Sharon Van Etten’s new album “Are We There” Soars.

Sharon Van Etten's Are We There.

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There.

Sharon Van Etten has been wowing the good folks at NPR’s All Songs Considered (reviewed earlier here) and the boys from Pitchfork for some time now. Her last album Tramp (2012) was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and includes a guest appearance from Beirut’s Zach Condon. And in his profile of her in this month’s New Yorker (‘Relaxed Fit”), Sasha Frere-Jones describes her latest album as “astonishing”.  In other words, we’re talking indie royalty here.

Her fourth studio album, Are We There, is a serious piece of work. But on first listen, it seems to be a tad conservative, conventional even. There’s nothing here that we haven’t heard before. Songs of heartache set to pleasing melodies layered with lush harmonies.

The mandatory All Songs Considered podcast.

The mandatory All Songs Considered podcast.

What’s “astonishing” is how the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts. These are songs that really ache, and those melodies and harmonies build and grow with every listen. Before you know it, they’re securely lodged in the comfort of your subconscious.

This is the album Van Etten has been building up to. Sonically, she’s come a long way from the hushed confessionals of those early recordings. This is a much fuller sound, but it’s achieved without sacrificing any of the intimacy. On the contrary, the bigger sound amplifies the emotional heft. What’s she’s produced in other words is the ultimate Fleetwood Mac album.

You can see the video for Every Time The Sun Comes Up here.

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Metz’ Debut Album is a Power Punk Hymn to the Art of Noise.

New York’s CMJ Music Marathon is fast becoming this decade’s SXSW. It is in other words where the future sounds of those who have yet to happen are first spotted and duly noted.

Situated around the Lower East side of Manhattan, it inevitably drifts over the bridge and into Brooklyn where so many of today’s most exciting bands seem to be born and bred. And the one that made the biggest noise at this year’s CMJ was Metz, an arresting trio from Toronto.

As the review from the boys from Pitchfork noted, where they got an impressed 8.5 here, the band first surfaced way back in 2007. But it’s only now that they’ve gotten around to releasing their debut album.

And, as their review notes, the time they’ve spent honing their craft and pairing down their sound between then and now is a lesson that all aspiring musos should take heed of. 

Metz deliver raw, undiluted noise. Too disciplined to be called metal, but far too loud to fall into pop, they’ve the ambition and drive of early Nirvana but without any of the latter’s need to please. The result is an explosion of pure adrenalin. 

You can see the suitably angst-ridden video for their hymn to urban alienation “Wet Blanket” here.

And you can hear the All Songs Considered podcast (which you should be listening to every week, and was reviewed by me here) on this year’s CMJ here.

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NPR’s Pitch-perfect “All Songs Considered” Podcast, Your Weekly Music Fix.

At the end of last year, the terribly clever bean counters at The New York Times decided that what the organization needed was to make it more like a traditional newspaper, and less like something more attuned to the 21st century. So they axed nearly all of their superb podcasts, leaving just a skeletal three. And one of those included in the cull was, alas, the excellent Popcast.

So in January of this year I went in search of a replacement podcast for all things musical, and was quickly pointed in the general direction of NPR’s “All Songs Considered“. And despite only tuning in to it for the last few weeks, I can confidently declare it mandatory listening.

National Public Radio is an enlightened attempt in the US to replicate the (at least original) ethos behind the BBC. It’s a non-profit organization and the programmes that are produced there are made by people because they’re the kinds of programmes that they would like to hear aired, and they rightly assume that there must be others who are similarly curious. They are in other words programmes that are made regardless of ratings.

All Songs Considered is the musical version of one of their most successful shows, All Things Considered, and it first aired on the web a little over ten years ago. It’s chaired by Bob Boilen, who created it, and Robin Hilton, and between them they manage to strike exactly the right balance of careful casualness and quiet planning. You get the impression that you’re eaves-dropping on a private conversation, but one that you’re meant to be over-hearing. And the areas that they cover every week with each of their guest reviewers really are all-encompassing.

A recent edition for instance looked at the collaboration between Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and the veteran avant-garde Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Hearing how in awe the former is of the latter, and how unashamedly he echoes him on his soundtrack to There Will Be Blood was a revelation.

In another which focused on electronica, they gave us a taste of the latest project from Joe Goddard, one half of Hot Chip whose The 2 Bears, and yes, they really do dress up and DJ in bear suits, is about to release its debut album.

And it was here too, in an earlier edition again, that I was introduced to the ethereal delights of the bewitching Julianna Barwick, whose album I reviewed here earlier.

Next week they’re previewing this year’s South By Southwest, and the following week they’ll be covering the event proper. SXSW is to music what Sundance is to film. It has in other words become so much a part of the mainstream that referring to it now as being in any way indie is frankly laughable. Nevertheless, it still manages to somehow unearth an undiscovered gem every year.

In 2010 it was Sleigh Bells (whose follow up album Reign Of Terror has just been released). And on this, its 20th anniversary, it’s unlikely to prove any less illuminating. Either way, the best place to keep tabs on it is All Songs Considered’s pitch-perfect podcast, which you can find here.

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