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Released 17 February

 

High Top Mountain

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

There is much heart and soul permeating throughout Sturgill Simpson’s debut release on Loose Music that runs a gauntlet of emotions ranging from failed relationships to hardships of the working kind before paying tribute, with genuine affection, during ‘Hero’. Having recorded ‘High Top Mountain’ – a reference to a particular site with significance in Kentucky close to where Sturgill Simpson grew up – at Falling Rock (Nashville) under the watchful eye of producer Dave Cobb and later Hillbilly Central; the latter of which featured such country legends as Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, the desire to create an authentic sounding country record was evident from the start having also enlisted the skilful talents of Country Hall of Fame pianist Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins and steel guitarist Robby Turner. Where others may have buckled under such self-induced pressure, Sturgill Simpson has taken in his stride as ‘High Top Mountain’ is a cast-iron collection of archetypal country that evokes memories of a period in music confined to the history books. That is not to say that Sturgill Simpson is without his own identity because the wild and passionate ‘Poor Rambler’ and exquisite delivery and honest admissions of ‘Water In A Well’ are but two songs that suggest otherwise. In fact, it is not difficult to comprehend where such emotions stem from, having spent years drifting in and out of unfulfilling occupations which, in hindsight, has led to the position where Sturgill Simpson now finds himself as ‘High Top Mountain’ is deserving of high praise indeed.


Released Out now

 

Uten at du vet det

Sigrun Loe Sparboe

Tylden

‘Uten at du vet det’ is Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s first solo outing after deciding to make the move back north after a lengthy stint residing in the nation’s capital. In accordance with this transition to a place closer to her roots was the decision to compose all of the songs in her native language, in order to build a stronger relationship with each and every composition and truly express the song’s emotions. Such decisions appear to have paid off as ‘Uten at du vet det’ is instantly spellbinding with its plush string arrangements and uplifting qualities that reveal themselves layer by layer. There is a real live quality to ‘Solefall’, with the vocal pushed to the fore and accompanied by delicate guitar, before changing lane and shifting up a gear with the delightfully addictive ‘Ta mæ med’ complete with handclaps and foot stomps. ‘Nord’ is an ode to home and is delivered in a combination of sumptuous strings and vocal to turn even the harshest of critics which is game, set and match once ‘Globus med lys’ intoxicates the senses with its slow dance under the moonlight. Despite all of the loveliness, ‘Uten at du vet det’ makes a deviation with the dark undercurrent of fingerpicking ‘Ved rokken’ and closely pursued by the anxious and persuasive ‘Ingen vet’ and utterly sublime ‘Unnskyld’. Such digression is completely welcome due to providing a fine balance of emotions and, in the process, sets up ‘Uten at du vet det’ as a debut that will be extremely difficult to surpass due to being nigh on perfect.


Released Out now

 

Universe

Truckfighters

Fuzzorama Records / Sony Music Norway

Coming on the back of very high praise indeed from Josh Homme of QOTSA fame along lines of, “Probably the best band that ever existed”, Truckfighters duly repay such faith with an album chockfull of stoner rock straight from Sweden. Consisting of seven tracks, which is probably wise considering some of its contents sprawling mini-epics – the excellent chiming guitar signature of ‘The Chairman’ that is pepped up further with a robust undercurrent – ‘Universe’ marks the fourth long player from this Swedish three piece. With songs often rotating around driving rhythms which appear similar in nature yet reveal themselves to be something completely different after several sittings, Truckfighters open up in style with the blustery ‘Mind Control’ and aforementioned ‘The Chairman’ before leaving it up to the multi-layered ‘Get Lifted’ to truly stretch its wings and reveal the band’s skilful musicianship and further creative talents. The name Truckfighters has just got that much bigger as ‘Universe’ is a deeply rich and, on occasions, complex record that deserves to be heard.


Released Out now

 

DISN30LAND AF30R D30K

D-A-D

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.


Released Out now

 

Memphis

Spymob

Untitled

Having received a tipoff regarding this latest release from Spymob – the musicians behind Pharrell Williams’ productions – leaves nothing but a feeling of eternal gratitude due to the quality of the songs on offer here. With an album that is more twang than anything remotely disco, ‘Memphis’ is built on alt-country foundations with elements of indie pop as indicated by ‘I Dream About Her’ that stumbles to gather its thoughts after a night out on the tiles with Beck’s ‘Odelay’ before facing the Monday morning blues. ‘Sometimes It Doesn’t Feel Right’ is equally hazy yet more country in its leanings and aching from the inside out. There is a lovely lilting chorus to the more downbeat ‘Sundays’ that re-treads a similar theme to the aforementioned album opener as another week comes to a close and nothing but thoughts of the dreaded working week ahead. Where this album really pays off, however, is the diversity Spymob bring to ‘Memphis’ due to their ability to turn their hands to a variety of musical genres, which this four piece subtly integrate between the cracks without straying from its main intentions of an alt-country sound. Such evidence is found in the choppy guitar work and slightly eccentric ‘Making A Killing’, bringing to mind Beck once more, and the intricacies and dexterity of ‘Heavy Load’ before resuming to the more conventional and breezy country goodness of ‘Sweet Lovin’ High’. If the year had reached its conclusion already, then ‘Memphis’ would be topping the end of year album poll because it is simply that good. As it stands, Spymob has just set the benchmark for others to follow, as ‘Memphis’ opens 2014 in some style.


Released Out now

 

Sirene

Skambankt

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.


Released Out now

 

No Depression

Uncle Tupelo

Sony

Viewed by many as torchbearers for the alt-country movement, Uncle Tupelo’s ‘No Depression’ is given the re-issue treatment by way of a Legacy Edition that sees a multitude of extras including, for the first time on CD, the 10-song demo tape ‘Not Forever, Just For Now’ that was recorded by the original line-up of Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn (1989). Given that this album was first released in 1990, ‘No Depression’ has not lost any of its edge with its intriguing mix of country and indie rock that no doubt had some bearing on Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’ during the same decade. With producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie behind the helm and responsible for artists such as Radiohead, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr, then the crossover of styles becomes even more apparent with the ‘Graveyard Shift’ and ‘Factory Belt’ leading the way. ‘No Depression’ is a timely re-release considering the current popularity in roots music, but a reminder of a ground-breaking album that should secure a new level of interest from those unfortunate to miss out during its initial release.


Released Out now

 

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.


Released Out now

 

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’.


Released Out now

 

High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia

‘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

Bastions

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.


Released Out now

 

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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