Niki & The Dove are a Swedish duo whose new album Everybody’s Heart is Broken Now channels the synth and drum effects of the 1980s. There are a lot of acts raiding that era at the moment but these two do it without sounding like hipsters playing kitsch games. It has a sleek but emotional sound that owes a lot to the R&B jams of that decade, and with the raspy voice of lead singer Malin Dahlström crooning over the shiny chrome surfaces it often sounds like a Stevie Nicks record produced by Prince (sigh).
Lucius are a Brooklyn quintet led by the powerful twin voices of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. This thumping, euphoric single from their second album Good Grief blows my socks off, and the rest of it is just as big and bold as this.
I must say this is shaping up to be a great year for new albums so far.
The good new albums are coming thick and fast at the moment. The latest to bend my ear is the third album from all-female New York quartet Teen called Love Yes.
Led by singer and main creative force Lizzie Lieberson (the band also includes her two sisters), Teen make synth-based pop with an experimental edge — I can hear St. Vincent, Kate Bush, and Sparks in the mix. It’s fun to listen to but there’s a lot going on under the bubbly surface. Really terrific stuff.
With so much new music competing for your attention on the internet you have to have some filters to narrow down what you decide to listen to. Being a superficial designer type my choices are often based on visuals so I checked out the new album Plaza by the Boston band Quilt purely because I liked the the sleeve. I thought it looked vaguely like something George Hardie would have drawn for a Hipgnosis album cover in the 70s.
I’m really glad I did too because it’s great album (their third), a terrific blend of trippy Psych-Folk and jangly Indie. Not sure what the sleeve image has to do with it though.
Aubrie Sellers describes her sound as “Garage Country”, mixing her twangy Opry voice with reverb guitars and thumping rock drums. Aubrie is the daughter of Lee Ann Womack so Country music is in her blood but she’s staking out her own territory instead of going the trad fiddles-and-slide-guitar Nashville route.
Her debut album New City Blues has just come out and it’s darn good y’all.
Adrian Younge is a musician/writer/producer heavily influenced by the sounds of 70s soul, particularly the cinematic grooves of Blaxploitation soundtracks. He first came to my attention a couple of years ago with an album he produced for The Delfonics which recalled their Philly-Soul glory days so beautifully that you really should hear if you haven’t.
His latest album Something About April II has guest vocal turns by a diverse crowd including Raphael Saadiq and Laetitia Sadier, with music that also has elements of Hip Hop, Psychedelia, and Ennio Morricone. It sounds like the soundtrack to the coolest, trippiest movie ever. Love it.
Here I am at 53 years old still writing bollocks about pop music. I have friends who lost interest in new music years ago — except for bands who sound like retreads of what they liked in their youth — and I keep waiting for that to happen to me. It hasn’t happened yet and I still found lots to love in 2015 which I think was a really good year. I assume that one day I will be shouting at pop music to get off my lawn but these records held off that day for another year.
The Shape of Brat Pop To Come – Holychild
I’ve been a Holychild fan since their “Playboy Girl” single last year but I was still surprised how thumpingly great their debut album was. Sounding like Charli XCX covering Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, it was full of brash pop with smart lyrics, fat beats, and cheerleader-worthy choruses. It’s one of those albums where you can imagine every track being a hit — at least they would be in that perfect, alternate pop universe we music nerds dream about. In the real world they’re still a cult crush but hopefully that will change in 2016. The most fun I had on vinyl this year.
STILL LOVE THAT OLD-TIME ROCK & ROLL
My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice must have sat at the front of class in Rock School (the swots) judging by how good they are at everything from grungy headbangers to fluffy indiepop and ethereal ballads — all of which they played with aplomb on their knockout debut album. But instead of sounding like dilettantes, this eclecticism is a big part of their appeal. The London foursome don’t sound part of any particular cooler-than-you rock tribe because in their world it’s all good, and this lack of cynical attitude makes them seem like a gang we can all join instead of a club you can’t get into. Most guitar rock has bored me shitless for years but their joyful enthusiasm reminds me of the kick I got out of rock music when I was a teenager.
MISSING IN ACTION
I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around – Chromatics (single)
Chromatics’ new album Dear Tommy was supposed to have been released back in February but we’re still waiting for it because band leader Johnny Jewel is a perfectionist who marches to the beat of his own independent drum. The long wait has been made easier by the tracks he’s released from it so far (often as free downloads) like this sublime slice of glittery, late-night disco that I found more ravishing than any other single this year. Get your finger out Johnny!
HIGHER THAN THE SUN
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz – Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus is a more divisive figure than Donald Trump (but would probably make a better President), and judging by the nasty tone of some reviews of her Flaming Lips collaboration you’d think she’d recorded the screams of drowning kittens instead of an album of gorgeously trippy spacepop which she gave away for FREE. A lot of it was pot-addled, self-indulgent nonsense that should have been erased the morning after, but with 22 tracks in all you could easily edit out the rubbish (the joys of digital music) and have more than enough good stuff left over to make one of my favourite albums of the year — God knows it would have to be good for me to get over the fact that it was by Miley fucking Cyrus.
Hairless Toys – Róisín Murphy
Róisín Murphy hadn’t released anything major since her last album eight years ago but still managed to come back from the wilderness with a record that was yards ahead of everyone else. Immaculately cool, with skeletal beats and minimalist synths, it was avant garde dance music that sounded like it had been constructed by funky mathematicians. Introverted and cerebral it might have been but the warm jazziness of Róisín’s voice gave it a human heart and her eccentric inventiveness made it a constantly surprising treat for the ears. Hope she doesn’t take another eight years off because pop needs more artists like her.
THE MARMITE RECORD
Hey QT – QT (single)
One day I’m going to write something about the PC Music label’s output without half-apologizing for liking it or using the phrase “acquired taste.” They’re pushing the limits of how “pop” a pop record can be by pushing the brightness and saturation levels into the red zone, and what I like most about them is that their records sound so thoroughly new, like music from the future. They’re bloody great tunes too, and this was a terrific pop single and an evil earworm — even if it was sugary enough to rot your teeth.
Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
Lana’s third album opens with the line is “We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me” and then proceeds to sound like she doesn’t give a shit about that one way or the other. Existing in a world of her own light years away from current pop trends, Honeymoon is her most Lana-esque album to date. Every song drifts by with the languid air of a gentle sea breeze while she croons about limousines and soft ice cream. It could be a real snooze if her single-minded devotion to her aesthetic of romantic fatalism wasn’t so hypnotic and her voice hadn’t become such a rich instrument on its own. Such a gorgeously swooning record, it made me wish Lana had done the last James Bond theme and not Sam bloody Smith.
GREAT RECORDS I’M TOO BUSY/LAZY TO WRITE ABOUT
Poison Season – Destroyer
Faces – Sydney Eloise & The Palms
Miniskirt (single) – Braids
Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance – Belle and Sebastian
Before We Forget How To Dream – SOAK
Sydney Eloise & The Palms are a combo from Atlanta, Georgia whose terrific debut album Faces is a tasty stew of classic Girl-Group pop, Laurel Canyon Country, and 70s AM rock. But despite the obvious retro influences it still sounds very new. Imagine Jenny Lewis produced by Phil Spector and you’re near the mark. Then go and buy it.