditation on fatherhood on Watch The Throne. Blood On The Leaves pitches a sample of Strange Fruit against a tale of bitter divorce. I Am A God screams with desperation. Black Skinhead bristles with defiance. Any humour is caustic. Across forty minutes, it's a harrowing and an exhilarating listen, one that is deceptive in its complexity and terrible in its beauty. Yeezus is not for the faint-hearted.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Like Prince in the 80s, Kanye is an artist who confounds expectations and pushes against boundaries. His production, with help from Daft Punk and Rik Rubin amongst others, is creative and imaginative. He really doesn't give a fuck what people think.
Goes well with …: 
A dinner party. Astound your guests with its noise and its potty mouth. Play 'spot the ridiculous couplet'. How about "Louboutin on the toes again/ Tight dress dancing close to him/ Yeezus just rose again"? Should help sparkle the conversation.
Might suit people who like …: 
Blank cover art. Artists willing to expose warts and all. Grinding noises. Bottomless bass. Provocative samples. Filthy lyrics. Threesomes. Squillionaires who don't care. Rap/Hip Hop. Risk-taking. Consuming hard liquor. Toe-curling embarrassment.
illuminatus's picture

The Duckworth Lewis Method

What's it called?: 
Sticky Wickets
What does it sound like?: 
Four years after our heroes Mr Duckworth and Mr Lewis (aka Messrs Hannon and Walsh) retired to the pavilion following their rollicking debut, comes a second knock for our Irish cricket- & Lynne-loving chums. An innings defeat or Ashes glory? Thankfully, it's the latter. Like the first album, it's a heady mix of styles: strings, aching balladry, coruscating, bright pop, electronica, faintly Edwardian whimsy and a touch of wistful melancholia. It really shouldn't work, but it so does. Ironically, it's a quintessentially English album made by two Irishmen. Huzzah! Highlights include It's Just Not Cricket and Third Man, which are full of the lush ELO style strings from around the time of A New World Record or Out Of The Blue. Guest voice appearances by the likes of Daniel Radcliffe on Third Man and Henry Blofeld on It's Just Not Cricket are just the perfect icing on some already beautifully-layered melodic confections. Other guest appearances are more surprising but no less enjoyable.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For someone who adores things beardly Brummie, if you get my drift), it's a delight. Lots of well-crafted, lilting pop songs, done well.
Goes well with …: 
The first album, Out of the Blue, A New World Record.
Might suit people who like …: 
Bearded Brummie purveyors of lush, string driven pop, possibly with a distinctive snare drum sound. Failing that, anyone with a pulse who likes lovely pop music. ;)
bungliemutt's picture

Jason Isbell

What's it called?: 
Southeastern
What does it sound like?: 
Never quite fulfilling the promise of songs like Outfit and Decoration Day from his years in Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell has at last produced a solo album that can be described by that overworked cliche, stone cold classic. Possessing a deep melancholy that is strangely uplifting, here are 12 songs that are among the best Isbell has penned. Underpinned by strong melodies and with Isbell's voice in fine fettle, this is a fine album of literate Americana. 'I've grown tired of traveling alone / Won't you ride with me?' Isbell sings in 'Traveling Alone', referring to his marriage to Amanda Shires (check out her album Carrying Lightning). In the excellent 'Elephant', Isbell relates the story of a friend dying of cancer: 'No one dies with dignity / We just try to ignore the elephant somehow'. Don't be misled; this isn't depressing stuff - quite the contrary. Southeastern is Isbell's masterpiece, and the best thing I've heard all year.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Isbell is on fine form, has apparently been through rehab, and can at last be said to have shaken off the shadow of his former band and emerged as strongly as his promise always suggested he would.
Goes well with …: 
Some quiet and thoughtful moments on your own, turned up loud.
Might suit people who like …: 
Drive By Truckers, obviously. You will have been waiting for this album since Jason Isbell left that band. You don't have to like Ryan Adams or Neal Casal, but it may help. There are shades of Dylan, Young and the Stones in there somewhere too.

These New Puritans

What's it called?: 
Field of Reeds
What does it sound like?: 
This record opens somewhat confusingly with a field recording of an amateur singer, reaching for a half remembered song. The band were rather taken with it, and set the results to music they'd made up, only to later discover it was Bacharach and David's 'This Guys in Love With You'. Obvious to my ears (and to the publishers who demanded it be retitled and any royalties paid in full). If you can forgive TNP for not knowing Noel Gallagher's fave tune, it's an odd, disorientating opening. It leads us into a complex, beautiful and intriguing LP. Drums and percussion, so much to the fore on their previous LP, take a back seat to Piano, gongs, horns, strings, vibraphones and children's choirs. Unlike some of the more frenetic, almost conventionally 'Indie' moments on their first 2 LPs these tracks take time to unfold, but unfold they do, with wonderful melodic and textural shifts and deliberately obfuscated lyrics that make you want to listen again and try to unravel their mysteries.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Let's ask the band: "Exocets toward Stanley, Watch the fireworks from the beach, I've got meteors falling to earth, This is your guided tour".
Goes well with …: 
This is for headphones-on, late night or long train journey listening. You need to "get into it". As the lyrics to the title track suggest "Shut your eyes and listen..."
Might suit people who like …: 
Takes it place alongside that strangely British branch of not-quite-Psychedelic, dark and imposing "otherness" that reminds me Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis, Robert Wyatt, This Heat, Massive Attack, The XX and Radiohead.

Lloyd Cole

What's it called?: 
Standards
What does it sound like?: 
Thanks to this album, LC’s profile appears to be higher than it’s been for years (not hard.) That, for anybody who’s followed his self-managed, self-promoted, fan-funded slog back to contention over the last few years is great news. Also great news is the album itself, which, while not a comeback nor a return to form as trumpeted in some parts (he never went away and never stopped being good, people just didn’t notice), seems, in part, to be a conscious nod to his jangly 80s past rather than the more country/folk pop of recent records. The first half is great: Period Piece is a career-high, a jangly, copper-bottomed classic; Women’s Studies could be off Rattlesnakes; Myrtle and Rose is just plain gorgeous; Blue Like Mars sounds like a lost classic from his long-haired early 90s. It’s not perfect: while there’s not a dud in sight the second half lacks a stand-out and can seem a little one-paced. But it’s a fine album from a man who sounds like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
What does it all *mean*?: 
LC is growing older gracefully. He would also clearly like something approaching a hit again.
Goes well with …: 
Walking briskly with headphones. Or indeed lazing by the pool with headphones. I’ve tried both.
Might suit people who like …: 
Anyone who has bought a Lloyd Cole record at some point during the last 30 years. There are echoes of almost every album, apart, happily, from Bad Vibes.

Sandie Shaw

What's it called?: 
Long Live Love
What does it sound like?: 
The demise of the record emporium means that those of us looking for a cd on a sunday afternoon are sometimes forced to explore the local supermarket, and pick something up with our pint of milk and strawberry sundae. The pickings are slim (unless you are a fan of Taylor Swift)-hence why I ended up investing a fiver in the best of Dagenham's finest-Sandra Goodrich.Now I can sense the eyebrows being raised from here,but bear with-because a fairly large percentage of the 26 tracks here have a sense of drama and warmth that you would previously only find in your Dusty,Aretha and Dionne records.Whilst Sandie may not posess the pipes of those admittedly fine vocalists,she can carry a tune rather well,and the arrangements are suitably epic.The cd also includes her fantastic version of Anyone Who Had A Heart with B.E.F (definitive),and two tracks with The Smiths (Steven was right about this girl)
What does it all *mean*?: 
Watching The Voice last night made me consider what makes a great pop singer.It is not technical excellence,or the ability to hold onto a note for half an hour.It is the ability to take a song and give it drama.Miss Shaw did this-in spades.
Goes well with …: 
A quiet sunday afternoon,with a pile of ironing and a cup of tea-strong,no sugar (it's sweet enough as it is).When you've finished,you can enjoy Bob Stanley's liner notes,and the lovely shots of Miss Shaw in the booklet (vinyl reissue would be nice)
Might suit people who like …: 
All the usual sixties girl singers and groups mentioned above,although Walker Brothers fans may also like it. Salvo have also reissued three of her sixties albums,with more to follow.This could get expensive

Paul McCartney and Wings

What's it called?: 
Rockshow - DVD
What does it sound like?: 
Back in 1976 when ‘Rockshow’ was filmed Macca was still a little coy about performing Beatles’ material, so only a few hand-picked Fabs songs are included here alongside the solo material, which is weighted heavily in favour of the then-current ‘Venus & Mars’ and ‘Band On The Run’ albums. The film transfer is pin-sharp (much better than the 1981 VHS ever was) and the sound is excellent. The musicianship is also superb, with only the on-stage guitar tuning and Macca’s twee stage announcements reminding us that this happened almost 40 years ago. McCartney still liked to imagine he was actually in “a band” at the time and touchingly, there is a misguided democracy at work here with Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch given generous solo spots. It would never happen now. The clothes are cheesy, there are mullets in abundance and some of the lyrics are well past their use-by date, but the music here will probably outlive us all.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Filmed in 1976, 'Rockshow' laughs in the face of punk Year Zero. These songs are bulletproof.
Goes well with …: 
Almost anything. At one point Macca references Winifred Atwell - to an American audience. Now, there's a man who feels comfortable onstage.
Might suit people who like …: 
Take a wild guess.
Moose the Mooche's picture

Rhye

What's it called?: 
Woman
What does it sound like?: 
This has been out since before Margaret Hilda Thatcher fell off the twig, so it's hardly the now sound. You've probably heard and bought/dismissed it already. Run for the hills! It's a bit 80s. Don't! it also has woodwinds and soft trombones (steady..). Ooohhh. Critics are comparing this to Sade. Not sure about that. If you were really cruel you would say it was Dido for hipsters. Ouch! She's a braw singer for sure - poised between seduction and lullaby, between ennui and rapture, between nothingness and eternity (sorry). EDIT: turns out we have a Crying Game deal here. The vocalist is a chap. Wowser. Christ, it's gorgeous. Careful, without being fussy. I want to call it noir electronica but that conjurs up the idea of spotty teenagers making records that sound like lorries reversing. This doesn't sound like that. This is top-notch sophisti-pop. Delicious melancholy, spaces, not the great gallumphing splodges of noise that send VU meters clattering into the red.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Once again, 35 minutes is the optimum time for the length of an album that's dominated by a single human voice.
Goes well with …: 
A full-bodied red - Australian, Chilean or Lebanese. Please do not put this on in the background at a dinner party. You already have Test Department for that purpose.
Might suit people who like …: 
Air at their dreamy best. Good quality pop music.

Thee oh Sees

What's it called?: 
Floating Coffin
What does it sound like?: 
Read many glowing reports on this band and took a punt on their most recent release. I say most recent because they have a frenetic work ethic and have released several albums in last couple of years. How to describe them? Psych? Garage? Krautrock? All of them plus tiny shards of metal here and there. Hugely melodic. Some female harmonies and metronomic drumming recalling Can at their most driving. With song titles like Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster and Strawberries one and two the lyrics are fairly impenetrable but they are musicians more than songwriters. This is music for the feet rather than music for the head. They just might be my favourite new discovery of 2013.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Doesn't mean anything at all really. Clearly a bunch of friends who love making a good old racket and committing it to disc. They have a number of other releases that I felt compelled to seek out after I got the bug with this one.
Goes well with …: 
Turn up loud, get a couple of beers inside you and start moving.
Might suit people who like …: 
Reminiscent of MC5 in their garage references and Pink Fairies/Hawkwind in their Psych moments. In fairness I havent yet seen a review that adequately describes them. This one is no different.
ganglesprocket's picture

Boards Of Canada

What's it called?: 
Tomorrows Harvest
What does it sound like?: 
Seven years after the psychedelic, guitar inflected, The Campfire Headphase, Boards Of Canada have returned to the lush electronica of Geogaddi. The music is made up of layered, detuned, etherial keyboards, slightly discordant beats and not as many voice samples as there have been in the past, creating a truly lush album. Really there's no other word, so no apologies from me for using it twice. It sounds like Boards Of Canada. So far I have listened three times. On the first listen I thought there was nothing in it to compare with earlier tunes like ROYGBIV or Dayvan Cowboy. On the second occasion I thought that Reach For The Dead, New Seeds and Nothing Is Real were among the best things they have ever done. On the most recent listen, as the sun went down this sunny evening, looking out of my window to Highgate Woods in the gloaming, I thought that this was one of the single most beautiful things I have ever heard. I suspect this music will live in my dreams for a while.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Boards Of Canada mean what the listener wants them to mean. They leave space for interpretation if you want to do that or they simply do pretty tunes. For me, they sound like a sunny day, by a loch, with a fire. Or a half remembered TV theme.
Goes well with …: 
Sunset. Sunrise. Trees. Cheap red wine. Summer. When you need headspace this music provides it. Think head, more than heart, but a fuzzy head.
Might suit people who like …: 
... music to slowly reveal its secrets. Not rushing. Or simply treating an album as a whole entity to be savored. I can't tell you if this is as good as Music Has The Right To Children, I can tell you I look forward to deciding in time.
dogfacedboy's picture

Francoise Hardy

What's it called?: 
Midnight Blues: Paris & London 1968-1972
What does it sound like?: 
This has been more like 'an afternoon and evening with...' as this has been on repeat since it hit the mat this morning. This consists of Hardy's '69 LP '1970' and 1972 LP 'If You Listen' with a more 'folk/rock' direction but that really doesn't cover whats on this compilation. There are covers of Cohen ('Suzanne') , Newman ('I Think Its Gonna Rain Today') and Neil Young (Til the Morning Comes') but the original material is an amalgam of so many different influences. There is country feel to set's title track penned by Hardy, there is Nick Drake influenced fragile introspectiveness (the extensive notes tells of a plan to bring the two together for an album). There is drama, soul, sensitivity, melancholy here all with Francoise breathy heartfelt vocals reminding you a little of Nico but with more expression and emotional depth. For me the London tracks have that little special magic ingredient - a life, spark and cohesion of spirit that is lacking in the Paris sessions.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It appears that perhaps Ms Hardy wanted to change the way she was perceived, the music she made and these albums were the first steps in doing that. The second album has only one tracks written by her and allows her to try new sounds and ideas.
Goes well with …: 
A Gauloise , bottle of red, some onions, sitting outside a cafe going "haw-he-haw-he-haw". Alan Partridge told me that.
Might suit people who like …: 
Nick Drake, Gallic Pop, Nico, Poshcore. And if like me you are only familiar with her French language work with a more pop orientated vibe, or worse, just as that bird from the Blur song, then this will be a pleasant surprise to you.

Savages

What's it called?: 
Silence Yourself
What does it sound like?: 
Every now and again, this middle-aged male needs to ween himself off his Singer Songwriter and XTC albums. Enter stage left Savages- a London four piece described by the NME as "frottage-inducingly intense". The dreaded "Post Punk Revival" tag has been applied to them, and there is a jaggedness to their sound that transports you back to that bygone age. But I am very taken with Jehnny Beth's voice, that finds the right balance between angst and tenderness. Highlights include brooding opener Shut Up and the quite terrifying Husbands. There is also a clarinet solo on the closing track-which is always nice.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Attitude and commitment count for a lot in new music, but a healthy dose of craft does not go amiss. You will find all of these here- its a real adrenaline rush of a record.
Goes well with …: 
Being stuck in traffic jams in South London. Play it loud enough and it will even drown out that squeaky clutch pedal that has been driving you round the bend for the last week........
Might suit people who like …: 
"The Female Joy Division" is a phrase I have heard several times. They may have a point. Admirers of PJ Harvey and early Siouxsie & The Banshees may fund much to enjoy here too.
minibreakfast's picture

Daft Punk

What's it called?: 
Random Access Memories
What does it sound like?: 
Once you get over the initial shock/disappointment of the difference in tempo and intensity between this opinion-splitting LP and the three Daft Punk studio albums that preceded it, something happens that today seems rare and special. You fall in love. You become obsessed. You want nothing but to become enveloped in this 74-minute lounge-funk, soft-rock disco love-letter, with its beats, breaks, horns, strings, spaceships, processed vocals and the beating heart of the whole thing: love. Critics may have a point when they say some of the tracks are over-long. 'Motherboard' and 'Game of Love' do plod towards the end and would benefit from some editing, but it's the longest song here, 'Giorgio by Moroder' that seems to end too soon, just as its kitchen-sink final movement really gets going.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Even robots can feel.
Goes well with …: 
Headphones or big speakers.
Might suit people who like …: 
'Albums', sad robots, gettin' down with it.
tiggerlion's picture

John Murry

What's it called?: 
The Graceless Age.
What does it sound like?: 
Murry has a honey-smooth, wise, soulful voice with the intensity of Bruce Springsteen and the gravitas of Mark Lanegan. This is a brave and deeply personal album that exposes the blood & guts of Murry's life; the drug addiction, the arrests, the dysfunctional relationships, the near-death experiences, even his mother's thoughts on his birth. One can feel the pain staked as each note builds on another to become a melody. The music drags the listener at a relentless, stately pace through Murry's psyche, spiced with a touch of fuzz guitar here and a country flavour there. Murry rages, he grieves, he dreams, he laments. This album is both ugly and beautiful. It is an engrossing hymn to human frailty and our ability to survive. John Murry is thirty-four years of age.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Sometimes, an album comes along that tells you everything you need to know. Murry is brutal in his honesty. There is no need to read his back story. This album pulls us to the edge of life, so we don't have to live there ourselves.
Goes well with …: 
Hugging your children close. But don't let them listen. It could give them nightmares.
Might suit people who like …: 
This makes up a life-enriching trilogy with Bill Fay's Life Is People & Matthew E White's Big Inner, both of which are equally even-paced if more spiritual. However its real soul-mate, lyrically at least, is Mark Lanegan Band's Blues Funeral.

Dawes

What's it called?: 
Stories don't end.
What does it sound like?: 
Not content with writing my favourite song of the last decade (A little bit of everything) on previous album this wonderful band have just released a cracking album. Not sure it is officially released here just yet - I was fortunate to pick it up in the USA last week. The band are now playing with a confidence and exuberance that was perhaps lacking from the previous albums as good as they were. It is almost as if the success has allowed them to take a freer approach. The lyrics are as articulate as ever but the playing is looser and the number of short guitar solos throughout this set are a joy as are their harmonies. I really believe this band will be around for a long time and they have excellent potential. 12 Tracks - hard to pick standouts but I would go for the ballad Just my luck and the jauntier Someone Will that follows it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Bands making quality music are still around and Taylor Goldsmith has certainly learned the art of songcraft - lyrics as good as his deserve a wide audience.
Goes well with …: 
Driving, relaxing, reflecting - not a band to dance to, they are far more cerebral.
Might suit people who like …: 
There is no denying the Jackson Browne influence and he is yet again name checked in the liner notes. However I have played this half a dozen times this week and the construction of the songs also recalls Fountains of Wayne.

The Records Tribute

What's it called?: 
Starry Eyed
What does it sound like?: 
Sounds utterly fab and groovy, the jangleometer is set to stratospheric as 20 acts doff their rickenbackers to the songs of Will Birch and John Wicks. Most are reasonably faithful to the original recordings, but some offer a different tack without losing the charm of the source material. Hooks, lines and singers ! ( Sorry !) If you know and love Starry Eyes, Teenarama, Girl in the Golden disc etc, you'll like this. If you don't know them, go and have a look / listen.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Good pop songs have genuine longevity. Available from zerohour records in Australia, check the website and the youtube previews.
Goes well with …: 
The gardening.
Might suit people who like …: 
A chorus which you can remember and hum on the bus.

Edwyn Collins

What's it called?: 
Understated
What does it sound like?: 
I've been playing this album for a couple of months now and it passes a crucial test: I find its tunes, hooks and snatches of lyrics popping into my head throughout the day. If you like jangly, tuneful pop then step right on up. It begins with a single chord, Hard Day's Night style, then a clatter of drums (really, does that *ever* go wrong as an intro) and into Dilemna. From then until the closing Love's Been Good to Me, this record does not put a foot wrong. Instrumentally, aside from the aforementioned guitar there are some lovely organ and the odd bit of strings/trumpet etc. Right up in the mix though is The Voice. Still a thing of idiosyncratic beauty, there are no obvious signs of his stroke. There are hints aplenty in the lyrics though: "I got art to ease the pain", "What the heck, I'm living now", "That awkward sense of being me". Many more. This is the sound of a man transcending the limitations of his body by making a glorious noise.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It's a great pop album: it moves the body. It also moves the heart and the head. There not many people who can tick all of those boxes at once.
Goes well with …: 
Shuffling about my wooden floor in my socks. Not an image you wanted but there it is.
Might suit people who like …: 
Tuneful music with a bit of depth.
badger_king's picture

Atoms For Peace

What's it called?: 
Amok
What does it sound like?: 
Surprisingly enough, this sounds like Thom Yorke's other album, The Eraser. Full of skittish beats, guitar and keyboard loops, analog synths, and Thom's ethereal crooning over the top. One Direction this is not. More beat driven than its predecessor The Eraser, Amok runs the risk of being just an outlet for Thom Yorke's songs deemed too unfriendly for use in Radiohead, but even in the beats, it would seem that humanity and sense of technology alienating us comes through. Ironic for an album influenced by pioneering techno and electronica, but that's what it is. Like Radiohead's TKOL from 2011, this is very much an album of electronic music crafted by humans, focussing more on crafting drum loops with a drummer and percussionist than with a laptop. Standout tracks "Default" and "Ingenue" use Thom's voice at the centre, crafting increasingly paranoid soundscapes around him as Nigel Godrich weaves his magic. Not an album to be played near sharp objects.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that Thom Yorke can continue to make dance music like his favourites Modeselektor whilst retaining the human touch from his day job. This is dance music created for the mind and designed for the movement of the pelvis.
Goes well with …: 
Strobe lighting, weird dance moves and a pony tail apparently
Might suit people who like …: 
Thom Yorke, Radiohead, Modeselektor, Four Tet, Apparat, Autechre, Milieu, Burial
tiggerlion's picture

Vampire Weekend

What's it called?: 
Modern Vampires of the City
What does it sound like?: 
Like many a noughtie band, VW emerged bright, sharp and full of beans in search of fun. They stood out from the crowd with their African beats and their love of punctuation. They were college boys who were so desperate to attract girls, they were willing to dance. Now, approaching thirty, they are on their third album. Modern Vampires of the City sounds like a mature band who appreciate space as much as noise, who judiciously deploy every note and beat. There are delicate subtleties in the details; heavenly choruses, neat guitar figures, ripples of percussion. The songs have plenty of air to breathe but are constructed with great care. Their natural verbosity is reined in and their exuberance is controlled. The result is a greater emotional depth and a broader range of style. The themes explored may be more serious but they still retain a sense of glee. These boys are in for the long haul. I'm looking forward to listening to them with my gandchildren when I'm in my sixties.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Young 'guitar' bands have a future, after all. Funnily enough, the drummer is a key 'driver' of this band, writing and producing, just like the drummer in Spoon. This is the era of the calm, sensible drummer and these bands are the better for it.
Goes well with …: 
It's a sociable album that mixes with wine & nibbles. A polished floor with plenty of room because you still will feel the urge to shuffle your feet. New shoes may be required. In the end, head-phones are necessary to fully appreciate its charms.
Might suit people who like …: 
to smile but don't mind being made to face their mortality (it does get serious). There is a song called Hannah Hunt which is light & frivolous at first glance but has a dark core. Perfect for Afterworders looking for a young, modern classic.
badger_king's picture

Stumbleine

What's it called?: 
Sunshine Girls
What does it sound like?: 
Supposedly the sound of summer 2013, Sunshine Girls is a unique blend of sampled vocals, ambient textures, glitches and post-Burial beats. The Beach Boys this is not. For as little as £4 from the artist's Bandcamp page, this 8 track EP creates a warm fuzzy glow for your ears, creating a sort of Instagrammed snapshot of modern music - discreet, hipsterish and heavily filtered, it evokes an image of a park in a heavily stylized 1970s. Ostensibly this is part of the new wave of chillwave (or "glo-fi" apparently), where post-everything music combines, what this means in reality is that the dreamy tones drift together into a beautifully hazy fuzz. Tracks such as the sublime "More Than Words" or the more beat-driven "Tremolo" often evoke the more ambient tracks on Burial's second album "Untrue", although with more of a hazy summer afternoon than a late night London bus in mind. A year on from the EP's initial release, and it is a record that has never seemed more "now". Strongly recommended.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that there are still genres to have a post- in front of their name. Post-chillwave? Glo-fi? Whatever it wants to be called, this is very much the sound of now from a very exciting new UK producer.
Goes well with …: 
Sunshine, nature, light beer and maybe a beach chair. This is a record designed for the summer. However, due to similarities to the post-dubstep stylings of Burial, this also goes well with night time and the rain.
Might suit people who like …: 
Burial, Lake Radio, IG88, Salem, Sun Glitters, Balam Acab, The Aloof
bogl's picture

Public Service Broadcasting

What's it called?: 
Inform - Educate - Entertain
What does it sound like?: 
Take archive audio, add a large dash of NEU! and electronica, and you have one affecting and moving album. More hooks than Robson Green's tackle box are deployed to support audio from British and American public information films and movies. Many of the tracks will be well-known to 6 Music listeners, including the current single Signal 30, which manages to make road safety amusing and terrifying at the same time. I particularly enjoy Lit Up (music and narrator alike can be described as such!), Everest and The Now Generation, perhaps the lightest track of the album. The last track is a bit downbeat but overall an album I think most Afterworders would enjoy.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Retrofuturism has been with us for a while, and PSB do share something with Kraftwerk in that respect, as well as occasional similarities in sound. I look forward to seeing them live next week in their corduroy stage outfits.
Goes well with …: 
Gets me pumped up during the walk to work. There is a certain amount of Boy's Own-style derring-do which gets the adrenaline going for...my call-centre training.
Might suit people who like …: 
"Krautrock" and instrumentals with a message.
Mike_H's picture

87 tracks of unusual music for $10.

What's it called?: 
... and darkness came
What does it sound like?: 
The sort of stuff you'd hear on a "Headphone Commute" podcast (being as that's who compiled it), i.e. spacy, spooky, ambient-ish stuff. Some made with conventional acoustic/electric instruments and some electronic and/or found sounds. Also mixtures of all the above. I love it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
A fund-raiser to keep the Headphone Commute site and podcasts going. At that price and given the quality of their podcasts so far it's got to be worth a punt... Downloadable from http://headphonecommute.bandcamp.com/ in flac or mp3 form
Goes well with …: 
Bank holiday weekend Sunday evenings and this 2010 Fitou I'm drinking while waiting for my fish pie to bake.
Might suit people who like …: 
The sort of music discussed in the Electronic Music 2013 thread a little while back.
Burt Kocain's picture

The Phoenix Foundation

What's it called?: 
Fandango
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds like everyone in the anty-podes is on rather good drugs, is what it sounds like. "Is it psych, Burt?" I hear you ask in your patronising, whining, disinterested way. Well, yes and no. What makes these guys rather special is the seamless incorporation of sounds and styles from the sixties right up to, well, the eighties. There's some beats and bleeps here that sound almost contemporary. It's all very, very melodic, softly sung, song-based. It's effectively what we used to call a double album (a CD, for younger readers), but I've managed a couple of straight-through listens without my attention wandering off into the bushes for a smoke. Hmmm. It's all really rather good. There's a couple of instry-mentals, which slip down a treat, and an epic final track that floats you off somewhere nice. I'm getting dandelion seeds blown on gossamer vespers, stained glass windows underwater ... I'm getting hints of mint and licorice ... how many characters do I have left? Twenty two? Nine? Th
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means I'll be combat-crawling through the undergrowth for their earlier albums, which I unaccountably missed. I mean, Mojo lives down there with the kookaburras, doesn't he? Shouldn't he be alerting us to all this fantastic music? Seventeen charac
Goes well with …: 
The Church, The Moffs, Belles Will Ring, Tame Impala ... no way am I going to fill this box. A hundred and fifty seven characters left? No, wait - a hundred and six? Eighty five? This is driving me nuts. Forty seven, then. Twenty eight characters lef
Might suit people who like …: 
Really fab outtasite music. Drugs. Stereo headphones. Right, that's it. That's your lot. Bloody cheek, you ask me. And it's taken, like, forever to make that smudgy little cover image acceptable to the Neo-Con fascist lizards running this blog, the f

Steve Earle's Low Highway

What's it called?: 
The Low Highway
What does it sound like?: 
Was a bit meh when I first played it wondering whether, like a mate had said ,that I was also "over Steve" .After all I've got a heck of a lot of his stuff. So I went the old fashioned route- knocked back a few drinks, turned it up loud and put it on repeat. Verdict - Steve's back .Back in a real studio ,back with his old producer, back with Will Rigby and Kelly Looney in the band.It's got that raw raunchy fuzz guitar sound that drove along that clutch of records that ended with Transcendental Blues.Check out Calico County. It also features 3 tracks co-written with the violinist in the TV series Treme, Lucia Micarelli. The country ballads are good too, including the opening title song and the song to his son/s "Remember Me. A review on the weekend said it well "there's a familiarity to this stuff that at first disguises just how good it is". I hardly played Washington Serenade and Townes -this one is on high rotation.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means Steve is better off in a studio ,with a producer and with the Dukes. Bring on a full band tour.
Goes well with …: 
A pumped up stereo and a few drinks
Might suit people who like …: 
alt country and a bit of sour with their sweet
Vulpes Vulpes's picture

Jess Roden

What's it called?: 
Hidden Masters 6 CD Set
What does it sound like?: 
In these days of retrospective worship for many of the old-school blue eyed soul and country rock artists basking in the rediscovered Americana glow of recent years, it's hard, upon encountering an artist who excels in that sphere, who can also belt out a great pop-psyche ditty, and casually carries muscular rock singing proudly into "hear every syllable" territory, to fathom his relative obscurity amongst today's musical enthusiasts. If you got to the end of that sentence you'll know that I think Jess Roden will be a true revelation to many who hear his work for the first time following the release of this outstanding retrospective set. The breadth of musicians scattered across these six discs is astonishing; Art Neville, Robbie Kreiger, John Densmore, Alan Toussaint, Paul Kossoff, Jaki Whitren, and the list goes on. If you appreciate finely sung, beautifully played rock and soul, and if you love to hear a band playing live who really have a groove, get this and wallow in it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that thankfully there is a wealth of recorded music out there that relatively few of us have heard but which deserves a new audience to appreciate it, and it's not yet lost to the world while projects like this exist. Fill yer boots!
Goes well with …: 
Single malts, good reds, good friends, low lights, long drives, lazy afternoons, early hours and slow baths. Not necessarily all at the same time.
Might suit people who like …: 
Boz Scaggs, Robert Palmer, Free, Garland Jeffreys, The Eagles, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, The Meters, The Isleys, Elton John, Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Bert Jansch & Various Artists

What's it called?: 
Acoustic Routes
What does it sound like?: 
Originally recorded in 1993 as the soundtrack to a BBC Scotland film about Bert and his contemporaries, this double CD edition accompanies an expanded DVD version of the film and features an entire disc of unreleased material. Just about everyone here is a nailed-on 60s folk legend and almost without exception they name Jansch as a major influence. While featuring heavily in the film John Renbourn did not appear on the original CD. That's now been rectified and the two Renbourn/Jansch guitar duets are highlights, as are unreleased tracks from Davey Graham and Anne Briggs. Brownie McGhee gets the lion's share of the new material with six songs, which seems like overkill at times. As always, Wizz Jones, Martin Carthy and Davey are essential listening, but this is Bert's party and he carries the show with some style. 20 years on and inevitably we've lost several of the main characters here. Not only Bert himself, but Davey, Brownie and Hamish Imlach have passed on too.
What does it all *mean*?: 
What was originally a collection of contemporary tracks by the heroes of the UK 60s folk scene is now, two decades on, very much a look into the past.
Goes well with …: 
Break out those classic 60s/70s albums by Pentangle, Martin Carthy, Davey Graham and, of course, Bert and John. This is acoustic folk blues guitar at its best.
Might suit people who like …: 
See above. The original CD booklet carried nine closely-typed pages of sleeve notes from the Afterword's very own Colin H. There is no booklet with the new release, so those sleeve notes are seemingly lost forever. For shame!
Rigid Digit's picture

Steve Mason

What's it called?: 
Monkey Minds In The Devils Times
What does it sound like?: 
A collection of 9 songs, and 11 interludes/connectors between them, ensuring the listener remains engaged with the album. The album includes an eclectic mixture of sounds and styles, ranging from electronica, folk, rock, with added touches of Hip Hop, 1960s/70s four to the floor funk, and a highly effective 'Motown Soul meets Primal Scream' horn section. There is also an absolutely joyous and uplifting Gospel Chorus on "Lonely" Other stand-out tracks include: "A Lot Of Love", "Fight Them Back", "Come To Me" and the undoubtable high point (for me) "Oh My Lord". This is an album that has been thought about, carefully put together, and was a wonderfully immersive experience. In fact, I thought it was THAT good, when it finished I immediately played it again. It is now April 2013, approximately one third through the year, and I now own 2 albums (this one and David Bowie's "The Next Day") which are likley to be vying for the accolade 'Album Of The Year'
What does it all *mean*?: 
The title is (apparently) a Buddhist term for 'easily distracted mind'. PR bumph says the album is: "shaped by the current global political climate and the lack of dissenting voices in music and popular culture in general"
Goes well with …: 
Doing nothing and just relaxing This is an album that should be consumed in one go, not split up and consumed piece-meal. By the same token, the majority of the tracks work just as well outside the confines of the album.
Might suit people who like …: 
Beta Band, Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, John Grant

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

What's it called?: 
Old Yellow Moon
What does it sound like?: 
Give this album time to breathe and you will be rewarded with abundant riches. It starts off with a couple of upbeat songs but then there are a couple of sublime ballads Spanish Dancer and the stunning Back when we were beautiful. There are times when the most distinctive female voice in country doesn't sound like the most distinctive female voice in country notably on Black Caffeine which sounds like it could be an outtake from Raising Sand. It is clear that Emmylou and Rodney are comfortable in their older bodies and gratifying that they are reaching out to our generation with this music.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Played together 40 years ago and still friends and still have that almost telepathic understanding of where each others voices should be in the song. Emmylou is still the voice that other country ladies aspire to.
Goes well with …: 
A quiet night in with someone close to snuggle up to. Not quite pipe and slippers music but very soothing.
Might suit people who like …: 
Good singing. This and the Bonnie Prince Billy/Dawn McCarthy albums are similar in feel and highlights of what promises to be a very good year for new releases.
Rigid Digit's picture

Palma Violets

What's it called?: 
180
What does it sound like?: 
(Cliche Alert!) Latest band in a run of NME-backed Libertines pretenders (end Cliche Alert!). Stuffed full of energy and (importantly) tunes, even the lo-fi production can be forgiven on the strength of some of the songs. First listen indeed brings to mind the above mentioned cliche, but repeated listening brings out a wider range of influences and sounds. Ranging from Iggy Pop to The Doors, a smattering of Joy Division and a bit of a Richard Hawley-type vocal in places (albeit dressed up in an 80s-ish sound).
What does it all *mean*?: 
There are some good songs on here, and the album certainly benefits from repeated listening, but it is not exactly earth shattering. Maybe a bit more time and a bit less hype and expectation will see the Palma Violets blossom.
Goes well with …: 
Recently soundtracked Saturday morning washing-up and house-cleaning. Probably has other applications too.
Might suit people who like …: 
Libertines (obviously), Vaccines, Courteeners, Everything Everything, Miles Kane

Wire

What's it called?: 
Change Becomes Us
What does it sound like?: 
Having recorded 3 iconic post-punk LPs in the late 70s, Wire began work on the 4th but only got as far as playing the new songs at a series of audience baffling shows (captured on the notorious Live LP 'Document & Eyewitness') before imploding amid record company strife and good old fashioned musical differences. Fast forward to 2013 (via a fascinating on/off career and late period flourish) and Wire have revisited the unfinished tracks from that period, but this is far from dusting off old demo tapes or recreating the past. The songs have acted as a jumping off point for what is a magnificent, brand new record. There are spiky, urgent tracks that recall Wire at their best circa '154', some bouncy post-punk jerkiness, shiny 80s Wire pop, some hypnotic drones, lots of shouting, and lots of the almost proggy shimmering dreaminess that characterises their more recent work. New member Matt Simms adds some extra crunch and it all adds up to a record that stands up with their best.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Lyrics range from vaguely unsettling to the wonderfully absurd. Sample lyric: "No stinking Butlin’s Ian, playing cupid an angina i.e. brine, night sown too inky, Heidi nil and eels sang (lino)". Beady Eye this ain't.
Goes well with …: 
There are tracks like 'Magic Bullet' and 'Love Bends' that sit happily alongside Wire's poppermost tracks like 'Map Ref' and 'Kidney Bingos'. Yes it's that good. I can't think of another band of Wire's vintage still producing work as vital as this
Might suit people who like …: 
Wire's last LP 'Red Barked Tree' caught the ears of many who may have given up on the band after their imperial phase. If you enjoyed that record you'll love this one, and if you only know the late 70s era Wire you really need to hear this.
bob's picture

Kevin Eldon

What's it called?: 
It's Kevin
What does it sound like?: 
It doesn't sound like anything. It's a television programme, you silly sausage. And it's really, really funny. Kevin has been a bit-player in other people's stuff for years - Big Train, Lee and Herring, St***** L**, among much else - and it's great to see him getting his own show. Especially when it's as daft, sweet and hilarious as this. Whimsical, sure, but with genuinely unexpected swerves and cheerily silly gags.
What does it all *mean*?: 
MY WIFE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND ME. (In other words, she sat looking amusedly puzzled, or puzzledly amused, while I hooted and shouted and guffawed.)
Goes well with …: 
A great big homemade burger. That's what I had with it, anyway.
Might suit people who like …: 
Funny things.
tiggerlion's picture

David Bowie

What's it called?: 
The Next Day
What does it sound like?: 
The PR has been genius. He's back from the dead! But is it any good? Of course it is, it's superb. This is a proper rock album. Its production is suffocatingly tight, the band sound as though they are fed on raw meat and Bowie, himself, is humming with energy. It is a classic guitar, bass, drums set-up with relatively few embellishments (Steve Elson's brooding, menacing baritone sax features on two tracks and a handful have strings, but Visconti strings, strings with purpose). There are a couple of 'ballads' and a few pure pop performances, [The Stars (Are Out Tonight)], otherwise, it's mean, moody, provocative & best played loud. The lyrical imagery is dark, mysterious and unsettling, full of death, violence and strange behaviour. Bowie sings them with relish and commitment, adapting his voice to each song wonderfully well. He hasn't sung this well for decades. The Next Day is confident, brazen & aggressive but, most of all, it's new and it's now!! I could listen to it for ever!
What does it all *mean*?: 
Class is permanent. This is a true return to form. There are nods to the past but it's as though Bowie has come to terms with his imperial phase and has decided to do what he does best, now in the present. It sounds as though there's more to come.
Goes well with …: 
His seventies albums. Seriously. The Next Day is easily as good as Lodger, Scary Monsters or, even, Diamond Dogs. The pervading mood reminds me of Outside without the silly chat & fussy production but The Next Day sits comfortably with his best.
Might suit people who like …: 
The great thing about the comeback & the genius PR is that Bowie has an audience again. He has everyone's attention and people are taking notice. I hope some youngsters are listening because there is a dearth of great guitar rock at the moment.
Handsome P. Wonderful's picture

Big Big Train

What's it called?: 
English Electric (Part 2)
What does it sound like?: 
It's been New Prog Week chez Wonderful. First, it was the new Steven Wilson album 'The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories)'. I used to work with Steven when he was in IT Support in Hemel Hemstead and I buy his stuff because I think he might need the money (I know he's probably a millionaire by now, living in a superior detached in HH, but my contribution probably keeps him in crisps). Next it was the new Big Big Train album 'English Electric (Part 2)'. Part 1 was one of my surprise favourite albums of 2012 and my introduction to this release has followed the same pattern as the first. First listen -"My God this sounds like early Genesis, how do they get away with it?!". Second listen - "Actually, this does sound like Genesis, but it's not bad". Third listen - "This is really good, a bit like Genesis, but very contemporary". If you're into this sort of stuff (you don't need me to tell me whether you are or not) it's well worth £4.50 of your English pounds for the download.
What does it all *mean*?: 
All it means is that the two English Electric albums appeal to old Prog fans looking for something to remind them of times when they had all their own hair.
Goes well with …: 
Steven Wilson's 'The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories)' and the new Ólafur Arnalds album 'For Now I Am Winter', my other download this week
Might suit people who like …: 
English Electric (Part 1), early Genesis, Marillion
bob's picture

My Bloody Valentine

What's it called?: 
Loveless
What does it sound like?: 
The Primal Scream thread made me go back to this record, which I haven't listened to in years and remember not loving. Hmm. Not sure what my ears were full of, because I remember thinking it was mimsy and fey and directionless. It is, of course, actually IMMENSE. Kevin Shields's queasy guitar swoops were what I'd remembered, but I'd forgotten the muscle underneath the wobble. From the moment "Only Shallow" roars in - and it does roar - I was hooked. Shields sounds like a man bowing a saw with a railway girder. "Loomer" churns nauseously, "To Here Knows When" is what the heavenly host would sound like if God had an imagination. After all that, the (nearly) pure pop of "When You Sleep" is like a sudden IV sugar hit, and "Blown A Wish" is surely the lost tape of Roger McGuinn stumbling into a well after nine tons of very fine refreshment. This is, in short, a remarkable record. Nothing sounds like it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Oh, who knows? The lyrics couldn't be less important, or more inaudible. But it's a very good argument for the transcendent power of pure sound.
Goes well with …: 
Closed eyes.
Might suit people who like …: 
Oh, who knows? MBV sound like MBV. Nothing sounds like this record, but everyone should own it.
dogfacedboy's picture

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

What's it called?: 
Push the Sky Away
What does it sound like?: 
Lazy journalist scum have said it sounds like 'The Boatman's Call', which makes you realise they have never heard 'The Boatman's Call'. I guess this is nearest to the sound on 'No More Shall We Part' but with the bluster removed. Much of the instrumentation is sparse bass, guitar and percussion. Cave sounds far more laid back and you expect him to suddenly roar into his arm waving preacher mode but that never happens. Of course the usual pet subjects of love, sex, death etc are on display as is his sense of humour. 'Mermaids' seems to describe his life in Brighton including 'I do drivers alertness test' resulting from his seafront prang (missis). The album fades out with funeral title track, Cave crooning away as an organ plays. Its a quite short album but it stays with you for a long time afterwards. The only niggle I have is that I can already hear this subtle stuff being yabbered over by idiots at the gigs this autumn. If you want to listen then I'd get there early and up close.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That Cave may have blown out his noisy side with the excellent Grinderman and Dig Lazarus Dig album and gone for a looser and more reflective approach. Oh and the naked lady on the cover is his wife.
Goes well with …: 
A late night drive through city streets full of burnt out cars and shuffling hobos - North London should do
Might suit people who like …: 
Brooding middle aged men full of ennui and wasted love affairs.

Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie Prince Billy

What's it called?: 
What the Brothers sang
What does it sound like?: 
An album of Everly Brothers songs gloriously reinterpreted. Of the 13 songs on this album I was only familiar with 4 of them. I was therefore able to listen to the majority of the album without forming a comparison with the original material. Of those I knew already they do an absolutely magnificent job. BPB's voice has improved greatly over the years like a fine wine but I can honestly say I have never heard sing so well as on this collection. His harmonies with Dawn McCarthy are absolutely exquisite and with the exception of Emmylou and Gram I have rarely heard male and female voices work so well together. The accompanying music predominantly fiddle, mandolin and steel allows the songs to breathe and is a perfect foil.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Classic 60's pop music given a 21st century makeover sounds like a recipe for MOR schmaltz but this album is anything but. Obviously a labour of love - songs that have influenced a great number of artists over the years given new life.
Goes well with …: 
Periods of quiet reflection. This isn't rock and roll but enjoy it just the same.
Might suit people who like …: 
There are not many male/female duos that can successfully blend like these two - Lanegan and Campbell maybe?

RT

What's it called?: 
Electric
What does it sound like?: 
Umm, don't quite know what to say. Yes, it's good, in fact it's very good. Indeed, and this is the rub, it is probably the best version yet of these songs that he has done. Most fit a standard Thompson template and will recall others. Overall it has the feel of Hand of Kindness era, clearly no bad thing, with possibly a better production, totally justifying Buddy Millers sympathetic ambience. Given the promo shove, what with breakfast time TV appearances, it could make an ideal entry for those new to him, should that actually ever happen, and maybe that's the point. I suspect (and hope) it will be a grower. The possible stand out is "Another Small Thing in Her Favour", another ballad to slot in alongside Beeswing and Vincent Black Lightning. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out live. (O, and it isn't all that Electric, should any old lags be fretting. And didn't hear much Folk-Funk as he's calling it.) Hell, guys, it's a bloody good record, just a but I can't quite catch.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Sales? Accolades? Re-reading I feel a little guilty, damning this undoubtedly well crafted LP with such guardedness. Given he hasn't ever quite managed to issue an entire record without at least 1 clunker, could this be that one?
Goes well with …: 
Probably with all the sort of stuff a good and devout moslem might espouse: I shall have a few beers before Symphony Hall next week, to arouse sufficient sense of maudlin joy to appreciate the overall texture.
Might suit people who like …: 
Richard Thompson, clearly, but maybe more for those yet to dip into his catalogue. Jeez, all his die-hards will buy it anyway and regardless. He remains pretty unique, being his only influence and only copyist.

Ron Sexsmith

What's it called?: 
Forever Endeavour
What does it sound like?: 
A typical Ron Sexsmith album,although the production has been stripped right back compared to his last album.As with all Ron's albums it takes a good few listens before you "get it",as it always sounds a bit samey the first time you listen.But when you do "get it " it's wonderful.The first track,Nowhere To Go,sets the tone with its French Horn and beautiful strings.What follows is a masterclass in songwriting.Great melodies with perfect arrangements sung in Ron's inimitable way.The two bonus tracks,Life After a Broken Heart and Autumn Light have lyrics by the great Don Black.Wonderful stuff!
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means that Ron is one of the best singer/songwriters out there,even if he isn't a household name.
Goes well with …: 
A nice glass of red,or a chilled bottle of beer.I usually listen with my headphones on laying on the settee with the lights off.Total relaxation.
Might suit people who like …: 
I like my rock music and I like it loud,but sometimes you just have to put some Ron Sexsmith on to just appreciate some quiet and delicate music for a change.

My Bloody Valentine

What's it called?: 
m b v
What does it sound like?: 
After 22 years of endless speculation, and bands approximating what this record might sound like I was almost scared to listen. 'Loveless' was my generation's 'Velvet Underground & Nico' and it's churning psychedelia is all over alternative rock and electronic music. The songs are looser, and in a way more eerie and odd than 'Loveless'. 'She found now' is an understated, drumless opener with a beautiful melody and cooing vocal duet under sheets of guitar. 'new you' is a crisp Pop song in the vein of 'Soon'. 'wonder 2' sounds like you're listening on an 80s Walkman while strapped to a jet engine. This album is all about teasing you with buried melodic riffs, unexpected chord changes, disorientating shifts of loudness and is full of odd little details that make you want to play it again. This might not be the game changer (few bands have more than one of those in them, MBV have already made 2), but it is ultimately a fantastic record that I think I'm going to listen to an awful lot.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Considering the long 'lead' time on this one, everything around this release feels rushed and half finished, the flaky website, the sketchy artwork and song titles that look like working titles. Fortunately the music is sublime, intense and thrilling
Goes well with …: 
Its not often I make time to sit and listen properly to a record, I'm usually on the web or reading or on a train. This one requires a proper lights off, headphones on, immersive listen..and play it loud (preferably not while operating machinery)
Might suit people who like …: 
My Bloody Valentine and the hundreds of artists and bands who have taken their disorientating and uncompromising approach to combining noise and melody in all manner of wonderful directions in the intervening 22 years.

The Dutch Uncles

What's it called?: 
Out of Touch In The Wild
What does it sound like?: 
Dutch Uncles are often accused of being a Manchester band. In fact they're from the nearby semi-rural town of Marple. In this sleepier locale, it sounds like they've had time to soak up some far more interesting influences than the Gallagher brothers did. They specialise in a curious mixture of influences which takes in the widescreen vision of Kate Bush, 90s Math Rock, the quirkier end of Prog, XTC's later works, but all underpinned by a Pop sensibility which keeps things tight, melodic and direct..there is no aimless noodling or showy soloing here. This new LP is less guitar led previous work, Piano is to the fore, and they add lush strings and hypnotic Steve Reich Xylophones to the mix, but the rhythms section is still as propulsive and driving as ever. It's perhaps less immediate, and has more space in it than the giddy rush of previous LP 'Cadenza', but that's a good sign of an album that will stand up to repeat plays and reveals it's secrets the more you listen to it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
They're the type of band that if you 'get', you'll be waxing lyrical about them to your friends and trying to persuade them to get into it too. They have that affect on people. Don't miss out!
Goes well with …: 
Their previous two LPs which are both well worth seeking out, particularly 'Cadenza', and make sure you catch them live and see them throwing some shapes.
Might suit people who like …: 
They don't really sound like anyone else but you can draw parallels with Field Music, Everything Everything, Talk Talk, Steve Reich, Gentle Giant, Kate Bush, late period XTC, Genesis, Peter Gabriel.
Burt Kocain's picture

The Green Pajamas

What's it called?: 
Death By Misadventure
What does it sound like?: 
Everything you wanted, all at once, with a Cadbury's Flake stuck in the top. If you know who the Jammies are, then you'll hie yourself to the market to grab yourself a copy toot sweet, because you are a person of extraordinary refinement. If all this means nothing to you, this is your opportunity to sneak on board the bandwagon going nowhere while no-one is looking. The Jammies have been releasing beautiful, crafted, weird, melancholic music since the Crusades without creating so much as a ripple in the space-time continuum. This one is - but you're way ahead of me - a concept album about life in a bee colony. Here's a lyric from ‘The Queen Bee’s Last Tango’: “She strips off her girdle, slips off her swastika ring/While seventeen boys dressed up as dolls and toys blow the king/In the opium fog, the prince and his dog start to sing/And there’s no sense of the sorrow to befall them all tomorrow.” So there you have it. Or should. Dense, lush, deep and dark. Dive into the hive.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means the Jammies are still alive and humming. Like (and yet not so like) the Shoes and the dB's. Chapeaux!
Goes well with …: 
Velvet waistcoat, fez, hookah pipe.
Might suit people who like …: 
this sort of thing.

The Prodigy

What's it called?: 
Music For The Jilted Generation
What does it sound like?: 
The sound of my lost youth, rage, optimism and a can't care less attitude wrapped up in pounding basslines, samples and protest against the governments crack down on rave culture. I was never a raver but this was dance music for indie kids, the first dance music I owned, one of the few records I remember buying. This was the dance record that proved electronic music and dance culture was not all about getting e'd up and waving your hands in the air.It marks the crossing over of rock and dance, featuring guitar riffs and Pop will Eat itself providing vocals on "Their Law" which slowly builds and builds to the pretty unambiguous "F**k em and their law". "Voodoo People" and "No Good" make you want to want to throw your hands in the air, "3 kilos" is more blissed out. I've considered writing this review for about 6 months now, knowing I couldn't do it justice in words. It deserves to be listened to.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Everything and nothing. At a basic level it makes you want to dance around like a lunatic on a more thoughtful level it is a statement of intent that rave culture was not going to be defeated. One of the most important albums of the last 20 years
Goes well with …: 
Cars. Cheap ones with relatively expensive stereos and sub woofers and delusions of being hot hatches. That's how I originally listened anyway and still do, the perfect antidote to a crap day, driving home, to remind yourself that you're still alive.
Might suit people who like …: 
Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Metallica and I'm not being flippant maybe the Mahavishnu Orchestra for the wilful dischordancy and experimental soundscapes.

Chris Barber.....

What's it called?: 
Drat That Fratle Rat
What does it sound like?: 
Like very little else. OK, I know Van rates him and all that, but the look has never really helped, along with the lazy tendencies to lump in with Kenny Ball and Acker, but, Jeez, what an ear-opener. If I had been told this was Trombone Shorty or some such current, I would have honestly believed and accepted that. Unreconstructed brassy blues,OK, a bit jazzy, but in an older sense than bepobbery, with a host of unexpecteds making an appearance, from Rory Gallagher to Brian (Gryphon!) Gulland. Made in 1971, this is incredible stuff. Fusion, it ain't, and could have been made 30 years earlier as well as 30 years later. Please, please blow away any misconceptions. Listen to this. Today
What does it all *mean*?: 
Hype and image are meaningless. Why has this man not been knighted?
Goes well with …: 
I guess it ought to go well with beer, but, counter-intuitively, let me suggest a tumbler of Shiraz, a thai takeway and your own company. Shouldn't take too long.
Might suit people who like …: 
As I explore these lesser travelled routes, may I commend "Red Hot from Alex" as a companion piece, from the late lamented Alexis Korner.
dogfacedboy's picture

The North Sea Scrolls

What's it called?: 
The North Sea Scrolls
What does it sound like?: 
Well how much you enjoy this album will depend on your acceptance of Luke Haines as a grumpy reluctant musician and self proclaimed genius. I'm very much on the upswing with that. A collaboration with Cathal Coughlan (who takes lead vocals on alternate songs) & Andrew Mueller - the themes are varied and strange. In 'Broadmoor Blues Delta' Jimmy Savile as Lucifer (the song was written last year before all the nastiness) fixes it for Princess Anne's attempted abductor, Ian Ball, to swap places with similarly named Gomez singer. In 'I am Falconetti' DJ Chris Evans is burnt at the stake for his crimes but believes he has become the living spirit of the lead actress in Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc. In other songs, Joe Meek is a member of parliament as the cast of On The Buses compete against Oswald Mosley's blackshirts in an episode of 'Its A Knockout' as poet laureate Enoch Powell looks on from space. Its like a dark trip through Haines' soul with plenty of laughs on the way
What does it all *mean*?: 
Fucks knows! Tales of violent bands of Morris dancers, bit part actor Tony Allen is cast as great mover and shaker in history influencing the lives of Sid James and Peter Green & the history of Ireland is examined via an IRA atrocity tribute band.
Goes well with …: 
A dry sense of humour and a love of the beautiful and strange. A knowledge of the 1970's pop culture and high culture may help. This is history making stuff ie history is being remade and reimagined before your very lugholes.
Might suit people who like …: 
The North Sea Scrolls is an absolute treat for those who love outsider pop and a little bit of art with their pop. Haines delivers the songs in his usual rasping style, Cathal Coughlan is like his full throated alter ego on piano - they are one.

Josephine

What's it called?: 
Portrait
What does it sound like?: 
Beautifully sung sympathetically produced organic soul music. This album has been attracting very good reviews from many sources. This is her debut album, she's from Manchester. OK - I'm being lazy, but this BBC review says it all. http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/rxb6
What does it all *mean*?: 
There are singers out there you don't know who have more talent in their little fingers than all the "remarkable artists" on X factor put together.
Goes well with …: 
Headphones!
Might suit people who like …: 
Real music that doesn't rely on 'beats' and recycled Ibiza synth riffs - and I suspect that means most of us!

Gary Moore

What's it called?: 
Blues For Jimi
What does it sound like?: 
Gary Moore was a hell of a guitarist, of that there is no doubt. Subtlety was not his forte, however. He never used one note where 15 would do and his playing style always teetered on the eardrum-shredding edge of heavy metal bombast. All of which is testament to the music of Jimi Hendrix – 40 years on these songs can easily withstand a no holds barred assault and still come up sounding as timeless as ever. Recorded in 2007 with a hand-picked rhythm section (including, on some tracks, Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox) this is a note-perfect, if sometimes brutal, romp through Jimi’s best-known work. Moore is at his most enjoyable when he steps off the gas a little and pick of the bunch here is “The Wind Cries Mary”, “Angel” and an extended “Red House”, all of which contain a little light and shade. Otherwise the Marshalls are turned up to eleven all the way as he wrings every last nuance out of “Foxy Lady”. “Fire” and an astounding “Voodoo Child”. Guitar fans will lap this up.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Tribute projects like this are all very well, but they are best, um, experienced live in person. I wonder if "Blues For Jimi" would have been released had Gary still been alive? As so often these days, there's a stand-alone DVD available, too.
Goes well with …: 
With the success of Joe Bonamassa, 60s blues rock is very much back in vogue and this sits perfectly alongside anything else in the genre. Make no mistake though, these are proper songs and not just vehicles for Moore's guitar excursions.
Might suit people who like …: 
ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, Clapton at his heaviest and, er, Jimi Hendrix. Pity about the "will this do?" cover artwork, though.
Twang's picture

Spirit

What's it called?: 
Future Games
What does it sound like?: 
Slightly bonkers. There are 22 tracks glued together with an insane mix of samples from the Muppets, Star Trek, US radio, film soundtracks, Abbott and Costello, Tarzan, old records, random ambient sounds...it's pretty trippy but there are lots of tunes, and wonderful textures courtesy Randy California's guitar, analogue synths and layers of harmony vocals. There's a terrific version of "All along the watchtower" which rivals Randy's old guitar teacher Jimi's version. Apparently Randy was on a mission and most of it is him with some odd contributions from the band.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Who knows. It appears to be about looking back on easier and more certain times and out to the future with trepidation. The end of the hippy dream maybe? It came out in 1977 so it was all over by then anyway. It didn't sell, naturally.
Goes well with …: 
Anything really. A spliff and headphones of course. Happy daze and late nights is what this album says to me, but I just listened to it whilst working and it still sounds great.
Might suit people who like …: 
Hard to say. It's not hard rocking, it's not folky, it's not prog. It is unique. People who like something whimsical, fun and trippy will like it. You can't dance to it. It's a feel good chill out treat.

Diana Krall

What's it called?: 
Glad Rag Doll
What does it sound like?: 
Any fans of T Bone Burnett’s production techniques will adore this album. Loaded with new interpretations of songs from the 1920’s & 30’s, it combines country, jazz and vaudeville into one atmospheric dose of old time Americana. I’ve always appreciated Diana Krall’s work without particularly enjoying it, but this one hits home. The warmth of this record renders any skip, pause and stop buttons superfluous for about 40 minutes. I’m not sure he’s credited, but I think I can detect “Mr Krall’s” vocal harmony on the track Wide River To Cross. It deserves to be the hit album of the winter, and if it doesn’t win a grammy , I’ll eat my sandwich. Comes out next week in the UK, but in the meantime it can be streamed from here. http://totallyfuzzy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/diana-krall-glad-rag-doll-album-stream.html For my money this is the perfect autumnal album that can be enjoyed with or without the controversial accompanying imagery (see below). My vote is in the “with” camp.)
What does it all *mean*?: 
The album has split opinion in the Jazz fraternity. Not for any musical ambiguities, but because of the album cover. A series of beautiful images taken by Mark Seligar inspired by the girls of the 1920’s Ziegfeld Follies has some of them fuming!
Goes well with …: 
A quiet night in front of the fire with either a glass in hand or someone you love sitting close by. It's the sort of music that makes me wish I had a dog to stroke.
Might suit people who like …: 
The Robert Plant & Allison Krauss combo or anyone who is struggling to get a foot in the door of Jazz. I can’t think of a more gentle introduction to the genre.

Mumford & Sons

What's it called?: 
Babel
What does it sound like?: 
You’ll know that Mumford & Sons are our latest sensation in the US and no-one on God's small earth surely predicted this when they were introduced to me on RadMac as the UK's Felice Bros. The success of album 1 means enormadomes and public V state chippiness and inevitable comparisons to Coldplay now that album 2 contains stadium-sized songs. And yet, Marcus Mumford can write an helluva tune: I Will Wait, Whispers in the Dark, Holland Road, Below my Feet all leapt straight out. Sure, it is choc-full of that kind of banal lyric so unpopular with music critics yet uncared-about by the general public. It has advanced from the first record by its production which uses that all-over-wash sound leaving individual instruments sometimes impossible to discern. So not perfect, but well worth its place in the best sellers list of 2012.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That the most successful banjo-led group is no longer The Wurzels.
Goes well with …: 
Friday night at Glastonbury 2013, I suspect.
Might suit people who like …: 
Well I can hear James, Arcade Fire, REM, The Bad Seeds, yes Coldplay and an alcohol-free Pogues at times.

Reverb, reverb - brilliant surf guitar Bowie covers

What's it called?: 
Ziggy Played Surf Guitar
What does it sound like?: 
This is the latest CD from that cottage industry of idiosyncratic genius, Cordelia Records. Various surf instrumental bands have been asked to cover one of David Bowie's songs, to often stunning effect. The quality here is uniformly high, with a range of original interpretations and styles. Surfer Jet City by The Pterodactyls rocks like a bastard, while at the other end of the spectrum, the Bowbridge Band's slowed down lounge version of Let's Dance is a treat. The Thurston Lava Tube's version of Ziggy Stardust is ace, with some groovy organ and the TommorowMen's Moonage Daydream weaves in a bit of Wipe Out? All the interpretations are good though and like all the best covers say something new about the original. My only disappointment was the absence of Bowie's best number, The Laughing Gnome from the tracklist - but wait! It's there as an uncredited hidden track, complete with the best guitar solo on the whole album. Perfect.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I am not Mr Bowie's greatest fan, his irritating, affected vocals and often absurd lyrics being somewhat off-putting. However, even I concede that he has some corking tunes - so what's a boy to do? This album solves that conundrum!
Goes well with …: 
This album has been my constant companion on my drive to work for the last couple of weeks. It's made the car a little bubble of sunshine and joy through the sometimes appalling weather. I imagine it goes well with sunshine too.
Might suit people who like …: 
Do you like to have yours spirits lifted by inventive, melodic, guitar-driven instrumentals? You do? Then this album is for you. Check it out at www.cordeliarecords.co.uk, where other delights await you.
johna_online's picture

A good old fashioned modern prog record (!?)

What's it called?: 
Storm Corrosion
What does it sound like?: 
Well if the title of this piece is a bit oxymoronic let me explain. As a child of the 60s and early 70s I grew up with and loved to death the progtastic acts of the day. As the years and decades roll by whilst I will always remain fondly nostalgic I don't listen much to that style of music anymore. However I have of late been drawn to individual tracks by Porcupine Tree. Which bring me to this album which is a collaboration by PTs Steve Wilson and some guy from a Swedish death metal act called Opeth (oh my faint heart !) Anyway its all rather splendid (apart from the dreadful sleeve). The heavy riffage is kept to an effective minimum and the sound mainly focusses around atmospheric guitars, mellotrons and chilled rather spooky vocals mixed in with some modern ambience. Think of the good bits of say Lamb Lies Down, early 70s Floyd sugared with a bit of Sigur Ros and even Spirit of Eden and you wont be far wrong. It's also a concept album (bless) but I havn't a clue what it's about.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Modern prog is clearly capable moving forward and keeping relevant whilst nodding respectfully to its legacy. Steve Wilson is a talented boy (as no doubt is the Opeth chap but I don't feel the desire or need to explore his back catalogue.)
Goes well with …: 
This is a great headphone jobbie - worked particularly well whilst walking the hound in the country on a still, grey autumn morning but would no doubt also suit 'a quiet a night in' with a small glass of something.
Might suit people who like …: 
Late Peter Gabriel period Genesis; Meddle; the less frentic bits of Crimson; David Sylvian; more modern artists like Marconi Union and Sigur Ros. Also those who simply appreciate some really well played and thought out songs and arrangements.
Burt Kocain's picture

Van Morrison

What's it called?: 
Born To Sing: No Plan B
What does it sound like?: 
Van Morrison. Which is a relief. His vocal chords are still unshredded, his touching and dogged persitence at saxophony is starting to pay off (it's a stone delight - the man has a signature tone), and the muse shared a pint or two with him during the making of this album. The man's had more forms than the benefit office - and this is assuredly a return to one of the better ones. There's some finger-poppin' grooves here, mainly leaning towards the jazzier end of R n' B, and some Actual Songs. Plus a joyously gritty blues. There's a sense of him having sat down and worked at this one, rather than just trusting to his genius like the idle slob does all too often. Beautiful ensemble playing - as good as he's ever had. It's not the bring-the-house-down swing of his Fat Elvis years, but it's not the morose down-the-allotment poeticals he's prone to either. This is a good one.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means the crotchety old bastard is *still* capable of making good records. Praise the lord and pass the biscuits.
Goes well with …: 
his back catalogue, surprisingly.
Might suit people who like …: 
his good stuff, and got a little tired of him treading water for so long. (BTW, this: "The specified file Front.jpg could not be uploaded. The file is 159.3 KB exceeding the maximum file size of 150 KB." - was a bit of a headscratcher!)
Burt Kocain's picture

The Beauty Room

What's it called?: 
Uh ... "The Beauty Room II"
What does it sound like?: 
1974. This is a surprise. It's fucking lovely. Won't smack you upside the haid first listen, but it's infested with devious earworms that make replays addictive. Basically, we're talking mid-tempo smooth here, a genre that can turn into sludge very easily. TBR manage to hold your attention with great chords, *harmonies!*, lyrics that don't sound too stupid or too smart. Subtle stuff. It's not a knowing, ironic take on smooth pop, either; hearts are worn on sleeves. There's *real* arrangements, *real* singing, and some very impressive studio chops going on. Occasional strings. A Traffic tune! Nicely inflected vocals, somewhere this side of mid-atlantic, democratically arranged - no standout solo vox. Nothing retro about it, it's timeless, although the type of music it sits happily next to is definitely mid-seventies.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means you'll want to search out their first album, where their influences are occasionally a tad too evident, but it's still another lovely piece of work.
Goes well with …: 
Steely Dan, Alessi Brothers, the merest hint of Tears For Fears (in a good way), wooden decking, jeans and tee, light breeze ruffling the hair, a blonde stretched out along the bench seat of a T-Bird, or failing that, a park bench.
Might suit people who like …: 
Kwalidee music for today people. Lifestyle afficionados. Java aesthetes. Or just ordinary slobs who enjoy a nice record.

The Vaccines

What's it called?: 
Come Of Age
What does it sound like?: 
The Vaccines are back trying to sound less like The Ramones and taking their foot off the accelerator a bit. With elements of Adam and the Ants, The Darkness and hints of Rolling Stones (yes it's definitely in there) this is a less manic effort and none the worse for it. The singles "No Hope" and "Teenage Icon" are radio friendly pop rock songs that will get in your head and never leave. I would even say "Teenage Icon" is the best of it's kind since The Arctic Monkeys debut, lyrically clever, funny, self deprecating with a drive and verve that doesn't let go, my favourite song of the year. Hints of Shadows guitar, Beach Boys falsetto and a song called "Ghost Town" complete an album that is immediately installed as one of this years best and shows these Vaccines are the sort taken with a lump of sugar not some bloody great needle. Maybe not for this site but The Vaccines are not one album wonders, the kids think they are amazeballs and I absolutely love them and this album, give it a go
What does it all *mean*?: 
Fun, loud, brash, rock music never dates. Different bands come and go but each generation will have their favourites and The Vaccines have produced another album that will stand the test of time for this one, whether we like it or not.
Goes well with …: 
A smile and an open mind
Might suit people who like …: 
Rock music of the last 40 years
TripF's picture

Aimee Mann

What's it called?: 
Charmer
What does it sound like?: 
After the electric guitar-free 'Smilers', Aimee Mann sounds more plugged in than she has in years. Much of this is down to band member Jamie Edwards, laying fizzy new wave synths and elegant guitar solos. The subjects are the same tart fare as ever - the emotional punchbag of 'Labrador', the partner of the unstable girl from 'Crazytown' and the hopeless, damaged hoarder of 'Gumby'. Mann's take on dysfunctional in its many forms always gives a few zingers: in the wonderful, epic 'Soon Enough' the payoff is 'What's more fun / Than other people's Hell'. Her bitter proganist of 'Gamma Ray' is told 'There's some weakness you can't forgive / And from that, you've been turned into a monster'. With each album, Aimee Mann's albums take longer for me to get into but always repay the faith - after my initial indifference 'Smilers' is now one of my favourites and 'Charmer' is already growing fast. This is involving, elegant pop music.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The acid-lyrics-plus-powerpop 'Leonard and McCartney' method isn't just for guys like Neil Finn and Ben Folds.
Goes well with …: 
A reflective night in on your own, perhaps cooking or doing something creative. Not great for post-breakup mooching unless you crave that catharsis.
Might suit people who like …: 
The aforementioned new wave of the Cars and Split Enz, and the lyrics of Joni and Ben Folds.
Fatima XBerg's picture

Ulver

What's it called?: 
Childhood's End
What does it sound like?: 
The unreliable Skandinavian Black Metal band (they made a folk album, an ambient album, etc.) has made a covers album of psychedelic sixties songs. From The Byrds' 'Everybody's Been Burned' to 'I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night' via tracks by The Pretty Things, Troggs, Curt Boettcher, Gandalf and Music Emporium, this is amazing stuff - a cinematic, heavy sound, full of ringing, melodic guitars. At times it reminds me of Bowie's 'Pin-Ups' band, with Steven Wilson on guitar instead of Ronno.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Psych still rules OK
Goes well with …: 
'The Nile Song' by Pink Floyd, Bowie's 'Toy' album and his cover of 'Pictures Of Lily'
Might suit people who like …: 
Porcupine Tree and The Church

Toy

What's it called?: 
Toy
What does it sound like?: 
I've heard Toy unfairly regarded as a 'hype band' from some quarters. Yes they're mates with The Horrors, yes they have preposterous haircuts, yes they're been all over the music papers and yes they used to be in the awfully named Jo Lean and The Jing Jang Jong. The fact is, the hype is justified because they're really bloody good and this solid, self assured eponymous debut is an absolute corker. The music is steeped in swirling, psychedelic Motorik rock but with a definite pop edge to it that sets it apart from...well other swirling, psychedelic rockers. The record takes a few listens to sink in, and some of the tunes take their time to get going, check 'Dead and Gone' which doesn't seem to go anywhere until it explodes into joyous guitar fireworks 5 minutes in. There is a lot going on here, string laden swooning pop songs (My Heart Skips a Beat) and heavy instrumental freak outs (Drifting Deeper). Stream it here: http://soundcloud.com/toy_band/sets/toy-toy
What does it all *mean*?: 
Tom Dougall the lead singer has shorter hair than the rest of the band, and could do with giving it a bit more oomph on the vocals. The longer haired members of the band need to rough him up a bit I reckon.
Goes well with …: 
Black nail varnish, Snakbite & Black, Patchouli oil, tatty leather jacket, heavy vibes, badly filmed video running through some daisies, preferably in Super 8.
Might suit people who like …: 
The Horrors, My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, Krautrock, Psychedelia, 80s Indie Music.
James Blast's picture

A homemade loaf of bread

What's it called?: 
Well actually it was a morning
What does it sound like?: 
It doesn't make a noise but it smells great Since I retired a year last May I've been threatening to make a loaf but never got round to it. A month ago I assembled all the ingredients but work on the house scuppered any attempt. Finally I had a clear morning with the Mum out the house, just me and Wish You Were Here blasting away. Measured out all the bits n' bobs then got stuck into the mixture. Took about5 mins for it to coalesce into the stuff I'd seen Delia do, from there on in it was plain (snort) sailing. Kneaded it from Have A Cigar to the very end of Shine On You Crazy Diamond pt.IX, bunged it in a greased bowl, covered it in clingfilm and left it in the boilers cupboard for 45mins. Into a baking tin, into a preheated oven, 230c for 15mins then 200c for another 15mins. RESULT! I'd advise everyone to try it, it really is dead easy and, tastes gorgeous and makes yer house smell lovely.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It means I'll do it again and again until I've refined my own recipe.
Goes well with …: 
The Pink Floyd
Might suit people who like …: 
Fresh bread, home baking

ZZ Top

What's it called?: 
La Futura
What does it sound like?: 
ZZ Top's first studio album in nine years (and their debut for Rick Rubin's American Recordings) is not so much a return to form as a continuation of what they've been doing for decades: monstrously heavy blues and boogie, with a guitar sound to die for and a production so thick you could almost carve it. Opener 'I Gotsta Get Paid' sets the tone and from there the monster riffs tumble over each other and jostle for position until 'Have a Little Mercy' closes proceedings just a shade under 40 minutes later. Perhaps the songs are not quite as strong as the halcyon days of 'Eliminator' and 'Tres Hombres' but the playing and the overall sound certainly are. This is old school heavy blues rock with 21st century production values. The running time is concise by modern standards, but 'La Futura' is just about as long as any LP needs to be, which is a good thing. And make no mistake, this album is very good indeed.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Time moves slowly in the world of ZZ Top and Rubin's compressed production aside, this album could have been made at any time in the last 35 years. Billy Gibbons' Les Paul is nicknamed "Pearly Gates" and on some of the solos here it's easy to see why
Goes well with …: 
The rest of the ZZ Top catalogue, a bottle of tequila and a BBQ out on the patio.
Might suit people who like …: 
ZZ Top sound like no one else, but this might also appeal to fans of current blues rock poster boy Joe Bonamassa. There's a little of what John Fogerty is doing these days in there, too.
dogfacedboy's picture

Kirsty MacColl - First 4 Albums

What's it called?: 
Desperate Character \ Kite \ Electric Landlady \ Titanic Days
What does it sound like?: 
Over ten years after her tragic death, Kirsty's catalogue is getting an overhaul with added extras to tempt the faithful. Her first album 'Desperate Character' is appearing for the first time on CD. Its a little unsure of itself with a few covers but the promise is there. 'Kite' is where she found her voice - its a wonderful record full of the wit, anger and tenderness that attracts me to her music. 'Fifteen Minutes' and 'Free World' are social commentary without being preachy. Her collaborators Steve Lillywhite and Johnny Marr perfectly compliment her awesome melodies and harmonies. 'Electric Landlady is coloured by its times with the single 'Walking Down Madison' dancing very much a late 80's baggy dance beat. 'Titanic Days' is her most overlooked and (as is always the way) most interesting album with 'Soho Square' 'Bad' and the title track achingly honest. Beautifully packaged with extensive notes - the perfect way to explore her and get past the non "hits".
What does it all *mean*?: 
It's tragic that she produced just one more album after these reissues. Kirsty's songs only met with public taste in the mouths of others. Pale imitations fade - Kirsty's talent only shines brighter by the year
Goes well with …: 
Sucking a thoughtful tooth, a laugh, a dance, a drink, some chips, a sinking ship, you and me baby, walking down Madison. songs you'll remember all your life and with a hand on your arse in a Spanish bar. I wouldn't tell you, if I didn't care
Might suit people who like …: 
Singer-songwriters with biting wit, a heartbreakingly honest unique voice. Each album is different and within is great variety. Like a true artist she was constantly exploring and excited by the new. Not just for Xmas (songs) but for all time
Handsome P. Wonderful's picture

Collegium Vocale Gent

What's it called?: 
Victoria: Officium Defunctorum
What does it sound like?: 
Imagine a warm summer's day in the English countryside. All of a sudden an Angel appears before you. He/she is the most beautiful creature that you have ever seen. The Angel tells you that everything is going to be alright as he/she lays you down in the warm shade of a large oak. His/her hands caress you gently from the tips of your toes, up your legs and chest until they reach your head. You are completely relaxed and very happy. Then, just when you think you couldn't be any happier, the Angel's hands reach into your head and start to massage your brain. That's what this record sounds like.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I know there's a sizeable constituency of classical music lovers in the Massive and I represent the the Choral Music (Sacred) sub-group. I don't pretend to be an expert on Sacred Music, but I knew from the first listen that this was special.
Goes well with …: 
I find this is the thing to listen to when I need to chill out. I strap on the noise-reducing headphones and it only takes a few minutes before I'm in another place (this is usually literally true, as I listen a lot on the train).
Might suit people who like …: 
to be quiet occasionally.

Animal Collective

What's it called?: 
Centipede Hz
What does it sound like?: 
Pre-publicity suggests they've recorded this in a more 'live' setting, and it shows, although there is no shortage of electronic instrumentation and sampled loops you get the sense you're hearing the vocals, percussion and guitars reacting to the electronics rather than being layered on top of them. The Beach Boys harmonies are all present and correct, and these are constantly fluctuating and restless songs that veer all over the place with enough chord changes and time signature fluctations to keep Prog fans happy, and amid the usual clatter and madness plenty of pop hooks and sweet melodic moments. Nothing quite reaches the giddy heights of Brother Sport or My Girls from the last album. Some of the songs are difficult to grasp on first listen, which suggests this is one that will reveal itself with repeated listens and there are more than enough intriguing moments and odd little melodies that will ensure I'll have it on heavy rotation.
What does it all *mean*?: 
My musical 'era' has seen countless bands try and marry dance and rock music but few (maybe Primal Scream) have approached it the way AC have by harmonising those two elements in a seamless way to create something entirely new.
Goes well with …: 
This is one that requires some proper attention, so headphones on and preferably a walk or a train journey or maybe just switch all the lights off and like..get into it!
Might suit people who like …: 
Hard to say but...Beach Boys, Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, Ariel Pink, Gentle Giant, Super Furry Animals, My Bloody Valentine, J Dilla, MadLib, Beck. Oh and check the unexpected sample of the Radio One jingle for DJ Johnnie Walker....

Nik Kershaw

What's it called?: 
Ei8ht
What does it sound like?: 
Crafted middle-of-the-road pop music might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Kershaw’s melodic gift is such that these songs work their way into your head very quickly, then stay there. The current single ‘The sky’s the limit’ would be a huge hit if Take That recorded it, while ‘You’re the Best’ is reminiscent of Jellyfish in the way that it is built around a chorus so absurdly catchy that you think he must have stolen it from an old playground chant. ‘Stuff’, an observation on rabid consumerism, has echoes of Ray Davies, while ‘The Bell’ is a beautiful acoustic piece in which he describes the images he’ll have in his head when the Grim Reaper comes calling. Self-deprecating humour is never far away and ‘If I ever get like that’ is a jaunty little take on the notion of old pop stars on the comeback trail. If we lived in a world that could comfortably accommodate a singer in his fifties having hits, several of these tracks would have ‘single’ written all over them.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That a pop star can evolve and grow older with dignity, grace and humour. Here’s an artist who has gone past the point of worrying about where his music fits in. He’s just writing lovely songs and enjoying life.
Goes well with …: 
A late-night mug of cocoa. Or singing along in the car. Or thinking to yourself: ‘ooh, that’s a nice chord change’.
Might suit people who like …: 
It would all sound good on Radio 2. If you like Crowded House when they focus on the melodic jugular, or if you like Aimee Mann but wish she would lighten up a bit, this might be up your street.

Ry Cooder

What's it called?: 
Election Special
What does it sound like?: 
Would you vote for a man who drove for 12 hours with his dog strapped to the roof of his car? Thankfully you probably don't have to. But at least half of the Americans who are registered will cast their vote for Mitt Romney this year. It's a scary prospect and one which Ry Cooder has clearly given much thought, with the opening track here written from the hapless hound's viewpoint. As the U.S. heads towards the November bunfight "Election Special" takes a look at the cesspit that is American politics. Cooder's albums are a cottage industry these days with Ry penning the songs and playing every instrument except drums, which are handled by his son Joachim. This is as good as anything he has given us recently with one rather large reservation: the lack of virtuoso guitar. These days fretboard histrionics are kept to a minimum but the songs, at least, are as powerful as ever. "Election Special" will win Ry few friends on the American right, but it will surely keep blues fans happy.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Another year, another well-aimed, politically-charged Ry Cooder album. Last time out it was Wall Street with "Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down", now it's Politicians. As always, Ry's aim is true.
Goes well with …: 
Despite the overt political overtones, this is the real deal as authentic blues albums go and it sounds equally at home alongside John Lee Hooker or Johnny Winter.
Might suit people who like …: 
Americana, old school blues and fine guitar playing.

Blur

What's it called?: 
21 - Box Set
What does it sound like?: 
Everything really, and in that sense, the true heirs to the Beatles. The breadth of material here is draw dropping, from the woozy boozy swirl of the 'Leisure' material, through to the bright colours of the 'Parklife' and 'Great Escape' material, the White Album perfection of the gorgeous 'Beetlebum' right through to the white noise Afrobeat of 'Music Is My Radar', a band that only repeated itself once and had a record out every 18 months. The B-sides and rarer material fill in the gaps and shows the band in all of its experimental glory, with Graham Coxon providing vivid textures that ensured they always sounded unique and wildly original but counterbalanced by Damon's superlative songwriting that always locks it to a wonderful melody. The range of styles is mind boggling but what is more fascinating is how much still sounds completely new and untethered to any influence at all. The band sound completely free to experiment whilst always anchored to top notch tunes. Sound familiar?
What does it all *mean*?: 
It's interesting to listen to 'The Great Escape' anew - like 'Sergeant Pepper', it's a record that, if you want a guitar album, will disappoint you. If you can free yourself from that and enjoy the arrangements and instrumentation you'll be surprised
Goes well with …: 
A Bank Holiday. There's 18 discs and three DVDs (sadly not including 'Star Shaped'). You need to really lose yourself in this and follow the bands trajectory through the eight years from 'Leisure' to '13' and fully appreciate this incredible band.
Might suit people who like …: 
Top drawer song-writing, noise, melody, harmony, imagination, experimentation, masterful arrangements, diverse instrumentation and brutal chaos.

Elton John vs Pnau

What's it called?: 
Good morning to the night
What does it sound like?: 
I don’t know much beyond Elton's hits, so my enjoyment of this record is not hampered by previous knowledge of the source material. The whole thing is cleverly done; in fact, given that some of the pieces are assembled from 8 or 9 source tracks, it’s astonishingly clever in how it all hangs together. These pieces work as songs, with identifiable verses and chorus. Purists may think that the Pnau boys have taken some major liberties with the material, but they have created an album that is far from being an off-the-shelf collection of dance remixes. ‘Sad’ has already been a hit, with its mellow Balearic groove and cool chords, while ‘Telegraph to the Afterlife’ is chilled, gloomy and introspective, like Pink Floyd hanging out with Air. ‘Karmatron’ is a bizarre, electrifying triumph. It starts out like Mark Ronson scoring a spoof spy movie by way of Johnny Harris, before exploding into a chorus that the Chemical Brothers would donate a kidney to have been able to write.
What does it all *mean*?: 
However folk choose to label this, it just sounds like great pop music and it probably means that we’ll hear more of this kind of thing. I wonder which other major artists would benefit from a similar 're-imagining' of their work?
Goes well with …: 
Driving. Being middle-aged and pretending to yourself that you are down with the kids because your teenagers quite like the singles. Dropping words like 'chilled', 'trance' and 'Balearic' into the conversation with younger colleagues at work.
Might suit people who like …: 
If you favour the likes of Groove Armada, Air and William Orbit, you’ll find much to enjoy here. It also makes you realise just how much of Elton's early 70s output must have been absorbed by Jake Shears.
ganglesprocket's picture

James Yorkston and The Athletes

What's it called?: 
I Was A Cat From A Book
What does it sound like?: 
Imagine being in a cottage in Pittenween on the East Neuk Of Fife. It's late, it's raining. You've been up the hills. A log fire is on. You have a good single malt and a warm inner glow. You are throwing occasional glances at your significant other, but you are musing on both joys and sorrows. This album sounds exactly like that. This is a more melancholy and occasionally angry album than is normal for James Yorkston, he's had a rough few years and he sings about it, but it remains recognizably his work. The warm voice is in place, the completely excellent and dynamic arrangements are as imaginative as ever. No accoustic performer mananges to make music as dynamic as he does nowadays. This album is "more of the same except better," he hasn't reinvented the wheel, but this is no criticism. Some artists you just want to quietly get better, without changing. For ten years James Yorkston has done exactly that.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I wish that James Yorkston would get picked up by Jools Holland. When so many accoustic mediocrities become hugely successful after an appearance on that programme, there is no one more worthy of Later patronage than him.
Goes well with …: 
The single malt, log fire, cottage and significant other already mentioned.
Might suit people who like …: 
John Martyn, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and all of that sort of thing. He really is that good.

Bill Fay

What's it called?: 
Life is people.
What does it sound like?: 
I cant believe what I have just heard. I read the reviews of this album that raved about it and thought I would give it ago fully expecting it not to live up to the hype. I was so wrong. From start to finish this album is beautiful, uplifting, sad beyond words, elegiac, life affirming. Put in any adjective and it doesnt do it justice. 41 years since his last album if he has laboured on this for that long the time wasn't in vain. Symphonic pieces give way to just his wonderful voice and piano and the final song The coast no man can tell really is heartbreaking and I mean heartbreaking. I cant remember when I last heard an album this good. It should sell by the truckload but it wont - I can imagine many of the songs on this album helping a lot of people through troubled times. How good to be remembered like that.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I am not religious but Bill Fay obviously has a deep faith that is both convincing and heartwarming.
Goes well with …: 
life. This is a chronicle of a life - all of our lives in fact. This music needs to be heard. anyone who has lost family or lost in love even will be uplifted and that is a promise.
Might suit people who like …: 
music. Nearest comparison if comparisons have to be made would be Blue Nile or Mickey Newbury. However it is deeply original and deeply impressive. Album of the year by some distance.

John Murry

What's it called?: 
The Graceless Age
What does it sound like?: 
Carthartic for starters. John Murry has had a pretty fucked up life - rehab at a young age and scrapes with the law and mortality since. In fairness this music is not bleak at all - it has an ethereal quality on many of the piano lead songs and there is much orchestration and samples. Chuck Prophet helps out with guitar duties and the final track The Thorn tree in the garden has you immediately hitting the repeat button. Lyrically it is raw and based on many of his personal experiences - it will take a few listens to get all of the lyrics but the snatches of conversation between some of the tracks suggests police arrests and other misdemeanors.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The music is uplifting but in a mournful way if that makes sense - like coming home from work after a bad day and realising things aren't really that bad.
Goes well with …: 
Reflective moments.
Might suit people who like …: 
I recall much of John Grant in the first few listens - Lyrically stark but beautifully melodic piano. Some introspection too. Also Eels in the confessional tone and Mark Eitzel.

Congolese legends Rochereau and Franco

What's it called?: 
Francophonic Vol 2 / The Voice of Lightness Vol 2
What does it sound like?: 
Rochereau was the bookend to Franco. Of the same period, the latter could be raw and gritty the former could veer to cabaret. The latter was a guitarist foremost, the former solely a singer. These 2 compilations put out by Sterns in 2009 & 2010 are mainly from the high point of the Congolese sound ( 70s and 80s) and the remastering really has improved what was often some pretty bad sounding records. I've got a lot of their stuff and I applaud the selections. There are many common musicians on these as both band leaders would woo and woo back key musicians. The compilations have been lovingly put together by people who know the music and are highly motivating in the way the describe the songs, tell the history of the music and the questions they ask the surviving musicians. Best of all the booklet has large print like a record cover so even I could read it.
What does it all *mean*?: 
For mine the Congo really is the musical giant of Africa - particularly over this period. This is uplifiting music and lord knows we all need some of that.
Goes well with …: 
Cold beer , warm nights and some room to dance. Having said that this is sophisitcated music which bears concentrated listening as well.
Might suit people who like …: 
Black music and who dont mind not understanding what the singer is saying.
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Isles of Wonder

What's it called?: 
Isles Of Wonder - Music For The opening Ceremony Of The London 2012 Olympic Games
What does it sound like?: 
An inspired and inspiring 36 track accompaniment to Danny Boyles' maginificently orchestrated opening ceremony. The opener, Frank Turner's 'I Still Believe' is - well, it's not bad, a little 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forward'-ish, but then... The childrens choral renditions of Jerusalem, Flower Of Scotland et al fade into the sound of waves washing onto the shore, Elgar's Nimrod swells up, then fades into the background as a familiar, somehow comforting litany emerges - "Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight...", and the room appears to be very dusty all of a sudden... Other highlights? The pounding, pulsing "And I Will Kiss", Mike Oldfield's inspired "Bells/Jubilio" mashup, Underworld's shimmering "Caliban's Dream", the coyly re-named "F" Button's "Olympians"...
What does it all *mean*?: 
As Rob Fitzpatrick might say, I literally cannot stop playing this. I think it means that at this moment, I am truly proud to be a citizen of the Isles Of Wonder. Cameron's Britain is not my Britain - Danny Boyles' is.
Goes well with …: 
Super Saturday!
Might suit people who like …: 
Leftie multi-cultural crap.
Skirky's picture

David Booth

What's it called?: 
Find Our Way Back Home
What does it sound like?: 
The sound of the thing is wonderful. If you'd told me he'd recorded it at The Capitol Building in Los Angeles I'd have had no reason to doubt your word - how much of this is down to the proprietal influence of one Nigel Stonier is a moot point, as Booth takes all the credit for production, as well he might - coaxing the sort of tasteful guitar commentary as evinced by the likes of Jerry Donahue out of sideman Andy Trill throughout and blending the shimmering acoustics and satisfyingly roomy-sounding drums into a warm whole. The keening vocals and layered harmonies hark naggingly to a familiar sound, but it isn't until half way through that you realise that you're listening to probably the best album Tim Finn never made. It's purely an accident of geography and chronology that means that Booth hasn't spent the last two decades being feted by the quality press as one of New Zealand's hidden gems, but then being from Matlock will do that for you.
What does it all *mean*?: 
The music bears that tinge of world weariness suggesting that writing sessions started at four in the morning and only finished when the sun came up, washing through the fields, burning off the dew and silhouetting spiderwebs in the hedgerows.
Goes well with …: 
Whisky and ginger, sunrises and melancholic reveries.
Might suit people who like …: 
Crowded House. Armchairs.
spookydirt's picture

dEUS

What's it called?: 
The Following Sea
What does it sound like?: 
Yes, the (mostly) Belgians are still making music, a propulsive funky alternative rock that sounds more lively than a band formed in 1991 has any right to be. For the first time they sing in French (come back, it's only the one song). I don't know if it's the speed at which they recorded it, but this has a vitality that has maybe been missing from recent releases. The opener 'Quatre Main' is driving and dramatic, 'Hidden Wounds' has Tom Barman reciting a combat report over a churning fuzz-bass riff, which is better than that sounds. The songs are often linear, texture coming more from the dynamics and melodies than many chord changes. Like stadium rock for a very small, dark stadium. 'One thing about waves' is also worth a listen.
What does it all *mean*?: 
This band has almost no profile in UK, I don't think they get played on the radio, but they are still going, still mutating, and still making pretty good music. That should be enough.
Goes well with …: 
I don't have any to hand to test this, but beer might go well with beer (Hobgoblin?), and turning it up doesn't hurt.
Might suit people who like …: 
Kent (rather good Swedish band), Previous dEUS albums
Fatima XBerg's picture

Frank Zappa

What's it called?: 
12 Zappa reissues
What does it sound like?: 
I just bought the first three releases from Universal's first batch of their Zappa Catalogue Reissue Project (there are 12 titles currently available - basically the first Mothers/Zappa LPs up to 1972). And very fine they sound, too - taken mostly from the original "analogue masters", so the maestro's fiddling with his classics is kept to a minimum.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Mrs. Zappa promised that this time they'll get everything right. And apparently they did - and: the booklets reproduce every element of the original sleeves (in readable size!) up to the last detail.
Goes well with …: 
...the other 48 reissues to come.
Might suit people who like …: 
...to have a good-looking physical product on their shelves.
Admin 1's picture

Sylvie Lewis

What's it called?: 
It's All True
What does it sound like?: 
A certain David Hepworth described Sylvie Lewis as "the sort of young woman young men hope to meet in art galleries". I'm not sure if Sylvie is tired of earnest young men, but this album is far more reflective and wistful than its predecessors. There's a nice range of musical styles - from the country of "Dylan's Arms" to the bossanova of "The Song I Sang Before I Met You" and her voice is, as always, beautiful, but I found it lacking the dry humour of her earlier albums. That quibble aside, repeated listens reveal a depth and quality to the songs.
What does it all *mean*?: 
In a world of autotune, it's a pleasure to hear someone who can sing - with lyrics that are worth listening to.
Goes well with …: 
A black and white movie on a wet Sunday afternoon, or curling up with a Barbara Pym novel or a book of poetry.
Might suit people who like …: 
Nanci Griffith, Laura Cantrell, Isobel Campbell
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Guillemots

What's it called?: 
Hello Land
What does it sound like?: 
Released without any fanfare this is, according to their website, the first of 4 releases this year. If the other 3 are of the same standard we are in for a treat. The last album fell a little flat but this is return to form. The musicianship throughout is of a very high standard. The album was recorded in Norway and the sound has a somewhat Arctic feel to it - a couple of instrumentals including the Finale I lie down are very atmospheric and another highlight is the acoustic Southern Winds with a wonderful vocal from Fyfe Dangerfield.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I hate to use the word Progressive but in the seventies this would have been Progressive althought there are dance elements too. I think symphonic is a closer description of the feel.
Goes well with …: 
An afternoon lounging on the sofa and a drifting into semi consciousness.
Might suit people who like …: 
Upbeat Pat Metheny, Sigur Ros and the tuneful side of Mogwai

Cornershop

What's it called?: 
Urban Turban - The Singhles Collection
What does it sound like?: 
Now I’m not normally the sort of soul who gives much creedance to the musical recommendations of the great and good on my twitter feed. However, Graham Linehan (a master wordsmith) managed in less than 140 characters to give me the push to investigate this 2012 album for a band I have no knowledge of beyond the Fatboy Slim super-charged Brimful of Asha. Urban Turban is a collection of tracks that Cornershop released monthly to subscribers to their ‘Singhles Club’. Having investigated this platter through Spotify I was impressed enough to part with hard-earned capital for the physical product. Well what glorious grin-inducing fun with it all kicking off with ‘What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?’ in collaboration with the Castle Hill Primary School (naturally). Loads of tracks of happy, dreamy, laid-back, meandering (in a nice way) songs that make the world seem a better place. Especially when played really loud in the car on another trip into the daily grind. A personal favourite is Beacon 303 which celebrates(?) Wolverhampton’s favourite ‘more music choice’(ha!) radio station formerly of the medium wave. Also, Inspector Bamba Singh’s lament with wonderful undulating Punjabi vocals from Amar. The summer’s coming. This is going to be my soundtrack for it!
What does it all *mean*?: 
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Goes well with …: 
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Might suit people who like …: 
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badger_king's picture

Lana Del Rey

What's it called?: 
Born to Die
What does it sound like?: 
The epithet goes “don’t believe the hype”. Having heard the debut album from Lana Del Rey this evening, I have to say firmly, in this case DO believe the hype. For a major album on a major label to be peddled as a pop album on the back of a viral campaign and successful single is no big thing. It happens all the time. Seemingly more and more in the current record industry. However, it doesn’t usually happen with albums that are so out there and in places, sinister and beguiling all at once. Girls Aloud this is not. What is “Born To Die” then if not pop? In some ways it IS a pop album, albeit one much more aloof than what people have become used to. There are memorable tunes, simple songs about love, etc etc. For me, the lyrical content is not what enthralled me. What is instantly captivating about “Born To Die” is the beats. Yes, that’s right, BEATS. More similar to ’90s trip hop merchants such as Sneaker Pimps and Morcheeba, Lana Del Rey’s album is full of beats and strings, sweeping in grandiose arcs through a sepia tinged evening, summoning more of a lethargic groove than any of Del Rey’s current solo female contemporaries. Through the subtle power of “Video Games” or the All Saints / Massive Attack influenced half-spoken “National Anthem”, this is an album that I believe will bear repeated plays. I’m reviewing it on one listen and I’m mesmerised. I can’t remember the last album to really draw me in like that. It’s certainly been a while. Other highlights “Diet Mountain Dew” and “This Is What Makes Us Girls” follow the sparse beats and strings pattern but to stirring effect. Sometimes its nice to find something that genuinely appeals throughout. Ignoring the imagined controversy surrounding Del Rey’s image or background, it is refreshing for an album so widely publicised and marketed to actually justify its support. I for one hope her career continues as long as it can. For fans of beats, trip hop and late night grooves THIS is for you. Great stuff.
What does it all *mean*?: 
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Goes well with …: 
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Might suit people who like …: 
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Here We Go Magic

What's it called?: 
A Different Ship
What does it sound like?: 
I know I’ve mentioned this album once or twice in passing on the old blog, but I thought I ought to write a proper review to hopefully convince a few of you to make the investment – it’s well worth it! The album begins with a 50 second intro that sounds like a journey on the post-apocalyptic sewer that used to be the Amazon river. Unknown animals threaten from the surrounding darkness and a tribe of Afterword survivors are tweeting each other rhythmically on bongos. Usually these intros (and interludes, outros, hidden “hilarities”) only serve to annoy me, but in this case – because the rest of the album is so perfect, and the intro ties in with the ending of the last track – I don’t mind it. What follows is a string of beautiful melodies that always chooses the narrow and unexpected path over the well-trodden and safely mapped out route. Once you think you know where it’s going, it turns suddenly to show something exciting. This is uplifting grown-up pop that makes you feel intelligent by assuming that you are. It mixes the chilly and precise intellectualism of modern jazz and prog with the driving curiosity of a big warm beating heart. A lyrical theme of melancholy solitude and the leap of faith that it takes to bridge the distance between yourself and other people ties the nine songs together, Luke Temple’s voice is a stream of clear water, with a hint of altar boy at evening mass. Without really sounding anything like them I think of Steely Dan and the later albums by XTC when I listen to this, but I’m rather useless at finding comparisons so you may take that with a grain of salt… It’s the unexpected twists and turns of the music I guess. My favourite tracks are Hard To Be Close, Make Up Your Mind, Alone But Moving and the title track A Different Ship, ending the album. Mid-through that track we once again embark on that journey along the sewer, leaving the jungle behind us sailing towards open water. And then you press Play and take the trip one more time…
What does it all *mean*?: 
Album of the year ? So far – Yes!
Goes well with …: 
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Might suit people who like …: 
XTC, Steely Dan, Field Music