The best new albums of the month, April 2014

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Happily, April was a much stronger month than March, and I ended up having to wade through 35 mostly decent new releases to make this month's ten. It was fairly tight though and I wouldn't be surprised if some albums I've skipped over return to favour with me in the next while.

The Skull Defekts 'Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown'

my review (the 405)
"The album is a thrill from start to finish and is perhaps surprisingly accessible, particularly if you are aware of their previous work. There is great tension between the riffs and the melodies and the way the guitars are just seconds away from dipping into something truly edgy and discordant. The Skull Defekts are a lot more interesting and original than those bands simply retreading garage rock in the name of psychedelia. They understand the power of repetition when used correctly - think of the Fall, Can, Sonic Youth - and Higgis's presence completes the band and makes it possible to deliver an album as trippy, yet somehow coherent, as this one."

Fennesz 'Bécs'

Although he always seems to be busy and productive, this is the first full Fennesz album since 'Black Sea', and on it he makes some of his prettiest noise since 2002's masterpiece 'Endless Summer'. Existing fans will not be disappointed, unless of course they were looking for a dramatic progression, because 'Becs' builds on what Fennesz does best but doesn't push the boundaries too hard. If anything, it is more stripped back and at some points there is something resembling raw guitar, stripped of effects. It's a beautiful album.

Protomartyr 'Under Color of Official Right'

There's a bit of a buzz about these people at the moment, and rightly so. 'Under Color...' expands on their impressive debut and it crams 14 songs into its 34 minute duration. The band take a similar approach to Fugazi in that they manage to create space and atmosphere on even short songs, as the drums deliver an unconventional pattern which the rest of the band fill in. The lyrics seem worth investigating as well, but it's early days for me with this one, but I know it's strong enough to make the ten.

Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks 'Enter the Slasher House'

my review (the 405)
"Overall Enter the Slasher House is perhaps too subtle to sit amongst the likes of the Cramps, Goblin and Zombie Zombie playing John Carpenter, on your future Halloween playlist. The eeriness only really emerges after a few listens, and the same could be said for the contributions of Angel and Jeremy, but it would be a shame if people just viewed this as an Animal Collective side project, as there is plenty to investigate here."

Wye Oak 'Shriek'

To paraphrase LCD Soundsystem, they've sold their guitar and they're buying synthesisers. Whilst that's not 100% true, this new album from Wye Oak sees them change their sound dramatically, towards something very synth-based. This is fine because they have managed to write some brilliant songs for 'Shriek' which would sound good no matter what they are played on. This isn't the Wye Oak you know but it may still be the Wye Oak you love.

Shonen Knife 'Overdrive'

It didn't seem that long ago that the Knife were professing their love for the Ramones with their 'Osaka Ramones'. With 'Overdrive' - their 20th album in 33 years! - they have drawn on classic hard rock as their main influence. There are shades of Thin Lizzy on the opening 'Bad Luck Song', and things get a bit heavier for 'Like a Cat' and 'Ramen Rock', though the catchy 'Dance to the Rock' is a perfect balance between their own sound and the pop-rock they are paying homage to. Obviously a bit heavier than its predecessor 'Pop Tune' that's no bad thing, and they still manage to leave you smiling as always.

Woods 'With Light and With Love'

Their previous album 'Bend Beyond' saw them emerge into something more coherent than their early folk-jams would have hinted at, and this new one sees them take that a step further. FM country-rock and the Byrds loom large over this, and the band take those influences and update them. The title track in particular sees them achieve the best balance yet between the psychedelic guitar solos that lift their live shows to another level, and their skills in writing a strong tune.

Pixies 'Indie Cindy'

There are probably half a dozen Pixies-influenced indie-rock albums that could have nudged their way into this list, but to be honest none of them are as good as 'Indie Cindy'. I was firmly in the "no Pixies without Kim" camp and nearly didn't listen to this at all, but I'm glad I did. Those guitar lines and those clever little melodic twists that they were so good at are all present and at times they sound sublime.

EMA 'The Future's Void'

There is nothing on here as stunning as 'The Grey Ship' (from previous album 'Past Life Martyred Saints') but then EMA doesn't strike me as the kind of person who would repeat herself. Instead she kicks this off with 'So Blonde', a ghastly yet ironic dig at that bombastic LA pop-rock sound. It's all uphill from here thankfully, and a lot of the album focuses on the cyber side of things - hinted at by the cover pic of her with an Oculus Rift headset. We can't see her eyes, and she is looking at another reality. '3Jane' deals with voyeurism and web-exploitation in a subtle way, and 'Neuromancer' is maybe the most successful blend of her words and her new electronic direction.

Thee Oh Sees 'Drop'

The first recording under Thee Oh Sees name since John Dwyer announced their hiatus in December, so it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Musically 'Drop' follows on from where predecessor 'The Floating Coffin' left off, although the rough edges and wig-outs seem more tempered these days. Coupled with the lack of further news about their future and the fact that the album is just over 30 minutes in length, 'Drop' feels like a bit of a tease. It's a good one though.

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