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 /...

The Hedge Schools – At The End Of A Winding Day...

Somewhere along the line, in the very modern pursuit of making everything instantly accessible, we fell out of love with the idea of craft, with the notion that something created with love and care has a greater value. Mass consumerism was taken to another level with the advent of the internet – literally everything became available at the click of a button, instant gratification at our fingertips.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the music business. The process of making and releasing music went from a multi-stage process where creative input was required on many of the steps along the way to an accelerated operation that eventually spews out music as a stream of bits and bytes, recorded, distributed and promoted in the digital world. We all benefit from the readily available, instant access to the music we like but what do we lose? What have we traded in to get to this point? A few days ago, a package arrived in the post.  Inside was an album from a Dublin musician who I have never met, but know through various exchanges on Twitter and Facebook.  From our brief and infrequent online interactions, I know Pat Barrett to be someone who is passionate, knowledgeable and opinionated about music. I also knew that he had been working on this album for some time. It was obviously a labour of love for him but nothing I knew could have prepared me for the fruits of that labour, a beautifully luminous surprise on a cold January day. At The End Of A Winding Day by the Hedge Schools comes wrapped in a gorgeous, simply designed cardboard sleeve; before a single note is played the packaging screams craft, love, care. You know instantly this is an album made...

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...

Wilco – Whats Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 -2014...

A comprehensive, near perfect compilation of some of the best songs from the back catalogue of one of America’s finest bands.

Iceage – Plowing Into The Field of Love...

Formed in 2008, Danish four piece Iceage started life as a punk band in the purest sense.  Their first two albums New Brigade (2011) and You’re Nothing (2013) were snarling, charmingly retro punk artefacts. What they lacked in maturity and originality was more than made up for by the sheer energy and commitment on show. They had that little something extra, an intensity and self-belief that made them stand out from the crowd of garage band hopefuls. Plowing Into The Field of Love marks a surprising shift in direction – the intensity remains but the endearingly juvenile punk wannabe leanings have been discarded. In its place we get a band that have reinvented themselves. It takes a few listens to de-scramble and figure out what’s going on here; the twists and turns, the tempo changes, the new sounds  but once these songs take root, it makes for their most rewarding album to date. Think early Nick Cave fronting a less competent, more ramshackle Bad Seeds and you get the idea. ‘The Lord’s Favourite’ is rough and ready alt-country while early highlight ‘Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled’ is a sparky combination of rolling drums and Post Punk guitars, singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt making every word sound like a direct threat. The growling bass on ‘Let it Vanish’ ushers in one of a number of songs that change tempo at unexpected points – this is definitely not an album recorded to a click track. ‘Abundant Living’ is a surprisingly brief but memorably effective tune that has a certain Pogues-like quality. Plowing Into the Field marks the end of the bands ‘awkward adolescent’ stage and displays signs of a rapidly developing maturity. It still retains the energy, charm and intensity of their earlier records while striving for...

A Lazarus Soul – Last of The Analogue Age...

One of the finest Irish albums in recent years from Dublin based outfit A Lazarus Soul.

Caribou – Our Love...

Canadian Dan Snaith has been making music under the Caribou moniker for just under a decade now. In that time, he has dabbled in a variety of different styles and genres, never really settling for too long on any definitive sound. Our Love is his best album to date by some distance – it is a beautiful slice of melancholy electronica, pulsating with a warmth rarely found in the icy confines of that genre. From hypnotic opener ‘Can’t Do Without You’ to closing track ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’, Snaith utilises an array of gorgeous analogue synth sounds to embellish these wonderfully understated songs, creating a kind of soulful electronica. Snaith is not afraid to lock into a groove when the opportunity presents, resulting in a collection of songs that appeal to the heart while nudging you towards the dance floor at the same time. A delight from start to finish. (4 /...

Women’s Christmas – Too Rich For Our Blood...

Mere babies on the Irish music scene, Women’s Christmas impress with debut album Too Rich for Our Blood, a riotous blast of indie guitar noise. Formed in 2013, and comprising of members of Villagers, Jogging and No Monster Club, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is some throwaway side project but on the evidence of this thrillingly fresh debut, this is very much a band in their own right. A song like ‘Chalklines’ is typical of the kind of fare to be expected on this twelve track debut; there are passing nods to the Wedding Present, Wolf Parade and the Replacements but it’s all bundled up in one exuberantly cacophonous package. Women’s Christmas offer further compelling proof that right now, the Irish music scene is as richly diverse and exciting as it has ever been. Well worth your full attention. (3.5 / 5) Too Rich For Our Blood by Women’s Christmas...

Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes...

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke returns with another record of glitchy, experimental electronica.

Aphex Twin – Syro...

Pioneering electronic musician Richard James drops a new album some 13 years after the last Aphex Twin record and its a dazzling return.

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader...

Since their formation in 2011, English three piece The Wytches have been described as many things. They have been labelled as psych rock, doom surf, goth punk and any other colourful combination of genres you care to splice together. But really, at heart, the Wytches are a proper garage band in the traditional sense. Debut album Annabel Dream Reader reeks of the kind of energy created when a group of teenagers with that newly awakened passion for music get together and cut loose, no holds barred. It is gut instinct rock music, conceived from that initial love affair with loud guitars and visceral noise. Reputedly recorded over just two days on an eight track recorder, it has that raw immediacy that suggests these songs were honed long before the record button was pressed. And it is all the better for it – the Wytches make a hugely impressive racket, a dark and youthful explosion of energy that sustains the thrills right across the thirteen tracks of this infectious debut album. The surf rock comparisons are not without some foundation – it’s there in the Tarantino-esque twang of the lead guitar lines – but this is more Graveyard Girls than California Girls as the Wytches scuzz things up with buckets of distortion and Cobain- like screams. ‘Digsaw’ drops us right into ear bleeding territory, alternating between sinuous guitar lines and blasts of grunge noise. ‘Grave Dweller’ features squealing feedback and an obvious nod to influences like the Pixies and Nirvana, but there is something very English in their sound, with echoes of the dark psychedelia of Syd Barrett on ‘Track 13’ and the rousing ‘Crying Clown’.  ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ is as obliquely sinister as its title suggests while ‘Beehive Clown’ could be the White Stripes...

Morrissey – Your Arsenal (Re-issue)...

Love him or hate him, you have got to admire the manner in which Morrissey managed to survive the devastating split of arguably the most important British band of their generation. When Johnny Marr decided enough was enough and walked away from The Smiths, he effectively severed the most prolific song-writing partnership since Lennon and McCartney and in the process, cut Morrissey hopelessly adrift.Without the musical genius that was Marr, there was always a chance that Morrissey might have faded away quietly, embittered by the loss of a band that were the perfect vehicle to deliver his eloquent outpourings. In fact, quite the opposite happened –Morrissey went on to thrive and enjoy even greater levels of fame in his solo career, a point he is at pains to make at great length and with tiresome regularity in his recent sprawling, but highly entertaining autobiography. Your Arsenal was Morrissey’s third solo album; released in 1992, it came hot on the heels of Viva Uncle, an album that even he concedes was somewhat lacking. Your Arsenal saw Morrissey assemble a proper band for the first time, dispensing with the hired hands that had featured on earlier solo records and the results bore immediate fruit; Your Arsenal marked his arrival as a solo artist in his own right, with a more muscular, confident and assertive sound. Produced by ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, the songs drew heavily on the Glam rock sound of the 70s with the Rockabilly influences so evident in the music of the Smiths, also still to the fore.  ‘You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side’ is a strident opener, a heavily distorted Eddie Cochran riff and Mozza gallantly offering his services before ‘Glamorous Glue’ blatantly ‘borrows’ Ronson’s own Jean Genie guitar riff for the...

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.

Dry The River -Alarms in the Heart...

Dry the River deliver an album of impressive, soaring arena rock.

JJ – V

Weird and wonderful pop music from Swedish duo JJ.

Keaton Henson – Romantic Works...

Sublime, ambient classical beauty.

Sharon Van Etten-Are We There...

A song-writer at the very peak of her powers – Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Are We There’ is a contender for album of the year.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness...

We crave authenticity in rock and roll above all else. We need to know that our icons are the real deal, that they live the words they write, that they hurt and bleed like the rest of us. Authenticity is the currency of the true greats – a host of plastic pretenders fall off the production line with a wearying regularity, but it’s the ones with ‘4 real’ scratched in blood that capture our hearts and hold us forever in their thrall. Barely a minute into Burn Your Fire For No Witness Angel Olsen sings ‘if all the trouble in my heart would only mend’ in a cracked, quivering voice and we know, instantly, she means it. All doubts are banished. ‘Unfucktheworld’ is the first track off an album that burns with a confessional intensity that is frightening. We are bearing witness to heartbreak and meltdown, to a tearing apart at the seams and yes it’s painful, but painful in a curiously cathartic way. There is a quiet, stoic rage in the way these songs are delivered – Olsen moves from the giddy, grunge revenge of ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ to the distracted numbness of ‘White Fire’, all the time commanding centre stage, at the heart of the maelstrom. This is a record that isn’t so much produced as disassembled, leaving just the bare bones. It comes as almost a jolt to hear a contemporary album that has not been compressed, auto tuned, processed, digitised and perfected to a point where the songs have lost all feeling; we get to hear electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals in their raw, elemental state, and God, it sounds good. Early PJ Harvey and Cat Power are reference points, but in reality this is the work of a unique and...

The Antlers – Familiars...

Third album Familiars from Brooklyn-based trio The Antlers lacks doesn’t quite have the same impact as their previous offerings.

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...

Swans – To Be Kind...

Who could have seen this coming? Thirty two years since they first emerged as the enfants terribles of the New York music scene, Swans have just delivered the year’s most uncompromising, thundering and blindingly brilliant album so far. Nothing even comes close to this;To Be Kind is two hours of music of gut-wrenching intensity, a series of never-ending peaks that take the rudiments of rock music and summons up something that is strikingly original. With To Be Kind, Michael Gira and his cohorts have delivered an album that surpasses their critically acclaimed 2012 release The Seer in all respects. The days when listening to a Swans record was something of a masochistic experience, a brutal form of aural punishment are long gone; To Be Kind is arguably their most accessible album while still challenging and demanding more from the listener than any other rock band would dare to. It’s a record that requires patience – two hours of music spread over just ten tracks with every minute resonating with a clarity of purpose and a vibrancy beyond the capabilities of most contemporary rock acts. Michael Gira turned sixty this year; it is incredible to think that he is still making albums as edgy and vital as this while his peers have settled for the merry go-round of endless greatest hits tours and lame rehashes of past glories. Picking out highlights on a record as consistently brilliant as this is almost pointless – the slow, low slung blues of ‘Just a Boy (for Chester Burnett)’ and the manic ‘A Little God in My Hands’ with its long blasts of dissonant horns set the tone – Gira prowls, growls and yelps his way through these tracks, utterly convincing as some kind of deranged shaman. ‘Bring the Sun / Toussaint...

Elastic Sleep – Leave You (EP)...

Cork-based shoegazers Elastic Sleep are a welcome addition to an increasingly diverse and interesting Irish music scene. Their debut EP Leave You displays enough promise to suggest that they are a band worth keeping a close eye on in the future.Although their brand of ethereal Dream-pop owes a considerable debt to bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, there are signs scattered across these six tracks that they could yet find their own unique path given enough time to develop. Opening track ‘Leave You’ is classic shoegaze – the dreamy vocals of Muireann Levis and the heavily effected guitars combine well on the records most melodic and instantly memorable track. Chris Somers takes on the vocal duties on ‘I Found Love’, an altogether darker affair; the gloomy Post -punk guitars and strident chorus violently pulling us down to earth after such a dreamy opener. ‘Deep and Blue’ is where things get really interesting, offering a glimpse of a side of Elastic Sleep that sounds a whole lot less generic. Levis takes us floating through the ether as the band keep things nicely restrained, providing a more ambient sonic backdrop. With ‘Tzar Bomba (No More Tears)’ we are back in more abrasive territory; the EP closes out on the light and airy ‘Splish’ and the dark fairytale that is ‘Stay’. Leave You is an impressive opening statement from a band that have already shown that they can comfortably match the best that the new wave of shoegaze bands have to offer.  Given time, they will gain the confidence to take a few more risks with their sound and that’s when their real potential will be realised. (3 /...

The Horrors – Luminous...

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

Eels – The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett...

It’s been quite a journey for Mark Oliver Everett and the band he formed in California back in 1995. Eels became one of the first acts to sign to the Geffen/Spielberg backed venture Dreamworks Records and almost immediately enjoyed considerable success with their debut album Beautiful Freak released in 1996. The singles ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ and ‘Susan’s House’ were international hits and it appeared as though Everett could do no wrong. But the bands apparently relentless rise to fame and recognition was overshadowed by deep personal tragedy; Everett lost his sister to suicide in 1996 and his mother succumbed to cancer in 1998. Everett went on to write an excellent memoir: Things the Grandchildren Should Know, an autobiography that catalogues with typical gallows humour a life stalked by bad luck and misfortune. Although Eels haven’t quite managed to sustain the success of their first three albums, they have endured, and their continued popularity cannot readily be explained. Everett follows his own star, and has rarely taken any notice of musical trends and fashions so Eels music always feels out of step and/or blissfully ignorant of what’s going on in the current music scene. He has continued to write honestly and unflinchingly about his life and experiences and ‘The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett’ is perhaps his most personal album since ‘Electro Shock Blues’ in 1998. This is a collection of songs imbued with a singular warmth and compassion, and to these ears, represents a career best. It feels like a reappraisal of sorts – Everett is in reflective mood as he looks back on a lifetime of mistakes and wrong turns. It is a gentle sounding record, largely acoustic based but decorated with tinkling glockenspiel and celesta, clarinet, flute and strings that give the album...

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...