There Is A Tide (Weiner)
The Liverpool trio’s third album in as many years amps up the grunge influences while frontman Michael Edward sounds like he’s been using brillo pads on his larynx. There is a brief introspective acoustic moment with Last Man Standing, but otherwise everything else (and including an noisy electric alternative) is designed for those who prefer things ripped out and blisteringly loud, the thundering urgent opener I’m Only Falling Apart nodding to Led Zep and also offering up the heavy, brooding Audience, the savage howl of We Eat Our Young and the dirty metal funk Pink//Pond before closing with a seven minute Dead Skin that suggests the ghost of Jim Morrison might have been hanging round the studios as well as that of Cobain.
LITTLE GREEN CARS
Fronted by Steve Appleby and Faye O’Rourke, the Dublin quintet has been through the emotional wars since the release of their debut album, Absolute Zero, back in 2013. Dropped by their major label, the members also went through relationship break ups, self-questioning and two deaths, including that of guitarist Adam O’Regan’s father. They’ve come through it all unbowed, though inevitably the album is seamed with songs about change, transition and loss. Indeed, one of the tracks is titled The Garden of Death (”gone at the age of 21”), delivered by Appleby in a melancholic trebly ache reminiscent of Neil Young, while the falsetto sung You vs. Me lays out the collapse of a relationship and O’Rourke takes lead on the similar themed I Don’t Even Know Who with its drumsticks clicking percussion adding to the edginess of the anguish.
It’s not all gloom and despair, the twanged guitar coloured, hushed sung album opener The Song They Play Every Night looks to healing, on the slowly building Easier Day O’Rourke, at times sounding like a darker Dolores O’Riordan, sings that things get better and, backed by piano and a simple repeated guitar figure, Appleby revisits those Young shades for the look to the future Winds Of Peace. The time between has seen them develop into a hugely confident and accomplished outfit capable of delivering numbers like the haunting Brother and uplifting waltzing album closer The Factory where, to a swell of cathartic guitars, Appleby sings “I’m alive again” in a way that makes you believe in a resurrection of the soul. Stunning stuff.
Know Where To Run (Central Control)
Largely inspired by photos taken while travelling across the States touring with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the erstwhile Magazine bassist’s 10th solo album is a heady, noirish affair that introduces itself with the cinematic synth and organ instrumental In Other Worlds suggesting a meeting between The Exorcist and Twin Peaks as distorted voices, guitars and drums kick in. The road then arrives at the mutant Elvis dirty blues of Cine City where he talks about spending more money than the Black Eyed Peas before Come Away channels Cave and Cohen on swaying piano-backed folksiness. Choppy country blues take hold on the steam loco rolling rhythms driving Death Takes A Holiday, then it’s time for the lazing, strings-dripping croon of the has been lounge singer in Claw & Wing where Scott Walker hangs out on French streets before the camera switches to follow the car chase through the city streets of six minute instrumental Texas Crash with its clattering percussive rhythm and wailing sirens. Playing out with the feverish splashed Mr Greed with its blues organ and drum and bass skittering, the driving urgency of the Doors-like Up In The Air and end credits murder ballad Evil Kind where a lush opening gives way to a frenzied, distorted climax, this is a soundtrack an imagined film collaboration between Terrence Malick and John Hillcoat.
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS
Chaleur Humaine (Because)
Released in Europe two years ago, queer French synth-pop star Héloïse Letissier now looks to expand territories with this revised version that reworks some French lyrics into English as well as adding some numbers specifically geared towards the non-Francophone market. Opening with iT where she sings “she’s a man now and there’s nothing we can do to make her change her mind", it exudes a Gallic cool charm as she coos through the likes of the Anglicised Saint Claude, a heartbeat pulsing Tilted, the bleeps and burbles of the alienation-themed Science Fiction and the Michael Jackson-like fingerclicking sashay and mathematical funk of the defiant Half Ladies. The stand out tracks have to be Paradis Perdus where, over gentle piano trills, she weaves together 1973 French hit Les Paradis Perdus with the chorus from Kanye West's Heartless, and Jonathan, a keyboard drone ballad duet with Perfume Genius, he singing in English and she in French, but everything here impresses, unfolding Letissier as a pansexual Edith Piaf.
Houses That You Lived In (Beard Museum)
It’s taken seven years for the Oxford quartet to follow up their debut album, but those fans who have waited patiently won’t be disappointed, Still fronted by the yearning voice of Jamie Hyatt, it builds indie pop on a folksy foundation, colouring the acoustic guitar here and there with a dash of banjo, some tinkling xylophones, burst of sax and some cello. It kicks off with the magic realism of the dreamily skittering Friends With Wolves, a genre that also informs the lovely Anna Wheatley sung Quiet As A Mouse and reflective album closer Skeletons & That. Not that it’s not rooted in the everyday stuff of life and death. Indeed, the banjo accompanied The Less You Know is about a friend who died too early and the suffering he endured along the way while the likes of the title track, the surging Mumfordsish Long Way From Home and the brief We Ain’t Going Home all address a sense of loss, nostalgia and the fact that, sometimes, you just can’t go back. Give them a room, you won’t regret it.
Overreactivist (The End)
As well as a clever title, New York based American singer-songwriter Michael Grubbs’ latest album also offers up some glorious soaring love in crisis chamber pop laced with sweeping strings and swelling piano that runs an autobiographical gamut from hope to despair. That said, optimism prevails even when the opposite might first seem to be the case as with the piano stabbing melancholy of Heartbroke, which is actually more a song of encouragement, and Freeze. There’s almost a Celtic tinge to the swelling “as I live and as I breathe, the more I love the more you leave” chorus of Adam and Eve and a folk touch too on the love pledging Light and Nothing More, at least until the big soaring anthemic climax which may not have a kitchen sink, but does have a barking dog as the piano collapses in chaos.
Elsewhere, other stand out tracks could be the slow swelling assurance of the piano driven, strings swathed Golden that “it’s gonna be alright, you’re going to be golden, you’re gonna be falling in love before you know it”, the simple piano ballad Big Town Love and the uptempo, tumbling chords, time signature shifting orchestral title track where those early Elton and Billy Joel influences come into play as he repeatedly sings “We’re all right.” He is, too.
The Feeling (Little World Records)
Although 2013’s fourth album, Boy Cried Wolf, was their least successful in chart terms, peaking at #33, it was also critically applauded and hailed as their best to date. Which probably explains why they’re still with BMG, even if the follow up was funded through Pledge and is released via their own imprint. Recorded as live over just a few days, it’s a terrific collection of grown up pop infused rock that overflows with catchy melodies and singalong hooks such as on Spiralling, the tumbling, scurrying urgency of the trendies-mocking Young Things, Non-Stop American and the Afro pop shuffle of Real Deal where Duran, disco Bee Gees and Vampire Weekend link arms on the dance floor. Yet, on the same album, they can also turn their hand to things like the six-minute slow sway stadium soaring ballad Feel Something, the sparse piano hymnal Let It Be Gone, a brooding, almost Floydian What’s The Secret? and Repeat To Fade with its spidery Manzarak-like organ, cool Dave Brubeck shuffling shades and sudden eruptions into volcanic Muse on steroids. It’ll probably sell less than the last, but remember never to measure musical talent by the arbitrary nature of chart positions.