Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Best Albums of 2015 : 1-5

Hi all,

We're approaching the time of year when most music publications fling out their best of the year lists so I figured it'd be an opportune time to publish my own list just to get in on the action. As Del from Primal Radio has asked myself and the other contributors to knock up a top five I'll start with my favourites and broaden the list to a more comprehensive top fifty over the next few weeks. So let's begin with the year's best and go from there. Ready?

1. Tamaryn - Cranekiss
Picking a favourite record is a tricky business. You can think yourself into all sorts of knots by trying to select one album that acts as both a sign of the times and a stylistic move forward or you can just filter out all the static and plump for the record that brought you more joy than any other. 'Cranekiss' is just that, a crystal-filtered lovebomb that flooded the room with light upon first listen and lay smouldering in my record collection for the rest of the year. It was an unexpected yet not entirely implausible thrill, the Kiwi native's first two LPs having brushed past earlier in the decade with an engagingly lysergic brand of sense-stroking dream pop but there was a sense that she was swimming with the tide and had yet to mark out her own territory in the genre's creative terrain. When I spotted her third long player on the new release lists I was vaguely curious but nothing more and the background gave no reason to get unduly excited - her involvement in the Dum Dum Girls' underwhelming third LP from last year did nothing to endear her to me and she seemed destined for the creative quagmire that had swallowed up most of her class of 2010 alumni. 

I elected to give it a spin anyway. Whilst familiar signposts were audible from the outset - delay effects, weightless breathy vocals and Wild Nothing style 80s cloud pop production - it was the set of reference points that brought it into a field of its own. There are certain outfits amongst indie's ranks who have had to go digging for the right set of influences in vinyl culture like archeological students sifting through craters whereas others have had them stored in their head since childhood and can simply match sound with sensation when they enter the studio. Listening to 'Cranekiss' the first record that came to my mind after the obvious 'Loveless' comparison was Madonna's 'True Blue', the moment her precocious 80s pop starting morphing into something more adult, the plinky plonky synth riffs replaced with a fuller studio sound and meatier subject matter without sacrificing the route one pop appeal that won over the hearts of millions. Tamaryn's sound arrives at the same point via a totally different route, one that takes in shoegaze's pitchbending beauty and the cloud-skipping joy of loved-up dream pop along the way to craft a product so streamlined and graceful that it could swoosh its way onto any radio playlist the world over without creating a stir. You won't have to look far for potential hits, the hook-laden likes of 'Hands All Over Me', 'Collection' and the title track setting the tone over a dazzling first half but it's in the depth that 'Cranekiss' reveals its richer seam of quality, the nightime glide of 'Last' channelling the magic of The Bangles and A-ha at their soft focus peak. The Wild Nothing comparison is valid in the sense that their worship of 1985's dry ice aesthetics provides the backdrop for Tamaryn's trip through VHS reruns of Top of the Pops but she's drawn to the widescreen romance and shameless hooks of the following year's heroes, those who didn't feel the need to hide behind their haircuts when delivering perfect pop. Think the colourful debuts of Erasure and Pet Shop Boys, Eurthymics' glacial soul pop and even the high concept romance of Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away' - these sounds aren't for skulking in your bedroom, they're for going out feeling confident enough to get your own way. If 'Cranekiss' walked into the room your eyes would follow it everywhere it went - it's a beautiful, elegant record but also a strident, self-assured one that hits the target with every track like a sharp suited interview candidate notching themselves a well-paid promotion. I love it because it's a joy to listen to but it's perhaps my favourite record of the year because I'm impressed she could knock together something this dazzling, so crystalline and consistent that repeated listens - and I have listened to this a LOT - don't even make a dent in its streamlined surface.

'Cranekiss' will stand up to scrutiny from production nerds, indie purists or even those looking for the positive soundtrack to face 2015's darker moments but the record has a capacity to reach out and touch hearts much further afield than indie's critical heartlands. The tunes on here tap into a rich seam of romantic fantasy and atmospheric orchestration that stretches back thirty years and their journey back factors in the most appealing elements of indie's sonic arsenal along the way from MBV's sublime soundwarp to the Sundays' melodic balladeering. Everything you love about music may well be waiting for you amongst the ten flawless slabs of gorgeous dream pop that make up Tamaryn's third outing - indeed, it might just remind you what falling in love felt like the first time round. Superb stuff.

Check out : 'Hands All Over Me', the spirit of '86 filtered through today's lens.

2. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think....
Kookiness is a prized commodity amongst singer-songwriters. Factor in just enough to set yourself apart from the pack and you might see your own take on the world strike a chord with hordes of potential devotees but lay it on too thick and you risk becoming a fifteen minute novelty along the lines of 'One Of Us', 'I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker With Flowers In My Hair' or Phoebe's 'Smelly Cat' song from Friends. Courtney Barnett's breakthrough success saw various well-meaning online observers attempt to rope her into whatever cultural shift they were hoping to achieve but the best thing about her stonking debut full length is that it was solid enough to mark its own territory without needing the slavering press attention - good riffs, sharp witty lyrics and languid Aussie delivery were the basic ingredients in crafting what turned out to be one of the year's most loveable records.

The title 'Sometimes I sit and think and sometimes I just sit' encapsulates the record's appeal - Barnett is aware that her lyrical strength comes from her ability to observe the minutiae of everyday life and fill in the blanks with her own imagination but she's grounded enough to know that she doesn't have all the answers and is just as capable of zoning out and staring at the ceiling if it all gets a bit too heavy. There's humour here in the transformation of mundane detail into goofy internal debate with trips to the supermarket and the swimming pool becoming subjects for wry self-analysis and nerdy flights of fancy, pinging off on tangents with the pace and poise of a well-honed stand up comic but always bringing it back to a hook, a chorus and a well-timed punchline. Like the best stand ups she leaves you going home happy, any venom tuned down to let the positive mood be carried by the doe-eyed indie rock that becomes her signature - there's shades of Evan Dando in there, particularly the oft-overlooked 'Car Button Cloth' LP that saw him cast off his stoner pin-up image and strike the right balance between cute, catchy and touching with a string of memorable radio tunes. Joy and melancholy coexist comfortably across the tracks here, 'Depreston' exposing the nerves surrounding a house move and lingering on sadness just long enough to acknowledge its presence without sinking into woe-is-me indulgence.On whilst on the flipside there's the almost impossibly jaunty 'Debbie Downer' which is the sort of thing only an Aussie could write, a 'cheer up mate' pick me up worthy of Robert Smith during The Cure's so-happy-I-could-burst moments. Most songwriters would have turned such fare into a cack-handed message of self empowerment but Courtney knows her audience well enough not to lay it all on too thick and it's the pitch that wins it for her here, knowing when to let determination switches places with ambivalence to avoid alienating anyone and her success in banging out a level-headed, non-judgemental LP against a backdrop of armchair activism and polarised online debate makes her all the more appealing in today's musical climate. Missing out on this would be like sleeping through the perfect spontaneous house party - there's still time to show up late so if you haven't had the pleasure yet then get yourself down here with a few tinnies and enjoy the festivities.

Check out : 'Debbie Downer', the year's finest morale booster.

3. Lonelady - Hinterland
Feels like things are getting organic again in Manchester. Whilst her civic peers are often too busy navel-gazing to grab the ‘Next Big Thing’ ball and run with it, Lonelady’s Julie Ann Campbell looks like she might just be ready to catch a wave and break from the pack with her stonking second LP ‘Hinterland’. It’s not that she resonates star quality or anything, the girl just gets it. Having soaked up the city’s musical culture at art college she banged out some 4 tracks that got her signed to Warp in the late noughties and released her highly danceable debut ‘Nerve Up’ in 2010 - the intervening years have been spent honing her craft and distilling her danceable post punk to a potent blend that packs out 'Hinterland's nine tracks and lays out the year's most joyously rhythmic concoction. 

Campbell draws on the dancefloor friendly post-punk of oft-overlooked Manc stalwarts A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column for a heady mix of tremulous basslines, skittering drum patterns and tightly wound riffs that’ll go straight to your hips and still leave a little leftover for your brain to ponder. That five year gap between records suggested she’s accustomed to taking her time and that notion is born out over the tracks here, songs frequently edging the six minute mark but it’s never wasted time – the tracks build up slowly like classic House whilst retaining their humanity, kinda like the way Warpaint manage to do danceable while keeping the individual instruments distinctly recognisable in the mix. And hey, those gals left a hefty pause between first and second records so maybe that’s the secret? There’s shades of Talking Heads on the title track in the way they fuse funk with arthouse post-punk without sounding like a bunch of honky plagiarists and the aptly-titled ‘Groove It Out’ manages to achieve subtly what Friendly Fires seem to overshoot with most of their material. Campbell knows when to take her foot off the pedal, letting the ingredients breathe and find their place in the mix without shoving them to the forefront in case we don’t notice. ‘Silvering’ sounds like early Bloc Party kicking into gear while ‘Red Scrap’ whisks gracefully by with the poise and precision of fellow Mancs Dutch Uncles (who are worth checking out too while I’m at it) and she kicks it up a notch on the scrambling punk torrent ‘(I Can See) Landscapes’, each time showing those hours poring over yesterday’s records have paid off as she crafts something potently fresh with the results. Lead single ‘Bunkerpop’ is possibly the pick of a very fine bunch, everything gradually falling into place over five and a half stealthily-handled minutes as she serves up a fresh product drawing on the finest early 80s funk pop to leave the listener with a big old grin on their face. ‘Hinterland’ is solid proof that Manchester’s still got soul, Britain’s still got talent and that 2015 has had its share of classics.

Check out : ‘Bunkerpop’ – this year’s ‘Undertow’? You go ahead and prove me wrong.

4. Future - Horizons
France's indie scene is in pretty good shape these days. I mean I would say that, having spent most of the year covering it with Matthew over at where you can hear all about the nation's finest new indie exports every week. Ahem. Anyway, FUTURE finished the year at the head of a reassuringly vibrant pack of new bands jostling for your attention and 'Horizons' was as bold a statement of intent as you could hope for to win over hordes of potential devotees. They're a softly spoken bunch in real life but it's often the quiet ones that you need to watch out for and every track here lands like a meteorite piercing the atmosphere in a fug of riotous noise and unstoppable momentum, the aftershock as vital as the impact itself as they charter shockwaves across the landscape and transform your whole listening experience into a physical onslaught on the senses. Distorted riffs beam through your skull like radioactive deathrays, slews of warped noise liquify your brain and leave you spinning in an alternate reality of gloopy reverb and drum machine triggers march relentlessly through the remains of your ribcage like an invading army introducing a new regime of ruthless efficiency. 

Strapped with guitar, bass and a drum machine plus a small arsenal of effects pedals, the FUTURE approach is to bypass traditional band dynamics to instead hit you with a three channel noise blast akin to being scorched with a triple barrel hairdryer. The momentum comes not from the root but in the reaction, a quest to regain balance that continues throughout the record as their blend of effects pedal theatrics and mesmeric electronica succeeds in scorching eyebrows whilst still retaining a metronomic pulse to keep you dancing through the storm. Groove and catharsis trade off perfectly here and the whole thing is executed with enough panache to leave you thinking that these guys are in it to be full blown rock stars as opposed to just another basement indie racket. 'Horizons' lands somewhere in the dark glasses end of the fuzz rock spectrum - think Crocodiles, 'Honey's Dead'-era Mary Chain and the better bits of APTBS. I'd even go as far as to throw in a Kasabian comparison if only for their cocksure attitude and fondness for riff muscle and dancefloor theatrics - you could pout and strut to this if it weren't piled on thick enough to bend floorboards and shatter glass. Both times I've seen them this year they've not had the sound desk to themselves and so their delivery has been subject to some sort of volume-based compromise - they've still been pretty devastating and imagining how stunning this would sound with the safety off is the stuff of dreams indeed. For the time being we'll have to settle with a debut LP that channels their stadium-sized imagination perfectly into ten slabs of pulverising psych rock laced with just enough glamour and invention to win over the hearts of countless future acolytes. A bold, brazen attempt at world domination and one that time may well prove to be the perfect opening gambit.

Check out : 'Side Effects', a veritable rocket up the shoegaze fundament.

5. Gwenno - Y Dydd Olaf
The Welsh music scene gets a bit of token attention every so often from the rest of the UK and is otherwise happy to flourish away from the media spotlight. Peel back the curtain and you'll find a self sufficient subculture frolicking merrily away despite the absence of international exposure and quite often they're happy to keep it that way. Gwenno Saunders began life making quirky Welsh language pop before finding some measure of breakthrough success with Sunday afternoon polka dot festival types The Pipettes but you felt she was perhaps wasted on such an inoffensive project and the singer's decision to return to her roots has given forth to one of the year's surprise treats. 'Y Dydd Olaf' is a delectable hybrid of 60s kook pop, Stereolabesque indie hum and weightless electro shimmer that balances elegance with shape-shifting invention to produce a breezy pop record loaded with baffling Alice in Wonderland illusory passages, graceful pop hooks and gorgeous melodic glide. The back story is ultimately irrelevant - as an opening gambit to hook in the listener there's pretty much everything you could ask for provided here so all that's left to do is turn to page one and start to lose yourself.

'Y Dydd Olaf' heads down a rabbithole that'll be familiar to those of you partial to Saint Etienne, Moloko and the crystalline end of British indie although the metropolitan wine bar swagger of the former is supplanted with something altogether more otherworldly here. Synth hooks underpin the action but it's the resonant piano and vibraphone motifs that ride upfront as Saunders' vocals weave around the melodies like sprites encircling lost travellers. The Welsh language lyrics have a wispy, mystical feel to those of us whose linguistic horizons don't stretch that far but their contribution to the record's appeal is in the way her weightless coo envelops the words like she's inhaling them and blowing them out again in intriguing new forms - it's a musical language indeed. The music moves through shades of crystal filtered chill out in the vein of Boards of Canada and Tycho's majestic 'Dive' LP from a couple of years back with and there's perhaps even a shade of Broadcast's twinkle toed Peel Session pop but there's something in the delivery here that makes you think Gwenno is aiming for an audience beyond that provided by All Tomorrow's Parties - indeed when you factor in the considerable success of her previous outfit there's no reason to imagine that she'd be in any way uncomfortable with bagging herself a massive radio hit on the back of this splendid debut. There's a couple of contenders for that breakthrough single too, 'Golau Arall' channels the grace of Gallic 60s kook pop, 'Patriarchaerth' factors in a glittering synth hook that propels it off into the stratosphere, 'Stwff' packs a lipstick pop punch in the vein of mid-80s Madonna and the insanely catchy 'Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki' is easily a match for the cinematic radio gold churned out by Visage and Ultravox back in the early 1980s. 'Y Dydd Olaf' is peerless not only for its leftfield charm and intriguing mix of pleasures but for the streamlined delivery that makes enjoying it an entirely effortless experience - nobody's going to spend any time outside their own comfort zone listening to this regardless of how familiar they may or may not be with the Welsh music scene. This is way too good to be a niche market success - 'Y Dydd Olaf' is coated in stardust from head to toe.

Check out : 'Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki', surely this year's undiscovered pop classic.

I'll post the full 50 later on - stay tuned!!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Live Review : Holydrug Couple/Dead Sea @ Espace B, Paris

(Dead Sea : photo - Johanna Audiffred)
Paris is already emptying out for the summer but fortunately there are still a few decent live shows dotted around for those of us who haven’t fucked off on holiday already, Espace B once again coming through with an off-season friendly between two of dream pop’s rising stars. Chilean shoegazers Holydrug Couple are in town as part of their summer European jaunt and their presence has brought out a flock of devotees who mill around outside in the evening sunshine whilst hometown newbies Dead Sea get things underway inside. Having ditched their original guitar-bass-drums set up for a sound propped up by twin banks of throbbing electronics the Parisians proceed to knock out a flawless display of cloud-hopping ‘Turbo Chillwave’ that hits the spot perfectly. For a band with one sole single to their name they’re impressively relaxed and natural, shifting effortlessly from warm electronica a la Boards of Canada through to shimmering indie pop in the vein of the vastly underrated White Poppy. Guitar lines break gently on the surface like bubbles in a champagne glass and vocalist Caro delivers a hypnotic performance pitched somewhere between Hope Sandoval’s intimate coo and the velvet-lined croon of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand. They intersperse their songs with rushes of wave effects to keep the mood up and everything they do is cool, calm and confident – not bad for a band with only a handful of live performances under their belt. If they can transfer the quality of their live show onto vinyl when they record their debut LP later in the year they’ll almost certainly have a hit on their hands – as for now keyboardist Charles tells me they’re off surfing for the summer. One to watch, definitely.

(Holydrug Couple : photo - Johanna Audiffred)
Holydrug Couple have a tall order to follow that but thankfully they’ve come prepared for a challenge. The Santiago duo – rounded out to a four-piece for live duties – were picked up Brooklyn’s highly regarded Sacred Bones records a couple of years back and their second LP ‘Moonlust’ which landed in May should see them graduate to the upper tier of today’s international shoegaze scene. Their sound takes on the widescreen thinking of ‘Primary Colours’-era Horrors but douses the flames with a generous infusion of weightless electro, Air’s blissful Virgin Suicides soundtrack emerging as a stylistic signpost. Any risk of it all getting too pink and fluffy are curbed by frontman Ives Sepulveda’s noodling guitar solos that are characterised by gorgeous tone as well as liberal abuse of his various effects pedals. The boy’s not afraid to think big and I’d be willing to bet his parents had the odd LP by Zappa or Gilmour-era Pink Floyd knocking around the house when he was a nipper. The packed crowd lap it all up eagerly and we witness the emergence of what I’ve decided to term a ‘swirlpit’ – a congregation of transfixed female spectators front of stage cavorting like Kate Bush on an early 80s edition of Top of the Pops. Local hearts are won over yet there’s a lingering feeling that this could have been even better – the band’s multi-textured soundscapes are a challenge to reproduce live and between their swapping of instruments and frequent stage visits from the venue’s beleaguered soundman some of the momentum drains from what would otherwise have been a streamlined rush of sublime noise. As it is we leave nurturing the hope that we’ll get to see them top tonight’s performance as their star continues to rise and their swirlpit grows inexorably wider.

Dead Sea's 'Keep It High' single is available as a free download here and you can check out Holydrug Couple's impressive back catalogue over here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

John's best of 2015 so far (the rest of the world outside France)

Hi again everyone,

Seeing as my previous list focussed exclusively on the French scene, here's a rundown of my favourite records so far this year from everywhere else! Part Two will follow in due course.

xxx John

20. Zenker Brothers - Immersion

Kicking us off are these Teutonic Techno tykes who dropped this intriguing little package back in February. The Zenkers do it the way I like it to be done, building from the floor up in a scheming, elusive style a la Autechre and their 90s knob-twiddling ilk - each of the ten tracks here expands on a sole motif to layer and construct, eschewing basic capture and release dynamics to instead allow tremulous influences in like undercover agents to infiltrate and master momentum. 'Immersion' evokes just that, a boffin-like exploration of the genre amidst leather bound tomes, bubbling flasks and late night sessions scrutinising musical dynamics to fashion a plot for global domination. They might not be there just yet but someone out there needs to set up a file on these kids cos they're surely bound for planet-quaking glory sometime soon.

Check out : 'High Club', six streamlined minutes of industrial plate tectonics.

19. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Chasing Yesterday

Much like his 90s cultural counterpoint Dave Grohl, Noel has wised up to the fact that keeping your media profile high with a string of well-crafted press quips means that you get to relax and put out fairly safe musical releases every few years without people getting on your case about it. However whilst I'd rather drink cement than listen to the Foos run through the same 'Dude! Awesome riff!' shtick for the umpteenth time I've a little more room in my life for Noel and his relaxed take on post Oasis-indie. Call it parochial English prejudice if you like, I just feel he's not so much playing to the gallery as just doing what he loves. 'Chasing Yesterday' isn't the sort of thing he would have knocked out on a diet of gak 'n' Fosters in mid 90s Manchester when he still had a point to prove with everyone but it follows on nicely from those days, showing the same bloke twenty years on happy in the knowledge that seniority affords you the opportunity to do it your own way and at your own pace. The results are reliably anthemic and mellow as a sunny weekend afternoon, even slightly soulful in places and a rich, layered production job gives this new set of songs a robust quality that'll stand up to repeated listens in public and in private. He gets to noodle around on his guitar a bit more than his previous solo offering and there's enough here to rival any pretenders to the throne in the live setting as we saw last month in Place de la Republique. Carry on sir, your legacy remains firmly intact.

Check out : 'You Know We Can't Go Back', the spirit of mid 90s Oasis is alive and well.

18. Beat Spacek - Modern Streets

Steve Spacek's day job as one half of up tempo beat merchants Africa Hitech is obviously only one part of the man's personality - if their stellar '93 Million Miles' LP from a couple of years back was the sound of him in full flight then 'Modern Streets' is a more intimate portrait of the guy away from the white heart of urban clubland. This LP is like one of those heart to hearts you have in the chillout room as beats and bass rebound off the adjacent wall, sensations dulled by excess only now making their way to the surface for closer examination. We're not talking dour introspection here, just a more tempered journey through the bass music he knows and loves. When it landed back in January I inevitably lumped this in with Kele's fabulous 'Trick' LP from late last year and there's still a case to be made for back to back listening, Spacek tracing the controlled downward trajectory from the former Bloc Party man's equally well-plotted ascendancy - the sparkle and fade of sensations chronicled each time with the same grin-inducing accuracy and reassuring lust for life. This is subtle enough not to stick out but way too good to miss out on completely.

Check out : 'Inflight Wave', dipping and soaring between Sub Bass and Skytouching House.

17. Jaga Jazzist - Starfire

I'll be there first to admit that the prospect of Norwegian Space Jazz didn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm when this came across my radar but then again sometimes it pays to keep an open mind. And so it proved for 'Starfire' turns out to be an absolutely mesmerising trawl across the cosmos, drawing its themes out across expansive swathes of disco shimmer, muscular rock dynamics and the more mischievous side of spaced-out Prog. If you can imagine Hawkwind, Daft Punk and the sort of session virtuosos that used to back up Frank Zappa taking turns to soundtrack the genesis and demise of a planet then you're probably in the right solar system. That this could easily have turned into a jizz-soaked exercise in self aggrandisement goes without saying but it's not just the simple fact that it didn't that makes 'Starfire' so appealing, it's that they've managed to set such lofty goals - in this case forging a musical map of how constellations are viewed from different vantage points around the world - and pulled it off with such gob-smacking panache. Unlike many of my other choices here this record is well and truly unique - even if your most basic interests tell you to run a mile, don't. Next time you're looking for an asteroid the size of a loaf of bread several gazillion light years away, consider this the most appropriate soundtrack.

Check out : that title track, a nine-minute space odyssey that'll blow your tiny mind.

16. Raekwon - Fly International Luxurious Art

You know what I realised when the whole Wu reunion thing came together at the end of last year? Two things : first, the solo records were always better than the collective efforts and second, Raekwon was always my personal fave. He was apparently the sticking point in getting the original crew back together and I suspect he may have been saving his best for releases in his own name so if 'A Better Tomorrow' didn't live up to your expectations then direct your attentions here for a blast of how it used to be done. The Chef hasn't gone soft over the years nor has he made concessions to his own self-perception as an unchallenged genius so 'FILA' struts forth like it's the most important Hip Hop record of this or any other year. Popular opinion might not echo that sentiment but he's still on top of his game and this return to form sees him gobble his way through another set of lyrical delights, pinging lines off various guests here including Snoop, Rick Ross and his old counterfoil Ghostface Killah to hit the dizzy heights of his mid 90s heyday. The boy's getting a little tubby these days but he can still verbal run rings round any of his younger rivals. 

Check out : 'Heated Nights', a revivalist dose of ghetto storytelling for the new age.

15. Bjork - Vulnicura

Bjork’s latest fits into that unique bracket of records I’m proud to own yet reluctant to listen to, airings reserved for moments of dour reflection or brittle vulnerability of my own. She’s light years away from the bleep-bloop of her chirpier material here and in full chasm-gazing introspection mode, the production job from museum indie nerd The Haxan Cloak only bringing the weighty lyrical atmospherics into harsher focus. It’s almost as if she’s grown weary of the romantic dreamscapes that have lit up her material in days gone by and now feels the need to survey the emotional fall-out from perhaps one failed relationship too many with the same unwavering accuracy that made her loved-up output so irresistible. If it were anyone else you’d maybe just leave her to it but we’ve had too many good times for me to just turn off when her smile starts to fade and ‘Vulnicura’ shows her dazzle in a whole new lugubrious spotlight, wounds laid bare with characteristic accuracy but still searching for that twinkling light that’ll guide her to better times. Singers only retain long term fans if they can successfully chronicle the transition between different stages of their lives on record and she’s proven here that tragedy and comedy are both well within her repertoire. We’re maybe moving into the stage of her career where she produces her best work as the wheels come off completely….I almost can’t bear to watch. If ‘Big Time Sensuality’ was her ‘Wizard Of Oz’ moment then this is her ‘A Star Is Born’, a time to chronicle the damage in all its disarming sincerity. Like so many times before, this is absolutely stunning stuff.

Check out : the full ten-minute promo clip for 'Black Lake'.....spellbinding.

14. Kolsch - 1983

Rune Reilly Kolsch has been knocking out Ibiza-friendly techno since the late 90s to pay the rent but over the last few years he's turned his not inconsiderable talents to crafting more progressive fare for a spot of irresistible throb 'n' bounce over two stonking LPs on Kompact records. '1983' lands, rather perplexingly, two years down the line from 2013's '1977' which initially made me think he was aiming for a brutally atavistic series along the lines of David Peace's Red Riding quadrilogy but thankfully the results are rather less traumatic, showcasing the big screen thrills he's mastered over the years cranking our floorfillers to craft a deftly-handled dose of sky-skating techno tunes ideal tailor made for sunshine, sea air and vigorous exercise. William Orbit-style string samples intermingle with pulsating spirals of Laurent Garnier-esque Art House Techno for a musical voyage that's as effortlessly graceful as it is engagingly danceable. If you've been waiting for an adequate soundtrack to your questionable overseas behaviour this summer, consider this the perfect fit.

Check out : 'The Road' - if the journey sounds this good then the destination must be pretty fantastic.

13. Viet Cong - s/t

It’s a fairly established route these days : team up with a posse of intense, sallow-faced blokes your own age, hang around libraries dressed in black reading about totalitarian massacres and schooling yourself on bleak, tinny post punk before dashing off to the recording studio and trying to come up with something listenable. Canada’s Viet Cong tick all those boxes nicely to get their foot in the door but promptly ping off in all sorts of intriguing directions on this quality-heavy seven track debut, robotic vocals going head to head with taut guitar lines and skittering drumbeats as they layer their ideas thick enough to flesh out what started life as a skinny cassette demo into a sinewed drill sergeant of an LP. Like most of the genre’s best loved talents (Wire, PIL, Gang Of Four) they use the whole brittle guitar line thing as a launchpad for exploring a range of sounds rather than a songwriting template in itself and there’s an impressive scope here on what is basically just an EP with benefits – I’d be keen to see whether or not they can hack a 45-minute live set on the back of this but it’s nonetheless a thrilling introduction to their world. Jangling 11-minute coda ‘Death’ hints that their next step will be anything but predictable so keep this frequency clear for another ruthless deployment before too long.

Check out : 'Continental Shelf', another floor filler for the Stalinist bunker.

12. Czarfare - Every Hero Needs A Villain

Hip Hop is certainly plenty in the news at the moment although there are perhaps strings attached to the genre’s place in the media spotlight, namely that every rap album that comes out is now expected to either soundtrack the ongoing malaise of urban America or act as a reflection of its worst characteristics. Seems that if a record doesn’t fit into the current Tumblr social justice worldview of good and evil it gets overlooked completely, so keen are we all to satisfy our own need to feel ethically validated by our listening experience that we forget why we got into rap in the first place. Whatever happened to just entertaining people and moving a few butts? Don’t get me wrong, I like that Kendrick Lamar LP too but I elected to overlook it for this selection because it’s already crowded out with overzealous critical praise placing the bar wayyyy to high for him to possibly satisfy. And don’t even get me started on Kanye West….Anyway, if you yearn for a bit of good old fashioned lyrical dexterity, goofy humour and overactive imagination then you could do a lot worse than nabbing Czarface’s devastating second LP that brings a refreshing dose of comic book theatrics, cinematic samples and stellar beatbox dynamics to the mix for 2015. Bolstered by a chrome-plated production job from Inspectah Deck (there’s that Wu-nostalgia rearing its head again), rappers 7L and Esoteric fire lines off each other like the Ultramagnetics in full flight with Kool Keith himself featuring in a list of guest appearances regrouping the cream of past and present that rounds out a thrilling setlist of verbal gymnastics and clinical cut ‘n’ thrust. Whilst it’s perhaps guilty of not offering solutions to all the world’s problems, ‘Every Hero….’ Delivers enough of Hip Hop’s most potent ingredients to leave you thoroughly satisfied.  

Check out : 'Nightcrawler', the boys juggling lyrics with Mr Meth to craft an instant classic.

11. Swervedriver - I Wasn't Born To Lose You

Whilst shoegaze nostalgics like myself are rabidly enthusiastic about seeing the bands we were too young to catch first time round get back together and hit the road again twenty years down the line, the prospect of them actually recording new material is one often met with a good deal more trepidation. After all, if they quit while they were ahead then why ruin it by curling out another half-arsed effort just to please the record company? Thankfully the Swervies (who, unlike Slowdive and Ride I’ve still yet to see live) had their heads on straight when they hit the studio again to tape this worthy addition to their canon and ‘I Wasn’t Born To Lose You’ taps into the warm momentum and weightless glide that fuelled their best moments back in the day. Indeed when you listen back to their 90s stuff it becomes apparent that they were perhaps the most consistent of the shoegaze bands in LP format, their four full lengths between 1991 and 1997 bridging the gap nicely between the UK’s early 90s dream pop scene and the more visceral crunch of MTV alt-rock later in the decade. In that context consider this not only a welcome reminder of their talents but also a prompt to go back and immerse yourself in the sun-drenched fuzz of their heyday, ideally cranked up high with a pair of sunglasses and a cool beverage at hand. Summer’s starting to feel pretty good right now.  

Check out : 'Autodidact' - hey, if it ain't broke......

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cream of French indie for 2015

Hi folks,

I've been busy scouring the French musical landscape for fresh talent since the start of the year along with my Indie500 cohort Matthew and you can enjoy the fruits of our labour over at where you can listen to our weekly podcast (posted Tuesday nights) on the cream of psych rock, shoegaze, garage and electro from France and further afield. And if that leaves you wanting even more then you could do a lot worse than checking out who replay our show every Wednesday night and broadcast a host of similar fare from around the world! 

But back to France - here's a snapshot of some of the best records we've heard over the past six months, focussing specifically on the French scene and releases that have landed since the start of the year (although I have chucked in a few from late 2014 so as not to overlook any gems that we missed when they first arrived). Hope you enjoy and don't hesitate to explore the band/label sites for more sublime Gallic fare!

xxx John

1. Future - Horizons

France's shoegaze scene has given us no end of bounties this year and Future dumped their debut album on an unsuspecting public in May to emerge as the undisputed front runners of the new vanguard of Gallic reverb junkies. 'Horizons' has been a long time coming but it was worth the wait, their promising standalone releases in the end only hinting at what these kiddies were capable of in LP format. Their blend of effects pedal theatrics and mesmeric electronica succeeds in scorching eyebrows whilst still retaining a metronomic pulse to keep you dancing through the storm. Groove and catharsis trade off perfectly here and the whole thing is executed with enough panache to leave you thinking that these guys are in it to be full blown rock stars as opposed to just another basement indie racket. This lands somewhere in the dark glasses end of the fuzz rock spectrum - think Crocodiles, 'Honey's Dead'-era Mary Chain and the better bits of APTBS. I'd even go as far as to throw in a Kasabian comparison if only for their cocksure attitude and fondness for riff muscle and dancefloor theatrics. For a debut LP they've decided to go straight for the headshot and it's paid off in spades - this deserves to be absolutely fucking massive.

Check out : the vid for the title track on YouTube. Ooooh yeah.

Hometown : Paris
Label : Requiem Pour Un Twister 
Released : 25/05/15

2. Venera 4 - Eidolon

If Future bring the groove to the Parisian shoegaze scene then Venera 4 provide the glide, taking you through the clouds in a haze of brilliant light with their sumptuous debut 'Eidolon' which dropped in March of this year. This is a more calculated, clinical affair than their civic cousins' effort but it's equally satisfying, built on a solid foundation drum machine 'n' reverb to flood the picture with heavenly distortion and waves of luscious effects. Describing themselves as 'Two boys and two girls meeting in noisy pop songs' there's obviously a recognisable dollop of classic MBV in here but they're drawing from the right places - the lysergic, loop-based portions of 'Loveless' and its accompanying EPs - to avoid falling into lazy pigeonhole territory and there's perhaps a more distinct influence from early Curve, the glacial menace of 'Coast Is Clear' billowing through the room like welcome visitor from the spirit world. They flit between their native tongue and Dream Pop English across the ten tracks here to sublime effect and fill out an image of warm light and deep, striking colour to leave you feeling breathless and revived as the record draws to a close. Stunning stuff.

Check out : the video for 'Three Studies For A Portrait'.....intense.

Hometown : Paris
Label : Requiem Pour Un Twister
Released : 02/03/15

3. Dead Horse One - Without Love We Perish

Having Mark Gardener on production duties was never going to do Valence's Dead Horse One any harm in the shoegaze stakes but they've got more than enough fuel in their tank to carve out a distinct niche all of their own. 'Without Love.....' builds on their aptly-titled 'Heavenly Choir Of Jet Engines' EP to bring their ideas from the larval stage into full blown sonic butterflies that soar and dip on waves of sublime melody and soothing rhythm. The band list The Telescopes and John Barry amongst their influences so they're presumably open to widescreen thinking as well as navel-gazing intimacy and they vary the palette nicely across this impressively accomplished debut to revive the spirit of House of Love at their most sun-kissed and plaintive along with the mellower acoustic-driven cuts from their producer's back catalogue ('Sennen', 'OX4' etc). This is more Sunday morning that Saturday night but there are enough weekends left in 2015 for these guys to soundtrack on their way to stardom.

Check out : 'I Love My Man', maybe even the birth of something huge.

Hometown : Valence, Ardeche
Label : Nothing
Released : 15/02/15

4. Selenian - self-titled EP

Flying the flag for Northern France, Selenian brought a potent dose of drawn out space rock to the mix with this gorgeous little EP back in January for a much needed glimpse of sunshine. They come at you in that half awake half dreaming state, easing you out of your slumber but still coming packed with an ambitious blueprint for the day. 'Selenian' draws from Broadcast's warm electronic pop and the less inane elements of Tame Impala's guitar fantasies and condenses them into a heady mix of shimmering guitars, sweet crooning vocals and a streamlined rush of weightless energy. This debut EP basically represents a re-tooled version of their early demo tracks and if they're churning out such quality this early in the game there's surely bigger and better things round the corner for these cloud-skipping Northerners. Considered us booked in for the next instalment. 

Check out : 'Miss You Echo' with some suitably tripped out visuals.

Hometown : Valenciennes
Self-released 28/01/15

5. Be Quiet - Ichor (single)

I'm slipping this one in as it's the first material we've had so far this year from these wide-eyed dreamers from Bordeaux who are due to follow up their two impeccably suave early EPs with a third instalment in the next few weeks. The vibe here, and across the Bordeaux scene in general as far as we can tell, is slickly-produced electro with a hint of cheeky guitar pop peeking round the studio door to craft a product that'll cross over effortlessly to mainstream radio yet still withstand repeat blasts in more intimate surroundings. Last year's 'Affliction' EP was a masterclass in layered sensation, serving up memorable pop hooks where needed but leaving time aside for some more considered forays into distortion and cavernous reverb. They're surely clever enough to take this in any direction they like and I for one am holding out hope that they resist the urge to go full-on Radio Nova and wax away all the imperfections but in any case our appetite is whet for whatever they serve up next.

Check out : This plus 'Gotham' from 'Affliction' fact just get the whole EP!

Hometown : Bordeaux
Label : Believe Digital
Released : 01/06/15

6. Volage - Heart Healing

Reaching out beyond the limits of shoegaze into the realms of general fuzz rock, the French scene has a reserve of rich delights to be enjoyed for those of you partial to the flower punk ramblings of Ty Seagall, Black Lips et al. Paris-based label Howlin' Banana Records have succeeded in netting the best examples of French psych pop and garage rock including Tours' own Volage whose debut LP 'Heart Healing' the label put out last October, a heady mix of mischievous 60s garage and modern day US slacker scuzz rock that can't fail to put a sloppy grin on your face and prompt you to crack open an inexpensive alcoholic beverage or two. Their garage drawl takes in influences from the original crop (Fugs, Mothers of Invention) through to the emergent talent from earlier in the decade (Wavves, FIDLAR) but there's a tender heart beneath their lolloping riffs and slack-jawed harmonies that'll make you warm to them quicker than their self-consciously goofy Stateside competitors. Check out the free Howlin' Banana compilation below for a taste of this and the label's other chief treats.

Check out : 'Paolina', their delightfully stompy set closer.

Hometown : Tours
Label : Howlin Banana
Released : 

7. Maria False - When

Hailing from Rennes, perhaps France's most lively city for indie music, Maria False specialise in the sort of washed out, flood the mix shoegaze that Kevin Shields and the Reid brothers were knocking out circa 1990 in between drug binges and periods of intense introspection. 'When' should come with a free pair of dark glasses, packing as it does a potent brew of streamlined groove and brutish swagger that you can only take in behind Raybans and preferably a mop of untamed hair. These kids don't stray too far from the original shoegaze blueprint but then again they don't really need to when their material hits the target like this - every track on here is cut perfectly for loud live reproductions and messy, heavily sedated home listening. A ballsy, brazen shot but a worthwhile one.

Check out : 'Blossom' from the new LP which gets straight to the point.

Hometown : Rennes
Label : Nothing
Released : 05/05/15

8. Soft Blonde - No Good Trying EP

Another band from the ever-reliable Nothing roster, Soft Blonde draw from Peel Session twee pop and early noughties electronica for a gorgeous slice of cloud-skipping dream pop on this debut EP, dipping intermittently into distortion and reverb with the elegance of a swan dive before gliding off into the sunlight. Pared down to a boy/girl duo they nevertheless manage to flesh out their sound to encompass psychedelic pop, experimental noise and C86 indie charm. The title hints that they might have a gloomier side and there’s a versatility on show here as they flit between weightless shoegaze shimmer and soft-spoken introspection and you get the impression that their bigger ideas may be yet to fully come to life. As with many of the bands out there still in the embryonic stage, the chance to paint on a wider canvass is one they'll surely use to thrilling effect. More s'il vous plait!

Check out : the whole thing at

Hometown : Rennes
Label : Nothing
Released : 14/12/14

9. Slow Sliders - Childhood's Candies EP

If your preference is for songs over soundscapes then The Slow Sliders might just be the band for you, picking out catchy as hell lo-fi indie rock with this killer little EP that landed towards the end of last year. These kids tap into the kind of mellow indie that was doing the rounds in the late noughties (Grizzy Bear, Beach House) with a touch of goofball humour to round out an eminently likeable package and ‘Childhood’s Candies’ is tailor made to tickle your happy spot. The three tracks here match snappy, straight to the point pop with a more strung-out, ambling phase that hints that they’ve got enough of a handle on dynamics to stagger things nicely across a full length. I’m chasing that one up when it comes around but in the meantime this EP gives you enough to soundtrack a nice gentle float downstream while you wait. Rather intriguingly the photo collage on the cover also features an anonymous pair of bollocks – will the owner be unveiled on their next recording? Stay tuned to find out!

Check out : the boys doing it live in Nantes (no bollocks unfortunately)

Hometown : Lesneven, Brittany (although they live in Nantes now apparently)
Label : self-released
Released : 09/10/14

10. Rendez-Vous - self-titled EP

Completing my selection with a bit of sprightly post punk are Rendez-Vous who dropped this corking little debut in November laced with ice cold hooks and new wave elegance. These Parisians go in for one-handed keyboard riffs, pouting flair and anthemic chops that'd have landed them straight on Top of the Pops if this was still 1981. The neatly cut electro gems here channel perfectly the spirit of an era when British new romantics were taking their stylistic cues from France and the likes of Visage, Ultravox and Depeche Mode all linger in the background as the action unfolds. If you're familiar with the indie dens of the French capital then you may well have visited Le Piano Vache in the 5th, a venue that remains faithful to such an aesthetic and where these lads could easily set themselves up as the house band. Consider this a worthy introduction to the stick mic revival for 2015. 

Check out : the suitably utilitarian video clip for 'The Others'

Hometown : Paris
Label : Zappruder
Released : 25/11/14

Saturday, April 18, 2015

New : Lonelady - 'Hinterland'

Feels like things are getting organic again in Manchester. Never a city too shy to boast about its musical pedigree, the Northern powerhouse hasn’t actually given us a right lot to get excited about over recent years with a string of supposedly flagship acts amounting to little more than short-lived hype and directionless noodling (Wu Lyf, Money, Everything Everything, take a bow lads!). A lot of my mates back home seemed psyched about those bands but for me there was never anything to hang your hat on, nothing to really get you dancing – in fact, now that I think about it there was nothing that showed any real understanding of the city’s musical heartbeat, the soul and attitude that has bolstered the best art the Greater Manchester area has given the world. Take it back through Britpop, Baggy, C86 Indie and Post Punk right back to the fallout from that infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in 1976 and there’s been a swagger, a strut that’s pushed the music forward, feeling the beat from the ground up and taking it to the crowd with confidence and class. Morrissey might have sneered at disco back in the day but Johnny Marr’s guitar lines still got you out of your seat and up on the dancefloor pretty damn quick – you’ve gotta feel it see, stop scrutinising and act on impulse for once.

Whilst her peers were too busy navel-gazing to grab the ‘Next Big Thing’ ball and run with it, Lonelady’s Julie Ann Campbell looks like she might just be ready to catch a wave and break from the pack with her stonking second LP ‘Hinterland’ that landed last month. It’s not that she resonates star quality or anything, the girl just gets it. Having soaked up the city’s musical culture at art college she banged out some 4 tracks that got her signed to Warp in the late noughties and released her highly danceable debut ‘Nerve Up’ in 2010, ironically when the British press were busy getting their panties in a knot over the bunch of no-hopers mentioned earlier. Now the path’s been cleared she should get some of the attention she deserves with this flawless newbie that draws on the dancefloor friendly post-punk of oft-overlooked civic peers like A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column for a heady mix of tremulous basslines, skittering drum patterns and tightly wound riffs that’ll go straight to your hips and still leave a little leftover for your brain to ponder. The five year gap between records suggested she’s accustomed to taking her time and that notion is born out over the tracks here, songs frequently edging the six minute mark but it’s never wasted time – the tracks build up slowly like classic House whilst retaining their humanity, kinda like the way Warpaint manage to do danceable while keeping the individual instruments distinctly recognisable in the mix. And hey, those gals left a hefty pause between first and second records so maybe that’s the secret? There’s shades of Talking Heads on the title track in the way they fuse funk with arthouse post-punk without sounding like a bunch of honky plagiarists and the aptly-titled ‘Groove It Out’ manages to achieve subtly what Friendly Fires seem to overshoot with most of their material – you know what the secret is boys? LESS COWBELL!! Don’t wear it out ferchrissakes! You’d think they were fucking sponsored by some music store to cram in as much shitty sounding percussion into their tunes like they’re emptying a truckfull of timps and tambourines into a landfill….but I digress. What I like about this chick is that she knows when to take her foot off the pedal, letting the ingredients breathe and find their place in the mix without shoving them to the forefront in case we don’t notice. ‘Silvering’ sounds like early Bloc Party kicking into gear while ‘Red Scrap’ whisks gracefully by with the poise and precision of fellow Mancs Dutch Uncles (who are worth checking out too while I’m at it) and she kicks it up a notch on the scrambling punk torrent ‘(I Can See) Landscapes’, each time showing those hours poring over yesterday’s records have paid off as she crafts something potently fresh with the results. Lead single ‘Bunkerpop’ is possibly the pick of a very fine bunch, everything gradually falling into place over five and a half stealthily-handled minutes as she serves up a fresh product drawing on the finest early 80s funk pop to leave the listener with a big old grin on their face. Picking a favourite is tough as it’s wall to wall quality here and, though it’s way too early to start banging on about record of the year and all that, this is waaaay ahead of the pack right now. She’s surely one break away from superstardom but why wait for overkill when you can enjoy it in private right now? For those of you in Paris the tour comes to La Maroquinerie on May 16th – as I write tickets are still going at 12 Euros a pop so get on that quickety quick to catch this gal before she’s packing bigger venues in a few months time. ‘Hinterland’ is solid proof that Manchester’s still got soul, Britain’s still got talent and that 2015 is shaping up to be a classic.

Check out : ‘Bunkerpop’ – this year’s ‘Undertow’? You go ahead and prove me wrong.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

New : The Charlatans - 'Modern Nature' / Noel Gallagher - 'Chasing Yesterday'

In many ways there’s never been a better time to be a 45-year musician. The decline in sales of new music coupled with festival promotors' overreliance  on established/reformed acts of yesteryear has swung things in favour of artists pitching it to the married with children bracket - seeing as everyone else is skint these days - whilst pattern baldness indie acts like Elbow and The National have steadily galumphed forward into the new decade to increasing levels of success. You don’t have to be a bog tedious real ale type to cut it in your 40s though - the runaway success of Sleaford Mods in last year’s indie press showed that advancing years are no barrier to critical praise whilst wise old elders like Paul Weller and Johnny Marr stepped back into the ring with fresh new licks to prove there’s still plenty of life in British indie. What they have in common is that trademark swagger, the brash R’n’R attitude that runs through virtually all of the decent guitar music that has burst forth from these isles over the years – a pouty, overconfident strut inherited from those that came before them that brings the music to life and makes you want to get up and throw some shapes. We all bemoan the over-gentrification of British indie in these harsh, mercenary times so it’s important that we treasure what still makes it great, a portal for working class youth to blow off some steam and reach out to touch folk across the globe, not just with clever bugger lyrics and a catchy synth line but with a sense of GROOVE. All the hagiography and rose-tinted nostalgia shouldn’t blind us to the fact that during the heydays of Madchester and Britpop most of the punters weren’t sat there deconstructing the music to within an inch of its life, they were too busy dancing their arses off and having a good time to think too hard about what was happening. This isn’t to say that the music didn’t have an intelligence to it, it’s just that the message was one that didn’t need to be articulated in a nice well-spoken accent – it was all about the feeling. You either got it or you didn’t. And even if it mellows with age, it never truly dies.

Those who keep on keepin’ on were hit with a double whammy earlier this year with return to form gems from two of England’s greatest. Madchester Rasputins The Charlatans bounced back from their SECOND death in the band with the gloriously resurgent ‘Modern Nature’ in late January whilst Noel Gallagher reminded us that there was more to him than a string of hilarious press quotes with ‘Chasing Yesterday’, a second release under the High Flying Birds moniker that dropped in early March. Neither act has made the mistake of thinking that they’re still 19 but crucially both seem to remember how they felt when they were – the pace has steadied but the power’s still right there where it should be and we can count ourselves fortunate that both acts are still knocking out decent records after all this time. Indeed, if you’ve ever taken The Charlatans for granted then news that they’d be carrying on following the death of drummer Jon Brookes should have brought things back into stark focus and made you realise how much you’d miss them if they weren’t around. The evergreen indie veterans are pretty much the only band to have charted a course through every movement in British music since the rave era without ever falling off the map or fading into irrelevance – their central role to both Madchester and Britpop may have been supplanted by a more backseat presence in the post millennial landscape of British guitar music but they’ve always been there when you needed them, surfacing every few years with another foray into indie’s more danceable territory. ‘Modern Nature’ tracks back to the early 70s for an almost implausibly upbeat listen, siphoning off the optimistic groove of classic era Stevie Wonder/Curtis Mayfield along with a generous dose of sun-soaked country rock to craft a buoyant, heady mix that hints at a band in love with the world around them rather than grieving over the loss of a key member. They hit a balance between confidence and subtlety that runs through the best of Ian Brown’s solo stuff – see ‘Music Of The Spheres’ for a good example – but their approach sounds like more of a band effort, the four sides of the square closing ranks and moving forward unperturbed by the void behind the drumkit. They can still knock out catchy singles without breaking sweat and the dub-infused lead track ‘Talking In Tones’ keeps up the strike rate nicely whilst the irrepressibly catchy ‘Come Home Baby’ and the sweet AOR flick of ‘Emilie’ set things up nicely for sunnier days of lagered-up revelry. They’re perhaps at their most impressive when they lock into a groove and run with it, ‘So Oh’ turning circles around a delicious acoustic riff while ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ glides through seven minutes of skytouching funk getting happier by the second. You’d think tragedy would have at least soured their mood if not knocked them off their perch completely but these lads have been here before - the earlier loss of keyboardist Rob Collins hit them at their commercial and critical peak in the mid 90s but did nothing to derail the runaway success of the ‘Tellin Stories’ LP that emerged in his wake and in an ideal world ‘Modern Nature’ would provide similar reward for their tenacity in the face of loss, teeing up a dormant UK indie scene for a summer of love once these tunes have gained a foothold on stereos across the land. As things stand it’s perhaps more realistic to hope for a reappraisal of their oeuvre in view of the chilling prospect of losing them for good – with that in mind get your filthy mitts on this without further ado and then take a trip through everything from ‘Wonderland’ onwards and remind yourself why these guys are at vital as they’ve ever been.

As for Noel, he’s gotten used to taking his time. Having become the indie scene’s go-to figure for a decent quote he doesn’t need to worry about disappearing from the spotlight and the penury of cocky guitar rock at present leaves the road open before him for a comeback anytime he feels like it. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ picks up where his 2011 solo debut left off, combing through his established musical influences to deliver another run of steady-handed compositions tailor made for the calm before the sort of storm he’d have whipped up in his younger days. There’s a consistency of attitude that links his newer material to the cocksure sneer of early Oasis but the end product is a calmer, more focused beast – his urge to put noses out of joint now safely channelled through his reliably entertaining press contributions, he’s now free to flesh out his musical fantasies into sentient form on his own terms and in his own time. His first solo offering took a few by surprise with its leaning towards pastoral pop at the expense of his trademark guitar rock and that’s a balance he redresses at times here, opener ‘Riverman’ seeing him bust out the axe for a rewarding bout of melodic soloing and the fist in the air anthems you know he’s capable of writing come through when needed, ‘Lock All The Doors’ cruising gracefully by like prime-era Britpop whilst ‘You Know You Can’t Go Back’ packs a chorus with a feelgood factor up there with his finest ‘Morning Glory’ bangers. Freed from the anchor of Liam’s provocative pouting his brother is able to simply kick back and unleash slow-release gems that stand up to repeated listens without grating – he’s taken his time writing these tunes and clearly expects us to do the same listening to them. The gentler side of post-millennial Oasis returns on ‘The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes’ and he manages to roll out the same old lyrical tropes (catching the sun, needing more time etc) without sounding trite, even moving into moderately soulful territory with the calculated gamble ‘The Right Stuff’ which hints that his music collection isn’t as pasty white as you might think. If there’s a parallel from his youth then it’s perhaps Paul Weller’s return to the fray as Britpop gathered speed, the strength of his legacy bolstered by his ability to swim along with the tide of musical fashion allowing him to emerge as an authority figure for the new age, capable of dispensing advice but also of taking the stage and leading by example. Consider this Noel’s own ‘Wild Wood’ then, the sound of a man evolving from his angrier roots to embrace a gentler frequency – there’s no apology for his past, musically or otherwise, just a confidence in the path that led him to where he is now and a strident faith in his ability to choose the correct next step. Flanked by journeyman peers such as Weller himself and a revitalised Johnny Marr plus a younger troupe of suitors – Miles Kane, Kasabian et al – Noel’s poised to lead his own movement through the decade as he sees fit, impervious to the caution that has taken hold of today’s UK indie scene and harbouring an understanding of that big ole rock ‘n’ roll heart that pumps the blood through the best of past and present. Back to back these two LPs are more Sunday afternoon than Saturday night but it’ll still take a lot to budge ‘Modern Nature’ and ‘Chasing Yesterday’ from the stereo as the weather warms up and those blue skies and sunshine pints scream out for an adequate soundtrack – 2015 is feeling better by the second.

Check out : ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ from the Charlies and Noel’s ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’.