“I’m going back to my roots” is a statement that we often hear in today’s musical landscape. Sometimes, it happens following a commercial dud of an album. Occasionally, the back to my roots album comes after rigorous stadium touring, yearning for simpler beginnings. Or, it’s a deflection from a “bad” image, resulting in cleaning up one’s act. For Steven Wilkinson, artistically known as Bibio, Ribbons is a sequel to the structured storytelling of his 2016 album, A Mineral Love.
With Ribbons, Wilkinson steps away from the ambient electronica of 2017 album, Phantom Brickworks. That doesn’t mean he’s ditched the intelligent dance music that defined past releases. In fact, the touches of synthesizers serve to elevate the gentle nature of Ribbons. On 28 February this year, Wilkinson took to Twitter to discuss the new album, divulging that it’s “an album made very much in admiration of nature, yet through a tinted window of manmade escapism. Recalling the beauty in nature and the sadness of seeing it spoiled.”
Julia Jacklin doesn’t want to be the type of artist that preaches to her listeners. Her sophomore album, fittingly titled Crushing, is full of dialogues that Jacklin herself has with her family and friends. Crushing is a story, one where the Sydney-based artist discusses her bodily autonomy. Don’t Let The Kids Win, Jacklin’s 2016 debut album, was existential but sometimes unsure. Now, she’s self-assured. She’s finding space for herself in a cluttered indie rock scene. With only two albums under her belt, Julia Jacklin is already rising as one of Australia’s finest songwriters.
Montreal-based singer-songwriter Peter Sagar formed his solo project, Homeshake, after leaving Mac DeMarco’s live band in 2014. Sagar found himself fatigued and “at a creative dead-end” with guitar, in turn constructing luscious bedroom-pop and lo-fi R&B. The fourth album under the Homeshake moniker, Helium, out today, is a superb showcase of an artist rebuffing the usual pigeonholes in genres, textures, and soundscapes.
Folk-tinged indie rock is renowned for beautiful lyrics, intricate melodies, and stunning collaborations. It’s a style that’s held the spotlight inside indie circles for years, with good reason. Current stars such as Sharon Van Etten released her fifth album; Remind Me Tomorrow, just weeks ago. Van Etten goes for soul-crushing while experimenting with haunting, cinematic synth-led tracks. Last year’s For My Crimes by Marissa Nadler is equally haunting, albeit in much more subtle light. Just last week, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst teamed up as Better Oblivion Community Center, delivering their intimate debut album that showcases both of their unique types of storytelling. Here enters Tiny Ruins, originally a moniker for New Zealand singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook.
Subsequent to the release of debut full-length, Some Were Meant For Sea, in 2011, Tiny Ruins opened for Fleet Foxes and toured internationally with Beach House. Cass Basil (bass) and Alexander Freer (drums) later made Tiny Ruins an ensemble, in turn recording the second album, Brightly Painted One, in 2014. Tiny Ruins were bestowed Best Alternative Album for Brightly Painted One at the New Zealand Music Awards in late 2014. Tiny Ruins wistful new album, Olympic Girls, out today, is the next big indie folk album of 2019.
Gang Of Youths are Australia’s biggest success story in years. The Sydney-based band formed in 2012 and has enjoyed a steady stream of success, be it selling out larger and larger venues or recipients of critical acclaim. Flash forward to now, when Gang Of Youths had to announce a whopping 21 dates (all sold-out) for their Say Yes To Life Tour, with eight sold-out dates at Melbourne’s iconic Forum Theatre alone. Last year, the band received seven ARIA award nominations for their brilliant #1 album, Go Farther In Lightness. They won four of them (Album Of The Year, Best Group, Best Rock Album, and Producer of The Year – for Gang Of Youths & Adrian Breakspear). They even supported the mighty Foo Fighters for seven nights in the US during the band’s Concrete and Gold Tour last month! So, Gang Of Youths’ Say Yes To Life Tour is a big deal; for the band and their loyal, growing fan-base. It’s an absolute triumph: a homecoming for our dearest indie rock band, and a celebration of positivity and growth.
I’ve been waiting for a band like The Sonder Bombs to come along. The four-piece from Cleveland, Ohio has assembled an immersive collection of tracks to make up their debut album, Modern Female Rockstar. The band promises to change up the scene with their brand of unrelenting, socially conscious pop-punk – with the ukulele as a main star! Pop punk hasn’t been this fun, or sounded this important, in god knows how long. Modern Female Rockstar is urgent, shimmers, and explodes. With “Title” and “Twinkle Lights,” The Sonder Bombs join peers in UK riot grrrl group Peach Club and punk rock band Dream Wife, as well as Australian rockers Camp Cope and Courtney Barnett in penning tracks that carry hefty messages – these phenomenal artists relentlessly and publicly condemn sexual assault. But, The Sonder Bombs don’t forget to have some fun along the way, allowing their songs to revel in quickly found assurance.
Transatlanticism is my favorite album of all time. Death Cab For Cutie’s fourth album, released fifteen years ago today, is the band’s second concept album. Transatlanticism centers itself around long-distance love, with both its strengths and downfalls. Ben Gibbard, the band’s soft-sung lead vocalist, lyricist, and guitarist, penned the term “transatlanticism” to express the unfathomable emotional space between two young lovers. The distance Gibbard discusses feels impenetrable. Transatlanticism sees Death Cab For Cutie experimenting with soft-loud dynamics (“Transatlanticism”, “We Looked Like Giants”), perfecting the gorgeous quiet track (“Lightness”, “A Lack of Color”), and witnesses them pushing themselves to go all-out and produce the flawless pop song (“The Sound Of Settling”). Completing all of this is the efforts of guitarist, co-writer and producer Chris Walla. Walla’s lo-fi production is perfect for Transatlanticism. Fifteen years later, and Transatlanticism still sounds incredibly rich and indulgent, yet also warm and intimate.
“When they take me down the corridor, they’ll secure my wrists with ties” Marissa Nadler croons in “For My Crimes,” the title track and album opener of the American songwriter’s eighth album. Nadler takes on the perspective of an individual on death row in a songwriting exercise, pleading to not be remembered for their crimes. The opening title track is a seemingly simple song. It’s not even close. “For My Crimes” – per the album’s press release, is labeled as “a sweeping, vaguely Southern drama of voices, strings, and acoustic guitar, that walks the line between character song and personal indictment by metaphor.” – I couldn’t agree more. The song brings listeners into a haunting atmosphere shaped by eerie backing vocals from Nadler’s friend and collaborator, Angel Olsen, clear and emotive acoustic guitar, and swells of strings. All these elements combined create a sprawling, remorseful story. In For My Crimes, Marissa Nadler seeks hard truths through turmoil. The album follows Nadler as she ponders whether love is strong enough to get past numerous struggles, from the distance to falling out of love. Nadler’s delicate, mesmerizing voice alongside gentle plucking of the acoustic guitar and layered strings form an unforgettable collection of songs to add to an already impressive discography.
Mitski Miyawaki (mononymously known as Mitski) is a powerhouse. The Japanese-American artist is only 27 years old, and her new album; Be The Cowboy is her fifth album in six years. Her 2016 album Puberty 2 was released to universal critical acclaim, single “Your Best American Girl” landed on multiple “best songs of 2016” lists, and starting in March this year, she joined Lorde as an opener for the New Zealand artist’s Melodrama World Tour. To say that Mitski has been having a hard working, busy, few years is an understatement. Within Be The Cowboy, there’s a new central focus for Mitski: the loneliness that accompanies a young woman as she relentlessly tours to continue being a musician for a living. Of course, her words are as sharp and powerful as ever. There’s no one who has so effectively mastered the art of explosive, endlessly fascinating songwriting. She switches between personifying fictional characters, while a number of tracks follow her relationship with music (“Geyser” and “Remember My Name” spring to mind) rather than other people, or herself. This is undoubtedly Mitski’s most ambitious album yet, and also the culmination of all her past work. The album has an unbelievable amount of musical ideas wrapped up inside it, and in any other artist’s hands, it might not work. Be The Cowboy is only 33 minutes long – only three songs are longer than two and a half minutes, but it all flows beautifully. All the ideas are anchored by ethereal vocals and haunting lyrical gems. Just looking at the singles, it’s clear that Mitski is confident in making yet another sonic departure. Take second single “Nobody”; an infectious disco-pop banger that’s nothing like anything else in her discography. Album opener “Geyser” is bombastic and combines the piano and organ found in her first two records, Lush and Retired From Sad, New Career In Business and joining them is the crashing, distorted guitars that defined her breakout album, Bury Me At Make Out Creek. Final single “Two Slow Dancers” is a gorgeous, nostalgic piano ballad. There’s no one who tackles nostalgia and loneliness like Mitski.