It’s getting cold here in Australia, so for the locals, rug up with some mulled wine and get cosy listening to these new tracks from experienced artists. For those of you half way across the world, blast these while you party twice as hard for us here, down under.
Artist: Car Seat Headrest
Album Title: Teens of Denial
Label: Matador Records
Genre: Indie Rock, College Rock
Moments Of: Pavement, Courtney Barnett
Stand Out: Destroyed By Hippie Powers, Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
Car Seat Headrest, for the uninitiated, is the brainchild of Seattle guitarist and songwriter Will Toledo. Toledo’s story is uncharacteristic of typical hype acts – he is not in fact a new artist, as Teens of Denial is technically his thirteenth album under this name. For a guy who’s only 23 years old, that’s a pretty damn impressive history. This new release is his second on Matador Records, following on from Teens of Style, a compilation album of his older songs reworked for his first major label release.
With a cult-like following on bandcamp (the best place to find his complete discography) that has exponentially grown with his increasing number of releases, a coveted Best New Music tag on Pitchfork, all the way to the controversy regarding an unlicensed Cars sample (remember Just What I Needed?) that cost Matador around $50k USD, life has been pretty hectic for Toledo in the last few weeks. This doesn’t really seem to worry him, as he’s just doing what he’s always been doing – and that’s making perfectly crafted indie rock songs at home in his bedroom. It’s just now that he’s got a few more people to help him out. With the full band comprising of Ethan Ives on bass and Andrew Katz on drums, along with a few extra hands to flesh out the instrumentation throughout the album, Toledo really has the stage now to bring his songs into full bloom. The expansion of his original ideas is demonstrated on comparison of older songs on Teens of Style that have been reworked with the full band, for example, ‘Something Soon’, agreeably Toledo’s most popular song to date, which originally appeared on the album My Back Is Killing Me Baby in 2011.
That is one of the reasons why Teens of Denial is such an exciting release, especially for those new to the Car Seat Headrest bandwagon. There is a maturity behind these songs that have been brewing for years, and it’s only now that Toledo is at a point in his career where he’s able to share these songs with so many more people.
It’s the personal things, not just the uber-relatable lyrics that draw from the same story-telling, everyday life commentary vein of Courtney Barnett (for example, “is that voice in your head giving you shit again?” from Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales or “I didn’t want you to hear that shake in my voice….I cried walking home” from 1937 Skate Park) or the guitar sounds that pay homage to some of the most influential bands in rock and roll (just take a look at his extensive Spotify playlists, in particular the Sounds of Denial), but even that comfortable and relaxed attitude that Toledo has towards his music. The talking and chatter over the beginning and end of songs, the imperfections in his vocal tracks, the live feel of the instrumentation, the un-radio-friendly length and arrangement of some of the songs. Even the “sampling” of other artists’ work into his own songs, such as The Ballad of Costa Concordia which features a melody and lyric line from Dido’s White Flag, which ironically is followed by the line “it was an expensive mistake.”
It’s not often that a release as well constructed as this rolls around, especially from an artist so young (yet so experienced) and so DIY in his approach to song writing and recording. But this reflects positively on the listener, who feels less removed from the artist himself – an artist who feels comfortable enough to present his life’s stresses onto the world, in a way that makes us all understand life is pretty weird sometimes.
Artist Mutual Benefit
Album Skip A Sinking Stone
Label Transgressive Records / Spunk Records (Australia / NZ)
Genre Folk Pop
Moments Of Fleet Foxes, Angel Olsen
Stand Outs; Closer Still & Madrugada
Three years since Mutual Benefit’s widely acclaimed album, Love’s Crushing Diamond was released, front man and creative backbone Jordan Lee has dropped Skip A Sinking Stone. Some artists would struggle in attempting to follow such a popular and deeply loved album, yet Lee sustains Mutual Benefit’s tenderness and emotion in a refreshing and intoxicating way.
Jordan Lee is Mutual Benefit, or rather, he is the figurehead to a crew of constantly rotating and shifting musical collaborators who play along side him on tour. At the helm of an incredibly broad and profound sound, it is hard to believe that Lee is the sole producer of this record. A number of Lee’s collage of collaborators have remained from his previous album, including Dillon Zahner on drums and Jake Falby on violin. This album also features vocals from his sister Whitney. These bonds were strengthened after the immense amount of touring Mutual Benefit embarked on after Love’s Crushing Diamond, which Lee writes about on this album.
Skip A Sinking Stone is a sensational follow up to Lee’s 2013 release. It retains the same sound yet takes it one step further by being more ambitious in terms of musicality and emotional rawness.
Privy to the inside of Lee’s head and heart, we feel heartbreak, forlorn love and vulnerability. His whispery vocals create a personal connection as if he is letting us in on his deepest and most sensitive secrets and desires. It deals with the exhaustion and endlessness of touring in songs such as ‘Get Gone’ and maintains a lingering sense of anguish and increasing anxiety throughout the album.
This movement away from the hopeful and more joyful songs that open the album is most directly noted in ‘Nocturnal’, which is a track devoid of any vocal element. This alone is a development away from his previous album, it shows a confidence and musical ability that allows Lee to indulge in a beautiful, strong and purely instrumental break in the centre of the Skip A Sinking Stone. Not even a harmonising vocal taints the musical solace of ‘Nocturnal’. The final track, ‘The Hereafter’ ends the album by gently folding back on the optimism of the opening tracks giving Skip A Sinking Rock a cyclical form and a sense of catharsis.
An incredibly gentle yet strong sound permeates the album. This supports the praise that Love’s Crushing Diamond received and is promising for ‘Skip A Sinking Stone’ in the weeks to come after it’s release. The ambient sounds and pure emotion of this album make it one of the most enchanting releases of 2016 so far.
Artist Richard Ashcroft
Album Title These People
Label Righteous Phonographic Association via Cooking Vinyl
Genre Alt rock
Moments Of The Verve, Cold Play
Stand Out Black Lines
The Verve fans rejoice as front man Richard Ashcroft returns with his first album in six years, These People. With his fourth solo album Ashcroft delivers some Verve-worthy songs, none that quite hold up to the glory of his 90’s Brit-pop peak but are overall superbly produced. Self assured, left-leaning and politically charged, it seems Ashcroft has an answer for everything in These People.
Crowded with strings, reverby vocals and classic alt-rock guitars These People has a lot to take in. Richard Ashcroft produced the record with Chris Potter, Brit Award-winning producer for his role on The Verve’s 1997 hit album Urban Hymns. At times the new album’s dependable Brit-pop has to fight against cringey synth sounds and a few songs that are ultimately short of substance. Closing track ‘Songs of Experience’ lacks subtlety, and a spacey synth line on ‘Ain’t The Future So Bright’ plays up to the lyrics a little too obviously.
After a twangy, Johnny-Cash inspired verse, the album’s opening song ‘Out Of My Body’ takes an electro turn that ends up far away from ‘90s nostalgia and tackles political corruption with dated glam swagger. But alt-rock fans needs not panic because second track ‘This Is How It Feels’ fits much more comfortably into the Verve-shaped box Ashcroft’s sound is still placed in decades on from hits like ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’.
Ashcroft entrusted the string arrangements – which are the highlight of nearly every track – to British producer Wil Malone. Malone was the man behind the magic, orchestral elements of The Verve songs at the band’s peak in the 90’s, and he brings back the same edge most impressively on ‘They Don’t Own Me’ and ‘Black Lines’.
The most enjoyable and timeless songs on These People are the ones that stick to nostalgic production and anecdotal lyrics. ‘Hold on’ strays too far from the comfort zone, with a disconcerting dance beat accompanying political imagery of ‘tear gas and pepper spray’. But Ashcroft gets back on side with title track ‘These People’, exploring a Cat Stevens-like timbre in the deep, comforting vocals. The song is arena worthy, with a lighters-in-the-air atmosphere. The beautiful melody comes as a perfectly placed reminder that Ashcroft isn’t just resting on the laurels of The Verve.
With ‘Black Lines’ Ashcroft muses on mortality, letting a weathered growl creep into his voice. The honest lyrics, classic production and vocals that are evidence of why Coldplay’s Chris Martin is a massive Richard Ashcroft fan makes it a stand out on the record. Thus Ashcroft is back where he belongs: his captivating voice wedged between the successful, formulaic production of big choruses made bigger by Brit-pop tambourine and dramatic string sections.
The songs that make up These People are a little too long, holding to one-liner choruses that stretch them out to the five-minute mark, and the disco vibes that creep in on some of the tracks are unimaginative. But like the droney Brit-pop that bought Richard Ashcroft well deserved fame in the 90s, These People is easy to listen to and lyrically wholesome.