Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Best albums of 2012

It's that time of year again. While everyone gets into the festive spirit of eating their body weight in turkey and mince pies and opening mostly unwanted gifts (hopefully with a receipt included) I like to bunch together a few of my choice favourite records. Had to narrow it down to fifteen but I can safely say these are my favourite fifteen albums of this year. Enjoy!
For the sake of argument I've grouped them in alphabetical order.

1. All-American Rejects - Kids In The Streets
Kids In The Street Wikipedia
Everyone's almost favourite band, this album appealed to me the most as it's a little bit rawer than previous efforts. Great party album too.

2. Blood Red Shoes - In Time To Voices
In Time To Voices Wikipedia
Serially underrated British band. Dynamically brilliant and an uncanny ability to create such a wide spectrum to say there's only two members.

3. Correatown - Pleiades 
Correatown artist Wikipedia
It's nice to have a bit of quiet time and this album is the perfect soundtrack for it. Dreampop is a starry little genre hidden in the niche of heavier sounds but it's just as rewarding.

4. Dry The River - Shallow Bed
Shallow Bed Wikipedia
A little bit of folk music never hurt anybody and this is as good if not better than those Mumford & Sons darlings.

5. Ellie Goulding - Halcyon
Halcyon Wikipedia
How can you not love Ellie Goulding? Theres a nice range of genres covered on here, firmly putting Miss Goulding at the head table of female vocalists.

6. Flyleaf - New Horizons 
New Horizons Wikipedia
One of the best rock albums of 2012. Read my review of it HERE.

7. Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People
Not Your Kind Of People Wikipedia
The Queen of the damned and her merry band of darklings returned in 2012 with this little monster of an album.

8. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Handwritten Wikipedia
Another year, another album by Gaslight Anthem in a greatest album list. For catchy choruses tinged with 50's swing and 60's soul look no further.

9. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Jake Bugg album Wikipedia
Our Jake! Born and raised in Nottingham, his debut sounds like it was nicked right from Bob Dylan's back catalogue.

10. The Killers - Battle Born
Battle Born Wikipedia
Crawl back under your rock if you say you've never heard at least one song of this album. Perfect music in any situation and environment.

11. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal
My Head Is An Animal Wikipedia
A bit of a late arrival to this list. Folk, folk and more folk designed to put a smile on any face, with plenty of 'la la la's to boot.

12. Rolo Tomassi - Astraea
Astraea Wikipedia
Not the easiest band to get into, just ask my neighbours. Learn to love it though and it's a great addition to any iPod.

13. Ronan Keating - Fires
Fires album Wikipedia
Fuck what you think, this is a glorious little pop rock album. It's just a shame it took him nearly 20 years to make.

14. Shiny Toy Guns - III
III album Wikipedia
One of the very few albums where style and substance meet in equal balance, electronic music has never sounded so good. Read my review of it over HERE.

15. Yashin - We Created A Monster
Yashin band Wikipedia
This album is pretty saucy. If you pick a post hardcore album to get into then pick this one. Heavier than a ton of lead piss and just as brutal.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

'Flyleaf - New Horizons' album review

It brings upon a relative uneasiness and a little shake of the head when you look at how rock music, or at least popular rock music has changed hands in the last 10 or so years. Admittedly the rash and “you either love it or loath it” (mostly the latter) nu metal scene was thriving but sprinkled around the wastelands were bands of considerable talent. Not that many went on to have successful careers, but they were there. 2012 sees the dominance of the radio friendly, guitar by numbers ensemble of a million and one pop punk bands, trying their damn hardest to sound like each other. Especially annoying is the factor that by having a female singer, the band becomes remarkably popular, despite not been all that good (see also Paramore, Evanescence) Girls want to be them, guys want to be in them and it's a little unfair on the rest of the field.
Bands like Flyleaf have been known to have been almost pigeon-holed into this category, or at least did in their early days. Musical sceptics frowned upon them, describing them as a band with more image than substance. An unfair description admittedly, however Flyleaf suffered a slow start to their career. Formed in 2000, their self-titled debut LP didn't see the light of day until 2005. The album subsequently went platinum, selling over a million copies and putting the doubters firmly in their place. Second effort Memento Mori (Latin for "be mindful of death" or "remember you will die.") was as good as the first, pushing Flyleaf further into the mainstream and leading to the band conquering both the mainstream rock charts as well as the Christian rock charts. 2012 sees the release of 3rd album New Horizons, as well as the departure of founding member and vocalist Lacey Sturm, although she was kind enough to record this album first.
New Horizons is brilliant. Just utterly brilliant. Opening duo '
Fire Fire' and 'New Horizons' start calmly, but proceed to build up and knock you for six with searing guitar riffs and a catchy chorus to boot. 'Call You Out' is a stomping, crashing behemoth which promises to be a firm crowd favourite. The next two tracks 'Cage On The Ground' and 'Great Love' are simpler more elegant beasts and Lacey has never sounded better. She has already proven to have an excellent voice yet she belts these choruses out like it's what she was born to do. Backed by a excellent cast of musicians in the likes of Sameer Bhattacharya, Jared Hartmann, James Culpepper, Pat Seals.
'Freedom' is a throwback to earlier success and sound, which adds a welcome extra dimension to an already fabulous album. The penultimate track, the bruising 'Green Heart' finds Flyleaf at their absolute heaviest. I foresee quite a few broken bones if this track ever gets played live. The album is not without a quiet side though, proven with the trio 'Saving Grace', 'Stand' and 'Broken Wings.' Stand is ironically the stand-out track of the three, while Broken Wings is a touching ballad and a fitting way to end such a great album.

Words by David Dring

Monday, 22 October 2012

Shiny Toy Guns - III album review

For optimal results as a 21st century artist you must compete on two fronts; Style and substance. Albums can not simply consist of a bunch of songs. Some bands/artists turn to gimmicks to sell their music (see Radiohead - In Rainbows) while others attempt to go viral with a music video (ahem, Gangnam Style). But for a scene inexplicably dominated with electronic music and more dance crazes than Ian Dury can shake his Rhythm Stick at how does a band such as Shiny Toy Guns expect to succeed?
Bursting on to the scene in 2002, their debut album 'We Are Pilots' didn't see light until 2006. Featuring delicous synths, guitar licks and the vocals shared by Chad Petree and Carah Faye Charnow, STG proved just how effective the electro rock clash could be.
The next album, Season Of Poison, came with a darker sound and a change in personnel for the band. Out went Carah and in came Sisely Treasure who took up vocal duties. Commercially the album garnered less interest than We Are Pilots and the band admitted 'Season Of Poison' as good as it was, was not a Shiny Toy Guns album.
Fast forward 4 years and the return of Carah and here we have 'III' the 3rd offering from the band, something of a masterpiece. Opening track 'Somewhere To Hide' oozes chique. It's STG back to what they do best. 'Waiting Alone' is equally fabulous and again features traded vocals from Chad and Carah. Incidentally I urge you to check out the video for this. The brilliant  'Carrie' promises to be a dancefloor favourite.
'III' isn't just a dance onslaught. STG show their subtle side with 'Wait For Me' and the beautiful 'Fading Listening'. 'E V A Y' is a haunting slice of pop brilliance. The album's stand out track 'Speaking Japanese' is mindblowing. Reminiscent of the track 'Le Disko' from their debut album, it has Carah announcing that she will arrive on a dragon and that is exactly what this song has achieved with it's massive synths and hook-laden chorus.
All in all this is a glorious return to form for the band, and a welcome alternative to the generic drivel currently on show in the charts. If it's style AND substance you want, then 'III' has that in abundance.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Funeral For a Friend - Welcome Home Armageddon

It's no great stretch of the truth when I say that Funeral For a Friend are one of the most underrated bands of the last 10 years. Their debut album 'Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation' and sophomore effort 'Hours' essentially pioneered the British post-hardcore scene which was to dominate rock music for the majority of the decade. People often forget that FFAF were the first post-hardcore band to make it on a major label and in the first half of their career they were one of the most important bands in the world. 
Then the band fell of the wagon slightly when their follow up offerings couldn't live up to their initial hype. Cue various lineup changes and even the most hardened FFAF enthusiast would've admitted they were slightly unsure as to what the future would bring for the band. With 'Welcome Home Armageddon' Funeral For a Friend have literally drop kicked their doubters firmly into touch. 
The album follow up to last year's 'Young And Defenceless'  is quite simply incredible. Opening instrumental 'This Side Of Brightness' lulls you into a false sense of security before 'Old Hymns' pounds you down, delivering hook after delicious hook. The delivery and mastery of instruments and vocals blend into one and the band sound more youthful and buoyant as ever. Not even a minute in to the album and it's clear FFAF are back with a bang. It's like the band suddenly remembered what made their music so crucial in the first place as the intertwining harsh screams of drummer Ryan Richards and crushing riffs ring out during ''Front Row Seats To The End Of The World.' It's hard to believe this is the Same Funeral For a Friend who sauntered along at a canter singing about boats on their 2007 concept album 'Tales Don't Tell Themselves.' 
There's a renewed vigour in 'Sixteen,' a bouncy slice of post-punk brilliance, containing more melodic hooks and catchy choruses reminiscent of 'Casually Dressed..' The band show us they've lost none of their edge with hardcore offerings 'Aftertaste' and 'Man Alive', proving they can compete with the big boys. 'Owls (Are Watching)' is one of the stand out tracks both musically and lyrically. Matt Davies-Kreye's delivery has always been exceptional but he really excels himself here. Multi-headed beast 'Spinning Over The Island' showcases the band's versatility as it weaves and freeforms, crushing and melodic one minute, heartfelt ballad the next. 'Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don't' and 'Medicated' deliver more hooks than a fishing expedition and are catchier than the cold with their gang vocal style choruses. 
Funeral For a Friend are at their absolute heaviest on thrash behemoth 'Broken Foundations', destined to become a mosh-pit favourite at the band's future shows. Closing track 'Welcome Home Armageddon' sounds like it was pinched right from Iron Maiden's back catalogue with it's power metal riffs and killer drumbeats. Matt's vocals carry the song along perfectly, his deep and meaningful lyrics about desolation and catastrophe turn this track into an absolute belter, the last two minutes are so incredibly moving and are a fitting end to a magnificent record. The album ticks every box a Funeral For a Friend fan could ask for and then some. 
Here we have one of the best albums to materialize from the current rock scene and certainly one of the best records FFAF have ever made. They are a much different beast to the one that took the world by storm with their debut in 2003, now sounding like they have purpose and integrity. FFAF essentially opened doors for countless other bands to have a crack at the industy and thus became one of the most relevant acts to grace the rock scene. With 'Welcome Home Armageddon' FFAF have given us an almost faultless album which sounds more relevant than ever.
 'Casually Dressed.. Part Two' this is not, this album is all about moving forward and evolving. While being reminiscent of their former glory this is a triumphant return and a bold statement by Funeral For a Friend that they are back and better than ever. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Incubus - If Not Now, When?

If Not Now, When? Surprised a lot of people when it was released back in 2011, especially fans of earlier Incubus work such as Make Yourself (1999) and A Crow Left Of The Murder (2004). These were brash, hectic records. The band themselves had built a following on the back of the success of bands like Linkin Park and Papa Roach. While they didn't follow the Rap/Rock paint-by-numbers methods of the aforementioned bands, on quite a few of their songs the similarities were definitely noticeable.
INNW was released 5 years after their last LP, Light Grenades. Produced by Brendon O'Brien, it shot straight in at number 1 in the Billboard 100 and has since been certified gold. Expectedly, the album had a more simpler, catchier approach than previous efforts.
So fast forward 5 years and step forward, in my eyes, the greatest album Incubus have ever made. Gone was the rampant aggression and snarl from previous albums, this was just 50 minutes of music in it's purest form. The band had noted that during the gap between Light Grenades and INNW they decided to make an album that reflected the growth and knowledge of a band pushing 2 decades together. Guitarist Michael Einziger went to study music composition during the 5 year break and his efforts are grand on this records. They were no longer trying to out-volume each other. On INNW you only heard the guitars when you had to.
The most astounding evolution was that of band DJ Chris Kilmore. As his role in the band was changing he's decided to learn piano from scratch. INNW was the sound of a band with their eyes and minds open.
As the opening hum and swirl of the title track fades in, followed by the twinkle of guitars, followed by plodding bass and snare, you really do instantly notice the change in structure. Everything has been put together magnificently. The vocals were slow, but concise, and Brandon is here singing like no one had heard him sing before. The crescendos of each line just sound, for lack of a better word, epic.
Promises, Promises and Isadore are fuller numbers, especially the former with its piano laden middle section. The choruses on this album are truly special. None of them simple for the sake of it, all of them unwittingly catchy. Things pick up even further with Thieves, no sound is sacrificed despite the raise in tempo and instrument volume. Friends And Lovers is fantastic, and my joint favourite track on the album. It's definitely worth catching the video of this online. Boyd's vocals seem to just effortlessly float from a whisper to an exclamation. The pace is dropped for The Original, that is until the crashing outro that seems to almost catch you out, with the build up being so very subtle. Defiance is a charming acoustic effort that will get you singing and ooh-ing along instantly.
I consider the following track, In The Company Of Wolves as the transition track on the album. You get the warm intro and gentle flow of the song, but the ending has every instrument being played so intensely, you wonder if you're listening to the same album. This follows perfectly into the classy Switchblade. Boyd providing just the right amount of swagger with the lyrics, especially in the chorus. Einziger's guitar riff matching the vocals on bravado points every step of the way. This track also showcases the ever brilliant drumming talent of Jose Pasillas. Adolescents will be the only familiar sounding track, especially for listeners of their Light Grenades LP. It almost sounds like an anthem, a statement reading loud and clear. But no louder than it has to be. The final track Tomorrows Food is a perfect ending to what is indeed a perfectly polished and precise album. Every song is different, something which lacks in a lot of mainstream rock albums. I must say I was pleasantly surprised with If Not Now, When? and it has become one of my all time favourite albums. I urge you all to find it and give it a listen.