Alela Diane – Cusp
The last time we crossed paths with Alela Diane was about five years ago. About Farewell was a bleak, but beautiful album that chronicled in no small detail the decline and fall of a relationship. Then, there was no looking forward, only back. And with a mix of both regret and resentment. Now, though, things are very different. With a new partner and two young children to boot, the focus is straight ahead. “I’d rather be an albatross, flying high, Than in the tail winds, looking back at what I left behind”. And the theme is unashamedly one of family. A new family. “She took shelter in my womb, And I felt her tiny feet, Kick me from the inside”. Creatively, of course, the fear is that domestic tranquility will always crowd out the ever popular tortured artist effect. And, for sure, this is not an album for the angry, the restless, or even the mildly irritated. But it is a very honest album nonetheless. Things come to a head on ‘Never Easy’, which describes how motherhood has led Alela Diane to reevaluate her relationship with her own mother. “I didn’t know how much you loved me, I didn’t know until I had my own little daughter”. It’s a very poignant admission. And it’s a sign that in its own very different way, Cusp is as revealing as its predecessor from five years back. Let’s hope we cross paths again sometime soon.
Summon the Birds – Blood Love
Summon the Birds liken their sound to “Talk Talk picking the locks to Spoon’s basement as The Drones circle”. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are a four-piece band from Melbourne, Australia. Blood Love is their second full-length release. They offer up a slightly woozy, somewhat proggy, little bit folky sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are on the wonderful Hidden Shoal label. They’re not afraid to give a song room to breathe, to let the lyrics tell a story, to create an epic sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds’ new album is out on Friday. It’s worth checking out. Let’s go clutter.
Ten minutes alone in a room with Dream Wife, you’d feel, would be enough to make even Harvey Weinstein agree to submit to a healthy dose of restorative justice. “I am not a body, I am somebody”, they assert defiantly. “I’m going to fuck you up, I’m going to cut you up”, they shout threateningly. If the lyrics on their stunning new album are anything to go by, then Dream Girl aren’t just capturing a certain Zeitgeist. They’re the Geist itself. But this is more than merely a manifesto for a #MeToo moment. Dream Wife may have the spirit of the Au Pairs and the energy of Sleater-Kinney, but there’s a playfulness and no small amount of irony about them too. “I spy with my little eye, Bad bitches”. Par for the course for a group that came together in Art School. But what’s most striking of all are the songs themselves. The riffs. The melodies. This is track after track of perfect power pop. Dream Wife are a powerful statement and they make a powerful sound. More than that, though, they’ve made a fantastic album to listen to. To dance to. To play air guitar to. If that’s not too much of a Harvey Weinstein thing, that is.
First Aid Kit – Ruins
First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like to see migrating to the US. The Söderberg sisters are from Sweden, which is quite close to Norway. They already sing in an American accent and they deliver the sort of advert-friendly music that wouldn’t be out of place during Fox & Friends. In fact, when ‘My Silver Lining’ comes on the airwaves, it’s difficult to think of anything but a Renault Kadjar. Or is it a Volvo XC60? Whatever. Anyway, First Aid Kit’s previous album Stay Gold was produced by the former boy genius and now just genius, Conor Oberst. This time they’re produced by Tucker Martine. Or Mr Laura Veirs as he’s known on this site. He’s one of the best producers in the business. As you would expect, the sound is beautifully crisp, but the style is slightly more genteel. You’d think that a song called ‘My Wild Sweet Love’ would jump out of the speakers and say Take Me Now! Instead, it sort of peers around the corner slightly coyly and hopes that you’ll notice. But this is still the first-best album of 2018 and it’s sure to remain in the memory ’til the year’s end. There are some wonderful moments. The tempo change at 3:32 of ‘Rebel Heart’, the point when Johanna takes over the vocals from Klara on ‘Fireworks’, the joyful ending of ‘Hem Of Her Dress’. First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like if he had any sense. He doesn’t. Which allows the rest of us to sit back and enjoy the sumptuous music of the Söderberg sisters.
A lot of people born in mid-1970s have been tweeting about the sad death of Dolores O’Riordan. The Cranberries had a profound effect on a certain cohort. If your DOB meant that your formative musical and cultural years were the early 1990s, then the chances are that songs like ‘Dreams’, ‘Linger’, ‘Zombie’, and ‘Salvation’ were really important to you. Really important. But The Cranberries were big enough for today’s news to come as a shock more widely. Listening back to their songs, I really miss that early 1990s guitar sound. And while it might not be my cohort, I’ll miss Dolores O’Riordan too.
This is a time of looking forward. To the familiar artists that will return. To the new artists that will be discovered. This year, like any other, comes with a wish list. Some albums will never materialise. Others will slightly disappoint. A few will remain life-long friends. Fingers crossed for the latter. In no particular order, apart from alphabetical, my 2018 wish list includes new releases by Alela Diane, Anäis Mitchell, Bill Callahan, Caitlin Harnett, Cat Power, East River Pipe, Field Report, First Aid Kit, Jacob Golden, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Pratt, Jim White, Jonathan Wilson, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Pearl Charles, Phosphorescent, Pinegrove, Richard Edwards, The Delines, Vetiver, Wooden Shjips, Wye Oak and the artist formerly known as Young Man.
And yet, there is a special place in the 2018 wish list for a new album by Kramies (pronunciation to be determined). With rumours going back at least a couple of decades, there are unconfirmed reports that an album is finally on its way and that Ireland had some part to play in it. We wait with fingers crossed, though we have learned not to hold our breath. The hard way. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful feature by Shon Cobbs and his Behind The Scenes colleagues from Denver. It features Kramies answering questions and sometimes asking them too. Plus a lot of laughing.
Blushing are an Austin TX-based four piece. Their new EP, Weak, will be out on 26 January. It’ll be available over at Bandcamp. In the meantime, the title track from the EP is ready for consumption. The sound reminds me of some of the bands whose tickets stubs can be found on the right-hand sidebar of this very blog. Bands like Lush, The Sundays, and, oh! be still my beating heart, The Telescopes. Looking forward to the EP and to more from Blushing.