Album of the week (10 May): USA Nails – Life Cinema

USA Nails - Life Cinema album cover

The fourth album from noise rockers USA Nails is only 25 minutes long, but during that time they manage to pack in a hell of a lot of riotous bass and crashing guitars. While hugely enjoyable, I got the feeling that the album was kept deliberately short in order to preserve our hearing and mental health.

From the off with Creative Industries we are presented with a bass line that demands your attention and all-consuming, wildly distorted guitars that just don’t quit until the very end. It’s quite an oppressive, head-pounding experience, and probably not one for those who are looking for a gentler introduction to the world of post-punk.

Singer Steven Hodson also does a sterling job shouting his way through the album, but you get the feeling he is just trying to make himself heard over everything else that’s going on.

At points when listening to this I did catch myself thinking, ‘Wow! This is intense’ and there isn’t much, if any, let up in that intensity. There are times, such as on standout track Work Drinks when the guitars take a slightly lighter touch and the approach of the bass is different – that’s as close to a moment of respite as you get. Similarly, title track Life Cinema, with its mantra of ‘Tune in and turn off’, offers a bit more structure that gives you something to grab on to.

By the close of the album, which finishes with a humorous 8-bit take on Life Cinema, you are left exhausted and elated, but also slightly relieved.

Release date: 10 May 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Work Drinks

For fans of:

  • Christian Fitness
  • Prettiest Eyes
  • Crows

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (03 May): Viagra Boys – Street Worms

Viagra Boys - Street Worms album cover

Stockholm seems to be the place to be right now if you’re looking for new and inventive post-punk bands. Following on from FEWS releasing one of my favourite albums of the year so far, we now have Viagra Boys ploughing their own heavy guitar furrow to great effect.

There’s a touch of surrealism across debut album Street Worms and the occasional use of saxophone makes for some interesting moments – setting this effort apart from releases by bands of a similar ilk.

The thing that drives this album, however, is the incredibly infections and super-dirty bass that you just can’t help falling for and the almost pub-rock croonings of vocalist Sebastian Murphy, which he manages to sell perfectly.

From opener Down In The Basement, with its high tempo hi-hats, right through to the hypnotic instrumental LP closer Amphetanarchy we are treated to a masterclass in scuzzed-out bass and guitars that worm their way inside you and stick their hooks in.

Highlights along the way include Sports (see video below), in which Murphy does his very best Iggy Pop impression, and Slow Learner, which instantly transports you to a crowded, sweaty, dirty dive bar to pogo along with the heaving masses.

Standout track Shrimp Shack offers a touch of humour, with Murphy telling us how he’s ‘Surfing with your mom in the dirt’, while the second half of the track is dedicated to a good ‘ol instrumental wig-out.

I’m a massive proponent of vinyl, but it’s a shame that it can’t find room for the five additional bonus tracks available on CD and digital. There are some corkers in there too, including some proper bouncy punk numbers like Jungle Man, Up All Night and the broody but infectious Special Helmet.

A proper treat for the ears this one.

Release date: 03 May 2019

Rating: 8.5/10

Standout track: Shrimp Shack

For fans of:

  • FEWS
  • Iggy Pop
  • Fontaines D.C.

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End of Suffering

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - End of Suffering album cover

It’s been a decade since Frank Carter, then front man of hardcore-punk outfit Gallows released the utterly-brilliant Grey Britain. It’s been a funny old 10 years for him since, musically speaking.

After leaving Gallows in 2011 citing musical differences, he had a decent crack at more radio friendly alt-rock with Pure Love before returning with current project Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.

Debut album ‘Blossom’ signalled a return to the snarling angry, screaming Carter we had grown to love in Gallows. Songs on fear of death, songs of hate and anger – all delivered with Carter’s trademark vocal yell. One track, ‘Paradise’, even recording him spitting on the floor during a moment of quiet as he railed against those who matryr themselves in the name of religion.

Second album ‘Modern Ruin’ showed a more tender side, less screaming but still delivered with enough bite to keep fans of his edgier side on board.

However, latest release End of Suffering has seen Carter go all out stadium rock on us. The punky aggression of the debut album has gone completely, as has Carter’s snarling vocal style, replaced by what can only be described as a fairly average croon. We’ve seen this vocal style before on previous albums, especially with Pure Love, but it has normally been balanced out with more spiker stuff.

There’s little of that on show here. The closest he comes is on Crowbar, where at one point he almost sounds angry and manages to throw in a few swear words here and there.

The rest of the album is fairly standard, though competent, heavy rock. Not necessarily any better or worse than a Muse or a Manic Street Preachers.

Having seen Carter live before, his sets are full of energy and agression. How the slew of slower, softer songs on this album, such as Anxiety, Angel Wings, Supervillain, Little Devil and title track End of Suffering, fit into these gigs I’m unsure (they are playing The Great Escape fesitval next weekend, so I might drop by and find out).

During Kitty Sucker, one of the livelier moments of the album, Carter bellows out ‘I’m a punk rock renegade’. Maybe once Frank, but I ain’t feeling it no more.

Release date: 03 May 2019

Rating: 5/10

Standout track: Crowbar

For fans of:

  • Manic Street Preachers
  • Royal Blood
  • Gallows

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (26 April): Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation – Sacred Dreams

This is the third studio album from Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation, and while it’s not a perfect piece of pop, there’s enough sophistication here to make it stand out from the rest of this week’s releases.

Sacred Dreams takes us through the realms of electro-pop and lazy, hazy country blues desertscapes – all with a dash of psychedelia thrown in.

The album does feel a little front loaded, as most of the best moments feature early on. Opener Feel The Sun borrows heavily on the Goldfrapp model of crowd-pleasing blissful pop. Then follows an unnecessarily early keyboard and effect laden interlude before we are hit with standout track I Can Feel It, featuring a pounding bass drum, incessant keyboard tones and layered harmonics. The hypnotic chorus is fabulous.

The danceable electro-pop theme continues with Desire, Öhrn’s breathy vocal style working particularly well here with the french lyrics in the verses.

The second act of the album signals a change of pace – Hey Little Boy is a slower track with a country blues feel to the guitar work, though there’s still a hint of pulsating synth to be found.

Only Lovers leans heavily on a spacious folky acoustic guitar to match the echo-laden vocal and moves away from the beat-driven tracks before it. The tempo ups slightly with Baby Come On, a blues-rock number featuring some interesting keyboard work and good layering of sound.

However, things start to get a little flabby towards the end. New Horizons is a fairly standard low-key pop number, while Let It Come and Whatever You Want don’t really add anything extra.

The main saving grace of the latter part of the album is Caramel Head, that uses lazy, hazy slide guitar to let you drift away to another plane.

It’s not going to be my album of the year, or even the month, but I reckon some of these tracks will stay with me for some time.

Release date: 26 April 2019

Rating: 7.5/10

Standout track: I Can Feel It

For fans of:

  • Goldfrapp
  • Lorelle Meets The Obselete
  • Ladytron

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Various artists – For The Throne (Music Inspired By The HBO Series Game Of Thrones)

For The Throne album cover

First things first – I really enjoyed ‘The Long Night’. [SPOILER ALERT] It might have been dark in places, surely that was the point, and it might have brought one major element of the story to an end sooner than many had expected but as a piece of event TV it was simply brilliant.

Right, back to the music. For The Throne is not a soundtrack featuring music from the series, rather a collection of songs from a range of artists that have taken elements of the series as their inspiration for tracks.

As musical rosters go, there’s quite a few well-known names on here, such as Mumford & Sons, Ellie Goulding, The National, SZA, and The Lumineers, to name but a few. Stylistically, the over-arching theme is pop in its many guises. Think of it as a ‘Now! That’s What I Call Game of Thrones‘ if you will.

With all that said, the potential for this to be disastrous is huge, but actually it’s carried off quite well. There are some good, atmospheric folky numbers such as opener Kingdom of One by Maren Morris, and Love Can Kill from Lennon Stella. This is interspersed with hip-hop and R&B pop from the likes of Ellie Goulding, SZA and the providers of the album’s standout track Chloe x Halle.

While never straying away from its poppy heart we do get some different styles in the form of some Gospel-pop similar to Rag ‘n Bone Man from X Ambassadors a bit of latino salsa from Rosalia and the faint whiff of rock from Lil Peep.

Regrettably there’s no ‘Hands of Gold’ as sung by Ed Sheeran from his universally panned cameo in season seven. To make up for it, they instead closed the album with Muse front man Matt Bellamy providing us with his usual bombast and over-earnestness while singing over a prayer in High Valaerian. We would expect nothing less.

It’s not an instant classic, but is enjoyable and as it largely stays away from laying on the GoT references too thickly, it can be enjoyed by most anyone. It’s also much shorter than an average episode so doesn’t outstay its welcome. Well worth a try if you like your pop and dragons.

Release date: 26 April 2019

Rating: 7/10

Standout track: Wolf at Your Door

For fans of:

  • Mumford & Sons
  • The National
  • SZA

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (12 April): The Chemical Brothers – No Geography

The Chemical Brothers - No Geography album cover

The Brothers are back and, boy, have they worked it out. No Geography is their ninth studio album and probably the best in nearly 20 years (that it’s been two decades since Surrender was released is now worrying me quite a bit). In order to regain their mojo
Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, a.k.a The Chemical Brothers have back to their roots, giving us some absolute classic bangers along with some soulful, funky disco numbers. Whatever direction they take us on this album – and there are a few – you can’t help but feel that they enjoyed putting it together as much as I enjoyed listening to it. In case it needs clarifying, I enjoyed it a lot.

Eve Of Destruction kicks us off, a cracking disco stomp featuring some seriously funky bass, 90s-style house synths and soulful vocals. Close your eyes (and turn up the heat somewhat) and you could be back in the Haçienda, yet the track manages to maintain a distinctly modern feel to it at the same time.

There’s no pause for breath as we move seamlessly into the next track, Bango, a bongo-laden effort that continues with the funky bass and house synth themes from before. This time we are treated to a strong dose of the Chems’ trademark squelches and random add-on effects. It’s a nice call-back on previous works, but on this album I’m happy that it’s more of an occasional visitor rather than an ever-present.

Yet again, there’s no break as we are introduced to title track No Geography, a more stripped back, emotive piece that samples poet Michael Brownstein to create a heartfelt work without dropping the tempo.

Finally, the opening mix ends, but there’s still little time for rest as we are treated to recent single Got To Keep On, another euphoric house/disco work of genius that has a smattering of 70s to it and a cracking vocal sample that makes the track. Very nearly my standout track.

The pace slows slightly over the next couple of tracks, with Gravity Drops taking a more languid approach and relying heavily on drawn-out synth notes and a bubbling bass track to make it’s mark. The Universe Sent Me is a (very) slow builder, using a juicy post-punk bass line and the ethereal vocals of Norweigan singer-songwriter Aurora to take you on a journey that adds layer upon layer of sound over you until you are completely immersed in a dreamy headspace.

We’ve Got To Try features some yummy deep acid notes and twisted synths alongside some funky soul, with olny the slower tempo stopping it from being a proper stomper.

But now we enter classic Chems territory. Firstly we have single Free Yourself, featuring an arpeggiating synth line, acid working away in the background and the occasional full-on sonic assault, all tied together by a simple vocal loop. Majestic.

This paves the way for MAH, a proper old-skool acid-techno banger that will have any dancefloor anywhere throwing their hands in the air in rapture. It’s proper rave material that makes me smile whenever I listen to it (and that’s been quite a lot recently).

Catch Me I’m Falling provides a low-key close to the album, a slower track featuring the dream-pop vocals of Stephanie Dosen. This isn’t an unfamiliar approach from the boys and again, provides a nod to what’s come before.

I’ll have to see how this opus plays over time, but right now it’s placed itself as a strong contender for album of the year.

Release date: 12 April 2019

Rating: 9/10

Standout track: MAH

For fans of:

  • Underworld
  • Leftfield
  • Orbital

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

The debut album from Dublin-based four piece Fontaines D.C. has been highly anticipated by those with their ear to the ground. Obviously that means this is the first I’ve heard of them, but I’m very glad to make their acquaintance.

Dogrel is at heart a slab of highly entertaining post-punk but manages to draw influences from various styles along the way.

Opening track Big shows their punk credentials while also rooting the band as distinctly Irish, both in the vocal stylings of singer Grian Chatten and in the slight Gaelic folk undertone running through the tune. Chatten’s drawling regional singing gives the whole album a whiff of The Pogues running through it.

This folkiness is apparent across the platter, with the likes of Television Screens and Dublin City Sky featuring it particularly strongly. But there are other strings to this band’s bow (or fiddle).

The Lotts borrows heavily from early Cure in the rhythm section, low key but relentless. This is matched in tempo by the vocals, before drifting towards a hypnotic, head-nodding conclusion. Sha Sha Sha is a chugging number that has more than a hint of blues to it while Liberty Belle smacks of Green Day and american skater punk.

It’s when Fontaines D.C. are playing on the heavier side of post-punk that the album truly comes alive. Hurricane Laughter, for instance, features a fantastic dirty bass line and a brilliant guitar riff reminiscent of the work of FEWS. Standout track Chequeless Reckless operates firmly in punk territory – as does the high tempo jangly guitars of Boys in the Better Land.

There are few bum notes on this album, but when the tempo slows, the noise abates slightly and the vocals come more to the fore, on tracks such as Too Real and Roy’s Tune, then the weakness in Chatten’s voice is exposed. Clearly, vocal perfection is not a pre-requisite for punk, but it might be better not to highlight this as much as this album does.

That said, I can see Dogrel staying on my playlist for some time.

Release date: 12 April 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Chequeless Reckless

For fans of:

  • IDLES
  • Shame
  • The Pogues

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (05 April): JAWS – The Ceiling

JAWS - The Ceiling album cover

This is the third full length outing from Brummie indie-rock trio JAWS and this album displays enough maturity and song craft to justify it as album of the week in what turned out to be quite a strong shortlist.

The Ceiling has just enough dreaminess, grunge and shoegaze to push a lot of my buttons, and in many ways is quite reminiscent of the work of Shame, who also produced a strong album with Songs of Praise last year.

It takes a little while for this album to get going. Driving at Night offers us some warm familiar tones, with a classic jangly indie guitar riff, while Feel has a distinct Foals feel to it with its poppy chorus and slightly staccato rhythm section.

All very nice so far, though not necessarily blowing your socks off, but the album keeps growing as you listen.

With Do You Remember? we get our first taste of some heavier grungy rhythm guitars, albeit balanced out by some lighter lead guitar work at first but as the song gets into gear the heavier tones dominate and we end up with a bit of a stomper.

Fear offers us laid back grooves alongside lighter touch guitars that really sweep you up as the song motors along. End of the World has some Slowdive influence at the start with some echo laden guitars complementing Connor Schofield’s vocals before the song veers off into a satisfyingly heavy area.

Two more indie classics follow, Patience offers us beats, whereas Looking / Passing has a more atmospheric start. But however build well as the songs progress leaving us well happy by the end.

Strangely, title track The Ceiling is probably the weakest track on the album – a lower key number that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Please Be Kind is another classic indie belter with an anthemic wall of sound guitar laden chorus, while closer January is another groove-laden number after a slower start.

Ultimately this is an indie album, pure and simple. But it is good to see that there are still some newer bands injecting a bit of fresh life into a mature genre at a time when some of the old names are coming back out of the woodwork to reclaim their territory.

Release date: 05 April 2019

Rating: 7.5/10

Standout track: Do You Remember?

For fans of:

  • Shame
  • Foals
  • Slowdive

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (29 March): Lower Slaughter – Some Things Take Work

This four piece based in Brighton and Glasgow certainly enjoy to walk on the heavier side of the musical highway and Lower Slaughter‘s sophomore release revels in doomy, sludgy, brilliant riffs enhanced by the spiky growling vocals of Sinead Young.

I loved debut album, What Big Eyes, and with Some Things Take Work they have moved the dial again. This is a heavy, raucous and clever sonic assault that you may have to steady yourself for before donning the headphones.

The overall impression is that of Garage/DIY rock gone extreme, but despite the lo-fi nature of whats on offer, the band are as tight as can be and have explosive riffs coming out of every pore.

Opener Gas is a slower, grinding number that relies heavily on the vocals of Young to carry the track, which she does easily. We then are launched into the chugging Reboundaries, that sits somewhere between punk and Sabbath on the rock scale.

To be fair, there’s not a huge amount of variation in this album. Stylistically your’e going from punk, through metal of various types, but when it’s this good, who cares.

There are some different shades in here. Standout track Some Things Take Work is higher paced, slightly lighter in tone and actually quite catchy. A Portrait Of The Father contains some of the most delicate moments on the album and a slightly bluesy feel.

Elsewhere, there’s the all our Mötorhead-tastic The Measure Of A Man, and some properly sludgy doom-metal-done-well on Revenant, but generally you know what you’re going to get on this album – and it’s likely to make you ears bleed.

Closer The Body epitomises everything that has come before it, shifting between jangly indie guitars and crunching riffs, culminating in a hypnotic, head-pounding sign-off.

Certainly this album isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes, but those with a penchant for the heavier side of music should lap this up.

Release date: 29 March 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Into The Fire

For fans of:

  • Black Sabbath
  • Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
  • Sleep

Listen on Spotify

Album of the week (22 March): These New Puritans – Inside The Rose

The fourth studio album from Southend’s Barnett twins is probably the most accessible These New Puritans album so far. Do expect too many roller coaster-type thrills on Inside The Rose, but this is most certainly a rewarding listen for TNP fans and newcomers alike.

There are some delicious moments of contrasting light and dark tones on this album – often at the same time. Opener Infinity Vibraphones is a case in point. It is both soft and ominous, with the vibraphones of the track name providing a juxtaposition of impatient relaxation, rounded off with some emotive strings and a militaristic drumbeat.

This contrast of near blissful tones against a dark background features strongly on other tracks, such as A-R-P, with its arpeggiated keyboards giving way to some much softer tones interspersed with the occasional brief bout of heavy distorted bass.

Like several of the tracks on Inside the Rose, the rhythm section is nowhere to be found on ARP, until very late on in the track. Where The Trees Are On Fire employs a similar tactic, which until the final third is a slow, beautiful lament, and the only real deployment of TNP’s trademark brass section on the album.

The reluctance to put real rhythm behind a lot of the tracks can feel frustrating at times, as the sense is that’s it’s always just around the corner, and on tracks such as Beyond Black Sun, it can start to feel a little dirge-like. However, the overall ominous beauty that’s on show overshadows this and while there are still some notes of discordance that TNP are well-known for, such as on Anti-Gravity or the twisted rhythms on the challenging but ultimately rewarding Into The Fire, they are nowhere near the levels seen on previous works.

Another fine work from a now well-established band exploring the possibilities within their unique style.

Release date: 22 March 2019

Rating: 7.5/10

Standout track: Into The Fire

For fans of:

  • Teeth Of The Sea
  • Gazelle Twin
  • The Twilight Sad

Listen on Spotify