Tinariwen - Emaar: The story behind this band is the most rock n’ roll thing I’ve ever heard. Seriously, these guys put Keith’s Life to shame. Their founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, witnessed the execution of his father (a Tuareg rebel fighter) at age four, and he built his first guitar out of a tin can, a stick, and a bicycle brake wire. Alhabib and other rebel fighters formed Tinariwen while exiled in Libya. They distributed their music for free around the Sahara to raise awareness about the persecution of the Tuareg people, and members of the group participated in a revolution that lead to democracy in Mali. In 2012, the band was going to be arrested by an extremist Islamic group for making “Satan’s music”. Everyone escaped except Ag Lamida who was caught while trying to save his guitars. Having been around since 1979, not all of Tinariwen is seasoned rebel fighters; the band is more of a musician collective with members that come and go and multiple generations. Their style is a unique blend of desert rock, Bollywood, and delta blues, and apparently they hadn’t even heard of blues until they came to the States in 2001. Did I mention that Tinariwen has won a Grammy? Yeah, they’re awesome. Their songs remind me of that scene in all desert-related movies where the protagonist is trudging down a lonesome highway with heat rising off the asphalt, on the verge of death from dehydration. SHILL
Recommended Tracks: “Chaghaybou”, “Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim”, “Emajer”
Temples - Sun Structures: Before I get into details there are a couple things that I should get out of the way to make it a little easier on you. First, singer James Bagshaw’s resemblance to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan is uncanny, to say the least. Secondly, the thought that it sounds like Tame Impala is probably going to be an unconscious reaction for most of you within listening to the first minute of the album. A first minute that holds the line, “take me in time, in time to the music, take me away to the twilight zone” on the opener “Shelter Song.” I bring this lyric up on purpose because I think it actually reflects much of ‘Sun Structures.’ For example, there’s no doubt that its imagery nails the psychedelic theme that Bagshaw and co-conspirator/songwriter Thomas Warmsley were going for, yet at the same time I’d be lying if I were to say I thought it wasn’t somewhat cliché. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twilight zone, I just think that Temples are talented enough to find more inventive ways of getting us there. They have the effort, interest, and passion for 60’s rock (influence of the Byrds, the Yardbirds, the Zombies, etc. are all ever present throughout ‘Sun Structures.’), only there are no modern embellishments that would make it genuinely unique. Especially in the wake of Lonerism’s immense success and popularity, such embellishments are more important than ever if they really want to stand out among the hundreds of other hallucinating space rock bands with lead singers that look like pale, coked-out Aladdins. Nonetheless, there are a lot of fun moments on the album. They have mastered a consistent and danceable groove inherent to almost all of their songs, the occasional presence of a twelve-string guitar diversifies some of the riffs, and the folk swing of ‘Keep in the Dark’ showcases Bagshaw’s songwriting versatility. So while I will say that it might be a tad bit contrived, it’s not too shabby for a debut. After a fair amount of sonic experimentation I hope that they’ll be able to reach a sound that is vintage but modulated to create something modern and intriguing; and the funny thing is, more hair, velvet shirts, gold necklaces, and acid might just get them there. CLIFFSIES
Recommended Tracks: "Shelter Song", "Keep in the Dark", "Colours to Life"
Illum Sphere - Ghosts of Then and Now: Despite the seemingly infinite sonic possibilities afforded to electronic musicians, the pursuit of a unique voice is an arduous undertaking, especially for budding producers like Ryan Hunn, the human behind Illum Sphere. Ghosts of Then and Now isn’t shy about embracing the space-hop endemic to Ninja Tune and its subsidiary Brainfeeder. FlyLo in particular casts a long shadow here, from the rim-clicks and dreamy vocals of “At Night” to the reversed bell tones that wind their way through “Ra_Light”. Although the influences are easy to spot, the similitude in no way detracts from Hunn’s nuanced, expressive compositions; these tracks brim with detail and display a surprisingly mature brand of songwriting. “The Road” is an early highlight, pairing a lilting vocal from ShadowBox with a shapeshifting percussion rack (which might include a sample of the police radio from Grand Theft Auto V) and some dry metallic pads that occasionally poke their heads out from the mix. The album is at its best when Hunn mashes his inspirational ingredients together in unusual and surprising ways, as he does on “Near the End”. The track’s rudimentary synth hook sits in the pocket of an uptempo house groove, forming a nucleus while an improvised keyboard solo runs rampant around the fringes like a free radical. The end result is reminiscent of the best Floating Points compositions, where the feeling of spontaneity transcends the rigid means of production. I have no doubt that Hunn will continue to codify the “Illum Sphere Sound” as he gains more experience, but in the meantime he’s provided us with a great bunch of tunes that reward close listening. ZN
Recommended Tracks: "Ghosts of Then and Now", "Near the End", "At Night"
Eagulls - Eagulls: Not to be confused with The Eagles, Eagulls are a five-piece punk (or, if I can be a little more specific, post-punk) band from Leeds. There is nothing remotely similar to “Hotel California” on this high-energy, loud, vigorous, aggressive/angry debut album. At least, I am assuming that the album is an expression of the band’s fury (I mean just look at those song titles…angst, anyone?), but I can hardly make out any lyrics through the yelled/screamed/strained/distorted hardcore-influenced vocals. Maybe I am not trying hard enough to understand what he is singing, but from what I CAN understand, I am not sure that lyricism is the band’s strength: most of the choruses consist of the singer repeatedly yelling the song title (specifically in the tracks “Hollow Visions,” “Tough Luck,” “Amber Veins,” “Possessed,” and “Fester / Blister”). However, what the album appears to lack in terms of lyrical sophistication, it counterbalances with a forceful sound akin to Sonic Youth (especially “Yellow Eyes” and “Footsteps”) blended with hardcore vocals comparable to those of Minor Threat. This is not an album for easy listening but for venting, not for dancing – other than perhaps the surprisingly melodious and catchy “Tough Luck” and “Opaque” – but for moshing. If “Hollow Visions” does not evoke your inner (or maybe outer, I don’t judge) punky, head banging teen at first, try again – the album grows on you, and since it is not due out until March 4, you have plenty of time to try out Eagulls before the official release date. ASHLEY H.
Recommended Tracks: "Yellow Eyes", "Tough Luck", "Opaque"