Music news in March 2014 belonged to Kate Bush, if anyone. The sonic boss announced her first tour since 1979, a 22-date residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London called Before The Dawn. It was one of a fair few surprises. Skrillex dropped his debut album out of the blue and Pixies confirmed the release of ‘Indie Cindy’, the first album in two decades. Wu-Tang Clan announced their new marketing strategy: just one copy of ‘The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ will be made and it will sit in a hand-carved, silver and nickel box. Away from unusual marketing strategies, Foster The People, Elbow, Metronomy, Liars, Howler led big album releases; Future Islands and Le1f got people talking with their extraordinary TV appearances and Julian Casablancas unveiled new material at SXSW. Here, NME writers choose the best thing they heard this month. Let us know your picks in the comments.
tUnE-yArDs, ‘Water Fountain’
Merrill Garbus trumpets her return with ‘Water Fountain’, a percussive blast from third album ‘Nicki Nakk’ (May 6 on 4AD). The track gallops on a syncopated pat-a-cake rhythm that suggests Garbus was highly inspired by a research trip to Haiti where she studied “intensive folkloric and contemporary dance” as well as drumming in Oakland, California, where she lives. It’s an explosive cut from an album that sees the artist layer sounds made by man and machine with sophistication, sensitivity and fun. She flings ideas and colour to the wall like a chaotic Kandinsky as ‘Water Fountain’ twists and turns through mantra chants, spoken-word song-rap and an angry, busy, crunchy breakdown. “Woo-ha! Woo-ha!”
Lucy Jones, Deputy Editor, NME.com
Future Islands Play ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ On Letterman
It’s a rare event when a TV appearance is so good it instantly increases the popularity of a band. Classic examples: The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, David Bowie on Top Of The Pops in 1972, Nirvana on The Word in 1991, Odd Future on Jimmy Fallon in 2011. Time to add Future Islands on the Late Show With David Letterman in 2014 to the list. The performance of frontman Samuel T Herring was no surprise to those who’ve followed the North Carolinan band since they formed in 2006. But for the rest of us it was a revelation to see this man who somehow resembled an amalgamation of Ricky Gervais, Robbie Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman put as much energy and emotion into the song ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ as primetime Ian Curtis or Iggy Pop. He dances. He sings. He growls. He punches his own chest so hard you can hear it reverberate through the microphone, and looks like he might burst into tears at any moment. It’s a spectacular performance of a spectacular song that should have a spectacular impact on the trio.
Tom Howard, Associate Editor
Coves – ‘Soft Friday’
Like the culmination of a decade of icy-as-bad-drugs 21st Century boy/girl garage duos – The Raveonettes, The Kills, Cults, et al – Leamington’s Coves mingle the most enthralling sort of basement bliss with highest-order melodic psychedelia and sliced-to-the-bone emotion; most of ‘Soft Friday’ is basically a knee to the danglies of some guy who dumped singer Beck Wood and will live to regret it in every album-of-the-year poll.
Mark Beaumont, writer
Life Without Buildings – ‘Any Other City’
Bit of a cheat this, but the best thing I heard this month was the news that now defunct Glasgow art-rockers Life Without Buildings would be reissuing their ‘Any Other City’ album for Record Store Day. 13 years on, it remains a staggeringly unique listen, from singer Sue Tompkins’ stuttering yelps about youth and yearning to Robert Johnston’s raw guitar riffing, reminscent of 90’s Chicago emo. ‘The Leanover’ in particular is still pure aural sunshine – a giant indie-pop grin of a song. Get it in your life.
Al Horner, Assistant Editor, NME.com
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The Black Keys – ‘Fever’
There’s still something kind of surprising about seeing The Black Keys’ name plastered in the largest print across the poster’s of the the world’s biggest festivals. But there really shouldn’t be. If 2011’s ‘El Camino’ was Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney pulling up a chair at rock’s Top Table, ‘Fever’ is the sound of the mischievous duo comfortably getting their feet under. It starts with an Alt-J-style banging-on-lunch-box drum sound and squirty Metronomy-like synth hooks before Dan waltzes into one of his trademark, massive choruses. There’s no fuzzy, scratty garage sounds here. Instead, 13 years of wizened song-writing fashioned into an ear-worm as fat and long as the Channel Tunnel.
Greg Cochrane, Editor, NME.com
Neon Waltz – ‘Sombre Fayre’
Technically, Neon Waltz have been on my radar for a while now. The Scottish newcomers played a few gigs at the start of the year that set tongues north of the border wagging, but since then they’ve been pretty quiet – hibernating/rehearsing at home in Caithness, a tiny county right at the top of the UK, seemingly with only the North Sea for company. ‘Sombre Fayre’ is my favourite song of theirs, appealing to the fan in me who devoured everything brilliant The Coral and Echo And The Bunnymen ever did. It’s different enough from those bands to really strike a chord though. Firstly, I think the kid on vocals is completely off the scale – raw and beautiful in equal measure. Then there’s that rhythmic jump at the end of the song which, listening on headphones, almost made me jump out of my skin when I first heard it. For once, a new band with such obvious and well-worn Brit influences are proving to be totally exhilarating…
Matt Wilkinson, New Bands Editor
Le1f On Letterman
In an excellent month for rap (YG and Schoolboy Q’s albums both likely to be end of year contenders) it was the introduction to mainstream America of Le1f that was the most exciting and refreshing moment of them all. Half of the internet might be compiling gifs and memes from Future Islands performance on Letterman but the arrival of Le1f, complete with oversixed white sneakers, two male backing dancers and Dev Hynes on bass that provided my highlight of the month. Playing ‘Wut’ from his recently released EP ‘Hey’, it was a genuine moment of the underground surfacing on one of the biggest platforms in the world and totally smashing it. Divisive, exciting, refreshing and memorable; Le1f has it all right now.
David Renshaw, Assistant News Editor
Peace – World Pleasure
When Harry Koisser told NME he was indulging in some rapping on Peace’s second album, panic set in. Finally, one of indie’s most charismatic frontmen had gone too far. ‘World Pleasure’, though, is the sound of us being proved well and truly wrong. Over a sultry funk bassline and classy strings, Harry pouts “maybe I was not born brave/Maybe I was born good looking” before getting deep about war and people being “lawfully killed on English soil”. If you weren’t already excited about what Peace do next, you should be now.
Rhian Daly, Assistant Reviews Editor
Todd Terje, ‘Delorean Dynamite’
The Norwegian DJ’s new album ‘It’s Album Time’ sounds like it was inspired almost exclusively by old TV theme tunes. This one reminds me of the music from Going For Gold, in a good way
Dan Stubbs, News Editor