A DIFFERENT SHIP - HERE WE GO MAGIC [from the BBC Review] When they play live, Here We Go Magic’s intricately constructed indie-pop often spins off into extended, ecstatic jams, clearly descended from the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. But where those bands looked back to blues and 1950s rock‘n’roll, stretching it until it took on mythic proportions, HWGM are like a late-60s psychedelic band dreaming their way towards the perfected machine-like repetitions of Krautrock. It was the band’s live show, one raggedmorning at Glastonbury 2010, that caught the ear of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and it’s that counterfactual retro sensibility – “a 60s version of science fiction”, in bandleader Luke Temple’s description – that infuses the sharply focused songs on A Different Ship. That decade’s stamp is most discernible on the Latin-inflected melody of the menace-fringed title-track, which taps the same vein of anxious psychedelia running through Love’s Forever Changes. Anxiety of various kinds presides over the album, with every song taking sides in a debate on the credits and debits of intimacy. Hard to Be Close quickly establishes the theme, the melody’s unexpected shift from major to minor amplifying the lyric’s push and pull between intimacy and solation. The tussle continues throughout, Alone But Moving asserting an independence that’s immediately undercut by the lines from I Believe in Action: “Nobody wants to live in the middle / Cos nobody wants to be left alone.” This song exemplifies the sonic clarity Godrich has brought to A Different Ship: a trancelike wave rises from a chicken-scratch riff and crests in a buzzing synth chord, the song embodying its message by performing a single, smooth transition, then ending. Make Up Your Mind is similarly direct, its fusion of motorik funk, chanted vocals and synth splashes recalling the calibrated techno-pop of Yello; and this impressive detailing is even more noticeable in the album’s quieter passages. A Different Ship is far from a break with HWGM’s past – the final track recedes into the sort of drone that punctuated their 2009 debut, while How Do I Know is another Neu!-go-pop gem in the manner of Collector from Pigeons (2010) – but it is a reconfiguring that accentuates their strengths.
BLOOM - BEACH HOUSE [from the BBC review] In one way or another Beach House records have always been about the essence of things. Their self-titled first record was characterised by simplicity: ticking drum machines, keys and electric guitar acted as lone backdrops for deceptively simple pop songs. Tracks from that record, like Apple Orchard and Tokyo Witch, burned off any possible excesses and let melodies sit just so. On first blush Bloom is striking with its expanse and depth; but even in this more detailed surrounding Beach House are still after the same ideas of economy. Opener Myth pirouettes on elementary percussion and a sparkling guitar line. A head of steam gathers slowly, becoming more textured and wild by increments. So that when Victoria Legrand finishes up the first chorus, singing "Let you know I'm not the only one," the rug is pulled out and the emptiness is all the more startling. Even though parts of this song – and others on Bloom – can feel quite free-range, there's a solid construction to the way Beach House unravel such pieces. It's easy to be carried along by Bloom's easy sense of beauty, and much harder to trap exactly what it is that makes the record so charming. The answer lies in small moments and tectonic rubs: the overlapping vocal at the end of Lazuli; Lagrand sliding The Hours into ecstasy late on; or the weightless guitar interlude in New Year. Once you manage to pull away from Bloom's magnified scenery and consider the record as a whole it's difficult to think of it as anything other than its makers’ best work so far. (Bella Union, 2011)
DARK IS THE NIGHT [from the BBC review] This wonderful compilation is a dream come true to followers of the latest and greatest bands on the alternative/nu-folk rock scene. Compiled by Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National, the cast of performers here reads like a who's who of acts Pitchfork readers like to namedrop. Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Beirut and Bon Iver are just a few of the cool names who have contributed high quality tracks to this album which is released by the Red Hot Organisation. Red Hot have been releasing albums on a regular basis for the last twenty years to raise funds and awareness in the fight against AIDS. The original album, Red Hot + Blue, featured stars such as Neneh Cherry reinterpreting the songs of Cole Porter.This double album of mostly original compositions opens with an upbeat and wacky collaboration from Dirty Projectors and David Byrne, who also appeared on the original Red Hot album. Two more excellent collaborations follow. The first, a cover of Nick Drake's Cello Song is an album highlight; Jose Gonzalez's sweet vocals combine beautifully with an electro beat and austere cello. Next the distinctive vocals of Feist and Ben Gibbard's exquisite slide guitar produce a winsome version of Vashti Bunyan's Train Song.
Disc one ends with the epic, sprawling You Are The Blood from Sufjan Stevens. Over ten minutes a whole orchestra of sounds are inflicted upon the listener. From dramatic strings to uncomfortable squealing noises and classical piano, it's a challenging but rewarding listen. The majority of tracks on disc two maintain a down-tempo atmosphere, but there are a few upbeat feel good songs scattered amongst the acoustic numbers; the sing-a-long Hey, Snow White by the New Pornographers and the joyful El Caporal from My Morning Jacket.Overall the tracks combine to produce a collection which is eclectic and entertaining without sounding disjointed. The quality rarely dips; surprisingly it's the title track which veers too far towards noodling. The majority of the artists have clearly delivered their best work rather than throwaway b-sides which can often make up these compilations.For once you don't have to feel guilty name dropping a whole host of new acts. After all, it's for a good cause. (Red Hot, 2009)
M. WARD - A WASTELAND COMPANION [from the BBC review] Ward’s vocals bind this set, even if at times his cocksure rasp jars with fractured lyrics. Highlights are confessional, unadorned guitar solo tracks like Wild Goose. Most songs weigh in around three minutes but some have the ability to slow time down to a hypnotic plod that has you hooked for what feels like a lot longer. The sequencing seems illogical on first listen, but someone as dab-handed as Ward surely intended this, and the rollercoaster becomes easier to digest with each listen. So it appears time for solo songwriting comes whenever his creative juices start trickling. A Wasteland Companion is a scattered body of random missives and musings – one envisages it began as some tattered cigarette papers decorated with inner monologue laid down in chicken scratch. The preceding work, his sixth album Hold Time, is more synergic, but Ward has always written some songs that prompt a pinging internal light bulb and others that seem unremarkable. This album is wildly diverse, the product of recordings in eight studios, but its running order initially seems oh so arbitrary. Opener Clean Slate is locomotive and pastoral, but has a paranoid energy and contemplative underbelly – understandably, since it’s an ode to the late Alex Chilton of Big Star. In an uncomfortable flip, Primitive Girl ups the tempo and previously muffled vocals become gruffer to facilitate a fuller sound. Me and My Shadow is raw again, but here freak folk gives way to resonant rockabilly. Later the album levels out into timeless, romantic folk. (Bella Union, 2012)
A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIX - BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB [from the BBC review] Yes, they've been given more encouragement, nurturing and backing than most bands receive in a lifetime, but they've now released three albums of bravely different styles. Their debut was dynamic indie-pop, while top-10 follow-up Flaws lurched across to soft folk territory with a perversity that only seemed opportunistic with hindsight. Now, thankfully electing not to go the full Mumford, they return with something that's beautifully hard to categorise. A bit Italian house, a bit Animal Collective (Ben Allen is among the producers, as is 21st century tyro Jim Abbiss), a bit Talking Heads and a lot flush with giddy enthusiasm and sunshine, it's very indie and very fey - but in a good way.Lead single Shuffle provides pretty much a microcosm of the album's feel. Building a gentle, hooky pop song over a looping, dance-inducing piano sample, it's, like all the best late-summer sounds, 75% exuberant and 25% melancholy. What You Want and Bad Timing waft in on similar breezes, but with less definition, more ambivalence. (Island, 2011)