Semper Femina finds Laura Marling at her sensual best

On “How Can I”, from Laura Marling’s 2015 paean to life as a Los Angeles transplant Short Movie, the singer-songwriter issued a battle cry of sorts. “I put up my fists now,” she sang, “until I get what’s mine.” Still a somewhat timid presence on stage, the 27-year-old now commands the respect she deserves, and that record felt fuller, harder and bolder under her direction. Now on album number six, Semper Femina feels like a deliberate softening.

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Interview: Plants and Animals on battling ego and charming the UK

“I wish it had happened a little quicker and earlier, but you know…” Matthew Woodley breaks into laughter. We’ve been discussing his band, Plants and Animals, and their relative newcomer status in the UK and Europe.  “Well, here we are.” And where is that? Upstairs in The Fleece, technically, but I suspect he’s referring to the fact that, after the best part of a decade and a half, the band are finally accruing a decent following this side of the Atlantic.

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The Dears, Plants and Animals @ The Fleece, Bristol, 25/02/17

If you don’t follow my album reviews with the same religious zeal that Paul Nuttall followed Liverpool’s 1989 FA Cup run, you may not be aware that I am quite fond of the new album from The Dears. I also cut my teeth on Montreal’s booming indie scene of the mid-’00s, so when the evergreen Plants and Animals were announced on the bill, it seemed too good to pass up.

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The Magnetic Fields unite comedy and tragedy on 50 Song Memoir

For any other artist, an album comprising 50 explicitly autobiographical songs for each year of their life would be seen as the height of narcissism, a swollen vanity project for the benefit of no one but the author. Fortunately, Stephen Merritt is quite unlike any other artist, and his latest conceptual sprawl provides a fascinating glimpse into the personal, political, and cultural epochs that shaped the half-century of American life he’s lived through. But more than that, The Magnetic Fields man’s storytelling of the events that take place across 50 Song Memoir never seeks to delineate between history and pop culture, fact and emotion, tragedy and farce. Like Morrissey just before him (and, by proxy, Wilde), Merritt cares far too much about life to take it seriously.

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Infinite Worlds is a brave step out for Vagabon

vagabonLætitia Tamko is acutely, painfully aware of the chasm that can stretch between forefinger and thumb. Adolescence is the perfect metaphor for Infinite Worlds: no other stage in life has the power to make the minor details – sexual experience, acceptance from your peers, early career paths – seem like they might actually matter ten years from now.  Of the eight songs that feature on Vagabon’s debut album, several have undergone growing pains of their own. “The Embers” was born a smaller, gentler affair called “Sharks,” while “Fear & Force” grew out of “Vermont II,” a song that now operates as a blushing snapshot of the record at large. “I’ve been hiding in the smallest place,” Tamko sings. She is stepping out.

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Heba is a debut for the ages from Lowly

lowlyheba“Cait #2” arrives less than halfway through Heba, the debut album from Danish quintet Lowly. At two minutes and thirty seconds, it operates as an interlude of sorts, a pleasant but functional aside traditionally assigned the role of breaking up a record’s less timorous moments. Now, despite also being one of the most affecting pieces of music you’ll hear all year, the track nonetheless performs as such a set piece here, and provides – for something quite so breathless – a breather. Why? Because Heba is dizzyingly opulent, an embarrassment of riches delivered with the grace and economy of those who know they have plenty in reserve.

They can afford it.

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The Dears mark incendiary return with Times Infinity Volume One

dearsThe Dears always felt like the weird cousin of the ’00s Canadian indie scene, trying to cover the darker elements of every other Montreal band, then paint them blacker still. I had an uneasy relationship with 2003’s No Cities Left back then, most fans’ introduction to the band. “Lost in the Plot” showcased a latent fury, while “22: The Death of All the Romance” felt like a revelation, one of those glorious moments when every element of a band conspires to coalesce, to nail that high note they’d been keening for. Even the title, laying down what would prove to be a lifelong preoccupation with the marriage of death and romance, seemed like a summation of their work. From beneath a patchwork of influences, there arose a singular voice that dared to sound quite unlike anyone else.

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The invincible hush of Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness

juliebyrneIt was the first warm afternoon of the year. I walked alongside the Atlantic as the Earth came alive for the sun. There was a palpable sense of emergence to everything. I felt it in myself too, and remember thinking I would trade that feeling for nothing… not even happiness.

This was Julie Byrne’s explanation of her second album’s title, Not Even Happiness, the follow up to 2014’s mostly overlooked Rooms With Walls and Windows. Much of the Brooklyn singer’s charm is laid bare in these few words: a simple lyricism propelled by an exquisite command of vocabulary and syntax; themes married foremost to the natural world; a propensity to convey the inner mind and outer surroundings with a single brushstroke. But most of all, it captures her engagement to the restless world. “I love everything that flows,” Henry Miller said, “everything that has time in it and becoming… all that is fluid, melting, dissolute and dissolvent.” Byrne’s work shares that spirit: she loves everything that is emergent.

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Mouse on the Keys’ Out of Body is your new favourite Japanese jazz-rock album

outofbodyWho are Mouse on the Keys? Two pianists, a drummer. They’ve just made an album called Out of Body. And?

And it’s dreaming out loud. And I’d say, if you pinned me down, that what they’re making is primarily experimental jazz, but there are also elements of ambient, classical, trip-hop, and math rock, sometimes all in one track. And they’re a Tokyo band, formed in 2006 by drummer/keyboardist/composer Akira Kawasaki and keyboardist Atsushi Kiyota, formerly of Japanese indie pioneers Nine Day Wonder, forged from the ashes of the city’s post-hardcore and post-rock scenes. And they already had an audio manifesto from day one, as Kawasaki is keen to point out. “I had a specific sound concept in mind when I started up Mouse on the Keys,” he says. “It clearly explains our musical influences. The concept was: ‘Utilizing elements of modern French music represented by composers such as Debussy and Ravel, along with the hardcore music of the ’80s and ’90s that our drummer Akira Kawasaki was influenced by, and mixing them in a style reminiscent of Detroit techno.’” And it works.

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Introducing: Malihini

malihiniMalihini, for those of you unfamiliar with either Hawaiian or Lilo & Stitch, is essentially the island state’s word for newcomer. Which is fitting really, because we’re introducing them. If Memphis Industries’ latest party guests, Italian duo Federica Caiozzo and Giampaolo Speziale, had chosen a name that translated as ‘questionable senior’ or ‘coke dullard’ or ‘the ones from Test Icicles who weren’t Dev Hynes,’ frankly, we would have had reservations about the whole thing.

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