Maps & Atlases – Beware & Be Grateful (album review)

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.

Baddies – Build (album review)

Baddies, the indie rock back from Southend, EssexEssex four-piece Baddies burst onto the indie-rock scene in 2009 with their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Do The Job’, having made their name by playing more festivals in one summer than any other band in Europe (32, since you asked).

The success of that record was built on classic hard-rock riffs, mindlessly catchy choruses and a staccato vocal style that was almost robotic.

This sound drew favourable comparisons withThe Futureheads and early Queens of the Stone Age. On this, their difficult second album, the band has gone for a more synth-led sound, largely jettisoning the riffs in favour of slow-burning melodies.

On producer duties, in comes Sean Genockey, who has previously worked with the Manic Street Preachers. This new approach doesn’t always hit the mark as directly or consistently as their earlier stuff, but the few tracks where they manage to pull it off are really effective. Think ‘Humbug’-era Arctic Monkeys and you’re not far off.

The yearning for reinvention is made blatantly clear on the first two tracks, as lead singer Michael Webster tells us: “Underneath the surface, I’m not feeling quite the same, I need rewiring” and “I’m going to build my very own man-made man”. From here onwards…

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

Frank Turner – The Second Three Years (album review)

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.

Has the leaked Reading line up proved a point?

Reading Festival 2011 line-up
Erm... whoops!

Reading Festival organisers and Zane Lowe have egg well and truly on their faces today after an unnamed Kerrang! insider leaked the full line-up yesterday lunchtime, more than five hours before it was due to be announced.

As a result, this year is the first time in at least four years that Reading weekend tickets have not sold out in a matter of hours. I checked 23 hours later and Seetickets was still selling them.

The line-up itself was the subject of a fierce Twitter backlash, with many voicing their disapproval. But in all honesty it’s the same every year. Those with the most vociferously negative opinions will always be heard the loudest in the social media echo chamber. Although that said, the Official Reading Facebook page’s attempt to delete spoiler comments was hilariously naive and just proof that they had something to hide.

Is the line-up worse than in previous years? That’s hard to judge objectively, true there’s less metal, but that trend has been ongoing since 2008. The Strokes and My Chemical Romance are both massive bands, whether you like them or not and Muse’s only festival appearance this year is sure to be something rather special.

Zane lowe bbc radio one dj
Zane ain't happy...

The main difference this year is that the power appears to have been at least partially taken out of the organisers’ hands. Zane Lowe in particular was left looking more than a little bit foolish last night after his grandstanding annual line-up announcement live on BBC Radio One was well and truly gazumped by the power of the internet. As he struggled to maintain his trademark Kiwi cool, he let slip “this was meant to be a celebration and now I’m trending with hate.”

Maybe fans are a bit sick of being treated like unquestioning saps by the organisers, who are pushing towards getting the tickets on sale before anyone knows for sure who’s playing.

They may argue that they’re following Glastonbury’s lead, so they are justified. But this is only partially true, as the Pilton farm mega-fest only asks for a £50 deposit in good faith and they then only demand the rest once the first 20 or so bands are announced.

At the end of the day, I can’t help wondering whether this whole embarrassing debacle will maybe make Festival Republic think twice about their approach to announcing the line-up and selling tickets next year…

In the meantime for those of you that are going and are excited (like me), I humbly present my Reading Festival 2011 Spotify playlist and Neat Little Rows from the splendiferously magnificent new Elbow album:

5 bands to watch in 2011

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:

Top 20 Albums of the Year, 2010

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.