Alpaca Sports – Sealed With A Kiss

A few weeks ago, an argument about the portrayal of emotions in Art ensued between a friend and myself. The basis of my – obviously correct – argument was that happiness can be quite one-dimensional while melancholy is more profound and therefore more capable of genuine poignancy. But if you keep this interpretation in mind and accept a breezy record for what it is then have no problems with Alpaca Sports’ lovable debut album.

With a name like Alpaca Sports, a debut album titled Sealed With A Kiss and an opening track called ‘Just For Fun’, you already know the tone that this twee little band from Sweden are setting. From the off, you’re warmed by a saccharine charm in the innocent nature of their cutely crafted pop songs emphasised when frontman Andreas Jonnson naïvely sings “Every tear is a lesson learned/That’s what my mama said.”

Dulcet strings, jangly guitars and lively handclaps all blend together to leave you with echoes of previous indie-pop bands like Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura and even C86 pioneers The Field Mice. It’s no wonder then that Sealed With A Kiss will have you dreaming of young love whilst singing along to reminiscing lines: “Whenever I close my eyes, I can still remember the time you put your arms around me.” For some though, the record may be too twee. You’d be forgiven for squirming at some of the lyrics.

I remember when you kissed me for the first time,
in the pouring rain
How the sunbeams used to welcome us each morning,
when I held your hand

But this is why you shouldn’t take an album like this too seriously. It’s just a little bit of innocent fun punctuated by an endearing series of pop songs that culminates with a blissful final track ‘I Was Running’. It’s not an album about meaningful themes or technical intricacies. Instead, it portrays themes typical of an indie-pop band but in a simple, innocent manner that’s reflective of young love and its many peculiar quirks. And above it all, you’ll find it very difficult not to frolic about to the spirited bounciness that’s a hallmark of all great pop songs.

A Lily – The Sparrow In The Lemon Tree

A Lily is the solo project of James Vella (of Yndi Halda and Saint Coltrane) and this is the opening track of his Lupa EP released at the tail-end of last year. A Lily sees Vella step away from the rocky edges of his previous endeavors into a blissful world of pacifying folk. Intricate instrumentation is considerately arranged in a manner that contrasts light and dark. But the organic and electronic elements aren’t in a conflict; it’s an intimate embrace that draws you into its dreamy, head-spinning world. A world you yearn for. A full-length album is imminent and we can’t wait to hear it.

IYES – ‘Til Infinity

IYES (consisting of Josh Christopher and Melis Soyaslanova) will be dropping ‘Til Infinity’ as their debut single. Earthy toms and sharp handclaps set the tone for what is a heavily percussion-driven track with layered vocals throughout. It has all the ingredients to become a big radio hit; the crisp production shimmers across the ears and Melis’ lively vocals are silky smooth delivered in an arrangement that allows the track to grown organically. If there’s space in the crowded electronic pop swarm, don’t be surprised to be hearing much more about the duo considering they only met a year ago.

Cold Crows Dead – Ghost That Burned Your House Down

Don’t shun winter. Embrace its wintry darkness with a dose of psychedelic melancholia from Brighton duo Cold Crows Dead. Murray Macleod and Paul Steel gravitate towards the psychedelic influences of Sparklehorse compounded by their use of theremins, mellotrons and analogue synths. The death of Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous was the despondent catalyst for debut album I Fear A New World. There are few tracks on the album that epitomises their diverse song-writing but opening track ‘Ghosts That Burned Your House Down’ sets the tone. The lo-fi gloom is offset by inherent pop structures with vocals that loom like a spectre of Wayne Coyne. And die-hard Beach Boys fans will be happy to hear that Stephen John Kalinich even features on the album. Quite possibly the most exciting band from the south coast this year.

Yumi And The Weather – Must I Wait

Track of the day has to be this.

Coming from the sun-dappled roots of reggae, Ruby Taylor now produces effects-drenched electronic pop under the guise of Yumi And The Weather. ‘Must I Wait’ is the highlight of three-part EP All I Can. Just grab your best headphones and shut your eyes. Ruby’s pacifying vocals and twinkling melodies swirl around each in an enchanting wonder of rumbling tones and wavy layers creating an atmosphere that seems tantalising out-of-reach yet positively tangible. And beneath it all is the bedrock of crisp beats designed not to obscure the carefully painted soundscape. A truly stunning track that must be absolutely mesmerising when interpreted with a live set. Don’t forget the name because this is big.

Patterns – This Haze

That hyperbolic old cliché “eagerly anticipated” doesn’t seem to denote time longer than a year anymore. Fans of Patterns though, have waited nearly three years for a debut LP. With a delicate blend of anthemic indie-rock and smoky electronic textures, this is a soaring sound that will have you gazing over dreamy soundscapes.

‘This Haze’ will be the opener to their debut album Waking Lines released early January via Melodic Records. Some bands, perhaps under the pressure of their label, just plop any old tracks together to make an album. From the moment ‘This Haze’ opens with its distant drones and fuzzy textures, you realise that this isn’t just track 1. It’s the opening chapter of an epic journey.

Like the first leg of an enlightening trip through remote parts of the world you didn’t even know existed, the quartet leave you with a sense of excitement and eagerness to hear what lies ahead. Along with their focus on visual aesthetics at live shows; you can imagine a Patterns gig being fantastically illuminating.

Usually, bands tend to market their album with a sun-dappled peak but this shimmering haze of drone-pop is one of the most enticing album openers you’ll hear.

Lily & Madeleine – Lily & Madeleine

Comprised of sisters braiding idyllic images with heartfelt narratives, no it’s not The Staves…or First Aid Kit. It’s Indianapolis-based folk duo Lily and Madeleine. But like a serene walk through pastoral landscapes, it’s reflective and rarely tires – well, your legs might.

As you can expect from sisters who grew up together where rainy days were perhaps unexpectedly pleasant, their harmonies fill rooms with beguilingly tender tones. But they’ve only been writing songs together for a couple of years. And what’s more, their debut EP The Weight Of The Globe was written on the weekends because homework dominated much of their weekdays. Yet on the EP’s intro:

The way you sing unlocks my heart
Just like a key, like a key
And brings you right back home to me.

Less than a year later, the sisters are due to release their self-titled debut album via Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty Records. It opens tentatively with a melancholy piano-led track while the forlorn vocals leave a heavy mark. It epitomises the maturity of the sisters’ songwriting and at times, you wonder how they could be capable of such delicate sentience.

But you soon remember that time between carefree adolescence and fully-fledged adulthood (whatever that is). Between the rays of hope and optimism, lies an air of uncertainty that hangs like the stillness of the night. This juxtaposition between light and dark is reflected in the track order.

In ‘Devil We Know’, deep piano lines and deftly picked guitars are stitched with zealous vocals. But as you delve deeper into the album, the mood grows foggier. The self-effacing optimism of ‘Nothing But Time’ is portrayed beautifully when they croon “sunlight whispers into the night”. And when ‘Spirited Away’ dances across you like a vague spectre, you begin to realise just how bewitchingly elusive their brooding sound is.

Remember when we sang
We made echoes off the greenhouse walls
The harmonies we made
Are ghosts a wandering these halls
Who wants you?
Who haunts you?

At the bottom of the misty valley lies [a] ‘Disappearing Heart’ where stripped-back arrangements forces the listener to confront heart-aching vocals about the struggles of identity: “Why can’t I be what you want me to be?”

But at the peak, the obscure haze is cleared by ‘I’ve Got Freedom’ and ‘Come To Me’ which shine like beacons of hope in blue-skied alpines. The former, a cathartic release from a relationship while the latter’s focus is on the spellbinding allure of Lily & Madeleine’s uplifting harmonies.

If the sky was falling over us
If the ground below us turned to dust
Would you come to me
Would you come to me

Throughout the album, you’re left with memorable impressions elegantly glazed in rich poetic lines. It culminates in ‘You Got Out’ delivered with wispy affection strung by Lily’s soothing acoustic guitar. And the manner in which the sisters harmonise here is simply enchanting.

So dark that night you sang into that telephone
That song is something I can’t lose
So dark that night you lost the handle while I wrote this
I can’t disconnect the two

But before you’ve finished absorbing the dreamy mystery, secret track ‘Token’ drifts about with a beautifully opaque tone captured again by the ethereal vocals. The whole experience is concocted with a translucence that transcends their age. Some teenagers might struggle to contemplate and appreciate the maudlin themes yet we have two here who can paint them into illuminating soundscapes.