Bill Ryder-Jones – ‘Yawn’

Bill-Ryder Jones’ latest work proves to be his most outstanding to date.

Desperate times might call for desperate pleasures (to quote a common phrase or a Bill Ryder-Jones lyric), but at least they sometimes bring up good ideas that will lead to even more amazing songs. And that’s the case on Yawn, the fourth solo record from Bill Ryder-Jones. The almost one hour long record oozes from melancholy and yearn, but also brings up the darkest humor to date from the songwriter who is referred from some as ‚the bard of West-Kirby‘.

The lyrics are – once again – astonishing poetic and wise. There’s even two songs about his parents (Mither and John) and two songs that come close to the most romantic songs Ryder-Jones has ever written, as he states in our feature (Don’t Be Scared, I Love You and No One’s Trying To Kill You)‚ Yawn might be a sort of wallflower of an album, which doesn’t come across In all it’s glory when you first listen to it. But give it some time, and it’ll soak you in . The beauty of Yawn lies in its constant sinking feeling – paired with a cello – that will turn into relief eventually. It’s the best work so far by Bill Ryder-Jones, who has become one of the most outstanding songwriters in England without question. (Louisa Zimmer)

Song to get you started: Mither
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Dan Mangan – ‘More Or Less’

Dan Mangan ist still the amazed young man who happened to become a successful musician. But with More or Less, we also get to know the fearful, doubtful father.

It is refreshing to read the story of Dan Mangan the way he writes it. While doing so, you always get the impression that he himself is most surprised by what happens to him. His career as a songwriter wasn’t to be expected in the first place. Too many dudes with guitars out there, too little chances to get heard. Then, after he signed record deals, toured for years, won prices, scored films and whatnot, he still waited for it to end sooner than later. Instead, Mangan once more decided to craft his own destiny, stopped the touring, got married, had kids and only did the occasional scoring work he did before. Out of that comes More or Less and once again, the listener instantly connects with the place from where it was written. Because that’s something Dan Mangan tends to forget: He has a rare gift for doing that. Writing songs. And on More or Less, they’re more refined, rested and, yes, grown-up, than ever.

Which doesn’t mean that Mangan is in the class of Dad pop already. With Just Fear and Lay Low, he bundles two rather disheartening songs that express how different fear and anxiety feel as soon as you are responsible for the future of kids. Especially Just Fear is pretty basic folk pop that Mangan rarely showed in his latest outputs. And although there are several more effusive moments on this (Peaks and Valleys, Can’t Not), More Or Less mostly steps back from some of the tendencies to embellish he developed. Often, the songs are stripped back, showcasing Mangan’s subtle voice. What’s most likeable about this record is though, that a song like Troubled Mind that Michael Stipe would not have been ashamed of putting out, comes in the shape of humbleness. Dan Mangan is a decent guy with a splendid ear for tunes. That alone qualifies him to retreat and come back whenever he wants to. (Henning Grabow)

Song to get you started: Just Fear
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The Prodigy – ‘No Tourists’

What you expect is what you get. But somehow this formula remains highly entertaining.

One might think that the entire musical concept of The Prodigy would have outworn by now but maybe it’s the almost naive consequence of Liam Howlett and his gang that makes this thing still work after over 25 years. Usually the long gaps between their albums also help to avoid symptoms of fatigue so No Tourist makes an exception, arriving ‘only’ three years after its predecessor The Day Is My Enemy. Right from the opening Need Some1 it becomes clear that the British rave icons aren’t interested in slowing down in any form. No Tourists is as fearless and raw as it would have sounded in 1996. By now, The Prodigy surely know what buttons to push to make their glitching big beat rave rockers work. Light Up The Sky, We Live Forever and Timebomb Zone were basically designed to sound as Prodigy as a Prodigy song could be.

From a music historic point of view that’s quite an interesting effect. The fact that this LP still sounds pretty much like The Fat Of The Land only makes you realize how iconic, important and ahead of its time their sound used to be in the 1990s. If anything changed than maybe the fact that the world caught up on the band’s dystopian chaos to make their menacing music sound more contemporary and on-point as before. You realize that influence whenever they team up with their own musical ‘grandchildren’ and it makes way too much sense. Last time it was the Sleaford Mods, this time they Fight Fire With Fire via the help of Ho99o9. The Prodigy aren’t interested to please anyone else outside their own fanbase and countless festival audiences all over the world. It’s not always all about artistic deployment, sometimes it’s about attitude and the creation of a specific feeling. And by sticking to their trademark sound The Prodigy remain truly unique. And that’s not something all bands can say after almost thirty years in the business. (Norman Fleischer)

Song to get you started: Fight Fire With Fire (feat. Ho99o9)
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Julia Holter – ‘Aviary’

This is not an album; it’s an aural adventure and definitely one of this year’s most memorable musical experiences.

To be fair, Julia Holter has always been a very challenging artist, one that has never been interested in shortcuts and easy artistic paths. But the move she’s delivering on her fifth full-length is a bold one even for her standards. Aviary is the opposite of easy; it’s a complex, brave cacophony, Holter‘s personal Spirit Of Eden and definitely one of the most challenging musical releases of 2018. Aviary is the musical equivalent of our accelerated times, a world gently spinning itself into chaos with all those political scandals, freakish natural disasters and increasing digitalization where everyone appears to just scream louder and louder. Julia Holter tries to make sense out of this ambivalent apocalyptic notion by simply opening the floodgates and giving it all the space it needs. Turn Out The Light sets the mood straight and unleashes atonal orchestra chaos right at the beginning of this astonishing record. The singer’s voice remains the centre of the hurricane as she’s fighting to get heard. Aviary is full of such moments and arrangements. And it takes its time to unfold its ugly beauty as the album is 90 minutes long.

And that results in truly unusual songs. Chaitius starts with a gloomy sacral organ instrumental before Holter arrives around the five minute mark. Everyday Is An Emergency opens with four minutes of chaotic string play before the artist silences the entire thing. Every now and then lighter moments are sensible on this album, like the epic choir finale in I Shall Love 2 or the uplifting sing-along in Les Jeux To You but they remain momentarily. Quite quickly despair and disharmony return to Holter’s ambitious arrangements. Saying Aviary is a difficult record would be the fakest of all fake news. It requires your full attention and time. Otherwise it can be a truly weird and partly also frustrating listening experience. Julia Holter‘s avoidance of familiar structures and known patterns is as disturbing as it is fascinating. Life in 2018 can be an adventure and a fight within you – and this is quite possibly the most accurate soundtrack for all that madness. (Norman Fleischer)

Song to get you started: I Shall Love 2
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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘IC-01 HANOI’

Unknown Mortal Orchestra embark on their jazz-driven quest to new sonic spheres with a new album in only a couple of months.

The many facets of Unknown Mortal Orchestra have just become a little bit more colorful with the band’s release of yet another album this year after putting out the striking Sex & Food in spring. The latest example of their productiveness – IC-01 Hanoi – sees them exploring the more ambient and abstract sonic spheres that they have always been very fond of and spiced their work with here and there in the past. However, this time Unknown Mortal Orchestra fully immerse in the realm of jazz, avant-garde and funk and even a little krautrock in a very exquisite way that leaves no doubt that UMO have only hinted at what they are capable of on their previous albums. In fact, the indie-psychedelic rock band has evolved to the next level of their career and they are not afraid to demonstrate that by putting out an ambitious work in form of an instrumental album. An album full of raw, visceral sounds that evokes a feeling of a free-jazz session and adds traditional far eastern nuances on top of it.

Despite it’s distinctiveness, IC-01 Hanoi is still a record that is strongly tied to the band’s back catalogue though and not a complete u-turn. The band has fed their audience little pieces of their love for jazz and all things ambient before. What is even more striking is that Ruban Nielson, his brother Kody and long-time collaborator Jacob Portrait set out to make this album while being busy recording Sex & Food. As if making one album wasn’t enough of a task to handle, the band simply gave into their urge to create and came up with seven new tracks at Phu Sa Studios in Hanoi, Vietnam. Songs like lucky bags that are very well-crafted and imaginative to say the least. Ranging from 1 1/2 to almost 10 minutes with no visible boundaries at sight when it comes to their extraordinary nature exploring and creating various atmospherical moods. It’s fair to say that IC-01 Hanoi is a family affair with Ruban and Kody Nielson’s father Chris joining the band on Flugelhorn, saxophone and keyboards. A collaboration that was spiced with sessions with local musicians like Minh Nguyen and demonstrates well Ruban Nielson’s exceptional guitar playing once more. Straight from the first tone onwards, IC-01 Hanoi needs no time to warm up, but pulls the listener right into a deeply interesting, complex and diverse soundscape. (Annett Bonkowski)

Song to get you started: Hanoi 4
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