Loads of awesome albums came out in February – Field Music’s Commontime, Rihanna’s Anti, Santigold’s 99c and YES KANYE WEST – but we’ve covered them enough already. God knows you don’t need to hear another word about The Life of Pablo.
So now it’s time heap a big bucket of praise over the albums that flew a little too under the radar this month, if that’s okay with Kanye? Oh wait, shush, he’s coming, I think he heard us. Quick, duck down beneath this table… Phew, that was a close one.
The Snails – Songs from the Shoebox
Although not quite a Future Islands side-project as the band has been around since 2008, The Snails still features two-thirds of the phenomenal synthpop trio – vaudevillian performer/vocal acrobat Samuel T. Herring and guitarist/slightly different type of guitarist William Cashion.
Songs from the Shoebox was recorded just before Future Islands became big-time famous (Letterman-famous) and everyone in the world learnt what a truly extraordinary and hard-working band they really are. But now The Snails have finally been given a chance to leave their own trail across your laminate flooring.
Whereas Future Islands make exquisitely melancholic, lushly produced pop music that compels you to groove, The Snails are much rougher around the edges, featuring screamed vocals, ramshackle funk, crunchy guitars and unrepentant levels of saxophone.
You know when your friend has a band and they ask you to attend their gig at a local bar, and you grumpily go along purely out of ‘friendly but honour-bound’ support? The Snails are exactly how you wish your friends band would sound; full of good-time bonhomie, that’s impossible not to be swept along by, and even though they may be friends of yours playing in a shitty bar, screwing around with papier–mâché snail heads, they’re exactly what you want to hear right now.
It’s just a shame your friend is in an all-harmonica Cat Empire tribute band. You poor fucker. 8/10
Wild Nothing – Life of Pause
There’s a rich seam of American bands and artists right now who spent a great deal of time riding in the back of their Dad’s Station Wagon in the 80s being forced to listen to increasingly warped cassettes of Bruce Hornsby, Don Henley and Mike and the Mechanics (“Dad, this is boring! I want to listen to Climie Fisher!”) who are now making equally placid, yet nonetheless lovely mid-tempo AOR.
I’m not complaining, I’m creeping up to ‘boring old Dad’ age now, so I can see the appeal. In fact
War on Drugs Wild Nothing’s third album Life of Pause is easily his best work, full of utterly arresting tracks, sumptuously arranged and evocative of the same sun-kissed late summer drives when you were first subjected to your Dad’s music taste. Highly recommended, but just a warning that it could be a gateway to something you’re not ready for yet. What am I saying? You’ve been listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours for years now! 8/10
School of Seven Bells – SVIIB
I love School of Seven Bells. I couldn’t go a single day in the late ’00s without listening to at least a few tracks from their sublime debut Alpinisms (you should give it another listen today, it’s still completely gorgeous and soul-repairing), but after their debut, School of Seven Bells – then comprising Ben Curtis and twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, – would go through the hardest time a band could possibly go through. Claudia left the band in 2010, Curtis and Alejandra ended their romantic relationship in the same year and most tragically of all, in 2013, Ben Curtis, the band’s main musical driving force, died of lymphoma.
SVIIB, their final album, was arranged and recorded in various hospital beds and cancer wards across New York during Curtis’s treatment, and has subsequently been completed by Alejandra, the sole remaining member of the band. Although SVIIB amounts to nine elegies to her best friend and creative partner, it is never less than the soaring, wonderful, joy-filled School of Seven Bells you’ve always loved, and it’s easily the equal of their debut, which draws everything around to a perfect cosmic circle. Which is exactly the sort of thing School of Seven Bells would appreciate. 8/10
Soulwax – Belgica (Original Soundtrack)
The Ghent-born Duwaele Brothers are as restless as they are wonderfully ambidextrous. After appearing in 1998 under their ‘just a regular band’ guise Soulwax and releasing the best indie-rock song of the 90s – ‘Too Many DJs’ – they themselves went on to completely reinvent what it meant to be a DJ under their 2manydjs alias. Then in 2005, Soulwax released Nite Versions, which was an all conquering, unrelenting electro smash that again, made regular indie kids sit up and take proper notice of dance music.
So you may be wondering what Soulwax have been up to lately (apart from absurd DIY projects with James Murphy). Sitting around, drinking delicious super-strong beer? Yeah probs. But they’ve also been recording the soundtrack to Belgica, a film about two brothers and the nightclub they run into the ground. But unlike, say Mark Knopfler who would merely record 12 tracks for The Princess Bride soundtrack as his own stupid boring self, Soulwax have invented 15 separate bands for their soundtrack, each with their own name, sound, background and genre. Those madcap bastards!
There is form in doing such a thing, Fucked Up released David’s Town in 2011, but they only managed 11 invented bands. Pfft, lightweights! (Christ I hope Damian Abraham didn’t hear me say that), but Soulwax have truly stretched themselves here…
Charlotte provides a wonderful, sultry, synth-driven RnB track. The Shitz are perhaps the nearest in sound to ‘traditional Soulwax’ with their direct indie-rock choruses, hand-claps and breathy backing vocals. Caoutchouc are similarly analogous to their Nite Versions counterpart. ‘Burning Phlegm’ by nihilistic hardcore band Nothing is also entirely believable, much to the Duwaele’s credit and commitment.
As DJs, Soulwax have always been the masters of blending unexpected genres together in an utterly cohesive, joyful manner. And here they are, doing it again but with music they’ve written and recorded themselves. Those magnificent, talented swines. 8/10
HXLT – HXLT
HXLT (pronounced Holt, not ‘Hixilt’ like some people have been assuming before doing any research *ahem*) is a recent signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label. He started his career as a party rapper, but soon drew more inspiration from his love of punk bands such as Bad Brains and The Clash. And for better and for worse, this is the artist we have on record right now, a rapper feeling his way to becoming a rock vocalist, using drum machines, synths and samples yet also breaking out the electric guitar to let rip for brief periods.
HXLT’s main strength is his ability to pull together a vast array of influences, irrelevant of style, era, heritage or coolness. Take opening track, ’Reaper’, as an example. If I described all that’s going on within it, then you’d assume it was a mess. There’s everything from The xx’s spacious percussion, to a chorus that invokes Blue Oyster Cult, with a baroque orchestration similar to These New Puritans, to HXLT’s half-rap/half-rock vocals and lyrics dwelling in the morbidness of mortality, and yet overall it’s a wonderful and surprisingly uplifting experience.
Also to his vast credit, HXLT has persuaded Riot Grrrl hero Kathleen Hanna to guest on ‘Tomorrow’ which is easily the most exhilarating track on the album, and made all the more vital with the presence of the Bikini Kill legend.
But then with any experiment, there are failures. Most notably the album’s first single ‘Sick’, with a chorus – “You’re crazy! And you’re stupid! And you’re psycho! You make me sick!” – that’s as lame as HXTL’s perfunctory rap. And ‘Rock N Roll’ with its “I wanna rock and roll your face off” lament sung like a 50s Death Disc, is one of the duller moments.
So as an album HXLT may falter in consistency at times, but when HXLT the artist truly lets rip, it shines. 7/10