Review: If you want drama, you got it. Algiers return with their third album, taking inspiration from Blake Butler's 2011 novel of the same name, a scribe they consider to be a friend, channeling the unsettling metaphorical horrors the book disturbs readers with, and carving an unsettling, dread-filled and neo-Gothic score from those body parts. At its most delicate, perhaps "Losing Is Ours", it's a tense, brooding, dark gospel journey into some imagined place conjured from the recesses of the mind you don't always feel comfortable exploring. In other moments we're talking frenetic contemporary punk ("Void"), guns - or at least guitars - blazing. Recorded in just two weeks, it's the band's most concise and coherent work to date, and also their most self-analytical and introverted. Themes can still be read as huge, but the global struggles of the past are now being read through more personal traumas.
Review: Alien Stadium is a collaborative project comprised of Martin Duffy of Primal Scream and Felt, and Steve Mason of The Beta Band. 'Livin' In Elizabethan Times' is an audacious and oddball cosmic rock concept mini-LP about a comically underwhelming invasion of drunkard aliens. As well as the sheer unadulterated fun of the record, the amount of dense and inventive genre-melting the pair have managed to cram into these four tracks is astonishing - dropping in theremins, sound effects, militaristic horns and much more when you least expect them. They set an interplanetary course from twanging and stomping bluesy opener 'This One's For The Humans', through hypnotic balearic-ish bleep and orchestrated retro-futurist pop, to the huge cosmic disco closer 'Titanic Dance'. At first glance, it's an unashamedly silly and fun offering, but repeat listens will reveal these maverick veterans have woven in far deeper layers of commentary humour and substance.
Review: Sometimes bands just drip good vibes. Take Los Angeles' Allah-Las for example. We challenge anyone to find a groovier troupe, these guys boasting more infectious qualities than many viruses we know of. This, their self-referential latest album is like the culmination of all that has come before, not so much changing tact from the shimmering, delightfully loose and jangly strain of indie rock we have come to know them for but rather presenting the most finely tuned and honed interpretation of that sound to date. There are tones of Grateful Dead and Love peppered throughout this collection, which comes with moments such as the hands-held-aloft, sermon-like "Holding Pattern", the intensity of "Houston", and the journeyman instrumentation of Portuguese language country rocker "Prazer Em Te Conhecer". The result is something you're not going to forget in a hurry, as trippy and floaty as it is funky and dirty.
Review: Should you find yourself in continental Europe, or the little islands surrounding it, you may be feeling a sense of the autumnal blues upon the release of this European Heartbreak LP. It's far from a morose and downcast listen though, with the choral of Annelotte de Graaf's voice a shining light to lead you through the trepidation of winter. On top of her two law degrees and work for the international war crimes tribunal, this latest opus provides her with a second album following Fading Lines of 2016, and expect spells of tatty pop intertwined with boops and breathy vocals that meet with subtle brass instrumentation, pianos and folky practices, all sung with a slight smug and smirk of discontent.
Review: Over the course of their lengthy career, Animal Collective have put out a steady stream of albums that veer between experimental, post-rock soundscapes and skewed, left-of-centre indie-pop. Tangerine Reef, their eleventh and latest set, sees them back in experimental mode, delivering a range of fluid, liquid soundscapes inspired by their work with art-science filmmakers Coral Morphologic. All of the album's music was written to soundtrack a film by the latter duo, which can be watched in full on Animal Collective's website. Aurally, the album is indicative of the slowly shifting visuals - built around time-lapse style footage of coral growing - and tends towards the dreamy, otherworldly and drowsy.
Review: On her fifth album, and first new set since 2012, Fiona Apple has not so much torn up the rule book but cremated it and scattered the ashes over a wide distance. Where once she concentrated on delivering melodic songs inspired by the greats of 60s and 70s rock and pop, "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" sees her craft instinctive rhythms and bluesy musical backdrops out of all manner of found sounds and home recordings (including, somewhat bizarrely, the barks and woofs of five different dogs). Throw in sharp lyrics delivered in a mixture of screams, sweet singing, freestyle improvisation and rapping, and you have a wildly original and hugely enjoyable set that defiantly showcases the artist's new-found experimental credentials.
Review: Fight through the blizzard of scrupulously meta promotional activity surrounding it and you'll find a record that deconstructs the bombast Aracade Fire have become known for, reveals the vulnerability behind the stadium sheen and offers a treatise on modern day superficiality and consumerism. Moreover, it makes a sterling job of all three - joyfully disco-inflected, poppily uplifting, stylistically adventurous and bolder than every before, this is a band who can reference ABBA and Bowie irony-free in a ditty about information overload and somehow get away with it - a bunch of eternal square pegs with emotional wallop and deft melodic skills at their disposal, constantly in search of musical worlds beyond empty rhetoric and grandstanding gestures.
Review: Riddle us this - just what is the deal with Iceland? Left alone to float on the North Atlantic's distinctly unwelcoming and ferociously unforgiving waves, aesthetically and culturally it's a nation very much of its own mind, with its own icons and mythology. Take Asgeir Trausti Einarsson, for example.
The haunting singer-songwriter may still be unfamiliar to many English-speaking listeners despite laying claim to some startling statistics. His debut album, "Dird i daudabogn" became the fastest selling record ever in his frosty homeland, outdoing the likes of Bjork and Sigur Ros. Now he's back for a third outing, and it's one of the most Icelandic things you'll hear all year. Packed with folksy roots and immersive atmospheres, you can almost feel the wild winds blowing gales across barren, near-lunar landscapes. Recorded using just a guitar, keyboard and basic kit, in a summerhouse during the bleak midwinter, it's hugely effective stuff.
Review: Had it not been for 'chronic arthritis' you might have found the music of Anthony Ferraro, aka Astronauts, etc. filed under classical. Instead, with years of cafe work and collaborative encounters, he's surfaced as an emerging talent bringing fresh life to tropical, breathy, psychedelic and chilled acoustic sounds. His third, and most accomplished album comes via Californian label Company, which most recently put out Cut Chemist's long awaited Die Cut LP. This album however, co-produced with Chaz Bear, presents what's been described as an ode to ambiguity, the future, and saying 'so long' to the known. Across reverberant, acoustic soundscapes, expect a breeze of breathy vocals that add sweet sentience to the warm droplets of jazz, post punk, latin psychedelica and finger-picked guitars that is the balmy blur of Living In Symbol.
Review: There's a playfulness running through Austra's third album which makes the themes behind the record seem even more troubling - toxic relationships, and the negative behavioural pattern we associate with them. The false facade of fine that covers a much darker reality, which could also explain the stark moodiness evident in sections and songs, with the contrast almost jarring. From the chart dance of opener 'Anywayz' or 'I Am Not Waiting', the surrealism of Annie Lennox meeting Immaculate-era Madonna B-side 'All I Wanted', to 'Risk It''s jaunty electronica, the epic mountaintop-siren number 'It's Amazing', the spectacularly crystalline chorals on closing number 'Messiah' and 'Mountain Baby' bridging the gap with its nursery rhyme into icy downtempo formula. 'HiRUDiN' is a broad showcase of style and desire to explore new ideas, fare like this is few and far between.