New Tunes Reviews, October 1: Basia Bulat, Lorde, Yuck, Johnny Flynn, and more

Currently the field of female indie-pop bands is quite crowded so there is a lot to check out, especially this week when a bunch of buzzed-about female artists released albums.  These three artists (Lorde, HAIM, and Basia Bulat) are all dreamy vocalists with a fondness for electronica drum beats and general whimsy. 

I enjoyed Basia Bulat‘s powerful gospel-infused voice.  Her album is called Tall Tall Shadow, and is a follow-up to 2007’s Oh My Darling. With a mix of song types and tempos, this album is recommended. In a few of the songs, like “It Can’t Be You,” the music is secondary to her vocals. Other songs, like “Wires,” are very dancey.
[Watch this video of Bulat covering “Glory Days” for AV Undercover. It gives a little preview of her impressive vocals and awesome hammer-harp skills.]
A few tracks into Lorde‘s Pure Heroine, I was finally able to place where I’d heard her before. “Royals,” the “single,” is currently the song de-jour of department stores, coffee shops, and TV montages. This song is everywhere and, you know what, the album does not disappoint.  I usually like my female vocalists to be a little tougher (ie. Neko Case and Liz Phair on Exit in Guyville), but I can see the appeal of Lorde. It is like Feist, mixed with CHVRCHES, with some Grimes thrown in. And she’s only 16.
HAIM‘s release, Days are Gone, was the most buzzed about. SiriusXM has been playing songs from his quartet of sisters for months. They are obviously influenced by indie-pop and R&B.  There appears to be some sampling and remixes. Overall, though, this release probably ranks third overall.
Yuck released their first album since the departure of singer Daniel Blumberg.  Entitled Glow and Behold, it reminiscent of Big Star with a 1970s breezy vibe. 

Fuzz‘s self-titled debut is just what you may think: an album of fuzzy rock.  Ty Segall’s latest project is full of guitar solos and heavy riffs. Not for me, but recommended if you like the fuzz.   
British singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn released Country Mile. This is his first album since 2010’s excellent Been Listening (although he did score A Bag of Hammers in 2012). As a former actor, Flynn is an excellent wordsmith and the lyrics reflect his narrative ability. I definitely recommend it especially if you haven’t listened to Flynn before and enjoy folksy singer-songwriters – ie Frank Turner.

Eureka! Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

I love Noah and the Whale as much as the next music-fan, but the truth is that every time cannot be the appropriate time to listen to a band soaked in ukulele, guitars, and sunshine. That is where Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit come in. Also from the UK, the Sussex Wit are a band with a similar sound as Noah and the Whale but are much less sugar-coated. Sussex Wit has those analogous standout vocals, the story-telling-through-song formula, and the folk guitars that Noah and the Whale love so much. Instead of ukulele, though, Sussex Wit uses the banjo and the violin to create their signature sound.

Many of the songs on “A Larum,” the Sussex Wit’s 2008 album, has a tempo close to that of Noah and the Whale’s “Peaceful, The Way Lay Me Down.” The opening track of “A Larum,” called “A Box,” is an excellent set-up for the rest of this 14-song delight. Violins chime in right off the bat. The chorus is incredibly catchy and paints the picture of someone who has nothing but is content with everything.
Many of the Sussex Wit’s song are semi off-kilter. This is where personality is able to shine through. “Leftovers” is a fast tempo song that seems to be about dumpster diving. “Wayne Rooney” seems like an ode to the English soccer star but has nothing to do with the sport (according to the Wit’s Lost Highway profile page). “Tickle Me Pink” is a catchy song made up of rhymes and a solid sing-along hook: “Pray for the people inside your head/ for they won’t be there when you’re dead.”
Other songs are more straight forward, like “Hong Kong Cemetery.” It starts off with some brass instrument (either a trumpet or a trombone – I can’t exactly tell) and goes slowly into a description of just what one would expect: a Hong Kong Cemetery. Throughout the song, Flynn boasts “I’m alright” over and over again as if he is convincing himself that he is soundly dealing with the passing of a loved one (his grandfather) and the place where he was buried.
Front-man Johnny Flynn’s background in Shakespeare, acting and poetry fuses into the sound of the band. It is intelligent yet quirky. It is intricate yet accessible. “A Larum” is a strong set of songs laced with typical UK-charm that is characteristic to so many bands hailing from that region of the world. Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit is a true find and hopefully they will make it across the pond sometime soon.
  • The Box mp3
  • Hong Kong Cemetery mp3
  • Wayne Rooney (Black Cab Session) mp3
For more information check out the band’s official website or myspace page.