Phew, what a month this has been for new music releases. Equilibrio was tempted to cheat and playlist many more than the normal 5 new albums plus one oldie. But sense prevailed and we stick with the formula (OK, with one small cheat by way of a bonus track). In addition to the songs we recommend below, you can also try new releases from both Beach House and Chvrches (neither quite as strong as previous outings but still damn good); some Sunday morning jazz-inflected work from Jamie Isaac or Matt Maltese; the return of math-punk outfit Parquet Courts; Courtney Barnett’s latest offering of off-kilter Australian garage-country; Eleanor Friedberger’s lovely shift into sunny pop territory and whatever you call what Shy Layers do (afro-jazz-funk-chill?). Restraint shown, we had to limit ourselves to the best of the best, and so…
Download these songs this month…
Song: Pick Up
From album: Knock Knock
German DJ Stephan Kowalla has been producing quality electronic and dance music for some 20 years now, mostly under the DJ Koze moniker. The reason for his longevity in a minimum-attention segment is his steadfast refusal to follow current trends. Latest album Knock Knock continues in the same vein. Sample heavy tracks sit alongside pure originals. Hip hop-leanings are adjacent chill-wave and ambient house. Vocals lifted from 70s disco mix with auto-tuned singing turns from star players in the indie-folk (José Gonzalez), Americana (Kurt Wagner) and alt-dance scenes (Róisín Murphy). On Knock Knock, Koze has simplified song structures and pulled back on the psychedelic leanings of the past and has produced his strongest and most satisfying collection yet. Pick Up is the most straightforward track here and couples a looped old school disco backing with a vocal sample from Gladys Knight’s 1972 hit Neither One Of Us. The result is 6 minutes of pure listening joy with everything in its right place. A song that celebrates its simplicity, as carried through into the accompanying back-to-basics, animated B&W video.
(Also download from the album: Muddy Funster, Illumination, Music On My Teeth)
Song: At Least The Sky Is Blue
From album: O
In 1996, an unlikely pairing of queer and punk was conceived of and Ssion (pronounced ‘shun’) sashayed into view. Quite what the red-state, god-fearing folk of Kansas made of it Lord alone knows. Now safely ensconced in the more outré-friendly city of New York, band leader Chris Chritcheloe has gradually found his groove. Swapping punk for an underground pop-dance sound of late, alternative leanings still abound. At the same time he’s also honed his craft as a film-maker, producing stunning visuals for some of the best-loved alt-pop acts on the planet. So good is his work in video in fact that a collection of his works recently featured in the MoMA. And given the size and quality of his rolodex, and the quirky humour throughout, he must be one helluva likable guy. On Marc & Me he relays what spending a night on the town with Marc Jacobs is like. On The Cruel Twirl Róisín Murphy reveals the sordid details of her and Madonna’s long outstanding student loans. Sky Ferreira fluffs the tune of Twinkle Twinkle. Trent Reznor contributes a sample of the definite NSFW declaration from his single Closer. And on lead single, At Least The Sky Is Blue, he ropes in Ariel Pink for both the song and the video, with Pink playing Elizabeth Taylor, to Chritcheloe’s Liza Minelli. At times it’s difficult tracing where his singing ends and his female collaborators step in so sweet is his voice. Fun, smart stuff.
(Also download from the album: Comeback, Tell Me About It, Marc & Me)
Song: Percy Faith
From album: The Horizon Just Laughed
Seattle in the early 1990s witnessed the emergence of the giants of grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains). Strange then that one of the few survivors of this era is a guy with a sweet voice producing folk-ballads about as far-removed from grunge as one can get. Admittedly, Damien Jurado’s early releases were decidedly lo-fi in nature but the years since have seen him turn to more sophisticated recording and production techniques. Amazingly, The Horizon Just Laughed is his 13th studio album. After working with outside producers for many years, Jurado elected to produce this one on his own. Without guidance, musicians often veer off the path and churn out 20-minute epics or noodly instrumental bits lacking focus. Not so for Jurado; this is easily the best and most consistent collection of his career. The album is peppered with characters both imagined (Cindy Lee and Florence and Lou-Jean) and real (Thomas Wolfe and Marvin Kaplan), and Jurado uses them as props to wind his tales of middle-aged life across America. His lyrical concerns are insightful and provocative (“What good is living if you can’t write your ending?”). Percy Faith is one of the real characters who, along with a handful of other American TV and music stars from the 50s and 60s, is roped-in to receive Jurado’s warning message of societal concerns in modern-day USA.
(Also download from the album: Florence-Jean, Dear Thomas Wolfe, Allocate)
Song: Ice Cream Man
From album: Rejuvenate
Paul White is best known as a producer. This London-based DJ is the man behind the desk for big name acts such as Danny Brown and Open Mike Eagle. His sporadic solo work to date has also been mostly hip-hop leaning. What a surprise the Rejuvenate album is then. A set of Ibiza-sunset ready chillout tracks featuring numerous female guest vocalists. Best of the bunch are two tracks with the Zimbabwe born vocalist Shungudzo (aka Shun). Growing up in a village with no electricity or running water, Shun amazingly landed a Stanford scholarship at age 15, writing engineering and sociology. Ice Cream Man is where she demonstrates her vocal prowess. The light-hearted lyrics of the song are far removed from her own heavily politically conscious work. Try her recent single Long Live The Billionaire for a sense of the stunning work she is capable of in her own right.
(Also download from the album: Set The Tone, Returning, Soul Reunion)
Song: Four Out Of Five
From album: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Rock bands are meant to do one of two things, right; either have a couple of hits and replicate them for all time, or try reinvent themselves and inevitably fade into obscurity. Not so for Arctic Monkeys. Seemingly never afraid of tweaking the formula but yet somehow also remaining relevant and current. Their first album, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was indie with cheek and swagger in spades. Next up came their gothic phase via 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. That was followed by the dark Americana of 2009’s Humbug, the vintage pop of 2011’s Suck It And See and the heavy rock of the much-acclaimed AM from 2013. But none of those twists and turns could ever have suggested this. Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino is a concept album about an imagined and bleak near-future narrated by various shady characters mostly dwelling on the moon. And that’s not even the most surprising bit. That comes in the form of the backing, which is a cross between louche piano lounge and Bowie at his most space-tastic. Hardly the stuff you’d expect from one of the world’s foremost rock outfits, but nonetheless fantastic. The lyrical content alone begs the question of what Alex Turner would have become if not the frontman of a band. His poetic knack, insights into modern issues and spot-on commentary on the human condition, suggest he could have produced written works on a par with a contemporary novelist like Jonathan Franzen. Or even perhaps a modern-day Phillip K. Dick given his wild sci-fi imaginings (things like the ‘Martini Police’, or the ‘Information-Action Ratio’, a moon-based taqueria named after a principle outlined in the 1985 book Amusing Ourselves To Death). Four Out Of Five is the only single released from a collection intended to rather be absorbed as a whole. The title amusingly references the imagined star-rating given by reviewers to the taqueria.
(Also download from the album: Star Treatment, American Sports, Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino)
Song: Emerald Rush
From album: Singularity
In a month that has brought us a ton of great releases it’s only fitting that we offer up a bonus track for our playlist. And what a track it is. Ever since the release of his 2013 album Immunity, English producer Jon Hopkins has achieved almost cult-like status in the underground electronic scene. Wordless digital compositions are his stock-in-trade, but his music nonetheless conjures up a wide range of emotions. Many of his tracks technically fall into the dance classification, but are highly unlikely to find their way into many clubs. A new form of trance is probably the laziest way to describe what this sounds like, but that seriously undermines Hopkins’ cerebral approach. Emerald Rush, the lead single from his latest album Singularity, opens with an intro of variably-paced synth arpeggios and then kicks into a melody that seems to have holes in it, stuttering into near-focus like an image coming into view. While never quite reaching total clarity, the distortion and staccato effect achieve a grace and beauty of their own. Slip on your headphones and appreciate his genius.
In case you missed it…
Song: Forever More
From album: Statues (from 2003)
Róisín Murphy seems to be everywhere these days; both releasing her own music as well as appearing as a guest vocalist on countless albums (see our review of both DJ Koze and Ssion’s latest offerings this month for instance). It seems appropriate then that Equilibrio should showcase where it all began.
Irish duo Moloko was Murphy plus producer Mark Brydon. They met at a party after Murphy’s opening line to Brydon “do you like my tight sweater?” This difficult-to-ignore question became the title of their debut album in 1995, and a successful musical and romantic pairing ensued. Fourth album Statues was a break-up record in both senses of the word. After touring the songs, Murphy and Brydon called it a day and Murphy went on to a successful solo career. Regret and heartbreak are the major themes then. Murphy was always a bit of a wild child – take a peek at her on the album cover, pint of beer in each hand and thigh deep in the ocean in non-swimming gear – so she was probably never going to hang around. More’s the pity as Statues is the album where they finally cracked the balance they had been seeking between their earlier, folky leanings and the dance remixes of later singles. Forever More was the towering centrepiece: a 7+ minute* opus, driven by a hypnotic bass line with Murphy’s unique voice carrying the tale of love past. All the more affecting given what came next.
* 4 minutes for the single version
(Also download from the album: Cannot Contain This, Over & Over, Familiar Feeling)
LISTEN TO OUR PLAYLIST
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