With the spring equinox just passed, here are some of the best releases of the year so far

The Delines – The Imperial

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If listening to sad songs could heal your own sadness, then Amy Boone, Willy Vlautin and the rest of The Delines would put the counsellors of the world out of business. Because The Imperial is packed full of very sad songs.

Cass McCombs – Tip of the Sphere

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Another bunch of quirky songs from Cass McCombs. The artist who walks you right up to the threshold of a memorable melody only to reach over and ring the bell of the slightly grumpy neighbours next door. Frustrating at times, but features some really great bass lines.

Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

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There’s a typically eclectic feel to the new Deerhunter album. On ‘Greenpoint Gothic’, for example, Gary Numan is surely in the house. For the most part, though, this is a fine bunch of exciting indie riffs for guitar and keyboards. Oh heaven. ‘Element’ is a particular highlight in the earworm department and it’s a great song to drive to.

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Don’t be fooled by the slightly shy-sounding vocals. There’s plenty of power to the songs on Meg Duffy’s second solo album. Most are about relationships of different types and, typically, there’s a sadness to the outcomes. There, though, the similarity with The Delines ends.

 

Amanda Palmer – There Will Be No Intermission

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There Will Be No Intermission is the third solo release by Amanda Palmer, the former lead singer of The Dresden Dolls and the one and sometimes still performance artist also known as Amanda Fucking Palmer. It’s certainly quite a performance. Clocking in at nearly 80 minutes and with a couple of tracks passing the 10-minute-plus mark, this is not a record for those who are even slightly pressed for time. It’s also a highly confessional album. Indeed, as confessional albums go, this one has already been inside the box talking to the priest for quite a considerable period. It could all be a little too much. And in a different context it would be. If this was a man singing about his personal problems in an equivalently querulous and emotional register, any relationship he was having would most likely go tits up sooner rather than later. But it’s not. Released on International Women’s Day, the themes speak to some very difficult gendered issues, including Palmer’s own experience of abortion. Fittingly enough, the truth-telling reaches its climax on ‘A Mother’s Confession’, where Palmer recalls the everyday difficulties of motherhood in sometimes disturbing detail. “At least the baby didn’t die”. There Will Be No Intermission isn’t an easy listen. That’s both its strength and its weakness. Sometimes a huge amount can be too much. But sometimes it can be perfection too. Here, there are moments of plain and simple beauty that will stay with you forever. The waltz-theme of ‘The Ride’ being one. For that reason alone, let’s hope that there will indeed be no intermission.

Cat Power – The Wanderer

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“Doctor said I was not my past, He said I was finally free”. The return of Chan Marshall after a six-year absence was one of the year’s greatest moments. And there were a few of those.

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

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“I was just coastin’, never really goin’ anywhere, Caught up in a web, I was gettin’ kinda used to stayin’ there, And out of the blue, I fell for you”. Kacey Musgraves made the big time in 2018, but also managed to subvert it slightly when she was there. That’s a great trick.

Soccer Mommy – Clean

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“And I knew when I met him, That he’s the one I want to be with, ‘Cause I can see him, Blossom in the future that I’m dreamin'”. Good old-fashioned indie guitar music from Soccer Mommy. And yet not a throwback sound. Good.

Snail Mail – Lush

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“It took so long to know someone like you, And age in the dying sun, With only the vivid greens and blues”. Good old-fashioned indie guitar music from Snail Mail. And yet not a throwback sound. Good.

Jess Williamson – Cosmic Wink

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“I could stay on the crest of the wave, In the sea of your love all my days”. The transformation of Jess Williamson’s music over the course of three albums has been revelatory. Cosmic folk, Texas-style.

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Led Zeppelin are one of the world’s greatest bands. They wrote some of the best songs you’ll ever hear. They influenced thousands of musicians from heavy metal bands to hip-hop artists. They reconfigured the music industry, playing to giant stadiums and huge crowds. Their place in the history of rock and roll is forever guaranteed. But in 2018 should we stop listening to them?

2018 is #MeToo year. It’s the year when women are no longer afraid to speak out. The year when women are providing much of the political energy in the US. The year of the Irish abortion referendum. 2018 is the year of the woman.

Led Zeppelin are one of the world’s greatest bands, but many of their songs are also from a very different lyrical era. ‘The Lemon Song’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’. They’re hardly the songs of the year when woman are no longer afraid to speak out. So, in 2018 should we stop listening to them?

At what point do we decide to change our minds about a band? Matt Mondanile left Real Estate after allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Attitudes to Mark Kozelek changed after his comments about Laura Snapes. Kanye West has been ridiculed for his absurd claim that slavery was a choice.

To be absolutely clear, none of the members of Led Zeppelin has been accused of any such crimes, or even similar verbal transgressions! It’s wrong to compare some of their lyrics with anything that has happened in 2018. More than that. Those lyrics weren’t even out place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Why should we judge them by the standards of our times? Sure, even Robert Plant seems to have distanced himself from his previous incarnation as a rock god.

But if Robert Plant has perhaps changed his mind, then maybe we have too. Much of this year’s musical energy has come from all-women bands like Dream Wife and female artists like Snail Mail. And someone like Kacey Musgraves has shown that it’s possible for a woman to challenge the masculinity of a whole music machine. Things seem different now.

In this context, maybe Led Zeppelin will simply become less relevant. Less referenced. Less sampled. Less listened to. Without passing judgment, maybe we will just move on.

So, should we stop listening to Led Zeppelin? No. But will we end up by not listening to them as much as before? Maybe.

Oh, and their songs about elves and fairies are a pretty tough ask now as well.

 

 

Alela Diane – Cusp

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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.

I was over the Uncut website and I came across John Mulvey’s list of his favourite albums of the first six months of 2017. I like John Mulvey and his writing. This time, though, I was struck by the fact that the list included 60 albums, now increased to 66. With 26 weeks in the first six months of the year or just over 180 days, he has included on average about 2.5 favourite albums per week or one about every three days. Now, let’s assume that he has left the same number of albums off his list. This means he has devoted quality listening time to about five albums a week, or one for every day and a bit. In fact, this figure is a little generous, because there aren’t very many releases in the first couple of weeks of January. Now, John Mulvey is a professional music journalist. He listens to music for a living. It’s his job to spot good music quickly and he’s good at it. All the same, my guess is that he has devoted at most about a day’s listening to the albums he’s calling his favourites of the first half of 2017. That’s not very much.

Here are my top five albums of the year so far. They are all cherished listens. And quite some time has been spent with them. What’s more, last weekend saw the release of three albums – Fleet Foxes, Jason Isbell, and Kevin Morby – that are all candidates for a top five spot. But I’m still getting to know them. So, I’m not going to include them here. Maybe they’ll feature in December’s end-of-year list? In the meantime, here’s my summer solstice favourites.

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Conor Oberst – Salutation

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Ryan Adams – The Prisoner

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Holy Holy – Paint

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Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom

Jesu & Sun Kil Moon - 30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth

Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth

Jeff Caudill – Reset The Sun

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Happy Record Store day. This week’s stand-out release is Jeff Caudill’s new 6-track EP/mini-album, Reset The Sun. It’s an alt-country road record about someone who has made “some questionable life decisions and is struggling with forgiveness and starting over“. Musically, it’s a ways away from Jeff Caudill’s previous work with Gameface. Here, we’re deep in the heart of Son Volt territory. And if anyone was disappointed with Jay Farrar’s recent blues-based album, then Reset The Sun can fill the gap very nicely. It’s country, but not Bro-Country. It’s rock, but not Dad-Rock. The song craft is exceptional. The break in the middle of ‘Tears In My Eyes’ is a particular favourite. And the playing is top notch, with the keyboards making a real difference on all the songs. So, if you looking for some slightly down-at-heart songs with a few upbeat hooks, then Jeff Caudill’s new release is for you. It’s available on vinyl and CD from all good record stores. And there couldn’t be a better day to try to track down a copy at one. Essential.