A winning blend of careful precision and mercurial abandon, Kane Strang's new album 'Two Hearts and No Brain' is constantly surprising. With a penchant for melodic earworms to rival those of the world's best pop songwriters, the New Zealand artist's glittering hooks twist and turn in perfect synch with meticulous band arrangements. Hints of 60s pop (NB: Zombies, Stooges) and early 00's alt-rock (Interpol, Elliott Smith) shine through; but there's a contemporary crunch, sheen and bald lyrical tone to Strang's sound that places him firmly in the here and now.
"Strang has a gift for pulling diamonds from the rough", says Pitchfork, "[his] songs have a way of making modest acts seem heroic." Strang's proclivity for writing smart, anthemic guitar pop shines brightest now that he has moved away from the bedroom and into the studio. Showcasing his new collaborative approach to recording and writing with his band, the four-piece twists Strang's melodies upside down and pushes his hooks inside out. 'Two Hearts and No Brain' proves emotive and playfully laced with a tongue-in-cheek nostalgia - timelessly old and new in the same breath.
Mark McGuire's albums are, amongst many other things, strong arguments for the album and for the stereo system. They're not just music; they're statements, and they demand to be experienced by the best sonic means available. They're throwbacks, not in style, but intent and effect. Put another way -- they don't make them like this anymore.
The wall of sounds contained therein constitute a degree of ambition uncommon since the 70s heyday of McGuire's forebears -- Gottsching, Eno, Fripp. This is not laptop music.
Beyond Belief, his second full-length for Dead Oceans, finds McGuire now well on the way of his own trip. Fantastical liner note tales written to accompany and set the stage for his mostly-wordless songs delight and confound. Throughout nine tracks we find an unrelenting drive to refine, build upon, focus and maximize the effect of an already remarkably prolific body of work. Though deservedly known for his virtuosic multitracked guitar playing, McGuire in fact plays every bass / synth / piano note, and every beat on the album himself, his vocals more prominent than ever before. 26 months in the making, the passion going into Beyond Belief is self-evident, and the effect is overwhelming.
Like many before him, McGuire isn't entirely comfortable with the critically-bestowed 'new age' tag, but the resonance is there particularly in McGuire's prose, and it's not unreasonable that he appeared alongside venerated new age masters Iasos and Laraaji in The New York Times' appraisal of the new age music renaissance ('For New Age, the Next Generation', Mike Rubin, February 16, 2014).
Running nearly 80 minutes, the bold and fearless Beyond Belief is McGuire's magnum opus to date, but in truth, there is no end in sight for McGuire's vision, making any such assessment wholly premature.
Phoebe Bridgers wrote her first song at age 11, spent her adolescence at open mic nights, and busked through her teenage years at farmers markets in her native Los Angeles. By age 20, she'd caught the ear of Ryan Adams, who listened to her perform her song "Killer" in his L.A. studio, inviting her to come back and record it there the next day. The session blossomed into the three-song "Killer" EP, released to much acclaim on Adams's Pax-Am label in 2015. In the two short years since, Bridgers has toured or played with Conor Oberst, Julien Baker, City and Colour, Violent Femmes, Mitski, Television and Blake Babies among others.
On September 22nd, Phoebe Bridgers will release her debut full-length, Stranger In The Alps. From the weeping strings and Twin Peaks twangs of opening track Smoke Signals, to the simple heartbreak of Funeral and melancholic crescendo of Scott Street, Stranger in the Alps is a swooningly beautiful record with a gothic heart.
Concrete is a bracing jolt of a song, racing forward on a tightly wound post-punk riff, its call-and-response vocals capturing the turmoil and schizophrenic internal dialogue of the song's subject matter.
"It's about someone who's trapped in a relationship and they're being pummelled into surrender," says singer and lyricist Charlie Steen. "It's not about a physically abusive relationship - more an emotionally and psychologically draining one. The call-and-response vocals [between Steen and bassist Josh Finerty] is the central figure's own internal dialogue. They are dealing with two different things that they don’t want to address."
The band cite The Fall, Country Teasers, Television Personalities and Wire among their biggest influences, and the icily claustrophobic sound of Concrete sets it in a lineage with Magazine, Joy Division.
As a lyricist, Steen is a modern flâneur, forensically observing the lives of others around him as they unspool and fracture, with Hubert Selby Jr and Irvine Welsh his primary literary influences. "That graphic and harsh style of writing always interested me," he explains. "It's not about the shock factor; it’s about the fact they are talking about these things in such great detail without stripping anything back."
The London five piece have swiftly earned a reputation as one of the most visceral and exhilarating live bands in the UK, their combustible shows being honed through a heavy touring schedule in the UK and across Europe. Cutting their teeth on the squat-punk scene in the Queen’s Head in Brixton in 2015, where they were taken under the wing of Fat White Family, the white heat of their gigs quickly landed them support slots with Slaves and Warpaint. They were also personally invited by Billy Bragg to play the Left Field stage at Glastonbury this year.
Following two singles - the AA single The Lick/Gold Hole and Tasteless on Fnord Communications as well as the digital-only Theresa May-baiting Visa Vulture (described by Steen as "the worst love song ever") - Concrete is the first track to be released as part of their record deal with Dead Oceans.
"We started this band as a joke that went too far," deadpans Steen. "What we do is quite strange and quite weird, but I get to meet a lot of people and I get to hear a lot of things. I am interested in the surrealism of reality."
The world has finally caught up with Slowdive. A band whose reach goes far beyond just influencing music is back, with their first new album in 22 years.The album is called Slowdive-- self-titled in an echo of their debut EP from 1990-- and is remarkably direct."We were always ambitious," says frontman Neil Halstead. "Not in terms of trying to sell records, but in terms of making interesting records. Maybe, if you try and make interesting records, they're still interesting in a few years’ time."Now, in 2017, the record is ready and first single from which, "Star Roving," shot to the top of the Billboard Trending 140 Chart."There’s a different energy about it," says drummer Simon Scott. "It took ages to get back together and write songs and for it to click in the studio, but this album doesn't feel like a bolt-on -- it's got an energy that's as vibrant as Souvlaki and Just for a Day. It feels very relevant to now."