New Releases go under the microscope

mugstarMUGSTAR – ‘Axis’
I’m not sure where or how to place this newy from Mugstar.  It’s a bit of a head scratcher for this Headwarmer (see what I did there?).  I’ll start by stating a simple fact: it’s a good album.  In fact scratch that, it’s very good and musically it reaches peaks that most prog-rock groups could only dream of; making it fucking fantastic at times.  Each track an extended jam session between artists who not only know their instruments intimately, but also each other.  Being entirely instrumental though means the music itself has to be shit hot to retain attention and by in large, Mugstar can tick that box.  “So what’s the problem Chris, you insufferable twat?” I hear you cry.  Well, I guess I’m not fully sold on the longevity of instrumental albums.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the prog-rock feel and the simple yet effective way in which each track is delivered; and at no point does it try to compensate by, say, throwing in aimless soloing.  All the instrumentation feels perfectly at home but I think the struggle will come in consuming the album as a whole.  By that I mean, in a room, lights down low, staring into space and just listening.  What with our modern lives and our Pepsi Cola and our MTV, who has the time to do that nowadays, right?  To me this album is a great soundtrack to doing nothing and that makes it hard to get a semi over.  Case in point – the other day I made a high speed dash to Heathrow at stupid o’ clock and immediately thought of Axis for the drive.  For about four tracks it was perfect, but then I found myself not really listening consciously.  Unwittingly it became the most heinous of all music – muzak.  Admittedly, it is monstrously bold and dramatic muzak, but muzak all the same.  Although this feels like I’m doing it an injustice, a lot of Axis feels like a series of musical interludes from extended vocal tracks left on the cutting room floor.  A favourite though is ‘Black Fountain’ which starts with ominously mournful woodwind that gives way to the kind of jungle drums you’d expect from South American tribes signalling a fire in a rainforest.  The rhythm of the drums matched perfectly to guitars rolling around in a way that gives an air of menace and foreboding, that I keep coming back to.  ‘Axis Modulator’ is another rhythmic, throbbing cut that boots up like an infected computer system ready to unleash something rather nasty and permanent on the human race.  ‘In Earth’ is lumbering and unhurried but tends to drag; at times sounding like ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ or an extended Ray Manzarek solo, replete with a bum note or two to remind you it is a jam after all.  ‘Tangerina’  has warm synths and comes across like The Who (when they were learning how to use synthesisers) and a more upbeat Arcade Fire.  ‘Hollow Ox’ is another low point that is eminently forgettable….and that’s literally all I have to say about it.  This is a good album if you like tight and interesting instrumental jams that aren’t overly complicated or pretentious.  As a collective it would do well thrown into an ipod shuffle (other MP3 players are available), but as a body of work it may have a limited shelf life.  Then again, who listens to albums in their entirety these days? (6)

club smithCLUB SMITH – ‘Appetite For Chivalry’
Fresh from support slots with Kaiser Chiefs and Shed Seven earlier this year, Leeds four-piece Club Smith have recently released their debut album and while their fellow Yorkshiremen have hit commercial gold, ‘Appetite for Chivalry’ strives to create a similar connection with the listener, but just doesn’t hit the mark.  That’s not to say there aren’t any promising signs though. ‘Mantra’ kicks things off with its synth-led, dark and moody, 80’s Bunnymen vibe, and debut single ‘No Friend Of Mine’ is a simple but effective stomper with a not too subtle Franz Ferdinand influence that would go down a storm at any indie disco.  If it isn’t on the radar of commercial radio already, well it should be. ‘The System is Flawed’ gets a nod if only for the robotic backing vocals, but their latest single “Lament” is an Arcade Fire reject, more style than substance.  ‘Young Defeatists’ has festival anthem written all over it with a singalong chorus and pounding bass drum – maybe their time spent with Ricky and co has rubbed off.  A noticeable change of pace is ‘I Didn’t Want to Show you that I’d lost Faith”; a piano-led slow burner with a rolling drumbeat that frontman Sam Robson tops off with some soaring vocals.  But are they going to be indie saviours?  Probably not.  Catchy baselines apart, there isn’t anything that we haven’t heard a hundred times over from all too many indie chancers over recent times.  And at 11 tracks long you’re left wondering whether stripping out the filler, might have left you with an appetite for more.  (5)

billytalentBILLY TALENT – ‘Dead Silence’
Hailing from one of the hotbeds of bare-knuckle punk poison, Canadian quartet Billy Talent lead in the grand tradition of heating up brutally simplistic music with a white hot intensity and a warped melodic centre.  Despite not setting the world alight with this their 4th LP, there’s a psyched-up sense of urgency, overwhelming shots of venomous adrenaline and the constant feeling that the whole thing is going to come crashing down around your ears.  Well oiled and whirring, Billy Talent stand at the centre of chaos and batter out splintered riffs, skeleton rythmns and maniacal vocal yelps that have real power.  Unlike some cheap punk band they don’t go in for histrionics over speed or comfort, rollng up on ‘Viking Death March’ like a tightly coiled spring; Ben Kowalewicz’s vocal pushed way up front.  ‘Surprise! Surprise!’ comes across a little like early Terrorvision; all pop-hooks and crunching riffs, it’s effective if a touch credulous.  ‘Running Across The Tracks’ doesn’t pause for breath once and  ‘Love Was Still Around’ is distorted, mature and bruised; a frantic bass throb underpinning one of the highlights of the set.  Somewhere in the midst of the carnage is ‘Stand Up and Run’, a languid ballad accompanied by Ian Dsa’s simple strum.  At first ‘Crooked Minds’ sounds disconcerting and alien, before becoming the resting place halfway through what’s turning into a marathon assault.  ‘Man Alive!’ is classic BT and ‘Hanging By a Thread’ is an acerbic mixture of twisted pop, rasping guitars and lacerated vocals; the band effortlessly capable of switching mood without losing any of their punk-rock credibility or energy.  ‘Cure For the Enemy’ is an apocolyptic tone-poem that tempers perfectly the mainline rush of ‘Don’t Count On The Wicked’ and the breezy Green Day mainstream edge of ‘Show Me The Way.  ‘Swallowed Up By The Ocean’ is a touch pretentious and synthetic; losing the drive of earlier cuts, before the title track brings proceedings to an equally mediocre conclusion.  Still, ‘Dead Silence’ as a whole carries enough atmospheric intensity to keep a swelling fanbase more than happy and its a clear indication that Billy Talent still have their fingers firmly on the pulse.  (8)

hostage calmHOSTAGE CALM – ‘Please Remain Calm’
The third LP from Connecticut’s Hostage Calm sees them refining their sound still further from 2010’s self-titled release and whilst Please Remain Calm has less musical twists and turns than its predecessor, it carries a cleaner more polished sound to their modern day blend of Pop-Punk. It’s as different to their Hardcore roots as night is to day – perhaps threatening to alienate fans of the Lens-era direction, but potentially opening them up to a much wider audience.  Mixing elements that you’d expect to hear on albums by groups as diverse as Nada Surf, The Offspring or The Beach Boys with some Springsteen-esque heartland rock thrown in, Please Remain Calm has a feel and depth that confidently pushes musical boundaries and preconceptions, while offering more than it’s fair share of political commentary.  Standout tracks include ‘Don’t Die On Me Now’ which has the upbeat Punk-Pop feel we’ve come to expect and The M-Word which wouldn’t feel out of place on the soundtrack of a High School Prom; with it’s accessible melodies and Chris Martin styled (not that one!) lovesick vocal.  Album closer ‘One Last Salute’ is their grand finale and the best track on offer, with sleigh bells and unexpected sudden upheavals of percussion and tempo shifts.  What is evidently absent from Please Remain Calm is the grittiness of their earlier work, with overly polished production that at times feels far too clean and smothering; with the drum and bass seeming particularly low in the mix.  Perhaps they’re able to translate and convey a meatier sound on stage but overall, the album stands apart by having a purpose that appears to have been forgotten by many of their contemporaries and it may not be Hardcore, but at times it is  really rather good!  (7)

crooked fingersCROOKED FINGERS – ‘Breaks In The Armor’
Former Archers of Loaf maestro Eric Bachmann has always been known for his understated and affecting arrangements.  The Indie janglings of early Archers material, particularly Icky Metal, were hailed as alternative rock masterpieces.  Bristling with an energy that would come across as hearty and art-free, it’s legacy still creeps into his modern day work.  His ‘other’ band Crooked Fingers have passed relatively under the radar, receiving nominal acclaim across what is now a 6 LP discography.  Breaks in the Armor is built mainly on Bachmann’s acoustic mastery and backing vocalist Liz Durrett’s delicate articulations.   Although opener ‘Typhoon’ puts the pedal to the indie-rock metal, albeit dowsed in sobriety, ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘The Hatchet’ both sit beside the fire; late night tales akin to Springsteen’s early work on Nebraska.  ‘The Counterfeiter’ is rich, classy and stirring Indie, with a country hue and a straw in its mouth; Bachmann’s nasal overtones diving and swelling dramatically.  Although the mid-section is a little forgettable and slightly ponderous, ‘Heavy Hours’ and ‘Went to the city’ have a charm that proves why the US loves this band and why Europe just might one day.  The highlight is ‘Your Apocalypse’ – a soul searching lament with an affecting hook that’s dead easy to listen to and dead easy to like.  ‘She Tows the Line’ dances dangerously over the lines drawn by Crowded House, before Bachmann closes the set with a simple acoustic strum.  Breaks in the Armor is more than a worthwhile exercise and will do no harm to an already sterling reputation.  It just might not be enough to establish him and his band as a major force and squarely on the global map.  (7)

halfnoiseHALF NOISE – ‘Half Noise’
Who’d a thunk it!  Zac Farro the former drummer of power Pop-Rock sweethearts Paramore, has a darker side.  The world in which his Halfnoise project resides couldn’t be further away from the mainstream spotlight that so avidly followed his day job.  Taking cues from low-fi Mogwai styled post-rock, Farro has created a 5 track EP that shimmers with delicate celestial sounds and moods that float effortlessly beneath a more than consummate vocal.  Despite very eloquent similarities to Chris Martin, Farro is still able to carve out a unique furrow to produce an equally unique calling card that should elevate him to commendable and lofty heights of artistry.  ‘Remember When’ and ‘Sunsee’ tickle your eardrums like a warm Caribbean wind, while ‘Hide Your Eyes’ plays out like one of Martin’s earlier collaborations with Faultline.  Mournful bass lines beneath an angelic vocal and ivory tinkerings lifting the listener to a higher plane.  ‘Free The House’ is an urban lullaby that carves its way through sampled bleeps and blurps, rolling percussion and a sinister tale of life’s struggles.  Occasionally exquisite and instantly memorable, if Farro carries on like this Lord knows what a full long player we might expect.  Halfnoise is an entirely sympathetic and pleasurable release that’s been long in the making but boy has it been worth it and way better than anything he’s done in the past.  (8)

BLOOD COMMAND – ‘Funeral Beach’
Blood Command is a three-piece punk band from Bergen on the West coast of Norway.  Funeral Beach is their fifth official release and fuck me, what an album it is.  Once again, here’s another band I had no idea existed but lordy lordy am I glad I’ve found them.  They take great melodies, add a dash of good old fashioned pomp and Punk Rock opera; even shades of pop to their immaculate conceptions.  ‘High Five for Life’ for example wouldn’t be too out of place on the radio, as you drive your mother to M&S to buy socks for your dad.  Lead singer Silje Tombre delivering the goods in many ways, through thoughtful lyrics and a fluid diversity that she can push into a roar that is at times terrifying and equally tuneful.  Occassionally it sounds as if she’s on the verge of vomiting which, may not sound particularly appealing or flattering, but adds an air of commitment to the delivery that’s proper good! and at its best when she throws a few stylistic changes into the mix.  Which is perfectly demonstrated on ‘Wolves at the Door’; a high octane slice of urgency with Tombre launching into a raging vocal inferno, only for the air to be sucked out of the burning room; a few smouldering bars balanced over her haunting, ethereal vocals.  Just when you think the fire has been put out, someone opens a door and oxygen floods the room, reigniting the inferno; fan-fucking-tastic theatre.   In fact, I’m really intrigued to see how Tombre sings live because if she can replicate this delivery on stage, I’ve found myself a new hero.  The occasional male vocal adds further meat to your plate and because of the scarcity of their usage, it makes them all the more special.  The guitar work is strong and confident with some beautifully arranged hooks but the real grab is in the production.  At no point do the guitars descend into a grotty mush of noise; every track and riff crystal clear regardless of how heavy it gets.  Occasionally Sigurd Haakaas’ drums feel a touch restrained, particularly on the whip-cracking ‘Death to All But Us’, but it’s a minor point on an album bristling with quality.   ‘Wolves at the Door’ leading the charge – a sneering, swaggering assault with an ending that feels like being slapped repeatedly in the face by a beautiful Nordic woman.  There’s the title track that combines a killer hook with breaks, pauses and hauntingly fierce lyrics, before the amusingly titled ‘High Five for Life’ (is this ironic or lost in translation?) provides the opposite end of their multi-hued spectrum through brilliantly accessible Pop/Rock.  If you’re looking to ween a friend away from Nickleback and push them towards Rollo Tomassi, then Funeral Beach would be a step in the right direction.  As we await a UK tour I’ve joined their facebook group (regardless of the fact it’s all in Norwegian); I think you should too because Funeral Beach is a stylish piece of work that freely blends credible Punk with an accessible Pop heritage delivered oh so seriously and without reservation.  A resounding result and a heartily admiring salute from us.  (8)

set it offDespite having only formed in 2008 Set it Off have already released three EPs, embarked on 19 tours – sharing the stage with the likes of My Chemical Romance, A Day to Remember and We Came as Romans – and now with Cinematics, they’re aiming to bring their unique brand of Orchestra-Infused Emo Punk Pop to the masses.  Overall there’s a lot to like about Cinematics.  ‘Nightmare’ grows from a slow start to a pacey anthemic outpouring that should raise fists to the air when they it live – new Drummer Maxx Danziger showcasing undoubted skill and ability; perfectly complimenting and controlling Cody Carson’s vocals.  ‘Swan Song’ is a catchy, rather clichéd mix of pop melody with angst filled lyrics that soon have you tapping along to and ‘The Grand Finale’ is exactly that – a slow burner (with Violins!!) with shifting gears and a pacey, hefty chorus line.  There’s even an unexpected pseudo-Hardcore verse that succeeds in knocking the listener back a step or two.  ‘No Control’ again charges out of the blocks towards a grandiose hook that unashamedly overshadows the rest of the song.  An oft-repeated pattern that affects the majority of Cinematics and although it remains engaging stuff, only Carson remains firmly entrenched as the star of the show.  It’s an ambitious release that progresses their sound convincingly from their previous LP Horrible Kids.  It has polish, both musically and technically and wears it’s influences on its sleeve; the likes of Fall Out Boy and All Time Low shining through the most.  What is lacking here is any real depth, as the multi-layered musicianship is constantly over shadowed by adolescent anthemic choruses that may well play into the hands of a desired audience, but could equally prove to alienate others.  (6)

DEFTONES – ‘Koi No Yokan’
Album number seven from Sacramento hero’s Deftones has arrived much sooner than expected following the huge dynamics of 10’s Diamond Eyes; and a mighty platter it is too.  While most ‘Alt-Metal’ combos (or whatever other tag you wanna slap on their foreheads) have either fallen way short or tried to strip away at the aggression and delve into the realms of annally-retentive histrionics and flowery progression, Deftones have found a working formula and stuck to it.  The ability to mix the traditional edge of D.C Hardcore, the best of what is left of Nu-Metal with dustings of Dream Pop is an astonishing thing.  Since 06’s Saturday Night Wrist and bassist Chi Cheng’s horrific accident in ’08, these Californians have demonstrated a startling togetherness.  In the face of adversity and increasing pressure to air the lost ‘Eros’ sessions Chino Moreno and co have emerged again, with probably one of the best releases of the year.  With Sergio Vega continuing to fill in on bass, Koi is riddled with the exact same hooks that compelled us to play Diamond Eyes over and over.  In fact, it could quite easily sit alongside and play twin sister such are the similarities.  And by that you might be thinking they’ve played an easy card this time; levelling out on the creativity and failing to push even their hugely expansive boundaries.  Well don’t be fooled because there are 11 tracks on offer here that push everything on Diamond Eyes and occassionally White Pony to their limits.  for example ‘Swerve City’ combines a hugely catchy chorus with the sort of menace and monstrous riffery we’ve come too associate them by, while ‘Leathers’ and ‘Entombed’ explore bold lyrical ground with simple yet devastating clarity.  The contribution from Vega is pushed much more to the fore than on Diamond Eyes; his morose and pulsating basslines allowing ‘Romantic Dreams’ and particularly ‘Poltergeist’ to simply soar with effortless artistry.  Musically the band are still so tight it hurts and in between the chugging, razor sharp riffs rest intricately woven threads of familiar harmony, polish and control.  Then ‘Graphic Nature’ rips through a skull-crushingly heavy guitar line leaving shreds of static and feedback hanging in the air for the dreamy allure of ‘Tempest’ to glide it’s way through, before ‘Guaze’ and ‘Goon Squad’ slay with the relentless ferocity of a serial killer; either side of the reflective ‘ballad’ ‘Rosemary’.  Closer ‘What Happened To You’ creeps in on a cartoon bass-play from Vega before taking off on the back of Stephen Carpenter’s perfectly weighted guitar picks and Abe Cunningham’s restless jazzy clatter.  It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Deftones to follow the crowd and go for brawn over brains, but only a complete fool would expect them to go for the easy option right now; and Koi is all the better for it.  (9)

pigdestroyerPIG DESTROYER – ‘Book Burner’
The first release from Pig Destroyer since 2007’s Phantom Limb picks up very much where they left off, but with new sticksman Alex James (Misery Index) replacing the departed Brian Harvey, along with six-stringer Blake Harrison bringing a depth of guitar sound previously missing – the long-time three-piece is now a fully fledged quartet (though still sans-Bass Player).  Fans of Pig Destroyer will be getting exactly what they crave, an intricate album of high speed guitar led riffs with the unmistakable Grindcore vocal of JR Hayes.  The uninitiated will be confronted by a terrifying melee that fuses Thrash, Death and Deathcore into a fercious 32 minute, 19 track (or 26 on the deluxe edition) monster that would likely cause earthquakse if cranked up to 11.  If you expect Book Burner to be a full-out aural assault with stop-start grindcore blasts and hardcore breakdowns you’d be spot on, but where it succeeds the most is that they’re more than mere noise merchants, but highly proficient musicians who know how to play their instruments to death.  Which makes it easy to cast them in the same mould as genre heavyweights Carcass, Brutal Truth and Scum-era Napalm Death.  Highlights across a  Blitzkrieg set of tracks include the Groove-Metal inspired ‘Burning Pain’ and ‘Kamikaze Heart’,  in which Drummer Jarvis excels.  ‘Eve’ and the title track are clearly influenced by Guitarist Scott Hull’s previous incarnations with Agrophobic Nosebleed and Anal C***;  all ferocious riffs that leave the listener on their knees begging for mercy.  ‘The Diplomat’ and ‘Baltimore Stranger’ stretch to over three minutes in length with ‘Permanent Funeral’ making it to over four – Prog Rock this aint but when they really stretch out on the slightly longer cuts, it allows them to showcase their undeniable talents, with lumbering deathly riffs and pneumatic drill drumming.  Although Book Burner would likely floor those new to Grindcore and doesn’t quite reach the heights of Terrifyer, it still remains an essential listen for the growing hoards of extreme metal fans.  (7)

SOUNDGARDEN – ‘King Animal’
It’s over 15 years since their last full length studio material and in actual fact, things have changed less than you might expect.  Much has been made of the reformation of this band; easily one of the most revered and influential of their generation.  We won’t deny we’ve been looking forward to this one.  Based on our optimism that the new material would be as hefty and supercharged as their early 90’s work – Badmotorfinger and certainly Superunknown still nestling safely in our top 10 of all time – there’s a significant legacy to protect.  With Cornell and drummer Matt Cameron probably the most active during the hiatus, refining their recognisable styles rather than forging into new areas makes the most sense.  The result: an album that’s almost certainly better than its predecessor – 96’s Down On The Upside – but often subtly so.  To recognise the sonic improvements demands attention and whilst on first and second listens there’s nothing here that comes close to the indomitable purity of ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Spoonman’ or ‘The Day I Tried To Live’, repeat spins reveal much of the familiar trademarks still very much intact.  Opener ‘Been Away Too Long’ with its tongue-in-cheek title, rides in on an accustomed riff and carries a huge hook that’ll lodge itself in your brain for weeks to come.  A promising start a little let down by a rather uneventful follower; ‘Non-State Actor’ sadly lacking the early pace, ultimately to join 2 or 3 other tracks on the pile marked ‘uneventful’.  Thankfully ‘By Crooked Steps’ gets us back into forth gear with its strange staccato riff that has a rythmn section battling it out for supremacy; Cornell unleashing his stunning vocal from the oft-overlooked lower end of his register.  ‘A Thousand Days Before’ rises out of some Ginger Baker-esque drumming into a glorious piece of psychedelia that soars on a mandolin riff…On ‘Blood On The Valley Floor’ the vibe is condensed into a sludgy, more weighty affair and is classic Soundgarden.  A phased multi-layered masterpiece that could easily have graced Badmotorfinger.  ‘Bones of Birds’ has an Audioslave styled mood but is no less ‘Soundgarden’ than say ‘Burden In My Hand’ or ‘Pretty Noose’ from Down On The Upside.  ‘Taree’ is a highlight – with its slow burned intro and drum/bass break hitting home just like ‘Head Down’ or ‘Like Suicide’.  The pairing of ‘Attrition’ and ‘Black Saturday’  followed by ‘Halfway There’ and ‘Worse Dreams’ is a creative peak; picking up on the mellow affections of Cornell’s solo outing Euphoria Morning and latter day Audioslave.  Album closers ‘Eyelid’s Mouth’ and ‘Rowing’ adopt equal measures of inattentive almost apathetic styles, allowing the album to drift away rather than deliver a real sucker punch, but who would deny them at least some slack.  So…does the return meet expectation? – yeh it does.  Is it as good as Superunknown? – No!  But then what possibly could be.  ‘King Animal’ is a good album that could become great; actually proving it to be more of a challenge than an immediate triumph.  (8)

So here’s a group that haven’t released for over 10 years.  One way to build the excitement! Classified as Indie-Christian Rock by the font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, might cause some to pass this one over (no pun intended). Judging a book by its cover, I had no idea what to expect from the aesthetically pleasingly album cover. ‘Penny Black’ kicks off with ‘So Cold’; crisp riffs, an impressive range of strained vocal style and strong upfront drumming. An all American rock theme that really lays out the blueprint for the rest of the album. ‘Kings Canyon’ brings an instrumental interlude that has more clean guitar sounds and conjures up a dingy bar with iced bud and pinball machines, with a hint of the head banger. ‘Staring down the Sun’ has a janglier west coast feel; roof down cruising and unashamedly all American rock. ‘System of Symmetry’ was an unexpected treat on such a straightforward guitar driven album; a big, epic sound-system roller that for me was a little too short.  Back to plan A with ‘On the Outside’ and ‘Engines’ but starting to go deeper into emo style lyricism. Was there a touch of Metallica in ‘On the Outside’? Maybe a little. ‘Rustic Machines’ carries an un-surprisingly melodic overtone; an interesting mix with the ever upfront lead drumming. Back to more of the same with ‘Stem the Loss’ before proceedings are wrapped up with ‘Janie’, an acoustic drifter that demonstrates Carrabba’s vocal ability and range through trippy lyrics on this end of summer lament. A paint-by-numbers rock outing that ardent fans will appreciate, but won’t be enough to win over armies of new followers. There’s no denying the vocal ability with polished guitar and drum styles that provide the backing to text book emotional angst. But in the end, it’s horses for courses.  (5)
Tete – ‘Therefore, the illusion of density breach, the tottering world,”forget” tomorrow’
Japanese Post-Rock instrumentalists te are rather successful in their homeland. This extraorindinarily titled LP is their 5th in all, but only their first to be released in the UK.  We won’t even begin to try and lay out the name of each track as, well they’re kinda two sentences long; each and every one. So we’ll take the first few words from each, hows that?  Which surely puts this peg squarely in the Progressive Post-Rock and from the off, we’re bedazzled by some frantic fretwork and low-end riffery that’s, along with some serious skin pounding, quite astonishing at times.  ‘The Pleasure…’ surges in like a dynamic tidal wave, destroying worlds.  While ‘Magic Smoulders…’ and ‘Realize’ spin off with equal ferocity before the quite exquisite ‘With the Fluctuation…’ takes a swan dive off the edge of a cliff; leaving us breathless and gasping for more. ‘The Seeker…’ and ‘A Honeymoon…’ don’t quite have the resurgent power of the earlier cuts but ‘Convulsive Beauty…’ and ‘The Dream…’ stand up on their two feet again, dragging the listener through more monolithic and spiralling Post-Rock akin to Maybeshewill and Vessells’ last.  Penultimate cut ‘I Am a Dip in the River..’ slows to a glide; floating off dream like into the distance on a surf-rock guitar, before powering out into cumbersome noodling and widdling, taking a complete nose dive into the ocean on noise fest closer ‘Only the Obstinate…’.  Still, not the most comfortable of listens but two or three tracks aside, this is an impressive array of dynamic and clinical riffery that could easily broaden their International following, if given the chance.  (7)

P.O.S – ‘We Don’t Even Live Here’
I will be honest and admit, I had never even heard of P.O.S but will say from the outset – you need this album.  There! Called it.  Those of you pressed for time could just take that recommendation and get on with having a great day.  Those of you more discerning Headwarmer’s who want more rationale behind my hang-over fuelled recommendation, please read on.  I’m supposed to be reviewing a number of albums right now but just can’t stop listening to this one.  We Dont Even Live Here joins Arrhythmia by Anti-Pop Consortium and Liquid Swords by GZA as one of my all-time favourite Hip-Hop albums.  Like APC the lyrics are intelligent, focused narratives drawing attention to social issues or injustices, frequently interweaving comical observations without losing the impact of some of the serious messaging (but I defy anyone to not piss themselves at the ending of Get Down).  Anyone whose lyrics name check Christopher Hitchins is obviously aiming at a more thoughtful audience.  P.O.S (aka multi-instrumentalist and punk-rocker Stefon Alexander) draws attention to the vacuous nature of materialism and the barely hidden agendas of those in power without ever making the listener feel like they’re being lectured.  This is such a refreshing remedy to all the dogshit Hip-Hop/R&B crossovers out there at the moment – instead of bragging about living a millionaire lifestyle and getting shit faced on champagne that costs as much as your house, P.O.S reminds some of these arse-clowns how unimportant their bragging is.  And no song delivers this message with more disdain than ‘Fuck Your Stuff’ (hope you’re listening Flo’Rida and all you other c**** and hang your heads).  Musically this album is beautiful.  It harnesses the powerful anthemic delivery of better day Jay-Z, dustings of electronica mixed with Outkast-esque melodies and some seriously epic percussion.  If you want a 3min taster, take a listen to ‘Bumper’ – from the moment the urgent drums kick in you know this track is going to deliver something incendiary; ultimately via some fantastically “sung-instead-of-rapped” chorus lines.  If you’re looking for anger, you would do well to take in ‘Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats’.  Even though the lyrics aren’t shouted you can feel the incandescent rage behind the narrative, purely through tone rather than volume.  Working your way through you’re rewarded with some beautifully warm ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ synths that give way to concrete-heavy drums that someone proceeds to smack the shit out of.  So…I need to provide a score here and you know what? – I’m going to give this album 10 out of 10, on the hope that it makes you all go out and buy it, it’s that good.  I’m serious.  (10)

MAKER – ‘Maker’
Like The Wonder Years on barbiturates, like mummy’s boy gone bad Maker are from Boston, Massachussets and this EP captures a bittersweet concotion of Pop/Punk and purge as the groups melodiousness is pitched against the obvious lyrical twists and turns.  An early emo punky undercurrent playfully skims below the surface of a tight structure thats acutely to the point and whilst it bounces by like a new born baby on a pogo stick, we’re hitting the replay button on this bad boy without even thinking twice.  Opener ‘Shadows’ is a pristine, dirty anthem that courses through to a fabulously rocking cacophony, while ‘You Know Who You Are’ explores new avenues of pain and solitude; the band touching the hems of their surrogate godfathers, Braid et al.  ‘I Had To Put My Lady Down’ slows the pace and sees the vocals pushed way up front while the rythmn section carefully slices at its guitars, the track mutating willingly.  Its on ‘Medina’ where Maker really hits home – snarled vocals sing the ‘Can’t get you outta my head’ refrain and the bands insistent aura scars you with a darker, more sinister presence towards closer ‘Hurricanes’.  Currently making swift work of muscling it’s way past plenty of other LP’s for a permanent place on our stereo, Maker could well grab you just as much.  (8)

charlie winstonCHARLIE WINSTON – ‘Running Still’
Sometimes it serves to form your own opinion before listening to others.  Charlie Winston is a new name to Headwarmer, so we made the conscious effort not to go online to see what everyone else was saying.
Our immediate impressions was on vocals, Chris Martin and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 spring to mind. Running Still kicks-off with a blend of easy listening folk on ‘Hello Alone’, which morphs through some human beat-boxing hip-hoppy style on ‘Speak to Me’.  The foot begins to tap unconsciously, as we move along to ‘Where Can I Find Happiness’; the stand out track for, catchy and crisply produced with the potential for plenty of radio rotation; Absolute Radio crowd – cee lo green anyone??.  Things go a bit astray with ‘The Great Conversation’ – an ode to Beethoven mingled with what seems to be a sideways swipe at the current saccharine pop sounds that engulf us all today.   Winding down through soul searchers like ‘Unlike Me’ and ‘Making Yourself so Lonely’, the depth of some of the lyrics get a little lost in the frothier backing sounds.  Picking up the tempo again is effortless however, with lashings of harmonica and strings on the ‘Wild Ones’, working well through size-mic rhythms on ‘Until Your Satisfied’.  Proceedings are brought to a conclusion with the unplugged number ‘Lift Me Gently’; not exactly a ‘get the party started’ kinda tune, but a nicely positioned bookend.
A lot of Running Still would go well with sun-downers but on closer inspection, it’s not a simple wash-over or sugar coated in any way, lyrically.  There’s enough variety to cover multiple mood bases but perhaps where we struggle, is the lack of any continuity or really memorable aspects to warrant repeat listens.  Overall Winston’s vocal ability draws you in as opposed to pushing the band to forefront.  The alt-folky feel definitely lends itself to festival frivolity, with real ales a plenty, everyone bumping along nicely, but CAMRA members need not apply!  One to watch for sure, with beer, on a fine English summer’s day.  (6)

ROLO TOMASSI – ‘Astraea’
Mathcore Art-Rockers Rolo Tomassi return to send our ear bones into disarray with their third long player, Astraea.  After two members retired from the band earlier this year – one turning his back on the sweaty UK circuit to study for a Chemistry degree; the prospects of scientific graduation obviously a bigger draw than an experimental band from Sheffield these days – the newly bedded-in line up have stripped things back.  Returning to the band’s original producer after Diplo twiddled the knobs on 2nd album Cosmology, they’ve released Astraea on their own label.  Opener ‘Howl’ begins in the vein of a classic 70s horror flick, until Eva Spence’s coarse and furious growl bursts in to drag us through textures and time signatures akin to those of past stage mates The Dillinger Escape Plan.  Rolo Tomassi are back and those vocals are a reminder of why our last attempt to see them live was thwarted.  The culprit – a ravaged sore throat for Spence.  The record assaults the ears as expected with all the clashing styles of previous releases, taking on an even more bipolar slant by swinging between otherworldly pop-ballad harmonies and underworldly maniacal screamcore; all underpinned by blast beats and electronic polyphonies.   The result is the frenetic and often fragmented style for which the band is known and on first and second listens, you might say they’ve stretched the formula too far; taking myriad styles and stitching them end to end without a central thread or development.  At times the blatant contrast between hoarse demonic growls and church-like etherealness is too forced, but perhaps the efforts to mix up mainstream melodies with anything but, should be applauded – particularly in comparison to the more vanilla offerings of their supposed rivals.  Time will tell but Astraea may well turn out to be a grower, in the true sense of the word.  (7)

PAPA ROACH – ‘The Connection’
So I’ll be honest, I’m not too familiar with the back catalogue of Californian nu-metalers Papa Roach, so wasn’t really sure what to expect from their new album The Connection.  From the intro, hopes are high – an ominous almost military beat is overlayed with synths and echoes of barely heard lyrics.  The first track and single ‘Still Swingin’ (sic) then comes barging its way on stage with tight, well produced arrangements and some rather meaty distortion.  Once the lyrics start in I realise this album for what it really is – a collection of manufactured anthems replete with electro break downs and pseudo-raps that come across, quite cringeworthy to be honest.  All this introspection around self worth, rejection, pain, references to angels, souls and junk – it feels like marketing executives have identified some emo-dollars and targeted the lyrics on confused teenagers with feelings, and shit.  Now I’m not sure if this is an album issue or a general Papa Roach theme but the fact remains, I found this album and its lyrics quite lame and angsty; trying too hard to hard to be profound only to come across like a teenager writing a diary they hope someone finds.  ‘Before I Die’ isn’t without merit; a well produced track with synth-rock verses that are only marred by the awkward phrasing “I cant feel my feelings”.  ‘Leader of The Broken Hearts’ stands out as probably the best song on the album, focusing on drum heavy synths that are not too dissimilar to Depeche Mode at times; the chorus falls back into a regular formula but its almost worth it to hear the verse come back in again.  Lead singer Jacoby Shaddix delivers his lyrics in typical nu-metal fashion, occasionally showing some promise of differentiation with a few meaty (albeit heavily produced) roars; like on the amusingly titled ‘Not That Beautiful’.  But the rest of the music is all pretty pedestrian – forced outpourings that prove immediately forgettable.  I’m loathed to critique an album on the basis of un-familiarity with a bands raison d’etre or legacy but regardless, The Connection did nothing to break my indifference towards them. (4)

Formed in 2005 by Aldo Struyf in between touring with Millionaire and The Mark Lanegan Band, CWTAB have released two EPs and two LPs that explored blues-fuelled psychedelic worlds with loose-groove stoner soundscapes and ozone’s.  The Birds Fly Low abides by this groove and advances forth with a duskier dirt-kicking desert session
that has moments of sheer brilliance (‘Hit The Sky, ‘Wolf Eye’), but too often lingers in extended jams that offer little in the way of an egress.  Nonchalant and almost apathetic passages (‘The Beauty of The Rain’) play kindly to those looking for a place to kick back and sink a flask or two of sipping whiskey.  Dub basslines beneath rustic soloing and liqour-store vocal crooning sounds decidedly dull on screen, but somehow serves to wholly soothe the senses.  The excellent single ‘Black Rider Run’ with lead vocals courtesy of Mr Lanegan, offers a typically cool approach; complete with bongos and scratch guitar.  ‘The Dust of Time’ calls up a lazy trumpet lead hazy vibe that holds on through the widescreen rumble of ‘Sayonara’, with it’s funky bass throb and grungey choruses that sound like a needle in a vein.  Once ‘Southern Wind’ has cleared the road as far as preconceptions go, ‘Nightlife’ and ‘Break Me Blue’ breathe out like a deep sigh.  Melancholic late night tunes overcome by Struyf’s stoner tones, occassionaly desperate for something to extricate them from repeated concurrence.  Submerged, throaty, addictive and pursuasive, The Birds Fly Low will not be a huge commercial success but it’s throwaway nature may just be good enough to soar above the swathes of modern day no-hopers.  (7)

A talented young quartet from Oz seems to be the thang these days.  A blossoming scene that continues to produce fledgling and contemporary rock acts is one to be cherished.  Particularly when the acts carry with them hoards of followers seemingly reproducing by the day.  Such is the story for this much talked about pop-rock collective; having sold out national tours and with a chart topping album in their lockers, it’s the UK’s turn to experience their blend of sugary Hard-pop.  Indeed, the deceptive ease with which they approach the rockers and ballads alike suggests a bright future.  The operatic punch behind opener and first single ‘The Reckoning’ immediately gives off a monster vibe reminiscent of early 3o Seconds to Mars.  ‘Phantoms’ follows suit and the first question is a simple one, are the guitars set to stun or serenade and is there an ability to pen a mature rock song beneath all the bluster.  Sadly for the vast the majority of Requiem you can hear in the grooves that mainstream power ballads are where this band is heading.  ‘Flying Colours’, ‘Move Along’ and ‘February’ are all far too soft at the core, with the latter covered in enough cheese to grace any one of the nauseating acts gracing the X-Factor stages right now.  ‘Coming Home’ is even worse but then ‘STARS’ draws us back in on a mystical arrangement.  It still fails to crawl out from under the balladry stone but at least it carries a darker undertone, reminiscent of Paramore’s ‘Decode’.  ‘Heartstone’ and the acoustic ‘Oceans Between Us’ channel the same simplistic song structures; slightly vacuous prancing, crooning and chest beating beneath a single guitar line.  ‘Requiem’  could be the perfect soundtrack to the Twilight movies, such is it’s adolescent intonation.  TGP make some decent night noises, but nothing that will make them stand oout from the crowd.  (6)

BORN BLONDE – ‘What The Desert Taught You’
These Londoners could well be the saviours of the Brit-Pop scene we so struggle with today.  Embarking in 2009 as a folk act before Arthur Delaney enlisted school mates to form this surprisingly mature rock collective.  Low in originality but high in execution, ‘What The Desert…’ is a resoundingly refreshing opus that is as beguiling as it is elementary.  Huge epic song structures that are fraught with emotion and sweep effortlessly from the candidly bombastic to minimalistic drama.  What we have here could be very special indeed.  ‘Solar’ begins with a simple strum before introspective keys lead us into a hugely effective and infectious melody that caresses and soothes like a warm summer breeze.  The beauty in this kind of music is that its dead easy to listen to – no pretense, no pre-conceptions of grandeur, just marvellously affirming songs that carry more weight than most celebrated acts these days.  ‘I Just Wanna Be’ is a shimmering tribute to the scene innovators and has hit single written all over it.  Hopefully not because while we wouldn’t want anything but success for this lot, heavy radio airplay leads to complacency and mediocrity, more often than not.  Such is their sound and the quality of the song writing on offer, you could see them selling out arenas in the next few months; they’re that good.  A contemporary act that nods to the mainstream but retains its identity and alternative roots.  ‘The Architect’ feels as close to early Coldplay as you’re likely to get; only better, while ‘Light On’ pushes forward on an early Verve style guitar line; its discourse more reminiscent of recent acts such as Exit Calm.   ‘Radio Bliss’ has a touch as light as a feather and first single ‘Signs of Fear’ has a feel of early Richard Ashcroft, with twice the charm.  ‘Dreamland’ although less effective is still the song Keane wish they’d written had they sat up and taken notice of the world around them.  ‘Other Side’ doesn’t quite hit the standards set by the albums first half and ‘These Days I Dream of Pyramids’ is crying out for the band to really cut loose and unleash a slightly smothered guitar.  Thankfully closer ‘Wide Eyed’ guides us out from the clouds and we’re left pondering just how far this lot will go.  Effortless, comforting and occasionally dazzling, Born Blonde just might have delivered a real contender here.  (8)

PINBACK – ‘Information Retrieved’
San Diegans Pinback have been penning charmed and metaphorical indie for some time now.  And if you’re not used to their almost subliminal nuances, this 5th long player may charm and perplex in equal measure.  Zach Smith’s touchstone bass guitar works in unison with Rob Crowe’s  immediately infectious vocal talents with consumate ease.  The realisation that they’ve been developing their resonance for over a decade is actual and while some tracks here may not stand up to the breezy designation of Summer of Abaddon or Autumn of the Seraphs, there’s enough to generate a feeling of expectation; that each cut will be as immediate and identifiable as those embedded deep within their legacy.  ‘Proceed to Memory’ fuels such supposition with a confident vocal display and muted guitar tones.  ‘Glide’ and ‘His Phase’ offer emotional soul and deft dynamics over immediacy and..err..hummability?  Safe to say you wont be punching the air or partaking in open armed sing-a-longs; Information Retrieved instead may have you scratching your head for answers, enticing you into repeat plays before you ultimately understand what has made them so revered over the years.  Given the hiatus they’ve taken, a raptuously warm reception for an album in this space is unlikely and where moments of sterility creep in, the niche they’ve carved for themselves could be an uncomfortable one.  But that’s not to say this comeback is a dull or difficult listen; more a collection of songs that have a time and a place.  If given the chance, it may well suit indie kids down to the ground; old and new.  (7)

PAUL BANKS – ‘Banks’
Lead guitarist and songsmith from New York moodsters Interpol, Paul Banks’ solo career hasn’t exactly matched the success of his day job.  But with this third effort and first away from the Julian Plenti moniker, he could well go a long way to equaling the ascendancy.  Interpol’s back catalogue is not exactly boundless but each release given time, is an understated masterpiece of mood and intrigue, continuously building cult status.  Sombre lyricism and incisive guitar work make for gothical alt-rock soundscapes that draw the listener in, demanding further and deeper attention.  Some have said Banks sounded aloof, almost a detached figure on their last LP.  We didn’t quite feel that way but certainly Banks has enough in his locker to do what he does best – pertinant and personal songs that use simple song structures to create captivating moods and conspiracies.  ‘The Base’ swings in on an understated groove; Banks’ ardor and conviction cooly carrying us through ‘Over My Shoulder’ and ‘Young Again’; all lonesome cuts that demonstrate the comfort in his craft.  The majority of the tracks on offer could sit comfortably on any Interpol release but here, Banks throws in some alluring new styles and sub-structures; defining him as a solo artist.  ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Another Chance’ adding an eclectic instrumental edge to proceedings before closer ‘Summertime is Coming’ carries drama and a more than knowing nod to Joy Divisions cimmerrian shades.  Interpol and Plenti fans alike will lap this up like a dehydrated blood hound.  Those who are new to such restrained and sober contemplation just might find an alluring new angle to life.  (8)

Texans …Trail of Dead are seemingly in a good place right now.  Having broken the major label chains for their sixth LP in 2009 and trimmed down to a core four-piece for last years Tao Of The Dead, Conrad Keeley and co sound like a lean mean fighting machine on this their 8th full length outing.  Their reputation for being the ultimate sonic noise of the 00’s is still intact, but here, it’s transformed into something altogether more subtle yet equally lethal.  The imposing walls of guitar played almost to death sound as crisp and vital as ever, which from the outset are killer.  ‘Open Doors’ could be their most accessible ‘hit’ to date.  A foreboding affection leads into some searing riffs and a hook so vast its visible from Venus.  There are new hypnotic pulse beats of rythmn and mystical sound coursing through ‘Pinhole Cameras’ and ‘Opera Obscura’ before ‘A Place To Rest’ kicks on and sounds fantastically fast and incisive.  Those who cowered in fear at the early threat seen on excellent albums two and three should have no trouble here, but listen closely and a new progressive sound reverberates from deep within the mix.  They still go for the jugular and ‘Catatonic’ speaks volumes in the energy stakes, but there’s a bolder presence on show; dare we say a more commercial vibe that retains their alternative edge, just allowing that glint of accessibility to breach the hull.  Its not perfect – ‘Bright Young Things’ and a title track that begs for more air shows room for furtherment.  And even the most ardent of followers will be taken aback by the bombastic acoustic sunshine of ‘Time And Again’ but overall, Lost Songs is taut, dangerous and thrilling – everything we wanted it to be.  (8)

BOB MOULD – ‘Silver Age’
This man created some seminal works with his early Husker Du and Sugar incarnations; New Day rising, particularly Copper Blue and Beaster often elevated this New Yorker to God like status.  A career littered with sparkling and subdued moments alike make for a bit of a scattered back catalogue for one so productive.  Where previous solo efforts missed the mark, Silver Age arrows straight into the bullseye and refuses to be pulled out.  That wonderfully frosted guitar tone kicks us off as ‘Star Machine’ bristles and bustles magnificently; Mould sounding completely re-invigorated.  He then slams into the title track driven by choppy rythmn changes and a disarming sneer.  ‘The Descent’ has raw gashes of noise sandwiched between sweet slices of sound that’s classic Sugar.  Before we know it we’re four tracks in and ‘Briefest Moment’ with its cool vocal harmonies displays a no-fear attitude we’ve not seen in a solo artist for a long time.  Remember F.U.E.L; Sugar’s overweight third LP?  All churning sensibilities with no sense of meaning or importance.  We couldn’t be further away from its cluttered sound with the fabulously laid back groove of ‘Steam of Hercules’.  Whether it’s the steely stamina of having such ability to pen these moments of charm and diversion, or the added confidence of already having some seriously rad-ass records nestling on the shelf, Mould has come up with his most consistently touched collection of songs yet.  There are no favourites – although the brilliant ‘Fugue State’ and ‘Round the CIty Square’ come close – there’s no dross either; nothing even close to filler.  Making Silver Age a spectacular return to form, tighter than a monkeys nuts and completely essential.  (9)

FIGHTING WITH WIRE – ‘Colonel Blood’
This Derry trio has been compared with some household names since their debut Man vs Monster.  On their sophomore effort such comparisons are not only justifiable, they’re almost derivative.  But lets not lay into them from the off; the evidence is clear and exuding from each and every pore, but the songs are occassionally downright fantastic.  Like opener ‘Waiting On A Way To Believe’; no fuss or flab, just an inimitable bellow and some fiery guitar.  The title track features a crisp, driving riff that’s as off-the-wall as it is infectious.  ‘Erase You’ teeters dangerously close to mainstream mediocrity before ‘Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home’ recovers handsomely and could comfortably sit on any Foo’s LP.  ‘Graduate’ carries a deliciously silver-toned guitar and an angular edge that takes proceedings off into armageddon chic; swimming in heavy duty fuzz-tones. Predominantly FWW take the dirty, fat guitar of prime time Biffy Clyro, the blissed out noise of a de-tuned radio and nail the muthas to the floor.  They then trip up on the way out the door and where ‘Dead Memory’ is huge, dark and completely sussed, ‘Plug Me In’ heads back to average songwriting and nauseatingly adolescent chorus lines.  ‘The Great Escape’ follows suit with the predictable Woah Oh Oh Oh Ohhh filler, before they slam a huge horn-blaring u- turn on ‘Blackout’, which bites down hard and spews out the characterless forms of the aforementioned right back in your face.  Bookend ‘Run For Cover’ brings proceedings to a respectable conclusion with structure and maturity, making Colonel Blood an immensely frustrating record.  Brilliant one minute, less than average the next.  Thankfully they adopt the former for the bulk of this befuddling adventure.  (7)

A PLASTIC ROSE – ‘Camera. Shutter. Life’
Belfast based rock outfit APR are seemingly not shy of rolling their sleeves up, loading up the van and heading out to just about any and every indie festival there is.  Raising emotionally charged rock hell across the UK over the last two years has clearly helped to cultivate a swelling fanbase and although the originality count is pretty low, the execution is energetic, foreceful and full of heart.  Immersed in enough rock grit to appeal to mainstream and underground fans alike, tracks such as ‘Foreign Soil’ and ‘Boy Racer’ offer a tight, melodic raw edge that could easily rear its head on any offering from Biffy Clyro or even Hot Water Music.  No one can deny there are influences on show here but this is a mature collection of songs, all imbued with the groups firm acknowledegment of a rich Irish heritage.  No more so than on the acoustic strum of ‘Fading Pictures’, ‘…And The Sea’ and ‘Indian Sheets’; each underpinning a new lease of life and confidence that’s easily heard throughout CSL.  Winning the praise of Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and playing to arenas for the first time will do them no harm at all and if their celebrity fans were to deliver an album of such enigmatic romance, it would be an optimistic stroll through a rediscovered world.  Great promise indeed.  (7) 

Brighton trio Negative Pegasus have a big problem with this LP.  Despite the fact it in-effectively drones from start to finish, it’s clear they’re far from their full potential and with a self-applied ‘hard-psyche’ tag, there’s much to live up to.  When they open themselves up they can deliver, but it happens far to little on Looming making it distinctly lacking in almost all departments.  Opener ‘How It Happens’ kicks off with a sub standard drawl that eventually makes its way towards something resembling a rock song.  ‘Ottaman Silver’ and ‘Floating Omen’ despite some respectable guitar playing, are tiresome and lacking any focus or direction; coming across as unplanned, one-off jams set to a lazy drum shuffle.  ‘A Single F**k’ is pointless feedback filler and ‘The Black Thigh’ despite a promising groove is a wasted jangling experiment gone wrong.  Only ‘Psychic Energy’ has anything close to structure but is drowned by more noise filler in the shape of ‘Soaker’.  Closer ‘Visitation’ again shows some signs of life before ultimately succumbing to the overall theme and feel of this disc.  A desperate and disappointing cesspool of laborious slumber.  Sorry boys – its back to the drawing board.  (3)

TWEAK BIRD – ‘Undercover Crops’
Brothers from Illinois, Ashton  and Caleb Bird have been knocking out fuzzed-up guitar driven and downright catchy stoner-rock for over a decade and yet, their effortless incantations have yet to gain a real foothold in the minds of the masses.  With this resonant 7 track ep that may all change very soon indeed.  Recorded over a long weekend with Dale Crover, the man behind the bands two previous releases, Undercover is one of those ep’s that just flips on by the first time you hear it, leaving deep seeded nodes that trigger repeated replays.  The approach is simple yet purely because of the depth and subtelty to things like ‘People’ and ‘Pigeons’, it’s like a warm glow suffusing your brain; tunes that go in and then won’t come out again.  It’s just right, from the moment the guitar turns over into ‘Psychorain’ , calling up a lazy, hazy vibe that holds on through the widescreen ‘Bunch O’ Brains’ and the loose and groovy closer ‘Know It All’.  In just over 15 minutes and before you know it, the brothers have roared off into the distance, leaving you choking on the dust they’ve just kicked up.  If ever you needed a short, sharp dose of the unsophisticated yet relentlessly satisfying, look no further.  (8)

BASEMENT – ‘ColourMeInKindness’
We love it when an album so steeped in the rich textures and tapestries associated with 90’s rock, drops into our inbox.  Such was the scene back then that artists and albums never had to worry about conforming to expectation and certainly, there was much more freedom to express knowing that their fanbase in consumption, would bend over backwards to grab a copy of what would ultimately be a soundtrack to their year.  This LP is fantastic, we’ll get to that, but what’s more surprising and in fact depressing, is that it’s this quintet’s swansong.  ‘Indefinate hiatus’ are two words we all fear when it comes to bands with real meaning, vitality and down right majestic musicianship.  As parting shots go this is up there with the best of them – a raw demonstration of heartfelt creativity that will no doubt be tagged as emo (hopefully in the true sense of the word), but what lies within is so much more than the major label loser troupes that surround us today.  A perfectly lo-fi racket that embodies real mood variation and an abundance of talent in the songwriting stakes.  Opener’ Whole’ and ‘Covet’ get straight to the point with enough conviction and forethought to keep lesser artists in emplyment for a decade.  Safe to say it’s probably the least light hearted recording that will caress our ears this year – read ‘Spoiled’ and ‘Pine’ that sit perfectly within the independent ethos and a desire to mix vocals with a deliciously solid melancholy rock base.  It allows irresistable guitars on ‘Bad Apple’ to spin ambitious webs around a seriously magnetic core.  Expanding into all kinds of areas – from the bittersweet ‘Breathe’ to the more possessive sensibilities on ‘Control’, ‘Black’ and closer ‘Wish’ – Basement are finally making public their true colours.  Abandoning a big rock image they’ve found the confidence to blossom  and we should consider them glorious misfits whose collective imagination is too dazzling and reckless to be boxed into a genre.  It probably isn’t the next big anything, nor does it belong at the end of a chain.  Rather, its a step back outside modern rock boundaries and everyone should buy it.  Simple as that.  (9)

Trying to write an ‘epic space opera’ wouldn’t necessarily be the most popular past time these days; unless your’re Devin Townsend.  Here the Canadian has taken the full spectrum of sounds at his disposal, covering the whole gamut as he puts it and produced a genre bending record hitherto unheard at Headwarmer towers.  If you allow it, your grey matter will be taken off into the stratosphere on a journey that on occassion will have you drying your eyes in wonder; poking your ears in astonishment at the sounds you’re hearing and picking your chin up off the floor in amazement at the shear nuts this guy must have, to even attempt something this collossaly expansive.  The production as you’d expect is flawless but dispite his skills behind the desk, he has another trick up his sleeve – vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen.  Her ability to take a track to the next level with dizzying displays of modulated wonder is something to behold, truly.  That’s not to say Mr Townsend doesn’t lend a hefty larynx; adding his own consumate and ethereal metal overtones also to stunning effect.  In every sense of the word ‘Lucky Animals’and particularly ‘Liberation’ are huge cuts of power, laced with fist in the air choruses, thundering drums and guitars that jostle for supremacy without ever overlapping one another.  ‘Where We Belong’ and ‘Divine’ are free flowing ballad expeditions that sit either side of ‘Save Our Now’; a perfect pop outing straight from the 80’s; we’re not kidding, and it sounds fantastic.  This is music not for mere mortals, likely to be lost by its very provocation.  Rest assured its a veritable nirvana for Proggies desperate to get the next fix.  ‘Kingdom’ has a courtly Renaissance feel, with Townsend singing his heart out atop thunderous double kicks, a stacked harmony and grinding riff fusions.  It’s probably the heaviest track on offer but perfectly in balance with the rest of the set; acutely alongside the heaving ‘Grace’, the staggering ‘More!’ and the life affirming ‘Hold On’.  All confirming Townsend is, a conceptual master.  What we’ve witnessed is far beyond the reaches of most bands today; a huge piece of rock theatre that defies belief.  Very nearly faultless and utterly essential.  (9)

THE DATSUNS – ‘Death Rattle Boogie’
Thank the Lord for bands like The Datsuns.  Continuously flipping the middle finger to those expecting them to call time, once again they spit in the face of adversity; defying the odds to create an album brimming with forceful melodia and screaming out to be played at full volume.  DRB should make a few bands sit up and think a bit more about quality control and granted, there are few surprises in store but it delivers exactly what a fan will crave, a celebration of immaculately produced rock n roll that packs a delicately crafted punch guarsnteed to plague stereos for the rest of the year.  First single ‘Gods Are Bored’ sums things up perfectly – classic-rock guitar crunch and squeals that reflect the bands enthusiasm for their craft.  ‘Gold Halo’ and ‘Axethrower’ follow suit while the pulsating bass behind ‘Skull Full of Bone’ turns them into something entirely uplifting.  Using space and depth to telling effect ‘Shadow Looms Large’ rises above the raw yet polished production; resisting the temptation to exploit available technology.  Working as much through what’s left out, as what’s actully included.  ‘Wander The Night’ floats along a post-rock groove with an echoing Doors-vocal and deft hammond touches, before ‘Helping Hands’ harks back to 70’s styles and emotions brilliantly.  ‘Hole In The Head’ also stands out as a chunky rock work out that doesn’t sound as if it was constructed by numbers.  If ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘Goodbye Ghosts’ step too close to routine, ‘Colour of the Moon’and ‘Brain Tonic’ emerge from shattered riffs to make everything completely credible again.  Through its core DRB is underpinned by gritty dynamism and anybody who loves the kick of natural, joyous music will be intoxicated.  (8)

When this UK quartet unleashed their debut back in 2004, all ears were pinned back.  ‘Everything Is’ dealt with pure emotional energy, screaching through beaten up, offside melodies which tore furiously through the norm.  Three albums later, matters haven’t changed much.  And where the ultimate statement of frustration and rebellion is being peddled by fluffballs too pre-occupied with the effect of their own wrecklessness, it’s a relief to hear NBA still tearing it up.  They know how to wrench and sear, rip, burn and scar when a graze would do; and although a third of this LP is a little too similar in pace and content to really tickle the nerve endings, NBA still offer more meat with their veg than most.  Opener ‘Be My Girl’ darts out of the traps with Weezer style chords and harmonics, before the super catchy ‘Don’t Forget to Breathe’ and the darkly poetic ‘Phosphorescence’ carry the band way ahead of their contemporaries.  ‘Living In A Dream’ flashes by without introducing itself and where ‘Penny Cinderella’ and ‘Away With Me’ fall short, ‘Find It My Own Way’ and ‘What You Wanted’ bring proceedings back into perspective and make much more sense.  On a level where internal, instinctive responses count for more, who cares what it all means.  This is straight ahead balls out rock that you needn’t bother working out.  (7)

OF MONTREAL – .  ‘Daughter Of Cloud’
Quirky Georgians Of Montreal are one of those bands who balance on the boundaries of Headwarmer-acceptability.  Creating an altogether fractured mix of soul, funk, electronica type indie-pop that crosses over so many of their contempories paths, we’re not sure whether we’re coming or going.  ‘Daughter’ is a rarities album that compiles 17 recordings ranging from ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ era to the present day.  Ten tracks are previously unreleased while the other 7 are limited or rare issues.  A bit like the band this is an album that impresses and wallows in equal measure.  Nowehere are they more better summed up than on ‘Sails, Hermaphroditic’ and ‘Hindlopp Stat’, both twitching from drooling drudgery to spazzed out noise, like a background tape to an epileptic fit.  Similarly cuts like ‘Partizan Terminus’, ‘George’s Lament’, ‘Jan Doesn’t Like It’ and ‘Alter Eagle’ are so twisted and directionless we’re left scrambling for the FF button.  However they can also write the odd thing that forces you to listen; opener ‘Our Love Is Senile’, the un-prenounceable ‘Obviousatonicnuncio’, ‘Steppin’ Out’ and ‘Noir Blues to Tinnitus’ scrape along with dirty guitar brushes and odd electronic moments that come splattering out of the machine in TV On The Radio / Rapture fashion.  So, one for avid followers only and for the uninitiated, there’s always a reason why these tracks are rare and unreleased.  (6)

THE MAINE – ‘Pioneer & The Good Love’
At 19 tracks long this could be considered a double in the true sene of the word.  Fusing ‘The Pioneer’, released last year in the US with 6 new tracks for its European release, these Arizona rockers unleash a perfectly balanced set that doesn’t cry revolution, nor is it a fashion statement; it’s just a collection of good pop-rock with no excess baggage attached.  Blasting out of the speakers at just over three minutes, opener ‘Identify’ is a tune-filled melodious guitar overload, nodding manically in Feeder’s direction as it flashes past.  ‘My Heroin’ and ‘Time’ are the sort of perfect Punk Pop ditties made popular by the likes of the Manchester Orchestra; by now you should be getting a pretty good idea of what makes The Maine’s trigger finger twitch.  ‘Some Days’ is the sort of gleeful summer breeze you might expect from, dare we say…Wheatus.  Don’t let that put you off, it’s executed brilliantly and is probably far beyond the aforementioned crap-slackers wildest dreams.  ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’ is as catchy as bloody bird flu, an infectious chorus riding the crest of a simple guitar wave.  What’s suprising is that this is the bands third full length album and given their complete obscurity over here, especially when hidden classics like the slow burn groove of ‘Misery’ and the immediacy of ‘When I’m At Home’ would endear themselves to the terminally hip rocker in need of a different fix.  The pace slackens on the slightly nauseating ‘Jenny’, but the slowdown is only relative compared to the breakneck tilt of the rest of this fine album.  There are better tracks here than anything served up by The Killers or Two Door Cinema Club of late.  A sprawling concoction given a voice through some on-edge singing and biting guitar but most importantly, the ability to pen memorable tunes you’ll be humming for weeks.  You won’t find a more breathless, punky, spunky two’s up of an album all year.  Find and buy.  (8)

This former trio now duo from Portland, Oregon create a dense instrumentation that would have us believe we were listening to a quartet of interplaying musicians.  In conceiving their harmonies and intonations, they adopt a democratic approach; playing any instrument they can lay their hands on, atop a digital looping recorder.  Sounds messy but on wax, the results are an astonishing mix of indie-rock jewellery tinged with perfect pop overtures, not executed this well since the most gracious moments to escape Damon Albarns various incarnations.  Its easy to draw comparison throughout this collection of charming compositions; particularly on ‘Heavy Is As Heavy Does’ and the quite superb ‘Pique’ that both have Albarns hormones injected deep into their vocal core.  The fact the whole show is better than anything he’s ever written is no surprise.  These boys have been together for over 10 years and its shows.  In fact the beautiful thing about Moms is that it never shirks its responsibility in not taking itself too seriously.  Where so many bands with the independent mentality think that a good melody sung well is inherantly distasteful, Menomena positively embrace tunes and invention; clutching them to their collective bosom with absurd delirium.  And there’s nothing to sneer at here in terms of commerciality; how can such passion be dismissed as insincere?  If you’re looking for reference points, try this.  A more forward thinking Blur.  The Good The Bad and The Queen with memorable and lasting tunes.  In fact, just listen to the music.  Great thick slices of twisting beauty and easy musical charm race through ‘Giftshoppe’ and ‘Skintercourse’ building even further inescapable arrays of feeling and texture.  Endlessly endearing.  Unique? Yep. Derivative? Slightly. Worth Buying? Definately.  (8)

BEAR MAKES NINJA – ‘Shouting At Bridges EP’
Lincoln’s BMN come from the same school of melody-heavy guitar rock that has spawned the likes of Reuben and Biffy Clyro; where power is linked with restraint and dynamics are everything.  This isn’t for you if you want straight ahead conventionalism.  But if you like your songs assorted in construct, contorting through a myriad of shapes and styles, with the playing explosive when it needs to be, then the likes of ‘Fruit Can’t Fly’, ‘The Duke And The Rogue’ and ‘A Welcome Break’ have plenty to recommend.  Following a debut EP and a relentless fixture list supporting the likes of Tall Ships, Tubelord and Wot Gorilla?, BMN are advancing their craft and appear to be another talented group of Brits hell bent on doing things their own way.  And rightly so, because any band who can record a rolling, boiling hypnotic slab of monolithic derangement and call it ‘Shouting At Bridges’ deserves points for entertainment value alone.  All in all this 7-tracker is a big, dippy racket that pauses for breath just once.   It won’t have you scraping your brains off the ceiling exactly, but it’s unpretentious, unaffected and unmissable; scoring highly in an age of hits over integrity.  Well worth investigating.  (7)

DEVIL SOLD HIS SOUL – ‘Empire Of Light’
Since ’10s ‘Blessed & Cursed’ this Brit post-rock-hardcore outfit have been seen as the foremost torchbearers in bringing some new flavour and atmosphere to a space almost completely occupied by very angry young men.  Having chartered a path for the last 5 years that has seen them develop from fresh-faced hardcore humarists to bona-fide contenders, if ‘B&C’ laid down the gauntlet in the mayhem stakes then ‘Empire…’ rams the point home.  There’s no doubting they’re capability to innovate and improvise, providing a fresh take on the so-oft employed scream/sing dynamic with swathes of post-rock voyeurism.  And ‘Empire…’ boasts finer material than previous works with heaps of confidence.  For us where they will lose points (as will any band) is in the incsessant adolescent and wracked screams employed; making a senseless headache almost guaranteed with each listen.  Why is this such a successful formula these days?  When they adapt the vocal to suit the melody and atmospherics that are so desperate for air, the material is up there with the best of them.  Thursday’s excellent opus ‘No Devolucion’ springs to mind as a kinship, particularly on the likes of ‘A New Legacy’, ‘It Rains Down’ and ‘The Waves And The Seas’; all bruising riffs, discordant and hellbent on revelling in total doom.  With the slowly engineered and majestically composed ‘The Verge’ a lonely figure on a rapidly disappearing horizon.  |Then there’s ‘No Remorse No Regrets’, ‘Sorrow Plagues’ and closer ‘End Of Days’ which dispite being musically sprawling and exceptionally powerful, all carry little else but Ed Gibbs’ gravelled howl.  Ditto for ‘Time & Pressure’ and ‘Crusader’ which in their magnificence, would probably be the best tracks on offer had they just applied some decipherable vocal harmonisation.  For us a classic case of huge expectation unfulfilled, but as they so often say these days – beauty is in the eye of the beholder and clearly we’re in a minority.  Still, there’s intense emotion and awesome brutality at times that belies their years; which probably makes Empire Of Light set to become one of the most revered and important hard-rock albums of the year.  (7)

CASTROVALVA – ‘You’re Not In Hell, You’re In Purgatory My Friend’
Falling between a million stools and sounding all the better for it, this noise-hop trio from Leeds take the spirit of underground sub genres and throw them all at wall.  What sticks is probably one of the most eclectic, crazed and insanely enjoyable pick ‘n’ mix varieties you’re likely to wrap your ears around for some time.  By turns electric, funky and downright obtuse ‘You’re Not In Hell…’ lopes along in great arcs of art rock wierdness that The Mars Volta and Mr Bungle couldn’t create if they locked themselves in the same windowless room for 6 months.  Mixing angular nihilism with psycho beats and breaks, they’ve picked the perfect time to enter the major league with an antidote to the ’00s.  Some might find their frantic mix too much to cope with, others will welcome the move away from plodding realism and on such wildly diverse tracks as ‘In Our Prime’, ‘ Dining With The Pope’ and the excellent ‘Donut’, they carve out their own furrow of peculiarity that transcends genres and kicks like a mule.  Indecipherable, completely throwaway and utterly fantastic.  (9)

“We feel we’re making recordings for the connoisseurs” says former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson.  And why not because as he goes on to say, in an age where people write to fit commercial formats, we need bands like the Brotherhood.  Bands who’ve been there and done it; several times over, and have the addled brains to prove it.  This companion to the June release of the acclaimed ‘Big Moon Ritual’, is an A&R departments nightmare; destined to be dismissed as having no commercial potential.  And that’s music to our ears because this combined slab of blues rock probes into musical corners that have been left unexplored for a long time.  Its beauty is in its lack of ability to look at the mainstream and work out what should go where.  Robinson lives in his own world, where music is pure and rolling a fat one is very much part of the creative process.  Much of this 7 tracker ambles along in typically simplistic fashion, with few tracks demanding immediate approval.  But there’s always something going on which means rich rewards to those willing to apply some patience.  ‘Lets Go Lets Go Lets Go’ comes sharply into focus first, the urgency in Robinsons vocal making you believe he’s really on to something.  ‘Someday Past The Sunset’ and ‘Appaloosa’ get under your skin heralding laid back grooves and shoulder-shakingly funky choruses.  The 13 minute jam-athon ‘Vibration & Light Suite’ rides along to the tastefully understated ‘Little Lilly Mae’, pulling you further into the Brotherhoods inverted garden.  And so it goes – with a telepathic musicality, keyboard embellishments and rich guitar sparring, if you’re looking for a blues infused trip with the finest exponents of organic guitar music, be sure to set your bags down here.  (8)

These boys are from Luxembourg don’t ya know.  They’ve also cracked the boards with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon and Coheed and Cambria no less, so we’re not messing about here.  And before people start sinking their cynical claws into the flesh of this second LP, they could do with remembering one vital thing.  A bit of ingenuity goes a hell of a long way.  To say ‘Trials’ flies in the face of convention is an understatement; yet its creators haven’t rolled up their sleaves and really let loose either.  But with Matt Bayles twiddling the knobs of unorthodoxy, you’ve always got a chance.  Stylistically, this is a solidly rooted whirlwind of math-rock and progressive synthesis that is no more or less relevant than any of the other current burgeoning slabs of alternative ‘nu-riffola’, as I like to call it.  While their debut spluttered into 2nd gear, this a definite creative collaboration that justifies an expeditiously expanding global stature.  And with the addition of new axeman Clement Delport and bass player Cedric Czaika, it shows; albeit in bite size chunks.  That’s not to say they’ve spread themselves foolishly thin, attempting to curry favour across a myriad of ‘contemporary’ rock angles.  When it comes down to it, this is as loaded with riffs that swing like wrecking balls as you’d have expected and we’re off to a bracing start with ‘North Korea’, before ‘Artificats’ and ‘Modern Day Robbery’ draw enduring associations with Minus The Bear and At The Drive In.  The complex structures and ever shifting sub-textures constantly simmering and threatening to explode and while ‘Candies’ would appear to be a rushed affair; appearing muddled and directionless, we’re spared a dive into insignificance by ‘Myanmar’.  An intimidating cut that kicks down the door with strong arm aplomb, followed closely by ‘Statues’ and ‘For The Men Who Had Everything’, both barging in just when you thought you’d put the frikkin thing back on it’s hinges.  ‘Shifting Paradigms’ moves adroitly and almost spirals out of control but ‘Mapping The Universe’ is a beast of an ending.  All pillaging power with huge soundscapes of spinal bass and soaring guitar.  It’s safe to say then that ‘Trials’ packs an above average punch and to break the mould these Luxembourgians (?) are going to have to use it as a purposeful middle finger to the cynics.  While they might have an overwhleming battle on their hands, who’s to say they won’t succeed with such an exhausting, yet undeniably satisfying record.  (8)

TESTAMENT – ‘Dark Roots of Earth’
One of the true institutions of Bay Area thrash is back and man, does it sound good.  Album number ten has everything you would expect – colossal riffs, thunderous drums and bruising bass.  Sit all that alongside Chuck Billy’s signature snarl and tenebrous lyricism and we’ve got probably the best, true metal album of 2012.  Going back to the late 80’s early 90’s, these boys could and perhaps should have been one of ‘The Big 5’ rather than sitting back and watching Araya, Hetfield, Mustaine and co, rake in the plaudits for pionerring  such a hugely successful movement, as The Big 4.  Hell, there sound is almost completely comparable and a lot of Dark Roots carries early Metallica signatures and Slayer’s unurring velocity, but at no point does it become secondary or supportive.  This is grade A stuff and leading the line is ‘Rise Up’, kicking down the door like a plundering norseman.  Swiftly followed by ‘Native Blood’, a marauding title track and album highlight ‘A Day In The Death’; which is acute, antagonising and carries a hook big enough to land a whale.  Where previously they’d lay on the tar thick grooves almost strangling a track, here they’ve honed their craft to perfection and reflected it almost entirely in ‘Cold Embrace’, ‘Throne of Thorns’ and ‘Dragon Attack’; all intense cuts of abrasive ingenuity and modern metal craft that’s as vital as anything they’ve ever written.  Sometimes, nothing comes close to the ‘Old Guard’ and we mean that in the best possible way. And when good metal is involved, Testament should be up there with the best of them.  (8)

CIRCA SURVIVE – ‘Violent Waves’
Philly philanthropists Circa Survive are off with the fairies, quite simply.  Their take on the operatics of alternative rock is quite unique and although not overly complex, the simplicity of the textures they weave and the waves they ride can baffle and are at times, peerless.  Granted their sound wouldn’t be complete without the range of ex-Saosin vocalist Anthony Green; his innocently dizzying tones setting them apart from every other ‘player’ in this space.  And although this their 4th LP is pretty much on a par with ’07’s On Letting Go, it feels like a better record than ‘Blue Sky Noise’, eventually.  Ditractors might be quick to discard it as indifferent after spin 1.  Those who know how the band’s sound will ultimately provide rich rewards, may well say its their best after spins 3 and 4.  Like a treasure hunt the listener faces a perplexing challenge with each track on offer here, before stumbing across hidden gems and jewels that are rich and satisfying to behold.  Opener ‘Bird Sounds’, ‘Brother Song’ and ‘My Only Friend’ all cases in point – at first glance dark and uninviting pathways; apparantly dead at the end, but surprisingly revealing if given the chance. ‘I’ll find A Way’ caresses and comforts like a heartening embrace, before ‘The Lottery’ provides some sturn words and a galvanising shot in arm to drive us over the finish line.  It’s elegant, ethereal, balmy and often graceful; so for those looking for a cold fix, look away.  For those in need of adventure; something to challenge and test with the guarantee of warm gratuity if pursued over time, should look no further.  (8)

Snapping ferociously at the heals of last years The Heart String and How to Pull It comes ‘Fused’; an abrasive 30 minute piece of work that was written and demoed in ten days.  Self produced and very much in tune with a DIY mentallity, the trio take their own sound and twist into something altogether uglier.  On their tenth anniversary as a band, JP Reid and co are taking a huge step forward here.  Opener ‘A River of Blood’ and the hooliganism of ‘To Nothing’ stir the soul, and the blood more than ever before.  A filthy guitar line and tribal beat keeping the pace, ‘Wolves’ and ‘What a F***ing Chump’ will have you stomping around the house like dinosaurs in DMs.  ‘Rabbits in Boxes’ reings in the aggression to before twisting like a sidewinder into a desert sun-soaked stoner groove.  ‘Pig Ravens’ carries a bass line Kyuss and Scott Reeder would be proud of; with a dose of seriously sinister lyricism, its 2 minutes of contortionist rock that creeps and crawls into ‘Discipline Office’ to defy all logic and reason.  Album highlight ‘Where At Dat Wild At’ is the real surprise here.  Catchy as hell and riding an eastern wind, it’s as close to pop as they’re ever likely to get.  There aren’t too many words that can accurately describe what SuccioPerro are all about.  Just where their heads were when they penned ‘Glass Castle’ is anyone’s guess and as we sing along to the more conventional closer of the album title track, one word springs to mind – eclectic.  Which is right up our street.  (7)

MINUS THE BEAR – ‘Infinity Overheaad’
Seattle Indie-rockers Minus The Bear are a bold combo that have always produced stirring and complex sounds.  Always confident enough to stand out from the crowd and bold enough to believe in their own artistic license, as a quintet the compositions they create can be bewildering and beguiling.  ’07’s Planet of Ice standing currently as their best, by some distance; with it’s intricate and alternative Pink Floyd-ian musings, it’s a beacon of originality.  It’s successor Omni ploughed a different path; one that would prove to be just that little bit too boggy for some.  So for this their 5th full length, the second to be produced by former keyboardist Matt Bayles, they’re headed back towards more conventional song structures.  The consumate vocals, guitar taps and sophisticated electronics are all present and correct.  What marks this as a slightly different beast from Planet, is the lighter heart at its core.  First single ‘Steel and Blood’ and the sumptuous ‘Lies and Eyes’ could nestle quite comfortably on the ’07 masterpiece, but ‘Listing’, ‘Heaven is a Ghost Town’ and ‘Empty Party Rooms’ drop the gears down a notch to almost alt-folk mastery.  Not the same tripe from the likes of Mumford & Sons; god help us, but more a cool, slow burning swing through subtle rock soundscapes.  Never contrived and never mainstream, just when you think they’re teatering on the brink of complete accessibility, they draw you back with a shift in direction; from a choppy riff to an electro-solo or kaleidoscope keys, it’s awe inspiring at times.  Check the penultimate ‘Lonely Gun’ and closer ‘Cold Company’, that both have more ideas than anything we’ve heard all year; the former complete with a sax no less.  One of the most exciting and interesting bands to come from the legendary US county, it’s great to hear another collection of their unique songs; which can only mean one thing – they’re back to their best (8)

SUPERINTENDENT – ‘First Offence’
From the burgeoning Leeds scene bursts another alternative outfit that although raw as root veg, could well garner a much more expansive profile than some of their peers; if showcased in the right way.  This debut bristles with the same attitude we’ve only come to expect from the likes of Pulled Apart By Horses.  There’s even a touch of QOTSA and Joshua Homme-esque vocals on ‘Me+TV = Soul Destruction’, which sounds great in this context.  The eery ‘Describe Yourself To A Computer’ starts with a laid back groove before bursting through to a caustic conclusion; with a squealing guitar solo lifting us clean out of our chairs.  The overall maturity on show is what’s most surprising; mixing things up just enough to keep you intereste, but never at the cost of a melody, or the overall balance of a tune.  Gravelly guitars and rolling bass hold the elements together and on ‘Crack A Smile’ and ‘Set It Off’, the fretwork has a distinctive punk snarl that bites down hard before being repeatedly beating you about the head with Ric Whites tubthumping and Adam Phillips’ aggressive vocal leer.  The QOTSA / Homme theramones again bring a rounded air of distinction and variety on ‘Round & Round’ before Phillips unleashes his best Mike Patton impression on ‘Kill Me It’s Monday’; revealing a side much more unhinged and a hitherto unseen versatility.  As ‘X-Ray Smile’ and hefty jam  ‘All Is Not As It Seems’ drive home the point to a tumultuous and sinister conclusion, we’re left with an unexpected grin on our faces that means their work here is done.  A real surprise we have here, so help us set alight this firework and watch it fly.  (8)

WOT GORILLA? – ‘Kebnekaise’
These hobo’s from Halifax are a prickly bunch.  Born in 2009 they have a confidence and style that feels completely uninhibited, unconventional and unpredicatble.  A style that draws on a multitude of influences and sets up on complex song structures that wouldn’t be out of place on a contemporary jazz masterpiece.  Off kilter and off melody with bizarre time signatures, it can be intoxicating when well executed and for the most part Kebnekaise finds a sweet spot and squeezes it till the pips fly out.  There are moments where we recall early Foals and with Matt Haigh’s pure vocal guiding us through the maze, tracks like ‘I Beat Up The Bathroom, I’m Sorry’, ‘Is’ and lead single ‘Snow White’ could comfortably sit on Antidotes.  Ben Farnell’s intricate guitar licks and Si Marks’ frantic beats make for some unique breakdowns and moments of, dare we say, dance-ability.  The mid section strut of ‘655’ and ‘Holy B’Jesus’ do crumble convention just a little too far to allow comfortable play through, but the ideas and musicianship sewn through ‘Suspects’ and ‘Afraid of the Dark’ are admirable indeed.  Where we lose points on this one is variety.  Each track, although a heady mix of math, pop and progressive, all sound very similar to one another and come closer ‘Snow White’, you’re left wondering what just happened and grasping for memorable moments to warrant repeat spins.  It’s definately interesting and we’re fans of interesting.  It also shows great pomise which suggests there’s mileage in their approach, which could serve them well.  So…a good effort and good luck to you, it’s gunna be a bumpy ride.  (6)

RUSH-‘Clockwork Angels’
In all honesty this is our first encounter with veteran progsters Rush.  Prior to a recent copy of their seminal ‘Moving Pictures’, we’d thought them to be prolific purveyors of distinctly ordinary alternative AOR.  How wrong we were.  Not only do they rock out with the best of them, they do it with a style and grace hitherto unheard since 90’s era Tool or modern day Coheed.  With years of ‘prog nouse’ and a desire to push the envelope even further than before, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have delivered album number 19, built on complex rock foundations, sub-sections and textures; all interwoven by Lee’s reptilian bass, signature vocal and Lifesons searing guitar.  As is often the case with this style of rock it can often confuse, appearing directionless and although occassionally they do over complicate, the elder statesman from Canada do it better than most.  Opener ‘Caravan’, the hefty title track and ‘Seven Cities of Gold’ making the most sense before ‘The Wreckers’ takes proceedings up a notch and into straight ahead rock territory.  ‘Headlong Flight’, although bearing some serious Hendrix style fret work from Lifeson, moves dangerously close to a road marked dead-end; threatening to lose a precious melody.   And although ‘Wish Them Well’ also fails to really reveal itself, book-end ‘The Garden’ brings proceedings to a suitably ostentatious finale.  Too often we dismiss without first taking a bite and for us, this is a classic case of judging a book by its cover.  So although its not a classic and may take time to stick, there’s enough here to satisfy ardent followers and newcomers alike.  We are converted.  (7)

Of late, when we’ve heared the name The Smashing Pumpkins, we’ve turned away with a grimace similar to that strained when a particularly pungent stench meets our nostrils. Gone were the days of original alternative rock that played out with an intensity and intricacy that made them one of the most revered acts of the twentieth century.  At least that’s what we thought.  Not since Mellon Collie has Corgan and co sounded like a band; a cohesive band.  Lets face it Adore confused, Machina was patchy and Zeitgeist was…well, we’ll leave it there. But with drummer Mike Byrne and guitarists Jeff Schroeder and Nicole Fiorentino on board Corgan has a group, a working group and with all trepedation aside for this release, Oceania actually sounds great and pretty close to some of their best work yet.  It’s far from perfect but it certainly shows Corgan can still pen a great track and still has something to say, which is vital these days.  Scepticism can kill a band in a period of reform, so it would be great if this particular collective is allowed to progress from here.  Tracks like opener ‘Quasar’, ‘Panopticon’, ‘The Celestials’, ‘My Love is Winter’, ‘The Chimera’ and ‘Glissandra’ stand alone and should see Corgans new band taken seriously.  Where they go from here is anybody’s guess, but if they can close the gaps on drifters such as ‘Pinwheels’, ‘Pale Horse’ and ‘Wildflowers’, they may just be right back where they belong.  (7)

KATATONIA – ‘Dead End Kings’
Swedish lords of darkness Katatonia return with their 9th LP of sweeping thunder and lightning.  The revered ‘Night Is The New Day’ put them right back on the radar and defined their sound as distinctly apart from their reeling peers.  With virtuoso signatures and atmospherics beyond most forward thinking metal bands, Jonas Renkse has decoupled, re-grouped, recruited guitarists and returned with a continuation that should only compliment their ever expanding profile.  The shuddering guitars are retained to the fore beneath Renkse’s mournful croon, with Frank Default’s sampled mood swings again providing the gloss and polish.  ‘The Parting’ is an epic beginning that unfolds and unfurls like a deadly cobra; its impact as forboding as Night’s ‘Forsaker’.  The transitions between deep, thunderous metal and moments of soulful reflection are perfectly balanced on ‘The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here’, before a rolling bassline reels you in to the frosted overtones delicately dusted over ‘Hypone’; a soaring guitar hook driving the point home to stunning effect.  “We believe in what we’re creating. Our own disturbing faith” commented Jonas on the album title.  “There’s no return from these corridors of the mind” he asserts.  And with tracks like ‘The Racing Heart’ and the raging ‘Buildings’ their intentions are clear, with ‘Leech’ and ‘Ambitions’ shouting it from the rooftops.  Passion through creativity and although not a million miles away from ‘Night…’, Dead End Kings is no less affirming or effective and could quite possibly be an end of year challenger.  We each make our own decisions, but we certainly believe in this one.  (8)

CANTERBURY – ‘Heavy In The Day’
UK upstarts Canterbury are a highly revered act with their sights firmly set on conquering the mass market populated by such pop-rock prime time as Young Guns and You Me At Six.  Their sound is ultimately what surrounds us today – driving guitars, clean college vocals and clan choruses that will have every teenager in the land scrabbling for front row tickets.  It’s getting a little boring to say that this will not change your life, in any way shape or form; nor will it distinguish itself from the racks and racks of familiar sounding bands shifting by the bucket load these days.  This second LP shows promise, hell we might even repeat play the title track opener, ‘Someting Better’ and ‘More Than I Know’.  The less said about ‘Gloria’ the better, but ‘Calm Down’ and ‘Saviour’ cut the same groove as earlier scene pioneers We Are Scientists and My Chemical Romance, which is not necessarily a bad thing; at least it shows a bit of character.  Credit where credit’s due, some of these tracks hit home with more intent and fervour than most.  Penultimate track ‘Garden Grows’ combining a jazzy shuffle with bombastic guitars, shifting the ‘catchiness’ levels right up alongside Gerard Way’s boys.  But again, it’s all just a little bit too derivative of the scene we’re desperately trying to escape.  Still, who can blame them, it works and its seemingly here to stay; to our dismay.  (6)

Californian space-rock quartet White Mannaknow how to intoxicate.  Their brand of hallucinatory rock is quite unique in that, throughout this debut’s five gloriously unfurling tracks, not once did we try to escape its early morning embrace.  Built upon dense hazy grooves and monolithic leads that disappear into the distance, the dust they kick up is most prevelant on ‘Mirror Sky’ and ‘Keep Your Lantern Burning’, both soaring multi-melodious epics concocting a viscious yet delicate aural assault.  The indecipherable echoing strains of the vocal lead us into ’60s acid influence as we glide under shady boughs; the guitars splintering and coming together on top of the rythmn section.  Usually, those who attempt this cruising primordial throb often leave their audience standing, looking around for a way out and granted, too much loop riffing into extended jams can bore.  But this carries a richness and accessibility rarely found amongst its contempories.  Closer ‘Sweet Jesus’ has it’s moments but doesn’t quite match the intensity of its predecessors.  But still, a more assertive debut would be hard to find.  (8)

BARONESS – ‘Yellow & Green’
Georgian sludge-metallists Baroness have never been afraid to work the far reaches of their minds; or indeed that of their fans.  For since the Red album they’ve boggled and messed with our sub-conscious; embedding tar thick over-drives of guitar sound beneath an archetypal vocal leer that, through the Blue album, has only added creedance to the notion that they’re this generations most maverick underground metal band.  With their 3rd LP they’ve pushed the envelope even further than before, which could alienate a colossal fan base.  Or, it could prove a stroke of genius; he who dares….as they say.  It’s a hefty beast this one; at 18 tracks long a double in the true sense of the word.  And where Blue was packed with jaw dropping, gargantuan riffery and trail blazing grooves, Yellow could be described as a soul brother.  John Baizley’s gravel tones have been toned down a notch, as have the pummelling guitars to a more considered intricacy.  The metallic thunder and memerobale hooks are still here, what they’ve done is channel it ever so slightly towards psychedelia; layering 70’s touches that will raise eyebrows rather than furrow them.  No more so than the hammond tinkerings embedded throughout ‘Cocainium’; as far from original Baroness as you will ever get.  There are moments where it all harks back to early Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr we think; which may send people running.  But others, like us, will find it immensely interesting and a denseley layered, immenseley enjoyable listen.  ‘Take My Bones Away’ and ‘March To The Sea’ are classic Baroness.  Beautifully distorted angst which ripple with perfect hard rock-abillity and a viscious tendency gleamed from todays contemporary scenes.  ‘Back Where I Belong’ is the next surprise, drawing on progressive scenes tinged with late night tales of astrology and mythology.  It’s a melting pot of influences, all of which blend into a new irresistable sound they’re looking to perfect; unwittingly marking them as a genuinely exciting modern day outfit.  The epic hue of ‘Sea Lungs’ brims with sheer cool anboasts some stunning sub-textures.  ‘Eula’ is a cinematic twist, winsome and wonderful, while ‘Board Up The House’  is a mid-paced uplifting anthem complimented perfectly by the irresistable ‘Mtns. (The Crown and Anchor)’.  Whats noticeable is that they lighten the mood more frequently than ever, sometimes dangerously so; tap dancing on the trap door marked ‘complete overhaul’.  ‘Foolsong’, the funky ‘Little Things’ and ‘Collapse’ lack the bite we’ve come to associate with this expressive collective.  In fact the second half is much calmer and moodier overall, all laid back grooves akin to the early grunge forefathers.  All in all it’s a dangerous album but amid the current wave of  ‘screaming is the only way’ type outfits, it could stand as a beacon of authentic genius.  You decide.  (8)

JAPANDROIDS – ‘Celebration Rock’
After some of the most invigorating live performances from a new rock act, following an explosive debut, expectations for ‘Celebration Rock’ the second LP from British Colombians Japandroids are disproportionately high.  Despite that weight upon their shoulders this is one of the most sensual rock n roll offerings in  a long time.  No histrionics, no poses, just two talented musicians doing what comes naturally; which is a key word here.  Despite the general tendency in rock to over-emphasise, Japandroids understand the concept of economy.  Their straight forward approach never leaves them lacking flair, the full sound adding to the overall effect of minimalism, which works perfectly because that’s all the songs require.  The opening drive of ‘The Nights of Wine and Roses’ is held seemlessly in check by drummer David Prowse’s solid, full on punch; which works a treat indeed.  It’s when they lock into a groove , as on ‘For the Love of Ivy’ that they really come into a class of their own.  Frontman Brian King’s vocal is one of their most potent attributes; like a wild-eyed amphetamine bomb about to explode.  On ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’ they really stretch out and limber up; a thick heavy set growling beast that slaps you around the back of the head to remind you of the driving positivity their capable of.  So is it time unwind the coils for an all out power finale?  Absolutely, they’re on a roll and out strolls ‘Younger Us’, ‘The House that Heaven Built’ and ‘Continuous Thunder’ – all warm beauties wrapped in King’s oceanic guitar playing. A man with a remarkable ability to switch from a rough sonic edge, to crystal sharpness and still sound like the same musician in perfect harmony with the band.  While Japandroids flirt with whatever vibe turns them on, it can’t be denied that alternative indie-rock is an integral part of their make up.  Continue like this boys and the sky’s the limit.  (8)

FUTURE OF THE LEFT – ‘The Plot Against Common Sense’
Agit Welsh noiseniks Future of the Left have been purveying their specialist barmy brew for seven years now.  Formed from the ashes of equally barmy post-hardcore 3 piece mclusky and its wavering shadow Jarcrew, Andy Falkous and Jack Egglestone have taken a raw formula and turned it into something spiked and snarling.  Debut Curses set the bar, sophomore LP Travels With Myself And Another high jumped over it.  And with The Plot…things are pretty much on an even keel.  This 15 tracker has it’s failings and it probably isn’t as solid as its predecessor but damn, its teeth are sharp. The tracks carry the usual mistifying titles and ‘cut to the chase’ lyricism, but where Travels was seamless, The Plot has a few gaps where the current gets just a little too non-sensical.  Those six tracks aside, opener ‘Sheener is a T-Shirt Salesman’ is pure energy, while ‘Goals in Slow Motion’ and ‘Camp Cappuccino’ are utterly screwball.  Highlight ‘I am the Least of Your Problems’ marries off-ball undercurrents with glistening melody to astonishing effect.  With ‘Anchor’ and ‘Notes on Achieving Orbit’ closing preceedings, Falkous and Egglestone have delivered yet another jagged collection of real alt-rock gems that although not quite as consistent as expected,  has enough balls and relentless ambition to continue to surprise.  (7)

SLASH – ‘Apocalyptic Love’
The debut ‘album’ from one our generations greatest guitar players was a patchy affair.  Littered with a mix of A-list cameos and questionable collaborations, it created momentary shafts of light but could’ve been so much more.  The story for this second LP is one of greater coherence and enhanced execution.  With a greater feel of coordination rather than collaboration, ‘Apocalyptic Love’ is a real rock album and boy is it good to have the man back on record.  Signature riffs and solos driving the tracks forward, rather like Velvett Revolver’s excellent debut and capped by the impressive Myles Kennedy who has a voice like a howling wolf.  Staying true to their roots no-one can accuse them of hitching their wagon to the nearest passing trend; instead they’ve dared to be distinctive and striven to be different.  This album makes two points though.  Firstly that whatever style or image they’ve chosen to embrace, they’ve only ever sounded like themselves.  Secondly that Slash and co have written some flippin’ great songs.  Like it or not, they are charismatic.  Although pompous, strutting and commercial, it’s weaned on twentieth century ideals and is a rounder body of work who’s only downfall appears tobe a tendency to pen distinctly ordinary lyrics.  ‘One Last Thrill’, ‘No More Heroes’ and ‘Halo’ are all overblown, radio friendly cuts infused with a flurry of harmonies, floaty strumming and classic fretwork.  ‘Not for Me’  needs a few listens to make anything other than the slightest impression but ‘Anastasia’ is a sharp spot that begins with acoustic pickings before spreading its wings into an eclectic mix of AC/DC and Whitesnake; capped by one of Slash’s most majestic solos yet.  We’re then taken through a series of confident thumpers that display a musical telepathy within the ensemble, dispelling any suspicions of ego trips.  From the carpet bombing ‘We Will Roam’ to ‘Hard & Fast’ and ‘Crazy Life’, which snaps and crackles without once degenerating into mindless indulgence.  Overall, well worth a listen and a big welcome back Mr hudson.  (7)

BLEECH – ‘Nude’
Debutants Bleech are a fascinating combination of contemporary rock and early nineties style punk-angst.  Coming across as the baby sister of Courtney Love’s Hole and the ‘good’ neighbour of Japanese Voyeurs, ‘Nude’ is an altogether healthy concoction that makes for surprisingly urgent listening.  ‘Weirdo’, ‘Break My Nose’ and ‘Mondays’ fly out of the traps like Hole in their prime.  Jennifer O’Neill’s Love-esque tones rippling perfectly over the top of some incisive rythmn and percussion play.  ‘Flowerhands’ slows the pace to an acoustic strum, before’ Holiday’ and ‘Adrenaline Junkie’ turn the dial fully to summer time pop-rock!  It’s almost disgustingly enjoyable and displays a versatility and vitality that’s missing so much today.  ‘I Wanna Be Me’ shakes the room into a blast of bouncing punk again, morphing into the safer surroundings of  ‘Dancing Without You’ and album closer ‘When I Get Old’.  With such a confident debut Bleech are on the coat tails of 2:54 as surprise femal fronted rock innovators in 2012; guiding us back towards a road marked ‘hope’.  Too often groups head for the mainstream with a horrendous mix of alt-pop or alt-folk of all things.  So this makes for a fun diversion.  They’ll be launching it’s familiar flavour on the masses in support of Ash at the Garage for their 20th Birthday bash; and whilst it does have a few fluffy edges, they’re roughed up by a rock undercurrent that’s not at all unpleasant to listen to.  And that’s alright by us.  (7)

MAKE DO AND MEND – ‘Everything You Ever Loved’
It’s so important these days to have a sound of your own, if you’re going to stand out from the hoards of hombres purveying the same identities and messages.  While these boys from West Hartford, Connecticut are not the light at the end of the tunnel, they’ve already managed to carve a little place of their own within which to surviveFollowing well received EPs and a debut that came across as humble and honest, this follow up LP moves their expanding blueprint forward from best laid plans, to impressively executed buildOpener ‘Build’ kicks preceedings off in fine style, swiftly followed by the excellent ‘Count’ that’s lifted by a biting guitar line and James Carroll’s Brian Fallon style vocal rasp.  With a new bassist in tow, ‘Disassemble’ is the output of a collective refreshed, focussed and ready to challenge Fallon’s crew as the US’ foremost alternative rock act.  The slower paced poignancy of ‘St Anne’ is a little too derivative of the college rock hoards to really hit home; albeit conveyed with a little more honesty.  With Matt Bayles twiddling the knobs (Mastodon, Minus The Bear) the sound is reminiscent of late 20th century acts like Braid; organic, forward thinking and laced with invention.  All in all, as genuine a contender to drag the swollen scene out of its slumber as any we’ve heard all year.  And if they keep penning fierce tales of urban decay and remorse as good as ‘Royal’, ‘Lucky’ and ‘Stollow’, who’s to say where their obvious ambition and musicianship might take them.  (8)

Watch out, we’ve got one of the surprises of 2012!  While all eyes are on the blockbusters a cheeky little number sneaks beneath the covers and tickles you purple.  When it happens it feels great and this, this is porcelain smooth: crafted with passion and not upon foolhardy presumptions of platinum sales.  A breath of fresh air swinging along on crisp production and masterful atmospherics.  It’s introspective and selfless, the brainchild of sisters Hannah and vocalist Collette Thurlow; who’s tones are like soothing balm to tired ears, every moment is to be savoured.  Each track built upon throaty bass lines and devilish guitar thrusts, all with an individual symphonic demeanour that mix majestically with swathes of ringing chords.  The only contemporary artists brassy enough to pull off an album as fierce and dream like as this would be The Cure or Howling Bells and where most to attempt it would come across as pompouss, 2:54 is just one piece of ambient, brilliantly varied and superbly played music.  An enthralling world in a bottle, just waiting to be opened.  (9)

We love this band.  We love them because they’re one of the few bands that are able to take a pop hook, throw bucket loads of fuzzed up guitar, lay it on a bed of grandiose lyricsim and not sound woefully contrived or forced.  The comparison to The Smashing pUmpkins is getting dull people, very dull.  I mean come on – if we’re going to compare them to the Pumpkins at their best, the two couldn’t sound further apart.  Granted there’s an iota of Corgan-ism in Brian Auberts vocals, but honestly does ‘Carnavas’ or Swoon’ sound anything like Gish or Siamese Dream; the REAL Pumpkins??  No!!  ‘NotW’ is almost polar opposite.  So why not enjoy them for what they are – an intuative and imaginative alternative rock group who are developing their sound even further beyond the perfect indie of ‘Swoon’.  What’s not to like.  There are deeper electronic undertones on ‘Neck of the Woods’ and where as a whole, it takes maybe 3 listens to really set pulses racing,  opener ‘Skin Graph’, ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Mean Spirits’ are ten times better than anything in the mainstream right now.  It won’t change the world but it’ll quite happily sit on your stereo more than once.  And right now, you couldn’t ask for more.  The songs are organic enough for Auberts rich tones, no less hummable for their bare knuckle approach and all in all, this is a ballsy two’s-up of an album that’s well worth your time.  (8)

PS I LOVE YOU – ‘Death Dreams’
This duo from Onatrio are seemingly masters of the meteoric rise.  Debut and hometown homage Meet Me At The Muster Station raised eyebrows and had the forward thinking indie-kids scratching their chins, with it’s fuzzed out party blues-rock dynamic.  This follow up has garnered similar praise and should see them atop many a playlist thorughout 2012.  Paul Saulnier’s guitar mastery is quite astonishing and will immediately draw comparison to the Mascis-isms of latter day DJr.  Whilst theirs is a sound of their own, there are clear influences and no more so than Saulnier’s tortured vocal cry’s that could easily grace any White Stripes LP.  That said, this is not derivative to the point of being painful or unimaginative, there’s so much more to it than that.  Taking inspiration from the darkness of re-occurring dreams Saulnier and Ben Nelson are on top of their game and have penned a collection of alt-indie that will reverberate round your senses for months; each track sounding like a hippy trip across open plaines and states.  It’s music to drive to with the top down, arms in the air and voices high.  Join the ride.  (8)

Atlanta rock quartet Royal Thunder are a new name to these shores, but that will soon change as they hit our gig circuit in the coming weeks.  Which is great news because this is a serious slice of fabulously bluesy hard rock that shook the very foundations of Headwarmer towers on first listen.  This crew have a uniquely potent way of marrying concrete slab instrumentation to a melodic undercurrent.  The result is a startlingly powerful brew, which is not a revolution or a fashion statement, it’s just guaranteed to intoxicate with the merest sip.  With no excess baggage attached you know this the moment you hear the very first chord on opener ‘Parsonz Curse’.  A slow pace burns to a scowling riff and vocal exhortations that recall the most trippy aspects of garage psychedelia.  The dust they kick up is most prevelant on ‘Whispering World’, the epic ‘Shake and Shift’ and ‘Blue’ – a thick multi-melodious sound concocting a vicious yet delicate aural assault.  The strains of ‘Sleeping Witch’ and ‘South of Somewhere’ glide gracefully under shady boughs, the guitars splintering and coming together on top of the rythmn section; it surges without interruption.  Album closer ‘Black Water Vision’ points to their ability to take an established formula and make it their own.  Low slung, tribal and disembodied with an incendiary chorus that all add up to a snarling anti-anthem.  We could prattle on about each and every track but rest assured, this is an astonishing collection; bereft of pretension, full of potential and destined for the stratosphere.  (9)

PRONG – ‘Carved Into Stone’
With their first material in 5 years, you might be forgiven for thinking Tommy Victor might be struggling for new material; that vital commodity of actually having something to say.  The only original member and founder, Victor has recruited Tony Campos (ex-Static-X) on bass and tubthumper Alexei Rodriguez (3 Inches of Blood) to complete the ranks on this their 9th LP.  The industrialist nature of their back catalogue is almost completely replaced by straight ahead metal and thrash-style intensity; perhaps more akin to Cleansing and a million miles from the unique funked-up excellence of Rude Awakening.  Playing it safe has never been a part of Tommy’s vocabulary and with Carved Into Stone, he’s sounding as vital as ever.  ‘Eternal Heat’ is a classic slice of unrelenting metal force, chugging guitars and break-neck double-kicks; it’s the sound of the hounds of hell galloping through fire and brimstone.  Setting the pace and tone it’s an unurring opener that’s followed by the hooliganistic force of ‘Keep On Living In Pain’, complete with some virtuoso fretwork from Victor.  Never renowned for his consumate vocal, the power and forethought leads the line; a pumping pulse coursing through each chunky rock work-out.  It’s unrelenting stuff and where ‘Aummunition’ plays it straight, ‘Revenge…Best Served Cold’ and ‘State of Rebellion’ stand out as album highlights; immediate riffs and chorus lines that are as as catchy as anything he’s ever penned.  ‘Put Myself to Sleep’ is equally impressive, we could go on and on – you get the vibe.  What’s so strong here is the mix of skills and styles, building on their legacy and never succumbing to mediocity; pushing the far reaches of the mind and soul.  As ever it will appeal to both mosh heads and alternative rockers alike, making it an immensely precise and undeniably impressive return to form.  (8)

  BRAD – ‘United By Fate’
One of our favourite side projects from the early 90’s Seattle grunge scene is back and they’re as bitter sweet and twisted as ever.  Closely following 2010’s tentative ‘Best Friends?’ this 5th LP is a return to form for the pioneers so often lost under a pile of multi million selling Pearl Jam albums.  More akin to 2nd LP ‘Interiors’ their touch continues to be remarkably light, in penning pop-rock gems, heartfelt harmonies and red-eyed ballads that’ll have you rollin’ around like a hog in the hay.   Loaded to the gills with tracks that mutate willingly, beneath Stone Gossard’s signature scratch guitar and Shawn Smith’s distinctive croon, it’s amazing how good it all sounds given its origins.  Things start a little slowly in all honesty; ‘Miles of Rope’ not as immediately impactful as Buttercup or Secret Girl.  But where they crawl, there’s always a point at which they grab a song by the scruff of its neck and lift it to its feet with consumate ease.  ‘Bound in Time’ is magnificent melancholy; perfectly paced and so catchy all your interested in is melody, you almost don’t want to know what Smith’s singing about.  ‘Diamond Blues’ and ‘The Only Way’ keep things bubbling along nicely before ‘Last Bastion’ loses its bearings a little; only for the pure acoustic beauty of  ‘Make The Pain Go Away’ to re-affirm all meaning.  ‘Needle and Thread’ wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Shame’ or ‘Interiors’ but it’s the  penultimate ‘Tea Bag’ and closer ‘Through The Day’ where the message really hits home, with Smith’s perfect refrain and the bands insistent aura scarring you with a darker, more sinister presence.  What sceptics will make of it is difficult to say but for us, its a welcome return and another fine album from the Seattle stable.  (8)

RICHARD HAWLEY – ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’
The Sheffield croonster has done well.  The guitars have been turned up and the material feels darker than ever before.  A very welcome return indeed.  (7)

They’ve been around since the late 70’s you know, and this is their 15th studio LP.  Do they still have something to say?  You damn right they do and this is sure fire proof that founding members Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker still have their heads firmly screwed on, all marbles intact.  In fact, this just might be one of their best.  Sure they’ve rubbed shoulders with some of metals foremost acts; hell they’ve influenced them all.  Yet where most would continue knocking out the same old themes and signatures for a few extra greenbacks in their arse pockets, KJ have yet again created a record that glistens with the sweat of compositional thought, rather than the slime of capitalism.  Their industrial undertones deliver true darkness that envelopes the listener, leaving them shaking and sweating in the corner.  With a seemingly undying love for creating music heavier than an elephant carrying Cyril Smith, you could quite easily hazard a guess as to what MMXII would entail.  There are brick-wall full-frontal God Machine style attacks like opener ‘Pole Shift’, Fema Camp’ and the imperious ‘Rapture’ that have all the expected bull dozing qualities.  As well as the mechanical bludgeon, there’s the integral sampling that only KJ can pull off without sounding horribly fake.  ‘Colony’ Collapse’ and ‘Corporate Elect’ are the impressive sound of machinery gone haywire; all schizoid guitar scratch and thundering bass-drum joining the affray.  KJ still rock out with the madness of truly disturbed souls, the result being a super-special and totally beserk cocktail of painful guitar.  Just a shame people don’t care for true talent anymore.  (9)

THE MERCY HOUSE – ‘A Broken State Of Bliss’
London motley crew The Mercy House are right up our street.  This debut blows the cobwebs off some the best hard rock albums of the early nineties, smashes them up into bits before dousing them in fuel and setting them alight.  These boys are the ghost of the past and seriously, wouldn’t look out of place in stackheels and spandex on Sunset Strip; albeit with a rougher, more tougher image.  The versatility of the vocals and the grinding guitar hooks suit this unexpectadly diverse collection of songs perfectly.  Its hard as nails rythmn section merely adds to the raunch factor and they waste no time at all in slamming the hammer down.  With balls out rockers ‘Greed’, ‘Blind’ and the searing ‘Lead The Way’ outnumbering the more sentimental moments.  The pure filth and swagger of ‘Unclean’, ‘Hayt’ and ‘Inversions’ are sturdy enough to encourage favourable comparisons with some of Alice In chain’s seminal riffs and high lines.  Closer ‘The Price of Dying’ is altogether broodier and beefier than anything on offer from today’s protagonists; all squealing axes, haunting atmospherics and more bottom end than Beth Ditto.  As if it all wasn’t bizarre enough, the lead guitars riff like a bastard and the solos are are executed with scything skill, transforming an oridnary pop-rocker into a portable party.  Bouncing in all cowbells ‘n’ cursing, this is searingly effective and typifies a real spirit of adventure we haven’t seen or heard for years.  ‘….State of Bliss’ is a little like going ten rounds with Mike Tyson, but damn, does it feel good.  (8)

I LIKE TRAINS – ‘The Shallows’
Somewhere between The XX and The National sits Leeds quartet I Like Trains; slow paced inventive post-rock that invokes moments of introspection and soul searching.  Played out to a basic formula with sharp lines and precise monotone blues, it can be iressistably insistent then frustratingly sombre.  Perhaps that’s the point.  Either way, it works…sort of.   (7)

TORCHE – ‘Harmonicraft’
Floridian hobos Torche have one thing on their agenda – to make thunderous walls of sound as…thunderous and….damn catchy as humanly possible.  Second LP ‘Meanderthal’ set the bar.  ‘Harmonicraft’ floats effortlessly over the top of that bar like a finely honed olympian.  If it was possible they’ve taken the stoner / sludge blueprint and pop-ularised it.  Rolled it in flour, baked it and covered it in some kind of sticky syrup that oozes out of your speakers like the sweetest…two and three minute stoner sludge you’ve ever heard.   Opener ‘Letting Go’ bounces out of the traps like a new born baby on a pogo stick, before ‘Kicking’, ‘Reverse Inverted’ and ‘Skin Moth’ drive home the point with perfect execution and dynamism.   It’s immensley enjoyable and probably the most likeable and accessable material they’ve penned yet; demonstrating an unusual ability too rare these days – effective evolution.   With not a single track that could be described as a weak link, Steve Brooks and co obviously enjoy hammering out disjointed totally coherent pieces of a musical jigsaw puzzle; it makes for truly thrilling listening.  (9)

ANATHEMA – ‘Weather Systems’
It doesn’t happen very often but once in a while a band will do more than make mere music.  Anathema, with this their ninth LP, are just that band.  Previous effort ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ built further upon the blueprint for a band forging forward into hitherto unknown territory; crawling out of their skins of doom and morphing into something altogether more interesting.  They set about creating huge whirlpools of sound, drawing on instinct and emotion for raw material, draining every available sense dry and transforming the cocnentrate into sounsdcapes of wonderfully uplifting intensity.  This album has an unurring ability to carve complete environments out of space of song and opener ‘Untouchable Part1’, we shit you not, is THE best rock song you will hear this year.  Riding in on a picked acoustic, it shimmers from start to incredible finish; balancing a whisper to an intensely emotional cacophony of driving strings and guitar.  It’s power sends shivers down the spine and is swiftly followed by track after track of echoing operas that quiver and tingle every nerve ending; becoming rooted in a giant nucleus of pain, joy and…confusion.  It’s incredible stuff and we’re desperate to listen to the whole thing again, for the hundredth time in the space of a few days.  They know how to hypnotise, but more importantly they know why to; which makes them either genius or magicians in a world so desperate for innovation; where depths past technical proficiency are rarely explored.  Anathema don’t really belong anywhere, they don’t need to because ‘Weather Systems’ is a soon to be classic record that will take some beating when it comes to the end of year ceremonies.  Jawdropping and actually near flawless; you need to hear this record.  (9)

OFF! –
Sixteen tracks and every one less than 2 minutes in length.  Which means we have a raw, bare knuckle collection of purist garage punk that’s insanely catchy, rawt with anger and chock full of immediacy.  Progressive it ain’t; filthy nosebleed guitars, gutteral bass and throwaway drums….oh yes. (7)

THE MARS VOLTA – ‘Noctourniquet’
The news that Bixler and Rodriguez-Lopez had reformed At The Drive In was something we’d been waiting for for a long time.  The fact they’ve individually been more productive since ‘Relationship of Command’ speaks volumes.  A band is only as good as the sum of it’s parts and TMV is no exception.  Together they’re capable of true rock genius; previous albums under TMV moniker have mixed incredible musicianship and instant hooks with frustrating filler, making consistent play through a bit of a chore.  Prog-Rock and Jazz Fusion is not the most immediate of combinations at the best of times but who’s to question such daring dexterity.  We implore them to cut the crap, and thankfully on this their 6th full length they appear to have listened.  They continue to push the boundaries and ‘Noctourniquet’ will certainly surprise; it’s actually a perfect demonstration of a band on the cusp of their best creativity to date.  The guitars are down tuned a little in favour of some serious synth that morphs out of the speakers throughout, and in spectacular fashion on opener ‘The Whip Hand’.  Each track is more controlled, more focussed and where previously they might have wandered off into 11 minute empty space jams, with ‘Aegis’, ‘Lapochka’ and ‘Molochwalker’ they’re tighter than they’ve been in a long time.  You may need to invest some time in this one as it doesn’t fully cup your nuts until plays 3 or 4; but that’s nothing new with this lot.  A grower in every sense of the word and well worth your time.  (8)

SOUND OF GUNS – ‘Angels and Enemies’
Liverpool has turned out some true greats and lets be honest, we’re always quick to stereotype.  But where we might expect originality, purpose and rock conviction, we’re left frustrated that yet another band has taken it upon themselves to head for mediocrity and a shot at mainstream stadium stardom, with less than inspiring song writing and execution.  To be fair it’s not all bad; there are some occasional moments where the lads come up trumps.  No more so than on opener ‘Sometimes’, that blasts out of the speakers and hits you square between the eyes; a solid start then.  But where ‘Sometimes’ sets the tone, followed closely by ‘Antarctica’ and ‘Flash of light’, ‘Whites of Your eyes’, ‘Guide’ and ‘The Leaning’ all but drag you back down to the bottom again.  It’s the same old story for bands these days, no innovation.  Pushing the envelope and trying something new, just doesn’t appear to be a part of their vocabulary.  Must try harder.  (6)

DEER TICK – ‘Divine Providence’
Rhode Island rockers Deer Tick are a curious and bold combo that stir the murky waters of ’60s alt-country and rock psychedelia with a devilish aplomb.  Soaked head to toe in the same sweet ale as Lou Reed and latter day Bob Dylan; perhaps Brooklyn’s VietNam most recently, they fuse lavish freewheelin’ soul with evocative and spiritualised blues to create cathartic and raucous rabble rousers that’ll have you scrabbling for the nearest four-pack.  This 4th LP moves seamlessly through a series of loud and loose sing-a-longs that embed each acoustic stroke with the sort of rich tapestries so masterfully woven by their forefathers.  Credit where credit’s due, they sound like they’ve entered into this for love rather than lucre and it actually works extremely well in a modern context.  ‘Divine Providence’ is a fertile breeding ground if you’re yet to encounter the all encompassing back catalogues of the aforementioned maestros.  Ably swinging through the multi-hued bombast of the excellent single ‘Main Street’ and ‘Something to Brag About’, vocalist John McCauley croons and twangs his way from melancholy to symphonic cool on ‘Make Believe’ and ‘Electric’.  All in all and despite a couple of moments where the party’s spoilt, it’s expressed with a fluency that most indie rockers today will readily appreciate.  (8)

MARK LANEGAN BAND – ‘Blues Funeral’
Eight years on from 04’s ‘Bubblegum, the purveyor of true dark-night-of-the-soul is back with a fresh take on the whiskey soaked blues he’s been delivering for over two decades now.  Stand out classic ‘Whiskey for the Holy Ghost’ is a quiet masterpiece that stands alone and while subsequent efforts scratched the surface of his rootsy introspections, ‘Blues funeral’ is the first time we’ve heard Lanegan really pushing his own boundaries in terms of lyricism and musicality.  With guest slots from some of the usual suspects; Messrs Homme and Dulli contribute some serious atmospherics, there’s Jack Irons also weighing in with some tub thumping, the album as a whole is probably better than ‘Bubblegum’, purely for it’s diversity.  Where we would expect the tracks to be dirty gravel toned rockers and acoustic strum sessions, the MLB introduce their own flavour of nu-disco; yes that’s right.  And it works, superbly.  Killer cuts here are the low slung single ‘Gravediggers Song’, ‘Grey Goes Black’, the electronic infusions of ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ and the uplifting euphoria of  ‘Harbourview Hospital’.  We really should expect nothing less from one so experienced in his field.  In fact on this evidence we might even expect a level of mainstream attention as young wannabies look to release themselves with something that provides an accessible and modern take on the 90’s grunge scene.  Either way, it has our vote as one LP that will grace many an end of year list for suer; and we’re only in February.  We’re not worthy.  (9)  

HAWK EYES – ‘Ideas’
Continuing where the excellent ‘Mindhammer’s EP left off, Hawk Eyes lay down an extensive and chunky rock work-out that ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to our innovative and edgy check list.  It’s sharp, cohesive, a little bit dangerous and chock full of…ahem…ideas that few bands can come up with in a lifetime.  Just like Pulled Apart By Horses, these lads are from the Yorkshire haven of caustic rock, Leeds; and its easy to see from the opening salvo of ‘Witch Hunt’ why they’ve drawn admiration from across the pond.  For what we have here is a ferocious fusion of vivacious melodies and some serious riffage that kicks down the door in brutal yet sleek fashion.   They’ve refined their sound since the brutality of debut ‘Modern Bodies’ and although almost completely re-wired, ‘Ideas’ loses none of their earlier chaos; just wrap your ears around ‘Headstrung’ and ‘Kiss This’.  The first half hits home the hardest and while things tail off a little by the time we’ve grappled through ‘Milk Hog’ and ‘Bears by the Head’, this is another shining example of imaginative British rock at its best.  (7)

Alternative Leeds rockers PABH are a prickly bunch.  They push the boundaries of rock into a whole new category and in doing so, create something so unquantifiable, so difficult to pigeonhole, it’s in danger of dropping off the radar.  But on the edge is where they find their succour; the only place where their currency is legal and on the basis of this fine collection of chunky rock workouts, it seems they’re doing it for love rather than lucre.  Clocking in at just over 30 minutes ‘Tough Love’ has you on the edge of your seat from the caustic opening chords of ‘V.E.N.O.M’ to the closing tapestries woven into the bookend ‘Everything Dipped in Gold’.  The angst ridden vocal sits atop some steaming thick axe-work throughout, the likes of which you rarely hear executed so well these days.  And as the tracks take no time in getting to their point the piece flashes by on first listen, urging you to hit repeat.  In parts they tend to over complicate things, threatening a precious melody, but overall this is a damn fine example of what these shores have to offer; even if it isn’t the most accessible of treasures.  (8)

Crosses is a mighty fine collaboration between Deftones’ Chino Moreno and ex-Far guitarist Shaun Lopez.  To say this second EP is much anticipated is a real understatement.  The first made us all stand up and take notice.  We now have two that with continuous play through make for a fantastic album of dark and light electronic-rock; full of sinuous moods and an atmosphere you could slice in to two (EP’s).  It takes the best components of both protagonists more recognised bands; Moreno’s soaring vocals and stratospheric choruses atop Lopez’ darkly intuitive and alternative undercurrents.  The pace is slow burning, tracks build from a simple acoustic strum into a maelstrom of harmonics, driving guitars and pounding drums before dropping the listener straight back to earth, gasping for breath.  As side projects go, both EP’s are top quality and hopefully are a sign of things to come because each demonstrates tremendous adaptability and diversity from Lopez and Moreno; coupled with a desire to pen heartfelt rock of the highest order.  This one’s easy – stunning, again.  (9)

Mad Max shred-metallers BBABH are charging forth with a real glam-tastic tour de force that will have you scrabbling around for those old Priest and Megadeth LP’s.  No-one in their right-eous mind is going to hail this Canadian crew as leaders in their field, but few can deny the headbang-inducing follow up to 2008’s ‘Pedal to the Metal’ wear’s its 80’s influences on its sleeve for all to see.   Its fast paced riffs sit perfectly beneath searing solos akin to Avenged Sevenfold; with singer Tony Gambino leading the line in a series of pulse raising, fist in the air choruses.  The production is porcelain smooth, the songs are crafted with passion and not on foolhardy presumptions of multi-million sales.  By upholding their beloved style the results are cheesy as hell, but admirably enjoyable it has to be said.  Opener ‘Deathwish’ swings in on a crisp riff and a masterful hook.  First single ‘Forever’ hangs on a devilish guitar thrust, while ‘Holding Back for Nothing’, ‘Rockin’ All Night’ and ‘Scream it like You Mean It’ are all thunderous shots of adrenaline.  ‘I’ve Got You’ and ‘Skate or Die’ are a little too fluffy to endear however but those who fell in love with ’80s metal, will fall head over heels in love with this.  Those who have moved on will probably file under ‘too un-cool for skool’.  Which are you?  (7)

 ANTLERED MAN – ‘Giftes 1 & 2’
Camped somewhere between the shape-shifting schizophrenia of Future of the Left, and the dirty hulking riffage of Queens of the Stone Age comes Bermondsey’s Antlered Man.  Still honing their direction and craft on this here debut, what we have is strange, intriguing and bereft of pretension; just the way we like it.  Their polemic is tongue in cheek and the subject matter concerns itself more with domestic politics and economics than wide-eyed bravado.  But the trick is to make it all resonate and although occasionally they change things up mid-song a little too often; threatening the logic and listen-ability, tracks such as ‘Platoono of Uno’, ‘Buddhist Soup’ and the excellent album closer ‘Misruly Roo’ are all powered by proto-grunge guitars, smeared with prickly bass, a lazy drum dash and antagonistic vocals.  The sum total: a sprawling riot of noise and melody that has an acerbic wit at its core.  The laws of probability mean it will not shift by the millions, but there’s no denying its an industrious and very promising debut. (8)

 INME – ‘The Pride’
Essex boys INME  are no strangers to success.  They’ve shared stages with Deftones, Biffy Clyro,   Limp Bizkit and Nickleback (no less); graced revered rock festivals such as Reading, Sonisphere and  Download.  Nine years on from the release of debut ‘Overgrown Eden’ and they’re still as popular as ever with a fiercely loyal fanbase continuing to challenge them as musicians.  Their song writing and structuring has matured for sure and The Pride is probably their finest work to date; all crunching riffs, broken constructs and emotive vocal harmonies.  ‘A Great Man’, ‘Pantheon’ and ‘Guardian’ are admirable cuts; all laced with symphonic demeanour and swathes of wringing chords.  The parts however do feel greater than the overall sum, as the album as a whole struggles to deliver a real upper cut to flaw the audience and elevate it above its many contemporaries.  A great album leaves you begging for more, finding just the right balance between control and innovation, with enough challenge and intrigue to keep you pressing play and not pause.  As such ‘The Pride’ won’t change your life or win over millions of new followers, but it will rest easy with those who know them best, and that may well be the point.  (7)


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