Montreal’s Suuns have always been ones to tamper with the darkness and meddle with minimalism. Previous albums, including 2016’s Hold/Still and 2013’s Images du Futur, helped assert an attack upon systematic music and standard concepts; all via the power of razor wire synth lines, throttling drum machines and frontman Ben Shemie’s muffled, claustrophobic vocal lines. Masters in the unnerving and distressing, the band, along with the likes of Beak> and Fever Ray, possess an ability to blend psychedelia and electronica through digital trickery.
Filled with insecurities, teenage love, weird sex, bruised shins and what Brian Eno would fondly term, “The sound of failure,” Twin Fantasy was always an unfinished concept for Will Toledo, frontman of the now-cultist Car Seat Headrest. Teens of Denial was 2016’s effort from the Seattle punk-rockers and, to an extent, began to put the fuel of commercial success into Toledo’s concept. Now 2018 brings Twin Fantasy: a re-working and upgrade of a 19-year-old Toledo. Now equipped with a recording mechanic stable enough to get across his tongue-in-cheek irony and hyper-aware lyricism, we are blessed again with his astute way with words and faculty for a contagious hook.
The Texan trio, Khruangbin, comprised of bassist Laura Lee, guitarist Mark Speer and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums, return following their luscious 2016 debut, The Universe Smiles Upon You. With a sound that is again rooted in soul, gospel, psychedelia and dub, Con Todo El Mundo takes what the debut album presented and spans it across new landscapes – it’s the sound of crate-diggers and music obsessives at their finest. Whereas the debut turned to Thai cassettes for much of its influence, the sophomore effort looks closer at the Mediterranean and Middle East, in particular Iran, for its inspiration.
Off the back of their 2015 album, Why Choose, London’s Shopping embarked upon a relentless jaunt of touring across the UK and US – it was a tour that took its toll on the band, not only directly upon each individual, but also back in their hometown where their usual rehearsal and writing space, Power Lunches fell victim to the city’s gentrification. It was a turn for the worst that coincidentally tumbled into the relocation of Andrew Milk, the band’s drummer, who ended up shifting north to Glasgow. The Official Body – produced by Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice – is an album of frustrations, resentment, and ultimately maturing, and it’s certainly worth a listen for that reason.
It’s been a while since the moody muscle of Robert Levon Been, Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro graced us. Since 2013’s Specter At The Feast, the band have endured a whirlwind of mishaps and misfortune, from Shapiro’s need for urgent surgery, through to trouble with producers and recordings, Wrong Creatures sits as the product of catharsis and retribution.
Slough, once renowned as the home of Ricky Gervais’ planet-humping comedy skit, was – back in 2011 – offered a way out of geographical abuse and the comedy punchline via the four-piece ‘grit-pop’ (I feel you cringe, don’t worry) group, Viva Brother – formerly known as just ‘Brother’. Due to a topsy-turvy time in the press, the band, who were once bound for the stars and planets above, spat out their dummies and called it a day shortly after the release of their debut album, Famous First Words. After being celebrated by the likes of the NME for being the saviour (ugh!) of guitar rock (wince), the band were quickly thwarted and cut down, admittedly, this felt somewhat unsavoury on behalf of the music press and slightly undeserved. Famous First Words certainly wasn’t famous, it was never going to cause a cultural landslide like the NME once predicted, but it did hold its few merits. ‘Time Machine’ was a lashing of rollercoaster guitar riffs, ‘New Year’s Day’ did, and still does, hold its own when it comes to self-assured hooks, and ‘Darling Buds Of May’ can probably still generate a bit of fuss in a live encounter. The band certainly dug their own graves with their ‘oi-oi, lad-lad’ attitudes though, and therefore nobody really cared or showed much sympathy when they collapsed off the face of the earth.
The companion piece to February’s Themes For Dying Earth arrives at the cusp of winter. Whereas his previous effort this year referred to the turn of the year and the move away from the death of winter – the thawing of icy mornings and scuppering of frost-laden walkways – this one seamlessly moves towards the winter, perhaps acting as a summary of the year and celebration. Teen Daze, along with a host of other artists including Moon Duo, seems to have made use of the dual-volume approach to releasing works; telling musical stories that run in tangent to one another, offering a narrative and ideology as well as a musical course.
Returning to their practice hub, a former optician’s office in Southwest Detroit, the guitarist of the post-punk quartet Protomartyr, Greg Ahee, turned to bands such as The Raincoats, post-punk legends. The Pop Group and Mica Levi for inspiration. The result? Relatives In Descent, their fourth LP to date and their debut for Domino Records. It presents a sort-of concept album: 12 tracks that unearth truth, venturing into the existential nature of not-knowing and the daily dread that comes with it, something that singer, Joe Casey, puts in very real terms: “I used to think that truth was something that existed, that there were certain shared truths, like beauty. Now that’s being eroded. People have never been more sceptical, and there’s no shared reality. Maybe there never was.” Sit tight, this one isn’t for the optimists among us, but perhaps the realists.
Amanda Petrusich of The New York Times noted back in 2016, that she wasn’t sure what it was about the music of M.C. Taylor – the pitted voice behind Hiss Golden Messenger – that made her feel so connected. Was it his welcoming presence and his universal knowingness? Was it his humble empathy to all human unhappiness? This is clearly a man who understands redemption, devastation and life’s sharper corners. These are questions that Taylor answers throughout Hallelujah Anyhow, an album that seemingly cuts through nebulous aspects of life with startling optimism and hope.
The Norwegian pop-punkers, formerly known as ‘Slutface’ until the Facebook regulators booted up a fuss, now known as Sløtface, release their long-awaited debut LP Try Not To Freak Out, a joyous marriage between noughties indie-pop and 80s US punk. Try Not To Freak Out buries serious sentiment within a coating of light hearted antics – disguised beneath the layers of candy-cane pop-punk lies a sentiment echoed by artists throughout 2017, it’s anti-Trump and anti-Brexit by default but, asides from the obvious political squabbles, it makes several other statements worthy of further note. What makes Try Not To Freak Out important is that it isn’t so much a call to arms, but rather a call to disarm and pull on your Christmas jumper. There’s a party incoming from Norway and it’s here to shout with you, but show you a light rather than a pool of misery.