Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews Edition #12

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Start your week with some good listening! We've picked out a bunch of recent records for you and reviewed them. The National, Ghostpoet, Vampire Weekend, Deafhaven, Disclosure and Iron And Wine - we've got them all here. Remember to tell us what you've been listening to of late as well! 

Disclosure | Settle

The brothers from Surrey have settled into a very sweet spot with their long awaited full-length debut album after many months of hype and buzz built through several EPs, singles and remixes. Despite its presumed house, garage and bass leanings, the album is at the end of the day, a dance pop record and a rock-solid one at that. As a pop album, the duo have effectively produced very accessible and unbelievably catchy tracks, complete with a varied roster of guest vocalists (with outstanding vocal cuts by Sam Smith, Jamie Woon and Eliza Doolittle), irresistible hooks and lush, bright tones. The beats are rightfully restrained, never going on a excessive assault on your senses (as other current DJs are wont to conduct). Not at all trashy. 

The Lawrence brothers seem to have an impeccable sense of what works as a Disclosure song. They take the best grooves of house, dance, and pop - repackaging them into a tight, easily digestible electronic track. Settle goes down smooth, containing strong aftertastes of full-bodied sophistication and style, and counts as one of this year’s essential dance records.

Standout tracks:
Latch, You & Me, Tenderly

Deafheaven | Sunbather

Let’s just make this clear, Sunbather is not really an accessible record - it contains all the sonic hell that is black metal. But as far as modern black metal goes, genre upholders are moving past tradition and fusing them with other influences, as a mark of evolution. In the case of Deafheaven, they have essentially created a sound that is, for lack of a better label, ‘post-black metal’ - combining the shrill vocal eruptions, dark themes and blast beats of black metal with the uplifting guitar-driven crescendoes of post-rock and shoegaze.  

The combination of cinematic soundscapes (that you’ll easily find in an Explosions In The Sky or Sigur Ros record) with raw, brutal vocal rasps and drumming (that you’ll easily find in any Burzum or Liturgy record) enhances the intensity of both genres; a potent, lofty concoction of violence and drama. The music is a constant wave of varying emotional triggers, effortlessly transitioning between pretty instrumentations (with calming piano melodies!) and crushing metal riffs. It’s an oddly pleasing sound. 

Sunbather is truly an overwhelming experience from start to finish, and something that can only be described as savagely beautiful. 

Standout Tracks:
Dream House, Sunbather, The Pecan Tree

The National | Trouble Will Find Me

Six albums into their career, The National remain as downbeat as ever. Perhaps their morose and brooding brand of indie rock will stick with them as long as they make music together. This makes them the target of the occasional critic, confounded at the heaps of praise this band gets with each record. Who cares, they do it so well anyway. That doesn’t make them a one-note band; just a group that has mastered and finely-tuned their identity over the years.
Trouble Will Find Me sees the Brooklyn-based quintet back to lyrical themes of self-doubt and insecurity along with the urban melancholia that they always produce with great finesse. 

They’ve toned down on the horns since their ambitious 2010 masterpiece High Violet but their tracks sound as lush as ever: ‘Heavenfaced’ and ‘Humiliation’ are prime examples. Meanwhile, ‘Sea of Love’ sounds like something out of their Alligator days while we predict ‘Graceless’ would be a prime setlist favourite. ‘This Is The Last Time’ may also be one of the most delicate pieces we’ve heard this band record in a long time.

As if Matt Berninger’s smooth falsetto isn’t enough, The National rope in a bevy of talented musicians to contribute, many of them frequent collaborators (Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent amongothers). While TWFM may not reach the grand towering heights of High Violet or even Boxer, the end result remains to be a solid addition to their lavishly bleak discography; one that will be remembered in decades to come.

Standout tracks:
Humiliation, This Is the Last Time, Demons

Ghostpoet | Some Say I So I Say Light

The music of Ghostpoet has always been a stand-out in the ever-expanding landscape of hip-hop. Hailing from the outskirts of London, the rapper eschews the boastful style and nature that has always clouded the main culture of hip-hop in favor of intimate sounds along with emotive vocals that have more in common with electronic acts like James Blake and Mount Kimbie than Kendrick Lamar or even MF DOOM. 

While his debut Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam seemed promising albeit uneven, his sophomore follow-up Some Say I So I Say Light sees his style more refined and polished than ever. Along with his abstract beats and dense textured synths, he utilizes traditional instruments for certain tracks, adding human warmth to his hazy tales of urban despair and desolation. Adding guest vocalists (Bloc Party’s Dave Okumu, Lucy Rose and Woodpecker Wooliams) into the mix, Ghostpoet weaves an album that is eerily alluring, strange yet comforting.

Standout tracks:
Meltdown, Comatose, Sloth Trot

Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City

Perhaps one of the most intriguing bands out there, we've seen them all decked out in preppy clothes, mucking around with home-made werewolf movies, dabbled with African beats and coining 'Upper West Side Soweto', churning out colourful music videos, one of them appeared on HBO's series 'Girls', and more recently employing Steve Buscemi onboard as - I'm not too sure what his role is but he's always there alright. It's not hard to follow up with Vampire Weekend, they've had two very successful albums, always relevant in pop culture and they're social media-savvy. Basically, they're already a high-functioning band and people already love them and they've fulfilled all expectations with Modern Vampires of the City.

This album is a huge leap for the band lyrically and sonically. From the opening track, you get that Modern is more mature sounding and it goes on throughout the album. It may be less punk, less holiday-sounding then previous releases but it doesn't mean it's any less boring. Loaded with choral crescendos, mucking around with murky vocals via auto-tune, organs, old synthesizers, grandeur of strings and piano, it compliments the ongoing theme of lost youth, age, religion and death. Pretty heavy stuff for the band who gave us A-Punk, right? Still they mix this up with Modest Mouse name-checking, referencing the Communist Reader, the Old Testament, Paradise Lost and Nick Cave. Ah, my heart bursts at this. But you should know that despite the #YOLO image they perpetually put out, these guys are obviously a smart, thoughtful bunch. Says frontman Ezra Koenig to the New York Times, "In the past I think a lot of our songs had detours, surreal moments, vignettes. I feel like every song on this album has a specific purpose." Like their other records, Modern is a solid one. It is fantastic sounding, there is less borrowing and playing around with 'influences' - this band is settling into a primary sound that they can call their own.

Standout tracks:
Step, Hannah Hunt, Ya Hey

Iron And Wine | Ghost On Ghost

If you’re thinking “Oh yey another album of sad songs by Iron And Wine!” – man you are wrong. There are mellow/sad moments but Ghost On Ghost is a somewhat spirited return for Sam Beam and gang. After dabbling in sad-folk-indie music (that actually made Iron And Wine known), Ghost is definitely a pick up from the sketchy and somewhat crowded previous record Kiss Each Other Clean, from 2011.

Sam Beam has always an experimental sort and this album stands out because it is a departure from the Iron And Wine we are familiar with. There are 70s funk and jazz grooves, walking bass lines, R&B horn lines, layered harmonies and rich string parts. The jazz element is strong with the track ‘Lovers’ Revolution’ a conscious nod to Charles Mingus. However with too much of a mish-mash of blues, jazz, funk, folk, country AND Iron And Wine – Ghost is an album that might take a little more getting used to. Especially if you’ve been a long-time follower of their sad, melancholic phase.

One of the quieter tracks on Ghost, ‘Winter Prayers’ is a gem, not because it is a sad-sounding one but also, it comes across as more untouched and less produced. When everything else on the album is a busy amalgamation of grooves and whatnots, there is at least one track that can be enjoyed properly. Sure, we admire Sam Beam for his determination to always keep changing and experimenting but it doesn’t seem as if he is working with what already works for Iron And Wine and develop from there, instead he is starting from the scratch again for every new album he puts out.

Standout tracks:
Caught In The Briars, Grace for Saints and Ramblers, Winter Prayers

Text: Ilyas Sholihyn, Daniel Peters, Daniel Utomo