Tuesday, 31 January 2012

EP Review: British Sea Power – BSP EP1

Released: 19th March
Label: Golden Chariot
Get It: British Sea Power Shop

First of six rough cut releases that show the core charm of one of the best bands on the planet.

With several previous EP releases under their belts, BSP EP1 may seem like something of a misleading title. It is however the first in a series of six releases in 2012 that will showcase the demos and workings of British Sea Power's fifth studio album. As the last couple of full-lengths from the band have taken three years each the presence of new material so close to the terrific Valhalla Dancehall is cause for excitement.

With lesser bands such a release may be not only offcuts from the previous record that simply weren’t good enough. This EP sees BSP moving forward, albiet steadily. Those that picked up the Valhalla Dancehall demos release will know broadly what to expect. Rough cuts with the core charm of the band but without the finesse that gives their albums their complete magic.

To this end 'French Pornographic Novel' and 'Baby Grey are rather good. The former retains British Sea Power's regal grace, with the vocal and keyboard playing out over found sound in the intro. Joined at the mid-way point by the drums a fuller sound ensues as the collage below expands to include additional instrumentation. This more avant garde feel ensures it's closer to the Man Of Aran soundtrack than any of their full releases. 'Baby Grey' meanwhile is Hamilton's moment and the cousin to 'Mongk II' and 'No Lucifer'. The drum machines are set to motorik and although lighter and of a more measured pace there still feels like some post-punk intent.

The two more refined moments on the EP however perhaps showcase the way forward more. The drums on the intro to 'Lullaby For What You Are' sound like 'Living Is So Easy', before settling into a 'Cleaning Out The Rooms' space. With the delicate but expansive guitar work you can imagine this being what The Maccabees were aiming for with the first half of Given To The Wild. Yan's vocal is at the centre, his croon closer to a less pervy Jarvis Cocker than the howls of BSP's early records. Although currently the ending peters out somewhat, you can imagine this closing a record when the finale is figured out.

The second of these fuller sounding songs is 'A Light Above Descending', the track which was briefly streaming on soundcloud to promote the release. With the huge sonic vista of Open Season and the edge of The Decline Of... it's easy to see how it has been taken into fans hearts already. A hard act to follow, EP closer 'Fiery' is a bit hazy and indistinct. Acoustic lead it's forgettable next to 'A Light Above..' and in need of a bit of kick.

This aside however BSP EP1 is a wise investment and essential listening for anyone already eager for another British Sea Power album.

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Monday, 30 January 2012

Track of the Week: Blood Red Shoes - Cold

Released: 19th March
Label: V2

The mighty return of Blood Red Shoes

All at once, and with plenty of notice, Blood Red Shoes have announced their third album, its lead single and all the details you could want about either. Sadly, neither are out properly until March, with In Time To Voices following 'Cold' on the 27th. But as 'Cold' is streaming already there's enough to get us through the next couple of months.

Less poppy than the huge hooks that epitomised Fire Like This's singles 'Heartsink' and 'Light It Up', 'Cold' judders forwards on a propulsive drum attack. The dual vocals of the pair ensure that we're never too far away from what we know however and Laura-Mary's distinctive buzzing guitar work still sounds fresh and crisp.

What's particularly striking is how Rock this sounds. Like Pulled Apart By Horses and The Joy Formidable it's a proper guitar lead assault that pays no heed to fashion or trends, but seems set to make an actual impact on the mainstream. Steven wrote a piece for Drowned in Sound recently about how the big marketing push doesn't work for rock music and how the big alternative bands spend their time paying their dues before breaking.

From the sound of 'Cold' Blood Red Shoes days pottering underground could be nearly over.

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Single Review: Arctic Monkeys – Black Treacle / Richard Hawley & The Death Ramps – You & I

Released: 23rd January
Label: Domino Records
Get It: MP3 / 7” Single

With it's heavy rotation on 6Music it'd be easy to get sick on 'Black Treacle', if only it wasn't so tasty. By no means the highlight of Arctic Monkeys excellent fourth album (that accolade surely goes to 'That's Where You're Wrong'), 'Black Treacle' still holds it's own as a single. Nonetheless, despite abstract lyrics and bendy guitar parts, you get the feeling it's only being released as an excuse for the band to team up with Richard Hawley again.

Under the guise The Death Ramps t'Monkeys recorded 'Bad Woman' with Hawley for the Teddy Picker 7”. Where that was spooky however, 'You & I' is ballsy and rocking. Whilst The Death Ramps prove that their time with Josh Homme included plenty of observation Richard takes the lead with a deep and gravely vocal.

This Mark Lannegan-esque drawl glides over Turner and Cookie's meatiest riffs to date while the rhythm thunders underneath. With the backing vocals sliding into a higher register it's certainly new ground for the Monkeys and a track that'd sound amazing live. The solo can only really (and has been) described as face-melting. It's nimble and an absolute cracker.

With Arctic Monkeys being the only mainstream or successful alternative band to be bothering with b-sides, and with 'You & I' being the best of theirs for a while, you know it's something special. All concerned may be several years away from having been a DIY act, but when rock music is this good......

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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

EP Review: Rose Elinor Dougall - The Distractions EP

Released: 10th January
Label: Self-Released
Get It: Bandcamp

It's been difficult to get a full grasp on the solo material of former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall. Although pretty and perfectly listnenable, there was much about her debut album Without Why that remains sadly forgettable. Or perhaps you need a more finely tuned ear and greater patience. Dougall's songs aren't those that instantly get to you, rather the delicate layers are supposed to seep into yr consciousness over multiple listens.

With that in mind, fans of Without Why won't be disappointed by The Distractions EP, but neither should anyone else be either.

At the start of first track 'The Night' cinematic Morricone-style guitar and stomping steady drums recalls Anna Calvi's dramatic pop as it floats by, anchored only by Dougall's voice. This dreamy intro gives way to the sea spray of some British Sea Power-aping guitar and crashes of cymbal. It's more robust than you might expect with more than a passing resemblance to 'Lights Out For Darker Skies'. Which as we all remember, was excellent.

'I've Always Known' takes it's intro cue from this, before heading in a more pop focused direction. The croon of our leading lady is less buried than previously with a classic stomping drum beat providing a safe bed from which to play off. This more than ever before feels like Rose taking a solo turn from The Pipettes, a more mature solo pop venture and a rather decent one too.

With final track 'Hanging Around' (which at over four-and-a-half minutes it could be argued hangs around too long) Rose provides perhaps the most accurate representation of the EP as a whole. Both pop and rock influences mash together perfectly as the swing of the chorus slides over scratchy guitars. Lyrically it turns some of the themes of unrequited love on it's head with lyrics such as “I know love / I've had love / and it's not what I want from you”. So, although it's perhaps pining it's certainly not mushy.

Although yr left with the feeling that some backing harmonies on 'Hanging Around' could better highlight Rose's incredible voice, the song is otherwise rather solid. Much like the EP as a whole then. For what seems like either a stop-gap, or a reminder of Dougall's existence this is rather enjoyable.

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Single Review: Jumping Ships – Movers And Shakers

Released: 24th January
Label: Alcopop! Records
Get It: Free Download / Buy the EP from the Alcopop! shop

Everyone likes Jumping Ships, right? 'Heart And Hope' was easily one of the best singles of last year and their EP, Standard Bearer, is a cracking slice or energetic and impassioned rock music with an ear turned to the intricate and experimental. To remind you all of it's existence the Ships and their wonderful label Alcopop! are re-releasing and giving away this free download of one of the best tracks from the EP.

Introducing itself with some odd drum work, the stabbing guitar and strained vocal join in for an enticing taster. If yr new to Jumping Ships at this point it's as good a point as any into understanding their sound. In particular the interplay between the cleaner lead guitar and more aggressive chugging rhythm one. With an excellent lead part that sounds intricate whilst un-showy and a drummer that flits easily between styles it's not hard to understand why JS are picking up fans from heavier publications such as Rock Sound.

Movers and Shakers. by jumpingships

What's crucial for this however is that these tenancies never over-take the band's capacity to write massive sounding tunes and 'Movers And Shakers' is easily one of their bigger ones. With everything working together to propel the song into a pit-friendly realm we're treated to a fist-pumping chorus and post-hardcore shouts on the backing vocals that ensure this is a memorable single.

Along with tour-mates Gunning For Tamar, and other groups such as LightGuides, Jumping Ships are signpost for where one of the best labels in the country area headed.

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Monday, 23 January 2012

Track of the Week: The Scholars – This Heart's Built To Break

Released: 23rd January
Get it: Free Download

Pop exactly how we like it. Dramatic, ambitious and catchy

The Half Rabbits are not the only well-kept post-punk secret down in Oxford. The Scholars have been buzzing away for a while now, steadily releasing songs and EPs that have their roots in the darker rock of Interpol as well as the glam edge of Suede. All of that has now come together on their best song to date, 'This Heart's Built To Break', the video of which is unveiled today.

For anyone around in the mid-00s, The Scholars bear a similarity to The Departure. Although sadly said band disintegrated after a slightly disappointing album, in their single 'Be My Enemy' they had a certifiable classic. 'This Heart's Built To Break' is in this vein.

Getting off to an immediately racing start, the guitars accelerate off before dropping out for the introduction of the , low Bowie-esque vocal. Throbbing throughout is a Futureheads-style bass riff that hints at the band having developed with a love of similar art-pop groups as myself. The real flourish that elevates this number however is the dramatic strings, provided by Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention. It contrasts with the night-time city ambiance of the rest of the number lending a great amount of pace and scale, but at the same time does not dwarf.

Easily kicking the ass of White Lies (what ever happened to them?) this is excellent and epic indie rock that's clearly ambitious but without bowing to commercial concerns. For a free download it is essential and certain to get you interested in The Scholars.

The Scholars - This Hearts Built To Break from The Scholars on Vimeo.

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Friday, 20 January 2012

Album Review: MJ Hibbett & The Validators – Dinosaur Planet

Romance! Dinosaurs! Giant Robots! The charming Lincolnshire town of Stamford, in Lincolnshire!

That's no moon, it's a … Dinosaur Planet!

Ah ooh! Ah ooh!

Label: Artists Against Success
Released: 23rd January
Get it: MJ Hibbett's website

The best indiepop concept album about dinosaurs from space that you will ever hear.

As a long-time fan of both MJ Hibbett and dinosaurs I've been waiting to hear this album for a fair while. Yet for some reason when it first arrived I was slightly nervous about listening to it. What if it didn't live up to my expectations? What if there wasn't any tunes, and instead it was all story? Well, I'd need not have worried.

It is GRATE!

The tale starts, as you might not expect, in Norwich. And, locations aside, follows brilliantly the beats of all great alien invasion stories. Done with heart and direct reference to its influences Dinosaur Planet never slips unknowingly into cliché. It revels in it's theme.. Wonderfully it at the same time creates it's own cannon, taking ideas and running with them throughout the entire story. For example we're told that 'Dinosaurs Talk Like Pirates' and presented with evidence to prove such. Rather than being a one line gag about their agape expressions this is becomes part of the Dinosaur Planet mythology as well as ensuring the different species sound different on tracks performed entirely by the voice cast.

In terms of songs too, there's plenty of highlights. 'Theme From Dinosaur Planet' is the obvious one, sounding excellent as a stand-alone single with a massive chorus and instant, novel memorability. On a personal note however, it is 'The Battle Of Peterborough' that begs for particular mention. With the full Validators ensemble (plus added bugle) and Hibbett's narration the city is expertly trashed. Not only by remarks about the wider country not caring (or even knowing about it's existence) but by an army of dinosaurs that flatten it. Well, flatten it more. Peterborough is already pretty flat.

Perhaps having lived in Peterborough is an advantage here (that could possibly be the only time that this sent ace has ever been written) but when is said about Queensgate shopping centre post-missile “It was nothing but a crater / A million pounds of improvements had been made” it's hard not to have a massive grin on yr face. (Strangely during the Battle it seems that the dinosaurs passage from March to Peterborough completely bypasses Whittlesey, which leads me to assume that the small market town that I come from completely escaped devastation).

As he does brilliantly, Hibbett also finds time for a little bit of wider social commentary. On 'Wither The War Room?' our General asks about the location of the large map of the country with all of the flashing lights. Her aide responds by informing her that it had been decided that this particular need of the military's could have been provided best by the private sector. “We've got an AA road atlas now”.

There's not an awful lot more that I can say regarding the plot of Dinosaur Planet without giving it away. The fact is I've probably already given you too many of the punchlines. But suffice to say that as well as dinosaurs there's giant robots (also from space) and much death and destruction. With the completely contrasting themes that each of the dinosaurs and robots get (a nautical jig for the former, electro-tinged punk for the latter) you may guess there'll be conflict between Earth's two visitors and from 'Strangely Attractive' that there's some bizarre goings on. But that's as far as I need to go for now.

What is worth a mention briefly however is how the voice cast of Dinosaur Planet are simply excellent and that the production is top-notch. With the title track being aired at MJ Hibbett's acoustic sets as far back as 2007-ish this album has been a long time in gestation. But it's worth the wait and so much more. It's rare that you can hear an album as an artistic vision fully realised, but this is what Dinosaur Planet is.

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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Album Review: The Maccabees – Given To The Wild

Label: Fiction Records
Released: 09th January

The big breakthrough that only just misses the mark but is easy to get lost in.

With Given To The Wild already a big hit and talk of a Mercury nomination a dead cert, it's probably superfluous to review The Maccabees' third album as anything other than them reaching their potential with a true crossover masterpiece. The only problem is that the album doesn't quite reach the lofty heights for which it aims. And although very good, and occasionally wonderful, it's not up to the standard that The Maccabees set on 2009's Wall Of Arms.

Still, with the expansive pallet and windswept sonic vistas it's entirely likely that Given To The Wild is 'a grower' and that come the end of 2012 this review will seem unecessarily harsh and presumptuous. But one of the great strengths of The Maccabees previous material has been it's ability to grab the ear and make you pay attention. Orlando Weeks' fragile voice still managed to cut right to the centre and their instrumental swells had real emotional pull. The nearest this album has to a 'First Love', 'Love You Better' or 'Dinosaurs' is by far single 'Pelican'.

But what a single it is. Drums that announce themselves strongly before leaving huge spaces in the sound. Vocal harmonies that are tighter than a Tory purse and enough textures swirling around to make your head spin. But with an album that's as impeccably structured and crafted as Given To The Wild it needs more than just the one stand out moment. The whole movement needs to enthral. In the first half the only track that really can be said to stick in the mind after the first half-dozen listens is the elegant 'Ayla'.

Luckily on the second side The Maccabees really get fired up. 'Pelican' stands back to back with 'Went Away' as the album builds up layers and textures, ramping up the excitement and engaging the listener more. With it's superb guitar work that's at once epic and jittery 'Go' is an album highlight. More worth pointing to however is 'Unknown' likely to be forever known as the moment where they throw caution to the wind and allow themselves to turn into a euphoric dance outfit. Weeks' vocal gives way to a female lead whilst the rhythm section play some drum and bass. Somehow this still sounds like The Maccabess though, such is the bracing build across this side of the record.

The more subdued closing pair of 'Slowly One' and 'Grew Up At Midnight' end the album nicely (with the former seeing the band do their best British Sea Power impression). It's a warm and immersive finale that you feel more of the opening numbers could have done with. If all of this sounds harsh then I apologise, for it's not meant to. Given To The Wild is still a record to get lost in, and as such is easily the British equivalent of Real Estate's Days. Smooth, elegant and tender it's a display of ability, ambition and emotion.

Like The Horrors, Wild Beasts and Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees have developed into a modern 'indie' sound that's completely opposed to the compressed electro-rap of the pop charts. That's it's finally paying off for them on their third album (as it has for the other three) means that it's easy to see all four acts as part of the NME alternative mainstream, which is a shame as The Maccabees have previously been so much more.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Single Review: Sleigh Bells - Comeback Kid

Safe and solid return from the aggro-bubblegum duo

With their debut album Sleigh Bells managed something approaching the impossible. The painfully hip duo completely bastardised many of the most awful sounds and techniques in contemporary pop, compressing the completed sound into within an inch of it's life to make something so borderline unlistenable it became pretty awesome. From the subtle-as-an-AT-AT distorted drums through to the bratty cheerleader chants Treats was full of magic pop moments.

So does the first taster of album number two stand up?

With Sleigh Bells clear aesthetic there's difficulty in altering what they do too much and as such 'Comeback Kid' could be accused of playing it somewhat safe. With the interest they've had and with the cash from lending songs to adverts they've been able to go for a clearer pop sound which is instantly noticeable when the drum machine on the intro isn't cranked all of the way up. Indeed it's more of an electronic song than much of their debut.

Nicely highlighting the current crossover between indie and R&B is Alexis' vocal which seems to flit between the two without changing too much. Cleaner and towards the front of the mix they also ensure that the hook is more apparent. Perhaps a sign of more confidence on the group's part. The trouble is, it feels like a safe choice to return with.

'Comeback Kid' is no 'Infinity Guitars' and is clearly an evolution from Treats. There's definitely potential to get on board those that enjoyed 'Rill Rill' or perhaps even those whose tastes veer towards the more electronic sphere. If your mind was already made up against Sleigh Bells however nothing will change. The rest of us will have to wait and see what the full length record brings before saying the band are anything other than a one album wonder.

Comeback Kid by Sleigh Bells

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Single Review: Olympians – The Great Gatsby

Released: 13th February
Label: Barely Regal Records
Get It: Bandcamp

Barely Regal continue to deliver excellent music in an innovative format

The first in a series of book themed releases, the Olympians book club will see four CD singles which can all be ordered in one subscription. The first is 'The Great Gatsby', an epic and emotive swell of a single that combines whooshes of keyboard, snappy intricate guitar work and tons of vocal interplay. If Foals decided to regroup after assimilating The Futureheads songbook, it might have come out something like this.

A synthesiser runs under the several-part vocal on the introduction, before we're introduced to a rhythm section that plain refuses to sit still. Progressing through passages that play with simple instrumentation, seemingly played on a child's instrument, and more aggressively guitar driven ones, 'The Great Gatsby' is difficult to pin down. Yet despite this tendency to fill the song to it's brim with ideas Olympians still manage to ensure that hooks are plentiful and the song easily stays in the mind.

Proving also that they're capable of stripping the music back, b-side 'Tiny House, Tiny Mind is performed almost entirely on an acoustic guitar for the first minute, with Olympians trademark singing accompanying. When additional instrumentation does enter it's much more organic sounding, with percussion wooden and earthy. A twinkling of keyboard beneath highlights the nursery rhyme rhythm of the lyrics and we're left with an almost lullaby feel.

Last bonus track for 'The Great Gatsby' comes in the form of a remix of 'You Don't Have To Be A Prick', done by Mantid SNiP. Whilst not as worthy of yr attention as the studio numbers it adds further to the textures already present with a jittery rhythm, sparse urban implications and a focus on the guitar. Not essential perhaps, but a nice addition for those wanting a deeper understanding of the construction of Olympians songs.

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Monday, 16 January 2012

Track of the Week: The Shins – Simple Song

A more than welcome, if somewhat delayed, return from the US Indie megastars

At. Bloody. Last. New material from The Shins. I can't be the only one who feared that it would never come.

With Broken Bells material being merely OK, there was always the possibility that James Mercer had lost the magic touch. Combine this with some big line-up changes in The Shins camp and the stage was set for disappointment. Luckily 'Simple Song' is every bit as triumphant a single as Wincing The Night Away's 'Phantom Limb', with the usual tender vocals and a sensibility turned to POP.

Wordless backing vocals and minimal sound usher the song in, but as soon as Mercer's voice joins the bouncing bassline and girl-group drums it's clear that it's The Shins and they're on form.

The slick production thankfully doesn't smother, but allows for a luxurious sound. From the electronic elements in the drumming that show their modern touch to the pianos that are sprinkled across the chorus there's more than enough to get immersed into, to pick apart and enjoy. Although the neat little guitar solo and the Super Furry-esque bridge are certainly highlights it's Mercer's voice and the accompanying harmonies that really steal the show.

If on first listen it's easy to drift off towards the end of this four minute-plus single multiple listens rectify this and get the song wedged firmly in the brain. Port Of Morrow can't arrive soon enough.

Simple Song by theshins

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Friday, 13 January 2012

Single Review: The Kabeedies – Eyes

Released: 30th January
Label: Fierce Panda
Get It: iTunes Pre-Order

Norwich's finest bounce their way into brilliance with a joyful single

The first real exposure I had to The Kabeedies didn't impress me very much. This wouldn't matter, only I was writing for a semi-popular music website at the time and reviewing their début album Rumpus. I'm sad to say that I gave it a bad review. Having visited the record since I will freely admit that I was wrong and am sorry. If it makes anyone feel any better I did exactly the same to Let's Wrestle.

Fading the song in with a whoosh, 'Eyes' is an instantly gratifying pop smash that recalls the Britpop heydays without once seeming like it intends to. The driven and jittery indiepop rhythm section and vocal harmonies on the choruses are fleshed out by a big production that gives the song the chance to both breathe and soar. Brass peppers the song, which when lifting up through the arrangement brings to mind summers and so much joy.

Like the best numbers by Supergrass this mines all of pop's past to come up with three minutes of brilliance that you'll just want to lose yourself to. Play on repeat and you'll pogo yrself into dizziness. 'Eyes' may not be quite as good as last year's 'Santiago', but that's pretty difficult to manage. Providing both numbers are included on the forthcoming Kabeedies album it will be one to look forward to very much.

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Thursday, 12 January 2012

EP Review: Joyce The Librarian – The Weight Of The Line

Released: 9th January 2012
Get It: Bandcamp

Unexpected and understated delights from a band that stand apart

With a name like Joyce The Librarian you could easily have a stab at what to expect. In likelihood it would involve jangly C86 guitars and a twee female vocal. If that is what you tought then you're a fair way off.

Although there's a distant sonic comparison to some of the recent solo material from Darrey Hayman, Joyce sit comfortably outside of the traditional indiepop template. Their acoustic pop is clean sounding and very ably played. So confident are the band that they open track number one, 'When The Wood Comes Down' with a long instrumental intro. Although without any spectacular flourishes the song brings a memorable vocal hook to the table and the additional twinkling in the background is enough to make you think of Christmas.

'From The Foot Of Troopers Hill' is better yet. The distant snare drum is tapped to a marching beat and a small chorus of backing harmonies ensure that the tenderness of the hook “You're on my side” is emphasised. A cello is a lovely addition to the arsenal and is deployed only when needed across both this and 'Land'. Surprisingly this number manages to bring British Sea Power's Man Of Aran soundtrack to mind, albeit with vocals. The interplay of the trumpet and cello means that the gentle melody soars. With a coastal feel it's certainly the highlight of the release and a good introduction to Joyce The Librarian for those unfamiliar.

The Weight Of The Line ends with it's title track which commits the Bristol band's sound to memory. Again we see the folk beginnings but without some of the the grander embellishments. Relying less on the lyrical repetition ('Land' hypnotically goes over the line “Your day will come”) the song shines more and, as you might expect from a song that doen't go over two-and-a-half minutes, flies by. The lyrics about sails reflect the nautical theme which sonically appears in the form of a buzzing cello.

Although it is perhaps a bit sparse and seated for some indiepop tastes, Joyce The Librarian bring something new to the table for those seeking a real alternative.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Single Review: Dad Rocks! - Battle Hymn Of The Fox Father

Released: 3rd January 2012
Label: Big Scary Monsters
Get It: Bandcamp

A beautiful single and a great excuse to revisit Dad Rocks!

As a member of Mimas and in his solo guise Dad Rocks!, Snævar Njáll Albertsson is responsible for some of the most gorgeous music that you may never have heard. Forget the melancholic folksy stuff from the US, Albertsson is the one that everyone should really be getting excited about.

As demonstrated by current single 'Battle Hymn Of The Fox Father', the central piece to last year's critically acclaimed Dad Rocks! album Mount Modern. Beginning with an acoustic guitar and a simple rhythm, delicate instrumentation is built upon layer by layer with Albertsson's voice becoming the gorgeous central focus. There's a folk root to the song, but with the bass part moving around in the song and quiet brass assisting in the swells, Dad Rocks! creates his own sound and completely inhabits it.

Marching drums accompanied by a trumpet and fleshed out by twinkling pianos give an almost festive feel, while the overall arrangement is warm and inviting. Like watching the snow fall on a dark evening from the safety of yr kitchen window, listening to 'Battle Hymn..' allows you to feel better being on the inside.

Accompanying the single for free download is a remix by Snow Kite. Burying the vocals beneath fuzz, the repetition of the piano line is bought to the fore and accentuated. If the studio version is watching the snow fall from the window, the introduction to this remix is like trudging through the flakes. Prior to the end of the first third the fuzz is cleaned up, leaving the vocal distant and hazy. An electronic beat replaces Dad Rocks! arrangements with fragments from the original occasionally intruding. At over six minutes the remix is arguably overlong but saved by progressing through different textures to a more than satisfying conclusion.

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Single Review: Bos Angeles – Days Of Youth / Beach Slalom

Released: 21st November 2011
Label: Roundtable Records
Get It: 7” Single / Amazon MP3

This is a record label you should really be keeping your eyes on over the next twelve months. The first four releases on Roundtable Records have included two singles by ace indiepopsters The History of Apple Pie, and this AA-side from future stars Bos Angeles.

Marked out from the lo-fi pack through their excellent name, better tunes, Springsteen referencing artwork and the feel that they could actually go the distance and release a decent album, there's already excitement building around the trio based on songs such as these two. And it's unsurprising really. Although at a stretch you could link their sound to the revival of early '90s indie rock, or possibly the more organic elements of the 'chillwave' (*shudder*) scene thanks to their unsettling and hazy textures Bos Angeles are really their own band.

With first song 'Days Of Youth' their sonic template is set out with ringing surf guitars and Phil Spector drums. This is before everything kicks in with a drawled vocal sounding as though it's leading the band from down a wind tunnel. It extracts Sonic Youth's noisy pop from the aggressive mould in a similar way to The Go! Team, but with the aforementioned cut-and-paste replaced with “wooo-wooo-hooos” and and a stripped down aesthetic.

But for all the sludginess of 'Days Of Youth', 'Beach Slalom' manages to blow it away. An earthy bass riff gallops around alongside the tinny guitars whilst the splashes on cymbals and distorted drums smash away underneath. The vocal maintains a disinterested tone as if to keep itself from falling apart and the whole track comes together with a delightful sense of melancholic defeat and coastal loneliness.

Although they hail from Bournemouth it's unlikey that Bos Angeles will stay hidden down there for much longer. Expect to hear the name again on Keep Pop Loud before very long at all.

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Monday, 9 January 2012

Track of the Week: Allo Darlin' - Capricornia

In case you missed it; Allo Darlin''s debut self-titled record is a sublime indiepop masterpiece. Released in 2010 it's definitely something you should go back and check, with singles such as 'Dreaming' and 'My Heart Is A Drummer' being as good a place to start as any. And you should investigate quick as next month they're touring the country again in order to promote the forthcoming second album, Europe.

Released on Fortuna Pop! in the UK and Slumberland in the US, Europe is preceded by this weeks' top track Capricornia. Which as you can hear from the embedded Soundcloud player below is a streamlining of everything that made Allo Darlin' special on album number one into a song that's so pretty that it feels as though it's been around forever.

Allo Darlin' - Capricornia by Slumberland Records

Referring to an area of Queensland it aptly reflects shimmering sun and wide open skies. Jangly guitars hit their mark and the influences of Kirsty MacColl and The Go-Betweens, that were apparently key touchstones for Europe as a whole really do shine through. But there's only really so much that can be said about 'Capricornia', it's such an immersive and perfectly pop experience that listening is the only way to do justice.

After you've done so and want to see them on tour you can check out the dates over at Fortuna Pop!s webpage. The Manchester, Sheffield, London and Leeds dates are also due to feature the AMAZING This Many Boyfriends, whilst the also AMAZING Standard Fare are on board also for the Sheffield one. It's three of KPLs favourite indiepopsters together on one bill! Don't miss it.

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Friday, 6 January 2012

Single Review: You Animals – The Strangest Disease

Released: 12th September 2011
Label: Self-Released
Get It: Bandcamp

Despite having released the best debut album of 2011, You Animals managed to sneak this new song out at the end of last year without me noticing. The cheeky little scamps. Whilst not a single 'The Strangest Disease' is very much worth your time as it brings a different element to their sound, not present on Crimes, Creeps & Thrills.

Building from a semi-acoustic ballad to stadium-aping hugeness, 'The Strangest Disease' is even bigger than the songs from their excellent debut, albeit not as instantaneous or driven. It's different enough in sound that it's easy to see how, it missed the cut for the album from simply not fitting in. Eschewing energetic indie, powered by the combination of guitars and keyboards the foundations of the song lay in the rock realm. The purposeful drumming is bought to the fore whilst the song builds to massive peaks on Ryan's strained vocals.

It does sound huge and ambitious, but occasionally said vocals do veer into the emo territory that's usually best to avoid. This feel is exacerbated by the slick production and overall arena ambition. It's not a problem, per-say, but not what you'd necessarily expect from You Animals right now.

Still, it's likely that album #2 isn't going to appear for a while yet, and 'The Strangest Disease' is evolved and strong enough that if it points to where You Animals are headed we can expect very big things.

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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Single Review: Kate Jackson – Wonder Feeling / The Atlantic

Released: 09th January
Label: Sleeping Star
Get It: Amazon MP3 / Ltd. Edition 7”

Solid return from one of the 00's best pop stars. It lacks a little magic, but there's still time to fix that.

In the three and a half years since The Long Blondes split singer Kate Jackson has been remarkably quiet releasing only demos and last year's 'Date With Dawn' download under the name Kate Jackson Group. What's happened to the Group for her first proper single is unclear but with a widescreen sound and borrowing the feel of counter-cultural films of the '70s we're not in Sheffield any more.

It's not simply a case of having sanded down The Long Blondes artsy edges, it's more of a complete reinvention of her character. Where Kate was previously charity shop retro glam, this is Kate the chart aping pop star. Her voice is much cleaner, losing the shrill wail of 'Separated By Motorways' and never going as quiet as the whisper of 'Heaven Help The New Girl'. Musically we're moving close to Killers territory. Blame the producer for this perhaps, but the main problem with this single is that it's just too ordinary. Put simply, 'Wonder Feeling' is a straight down-the-line rock song with Jackson belting out the chorus.

But not being her former band doesn't mean that it's all bad. With the fuzz guitars and background washes of synth 'Wonder Feeling' has a BIG sound. Jackson's backtracked vocals provide girl-group harmonies to her own lead whilst this is emphasised with the handclaps and Butler's wall of sound. If it doesn't impress on first listen give it another go because more so than anything Kate has ever lent her vocals to 'Wonder Feeling' is a grower.

Kate Jackson - Wonder Feeling / The Atlantic by KateJackson

'The Atlantic' does a fine job as b-side, but is otherwise fairly unremarkable. Fading both in and out it's difficult to see how this would fit on an album, instead seeming suited to a side of vinyl. Kate's vocals are more distant whilst the swells of keyboards are responsible for giving the chorus it's lift. Everything about the song seems done to emphasise the chorus vocal hook; “Flying over the Atlantic”. It's the aural depiction of clouds and the picture of flying when there was still romance in the idea. Unlike the meat that's on the bones of the a-side, 'The Atlantic' is decent but somewhat ephemeral.

With a debut album hopefully coming out this year it'd be easy to expect far too much from Kate Jackson. I, personally, am trying to manage those expectations and simply hope for a collection with a few killer tracks. Still, it'd be nice to be pleasantly surprised, wouldn't it?

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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

EP Review: The Half Rabbits – Machine Triumphant

Released: 18th November 2011
Label: Self-Released
Get It: Bandcamp

Sneaked out at the end of last year, Machine Triumphant was the second EP of 2011 for Oxford's post-punk outfit The Half Rabbits. With previous release Optimists making the Keep Pop Loud Top 5 of the year, and lead single 'Gasoline' being released on the KPL CD it's only right that the first EP Review of 2012 tackles this nearly neglected release.

Across the three tracks on Machine Triumphant, the band admirably display progressive tenancies without every going into pompous territory. Simultaneously they revive the post-punk genre and move it somewhere new. Owing to the past but not leaning on it as a crutch or actively mimicking. Even if it doesn't quite have the WOW-factor of Optimists, it'll only take one listen for you to realise that this is an excellent and ambitious release.

Opener 'Burn' brings to the table shimmering Bloc Party guitars and metronomic snappy drums. Once Michael's vocals enter they're joined by extra rhythms, drum machines that interrupt the guitars with everything building towards a heavier chorus than you might expect. With distorted guitars and apocalyptic textures it feels more Smashing Pumpkins at this point with a chugging guitar working against the more melodic lead. With the lyrics “We will watch the world burn”, it's evident that The Half Rabbits have constructed an immersive number that ably stitches together all components to take the listener on a journey through a scorched landscape.

More uplifting is track two, the appropriately titled 'Uplift'. The personal highlight of the EP too for me. There's something about it that reminds me of my teenage years around 2003/4, but I can't say exactly what that is. Much cleaner than 'Burn', 'Uplift', perhaps unintentionally recalls wide open skies with the vocals and guitars dancing around each other over the steady drum beat. Here the vocal recalls Interpol's Paul Banks and when they're joined by the backing harmonies of bassist Alice, bring the song to an epic climax.

'Aviator' closes the Machine Triumphant and again goes back to the rockier and more progressive leanings after a intro of chopping guitars and steadily pounded drums. A much bigger feel is leant by both the vocal reverb on the aggressive chorus and the nimble guitar work on the later peak. Said guitar playing feels as though it's intentionally reigning itself in, opting for complex and intricate rather than obvious virtuosity. When the vocals strain here as they often do, we see The Half Rabbits as much more of a rock band than in the past, but with their diverse influences and brilliant range they're capable of being more than whatever you had them pegged down as.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Single Review: The Give It Ups - Let's Be Frank / If Everything Ends

Released: 1st January
Label: Oddbox Records
Get It: Free Download

Boy/Girl indiepop with offbeat and memorable hooks. There's nothing not to like... Oh, and there's bonus points for including old Frank Grimes on the artwork.

London indiepopsters The Give It Ups are already low key DIY heroes. With their stripped back timeless pop, a penchant for geeky subject matter (they've a song about/from the perspective of Scott Pilgrim character Knives Chau) and some fab releases on Odd Box Records under their belt they're a dead cert for cult fandom in 2012.

So what better way to kick the year off then than coming right out of the blocks with a brand new single? 'Let's Be Frank' sums up all of the appeal of The Give It Ups into under two short minutes. Buzzy guitars and an odd vocal are accompanied by twee keyboards and a slightly shouty backing. It's all of the ingredients that make up classic indiepop, and makes no bones about it. Rather it's appeal lies in it's simplicity, not dissimilarly to The Lovely Eggs. And like said Eggs, the lyrics are a bit offbeat.

Starting with the title they then go through various names before ending up with "Let's be Ahab / We can get the fucking whale". For what's almost the punchline the guitars go quiet and we're left with the wobbly vocal, clacking drum sticks and the ever-present keyboard. "I'm glad that I quit work / I'm glad it didn't rain / When they give me a new job, I hope I drive a crane".

B-side 'If Everything Ends' is shorter yet, only just breaking the one minute mark. It's quieter too with more of a jangle and a slower, gradually building pace. It's lead by Cary's vocal rather than Ben and features all of the "ba-ba-ba"s and "do-do-do"s that the classic C86 numbers had. Starting with the positive, "When my favourite programme ends, I'll buy it on DVD and watch it all over again" as the track gets quicker the negativity sets in with Carys asking "If everything has to end, can we still be friends?". Well, seeing as this single ends in under three and a half minutes I think so. In fact I think that Keep Pop Loud would very much like to be friends with The Give It Ups in 2012

And if you're new to them then this should make for a rather decent introduction.

Keep Pop Loud

Monday, 2 January 2012

Track of the Week: MJ Hibbett & The Validators - Theme From Dinosaur Planet

2012 is looking to be another hot year for pop music with the promise of new albums from Franz Ferdinand, Pulled Apart By Horses, Allo Darlin', Best Coast and loads of others. But first out of the blocks are two records that were originally promised for 2011, but due to various delays didn't make it out in time.

Standard Fare's Out Of Sight, Out Of Town is of course the second of these, but what better way to kick off a year then a moment of bonkers pop genius from our favourite indiepop LEGEND, MJ Hibbett?

The forthcoming Dinosaur Planet album has been described by Hibbett as "an indie War Of The Worlds" and as containing "more explosions than any other concept album ever", but there's a full review to follow. What's important now is the title track and it's eruptive aplomb.

Opening with the sound of a storm brewing, the Validators kick in following Mark's narrative introduction. As well as being as catchy as you could hope and more epic than you'd expect, (free download) 'Theme From Dinosaur Planet' also asks all of the serious questions.

"What could make a Tyrannosaur scared?"

"Could a crazy kind of love ever exist between a human and Velociraptor?"

Find out when the album lands on Janurary 23rd.

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