Top 7 festival bands playing the UK this summer

Me and Max at Reading 2006
Festivals can do horrible things to your face…

For the first time in 13 years, I’m not going to a music festival this summer.

So for those of you lucky enough to be heading for the mud, crowds and euphoria, I thought I’d indulge in a listicle and recommend a few bands to catch if you possibly can.

To narrow down my list to a top seven, I’ve only included bands that I’ve seen at two or more festivals, proving that their brilliance wasn’t a one-off.

Without further ado, let’s dive in:

Elbow

True festival veterans, Guy Garvey and his cohorts never fail to hit the mark, whether that’s tugging at the heartstrings (Real Life) or slapping you in the face with a gigantic riff (Grounds For Divorce). Come for One Day Like This, but stick around for Lippy Kids.

Playing: Kendal Calling

The Hives

The quintessential festival band, The Hives’ brand of unashamed punk rock can make even the most respectable festival goer rush to the front and lose their dignity. Unhinged rabble-rouser ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist serves as the ideal frontman to orchestrate the madness.

Playing: Calling Festival

Manchester Orchestra

Fast-rising American quintet Manchester Orchestra don’t look like festival heroes, especially hermit-like lead singer Andy Hull. But it is the sheer force of their music that makes them unmissable, from the shape-shifting dynamics of Shake It Out to the irresistible singalong of Pensacola.

Playing: Reading Festival

Muse

Going to a festival is an expensive experience, so you want to know that at least some of your money has gone on stage theatrics. Muse have this down to a fine art and are constantly upping the ante, but best of all their music is so bombastic as to make all this theatricality seem totally justified.

Playing: Download

Gogol Bordello

Festivals are a great place to discover a new style of music and with a Gogol Bordello show you can discover half a dozen genres in half an hour. The self-proclaimed gypsy punks tackle a wide variety of styles with unerring gusto and sets often end with frontman Eugene Hutz crowd-surfing on a bass drum.

Playing: Boom Town Fair

Dry The River

Forget Mumford & Sons headlining Leeds Festival, the real folk rock event of the summer will be Dry The River’s appearance at the multi-venue Live at Leeds Festival. From chest-out singalongs to extended outros, a DTR show has it all and Lion’s Den is ultimate set finisher.

Playing: Live at Leeds Festival

Foo Fighters

I’ve saved the most obvious choice to last, but I couldn’t ignore the recent news that Dave Grohl and his band of merry men are headlining the UK’s biggest festival for the first time in 17 years. If you already have a ticket, you’d be a fool to miss what will surely be a monumental headline set from a truly peerless live band.

Playing: Glastonbury

 

Anyone I’ve missed off? Let me know in the comments…

Top 20 albums of the year 2014

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 eight 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!

Sonic Boom Six – Sonic Boom Six (album review)

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.

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.