The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
In a time when social inequality is widening, it’s depressing that indie music is so lacking in protest. By explicitly challenging the status quo on matters of the environment, feminism, gender and the ‘problem of extreme wealth’, The Knife’s latest is the great anti-establishment album of the year. The thrilling opening three tracks provide a microcosm of the kind of music contained on the album; electronic sounds dominate as ever, but amid the wilder techno workouts, there’s room for acoustic bells and strings in its darker, ambient moments.
The Revival Hour – Scorpio Little Devil
Another duo, The Revival Hour is made up of DM Stith (occasional Sufjan band member) and John Mark Lapham (formerly of The Earlies). Their low-profile debut album marries present day electronics to a soup of earlier influences from 1960s R&B and pop, and elements of gospel that might betray Stith’s church music based upbringing.
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Since moving from Chicago to Texas about a decade ago (he stopped recording as Smog soon after), Bill Callahan’s output has been intimidatingly consistent. Dream River begins and ends earthily, with unobtrusive percussion and acoustic guitar complemented by a folk fiddle. The middle six songs meander softly through images and emotions like a river through landscape. They replace violin with guitar effects and a flute that flits about, pinned down only by Callahan’s regular lyrical motifs of birds, flight and rivers.
These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
I was reading this interview with TNP auteur Jack Barnett a couple of weeks ago, about the same time I decided to include Field of Reeds in this list. Barnett reminds me a bit of Björk, working with instrumental forces traditionally used in a way different to the one he envisages – his work here is led much more by instinct than training. It’s the combination of classical instrumentation and non-classical songwriting that makes the album sound “simultaneously ancient and futuristic”.