August has come at last, and with it, a whole deluge of new releases just ripe for the picking. This fortnight, Put Some Records On! has not five, but ten (!) albums fresh off the presses and straight to your ears, from all corners of the music world. Get your groove on with Gabe Gurnsey and Dorian Concept, kick back and relax to the soft sounds of Shy Boys and Free Cake For Every Creature, or tune in to this week’s big releases from Nicki Minaj and Foxing – you’re spoilt for choice!
Foxing – Nearer My God
As befits the title of their latest studio outing, Foxing are certainly reaching for new heights – once considered the band that would be post-rock’s saving grace, the Missouri quartet have proven themselves so much more than the faces of a single genre. Nearer My God is a Herculean studio effort that is familiar yet genre-defying, combining influences from both their emo contemporaries, as well as more avant-garde sources.
On the one hand, tracks like ‘Bastardiser’ and lead single ‘Slapstick’ hark back to the Foxing of old and their uniquely ornate brand of post-rock, albeit toning down or replacing the brass section from 2014’s The Albatross with tremulous, ephemeral voice samples and majestic, all-engulfing chord progressions. On the other hand, Nearer My God also sees Foxing experiment with a darker, more – dare I say it? – sensual sound, like what you’d get if Wild Beasts and (the now-disgraced) Brand New had an unholy lovechild born with a guitar in one hand and a synthesiser in the other. Record opener and standout track ‘Grand Paradise’ is perhaps the best example of this; a pleading, desperate anthemic cry out against self-inflicted anxiety that culminates in a tremendous, crashing chorus.
As a whole, the record certainly balances what the band are known for with what the band has recently gotten good at; keeping old fans hooked while drawing some new ones onboard too. Cleanliness and musical sterility are no longer next to godliness – Foxing have produced a masterpiece, and Nearer My God is, even for its two distinct faces, one of the most experimental yet thematically cohesive albums that post-rock will probably ever see.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Grand Paradise’, ‘Gameshark’, ‘Won’t Drown’
Nicki Minaj – Queen
Rap’s leading lady is back, and she isn’t taking any prisoners. Queen might as well be a self-titled album – on this record it becomes evident almost immediately that Minaj is no longer making music for the industry, or for the fans, but for herself above all. Her most rap-orientated record to date, Queen is home to some absolutely hard-hitting hangers, but if you’re expecting a sequel to popscene classic ‘Starships’ you might as well flip the needle back up. After starting off with the dewy-eyed, tropical RnB number ‘Ganja Burns’, we’re treated to the snarky, strutting trumpet-led beats of ‘Majesty’, which boasts one of Eminem’s signature tongue-twisting verses and a tuneful refrain from Labrinth to round things off. Elsewhere on the album is ‘Barbie Dreams’, Nicki’s playful take on a classic from Notorious B.I.G. that sees her lovingly “diss” her fellow rappers and friends, as well as the blazing-hot one-two-punch of ‘Chun Li’ and ‘LLC’ that boast so much confidence you’d feel unworthy of her presence just by listening to the tracks.
The overarching narrative on Queen, besides the usual pomp and bombast of rap in general, appears to be Minaj lashing out at multiple facets of the rap industry – its inability to let more than one woman share the spotlight, its inability to even see Minaj as equal to her other male contemporaries only by virtue of her gender, and the scene’s eagerness to make her out as ‘fake’ and a ‘villain’ by clawing tooth and nail to remain where she is. All this is delivered with her signature sass and class too, giving weight to her words when she smugly raps, “How many of them coulda did it with finesse?” Never mind the four-year gap between albums. The Queen is not dead. Long live Queen Minaj.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Chun Li’, ‘LLC’, ‘Coco Chanel (ft. Foxy Brown)’
Dorian Concept – The Nature Of Imitation
Do you like jazz? Do you like quirky, unconventional electronic music? If you said yes to either of the above, then The Nature of Imitation is the album for you. True to its title, the record finds in brilliance in what it begs for, borrows, and steals from jazz and electronica alike. The record opens on ‘Promises’, a thesis statement to that effect that combines a bombastic trumpet groove with metallic, processed beats. Things do slow down a little on occasion – ‘Dishwater’ and ‘E13’ explore the slower side to jazz albeit with Johnson’s signature electronic bite, while ‘A Mother’s Lament’ provides a much-welcome moment of respite from the record’s 100-mile-a-minute jumpiness.
But it is this energy that most of the album struts along with – the distorted funk meshed with granular, beeping synths on ‘No Time Not Mine’ gives way to the joyful electronic jazz on ‘Pedestrians’, which sounds like a particularly spirited piece of New York jazz was swiped right off a bootleg and fed into a possessed 8-bit processor. Similarly, ‘Angel Shark’ is a collection of beats and beeps that jumps about like gas molecules on high heat; the sound of a video game soundtrack on acid. Deeper and deeper we go down the rabbit hole, until we’re spat out the other end as the strobing crescendo of ‘You Give And Give’ fades to a close. The Nature of Imitation is a vortex of sound that is harder to escape with every passing minute, but energises the listener rather than draining them. If that isn’t the best of both worlds (and genres), then I don’t know what is.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Pedestrians’, ‘Angel Shark’, ‘Self Similarity’
Gabe Gurnsey – Physical
Phantasy Records has never put a foot wrong when it comes to electronic dance music for the discerning listener, and new recruit Gabe Gurnsey is certainly continuing along the gold-plated path that his record label have set out for him. Fusing distorted voice samples with alternating deep, droning house music and pulsating Ibiza-worthy rhythms, Physical is a record that sounds similar, on the surface, to the output of Gurnsey’s labelmates Daniel Avery and Erol Alkan, but sets itself apart by discarding the self-serious, all-work-no-play atmosphere that Avery and Alkan have set up surrounding their own music. “A harder love creates a harder rhythm,” intones Gurnsey on the eponymous ‘Harder Rhythm’ – and it is this harder love that he’s clearly put into all his tracks.
Both rhythm and arrhythmia are present on the album, which is what makes it such a fascinating listen. The basic yet incredibly catchy composition of funk earworm ‘New Kind’ bookends one end of the spectrum, with Gurnsey even acknowledging the simplicity of his creation with a tongue-in-cheek spoken prelude: “Kick. Snare. Hi-hat.” On the other end of the spectrum there’s the strange, pulsating arrhythmia of ‘Sweet Heat’, a track both difficult to listen to yet surprisingly compelling. Physical stands out from the rest of the Phantasy crowd – which is, in itself, home to some of the best names in dance music – with both its complexity and its self-awareness; trying to subvert its own genre at every possible turn. And, most importantly, it’s a record that’ll get you up and dancing in no time, whether you’re a regular Fabric fiend or a more discerning EDM connoisseur.
Put these on your playlist: ‘New Kind’, ‘Ultra Clear Sound’, ‘Night Track
Golden Drag – Pink Sky
Not satisfied with just being the frontman of indie band Greys, Shehzaad Jiwani is now flexing his songwriting muscles on his debut solo project, under the new – and very fitting – moniker Golden Drag. With help from equally prominent names in the DIY scene from bands like Weaves, PONY, and Mannequin Pussy, Pink Sky has taken shape as a surprisingly experimental record that refuses to pigeonhole itself into a single genre, constantly morphing through psychedelia, post-punk, shoegaze, and indie rock. The record divides its time between musical introspection and aggression – tracks like ‘Bad Timing Neon Phase’ and ‘Aphex Jim’ (which, by the way, does not sound anything like a Richard D. James concoction) turn up the steady 4/4 drumbeats and krautrock influences, while other songs such as ‘Slow Explosions’ and ‘Shoot The Breeze’ prefer the ‘sun-drenched indie tune’ approach; laidback and jaunty. However, the album truly finds its magnum opus on seven-minute colossus ‘Fastball Special’, a balls-to-the-wall psychedelic-rock fuzzfest that eventually bows out on a dreamy, echoing guitar riff, before suddenly bursting to life again with an explosion of staticky, processed beats. At the end of Pink Sky, you’re more inclined to be unsure of what you just experienced than to have an immediate strong reaction, but let it sink in. Originality like this is hard to come by nowadays in the DIY scene, and Golden Drag have gotten off to a running start.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Bad Timing Neon Phase’, ‘Fastball Special’, ‘Shoot The Breeze’
Free Cake For Every Creature – The Bluest Star
Female-fronted indie is definitely seeing a renaissance in 2018, and Free Cake For Every Creature is back to join the party. The very illustrious Katie Bennett’s solo project (with a little help from her equally musically-talented friends) has seen many evolutions and three studio albums – The Bluest Star is her fourth, and perhaps most accomplished to date. Bennett’s clean guitar work and earnest, confessional penmanship are as catchy as they are endearing, and definitely stand alongside towering indie giants (and contemporaries) Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail. Upbeat tracks such as ‘Whole World Girl’ (a lo-fi ode to a girlfriend) and ‘Tom or Mike or Pat or’ are as carefree as a summer breeze, the latter even complete with a whoa-oh chorus that will have listeners jiving with Bennett’s first falsetto cry of “To-o-om!”. Yet somehow, these songs still manage to evoke an underlying sensuality, behind their soft vocals and gently-strummed guitars, through the vivid imagery in Bennett’s lyrics. Above all else, however, The Bluest Star thrives best when Bennett slows down the pace – the middle of the album sees two of its best tracks, ‘Sideline Skyline’ and ‘Sunday Afternoon’, back to back in an enchanted, soporific daze. “I’m nobody’s mother, I don’t have to hold it all together,” sings Bennett in a quiet, poignant moment of introspection. And she certainly doesn’t hold back anything from the confessional booth of The Bluest Star – which is what makes it such a charming listen, at the end of it all.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Sideline Skyline’, ‘Sunday Afternoon’, ‘Hometown Hero’
Lola Kirke – Heart Head West
If you like your female singer-songwriters with a tinge of country music thrown in, look no further than Lola Kirke. You may have heard this songstress’s name before – besides moonlighting as a country musician, she’s also a fairly prominent actress by day. Heart Head West, her debut album, is where the proof’s in the pudding that she should probably think about switching those two careers around. Forget the bad reputation that country music has – if you’re a fan of rollicking guitar riffs, good old ballads, and violins to go with beautiful vocals, this record has what you need to fix you up just right. You don’t even need to be a fan of country music to enjoy this album – Kirke’s rich, husky voice is a treat to listen to whether backed by a piano or a guitar, and her earnest, lovestruck lyrics are refreshingly playful rather than tired and hackneyed. A welcome addition to the ranks of laid-back, almost-pop records, Heart Head West is the perfect record to relax to on one of these cooler summer nights.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Supposed To’, ‘Out Yonder’, ‘Born To Die’
Shy Boys – Bell House
As you might have expected from a band called Shy Boys, their second studio effort is only 22 minutes long; its sound alternately unfurling and closing in on itself like a mimosa fern. Lo-fi indie rock is given a tinkling, choral twist on Bell House, and its the reminiscence of barbershop quartet acapella on opening track ‘Miracle Gro’ is only scratching the surface. Soft, intertwining melodic vocals blend into the instrumentation most of the time on the record – ‘Evil Sin’ couples this with quavering, organ-like synths, and the gently hypnotic title track ‘Bell House’ calls dreamy shoegaze tracks to mind, only reproduced with reverb-drenched synths and vocals instead of guitars. Closer to Shy Boys’ indie rock roots, guitars are also still an important element of the band’s music, whether they’re being used on borderline stomp-and-holler country track ‘Basement’, or the straightforward indie banger ‘Take The Doggie’. It’s not very often that you get a record so joyfully melodic as Bell House; one that’s not afraid to veer closer to choral music territory than simply strumming a guitar and hoping it works. For all its understated-ness, Bell House is certainly a diamond in the rough.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Take The Doggie’, ‘Basement’, ‘Bell House’
Futuropaco – Futuropaco
Add Italian library music to the list of things that nostalgia is resurrecting for the better. Justin Pinkerton’s one-man project Futuropaco may not be helmed by a hippie from Bologna, but it might as well be – besides the Italian song names, the music itself sounds like it was snatched through a time vortex leading back to the 70s; like if Ennio Morricone and Tame Impala got together, consumed a copious amount of LSD, and made an album. From the driving backbeats and Tarantino-esque swagger of ‘Seppelire Fascisti’ (which translates into ‘Bury Fascists’, before you worry) to the the carnival-calliope rhythm of ‘Ballare Sulla Sua Tomba’, Futuropaco is a throwback album reviving a nearly lost genre for a modern audience. Rolling drums, fuzzy guitar riffs, and blissed-out psychedelic tunes – there’s nothing about library music that this record doesn’t replicate and amplify; turning the genre into something so much more fulfilling than royalty-free music to be palmed off onto the first filmmaker who asks for it.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Fuoco Palude’, ‘Fantasma Arancione’, ‘La Torre Cade’
Dâm-Funk – Architecture II
If “future funk” wasn’t already the name given to the Japanese synth-funk movement from the 80s, I would’ve said that Dâm-Funk was a pioneer of “future funk”. Frankly, the genre name suits this American man’s output way more – Architecture II sounds like the EP that would be playing at all hip inner-city bars from the Blade Runner universe. The swirling synths that sashay through opening track ‘Don’t Give Up’ showcase Dâm-Funk’s little bass flourishes – the devil’s in the details, as they say! – while the tinkling melodic line and stock snares of ‘Best Weekend’ sound like a self-aware homage to vaporwave and jangling ‘corporate funk’. Effortlessly cool and as experimental as it is jazzy, Architecture II blends lounge music, funk, and techno into a solid, streamlined mix that is as easy to lose yourself in as it is to move your hips to.
Put these on your playlist: ‘In The City’, ‘Don’t Give Up’