The Horrors – Luminous...

With Luminous, The Horrors are merely treading water despite some impressive moments of sonic wizardry.

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.

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...

Maximo Park – Too Much Information...

It must have seemed all so easy for Tyneside quintet Maximo Park at one point in the not too distant past. Debut album A Certain Trigger sold over three hundred thousand copies, bagging a Mercury Prize nomination in the process back in 2005. The follow up Our Earthly Pleasures also went gold, the band tapping into a ready-made audience for their spiky Post Punk as indie guitar music enjoyed a massive resurgence of interest during this period. They were a prime example of a band in the right place at the right time – since then, the parade of successful British guitar acts has continued to dwindle and the days of gold discs and massive media exposure for bands like Maximo Park are long gone. Too Much Information is the band’s fifth album and a valiant stab at recapturing the glory days –this is a record studded with some of the very  best songs the band have ever recorded but  it is ultimately let down by a number of very average tracks and an unevenness in terms of their approach. There seems to be two sides to Maximo Park on this album; the more guitar oriented side, harking back to their Post Punk roots, and the newer, fresher Electro Pop of songs like ‘Leave This Island’ that present the band in a completely different and curiously better light. ‘Leave This Island’ is a cracking song and in different times would be making a determined assault on the singles charts while ‘Brain Cells’, ‘Is It True’ and ‘Drinking Martinis’ scale similar peaks of excellence, exploring the eighties New Wave of bands like Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark with some success. This new direction seems like a good fit for the band but...

Snowbird – Moon...

Bella Union is an independent record label that’s home to some of the most diverse and interesting acts on the alternative music scene. With a line-up that has included at one time or another the likes of John Grant, Fleet Foxes, Explosions in the Sky, I Break Horses, Midlake, the Walkmen and Fionn Regan, they are a label synonymous with quality acts.To that illustrious roster, we can now add Snowbird, a partnership between Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde and American chanteuse Stephanie Dosen. Raymonde wrote and played bass with legendary 80s/90s Scottish sonic pioneers The Cocteau Twins, a band not often given the credit they deserve for the indelible influence they had on alternative music at the time and subsequent to their split in 1997. Dosen has released a couple of solo albums and collaborated with acts of the calibre of Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers. Together they have produced Moon, an album of luminous beauty and one that reveals a little more with every listen. With Moon, Snowbird invite us to enter an enchanted world populated with foxes and owls, ghosts and wishes, a nocturnal realm that comes alive when the hush of night descends. The music is exceptionally pretty; these predominantly piano led compositions provide the perfect backdrop for Dosen’s beautiful voice. Comparisons with the Cocteau Twins will be made; for the most part, they don’t stack up. The heavily effected guitars and booming drum machine employed by the Cocteau Twins are nowhere to be heard. Snowbird cast their spell with more subtle weave of sound – piano chords are left suspended in mid-air, fragments of melody flutter hither and thither, and Dosen’s layered, whimsical voice binding it all together. ‘All Wishes Are Ghosts’ is utterly beguiling; ‘Charming Birds From...

Tindersticks – Across Six Leap Years...

As an album to mark over two decades making sublime, occasionally wondrous music together, Across Six Leap Years is something of an oddity. It’s a compilation album, and yet gathers together a measly ten tracks from the Tinderstick’s twenty one year’s existence and vast back catalogue of singles, studio albums and soundtracks.The choice of songs is idiosyncratic to say the least; it would be pushing it to claim that this in any way constitutes a collection of their finest moments. There is some suggestion that these tracks were chosen because the original recordings did not turn out as the band had envisaged – if that is the case, it is somewhat curious  as many of the re-worked versions contained on this record seem to have undergone minor, cosmetic changes. ‘If You’re Looking For a Way Out’ from their very fine soul influenced 1999 release, Simple Pleasure is a case in point.  The casual listener would be hard pressed to notice the subtle differences between this and the original recording.  The revisited version of ‘A Night In’ seems to have lost a little of the dramatic sweep of the original with a more muted string arrangement, but sticks pretty closely to the original in all other respects. ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Marseilles Sunshine’ are two tracks that ended up on singer Stuart Staple’s solo album – here, they are released as Tindersticks songs for the first time. The whole album was recorded in Abbey Road, and while it does sound cohesive and holds together pretty well, it seems like a pointless and futile exercise. For the uninitiated, any one of the trio of albums released between 1993 and 1999 represents the band at their creative peak. Their live album The Bloomsbury Theatre 12.3.95 is another good...

Bouts – Nothing Good Gets Away...

Impressive reboot of the nineties alternative rock of Dinosaur Jnr/Pavement from Dublin based Bouts.

Moby – Innocents...

  As one of the noughties biggest selling artists, you could forgive Moby for taking the easy option and drifting off quietly into comfortable middle age retirement with his place in the annals of pop history secured. His career defining dance crossover album Play sold over 10 million copies worldwide following its release in 1999 and even though subsequent releases were never likely to match that records success, it allowed Moby the freedom to dabble in a variety of different creative endeavours. Innocents is an album heavy on collaborations, and might just be his best record in quite some time –  it is an incredibly cohesive work, despite the diverse mix of collaborators. From the beautiful space age blues of ‘Almost Home’ with Damien Jurado through to the celebratory ‘The Perfect Life’ with Wayne Coyne this is instantly recognisable as a Moby record, albeit one that seems to have a new found sense of purpose. ‘The Last Day’ with Skylar Grey is superb –the Moby blueprint sound, given a new lease of life by Grey’s aching vocal melody. An album that will appeal to estranged fans and newcomers alike, Innocents is a surprising return to form for one of the great pioneering artists of the last twenty five years. A triumph. (3.5 /...

London Grammar – If You Wait...

London Grammar debut ‘If You Stay’ is slick, well produced but ultimately light on memorable songs.

Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty...

Dark Star Rising: Sacramento born singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe delivers on the promise of her last two albums in some style on the epic Pain Is Beauty.

Surfer Blood – Pythons...

The pungent whiff of major label meddling accompanies the release of sophomore effort Pythons by Floridian four piece Surfer Blood. Their debut album Astro Coast had a youthfulness and vitality that more than compensated for its lack of originality. The band scored a minor radio hit with the song ‘Swim’ and naturally enough the major labels began to hover. Signed to Warner Brothers in 2012, it would seem that someone had the bright idea that what the music world needs now more than anything is the new Weezer.  We don’t. Honestly. Enlisting the services of former Pixies producer Gil Norton might have seemed like a prudent move at the time but Pythons is an album that has been honed and polished to a state of near lifelessness; indie guitar rock by numbers. It is not that Pythons is a bad record but it is a disappointing one. That little spark of something that was present on their debut has been replaced by competent, catchy guitar tunes that seem like they dropped straight off some College Rock assembly line. ‘Demon Dance’ starts the album on a promising note but second track ‘Gravity’ apes the college Rock of Weezer/Fountains of Wayne a little too closely. ‘Weird Shapes’ surfs in on a wave of nostalgia before degenerating into standard indie Rock fare. ‘I Was Wrong’ and particularly ‘Slow Six’ deploy some very Pixies-like guitars in an attempt to give these songs something that doesn’t shriek ‘we are the new Weezer’ but the disappointing reality is that Surfer Blood have traded in the things that made them unique for a shot at the big leagues. This could play out a number of ways – Surfer Blood could get lucky, score a major alternative hit and find themselves shooting...

Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record...

Eleanor Friedberger is best known in this part of the world for her work as part of American indie rock duo The Fiery Furnaces. Formed with her brother Matthew, the Furnaces released a string of experimental and inventive records between 2000 and 2011 before announcing they would be taking an indefinite hiatus. Both siblings went on to release solo records in the intervening time – Personal Record is Eleanor’s second solo release and surpasses anything she has achieved in her music career to date. This is quite simply an outstanding record, and if there is any justice in the world, it should her see her garner the same level of respect accorded to contemporaries like Feist and Joanna Newsome. Friedberger is a song-writer at the very top of her game and her coolly, detached and very modern take on love and relationships has a freshness about it and makes her stand out from the crowd – she crams more smart, incisive lyrical gems into one song than most song-writers manage on a whole album. The wonderful ‘When I Knew’ charts the development of romance from the instant of attraction through the early stages of love/lust. Friedberger tosses out lines like ‘I met her in my bedroom/Oh at a party, Halloween/And she was wearing a pair of overalls/So I sang Come On Eileen’ over a galloping beat as the band kick up an authentically 70s feel. Friedberger seems completely cosseted from the current music scene; it is almost like she stopped listening to music beyond the eighties, as she draws on influences from the Adult Oriented Rock of the seventies (‘My Own World’) through to the distinctly Hall & Oates like pop of the eighties (‘She’s A Mirror’). If that all sounds a little off-putting...

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,...

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away...

Some thirty six years after he started making music with the Birthday Party, the living legend that is Nicholas Edward Cave continues to endure and prosper. There is no great mystery as to how or why he continues to thrive. Cave has never been one to succumb to the self inflicted curse visited on other long standing Rock icons -for him, coasting on the back of past glories has never been an option and so every record in each of his various guises has a vitality, imagination and wit that eludes many of his contemporaries. As a lyricist and story-teller  he is quiet simply peerless  – whether he is spitting fire and brimstone in the role of wide-eyed, apocalyptical preacher  or writing beautiful, contemplative odes to lost lovers, his command of language is always nothing short of spectacular. And so after the mid-life crisis Rock of Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! and the two Grinderman albums, Push Away the Sky represents a retreat to a more sombre space with Cave in reflective mood,  adopting the role of  keen observer of everyday life. Fortunately for us, Caves everyday life would appear to be a whole lot more colourful than yours or mine, populated by mermaids, prostitutes and a menagerie of the weird and the wonderful. Gone is the lewd and lascivious Cave of Grinderman, and the cocky, tongue in cheek machismo of Dig!!! Lazurus Dig!!! – this album strips things back sonically, and is markedly different in tone to anything he has done with Bad Seeds in the past. Opening track  ‘We No Who U R’ with its text speak title sets the scene for what is to follow; Caves deep baritone voice commanding  instant attention against a backdrop of light percussion and a simple keyboard motif....

Grizzly Bear – Shields...

Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear can justifiably lay claim to the title ‘hippest band on the planet’ right now. Since the release of their critically acclaimed third album Veckatimest in 2009, they have been celebrated far and wide, gaining the endorsement of everyone from Radiohead to (shock horror!) Beyoncé. Their music has featured on a TV advertisement for one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, a sure-fire sign that levels of hipness have reached critical mass. Shields hits the record shops this month and already, the plaudits are pouring in, with a slew of glowing reviews greeting its release. All of this is somewhat puzzling, because much like its predecessor, Shields is never more than a slightly interesting, left of centre indie rock album. Moments of blinding brilliance are thin on the ground, with the album leaving no real lasting impression when the last notes have died away. Grizzly Bear make a kind of Adult Oriented Indie Rock – it all sounds very grown up and mature. The influence of the Beatles from their Abbey Road period is very much to the fore and as an album, it is inaccessible and oblique in a way that calls to mind Wilco’s ‘A Ghost is Born’.  Standout tracks are few and far between – ‘A Simple Answer’ is Grizzly Bear at their most melodic and urgent while ‘Speak in Rounds’ features some nice guitar textures and a rolling drumbeat that keeps things chugging along nicely. The ambitious ‘Sun in Your Eyes’ closes the album on a relatively high note and you cannot help wondering how much better this album would have been had they shown similar ambition throughout. For fans of Grizzly Bears previous albums, and those who like to jump the next hip bandwagon that rolls...

Dead Can Dance – Anastasis...

Formed in 1981, Dead Can Dance were one of the flagship bands for seminal record label 4AD, a label that made a huge contribution to the independent music scene throughout the eighties and nineties. Home to such influential artists as the Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Throwing Muses and the Breeders, 4AD quickly acquired a reputation for being a record company with a certain classy distinctiveness; the visually striking album sleeve artwork of in-house designer Vaughan Oliver and their commitment to the ideal that a record was something more than a piece of vinyl set them apart from the crowd. Dead Can Dance fitted in perfectly with the 4AD aesthetic. Their early work was strikingly unique –singer Lisa Gerrard’s shrieking banshee wail set against a backdrop of mysterious, ethereal quasi-Goth complimented the emerging 4AD identity at the time. Anastasis is very much their comeback album –their first since Dreamchaser in 1996 and their subsequent split in 1998. Their sound has evolved since those early 4AD releases – gone are the more glaring Goth leanings to be replaced by a more exotic, lushly produced tour of World Music, drawing on Greek, Egyptian & Middle Eastern influences. It is all very pompous and po-faced  – on songs like ‘Kiko’, you could be listening to something off the soundtrack to movies like ‘The Mummy’ or some New Age documentary.  Opening track ‘Children of the Sun’ contains the kind of lyrical mumbo jumbo that is so hard to take seriously –‘We are the children of the sun, Our journey’s just begun, Sunflowers in our hair..” ‘Anabasis’ is all snaking Egyptian mysticism but whether you will like this album or not, really hinges on one thing –can you buy into the New Age melodrama that permeates every single note of this...

Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It...

Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius) released one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums of 2012 with Put Your Back N 2 It. On this follow up to his hugely acclaimed low-fi debut Learning, Hadreas explores some very dark themes; there is a deep well of pain to be found in these songs, but he delivers in a way that never feels forced, maudlin, or self pitying. The music is brutally sparse, and with all twelve songs clocking in at three minutes or under, this is an album that leaves you longing for more of its sweet sadness. Not a single moment or note is wasted – so many albums feel  bloated, overcooked  and long outstay their welcome  – Hadreas pares this one back to the bare bones, and it is all the better for it. Songs like ‘Hood’, ‘All Waters’ and ‘Dark Parts’ emerge from the silence in short, melancholy bursts of naked honesty.  At times it feels almost unbearably intimate as Hadreas lays his soul bare in a manner that calls to mind Elliot Smith, Antony and the Johnsons and Sufjan Stevens at their very best. His tremulous, fragile voice, simple piano melodies and poetic imagery ensures that this is an album that stays with you long after the last notes have faded away. In a decent year for album releases, it is testament to the power of Put Your Back N 2 It that it remains up there with the very best albums of the year despite being released back in February.  Beautiful sadness never sounded so good. (4.5 /...