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Staff reviews this week

Good or bad, here's what we think of this week's crop of new releases.

Please note: All views expressed are those of individual staff and not Norman Records as a whole.

Gqom Oh! The Sound of Durban Vol.1

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

9/10 according to our Ant

Had someone asked me three weeks ago what I thought Gqom was, I probably would have assumed it was the latest internet available legal high the kids are all getting buzzed up on. I would have of course been wrong. Turns out a short distance from the beautiful sandy beaches of Durban --the coastal city in Eastern South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, in the townships and suburbs, young producers are creating a vibrant new sound in electronic dance music.

This compilation is the first ever showcase of this fresh and exciting new music - which in some ways could be seen as Kwaito’s evil twin. Gqom is essentially dark techno music that channels the tension of the area's troubled history, propelled by polyrhythms rooted in African tradition while also containing traces of everything from Grime, UK Funky, bass music etc. There’s a frantic sense of urgency to the sound that gives me the vibe of when raving felt like you were dancing for a better tomorrow. For example protesting against the ridiculous Criminal Justice Bill which threatened everyone in the UK’s freedom to dance. This sort of “riot music” has a lineage through dance music that can be traced through Underground Resistance’s 1991 ‘Riot EP’ AFX’s Caustic Window material up to recent productions like Perc’s ‘Gob’.

Across two slabs of wax we get fifteen menacing, funked up dark rollers from Dominowe, Dj Mabheko, Emo Kid & Dj Bradolz, Citizen Boy, Cruel Boyz, Formation Boyz etc. The gatefold 2LP comes with a poster and includes a download code for the full album plus four bonus tracks.

Easily one of the most thrilling developments in global underground dance music in some time and not a duff track on here. If you’ve a penchant for darker strains of electronic music and also enjoy shaking your ass - hand on heart, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Bionic Ahmed EP

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Ant

The second offering on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label comes from Cairo dwelling producer Ahmed El Ghazoly aka ZULI with the ‘Bionic Ahmed EP’.

Opening with the heavy, stoned beats, metallic chimes and processed vocal of futurist hip-hopper ‘Robotic Handshake’. A tune which feels semi rooted in traditional Arabian music that’s being beamed back to the present from the future. ‘Compactpact’ although totally synthetic, has an organic quality that feels like small creatures chirping tranquil microtones. Like a field recording of tiny bird or insect droids from the future. ‘03-131001G’ has a bit of an oldskool UK bleeps ‘n’ bass thing happening but weirder and more narcotic sounding.

‘Robotic Jabs In 4D’ stripped back hazy drum’n bass that wouldn’t have been out of place on LTJ Bukem’s old ‘Logical Progression’ mix. Meanwhile ‘Ahmed?’ is trippy slo-mo techno/ house with processed vocal samples spliced into the mix. ‘Dr. Beckett’ closes the EP, sounding like Coil deconstructing UK bass music.

Game Theory
Lolita Nation

6 people love me. Be the 7th...

9/10 according to our Clinton

Oh my goodness where to start with this. The most sprawlingly ambitious power-pop/pop-psyche record ever made. Me and 'Lolita Nation' go back a long way. It was a sign of my youth that when I bought it (from York's legendary Red Rhino records) that I was unable to play it straight away as I had to go on a picnic with my parents. So instead I stared at the sleeve wondering what songs such as "Watch Who You Are Calling Space Garbage Meteor Mouth"  and "Pretty Green Card Shark" actually sounded like. As well as being a bona fide songwriting genius, Game Theory leader Scott Miller was a wizard with language. Even if you don't like the music, the song titles alone are worth the purchase.

Game Theory always straddled between being a pure shiny '80's power pop band and wildly experimental sound collagists and 'Lolita Nation' is the one album they made that flits between the two. It seems improbable that an album which has the odd track that edges towards Belinda Carlisle ("Mammoth Gardens") could also contain an experimental suite of cut up collages culminating in the remarkably brilliant 'Vacuum Genesis' (a Miller song drowned out by rampant Hoover).

In between the thing is jammed full of too many wondrous pop songs. Miller has a high pitched quivering voice that he uses to compose twisting turning songs where the choruses never quite go where you expect them too thus constantly thwarting Miller's attempts at pop stardom. It contains one of my favourite moments in pop history when the skewed guitar part from pulsating rocker 'The Waist and the Knees' re-appears in the glistening R.E.M ish pop of 'Nothing New'. Maybe you had to be there but it sums up this album perfectly, constantly self-referencing, polished but seemingly constantly on the verge of falling apart.    

It goes on forever, it's like five albums in one. For review purposes I listened to it again in it's entirety. I had a shave this morning and now I have a beard. Perhaps the best thing to do is throw all your other records away and simply listen to this for the rest of your life. 

Miller sadly passed away a couple of years ago. I'm still upset about it. His later work as the Loud Family was good (particularly the bonkers 'Interbabe Concern') but this was him in his most insanely productive mode.

Hard to sum up but if you like Big StarWilliam BurroughsSparksTodd RundgrenThe Go-Go'sLet's ActiveGuided by Voices,  maybe give this a try. Ah feck it comparisons are useless. It's like nothing else on earth.  

The Summer Of Sepia

9 people love me. Be the 10th...

9/10 according to our Clinton

It’s not often I like country-ish things these days (I had a 'phase' back in the early 2000's) but this snagged my ear as soon as it started playing in the office. It’s the solo project of Sara Charles from Massachusets who has apparently had this album ‘in the can’ for several years . If you’d like to see what Sara looks like,  she’s there on the sleeve straddling a horse.
So far, so mysterious but when you hear the music there’s just a chance that you might just flip. This is aching twilit psych soul with the kind of wobble in the voice that does something strange to a man like me. Opener ‘Liar’ is absolutely great, starting off with simple guitar and that voice but soon expanding to a glorious crescendo with a man (Caleb Groh) providing back up. So let’s try to compare…..Mazzy Star meets Sufjan Stevens meets Gillian Welch.  I’m happy to throw all those comparisons straight in the waste paper basket on ‘Bones of the Sea’ though. This is great  - like a Kate Bush who has been left out in the sun too long, Bennett screeches over a fantastic eerie three chord melody. 
The record sounds dusty, as if it has indeed been left in an old cabin for several years, there’s no getting away from making Joanna Newsom comparisons on ‘Den Dwellar’ where Bennet warbles “do your teeth get in the way of your smile like mine?” over morose strummed acoustic and hollering backing vox. Let me please be the first person to say Hugo Largo. And in case you are wondering Bennett can be quite normal too ‘The Sounds’ is relatively straightforward with nods to Edie Brickell in the vocals. 
It’s a fantastic record and a new and interesting take on weird country.


3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

Not that I was ever a '90's house guy but this is gorgeous. You can throw all the DJ Sneak comparisons you like at me and I'll not know what you are talking about but caress my ears softly with this and I'm fit to burst. 

Letherette have been around awhile making sleek and soulful house from their Wolverhampton hideaway, this four track 12" keeps it concise with the quality control set to max.

The opening title track is based around a gorgeously warm rhodes piano motif that sounds like the start of spring sunshine peeking through the trees. Add in a couple of spliced vocal samples and some nice tight percussion and you've got yourself a tune. 'Warm House' I'd like to call it. 

Elsewhere ‘Look No More’ uses almost the same voice sample but this time it is at man level and is joined by soulful backing vocals ands the kind of synths that are like twinkling distant lights. 

Overleaf ‘Without You'  is squished and squashed until it breaks out of itself with a lovely bass line and as the fog clears shards of sweet soul vocals spray all over the track. Closer ‘Don’t Think About Me' has more of an electro vibe with funky bass and flamming Fly Lo style effects, the vocal cut ups here are more displaced at aren’t quite as warm as previous giving it a slightly disconcerting edge.

Another twinkling track of then of uplifting soulful house and an EP you've got to get on your stereo as the weather gets warmer.   

Working For A Nuclear Free City
What Do People Do All Day?

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

When you work in an office which is just one bit of DNA away from being that of Nathan Barley it’s a question I often ask myself. Playing and shouting seems to be the answer. In slightly related news I’m devastated to learn that there are 14 songs here. That’s more work for me then. At least Celer had the decency to make a one track album this week. Easy peasy. 
This I think is WFANFC’s third album and they continue to do what they are good at, namely mix up Beta Band style lop-pop, kraut-rock, 90’s influenced dance with a touch of prog here and there to keep the Rick Wakeman fans happy. They aren’t ever going to do anything as blindingly obvious as put the best track first so I’m nestled in track ‘3’ which is quite wonderful. I imagine this is what the Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’ sounds like to people who like it, brilliant scuttling rhythms, dubby guitars and synths and dreamy hazy vocals.  Also really good is 'Stop Everything’ a distorted acoustic number something like what you might have hoped the third Tame Impala record might sound like.
They’ve really thought about the production, I really like the way that pots and pans and bits from underneath the sink have been thrown into the mix. Fabbo stuff. It’s a right mixed bag this with some fabulous moments (Maston/Avalanches cross breed ‘New Day’ is a gorgeous instrumental for example), they often sound like three bands playing at once and remind us of the ’90’s when bands (Disco Inferno) would try putting anything together to see if it worked. 
Beautiful structured chaos. 

Summer Twins

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Clinton

Though not strictly twins, Summer Twins are sisters from Riverside CA. It sounds nice there. Is it nice there? I bet the sun shines a lot. You can tell by the way they write melodious strummy pop that is fuzzy but with that streak of feel good sunshine vibe that you don’t get if you live in Pudsey.  
I’ve spent my post breakfast hangover (yup I get hangovers off foods these days) listening to this LP and it’s all very lovely  - somewhere between Best Coast back when they were good and 1950’s 'Happy Days' style ballads. “Our World’ is a particularly delicious listen when you take your date to the top of a hill over looking the bay after the prom. ‘Ju Ju’ too has that surfy vibe of Del Shannon and Eddie Cochran with harmonies slathered a top.
On first listen the songs are pleasant if not mind-blowing. ‘Blinds’ is a great opener however with a majestic chorus which builds to a keening crescendo. Melody wise it sounds like something Super Furry Animals might come up with. Elsewhere it’s like a really nice dog, throughly enjoyable. 

Nap Eyes
Thought Rock Fish Scale

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

7/10 according to our Clinton

My mum always told me not to tell tales but Nap Eyes singer Nigel Chapman ignores that advice and spends an album regaling stories. This is is a very different beast from Nap Eyes previous album was a raggle tangle blend of the Clean, the Modern Lovers  and the Velvet Underground but here  they concentrate on one particular aspect, an aspect which wears sunglasses. An aspect called Sir Lou Reed.
Rather than going hither, thither the album tends to stay on one kind of plane - a sparse brand of indie rock which gives plenty of space for Chapman to chat to us. Self assessment time: if I have one flaw (bigger than the others) as a reviewer I tend to ignore lyrics. So really at this point I should be repeating some of Chapman’s clever couplets but to be honest I’m not really listening to them. Instead I’m listening to the music which drifts slowly. It sounds like a sedate Modern Lovers, a Wave Pictures with only half the amount of solo-ing or on ‘Mixer’ early Belle and Sebastien with a man's man on vocals. ‘Lion In Chains’ meanwhile IS Lou Reed.
It’s a nice listen  - after half of it someone in the office pipes up “he does go on”. And yes he does. He talks a lot. But that's the point I think. 

Junior Boys
Big Black Coat

7 people love me. Be the 8th...

7/10 according to our Clinton

I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of having a new label having shifted from Domino to City Slang but Junior Boys sound revitalised on the first couple of tracks on this debut for the latter imprint. Their textbook electronica and haunting vocals remain as intact as they’ve ever been but opener ‘You Say That’ is rather vibrant and has a chorus that is pop friendly without being blindly aiming for iPhone speakers.

Other than this slight lift of mood it’s business as usual and that's no bad thing. It’s quite incredible that Junior Boys are now on their 5th album, ‘C’mon Baby’ (what a title!) is a typical Junior Boys composition  - aching electronics bleat away under crestfallen vocals, it climaxes with a massive fart of synth. I’ve always thought Junior Boys are so much less effective when they head into dance floor territory and ‘Baby Give Up on it’ (that ‘baby' again) is a light piece of fluff that lacks the yearning that makes their earlier work so affecting . ‘M&P’ too has a rather high BPM and some seriously cheesy synths. Elsewhere, ‘No-one’s business’ is weirdly twice as quiet as the rest of the record which I just can't get my head around, ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ is the bloopiest thing I’ve heard all year and sounds like Prefab Sprout gone acid.

It’s tracks like this that convinces me that there is still a place for Junior Boys in this topsy turvy world but as other tracks slide by without making much impression and I note a third track with ‘baby’ in the title, there are hints of inspiration waning. I would have happily put my mortgage on closer and title track 'Big Black Coat' being the best thing here and indeed it is. Over pulsing beats, synths pick out gorgeous chords with a repetitive and nagging vocal hook reminds you to forget all about the so-so tracks that have gone before.    

Vic Mars
The Land and The Garden

11 people love me. Be the 12th...

9/10 according to our Laurie

Land and gardens. Can you get any more pastoral than that combination? Possibly with the addition of a disgruntled farmer and flagons of ale, and suddenly we’ve landed in The Shire. I like to think that Frodo and Sam would have approved of this study in the sound of their homeland, what with its flutes and Vaughan Williams worship, had they taken those music critic jobs instead of saving the world.

Vic Mars is not Frodo or Sam, but a long-range wanderer nonetheless, the native Brit having spent a while living in Japan before returning to London and the folky folk sounds of the Auld United Kyngdome. He’s perfectly captured the sounds of folk from the 70s and before, featuring heavy use of simple major melodics on acoustic guitars, flutes, cellos, wood knocks and wheezing organs, all thrown onto cassette then onto the vinyl. Much analog, much hiss. It’s the sound of pleasantries and a simple life with pies and cider all homemade by your mum’s aunt’s gran who lives by the water wheel and whose left eye hasn’t been the same since that manure accident. It’s like surveying the rolling fields on a spring morning while trying to ignore the sheep that are trying to nibble on your flip-flops. You get the picture, farms and shit.

Remember Watership Down? It really reminds me of that soundtrack, but only all the nice bits where rabbits aren’t getting mutilated and the ground isn’t turning into blood. The Shire, but if Mordor never existed.

Brb, my mind’s off back to Devon.


3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Laurie

Having just released Roly Porter’s destructive LP Third Law, Tri Angle decide that they haven’t provided enough of an audio battering to the ears of their followers. Enter the choppy productions of US audio subverter Hanz, who, by the looks of things, has made it onto wax for the first time with this here Reducer record.

His hard, fuzzy-edged sound instantly recalls the distorted beats of Shit & Shine, the Black Dog and Blanck Mass, but with a significant hip-hop edge thanks to heavy sampling (lots of vocal chops) and an easygoing pace that edges on dub at times. In fact, the majority of drums are also cut like the vocal segments; breaks sporadically materialise onto your left side before appearing in a more twisted form seconds later to your right. At any moment, the sound stage could explode or collapse, both holding an equal intensity throughout and leading to much head nodding and fist smashing. Music for manic welders and angry nighthawks.

Little melodic elements such as cinematic strings or synth blips peek through the snarling exterior, offering a much-needed layer of depth which pushes it above other similarly noisy, beaty cuts. It’s this delicious production that is just astonishing, with so many disparate sounds coming together in a melee of effects to build a common groove, and this my friends is where Hanz has succeeded.


5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Laurie

Nuel is Manuel Fogliata, an Italian DJ, ambienter, and Donato Dozzy collaborator (he was partially responsible for those now mega-rare Aquaplano releases) who makes ambitious music when he gets into album mode. Large swathes of sound rise into walls of shimmering frequencies both mechanistic and awe-strikingly beautiful on Hyperboreal, his second album once again on Further Records.

It’s pretty clear that the hypnotic downtempo acoustic figures of Trance Mutation have been, well, mutated into strange audio spectres, banshees that wail into massive caverns. Engines purr and grumble as if they’re about to run out of fuel, while glistening fragments of sound rise up in waves before echoing gradually off towards the silence from which they were born. This is Raica level audio frazzlery. It’s unbelievably dense and grating, constantly baring its teeth at only the most vulnerable part of your ears. Think labelmate Innercity’s sort of harsher-edged sounds, or perhaps some of the stuff on Line. ‘-Om’ cuts through this treble-heavy mist with a heavy combination of lower drones like buzzing amps that have been left on all night, while rhythmic continuity is provided by an artificial heartbeat.

Sounds just keep morphing in extremely trippy but challenging ways, so that you’re left in a submissive position, at the mercy of Fogliata’s sonic mind. This new side of the producer will delight fans of Further’s recent intense electronic output, but prepare your ears for one of their harshest yet.

Capra Informis
Womb of the Wild

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Laurie

Capra Informis is a new band that means ‘shapeless goat’ in latin, which is a clever name since it was started by the djembi player from Goat (see what they did there?) who still remains nameless for no reason at all. ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the music, but I’m also famous from a famous band so yeah.’ He/she has assembled another group of nameless goons who will in future refer to themselves as ‘the nameless guitar player who worked with the nameless djembi player from the band Goat.’ Psych breeds psych in the womb of the wild.

There are hand drums and there are guitars. Distorted, rawk guitars. There’s a consistent tandem between frantic but repetitive drum cycles and some sort of fire-dancing shamanistic vocal chanting. You know the kind - deep, manly quasi-religious bellowing to invoke all sorts of mystery and acid flashbacks. To fill in the inevitable space between these essential psychedelic elements, the guitars dirge out a single riff or, more frequently, a sustained synth/organ thing keeps it a bit cleaner which really brings out the swathes of vocal and kinda makes it sound medieval. Sort of like the clean bits from folk metal, anyone known Primordial? Anyone?? So there’s actually less guitar than the title track would have you believe, but it’s still a good psych excursion that keeps in line with the Goat ethos.

In fact we’ve all probably lost our minds from all the walls of fuzzy guitars by now.


4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Laurie

Celer aka Will Long is a perpetual music machine. This minimal excursion is the next in a short but highly populated line of music made and released this decade by the man who never rests. But he’s always at rest really, extremely busy surrounding himself with the sleepiest, cosiest music you can imagine.

Take the initial background for Akagi, for example. Music for a live yoga event at a temple in Northern Tokyo. Such is the level of relaxation here that it immediately conjures up imagery of sun-dappled squares filled with bodily unfolding and slowness. It was made using an age-old dual tape machine technique championed by Eno in the late 70s, where related chords are put on two separate tapes, with their volume and speed being manipulated by Celer. An old technique for sure, and you can kind of hear it in the swelling of the chords (in fact, they’re kinda similar in their harmony to Music for Airports..) though the texture is even more restrained than those days. Some lower, warm tones are the body of the soundscape while some more string-like, distant treble layers are the hairs, slowly soaring over the body in some strange biological ballet.

It’s utterly and totally peaceful. Make of that what you will, as there is always the argument that music that accomplishes this same goal in the same way already exists in abundance. Though I doubt anyone who likes this cares about that because they’re too busy daydreaming.

Joane Skyler
Serious Time

6 people love me. Be the 7th...

7/10 according to our Laurie

For their label debut, Ceramics present to you the latest ‘novel’ by Joane Skyler, the latest in a fashion of male producers with female names to give the illusion of equality within the scene. Jason Kerley, as he is actually known as, happily pulls squeaks, plonks, blonks, and tonks from his synths and drum machines with a blatant disregard for listeners’ expectations or any form of regularity.

Serious Time covers dismantled electronic beat music, broken in crazy, kooky and sometimes plain hilarious ways. What’s even more weird is that each track on Bandcamp is taking half a minute to load, so I’m half in comfortable silence and half being bombarded by the synth breaker’s manual. The fragments occasionally coalesce unpredictably into a genuine beat, often quite trappy with a hint of grime and not many annoying repeated vocal stabs; these tunes are actually pretty good, steady and sparse with a nice low end and clean percs (see ‘Sleep Spell’ and ‘Stench’). Always with the weird synth sounds though, that flex around playfully with a mind totally of their own.

It all hinges on whether the madness is for you or not. I mean, even disregarding the purposeful false-starts of the first half of the record, tracks like ‘Quoit’ with its hyper-techno and spontaneous breaks have me shaking my head in both dismissal and disbelief. It reminds me of Chrononautz just with even less of a grounding in reality. So yes, aproach at your own risk.

Light Sleeper
The Goodbye That Keeps On Giving

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

7/10 according to our Laurie

What’s this? A brown paper envelope containing a card CD case with a mildly pixellated picture of a serene tree stock onto it? This can only mean one thing… A new Shimmering Moods release! Abiding by all of their current customs, this one from Aussie soundsmith Light Sleeper is a limited run of 100 and chock full of glistening feelings to accompany your voyage up that hill in the Lake District or to bed.

The Goodbye That Keeps on Giving (wow) chronicles the passing of several hundred lovely chords, accented by countless rustlings, stutterings and flashes of (instrumental) light across its 40 minute duration. That makes it quite concise for such a calm ambient album, and while the tone barely changes throughout, the texture shifts as more instruments or field recordings are alternately brought to the forefront while the others drift. There’s a lot of use of the ‘spacey’ sort of synths to give that soft vibe, trickling off the speakers with familiar hues.

Possibly too familiar. This sort of loveliness is always gonna be, well, lovely, but audible loveliness spews forth from the ambient scene with every day that passes, so sometimes it’s good to offset the shimmer with some shatter from time to time. Don’t ask me what makes a ‘shatter’ other than broken glass.

Anna Homler and Steve Moshier
Breadwoman & Other Tales

36 people love me. Be the 37th...

9/10 according to our Robin

If you can believe it, this record dates back to the early ‘80s, when Anna Homler and Steve Moshier were deep into their own isolated avant-garde pursuits. Homler, a vocalist interested in language and intonation, conceived fractured, untranslatable songs; listening to them on their own, the pauses and overlays would sound like gaping chasms and urgent interruptions. Using a bedrock of hissing electronics and preternaturally industrial beatwork, Steve Moshier both busied and elucidated her compositions, as if making her made-up language one that was already steeped in history, and rich with tradition. At the same time, his sifting, cold production -- full of clicks and stagnant flourishes -- made these works strangely futurist, like they could be appearing right now on the Further or Umor.

Regardless of their place in time, the compositions on ‘Breadwoman’ are startling: propulsive and unsettling, they see two knowing artists seeking out the unknown, bringing intuition and chance into the specifics of their compositional work. 

Ulrika Spacek
The Album Paranoia

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

9/10 according to our Robin

It’s a brave new world we live in when I’m reviewing a record off of an NME stream, but here we are -- I’m pretty sure Chris Moyles orchestrated this in collaboration with Windows 10. Ulrika Spacek are sugar free psychedelic merchants from London, and if their upcoming tour with Sunflower Bean isn’t enough of a clue, here’s the reveal: this is clean-as-a-whistle rock music that unwinds at a rhythmically stupefying pace (you’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting, until you just slot into their universe) before the pop bit of the song reveals itself. Ah, the pop bit: not free of wahs, not able to shake free of the bass groove, what you get is a hook that glides along the clouds and hopes you’ll crank your neck upwards for long enough.

That’s “I Don’t Know”, a lovely if forgetful little slice of music, but there’s more coastin’ from this band to come. “Porcelain” sounds like Deerhunter caught between ‘Cryptograms’ and ‘Microcastle’, with treated vocals and an absolutely gorgeous guitar melody punctured with jittering fuzz -- all mere sidequests to the desperate, high-pitched vocal hook that opens the song like two palms opening outward to reveal an adorable tiny baby pet.

I love the way this record breathes: the intro that patiently opens “Circa 1954” gives the feeling that the rest of the song is a gust of wind forcing its way onto the landscape, the synth and drum-beat sounding somehow partially detached from the rest of the song. It’s gorgeous. Again, the band sound like Deerhunter on “Strawberry Glue”, where they match anxiety with the most streamlined guitar rock you’ll hear this year -- there’s desperation in its sound, but how, exactly? It jangles.

This is the kind of record you get swept up in: every chord provides another burst of energy, every riff drives along another nerve in your brain. Also, distortion is good. Get past that feint of an opener and listen to all of these songs: they’re epic and chill and woozy and thinking clearly.

Micah P. Hinson & Nick Phelps
Broken Arrows

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Also known as ‘You Think You’re Fucking Ennio Morricone’, the new collaboration between Micah P. Hinson and Nick Phelps tries to muster up the spirit of a terse, hate-filled Western while smashing plates and distorting the airwaves for some real feral rock music. Yes, it feels kinda like watching your choice Western (I can only think of ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ right now) in those tense guitar figures, brazen key changes and unbecoming waltzes. At times, it’s impressive stuff; it’s at its best when it isn’t locked in on its theme.

While it begins on the thrilling, half-blastbeaten “Why Yes I Was Born Yesterday”, this record has a lot of avenues to take us down, just like a film, and the half-tempo, deliciously delayed “Looking Outside” brings the record to a halt, emphasising its buzzsaw climax all the more. At times, it feels like they’re putting together a score -- these huge moments fall down into gorgeously picked guitar, like an outro not only to a song but to a world-beating scene. “In The Making” feels like montage music, using cruel distortion to usher in a rushing and utterly anthemic piano figure. Bring it on, world, I am armed with sound.

The high drama of “Whilst Rabbit Run” suggests that as long as the melodies are this rewarding, it doesn’t really matter what costume drama the duo are trying out: the piano could be from a Starsailor record, and while the riffs owe a lot to scores, they’re mainly Western influenced in their emotive force. The grandiosity of the record comes from its noisy presentation: it’s a little much, but that is so very much the point.

C Joynes / Nick Jonah Davis
Split Electric

10 people love me. Be the 11th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Norman Records Sitcom Scenario #32: what if two improv guitarists lived together and had to split an electricity bill? You’d have ‘Split Electric’, a charming show with a two season run. C Joynes and Nick Jonah Davis are the recurring stars, and in this particular episode they also play some of that gorgeous guitar -- one after the other, because it’s important to queue. The real plot twist in this record is that both artists are predominantly aficionados of the acoustic guitar, and here they’ve done a rare plug-in for our enjoyment.

Tumbling between each other on both sides, they pick up some lovely strands of riffing and rambling: Joynes’ “Bold William Taylor” finds some lovely points of juxtaposition between booming notes and the kind of guitar figures that sound like they’re hyperventilating. It’s gorgeous, urgent stuff worthy of Richard Dawson (who, incidentally, goes to work for the record’s album artwork). Nick Jonah Davis draws on pastorality (take in the absolutely delectable lawn-mower twang of “William Sathya” at some point, please) before Joynes crashes in with the delay-heavy, blues-doting psychedelia of “Endmorph Vs Ectomorph”.

Hearing a split structured like this is rather lovely: it’s like two friends exchanging notes under the table. Joynes’ “St Cloudy Apple Spring” has hints of old-school primitivism but accentuates brief melodies wonderfully, conjuring riff epiphanies to enjoy for seconds at a time. The bait-and-switch of this record is where it’s at: that a song so lovely could be followed by Davis’ brooding, groaning “Corksniffer’s Delight” is enough to elicit in me a poignant wistful sigh.

Josephine Foster
No More Lamps In The Morning

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Let’s do an anecdotal review, shall we? I’ve heard ‘No More Lamps In The Morning’ delicately swamping its way through our office speakers three or four times, and not once has it come close to clicking: out in the field, like that, it’s a stagnating record, a Basically Foster record of homogenous strums and trailing lyricism. Now the headphones are on, my introspective stat boost has gone up +5, and I’m pretty sure this is a lovely record.

Until now, I’ve found Foster’s best records to be the most obvious. The ornate ‘Blood Rushing’ comes to mind as her best moment, a record with the right amount of drama -- with real waterfalls at the end of rivers. ‘No More Lamps In The Morning’ is a more traditional snapshot of her work, though, consisting of plucks and a few flourishes -- which only get accentuated if you get close and isolate yourself while listening -- and no particular end in sight. Give it time, though, and you’ll be glad these aren’t much in the way of songs: hearing “A Thimbleful of Milk” now, it sounds like a kindly meditation, with meandering guitar soloing peaking coming through behind Foster’s bare-bone structure of guitar picks. With extra arrangements quietly billowing through these songs, there’s a feeling of cascading to go with the Radio3-does-folk style.

This record is paced slower than any Foster record I’ve delved into, but it makes the emphasis greater: when the higher, more wrangling notes come through on “My Dove, My Beautiful One”, it creates that same feeling of restful unrest that Tim Buckley could conjure at his finest. When cello slides, ever-so-quietly, into these tracks, it does so at a gorgeous waiting measure, as if Foster has actually slowed the whole universe down. What I’m saying is this record is so, so nice, when you come down to its level.

Cross Record
Wabi Sabi

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

8/10 according to our Robin

Ba Da Bing! almost accidentally release a pop album but it’s okay because Cross Record are aware of the dilemma and spin in and out of hooks, not straight through them. Described in the press world as a record happening between long work weeks in places like supermarkets, ‘Wabi-Sabi’ sounds like a band creating a dense, magical forest underneath horribly bright artificial lights and between the cereal shelves. It shimmers, it marches and it keeps a psychedelic distance.

Despite its lucid ambient beginnings, ‘Wabi-Sabi’ opens up as a rather emotive, high-drama piece of music: “High Rise” is a gorgeous track based around a heart-melting chord sequence, all acoustic before a fire alarm riff careers around the corner. The drums are overloud, the cadences as melodramatic as the end of a LOST episode, and the vocals hummed like this is the world spinning at its standard pace: oh yeah, this is the feeling. “Something Unseen Touches A Flower To My Forehead” is another whispering belter, beginning on nimble fingerpicking before drums worthy of ‘The Seer’ thrash their way to the fore.

Cross Record are a duo with a multiplying body of ideas, sharing in Bjork ambient sheen and Colleen-styled loops on “Basket” and creating noisy backwards ballads on “Lemon”. There are moments when this record sounds like it’s about to settle; it’ll sooner shift, though.

Sunflower Bean
Human Ceremony

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

7/10 according to our Robin

Here it is: the record that should be the year’s most unremarkable (Sunflower Bean literally sounds like a band name that was made up by someone parodying the Brooklyn music scene, are they from Brooklyn, turns out yes, they are, how about that), but for which I have many remarks. The record that should probably do the least for me and yet it’s shifted my internal monologue a few times. Why is ‘Human Ceremony’ simultaneously so good and so miscalculated?

Sunflower Bean use ‘Human Ceremony’ to take a psychedelic residency of sparkling, clean-cut guitar lines and locked in drums, but they also sound like they wouldn’t mind being an orgcore band in an alternate reality: between its utterly gorgeous guitar figures, “Come On” has unhinged vox that recall punk revisionists Shopping goading us with their “you heard me right!” taunts. Both styles are good, and it’s kinda relieving that Sunflower Bean put a slight hint of grit into their otherwise shiny psych product, but the songwriting gets mixed up: “2013” would be far better if the lyrics were sung straight up rather than dueted like a One Word At A Time school game. Between the organ synths, rising guitar riffs and sparkly post-punk chords, tracks like these are totally overstuffed with ideas they don’t really need: I get it, because psych rock is extra, but this crew are making pop music at heart, so… reel it back.

Hilarious name aside, I’m ready to let Sunflower Bean in. Tracks like “This Kind Of Feeling” have psychedelic propulsion in abundance, with subliminal grooving basslines, beautified motifs and the occasional burst of hard rock jamming (which, again, brings to mind some aged punk band a la Television, in the midst of a psych good time). I want these moments -- the ones where they want to be a euphoric fucking band -- over their love of Ty Segall (“I Was Home”, “Wall Watcher”) or their adoration of full-to-the-brim music, man. This is a more-than-promising, way overboard debut, but give me the clean psych jams, or give me your quiet attempt at a Low song (“Oh, I Just Don’t Know”), and I’ll turn your shaky LP into a wonderful EP.

Mass Gothic
Mass Gothic

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Robin

Breaching the emotional heights of Permalight-era Rogue Wave and a season one episode of Heroes, Noel Heroux has made a clean break from Hooray For Earth and become Mass Gothic. This synth-supplemented guitar rawk project doesn’t sound a million miles from a way more streamlined Tame Impala, at first take, if internal struggles were more important than psychedelic atmosphere. The way ‘Mass Gothic’ begins -- with the repetitive, riff distorted and rocked-to-fuck “Mind Is Probably” -- you can hear him reaching for that cacophonic climax. The drums fall apart and his voice begins to warble, betraying the record’s earnest side after several minutes of crystalline humming.

Heroux loves to toy with ambience, and it sounds like toy ambience, after the BoC remnants on “Mind Is Probably” he uses “Open The Road” as an interluding, metal-sheet ballad. It’s obvious that Heroux wants to set things in place before going through the motions, which sometimes works (that opener is kinda addictive), and sometimes doesn’t: the shimmering textures of “Pier Pressure” don’t really match up to the drumbeat that breaks through them -- waves can’t be pierced by more water. Heroux’s voice, though, can work its way through any problem -- his Dodos-esque coo on this track is distanced but dramatic, tethering together the disparate sounds he’s assembled (which eventually go on to include a sparkly, ‘80s piano motif. Okay).

He gets silly, and Mass Gothic goes through some changes: “Nice Night” brings in high ‘n’ wild vocal harmonies before a pantomimic gang vocal centers things (“Every night! You’ve got to save me!”) and the latter-day guitar squelch of Sufjan offers itself to proceedings. He gets kosmische (like, Muse kosmische), on “Money Counter”, at which point I become suspicious that indie pop albums are getting weirder. Trying harder? I don’t know, but there’s some magic in this mess.

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Timestamp: Monday 8th February, 16:28:15