Hand Habits – ‘Fun House’

Sounds like … existential indie-folk with an adventurous pop twist.

By now it feels like we won’t be getting any records in the near future that haven’t been affected by the ongoing pandemic in some form. For many smaller indie music artists it was an unplanned break from the never ending touring/recording cycle and although that usually also comes with times of uncertain financial planning it can also release a lot of creativity. Songwriter Meg Duffy surely embraced the inevitable break as a chance to check in with herself. According to her the time that lead to the creation of the third Hand Habits album was the longest she has ever been alone; without a relationship, a tour or a work level close to exhaustion. In moments like these all those problems you’ve been avoiding for too long tend to surface and for a dedicated artist like her it was only a matter of time before it resulted in new music. Encouraged by friend and the album’s producer SASAMI to take risks and as a result of a personal therapy she took the sound of Hand Habits to new territory, embraced musical risks and a new raw openness you hear on these twelve tracks.

Although usually gaining a lot of energy from playing with other artists (like Kevin Morby or Sylvan Esso) Fun House feels like a collaboration with herself as Duffy allowed herself to take new roles and follows different narratives. More Than Love is a fitting uplifting start although it sees the songwriter facing her own existential crisis. Aquamarine is another great example here as it surprises the listener with a funky groove and a vibrating synth bass line that heads into a sweet new direction for Hand Habits. The gentle folk appeal is still sensible in many songs on Fun House, for example the sweet Perfume Genius featuring Just To Hear You or the sparse Graves. On songs like Clean Air and The Answer Duffy showcases a more complex approach for arrangements, allowing strings and harmonies to gently dance around her still quite powerful songs. There are a few moments in here that might remind you of Big Thief’s last releases which isn’t the worst comparison. Fun House is an honest and emotional indie folk/rock affair for all those who seek for pure musical companionship in troubled times. (Norman Fleischer)

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La Luz – ‘La Luz’

Sounds like … dark velvety ballads and psychedelic dreams of musical time travel.

La Luz release their fourth studio album and it is a self-titled one. What might be an unusual choice, makes sense when you listen to the sound of La Luz. The record takes the bands roots in surfy pool-side indie rock to another level. Like a reevaluation of their musical style, the new release shifts from the familiar lethargic sunny songs to velvety anthems with a touch of psychedelica and a knack for playful experimentation.

Watching Cartoons for example consists of harmonies by the three musicians fused with a jazzy rhythm. “Staying inside watching cartoons”, sounds like pandemic inspired songwriting. The upbeat song is followed by the slow ballad Oh, Blue. Gloomy and jazzy, the reverbed guitars tint it in a gentle psychedelic mood. The drastic shifts in pace give the verses of the track a mystical intensity, when the instruments fades into the background leaving the breathy vocals by Shana Cleveland to do their magic. Metal Man explores a heavier sound with layers of reverbed guitars, thundering drums, and melodic vocals – it could as well have been release by a psychedelic rock band mid-sixties. One of the most interesting songs on the record has to be Lazy Eyes and Dune. Its unusually dynamic shifts, the stripped back verses, dragged along by a shy percussive beat provide an interesting backdrop to the hazy vocals. Each track on La Luz sounds different while maintaining a cohesive musical style. Between shimmering dark ballads and psychedelic dreams, La Luz managed to compose a record that doesn’t just walk on that border but dances on it. (Liv Toerkell)

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Grouper – ‘Shade’

Sounds like … the slowcore songstress reaches new levels of raw intimacy

Ever since Liz Harris’ gloomy and sparse folk songs showed up on the musical map in the Mid 00s the sound of her alter ego Grouper managed to somehow free its existence from time itself because of the way Harris tends to shape her records. Shade might be her 12th full-length and the follow-up to 2018’s field-recording-loaded Grid Of Points but it basically continues songs the American artist recorded over the past 15 years, arriving from different phases and of her life only to end up on record together in the fall of 2021. Some of the music was recorded during a residency at Mount Tamalpais, some years ago in Portland, and many tracks were recorded more recently in Astoria, others appear to be coming from a far more distanced void. The opening track Followed The Ocean, for example, surprises with lots of distortion and a lo-fi wall of sound that partly reminds you of the more recent recordings of Low. Later a track like Disordered Minds follows a similar path, marking new territory for the Grouper sound.

However, the gloomy and highly melancholic notion of Harris’ fragile songwriting is still present throughout most of Shade, resulting in such wonderful songs like Unclean Mind or Ode To The Blue which sees her reducing the sound to a bare minimum. However on songs like Pale Interior you also sense a more lighter and calmer side of the Grouper sound. The Way Her Hair Falls might be a secret highlight here. The romantic love song almost feels like an unfinished sketch and there are moments in there where it feels like Harris is still figuring out details of the song while we listen to it. It’s a fascinating new level of intimacy we see here. It really feels like you’re sitting next to her while she whispers these songs. And every now and then you find yourself getting lost in these feeling, like the hazy Basement Mix. Shade is still pretty much a Grouper album and there’s still no other contemporary artist who sound like her. But on the other hand it also shows new facets of her music. Especially the closing track Kelso (Blue Sky) offers a surprisingly light-hearted outlook into a future in which Grouper will continue to play a pivotal part. (Norman Fleischer)

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Sóley – ‘Mother Melancholia’

Sounds like… a dark passage suiting the current climate.

The days are getting shorter and Sóley’s Mother Melancholia is the company to choose when feeling extra gloomy. Here, the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist moves away from her indie pop-ish compositions to a darker mood. The concept album is built on the very real dystopian fears of global warming and political madness, and to add to the apocalyptic feel the artist’s expanded her repertoire with a theremin and a mellotron.

The first single Sunrise Skull is a dramatic opener inspired by the #MeToo-movement and in its accompanying video (directed by Samantha Shay) different women perform agony-dances in majestically lit landscapes and rooms. Circles introduces the newly added instruments with only a few lyrics trickling in as to remind the listener of Sóley’s presence. Throughout the record, grim fragility takes the limelight, four of ten songs Hysteria and Parasite (though featuring voice loops and heavy breathing) as well as the two closing tracks xxx and Elegía are completely instrumental. Outstanding are Desert, mechanic drums and unpitched distortion turning into choir – imagining the serendipity of releasing this song on this album while Dune is on everybody’s lips – and In heaven impressing through its simplicity.

These days I have avoided a lot of music, films, and series that uncompromisingly express the bleakness and destruction the world is facing because I know that it is currently not healthy for me to concern my mind with more terrible things. Instead, I am focusing on the ways which make the world a better place, not blocking out the negative but reframing it so that I can function. Mother Melancholia pushed me to confront this armour for the first time in a while and it enticed me because it focuses on how sensations are conveyed, not on the what since words are sparse. Tenor is everything on this record; it breathes you in and exhales you, maybe disturbed, but softly. (Anna-Katharina Stich)

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Moyka – ‘The Revelations Of Love’

Sounds like … a hedonistic break-up party that you never want to end.

On the West coast of Norway, magic is brewing. Hidden between the mountains and the fjords, the singer and producer Moyka has been steadily bubbling together something potent. And now, she’s ready to cast it out into the world, in the form of her debut album The Revelations of Love. Following on from two outstanding EP releases (Circles in 2019 and Spaces in 2020), the self-proclaimed “Norwegian Pop Witch” explores falling in and out of love on the conceptual project that spans the course of a relationship.

Drawing inspiration from fellow Nordic dance-masters Röyksopp and Robyn, The Revelations of Love is a synth-laden, emotion-fuelled affair, as we’ve come to expect from the Bergen based artist. The result is a high-octane record, full of thumping kicks and dynamic melodies that takes you on a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. Optimistic opener As Long As You’re Here plays tribute to the excitement of new love, and previous single Stay feels somewhat hopeful. That’s turned on its head quickly, however, by the tragedy of Illusion (“I bought into the illusion, that it could be us / I bought into the illusion, but that’s all it was”) and the retrospective lament on Brokenhearted.

Are You With Me is a spectacular highlight. Disastrous and defiant, it’s as perfect a song about the all-consuming emotion of love as you could expect to hear. And when Moyka sings “If I knew that our love would go cold, I would still fall into your everlasting arms”, it’s impossible not to feel broken, knowing what awaits. And the drums. Oh, the drums! The way they beat their way into your mind, breaking down the very fabric of time and space, as Moyka conjures up something wholly and inescapably enchanting. Are You With Me? Yes, we are! Let Me Know follows on, slow burning but no less emotionally charged, as the album continues in a commanding fashion. And while there are emotional lows to be played out, it’s almost impossible to find any flaws. By the time closing track You And I comes around and the final reverberant synth fades away, it’s as if nothing else matters anymore, such is the all-consuming nature of the story being told by Moyka. The Revelations of Love is truly a masterpiece. A spectacular hedonistic take on love and loss, through the lens of an artist who is wise beyond their years and, vitally, has an unrivalled ability to channel emotion into music that pounds your soul as much as it does your ears. You’ll dance. You’ll cry. You’ll smile. And you’ll be unable to resist soaking up every last musical drop. (Dan Cromb)

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