José González – ‘Local Valley’
There is not much need for an introduction when it comes to José González. The Swedish singer-songwriter has been a solid force in the indie folk scene and far beyond for over eighteen years now. With his latest solo album Local Valley that is out now, he lives up to his successful musical past without difficulty – serving us a collection of songs that tap right into the distinctive sound and comforting sentiment he is famously known for. On his fourth solo album to date, González doesn’t turn his sonic world upside down all of a sudden, but continues to explore the musical ideas in front of him with a great love for detail and an overall simple approach, but by always keeping an eye on the broader spectrum of things. It is a balanced and smooth result that showcases his skills as an easy-going, yet profound and forever thoughtful songwriter who casually moves around in a low-key setting that offers depth as much as a touch of lightness – all being brought together by González who curiously delves into the rhythmic variety and influences from Latin American music. It is this graceful and charmingly quiet approach that truly lets his virtuosity shine once again.
Recorded in his family’s summer house just north of Gothenburg, the songs of Local Valley are often driven by a gentle groove and an overall sense of humbleness – much like González’ previous work. Occasionally, being challenged by the use of a drum machine to elevate the path taken and opening up the sonic structure a bit more than usual. It is a subtle way of making changes and yet, an effective one that doesn’t disturb the cohesiveness of the album. Singing in English, Swedish and Spanish for the first time on this album is a further step for González to leave his comfort zone for a bit which blends in perfectly as well as his ability to come up with original and cover songs like the cover of Iranian-Swedish artist Laleh’s En Stund På Jorden or the rework of the Junip track Line Of Fire that González revisits on this occasion. As displayed on the cover artwork illustrated by his partner Hannele Fernström, the dark undertones and colourful richness of life are two elements that González is keen to explore on Local Valley – reminding us once again that it takes both to fully be present and navigate through our existence. (Annett Bonkowski)
James Vincent McMorrow – ‘Grapefruit Season’
During the months at home, James Vincent McMorrow reworked his 5th studio album, pushing the original date almost three months. After releasing his previous work on Dublin’s Faction, Grapefruit Season is his first record on Sony’s Columbia. With a greater budget comes greater responsibility so I was hoping for greater rewards but on the bright side, the record offers catchy melodies, good production and McMorrorw’s voice serenading.
The evolution of the Irish singer-songwriter has, as for many artists of the indie/folk era, turned towards electronic and beat-driven soundscapes. Grapefruit Season is a patchwork of melodic and lyrical ideas which do not strive for a greater narrative but a reflection of taking a certain lifestyle for granted and trying to make the best of what’s at hand. Though songs like Paradise, Planes in the Sky and Tru Love miss the edginess of previous records, they work if put in a different context and made for a new and younger audience. On Poison to You, McMorrow is questioning a past lover, “What if I get too drunk? / What if I wait too long? What if the light is wrong?, but throughout the record it feels like he is searching for the answers in himself. As fans of his past records know, he has always been singing about love and his high, breaking voice is probably engineered for emotional outbursts but on Grapefruit Season, McMorrow is not directing these feelings at the audience but onto the beat which brings it right back to the self. The closing track reveals McMorrow’s personal struggle with Imposter Syndrome where he repeats “Constantly fucking up”. Grapefruit Season attempts to expose McMorrow’s fears and though it doesn’t fully succeed, it is a perfect example of how an artist’s journey at the heart is always about self-exploration. (Anna-Katharina Stich)
THALA – ‘Adolescence’
The cover of this LP could be some 70s treasure dug up from the local record store. In faded color, it shows the singer THALA floating inside of a bubble far above an upside-down mountain landscape. The well-designed artwork reflects the sound of the Berlin-based singer’s debut Adolescence perfectly; dreamy textures, slow retro-pop melodies, adolescent feelings of isolation, alienation, an undying thirst for life.
The title track and opener of the record lives in between nostalgia, insecurity, and a shy hopefulness – musically as well as lyrically. Over bendy guitars, THALA sings about the early adolescent nervousness. Serenade starts off on a melancholic reverbed guitars and the stripped back instrumentation leaves room for THALA’s vocals to take the lead on the verses until the hazy chorus blends vocals and instruments into a storm of emotive indie pop. Nan is an ode to her grandmother and closes the record on a gentle note. Adolescence is a warm record. It moves somewhere deep in the gut, maybe because the topic resonates with everyone. It’s a crying laughing type of record – hitting the essence of youthful nostalgia. (Liv Toerkell)
Adna – ‘Black Water’
Although 2017’s album Closure from Swedish singer Adna received dealt with numerous personal themes, it feels as though this latest LP is really the one during which she lays her demons to rest. And so, while on Black Water there’s emotional turmoil aplenty, there’s also a strange sense of optimism that things really are better now. Darkness Born In Youth is evidently inspired not by anger but – worse – disappointment. It’s a song you wish Adna never had to write, but you’ll be oh so glad she did. And when she laments “Everyone’s bad in someone’s story / But I wish you weren’t bad in mine” it’s impossible not to feel like you’ve been cast adrift in a stormy sea of sorrows. But out of that darkness emerges hope. On previous single November Adna is in a better place, her singing almost chant-like, as she declares “You treat me like I’m somebody / Like I am someone / Where all the other’s fail / You’re still there”.
Things continue upwards on Bloom, lifted by Adna’s stirring vocals, which are a solid foundation upon which to build any album. There are hints of Dublin’s Slow Skies and fellow Swede Menke’s melancholy throughout and, despite the turbulent start, the whole album really does shine. And with enough that sparkles amongst the gloom to mark it out as a true diamond in the rough. Deserving of a breakthrough, Black Water, showcases how difficult it can be to mix sorry and joy, but how rewarding it can be when a songwriter absolutely nails it. (Dan Cromb)
Julian Stetter – ‘Sky Without Colours’
New beginnings with familiar faces are always a fascinating thing to witness. Neither Julian Stutter nor Aydo Abay are new figures in the restless German indeed music landscape but this project – Sky Without Colours – marks a fresh start for both of them, a fascinating new adventure. Abay has been a steady force in the scene for pretty much 25 years now, releasing music with alternative rock institution Blackmail, under the alias Ken or – most recently – with the new formation ABAY. Stutter on the other hand has been quite active with his project VIMES in the past decade. Joining forces feels like an odd move but it makes total sense when you take a closer look at the beautiful result. First and foremost, Sky Without Colours is Stetter’s debut solo album, following various single releases on labels like Compact and Permanent Vacation and touring around as DJ. On four of those eight tracks Aydo Abay provides vocals, giving voice to all that the producer himself lacks the words for. It’s a vital, colourful and yet quite sparse, almost cloudy affair – and definitely not a club record.
Instead, the lines between genres get blurry here. It’s an introspective work that feels like it’s drawn to a certain meditative core. Opening track Calm is tempting the listener and slowly sneaking its way into the ears like the promise of an impending thunderstorm. Of course, it’s not happening. Instead it helps to imagine an inverse image of the glowing sky over the city to get an idea of where we’re heading here. ‘Hope is a coin in your fountain,’ sings Abay in the second track No Cure as he enters the scene with his tender voice that still got that warm, clear and androgynous feeling that feels like a perfect match for the sonic textures of Stetter. The instrumental tracks in-between – Mornings and Ambush – are perfectly placed chapters of their own before the singer returns on the record. There’s even slightly tamed dancefloor euphoria on Hold My Hands but of course the Cologne-based producer makes sure to stick with the vibe of the previous tracks. Sky Without Colours is a must-listening experience for those who seek for elegance and emotionality in their electronic music; it’s a testament of humility and kind of sad that it’s so short. Hopefully, this new beginning will provide us with more greatness in the not so distant future. (Norman Fleischer)