Indie

Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas

ARTIST: COCTEAU TWINS

ALBUM: HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS

LABEL (YEAR):  4AD (1990)

FOR FANS OF: THIS MORTAL COIL, SLOWDIVE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE

 

Words by Stef Fiorendi


Cocteau Twins are one of 4AD's flagship artists. They not only defined a genre but also an aesthetic: ethereal and sensuous soundscapes that go hand in hand with enigmatic and abstract sleeve artworks designed by Vaughan Oliver.

The entirety of Heaven or Las Vegas, Cocteau Twins' last album for 4AD, is a powerful and surrealistic dream in a world of technicolor. Elizabeth Fraser is the ethereal narrator, her unique soprano voice levitating over a vast open landscape, delicately and gradually filling the listener with lush, bursting energy. On 'Fotzepolitic' and 'Pitch the Baby', the thick and succinct basslines of Simon Raymonde bring things back to a human dimension, revealing a conceptual accessibility which prevents the listener/dreamer from completely drifting off to Heaven, and allows them to find a tangible contact with their own personal Las Vegas.

This album is luminous ecstasy, fuelled by the enigmatic and barely intelligible lyrics which create a sense of climactic mystery. Like the dichotomy between good and evil, Heaven or Las Vegas determines your transgression to other-worldly realms. It's either a spiritual connection with God or an uninhibited journey to Sin City. No judgement involved.


Richard Hawley - Coles Corner

ARTIST: RICHARD HAWLEY

ALBUM: COLES CORNER

LABEL (YEAR):  Mute (2005)

FOR FANS OF: PULP, NICK CAVE, ROY ORBISON

 

Words by Sam Hall


Repeatedly heralded as Sheffield's bullish answer to Sinatra, Richard Hawley has a knack for finding a lilting, effortless melody and transposing the most romantic prose over it. It simply melts your cold, unaffected heart. You can see his influence in fellow Steel city-man Alex Turner, amongst others. Yet what sets him apart from his contemporaries isn't just his reserved arrangements, swoonsome rhythms & dulcet tones, it's that his affections aren't restricted to his lovers, with each song finding its respective subject – a city, street, friend or addiction – and pining for it in equal measure. This is arguably his strongest record to date and indisputably the perfect starting point for those unacquainted with our lad from up north.

Take comfort on a grey and rainy day, this record makes you want to grow old with a city; a perfect distillation of Sheffield in all its humble beauty.


The Bees - Sunshine Hit Me

ARTIST: THE BEES

ALBUMSUNSHINE HIT ME

LABEL (YEAR): WE LOVE YOU (2002)    

FOR FANS OF: SMOKEY ROBINSON, THE SMALL FACES, THE CORAL, DEVENDRA BANHART

 

 

Words by Theo Kotz


The Bees have been around for some time, always straddling the space between the big-time and the unknown. They’ve never really reflected any kind of scene, or been followers of the mainstream. Saying that, the use of some of their tunes in TV ads, along with support slots with Oasis and Madness meant they were hardly underground either. I remember getting Free The Bees (the follow up to this one) for Christmas at age 13 from my cousin whose music I respected. It didn’t sound like a new album – I thought it was some obscure curiosity I could impress my mates with. No-one had heard of it, but a couple of weeks later I saw it knocked down to a couple of quid in HMV.

The point of all this is it’s hard to know how to place The Bees, which is fitting, because they aren’t limited to anything really. This first album was the work of Paul Butler and Aaron Fletcher in Butler’s parents' shed (before touring commitments meant they had to assemble a bigger crew). Both multi-instrumentalists who are obsessed with music, the result is a record with influences as wide as the Solent. Seriously, there’s so much going on here: afro-tinged bells, psychedelic blasts, gorgeously warm soul harmonies, sugar-cane-sweet love songs, ethereal jazz workouts, homespun comedy, that-cover-tune-off-that-advert-that-is-just-a-fuckin-heater, leather-trousers-tight funk, melt in the mouth R&B, beautiful tumbling pianos and an organ sound that never ceases to slap a ridiculous grin on my face.

It’s like getting a mix CD (back when people used to do that) from a friend whose music you love, which I suppose I kind of did that Christmas in 2004. Big up Bex.

(NB: Free The Bees is also class)


Alex Cameron - Jumping the Shark

ARTIST: ALEX CAMERON      

ALBUM: JUMPING SHARK

LABEL (YEAR): CRAWFISH RECORDS (2014)

FOR FANS OF: NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS, PATRICK WOLF, CHROMATICS

 

 

Words by Sam Hall


If Springsteen and Cave had a long lost love child from the late '80s, who was raised by synthesizers and dressed in Italian pure silk shirts, Alex Cameron would be it. His lyrical and sonic approach are clearly indebted, but not bound, by both men. A crooning drawl with sharp observational lyrics and a penchant for glam guitar solos, Pina Colada moog rhythms and 8-bit drum loops: it's a whacky sound that strays close to gimmickery.

Jumping the Shark i
s a loose concept album, I think, built around Cameron embodying a disillusioned modern-day man on each track - whether it be an embittered TV personality, Tokyo-based businessman, or cruel drunk father. While on paper it sounds totally contrived and rubbish, it actually works charmingly well. It's weird, dark, melancholic and riotously funny in parts.

Give it a go, it's good enough to warrant your attention at least once, if not for a second listen.


Download the album for free from Alex Cameron's website.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel

Album: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Label (Year): Merge (1998)

For fans of: Bob Dylan, Modest Mouse, Of Montreal, Small Faces

 

 

Words by Theo Kotz


One of those records equally maligned as loved, Neutral Milk Hotel’s second and final album is anything but immediate. The opener is full of the kind of loaded language found throughout the whole album but it’s the first howl of “I love you Jesus Christ” on ‘The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three’ that serves as the point that most first-time listeners might turn it off, myself included. Give it time though, and a piece of music full of beautiful and challenging contradiction awaits. Raw guitars bind with warmer flights of fancy from accordions and horns and all play second fiddle to Jeff Mangum’s voice, as harsh and grating as it is tender. It sounds sweet on the whole, while from his subject matter he constructs a dense, pitch-black forest of imagery loosely inspired by a personal reaction to the diary of Anne Frank

The band essentially is songwriter Mangum, one of a group of friends from a small town in Louisiana. Mangum went on to form the Elephant 6 Recording Company including, but not limited to, Of Montreal and The Olivia Tremor Control. Undoubtedly, this record’s lasting impression has surpassed anything else associated with the collective, as shown by the overwhelming love at the shows they’ve played over the last few years, shows that sadly look to have come to an end.

The album is concerned with the stuff of life: love, sex, death, loneliness, joy. And this is why I keep going back to it. It’s the beautiful, ugly time we spend on earth reflected: difficult, fun, heart-breaking, contradictory, and ultimately just fucking good.


David Bowie - Low

ARTIST: DAVID BOWIE

ALBUM: LOW

LABEL (Year): RCA (1977)

FOR FANS OF:  KRAFTWERK, BRIAN ENO, MAGAZINE, JOHN CALE

 

 

Words by Stef Fiorendi


David Bowie: an undeniably multifaceted and restless artist. Low is the white duke’s eleventh studio album and first release of what became known as the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ (Low, Heroes and Lodger). It shows evidence of remarkable experimentalism - though already existent in his previous album Station to Station - mixing krautrock, rhythm’n’blues and electronic elements, reaching one of the highest points of inspiration and intensity in the artist’s long and varied career.

The album represents a breakthrough in Bowie’s artistic production; even the title is indicative of a change in attitude and lifestyle. Low is the struggle that Bowie faced while he was trying to kick his cocaine addiction and impeccably portrays his bipolar and erratic figure. Written entirely in a mansion in France and mixed in a studio in West Berlin, the album is divided into two sides. The first part is characterised by brief and angular songs, jagged guitars, layered vocals and snappy synths, in a typical avant-pop way. ‘Sound and Vision’ and ‘Be My Wife’ demonstrate a rather accessible sound with shimmering guitars and catchy hooks.

The second section of the album is where the innovative production work of Tony Visconti and the collaborative synergy of Bowie and Brian Eno become more evident. Long, suggestive instrumental songs abound, filled with atmospheric suspense and eerie soundscapes. In ‘Warszawa’, Bowie’s vocals recall the Balkan languages, while ‘Subterraneans’ closes the album with a dark and desolated sax line, evoking the pain of a fractured city such as Berlin, while also probably metaphor for Bowie’s state of mind at the time.

Overall the album is driven by dissonant synths and avant-garde electronic sounds, that make this work one of the most dense and challenging endeavours that Bowie has ever accomplished.

Good soundtrack for one of those hectic days in which you end on your bed troubled by overwhelming thoughts. In that case, I suggest, listen backwards.