Album Review: VASA – Heroics

With their 2015 debut, Glaswegian outfit VASA made impressive strides within the instrumental rock community. With a sound very much influenced by the ever evolving scene, ‘Colours‘ showed a lot of promise from a clearly clued up bunch of players. But it was on the following release, 2016’s ‘Burst/Open‘ double A single, that we really started to hear how massive sounding this band could get. It seemed like the quartet had found their sound and subsequently found the right producer to do them sonic justice. So in the summer of 2019, VASA knuckled down with Tom Peters of Alpha Male Tea Party and started to commit their second full length to tape.

Heroics‘ is a step up in every way. You can tell that the best part of five years have passed as the band have only strengthened as songwriters and as a unit. Very much like their contemporaries And So I Watch You From Afar, VASA don’t try to wank themselves off like some instrumental bands do and let the vibe and tone of the song navigate. Naturally, they all know what they’re doing but it’s never too showy, it’s all about the song (which is all it ever needs to be about in my opinion). They move through meaty breakdowns, four to floor grooves and euphoric guitar pedal tomfoolery that make for truly massive results.

A big thing that resonates with me on this record is its theme. It’s an album that draws inspiration from the key stages of life and thus is split into three sections; childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Keeping up with a concept for an entire record isn’t as easy as you’d think, but VASA manage to capture these three stages with a lot of grace. Tracks like ‘Heroics‘ and ‘Everything is Golden‘ are packed with that invincible feeling we feel as children, major in key with an e-number induced spirit.

Adolescence’ and ‘Adulthood’ are both just as riffy and upbeat as the first section but add in some tasty dynamic switch ups. ‘Adolescence‘ starts with electronic pulses before building into a soaring piece of post-rock, while ‘Victoria‘ sports a rather stink face making breakdown. Then you’ve got the shimmering conclusion of ‘Settle‘ which doesn’t quite start in the same vein of its title, but ends on this beautiful, glistening ambient melody. It’s a perfect ending to this whirlwind record, offering a final feeling of calm and comfort.

Conceptually, ‘Heroics’ is a well rounded piece; emotionally rich and textually revitalising. The songwriting is bursting with life and sonically its pretty damn HUGE. VASA have come into their own here, proving themselves a valuable asset in the UK post rock canon.

(Photo credit: Julian Bailey)

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Album Review: Gareth JS Thomas – The Incredible Years

Gareth JS Thomas has built a prolific and versatile catalogue in noise rock and post-punk bands, serving in Mayors of Miyazaki, Silent Front, Sly and the Family Drone, Action Beat and USA Nails. (Please note, the latest word from the Ministry of Culture is that we should all start saying people ‘serve in’ rather than ‘play in’ bands, in recognition of the costs musicians bear for the good of us all. I don’t make the rules. Consider yourselves notified.) On the most recent USA Nails record, ‘Life Cinema, in the Thomas-sung track ‘You Wish’ there are two lines that struck me: “In my dreams I am the second best noise artist in Mitcham” and “in my dreams I weep.” At first they sounded very funny to me, then, like all the best jokes, they started to seem deeper and sadder, about having and also being self-conscious about what are ultimately only mid-sized aspirations. Until about two weeks ago I didn’t know Thomas was in fact a noise musician. I’ve never been to Mitcham – I assume it’s somewhere over there in Europe Great Brexland – but having heard ‘The Incredible Years’, Thomas’ new solo EP, out now on Bezirk Tapes, it’s hard to imagine him coming second best in any music scene.

If you know Thomas’ bands, which you should, you might expect this EP to be loud, dissonant, and energetic. You’d be about half right. ‘The Incredible Years’ is dissonant and in a way high energy, but it’s a jittery, pent-up energy rather than the move-fast-destroy-all-obstacles ferocity of his other projects. Thomas trades distorted guitars for piano, making a sound that’s quieter and more introspective. There’s a lot of low chords with tons of sustain, and individual high pitched notes, some of them recorded backward, and with enough tinny reverb that they begin to edge up to shrieky. There are some gorgeous, ghostly tenor swells, like an otherworldly cousin to the cello, and there are mostly incomprehensible vocals – some moaning, some pitch shifted and distorted speech, and some monotone talking recorded so quietly that it’s more like muttering than actual communication.

I think my favourite song here is ‘Bows And Arrows Against The Lightning’, which spends about two minutes on some airy droning – a stretched out recording of a piano, I assume – and a repeated phrase low in the mix “I am healthy” or maybe “I am helpless” or “I am helping.”A percussive bass tone begins to fade in, getting louder and steadily sharper – sharp not in pitch but in the sense of cutting, the way a knife is sharp – as it gets more trebly and mid range for the song’s remaining two and a half minutes. It build and builds, increasing tension, then suddenly stops, with no resolution, allowing a brief moment of silence before the quieter and (only) slightly more at ease next song, ‘Century’.

On ‘Hyphen British’, which might also be my favourite, Thomas adds a drum set. He bangs on it like a proper rock drummer (which he is, having toured recently with Action Beat) but the rhythm is more circular than most rock – dunDUNdundunDUNdundunDUNdundun – with lots of toms and snare. The drumming bring a different energy to the composition but in a way that amplifies rather than conflicts with the droning feel of the EP. Just before the three minute mark the drums drop out, replaced by some distorted and largely unintelligible talking, maybe by a computer. I can pick out something about school and something “I don’t actually like.” I think I hear different and unpleasant bits each time I listen to this part. It’s disconcerting.

Thomas has made a striking video for ‘Hyphen British’ composed of x-rays and CT scans of his own body. In early 2018, he was on tour with his band Silent Front, and their van crashed. Thomas broke his neck. The record is shaped by that harrowing experience. He made it while convalescing, which required him to mostly stay indoors and move around less. That might explain some of the feelings ‘The Incredible Years’ conveys – loneliness, longing, frustration, a sense of being stuck.

In an interview on the Taker Wide podcast Thomas was relatively upbeat about the accident, saying that all things considered he’s lucky. In that interview he referred to the accident as an occupational hazard. That reminded me of a line sung by Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe, who serves in the no wave noise unit Thank: “tied to a chair, I am told that great works of art have come from my suffering, that it is for the greater good, and the future of music.” ‘The Incredible Years’ is a great work of art informed by Thomas’ injuries, and it’s a work of art that’s at least for the good of me personally (which is all I really mean when I say “the greater good” anyway). In the video for ‘Hyphen British’ he shows viewers some of those injuries, through the CT scans. That depiction is simultaneously intimate and only partially comprehensible. That’s a decent metaphor for this record: in some parts of the video I think we literally see Thomas’ heart, but we see it in an abstracted way that adds to rather than resolves ambiguity.

I was playing ‘The Incredible Years’ in my kitchen while making dinner and my six year old walked in, frowned, cocked her head, and asked “is this music creepy?” I said “what do you think, does this sound creepy to you?” “I’m not sure.” I think she’s onto something; she’s tracking onto how the record evokes ambiguous emotional states. ‘The Incredible Years’ often sounds like a film depiction of someone’s internal monologue at a time when they don’t particularly want to be in their own mind and aren’t entirely clear what’s happening to them. The way the occasional vocal parts sound indistinct amplifies that. Not being totally sure what some of the lyrics are makes the EP more troubling, and the parts you miss make you listen harder. To me, this release portrays in sound what it’s like to want – or maybe not want, but really need – to connect with another person, and to carry on in the meantime absent that connection. Thomas takes his heart and shows it to an audience who don’t know how to read it. I find that powerful.

The Incredible Years‘ offers a mix of artificial and organic sounds, craving warmth against a looming cold, offering an uncomfortably intimate closeness – literally inside someone’s head and chest – against a cavernous and impersonal backdrop. Despite, and in some ways because of, its highly expressive abstraction, Thomas’ music ends up feeling very personal and human.

What’s On Michael Portillo’s iPod: Gareth JS Thomas talks inspirations

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Album Release Rundown – God Damn, Nyx Nott, Beach Bunny and Grotbags

St Valentines day. A day of love. A love for new music. OH YES!! I did it. Here we are. Back in the seat again and we’ve got some amazing records out this week. Honestly, I haven’t lied once. In fact, I didn’t even put an album of the week as for this week, EVERY RECORD IS ALBUM OF THE WEEK. So, get to your local record shop or get on the interwebs as you’ll seriously wanna pick up all of these.

God Damn – ‘God Damn’
(One Little Indian)

A big staple here at BCFB, it’s always disgustingly wonderful to hear new noise from God Damn. 2016’s ‘Everything Ever LP was a mammoth blend of plump hooks and juicy riffs, so I for one was eager to get stuck into LP3. Not only is this the band’s first album to feature third member James Brown on keys and guitar, but it was also produced by legendary producer Sylvia Massy.

With Massy working with anyone that is worth their salt in the pop and rock world, she was the perfect person to help God Damn keep it catchy whilst being heavier than a sack of hammers. The result is basically God Damn’s boldest statement as a band, and does not give one fuck.

Whip Goes The Crack‘ sounds like Ty Segall covering early Marilyn Manson, while ‘Bleeding A Rope‘ sounds like Cedric Bixler-Zavala fronting Fu Manchu. This is sonically rich in fuzz and noise, with killer references – unmistakably God Damn. This is thanks to the distinctive song craft of guitarist and vocalist Thomas Edward, who is the master in writing a banging riff to go alongside the most infectious refrain; the “fuck, fuck, fuck em all” refrain in ‘Mirror Balls’ is one of the most satisfyingly defiant lines they’ve ever written. Of course, what makes Thomas really fly is the unreal powerhouse drumming of Ash Weaver and the wickedly freaky, noise-laden synth/guitar work of James who just fits like a glove into the band’s sonic palette. There’s always been a strong chemistry within this band and you can tell that they spent many hours together, locking in the very fabric that binds these three killer musicians together.

Although this is a big stride forward for God Damn, for me this goes back to the obnoxious, ear splitting onslaught that made me fall in love with them all those years back. This is the very essence of this band, it’s pissed off but full of power and more than ready to get right up in your face. Thank fuck for God Damn.

Grotbags – ‘Grotbags’
(Dipped In Gold)

Featuring long serving members of Manchester’s DIY scene, Grotbags have been a consistently brilliant and entertaining live force to see around the city these past five years. So it’s been a wondrous thing to see upcoming label Dipped in Gold have snapped them up to release their highly anticipated debut album. Writing songs that’ll make you laugh is definitely Grotbags’ main aim, but beneath the humour lies an extremely solid band that write fucking great songs. This is all about punchy, college-rock inspired punk tunes with big choruses and shout along refrains based on piss your pants funny stories.

Over the course of 22 minutes and 35 seconds, we hear of nights out at Satan’s (‘Puke’), receiving unexpected dick pics (‘Tinder Surprise’) and meeting overweight infants (‘Big Baby’). These are just the picks of the litter for me, but every track here is as side splitting as the last, and you just cannot deny the sharp wit in both the storytelling and wordplay that the band bring in (“Its a joke, you’re a yolk” from ‘Fried Egg’ is my favourite line, by the way. Just spat my coffee out listening to it again). The fairly recent addition of Saxophone plays a big role in the bands sound, definitely driving home their power pop tone. In places it acts like the second guitar, beefing up these super strength hooks, which I think is a neat trick. It’s especially cool to hear a new version of first EP hit ‘Cute‘, now with a big 80’s style Saxophone melody all over it.

Having heard these songs in a live forum for a number of years, it’s great to hear them all committed to tape and production wise this perfectly captures the party spirit of a Grotbags live show. This is an extremely uplifting and effortlessly hilarious debut, but then again, what would you expect from the greatest band in the world?

Nyx Nótt – ‘Aux Pieds de la Nuit’
(Melodic Records)

Aidan Moffatt is an institution in Scotland’s Alt Music scene, with a more than fruitful career of bands, collabs and solo work. Mainly known for his distinctive vocal and superb lyrical talents, Aidan has made several instrumental records under the name ‘L. Pierre‘, but returns back to this format under a new moniker. Named after two mythical goddesses of night, ‘Nyx Nótt‘ is a project that was created in the wee hours when everyone in Aidan’s household was asleep. Its title translates as “At the feet of the night” and as it may be apparent, is very much an ode to the night.

There is a strong cinematic pulse that flows through the seven tracks and acts as the perfect soundtrack to your subconscious. I remember first watching ‘Birdman‘ and being mesmerised by its soundtrack centred around a jazz drum kit. For these pieces, Aidan employs a similar technique, each piece entered around a reverb soaked jazz kit that keeps up the pace but still evokes a rolling feel of unease. Opening track ‘Mickey Mouse Strut‘ is an engulfing experience that opens the album with a thrilling sense of unpredictably; building on lilting saxophone samples and orchestral swirls. However, there are plenty of ear worm melodies and the beautifully crafted ‘Theme From‘ is a particular highlight, acting as the theme from an imaginary Netflix show with a sumptuous string laden piece of theatrics.

Aux Pieds de la Nuit‘ is an extremely intoxicating release that is drenched in atmosphere. It definitely has that late night haziness and I found myself sitting in a darkened room letting its alt jazz meets ambient soundscape wash over me. It is continual proof as to why Aidan Moffatt is so highly regarded and a true visionary.

Beach Bunny – ‘Honeymoon
(Mom+Pop)

Since the release of her debut EP of lo-fi bedroom recordings in 2015, Chicago resident Lili Trifilio has developed her Beach Bunny project into a fully fledged emo pop band. Having released a couple more EP’s as a quartet, Beach Bunny are ready to unveil their debut album and embark on a world tour in its promotion. ‘Honeymoon‘ is a very immediate album that embraces you straight away. Recorded in Chicago’s iconic Electrical Audio studios, the quartet enlisted the help of producer Joe Reinhart. Joe has worked with some of the best emo rock acts in the world today and is extremely good at capturing that indie rock rush.

These are honest, up front songs; ‘Promises’ might sound like a breezy pop song, but as Lili states “things aren’t as they seem” as this details the pre and post frustration of a break up. It’s a proper emo anthem in the making though. Lili’s vocals are really lush, at times they can be quite candid and innocent but then she can bring out the similar powerhouse delivery of Paramore’s Hayley Williams or Frances Quinlan from Hop Along. These contrasting tones contribute to the vulnerabilities that the album exudes, whether it’s looking at loss or love; ‘Dream Boy‘ is a highlight filled with an optimistic, lets fall in love type passion.

I just like how all emotions are laid out in front of you, there’s a youthful exuberance that I am just overcome with when listening to this. But also the playing here is so snappy and tight, the rhythm section is so bouncy and I love all the fun guitar interplay that goes on. In short, ‘Honeymoon’ is so darn charming and is sure to make Beach Bunny a big hit in 2020.

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Album Release Rundown – Pet Crow, Shopping, Spanish Love Songs and Cheerbleederz

The second month of the year is upon us and we have a stacked first week of album releases to review for you. This week sees us chewing through the many faces of punk with some stella new records to check out. As always, be sure to peruse the band’s online shops or head to your local indie if you like what you hear.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Pet Crow – ‘Take The Edge Off’
(No Sleep)

It sure is nice to see a hard working band get the love they deserve. Since the release of their debut LP in 2017, Derby mob Pet Crow have not stopped touring and in doing so have picked up fans across the globe. This has led them to hooking up with ace US label No Sleep as well as getting a lot of love from the 6 music crew. So with this in mind, it seems like a very good time to release their second album, ‘Take The Edge Off’.

Lifting off from the surf-y garage stylings of its predecessor, ‘Take The Edge Off’ continues to smash out the party punk bangers. The main difference here is the cleaner approach to the band’s sound, rooted in garage pop rather than the noisier punk tone of yore. Vocalist Danielle focuses on hooks with a more melodic tendency that lends to some dead catchy choruses (I’ve had opening track ‘Limbo’ in my head for days). At the same time, this is still a snappy as hell punk record with ‘One Whole Summer‘ channelling John Dywer style licks and the title track offering a current day Pulled Apart By Horses bounce.

What Pet Crow are really good at doing is appearing as a party fun time band but actually delivering a much deeper meaning in their lyrics. This is an album of catharsis. It looks at both the physical and mental strains that life can bring and the lethargic cries on ‘Insomnia‘ in particular feel all too familiar. For a band that seem to be fully embracing adulthood, this is the perfect hybrid of energy and empathy that makes for a fully belting comeback.

Shopping – ‘All or Nothing’
(Fat Cat)

2018 saw this London trio bring in a smoother 80’s influenced production to their third album ‘The Official Body’. It still retained all of their scrappy post punk charm, but sonically had a glistening pop tone. Their fourth record ‘All or Nothing‘ is a continuation of this but is perhaps even funkier than before. The distinctive personalities of each member have always been a strong selling point for me and it’s how well they gel these together that is all the more impressive. You have the driving beat of drummer Andrew that sits under Billy’s extremely groovy bass lines, while guitarist Rachel continues to be a hook writing force with an endless plethora of sharp licks.

From the second the sun kissed groove of the albums title track kicks in right through to the infectious vocal hook on closer ‘Trust In Us’, the tempo does not let up. You can tell this was written in an intensive two week period, as there’s an instinctive feeling of urgency buried in these songs. With the band now split across the globe, there’s a feeling of excitement contained in the performances, with the trio getting back together and combining the personal experiences they’ve gathered in time apart. I feel like Shopping have already done the ground work before this album, they know their sound and know where they’re going sonically, which means ‘All or Nothing‘ can concentrate on delivering the tunes, which it does with absolute ease.

Spanish Love Songs – ‘Brave Faces Everyone’
(Pure Noise)

This Californian fivesome have risen through the ranks these past few years and are fast becoming a staple in the punk rock community. Third record ‘Brave Faces Everyone‘ is everything that you’d want and hope from Spanish Love Songs.

Building on their already anthemic punk sound, this is an album inspired by the mad amount of touring that informed and will subsequently proceed this release. Lead vocalist and guitarist Dylan sounds like his heart is going to burst out of his chest, with a natural vibrato on his vocal that exudes sincerity. He means every word that comes out of his mouth, which makes for a fully heart on sleeve listen. This is definitely on the emo side of punk rock and there are loads of self depreciating one liners that beg to be sung out in a live forum; three minutes into the album and we already have the refrain “Am I gonna be this dumb forever?” ready and loaded for a fist pumped singalong.

There’s some solid moments here, I love that classic emo style guitar line on ‘Losers 2‘ and the urgent drum work on ‘Kick‘. This an appropriate title for an explosive track that sees drummer Ruben really putting a shift in. As a whole, ‘Brave Faces Everyone’ can be a little one note, with the very earnest vocals wearing thin at times. But this is an emo punk record after all, and Spanish Love Songs are certainly packing a punch with this set. It might not be for everyone but I know this record is more than likely to appease the community that have embraced them.

Cheerbleederz – ‘Lobotany’ EP
(Alcopop!)

Comprised of members of ace UK bands Fresh, Happy Accidents and Finish Flag, Cheerbleederz launched into our ears with 2018 EP ‘Faceplant‘. Its indie pop and punk rock combo was greeted with a lot of love from the DIY scene, featuring four tracks of sharp melodies and even sharper harmonies. ‘Lobotany’ is another four track set that displays a strong progression in both the songwriting and production departments.

Say 2 U‘ is a big opener. An ominous synth drone and 808 style drum track sit underneath a brooding bass line before crashing down into a euphoric fuzz rock breakdown. Instantly you feel that the trio are pushing their songwriting into new dynamic realms, whilst still keeping a forever strong grasp on melody and harmony.

Sometimes I Cry At Work‘ is another anthem in the making. Your attention is grabbed by a ripping riff before settling into an indie pop breeze. That then builds into another euphoric moment as the band sing out the tracks title with an impassioned gusto. To keep it short and sweet like this release, Cheerbleederz are upping their game here which looks extremely promising for hopefully the long awaited LP!

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Album Release Rundown – Higher Power, Caspian and Andy Shauf

I was thinking of giving myself a week off due to the sheer amount of records forthcoming next month, but a few more records dropped on me lap and I just couldn’t say no to giving them a spin! So here we are, third week in a row with another album rundown. If you’re not completely broke yet or have a few crimbo vouchers lying about, get down to your local record store and check ’em out.

Higher Power – ‘27 Miles Underwater’
(Roadrunner)

This Leeds based mob have quickly climbed their way up the UKHC ladder over the past five years, thanks to their blistering blend of skate punk, hardcore and grunge. For their second record they’ve only gone and signed to iconic metal label Road Runner and as expected, have risen to the challenge of making a long lasting statement.

The 90’s grunge sound was a big ingredient in the band’s debut record and although there’s still plenty of it here, the main flavour is that of an early 00’s post hardcore vibe. ‘Seamless‘ isn’t just the album opener, it’s also a sure fire pit opener with a heavy ass riff that shares the same sharpness but melodic prowess of early Deftones and Glassjaw. It seems like Higher Power have found a parallel line to those bands, coming from a hardcore background but still being able to deliver big fuck off melodies. This is very much how this album is delivered, it doesn’t forget its routes but confidently pushes forward.

On the hook front, the band work hard to make them stand out, ready to be sung back at shows. I’ve had the choruses of ‘Shedding Skin‘ and ‘Low Season‘ in my head for days now and I like how they can go from full on hardcore intensity to these huge, dreamy melodies that demand to be received with hands firmly in the air. Like all good sophomore records, the band also tread newer territory, with semi-acoustic ballad ‘In The Meantime‘ offering a Smashing Pumpkins inspired slice of reflection later in the track-listing. Higher Power have always seemed keen to evolve in sound, so it’s cool to hear them make strides in their songwriting.

7 Miles Underwater‘ is a forward moving hardcore record with a well balanced nod to nostalgia. Early 00’s post hardcore fans are gonna love this while the hardcore kids are still gonna find plenty to rage with!

Caspian – ‘On Circles’
(Triple Crown)

Beverly based sextet Caspian have become a vital part of the post rock scene since their formation in 2004, a time where the genre was really starting to come into its own. 2020 sees the band break a five year silence on the album release front with album number five. Recorded with producer of the moment Will Yip in Pennsylvania, ‘On Circles‘ sees the band at their most instinctive with an album that gleams with visceral impact.

It’s doesn’t really hold back at all, with Caspian throwing it all in the pot. Lethal Weapon style Saxophones wale through the opening of ‘Wildblood‘, then you’ve got the aptly titled ‘Collapser‘ that caves your head in with a super dramatic, riff-heavy break down. You could argue that this is the band at their most eclectic and it doesn’t stop there. Two tracks feature vocals, a previously unheard texture for this primarily instrumental act. I have to say, this is something that Caspian should definitely think about incorporating more in the future, especially thanks to guitarist Philip Jamieson finding his voice. Pianos Become The Teeth vocalist Kyle Durfey adds his dulcet tones to shimmering post rock piece ‘Nostalgist‘, but it’s Jamieson that steals the show with album closer ‘Circles On Circles‘. This is an acoustically driven track that reminds me of City and Colour’s quieter moments and is heart achingly beautiful, displaying an honest and frankly stunning vocal performance.

‘On Circles’ shows that Caspian can still bring new, worthwhile ideas to the table. It might stray off into standard post rock territory at times but there’s enough experimentation and variation that will keep you engaged. If anything, Caspian have given us a glimpse into a potential diversion to a more vocal driven direction, which is an exciting notion indeed.

Andy Shauf – ‘The Neon Skyline’
(ANTI-)

Following on from his critically acclaimed 2016 album ‘The Party‘, Canadian born songwriter Andy Shauf returns with his long awaited sixth LP. What made his previous effort such a hit was its well constructed narrative that followed the events and characters of a night at a house party. Shauf keeps up his brilliant story telling skills as ‘The Neon Skyline‘ tells the tale of a male character as we track his movements and thoughts during a night back in his sleepy hometown.

With the writing process of this piece, a lot of the songs were conceived with Andy sat on the sofa with a guitar in hand. Naturally, these songs feel intimate, often starting stripped back but then ascending into these lovely lounge pop compositions. You get that the character being taken on is of a thoughtful nature, as we walk alongside him and discover his ex is back in town. I’ll let you hear the story unfold for yourself, but I did find myself very suckered in as the character delivers an inner monologue discussing relationships with friends and his ex partner as they frequent local bars, observing other locals.

Even though the narrative is so well crafted and does encourage you to listen in order, the songs individually are well written tales in their own right. ‘Fire Truck‘ revisits old feelings over a peppy groove and ‘Things I Do‘ is a harmony drenched 70’s pop tune that details the breakdown of what was once a loving relationship. Andy has taken his time to write this record and it’s clear to see why as its works both as a collection of superbly written songs and as an engaging, well told story. ‘The Neon Skyline’ solidifies Andy’s reputation as a true songwriting and story telling talent, continuing a hot streak of faultless records.

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Album Release Rundown – Bombay Bicycle Club, Pinegrove, Algiers and Whyte Horses

Words: Ben Forrester
(Photo Credit: Christian Högstedt)

And another! Who knows if we’ll stick to this being a weekly thang but with the amount of new releases currently, it looks like the BCFB album rundown is here to stay. We have four anticipated comeback records on review this week, yours to own physically or digitally, whatever your vibe may be. However if it is the former, please head to your local record store and support the scene!

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Bombay Bicycle Club – ‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’
(Mmm… Records)

In regards to the late naughties indie scene, I always felt that Bombay Bicycle Club were ahead of the pack. Not ones to focus on being ‘cool’ or ‘on trend’, they wrote with care and thought, bringing in influences from all over to make up their indie pop kaleidoscope. I was slightly worried we’d not hear from them again when they announced their hiatus back in 2015, but it turns out the wait wasn’t too long at all as they kick off 2020 with a brand new record!!!!

Get Up’ is a brilliant opener, not only because it sets the scene for the rest of the album but because it’s a perfect amalgamation of what this band can do. It opens with a chopped up jazz sample before building to a swell of subs, candid but catchy vocals, crashing drums and a razor sharp bass line. It feels modern and forward thinking but still has the same air of unpredictability that made their debut album so incredibly exciting. In my mind this takes off from the lush pop tones of previous album ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ but keeps in the earnest yet impassioned indie pulse that informed their first two records.

The album continues to bring us beautifully crafted pop songs that excel in groove (‘Everything Else Has Gone Wrong’), hooks (‘Eat Sleep Wake’) and pure prettiness (‘Racing Stripes’). Guitarist and vocalist Jack has always acted as musical director of the band but whilst on a break, bassist Ed released a solo record which gave him the confidence to turn in a few tracks here. ‘Good Day’ is a particular favourite, with Ed taking lead in the chorus that makes for a really pretty and earnest little pop tune.

Everything Else Has Gone Wrong‘ is another great Bombay Bicycle Club record. Naturally this is a wiser band that we hear, but there are still glints to their past which are really nicely referenced. Forever charming and more full of hope than the album title lets on, this is a glorious return!!

Pinegrove – ‘Marigold’
(Rough Trade)

In 2016, New Jersey outfit Pinegrove broke out with charming sophomore album ‘Cardinal‘. The band’s following rocketed from that point onward leading them through the release of 2018’s easygoing ‘Skylight‘ record. Album four ‘Marigold‘ is very much a continuation of its predecessor, providing another set of slow cooked alt country.

Sumptuous choruses awash with beautiful harmonies dominate with opening track ‘Dotted Line’, making a solid opening statement for this. For me it’s the vocal work that really shines through, whether it’s the uplifting swell of ‘Moment‘ or understated lushness of ‘No Drugs‘, they know how to draw you in with all their richness. This is a record very much built on atmosphere and although it might not quite reach the indie rock rush of earlier material, I get the sense that Pinegrove have really matured into their sound, striving to write songs with an even stronger emotional core.

I feel as if Pinegrove’s followers have grown and matured with the band, so I know that this more considered approach will definitely resonate with them. I think it’s fair to say we all need something wholesome and warming in our ears and ‘Marigold‘ definitely delivers the band’s mission statement of thinking about how to be better humans and humanists. But I have to say that I do find this record a little too slow burning. Some of the songs focus too much on building an atmosphere, which can move away from the staying power of their melody. Of course when they get that balance right, it speaks volumes and this is peppered with some really lovely moments. It’s an album that could only really have been made at this point of their career and I do think there’s enough warmth and care to keep their camp fire burning bright.

Algiers – ‘There Is No Year’
(Matador)

It’s been five years since Algiers knocked everyone’s socks off with their debut self titled album. Since then we’ve had another long player which saw the Atlanta formed outfit continue their unique industrial punk meets gospel soul mix. With a sound so fresh, there’s a lot Algiers can explore on a full length, which is why their third album is another expansive and powerful sonic journey.

Although this is still rooted in dark electronics and brooding art rock melodies, there does seem to be a push to accessibility, with the gospel base of the band really coming forward. Franklin James Fisher has such an empowering vocal and the one two opening punch of the title track and single ‘Dispossession’ may me edgier, but sure have real cross over potential. Bustling percussion from former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong and a thumping piano melody gives the latter a guttural punch of power that I see being sprawled all over the trailers of gritty TV dramas.

There’s a lot to take in and this isn’t an easy going listen, but it fills you more with a sense of power than it does with dread. Franklin’s lyrics are more thoughtful than ranted, the goth meets dub vibe of ‘We Can’t Be Found’ is a real highlight, with its atmospheric build into oblivion. I am completely sucked in by how gut wrenching the vocals get and with the instrumentation bouncing around from post punk urgency to soulful passion, this is an album that really wants to dig into you. It might take a few listens to digest the richness ‘There Is No Year’ holds but once you’ve got it, you’ll be eager to consume it again and again.

Whyte Horses – ‘Hard Times’
(CRC Records)

Dom Thomas strikes me as someone that doesn’t like to sit still, as a record label boss, DJ, Graphic Designer and leader of Manchester based collective Whyte Horses. For his latest project, Dom gets into the DJ mindset to create somewhat of a dream playlist. ‘Hard Times’ is a re-imagined collection of some of his favourite tunes with an impressive selection of guests to achieve this fantasy.

We’ve got the likes of La Roux adding her power pop prowess to Bee Gees smasher ‘Mr Natural‘ and David Lynch’s mate Chrysta Bell keeps it sultry taking on Nancy Sinatra classic ‘Bang Bang‘, to name but a few. These two tracks in particular show the level of thought that Dom puts in his vocal choices, to not only suit the song but also bring out new nuances that you might not have realised before. Both vocalists bring out a strong soul to the tracks which pumps up the beating pop heart of ‘Mr Natural‘ and levels up the drama that surrounds ‘Bang Bang‘. Although they play a big part, it’s not just the collaborations that make this record, with Whyte Horses book ending the album with some perhaps lesser known tunes. The psych pop lushness of 70’s tune ‘Red Lady‘ opens up the record like a ray of sunshine while lost 00’s indie track ‘Want You To Know‘ is the dynamic indie rock closer that closes the album with a light hearted wig out.

A big feeling I get from this record is a genuine sense of fun in both the reconstruction and subsequent playing of these tracks. Later on we get fellow Manc Badly Drawn Boy having a crack at Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love which gives a breezy indie rock performance that sounds like it was bashed out in a northern quarter practice room after a few pints. In my mind ‘Hard Times’ is about forgetting the doom and gloom that its title might suggest and having a nice old time with some good pals. Musically, this is a peppy collection of great covers performed with some true singing talents played with love and happiness.

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Album Release Rundown – Field Music, Aiming For Enrike, The Big Moon and Real Terms

So here we are, not just at the start of a new year but at a new decade and as expected, its first release week is an absolute scorcher. BCFB faves both old and new unite to bring us some truly excellent new records in the debut album rundown of the roaring 20’s. All releases are getting the physical format treatment so please be sure to hit up the web, head to a show or pop down to your local record store and help support the artists, labels and indies.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Field MusicMaking A New World’
(Memphis Industries)

After an extremely busy decade of writing, recording and touring music in various different guises, David and Peter Brewis usher in 2020 with their most ambitious project to date as prog pop heroes Field Music. Their seventh album is a recorded take on the set they performed at the Imperial War Museums in Salford and London at the start of 2019. The band were commissioned to write a set of songs inspired by a collection of images and documents dating back to the first world war.

However, ‘Making A New World‘ isn’t what you would call an album about war and it isn’t really about remembrance, at least in the traditional sense. The 19 tracks here tell a different story that begins at the end of the war and is more of a commentary of its effects on society during its aftermath. It sounds heavy going and definitely is at times, but Field Music do this with their usual brand of smart indie pop songwriting with all the thought, care, charm and wit that you’d expect.

Although the thoughts and feelings here are prevalent to a particular time in history, there are also stories and ideals that feel relevant today. ‘Only In A Man’s World‘ sits on a funk pop groove that looks at the development of sanitary pad advertisement since the early nineteen hundreds. David takes the lead here and discusses the importance of how there shouldn’t be such a negative tone used for a cycle that is absolutely necessary for the survival of humanity. ‘A Change Of Heir‘ sees Peter take on a shimmering piano ballad that talks about the work of Dr Harold Gillies, whose pioneering work on skin grafts for injured servicemen led him to perform some of the very first gender reassignment surgeries.

Musically the band keep their diverse blend of sounds, from effortlessly groovy to beautiful orchestral swirls that move through concise pop songs to wistfully crafted interludes. But it’s the way in which the band have grasped and delivered the concept of ‘Making A New World‘ that makes it unlike anything they have done before. Field Music continue to show us how they excel at writing, performing and producing, but here they master the art of storytelling with grace, integrity and honesty for an expertly sculpted and truly fascinating listen.

Aiming For Enrike – ‘Music For Working Out’
(Pekula Records)

Although Norwegian duo Aiming For Enrike have been around nearly 10 years, it’s only been in the past 18 months or so that they have shaken up the math rock scene here in the UK. There’s been three visits to these shores since 2018 with another one due next month and when you check out what these cats do, it’s easy to see why we can’t get enough of them over here. On paper they’re an instrumental math rock two piece, but on stage and on record they take on this electro clash inspired beast of guitar pedal mastery and infectious rhythmical grooves.

Whereas before they combined punk, funk, noise and math into one big face-melting pot, for their fourth album they’ve devised a much more focused set. Although the nine songs that make up ‘Music For Working Out’ have all been released throughout 2019, this works incredibly well as a full length album, not just showing off incredible musicianship but great songwriting too. In my mind this harks back to the late 90’s/early 00’s electro sound of bands like Justice and Daft Punk, who both manipulated samples into sounding like guitars. What Aiming For Enrike do however is the other way round. The sounds that guitarist Simen makes are always impressive, even when you hear a nice silky synth line come in, you know it’s just another trick from the board.

From the driving, party grooves of ‘Hard Dance Brainia‘ to the slick groove of ‘Diving Within‘, there’s such a strong dynamic range throughout this record that is designed to get your head nodding but allows time for space as well as pumping through with a big, euphoric energy. You can clearly tell that this is a band that have been playing together for a long time as the connection between Simen and drummer Tobias is strong as they lock into their loop building grooves with such precision and tightness. ‘Music For Working Out‘ is an album I wouldn’t think I’d hear in 2020 as it reminds me of what I feel was a golden era for electronica, but boy am I glad it has been revived. The fact that this was made by a two piece rock band makes Aiming For Enrike one of the most creative instrumental outfits in the world today.

The Big Moon – ‘Walking Like We Do’
(Fiction)

Having exploded onto the the UK indie scene with a series of killer singles, LDN outfit The Big Moon went on to make a cracking indie rock debut in the way of 2017’s ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’. For their second long player, the quartet have turned down the guitars a bit in favour of a plush sounding pop record.

Piano and keys seem to be the main sound here, whether it’s the synth pop rush of the wonderfully catchy ‘Your Light’ or the slick piano driven pomp of ‘Why’, you feel as though The Big Moon have let the songwriting dictate where their sound goes, which I love. Each track brings in a sun soaked pop melody but with interesting reference points along the way. The hip hop inspired beat of ‘Holy Roller’ along with its soul pop production sounds like Dangermouse got his mitts on it, while ‘Waves’ builds from a stripped back piano ballad into a euphoric swell of drum machines, organs and harmonies.

I think it’s refreshing for a band that have made a name for themselves with a guitar driven sound to push themselves into new territory with album number two. ’Walking Like We Do’ sounds like a band that built up the confidence and maturity that comes with the heavy touring of a debut album. The Big Moon have made a shimmering indie pop record that will have you longing for bluer skies.

Real Terms – ‘Housework’ EP
(Vested Interest)

Four years ago, Real Terms rose from the flames of beloved Math outfit Vasco Da Gama with a sweeter, poppier take on their wonky rock genius. ‘Housework‘ is their first fully fledged release, featuring their three previous singles as well as two newer tracks which you may have heard in the trio’s wonderful live show, which has been bustling up and down the country these past few years. Opening track and current single ‘Tightrope Walkers‘ is a perfect display of what this band do, combining sun soaked melodies with angular yet muscular drum work and lots of pretty guitar twiddles.

There is no denying the talent of these three players and the amount of chemistry they have when they play together. Bassist and vocalist John has the unique task of holding down the bottom end while delivering some infectious vocal work, which the absolute stunning indie pop of ‘Lake Trasimene‘ displays perfectly. ‘Scared Of Everyone‘ on the other hand shows off the math rock genius of guitarist Lynny and drummer David as they work through a huge spaced out groove complete with a razor sharp melody.

The formula of ‘Housework‘ is simple; three excellent musicians with a strong chemistry, writing interesting yet snappy songs and thus creating the first great EP of 2020.

Hear tracks from Aiming For Enrike and Field Music in our new monthly playlist!

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