MusicRadar new album round-up
Welcome to May's edition of our monthly album review feature. Again we've taken a quick look at some of our favourite musical treats scheduled for release over the coming weeks. We'll kick things off with a record that's been sounding lovely on our office stereo in the sun over the past couple of weeks...
First up: Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
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Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
The much-acclaimed, Seattle-based alt-folk band return with a second album.
At this juncture, it would be all too easy for Fleet Foxes to stumble and fall victim to the proverbial ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. The band’s 2008 debut was a fully-formed modern classic; a timeless, sun-drenched folk record packed with harmonies beatific enough to make Crosby, Stills & Nash blush.
Happily, it doesn’t take long for Helplessness Blues to show its hand. Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold has admitted that the process behind this album was a protracted one, beset by doubt and procrastination, yet the result is a work of staggering confidence and beauty even more accessible and ambitious than its predecessor.
There are obvious reference points in the hazy acid folk of the more experimental end of Simon & Garfunkel’s back catalogue and the more pastoral work of Neil Young and Van Morrison, not to mention the daring arrangements of Smile-era Brian Wilson. But to dissect Helplessness Blues is to miss the point; this is a record to bathe in, to sink into and to absorb into every pore. Chris Vinnicombe
Listen: Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Hyetal - Broadcast
Hyetal is a fast-rising dance producer from Bristol. Broadcast is his debut album.
Hyetal - aka Bristol-resident David Corney - has crafted a debut album that excellently mixes a sense of nostalgia with a forward thinking production style. Right from the opening drone of first track Ritual it’s obvious that ‘80s synth sounds - particularly the sort associated with the soundtrack work of John Carpenter - play a major role throughout Broadcast.
That’s not to say that Broadcast is a particularly retro album, there are high production values throughout and everything is arranged with a in a very modern style - particularly on dancefloor-ready numbers like Beach Scene and former single Phoenix. Searchlight, meanwhile, combines very modern styled, filtered vocal effects with glittering synths and a ‘90s sounding vocal sample.
Broadcast is also a very ‘Bristolian’ sounding album, in many ways being an obvious relative of the ‘purple sound’ output of other recently lauded Bristolian producers like Guido and Joker. Modern r'n'b and hip-hop influences sit comfortably next to Hyetal's retro tendencies creating a strong, interesting debut with a lot to offer.
Listen: Hyetal - Phoenix
Wild Beasts - Smother
Wild Beasts are an indie-rock band from the Lake District town of Kendal. Their previous album, 2009’s much-acclaimed Two Dancers, was nominated for the 2010 Mercury Prize. Smother is their third full-length album.
More so than a lot of indie bands in the UK right now, Wild Beasts have managed to carve-out and perfect a truly individual sound for themselves. The most instantly obvious element of this is the theatrical falsetto of lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe, yet beneath the surface the band have some fairly unique musical tricks going on.
As on Two Dancers the band do a great job of exploring interesting rhythmic devices, such as the rolling percussion on Reach A Bit Further, the pulsing synthesiser line of opener Lion’s Share or the cleverly interlocking melodic lines of lead single Albatross.
Smother is a much more laid-back, moody affair than its predecessors. On tracks like Plaything the band’s atmospheric synthesised and electronic parts play a bigger role than they have in the past, but the band manage this without compromising any of the feeling in their music or losing their ‘natural’ sound.
This is the sound of a talented band reaching maturity in terms of their songwriting and playing abilities without losing any of the elements that made them exciting in the first place. Smother could well end up being one of the best indie albums of the year.
Listen: Wild Beasts - Albatross
Beastie Boys - Hot sauce Committee Part Two
The high-energy rap veterans return with their much-delayed eighth album.
As they quickly reach their mid-forties you can’t help but feel that by now we have to take the Beastie Boys’ threats - on Nonstop Disco Powerpack - that they’re going to “rock the house ‘til the break of dawn” with a pinch of salt.
Of course, we’re not ones for ageism here at MusicRadar, and the loss of one’s youth by no means equates to a loss of musical ability. Although it is fair to say that the Beastie Boys have been in ‘the game’ for some time now, and almost inevitably a lot of their appeal these days lies in nostalgia value.
In terms of production Hot Sauce… relies heavily on ‘90s-sounding drum breaks and old-fashioned turntabalism, and what efforts have been made to update the Boys’ sound - mainly through Vocoder-type vocal effects - tend to fall a little flat.
That said, nostalgia value isn’t such a bad thing, and if nothing else Hot Sauce… is a reminder of what made the Beastie Boys so popular in the first place - a punk-rock attitude towards hip-hop, a sense of humour and (even at this age) a lot of energy. The best moments here - the witty rhymes of Here’s A Little Something For Ya and the inevitable punk blast of Lee Majors Come Again, for example - are a nice flashback to the Beastie Boys’ past achievements. That is, however, the best we can hope for it seems.
Listen: Beastie Boys - Lee Majors Come Again
The Keys - Bitten By Wolves
Cardiff-based indie rock combo who count among UK indie's finest hidden treasures.
Cardiff-based combo The Keys have too long been one of UK indie's best-kept secrets, despite a stack of high-profile admirers and origins in the ashes of the wonderful Murry The Hump.
Throughout 37 minutes of psych-pop wonderment, Bitten By Wolves draws on the late 1960s for inspiration but is so much more than a mere nostalgia trip, fusing elements of The Kinks, Spiritualized, Dylan, Can and more into an assured sound that is distinctly their own.
With an organic warmth and tape hiss aplenty, the band’s timeless melodic songwriting sensibilities are framed by instrumentation that ranges from combustible fuzztones to effortlessly pretty guitar lines courtesy of creative interplay between Gwion Rowlands and frontman Matthew Evans.
The Keys may be a cult concern for now, but there are more than enough hooks here to leave the bands in the heavyweight division of British guitar pop bruised, bloodied and embarrassed. Chris Vinnicombe