New Releases and Reissues: 17 January
It may have been a little quiet on the new release front as 2020 initially rolled around, but not to worry, we’re making up for it now with four brand-new albums and a hotly anticipated 90’s reissue…
Bill Fay – Countless Branches
The late re-blossoming of Bill Fay is a truly marvellous thing. Here is a songwriter whose 1970s albums for the Deram label were deleted for 25 years before being reissued, and then discovered by the likes of Jim O’Rourke and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Cue the second act of Fay’s career, which began with the release of Life Is People in 2012. It revealed a man not trading on the past, but crafting songs that dealt with spirituality, nature and the need for connection.
Countless Branches covers the same subjects, but within more stripped-back musical settings – piano, acoustic guitar and Fay’s own vocals are to the fore – than the sometimes lush textures of its 2015 predecessor, Who Is The Sender? A collection that marvels at the wonder of it all and invites you to do the same – which you should.
The narrative surrounding this album is typical of bands who have remained together for over a decade: they take an extended break, pursue individual solo projects, have some time apart and then come back all ‘rejuvenated’ and release a new album. While it’s pretty much business as usual for the band here – a blend of indie rock, pop and lashings of shimmering electronica – Bombay Bicycle Club do have a seamless knack for squeezing out a nice melody.
The title track especially feels like growth and evolution, as it rises nicely over the lines “Yes, I’ve found my second wind/ Yes, I’ve found my hope again”. There’s even a nod to krautrockers Neu! on the groove-heavy Is It Real? And the album generally has a genuine richness and warmth that emanates from the production. It’ll no doubt be considered their maturity record.
The Texas-based alt-rockers have now reached album number 10. While the band have had a penchant for blistering noise-rock over the years, there’s an elegance and craft to some of the production here, especially from the opening, hugely cinematic and aptly titled The Opening Crescendo, that sees them trying to expand on their palate.
Sure, there’s plenty of crunchy noise, riotous riffs and soaring choruses, but there’s also a considered understanding of space, pace and restraint. Given their longevity, and their occasional proclivity for big, first-pump choruses, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead feel almost rooted in the classic American rock canon. Albeit the noisiest member of the family.
Algiers – There Is No Year
Algiers’ previous album, The Underside Of Power, was a glorious slice of electronic industrial neo-soul that sounded like little else. On the opening track of the band’s new album that familiar mix of big, swelling, church-like vocals, with industrial electronics feels like a continuation.
However, as the album progresses the sound gets smoother and slicker, often slower, allowing piano lines to push forward the groove, sometimes favouring the slick over the discordant. The results are mixed. Lyrically and in terms of delivery, Franklin James Fisher is as arresting as ever, but the pace can feel stuck in a gear that it needs to get out of. It’s clear the band are trying something new from the ferocious polemics of previous work, but there’s something just not quite falling into place here.
Pale Saints – The Comforts Of Madness
Though it begins with a squall of Sonic Youth-style guitars, Pale Saints’ 1990 debut was as prescient as it was of its era. It only made number 40, but it’s remembered passionately by those who listened closely, straddling an uneasy but exciting line between proto-dream pop, jangly indie, US college rock and the arthouse styles for which 4AD was known.
Most of all, it sounded like early Ride, who acknowledged their debt with an almost indistinguishable cover of Sight Of You. Ian Masters’ vocal was perhaps feyer, and Little Hammer’s pastoral arrangement camouflaged a psychedelic complexity, but Insubstantial’s harmonies and guitar swells pre-empted Chelsea Girl, while Time Thief developed into something noisier and more hurried. The double LP adds meticulous demos and a Peel session.
Daniel Dylan Wray & Jonathan Wright