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Record Reviews (March '20): LAB / U.S. Girls / The Necks / Pet Crow / Wodwo / Stephen Malkmus / Dead Cosmonauts / Caribou

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Life Aquatic Band - L.A.B.P.D (Or, Band on the Hunt)

Sheffield's Life Aquatic Band (LAB) has returned with a dreamy, energetic and wonderfully weird thematic record. It tones down the experimentation, makes them play off each others' strengths and proves their maximalism ultimately fruitful.

LAB's LABPD evokes Paul McCartney's famous Band on the Run as they brand themselves the manhunters in a chase scenario. The wacky, off-beat theme is woven into the album all the way long, providing a fitting thematic anchor and putting their offbeat-as-usual lyrics in a wider context that helps build tension between them. It's something that was missing from their previous record, From Russel, With Love.

A sense of coherence and maturity envelopes the whole record without drawing much attention to itself. LAB's music and style are only wacky on the surface, because they are at the top of their craft here. These self-described maximalists bring life to their songs by minding the production minutiae, filling whole soundscapes with a signature sense of vividness and a hilarious shoutout to Bill Murray.

'Mature' is the word that describes best this Americana-infused indie record, an adjective not to be thrown around lightly, especially when talking about a band that is only a couple of years young. Yet, as their sense of musical experimentation more or less migrates to the thematic side of their work, the final product is a smart, exciting and well-rounded album that will no doubt earn the band new fans as well as satisfy existing ones, helping them cement a sound.

Máté Mohos

Anna Calvi - Hunted

Remix albums and 'alt takes' always get a bad reputation, as they seem akin to frivolous double-dipping strategies to bilk the fervent and the completionists with excess dosh. Barring Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or Terry Gilliam's Brazil, 'uncut' or 'uncensored' editions of middling films bamboozle punters with a little bonus that rarely amounts to significance.

In the particular case of Anna Calvi's Hunted, the revisit is justified. Hunted reworks key tracks from 2018's Hunter, carving away the glossy veneer and leaving raw emotions to bleed all over.

Unbridled by studio refinement, Calvi cleaves your soul with a sharp bull tongue. This reimagining forfeits subtlety, as songs acquire the raw emotion usually associated with demos. The changes between Hunted and Hunter feel like a juxtaposition between prey and predator. Whereas Hunter flexes through flashy production, Hunted feels like a single take with an overwhelming sense of intimacy. The presence of fierce musicians like Courtney Barnett and Charlotte Gainsbourg never feel like an intrusion on Calvi's honesty.

Hunted. It's all in the name. Hunter sports the bravado of a predator relishing its bloodlust; Hunted exudes a lonely desperation endemic to prey. Anna Calvi radicalises her muscular album into a frail descent through a nether realm. There, a thick fog wakes a primordial survival instinct that needs no flashy overdubs, just a pure voice to guide you through.

Sam J. Valdés López

U.S. Girls - Heavy Light

It's been over a decade since Meghan Remy unveiled U.S. Girls to the world. The Toronto-based Illinois native has come a long way in this relatively short space of time. What started out as a travelling musician with a four-track tape recorder has evolved in intent and ambition. Moving away from a place of isolation, Remy has embraced collaboration and experimentation. As a result, new album Heavy Light feels profoundly intimate and dizzyingly expansive.

Recorded with the help of over 20 session musicians, Heavy Light is U.S. Girls' most communal and adventurous album yet. This feeling is enhanced by Remy's openness to working with co-writers Basia Bulat and Ruck Morel. The album retains, however, a strong sense of the personal, most apparent on the interludes 'The Most Hurtful Thing' and 'Advice to Teenage Self'.

The central tenet at the heart of U.S. Girls' success has always been a heady mix of scintillating rhythms and lush, textured vocals. Lead track '4 American Dollars' continues this rich tradition, carrying the listener away on a hypnotic disco beat. This continues on the gloriously irrepressible 'Overtime', whilst 'IOU' embraces gospel influences to add a touch of the reverential.

With Heavy Light, U.S. Girls have delivered a remarkably deep and stylishly complex collection of songs. Drawing on a myriad of influences and ideas, they have created a riotous jamboree of sound, a rollercoaster of emotions - and without doubt Remy's best album yet.

Rob Aldam

The Necks - Three

The Necks' 21st album starts in a manner that makes the listener unsure about what to expect.

The immediate rattling of 'Bloom', its first track, is disorientating, but it indicates that the band are ambitious with Three, and that they possess a confidence that can only be gained from years spent creating and performing.

Each song on Three is a twenty-minute episode of music. The result is an album containing three tracks that feel like perfect moments captured successfully, rather than songs that have been rehearsed and refined.

'Lovelock', the album's centre, is mysterious and eerie. When listening you feel as if you're trapped alone in a dark house, while sounds that play from outside make you feel safe and calm. The track remains in a pleasant, mellow realm for its full 20 minutes without ever deviating.

'Bloom' is a relentless race, and it works even though its constant rolling pattern has the potential to disconcert. It keeps the track energetic, while sweet sound selections on top keep the song rhythmic.

The album's ending, 'Further', comes to life in a poetic manner that the other two episodes of Three don't. The song is heavy and would be entertaining to see live - a memorable moment of jazz. It's a beautiful album closer and should be considered whenever introducing new listeners to The Necks.

Three celebrates quality over quantity. The Australian trio have explored a triplet of soundscapes in order to encapsulate their 30 years of musical experimentation, executed and delivered in the finest and most immersive fashion.

Akeem Balogun

Pet Crow - Take The Edge Off

Derby-based post-punkers Pet Crow's latest album Take The Edge Off is an exploration of 'adulting', charting the complications of adult life, including an honest portrayal of their own struggles with anxiety and depression, drug addiction and recovery, OCD and ADHD.

Take The Edge Off is a scream-and-shout, make-the-ground-shake kind of work, full of tight rhythms, punk riffage and surf rock party vibes. The music urges the world to improve and realises this urge in part through the space it provides for processing grievances.

Like their previous album, How Are You Wired?, Take The Edge Off contrasts its dark subject matter with the upbeat rhythms of its party tunes. Pacy garage-punk piece 'Insomnia' captures the frustrations of constant exhaustion in an ever-moving, fast-paced adult world. Its blur of guitars fits nicely alongside the equally frustrated 'Limbo' and 'NOCD'. To many listeners, the idea of struggling to engage with a world full of pressures will be uncomfortably familiar. For Pet Crow, it's the role of music to neutralise this discomfort.

The surf rock guitars continue to distract from the darker meaning of the lyrics on 'Controlling' and the title track. The complex balance between self-liberation and the inescapable restraints of modern life is pertinent in both pieces, as the lyrics contradict the deliciously funky rhythms which dictate its upbeat feel.

Pet Crow's intention is wonderfully and unapologetically evident: the listener should surround their negatives with music to achieve catharsis and liberation.

Eve Thomas

Wodwo & Mario Sboarina - The Lyric Atmosphere of the Sky EP

Opening with relaxed and meandering keyboards, UK musician Wodwo and multi-instrumentalist Mario Sboarina nonchalantly walk you down a cobbled lane to the ambient seafront, with warm organ tones and distant saxophone lines conjuring a dreamlike state as you kick off your shoes and feel the tonal sand under your feet. Back-masked notes enhance this unconscious, immaterial feeling of airy warmth and the whole sound provides an aural cushion to recline on.

'A Thousand Whispers From The Yew' provides a soft theme which repeats at an irregular interval, faintly reminiscent of atmospheric master Fennesz, while other subtle sounds and textures rise and fall over the top. The Lyric Atmosphere of the Sky is a meditative release, but can still hold your interest while it pleasantly drifts you along. Soft guitar swells join the mix on 'Water's Rumbling Hypnosis', creating a feeling of soft and atmospheric jazz, almost like a notably beatless Bohren & der Club of Gore track.

Closer 'For Distance Comes' features sumptuous saxophone harmonies layered over thrumming electronic interruptions and scrambled effects, with some resembling phone dialling tones buried in the mix, adding some aural anxiety into this otherwise breezy and atmospheric release.

However, it's not long before sparkling piano lines lead you out to the light at the end of the tunnel via some lush guitar leads and synth pads. If your ears need a vacation right now, look no further.

Richard Spencer

Stephen Malkmus - Traditional Techniques

Following the industrial post-punk experimentation of 2019's Groove Denied, Steven Malkmus' solo return just a year later exposes the roots of his previous projects, allowing for a warmer, prettier but no less vulnerable experience.

Traditional Techniques opens with a swirling air of mystery on 'ACC Kirtan'. This could be attributed to the Afghani instrumentation featured in pockets throughout the record, bringing an additional flavour to the conventional acoustics expected from a Malkmus record. Before you have a chance to be enveloped by the ethereal richness of it all, you're immediately grounded and sent down a road of familiar influences on 'Xian Man', harking back to the days of Pavement, albeit in a more folky vein.

The bittersweet ballad of 'The Greatest Own In Legal History' carries on the trend. Its wistful guitars and dusting of lyrical optimism fit its melancholic nature, transitioning perfectly into the mournfully nostalgic 'Cash Up'. When it appears that the record may be getting too comfortable with itself, the creeping flute vibrato on 'What Kind Of Person', with its undertones of plucky rubab, immerses you back into a world of blended instrumental intimacy which carries through to the sentimental finale 'Juliefuckingette'.

It would be easy to consider a departure from the inorganic quirks of his previous album as a rendezvous with the familiar. Yet the less abrasive approach of Traditional Techniques manifests an identity of its own, allowing it to sit with grace and purpose in the Malkmus discography.

Tom Murray

Dead Cosmonauts - We Sent Fragile Creatures To The Heavens But Not All of Them Perished

We Sent Fragile Creatures To The Heavens But Not All of Them Perished is the debut EP from Sheffield's own Dead Cosmonauts, an instrumental post-metal record that captures the wonders of space travel with a vivid hue of retro-futurism.

At under 30 minutes in length - time taken to read and process the considerable track titles notwithstanding - We Sent Fragile Creatures is brief by post-metal standards but exists beyond the apparent constrictions of time. For each minute that passes, a lifespan in transcendence is experienced. An auditory TARDIS, if you will.

'Is It Not Worthy of Tears...' in particular is a stunning journey of progression worthy of any voyage into the outer worlds, while 'I Looked and I Looked...' crescendos with psychedelic ferocity. For fans of genre heavyweights Russian Circles and ISIS, there'll be a sense of familiarity to the seismic riffs and alluring ambience. But Cosmonauts bring a refreshing progression to the genre, blending psychedelic prog with an intriguing astrophysical concept. The vintage guitar tones and raw performance style hark back to seminal space rockers Hawkwind.

The sum of these parts is a record that'll appeal to both the prog rock old guard and the modern metal avant garde, with plenty of non-partisan listeners in between. As debut releases go, this effort ranks high in potential and establishes Dead Cosmonauts as a band to watch.

With such a lucid cornucopia of sounds at their disposal, the future of space is theirs for the taking.

Nick Gosling

Next article in issue 144

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