New Zealand's Marlon Williams has quite simply got one of the most extraordinary, effortlessly distinctive voices of his generation-a fact well known to fans of his first, self-titled solo album, and his captivating live shows. An otherworldly instrument with an affecting vibrato, it's a voice that’s earned repeated comparisons to the great Roy Orbison, and even briefly had Williams, in his youth, consider a career in classical singing, before realizing his temperament was more Stratocaster than Stradivarius.
But it's the art of songwriting that has bedeviled the artist, and into which he has grown exponentially on his second album, Make Way For Love, out in February of 2018. It's Marlon Williams like you’ve never heard him before-exploring new musical terrain and revealing himself in an unprecedented way, in the wake of a fractured relationship.
In early December, Williams and his longtime girlfriend, musician Aldous (Hannah) Harding, broke up. While personally wrenching, the split seemed to open the floodgates for Williams as a writer. "â€¦I wrote about fifteen songs in a month," he recalls. Sure enough, while Make Way For Love draws on Williams' own story, in remarkably universal terms it captures the vagaries of relationships that we’ve all been through: he bliss (opener "Come To Me"); ache ("Love Is a Terrible Thing"); nagging questions ("Can I Call You"); and bitterness ("The Fire Of Love", whose lyrics Williams says he "agonized over" more than any).
And there’s "Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore", a duet with Harding, recorded after the two broke up, with Williams directing Harding's recording via a late-night long distance phone call. "We finally got to talk it out," he adds. "We still love each other very much."
If "breakup record" is a trope-and certainly it is-then Marlon Williams has done it proud. Like the best of the lot, Make Way For Love doesn’t shy away from heartbreak, but rather stares it in the face, and mines beauty from it.
Formed of Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald "DJ" Johnson on drums; globetrotting Texan trio Khruangbin present their second album 'Con Todo El Mundo', set for release on 26th January 2018.Whereas their 2015 debut album 'The Universe Smiles Upon You' was influenced by 60s and 70s Thai cassettes and compilations of southeast Asian pop, rock and funk, 'Con Todo El Mundo' hops east over India to take inspiration in similarly under discovered funk and soul sounds of the Middle-East, particularly from Iran. Laura Lee explains the album’s title: "My grandpa would always ask me 'Como me quieres?' ('how much do you love me'?), and he'd only ever accept one response. 'Con todo el mundo' (With all the world)."Throughout 'Con Todo El Mundo', Laura Lee's melodic low-end theory, Mark's lyrical, free-role guitar lines, and DJ's ever-steady, ever-ready backbeat form something greater than their parts. A vibe-synchronous soul-unit travelling the planet, honing their craft, absorbing the sights, sounds and feels from cultures across the globe, processing them through the Khruangbin filter and gifting the result...with all the world.
Harder Love is the latest from Strand of Oaks, a collection of Tim Showalter's original recordings for the album Hard Love. Pairing the earliest versions Hard Love tracks with previously-unreleased material (including some songs deemed "too weird" for the official release), Harder Love feels like an alternate dimension. A whole lot stranger and even more raw, it’s like the tripped out, spiritual brother to its predecessor.
"These songs are me uneditedâ€¦I just want people to have them. I’m sick of overthinking and talking too much about the process and the narrative." And it’s Showalter's desire for a wholly unfiltered approach that defines Harder Love, a listening experience that often feels like scrolling through the FM dial, not quite getting the station, and listening through the static anyway. Out January 19th, 2018, limited to 500 copies.
Concrete is a bracing jolt of a song, racing forward on a tightly wound post-punk riff, its call-and-response vocals capturing the turmoil and schizophrenic internal dialogue of the song's subject matter.
"It's about someone who's trapped in a relationship and they're being pummelled into surrender," says singer and lyricist Charlie Steen. "It's not about a physically abusive relationship - more an emotionally and psychologically draining one. The call-and-response vocals [between Steen and bassist Josh Finerty] is the central figure's own internal dialogue. They are dealing with two different things that they don’t want to address."
The band cite The Fall, Country Teasers, Television Personalities and Wire among their biggest influences, and the icily claustrophobic sound of Concrete sets it in a lineage with Magazine, Joy Division.
As a lyricist, Steen is a modern flÃ¢neur, forensically observing the lives of others around him as they unspool and fracture, with Hubert Selby Jr and Irvine Welsh his primary literary influences. "That graphic and harsh style of writing always interested me," he explains. "It's not about the shock factor; it’s about the fact they are talking about these things in such great detail without stripping anything back."
The London five piece have swiftly earned a reputation as one of the most visceral and exhilarating live bands in the UK, their combustible shows being honed through a heavy touring schedule in the UK and across Europe. Cutting their teeth on the squat-punk scene in the Queen’s Head in Brixton in 2015, where they were taken under the wing of Fat White Family, the white heat of their gigs quickly landed them support slots with Slaves and Warpaint. They were also personally invited by Billy Bragg to play the Left Field stage at Glastonbury this year.
Following two singles - the AA single The Lick/Gold Hole and Tasteless on Fnord Communications as well as the digital-only Theresa May-baiting Visa Vulture (described by Steen as "the worst love song ever") - Concrete is the first track to be released as part of their record deal with Dead Oceans.
"We started this band as a joke that went too far," deadpans Steen. "What we do is quite strange and quite weird, but I get to meet a lot of people and I get to hear a lot of things. I am interested in the surrealism of reality."
Heron King Blues is about the letting go. Each song its own ceremony. The earth, sun and moon. Wingbones. Shadow maps and dream logic. Stoplights. Meat Trucks. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Cocaine. Wild eyed robbers. Hunchbacked derelicts. Broken down angels, Lepers. Gay Lithuanians. Cheaters. Sex. Beggars. Rabid dogs. Sirens. Undertows. Reverse magnetism. Cock fighting. Electric shock therapy. Trick birds. Floods. Ancient Hebrew texts. The Illuminati. Haboobs. Bleach. Expired medicine. Severed tongues. Dragons, Spirit telephones. Bees. Modern Architecture. Electric fences. Dianetics. ESP. Snakes. Poltergeist. Haunted spaces. Crop circles. Demons. Feedback loops.
How does one capture lightning in a bottle? You could call me a witness, or better yet an interloper, briefly given the wheel to the mythological ship called Califone. Where others might have attempted to exercise the demons, I chose to let the spirits run wild. We bored under the earth's surface into its core until we reached the belly of the beast. These aren't Songs of Love and Hate. This is no Street Hassle. No Main Street here. This is music that was pulled from the abattoir of Chicago rock, tattered and bruised and barely breathing. This is not music for pussies.- Michael Krassner, August, 2017
Tom Rogerson's life as an improviser began when, as a toddler, he would clamber up onto his family piano stool and try to emulate his sister's playing. Now releasing his second solo album, a collaboration with Brian Eno, he feels that his musical life has come full circle: "I remember smashing out C Major chords again and again and really loving it. It's the same as what I do now, funnily enough, I've come back to it". After stints playing jazz in New York, a delipadated fenland hotel and in noise rock band Three Trapped Tigers, Rogerson ran into Eno at a gig. Bonding over a love of the countryside of their Suffolk home, the pair entered the studio and worked with The Piano Bar, a device that converted the sound of the piano into midi signals, which were then further manipulated. "It was this classic Eno, almost scientific thing," Rogerson says now. "He always finds a system that can be a source of creativity". The result is an album that uses Eno's magic to pull deep from Rogerson's subconscious to evoke the strange flat landscape of Eastern England, all heathland, military testing sites and estuary mud. "I do totally hear it, I'll listen and think 'oh that sounds like the bells at Woodbridge, that's the birds, the wind rustling in the reeds'," Rogerson says. "I think it permeates my music, and Brian's ambient records. That 'is it organic or is it electronic thing' is so interesting".
Of his 12th studio album and its enigmatic title, Destroyer's Dan Bejar offers the following:
Sometime last year, I discovered that the original name for "The Wild Ones" (one of the great English-language ballads of the last 100 years or so) was "Ken." I had an epiphany, I was physically struck by this information. In an attempt to hold on to this feeling, I decided to lift the original title of that song and use it for my own purposes. It's unclear to me what that purpose is, or what the connection is. I was not thinking about Suede when making this record. I was thinking about the last few years of the Thatcher era. Those were the years when music first really came at me like a sickness, I had it bad. Maybe "The Wild Ones" speaks to that feeling, probably why Suede made no sense in America. I think "ken" also means "to know."
ken was produced by Josh Wells of Black Mountain, who has been the drummer in Destroyer since 2012. The album was recorded in its entirety in the jam space/studio space that the group calls The Balloon Factory. However, unlike Poison Season, ken was not recorded as a "band" record, though everyone in the band does make an appearance.
Alex Lahey's debut full-length, I Love You Like A Brother, comes fresh off the back of her breakout in 2016 when her "You Don't Think You Like People Like Me" single was inescapable, landing her a spot in Australian radio network triple j's prestigious Hottest 100 of 2016, a Best New Track nod from Pitchfork, and helping her to earn "Artist ToWatch" status from Stereogum. The song's universal tale of rejection took Lahey global - its message, she says, is the flipside of the usual break-up scenario: "Yeah, you're right. It's not me. It IS you." And that no-shit-taken attitude is the backbone of I Love You Like A Brother. From the stomping title track "I Love You Like A Brother" to the gently moving "Money," Lahey's debut long-player tells it like it is.
A winning blend of careful precision and mercurial abandon, Kane Strang's new album 'Two Hearts and No Brain' is constantly surprising. With a penchant for melodic earworms to rival those of the world's best pop songwriters, the New Zealand artist's glittering hooks twist and turn in perfect synch with meticulous band arrangements. Hints of 60s pop (NB: Zombies, Stooges) and early 00's alt-rock (Interpol, Elliott Smith) shine through; but there's a contemporary crunch, sheen and bald lyrical tone to Strang's sound that places him firmly in the here and now.
"Strang has a gift for pulling diamonds from the rough", says Pitchfork, "[his] songs have a way of making modest acts seem heroic." Strang's proclivity for writing smart, anthemic guitar pop shines brightest now that he has moved away from the bedroom and into the studio. Showcasing his new collaborative approach to recording and writing with his band, the four-piece twists Strang's melodies upside down and pushes his hooks inside out. 'Two Hearts and No Brain' proves emotive and playfully laced with a tongue-in-cheek nostalgia - timelessly old and new in the same breath.
Alex Lahey originally released B-Grade University on her own label in summer 2016, shortly before playing iconic Australian festival Splendour in the Grass. Immediately after its release, 'B-Grade University' went onto heavy rotation on Australia's TripleJ radio, along with the single "You Don't Think You Like People Like Me" earning a Best New Track tag on Pitchfork. Lahey closed 2016 being the most played artist on Triple J Unearthed, as well as being voted Best Female Artist at Australia's Age Music Awards. Her fuzzed-out, catchy-as-hell indie rock is stacked with emotion, weighing the sound of youthful anxiety against cutting, sophisticated wordplay.
City Music is an airplane descending over frozen lakes into Chicago. City Music is riding the Q Train out to Coney Island to smell the ocean and a morning in Philadelphia where greats cranes reconfigure the buildings like an endless puzzle. City Music is also the new album by Kevin Morby. Full of listless wanderlust, it's a collection inspired by and devoted to the metropolitan experience across America and beyond by a songwriter cast from his own mould. It is a collection crafted using the other side of its creator's brain, the jumping off point perhaps best once again encapsulated by an image. "Here, Lou Reed and Patti Smith stare out at the listener," explains Morby. City Music sees Morby joined once again by cohorts Megan Duffy (guitar) and Justin Sullivan (drums). Here the vocals were recorded at night, in darkness, overlooking a Pacific Ocean illuminated only by the stars, the wash and whisper of the ebbing tidal a distant soundtrack. The record was completed with Richard Swift in Oregon (producer of Foxygen, sometime member of The Black Keys). Here the album gives voice to the all those cities speaking the same universal language of chaos and commerce and culture.
The world has finally caught up with Slowdive. A band whose reach goes far beyond just influencing music is back, with their first new album in 22 years.The album is called Slowdive-- self-titled in an echo of their debut EP from 1990-- and is remarkably direct."We were always ambitious," says frontman Neil Halstead. "Not in terms of trying to sell records, but in terms of making interesting records. Maybe, if you try and make interesting records, they're still interesting in a few years’ time."Now, in 2017, the record is ready and first single from which, "Star Roving," shot to the top of the Billboard Trending 140 Chart."There’s a different energy about it," says drummer Simon Scott. "It took ages to get back together and write songs and for it to click in the studio, but this album doesn't feel like a bolt-on -- it's got an energy that's as vibrant as Souvlaki and Just for a Day. It feels very relevant to now."