Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens has always been a bit of an enigma. Incredibly prolific, churning out album after album first in fragile stripped back folk before demonstrating his experimental tendencies with solo work & collaborative projects that played around with full orchestras, electronica, americana & even rap (which I won’t go into here- time constraints you know- but if don’t believe me, here’s his wiki page, where you can find full deets if interested). A folk falsetto’d Mark Kozelek if you will, but with a sort of fantastical & sometimes over theatrical side. Obviously intensely creative, at times over the course of his 15 year career you kind of got the feeling that that creativity would get the better of him, whisking him off to magical places but leaving a bit of a disconnect with the listener, lagging behind. There’s some pretty amazing stuff to be found in his experimental stuff but it was in his earlier work, where his delicate falsetto drifted mostly over just a plucked guitar or piano that he was at his storytelling best. And on Carrie & Lowell he’s returned to that approach with just a few ambient synths accompanying guitar or piano, in a heartbreakingly personal, grief stricken but beautifully warm set of tracks written after the loss of his mother, Carrie in 2012 (Lowell was his stepfather), to stomach cancer.
This isn’t a telling of your standard mother/ son relationship though, as Carrie had abandoned Stevens when he was just one, to battle Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder & a history of substance abuse. Pretty heavy subject matter then, but don’t let that scare you though, as Stevens’ feather light touch draws you into each tale in such a delicate and loving manner that even when the lyrics are at their most heartbreaking, on ‘No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross’ he sings “Fuck Me I’m Falling Apart”, there’s still somehow a sense of hope and reconciliation. And when the album closes with the atmospheric synths of ‘Blue Bucket Of Gold’ you can’t help the feeling that despite the obvious pain felt throughout his mother’s life & death, amongst the sadness there’s a fond acceptance there too. A stunning and emotional album then, that can’t help but strike a chord with anyone who’s got one of those beating things still working in their chest.
BEST OF THE REST
Madeon – Adventure
Cos it feels like so long since French producer prodigy Madeon (aka Hugo Pierre Leclercq) first burst onto the scene in 2010 (as 15 year old!!!) it kinda seems unbelievable that only now is he finally releasing his debut full length album as an EDM veteran at the wise old age of 20! But it’s true. So what’s it like? Adventure continues his signature style of sample & genre mash ups cut into massive euphoric dance floor stompers that can move from electro to house to disco to chillout then on to flat-out pop, all in three and a half or so minutes. There’s an abundance of guest talent onboard here too, with Passion Pit, Kyan, Foster The People’s Mark Foster & Bastille’s Dan Smith, to name a few, all taking on vocal duties, but they’re just here for support. This album’s all about Leclercq’s super slick productions. It may have taken a while to get here, but it’s definitely been worth the wait.
The Soft Moon – Deeper
Someone who also burst onto the scene in 2010, Luis Vasquez has tread an entirely different path to Leclercq. If Madeon is all sunshine and light aimed squarely at people getting off their nut on happy happy pills in stadiums & festivals, The Soft Moon is pretty much on the polar opposite side of the dance floor spectrum. This, his third record, dominated by disorientating, industrial beats, is music aimed squarely at the dark underground. Taking it’s influences ’80s post punk, it’s like listening to a goth version of New Order, on acid. Deep (as the title suggests) and gloriously filthy.
Hannah Cohen – Pleasure Boy
Want something a bit lighter now? Well tough. As while this next album from Hannah Cohen may well not be quite as dark or heavy sonically as The Soft Moon it’s not far off in it’s tone. Since her decidedly poppier 2012 debut, Child Bride resulted in comparisons to Lana Del Rey it seems some relationship turmoil has inspired Cohen to move from lighter hearted pop into the more melancholic & atmospheric sound you hear here on Pleasure Boy. And it definitely works well for her. This is one of those rare pop records that actually has enough depth & beauty for you to get truly lost in well past a couple of listens.
Best Youth – Highway Moon
Sticking with the darker pop vibe, next up is the debut from Portuguese duo Best Youth. You should really recognise that name as we’ve featured their gorgeously smooth synth pop on these pages a few times over the last few months, but if not we forgive you, here your second chance to get right into them. And if you give Highway Moon a couple of spins you’ll most definitely be right into them. Sitting somewhere between the indie pop of The Cardigans & the super sultry minimal synths of The xx, it’s a stunning debut that should see them gain access to a far wider audience over the next year or so.
Lower Dens – Escape From Evil
Cracking week for fans of the dark side this week isn’t it. There’s an absolute embarrassment of riches as Lower Dens’ latest record slots nicely into that category too. A blend of Beach House’s dream pop & Lonelady’s awesome raw retro gem of last week, Hinterland, there are many moments of real icy beauty here. Personal highlights are ‘Ondine’ (below) & lead single ‘To Die In L.A.’.
Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
So Madeon’s really the only out and out happy happy record this week I’m afraid. Good week for those who fancy a bit of a wallow though. To be fair, Kintsugi, Death Cab’s 8th studio album, does have some lighter moments, but if you’ve heard any of their previous albums you’ll know there’s almost always a melancholy tinge to everything they do. It doesn’t mine any new ground in dealing with the breakdown of lead singer Ben Gibbard’s relationship with indie fan boy pin up Zooey Deschanel, as well as the band’s loss of guitarist & producer Chris Walla, it’s still a very solid effort. Existing fans’ll lap it up. For newcomers, it’s as good a gateway into their indie guitar pop as any of their others.