The best album releases of the month, April 2013

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In a rush to finish this as close to the start of the month as possible I have had to let a few albums slip past me this time. Some of this is the fault of having much less internet access this month, therefore those speculative streaming listens were few and far between, and some of it is the fault of the Knife and Kurt Vile for making albums that take over your whole night. Anyway, this also meant that I only heard a paltry 15 albums, and poor Haxan Cloak, David Grubbs, and the much acclaimed YouYourself&I are still on my "to listen" list. Also, I'm sure Mark Kozelek's new effort with Jimmy Lavalle from the Album Leaf is worth a listen, as is Colin Stetson's third volume of 'New History Warfare', but they have emerged on April 30th, so that's fairly useless to those of us trying to compartmentalise the year into twelve tidy chunks. Here are my ten picks....

Thee Oh Sees, 'Floating Coffin'
My instinctive reaction to 'Floating Coffin' was that it may be the best album Thee Oh Sees have made, and several listens later I'm still thinking along those lines. It has their unmistakable energy, the songs that go up a gear when you think they have nowhere left to go, and those distinctive whoops of John Dwyer. However, it has a consistent depth and variety across all the songs that also serve to make it a great introduction to those who are just discovering the band.

Daniel Johnston, 'Space Ducks'
my review (the 405)
Daniel Johnston was always a dreamer, always full of imagination, and it is great to see this whole Space Ducks project coming to fruition. This album is much more than just a comic book soundtrack, and it underlines his under-rated skill as a writer of classic pop songs.

Barn Owl, 'V'
Hard to believe that this is their fifth album already. This Californian based duo have been creating a drone-based psychedelic music for around three years, and the appropriately titled 'V' sees Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras created some lovely, yet somewhat haunted, ambient music. This is an almost meditative work, at times reminiscent of the beauty of Fennesz or Labradford. It makes me want to get immersed in their back catalogue at once.

The Knife 'Shaking the Habitual'
This was never going to be an easy listen, but given the mixed reaction to this album, it's possible that some fans expected the Knife to deliver another 'Silent Shout'. It may be worth remembering that their interim release since SS's success was an opera about Charles Darwin. 'StH' is an ambitious album which touches on philosophy and politics whilst stretching the boundaries of what is expected from an established act, and ending up with an album which may be as divisive and as important as 'Spirit Of Eden' or 'Kid A'. The 20 minute drone 'Old Dreams Waiting to be Realised' is the one that seems to split the fanbase, but I listened to it on a lonely late night walk and it totally spooked me. One thing is for sure, 'Shaking the Habitual' sounds more like the future than anything on this page.

Foot Village, 'Make Memories'
my review (the 405)
Foot Village have always positioned themselves outside of conventional rock music. They began as a conceptual band imagining life "after the end of the world" and their instrumentation on previous releases was intended to be post-apocalyptic and primal, as they deliberately refused amplification, and instead used their own rhythms and voices.....The changes in their sound {on this album] show that they are developing as a group. That post-apocalyptic world they've been living in conceptually for a while is beginning to evolve into something even more intriguing.

John Parish, 'Screenplay'
my review (the 405)
Screenplay isn't a typical soundtrack album, but it still manages to sound cinematic whilst proving that the electric guitar in the right hands is as good an instrument for evoking mood and atmosphere as any orchestra.

British Sea Power, 'Machineries of Joy'
This may turn out to be my favourite BSP album since their debut. Sequenced from tracks that were recorded after being road tested on their notorious Brighton residency last year, MoJ moves from the instantly classic title track to manic garage rock ('K Hole') through tender tunes like 'What You Need the Most' and 'Hail Holy Queen'. Overall it still sounds like the BSP you know and love, packed with strong tunes, and best of all, some fresh ideas.

James Blake 'Overgrown'
He got there soon enough. Blake's first EPs showed great promise as a producer as they showcased him doing interesting things with sound, but his debut album drifted to far into an almost MOR singer-songwriter world for my liking. 'Overgrown' is a consolidation of both aspects of James Blake - there are songs of course, but they are better crafted, and there is also enough sonic experimentation to show he is willing to push things forward. Oh yeah, and Wu Tang head honcho RZA guests on one track and Brian Eno contributed to 'Digital Lion'. Definitely going places.

Kurt Vile, 'Wakin on a Pretty Daze'
I made the mistake of listening to this late at night the first couple of times, and sure enough, I was asleep well before the end. It turned out that when I got to know it a bit better, that 'Wakin...' lived up to its title. It perfectly encapsulates a lazy morning, the songs are long, slow and lovingly crafted, as if they are soundtracking the waking up process itself.

White Fence 'Cyclops Reap'
Another act associated with the ultra-prolific lo-fi, garage psych scene coming out of the States over the past few years, White Fence is essentially Californian musician Tim Presley and 'Cyclops Reap' was originally intended to be a reversioning of some left-over 4-track songs. During that process he wrote and recorded a lot of songs and the album became a fresh new work. It is quiet and more reflective than some other WF releases, and it's actually pretty accessible, given Presley's for making lo-fi recordings sound great. There is an obvious Syd Barrett influence at work here, and I would say that if you don't enjoy Syd you may not enjoy this, although I think given the breakneck release schedule Presley works to, 'Cyclops..' doesn't sound thinly stretched and may win some people over.

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