ENVY – ‘THE FALLEN CRIMSON’ (PELAGIC)

Tokyo’s envy combined post-hardcore with post-rock long before bands like Pianos Become the Teeth started doing it. With a new line-up in place, the band’s seventh full-length album, their first since ‘Atheist’s Cornea’ (2015), is a real return to form. Opener ‘Statement of Freedom’ demonstrates their guitarists’ talents for juxtaposing heavy riffing during a song’s abrasive passages with melodic refrains during its contemplative moments. Frontman Tetsuya Fukagawa’s alternately screamed (‘Fingerprint Mark’) and spoken (‘Eternal Memories and Reincarnation’) vocals are effective throughout, successfully conveying angst, fury, and tenderness in a manner akin to Deafheaven’s George Clarke and La Dispute’s Jordan Dreyer. The melodic and heavy guitars work in lockstep on ‘Memories and the Limit’ before the epic finale of ‘A Step in the Morning Glow’. On ‘The Fallen Crimson’, envy confirm their status as masters of the style they originated. 8/10

CIRCA WAVES – ‘SAD HAPPY’ (PIAS)

Having dropped the ‘happy’ part of their ‘Sad Happy’ album in January, March sees Liverpool indie rockers Circa Waves release the ‘sad’ second half. ‘Happy’ is full of identikit-sounding guitars and overly repetitive choruses, a tendency exemplified well by songs like ‘Be Your Drug’. The summery vibes of tracks like ‘Move to San Francisco’, ‘Call Your Name’, and ‘Wasted on You’ are undermined by vocals from frontman Kieran Shudall which can sound contrived and insincere, and glossy production values. ‘Sad’ comprises songs that sound like the more wistful offerings from a band like Starsailor, ‘Sympathy’ and closer ‘Birthday Cake’ being good examples, while others like ‘Hope There’s a Heaven’ have their tragic subject matter belied by their anthemic arrangements. ‘Sad Happy’ is a decent enough concept album but the first half’s contrived sunniness renders the second half’s impact sub-optimal. 6/10

THE ORIELLES – ‘DISCO VOLADOR’ (HEAVENLY)

February can be a miserable time of year for many but luckily Halifax indie pop quartet The Orielles are putting paid to that by releasing a second full-length album more ‘summery’ than many summer pop hits. Opener ‘Come Down on Jupiter’ sounds like St Etienne mixing it up with 1960s film score composer Roy Budd. Björk producer Marta Salogni really does a good job of layering lush strings and saxophones over disco-adjacent songs like ‘Bobbi’s Second World’. The whole album successfully marries mid-80s dream pop with late 70s disco. ‘7th Dynamic Goo’ is particularly evocative of times happier and sunnier than our current Brexit-encompassed misery and would have made for a better finale than the anti-climactic ‘Space Samba’. This sort of music isn’t normally my bag, but ‘Disco Volador’ lifted my spirits and got my toes tapping. 7/10

DESERT SESSIONS – ‘VOLS. 11 & 12’ (MATADOR)

In the late 90s and early 00s, Queens of the Stone Age frontman and Eagles of Death Metal drummer Joshua Homme would periodically take time off from QOTSA and record two volumes of songs with notable friends from his native Palm Desert, California’s music scene under the name ‘Desert Sessions’. These volumes would be released individually as EPs and as halves of albums. Ten of them were released between 1997 and 2003 before the project was put on hiatus. Now volumes 11 and 12 are finally here, featuring appearances from Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, comedian Matt Berry, and many others. Vol. 11 opens with the synthey ‘Move Together’ and the garagey ‘Noses in Roses, Forever’. EODM and latter-day QOTSA fans should like the latter song. ‘Far East for the Trees’ sounds like an early QOTSA instrumental while lead vocalist Libby Grace diversifies the sound on the torch song ‘If You Run’. Vol. 12 opener ‘Crucifire’ is an up-tempo garage rocker with falsetto lead vocals from Kerr. ‘Chic Tweetz’ is an annoying comedy song with vocals from Berry and an amorous-sounding professor character called Töôrnst Hülpft. ‘Something You Can’t See’ recalls 70s yacht rock ballads while ‘Easier Said Than Done’ concludes proceedings with Homme crooning the collection’s most earnest vocals by far. This is an interesting curio (and possibly wasn’t intended to be more than that) but something that doesn’t bear comparison with Homme’s strongest work. 6/10

GOD DAMN – ‘GOD DAMN’ (ONE LITTLE INDIAN)

Wolverhampton heavy rockers God Damn’s 2016 sophomore effort, ‘Everything Ever’, saw them attract critical acclaim for their innovative throwback sound which blended disparate influences from the worlds of 70s heavy metal and 90s grunge and noise rock, but they’ve gone a little quiet since then. They’re now back with their highly listenable self-titled third album. The record is split neatly between high-octane, heavy tracks like opener ‘Dreamers’, with its thunderous guitars and breakneck drums, the riff-heavy ‘We Are One’, the boogie-woogieish ‘Mirror Balls’, and epic closer ‘Satellite Prongs’, and lighter, more reflective songs like ‘See You Next Tuesday’, ‘Hi Ho Zero’, and ‘Tiny Wings’. The latter song even incorporates unexpected instrumentation like strings and electro-acoustic guitars so as to smooth away some of the album’s rougher edges. Guitarists Thom Edwards and James Brown prove themselves equally capable of handling more nuanced playing styles on songs like these as they do bludgeoning riffs on the higher-octane tracks. With this album, God Damn have made good on the promise of ‘Everything Ever’ and created a record that captures the atmosphere and musicianship of their incendiary live shows. 8/10

OH SEES – ‘FACE STABBER’ (CASTLE FACE)

This is Oh Sees’ 22nd studio album in 16 years. It sees the San Franciscan garage quintet transition away from the jangly guitar rock that earned them critical praise and modest chart success in the mid-2010s and towards a more funk-leaning sound that feels like the band have been watching a lot of 70s cop thrillers. John Dwyer’s guitar cuts all sorts of jagged figures across ‘Gholü’, ‘Heartworm’, and the first three songs, before Tomas Dolas’ organ and synth playing comes into its own on ‘Snickersnee’, ‘Psy-Ops Dispatch’, and ‘Fu Xi’, and ‘Scutum & Scorpius’ incorporates some swamp rock jamming. ‘Henchlock’, a 21-minute, Rolling Stones-meets-Isaac Hayes druggy funk epic, closes proceedings. ‘Face Stabber’ isn’t of consistently good quality, but full marks must be given to Oh Sees for being this open to experimentation 22 years into their career. 7/10

CHELSEA WOLFE – ‘BIRTH OF VIOLENCE’ (SARGENT HOUSE)

For her sixth studio album, Sacramento, California-raised singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe eschews her last two albums’ ventures into metal terrain and returns to the dark, folksy, acoustic sound for which she became known in the early 2010s. Her voice is thoroughly haunting and enchanting, particularly on songs like ‘American Darkness’, ‘When Anger Turns to Horror’, ‘Little Grave’, and the title track. Whilst the electronic instrumentation on ‘Erde’ and ‘Dirt Universe’ allows Wolfe to keep a foot in the coldwave camp with which her recent albums have flirted, the pianos and strings on ‘Preface to a Dream Play’ resemble a horror movie score, before her voice assumes a soothing, 7/10 lullabye-like quality on ‘Highway’. As fans have come to expect, this is dark, gloomy (but never maudlin) material. However, Wolfe’s delivery of it is always engaging and darkly beautiful. 7/10

MUDHONEY – ‘MORNING IN AMERICA’ (SUB POP)

The seven songs on this EP were culled from the recording sessions for long-standing Seattle grunge quartet Mudhoney’s critically well received tenth album, 2018’s ‘Digital Garbage’. The songs have a very alluring, boogie-woogieish sound to them, with thick, crunching riffs, particularly opener ‘Vortex of Lies’, which previously appeared on a limited edition 7”. ‘Creeps Are Everywhere’ is a fun, two-minute garage stomper, as is a cover of Swedish garage rockers The Leather Nun’s ‘Ensam I Natt’. Album track ‘Kill Yourself Live’ reappears in an alternative version. The prog rock turn taken by Mark Arm and Steve Turner’s guitars on the title track, ‘One Bad Actor’, and to a lesser extent ‘Snake Oil Charmer’ is a drawback, but not a major one. Overall, ‘Morning in America’ showcases far more consistent songwriting and musicianship than ‘Digital Garbage’ did. 8/10

TITUS ANDRONICUS – AN OBELISK (MERGE)

Following last year’s ‘A Productive Cough’ which eschewed the singalong anthems they became known for in the late 00s, New Jersey punk/indie rockers Titus Andronicus resume rabble-rousing on this, their sixth full-length album. With a four-man line-up in place and Husker Du legend Bob Mould producing, this is the band’s shortest and (they feel) most stripped-down album yet. However, the band are keen to point out that this is no straightforward reversion. ‘An Obelisk’ is a concept album addressing what frontman Patrick Stickles calls “the ideology of ‘punk’”, specifically the way in which the punk rock subculture allows abuses of power despite supposedly being non-hierarchical. Openers ‘Just Like Ringing a Bell’ and ‘Troubleman Unlimited’ are enjoyable songs that rattle along at a decent enough mid-tempo pace with the bass low down in the mix and the guitars alternately crunching and chiming. ‘I Blame Society’ is faster and angrier and ‘My Body and Me’ takes the tempo down before ‘Hey Ma’ concludes side one with some catchy Dropkick Murphys-esque lead guitar. ‘Beneath the Boot’ and ‘On the Street’ are short, punchy, pub rock shoutalongs. ‘Within the Gravitron’, ‘The Lion Inside’, and ‘Tumult Around the World’ are equally anthemic but considerably longer. ‘An Obelisk’ is an enjoyable collection of catchy, jangly indie/punk songs with clean production values and an interesting narrative thread linking them that should appeal to fans of Titus Andronicus’ early work. 8/10