The best album releases of the month, January 2013 edition

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Following on from what most people would concede was a poor year for albums, January was so packed with new releases that I found it difficult to come up with just ten. For the record I listened to 26 and making this cut after only a few listens to each was hard, and probably unfair! Hence my playlist at the bottom of this post includes a few tracks from those I had to leave out, as well as some singles.

Yo La Tengo 'Fade'
my interview with James McNew is here
Their 13th album Fade is arguably their finest release in a decade. It still manages to sound exactly like Yo La Tengo, although this time around the songs are shorter, the extended jams are side-lined and the three-piece are occasionally augmented by driving motorik percussion and string arrangements. From delicate songs such as 'I'll be Around' and 'Two Trains', to up-tempo soulful pop like 'Well You Better', and the opening 'Ohm' which manages to distil a lot of the separate elements of their sound into an impressive and cohesive mix.

Arbouretum 'Coming out of the Fog'
my interview with them is here

This is unmistakably Arbouretum, although it has a sharper focus and the songs are shorter. The melody lines and the solos are what we have come to expect, but there are softer introspective moments as well...

Follakzoid 'II'
my review (the 405)
Föllakzoid are pitched somewhere between krautrock, kosmische trance and the bleak yet mesmerising psych-rock of Spacemen 3 and Loop. As you may have guessed from that title, this is their second album, the follow-up to their self-titled release from 2009, and it is one of the finest records I've heard in this genre for a long time.

L Pierre 'The Island Come True'
Another completely instrumental album from the man best known as the singer and wordsmith from Arab Strap, Aidan Moffat. Found sounds, home recordings and loops made from antique records, all manipulated to create something new and absorbing. At times wistful ('Harmonic Avenger'), dreamy ('Now Listen!') and in the case of 'Sad Laugh', very affecting.

Christopher Owens 'Lysandre'
I can see why he left Girls now. This debut solo album from the ex-Girls singer moves away from the conventional indie-rock set-up. There is a musical theme running throughout it, I wonder if it should actually be considered a concept album. Musically, there are hardly any electric guitars, and when they appear they are a great surprise, and acoustic guitars and sax are very much to the fore. One thing that we have come to expect from Owens is strong tunes in abundance, and he doesn't disappoint there.

Villagers '{Awayland}'
I wasn't really fan of Villagers before this album, but this sounds, to my ears anyway, to be a slight change of direction and a major progression for them. An ambitious album with some great tunes drawn from a wide palate of influences. I haven't heard it enough to write about it at length, but I'm looking forward to exploring this one.

Pere Ubu 'Lady From Shanghai'
This is the surprise inclusion of the month. I haven't paid attention to any Pere Ubu releases since the late '80s, so it's great to report that this was well worth investigating. It is hard to ignore from the start, as opening track 'Thanks' is basically a version of disco favourite 'Ring My Bell' with the words changed to "Go to hell." The rest is a collection of scattered tunes, way beyond post-punk at this stage, accompanied by sound experiments in favour of conventional band structures.

Serafina Steer 'The Moths are Real'
These days it is always tricky for a lady with a harp to avoid the obvious comparison. I saw Serafina Steer around four years ago but I haven't followed her closely since, however this Jarvis Cocker produced album should help address that. A delicate and modern take on English folk song, with the odd quirk such as 'Disco Compilation' lifting it away from the rest of the pack.

Mountains 'Centralia'
An epic drifting album of ambient music, worth coming back to again and again. This is most fully realised recording I've heard from Mountains, multi-layered pieces built from acoustic and electronic roots. Somewhere between instrumental Spiritualized, Emeralds and Stars of the Lid, this is quiet music that overtakes you and becomes an immersive experience.

Matthew E White 'Big Inner'
Where has he come from, where has he been, to arrive this "fully-formed"? Apparently he has connections to Bon Iver and the Mountain Goats but I had never heard of him before. It is all the more extraordinary then that he has recorded this elaborate, classic-sounding debut album, steeped in soul and gospel and bits of alt-folk, which is destined to be a big presence this year.

So that's ten choices - those I didn't include and I'm going to investigate further are: The History of Apple Pie 'Out of View', Widowspeak 'Almanac', Broadcast 'Berberian Sound Studio', Foxygen 'We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic', Everything Everything, Pictish Trail 'Secret Soundz vol 2', Four Tet '0181', Esben and the Witch 'Wash the Sins not only the Face', and Dutch Uncles 'Out of Touch in the Wild'.

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