Albums round-up - May 2014

New release from Joe Howe, Noo, Django Django, Sharon Van Etten and First Aid Kit reviewed

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Albums round-up - May 2014

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

(Columbia) ●●●
First Aid Kit are a band out of time, two fragrant flower children in diaphanous dresses daydreaming about Woodstock. But the Soderberg sisters (pictured, above) inhabit their chosen realm of wistful Americana with a convincing confidence, bringing immaculate, evocative vocals, unobtrusive harmonies and robust songwriting chops to the table. On this occasion, their classic country references are souped up with lush string arrangements worthy of Lee Hazlewood. The results are never less than pleasant and frequently much more. (Fiona Shepherd)

Joe Howe – 'EX' EP

(Sound Pellegrino) ●●●●
After previously putting music out as Ben Butler & Mousepad, and as half of Gay Against You, the 'EX' EP is Glasgow’s Joe Howe’s first release under the name his parents gave him. In these eight forward-thinking, playful electronic tracks, Howe has created his own brand of digital funk which merges the structure of Jean-Claude Vannier’s 1970s’ compositions with sounds you’ll have heard before on a late 80s SNES soundtrack, but with plenty added groove. (Colin Robertson)

Noo – 'Noo' EP

(Optimo Music Disco Plate) ●●●
The inaugural release from the always excellent Optimo Music’s new sub-label, Optimo Music Disco Plate, is a double A-side 12” by Noo. The duo cleverly combine samples with analogue hardware, and the self-titled EPs sound falls somewhere between classic New York disco like Dinosaur L, and golden-era Italo disco like BWH, fermenting the genre down to its best elements – lush synths and bouncy basslines – and breathing new life into it in the process. (CR)

Django Django – Late Night Tales

(Late Night Tales) ●●●
East London-based, Edinburgh-formed Django Django are the latest band to curate an albums-worth of summery jams as part of the Late Night Tales series. From the ethereal jazz piano of Bob James, to the prairie guitars of Leo Kottke, via the psychy and surfy sounds of the Beach Boys, and laid back jangles of boogie-rockers Canned Heat, their effort is well put together, and has the same spirit of boyhood fun and adventure as the band’s own music. (CR)

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

(Jagjaguwar) ●●●●
‘Confessional’ is a word that’s almost ubiquitous when describing Sharon Van Etten’s music, and it’s hard to disagree when the subject matter is as personal as it is here. The New York-based songstress’ follow up to 2012’s outstanding Tramp is an intense ride at times, like on ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ where she sings, ‘Stab my eyes so I can’t see you,’ but there aren’t many songwriters out there creating music as beautifully vulnerable as Van Etten. (CR)

Guided by Voices – Cool Planet

(Fire) ●●●
The GBV reunion is going such great guns that Robert Pollard and the gang have opted to record their second album of the year in an actual studio. Otherwise, Cool Planet is another typically casual dispatch of pithy, disarming, innately melodic garage indie songs which never outstay their welcome and sometimes barely make it across the threshold. There are stylistic nods to Dylan, Bowie and glam rock in the spontaneous mix and some grizzly vocals from Pollard which suggest that he is only improving with age. (Fiona Shepherd)

The Hazey Janes – Language of Faint Theory

(Armellodie) ●●●●
Dundee’s Hazey Janes make the art of pop songwriting sound so simple on their latest album, inspired by the people and places of their native Dundee and surely suffused with the memory of Alice and Matthew Marra’s father Michael. Language of Faint Theory is a consistently rewarding collection of rootsy indie, tender, comforting MOR, languorous, heartbreak country rock and romantic beat pop, wrought with great attention to detail and cloaked in the warmth of analogue production (FS)
The Hazey Janes play Broadcast, Glasgow, Fri 13 Jun.

Owen Pallett – In Conflict

(Domino) ●●●●
Arcade Fire’s violinist and now Oscar-nominated composer follows up his previous concept albums with a more personal collection of relationship ruminations, expressed with semi-operatic melodic twists and turns. Pallett’s voice is very precise and proper as if holding the emotions he is expressing at arm’s length, but the music – whether the sombre pomp of ‘Chorale’, the delicate intimacy of ‘The Passions’ or the inexorable pound of ‘The Riverbed’ – is ravishing. (FS)

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