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Unanchored

Silya

Sony Music Norway

Ending up as last year’s singing sensation after a gruelling number of weeks on NRK’s Stjernekamp contest, Silya resurfaces with the shrewdly titled ‘Unanchored’. Despite the triumphant success on national television, Silya remains close to her roots by continuing her musical association with The Sailors, as well as her personal taste in music dating anywhere between the 40s to the 70s where elements of rock, pop, jazz, big band and ska have a habit of connecting as well as operating on their own terms. Opening up in some style with trademark vocal and a singular electric guitar for company is the confessionary tug-of-war ‘Change My Mind’ with its one line homage to The Clash but also respect for the two cities in her life which, unfortunately, have presented something of a dilemma as far as future directions go. With the album being recorded in Degraw Sound in Brooklyn, the decision to commit to a live recording certainly pays dividends as the retro feel of the aforementioned ‘Change My Mind’ comes complete with added hiss behind its exterior, but more importantly the raw honesty of Silya’s vocal is captured and highlighted with the ballad ‘Become My Dream’ and gutsy rocker ‘Trailblazer’. Treading the past also extends to a reworked version of a former song ‘No Use In Runnin’, only this time the slick dance beats are replaced with a rock – ska version that is punctuated throughout with some wonderful brass and given a real boot in its rear with an immense vocal during its climax. Rather than being resigned to a mere background effect, the use of brass instrumentation throughout is equally essential to the compositions on offer, as the various horns breathe added personality to the narratives being expressed and evidenced by ‘Loverman Stick Up’ and the rock ‘n’ roll, jump blues of the quite stupendous ‘Chick Habit’. The noirish feel of ‘When Your Girlfriend Sleeps’ finds Silya in her element under the dim lights of a swanky NYC supper club, before swinging home on a finale with recent single ‘Sucka’ that contains a rich ska influence that eventually amalgamates with a big band sound and Silya singing from the rooftops. Looks like Ol’ golden tonsils is back and here to stay this time, as ‘Unanchored’ is the perfect blend of everything that is Silya and a showcase for the wonderful talent that has been striving to make its mark all these years.


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Aelita

Mando Diao

Musica de la Santa / Sony Music

Swedish band Mando Diao stump up album number seven with a perfect representation of 80s synth and guitar sounds that is ‘Aelita’. Being hailed as a new ‘dimension’ for the band, ‘Aelita’ is not without its reference points as it pulls on several influences from predominantly the early part of the aforementioned decade with its unmistaken Flock of Seagulls inspired entrance of first single ‘Black Saturday’. The measured pace of ‘Rooftop’ is wonderfully encapsulated by a slight soul-funk edge and violin (electronic or otherwise) that compliments the giddy emotions at the heart of this song. Unfortunately, the lurid ‘Sweet Wet Dreams’ is mid-eighties stodge and quite possibly meant as tongue-in-cheek considering its recalling of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘La Luna’ and characteristic of the period overblown vocal. In stark contrast, the cold machinery and loneliness of ‘If I Don’t Have You’, to the sleekness of synth-driven ‘Money Doesn’t Make You A Man’ and sullen beats of ‘Romeo’ represents the overall strengths and qualities of Mando Diao’s new and preferred direction that is reviving a particular period in history.

 


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Undertow

Up River

Holy Roar Records

Coming up trumps once more, Holy Roar Records play their winning hand with relative newcomers Up River. Holding a sound that is best described as post-hardcore with smatterings of melodic indie rock (it’s in the guitars) and possessing a front figure who passes a slight resemblance to Ian Curtis judging by the engaging video accompanying lead track ‘Confide’, leaving all bets postponed as to one likely source of inspiration being Joy Division, Up River is likely to please fans of More Than Life and Touché Amore as they are of those in tune with various melancholic and equally passionate indie bands. Comparisons aside, Up River deliver a debut album that is concise in its decisions as the impact of their creativity is immediate as demonstrated by the desolate-sounding chords slowly prising open the contents of first song, ‘Youth’. The robust assault of ‘Withdrawal’ follows with equal fervour before chiming itself out on a singular guitar and falling into the net of ‘Growing Pains’ that is portrayed compellingly with a vocal that is fatigued and fighting for its survival. ‘Cipher’ and its successor ‘The Weight’ provide two short, sharp jabs to the senses of raw emotion with guitars and drums rumbling and colliding. The previously mentioned ‘Confide’ allows for a brief respite, tilting back and forth on its heels at various intervals as if steadying itself before the next push which reveals further variation with the instrumental ‘Respite’. On this evidence, Up River will bypass with ease any incoming tides such is the authority and depth of debut album ‘Undertow’.


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River Mirrors

Infinity Broke

Come To The Darkside Luke

After three well received solo albums, Jamie Hutchings breaks ranks and returns to the fold with new outfit Infinity Broke. Comprising of members Reuben Wills (bass), Jared Harrison (drums) and Hutching’s brother Scott also providing drums and percussive duties in addition to his creative eye for the band’s photography, the resulting process is an eight-track album conceived in a disused shearing shed in the middle of the NSW Australian outback. While this new line up presents a fresh challenge for Jamie Hutchings, the outlook of ‘River Mirrors’ throws up a few reminders of his former band Bluebottle Kiss, with influences plucked from a variety of sources ranging from Afghan Whigs, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart et al. In fact, it’s the excellent and drawn-out ‘Monsoon’ that really pricks at the senses first, as it harks back (surprisingly) to his former band’s first album ‘Higher Up The Firetrails’ with its near freefall into oblivion of guitar experimentation midway through before finally reappearing the other side and regaining its composure. The doom-laden feel of former single ‘Swing A Kitten’ is expertly handled with its faster, faster, faster approach in the hopeful event that an escape plan will reveal itself before this dream becomes a reality. The pots and pans entry and subsequent rhythm of ‘Gallows Queue’ offers a quieter tone and possibly an offshoot from Hutching’s solo pursuits, only a return to former grounds resurfaces during a brief tetchy moment via the guitar. The final nod to the past is the reinterpretation of ‘Let The Termites Eat Our Riches’ now reduced to ‘Termites’ but making up for it in sound as it takes in a variety of moods of sonic experimentation; swinging from irritable guitar bursts, pounding repetitive drum patterns and fleeting high-pitched vocals. Worryingly, the realisation dawns that ‘River Mirrors’ could be the final chapter in the career of Jamie Hutchings because there are several clues between the layers that point to such a fate. Any such decision would be a great injustice as ‘River Mirrors’ is a stirring return to former glories, and one that equally matches in terms of consistency but also keeps a tighter rein on the experimental endeavours that only experience can bring.


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Pocketknife

Mr Little Jeans

Sony Music Norway

Dreaming of a life in the limelight has finally become a reality for the wry smirk of a title that is Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes. The former drama student managed to combine her time between stints in London and Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of a full-length album by way of producer Peter Moren (Peter Bjorn and John). The end results for this Norwegian artist is an album full of assured indie pop songs and sounding as if constructed of the barest ingredients consisting primarily of synthesisers and Birkenes ethereal vocal. Take for example the alluring yet glacial sheen of ‘Mercy’ that manages to really get under your skin as well as managing to  maintain a considerable distance, as does the 80s moody electronica of ‘Runaway’. There is a measure of eccentricity from top to bottom of ‘Oh Sailor’ complete with chiming clocks and youth choir that is reminiscent of another 80s trick but unfortunately completely evades the memory bank at the crucial hour. There are moments where ‘Pocketknife’ will require some patience when listening with the late blossoming of blissful noise during ‘Don’t Run’ for example, as well as others that remain somewhat directionless with the plodding ‘Suburbs’ being a prime candidate. Such discrepancies, however, are minimal as ‘Pocketknife’ contains enough intrigue to warrant repeat visits that will be duly rewarded guaranteed.


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MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs (EP)

Pretend Happy

Untitled

Barnstaple is home for indie grunge and punk trio Pretend Happy and the likely source responsible for the majority of songs making up current EP ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’, due to reflecting a plethora of emotions that are all too common when it comes to residing in such a sheltered environment. In spite of this, there is a feeling of transition regarding the entire EP, in both title and sound, as the six songs represented here are a collection of the band’s first two EPs, offering something of a mixed bag ranging from the energetic ‘Innocence’ with its insightful observations, “Another fault of mine, I’ve fallen further behind, my innocence still lives inside of me…” to a more ponderous ‘I Remember’ that despite its honesty, especially by way of a couple of expletives, pales in comparison. ‘Stability’ brings order once more with its taut rhythm, and nicely complimented by the crushed emotions of ‘Torture’ only to fall back on old habits with the generic ‘Purity’.  While ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’ possesses one or two shortcomings, there is more than enough material here to suggest a positive outcome regarding future endeavours for Pretend Happy.


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Bookburner (single)

This Sect

Sect Appeal Records / Diger

Accusations of philistine rightly abound and no doubt fuelling new single ‘Bookburner’ from Norway’s This Sect. Being described as ‘post-punk with disco tendencies’, This Sect is the kind of band that deserve to be clutched tightly to one’s chest as they resuscitate memories of a dying breed of bands, often the staple during the 80s despite remaining on the fringes of any music scene and holding a strong social conscience. ‘Bookburner’ fits such a description with its jagged rhythm, 80s sounding guitars and anxious vocals which all suggest nothing but a tantalising prospect when the full-length player is set for release next month. Clearly rubbing against the grain as far as fashion (yawn) is concerned, This Sect is one that is worth taking note of because their relevancy in the present state of things is more vital than ever.


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Floating Blood Of Mine (single)

Sleep Party People

Riot Factory

Denmark’s Sleep Party People return with a new single ahead of a full album release planned for the end of May 2014. ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’ reprises the long overdue return musically of 90s shoegaze, and one of the pioneers of this particular sound The Cocteau Twins, as Brian Batz – the man behind the moniker – dreams up an instantly memorable soundscape full of drifting and soaring guitars complete with a thin veil of vocals that greatly compliments the vapour trails of sound left suspended in the atmosphere long after this song has ceased spinning. With two critically acclaimed albums behind Sleep Party People, the third chapter looks set to continue this trend considering the emotive sounds emanating from ‘Floating Blood Of Mine’.


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Next Plane (single)

Alida

Sony Music Norway

Alida is currently the name causing a stir as far as Norwegian radio is concerned and the reason for increasing levels of interest on certain media playlists, which has seen this songstress from Jæren in Rogaland rocket her way to the top of the pile with this follow up single after the much-admired ‘Feathers’. Clearly, ‘Next Plane’ was built around Alida’s charismatic vocal as it ushers in from the start the rest of the components of the song – comprising of subdued yet atmospheric electronic beats – while remaining deep in reflection as the realisation dawns that a saviour is not emerging anytime soon. The next stop for this rising new talent is a mini-album, which is a tantalising prospect considering the lofty heights ‘Next Plane’ has already set. Watch this space.


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Grown Up (single)

Emilie Nicolas

Sony Music Norway

Emilie Nicolas takes a bow with the first instalment from her forthcoming long player due this year. The song causing a bit of a commotion is the wonderful slow burner that is ‘Grown Up’, which sounds as if it’s coming from a small remote corner of the Norwegian landscape such is the sparseness of the ingredients used. The lack of instrumentation compliments the beguiling fragility of the vocal held in ‘Grown Up’, as the song recounts a coming-of-age tale that could easily be mistaken for a separating of the ways after a troublesome relationship. Either way, Emilie Nicolas’ debut album should be one to savour judging by the qualities shown of ‘Grown Up’.


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A Perfect Contradiction

Paloma Faith

RCA

Visually entertaining as well as musically, Paloma Faith is back with her third album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’. With its continuing theme of rich colours when it comes to the artwork and sense of nous by calling on the talents of Pharrel Williams to help co-write recent single ‘Can’t Rely On You’, the ‘contradiction’ implied in the title is perfectly misleading as Paloma steps up another creative gear and one that is consistently better than its predecessors. Nowhere is this more evident than the aforementioned Williams/Faith collaboration ‘Can’t Rely On You’, that is full of old school dance beats but given a modern gloss and narrated with a sassy vocal that will have you reaching for the repeat button. The traditional flavour is also captured in ‘Mouth To Mouth’ with its 80s pop influence but this time finding Paloma Faith in more restrained manner but nonetheless still compelling. The lure of Motown is all too much for ‘Take Me’ and accompanying ballad ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’; the latter of the pair revealing a vulnerability in the Paloma Faith exterior. There is a brief hiccup with the rather pedestrian ‘Other Woman’ and its familiarities with other female artists of similar ilk, but fear not as this songstress finishes in style with red-hot ‘Trouble With My Baby’ and shifting style of ‘Love Only Leaves You Lonely’.


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No Mythologies To Follow

Chess Club / RCA Victor

Resembling nothing in relation to her personal record collection during her late teens with Sonic Youth and Black Flag particular favourites, Danish artist Mø (Karen Marie Ørsted) breezes in with a debut album that is full of electro-pop and moody electronica that is ‘No Mythologies To Follow’. There is a cool, mid-tempo pulse to ‘Maiden’, complete with a vocal that seems to spend its duration in the shade and remains full of curiosity. All the clocks stop during ‘Never Wanna Know’; a deeply touching ballad that resonates due to the hollow effect created by its use of percussion and giving a real sense of loss that is reminiscent of Scott Walker when in such a frame of mind. Much as has been said of Mø’s vocal capabilities and pop leanings which certainly come to the fore during the infectious ‘Red In The Grey’ and even more persuasive ‘Pilgrim’ that will certainly appease fans of both pop and indie music. Looks like Denmark has an imminent star on their books as ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ is tapping into a number of genres yet shaping a path that is distinctly Mø.



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