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.

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.

Kick Up The Fire Money Men unsigned bandTwo years ago, when Kick Up The Fire released their self-titled debut ep, I boldly suggested that they could take 2011 by storm.

Well it’s 2012 and they’ve only just got round to releasing their follow-up effort. Can’t win them all, eh?

Happily, the band’s sophomore effort is more than worth the wait. ‘Money Men’ is a tightly honed record, with each track as well produced and catchy as the last. Much like on their debut ep, the band still retain a slow-burning style, which may not knock your socks off at first, but gradually worms its way into your mind.

Lead singer Kenny Wastell’s lyrics are a big reason for this, with clever turns of phrase as he poetically skewers lad-mag culture on opening track ‘Loaded’. The more rhythmic guitars help to create a danceable tempo, and the lead guitar licks on ‘Spiders’ add plenty of flair.

‘Takeover’ is possibly the best of the bunch, acting as a passionate call-to-arms for disenchanted commuters and office drones, while ‘White Cube’ draws proceedings to a close with quirky rhythms and incongruous brass, much in the vein of Biffy Clyro (circa ‘Infinity Land’).

The only real criticism to be made is that the band don’t make as much of the call and response vocals that worked so well on their last record, which is a shame.

But it must be said ‘Money Men’ feels like a more coherent and polished effort, it proves their worth as one of the UK’s most exciting prospects, and at just 12 minutes long it will leave you crying out for more.

You can read more about Kick Up The Fire on their hilariously foul-mouthed blog, and if you head to their Bandcamp page before Monday 30 July, you can download their debut ep for free.

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.

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