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Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s good to be back. Music-wise, 2017 has already kicked off with a promising start, which is great since we might have to soon take it underground to our bunkers. Alternatively, during periods of social strife we tend to get great art. It’s about time for punk to make a big comeback.

The xx released a great new record, Japandroids gave us some great new fist-pumping jams, and now damn near everyone knows who Migos is (which is long overdue). But outside of those, there have been a few other noteworthy albums we were listening to this month when we weren’t watching Missy Elliott’s new video. We hope you enjoy.

Bonobo

Migration

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

Bonobo’s been in the game since the turn of the millennium, but from the beginning of this decade his output started to define the sound most know him for today. 2010’s Black Sands and 2013’s The North Borders were both expansive and solid albums that mixed live instrumentation with Bonobo’s love for electronics. Migration is much the same, making for a solid addition to what might become a trilogy of sorts. It’s the calmest of the three albums and takes a few listens to peel away the delicate layers of the whole thing.

Migration makes great use of guest vocalists but doesn’t rely on them too heavily to ensure the album’s success. “Break Apart,” featuring guest vocals from Rhye, is a lesson in restraint. It breathes. The drums hit the hardest in the beginning before quieting down into simple snare triplets and handclaps. Rhye’s voice is ever calm and warm.

Then there is “Surface” with a great contribution from Nicole Miglis from Hundred Waters that succeeds in being both melancholic and hopeful (not to mention giving hope to a new Hundred Waters album). For those hoping for songs more in line with Bonobo’s previous albums there aren’t many aside from “Kerela” which is one of the more upbeat tracks and “Grains,” a great song that pulls together disparate sounds into a beautiful whole.

I saw Bonobo play at a small venue back in 2010 when he was touring for Black Sands. The stage could just hold his backing band. Everyone in the ensemble was capable of playing multiple instruments. They brought the house down. This wasn’t just a solitary figure standing behind a MacBook and twiddling nobs. It was clear that his musical ambitions and the ways in which he wanted to present his music were much grander than that of a solo bedroom producer. When Bonobo toured a few years later for The North Borders, those shows ended up edging on spectacle. With Migration he may be gathering even more momentum, even if it’s by taking a softer approach.

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Mark Eitzel

Hey Mr Ferryman

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

The argument that could be made against Mark Eitzel is the same argument that could be made for him: his solo work is interchangeable with his work as the frontman for American Music Club. Admittedly his smoky crooning is a bit of a trademark, and if casual listeners heard one of his solo songs back-to-back with an AMC song, they may not be able to tell the difference. Although loved by many and widely regarded as one of the most underrated bands of the 90s, American Music Club haven’t been that prolific for decades, and haven’t released a new album since 2008’s The Golden Age (with and all signs pointing to them having broken up for good), but Eitzel has been releasing albums on his own since the 80s while surpassing his band’s output with his own material. We’re lucky to have him either way.

Eitzel is sardonic, witty, dark, and tender, often all in the same song. He makes music for the downtrodden and the deserted. His story-telling ability through song makes you realize that hardly anyone tells stories in songs anymore. His music, often a jagged take on Americana, jazz, blues and country, is as sharp as his lyrics.

Hey Mr Ferryman is a welcome return. The opening track, “The Last Ten Years,” kicks off the album with a breezy guitar strum and snare that sounds like it came out of a 70s recording studio. In the song Eitzel seems at ease with the fact that he’s being carted off to hell, the ferryman being the one taking him down the river Styx.

“An Angel’s Wing Brushed the Penny Slots” uses a bossa nova beat preset and acoustic guitar to tell the story of a widower who has no other hope than the piecemeal takes he can get from a cheap casino, as lady luck continuously betrays him. “Cause if I give up hope then what have I got,” Eitzel sings conveying there’s little left for the fragile character to hold on to. There are thirteen tracks of these stories and perspectives from one of America’s most underrated troubadours. It feels like catching up with an old friend who’s been out to sea and has seen some shit that you need to sit down and hear.

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Enemies

Valuables

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

Most band break-ups are as messy as any other type of relationship. The news can be sudden, feelings get hurt, the lead singer embarks on a lame-ass solo career, the bass player goes back to his job in IT, etc. When Enemies decided to call it a day, they did so with a mission to record one final album before parting ways. The band had sensed that they were moving in different directions musically, but it’s interesting that what they committed to tape on Valuables is so pointed and concise. Now Enemies are no more. After a few years the four-piece from Kilcoole, Ireland has decided to call it a day but not before leaving behind one final great album.

Now Enemies are no more. After a few years the four-piece from Kilcoole, Ireland has decided to call it a day but not before leaving behind one final great album.

Enemies make melodic, intricate and (mostly) instrumental rock music that should be welcome for fans of post-rock. If you compare Valuables to their two previous albums, it’s a welcome addition that sees the band mellowing more than going out in a blaze of glory. Sure, the album starts off with pretty energetic lead-off in the song “Itsallwaves,” but further down, songs like “Glow” and “Bonopi” do little else but let the instruments breathe into a slow takeoff.

Listening to the album from start to finish you begin to gain a sense of calm more than the excitement that was so readily present in their previous album Embark, Embrace. In a final interview, drummer and guitarist Eoin Whitfield mentioned that the writing process for this album had become almost too difficult, but that isn’t something sensed by the listener. Enemies spared us the drama and gave us one last album that serves as a final nod to their brief, but interesting career.

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Sheer Mag

Compilation LP

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

OK, so admittedly this is nothing new since the music contained here is simply Sheer Mag’s first three EPs compiled into one package, but if you haven’t heard Sheer Mag’s brand of ass-shaking bar rock, then saddle up. Sheer Mag released their first EP in 2014 and it didn’t take long for fans and critics alike to come swarming. The Philly

Sheer Mag released their first EP in 2014 and it didn’t take long for fans and critics alike to come swarming. The Philly five-piece soon went from DIY venues to touring the world. That first EP was promising – the perfect mix of lo-fi scuz, killer licks, punk attitude and soul underpinnings. Front woman Tina Halladay’s ecstatic voice was the linchpin that just made everything that much better.  In 2015, they released their second EP, II, which created more buzz while still giving people just enough to stay hungry for more. Their third EP, III, came out last year thus furthering the drip feed just enough to keep fans slightly satisfied.

Now all three EPs are bundled together in one complete package and that makes for a great continuous listen (unless you really enjoyed flipping their 7-inch releases over after two songs). It’s a blast from beginning to end. It makes me wish that every working jukebox in every dive bar the world over was loaded with their albums.

It feels like the end of a refreshing prologue, and perhaps the beginning of something new and exciting the band might have in store for us (like the full-length album they’re working on this year). There wasn’t a dull moment on any of those EPs, so in the coming years Sheer Mag’s loftiest challenge might just be themselves. I’m confident they’ll be up to it but for now am more than happy to put this on repeat during bouts of cheap beer consumption.

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Tornado Wallace

Lonely Planet

Five albums from January 2017 you may have missed

Dreaming of sunny, relaxed locales in less turbulent parts of the world might become a recognized pastime for a lot of us over the next four years. If you do have these tendencies, or if you’ve always had them, then Lonely Planet is the album for you. In spite of his chosen

In spite of his chosen moniker, there is actually nothing tornadic about the music of Aussie producer Tornado Wallace. Instead, Lonely Planet is a calm and relaxing journey of sound that makes use of World Music, New Age, Dub, and a nod to House-style repetition. It’s a walk through a dewy jungle, just after the rain has ceded. Bird chirps sound out against drum loops made from wooden instruments. Guitars, synths, and flutes cascade and intermingle like singles on a Caribbean cruise. The album is a travelogue of sound that manages to conjure up comforting vibes when you might just need them the most. For God’s sake, there’s even a song on the album called “Heeling Feeling.”

Lonely Planet shares similarities with the globe-spanning pop of groups like Swedish duo Studio (and their subsequent spin-off projects like Atelje), but it’s good to see that sound picked up and reshaped even more.

Tornado Wallace got his start as a House producer and still makes music for a pretty solid dance label out of Frankfurt but Lonely Planet could just as easily make fans of the Windham Hill or Echoes variety. It’s an album that has something for everyone, assuming everyone wants some interesting and calming music in their lives.  If you can’t actually make it to that sunny locale you’re dreaming of, then the next best thing might be to put this album on repeat while you outline your escape.

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After attending the University of Kansas, Nate left his homeland and moved to Australia. He now buys too many books and records, and can be found fare-evading on public transportation in Melbourne.