The Raconteurs – ‘Help Us Stranger’

Sounds like … a blues-rock sign of life that feels like a much needed kick.

Rock music is dead? Most certainly, it’s not. At least if you are listening closely. Jack White can easily save rock music with his little finger alone as he has proved multiple times in the past years releasing an eclectic range of albums in the name of rock and beyond that – vividly exploring blues and country, sometimes even jazz along the way to an impressive degree. White has been breathing life into those extremely valuable genres most notably through his work with The White Stripes as well as his solo work or projects like The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. After 11 years, the latter are back with their new album Help Us Stranger. A collection of tracks written by Jack White with his fellow band member and friend Brendan Benson that dig into blues-rock with a deep rooted love and dedication that is unmistakably present over the course of the 12 songs. Joined by Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler Help Us Stranger marks a brilliant return for the band that has defined rock music on their own terms since Broken By Soldiers (2006) and Consolers of the Lonely (2008) and now reminds us once more why the straight forward, yet never covered in dust rock music deserves your attention.

Help Us Stranger is way more than a heavy and ambitious blues-rock kick that will shake you up, though. Recorded at Third Man Studio in Nashville, the album demonstrates the fantastic chemistry between Jack White and Brendan Benson well with Benson often adding just the right balance of hooks and melodic lightness in between White’s exceptional guitar work that is backed up by the former The Greenhorns members Lawrence and Keeler. The dual harmonies from Benson and White in the more blues-country tinged ballads unearth the band’s strength to provide enough catchy melodies for the next decade to come (in case fans have to wait another 11 years for a new album). The only non-original The Raconteurs track thrown in on Help Us Stranger is a Donovan cover of Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness) which fits in perfectly emphasizing the band’s ability to look back musically and still come up with their own interpretation and elements of what blues-rock can sound like in 2019. Sometimes, it is quite refreshing to be reminded of how a rather ‘old school’ approach can lead to a great and unpretentious piece of music without The Raconteurs being stuck in the past at all. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Hot Chip – ‘A Bath Full Of Ecstasy’

Sounds like … euphoric dance anthems that celebrate life with its ups and downs.

Four years the world gad to wait for a new release by the British indietronica formation Hot Chip. And their longest ever break between albums was worth the wait, as the band proves again that their music never gets boring, not even with the release of a seventh album. A Bath Full of Ecstasy (the controversial title is intended) surprises with catchy and poppy melodies that drive the band into a new direction. As their last albums were more experimental and sometimes a bit harder to get, A Bath Full of Ecstasy is much more accessible and probably their most danceable release in a while.

Although they took that new direction, they keep their significant electronic indie sound that lives from unique synth melodies and Alexis Taylor’s unmistakable voice. It is the first time in their whole band history to get external producers on board that helped them round off their songs. One of them is Philippe Zdar, a French producer who is known for working with Phoenix and Cassius. With his ‘French’ approach he made Hot Chip focus on bass an drums whilst using multi-layered synth melodies. The other one is Rodaidh McDonald (known for working with the XX and Sampha) who got the band thinking about their music in another way, which made them get to the point earlier and use more pop elements than before. Emerged is a catchy record that takes you into a better world and makes you forget all your surroundings for moment. Just like a bath full of ecstasy. (Miriam Wallbaum)

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Titus Andronicus – ‘An Obelisk’

Sounds like…the Yang to last year’s Yin, a furious record with little interest in delicate nuances.

A Productive Cough, Titus Andronicus‘ fifth record that came out about a year ago, might have left some listeners confused, some even dissappointed. With breathless conceptual records like The Airing of Grievances, The Monitor or The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles’ theatrical punk outfit gained reputation to be the epitome of manic depression. Something that Stickles openly deals with. A Productive Cough broke that circle with rather settled, calm arrangements, under which, of course, the turmoil of the frontman remained brooding. Now with album number sixth, An Obelisk, Titus Andronicus channel the anger again. It’s probably by far the most relentless record they’ve produced. Free from any conceptual ballast – just pissed.

The first single (I Blame) Society shifts Stickles often self-depricating frustration of the past solely on the outer: Society. Musically, it’s Titus Andronicus reduced to its core, where Springsteen, The Thermals and Neutral Milk Hotel spend late nights at the bar of your local punk club. Honestly, An Obelisk is so raging, it tends to bend every little variation into its crooked sound: Be it the blues of My Body and Me or the Irish folk of Hey Ma. It seems as if Stickles deliberately rushed all over these songs, making a point in that: The New Jersey local who never shyed away from political statements clearly doesn’t think that it’s the right time for delicate nuances. Downside to that is that after you’ve heard Just Like Ringing a Bell, you basically heard the record. The upside is that it’s still a hell of a ride.  (Henning Grabow)

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Black Midi – ‘Schlagenheim’

Sounds like … weirdo-rock in free improvisation.

In todays fast paced society, a hype doesn’t seem possible without making use of social media. Black Midi proved that common assumption to be wrong. The South-London band started off playing gigs around the now infamous Windmill Brixton and only started using social media months after  indieheads around the world branded them as the best band of the London scene. Having attended Brit School, they share an equal musical enthusiasm for artist such as  Danny Brown, Death Grips, Miles Davis or Talking Heads. They even named a song after the latter, even though it doesn’t have much in coming except being merely vibrant and danceable.

Black Midi seem more tamed on their debut Schlangenheim than in their notorious live shows, yet they still serve heavy free improvisation. It is not an album for those that seek choruses, but rather for those that enjoy blaring noise and fast guitar riffs. They don’t want to be pinned down to a certain genre, and its certainly hard to do so, as their energetic improvisations can move from style to style in sometimes just one track. Besides the often quoted math rock similarities, Black Midi are at times being progressive (Near DT, MI), punk and even shoegazey (Years Ago). But the most striking part about the band might not be their racing tempo, nor their genre-hopping, but Greep’s strange voice, that might seem altered from track to track. With the lyrics, that don’t seem to make further sense, Schlangenheim is a potpourri of weirdness that seems both effortless and imperfect. It might also be an ode to the classical album format: Schlangenheim will work best listened as a whole without skipping, while it’s unlikely that the tracks on it will land on Spotify & Co.’s most-hyped playlists any soon. (Louisa Zimmer)

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Hatchie – ‘Keepsake’

Sounds like … sugar-coated shoegaze pop for hazy summer days

When Harriette Pilbeam made her first waves in whatever is left of the indie blogosphere last year the Australian songwriter quickly created quite a certain buzz with her cotton-wrapped take on dream pop. Her 2018 EP Sugar & Spice was a way too irresistible first appetizer of what now fully blossoms on her debut album. Hatchie continues to deliver kaleidoscopic shoegaze vibes, combined with catchy hooks that are often on the verge of sounding a bit too cheesy. But due to the really good songwriting and the production skills of John Castle Keepsake manages to combine these diverse worlds and absorb the listener into their hazy cosmos.

This record is packed with retro vibes and references, ranging from New Order (Obsessed) straight to the poppy phase of The Cure (Keep). Kiss The Stars, however, sounds like a pop musical take on Slowdive while the spherical Secret sticks closer to the psychedelic roots of the shoegaze cosmos. Over the course of all tracks Pilbeam keeps that slightly dizzy spirit alive and isn’t afraid to overload some songs. It’s the premise you have to accept and just like eating a big piece of cake it’s simply not for everyone. But if you fall for the sugary plush pop of Hatchie you will find real gems on this album. Stay With Me is a great example and sounds like a forgotten radio hit from 1992. It will be interesting to see in which direction the Australian artist will push her music in the future as you can only go so far without sounding boring. But for the here and now everything’s just fine as Hatchie delivers one of the most addictive pop temptations of the summer. (Norman Fleischer)

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