Trying our luck at delivering New Borns fortnightly, is no easy task, we try to stay one step ahead of the many other musically devoted blogs and share albums that are worth our ears, whether we like it or not. Over the last 2 weeks there have been a bagful of releases that we didn’t get a chance to deliver but we did play on rotation at TWL HQ, including Junior Boys (alt dance), Field Music (indie pop) Turin Brakes (alt indie pop) and Porsches (Alt indie rock). The two highly anticipated albums for the year we covered, the second album from Brooklyn’s DIIV and Sunflower Bean, also from Brooklyn. High Highs deliver their second album of blissed out pop ,we give a fair go to Bloc Party’s new album, Hymn and finally, the debut from new Domino Records signing Taryn Miller aka Your Friend. Enjoy!
Album Title Cascades
Genre Electro-Acoustic Pop, Dreamy
Moments Of Bon Iver, Disclosure, Milky Chance
Stand Out Cascade, Movement, Ocean to City
Jack Milas and Oli Chang, the two Sydney-Siders turned Brooklynites behind High Highs, the electro-acoustic pop duo have released their newest album, Cascades. Things have definitely kicked up with their ethereal, romantic sound, including an upcoming tour back in their old stomping ground. These boys are at it again to break our hearts and be the soundtrack to us falling in love all over again.
Here we are, sitting on a bus with our earphones in and the volume turned up to 11, we’re holding hands and thinking of what might be. In the background of this daydream, the High Highs are serenading our souls with some wistful, pastel tunes. Coincidentally, this album Cascades was titled after the Cascade mountain in New York which happens to be just a drive upstate for these Williamsburg gentlemen.
After a tiny hiatus on fresh songs, High Highs are back in action with a very retro record. They locked themselves in a tiny room, away from the concrete jungle and mayhem. With an old school piano, some simple guitar riffs and an abundance of synthesizers, the lads from down under have given us yet another stunning collection of tunes.
As per usual, the big, airy vibes have stayed and so have the echoing vocals. From Catch The Wind to London, After The Rain, the dreamy semi-acoustic beats are all back and melt together so well that the entire album could just be one lengthy song. That said, the synth and percussion changes up with some looping drums, a relaxed breath-heavy backing and a serious 80s soundtrack feel.
Cascade is a killer tune, shimmery and romantic, you can understand why it’s a single and the title track. Though it all sounds very melancholy and expansive, there is something immensely Australian about the album which must resonate with people, music fans are going gangbusters for this road-trip ‘chill’ release. Though it’s not exactly a banger, if you want something that encapsulates fields of daisies and running along the shore, this is the album for you.
With some songs that left no impression on me whatsoever, just fillers for the standout songs, How Could You Know and even Sun could have been replaced with real stunners but instead I was left slightly empty. Taking it up a notch, Ocean To City (which was originally released as a single back in 2012, accompanied by a perfect music video) is so fun, a solid upbeat track with almost asian sounding guitars.
Overall, a glorious set of songs with a relaxed backdrop. Somewhat eery, woozy harmonies, simple lyrics, plucky strings and sparkling singing on both parts. High Highs are onto bigger and better things, bounding forward in their music career with fleeting escapism and sensual sweet nothings.
Album Title Human Ceremony
Label Fat Possum
Genre Indie Rock, Psych Rock, Indie Pop
Moments Of MGMT, Tame Impala
Stand Out Come On, Wall Watcher
Brooklyn, NYC based trio Sunflower Bean have had a lot of hype swelling around them. After their first EP Show Me Your Seven Secrets, they’ve been touring extensively and supporting some big names. For a very young band, their debut album Human Ceremony by contrast shows a lot of maturity, with an extensive creative process and multiple ideas to show the world. It varies from sweet to powerful at the drop of a hat, whilst still remaining cohesive and relevant.
Human Ceremony has a few immediate highlights that become apparent very early in the game and continue to delight throughout the entirety of the album. The first being singer/bassist Julia Cumming’s angelic, glistening vocals. In layered harmony on songs such as the opening title track or Easier Said, it floats alongside your consciousness, lulling the mind into a peaceful, calmer place. The second being guitarist/singer Nick Kivlen’s guitar playing, intelligent but impatient, jumping from calm, clean picking to full blown 90’s grunge, reverb and even phaser within the space of a single track (interestingly they have a song called Tame Impala on last years EP, obviously reasoning applied). All of this is rounded out by drummer Jacob Faber’s meticulous drum work – polished further by a little fancy production by Matthew Molnar (formerly of indie pop band Friends), holding it all together with the upmost of professionalism.
Obviously there is a lot of pressure to impress with a debut record, especially given the talk already surrounding this band. So by this reasoning nothing on Human Ceremony is done by halves. Single Wall Watcher has the emphasis and scope that aims high with is massive guitar sound and hypnotic vocal lines. In complete contrast is the following song on the album I Want You To Give Me Enough Time that sees Cummings and Kivlen in dual harmony, supported by a 60’s dreaming soundscape with complete with acoustic guitars and toy piano. With all these grand ideas, we are reminded that they are in reality just out of high school, and the ‘punk song’ I Was Home steps down to a simple lyrical idea (“what did you do today? I stayed at home today”) with a fairly straightforward structure, but is without question probably one of the funnest songs on the album.
Whilst a jumble of ideas can at times be confusing to the listener and leave the question of what is the bands’ focus or idea really is, it on the other hand results in a very entertaining listen that suits well to those with short attention spans. Human Ceremony is an exciting release and does not disappoint – for a band with so much creative energy, it will be interesting to see what we can expect in the future and where the current spectrum of the music industry will lead them.
Album Title Gumption
Label Domino Record Co.
Genre Alternative Drone
Moments Of The Paper Kites, Sleep Decade, Cat Power
Stand Out Come Back From It
Gumption has the uneasiness of a personal project presented for the first time. Miller works with an earnest that is paradoxically raw but refined. Her lyrics are no stream of consciousness but neither is her articulation in anyway meant to project a certain kind of disingenuous image. A form of masturbation that can be tedious with these genres.
Miller’s use of drones, loops and distortion have been streamlined into an efficient facilitation of abstract expression. Desired Things, treads dangerously close to an overuse of her techniques that allows for tension in the listener. As Miller speaks of her own desires, we too are waiting for the cathartic release. Miller’s ability to create music that enhances and expands upon her lyrics cannot be overstated.
Working with a palate of darker tones, Miller manages to create visceral experiences that can be expressed through more physical senses. I Turned In has a texture and depth that is reminiscent of rough plastered walls. Heathering, with its sweeping but constantly shifting loops feels like holding your breath underwater and watching the distorted sky.
Gumption is an album that plays back and forth between attempts at openness before retracting into shy uncertainty. Miller asks the listener to be patient and slowly peel away at the layers within her. A decision that will yield many unexpected rewards.
Album Title Is the Is Are
Label Captured Tracks
Genre Dream Pop, Indie Rock, Shoegaze
Moments Of Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, The Cure
Stand Out Under The Sun, Dopamine
Some thought it would never happen. Despite the trouble with police, expectations from the media and record labels and of course the legion of fans around the world, songwriter/guitarist Zachary Cole Smith together with his band DIIV, have finally released Is The Is Are, almost four years after the debut, Oshin. Almost more well known for his history with drug abuse or his relationship with singer/model girlfriend Sky Ferreira, Smith has written (at times in a hurried, erratic and extremely determined fashion), played on, mixed and produced an album that transcends his negative reputation. Welcome back DIIV, we missed you.
Is The Is Are has undoubtedly been one of the most anticipated releases of 2016. Teasing with a number of singles from the album including Dopamine and Bent (Roi’s Song), fans knew to expect an album that wasn’t going to stray too far from the well loved vibes of Oshin, but did show a new, stronger and focused vision of Zachary Cole Smith’s original ideas. With a running time of almost an hour spanning over 17 tracks, it gives the impression that Smith has had a lot to prove, with the space to cement the quality of his material over the greater expanse of Is The Is Are.
With long albums, it certainly leaves the artist open to vulnerability when not focusing on the best tracks to hold the album together. Almost as if to apologise to fans for the extended absence, Smith is making up for it here. In a critical sense, there is very few instances where anything over 40 minutes can remain imperative to an albums’ make up (with the exemption of ‘concept albums’, soundtracks and rock operas, etc.). Especially given the nature of DIIV’s woozy, reverb coated, kraut inspired jams, it can almost be considered an endurance run to persist through the entirety of the album without break.
Despite this, there are a number of strong points within this album that make this a worthwhile listen (despite most of them existing in the first half of the album). Obviously the singles, in particular Under The Sun with it’s characteristic bass lead and empowering chorus line, and Dopamine which could translate to a more mature, complex version of an Oshin classic.
Sky Ferreira also makes an appearance on Is The Is Are, providing some differentiation in the album’s sound but does not necessarily improve it – Blue Boredom provides more star power than it does in an important addition to the album.
Despite the lengthy nature of this release and it’s forgettable second half, Is The Is Are definitely holds enough pulling power and highlights among it to render it worthy of the ‘highly anticipated album’ tag. However, it seems that it will remembered more for the singles than as an album as a whole.
Album Title Hymns
Label BMG UK
Moments of Duologue, Blur
Stand Out Fortress, Different Drugs, My True Name, Eden
So far, most seem to think that north Londoners Bloc Party are if not crap enough to retire, than at least presently past-it in the relevance stakes. Especially on this, their fifth studio album. But first with two new members and half the line-up now altered, has the sound changed as well? Ss it enough to sustain interest over an hour-plus?
I’ve recently enjoyed rediscovering the excessive, long and pompous back catalogue of British prog legends Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Brilliant technicians, all three, but so over the top too. Here, frontman Kele Okereke is electronic, lean and polished. And yet….And yet much like Coldplay’s recent A Head Full Of Dreams (shudder!), Bloc Party’s latest Hymns is, clever. and it IS catchy. It does however seem to miss something of substance or depth that consistently connects both with it’s music and lyrics.
Not that it’s ever really, really bad. Just, on occasion, bland and at other times, brilliant, frustratingly so. Opener Love Within delivers as the understandable first single. Deranged blips and bleeps (Keith Emerson himself would be proud of whichever keyboard setting was used) usher in Okereke’s pleasant voice, reminiscent of a smooth facsimile of late-era Robert Smith, or perhaps more correctly (and more often), Blur’s Damon Albarn.
“You give me grace and dancing feet as I conquer anxiety,” he Okereke croons over a neat hi-hat. But for both good and not-so-good outcomes later on, it certainly sets the tone for the rest of the record.
Good News contains a lovely semi-acoustic guitar twang, as – inspired by gospel and R-n-B stylings – Okereke claims he “used to find his answers in the Gospel Of St John but now I find them in the bottom of this shot glass”.
I’d give the guy credit for something most probably wouldn’t approach or broach as a subject area these days in such spiritual statements. Whether its deliberate soul-baring or designed soul-searching, this is neatly packaged stuff. Neatly-packaged and non-descript in too many places.
At times Bloc Party, with new bassist/keyboardist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle replacing Gordy Moakes and Matt Tong (respectively), sound as if they’d merely kidnapped Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and shackled them – separately – to a drum machine rig and moog synthesizer.
The minimalist soundscape efforts also recalls London’s excellent five-piece Duologue. And there’s the explanatory equation in a nutshell. If Duologue is Radiohead with Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning on vocals, then this is Duologue with Damon Albarn. Almost.
Like Canadian outfit The Dears, too, there’s a huge attempt at super-size hi-def melodrama. That’s neither suitably dramatic or melodic at the same time, each time, to carry the weight of a modern rock LP. There are standout moments.
A mid-record peak occurs, as Fortress is a languid tale of morning lovemaking. Different Drugs breathes urgently via a clipped drum pattern. Into The Earth is jangly jazz. While My True Name is an ultra-modern reggae epic at near six minutes, where everything aids rhythm to great effect.
Am I sounding too harsh? There’s some really good ideas among this collection, it is however probably about one-third too long. But there’s definitely more than an EP’s worth of stuff to work through. Perhaps this is also one of those “albums you have to have” to get to something even better next time? Bands do have them, you know (Marillion’s 2001 effort “Anoraknophobia” springs immediately to mind).
There’s one final perk-up after the twin stumble to the finish line of Exes and Living Lux and it is the intriguing Eden that is energetic and engaging. From here it is a gradual wind-down on Paraiso, New Blood and Evening Song.
Really, Hymns comes down to a release that is let down by an underdevelopment of its central themes. Okereke closes proceedings by intoning solemnly over a slight and distant ride-cymbal ting on Evening Song “For I have a message. It’s in my voice.” I’m sure there is a message here, we just dont know what it is.
I must admit I’ve never heard Bloc Party until this album. I’ve merely heard of them. Okereke and guitarist Russ Lissack can pen a tune and sing it and play it and it is all perfectly decently done here of course. The question is, will any of this stand to the test of time? I remain to be convinced.