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Mermaid Records

With clever use of words to indicate the milestone Danish ‘cowpunk’ rockers D-A-D has reached with 30 Years 30 Hits, such longevity is duly rewarded with this accolade consisting of a double CD with tracks spanning from the band’s initial beginnings in 1987 to the present. The secret to D-A-D’s enduring appeal lies in their ironic play on words and mix of melodic and (often) hard-edged rock that is at its peak with the wild and savage ‘Marlboro Man’, psychobilly influenced ‘Isn’t That Wild’ and the more considered ‘A New Age Moving In’. There is, however, much to absorb here with a more mainstream yet nonetheless compelling ‘It’s After Dark’ revealing a penchant for pop music, to the ‘raising a smile’ and defiance of lead vocalist Jesper Binzer’s ‘I Won’t Cut My Hair’. DISN30LAND AF30R D30K is a compilation to be rightly celebrated and not interpreted as a parting farewell as these albums sometimes suggest because there is definitely more to come from D-A-D when considering the depth and quality of this 30 year landmark.

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Sony Music Norway

Hailing from Jærland in Rogaland, Norway, Skambankt offer a subtle version of hard rock that is more Queens of the Stoneage than Queensrÿche. The immediate impact ‘Anonyme hatere’, with its driving guitars, sets out ‘Sirene’ as a serious  record that has visited one or two dark places considering a few of the titles on offer. Look no further than the pounding rhythm of ‘Voodoo’ or ‘Sort blod’, that wouldn’t sound out of place in terms of the current renaissance The Cult is experiencing overseas, to understand where Skambankt is coming from. Despite early signs indicating a touch of the sameness, it is left to the gradual ascent and ethereal qualities of ‘Gamle spøkelser’ to set a different course, which is duly followed by the rugged exterior of ‘Sånne som deg’ with its welcome interchanging vocals, before being consumed by the dark shroud that is ‘Ulv, ulv’. With an imminent winter tour, the songs making up ‘Sirene’ will definitely prosper in a live setting, but overall, there is too much familiarity to suggest that Skambankt’s latest effort is breaking any new ground despite containing noticeable strengths.

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Full Skull

Bent Life

Fist In The Air & 6131 Records

With a high volume of live dates planned throughout 2014, Lincoln, Nebraska’s Bent Life is more than prepared for such a lengthy schedule judging by the powerhouse that is latest album ‘Full Skull’. Thundering out of the traps is title track ‘Full Skull’, setting the tone with its pulsating guitar assault and met by the intriguing complexities and bullish manner of ‘Bricks’, only for all to be consumed by the cavernous and more primitive bellow that is ‘Unlearn’. There is no doubt that the contents of ‘Full Skull’ will be equally at home when in a live setting, as there is a suggestion of a looseness to the recordings, despite the technical efficiencies on display, that will probably usher in moments of improvisation, which can only be a good thing. At full throttle, Bent Life is leading the overseas charge when it comes to a hardcore sound.

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Fly Toward The Sun EP

Swan Dive

Day By Day & Fist In The Air Records

With preconceptions high of yet more punk noises judging by the photographic images accompanying the press release, Swan Dive’s ‘Fly Toward The Sun’ EP comes as a massive surprise and one that is more than welcomed. Comprising of members of More Than Life, Dead Swans and Last Witness, Swan Dive deliver four tracks awash in a haze of shoegaze and mild grunge bringing to mind a host of bands that littered the music scene during the 90s. Lead song ‘Toward The Sun’ is instantly appealing with its wavering guitars and fuzzy vocals that reveal a narrative that is in a state of flux. ‘Dirtbag’ is more of the same but with a midsection that sees guitars wonderfully cascading before levelling out once more. The finale is beautiful as it is bleak and riding on a wave of singular guitar and deeply forlorn vocal that is cast adrift.  With a busy scheduled planned for 2014, Swan Dive could be this year’s surprise ticket judging by the sheer quality of ‘Fly Toward The Sun’.

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High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen


‘High Hopes’ is business as usual for Bruce Springsteen that sees his loyal crew the E Street Band and a return for Ron Aniello on production duties helping to make this latest effort a worthy successor to the excellent ‘Wreaking Ball’ (2012). Where this album differs, however, is the inspired decision to involve Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who provided cover for the Australian leg of Springsteen’s tour last year. Such is the influence of Morello – providing guitar almost throughout and a duet with the Boss on ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ – that Springsteen was moved to say that; “Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level”. High praise indeed that also applies to the rest of the ensemble, as Springsteen continues to mine a rich vein of form by reworking a few ideas as well as providing covers. It’s Morello’s guitar signature that sets the wheels in motion during title track ‘High Hopes’, as it echoes in and out and supported by a bustling rhythm that is punctuated with brass instrumentation before stumbling into the gangsters occupying the streets of the mild funk of ‘Harry’s Place’. ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ is memorable for its infectious rhythm but also the street politics at its centre, whereas ‘The Wall’ is equally affecting for its personal memory of a departed friend lost in action in Vietnam but also for its delicate delivery. Despite all the success and financial gain, Bruce Springsteen continues to remain true to his beliefs in the blue-collar worker and genuinely cares for those who remain marginalized as latest album ‘High Hopes’ reflects.

Released January 27


Bedfellows: The Forgotten Daughter EP


Holy Roar Records

Just when you think you have heard it all before, up pops an absolute belter of an EP with much depth and creativity to suggest there is considerable mileage left in the tank when it comes to a vastly populated scene that is post-hardcore (add your own definition here). The band responsible for this vehement and at times diverse collection of songs is Bastions, who bring the curtain down on their Bedfellows concept with second instalment ‘The Forgotten Daughter’. Whether it’s the restrained qualities of the brooding ‘Empty Vessel’ with its forlorn subject matter that is instantly mopped up by the raw and breakneck intensity of ‘Foreign Bodies’ to the chaotic shrill of ‘The Water Tower’, Bastions appear to be offering (appropriately) their final thoughts on a deeply sensitive area before confining it to history. The final statement, however, is left to the threadbare opening of ‘Murmuring’ with its admission “I’ve got it so good, I’m lying to myself” that runs a little too close for comfort due to having more than a ring of truth about it. On the strengths of this EP, the next recorded output from Bastions is going to be a tantalising prospect indeed.

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Themes Amongst Thieves (single)

Circle Of Reason

Ambicon Records

The accompanying video to this latest single release from relative newcomers Circle Of Reason leans towards American post-punk bands Blink 182, Bowling For Soup et al due to possessing a similar mischievous sense of humour. However, that is where the comparisons end because ‘Themes Amongst Thieves’ has more in common with the alternative rock sounds of Smashing Pumpkins and QOTSA with a slight soft spot for the Deftones despite sounding considerable years apart. There is an undisputed level of confidence threating to brim over when it comes to ‘Themes Amongst Thieves’ which is highly admirable considering this is only Circle Of Reason’s third release. If such form can be expressed when it comes to talk of a full-length player, then the future bodes well for this four-piece band. Now, anyone for a game of Ping-Pong?

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Floodlights EP


Sub Culture Records

The 80s revival is in full swing as we enter the early stages of 2014 with Norwegian five-piece Shatoo. Back from a long hiatus, Shatoo dust down the synths to bring an instantly memorable slice of pop music with the rather infectious and open admission that is ‘Floodlights’. With a whole host of remixes providing various interpretations of the title track, helping to revive further the 80s nostalgia due to being a regular feature of single releases during this period, Shatoo appear rejuvenated and no doubt buoyed by the likes of 80s electro-oddballs Empire of the Sun, for example, that a comeback of sizeable proportions could well be on the cards.

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Beast Milk

Svart Records

With artwork more attuned to an altogether different scene, Beast Milk conjure up the ghost of Joy Division, bringing it up-to-date via Interpol but sounding far lower in the mix during ‘Death Reflects Us’ and all the better for it. The room temperature fails to rise above freezing during the aptly titled ‘The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls’ as guitars run full throttle throughout before arriving at the equally bleak in name ‘Genocidal Crush’. It is this latter song, however, that raises the stakes higher for Beast Milk, offering an uncanny resemblance to Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen) as it wrings out a more melodic edge yet still retaining a claustrophobic feel. Such a dense atmosphere is all too infectious as it transmits to ‘You Are Now Under Our Control’, plummeting to further depths under a pounding rhythm and cast adrift vocal supplied by Kvohst.  If you’re looking for songs full of optimism, then you won’t find too much of that here, but what you will find is a thoroughly persuasive album of postpunk and indie guitar rock with an ice-cold exterior that will satisfy fans of Bauhaus and the previously mentioned Joy Division and Interpol.

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Fjorden Baby!


Moody and atmospheric best describes the opening submission ‘Verden e du’ from west coast Norwegians Fjorden Baby! as it inhabits the same endless void that Spacemen 3 and Sonic Boom were merrily residing in not so long ago. Any further such comparisons ends right there as the comfy psychedelic slippers are tucked away once ’11 etasje’ twists and turns in various directions of warped electronica and elements of dub with only the aid of a mild rap for guidance. ‘Tingene’ is mid-nineties New Order but with a Bergen dialect and will no doubt be the musical accompaniment to TV2’s football coverage when they decide to show the highlights in slow-motion next season. Despite the hotchpotch of musical references, ‘Fjordkloden’ functions with ease and is a real delight, especially during the chunky rhythms and gloomy 80s outlook of ‘Shanghai Express’, which is proceeded by near jangling indie guitars of ‘Vingene’ sweeping down on the back of some enchanting vocals and leaving nothing but a warm afterglow. ‘Vinduene’ offers yet more of the straightforwardness coupled with genuine oddness as it meanders at a steady pace before breaking into a trot of rumbling drums and a vocal attempting to bring some form of solace to the central commentary. An absorbing and thrilling experience, ‘Fjordkloden’ really deserves the upmost respect.

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James Arthur

James Arthur

Syco Music

There is no doubting the vocal ability when it comes to James Arthur and his eponymously titled album as clearly the man is gifted, but when it comes to the actual songs there is just a little too much familiarity of having been here once too often before. Take, for example, the hit single ‘Impossible’; an inoffensive yet plodding composition that could have been delivered by countless pop singers over the past couple of years, due to possessing more than a whiff of the aforementioned familiarity, which also seeps into the equally bland ‘Recovery’ and music by numbers ‘Is This Love’. Where this album begins to show signs of life, despite still clinging to the edges of the safety blanket, is the quieter reflective moments such as ‘Roses’ with fine accompaniment by Emeli Sandé and equally matched ‘Certain Things’ with Chasing Grace providing the vocal support on this occasion. ‘Smoke Clouds’, being a James Arthur composition, rides on a soulful vocal that is drifting down a lonesome path but one that reveals a genuine amount of personality and all the better for it. This is perhaps the crux of the problem as James Arthur can apply his vocals to suit a raft of genres, as indicated by the tail-end rap of ‘Flyin’, but it remains to be seen whether the same flexibility can be applied when it comes to the choice of songs next time around.

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We Need Medicine

The Fratellis

BMG Chrysalis

One couldn’t move without hearing the ubiquitous ‘Chelsea Dagger’ a few years back from Glasgow’s The Fratellis due to its infectious pop hooks seemingly infiltrating every pub, club and football stadium in the land. Little wonder that The Fratellis is still a going concern as they have a knack of crafting short, sharp and, more times than not, irresistible indie blues rock numbers with an occasional sprinkling of pop dust as it’s business as usual with ‘We Need Medicine’. This time around there is a real sense of determination to wake the nation from its slumber with the rolling rhythm of ‘Halloween Blues’ – “When you’ve got the Halloween blues it’s best to complain, give them a stare and you’ll keep them awake” – suitably followed by the attempted sprint through ‘This Old Ghost Town’ with its pent up emotions played out via driving keyboards. Recent single ‘Seven Nights Seven Days’ lets in a little country twang but fails to lift the disillusionment felt, whereas ‘Whisky Saga’ is trademark ‘Fratellis with its jaunty rhythm. ‘Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart’ soars to another level which, on this sort of form, can also save your soul. Without perhaps knowing it themselves, The Fratellis possess all the ingredients to counter any persistent ailments because third album in, ‘We Need Medicine’ is quite simply the perfect remedy.

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