New releases from Teen Men, Alden Penner and more
You know about the big releases each week, but what about the smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar? We’ve rounded up five of the best new album releases from this week, from Alden Penner’s idiosyncratic oddities to TAU’s Aztec-inspired psychedelia: don’t miss out.
Mbongwana Star – ‘From Kinshasa’
Congolese musicians Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza were living with polio on the streets of their country’s capital Kinshasa until the success of their band Staff Benda Bilili took them around the world in 2009. When that group split in 2013, Coco and Theo launched Mbongwana Star. This new seven-piece is a thrilling coming-together of Coco’s songwriting, a younger generation of street musicians and production from Liam Farrell (aka Doctor L), who has collaborated with Afrobeat originator Tony Allen. Their debut is a revelation. It moves effortlessly from the gently swaying ‘Coco Blues’ to the irresistible rhythms of ‘Suzanna’ and ‘Malukayi’. At its very best (see the dirty groove of ‘Kala’) this joyous carnival of sound is underpinned with a throbbing electronic heartbeat. It may be titled ‘From Kinshasa’, but this record could easily be from the future.
Kevin EG Perry
Alden Penner – ‘Canada In Space EP’
Montreal oddball indie-pop trio The Unicorns abruptly split in 2005, two years after releasing the shambolic but strangely brilliant ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?’, their first and only album. The band reformed briefly last year for a short tour, including support slots for Arcade Fire, but this five-track EP sees frontman Alden Penner – who has sporadically released solo work since the breakup – shift his focus back to solo matters. Inspired by Dutch nonprofit organisation Mars One, which aims to see humans establish a colony on the red planet by 2027, ‘Canada In Space’ is wonderfully idiosyncratic. In particular, the sprawling and jarring ‘Meditate’ – which features Juno actor and musician Michael Cera on backing vocals – may be the best thing Penner’s done outside of The Unicorns.
Luke Morgan Britton
Teen Men – ‘Teen Men’
Calling all concept designers and visual operators, your time is now! In this multi-media, cross-platform world, Teen Men prove you can actually be in the band! The Delaware band’s four members comprise ex-Spinto Band dream poppers Nick Krill and Joe Hobson and artists Albert Birney and Catharine Maloney, who concoct interactive onstage visuals. The purely audio side collected on this debut album is artfully coiled Vampire Weekend world pop featuring slick-yet-wonky toybox takes on VW’s ‘Campus’ (‘It’s All Rushing Back’), synthpop lullabies (‘Township (Not Sure)’) and what sounds like the war dance of the lost jungle tribe of the Philippakis (the Foals-like ‘New Kind’). Inspired stuff, plus it’ll compel bearded hipster types to burst into their local craft ale pub gibbering “I’m obsessed with Teen Men!” Arf.
Bon Voyage Organisation – ‘Xīngyè EP’
For this second EP, Adrien Durand – the producer and bassist at the centre of Gallic disco troupe Bon Voyage Organisation – infuses futuristic space age atmospheres inspired by Italian composer Vangelis’ masterful score for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic Blade Runner with elements of Afrobeat and world music. ‘Love Soup’ is sleek and sexy, an insistent, high-pitched synth drone cutting through its languid bass groove, as Chinese pop star Li Lijuan gives adds poise and grace with an elegant vocal. Sparse and eerie closer ‘Lùjìng’ shows Durand can do more than simmer though, but ‘Shenzhen 5’ is ‘Xīngyè”s ace – a galloping mix of African percussion and disco-funk.
TAU – ‘Wirikuta EP’
Dublin-born musician Shaun ‘Nunutzi’ Mulrooney has dabbled in freaky psychedelia as a member of Icelandic experimentalists Dead Skeletons, but his TAU solo project is easily his weirdest work yet. Written while spending time with inhabitants of the desert of Real De Catorce in Mexico – known locally as “the earth’s navel” – this debut EP comprises five songs inspired by Aztec tradition. Opener ‘Huey Tonantzin’ is Mulrooney’s version of a famous tribal song, built on a skipping acoustic riff and chanted vocals, with heavy guitar growling beneath. The six-minute ‘A Wink To The Elements’ shares a trippiness with Swedish psych troupe Goat, but is marred by grating vocals. The chanting on ‘Reunar’ is similarly irritating, but ‘The Trickster’ atones monstrously, a fug of reverb-slathered guitars and disorientating effects.