A great month for emerging Irish talent covered with tons of album reviews and a stacked E/O Playlist.
This time last month I was shouting from the rooftops about what a fantastic February we'd had, jam packed with big releases that delivered on the hype and had me dishing out A grades like nobodies business, with the likes of slowthai, Arlo Parks and Black Country, New Road on the receiving end of some glowering write ups.
This month, as far as big releases went.... I gotta be honest, it wasn't quite as busy. With the two biggest releases of the month in Kings of Leon and Lana Del Rey already covered, I found myself searching for new releases to get excited about - and I couldn't be happier that it led me to focusing in on emerging talent at home in Ireland, of which I discovered an abundance. I'm excited to share two of the very best independent Irish releases I heard this month below, as well as a brilliant record that was sent to me all the way from Malawi.
In the end, as always there were a couple of gems from the US and UK to boot which led to a great mix of reviewed artists so whether you're looking for local or international sounds, you should be sorted with the below selection. I've got another GOODGOODNOTBAD feature which will take a quick dive into the best of the rest, and the E/O March Playlist will set you up for the best possible listening experience of the past month before we take a look ahead to April to cap things off.
Alright, alright, alright...
March Album Reviews
Blue Sky Thinking - Annemarie Quinn
Coming to you all the way from Malawi, Blue Sky Thinking is the product of four years, over forty musicians and eight different recording locations - all loaded into one charming record that mingles the talents of UK singer-songwriter Annemarie Quinn and a splendid variety of traditional Malawian musicians.
Quinn has been developing the record since 2016 after her move to Southeast Africa, and the family of musicians that she has brought together for this album is a marvel to behold - whether it be the homemade gallon guitar of Faith Mussa, the Afro Jazz stylings of seven piece Lusubilo Band, the percussion skills of Omex Chimpeni or a choir performance from the Jacaranda School For Orphans, Annemarie gifts the stage to a widely talented assembly while shining throughout these fifty four minutes at all times with her bright folk melodies and mighty vocals.
The overall effect is a joyous listening experience that bursts with color, spirit and soul. A celebration of African musical culture and as well as the wonders of collaboration, Blue Sky Thinking is a glorious discovery that you'll be thankful exists to remind you that sunny days aren't far away.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Size of the Sky'/'Out Loud'/'Blue Sky Thinking'
Green to Gold - The Antlers
Beloved Brooklyn indie vets The Antlers are back on their sixth album this March, and they deliver a performance befitting a band of their stature and experience on the subtly majestic Green to Gold. Peter Silberman & co. have consistently developed their songcraft over the last fifteen years and this growth is reflected in the supreme professionalism of the production (courtesy of Silberman himself) as well as a masterful instrumental showing on an album that boasts a rejuvenating theme in marked contrast to the band's most famous cult hit, the heart wrenching concept opus Hospice.
With warm instrumental pieces bookending one of the most comforting records you're likely to hear this year, standout tracks 'Solstice' and 'It Is What It Is' carry a near flawless front half. Lead single 'Solstice' sounded pleasing if unremarkable back in January, yet its elusive power is unearthed within this tracklist as an softly moving refrain comes to light on a shining chorus, while centerpiece 'What It Is' possesses a beaming horn section and twinkling piano keys which make for possibly the most outright beautiful moment amongst these ten tracks. The back half of Green to Gold doesn't quite possess the staying power of its front half, with the slightly meandering 'Volunteer' and 'Green to Gold' making for a pleasing yet less potent finish. Taken as whole though, there i very little to quibble with throughout a dulcet forty seven minutes.
The gorgeous wanderlust of these woodland indie folk numbers has a hypnotic affect to the point that you may feel yourself transported, wading lazily down a spring river through a sunbathed forest at the tail end of a warm summers evening. In fact, with its celebratory nature themes and the gossamer beauty of its musicianship, Green to Gold shares more than a few similarities with Fleet Foxes' Shore from last year.
The only thing you'd have to wonder is if Silbermann and Robin Pecknold ever experienced the joys of a wet October in Ireland, would they continue to write such absurdly divine albums about the season of Autumn? I think not.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Wheels Roll Home'/'Solstice'/'Just One Sec'/'It Is What It Is'
How To Measure A Coastline - Bobsleigh Bob
The debut album from Rob Davis AKA Bobsleigh Bob is a densely atmospheric work, comprised of dark electronica that touches on ambient, chillwave and indietronica elements through its eight tracks and twenty nine minutes. An intricate soundscape built atop ice cold synths and Davis' distinctive baritone vocals, How To Measure A Coastline skillfully balances a mix of instrumental and vocal based tracks which gift the record a spontaneous, wandering quality that works in its favor throughout.
This is an album that deserves a quality set of headphones in order to realize the immersive experience that Bob has designed, with the tone immediately set on a stirring opening instrumental that recalls the recent work of Kieran Hebden, before the singer's weathered baritone kicks in on 'From The Sea' to vividly compliment its frosty keyboard backing. Like the majority of tracks on Coastline, there are subtle elements working in the background throughout which lend these tracks an extra layer of sonic depth (all the more impressive when you account for the album being produced almost totally through Ableton software).
'Paint Marks' sounds like a potential second single with its heightened tempo and enrapturing blend of melancholy and melody, before lead single and centerpiece 'Civil Twilight' takes over on the best track of this project. The single stood out when I first heard it in mid March for perfectly encapsulating Bob's downtempo hybrid of indie and electronica, and it makes for an assured centerpiece here, as well as the ultimate example of Bob's songwriting skills to date, with a lowkey beguiling hook in its chorus that you'll find yourself drawn back to. 'Twilight', like 'Sea' and 'Paint Marks' before it, is surprising with its catchiness when contrasted with the pitch black synths that lay its foundations.
As the first song written for Coastline, 'Twine' is a slow burn that puts its vocalist front and center, eventually coming to life at the halfway mark when its percussion kicks in but at six minutes long total, it's perhaps guilty of being the only cut here that asks for too much patience in its build. Concluding instrumental twins 'A Quick Fix' and 'Avast' make for an alluring closing pair though, with their friendly synths and accessible electronica vibes casting my mind to peak DNTEL - in fact, think Matt Berninger produced by Jimmy Tamborello and you'll get a pretty good idea of Coastline's entire aesthetic.
Those are be pretty good comparisons to be courting on a debut release for sure, but make no mistake - Davis has tapped into his own distinct sound here, one that instantly establishes Bobsleigh Bob as an act to watch. Concise yet deceptively complex, How To Measure A Coastline is an effective opening statement for a new talent in the Irish electronic landscape.
7.5 / B
Best Tracks: 'From The Sea'/'Paint Marks'/'Civil Twilight'
Ocean of Stars - BRÍDÍN
From the west of Sligo, a fusion of traditional Irish and contemporary folk arrives in the form of BRÍDÍN, a fourth generation trad musician skilled at harp, flute, piano and sean nós. Yet this is no ordinarily traditional sound despite its roots in classic Irish music - Ocean of Stars thrillingly blends looped harp and vocals to offer a contemporary and highly unique twist on Irish folk, resulting in a spellbinding debut.
Opening instrumental piece 'Wysteria' is an early showcase for BRÍDÍNs exceptional skills on her preferred weapon of choice as the Sligo native solos on harp atop a foundation of strings and a minimalist rhythm section, before 'Floating' earns its title with an alluring mix of harp, piano, layered vocals and percussion as BRÍDÍN sings a hypnotic refrain that levitates over and underneath its alluring wave of instrumentation.
'North West' is a peaceful contemporary folk ballad that requires no accompaniment (save for a light string section) in order to shine, recalling the work of Joanna Newsom with its indie folk leanings and cathartic climax. Title track 'Ocean of Stars' utilizes all of the aforementioned instrumental brilliance to superb effect on the EPs best track, with a looped vocal hook providing a dreamlike framework for BRÍDÍN to rise above as she celebrates the north west coast of Ireland with lyrics that offer up praise to the natural beauty of her home county. 'Stars' gives way to finale 'The Salmons Tale', an understated yet tranquil arrangement featuring Colm Mac Con Iomaire that brings this winning collection to a gentle close.
Taken as a whole, these five tracks signify an enchanting introduction for a wonderfully unique talent in Irish music. As one of the standout Irish releases of 2021 already, Ocean of Stars deserves to be heard around the country and beyond.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Floating'/'North West'/'Ocean of Stars'
Scary Hours 2 - Drake
Following a no show in January after the scheduled release of Certified Lover Boy two months ago, Aubrey Graham is back with a three track EP to tide over his legions of fans until the full album drops presumably sometime later this year. Scary Hours 2 offers a line up of Drakes on its three distinct tracks, with each offering a side to the chameleonic superstar that you'll be familiar with in some shape or form by now.
On 'What's Next', we get Fun Drake, with an energetic comeback anthem that boasts the easy, feel good energy of More Life opener 'Free Smoke' before Dark Drake gets in his thoughts on the minimal, sparse beat of 'Wants and Needs'. This cut also sees Drizzy once again cleverly utilizing a younger rapper for a guest feature to stay on trend, as trap star Lil Baby is the newcomer tapped up for an assist which he readily executes atop a cool synth wave.
'Lemon Pepper Freestyle' is a glimpse into the mind of Conscious Drake, with a typical 'state of the nation' closing address over a classic style hip-hop sample ala 'Paris Morton Music' or '6PM in New York'. These kinds of Drake 'freestyle' tracks have a well worked formula that usually makes for a triumphant outro to any given project and 'Lemon Pepper Freestyle' in no exception, giving its narrator a chance to show off some lyrical prowess as Drake reflects on fatherhood and co-parent relationships while also flexing with bars on the lavish lifestyles of himself and Rick Ross, on another collaboration between the Toronto native and Maybach Music chief, who often work so well together.
While perhaps unadventurous in leaning on classic Drake stereotypes, Scary Hours 2 is as charismatic and easily appealing as ever, showcasing solid form from the biggest name in hip-hop ahead of his sixth studio album. So, when's the album Drizzy?
6.0 / C
Best Tracks: 'Lemon Pepper Freestyle'
The second official edition GOODGOODNOTBAD is here, 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?
Turkish folk you say? Why not! Altın Gün are purveyors of an extremely funky extension of their homeland's traditional scene, mixing psychedelic, disco and electropop elements into their third outing Yol which is an absolute blast.
Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett's stunning score for Spike Jonze's seminal 2013 film Her finally came to streaming services this month, which gave me a chance to go back and listen to a classic original score from the Canadian supergroup. Her (Original Score) is still as poignant as ever, with its daydream piano motifs and tender synth pieces tugging at the heartstrings in much the same manner as its subject film.
Keeping it in the instrumental side of things, the venerable Jimmy Tamborello strips back his usual modus operandi of glitchy electronica on a meditative set of ambient synth pieces for his latest project as DNTEL. The Sea Trees See is an oddly muted version of the indietronica vet - it's pleasurable listening but ultimately doesn't amount to much more than tranquil background noise.
Elsewhere, the latest EP from Thessa Torsing AKA upsammy is a playful set of trippy beats that messes with EDM and techno textures while leaving plenty of space to get lost in the details, where the Dutch DJ thrives. Bend should satisfy anyone looking for an experimental electronic fix, or those seeking a soundtrack to play out the remaining fragments of their sanity as the lockdown rolls on.
If you're looking for something more upbeat in the electronic section I've got you covered though - Sofia Kourtesis follows up vibrant February hit 'La Perla' with four more euphoric house anthems on Fresia Magdalena. The Peruvian DJ's colorful production makes for seriously infectious listening whether you're a house fan or more often not (like this guy). These are floor fillers plain and simple, but with a bold and bright twist that separates Kourtesis from the rest of the scene in her adopted home of Berlin.
Shoutout to Kiley Larson from Check This Out! who turned me onto the new Israel Nash record. Topaz is a slick, psychedelia tinged country rock album from the Missouri songwriter. Nash employs a vast backing band that provide superb turns with horn and string sections throughout this cacophony of soulful, existential folk. Fans of Neil Young and Van Morrsion be sure to check this one out.
Tiger Jaws' scrappy DIY emo punk gets some spit and polish on a sixth studio release that aims for a more commercial radio rock sound. Fans needn't fear though, I Won't Care How You Remember Me pulls off the shift and progression by packing all of the bands charm, and more crucially the surplus of power pop hooks and sticky harmonies that made their name originally.
Full disclosure: Following a friend's recommendation, I approached the latest mixtape from NF fully expecting to stick it in the BAD section this month, but the oft derived Michigan rapper showcases a decent amount of growth on CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE). Feuerstein's breakneck rappity rap technique will never be something that I can claim to reasonably enjoy (with NF regularly invoking his idol Eminem's painful late career staccato method), yet the level of production and passion on CLOUDS is a step above 2019's The Search and there are tracks here that tease potentially greater rewards down the line for the Christian hip-hop stalwart.
One of the best hip-hop mixtapes of last year is reworked on UNLOCKED 1.5 with a cast of producers including The Alchemist and Charlie Heat taking over remix duties and adding an array of guest features from the likes of Arlo Parks and Joey Bada$$ amongst others into the pot. While it doesn't hit the chaotic heights of the original tape, there is more than enough ammo in Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats' 2020 set of electro rap bangers to make a compellingly distilled sequel.
Check out these ten releases ranked below and let me know whether you thought they were good, bad or indifferent:
Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett - Her (Original Score)
Israel Nash - Topaz
Altın Gün - Yol
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED 1.5
Sofia Kourtesis - Fresia Magdalena EP
Tiger Jaws - I Won't Care How You Remember Me
DNTEL - The Sea Trees See
Drake - Scary Hours 2
NF - CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE)
upsammy - Bend EP
Either/Or's March 2021 Playlist
beabadoobee - 'Last Day On Earth'
St. Vincent - 'Pay Your Way In Pain'
No Rome, Charli XCX, The 1975 - 'Spinning'
Japanese Breakfast - 'Be Sweet'
Luna Li - 'Cherry Pit'
Kero Kero Bonito - 'The Princess and the Clock'
India Jordan - 'And Groove'
Caribou, Four Tet - 'Never Come Back - Four Tet Remix'
Paul McCartney, Dominic Fike - 'The Kiss of Venus'
Silk Sonic - 'Leave The Door Open'
Jungle - 'Keep Moving'
Local Boy - 'Al Bundy'
Babylamb - 'Mister Magic'
Altın Gün - 'Kara Toprak'
Nyxe - 'Beautiful Mess'
YUKIKA - 'Lovemonth'
Sofia Kourtesis - 'By Your Side'
Akilo, Sylk - 'Going Nowhere'
Goth Babe - 'I Wanna Help Your Mind'
Sorry - 'Separate'
Ghostking Is Dead - 'I Don't Need Help'
girl in red - 'Serotonin'
Laura Mvula - 'Safe Passage'
Ailbhe Reddy, Sacred Animals - 'City Unfolds'
Lucy Dacus - 'Thumbs'
Ethel Cain - 'Crush'
Current Joys - 'Amateur'
Teenage Fanclub - 'The Sun Won't Shine On Me'
Guided By Voices - 'Trust Them Now'
Dinosaur Jr. - 'I Ran Away'
black midi - 'John L'
Israel Nash - 'Stay'
Sarah Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall - 'In His Arms'
Taylor Swift - 'You All Over Me (feat. Maren Morris)'
Lord Huron - 'Mine Forever'
brad - 'Out Of Time'
Big Thief - 'Off You'
Annemarie Quinn - 'Out Loud'
The Antlers - 'It Is What It Is'
Bobsleigh Bob - 'Civil Twilight'
upsammy - 'Flutter'
Elliot Mo - 'Motion'
Laura Les - 'Haunted'
Denzel Curry, Kenny Beats - 'Take_it_Back_v2 - Charlie Heat Version'
Drake - 'Lemon Pepper Freestyle (feat. Rick Ross)'
BROCKHAMPTON - 'BUZZCUT (feat. Danny Brown)'
Noname - 'Rainforest'
Jorja Smith - 'Addicted'
BRÍDÍN - 'Floating'
Sarah McQuaid - 'The Day of Wrath, That Day (The St. Buryan Sessions)'
Phoebe Bridgers, Maria Taylor - 'Summer's End'
Lana Del Rey - 'White Dress'
April's Most Anticipated Releases
Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
Flock of Dimes - Head of Roses
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - G_d's Pee AT STATES END
The Snuts - W.L
BROCKHAMPTON - Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine
Spirit Of The Beehive - Entertainment, Death
Taylor Swift - Fearless (Taylor's Version)
London Grammar - Californian Soil
Paul McCartney - McCartney III Reimagined
Dinosaur Jr. - Sweep It Into Space
Ethel Cain - Inbred EP
girl in red - if i could make it go quiet
Guided By Voices - Earth Man Blues
Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks Of God
Teenage Fanclub - Endless Arcade
For reviews of the above and much more this April, subscribe and check back for another wrap up at the end of the month! Thanks for reading.