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Photo: Composition of headphones. Image via Shutterstock.


The early 2014 album release schedule gains traction in February, featuring unexpected but happy returns from long-time favorites as well as up-and-comers hitting new career peaks. February’s most eagerly awaited new effort has to be Beck‘s first album since 2008’s Modern Guilt, Morning Phase, all the more anticipated considering the chameleon-like artist behind it. And that’s not to mention Cibo Matto’s first album since 1999 or the Notwist’s in almost six years. Among more active artists, Sun Kil Moon‘s Benji has received strong advance word-of-mouth, while St. Vincent’s latest has the potential to be her mainstream breakthrough. As is often the case, though, the most intriguing work might be coming from emerging voices, be it ScHoolboy Q’s major label debut or 20-year-old Parker Millsap’s old-soul Americana or Angel Olsen’s confident new disc.


 
February 4

 



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Marissa Nadler

July

(Sacred Bones/Bella Union)

Review [20.Feb.2014]
Marissa Nadler
July


So it might be a bit misleading to call this record July, but not because it’s chilly. It may feel that way at first, to hear the acoustic guitar ringing out with icy clarity on “Drive”, cutting through Marissa Nadler‘s typically ethereal and beautiful voice. But it’s more a mix of heat and cold. These songs are the flames to warm yourself around, as the cold and dark around them continues to grow. Nadler has always had a sense for texture and songcraft—both were on display all over her two 2011 records, Marissa Nadler and The Sister—and July is another success, a further expansion of her music’s bittersweet echo. These are songs still trailing the long shadow of the past, but trying to shake it off. “You’re a ghost and I’ve changed,” Nadler sings on “Firecrackers”, and you can feel that change on the subtle, gloomy layers of “Dead City Emily” or the meshing of clear instruments with smudged atmosphere on “Desire” or the mix of resignation and sweetness of piano-heavy closer “Nothing in My Heart”. At once grander and more nuanced than her other records, July is Marissa Nadler at her most confident and striking. These songs somehow comfort even as they haunt. To pull off one of those things is no small feat. To do both at the same time is what makes this record special. Matthew Fiander


 
February 11

 



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Sun Kil Moon

Benji

(Caldo Verde)

Review [7.Feb.2014]
Sun Kil Moon
Benji


Mark Kozelek is a perpetually busy man, cranking out live albums and cover records and side projects. But Benji is the proper studio return of his main project, Sun Kil Moon, and it’s a bittersweet and heartbreaking collection. The record focuses mostly around Kozelek and his guitar, and while the arrangements are often simpler than the work on the similarly solitary Admiral Fell Promises, the words here are twisting and wondering, complex and deeply personal. Benji meditates on family and loss, on home and distance from the past. Kozelek tells personal stories, weaving in the tragic loss of “Clarissa” or his connection to family on “I Love My Dad” and “I Can’t Live without My Mother’s Love”. He pokes and prods at the past on “Dogs”, wonders over violence in the present on “Pray for Newtown”, and comes back to those close to him again and again on songs like “Jim Wise”. What’s also interesting is how songs of family also connect to songs of culture, songs like “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same” or “Richard Ramirez Died of Natural Causes”. The link is effectively murky, as if loss and connection are two sides of the same coin, a coin Kozelek flips over and over again on this record. The songs are as plainspoken as their titles, but he manages to make quotidian details (even, say, eating Panera) sound poetic. Benji can be as wry as other Kozelek records, but its deep personal connections resonate at every turn. Kozelek may be busy, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t stop to wonder, and you will too as you work through this beautiful, sad album again and again. Matthew Fiander


 
February 18

 



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Krill

Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears

(Exploding in Sound)

Krill
Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears


Along side its Massachusetts cohorts Speedy Ortiz and Potty Mouth, Krill is in the vanguard of millennial post-‘90s acts, recalling the hallmark sounds of that earlier era without simply trying to recreate ‘em. In Krill’s case, that means putting its own up-to-date spin on underground punk-pop that veers close to emo territory, as the power trio barrels headlong with a guitar-bass-drums approach that’s a little more intuitively melodic than grunge. On the upcoming EP Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears, the Boston-area band brings to mind Titus Andronicus not just because the new effort is a concept piece fueled by suburban angst, but also due to a sharp wit that keeps Krill’s self-deprecating soul searching from spiraling out of control. And like Titus Andronicus, Krill knows how to set the scene and mood by letting the music do as much talking as the overbrimming feelings, especially on the title track and “Unbounded Nameless Future”, where their dynamic, furious sound surges forward with a spontaneity and abandon that works well with bassist Jonah Furman’s punch-drunk vocals. Sure, maybe the extended analogy riffing off the title of “Turd” wallows a bit too much in abjection, but, then again, it’s precisely that lack of a filter that makes Steve Hears Pile an absorbing, singular listen. Arnold Pan


 

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Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire for No Witness

(Jagjaguwar)

Review [19.Feb.2014]
Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire for No Witness


In many cases, what it takes for an emerging singer-songwriter to garner attention is a singular voice or a signature songwriting vision or proficient musicianship. In Angel Olsen’s case, she flashed her promise as a triple threat who brought all these qualities to the table on 2012’s Half Way Home, staking her claim as an artist to pay attention to for her abilities to channel old-school Roy Orbison-ish rock and Leonard Cohen-esque folk into her own updated indie stylings. But it’s on the upcoming Burn Your Fire for No Witness that Olsen fulfills her potential, delivering her own one-of-a-kind perspective through her distinctively soulful warble and an impressive knack for a versatile range of musical vernaculars. Most obviously, her growth as a performer leaps out on Burn Your Fire in her growing confidence and more intense focus, as she comes out of the lower-fi shell of her previous work more boldly this time around. That’s something you can’t help but notice on the album’s first single, “Forgiven/Forgotten”, which is at once grittier, brisker, and poppier than anything from Olsen’s last outing as she takes her rootsier influences and recasts them into an in-the-rough indie gem. It’s a tone and attitude that carries through the entirety of Burn Your Fire for No Witness, conveying the sense that even if Angel Olsen already had an idea of who she was as an artist, she’s really coming into her own now. Arnold Pan


 

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Shocking Pinks

Guilt Mirrors

(Stars & Letters)

Shocking Pinks
Guilt Mirrors


It’s felt like an eternity—more precisely, over six years—since New Zealand’s Shocking Pinks last released new material, but that hardly means one-man-band Nick Harte has been idle in the duration. If you’ve been wondering what Harte has been up to since Shocking Pinks’ self-titled 2007 album garnered its share of acclaim, the triple album Guilt Mirrors offers all the proof you’ll need that he’s kept himself plenty busy. And it’s not just the 35-track, over two-and-a-half-hour run-time that you’d describe as vast and expansive, but also the full gamut of styles and tones that Harte puts to use to convey the trials and tribulations he’s been through in the interim. Musically, there’s quite a bit of discernable growth from the lo-fi charms of Shocking Pinks to the bolder, more fully realized Guilt Mirrors, which moves fluidly from fragile dream-pop to bold dance punk, from blippy electronics to undercover touches of power-pop, à la Big Star and Elliott Smith. In sum, Harte somehow crafts homespun compositions into soundscapes to get lost in on Guilt Mirrors, something along the lines of a warmer, more introspective version of what Dirty Beaches do. In that way, the real testament to Harte’s knack as a songwriter is how such an ambitious project can feel not just cohesive, but immersive. Arnold Pan


 
February 25

 



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Neneh Cherry

Blank Project

(Smalltown Supersound)

Review [26.Feb.2014]
Neneh Cherry
Blank Project


Neneh Cherry’s Blank Project is her first solo record in 16 years, and it feels anything but blank. It has a face, a personality, a breathing life. The songs are built on what feels like basic elements, mostly lean, strong beats to back up Cherry’s voice. Drums shuffle through the beat poetry of “Across the Water”, but they can also skitter on the electro-pop leaning “Naked”. There are, of course, other elements, the rumbling bass of “Weightless”, say, or the synth noodling that blows open the back half of “Out of the Black”, Cherry’s excellent duet with Robyn. But despite nuanced production from Four Tet and collaboration with RocketNumberNine, this is very much about Cherry’s voice. Her words, as spiraling and intimate and surprising as the voice that sings them, dig through loss and doubt and anxiety to find something transcendent. The voice works with and pulls against these beats, with little between them, like when the blood pulses in your head, like when the heartbeats drowns out all thought. It’s a beautiful, subtle but strong set, another impressive collection from Cherry that feels laid-bare but still expansive, personal but still experimental. Matthew Fiander


 

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The Notwist

Close to the Glass

(Sub Pop)

Review [26.Feb.2014]
The Notwist
Close to the Glass


If Close to the Glass, the Notwist’s first album in almost six years, was simply a reminder of how the German act has mastered the science and art of cross-pollinating electronic and indie strains, that would be an accomplishment enough. Yet while Close to the Glass is another command performance in how to hybridize high-concept techie meticulousness with the warm immediacy of DIY-pop for the Notwist, that’s not the main reason why the new effort stands out. Rather, it’s the changes, both subtle and drastic, that make Close to the Glass a compelling listen, the work of a band that’s earned the right to rest on its laurels but doesn’t. While the organic electronics of “Casino” and “Run Run Run” convey familiar tones and textures that never get old, stretching the Notwist’s signature sound to further lengths, it’s when the venerable German group steps out of its comfortable comfort zone that its aesthetic naturally develops in a way that you never saw coming. That’s what happens when the single “Kong” comes on like a blast of retro-futuristic pop that matches up to Stereolab at its bubbliest, though it’s “7 Hours Drive” that’ll really blindside you—it’s too good of a surprise to give away here. What “Kong” and “7 Hours Drive” do, above all, is add context and perspective to appreciating the Notwist, foregrounding just how vital and bold a band known more for its nuance and precision is. Arnold Pan


 

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D. Charles Speer & the Helix

Doubled Exposure

(Thrill Jockey)

D. Charles Speer & the Helix
Doubled Exposure


Dave Charles Shuford—also known as D. Charles Speer—has spent his musical career playing with amazing musicians in the No-Neck Blues Band, in collaboration with the likes of Jack Rose, and of course with the Helix. His latest record with the Helix, Doubled Exposure, follows the rollicking country-rock of Leaving the Commonwealth and ups the ante in every great way possible. Here, the country dust gets wiped away in favor of some psychedelic murk and blues-rock stomping. Opener “Wallwalker” is a blistering attack of guitars, a charging song that elevates the low hum of Speer’s voice. Other songs, like “Cretan Lords” and the title track, create haunting space with distant tack pianos and pedal steels, but the Helix never fully returns to its roots, preferring to twist them into reggae shuffles or, on album standout “Mandorla At Dawn”, into epic, inventive instrumental rock. As the band shifts, so do Speer’s tales, from direct and heartbroken tales to more impressionistic fever dreams. Doubled Exposure isn’t blurred like its title might suggest, but rather it never lets you look at it straight on. It shifts and morphs, slips out of easy definitions and into thorny uncertainty. But if it rambles, it does so with purpose, and Speer and the Helix, though always excellent, have never sounded this muscled, this in control, even as they work so hard to get (us and themselves) lost. Matthew Fiander


 

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St. Vincent

St. Vincent

(Loma Vista)

Review [25.Feb.2014]
St. Vincent
St. Vincent


The commercial stakes have never been higher for Annie Clark, but you wouldn’t know it the way she holds fast to a challenging, art-scarred agenda that’s all her own on her fourth St. Vincent album. So while she’s set up to take her star turn, with her 2012 project with David Byrne and other high-profile collaborations putting her on the cusp of the popular consciousness, Clark has hardly simplified or mainstreamed her approach on St. Vincent. Indeed, pre-release tracks “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness” offer a promising sign of things to come on St. Vincent, an album that combines the most accessible and prettiest elements of her sound with the pop experimentalism and virtuoso craftsmanship that have always been her m.o. As poppy and confrontational as St. Vincent has gotten, the post-post-punk of “Birth in Reverse” bristles with a Gang of Four-ish sneer, just updated with a space-age-polymer sheen and glossy, buoyant beats. And the HD-sharp “Digital Witness” suggests that Clark came away with some fruitful lessons working with Byrne—or, rather, that she may have been the guiding creative force behind the pairing—incorporating brass and Talking Heads angularity to add more muscle and edge to St. Vincent’s eclectic mix. All in all, St. Vincent bears the traces of a distinctive and forward thinking artist, the work of someone who has already shaped an identifiable aesthetic, yet never settles for repeating herself as she pushes herself to do something more and different. Arnold Pan


 

Selected Releases for February 2014
(Release dates subject to change)


February 4
+/- , Jumping the Tracks (Teenbeat)
Augustines, Augustines (Votiv/Oxcart)
Be Forest, Earthbeat (We Were Never Being Boring)
Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Black Beehive (Shout! Factory)
Scott H. Biram, Nothin’ But Blood (Bloodshot)
Amy Black, This Is Home
Michael Bloomfield, From His Head to His Heart to His Hands 3-CD/DVD set (Columbia/Legacy)
Bombay Bicycle Club, Bombay Bicycle Club (Vagrant)
Boys Noize, Out of the Black—The Remixes (Boysnoize)
Broken Bells, After the Disco (Columbia/Dangerbird)
John Butler Trio, Flesh & Blood (Vanguard)
Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart and Key Lime Pie reissues (Omnivore)
The Caribbean, Moon Sickness (Hometapes)
ceo, Wonderland (Modular)
The Chain Gang of 1974, Daydream Forever (Warner Bros.)
Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, Four Foot Shack (ATO)
Cymbals, The Age of Fracture (Tough Love)
Diamond Youth, Shake EP (Topshelf)
The Dream Syndicate, The Day Before Wine & Roses (archival radio performance) (Omnivore)
Gardens and Villas, Dunes (Secretly Canadian)
The Haden Triplets, The Haden Triplets (Third Man)
Lacrosse, Are You Thinking of Me Every Minute of Every Day (Tapete)
Mary Lambert, Welcome to the Age of My Body (Capitol)
Lolawolf, Lolawolf EP (Innit)
Mas Ysa, Worth EP (Downtown)
Maximo Park, Too Much Information
Kate McGarry, Genevieve and Ferdinand (Sunnyside)
Mark McGuire, Along the Way (Dead Oceans)
Pat Metheny Unity Group, Kin (Nonesuch)
Parker Millsap, Parker Millsap (Okrahoma)
Musi-O-Tunya, Give Love to the Children, (Now-Again)
Whiskey Myers, Early Morning Shakes (Thirty Tigers)
Danilo Pérez, Panama 500 (Mack Avenue)
Roxy Swain, Restless Hearts (Spade Kitty)
Rudy Royston, 303 (Greenleaf Music)
Snowbird, moon (Bella Union)
Snowmine, Dialects (Mystery Buildings)
Sunn O))) and Ulver, Terrestrials (Southern Lord)
The Tower of Light, The Tower of Light (Felte)
Trees, Sickness In (Crucial Blast)
Water Liars, Water Liars (Fat Possum)
Juan Wauters (The Beets), N.A.P. North American Poetry (Captured Tracks)
Wild Moccasins, 88 92 (New West)
Woodsman, Woodsman (Fire Talk)
Xiu Xiu, Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Polyvinyl)
Young Fathers, Dead (Anticon/Big Dada)


February 11
Band of Horses, Acoustic at the Ryman (Brown/Kobalt)
The Belle Brigade, Just Because (ATO)
Blondefire, Young Heart (Tender Tender Rush)
Cashmere Cat, Wedding Bells EP (Lucky Me)
The Casket Girls, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale (Graveface)
Gina Chavez, up.rooted
Eric Church, The Outsiders (Universal Nashville)
Cheatahs, Cheatahs (Wichita)
Crosses, Crosses (Sumerian)
Death of Samantha, If Memory Serves Us Well (St. Valentine)
denetia and sene., his and hers
Disco Doom, Numerals (Exploding in Sound)
Robert Ellis, The Lights from the Chemical Plant (New West)
Fanfarlo, Let’s Go Extinct (Blue Horizon)
Neil Finn, Dizzy Heights (Lester)
The Fleshtones, Wheel of Talent (Yep Roc)
The Glitch Mob, Love Death Immortality (Glass Air)
Noah Gundersen, Ledges
Helms Alee, Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House)
Hollow & Akimbo, Hollow & Akimbo (Quite Scientific)
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes (ATO)
llum Sphere, The Ghosts of Then and Now (Ninja Tune)
Jamestown Revival, Utah (INgrooves)
KaitO, Less Time Until the End (Kompakt)
Katy B, Little Red (Rinse/Columbia)
Mamani Keita, Kanou (world village)
Douglas Keith, Pony (Village)
Irene Kelley, Pennsylvania Coal (Patio)
Greg Laswell, I Was Going to Be an Astronaut (Vanguard)
Dominic Miller, ad hoc (Q-rious)
Moby, Almost Home Remix EP (Mute)
Modern Baseball, You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run for Cover)
Mozes and the Firstborn, Mozes and the Firstborn (Burger)
Nina Persson, A Camp (The End)
Planningtorock, All Love’s Legal (Human Level)
Poemss, Poemss (Planet Mu)
Dianne Reeves, Beautiful Life (Concord)
Sam Roberts Band, Lo-Fantasy (Paper Bag)
Catherine Russell, Bring It Back (Jazz Village)
Andy Shernoff (ex-Dictators), On the First Day, Man Created God EP
Sly5thAve, Akuma (Truth Revolution)
Solvent, New Ways: Music from the Documentary I Dream of Wires (Suction)
Speedy Ortiz, Real Hair EP (Carpark)
Lisa Stansfield, Seven (Monkeynatra)
Phebe Starr, Zero EP
Temples, Sun Structures (Fat Possum)
Thug Entrancer, Death After Life (Software)
Thumpers, Galore (Sub Pop)
Glenn Tilbrook, Happy Ending
Tinariwen, Emmaar (ANTI-)
Various Artists, From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan (Buda Musique)
Various Artists, Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (Strut)
Frank Wess, Magic 201 (IPO)


February 14
Cibo Matto, Hotel Valentine (Chimera)
Party Dolls, Love Wars Baby (This Is American Music)


February 18
Amigo, Might Cloud (Carlisle Beauregard)
Analog Rebellion, Ill’e Grande (Dabbo)
Aztec Camera, High Land, Hard Rain Deluxe Edition (Domino)
Bodyfarm, The Coming Scourge (Metal Blade/Cyclone Empire)
Children of the Stone, Extended Play EP (Saint Marie)
Cripple Bastards, Nero in Metastasi (Relapse)
Cynic, Kindly Bent to Free Us (Season of Mist)
The Dollyrots, Barefoot and Pregnant (Arrested Youth)
Down Among the Dead Men, Down Among the Dead Men (Metal Blade/Cyclone Empire)
Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, Faya (Cumbancha)
William Fitzsimmons, Lions (Nettwerk)
The Go Find, Brand New Love (Morr)
Guided by Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit (GBV Inc)
Françoise Hardy, Message Personnel 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Warner)
Taylor Haskins, Fuzzy Logic (Sunnyside)
Randy Ingram, Sky Lift (Sunnyside)
The Jezabels, The Brink (PIAS)
Will Kimbrough, Sideshow Love
David Krakauer, The Big Picture
Takuya Kuroda, Rising Son (Blue Note)
Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits (Signature Sounds)
Dawn Landes, Bluebird (Western Vinyl)
Lost in the Trees, Past Life (ANTI-)
Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else (Bloodshot)
Jimbo Mathus, Dark Night of the Soul (Fat Possum)
Minor Crisis, Temple (Autumn + Colour)
New Bums (Ben Chasny & Donovan Quinn), Voices in a Rented Room (Drag City)
NO, El Prado (Arts & Crafts)
Phantogram, Voices (Republic)
The Presidents of the United States of America, Kudos to You
Ashley Riley, All the Pretty Things (Rock Ridge)
Sahg, Delusions of Grandeur (Metal Blade)
Sarke, Aruagint (Metal Blade)
Solids, Blame Confusion (Fat Possum)
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Half the City (Thirty Tigers)
Ralph Stanley and Ralph Stanley II, Side by Side
Teledrome, Teledrome (Mammoth Cave)
PT Walkley, Shoulders (Bathing Suit)


February 25
As Animals, As Animals (Atmospheriques)
Barzin, To Live Alone in That Long Summer (Monotreme)
Battleme, Future Runs Magnetic
Beck, Morning Phase (Capitol)
Dierks Bentley, Riser (Capitol Nashville)
Bleeding Rainbow, Interrupt (Kanine)
Brandt Brauer Frick, DJ Kicks (!K7)
Creative Adult, Psychic Mess (Run for Cover)
Damaged Bug (Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer), Hubba Bubba (Castle Face)
Death Vessel, Island Intervals (Sub Pop)
Dva, Nipomo (Northern Spy)
Eternal Lips, Eternal Lips EP (New Mirage)
The Family Crest, Beneath the Brine (Tender Loving Empire)
Flagland, Love Hard (Father Daughter)
The Fray, Helios (Epic)
Mike Gordon, Overstep (ATO)
Charlie Greene, Charlie Greene (Artists Tribe)
Habit, Unselves in Arrival (Fleeting Youth)
Francis Harris, Minutes of Sleep (Scissor and Thread)
Boris Kovac & La Campanella, Eastern Moon Rising (Tugboat)
David T. Little and Third Coast Percussion, Haunt of Last Nightfall (New Amsterdam)
Lo-Fang, Blue Film (4AD)
Marah, Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania
Milagres, Violent Light (Kill Rock Stars)
Bob Mould, Workbook 25 (Omnivore)
Natural Child, Dancin’ with Wolves (Burger)
New Electric Ride, Balloon Age (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)
Pillar Point, Pillar Point (Polyvinyl)
Run River North (formerly Monsters Calling Home), Run River North (Nettwerk)
Sabina, Toujours (Bar/None)
ScHoolboy Q, Oxymoron (Top Dawg/Interscope)
Silversun Pickups, The Singles Collection (Dangerbird)
Special Explosion, The Art of Mothering EP (Topshelf)
Superchunk, Indoor Living (remastered reissue) (Merge)
Tacocat, NVM (Hardly Art)
Tropic of Pisces, Symmetry EP (Ooh La La)
Twin Forks (with Chris Carrabba), Twin Forks (Dine Alone)
Vertical Scratchers, Daughter of Everything (Merge)
We Were Promised Jetpacks, E Rey Live in Philadelphia (FatCat)
Wild Beasts, Present Tense (Domino)
Yellow Ostrich, Cosmos (Barsuk)
Thalia Zedek Band, Six EP (Thrill Jockey)

Related Articles
12 Mar 2014
They've been making albums since 1990 and have that rare distinction of being a band that has no two discs ever sounding the same. For their first album in years, the Notwist change things once again.
28 Feb 2014
We caught St. Vincent's sold out tour kick off show in New York City and have the photos to prove it. Check out her lengthy North American tour schedule.
25 Feb 2014
Neneh Cherry has always followed her own path in her style. With Blank Project, Cherry has reclaimed the spotlight to deserved applause.
25 Feb 2014
Close to the Glass is a frustratingly uneven album that shows of signs of brilliance drowned out by dull electronic excursions.
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