Aldous Harding – ‘Warm Chris’
Aldous Harding is one of those artists who seems to just walk the earth a little differently. With her unique poetic perception of everyday things and unexpected melodic turns she keeps the listener on the edge throughout her releases. It is exactly this flakiness that hold the genius of her music. Warm Chris, her fourth LP is no different.
The dragging melody of the opener Ennui sets the mood of a record, which catalyzes melodies, chords, vocals, and words through the kaleidoscopic way of interpretation of Aldous Harding. The word smithery of the singer shines especially on the closing Leather Whip. “Here comes life with his leather whip”, she sings in layered vocals, different pitches, taking on different characters accompanied by a 60s psychedelic rock organ. Tick Tock embodies twenty different personalities and voices of the singer as well. Its straightforward folk is followed by the sparse orchestration of Fever. Horns, keys, and trumpets provide a discomforting jazz off-kilter melodic backdrop for the laconic vocals. But it is exactly that tight rope that Aldous Harding dances on with ease – finding beauty in oddity. (Liv Toerkell)
Destroyer – ‘Labyrinthitis’
Over 25 years after his debut album and 13 records in it’s still a challenge to outline whatever the heck Dan Bejar and Destroyer actually are. And since every album by the notoriously world-weary Canadian is a box of surprises, I gave up a while ago expecting anything. Well, except for great music, obviously. Labyrinthitis doesn’t make things easier because even Bejar already confirmed a certain inconsistency regarding its themes and music. The stubborn crooner remains the only red line here. Its gloomy yet very satisfying predecessor Have We Met was released shortly before the pandemic hit the planet and this one was recorded in the following summer as the band’s planned tour was out on hold. The album forced Bejar and the remaining Destroyer members to work entirely on a remote basis. Longtime collaborator John Collins once again managed to bring all those single pieces together to still make them sound like a typical Destroyer record, including a few surprising twists. It’s In Your Heart Now opens the album as an atmospheric seven-minute long wave pop ballad that really feels like a slowed down New Order track. Bejar beautifully reflects on floating synthesizer layers, making him sound like a hopelessly romantic, yet slightly sad troubadour. Well, that’s a part he’s pretty comfortable with, I assume.
Labyrinthitis was originally envisioned by Bejar and Collins as an uptempo groove record and you can still sense that in some tracks like the second track Suffer or the single Eat The Wine, Drink The Bread. It Takes A Thief is actually a proper feel-good power pop piece compared to the artist’s usual output. Even a song like June might star like one of those typical Kaputt-sounding Destroyer songs but around the four-minute-mark you’re getting a spoken-word/rap part Bejar you didn’t expect. Further down the line you get down-pitched vocals and wild sample action which is definitely a surprising thing. So is the relatively hard-hitting vibe of Tintoretto, It’s For You, a song about a gloomy encounter with the grim reaper. The lyrics remain cryptic, obscure and very hard to define, except for the surprisingly personal The States which sees Bejar talking to his younger self from twenty years ago. The record closes with … well, a track called The Last Song, which is a proper acoustic ballad that actually channels the early days of Destroyer. As you can see: you’re still getting a bit from everything when it comes to this gentleman. But one thing remains clearer than ever: Dan Bejar remains a unique character in the musical landscape; a stubborn unlikely pop genius that doesn’t fit into the modern scene. I mean, he doesn’t even want to which makes his music even more valuable. (Norman Fleischer)
Get Well Soon – ‘Amen’
Songwriter and instrumentalist Konstantin Gropper, who has been tailoring the widespread success of his project Get Well Soon in the past years, might just be a musical embodiment of what we Germans call weltschmerz, melancholy, pensiveness… well you get the idea. The past two years that followed on 2018’s The Horror, had everything in account for Mr. Gropper to fully immerse in deeper spheres of gloom and desperation, and yet, his sixth studio record AMEN is everything but that. “I was actually shocked to find out that I am an optimist”, Gropper noted prior to the release. Or, to quote a line from the opening track A Song For Myself: “Stop your whining!”
That impetus only reflects the project’s name to begin with, one might say, and while Amen indeed is at once solacing as it gives an impulse to not give in to the current cries of doom, it is of course an album heavily influenced by the pandemic, how could it be any other way? And in that, it has its surprising moments. The cited intervention of A Song For Myself is an eclectic, orchestral and somewhat epic undertaking, while the following The Home Is My Heart is more dance-driven, powerful and electric than Gropper has been known for, but it feels good and that is what counts. One For Your Workout follows that mood and deals with concepts of self-optimisation. Far from being a feel-good guidebook, Amen still has a lot of that pensive Get Well Soon vibe – the pastoral aura remain with new songs as does the characteristic philosophical depth – and yet there is a certain lightness surrounding the record, one that encourages hope over fear; and the triumphant “say yes! / it’s hope, no less! / breath, let’s play! / today is your day!” of Our Best Hope perfectly binds that together. Konstantin Gropper is far from losing his pathos, even on Amen, but he has shifted his perspective in the wake of what might just be his most complex and aspiring record to date. (Andreas Peters)
Ibibio Sound Machine – ‘Electricity’
Sounds like … an album which is so joyfully energetic you just have to move as you listen.
It’s believed by anthropologists that human beings initially sang before they spoke, and the relationship between music and language – where they separate, and where they intersect – has long-been a topic of interest. Ibibio Sound Machine’s latest album, Electricity, only illustrates the question further, as they find the rhythm and melody in language, creating a unique and compelling soundverse which crackles with static excitement.
On top of that lie their intriguing lyrics which often create a sense of spirituality, sung in hypnotic, commanding chants and kept deliberately mysterious – front-vocalist Eno Williams sings in tongues at one point. On opening track, Protection From Evil, the tone is clearly set as Williams commences the album with what feels like a magical incantation in Ibibio, before switching to English. On title track, Electricity, the lyrics “speak from the heart” are reiterated several times. This feels like a reminder of who Ibibio Sound Machine are and what they do, making music which comes from the heart and showcases who they are – there is an ever-present theme of identity and heritage in their work. The synthpop is a highlight, and the distinctive work of Hot Chip, who were the producers on the project. Given the influence of the British synthpop group, it is unsurprising that the album lies deeply in the electronic realm yet tracks still very clearly command that unique Ibibio Sound Machine quality, where Afro meets, funk, disco, and soul. Most enjoyable, amongst the gripping vocals, complex arrangements and ebullient Afrobeats, is the high energy which Electricity exudes, constantly dynamic, animated, and upbeat – as you listen you feel utterly compelled to move along with it. (Elana Shapiro)
Bodi Bill – ‘I Love U I Do’
Sounds like … a versatile collage of songs and sounds.
It was quiet around the Berlin trio Bodi Bill for a long time – their last album What was released in 2011. In the meantime, the three musicians took the time to concentrate on other musical as well as personal ones. Now, 11 years later, Bodi Bill is no longer the band it once was – the trio has become a collective. An album became a collage of sounds rather than a closed story. Founding member Fabian Fenk is now the brains and the central point behind the project. He was also the driving force that finally put the album together and decided to release I Love U I Do under the band name Bodi Bill after that long break.
I Love U I Do consists of 13 songs that do not follow a common thread, but function completely as individual pieces. The record is more of a playlist than a concept album – a construct that works perfectly in the current streaming times, when the listener usually doesn’t go for a complete album but for a varied playlist with different songs. As we are used to from previous Bodi Bill tracks, the latest work also mixes different musical genres such as electro, pop and indie, but opens up to broader soundscapes with the idea of being a collective and bringing other musicians on board. On I Love U I Do, the listener is invited to experience catchy pop hooks (e.g. Big Gong Sounds, Better Than Reality), wide electronica (e.g. Loophole Travelling, Cluster) and quieter moments (e.g. Peruhu). The themes revolve around fatherhood, the future of the world, the search for a greater meaning of existence. They completely follow the idea of the record being a playlist and seem like scraps of thoughts thrown together. Bodi Bill‘s latest work is not exactly what former fans of the band could expect. It still follows the familiar musical scheme we’ve come to expect from the band, but opens itself up to being more than a classic album by a classic band. With the idea of being a collage or playlist of tracks, it fits perfectly into the current zeitgeist and has the chance to reach a new audience. (Miriam Wallbaum)
Barrie – ‘Barbara’
Back in 2019’s Barrie’s Happy To Be Here was an easily overlooked hidden treasure for all fellow fans of dreamy, sun-drenched indie pop melodies but it turned out it wasn’t the final form of the project that is lead by Barrie Lindsay. Actually, it turns out the whole five-piece-group-hailing-from-Brooklyn concept might just have been a detour for the 32-year old songwriter after all. Before that big city adventure she was making music on her own in Ipswich, Massachusetts – and her second album Barbara is actually a return to the roots of Barrie. Following the release of her debut album Lindsay moved back to Ipswich to be with her family as her father was diagnosed with life-threatening lung cancer. She was also freshly in love with her now-wife Gabby Smith. Well, and on top of that there was also this whole Covid-thing happening. Needless to say, this sophomore album became a very personal affair as the artist was simultaneously dealing with love and death. Naming it Barbara – after her actual birth name – made a lot of sense and fans of the debut might enjoy it as much as new arrivals.
That dreamy soft indie folk sound is still prominent on the album and opening track Jersey is a fine example. However, Lindsay is shaking things a bit up and adds a few bolder experiments and sounds to the recipe. Frankie gets its groove on and surprises with a funky arpeggio synth. Concrete gets even further into 80s dream pop territory and sees Lindsay flirting with cinematic synth layers, something that suits her surprisingly well, I gotta say. There are a few moments where she addresses her blossoming relationship with her wife and they are the emotional anchor of this album. ”Jenny, I don’t know where to love from / Never had to hold myself true to someone,” she sings in the charming Jenny. It’s also lovely to see her delivering a line like “Shouting naked at the rock up above you / Baby, I love you” with dignity in the uplifting Quarry. Everybody who’s ever truly been in love can relate to that. There are a few more surprises on Barbara – like the trippy break beats on Basketball – but all in all it became a very cohesive affair, a perfect album for the impending spring season. Hope and despair go quite hand in hand these days and for that vibe Barrie created a perfect album. (Norman Fleischer)