New releases from Jenny Hval, Prinzhorn Dance School, Pins and more
You know about the big releases each week, but what about those smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar. Don’t miss out on the smaller, lesser-known gems which might become some of your favourites. We’ve rounded up seven of the best new album releases from this week: catch up with Downtown Boys’ activist punk and J Fernandez’ lush psychedelia.
Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl
Spoken word, avant-garde noise, synthpop and melodrama collide on this fifth album from Norwegian artist Jenny Hval. On ‘Take Care Of Yourself’ she confrontationally sings, “Shaving in all the right places/ Holding onto your soft dick/ Can I do that for you?”). ‘That Battle Is Over’ may appear to be a gentle homage to ’70s songwriters (think Joni Mitchell), but its soothing percussion and softly droning organ masks grim analysis of a self-centered society, appropriating the optimism of Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ and turning it on its head: “Feminism’s over / socialism’s over / I can consume what I want now”. ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ then: serene on the surface, but disturbed deep down.
J Fernandez – Many Levels Of Laughter
Recorded above a stained glass window workshop on salvaged gear, J Fernandez’s debut album has the found-sound rawness you’d expect, but the overall feel is of lush psychedelia. His varied background – the son of Filipino immigrant parents, raised in Arkansas, now based in Chicago – may well be reflected in songs that blend The Phantom Band, Television and David Holmes (‘Between The Channels’), dive into improv jazz (‘Filled With Joy’) and echo with’60s baroque pop (‘Holy Hesitation’). Fernandez is a warm presence, murmuring his stream-of-consciousness lyrics on mini-masterpieces that promise a sunny future.
Sauna Youth – Distractions
Approaching four decades old, punk rock is now a term so broadly applied it doesn’t really mean anything any more. Grouse about that all you want, but it does allow for the existence of bands like Sauna Youth. The London quartet’s second long-player sounds designed to interrogate ideas of what punk should or could mean. Noisy guitar scrawls like ‘New Fear’ and ‘Modern Living’ charm on a visceral level, but elsewhere, ‘Distractions’ offers zipping tangents. ‘Monotony’ is an experiment in repetition that would make Mark E Smith envious; co-vocalist Jen Calleja considers street harassment and the male gaze on ‘(Taking A) Walk’; and ‘Abstract Notions’ poses philosophical statements through the medium of snotty garage stomp.
Prinzhorn Dance School – Home Economics
Prinzhorn Dance School arrived fully formed with the minimal post-punk of 2007’s self-titled debut and, following 2012’s more leisurely ‘Clay Class’, ‘Home Economics’ continues to finesse, rather than develop, the Brighton-based duo’s bass and drums blueprint. At six tracks it’s a slight but solid return. Tobin Prinz and Suzi Horn’s vocals carry an intimate calmness on ‘Reign’ (“Tears snaking down your skin/ Do you feel lonely?”) that matches the steady tempo of their sparse rhythms, a lone guitar line unravelling at the close. Prinz’s rat-a-tat beat on ‘Battlefield’ and Horn’s yelps on ‘Education’ are as animated as Prinzhorn get, the jagged edges of their past replaced by a soft warmth on ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘Clean’.
Pins – Wild Nights
‘Baby Bhangs’ opens Pins’ second album with a riff far dirtier than we’re used to from the Manchester quartet. The band recorded ‘Wild Nights’ with Queens Of The Stone Age producer Dave Catching in the Joshua Tree desert, far removed from the tiny Liverpool studio where they made 2013 debut ‘Girls Like Us’. But while the guitars are grimier and the drums hit harder, Pins haven’t totally smothered their sound in engine oil. Tracks like ‘Curse These Dreams’ and ‘Dazed By You’ are brittle but pretty, built on toe-tapping guitars and sweet backing vocals. Even so, the latter’s outro builds to a noisy clatter that, like the aggressive ‘Oh Lord’, shows Pins are committed to their new muscle.
Downtown Boys – Full Communism
Downtown Boys’ second album opens with a drum line not dissimilar to Bikini Kill’s ‘Rebel Girl’, and the twin saxophones that streak through ‘Full Communism’ evoke The E Street band as much as X-Ray Spex. But it doesn’t take long to realize the Providence sextet’s activist punk sound is wholly their own. ‘Full Communism’ – the follow-up to 2012’s self-titled debut – is a joyous surge of drums, guitars, wild brass and potent Spanish-English vocals from powerhouse frontwoman Victoria Ruiz. This is protest music you can dance to – a beautiful, volatile chaos where hope, rage and social justice anthems collide, with a Bruce Springsteen cover (‘Dancing In The Dark’) thrown in for good measure.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
Rainer – Water
The bleeps and bass that underpin ‘Water’, the opener on Rainer’s debut album, derive from a beat the south London duo originally wrote for Drake. The band (vocalist Rebekah Raa and producer Nic Nell) were asked to submit music for the Toronto rapper’s second album ‘Take Care’, but the 10 tracks here bear little resemblance to his lavish hip-hop. Raa’s lyrics are romantic – “babys” and “darlings” abound – and her intimate delivery and Nell’s minimal accompaniment align Rainer more closely with The xx. Raa fills the record with heartache (“I love you to death I do” she moans on the garagey ‘Nocturne’), but ‘Water’ really captivates when shifting from isolated, clacking effects to sweeping dance-pop as on the likes of ‘Leave’ and ‘Laws’.