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Nanobots

They Might Be Giants

Lojinx

It is incredible to think that They Might Be Giants have been walking this Earth since 1982 taking in along the way smash hit single ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’ and platinum album ‘Flood’ before seemingly disappearing once more into eternal obscurity. Silence has been broken, however, as the band return with their 16th studio album of yet more unusual and quirky tales and catchy choruses this time involving everything from Nanobots to a circular karate chop (I can’t help but grin widely – FLW).

They Might Be Giants absence is duly noted by the band with a knowing wink during the opening fanfare of, ‘Hi! I forgot your name, whatever’ before launching into a tale concerning combustible heads the kind, ‘I read an article all about them’ and then succeeded by the instantly infectious (what else do you expect?!) title track ‘Nanobots’ with its lovely dual-vocal opening.

There is much to take in here, as the shady mutterings of ‘Black Ops’ leaves much to ponder about, as do the songs ‘Decision Maker’ and ‘Tick’ due to their brief appearances; springing to mind the short eccentricities littered throughout the Fatima Mansions’ ‘Viva Dead Ponies’ but minus the robust intensity. ‘Sometimes A Lonely Way’ is proof that They Might be Giants can also play it straight and offers further evidence that on current form contract negotiations for album number 17 should not be too far away.


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Delta Machine

Depeche Mode

Columbia

‘All the drama queens are gone’ suggests a touch of self-mockery during the broody ‘Welcome To My World’, nicely restrained in its execution, but all the usual hallmarks of Depeche Mode remain throughout this, their 13th studio album and nothing wrong with that either. In fact, Martin Gore has referred to latest album ‘Delta Machine’ as a fusion of the band’s masterpiece ‘Violator’ with the not too far behind in the classic stakes ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’. Such a revelation is accurate as ‘Angel’ is reminiscent of lead vocalist Dave Gahan in preacher mode circa ‘Songs Of…’ whereas the electronic subtlety of ‘Secret To the End’ could easily contest for a place on ‘Violator’. However, it is the understated tone of ‘Delta Machine’ which really sets it apart from the aforementioned DM releases and this is much welcomed. The skeletal electronica of ‘My Little Universe’ and tinge of swampy rock during ‘Slow’ offer a freshening of the DM palette and further reasoning as to why this band is still relevant. Martin Gore adopts vocal duties on ‘Child Inside’ before Dave Gahan resumes normal duties with the pulsating ‘Soft Touch/Raw Nerve’ and stretched vocals of ‘Should Be Higher’. ‘Delta Machine’ may require a tad more patience compared to previous offerings, but persist and you will be rewarded because this is truly exceptional on all levels. Welcome back.


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Traces Of You

Eva & The Heartmaker

Sony

“Nothing is the same as it used to be” has a definite ring of truth about it from opening track, and real grower, ‘Too Late’. Falling between indie pop and near-indie guitar seductiveness the likes of which The Cardigans used to churn out with apparent ease, Eva & The Heartmaker has constructed an album which, on first listen, may sound familiar but with repeat listens reveals a considerable amount of hidden subtleties that simply delight the senses. Look no further than the almost soaring and Alphabeat-esque title track ‘Traces of You’ to the more electronica influenced ‘Won’t Stop Loving You’ and infectious ‘Comes Around’ for such evidence. Only ‘Holding Pattern’ sounds out of place with its acoustic delivery but is quickly forgotten due to the irresistible pull of ballad ‘Calling You’.


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På Vei Hjem

Razika

Warner Music/K. Dahl Eftf

The semi-ska revival begins here with Bergen’s Razika. The gears of ‘På Vei Hjem’ really begin to shift in motion from the off with ‘Verdens Beste By’ (‘The World’s Best City’) opening drumroll setting proceedings up nicely for the dissatisfactory opinion of ‘Oslo’ with its; ‘Så kjære Oslo, du ser så bra ut men er ingenting for oss’ (‘So, dear Oslo, you look good but are not for us’) cleverly wrapped up in a sweetly addictive chorus and yarn concerning the complexities of a distant relationship. ‘Oss To For Alltid’ (‘Us Two For Always’) and ‘Gang På Gang’ (‘Time After Time’) will appease the indie brigade and hence the aforementioned ‘semi-ska’ revival as Razika refuses to be shackled with the constraints that labels often bring. The final call of the delicate sounding ‘Bli Her’ (‘Stay Here’) and almost ‘knees-up’ jaunt of ‘Jeg Gir Alt For At Du Skal Gi Deg’ (‘I Give Everything So That You Give Yourself’) bring this album to a solid conclusion. It will be interesting to see where Razika go from here as this is one fine follow-up record.


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Someday

Susanna Hoffs

Baroque Folk

Criminally overlooked last year, Susanna Hoffs’ ‘Someday’ is a delightful mixture of low-key pop (‘November Sun’), slightly jaunty brass (‘Picture Me’), and filled with string-laden wonders such as ‘One Day’ and ‘All I Need’. Having recently resumed duties with The Bangles to much critical acclaim, Susanna Hoffs reveals enough depth and talent here to make this solo career a full-time project. As it stands, ‘Someday’ is a glorious album that is worthy of anyone’s attention.


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FlashBlack

Hanne Kolstø

Karmakosmetix

A firm favourite within FLW towers, Hanne Kolstø’s brand of indie art-pop is reminiscent – visually – of the kind of oddities that littered the UK independent scene during the mid-eighties, with Felt springing to mind here. Musically, ‘FlashBlack’ is a real melange of sounds with traces of the Cocteau Twins (‘Pretty Veil’), My Bloody Valentine (ditto), early Depeche Mode to name a few, to more straightforward folk-influenced numbers such as ‘Far Ahead’ and ‘Not Looking’. It remains, however, that the steady climb of ‘LA-LA-LA-LA Lovesong’ and the indie guitar-rock of the rather excellent ‘Carousel’ lead the way when it comes to standout tracks. FLW waits with baited breath for the next instalment in Kolstø’s proposed trilogy.


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A Hundred Nights Like This

Captain Gone

Nordic Records

‘A Hundred Nights Like This’ is a timely reminder of the kind of melancholic indie pop Neil and Tim Finn conjured up when Crowded House weren’t offering, musically, one of their more uplifting compositions. This remains an album suited to the wee small hours as lead vocalist Jon Arne Bjørnstad often sings in a hushed tone and complemented by strings and occasional faint splashes of brass instrumentation revealing a sense of longing and reflection concerning past relationships. Album opener ‘Going For A Song’ perfectly sums up the mood here, with its sense of trepidation and call for resistance when love comes to town, whereas former single ‘Romeo’ adds some bite with its tetchy guitars and cleverly-crafted lyrics eking out a wry smile during; ‘Romeo, you’re letting down the show, You’re getting awful slow boy, We’ll have to let you go, You showed such promise at the start’. As far as debut albums go, ‘A Hundred Nights Like This’ is an intriguing body of work drowning in a pool of tears as love is clearly murder.


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Any Old Trollop, Same Old Port

Folk Grinder

Koozie Johns

Riding a wave of sea shanty rock ‘n’ roll, Folk Grinder breathes life into a steadily increasing tired indie genre. Armed mainly with an acoustic guitar, accordion and piano in order to transmit their tales of love, loss and regret, Koozie Johns and Miro Snejdr remain two souls lost at sea. Nowhere is this more evident than the lure of ‘England Dreaming’ stretching out its nostalgic embrace to the simply gorgeous ‘Old Habits (Can Be Hard To Kick)’, complete with backing vocals, and ‘If You Need A Little Love’ tugging at the heartstrings. Despite such magnificence on display, it is left to the deeply personal ‘Halfway Home’ to offer some salvation from the choppy waters Folk Grinder has experienced and will no doubt continue to find themselves adrift in.


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All American

Superfamily

Das Kirurg

Slightly distraught at the notion that Superfamily could change their synths for an all-out electric album consisting only of guitars, the band thankfully offer no such thing as ‘All American’ sees the band sink further into the quagmire of early eighties New Romantic pop, which is a welcome relief to the ears of FLW. In fact, Norway’s Superfamily could have supplied the soundtrack for the BBC smash hit TV drama ‘Ashes to Ashes’, with many being none the wiser as to the actual era this band inhabit.

Sure, there are nods to the band’s back catalogue with ‘Don’t Say A Single Word’ which is trademark Superfamily, but no less compelling as a result, but it is the manic delivery – reminiscent of prime era ‘Associates ‘The Affectionate Punch’ and ‘Sulk’ – of title track ‘All American’ which really arouses the senses and flexes its anxieties concerning the threat of Americanisation on a global scale.

Where this fourth effort differs from previous Superfamily releases is that the reins are slightly tightened in terms of a less-is-more approach due to the minimalist, ‘I’m On Your Side’ and more restrained, ‘Some Girls’. If anything, it’s time to transmit this ‘All American’ frequency to more distant shores so that the band can reach the stellar heights their music clearly deserves.


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Wilderness

Alfred Hall

Sony

Shimmering in the summer sunlight despite being engulfed by personal anxieties, the aptly titled ‘Intro’ reveals the first insight into the world of Alfred Hall. The following set of songs suggest nothing but a promising debut album as ‘Wilderness’ is steeped in a mixture of gentle and often uplifting melodies sighting such contemporaries as Hurts and the often forgotten It’s Immaterial as among possible influences. ‘Too Young’ is simply gorgeous in its execution with its sparse arrangements echoing The Blue Nile’s classic ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’, whereas ‘Somewhere Beautiful’ is exactly a depiction of what it says on the tin. If Alfred Hall can maintain the consistency shown throughout this first offering, then the future certainly looks bright for the boys from the wilderness as the neighbours of Drammen have something new to gossip about over the garden fence.


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Presence

Christel Alsos

Sony

A welcome return for Christel Alsos with arguably her best album to date in the form of ‘Presence’. There is a more relaxed feel to the recordings but this does not mean Alsos’ emotions are any less fraught as once more she parades heart on sleeve reflecting on the remnants of relationships long since sailed. There are shades of Bristol’s Portishead on opening tracks ‘Remember It Now’ and ‘Conquer’ that adds to the ethereal qualities heard throughout,  whereas ‘Falling’ offers a slightly more upbeat tone and ‘Follow Me’ reveals its folk roots. It is left to ‘Found’, however, to literally bring this body of work emotionally to its knees as Alsos reiterates; ‘Oh, there is a place for me, Oh there is a place for me’ in an attempt at self-reassurance despite the open wounds of the vocal delivery giving the game away.


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Look To The Sky

James Iha

The End

Ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha finally dusts down the guitar to return with only his second solo offering after his debut back in 1998. That is not to say that Iha has not been a busy man during the intervening years due to various sound projects but it’s ‘Look To The Sky’ which really puts him back on the musical map. In fact, initial first impressions suggest that Iha has hardly been away, as guitars jangle and images of long-gone hazy summer days are projected (‘Summer Days’). Despite residing in a comfort zone of sorts, this does not diminish the qualities of ‘Look To The Sky’, as the sizable gap between first base and second has been long enough to give this sophomore release the gloss of a debut.



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