Eschewing the established country style of her Tennessee upbringing, Julien Baker is more beanie hat than cowboy stetson. The young songwriter’s brittle acoustic songs are largely unadorned but for finger- plucked guitar and subdued ambience but, like Irish songwriter SOAK, there’s a youthful vulnerability that draws you in. A tortured darkness lurks beneath her second album’s which adds evocative textures beneath piano chords and Baker’s searching voice. Read our interview with Baker.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid
Walking the line between playful electronic and avant garde, Aurelia Smith’s new album is less ambient than before which may turn off those looking for a suitable background release. While it’s also built on a narrative that follows the human lifespan in four stages, there’s enough here on its own to stand apart and grab your attention on its own and fans of modular synths will love the Buchla tones combined with the almost pop melodies at play here.
Continuing the intimate sensual modern R&B feel of The Internet, Fin is the beginning as opposed to a logical end. Syd steps out in front on her debut and while she’s been downplaying the album’s status in her career (“This album is not that deep, but I feel like this is my descent into the depth I want the band to get to.”), there are few people making tender close-up R&B that swings low and stays high as this.
Migration, the sixth album from Simon Green AKA Bonobo reaches new heights in his already distinguished discography by being his best record yet. Building on 2013’s The North Borders and live shows which saw a cast of 12 musicians bringing his downbeat and ambient electronica to life, Migration manages to conjur up a nomadic sense of intimacy across its hour running time. The ambient textures that could have lead Bonobo’s music to be called “chill” are refined here, expanded and richer, more detailed and human. Guest vocalists Rhye on ‘Break Apart’ and Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis on ‘Surface’ see to that, while Moroccan band Innov Gnawa bring that globe-trotting sensibility.Green says that the album is inspired by “the relationship between transience and identity,” and the album wisely doesn’t sit still for long. Ambient electronic and chilled music can often feel insular, a safe place to crawl to in your mind. Migration benefits from bringing in life from the outside.
Absolutely Wino compilation
The Wah Wah Wino collective which includes Dublin lads Morgan Buckley, Olmo Devin, Dark Delight, Davy Kehoe say they are the “Sound of the Rathmines industrial estate” or “weirdo wagon dance music,” as is says on Rush Hour. This compilation of tracks from the label’s various artists reminds me of early AFX and Rephlex Records and Death in Vegas’ first album Dead Elvis. The vinyl only release is ripe for discovery (though some tracks are on Youtube). It’s got wild and weird tribal kraut (with Davy Kehoe once again), oddball distorted harmonica house, lo-fi dub, fuzzy electro acid and radio skits.
Kieran Hebden moves away from the dancefloor and limited releases for his ninth album which pares things back to a low-tempo and a comforting series of contemplative almost new-age sounding tracks that call back to his earlier work as opposed to his club-orientated output of recent years. Four Tet’s music has tightened up its arrangements largely due to those recent explorations but on New Energy , there is lots of room for melodic mellowness. The focus is on the mind and spirit as opposed to the feet.
How you feel about the xx’s third album depends on what attracts you to their music. Is it the minimal space they afforded much of the music they made on their first two records? Is it the awkward teenager vocal bond between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim? Is it the minimal and considered spatial production of Jamie xx? Perhaps it’s all of these things, and more?
The band’s third album challenges those allegiances. I See You embraces Jamie xx’s now-established textured sampled approach. It’s a more expansive sound for sure and in by doing so, they ditch the minimalism that defined their impact at the beginning and move closer to the sound of other performers, no longer outliers. While that is a worry in itself, four years on, Coexist feels like a retreat into what was expected of a band. I See You is the sound of that band in colour and embracing their own growth.
New Yorkers Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell have been developing their harmonic folk pop since before they spent a summer in Ireland two years ago. Their debut album arrives on respected Canadian label Arts & Crafts and the pair have built on the momentum of touring with Maggie Rogers and others with this strong debut. Co-production by Nicolas Vernhes (The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors) and Autre Ne Veut have added some body to their songs including those previously featured here. That sharpness and precision in the production which adds suitable electronic touches and dynamism, is also reflected in the harmonic relationship of Elion and Mitchell. Their voices together blend in ways that channel country, vintage folk and modern pop.
There was a lot of snorts and retorts from the old guard in dance music noticed names like Ross From Friends, DJ Seinfeld and DJ Boring appeared on the scene with a sound that was co-opted and coagulated as “lo-fi house”. Essentially, house music roughed up and anything but pristine and clean, the sound was rejected by those with hearts of old-guard purity and who presumably don’t like anything that’s not vinyl-only, ultra-rare and analogue. DJ Seinfeld’s Time Spent Away From U, blows away any ironic perceptions of the tag. The nine-tracks here run the gamut of tape-delayed house, techno kicks, 90s rave, rough-housed acid and in the album’s closing tracks ‘U Hold Me Without Touch’ and ‘U’ an emotional heart that titles like ‘I Saw Her Kiss Him In Front Of Me And I Was Like WTF?’. In fairness, often younger artists, hide their emotions under flags of irony and that may be the case here on the surface with the Barcelona-based Swedish producer but there’s proof of something deeper. The album’s closer ‘U’ samples Bob Geldof talking about grief and is one of the tracks of the year – a cathartic beautiful piece of music that could induce tears on the dancefloor.
Three long-players in, Run The Jewels as a foundation is as hard as cement. If RTJ2 was “two buddies, operating at their creative peak,” then RTJ3 is the sound of Run The Jewels digging in deeper, digging their heels and delivering an album with the same immediate resonance as the first two releases but with a wider palette and the same antagonistic spirit. More downtrodden but resolutely and thrillingly hostile.