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Siren Charms

In Flames

Sony

With the clamour for metal band In Flames to lead the way for a ‘mark two’ version of one of their previous, and extremely well-received albums from their longstanding supporters, latest release ‘Siren Charms’ sees no signs of adhering to such demands just yet. Top marks however, as In Flames stick to an agenda that sees them following a creative path that provides a slight digression from the heavier sounds of yore. That is not to say that In Flames has ditched their metal roots and trademark heavy riffs as there is enough here to hopefully satisfy older fans, as well as appeal to potential new fans. It’s more that the harder edges find themselves intermingling with the fresher approaches consisting of slower songs and ballad-esque numbers that are definitely to be welcomed. The alteration in sound owes some debt to the shift in working conditions that saw the band record for the first time outside of Gothenburg and set up base in Berlin at the legendary Hansa Tonstudio. With the likes of Bowie, U2 and Killing Joke having recorded at the same location, it seems plausible that In Flames were inspired by such artists, considering the more melodic touches mixed with the larger riffs and synthesisers. If it’s direct correlations you’re looking for, however, then think Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Sisters of Mercy and Zeromancer and you’re somewhere close to understanding In Flames progression, as depicted by the magnificent trio of  ‘In Plain View’, ‘Paralyzed’ and ‘Through Oblivion’. ‘Siren Charms’ might not appeal to the previously mentioned longstanding legions of supporters, but it is an album to be commended for its daring to go against the grain and drum up a different beat with almost radio friendly propositions (‘Dead Eyes’) mixing with harsher elements (‘When The World Explodes’) which takes some doing if your name is In Flames.


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Hjertebank

Frk. Fryd

Sony Music Norway

A long time in the waiting, Stavanger-based Frk. Fryd is finally ready with their first long player ‘Hjertebank’. Eleven tracks of punk-rock inspired energy that accelerates from the start with the rifftastic ‘Svart Sol’ and immediately followed by the shorter and sharper shock of electricity that is ‘Skyene’, which has a fine line in knitting together its vocals in wonderfully harmonious fashion (listen to those near howls blowing down the tunnels!). The influence of grunge and its associated big sister that was riot grrrl during the early nineties are additional reference points but not something overly obsessive here, as the tunes remain focused and a lot tighter with definitely less aggression when it comes to the vocals. Occasionally, this lack of ‘bite’ becomes irksome as there are periods where Frk. Fryd should be snarling at their prey rather than sounding a tad cute [‘Tok Meg Med’]. Normal service is resumed, however, with the grit of ‘Tyvens Dans’ serving up its remedy with a coarser set of vocal chords, which is then shared with the melodically tight and rockin’ ‘Blod og Honning’. The rawness of ‘Blikket Ditt’ adds a more natural edge and is possibly the closest indication of this all-female group’s live sound. Topping that, however, is the layered instrumentation of ‘Virvelvind’ with its memorable high step in the vocals during the chorus. While there is a lack of variation on one or two occasions, the overall feel of ‘Hjertebank’ is positive considering it’s the first major step for Frk. Fryd to a long and illustrious career if they desire it.


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New Third Lanark

Craig Ward

Jezus Factory Records

After working with a diverse range of musical projects including dEUS, The Frames, The Summer of Mars and, more recently, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen, as well as a wonderful acoustic-folk collaboration with Mark Mulholland, the seemingly restless soul that is Craig Ward pops up on the creative radar again with a solo album under the moniker ‘New Third Lanark’. This time the music emitting from Craig Ward is purely instrumental, with five ambient compositions that barely rise above a few decibels in sound. Having recorded this largely improvised effort with use of electric guitar and an assortment of electronic devices, the atmospheric pieces of sound shimmer and glide through a number of spaces, beginning with the flickering of light ‘Tropic of Bennett’ and ending with the warped and ethereal sounding ‘Lemo’. The beauty of ‘New Third Lanark’ is that if this makes it to a live setting, then the room for further exploration is boundless and one that causes much intrigue when considering the darker veil of noise covering ‘Blazes As In Dixon’ and the previously mentioned ‘Lemo’ that is already nagging to be explored further such is its lengthy duration. It would seem Craig Ward has unlocked yet another creative component in his mind as ‘New Third Lanark’ reveals an artist not willing to remain still in the moment as the shifting tone of these ambient sounds clearly indicates.


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Wilderwolves

Wilderwolves

Jezus Factory Records

Having grown up on a musical diet consisting of American underground indie stalwarts Palace Music and Smog before soaking up the sounds of Howe Gelb, Matt Ward and Jeff Tweedy at a slightly later date, Rob Eelen considered it time to scribble a few musical compositions of his own and set sail for the life of a singer-songwriter. Forsaking his own moniker for the more appealing Wilderwolves – no doubt a ploy to avoid any association with the aforementioned singer-songwriter category despite this being a predominantly one musician affair – this debut album reveals an array of honest emotions, often steeped in plaintive lyrics with an intensely raw sound. With assistance coming from producer Geert Van Bever, Wilderwolves greets the listener with the bare minimum of acoustic guitar and a vocal claiming, “There’s no way back, I got stuck on you” and immediately you get an idea of where this album is coming from. There are other instruments added to the overall recording, with Eelen introducing piano during the somewhat subdued yet trying its hardest to sound upbeat of ‘Disco Dance’, which remains a masterstroke in song writing such is its dalliance with pop music combined with an overall sober side. The distant sounding opening of ‘Great Days’ assumes a brave face when inside there is nothing but ruin, which extends to the tragic relationship of ‘Danger Close’ that possesses a country edge as depicted by the shooting stars of steel strings illuminating the night sky momentarily, with the song drifting slowly towards its conclusion. A more robust and melodic sound lifts ‘Song For Now People’, which seems to spur the following ‘To Deploy’ into action with its choppy rhythm greatly exemplified by the fuzzy bass, staccato electric guitar and thumping drum beats. With there being a strong feeling of clinging to the past, the memories echoed throughout ‘Wilderwolves’ is something to revel in when they are presented in such an absorbing and intelligent manner that sets out this debut album as one to seriously treasure.


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Over The Sea (single)

Frøder

Sony Music Norway

Bergen-based artist Frøder throws her hat into the ring once more after the debut release that was ‘Speed of Sound’. Having received some glowing praise regarding the former single, Frøder continues where this song left off with a combination of indie infused electronic pop. Comparisons have been drawn with Florence + the Machine and quite understandable when hearing the sweeping and often dramatic rhythm of ‘Over The Sea’, complete with a commanding vocal presence that soars as high as the music as well dealing with its lower echelons. Having gained invaluable experience from her CLMD collaboration, The Stockholm Syndrome, and with Fender Heist’s ‘Fighter’, Frøder appears to be taking the right approach by steadily carving out a niche that is built on solid foundations that should see a few more followers jumping on board once a full album is ready.  By revealing such strong character of voice and with two worthy single releases this early into her career, the future looks bright for this Norwegian singer.


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My My Oh My (single)

Surfalot

Toothfairy

First up for new artist on the block Surfalot is the bright and breezy debut single ‘My My Oh My’. Having built up his credentials via a stint in Liverpool working with producer Tarek Musa (Transgressive Records) before a return to more familiar surroundings of his home in Norway, Surfalot, real name Bendik Johnsrud, is ready with his brand of indie synth and guitar pop that should, if there’s any justice in this world, appeal to a broad number of music obsessives. The single itself arrives at a time when the final days of summer are fast receding, with the simple demands of the song’s narrative sensing such change when it could still be cause for celebration if only the other half of this partnership would agree to slip on their dancing shoes. ‘My My Oh My’ is built for such moments, however, with its infectious melody having a spring in its step with a slight scent of the early 80s looming just around the corner. If Surfalot can ride out this summer season with emotions still intact, then the next issued release from this Norwegian looks set to be an intriguing prospect.


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All The Way Up

Ilias

Aguenar

The breakdown of communication seems to be a recurring theme for Algerian/Australian singer-songwriter and musical producer Ilias when it comes to his second effort ‘All The Way Up’. With one given the option of choosing which artwork should represent this sophomore album consisting of three space themes, any notion of a trial separation from a current relationship is either being taken to extremes or alternatively suggesting that such an option has long since departed. Beginning where previous long player ‘Somewhere In Time’ left off with the reflective guitar stroll of ‘Someone Like You’, there is enough suggestion, musically, that the windows of opportunity are opening for the first time despite the lyrical severance at the heart of this song. Such optimism gathers further momentum with the breezy indie-pop ‘My Girl With Blue Eyes’ that continues to have links to its predecessor ‘Somewhere…’ but also provides the first indicator of a departure from this former album due to being consistently tighter in its execution and offering a more full-bodied approach. ‘All The Way Up’ deviates truly from any former path once the atmospheric ‘Picture The Sun..’ glides into view and sets up the much-touted, in these very pages, of former single ‘Fire Away’. It was the manner in which ‘Fire Away’ seemed to dramatically dispel any former guidelines by throwing itself to the lions and undergo a major transformation with its film score concept and flitting rhythmic pattern that suggested only one word, DRIVE. From this neon lit landscape of LA, the influence of Radiohead can be heard with the melancholic ‘It’s All About Her’ that exists in its own shell of atmospheric electronics and quiet acoustic guitar and is complimented by the memory held during ‘Turn The Clock Back’ with a nice touch of glockenspiel. ‘Jet Glow’ is the proceeding vapour trail and provides further room for reflection with its emerging and often moody guitar reflexes. Despite suggestion of a future direction involving film scores, Ilias continues his love affair with indie music as ‘She’s Someone Else’s Problem Now’ pays homage to The Smiths, whereas elements of Radiohead spring to mind once more during ‘Finding You’ considering its somewhat improvised guitar with a rather nasty bite. The reprise of ‘Someone Like You’ is a fitting finale not only for surpassing its former incarnation with a vocal that gives an honest account of personal loss, but also for being the last tear shed on a body of work that is consistently better and creatively richer than its predecessor. ‘All The Way Up’ is a magnificent achievement and one that offers plenty of scope for future directions.


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Futurology

Manic Street Preachers

Columbia

A quick turnaround from the Manic Street Preachers after the critical success that was last year’s ‘Rewind The Film’. Back with a thirteen-track album that marks a significant change of direction for this Welsh trio by drawing on a number of electronic influences ranging from Kraftwerk to early Simple Minds, due to a longstanding affection for such musical reference points but also as a result of a previous road trip throughout Europe when touring that proved inspirational. That is not to say that ‘Futurology’ is not without the various ticks and nuances of a typical MSP album because there are signs of their post-punk sound via a number of guitar riffs and lead singer James Bradfield’s instantly recognisable vocal that still amazes with its ability to navigate its way around complex and jagged lyrics. Another notable difference is the role Nicky Wire’s bass performs as it pushes to the fore during a number of songs with a real authority (‘Walk Me To The Bridge’, ‘Misguided Missile’) à la Derek Forbes and provides a solid spine to the band’s more adventurous urges. While there is suggestion of a certain level of bleakness considering the trip back in time, there is light between the covers as suggested by the immediacy and breezy nature of the title track and furthered exemplified by the rousing chorus of ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ with its golden splashes of electronica. Politics and a sense of detachment is portrayed to great effect during the machinelike ‘Let’s Go To War’, only to be usurped in the futuristic mechanical stakes by the hypnotic electronic pulses of ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’. There is no doubting the Manics’ love affair with music as ‘Futurology’ continues a previous trend of guest vocalists with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside’s wondrous touch on ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’ being one such highlight. Such affection, however, also gets the better of them and is best illustrated by the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)’ as it is no ‘Theme For Great Cities’. Thankfully, this remains the only hiccup in what transpires to be a monumental leap forward for the Manic Street Preachers, without completely ditching their past, as the barely audible intro of the krautrock-inspired ‘Mayakovsky’ raises much curiosity, if you know a thing or two about the Manic Street Preachers history, by ushering in a bit of The Beatles ‘White Album’. It appears the Manic Street Preachers is entering a rich vein of form and one that is opening up to the possibilities of experimentation. Hopefully, the band’s next endeavour will continue along a similar path as ‘Futurology’ because it is definitely among their finest works but, more importantly, it’s the first signs of a fresh start.


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Nothing’s Changed

Rough Hands

Holy Roar Records

After their eponymously titled debut EP, Rough Hands return with five new tracks under the banner ‘Nothing’s Changed’. The title of this latest EP is not to be taken literally, considering the progression Rough Hand’s has made since their aforementioned debut offering. While any differences between these two EPs is subtle, apart from the skeletal and atmospheric instrumental that is track two, ‘Nothing’s Changed’ shows a tad more experimentation with songs given a bit more room to breathe yet still retaining the coarse and corrosive edges held in both vocals and sound. The pummelling rhythm of ‘Mind In Pieces’ is instantaneous, but where this song may have pursued a similar path to its predecessor in its entirety, it manages to shift down a gear and is all the better for it. The title track is simply immense with its dark undertones, controlled aggression and forceful guitars that eventually slides into the maelstrom of noise that is ‘Selfish Misery’ which, to Rough Hands credit, remains temporary as it reveals several different facets and a solid indication of a band truly beginning to find their feet. Overall, ‘Nothing’s Changed’ is a significant step in the right direction to a full-length player by offering genuine signs of development but without straying too far from the band’s original concepts.


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48:13

Kasabian

Columbia

Naming your latest album ’48:13′ suggests that time is beginning to catch up with Kasabian. Not that this five piece from Leicester has anything to prove, of course, after a succession of critically well-received albums and legion of loyal supporters championing their cause, but the signs of a band struggling for fresh ideas is slowly beginning to reveal itself. This latest album, however, begins in fine fashion with the humming static of electronics and subdued fizz of guitars that is ‘(shiva)’, before flowering into the thunderous beats and tripped-out psychedelia of ‘Bumblebee’. The film score inspired entrance of ‘Stevie’ would not sound out of place in a Bond film as it eventually catches up with an exhilarating rhythm that gives a fine impression of a song moving in transit as there is a real sense of one car pursuing another, hence the Bond reference. ‘Mortis’ is a mournful and brief instrumental that directs the listener to the first lacklustre effort in the ideas department, both musically and lyrically, with ‘Doomsday’ and followed by the all too familiar ground of yet more pounding beats and boastful comments running throughout ‘Treat’. A change of tempo and style is welcomed with the intriguing ‘Glass’, that is more considered in its use of electronica and fleeting standard instrumentation but then, surprisingly, takes an even greater twist in its strategy by closing out with a spoken word passage that contains the telling line, “When the biggest criminals I ever met wore a suit and tie”. ‘Explodes’ continues the more restrained approach and owes a slight debt to Gary Numan, before returning to tried and trusted ground with the pounding ‘Eez-eh’ that skewers the usual suspects of Primal Scream, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses in one fell swoop. Not without its faults, ’48:13′ warrants enough attention for the sometimes weird and wonderful and one or two forays venturing into classic Kasabian territory. However, it’s the latter category that requires considerable tinkering if, next time around, Kasabian is to enter a whole new era.


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The Bet

Benjamin Finger

Watery Starve

The identity of Norway’s (Frank) Benjamin Finger remains an enigma and one that is on a par with the UK’s modern street artist Banksy. Such a mysterious identity is fitting of the music this Norwegian is peddling, as it is more about electronic atmospheric soundscapes than anything singer-songwriter by way of an acoustic guitar and unkempt facial hair (although…see above regarding the latter). What the listener gets, therefore, with Benjamin Finger’s latest album release ‘The Bet’ is a collage of sounds pertaining to various moods, such as the aptly named ‘Faintheartedness’ with its fleeting rhythm providing the woozy emotions by means of stammering vocalizations and simple piano that eventually ends up chopped and sliced and left flickering in a succession of electronic bleeps and whirrs.  Imagine if you will the characteristic tender openings of guitar strings being picked of an Explosions in the Sky composition and you are somewhere close to the shimmering and waiflike ‘Rosencrans Exit’. One can extract that ‘The Bet’ is concerned with humanities inabilities to safeguard world resources, given that the majority of songs presented here possess dreamlike qualities and therefore suggesting only one likely outcome if the downward spiral persists. ‘Bad-Luck Planet’, in particular, serves as one such precursor by sounding as if it has exited one world only to find itself wedged in a completely vacuous space as illustrated by the repetitive hum of electronica. Just as ‘Nasal Breakdown’ sounds equally grounded in its tracks, the space entered is far more pleasurable considering the beautiful ethereal vocals that surround it. ‘The Bet’ is a patchwork of ideas and emotions stitched together and striving to make sense of the world by means of various electronica and occasional guidance from elements of classical music that provides no further clues to the enigma that is Benjamin Finger only that he remains in a class of his own.


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Producers Politics Passion

Martin Hagfors

Me Records

The name Martin Hagfors is one associated in Norway with a prolific work rate that has resulted in eighteen albums and a long line of song writing contributions for the likes of Askil Holm, Big Bang, Ida Jenshus, Motorpsycho, The National Bank et al. Hagfors latest release entitled ‘Producers Politics Passion’, minus the punctuation, is a match made in heaven for those who have a soft spot for indie pop music with a definite left-field approach. Having enlisted a whole host of guest musicians including such names as Anne Lise Frøkedal, Jenny Hval, Erlend Mokkelbost, Anders Tjore to name but a few, ‘Producers Politics Passion’ is as much about the ‘passions’ of these talented musicians as it is the man in the hot seat, Martin Hagfors. Beginning in fine fashion with the suggestive ‘Kinky Lovers’, due to being a likely example of a composition that a certain Brian Wilson conjures up in his dreams with its lovely warped qualities of mild electronics and vocal delivery. The following, ‘Leaning To The Left’ is open to interpretation (“I might sound out of date…”) but most likely the ‘Politics’ segment and contains some fine musicianship. The dreamlike ‘You’ve Been Replaced’ again contains many different facets when considering its overall meaning, but one clear revelation is that it is a supremely clever ditty that manages to incorporate elements of ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)’ as a means to emphasise its overall message considering the redundancy in the title. There are moments of playing it straight with the easily distracted by how infectious this seductive mellow pop is with ‘Easily Distracted By Love’, until the distant chill of ‘Earl Is Gone’ brings the mood back down, but compellingly so, via some delicious vocal harmonising. ‘Producers Politics Passion’ is a ‘gammeldags’ recipe consisting of intelligent and insightful pop music with a few quirky edges, the kind of which used to be more frequently accepted by the mainstream. As it stands, Martin Hagfors and his musical associates have just produced a winning formula that demands a follow-up if ever the desire exists.



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