M. Ward – What a Wonderful Industry

Perhaps best known these days as the Him in She & HimM. Ward hasn’t abandoned his solo career. In fact, the musician released a brand new unannounced album today called What a Wonderful Industry.

It marks the follow-up to 2016’s More Rain, and perhaps as indicated by the LP’s title, it’s a self-released effort through M. Ward Records.

The 12-track offering even features a guest appearance by Ward’s Monsters of Folk bandmate and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James on “Miracle Man.”

Emm Gryner – Only of Earth

Emm Gryner is known for her typical folk pop stylings. Her latest project has a little divergence from the norm. It   s a 3-part series known as Only of Earth. It will be accompanied by graphic novels and other literature to really set the scene of what Gryner is going for.

The project begins with Days of Games. It delivers a very different feel than what Gryner fans are used to. The inspiration comes from the birth of a child, the death of the iconic David Bowie, and the passing of Greg Lowe. All of these can be felt throughout the album. A former member of David Bowie   s band, Gryner goes for a style much more similar to his, using heavy rock guitar riffs, usually played by Greg Lowe, and adding a synthesizer to give it a more space adventure feel.  The guitar work fits in perfectly with the rock stylings of the    70s and    80s, in a form that would make Bowie proud.

Imagination    is the first single from the album and helps to remind the listener that this is a science fiction album. The whole album really tells a story, and it is in full swing by the time    A Mission    rolls around. It has a beautiful guitar intro that pairs perfectly with  Gryner   s voice. Lowe   s guitar work comes through though and provides for the serious tone of what Gryner is saying. He helps to establish the idea of the mission by showing his guitar work to add a dangerous factor, but it also feels triumphant. This means that the mission Gryner is singing about will be accomplished, though it may be difficult.

The Spark    begins with a powerful guitar solo that rolls right into a rock riff that can   t be easily forgotten. This song actually seems to feel a lot like    War Pigs    by Black Sabbath. It does so by splitting up lines in the verse with a heavy guitar part and impressive guitar soloing throughout. Gryner   s voice just adds to the feel of a powerful classic rock sound because of the reverb added to it.

Though Days of Games is a different take to what Gryner is usually putting out, it still has some legs to stand on. It escapes the folk genre completely, but it does a very good job as making an appearance as a rock album with a very classic vibe.

Rachael Sage – Myopia

Sonically, Myopia is a bold departure for Sage, with a much stronger emphasis on her guitar playing over her usual piano palette, with inventive contributions by Hoboken-based guitarist James Mastro (Patti Smith, Ian Hunter) who Sage affectionately calls “the king of wah.” Produced by Sage and her longtime engineer John Shyloski, Myopia was recorded last summer at Carriage House Studios in Stamford, CT as well as at Sage’s home studio in NYC’s East Village, and you can feel the swelter.

The heavily electronic “Haunted By Objects” – on which Sage plays Moog synthesizer – describes the psyche of a hoarder whose only potential recourse may be to set everything on fire, while “This Darkness”, a bluesy lamentation about the Dakota Pipeline, reflects the urgency and courage of Native Americans’ resistance to environmental desecration; the enemy in the dark is indifference, the iciest kind of blindness.

Sage – whose eclectic list of champions includes UK chart-topping legend Howard Jones, 60’s folk icon Judy Collins, and teen dance sensation Maddie Ziegler – possesses a creative outlook that seems perfectly in sync with the beginnings of Spring: “This is a warm-weather record. These are songs about getting out there, thawing things out, and unearthing the truth. Sometimes you can’t do that in the dead of winter. But when the sun is shining, even the murkiest future appears hopeful.”

Palace Winter – Nowadays

Arriving in adulthood is a bitter-sweet experience. Abandoned childhood fascinations make way for tough life lessons. But also the hope and potential that comes with taking charge  of both your life and other ‘ s.

These are the central themes in Nowadays, the second full-length album from Palace Winter. Copenhagen based Australian singer-songwriter Carl Coleman and Danish producer and classically trained pianist Caspar Hesselager have built on their dynamic relationship to create an album that swells between tender ballads and high-energy melodies.

Built around floating keys, rhythm guitar and an insisting beat, they forge a bright and gloomy album that further develops the group   s unique sound, which has so far won them international plaudits from BBC 6 Music, NME and The Guardian, as well as Gaffa in Denmark, where they are based.

It opens with    Birth   , a mellow track whose minor key synths invite you into the duo   s atmospheric and melancholic universe. This is reinforced by the following number    Take Shelter   , a choral death ballad about confronting grief and coping with loss.

Fans of Palace Winter   s energetic live shows won   t be disappointed by the    The Ballroom   , the tale of a narcissistic and evil rock singer. Its vigour is reminiscent of the ecstatic    Positron    from their 2016 album Waiting for the World to Turn     songs that need to be played driving into the sunset with the windows rolled down as the world behind you burns.

Their 80s influence shines through on    Empire   , and    Come Back (Left Behind)   , whose bright notes contrast with lyrics that dwell on the challenges of anxiety, and coming to terms with the loss of a lover and feeling like you   ll never escape the fog of grief.

The album continues its exploration of deeply human themes in    Baltimore    (the experience of a suffocating love),    The Accident    (the realisation that life isn   t as bad as it seems),    Demon    (overcoming self-doubt and fear) and    Acting Like Lovers    (how sharing a traumatic experience can bring people closer).

Coleman lifts the distortion on his vocals for the final track    Kenopsia   , an eerie duet with Hesselager   s keys. It   s echoey reverberations appear to bounce within an enormous space that the two can   t fill     it   s full of soul and spectral emptiness.

Nowadays mulls over the challenges we face just trying to be alive in the present moment in a world full of distraction. You can   t swipe your way to happiness     you have to lift your eyes first.

Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance

Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the true American guitar player. That’s as much a testament to his roving, ramblingways, or the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop. Swap out rural juke joints for rotted DIY spaces and the archetype is solidly intact. 

In a statement accompanying the album announcement, Walker says he hoped to get away from jamming and improv this time around in favor of carefully arranged compositions: “I didn’t want to be jammy acoustic guy anymore.” He also aimed to make something “more Chicago-y sounding,” which he’s definitely achieved; the Midwest metropolis’ rich musical history is an unmistakable element of Deafman Glance’s exquisite genre cocktail. “Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving,” Walker writes. “That’s the sound I hear, all the time, ringing in my ears.”

The Boxer Rebellion – ghost alive

Last year’s single ‘What The Fuck’ is a such a lush and mournful opener I had already been asking myself if Ghost Alive could be as good as some of last year’s US releases on the indie-rock scale of sentimental awesomeness, as its gentle strings and whistled outro sweep in on a wave of studio echo and the rest of the record holds up to scrutiny. If you are looking for major chords look elsewhere because this is an album recorded almost exclusively in minor scales. Grown up indie from a dark place. Not depressing, but beautifully realised melancholy.

Tim Buckley-like acoustic runs, simple piano and orchestration throughout conjure landscapes and firstfall. ‘Rain’ grows into an epic green screen of sound and ‘Fear’, with its falsetto, is like ice skating on a frozen lake while companion piece ‘Here I Am’ is a fast rolling terrain of dandelions and moss about falling back in love as spring breaks; its looping three-note piano motif has the natural reverb of a studio as big as the valleys. The overblown similes may be hackneyed but Ghost Alive is so evocative at times in its unconcealed ambition and panoramic reach the grandiose superlatives stick.

At others a workmanlike ballast presides over the chamberal and funereal and this is reflective of the underlying theme, since frontman Nathan Nicholson lost both his parents and his unborn child the band have teamed up with CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) to help spread a message of hope. So, it’s not quite Chris Martin penning Paradise.
Previous Boxer Rebellion albums have suffered in the face of Coldplay-without-the-hooks type criticism and there still remains a lack of an obvious centrepiece despite ‘Love Yourself’ growing gracefully into a ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ moment on any other album but perhaps diluted by the overarching stratospherics of this one.

While the Tim Buckley thing never really goes away the scope and thoroughness, for want of a better word, of Ghost Alive is breath-taking. The gentle brass on ‘Don’t Ever Stop’ is so out of place it takes us out of the story altogether and we are now on the outside looking in (or like recalling a vivid dream) and you suddenly realise how absorbing this record is. Or on ‘River’; again those acoustic runs, an old man looks back on his life still dreaming of being led to the sea from his Steinbeckian perch as the melancholy prevails stopping just short of dipping into a true sadness. A sense of guilt runs through the whole record, as you might surmise given the source material, and it’s only on closer ‘Goodnight’, a simple acoustic lullaby, that this burden is perhaps both literally and figuratively put to bed.

For sure, it’s not going to be the most original album of the year but on this, the band’s sixth, The Boxer Rebellion have hit upon something timeless and placeless, poignant and gorgeous.