Finally, it seems my days of wandering in the metaphorical musical wilderness have nearly come to an end. For the past two and half years I swapped the blood, sweat and tears of the London music scene for the deserts of Palestine, Iraq and Jordan (equally as sweaty, bloody and tearful, but far more depressing reasons). Two and a half years without digital radio, regular live music, the infuriating musical press and my local record shop. Instead years spent in the company of popular dance music, most of which all sounds the same to me (“Is this David Guetta? Maybe Rihanna? It’s probably David Guetta featuring Rihanna”), years of the same pure manufactured tripe which only has a place at 1am when you’ve had a few too many and its interjecting the relentless habibi tracks.
Fine, I’m being over dramatic. I’m hardly an Israelite doomed to forty years in the Sinai or a Syrian refugee fleeing the horrors of ISIS, but this week I re-entered the world of Indie Rock ‘n’ Roll. My wandering days are over.
But what brought on this sudden burst for musical satisfaction? Last Sunday my friends and I spent just under half an hour repeatedly refreshing our internet browsers and experiencing a palette of emotions; fear, anger, panic, hope, disappointment and then pure elation. We had bagged ourselves tickets to Glastonbury Festival 2015.
It then dawned on me. Who the hell would most of bands playing Glastonbury be? Sure if it’s Fleetwood Mac, Queen or AC/DC headlining I’d be fine, however with hundreds of bands playing over the weekend how would I possibly be able to separate the wheat from the chaff? Despite the internet making the world smaller, my laziness meant the music scene back in London that had once meant so much to me now was further away than ever before.
I had no choice but to delve headfirst back into the pool of the alternative music scene. First stop – the internet. iTunes was a predictable yet useless place to start. If they were to be believed then rock music is most definitely dead and songs from twenty years ago are still in the charts (but that’s an argument and an article for another day). However, ever the optimist I ploughed on. Piece by piece I found what I was looking for. As you read on you’ll find the results.
But first a warning. This isn’t an article for the many, but for the few. Most will have read numerous reviews of these albums and artists, already bought the record and seen it performed live. No, this article is for the those who, like me, are out of the loop. This is a snapshot (admittedly from my own biased view) of 2014. Enjoy, agree, criticise, argue and remind me that I’m too long in the tooth and out of touch. Though, if it goes anyway to reigniting a spark inside of you then these words weren’t for nothing…
So, where to start? How about an old favourite in the shape of Jamie T? Wow, has it really been half a decade since his last album ‘Kings and Queens’? It seems that if anything those five years have allowed to Jamie Treays to do a lot of growing up. His latest offering, ‘Carry On The Grudge’, shows a maturity that will be new to us all. Gone are “alright blud” and punch and run songs of the past. Now we can hear a melodic and thoughtful Treays who has crafted songs with ripened and thoughtful lyrics such as Mary Lee and the opener Limits Lie – even if at times the songs themselves are slightly weak in their entirety. Nevertheless, as someone who finds himself at the same stage of life as Treays, I can feel where he is coming from. The leap from 25 to 30 is huge and musical inevitably change, as has Treays’ song writing. I won’t say it’s necessarily for the better but it certainly is refreshingly interesting to hear another side of him – if only we could have the best of both worlds.
With all that nonsense about growing old and mellow said, there is always room in my heart and music collection for pure garage rock and Circa Waves are a tsunami that crashed into the Liverpool music scene in 2013 with the amazing Get Away before being picked up by Virgin/EMI records. Since then they have released a trio of drum pounding indie rock singles such as Young Chasers and Stuck In My Teeth where you can hear influences ranging from The Strokes through to Dog Is Dead. My pick of the bunch. Get involved.
What’s this I hear? The Black Keys are opening their new album with a classic sounding blues-rock coated in hypnotising riffs? Have they spun back from their near mainstream leap of recent years? Almost. We are treated to dark blues psychedelica with opener Weight Of Love and title track Turn Blue but just as we are lulled into a false sense of security, we are hideously taken by surprise by party-esq track Fever – hmm, either get your indie club dance shoes or just skip the track (do the latter). Don’t fear though, by the second half of the album The ‘Keys treat us to yet more delicious heavily sixties influenced wonders such as Bullet In The Brain and It’s Up To You Now. Overall? ‘Turn Blue’ is good but it’s certainly not great – not by the Black Keys own high standards. A hit and miss collection of wonderful album tracks in their greatest tradition which is tainted by singles obviously written for the radio.
Welsh four-piece Catfish and The Bottlemen’s debut album ‘The Balcony’ has had mixed reviews, but let’s get one thing straight. I concede that the sound is late by about a decade (or maybe it has only just reached Llandudno?) and whilst critics have been quick to spout vitriol about them arriving late to the party, they are quick find solace when bands such as the aforementioned Black Keys draw influence from yester year. As much as it pains me to say, ten years probably qualifies as just that, so let’s just skip around the anger. ‘The Balcony’ is bursting at the seams with youthful angst that is missing from most of today’s scene but sadly has the side effect of an album lacking maturity in its lyrics, as displayed in Cocoon. However you don’t buy this album because you think Van McCann is the next Alex Turner, this is an album to be played and heard live. A solid performer and one for the new band tents this summer, but not much beyond that.
Blink and you missed it! It seems every time I look The Courteeners have released a new album. So here it is, ‘Concrete Love’, their fourth studio album and picking up pretty much where they left off with ‘Anna’. Hang on, is that going to be an issue? Just picking up and not moving on? Well, on a first listen, yes, but as I’ve learnt with The Courtneeners, you have to listen to their albums several times before you get it. As much the evidence to Liam Fray’s claim that he is a songwriter on a par with Morrissey remains somewhat elusive, that boy knows how to write a chorus that grabs you by the face and shakes you up and down and, let’s face facts, that’s what really matters with a pop song. Black and Blue and Next Time You Call stand out for me, popping up just as the album begins to grow into itself but overall and sadly ‘Concrete Love’ just doesn’t quite have enough to it. Maybe it came a bit too soon after ‘Anna’.
Sunset Sons recent EP ‘Le Surfing’ was a joy to behold. On The Road is three minutes of jingling feel good indie rock with pounding drums and yearning vocals from lead singer Rory Williams. Loa is a foot stomping melodic track, granting Williams the perfect platform to cry out the haunting “All I wanted was you”. However one release is not much to go on, but thankfully later this month their ‘No Bad Days’ EP will be released with the stand out Remember providing us with more of the wonderful Indie-Country-Surf-Rock hybrid. Keep an eye on these guys.
Nick Hodgson departed the Kaiser Chiefs at the end of 2012 and with him their principal songwriter. What then does that mean then for their fifth album ‘Education, Education, Education and War’? Well it’s a mixed bag. The ‘Chiefs have, from the title down, attempted to graft an album aimed at having a pop at modern Britain and the political elite, with songs such as The Factory Gates and Ruffians On Parade, however I remain unconvinced there is much substance behind the yelling and its all just about giving themselves some relevance. Regardless, new songwriters mean things have naturally been mixed up and you can hear that in the energetic yet oddly metal-opening Cannons (again, unconvinced) but the classic Blur-inspired Kaiser Chiefs are there deep down, but not quite as polished. The Kaiser Chiefs are trying to re-find their feet, give it time and they may yet stumble across the magic formula again.
I guess if you craft your fame in the clubs of Las Vegas you have to find a sound that appeals to the masses and for me, Imagine Dragons are just that, easy to listen to and reasonably inoffensive – and that’s my gripe. It’s all just a bit too easy, but then if your music flows from the same veins as Coldplay and U2 then that’s not a surprise – though I would certainly take Imagine Dragons over those two. Even in the midst of the Middle East you couldn’t escape Radioactive; Imagine Dragons certainly know how to construct bit hitters. Demons is the perfect example of the monster tracks that litter ‘Night Visions’ but, as good they seem to be, I just can’t get excited, and that for me speaks volumes.
Thank goodness Scotland voted against independence otherwise we wouldn’t be able to call Twin Atlantic ours. The Glaswegians have compiled a record teaming of grunge-punk-stadium rock meets Biffy Clyro (yeah yeah, just because they are Scottish) wonders. ‘Great Divide’ (are we getting political again?) opens with melancholic piano track The Ones That I Love. However, don’t settle down for some easy listen as the Def Leppard mugging Heart And Soul gives us a true indication of what is to come, followed by true rock tracks such as I Am An Animal and Actions That Echo (is that a Hundred Reasons riff?), songs that all belong on the largest stadium stages.
Finally, the man that never disappoints; Frank Turner. Smashing open ‘Tape Deck Heart’ with Recovery, the moment Turner sings “Blacking in and out in a strange flat in East London/Somebody I don’t really know just gave me something to help settle me down and to stop me from always thinking about you” it is evident that we are in for a treat. Our beloved reinvented punk to folk singer has gifted us with an album full of emotionally entrenched tracks. From The Way I Tend To Be through to the acoustic Tell Tale Signs Turner draws us in with stories of failed relationships and heart ache and then dropping us deeper with the pure folk Anymore before dragging is away from our impending suicide to the heights of Oh Brother. Turner has crafted songs of pure poetry whilst remaining heart wrenchingly honest. After ‘England Keep My Bones’ Turner has swapped nostalgia for a retrospective masterpiece that can lift us to the heavens before dropping us back down to the earth and all its agony – as shown by the absorbing yet painful closer Broken Piano. My album of the year (thus far).