January (and indeed 2011) kicked off reasonably well with ‘Red Barked Tree’ by Wire, a fine combination of subtle dreamy tracks that recalled shoegaze and new wave particularly Bill Nelson’s Red Noise (‘Please Take’, ‘Adapt’, ‘Down to This’) and a more typical Wire sound (‘Smash’, ‘A Flat Tent’ and ‘Two Minutes’ . The highlight of this was ‘Moreover’ with its creepy synth intro slashing guitar riff and effected vocals building in intensity throughout the track ending in a final crescendo. I was initially wrong footed by the dreamy songs, they completely the opposite to image of Wire I have and I was unsure of how they sat in Wire’s career arch. However, a little reading filled in a some gaps in my Wire particular the second phrase of their career in which they secretly pioneered a sound similar to that of the shoegaze bands that would follow them. For me the jury is still out in this way album, though the band do prove not purely trading on past glories. I will be revisiting this album later in the year to try to make my mind up about it.

Another post-punk band Gang of Four returned to the fray this month with ‘Content’ their first album since reforming in 2004. Unfortunately I feel this album is a massive disappointed, hackneyed and lazy reliving and ruining of past glories. For a band that has for so long riled against retro revivals and giving their audience an easy ride, it seems I (and possible many other fans) had Gang of Four all wrong. Minus the original rhythm section and with Andy Gill on production the band has become a pale imitation of its self. Jon King regularly lets the band down on the vocal and lyrically front undermining any political points he may be making, Gill fares better but still lacks the sharpness of his prime and rhythm section is one half lifeless (drummer Mark Heaney) and one part session muso of slap bass duties (bassist Thomas McNeice). These elements all combine to ruin what was which an amazing formula and reduced to a sub par Duran Duran/INXS played by Gang of Four.

Deerhoof were the next band to release a new album in January and I have to say that like Wire they produced a mix bag stylistically speaking. The album veers from Spanish flavoured tracks such as ‘Que Dorm, Nomes Somia’, ‘I Did Crimes for You’ and ‘No One Asked to Dance’, the chugging sprightly guitar powered riff-a-rama of ‘Let’s Dance the Jet’, ‘Secret Mobilization’ and the slightly mellower ‘C’Moon’ and the indie electro of ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads’ and ‘The Merry Barracks’ and a couple more genre de tours too!! This is a band who often can’t sit still for one song and I had to listen to each one several times to really start to get a hold on them, however Deerhoof’s music isn’t difficult possessing much rhythmic and melodic skill and dexterity. I’ve checked out some of band’s back catalogue (and will continue to) and I feel that through this album has some great highlights to maybe feels a little laboured and is maybe a transition to the bands next break through.

The first début album of year to blow my socks off this year is ‘Violet Cries’ by Esben and the Witch, traditional song structure is almost exclusively abandoned in favoured of tense post-rock style structures of building intensity and massive drops. The band has taken massive steps forward since their début E.P. and gothic-folk just won’t cut it as description. True theres goth influences I can hear Siouxsie and The Banshees in a lot of the melodies and textures used across this album, ‘Light Streams’ hints at Battles influence in its spiky guitar arpeggios and exploding drums. ‘Marine Fields Glow’ is a torch that recalls Portishead at their finest and the records ambition is pure Kate Bush. I have a feeling that this could rival These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ as an ambitious album that successful combines many influences, though I’ll admit that Esben and the Witch’s influences are less varied and diffuse, the two albums share a similar medieval atmosphere.

The Dirtbombs returned with a novel concept album that really could have gone either way. Ten years after they released ‘Ultraglide in Black’ their album of Detroit soul and funk covers they released another celebration of Detroit’s musical history ‘Party Store’ there revising of classic Detroit techno tracks. Starting with a grease, grinding garage version ‘Cosmic Cars’ the album doesn’t really take off until track three ‘Good Life’ which combines heavy drum machine back beat, busy post-punk chicken scratch guitar, funk bass-line and singer Mike Collins falling a little short of the originals vocal heights. ‘Strings of Life’ ups the ante once again but is probably the closest to the original. ‘Alleys of the Mind’ continues a good run of tunes and returns to the grime of ‘Cosmic Cars’ but more successfully. The album’s centrepiece a 21 minutes plus version of ‘Bug in the Bass Bin’ features it composer Carl Craig jamming along on a modular synth and despite its length is the highlight of album, powering it through the remaining three tracks.

Talib Kweli made his return as an independent artist with new album ‘Gutter Rainbows’, a return to form after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

I’ll be adding three new bands to our preview of the year and a new pages that will act as new music and film release schedules.

Just a couple of things to add before we move on to February:

1) You can find links to music news, album streams, our posts and more on our Twitter.

2) We’ve been scratching our heads trying to work out a way that we can share our playlists we more people (Spotify has its limitations). If anyone knows of an app/piece of software/website where we can create playlists from a legal database of music, please feel free to post in the comments or our Twitter. We have thought about Grooveshark but it’s not technically legal and is being sued by many record companies so may not last. iTunes is obvious one but I’ll be honest I don’t like it. So to recap, it has to be free, legal and with a pre-existing database of music that is updated regularly.

Spotify playlist *:

January 2011 playlist

*More tracks to be added as they become available

February recommendations

Asian Dub Foundation – ‘A History of Now’ (Cooking Vinyl) 7th February

ADF return with their seventh album the follow-up to the brilliant ‘Punkara’ (2008), the title track (available at the band’s website for your e-mail address) suggests it business as usual these innovators and that’s no bad thing, lets hope there’s plenty more on the rest of the album.

Beans – ‘End It All’ (Anti-Con) 14th February

Anti Pop Consortium member Beans returns with an album of 13 tracks by 13 different producers and with a smattering of guests. Producer’s include Four Tet, Bumps (Tortoise’s drummer), Tobacco, Clark and many more. T.V. on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe sings on the track ‘Mellow You Out’ which is a promising preview for the album. I’ve personally found Beans solo material hit and miss though I’ve lost touch with his solo activities in the last few years, however I think this could prove an interesting record.

Paris Suit Yourself – My Main Shitstain (Big Dada) 14th February

The début album from French-US collective (the first ‘rock’ band to sign to Big Dada) is one that is incredibly impressive while also suggesting areas that could be expanded on in the future. The first knock out album of the year stakes out similar territory to garage-funk band The Make-Up but with a more modern and street wise hip-hop edge. Though vocalist Luvinsky Atche doesn’t sound like Saul Williams his half sung, half spoken vocals are. The Pop Group and PiL also seem like good reference points for tracks such as ‘Decadence’ and ‘Yesterday Make You Cry’.

Mogwai – ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’ 14th February (Rock Action)

Another Mogwai album another great album title. Having a few tracks off the album I can honestly say that I think the boys are back up their with their best albums. As is always the case the development from the previous records is subtle and can take a few listens properly present themselves but they are there. More vocals is something they haven’t tried since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ and its stands up and adds a more human feel and another layer of texture and harmony to the bands sound. Particularly highlights are the corroded guitar drones of ‘Rano Pano’ and the motorik groove of ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ (a real departure for the band).

Win Win – ‘Win Win’  14th February (Vice)

A three-way collaborative project comprising XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Delvin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. Their self titled album is out on Vice on 15th February and features Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Andrew W.K., Naeem and Blaqstarr (Spank Rock) and Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) to name a few. Having only heard one single its hard to say how this sound, however given the people involved its safe to assume it’ll be dirty but sleek and eclectic yet danceable.

Toro Y Moi – ‘Underneath the Pine’ 21st February (Car Park)

Toro Y Moi follows up last years excellent début album – ‘Causers of This’ with an album full of live instrumentation a straight up 80’s funk and pop influences. ‘Still Sound’ and ‘New Beat’ bristle with elastic energy and bounce. An album to brighten up the winter just ahead of spring rebirth.

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