Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 Best New Albums in February 2015

So far what I like most about the musical year of 2015 is how efficient the first couple months have been. New releases are trickling in, and I have not had to sift through a typically large amount of good to average new records in order to decide on my top fives. As a year it is shaping up to be a pretty high quality one in my opinion. Here are five I thought were tops last month in February.

Black Rivers - Black Rivers

Doves always seemed like one of those bands who were more popular than you might think, but never as popular as they should have been. Their current hiatus saw Jim Goodwin release a solo album last year, and now the other two Doves members, Andy and Jez Williams, have formed Black Rivers. Like with the Goodwin album, there is a familiarity with Jez's voice that will be unmistakable for fans of the Manchester trio. The songs here, are a bit more aligned with the Doves sound, whereas Goodwin stretched a bit more on his record (for better and worse). Most of the songs drift a bit in the best way here, and there seems to be a clear lack of pressure on the lads to produce hit style hooks on this outing. "The Ship" was released last year, well in advance of the full album. It typifies the lovely melancholy that runs through most of these songs. A very competent release from the Brit veterans, that sounds exactly like what a break away from your main band should sound like. Still, like many, I hope Doves plan on recording together again. It feels like they have unfinished business.

Humans - Noontide

I quite enjoyed the first album by Humans, but I remember thinking they had untapped potential and had not completely found their footing just yet. Noontide feels like them un-tapping that potential. At its opening, one could almost assume the record is more of a modern groove based indie pop record than an electro-pop type record. The truth is, it is both, and never to the detriment of the overall flow and feel. These two dudes from Vancouver even venture into some interesting dark synth territory in spots, like on "Over Again." I am not sure if there have been any comparisons made to Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven, but that was one of the first places my ears went, and that is a good thing. This is a really listenable record, without compromising certain song lengths in order to say what they need to. There is a good chance I will be seeing these cats on Saturday night here in Halifax. I will be curious to see how they translate this work to stage. Regardless, this is all class from a talented young Canadian band worth watching.

Gaz Coombes - Matador

I always quite liked Supergrass, but I am not sure I ever loved Supergrass. It always seemed like sometimes their playfulness made it confusing when they decided they wanted to write less playful and mature stuff. Fair or not, none of it matters, because on Matador, Coombes shines with all the real and perceived capability of a bonafide quality songwriter. This sounds like the record he has always wanted to make, and the stars aligned perfectly in every way. Some might suggest there are shades of Radiohead or more likely Thom Yorke's solo work on the album. Beyond their voices having similar tone, and some of the tracks feeling similarly sombre, I would suggest the parallels are strictly coincidental. The lead single, "Detroit" showcases everything I love about this record. Grown up melodies, soulfully blended background vocals, lush strings, and a carefree air that feels rooted in every track. I was not expecting this to be one of my favourite records in 2015, but with each listen it is shaping up as a possibility for just that.

Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

A couple years ago when Dutch Uncles released their third album, Out of Touch In The Wild (the first I had heard at the time), I recall wondering why more people were not raving about them. Well they are back, so clearly and thankfully someone else is listening. Another Manchester act, these kids are part of an ever growing small group of Brit fantastic art rock bands who are making accessible music that doesn't fit easily into standard playlist formatting. Initially, as they do again here on O Shudder, they remind me of an almost perfect blend of Hot Chip and Field Music. Super competent musicianship which is likely where some of the "math pop" labelling comes from. Eleven quirky and jaunty songs that make full use of the fun sound pallet. This record brims with confidence from a band that was already sounding mature beyond its years. Love these guys. Love this album.

Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

Previously I have never been able to completely warm up to Deacon's work. I respected his ambition and creativity, but everything just felt scattered. Not surprising then, that critics are describing Gliss Riffer as more pop focused, which would tend to put it much more in my wheel house. There is an amazing mix of old synths and layers of strange sounds that other electronic artists do not seem able to pull off in quite the same way. This is a tricky style to create a signature around, yet there are some extremely clever things happening on this record. A song like "Sheathed Wings" is about two steps away from being obnoxious and contrived, but manages to stay on the listenable path with admiral discipline. I think every track teeters on chaos perfectly, making you want to see where he plans on taking the weirdness. It is also a rare skill to use so much process and mechanism, yet still have your record sound largely organic and fluid. This is not a recording for everyone, but if you can suspend your perceived need for perfectly round circles and square boxes, Gliss Riffer  is a fascinating and rewarding listen.


Hilotrons - To Trip With Terpsichore
Peace - Happy People
The Mavericks - Mono