Review: There's definitely something in the water round Bristol way right now - the city currently seems to ooze punk spirit and has a habit of producing ferociously good acts, from the raw, gnarling guitars of Idles to the unfettered electronic juggernauts of Giant Swan. Those already familiar with Heavy Lungs will know this is another outfit to add to that list, with "Measure" their most complete and daring body of work to date. Opening on "Half Full", which builds atmosphere gradually, before the first ferocious chords drop the listener is already hooked, the moment of release is at once necessary and rather unexpected, setting the tone for a collection of songs that are as intelligently conceived as they are vital. From here we get "Self Worth", "T.O.T.B", and "(A Bit Of A) Birthday", spanning walls of white noise through to skudgy, loose, garage-y tones.
Review: It's not hard to understand why people so often ignore album release blurb. Sales-y, hyperbolic, and on more than the odd occasion rather poorly written, it's hardly required reading in order to get the most out of the record. That is unless it's Big Thief's 'Two Hands', a collection of music that genuinely makes more sense when you know the back story. For one thing this long form offering is arriving just months after its predecessor, which is always either the sign of a band that don't need big ideas to facilitate rapid-fire output, or a band that have so many big ideas they literally can't stop the momentum. This is a case of the latter. Timescale aside, "Two Hands" genuinely feels as though it was born in the Badlands, epic songs that invoke endless vistas across barren settings in a way that makes you feel as small as you actually are in a global context. Like cosying up in a log cabin away from the chilly endless dark of a desert night.
Review: If this is the first time you've stumbled upon Chastity Belt we implore you to look back on their previous three albums. That should confirm how much the band have grown, although in this case rather than reaching for higher heights the development is like the roots of a tree. Here they're pushing deeper, and leaving the listener more nourished than any previous encounter. Poor analogies aside, dark undertones marry a sense of strange tranquility. The sort of feeling you get after suffering great loss and finally having a moment to reflect without that freight train of grief. There's sadness, or at least a subtle mood of lamentation to "Elena", but it also packs love at first sight melodies. "Effort" builds a tension from beneath, as though that aforementioned great oak were trying to burst from the earth itself. Alternative, detailed rock? Perhaps, but we prefer to simply say "stunning".
Review: When you use words like "prickly", "abrasive" and "uncompromising" it's rarely flattering. Consider Kim Gordon's exceptional powerhouse long form one of the exceptions. As far removed from music for the masses as you could hope for, it takes a particular talent to deliver work like "No Record Home". Labels such as punk certainly apply, but it's less about mouths gushing spittle amid the deafening screams of guitars and raucous vocals, and more about overall attitude. No change there for this co-founder of the mighty Sonic Youth then. Loud and intelligent, forthright and yet heartfelt and tender in its own unforgiving way, it's as far removed from wall of sound discordance as it is anything you could describe as remotely over-explored. Marrying the bloody-lipped electro of Peaches and body blow lows of EBM with gritty rock 'n' roll chords, those looking for originality that oozes repeatability should consider their hunt over, for now at least.
Review: While he enjoyed a brief career as a musician in the 1960s, by the time he recorded debut album "Down On The Road By The Beach" in 1983 Steve Hiett was better known as one of the world's leading fashion photographers. In fact, it was at the suggestion of a Japanese gallery owner that he got back in the studio to record what has long been regarded as an impossible-to-find Balearic gem. Hiett's reverb and delay-laden Peter Green style guitar passages take centre stage throughout, winding in and out of languid grooves and ambient electronics to create what some have called "the ultimate desert island disc" - a record of such lazy, sun-kissed beauty that it sounds tailor made for drowsy days waking up on the beach.
Review: When you call your band Moon Duo nobody is expecting clean lines or indeed rough edges. Meeting every one of our expectations, "Stars Are The Light" is a cosmic trip into some psychedelic hinterland where the melodies are as warm as the guitars are crooning. It's a place that's audibly inviting and, while anything but homely in the suburban 2.4 kids kind of way, more welcoming than the warm embrace of a lover. Which makes sense, when you consider it's the product of Wooden Shjips Ripley Johnson and his wife, Sanae Yamada. The title track pretty much sounds like falling in love, "Eternal Shore" dances to the otherworldly rhythms of 1960s opiate seduction, and 'The World And The Sun" grows and grooves to the very centre of your soul. Put simply, it's a pretty compelling argument for the fact that psychedelic rock still has plenty to bring to the table.
Review: When is a bonus disc not a bonus disc? How about when it's Mudhoney's not-quite-latest, a collection of forgotten moments from 2018's "Digital Garbage", new versions of rare singles and one cover version. Don't assume for a second this is a cynical filler to keep the band's name on the tip of your tongue, or a cash-driven release hastily put together after 12 months void of new ideas, though. After all, few artists or acts make any real money from recording stuff these days, and even if you're not thinking in such jaded terms what's here is an essential anthology of excellence that could serve as a solid introduction to an outfit at the top of their game, or a must-have for devotees. A masterful selection of drawly blues (opener "Vortex of Lies"), dirty guitar refrains ("Snake Oil Charmer"), and twisted, contemporary heavy metal hypnosis ("Let's Kill Yourself Live Again"). Quality, quality, quality.
Review: Half journeyman, half David Lynch bar scene, all twisted crooner-dom, and at least a little tongue in cheek, Mike Patton & Jean Claude Vannier are aiming straight for the alternatives with this 12-strong collection of bizarre ballads and obscure odes that will appeal to rarer tastebuds. There's the spoken word and strummed guitars guiding us through the various parts of "A Schoolgirl's Day". The Sinatra-does-sarcasm of closer "Pink & Bleue", and the way "Hungry Ghost" aurally recalls "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen. Truly unique stuff, despite its debt of gratitude to troubadour totems, counterculture rock and The Rat Pack, it's as rooted in the 21st Century as anything you'll hear today. The production process involved two creators in two different parts of the world, Patton and band in L.A., Vannier with a full orchestra in Vienna. Not that you can tell considering how complete the record feels.
Review: When the end days come and it's finally time to write the complete story of American rock 'n' roll, surely Pixies will get their own chapter. Legends of the grunge world, often known for a stylistic simplicity (quiet-LOUD anyone?) but unafraid to go out on a psychedelic limb when the moment suits, they've towered above the majority of acts for 28 years and, as "Beneath The Eyrie" proves, still have plenty to say. "In The Arms of Mrs Mark Of Cain" starts proceedings on a gothic-Western hybrid tip, setting things up perfectly for any song named "Graveyard Hill". Realistically when that track does arrive it switches the mood with a nod to the band's archetypal punk-infused sound, and that's precisely the point. Apparently betting the farm on this one, it's got everything from psych-folk to Tim Burton-ish ghoulish wit, making for the band's finest hour since their 2004 reformation.
Review: Beguiling, bewitching, enchanting and immersive. Sui Zhen's album draws the listener in with beauty and loveliness, while giving us something to think about. Namely human mortality, and whether or not we might all be able to live on as digital footprints. It's all very "Black Mirror", welcome to the 21st Century meditation on death, then. Despite this the record is far less conceptual than you might imagine, with tracks like "I Could Be There" conjuring images of Lykke Li or Regina Spektor's more advert-friendly offerings. "Natural Progression", "Another Life" and "Different Places" stick to more downtempo electronic scripts, perfectly contrasting the pop and jazz elements of "Being A Woman" and "Mountain Song" respectively. Hard to put a finger on without resorting to a series of name drops, your best bet is just to dive in and get lost in what's a very deep and multifaceted album that somehow still manages coherency.