We’ll open with Closure (Second Language), the forlorn farewell album from Anglo-French artisans Piano Magic. Over a 20-year career they’ve collaborated with everyone from Dead Can Dance to Vashti Bunyan, but their own vein of faintly depressed dark wave – they prefer “ghost rock” – has never quite drawn attention like sonic siblings Tindersticks or Luna have. Thus singer/guitarist Glen Johnson and cohorts are calling it a day, bringing their devoted cult following to tears they’d have shed anyway, listening to this. There are obligatory tales of late nights and lost love, a character on Landline who keeps the answering-machine tapes of his ex, and detailed images of less-celebrated London locales. The 11-minute title track broods like Brando hatching eggs. Their restrained angst will be missed.
Montreal’s underrated The Dears also don’t do party-hatted jollity, but their sixth album (a sequel’s already been announced) has more cohesion than their prickly, schizophrenic previous. Times Infinity Volume One (Dangerbird) still obsesses dramatically, but the husband- and-wife team blend melody with mood with their intricate guitars. I Used To Pray For The Heavens To Fall proves they’re no less jaggedly paranoid, but there’s a sense that they’ve learned accessibility. Or perhaps Volume Two will host the scary stuff.
More upbeat and flying high are The Blue Aeroplanes, Bristol’s perennial art rock pioneers, who return with their first in seven years. Welcome, Stranger! (ArtStar) whirls with their classic multiple spiralling guitars and Gerard Langley’s robustly recited poetry. Legendary live, the ensemble have sometimes struggled to match the giddying heights of 1990’s era-defining Swagger, but this brings a buzzing brouhaha of energetic existentialism.
Equally life-affirming is The Moonbears’ Let’s Get Nice With… (What’s That? Records), in which the Coventry-based charmers conjure up a time-bending whirlpool of sunbeam pop and hailstorm friction. The tensile voice and wailing saxes toss you between Cockney Rebel, Caravan and Colin Blunstone, but invent a fresh flavour of Englishness, refracted through Mars. It makes its presence felt.
As do Dutch Uncles, whose fifth album Big Balloon (Memphis Industries) may not go up, up and away as gorgeously as 2015’s O Shudder but craftily co-opts bits of Bowie and (Kate) Bush to elevate their sweet, tuneful electro swoons.
There’s epic swooning afoot on John Howard’s Across The Door Sill (Occultation), where the richly revived veteran balladeer forsakes the band format to operate solo, over five lengthy, languid pieces. Evoking the spirit of Roy Harper and Laura Nyro, they’re given wings by Howard’s wit and warmth, invoking dreams and poetry. Another door opens.