My Twitter feed has been jammed with people talking about one central topic this past week: the John Lewis Christmas Advert. Has this become a thing? Have we so lost sight of tradition through our free market capitalism that we no longer see Christmas as a magical time? A time when people come together for one single, special event which we can all share - the first airing of the Coca-Cola Christmas Advert? It's enough to make you give up on humanity. If you're thinking of going full-on misanthrope - whether that takes the form of total isolation in a Justin Vernon-alike remote wood cabin, or some sort of Nugent-tinged vigilante killing spree - I'd recommend you first give a listen to this week's new album streams. Perhaps they might return your belief in the pure creative goodness of humankind; or maybe they'd make a good soundtrack to you burning down a Starbucks. Your choice.
Crystal Castles - III (Spotify)
Apparently Alice Glass is leaning more towards the "the world is a god-awful dystopia and I no longer what any part of it" side of things, so we're lucky that instead of resorting to self-immolation, her and Ethan Khan just decided to make another album that sounds like ProTools being set on fire instead. It probably goes without saying at this juncture that you'll probably hate this album if you hated the rest of Crystal Castles' confusingly self-titled output to this point. If you're a more enlightened individual, meanwhile, you'll revel in the new dark depths they sink too, along a slippery slope of noises that seem to have come off of the soundtrack to a Silent Hill game, Glass's vocals shrouded in the sort of fog that blankets that spooky digital town. Then there's also stuff like 'Kerosene' which is the sort of thing goths would dance to in a club, if they knew how to do anything other than mosh.
New Fumes with The Flaming Lips - Playing Hide and Seek With the Ghost of Dawn (Satellite Heart Radio)
Sometimes I miss the days when The Flaming Lips made actual albums. Although, the more they do weird shit like sticking albums on USB sticks and implanting them in gummi skulls, the weirder at seems that a band so warped ever made traditional (in the loosest sense of the word) albums. Their latest full-length another collaboration with some heady fewnds - in fact, it's barely a Lips album at all. Each track of King Crimson's "classic" (my Dad's words) In The Court of the Crimson King) is covered by a different band, although apparently head Lips Wayne Coyne had a hand in each; but I hadn't heard of New Fumes, Linear Downfall or Spaceface before, so I decided to bury that lead. I had, however, heard of Stardeath and White Dwarfs (it's a name that sticks in your memory), since they previously worked with Coyne and co on an earlier do-over, of Dark Side of the Moon; this interpretation is similarly radical, similarly insanely psychedelic, and similarly niche.
Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas Volumes 6-10 (Bandcamp)
Oh sure Sufjan, you've got time to record five more albums about Christmas, but as for the other 48 US states you've yet to musically chronicle? Tsk. Delaware's still waiting with bated breath, y'know? These musicians, eh. Think they can do what they want, when they want. In Mr Steven's defence, your honour, his second Songs for Christmas compilation is a cut above your usual festive fare, again comprising both originals and classic carols performed in a straight, traditional style closer to Seven Swans than The Age of Adz, more's the pity (I must admit, in the name of music journalistic integrity - that's meant to be a joke - that I didn't actually listen to all 58 tracks. I'm a busy guy. There's episodes of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain that I've yet to watch. What I heard was good though!)
Björk - bastards (The Guardian)
Wash that potty Icelandic pixie mouth out with soap! Or whatever the Icelandic pixie equivalent of soap is. If the album title is any indication, Björk has absolutely no respect for the efforts of the talented bunch she someone charmed into remixing her most recent LP Biophilia, including (but not limited to) Hudson Mohawke's restrained and moody take on 'Virus', Death Grips's unsurprisingly unrestrained and unhinged messing about of 'Sacrifice' and 'Thunderbolt', and These New Puritans' typically scary/sexy/weird percussion-lead editing of 'Mutual Core'. It's okay guys, we all appreciate your hard work, even if she doesn't.
The Evens - The Odds (NPR)
Surprisingly for a guy who doesn't drink, smoke, do drugs, have hair, and just turned 50, Ian Mackaye remains a pretty exciting guy. A fair few years on from the halcyon days of Minor Threat and Fugazi, the Dischord figurehead is married - to fellow DC hardcore scene totem, Amy Farina - and the pair make music as The Evens. The Odds (oho my sides have split) is their third album together, and is pretty fascinating as a musical portrait that's never really been accurately captured before: what do the rebellious punks do when they're grown up, and kicking against the pricks seems a little...hokey? Unlike the majority of their peers, they choose not to take refuge in the shaky structures of their past like sad old bastards, but powered on forward. Which is rather refreshing. Mackaye sings (sort of) rather than shouts, the music has some space to breath rather than accelerating at break-neck hardcore speeds, and the social commentary is a little more nuanced, a little more didactic. Punk's not dead, it's just got a mortgage and a subscription to The New Statesman.
School of Seven Bells - Put Your Sad Down (Soundcloud)
If you want something that's tonally the polar opposite to Crystal Castles, whilst still using the same sort of equipment then - well, you have very specific tastes, I'll give you that. And it looks like they're paying off with School of Seven Bells' new EP, which has all the eighties-suffused dark electro-pop of Alice Glass without the claustrophobic, cloying atmosphere. It's markedly catchier; or at least, the start of it is, before it slowly dissolves from a gothic dance party into a spooky, extended drone session. Good to have a bit of variety though innit? Or so my nutritionist says. (That's also a joke, I'm trying to do more of them. Is it working?)
If you find any good album streams this week, Tweet me @tennis_everyone. Mostly I spend my time on there criticising adverts.