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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.
Let’s Eat Grandma
I’m All Ears
Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, better known as Let’s Eat Grandma, have cemented their position among the premier in the new generation of dream-pop artists with the release of their sophomore album I’m All Ears. Working with producers David Wrench, whose previous work includes Frank Ocean and The XX, and Faris Badwan, of The Horrors, the group seem to have struck the perfect balance of borrowed ’80s sounds with a quintessentially 21st-century narrative.
‘Hot Pink’ sets the precedent much of rest of the album will follow early on. The duo trade lines on the trials of young romance while the music dances between airy synths and industrial drum sounds. It’s the type of contradictory setup which feels like it shouldn’t work, yet flies on the strength of the chemistry the pair share. Nostalgic and evocative, ‘Hot Pink’ is Let’s Eat Grandma at their very best.
The album does suffer from some filler tracks. Songs like ‘I Will Be Waiting’ and ‘Cool & Collected’ fail to add to the overall personality of the record. While the former never really makes any starting impression the latter feels overly drawn out and lacking in direction.
Admittedly, the group has a nuanced sound and a tendency for experimentation. This is I’m All Ears’ greatest strength and weakness. Sometimes it makes for some genuinely superb pop music and at other stages falls a little short of the mark. In any case, I’m All Ears deserves your full listening attention.
The Now Now
After the overwhelmingly negative reception which met the release of 2017’s Humanz, Damon Albarn and co. seem to have gone back to drawing board, tweaking their sound and musical ethos. The result of this self-appraisal is The Now Now. It’s hard to not be immediately struck by how much the album is the product of the feedback the group received from their last release. The Now Now largely distances itself from the trap-inspired production of Humanz, instead opting for that instantly recognisable funk flavouring the early Gorillaz albums were founded on. Opening with the bubbly ‘Humility’, featuring jazz and disco legend George Benson, feels like a direct message of reassurance to longtime fans of the group. The offbeat synth stabs on which would have felt right at home on a record like Plastic Beach.
Gone too is the endless scope of Humanz. At 12 songs in length and with a run time of a mere 40 minutes, The Now Now is the group’s most condensed studio effort to date. The songs which make up that 40 minutes are generally upbeat, simple and feature far more of Albarn’s own voice. ‘Tranz’ is perhaps the singers finest vocal performances to date, with his howling melody on the chorus being genuinely hair-raising. The album takes a quiet moment on the superb ‘Idaho’. Admittedly, the sound of Albarn’s vocals over what is often just a single guitar accompaniment is a welcome return. Yet, despite the highlights which The Now Now has to offer, there’s an overwhelming sense of artistic regression which plagues the album. For its many faults, Humanz was an undeniably ambitious project, too ambitious for its own good most of the time. On the other hand, The Now Now can tend to feel a little too safe. Hardcore fans will be delighted that the group have been listening to them so closely, but The Now Now probably won’t be a remembered as a record which changed many people’s lives.
J Colleran’s decision to drop the MMoths moniker, under which he’d established himself as one of the foremost experimental electronic composers in the country, came as a surprise to many. For those who may still be puzzled by that choice, there are plenty of answers on his new album Gardenia. The album, released under Colleran’s own OYAE label, sounds like a completely new starting point for the artist. While MMoths’ music owed much of its original inspiration to the pop tradition, Gardenia feels and sounds like a superb entry into the contemporary classical school.
Deciding to focus on writing for strings pulls the project’s sound palette away from the electronic and into the world of the cinematic. The moody ‘bEra’ envelopes the listen in a world of stillness and movement. Piano keys jangle against the drawn-out breaths of the violins. Colleran’s attention to production detail is unmatched. Each of the 8 songs on Gardenia feel richly textured yet minimalist. There always seems to be enough in the track to keep your attention while never having so much as to knock you out of the dreamscape the music invariably sends you to. ‘And The Sky Cracked For The First Time’ stands out as the album highlight. The track gradually layers texture upon texture, building tension until the autotuned vocals send out a huge release. Haunting and emotive, ‘And The Sky Cracked For The First Time’ and the rest of the tracks on Gardenia are examples of contemporary classical music at its best.
Nothing Is Still
British producer and DJ Leon Vynehall’s previous releases have tended to fall under the broad category of house. 2014’s Music For The Uninvited is perhaps the best example of the rhythmic and world music savvy vision the artist had of the genre. With Nothing Is Still, Vynehall has stepped away from his signature sound and instead opted to release a full-length pseudo-ambient album. It’s clear the artist has decided to approach structuring the record in a fashion which presents a narrative to the audience. Song titles are suffixed with chapter and footnote labels which correspond to a novella (available here) he released with the album, as well as a series of short films which the tracks soundtrack.
The narrative follows his grandparents’ emigration from the U.K. to New York in the 1960s. Fittingly, the music on Nothing Is Still is full of movement. The opening wall of synth chords on ‘From The Sea/It Looms’ suggest stillness only for it to be disturbed by encroaching hi-hats. While the gradual evolution of the layering throughout the record is ambient in nature, the album never really does sits back enough to allow the listener to follow his or her own path. Vynehall clearly has his own story to tell on Nothing Is Still and he does a superb job of telling it throughout.
Stains On Silence
Belfast-based trio Girls Names certainly didn’t have the easiest time of writing, recording and releasing their new album Stains On Silence. Personnel changes, financial struggles and a canned final mix meant that fans had to stand by a long time for the follow up to 2015’s acclaimed Arms Around A Vision. Breath a sigh of relief, it seems that this new release was worth the wait. Stains On Silence is certainly darker in tone and intent than it’s predecessor, but it showcases a superb quality of songwriting and craftsmanship.
With the departure of drummer Gib Cassidy comes the introduction of industrial sounding programmed drums, which often hang ominously in the mix. These work exceptionally well in tandem with the terse bass lines littered throughout the album. Album opener ’25’ feels like a cross between a Sergio Leone shootout and a cityscape from Bladerunner. The vocal performance on which from singer Cathal Cully is the best the band has produced to date, full of threat and passion. Fans of shoegaze and post-punk will find tons to like in the reverb-soaked ‘The Process’ with its sinister guitar drones. Regardless of the many difficulties the band faced during its creation, it’s clear that ‘Stains Of Silence’ was a project of passion. Its quality is the reaffirmation that Girls Names are one of Northern Ireland’s top musical ambassadors.