I think it’s fair to say that this hasn’t exactly been a vintage year for rock and indie music, with big releases in fairly short order.
Nonetheless there has been plenty to enjoy, so in time-honoured fashion, here is my end-of-the-year run-down: Follow the links to listen on Grooveshark or Spotify.

1) Canterbury – Dark Days
The torch bearers for independent UK rock music come of age on their phenomenal third album. Packed with heartfelt honesty, punchy riffs and enormous choruses, Dark Days is a colossal achievement. The only catch? They broke up last night. Oh.
Top tracks: Expensive Imitation, Hold Your Own

2) Twin Atlantic – The Great Divide
Scottish singalong merchants Twin Atlantic dial up the pop sensibilities on their third full length. Sure there are some cheesy moments along the way, but they are becoming a force to be reckoned with and their live show is a joy to behold.
Top tracks: Action That Echo, Fall Into The Party

3) Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
You certainly can’t accuse Dave Grohl and Co of lacking ambition on their eighth studio album. Recording across nine cities and trying to capture the local musical history with each stop is a tall order. In truth the latter tracks struggle to match the standard set by barnstorming opener Something from Nothing, but it still shows off the full breadth of what the Foo Fighters are capable of these days.
Top Tracks: Something From Nothing, Congregation

4) Band Of Skulls – Himalayan
Highly polished third album from the Southampton power trio. The stadium-sized riffs and dual vocals work a treat, if only there were more tender moments like the spine-tingling Cold Sweat.
Top Tracks: You Are All That I Am Not, Cold Sweat

5) Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright In The End
Rivers Cuomo and the boys go back to what they do best – “rocking out like it’s ’94”. The three-part finale shows true ambition and Da Vinci is one of the catchiest tracks of the year. Now play a UK tour, dammit!
Top tracks: Cleopatra, Da Vinci

6) Elbow – The Take-off And Landing Of Everything
A soulful return to their roots for Guy Garvey and his band of veteran balladeers. The outro of Lunette alone makes this album a serious contender, even if more ponderous moments weigh down the overall standard.
Top tracks: New York Morning, Fly Boy Blue / Lunette

7) Mongol Horde – Mongol Horde
My biggest regret this year is that I missed the chance to see Frank Turner’s hardcore side project play the Highbury Garage. By all accounts, it was utter carnage, which is hardly surprising given the sheer ferocity of this Genghis Khan-inspired scream fest of an album.
Top Tracks: Make Way, Blistering Blue Barnacles

8) Dry The River – Alarms In The Heart
There are some truly touching moments on this highly accomplished follow up to 2012’s Shallow Bed, but it ultimately fails to raise the bar in terms of emo-folk.
Top Tracks: Rollerskate, Gethsemane

9) Pixies – Indie Cindy
Black Francis and Joey Santiago are an top form here, shredding vocal chords and fretboards alike. It’s just a shame that Kim Deal didn’t fancy joining the party for old times’ sake.
Top Tracks: Bagboy, Blue Eyed Hexe

10) Maybeshewill – Fair Youth
Post rock intellectuals prove there is much more to Leicester than just Kasabian. Sharp dynamics and smart melodies abound on this taught and consistent fourth album
Top Tracks: In Amber, Fair Youth

11) The Retrospective Soundtrack Players – It’s A Wonderful Christmas Carol
12) Manchester Orchestra – Cope
13) Royal Blood – Royal Blood
14) I Am The Avalanche – Wolverines
15) Maximo Park – Too Much Information
16) Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
17) Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain
18) Oxygen Thief – The Half-Life Of Facts
19) The Bronze Medal – Darlings
20) Lonely The Brave – The Day’s War

A lot of my favourite artists (Muse, Frank Turner, Ash, Sonic Boom Six) are holding out for 2015 releases, so there’s a lot to look forward to. But in the meantime, for my favourite music video of 2014, here’s Weezer on the moon!

Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything album cover art

What with Spotify and Grooveshark and advance streaming and album playbacks and the rest, it’s never been easier to listen to album before you buy it. By the same token, it’s never been easier to make a snap judgement.

Luckily most Elbow fans will know that Guy Garvey and co’s work doesn’t yield up even half of its brilliance on a first listen through and, sure enough, ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ is the definition of an album that gradually grows on you.

Anyone expecting a rehash of 2011’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ or the 2008 Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ will not find it here. Instead, you’ll get more joy comparing the new album to ‘Cast Of Thousands’ or even ‘Asleep In The Back’.

Opener ‘This Blue World’ is unashamedly slow-burning and hints at the mid-life crisis element that Garvey alluded to in promo interviews. However, the shoe-gazing doesn’t last too long and from here the pace gathers and the ideas swell.

‘Charge’ is a tempestuous yet understated track with bursts of orchestral brightness in the chorus, and then we come to ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’. This six-minute marvel is right up there with the finest tracks Elbow have ever recorded.

An insistent bassline is punctuated by flourishes of tenor saxophone in the stomping, swaying chorus, before the bravado gives way to a sweeping outro that is humblingly beautiful. Garvey murmurs timelessly elegant lyrics that will serve as a fitting epitaph when the band decide to eventually go their own ways:

“I’m reaching the age when decisions are made / On life and liver and I’m sure last ditch / That’ll I’ll ask for more time / But mother forgive me / I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a bundle of smokes in my grave”

Next up is the lead-off single ‘New York Morning’, which is the closest this album comes to radio bothering catchiness and true mainstream appeal with the first proper guitar lick on the album. The choruses get progressively grander and grander until it’s hard to resist singing along.

Then comes the Elbow nostalgia – ‘Real Life (Angel)’ has shades of ‘Grace Under Pressure’, while the studio outtakes and laughter at the start of ‘Honey Sun’ are strongly reminiscent of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’.

‘My Sad Captains’ is a touching tale of hungover camaraderie, but the true climax of the album comes on the title track, which swells and swells across seven orchestra-laden minutes to an anthemic climax. However, you won’t find yourself harking back to ‘Open Arms’ or even ‘One Day Like This’, more the carnivalesque joy of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

It wouldn’t be a proper Elbow album without a quixotic closer (preferably a waltz) to leave you with something to think about, and ‘The Blanket Of Night’ fills that role nicely with militaristic overtones, lilting strings and eerie synth.

When I first heard this album, it was in a Canary Wharf pub as part of a poorly organised album playback, where the subtleties were lost amidst drunken business chatter and a lot of background noise. That is the worst way to listen to this album.

Instead, grab a decent pair of headphones and go for a nice long way through a busy city (preferably New York). Your ears will thank you afterwards.

It’s been a great year for rock and indie, with a decent number of big-name releases and very few instant turkeys.
Double-albums, disco flourishes and drop-ins from famous friends dominated the agenda. It was a tough call picking a number one, but that’s exactly the tradition I’ve started here, so for the sixth year in a row, here goes…

1.) Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Oozing effortless cool, irresistible riffs and a roll-call of big-name cameos as long as your arm, QOTSA’s sixth studio album is a proper stunner. Every track warrants its place in this blockbuster of a record, which boasts guest appearances from the likes of Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, Alex Turner and Elton John (no, seriously!). In fact, pretty much the only thing I don’t love about this album is the punctuation of the title.

Download: Smooth Sailing, If I Had A Tail and Fairweather Friends

2.) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

It took eight years for the world’s favourite French electro duo to get back in the studio to record another LP, but it was easily worth the wait. Teaming up with Chic‘s Nile Rogers inspired a new sound that was more based on live instrumentation than samples. ‘Get Lucky’ was the single of the year by miles, but the record is book-ended by the barn-storming ‘Give Life Back To Music’ and the phenomenal drum-led instrumental ‘Contact’.

Download: Give Life Back To Music, Contact and Touch

3.) Biffy Clyro – Opposites

Only a truly special band can release a double-album that doesn’t feel flabby and overblown. Biffy Clyro aren’t quite at that level just yet, but they’re getting awfully close. ‘Opposites’ is their biggest sounding record yet – leaving aside the numerous singles, ‘Woo Woo’ is life-affirmingly anthemic, while ‘Different People’ is their most ambitious track in years.

Download: Victory Over The Sun, Little Hospitals and Different People

4.) Arctic Monkeys – AM

That this album should bear Arctic Monkeys’ initials seems utterly fitting, since ‘AM’ is where the band showcases the sound they’ve been building up to over the past five years. Alex Turner is back to his lyrical best on ‘Arabella’ and ‘RU Mine?’, although the most effective moment comes when he borrows the poetry of John Cooper Clarke on touching finale ‘I Wanna Be Yours’.

Download: Do I Wanna Know, Knee Socks and I Wanna Be Yours

5.) Editors – The Weight Of Your Love

On their fourth studio album, the Birmingham gloom-mongers get back to what they do best, ditching the euro-synth stylings in favour of guitar and piano-led love songs. Tom Smith’s voice sounds more urgent and monumental than ever, and while the record trails off towards the end they’ve more than made up for this slight let-down with a string of euphoric live shows.

Download: Nothing, Formaldehyde and A Ton Of Love

6.) Scholars – Always Lead, Never Follow

The temptation to rush out your first album must be overwhelming, for reasons of pride, passion and pure finance. But the long gestation period truly paid off for Scholars, whose debut is a thrilling affair, packed with acrobatic vocals, punchy riffs and even some At The Drive-In style experimentation.

Download: Hydrochaesin, Bad For Business and Scaredy Cat

7.) Arcade Fire – Reflektor

With a little discipline and some judicious editing, this could have been the album of the year. Hell, it really should have been the album of the year. However, by teaming up with hipster-in-chief James Murphy, Arcade Fire allowed their fourth studio album to drift into self-indulgence in quite a few places, which is a real shame because when they hit the mark, it’s truly electrifying stuff. Glastonbury is in for a real treat in 2014.

Download: Here Comes The Night Time, Flashbulb Eyes and Joan Of Arc

8.) Everything Everything – Arc

The eclectic indie rockers have refined their sound on this their second album without losing their exuberant and experimental edge. Elaborate melodies and inscrutable rhythms make for 2013’s most adventurous album, this side of Daft Punk.

Download: Cough Cough, Radiant and Duet

9.) Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

The Hampshire songsmith’s world domination plans gathered some serious pace this year with a clutch well-written singles that littered the alternative airwaves for most of the first half of the year. But, as ever with a Frank record, scratch beneath the surface and there is real depth and true heart to discover.

Download: The Fisher King Blues, Four Simple Words and Plain Sailing Weather

10.) City and Colour – The Hurry and The Harm

Dallas Green is clearly settling into his stride here on his fourth solo album and with his former day job Alexisonfire sadly bisbanded, there is nothing holding him back from becoming this generation’s Elvis Costello.

Download: Harder Than Stone, Thirst, and Ladies And Gentlemen

11.) Placebo – Loud Like Love
12.) 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
13.) Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory
14.) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
15.) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
16.) And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
17.) Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
18.) Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS
19.) Travis – Where You Stand
20.) Sam Duckworth – Amazing Grace

Looking forward, 2014 should be just as jam-packed, with new records from Blink 182, the FoosMaximo Park and Brand New (hopefully) all in the works. Until then, I’ll leave you with my video of the year, enjoy…

Bloc Party Nextwave Sessions ep cover artFollowing on from the announcement that they are due to go on an indefinite hiatus at the end of the summer, Bloc Party have given their fans one last treat before their (hopefully temporary) break-up.

‘The Nextwave Sessions EP’ shows the kind of inventiveness and experimentation that you might expect from a band with nothing to lose and nothing to prove.

‘Ratchet’ kicks things off with Kele Okereke spitting lyrics with his usual blend of urban slang and punk attitude, but with a noticeably hip-hop cadence as he references Kanye West in the second verse.

All four band members get a chance to show off their skills on this fantastically flamboyant track, but it’s Gordon Moakes’ earthy bassline that will really make this an indie club floor-filler.

‘Obscene’ brings things back down to earth, with Kele openly confessing his past wrongs to a former lover as the throbbing synth and lilting vocals hark back to 2008’s ‘Intimacy’.

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

Editors The Weight Of Your Love album art

After a near four-year absence, Editors are back with their fourth studio album ‘The Weight Of Your Love’.

And whilst many will label this album as a return to their original guitar-based style, there is plenty of evidence that the band has evolved and matured during their break.

For starters, founding member and lead guitarist/synth player Chris Urbanowicz has left, and his searing tremolo is notably absent.

In his place, Justin Lockey takes on lead guitar responsibilities, while Elliott Williams provides keyboards, backing vocals and additional guitars.

Despite all these changes, Tom Smith’s vocals still sound as rich and powerful as ever, albeit with far less falsetto than on 2009’s synth-led ‘In This Light And On This Evening’.

A more straightforward song-writing style is immediately noticeable, which Tom credits to the influence of bands such as REM and Arcade Fire.

‘The Weight’ kicks things off with a brooding stomp that bursts into life with orchestral flair, recalling Elbow‘s recent rich and densely layered arrangements.

The lyrics are as bleak and honest as ever, with Tom imagining how he would cope if he outlived his long-time partner Edith Bowman and suggesting that love can be overwhelming and almost intimidating at times.

‘Sugar’ bristles and buzzes with a Kings Of Leon-esque bassline before lead single ‘A Ton Of Love’ raises the bar yet further with a punchy riff and an instant classic of a chorus…

To read the rest of this review 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:

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.

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