The best and the rest of April including Paul McCartney's latest experiment, The Snuts massive debut and the return of Dino Jr.
Another month gone by, and miracle of all miracles, I've actually got this monthly wrap up for you at the end of the month rather than the start of the next one. Impressive, eh? Let's hope I can keep up these newfound timekeeping skills. In any event, there was no shortage of music to dissect in April and I've got all the good, bad and ugly covered for you below. There's the usual album review round up below along with a bunch of hot takes in GOODGOODNOTBAD. The E/O April Playlist has got you sorted for tunes with tons of great recommendations from the past four weeks, before I take a look ahead to May and what we can expect to cover on site next month. So let's get into it all, shall we?
April Album Reviews
Collections From The Whiteout - Ben Howard
Since cropping up with the bright acoustic melodies of Every Kingdom in 2011, Ben Howard has been a steady (if not especially spectacular) folk singer plying his trade as essentially a British version Jose Gonzalez or James Vincent McMorrow. The most intriguing thing about Howard's fourth release is his pairing with Aaron Dessner, who handles production duties for Collections From The Whiteout following a massive 2020 which led to Grammy success thanks to his inspired collaboration with Taylor Swift on folklore and evermore.
Swift and Dessner worked so well together because they were apples and oranges - Swift brought her natural gift for sweet and storied songwriting while Dessner provided a layer of sonic depth that led to a winning combination. The pairing of Howard and Dessner however, is more like apples with apples. These two guys share a lot of the same abilities and traits as indie rock producers and multi instrumentalists, so the inevitable end result here is a resolute focus on Whiteout's production value - often solely so, and ultimately to the detriment of the actual songwriting.
It's all relatively easy listening folktronica as Howard continues to gently incorporate looped guitars and drum machines into his musing busker hymns, but taken as whole Collections From The Whiteout is a painfully tepid hour of tracks. Singles like 'What A Day' and 'Sorry Kid' are glitch folk fodder, largely indistinguishable from the remainder of a monotonous tracklist that takes 54 minutes to plough through but feels a lot longer.
There's no 'Keep Your Head Up' in sight here to contrast the utter drabness of Whiteout's foggy aesthetic, and while there may be a decent level of merit in Howard and Dessner's production, it's sorely lacking the emotion or passion you'd expect from a relatively seasoned protagonist. Give this one a miss.
4.0 / D
Best Tracks: N/A
Sweep It Into Space - Dinosaur Jr.
Alternative rock legends Dinosaur Jr. are back on their twelfth studio album after a five year gap between records, and it's so good to hear J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph again. Originally scheduled for release last summer but delayed due to the pandemic, Sweep It Into Space is the kind of classic, carefree rock jam that you've come to expect from the iconic trio as they enter their fifth(!) decade of existence.
Sweep It Into Space is the fifth record the band have released since reforming with their original line up in 2005, and by now Dino Jr. have a super reliable formula down pat - we get the usual supply of fuzzy feedback, distorted riffs and face melting solos in between Mascis' typically indiscernible yet agreeable wailing, while there are a couple of numbers reserved for the eternally underutilized Barlow, who shines on 'Garden' and 'You Wonder', his only two tracks on the record and both highlights across a non-stop twelve tracks.
There are some subtle tweaks to the band's trademark sound with Kurt Vile enlisted as a producer - a clear descendent of bands like Dino Jr and Sebadoh, the ageing rockstars have cleverly utilized KV here to bring their hardcore garage sound into the 20s. Small changes like the female vocal backing on chorus of infectious opener 'I Ain't' make all the difference for a band who have been consistent to the point of stubbornness with their sound over the years, while the familiar comforts of 'I Ran Away' and 'N Say' are carried by the timeless dynamics that Dino Jr have been playing with since the mid eighties, blending punk and grunge elements with their undeniably catchy melodies and power chord hooks.
It's good to know that whatever else may be going on in the world, Dinosaur Jr. are still their good old selves, rocking out in thunderous style. Ferociously energetic and feel good, Sweep It Into Space is well worth the wait - Dinosaur Jr. remain one of the most dependable and authentic rock bands in the game, almost forty years down the line.
7.5 / B
Best Tracks: 'I Ain't/'N Say'/'You Wonder'
New Long Leg - Dry Cleaning
In the exploding post-punk scene gripping Europe at the moment it can be pretty hard to stand out from the pack, but Dry Cleaning do just that with their wonderfully odd debut New Long Leg. The South London quintet have made a name for themselves through their spoken word vocals, unorthodox lyricism and 80s indebted art punk, all of which combine with unexpected fluidity and finesse on ten fantastically peculiar tracks spread across forty minutes.
Lewis Maynard's addictive, driven bass hooks are the foundation of these tunes (no more so than on the rhythmic mantra of lead single 'Strong Feelings') while Tom Dowse's distinctive guitar lines deftly blend influences from 00s garage rock greats such as Strokes and original members of the 80s post punk wave in Wire and Joy Division, but the undoubted star of the record here is Florence Shaw.
With her bewitching London drawl, Shaw's dry delivery is bursting with a charisma and wit that lends the seemingly mindless musings of 'Scratchcard Lanyard' and 'Her Hippo' a level of poetry and sharpness that a lesser vocalist would find impossible to express without singing. Her deadpan slam poetry is full of knowing winks and black comedy - hear Shaw's hilariously droll account of an electrician shocking himself at the beginning of 'Her Hippo' ("Yabba!"). It's a highly unique style that could easily feel forced or gimmicky in the wrong hands, but Shaw avoids any such pitfalls thanks to her commitment to this wicked performance throughout. The truth is that Shaw doesn't need to "sing" when she can pull off a vocal performance of this quality without so much as a note change in forty minutes. Lyrically, New Long Leg is an anomaly - these songs are journal scraps, a diary ripped up and glued back together in random jigsaw puzzle pieces that Shaw offhandedly reads from while the band do their thing, and it would be a mistake to take her words for granted. In the final minutes of seven minute closer 'Every Day Carry', Shaw quips "Now it seems that none of that meant anything", but underneath the absurdity of these sardonic soliloquies there's a layer of existential and socio-political commentary that's ripe for further exploration than might at first be suggested. Then again, Shaw's disaffected ASMR would sound pretty good reading a telephone book so whether you want to look deeper or not, Dry Cleaning sound pretty great either way.
On New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning are pioneering a brand new sound, and doing it with swagger and style. It's yet another great post-punk debut to add to an ever more impressive collection this year, but Dry Cleaning are far from just another brick in the wall. Thanks to its highly unusual and inventive execution, New Long Leg is certain to go down as one of the most creative and unique rock records of 2021.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Scratchcard Lanyard'/'Strong Feelings'/'Her Hippo'
McCartney III Imagined - Paul McCartney
When McCartney III arrived back in December 2020, it was a bolder trip than you might have imagined the 78 year old ex-Beatle conjuring up at this late stage of his career, but then again this is Paul McCartney we're talking about. So when the concept of McCartney III Imagined was announced last month with a phenomenal line up of guest musicians, it was an intriguing prospect to say the least. With Sir Paul entrusting his experimental pop creations to the likes of Beck, Phoebe Bridgers and Damon Albarn, expectations were justifiably high, but the end result doesn't quite live up to the star power of the names attached.
As with all projects of this nature, Imagined is a mixed bag - the big guns mostly deliver with Beck's faithful (if admittedly near identical) take on 'Find My Way' kicking off the record with zeal, and Bridgers thoughtful rendition of 'Seize The Day' making for a nice interlude at the halfway point. Josh Homme offers up a characteristic take on 'Lavatory Lil' which quite literally sounds like The Beatles meets QOTSA in some bizarre musical time warp, but it's actually the younger artists who truly steal the show here as Dominic Fike, Khruangbin and Blood Orange dream up the funkiest and most inventive interpretations across the tracklist.
The more experimental side of Imagined doesn't fare quite as well. EOB's heavier version of 'Slidin' and the meandering electronica of eleven minute closer 'Deep Deep Feeling' as remixed by 3D are both inferior to their originals, yet the biggest shock is Albarn's take on 'Winter Bird' which is a misfire all the more unfortunate for the potential in such a legendary pairing. Anderson Paak's mostly unchanged remix of 'When Winter Comes' is fine, but feels undercooked and lacking in imagination.
It's difficult with these kinds of albums to create a cohesive tracklist that ebbs and flows like its original, and while the front half of Imagined actually brings its artists together quite nicely on a mostly alternative rock collection, the disjointed remainder post 'Seize The Day' is a messy listen that's more in keeping with what you would normally expect from a remix project. You'd have to imagine that a legend of McCartney's status had the cream of the crop to choose from within the music industry, so for these artists to be chosen is a serious honor in itself. In it's best moments, there is a level of delicacy and care to these reinterpretations that pays fitting tribute to the creator of these tracks, but the half hearted remixes and ill judged lowlights drag the project down as a whole.
At the very least it's never dull - whether he's competing a trilogy of solo works fifty years in the making or curating an alternate reality for a great work in his late canon, McCartney shines on.
6.0 / C
Best Tracks: 'The Kiss of Venus (Dominic Fike Version)'/'Deep Down (Blood Orange Remix)'
W.L - The Snuts
One of the most surprising success stories of April came from Glasgow, Scotland when debuting indie rock act The Snuts unbelievably beat off Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber to top the UK Albums Chart earlier this month with W.L, becoming the first Scottish band to top the albums chart since The View in 2007.
It's a rare form of commercial success for a young band these days, but it's clear to see why Snuts have captured the hearts and minds of so many in the UK and Ireland with their throwback indie guitar tunes transporting listeners back to the noughties heyday of post-Britpop, as the Snuts recall indie greats such as Kings of Leon and The Libertines throughout this cavalcade of sticky guitar licks. There are one or two moments of NME fodder on W.L that are a cautionary reminder of the downside to some of the landfill indie that pervaded the charts in the 00s, with snoozefest 'Boardwalk' and the corny if admittedly catchy 'Somebody Loves You' being prime suspects for the skip button, but these harmless fillers are easy to forgive when hidden amongst outright festival belters such 'Always' and 'Glasgow'. W.L never gets too insightful or deep, nor does it try to - the overall vibe that tracks like 'Juan Belmonte', 'No Place I'd Rather Go' and 'Don't Forget It (Punk)' transmit makes for a feel good, effortless listening experience that's sure to be a strong feature on summer soundtracks in the months to come. This is music made for the main stage, and once festivals are safely back on the agenda you can be assured that Snuts will command a billing on on every major line up in the UK, Ireland and perhaps beyond. I can already picture myself in the afternoon sunshine in the midst of an Electric Picnic crowd with beverage in hand and a dodgy Hawaiian shirt on as 'Always' rips into life, and I cannot wait to get there.
7.0 / B-
Best Tracks: 'Always'/'Glasgow'
You know how this works by now, GOODGOODNOTBAD is where I get to give you some extra quick takes on stuff I've been listening to this month that hasn't gotten the full review treatment! This is my way of including some more quickfire recommendations for all of you that are well worth checking out.
These albums can either be: Very Good, Good, Not Bad or BAD. So with that being said, what else is out there this month and what's good?
After one of the best debuts of 2020, London post-punks Sorry lean harder into their experimental inclinations with the warped electronica of the Twixtustwain EP. It's a beguiling look at potential next steps for Asha Lorenz and Louis O'Bryen, with a more challenging sound that still finds relief in the comfort of Lorenz' slacker vocals and the disarming sweetness of closer 'Favourite', one of the best tracks the band has written to date.
In a rather more unfortunate sense, Sufjan Stevens also picks up where he left off in 2020 -with another monotonous helping of New Age instrumentals on an uninspired series of releases as his Convocations collection has been dropping weekly to little fanfare and general indifference over the past month. It's an unfortunate continuation of a disappointing period in the career of the widely acclaimed songwriter, who seems more interested in making barely serviceable yoga music than picking up a guitar lately.
On a brighter note, Sam Shepard's exceptional compositional skills are on breathless display on Promises, a 46 minute symphony that brings together Shepard's Floating Points ensemble with revered saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. It's a magnificent fusion of electronica, ambient and jazz all built within a modern classical aesthetic. This heady collection of strings, saxophone, keyboards and computers is masterfully arranged into nine continuous movements, and the resulting piece stands as the most impressive work of the British producer and DJs young career by some distance.
Californian Soil is pretty standard fare from London Grammar, though that's not a bad thing necessarily. Hannah Reid's powerful contralto set to elegiac piano based soundscapes is as familiarly comforting as ever. While the trio's sound is somewhat boosted by a cautious foray into electronic territory, this is pretty safe material for a third album. At this stage, London Grammar are a band that you've probably already made your mind up on one way or another.
Staying in the English capital, Civilisation II acts as sequel to Kero Kero Bonito's 2019 EP of the same name, and as such it serves up a sugary cocktail of sparkling hyperpop splashed with all the video game bleeps and bloops that Bonito are now synonymous with. This fluorescent trio of tunes cherry picks from a variety of experimental pop genres, and it's all delivered with the giddy energy the London altpop group have owned since day one.
Back home, the punchy garage rock of Dublin punks Sprints recalls early Yeah Yeah Yeahs in its best moments on debut EP Manifesto. Frontwoman Karla Chubb is a commanding presence at all times through these four grungy bangers, and if the energy captured on these tracks is anything to go by, the band's live shows around the country later this year are not to be missed.
I just got around to the debut LP from self professed ''frog rockers'' Floatie, a dreamy bedroom guitar jam that breezes by in just under under half an hour. Voyage Out sucks you into a chilled trip through the stoned psyche of an intriguing new act in the American lo-fi indie scene. I was a little late to this one but it's well worth checking out for fans of 80s and 90s indie (Pavement, GBV, Sebadoh).
Finally, 2021 could be huge for Ethel Cain judging by the mass appeal her dark emo pop/rock possesses, not to mention the quality songwriting and lyricism that she backs it up with. Cain has already built up a cult following of ''Daughters'' through her raw piano and acoustic ballads, which draw on the gritty influence of her deep Southern backwoods origins, and it's clear from the murky, hauntingly evocative sound of Inbred that this is a potential star in the making. While this EP puts forward a strong case for the writer and producer's capabilities, the hope must be that a more expansive debut LP in the not too distant future could lead to a mainstream breakout if Cain can fully realize the potential she outlines on these six cinematic tracks.
Check out these eight releases ranked below and let me know whether you thought they were good, bad or indifferent:
Ethel Cain - Inbred EP
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & London Symphony Orchestra - Promises
Floatie - Voyage Out
Kero Kero Bonito - Civilisation II EP
Sorry - Twixtustwain EP
Sprints - Manifesto EP
London Grammar - Californian Soil
Sufjan Stevens - Convocations (Meditations, Lamentations & Revelations listened to for this review)
Either/Or's April 2021 Playlist
56 of the best tracks of April, curated by yours truly for your aural pleasure.
Lil Nas X - MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)
The Weeknd - Save Your Tears Remix (with Ariana Grande)
The Chemical Brothers - The Darkness That You Fear
CHVRCHES - He Said, She Said
Kollidr - Heartbeats
Paul McCartney - Deep Down (Blood Orange Remix)
Roisin Murphy - Assimilation
Olivia Rodrigo - deja vu
Doja Cat - Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)
Bladee, Metachok, Charli XCX - Drama
Crumb - BNR
St. Vincent - The Melting Of The Sun
Garbage - The Men Who Rule the World
Kero Kero Bonito - Well Rested
Japanese Breakfast - Posing In Bondage
Pote, Damon Albarn - Young Lies
For Those I Love - Birthday/The Pain
Darkside - The Limit
Iceage - Shelter Song
black midi - Slow (Loud)
Wolf Alice - Smile
Dinosaur Jr. - N Say
Jay Tennant - Spectre
The Heavy North - Darkness In Your Eyes
The Black Keys - Crawling Kingsnake
Mannequin Pussy - Control
Graham Davy - The Horror Show
Sprints - Swimming
Dry Cleaning - Her Hippo
The Snuts - Glasgow
Lord Huron - Long Lost
Sharon Von Etten, Fiona Apple - Love More (By Fiona Apple)
Biig Piig - Lavender
Jorja Smith - Gone
Little Simz - Introvert
The Avalanches, Prince Paul - Since I Left You (Prince Paul Remix)
BROCKHAMPTON - COUNT ON ME
Freddie Gibbs - Big Boss Rabbit
Foushee - gold fronts (feat. Lil Wayne)
Grace Weber - Thru The Fire (feat. Chance The Rapper)
Tirzah - Send Me
Lucy Dacus - Hot & Heavy
Holly Humberstone - Haunted House
girl in red - You Stupid Bitch
illuminati hotties - MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA
Local Boy - Thoughts
Orla Gartland - Zombie!
Sorry - Favourite
Mustafa - Ali
Rina Sawayama, Elton John - Chosen Family
David Duffy - Sueño
London Grammar - Californian Soil
Ethel Cain- God's Country (feat. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal)
Waxahatchee - Fruits Of My Labor
Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me (Taylor's Version)
Angel Olsen - It's Every Season (Whole New Mess)
May's Most Anticipated Releases
girl in red - if i could make it go quiet
Guided By Voices - Earth Man Blues
Teenage Fanclub - Endless Arcade
Angel Olsen - Song of the Lark and Other Far Memories
Iceage - Seek Shelter
Squid - Bright Green Field
Weezer - Van Weezer
The Black Keys - Delta Kream
Jorja Smith - Be Right Back
St. Vincent - Daddy's Home
Lord Huron - Long Lost
Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
black midi - Cavalcade
Lou Barlow - Reason To Live