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Libertines man delivers rousing second solo album.
If Carl Barat's 2010 solo LP was battle weary, Let it Reign is a call to arms, the Libertines frontman recruiting some fresh meat – the Jackals – through a Facebook search and Joby J Ford (of LA punks the Bronx) to produce. It's hard not to read Pete Doherty co-dependency narratives into Barat's lyrics, particularly with the Libs set to release their first album in 11 years. "Glory Days" is a Clash-like rumble about banged-up brothers over panicky guitar and a turn from Beastie Boys percussionist Alfredo Ortiz; "The Gears" harnesses the "Last Gang in Town" vibe. But while the gung-ho, Colonial themes sound familiar, the Jackals are loose and louche without falling apart.
Related: Stream 'Let It Reign'
Supergrass dude goes darker, glitchier, Yorke-ier.
Maybe he could have called his second album Not Alright. Coombes, who personified Britpop bonhomie (and furry sideburns) back in the Nineties with Supergrass bliss-bombs such as "Alright", has decided he wants to make a serious statement. Naturally, this involves sounding a bit like Thom Yorke and Damon Albarn. Skittish beats, oscillating synths, melancholic acoustic guitar and spooked atmospherics are the order of the day, while the lyrics contain references to acrobats on wires, jumping from moving trains and poisons, powders and lies. Even "Seven Walls", apparently about Coombes and his wife sharing a joint and a couple of beers in a carpark, sounds like an existential crisis set to music.
Pop-punk heroes continue their evolution toward noisy, no-holds-barred pop mania.
Open an album with a horn fanfare? Repurpose Suzanne Vega's beloved "Tom's Diner" refrain? Sample Mötley Crüe? Anything officially goes for Fall Out Boy on their sixth album, the group's biggest, broadest, most unabashed pop smorgasbord yet. The emo survivors jump-started their transformation into all-out omnivores on Save Rock and Roll, the 2013 LP that marked an end to their four-year hiatus, and they slam on the gas on this follow-up, which is daringly named after a classic Grateful Dead album and a Bret Easton Ellis novel. When everything connects – like on the single "Centuries" – FOB are a glorious nexus of Seventies glitter rock, Eighties radio pop, Nineties R&B and Aughts electro stomp. But the LP still runs the risk of being too cutesy and referential.
"Uma Thurman" contains a surfy piece of the Munsters theme song (and is named "Uma Thurman"), and much of guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley's most virtuosic playing is buried under blaring production, reducing what might be Metallica-heavy riffage into background buzz. The shouty title track is on too much of an ADD seesaw to make larger points about American culture, despite its ripe title. The band's best tracks still start simple and whip themselves into frenzies, like the furious disco-punk explosion "Novocaine", where frontman Patrick Stump brilliantly scales his upper register. On "Centuries" he vows, "I can't stop till the whole world knows my name." If the band keeps on this track, it'll be sooner rather than later.
J Tillman's wedding album opens onto deep, dark, truthful mirror of the soul.
Back in 1970, John Lennon's debut solo album took a scalpel to abandonment, isolation, narcissism, social oppression and dumb faith to uncover the redemptive miracle of true love. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney's took comfort in home, family and "la la la lovely Linda/with the lovely flowers in her hair" to arrive at much the same place.
Forty-five years later, to say the former road remains the less travelled in song is an understatement as big as pop itself. The silly-love-song title of Josh Tillman's second album as Father John Misty acknowledges the minefield of cliché, saccharine and sentimentality that an album about finding his soul mate can't help but negotiate.
But beyond the orchestral ecstasy of a title track swaddled in "the Rorschach sheets where we made love" is an exploration of Lennonesque intensity, from near-death sex and drug experience with a stranger to his marriage to Emma, herein mentioned by name and photographed naked, which followed his breakthrough album of 2012, Fear Fun.
Tillman parenthetically endorses the John & Yoko analogy himself with typically dry wit in "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C For Two Virgins)". "I haven't hated all the same things as somebody else since I remember," he cries in elation as violins and mariachi horns encircle the bridal suite.
The Phil Spector pitch of the production abates in "True Affection", a descent into post-coital anxiety with electronics snapping like synapses. And then come the flashbacks: an unflinchingly honest retracing of the carnal desperation of an aimless rock star adrift in the entitlements of American consumer culture.
First there's the sweetly chiming "The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.", a character assassination in such withering detail you can almost hear the pretentious groupie bully braying about her conquest the next morning. "Strange Encounter" is much darker: a sinister and sobering confession that begins "You'll only ever be the girl who just almost died in my house".
The rock & roll road episodes of drug-fucked self-absorption and isolation continue with the lonely bar twang of "Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow" and a brutal piano/orchestral watershed called "Bored in the USA". The church organ bliss of "When You're Smiling and Astride Me" rolls in like the merciful respite of a weekend at home.
"Holy Shit" is the breaking point: a magnificent, purging litany of social evils from "dead religions" to "online friends" which updates Lennon's landmark revaluation of "God" with much symphonic drama.
Each song conspires to push our lacerated hero to proclaim himself, with all due self-loathing, "The Ideal Husband", but it's not until the solo acoustic coda, "I Went to the Store One Day", that he allows the irony to drop away. A literal recounting of the most fateful meeting of his life, it exhales at last in words of perfectly saccharine poetry. "For love to find us of all people/I never thought it'd be so simple."
Illustration by Andrew Joyner.
Talented young rapper hides behind obvious influences.
Maybe it's simply an economical approach, with 20-year-old Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ aiming to consolidate all of the important footnotes of 1990s hip-hop into one concise package? "Save the Children", the album's pre-intro intro, recalls the live hype-man opening from Big L's posthumous The Big Picture LP. A few tracks later, "Piece of Mind" finds Joey taking a more direct approach, lifting an entire line from Nas' 1993 "One Love" conversation. "No. 99" lands somewhere between KRS-One's "Sound Of Da Police" and the fictional homicide fantasies of Gravediggaz and others of the short-lived 'horrorcore' sub-genre. By way of contrast, "Like Me" visits the other end of the middle-school spectrum, rebooting the stoned positivity of the Native Tongues collective in a more gritty East New York setting.
Adding to this frustrating formula is that our host is hardly a characterless artist. When he shows snippets of his own personality – as with the scatting ballad "On & On" – we're introduced to a vulnerable young man who is able to mould his personal thoughts into intelligent pop structures. Yet it's an insight that's rarely highlighted across this consistent, yet almost entirely cloned creation.
An all-star funk summit with Stevie Wonder and more.
Superproducer Mark Ronson first branded himself via Sixties pop-soul flavours with Amy Winehouse. This LP moves on to Seventies and Eighties funk, with more sharp casting: Stevie Wonder offers a harmonica benediction alongside session guitarists Carlos Alomar (David Bowie) and the late Teenie Hodges (Al Green); Kanye point man Jeff Bhasker rocks verses by novelist Michael Chabon; and Tame Impala's Kevin Parker morphs from psych-rocker to space-funker. The magic is in the details. Mystikal conjures James Brown on "Feel Right", and Bruno Mars animates a Minneapolis groove with EDM builds on "Uptown Funk". It could even teach Prince a trick or two.
U.S.prog metallers deliver ambitious double album.
Double concept albums can be where good ideas go to die, and too often here we're left with good ideas rather than great songs. Juggernaut is smart and impressively layered, but so expansive in its technical progginess that it can feel oddly directionless. Still, Spencer Sotelo's vocal gymnastics vie thrillingly with Misha Mansoor's complex riffs, and the brutal yet beautifully textured likes of "The Bad Thing" prove Periphery are one of metal's most interesting and challenging bands. While Juggernaut's songs and 'journey' never feel as necessary as they ought, its ideas can still enthral, with the back half of Omega, in particular, executed with terrifying and dramatic precision.
Size still paramount for Glasgow synth-rock survivors.
Bombast was no swear word back when Big Country, U2, Simple Minds and other pre-Britpop monsters were competing to stretch the rock canvas to maximum stadium size in the decade of the sky-bound synth and smacking snare drum. The Glasgow team clearly thinks that battle is still raging but their unmistakable, cavernous sonic blueprint grows pretty tiring between the sequenced beats and impressive riffs of "Blindfolded" and "Concrete and Cherry Blossom". The ominous/atmospheric build of "Honest Town" promises intrigue but the destination is always the same (spoiler alert: it's in the album title) and Jim Kerr's cryptic messages consistently fail to survive the pounding medium.
Welsh outfit summon the spirit of vintage emo.
At some point over the past 10 years, Welsh quintet Funeral For a Friend learned to stop worrying and love the old-school emo. Certainly you can't imagine them producing an album as polished as 2007's Tales Don't Tell Themselves ever again, their once-held commercial aspirations traded for the kind of rawer sound that inspired them to start a band in the first place, all the way back in 2001. Accordingly, their seventh album is a throwback to the anguished emo of early Nineties acts such as Mineral and Hoover, heavy on emotion but, unfortunately, light on actual tunes. That they still sound this fired up is impressive, but it's no substitute for songs you can remember, something they used to specialise in.
Songwriter for hire struggles for direction on debut album.
Mikky Ekko is John Sudduth, a 30-year old U.S. singer and songwriter who hit paydirt co-writing and appearing on Rihanna's 2013 mega-ballad "Stay". He's worked with David Guetta, Gwen Stefani and Lil Wayne, as well as hip producers Clams Casino and Dave Sitek. His debut album toys with that murky line between chart pop and "cool" music, and while functional, it doesn't convince. Flipping maniacally through melancholic slow jams ("U") .fun-style heart-thumping ("Smile") and the out-of-place rocker ("Riot"), one mood never prevails. Ekko sings in broad platitudes and it's hard to locate his personality. Ultimately, Time is Ekko's business card for future collaborations.
No end of arrested development for cardigan-pop standard bearers.
It's fair to say the wisdom of naming your band after a twee French children's book is open to debate given Belle and Sebastian's reputation as poster kids for anaemic virgin librarians everywhere. And yet here's Stuart Murdoch's opening line in the sunshiny nursery rhyme gambol of "Nobody's Empire": "Lying on my bed I was reading French."
The cloying cardigan of orchestral pop unfurls from here like so many kittens chasing balls of wool – out of the childhood bedroom, across the kitchen table, over to his distressed friend Allie's mother's house, and on to the blue light disco of an interminable junior clerk's daydream called "Enter Sylvia Plath". It's all perfectly charming, of course, for terminal college radio tastes. What's disappointing is twofold. First, that Murdoch and co briefly found a more soulful and robust groove via producer Tony Hoffer on The Life Pursuit and Write About Love.
The second is that Murdoch's concerns can bite much harder than the duvet of strings and flutes and glockenspiels that smother the anti-establishment sentiments of "The Cat With the Cream" and the agitation against complacency that makes "Perfect Couples" the best of a sonically neutered bunch.
In keeping with the title, the stay-at-home ensemble of characters is haunted by warzones both real and metaphorical as they sigh at old books, photographs and rainy attic windows. Murdoch's saving grace is the certain knowledge that he is one of them, an eternal adolescent pining outside the window of "The Everlasting Muse".
Melbourne slackers grow up on album number two.
If Twerps' 2011 debut painted them as nonchalant slack-pop, their second LP feels more classic and universal. Instead of polishing things up to match their rising international popularity, the quartet come back with something more intimate. The spindly jangle is still there, but it’s just as likely to recall the Feelies or Tom Petty as Real Estate or Flying Nun. Most of all Twerps relish setting a lazily romantic mood, whether with the sprawling "I Don't Mind" or the homespun "Back to You". Julia MacFarlane sings lead more often, while frontman Marty Frawley expands his own vocal range. It's indie pop made quietly powerful, right down to the lyric "I'll smoke and drink myself to sleep".
Eerie folk singer comes into her own.
Jessica Pratt stood remarkably removed from modern times on her self-titled 2012 debut. The San Francisco folkie still sounds like she's strumming and humming away in some cobwebbed attic untouched by time, but now her songwriting is more distinctive than ever. Lazier listeners might write her off as too close a cousin to early Joanna Newsom, and Pratt's voice can indeed fall into the eerie purr of a whimsical child, but ultimately these masterful songs don't sound like anyone else. Lead single "Back, Baby" provides an excellent gateway, while "Jacquelyn in the Background" pairs intimate acoustic finger-picking with a ghost of electric guitar. And, yes, it will haunt you.
Much-missed trio reunite after eight years away for arguably their best album yet.
In 2006, when Sleater-Kinney called time on a 12-year career that spanned seven albums of stinging new wave punk rock, they still seemed in full flight. There was no acrimony that split the trio – duelling guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, and drummer Janet Weiss; no dip in relevancy. On the contrary. Their cessation in the wake of 2005's critically-acclaimed "final" LP, The Woods, felt particularly cruel.
Brownstein's profile soon soared with her hit TV show Portlandia, and she joined Weiss in the comparatively sedate Wild Flag. Meanwhile Tucker put out two solo albums. In 2015, the sizzling No Cities to Love casts such distractions in trivial relief. Recorded "in secret" early last year by long-time producer John Goodmanson, No Cities to Love is billed as the sound of Sleater-Kinney "willing the band back into existence". Across 10 songs, that will is proved ferocious and inspired.
See the juiced-up guitar bounce of "Bury Our Friends" or the dance wiggle of "Fangless" that has Tucker and Brownstein erupting in trademark vowel-curdling call and response. Even fresh fans should pick up on the visceral charge of this pair reunited. On "Surface Envy" they belt in unison, "We win/we lose/only together do we make the rules" – as good a manifesto for three friends reclaiming their rightful crown as any.
Perennial shock rocker strikes a vein of form on ninth album.
For an artist who's at his best when reinventing his image and sound, Marilyn Manson has been frustratingly stagnant over the past few albums. After almost two decades as shock rock's own L'enfant terrible, time and excess seemed to have caught up with the God of Fuck, and it looked for all money like the man formerly known as Brian Warner was desperately running out of ideas. All of which makes the fact that his ninth album is his best in years all the more surprising.
Collaborating for the first time with guitarist Tyler Bates – who is also responsible for scoring 300 and The Watchmen, amongst others – if it's the metallic fury of old you desire, such moments are few and far between. When Manson does step on the gas, such as on the rousing "Deep Six", the adrenaline rush is so palpable you can't help but wish it happened more often. For the most part, though, the 10 tracks here dwell in a far more malevolent, noir-ish world – equal parts Birthday Party, classic Bowie and vintage Alice Cooper.
"Third Day of a Seven Day Binge", for example, is all woozy, Seventies New York, delivered with such elegantly wasted swagger you wonder if surviving the next four days is possible. "Warship My Wreck" is built around uneasy soundscapes, "The Devil Beneath My Feet" is propelled by glam-rock handclaps and pulsing bass, while "Birds of Hell Awaiting" trudges along on a riff that sounds like it could collapse under the weight of Manson's intent. It's a dark old world he's created – you sure as hell wouldn't want to live there. But to visit? Hell yeah.
Perth collective's pop heart shines on another album of boundary-pushing studio-psych.
On their sixth album in six years, Perth's Pond sound as gleefully unsure of their identity as ever. The core trio of Jay Watson, Nick Allbrook and Joseph Ryan – along with Cam Avery, Jamie Terry, and help from Tame Impala buddy Kevin Parker and studio owner Lukas Glickman – recorded the album over several months in Collingwood, Melbourne. Half the band slept in the studio, and the playful din of cabin fever permeates. But through the dense miasma of thubby bass, woolly drums and flange-drenched synths, Pond's restless pop songcraft shines.
"Outside is the Right Side" slinks like some unholy mash-up of Nelly and P-Funk, while the damaged Americana of "Medicine Hat" could be Dylan experimenting in the afterlife. There's heft lurking behind their goof, too, but then they can't help naming the saddest song here "Heroic Shart".
Classic rock touchstones are intrinsic to Pond, but they shove them into futuristic territory – gifted musicians unafraid to indulge their flights of fancy. The title track wildly shifts – edits – through different sections like they just glued together ideas and called it a tune. This balance of playfulness and serious is Pond's carnival act, but it's their mastery of it on Man It Feels Like Space Again that makes it so damn fun – and Pond so very exciting.