Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free CD/LP (ATO)
“Chicano Batman has always exuded soulfulness in a broad sense of the term, but with Freedom Is Free, they're deliberately playing with '60s and '70s R&B influences. Ample credit goes to new collaborator Leon Michels, the Brooklyn-based soul producer who's worked with everyone from Lee Fields and the late Sharon Jones to the Black Keys and Wu-Tang's Raekwon. Together, he and Chicano Batman don't transform the group's sound so much as subtly expand it. Gabriel Villa's funky drumming becomes a more prominent anchor, especially on the album's outstanding, mid-tempo stepper, "Jealousy," while the title track still hums with dream-pop guitars, but now adds a boogie bounce on bass. As Freedom Is Free's title suggests, Chicano Batman is also making a statement on the current moment, a deliberate rejoinder to the militaristic bromide that ‘freedom is not free.’ I'm not sure Chicano Batman has ever cut a track as explicitly political as the album's penultimate song, ‘The Taker Story.’ Martinez, normally so languorous on vocals, brings a more forceful presence, like a latter-day Gil Scott-Heron or Eugene McDaniels, singing about the predatory nature of mankind and how it leads to ‘genocide and extinction, all the functions of civilization.’” – WUWM Milwaukee
Ed Sheeran – ÷ (Divide) CD/2xLP (Atlantic)
Ed’s third studio album – is on course to become one of the most significant global album releases of 2017 and sees the 25-year-old Suffolk native in his finest form yet. The genre-defying LP is the result of an artist who consistently pushes himself in new directions, uncovering fresh musical ground using a seemingly limitless musical vocabulary. Drawing inspiration from a host of personal experiences and subjects, Ed takes you through a hugely personal journey; be that reflecting on past relationships, family memories, his musical career or his time off travelling the world in 2016. Musically ÷ (Divide) is an array of beautifully orchestrated and emotive ballads, impassioned raps laid over hip-hop beats, timeless acoustic guitar masterpieces and innovative, idiosyncratic pop music. Ed’s record-breaking dual comeback singles perfectly highlight one of the distinct divides in his musical spectrum with “Castle On The Hill” (an ode to his hometown of Framlingham, Suffolk) positioning itself towards a stadium-ready, rockier sound and “Shape Of You” dismantling and rebuilding modern-pop using little more than a loop pedal. The album reveal everything in-between whilst showcasing Ed’s impeccable guitar playing, peerless lyricism, boundless musical palate and jarringly-honest, and often autobiographical, storytelling.
Ethan Gruska – Slowmotionary CD (Sire)
Ethan Gruska's solo debut, the luminous Slowmotionary, embraces a range of sounds and styles, with influences from jazz and folk to ambient and alternative. It integrates everything into a whole that is original, idiosyncratic, and embraces its own imperfections. “I really tried to let that humanity in and to not only leave these quirky blemishes in, but to highlight them,” says Gruska. “I didn't want perfect. I wanted true. I wanted honest.” He made room for a little serendipity in his creative process, sensing that too calculated an approach would diminish the impact of the music. That spontaneity provided a wonderful counterpoint to his thoughtful and revealing lyrics. Showcasing Gruska's hushed vocals and subtle arrangements, these songs resonate with the intimacy of an internal monologue, as though we're sharing in his darkest worries. The results are beautifully minimalist: songs as whispered confidences, with what Gruska calls an "arctic" sound, windswept and cold, befitting lyrics that depict moments frozen in time.
Grandaddy – Last Place CD/LP+MP3 (30th Century)
Last Place, Grandaddy’s first new album since 2006, is a perfect addition to the band's celebrated, critically-acclaimed catalogue, that includes their breakthrough sophomore album, Sophtware Slump, and their debut, Under The Western Freeway. It's a symphonic swirl of lo-fi sonics and mile-high harmonies, found sounds and electronics-gone-awry mingling with perfect, power pop guitar tones. Lytle's voice sounds as warm and intimate as ever, giving graceful levity to the doomsday narratives that have dominated the Grandaddy output. “Grandaddy‘s comeback album finds Jason Lytle and crew picking up right where they left off over a decade ago. The band’s easygoing style, fuzzy guitars, arpeggiating synths and Lytle’s world-weary vocals, is ageless and Lytle’s lyrical themes of alienation in a world of creeping urban development and technological advances seem more pertinent than ever. It’s welcome return for fans and doesn’t make a bad entry point for the initiated” – Brooklyn Vegan.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai CD/LP+MP3 (Merge)
Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine is a clash of African and electronic elements inspired in equal measure by the golden era of West African funk, disco, modern post-punk, and electro. The album title Uyai means “beauty” in Ibibio language and refers to the strength and free spirit of women in general and, in particular, the courage of the women in Eno’s family, to whom she often refers in her writing. “It is a continuation of Ibibio Sound Machine’s story in which the worlds of West African highlife and electronic London collide via the storytelling lyrical thread of frontwoman Eno Williams’ vocals in the Ibibio language of Nigeria,” the band explains. “There is a darker, edgier quality to the sound that maybe reflects the difficult journey the band took from making the first album to completing the second one. The songs are based more around themes of empowerment, freedom, and the liberation of dance for women, and people in general.” The songs of Uyai tackle the stories of life—both large and small. Weird and wonderful folk stories, recounted to Eno by her family as a child in her mother’s Ibibio tongue, form the creative fabric from which the band’s unique musical tapestry is woven. Evocative poetic imagery and empowering messages set against an edgy, Afro-Electro soundscape give the band a unique space within the current wave of modern Afrocentric sounds sweeping across the globe.
The Kernal – Light Country CD/LP (Single Lock)
The Kernal is a throwback acid-country quartet hailing from Jackson, Tennessee.
Minus The Bear – VOIDS CD/LP (Suicide Squeeze)
On their sixth album VOIDS, Minus the Bear started with a blank slate, and inadvertently found themselves applying the same starting-from-scratch strategies that fueled their initial creative process. Album opener “Last Kiss” immediately establishes the band's renewed fervor. An appropriately dizzying guitar line plunges into a propulsive groove before the chorus unfolds into a multi-tiered pop chorus. From there the album flows into “Give & Take,” a tightly wound exercise in syncopation that recalls the celebratory pulse of early Bear classics like “Fine + 2 Pts” while exploring new textures and timbres. "Invisible" is arguably the catchiest song of the band's career, with Jake Snider's vocal melodies and Knudson's imaginative guitar work battling for the strongest hooks. “What About The Boat?” reminds us of the “math-rock” tag that followed the band in their early years, with understated instrumentation disguising an odd-time beat. “Erase,” recalls the merging of forlorn indie pop and electronica that the band dabbled with on their early EPs, but demonstrates the Bear's ongoing melodic sophistication and tonal exploration. By the time the band reaches album closer “Lighthouse,” they've traversed so much sonic territory that the only appropriate tactic left at their disposal is a climactic crescendo, driven at its peak by Cory Murchy's thunderous bass.
Temples – Volcano CD/LP (Fat Possum)
It doesn’t take too long with Volcano to realize that, while all the things that made Temples special the first time around remain intact, a noticeable evolution has taken place. It’s there from the outset: the beefed-up beats of “Certainty” reveal an expanded sonic firmament, one in which bright synth hooks and insistent choruses circle around each other over chord sequences that strike just the right balance between nice and queasy. it’s harder to spot the influences this time around. It would be disingenuous to evade the psych-pop tag, for sure, but mystical language has been supplanted by something a more direct – and while those influences are still there, it’s no longer possible to pick them out. They’ve been broken down and blended together – fossilized into a single source of creative fuel, so that what you can hear this time around, sounds like nothing so much as Temples. [Limited edition neon orange color vinyl edition also available.]