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A Winged Victory For The Sullen ‘ATOMOS VII’ (Erased Tapes/Kranky)
This April marks the hugely anticipated return of the impeccable duo of A Winged Victory For The Sullen as a co-release between London-based independent label Erased Tapes and the Chicago-based Kranky label. Comprising the majestic talents of the duo Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie (Stars Of The Lid) and pianist Dustin O’Halloran, ‘ATOMOS VII’ is bound to capture — just like it’s glorious self-titled predecessor — the imagination of every single music listener lucky enough to cross paths with it. As O’Halloran has stated: “We never imagined 2013 would be such an explosively creative year. The first record took us two years from start to finish, but in the micro span of time over last summer we were able to change the formula for the way we write, record, and let go. It was incredibly liberating.”

‘ATOMOS VII’ is available on 28 April via Erased Tapes/Kranky.

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Christina Vantzou ‘No.2’ (Kranky)
Kansas-born artist, film-maker, musician and composer, Christina Vantzou returns this year with the spellbinding ‘No.2’, and follow-up to her equally gorgeous debut ‘No.1’, released at the beginning of 2012 on the Chicago-based label Kranky. Made over a four-year period, ‘No.2’ sees Vantzou re-unite with Stars Of The Lid and Winged Victory For The Sullen’s Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and the internationally renowned arranger Minna Choi of the San Francisco based Magik*Magik Orchestra. ‘No.2’ also features the addition of further instrumentation (previously not heard on it’s predecessor) with the use of bassoon, oboe, and an enhanced string section augmenting Vantzou’s timeless and dreamlike floating worlds.

‘No.2’ is available now on Kranky.

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Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)
Available 27 May on Jajjaguwar, ‘Are We There’ is Brooklyn-based songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s follow-up to her monumental ‘Tramp’ LP from 2012. Thus far, ‘Taking Chances’ has been made available online, revealing a less stark and cleaner sound, yet remaining as utterly captivating and wholly engaging as always. Check out Van Etten’s official website HERE for some wonderful pre-order bundles, including clear vinyls, limited edition 7″, and signed prints of photographic cover art by Van Etten.

‘Are We There’ is available on 27 May via Jagjaguwar.

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Hauschka ‘Abandoned City’ (City Slang)
The impeccable talents of German composer Volker Bertelmann has been widely evident for many years now via Bertelmann’s Hauschka guise. Using the prepared piano as his starting point (Bertelmann positions pieces of foil or paper on the strings of his grand upright piano to create new sounds), Bertelmann has been wowing audiences far and wide over the last decade or so. ‘Abandoned City’ is Hauschka’s latest full-length, available via Berlin-based independent label City Slang (Calexico, Lambchop, The Notwist) and was recorded at his home studio over the course of ten days following the birth of his first son. Talking about the album’s title, Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”

‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang.

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ORCAS ‘Yearling’ (Morr Music)
ORCAS comprise the duo of Thomas Meluch (Benoît Pioulard) and Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below), who release ‘Yearling’, their hugely anticipated follow-up to their Morr Music 2012 debut ‘Carrion’. For it’s wonderful follow-up, ‘Yearling’, Meluch and Irisarri are joined by Martyn Heyne (of Efterklang) on guitar and piano, and Michael Lerner (Telekinesis) revealing a gorgeous sonic tapestry and an infinite array of emotions throughout, amounting to another pristine, understated sonic gem.

‘Yearling’ is out April 4th in Europe and April 15th in the US on Morr Music.

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The Delines ‘Colfax’ (Decor / El Cortez)
Led by Richmond Fontaine’s principle songwriter, the novelist Willy Vlautin, The Delines are the newly-formed group featuring Vlautin alongside his Fontaine drummer Sean Oldham, Amy Boone (The Damnations), Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists), Tucker Jackson and Freddy Trujillo. Thus far, the single ‘I Won’t Slip Up’ has been revealed, featuring the stunning vocals of The Damnations’ Amy Boone, the gorgeously soulful and late-night feel echoes Richmond Fontaine’s ‘We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River’ while the heartfelt lyrics (“I get so tired of people / Always worrying about me”) are typical Vlautin; imperfect and true and straight from the heart. The Delines will have a new 7″ single out on record store day called “The Oil Rigs At Night” which features two tracks not on the forthcoming album. The Delines will tour the UK and Ireland this June (tour dates HERE).

‘Colfax’ will be available on Decor on 01 May 2014.

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Lavender Country ‘Lavender Country’ (Paradise Of Bachelors)
This year North Carolina-based label Paradise Of Bachelors re-release Patrick Haggerty’s hugely affecting landmark 1973 self-titled LP by Lavender Country. As Paradise Of Bachelors say: “Widely recognized as the first openly gay country music album—and cited as such even by Nashville institutions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and CMT—the landmark self-titled 1973 LP by Lavender Country stands as nothing less than an artifact of courage, a sonic political protest document of enormous power, clarity, and grace. The record reflects Haggerty’s experiences: his upbringing on a tenant dairy farm in rural Washington, on the Canadian border; his dismissal from the Peace Corps on the spurious grounds of his sexuality; and his righteous struggles as an outraged young gay man navigating the Pacific Northwest in the immediate aftermath of Stonewall.”

‘Lavender Country’ is available on 25 March via Paradise Of Bachelors.

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Cate Le Bon ‘Mug Museum’ (Turnstile)
Cate Le Bon is an artist hailing from Carmarthenshire, rural West Wales and is currently a resident of Highland Park, Los Angeles, having relocated across the pacific to record her latest album ‘Mug Museum’. Her first album ‘Me Oh My’ was released on Gruff Rhys’s Irony Bored label in 2009 and was followed by ‘CYRK’ (OVNI/Turnstile) which was released to widespread acclaim in 2012 and saw her play live across the world. A frequent collaborator, Cate Le Bon has added vocals to the likes of Neon Neon and Manic Street Preachers in recent times, while Perfume Genius contributes vocals on ‘I Think I Knew’.

‘Mug Museum’ is available now on Turnstile.

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Valentin Stip ‘Sigh’ (Other People)
Montreal’s Valentin Stip has quietly released one of the finest electronic albums of the year thus far in the form of ‘Sigh’, available now on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label. Valentin Stip’s story thus far is best surmised by Stip’s Soundcloud profile:
“My name is Val, I was born in Paris. I started playing piano when I was seven. Missing my piano too much in Montreal, I started playing around with the musical abilities of my computer and have been making electronic music since then…”

‘Sigh’ is available now on Other People.

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Woods ‘With Light And With Love’ (Woodsit)
Brooklyn’s beloved folk collective Woods have been amassing a wonderfully enduring and timeless body of music since the band’s formation in 2005. Albums such as ‘Sun And Shade’ and ‘Bend Beyond’ have introduced the band to new waves of fans and admirers over the years, enchanted by the band’s “DIY” ethos, impeccable musicianship and an innate appreciation for melody. As Wooden Wand’s James Jackson Toth has said: “With Light And With Love is an album of deeply psychedelic, deeply satisfying songs for a new age of searchers, of Don Juan and Animal Chin alike.”

‘With Light And With Love’ is out April 15th on Woodsist Records.

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Mark McGuire ‘Along The Way’ (Dead Oceans)
‘Along The Way’ is the new album from former Emeralds member Mark McGuire, a hugely gifted guitarist and producer who has over the last few years toured with Ducktails, performed as a fifth member of the legendary Afghan Whings, and collaborated with numerous artists such as Ponytail’s Dustin Wong. The album’s first single, ‘Instinct’, featured a remix by Norwegian producer Prins Thomas, while second single ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ has also been issued in the lead up to the album’s release. According to McGuire: “This story is an odyssey through the vast, unknown regions of the mind. The endless unfolding of psychological landscapes, leading to perpetual discoveries and expansions, in a genuinely emergent and infinite world of worlds.” Vast, soul-stirring and vital.

‘Along The Way’ is available now on Dead Oceans.

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Angel Olsen ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ (Jagjaguwar)
To date, Olsen has created the mesmerizing ‘Strange Cacti EP’ (Bathetic, 2010) and debut full-length ‘Half Way Home’ (Bathetic, 2012), and has also collaborated with Marissa Nadler and performed extensively with Emmett Kelly’s The Cairo Gang, where she contributed to both Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s ‘Wolfroy Goes To Town’ (Drag City, 2011) and last year’s stunning 12″ ‘Solemns’ by Marquis de Tren with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (a short 3-track gem featuring Olsen alongside Emmett Kelly’s Cairo Gang and Dirty Three’s Mick Turner). ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ sees Olsen expand her sound palette (much of the album were recorded as a trio alongside Josh Jaeger on drums and Stewart Bronaugh on bass) while the album sessions were recorded with the band live, with vocals added later. The unmistakable poetic lyricism of Olsen’s remain as strongly evident as always throughout ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’, a timeless gem detailing life’s intricate complexities in the process.

‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ is available on 18 February on Jagjaguwar.

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Love Cult ‘Know EP’ (Nightschool)
Love Cult, comprising the Russian duo Anya Kuts and Ivan Zoloto (the pair are based in deepest Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia, to be precise) released ‘Know’ at the end of January on London-based independent label Nightschool Records. In the past, Love Cult have travelled and toured with Ensemble Economique, High Wolf and Lucky Dragons. The pair also run the cassette label Full Of Nothing. Following on from their debut full-length ‘Fingers Crossed’ (Public Information, 2012), ‘Know’ finds Love Cult explore more dub and techno terrains this time around, across the EP’s twenty-minutes and four tracks. Including ‘Mise En Abyme’, ‘My Boy’, ‘Lust Undone’ and ‘It’s True’, the EP is available digitally and as a limited edition vinyl (300 copies).

‘Know EP’ is available now on NightSchool Records.

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Helm ‘Impasse’ (New Images)
Helm is the pseudonym for London-based artist Luke Younger. The origins of ‘Impasse’ can be drawn back to 2008 when Younger released a condensed, edited version of the album as a mini CDR for the Low Point label. This newly issued expanded reissue features two original remastered tracks as well as two compositions from the original sessions that remained unmixed and unreleased until a couple of years ago. ‘Impasse’ comprises four stunning and highly immersive loop-based pieces by Younger, each revealing whole worlds of sound upon every visit.

‘Impasse’ is available now on New Images.

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Beck ‘Morning Phase’ (Capitol)
The long wait for ‘Morning Phase’ — Beck’s forthcoming twelfth studio album and follow-up to 2008’s ‘Modern Guilt’ — is nearly over as Capitol Records plan a late February release. Of course, in the interim Beck has been busy producing a whole host of albums, including Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘IRM’, Thurston Moore’s ‘Demolished Thoughts’ and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks LP ‘Mirror Traffic’. In his Record Club series, where Beck is joined by various musicians (including Wilco, Feist, Devendra Banhart and Thurston Moore to date) members meet and record an album in a day (albums by Yanni, INXS, Skip Spence, Leonard Cohen and Velvet Underground & Nico have thus far been documented), while ‘Reader’ was released at the end of last year, a brand new 20-track album released only in sheet music form. Thus far, two sublime 12″ records have been issued — ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘I Won’t Be Long’ — making ‘Morning Phase’ one of the year’s most anticipated albums. In this month’s Mojo Magazine, Beck reveals his plans for making four new albums — 80% of which are finished — so expect a treasure trove of musical gems courtesy of the forever-indispensable Beck Hansen in the short-term.

‘Morning Phase’ will be released by Capitol on 25 February.

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Black Dirt Oak ‘Wawayanda Patent’ (Mie Music)
The incredible collaborative Black Dirt Oak comprise: Steve Gunn (GHQ, Desert Heat, Violators), Nathan Bowles (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers), Jimy SeiTang (Rhyton, Stygian Stride, Psychic Ills), Justin Tripp (Georgia, Steve Gunn), Margot Bianca (Flown, Key Demo), Dave Shuford (Rhyton, D. Charles Speer, NNCK), and Wednesday Knudsen (Pigeons, Sea Donkeys). Recorded in Jason Meagher’s Black Dirt Studio, ‘Wawayanda Patent’ is released by London-based label Mie Music in a limited vinyl edition of only 500 pressings, while a digital download is also available.

‘Wawayanda Patent’ is available now on Mie Music.

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F.J. McMahon ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ (Rev-Ola / Sacred Bones)
Since first discovering the timeless, haunting sounds of ‘Spirt Of The Golden Juice’ only last year (courtesy of a mixtape compiled for us by Philadelphia harpist Mary Lattimore), F.J. McMahon’s 1969 masterpiece has been a constant ever since. ‘Spirit of The Golden Juice’, McMahon’s only album, is both a deeply personal and wholly life-affirming album featuring McMahon accompanied predominantly by an acoustic guitar, recalling the likes of Bill Fay, Fred Neil or Tim Hardin in the process. The album’s nine timeless tracks cull their inspiration from McMahon’s experiences and time spent in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Air Force, while “Golden Juice” is a reference to I.W. Harper bourbon, the “fuel of the times”.

‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is available now on Sacred Bones.

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Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier ‘Those Vermillion Sands’ (NNA Tapes)
Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier is the alias for the Brussels-based French composer (and visual artist) Félicia Atkinson, who has been quietly releasing dozens of recordings over the past decade or so (under both Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier and her own name). ‘Those Vermillion Sands’ is the latest recording by Atkinson’s alter ego, released by NNA tapes, a cassette and record label set up in 2008 in Burlington, VT, USA. Like much of Atkinson’s practice over the years, particular attention is taken in layering complex vignettes of skilfully layered electronics together with a myriad of evocative and enchanting vocal work (often consisting of spoken-word pieces delivered in both french and english). As always, Atkinson masterly negotiates fluid, wide-open vistas which are both shrouded in darkness as well as bathed in a heavenly light.

‘Those Vermillion Sands’ is available now on NNA Tapes.

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Xylouris White (Jim White with George Xylouris) (http://www.xylouriswhite.com)
Xylouris White is the inspired collaboration between Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian, Brooklyn-based drummer Jim White. Both composers are legends in their own right, the former through his Cretan lute-led sounds of the Xylouris Ensemble, the latter through his membership of mythical Australian trio Dirty Three and myriad collaborations over the years (Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, to name a few). Both have harnessed truly unique and unparalleled playing styles and levels of musicianship in their respective instruments where inspiration seems in endless supply at all times. Xylouris White create the kind of celestial, contemporary and powerful music which blurs all boundaries and constantly defies all categorization (and logic) in the process.

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Tom Diabo ‘Dark Star’ (Captured Tracks)
From Wuppertal, Germany, Tom Diabo played in several bands during the late 70’s and early 80’s (most notably Western Force and X-112 For Dancing) and also curated “Talfahrt”, a series of local cassettes which reached legendary status. In 1988 Diabo passed away from cancer, shortly after his 30th birthday. ‘Dark Star’ would comprise the many songs Diabo left behind on his untimely passing, featuring Diabo’s extensive home-recorded songs, each song never fails to emit a life-affirming and transformative spirit on the listener.

‘Dark Star’ is available now on Captured Tracks.

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February 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

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Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)
Released on January 24th 2014 by the wonderful Berlin-based label Denovali Records, ‘This Kindly Slumber’ is the much-anticipated return of New Zealand-based artist Alicia Merz. Her latest Birds Of Passage album, ‘This Kindly Slumber’ — and follow-up to the sublime ‘Winter Lady’ — is a deeply engaging and truly moving affair. The album’s seven songs reveal a haunting darkness and stark honesty throughout, perpetuated by moments of light, hope, intimacy and revelation. The album showcases Merz’s impressive songwriting talents (‘Stranger’), a heightened atmosphere in drone and ambient textures (‘Ashes To Ashes’) and masterful songs combining innocence and vulnerability with darkness and fear to spellbinding effect (‘And All Of Your Dreams’). ‘This Kindly Slumber’ confirms Merz as one of the most special souls making music today.
‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available on 24 January on Denovali Records.

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Marissa Nadler ‘July’ (Sacred Bones/Bella Union)
Boston-based musician Marissa Nadler has been consistently (and quietly) making some of the most intricately written and movingly delivered songs over the last decade or so. ‘July’ further confirms Nadler as a wholly unique and visionary songwriter, where songs such as ‘Dead City Emily’ and ‘Nothing In My Heart’ recalling the gothic noir tales of Gillian Welch or the timelessness of Leonard Cohen or Van Zandt’s respective songbooks. Poetic, starkly beautiful, and always straight from the heart. ‘July’ will be released on Sacred Bones on 4 February (US) and Bella Union on 10 February (EU).

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The Gloaming ‘The Gloaming’ (Real World Records)
This January marks the long-awaited arrival of much-heralded The Gloaming’s glorious self-titled debut album by Real World Records. The Gloaming are a five-piece of supreme talent, comprising some of the finest musicians Ireland has to offer: Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas Bartlett, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill. West Meath in early 2011 provided the setting and time for the collective’s first meeting together. The following, as described by The Gloaming’s website, perfectly surmises the band’s unique, utterly contemporary sound: “The Gloaming carves new paths connecting the rich Irish folk tradition and the New York contemporary music scene. From haunting sean-nós songs to rousing instrumental medleys, they make music that is both ancient and utterly new.”
‘The Gloaming’ is available now on Real World Records.

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Tara Jane O’Neil ‘Where Shine New Lights’ (Kranky)
Musician and visual artist Tara Jane O’Neil provides Chicago-based independent label Kranky with their first offering of 2014. O’Neil has a richly diverse musical background to date, ranging from collaborative works (including Mount Eerie and Papa M), commissioned pieces, improvisations and founding numerous bands, including Rodan. O’Neil is also an internationally recognized visual artist who has had four monographs published on her work to date. ‘Where Shine New Lights’ features a gloriously mystery-laden, atmospheric set of songs (typified by the stunning closer ‘New Lights For A Sky’) recalling the likes of Félicia Atkinson and Grouper’s Liz Harris.
‘Where Shine New Lights’ will be released on 27 January by Kranky.

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Hydras Dream ‘The Little Match Girl’ (Denovali)
Hydras Dream is the new collaborative project of the Swedish musicians Anna Von Hausswolff and Matti Bye. Hydras Dream’s debut ‘The Little Match Girl’ will be released in March 2014 by Berlin-based Denovali Records (Greg Haines, Birds Of Passage, Dale Cooper Quartet).
Anna Von Hausswolff was responsible for one of the singularly breathtaking albums of 2013, with her solo album ‘Ceremony’, showcasing Von Hausswolff’s immaculate talents as a lyricist and composer. ‘The Little Match Girl’ is set to be one of the year’s most precious albums.

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Damien Jurado ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’ (Secretly Canadian)
Damien Jurado’s ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’, available now on Secretly Canadian, confirms Jurado as one of the finest songsmiths of today. ‘Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son’ reunites Jurado with friend and producer Richard Swift after previously working together on Jurado’s last full length, ‘Maraqopa’ in 2012.

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Juan Wauters ‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ (Captured Tracks)
‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ is one of the finest debut records for quite some time, heralding this unique and hugely impressive talent of Alberto Wauters (born in Uruguay, now based in Queens, New York). Wauters’ own back-story is told perfectly here:
“In 2000, Alberto Wauters left Uruguay to live in a basement in Queens. Two years later he called his son, Juan, to join him. Juan Wauters crossed the threshold into manhood when he arrived in New York. Working at a factory, the father and son pooled their money to bring their family to the borough of opportunity. With no friends to speak of, Juan turned to music to take control of the loneliness of his isolation. Juan was inspired by his new neighborhood of Jackson Heights and delighted to find that his library card gave him access to an abundance of new music.”
‘N.A.P. – North American Poetry’ is out 4 February 2014 on Captured Tracks.

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The War On Drugs ‘Lost In The Dream’ (Secretly Canadian)
‘Lost In The Dream’ is the third studio album (and follow-up to the wonderful ‘Slave Ambient’ LP) by Philadelphia’s finest The War On Drugs. Including the album’s lead single ‘Red Eyes’, ‘Lost In The Dream’ is an album showcasing Adam Granduciel’s songwriting prowess while revealing a darker and more vulnerable underbelly than previous material. The beautiful ‘Suffering’ and ‘Eyes To The Wind’ reveal a more intimate and ‘Americana’-leaning sound recalling such bands as Whiskeytown, Richmond Fontaine or The Replacements. “I can see the darkness coming my way” sings Granduciel on ‘Red Eyes’, while the album’s ten immaculate tracks see Granduciel navigate his way out of the darkness, producing a modern-day ‘Born To Run’ in the process.
‘Lost In The Dream’ is out on 18 March 2014 on Secretly Canadian.

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The Notwist ‘Close To The Glass’ (City Slang/Sub Pop)
‘Close To The Glass’ is German indie giants The Notwist first studio album since 2008’s ‘The Devil, You + Me’. Since then the band have scored a soundtrack for ‘Storm’ (2009) and have been running their own label, the wonderful Alien Transistor. Best known for their classic 2002 album ‘Neon Golden’ — which fused the indie-rock and lyricism of brothers Acher with the electronic wizardry of Console’s Martin Gretschmann to stunning effect — it’s follow-up ‘The Devil, You + Me’ showcased a more leaner and accessible sound. ‘Kong’ is the first taste of The Notwist’s long overdue eighth album. This February City Slang will issue ‘Close To The Glass’ in Europe (their label since ‘Neon Golden’) while Sub Pop will release to American audiences on 25 February 2014.

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Lambchop ‘Nixon’ (Reissue) (Merge)
To celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary, Merge will be reissuing classic albums from their back catalog each month throughout 2014. First up will be the reissue of Nashville’s beloved Lambchop’s classic fifth studio album ‘Nixon’, first released in 2000. The album was a significant breakthrough for the band, both commercially and critically acclaimed across both sides of the Atlantic, marking the band’s reluctant rise to the overground. The album sees a shift in the Lambchop sound as Wagner and co. sought to fuse country, soul, gospel and funk into their own unmistakable sound to wondrous effect. Featuring such gems as ‘You Masculine You’, ‘Up With People’ and ‘The Book I Haven’t Read’. The reissue also features a bonus disc, ‘White Sessions 1998: How I Met Cat Power’, a remastered live solo session featuring five songs Kurt Wagner recorded in 1998 (both Wagner and Cat Power were doing back-to-back promo sessions that day).
The reissue of Lambchop’s classic 2000 album ‘Nixon’ is released on 28 January by Merge Records.

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Mick Turner “Don’t Tell The Driver” (Drag City)
The latest work by the ever-prolific Melbourne-based artist and Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner is a magnificently sprawling affair – comprising an expansive cast of musicians – and is perhaps his most accessible work to date. Equally renowned for his worldwide status as an internationally renowned painter as well as musician, Turner is best known as being one-third member (alongside drummer Jim White and violinist Warren Ellis) of the cult Australian trio Dirty Three. As well as Dirty Three’s considerable output (culminating in last year’s sublime “Toward The Low Sun”), Turner has also released records under the Tren Brothers guise (effectively Turner and White recording as a duo), as well as “solo” works (‘Don’t Tell The Driver’ is Turner’s fourth such record). The record – released by Chicago’s Drag City – is arguably Turner’s most expansive yet, featuring french horn, trumpets, piano, melodica, bass and the vocals (lyrics by Turner) are beautifully sung by Caroline Kennedy McCracken.

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Tim Hecker “Virgins” (Kranky)
One of the year’s most eagerly awaited albums came from the Montreal-based composer and sound artist Tim Hecker. “Virgins”, released by Chicago-based independent label Kranky, is yet another masterful recording by the Canadian musician, producing an album of staggering scope and beauty. Hecker’s work has been described as: “focused on exploring the intersection of noise, dissonance and melody, fostering an approach to songcraft which is both physical and emotive.” One of the finest of todays modern composers, Hecker is here joined by an impressive cast of musicians from the Icelandic-based Bedroom Community label; Valgeir Sigurðsson performs and mixes (alongside Hecker) and Paul Corley takes part in the performing and engineering, while the album was recorded at Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavík (as well as Avast, Seattle and Empac Concert Hall, Troy).

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Moonface “Julia with Blue Jeans On” (Jagjaguwar)
Spencer Krug’s fourth album under the Moonface moniker, “Julia With Blue Jeans On” is a highly personal, quietly affecting and truly moving album which will prove to be one of the year’s most masterful hidden gems. The album’s genesis came from Krug’s time creating 2012’s “Heartbreaking Bravery” – a despair-laden album written after a difficult break-up – while in Helsinki and recording with Finnish band Siinai. During the same period, the highly prolific Krug set off on another creative journey, inspired by “a rediscovery of love and a reconsideration of the Moonface persona he’d created for himself.”

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Laurel Halo “Chance Of Rain” (Hyperdub)
Released at the end of October on the Hyperdub label, “Chance of Rain” is the striking and sublime second album by American electronic musician Laurel Halo (aka Ina Cube) and follow-up to her debut 2012 LP “Quarantine”. The nine tracks which comprise “Chance Of Rain” showcases Halo (who is a classically trained musician)’s wonderful talents as both composer and producer where a breathtaking spectrum of sounds – industrial, electronic, techno, club, house – effortlessly form a cohesive and organic whole, producing a wholly unique and compelling album in the process. An album as striking and engrossing (much due to the breathtaking vocals as well as the distinctive production) as the grimly evocative sleeve cover art (by Halo’s father, the artist Arthur Chartow).

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Wooden Shjips “Back to Land” (Thrill Jockey)
The Ripley Johnson-led psychedelic quartet Wooden Shjips’ follow-up to their 2011 “West” LP is their most immersive and engrossing work yet. Recorded in Portland, Oregon in May 2013 over a period of an 11-day session at Jackpot! Recording Studio, ‘Back To Land’ mark’s the band’s first record to be conceived outside of their native San Francisco. From the opening title-track, a blissful, wonderfully melodic guitar-led song to the stunningly forlorn album closer (recalling Beck’s “Sea Change”), the engrossing soundscapes of Wooden Shjips are a joy to journey through (bands such as Pavement, Sonic Youth, Crazy Horse and Spacemen 3 come to mind). Album art (with multiple circular die-cuts) by Oliver Hibert (and layout by the wonderful Sheila Sachs) ensures the vinyl edition is a must have.

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Ghost Maps The Ocean From The River “S/T” (Casino Gravity)
Released on November 15th, Ghost Maps The Ocean From The River’s self-titled debut album comprises the new musical chapter in Jeff Martin (Halfset)’s hugely impressive career to date. The album features legendary multi-instrumentalist and indie-giant John McEntire (Tortoise/The Sea and Cake) as well as a special contribution by the immensely gifted pianist Tony Crow, long-term player in the legendary Kurt Wagner-led Nashville-based collective Lambchop. From the opening gorgeous minute-long piano and violin “Intro”, we are treated to a stunning meandering journey across oceans of heavenly sounds and unknown beauty. Current personal highlight is the majestic instrumental opus “If I knew Where I Was I’d Be There”, a piece that could belong on Lambchop’s Double LP “Aw C’mon / No You C’mon” or Efterklang’s “Piramida”.

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Omar Souleyman “Wenu Wenu” (Ribbon Music)
One of the most surprising albums of the year thus far came courtesy of “Wenu Wenu” (meaning “Where Is She?”) – aided by Kieran Hebdan’s production prowess – via the latest record by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman. Prior to his homeland’s civil war crisis hit, Souleyman crossed the Syrian border into Turkey. Souleyman was formerly a wedding singer in his native Syria, a position – as described in an interview with NPR – as “important for experimenting in different kinds of music. In the region where I’m from, weddings have been really important in mixing different kinds of musical heritage.” Souleyman has released a plethora of material – mainly comprising live recordings of his wedding performances and spanning hundreds of cassette tapes – and his stature only grew when he collaborated with Bjork and subsequently appeared in numerous festivals in both the US and Europe.

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Dean Wareham “Emancipated Hearts” (Sonic Cathedral)
Dean Wareham (ex Galaxie 500 and Luna frontman) released his debut solo record “Emancipated Hearts” via Sonic Cathedral earlier this month. The resultant mini-album (the record contains six tracks) is a treasure of a record, produced by Papercuts’ Jason Quever and features a beautifully fragile and understated set of songs, including five original Wareham compositions (featuring the politically-charged “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began” and “The Ticking Is The Bomb”) plus a cover of “Air” by The Incredible String Band. Also available on gorgeous limited edition orange 10″ vinyl.

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Recondite “Hinterland” (Ghostly International)
Berlin-based producer Recondite’s first album for Ghostly International is the gorgeous “Hinterland”, an album inspired by Recondite’s homeland of Lower Bavaria (indeed, much field recordings spanning various times of the year are included across the album’s ten tracks). Like the poetic tree-lined and light-filled monochromatic landscape photograph depicted on the cover, “Hinterland” proves a lush, near-spiritual listening experience and proves a landmark release for the hugely talented producer. As Recondite has said of “Hinterland”: “I tried to capture the area’s mentality and natural environment within the album. Particularly the moods that behold the emotions of the four seasons, which differ a lot in this region.”

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The Velvet Underground “Loaded” (Cotillion/Atlantic)
“I found a reason to keep living / Oh and the reason, dear, is you / I found a reason to keep singing / Oh and the reason, dear, is you” sings Lou Reed on “I Found A Reason”, taken from The Velvet Underground’s fourth album, “Loaded”, released in 1970 on Atlantic Records’ subsidiary label, Cotillion. The song, like any one from Reed’s considerable output – both as a solo artist and as principal songwriter with The Velvet Underground – confirms Reed as one of the finest and most gifted (and certainly most influential) songwriters of the last fifty years. Despite The Velvet Underground’s modest commercial success during their all-too-brief lifespan – from the late sixties until the early seventies – the band’s influence on new generations of musicians is as strong today as it ever was. Brian Eno’s famous and much-repeated quote (in reference to The Velvet Underground’s beloved, classic 1967 debut “The Velvet Underground And Nico” only selling a mere 30,000 copies) stated: “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

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Howe Gelb ‘The Coincidentalist’ (New West)
“The Coincidentalist is someone who can read the coincidences but who doesn’t try to figure out their meaning. For if one tries to figure out the meaning it will be lost. The coincidences aren’t there to figure out but to point the way.” (Howe Gelb)
Since last year’s excellent Giant Giant Sand LP ‘Tucson’ – where Gelb draws from his beloved hometown for inspiration – legendary Giant Sand leader Howe Gelb will return this November with has latest solo work ‘The Coincidentalist’. The album is Gelb’s first release for New West Records. Over the last three decades Gelb has produced a mightily sprawling body of work – whether as Giant Sand or under his “solo” guise – and has peerlessly fused myriad genres and traditions into his own dusty, earthy trademark sound. Highlights are too numerous to list but personal favorites include Giant Sand’s ‘Center of the Universe’, ‘Glum’ and ‘Chore of Enchantment’, as well as Gelb’s ‘The Listener’ and ‘Sno Angel Like You’. ‘The Coincidentalist’ proves to be yet another career peak for Gelb, and is available on 5 November via New West Records. 

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Rachel’s ‘Systems/Layers’ (Quarterstick)
Rachel’s wonderful “System/Layers” sounds as immaculate today as it did a decade ago on its release on US independent label Quarterstick Records. Recently, Rachel’s – formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1991 – can be heard on the soundtrack to the visually immaculate Paolo Sorrentino film “The Great Beauty”, a film set in present-day Rome. The song used by Sorrentino is ‘Water From The Same Source’, a heavenly ballad and a timeless piece of music. Rachel’s are responsible for some of the most breathtaking and ambitious music over the last couple of decades. Tragically, founding member Jason Noble passed away in 2012 but has left behind a truly remarkable musical legacy in the form of Rachel’s beloved chamber music output. Also essential is the fabulous ‘The Sea And The Bells’. For all information on Rachel’s please see here.

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Zola Jesus ‘Versions’ (Sacred Bones)
Nika Roza Danilova returned this year with ‘Versions’, her fourth Zola Jesus studio album, released at the end of August by the Brooklyn-based independent label Sacred Bones Records. The album’s genesis began when Danilova was asked to perform at New York’s Guggenheim and, on accepting the invitation, she requested her wish to work with a classical composer who could arrange her songs for a quartet. The pioneering and versatile JG Thirlwell (Foetus) who is best known in industrial music circles, was recruited for this purpose and to fulfill Danilova’s artistic vision. According to Danilova: “Versions is about the bone of the music; taking approximations from past records and turning them inside out. With all framework exposed, the songs are given a new medium in which to evolve and bloom into their own tiny worlds.”

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Lucrecia Dalt ‘Syzygy’ (Human Ear Music)
Hugely talented Colombian-born artist Lucrecia Dalt – now based in Berlin – returns this year with the mesmerizing ‘Syzygy’, the much-anticipated follow-up to her second full length ‘Commotus.’ The record took shape quite by accident. When Dalt moved to a new place located in close proximity to a metro station, she soon discovered that the magnetic field of the metro affected the sound of the bass. Whereas her previous album ‘Commotus’ was largely centered on bass-driven melodies, ‘Syzygy’ sees a shift to a more dreamy, ambient-textured palette, as Dalt could only record the songs in the dead of the night, as she recounts: “I could only record at 4:30 am when the metro wasn’t working. So I love these kinds of accidents. I’m not sure if the new record would have shaped the way it did if I wan’t under that circumstance.” ‘Syzygy’ is available now on Human Ear Music.

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Chequerboard ‘The Unfolding’ (Lazybird)
Chequerboard is the moniker for Dublin-based composer John Lambert who released ‘The Unfolding’ – Lambert’s third LP – this year on independent label Lazybird Records. It has been five years since Chequerboard’s previous album, ‘Penny Black’, and ‘The Unfolding’ sees Lambert expanding on a more complex and panoramic sound than before. Collaborations on the record feature Seti The First’s Kevin Murphy and Crash Ensemble’s Kate Ellis (both on cello) as well as guest vocals from Eileen Carpio. Much like the beautifully textured and multi-layered sonic palette of Thrill Jockey’s Mountains, Chequerboard’s music is stunningly complex, mixing soft focus ambient vignettes with highly detailed, intricate guitar patterns. An album which reveals more upon every listen, ‘The Unfolding’ is a true delight.

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Lisa O’Neill ‘Same Cloth Or Not’
‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is Lisa O’Neill’s second album and follow-up to her 2009 debut ‘Has An Album.’ ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ confirms County Cavan-born O’Neill as one of Ireland’s finest and most unique young songwriters and was recorded with Dublin-based songwriter (and occasional Tindersticks contributor) David Kitt as producer with Karl Oldum on engineering duties. In the past O’Neill’s name has become better known with support slots with the likes of David Gray and Glen Hansard. A tour with the wonderful Scottish musician James Yorkston this November should be particularly special occasion for music audiences across the UK. O’Neill supports Glen Hansard on his solo Irish tour this October. ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is released on 18th October.

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Joni Mitchell ‘The Studio Albums 1968 – 1979’ (Warner Music / Reprise / Asylum)
Since last year’s Joni Mitchell boxset release – comprising Mitchell’s studio albums from her most prolific and creative period of the late sixties and seventies – the astonishing music and artistry of Mitchell’s can be explored by a whole new generation of music-lovers. The set contains Mitchell’s best-loved and most revered albums including the timeless string of albums at the turn of the seventies – 1971’s ‘Blue’, ’74’s ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ from 1975. The set also features such slightly less known gems as ‘Hejira’, ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ and ‘Mingus’, Mitchell’s beautiful Asylum Records album from 1979 dedicated to the life and memory of Charles Mingus who passed away in January of the same year.

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Peter Jefferies ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ (De Stijl)
Originally released on tape cassette by Xpressway, a label based in Port Chalmers, New Zealand, in 1990, the mystery and allure surrounding Jefferies’ debut solo album has only grown since. Hence, this year’s reissue of the New Zealander’s ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ via De Stijl Records (the first time that the vinyl has been repressed since the LP version of the album on Chicago’s Ajax label was out of print some twenty years ago). The collection itself is an engrossing set of songs highlighting the raw talents of Jefferies as a songwriter whose songs reveal much pain, sadness and indifference to a world which seems at complete odds to it’s author, while ultimately the album conveys a sense of fragile hope and soft light which diffuses Jefferies’ stark shadows with soft edges. A redeeming and life-affirming record.

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Kwes ‘ilp.’ (Warp)
‘ilp.’ is the debut album by Warp’s hugely talented London-based producer Kwesi Sey (who has worked with the likes of Bobby Womack and Damon Albarn in the past). The album’s ten tracks cut through every conceivable genre and style so effortlessly, fusing pop, electronic, hip hop, found sounds and ambient traditions to a mesmerizing effect (at times recalling Warp’s Bibio at his most expansive). The album’s hallmark is Sey’s vocal work, adding heart and soul to the beguiling, multilayered soundscapes beneath. Sey’s journey in music began when he was given a present of a keyboard from his grandmother (an instrument he still uses), and from the evidence of the hugely promising ‘ilp.’ expect a very bright future indeed for Kwes.

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Pharaoh Sanders ‘Elevation’ (Soul Jazz, Re-Issue 2013)
Soul Jazz Records’ Universal Sound recently re-issued Pharaoh Sanders’ classic ‘Elevation’ which was originally released on Impulse Records back in 1973. This was a golden era for Impulse when such jazz greats as Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Sam Rivers and Marion Brown were making records for the label. Sanders was one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, and worked with both John Coltrane in the sixties as well as Alice Coltrane in the following decade. Beginning with the album’s majestic title-track, ‘Elevation’ is a key cornerstone to the spiritual jazz genre and highlights Sanders as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists there ever was.

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