Joanna Newsom

Divers
Drag City

Gaze into Kim Keever's sublime artwork for Divers and you will find the album's spirit stitched into its rich swatches of pinks and blues, each colour saturated until you start to feel the heat coming off it. It is dizzyingly beautiful, and though the scene is simple enough, there isn't a single stray patch of canvas wasted.

'Anecdotes' opens the record in much the same way that 'Emily' did for the monumental Ys, all swooping strings and celestial images. But it's 'Leaving The City' that really sets the pulse racing. When the drums arrive unexpectedly, the whole song ruptures into a fierce blizzard, Newsom almost rapping in her attempt to get all the words down. "The harder the hit, the deeper the dent / We seek our name, we seek out fame / In our credentials, paved in glass / Trying to master incidentals," she spits over the beat in dazzling syncopation.

Elsewhere, 'Goose Eggs' offers up a lush country-pop chorus, slide guitar and sass to the fore, perhaps her most radio-friendly track since her Milk-Eyed Mender days. The only real sprawl here arrives with the title track (and that at a relatively spry seven minutes), journeying into one of those inky black, minor key odysseys that pushed her last outing into masterpiece territory.

A briefer affair, then, but it's all here: athletic time signatures, antique diction, mythology and magic. And when those drums come crashing back at the final climax, strings on their side this time, backing vocals calling out the word 'joy' at some ecstatic frequency, you have to stand back and marvel at the sheer scale of what Newsom has created with the finest of brushstrokes.

Matthew Neale

Floating Points

Elaenia
Pluto

Since 2009’s club anthem 'Vacuum Boogie', most likely the entry point for many Floating Points fans, Sam Shepherd’s musical horizons have been expanding. In addition to tracks in the same vein as the aforementioned, subsequent releases have included longer, more complex compositions often passing the ten-minute mark, those that tend towards the more ambient side of sonic experimentation, and those that incorporate the use of live musicians. It therefore follows that these threads be consolidated on Shepherd’s debut album, Elaenia.

'Argenté', 'Thin Air'and the glowing title track demonstrate Shepherd’s proclivity for minimalist arrangements, the former pair acting as musical counterparts based around a series of trembling arpeggios. Similarly, opener 'Nespole' features a core of playful synths, supplemented with other elements in progressive vitality. 'Elaenia', by contrast, starts life as a swell of ambient noise before transfiguring into a warm, Rhodes-powered lullaby, providing a moment of respite after the ten-minute 'Silhouettes (Parts I, II & III)'.

This, along with 'ForMarmish'and 'Peroration Six', further sharpen Shepherd’s talent for composing and arranging, prefigured in the Floating Points Ensembleand 2013’s Wires. Where 'Silhouettes'and 'Peroration Six' are energetic, 'For Marmish'keeps the dreamy pace of the title track, again centred on the graceful jazz licks of Shepherd’s Rhodes.

For all the similarities to earlier Floating Points releases, the distinct lack of any club-oriented tracks on Elaeniais palpable but in no way disappointing. Despite a consistent run of floor-fillers over the past five years or so, Shepherd has been honing a more erudite side, rather more removed from the DJ booth. Elaenia represents a step along the way of this process and we can expect more in the years to come.

Aidan Daly

Hot Diamond Aces

Hot Diamond Aces EP
Self released

After the success of last year’s EP, Turtle Knight, Sheffield seven-piece funk brothers Hot Diamond Aces are back with another exceptional 20 minutes of their unique sound.

The self-titled EP opens with a brass section and a steady funk beat. The brass players are given a platform to express themselves with a series of meandering, melodic solos. 'DSOMC' cleverly sets the stall out for the listener, showing what Hot Diamond Aces are all about.

The band’s fusion of funk, jazz and afrobeat is no more apparent than on 'Funk 7', with a bluesy guitar riff paving the way for a classic slap bass line. The brass section is once again given licence to spit a variety of melodic riffs off left, right and centre. The tempo shifts numerous times, showing the top-class musicianship of the band.

The vast number of layers heard on this EP is mindboggling, but only because they fuse together so well and give the band an accessibility that other acts do not have. 'Itchy & Lumpy' is more of the same from Hot Diamond Aces, but this time we are treated to a noir-style breakdown midway through the track. We’re transported from the funk clubs of Ohio to the smoke-filled taverns of New Orleans in a couple of seconds.

The funkiest of bass lines props up EP closer 'Super Moon Sundae', a mammoth track so bursting with creativity and melody that it wouldn’t be prudent to place it anywhere else on the EP.
The way this band structure their songs mimics that of a live jam, which ultimately transfers the energy of Hot Diamond Aces easily to the home listener.

Paul Stimpson

Jim Ghedi

Home Is Where I Exist, Now To Live And Die
Cambrian Records

Jim Ghedi's stuff has a genre-less feel - quite an achievement in the traditionalist world of solo acoustic guitar. There's nothing madly radical, experimental or flamboyantly technical going on in this album whatsoever, and yet there's something very distinctive about it, something at once pleasingly familiar and engagingly unique.

The familiarity is, I suppose, rooted in the sound of the acoustic guitar, while the distinctiveness emerges from Ghedi's playing style: the idiosyncrasies of particular hand positions, favoured string gauges and chord shapes, the swing and tempo of his own mental metronome. It takes time to make as well-known an instrument as the acoustic guitar sound like it has something new to say in that old, familiar voice, and the pleasure of hearing this sort of stuff recorded lies in the ghosts of labour that the microphone captures: the squeak of fingers shifting on strings, the quiet creaks and moans of the instrument's body, the barely perceivable breathing. We hear not just the music, but the almost-silent making of the music.

Perhaps I've just been primed by the press release's talk of time spent in Belgium, but there's a distinctly rural European feel to these tunes. They sound to me like deep, blazing colours a-swirl, with a hint of chaos and darkness lurking at the edges, like a late van Gogh - a timely metaphor for Brussels, perhaps, and the Europe it nominally represents. For Ghedi's playing makes subtle use of haunting scales and modes whose 'Spanish' feel actually reaches back yet further, recalling the guitar's origins as an Arabic instrument. Our music remembers what we ourselves have found it convenient to forget.

But not everything has to be about politics, and to overthink it is to undermine the listenability and charm of Ghedi's music. Despite hints of melancholia, it's bloody lovely, full of the warmth of summer evenings. Turn out the lights and listen.

Paul Graham Raven

Hot 8 Brass Band

Vicennial
TruThoughts

Although the recent surge of brass bands experimenting with the genre has yielded mighty results in the fair soils of England, New Orleans always had the upper hand.

There’s always been something spiritual related to New Orleans’ endemic brass scene. The correlation of jazz bands playing funerals gives you a good hint of the intrinsic nature of the sounds you find in any Hot 8 Brass Band song and a spiritual sense. I don’t mean that the songs of Vicennial are séance material, but the vivacious nature of the tracks seems to be carrying something otherworldly with them. Taking into account that some of the members have met untimely deaths due to violence, this resonates harder than any sousaphone.

Vicennial fears neither death nor crime. It takes some well-known classics and turns them around for a good night of Hurricane cocktails and po’boy sandwiches. These fresh takes are mixed proportionally with Hot 8 Brass Band’s original material, which is possibly even better than their best-known cover, ‘Sexual Healing’. The sheer range of genres the band has siphoned from, ranging from The Temptations to Snoop Dogg, speaks of their adaptability and acumen for a track with a great hook.

If you’ve never heard Hot 8 Brass Band, Vicennial should be your starting point. Follow this with Spike Lee’s When The Levee Broke and you’ll get a whiff of why this band deserves your attention.  

Samuel Valdés López