Music of 2014, part one

11th May 2014 – 3.59 pm

Or maybe 'Music of 2013, part four'. I'm keen to get some more new music and so look through the backlog of bands that I've been interested in for a while, picking up some albums that I didn't get around to buying in the latter part of 2013. But my reviews aren't really concerned about release dates, even if I tend to focus on buying new music, so here is my latest batch of albums I'm listening to.

Continually gaining positive press, I am at first curious about Speedy Ortiz and then somewhat reluctant to fall for what could be hype. A wanting for new music pushes me to at least see if perhaps the band could live up to the attention, and a short burst convinces me that maybe they can. I pick up debut album Major Arcana. Speedy Ortiz seem to be part of an 90s alternative revival, which sounds good to me. Initial play-throughs don't stir up much enthusiasm, but after a few listens the nuances of the songs start seeping in to my unconscious. Speedy Ortiz are either influenced by bands from the 90s—such as Helium and Sleater-Kinney—or just have an uncanny knack for recreating the style. Either way, it makes for an interesting album that bears repeated listens.

Not an album but a collection of EPs, A Sea of Split Peas seems like a good way to introduce myself to Courtney Barnett. It's rather good, too. The music lilts along nicely, mostly perky, with Barnett's vocals lazily drawling over the top creating a folky feel. She makes singing sound effortless yet an effort at the same time, which is a neat skill. The lyrics are interesting, and certainly quirky, but aren't so peculiar to distract attention from the song as a whole. A Sea of Split Peas is a rather enjoyable collection.

I saw Empty Pools support Menomena at Cargo last year, and they endeared themselves to me, although I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Reaching around to sate my lust for new music coincided with the release of their album Saturn Reruns, giving me a good second opportunity to check them out. And I like it. At first blush, there doesn't seem to be much particularly outstanding about the album, but it also never fades, or ever feeling like too much. The songs are all quite pleasant to listen to, the band clearly play their instruments well and with variation, and the vocals are lovely. A slow-burner perhaps, but Saturn Reruns is a solid debut.

Swearin' is another band playing seemingly 90s-influenced indie guitar music, and on Surfing Strange they do so somewhat successfully. The heavy fuzz and vocals with a strong rhotic accent make me reminisce about my early steps in to alternative music, and are backed-up by a decent collection of songs that have distinct character. Even so, whilst the songs are good enough and there is much to distinguish them from each other, nothing really meshes with me. Surfing Strange is nicely average, an album that I can listen to passively but not really a record I'd choose to put on.

The first album from Yuck was rather good, and continues to get played, its apparent simplicity belying a solid compositional core to the songs. The loss of Yuck's singer/songwriter Daniel Blumberg could have been a problem, but the band bounce back and produce second offering Glow and Behold. Sadly, the album only really shows how reliant Yuck were on Blumberg. His solo project as Hebronix demonstrates Blumberg's acumen for creating simple-sounding but intricate songs, which clearly formed the core of Yuck's first album and is now obviously missing from the second. The band try to replicate their own style but each time come up short, sounding too much like they are only trying to replicate their style. Glow and Behold sounds like Yuck but misses the mark. For anyone wanting the second Yuck album, I would recommend Hebronix instead.

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