Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes...

Another wonderful album of sincere, big hearted guitar pop from Welsh ensemble Los Campesinos!

Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield...

A stunning third solo effort from former Delgados singer/songwriter Emma Pollock.

Jape – .wav goodbye...

Mairéad McGuinness reviews an 8 track collection of studio out-takes from one of Ireland’s most successful singer-songwriters Richie Egan aka Jape.

Champs – Vamala...

Brothers Michael and David Champion have been busy boys. Barely a year after the release of striking debut album ‘Down Like Gold’ they are back with Vamala, a sophomore release of gorgeously melancholic pop. Operating in the saturated indie pop market, Champs still managed to make an indelible impression with their debut; some have attributed it to the band’s Isle of Wight origins. The sense of isolation and otherness conveyed on songs like ‘Too Bright to Shine’ and ‘My Spirit is Broken’ seemed to support that theory – Vamala is a different beast, building on the promise shown on their debut with a record that is a definite move towards a sleeker, more mainstream sound. French producer Dimitri Tikovoï shifts the point of attack just a little – Tikovoï has worked with acts like Goldfrapp, Placebo, The Horrors and Girls Aloud and his influence comes through strongly in the less organic approach adopted in recording these songs. Once again, it is the honey layered vocal harmonies that get star billing, and rightly so – songs like ‘Sophia’ float along with a crystalline beauty, due in no small part to the gorgeous vocals. Latest single ‘Desire’ opens the record and it is immediately apparent that Champs are making big strides towards mainstream success – this is an album with obvious commercial appeal. There are a number of anthems in disguise sprinkled throughout the record – teaser track ‘Blood’ is one of the best songs of 2015 so far, a dreampop gem which positively glows while ‘Send Me Down’ is destined to be a live sing-a-long favourite. ‘Forever Be Upstanding At My Door’ sounds like a song from another era – there are echoes of Simon & Garfunkel in the tight harmonies and simple acoustic arrangement. With Vamala, Champs have taken everything that was...

BC Camplight – How To Die In The North...

We all love a good comeback story. Is there anything that stirs the soul more than tales of triumph over adversity? New Jersey born song-writer Brian Christinzio (aka BC Camplight) has quite the tale to tell. His first two albums (released in 2005 and 2007) were hugely acclaimed; Christinzio’s flair for writing naggingly addictive melodic tunes was immediately apparent, but just when things seemed set for take off, BC Camplight fell off the radar. Disenchanted and dejected, Christinzio retreated and what followed was a dizzying spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, depression and temporary homelessness. Moving to Manchester in 2011 might have seemed like a hopeless last ditch attempt to turn things around, but it’s from there that this most unlikely comeback story started to follow a different narrative. The move sparked a period of creativity that resulted in the ironically titled How To Die in the North, an album that marks a spectacular return to form and hopefully, a change in fortunes for this talented songwriter. How To Die in the North is an album of wonderfully skewed pop music, sounding like Pet Sound’s weird younger brother filled with sun-kissed melodies, celestial harmonies and oddly brilliant instrumental flourishes. It’s the little musical surprises and quirky, sometimes biting lyrical sound bites that prevents it from degenerating into some kind of 60s Beach Boys pastiche. The music might sound bathed in the afterglow of the summer of love, but this is completely at odds with Christinzio’s sometimes pessimistic if not downright jaundiced outlook on matters of the heart. On the closing track he poses the question ‘Why Doesn’t Anybody Fall in Love Anymore?’ against the backdrop of dramatic piano chords and his soaring falsetto – the effect is semi-cheesy, but the question is left hanging in...

Belle and Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance...

Almost two decades have passed since  debut album Tigermilk made Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian instant darlings of the British indie scene. Their fey, winsome chamber pop attracted an audience not overly enamoured by the machismo of popular rock acts of that time like Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine. Follow up album If You’re Feeling Sinister was a near perfect record, high on lo-fi charm, with a loose immediacy that cemented their place as every cool indie kid’s favourite new band. Well those indie kids have grown up, and it appears Belle and Sebastian have too; lapsed fans may find the shiny surfaces and pristine synths something of a shock to the system on ninth album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. It’s some distance  from the infectious, ramshackle innocence of those early records – there are still traces of their halcyon days on the delicately beautiful ‘Ever Had a Little Faith’ and opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ and ‘The Book of You’ are wonderfully sophisticated adult pop songs. But elsewhere, their stab at a form of post-ironic dance music is less successful – ‘The Party Line’, ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ and ‘Perfect Couples’ are songs that fall into  that niche category: dinner party dance music. It makes for an oddly uneven listen, tracing a bumpy path from the sure-footed and melodic brilliance of songs like ‘The Cat with The Cream’ to ‘Play For Today’, where the band sound like they are operating way outside their comfort zone. Many of the elements that so endeared Belle and Sebastian to music fans remain – the songs are well crafted, Stuart Murdoch still writes lyrics with a certain wry flair but this grown up version of Belle and Sebastian lacks the ingredient that was their hallmark right from the outset – real and genuine charm. (3 /...

Best Songs of 2014 Dec10

Best Songs of 2014

Let’s list again: 30 of my favourite songs of 2014.

Roddy Frame – Seven Dials...

Growing old gracefully is not a concept embraced by all pop stars still plying their trade as the inevitable slide towards middle age sets in. Their gaudy attempts to recapture the glory days can often be painfully embarrassing to watch. Eighties teen idol Roddy Frame has long recognised that the adulation he once enjoyed as a bona fide pop star with his band Aztec Camera is a thing of the past but there is still music to be made, songs to be sung. He served his song-writing apprenticeship as part of the embryonic Postcard Records scene; the legendary Scottish label is fondly remembered as a breeding ground for acts with a commitment to the ideal of intelligent, classy pop music. In 1983, Aztec Camera released their classic debut album High Land, Hard Rain; Frame was just nineteen years old and found himself a fully fledged pop star with the hit single ‘Oblivious’ securing his place as an eighties icon. Further success followed – hit singles like ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ demonstrated Frame’s flair for penning catchy, memorable tunes, a talent that continues to shine undimmed on this his fourth solo album, Seven Dials. This is a collection of poignantly beautiful, timeless pop songs infused with a wisdom and maturity that befits Frame’s status as a musician and songwriter with over thirty years on the clock. It’s a record gilded with wistful observations on the passage of time, and Frame’s finely honed gift for crafting near perfect melodies. Songs like the brisk ‘Forty Days of Rain’ with its Dylan-esque harmonica intro and ‘Fly Into the Sun’ are lively up-tempo numbers that are instantly memorable. On the pensive and evocative ‘English Garden’ Frame sings: ‘Now in every room a different sorrow hangs|And the past is like...

Windings/Land Lovers Split L.P....

The music industry continues to flounder – major record companies are desperately trying to wrestle back control of how music is delivered to the consumer but they are fighting a losing battle. The ready availability of ‘free’ music through online streaming services and illegal file sharing has decimated sales of compact discs, and suddenly, profit hungry majors are being forced to face up to the sobering reality that they no longer maintain the vice like grip they once had. Chasing the pirates will not change the fact that the traditional ways of delivering music to the consumer have changed, and changed for good. New and novel thinking is required if record labels are to survive in their current guise – enter Out on A Limb and Popical Island, two of Irelands most progressive and innovative independent labels. They have taken a concept that was not uncommon in the DIY days of punk, the idea of a split, double A-side seven inch single and given it a fresh, modern reboot. These two labels have joined forces to release this split album featuring two very promising Irish bands, Windings and Land Lovers and boy, does it work and work well. First up is Windings, a Limerick based five piece that have been quietly building up a reputation for themselves on the local scene. They contribute four tracks here, each very different in terms of style, each equally impressive in its own right. From the slow burning rock dynamics of opener ‘Bladerubber’ to the Smiths like howl of ‘Neverwood’, Windings make a noise that owes an obvious debt to nineties alternative rock, but invest it with just enough of themselves to make it stand out from the crowd. The grunge guitars and dream pop vocals of ‘Bang...

Los Campesinos! – No Blues...

We don’t deserve a band like Los Campesinos! For the last seven years now, they have been pouring their heart and soul into making this raucous, exuberant and curiously life affirming racket while we continue to reserve our affections for those less deserving of our love and respect. Seven years and five wonderful albums later, we continue to feign indifference, blithely ignoring these songs that make the heart swell, these symphonic pop anthems about the things that really matter – love, life, sex, death, it’s all in here. This is most definitely pop music, but there is an eloquence, wit and intelligence inherent in the song-writing that can get lost in the great surge of sound that is Los Campesinos! through and through. No Blues is their fifth album and is right up there with their very best – and their very best is very good indeed. A song like ‘For Flotsam’ defies us to remain indifferent, to remain steadfast as a chorus of gargantuan proportions threatens to sweep us off our feet. It doesn’t end there; ‘What Death Leaves Behind’ may be the first song in the history of pop to have the word ‘tautology’ in the chorus (they still make it sound insanely catchy), while ‘Avocada, Baby’ is probably the greatest song ever to compare the human heart to the fruit also known as the Alligator Pear. Gareth Paisey is the principal lyricist and lead vocalist – he delivers these songs with bags of passion, wringing every last ounce of pathos from these words that often seem wrapped up in a kind of faux hurt. Technically, he may not be the strongest vocalist you will ever hear, but hey, we will take passion, wit and eloquence every time over note perfect automatons....