The best new albums of the month, May 2014

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First of all let me say that I dropped the ball a bit when looking back at April, as I heard the Broken Twin and Ought albums too late to include them, but I've listened to both of them a lot since and can definitely recommend them.
May was relatively easy to compile as there were some clear stand-outs over the month. Enjoy the ten...

The Delines 'Colfax'
Essentially this is another side to Richmond Fontaine and fans of that outfit - or indeed fans of Willy Vlautin's fiction - will not be disappointed. The Delines places female vocalist Amy Boone at the heart of the action as the band create a lush country-soul crossover. As always, Vlautin's lyrics tell a beautifully sad story.

Bo Ningen 'III'
my review (the 405)

"seven years and three full length albums on from their early noise-based jams they have refined and re-energized their unique approach to noise-rock with III. It's not punk, acid-rock, shoegaze or metal, instead it's a stranger hybrid of all of these and more. Now that "psych" has come to define garage bands reinventing the music of the past, they don't sit well with that tag either. Bo Ningen are about as futuristic a rock band as you could imagine."

Swans 'To Be Kind'

Nearly two years ago this Swans line-up made a fantastic two hour long album called 'The Seer', which was probably one of the best records made under that name, and Michael Gira even claimed it was the summation of his life's work (I'm paraphrasing, but you know what I mean). Unbelievably, they've done it again - another two hours of revelatory, boundary stretching rock music. Created mostly whilst on tour, these tunes sound more like finely honed jams than anything else. Thirteen albums down the line, they are still a huge creative force.

Bastard Mountain 'Farewell, Bastard Mountain'

Is Bastard Mountain a supergroup or a collaboration? Combining the talents of some of Meursault including vocalist Neil Pennycook, Rob St John and Sparrow and the Workshop, amongst others, they have created a beautiful album that equals much of the recorded output of the separate strands of each act. Three songs from each artist were brought to the sessions and then reworked into a lovely, haunted kind of folk music.

Sharon Van Etten 'Are We There'

This crept up on me in much the same way 'Tramp' did, with the really special moments emerging over repeated listens. Thematically it is similar as well, with her lyrics still firmly focused on the minutiae of relationships. The arrangements, and overall feel, is somehow a bit smoother, as if her earlier folk-rock and indie-rock leanings had had a little polish to make them even more accessible. That's not intended as a negative comment, just an observation, and this has been on constant rotation all month.

La Sera 'Hour of the Dawn'
The return of Katy Goodman, once of the Vivian Girls, with her side project that has now become her main musical outlet. In fact this is the third release under the La Sera name. Summery indie-rock, with a carefully concealed edge.

Oliver Wilde 'Red Tide Opal In the Loose End Womb'

Some confusion over this guy's name - is it Oliver or Olivier? He appears on Spotify as both! Anyway this is an odd but hugely interesting album, and one which I think is in the tradition of English experimental rock music, by which I mean that it manages to sound like Bark Psychosis, Radiohead and Robert Wyatt, often in the course of a single song.

Amen Dunes 'Love'

Essentially a solo project from Damien McMahon, 'Love' is the third and most cohesive release as Amen Dunes. Hints of Syd Barrett, psych-folk and Kurt Vile abound, and the album reveals more layers with each play.

Wussy 'Attica'
It's great to see that Wussy saved up some gems for what is their fifth album but is also essentially their UK debut - all their other earlier albums had been released in the USA only. In particular 'Teenage Wasteland' and 'Halloween' are such great songs that 'Attica' would have got into this list even if the rest of it was poor. Which it isn't of course, and the contrast between the styles of Chuck Cleaver (once of Ass Ponys) and Lisa Walker make for a fascinating listen. Well crafted indie-rock songs - and tasteful pedal steel in places - make 'Attica' so consistently strong that I think it may be an even better intro to the band than the 'Buckeye' compliation from a couple of years ago.

Ben Frost 'Aurora'

Ranging from ice cold electronic noise to barely audible ambient pieces, Ben Frost can claim to have released one of the most arresting albums of the year so far. As well as the synths, 'Aurora' relies heavily (no pun intended!) on the percussive talents of Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, ex-Liturgy) and Thor Harris (swans and many others). Written on a laptop in the Democratic Rep of Congo, mixed in Reykjavik, and one Tim Hecker is credited with "sound design".

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