Every Friday, ‘The Album Cycle’ reviews a handful of new releases.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
The Nudge – Dark Arts
The second album from Wellington psych-rock album is a three song brain-burner, combining all the right spiked ingredients to keep your head nodding while your mind is expanding. Best listened to waking up in a bivouac as the morning sun breaks through the leaves. Best listened to while struggling to stand up on a wind-beaten Wellington beach. Best listened to as the rip-tide takes you out to see and you stop struggling, just how you were taught to at school. Best listened to in a convertible, speeding down the Desert Road on a clear summer night. Best listened to on headphones sitting on a glacier at dusk. – Henry Oliver
Various Artists – Our First 100 Days
We’re 28 days into the bad presidency and 28 tracks into Our First 100 Days, a project raising money for various good progressive causes. It’s been fun remembering to check in with it every few days and see what’s new; some of it’s not for me but there’s been plenty of gems too… here’s my top 5 so far.
Bill Fay – ‘Shame’: Bill Fay made one of the all-time classic depressing albums in the 70s – this sounds more upbeat but is, in fact, a massive downer. Great, crushing one-word chorus.
Tara Jane O’Neil – ‘Ballad of El Goodo’: Absolute peach of a Big Star cover, I could listen to this all day and just might.
DRINKS – ‘I Am A Miserable Pig’: DRINKS is Cate Le Bon and a bloke from the band White Fence. This song sounds like if Slapp Happy had made a post-punk record i.e. fricken mean.
Toro Y Moi – ‘Omaha’: This hits a massive sweet spot for me: somewhere in-between wussy earnest early-00s indie and knobbed-out contemporary chillwave. Best of both worlds!
Angel Olsen – ‘Fly on Your Wall’: This was the first track released on Day 1 and it’s entirely possible none of the 99 that come after will beat it. So good. – Calum Henderson
Neil Watson – Studies in Tubular
“Tubular” isn’t a word that gets thrown around a lot. And it probably never did, but that doesn’t stop it from sitting right alongside adjectives as “radical” and “bitchin’”. Y’know, the sort of things you imagine your cool uncle said in his early ‘80s heyday. What can be said definitively is that Neil Watson, one of Aoteroa’s most accomplished guitarists, is tubular as shit on this latest release. He makes unloading massive surf-rock riffs sound easy, but along the way he gets into some hair-raising improvisation. Sometimes it’s firmly in the blues, like on organ-filled ‘Wes De Money’ and sometimes it gets quite jazzy indeed, like on ‘Five Bye Blues’. There’s even a hefty dose of flat-out country jamming in here. Just bask in it people, this stuff is good for you. Adding to the core lineup of drums, double bass, and guitar is organ on a few tracks, and crucially, saxophone. Delivered by Lewis McCullum and the incomparable Roger Manins, the tracks that feature them are far and away the best. This album is a real easy listen, and it’s also 100% jazz. Come for the old-school grooves, stay for seat-of-your-pants improvisation. Great stuff. – Mitchell Houlbrooke
Nikki Lane – Highway Queen
When it comes to outlaw country, a back story never hurts and Nikki Lane possesses a good one – a high school dropout turned self-made fashion designer who started writing songs in her mid-20s after a breakup from a country musician, Lane is the definition of a late bloomer in a genre that still welcomes such an artist. Her second album All or Nothin’ (produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who she met by chance at a flea market) made a small splash, but her third record Highway Queen is where Lane makes her major statement. Highway Queen is a more confident record on every level than its predecessors, from the cover where Lane is draped across a bull, to the savvy songwriting and tough update on the sounds of Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn found within. As good as All or Nothin’ was, it could be oh-so-slightly stuffy in it’s recreations of ‘60s outlaw country – not quite capturing the rawness and spirit Lane and her band could muster in her live show. That’s no problem on the muscular yet loose Highway Queen, right from the raucous opening salvo of ‘700,000 Rednecks’ Lane’s ambitions are laid bare.It’s the best country record of 2017 so far, and if it doesn’t make Lane a star in at the very least Americana circles then it is not for a lack of effort. – Pete Douglas
Stabscotch – Uncanny Valley
The second album from Bloomington, Indiana trio Stabscotch is equal parts Boredoms and Blood Brothers, a twitchy psychedelic brew that maintains its energy level over an exhaustive, near-annoying 100 minutes (the cassette renaissance combined with digital releases has given rise to largesse beyond even the dreams of late 90s hip-hop albums). Like a more bogan Load Records release, there’s an earnest delirium to their attempts to jackknife between tape-manipulation ambient, avant-metal, punky thrash and noise-techno sampling (while miraculously dodging Mike Patton-isms). As per their lyric sheet, they’re “(…)FREE FROM ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE MY HEART BEAT AND THE UNKNOWN PLEASURES THAT CONTROL ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨ME♨MEME(✿◠‿◠)☠☠☠☠☠☠☠❀‿❀❀‿❀☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠q(❂‿❂)p☠☠☠☠☠(▽^*)☠☠☠☠☠☠☆d(o⌒∇⌒o)b☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☾˙❀‿❀˙☽ ” – Stevie Kaye
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Rocker and noted cat enthusiast Ryan Adams went through a divorce over the past couple of years, so it’s easy to assume that his new album Prisoner would be a misery-fest akin to the weepy alt-country of Heartbreaker, or perhaps the naked Smiths worship of Love is Hell. Adams has moved on however, an illness forcing him to tour less and concentrate more on sharpening his skills in the studio, and this combined with a new found love for the album-oriented rock sounds of the 1980s means that Prisoner sounds a lot different to what the traditional stereotypes of Adams may suggest. Prisoner is of a piece with 2014’s Ryan Adams, and the excellent Jenny Lewis record The Voyager (which Adams also produced). Here he creates his own version of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 album Tunnel of Love, a divorce album where big glossy production numbers (‘Do You Still Love Me?) mingle with quieter acoustic vignettes of a marriage falling apart (‘Haunted House’, ‘Shiver and Shake’), and the end result is one of Adam’s very best sounding albums, even if it doesn’t necessarily satisfy those fans looking for Heartbreaker part II. – PD
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