Big Thief – Masterpiece...

If you are going to call your debut album Masterpiece, it better be good. Big Thief deliver.

Mew: + –

Some twenty one years after they formed in Copenhagen, indie Rock quartet Mew remain one of the music scene’s best kept secrets. Feted in their homeland, they continue to enjoy relatively modest success throughout the rest of Europe and the US despite releasing a string of consistently superb albums since their inception. They do have a fervently devoted cult following and it’s evident why once you get to see this band in the flesh – their live concert in the Academy in Dublin 2009 is still one of the best shows I have seen in the last decade, an ambitious mix of high tech visuals and epically bombastic guitar anthems. They are not a band that play the corporate Rock game, eschewing the easy path to success to follow their own strangely, beautiful star. They have all the tools to be a massive arena rock act, but they are too quirkily cryptic, a little too otherworldly to meet the expectations of the masses. That said, sixth album + – (another one of their eccentricities, the enigmatic album title) edges them a little closer to mass acceptance.  It’s an album that mixes Prog Rock arrangements with their ear for deceptively addictive hooks and melodies to deliver their most mainstream sounding album to date. This is the acceptable face of grandiose Rock; accented power chords, drum fills last heard on a seventies era Yes record and singer Jonas Bjerre’s ethereal falsetto combining to make a deeply unfashionable but wholly satisfying noise. ‘Satellites’ opens the album in panoramic fashion – widescreen synths give way to big hair guitar guitars and we are off and running. Bjerre manages to make the vaguely bitter lyrics sound impossibly sweet. ‘Witness’ keeps things on the up and up, indie guitar rock with that special Mew twist.  ‘The...

The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil...

The path to success in the music business is littered with the carcasses of musicians that grasped for a little too much, far too early. Bands that attempted to graduate from the garage to the stadium on the back of a promising debut and the speculative flattery of the music industry. Listening to The Districts second album, A Flourish and a Spoil, you get the feeling that they are well placed to avoid that fate. Hailing from Pennsylvania, their blog offers a simple declaration of what they are about: ‘we write honest music and are passionate about what we do’.  There was a time when that kind of earnest sincerity in Rock circles would have drawn scorn and ridicule – you get the sense that now, it might just be the thing that sees them through. They may be operating out of the increasingly sterile category that is indie guitar rock, but they are a cut above so many of their peers. A Flourish and a Spoil is an incredibly assured sophomore effort, displaying a little of the brash confidence of early Arctic Monkeys. There is a freshness about their music, perhaps explained by the fact that the entire band are under twenty one. The musicianship is uniformly excellent and in vocalist Rob Grote they have an astute lyricist who can actually sing, as opposed to someone who just happened to be the one least reluctant to take on vocal duties. In short, they are the complete package; raucous opening track ‘4th and Roebling’ sets the tone – a rumbling bass, Grote’s measured vocals rising in intensity when the inevitable wave of distorted guitars crash in. Grote writes about growing up, everyday life in a small town, and he does it with an insightfulness...

Echo and the Bunnymen Live @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin 18 Feb 2015...

How many of us can pinpoint the exact moment we fell in love with music, the precise point in time when we ceased to be a casual fan and became completely and utterly smitten? For me that moment came on the 7 December 1985. Still in my teens and harbouring a growing interest in music, I went along to the now defunct SFX venue on Dublin’s northside. A live music virgin, Echo and the Bunnymen would be the second gig I ever attended; my previous sole foray having been a particularly uncomfortable night surrounded by screaming teens at a Frankie Goes To Hollywood show. But the Bunnymen represented something different, and that night turned out to be something of a life changing experience. I walked away from that show consumed with the idea of playing in a band; the power and majesty of the Bunnymen that night was the catalyst for me to pick up a guitar, an act that completely altered and shaped the direction my life took for the next 13 years. Given all that, the return of Echo and the Bunnymen to Dublin some thirty years after that show was always going to hold personal significance.  My love affair with their music has endured to this day, but with that, there is always that nervous anxiety around seeing returning idols all these years later. Of the original line-up, only singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant remain; the core creative force perhaps, but anyone who witnessed that 85 show will testify to the marked contribution made by bassist Les Pattison and the sadly departed Pete DeFreitas to the bands sound. Some twenty minutes late, the newest incarnation of the Bunnymen take to the Olympia stage – the early signs are promising.  A blistering version of the title track off their...

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love...

Last year’s release of the excellent seven album retrospective ‘Start Together’ signalled the end of a lengthy hiatus for influential Washington punk rock outfit Sleater-Kinney. It also served as a timely reminder of just how vacuous and sterile Rock music has become. Set against many of today’s leading lights on the alternative Rock scene, Sleater-Kinney’s early musical output positively burns with an incandescent vitality and rage. Albums like Call the Doctor (1996) and Dig Me Out (1997) were edgy affairs, bristling with a raw energy that betrayed the bands Washington punk rock roots. They quickly became associated with the riot grlll movement, embracing the left wing, feminist ideology that was at the heart of that scene. While this was, and still is a huge part of the bands identity, it can often overshadow one simple and unassailable truth: Sleater – Kinney are a truly great rock band and eight album No Cities To Love delivers ample evidence that this is still the case, some ten years after the release of their last album. The chemistry between Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss has always been central to their greatness – it is there in abundance on No Cities Left, the muscular riffing and dual, intertwining vocals on tracks like ‘Fangless’ and ‘Surface Envy’, something of a trademark of the band. Weiss contributes handsomely to the bands sound – her lithe, explosive drumming underpinning everything that is great about these songs. ‘ No Cities To Love’ is exuberantly melodic while ‘ A New Wave’ surprises with its almost jaunty chorus. It’s an album that is not as overtly political as some of their earlier releases; with the exception of opening track ‘Price Tag’, Sleater-Kinney steer a less confrontational course, but the lyrics still retain a sharpness, a cutting...

Best Songs of 2014 Dec10

Best Songs of 2014

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

Catfish And The Bottlemen – The Balcony...

Debut review of a debut album for a promising young writer: Stephen Rubbathan shares his thoughts on The Balcony by Welsh indie outfit Catfish And The Bottlemen.

Afghan Whigs-Do To The Beast...

The Afghan Whigs were something of a big deal back in the mid nineties. After signing a lucrative recording contract with Electra Records, they released the critical and commercial success that was Gentlemen, an album of noir-ish, epic guitar rock. Released in 1993, this was their moment; MTV sensed it, put them on heavy rotation and for a brief spell they appeared poised to break out of the indie ghetto and into the big leagues. Singer and songwriter Greg Dulli was the kind of front man who made good copy for the music magazines – his confessional, soulful lyrics ensured journalists arrived for interviews with an armful of questions and left with a string of quotable quotes. They broke up in 2001 after a long and exhausting legal wrangle with their record label left Dulli drained and exhausted by the whole experience. Now they are back with the much anticipated ‘Do to the Beast’ and fans of the band will be pleased to know that it is business as usual for the Whigs – this is a comeback album that doesn’t tinker with the formula to any great degree.   Opener ‘Parked Outside’ is a tasty reprise of the satisfyingly chunky guitars and semi sleazy howl that Dulli utilised to great effect on Gentlemen. Dulli still mulls over the same themes – sex, lust, death, infidelity & obsession –  on songs like ‘It Kills’, he somehow manages to roll all these themes into one song. ‘Algiers’ kicks off with that classic Spector drum beat from ‘Be My Baby’ and grooves along nicely in a Pulp Fiction-ish kind of way. ‘Lost In the Woods’ and ‘The Lottery’ are classic examples of the Afghan Whigs sound – Dulli at his most darkly foreboding with the band nudging close...

Pixies – Indie Cindy...

The return of Pixies with new album Indie Cindy has not met with universal approval, but it is a record that more than holds its own with some of their earlier releases.

Daughter – If You Leave...

Since the release of their debut EP in 2011, the music industry has been abuzz with rumours that London based trio Daughter were a band to watch. A growing live following and the patronage of BBC Radio 1 seemed to suggest that Daughter were a promising act moving in the right direction. But nobody could have expected this. If You Leave is an astonishing debut, an album of such brutal, searing honesty it leaves you pinned to the wall from the very first listen. Sounding a little like a more fleshed out, less skeletal version of fellow Londoners The xx, Daughter create ambient, spacious guitar atmospherics as a backdrop for singer Elena Tonra’s painful words of heartbreak, loss and regret to create something incredibly powerful. There is no let up or hiding place from the naked honesty of these words; the choking sadness and self-loathing of ‘Smother’ is at once both breathtaking and chilling while ‘Youth’ continues in the same vein with Tonra singing: ‘And if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones/Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs/Setting fire to our insides for fun/Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong…’ The beautiful, cascading guitars of ‘Still’ and jagged, serrated edges of ‘Lifeforms’ are stunning highlights of an album that is uniformly strong from start to finish. The contrast between the stark, sparse arrangements and Tonra’s stunning words and vocals lend this music its quiet power – this is a staggeringly assured and accomplished debut that will ensure that Daughter leave the indie ghetto behind before very long. It is not difficult to envisage Daughter filling arenas with their vast and cavernous sound – this is BIG music despite the painfully intimate nature of the subject matter. With If You Leave,...