AURORA – ‘The Gods We Can Touch’

Sounds like … a playful return to the roots of Norway’s finest pop treasure.

For her third studio album, Norwegian singer AURORA finds herself inspired by grandiose themes, taking in shame, desire and morality, all through the lens of ancient Greek mythology. It follows a continual path towards a more spiritual world for the Bergen-based artist, whose previous albums have tackled more Earthly topics. Speaking about the inspiration for The Gods We Can Touch, AURORA explains “the spiritual door between the human and the gods is a very complicated thing. In the right hands faith can become the most beautiful thing. Nurturing and warm. And in the wrong hands it can become a beacon of war and death…I think that is what intrigues me about the Greek gods. Perfectly imperfect. Almost within our reach. Like gods we can touch.”

AURORA feels like one of the few artists around at the moment that could tackle such weighty subject matter without anything feeling too heavy, and tackle it she does. Kicking off with a choral flourish on The Forbidden Fruits of Eden, the celestial vibe for the album is set on second track Everything Matters featuring French artist Pomme. It’s classically styled and delivered with a French twist, before segueing into the much more dynamic Giving In To The Love, which finds itself becoming as topsy turvy as a playground ride. Cure For Me, released as one of the first singles from this record back in July, is similarly impish; a bouncy mid-tempo track, with a punchy and empowering message. Artemis is a gorgeous celtic-infused standout and AURORA-of-old resurrects her wily charm on You keep me crawling, which is as wry as it is tense, and showcases the artist’s effortless vocal range. Heathens is a hedonistic wonder and Blood In The Wine is another highlight, with it’s foot-stomping beat and tribute to the Norwegian joik style bridges. For a record that delivers so many important messages, it remains surprisingly playful. On The Gods We Can Touch, we see AURORA flexing her experimental muscles and for an artist who’s already stretched well beyond the Earthly boundaries created on All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, she takes this expansion in her stride with remarkable ease. The sign of a true musical chameleon and one who is well worth listening to. (Dan Cromb)

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Yard Act – ‘The Overload’

Sounds like … the UK’s latest guitar rock sensation is facing the hype with a big, fat grin.

When I declared the age of ‘the hype’ over back in early 2018 when Shame released their mighty debut album that assumption might have been slightly exaggerated because obviously the wheel of great new bands continues to spin despite all the societal changes. It’s the media landscape that changes, so although there’s less opinion-leading media like the blog you are reading right now you can still believe the hype. And you can believe me (and the other few remaining media outlets) when I say that Yard Act are one of the most promising new bands out there and The Overload is one hell of an exciting, entertaining and energy-loaded debut album. Hailing from Leeds, the four-piece delivers an anti-capitalist concept album that roots for the forgotten misfits and victims of the disastrous British politics of the past decades that finds a musical niche somewhere between Arctic Monkeys, Sleaford Mods and other famous UK groups with punk spirit. Vocalist James Smith uses the music of his band like a frame for his intense spoken word storytelling. And while the sound comes with irresistible fire and groove it’s important to also listen to those stories because Smith delivers one truth bomb after the other but luckily also does it with a great sense of humour. The world is fucked, life is weird – way too often laughter might be the only way of dealing with it.

“The overload of discontent, the constant burden of making sense,” he screams in the opening title-track, perfectly setting the mood for what’s about to follow. Songs like Dead Horse and Land Of The Blind might come with bleak lyrical content but they are great to shuffle your feet to. And the repetitive mantra of Payday (“take the money and run”) will easily stuck in your head all day as Yard Act already deliver one of the great festival and indie club anthems of 2022 here… well, considering these things will actually take place in some form this year. Pop historians might spot a few references here and there (Pulp, Talking Heads) but I kindly advice you to ignore them and follow Smith’s stories. The over six-minute long Tall Poppies is quite an impressive testament of that as he delivers stream of consciousness while telling the story of an entire ordinary British life from start to end, including a gloomy twist towards the end. Yes, those songs might feel slightly exaggerated but sometimes it just needs that kind of storytelling to make a point. Because in its core The Overload is an on-point observation of the declined reality in the post-Brexit and ‘middle-of-the-pandemic’ craziness we’re living right now. It’s the amount of attitude and great songwriting that helped Yard Act to earn a certain level of hype praise. Once the stages are opening again this is the band you should turn to as while the late-capitalistic carousel continues to spin faster and faster. They deliver the more entertaining ride, trust me. (Norman Fleischer)

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Boy Harsher – ‘The Runner (Original Soundtrack)’

Sounds like … the high priests of dark wave pop are ready for the next level.

Over the past years US duo Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller have become leading figures of a surprising yet quite well received dark wave/ industrial pop revival which saw their bleak retro/ EBM sound finding a constantly growing fan base all over the world, especially following the release of 2019’s pretty nice album Careful. Boy Harsher were the missing link between radio-friendly synthpop hooks and darkroom techno ambience and it looked like a young generation was just waiting for that sort of sound. The new decade looked bright for the duo… but we all know what happened next. The global pandemic forced the band to embrace the chaos of the unknown and on top of it Jae Matthews was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and for a while it felt like music wasn’t the most important thing to take care of. Boy Harsher found their way back to creative waters by turning to another much loved medium – film. That only seemed logical since they both initially met while studying film and they always dreamt of producing a flick together.

Their short film The Runner is a fictional horror story and the foundation for it was songs that Muller started writing back in 2020. They work great together but you are also invited to enjoy this short selection of music (the soundtrack barely 30 minutes long) without seeing the film. While one might think a soundtrack like that would focus on score-like pieces freed from song structures, Boy Harsher surprise the listener with some of their catchiest pop compositions so far. While the opening Tower works as a gloomy intro that builds up to a noisy finale, songs like Give Me A Reason and Autonomy deliver everything you’ve come to love from the duo – pumping industrial beats, sharp basslines, a cold vocal performance and a melody that might stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Later on Machina takes that notion to the next level and delivers a shimmering italo disco infected floorfiller. Shorter, more abstract interludes like Ride Home and Untitled (Piano) are well placed between these smash hits and really make you want to watch the film. However, the original soundtrack to The Runnerfeels like a transitional affair; like the start of a new chapter for a restless band that only started to show their full potential. (Norman Fleischer)

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Palace – ‘Shoals’

Sounds like … a bold and existential head-dive into fear and anxiety.

Fear is a natural part of our human condition and yet, who is really keen on the experience of facing or even overcoming the things one is most afraid of? Well, buzzing London alt-rock outfit Palace have gone down that road in their own means on their latest and third LP Shoals. Described by guitarist and vocalist Leo Wyndham as a “love letter to fear”, the twelve new pieces, born amidst the circumstances of lockdown isolation and pandemic uncertainties, are the bold attempt to fight and conquer despair and unease – be it general sorrow, all sorts of phobia up to tangible existential dread.

Ironically, the result is not an angsty and hasted compendium of songs, but has rather led the British quartet to design intensely comforting and tranquil sonic layers, which present an ever so introspective and substantial side of their craft. Opener Never Said It Was Easy is a somewhat sentimental and subtle entrance into the depths of the theme, while tunes like Shame On You or Fade showcase a more pressing indie-rock attitude. The pressure is omnipresent though, as is the metaphoric backdrop of the ocean and the abyss it provides. The eerie Gravity may be a fine example here, going like: “I’ve got sleep deprivation / A nocturnalist, chasing dreams … Where is the realness? / I will dive underneath / And I will scratch underneath”. Ultimately, despite all its vulnerable stance (Lover Don’t Let Me Down), Palace have created their most profound and uplifting record yet, and the final song Where Sky Becomes Sea does full justice to that notion: “There’s hope for us yet, that is so / Silver the sun be our guide / To take us to the open wide / If hummingbird wings in our chests as it sings / To carry us into the wind”(Andreas Peters)

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HOLM – ‘In Gardens’

Sounds like … a meditative calm for calmness in a world of chaos.

After two years of living in a more or less ongoing emergency situation aspects like escapism and resilience have become even more crucial elements of our lives right now. How to cope with … well, everything? It’s not easy to find the right balance between hedonism and meditation but if you’re looking for a fitting soundtrack to the latter aspect you might find it in the sophomore studio album from dreamy Swiss instrumental post-rockers HOLM. The three-piece of Dimitri Käch (guitar), Alessandro Giannelli (drums) and James Varghese (bass) released their shamefully underrated debut album Through Windows in 2019 and the follow-up continues that path, delivering eight captivating tracks that the band already released separately throughout 2021. However, In Gardens works best when it’s enjoyed as a cohesive experience from start to finish as a form of musical retreat.

The opening ambient intro Somewhere Along The Way sets the right tone before the title-track invites the audience to a meditative journey, delivered over a slow tumbling beat. HOLM understand to vary their instrumental rock in the right way. Our Days And Years shows a noisier side before the short Wild Branches embraces a chaos only to return to ambient territory again on Flickering Leaves. Slowly but steady the music leaves the urban setting in which the band usually operates (they recorded the songs in a former bomb shelter beneath the bustling Paradeplatz in Zürich) and heads for a more organic, nature-inspired sounds. Faded Words comes with a restless krautrock-infected notion before the finale of the album gets a bit more melancholic, resulting in the truly wonderful In The Rain. Two or three tracks more would have suited the record pretty well, I got to say, but even without them HOLM created a sweet hidden musical gem that deserves to be discovered. In a sea of constant chaos and impending doom this is a nice musical antidote to keep your sanity and therefore it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. (Norman Fleischer)

Stream It:Spotify / ► Apple Music / ► Bandcamp