It’s either uncanny prescience or sadly predictable fanboy-ism, but I already knew at the beginning of the month what June’s featured album would be:
Shellac‘s “Excellent Italian Greyhound”.

Shellac - Excellent Italian Greyhound

It’s reviewed here, so I’ll use this opportunity to cast my eye over the best of the rest:

Could Have Been A Contender…

Nina Nastasia & Jim White : “You Follow Me” (Fatcat, 2007)
Dirty Three drummer Jim White’s incredibly expressive percussion creates the perfect backdrop for Nina Nastasia’s sparse fingerpicked guitar – sometimes providing a conventional beat, sometimes sounding like distant peals of rolling thunder, rain on a tin shack roof, or wind blowing through an autumnal forest. White has played on Nastasia’s previous 3 albums but this sounds much more of a collaboration, resulting in a stark, minimalist (but certainly not empty) album of gothic folk. As with other Nastasia releases, the sound has been captured by the peerless Steve Albini. I’m also pretty taken with the album artwork, by New York artist Jos. A. Smith.

Crippled Black Phoenix : “A Love Of Shared Disasters” (Invada, 2007)
Crippled Black Phoenix was hatched by ex-Electric Wizard & Iron Monkey drummer Justin Greaves with help from friend Dominic Aitchison (Mogwai‘s bassist). CBP has none of the crushing heaviness of those bands, instead these “endtime ballads” (created with help from several more collaborators) are an intruiging mix of apocalyptic folk, drone, gothic soundscapes and ‘classic rock’, using a mix of conventional amplified instruments alongside Victoriana like accordian, glockenspiel, saw and harmonium. At nearly 77 minutes long this album is epic in length but also in scope and my interest doesn’t wane – even if the more overtly ‘classic rock’ moments are less my bag, there are plenty of diverse elements to capture the imagination: the Nordic chanting aboard a creaking Viking boat, a Tennyson text set to a piano-led Explosions In The Sky-like backing, the mournful trumpet ‘n glockenspiel ‘n strings of “I’m Almost Home”…

Future Conditional : “We Don’t Just Disappear” (LTM, 2007)
Future Conditional is a Piano Magic-side project featuring PM mainman Glen Johnson and keyboardist Cédric Pin, and even shares a song (“The Last Engineer”) with the Piano Magic album referenced below. Johnson’s lyrical concerns remain much the same as those of Piano Magic, but here these nostalgic tales of inadequacy, alienation, wanderlust and librarians are enveloped in the “retro-futurist” electro-pop of early-80s synthwielders like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Human League, Section 25, Yazoo, Kraftwerk (even going so far as to completely rip-off the intro beat from “Blue Monday” in “Substance Fear”). This is much more than just homage/pastiche though – in Johnson’s own words, this is about “experimenting with the glacial electro/human emotional interface”.

Piano Magic : “Part Monster” (Green UFOs, 2007)
As Piano Magic has settled into a consistent line-up (unchanged since late 2004), so too has their sound taken on a more rock-oriented quality (with Glen Johnson exploring his electronica/electro-pop urges in side-projects Textile Ranch and Future Conditional). “Part Monster” is Piano Magic‘s most accessible release to date, more indierock than the ‘Kraftwerkian Meccano Pop’ or frail 4AD-isms of previous output, but still very much Piano Magic: shimmering Durutti Column guitars, Peter Hook-ish basslines, tribal rhythms, big-boned synth washes, angelic (Angèle-ic) vocals, and wry, self-deprecating musings on the likes of England falling down, physical ailments, and the loneliness of urban life. This deserves to find a bigger audience than a release from this criminally-underrated band (sadly) likely will.