Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews | February

Ought — Room Inside the World

As is so often the case, with album number three comes a little more focus and a tighter sense of musicality for Ought as like for so many others. The dark, Post-Punk vocals of previous albums are still prominent, most clearly on the very Cure-like ‘Disaffectation’. Elsewhere, on tracks like ‘These 3 Things’ there’s a broader palette, with strings providing significant depth and beauty. The most notable track ‘Desire’, with its Edwyn Collins-alike vocals, gives lie to the fact that while Ought are regularly compared to Post-Punk luminaries such as The Cure, their influence clearly stretches later to early Indie bands like Orange Juice. That’s no bad thing as ‘Desire’ is the highlight of the piece. Check it out here.

MGMT — Little Dark Age

Once a smash hit Indie Pop group who have turned their noses up at commercial success ever since, MGMT may have come as close as they’ll get to full circle on this latest release. Eschewing the drifting Psychedelia found on their last two releases, Little Dark Age focuses on the tones and textures that make Psych Pop fun rather than wide ranging. While Pop is now back in focus, its clear MGMT still retain a moodiness that separates them from the day-glo crowd. Album highlight ‘When You Die’ features darkly masochistic lyrics of self loathing that duel a downright catchy, upbeat melody. It’s as inventive and engaging and a delight to hear once more. Catch it here.

Hookworms — Microshift

Album number three from Hookworms sees a shift in sound greater than the title suggests. The layers of feedback and distorted guitar have been stripped back, shining a brighter light on the details of the Hookworm sound. The solid motorik rhythms are still in place holding things down, however the vocals are at their clearest and boldest yet. In themselves these elements have always been there, but without the lens of feedback distorting their view the sheer joy and precision of this music is now finally visible. Kicking off with crisp snares, opening track ‘Negative Space’ is a radiant start to a confident and surprisingly warm career highlight. You can hear it here.

Hollie Cook — Vessel of Love

Having acquired her love of Reggae from her time working with Ari Up of The Slits, Hollie Cook has developed a perfect blend of Dub and Lovers’ Rock with help from some of the very best in the business. Vessel of Love is produced by the hugely talented Youth, from Killing Joke, while beats and rhythms have been provided by both Jah Wobble and Prince Fatty. Most notable, however, is how singularly envisioned this album appears. Though upbeat and breezy in tone there remains a melancholy to Cook’s vocals that is often missed from contemporary Lovers’ Rock yet is completely in keeping with the origins of the genre. It’s clear this is an album that comes from a deep love for the music. Don’t miss it by starting here.

Dream Wife — Dream Wife

Big guitar riffs, bigger choruses, and plenty of attitude are the order of the day on this self-titled debut from Dream Wife. Originally conceived of as a fictional band as part of a college course, the trio carry the sense of fun so centrally necessary to Punk Rock like this. Setting them apart from others is Icelandic-born Rakel Mjöll’s pointed vocal cadence which is part Patti Smith part Karen O and completely her own. Highlights abound as ‘Taste’ takes down the path of classic 90s Alt-Rockers, perfectly distilling Pop and Grungey Punk. Elsewhere, ‘F.U.U’ is a full out Riot Grrl rocker with a sideways sense of humour in its stripped back message of female empowerment. Listen to the album here.

Calexico — The Thread That Keeps Us

The Thread That Keeps Us is as eclectic a mix of Indie Rock as we’ve seen from Calexico, who have always been better known for Latin infused Americana and Folk. Here they venture further afield into Reggae on ‘Under The Wheels’ and get as close to straight Indie as we’re likely to see on ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. Furthest out is the Funk odyssey of ‘Another Space’ which perfectly encapsulates the core narrative theme of this album; place, movement and belonging. In the current political climate, particularly in the US South West from where the band hails, these subjects make this as directly political an album as Calexico have released so far. It’s all the better for it. Find out more by listening here.

Django Django — Marble Skies

Melding Disco, Electro, Psych and Pop into appealingly groove-heavy works is the craft at which Django Django continue to prove themselves masterfully consistent. Energetic cuts like ‘Tic Tac Toe’ flash by in an anthemic blur, while the Future R&B beats of ‘Surface To Air’ bring a steadier yet no less irresistible sense of urgency to proceedings. ‘In Your Beat’ builds on an Electro House beat that out Hot Chips Hot Chip. The epic, rolling nature of the title track gets our seal of approval as the album highlight; outlandish and jubilant in the best way possible. Get a taste right here.

Franz Ferdinand — Always Ascending

Now without founding guitarist Nick McCarthy, Franz Ferdinand are back with fewer staccato riffs but without the loss of their sharp, punning lyricism. No longer setting out to get audiences dancing on tables, it’s an album that squeezes everything it can out of the lyrics and vocals of Alex Kapranos. Title track ‘Always Ascending’ riffs on a musicological pun referencing the “Shepard Tone”, an aural trick that appears as though a sound is getting higher in pitch without end. Elsewhere we get a little more socially conscious with references to the NHS and DSS in ‘Huck and Jim’ while ‘Lois Lane’ takes on the subject of conscience and journalism. Well realised images and ideas spring from every corner. Discover it for yourself here.

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