Widowspeak – Expect The Best
Four years ago, Widowspeak released an EP called The Swamps. There was a wonderful onomatopoeic quality to the music. It was sweaty and sultry, and listening to it generated a certain sense of foreboding. There isn’t the equivalent quality to Expect The Best, but Molly Hamilton, the singer and lead song-writer, certainly knows how to evoke a mood. Written in the Pacific Northwest, it’s sometimes disorientating, like being lost in an seemingly endless forest of trees. And perhaps there’s more to it than a simple simile. The music is built around Hamilton’s vocals, which have a certain slightly breathy, Hope Sandoval, 90s dream-pop aspect to them. It means that the dynamic range is deliberately diminished, as if the sound is being at least partly soaked up by an immense dark green mossy floor. The result is Widowspeak’s most rewarding album to date. Whereas the rocky peaks could have been elevated as high as Mount Rainier on Expect The Best, here they’re reduced to the level of Mount Formidable. Still magnificent, but not overwhelming. And well worth the trip.
Angus & Julia Stone – Snow
Angus Stone is a sort of modern-day, Australian Jim Morrison. But with a better sense of self-preservation and fewer pretensions to poetry. His Instagram account is full of wonderful photos. The chest is often bare. The beard is always scraggy. The glass is typically more than half full. And there’s frequently a lady around too. Sometimes, of course, it’s his sister. Julia Stone is a sort of suburban, southern hemisphere Lana del Rey. She’s carefree, coquettish, and more than a little come hither. All the same, the evidence from her solo album is that she’s probably not one to be messed with either. Together, Angus & Julia Stone make a great brother-and-sister musical team. They’re certainly not pop. They’re definitely not folk. And they’re not really indie either. It’s both a blessing and a curse. They have a certain cross-over appeal, but they’re likely to leave hardcore folk, pop, and indie devotees a little wanting. Their main strength is that in the space of about four minutes, they know how to get into a great groove. ‘Cellar Door’ is a case in point. It’s quite a trick. And it makes for a really good album so long as you’re not expecting an exercise in pure folk, pop, or indie. Which is more than fine.
Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface
To say that A Black Mile To The Surface is about an old-time, gold-mining town is like saying that the Songs: Ohia classic, ‘Farewell Transmission’, is about a power cut. For sure, the fifth full-length release by Manchester Orchestra features references to Lead, South Dakota, a real-life, old-time, gold-mining town, and there are mentions of caves that collapse and of people searching for a way out. But, as with any song written by Andy Hull, the undisputed band leader and now sole-surviving member of the original line up, the literal is never meant to be taken literally. The allusions come thick and fast. And, as ever, it’s useful to have a dictionary nearby, “Forced myself to take a different name, Buried with metonymy”. On previous albums, the lyrical complexity has been offset by a certain musical simplicity. Cope, an ear-bleeding set of songs, was accompanied by Hope, featuring acoustic versions of the same. This time, though, things are slightly different. This is no live-in-the-studio release. Here, even the overdubs have overdubs. It could all get a little cluttered and crowded, but it doesn’t at all. The production is designed to accentuate the signature Andy Hull melody at the heart of the song. And the three-track suite, ‘The Alien’, ‘The Sunshine’, and ‘The Grocery’, stands out in particular. Andy Hull and Manchester Orchestra have always been a band worth rooting for and with A Black Mile To The Surface they’ve delivered their best album to date. Just don’t go thinking it’s a concept album about an old-time, gold-mining town. It’s probably that, but certainly much more.
If you like your riffs played long and slow, then the new Jen Cloher album is for you. Quiet is never shouted down by loud. Lento is not swiftly overtaken by allegro. Instead, a good number of the songs simply get into a groove. Guitars taking a stroll. Nothing too fancy. And it’s all totally mesmerising. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the lyrics, but don’t make that mistake. They’re at once personal, “I start missing you, Days before you leave”, political, “I pay my fines, Taxes on time, But the feral right, Get to decide, If I can have a wife”, and very Australian, “We drained the dam, Now the kangaroos, Are drinking from the pool”. Plus, they’re often delivered in an slightly casual style that can come across as both mordant and droll, sometimes in the same line. There’s a guest appearance from Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett is a constant presence, some of the best songs being about their relationship. If indie rock with a twist of Patti Smith and The Triffids is your thing, the new Jen Cloher album is for you. Even if it isn’t, check it out.
Grizzly Bear have just put out a new album, Painted Ruins. It’s their first in five years. On first listen, it sounds as good as anything they’ve done before. To celebrate, here are the ten best Grizzly Bear songs prior to the new release. The only caveat was that there had to about a roughly equal number of Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste songs. Here’s what the algorithm returned.
While You Wait For The Others
On A Neck, On A Spit
Little Brother (Electric)
Alligator (Choir Version)
Burn The Louvre – We’ll Be Just Fine
O Hamilton (Ontario). Recently, we featured The Crowleys fine new song, ‘L.A. Sunset’. Now, it’s the turn of fellow Hamiltonians, Burn The Louvre. They’ve just released a new EP, We’ll Be Just Fine. Whereas The Crowleys were probably reading Sylvia Plath in the lunch break, Burn The Louvre were the ones setting fire to the bike sheds. We’ll Be Just Fine is a wonderfully raucous collection of earworms. The official music video for ‘Simpler Places’ presents them at their most respectable. At their most The La’s. But don’t be fooled. Burn The Louvre. It’s not just a band name. It’s an order. Go Hamilton.
Sometimes summer disrupts the routines that build up across the rest of the year. But then that’s the point. Here are three top-notch recent releases.
Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet
This album has been a constant companion. There’s more than a touch of Angel Olsen both in the sound and the sentiment. “I can’t get you off my mind, you can’t get yours off the hostess”. The opening track, ‘Diving Woman’, is utterly compelling, but there’s much more than that. Try ‘Boyish’ and ‘The Body Is a Blade’ for starters.
John Murry – A Short History of Decay
John Murry seems to have lived more than one life already. He catalogued at least one of them in his harrowing, but magnificent previous release, ‘The Graceless Age‘. Five years on, the memories are still raw and they’re present on his new release. But in between John Murry has upped sticks and made a new start in rural Ireland. ‘A Short History of Decay’ captures both the bad times and the recent turn for the better and all in the manner of a dark Americana.
An erudite songwriter with rollickingly good tunes, Robyn Hitchcock is a legend. From Virginia Woolf to The Ramones, all of human life is here. Or the quirky and interesting bits at least. There’s ‘Mad Shelley’s Letterbox’, ‘Detective Mindhorn’, and a host of other characters in between. And just when you think it can’t get any better, there’s always the sublime closer, ‘Time Coast’.
Lilly Hiatt – The Night David Bowie Died
There’s a new Lilly Hiatt album out on 25 August. It’s called Trinity Lane and it’s out on on New West Records. It includes a great track called ‘The Night David Bowie Died’. Apparently it was written on that self-same evening. It’s full of bitter-sweet thoughts and it includes a fine guitar break about half-way through. There’s an official video. And the lightning bolt is a really nice touch. Happy to recommend.
The Crowleys – L.A. Sunset
Really pleased to share one of my favourite sounds of the summer. The Crowleys are a band out of Hamilton, Ontario, and L.A. Sunset is a track from their forthcoming debut EP. Which is exciting, because this is such a great song that it promises all sorts of wonderful when the EP finally drops. It’s easy to say that it’s got a psychedelic sound, because, well, it does. But I really like the way it’s not too hurried. The Intro is allowed to progress. The body of the song is nice and laid back. And there’s a fine trippy ending. Check out L.A. Sunset. And, in the meantime, more power to The Crowleys of Hamilton, Ontario.
Jon C Butler – Ghost in My Heart
It’s vacation time here at Half-Life Music. Until normal service is resumed, here’s a great new track from Jon C Butler. It’s from his forthcoming album called Universal Stranger. Jon C Butler was known for his work in Diesel Park West. ‘Ghost In My Heart’ is as good as anything that’s gone before. And it’s not all. There’s more on Spotify that bodes well for the future. Check out ‘Revelation Calling’ for a start. Looking forward to the full release soon.