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An Autobiography

Old Gray

Dog Knights Productions

Far from being a laugh a minute as songs muse over fears of dying and the curiosities associated with this very subject matter, Old Gray release ‘An Autobiography’, their debut album on Dog Knights Productions. The gradual encroachment of ‘Wolves’ with its delicate strumming and choir-esque vocals literally sensing the doom-laden content encircling before a Who-esque guitar jangle reminiscent of ‘Pinball Wizard’ provides a temporary lull before collapsing into a heap of gut wrenching emotions, marks the start of this full-length album in compelling style. The foreboding ‘Coventry’ (not about that one, although…) is full of self-loathing and hanging by the barest of threads only to be surpassed in the emotion stakes with the desperate escapism of ‘The Graduate’. Where ‘An Autobiography’ differs from several of its contemporaries’ efforts, however, is the scope and vision given to songs ‘Show Me How You Self-Destruct’, which allows for a differing tempo and instrumentation as does the enthralling structure of ‘I Still Think About Who I Was Last Summer’ giving the impression that Old Gray will be confronted without difficulties when it comes to developing their sound for album number two.


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Random Access Memories

Daft Punk

Columbia

Daft Punk returns after a lengthy absence of some eight years with ‘Random Access Memories’, the band’s fourth studio album, which has been causing much discussion within various media circles. The reason for such hot debate is due to the French duo’s innovative thinking that has redefined pop and electronic music, as well as leaving a lasting impression with their unique videos captured best with the unforgettable ‘down on his luck’ of ‘Da Funk’. ‘Random Access Memories’ will continue these discussions as it certainly lives up to its pre-billing with the catchy disco of single ‘Get Lucky’, to the slowed tempo of ‘The Game of Love’ replete with its electronic vocal and closing refrain ‘I just wanted you to stay’ recalling the album’s thematic. It is the breadth of musicality present throughout ‘Random Access Memories’ that truly impresses, running a scale from funk/disco, indie-esque electro-pop (‘Instant Crush’) to completely outrageous theatre dramatics (‘Touch’) and therefore providing a wonderful kaleidoscopic of sounds literally plucked from the memory banks of Daft Punk. ‘Random Access Memories’ is the sound of a band once more leading the way.


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Bright Sunny South

Sam Amidon

Nonesuch Records

There is an honest confession parting from the lips of Sam Amidon and that being his debut ‘Bright Sunny South’ on Nonesuch Records is “a lonesome record”. Nothing could be further from the truth as ‘Bright Sunny South’ gives the impression of Amidon sitting alone in a deserted, ramshackle barn somewhere deep in the countryside as he strings together these beautifully complex folk songs of sparse arrangements. True, songs detail issues concerning fears of dying and the unfortunate spectacle of war, but elsewhere unrequited love and a burning sense of longing permeate throughout. Despite such sensitive subject matter, ‘Bright Sunny South’ is a beautiful album that slowly comes to its senses with the delicate opening breeze of keys and acoustic guitar of the title track as the revelations of war come into full focus. The light touches of jazz instrumentation continue the journey during ‘I Wish I Wish’, whereas ‘Short Life’ has a putrid scent of unfortunate times gone by. The mood is lifted, musically, somewhat from its knees with ‘My Old Friend’, possessing a lovely set of intertwining melodies, only to resume to the singular once more, despite its riled finale of distorted guitars, with the beyond bleak confessions ‘He’s Taken My Feet’. Sam Amidon has produced a profoundly beautiful and accomplished body of work that deserves to be heard by more than just the minority because ‘Bright Sunny South’ is a magnificent introduction to hopefully a long-lasting career.


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Thorn In My Heart

Kim Richey

Lojinx

There is a great openness about Kim Richey not only in her music but also in the quest for new inspiration, something of which is reflected in her latest album ‘Thorn In My Heart’. A recurring sense of longing for change in the surroundings appears to be the dominant force at work here, with the seats permanently nailed down in songs such as the lovely mid-tempo and ‘Til Tuesday-esque ‘Come On’, attempting to rid the devil from the protagonist’s back, to the restrained banjo strum of ‘Something More’ that literally daydreams itself away. Loneliness is personified in ‘London Town’, and compounded to great effect with the drifting smoke of an intermittent horn, only to be supplanted by the melancholic beauty ‘Love Is’. Such phrases as a ‘return to form’ are utterly redundant when it comes to Kim Richey as ‘Thorn In My Heart’ is merely an extension of a great canon of work. Welcome back!


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Mama’s Back

Ruby Ann

Rhythm Bomb

It is not difficult to comprehend why Ruby Ann is one of German-based record label Rhythm Bomb’s top earners when hearing the wondrous vocals and authentic musicianship stemming from ‘Mama’s Back’. The belting R&B influenced ‘Call His Name’ sets the tone admirably but more notably for revealing the ace in the pack with Ruby Ann’s nothing short of compelling vocal delivery. In fact, it’s hard to differentiate between time periods throughout the entirety of the album as one literally feels transported back to a fifties era when things were perhaps a little simpler (‘I’ll Never Get Rich’) due to the authenticity of ‘Mama’s Back’. With leading contenders for such assertions being the chugging rockabilly ‘Do Right Mama’, ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ and defiant ‘No I Won’t Cry’, one can at least rest in the comfort that artists such as Ruby Ann is one of the forerunners for replicating a retro sound but within a modern framework of original material. With a new album set for release on the not-too-distant horizon, Ruby Ann will no doubt be securing more deserved success when that time is upon us. In the meantime, bask in the retro glory of ‘Mama’s Back’.


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London With The Lights On

Stooshe

Warner Music Norway

Spilling forth in glorious fashion, London-based three-piece Stooshe reveal their debut album to be something of considerable depth, setting it high above sea level of the overpopulated run-of-the-mill formula of girl bands. ‘London With The Lights On’ is anything but formulaic as Stooshe open up their world in a sassy ‘Supremes-esque ‘Slip’ and complimented with the quasi-Motown sounding ‘Love Me’, complete with spoken worded exchanges between band members and in the process revealing their sense of humour in the broadest of London accents. The knockout blow arrives, however, with the sublime ‘Black Heart’ showing the girls can play it straight and oh boy, what a song! At your own peril, avoid prejudging Stooshe on face value as you will leave severely empty-handed because ‘London With The Lights On’ is a glorious treasure-trove of stunningly good songs.


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Secondhand Rapture

MS MR

Sony

‘Secondhand Rapture’ could very well be a contender for album of the year if it were not for sounding like the smaller sibling of an already established act. Right from the off former single, and opening track, ‘Hurricane’ tugs at the senses with its pendulum beats and confessional lyrics delivered in a near detached execution and setting the stall out for a promising encounter. However, this is where the problem lies, despite being a more than solid effort, as nearly the majority of the album has more than a whiff of prime Florence & the Machine about it. This is something MS MR will have to get used to as ‘Bones’, ‘Ash Tree Lane’, ‘Head Is Not My Home’ et al prise up this more than worthy comparison and while there is nothing wrong with that, it just feels that the world is not in dire need of this right now which, unfortunately, the album’s title adequately sums up.


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Mother

Natalie Maines

Sony

Being one of the former vocalists of country-pop outfit the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines decision to embark on a solo career would always be a tough challenge to undertake considering the success of her previous band. Fortunately, for all concerned, the end results are to be admired. Ditching the country guitars for a more gritty approach comprising of a mixture of covers and original compositions, Maines has crafted a fine solo album. With co-production duties coming from Ben Harper, ‘Mother’ also leans on the songwriting talents of Eddie Vedder whose ‘Without You’ is trademark latter-day Pearl Jam, despite being a solo effort, and Maines does not do it any disservice. In fact, there is no hiding when it comes to Maines’ decision-making as the choice of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ slightly misses the mark whereas title track, and Pink Floyd song, ‘Mother’ more than makes up for the lacklustre of the previous song. After a seven-year absence from the music industry, it’s hoped that Natalie Maines does not wait another seven years for her next creative foray because ‘Mother’ is as good as any place to start a solo excursion.


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Annie Up

Pistol Annies

Sony

Pistol Annies open up with the blues tinged ‘I Feel A Sin Comin’ On’ that is all finger clicks, gorgeous harmonious vocals and more than a little suggestive in its desires. From this sultry opener it’s business as usual as the country roots branch out with the addictive country-pop of ‘Hush Hush’, nicely followed by the pressures of the daily routine of trying to look presentable ‘Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty’, and further complimented in nature with the unfortunate reality that plagues some relationships ‘Unhappily Married’ compellingly told in its darkly humorous trade-offs. There is some contentment to be found here, however, as the Steve Earle influenced ‘Loved By A Workin’ Man’ reveals that the male species has its charms only for the absorbing and beautifully executed ‘Blues, You’re A Buzzkill’ to bring the mood back down and revert to type once more. Difficult second album syndrome is definitely not a part of Pistol Annies’ vocabulary as ‘Annie Up’ is deserving of the highest plaudits.


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What I Saw

Maia Hirasawa

Sony

By some transcontinental journey, Maia Hirasawa’s ‘What I Saw’ landed in the lap of FLW and what a stroke of good fortune that was due to being completely dumbfounded by the quality of the eleven glorious indie electropop and ballad-esque ditties on display. Hooked from the beginning with the irresistible emotional pull of ‘You’ that lives long in the memory even after the events of the unreciprocated love has fizzled out, Maia Hirasawa has a knack of constructing infectious melodies whether shifting tempo with the more upbeat ‘Lights Out’ or coming back down again with the sparse offerings of ‘Still Think Of It’. There is definitely talent at work here, and ‘What I Saw’ is one of those rare unexpected finds that will still have a place in your heart in some years to come.


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Take A Look At The World (single)

Ralph Myerz

Sony

Preceding forthcoming album ‘Supersonic Pulse’, Ralph Myerz offers a timely reminder of his craftsmanship with the persuasive dance tones of ‘Take A Look At The World’. There is, however, a darker undercurrent to this floor-filler not in the sense of the bleakness projected by many an indie band but more in conjunction with a notion of time running out. Incorporating the electronic pop nuances of fellow Norwegian Annie into the mix reveals further astuteness as her almost ethereal shades perfectly compliment the driving beats. ‘Take A Look At The World’ is a promising precursor to hopefully an even more promising long player.


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Tidal Lock

Old Soul

Dog Knights Productions

As first impressions go, don’t be dissuaded by the artwork because Old Soul muster up a guitar fest that is as epic as it is dense. Despite being only four songs in length, the opening sprawl of ‘Ethereal Faultless’ is a perfect example of this grand vision as it stretches for little over ten minutes. With ‘Tidal Lock’ being Old Soul’s third output, clearly the Michigan band has progressed their sound considerably as there is a painstaking attention to detail as second in line ‘Ghost Incomplete’ is full of claustrophobic rage before fizzing out into obscurity. The complex structure of ‘Paradigm Pendulum’ is awe-inspiring in its audaciousness, and the final declaration of ‘Watermouth Mirage’ burns out in a raging intensity leaving one to ponder the merits of ‘Tidal Lock’ and the realisation that they will take some beating.



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