Scroll down for reviews of five albums that might just have slipped under your radar this week, from Autobahn’s relentlessly dark debut to the versatile racket of Nottingham newcomers Kagoule.
Drinks – ‘Hermits On Holiday’
A guitar emits a long screech, drums crash randomly and Cate Le Bon’s voice impatiently asks, “Tim, do I like that dog?”. Welcome to Drinks debut ‘Hermits On Holiday’, which Le Bon recorded in Los Angeles with White Fence’s Tim Presley. There’s a gulf between Presley’s noisy psychedelia and Le Bon’s pop kitsch, but that didn’t stop him asking the Cardiff musician to tour as White Fence’s guitarist a few years back. That led Le Bon to set up camp in California, where the ideas for this enjoyably freakish record germinated. Opener ‘Laying Down Rock’ uses scrappy guitars and drum fills to conjure stoned-out atmosphere. Featuring the record’s best chorus, the punky ‘Focus On The Street’ is edgier and ends with a tangle of guitar. Both guitarists sing, but their six-strings take centre-stage. The (sometimes improvised) noise persists through the clunks and crashes of ‘Cannon Mouth’ and the near-impenetrable ‘Cheerio’. By the end, it’s more than enough noodling, but you can’t help but marvel as Drinks shred their fingertips.
Kagoule – ‘Urth’
The cover of Kagoule’s debut album features a drawing of a pile of dead bodies. It’s both a fitting reflection of the music within and something of a misnomer – ‘Urth’ is full of instrumentation that veers from skeletal to brutal, but there are patches of light throughout. Lucy Hatter’s basslines rumble like stormy clouds in the distance, adding tension to Cai Burns’ grungy guitar riffs and Lawrence English’s meaty drums. ‘Made Of Concrete’ is the record’s lightest moment (sonically at least), Hatter taking the lead vocally while Burns spins spidery guitar chimes. Closer ‘It Knows It’ is pure Smashing Pumpkins, and ‘Empty Mug’ is a thudding punk blast – all thrashed power chords and shrieks from Hatter. Whether dabbling in light or dark, the Nottingham trio are never anything short of exhilarating.
Sweet Baboo – ‘The Boombox Ballads’
Gruff Rhys, Islet, Cate Le Bon, H Hawkline… Sweet Baboo (aka Stephen Black) has collaborated, backed or produced pretty much every mildly twee musician in Wales. He’s managed to fit in a decent line in rickety solo albums too, and this fifth one uses strings to add extra oomph to his trademark lyrical fragility. Added to the threadbare and charming likes of ‘Got To Hang On To You’ and ‘You Are Gentle’, the expansive arrangements feel like unnecessary decoration. But on the billowing ‘You Got Me Time Keeping’ and sweet single ‘Sometimes’ Black’s experiment works, injecting new flamboyance into his introverted songcraft.
Autobahn – ‘Dissemble’
Autobahn’s predilection for the horrible things in life has been obvious since they emerged from Leeds in 2013 with a debut EP of taut, dark songs with names like ‘Force Fed’ and ‘Lost Tongue’. Last year’s follow-up EP ‘2’ featured a track about death anxiety called ‘Ulcer’. Debut album ‘Dissemble’ makes the quintet appear more miserable than ever. ‘A Beautiful Place To Die’ – a mesh of needly guitars and hammered drumbeats that would be hypnotic were it not for Craig Johnson’s crazed shouting – is as morose as it gets. ‘Society’, ‘Immaterial Man’ and ‘Impressionist’ are lighter, with riffs afforded more breathing space. But Autobahn’s thing is choked-up post-punk noise (best exemplified on the title-track, as Johnson repeats ”The worst is yet to come” over a choppy instrumental) and their stomach for it is impressive.
Batteries – ‘Batteries’
Twenty years ago, ‘Sci-Fi’ Steven Clark was beginning his recording career in Bis: a Scottish trio whose divisive combo of indie, punk and synthpop leaned heavily, in its ethos, on the power of youth. The onset of middle age has presented a conundrum which Clark seems to have solved with Batteries, a slightly heavier and rockier solo project. Granted, he hasn’t turned into Slayer, but certain moments (‘London’ and, especially, ‘Cannibals’) combine muscular basslines, shouty vocals and keyboards in ways which suggest a strong Future Of The Left fandom. Despite a few other surprises – ‘Wah! Kinder’ employs a little Roxy Music glam and a lyrical reference to Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ – but ‘Batteries’ often just sounds like Bis with bigger amps.