Want some releases that will give you a genuine sense of ‘release’ in January? Why not kick off 2019 with a spot of Maggie RogersSharon Van Etten or Ex:Re?

LUBOMYR MELNYK – FALLEN TREES
Erased Tapes | Out now

If I said that Lubomyr Melnyk was eight foot tall, with a nine-foot wingspan and several pairs of hands, each with extra fingers, you’d rightly suspect that I was talking out of my arse. Then I’d press ‘play’ on Fallen Trees, his new release, and you might indulge my exaggeration. Melnyk is one pianist that could outmanoeuvre Nils Frahm in a thumb-wrestling contest.

I reckon he could complete a Rubik’s Cube, peel a tangerine and tie his shoelaces one- handed and simultaneously if the technically-virtuosic five- part title track is anything indicative. ‘Barcarolle’ has intense cinematic beauty. Other tracks carry a more heavy-BPM, EDM-Unplugged feel. It’s excellent austerity music. Divide the album’s price by the number of notes played, and each note is more or less free. Jon Kean

 

SELLING – ON REFLECTION
City Slang | Out Now

Dropped without any  warning last month, On Reflection is the debut album of Selling, a duo comprised of Jas Shaw, half of Simian Mobile Disco, and Derwin Dicker, better known as Gold Panda. For a record that was birthed out of just “mucking around”, it ranks as one of the year’s best.

Derwin approached the project having only ever recorded solo, while Shaw breaks away from lifelong collaborator James Ford, and the pair found their new-found partnership to be immediate in exploring the territory of hard techno. Eventually chopped down to nine dense tracks, the intensity is dialled down in favour of lush soundscapes, most notably on ‘Keeping Txme’ and ‘No Reflection’. But ‘Dicker’s Dream’ remains the highlight, an eight minute odyssey of woozy, unfurling electronic bliss. Lee Wakefield

 

EX:RE – EX:RE
4AD | Out Now

Ex:Re – pronounced “ex-ray” – is the new solo project of Elena Tonra. Best known for fronting indie-giants, Daughter, the LP was recorded in the summer and early autumn of this year, and appears somewhat out of the blue, following its stunning, pulsating lead single ‘Romance’. Fans of Daughter will be pleased to hear Ex:Re is packed full of chilling emotion, driven by the haunting brilliance of Tonra’s unmistakable vocal and themes of heartache and drunken rants. The songs themselves are arguably some of the strongest she has been involved in: dark journeys build with string-clad, almost Radiohead-esque hues alongside stripped-bare acoustic numbers like ‘My Heart’, all offering power, hope and desperation in equal measure. Ex:Re is a beautiful triumph.  George O’Brien

 

ALESSIA CARA – THE PAINS OF GROWING
Virgin EMI | Out Now

“You’re on your own, kid,” just might be the perfect statement to open Alessia Cara’s sophomore release. Expanding on the concept of growing up too fast from her critically-acclaimed debut, The Pains of Growing presents a more mature outlook on life as Cara navigates her way through adulthood, comes to terms with the end of a relationship, and searches for answers to life’s biggest questions. Highlights such as recent single ‘Trust My Lonely’ solidifies Cara’s trust in herself, while the soulful ‘Comfortable’ showcases her powerful vocal abilities and ‘My Kind’ takes the form of a bittersweet and nostalgia-fuelled love song. Overall, the album makes excellent use of Cara’s much-loved songwriting formula, blending captivating vocals with steady R&B rhythms, drawing focus towards the songs’ lyrical content. Kelly Ronaldson

 

FOXWARREN – FOXWARREN
Anti-Records | Out Now

Running parallel with his solo career, Andy Shauf has also been keeping busy making music with a bunch of childhood friends – under the moniker of Foxwarren – for more than a decade, though keeping it a secret. Now, the Saskatchewan band have finally released a first album. Following in well-trodden singer/ songwriter footsteps, the ten tunes in this self-titled record are a soft reminiscence of the Beatles’ McCartney side and the American songwriter era of the Sixties – the Band and Paul Simon are manifest influences, together with Pedro the Lion – enriched with a touch of synths and sweet melancholy, plus a nuance of country/folk-ish forlornness. A gem in its genre, Foxwarren’s debut adds further evidence to Shauf’s often-overlooked talent as both a singer and a songwriter. Guia Cortassa

 

SHARON VAN ETTEN – REMIND ME TOMORROW
Jagjaguwar | January 18th

It was once easy to file Sharon Van Etten under “confessional singer-songwriter”. The connecting tissue between her albums was invariably guitar-driven reflections on love. After four years away in which she’s had a baby, returned to university and starred in The OA, the New Jersey native’s worldview has expanded considerably – and with it her music.

Remind Me Tomorrow is a diverse collection of muscular songs that traverse nostalgia, depression, love, motherhood, and more with new-found confidence. On the Springsteen-indebted ‘Seventeen’, Van Etten swaps her country-tinged guitars of yore for widescreen Americana that’s riddled with different voices and teen vignettes. ‘Comeback Kid’ feels like its companion piece with multiple narratives and lunging ‘80s synthpop punch.

Piano arpeggios, slinky basslines and mechanical rhythms mobilise a stunning lullaby on ‘Stay’, which hears Van Etten examine impending motherhood. She’s conflicted with losing her identity (“don’t wanna run away from myself”) while marvelling at parenthood’s grounding effects (“you won’t let me go astray”). The album’s most arresting tracks, ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ and ‘Hands’, chug along with distorted basslines and industrial beats that crank the complex wheel of love. The lyrics “Put your hands on your lover / I’ve got my hands up / Mean no harm to one another” on ‘Hands’ are purposefully ambiguous. A manipulative relationship teetering on violent? Van Etten makes it harder to surmise the stories this time: life’s too complex, too turbulent. Remind Me Tomorrow is her most intelligent, daring and assured work to date.  Charlotte Krol

 

MAGGIE ROGERS – HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE
Polydor Records | January 18th

Moments before Pharrell Williams was wowed in 2016 by Maggie Rogers’ song ‘Alaska’, in a career-making video, she recalled a “spiritual” musical awakening in Paris. The hitherto banjo-strumming folk musician had clicked with dance music.

Rogers has since welded rootsy sounds with propulsive electronics. The result is a debut album that’s unmistakably pop but crafted using creative, natural sound – a mourning dove cooing here, lap taps there. ‘Alaska’ itself uses such techniques, opening with a skeletal backbone beat to drive Rogers’ story of a transformative hiking trip. It’s a shame that Rogers’ intricate organic-synthetic marriage is contradicted elsewhere with less imaginative melodies (‘Light On’, ’Retrograde, ‘Burning’). But songs like ‘Say It’ and the feverish ‘On + Off’ display such startling promise that much can be forgiven. Charlotte Krol

 

THE TWILIGHT SAD – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME
Rock Action | January 18th

Following the departure of member Mark Devine, and a tour with The Cure that significantly broke the mould, The Twilight Sad return with their first new music in nearly five years, and it may well be their magnum opus. Combing the stark electronic arrangements of No One Will Ever Know into the fold of their noise/feedback dynamics – best present on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave – is the sound of everything the band has worked towards. James Graham’s vocals sound more direct, urgent, yet still teasing in word play as he switches out pronouns without missing a beat. The material is claustrophobic – it’s The Twilight Sad after all – yet a few moments of hope can distilled for those with the disposition to search through the darkness. Harriet Taylor

 

BUKE & GASE – SCHOLARS
Brassland | January 18th

On Scholars, sonic shape-shifters, Buke and Gase once again fabricate a new world of sound that takes the duo’s idiosyncratic, indefinable musical sensibilities and moulds it into brooding, pulsating electronica. Following on from the 2013’s General Dome, their new record sees New York multi-instrumentalists, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, delve further into the realms of electronic experimentation offering a potent blend of heady melodies, sharp rhythms and sonic eccentricities.

Title track ‘Scholars’ pulsates with thunderous beats and rippling synths, over which Dyer’s ethereal, entrancing vocals soar. On ‘Temporary’ reverberating chords and vocal distortions create eerie, hazy atmospheres whilst ‘Grips’ offers expansive, growling basslines, while elsewhere the duo craft spiralling, melodic fragility. A record of hypnotising eclecticism, Scholars is a striking testament to the duo’s sublime talent. Kezia Cochrane

 

DEERHUNTER – WHY HASN’T EVERYTHING ALREADY DISAPPEARED?
4AD | January 18th

Deerhunter’s eighth record isn’t exactly a cheery affair; perhaps that’s because it’s mostly concerned with things disappearing. More specifically, it’s the band mulling on the disappearance of culture, humanity, nature and emotion. It’s an interesting concept and naturally, there’s a bleak and sinister undercurrent throughout the listen. As for the musicianship itself, it feels like the band have U-turned back into a grittier state of mind after the more sprightly, pop-centric sounds heard on their last full-length Fading Frontier. They demonstrate once again they’re not about to shy away from experimentation; Cate Le Bon plays harpsichord on ‘Death In Midsummer’ and Tim Presley adds lead guitar to ‘Futurism’ which both fit nicely. It’s by no means the band’s boldest move to date but it’s certainly inventive enough to keep us flying their flag. Rhys Buchanan

 

WILLIAM TYLER – GOES WEST
Merge | January 25th

While it may be a stretch to call such a move ‘daring’, it’s certainly a point of note that Goes West finds its creator casting aside the electric guitar which dominated his 2016 masterpiece, Modern Country, in exclusive favour of its unplugged counterpart. In reality, though, Tyler has managed to create something quite wonderful out of what could perhaps be described, a little unfairly, as ‘acoustic guitar noodling’ – no minor feat – and built something unabashedly American in its influence; it’s the soundtrack of open roads at dusk, and the work of an artist who seems to reach higher peaks with each new offering, and shows no signs of slowing down. What a lot of joy and beauty there is to unwrap in these ten instrumentals. Jack Urwin

 

SWERVEDRIVER – FUTURE RUINS
Rock Action | January 25th

It’s a shame that the first album in ten years from the legendary Oxford band is so blighted by a lazy reliance on over-blown guitar reverb. It swamps the affair – especially the endearing fragility of Adam Franklin’s voice and his prescient lyrics. Thankfully the band rediscover their lost form on the title track. It’s a stunning six-minute slowburner featuring Franklin’s morose political ruminations: “We are ruled by fools, These are future ruins, Rocket fuel, Force-fed rules” and a superb goose pimple-inducing chorus of: “If I could only get my hands around them”. Sadly, Swervedriver 2.0 won’t trouble their status as criminally overlooked indie behemoths of the early 90s. But when they swap the muscular for the thoughtful, they can still summon up the magic. Geoff Cowart