With the end of 2018 just days away, it’s worth reflecting on just how much music has been released, good, bad or in between. And while we’ve covered more of it this year than ever before, there’s still a huge amount we never got round to giving a full go-over. So in a follow-up from our mid-year look at the releases we missed, here’s the second part of 2018’s The Catch-Up.

Soulfly – Ritual

Even if some of his more recent efforts haven’t been stellar, Max Cavalera has done enough for metal as a whole to largely be given a pass at this point, whether that’s establishing a new brand of thrash heaviness with Sepultura or making many decent pivots when carrying it on with Cavalera Conspiracy and Soulfly. And yet, especially with the latter, there’s a level of quality control that’s been considerably more lax (as if eleven albums in twenty years wasn’t enough of an indication already), and it’s led to a sizable chunk of their most recent releases feeling disappointingly throwaway. Thankfully, Ritual does seem to veering towards placing Soulfly on the right path once again, albeit in a way that seems to land on a rather straightforward metal sound that removes the voracious, tribal flair that characterised their best material. It’s not exactly a bad position to be in, as exemplified by the likes of the title track, but it’s telling how much more interesting Soulfly can be when they pivot towards more distinct sounds, like the industrial grind of The Summoning’s outro or the hardcore-flavoured Feedback!. Other than that, Ritual holds up as a solid meat-and-potatoes metal album, but one that remains overshadowed by countless others in its field, whether that’s through sheer inventiveness or just doing this sort of thing to a higher standard. It’ll certainly scratch an itch, and considering that Soulfly have been starting to flag lately, it’s nice to see them on ground that’s comparatively more stable, but it’s hard to say whether this will be remembered all that much after a while, just like a lot of this band’s work lately. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Lamb Of God, Fear Factory, Sepultura

Little Mix – LM5

As uncreative as its title is, Little Mix dropped a truly career-defining album at the tail-end of 2018. LM5 is a culmination of growing up in many different forms. Far from the fresh-faced reality contest winners of seven years ago, or the girls who were trying to find their feet, image and sound in a constantly changing genre, these are women who are now setting trends instead of following them, with everything about them so tied to empowerment and self-love that it has real potential to be looked back on with the fondness people have talking about Madonna’s career. Thematically, there’s not much more to be said about LM5, but musically, some of the best material they’ve ever made is on here. While it’s not a 10/10 hour of absolute flawlessness, it’s without a doubt their most consistent record to date, drawing on the best parts of current R&B and ’90s girlband tropes to make something that is understatedly refreshing but undoubtedly Little Mix. The sing-talking style they use often on this album really suits them and makes the likes of Strip and Wasabi stand out. While Woman Like Me, Joan Of Arc and Motivate are brilliant modern-day pop songs with real zest and identity, songs like Think About Us do prove they’ve not entirely let go of the slightly throwaway aspects of their discography. But while this is, of course, a brilliant record for anyone who loves singalongs and a good pop jam, this is the most artistically credible Little Mix have ever been – they’ve truly arrived. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Destiny’s Child, Zara Larsson, Fifth Harmony

Yungblud – 21st Century Liability

It’s hard to deduce why an artist like Yungblud is currently being touted as some revolutionary new force in modern music, especially when Jamie T was doing this exact sort of politically-driven, hip-hop-flavored indie-rock about a decade ago, and doing it better, at that. Even at the most surface level 21st Century Liability feels like a copycat album with it’s largely broad guitars accented by touches of ska and Britpop, but with Yungblud’s sneering delivery tapping into the most marketable branch of disenfranchisement possible – not to mention how close the lyrics skirt to falling into edgy teen pablum – it feels like an album that has something of an idea of what it wants to do, but lacks the greater knowledge to do it in a way that doesn’t throw as much style in, as if without it this wouldn’t sell nearly as well. And it’s not as if Yungblud is incapable of writing good songs, as the genuinely excellent Polygraph Eyes proves, but for an album that’s caked in kicking up a stink instead of making salient points most of the time, it just ends up as white noise that’s borderline impossible to get onboard with all the way through. Even if it does have its moments, they’re hardly enough to make up the difference. • LN

4/10

For fans of: Jamie T, The Streets, Sonic Boom Six

grandson – a modern tragedy vol. 1

For all the furore surrounding grandson being the future of political music blurring the lines between hip-hop and alternative music, there’s been very little evidence for any of that. He utterly failed to impress on his feature with Mike Shinoda on his album earlier this year, and on a modern tragedy vol. 1, it’s pretty much exactly the same, namely an artist screaming empty, largely agreeable platitudes from his pedestal that can’t help but feel completely hollow. It’s not as if crossover artists can really afford to get all that transgressive, lest they endanger that sweet bankroll from coming in, but this just feels sloppy in almost every regard, from lyrics that are utterly flavourless and pedestrian to an unexplainable obsession with farty synth drops on Blood // Water and Despicable that sound awful. Then there’s grandson himself, nothing close to a political firebrand of any stripe as his weedy simpers come across as little more than a Tyler Joseph wannabe that’s even more feckless. It’s just a total mess of an EP, five tracks where barely any of them connect, and a delivery and execution that feel completely botched with few redeeming qualities. Apparently there’s an important artist in there somewhere, but it’s not like he materialises here. • LN

4/10

For fans of: Yungblud, Twenty One Pilots, K.Flay

Christine And The Queens – Chris

Despite getting vocal support from BBC Radios 1 and 2, coverage in the Guardian and more, Héloïse Letissier, known professionally as Christine And The Queens or Chris, still feels like an under-wraps commodity in modern pop music. Sure, she headlines venues that hold thousands all around Western Europe and, as mentioned, has earned plenty of exposure both here and in her home country of France, but the interest garnered by the public has felt rather muted compared to some other pop artists in a similar field. It’s a reaction it feels as though her music invites. This is subtle, understated pop, pop easier to imagine as a background on a TV show or advert, with people dancing slightly more conservatively when hearing it live instead of having the absolute euphoric time of their lives. There isn’t the sparkle in an aspect of the music so often expected in music with such a label, and it’s for that reason it has clearly been a hit with more of a mature audience. The songs on Chris, named after one of Letissier’s monikers, are simple musicality-wise, often centering around a repeating keyboard motif while the smooth tones and vocal patterns take the lead. Some of these, like the wonderful Doesn’t matter and Feel so good, are effective in embedding themselves into your brain, but much of the record doesn’t, which is a huge shame. The entire vibe and image to accompany Chris has been crafted so carefully by Letissier but it doesn’t feel as though the music fits with the strength, lust and maturation conveyed lyrically, the supposed focal point of the entire project. The whole package is a striking one (if not entirely landing as intended), but all in all it just isn’t memorable enough to exist outside of its own self-contained world. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Anna Calvi, Perfume Genius, Troye Sivan

Metric – Art Of Doubt

Admittedly, the critical acclaim that Art Of Doubt has garnered this year has been enough to throw anyone for a loop. After all, this is Metric, a band who’ve been largely a part of the indie-rock furniture since the mid-2000s, and while they’ve continued to push on since then, it’s not been to much avail, particularly with 2015’s electronic-leaning Pagans In Vegas whose impact hasn’t exactly aged the best. And yet, Art Of Doubt has been seen as the bold, new galvanasation of the Metric machine in a way they’ve not been able to muster in years, with claims as bold as that being enough of a reason on their own to check it out. And while not quite as good as some of the hype has made it out to be (save for a handful of moments which rank among Metric’s strongest in ages), Art Of Doubt is absolutely a stronger effort, if slightly longer than it needs to be to the point where it audibly runs out of steam at a couple of points. That’s certainly the case on the likes of the title track or Seven Rules in which the indie-rock tightness is noticeably duller, something that, fortunately, Metric are more than capable of rectifying, especially with the glittering synthpop excellence of Now Or Never Now and Risk or the unabashedly anthemic thrum of Underline The Black. It’s all produced in a way that really highlights its shimmer and chime, as well as the clarity in Emily Haines’ vocals that turns this from a potentially inconsistent listen to one where the high points shine brightly enough to work overall. Perhaps not quite as great as it’s been made out to be, then, but an undeniable return to form all the same. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Silversun Pickups, Chvrches, Shiny Toy Guns

Underworld & Iggy Pop – Teatime Dub Encounters

If Sting hadn’t have released an entire album with Shaggy earlier this year, the combination of Welsh progressive house legends Underworld teaming up with rubber-faced proto-punk veteran Iggy Pop for an EP would’ve ran away with the weirdest collaboration of 2018. It’s not only a case of what to expect either, but what these two acts who operate in completely different circles would even be capable of from working together. The answer seems to be not very much, apparently, and it’s hardly the fault of Underworld in this case. In terms of ‘90s-inspired electronica, it’s hardly groundbreaking, but there’s some decent buzzing strut on Get Your Shirt and tapping, pseudo-drum ‘n’ bass intricacy on Bells & Circles. The problem comes in how they’re relegated to the background, not only mitigating how much they can really do, but also allowing Pop’s rantings to have the majority of the floor, something that seems particularly ill-advised with his unending ramblings about smoking on planes on Bells & Circles or having friends on I’ll See Big, with not a single line sounding anything other than improvised completely on the spot. Maybe there’s some kind of charm there initially before these compositions really reach the point of overkill (referring to the unnecessary seven-minute runtimes of three of these four tracks), but it really just ends up as a pointless collection of half-ideas that, even by the standards of abstraction or outsider art, just ends up supremely dull. • LN

4/10

For fans of: The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Faithless

Black Eyed Peas – Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1

Yep, you read that right. The Black Eyed Peas released a new album this year. They’re still going. Even without Fergie. But if you had any hope or goodwill that the remaining members would release an album even a little bit better than Fergie’s dire solo outing last year, you’d be wrong. Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 takes listeners on a trip back to the noughties, and that isn’t compliment. While the BEP aren’t strangers to getting political in their songs, the criteria of what makes a profound statement has changed since they last meaningfully immersed themselves in such subject matter. Listeners are too smart to be impressed by loose comments than when Where Is The Love? came out, and will.i.am and co.’s failure to present intelligent commentary in these songs falls entirely flat. The fact that Where Is The Love? (a genuinely good pop-rap song, especially in context of its peers around its release) exists makes songs like Yes Or No whose message is ‘Trump is bad’ put in the most arbitrary vague way possible feel embarrassingly immature and stagnant, and that’s not even talking about its musical content (there’s a Nicole Scherzinger feature on this album, talk about giving a leg up to an equally irrelevant famous friend). This record succeeds most when it embraces its immaturity like on Dopeness, but much of its genius lies in the suave brass stabs and chorus provided by CL, not actually due to the main contributions from any of the Peas themselves. Much of this just feels like watching an animal who’s been hit by a car on the side of the road; there are so many artists in this faction of music innovating and pushing what we listen to forward that a new Black Eyed Peas album is simply painful, both in idea and execution. • GJ

3/10

For fans of: Timbaland, Fergie, Pharrell Williams

Yonaka – Creature

Clearly the aim of Yonaka’s output this year has been to strike hard and fast; Creature arrives just months after their Teach Me To Fight EP which, as being an overall excellent package of indie-rock with the single Fired Up already cementing itself as a bona fide hit to come, has earmarked this band as unquestionable ones to watch, particularly going into 2019 with the hopes of a full album to show what they can really do. By comparison, Creature isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, but it’s by a pretty negligible amount when considering that this is another strong EP that should only see Yonaka’s profile grow even further. Sure, the lack of an enormous, immediate single is a bit disappointing (though Death By Love does come tantalisingly close), and She’s Not There can feel a bit too wooden in its lumbering progressions, but overall, this is more solid stuff. There’s a good balance of scuzzy indie-rock pickups with a nice bit of polish, something that really finds a home with the great clarity in Theresa Jarvis’ vocals, and there’s still an abundance of hooks on Own Worst Enemy and the title track that fully prove how ready Yonaka could be for massive stages with just a bit more refinement. Again, it’s a bit of a step down, but it’s nothing particularly major, and Yonaka continue to do some great things as they establish themselves among modern indie-rock’s heaviest hitters. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Vukovi, Estrons, Black Honey

Bugzy Malone – B. Inspired

As stagnant and overdone as many facets of hip-hop have become (we’ll get to Migos later), Britain is always held in high regard when it comes to the genre, and for good reason. The grime takeover was truly a breath of fresh air in a world of trap, elevating Skepta to Mercury Prize-winning status and Stormzy to Glastonbury headliner. But because these names are so synonymous with the scene and genre in critical terms, it’s easy to stop yourself from digging any deeper to find other talented names, like Bugzy Malone. B. Inspired is home to plenty of potent lyrics about the struggles of the working class world many British rappers came from, but this particular record is northern-centric, namely Manchester, something that feels somewhat refreshing when London is usually the hub where these kind of perspectives come from. Northern Soul featuring JP Cooper is the absolute epitome of this theme, exuding geographical pride but being unashamedly no-holds-barred about the drugs, violence and depression issues that many of those from this background are no stranger to. This isn’t a record that feels like a diary and nothing else, though. Despite a couple of lulls in tempo and lack of anything really that striking, there are some really interesting ideas on B. Inspired, like the Labrinth-esque catchiness of Die By The Gun’s chorus, the really effective yet funky tension building on Drama and the wonderfully soulful collaboration with Laura White on Street Life (she takes it to a brilliant new level). But what this record deserves to be known for is being a vital snapshot into a world that doesn’t get enough publicity (or justice if any look at the news says anything), and it should have gotten much more credit this year. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Stormzy, AJ Tracey, Kano

Ghostemane – N / O / I / S / E

Of all the emerging emo and SoundCloud rappers to worm their way into alternative music, few have found more acceptance overall that Ghostemane, presumably because of his past experiences playing in hardcore punk and doom-metal bands that have translated into a more “authentic” hard-rap sound (for whatever that’s worth). Not that it makes a lot of difference though, as N / O / I / S / E remains the same laboriously fragemented listen as so many other albums in this vein, only alleviated by how readily Ghostemane puts on quirky, almost cartoonish voices in a rare and probably inadvertent bout of humour. If that wasn’t a factor, this would be more or less hitting the same mediocre lows as so many other crossover hip-hop albums in this vein, playing with deliberately dark atmosphere and oily beats before throwing in shards of electric guitars or drums to wring out some form of alternative credence, but ending up a pretty formless listen with nothing that really sticks in the end. Even Ghostemane as a presence – while bringing a levity that’s presumably here by accident – isn’t compelling or interesting as a writer, with tracks like Bonesaw and Ballgag defaulting to similarly tired, nihilistic clichés that really do feel played out at this point. Like so much of this stuff, it’ll certainly appeal to a very distinct audience, but even by those already low standards, this only barely amounts to something a bit more interesting, and even then, that’s being extremely generous. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Scarlxrd, $uicideboy$, Night Lovell

Bearings – Blue In The Dark

It’s rather telling that Bearings haven’t been snapped up by pop-punk’s pertually chugging hype-train, leading to at least some sort of implication that they aren’t good enough to be given pole position within a genre that, historically, has never been all that selective when it comes to quality in the first place. Still, while some of Blue In The Dark’s early singles failed to impress, the album itself is harmless enough, looking to split the difference between Jimmy Eat World and The Maine which, in its slower, more explicitly ‘90s-inspired moments like the title track and Clearless Clarity, it does rather well. As well as that, there’s definitely a whimsy in Doug Cousins’ vocals that’s a bit softer and more tactile than usual, and that allows some nice moments of clarity to pop up in a way that pop-punk seldom indulges in. On the other side of the coin though, when Bearings double down on the genre tropes that aren’t exactly in short supply already, Blue In The Dark’s fluff becomes all the easier to demarcate, and when they’re not actively trying to flip their own script, Bearings merely feel like another faceless non-entity in a genre filled with faceless non-entities. It’s hard to deny the promise that is here, especially in the way that Bearings are moving towards something different, but it could definitely be done more to ensure they don’t slip into the background like this album already seems to have done. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Jimmy Eat World, WSTR, Between You & Me

Jungle – For Ever

Jungle were the hottest property in the world of up-and-coming British music in 2014. Their bass guitar groove-driven modern soul and impeccable live reputation earned them acclaim from plenty of institutions and plenty of airtime, screentime and music press column inches, but there has been very little fanfare surrounding the release of their sophomore album this year. As a result, For Ever appears as slightly less exciting a proposition, but it’s still as solid as the debut so many pushed a few years back. For Ever radiates sunshine even though the mood has dipped lyrically since their last record. There’s something so undeniably likeable about Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland’s grinning falsettos that it’s all too easy to be fooled into thinking they’re not singing about breakups and uncertainty, particularly on the chilled-out Beat 54 (All Good Now). Despite this, though, it’s easy enough to make this your feelgood album of the year if you so wish. The rolling drums of Smile and simple leading chorus of Casio dare you to dance, while the chorus to Happy Man is subtly anthemic (it would definitely sound best sang in a crowd at one of Jungle’s brilliant live shows). The lyrics, while personal, never get too specific and are always on the more positive side semantically; intentional or not, they’re totally open to being interpreted as joyful and uplifting. If there’s something we needed more of in 2018, it was feelgood, and Jungle absolutely delivered. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Chic, Django Django, Parcels

Poets Of The Fall – Ultraviolet

For as often as Poets Of The Fall are lumped into the post-grunge conversation (and while it’s typically in the wider parameters, their name is still there), it’s often surprising to see how much acclaim they’ve received. Of course, a lot of that has come from their penchant of embracing just how European they are in some flagrant pivots towards theatricality, and while that’s led to some pretty good moments in their illustrious career, it’s nothing that leaps out for anyone beyond established fans, especially at this stage when they’ve fallen into something of a lull as of late. And unfortunately, Ultraviolet appears to be following that same thread, an album that, up to now, has been met surprisingly positively but comes across as not much more than Poets Of The Fall flattened down and sandblasted down to their least interesting form. And yes, a good deal of that comes from the movement into pop tones, now blatantly exacerbated by beelines towards relentlessly pithy and saccharine progressions on Dancing On Broken Glass and Moments Before The Storm, or flat production that relies too heavily on schmaltz and stiffness to connect all that deeply like on The Sweet Escape. On the other side of the coin, Marko Saaresto has a stately presence that stands him in a good position as a frontman, and when he’s given the material to back it up like the chugging, regal My Dark Disquiet, it’s a glimpse into what Poets Of The Fall could do here that rarely materialises. It’s certainly a pleasant listen and one that has its moments, particularly in terms of lyrical dexterity, but for the most part, Ultraviolet sits rather stagnant and unresponsive, not exactly awful but never doing much to leave a lasting or meaningful impact. • LN

5/10

For fans of: The Rasmus, Apocalyptica, Kill Hannah

Migos – Culture II

There are two types of people in this world – people whose favourite genre is trap and people with sense. 2018 has seen some incredible and innovative hip-hop records released (see Anderson.Paak for one that deserves more attention), but it has seen a whole crop of artists produce the same autotuned, grossly generic dross to ever top charts, the reigning kings of which being Migos. In case you missed it (you probably did), they released two-hour-long epic Culture II this year, and precisely no-one asked for it. If you’ve heard one Migos song, you definitely already know what Culture II sounds like. Offset, Quavo and Takeoff are nowhere near impressive enough rappers without the layers of irritating vocal effects due to the boring mid-paced tempo they limit themselves to stopping any chance of a creative flow dead in its tracks, and most guttingly, the saving grace of imagining the trio gesturing in a cringey playground rap battle or taking turns at playing villains and minions whenever they add unintelligible grunts after every line is heartbreakingly scarce on here. To be fair, it wouldn’t be right to claim there’s absolutely no differentiation between tracks on this record. There’s an odd underpinning synth line on Auto Pilot, something that just about resembles a hook on Stir Fry, Too Much Jewelry’s final crescendo of a Bon Iver-esque layered vocal and the Nicki Minaj / Cardi B feature on Motorsport (the most memorable of the string of guest appearances purely because they can be noticed clearly even when you’re paying minimal attention). None of these ‘interesting’ moments (which, across 24 tracks, can be counted on one hand) are even creditworthy with Migos’ opposite Midas touch in terms of any kind of originality or legitimate skill, but the real tragedy isn’t the musical atrocity, but the mental glitch pandemic 17.5 million monthly Migos listeners are clearly suffering from. If you’re one of them, we implore you to start your New Years resolutions early – get some sense and plenty of playlist makeovers. Please. • GJ

2/10

For fans of: Rae Sremmurd, Young Thug, Lil Yachty

Suicidal Tendencies – STill Cyco Punk After All These Years

The legacy and mythos of Suicidal Tendencies – namely being among crossover thrash’s heavy-hitters and the original home of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo – has certainly withstood over time, which is honestly more than can be said for their music. That’s not to say they’re a bad band, particularly with Institutionalized cementing itself among hardcore’s all-time classic tracks, but like so many acts of their ilk, time has seen some increasing degradation in quality that can be difficult to ignore. Therefore, it sort of makes sense that STill Cyco Punk After All These Years exists, a re-recording of frontman Mike Muir’s 1996 solo album Lost My Brain! (Once Again) with a title that pays clear homage to the band’s 1993 album Still Cyco After All These Years, as if trying to cobble together a further last-ditch effort to prove how adamant they are in recreating the magic of the past. And to an extent, they do kind of succeed, even if this is still pretty far from being a great album and even further from their best. The main point of contention comes in the production, particularly in the drums where, for having ex-Slayer sticksman Dave Lombardo behind the kit, they can sound far too flat and slappy to have any sort of impact, a sentiment echoed less frequently but still noticeably overall on a track like All Kinda Crazy. Then again, in terms of recapturing a certain old-school energy that manages to break through those faults, there’s a lot of strength here, with the ratty, riotous volleys of spit of F.U.B.A.R and Lost My Brain…Once Again, or Muir’s breathless vocal delivery that owes a lot to the past and sounds enjoyably bracing pretty much throughout. It’s not as if this is a tremendous return to form, even with all that in mind, but Suicidal Tendencies are at least working their way back up, and with a solid album like this, that can be appreciated. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All

Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

We’re in a really rich time for innovative female pop artists. Paper Magazine’s July ‘100 Women Revolutionising Pop’ list threw names like quirky indie-pop darling Billie Eilish, industrial avant-garde producer SOPHIE and soulful Mercury Prize nominee Jorja Smith into the same arena. Also in the list was Norwich duo Let’s Eat Grandma, who join SOPHIE in the faction of included artists where the word ‘revolutionising’ is the most important in terms of what they create. It really doesn’t feel like there’s much out there right now akin to the songs on I’m All Ears – these are swirling, glinting journeys of pop songs that just about keep themselves on the right side of the line to have such a label attached to them. It’s the most magical postmodernity you’ll hear all year; it’s a walk in a dense enchanted forest – you’ll get completely lost but there are wonders at every turn. Falling Into Me’s lush build helmed by a stuttering synth makes for a slice of unorthodox gorgeousness, closer Donnie Darko feels nowhere near its full 11-minute length because of the full journey it takes, and quirky interludes Missed Call (1) and The Cat’s Pyjamas add short bursts of fun alongside the sometimes over five-minute songs. The least agreeable thing about I’m All Ears is the vocals. That is in no way a mark on either Jenny Hollingworth or Rosa Walton’s talent, but the vocals often portray a vibe that doesn’t fit with what the instrumentation is doing. The sometimes babyish and wonderfully bratty over-pronounced enunciations stick out compared to the starker musical backgrounds of Cool & Collected and Ava; they’re at their optimum in a rich, multi-layered track. All in all though, it’s so refreshing to hear something genuinely new, especially in a genre so often sniffed at for being throwaway. More of this in 2019 please. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: SOPHIE, Hatchie, How To Dress Well

Snail Mail – Lush

Surely it must be beginning to dwell on some that this sort of lo-fi, ground-level indie-rock is beginning to become a bit too prevalent. No matter how oversaturated a genre gets, there’ll always be defenders to extol the merits of any particular act regardless (perhaps a bit more vehemently in this particular case), but that doesn’t make the same themes and sounds repeated ad nauseum any less tiring. Thus, that circles round to Lindsay Jordan’s project Snail Mail and her debut full-length Lush, yet another okay indie-rock album that can push all the right emotional buttons (and considering Jordan’s relative lack of experience, it’s done reasonably well), but with the flagging, loose guitar coupled with the same tone and lack of any vibrancy or life as so many that have come before, it’s an increasingly anonymous listen that Jordan’s half-asleep vocal delivery doesn’t help with. Perhaps if this sort of thing hadn’t already been done to the point of implosion it would be better received, but the larger genre context does it no favours, especially when Lush only conforms to every possible convention that’s already on the table. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Julien Baker, Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers

Mitski – Be The Cowboy

With rap now and EDM a few years ago enjoying mainstream chart recognition en masse, plenty of pop artists these days are pushed into the spotlight by an organically growing number of fans rather than the press giving them a platform. One such artist is Mitski, who started getting Kerrang! coverage on her fourth album (whether that is warranted or not genre-wise is another argument in itself), and has garnered huge acclaim in the small but ever-growing circle of those in the know. Hers is a sound that is truly her own, and this year’s Be The Cowboy showcases that at its finest. She marries synthetic beats with guitars and quirky-sounding keyboard motifs, and they’re mixed in such a way that no one instrumental layer ever supersedes another. Mitski’s voice and stark lyrics about love and loneliness rests on top on gorgeous tracks like Geyser and Old Friend. On the other side of the coin though, the mix can weave everything together so effectively that sometimes it can be a little too one-note to really appreciate. A disappointing amount of Be The Cowboy feels overly fluffy, mostly in the second half, with the artist’s more wispy vocal guise blending into the airy background. Unfalteringly though, Mitski is a poet, and her lyrics, particularly on Nobody and more underratedly on stunning closer Two Slow Dancers, have without a doubt resonated with many listeners and heralded for their beauty and conciseness, something that’s surely to continue the more people are awakened to her existence. Although Be The Cowboy isn’t an absolute through-and-through masterpiece as many are claiming, it’s obvious that this is a voice we need in pop.

6/10

For fans of: Japanese Breakfast, Soccer Mommy, Julien Baker

Bexey – Spooky Electrick

At this point, the flood of emo-rappers has had so little restraint or quality control that we already seem to getting the dregs coming through before the better players have even had their chance to shine, and even then, you just know they’ll still be the ones to get coverage from trend-hopping rock media ahead of actual alternative that could really use the showcase. With that in mind, it feels more than a bit hypocritical to give Bexey any sort of coverage in this vein, not only because this is perhaps the single most spurious example of emo-rap yet but also because it’s easily among the worst. Sure, there can be a certain cathartic thrill to see an artist bathing in their own nihilism, but Bexey’s dead-eyed moaning that takes up so much of this EP has no punch or intensity, and instead defaults to the typical glamourisation of depression that’s been the nail in the coffin for so many artists in this vein (just look at the title track for the most obvious example). The sad fact is that Bexey can come across as a solid rapper when he wants to, but when those moments of inspiration flail in desaturated, boring mush like so much of this EP is, you get the impression that they’re only there to maintain legitimacy and allow the rest of this non-effort to be given a pass. Really though, this is utterly interchangeable in almost every conceivable way; for a UK artist doing emo-rap to an actually passable degree, just listen to Scarlxrd. Even when he’s at his most repetitive and devoid of ideas, it’s at least a bit more compelling than this. • LN

3/10

For fans of: Lil Peep, Shinigami, nothing,nowhere.

CrazyEightyEight – Burning Alive

When subculture-helming icon Warped Tour completed its final USA-wide run this year, it felt like the end of an era that was long drawn out, arguably waiting for a closing chapter for a number of years. Many of the genres it gave platforms to are way past their heyday; pop-punk has seen many of its biggest players break up or move away from the scene, while the metalcore scene that became synonymous with the tour without a doubt suffered the biggest dropoff in popularity. It was a nice surprise to see Patty Walters of As It Is, Lauren Babic, known for posting rock and metal vocal covers online and Jarrod Alonge, whose YouTube content was tied so intrinsically to Warped, drop an album that perfectly shows the type of band Kevin Lyman would have been punching the sweltering desert air upon finding in 2018. CrazyEightyEight brings together post-hardcore, metalcore and rock elements together and would without a doubt be a perfect fit for the travelling summer stages of Lyman’s. The main goal with Burning Alive has without a doubt been to let the talent of the three members be the focal point, and it’s a goal very much achieved. Lauren Babic is such an outstanding find. A truly dynamic and versatile vocalist, she flits between soft and tender on Hannah, soaring and strong on the stunning Tears In Rain and bloodcurdling on Nitroglycerin, and attacks every single guise like it’s what she was born to do. Her counterparts are super competent too, of course, and Alonge adds shedloads of character with his brilliant riffs and backing vocals. It does feel as though Burning Alive’s full length could be cut down a tad, with the tail end in particular slightly lacking the fizz that makes the first portion as engaging as it is (perhaps in part a fault of the tropes so ingrained in this type of music and so often repetitive and boring). All in all though, this is a solid debut, and one that for the most part breathes life into genres that many have given up on. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Underoath, Picturesque, Alexisonfire

Ninja Sex Party – Cool Patrol

It’s not impossible to see where Ninja Sex Party’s fanbase comes from, but the majority of it just can’t stem from the actual music. Both Dan Avidan and Brian Wecht have seen their online following balloon thanks to their associations with Game Grumps, but as far as recorded output goes, comedy pop-rock with elements of hair-metal doesn’t have a lot going for it in the long run, and Cool Patrol is really no different. It’s pretty impossible to say that there’s nothing to like here; Avidan has a fantastic voice and range, and in terms of sheer sugary catchiness or the size of a track like Danny Don’t You Know, it’s perfectly agreeable to have on in the background. But it’s pretty obvious that with an album like this, depth is an afterthought, especially given the volume of sex gags or over-the-top joke songs that occasionally land, but won’t exactly have you rolling in the aisles. And sure, framing it with a similar lack of unsubtlety with big ‘80s riffs and keyboard lines can be charming, but more often than not, it can grate or just simply feel throwaway. It’s very much an acquired taste of an album, ready to be embraced by existing NSP fans while doing nothing to convert those who are yet to see any real appeal. At least it can be pretty fun at times, even if can feel incredibly flimsy in the process. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Starbomb, TWRP, The Axis Of Awesome

MNEK – Language

It’s always interesting seeing an artist step out from the shadows to bask in a spotlight all their own. Seeing Anne-Marie become a household name after a stint as Rudimental’s backup singer has been an impressive journey to see unfold, but her music is often too middle-of-the-road and pandering to really get behind. Thankfully, this year saw another name take a different path. Being long-known as a featured artist on chart dominators by Zara Larsson, Stormzy and Gorgon City, MNEK dropped his debut solo album Language in September, and it’s been absolutely robbed of the critical and commercial acclaim it truly deserves. The talent the London native has as a singer is formidable – something that could be pinpointed just by hearing Never Forget You or Ready For Your Love just once – and the songwriting encompasses pop radio, R&B flavour, sass, emotion and a helping of an oft-missing ingredient – fun. The true standouts on the record like the cutesy yet domineering Phone and straight-up grinning body popper Tongue do it all at once, too, and absolutely none of it feels forced or unsure of itself. What makes this album truly stand out though, is how audible the clearly immense amount of behind-the-scenes effort is. From the truly likeable interludes (opener Background in particular has all the potential to make you chuckle in the street) to tiny details like ensuring the final word of Colour is ‘body’ and blending it into the start of the succeeding track of the same name, this is the work of a fledgling auteur rather than your average pop singer. MNEK needs opportunities thrown his way in 2019, because the way this record has been overlooked this year is criminal. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Justin Timberlake, RAYE, Zara Larsson

lovelytheband – Finding It Hard To Smile

If it wasn’t clear enough by the hollow pretensions to depth that are currently seeing Broken become something of a worldwide smash, lovelytheband are the latest “indie”-pop crossover venture in the wake of acts like AJR that can be clearly marketed in whatever context is deemed necessary. Of course, Finding It Hard To Smile is nowhere near as abortive as The Click was last year, but the same problems are ultimately endemic here too, namely that this is an album that really doesn’t know what it wants to do half the time, so is comfortable relying on a very stereotype-driven millennial mindset to getting through life that can make it pretty insufferable to deal with. Coachella is as blatant of a ploy towards that as it gets, but the likes of Make You Feel Pretty and Emotion are played with the sort of self-absorbed smugness and ambivalence that’s pretty much a caricature of something that doesn’t actually even exist, and considering how often the band devolve to those archetypical symbols of 21st century youth as a boon for a lack of a message (again, see Coachella), what’s left is a sixteen-track album with nothing to say. Coupled with the overly-slick indie-pop production that’s another factor brought over from AJR in earnest, and lovelytheband really aren’t making themselves out to be likable in any way. • LN

4/10

For fans of: AJR, Imagine Dragons, Foster The People

Hopesfall – Arbiter

For as frequently as their name is bandied around the scene, as well as a musical gamut that’s ran from Christian post-hardcore to flirtations with space-rock and progressive-rock, Hopesfall seem to bear all the quintessential hallmarks of a relic lost by the listening populace. Their influence is well documented, but that’s never been reciprocated in terms of listeners, even now when nostalgia is such a key component in what music succeeds at. Therefore, while Arbiter is by no means essential – another mid-2000s post-hardcore throwback which in itself is something that hasn’t become any rarer over time – it’s easy to see an audience gravitating towards this, especially with the bits and pieces of emo splashed into H.A. Wallace Space Academy and I Catapult, and the presentation which reflects that time period almost exactly. That said, there’s at least some glances at throwing the net out wider with Tunguska and To Bloom looking at greater atmospheric influences, and while there’s definitely the Warped Tour twinge in Jay Forrest’s vocals, they’re largely more agreeable than so many in this scene have previously been. It’s a bit of a leftfield choice, sure, but Hopesfall are doing some good work here, especially for a band who never really got a lot of attention, but even a decade after their prime, still wholeheartedly deserve it. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Thursday, From Autumn To Ashes, Hawthorne Heights

Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses

Right from the opening moments of On Dark Horses, it’s clear to see how much of a natural fit for the Sargent House roster Emma Ruth Rundle is, with a similar gothic, ethereal beauty to Chelsea Wolfe paired with the oppressive, inescapable darkness that so often permeates the output of acts like Deafheaven and Boris. It’s an encouraging first impression, certainly, and one that’s able to be kept up for the duration of On Dark Horses for a suitably moody and dense listen, but one that feels so rich with the swirling atmosphere buried underneath its darkness. A big factor of that is Rundle herself, playing to a sense of restraint and vulnerability more often than not, but in a way that never feels waifish or underdeveloped. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, as, paired with the mournful Races or the creaking, blackened miasma of Light Song, there’s an incredible potency that such a juxtaposition fosters. That might come at the expense of variety, and if there was a fault to be found with this album, it’s that the dreary, funereal gothicness can be a bit too overpowering, but given the searing rage and twisted, almost Machiavellian depth behind the eyes, that all feels part of the point, especially when Rundle doesn’t exactly portray a commanding figure, but it’s hard not to pay attention at any juncture. As likely as the comparisons are, it really casts the same image as Chelsea Wolfe’s Hiss Spun did last year, as the slow-burning, largely understate album that will inevitably only find favour within a very specific niche, but will leave its mark for a long, long time to come. And if any of that sounds even remotely relevant to your own interests, this is pretty much essential listening. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Esben And The Witch, Crippled Black Phoenix

Troye Sivan – Bloom

Troye Sivan’s journey from a shy teen making YouTube videos in his Cape Town bedroom to a fully-fledged peroxide-blond pop star has genuinely been a beautiful thing to watch, and Bloom promised to be the record that cemented him amongst the best fresh-faced music stars. In terms of achievement, it has definitely pushed him towards just that. Pre-release, we were promised an evolved version of Sivan’s sound on debut Blue Neighborhood – soft synths, lullaby-esque vocals and gorgeously romantic lyrics – and that’s what we got. Sadly though, it’s not the most consistent album in terms of memorability, and definitely suffers mainly due to the decision to show all trump cards early – singles My My My!, the ’80s glint of the title track and stunningly romantic Dance To This featuring Ariana Grande are far and away the highest peaks of Bloom. The next tier down is home to subtle, chilled-out songs like Lucky Strike and Seventeen, but not much else really registers – songs like The Good Side and Postcard are a little bit too understated to really commend. Bloom is a record that makes sense in terms of Sivan’s own linear journey as an artist, but feels more impressive than enjoyable for much of the runtime, which is a shame based on the heart and warmth he’s shown on record in the past. • GJ

6/10

For fans of: Lorde, King Princess, Conan Gray

Mom Jeans. – Puppy Love

Look, for all the hype and praise that Mom Jeans.’ Puppy Love got upon its release (and make no mistake, there was a lot), there’s a very clear reason that didn’t reflect in the overall effect it had on the band, namely because this is one of the most painfully derivative and box-ticking emo albums to be released in some time. That’s not to say it’s outright terrible, and with the quirky lyrics and references all over it alongside the quintessentially strident emo vocalist delivery from Eric Butler, there’s guaranteed to be some appeal there, but they could also be listed as what really prevents it from being any better. The deliberately rickety approach is done to death at this point and milked dry of any appeal it once had, and while the odd turn of phrase can be cute, it’s mostly just a forgettable, formulaic ride that simply cannot stick when it’s finished. Again, some will enjoy this, but the tolerance you need for emo of the exact same stripe as dozens upon dozens of higher-profile acts who’ve come before needs to be insanely high. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Remo Drive, McCafferty, Hot Mulligan

The Sonder Bombs – Modern Female Rockstar

While The Sonder Bombs have been making waves around the indie-punk scene for a while now, it’s really crested with the release of Modern Female Rockstar. Of course, going into this completely blind, that doesn’t exactly say a lot; there seems to be a new favourite indie-punk band knocking about every couple of weeks, and few of them actually turn out to be all that special or provide anything long term. Except here, there’s a lot more that culminates in an album that not only has great depth, but is easy enough to listen to that there’s no reason it couldn’t be absolutely huge. Most of that is definitely down to the execution, not only in touches of ukulele that offer some deeper, sweeter layers, but in The Sonder Bombs’ clear embrace of pop that really does feel well-integrated (not to mention with Willow Hawks’ vocals that can sound uncannily like Hayley Williams at times). But it’s the content that feels the most powerful, and as the title would imply, it largely constitutes Hawks’ experiences of mistreatment and misogyny from being in a “female-fronted band” (a term that, unfortunately, still gets a lot of usage), tackling them with tongue-in-cheek humour on Shoot 2 Kill, steadfast defiance on U(ke) Ain’t Enough and Title, or on Twinkle Lights, the gutting memories of her own sexual abuse, and how closure is the only way to heal and recover. It’s ultimately reflective of an album carrying so many sides and able to fly with them all, pairing irresistible melodies with genuine, poignant writing for a truly excellent listen from front to back. This is the sort of band that indie-punk needs. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Jetty Bones, Super American, Muncie Girls

Hoobastank – Push Pull

Just like Alien Ant Farm and Soil, Hoobastank represent one of the dregs of nu-metal finding longevity through milking one single for their entire career and proceeding to continually release music despite no one really wanting it. Sure, they’re good to bulk out ironically-received nostalgia tour bills, but did anyone really want Push Pull, an album that has the band following the radio-rock path to the letter with boring, uninspired pop-rock? Admittedly, there’s a couple of tolerable numbers here, like the funk-inspired More Beautiful or the likable straightforwardness of Buzzkill (Before You Say Goodbye), but otherwise, it’s the sort of tedious, sanitised album made by a band who are clearly trying to revive their career to no avail. Even if Doug Robb still has a decent enough voice, it’s not enough to make up for uninspired production, lyrics or composition, all of which portray a band floundering to find a lane in which to occupy, and not doing anything all that well. The fact that its simple existence has already been more or less forgotten really does say it all. • LN

4/10

For fans of: Nickelback, Alien Ant Farm, Theory Of A Deadman

LANY – Malibu Nights

To talk about LANY in the context of alternative music, it’s necessary to push those definitions right to the fringes of what even that broad umbrella term will allow, mostly because anything that can be deemed indie-pop within this trio’s sound feels like more of an accompaniment to sleek, airy synthpop fully befitting of the atmosphere the title of this album conveys. And that’s not a bad thing either; Malibu Nights is much more supple and vulnerable than most indie-pop following frontman Paul Jason’s healing process after a nasty breakup that, while not particularly detailled and can feel as though it runs around in circles at points, has a level of compelling emotionality that’s really well executed. There’s a bleary-eyed despondency to I Don’t Wanna Love You Anymore and Valentines Day that never feels dreary thanks to the watery, neon synths, and breaking into the razor-tight progressions of If You See Her, it only gets even better. The acoustic trap of Run is definitely something of a low point, but for as simple a narrative as this ultimately is, LANY capture an atmosphere that’s engaging and potent in all the right ways. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Fickle Friends, The Japanese House, No Rome

Tom Grennan – Lighting Matches

As we’ve established plenty of times on this site, getting your song chosen to soundtrack an ad campaign is a clear sign you’ve ‘made it’ in one sense or another. This year saw massively-hyped new artist Tom Grennan surpass that, becoming the soundtrack to Super Sunday, an true institution in the UK. The track in question, Found What I’ve Been Looking For, absolutely soars, showing off an incredibly husky voice that has every chance to dominate popular indie circles. Is he ready for that now? Not based on his debut album. As a whole, Lighting Matches only harbours tiny amounts of the bombast and character Grennan shows off in such a promising collection of singles. The record far overestimates how much Grennan’s voice can do in terms of keeping a listener interested for a long period of time – as brilliant and unique as it is, it needs a well-written song to sing to become the unstoppable force it has plenty of potential to be. A lot of the album is mid-tempo and lacking in anything particularly memorable vocally or musically; the driving Royal Highness or hugely likeable single Barbed Wire, both fantastically written songs that truly worm their way into your long-term memory are clear highlights, and both much more memorable than Lucky Ones, Something In The Water or the title track. It seems to be an album torn between radio hits and more mid-tempo material, and it’s obvious which one fares better – hopefully Tom realises this and we hear much more of his clearly great ear for a melody on future album cycles. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: Sam Fender, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, The Amazons

Grumble Bee – Everything Between

Jack Bennett has had a busy 2018 to say the least, a fact underscored most heavily by his recruitment as the new frontman for Lonely The Brave. With that fact still so fresh, it can be easy to forget his new release under the Grumble Bee moniker this year, a sad fact considering that Everything Between, a collation of a couple of singles as well as some new tracks and reworkings, is actually a pretty good listen. It does lack the churning, emotional punch of 2015’s Disconnect in some respects, but a track like Red shows the tense smolder in Bennett’s voice excellently, while Bravest Soul pulls it all back for a beautiful ballad made all the more majestic with its crashing strings sections. If there’s one thing to criticise, it would be how some of stripped-back reworkings can lose some of the grit of the originals (the sole piano of Francium is particularly disappointing in this regard), but Heron is given a wistfulness that its plugged original earlier on in the EP doesn’t have, and above all, it’s a side of Bennett which really does work, especially vocally. As such, it’s easy to see Everything Between as something to round off this current stage of Bennett’s musical journey before he goes on to bigger things, and while it’s perhaps a less essential listen, the moments of quality really do shine enough to make this worth looking into. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Lonely The Brave, Thrice, Biffy Clyro

Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

It’s always good to see a band wasting no time in refining their existing sound, even if the final product might not be what’s totally expected. For Florida’s Gouge Away, their debut , Dies might have packed in all the thrills that noise-rock-inspired hardcore can in just over twenty minutes, but it was hardly something that could’ve provided a similar effect in the long term. Therefore on Burnt Sugar, they’ve opted to play the long game, keeping an intensity befitting of a hardcore band in one way or another, but mounding it around something decidedly closer to post-punk. It definitely takes a bit to get used to (not that it’s predecessor didn’t either), but Burnt Sugar comes away with a lot to like, riding on an elasticity and abstraction in Christina Michelle’s vocals to complement an instrumental canvas that’s driven by thick basslines and searing, buzzsaw guitars. The overall result is a compelling, if slightly fragmented listen, bumped up all the higher by forays into adjacent genres like classic post-hardcore on Dis S O c I a T I O N and straight-up punk on Can’t Relate. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for music that’s a bit more unconventional and threads its darkness through avenues that are off the beaten path, Gouge Away are worth exploring. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Self Defense Family, Year Of The Knife, Birds In Row

Plain White T’s – Parallel Universe

Yes, the Plain White T’s really are still going, despite not making anything that’s had an impact since Rhythm Of Love in 2010 or anything that’s been truly relevant since Our Time Now in 2006. But in such a flagrant disregard for how these sorts of things tend to work, they’ve somehow managed to sign to Fearless for this album, and to commemorate that milestone (?), they’ve done what every washed-up pop-rock band from the mid-2000s does when they want some relevance – make a painfully below-average pop album. Sure, Top Of The World tries to emulate some pop-rock crunch, and for a pretty slick funk groove, Sick Of Love is at least likable, but overall, Parallel Universe has so little spark or points of interest, devolving to flaccid pop production overloaded with pitch-shifted vocal samples and an instrumental pallet that for the most part, spans milquetoast nothingness like Your Body to screeching obnoxiousness like the tart, squealing synths of Lying About Me And You. It’s not as if there’s anything interesting lyrically either – that would simply be too much to ask, after all – and Tom Higgenson has no vocal personality to speak of in yet another way that the Plain White T’s proceed to kneecap any progress or dalliances into quality. It’s just not worth checking out, but considering it’s been well over a decade since this band did anything really noteworthy, you probably knew that already. • LN

4/10

For fans of: We The Kings, Dashboard Confessional, Against The Current

Massive Wagons – Full Nelson

There’s been quite a stir around Massive Wagons this year, not only with the campaign to make this album the first Top 40 release by a band from Lancaster, but also to save the mural of Full Nelson’s artwork on the side of a Lancaster pub from being removed by the city council. To call them local heroes at this point wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the appeal will translate elsewhere. Fortunately, and especially for such a “local” brand of hard rock as this, there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy about Full Nelson, as Massive Wagons take a rather dated and drab framework, and clean it up a fair bit with interesting lyrical twists and surprising amount of wit. And yes, the instrumentation is by far the weakest element here, rarely moving beyond its designated framework and Baz Mills even having the traditional, whiskey-swilling vocals of the pub-rock bands it would be so easy to place Massive Wagons amongst. But there’s clearly knowledge of how to get around such limitations, be that with knowingly childlike humour on China Plates, sentimentality grounded in something a lot more tangible and earthy on Northern Boy, or simply bending those limitations to the band’s will by injecting some fat grooves into Robot (Trust In Me). It’s hardly revolutionary stuff, but in a way, Massive Wagons seem to know that, and the levity with which they play shows a band having the sort of fun this sort of hard rock deserves, rather than the tired, bland mush that’s come before them so many times in the past. For what it is, it would be a shame to skip out on it. • LN

7/10

For fans of: The Wildhearts, The Temperance Movement, The Answer

Oh, Weatherly – Lips Like Oxygen

If it turns out that Oh, Weatherly were actually the first band to be cryogenically frozen and brought ahead in time by just over a decade, that would be pretty plausible. Their brand of pop-rock is the sort of thing that was treading the Warped Tour boards left, right and centre in the mid-2000s, and to see it brought forward to now to somewhat break up the monotony of synthesised, samey bands is at least one positive to appreciate. It’s not as if Lips Like Oxygen hasn’t been preened and polished within an inch of its life either, given the squeaky-clean guitar pickups and the fact that vocalist Blake Roses sounds uncannily like Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders at points (especially on the sappy piano-ballad Keep On Listening), but for a straightforward pop-rock album with few pretensions to depth or revolution, this is pretty decent. At least Oh, Weatherly have a good feel for melody that’s almost certainly been brought forward from some very prominent names in the scene, but they can work it well, even if it’s not all that original. Even if the threshold of quality is somewhat lower for bands like this, Oh, Weatherly are a fine enough addition to the crew, and will probably be eaten up when they find some more solid footing. Just don’t go into this expecting to be blown away. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Mayday Parade, All Time Low, Boys Like Girls

Parcels – Parcels

Having dance legends Daft Punk see something in an early song of yours and insist on working with you to bring it to its full potential would be huge for any band in its early stages, but take one listen to Parcels and the match immediately seems effortless. The Australia-born, Berlin-based five-piece encompass all of the chirpy funk influences at the fore of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and on their self-titled debut from October, it’s without a doubt what shines the most out of their blend of pop, electronics and hints of soul. In its 51 minutes, Parcels displays everything someone could want from the guitar-led funk-driven band of their dreams. All the instrumental lines are super slick, the vocals smooth and effortless cool, never arrogantly or intimidatingly so, seems to radiate from everything on offer. It’s a sound that’s made to be consumed in short bursts of catchy pep, and it’s the likes of Tieduprightnow or Lightenup which encapsulate just that that people will get hooked on this record for. The more one-note haze of Yourfault or Exotica or eight-and-a-half minute drag of Everyroad sinks compared to the flighty accessibility of the high points of the record, but luckily they’re in the minority. Jungle are a band that springs to mind in terms of comparison points to Parcels, not just in sound but in sparkle, something this subgenre seems to have in spades. With a little honing of their sound and some more backing by the media, there’s no reason why Parcels couldn’t be as successful as their counterparts in the near future. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Jungle, Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk, Franc Moody

Bad Sounds – Get Better

In an indie-pop scene that’s doing surprisingly well at blending tight, taut execution with some real vibrancy and colour, Bad Sounds should theoretically be an incredible new addition, combining elements of acts like Beck and Hot Chip with clear stripes of funk and daisy-age hip-hop to keep that sense of energy as high as possible. And to an extent, that’s definitely true; in terms of infectious, easygoing listens that place pop appeal above musical envelope pushing, Get Better is definitely a likable album. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel as though Bad Sounds’ approach is all that varied or nuanced, something made all the more disappointing by their diverse list of influences that can certainly be picked up on here, but largely conflate in the same way with each track. It’s hard to deny that the sparkling, sunny horns and Britpop lilt of Wages or the disco bass of Evil Powers are about as catchy as it gets, and while the entire album is all perfectly listenable and will undoubtedly make plenty of summer playlists over the coming years, the homogeneity is unavoidable, and with production that can feel quite restrictive in how it tries to impose lo-fi filters over so much, it’s hard to become truly invested in this album instead of just thinking it sounds pretty entertaining. It’s definitely worth trying out for something bold and upbeat, but it most likely won’t last too long after any initial exposure. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Beck, Cake, Hot Chip

Covet – effloresce

Up to now, arguably the biggest push that Covet have received was guitarist Yvette Young’s feature on the last Polyphia album, something that might not have pushed this duo to a great number of people, but certainly will have gotten some intrigued, particularly those who liked what they heard with that Polyphia album. In truth, Covet’s sound feels like a step back in Polyphia’s lineage before they began playing around with trap and electronic instruments, keeping exclusively to math-rock (even San Holo’s presence on opener shibuya doesn’t deviate from that), but doing so with remarkable proficiency. Young has already proven to have borderline virtuosic guitar skills with her solo work, and while she doesn’t get as much of a chance to show it off here, moments on sea dragon and falkor give a very light tone some wonderful opportunities to glitter and sparkle; it’s a remarkably pretty sounding EP pretty much from front to back. On the other hand though, it can be a bit one-paced at times, and sticking so unwaveringly to a sound as bright as this with little to no low end to serve as an anchor can mean it’s a bit flimsy on the whole, something that instrumental math-rock struggles with at the best of times. Still, for fans of something a bit lighter and more intricate, Covet have a good deal to offer, even if most likely won’t last that long on its own. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Polyphia, Toe, TTNG

HMLTD – Hate Music Last Time Delete

Everything about HMLTD seems to abide by the mindset that you don’t get anywhere by being boring. Between the shock-jock visuals and a look reminiscent of a scagged-up Adam & The Ants, the intention to deliberately provoke as much as possible is there in earnest, something only reinforced by the music on their newest EP Hate Music Last Time Delete, mixing glam-rock with the raunchy-bordering-on-perverse electroclash of an artist like Peaches that’s certainly a thrill ride and one that’s surprisingly easy to like. The biggest factor in this is how blatantly over-the-top it all is, from the ludicrously camp, electro-Vaudevillian stomp of Proxy Love to Henry Chisholm’s glittering vocal persona of a leather-lunged new wave singer going down a far seedier detour. The fact that the aforementioned Proxy Love finds itself remixed by Soft Cell to cap this EP off is certainly telling, almost as the stamp of approval that HMLTD’s flirtations with glittering androgyny are paying off, regardless of how blaring and obnoxiously in-your-face these five tracks can occasionally be. That’s ultimately the point though, and it’s one that HMLTD are incredibly good at making the most of. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Duran Duran, Adam & The Ant, Peaches

Tash Sultana – Flow State

With all the opportunities the internet has (and more often than not grabs with both hands) to spread stupid things like wildfire and shove them down our throats, it’s always heartening to see genuinely talented and deserving artists given a platform. Multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana earned their clout through viral videos of themselves busking on Melbourne streets, and since, their live shows where anything that can be played – guitar, drums, trumpets – is absolutely fair game. Debut album Flow State is absolutely the rollercoaster that could be expected after watching a video of Jungle being played live. As interesting and often captivating as their voice is, it is often the focus of some of Flow State’s less dynamic moments (see the run of Pink Moon, Mellow Marmalade and Harvest Love), and it’s without a doubt the instrumentation that is the star of the show here. Right from the opening staccato of intro Seed ebbing into something much fuller and truly immersive, it all feels absolutely effortless, particularly in instrumentals or songs with long voiceless passages like Seven or Blackbird which provide a completely open space for Sultana to go wild in, something they do so impressively. This isn’t really an album for soundtracking the ordinary, mind.The skill Sultana possesses takes many different forms over the course of the hour – Big Smoke is gloriously chilled, marrying bluesy strums with beautiful harmonics and eye-widening solos, Mystik and Salvation feel inherently pop, while Cigarettes is perfectly chill for the most part before descending into a vicious fretboard attack. It feels like this is something to be sat down with and appreciated note by note – a listen without paying 100% attention would be a listen wasted, and for that reason it’s easy to see why people may feel drained or perhaps even bored when having to do so. But in all honesty, this could definitely be one of the most talent-filled debuts of the year, and it’s well worth keeping an eye on Tash Sultana. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: Sticky Fingers, Meg Mac, alt-J

Power – Turned On

You can’t help but feel sorry for Power in a way. They had clearly positioned themselves to ride the waves of hype that Idles’ Brutalism has caused within punk with a similarly grimy, raw sound, only to be overshadowed by Idles’ themselves when they returned with Joy As An Act Of Resistance earlier this year. And that’s a shame, not only because Power definitely have the chops and distinction to run tandem with Idles’ rather than against them, but also because Turned On is a pretty cool little album in its own right. Obviously the lack of Joe Talbot’s biting and frequently hilarious wit can put them at a disadvantage, but in terms of thunderous, to-the-bone punk ‘n’ roll produced in such a way to accentuate every imperfection left in, this Aussie trio are quick to find their feet and run with it. The much-feted influence from Lemmy can certainly be seen without hassle too, as tracks like Lickspittler and Road Dog see that pace and grit clash, and allow Nathan Williams to howl and convulse over it in a way that feels totally natural and earned. It might lack a bit of dimension to go any further than being a good alternative, but Power are worth a look, especially seeing as there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Idles, Violent Soho, Satan’s Satyrs

Arkells – Rally Cry

Like a lot of Canadian indie-pop, Arkells have rarely crossed over outside of their home country, having been in the peripheral vision of worldwide indie spheres at the very most, but thanks to a number of support slots and dogged promotion from Frank Turner, there’s definitely more of a global buzz around them now than ever before. And while Rally Cry is no classic, there’s more than enough potential here for Arkells to continue to cross over with an album that wears its sonic touchstones proudly and does them a fair bit of justice. In particular, comparisons to The Killers on Only For A Moment and U2 on Show Me Don’t Tell Me are unavoidable, but that’s not to say that Arkells can’t craft some fantastic earmworms on their own, like the synth-dripped strut of American Screams or the insatiable disco groove of People’s Champ. Yes, it’s all polished within an inch of its life, but with Max Kerman’s bold, booming vocals and some genuinely insightful and occasionally politically-driven lyrics, it’s not as if Arkells are clinging onto the fringes of alternative music like so many of their indie-pop peers, and actually seem to be following the tributaries into something actually workable and likable. Whether that’ll apply to everyone in the way it could is another matter entirely, but Rally Cry is indicative of a very viable mainstream prospect indeed, particularly if Arkells can keep it up. • LN

7/10

For fans of: The Killers, U2, July Talk

The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

As rewarding as it is finding a musical diamond in the rough, sometimes it can be a chore wading through a myriad of low-quality, samey releases to find something worth supporting through growing pains. Raw, likeable qualities can stick as much as musical talent in such a process, and earnestness always goes a long way with fans of the alternative. It’s a trait that Edinburgh’s The Spook School have bucketloads of, and their offerings this year will definitely resonate with people in their droves. Their debut Could It Be Different? covers an entire journey of self-acceptance – loneliness, being an outcast, becoming confident in yourself and enjoying life – and commits them to catchy punk-rock jams. The quality of the recording itself can be slightly offputting with the sometimes oddly-proportioned mix and rough-sounding vocals. The fuzz adds to the scrappiness of The Spook School’s vibe but is probably the reason it feels as though the material here would thrive much more in a live setting. Overall though, this is the type of record that community seems to radiate from even if you’re just listening alone in your bedroom, and that is more than special enough a quality to stay locked on this band and see where they can take themselves in the future. • GJ

6/10

For fans of: Muncie Girls, Happy Accidents, Martha

Telethon – Modern Abrasive

Telethon really did miss a trick by releasing Modern Abrasive so late in the year. At a time when pop-rock has been so dour and monochrome with so little excitement, to have something as bright and fun as this would’ve been absolutely joyous, and while that may seem to be judging this EP on what it could’ve been versus what it is, in any context, Modern Abrasive is absolutely lovely. The classic teen-movie quirks of modern indie-punk remain out in full force, but they’re tempered by tones that owe a lot more to power-pop and the broad, theatrical pianos of an artist like Randy Newman, coming together for a release that almost perfectly balances personal introspection with glorious, glittering pop hooks. To nitpick, the largely melancholy Palo Santo does break up some of the flow, but when everything else nails the skipping pop-rock glee like on the title track or Great America, punctuated with frantic piano stabs and buzzing synth lines among razor-sharp indie-pop guitars, it’s a sweet, potent little mixture that’s not even nearly enough at just twenty-two minutes. In short, it’s just an absolute treat that needs to be heard by as many people as possible. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Fake Problems, Weezer, Bomb The Music Industry!

Attan – End Of

The cross-breeding of adrenalised hardcore and black-metal isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, especially in the past couple of years, but that hasn’t made it any less thrilling to listen to. Quite the opposite in fact, as so many bands have been taking that foundation and bending it to fit their own desires, leading to some of the most genuinely exciting hardcore albums to be released in recent times. It’s clearly a thread that Attan are looking to jump onto, and while End Of is definitely a good start for them, at the minute, they seem to be lacking that individual streak that made bands like Oathbreaker or Svalbard so compelling. They’re definitely on their way to getting it, as shown by the frenetic post-hardcore of SoMe Riefenstahl or the slow, calamitous sledgehammer hits of Black Liquid Marrow or the title track, but it’s not something that makes up the bulk of what could’ve been a more distinct listen. And yet, there’s clearly a level of proficiency across the board that’s hard to fault, especially when Attan allow themselves to burn with greater intensity on the likes of The Burning Bush Will Not Be Televised and Ghostwriters, with seared edges in the production that give that ragged chill so much more weight and potency. It’s definitely an album that’s easy to be hooked in by, just not to the same extent as some of its peers. Still, Attan are already showing great strides in the right direction, and when they ultimately do flesh out their sound to something better suited to them as individuals, they’ll be capable of something truly remarkable. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Svalbard, Oathbreaker, Amenra

Gloo – A Pathetic Youth

There’s been a noticeable uptick recently in the number of “traditional” UK punk bands, namely those that embody the snotty, sneering attitude that so frequently emerged out of conservative governments and the wedge that was driven between classes. Obviously, it’s no secret why such a resurgence has taken place, but few bands have captured that energy and acrimony more than Gloo, with A Pathetic Youth consisting of ten tracks clocking in at under half-an-hour, and rarely letting up in that time. Of course, a band like this can easily get by on anger alone (and there’s no shortage of examples of that here), but there’s enough incisiveness on tracks like No Shit Sally and Pig to prevent this from feeling like a band shouting into the wind with no rhyme or reason. There’s a palpable rawness that gives it such an edge as well, bringing Tom Harfield’s barbed, brash vocals to the fore and attaching a real jagged edge to the guitars for a borderline metallic touch that’s incredibly well received. If there’s a criticism to make, it’s that Gloo aren’t great at varying their attack just yet, but that’s hardly an issue when everything is kept so tight and concise, yet without auxiliary meddling that would have ultimately hindered it. It’s just a simple, great punk album, and one that really is pushing the genre forward into some brave, bold territory. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Idles, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, The Kenneths

Bodega – Endless Scroll

The general peritext surrounding Bodega can mean it’s easy to be put off by them, especially when, both at first glance and from the subsequent analysis around them, they come across as yet another hipster New York post-punk band that’ll most likely fade away when the next once comes along. It’s not as if the music doesn’t back that up either, and while Endless Scroll isn’t particularly bad and is easily buoyed by enough sharp basslines and the witty, occasionally aloof interplay of vocalists Ben Hozie and Nikki Belfiglio, it’s an album that feels designed to be appreciated by the scene and its closest admirers. For one, the typically grainy, hollow production style feels pushed to its absolute limit here, and like so many other bands who’ve arisen from this corner of post-punk, there’s a certain air of a band so pleased with themselves that it can be hard to bear sometimes. At the very least, there’s a few solid hooks that can be pulled out, and with enough patience there’s enough to enjoy from it, but it does take time to get to that point, and that can be enough to put some off. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Parquet Courts, Menace Beach, Goat Girl

Dorothy – 28 Days In The Valley

Revival rock has well and truly crossed over into an easy money-making scheme for bands in the same way that pop-punk and bottom-of-the-barrel indie has been in the past, so much so that it hardly seems worth covering it anymore, seeing as so many bands are simply recycling the same thing ad nauseum. Thank God for Dorothy then, who actually seem to be forging a path away from stiff, sterile blues-rock and into something with a bit more muscle and swirling, hippie swagger. The obvious factor of this is Dorothy Martin’s vocals, filling the role of Janis Joplin in her oversized howls that simmer with bluesy intensity on tracks like Pretty When You’re High and perfectly compliment the humid instrumentation that can actually muster some flair and original permutations of the retro-rock style. Of course, there’s only so many ways that can be achieved, and that’s still not enough to fill an album that lasts the best part of an hour, but 28 Days In The Valley feels like a much-needed pallet cleanser at a time when this sort of music has dug itself into one hell of a ditch. Whether Dorothy can do anything with it remains to be seen, but they definitely deserve to. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Janis Joplin, Rival Sons, Stevie Nicks

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

1 Comment »

Leave a Reply to Hope Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s