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Harry Harland (Rome – Flowers from exile)

What’s the first thing that comes into your head when you think of Luxembourg? Wealth? EU Politics? Total irrelevance? It’s safe to say that music wouldn’t be very high on the list, no matter how long you’ve spent there, yet it is to the tiny European country that we must head for this particular band.

Rome are the project of one Luxembourger, Jérôme Reuter, and have been going for 6 years. 2009’s Flowers from exile is, I am reliably (well, Wikipedia) informed, their 4th full-length album and the first to which I have had any sort of exposure. Depending on whether or not you like this sort of thing, it is potentially an absolute masterpiece.

At this stage it’s probably important to define “this sort of thing”. The general feel of the album is one of apocalyptic gloom, albeit spliced with the sort of haunting beauty that so many bands attempt, yet few achieve. Vocally, the songs are all in English, while Reuter has the deep, rich voice that countless singers have adopted since the days of Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Yet if I had to put my finger on someone whose memory he truly evokes, it would be Leonard Cohen or Chris Rea (ask your parents…).

Every song on the album is built around these vocals supported by a simple acoustic guitar, although many of the songs are beautifully layered with atmospheric synthesizers and simple drum beats, often building to a majestic conclusion. Opening track The Accidents of Gesture is a point in case, starting out with a single repetitive guitar note and monotonous vocals before flourishing into a melancholy and fragile epic.

With the formula changing little throughout the album, despite quicker numbers like To Die Among Strangers, you could be forgiven for thinking the songs sounded the same. However further listens allow the true beauty of Reuter’s haunting songwriting to flourish. Every song is unique in a subtle yet crucial way and it makes for a terrific aural experience.

While not exactly upbeat, this is an album that would probably never have been made in the UK or America, our tastes are too obvious. In the confines of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg though, one man’s vision has been realised, and what a gift it is to the rest of us.

Ed Lines (Niki & The Dove – Mother Protect)

In three words: Ethereal electro pop. Niki & the Dove are a Swedish duo whose music recalls the unsullied nature of their homeland. Finishing 5th in the BBC’s Sound of 2012 competition, this could be a big year for them. Mother Protect is a well spent five minutes of your time. Divided into two, the track starts with an echoed percussive bass, which exposes the innocence of Dahlström’s voice. Layers of sound, including synth panpipes, are added piece-by-piece, building towards a climactic second half.

For fans of Florence + the Machine and Bat For Lashes.