Frank Turner - Tape Deck HeartIn the week that his fifth studio album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ was released, Frank Turner was in a distinctly upbeat mood.

The former frontman of hardcore punk outfit Million Dead hasn’t always had an easy ride since he made the transformation into folk-rock troubadour seven years ago. Overnight sensation, he is not.

But with a hit single (‘Recovery’) under his belt, not to mention a headline show at Wembley Arena and a cameo at the Olympics opening ceremony, he is now well-equipped to not just sell out, but truly own venues like the Kentish Town Forum for many years to come.

Warm-up act Larry and His Flask did a tremendous job of getting the capacity crowd moving with their turbo-charged hobo blues. If Seasick Steve ever joined Gogol Bordello, it would sound something like this.

After a minor technical delay (possibly relating to a live YouTube stream of this gig), Turner took to the stage with standout anthem ‘Four Simple Words’. This looks set to become a fan favourite with its dynamic juxtaposition of dancehall waltz, chest-beating punk and the irresistible refrain: “I want to dance”.

From here on the show progressed like a greatest hits compilation, with Turner freely flitting between all five of his studio albums. Recent album cuts ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘Good & Gone’ were met with the most muted responses, suggesting…

To read the full article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

It’s been a hit and miss year for rock music, with just a handful of high-profile releases, but plenty of surprise packages. In keeping with tradition, here’s my Top 20 rundown. Click on the links to take a listen on Grooveshark or Spotify.

1.) Dry The River – Shallow Bed

There were a few difficult decisions in the Top 20, but picking a top album was not one of them. Dry The River’s highly engrossing blend of folk and emo is nigh-on irresistible and sets the standard for their contemporaries to aim for.

2.) Bloc Party – Four

A triumphant return to form from Kele and his cohorts who remembered just how effective distorted guitars and thunderous riffs can be.

3.) Muse – The 2nd Law

Taking the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to songwriting, Muse threw everything at this third album and the result is a thoroughly adventurous record which improves with every listen.

4.) Jim Lockey And The Solemn Sun – Death

The record I’ve been waiting four years for Jim Lockey to record – Death throbs with powerful tunes, and excellent production values underpin this meaty new sound.

5.) Sonic Boom Six – Sonic Boom Six

Running Muse close to the wire as Britain’s most inventive band, SB6 went for an electro approach on their self-titled fourth album, resulting in some hard-hitting tunes and a bit of a classic ska-punk thrown in for good measure.

6.) Mumford and Sons – Babel

More of the same from folk-rock’s darlings – they may have cracked America with Babel, but will need to display more invention next time around.

7.) Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Five months ago I called this a strong contender for album of the year, and whilst it has faded in appeal after a few dozen listens, Handwritten remains a solid album full of big riffs and bigger choruses.

8.) Baddies – Build

First Danananaykroyd then these guys – for the second year running, I tip a band for big things, then they split up. Nonetheless, Build will stand as a fitting swansong for this dynamic quartet.

9.) Maximo Park – The National Health

Going back to their roots, a return to forum, call it what you like, this album is Maximo Park playing to their strengths and hitting heights not seen since their 2005 debut.

10.) Maps & Atlases – Beware & Be Grateful

Perhaps the most confusing album in my Top Ten – Maps & Atlases manage to blend together math rock and 80s pop into a delightful combination of charm and sheer technical brilliance.

11.) The Futureheads – Rant

12.) The Cribs – In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull

13.) Frank Turner – The Second Three Years

14.) Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Maps

15.) Pulled Apart By Horses – Tough Love

16.) The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio

17.) The Killers – Battle Born

18.) Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune

19.) Green Day – Uno!

20.) Tenacious D – Rize Of The Fenix

So, what can we expect from 2013? Well the year will surely get off to a great start with Biffy Clyro due to unveil their double album, Queens Of The Stone Age will return with Dave Grohl on drums, and Lostprophets will… oh, wait.

Until then, I leave you with my favourite video of the past 12 months, enjoy:

Dry The River Shallow Bed AcousticNine months ago when Dry The River released their debut album ‘Shallow Bed’, it was met with widespread positive reviews, but a handful of critics accused the folk-rock quartet of somewhat overdoing the production values.

So as if to prove them wrong and show that these songs can stand up on their own two feet without the bells and whistles, the band have decided to release an acoustic version of the album.

It’s an interesting choice for a band with just one album to their name, since some of the most effective acoustic albums (Foo Fighters - ‘Skin and Bones’, Nirvana - ‘Unplugged In New York’) have worked as greatest hits retrospectives.

Despite sticking to the track listing, ‘Shallow Bed (Acoustic)’ sees Dry The River do much more than just unplug the amps. Many of the tracks are cleverly re-arranged with instruments switched and tempos altered.

The recording style has a real ‘live session’ feel to it, so much so that you might expect warm applause to greet the end of each track.

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

Mumford and Sons - BabelPressure, what pressure? With three years of expectation on their shoulders, Mumford & Sons have finally followed up their monumentally successful debut album (which went multi-platinum on both sides of the Atlantic) with a record that they describe as “unashamed”.

‘Babel’ picks up where ‘Sigh No More’ left off, as the band stick to the recipe which got them where they are today. Produced once again by Markus Dravs (the man behind the most recent Coldplay and Arcade Fire albums), all the key hallmarks are present in these 12 tracks, from three-part harmony vocals to rapid banjo arpeggios and the odd orchestral flourish. Those hoping for a David Bowie-esque reinvention will be left disappointed; there is not a track on here that would sound out of place on the previous album.

The direct and uplifting title track sets the tone and foot-stomping tempo for the first half of this record, while ‘Whispers In The Dark’ keeps the ball rolling nicely. Lead-off single ‘I Will Wait’ is a definite highlight with a simple, yet fantastically sing-able chorus and a rousing crescendo.

To 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.

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.

The way the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have been carrying on this week, anyone would think that British rock music is about ready to pack up and go home.
While the lack of any serious Brit award nominations does reflect a shortage of successful mainstream guitar-based music in 2010, the fact that only three so-called rock songs made the top 10 of the singles chart last year is hardly a major cause for concern. If you’re looking for emerging talent in 2011, it doesn’t take long to scratch below the surface and find some hidden gems.

1.) This Town Needs Guns

This Oxford-based quartet made waves on the alt-rock scene with their 2008 debut Animals, and are set to follow that up with another, as yet untitled, record in late summer. TTNG mix mesmeric rhythms with mind-bending guitar licks to create a sound that no-one can rival.

2.) Sonic Boom Six

If you’re looking for proof that ska’s not dead, Laila Khan and co made be just the answer. This irrepressible group have been honing their sound since 2002, and with a support slot on King Blues‘ nationwide tour coming up, they could be about to take off.

3.) Jil Is Lucky

Bit of a cheat here, since Jil Bensénior is a French artist, but his Mid-Atlantic style folk tunes are definitly worth a mention. Signed to EMI, his self-titled debut album is due to reach these shores in February, after a highly successful French release. Think Conor Oberst meets Sam Duckworth and you’re not far off.

4.) Skeletons and the Empty Pockets

The effervescent new incarnation of ThisGIRL are due to finally release their debut ep this year, following up from their hugely promising first single Oh Brother! Oh Sister! Lead singer Liam Creamer’s acrobatic vocals and Mick Jagger swagger make for an unmissable live show as well.

5.) Dive Dive

Better known to many as Frank Turner‘s backing band, the Oxford quartet started life while the folk-rock troubadour was still in his previous band Million Dead. Their third album, Potential, is out tomorrow, and it has already garnered much praise from Kerrang (4Ks) and Rock Sound (9/10). Jamie Stuart’s vocals sound as sharp as ever on lead single Liar, see below for a whole host of alt-rock cameos:

This year hasn’t exactly been a classic for rock music, with pop and hip hop stealing most of the limelight, but nonetheless there have been some hidden gems.  
So, for the fourth year running, here are my top picks for 2010. Don’t take my word for it, please click-through and judge for yourself, via the magic of Spotify and Myspace (or ‘My_’. Most ridiculous rebrand ever…)

1.)    65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway

This record has to take the top spot this year as it is the most inventive and exciting album released in 2010 by a mile. 65DOS take the best elements of Explosions in the Sky and Pendulum along with a guest appearance from The Cure’s Robert Smith to achieve a sound which will leave you rethinking your opinion of instrumental music.

2.)    The Automatic – Tear The Signs Down

Certainly the biggest re-invention of the year, The Automatic have completely transformed themselves since the arrival of Paul Mullen (formerly of yourcodenameis:milo). After playing a more subtle role on 2008′s This Is A Fix, the Geordie guitarist also assumes lead vocal duties on more than half of the tracks on the band’s latest album, and the result is a highly impressive alt-rock record that deserves to be judged on its own merits, not in light of what this band used to be.

3.)    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

2010 was the year that Arcade Fire really took off, headlining Reading Festival, completing a UK arena tour and surging up the charts with their third album. The Suburbs is a vast, expansive record, which gets better with every listen, while the interactive video for We Used To Wait is one of the most creative musical projects of the year.

4.)    The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

For summery nostalgia, you just can’t do any better than a bit of Gaslight Anthem. The New Jersey rockers earned much UK praise with their recent appearance on Jules Holland and lead singer Brian Fallon is easily living up to his reputation as the next Bruce Springsteen with his soulful vocals on The Diamond Church Street Choir and Boxer.

5.)    Jimmy Eat World – Invented

Jimmy Eat World’s seventh record is by no means their best, but still packs plenty of memorable tunes, tender moments and singalong choruses to keep old-school emo fans happy. Teaming back up with Clarity producer Mark Trombino adds a retro edge to this release, as well as the smooth backing vocals from Courtney Marie Andrews on Coffee and Cigarettes, Movielike and Heart Is Hard To Find.

6.)    Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly

Once again, Sam Duckworth has created a remarkable album of beats, samples, arpeggios and catchy choruses. Once again he has taken his live show up a level. The truly uplifting Morning Light is a career highlight, yet somehow Get Cape’s third record lacks that extra something special to make it a truly great album.

7.)    Ash – A-Z Vol. 1 & 2

If we ignore the fact that this 26-track project was split into two physical releases, then Ash’s A-Z series as a whole definitely deserves its place in the top ten. Writing and releasing songs of this quality every fortnight is a great achievement, and Russell Lissack (on loan from Bloc Party) gives the band a new edge, but with a bit more discipline, they could have whittled it all down to one of the best albums of their career.

8.)    Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses

The Leeds quartet burst onto the scene this year with a debut as mental as it is memorable. I Punched A Lion In The Throat, Back To The Fuck Yeah and High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive all hit the spot with remarkable ferocity. Definitely ones to watch in the future, these lads.

9.)    Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun – Atlases

Cheltenham-based Lockey’s second album saw him recruit a backing band and take the ambition and the intensity up a notch. This release sounds much more professional and accomplished than Jim’s folsky debut, with stand-out track Waitress boasting more tempo changes than you can shake a stick at.

10.)    Weezer – Hurley

Rivers Cuomo just keeps churning out the quirky songs and catchy hooks that have got Weezer where they are. Whilst Hurley has plenty of top tunes, such as Memories and Trainwrecks, perhaps the strains of releasing a record every year have made the Weezer well of ideas run a little bit dry.

11.)    I Am Kloot – Sky At Night

12.)    Vampire Weekend – Contra

13.)    Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

14.)    Young Guns – All Our Kings Are Dead

15.)    Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders – Red Light Fever

16.)    Gogol Bordello – Trans-Continental Hustle

17.)    Canterbury – Thank You

18.)    Minus The Bear – Omni

19.)    Jil Is Lucky – Jil Is Lucky

20.)    The Coral – Butterfly House

 
As always, please let me know what you think, if I’ve missed anything off, or you think I’m just plain wrong. Here’s to more great music in 2011, and I leave you with what I think is the best music video of the past year:

Sorry about the advert, but it’s worth sitting through for the video.
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