Bedroom Sucks Records continues to smash 2016 with Lower Plenty’s latest album, Solange is as unapologetic as always in her politics. Is Alex Izenberg emulating or satirizing? Zoos of Berlin make their most palatable album yet, how will fans react? And Gallery 47 prove they have something special going on.
Artist Gallery 47
Album Title Clean
Label Artists Without A Label / Bad Production Records
Genre Alt-Folk, Indie Pop
Moments Of Elliot Smith / Andrew Bird / Matt Corby
Stand Out Rising Star / Free Range
With comparisons drawn from Elliott Smith and Iron and Wine, this abundantly talented songwriter from Nottingham, UK has delivered his third accomplished album. Filed with delicately weaved songs that meld the melodic and hopeful nature of the 60’s. Perhaps far from a household name, it is reminder of just how much talent can pass as by.
A perk of being part of a music blog that prides itself on discovering new artists is finding young talents like Jack Peachey aka Gallery 47. Yes, there are so many artists around the world that do just what Peachey does, but it takes the subtle differences that allows them to skim just above the rest to prove their worth and ability as songwriters.
Gallery 47 delivers their third studio album, a collection of timeless stories that cross genre and decade, lyrically wearing heart on sleeves with honesty and vulnerability. Opening track ‘Rising Star’ featured on TWL at the start of the year offers the most ‘pop’ tracks of the album, the country swagger with yearning violins set against Peachey’s take on Bob Dylan ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and honkytonk keys. It’s no wonder it get air play on much of British independent radio.
A handful of tracks take on a taster of bluesy folk tempos, particularly ‘Never Alone’ ‘Looking Wonderful’ and ‘Dream Reel’, the later drawing on lyrics that have Peachey comparing his chosen musical life against those friends around him. “All my friends went and got good jobs..I’m the only one messing up”
Cleans shift in feel and energy shines in ‘Free Range’, the shuffling drums and hovering synths draw comparisons of Iron and Wine and Fleet Foxes, ooze Americana, so far removed from his hometown of Nottingham. An equaliser is closing track ‘Dulcimer’, a driving rhythm and Peachey’s vocals lyrically transcend stories.
Gallery 47 delivers an honest yet considered third album, that is mellow as it is considered carefully orchestrating his instrumentation to sound as if recorded live with little over-production and a clear focus on lyrical narration. With a slight shift from his previous work, perhaps somewhat more produced but for those of us (no doubt many) who may well listen to this for a first time, Clean offers the perfect accompaniment to classic songwriting at its folky best.
Artist Zoos Of Berlin
Album Title Instant Evening
Label Don’t Look About
Moments Of Architecture in Helsinki / David Bowie / Fleet Foxes
Stand Out Ambition Sounds
The effervescent Zoo’s of Berlin are back with their third LP, Instant Evening, and it’s been an absolute joy to chew through. The Detroit crew have perfected the ability to Alex Mack their way between the cracks of genre definition, sliding their way through Euro-pop, Kraut-rock, Shoe-gaze and Americana.
Super off-kilter pop fills your ears straight from the start. It carries the weight of dream-pop without that extra sweetness that can sometimes contaminate the genre. ‘Ambition Sounds’ should quell some of that Bowie nostalgia. ‘Constitution’ slips a little traction before really nailing the last third of the track with those beautiful, soaring synth arpeggios, and ‘White Cloud’ snaps you out of your reverie as it tumbles and crashes with an impressive weight.
From here we take a gentle turn from Euro-centricism and dream-pop, to a release that’s smothered in shoe-gaze and Americana.
‘Glen Riders’ is hypnotic, wet and washed with tasteful reverb and delay, ‘Spring From The Cell’ is the sharpest pivot with a four on the floor, surf-rock vibe. The vocals here are less burdened by effects and as a result feel physically lighter. ‘A Clock Would Never Tell’ carries a similar vibe and top line, before diving into an almost Fleet Foxes like feel.
Instant Evening is an incredible offering, and offers so much to even the casual listener. It also marks a great entry point for new listeners so be sure to check this one out.
Artist Alex Izenberg
Album Title Harlequin
Label Weird World
Moments Of Elton John / Devandra Banhart
Stand Out To Move On
Atmosphere is an important and often under-used aspect of a release. Sit down and study Alex Izenberg’s Harlequin if you truly want to understand how to transport the listener into your world, so they can physically experience your music down to the smell of dust on the piano keys.
This is a hard album to assess in a traditional way. It’s such a whole body experience, it doesn’t always hit the mark and moments pass by so quickly it can sometimes get quite frustrating.
‘Grace’ is certainly one the easiest to approach, it excels at nostalgia and evokes a powerful sense of yearning. “Darkness had taken over me/ Once I’d seen her engagement ring” immediately projects longing, lust, shame and the smell of musty piano strings.
While his voice can occasionally miss the mark (we’re looking at ‘Libra’ here), we have to admire the strength of imagery Izenberg shows in his songwriting. And when it pairs with something that’s a little more poppy and fun, such as on ‘To Move On’, it creates this beautiful harmony of texture and content that other artists can only aspire to. The early Elton John feel gives this track an enjoyably timeless quality.
This is likely not easiest release to approach and one that perhaps needs to be digested in portions over time. Closer attention to the momentum of the release would’ve been nice, in some of the quieter moments we’re not sure if the lack of traction is deliberate. We do find ourselves enjoying the release overall though.
Album Title A Seat at the Table
Label Saint Records/Columbia
Genre Neo soul
Moments Of Frank Ocean / Janelle Monae / Aaliyah
Stand Out Cranes in the Sky
A Seat at the Table is a snapshot of the African American experience. Solange’s third studio album paints a powerful portrait of an intersecting identity: being an artist, being a woman, being black. As America seems to broil with tension, Solange cuts through with a soft yet steady awareness, all to the soundscape of effortless neo-soul.
A Seat at the Table is one part soulful, understated production (the album credits and collaborations include Raphael Saadiq, Sampha and Q-Tip to name a few) and one part eloquent social commentary. As the two overlap throughout the songs, the record begins to feel like the most focussed and mature Solange work to date. Solange’s synth infused pop style of 2012’s EP True is revisited on tracks like ‘Don’t You Wait’, but most of the songs stick to minimalist R&B.
Anecdotal interludes celebrate the beauty of people of colour and the on-going fight to disarm racism, while quiet frustration blooms on ‘Weary’ and ‘Mad’. “All my niggas in the whole wide world/this shit is for us” Solange sings on ‘F.U.B.U’, while hooky highlight ‘Cranes in the Sky’ feels more tailored to personal experience and soars with gentle falsetto.
Solange commands her destiny in each song; be it on the scathing ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ or the shimmery ‘Where Do We Go’. The keys, bass and beats are sparse and the harmonies are soft and tasteful throughout. Again on ‘F.U.B.U’, Solange’s white audience are given permission to listen but urged not to take privilege for granted. No doubt this album will speak differently to different people, but the unwavering strength and honesty that glides through it demands universal attention.
Artist Lower Plenty
Album Title Sister Sister
Label Bedroom Suck Records
Genre Indie folk
Moments Of Courtney Barnett / Real Estate
Stand Out Bondi’s Dead
Sister Sister is slow burning and timeless, a melancholy folk offering from Melbourne outfit Lower Plenty. The four piece tread the line between indie and experimental on their fourth studio album, toying with sounds that evoke both comfort and loneliness. From the heart breaking ‘Cursed By Numbers’ to the whimsical guitars on ‘Run Run Run’, each track on Sister Sister shares a striking sparseness that draws the listener in like a moth to a flame
Lower Plenty is comprised of members borrowed from other Melbourne bands: Deaf Wish, Dick Diver, Total Control. But Lower Plenty’s discography – four albums since 2010 – exists in the realm of indie folk rather than echoing the punk/pop outifts the quartet split their time between. In this way, Lower Plenty feels like a side project; the group tours sparsely and their records offer a creative space to indulge in flexing folky muscles for a change.
Sister Sister is a little slicker than 2014’s Life/Thrills, but only just. An agitated aesthetic survives in the home-recording style of production on Lower Plenty’s newest record. Though classic acoustic guitar, sparse percussion and conversational vocals from Al Montfort make up the bones of the record, Sister Sister is fleshed out with delicate textures. ‘Ravesh’ leans into an improv jazz sax solo, and disconcerting strings and flutes appear on ‘All the Young Men’. ‘Shades of Love’ shape shifts like a long shadow on a Sunday afternoon and warm opening track ‘Bondi’s Dead’ is tinged with a surfy kind of sadness. With a chorus hook revolving around formless bells and light percussion, ‘So It Goes’ falls into step with an Eastern-flavoured trance. The album sees Lower Plenty craft a moment of quiet with tasteful artistic intention. Sister Sister is the perfect companion to soothe a broken heart, or to soundtrack a spark of inspiration.