Dream Theater – Distance Over Time

For all the justifiable flak that Dream Theater can be given for typifying the attitude of progressive metal placing a sense of impermeable self-importance over everything else, it’s given them results up to now, even if said results are multi-hour opuses that no one but the must ardent of devotees would even attempt to touch. That’s why Distance Over Time comes across as such a curveball, not only in paring everything back to under an hour but also embracing tones of djent and tech-metal that fall much more in line with their style’s most contemporary pivots. Quite what’s spurred this on is a mystery, but given that this is probably one of Dream Theater’s most accessible albums to date – as well as doubling down on solid songs rather than compositions – really does speak volumes. That’s not to say they’ve done away with that completely as the easy ebb back to classical influences on Out Of Reach and the spasmodic shifts of Pale Blue Dot show, but there’s a heft to Untethered Angel and Paralyzed that connects with little hesitation, and Barstool Warrior sees one of their most convincing syntheses of melody and technicality in absolute ages. Really, this doesn’t feel as much like a traditional Dream Theater album as it does a soft reboot of sorts, moving towards something much easier to swallow without sanding back too much of what has always made this band distinct, and in the way that scope and lush, elegant production can still find a way to give prog in this vein its poise, it’s fair to say they’ve done a damn solid job. Even if the aim wasn’t really to pick up new fans as much as feed the existing ones something a bit more direct, the fact that could easily happen is enough to deem Distance Over Time a success overall. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Queensryche, Rush, Ayreon


Devin Townsend – Empath

It’s really no wonder that Devin Townsend has become one of the most revered figures in progressive music, given his gleeful sensibilities of experimenting with anything and everything musical that have fully smashed the veneer of too-serious prog for a long while now. It was never like Empath was going to be any different either, given comparisons that have already been made to Disney soundtracks and a list of guest musicians spanning from Steve Vai to Chad Kroeger. And sure enough, this is the typical kitchen-sink type of album, where the gentle ambience of Castaway soon blows over for towering symphonic metal on Spirits Will Collide, pounding dance-rock on Evermore, operatic bombast on Why? and quite literally everything else peppered across of runtime that considerably breaks the hour mark. It can become a bit much to take in sometimes, like when trying to get through Singularity’s twenty-three minutes in a single sitting, but the constant stream of twists and shifts make this a thoroughly fascinating experience to dive into, particularly fronted by Townsend with the sort of vocal power and charisma that most frontmen could never even imagine mustering. And all that is pretty much par for the course at this point; it might be strange to insinuate that Empath isn’t exactly breaking new ground, but for an artist like Townsend who’s trodden so much musical ground in the past, there’s a limit at how much he can do, and Empath seems to be crossing that boundary with an impressive sense of grace. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but progressive music fans can relish in the fact that Townsend remains the top player in a genre that desperately needs a sense of fun and exuberant exploration like this. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Opeth, Strapping Young Lad, Steve Vai


The Chemical Brothers – No Geography

The fact that The Chemical Brothers have maintained relevancy and interests all over the world for close to three decades is no mean feat, especially in a genre as quick to evolve as EDM. 2015’s Born In The Echoes had some brilliant hooks provided by plenty of featured artists to really hammer home the relevancy side of things, but on this year’s No Geography they’ve kept the pool of collaborators small, leaning on Norwegian pop newcomer Aurora and sampless to help fully complete the project. No Geography is a different beast compared to the Chemical Brothers of the last few years, reverting back to sounds of old to tell a sonic story that borders on the dramatic (particularly when it comes to Aurora’s contribution). It’s clearly made with raves and warehouses in mind rather than airplay and soundtracking (which Born In The Echoes earned them lots of) – Got To Keep On and Bango are reminiscent of the Brothers’ ’90s form. If anything though, it’s the creativity here which is super admirable. Keeping collaborators small and in the background makes for some beautifully crafted instrumentals like Gravity Drops and the futuristic The Universe Sent Me. Ambitions like this that are both had and pulled off are the reason why The Chemical Brothers are heads and shoulders above those they rose up with; while Fatboy Slim headlines festivals mostly playing songs that aren’t his, they are innovating and creating material as otherworldly as this. Whatever shape their next record takes, it’s bound to be as impressive as the last 30 years have been. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: deadmau5, Propellerheads, pre-2010s Daft Punk


The Specials – Encore

Though the traditional ideals of ska and punk have become more and more disparate as time has gone on, it can’t be denied how much of a force for change The Specials were in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s good to see that time hasn’t dulled that impulse either, and when such a strident social conscience is needed today as much as ever, Encore emphatically delivers. The band are definitely at their least interesting when drawing on a more rote ska sound or even their own previous work (Vote For Me sounds almost identical to Ghost Town in places), but thankfully – and somewhat surprisingly – there’s a lot of modern pertinence to what The Specials are doing here. A reworking of The Valentines’ Blam Blam Fever has particular resonance given contemporary issues surrounding gun control, as does The Lunatics with its criticism of a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing, but where Encore really shines is when The Specials take their greatest left turns. It’s most prevalent and affecting in the punk-poetry of B.L.M and 10 Commandments, the former seeing Lynval Golding discussing his family’s history with racism since moving to the UK from Jamaica, while the latter, a collaboration with protester Saffiyah Khan and a scathing rebuttal to Prince Buster’s 1963 song Ten Commandments Of Man, tackles a culture of misogyny that has prevailed even over five decades later. It’s an incredibly modern-feeling album while being completely in the band’s wheelhouse, and with their traditional ska now tempered with elements of funk and new wave for that extra layer of depth, it’s an impressively relevant and intricate album from The Specials, all while being equally as enjoyable. • LN

7/10

For fans of: The Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners


Martha – Love Keeps Kicking

Even with indie-punk being as tremendously oversaturated as it currently is, sometimes it just takes one band doing it better than everyone else to really leave a mark the brings the whole scene up with it, and given the torrents of praise they’ve been receiving as of late, it would appear that Martha stand as the chief candidates of that in 2019. That’s hard to argue with as well, especially when Love Keeps Kicking is simply a great album, and it achieves that by taking so much of what makes indie-punk generally likable and amps it up to something truly magnetising. There’s a melodic deftness that comes when the likes of Heart Is Healing or the title track pick up something akin to a country rollick, and with the crystalline guitar work that remains tight and focused with just the right amount of scrappiness to work (see Wrestlemania VIII for the best example), this is just a much more appealing sound overall, particularly in the way that Martha blitz through this album with barely a moment of time wasted. And given that this is an indie-punk album, downbeat themes remain a staple, but on a track like Orange Juice, the band show how resolutely solid their command of energy and light is to balance everything out borderline perfectly. To nitpick, a couple of tracks can lack the absolute best features this album has to offer, particularly The Only Letter That You Kept as a lower-tempo closer, but overall, Love Keeps Kicking is remarkably strong, never having an outright bad moment and highlighting just how great of a band Martha really are when operating at the peak of their abilities. It’s no wonder the acclaim for this one has been so unanimous; this really is something great. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Jeff Rosenstock, Charly Bliss, Swearin’


Amon Amarth – Berserker

Eleven albums in, there’s not much more that can be said about Amon Amarth. They’ve gotten incredibly good at replicating their Viking-influenced death metal formula to the degree where very little changes from release to release, but that’s because it’s basically been nailed to the point where nothing really has to change. And indeed, Berserker is pretty definitive evidence that Amon Amarth can carry on with this exact train of thought effectively until the end of time and still see positive results. Sure, it’d be easy to chastise them for essentially not budging at all, but everything that draws listeners towards this band is still here; the general enormity of power-metal bombast that fine-tunes their galloping melodeath still sounds great on the likes of Shield Wall and Raven’s Flight, while Johan Hegg is still capable of screams that have distinct viciousness to them, but aren’t afraid to dip into the camp that this material really does require at points. That’s to their credit above anything else though, especially on tracks like Mjölner, Hammer Of Thor and When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails that are effectively theatrical takes on Norse mythology, but Amon Amarth are perfectly capable of scoring them with the triumphant power that really brings out the best in them. It’s hardly game-changing stuff, especially when this band alone are currently closing in on their dozenth iteration of this exact shtick, but it’s to Amon Amarth’s credit that they’ve been able to get so much out of it at a point where so many others, be they death metal or power-metal, would’ve begun truly floundering. Plus, when it’s this supremely entertaining, that’s hard to begrudge. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Children Of Bodom, Arch Enemy, Turisas


Miley Cyrus – She Is Coming

Has any pop artist of the 2010s had a more notably tumultuous career journey than Miley Cyrus? We’ve seen her jump from alter-ego tween pop star Hannah Montana to controversial naked wrecking ball straddler with her powerhouse voice always keeping her credible. May’s She Is Coming is only a portion of a finished Miley Cyrus project (her album She Is Miley Cyrus is dropping across three EPs throughout the year), and this first third brings the singer away from the country revisited on 2017’s subpar Younger Now into contemporary hip-hop and trap. Vocally, Cyrus is something of a chameleon; she delivers this style with conviction and fuses her fantastic singing voice with mostly competent rapping, particularly on Mother’s Daughter, the best song here. Vocally and instrumentally almost every song here has something to credit on Cyrus’ part, the glaring anomaly being the widely panned Catitude. Featured artist RuPaul really steals the show here – while he pulls off his scandalous verse with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Miley chooses conviction over lightheartedness in her contribution’s delivery, a choice that leaves the focus on the terrible lyrics rather than a performance. The lyrics on this EP are a consistent cement block discussing far from revolutionary themes about Miley Cyrus’ persona in an eye roll-worthy on-the-nose way. Unholy addressing how she’s not the innocent girl she used to be (shocker) and the particularly cringey D.R.E.A.M (Drugs Rule Everything Around Me) which doesn’t take a genius to work out what the lyrics are about. Aside from a thematically appreciated but otherwise wholly unnecessary tacked on feature from Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan whose song this nods to, this is a sonically fantastic song. Sound-wise, Cyrus could really be onto something with the rest of this project, but until lyrics and deeper meanings are worked on, her golden age is out of reach. • GJ

6/10

For fans of: Justin Bieber, Bebe Rexha, Tove Lo


Marianas Trench – Phantoms

For years now, it’s appeared as though Marianas Trench have been destined to snag whatever meagre sources of light they can from inside Panic! At The Disco’s shadow. They might be a considerable force in their native Canada (as is often the case with Canadian acts), but even the critical acclaim of 2015’s Astoria failed to provide a boon to really launch them onto the world stage. And yet, where a lesser band would still most likely be on the comedown, there’s still hope with Phantoms; it’s markedly less ambitious and they’ve leaned even further from theatrical pop-rock to pure pop, but they actually use the colourlessness and monochrome atmosphere to their advantage, pulling from notable gothic touchstones like on Echoes Of You to give a lot more resonance to the lamentations on failed relationships. Of course, that merely lies as an undertone, and between the galloping triumph of Only The Lonely Survive, the colossal anthemia of The Death Of Me and Josh Ramsay’s titanic vocal performance that has more range, power and theatrical nuance than anyone in pop-rock today (yes, including a certain Mr Urie), Phantoms rarely dips from pure pop excellence. And sure, it’s easy to be snarky and say that Marianas Trench are defaulting to the same vapid clichés that they satirised on their excellent Pop 101, and while that’s not entirely untrue, they’re used in a way that’s beneficial to the content, something that few others have done to any measurable, consistent degree. That alone is what makes this something of a rarity – a thoughtful, mature modern pop-rock album that’s still able to dwarf everything in its path. • LN

8/10

For fans of: Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, Hedley


Skinny Lister – The Story Is…

Skinny Lister have often felt like a band on the fringes of a couple of particular scenes but have always been unable to make the leap to cross over. There was definitely a period where they could’ve broken into the wider Britrock conversation, but even among the much more familiar climes of the folk-rock within Xtra Mile’s stable, they’ve never been one of the bigger names, at least on record. And sadly, The Story Is… looks to be continuing that trend, simply by virtue of not having enough to stand out, either from their peers or from themselves. Sure, a track like Rattle & Roar is always going to go down well as a rougher, more rustic pub singalong, but the inoffensive mid-pace of it all, while undoubtedly pleasant, doesn’t spark much in the way of rousing fire that especially comes in the live environment. There’s a bit more of interest in the writing with each individual track serving as its own individual vignette, and playing to the more lighthearted, less serious angle with Diesel Vehicle and Artist Arsonist does make for an easy sell, particularly for a folk-rock album that’s outwardly playing for lighter tones. But on the whole, it’s hard not to view this album as, unfortunately, too toothless for its own good, having a few standout moments but default to mild-mannered flatlines more often than it should. It’s not a good look for Skinny Lister, and knowing just what they’re capable of, it’s not one they’re going to want to stick with for long. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Beans On Toast, Frank Turner, The Pogues


Switchfoot – Native Tongue

The cult following that Switchfoot have has always been baffling to witness, solely because this is a band who’ve never been all that good, and yet have somehow managed to accumulate the sort of fanbase that most could only dream of. Granted, Native Tongue has done a lot to sour those thoughts for many, as though they’ve finally realised that tepid post-grunge from the trend-hopping, surfer poster-boys of Christian rock is roughly about as appealing as that string of words makes it sound. Here, we have a classic example of Imagine Dragon-isation seeping through, with synthetic, slick progressions devoid of weight or presence that turn Voices and Joy Invincible into milquetoast tableaux of white paint on a white wall, and All I Need playing to safest imaginable semantic field of taking it easy and embracing love in a manner that’s been manufactured from the ground up to appear in countless Billabong ads for the forseeable future. It’s never interesting and drags on far longer than it has any right to, to the point where Jon Foreman not being an absolutely worthless vocalist is probably the best thing about it. At the end of the day though, a Switchfoot album is perhaps one of the most ephemeral thing in nature, so at least the concession of this not being around for long is something of a silver lining. • LN

3/10

For fans of: Imagine Dragons, Needtobreathe, Hawk Nelson


The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men

The consistency and reverence held towards The Wildhearts has essentially meant they’re unable to do any wrong at this stage. As well as being constant champions of the underground and a DIY ethos for effectively thirty years at this stage, they’ve got simply one of the most watertight catalogues in British rock, to the point where any trepidation that comes from a ‘legacy’ act releasing new material feels largely unfounded with them. That ultimately feels like the most natural repercussion of that love for underground rock music, something that Renaissance Men really grabs with both hands, given the unmistakable presence of Puppy that can be felt within this album. Granted, The Wildhearts have never been strangers when it comes to pairing unshakable pop hooks with a very clear metallic backbone, but there’s such a hugeness to tracks like Let ‘Em Go and My Kinda Movie, both in the riff-work and the burly, harmonised hooks that it does feel as though glances have been made and subsequently embraced. That’s not a complaint in any form, by the way, no less because Renaissance Men is the sort of album that can go for a relatively no-frills approach to rock and still feel exciting, thanks to The Wildhearts’ pedigree dictating exactly what the best way to approach this is. Of course Ginger’s grizzled bellows remain a force to be reckoned with and the solid-gold melodies can still rival at least 95% of bands out there, but what’s absolutely amazing is how this still sounds like a band at their peak. This may be the ultimate example of how to age gracefully as a rock band, as The Wildhearts continue to dole out the best straight-up rock music around without a single concession being made. It might be largely familiar stuff to those who’ve stuck with them for the past three decades, but when it’s still this good, is that such a bad thing? • LN

8/10

For fans of: Puppy, Therapy?, Hundred Reasons


Jonas Brothers – Happiness Begins

The Jonas Brothers revolution has completely taken over 2019. Everyone and their mum knows about the therapy the brothers underwent to mend their relationships and the huge doubts they had about how their first album in six years would be received. Of course, the powers of both nostalgia and adaptation ensured a rejuvenated and hugely successful pop career, but Happiness Begins, the album singles Sucker and Cool belong to, shows hints of a much more fleshed-out entity even if parts don’t quite stick the landing. Joe and Nick’s voices complement each other as well as ever and they even bring parts from their respective solo careers (Used To Be could’ve been a Nick cast-off while Don’t Throw It Away has the pop gloss of a DNCE track) together for what are often the highlights. Their move into writing ska-tinged songs like Only Human and Every Single Time is an unexpected one and somehow it’s not a total car crash. On one hand there’s a slight cringe factor at ska being used as a mainstream pop influence in 2019, but the vocal patterns build around the instrumentals to salvage any initial write-offs. But to be honest, so many of these songs just don’t connect. Sucker and Cool hinted at a grown-up but still fun project but too much of Happiness Begins feels so overly serious for such a momentous release. But when it comes down to it, does it really matter? People aren’t going to be buying Jonas Brothers tickets to hear Every Single Time or Strangers, but it is interesting to think where this revival is going to go once the nostalgia wears off slightly. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: 5 Seconds Of Summer, Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes


Lizzo – Cuz I Love You

She might think music journalists deserve to be unemployed (because her success is entirely self-generated and any promotion from positive reviews or in-depth interviews she constantly posts snippets from online had nothing to do with it), but the critical acclaim that Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You has received is certainly no fluke. Lizzo is a special talent – she’s soulful, sassy, current and entirely meaningful, with self-love and acceptance the lifeblood of every song she puts out there. It’s impossible to finish the run of Like A Girl, Juice and Soulmate not grinning from ear to ear or out of breath from pretending to be one of Beyoncé’s backing dancers. The soul-leaning songs here do suffer slightly in terms of memorability compared to the fist-pumping party empowerment anthems, but that’s not at all to say that they’re not done well. Jerome, while a less engaging change of pace shows off Lizzo’s pipes while sending a message with humour and potency while closer Lingerie is absolutely stunning in every way and brings something genuinely unique to popular music in 2019. She’s a voice we need at this moment in time for those underrepresented and put down, and the strength of her message and material is going to ensure she sticks around. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Janelle Monae, Doja Cat, Tierra Whack


Saor – Forgotten Paths

Amidst much of the critical acclaim poured onto black-metal bands expanding their sonic reaches beyond the bleak and dismal often lies Saor, and that’s for good reason too. Andy Marshall’s project has regularly found a way to blend extreme metal with elements of traditional Celtic folk in often fantastic ways, rarely putting a foot wrong across any of their output to date. Of course, that begs the question of how high can a ceiling go when it’s seemingly being raised with every release, and that’s something that seems to be answered on Forgotten Paths. That’s because this feels about as standard as a Saor album can, namely by continuing to nail its expansive, explosive blend of sounds that can be truly excellent when embracing its sense of fluidity and texture like on Bròn, but does so in a way that’s pretty much become the norm right now. It’s still definitely good though, particularly when Marshall does slide deeper into folk territory with acoustic guitars and whistles for a sense of misty abstraction, and when that’s given the room to fully integrate with pounding blastbeats, it can feel untouchable, if only for a few moments. They don’t last though, and as a shorter album that could afford to explore some of Saor’s best ideas a bit more deeply, this isn’t quite as good as some of the releases that have come before. Even so, Forgotten Paths is definitely worth exploring, if only to see what one of black-metal’s most consistent and exciting players is capable of. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Winterfylleth, Fen, Sojourner


Soilwork – Verkligheten

As much as Soilwork have felt like little more than part of the furniture in the Swedish melodeath scene for the past few years, the fact that they’ve stood their ground as long as they have is admirable. They’ve still been releasing music at a rather consistent rate, but nothing has really stuck as much or lived up their work during the 2000s. That’s why it’s a pleasant surprise that Verkligheten is as good as it is – probably their best in years, in fact – simply because this feels like a band doing what they know and running with it fast. It’s still got plenty of heft and meat, and Bjorn Strid remains a solid all-around vocalist, but tracks like Full Moon Shoals and Stålfågel feel galvanised with a lot more gusto to them, pulling in spots from power-metal in terms of how much the focus on towering melody has been laser-focused in. Beyond that, this is everything you’d expect from a Soilwork album; they’re not a band to really evolve in any great way, and for a band who’ve been around as long as they have, that can get to feel a bit tiresome, but the improvements are there, and when they hit as strongly as they do here, that’s worth a lot. • LN

7/10

For fans of: In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, Scar Symmetry


Chase Atlantic – DON’T TRY THIS

Think white boy trap couldn’t get any more limp and embarrassing? Well, friend, clearly you’re not privy to the work of Chase Atlantic, whose sole aim as a musical entity seems to be to mercenarily pillage a genre that already has a bad reputation for lacking depth and stripping it down even further. To their credit, they can occasionally muster some nice atmosphere with their cushions of floaty synths, but when that’s the only musical feature they have, it leads to an EP that’s horrifically one-note, and even at only nineteen minutes begins to awfully drag. That’s before even getting to vocalist Mitchel Cave who, with his dead-eyed, dreary slurring and totally unearned attempts at smolder, could easily be a parody of so many generic auto-crooners if it wasn’t played so straight. Topped off with the most empty, uninspired trap mush in the writing that barely even tries to formulate a pulse, let alone deliver anything exciting, Chase Atlantic are about as laughable as it comes, with nothing to even hint at why their alternative crossover status is a thing, and a contribution to trap that’s on a level of worthlessness somewhere between Blackbear and a Post Malone parody Twitter account. Avoid at all costs. • LN

3/10

For fans of: Blackbear, Post Malone, NAV


Nina Nesbitt – The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change

If anyone has the chops to teach a masterclass in internet-based image rebranding, it’s Nina Nesbitt. She’s been making the transition from acoustic singer-songwriter to fully-fledged bedroom pop princess for a couple of years, and release of second full-length The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change cemented the new phase of her career gloriously. While a perhaps unnecessary amount of singles preceded the album’s release and showed too much of Nesbitt’s hand prematurely, the quality of the songs on this record is genuinely ridiculous. Her range is truly enchanting – the effortlessly controlled way she flits around higher octaves in The Best You Had and Is It Really Me You’re Missing in particular is ridiculously impressive, while stylistically …The Seasons Will Change feels like a scrapbook of all the things that have brought the singer to this point in her career. The heartfelt acoustic songs Things I Say While You Sleep and the gorgeous Last December that throw back to 2013, a lifelong love of ’90s pop manifesting in Loyal To Me and Love Letter and a beautiful synth-led introspective guise on The Moments I’m Missing, stage-owning Empire and the stunning title track. Context is everything to this record – knowing Nesbitt taught herself to produce and her entire creative process behind the album artwork feeds into the enjoyment and nothing feels trivial. While …The Seasons Will Change is nothing short of a stellar pop record, the fact that she has made something so ambitious and expansive somehow feel intimate and every single detail matter feels game-changing. This is pop in 2019 done absolutely right. • GJ

9/10

For fans of: Gabrielle Aplin, Astrid S, FLETCHER


Hotel Books – I’ll Leave The Light On Just In Case

Given the near-vertical upsurge in popularity that emo-rap has experienced, it’s no surprise that an act like Hotel Books has opted to take some ideas from it. Cam Smith’s spoken-word material has never been too far distanced from hip-hop at the best of times, but with its focus on moody atmospherics and a rather fanfare-free release, it’s not hard to draw the parallels between that scene and I’ll Leave The Light On Just In Case. And like most emo-rap, that atmosphere is easily the standout feature here, with the blurred, ghostly synths and guitars that fill out Just What I Feel and There Is to really expand the size of a project like this beyond its one-man execution. But also like most emo-rap, I’ll Leave The Light On Just In Case has a tendency to see Smith dip into territory that’s almost unforgivably overwrought, and when the likes of Midway and the four-part Just How I Feel struggling to stay on the balance between personal and unnecessarily, self-indulgently immolating, it can be hard to take this as a genuine expression of grief. Sure, Smith’s delivery does convey an intensity and distraught emptiness on a track like Death Is A Terrifying Thing, but it’s not something that coalesces into something truly meaningful, and often feels like surface-level emotional grieving expanded out to try and be something more, especially with an insistence on pitch-shifting his vocals that never works at any point. Compared to the intelligence and nuance that a band like La Dispute bring to this sort of style, and that even Smith himself was once so good at conveying, this feels like a drastic misstep that barely amounts to anything at all. • LN

5/10

For fans of: La Dispute, Listener, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal


The Japanese House – Good At Falling

It would be nice to chalk up most of The Japanese House’s hype to natural growth, but that would also be to ignore the fact that Amber Bain’s project is signed to The 1975’s Dirty Hit label, and given that the success stories birthed from that crop haven’t always had the quality to match, it’s worth going into this debut album with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, it’s not like dreamy, slightly off-kilter synthpop projects are hard to come by these days, and the big names currently behind Bain are easy to infer as the buoy needed to get Good At Falling to rise up the ranks with little hassle. That doesn’t seem like a far-off assumption either, especially when this album is functionally fine but doesn’t build on that for the star power that Bain is clearly being thrust towards. There are moments where it gets close, like the tighter shuffle of Maybe You’re The Reason or the warping Wild, and on the whole, Bain has the willowy and vulnerable yet enigmatic presence that an album like this really does thrive off of. Away from that though, the naturally slow, methodical nature of this album can cause it to drag, particularly towards the end on a track like Marika Is Sleeping that might be nicely arranged, but doesn’t have any real propulsion or drive to stop it from simply drooping across the finish line. That’s perhaps where the biggest issue with The Japanese House lies at the minute; there are ideas that can primarily work in small doses, but stretching them out just highlights how much they need to be refined ultimately succeed. As of now, Good At Falling at least has solid fragments, but not much that would warrant a deep dive in. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Bon Iver, James Blake, No Rome


Sigrid – Sucker Punch

Whether morally it should be or not, image is paramount in a fledgling pop female establishing herself from the sea of other edgy, uber-fashionable songstresses fans are swamped with. In such an environment the t-shirts, jeans and huge smile Sigrid chooses to wear feel like the breath of fresh air that her meticulously planned peers are trying so hard to be. Her earnestness is the backbone of her debut album Sucker Punch, whether it’s through her upfront heart-on-sleeve thoughts about relationships and breakups or discussing the cynicism of the music industry. As insanely likeable as a lot of these songs are, though, musically Sucker Punch does have some hangups. While brilliant pop frameworks are the foundations of songs like Don’t Feel Like Crying, the clearly synthetic strings and thick wall of production that clogs up much of the record really dulls the record and makes aspects sound cheap. The quirkiness of Business Dinners’ instrumental and overall gloss of singles Strangers and Don’t Kill My Vibe are high points, both feeling like they fit Sigrid’s talents to a tee as well as sounding professional. She’s much more memorable with material that reaches the heights the production is striving for – the one-size-fits-all approach washes out more low-key cuts like Level Up. While there are kinks in the formula, the raw materials are here for a promising career. GJ

7/10

For fans of: Julia Michaels, Betty Who, Dagny


Tyler Carter – Moonshine

Tyler Carter’s contributions have always been the standout features within Issues’ music, bringing a smoothness and electrifying R&B tone to a metalcore sound that would feel nowhere near as diverse without it. Therefore, it makes sense that embracing that wholly for his solo ventures feels so natural, and now on Moonshine, it makes for his most diverse and interesting effort to date. It’s not an album that really goes out of its way try new things – Carter sticks to a rather conventional R&B and pop mould here – but between the steamy trap touches of the title track and Focus, the wistful acoustic pop balladry of Too Tight or the upbeat tick of Glow and Felony, there’s an impressive level of eclecticism underscored by some remarkably consistent performances. Granted, that’s a given for Carter who rarely sounds less than excellent vocally, and even if the rather standard crop of R&B lyrics can’t quite match that same level of distinction, it’s a remarkably smooth matchup that goes down easily enough all the same. It’s hardly a game-changer, but Moonshine has plenty of enjoyable moments that don’t necessarily add strings to Carter’s artistic bow, but strengthen those already there unequivocally. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Bryson Tiller


Show Me The Body – Dog Whistle

It’s really no wonder that Show Me The Body have created as much buzz in underground punk circles as they have, given their propensity for entirely mangling what could even be vaguely considered genre boundaries but frequently recruiting hip-hop artists to guest on their particular brand of noise-rock, as well as having vocalist Julian Cashwan Pratt double up as their own banjo player seemingly just to stir the pot even more. It’s a suitably hectic and breathless concoction, something which Dog Whistle revels in as it slides between sonic camps with a recklessness that’s impressively nonstop, if a bit difficult to fully keep up with and track. Indeed, Show Me The Body can ultimately come across as too messy for their own good, an issue that’s hardly exclusive to them, particularly when considering other noise-rock and industrial rap acts, but the abrasion that they push right to the fore leaves such a scattershot approach without much in the way of cohesiveness to buoy it up. That being said, Dog Whistle’s level of creativity does hit a truly high watermark, if only to show how many strings Show Me The Body’s bow is equipped with. The ominous banjo plucks into fuzzed-out hardcore on opener Camp Orchestra is the clearest example, but the head-caving noise-rap beats of Badge Grabber and Forks And Knives have a primal appeal that’s hard to deny, and the ragged stylings of Madonna Rocket and USA Lullaby are very indicative of a band for whom mainstream acceptance is most certainly not on the cards, and peddling their own brand of vicious, visceral noise is more than a sufficient goal. It’s definitely thrilling to hear an album as brazen as this once in a while, and even if Dog Whistle doesn’t always connect, certain audiences will definitely be coming back to this one for a fairly long time to come. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Trash Talk, Ho99o9, Protomartyr


Khalid – Free Spirit

Although he’s only 21, Khalid seems determined to show the world he’s grown up both as a person and as an artist, citing this year’s Free Spirit as a huge upgrade to 2017’s American Teen. While he has undoubtedly proved to be a more than worthy talent in R&B, Free Spirit unsuccessfully buys into the current trend of overly-long albums. The 17 songs that make up this album on the whole blur together, and there’s far more filler than a talent like Khalid should be letting slip past quality control. Much of the first half blurs together and is unmemorable and while single Better is a beacon of hope, there’s hardly anything present that distances itself from prior material. Lyrically there’s been a definite regression with Khalid retreating into a Drake brand of emotional lyrics (“I’ve got no one to call…people only love you when they’re needing your wealth”, “everybody wants a favour, everybody needs me”) that may be honest, but are much less relatable than those on American Teen. Musically there’s been slightly more progress. The introduction of guitars in the middle of Free Spirit refreshes everything and songs like Don’t Pretend and the title track really stick out against the more samey tracks that precede them. John Mayer makes for an unexpectedly great collaborator on Outta My Head while the echoey, reflective Self, blurry synth haze and distorted funk underpinning Paradise and the sleek Disclosure-produced Talk actually evidence some work going into the goals apparently aimed for with the album. Khalid has already mastered an extremely likable sound, one that isn’t easy to look down on (especially when it earned him a Grammy nomination), but if Free Spirit is his idea of making more ‘adult’ music compared to his debut record then he definitely needs to reevaluate and look elsewhere for inspiration. • GJ

6/10

For fans of: Frank Ocean, Bazzi, Kehlani


HEALTH – VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR

For as often as HEALTH are cited among the acts revolutionising punk with their abrasive blend of noise-rock, darkwave and trip-hop, it’s rare to see a lot of that materialise in real evidence, mostly because they’re very much a cult band despite being four albums and almost a decade-and-a-half in. That’s unlikely to change based off VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, but to force it would be missing the point of a truly fascinating band that really demand attention whenever they can. That’s the general M.O. of this album, as cracking beats provide a backbone for airy, wiry synths to contort and Jake Duszik’s vocals act as the consistently ominous engine to drive the darkness. Its ideas can feel a bit scant in places, especially towards the end when it begins to really run out of steam, but the seedy, deeply cinematic atmosphere to tracks like FEEL NOTHING and RAT WARS brings out some great moments that feel incredibly well-constructed at their best. Of course, the lynchpin judgement on HEALTH comes in how fully their revolutionary nature can be pinned down, and while there are bands doing this sort of thing with a bit more intensity that’s connected with a larger audience, it’s hard to deny that VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR is taking some excellent, interesting steps forward, and for what they do here, HEALTH fully benefit from it. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Xiu Xiu, Fuck Buttons, Ho99o9


Flume – Hi This Is Flume

The saturation of EDM-infused pop on the airwaves can cloud an outsider’s perspective of the genre; the creativity that can be expressed with dance is among the purest forms in music, a mantra Flume has represented since his 2012 debut. The Australian producer’s best trademark seems to partially come from creating cascading synth patterns that don’t seem to make musical sense by themselves and building a world around them, something done extremely well on this year’s Hi This Is Flume mixtape. Industrial abrasiveness is a perfect backdrop for Slowthai to do his thing on High Beams while what sounds like being trapped inside a Space Invaders game creates a similar but less memorable environment for JPEGMAFIA. The brilliant Jewel seems to encapsulate all shades of his musical persona – it’s angular surrounded by breathy chopped swells and a pretty, space-esque lead part. Such an often jagged sound makes SOPHIE a perfect choice to both collaborate with and remix, and both Voices plus Flume and Eprom’s remix of Is It Cold In The Water? fit perfectly in tandem with songs like Ecdysis or Vitality, both of which hit you right in the chest. Less quintessentially Flume tracks like 71m3, while immersive and needed for the experience of the record do weigh the record down slightly, plus the shorter runtimes that aren’t seamlessly mixed into succeeding tracks does sometimes interrupt the rush the more unique contributions spark. But this is a mixtape, not a finished album. It’s a project that feels creatively cathartic for everyone involved and serves as yet another reminder that EDM has one of the best, most freeing approaches for releasing music in the industry. • GJ

7/10

For fans of: SOPHIE, Alison Wonderland, NGHTMRE


Kehlani – While We Wait

The birth of daughter Adeya in March hints that we’re not going to hear much from Kehlani for the foreseeable future, but February’s While We Wait provides enough to tide fans over through the break. The EP tones down the poppier side of her sound debut album SweetSexySavage showcased into something more grounded and rooted in the scene, boasting features on almost half of the project and classic tropes of the genre throughout. One thing Kehlani definitely has to her credit is the emotional intelligence she packs into her lyric writing- she addresses difficult breakups with grace and maturity on Footsteps, Nights Like This featuring Ty Dolla Sign could make for a total relatable modern R&B classic while Nunya is quintessential Kehlani – assured, well-reasoned and frank delivered in the most ear-pleasing manner. Her voice is simply stunning, not so sweet as to not be able to blend with any musical texture and still able to show strength and pack a punch despite not necessarily having power as one of its strong points. While a couple of the aforementioned features (6LACK and Dom Kennedy, the latter because he interrupts such a strong Kehlani performance – he would have been a welcome additon on any other track) on the record are main detractors from this record being perfect, it’s still a super solid release from an artist who for some reason isn’t heralded by the media as one of the leading lights in this area of music. Kehlani is a vital voice of reason in R&B right now and whenever she decides to return to making music again she’ll be welcomed back with open arms. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: SZA, Khalid, H.E.R.


Bad Suns – Mystic Truth

As much as Bad Suns want to occupy the space of a tasteful yet populist indie / power-pop act, they’ve not done a really good job of it up to now, and it’s not really through any fault of their own. Right now, there seems to be more acts than ever vying for that slot, and when there’s so little that really stands out or can provide a suitable alternative to what’s become a truly homogenous norm, nothing really has an impact. But when that can all be applied to Mystic Truth, that’s not to say it’s a terrible album. In fact, Bad Suns certainly have a nice command of sunny, highly-polished melodies on One Magic Moment and Love By Mistake that sparkle with pop appeal, but the end result of a sound designed to highlight the fact that there isn’t a roughened bone in its body is one of being generally nonplussed. There’s a nice clarity to the featherweight guitars and keys, and Christo Bowman is suitably earnest and expressive, but a lot of this feels like an entry-level offering, or a template that should be built on but shows no evidence of that. Again, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that for those who’ve stuck around with Bad Suns and enjoy what they do, but for everyone else, this is all a bit too flavourless and bland to leave much of a lasting impression, even if the initial sugar rush is positive enough. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Coasts, Vinyl Theatre, New Politics


Slingshot Dakota – Heavy Banding

Slingshot Dakota’s aims clearly extend beyond the usual indie-punk fare of the peers they’ve frequently been bundled in with. They’ve made something of a name for themselves through a simultaneous embrace of pop sounds and rougher mix in an effort to emulate the earthier, more DIY approach to making music that’s seen so many critical darlings rise to those ranks, or, perhaps more pertinently, nestle themselves into the lane that Charly Bliss opened up on Young Enough earlier this year with their more overt pop tones. Then again, it’s worth considering how that didn’t really pan out for them, and for Slingshot Dakota on Heavy Banding, it unfortunately feels even worse. It’s not even difficult to see why either, especially when every song seemingly flaunts just how blaring and unmodulated its production is, as guitars droop over clattering drums that are topped off by synths and pianos that seem to be hammered at the low end as hard as humanly possible. It’s all so loose and unrefined that it borders on laziness, as the duo forgo any sort of layering for loud, droning indie-pop that, on tracks like Days After Christmas and People Pleaser, border on unlistenable obnoxious. This doesn’t even appear to have any sort of stylistic or thematic purpose, either; strip everything back and this is a rather run-of-the-mill indie-punk album, with Carly Comando having the vocal style to fully assimilate with the rest of the scene and, when actually given the room to work with like on Moon, actually sounding rather good. But when so much of Heavy Banding seems to revel in making that enjoyability as difficult to obtain as possible, what’s left is the sort of sloppy experiment that would be commendable to try if it wasn’t so grating so much of the time. Sure, standing out is a necessary goal to have, but Slingshot Dakota’s approach of doing it in the least appealing way possible feels counterintuitive to the extreme. • LN

4/10

For fans of: Charly Bliss, Dowsing, Lemuria


Rudimental – Toast To Our Differences

While Rudimental’s goal of uniting cultures, genres and artists has certainly been achieved on paper, the degree of success in terms of the songs is questionable. Much of Toast To Our Differences which aims to do just that (both socially and musically) is the uninspired, samey drum ‘n’ bass / dance-pop hybrid that has infiltrated the charts for years and with and as usual with these types of albums there is much more chaff than wheat. Unsurprisingly the singles are the best songs here. The reggae-tinged Sun Comes Up is a slice of sunsoaked gloriousness which really plays to featured artist James Arthur’s strengths, allowing him to both sound fantastic and branch out genre-wise. Rita Ora’s Summer Love is not only a highlight on this album, but in her own lacklustre discography, while number one single These Days is bound to tug at the corners of anyone’s mouths. In terms of putting different artists and genres together this project could have been pushed so much further – stunning as Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s contribution is 48 seconds aren’t enough, plus the intriguing combo of Stefflon Don and RAY BLK is completely drowned out by the run-off-the-mill dance backdrop. No other artist is even worth talking about because they’re all such predictable choices, and many of them have even guested for Rudimental before. So many other dance acts bring artists together so much more innovatively – see The Chemical Brothers featuring Beck and Cate Le Bon or Disclosure featuring Gregory Porter – so it seems a shame to waste the ‘toast to our differences’ statement on something like this. • GJ

4/10

For fans of: Sigma, DJ Fresh, Chase & Status


L7 – Scatter The Rats

While L7 have never been the most prevalent of the scores of grunge bands to find their audience in the ‘90s, they certainly have their place in history that can’t be ignored. That’s a slot typically filled by 1992’s Bricks Are Heavy that arguably remains their peak (as well as frontwoman Donita Sparks’… escapades at Reading Festival that same year), but they’re definitely still a niche act overall, to the point where Scatter The Rats is their first album in twenty years and has had pretty much no fanfare behind it. Then again, that could also be because this feels like a rather thin and forgettable listen overall, not helped by the numerous moments where it feels like L7 aren’t really trying that hard. It’s more evident earlier on with tracks like Fighting The Crave and Proto Prototype that sluggishly crawl on by with deflated guitar tones and production that has no body whatsoever, but a generally mid-paced, half-baked grunge album doesn’t really produce all that much of quality, even if the sneer in the vocals has some likability to pull things back from totally spiralling away. Hell, with the punkier Garbage Truck that actually attempts some synergy with its execution, it feels as though L7 might be leaning towards something of quality, but even when those moments do show up, they’re far too scattered to feel as though they matter all that much. It makes for a generally so-so experience overall, lacking any real hook that’s worth exploring or the intensity worth sticking around for. It just kind of exists most of the time, a lot like L7 themselves. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Hole, The Distillers, Veruca Salt


Gary Clark Jr. – This Land

It’s easy to come up with an incredibly negative first impression about Gary Clark Jr. from just his surrounding information alone, as a guitar prodigy primarily drawing from classic blues artists with that description holding similar prominence as with the draining wankery of artists like Joe Bonamassa and other ‘serious’ guitarists. Thankfully, Clark actually comes across like an actual musician rather than an Ibanez spokesperson, and that’s reflected by This Land, his big, genre-spanning new album that, as far as overall ambition goes, does actually feel up to hitting that high benchmark. At over an hour long, it’s still as self-indulgent as these things usually are, but there’s a far greater richness to Clark’s presentation, whether that’s in the chest-puffing hip-hop swagger of the title track and Feelin’ Like A Million, the horn-backed soul of Feed The Babies, the blazing classic rock power-balladry of Pearl Cadillac, or the shuffling Motown touches of When I’m Gone. Even if the heavily-pushed political angle doesn’t feel as concentrated as marketed, Clark does more than enough to make up for it, drawing parallels to classic soul and R&B artists in a remarkably tactile vocal performance while dishing out guitar work that’s as consistently excellent as you could hope for from an album like this. That all ultimately comes together to make persevering through worthwhile; there’s definitely a lot to take in here in terms of sheer volume alone, but Clark sticks the landing with impressive aplomb. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Benjamin Booker, Leon Bridges, Bishop Briggs


Wallows – Nothing Happens

At this point, it seems generally accepted that Wallows aren’t going to deliver on the promise they once showed. They’ve simply had too many misfires in recent times, and the fact that none of their releases up to now have stuck to any meaningful capacity suggests they’re destined to be little more than indie-rock placeholders for the foreseeable future. Even so though, they don’t have to blindly accept it, and yet Nothing Happens feels like the end point of band complacency that sees adhering to every tired, unmemorable trope imaginable as a suitable way to get by. There’s a bit of energy to Ice Cold Pool thanks to its horns and more discernible strut that’s nice, but otherwise, Wallows seem to have gone out of their way to craft an album designed to dissipate on impact. On a compositional and production level, it’s not like there’s anything drastically wrong – it hits the indie-rock beats with enough efficiency to do something – but this could be the most forgettable, uninspiring and lifeless album released so far this year, such is the extent to which Wallows go out of their way to have absolutely no distinction whatsoever. Then again, for an album called Nothing Happens touting a song called Are You Bored Yet? as a single, what more can you really expect? • LN

4/10

For fans of: Young The Giant, Cold War Kids, Cage The Elephant


Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – Suffer On

According to some, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal is the most interesting artist in the current emo-rap scene, a statement that must be up there with some of the greats in terms of redundancy given that it’s been exceedingly difficult to describe any prominent emo-rapper as interesting. At least the lineage is slightly easier to trace this time, given this is the sobriquet of former Tigers Jaw vocalist Adam McIlwee as well as the founder of the Gothboiclique collective that featured the late Lil Peep, but the evidence doesn’t follow suit whatsoever. Suffer On just feels like another one of these albums, albeit reliant slightly more on acoustic numbers like the opener Together to maybe foster a sense of earthiness and a more tangible conduit to McIlwee’s emo roots, but that’s a relatively minor part of a formula that remains unchanged from artist to artist. Give this material to literally any other artist of his ilk and nothing changes; it’s the same dreary, nihilistic prostration that, yet again, fails to hit any emotional or cathartic apex when it’s this bog-standard. Maybe there’s a shadow more of an idea here than with some of McIlwee’s contemporaries, but when a qualitative hierarchy is being formed through hair’s-breadth judgements like that, there’s not much hope for a satisfying listen. • LN

4/10

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


Tom Walker – What A Time To Be Alive

While smaller pop circles sees exciting solo women overwhelmingly thriving, the big leagues are still very much dominated by male singer-songwriters with guitars, many of whom considerably less exciting (no matter how hard Ed Sheeran is trying to be with his upcoming collaborations album). Tom Walker is the latest to join this ranks – winning the coveted Brit for British Breakthrough that pushed Arctic Monkeys, Bastille, Sam Smith and plenty more huge artists onto the path to fame. It’s no surprise that much of debut album What A Time To Be Alive screams (or meekly whispers) ‘British Breakthrough winner’ – this record contributes a much-heard pleasantness and ‘regular guy’ persona to a format it’s been hard to find merit in for years. While there’s a sweetness to How Do You Sleep At Night? and Just You and I, there’s hardly anything aside from Not Giving In and Leave A Light On (even the latter’s potency as a solid epic pop ballad has been dimmed by overexposure from TV adverts and radio play) that isn’t totally forgettable. Songs intended to capture stadium heights like Angels or Fade Away feel overdone and miss the mark for grandeur clearly aimed for. Walker has an undeniably brilliant arsenal in both vocal and composing skills – it’s just a shame he decided to use them to create music as boring as this. • GJ

4/10

For fans of: Maverick Sabre, Rag’n’Bone Man, JP Cooper


Allusinlove – It’s Okay To Talk

The metamorphosis of Allusondrugs to Allusinlove feels as though it’s been a long time coming. The band’s previous incarnation set up an exceptionally solid foundation of indie-grunge that made a fair few waves, but that higher profile now feels as though it’s been crystallised with It’s Okay To Talk, their big debut album looking to cast the net out even wider in a way that feels generally in keeping with the ambitions this band clearly has. Just take the enormous riffs and rock ‘n’ roll swagger of a track like All My Love to highlight just how much Allusinlove are not messing around, offering the most concise and electrifying permutation of a sound that largely feels like the norm at this point. Sunset Yellow and the title track both play to a sense of atmosphere that feels like the clearest conduit between both sides of this band’s history, but they’re still able to stand toe-to-toe with the sheer size brought onboard elsewhere. This feels like a more conventional rock album overall, but it’s played with the ragged, DIY-embracing roughness that it’s easy to see Allusinlove slotting into the same camp as bands like Dinosaur Pile-Up without much of a problem whatsoever. Even if they haven’t exactly landed on a sound that’s all their own just yet, It’s Okay To Talk is indicative of a band working towards the far bigger things they’ve always been capable of, but just felt out of reach; here, with a more solid core and clearer sense of focus, they’re closer than ever before. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Dinosaur Pile-Up, Wolf Alice, Sick Joy


Indoor Pets – Be Content

A lot has already been made about the numerous bumps in the road that Indoor Pets have had to endure to reach this debut album, to the point where – to be totally honest – it was always going to struggle to live up to the weight of hype and expectation laid down upon it. And taking Be Content as a whole, that’s somewhat true; it really does peak early with the pop-rock perfection of opener Hi and never really reaches that level again throughout. That being said though, Be Content has the tightness and infectiousness that great indie-rock needs, and with the consistent focus on smart, sharp tunes like the strolling sleekness of Spill (My Guts) or the widescreen power-pop of Being Strange, Indoor Pets are well on their way to reaching that goal. Alongside a scuzzy yet potent and incisive guitar tone and Jamie Glass’ hugely distinct vocals, the Weezer comparisons can be difficult to avoid, yet by leaning into them, Indoor Pets are bringing a sense of melody and playfulness that has plenty of enjoyability, especially when they play to their quirkier tendencies like on Barbiturates. It’s certainly not perfect and there’s refinement that needs to be done to get further than this, but as the culmination of what would’ve scuppered the plans of so many others, Be Content has a good deal to offer. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Weezer, Ash, Spring King


Betty Who – Betty

Despite shattering any poor expectations people had of her by releasing Emotion in 2015, some people still need to be told that Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t just the Call Me Maybe girl anymore. In fact, that album brought an ‘80s revival into pop, something many artists have grabbed with both hands creating a counter-scene to the oh-so-cool sad Urban Outfitter mannequin route many new artists, particularly female, have taken their careers. One artist who’s taken a similar artistic path to Jepsen is Betty Who, someone who is yet to receive the critical interest she deserves. Her 2019 third album Betty continues the glistening synthpop sound she’s been honing for four years and laying rose-tinted heart-on-sleeve emotions in her lyrics, but this time around there’s a whole lot more maturity. Betty as a singer brings a ridiculous amount of strength and sexuality to her songs (Taste, Language and All This Woman in particular being unreal examples) with falsetto breathiness and throaty belts all exuding so much confidence. But that’s not to say there’s no fun here, far from it. In the same tracklist there’s the ultimate marriage anthem that dives into a perfect 2019 version of pastel bubblegum pop, an unexpected Britney Spears-esque ‘90s banger that is still unapologetically Betty and plenty of emotional but still optimistic unrequited love songs tailor-made for crowds to sing in solidarity. This is someone who deserves some, if not all, of the same recognition Carly Rae has gotten over the years, because the feelings these songs give you make you want to shout from the rooftops. • GJ

8/10

For fans of: Carly Rae Jepsen, Troye Sivan, L Devine


Walking On Cars – Colours

Walking On Cars’ 2016 debut Everything This Way took pretty much the exact trajectory that’s expected of a 2010s indie-pop debut, namely launching its creators far beyond their humble roots and onto a stage large enough to fully benefit how accessible and non-threatening their sound really is. But clearly that wasn’t enough, and so Colours is the customary slide in the direction of pure pop, smoothening out everything to an even greater degree and letting the synth work fully dominate over everything, with results as largely middling as they always tend to be. The frustrating part is that there are clear signs that more could’ve been done here, as well; Patrick Sheehy is genuinely impressive at gruff, burdened weight in his vocals when discussing his journey to sobriety on Colder Water or simply displaying more thundering, passionate emotion like on Somebody Else and When We Were Kids, to the point where the bigger mix is perfectly capable of more if utilised better. But between the clattering percussion that smashes through Monster and Two Straight Lines with little to no tact and the overly busy attempt at upbeat electro-pop on Too Emotional, Walking On Cars feel as though they’re taking the most convenient route from A to B, throwing in whatever this sound has demanded from everyone else without factoring in what would be best for them or how they could possibly stand out with this. It’s more flavourless than anything, lacking any of the vibrancy its title might suggest and chopped down to a brief nine tracks, presumably to mitigate how much damage this sort of thing can actually do. The fact that there are some sparks of inspiration here would suggest that’s worked to an extent, but not enough to really count. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Picture This, Amber Run, The Script


Anteros – When We Land

The one thing that immediately stands out about Anteros is their confidence. They may have garnered a decent amount of adulation for support slots and festival appearances, but in a genre like indie-pop where the push-pull between acts touted as the next big thing and those same acts vying for that exact goal, to come sauntering in with the attitude to actually pull off something big is exactly the sort of first impression that Anteros needed to make here. It at least gives When We Land the necessary flash and sparkle to pave over some of the more obvious moments of Anteros not quite narrowing down the most effective points of their sound like on the rather clumsy Ordinary Girl, but those are pleasantly few and far between. On the whole, Anteros keep an impressively firm grasp on their strengths, notably drawing on a distinctly glitzy brand of old-school pop that makes their music feel a lot sleeker and sharper. It helps that Laura Hayden in her vocal timbre bears a rather noticeable resemblance to Debbie Harry at points, but in the Wolf Alice-by-way-of-Bananarama of opener Call Your Mother or the slinky disco strut of Fool Moon, the band have their feet firmly planted in both indie and classic pop camps with a good amount of solidity. If only the production had a bit more neon colour or sheen instead of sounding as drained as it can, there’d be a lot more to warrant calling this a great album, but it feels as though Anteros are tapping into a branch of indie that could pave some genuinely fantastic roads going forward. They aren’t quite there just yet, but it’s really only a matter of time. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Blondie, Yonaka, Bloxx


Okilly Dokilly – Howdilly Twodilly

Remember when The Bloodhound Gang released that song that was comprised entirely of Ralph Wiggum quotes? Well, that’s pretty much the deal with Okilly Dokilly, except it’s Ned Flanders and instead of being for one song, this is now their second album. That makes it pretty clear from the off that this is a joke band, and given the calibre of those that have come out lately, expectations are not high in the slightest. But even by those standards, Howdilly Twodilly is just abysmal across the board, to the point where, even as a fan of The Simpsons, there’s nothing here in the slightest. For one, the joke of ‘Ned Flanders does metal’ was already running on fumes to begin with, mostly because it completely undercuts the parody of an ultra-pious Christian that made Flanders such a good character in the first place, but also because verbatim quotes stitched together are not a suitable substitute for lyrics, especially with a singer that’s clearly trying so hard to put on a Cookie Monster voice that’s totally laughable in all the wrong ways. But even when stripping out the gimmick (which, in this case, is the equivalent to pulling out every bone and organ the thing has and leaving the result), this just sounds horrendous, with crushed guitar lines that sound like they were recorded in a cave and a synth tone that’s positively excruciating, especially when it wheezes and slices through When The Comet Gets Here and Bulletproof Glass. It makes it abundantly clear how little worth this entire endeavour has, and when factoring in that this is their second album, the notion that comedy and humour has only upped and eaten itself and left behind a smoldering husk of pop culture reference-bait is one that’s all the easier to believe. Fuck-diddly-uck off. • LN

2/10

For fans of: The Simpsons season 30


American Authors – Seasons

Having Imagine Dragons be the main comparison point to your band isn’t really the best of things, but with breakthrough 2013 hit Best Day Of My Life it was impossible to come up with any other soundalike for American Authors. Checking in with them in 2019 and not much has changed – nothing on this year’s Seasons is distinguishable from any of the psuedo-anthemic American pop making the rounds and arenas in the last few years. The layered, echoey “whoa-oh”s and thunderous drum beats are total uninspired trend-following, plus Zac Barnett sharing some very similar vocal tones to Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds doesn’t help keep comparisons at bay. Can’t Stop Me Now and Bring It On Home sounding like cast-offs from Night Visions plus some really unengaging songwriting makes this 35-minute runtime feel like hours. It’s a shame, because some of these songs have potential to be solid carefree pop jams (take the terrible stuttered drum out of I Wanna Go Out and it’s somewhat likeable), but put into context of this corner of chart music at the moment there is next to nothing worth paying attention to here. • GJ

3/10

For fans of: Imagine Dragons, X Ambassadors, lovelytheband


A.A.Williams – A.A.Williams

It’s always good for a label to diversify their roster, but it can certainly be strange to see an artist like A.A.Williams take up a slot in Holy Roar’s stable. For a label almost exclusively focused on the most abrasive, angular hardcore around, this sort of haunted, gothic folk is certainly a wake-up call, but in the same vein as Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle have brought the sound to a metal-oriented audience and flown with it, Williams is easily capable of doing the same on this self-titled EP. It’s definitely easy to see how Williams is drawing from the same well – her soft, understated vocals sink into the increasingly lush crescendos of piano, strings and ghostly atmosphere on tracks like Control – and while the colder edge has been slightly turned down for less effective results, the swirling, open vistas are just as intoxicating, ebbing and flowing with incredible levels of poise. It would be great to see how this would undoubtedly thrive on a larger scale, especially when, at only four tracks, it’s a slightly more truncated listen than this sound is used to, but the seeds of something great are there, and given that Williams is already making stunning amounts of headway, you can bet that it won’t be long before she hits something truly spectacular. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, Zola Jesus


Lizzy Farrall – Barbados

While Lizzy Farrall’s release strategies don’t seem to be improving (this was a midweek surprise release following its predecessor All I Said Was Never Heard that was dropped in the first days of January 2018), it’s good to see the extent to which her music is evolving. On Barbados, folk-tinged pop-rock has been swapped out for a far leaner, more contemporary brand of alt-pop that still mightn’t settle on a definitive, distinct identity, but as far as showing Farrall’s malleability as an artist, this EP is taking some pretty significant steps forward. For one, the sleeker, cleaner presentation brings out the pop in her vocals excellently all the way through, and even if the swinging pop-rock riffs of opener Games aren’t indicative of what’s to come, it’s just as relevant there as with the unmistakably ‘80s coolness of the title track or the propulsive, synthy chug of Help. As much as tightness can very easily be feigned on just five tracks, it’s unmissable here, elevated all the more by the vulnerability and uncertainty in Farrall’s delivery and writing. It’s an incredibly solid little release all across the board, and while it’s still no closer to highlighting who Farrall truly is as an artist and where her real goldmine of ideas can be found, she’s moving forward at an increasingly promising pace. • LN

7/10

For fans of: Chvrches, Pale Waves, Bleachers


Astronoid – Astronoid

For all the time that the blackgaze throne has been occupied by Deafheaven, it feels as though the first real bout of competition is coming from Astronoid on this self-titled album. After all, the response has been tremendous so far, and for a band whose debut Air didn’t make as much of a splash as many wanted it to, this has definitely established the quartet as a key piece within the modern black-metal conversation. It’s just a shame it isn’t better, especially because there are some nice ideas here that have their eyes on a particular niche within the scene that’s yet to be properly carved into. Tonally, Astronoid play to far lighter, airier tones, and in the way that A New Color and Breathe wash over with swathes of atmosphere and softer colour, it’s definitely more of a pleasant listen, particularly with the even keel that’s kept up pretty much front to back. But that’s where the main issue comes in, in that this is an album that can be so plain and so atmospheric that it falls into anonymity rather quickly, and it can be exceedingly tough to remember pretty much as soon as it’s passed. Pleasant becomes its primary selling point, and for any album – let alone one that’s ostensibly a metal album – that feels like the most hollow of compliments to pay, inferring very little depth beyond simply sounding nice. And yes, Astronoid as a band do sound nice, but they’re not really doing much else besides that, and while it’s definitely enjoyable in the moment, that response is significantly more muted any other time. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Deafheaven, VOLA, Inter Arma


Amyl And The Sniffers – Amyl And The Sniffers

It’s no surprise Amyl And The Sniffers’ M.O. follows that of the snotty, grotty early punk bands coming to prominence in the ‘70s; for a band who had their debut EP written and recorded in less than a day after forming, there’s clearly some degree of balls-to-the-wall scrappiness that’s being well and truly capitalised upon. If anything, it’s probably the main feature they flaunt on this eponymous full-length, with the scuzzy, bashed-out guitars pulling from a mix of old-school punk, garage-rock and hints of their native Australian pub rock, while Amy Taylor has the acerbic, sneering vocals of Poly Styrene with a distinctly Aussie bent, barking out her volleys of bile without a single care for refinement or polish. It’s hardly the deepest or most cerebral listen (and really, besides the shot of straightforward adrenaline it can offer, it’s longevity can be rather questionable), but Amyl And The Sniffers clearly know their way around a punk track, particularly when the brattier edge of Gacked On Anger and Monsoon Rock is played up in a way that has a lot of barbed vibrancy to it. Beyond that though, there’s not a whole lot to say; Amyl And The Sniffers are getting the job done with no fuss at all, and while they mightn’t have found the most novel way of doing it, it’s hard to argue with results when they’re as directly satisfying as this. • LN

7/10

For fans of: X-Ray Spex, The Stooges, The Damned


Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready

It’s long been difficult to know what to say about albums like this, not merely because the scene of scuzzy, garage-toned indie-rock is so saturated (which, for the record, it is), but because Cherry Glazerr have been around for a few years at this point and have made very little impact beyond the critical set and the relatively small catchment that they’ve cultivated. Thus, it almost feels slightly redundant attempting to give any sort of judgement on Stuffed & Ready, both because its overall existence feels more or less exclusively for fans, and because it’s really not too different from what Cherry Glazerr have delivered in the past in terms of how much it sticks. Sure, Wasted Nun and Stupid Fish have surprisingly great success with heavier, sneering riff-rock tones, but the overall combination of lo-fi indie meandering and Clementine Creery’s willowy, delicate vocals isn’t one that lasts that long beyond the initial hit of appeal. To be fair, that hit does do a fair bit of heavy lifting, particularly with the more interesting grooves that are slipped into on That’s Not My Real Life and Juicy Socks, but on the whole, they’re rather isolated examples in an album that doesn’t have the greatest deal of mileage behind it. It’s far from the worst thing ever, but a few standout moments can’t pull Stuffed & Ready up from being much more than decent at best. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Wolf Alice, Dilly Dally, Sleater-Kinney


Beast In Black – From Hell With Love

A critical analysis of power-metal may seem like a waste of time more often than it doesn’t, but at the very least, albums of that genre deserve something of a chance to shine; there’s always the possibility that they could really floor or produce something that stands out in a scene that’s found that notoriously difficult. As for Beast In Black’s From Hell With Love, then, it has neither of those things, and for all its rollicking pretensions towards bombast and sounding as epic as humanly possible, this is roughly about as standard as power-metal comes for the most part. There are certainly moments of fun to be had (Sweet True Lies is about as close to nailing the intersection between metal and pure pop as it comes), but when the central conceit of pounding, warlike drums, sweeping guitars and an operatic sense of power that unashamedly crosses into cheesiness without worry is the sole selling point – and that’s further spread across the best part of an hour – it’s a tiring listen at best and one that really begins to rust over post-haste at worst. Sure, there are redeeming qualities here, and in isolation, having fun with certain moments isn’t too much of a shock, but From Hell With Love feels like its trying to do too much with too little, and when that’s a criticism that can typically be applied to power-metal on the whole, an album like this has very little hope of standing out. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Battle Beast, Gloryhammer, Powerwolf


Gnash – we

Overreliance on your breakthrough is a total red flag for a one-trick pony, and the fact that Gnash has included chart hit i hate you, i love you on this January’s we despite it being over three years old at this point says everything you need to know. The singer and rapper, real name Garrett Nash has been cycling through pronouns with his release titles thus far (giving himself more options that Ed Sheeran with his mathematical operations theme) and the music is exactly as psuedo-deep as you’d expect from someone who’d gravitate towards such titles. His simpering voice singing cliches a teenager would write in their diary trying to be profound is unbelievably grating and cringeworthy and feels years too late – a 25-year-old writing “you broke my heart and all I got was this t-shirt” and rapping about? Really? The more classically pop inclusions like imagine if are unsurprisingly the most palatable because of the extra instrumental elements to focus on that the acoustic or starker textured songs don’t have; such a barren environment pushes the nails on a chalkboard and sometimes actually painful vocals and lyrics to the forefront, and they’re absolutely impossible to divert your attention from. The openness about insecurities and therapy addressed throughout we is something to be commended, particularly the bright-side outlook Gnash expresses on such issues. But unless you’re under the age of 15, you can probably find the same messages in much better music. • GJ

3/10

For fans of: AJR, Twenty One Pilots, nevershoutnever


The Steel Woods – Old News

If nothing else, The Steel Woods deserve some kind of recognition for their ambition. As tempting as it must be for any band in the rather restrictive spheres of southern- and country-rock to stick to the easy, proven formula, the fact that Old News feels a lot more thorough and extensive by clocking in past the hour mark is enough of a sign for this being a band wanting show exactly what they’re capable of. But that can also be a rather rigorous test of whether they’ve got enough material to fill that amount of time, and Old News really does seem to stretch what The Steel Woods can get away with. At their best, they’re capable of some really great turns like the burly country-rock muscle of Compared To A Soul or the soulful boogie-rock of The Catfish Song, and it really would be better if they doubled down on those strengths rather than spreading themselves as thinly is they do. They’re clearly aware of that given the choice to cover Black Sabbath’s Changes, but the default setting of workable but often stale country-rock doesn’t feel as though it needs this length to make a mark, particularly towards the end when it really begins to sag. It’s a rather exhausting listen at times, particularly when it feels like all the best ideas have been used up two-thirds of the way in, even if the richer, meatier production and Wes Bayliss’ rugged hollers can be enough to hold interest. On the whole though, Old News does feel like a band over-extending their reach, something that a bit of tightening and quality control could definitely mitigate by a considerable amount. There are good ideas here that show a lot more dexterity and intelligence than the sound’s absolute baseline, but they don’t show up enough to make the whole thing all that worthwhile. • LN

6/10

For fans of: Whiskey Myers, The Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke


Find Me – Angels In Blue

If anyone was listening to Find Me for the first time, they’d be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of joke or parody. It’s not like embracing flagrant melodrama in pure AOR cheese has gone anywhere in the last two to three decades, so surely a band keeping that as the foundation of their sound are doing it for kicks and little else, right? Well no, actually, because Find Me are the real deal, and just like the way that any description makes them sound like a bunch of middle-aged men trying to recapture their dream of becoming the next Bon Jovi, Angels In Blue is exactly the sort of end result you’d expect. To their credit, they’ve got a decent sense of melody as far as borderline plagiarism of every ‘80s hair-metal and AOR band goes, but between Robbie Lablanc’s best efforts at swaggering machismo that come off as hilariously misguided, a shrill synth tone that’s slathered over more or less every track for that extra layer of cheese and the crotch-thrusting self-importance of the vast majority of their musical touchstones that’s gone totally intact, Find Me seem completely unaware that music has changed whatsoever in the last three decades or so. Topped off with lyrics that stick around the mark of hilariously bad almost exclusively, Angels In Blue definitely feels worthy of a listen for no other reason that to point and laugh at it. For as much as Find Me want to come across as Bon Jovi, they’re overall closer to Europe most of the time, both the band and the continent because the vast majority of other places would have more dignity than to let this get out into the world. • LN

3/10

For fans of: Whitesnake, Europe, Survivor


No Rome – Crying In The Prettiest Places

Looking at the seismic effect The 1975 have had on alternative and indie-pop, the amount of artists (and some just plain copycats) citing them as huge influences is unsurprising. No Rome was always going to be lumped into just another member of this group (unfairly or not) for almost every reason you can think of – being signed to the 1975-owned Dirty Hit Records, opening for their most recent arena tour with other protegees Pale Waves, having Matty Healy guest on a song, a too close for comfort sound and vibe – and his longest release to date doesn’t really do much to dispel comparisons or ‘clone’ labels. The addition of more guitars to 5 Ways To Bleach Your Hair and Rimbaud, Come and Sit For A While, the only thing really different about this EP, is subtle yet effective, beefing up the sound and adding an interesting new dimension to the floaty synth sound that has dominated No Rome’s sound to date and makes up the rest of this release. The hip-hop and R&B influences are adeptly done, particularly on earworm Pink. But outside of the great production values, Pink is really the only song that entices you to come back, with the others getting lost in oversaturation. Because of his connections No Rome is sure to go places, but a little work on hooks and memorability will do him wonders. • GJ

5/10

For fans of: The 1975, flor, HONNE


Vanish – Familiar Faces

Had Vanish released their debut about five to ten years ago, they’d have been pegged as future scene superstars almost immediately. They’ve got the polished pop sensibilities of the post-hardcore from that time with the same slight edge and theatrical tendencies, and Pat Hamilton’s vocals pull from all the right elements of Vic Fuentes and Kellin Quinn. And yet, that’s kind of the issue; as much as this sound hasn’t aged well for a start, Familiar Faces can feel like a remarkably calculated attempt at capturing the fleeting magic that would ultimately prove to be a product of its time, something that Vanish have conveniently chosen to ignore. Sure, the melodic instincts on a track like Role Play can still count for quite a bit, but what’s placed around that feels like Vanish pushing all the right buttons, whether that’s lyricism that draws from a distinct well of overwrought emo emotion, a heavy emphasis of how clean and bombastic this all is like on The Sound Of Violence and Under Water / On Fire, and – of course – a bloated synth-ballad in Dontwaitforme to fully tie this together as an exercise in nostalgia and very little else. That’s bound to appeal to some, but Pierce The Veil do still largely hold up today; you’d be much better sticking to them than what could easily pass as a knock-off version. • LN

5/10

For fans of: Pierce The Veil, Get Scared, Sleeping With Sirens


Badgirl$ – Bethnal

Look, for as much as the appeal of emo-rap can be chalked up the carnal thrill of catharsis that’s so ground-level that anyone can replicate it, it helps to have at least some semblance of quality control to stop your output from sounding like a totally amateurish mess. It’s a piece of advice that Manchester trio Badgirl$ would be wise to heed, especially when debut project Bethnal sounds like it was knocked out in an afternoon with little concern for sounding professional or, y’know, appealing, and more so about capturing the performative blur of non-effort that’s the selling point of their sound for some reason. Sure, factoring in elements of local indie in the ramshackle guitars is a novel touch, but when that’s ultimately an accompaniment to the usual foul cocktail of boring trap beats, overblown slabs of bass and a moaning vocal delivery that’s probably more incoherent and glazed-over than any other act currently active, it’s hardly worth praising all that much. Indeed, the fact that these eight tracks drag as much as they do when so many feel like underdeveloped fragments is telling to how little of a strong core Badgirl$ have, and while they’ll undoubtedly see praise for capturing the zeitgeist in the same way that every other two-bit emo-rapper has, it won’t make their inevitable fade in record time come as any more of a shock. • LN

3/10

For fans of: Bexey, Scarlxrd, Smokeasac


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

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