March Highlights

March has been a pretty rotten month for me personally but fortunately the clutch of releases that I have heard these past few weeks have really helped lift me up as there have been some beauties, again! As always Spotify links in the album title.

Hawk Eyes – Ideas (Fierce Panda)

First up is an album I mentioned a couple of months ago as one I was looking forward to, and it has certainly not disappointed, the new one from Leeds rockers Hawk Eyes. Following a name change (from Chickenhawk) they have also taken a slight stylistic shift in direction. Following medical advice Paul Astick has reigned in his full on screaming vocals which has, aside from saving his vocal cords, opened them up to a wider audience. If this sounds like they’ve calmed down and produced a coffee table friendly album then don’t worry there are still two or three throat shredding numbers and the rest of the album contains nothing that could be considered a ballad! Containing no tracks from last year’s Mindhammers EP (which means you should buy this also!), Ideas is an album chock full of blistering tunes that is getting extremely positive reviews and comments from all corners of the music press.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5saljGR6-a0]

Grimes – Visions (4AD)

Now we have the first of two albums I’ve been playing a lot this month that have been absolutely nothing like I had thought they were going to be. Such is the risk/joy of investigating acts you have no knowledge of, have read no reviews and therefore have no preconceptions. I had read the name Grimes in various places and seen the album in shops, and going on the old ‘judge a book by its cover‘ epithet I was expecting dirty hip-hop beats a la Death Grips, instead I was treated to electronica and the high pixie voice of Montreal’s Clare Boucher (seriously, at times, surely only dogs can hear that voice!). It reminds me a lot of a less sinister Fever Ray and for a couple of weeks I seemed incapable of listening to anything else! Her voice will certainly turn some people off (as Satomi’s voice from Deerhoof tends to do) but I love it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtH68PJIQLE]

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Wichita)

This was the other one! Their name immediately made me think their music would be in the chill wave, hypnagogic pop genre such as Wild Nothing or Washed Out. Er, no, Cloud Nothings inhabit the realms of bands such as Built To Spill, Jay Reatard or The Strokes, the slow build of opener No Future/No Past reminds me a lot of some of Built To Spill’s best tunes and the almost punk thrash of Wasted Days brings to mind Jay Reatard (although about four times as long as any of his tracks!). This is their third album but I have yet to investigate their earlier two records, but from what I have gleaned they are a more gentle indie affair lacking the bite of Attack on Memory.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVO5OYoZQHc]

Meshuggah – Koloss (Nuclear Blast)

Uurrghh, aagghh, *strain*, *grunt*! If an album had to be as large and weighty as the music it contained, the new aptly titled album by Swedish metallers Meshuggah would be the size and mass of a small asteroid! Now imagine said asteroid landing on your house, that’s a fair approximation of what this new album feels like to listen to! Although perhaps more accessible (slightly) than their previous output, Koloss still manages to pummel you into the ground. Opener I Am Colossus (download for free here) is slow and almost sludgy, their trademark djent and ludicrously complex drum patterns do not make an entrance until track two, it’s like a lava flow inching its way toward you, like it or not it will catch you up and set fire to your shoes!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9LpMZuBEMk]

School of Seven Bells – Ghostory (Full Time Hobby)

Third album from the New York duo (twin sister Claudia Deheza left in 2010) and despite the praise that came with their debut I never really got into them even though the electronic shoegaze arena they inhabit is one that normally floats my boat so to speak. So after reading the praise heaped upon this album by DrownedInSound.com helmer Sean Adams (9/10 review here) I checked it out on Spotify. It takes the electronic pop of Ladytron and injects a bit of shoegaze via ex-Secret Machines man Benjamin Curtis to produce a rather beautiful, exhilarating listen.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUrQnDVWXvo]

Killing Joke – MMXII (Spinefarm)

This is a bit of a cheat/tease as this album is not officially released until Monday (2nd April) but it has been up on Spotify for a week and I have been listening to it a LOT! I will try and do this justice with a proper review later but for now let me just say this could be an early contender for record of the year! Back with the original line up (minus the late Paul Raven of course) this album spans their entire ouvre for influences, the heaviness of more recent albums combined with the more gentle aspects of albums such as Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. Thirty four years in existence and still producing albums of this ferocity, excitement and quality!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgJLb0Vqr-s]

Before I end I need to mention two more Leeds acts that have got good stuff coming up. I Like Trains (or iLiKETRAiNS if you are a traditionalist!) release their new album The Shallows at the start of May, but as a treat for people who pre-order it they will get an immediate download of the whole album. I got my download two days ago and I have been giving the album more than daily rotation (if you can ‘rotate’ mp3s!), and I think I can say it may be their best full length album yet! I will be talking more about this album in the weeks to come, looking forward to my pre-ordered vinyl!

Finally, the debut album from Lone Wolf (aka Paul Marshall), The Devil And I made it to number 11 in my top 50 of 2010 and he has recently released a new track on Soundcloud called The Swan of Meander that is rather lovely and has me keen to hear his new record;

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