New music 08/2016 – Radiohead, Olympia, Ladyhawke, The Unthanks

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead have always been a band I found easier to admire than to love. I’m very fond of The Bends and there’s a good dozen songs of theirs that move me deeply, but I never felt an urge to own a whole Radiohead album since their second one. So I’m rather surprised to find that I dig their latest so much. It’s probably their prettiest album; while they haven’t abandoned their weird eerie electronica thing the emphasis here seems to be more on the orchestral arrangements, with gorgeous strings and sad pianos. Thom Yorke’s vocals, which in the past I often found too nasally and strident for my liking, has also never sounded more gorgeous.

From what I’ve read this album was inspired by the collapse of his long-term relationship, and while it retains a lot of Radiohead’s trademark twitchiness and tension, it does feel like there’s a sort of romanticism about A Moon Shaped Pool which I’ve never really felt with the rest of their music, even if there’s an obvious sadness at its core. The two opening tracks are probably the strongest – the single Burn the Witch is easily the catchiest song on the album and Daydreaming is a haunting piano-led lament that ends with some truly creepy but awesome electronic noise.

Olympia – Self Talk

Who Weekly, my trashy magazine of choice, have ditched their shockingly good music review section recently (now it’s just the same bland 12 Things We Love Right Now with no actual opinions you see in any women’s magazine – boo). Which is a massive bummer because I discovered a great many under-the-radar artists on their recommendations, including this gem by a Melbourne singer-songwriter. Woozy, dreamy, shimmering sophisticated pop, with strong melodies and unique atmosphere that rewards further listening.

Ladyhawke – Wild Things

Third album from the Kiwi songstress which goes back to the 80s-flavoured synth-pop of her debut, except happier and shinier. It’s fun, upbeat and hook-laden to the max, though I do miss the darker edge of the best songs from the first album. This music style has been mined to death by many other artists recently and Wild Things doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but it’s so care-free and enjoyable I can overlook that (also, I do love my 80s-infused synth pop). It makes me feel better just looking at her bright yellow T-shirt on the cover.

The Unthanks – Mount the Air

Another wonderful, lush offering from the Northumberland sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank and their bunch of talented musicians. The Unthanks are folk but they’re not your Sufjan Stevens or Fleet Foxes – they go back to the old traditional English folk, combining it with other musical genres to a greater extent with each new album. This album is probably their most experimental, with elements of jazz and even progressive rock, opening with a 10-minute title track that gently builds to an epic finish.

For my money though, the album is still at its most powerful when it goes back to the simple, primal power of traditional folk that lodged The Bairns, their second album and masterpiece, firmly into my heart. Here it’s Magpie, an eerie retelling of the traditional rhyme that is pared down to Rachel and Becky’s impossibly evocative, almost a capella vocal harmonies. I love their willingness to stretch themselves musically, but I hope they never lose their connection with that raw powerful side of folk.

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