JOHN GRANT Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

Iceland's adopted singer-songmeister John Grant is back with an album of bitterness and bile set to a singular soundtrack of fierce beats and lush orchestrations. What's not to like?

BY DEE IVA

John Grant is a firm Fizz favourite. His mix of folksy rock, heart-rending ballads and spiky electronica peppered with cutting diva-ish lyrics make him a formidable force to be reckoned with. His last outing 'Pale Green Ghosts' was a perfect slice of contemporary pop music accompanied by equally arresting cover artwork showing Grant glowering at the viewer from a spartan café.

The cover of new album 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' ups the fear factor as Anton Kaldal Ágústsson’s artwork takes on an eerie Village Of The Damned vibe. A smiling sightless Grant sits with a pair of eerie blind owls on the cover only to appear as an expressionless blood-splattered murderer on the inside sleeve. This air of menace is softened somewhat by pictures of kitschy animals and figurines which in this context begs the question ‘Is John Grant railing at suburbia?’. 

On opening track ‘Intro’ overlapping voices intone poetry against a wall of sci-fi B-movie sound effects setting us up for a journey into Grant’s personal twilight zone. ‘Snug Slacks’ and ‘You & Him’ employ treated vocals and insistent synth soundscapes. ‘Voodoo Doll’ is certifiable death disco funk while ‘Disappointing’, featuring guest vocalist Tracey Thorn, is Grant's most likely contender for a top ten hit to date. So to paraphrase Bette Davis, fasten your seat belts as you’re in for one hell of a ride…
johngrantmusic.com  bellaunion.com

'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' is out now on Bella Union

BEACH HOUSE Depression Cherry

The Fizz drifts off to the hypnotic sound of 'Depression Cherry', the latest opus from leading indie-popsters Beach House

BY DEE IVA

French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally, aka Beach House


French-born Victoria Legrand and Baltimore native Alex Scally, aka Beach House

One album has been on constant play at Fizz HQ since its release in 2012. Beach House's last outing 'Bloom' was a sublime affair, catchy guitar riffs, ethereal soundscapes and insistent rhythms all topped with Victoria Legrand's soaring vocals. The enigmatic sleeve artwork provided just the right amount of mystery with its skewed field of dots. So we've been feverishly awaiting the arrival of new album 'Depression Cherry', keen to see what Baltimore's finest duo does next.

Encased in dark red velveteen, the album artwork is soft to the touch, begging to be stroked. Unfortunately, it all goes a bit wrong after that. The cd sleeve is a tricky gatefold, containing a pointless booklet of Photoshopped pictures and a basic black and white envelope to house the album. After two days, the sleeve is buckling badly and the red flocking is shedding. Brian Roettinger's design is overblown and overworked. A simplified version with a single sleeve and the inner liner would have been enough. As it is it's a case of more is definitely less. 

The album itself carries on in much the same vein as its predecessor albeit in a much more laidback vein. The tracks share the same tempo and sleepy mood throughout, blending together in a soporific assault on the senses. The sparkle of 'Bloom' has been replaced with a reflective lethargy, however shafts of light are provided by 'Space Song', 'Bluebird' and 'PPP' as Alex Scally's lyrical guitar perfectly complements Legrand's effortless vocals. 'Depression Cherry' will rightfully be hoovered up by Beach House fans around the world but this time around we'd advise ditching the physical purchase and embracing the download...
beachhousebaltimore.com  bellaunion.com

'Depression Cherry' is out now on Bella Union
Picture: Shawn Brackbill  shawnbrackbill.com

YEARS & YEARS Communion

The eagerly anticipated debut album from Years & Years is finally here and it's totally dressed to kill

BY DEE IVA

It takes some swagger for a new band to release their first album and not appear on the cover. Route One for many record companies is to insist that new bands be seen immediately so we can identify with or swoon over them.

London electropop trio Years & Years has managed to avoid this particular cliché and the cover for debut album 'Communion' is a powerful piece of design. The angular grid on a black background containing their signature 'Y' is quite stark but is softened by muted rainbow colours. Created by Bristol-based digital design company Pretty Good, it's an eye-catching motif, managing to convey a certain mystery, and easily lends itself to T-shirts, badges and all the other merchandise which is part and parcel of being a recording artist (including animations; see the alternative to a video for single Worship). Quite simply, it's clever and very cool branding. At Years & Years' recent set at Glastonbury the album artwork was blown up to provide the perfect backdrop for singer Olly Alexander's goofy dancing.

While No 1 single King has been the UK's summer anthem, we're also grooving to Eyes Shut and Worship. If you liked La Roux's last album and are pining for the next one from Hurts, this fills the gap nicely.
yearsandyearsofficial.com

'Communion' is released on Polydor on 10 July 2015

BJORK Vulnicura

vulincura_web_500x500.jpg

Björk, Iceland's queen of conceptual art-pop, is back with an album full of emotional fallout and heartache

BY DEE IVA

The cover of Björk’s latest album 'Vulnicura', designed by duo M/M (Paris) with portraits by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, sends out a powerful message. Pop’s artful dodger has returned and demands our attention, but this time she’s cut herself open to lay herself bare. Having separated from long-term partner and outsider artist Matthew Barney, Björk wants us to feel her pain too, and she’s raw and bleeding from the blow. Indeed, the luminous quality of the album artwork belies the darker mood within.

'Vulnicura'’s lyrics chart the Icelandic songstress's frustrations and ultimate desolation ('vulnicura' means 'cure for wounds'). Opening track Stonemilker sees Björk asking for ‘emotional respect’ and wanting to synchronise her feelings with those of her former lover. On Atom Dance she aims to peel off ‘dead layers of loveless love’ declaring that ‘no one is a lover alone’. Set against a landscape of stuttering drum machines, haunting strings and atonal chord structures, this makes for uncomfortable listening because this time you know it’s for real. Emotions unravel in 10-minute epic 'Black Lake', a traumatic purging of anguish, pointing a path out of loss.

There’s no room for dancing here and the atmosphere is somewhat gloomy but there’s a raw beauty at work too. Like Laurie Anderson before her, Björk doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned with commercial success anymore, preferring to operate in the outer limits of pop. This experimental approach to songwriting sees her dispensing with the usual catchy hook lines, making 'Vulnicura' a brave body of avant-garde break-up anthems. As Joy Division once said, 'Love will tear us apart’…

'Vulnicura' is out on One Little Indian and is available now on iTunes, with CD and album release on 9 March. 'Björk', a retrospective at New York's MoMa, runs from 8 March to 7 June 2015. A new book of essays and pictures, 'Björk: Archives' is published on 30 March (Thames & Hudson, £40).
bjork.com  indian.co.uk

PANDA BEAR Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Fizz fave Panda Bear totally takes it to church and back with this heady collection of euphoric psychedelia

BY DEE IVA

The cover of New Yorker-turned-Lisbonite Panda Bear’s fifth album uses vibrant trippy graphics to create a headache-inducing colour clash of stripes and shapes, reminiscent of Bridget Riley’s pop-tastic psychedelic canvases. Designed by art director/musician/DJ Marco Papiro, it’s a startling display of Op Art trickery, cleverly obscuring the initials PBVSGR. The deluxe version includes four-track EP Mr Noah which flaunts an equally striking cover.

Neo-psychedelia is the order of the day on this collection of songs. Noah Lennox’s ethereal vocals are at the centre of a myriad of sequencers, sound effects and even the occasional wolf howl. Standout tracks are ‘Boys Latin’, 'Selfish Gene' and the dreamy ‘Tropic Of Cancer’; we love the animated video for the former too.

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is a solid body of work which draws you further in on repeated listening. Fleet Foxes meet Primal Scream via The Beach Boys and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? Bring it on...
pbvsgr.com  dominorecordco.com

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is out now on Domino