The last month or so has been absolutely packed with great releases. Here are seven albums we’ve picked out, released in October and November, that you must hear (and in most cases probably already have).
Big Joanie – Back Home
Big Joanie have had somewhat of a whirlwind ascension. Plucked from the heart of the London DIY punk scene by Thurston Moore, their debut album ’Sistas’ was a runaway success. Their mix of soul vocals and grunge inspired instrumentals made for a breath of fresh air. Their new record ‘Back Home’ has upped the ante and it’s no surprise this has landed them a MOBO nomination.
From the off they display a supreme confidence and conviction in their songwriting. “Cactus Tree” explodes from its jangly intro with glorious backing vocals accompanying Stephanie Phillips’ powerful melody. The swirling guitar sound is absolutely immense and extremely grungey.
It’s a massive, fabulously constructed start.
A band that once sounded fragile now sounds huge. The punchy “Taut” is a phenomenal Nirvana-like anthem. The choppy dynamics, the awesome vocal syncapation and super catchy melodies are an absolute joy. It’s one hell of a song.“Confident Man” with its curious mix of heavy electro beats, big bassline and indie guitar jangle is a whole new direction for Big Joanie and it works for them.
They bring back the grunge on “What Are You Waiting For?” while single “In My Arms” has a catchy stadium rock Springsteen feel to it.
There are touches of new wave in the synths on “Your Words” which is “In My Arms”’s rhythmic twin. It’s perhaps an unusual choice to place these back to back but there’s enough nuance elsewhere that it doesn’t necessarily damage the sequencing.
They go back to their lo-fi DIY roots on the Casio(?) keyboard accompanied “Count To Ten”.
Such is the richness of Phillips’s vocal you almost forget the simplicity of the instrumental. Nirvana mode returns on the huge “Happier Still”, which flails dramatically in its chorus. Meanwhile, the relatively stripped back sounding “Insecure” could be a Dinosaur Jr song in another life. Just add a phasing guitar line and a 1 minute guitar solo and you’re there, minus the gorgeous backing vocals that are the star of this song.
There’s a touch of The Pretenders to “Today”, with its delightful guitar licks and relatively upbeat vocals. The sweet organ backed “I Will” is initially the closest they come to a straight up soul song, with Estella Adeyeri’s bassline prominent, before it gets propelled by moody distortion and a new wave synth hook.
They make time to reprise “In My Arms” in a slower more stripped back fashion, giving it an entirely different atmosphere, allowing the backing vocals to really resonate.
It works as a segue into the superb final track “Sainted”.
The muted tremolo guitar and synthhooks are urgent and propulsive against Chardine Taylor-Stone’s steady drums. There’s so much more to ‘Back Home’ than its predecessor. It oozes confidence, sees the band experiment to great success with new sounds. “We were really ruminating on the idea of a home and what it means,” explained Phillips about the album title. What’s abundantly clear is that they seem utterly at home together. Back Home is a truly great record.
The Cool Greenhouse – Sod’s Toastie
The Cool Greenhouse delighted with their self-titled debut album. Initially the solo pursuit of Tom Greenhouse, the project expanded into a full-blown band for the album. Now, settled into this new format, comes the “difficult second album”.Greenhouse’s often acerbic lyricism remains intact. “Musicians” is typically repetitive although the janky rhythms are less straightforward than we’ve become accustomed to. The busy percussion and jarring, duelling guitar hooks make for a stuttering backdrop to Greenhouse’s storytelling. Sax accompaniment and further polyrhythms bring it to an unexpected but brilliant hi-life ending.
The title track is more like what we had previously come to expect from Greenhouse and his crew.
A two note hook forms the main body while backward guitar psychedelics branch out and make knots through the narrow gaps. The lyrics revel in mundanity with nods to finding the end of cellotape, tidying your room and, of course, making a cheese toastie and accidentally scraping off the burnt bits into coffee.The clashing chords of “The UFOs” somehow sound sardonic in themselves. The perfect setting to Greenhouse’s absurdist rambling.
Single “Get Unjaded” is as impactful here as it is as a standalone piece, tapping into a national psyche in which people are quietly quitting at work, becoming utterly uninterested. The keyboard solo upon the announcement of “guitar solo” is a wonderfully silly touch.
“And now for something completely different” announces “I Lost My Head”, and it is.
The pace is more monotonous, Greenhouse sings for the first time we can recall. It retains an understated jauntiness that recalls Aussie bands like Terry and The Shifters.The progress made since their debut is palpable. “Hard Rock Potato” is another clear indication of this. The infectious repetitive groove and Greenhouse’s timing feel fully in tune with one another. The drums fling the rhythms around while copious space rock noodling ensues. It’s gloriously controlled chaos that really packs a punch.
While were previously instructed to” get unjaded”, in a Modern Lovers style post punk workoutwe’re also told to “Get Deluded”. A word of advice; don’t take a sip of coffee during the first line “it’s no wonder people don’t like to talk about their masturbatory experiences unless your force them into a corner over dinner”, unless you want it all over your keyboard.
There are also cheeky nods to Talking Heads. “You may ask yourself, well, what the fuck am I doing with my life? And you may say to yourself, my god how derivative have I become?”
They strip things back on “YOLH” which allows plenty of rhythmic breathing space between it’s choppy counter rhythms that sit satisfyingly alongside Greenhouse’s hungover sounding vocal.
Dynamically the whole album is a huge step forward.
The jagged “The Neoprene Ravine” has a fantastic rolling groove and constitutes the closest they come to The Fall, whom there is no doubt are an influence. It’s incredibly punchy, lyrically absurd. The story of an alien equivalent to The Velvet Underground that absolutely slaps. Mixing post punk, paisley psychedelia and space rock, this is a brilliant ending to a sensational sophomore effort.
Sod’s Toastie is a huge leap forward and, if there’s any justice, should feature in a lot of end of year lists.
Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork
We planned to review this on release day as we eagerly awaited a (purchased) vinyl copy through the post. Unfortunately production delays put paid to that plan, but here we are… finally. The (literally) long awaited new album from Dry Cleaning; ‘Stumpwork’.
So… how does it compare to ‘New Long Leg’?
You probably already know having no doubt heard it already. Here’s our take though, having avoided reading any press!From the off there’s a hint that we might be in for some surprises. Louis Maynards simple bassline grooves along to some heavily compressed electric drums as Florence Shaw’s opening gambit “Should I propose friendship?” comes into play. There’s a gradual build of brassy synth and Tom Dowse’s warbly guitar. With each pause in Shaw’s vocals comes a new instrument or idea. There’s even a neat touch of saxophone.
We’re about two minutes into this understated, expansive opening before Nick Buxton’s drumkit joins. Dowse’s guitar is the biggest variant here, washing over the mix without overwhelming, with OK Computer-like tones.
So far, so different.
“Kwenchy Kups” is more familiar yet still offers up a new sound. There’s a Jonny Marr jangle to Dowse’s sitar-like guitar sound. Buxton’s drums drive without adding great oomph. Had this been on one of their earlier works this would more likely have been more powerful. The understated nature lends extra weight to Shaw’s vocals and ever-sardonic lyrics.
Shaw takes a half melodic approach on “Gary Ashby” with the name of the protagonist being almost chirpily sung. She also endulges in some “shoop shoop”s as the band plays a bridge, almost working as a centrepiece.
Dowse’s guitar hooks are instantly recognisable although, once more effected with less gnarled tones than we had come to expect. Maynard’s bassline is a little hidden in the mix, but is busy without being messy. Coming full circle, the song ends as it began.
The slow, lollopping “Driver’s Story” has a slacker quality.
Dowse’s guitar sounds like it’s being played through a Walkman running out of battery, adding an off-kilter edge. We’re also teased with some vicious feedback that brings with it the expectation of a hugely distorted guitar solo. The solo comes but, again, restraint is shown. The subtle dynamics are a joy. By this point it’s evident the album has been crafted to gradually build to explode. “Hot Penny Day” is the point that sees it reach its first climax (sorry that sounded gross…).
Now, it’s Maynard’s turn to offer up a new sound. His mutant bassline adds a sleazy edge, while skronking sax, punchy drums and constantly shifting guitar work unsettles. It also features one of my favourite Shaw non-sequiturs; “I think big soft bed club, hazmat suit, yeah”.
The title track has some fabulous Television-esque twists and stop start dynamics within its laid back grooves, once again displaying the widening of their sonic palette. “No Decent Shoes For Rain”’s crooked guitar hook provides a seasick edge to Buxton and Maynard’s slick backing, while Shaw’s vocal performance is just as sardonic sounding as ever. The song seems to end before beginning a completely new section, virtually a whole new song, that builds to a satisfying crescendo.
The shortest track on ‘Stumpwork’, “Don’t Press Me” is the most familiar sounding track to this point.
More driving and scuzzy, although the offkilter timing and the whistled accompaniment of the chorus, again add something new. The aptly named “Conservative Hell” maintains the momentum. The bass chords of “Liberty Log” create a laid back atmosphere that creates a platform for some more abstract guitar and horn work. The track builds layers of atmospheric noise and drones which eventually take complete precedence.
Gone are the obvious (and slightly lazy) Life Without Buildings comparisons.
Dry Cleaning have completely come into their own on ’Stumpwork’. “Icebergs” is the final confirmation of this. The warbling guitar tones, the whistle blasts, the Slint-like rhythms and that glorious atonal saxophone provide the backdrop to one last satisfyingly strange series of bizarre vignettes.’Stumpwork’ is Dry Cleaning’s true lift-off. With the last album’s release and tour being stunted by the Coronavirus pandemic, despite it’s undeniable success, this is an understated yet huge step forward in their evolution.
Nick Carlisle – Häxan – A Soundtrack
Haxan is the first mostly solo pursuit of synth whiz Nick Carlisle, also known as half of Bamboo, Lean Logic, Katy & Nick and Peepholes. Quite the resume. With one song, “Maria The Weaver” written alongside Katy Cotterell (Katy And Nick) and another “The Scourge” featuring the vocal talents of Sarah Rosamond (Ghostlore of Britain) there are 12 tracks representing the highlights of a 1 hour 45 minute score.
Häxan, though, is not a new film, being a 1922 Swedish Horror/Fantasy movie about the history of witchcraft, demonology and satanism.
Carlisle’s soundtrack has fittingly dark undertones and a neo-medieval atmosphere from the off.
The harpsichord waltz of “Witch Sabbath”, with it’s sparse drum thumps and wobbly Mellotron whistles, harks back to a dark age whilst also having a retro futuristic feel. The drum minimalism continues into “Hexenwahn” which utilises the whispy Mellotron flute sound and brooding synth bass notes. An acoustic guitar creates the melodic intricacies backed up by a thin high pitched synth line, while bells evoke images of folk dancers. Haunting effected vocal harmonies rise and fall like pulses, lightly fried and warped.There’s a wistful, sometimes plaintive mood carried throughout the soundtrack, no more so than during the opening half of “Heptagram”.
The sombre strings eventually give way to a blitz of siren-like synth buzzes. “The Sorceress Underground” initially has a Richard Dawson-esque quality to it. The swooning melodies and multilayered synth lines eventually take on a more grandiose choral quality. Simply put, it’s gorgeous.
The waltz rhythm’s return on the powerful “Karna’s Potion”. The skittering arpeggios add an unhinged quality to what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward track. The Katy Cotterell co-written “Maria The Weaver” follows and it’s quite the journey. The dark string sounds, haunting non-lyrical vocals and warbled delay affectations are exceptionally moody, while the second half sees multiple synths playing off each other, minus percussion, in a hypnotic loop.
“Confession” is perhaps the most maudlin moment.
The drawn out church organ chords perhaps evoking a tearful revelation of sins. Sara Rosamond provides a stunning vocal on “The Scourge”. Combined with the emotive minor chords and ghostly atmospherics, it’s a starkly beautiful moment. This is a beautifully produced album throughout; the deep bass of “Cannot Shed Tears” brings a new texture that permeates down into the stomach.
Who knew that this could combine so well with a harpsichord and organ keys too?
“The Sleepwalker” immediately unsettles; a crystalline backwards synth winding between the listeners ears prior to an ominous electric piano hook set to a backdrop of droning cello and more of those haunting choral arrangements.
There’s a strange sense of hope to “The Thieving Daughter”, which has a paradoxical subtle bombast.
It sounds like it could build to something huge but retains a level of restraint but provides one last moment of melodic mastery.
‘Häxan’ is a sensational piece of work that puts Carlisle’s accomplished synth work front and centre. It’s perfect for soundtracking film and it would be no surprise if this were to act as a launch pad for more of them.
Palm – Nicks and Grazes
Palm’s ‘Rock Island’, released in 2018, seems like it was released in an entirely different lifetime. ’Nicks and Grazes’ is a welcome reminder of their dizzying intricacies, as well as an indication as to why it’s been nearly 5 years in between albums. From the off “Touch and Go” glitches around Eve Alpert’s spaced out vocal. Previous comparisons to the likes of Animal Collective and Battles remain but this isn’t all ’Nicks and Grazes’ has to offer.
“Feathers” brings something new to the table.
The electronic synth bass sets an irresistable foundation that invites Hugo Stanley to go wild on the drums. The song constantly pulls and pushes into minimalism sprinkled with skittering flourishes from the drums or their synthy guitar sounds. “Parable Lickers” would sit quite comfortably on ‘Rock Island’. The steel drum sounds and Kasra Kurt’s Panda Bear-esque vocal are familiar. The rhythms sound like they are constantly tripping over themselves like a skipping record.
The more heavily percussive “Eager Copy” sees vocals used purely as an instrument, adding gorgeous melodic inflections and constancy to the crashing, unpredictable rhythms. he Perhaps the highlight of the set is “On The Sly”, which seas Kurt and Alpert duetting, taking it in turns to become the prominent voice. It hints at breaking into something formulaic before pulling away again and seamlessly merges into the abstract instrumental “And Chairs”.
They dramatically strip things back on the introduction to “Away Kit”, which evokes the dreamscapes of the much missed Broadcast.
The shuffling drums eventually make their entrance but the gentle mood remains until it gives way to a wildly intense explosion of electronic percussive noise which follows through into the instrumental “Suffer Dragon”.Palm have not only focussed on writing some gloriously intricate yet accessible songs, they’ve also consciously crafted an album that ebbs and flows to avoid aural fatigue.
“Mirror Mirror” emits a constant slow pounding rhythm that permeates throughout, as they drag it through various textures, including a satisfying Beefheart-like drum break.’Nicks and Grazes’ is certainly more challenging than ‘Rock Island’. The songs are far more intricate and their pop sensibilities, whilst still there, are just a part of the whole.
“Glen Beige” again, has Animal Collective sensibilities although it has a hard proggy stop-start edge, while the fittingly named “Tumbleboy” has rhythm akin to something slowly falling down a flight of stairs. It drifts beautifully through hypnotic melodic phases and cartoony effected backing vocals that slowly dissipate into nothing.
The almost dubby title track closes things out backed by atmospheric sound that both eventually form a loop. It’s an understated ending to an engrossing comeback. Palm have, once again, proved themselves and exceptionally talented and abundantly creative band on ‘Nicks and Grazes’.
No Home – Young Professional
No Home’s Charlie Valentine astounded with their first full-length, 2020’s intense ‘Fucking Hell’. An intoxicating and unique mix of Neo Soul, Industrial and Noise, it caught everyone off-guard. New album ‘Young Professional’ is just as full on.
Opening on a brutalist beat like a giant cockroach scurrying over metal, “I Wish I Was Somebody” sees Valentine applying an aching ballad to the stark beats and industrial noise and, eventually, duetting with theirself.
Valentine’s voice is front and centre throughout.
“Emerald Green Mirror” is initially completely stripped back until heavily fuzzed grungey guitar chords and electronic drums create a sense of urgency. Valentine doubles up the vocals on the musically unhinged “The Last Day”. The melodies are powerful, dark and unsettling but ultimately brilliant. There’s a touch of Bjork to it. The aggressive feedback and guitar distortion mix with a sampled beat that sounds like someone rhythmically wading through sludge.
“Easy Peeler” provides perhaps the most fantastic vocal melody on ‘Young Professional’ up to this point. The chorus is sensational, the backing utterly warped and deranged.There’s a deep anxiety that permeates the album. The buzzing drone of “Monkey Brain” provides a dense, edgey backing to Valentine’s multi-layered vocals, while the ripping guitars and pounding drums of “Like a Religion” enhance Valentine’s most intensely expressive vocal performance thus far.
Another stellar vocal performance comes via the gorgeous choruses of “No One Reads The Manuals”.
It’s so good it almost causes you to overlook the crunchy clipped drums and constant flowing water sounds. There’s a Radiohead-like quality to the approach.
“The Feast” builds a layer of muddy guitars that swamp the drums while Valentine’s vocals drift hypnotically over the top. It’s less formulaic and this continues on the dark, wildly effected “Owner Of The Leash”. The stuttering drums and flanged vocal flail in the foreground while foreboding synth chords sit underneath before it reaches a tripped up climax.
This is a moment of release as the unsettling atmosphere becomes seasick on the appropriately named “Bad Oyster”. The string drones and muted drum blips lie ominously underneath while natureal percussive drips provide a more measured rhythm.
The plaintive tone of Valentine’s singing, notes held onto mournfully is subtly striking.
‘Young Professional’ is not quite as wild as its predecessor. Charlie Valentine has produced something more understated but no less breathtaking. Another astonishingly original piece of work.
Richard Dawson – The Ruby Cord
Richard Dawson produced our album of the year in 2019’s “2020”. A devastating record that encapsulated the anxiety of modern Britain. It’s as relevant now as it was then. It was the second in a trilogy of albums, the follow up to 2016’s exceptional “Peasant” which was mostly set in a more medieval historical context. Now then, comes the final act.
Of course, this was intersected by 2020’s collection of bits and bobs “The Republic Of Georgieland” and 2021’s exceptional “Henki’ released alongside Finnish experimental rock band Circle.
If 2020’s instrumentation reflected the modern era, while ‘Peasant’ was heavily acoustic, then what of ’The Ruby Cord’, set in the distant future?
Well, the first thing to mention is that it is dense.
One look at the tracklist tells you as much. Opening track “The Hermit” is album length in itself at 41 minutes. The instrumentation, however, has not been beamed from 2522 (as far as I can tell). A slow building abstract wash of Post Rocky guitar and violin, brushed improv drums set an uncertain course. Perhaps that’s the point. The guitar playing is still unmistakably Dawson.
Chords ring out of tune, there are little clusters of notes and crooked bends. It’s over 11 minutes that we get that first haloed bellow of Dawson’s powerful Geordie brogue, and thus we end our first movement in what is a stunning progressive suite. There are moments of a capella singing, swells of gorgeous folk instrumentation and aching balladry and twinkling toy piano. It’s dramatic, gentle and, for something so lengthy, understatedly beautiful and surprising captivating.
Whilst there are unmistakable aesthetics, this is nothing like anything Dawson has released before.
It reminds me, to some extent, of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Ys’. Lyrically it’s an expression of wonderment at a virtual world and far more poetic than we’ve experienced from him before. Usually focussed on first person storytelling, whilst written from the same perspective, this is more focussed on describing the finer details of the nature that surrounds our narrator, whether actual or digital.
“Thicker Than Water” is more like what we have come to expect from Dawson. It possesses a great deal more clarity. The difference here, however, is that the gnarled edges of his previous work are largely gone. Cinematic strings sweep through while the vocal melodies are softer, yet the message is familiarly bleak. Our protagonist, seemingly resident in a virtual world, discovering the unresponsive real bodies of his parents and self.
The first intentionally ugly moment comes via “The Fool”. The squelching percussive synth sounds of the opening verse give way to something more gentle, before returning later with a vengeance. The song is all over the place, winding around Dawson’s fabulous falsetto, but never becoming truly unhinged.“Museum” lyrically hits home. An assessment of the present day looked back upon through exhibits of images, as we do the Egyptians, Normans et al.
Conjuring imagery of “Soppers idly flicking through clothes”, “throngs of cheering football fans” and, most poignantly “riot police beating climate protestors”.
The bubbling synths of 2020 return on “The Tip Of An Arrow”, a neatly orchestrated 10 minutes that begins metronomically, flows like a stream of consciousness along with Dawson’s crunching, brutalist, post-apocalyptic story and comes full circle.
The language feels very much akin to that used in ‘Peasant’ perhaps suggesting the idea that the modern world as we know it has collapsed and the world has become a more primitive place in this imagined future. Once again, whilst it gains volume it doesn’t really full lose its shit.
There’s a frequent feeling that Dawson is deliberately restraining himself.
Perhaps it’s a conscious effort not to make another ‘2020’.This is followed by “No-one”. An audio soundscape that feels utterly barren, with the windy whirring of machinery and a wandering bell.
Closer “Horse and Rider” feels instantly familiar. The violin line is simple, folky and catchy. Dawson’s vocal performance here drops to bass notes that test the clarity of his voice, yet the song also contains some of his sweetest and most anthemic melodies to date.
Throughout ’The Ruby Cord’ it’s hard to tell what is set in reality and what is within a virtual environment and I suppose this is the point. To imagine technology 500 years into the future could be to see a world where the boundaries are completely blurred.
This album is far more subtle and nuanced in its imagery, the music oddly both more meandering and straightforward than ever.
Of the three records in this trilogy, ’The Ruby Cord’ may need the most time spent with it to gain a full appreciation. It doesn’t have the punch of ‘2020’ or the heartbreaking despair and twistedness of ‘Peasant’. It’s cleaner, more beautiful but also less clear in its message. It suggests we cannot second guess Richard Dawson and, for that, he remains an intriguing and exciting artist.Available at: https://richardmichaeldawson.bandcamp.com/album/the-ruby-cord