Top Five New Releases: 11th October
Looking for some new records to add to your ever-expanding discography? To help you out, here are Long Live Vinyl’s top five picks of this week’s releases…
Allah-Las are now a world away from their self-titled 2012 debut album. Theming LAHS around the sun-splashed lands they’ve visited on their travels, each track acts as a postcard, stamped and signed with mellow surf-rock riffs. But while songs such as Polar Onion and Houston are merely a stone’s throw from their established garage-rock catalogue, the band have worked hard to bring new flavours to their fifth album. Leaning a little harder on psychedelia this time around, Holding Pattern and Roco Ono spin out into twisting, echoey tangents; in some places, trademark hazy Californian vocals are switched for Spanish or Portuguese. Though LAHS should be praised for wearing its international influences on its sleeve, tracks such as Royal Blues are a swing and a miss, subtracting from the otherwise easy-going beach vibes. – 7/10
As Elbow tell Long Live Vinyl elsewhere this month, you can largely divide their career into Old Elbow and New Elbow. Since The Seldom Seen Kid made them massive, you can rely on Elbow to provide solace, but in a less experimental fashion than on early singles like Newborn and Forget Myself. Their gig setlists have largely shunned pre-fame material in favour of the music that works best for a communal mood. You can’t blame them for it, and their last two albums reached No 1. But, by 2017’s Little Fictions, Elbow were in danger of becoming predictable. Giants Of All Sizes fixes that, a refreshing and bracing record both musically and in Guy Garvey’s wracked lyrics.
If it wasn’t their stated aim, these nine songs hark back to debut album Asleep In The Back, when Elbow were equally obsessed by Peter Gabriel and Massive Attack. With the four band members developing song ideas on their own, there’s a variety of styles. If Craig Potter apparently sometimes went too far in trying to get hip-hop production into the band, On Deronda Road is still a very modern love song, its bubbling beats more Four Tet than One Day Like This. Bassist Pete Turner’s Doldrums is an unsettling and fraught spaghetti western, as Garvey and his Brixton studio neighbour Chilli Chilton’s vocals do battle like Tom & Jerry by way of Saw. Seven Veils apparently started out sounding like Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, but has ended up as rumbling gospel with one of Garvey’s most beautiful vocal performances in a career full of them.
Best of all is White Noise White Heat. Elbow’s last full-throttle rocker Grounds For Divorce was spiritually a convivial drinking anthem. Not here – Garvey’s fury at the Tory government’s Russian dolls of vindictive rulers and his despair at his music’s ultimate inability to change anything makes for a stunning angry howl. For an album that starts with the line “I don’t love Jesus anymore”, White Noise White Heat is an Old Testament warning of the apocalypse if mankind doesn’t sort out its morals. Even when staying in their recent comfort zone, guitarist Mark Potter’s The Delayed 3:15 is a sparse John Martyn-inflected rumination, before the moving Weightless ends the album on a hard-fought note of redemption.
In marrying their established gift for offering the listener succour to a reminder that they’re capable of pretty much anything when they want, Giants Of All Sizes is the definitive Elbow album. In releasing the seven-minute twister Dexter & Sinister as its first single, the band have made it clear they’re happy to provide empathy one pair of headphones at a time rather than arena by arena. It’s an album to lose yourself in, in solitude. Do so. You’ll emerge wiser for it. – 9/10
03 Big Thief – Two Hands
The “Celestial Twin” to May’s U.F.O.F. album arrives only five months later, the fourth release in as many years from Brooklyn’s alt-folk workaholics. If that level of prolific output suggests a lack of quality control, forget such notions, as Two Hands is arguably the band’s best collection yet and more immediate than its recent sibling. It’s also a record focused heavily on the impending climate crisis we face and man’s ruthless destruction of Mother Nature, even if that line of attack is sometimes shrouded in metaphor. It’s pretty overt in the excellent, folky anti-anthem Forgotten Eyes, and The Toy, on the latter the band’s vocalist and chief songwriter Adrianne Lenker mournfully noting, “What a tomb we’re building here/ In the sphere, that’s where we’ll all die”.
On Shoulders, too, she implores us to “Please wake up” from collective inaction. The pinnacle is Not, an uncomfortable, smouldering piece of lyrical repetition split apart by a gloriously unpolished guitar solo. A mainstay of the band’s live sets for some time, they finally nailed a recorded version at Sound City in LA after the initial album sessions in El Paso, Texas had wrapped up. Be thankful they did – it’s one of the most thrilling pieces of music you’ll hear all year. Endless touring and ceaseless writing has brought Big Thief to the point where they share a near-telepathic musical connection and Lenker stands as one of the most thoughtful, potent writers of her generation, determined to keep challenging herself. How far they’ve come in just four years – and this is just the beginning. – 9/10
04 Kim Gordon – No Home Record
Kim Gordon started playing music in the early 1980s and so her first solo album has been a long time coming. On this evidence, the Sonic Youth founder has taken going alone in her stride and, impressively, her debut disc is certainly not lacking in experimental bite. Throughout No Home Record, Gordon’s wiry, distinctive contralto shapes and dominates proceedings over unsettling squalls of discordant beats and guitars. From the opening salvo of the visceral Sketch Artist, via the agitated art-rock of Air BnB and Hungry Baby, all the way through to the spooky closer Get Yr Life Back, there is scant flirtation with anything closely resembling a familiar song structure. She may no longer be the girl in a band, but Gordon is still pushing the boundaries. A limited edition white vinyl edition lies in wait on pre-order, as well as one of those cassette thingys. – 8/10
05 Richard Dawson – 2020
We live in the strangest times, citizens of Brexitland, buffeted by austerity, caught between exhaustion and exasperation. How to write about such an angry fever dream of a place? Following up his medieval-themed Peasant, Richard Dawson’s solution is to zoom in on the everyday. The result is a state-of-the-nation album rooted not in sweeping political statements, but in storytelling and in the specific, the grainy, grimy details of everyday life. Here are songs where an anxious jogger rubs shoulders with a harassed warehouse worker, and where a lad worries about his dad criticising his performance in a football match. As for Dawson’s music, it’s never been more accessible and melodic, albeit these are wordy, intricately arranged, folk-tinged songs fronted by the gruffest of Geordie voices. Rich, vivid, extraordinary. – 9/10
Tilda Howard, Gary Walker, John Earls, Gary Tipp, Jonathan Wright