There have been many months of music, film and anything else noted and not uploaded here. But when you unload those thoughts and experiences, surely best to start from the present rather than the past? Here are a selection of albums that caught the ear – or, more often in the process of discovery, the eye – over the past month or so.
The best is last but is also perhaps the most cautious recommendation. There are easier listens here that may prove more rewarding to some, but for my money there’s nothing quite like Richard Dawson’s Peasant that I’ve heard in some time.
Coco Hames//Coco Hames
Something of the simplicity and structural familiarity of Hames’ music harks back to music of a different time. Production techniques lend her a newer coat of paint, but this is old-fashioned, straight-forward music at heart. It’s earnest, soothing, though not exactly innovative. The gothic tinge to closer Dead River, or If You Ain’t Mine, with its fairground organ, lend a burst of variety, but even these detours are down familiar roads. Sometimes that’s what you want though, and sometimes some strutting Southern escapism does the trick. What it lacks though is that killer element. There’s little here, vocally or musically, to really set Coco apart.
Wilsen//I Go Missing in My Sleep
This is an album composed of details. Details upon details upon skeletons of songs. Small, strange touches that illuminate a song. Ear-catching little background hooks that make the mundane feel alive.
This is an album of grace and light that floats perpetually in a twilight zone of mid-tempo wispyness. That mundanity is, ultimately, what prevails over 11 similar-sounding songs that each seem content to mosey along at exactly the same scale and pace. Wilsen’s voice hovers in a pleasantly hushed, wistful nothingness. The lack of risk, the lack of variety, even in songs made up of multitudes of minutely magical sounds, becomes overwhelming. The lack of commitment to push anything, to cut loose from the default, leads to an album that is enjoyable yet resigned feeling. There’s a sleepiness, a sense of infinite trailing off. There is much music to enjoy here, but perhaps only in isolation.
With each release Weaver seems to detach further from this little planet. With Kosmology – all spacey synths and dreamy vocals – she’s now drifting through the cosmos, propelled by Stereolab-like beats and sci-fi stylings. Her work has become increasingly dominated by the sonic, pushing substance further and further down, abstracting and anaesthetising reality. It makes for an album that, though thin on insight, is densely packed with wonderful sounds. Each song flows so easily and with such hypnotic force that it is easy to drift with Kosmology and become lost in Weaver’s trances. As a way to kill half-an-hour, this is hard to beat.
The Mountain Goats//Goths
Right from the off The Mountain Goats set out their stall for Goths. All rolling drums and gothic choirs, this is an album of weight, scale and portent. This is an album of wonderful variation and texture, music that is uplifting even in its darker moments by virtue of pure class and quality.
John Darnielle’s vocals remain touch-and-go – conversational yet strained, always desperately earnest even in humour and irony. And it is ultimately this insistent, desperate massiveness and urgency that leads these virtues into excess. For the devoted this is powerful, rewarding music. For newer discoverers perhaps hard-going.
Pixx//The Age of Anxiety
Pixx has a bright, angular, just-off pop sound that captures brilliantly this digital age of anxiety – always moving, always shining, somehow discordant. The problem is the lack of variety. The occasional catch in the rhythm – Everything is Weird in America’s pushed-up vocals, A Big Cloud to Float On’s slower, bass-built throb and jagged guitar – hints at a stranger, more complex piece buried here. But the album can tend to drift away from these dissonant edges and into more straightforward electro art-pop, and it’s in these moments when it loses its purpose. Pixx is a talented vocalist with a flexible voice, but that flexibility isn’t exploited enough across the album. Again those lapses into the familiar let the opportunity for something consistently compelling slip. As is we’re left with a tightly constructed, polished, fresh-sounding recording, but this is a better album and a more talented artist than we hear much of the time here. Watch for the next one.
Sounding like a modern, messy Wickerman meets Captain Beefheart village parade, Dawson’s is a sound that is dense in every way – with sounds, voices, themes and that hanging sense of dread over all. This is faulty, faltering music, with Dawson alternating between low intonation and ragged falsetto. The surrounding music is all tumbling strings and bursts of wild abandon. It’s folk collapsing into apocalypse, hanging to a tune by pure mood and energy. It is challenging and deeply, deeply strange music.
It is bizarrely compelling to follow the band of characters Dawson has assembled – a kind of dread Canterbury’s tale, paganistic and drugged out. These are dark, dangerous fables with the feel of something transported from another time but disintegrating before our eyes. But in these tales of disparate despair – soldiers longing for loved ones before certain death, ignorance ousting science, exploitation and escape -, there is something that somehow reaches out and connects from these shambling sounds.