Best Records of April 2019 Sunn O))), Big Thief, Fat White Family, Susan James
Interrupted by the yearly irritant that is Record Store Day, April 2019 was actually no disaster on the new release front. So let’s pick out our favourites and re-tell you about them in case you missed them in all the ‘excitement’.
Best albums this month
An out of nowhere scuzzy blast of avant rock which sounded something like the Fall jamming with Can in King Tubby’s studio. These Walthamstow psych dads have a unique take on the underside of British life in 2019 and spend their spare time marrying Mark E Smith-style yelpings to genre splicing out there music which we are sure should he be alive today would be a John Peel fave.
I didn’t want to include any Record Store Day releases in this list but I’ll have to let my hardline stance slide for Sunn O))) who released the first pressing of their new album on the big day (subsequent pressings are widely available). As you might expect if you’ve heard their previous work, Life Metal contains 69 minutes worth of slow moving churning monolithic guitar chords with unusual touches like pipe organ, electric cello and the voice of Hildur Guðnadóttir.
Beginning with what may be the two best songs of the year so far, Big Thief announce their place on the big stage with an album of folk music gone askew as Adrienne Lenker’s voice swoops over some particularly eerie guitar arpeggios. Their lop-sided take on backwoods folk could be compared to fellow rustic travellers the Innocence Mission though their stellar guitar interplay nods towards that produced by the likes of American Football and Real Estate.
It’s all about the recruitment. When Susan James was looking for someone to arrange her songs she turned to High Llama Sean O’Hagan, a man notable for exquisite string and horn arrangements on his own work and for bands like Stereolab. The two work together perfectly, O’Hagan slathering inventive arrangements over James’ always interesting Laurel Canyon folk. Something akin to Joni Mitchell as produced by Brian Wilson, this is a wonderful ride.
It pains me to add a Fat White Family record to our best of April lists but, sadly, our shop is not just all about my tastes. The smoke blowing of this band from various parts of the media is as tiresome as some of their music but following a move to Sheffield, the band may have finally started living up to early hype. It may not tear down the walls of their sound as the initial hype promised but Serfs Up is a strong third album and suggests that they may be around for a long while yet... annoyingly enough.
Martin Jensen has been busy of late. He’s started getting a name for himself as a kind of electronic music pied piper, making records that showcase various forms of the genre and inviting you along for the ride. This full length on the increasingly collectible Castles in Space imprint sees Jensen expanding his sound into new areas including two tracks with vocals both of which work particularly well. His records are like love letters to 80s/90s electronica and you can feel the love coming through every seam of Civilian Leather.
London, it seems is littered with jazz musicians. In fact I’m hearing rumours that jazz was actually started in Hackney in 2017. Jazz can be an overly complicated affair but keyboardist extraordinaire Alfa Mist keeps things simple with keys and drums arrangements which keep free of clutter and produce meditative expansive exercises in restraint. The album sprawls and mutates keeping its late night summer inflections as muted horns tangle around the rhodes pianos. Sometimes also sounds a bit like Radiohead.
I have to admit it, I lost interest in Guided By Voices a few albums ago but just like their nearest English equivalent (in terms of output anyway) the Fall, it’s worth sticking with them as their next album may just be the one you’ve been waiting for. And so it comes to pass with Warp & Woof. Recorded on the fly during various tours, the album has a breezy quality that was missing from the sludgy and overlong Zeppelin Over China and shows the band having fun, keeping things brief and bursting with creativity.
Took a couple of goes to start enjoying this. Bibio’s albeit gorgeous sound has started to wear a bit thin at times and I’m not overly keen on the ‘Riverdance’ style violin. However there’s still much to enjoy here. Once again he blends hip-hop and soul influenced tracks with more bucolic folk pieces which showcase his abilities as a guitarist. Will probably sound even better if summer eventually arrives but Ribbons is still a rustic, rural and soulful treat.
Other noteworthy stuff:
There was a new one from Leeds long timers the Mekons, Wand made a rather surprisingly Radiohead sounding epic, Josefin Ohrn blended psych and discotheque, Western Edges made West Yorkshire inspired ambience and electronics and Centrum were the latest meditative psychsters. There were those lavish re-issues of two Stereolab albums plus an essential re-pressing of Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda.
Coming to a shelf near you this May
Already we have great albums in stock from Death & Vanilla and Mahatma X but a quick look at our always accurate Pre-Order Release Schedule bot reveals that forthcoming we have upcoming albums by yawn-friendly America rockers the National, gritty post-punkers Interpol, old timers Sebadoh and Earth. Whilst slightly more thrillingly there’s a new Josephine Wiggs album due to go along with your Cate Le Bon and get set for a new Flying Lotus record to spend your summer wading through.
Not satisfied? Have a glance at our shifty-as-f release schedule.