Album Release Rundown – Pijn & Conjurer, Oh Sees, Blanck Mass, Oso Oso and Cultdreams

August is without a doubt the busiest album release month of the year and 2019 is no different, maybe even more so than before. This week we have five releases on review – to be honest, it could have been more, but we’ve decided to pick the best releases due out this week (August 16th). I can honestly say that all of these releases are coming out on some of the hardest working labels around, so please be sure to support the artist by picking up a copy online or at your local record shop.

Pijn & Conjurer – ‘Curse These Metal Hands’ (Holy Roar)

Last year saw Pijn and Conjurer become two of the UK’s most exciting alternative metal acts. Their excellence was duly noted by the organisers of ArcTanGent festival, who commissioned them to perform a collaborative set at last year’s festival. As well as being asked back to ATG this year, the fruits of their labour have finally been committed to tape. As expected, this is the most perfect hybrid of what these bands do best. It’s got the furious, heavy AF riffage of Conjurer mixed with the spine tingling atmosphere of Pijn. But what we ultimately get is a group of friends having fun – from Thin Lizzy inspired solos, Queen style frills and the uplifting stomp of Baroness (you’ve all seen the memes by now).

It’s still dark and heavy, but it’s really cool to see these bands bring in new shades of colour with some really uplifting moments; ‘High Spirits‘ is a completely joyous and fist pumping opener. Pijn guitarist Joe has done an amazing job with the production, lifting up these massive, euphoric riffs whilst also making exciting sonic shifts to reinforce the progressive nature of both bands. I love the big natural drum sound captured here, which gives the ending of ‘The Pall‘ a BIG percussive bite, while ‘Endeavour‘ begins on angelic, choir like harmonies before descending into hell with ferocious distorted growls. We knew that this meeting of minds was always going to come out on top, but it’s the depth and care that’s gone into ‘Curse These Metal Hands‘ that elevates it into one of the best heavy records you’ll hear this year!

Oh Sees – ‘Face Stabber’ (Castle Face)

Another year, another Oh Sees LP. Y’all know the drill. John Dwyer and his merry men are back to put a spring in our step with their 22nd full length! Following on from the jazz prog vibes of last years ‘Smote Reverser‘, ‘Face Stabber’ is a mixed bag of styles and sounds but as always is bound together by fearless musicianship. We are tossed around from 2 minute garage punk work outs to stretched out, psychedelic passages, including maybe one of the bands longest tracks on 21 minute jazz odyssey closer ‘Henchlock‘.

I know that the band love a wig-out and there are plenty of fans that will be well into these moments, but for me this lot really slay when they’re keeping it sharp and to the point. ‘Gholü‘ and ‘Heart Worm‘ are fast and furious, with fuzzy as fuck guitars and the forever raging three man rhythm section going hammer and tongues underneath Dwyers distinctive vocal cackle. I also need to point out the vintage groove of recent single ‘Poisoned Stones‘, which might be one of my favourite Oh Sees tunes ever! When they put a bit more restraint on their songwriting they just seem unstoppable to me, in fact in places I am reminded of the energy that ‘A Weird Exits‘ brought to the table and made me listen up in the first place.

It might not be their most consistent release, with a few skippable tracks for me, however when it rips, it really rips and it’s great to see them getting back in our faces more and riffing the fuck out!

Blanck Mass – ‘Animated Violence Mild’ (Sacred Bones)

Benjamin Powers has created the most explosive and apocalyptic soundtrack of the decade with his Blanck Mass project. His fourth full length continues where the blistering ‘World Eater‘ left off, keeping the beats heavy but the melodies catchy. If anything, the beats are even busier and more pummelling than before, while the melodies can flicker between euphoric euro rave and sugary sweet k-pop. This is of course all blended with cutting synths, distorted keyboards and over driven death metal vocals just to fuck your head up even more; the final seconds of ‘Death Drop‘ are particularly brutal.

Although melodically this is the catchiest Blanck Mass release to date, this is also his most forward thinking and I love how everything blends so well together. It’s not only very consistent as a piece of work but extremely cohesive too. It’s a challenging sound, but there’s so many uplifting ear worms throughout this that almost throw you off guard; the beat and bass line of ‘No Dice‘ are so chunky but then you’ve got this super sweet synth line sprinkled over the top that will refuse to leave your head. The balance of heavy and infectious is perfect here, it may take a moment to get your head around everything, but I would advise you just let it absorb your mind and send you on a freaky but beautiful trip.

Oso Oso – ‘Basking In The Glow’ (Triple Crown)

I remember hearing Oso Oso’s second LP ‘The Yunahon Mixtape‘ late 2017 and falling head over heels with its earnest college rock sound. After a banging two track single last summer, Long Beach resident Jade Lilitri returns with his third full length. ‘Basking In The Glow‘ is another absolutely belting collection of punk-pop tinged emo, but this time he’s really taken the ‘album’ concept into consideration. In my mind it takes a classic album format, opening on a scene setting, acoustic driven intro that leads into a run of sunshine pop bangers. ‘One Sick Plan‘ hits the mid album acoustic ballad mark but in a much more intimate and lo-fi manner, moving back into punk-pop smasher territory before ‘Charlie’ closes out one of Oso Oso’s most moving and expansive tracks to date.

I’ve always been a fan of albums that have a clear beginning, middle and end and this works so well in delivering Jade’s tightest and most focused record. Everything has been taken up a notch; I mean it still stays in the pensive yet catchy emo pop category, but melodically this is sharper and shinier sonically. I hope this is the moment that the rest of the world cottons on to the brilliance of this songwriter and how god damn good his songs are.

Cultdreams – ‘Things That Hurt’ (Big Scary Monsters)

Late last year, UK emo darlings Kamikaze Girls changed their name to the well suited title of Cultdreams. Here we stand in 2019 and the two piece are ready to unveil the much anticipated follow up to 2017 debut ‘Seafoam‘. In classic sophomore style, Cultdreams return with an album that retains all the elements that made their debut so grand, but naturally they have created an even bolder statement in every way. Musically, this still sees them blend shoegaze, grunge and punk in an eloquent fashion, but this is a much more assured step up. The post-rock inspired dynamics of ‘Born An Underdog‘ makes for a super strong opener, the chorus of ‘We Never Rest‘ is heart racingly beautiful and the urgent, passionate grunge rush of ‘Not My Generation‘ all help lift the band to new sonic heights.

Lyrically, we see guitarist and vocalist Lucinda go deeper than before with some of her most personal thoughts spilled out. Previously, Lucinda has spoken very honestly about her mental health but here she tackles the very tough subject of loss which makes for some extremely heart wrenching moments, especially on the poignant ‘Flowers On Their Graves‘. ‘Things That Hurt‘ is a brave and beautiful album from a band that keep getting more confident and fearless with each new release.

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Album Review: Ty Segall – First Taste

Bar one year out of eleven, Ty Segall has been annual in his album release output. This is not to mention all the other bands, collabs and EP’s he’s put out in between, the man is a machine. For the past three years we’ve had a new record every January, but following last year’s mammoth 19 track effort ‘Freedom’s Goblin‘ you can excuse Ty for taking a little more time to deliver album number 11.

I purposely avoided all teasers for ‘First Taste‘ in an attempt to get the full album listening experience, which I’m glad I did because this is a really engulfing listen. Opening track ‘Taste‘ is an electrifying start, mixing fuzzy synths, buzzing bass, bustling percussion, not to mention some soaring vocal work setting the tone for this unpredictable ride.

We all know that Ty is a jack of all trades and it’s fair to say a master of all, but I think the main takeaway I’ve gotten from his records is his vocals and his riffs. If you want shredding both from the fingers and the throat then Mr Segall is the man, but what I like on this record is the focus on the rhythm section with a lot of tracks zooming in on bass licks and percussion. You just can’t help but be suckered into the grooves of ‘I Worship The Dog‘ and ‘Whatever‘ and as always, the sonics throughout the record are full of psych inspired twists that sound bonkers in the right headphones.

But of course, Ty still flexes all his musical muscles, with ‘Ice Plant‘ acting as a beautifully yearning accapella track, while closing track ‘Lone Cowboys‘ sees him shredding on an acoustic guitar for this fun Middle Eastern inspired folk tune. In fact, that Middle Eastern feel does creep into the album, especially on the sitar driven riff of ‘Radio‘, I get the feeling that Ty has been listening to ‘Revolver’ during the making of this LP. The Beatles have always been a clear influence, but instead of honing in on their pop sensibilities like everyone else, Ty seems to be looking into how they expanded sonically which is why I hear a few deep Harrison cuts referenced on ‘First Taste‘. But of course, this is just one of many references as this draws inspiration from so much with a strong synth enhanced feel pulsating through its core.

Whereas his predecessor felt like Ty trying to display as many different genres across one record (a bit like a jukebox), ‘First Taste‘ feels more like an album despite its eclecticism. Every track seems to come from the same idea of taking you through a journey of sorts and it sounds cliche as hell, but this isn’t your usual bold as brass guitar rippers – this is more of a head fuck and a glorious one at that. If you dug the experimental nature of 2016’s ‘Emotional Mugger’ then you’ll certainly get on with this. This album is to be digested slowly and with this comes grand rewards, as our lord and saviour delivers another chapter of what will be his holy grail.

(Photo Credit: Denée Segall)

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Album Review: Russian Circles – Blood Year

Russian Circles are arguably one of the most consistent instrumental bands around. For a band that have been going for the best part of 15 years, they have kept their album and touring cycles tightly wound. Not only do the trio deliver consistently strong full lengths, but their live show is still a vitalising spectacle to behold. Some critics claim that the Chicago based outfit tend to stick with what they know and haven’t really evolved too much sonically but to them I say; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Russian Circles have worked hard to create their winning formula, so it makes total sense that they’d stick to it.

Not only do they have a winning formula in terms of sound, but they’ve now found a solid working space in Steve Albini’s studio Electrical Audio and also in Converge’s Kurt Ballou as their producer. Blood Year is their seventh album, their second with Kurt at the helm and fourth to be recorded at EA, so we know we’re in safe hands.

A point that lead previous LP ‘Guidance‘ to such acclaim was how well the band’s performances were captured, especially in Dave Turncrantz’s drum sound. Although the record begins on a now classic Russian Circles scene setting, guitar driven intro, the first we hear of the drums is on ‘Arluck‘. The toms in the first 20 seconds are captured beautifully so you can really hear the difference in tuning between the mid and low toms, displaying the versatility of a drum kit perfectly and how it really doesn’t just hold the rhythm down, it’s melodic in its own right. The track soon builds into the band’s usual apocalyptic brand of doom infused post-rock, completed with Brian Cook‘s thunderous bass tone and the sharp, metallic tapping of guitarist Mike Sullivan.

I’ve always found each Russian Circles album to tell a narrative and the way in which they structure a record feels very cinematic to me. I love the rise and falls of ‘Blood Year‘, it just feels like the whole album is building to this massive crescendo and takes us through moments of both peace and intensity to get there. ‘Milano‘ is a straight up crushing piece, centred around some soaring guitar work from Mike, while ‘Kohokia‘ focuses on this 7 minute build of atmospheric melodies regimented by a locked in rhythm section for ultimate intensity.

Just as you’re ready to attack whatever monster the band has been coaxing out of its hole for the last three tracks, ‘Ghost on High‘ comes in with 2 and half minutes of shimmering guitar loops underlined with this beguiling bass line. This is all to distract us while the monster creeps up and gets ready to rip our heads off with the body imploding two hit punch of ‘Sinaia‘ and ‘Quartered‘ that complete the album with pure ferocity. The chugged out groove of the closer in particular is heavy as fuck, acting as the most exhilarating end to an exhilarating piece.

It’s rare that I would mention all the tracks on a record in a review, but ‘Blood Year‘ is very much an album that relies on all of its seven parts to tell its story. It’s just so well put together and thought out, which is what sets Russian Circles apart from the rest; they know how to capture a feeling and mood and are still finding new ways to do that within the unrelenting soundscape they’ve created. I’ve actually been watching a few monster movies recently, so ‘Blood Year‘ is really working for me as the imagined soundtrack to those sort of films; it’s totally thrilling, full of action and above all, it’s ready to rip your head off.

(Photo Credit: Teddie Taylor)

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Album Release Rundown – Bill Ryder-Jones, Throes and Dead Nature

(Photo Credit: Jack-Finnigan)
Words: Ben Forrester

After just over a month’s silence, the review rundowns are back back back! The festival season is very nearly over and it’s time to get stuck back in on the album front. As always, all of the below records are released through the best labels in the biz and are available online and in-store. Please remember folks to support your local indie shops; you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone!

Bill Ryder-Jones – ‘Yawny Yawn’ (Domino)

Last year saw the release of Bill Ryder-Jones’ fourth album ‘Yawn‘, an understated, personal record full of gorgeous melodies and sumptuous layers of guitar fuzz. But just when you thought Bill couldn’t get any more intimate, here we have a re-imagined version of ‘Yawn‘ re-recorded for just vocals and piano. As you can imagine, this is a slow burning affair with some of the songs stretched out to twice their original length as Bill slows things down and lets the emotion pour out even further.

I think it’s a bold move to make an already quiet and sad record even more so, but Bill has really thought about creating a new sense of space with these recordings. I love his hazy, just got out of bed vocal style and his piano playing and melodic choices bring a new, more thoughtful perspective. I also enjoy the addition of underlying ambient textures to bring a new sense of space to these songs. I’ll be honest, the pace and stripped back nature of this project can be a bit tough going at times but some of the arrangements can be stop you in your tracks stunning. Come the winter, this is going to be a perfect, snuggle up soundtrack.

Throes – ‘In The Hands Of An Angry God’ (Holy Roar)

Following from their debut release back in 2015, Idaho based quintet Throes have been beavering away, working towards the creation of their debut full length. ‘In The Hands Of An Angry God‘ is released through the best heavy label in the UK (Holy Roar) and as expected, is a brute force attack of sludgy riffs and hardcore density.

Dynamically, the record is book ended in short yet blisteringly sweet fashion as opener ‘Bad Meat‘ caves your head in with a fist full of riffs, while ‘Fang‘ closes it with under two minutes of pure thrash ferocity. Aside from these tracks, there are much more expansive and extensive sonic shifts here with melodic hardcore tendencies and an almost Deftones level of dreaminess in places. What gives this record its cohesion is the level of intensity that flows through it. The whole record keeps its emotions up front and centre, with its mood and atmosphere keeping you focused and holding on. This is another solid HR release that fans of the label will be sure to dig, but equally if you like sludgy hardcore with a heart, look no further.

Dead Nature – ‘Taking My Shadow’ EP (Dead Nature Records)

It was at the back end of last year that UK’s brightest indie hopes Spring King announced their split. Although it might have come as a shock to some, it felt like a mutual decision for the quartet to part ways after a pretty fruitful six year career. Not even a year since their last album release and Tarek Musa, the band’s leading songwriting force, is back under the solo moniker of Dead Nature.

This debut EP takes the same punk infused pop pomp of Tarek’s previous project but takes it up a notch. ‘Fire In Your Soul‘ is a big opener, with a chorus that is ready to be plastered all over the FM, while the gospel infused hook of ‘In My Heart‘ is destined for big stages in big fields. It’s got all the urgency and sharpness of before, but instrumentally the sky is the limit and sonically, this is a bold debut. On first listen it doesn’t seem like much of departure, but when these songs soak in, this feels like a really good stepping stone for Tarek to take his sharp songwriting skills and Dead Nature to the next level.

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EP Review: Down I Go – All Down the Church in Midst of Fire, the Hellish Monster Flew, and Passing Onward to the Quire He Many People Slew

You’d think that being in a band where all members live in different parts of the world would be hard, but Down I Go make it look easy. The progressive hardcore trio don’t seem to stop making music and with each new release, there has always seemingly been another one already in the works. ‘All Down the Church…‘ continues the bands surprise release streak following on from 2017’s unexpected and blistering ‘Mortals‘ EP.

It’s pretty much business as usual here, with super hard and super chunky riffs, muscular drum workouts and vocals that flicker between the choral and the blood curdling. And as with all Down I Go releases, there is a theme and concept that runs through the lyrical content of the EP’s four tracks, each one telling us the story of a different mythological harbinger-of-death. 

It sounds like a heavy concept and naturally the band build the tension with an onslaught of hard rock riffage and intense layers of harmonised vocals that makes for a pretty climatic ending on ‘The Kumakatok’. The story is about a trio of hooded figures who knock at the doors of the soon-to-expire in the Philippines and I am fucking terrified at the menacing screams of “OPEN THE DOOR” that bellow over an earth shattering breakdown. 

I must say that the frightening theme of this record is illustrated perfectly with what I assume is the ‘Black Shuck’ donning the EP’s totally striking cover. The Black Shuck was a dark hound who followed unsuspecting East Anglians to their last breath and on the EP this is displayed by a meaty, flesh hungry groove that is punctuated by these euphoric vocals that are equal parts beautiful and haunting. Although the band’s sound isn’t a million miles away from ‘Mortals‘, they just seem to come up with even bigger and better ideas for all three instruments which just keeps you coming back again and again. My only gripe with this record is that it’s too short and you can’t help but throw yourself back into the madness once it’s over.

I wrote in these very pages that ‘Mortals‘ was the band’s boldest material to date, but I have to say that ‘All Down The Church…‘ has gone and topped it. Although Down I Go have been a band since 2005, their creativity knows no bounds and they only get stronger as a unit. With even bigger melodies and even harder riffs, this is another solid set of oddball bangers from hardcore’s best kept secret.

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Album Review: Jamie Lenman – Shuffle

Since exploding back into our lives six years ago, Jamie Lenman has reemerged as one of the most exciting and uncompromising artists in the UK. Always one to push musical boundaries, his first solo effort was a Jekyll and Hyde like double LP, while its follow up was an industrial pop banger. With Black Futures frontman and Idles producer Space back at the helm, Jamie returns with a new full length but with quite the twist.

It would be really easy to call ‘Shuffle‘ a covers album, I mean, at its core – yes, it is – but it’s so much more than that. To me, a covers record usually acts as an in between album cash cow where artists chuck together a few half baked acoustic covers, but with this, Jamie Lenman throws any notions of this off a big old cliff. To me, this is an album of interpretations and re-workings of things that have inspired and interested Jamie. I say things because this isn’t limited to music.

With ‘Shuffle’ we get an insight into Jamie’s mind, not just as a musician, but as a lover of comic books, video games, literature and film. I can’t think of ever hearing a record that does what this does, one minute he’s tearing apart the ‘Popeye’ theme in planet imploding fashion, the next he’s pouring his heart into a tense reenactment of his favourite scene from a short film.

We flicker from these moments of atmosphere and gloom, with takes on films and video game soundtracks, to these moments of pure, unadulterated fun. Whether it’s the bass driven grooves of ‘Killer’ and ‘She Bop’ or the heavy ass reworking of not one but two Beatles tunes, Lenners covers all bases. Now, It’s been said that covering The Beatles is a big no no, but Lenman puts that now cult post-hardcore spin on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and gives ‘Hey Jude’ a doomy breakdown of a makeover and comes out a champion.

And if that’s not enough to draw you in, the whole album acts as your every day listening session as we listen in to someone actually flicking through their device, hearing their choices and even getting a commentary on these choices. The gypsy folk rendition of ‘A Handsome Stranger Called Death’ by short lived grunge pop act Foe gets introduced with “this is a fucking tune”; it’s the icing on a cake to an already unique record.

Shuffle‘ really is an engulfing listening experience. With it, you are sucked into a whole different world, not only are you hearing someone’s personal listening journey but you also get to swim into the creative mindset of Jamie Lenman, go to places that you’ve not been allowed access to before as well as re-familiarise yourself with the very fabrics that make this man such a treasure. I’ve always seen Jamie as an entertainer but this is him pushing that envelope even further than before and coming up with an exciting, interesting and genuinely refreshing new concept.

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Album Release Rundown – Black Midi, Titus Andronicus and Hot Chip

After a pretty manic May, the month of June has been delivering a steady output of new albums with this week (ending June 21st) being its strongest. Here is a rundown of some key releases for the week – remember to check these LP’s out either on the net or ideally at your local record shop cos y’all know we have to support the indies!

Black Midi – ‘Schlagenheim’ (Rough Trade Records)

It’s funny how some people go running off as soon as they hear the word ‘hype’, but I’m glad that I managed to keep a clear head when checking out the UK’s all-a-buzz band Black Midi. ‘Schlagenheim‘ is the sound of four young dudes steam rolling their way through math-rock shapes and post-punk inflections. It’s clear that they all went to a music college, studied a whole heap of genres and are full of ideas, as this is an album that does not rest. But at the same time, this isn’t just a bunch of clued up musicians trying to be clever, of course they’ve thought about the general structure of these winding compositions but they are so ready to embrace noise and chaos and it’s these moments of madness that make it such a thrilling debut. On top of this, the performances are sterling with rapid fire guitars, buzz saw bass lines and an absolute monster drummer that holds the chaos in their sticks, bringing scrappy punk and mind bending mathiness together in perfect harmony. Although they’re not the first to think of this, Black Midi have still come up with an exciting and refreshing debut that shows the utmost promise.

Hot Chip – ‘A Bath Full Of Ecstasy’ (Domino)

Nearly 20 years in the game and Hot Chip have not dropped the ball once, releasing consistently great records chock-a-block with indie disco anthems. As the title suggests, the quintet’s seventh album is an uplifting exploration into electro pop. I’ve always enjoyed the classic dance eurporia that Hot Chip bring to the fold and although that does pulsate through ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’, it’s their power pop prowess that really gets turned up here. Glittering disco beats, warm waves of synths and weighty pop hooks dominate the album and it’s this subtle sonic shift that really suits Hot Chip at this point in their career. I’ll admit, I love the groovy, dance floor fillers of yore and this record doesn’t quite hit those highs for me. But I accept that this is a wiser version of Hot Chip and for that they have emerged as the daddies of disco pop.

Titus Andronicus – ‘An Obelisk’ (Merge Records)

Last year, US prog-punk mavericks Titus Andronicus released perhaps their most expansive record to date, with frontman Patrick warning fans not to expect the usual punk bangers. Only a year on since the release of the generally well received ‘Productive Cough‘ and the band are back to what they do best. The quartet’s sixth long player is their most no nonsense punk-rock record to date and is everything you want from a punk record. Every track ends with drummer Chris counting the band into the next to give this very live, in the room feel, but sonically it sounds big and loud as opposed to the usual raw punk aesthetic bands tend to go for. Musically, these are catchy tunes, mostly with a political agenda but so full of spirit, vigour and life that it makes me desperate to see it live. For some this might sound like just another punk record but fans of the genre will appreciate the hell out of the power and boldness that Titus’ ‘An Obelisk‘ brings in spades.

Also worth checking out

The St. Pierre Snake Invasion – ‘Caprice Enchanté’

An absolutely raging second LP from Bristol noise punks. Read our full lowdown here.

The Raconteurs – ‘Help Us Stranger’ (Third Man Records)

After a 10 year gap, the rock ‘n’ roll supergroup are back with a strong comeback, offering more psych-pop twists to their sturdy 70’s rock inspired sound.

Bad Books – ‘III’ (Loma Vista)

Another supergroup returning with their third LP after a long gap. The collab between indie rock heroes Manchester Orchestra and singer-songwriting champ Kevin Devine is a beautifully, acoustic driven folk record that delivers some of their most affecting writing to date.

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