The Flaming Lips.

The Terror.
Bella Union.

Reviewer - Paul Robson.

"Weird", "quirky" and "bizarre" are all words that have been used to describe The Flaming Lips. Yet after 30 years and 15 albums they are still pushing boundaries and delivering music that is strangely captivating. Their new record The Terror finds them embracing a much more stark and bleak musical vision - no bubblegum pop or psychedelic melodies delivered with gleeful optimism. They have instead chosen to use repetitive drones and melancholic vocals that create a dark and bewitching experience.

Unlike their last full length album Embryonic, which felt like a collection of unrelated jams, The Terror has a narrative that threads through the entire record. Its subject matter explores the unknown, and this message is fittingly expressed by the album cover, which depicts a figure resting on the ground staring deep into the sun. The Flaming Lip's genius has always lain in Wayne Coyne's ability to speak honestly about human emotions. Even when their music has taken on flights of fantasy, his down-to-earth words and off-kilter rasp have kept the music accessible.

In working with long-time collaborator and producer David Fridmann they have created a suite that fuses rumbling basslines, screeching feedback and squelching keyboard sounds. Although there are individual tracks, the album works better as an atmospheric and insular whole. Sounds pan and sweep from left to right, adding to the feeling of anxiety and tension.

Another noticeable difference from their past releases is that Coyne's vocals are buried more within the mix. His voice is used as a way to help soften the moments of harsh guitar feedback on songs like 'Turning Violent' and 'Always There...In Our Hearts'. Where The Flaming Lips have always shown an affinity for Beach Boys inspired melodies and psychedelic rock, The Terror's centre-piece 'You Lust' has similarities to the krautrock of Neu! and Kraftwerk. A 13-minute epic built on a repetitive bassline and unsettling vocal samples, it somehow manages to be strangely compelling and hypnotic.

The Flaming Lips have always created records that take the listener's imagination to the outer reaches of the stratosphere, but this one is concerned with the subconscious. Some might argue that their best work is behind them or that they have become self indulgent, but they can never be accused of being predictable.

Djrum.

Seven Lies.
2nd Drop Records.

Reviewer - Aidan Daly.

In April last year, Djrum featured as part of the Resident Advisor weekly mix series. Rather than being a uniform progression of songs, the 45-minute long piece was a complex and beautiful soundscape, described by RA as "a soundtrack to an imaginary film". This apt description sums up perfectly the sound that Felix Manuel has offered to the world of electronic music. His productions refuse to sit still, incorporating aspects of dub, techno, garage, hip hop and jungle, seasoned with ambient effects and quirky samples from old films.

Manuel's distinctive brand of cinematic, expressive music found widespread acclaim with the release of the Mountains EP for 2nd Drop Records in 2011. Heralded by musical contemporaries such as Giles Peterson and T++ as one of the best electronic releases of that year, it was followed in the same vein by Watermark in 2012. Given the quality and impact of these two releases, it is no surprise that Djrum's debut album has been so hotly anticipated. This month sees the release of Seven Lies on the record label that gave Manuel his deserved reputation.

Seven Lies comes packaged with all the expected hallmarks of Manuel's productions - yearning pitched vocals, antique string samples and colourful splashes of melody throughout. Most of the tunes clock in above the six-minute mark, but repetition is not a concept to be found in abundance on this album. Characteristically of Djrum, the songs transform and elaborate, nuanced and subtle in character. Tempos shift, percussive and melodic elements build and then fall away. Highlights include 'Honey', which appeared on his RA mix. Unfolding, broken percussion sits underneath a canvas of vocals and Manuel's trademark strings. Opener 'Obsession' uses dub chords and a half-time techno beat to produce a brooding, moody atmosphere. But Manuel doesn't forget about the dance floor - 'Arcana (Do I Need You)' provides a bit of 2-step energy amidst an otherwise fairly laid-back album.

Djrum's sound is difficult, near impossible to put into a box, and why should we bother? Many producers are heralded for their versatility and ability to travel between genres with each new production, but Manuel successfully manages to create a sound that is his own by consolidating many different genres into every piece of music he writes, each one its own project. His productions transcend the conventional notion of genre to produce tracks that are much greater than the sum of their parts, an effect that is not lost on this album.

Natural Self.

Neon Hurts My Eyes.
Tru Thoughts.

Reviewer - Simon Bell.

Producer, vocalist and DJ Nathaniel Pearn has pulled off a wistful, quirky electronic montage of sound and rhythms. The clicks, pops and gurgling musical bit parts thrum, hum and hiss around smooth vocals and phased harmonies. Neon Hurts My Eyes, to the uninitiated, is not easy listening and it takes a few turns to follow the direction the music ultimately and persuasively takes you. It is most definitely worth it. Pearn is a clever and imaginative orchestrator of multiple layers of sound collage. He drops auditory information in the mix when least expected. There are pulsating rhythmic hooks that carry you along on a fizz of synthesized energy surges.

Natural Self has found a way of blending melody with a playful, quizzical use of samples and cuts. The soundscape songs tease the listener with echoes of something vaguely vinyl (crackle and hiss) and funkadelic (claps and finger clicks), along with other musical nods and winks. It's often the considered application of the occasional cliché that reminds us of what makes great pop music. This album will wake up any complacent pop slumberer through Pearns experiments and mixing devices. He is able to get serious at the right moments, showing that flesh and blood can emerge renewed and energised despite being immersed in the mechanical and the digital.

The metropolis is a place that can certainly hurt the eyes and it's not only down to the neon. This album is like a stroll through a digital environment. You feel the static through which Pearn finds a way of prodding the senses and jangling feelings. My favourite track is 'An Invisible Light', falling midway through the tour. The rhythmic shuffle and pulsing bass pull you along as if quick marching you to the next musical destination. Eventually you will arrive at 'Paper Skyline', a moment of sanctuary, almost transcendent after the intensity of earlier tracks. You're finally out in the open after all that heavy architecture, data crunching and digital transmission.

Natural Self is a novel and evolving project. This new album is surprising and unique. Pearn's understated vocal is used instrumentally and you never get the impression he is trying to be a 'frontman'. His voice is modest, making it all the more effective as a new layer in the mix. Whether you are a seasoned follower of Natural Self or a newcomer, this album will give you plenty of innovative sounds to navigate with some great tunes and vocals to match.

Louis Romégoux.

Letters.
Self released.

Reviewer - Tasha Franek.

A folk fanatic born and raised in Sheffield, Louis Romégoux may have moved on to pastures new but we'll continue to chant 'Yorkshire' with pride as we count his brand new EP, Letters, as another local triumph. Drawing influences from both sides of his Franco-British dual heritage, Letters is a fine example of folk done well. The 6-track is an eclectic mix within its genre, showcasing everything from the upbeat and lively to the more traditional and familiar.

A good example of this is the title track, in which we are treated to a dynamic fusion of cultural influences, seemingly the essence of Romégoux's music. The contemporary feel of the song comes from the funky, soulful rhythm which, when paired with a playful melody, creates a Latin vibe that begs to be danced to. The second verse in French gives the song a more personal touch, whilst unavoidably evoking the sort of passion and sexuality which can only be created by the language of love. 'Lizard King' continues with the sensuality as Romégoux sings of "one night in Paris". Although much more traditional in its folk sound, this song still captures the same European heart, setting it aside from other similar UK-born folk artists.

'Love and Wine' and 'Miss Shadenfreude' reminded me of much of the popular folk of this century, particularly The Tallest Man on Earth and Johnny Flynn. Cutesy high-pitch, up-tempo guitar riffs paired with love ballad lyrics; the songs are current, catchy and very likeable. Tying the record up in a neat bow, Romégoux throws in a couple of pseudo-folk tracks for the traditionalists amongst us. The old and new are married in perfect quantities to create something that is both original and approachable.

This EP is a great little teaser of what is yet to come from Romégoux. I predict a full-length album will be on the cards soon enough. Although currently residing in Austria, Romégoux is set to announce his UK tour for this spring soon, so keep an eye on his website. I'm sure he will be swinging by his hometown in the not-too-distant future.

Cosmin TRG.

Gordian.
50Weapons.

Reviewer - Fred Oxby.

As the wave of dubstep finally broke, very few of its original exponents remained as firmly dedicated to the genre as they once were. Some moved towards 2-step, others towards dub, while others went further into the LFO-driven wobbles for which the genre is now best recognised. Others still, seeking the minimalism the style engendered before its commercial heyday, moved towards techno.

Cosmin TRG (formerly TRG) is one of the many producers who has exchanged his shuffled kicks and tweaked baselines for four-to-the-floor kicks and offbeat hats. His latest offering, Gordian, comes to us courtesy of the celestial 50Weapons imprint this month and one would be hard pressed to spot without prior knowledge that this Romanian ever dabbled in dubstep at all, such is the depth and quality of the techno he is now producing.

Musically, this is perhaps not worthy of the term 'innovation' so much as 'evolution'. While the basic rhythms on this record have been gracing speaker boxes of all shapes and sizes for decades now, Cosmin adds his own flair with a multitude of found sounds and organic percussion to detail his rhythms. He manages to engage without compromising the sparse, futuristic textures of his music. Warmth comes from a variety of pads, samples and synths, which despite largely being imitations from Chicago house and Detroit techno, have a twist of dub, with delays and reverbs giving them width and presence. The basses are hollow and poppy and fit perfectly.

TRG's sound is perhaps typified by the stunning 'Divided by Design', where the bass is secondary to swirling percussion and synths, and the driving low end of 'Noise Code', my personal favourite on this record. Tunes like the penultimate 'Vertigo' take the music more towards the dancefloor, with ricocheting snare patterns and harder kick drums, but never fail to deliver across the spectrum, with intriguing melodies throughout.

One of the qualities of really good dance music is that it is not limited to nightclubs and festivals, fuelling droves of party goers onwards in their nights of revelry. While a few of these tracks will no doubt already be in the record bags of many top DJs, there is material for the home listener here too. Gordian has left me unsurprised that Cosmin TRG is currently in such high demand to showcase his music in some of the best clubs and on some of the world's finest imprints.

Liane Carroll.

Ballads.
Quiet Money Recordings.

Reviewer - David Ellis.

Liane Carroll is a little like Diana Krall without the bitch, and it works for her. Ballads, released on 15th April, is practically malice free and consequently, extremely affecting.

From the off, Carroll's arresting vocal rises from the speaker in a soft smoke till it seems like you're breathing it in. This description can only give the slightest hint of the intimacy she invites over these 11 tracks. Even with a full orchestra behind her, masterfully arranged by Chris Walden, her voice peels up from the rest of the track, sticking only to the meaning of the lyric. 'You've Changed' holds the line "There's no need to tell me we're through". From someone else the delivery might have come sharpened with spite, but Carroll loosens the stiff upper lip, resigning herself to a letdown lover, and it's a stirring moment - one of many.

The other delight in these performances is how genuine they sound. True to form, Carroll mercifully sidesteps the all-too-common affliction which sees other modern jazz singers treat vowels as if they're a New Jersey cabbie. With a delightfully unmannered performance, most lyrics hit as sincere, believable episodes from her life. These could be her words, even if they do come from an offbeat selection of writers, including Buddy Holly and Carole King. Curiously despite their authorship, the songs are arranged and produced so well and her performances so nuanced and easy that pressing play feels like discovering a gem buried by time.

Ballads is aptly titled. The album is midnight blue, never lively but not lacking for this. It is a heartbreak record too, for the most part. Largely, it is a triumph in this. Perhaps the only fault is too much guitar, which makes much less of an impact than the delicate piano. The exception is 'Two Lovely People', which works into a gorgeous, fluttering guitar solo. Some songs do miss the mark though. The album starts on the wrong foot, and 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' has been more flatteringly interpreted.

So often it's said that a singer's voice is wonderful when it cracks and thins with emotion, but how much better when a vocal swells and grows rich when it chokes up. The most poignant moments on this record are also its finest and the arrangements build magnificently. These are endings to stop conversation and put pauses between breaths.

This is an album to listen to time over, to soundtrack your memories to. Forget your water, leave the rocks in the bucket - Ballads is a record to cut whiskey with.