ALBUM REVIEW: Aldous Harding – Designer

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Aldous Harding
Designer
4Ad / Remote Control

Aldous Harding’s artistic trajectory continues to billow skyward on her third album, the second produced by John Parish for the 4AD label. Long gone is the stark and fragile folk of her debut, though it still lurks under the surface of what is now lush and detailed avant chanteuse pop music.

The quirkiness of Harding’s vocal delivery has always been debated but it is a crucial component of what makes her music so compelling. She’s dialled it back on this album, ironing out some of the quirks and as a result the overall impact of this record feels slightly diluted. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of highlights. Early on, the title track is a light tripping affair with a brief chorus that dismantles the flow and gentle funk feel (reminiscent of Devendra Banhart) before it resumes for a summery run to the end of a song that seems to question the retention and spark of creativity. 

Baroque psych folk sounds enhance much of the record and come courtesy of woodwind instruments on songs such as ‘Zoo Eyes’ while ‘Treasure’ draws Harding’s vocals to the foreground. It’s good to see that the focus remains on Harding and her voice and that any temptation to make thing bigger and busier have, for the most part, been resisted.

First single ‘The Barrel’ is prime Harding with its almost hip hop backbeat over a brass sounding instrument and piano, which features widely across Designer. The song deals in issues of conformity, settling down and having parameters placed on one’s situation. Much of the album seems to one of questioning and doubt, looking for a strong moral compass to guide one through the vagaries and vulnerabilities of life. “I don’t know how to behave” Harding sings on the exquisite closer ‘Pilot’. Riding on a Tears For Fears melody and a bare piano she intones her concerns and fears. It may be decorated in almost theatrical avant-folk details but it’s a remarkably bold statement to end another strong and intriguing album from the New Zealand songwriter.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Bensnburner – Meanwhile

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Deep rhythms, warm tones and hypnotic glitches collide with hypnotic synth mantras and smears of post-rock guitar on this track from German composer Bensnburner. It comes from his new album (late September release) which was recorded in an empty 400 square metre hangar with a 30 metre high ceiling that created a seven second reverb.

NEW MUSIC: Orion’s Belte – Cherchez La Ghost

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It’s hard to ignore the killer groove and minimal exotic funk of this track from Norwegian trio Orion’s Belte. They released their debut album Mint last year and have already followed it up with the EP Slim in 2019.

‘Cherchez La Ghost’ is their brilliant take on the Ghostface Killah track, mixing a great breakbeat with effect-laden pedal steel and an nervous twitch of a magical low-slung bass-line.

NEW MUSIC: Rhian Sheehan – Last Time We Spoke

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New Zealand musician and ambient/electronic composer Rhian Sheehan has built a name for himself with nearly a dozen releases plus a wealth of soundtrack work and appearances on numerous compilations.

Fans of Nils Frahm will appreciate the nuance and blending of organic and synthetic elements in this piece. The way it pushes and pulls with it’s drifting piano melodies and mechanically-inclined rhythmic pulse.

‘Last Time We Spoke’ comes from Sheehan’s most recent album A Quiet Divide. He’s also composed the original score for the just-released Capcom Go!: The Apollo Story, an immersive 3D Planetarium Dome show documentary that showcases the historical achievements of the Apollo program and what it took to put the first human on the Moon.

ALBUM REVIEW: Lambchop – This (is what I wanted to tell you)

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Lambchop
This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You)
Merge Records

The band Lambchop is a very different beast these days, compared to a decade ago when they numbered up to 12 members with more of a conventional country soul sound. Now Lambchop is essentially Kurt Wagner with a small coterie of collaborators – a much more intimate proposition yet still possessing the gorgeous and hypnotic Lambchop qualities that have always been at the heart of their deeply soulful, emotive and intellectual music.

With compadres Matt Swanson (bass), Tony Crow (bass) and Matthew McCaughan (of Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger) who co-wrote and produced the album, the band further refine the sound that first took shape on Mr. M (2016) and then blossomed into new eclectic pastures on the synth and auto-tune affected FLOTUS in 2016. Those new explorations are still embedded in the music on this record but there’s a leanness and a barer framework to these songs. You can hear the trademark melancholy via Wagner’s voice and the generally downbeat tone of the music but the songs are filtered through jazz, hip hop, future soul and the kind of avant-pop sounds that people like Scritti Politti, David Sylvian and Mark Hollis of Talk Talk developed.

Wagner’s way with words still shines through these lush textures, his devastating way of making seemingly simple phrases carry additional weight. It’s in his somnambulant delivery, the heavy use of effects on his voice but most importantly it’s the words themselves that carry the greatest weight and air of curiosity. “I’m in a Mexican restaurant bar, watching surfing and it’s amazing” he sings on ‘The Air Is Heavy And I Should Be listening To You’ and on ‘The You Isn’t So New Anymore’ he simply states “Michael Jackson just informed me that Santa Claus is coming to town”.

Wagner is firmly in his post-country phase, maybe he’s really always been there. Regardless, he’s a relentlessly inventive songwriter who is as devoted to sound, texture and atmosphere as he is to the lyrical possibilities of his poetry.

Chris Familton

 

NEW MUSIC: PCM – Ma

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Some hypnotic ambient composition to round out the week on Doubtful Sounds. PCM is an Italian ambient trio comprised of musicians Francesco Perra (P), Matteo Cantaluppi (C), Matteo Milea (M). They’ve come together to record this non-album single ‘Ma’, ahead of a full-length release. It shimmers and drifts, it’s aqueous and cloud-like in the way it moves and transitions gently across nearly eight hypnotic minutes.

Matteo Cantaluppi probably most known for his independent pop production duties has released, as a musician, a symphonic-ambient album with Baffo Banfi (“Biglietto per l’Inferno” founding member and Klaus Schulze’s collaborator) called “Frontera.” Francesco Perra is an ambient musician who often utilizes the guitar for his rich soundscapes. He’s published 3 albums, Music to Disappear (Idealmusik), The Neptune Sessions (Clubland Records), and Soundscape Box 1 (Tranquillo Records) under the name of Perry Frank. Matteo Milea is a sound engineer and sound designer who is also responsible for the trio’s art direction, giving visual representation to PCM’s liquid sounds.

 

NEW MUSIC: Champ Major – Enjoy

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Madison Major of Brooklyn, New York is Champ Major, an experimental folk artist who’s aesthetic is one of creating a sonic environment to match her songs and stories. In the case of ‘Enjoy’ from her EP Receipe For Baking Two Humans Together, it’s a thick and foggy sound, akin to a radio transmission from a distant time and place. Acoustic guitar and a yearning voice is all Champ Major needs to convey her imagery and emotions.

NEW MUSIC: Obstacle – Unknown Number

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Obstacle are a USA trio comprised of Annie Murnighan (Found Object), Elias Jarzombek, and Amos Damroth (AJE). They’ve only been around for a year and a half but they already have three digital releases under their belt, including this latest one ‘Unknown Number’. It’s a track that runs its sounds through murky ominous filters with heavily treated and unrecognisable vocals and really interesting rhythms and hyperactive percussive programming. It’s electronic music for the headphones and the feet, conveying a sense of playfulness while still lurking in the shadows of the dance floor.