Each month we bring you a handy round-up of the most exciting new releases.
This month sees long-awaited albums, EPs and singles from Grizzly Bear, The War on Drugs, Ghostpoet, Liars, Iron and Wine and Nadine Shah.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
18.08, RCA Records | Buy
Grizzly Bear’s music has always been a remarkable example of collective writing. Layering the contributions of four different personalities, each song is a new, organic creature which manages to distinctively show each member’s unique capabilities. Painted Ruins is a perfect example of this, coming five years after their last effort, and put together remotely by the four band members, now scattered all over the USA.
The individual talents of Ed Drost, Christopher Bear, Daniel Rossena and Chris Taylor are apparent throughout the eleven tracks of the record but now, more than ever, the different tastes and musical directions of each writer and performer find a seamless dialogue with one another.
Rossen’s predilection for great chamber pop atmospheres is balanced by Droste’s new venture into more pop-ish paths, with synths and beating drums. If ‘Mourning Sounds’ testifies this new unity with the two lead singers’ alternate vocals, ‘Three Rings’ and ‘Aquarian’ do that with their sonic complexity, enriched by the touch of rarefied and soft electronic Taylor (who also sings on ‘Systole’). Painted Ruins sees everything put in its rightful place. Guia Cortassa
War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
25.08, Atlantic | Buy
When Lost in the Dream was released in 2014, critics were clambering to get in its pants. Three-and-a-half years on, A Deeper Understanding resides more in the ‘friend zone’. It possesses a lot of the band’s perfectionist, textured sound that you’d expect, as well as embodying their intensity and lyrical honesty. The individual songs, generally six minutes plus, each reflect eight months of tinkering between conception and completion. Described by Adam Granduciel as “brooding” and “gooey”, it’s steeped in Springsteen, with hints of Chris Rea and a soupçon of Tango in the Night.
Granduciel leads from the front with several soaring guitar solos, none better than on the eleven-minute beast ‘Thinking of a Place’, and his tender-yet-gravelly, Bryan-Adams-sings-Bob-Dylan vocals. It’s worth a listen for the basslines alone; rhythm section obsessives will delight at Dave Hartley’s handiwork. ‘Holding On’ and ‘Nothing to Find’ provide loping, mid-tempo highlights, as well as the pathos-laden ‘Knocked Down’. Loaded with hipster-barista chic, these are broad, lush, panoramic soundscapes – impressive, yet short of a towering peak or two for greater contrast and dynamism. Jon Kean
Ghostpoet – Dark Days and Canapés
18.08, Play It Again Sam | Buy
Ghostpoet is never one to shy away from the immersive depths of human emotion and error, molding the spoken word form to expel abstract recounts and tales. Dark Days and Canapés is no different, on paper.
Through glitchy textures and immersive lyricism, Ghostpoet creates an uncomfortable and claustrophobic environment that’s notably darker than his previous releases. Where his vocals had traditionally driven the tracks, here they are interwoven into the textuality of the album, supported by a full band. This lends itself to a new exploratory tapestry for the Mercury-nominated artist, twisting eerie soundscapes and heavy melodies to sculpt fear, vulnerability and death into sound.
This sinister precedent is set initially by ‘One More Sip’, with a jarring techno bassline and the acceptance of mortality. It’s later confirmed by the isolation of ‘Immigrant Boogie’ – a tragic episodic recount of a immigrant’s voyage, through an impending bass and jangling melody. Dark Days and Canapés offers a disparaging outlook on life and death in one of Ghostpoet’s most nightmarish albums yet. One thing’s for sure though – he awakes a victor. Hannah Wakeman
Liars – TFCF
25.08, Mute Records | Buy
The severe approach to editing on this album causes it to judder along awkwardly. This sits well with the Cramps-style rockabilly in its bones, reinforced by Angus Andrews’ numb-faced, slurring vocals. Shifting from unsettling dirge to country folk and, unexpectedly, retro drum ‘n’ bass with ‘Coins in My Caged Fist’.
This distorted and disjointed music even has the occasional burping of guitar licks as it staggers along like an angry drunk. All facets are rinsed in a quagmire of samples and pulsing, lo-fi electronica. Like Beck’s Odelay, it tugs on american roots music extensively and blends them with a modern digital template – with satisfyingly dirty and slightly gothic results. Stuart Tidy
Frankie Rose – Cage Tropical
11.08, Slumberland/Grey Market | Buy
Former Vivian Girl, Frankie Rose’s fourth solo album Cage Tropical continues her run of eighties-inspired shimmery synth-pop. The album’s sound is very similar to the chillwave scene of a few years ago, mixed with the kind of reverbed guitar-work akin to labels like Captured Tracks. Highlights include the Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop of ‘Dancing Down the Hall’ and the indie jangle of ‘Red Museum’.
The problem with Cage Tropical however, is that while aiming to achieve a certain subtle beauty, most of the music turns out to be pretty forgettable. This doesn’t make it a bad album, but there is little here that stands out from the crowd. Tim Ellis
Iron and Wine – Beast Epic
25.08, Sup Pop | Buy
Sam Beam returns with another beautiful Americana offering, with wonderful sniffs of Nick Drake. Opener ‘Claim Your Ghost’ sets the standard as a swoonsome ballad, telling tales of the journey of life and lessons learned. Lyrically, it shines in the same way previous albums do; “We can weep and call it singing,” croons Beam on the prophetic ‘Call It Dreaming’.
His stark guitar picking and perfectly-placed echoey drums combine with his soothing vocals to relax you to your core, none more so than on ‘Summer Clouds’. Recording live over a two-week period in The Loft studio, Chicago, gives this album an authentic warmth you don’t always get these days. Laura K Williams
Nadine Shah – Holiday Destination
25.08, 1965 Records | Buy
Nadine Shah returns with her third album, Holiday Destination, with a politically-charged message. After producing the music for her brother’s documentary in a Syrian refugee camp, Shah channels her frustrations through the post-punk title track, as she asks, “how you gonna sleep tonight?” over wailing guitars, saxophones and synths.
The opening track, ‘Place Like This’ tackles issues that have dominated the past two years – Brexit, Trump and the refugee crisis. Then there’s ‘Evil,’ in which Shah lays herself bare, as vulnerable vocals focus on the stigma of mental health. Closing the album is beautiful piano ballad ‘Jolly Sailor’ creating powerful yet intimate final moments. Georgia Balch
Rat Boy – Scum
11.08, Parlophone | Buy
For a hot second, it seemed like Rat Boy was just here to imitate. While debut album Scum still wears its influences – Britpop, Grand Theft Auto, Jamie T – on its sleeve, they’ve been rolled up and reimagined into something new.
Across the record, Jordan Cardy hops between scenes, genres and outlooks as he rises up against those who look down on him and those he stands for. Rather than odes to what’s come before, Scum is about anthems for today’s generation. It’s deliberately reactionary, powerfully comforting and has bundles of hyperactive chaos. Grubby but proud, Rat Boy has found a voice and it’s one for passing around. Ali Shutler
Everything Everything – A Fever Dream
18.08, RCA Records | Buy
High falsetto, amped up drama and dynamic arrangements have come to define Everything Everything. However, A Fever Dream dials down the tantalising urgency that made them unique. Glimmers of their trademark introspective pop shine faintly in the title track, and on opener ‘Night of the Long Knives, but elsewhere the menacing riffs don’t strike the right balance.
Knotted basslines, fewer sonic flourishes and the addition of tricky guitar flairs all both help and hinder this difficult record. A Fever Dream lacks the sense of grand performance posed by the group in the past, but by no means does it make for a less intriguing listen. Oliver Evans
Toro y Moi – Boo Boo
Out Now, Carpark Records | Buy
Toro y Moi’s Boo Boo is the soundtrack to those dimly lit summer nights, spent alone pining after that special someone you met once and never saw again. Opening track ‘Mirage’ is a sultry synth haven, with the lyrics ‘take me far away’ preparing us for the record’s encompassing, emotional vulnerability.
‘Girl Like You’ is Bundick’s visceral depiction of the pain of adult life, fused with the simplicity of being young, broke and creating your own fun. This narrative continues throughout the album with each track seamlessly flowing into each other, guided by 80s inspired analogue pop – think Prince ballads mixed with the soft hues of a gorgeous sunset. Yewande Adeniran
Sly Palms – Sly Palms
Out Now, Self-Release | Buy
A debut release should naturally be packed with promise and original flair, and while they’re fresh on the scene, Sly Palms have absolutely no problem conveying their sound. From unleashing Cirque Du Soleil party punk in ‘Spanish Song’ to their catchy psych-folk rocker ‘Bottle of Sin’, nothing is out of bounds.
Sneaking organ into rock songs could throw many off, but it only shows their knack for forging topsy-turvy tunes. While ‘River Rhein’ starts off dismal, it merrily morphs into a bluesy number determined to dance through the despair. Hearing a new garage rock band is all too common, but hearing it done differently is rare and refreshing. Oliver Evans
Oh Sees – Orc
25.08, Castle Face Records | Buy
(Thee) Oh Sees are a band about to drop their nineteenth record in twenty years. Throughout that staggering statistic they’ve brought us intense guitar landscapes ranging from straight up garage to more pensive cosmic psych rock. With Orc though, things grow even more refined.
Their dual drummer approach has dragged them into more stoner rock territory, with numbers like the sludgy ‘Animated Violence’. It’s powerful stuff and probably their heaviest work to date. While this record is obviously the band we’ve come to love for their energy and spirit both on-track and off, things are now more nuanced, as interest-piquing sounds jut from every corner. Rhys Buchanan