Nope

Walker
The Audacious Art Experiment

Nope are a West Yorkshire supergroup of sorts. Comprised of members from That Fucking Tank, Hookworms, Cowtown and Mucky Sailor, their first album Revision was an impressive headlong plummet into the psychedelic side of alternative rock, melded with shoegaze-drizzled krautrock. Two years later, they return with their follow-up, Walker. As with their debut, Nope focus on Russell Hoban’s sci-fi novel Riddley Walker as their starting point, taking the “desolate, oppressive feel but with an underlying uplifting, optimistic vibe” and translating it into their music.

But Walker is a considerably more complex and thoughtful creature, the youthful exuberance and abandon of their debut giving way to a more dense, structured and experimental sound. Walker still has those soaring highs but here they are less prominent. The record feels more introspective and considered. Guitars replace drums as the driving force, and whilst the upbeat psych-rock edges remain, they are far less prevalent than on the previous release.

The titular track was conceived in collaboration with filmmaker Eoin Shea for last year’s Recon Festival. This partnership gave them licence to play with their sound, resulting in a multi-layered exploration which delves into the very essence of their music. Clocking in at 30 minutes and divided into two parts, it heralds a tonal progression which is indicative of how they have grown individually as musicians and together as a band.

With Walker, Nope move away from being a band who take their influences from others and towards a group of musicians who have the self-confidence and belief in their abilities to strike out along their own path.

Rob Aldam

Matt Stalker and Fables

Knots
Self released

Matt Stalker and Fables' second album Knots is a gently cathartic piece of work from the north-eastern folk five-piece. Following 2011's The Man Who Said This Died of Alchemy, they return with a beautifully crafted LP that purges and heals. The remarkable chamber folk arrangements, smartly insightful words and subtlety of Stalker's voice all blend into something that is elegant and wistfully serene.

While many artists this intensely confessional can come across as either hilariously self-absorbed or downright miserable, Matt Stalker and Fables are refreshingly unpretentious and quite charming. It's like musical therapy (Stalker is a former prison psychologist, after all). So when he tells us on the title track, “We all tie ourselves in knots, sometimes”, his gentle and unassuming manner entices us to believe him.

Even the names of the songs carry the same lovable quirkiness that permeates the whole album. ‘Gently Whirring Percolator’, ‘You Are Always Welcome At My House’ and ‘The Foreign Terrain of Now’ all contain the kind of simplistic realism that makes words all the more meaningful, exactly because Stalker revels in the everyday.

Musically, Knots is sophisticated – pared down folk with tinges of jazz and bluegrass and impressive use of piano and cello all makes for a sound that sets Fables apart from others in the genre. The album in its entirety plays in a similar way to Bon Iver, Bon Iver. It's a thematic, expansive and soothing headspace, but a tongue-in-cheek and humorous one at that.

Rachel Bell

Roll The Dice

Until Silence
The Leaf Label

As a kid I used to dream of making sci-fi movies. They’d be filled with dark cities tangled in cold steel, there’d be dangerous robots, even more dangerous people, and it would have an incredible soundtrack. Sadly, once I’d watched Blade Runner I realised my ideas would never cut it against the pros. But after waiting so many years for it, I think I found the perfect soundtrack to the greatest sci-fi never made.

Until Silence is the third offering from Stockholm electronica duo Roll The Dice and may be their boldest venture yet. Electronica and orchestras aren’t a new idea, but rarely have they been melded so well to create such powerful feelings. Every track surges with tension and static. Sine waves shudder next to howling strings and beats thud in time with sullen piano. The gargantuan track ‘Assembly’ plays out like a dramatic reveal to the most monolithic image you could ever encounter, whilst at the other end of the spectrum the tragic strings of ‘Aridity’ score the death throes of some valiant hero.

Until Silence is an album that tells a narrative without having to speak a single word. It grips you from start to finish. The breadth of emotion within it is huge. Panicked synths stab and pound, only to be replaced with soaring strings and uplifting piano chords.

It sounds clichéd, but Until Silence really will send shivers down your spine. It’s a fantastic blend of modern and classical, both working perfectly together to create the kind of soundscapes that everyone loves to escape into from time to time.

Alex Adams

Lone

Reality Testing
R&S Records

There’s a section right at the end of Lone’s standalone and stand-out single of last year, ‘Airglow Fires’, where the Detroit-via-Heaven rave stabs gently filter into some seemingly unrelated Brainfeeder-esque hip hop shimmers. At the time of its release it seemed like little more than a wholly pleasant throwaway appendage to the bright lights of the bulk of the track, but with the beauty of hindsight – and, more importantly, a listen through of his new album Reality Testing – ‘Airglow Fires’ served as a crystal gazing insight into the composition of Matt Cutler’s fifth full-length outing.

There has always been a graceful poise to Cutler’s work, so it should serve as no surprise that having set out to craft a record that balanced house and hip hop he’s managed to sidestep any potential crudeness or confusion, binding the two distinct aesthetics into one cohesive and typically blissful whole. There’s a fairly even split between the pulse-driven Chicago-influenced house efforts and the soft, twinkling instrumental beats, with a rough ‘one off, one on’ pattern emerging over the course of the record. It’s testament to the skill and wide-eyed solar reflections with which Lone has washed each potentially disparate track that each slips effortlessly into the next: the animated ecstasy jazz of ‘Restless City’ plunges into the hazy ‘Meeker Warm Energy’ as if their families had spent all their holidays together growing up, before the joyful lolling of ‘2 Is 8’ acts as the perfect foil to the breathless hedonism of ‘Airglow Fires’.

The deft coherence of Reality Testing means that there aren’t a huge number of tracks that necessarily leap out with ear-catching individualism, but it’s this approach that makes the record such a seductively immersive experience.

Jack Scourfield

Dead English Gentlemen

We Don’t Tell Lies… We Just Keep Secrets
Jammed Together Records

2014 is definitely the year for Dead English Gentlemen, a charming rock trio from Sunny Sheffield. With the new line-up now firmly established, the boys have teamed up with local label Jammed Together Records to create their first killer EP as a complete work. After hearing about the insane reception they received at their St. Patrick’s Day gig this year, I’ve been eagerly waiting to get my hands on this gem.

Nothing says summer like catchy pop punk tunes, perfect for turning up to full volume while you soak up the sun. ‘Roulette Bears’ has already found a place in my heart and my summer playlist. Ticking every box for an album opener, it’s absolutely guaranteed to get you singing along by your third listen. Vocals from Rob Burras perfectly complement the instrumentals, the seamless missing piece to the Hall brothers’ band jigsaw. Skipping on to track 3, we get perhaps the most accessible track of the record, featuring some attractive off-beat drum patterns and more intricate guitar riffs. We’re treated a purely instrumental track, ‘Alan Arthur’, a refreshing change for a 6-track which also holds true to their roots, since their first EP didn’t feature vocals.

The boys are hosting an album launch at Plug on 6 June, so grab your tickets quickly and get yourself down to see these tracks played loud and live in all their gritty glory.

Tasha Franek

Martyn

The Air Between Words
Ninja Tune

Through experience, Holland's electronic darling Martyn seldom fails to deliver. One thing that has struck me about him over the years is how effortless his work seems. It’s rare for any element to feel out of place and there is real, human groove to be found amidst the synthesised revelry. His latest album The Air Between Words, released this month, is no different.

It's Martyn’s house and techno sensibilities that ride highest on this record. Beneath the trademark warm synth work and melodic intrigue rests some of the funkiest rhythms you'll hear. From the acidic ‘Empty Mind’ to the mesmerising throb of ‘Like That’, the drums are laced with groove and slickness.

Each track fits beautifully into what has come before. Opener ‘Forgiveness Step 1’ brings the listener in gently before the arrival of the deep, four-to-the-floor ‘Glassbeadgames’. I was involved right up until the final moments of the record, with the jazzy, piano rich ‘Fashion Skater’.

I get the strong feeling that Martyn is one of those musicians who will stand the test of time. The balance between danceable, groovy music and interest through synths and melody is often close to perfect. Unlike many producers he is compared to, he manages to retain a minimal aesthetic throughout. My standout track, ‘Two Leads & A Computer’, perhaps best demonstrates this, with a melody that is interesting enough to fill the mix and capture interest for a sustained period.

This record will reward both the established Martyn admirer and the new listener. It will make sense on both the dancefloor and the bedroom hi-fi and will engage you from start to finish. Not to be glossed over.

Fred Oxby