Paul Littlewood

Today/Television

The new two-tracker from Sheffield's Paul Littlewood dispenses with the arch obliquity characteristic of recent singer-songwriters, favouring a musical and lyrical straightforwardness that matches the release’s simple title. 'Television' begins with a chugging and chiming beat before opening out into a wider, guitar-driven thump, with Littlewood lamenting how “television blew my brains out... no more reading.”

‘Today’ is more reflective, a paean to the rare treat of just feeling okay. “Today, time was moving slow,” Littlewood sings, over slowly strummed guitar and a lazy Sunday morning beat, as if recording in bed.

“I thought I’d feel the same as I did yesterday,” he begins, in a line whose effectiveness is born of its simplicity, before concluding that, “It didn’t turn out that way: I woke up feeling good.” The tune concludes by drifting into a lyrical locked groove, backed by the Beta Band-like mantra: “Say it again: I woke up feeling good.”

Sam Gregory

We Are Scientists

Megaplex

Just when you thought you had heard everything that We Are Scientists have to offer, enter Megaplex, their sixth studio album. A feat in itself, to be 18 years into the game and still making new music, the record plays with new and exciting ideas while still maintaining a sound we all know and love.

Like so many others, We Are Scientists have taken a dip into the technological advances of music, experimenting with more synth-led tracks and the concept of VR for the music video of the first single, ‘One In, One Out’. But rather than release a full album of electronic music, these tracks are interlaced with more typical guitar-fronted rock songs, a favourite being the punchy ‘Your Light Has Changed’ for its heavy intro.

The album has a really even spread of fast and slow, serious and more light-hearted material, giving you a complete and well-rounded piece of art. Having chosen these ten tracks out of a pool of nearly 100 they’d shortlisted for the album, you can be sure that any filler was eliminated and that every track is there for a reason.

I don’t think I can pick a favourite sound from this eclectic album and I’m relieved that the electronic twist has only added to their brilliant catalogue of music. As always, they are touring the album and hit Sheffield at the Academy on 13 May, so don’t miss out.

Tasha Franek

Arandel

Turbatrix 

The sublabel of Sheffield’s CPU Records returns with its first release of 2018 by the aloof French artist Arandel. Sharing its name with CPU’s mastering house and club night, Computer Club is much less prolific than its bigger sibling and has in the past aimed to explore the more edgy spaces and walkways within electronic music. The eighth release is a four-track digital and vinyl outing that moves from 'Locus I' to 'Locus III', with an ambient version of the latter added for good measure. 

'Locus III' and its ambient excursion prove to be the highlights of the EP, as harmonic choral sounds drift in and out of a subtle but effective warehouse groove. At times it feels like a TB-303 bass is about to unleash itself as the track teases the listener, before breaking down into a steamy interlude, followed by bringing the kicks and percussion back in with full effect. The ambient mix strides comfortably between some of Germany’s 1970s ambient innovators and the post-rave comedown of the likes of Pete Namlook. 

At times haunting but always beautiful, more releases need stripped down, laid-back moments like this in 2018. 'Locus I' is a very credible piece of Detroit/Berlin-inspired techno that bounces along before building up the tension with high-voltage claps and hi-hats. The second of the four tracks, 'Locus II' is the EP’s most frantic of moments, with reverberating bleeps and bass lines competing for your attention. Ignore at your peril.

Andy Tattersall

Alexis Taylor

Beautiful Thing

For fans of Hot Chip, Alexis Taylor's solo offering Beautiful Thing will torment and tantalise in equal measure. Offering a range of eclectic sounds amid a rainbow of colour, songs like ‘Dreaming Another Life’ will put you in a relaxed state of mind akin to Caribou or Four Tet, before leading you elsewhere with livelier, wackier numbers like ‘Oh Baby’.

Taylor's gift lies in not over-reaching, making highly enjoyable and accessible records, while still being sufficiently loopy to appeal to fans of Panda Bear and Animal Collective. Beautiful Thing is a sufficiently chilled-out record to be a great listen after getting in from a night out, or for shuffling your feet to as the club night comes to a close.

The title track in particular echoes the eighties with its groove-led sound. Taylor is clearly making the most of his synth, knowing his way round it to the nth degree, demonstrating this again on ‘Suspicious Of Me’. Unlike the sheer danceability of Hot Chip’s albums, however, the resounding impression of this release is that of a calmer, more soothing record, and some of the vocals are reminiscent of Thom Yorke during the quieter moments. Ultimately, Taylor’s fourth solo foray is a resounding success, and one which is sure to appeal to fans of groups like the Pet Shop Boys, as well as Hot Chip.

Jordan Ingram

Before Breakfast

Sticky Sweet

Before Breakfast are the best new band in Sheffield, with this startlingly good debut EP providing all the justification that this statement needs. Perhaps you’re one of the 40,000 who’ve seen the powerfully optimistic video for their debut single, ‘Fat Child’, last year and already know. If not, you’re in for a treat. 

They’re a quartet of singers and instrumentalists. Their voices, led from the front by the irrepressible Gina Walters, blend into a beautifully unified sound over the simple yet effervescent accompaniment of piano, bass and cello. The songs are full of rich detail, emotion and depth. They’re complex, but never weighed down by it.

Lyrically, they’re a force to be reckoned with, each song brimming with potent metaphor and imagery. The message of the songs seems utterly vital. There’s a powerful feminist thread running through each, with themes of body positivity and empowerment, but also doubt and insecurity. Each song left me with more questions than answers, feeling like there was so much more to explore and new depths to find. 

The songwriting is open and accessible, the strong melodies immediate and memorable, but as with the lyrics you’ll hear new details in the virtuosic cello lines and hypnotic piano chords each time you listen. Not for the first time, Nicholas Alexander’s production is flawless, using organic sounds as percussion. He’s written a fascinating blog on the production process.

I’m utterly bowled over by how good this EP is and so excited that it’s born of the Sheffield music scene.

Ben Eckersley

Hundred Year Old Man

Breaching

A sludge metal all-dayer on a drizzly afternoon in Scunthorpe is hardly a setting synonymous with life-affirming experiences, but it was there that Hundred Year Old Man tore down the upper echelons of possibility and asserted themselves as champions of volume. Such is the monolithic ability of Hundred Year Old Man, and such is the dark and unending quality of their debut album, Breaching.

Fitting with their black-and-white aesthetic, HYOM’s debut is hauntingly dynamic, capturing the likes of Neurosis at their most unforgiving, while interspersing calm reflections of guitar soaked in reverb and cinematic samples.

The album is, overall, lyrically unintelligible, though that is not a disparaging remark, as the nature of vocalist Paul Broughton’s presence relies on just that: presence. Rather than paint a picture with words, his tormented cries serve as a final layer to an immense wall of sound, giving the post-metal machine an agonising human quality. While their approach is hardly new to the genre, it's nevertheless post-metal at its most emotionally visceral.

HYOM have developed a refined sonic quality which truly excels in the live arena and as such is both a blessing and a curse. For bands of such ferocity, encapsulating the primal experience of so distinguished a live performance would take an impossible execution, and this LP demands great volume to reach such euphoric heights. Truly though, that is a testament to the destructive vigour this band exude. It is an experience only matched by the universe devouring itself.

Nick Gosling

Laura Veirs

The Lookout

Laura Veirs returns with The Lookout, an attractive and charming collection of tracks that range from the touching to the forgettable. It comes on the back of the resounding success of her contribution to 2016’s superb case/lang/veirs, but so distinctive was the supergroup sound established on that album that most of Veirs’ latest efforts feel faintly reductive. An unshakeable dissatisfaction with the absence of those other voices – k.d. lang and Neko Case – looms large within the soundscape.

‘Seven Falls’ gets the closest to reclaiming this sound. An intriguing opening glides into gorgeous two-part harmonies, which Veirs wades into with unflinching confidence. Her voice swoops and soars, and all the melodies click together. “How can a child of the sun be so cold?” she wonders gracefully. It’s all so effortless. Elsewhere, the breezy, pretty opener, ‘Margaret Sands’, has a mystical quality, and there’s the faintest glimmer of a trap beat steadying the curious ‘Everybody Needs You’. 

And yet, there’s the creeping feeling that something’s been lost in translation. It’s startling every now and again – the muffled electric guitars of ‘The Canyon’ rescue the wandering track at the midway point – but there’s an elusiveness that saturates the album’s second half. The biggest disappointment, ’Watch Fire’, is an initially thrilling Sufjan Stevens collaboration that ultimately feels conservative compared to what these two well-suited and talented artists could get away with. The trance, quietly broken, leaves Veirs standing helpless in its place.

Ethan Hemmati

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Sex & Food

Who knew Unknown Mortal Orchestra could pull yet another success out of the bag? Bands with distinctive sounds are undoubtedly at risk of stagnating, reproducing more of what is typically 'them', but failing to change things up. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sound is clearly recognisable on Sex & Food, while at the same time bringing something fresh and exciting.

The rockiness of ‘American Guilt’, the album’s first single, has certainly provoked some scepticism about the band’s faithfulness to their style. But fans shouldn’t be phased by that or the album’s opening tracks, ‘A God Called Hubris’ and ‘Major League Chemicals’, which also push into rock territory.

‘Ministry of Alienation’ soon lures you in with its jangly, lilting guitar and whammy bar bends. ‘Hunnybee’ is equally intriguing, with a beautiful orchestral introduction leading into a Ruban Nielson-focused R&B piece. Another change of direction takes us off-piste and into ‘Chronos Feasts On His Children’ which, despite its dark title, is a sweet and simple acoustic number. The penultimate track emphasises what songwriter Nielson is best at. He avoids sensationalising love and relationships, ensuring that we recognise what we’re really feeling: “We’re not in love / We’re just high.”

Nielson has been known to experiment with new environments to explore their effects on his creativity. From Reykjavik to Mexico City to Hanoi, Nielson’s extensive travels for this album certainly fostered something special. I can’t wait to hear where he'll take us next.

Jennifer Martino