Music Features

Second Chance Selection: January-June 2015

Here at No Ripcord, we wholeheartedly hold the concept of the album to a very high regard. So one of the inevitable frustrations of reviewing albums in our current musical climate is that there's no stopping the vast amount of releases that come our way for consideration, many of which get discarded for the half-dozen or so that get the most media attention. While in an ideal setting we'd love to cover all the latest offerings and beyond, it's just too much for our staff to handle. Though we try to do our best to get these out to you on the week of release, sometimes life gets in the way, you know? 

We've always held the belief that we prefer to make fair judgment of an artist's final product at the expense of meeting deadlines, sometimes because we don't get promos on time or artists announce surprise releases. That said, in an attempt to reconcile this unfortunate void we're bringing back our mid-year Second Chance Selection feature, which highlights a number of notable albums released in the first six months of the year that deserve a worthy mention on our site. It also provides direct access into some of our staff's personal favorites, many of which are entirely subjective and don't necessarily fall into a collective consensus as do our weekly reviews.

Aine O’Dwyer
Music For Church Cleaners Vol. I & II

Harpist Aine O’Dwyer’s Music For Church Cleaners Vol. I & II documents a series of after hours improvisational organ pieces which are exposed to the incidental sounds of cleaning crews and stray attendees, an uncontrolled assortment of creative partners who unknowingly contribute to her arrangements. Recorded at St. Marks Church in the Islington borough of London, O’Dwyer produces something that sounds ritually familiar for audiences not normally considered in reference to a house of worship, no spirituality or profession of faith addressed as she welcomes the sudden groan of a vacuum cleaner (The Feast of Fools), the exuberant and echoing dialogue of a child (The Little Lord of Misrule) and the complaint of a polite, though irritated, congregant (An Unkindness of Ravens). And though secularized, O’Dwyer’s musical pursuits appropriately possess the gloriousness and anthemic qualities of a hymn’s passion (For the Souls of Our Fleas) as well as those lapses into meditative lightness (We Plough the Fields and Scatter), though her shapes are often thoughtful and melancholic. While the narrative produced by the random interference of the music’s environment can at times inspire more of a captivating draw than the music itself, Music For Church Cleaners Vol. I & II is a unique experiment, capturing an otherworld of existence within the confines of reverence which, through O’Dwyer’s music, is also offered exaltation. - Sean Caldwell


 Alabama Shakes
 Sound & Color
 (ATO Records)

The second LP from Alabama Shakes is a kaleidoscopic case that shows that there is actually an awful lot more to roots than just roots, and that the working-class  quartet from the Deep South are certainly much more than a revivalist band. Brittany Howard’s miraculous pipes are the emergent from a canopy of genteel rhythm and blues, always impressively domineering over perfectly polished, glistening grooves. From the sparkling tinkle of the title track and ductile funk of Don’t Wanna Fight, right the way through to the zero-gravity, slow-jamming sprawler that is Gemini, Sound & Color affirms itself as an exhibition of roots and blues rock, and a celebration of the sumptuous soul that it oozes. And just to refer back to the lady with the miraculous pipes; if you’ve never heard Brittany Howard’s voice before, she is 26 years old. Yes, 26. I shit you not. - Carl Purvis


Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat
The Most Important Place in the World
(Chemikal Underground)

Former Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat’s career progression from intoxicant-fuelled hedonism to straight-laced domesticity – from getting high to highchairs – has been far more interesting and touching than we’d any right to expect. On The Most Important Place in the World, his second album with jazzer Bill Wells, Moffat continues to explore the nuances of everyday life, and creates something more relatable than the avalanche of traditional love songs we’re used to. His chronicling of the minutiae of the human condition sits effortlessly alongside the rich and varied instrumentation that Wells provides. Moffat’s wry sense of humour and unapologetic sexuality remain undiminished, however. In Any Other Mirror, potentially the most affecting song he’s ever created, Moffat writes beautifully and brutally about the magic that remains in a marriage between two people who, thanks to modern life and children, are exhausted beyond belief. It may not be glamorous, but anyone who has found long-term love will find some truth and comfort in the lines, “I feel awkward, fat and grey / In any other mirror but you.” - Joe Rivers


Chastity Belt 
Time to go Home
 (Hardly Art)

Walla Walla, Washington foursome Chastity Belt see free choice as a basic right, and they’re not afraid to apologize for their wrong doings, either. Lead by Julia Shapiro’s fiercely forthright character, she advocates alongside her bandmates the celebration of young womanhood in a terrain that continues to be burdened with patriarchal notions of blatant machismo. And yet their insouciant approach to matters of great importance never means to offend or even counsel, instead focusing on writing a set of wooly, ennui-ridden melodies with a dash of punk rawness. Their mellowed-out manifesto is one that assumes an air of indifference, a deep shrug that vows not to contemplate such matters, and encourages the opportunity to just have fun and make mistakes. It may not be as simple to deal with in their position, though they see that the best way to go forward is to address such hot-button topics with non-gender specific formulations. Because they keenly understand that the best way to bring such discourse is to accept that any behavior, whether considered or reckless, is totally natural. - Juan Edgardo Rodríguez


 Circuit Des Yeux
 In Plain Speech
(Thrill Jockey)

In a year mired with brainy, experimental abstractions delivered by a fresh breath of female digital composers, best exemplified by the likes of Holly Herndon and Jenny Hval, Circuit Des Yeux’s Haley Fohr shouldn’t be discarded and stands proudly as one of the most powerfully confounding. She stamps her work with savage uniqueness through an imaginative collage of droning, shape-shifting sounds that present a fractured pastoral and desolate landscape. Equipped with a piercingly cold, almost malicious vocal tenor, the Chicagoan communicates emotions that reach outward from within, sending a cold chill through an unsettling, though impeccably arranged array of plucking viola chords and twisted flute arrangements. In Plain Speech lacks a logically sound exterior, creating a disquieting anxiety early on before it marches down a tenebrous path that shows no end in sight. The intent is to find a meditative inner peace, but it’s nowhere to be found; it’s an experience that becomes more inscrutable the deeper you venture into it. Unlike her contemporaries it lacks a sharp statement of purpose, though some may debate that its unbound expression is what makes it even more fascinating to discover. - Juan Edgardo Rodríguez


 Downtown Boys
 Full Communism
 (Don Giovanni)

Providence punks Downtown Boys are not happy with the status quo, and vocalist Victoria Ruiz will make that abundantly clear in English and Spanish. But that’s not to say they’re letting it spoil their fun – in fact, this anger is just what’s needed to fuel the bands self-proclaimed “Bi bilingual political dance sax punk party.” And through twelve spritely tracks of buzzsaw guitars, buttery horns, and Ruiz’s authoritative musings on identity and hegemony, Full Communism locks into that exact spirit and delivers it with unwavering conviction. The album’s nonstop energy and lightning hooks makes for an undeniably fun experience, but it’s the ideas behind the band's lyrics that truly make the album special. “Why is it that we never have enough with just what’s inside of us!?”, Ruiz questions within standout Monstro’s opening seconds, and that sense of confidence and acceptance gleams through the rest of the track as Ruiz proudly proclaims “She’s brown! / She’s smart!” at the top of her lungs. Also, points go to any album that ends with possibly the best cover of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark I’ve ever heard. - Peter Quinton


(Infectious Music)

Two years on from their self-titled debut, the Loveless brothers have sharpened their teeth and lengthened their claws, and made everything so deliciously sinister. Drenge laced a brash façade with an exquisite wit and a brazen insolence, but Undertow is an altogether different animal - one that hides under your children’s beds, and sneaks up on them only after you’ve tucked them in and told them there’s no such thing as monsters. There is a recurring motif that is unmistakably mean, and ultimately, it’s a calculated display of scheming malevolence, typified by moody, thick-bodied riffs that are far more intricate than the ones cut two years ago. As good and as brutish as the debut was, there was always the nagging notion that Drenge would have to add another string to their bow to avoid burning out their reckless blueprint. Rest assured, they’ve managed that and then some, channeling their contemptuousness into something altogether more threatening. - Carl Purvis


Graham Lambkin / Michael Pisaro
Schwarze Reisenfalter

I've been listening to this a lot at night. Its compositional method mixes musique concrete and atonal ambient piano, the kind where every sound has been deliberated massively, every piano note tapering off into the void before the next enters. Between the piano notes, you hear distended electroacoustic drones, the sound of people shuffling & rearranging things, passing cars, distant laughter. Take the first three minutes of Aufflattern die Fledermäuse: a phone vibrates. You hear a text message being composed. Something clatters over. Onerous piano chords, a digitally-manipulated piccolo flutter - a long drone of what sounds like a faint whimper begins. Lambkin mutters something. There's the sound of rainwater flowing from a drainpipe, and then - and this astonished me but it actually makes as much sense as any other sonic gesture on the record - you hear a pitchshifted version of this internet-famous cat, the apex of the record's creepiest passage. It's perhaps the best I've heard of Lambkin's always-revelatory records - its generation of tension and atmosphere, its beguiling placement of signifiers, its sheer otherliness - I don't know how it makes me feel, even, yet it fascinates me. - Stephen Wragg


Graham Parker and The Rumour
Mystery Glue

The mystery glue seems to be The Rumour's musicianship, which carries the second half of the album, even when the songwriting falters. With that out the way, there is much to commend here. The aching romanticism of Transit of Venus ticks all the emotional boxes, with Parker's phrasing at his best. At the other side of the spectrum is the funny, self-deprecating My Life In Movieland, about the aftermath of his Hollywood experience: "The agents avoid me--I'm so last year". Though that sharp wit goes half-cocked on Slow News Day, it returns with a vengeance on I've Done Bad Things, as if the marksman had found his glasses. Going There and Wall of Grace scale the heights of vintage years, but there are a few cuts that breeze by without traction, put together by the craftsman while we wait for the poet. All in all, not a perfect album, but when the words draw blood, there's no one like Parker. - Angel Aguilar


Hop Along
Painted Shut
(Saddle Creek)

The second album from Philly indie-rockers Hop Along can be hard to love on first listen, as its restless, asymmetrical melodies and arrangements can make it hard to latch on to quickly. But Painted Shut is a record that sinks in with repeated listens, as it slowly reveals its depths and nuances. The songwriting here isn’t unfocused, it’s active and adventurous in ways that seem like a rebuke to the increasing safety of indie rock. The accompaniments to their guitar-based compositions are some of the subtlest pleasures here, but the true highlight is singer Frances Quinlan. She seems capable of expressing the entire spectrum of human emotion in a few lines, going from a delicate whisper to a throat-shredding howl in the blink of an eye. The music follows suit, resulting in an album of constantly shifting but always lasting emotional highs. - Brad Hanford


Jeff Rosenstock
We Cool?

Jeff Rosenstock may be the most cherished name in pop punk to have never headlined Warped Tour before, with his former bands Bomb The Music Industry! and The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches often considered legendary acts by most pop punk fans. But while Rosenstock is already in his second decade of making music, he’s not only proving that pop-punk does not, in fact, have to be a young man’s sport, he’s still doing it better than the vast majority of his peers with his second solo LP, We Cool? Though he spends much of the album talking about the struggles of getting older, feeling depressed, and choosing between watching porn or Robocop, there isn’t a single moment on We Cool? that isn’t bursting with energy and enthusiasm, whether he’s in full attack mode on Hey Allison! or cooling down the tempo on the booze-soaked Beers Again Alone. Though the record is dripping with anxiety and self-loathing, anyone who writes lyrics like “When I listen to your records / It’s like I’m making out with you” is clearly still in love with music, and it’s this sentiment that We Cool? best delivers on. - Peter Quinton


(Boy Better Know)

Thanks to Krept & Konan, Skepta, Lethal Bizzle and others, grime seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance in 2015. However, the best grime record of the year thus far comes courtesy of someone who never went away. It may have been a dozen years since grime first made its presence known above the parapet, but co-founder of the Boy Better Know crew, Jme, has never let his enthusiasm for his chosen genre wane. Integrity> is packed full of the intricate wordplay and rapid-fire delivery that has become Jme’s trademark, and it’s remarkable that someone so far into their career is still clearly so hungry. It’d be easy to simply compile a list of Integrity>’s greatest rhymes (today’s favourite: “If you don’t like G-R-I-M-E / Then you got no taste like vegan cheese”) but it’s more than just the lyrics. Integrity> contains the whip-crack, syncopated beats that characterised the salad days of grime, and shows that Jme is as much historian and fan as he is innovator and creator. -  Joe Rivers


Last Forever
(Run for Cover)

I would have never guessed a few years ago that Sweden would become a hot bed for some of the best dream pop bands around, but as things have been playing out in the past year or so, that just might be becoming the case. Evidence for this first popped up with Makthaverskan’s II, which seemed to come almost out of nowhere with its melodic dream punk, and this year sees fellow Swedes Westkust dropping their debut LP Last Forever. Makthaverskan and Westkust actually share multiple members, so it would be easy to draw comparisons between the two, but whereas Makthaverskan cloaks their songs in a gauzy, lo-fi haze, Westkust go straight for the gut with blaring, bombastic hooks and radiant melodies, all delivered with a sneering punk attitude. Tracks like the soaring Sway and the raucous Weekends undoubtedly wear their shoegaze influences on their sleeve, admittedly, but when a band can take influences like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins in 2015 and make them feel this exhilarating and fresh again, it’s hard to want to find any reason to fight it. - Peter Quinton


Various Artists
PC Music, Vol. 1
(PC Music)

The music and worldview of London-based collective, PC Music, has been with us for two years now, yet we’re still no closer to finding out the real story. Is it a post-modern critique of our culture, some sort of in-joke between some ultra-trendy producers, a combination of the two, or something else entirely? Before GFOTY’s recent controversial comments about Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté in a series of iMessages to Noisey, the artists on the PC Music roster had remained opaque, impenetrable automatons, responsible for maximalist, pitch-shifted, hi-NRG dance. There’s something bizarre about the (apparently) logical conclusion of today’s image-obsessed culture being so beloved by the authenticity-baiting indie cognoscenti, yet there’s something irresistible about the world of PC Music. Tracks by Hannah Diamond, A.G. Cook, Lipgloss Twins and more push 2015’s chart tropes to extremes whilst neatly subverting them with disorienting cut and paste tricks. It’s mindless and empty yet absorbing and multi-faceted all at the same time. Maybe the joke’s on us or maybe we should just take it at face value. It could all disappear tomorrow, but right now, PC Music, Vol. 1 is the soundtrack of our times. - Joe Rivers


Young Fathers
White Men Are Black Men Too
(Big Dada)

Sometimes albums go uncovered not because of obscurity, but because it’s difficult to add something of value to the critical mass of chatter that’s already formed around them (or at least, that’s my excuse in White Men are Black Men Too’s case). After their Mercury Prize win last year, it was inevitable that Young Fathers’ follow up would be greeted with both eagerness and scepticism. Couple that with the fact that White Men are Black Men Too followed so swiftly after DEAD; every site and publication was falling over themselves to speculate whether Young Fathers would be the latest act to suffer from the “curse of the Mercurys”. The swiftness makes perfect sense - Young Fathers remain a band that works best on spontaneity, as demonstrated by their ferocious early mixtapes and live act. The polish of the recording studio doesn’t quite suit their chaotic energy, and at times White Men are Black Men Too is a bit too glossy for its own good (such as in the almost boyband-esque 27). However, the band’s signature disturbing energy permeates through enough of the record (the wild frenzy of the title track and Shame and the unsettling droning of Feasting being just three examples) to ensure that it’s at least the equal of DEAD, and that we can probably remove them from that list of Mercury curse victims. - Mark Davison