Five Things We Liked This Week – 17/12/21

Further Listening:

5. Animal Collective Take A Walker On The Wild Side

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a band who’ve felt like they’ve never really been away, it has been half a decade since the world last heard from Animal Collective. That was around the release of their tenth studio album, Painting With, which nobody seemed to quite know whether was a storming return to a form, or something of a damp squib. That’s possibly a rather neat summary of much of the band’s career, always intriguing, always pushing boundaries but not always easy to love. In February next year the band will share their brand new album, Time Skiffs, and this week they’ve shared a new single from it, Walker.

As you might have guessed from the title, Walker is a tribute to the late Scott Walker, who died around the time that Noah Lennox began work on the track, as he explains, “Scott’s music has meant a lot to me and he’ll always be a big inspiration. But there’s also a kind of exhaustion and resignation to the singer of “Walker” that belies a darker layer”. If thematically inspired by Scott Walker, musically the track perhaps takes his later-day penchant for experimentation to heart, rather than his classic crooner period. The track begins with what sounds like a sitar, before the band’s trademark wonky percussion-led take on electronic music takes hold, the track is reminiscent of the playful nature of the band’s earliest material. Towards the song’s end, it seems to almost collapse in on itself, in an ending that serves less to draw the song to a conclusion and more to inspire speculation as to how this piece fits in the wider whole of Time Skiffs. Nearly two decades since their formation, Animal Collective continue to baffle, beguile and intrigue, and in many ways music doesn’t get more interesting than that.

Time Skiffs is out February 4th via Domino. For more information on Animal Collective visit https://www.myanimalhome.net/.

4. Riddy Arman Has Got Both Her Hands Full

Hailing from Montana singer-songwriter and cowboy Riddy Arman recently teamed up with La Honda Records / Thirty Tigers for the release of her acclaimed self-titled debut album. With reviewers comparing her favourably with everyone from Neko Case to Johnny Cash, the record showcased a smouldering, life-weary blend of Southern-Gothic, Alt-Country and Americana. Following the release, this week saw Riddy share the video for one of the record’s stand out moments, Both Of My Hands.

The song reflects on a particularly difficult period in Riddy’s life, where life and work became entwined, with little left outside of the daily grind, “I was working on the ranch what felt like around the clock and then coming home after dark to an empty house. I suppose I took to drinking because it was the easiest way to comfort my body and mind after those long days, and looking back it was the loneliest way I could have done so“. The track is musically fascinating, while it certainly includes an element of Cowboy Country, with its walking bass, haunting guitar-line and Riddy’s echoing vocals, it has an almost Balkan quality, latterly emphasised by the wavering violin, sounding as much influenced by Eastern Europe as the American North-West. Riddy has spoken of her debut album as one that transported her back to the difficult times in which it was written, yet it is not a record that revels in the darkness, instead, it seeks to stride through them, to process the bad times and come out the other side healed.

Riddy Arman’s self-titled album is out now via La Honda Records / Thirty Tigers. For more information on Riddy Arman visit https://www.riddyarman.com/.

3. It’s Time To Reflect On Firestations Magic New Single

After first catching my ear, and quite a few other people’s with their 2018 album, The Year Dot, Firestations made the decision to do something entirely different. The result was the three-EP project, Automatic Tendencies, which took an almost mixtape like approach, including cover versions and remixes alongside new material and limited edition multi-media artworks, plus at least one reusable chip fork. This week the band have returned to a slightly more traditional format, with the release of a new, stand-alone single, Reflection Spells, out as part of Lost Map’s PostMap Club subscription service.

The track is a somewhat melancholic affair, inspired by youth and doomed romance, and as the band put it, “arriving just in time for the Christmas party season”. Musically, it’s something of a departure for the band, their usual mechanical glisten remains, yet more than ever they seem to tap into a distinctly British take on Americana, the track sparkling with Wilco’s expansive alt-country and a touch of the straight-talking sadness of Friendship. An ever-intriguing prospect, this feels like Firestations at their most accessibly charming, a reminder that whatever this band are doing, they’re always well worth spending some time with.

Reflection Spells is out now via Lost Map. For more information on Firestations visit https://www.firestationsband.com/.

2. There’s No Reason Not To Believe In Big Thief

After releasing not one, but two critically acclaimed albums back in 2020, Big Thief suddenly found themselves operating on an entirely different plane. The band went from relatively unknown indie-darlings to Grammy nominated superstars playing huge venues everywhere they went, and with a lot of eyes and ears watching out for their next move. That will come in February next year with the release of their ambitious new collection, the sprawling double-album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. With a number of tracks already shared from the record, this week the band added two more in the shape of No Reason and Spud Infinity.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You was compiled over four different recording sessions in four different locations, and initially consisted of forty-five tracks, the band’s attempt to capture the variety of influences and sounds that inspire the various band members. Ultimately they whittled the collection down to a more manageable twenty, yet even with the brief glimpses they’ve offered, it seems to have done nothing to dampen their eclecticism. No Reason, recorded in the session in the Colorado Rockies, incorporates the flute playing of Richard Hardy, whom the band heard playing on a lookout tower in the distance, before approaching the 30-year music veteran to add his talents to the track, which the band describe as, “tearfully wholesome”. The other track they’ve shared this week, Spud Infinity, starts like a classic country song, all fiddle and frog-like percussion before the drums add a certain driving quality, and Adrianne Lenker’s playful vocal enters, as she sings, “a dime a dozen aren’t we just, but a dozen dimes will buy a crust of garlic bread”, with the same playful-nod Esther Rose made her own on her recent album, How Many Times. What’s perhaps most impressive here is that neither track particularly sounds like anything Big Thief have done before, yet equally, they still sound exactly like Big Thief, a band who continue to explore and grow their music, without ever losing touch of the magic they always possessed. I don’t know much about a Dragon New Warm Mountain, whatever one of them is, but Big Thief, I definitely believe in you.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is out February 11th via 4AD. For more information on Big Thief visit https://bigthief.net/.

1. This Article Now Featuring Cheekface

Hailing from Los Angeles, Cheekface began 2021 by releasing one of the year’s first, and as it turned out best records, in the shape of their second album, Emphatically No. Released via New Professor Records, the album saw the band sharpen their sing-speak take on indie-rock, as they dissected the mundane minutiae of life in a world that increasingly feels entirely chaotic. Bookending what has been a fantastic year for the band, this week they’ve shared a surprise new single, Featured Singer.

Discussing the track, Greg Katz from the band recalls how it came to him, “I was thinking about how hard it is for a band to reach people, especially in the middle of the pandemic, and my daydreaming led me to thinking about how much easier it would be if I just did an uncredited featured vocal on an EDM song by a famous DJ”. With their usual blend of wit and entirely to the point lyricism, the song fuses that idea to a particularly fantastic bass-line, coming across like the middle ground of LCD Soundsystem and Jonathan Richman. While having its tongue, at least slightly, in its cheek, as it laments the nature of fame in the era of Tik-Tok and YouTube suggestions, Featured Singer is in many was celebratory, as the band put it, a song, “about warehouse raves and frat parties, written via email, made at a time when there were no warehouse raves or frat parties“. In the year that was 2021, the world needed a band like Cheekface to remind us that there’s still plenty of humour, absurdity and brilliant music to drag us through.

Featured Singer is out now via New Professor Records. For more information on Cheekface visit https://linktr.ee/cheekface.

Header photo is Cheekface by Shabnam Ferdowsi.

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