Strand of Oaks – Eraserland

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Stunning. Eraserland, the new album by Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks, is simply stunning. Acoustic introspection and full-throttle riffs. This is such stuff as indie dreams are made on. And the most remarkable part is that it was nearly never made. For in late 2017, following some disappointing reviews of his largely disappointing previous album, Hard Love, Showalter was having a crisis of musical confidence. Having progressed in relatively short order from acoustic strummer to electric shredder, where was he to go now? Back to the acoustic future? Luckily, Carl Broemel and some other My Morning Jacketeers were around to help resolve the dilemma. Giving Showalter the confidence to start writing again, the result is Eraserland. With its gentle introductions, this is a place of intense introspection. But with its raging crescendos, this is one that sounds gloriously alive too. And there’s more than a little wisdom on hand. “If you believe you can be loved, You’ll outlive your past”. With some help along the way, Timothy Showalter has shown that it’s possible to overcome adversity and create something new and magnificent. Something stunning. Eraserland.

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.

Hand Habits – Placeholder

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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.

Goshen Electric Co.

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“You won’t have to think twice if it’s love. You will know”. We missed Jason Molina this year. But there was plenty to celebrate. A highlight was Timothy Showalter and former members of Magnolia Electric Co. reinventing two of the more obscure tracks from Molina’s Didn’t It Rain era.

Iron & Wine – Weed Garden

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“Some want love and some want gold, I just want to see you in the morning”. Sam Beam returned with six gorgeously gentle songs full of recognisably Iron-&-Wine-y themes, lyrics, and arrangements.

Kevin Morby & Waxahatchee – Farewell Transmission/The Dark Don’t Hide It

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“In the sirens and the silences now all the great set up hearts, All at once start to beat”. We missed Jason Molina this year. But there was plenty to celebrate. A highlight was Kevin Morby and Katie Crutchfield reinventing two of the best tracks from Molina’s Magnolia Electric Co. era broadly understood

Kramies – Of All The Places Been & Everything The End

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It’s been a long wait. “Ireland” was premiered on the 2015 forêts antiques live EP after all. But it was worth it. Rising and falling. Swelling and subsiding. Kramies brought us on a journey through all the places been to a new home. And more.

Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie

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“If you’d have seen me last year I’d have said, ‘I can’t even see you there from here'”. Matthew Houck may have become a parent and started writing songs about his young son. But fear not, the essence of the old Phosphorescent still shone as brightly as ever.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard

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“This is a verse about a man who dared, To fall head over heels for a woman who shared, Similar interests, similar looks, Similar taste in similar books”. A typically eclectic mix from the (grand)father of indie rock. Includes the best song about a bike lane that you’ll hear all year.

The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth Sense

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‘Take a deep breath and blow the cobwebs away”. The Rock*A*Teens returned with a new beginning, proving that teens still know how to rock, even once-upon-a-time ones.

Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up

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“Tonight!, I’ve got nothing on my mind but you, Somewhere, somehow, You’ll feel it too”. Alejandro Rose-Garcia really doesn’t like Abba. The song ‘Aibohphobia’ confirmed that.

Mount Eerie – Now Only

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In a category of its own. Do not send these songs to your friends or play them at parties! They are some of the most emotional pieces of music of the year though.

 

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.

Songs: Ohia – Love & Work: The Lioness Sessions

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“Whether you save me, Whether you savage me, Want my last look to be the moon in your eyes”. If The Lioness is your favourite Jason Molina album. Possibly. And you want more songs that sound like The Lioness. Definitely. Then this Deluxe version is for you. Phew.

Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14

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“I came in from the wilderness, A creature void of form, ‘Come in’, she said, ‘I’ll give ya, Shelter from the storm'”. If 3,513 versions of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ is what you are craving. Hmm, not totally sure. Then this Deluxe version of Blood On The Tracks is for you. Oh, OK.

Neil Young – ROXY: Tonight’s The Night Live

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“Walk on, talk on, baby tell no lies, Don’t you be caught with a tear in your eye”. If you like Neil Young to be providing somewhat approximate renditions of what are undoubtedly some of his best tunes. Yes, yes. Then this live version of Tonight’s The Night is for you. Oh Good.

The Beatles – White Album

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“The sun is up, the sky is blue, It’s beautiful and so are you”. If you have ever been to Esher and wondered what it must have been like for The Beatles to demo The White Album songs there, then this Super Deluxe Version is for you. Where’s Esher again?

Kate Bush – Remastered I-IV

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“His left hand is under my head, And his right hand, Does embrace me, This is the song of Solomon”. Classic Kate Bush. Remastered. Move on. Nothing more to add. Oh OK. Right.