Album Review: Breton – ‘War Room Stories’

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Thanks to their current inverse status, in both popularity and innovation, it seems that more and more “indie” records have been picking up dance music’s mannerisms – while Breton’s sound in 2012 called to mind Tom Vek and few others, their relatively unchanged sound sets of a chain-reaction of indietronica associations this time around, from Everything Everything and Two Door Cinema Club to Foals’ Holy Fire and recent James Blake.

Resolutely electronic but retaining an “indie” sensibility, faintly industrial, melancholic; Other People’s Problems  was everything you’d ever hoped Kele Okerree’s solo exploits might be –  the tragic romance and earworm hooks of early Bloc Party transposed into a dance-centric setting. At the time, an awful lot was made of their being a “multimedia collective” from “South London” who “squatted” in an “abandoned bank” – a great press release has the power to drown a great record. That their current blurb includes the phrase “distinctly un-hipster” is telling in itself. Forget the myth-building and ignore that it was recorded in an old Soviet radio station; Breton have an aggression, a droning abrasiveness, that just about justifies their “being a dickhead’s cool” swagger. They make electronic music with indie overtones, not the other way around, and in so doing, still manage to stand out from the crowd.

The excellent ‘S4’ is closer to their early Blanket EP in its production’s ferocity, as off-kilter drums skitter across police-kicking-your-door-in bass, while the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra lend the band their effortless ambiance of class and Roman Rappak sings a hook straight off Silent Alarm. Similarly fierce is the Chemical Brother-infused, witch-house stomp ‘Got Well Soon’, which brings brain-scrubbing repetition and Breton’s trademark walls of bass together with the edgy, brooding indie of the Maccabees’ ‘No Kind Words’. The gloves are off and it’s genre-meltingly good.

Taking the edge of with ‘302 Watchtower’, War Room Stories also ventures into gentler territory, bringing a trip-hop kaleidoscope of wind chimes and squeaked bum notes to create an immersive stand-alone world within the album. Sliding into ‘Brothers’, things become a little sub-par Foals, with Rappak’s wails demonstrating why he usually sticks to staccato pronouncements, and though the spacious, confident instrumentation is only a stone’s throw from Holy Fire’s gorgeous ‘Prelude’, it feels a little derivative. Likewise, ‘Envy’ appears to be a pastiche of Breton’s past work – their trademark production accompanying the nonsensical, facile rhyme “You’re a tourist, there’s nothing wrong with that / But what you never could have noticed is how your bags were packed”.

At the other end of the spectrum is mid-album deep breath, ‘Closed Category’. A crisp, spoken sample oozes cool, left-hand piano replaces the usual relentless bass pulse and the guitar lines positively shimmer in their delicacy. Though it’s like nothing Breton have released before, it’s instantly recognisable; an unplugged version of their usual rhythmic gymnastics. What War Room Stories makes clear is that the way forward is further exploration and boundary pushing. Unsurprisingly, given both their sound and their ethos, Breton are not at their best when static, but rather forging ahead – cramming the bare bones of their sound into new and unsuspecting genres and influences.

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Album Review: Destroyer – ‘Five Spanish Songs EP’

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Dan Bejar has never been a predictable man. A serial genre-chameleon, under his Destroyer guise, he has churned out everything from acoustic indie to ambient and experimental electronica. If you were to pick an “indie” band to put out a Spanish-language covers EP, Destroyer would be second only to Damon Albarn.

 After the British accented, “Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker…” name-dropping of 80s soft rock Kaputt, it’s no surprise to see Bejar don another genre, persona, and even a new language. All of the tracks on Five Spanish Songs are Sr. Chinarro songs originally, but instantly everything from the production, sheer pop hooks, and tongue-in-cheek vocals shouts Destroyer. That’s not say the pose isn’t convincing – with such an authentic accent, this could easily be a Castilian imposing his lyrics into Destroyer compositions.

The laid-back, Californian lounge vibe that dominated <i>Kaputt</i> lingers, as electrics ripple over delicate acoustic strumming and Bejar continues with the morning-after-excess quality, although he’s swapped the playboy coke tales for mythical Spanish warriors and religious processions. Opener ‘Maria de las Nieves’ brings a glistening, lounge riff over gentle acoustics, as Bejar laments “Maria of the Snows”, his troublesome ice queen. A melancholy, fragile earworm, bringing early Elliott Smith to mind both sonically and lyrically – such praise is not lightly given. “Esterilizantes con alcohol, practicantes de una rara religion / Como una monja bella, a ver que dice ella” (Sterilized with alcohol, practitioners of a strange religion / A beautiful nun, let’s see what she says).

Elsewhere, ‘Babieca’ continues the lounge funk, bringing Chic guitar stabs and overwrought flourishes to pattering finger percussion. Over a silky smooth chorus, Bejar relates Chinarro’s story of El Cid, a medieval Spanish warrior, and much immortalised folkhero. It’s a gentle caress of a song, cleverly combining Destroyer’s trademarks with a traditional Spanish narrative. Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, be warned – bogus attempts at singing along are guaranteed. ‘El Rito’, a song about the San Juan Saint’s day, brings a bizarrely Britpop sound, with a riff straight of Different Class, held together by a folk-stomp backbone: whatever the language, this would catch your attention; as the chorus insists, “Bailarà! Saltarà!” (You will dance! You will jump!). Additionally, there’s evocative love song ‘Del Monton’ (“I looked at the castle and believed Franz Kafka, and I wrote a song that ended in a tavern…”) and ‘Bye Bye’, a Chinarro classic that comes to evoke Bright Eyes in Bejar’s hands.

By transplanting his work into another language, and into songs written by somebody else, Bejar takes the oblique lyrics and “I write poetry for myselfKaputt-approach even further, as many won’t understand a word. But it’s a good test, and one that highlights Destroyer’s sheer musicianship. Regardless of their supporting tropes, the songs prove themselves consistently memorable and enjoyable. It’s another home run for Bejar – a disappointingly short taster that will leave you dreaming of Spain’s mountains and deserts, and longing for more.

Album Review: Scanners – ‘Love Is Symmetry’

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Frantic, clattering twee and brooding, minimal rock? Soaring folk to dance-inducing synths? Camden five-piece Scanners aren’t ones to limit themselves to one niche genre, and on album number three, Love is Symmetry, they have covered most of the mainstream genres – rock, pop, folk and  dance are all here, albeit conforming to a consistently indie blueprint. Self-produced and recorded, this is the sound of a band full of ideas and successfully realising all of them.

As you could probably guess from their soundtrack credits (which include Skins, Shameless and One Tree Hill), Scanners specialise in somewhat brooding, kooky indie, and despite the success of their multi-genre experimentation, they can certainly still smash these out with the all the aplomb of Win Butler or Karen O.

‘When They Put Me Back Together They Forgot to Turn Me On’ has the delicate piano and gothic choirs of a Danny Elfman score (think Edward Scissorhands rather than The Simpsons), before a frenetic chorus scrambles in; a Long Blondes-esque monotone clashing wonderfully with frantic yelps over a broken, scatter-fire rhythm. Elsewhere, on the equally mammothly titled ‘Today Is The Tomorrow That They Promised Yesterday’, it’s rather more minimal as cool guitars cut through sci-fi whirls and bleeps, backing dubby bass and a sharp, anti-consumerism rant (“How about a new TV / what not to wear, what not to be … That’s all, did you think that there was more?”). Similarly, opener ‘Love Is Symmetry’ begins with finger-picking, mirroring the calm precision of the xx further with Daly’s enunciated whispers. But then the chorus blazes in, and sunburst synths herald the song’s core; desert indie, sultry vocals worthy of Debbie Harry, and shimmering waves of echoing cymbals. It’s euphoric and unashamedly big.

Repping Scanners’ electro-pop inclinations is ‘Control’, dominated by insistent, bubbling synths and vibrant, irrepressible energy. In terms of the calmer, folkier turns, single ‘Mexico’ only further showcases Scanners’ vocal versatility, as Daly switches into sunny Americana, in contrast to ‘Love Is Symmetry’’s silky menace or the upbeat bounce on the dancey ‘Control’. Like a combination of Karen O’s Where The Wild Things Are work and Surburbs era Arcade Fire, it’s gorgeous, all soaring harmonies and jitter acoustics.

There’s one more genre leap left in Love Is Symmetry though, and finally Scanners throw themselves wholeheartedly into some indie tinged post-punk. ‘My Streets Are Always in the Shade’ sees Siouxsie styled vocals over a gothic, Cure referencing riff; all sexy, noir rock. Better still are the clattering drums and grinding, buzzing drone synths of ‘I Couldn’t Help Myself’, which again seems to owe a debt of inspiration to Blondie.

Given the sheer range of Scanners’ inspirations and experiments, it’s all the more impressive that they manage to jam everything into a short, sweet 45 minutes. There’s not a missed target. Undoubtedly, it’s their best album so far – more urgent, and more challenging, both for the band and the listener. United by strong melodies, kinetic percussion and Sarah Daly’s stunning, versatile voice, Love Is Symmetry is an astonishingly varied album that manages to avoid any hint of confusion or incoherency despite its ever-changing sounds.

Album Review: The Neighbourhood – ‘I Love You’

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Historically, combining rap and guitars has had a low success rate. For every Beastie Boys, there are many, many more Limp Bizkits and Linkin Parks. Latest in the long line of those forging indie-hop are The Neighbourhood, though despite their lofty visions and unorthodox genre-merging, they’re really more of a pop band than anything else.

Something of a buzz band, with debut EP I’m Sorry receiving widespread recognition across the blogosphere, the Neighbourhood are nonetheless clearly aiming for mainstream success  – this is shiny happy pop music with something for everyone – polished and catchy, but meaningless. From their British orthography to their monochrome Tumblr-friendly imagery and carefully orchestrated “mysterious” internet launch, they are to all intensive purposes a carefully marketed boy band, superficially combining indie and hip-hop influences with a touch of emo grunge thrown in, but always setting up camp under the all-embracing banner of early teen-targeting pop.

Opener ‘Afraid’ crystallises everything that is good and bad about I Love You. A slow, angsty indie melody plays over a fat hip-hop beat as Rutherford delivers his rhythmic, singing-rapping vocals. Comparable to one-hit wonder Flobots’ ‘Handlebars’, it’s slick, well produced, and fairly appealing. Listen closer though, and the appallingly emo lyrics will wear down the initial attraction; “It hurts but I won’t fight you / you suck anyway / you make me wanna die” is one reasonably representative (and oft repeated) example. As Evanescence were to metal and Sum 41 to punk, so are The Neighbourhood to alternative hip-hop. Easily accessible, with enough angst for early teens and everything challenging cut out; it serves as a simple, easy introduction to the genre’s basic ideas. It’s perfectly acceptable, unrevolutionary, and of course, entirely inauthentic. ‘Afraid’ even features a serious, hushed breakdown, their version of that slow, quiet section of ‘Fat Lip’ that used to seem so poignant – but back then we didn’t know that Deryck Whibley would go on to marry Avril Lavigne.

Lyrically, the album only deteriorates into further embarrassment.  ‘Float’ sees the half-baked antiestablishment metaphor at its weakest, so adolescent-angst dripping that even Rutherford’s slick Cali tones can’t retrieve it – ‘They show you how to swim / Then they throw you in the deep end’.  The pseudo psychedelia of ‘How’ brings hopes of a late-stage change up, but it’s back to the formula as the vocals kick in; ‘How could you question God’s  existence / when you question God himself / Why would you ask for God’s assistance / if you wouldn’t take the help?’ – hold me, Christian indie-rock-rap has landed.

 After the EPs, this is a huge disappointment. ‘Sweater Weather’, probably their most well-known track prior to I Love You is left to close the album – but it can’t undo what’s come before it. Because its subject matter goes no further than California and sex, it’s far more successful than the confused striving-for-profundity that confounds many of its companion tracks. It’s hard to go wrong when California’s your muse (see Phantom Planet, Best Coast, Katy Perry). Lyrically inane, musically unoriginal, and carefully produced in a think-tank, they’re a marketing man’s wet dream, but they are unlikely to be yours. 

Album Review: Bored Nothing – ‘Bored Nothing’

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Slacker rock, a suitably vague term for that spectrum between Pavement and Modest Mouse, is characterised by lo-fi recordings, apathy, and a gentler, indie take on the core components of grunge. As with everything 90s, it’s been having something of a revival lately, with everything from Yuck’s grungey guitars to Christopher Owens’ DIY apathy finding fairly mainstream success. But of course, though it might seem careless and ill-thought out, there’s more to successful slacker jams than meets the eye.

Bored Nothing– the very name oozes adolescent indolence – have fallen into the trap of believing that basic, lackadaisical tunes will be carried through on the merit of the slacker lifestyle they so embody, whilst in reality, their eponymous debut is little more than apathetic melancholy with scant musical interest to back it up. Like every teenage backyard band, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Fergus Miller has been drawn in by the gentle desolation of the Cobains and Elliott Smiths of the slacker dream, but either doesn’t have the talent or maybe just the work ethic to provide Bored Nothing with much substance. As the man himself says, “most of the work that went into developing my sound involved watching Seinfeld and eating frozen pizza” – a solid slacker sentiment, but maybe a bit more development would be useful next time.

The record is dominated by simplistic stoner riffs (not in the good, Queens of the Stone Age sense, but rather that of those greebo kids who used to sit around in parks, playing the same three chords over and over, occasionally interspersed with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’) and a never-changing guitar tone that sounds like the shitty overdrive setting of a tinny practice amp that soon grates. Similarly, the rhythm section never really varies – an obvious drawback of a limited budget and one guy playing everything, despite the ‘real-life slacker’ kudos it allows. Genuine DIY recording is a tough trick to pull off, and perhaps Miller has just been somewhat over ambitious, but one can’t help but feel that for someone so obviously shooting for the Owens or Smith sound, the production (so effective on the aforementioned records) has been catastrophically overlooked. Likewise, with so little variation, at 14 songs, it’s entirely overlong and quickly becomes very repetitive.

Despite all of those gripes, it’s not completely unrelenting. Opening track ‘Shit For Brains’, though titularly sounding like an old hidden Green Day track, does a better Girls imitation than most, with clean electric guitars whirling under more vaguely discontented lyrics – “what’s wrong with sleep / oh compared to weed it’s cheap/ but my dreams are always keeping me awake” as well as the depressingly successful snipe – “oh it’s so nice to see / that you’re using your degree”. Elsewhere, the inverse-Cobain ‘I Wish You Were Dead’ brings a bit of spunk to the proceedings, with a pleasing, looping surf-guitar hook holding the song together, as Miller lays his washed-out vocals over the top. Similarly, the lullabyish ‘Get Out Of Here’ features a Dylan-esque folk guitar lollop, as well as more Elliott Smith-esque vocals – all heartbreak and dalliances with the law, “I’d carved a tree / with your name and mine / and the sentiment of cheap red wine”.

Ultimately, it’s all just too lazy. Yes, I know that’s the point, but this really is slacking overkill. To paraphrase many a teacher, Bored Nothing just needs to try harder at sounding like he’s not trying.

Album Review: The Strokes – ‘Comedown Machine’

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It would be easy to assume that the title was referencing its members’ well-documented chemical indulgences, but it seems that the New Yorkers’ fifth record’s name refers to an altogether different detoxification; a step away from their status as the 21st Century’s first and, so far, best rock band. From the expectations, from the pressure, and from the spectre of their glorious debut album, which has arguably kept them locked into trying to be the band they were between 2001 and 2003. Comedown Machine doesn’t sound like it was made by the Strokes, or at least not “the Strokes” that a generation have kept unchanged in their heads. Not that I didn’t enjoy First Impressions of Earth or appreciate Angles – but this is the Strokes record which we’ve been waiting the last decade for.

The first half is a tour-de-force, kicking off with the instantly accessible and joyously catchy ‘Tap Out’, which I doubt I’ve had even recognized as a Strokes track if I hadn’t been forewarned. The titular ‘80s Comedown Machine’ (perhaps my deep title analysis wasn’t as revealing as I first thought) has a positively Zeppelin-esque riff towering over its intro, before it plunges into the extreme processed vocals of the earliest Strokes demos, and a scuzzier, punkier song than anything they’ve released since Is This It. Best of all is the colossal, disco-driven ‘Welcome To Japan’, comprising old-style Strokes staccato guitars, a hefty Elvis Costello influence, and the kind of slick insistence that Julian Casablancas did so well on ‘Little Girl’, his Sparklehorse collaboration; “I didn’t really notice, I didn’t know the gun was loaded – what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”. Contrast soon comes, with ‘All The Time’, unmistakably pure, classic original Strokes; all angular guitars and punchy, garage rock. Well, they had to throw a bone to everyone who wishes it was still the turn of the millennium.

Whilst the second half subsides slightly, it’s not dismissible. Slightly harder to get into, but still showcasing the band’s progression into unchartered territory, it makes for interesting listening.  Both ’50 50’ and ‘Slow Animals’ are in the same vein as First Impressions, with glossy, processed guitars and echoey percussion and the latter boasting  a brilliantly hooky chorus. Next, jittery vibrato guitars and unusually restrained Strokes on the funky ‘Partners in Crimes’, before a crunching QOTSA style riff crashes into ‘Chances’, overlaid with a Casablancas falsetto. Finally comes track-come-coda ‘Call It Fate Call It Karma’, a pretty piano-led piece, with both a classical and a Motown edge to it. It’s a final shock, a final end to the endless “old Strokes” carping that Casablancas recently bemoaned on Twitter.

It seems that the for-so-long lost boys are back in the game, back in the gang, but with no desire to rehash past glories. Comedown Machine, like an oxymoronic greatest hits of new releases, brings together the best of the Strokes’ back catalogue, whilst giving them a solid 2013 twist. The garage perfection of Is This It and Room on Fire, the processed sound of First Impressions, the tropical lilt of Angles; it’s all there, along with ideas we’ve never heard before. 

 

Album Review: Cave Singers – ‘Naomi’

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Remember back in 2004? We were beginning to recover from the sheer shock of indie’s regeneration after a decade dominated by grunge, nu-metal and pop-punk; Bright Eyes, Death Cab, and a whole host of other bands featured on the O.C.’s soundtracks, were dominant. Seattle quartet Cave Singers’ brand of warm, somewhat earnest indie-folk harks back to that West Coast golden age, and the tradition of sun-drenched, mellow guitar-centric indie.

In fact, the past clients of Naomi’s producer give a fairly solid run-down of the band’s influences; the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse amongst others. The band members themselves are mostly veterans of other similar acts, with former Pretty Girls Make Graves members and a Fleet Fox in their midst. Rather more folky than any of James Mercer’s output and far less frantic than the majority of Modest Mouse records, but yet less harmonic than Fleet Foxes and their ilk; there’s something in the tone of the guitars, the warmth of the bass, and Pete Quirk’s vocals, that is inescapably part of the wider West Coast indie heritage.

Inevitably, much of the album sounds very similar. The instruments’ tone remains unchanged, and there’s a consistent “up-down strum, up down-strum, chord change!” pattern to the guitars, alternated only with careful, chilled fingerpicked lead lines. It’s a bit like listening to an early Death Cab record, but with Layne Staley singing vocals on an exceptionally mellow, blissed-out day. Unlike the carefully enunciated lyrics of James Mercer or Ben Gibbard though, the lyrics take rather a backseat, simply washing over the listener– even though the band (or at least, the press release) put a lot of stock in the album’s lyrical themes. Perhaps on paper they’re pertinent, but in practice they are too subdued to stand out. Of the similar sounding cuts, single ‘Shine’ is the best, with a pleasing lolloping, looping hook, some nice harmonica playing and Quirk’s voice sounding  richer than anywhere else on Naomi.

That said, the second half of the album is noticeably better than the first, with more memorable, individually discernible songs, and a wider variation in style. With ‘Easy Way’, at last things are shaken up a little, with rockier percussion, slightly more crunch in the rhythm guitar and more of a snarl in the vocals. In the past, the band has said that they never intended to play folk – perhaps this is the direction they should pursue in future. However, ‘Northern Lights’ – easily the folkiest track on the record, with hints of Dylan and straight-up campfire sound to it – is another success. Finally, closer ‘When The World’ brings tambourines, fuzzy bass and angst as Quirk moans “You’re like a leaf that blows away”. It’s got more momentum than the whole first half of Naomi; a bluesy, folk jam where the Cave Singers finally achieve what they’ve been hinting at for the past eleven tracks.

Arguably much of Naomi’s problems are caused by the tracklisting, as there are many early tracks which fuse into each other, which, had they been alternated with some of the later, more distinctive songs, would have probably shone in their own right. Ultimately though, they don’t commit enough to the sonic range which they eventually bring to bear, focusing too much on middle-of-the-road indie-folk.

All-Time Great Albums; The Libertines – ‘The Libertines’ (2004)

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Favourite albums are a deeply personal, almost private thing. It can be difficult revealing them even to close friends due to the sheer strength of feeling invoked. Somebody who really, honestly doesn’t get David Bowie, Nirvana, the Beatles – and they’ve tried and everything – is that someone who you want to be in your life? Of course, as compatible tastes don’t necessarily guarantee best friendships, neither do different opinions by default spoil them – but it’s easier to leave it unsaid. Talking about something you love and cherish with someone who thinks it’s overlong, pretentious, or not as good as the debut can be deeply stressful.

But, whatever, I refuse to believe anyone can flat-out deny the merits of my favourite album, so I’ll say it loud and proud. If I really, truly, can only choose one, then it’s The Libertines, the gorgeous tale behind the breakdown of one of the best English bands of the last decade. Of course, it was easy to fall in love with the Libertines, both album, band, and everything they stood for. Any teenager worth their scowls could crave everything they embodied; broadly, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The gang mentality, the intoxication, the clothes, the endless quotable interviews. And they could back it up, with killer live shows, the famed guerrilla gigs, and two stand-out albums.

The Libertines was a triumph. Recorded with Mick Jones’ live, scuzzy aesthetic, it dripped sincerity, wit, desperation, and love. Sonically, it was the accumulation of everything the band had worked on, and the driving, tight rhythm section provided a base for the duelling frontmen, their guitars, and their exchanges of accusations. From the fast, straight-up punk of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the careening, out of control ‘Campaign of Hate’ to the acoustic beauty of ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’, it was relentlessly catchy and beautifully crafted.

And underneath it all lurked the drama, the “story” of Carl and Pete, Pete and Carl. It started from ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’’s very first line, “And ending fitting for the start, you twist and tore our love apart”, and the scathing response, “You got it the wrong way round, you shut me up and blamed it on the brown”. Accusations, reasoning, pleading; the disintegration of their enviable friendship was laid bare for all to hear – and all over a track that could drive dancefloors wild.

 Beyond their usual question-answer lyrical interplay, on the Libertines only a handful of the songs were Barat/Doherty co-written, and so the two frustrated frontmen exchanged barbs song by song. For Carl’s self-deprecatingly titled ‘Last Past On The Bugle’, Pete’s cajoling ‘Don’t Be Shy’. Immediately following the revelatory, confessional ‘The Saga’ (“A problem becomes a problem/when you lie to friends / when you let down your peopleI aint got a problem, it’s you with the problem”), the desperate, Carl-penned ‘Road to Ruin’ response (“How can we make you understand / All you can be is here in your hand”).

With closer ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’, they had the ultimate last word. The flipside of the love-hate displayed in ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, it was an elegy for all they, and we, had lost. “Oh what became of the likely lads / what became of the dreams we had / what became of forever / well, we’ll never know”. 

Album Review: Foals – ‘Holy Fire’

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Take the nervous energy of Antidotes, the blissed-out instrumental beauty of Total Life Forever, and add a pinch of rock and roll grit, lashings of luxuriant production, and all the confidence that comes with making an album which is the sum of all your past achievements. Foals are back, and Holy Fire is so good that second titular word could easily have been another, more explicit, four-lettered word.

It begins with a slow, languid show of force – ‘Prelude’, an introductory instrumental, which casually shows off a glimpse of what is approaching. It’s a thoroughly confident move and, despite the potential for an epic jam, one that is carefully restrained. Next, the tropical guitars and jittery ADHD percussion of first single ‘Inhaler’ heralds much of what is yet to come. A crunching rocky riff is laid over the tropical indie, which calls to mind Friendly Fires or ‘Shuffle’ era Bombay Bicycle Club, and Yannis brings out a Jack Black-impersonating-Robert Plant wail – it’s a belter.

It’s a hell of an opening, but impressively Holy Fire manages to keep to its own high standards. ‘Milk and Black Spider’ is an absolute earworm, with dizzying spiralling guitars conjuring visions of wide, expansive skies (which should be good for their Coachella appearance). Elsewhere, ‘My Number’ is equally catchy, an unstoppable bubblegum pop-rock lilt which leaves you confused – should you disco dance or head bang?

And it’s not only the hooks that work well. Foals proved irrefutably on Total Life Forever that they pretty good at ambient instrumental beauty, and none of that has been lost in the intervening years. ‘Bad Habit’, the album’s first real breathing space, is a remarkably upbeat ballad, despite its grim lyrics whilst closers ‘Stepson’ and ‘Moon’ are elegiac and emotive, though understated.

Full of huge hooks, instantly memorable lyrics and with rich, honeyed production, Holy Fire’s echoing drums, fingerpicking, and beefed bass come together to form an excellent album. Though they’ve thrown in everything they have, Foals have managed to avoid overstating and have had the confidence to showcase their range of talents. A good year for different, intelligent guitar-driven indie so far.

 

Single Review: Tribes – ‘How The Other Half Live’

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I’ve followed Tribes’ progression closely; unfortunately I’m one of those suckers who gets drawn in when writers whip out the oft-used hype of indie bands “being the next Libertines”. They were one of the first bands I ever interviewed, and I’ve seen them go from tiny, ill-attended gigs, to the NME Awards tour, to rapturously received festival sets. Whilst debut Baby had its ups and downs, it was anchored by some gigantic riffs, solid playing and undisguised ambition; from their very first video – a Camden roof-top gig – Tribes have been dreaming big. Now, barely a year after their debut, the second round begins – first single ‘How The Other Half Live’ is the forerunner, with album Wish To Scream scheduled for May release.

Immediately, it’s a notably different style from past stadium-grunge tracks like Pixies-apeing ‘Sappho’ or the crashing choruses of ‘Whenever’ and ‘We Were Children’ – in fact, by the time Jonny Lloyd sings the first line, “We need a change of direction”, it’s obvious that they’ve already taken it. The guitars are cleaner, the grunge crunch is gone, and if anything, the whole thing sounds quite a bit like Oasis.

But then, halfway through, the track swerves direction again, plunging into a squealing solo and a distinctly blues ambiance. Tribes have consistently proclaimed the Stones as one of their key influences, but this is the first time it’s been audible on record. Johnny gives us a nice Jaggeresque stuttering vocal, and with a little feedback, it’s over. Alongside the whimsical, almost pyschadelic ‘Wrapped Up In A Carpet’, the only other album track available so far, it makes Wish To Scream an interesting proposition. It seems Tribes’ influences have only got more diverse whilst they are certainly still aiming for the big-time.