The best new albums of the month, January 2015 edition

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2015 has offered up some gems already, and here are ten of the best of the year so far.

Jessica Pratt 'On Your Own Love Again' (Drag City) iTunes
my review (the 405)
This "flows perfectly from where her debut left off. Recorded to four-track at home in California over the last two years it is once again a delicate, reflective affair. There are nine songs, and most of them feature just Jessica and her acoustic guitar, yet this time there is room for occasional keyboard touches on a couple of tracks and some adventurous multi-tracking of vocals to flesh out the sound... a mesmerising, bewitching listen."

Dan Mangan & Blacksmith 'Club Meds' (City Slang) Spotify
my review (the 405)
"Dan Mangan transcended the singer-songwriter label three years ago with Oh, Fortune. Now that his band have equal footing perhaps people will start to appreciate that his work involves rich musicianship which gives the music an extra dimension and depth. Club Meds is deliberately dense and cluttered and at times confusing. The fact that it manages to be beautiful and intriguing at the same time is quite a feat."

Pinkshinyultrablast 'Everything Else Matters' (Club AC30) Spotify
my review (the 405)
"Even at this early stage Pinkshinyultrablast have a great understanding of how to harness their noise and work them around the song, and their willingness to use rhythm to give those older shoegaze elements a good kick, means that this debut is not a homage but a fresh step into the future."

Viet Cong 'Viet Cong' (Jagjaguwar) Spotify
There is nothing new under the sun these days it seems, and whilst a lot of bands are plundering shoegaze and garage rock, Viet Cong have set their attention on the post-punk of the early 1980s. VC comprise the rhythm section from the acclaimed group Women, but in this incarnation their music is more direct , more cacophonous, more intense. 'March of Progress' is one of the tracks of the year so far.

Ghost Culture 'Ghost Culture' (Phantasy Sound/ Because) Spotify
Another mysterious London producer only known by stage name, Ghost Culture has crafted a great debut, which manages to combine the darker side of electronica as well as the pop side. Comparisons to Arthur Russell and Kraftwerk are justified, and you get the feeling that this multi-layered album will be one that keeps on giving.

Darren Hayman 'Chants for Socialists' (wiaiwya) Bandcamp
Apparently Darren, the man who wrote Hefner's 'The Day That Thatcher Dies', thought the release of an album called 'Chants for Socialists' in an election year would be a boutique release. It's fitting that this release has a lack of commercial ambition, but it would seem that the vinyl edition - complete with sleeve created on a press used by William Morris - is nearly all gone.
As you may already know, the chants in question were written by Morris in 1890s and produced in a pamphlet, intended to be set to the popular music of the day. Hayman has faithfully updated them with his own music and in turn produced one of his strongest solo records to date.

Sleater Kinney 'No Cities To Love' (Sub Pop) Spotify
Sleater-Kinney's first album in a decade has been hugely and deservedly acclaimed. It's so great to have them back and it's also fascinating to hear them deliver 'No Cities To Love', which may actually be their very best record, this far into their career. What other occurrences are there of a band returning after so long, only to deliver its best work? 32 joyous minutes of cracking punk-pop songs. One of the great bands really.

Panda Bear 'Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper' (Domino) Spotify
Perhaps not as bleak as the title suggests, this third solo album is darker and more soul-searching than his others, but also has a neat line in memorable melodies. This time as well, his sonic experiments have been tweaked to include some hip-hop beats which don't seem obvious on the first few listens but come to define the album. This also feels like the conclusion of a trilogy, but maybe I'm reading too much into that.

Menace Beach 'Ratworld' (Memphis Industries) Spotify
Slightly in danger of becoming submerged by its influences, which are mostly 90's indie-rock, Leeds band Menace Beach's debut is the sort of thing people would have gone mad for if the band were, say, from California. Essentially a duo, with some regular guests like Hookwroms's MJ - who also did a cracking job on production - they flick between slacker-indie tunes like the title track, moody pieces like 'Blue Eye' and the frantic 'Lowtalker', with ease. There's lots to investigate here.

Jan St Werner 'Miscontinuum Album (Fiepblatter Catalogue #3)' (Thrill Jockey) Spotify
This challenging and experimental work from Mouse on Mars's Jan St Werner was developed over the last four years as an operatic performance and also a radio play. "The central concept of Miscontinuum explores misconceptions of time and memory, inspired by unique acoustic phenomena derived digital phasing and musical time stretching techniques. There is an aura of doom that pervades the work." Largely ambient and electronic, it contains cameos from Markus Popp (Oval), Dylan Carson (Earth) and Taigen Kawabe (Bo Ningen).

Time constraints mean that I couldn't quite do justice on albums by Etienne Jaumet (one half of Zombie Zombie), Alasdair Roberts, and the surprise release by Bjork, in time for this round-up, but then January always is a bit overwhelming in terms of the new release pile.

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