With so many releases flying at you, here are recommended vetted listens from Nialler9 for you this week, as collated in the Nialler9 New Releases Spotify playlist, updated weekly.
Dev Hyne’s fourth studio album Negro Swan under the name Blood Orange is a strong contender for album of the year. An incredibly personal project, Negro Swan is a thematically concerned with issues of identity, specifically racial identity, but also with mental health, namely depression and alienation.
Hynes immerses the listener in this emotional dialogue from the very beginning on the album. With ‘Orlando’, the album opener, detailing Hynes experiences of alienation and bullying as a child. Various spoken word pieces littered throughout the record, including one from P Diddy, highlight issues of community, family and self-acceptance. Ultimately the quest for self-acceptance is what Negro Swan is about, perhaps highlighted best in the refrain from ‘Charcoal Baby’, in which the album gets its title. “No one wants to be the odd one out at times / No one wants to be the negro swan”. On this record, more so than any of his previous work, Hynes is presenting his unfiltered self to the audience, including his fears and ambitions.
Musically, the album maintains the same 80s and R&B inspired tone as the three releases which preceded it. Warm synth sounds fade in and out of the mix, with a strong guitar-based accompaniment. Tracks like ‘Saint’ offer the sweetest melody lines Hynes has created to date. Others, like the atmospheric ‘Jewelry’ see’s the project dabble in jazz and more experimental textural production.
It’s worth keeping an ear out for the various field recording aspects throughout the album. Whether it be a glimpse of a passing conversation, the sounds of a creaking room or the spillover of New York City Negro Swan is a living breathing project. One which exists in the modern racial and social ecology alongside the artist that created it.
Negro Swan is our album of the week. You can listen to Niall and Andrea talk about it on this week’s Nialler9 podcast here.
Contemporary classical music has seen a sharp peak in popularity over the past five years. Spurred on in large part by the advent of playists for study or work on streaming platforms. At the forefront of the genre’s revival is Icelandic compser and producer Ólafur Arnalds. Arnalds amassed plenty of popular praise for his role in avant-garde dance group Kiasmos. His new album re:member sets out to tackle an issue which has plagued the new school of contemporary classical composers, that of expanding and evolving the boundaries of the genre without losing its sense of self.
Considering its reliance on western art style melodic composition and its relatively ambient production aesthetic, the temptation of making the music sound “bigger” or more grandiose runs the risk of quashing the elements which make it popular in the first place. These are a strong sense of emotion, subdued instrumental accompaniment and heavy use of instrumental layering.
On his fourth studio release, Arnalds has showcased a path toward progress. This comes in the form of Stratus, a piece of audio software Arnalds helped to co-write. Taking the input from his piano and running it through a series of algorithms and variable, the software generates chord progressions and melodic motifs. This results in much of the music on re:member having a distinctly artificial quality. Whether it be murky chords on ‘unfold’ or the translucent harmony on ‘inconsist’.
It’s a groundbreaking piece of software which contributes to a lot of the album’s best moments. Huge credit must be given to the artist for literally designing and creating the software from the ground up. That alone justifies a proper listen to re:member. The fact that the music throughout it is so hauntingly beautiful is just the cherry atop the cake.
Great rock music is, above all things, a ton of fun. Texas band White Denim understand and live by this code. Just listen to their new album Performance. It’s nine songs of pure, unadulterated rock&roll. Packed with funk rhythms and guitar riffs so sharp you could cut glass with them.
‘Double Death’ is one highlight among many, the breakdown section in which could only ever be the product of four-lifetime professional musicians and ardent lovers of the genre. It’s a relentless project, album closer and heartstring puller ‘Good News’ is the closest we ever get to a ballad or downtempo number. Even that is not without its share of distorted guitars and accented drum patterns. It’s worth noting that the guitar solo in this song is perhaps the group’s finest to date. Howling fuzz against a wall of sound.
The album doesn’t suffer from a lack of variety, despite its unyielding high-octane sound. Some tracks, like ‘Performance’ are straight up rock songs. Others like ‘Double Death’ include aspects of classic funk acts like The Meters or Labi Siffre. There’s plenty of southern rock influence to be heard too, check out the jubilant ‘It Might Get Dark’. Performance is a perfectly consistent rock record, one which is totally comfortable with what it is. Experimentation is all well and good, but White Denim have again proven once again that raw talent and unmatched songwriting skill is a rewarding well.
London-based artist Laurel’s debut album is a powerful collection of meditations on love and the pursuit of romantic interests. Entitled Dogviolet, the album is mostly comprised of the artist’s siren-like vocal’s and her melodic guitar accompaniment. It’s indie rock but stripped down to the absolute essentials. The overdriven wail of a guitar and the croonings of an artist delving into the sinister side of passion. Recorded entirely in the artist’s home studio, Dogviolet retains a strong sense of lo-fi production sensibilities.
It’s an album that lives and even thrives on its own imperfections. Laurel is indeed a powerful singer, yet when she really touches off the mainline her voice can strain. Take the album opener ‘Life Worth Living’, a song that comes from the depths of infatuation. The repeated refrain of “Take what you need darling / I’m just here for you” is a touch on the pitchy side and the guitar a tad stabby too. Instead of this being to the album’s detriment, moments like these give Dogviolet a strong personality.
Comparisons will invariably be made to Florence Welch, indeed both artist’s share a similar vocal timbre and two musical sounds not opposed to one another. However, Laurel’s output is far less filtered than anything Florence & the Machine have done. Also, where Welch’s lyricism is vague and often faux-mystical, Laurel’s lyrics are streamlined and always cut close to the bone.
At times, like in the wonderful ‘Same Mistakes’ and ‘Hold Tight’, it sounds like the artist is struggling with a sort of frantic mania, one which verges on obsession. When she screams “I don’t want you/ But I still want you to love me”, it’s the sound of a human caught up in the ugly side of love. Powerful stuff.