Sonic Boom Six self titled album coverNo-one could accuse Sonic Boom Six of standing still or resting on their laurels. Each album they’ve put out has seen a clear progression, subsuming more and more genres into their all-encompassing sound.

Their latest, self-titled album takes in many influences, from The Clash to Pendulum via Mad Capsule Markets, but the most noticeable change is the influx of hardcore electronica and warped drum and bass samples. Every track throbs with heavily synthesised guitars and drums, and the vocoder-treated choruses make singer Laila Khan‘s voice sound detached and more than a little bit J-pop. It’s a change of direction that takes a fair bit of getting used to. Anyone who discovered SB6 via the UK ska-punk scene of Capdown and The King Bluesmight well recoil at this, and the band have freely admitted that they are going for a sound that is more “inclusive and inviting to everyday people”.

Lead-off single ‘Virus’ sets the tone as the album’s touchstone and this style is carried through onto the breathless rush of ‘Karma Is A Bitch’, which packs some serious boss-fight riffs. Meanwhile ‘The High Cost Of Living’ manages the impressive feat of blending pulsing beats, metal guitars, reggae percussion and a baroque piano sample, into one cohesive song.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Bloc Party Four new albumBack in June, Kele Okereke admitted that “there was a big question mark over whether Bloc Party were ever going to make a record again”. Well two months later and it’s a good thing that they stuck at it, because ‘Four’ is their most consistently brilliant album since ‘Silent Alarm’.

Produced by Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Mars Volta), this is an unashamedly heavyweight rock album that proves once and for all that guitar music still has a place in the British indie scene.

Bloc Party’s last effort ‘Intimacy’ and Okereke’s subsequent solo-project ‘The Boxer’ seemed to suggest that they believed otherwise. But right from the crunching riffs of ‘So He Begins To Lie’, to the grandstand Queens of the Stone Age-inspired closer ‘We Are Not Good People’, this record throbs with confidence in the decision to go back to their roots and become a guitar-based band once again.

Musically, ‘Four’ feels like the bravest album released so far this year, with plenty of gambles that almost all come off. ’3X3′ is a dark, twisted song of seduction, which has the urgency of Yourcodenameis:Milo in their pomp, while ‘Octopus’ is the perfect lead-off single for this album, highly unusual with its falsetto verses, but undeniably catchy and with a Daft Punk-esque guitar solo that ties it all together.

Fans of early Bloc Party won’t be disappointed either…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Gaslight-Anthem-HandwrittenWith their first major label record, The Gaslight Anthem have gone all-out to live up to their name, delivering 11 truly anthemic tracks that fuse Bruce Springsteen-esque vocals, hard rock riffs and raw, honest emotion.

Produced by the double-Grammy winning Brendan O’Brien and with the backing of Mercury Records, their fourth studio album should see the New Jersey quartet reach an even wider audience in 2012.

Leading off with the current radio-hogging single ’45′, Brian Fallon and co set a dizzying tempo; with sing-alongs and crunching guitars in abundance. Staying true to his promise, Fallon has delivered a much more aggressive album, which contrasts strongly with his sombre 2011 side-project The Horrible Crowes.

Benny Horowitz and Alex Levine provide a solid, driving rhythm section as always, but more noticeable is how Alex Rosamilia’s lead guitar has developed into one of the band’s biggest strengths. Whereas before his licks sounded ornate and elaborate, on this record they are far more central to the overall sound, particularly on ‘Keepsake’, a lip-biting stomp that will have you fighting the urge to crack out the air guitar.

Elsewhere, the album slips in a wide range of cultural references, from the suitably cinematic ‘Mulholland Drive’, to the joyous ‘whoa’s of Allen Ginsberg tribute ‘Howl’ (which would make an excellent follow-up single) while ‘Here Comes My Man’ is a clever nod to the Pixies.

Read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room click here.

The Beach Boys That's Why God Made The Radio New AlbumIt’s hard to resist the warm wave of nostalgia that crashes into your ears during the acapella opening of the new Beach Boys album.

Nearly 20 years on from their last album of all-new material, Brian Wilson and his surf-loving cohorts are back with ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’. They may be pushing 70, but they are still smoothly crooning along like it’s 1962.

If nostalgia is what you’re after, then this record certainly won’t disappoint. But those expecting a reinvention will be left wanting. Essentially this is an album written to accompany a reunion tour, not to push back the boundaries, and it’s fair to say that Wilson deserves the luxury of writing an album or two well within in his comfort zone, particularly given his ill-fated experimentation with Country and Western music in the early 1990s.

There’s something inescapably retro about the jangly groove of ‘Spring Vacation’, to the extent that it could have been lifted from the soundtrack to ‘Grease’. Part of this is down to personnel, with backing vocalist David Marks returning to the fold for the first time in nearly 50 years, meaning that this record boasts all the surviving bands members who recorded ‘Surfin’ USA’ back in 1962.

With lyrics like ‘Isn’t it time we danced the night away?/How about doing it just like yesterday?’ it’s clear that the band aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel on this record.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

The Cribs - In The Belly of the Brazen BullIt would be fair to say that The Cribs’ Ryan Jarman has had a fairly tough time of late. Ending his high-profile relationship with singer songwriter Kate Nash, as well as his musical alliance with The Smiths‘ former guitarist Johnny Marr left him in something of a dark place. In an interview with the NME earlier this year, he admitted to periods of self-loathing and depression, but claims that this is now behind him due to the excitement of releasing his fifth studio album, backed as usual by his brothers Gary and Ross.

‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’ is the result of this period of introspection and Dave Fridmann is the latest name in The Cribs’ revolving roster of producers (The Flaming Lips,WeezerMogwai). In terms of progression this record seems like a step back towards the band’s earlier work as a trio, with standout tracks ‘Chi Town’ and ‘Come On, Be A No-One’ both offering seriously catchy hooks and snarling punk vocals. Those expecting a barrage of riffs and singalongs in the vein of 2007′s ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’ will be disappointed, however.

‘Glitters Like Gold’ is a hard-hitting and direct opener, but the laborious ‘Jaded Youth’ and the cumbersome ‘Uptight’ fail to keep up the tempo. Indeed, the band’s style remains distinctly coloured by their hit-and-miss collaboration with Marr on 2009′s ‘Ignore The Ignorant’.

What’s more, there is a noticeable leaning towards the most abstract soundscapes of Sonic Youth, no doubt influenced by their brief dalliance with Lee Ranaldo on their six-minute epic ‘Be Safe’, which featured on ‘Men’s Needs…’ and was their most ambitious recording to date. That is until you hear the last track on this new album…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Maps & Atlases

"Call that a beard? THIS is a beard!"

Chicago quartet Maps & Atlases have shaken off their math rock background, but not their evident love of ampersands and biblical beards (see right), for their sophomore record ‘Beware & Be Grateful’.

Released in the UK next week (April 16th) via One Little Indian, this album comprises ten tracks of delightfully creative indie pop, with echoes of Vampire Weekend and subtle nods towards 80s artists such as Peter Gabriel.

The extravagant flourishes and technical guitar-work in the vein of This Town Needs Guns are still very much in evidence, particularly with the two-minute guitar solo on the album’s slow-building centrepiece ‘Silver Self’. However these technical aspects are no longer the focus, allowing the melodies to come to the fore instead.

‘Important’ is a strange choice of opening track, but this slow-burner sets the tone for the more sombre and reflective moments that punctuate this record.

Next up, ‘Be Three Years Old’ picks up the pace with a vibrant plea for immaturity, and this track works as a strong blueprint for the more upbeat moments of the album. Playful samples and calypso vibes abound throughout, and it sounds like the band have even sampled the coin grabbing sound from Super Mario Land on ‘Bugs’.

The main thing that will divide opinion amongst new listeners is lead singer Dave Davison’s esoteric vocal style, which is flamboyant, affected and immediately recognisable – like a higher-pitched Morrissey with an American accent.

It all comes together quite nicely on the closing double header of ‘Fever’ and ‘Old & Gray’, where Davison really gets to show off his full range in an uplifting and optimistic crescendo.

Overall, ‘Beware & Be Grateful’ is a very catchy, upbeat record to get you in the mood for the summer and one that should play particularly well during the upcoming festival season.

Air Le Voyage Dans La LuneBest known for their 1998 hit single ‘Sexy Boy’, French electro duo Air have delved into the artsy word of silent cinema for their latest album. The lunar obsession from their debut album ‘Moon Safari’ is still in evidence on ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’, which has a distinctly space-age feel to it, from the countdown to ignition sequence on ‘Seven Stars’ to the syncopated synth of ‘Sonic Armada’.

This is fairly inaccessible stuff it has to be said, and the whole experience is truly baffling in places on the first listen. As a largely instrumental record, it’s quite hard to get a foothold, as only two of the 11 tracks feature vocals, and many of those are in French.

Throughout this record, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel continue to push the envelope in terms of genre, rhythm and style, often at the expense of clarity. As soon as you think you’ve got your head around the synthesised riff or melodic hook, it will mutate into something completely different in an eerie, shape-shifting fashion.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Frank Turner singing liveIt takes a pretty prolific songwriter to turn out four albums in six years and still have enough left in the tank to record two twenty-track compilations. But not only has Frank Turner managed this, he has done so with style and aplomb, especially on this, his second collection of live tracks, b-sides, covers and rarities.

‘The Second Three Years’ crams together the non-album tracks from his 2010 ‘Rock n Roll’ EP, the special edition bonus tracks from last year’s ‘England Keep My Bones’ LP, as well as a broad selection of punk, folk and pop covers; from Wham to Nirvana, and from NOFX to Take That.

This compilation is an essential purchase for any serious Frank fan, but it also works suitably well as a far-reaching introduction to one of England’s greatest songwriting talents. Right from the opening acapella verse of ‘Sailor’s Boots’, Turner’s voice is enthralling; by turns gentle and powerful, intimate and abrasive.

There’s also plenty of evidence of how his music has developed and matured…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Smashing Pumpkins original line-up

Ahh, those were the days…

Disappointed by the latest Smashing Pumpkins reunion? Don’t waste your time trying to get into their new concept album ‘Teargarden by Kaleidyscope’ – just take a trip down memory lane with these expansive new box sets.

Released just in time for Christmas, this may seem like a cynical marketing ploy from their label, but at just £17 for two discs and a live DVD, it’s certainly great value. The rationale behind this release is that it’s 20 years since the Pumpkins’ debut album ‘Gish’ was released.

When that record came out it marked Billy Corgan and co’s arrival on the emerging grunge scene, but two years later ‘Siamese Dream’ took things to a whole new level with enduring alt-rock classics such as ‘Today’, ‘Disarm’ and ‘Cherub Rock’.

Here you get the original albums digitally remastered on Disc One, meaning Darcy Wretzy’s basslines sound stronger and James Iha’s guitar solos sound clearer, all without losing the grungey essence that made this band a serious contender to Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers