Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop

Whilst some of Australia’s musical output is soaked in a sun-drenched psych or dreamy pop, easily the most exciting and interesting artist to emerge from Down Under recently is Courtney Barnett. The Melbourne native has been making music for the best part of a decade now, but it wasn't until the release of The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in 2013 that she announced herself to the world. A quick scan of music sites will attest to the fact that Courtney is one of the most talked about and admired musicians right now. The release of her debut album is likely to see her catapulted to a new level.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is as impressive as it is unassuming. In many ways it's a glimpse into the inner working of the Australian singer's mind. Musically, it's an album which encompasses a myriad of influences. It feels loosely shambolic whilst effortlessly proficient, providing a fresh and hazy backdrop for her languid drawl. What elevates Courtney Barnett above her peers is clever lyricism. In a world where lyric writing is becoming an increasingly endangered art, she's one of the few musicians with the magical ability to connect. Whilst her everyday musings strike a chord on an obvious level, on ‘Depreston’ she effortlessly wanders into the profound.

It's an album which rewards dedication. Lead single ‘Pedestrian At Best’ immediately jumps out at you, but if you invest some time you'll find new and startling small revelations on each track. The album feels marvellously ragged and light whilst being underpinned by a rare and beautiful depth.

Rob Aldam

Frogbelly and Symphony

Blue Bright Ow Sleep
Labelship

What I love about Frogbelly and Symphony is the unimaginable fusion of genres and instruments – so delightfully smooth, you wonder why you questioned combining them. This is a band that combines catchy pop songs with incredible musicianship, throwing in a twist of angst, poetry and politics. With roots stemming not only from Sheffield but all over Europe and the States, their influences span as far as the eye can see and as far back as the mind can remember, emphasised by the words of singer and composer Tom Hanley: “Nowadays we’re blessed with the possibility to take the inspirational tint from centuries of musical and lyrical repertoires.”

Blue Bright Ow Sleep is the band’s first full-length album and brings together an incredible mix of talent. Track by track, they bring fresh surprises, no song echoing another. Opener ‘Mindbender’ begins with soft dreamy vocals, gradually building up before an incredible punk riff and spoken vocal interjection, and finally a beautiful string melody and climax where all three aspects melt together. It sounds out-there, but it’s absolutely seamless. ‘Ride Off into the Sunset and Disappearis full of drama.

‘Before I Diehas an essence of Lou Reed, while ‘Shingleis more of a typical Irish folk song. The penultimate track, ‘Organism’, is inspired by a couple of near-death experiences of the band members themselves, giving more depth to an already moving and powerful ballad. As classically trained musicians, Frogbelly have so much to offer - the beautiful string sections peppered over the album are no exception. Returning to Sheffield on 11 April to play at Plug, I urge you to get your tickets and see what all the fuss is about.

Tasha Franek

Squarepusher

Damogen Furies
Warp

Damogen Furies is Squarepusher's 14th studio album. When his first release, Stereotype EP, went on sale, Bill Clinton was in the White House and ‘Parklife’ was in the charts. Since then, Tom Jenkinson has become something of a musical convention. Known for his virtuosity on the electric bass, his highly technical production approach and his epic chopped up breaks, I was keen to delve in on a misty Sunday morning, hoping to be revitalised with some coffee and IDM. I was not disappointed.

Fans of Squarepusher will already have heard ‘Rayc Fire 2’ on Warp Records’ website and will know that in terms of style this is exactly what we might have expected all along. The record is frantic, funky and intense. Squarepusher has a sensibility for the catchy melody beneath most his work over the years and this album is no different. ‘Stor Eiglass’, the record's opener, might be on the brink of a power ballad in terms of harmony, but beneath it sits twisted, sliced and diced breakbeats. A lot of the record is highly melodic. The listener is seldom spared from intricate, ravey polyphonic synths driving the music forward. There is a strong sense of progression too. By the time we arrive at ‘Exjag Nives’, the harmony is much less conventional and the jungle cuts are more manic and adventurous.

On top of the excellent jazzy work, the production value is immense and typically precise. The drums are powerful and the balance of all the elements in the mix is exquisite. If you are already a fan of Squarepusher, this record will fit nicely into your collection. If you are unaware of this electronic institution, you could find worse musicians to become familiar with.

Fred Oxby

Thomas Truax

Jetstream Sunset
Psychoteddy Records

Whilst it’s true that Thomas Truax defines the genre of alternative music, the American singer songwriter’s usual nuances of originality initially tend to distract from the music on Jetstream Sunset rather than engage the listener.

Truax opens his eighth studio record with ‘Jetstream’, a jolly, jumbling track which has potential as a sweet folk song, but is crowded by an irregular drum beat and a loose sounding recording.  ‘I Was a Teenage Post-Punk’ follows with a catchy guitar riff and some recognisably unusual instrumentation that complements the song, unlike the album opener.

The album picks up with arguably the best song on the album, ‘Shine Brightly As You Can’, a song narrating the adverse aspects of life and a search for better things once the chips are down. It’s exceedingly uplifting, but features a dark distorted guitar riff.

What follows is an example of when Truax’s eccentric instrumentation works in tandem with his song writing abilities. ‘Feelin’ Bad For Dracula’ is a dark, atmospheric number that invokes Truax’s unique spirit.

‘I’ve Got To Know’ features such an attractive groove that you can hardly believe it is by the same artist who wrote the earlier ‘Jestream’. Truax’s haunting vocals shadow the track and halfway through we see his lyricism reach its peak. “I know how to tune a guitar. I know how to locate the North Star,” sings Thomas with trademark eccentricity. 

A cover of the Pine Ridge Boys’ famous hit ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and atmospheric album closer ‘Written In Your Blood’ are further highlights of an album that stumbles at the first impression, but quickly addresses itself and finishes on a high.

Paul Stimpson