Music fans - it's time to rejoice: the post-Xmas music industry lull has ended, and today (18 January) we've seen a flurry of sterling new releases hit the streaming databases and record shop shelves. The week is so strong we could well end up tracing back to this week when it comes to compiling the best albums of the year.
From an electronica Sharon Van Etten and a reinvigorated Night Beats, to the motorik Twilight Sad, and hypnotic melodies of Deerhunter - below are some absolute gems we've been looking forward to hearing in full for weeks and are thrilled to share.
Night Beats - Myth Of A Man
When lead single 'Her Cold Cold Heart' from the Texan garage rockers' new album was released last year, reviewer Julian Marszalek praised it as "oddly redolent of Arctic Monkeys from the days when they were still on first name terms with Mssrs Melody and Tunes." The word "oddly" used because any fan of Night Beats will know their previously material was a lot more frenetic. They were fast gaining a reputation as the finest purveyors of hi-tempo 13th Floor Elevators-inspired psychedelia, and were - still are - a great introduction to the vibrant psych scene that's largely centred around the annual Austin psych fest, now Levitation festival. Now, the new tracks affirm more dynamics and emphasis on writing classic songs. The band's taste for old, vintage releases is still intact despite the more adventurous and diverse range of sonics on the record. A great place to start is with the Monkees-esque feel of 'Let Me Guess', the Bill Withers-esque 'I Wonder', or the Lee Hazlewood-ish sound of 'Footprints'. Audiophiles may rejoice at this: The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produced it, and heavy weight session musicians that have worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley are on it. What a cast.
Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
Jagjaguwar signee Sharon Van Etten's always known for conjuring captivating melodies. The New Jersey singer's 2014 single indie rock single 'Taking Chances' is a belter of a track that many songwriters will have wished they wrote. This album takes on a different guise: Instead of an alt-rock bent, the singer is backed by more synths and electronics. Ultimately, it feels Van Etten's found a more expressive means of articulating her emotion with this new backline. But you could strip away all the instruments and still be knocked sideways by the singer's ability to completely envelope you in her world. Reviewer Geo Blackman is completely right in suggesting the single 'Jupiter 4' is the best place to start. Read the full album review here.
James Blake - Assume Form
It's been a little over two weeks since we discovered this album's existence - and it's already out. LA-based Londoner James Blake doesn't need a long promo run these days because his feverish fanbase wait so eagerly for any movement he makes. This album's distinct from any of his other work - especially the downbeat The Colour In Anything released in 2016 - because of the plethora of new collaborators he's taken on. Featuring the likes of Outkast's Andre 3000, Spanish singer Rosalia, chart-topping trap producer Metro Boomin; it's fascinating to hear how each influence shapes the different tracks. The lead single 'Mile High' sees an otherworldly flute meet with the pacy, frenetic, murky beats to create something that blends eras and cultures. Thus, hinting at a disregard for labels in music, or any need to feel a part of a scene. Given how many outside influences have come in to record you'd be forgiven in thinking it might lack cohesion. But with the classic, emotionally-open songwriting; that breathtaking falsetto of Blake’s underpinning it, you can't help but feel in the company of an inimitable musician of awe-inspiring quality – immensely alluring stuff.
Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Disappeared
Recorded in Marfa, Texas, with Cate Le Bon, Ben Etter, and longtime co-producer Ben H. Allen III, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared, is Deerhunter’s eight album release. An album chock full with hypnotic melodies and arrangements that you feel are taken from an immensely artful and imaginative place, there’s nothing of the ordinary about this. You can tune in and - to name a few high points - be completely captivated by Brandon Cox’s Lennon-level vocal, the analog synthesisers on ‘Greenpoint Gothic’ that make you feel lost in an old sci-fi film as melodic percussion evokes a playfulness, and confidence in the recording process. ‘Element’ is a hit track. It's one that makes you feel you know the words to even if you’ve never heard it before and there’s something intimate and comforting about it. But ‘Element's about death and it’s one of many moments on the record where unease and sadness is juxtaposed by the joy the music. Of how they were performing in the studio, singer Brandon Cox told The Quietus about how “We were trying very clearly to make a sound that was quite ugly, but beautiful in that ugliness.” And that sums it up pretty well.
The Twilight Sad - IT WON'T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME
The Cure's Robert Smith is a big fan of The Twilight Sad. Describing Glasgow's finest he calls them: “the best band playing the best songs – consistently brilliant, emotional, intense, inspiring, entertaining.” And quite right – this album, an exciting window into The Twilight Sad because it documents a time they’ve been playing with The Cure and signed to fellow Scottish legends Mogwai’s label Rock Action, is truly excellent. The record's a fine example of all those qualities that Smith loves. The intensity is delivered lyrically and musically: Candid lyricism that tackles the pain of love is met with motorik, pummelling rhythms that lush, distorted guitar arrangements linger over on ‘VTr’. Meanwhile, slower, more melancholy moments, such as the piano-led cut (‘Sunday Day13’), lure you closer to the band as people. Other qualities lie in their ability to have an omnipresent darkness, keeping it unmistakably alt when certain vocal melodies threaten to drag it towards the pop world. The vocal melodies ‘I’m Not Here [Missing Face]’ could be set against a more straightforward indie pop backing but it wouldn’t be them. The Twilight Sad are brilliant at being dark, ethereal and adrenalising rock band.