Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring (Wichita)
Nobody could accuse the Wales-based English septet Los Campesinos! of suffering from writers' block. This is their third album in as many years and it's every bit as barmy, nonsensical, catchy and patchy as their previous offerings.
When their songs are taken in isolation, there's plenty to enjoy — the band know their way around power pop, indie and twee-core. The brass-tinged These are Listed Buildings and the title track, with its insistent guitars, provide a glorious one-two strike. Not for the first time am I reminded of those early 90s local heroes, Engine Alley. But over the course of a 15-track album, the uniform jollity of the material sticks in the craw.
Incidentally, original founder Aleks (pictured), who appears on this album, has subsequently quit in order to return to college to finish her medical studies.
Burn it: These are Listed Buildings; Romance is Boring
Tindersticks - Falling Down a Mountain (4AD)
Tindersticks have been busy of late. Just two years after their last album, The Hungry Saw, the Stuart Staples-led group are back with this eighth album and they have also found time to compose the music to two films from one of French cinema's great contemporary directors, Claire Denis — last year's tender father and daughter drama 35 Shots of Rum and the forthcoming White Material, starring Isabelle Huppert.
It's been apparent for a long time that Tindersticks make perfect soundtrack music, so it's good to see them get interesting commissions. And this album has a cinematic quality too, not least the gorgeous instrumental, Piano Music — a sumptuous piece of orchestration with sweet, stirring strings playing over a sparse piano line.
The line-up has expanded to include David Kitt and the singular Mary Margaret O'Hara.
The latter provides a striking vocal counterpoint to Staples' rich baritone, particularly on the album's most commercial track, Peanuts.
For the most part, this is a typical Tindersticks album — a slow-burner that gets under your skin. But it's also the sound of a band escaping its confines — there's a loose, playful feel that's bound to captivate existing fans and possibly pick up some new ones as well.
Burn it: Piano Music; Peanuts
The Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
Stephin Merritt is one of America's most prolific songwriters and this album, coming less than a year after the reverb-heavy Distortion, proves he's one of the more diverse too.
Conceived as a companion album to Distortion, this one is acoustically driven, Merritt sharing lead vocals with regular allies Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms.
As ever, Merritt (pictured below) finds himself most comfortable in others' shoes. The jilted pregnant bride-to-be on Seduced and Abandoned is typical of unfortunate souls who people the album.
Two of the songs here — Painted Flower and From a Sinking Boat — are among the loveliest of his career. Both boast a quite lovely marriage of guitars and strings.
Yet, such songs only serve to highlight the unusually high number of tracks that fail to catch fire.
Burn it: Seduced and Abandoned; Painted Flower