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Floodlights EP

Shatoo

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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Climax

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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Fjordkloden

Fjorden Baby!

Columbia

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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The Arcade

Seven Doors Hotel

Snaxville Recordings

The fourth instalment of the Seven Doors Hotel bandwagon titled ‘The Arcade’ is unleashed on Snaxville Recordings. The man behind the moniker is Alexander Lindbäck who turns in a heavy shift having written, produced and played the majority of the instruments, with additional support coming from Henrik Maarud (Amund Maarud) who is also responsible for mixing the songs making up this latest release. ‘The Arcade’ embraces an alt. country sound that is blowing in from the American Southwest rather than the colder climes of Norway where, in fact, this album originates. There is a definite sinking feeling of loss at the heart of ‘The Arcade’, with not much optimism in the pipeline either (‘My Back To The Future’), as songs dwell on what might have been (‘That Day’) to the downright perplexed emotions running through the wonderfully aching country lilt of ‘Sliding Bar’ and more conscious ‘Gone Again’. There is an edginess to album opener ‘Go With You’, reflected to great effect with keys and guitars that eventually give way to the song’s frustrations when the feelings are not reciprocated. Seven Doors Hotel is not all about sweetness and light, however, due to a few honest confessions of their own during ‘Hell’s Hot’ ‘”people acting stupid like they just don’t care, maybe that’s why we’re f****** it up” and when retreading the steps of ‘Sliding Bar’ that brings a more rounded and definitely compelling experience when listening to ‘The Arcade’.


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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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Miami Pop Festival

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Sony Legacy

Beginning in a warts and all ‘Introduction’ consisting of tuning up and occasional apologies before the main spectacle begins, Sony Legacy triumph with the release of Jimi Hendrix live at ‘Miami Pop Festival’. The reason for such enthusiasm for this live experience is due to the inclusion of the songs ‘Tax Free’ and ‘Hear My Train A Comin” which, until now, can be heard for the first time as live stage performances due to being unavailable previously in any format. In addition to these two songs, ‘Miami Pop Festival’ includes the usual candidates of ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxey Lady’; the latter of which is given a second airing due to being scheduled as an afternoon performance and sounding more spacious in places presumably as a result of the more relaxed timeslot. Jimi Hendrix completists will be pleased with the added extras including never before published photographs of this live event and an essay from award-winning music journalist Bob Santelli that rounds off a very fine album package indeed.


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In Dreams: Greatest Hits

Roy Orbison

Sony Legacy

Not a complete retrospective of Roy Orbison and his work, but a well-timed re-release of a previous collection given out during the late 80s which has proven difficult to find. ‘In Dreams: Greatest Hits’ is now issued as a single CD encompassing all 19 tracks of the previous double album release and with the added bonus of being finely tuned in the sound department. Although there is much to enthuse over here, ‘In Dreams: Greatest Hits’ features re-recorded versions of Orbison’s original outputs, focusing on the dark emotional ballads ‘It’s Over’, ‘Crying’ and ‘Running Scared’ as well as obvious inclusions with the rock ‘n’ roll-lite ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ and infectious ‘Dream Baby’. To our chagrin, however, there is a lack of material from Orbison’s work with Sun Records, despite a punchy version of ‘Claudette’ and impressive retake of ‘Ooby Dooby’. The inclusion of ‘In Dreams’ makes up for any deficiencies however, evoking memories of David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ of the late 80s and equal to its original. ‘Up Town’ opens the rock ‘n’ roll door once more at a strolling pace of jangling piano keys and minimal brass before breaking into a near sweat with ‘Mean Woman Blues’. ‘In Dreams: Greatest Hits’ is a timely reissue for those seeking instant gratification when it comes to Roy Orbison’s more well-known material and one that does not stray from its overall intentions.


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Maybe It’s The Caffeine (single)

Otto

Untitled

Still relatively fresh-faced on the underground circuit due to only forming late 2012, Otto return with second single ‘Maybe It’s The Caffeine’. Having gained invaluable experience supporting the likes of Moose Blood and Gnarwolves, Otto remain poised to take the next step with an EP scheduled to record before the end of the year. As it stands, the various issues bubbling beneath the surface of ‘Maybe It’s The Caffeine’ remains a source of irritation and agitation that no amount of coffee could possibly induce. If Otto can maintain such promising form with the hard-edged yet restrained qualities of this current single, then they have an extremely bright future ahead of them.


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What Would Joey Ramone Do? / Ramona Wolf (single)

The Creeping Ivies

Holy Smokes Records

Having tussled for pole position, there was simply no separating the two slices of garage-infused punk rock courtesy of Glasgow’s The Creeping Ivies as latest single ‘What Would Joey Ramone Do? / Ramona Wolf’ comes issued as a double A side single. A wise decision indeed as lead vocalist Becca Bomb gets all riled over the state of modern living during ‘What Would Joey Ramona Do?’, ably supported in her frustrations with a primitive pounding rhythm supplied by Duncan Destruction. ‘Ramona Wolf’ is wailing at the heavens and powered by similar rhythmic beats, albeit performed at a slower tempo, and bringing to mind the likes of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey as it wades through some very murky waters. With an album scheduled for next year, it will be interesting to see what impact The Creeping Ivies will have on a wider and possibly unsuspecting audience. One thing is for certain, however, they will definitely ruffle a few feathers along the way.


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Asymmetry

Karnivool

Columbia

Hailing from Australia, Karnivool raise their collective heads once more for album number three ‘Asymmetry’. Calling on the production services of Nick DiDia (Rage Against The Machine) ‘Asymmetry’ is ambitious in its approach with a sprawling mass of sounds relying on various programming spliced with standard instrumentation. What is particularly appealing here is the lack of posturing as Karnivool, despite the heavy chords, more often than not remain restrained when it comes to the vocal delivery and sounding all the more sincere. Elsewhere it’s the manner in which songs take a nosedive before applying the brakes only to follow another trajectory as expressed by the pummelling noise of ‘A.M. War’ and awe-inspiring elements of ‘Aeons’. Recent single ‘We Are’ is about as commercial as it gets for Karnivool, which is not revealing too much, as it remains dense in its layers only to be surpassed by the utterly compelling ‘The Refusal’ with its interchange of aggressive and controlled vocals before entering territory normally reserved for fellow Aussies Big Heavy Stuff. Clearly, ‘Asymmetry’ will take several sittings before the intricate details become clearer which, in the current climate of instant gratification, can only be a good thing.


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Back To Forever

Lissie

Columbia

It seems an eternity since critical appraisal was bestowed on Lissie’s debut album ‘Catching A Tiger’ but the wait has certainly been worth it as ‘Back To Forever’ is bristling with energy and a little more robust than its predecessor. There is also a maturity to the songwriting as there is more of a consistency overall, such is the depth in quality ranging from the borderline country-rock ballad ‘They All Want You’ to the pounding rhythm and confessional ‘Shameless’ as both songs refer to the superficialities associated with fame. ‘Sleepwalking’ is straight out of Stevie Nicks’ handbook with its pop-rock catchiness. ‘The Habit’ and ‘Further Away (Romance Police)’ also get in on the act with their fleeting resemblances to Fleetwood Mac; the latter of which impresses the most with its brooding attitude and climatic finale. ‘I Bet On You’ is further evidence of the full-bodied approach adopted by Lissie, and all the better for it, as it is one of those songs that possesses a slow release when it comes to familiarity that will creep up on you days later with its infectious hooks hammering away at your senses as it is simply that good! ‘Cold Fish’ is an oddity whereby it works on certain levels but sounds clunky on other occasions whereas ‘Can’t Take It Back’ lands on more familiar turf with its driving pop and a reminder that Lissie can forge a path along such lines if the desire becomes too great. There is none of the second album blues when it comes to ‘Back To Forever’ as it is a resounding success that makes it 2- 0 to Lissie.



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