The Catch-Up – 2018 (Part 1)

So we’re finally at the middle of the year, and in the last six months, so much new music has been released – so much, in fact, that we’ve not been able to cover even nearly all of it. So in our new (likely bi-annual) series The Catch-Up, we’ve taken a load of albums from the last six months that we haven’t had the chance to discuss in full, and give some quick thoughts on them all. Make sure you give it a look, and let us know what you think of any of the albums we’ve covered.

Manic Street Preachers – Resistance Is Futile

For all the conscious efforts made on 2014’s Futurology to return to their more bracing roots after its flaccid companion Rewind The Film, that’s clearly not a direction that the Manic Street Preachers have sought to take further. They’d probably be wise to at least attempt it given the high regard that albums like Generation Terrorists or The Holy Bible are held in, but thirteen albums in, Resistance Is Futile sees the Welsh trio sticking to the aged, mid-paced indie-rock that’s so disappointingly become their norm. At least they can still stand above their first-wave Britrock contemporaries on moments like the elegant swell of International Blue and Liverpool Revisited, and Nicky Wire’s more incisive writing coupled with James Dean Bradfield’s booming theatricality is still appealing, but overall, it’s in much shorter supply here. Particularly as it progresses, this is a tired, flabby album that feels more like a perfunctory exercise in solidifying relevance than anything else; it’s not like stale Britpop throwbacks like In Eternity or A Song For The Sadness were designed for any reason other than filling up space and possibly placating some diehard fans who’ll be happy with whatever’s on offer. That’s not going to cut it for the most part though, and the Manics remain trapped in their staid, fatigued cycle with this album. • LN


For fans of: Stereophonics, Blur, Ocean Colour Scene

The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

Right from lead single Lemon To A Knife Fight, something felt off about the fourth album from indie darlings The Wombats. Sure, the always-excellent lyricism of Matthew Murphy is on form as ever and the chorus is catchy enough, but where’s the sparkle and zest that is part and parcel of a Wombats release? Unfortunately, the track was a more than accurate depiction of the rest of the record. Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is the only Wombats album thus far that doesn’t have a specific era-defining vibe. It’s mostly blend-into-the-background indie songs that aren’t instantly likeable and lacking in much personality. The only really lovable track on here is the beautiful woozy love letter that is Turn. Everything else just feels like a standstill, especially on multiple listens. It almost feels like they’ve tried to expand their sound with AM-esque guitars laced through the album, but in doing so they’ve stripped themselves of character and any progress they made on previous record Glitterbug, becoming almost indistinguishable from other bands of their ilk. A huge disappointment. • GJ


For fans of: Arctic Monkeys, Peace, The Fratellis

TesseracT – Sonder

TesseracT are frequently heralded among the best of modern tech- and progressive metal, and given their storied back catalogue, it’s hard to dispute with. With Sonder though, it’s definitely a more slight, pared-back release, working on building on their existing sound rather than pushing it forward like all of the previous albums. That’s certainly not a bad thing though, and TesseracT themselves definitely know this; if anything, they’ve doubled down on the scale of tracks like Juno and Smile, and the eleven-plus-minute centrepiece Beneath My Skin / Mirror Image that fully connects this into a body of work rather than a simple collection of songs. Even on a comparatively weaker album, TesseracT can still work the chromed, clinical edges and crushing polyrhythms of tech-metal production better than so many others, and Sonder remains an excellent example of a band playing to their strengths and succeeding. • LN


For fans of: Periphery, SikTh, Textures 

Snow Patrol – Wildness

Due to newer bands not being given chances to top festival bills and become true modern ‘greats’, safe stock headliners like Kings Of Leon are often elevated to a point where they can release any number of safe middle-aged rock albums and still be handed huge arena and festival headline slots people get excited about. Snow Patrol, despite having a strong catalogue of singles and iconic tracks like Chasing Cars, don’t seem to have reached a level of such widespread immunity among music fans. New album Wildness is a move said middle-aged rock fans could lap up; it’s not an acoustic album, but a lot of tracks on it are acoustic-led, using electric guitars and sometimes synths to build up a rich texture. It’s a shame, because none of the songs on Wildness stick out to the point of memorability, and their middling form across their last few albums mean that their chances of becoming a band people still get excited about seeing play are next to nothing. • GJ


For fans of: Stereophonics, Keane, U2

Blackberry Smoke – Find A Light

Considering they’re now the de facto standard-setters for modern southern- and country-rock, Blackberry Smoke haven’t been providing the most consistent evidence of their abilities lately. 2016’s Like An Arrow was a noticeable dip from Holding All The Roses a couple of years earlier, and unfortunately Find A Light sees that downward trend continue. It’s not a terrible album by any means; there’s still a warmth and richness to tracks like Run Away From It All, and Charlie Starr’s quintessentially southern drawl has a lot of character and personality behind it. But focusing on simplicity over substance really hurts this album, with very little in its almost hour-long runtime sticking, and falling into a mid-tempo, milquetoast rut too often to make a distinct impact. As much as the dirty, knuckle-dragging riffs of Flesh And Bone hint at the standard to be set throughout, it’s sadly the exception, and much of Find A Light emerges as a profoundly listless, aged listen. It’s just kind of there overall, holding the fort because it so distinctly feels that there’s just no one to take over. • LN


For fans of: The Cadillac Three, Brothers Osborne, Whiskey Myers 

lily allen

Lily Allen – No Shame

To say Lily Allen’s journey with fame has been a turbulent one would be an understatement. She’s been through plenty while part of the world of celebrity, which we’ve all been voyeurs to. Earlier this month she released No Shame, a deeply personal album divulging her demons and discussing lifelong negative effects of being in the spotlight, divorce, drug-taking, and plenty of other things she has had to cope with. It’s all trademark Lily, with witty, brutally honest lyrics all delivered in her trademark Cockney singing voice. Said wit, often delivered in nursery-rhyme style phrasing almost masks just how emotionally cutting and confessional these words are. It’s in the overarching concept and meaning where the success of this record lies, though. Musically, there are plenty of grabs at more current musical trends which add superficiality to the record. There’s something on almost every song that’s not quite agreeable, whether it’s the nothingness to every slower, more emotional song, or the cheapness to What You Waiting For or Lost My Mind. It’s a shame, as songs like the super fun Waste or Trigger Bang featuring Giggs, which not only serves as the song that encompasses everything No Shame is about, but also perhaps one of the best pop songs of the year, show the potential this record had to be really great. • GJ


For fans of: Kate Nash, Charli XCX, Gwen Stefani


Burn The Priest – Legion: XX

For clarity’s sake, Burn The Priest isn’t some relic of the past that’s only recently been unearthed, but the original moniker of Lamb Of God only ever previously adopted for their 1999 debut release. With Legion: XX, the band have taken it up again, this time for a covers album full of the hardcore punk and metal that influenced the band in their formative years, and as long as you don’t expect the sort of classic that Lamb Of God have made their name with, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Randy Blythe channels his darker growl into cleans on renditions of Big Black’s Kerosene and a particularly manic take on Ministry’s Jesus Built My Hotrod, while The Melvins’ Honey Bucket and Bad Brains’ I Against I, as brave as they may appear to even attempt, barely miss a beat in terms of ferocity and instantaneous punch. There’s not a bad cut among them really, and for what is clearly a stopgap release, this isn’t some throwaway collection that’s been knocked together to tide fans over until the next Lamb Of God album proper; there’s been care taken in preserving these tracks, and it’s most definitely worth a listen. • LN


For fans of: Cro-Mags, Sick Of It All, Bad Brains

gost.jpg Gost – Possessor

This seems to be the sort of album specifically designed to provoke those who say that heavy music isn’t brutal or experimental enough. Esoteric Texan producer Gost has been around for a few years now, but the explosion of synthwave bringing underground electronic music into metal has seen a greater profile expansion than ever before, and newest album Possessor is among the best the scene has produced to date. Condensing the expansive, industrial brutality of Perturbator and coaxing it through a blood-splattered world of Satanic rituals, it’s probably the most resonant with the metal scene that Gost has infiltrated, with the pounding, oppressive blackness of Garruth and Legion, or the amped-up darkwave of Sigil. Instrumentally, this is one hell of an ordeal, pairing crushing, metallic beats with the haunted ‘80s synth lines that give a track like Shiloh’s Lament such intensity, something that the Satanic theming brings even further to the fore. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but there’s something so resolutely thrilling about Gost’s own brand of slasherwave that it would be a shame to not even give it a try. • LN


For fans of: Perturbator, Magic Sword, Dance With The Dead

janelle.jpgJanelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Perhaps one of the most consistent and well thought out records to drop in the first half of 2018 has been Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. It’s been critically acclaimed, and rightly so. Monáe herself is one of the most dynamic female artists around right now, going from showing an incredible vocal range to rapping, and on the outside, to constructing an entire narrative, shown in the accompanying Dirty Computer film. This album isn’t just that. It’s Monáe spearheading a movement of liberation and social change – in a deliciously funky package. She owns her sexuality in tracks like Screwed and Make Me Feel, dismisses the patriarchy in Django Jane and sings of togetherness and acceptance in Americans. The Prince comparisons are obvious in almost every aspect – he was consulted during the making of the record – but cliché as it sounds, it does feel like Monáe is his 2018 counterpart in every way. One of the most important records of the last few years for sure. • GJ


For fans of: Prince, Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu

scarlxrd Scarlxrd – DXXM

Most descriptions of Scarlxrd would have people believe they’ve pegged him immediately – another edgier-than-edgy rapper playing with abrasive tones and blind provocation just like all the others. Except on new album DXXM, there seems to be a bit more to it than that. For one, he’s British which makes his pitch-black nihilism come a bit more naturally, but having his flows morph into screams over pummeling trap and industrial beats and fragments of metallic riffs makes for one of the most concise examples of crossover trap to date. Sure, there’s not exactly much variety in the approach considering the thunderous, blown-out bass is used in every track here pretty much in its base form, but the sense of dread and real terror that comes in the likes of CHXKE and we came frxm the DIRT is palpable, especially compared to the middling non-efforts of so many other SoundCloud rappers. Granted, that’s not exactly a high bar to leap over, but Scarlxrd is still doing this sort of thing better and more convincingly than so many others. An acquired taste for sure, but one that might just prove potent to some. • LN


For fans of: $uicideboy$, Ghostemane, Ho99o9


Camila Cabello – Camila

After Fifth Harmony’s first record as a four-piece failed to reignite their fading spark last year, all eyes turned to Camila Cabello (who became the Zayn Malik of the girl group in 2016), waiting for her solo album to drop. Said album, Camila has undoubtedly (and unsurprisingly) put the eponymous singer leaps and bounds ahead of her former collective. Her voice has the perfect showcase on this record, and the musical evolution feels natural, not desperate to shatter any preconceptions listeners may have, à la Zayn. An area Camila really suffers in is flow. The middle of the record is weighed down by a number of mid-to-low-tempo songs of varying quality (stunning piano ballad Consequences is a definite high point). As you’re listening, it doesn’t feel like much of an issue, but by the time closer Into It kicks in, you realise you’ve been gasping for some pace. Camila is most successful with its slinky R&B tinged tracks like In The Dark and Into It, and even more so whenever Cabello’s Cuban musical heritage is brought into the mix to create something more unique, like in She Loves Control, Inside Out or the inescapable Havana. It’s not an absolutely perfect record, but the songs are definitely there. Camila has more than served its purpose in a) distancing her from her old career in both music and success terms, b) establishing a ‘Camila Cabello’ sound and c) receiving plenty of critical acclaim. • GJ


For fans of: Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber

godsmack.jpgGodsmack – When Legends Rise

So the new Godsmack album is a multi-act, progressive opus that manages to push the boundaries of narrative-driven hard rock, and if you believed that, you’re probably just as gullible as the band who think a vague reskin of the same album every couple of years counts as a new release. Clearly plenty of liberties have been taken with that title as When Legends Rise is not even close to legendary, rather Godsmack’s insipid, ever-stale butt-rock that’s still somehow balancing on the cusp of running out of ideas altogether. The worst thing is that this isn’t even so bad that it’s worth getting worked up about, just another load shoved through the meat grinder with little to distinguish it from this band’s other six albums. It has its moments, sure, like the title track which is a fair enough example of big, mindless hard rock with very little pretense, but between the umpteenth sludgy, texture-free guitar line and Sully Erna desperately trying to crank out his James Hetfield impression with little urgency, there’s no point paying anymore attention to this. Godsmack fans might disagree, but to openly be a Godsmack fan is probably enough of a damning indictment in itself. • LN


For fans of: Chevelle, Saliva, Cold


cupcakKe – Ephorize

After earning her reputation for dirty as hell lyrics through releasing her music on the internet from 2012, Elizabeth Harris (known as cupcakKe) released her third album in the first week of 2018. Ephorize is more cupcakKe business as usual, just with better production and more innovative instrumentals than her previous work. It has to be noted that this definitely isn’t for everyone, as it marries confrontational rap and extreme explicitness, culminating in one of the most over-the-top things in music this year so far. But if that is your thing, it’s so much fun. It’s impossible to not laugh at the ridiculous X-rated witticisms on this record crammed into innocently titled songs like Cartoons, Crayons and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But get past the initial shock or humour and there’s genuine skill here. Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Duck Duck Goose and Exit all have inescapable hooks while the flow and incredible speed at which Cartoons is delivered, combined with the hypnotising wind chime instrumentation makes for one of the best rap tracks of the year. It might be a bit too much for fifteen songs, but with albums like this, cupcakKe is going to have more fans than just her already-strong cult following. • GJ


For fans of: Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Lil Kim

sevendustSevendust – All I See Is War

For as much as it can’t be denied that Sevendust are among the best of the US radio-rock crowd, that isn’t necessarily conducive to good in itself. Thus, All I See Is War finds itself in the default position of adequate but pretty uninspiring – fat, blunt riffs charge away in a way that’s most certainly not new or inventive, while Lajon Witherspoon’s smoother, more soulful vocals tie everything together as easily the standout feature once again. A slight metalcore influence on a track like Unforgiven is appreciated (undoubtedly thanks to their new home at Rise Records), but this is primarily business as usual, and serving as yet another placeholder to keep the momentum going just long enough for the next album to come around. It really is tiring to put up with again; a track like Not Original is genuinely great and shows what Sevendust are capable of when they apply themselves a bit more, but All I See Is War disappointingly hems itself in the majority of the time. It’s definitely one of the better radio-metal albums to be released lately, but not really by much, and taking into consideration the competition it’s up against, it’s not that much of an achievement either. • LN


For fans of: Stone Sour, Three Days Grace, Shinedown

anne marieAnne-Marie – Speak Your Mind

Anne-Marie’s truly is a tale of hard graft. After being Rudimental’s touring singer and an often-featured artist on plenty of high-charting tracks, her debut solo album Speak Your Mind was finally released in April. One listen to this album makes it clear that Anne-Marie has all the makings of the perfect late 2010s pop star, with a good voice, the perfect mix of edge, sass and girl-next-door in her image and a mouldable talent, something shown more than anything else on this record. Everything’s here, from pure pop songs to dance-ready hits. There are nods to jungle, EDM, R&B, and pretty much anything else popular in music today – but not much gets truly locked into your brain unless it’s been played at you a hundred times, like a handful of these songs probably have been thanks to mainstream push. Most damningly, though, it doesn’t feel like much joy is in this album. Ciao Adios and Perfect in particular are made for audible smiles in their delivery, but they’re sung with a cool girl façade which is made for songs like Bad Girlfriend instead of singing about eating your body weight in ice cream. Compared with the fact that the only joyful-sounding song on the album is the cringeworthy 2002, it’s just an album that could have been done much better. • GJ


For fans of: Dua Lipa. Zara Larsson, Bebe Rexha

rough hands.jpgRough Hands – Moral Terror

As under-appreciated as Rough Hands’ Let Me Win Your Hearts And Minds went, it clearly hasn’t slowed them down, given how they’ve not only continued to majorly progress their sound, but how they’ve also made it arguably the best its been to date. Sonically, Moral Terror is far more deliberate and imposing, trading in the frantic hardcore of their debut for a bleak, blackened menace in line with something like Code Orange by way of Will Haven, and it sounds absolutely phenomenal for the most part. Anodyne and Symptoms Of Aggression both near-perfectly typify this EP’s strengths, melding crushing, snarling riffs with a barren, unearthly atmosphere, and condensed into a twenty-two-minute package where absolutely nothing feels unexplored. To nitpick, it would be nice to see if Rough Hands could take this sound any further, just to fully cap off the immense potential they have, but already, this is stellar work from a band who’ve been desperately overlooked for far too long. Right now, there’s no excuse. • LN


For fans of: Will Haven, Svalbard, Code Orange

shawnShawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes

You may have heard the niceboy pop songs of Shawn Mendes through many channels and thought nothing of it, but he looks to be the male solo popstar of the moment with arena tours and high chart positions galore. His latest record appears to branch out from the safer material of Handwritten and Illuminate, judging by epic lead single In My Blood. The toe does dip into a puddle of soul on Where Were You In The Morning? and Lost In Japan fully indulges funk, but neither are quite Charlie Puth’s much more interesting funk-led album also released this year. The issue with Shawn Mendes albums often lies in the aforementioned ‘nice’ image – a wealth of lovelorn, sweet guitar songs are sickly and beige. A Mendes song works best when it’s musically interesting and earnest, ruling out much of this album. Of course, teenage girls will be falling over themselves at the ‘romantic’ lyrics and it won’t harm the singer’s success one bit, but there are much more interesting things in pop than this. • GJ


For fans of: Charlie Puth, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles

hayleyHayley Kiyoko – Expectations

It might be 2018, but lyrics openly coming from LGBT+ perspectives are massively scarce in mainstream pop. Numbers are increasing with the likes of Troye Sivan and Kehlani, and this year Hayley Kiyoko (nicknamed “Lesbian Jesus” by her fans) is the latest artist providing some representation. Expectations is a great pop album for this exact time but doesn’t feel confined to it – in fact, the instrumentation feels like it nods to the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s at various points on the album. Unfortunately, it does suffer from uneven quality syndrome (though the ambition to create two-part songs like Mercy / Gatekeeper and Under The Blue / Take Me In has to be commended even if neither quite land), and the better tracks are the only really memorable ones here. What can be said for Kiyoko which can’t often be said for others in her position, is that she has a strong don’t-mess-with-me identity and sound that’s both sexy and girl-gang fun that she could easily push forth with and garner success. All that’s needed is more songwriting practice and Hayley Kiyoko could really become a force to be reckoned with. • GJ


For fans of: Halsey, Hailee Steinfeld, Troye Sivan

acesThe Aces – When My Heart Felt Volcanic

Cut from the same tightly-crafted, groove-driven synthpop cloth as The 1975 or Chvrches, The Aces are the sort of band who, through their admittedly bland name, would inspire little more than a casual glance on a sprawling festival undercard. In truth though, and despite falling into a scene that’s becoming drastically cramped with little sign of changing, debut full-length When My Heart Felt Volcanic is the sort of wiry, deliriously infectious pop album that’s so easy to get along with. The likes of Fake Nice and Lovin’ Is Bible are caked in shimmering indie-pop glitter, as are Cristal Ramirez’s vocals, blessed with the effortless charisma and effervescence that lends itself excellently to love songs that aren’t particularly complicated, but don’t waste a single second. Sure, it’s nothing new, and there’s a couple of tracks towards the back end that could’ve been cut to tighten up the whole thing even more, but this is a remarkably solid debut all the same. Don’t sleep on The Aces after this album; there could be some big things brewing in the future. • LN


For fans of: The 1975, Fickle Friends, Haim

rogerRoger Daltrey – As Long As I Have You

These sorts of albums – the newest wind from ageing rockers aiming for mid-paced, afternoon-radio-friendly material – tend to appeal to few others than those who were around for their heyday (purely because of the name attached, mostly), and this latest from The Who’s frontman is not different in the slightest. To Daltrey’s credit, there actually seems to be some merit here beyond easy-listening mush; he still has a great voice, be that a deep, thick rasp on Certified Rose or a frayed, shockingly raw howl on the title track, and there’s plenty of atmosphere with the abundance of horns and gospel backing, and a brilliant, scuzzy guitar line on You Haven’t Done Nothing, but everything else is exactly what you’d expect, namely safe, milquetoast rhythm-and-blues fare that an older crowd will lap up, but offers very little for anyone else. Granted, it’s to be expected given that Daltrey’s in his mid-seventies, but there’s nothing that really leaves any lasting impression. Saying that though, the only reason you’ll stumble across this one is if you’re actively looking for it. • LN


For fans of: Bryan Adams, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart

pale wavesPale Waves – All The Things I Never Said

Indie thrives on the ever-rotating hype band carousel, and judging by the conversations bubbling increasingly more around Manchester four-piece Pale Waves, a saddle will be more than guaranteed for them closer to the release of their debut album. Until that as-yet-unconfirmed date though, February EP All The Things I Never Said is a more than substantial appetiser for a longer project. It’s been said plenty of times before, but 1975 singer Matty Healy seems to have had more of an influence than just the one he’s given from behind a production desk. Everything about Pale Waves’ aesthetic radiates a similar amount of pretentiousness to Healy’s own band. But there’s a discrepancy when comparing that to the songs themselves. The irresistible pop sparkle woven through brilliant tracks like The Tide and starry-eyed teenage feel to the lyrics of My Obsession don’t feel self-aware enough to be secretly making some kind of grand statement as would probably be expected with a comparison to The 1975. With this just being an EP, of course, there isn’t enough material to really establish Pale Waves as the total force that many would probably expect based on the buzz from critics. Definitely expect Pale Waves to bloom later in the year. • GJ


For fans of: The 1975, Blossoms, Wolf Alice

fu manchu.jpgFu Manchu – Clone Of The Universe

Given stoner-rock’s lack of wider presence for anyone not named Josh Homme, Fu Manchu’s longevity is well worth commending, and through albums like Clone Of The Universe, it’s easy to see why that relatively small following has stayed onboard for so long. It’s definitely indicative of a band on autopilot for the most part as the likes of Don’t Panic and Slower Than Light show in their baked, sunburnt riffs, but what’s most surprising is how lean this album is overall, favouring short, sharp punches that have the potential to hit ridiculously hard. But it’s the final track Il Mostro Atomico that stands out most of all, a four-act, eighteen-minute-long opus that singlehandedly takes up half of the album’s runtime, topped off by Rush’s Alex Lifeson to add an extra psychedelic, cosmic twist and take it right over into greatness. It’s a bit of a shock coming from an album where the rest comes around with such urgency, but it’s certainly not a bad one; as for Fu Manchu continuing to plough past their ‘90s heyday and release albums of considerable quality, that shock is even better. • LN


For fans of: Clutch, Monster Magnet, Kyuss

wendysat Wendy’s – We Beefin?

Why do brands always take it too far? Who asked for this? Who read one of US fast-food chain Wendy’s infamous sassy tweets dubbed some of the best marketing in recent years and thought “I hope they make a diss track EP out of this”? Because if you’re not aware, that’s just what they’ve done. Consisting of five soulless tracks aimlessly jabbing at fast-food rivals, We Beefin? features a no-name, characterless female rapper attempting to be braggadocios while promoting burger deals and bigging up the pigtails of Wendy herself for ten minutes. Points are given for the slight chuckle their callout of McDonald’s ice cream machine always being broken gets. But it’s incredibly difficult for anyone except memelords or die-hard Wendy’s fans (I’m sure they’re out there) to get past the secondhand embarrassment that comes from thinking about this project for too long. We Beefin? just undoes all the good PR the chain have orchestrated, and that’s the real beef here. • GJ


For fans of: unfunny things

mccaffertyMcCafferty – Yarn

Enough has already been made of McCafferty’s early years as essentially The Front Bottoms-lite and how debut full-length Yarn has shed that, but it needs to be reiterated that this is a band coming into its own in a way that could produce something really wonderful a couple of years down the line. As much as the Ohio quartet seem as the definition of indie-pop-punk trope-bearers early on with tracks like Paper, Pencil, Copyright and Nick Hartkop’s strident, pronounced vocals, Yarn soon morphs into a completely different animal, darker and more muscular to channel an edge that really does work. Just look at the shape-shifting anxiety of Scotland or the ragged, breathless Westboro Sadness, both of which encapsulate a band pushing beyond the pre-existing boundaries and actually succeeding. Even if it can come across as a bit bitty at times, Yarn is a bold next step for McCafferty that continues to take the potential they’ve seemingly always had, and stack it high. • LN


For fans of: Microwave, Remo Drive, Tiny Moving Parts

courtneyCourtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

It’s easy to see why people like Courtney Barnett. She’s arguably been among the most successful within the ever-growing scene of non-male indie-rock singer-songwriters, and between her native Australian accent remaining un-repressed and lo-fi pickups from working with Kurt Vile last year, Tell Me How You Really Feel continues to develop that more distinct personality. Granted, it’s not a great deal even then (and ultimately says more about the scene as a whole than Barnett as an individual), but this sophomore album finds itself buoyed up regardless by the earnestness and uncertainty on tracks like Hopefulessness and Nameless, Faceless, both in the interactions with those around her and in her relationship with the critical set elevating her music with such high expectations. It unravels slightly on an instrumental front with a similarly sleepy, earthy indie-rock template that’s lost pretty much all its luster at this point (even if the slightly punkier I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch is a bit better), but for Courtney Barnett fans, even if no one else, there’s little to object here. It’s solid for what it is. • LN


For fans of: Waxahatchee, Julien Baker, Kurt Vile

shameShame – Songs Of Praise

The indie hype band carousel was mentioned earlier, and while Pale Waves are in line for a seat, Shame already have theirs. Critics were falling over themselves at the start of the year to dish out good reviews for Songs Of Praise, with the NME (may it rest in peace) giving the record an glowing 5 out of 5 rating. But aside from the release-week rush of critical buzz, there’s not really been much word on Shame or their acclaimed debut. After listening to it, it’s easy to see why, as it’s really not worth the hype. Singer Charlie Steen has the same kind of deadpan voice that bands like The Fall and Joy Division made commonplace, but history doesn’t make something instantly admirable or pleasant to listen to. The spoken word monotony isn’t made any more entertaining by his other vocal guise, shouting monotony, and the unimpressive guitar work underneath doesn’t earn it any more points. Although there are some clever lyrics here, particularly on the palatable One Rizla, sadly this isn’t one that NME got right. • GJ


For fans of: The Fall, Joy Division, Idles

wrecksThe Wrecks – Panic Vertigo

This California quintet’s biggest claim to fame thus far is their extensive touring time with All Time Low, and that largely makes sense. This is the same fizzing, effervescent pop-rock the Baltimore boys used to peddle in their early days, except with the overworked sheen of modern production and a lack of real individuality that makes it all the less likable. Sure, Nick Anderson fits into the clear-cut pop-rock vocalist mould with ease, but beyond that, Panic Vertigo feels shockingly lacking in worthwhile features. For one, there’s nothing flattering about this production, taking the rougher but undeniably poppy mix that Waterparks nailed on Double Dare and blowing it out to exorbitant proportions, to the point where tracks like James Dean and Revolution actively feel corrupted with static. At least for a five-track EP there’s some solid footing as far as hook-writing goes, but ultimately The Wrecks aren’t bringing anything new to the table, and when that’s needed in pop-rock more than ever now, it’s questionable just how much a band like this can achieve. • LN


For fans of: All Time Low, Waterparks, The Maine

kasboKasbo – Places We Don’t Know

As with every genre that has an explosion in popularity, it has become extremely difficult to separate oneself from the trendy crowd of high chart riders in EDM. The last couple of years have been rap’s stomping grounds, too, so promising new EDM proteges aren’t getting a look in in terms of exposure. Swedish producer Kasbo may not be pushing the boundaries of dance in a way the likes of Calvin Harris are, but it’s easy to imagine some of the tracks on Places We Don’t Know, his March debut full-length, being played to and adored by huge crowds of people. Its chillwave sound isn’t the most high-octane a dance fan can enjoy, but the vocal parts on Kasbo tracks are more often than not nothing short of anthemic, culminating in a dance break which plays on your senses, which are already heightened by the slow builds. As mentioned, Kasbo isn’t smashing genre conventions left, right and centre, but songs like Bleed It Out (feat Nea) or Your Tempo in particular belong in places much bigger than Kasbo is at right now. • GJ


For fans of: ODESZA, Big Wild, Louis Futon

halfnoiseHalfNoise – Flowerss

You would think that Paramore’s pivot towards wiry, groove-driven pop would’ve coloured Zac Farro’s solo work as well considering his prominence in the band, but alas, HalfNoise’s latest EP proves that not to be the case. At the very least, Flowerss succeeds somewhat as an EP, taking its chilled, harmless indietronica and getting out within twenty minutes, but it’s such a nondescript listen that, beyond a few sweet instrumental passages like the tropical struts of She Said and All That Love Is, has precious little to offer. Once again, Farro’s breathy crooning has nothing to keep it grounded, and among an equally lightweight instrumental canvas consisting primarily of washed-out synths and the gentlest guitar imaginable, it’s an EP that’s listenable but can barely be elevated beyond the realms of background music at best. On the bright side, that seems to be the standard set with every HalfNoise release so far, so it’s not that disappointing. • LN


For fans of: Pale Waves, Mutemath, The 1975

fenneFenne Lily – On Hold

Guitar-playing singer-songwriters are certainly not something music in 2018 is lacking, but managing to stand out is no easy feat. The genre is oversaturated with Ed Sheeran soundalikes, or often acts that attempt to be atmospheric and beautiful but end up the aural equivalent to watching paint dry. But when such an attempt succeeds, it can be very special indeed, and that’s just what Bristol’s Fenne Lily has done. The minimal, but never boring musical landscapes are the perfect background to showcase Lily’s genuinely unique voice. It’s such a gorgeous product that the vulnerability from the singer makes it utterly captivating, and the catharsis from such frank yet poetic lyrics about the end of a relationship can be felt vicariously, but not overpoweringly so. It’s not for everyone, but for those who can’t help be captivated by such a distinct form of stark beauty, this is a very special record indeed. • GJ


For fans of: Billie Marten, Marika Hackman, dodie

wallowsWallows – Spring

In their short career thus far, Wallows have become primarily known for two things – frontman Dylan Minnette starring in 13 Reasons Why, and a series of irrepressibly catchy indie-grunge singles that have only kept mouths frothing for something more substantial. But while debut EP Spring could have offered that, something seems to have been lost in translation, seeing the band double down on straight-up indie-rock that feels unfortunately aimless and anonymous. Sure, It’s Only Right and Pictures Of Girls do well at riding their poppier melodies with plenty of influence from distinctly British sources, but they’re only worth singling out when the energy is so low elsewhere that there’s little to talk about. For the admittedly limited thrills this sort of indie can offer, Wallows struggle to capture the infectious likability that their previous singles have excelled at, and Spring as a whole just falls flat. • LN


For fans of: Young The Giant, Hippo Campus, Beach Weather

raeRae Morris – Someone Out There

Known for ethereal, soulful piano-led tracks, the indie-pop singles preceding Rae Morris’ sophomore album seemed to light the way to a new era of her career – one a little more interesting. The album itself? Not quite what was expected. This is Morris’ Unguarded sound repackaged with a huge dollop of synthesizers, which is in no way a negative statement. There are multiple stabs at slow-building tracks on Someone Out There, most of which are carried out extremely well such as the stunning Lower The Tone. It’s the less sonically interesting tracks, believe it or not, that bring the album down. The likes of Physical Form and Rose Garden which lack the quirky motifs of something like Dip My Toe. Morris herself proves her worth as someone able to carry an album, be it the liveliness of Atletico (The Only One) or the beautiful storytelling of closer Dancing With Character, too – everything she needs to be great is here, but needs honing in order to make a truly great album in this vein. • GJ


For fans of: Clean Bandit, Fryars, Fickle Friends

Unknown Mortal Orchestra- Sex & FoodUnknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

Given that they’re both Antipodean psychedelic rock bands with incredibly strong cult fanbases, it’s all too easy to compare Unknown Mortal Orchestra to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. However, where it can feel like prolific output can overshadow quality with them (especially lately), UMO are a lot more concise. Thus, for as many genres as Sex & Food skirts around to bolster an already strong psychedelic core, it’s able to stand on its own as a strong listen. Granted, there’s nothing quite as tight and pulsating as the lithe funk and disco influences on Hunnybee and Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays, but Chronos Feasts On His Children’s whimsical ‘60s folk and the warped riff-rock of American Guilt are carried out with enough confidence to still have plenty of merit, not to mention Ruben Nielson’s strident, cutting vocals that do a lot of the heavily lifting with regards to individuality. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for a surprisingly accessible and diverse take on psych-rock, there are far worse places to go. • LN


For fans of: Tame Impala, Foxygen, Deerhunter

academic.jpgThe Academic – Tales From The Academic

With the time of garden sunbathing and beach trips (or hiding inside with air conditioning on full blast depending who you are) approaching, a lot of us are searching for the perfect soundtrack to our summer. If that sounds like you, then the debut album from Irish exports The Academic. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before from hundreds of indie bands (at least half of this record could be mistaken for a baby Catfish And The Bottlemen) and plenty of songs are instantly forgettable, but the vibe the album as a whole gives off is not something to be messed with – a nice musical mood-booster for a sunny day. Even looking at those individual songs, there’s enough drive and zest to songs like Different and Television to give it a sincerity that keeps the album as a whole from being completely throwaway (though it probably won’t leave a legacy that lasts longer than a year). This is the kind of soaring indie suits with products love, and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear something like Permanent Vacation advertising cameras or cider before the year’s out. • GJ


For fans of: Catfish And The Bottlemen, Circa Waves, The Amazons

inkINK. – Heaven

It says a lot that really the only thing to come from INK.’s reveal was that this is the new band of McFly’s Dougie Poynter, rather than any discussion on the actual music which is ultimately what this band will live and die on when the novelty of name recognition fades. And judging by debut EP Heaven, they’ll be wanting to hold on to that for just a bit longer, and this is most definitely not a fully-formed band just yet. It’s not a good start when musically they’re somewhere in the general area of a darker Killers by way of latter-day U2, but at the end of the day, it’s the sort of harmless post-punk revivalism that usually does well, and can get away with its safety if the songs are good enough. And even for four tracks, this is a bit of a mixed bag, particularly when INK.’s primary source of post-punk atmosphere is in vocalist Todd Dorigo’s sonorous Tom Smith impressions. That’s fine on the title track and Symphony Woman which have the indie-anthem choruses to get a leg up, but elsewhere, INK. can’t help but falter. There’s a lot of room to grow and improve here, but at least INK. seem to have something of a foundation and hanging on the coattails of their most famous member. It could be worse. • LN


For fans of: U2, Franz Ferdinand, Editors

mcp.jpgMichael Cera Palin – I Don’t Know How To Explain It

It’s a common thing for small emo bands to have ridiculously stupid names, and obviously Michael Cera Palin are no exception. Frequenting the venues of Georgia as part of their local Atlanta scene, their February EP I Don’t Know How To Explain It is a really solid release. The guitar tone is full, with Tiny Moving Parts-esque intricacy garnishing verses at points, while Elliott Brabent’s sweet delivery is sprinkled with extremely likable pep. It’s a deceiving characteristic, because dig slightly deeper and he’s singing deeply confessional lyrics about mental illness, relationships and art. You’re bound to find something you resonate with here, whether it’s the cutting emotion or just a shared sense of humour when you realise there’s a cover of Sheryl Crow’s If It Makes You Happy slapped in the middle of the tracklisting. If you’re looking for any new emo bands or looking for something slightly chirpier-sounding to brighten your summer days while losing none of the feels, this EP is perfect for you. • GJ


For fans of: Tiny Moving Parts, Modern Baseball, Joyce Manor

ronRon Gallo – Really Nice Guys

Even from the meagre twenty-three minutes of airtime that Ron Gallo has on Really Nice Guys, you get the impression that he’s far to clever for his own good. This is a man who’s clearly spent enough time within the indie scene to know its workings to the letter, and to find it so thoroughly deconstructed over the course of one EP is definitely impressive, especially when it’s presented as the ramshackle odds-and-ends package that it is. But there’s a core of ennui that comes through praise from camaraderie and nothing else on the title track, or the pains that come from friends looking for freebies from the local act with the tiniest bit of outside success. And yet, what could easily be petty insufferability is offset by genuine wit and humour, like the roughshod demo slipping into gleaming, AutoTuned polish on Rough Mix, or the closer Pull Quote comprised of snippets of reviews from Gallo’s mother’s partner Jerry. It’s definitely snarky, so much so that it might put a few people off, but the intelligence is undeniable, and tied together with a particularly tasty garage-rock crunch (and the ridiculously cool surf-rock jam session YouTubular), it’s definitely worth picking up. There are certainly far worse ways to spend twenty-odd minutes. • LN


For fans of: Kyle Craft, Ty Segall, Benjamin Booker

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ).

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