Tuesday, 3 February 2015

5 Albums You May Not Necessarily Have Heard In 2014

2014, most of us will agree, was a year to forget. For me, all events in the past 730+ days since everyone was banging on about the Olympics and 2012 have seemed to blend into one sprawling mass of a Karl Pilkington-esque "Not much really". Of course loads has gone on but that apparent and blissful ignorance saves me extra typing. However, other than general conflict in the Middle East, planes going missing and a refreshingly smug smile on the face of Arsene Wenger there isn't much I can update you on. If you are reading this but have absolutely no idea what those events actually are then you must be living in some kind of cave so frankly I'm surprised you can read at all; try a newspaper. Musically speaking, it has also all been relatively on the quiet side. The charts are still awful, mainstream rock is still nice and mainstream (Nickelback, Foo Fighters etc), Travis Barker is still Tshirtless and I am still repeatedly mocked for liking Indie music. But I guess its Indie for a reason
       Luckily, I have kindly scraped together five albums which will slither under most people's musical radar... if you actually have one of those. These will refresh your ear with a variety of sounds from a variety of bands, new and old, from Scottish post hardcore to American traditional rock.

Dry The River: Alarms In The Heart

Officially the most easy-listening album of the year with forty five minutes of well-articulated lullaby. This alternative outfit are the latest branch of a London Indie folk-rock scene which has spawned the likes of Mumford and Sons and Noah and the Whale in recent years. With pasty skin, long hair, old fashioned yet questionably retro clothes and a guitarist who doubles up as tenor horn player, they couldn't belong to any other genre and manage to pull it off. For me this album offers a little more versatility than its forerunner No Rest with stronger electric guitar and drums, a more powerful voice from Peter Liddle and less of that vocal thing which can only be described as extremely tuneful wailing. The songs in the middle of the album do at times blend into a long, lilting ballad but there is a significantly lower volume of this than in No Rest
Listening to it, you get the sense that at least some of the songs are actually going somewhere, building to something rather than remaining in perpetual acoustic sadness- although sadness plays an important role. This is characterised by Alarms In The Heart, Hidden Hand and Gethsemane which are undoubtedly the best tracks of the album and will hopefully pave the way for a less wussy future for this band

Rival Sons: Great Western Valkyrie 

Undoubtedly the least well known on this list and provoking some head-scratching to most, Rival Sons have passed six short years since the release of their debut in 2009. Showcasing a unique blend of classic rock drums and guitar riffs with some apparent blues elements, the California originated quartet produce a unique sound that even the most stubborn 50 year-old men will admit to liking. It has just the right amount of classic rock to soothe the mid-life crisis but plenty of modern features like good sound quality and tight harmonies to attract younger listeners.

The vocals of Jay Buchanan are unbelievably powerful yet controlled and can create nice variation between songs. With inspirations ranging from Robert Plant to Van Morrison, Otis Redding to the gospel choir, it's no wonder their style is so unique and Great Western Valkyrie is a clear example of this. Praise the almighty for that. They may look old and bearded, (the guitarist looks vaguely like a cross between Keith Lemon and Phillip Seymour Hoffman) the very audience they typically appeal to, but this band certainly has one bright future.

The Fray: Helios

I may now be forced to retract my previous statement, for The Fray are historically the champion of easy-listening, soft rock, 'you may actually enjoy it but then again so does your mum' bands; my mum likes Take That for God's sake. Firstly, yes, that may not be the most illustrious title to ascertain but sometimes you just have to accept what your labelled as, the band certainly did with a good 40 songs worth of emotional piano, heartfelt (moist) lyrics and generally safe style. Secondly, before you ask, How To Save A Life, yep... that was them. Don't get me wrong I love the Fray but I think at times, the group have ridden on Isaac Slade's exceptional vocals to reduce scrutiny towards an otherwise simplistic musical style. The structure being: chords (gearing up for a ballad), softly sung verse and chorus, ooh drums this is getting exciting now, bass even better, louder chorus, guitar solo? Don't be silly MORE CHORDS, hold the piano note to finish.

That's why I am frankly overjoyed to announce that the latest release Helios is the best since their début. Huge deviation from their normal routine with a much better vocal range and power from Slade. Obviously there is the good old ballad but it now shoulders for ear space with some funk guitar, more prominent lead guitar and a much more varied song structure. Just as with Dry The River, this album demonstrates songs which actually go somewhere with Hold My Hand and Love Don't Die proving this. It's less generic and finally shows that the Fray are creating a more original style.

Twin Atlantic: Great Divide

Finally, the band even more Scottish than Biffy Clyro. Accents aren't usually a big thing in music; most people either learn to cover them up or at least try to. Not the case for this band. This band are about as Scottish as it gets. Take the names of their four Glasgow-born members for example: Sam Mctrusty, Barry Mckenna, Craig Kneale and Ross Mcknae. They don't just enjoy the occasional deep fried Mars bar, this band is pale skinned, independence demanding, thistle brandishing, scotch glugging "You can take our land but you can never take our freedom" kind of Scottish. This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my favourite feature of Twin Atlantic, not simply because it amuses me but their sense of Scottish identity is a genuinely original artistic quality especially within the post-hardcore rock genre. It makes them immediately recognisable in any playlist and creates an image in my head of them performing in a grimy Glaswegian car park on a rainy night upon listening.
There was no way I was leaving this out

The latest album is also unique in the sense that the artistic style is virtually unchanged from the last album Free but with the sound still original. This is the same within the album itself with a healthy variety of acoustic and electric songs that each sound unique from the last, therefore avoiding the problem of being too generic which is common in the genre (You Me At Six, All Time Low etc.) The slightly heavier tracks like Be A Kid and Cell Mate are balanced out by calmer numbers like Brothers And Sisters This is a truly fantastic album which, even if you think I talk utter crap, you need to at least give an experimental listen.

Catfish And The Bottlemen: The Balcony

Now at last on to what I feel is, as the saying goes, the best of an above average bunch in the début album from these Welsh Indie rock newcomers. With a series of hugely successful singles preceding The Balcony, by the time Catfish And The Bottlemen hit the album charts it was with little surprise that their popularity soared. They are certainly a band who have carved out their own success and in just five years have gone from rainy car parks to Radio 1, Cardiff to Canberra, red pot noodles to Reading and Leeds. Indeed, the Welshmen have become a real success story for self released music in the short years since their foundation: music done the hard way. They may be young and relatively inexperienced but their gradual ascension to fame via all levels of the industry has given them a wealth of song-writing experience unrivalled by even the best pop sound machines around in the charts currently.

The album itself consists mainly of songs which had been released already in the build up to The Balcony's release with the first five songs all exceptional in their own right. Collectively however, you get a wave of anthemic, festival orientated garage rock with (as it seems to me) influences from Stereophonics and even, dare I say it, The Streets in terms of the lyrics. I could list them all but it would be tedious and since I thoroughly recommend those five for new listeners, its impossible to select specific tracks. My personal favourite would have to be Cocoon for its relatability and arena-style chorus. Unfortunately, the songs following Pacifier grow less memorable and, listening to the record consecutively, the revival in the form of Rango is much needed. This is the music I would recommend to all, as this four-piece should command respect from the feats they have achieved at least. With exceptional live performances providing a platform for a sell out tour (of which I will be attending), 2015 will be huge for Catfish And The Bottlemen.

Disagree with anything I've written? Frankly, I'm impressed you've made it this far so that's the only important thing. Thank you to Alex Dalton

To hear these songs, albums from the other posts and other music which I find, follow my blog on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/user/w-avery/playlist/4CAps4jqmlBK7LPOPFgi3T