Smoke Fairies

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On their early albums Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire sounded less like smoke fairies and more like folk faeries. With their wispy guitars and tremulous voices they were almost immaterial. A breath of wind and they’d blow away. Now they’re back with a new album, a new producer, and a new sound. The result is that this time around Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire sound less like smoke fairies and more like toke fairies. Whereas before Pentangle seemed like the music of choice on the tour bus, now they’ve adopted a slower, more sultry, even swampy style at times. Most of the tracks are built around broody, background guitar licks. They create a hint of menace on ‘Shadow Inversions’. A sense of being stalked on ‘Eclipse The All’. But there’s more to it. A smattering of folktronica, notably on ‘Koto’. A breezy enough opener in the form of ‘We’ve Seen Birds’. And a piano ballad of sorts at the end, ‘Are You Crazy?’. This a new Smoke Fairies. Does it all come together? Not quite. With sweaty sounds, you’d expect some real-life, hands-on, sleazy-sounding lyrics. But for the most part things are still oblique, abstract, polite. And while there can be a real depth to the vocals that matches the mood of the music really nicely, there are times when the inner Sandy Denny chimes out in ways that are at odds with the sound. Rumour has it that Smoke Fairies nearly split up after their last album. And there was a sense that they were treading water. This album, though, has breathed life into the project. Having set off in a new direction, they need to have the courage of their convictions and go the whole way.

The Line of Best Fit review

Drowned in Sound review

Music OMH review

The Independent review

There are more interesting new releases than hours in the day. Not all of them can be reviewed. Here are five from the first three months of this year that missed the review cut, but are well worth checking out.

Stone Jack Jones – Ancestor

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A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Stone Jack Jones offered few clues about his identity, but his album included contributions from Kurt Wagner and Patty Griffin. The songs were quiet, but full of dark little twists. Melody aplenty, but sometimes skewed in a slightly disturbing way. What could be better?

Pop Matters review

The Quietus review

In Your Speakers review

Dawn Landes – Bluebird

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Always a sucker for break-up albums, this is up there with the best. Dawn Landes looks back on a broken relationship, yet manages to see the good in what went before. An album that channels hurt and pain, but somehow constructively. To be listened to in tandem with Josh Ritter’s The Beast in its Tracks.

Pop Matters review

The Line Of Best Fit review

All Music review

Kramies – The Wooden Heart

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Wonderfully atmospheric. You can almost hear the timbers creaking. And when the music kicks in, it’s like the sea swelling and crashing over the top of the barque. Produced by Jason Lytle, it has the master’s touch, but it’s a light one all the same. Kramies’ hand is firmly on the tiller and he’ll guide you safely home to port.

Lapland – Lapland

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Gentle pop songs with a just a hint of Brian Wilson. Nothing busts its britches on this album. But then why should it when it all sounds this good? Lapland is the work of the artist formerly known as Josh Mease.

Music OMH review

The Line Of Best Fit Review

Wake Owl – The Private World of Paradise

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A little bit ’60s throwback at times, but including a stone-cold classic of our age, the gorgeous ‘Candy’. A track so good it makes a comeback at the end of the album.

Pop Matters review

American Songwriter review

In Your Speakers review

Holy Holy – The Pacific EP

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Holy Holy released one of the best songs of 2013. Now, they’ve released one of the best EPs of 2014. The bad news? At the moment, it’s only available in their home land, Australia! Last year, ‘Impossible Like You’ came out of nowhere. Improbably infectious, it built up from a simple guitar line to reach a sweeping chorus and a great guitar break, finally winding down to end where it began. It was like The Fleet Foxes with balls. Earlier this year, they released another single, ‘House of Cards’. Full of passion. Yet another great chorus. And with enough twists and turns in the narrative that you’d swear Kevin Spacey was about to pop up at any time. Finally, they’ve released an EP, but with just two new songs. What does it reveal? Well, ‘Slow Melody’ has a title so misleading it’s worthy of litigation. After the breathtaking energy of the previous releases, this one sounds like they’re about to channel their inner Kevin Johnson. Instead, when the keyboards kick-in mid-song, we’re heading towards arms-raised, crowd-swaying, stadium-headlining territory. Not so much The Fleet Foxes with or without balls. More like Kasabian or The Kaiser Chiefs. And to round things off, ‘Cincinnati’ keeps up the mood. Another great hook. Another great song. Soon, Holy Holy will be everybody’s favourite new band. In the meantime, you just have to pick up this EP. Emigrate to Australia if you have to, so you can download it from the iTunes store. Use your favourite VPN and buy it from Getmusic.com.au. Hell, even order a hard copy. Though by the time it arrives, Holy Holy will be headlining a stadium near you.

AAA Backstage review

Earthboy Press interview

Music Feeds interview

Simone Felice – Strangers

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Simone Felice is in a good place. In 2010 he nearly died. Emergency heart surgery saved his life. Still recovering, his first post-op album had a distinctly dystopian side to it. There was theft, murder, more murder and, most nightmarish of all, a song about eloping with Courtney Love. Fully recovered, he’s back. And how. Whereas his previous outing was often a pretty sparse affair, his new album is a fully realised creation. There’s a band, including friends and relatives. ‘Molly-O!’ sets things off in lively fashion. And ‘Gettysburg’ fairly clips along, making it more like the address than the battle. ‘If You Go To LA’ is a classic Simone Felice song, reminiscent of ‘If You Ever Get Famous’. And ‘Heartland’ is perhaps the stand-out track. It’s so familiar, it sounds like it should be a cover of a much-loved 70s song. Yet it’s a Simone Felice original. But utopia comes at a price. Before, a major part of the attraction was hearing about the antics of Bobby Ray, Hetti Blackbird, and a cast of often disreputable, if not downright dangerous characters. But, here, they’re largely absent. ‘Our Lady Of The Gun’ continues some of the Second Amendment themes of its self-titled predecessor and ending the album with a song called ‘The Gallows’ is a sign that there can be trouble in paradise. For the most part, though, this is, whisper it, an almost happy-sounding album. Is it the worse for that? Absolutely not. But there’s a different vibe for sure. In an interview, Simone Felice recounts that you can actually hear the ticking of his automatic heart valve on at least one of the songs on the album. It’s a life-affirming sound. And that’s the vibe that dominates Simone Felice’s new album.

No Depression review

Folk Radio review

Louder Than War review

The War On Drugs – Lost in The Dream

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Thrilling. That moment before a track plays for the very first time. When you just know it’s going to lift you up and sweep you along. And it starts. And it does. And it’s thrilling. And the new album by The War On Drugs is chock full of those utterly thrilling moments. It’s built on a simple foundation. There’s always a solid backbeat. More often than not, it’s an almost monotonously solid backbeat. Creating the energy, but not getting in the way. Allowing everything else to play off around it. And over the top there’s always a guitar line. Sometimes it barks at you in a Neil Young-like angry way. Sometimes it weaves its way carefully in and out of the song. It’s a dizzyingly simple foundation. And then the beauty begins. Simple piano melodies. Shimmering synths. Plain keyboards. More guitars. Both simple acoustic and effected electric. Saxes. Saxes? Yes, saxes! And, most of all, huge, magnificent, majestic, transcendent chord changes. It all combines to create a resolutely earthy and yet totally trippy sound. A blue-collar fiesta of an album. An album to get lost in. MH370 lost in. Only once does it take a misstep. Three tracks in and ‘Suffering’ brings you right down. It’s not the only slow track on the album, but it’s the only miserable one. Otherwise, this is an eyes-closed, head-wobbling, foot-tapping, mind-cleansing collection of songs. On Lost in The Dream Adam Granduciel has created this year’s first and, who knows, perhaps only masterpiece. An album full of tracks you don’t want to end because they’re so good. Tracks you want so much to end because you know the next one is going to be even better. It’s thrilling.

Aquarium Drunkard review

Pitchfork review

Consequence of Sound review

Music OMH review

Drowned In Sound review

Pop Matters review

This Is Fake DIY review

Spin review

The 405 review

Elbow – The Takeoff And Landing Of Everything

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Elbow have done their level best to alienate their core demographic. Lads. Blokes. Laddish blokes. Happy married couples who once swapped vows to the strains of ‘One Day Like This’. Recently divorced couples who once swapped vows to the strains of ‘One Day Like This’. Unmarried early thirty-somethings who still sing-along to the life-affirming, but ever-so-slightly-ironic anthems of The Seldom Seen Kid. They’re all gone. The previous outing, Build a Rocket Boys!, was enough to put off most of them. It was just so slow. The latest offering will do for the rest. And, like its predecessor, what a great album it is. There’s a point on the first track, ‘This Blue World’, and at about 3.40 to be precise, where they could have changed gear and burst into yet one more life-affirming, but ever-so-slightly-ironic anthem. And, gloriously, they resist the temptation. In fact, they resist it so utterly and completely that there’s nary a one throughout the whole album. Admittedly, there are times when it makes things just a little dull. A little one-paced. ‘Honey Sun’ and ‘My Sad Captain’ are the equivalent of a Sunday afternoon nap in front of the TV. But most of the album is full of great, yet beautifully understated hooks. ‘Charge’ and ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’ both contain wonderfully hummable choruses. The title track picks up the pace and gets into a great, almost stoner-like groove. And there are so many internal rhymes in ‘Real Life (Angel)’ that you can only sit back and wonder. And yet, for the lads, the blokes, the couples, ex-couples, and single-bed singletons who bought The Seldom Seen Kid in their droves it still won’t be enough. This is not the Elbow of a certain age. This a new Elbow. A different Elbow. And more power to them.

The Guardian review

Irish Times review

Music OMH review

This Is Fake DIY review

Drowned In Sound review

The Line of Best Fit review

Real Estate – Atlas

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On their new album, Real Estate issue an open invitation to compare them to their mid-80s indie jangle-pop counterparts. The results are in. They’re more melodic than McCarthy. More shiny than The Brilliant Corners. More sturdy than The Field Mice. Much more. Less trotskyite than The Redskins. Not difficult. More canine than Miaow. And on ‘Crime’ when they sing “Toss and turn all night, Don’t know how to make it right, Crippling anxiety”, you’d swear it’s déjà vu all over again. That’s a good balance sheet. But there’s a big difference. Mid-80s indie guitar bands were populated by very serious young men (mainly) making music in a rather ramshackle way. And the ramshackleness of it all was a major part of the attraction. By contrast, Real Estate would probably be great fun to have a drink with, but they take music making seriously. Really seriously. Atlas comprises 10 perfectly performed tracks, none of which is a moment too short or lasts a second too long. And all of which are produced absolutely beautifully. It’s a treasure. Sublime. A musical artefact. A truly good album. And yet, it’s just a little difficult to get lost in. With not a note out of place. With every composition so carefully structured. With so much thought having gone into to generating such a wonderful set of songs, it feels just a tiny bit forced. Only occasionally does it break free. ‘Had To Hear’ starts things off really well. ‘Primitive’ stands out. And ‘Navigator’ brings things to a close very nicely. But it never quite transcends. More than 25 years ago on Foxheads Stalk This Land, The Close Lobsters delivered 10 frantically jejune indie guitar pop tracks. Nine were the same length as the average Real Estate song on Atlas. But on the last song, ‘Mother of God’, they spaced things out and let themselves go. Is Atlas a better album than Foxheads? Absolutely. But would it benefit from a little more ramshackle transcendence at times? Yes, it probably would. And that would make for a truly great album.

Drowned in Sound review

The Guardian review

Music OMH review

The Line of Best Fit review

The 405 review