Jessica Pratt – Golden Great

Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again

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Perhaps unsurprisingly for a San Franciscan, Jessica Pratt is well at home in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With a close-miked wooziness, On Your Own Love Again is full of fragile vocals, lovely chord changes, and just a hint of patchouli oil. Somewhat disconcertingly, the album seems to start half way through. It’s as if you’ve arrived slightly late to the gig. Certainly, there’s no apparent meta-structure to the musical narrative. Just song after song. In the end they all start to blend together. The slightly sweet smell in the air kicks in. And you’re away. Lovely. But there are little conceits. On ‘Jacquelyn in the Background’ the home-taped vibe is so strong that there seems to be some genuine tape flutter at times. It makes for a really nice effect. And, in fact, the album does come to a natural conclusion with the short title track. On Your Own Love Again is redolent of a certain era, but it has a timeless quality to it.

Pitchfork review

Paste review

Consequence of Sound review

All Music review

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Emmy The Great – Emmy The Greatest

Emmy The Great – S (EP)

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It’s been eight long years since Emmy The Great first appeared on the music scene. Since that time, there have been just two full albums. Both glorious. And both built on break ups. On First Love the only thing missing from ‘We Almost Had A Baby’ was a huge exclamation mark and a reproachful look. For its part, Virtue was metaphorically chock full of both. It was the break-up album to end all break-up albums. Who could forget ‘Dinosaur Sex’? Now, nearly four years on, we’re finally treated to a new EP. True, there are hints of relationships past. The lyrics of ‘Somerset (I Can’t Get Over)’ read like the inventory of the shelves of a once familiar student bedsit. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Dinosaur Jr. But this time there’s a sense that they belong to a different era. Finally, it seems, The Great Emmy has moved on. And nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘Solar Panels’. In the most refined English accent committed to disk since Noel Coward’s final recording, we’re treated to a description of the worldwide energy industry. ‘Japanese companies are making energy of the heat in California’. And it’s all backed by a pounding dance floor beat. We are literally miles away from ‘Trellick Tower’. This isn’t the first time that Her Emmynence has gotten down with the beats. In 2008 she worked with Norman Cook on a track called ‘Seattle’. But this is very much her own creation, and it sounds wonderful. The Greatness of Emmy is that she’s never seemed in a rush to release. The quality control has always been high. Here it shines through. All four tracks are different, but coherent. Shimmering sounds. Clever lyrics. This is Emmy at her Greatest. The only disappointment? It’s just an EP.

The Line of Best Fit review

There Goes The Fear review

Northern Transmissions review

Björk – Unadorned

Björk – Vulnicura

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There’s a iron-clad law that the more convoluted an album’s release, the less interesting the music will be. Björk’s career fits this law perfectly. Over the years she has become more and more difficult to miss, but easier and easier to ignore. Was Biophilia an album, or a polymedia happening? Who knows? My download speed was just too slow. For once, then, thanks to a rushed release because of an internet leak, it’s a relief just to sit down and listen to a bunch of Björk’s songs and worry about nothing but the music. And, do you know what? It’s great. Difficult, but great. This is Björk’s break up album. Built around nothing but strings and a sequencer, the music follows the path of the relationship. The opening track (dated nine months before) is the easiest on the ear. The strings are lush, even if lyrically questions are starting to be asked. By the time we arrive at track four (two months after), the strings are stabbing and snarling. Industrial sounds blurt out. The pain is palpable. “My soul torn apart”, she sings, “My spirit is broken”. By track five (six months after) she’s looking for solutions at least. And on track six (eleven months after) the music has calmed down a little and she admits that “If I regret us, I’m denying my soul to grow”. It may not be a resolution, but at least it’s an acknowledgement that the best way is forward. Which brings us to the last three tracks. Undated, it’s not clear where and whether they fit into the story. Yet surely they do. Track 7 with Antony Hegarty is full of sadness, but at one point there’s a caesura followed by hints of a fresh start. And the final track is very different musically, much more skittery, suggesting new directions. Seemingly, Vulnicura was scheduled to tie in with a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as a book about her career to date. We’re lucky to be free from these distractions. It’s an album best listened to unadorned. And in that context it’s surely one of the best break-up albums of modern times.

Pitchfork review

Music OMH review

The Guardian review

Consequence of Sound review

The Quietus review

New York Times review

NPR review

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie – Blindlessness

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie’s ‘Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues’ was one of my favourite albums of 2014. Turns out he’s releasing a single from it on 27 January. ‘Mindlessness’ is available via Drag City as a 7″ single if you’re into that sort of thing. Meanwhile, he’s also released a video for the B side. It’s a new song called ‘Blindlessness’. Unlike the A side, it’s slow and of the genus miserabilus cutwristicus. It’s good.

Support Perry Brown – Become My Blood

It’s mid-January and still not a decent album to review. I had really high hopes for the David Bronson record. I really liked his last one. However, this time he’s gone and, for me, spoilt it by adding a whole soul element to it. Some people will love it. To me, it ruins some great songs. I try to avoid writing disappointing reviews, though I made an exception for John Grant and Autumn Defense. So, I’ll leave it over.

In the meantime, you might think of supporting Perry Brown. He’s behind Fire Mountain, who had a great album, All Dies Down, last year. Now, he’s trying to get a solo album released at Indiegogo. From the sound of the first track, ‘Closer Than I Appear’, it’ll be a winner. Well worth supporting.

 

Zach Winters – Monarch

If you’re keen on artists like Horse Feathers, Will Johnson, or David Bazan, then you might want to check out Zach Winters. He has a new album out. Monarch. The liner notes make it clear that Monarch refers to the butterfly, rather than the hereditary institution. Which is a relief. Anyway, it’s a sound that suits the (northern hemisphere) season, but without being icy or glacial. It’s a quiet, calm listen, but it’s backed by plenty of understated instrumentation and some really nice melodies. Highly recommended.

The album is free to download over at NoiseTrade, though it’d be nice to leave a tip.

New Year’s Revolutions

Pretty much top of my wish list for 2015 were albums by Elvis Perkins and Sufjan Stevens. I didn’t expect either. But, guess what? Both have announced new releases.

Elvis Perkins and his friends In Dearland have announced a new offering, I Aubade, which will see the light of day on 24 February and, hopefully, 20 February in Ireland. Hurrah! Here’s the first song. It’s typically idiosyncratic.

Meanwhile, just today Asthmatic Kitty have featured a teaser for the new Sufjan Stevens album. We’re told it’s out on 31 March (and, hopefully, 27 March in Ireland). It’s called Carrie & Lowell. I’ve never heard of that state.

From the teaser, it sounds like Sufjan has returned to his Illinoise roots after the horrendous parping that marked Age of Adz. Oh praise be!

Adeline Hotel – Leave The Lights

Adeline Hotel – Leave The Lights

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The year is still young, but it has already generated one great new sound. Check out Adeline Hotel and their Leave The Lights album. Adeline Hotel is the brainchild of Dan Knishkowy from Brooklyn. Released towards the end of last year on the Future Oak Record Co. label, the album features Mike Brenner of Magnolia Electic Co. on steel guitar. ‘Another Way To Go’ is the stand-out track, and ‘Anna’ is well worth its 7-minute listen. And both more than once.

More info on Adeline Hotel at their Bandcamp page.

The 10 Best Neil Young albums

It’s a fallow time of year. The release cupboard is almost bare. Thoughts inevitably turn to would-be releases. Will we ever hear again from Beach House, Bowerbirds, Cotton Jones, East River Pipe, Elvis Perkins, Feist, Fleet Foxes, Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter, Jill Andrews, Richard Hawley, Sufjan Stevens, Vetiver? In the meantime, the only recourse is to lists. Here are my top 10 Neil Young albums.

10. Broken Arrow

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Golden moment: Side 1. “It’s all one song”.

9. Sleeps with Angels

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Golden moment: ‘Change Your Mind’ at 7:37. The song has built up to a natural conclusion only for Neil and the boys to say ‘to hell with it, let’s play it all again’. And they do, for another seven minutes.

8. After the Gold Rush

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Golden moment: ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’. A song “that’s guaranteed to bring you right down”.

7. American Stars ‘n’ Bars

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 Golden moment: ‘Like A Hurricane’ at 2:23. The best one-note guitar solo ever.

6. Harvest

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Golden moment: ‘Words (Between The Lines Of Age)’. Another song where time can stand still. Mind you, the definitive version is on the ‘Journey Through The Past’ soundtrack.

5. Zuma

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Golden moment: “What A Killer”.

4. On the Beach

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 Golden moment: ‘Revolution Blues’, “I see bloody fountains, And ten million dune buggies, comin’ down the mountains”

3. Rust Never Sleeps

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Golden moment: The last verse of ‘Powderfinger’. But how come the narrator is still telling the story when he’s just told us he’s been shot dead.

2. Ragged Glory

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Golden moment: ‘Why do I keep F*!#In’ Up?’

1. Tonight’s the Night

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Golden moment: “I’ve got time to roll a number
and rent a car.” Avis have since officially distanced themselves from this sort of behaviour.