So we’re at the very beginning of our new year, 2013, so I think it’s important to look back on what turned out to be such an exciting year (for me) in terms of Indie music.
I’m going to start the year all the way over in May because that’s when the hangover of 2011 had truly lifted and the real magic started to happen. On May 21st, The Enemy released their third full-length album, Streets In The Sky, which after the heavy criticism of album number two (still a great record in my view), had plenty to answer to. Luckily, these guys knew just what to do, and they came out with an album stripped right back to the raw power we heard from The Enemy in their debut, but with a far more optimistic message behind the album as a whole. The sound was aggressive, guitar dominant, as well as being simple and brilliantly catchy which is what can only be expected from a songwriter like Tom Clarke who prefers to throw music snobbery aside for a decent tune. Tracks such as This Is Real, Gimme The Sign and Bigger Cages Longer Chains give us the raw power we crave while Two Kids and Get Up and Dance show us the sensitive side of the Coventry trio.
While we’re on the subject of glorious comebacks, let’s talk about Lex Hives, the fifth album from Sweden’s greatest Rock’n’Roll band (as they have modestly dubbed themselves) after an agonising five year wait- FIVE YEARS! This self-produced record was released internationally on June 4th, and like a hungry lion on an unsuspecting gazelle, I pounced on it. In the process of bringing it home for my first listen, the fears of “what if I hate it? Maybe I should just never listen to it to avoid disappointment…” kicked in. Of course this was all ridiculous because The Hives produced one of their best records to date. It’s so hard to find consistency in modern music- it’s hard to find a band that shows the same genius for more than two albums; however, much like a modern Stones, The Hives have so far come out with five consecutive albums jam packed with sheer awesomeness. With the addition of a brass section, tracks like Go Right Ahead and UK bonus track, Midnight Shifter were an exciting new element but if it ain’t broke, The Hives won’t fix it, so for the remainder of the album these music legends stuck to what they’re best at: fast paced, no nonsense Rock music. For the record, The Hives put on the best live show of any band I’ve ever seen, so if you ever have the rare chance to catch them in the UK, for goodness sake take it!
As the sun was setting from the UK’s wettest summer on record, all was not lost for on August 13th, Indie newbies, Spector released their debut album, Enjoy It While It Lasts, after a string of singles including Chevy Thunder which was to shake Britain. Spector produced a record where every single song, even the slower ones, like an exceptionally vigilant koala bear, clings to your brain for the rest of the day- sometimes even longer. What makes Enjoy It While It Lasts such a marvel is its shameless simplicity, its lyrical charm and, of course, Fred Macpherson’s smooth vocal throughout. If you haven’t experienced Spector, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
The very next week, on August 19th, a band I think we’ll hear a lot more of pretty soon, Life In Film, released their first five-track EP entitled Needles And Pins. With a sound that’s both slightly melancholic in a Morrissey kind of way, whilst also being summery with a beautiful trebly guitar tone, the EP is so understated, often leaving me to question whether there is any justice left in this world. Title track Needles And Pins is sad and beautiful in its melody, while Until It’s Over, with its clever guitar riff, and perfectly placed bass drum during chorus giving it some real power behind it. I had the pleasure of interviewing lead vocalist Sam, and not that it makes a difference to the music, but he was extremely pleasant! Anyway, keep a close eye out for these guys because I think once they get an album out there will be no stopping them.
September 3rd marked both the release of The Vaccines’ second album, and The Milk’s debut album. Let’s start with The Milk- Tales From The Thames Delta: I watched this band in the summer of 2011 and thought they were absolutely great- they were energetic, musically flawless and all in all gave memorable performance. This still didn’t prepare me for the impact their first album would have on me. I was completely blown away by the record. I’d forgotten how R’n’B influenced it was, and just how strong singer Clarie Robin’s vocals were. The album is instrumentally excellent; featuring irresistibly dance-worthy drum beats working perfectly with the guitar. Stand out songs would have to be Broke Up The Family, B-Roads, Chip The Kids and my personal favourite (All I Wanted Was) Danger, but album closer, Lay The Pain On Me, is fragile, as well as soulful and is a testimony to Robin’s vocal range.
The Vaccines second album, Come Of Age was surprisingly different to NME golden boys’ first album. The style was essentially the same: still very much a guitar band, still very much Indie music, but this second taste of The Vaccines gave the feeling they’d gone deeper into music than before, experimenting with more unusual melodies, seen in Aftershave Ocean and Weirdo. The album probably doesn’t quite match its predecessor but is nonetheless a great set of tracks.
Late September saw the long awaited return of Mumford and Sons who managed to find a place in most of the world’s hearts in 2009 with Sigh No More. Their follow-up release, could never be anything other than a great album- the reasons for this being it is too darn similar to their first album to be classed differently! So, yes, Babel, is full of beautiful harmonies, the rustic sound of a banjo and a double bass, which is all great- in all fairness it is a great album! It has to be said, however, that it could easily be mistaken for the first album, in the strumming patterns of the songs, particularly the likes of I Will Wait and the undulation of Marcus Mumford’s melodies in tracks such as Holland Road do seem slightly similar to previous Mumford songs. However back-handed this may seem, I do genuinely love the album, it’s an easy listen, it’s full of beautiful harmonies, and if Sigh No More had never existed I am confident this would boost Mumford to stardom all the same, I just think the third album needs to catch us off guard slightly.
By October the 8th, Nottingham’s new boys, Dog Is Dead, released their debut full-length album, All Our Favourite Stories. I have already raved about this in a review but just to reiterate- the album, to me, is more or less perfect. Dog Is Dead have found a sound so unique to them and with such credibility: refreshingly, each of the five members can sing, and in turn their harmonies are phenomenal; Indie music seems to have gone crazy for harmonies lately but these guys really know how to do it. All Our Favourite Stories is a great summer soundtrack (despite it’s October release), with tunes like their self-confessed “American douchebag song”, Talk Through The Night as well as the classic Glockenspiel Song. Dog Is Dead convey real emotion and meaning in their songs without being pretentious and are definitely only going to get bigger and bigger from here on out.
My final two albums were released the very next week on October 15th. Firstly: Little Comets’ follow up to In Search Of Elusive Little Comets, named, Life Is Elsewhere, is an interesting one. While the band’s debut was pretty straight forward, generally speaking, with some brilliant guitar parts and extremely impressive vocals due to Robert Coles’ impossible vocal range. With the latest album, the Comets have produced material far more complex than before, with unusual, almost mathematical timing in several tracks. This, on the one hand makes it a great listen while by yourself because you get to listen to every fragment of every song and think “how are they doing that?!” but it also means the second album is far less dancy than the first. It depends what you’re into really, but I’ve found the second album has some extraordinary tracks on, such as Bayonne, Worry and an unusual and vulnerable number, Violence Out Tonight.
Finally, although he’s been given enough attention by most of the music world just recently, I have to mention Jake Bugg’s self-title debut. With a retro sound and a simple approach, Bugg at just eighteen years old has done exceptionally well for himself. The album is filled with part Cash, part Dylan-esque tunes, delivered with a kind of teenage aggression, evident in Two Fingers and Lightning Bolt. I don’t really need to say much else on the album because it’s been plastered all over NME for months but Jake Bugg is an album with great integrity, sung by someone far beyond his years, that simply does not get old.
So that’s been my 2012 in music- a year I feel has been one of the most exciting I’ve encountered and one I feel is leading somewhere really special, that I can only hope to follow just as closely. 2013 promises much from bands such as Haim and Swim Deep as well as a supposed comeback from Kings Of Leon. All in all I think this will be a good year.