Best Records of August 2018 Featuring Tirzah, Mitski, Kathryn Joseph, Oh Sees, Death Cab For Cutie
Well, August was august. Geddit? Respected. Impressive. Never mind. Without further ado, let's wade into our monthly round up of the bits we liked and what we can look forward to in September.
Tirzah - Devotion
Described by our resident music disliker and steely pessimist Clint as ‘proper’, Tirzah’s new LP wowed us from the off. It’s curious that it happened this way: ‘Devotion’ scales R&B low, offering an off-kilter version of the genre where mumbles and abstraction make for the best hooks. Like Dean Blunt and the first xx record given a numbing romantic sincerity, the record brings you in, sinking you with it. From the looping synths to sudden bursts of fierce guitar, ‘Devotion’ feels like a cult classic waiting to happen, the kind of ineffable record everyone’s enjoying, in surprise, at the same time. God is it good.
Mitski - Be the Cowboy
Mitski’s newest banger is a character-acted monodrama in which our tragic hero puts on a series of disguises, each as lonely and listless as the last. Expanding her scuzz rock sound into a series of tunes that are synthy and smoky, she creates some of her most direct pop gems yet. Hints of smash hit greats like Robyn filter down through the melodies, their hooks now married to the acerbic wit of a vintage Mitski song. Lead single “Nobody” is a schmaltzy funk pop panorama that proves her to have pretty much maxed out all her skills: its riotous key changes are something else. With shorter and ever snappier songwriting, ‘Be the Cowboy’ becomes a series of powerful vignettes on wanting someone to come closer and wondering why they won’t.
The Necks - Body
Sage and all-knowing, The Necks have one of music’s most symbiotic relationships, capable of predicting each other's next steps into the groove. Their improvisations have generally been muted, microcosmic affairs, sticking to one vamp for forty minutes and making decorative adjustments to it. This patient, thoughtful sound has won them a cult following, but ‘Body’ is in some ways an implosion of it. At first, the group present a typical showing of their harmonious piano, bass ‘n’ drums set-up, but wait your turn and they start climaxing, creating a psych rock jam that serves as the denouement to their long-standing career. I’m sure they’ll make more records, of course, and ones that remind us of what The Necks have always been -- it’s just that this one is a stunning anomaly.
Kathryn Joseph - From When I Wake The Want Is
After a beguiling debut that channeled Talk Talk and Björk in an understated setting, Kathryn Joseph has ventured into a sparser, more intangible sound. ‘From When I Wake the Want Is’ is a record thick with dust, its shuffled drums and climactic piano motifs making it sound like an old tome opened to unleash a new curse. Utilising a ghostly production, rushing melodies and beats that pulse with the heart, “Tell My Lover” announced a version of Joseph that is bold and delicate in the same stride, her voice trembling in the mix. The record’s title track has shades of the best music we’ve ever gotten out of Radiohead and Tori Amos. A stunning record, it’s an intoxicating mix of fear and feeling.
Autechre - NTS Sessions
Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been releasing records as Autechre for twenty seven years. Never ones to rest on their laurels, their sessions for NTS radio proved that they remain at the absolute top of their game. Across four breathtaking sessions, the visionary producers utilize their custom built software to unleash some of the most radical, twisted and gnarled computer music you’ll hear all year. There were even some more straight up techno/electro oriented moments, and naturally some of their signature vision of abstracted mutant hip hop. Plus a real surprise came in the form of a stunning, gorgeous longform ambient/drone piece. Warp released each session separately on wax so fans could cherry pick, or for the hardcore Ae fiend, there’s a one-time pressing 8CD or gargantuan 12LP box set. This is top drawer, futuristic, complex, uncompromising electronic music to devour, but take heed - after eight hours in the zone, your cranium could well implode!
Papa M - A Broke Moon Rises
Slint’s David Pajo pops another homespun record through your mailbox, and this time it feels like the real deal: with a newfound appreciation for structural integrity, he begins to focus on the narrative side of things. This time, the intertwining guitars feel conducive to an album proper, ‘A Broke Moon Rises’ becoming the kind of instrumental rock album we usually assign to a soundtrack -- like albums by Last Ex and Timber Timbre, it rises and falls, finding an emotional arc in the process. Slint fans need not fret: they’ll still be hearing the same uncompromising and inventive guitarist they’ve grown to love, going after cracked chord changes and dexterous melodies like they’re olympic sport.
Anna Meredith - Anno
Celebrated contemporary composer Anna Meredith can do so many things, chief among them wringing an alliterative title out of me. Her newest project is a conceptual head-scratcher. In collaboration with the Scottish Ensemble (that’s their name; ask no further questions), she laces her own music with Vivaldi’s iconic Four Seasons suite. In an era where mash-ups are one of our favourite communicative currencies, the project feels weirdly vital: hearing Meredith’s music sequenced with Vilvaidi’s serves as a humorous but poignant history lesson in musical force and energy, the old and legendary somehow blending seamlessly with the new, visionary work of Meredith.
Oh Sees - Smote Reverser
I’ll bet you John Dwyer only releases records so we’ll talk about them. The prog ‘n’ psych savant swishes his two favourite genres up in a new broth on ‘Smote Reverser’, creating what I’m going to hereby declare a return to form. Once again his rhythms and melodies conspire to be both infuriating and indelible, the hooks coming thick and fast, but then halting in dynamic swerves of sound. Even on repeated listens, ‘Smote Reverser’ makes me jump, using its long, swirling garage rock jams to deliver unexpected twists. Even for a band on a constant upswing of energy, ‘Smote Reverser’ feels newly incensed.
White Denim - Performance
As our resident White Denim fanboy Daoud points out, this band are way too good at music now. There was a time when they weren’t all just amazing guitarists; now they swim through songs as if there were no water in their way. ‘Performance’ offers a self-delighted complexity that might delight you too: blending their jazz and prog influences, they find hotspots for their hooks to go into, surrounded by garage rock schematics that are playful and perplexing. Overall, the record comes out as a real good time, its snappy melodies and woozy vibe pretending that we’re all on the same page.
Ethers - Ethers
None of us have ever been to Chicago but we have to assume Ethers are one of the city’s brightest rock ‘n’ roll stars. This supposed supergroup, citation needed, have crafted another nominee for the year’s best guitar rock album, crafting a jangle ‘n’ synth sound that talks back to the punkings of Total Control and the lo-fi hooks of Times New Viking. The songs on ‘Ethers’ go in at breakneck speed and then dance on the spot in attempt to bring everything to a halt. It’s a hangout of nerves and jubilance that marks many of our favourite modern rock albums, giving us a more churning alternative to that Rolling Blackouts album we’ve been raving about for the past few months. The guitars are an absolute charm offensive; one track in, I knew I’d be rewinding this album three times a day.
Steve Hauschildt - Dissolvi
There’s a city bustling inside of Steve Hauschildt’s synth. For our kosmische prince, ‘Dissolvi’ is a new kind of record, one that trades in his desolate landscapes for a metropolis of ghost commuters and transport links. With collaborations from Julianna Barwick and GABI, Hauschildt lends his instrumentals a harmony, the vocals offering his most personal work to date. More than another ambient rumination, his Ghostly debut is marked by old-school IDM and slick techno exercises, suggesting the Emeralds alumni is ready to step into a whole new phase of his career.
Death Cab For Cutie - Thank You For Today
While Mark Kozelek’s busy complaining about how Ben Gibbard got more famous than him, Death Cab For Cutie’s leading man is dragging his band of O.C. soundtrackers into 2018. It seems almost inconceivable that one of indie pop’s beloved oughties bands could still be relevant now, but ‘Thank You For Today’ is that rare beast of a thing: a return to form. Pinching a bit of the production panorama that makes The War on Drugs such a smash hit these days, Gibbard’s sorrowful lot craft a stadium-expanded version of their sound, making ubiquitous singalongs of songs about nostalgia and what ‘home’ mean when you’re all grown up. The subtle, old-school Death Cab vibe of “Summer Years” makes for their best track in a dozen seasons.
A quick round-up of everything else we liked…
While we couldn’t quite decide if this lavish reissue of Why?’s genre-floating record Alopecia fully cements it as their seminal record or not, we’re willing to forgive its shortcoming of not being Elephant Eyelash. So hey, good news!
Not at all bubbling under our list is the debut LP from Suicideyear, which we’re already worn out on praising. It lives up to the hype and then some, his serene and subdued trap tunes given the usual waterfall of melody in an expansive full outing. I might suggest imbibing Dev Hynes’ new record as Blood Orange alongside it; it approaches funk and indie rock with a similarly impressionistic view, giving us sound collage over song in perhaps his best effort to date.
Remember Japan? Of course you do. Everyone’s favourite Depeche Mode facsimile got the reissue treatment this August and it was a welcome surprise; their glam and relentlessly sleek synth-pop speaks to a time when electronic music was giving the charts something a little more cerebral.
And please forgive me as I gracelessly segue from one of the month’s prettiest albums to one of its ugliest. Andrew Hargreaves, once of IDM tinkerers The Boats, has a habit of making nice music under his Tape Loop Orchestra moniker; his new LP has hints of gothica in its soundscapes but ultimately sounds like it’s diving a bright light on us.
And a few things coming in this September...
Please keep reading our dumb newsletters and browsing our groaning website in September ‘cos we’ve got that new Low record coming, haven’t we. It looks like they’re inverting their aesthetic this time round, putting the bitty experimentation to the fore and confining the songs to mere texture.
Also: Beak> are back, baby, your favourite soundtrack rockers!
The extremely self-aware Declining Winter has decided to release his latest record at the advent of Autumn, the marketing-savvy genius. Equally cynical are the Sleaford Mods, who are ready to complain about the state of things like our friend Parliawint. Plus records by pop-punk eye-rollers Joyce Manor, cello fellow Oliver Coates and our very awol friend Spiritualized.