July is traditionally quite a quiet month in the music world, but the last few weeks has seen a steady stream of strong releases. From La Roux’s ‘Trouble In Paradise’ to Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Futorology’ and Honeyblood’s self-titled debut to Morrissey’s ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’, major and brand-new artists saw fit to brighten summer 2014. There was also a whole raft of excellent EPs from Twin Peaks, The Acid and Autobahn. Meanwhile Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry released his first solo album and Sia got to number one for the first time in the US. What was the best thing you heard? Let us know in the comments below.
Iceage, ‘The Lord’s Favourite’
Fuck everyone who said this was Iceage “gone country” – obviously they’ve never heard George Hamilton IV. Nope, to my ears ‘The Lord’s Favourite’ is the sound of a band who’ve been on the road for 50 months solid, realising they know everything there is to know about punk and starting all over again. There’s no prejudice or preconceived game-plan in the writing here, which is probably why people have compared it to everything from The Clash to Johnny Cash. The closest anyone’s got to really nailing it is my mate Dan, who said it’s like “Shane McGowan sober with The Bad Seeds pissed”. But even that does them a slight disservice – ‘The Lord’s Favourite’ is just genuinely brilliant rock music, played by a band at the peak of their powers.
Charli XCX, ‘Boom Clap’
It’s possible to write out most of Charli XCX’s ‘Boom Clap’ in Emoji, such is the simplistic, action-packed lyrical content of this party tune. Not that this is a bad sign. If anyone knows that minimalism is key to a brilliant pop hook it’s Charlotte Emma Aitchison, who at 21 already has a proven track record in writing pop smashes that ambush you like an Anthrax package through your letterbox. ‘Boom Clap’, however, is easily the most addictive of her hits so far and she’s bagged it entirely for herself. About damn time, really.
Radiator Hospital, ‘Torch Song’
Imagine Jeff Magnum finding happiness, wandering into a record shop and purchasing Weezer’s collected 1994-2001 works on cassette. That’s maybe the best way I can surmise the playful, bedroom pop-rock of Philadelphia’s Radiator Hospital, whose new album ‘Torch Song’ arrived online this month – 15 tracks of bedraggled Neutral Milk–ish nasal vocals and snaking melodies laid over sunny garage–punk guitars. Songwriter Sam Cook-Parrott shares an apartment with Swearin’ singer Alison Crutchfield and is friends with sister Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee fame, both of whom make appearances here on ‘Midnight Nothing’ and ‘Blue Gown’ respectively. It’s the carefree ‘Venus Of The Avenue’ that does it best for me though – a hazy summer daydream of a song that worms its way under your consciousness.
After what felt like an agonising wait, Jungle released their debut album in July. And it’s a real crawler. Gets inside your brain, your neck and your feet. The tracks we already knew ‘Platoon’ and ‘Busy Earnin” are there – but they’re preserved amongst a batch of equally slinky pop. It doesn’t matter that much of the initial intrigue has now been revealed. If ‘The Heat’ wasn’t already on Jungle, it will be now for the remainder of 2014 with a debut as confident as this. In NME’s review we called it the “pop-art album of the summer”. Too right.
Stephen Steinbrink, ‘Arranged Waves’
“It is really how you feel? Or is it just how you say you feel,” coos Steinbrink on ‘A Simple Armature Of Your Ideal World’, adding a dig that’s open to interpretation. Is the second clause a perjorative sting? Or a gentle warning? Described as ‘codeine-pop’, this is folk in the vein of Nick Drake or early Ben Folds, executed with a knowing wink, a witty aside and shades of melancholy. I’ve listened to ‘Arranged Waves’ non-stop all month, intrigued by its sadness and humanness – Steinbrink has compared writing it to “cheap therapy” – and bold melodic flourishes. It’s the Phoenix-born singer-songwriter’s first proper release in the UK and let’s hope it’s one of many.
Tobias Jesso Jr, ‘True Love’
Last August a soft-haired Canadian teenager called Tobias posted a demo on YouTube. ‘Just A Dream’ sounded pretty, broken and not unlike John Lennon. Sessions with ex-Girls man JR aside, recording plans remain tightly under wraps, but nearly a year later Jesso Jr has released an even better demo. Like Cass McCombs’ epic ‘County Line’, ‘True Love’ lingers patiently, stretching over five minutes. Best of all are the crackling pauses between simple piano chords and his high-pitched delivery of its choruses.
Perfume Genius, ‘Queen’
Writing about the first single from his forthcoming third album ‘Too Bright’, Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) said this:
I’ve seen faces of blank terror when I walk by. Sometimes from seemingly strong, macho dudes — somehow my presence confuses and ultimately scares them. There is a strange power to it that I’ve only recently begun to understand and embrace. After many years trying to sort out exactly what they are scared of, there are now moments of monstrous pride
That sense of pride is audible. ‘Queen’ is the sound of a wallflower stepping out of the camouflage and into the middle of the room, knowing full well that everybody around him is looking. Lyrically confident and musically bold, it marks a sea change for an artist who previously seemed fragile to the point of breaking and is an indicator of what’s to come on that career defining new record.
Twin Peaks, ‘Wild Onion’
The Chicago boys’ have only just put out their debut UK release (the brilliant ‘Flavor’ EP) but lucky America is already getting hold of Twin Peaks’ second album. Thank fuck for it being streamed online because waiting until 2015 for it to be released on this side of this Atlantic would be far too torturous. From the sexual frustrations of ‘Sloop Jay D’ to the rollicking ‘60s-tipped riffs of ‘Fade Away’, all 16 of its tracks are pure dynamite. According to their recent mailing list blast, they’re finally heading over this way to play a few shows in October – expect these songs to sound even more riotous live.
La Roux, ‘Uptight Downtown’
Way back in the mists of time (well, December 2011), I visited Elly Jackson in a barn-cum-studio on the south coast where she and the now-former La Roux member Ben Langmaid were recording album number two. The ace ‘Uptight Downtown’ was one of the tracks I was played. An inexplicable three years passed before I had the pleasure of hearing its bitty synths and plastic baselines again, but somehow, it still sounds fresh. Guess that’s the benefit of plucking songs from a retro-futuristic version of 1988.