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British drum-and-bass rockers release much-anticipated debut.
Having been on the receiving end of a significant amount of hype since releasing their debut single "Out of the Black" last November, Royal Blood's debut full-length isn’t exactly a disappointment, but nor is it as fresh and fierce as that initial taste suggested. Three of the album's 10 tracks were available on the Out of the Black EP, and the remaining seven offer little in the way of surprises – Mike Kerr's monolithic bass sound and drummer Ben Thatcher’s command of groove make for head-nodding bedfellows, not to mention a lethal live combination. On record, though, even with a scant running time a touch over 30 minutes, it all seems to flow past without ever causing the pulse to truly rise.
Post-punk Kiwis dive further into psychedelia.
The core ethos of Die! Die! Die! has changed little since their self-titled debut in 2006, but now vocalist Andrew Wilson no longer sounds as confused and angry as Mark E. Smith watching 16 and Pregnant. Wilson's lyrical universe has always felt punishingly intimate, but on S W I M ('Someone Who Isn't Me') a wary hope has crept in. If the Dunedin trio's piercing post-punk edges have been sanded back, they’ve been shaped into a cohesive slab of skittery mind-fuckery. Channelling more of MBV's noisy psyche rather than Shellac’s precision, on "Get Hit", "Crystal" and "She’s Clear" their brutal and melodious nature really shines. Five albums in, Die! Die! Die! remain genuinely thrilling.
Admirable but shaky indie (and soft) rock.
Bear in Heaven have always been more interesting than most of their indie rock peers, if only because they’re so hard to pin down. Fronted by Jon Philpot, the Brooklyn band combine spacey textures and arty twists with big, earnest pop motifs. Their fourth album is as likely to evoke Roxy Music as Phil Collins, and it’s not afraid to veer towards epic soft-rock. "Demon" even flirts with radio-friendly EDM, while "If I Were to Lie" subtly toys with reggae. But while there’s a lot to admire here – especially Jason Nazary’s slippery drumming – it doesn’t entirely gel. At their best, Bear in Heaven feel almost Radiohead-esque; too often, though, all they manage is diverting sonic wallpaper.
New Jersey quartet make a few sonic tweaks on album number five.
You get the sense that things aren't as simple as they once were for the Gaslight Anthem. When promoting his 2011 album with side project the Horrible Crowes, frontman Brian Fallon spoke of the weight he felt writing songs for Gaslight knowing that fans such as Bruce Springsteen would be listening. Then, in the lead-up to the release of this, the New Jersey quartet's fifth record, he spoke of wanting to reinvent the band's sound so as not to spend their career treading water. Such considerations must seem a long way from the dive bars and clubs they called home around the time of their 2007 debut, Sink or Swim.
It is, however, this sense of duty to keep evolving and striving that gives Get Hurt its appeal. As the bass-driven dirge of opener "Stay Vicious" makes clear, this is an album cut from a different cloth to that of their breakthrough, The '59 Sound, or even 2012's Handwritten. It's not a complete reinvention (or even near to one), but it is the sound of a band comfortable enough in their skin to try a few different tricks: the title-track and "Underneath the Ground" benefit from a newfound appreciation of space, and both are the beneficiaries of gorgeous choruses; "Rollin' and Tumblin'" is one of the heaviest tracks of the band's career.
In an odd sequencing move, two of the album's strongest songs are saved for its end, the acoustic "Break Your Heart" and rousing "Dark Places" sending the record out on a high strong enough to erase the spectre of filler such as "Helter Skeleton". Mercifully such lesser moments are thin on the ground, and while Get Hurt is still clearly a Gaslight Anthem album in intent and content, the subtle tweaks they've made speak of a band with a future as strong as their past.
Long-awaited return of classic pop merchants.
It's not quite Chinese Democracy, but the Magic Numbers' fourth album has been a while coming. (Indeed, it's just their second since 2006's Those the Brokes.) Fortunately, it was worth the wait, with the 11 tracks true to the English band's harmony-laden sound while demonstrating clear progression. The pounding drums on brooding "Out on the Streets" recall fellow Brits Doves, while singer Romeo Stodart's angelic voice shines on the gorgeous "Roy Orbison", which would make its namesake proud. There's room for experimentation, too, on six-minute "Wake Up" and the Seventies disco vibe of "E.N.D.". It's mature pop at its finest. Let's just hope the wait for more isn't as long.
L.A. ska revivalists get a little help from a famous friend.
In the late Nineties, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish took ska-punk mainstream. With their self-titled debut, the Interrupters aim to do the same. Rancid singer Tim Armstrong's fingerprints are all over this 11-song set – he helped write and produce the record, also providing (albeit inane) vocals to the upbeat "Family" ("my grandmother’s name is Sherri / she’s in the cemetery"). Aimee Interrupter's throaty howl is used to great effect on "Take Back the Power", while “White Noise” and the brassy "Judge Not” pay homage to 2 Tone ska heroes the Specials and Madness. Originality isn’t the Interrupters’ strong suit, but fun sure is.kathryn kernohan
Sydney-centric hip-hop cut with silky R&B grooves.
You could almost call the One Day crew a Sydney hip-hop supergroup, but the connotations aren't quite right. Collective fits their aesthetic better, made up as it is of Horrorshow, Jackie Onassis, Spit Syndicate and the seemingly omnipresent Joyride. Collab veterans one and all, the chemistry between the seven members is evident, especially on "Many Hands", the title-track and banger "12 Milka", even if the record itself shifts gear too often to establish a cohesive sound. Staying on the right side of style over substance, and at its best in the slick back-and-forth between the stack of talented emcees, Mainline is a promising debut from an outfit with plenty more to explore.
Slowhand honours an underrated rock legend.
When JJ Cale died on July 26th last year, the music world lost a maverick talent, and Eric Clapton lost a good mate. This album is a tribute to both facts, as Clapton assembles an all-star cast to celebrate the smooth, laid-back "Tulsa Sound" that Cale was so central to. Fellow-Cale devotees were easy to find – Mark Knopfler turns up for a killer take of "Someday"; Tom Petty adds vocals to three tracks, including "I Got the Same Old Blues"; and Willie Nelson duels with Derek Trucks on slowburner "Starbound". At the helm of it all, Clapton really gets the Tulsa Sound, and has ensured this album feels like genuine Cale.
Break yields fresh adventures in analog minimalism.
It’s the tinkly sweep of harp strings on "Inside Out" that makes Spoon Spoon. It’s the expert two-finger piano on "I Just Don’t Understand" and the way the guitar sounds like it’s made of soapy steel wool in "Knock Knock Knock". On their eighth record – yes, record – it’s the warm analog edges as much as the tripwire hooks that make Britt Daniel, Jim Eno and their Austin compadres such a reliable thrill. The paranoia of the title is reflected in songs of subtle recrimination and seamy personal politics that fit the rasp of Daniel’s voice as snugly as a bass in a kick drum. With every perfectly formed back-mask and taut keyboard squiggle unfolds a masterclass in punchy pop minimalism.
Ex-Rilo Kiley singer pulls in her A-List pals, checks her head on new solo outing.
Jenny Lewis was a child actor, you know. It explains the balance of world-weariness and showbiz grit in her girlish stage belter’s voice, and maybe also her tendency to cast herself in bigger pictures with a shifting pool of collaborators. But lately the princess of the indie-pop prom has been sleeping alone, and not well. "I’m not the same woman you’re used to," she frets in "Head Underwater". In the sordid motel ménage of "Aloha and the Three Johns" she wonders, "Is this the start of middle-ageing or the end of civilisation?"
The Voyager sits at a crossroads between hiding the weed from the hotel staff and stressing over her biological clock. In the folk-pop narrative of "Late Bloomer" she romanticises the sexual awakening of a distant Parisian road trip. In the opiated rock of "Slippery Slopes" and "Just One of the Guys", the same road is a dull blur of sex, drugs and arrested development.
Sonically the voyage carries recognisable baggage from Lewis’s myriad projects, from the Watson Twins' genteel harmonies on the Rabbit Fur Coat album to the seedy Eighties disco of that last Rilo Kiley LP. In the likes of "She’s Not Me", guitars and drums come with extra crunch courtesy of Ryan Adams’ production. Beck brings his spongy soul to other stops.
But from the insomniac head-check of that first song to the title track’s chamber-orchestrated slide into "the kool-aid of the cosmos", you get the feeling this is one trip Lewis had to make alone.
Australian songwriter celebrated in three-disc set.
"Geez, he said, the bands don’t seem to play round here no more," Clapton sang in 1977’s "Goodbye Tiger". Even in his heyday, he was awash in nostalgia. His best songs, including "Deep Water" and "Girls On the Avenue", featured the sound of a young man looking in the rearview mirror and capturing the sound of bittersweet memory via songs replete with sparkling guitars and street poetry. This 50-track 3-CD set – plus a DVD of a 1988 concert – spans his 40-year career. Despite some dated Seventies and Eighties production and the less essential latter-day recordings, there’s a stretch of songs that mark him as a chronicler of Australian dreams, both good and bad.
Norah Jones and friends start a harmony-happy bar band.
This charming hang session with Norah Jones, jazzy singer-songwriter Sasha Dobson and alt-rock session vet Catherine Popper began as three friends blowing off steam at a pool hall – think of it as a slacker version of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt’s Trio project. Most bar bands don't manage trio harmonies near this gorgeous, but the song selection is uneven. A cover of Wilco’s Jesus, Etc. is a keeper; their take on Neil Young's Down by the River, not so much. Dobson's Sex Degrees of Separation (rhymes with "we’ll screw our way to salvation") is the highlight, dubious puns notwithstanding. It’s a promising sign.
Metal gods get back to what they do best: operatic menace.
Judas Priest have been looking for redemption since their 2008 concept album, Nostradamus, fell flat with fans. Their follow-up goes back to guitar-bludgeoning basics on songs that explore vengeance, virility and Valhalla – classic metal themes that might feel tired if it wasn’t for the fact that Priest are one of the bands that helped pioneer the pummeling genre in the first place. Frontman Rob Halford’s operatic howls soar on Battle Cry, and the group’s guitarists bring drama to the galloping title track and the relentless Metalizer. Above all, Redeemer is proof that Priest can still call themselves metal’s defenders of the faith.
Lost treasures of CSNY's live peak
Forty summers ago, North America's greatest dysfunctional supergroup patched things up for a while, filled stadiums and left behind tales of backstage excess and shaky vocal harmonies. The first-ever set of recordings from those shows is fittingly over-the-top – three discs and one DVD with footage of eight songs. The two electric-set discs have a crackling, wired-on-something energy: Check how Stephen Stills and Neil Young trade unhinged solos on Young's "Revolution Blues." The often exquisite acoustic disc fi nds all four lending harmonies to solo songs like Stills' "Change Partners" and reveling in a compatibility that often escaped them offstage.
With strong then-new material from all four – including Graham Nash's agitated "Fieldworker," Stills' Latin-soul "My Angel," David Crosby's ethereal "Carry Me" and several Young songs, especially the wrenching "Pushed It Over the End" – CSNY 1974 may be the closest we'll come to hearing a mid-Seventies reunion album from this band. (After the tour, the group convened for a new record but fell apart yet again.) In another of Young's songs here, the droll honky-tonk shu e "Love Art Blues," he sings, "I went and played too hard and I lost my fun." It's a prophetic line for a tour that pushed a great band over the edge but left us, finally, with this overabundance of treasures.
Pop’s greatest parodist goofs on Lorde, Robin Thicke and more.
When we talk about timeless artists, the ones who truly cross generations, how come no one mentions Weird Al? Where his 1983 debut spoofed then-hot singles like “Mickey,” his 14th album turns Lorde’s Royals into Foil (as in aluminum) and Iggy Azalea's Fancy into Handy ("I’ll fix your plumbing/When your toilets overflow"). The schoolhouse R&B of Word Crimes is clever enough to win over the harshest critics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Then there’s Tacky, his sharp-tongued take on Pharrell Williams' Happy. Sure, there’s a touch of hypocrisy in a guy as gloriously tacky as Al taking shots at the shameless – but who really cares when it's this much fun?
Scottish troubadour's love note to homeland.
2014 will be a year to remember for Scotland with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and September’s independence referendum. This is a mournful tribute to a nation on the cusp of change (and the soundtrack to a film tying in with the Games). Fife's Kenny Anderson, the man behind the Creosote, has offered consistent, occasionally mesmerising modern folk for two decades and here is at his warmest, with breathtaking tracks like Miserable Strangers and For One Night Only. What is absent is any hint of stereotypes like urban decay, drinking or traditional music – this is an eclectic singer-songwriter at work rather than an exploration of idiom, making for a heartfelt meditation on place and people.