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Monochrome / Derailed (Single)

Leatherneck

FITA Records

By producing a sound that is more in line with the alternative rock and early grunge that was vastly popular during 90’s America, but not without notable mentions to the likes of early shoegaze with UK indie band Ride, the band at the centre of this glorious racket that is the double A side single, ‘Monochrome / Derailed’, is Leatherneck. The North West of England is the actual destination where Leatherneck has been busy constructing these two songs that run similar themes reflecting on life’s struggles, and the changes these can bring in terms of the people involved and how they’re perceived. The backdrop, musically, to both of these narratives is gritty and guitar-driven, but not without subtle melodic touches that can be heard during both numbers. For example, there’s a definite sweet edge to the guitars of ‘Monochrome’ that sweep along at considerable pace, and countered by the blunt edges of the vocal that makes for a compelling experience. The other offering, ‘Derailed’, is similar in its delivery, only the guitars possess a greater sheen (that’s not a reference to being commercial by the way) which, by the song’s conclusion, are sounding absolutely red hot. An EP is scheduled for next year which, on the basis of this current single, is worth further investigation, especially to see whether Leatherneck can expand on their sound to add variation to the quality set by ‘Monochrome / Derailed’.


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Dead City Dreams

TimeKillers

Inverse Records / Secret Entertainment

Stemming from a remote part of Finland where the lifeblood of any such town is held in the local corner shop, punk-rock outfit, TimeKillers, and their debut album, ‘Dead City Dreams’, is a reactionary call to the boredom and despair that such an existence can ultimately bring. With song titles alluding to such anxiety and desperation, as well as having a habit of producing a wry smile (‘Friday The 13th‘, ‘Don’t Let Me Sleep’, ‘Mirage’), the sounds produced by TimeKillers is predominantly a straight-ahead punk-rock affair with a definite whiff of old-school surrounding it. There are some deviations from such an approach, with the restrained ‘Don’t Let Me Sleep’ that only reverts to type during its finale. The acoustic intro of ‘Happy People’ is another example where other ideas are attempted, despite the foot to the floor rhythm that eventually muscles in, yet it remains an interesting song for its lyrics, that purport to the dead-end existence of the small-town environment, and for the reason that it could function equally as well unplugged. This is a large part of the attraction here, as the honest emotions expressed, coupled with enough melodic touches via the choruses and then mixed with the rawness of the guitars makes for a heady concoction. Head straight to ‘The City’ for the TimeKillers strongest statement on all such levels, as it won’t be long until this band are heading in the opposite direction because there is much to get excited about when it comes to ‘Dead City Dreams’.


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Nordic Tanzen Am Sonntag EP

Elefant

Elefant Music

Recorded live at Charlatan, Ghent, earlier this year, Elefant fill the room with a largely instrumental sound that contains warped guitars, kraut rock, sludge and interestingly, in their words, “nachtwinkel” that translates as night shop for their current EP ‘Nordic Tanzen Am Sonntag’. Opening track ‘Proteus’ is the stuff of late nights, where a nightmarish vision exists via sinister guitars with bouts of distortion, and a backbeat that gives the impression of wading through sludge and making for a very claustrophobic experience. Follow on track, ‘Smithers’, continues along similar lines, only its rhythm is struggling at greater depths with its bass scraping along the bottom yet, despite such adverse conditions, Elefant mange such difficulties by creating an impressive and absolute monster of a rhythm. From these two heavy slabs of instrumentation, the load lessens somewhat during ‘Elefanten’ with the guitars providing direction, yet still fuelling the band’s sound with a creepy element as heard by the skeletal tones of the guitars and additional keyboards. It’s not all about providing a soundtrack, however, as Elefant show that they can do conventional which, by their standards, is still some considerable distance from such a description with the concluding, and frenzied state of ‘Depression’, where instruments intertwine and go into overload with only brief respites via the lead vocal. A real surprise, and one that will take some adjusting to considering its off-kilter approach compared to what’s currently out there, Elefant’s ‘Nordic Tanzen Am Sonntag’ is a welcome addition as well as a welcome relief.


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Seed Husk

Seed Husk

Inverse Records / Secret Entertainment

Seed Husk is an indie-rock five piece hailing from Finland, with an eponymously titled debut album released via the joint coupling of Inverse Records and Secret Entertainment. The material making up this debut album is definitely melodic guitar-based rock with nods of affection towards 90s era grunge and alternative rock. Such references are fully understood considering the wealth of experience at the centre of Seed Husk, as the band members have performed in various different bands prior to this latest project. With the album being recorded and mixed at Electric Fox Studios by Tuomas Kokko; mastered at Chartmakers by Svante Forsbäck, and with Seed Husk handling production, the first song from this debut album came in the form of ‘Hunt’. Those who were fortunate to hear this first single, prior to the release of the full-length album,  would have been right to think that they’re on to something special as the rest of the contents of ‘Seed Husk’ are of the same high consistency. The first song to make its impact is the driving indie-rock of ‘Overstay’ that sees Panu Perkiömäki adding passionate vocals to the tight, pummelling rhythm. There is even greater detail added to the sublime, ‘New Page’, with what sounds like a mandolin accompanying the acoustic guitar during its start-up, before going on to beef up its overall sound. The subsequent ‘Scavengers’ is less forgiving with a rawer edge to its overall sound, only to give way momentarily to a melodic chorus that really lifts this song. Where Seed Husk truly excel is their application of detail to each and every song, where considerable layers are added that steer these songs along different avenues, before getting back on track to reach their final destinations. It’s an impressive collection of songs and it goes by the name ‘Seed Husk’.


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Patriarchs

Ruhe

Eilean Records

Limited to a mere 150 copies is the new ambient long player from Ruhe with ‘Patriarchs’. Mastered by Ian Hawgood in September this year, the work that is presented is largely a succession of instrumentals designed for the wee small hours that suggests nothing but a lonely, isolated state where the only company that exists are one’s own thoughts. Bleak as that may sound, the song writing crafted is of the highest calibre as it carefully depicts the loneliness by means of instrumentation that is raw and stripped back where you can almost sense the cold creeping in under the doorways or up through the cracks in the floorboards, adding further fuel to the melancholy of this album. Examples of this can be gleaned from the title track, ‘Patriarchs’, which plays out like a forgotten record player with a sustained hiss in the background and its piano accompaniment filling the space of cold empty rooms, only to be momentarily broken by the crackle of a faint voice that sounds equally forgotten and consequently left in time. Fragments of this track seep into the next song, ‘Felled’, with the piano, along with filtered harmonised vocals unearthing the beauty at the bottom of this instrumental in a combined effort towards its conclusion. Speaking of beautiful, ‘Guide’ adds shards of light via its piano melody but is frustratingly cut short midway through, due to changing direction and leaving one to ponder that, in life, you can’t have everything. With this album being a warts and all affair, ‘Shelter’ is probably the closest you will get to experiencing an artist at work where it’s the sound of ideas being tried out for the first time (piano lid closing, stools creaking, shuffling of feet, etc.) and then patched together. With ‘Patriarchs’ expressing an overall sense of solitude, never has such seclusion from the rest of the world sounded so appealing with the fragile compositions making up this album.


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The Ocean Floor EP

Ship Captain Crew

SCC Music

Ship Captain Crew has experienced a rather successful year thus far, having made their debut at this year’s Warped Tour and serving support slots with the likes of Knuckle Puck and Real Friends. Such victories look set to continue with the release of their latest EP ‘The Ocean Floor’. The sentiments echoed throughout this EP have more in common with the title of Ship Captain Crew’s current offering, but the tunes this crew (sorry!) serve up are far more resilient. It’s the band’s knack of writing strong melodies that lifts the songs out of the doldrums where crushed emotions often exist, but are soon answered with a fighting spirit by the likes of the pop punk ‘Honesty’, which possesses a real kick to its rhythm that constantly propels the song forward, and then followed by a moving vocal turn from Roger Alexander Moreno during the equally impressive ‘Hollows’. With two acoustic tracks added to the set Ship Captain Crew reveal another side to their song armoury, and one that shows up under a closer microscopic view the depth and details that go into the band’s song writing. Life on the bottom of the ocean is not a bad place to be when you’ve got Ship Captain Crew for company and their ‘The Ocean Floor’ EP, as there is enough here to suggest that these songs are focused on moving forward, despite the reflective stance of the narratives, and that is something to be greatly admired.


Released 13 November

 

Hatch

Grand Blue Heron

Jezus Factory Records

From the remnants of Belgian underground trio Hitch, who decided to call it quits back in 2011, Grand Blue Heron emerge with a ten-track album by the name of, don’t get confused here, ‘Hatch’. With the album having been written, recorded, produced and mixed by Grand Blue Heron at Chateau Rocque, which just happens to be owned by the band as well, there is a real sense of Grand Blue Heron merging as one here, both in their creative endeavours and ideas suggested by the detailed pen and ink illustration adorning the album’s exterior. The merging as one reference applies to Grand Blue Heron’s sound for the manner in which their sometimes, near droning and space rock influences threaten to engulf the entire band, such is their dedication to their art with all band members pulling in the same direction and therefore running the risk of becoming drowned in their own sounds. Evidence of this is convincingly served up by the poetic delivery, and intriguingly titled, ‘Gay Is The Lord’, which threatens to overspill during the enthralling ‘Last Song’. Where this album picks up extra attention, however, is for its toying with various influences by creating more direct numbers via ‘Lip Sweat’ that is more about the indie guitars than anything else, yet is most welcome in this set. This diversity extends to the, again, intriguingly named ‘Bodies Of Fire, Suns Of Wax’ where the vocals sound buried deep below a mound of earth, and the band working intensely in order to bring their ideas to fruition, despite the sense of pressure weighing down upon them given by this particular song. Comparisons have been made linking Grand Blue Heron with Motorpsycho, Jesus Lizard, Earth and Neil Young for example, which has a ring of truth once the dusty roots and blues inspired ‘Tin Soldier’, or the tail end of 70’s guitar rock of ‘AddickTed’ opens up. There may have been many who mourned the demise of previous band Hitch, but mourn no longer because Grand Blue Heron and their album ‘Hatch’ are two very good reasons to start believing once more. The much needed indie revival, in its truest sense of the word, definitely begins here.


Released 16 October

 

The House

Karen Musæus

Karen Musæus Music

A melodic and lightly peppered with jazz and pop influences debut offering from Norwegian singer-songwriter Karen Musæus with ‘The House’. Having gained her formal training at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), the foundations have steadily been laid in place by Karen Musæus in order to build the momentum of writing and recording her first full-length album. The results are impressive, especially after the initial impact of the album’s title song hits you with its confident vocal that immediately arrests the senses and sounding wiser beyond its years, which lends itself perfectly to the history of the narrative and accompaniment of delicate acoustic strumming and percussion. Next in line, ‘Dark Café’, is a little harder to define and likely to divide opinion somewhat with its mixture of pop and aforementioned jazz references vying for attention, and the lyrics operating in a more traditional pop framework but also attempting to sound like a street poet on other occasions, which makes the narration sound a touch clunky in places. Where ‘The House’ truly works best is when Karen Musæus pulls the rabbit out the hat with such masterstrokes as, ‘How You’d Grow’ that is less cluttered in its approach, and handled with delicate touches via a splendid vocal and distant smoky jazz references. It’s this more simplistic tactic that also lends itself well to the slightly breezier chords of ‘Winter Hands’, and then followed by a harsher sound by way of ‘This Change’ that reveals a darker side to this debut album, and a definite strongpoint here. All in all, ‘The House’ is an album of considerable depth and one that provides a solid start for Karen Musæus, who clearly has done her homework by studying her trade, but on the evidence of this debut album, the natural talent was already in place.


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Dead Ahead EP

Dead Ahead

Panic State Records

Rather than idly passing the time away, due to the daily duties of regular band line ups remaining on sabbatical for now, the four band members making up new project, Dead Ahead, decided to get together and lay down some new material. As far as first recorded works go, the decision to pursue this fresh project was indeed a wise one, as all four tracks making up this debut EP are of the highest quality. Such has been the positive reactions to this four-track EP that Dead Ahead is likely to be pondering the next step in this new line up, which could evolve into a full-time project if the band continue along similar lines. So, to the music because it’s generally a gritty, punk rock sound, but one that contains enough melodic segments, set to raw and honest lyrics that often greets the listener. The urgency of opening number ‘Cold Truth’ is one such example of this sound, where a few (personal) realisations are coming to light and publically aired. The noise is more airtight during the caustic tone of ‘Rose Lenses’, where impassioned vocals provide a real edge. There is a fine line between the music Dead Ahead is peddling and the grunge (pop) rock influence of say, Buffalo Tom for example, albeit with a tad more dirt under the fingernails when listening to the former, where the sweet and sour ingredients of pop and punk meet and produce these coarse yet melodic songs. Such an example rears itself on closeout track ‘Exit Letters’ with its crushing confession, “From a time you had a heart” brought to life via the song’s driving rhythm and sometimes dual vocals, seemingly united in their contempt, that really touches a nerve and serves up a clear winner for song of the set. Long may this project continue, as there is only one direction that Dead Ahead should be looking in.


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Tapestry’d Life

Pretend

Topshelf Records

It’s been a long journey for the four members who make up the band Pretend as Joel, Luke, Mike and Tim have been pitching their creative ideas and performing together since 2004. Whilst those initial creative forays as a unit weren’t necessarily under the guise of Pretend, the four comrades now found themselves at the stage of first full album with ‘Tapestry’d Life’. With their sound being cited as post rock and likely to appeal to those who have a penchant for American post-hardcore band Shellac or the math rock/post-rock sounds of Slint, ‘Tapestry’d Life’ certainly lives up to such a billing as the songs are intelligent compositions, with an abundance of ideas that sound detailed in one instance, and then minimalist at other times, and all of this occurring within the duration of one song. Therefore, with much variation occurring within each and every song structure, what you’re likely to hear are songs that are approached with experimentation in mind, that often sounds like improvised segments à la opening track ‘Wrapped In Fantasy’, which is a rhythmically complex beast and one that is expertly dispatched. The pursuing ‘Patternless Tide’ appears to take this experimental approach to even greater lengths, with drums and guitars weaving in and out and around each other in complex patterns that brake, pause, and shift into another gear that transports the listener to a different stage, and it’s simply awe-inspiring. ‘Your Own Embrace’ is the shortest offering here, and makes sense considering its more direct route to get its message across which, by the way, is expressed compellingly by a tender vocal. Pretend’s debut album may have been roughly five years in the making, which is insignificant once the contents of ‘Tapestry’d Life’ unravel because it’s the sound of a band who’ve worked tirelessly and painstakingly (‘Record of Love’ provides one or two clues concerning such a process) in order to bring to life the passages of music that have been floating around for some considerable time. Such an achievement is to be commended as ‘Tapestry’d Life’ is a true work of art, and one that is deserved of much attention.


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The Butterfly Effect EP

Aleksander With

Aleksander With Music

Far from being the standard format for an EP with the customary four or five tracks, Aleksander With stretches such a format with the inclusion of seven tracks, that gives his latest release, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ the feel of a mini-album. Format issues aside, ‘The Butterfly Effect EP’ shows Aleksander With back to his best after a period of absence from the music scene. That’s not to say that the man has been lying dormant these last few years, quite the opposite in fact as Aleksander With tried his hand at writing for other artists, which led to an award in Sweden during the ‘Melodifestivalen’ for the song ‘Why Start A Fire’ together with Lisa Miskovsky, Bernt Rune Stray and Berent Philip Moe. By turning his attention back to his own song writing, Aleksander With made the decision to collaborate with producer Anders Kjær and the talents of Martin Sjølie and David Sneddon, as well as undergoing a period of soul searching in order to give a more honest reflection of his own life through his works. The results of these combined efforts bears a collection of profound pop songs, brought to life by Aleksander With’s strong vocal, which has never been in doubt. Evidence of this natural talent can be heard during the light, electronic pop of ‘Sell Me Out’, where the vocal sounds so effortless yet commands much attention. Current single, ‘All We Ever Do’ alludes to the former reference of soul searching as it transforms the atmosphere to a darkened state, with Aleksander With brooding over a relationship that turned sour set to a moody electronic beat. There’s a personal message attached to ‘Better’, expertly communicated by the various layers of its pop sound that suggests, overall, a sense of optimism at the end of this tunnel. Optimism is the right choice of word here as ‘The Butterfly Effect EP’ provides enough reasons to suggest that the tide is finally turning for Aleksander With and his music.


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Backbeat (Single)

DAGNY

Propeller Recordings

Minus the grating vocal intro that thankfully remains for only a brief stay, DAGNY’s literally hot off the press single, ‘Backbeat,’ reveals itself to be an absolute belter. The reason for such praise is down to the ‘songbird from the north’ DAGNY powering her way through this song at breakneck pace, aided efficiently by an infectious rhythm and fuelled by a robust ‘backbeat’ that definitely lives up to its namesake. Most appealing of all, however, despite ‘Backbeat’ sounding naturally modern, there is just the hint of something old-fashioned woven into its pop tapestry that has the faintest aroma of an 80s pop sound, but more likely down to the song writing being given the upmost care and attention. No matter as DAGNY has created a pop tune of great worth, and one that will have your limbs moving in no time. It’s time to salute the ‘songbird from the north’!



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