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Alternative & Indie - Released December 4, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 11, 2019 | 4AD

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Pitchfork: Best New Music
Less than six months after releasing their highly acclaimed third album, U.F.O.F., the Brooklyn indie-folk band Big Thief returns with Two Hands. While its Irish twin sounds incredibly controlled and labored over, the majority of Two Hands are one-take recordings (tracked live in the middle of a Texas desert) with no overdubs, capturing the arresting beauty of their live performances. Lead single "Not" is the loudest and most intense Big Thief song to date. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s croon is pushed to a panting rasp during the track’s teetering climax, and its second half is overtaken by a gangly, drawn-out guitar solo gracelessly deconstructing into ringing noise. However, despite the crashing drum fill that kicks off the record, "Not"’s striking diversion from their signature serenity is the album’s only moment of its kind. The main difference is that here, Big Thief sound looser and less concerned with painstaking prettiness. Instead, they let the tape roll and see what happens. Perhaps the most commendable aspect is that even without the benefit of studio wizardry, this band can still make magic happen. © Eli Enis / Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 11, 2019 | 4AD

Less than six months after releasing their highly acclaimed third album, U.F.O.F., the Brooklyn indie-folk band Big Thief returns with Two Hands. While its Irish twin sounds incredibly controlled and labored over, the majority of Two Hands are one-take recordings (tracked live in the middle of a Texas desert) with no overdubs, capturing the arresting beauty of their live performances. Lead single "Not" is the loudest and most intense Big Thief song to date. Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker’s croon is pushed to a panting rasp during the track’s teetering climax, and its second half is overtaken by a gangly, drawn-out guitar solo gracelessly deconstructing into ringing noise. However, despite the crashing drum fill that kicks off the record, "Not"’s striking diversion from their signature serenity is the album’s only moment of its kind. The main difference is that here, Big Thief sound looser and less concerned with painstaking prettiness. Instead, they let the tape roll and see what happens. Perhaps the most commendable aspect is that even without the benefit of studio wizardry, this band can still make magic happen. © Eli Enis / Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | 4AD

Known for their neo-classical, experimental post-rock, Danish trio Efterklang reached a career high with their ambitious fourth album, 2012's Piramida, an icy masterstroke rooted in eerie, field-recorded sounds the band captured at a deserted Russian settlement on a remote Norwegian island near the North Pole. Following it up would be no simple task, and they managed to avoid doing so for nearly seven years while bandmates Casper Clausen, Mads Brauer, and Rasmus Stolberg focused on different projects, including co-writing an opera with composer Karsten Fundal and forming a new band, Liima, which sounded very much like a more synth-heavy pop version of their main outfit. Released in 2019, Altid Sammen is Efterklang's fifth studio album and their first to be sung entirely in their native language. Spacious and celestial, there is a feeling of scaled-down majesty as they deliberately strip away many of the dense arrangements of previous outings and allow the breeze to gently blow through the gaps. As mood setters, Efterklang deftly set the field, creating an intimate, inviting world of warmly burbling synth arpeggios, nimbly picked guitars, clean basslines, and soft trumpet tones, while Clausen, singing in Danish, dips in and out of his airy falsetto, evoking quiet wonder on tracks like "Vi Er Uendelig" and "Uden Ansigt." Here and there, strings or brass sections puff up certain tracks, recalling some of the lushness of Piramida, but without its wintry sheen. The lovely "Hænder der Åbner Sig" builds ever so slowly from an understated vocal and organ drone into a crystalline crescendo of harp and muted brass, making for one of the more unabashedly beautiful tracks the band has recorded. Likewise, Altid Sammen's two lengthiest cuts, the seven-plus-minute "Under Broen der Ligger Du" and "Hold Mine Hænder" take a similar misty path, unfolding at their own sweet pace, at times recalling the elegant synth pop of the Blue Nile interspersed with moments of ECM-label acoustic ambience and shimmering reverence. The only thing that really holds the album back is its consistently glacial pace, which tends to blur its nine ample tracks into one ongoing movement. Still, the amount of detail and craft that goes into Efterklang's music is deeply appealing and, slow moving as it may be, listening to Altid Sammen in its entirety is time well spent. ~ Timothy Monger
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R&B - Released August 30, 2019 | 4AD

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The new pretender to the throne of experimental and indie R&B Jeremy Nutzman, a.k.a. Velvet Negroni, is the perfect representative of his time. With an ambient synth piano, downtempo percussion and a captivating voice, the African-American from Minneapolis, who was adopted by a family of white evangelical Christians, split his formative years between classical piano lessons and late night jam sessions. This duality has clearly influenced Neon Brown, a record that looks as much to contemporary urban soul as it does to indie rock. Following a tour with his friend Bon Iver and a single released on the New York label b4 in 2018, Velvet Negroni saw his work sampled by Kanye West and Kid Cudi on their joint album Kids See Ghosts. On i,i, Bon Iver invited him to sing on the track iMi and sampled from his track Waves. This time, for his debut album, Nutzman surrounds himself with producers Psymun (Young Thug, Juice WRLD, The Weeknd) and Elliott Kozel a.k.a. Tickle Torture and reveals songs that sweep away stereotypes. The harmonies of his gentle R&B blend into each other over intense rhythms. Soft dub follows electro soul. And his androgynous voice makes the tracks all the more mysterious. Merging the influence of Prince in the 80’s, The Weeknd’s futuristic R&B and Bon Iver-style electro folk, Velvet Negroni enchants us with the eclecticism of this brilliant album. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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R&B - Released August 30, 2019 | 4AD

The new pretender to the throne of experimental and indie R&B Jeremy Nutzman, a.k.a. Velvet Negroni, is the perfect representative of his time. With an ambient synth piano, downtempo percussion and a captivating voice, the African-American from Minneapolis, who was adopted by a family of white evangelical Christians, split his formative years between classical piano lessons and late night jam sessions. This duality has clearly influenced Neon Brown, a record that looks as much to contemporary urban soul as it does to indie rock. Following a tour with his friend Bon Iver and a single released on the New York label b4 in 2018, Velvet Negroni saw his work sampled by Kanye West and Kid Cudi on their joint album Kids See Ghosts. On i,i, Bon Iver invited him to sing on the track iMi and sampled from his track Waves. This time, for his debut album, Nutzman surrounds himself with producers Psymun (Young Thug, Juice WRLD, The Weeknd) and Elliott Kozel a.k.a. Tickle Torture and reveals songs that sweep away stereotypes. The harmonies of his gentle R&B blend into each other over intense rhythms. Soft dub follows electro soul. And his androgynous voice makes the tracks all the more mysterious. Merging the influence of Prince in the 80’s, The Weeknd’s futuristic R&B and Bon Iver-style electro folk, Velvet Negroni enchants us with the eclecticism of this brilliant album. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 7, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 7, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 17, 2019 | 4AD

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama
This eighth album from The National is refreshingly different, somewhat modifying the well-oiled mechanics of this American band. First and foremost, this is achieved through the presence of several female singers who support the leader Matt Berninger on most of the tracks. The most memorable are the performances of Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie’s bassist) on Had Your Soul With You, as well as the particularly poignant performances of Lisa Hannigan and Mina Tindle on So Far So East and Oblivions respectively, the latter being especially moving. Why this sudden feminine presence for an exclusively male band? It’s likely because the album was conceived after filmmaker Mike Mills asked The National to put his short film I Am Easy to Find into song form - a film which happens to be centred around a woman. It’s this relationship to images that has somewhat upended the Brooklyn band’s pop formula. There are a few references to some classics of cinema, chiefly Roman Holiday by William Wyler (1953). But apart from the new cinematic release, fans of The National will still find the legendary melancholy of the group in both the lyrics and the music. The presence of heart-wrenching strings on all the tracks (with the exception of the staccato violins on Where Is Her Head) as well as a recurring introspective piano (notably in the beautiful Light Years) will particularly be remembered. Bryan Devendorf’s singular rhythms plays on contrasts, occasionally making striking jerks (Rylan, The Pull of You) as well as adding a sensual flair (Hairpin Turns, I Am Easy to Find). © Nicolas Magenham/Qobuz  
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 17, 2019 | 4AD

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Electronic/Dance - Released May 10, 2019 | 4AD

On each of her albums, Holly Herndon thoughtfully examines the boundaries between humankind and technology, and how our innovations define us as much as we define them. She began her explorations with the sketches of physical and virtual intimacy that made up 2012's Movement and broadened her scope on 2014's Platform, where her self-surveillance of her everyday online interactions ranged from mundane to unsettling. On 2019's PROTO, she takes another significant step forward. A collaboration with Spawn, an AI that Herndon created with her partner Mat Dryhurst and programmer Jules LaPlace, her third album reflects her own evolution as an artist and thinker as it documents the project's development. As its name suggests, Herndon's neural network was in its infancy when she made PROTO. To train this cutting-edge technology, she connected it with the oldest roots of her music, and music in general: the human voice. Herndon spent her youth singing in church and secular choirs, and a major part of Spawn's education was learning how to interpret soloists and vocal groups. On choral pieces such as "Evening Shades (Live Training)," PROTO offers glimpses into these lessons that reflect not only Herndon's skills as an arranger, but the project's guiding philosophy that human and synthetic voices are more powerful together than on their own. Likewise, the album presents Spawn's growth as a creative consciousness at different stages. On "Birth," a choir surrounds her as her stuttering voice gradually assembles itself; on "Godmother," she creates fascinating, uncanny vocalizations based on song stems from Herndon and footwork producer Jlin. Meanwhile, the way "Crawler" morphs from an electronic-based duet between Herndon and Spawn to an a cappella piece feels as exploratory as creation itself. Since one of the project's primary goals was introducing Spawn to the humanity of music, it's fitting that PROTO is more melodic and spontaneous than Herndon's previous albums. "Alienation" is a strange but stately blend of choral tradition and electronic pop; along with "Eternal," it evokes Björk and Purity Ring while pushing creative technology's boundaries. One of the main reasons the album is so vital-sounding is the interplay between Herndon, Spawn, and their collaborators, a theme that PROTO explores to its fullest. Herndon expresses the theory behind it beautifully on "Extreme Love," a daringly maternal manifesto that suggests our relationship with microbes as a natural precedent for the type of connected intelligence that could occur between people and AI. On "SWIM," she puts this theory into practice, uniting a choir of human and synthetic voices in gorgeous harmony. Elsewhere, Herndon hints that living side by side with AI won't always be simple, whether on the plaintive, heavily processed "Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt" or "Last Gasp," which enmeshes a delicate vocal in grinding electronics. While PROTO could be impressive for its groundbreaking nature alone, Herndon's meditations on the relationship between humans and increasingly sentient technology are moving and filled with a sense of wonder that makes a rewarding coexistence with AI seem more than possible. ~ Heather Phares
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 3, 2019 | 4AD

Hi-Res Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
UFO we understand. But UFOF? The additional F is for Friends according to Big Thief. UFOs and friends then? The band’s singer Adrienne Laker gives us a loose explanation: “Making friends with the unknown… All my songs are about this” With the guitarist Buck Meek, the bassist Max Oleartchik and the drummer James Krivchenia, Laker releases her third album. The Brooklyn quartet’s music is a sort of folk mixed with indie rock. Without sounding too much like them, this 2019 album sometimes contains the DNA of Sonic Youth (such as on Jenni). The result is alluring, almost shimmering. But upon a closer look, “UFOF” is a bizarre and strange, almost abnormal record. And like the late Elliot Smith (Laker’s idol that one recalls on Betsy), the beautiful melodies and tremendously artisanal guitars hide an evident melancholy and unusual, unnerving situations. Perhaps that would explain the UFOs? A less ‘polished’ and luxurious record than Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017), UFOF shows a group ready to question itself and evolve its art. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 3, 2019 | 4AD

UFO we understand. But UFOF? The additional F is for Friends according to Big Thief. UFOs and friends then? The band’s singer Adrienne Laker gives us a loose explanation: “Making friends with the unknown… All my songs are about this” With the guitarist Buck Meek, the bassist Max Oleartchik and the drummer James Krivchenia, Laker releases her third album. The Brooklyn quartet’s music is a sort of folk mixed with indie rock. Without sounding too much like them, this 2019 album sometimes contains the DNA of Sonic Youth (such as on Jenni). The result is alluring, almost shimmering. But upon a closer look, UFOF is a bizarre and strange, almost abnormal record. And like the late Elliot Smith (Laker’s idol that one recalls on Betsy), the beautiful melodies and tremendously artisanal guitars hide an evident melancholy and unusual, unnerving situations. Perhaps that would explain the UFOs? A less ‘polished’ and luxurious record than Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017), UFOF shows a group ready to question itself and evolve its art. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 26, 2019 | 4AD

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The element of surprise has inevitably been lost but the magnetism remains; this girl is unstoppable. Hannah Toop aka Aldous Harding reinterprets a tried and tested formula. Accompanied again by John Parish, PJ Harvey’s producer, the New-Zealander favors eccentric harmonies that are as rugged as they are stirring to create a sublime sound that distinguishes her from other songwriters. After her breakup with Marlon Williams, Aldous delivers a painstakingly melancholic opus that, at times, exhibits a darker side (Pilot) as well as lighter tones (The Barrel) through tracks that are packed with raw emotion despite the blunt and unfiltered lyrics. After an eponymous first album and the revelatory Party released on 4AD, Harding has realized a third success with the very succinct Designer. © Charlotte Saintoin/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 26, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 19, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 19, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 1, 2019 | 4AD

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Alternative & Indie - Released March 1, 2019 | 4AD

Rema-Rema's Wheel in the Roses was the first release of original material on 4AD proper, following four singles on precursor Axis and a re-press of AXIS 3, Bauhaus' "Dark Entries." Issued post-breakup, as various members headed off for a series of near and distant destinations including Adam and the Ants, Mass and Wolfgang Press, Dorothy and Psychic TV, and Renegade Soundwave, the 1980 EP is significant for more than its early role in a major subcultural force. Label co-founder Ivo Watts-Russell considered it a turning point, and little contact is needed to understand its relevance to the post-punk era at large. Split between studio and live recordings, this is chock-full of delightfully sludgy rhythms with piercing synthesizer and pell-mell piano, variably taut-riffing and squalling guitar, and shared vocals that simultaneously project agony, threat, and humor at sliding magnitudes. "Feedback Song" sets it off with a comic-horror introduction leading to a trudge that picks up slightly halfway through, only to slow back down, allowing Gary Asquith to resume hectoring with a carnival barker-style cadence. More animated is "Rema-Rema" itself -- a pummeling and unintelligible invocation of some sort, the era's "Louie Louie." The B-side is live, evident only with one faint hint of appreciation, instantly drowned out by a shock of noise and a droll "Welcome" from the stage. "Instrumental," a death disco number with words ("You kicked me right between the eye," etc.), developed out of the band's attempt at covering the very different Dr. Who theme. Ending the EP is the crawling ballad "Fond Affections," its electric jolts made all the more startling by a considered directness regarding a separation. Aided in part by a solemn cover of "Fond Affections" by Watts-Russell's This Mortal Coil, a Big Black rampage through "Rema-Rema," and eventual scarcity -- only one 12" re-press, presumably instigated by the TMC version -- Wheel in the Roses became a collector's item. In 2003, 4AD issued it on compact disc in an edition of 1,000. Supply did not meet demand. Sixteen years later, after working in cooperation with Gary Asquith, 4AD recirculated the EP as part of the 2019 anthology Fond Reflections, which compiles additional live material and rehearsal recordings (a small portion trickled out on a 2014 7" and a 2015 12" via the Inflammable Material label). There is an alternate take of each Wheel in the Roses song, plus versions of eight additional originals. Asquith and partner Takatsuna Mukai are credited with "additional production, overdubs, and treatments," but the only obvious liberties taken are the excision of the droog-like intro to "Feedback Song" and significant heft added to "Rema-Rema." Although the sound quality understandably isn't always ideal, most of the new old tracks are up to the standard of the EP, delivered in a similar state approaching delirium. "International Scale," "Lost My Way," and "Murdermuzic" especially pack a wallop. "Entry," the closest they get to pop, is viewed by drummer Dorothy Max Prior as the band's definitive track. Fair enough, as it scotched an opportunity with Charisma Records, who for some reason took exception to the kicker, "And you fuck just like Jesus Christ." Enhanced with scads of photos and Prior's illuminating liner notes, Fond Reflections counteracts the band's ephemeral and enigmatic existence. ~ Andy Kellman

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