Alanna Eileen - In Your Hands

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I'm going to start this new chapter in the blog with the sort of artist who time has stopped me from writing about. In fact I had three emails starred to follow up on but hadn't until today when one of them jumped out of the page I was deleting emails from.

Instantly it's love, Australian singer-songwriter Alanna Eileen has a rare sort of pure-toned vocal that grabs you the instant you hear it. "Motion" is the track I first heard, the lead track to her second EP In Your Hands (self released last month via Bandcamp) and it's just genuinely gorgeous. Her voice intoxicates as it weaves a pretty tapestry around a twinkling, circling piano melody and soon I am transported back to Sognsvann Lake where I was on Saturday, but this time not running around snow covered paths but lazing amongst an idyllic summer day backdrop dreaming about something far greater than day to day chores of life.

It's a stunning EP, both simplistic and deep and hugely listenable with a set of songs that feel warm and caressing despite the darkness of the intimate subjects. The tracks switch between piano and acoustic guitar through, tender tales of melodic bliss with the title tracks exquisite strings and piano an obviously highlight, whilst the hauntingly beautiful vocals of "Blind Side" will chill you to the bone.

"Mahogany" is an almost jaunty folk track and "Love the Ghost" is another that's so incredibly clear and natural that you'll want to savour each note until it melts your heart.

What this rushed, concise review is basically saying is listen below and enter the most beguiling, poetic world you'll hear this week/month/year. 

Palms on Fire #3 - Where Are The Grey Clouds Going?

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Let's not beat around the bush. "Sword and Shield" is one of the best songs of 2016 so far. An absolutely huge, infectious guitar riff that swamps your mind almost instantly amongst playful, shimmering rhythms and Anna Kislova's striking, honey toned vocals.

It comes from Palms on Fire, a Russian band I've featured here way back in 2010 (way to make me think I'm old and wasting my life!) and again in 2014, the recently released (January 26th) Where Are The Grey Clouds Going? is their debut album (currently only a digital only release via Shelflife - we need a physical copy guys!).

The release is a joy throughout, combining the gorgeously contagious feeling that "Sword and Shield' gives you on the equally catchy "Cars" (an older track revisited) and the funky bass heavy "Life is not a Chase" with a more, sun-kissed, melodic side best heard on the delightful "Sun Creatures" and "Golden Kid". Here the trio are softer, more elegant and the result is the melting of hearts. 

The album glistens with indie pop charm throughout and it makes me think of Just Handshakes (who are sadly missed), that's never a band thing. Go and listen.

Living Hour - Living Hour

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Let’s stick in Canada and stick with immersive, hazy pop. Living Hour though sound more like the trippy come down after the thrilling ride of Twin River posted earlier. Their debut, self-titled album was released last week, Feb 19th via the ever reliable Lefse Records  and offers a compelling introduction to a luxurious world of dream-folk filled with a haunting, soothing atmosphere and enchanting darkness.

“Summer Smog” sums up the eight track release perfectly in both its title and sound; there’s these long, dense instrumentals and rich, swirling ambiance which fills your mind with a lingering nostalgia and blissful melancholy. “This is the Place” similarly stirs with never hurried, brooding atmosphere that entwines echoed percussion with progressive, foggy soundscapes and the most exquisite of vocals into six minutes of enchanting dream-pop. I must name check the thick riffs of the purposely slow “Steady Glazed Eyes” too. It’s bloody gorgeous.

Much the same can be said for the rest of the record, a whole experience with a constant theme of atmosphere that interlocks together and allows each track to shine. If you're looking for a gorgeous, psychedelic trip to soundtrack your lazy day, well Living Hour will not disappoint. 

Even better news for us UK dwellers.... The band were today announced the amongst the latest additions to May's Great Escape. See you in Brighton.

Albums of 2015 #1 - Ryan Adams - 1989

Ryan Adams
1989
Released September 21st, 2015
PAX AM

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What makes your personal album of the year? Is it a record that you think sounds incredible for its time but is quite difficult to digest in one sitting? Is it a record that has lauded critical acclaim at every corner? Or is it simply a record you've played to death and cannot get enough of? In my case it is always the latter, my favourite records are the ones I play over and over and over again. I really couldn't care less what other reviewers say, what other people think or the fact that my favourite record of 2015 is a cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989.

I wasn't convinced before I heard it, I'm not even a big Ryan Adams fan and my love of Taylor Swift doesn't go too much past "Shake It Off', "Wildest Dreams" and "Blank Space". Taylor's album is too mechanical for me, the distorted, processed vocals and synthetic beats aren't my thing but Ryan Adams has taken some quite spectacular songs, re-imagined them and made them feel like my own, an indie album to hit this indie kid right in the gut.

The album flutters between full of swaggering indie-rock instrumentation ("Style") to stripped back guitars full of aching, burning atmosphere ("Blank Space", "This Love"), the result is an emotional tour-de-force that stays long after listening. A complete, cohesive experience and an album I've listened to more than twice the amount than any other record this year - if that isn't your favourite record of the year, what is?

"Welcome to New York" is incredible, sounding like Springsteen at his full pomp with shimmering, echoing guitars and a truly outstanding vocal delivery. "Out of the Woods" is two minutes longer, purposely drawn out and transformed into a slowly waltzing, wounded ballad full of hurt amongst the repeated "Are we out of the woods? Are we in the clear yet? Good" before an inspired instrumental outro full of strings.

"All You Had to Do Was Stay" sounds like the delivery of a man who'd just gone through a painful break-up - of course Adams' had - rumbling percussion, jangly guitars and impassioned, yearning vocals. It's one of the obvious highlights. The other is similar in its heartbreak, "I Wish You Would" sees Ryan Adams' voice front and centre, bruised, fragile and beautiful.

Of the big hits, in my opinion, it is "Wildest Dreams" that works the best, a rich, mid-pace jangle that shines around it's hooky verses and sublime chorus. "How You Get the Girl" sounds like something Ryan Adams would write - he's probably pissed he didn't - heartfelt and emotive it's also brilliant - it's a running theme throughout - and I have to mention the creeping "Clean" too. Like the entire album Adams sings it straight up and from deep inside, it finds the inner sorrow and strength that the shiny originals hide beneath neon synths and digital processing.

This 1989 highlights the genuine artistic talents of both Adams and Swift to new audiences respectively, the best cover album I've ever heard. My album of 2015. 

Albums of 2015 #2 - Anna Von Hausswolff - The Miraculous

Anna Von Hausswolff
The Miraculous
Released November 13, 2015
City Slang

If 2013’s Ceremony was Anna Von Hausswolff offering (and I quote my own review) ‘a captivating, uncompromising vision of darkness and the morose that combines dramatic, vastly ambitious cinematic soundscapes with intense vocals and lyrical themes that come across as a study of loss and death’ then just what is the 2015 follow-up The Miraculous? Vastly more ambitious, Gothic and monstrous for a start. A rock opera to challenge even Jim Steinman.

Its centre-piece is the first track we heard from it, actually two songs, a cover with an original entwined within it “Come Wander With Me/Deliverance”. The track feels like a combination and extension of Anna’s first two records, it is big (of course it is), bombastic and evokes earth-shattering emotion throughout, it’s both heavy and light, dark and celestial. An eleven minute opus of long, dense instrumentals and shivery organ chords that reach far beyond this realm and it leaves the listener completely breathless.

Opening track “Discovery” is the other outstanding epic, only nine minutes this time and some seven minutes before Anna’s haunting vocals enter the fray, by that time the untrained ear may be exhausted. The track belongs in Star Wars, a spacey, deathly procession that would capture the atmosphere of a battleship fight perfectly.

In comparison “Evocation” is a rather fleeting three minutes in length yet the terrifying howls that opens proceeds lets you know it’s coming to pack its punch within that time. There’s thick organ drones and murky guitars amongst Anna’s towering, deeply emotive vocals. Anna Von Hausswolff has a master of light and dark light no other, combining the chilly, natural feeling of her native Scandinavian landscapes with frankly terrifying howls and noises. You feel like you’ve landed north of the wall in Game of Thrones and the White Walkers are watching you.

"An Oath" is impassioned vocals that collide to an utterly gargantuan storm of noise yet it’s not until the last track of the album that we hit even a remotely accessible moment, “Stranger” ends the album with an acoustic, softly whispered tale that calms and soothes after the transcendental darkness before it.

The Miraculous is without doubt not an album for all but is without doubt a (nother) masterpiece from this most magnificent of artists. 

Albums of 2015 #3 - Lanterns on the Lake - Beings

Lanterns on the Lake
Beings
Released November 13th, 2015
Bella Union

Lanterns on the Lake have long known how to produce a cohesive, flowing album that rewards the listener with a consistently interesting and engaging experience, powerful yet melodic, dramatic yet beautiful, haunting yet heart-warming, Beings, the Newcastle bands third full-length might just be the most wholesome yet.

“Of Dust & Matter” sets the decidedly sombre tone, a darkened, glistening look into a sound that is perhaps starker than their earlier material but intensely captivating and more direct too. The brilliant single “Faultlines” immediately bursts into life and sees twinkling piano keys combine with dense, gripping atmosphere and bristling guitars. Ever-bold and innovative, on “Faultlines” Lanterns manage to sound rawer and more aggressive yet still conjure up some of the most beautiful, emotional noise possible.

The focus throughout is coherent theme and atmosphere, the subtle yet sprawling "I'll Stall Them” with its eerie electric guitar whilst the devastating “Send Me Home” is Lanterns at their most minimalistic and charming, it leads into the brilliant “Through The Cellar Door” with a quick one-two straight in the gut. Full of evocative, deeply layered soundscapes that sees the band flit between their trademark crescendos and quiet intersections where a haunting beauty truly hits the fore.

It almost feels wrong not to mention all of the tracks, “Stepping Down” is a spectral electronic number that’s completely different to anything the band have done before it, intensely intoxicating with its dark, tense mood. “The Crawl” is a return to the bands signature slow-burn, emotional and melodic and then there is the incredible title-track, glacial twinkles and tense atmosphere collide in a a wide-ranging, dynamic journey that sums up Lanterns on the Lake, there’s simple few bands around who are this consistently brilliant.

Albums of 2015 #4 - Kid Wave - Wonderlust

Kid Wave
Wonderlust
Released June 1st, 2015
Heavenly

Kid Wave’s debut album Wonderlust is a record guaranteed to improve your mood, a joyous blend of grunge laden guitars and swirling, catchy hooks pared with unrelenting beats and cool, breathy vocals. It’s the sort of record you reach for over and over again as hit upon hit cross your ears with heart-warming results.

Take the opening and title track, three minutes in which the band encapsulate the spirit of youth, full of carefree abandon and blissful optimism, rushing headlong with surging guitars and galloping beats amongst Lea Emmery's heady vocals.

There are singles and nostalgic turns almost at will, “Honey" is a similarly marvelous concoction, a melodious blend of beautiful, hazy textures and bright jangly instrumentation wrapped up in ear-worm vocals. The dreamy, yearning mood only continues on “Best Friend” and the soaring “All I Want” complete with juggernaut beats and shimmering riffs, whilst “Gloom” is anything but.

Wonderlust, however, is not a one trick pony, “Sway” is a gorgeously rich, strutting waltz and “Walk on Fire” is a glorious slow-burn track which spends much of its duration as a sultry ballad before climaxing with an anthemic conclusion and "I'm Trying To Break Your Heart" it sees  lush rhythms and wistful melody combine to breezy, effortlessly effect, both glittery and embracing, it leaves you all gooey and excited inside. 

Those listeners with a love of melody will find so much to desire here. Such an enjoyable, rewarding debut.