Important Announcement

Before I discuss last month’s releases and recommend some for May, I have an important announcement about Sonic Fiction’s immediate future. After much thought I’ve decided to scale back the amount of the work I do for the blog. I need to spend more time pursuing my career in music and so must dedicate time to practising, learning, writing and recording. However I didn’t want to abandon the blog and waste the hard work getting it to its current position, so instead of it ceasing to exist I will keep the regular features (this column and Classics Critiqued), along with our Writer’s Albums of the Year… So Far in June and Writer’s Albums of Year/Observations in December. In addition the bi-monthly electronic music column Music Is Improper will continue to be published.

Thank you,

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

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The biggest disappointment of April was the new Prefuse 73 album ‘The Only She Chapters’. Guillermo Scott Herren’s second concept album in a row is another failure. This certainly seemed an interesting idea on paper and the first big move away his trademark sound, an ambient album celebrating women. Unfortunately Prefuse falls into a lot of the pitfalls of ambient music producing a indistinct album that washes over and pass you by. Many of the vocalists featured don’t stamp their authority on the songs and could be easily swapped out for vocal samples. The album is aesthetically glued together with interludes and united by a consistent sound, however there are people who make this music and do it better. It’s back to the drawing board for Prefuse 73 to reinvent himself again.

Another disappointment was the lastest self titled album from Detroit funk guitarist Dennis Coffey. Despite being a well played and executed album that is precisely what makes it so disappointing. The album is dominated by Coffey’s soloing and he even suffocates Paolo Nutini’s contribution to ‘Only Good for Conversation’. By the end of the album the perfect funk playing and constant mid song soloing gets boring on an album that is actually reasonably varied while still remaining cohesive aesthetically. I’m sure that Coffey fans with find much to love, but this album left me cold.

Our first choice that delivered on its pre-release promise was Ponytail’s “Do Whatever You Want All the Time”. From the blissful, surging ambient art-rock of opener ‘Easy Peasy’ to the closing motorik repetition of ‘Music Tunes’ the band produce a breathtaking post/art-rock album that although recalling Neu!, the Boredoms, Battles, Foals and many other post-rock and krautrock bands some manages to only sound like Ponytail. It’s refreshing to hear a rock band ripping up the rule book with abandon, while not taking them too seriously or forgetting to write some tunes.

Moon Duo fashion a great combination of Motown, The Velvets, Neu!, garage rock and Spacemen 3 on their new album ‘Mazes’ yet even with all those retro references the album sounds fresh and exciting. Moon Duo revitalise rock music when it seemed (for the most part) to be beyond the pale.

A great album that demonstrates Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks a fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs.

TV on the Radio’s – ‘Nine Types of Light’ acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lack in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicated a previously unheard R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their old darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

Finally Tune-Yard’s – ‘w h o k i l l’ tops last month’s recommendations, standing out for its unique sound and instantaneous-ness. Tune-Yards (aka Merrill Gerbus) delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo sound indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which Tune-Yards sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist and just in time for summer.

Spotify playlist:

April 2011 playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction

Music Is Improper: We Have No Fathers – an exploring how Kraftwerk represented their generations reinvention of Germany.

Classics Critiqued – A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Midnight Marauders’ or ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm’ – I haven’t decided which to cover yet.

May Recommendations

Mark McGuire – ‘A Young Person’s Guide to…’ (Edition Mego) out now

This 2 CD compilation of songs from previously released and limited edition releases that McGuire has been constantly racking up in last few years was moved forward a week so fell between recommendations. Having had a quick listen I can whole heartedly recommend this to fans and newcomers alike its covers a lot of ground from lengthy all out ambient pieces to McGuire’s trademark double delay tricks, well worth investment.

Beastie Boys – ‘Hot Sauce Committe Part 2’ (Capitol/Grand Royal) 2nd May

Another album I’ve already had the pleasure to hear and another that I won’t hesitate in recommending. The Beasties return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – ‘GOB’ (Big Dada/Ninja Tune) 2nd May

Back in January Dels was one of our New Band Tips for 2011 and he has delivered an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political probs. in the U.K. and rape. Dels can change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Gang Gang Dance – ‘Eye Contact’ (4AD) 9th May

The New York odd balls return with a new album for a new label and its promises to take the adventurous, exotic sound of ‘Saint Dymphna’ one step further. Having heard exploratory opener ‘Glass Jar’ and the rave influenced ‘Mindkilla’ I think they may well have achieved said expectation, but we’ll have to wait and see for a little while longer.

Mountains – ‘Air Museum’ (Thrill Jockey) 9th May

I listened to a track from Mountains previous album ‘Choral’ but didn’t really feel it at the time. However it may just have been a case of bad timing, as the dark ambient/drone sound that Mountains specialise in has dominated critics end of year lists in the last two years. On the evidence of ‘Thousand Square’ (the only pre-release track released for the album) they may well leap-frog the likes of Emeralds with a richer, more powerful and unique sound.

Austra – ‘Feel It Break’ (Domino) 16th May

Another new act that I discovered recently, though the trio have been compared to Fever Ray and this is an understandable comparison, they are a different proposition. They match bracing dance beats with gothic emotive vocals that evoke Kate Bush (the ethereal vocals of ‘Cloudbursting’ era Bush) and Wendy Rae Fowler of We Fell to Earth. Early signs are good, so I look forward to having the full album.

Thurston Moore – ‘Demolished Thoughts’ (Matador) 23rd May

Sonic Youth guitarist and Noise rock legend Moore returns to the territory he explored on his last solo album ‘Trees Outside the Academy’ which was an acoustic only effort. This time he’s joined by Beck (in the producer’s chair) and accompanied by violin and cello. Moore has said that Beck’s contribution to the record helped shape the sound of the album and judging by Beck’s recent production credits, this has me excited at a collaboration between these two heavyweights of 90’s alternative rock.

White Denim – ‘D’ (Downtown) 3oth May

White Denim are a band who’ve improved with every release but seem to have gone relatively unnoticed despite producing considerably better and more original music than many of their peers. Hopefully this will all be corrected with the release of their third album ‘D’ which is already gaining many column inches and deservedly so as the two pre-release tracks ‘Anvil Everything’ (super fast liquid riffing) and the Beta Band-esque ‘Drug’ certainly live up to hype. Could be a surprise contender for Album of the Year or not!?!

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