Review of the Year 2015

Picking up the pace

2015 ran pretty much as we had predicted in that it was a better year than the previous one, even if it failed to match the magnificent heights of 2013. In part this was due to some of the top acts of that blessed year failing to follow up their last records within two years, which in many ways is disappointing, but in others could augur well for 2016. Thus we had no offerings from Ghost Outfit, Money, Savages, My Bloody Valentine (surprise!), The Fauns, Nick Cave, Throwing Muses, et al, with only six of the bands who featured in our top twenty of 2013 actually releasing a new collection in 2015. Of those, only Girls Names, Joanna Gruesome and Traams made it into this year's list.

This means, of course, there is good news as the renaissance in alternative music appears to be as strong as ever, with seven of our top twenty records of the year being debut albums and four being second albums. And it is not just new bands who are making waves. Loop, The Membranes and The Pop Group make the top twenty with their first releases in over twenty years, while old hands Wire, The Telescopes and The Fall have weighed in with impressive offerings that show they still have plenty to offer. Blur rejoined the fray in 2016 and the list of great alternative bands reforming in the current welcoming environment continues to grow with The Libertines back to release their third album, old 4AD heroes Lush hitting the road once again, and we were crazy with joy to witness Creation's best ever group, The Loft, playing at the Lexington. In truth, it is getting easier to list the bands who have not reformed over the past few years, though we can only hope for similar news from See See Rider and The Boo Radleys.

The resurgence in alternative music has gone hand in hand with the revival of the vinyl format and we continue to hail those labels who offer a CD and a download with their vinyl albums. Sadly, it seems to be getting rarer and rarer, though hats off to Tapete who did this with The Telescopes' Hidden Fields. The downside is the labels who don't even offer downloads with the vinyl for which there is no real excuse. Buy a CD and you can perform the dread deed instantly on iTunes and the like, buy vinyl and you are left with no easy way of getting a digital file. Surely downloads with vinyl releases are a necessity? Yes, we know that downloads are nasty, soulless things but we will use them if we are given them; it's easy to play mp3s all day at work and handy for your phone if you are on the move. We would not buy a download out of choice, and indeed cannot think of any circumstances in which we would buy one, but they do have their uses. So, boo to Upset The Rhythm for offering no extras with the Sauna Youth album, and all of the other guilty parties.

New bands continue to impress at a pleasing rate, with Slow Riot following up two digital singles with their first real release, the Cathedral EP which was available in very limited numbers as a ten-inch single and is well worth snapping up if you can still get hold of a copy. Southsea's Battery Hens put out a limited number of their second EP Guts on CD in April which is likewise a necessity, with London's Happy Accidents only managing one track on a joint seven-inch release, but a fine one nonetheless. Other new groups to keep an eye on are the excellent Skinny Girl Diet and grasshopper, big futures await them both. We regularly mention New Jersey's Smalltalk, who put out their fourth four-track EP in a very limited twelve-inch format this year, though they have now bundled together all of their releases to produce a stunning compilation album; look out for a band feature on Isolation shortly.

The live scene continues to boom and attendances are sky high. Indeed, we were caught out on a couple of occasions this year when we didn't buy tickets for gigs that subsequently sold out when we had not expected them to. Thus, much to our dismay, we missed out on catching Viet Cong, a gig we had very much been looking forward to, so we are back to the days of getting our tickets as soon as gigs are announced, which is a good thing in some ways, especially for promoters. To counteract our disappointment we were happy to catch Wire playing at the 100-capacity Prince Albert and intrigued to see the return of The Sisters of Mercy at The Roundhouse on a tour that was subsequently cut short, as well as The Who at the Royal Albert Hall. Spectres were fantastic at Sticky Mike's and the pairing of Protomartyr and Sauna Youth turned out to be very fine indeed at The Green Door Store. Of course, our thanks to the bands who came and played for us at The Hope in December, namely The Membranes, Inca Babies, The Go Go Cult and Battery Hens.

As for the music press, well this was the year it died. From the glorious days of four weekly music papers, the last one of those still functioning, NME, ceased to exist in 2015, being replaced by a free weekly entertainment summary rag with the same name. It would appear that serious music journalism in print is becoming a thing of the past, though pleasingly Louder Than War decided to head in that direction at about the same time NME bit the dust. The glossy monthlies remain in a world of their own, only marginally acknowledging the existence of alternative music despite the fact it has been dominating the music scene for the past three years. They obviously have their audience, though it appears to be those with more than one eye on the past; treating music as nostalgia is not for us. What is evolving now is everything; innovation, attitude and ambition are vital. Old bands who are making startling new music are much to be admired, but old bands living on past glories have nothing important to say.

Thankfully serious music journalism is being kept alive on the web and there are a host of admirable sites and blogs with a focus on alternative music (not least our own, ahem, though circumstances have kept us relatively quiet this year). Louder Than War remains a major player and its all-encompassing approach ensures there is always something of interest for any reader. Toronto's Step On magazine wears its heart on its sleeve and its passion for our cause is both gratifying and inspiring. Everything Indie Over 40 reaches out via multiple branches of social media to raise awareness and interest in alternative music old and new, and a glance at their Twitter feed will reveal a host of bloggers and podcasters who will entertain, challenge and delight you. Its aim is to bring together a community that once took its existence for granted but now finds itself stretched rather more thinly across the nation. Or indeed the world. Please investigate, embrace and encourage these sites. They are keeping the flame burning, and keeping the dream alive.

As we often relate, the following list is the only one we ever make and even doing this makes us grumpy as list journalism is lazy, uninteresting and largely irrelevant. It does, however, give a good view of the records released over the year that we thought were important, records we would like everybody to listen to even if they don't rush out and buy them. There's a wide range of styles featured from a wide range of artists and we feel these releases are worth noting, being ones that demonstrate ambition, suss and daring. Or just naked, unquenchable spirit. The list also works as a thank you to all those who have contributed to Isolation over the year namely Adam (myself), Gary, Guy, Joe and Sue. Of course we would rather you read our monthly reviews and gave a listen to anything we raved about and made your own minds up. And we hope that you would tell us about anything we had missed.

Most importantly this article is a measure of where the alternative scene currently stands and we are happy to report signs of robust health. Rather than a dip next year, we suspect 2016 could be rather special, but please remember without your active support, it could all quickly fade away. If you buy any of these fine records, please buy them from your local independent record shop. They are there for you and the music you love ... and they pay their taxes. Make sure you take the trouble to get out in the evening and see these bands live. Don't fall asleep in front of the telly every night; you may be surprised at the buzz of discovering a great new band and watching them perform in intimately cosy surroundings. Finally, thanks to all our readers and supporters – and to all the musicians, promoters and labels who do such a vital job. Happy 2016 people.

Albums of the Year



1. Julia Holter - Have You in my Wilderness
2. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
3. New Order - Music Complete
4. Tame Impala - Currents
5. Jim O'Rourke - Simple Songs
6. Bill Ryder-Jones - West Kirkby County Primary
7. Songhoy Blues - Music in Exile
8. Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa
9. Sleaford Mods - Key Markets
10. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell
11. Bob Dylan - Shadows In The Night
12. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think
13. Low - Ones And Sixes
14. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love
15. Richard Dawson - Nothing Important
16. D'Angelo & Vanguard - Black Messiah
17. Hooton Tennis Club - Highest Point In Town
18. Blur - The Magic Whip
19. Joanna Newsom - Divers
20. Dungen - Allas Sak


New Musical Express

1. Grimes - Art Angels
2. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
3. Jamie XX - In Colour
4. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
5. Tame Impala - Currents
6. Chvrches - Every Open Eye
7. Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon
8. Foals - What Went Down
9. The Maccabees - Marks To Prove It
10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
11. Kurt Vile - B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down
12. A$AP Rocky - At. Long. Last. A$A
13. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love
14. Deerhunter - Fading Frontier
15. Blur - The Magic Whip
16. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
17. Joanna Newsom - Divers
18. Swim Deep - Mothers
19. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind The Madness
20. US Girls - Half Free


Rough Trade

1. Bjork - Vulnicura
2. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit & Think
4. Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion People
5. Max Richter - From Sleep
6. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
7. Kamasi Washington - The Epic
8. Royal Headache - High
9. Romare - Projections
10. Jamie XX - In Colour
11. John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Press
12. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell
13. Tame Impala - Currents
14. Nadine Shah - Fast Food
15. Wand - Golem
16. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
17. Django Django - Born Under Saturn
18. Tobias Jesso Jr - Goon
19. Georgia - Georgia
20. Palma Violets - Danger in the Club


Resident - Brighton Record Shop

1. Algiers - Algiers
2. Low - Ones And Sixes
3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit & Think
4. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
5. Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa
6. Julia Holter - Have You in my Wilderness
7. Songhoy Blues - Music in Exile
8. Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last
9. Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
10. Jacco Gardner - Hypnophobia
11. The Maccabees - Marks To Prove It
12. Ghostpoet - Shedding Skin
13. Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe - I Declare
14. LoneLady - Hinterland
15. Ryley Walker - Primrose Green
16. Girl Band - Holding Hands With Jamie
17. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats - Same
18. Gaz Coombes - Matador
19. Wand - Golem
20. Jamie XX - In Colour


Isolation - 2014

1. Gallon Drunk - The Soul of the Hour
2. Keith Levene - Commercial Zone 2014
3. Swans - To Be Kind
4. Hookworms - The Hum
5. Iceage - Plowing Into The Fields of Love
6. Inca Babies - The Stereo Plan
7. Nothing - Guilty Of Everything
8. The Wytches - Annabel Dream Reader
9. Fij & Bickers - Broken Heart Surgery
10. Jack White - Lazaretto
11. Eagulls - Eagulls
12. Savages/Bo Ningen - Word To The Blind
13. Pink Mountaintops - Get Back
14. Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin
15. Pixies - Indie Cindy
16. The History of Apple Pie - Feel Something
17. The Popguns - Pop Fiction
18. Esben & The Witch - A New Nature
19. Battles of Winter - Standing at Floodgates
20. Benjamin Booker - Benjamin Booker

Single of the Year

Slow Riot


Straight Lines Are Fine

23rd October 2015


The four tracks here offer little respite as they attack your senses relentlessly and ruthlessly, with no small degree of repetition, and the result is a collection of quite cutting power. Young Limerick trio Slow Riot appear to have been compared with every band in the world, yet their musical influences appear to be from the iciest regions of post-punk, territory once inhabited by Joy Division and In Camera, and they conjure up memories of Editors in their early days (when they were great), especialy in the phrasing of the vocals and singing of the guitars. Yet Slow Riot manage to remain even more detached and cut even harder with their music. This is impressive stuff indeed, imbued with all the power, purpose, passion and command of expression that light up great releases. A splendid debut EP which you would be foolish to ignore.

Albums of the Year

50. Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool
49. Low - Ones And Sixes
48. The Libertines - Anthems For Doomed Youth
47. Fawn Spots - From Safer Place
46. Death & Vanilla - To Where The Wild Things Are
45. Jeffrey Lewis - Manhattan
44. Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man
43. Girls Names - Arms Around A Vision
42. Bill Wells/Aiden Moffat - The Most Important Place In The World
41. Vessels - Dilate
40. Ought - Sun Coming Down
39. Torche - Restarter
38. Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness
37. New Order - Music Complete
36. Of Monsters And Men - Beneath The Skin
35. Trust Fund - Seems Unfair
34. Grubs - It Must Be Grubs
33. Pinkshinyultrablast - Everything Else Matters
32. Bully - Feels Like
31. Gnoomes - Ngan
30. Fever Dream - Moyamoya
29. Kagoule - Urth
28. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think
27. Foals - What Went Down
26. Darren Hayman - Florence
25. Daskinsey 4 - So Appropriate
24. Esmerine - Lost Voices
23. Novella - Land
22. Knife Pleats - Hat Bark Beach
21. Half Moon Run - Sun Leads Me On

Sub-Lingual Tablet
20. The Fall - Sub-Lingual Tablet
Finally an album by Mr Smith and Co that largely captures the band's current immense live sound. ‎Their thirty-first studio album benefits greatly from the stability of the group's longest serving line up in its wonderful and frightening history and the man himself puts in his best vocal performance for some while, managing to sway from a familiar harsh bark to gentle crooning by way of a some well intoned snarls and growls. If anything, Sub-Lingual Tablet falls down a little because it is not experimental enough; perhaps the band members are getting too comfortable in their surroundings, but despite the almost Fall-by-numbers approach of a couple of the tracks, there is enough on offer to show that the band can still push boundaries and challenge preconceptions. At its best Sub-Lingual Tablet is phenomenal and sounds just like we would want The Fall to sound in 2015: raw, acerbic and challenging. It's certainly the best thing they have offered up in some years and is well worth a listen.
Universal Themes
19. Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes
Difficult though it may be to get more introverted than Red House Painters, Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon releases have a single inner focus that is almost frightening in its unwavering intensity. Coming over like a diary in musical form, the songs challenge the listener to hold their own lives up to the spotlight to see which words hold true and which can be disregarded. Despite reportedly adopting a new approach to his art, Kozelek named this new collection Universal Themes, hinting that not so much has changed after all. What is different is the length of the songs, the eight tracks here lasting well over an hour, averaging some nine minutes apiece. Never averse to a song of epic proportions, it is unusual for Kozelek to draw out every track on an album to inordinate lengths, and this serves to make Universal Themes a challenge as well as an endurance. It may sound huge, but the mood is the direct opposite, being intimate and grounded, drawing the listener in until he is living the songs in real time, each heartbeat becoming his own. Unique.
We Are Nots
18. Nots - We Are Nots
Sometimes you can judge an album by its cover and buy on impulse. The sleeve of We Are Nots, is pleasingly DIY and the music it houses is equally as bright, uncomplicated and in-your-face. The Memphis quartet's debut also has the benefit of being as addictive as hell and is far from throwaway, the subject matter dwelling on darkness rather than light, its anger a seeming reaction to the smug complacancy the band see all around them. We Are Nots may border on the lo-fi and lack a little in variety, but if you have a soft spot for nail-on-the-head garage punk then you won't go far wrong with this. Eleven songs in twenty-six pulsating and bruising minutes will jolt you out of your complacency and you can't fail to get caught up as the band unleash their almost classic sound, with the synthesisers of Alexandra Eastburn adding an important extra dimension that makes Nots just a little bit more special than your run-of-the-mill punksters.
The Agent Intellect
17. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect
The Detroit post-punk band's follow-up to 2014’s Under Color Of Official Right is a less abrasive affair whilst still retaining plenty of snarl and power. The Agent Intellect reflects on the mortality of being, and Joe Casey’s songwriting and lyricism has come on leaps and bounds; this is a weighty album in terms of subject matter and should have included a thesaurus with every copy. Casey’s voice drifts from Paul Banks' style melodies to Mark E Smith snarls and growls, often in the same track, and the heights he reaches vocally are ably matched by Greg Ahee’s delightful guitars, with the divergent musical strands ably bound together by the rhythm section of Alex Leonard and Scott Davidson. There's not a weak track on this collection with every song demanding your full attention, and, pleasingly, deserving that attention. It may not grab you instantly but The Agent Intellect will crawl under your skin and insist that you love it. Or it will suck your brains out. Just give in.
16. Menace Beach - Ratworld
The wait for Menace Beach's debut long player was well worthwhile as this twelve-track collection, lasting just thirty-three minutes, is an appealing concoction of murky garage grinds and fizzing pop songs. Indeed, much here reminds us of Teenage Fanclub, but with grubbier fingernails, as Menace Beach are not afraid to embrace melody and not afraid to chuck a spanner in the works if things are getting a little too tame. The band didn't shy away from including previously released material including 'Drop Outs', 'Tastes Like Medicine', 'Tennis Court' and 'Fortune Teller' which probably all deserved a second outing, but the less familiar numbers also manage to deliver big time. Ratworld is chock full of effortlessly appealing hooks, swirling keyboards, splendid guitars and male-female verse-chorus vocals, and the interplay between Ryan Needham and Liza Violet is pleasing, offering up as neat a contrast as that between the pretty melodies and the warped and even brutal instrumental breaks that scratch through them.
15. Follakzoid - III
With motorik rhythms and epic trance-like tracks that are clearly indebted to Krautrock legends such as Neu! and Can, the Chilean trio's first offering in two years must surely be one of the most innovative and hypnotic psychedelic albums of the decade. With four tracks running over some forty-five minutes, III is full of contradictions, its minimalist approach managing to produce a rich sound with enormous presence, and its atonal bursts of synths dancing like the prettiest melodies. III may have its roots in the ancient music of the Andes, but it manages to sound contemporary as hell, never allowing itself to be pinned down in one location or era. Both begging and insistent, this record asks as many questions as its solves, always moving, always swaying away from firm conclusions and carrying the listener away on a fabulous journey of discovery, from which they rouse to find they have discovered nothing at all. Except maybe in their subconscious.
Chain of Flowers
14. Chain of Flowers
The debut from Cardiff six-piece Chain Of Flowers runs to eight tracks and just under forty minutes. What is offered up is a bruising amalgam of shoegaze and post-punk sounds with chanting, layered vocals struggling against an overwhelming density that is only partially relieved by waves of flashing guitars. It all throws up memories of the Ghost Outfit album of 2013 in its insistence, slightly unhinged focus and intermittent desperation and it comes as no surprise that the songs were recorded in a sleepless period of four days locked away in a Monmouth studio. This is music it would hard to cut through without oxy-acetylene, at times personal and intimate, yet shrouded in concrete as if these emotions were never really meant to be aired: painful whispers secretly expelled into the face of a storm. It may be confessional, but it's hardly cathartic; there is no relief for tortured souls who prefer to bury themselves in a prison of their own making.
Array 1
13. Loop - Array 1
Robert Hampson's answer to the final demise of his reformed band was to put together a new group and carry on as if nothing dramatic had happened. Released some seven months after the new line-up was confirmed, Array 1 marks the first recorded output under the Loop banner since February 1990, and consists of just four songs. Side one contains three tracks, with the seventeen-minute 'Radial' hogging the second side to itself. The length of the songs, averaging some eight and half minutes each, appears to be a throwback to Hampson's recent dalliance with drone which makes a marked impact here as the overall sound is of a man making a carefully measured transition back to more structured music after years of exploring its amorphous boundaries. Themed around a comet's flight through space, this is a serious piece of work, disconnected from humanity in all but its exploration and interpretation, but thankfully this is not difficult to admire. Intelligence, ambition and dark, dark music make Array 1 a fine achievement.
Citizen Zombie
12. The Pop Group - Citizen Zombie
Thanks to the current alternative renaissance, the reinvigorated Pop Group were able to create a new album and make trips overseas they probably never even dreamed of first time around. And let's face it, with the world stumbling from crisis to crisis while its citizens remain content to stagnate in front of the telly, consuming a diet of corporate nitrazepam, there has never been a better time for them to re-emerge. Pleasingly Citizen Zombie does nothing to tarnish the band's huge reputation and indeed it is difficult to argue that it doesn't again reflect the times with uncanny ability. The chaotic punk-funk of old is still there, but these new songs are, if anything, even more broken and desperate than their predecessors. As the album ebbs and flows, scratches and howls, Mark Stewart's vocals are as expressive as ever, mirroring both pain, outrage and determination. Indeed, there is very little here that won't blow you away. We had desperately hoped this would be a great record, and happily it more than fulfils expectations.
Hidden Fields
11. The Telescopes - Hidden Fields
While Stephen Lawrie has largely been The Telescopes for some years now, this album was recorded with very decent Glasgow noise-rockers St Deluxe which no doubt has helped the painful transition back to more rigid song structures. Lawrie wrote, composed and arranged all of the tracks, and co-produced the album, but St Deluxe have adapted magnificently to the intensely downbeat and introverted mood of the record. The Telescopes were seldom a band to send your spirit soaring; their music holding a bleak density that could border on the brutal yet still frame occasional moments of beauty. Hidden Fields is as visceral as anything they have yet produced and carries a weight that is worthy of serious consideration. There's little in variation here; all of the tracks plough on inexorably with barely a glance to the side, but there's an occasional post-punk splendour to the guitars as they twist and protest in impotent rage. It's great to have Lawrie back offering up a collection of such impressive substance.
Modern Dancing
10. TRAAMS - Modern Dancing
As good as the debut Traams album was, you always got the impression the band were a little doubtful of their own worth: they weren't on a journey of self-enlightenment, but feeding a desperate need to escape; infusing their spikily twisted alternative rock with a healthy dose of krautrock monomania that allowed them to set off on lengthy one-way rides away from the monotony of small-city England. The repetition in the music mirrored their enduring flight, yet Traams never seemed fully aware of the glorious flashes of light their breakneck dashes threw across the endless barren landscapes. They weren't just a band on the run, they were a band who made the run seem the best thing in the world. Modern Dancing sees Traams still working on their escape, yet not with such a clinical focus; there is room to breathe here, there are melodies and thoughtfulness, and the dawning of the idea that how you run may be just as important as arriving at your destination. There are still some reckless rushes of blood and plenty of frustration bubbling under the surface, but there are bigger pictures being painted. Impressive in the extreme.
Dark Matter/Dark Energy
9. The Membranes - Dark Matter / Dark Energy
If you are going to tackle any theme, then why mess around with minutiae? Why not take on the formation of the universe and its journey to the end, and mirror that with a contemplation on the painfully brief span of human existence? Here Membranes' singer John Robb has taken his fascination with physics and developed it into an alt-punk opera of enormous scope, infusing it with the deep hum of the universe itself. This is not The Membranes of old; indeed, it has been twenty-five years since the band last released an album, so the slate was blindingly clean, and it is heartening to see Robb launch a new assault with such style. Much of Dark Matter/Dark Energy was recorded live in single takes and it isn't hard to believe. There's an energy and drive to the music that is difficult to capture in any other way, though this is far from an unfettered Membranes' racket. For all the punk swagger, rockabilly thrash and cascades of crashing metal, you will find melody and, heaven forfend, even culture. Little short of remarkable.
Viet Cong
8. Viet Cong - Viet Cong
It is never more pleasing than when you come across new bands who are truly experimental, looking to bring something new to the equation, stretching their sound towards vague and distant horizons. The debut album from Calgary's Viet Cong encapsulates all of this, embracing the experimentation of the post punk era in an intriguing way. Yes, there are some excoriating guitars here and Viet Cong never sound better than when six strings rake through their music, but there is far more complexity than just feasting guitars. The high pitch of the bass often leaves the vocals at the bottom end which gives you a constant feeling of being dragged down into the depths, submerging as a kaleidoscope of grey sound dances around you, resolutely unconcerned by your fate. There is also melody, prettily framed, that briefly emerges into the light, offering rare glimpses of colour and hope, while at other end of the spectrum repetitive beats and morbid organs hint that it is way past time to bring out your dead. Clever stuff.
Peanut Butter
7. Joanna Gruesome - Peanut Butter
We can think of no reason why the world should not love Joanna Gruesome, from their vibrant live performances, through their pulsating records which swing between the contemplative and the explosive, to their boldness in addressing such issues as mental illness and feminism. Peanut Butter is a delight, both smooth and crunchy, its ten tracks barely stretching to twenty minutes and quite right too: when you have said what you need to say, why bother with filler? At times the sound is so reminiscent of early Lazy recordings that it is frightening, yet these tunes are injected with plenty of punk and Riot Grrrl energy to create an amalgam that can be touchingly pretty, yet tough enough to withstand the force of twelve elephants charging from thirty feet. It's no mean feat to fuse vulnerability and toughness, melody and dissonance, light and dark into a coherent whole, but Joanna Gruesome do this with such apparent ease that it really is difficult not to admire their talent. This is simply great.
Time To Go Home
6. Chastity Belt - Time To Go Home
Of all the records that take their time to grow in your consciousness, this is the undoubted boss. Time To Go Home may have been shy of revealing its inner glory, but it really is a subtle beast and a little perseverance is well worth the effort. This is the second album from Washington State's Chastity Belt, and it marks a big leap forward in its approach, if not its spirit, being less rudimentary than its predecessor, but cutting all the deeper for it. One thing that certainly remains the same is the vocal brilliance of Julia Shapiro whose voice can dominate a song, whisper at its edges, cut right through you, or lure you on to the rocks. The depth of expression she captures is simply astounding, framing the band's identity every bit as much as her and Lydia Lund's guitars that are almost lazy in their lack of endeavour, but startlingly effective because of it. It shows a mastery of control that so many bands never achieve; an understanding of the dynamics that can make a gentle three minute pop song knock a listener senseless.
5. Institute - Catharsis
Austin's Institute have been one of the most interesting punk bands to emerge over the past few years, a band who are unafraid to experiment with their sound and approach and who steer away from the grindingly dull hardcore onslaughts that numb both the senses and the mind. Catharsis is the band's first album, following on from some sturdy singles and EPs, and sways from the early punk sound of UK Decay, through the post-punk angular attack of Public Image Limited, to the gothic guitars of Bauhaus. It makes for a potent mixture, cut up and slapped together piecemeal in true dadaist fashion. The lyrics are an exploration of singer Moses Brown's disappointment in himself, and he sings as though being pushed in the face, which only serves to emphasise the mood of alienation and disgust. The vocals, often supplemented by spoken asides and howls of anguish, lay beautifully on the uncluttered and minimalist backing, which remains spiky and truculent throughout, the whole acting as a wicked irritant that will stay in your brain long after the record ends.
4. Wire - Wire
It is undoubtedly a statement when a band names an album eponymously when it is not their debut, and with Wire it almost feels like it is a declaration of a new beginning. The album continues the band's recent emphasis on flowing guitars and vocals, but Wire is more coherent and elegantly flowing than its immediate predecessors. Though the band may complain about the boredom of rock music, there's nothing here that is a million miles removed, with plenty of motorik rhythms driving under Colin Newman's soothing vocals, all prettied up with some gorgeous keyboards and gentle guitars with the occasional jagged edge. Like all of their albums it has the Wire pulse; very few bands manage to infuse their sound so thoroughly with their identity and it is difficult to tell whether this stems from the tone of Newman's voice, Graham Lewis's touch on the strings, Robert Grey's light precision on the drums or the nagging infusion of melody that accompanies all they do. At times it is quite beautiful, at other times pleasingly cutting, but importantly it is a record for today.
3. Sauna Youth - Distractions
By dint of universal acclamation (everyone voted for it), Sauna Youth's Distractions packed a mighty punch upon its release in June. According to their label, this collection marked the first occasion on which the band had written a group of songs together and recorded them in a studio environment, and with the tracks laid down in two days almost a year ago, it took some time for Distractions to see the light of day. The wait was certainly worthwhile as the band's unique brand of jagged punk remains as thrilling as it is timeless. Running in at under half an hour for fourteen tracks, only two songs here make it past three minutes, with five failing to break two. Indeed, the band see no need for vacillation and rattle through the set with alacrity and an unshakeable sense of purpose. At times it can seem as though there is nothing deeper than a straight punk thrash, but at other moments the band decorate their songs with delicious post-punk nuances that set them a class above. An invigorating and clever album well worth getting your mitts on.
2. Spectres - Dying
Few bands have a more intimate understanding of noise than Spectres. No longer a weapon of shock and awe, the Bristol-based four-piece are able to bend it to their will, shape and caress it, and build layer upon layer with surprising dexterity and definition. Thus they delight in intricately constructing their weapon of choice before blowing you away. Dying is a record that is meant to cause you pain; a collection of songs so dark they should have been delivered by hearse, yet, ironically, far from dragging you down into the darkest depths of despair, the unremitting bleakness of subject and approach somehow manages to sound uplifting. Go and watch them live and it is difficult to wipe the grin of your face as Spectres immerse the world in a whirlwind of torment. If suffering is good for your soul then Dying is spiritual amoxicillin, but medicines seldom tasted this good. Overflowing with darkness and leaking howling despair from bursting seams, this is a stunning record and it was heartening to see it fly out of the shops.
Holding Hands With Jamie
1. Girl Band - Holding Hands With Jamie
It's a couple of years now since we suggested Girl Band were the best band in the world, so it has been a painfully long wait for the Dublin four-piece's debut album. In the meantime, they have done everything right: flogging around Europe on a seemingly endless series of dates, releasing well spaced-out and interestingly packaged singles, and continuing to make stunningly inventive music that absolutely wipes the floor with all opposition. How can you not love a band who record a track called 'Pears For Lunch'? Or release a twenty second single in a wooden box? Or compile a debut album that consists of nine of the most inventive, noisy, clever and uplifting songs you have ever heard? Holding Hands With Jamie is the triumph we always hoped it would be, always knew it would be. Girl Band are quite simply astonishing, with all four members making startlingly separate but fascinatingly interwoven contributions. This album is absolutely bloody fantastic and not buying it should be made a criminal offence warranting a lengthy spell inside. A fine, fine debut, but their task will not be not complete until they become the house band on Strictly Come Dancing. It's their destiny. Best band in the world...
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