Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Review: After Laughter (2017) by Paramore

I’ve never really be part of the Paramore crowd in the past. And, to be honest, up until After Laughter, I’d never really listened to any of their music. I always associated them with the whole pop-punk/00s emo music crowd – bands like Asking Alexandria and Fall Out Boy (who have just put out the worst song I’ve heard in a long time) – which has never really been my bag.

However, a friend recently turned me on to their new album’s lead single ‘Hard Times’, saying they thought it was my sort of thing. Though I liked it immediately – quirky and catchy with a killer bass groove – I’ve definitely grown to love it even more now that I’ve had a few weeks to sit with it. In fact, it’s probably one of the best indie pop songs I’ve heard in a long time. And while it doesn’t do anything particularly new, I especially get clear Two Door Cinema Club vibes from it, it does what it does really well. The instrumentation is tight and well layered, it’s got a good groove, an explosive chorus that just makes you want to dance as well as some pretty solid lyrics to boot. It’s a pop song in its purest form, right down to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, and the band execute it more or less perfectly.

After Laughter doesn’t stray from the formula of ‘Hard Times’ too much, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each song has something going for it that makes it stand out, whether it be some particularly strong lyrics or a creative bit of instrumentation, but the majority of them are pop songs like the lead single. They’re all short and punchy and are guaranteed to worm their way into your head.

The album’s second track ‘Rose-Colored Boy’ features some of my favourite lyrics on the album, exploring depression creatively – talking about what it’s like to be around people who’re happy when you aren’t. ‘Told You So’ features a fantastic guitar-driven chorus and plenty of energy. Following these two is ‘Forgiveness’, another favourite, which despite being a slower cut is still incredibly easy to get stuck in your head. The vocal delivery on this track is particularly great. Like ‘Rose-Colored Boy’, the lyrics are fantastic here as well. These four opening songs are easily the album’s high point, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to love throughout the rest of it. There are still some great songs in the album’s second half, like ‘Idle Worship’ in which Hayley William struggles with being idolised by Paramore’s fans: ‘I’m just a girl and you’re not as alone as you feel’.

Apart from the experimental ‘No Friend’, After Laughter is a pretty straightforward indie pop album, but like I said, an incredibly well produced one. Whether you’re a long-time fan or you’ve never really been into Paramore before – much like me – I definitely recommend checking out this album. It’s got a lot going for it.

Best Tracks: ‘Hard Times’, ‘Rose-Colored Boy’, ‘Idle Worship’.

Review: Infinite Worlds (2017) by Vagabon

Despite its brevity, Vagabon’s debut album has a lot packed into it. Across its eight tracks, Laetitia Tamko touches on a variety of topics – from failing relationships to losing someone’s cat – and does so in a variety of musical styles. ‘Minneapolis’ has a fierce electric guitar driven indie rock sound, ‘Alive and A Well’ features no instruments other than an acoustic guitar, ‘Cold Apartment’ is a stripped back ballad with a pulsating drum beat and ‘Mal à L’aise’ is swirling and synth driven… Also it’s sung in French. There’s a lot of variety here, and yet, somehow, all of the songs feel like they fit together.

If there’s one recurring theme on this album, it’s feeling small. As Tamko sings about in the opening track, the wonderful ‘The Embers’, it’s feeling like a small fish in a world full of sharks. It’s about wanting to escape and wanting to have your voice heard. (I don’t normally bring politics into my reviews, but it’s an album that feels particularly relevant given that you-know-who has recently taken the presidential office in America.)

There are some incredibly powerful moments on this album that are the result of Tamko’s fantastic voice as well as her lyrics. ‘Cold Apartment’, the highlight of the album for me, offers her most powerful performance… Her voice swells with emotion on the song as she reflects on a relationship that she thought would last: ‘And we sit on my cold apartment floor / Where we thought we would stay in love.’ The lyrics are moving as it is, but the vocal delivery is what really powers this song. The instruments surrounding Tamko’s voice are fairly minimal, because it’s only her voice that’s really needed to drive the emotion of the song home.

‘The Embers’ is another song where Tamko’s voice really shines. It builds as the song progresses, tracking the grow in confidence of the protagonist. At first it’s quiet and almost hesitant (‘I feel so small’) eventually building towards an almost shouting finish where she confronts those that make her feel small (‘You’re a shark that hates everything’). Other songs like ‘Fear & Force’ and ‘Alive and A Well’ are driven by the vocals, and while the instruments are solid on most songs, it really does feel like they’re mainly in service to Tamko’s voice.

Infinite Worlds is a really promising debut from a band that still seems to be working out its sound. There’s a lot of different styles on this album and a lot of experimenting – which is definitely not a bad thing. It’ll be really interesting to see where they go next.

Essential Songs: ‘The Embers’, ‘Minneapolis’, ‘Cold Apartment’.

Review: Pumarosa the Louisiana, Bristol (27/10/2016)

Though they’ve only released a few songs, Pumarosa is a band that feels fullyl formed. Over their three singles, from the epic ‘Priestess’ to the politically driven ‘Honey’, they’ve covered a range of styles, but they all feature the band’s unique voice. I can’t think of an album I’m more excited about at the moment than their upcoming debut.

I’ve never been to the Louisiana before, and I was kind of surprised by how small and humble the place was. The music venue part of it is pretty much just an attic room. It was a change from the big name venues I’ve been to in Bristol – like the O2, the Marble Factory and Colston Hall – but not in a bad way. Though the performance room could only hold a small fraction of the people the O2 could, it made the gig feel so much more intimate. It felt like the line between the audience and the band was more blurred than it would be in a big venue (heck, some of Pumarosa’s members were even stood next to me during the support act.)

And man, were the support act great. I’d never listened to or heard of Peluché before the gig, and I ended up being pretty blown away by their performance. It’s hard to really describe their style of music – their songs have a sort of dreamy feel to them, and often go off on long jazzy instrumental tangents. Though I normally find myself itching to see the headliner when I go to gigs, I did find myself wishing that Peluché’s set could have been just a few songs longer…

When Pumarosa finally took the stage, they didn’t go for a big flashy entrance – they just set up their instruments and started playing. All emphasis was put on the music, which was pretty refreshing.

Lead singer Isabel quickly grabbed the audience’s attention, as the band kicked off their set with ‘Dragonfly’. The combination of her powerful voice and very Kate Bush-esque dance moves made for a pretty fantastic performance. The opening song was followed up by two tunes very familiar to Pumarosa fans – the band’s two latest singles: ‘Cecile’ and ‘Honey’. Both songs sounded fantastic live, ‘Honey’ especially.

The bulk of the set after this was made up of less familiar songs, with ‘Lion’s Den’ being another highlight. Almost all focus was put on Isabel’s voice until the last few moments, when the band exploded into sound. Isabel even took to playing her guitar like a violin by using a drumstick (yes, you read that right.)

The best moment of the set was saved till towards the end. ‘Priestess’, arguably the band’s best song, sounded absolutely amazing live. The eight-minute-long song felt like a journey, and the dancing from the audience – as well as the band – showed that nobody really wanted it to end. As great as the rest of the set was, ‘Priestess’ was just Pumarosa at their peak. Though there have been many gigs I’ve enjoyed this year, I wouldn’t say any of them reached the same heights as the performance of that song.

If you get the chance to see Pumarosa live, do it. I’m pretty certain the band is going to get huge soon, and it’d be silly not to go see them at an intimate venue like the Louisiana while you still can.

Review: Gameshow (2016) by Two Door Cinema Club

Though it’s only been three years since Two Door Cinema Club’s last release, Gameshow kind of feels like a comeback album. And that’s probably because they just straight-up disappeared for a few years.

So was it worth the band coming back for another album? Mostly yes – there’s enough great songs on Gameshow that it’s worth listening to. The band could have very easily churned out some songs in the same style as their first two albums – Tourist History and Beacon – but they’ve instead opted for a change of direction. Though you can still tell that it’s Two Door Cinema Club (and the album’s lead single ‘Are We Ready? (Wreck)’ is deceptively like their old stuff) the majority of this album is very disco inspired. Yeah, it’s a bit of a jump from indie rock, isn’t it?

Thankfully the band change up their genre a lot more gracefully than some other artists I’ve reviewed, and on some songs it really works. Take ‘Bad Decisions’ for example – possibly my favourite tune on Gameshow. The band go pretty full-on with the falsettos and funkiness on this track, and it’s pretty damn infectious. It’s just the sort of song that you want to dance to and sing along to. More than any other track on the album it demonstrates how good Two Door Cinema Club can be at making this sort of music. Yeah, the disco style isn’t hugely original but the band do it well enough on this song that it doesn’t matter.

But ‘Bad Decisions’ is only the second track on the album (and the first to adopt this style), and by the end of Gameshow the whole disco vibe really begins to drag. The second half of the album in particular suffers greatly from having little variety. While some of the songs from this part of the album aren’t awful, they all sound the same, and they all seem to fade together. It’s also a shame that Gameshow’s closer ‘Je Viens De La’ is probably the worst of the bunch. There’s literally nothing about this song that makes it stand out.

Luckily the first half of the album is significantly better, and this is because of the variety it has. Though ‘Bad Decisions’ and ‘Ordinary’ carry the album’s general disco style, the first half also has the more classic Two Door Cinema Club sounding ‘Are We Ready? (Wreck)’, the almost R&Bish ‘Lavender’ and the more rock-y ‘Gameshow’. This last one in particular is a highlight, featuring some of the more personal lyrics on Gameshow about the band dealing with the fame that came with the success of their first two albums: ‘I’m a Lynchian dream / I’m made of plasticine’. Trimble’s vocals on this track are also great, with their unhinged feel acting as a nice contrast to the smooth falsettos that crowd most of the songs.

Gameshow as a whole is a great album with some great songs. The band fail to reach the heights of their previous albums (there’s nothing as good as ‘Cigarettes in the Theatre’ or ‘Sun’ here), but that’s all right. Plus, you have to give them props for experimenting – even though they went for a pretty generic style. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.

Essential Songs: ‘Are We Ready? (Wreck)’, ‘Bad Decisions’, ‘Gameshow’.

Review: Stay Together (2016) by Kaiser Chiefs

Remember Employment? That was a pretty good album. Singles such as ‘I Predict a Riot’, ‘Everyday I Love You Less and Less’ and ‘Oh My God’ were (and still are) great, energetic, catchy songs. They were so infectious that it was hard to hate them even if you tried to.

The Kaiser Chiefs’ sixth album, We Stay Together, is almost certainly not going to be remembered in the same way. To get straight to the point, there’s absolutely nothing on the album that comes anywhere close to the quality of those three songs I mentioned. And it’s not because the band have done a genre u-turn – jumping abruptly from Indie Rock to straight up Pop – it’s just that the songs featured are clichéd and bland. Bland, bland, bland.

Let’s start with the album’s two singles, ‘Parachute’ and ‘Hole in My Soul’. I think I can safely say that these are the worst two songs on the album – at least lyrically. The chorus for ‘Parachute’ is perhaps the most horribly cringey and soppy thing I’ve ever heard: ‘If we’ve only got one parachute / You know, I’d give it to you’. The opening lyrics to ‘Hole in My Soul’ are similarly underwhelming and bland: ‘Strike up the band / Give yourselves a great big hand’. I know Kaiser Chiefs have never been lyrical geniuses, but there used to be a certain level of cleverness to their words. These lyrics are so clichéd it hurts. I know I ragged on Bastille for using clichés, but they still managed to pull together some good songs with some good instrumentations. Kaiser Chiefs don’t really do that.

It’s really impossible to view this album as anything else other than the band selling out. I know, I’m not overly fond of that term either, but it’s true. It doesn’t feel like they’re making the music they want to make – Ricky sounds incredibly bored on some of the tracks – but instead what they think is going to sell. As bad as they are, the two songs I mentioned do have the makings of mindless number one pop singles. I hated myself a little bit for getting ‘Parachute’ stuck in my head – but that’s the sort of song it is.

Another issue with this album – too many synths. There’s nothing wrong with synths, of course, but I dunno… They just aren’t used interestingly at all, and seem to smother all other instruments in the songs. It seems like every band evolves in a synth based direction these days, but some just manage it better than others. For example, with artists like Tame Impala and Wild Beasts it felt like a natural evolution of their sounds, building on their previous work… It doesn’t really feel like that here. By replacing all their instruments with synths, simplifying their lyrics and abruptly swapping genres all at the same time it feels like Kaiser Chiefs have lost everything that once made them a band worth listening to.

I suppose this is the part where I mention the album’s good (?) – or less bad – aspects. Like I said, it’s catchy in places, which can be seen as the album achieving its goal, and some of the songs aren’t completely awful. ‘Press Rewind’, ignoring its horrible opening (in which we’re repeatedly told that the band makes pop music now), is quite a bit of fun – and Ricky even seems to be enjoying himself. The opener, ‘We Stay Together’, also grew on me the more I listened to it. It hasn’t got much going for it other than a nice groove, but sometimes that’s all you need.

I could talk for a lot longer about the things I dislike about this album – like the incredible nothingness that is ‘Indoor Firework’ or the unbelievably cringey chorus on ‘Why Do You Do It To Me?’ – but there’s not really much point. This album isn’t worth your time. If you want to listen to Kaiser Chiefs, listen to their old stuff. If you want to listen to pop music there’s much better stuff out there. If you want to listen to soppy music there are many better songs available than the ones on this album. There’s no reason to listen to Stay Together, and I feel kinda bad for saying that because I’m sure some people worked hard on it. But really, don’t bother with this album.

Essential (or least bad) Songs: ‘We Stay Together’, ‘Press Rewind’, ‘Still Waiting’.

Review: Wild World (2016) by Bastille

Like a lot of people around my age, I was pretty heavily into Bastille’s debut Bad Blood when it came out. I remember having songs like ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ and ‘Bad Blood’ on repeat, and loving the album’s connections to mythology (‘Icarus’) and pop-culture (‘Laura Palmer’). It’s only been three years since that album came out, but it feels like a hell of a lot longer… Perhaps it’s because Bastille has been touring that album pretty much non-stop since its release, or because everyone has been so eager to see how the band’s second album will turn out. ‘How will they follow up Bad Blood?’

And, in short, the answer to that question is ‘by giving us more of the same’. Wild World doesn’t do much that the band’s first album didn’t – the only somewhat noteworthy additions are guitars and movie quotes – and many of the songs from the album feel like they could fit comfortably onto Bad Blood and vice versa.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a bit disappointing. Since my obsession with Bad Blood, I’ve gotten into loads of other bands – many of them much better than Bastille – and so what worked for me in 2013 doesn’t really work for me as much now. I’d like to stress that this isn’t a bad pop album – in fact, it’s a really competent one, being filled with catchy lyrics and good hooks. It just feels disposable. While I’m enjoying the album now, I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll revisit most of its songs ever again after a few months.

As the band have failed to develop, a lot of the problems Bad Blood had are present on Wild World. They were kind of excusable the first time around, but by repeating them the band have just made them all the more glaring. Dan Smith’s lyrics are the main problem. Too many of the songs hinge on cliché phrases, which just dampens any emotional impact they might have had. ‘The lesser of two evils’, ‘sleeping with the fishes’, ‘bury my head in the sand’, ‘I can’t believe my ears’, ‘turn a blind eye’, ‘we’re not that different, you and I’… How many times have you heard these phrases before? Can’t Smith come up with anything more creative? There are some nice lyrics here and there – I like ‘Won’t you exorcise my mind?’ from ‘Send Them Off!’ – but there’s too much that just makes me cringe.

Relating to the band’s refusal to develop, this album feels way too safe. Bastille never veer from the basic ‘verse, chorus, verse, chorus’ structure, and this leads to all of the songs feeling the same to an extent. What the band are offering here is a clump of 19 (which is probably too many for one album), three-and-a-half minute, playlist-ready pop songs.

I don’t despise Wild World, and will admit that I quite like some of the tracks on it. ‘Send Them Off!’ is a highlight for me with its fun trumpet-y opening, and ‘Two Evils’, despite having some of the weakest lyrics on the album, makes for a great change of pace – stripping the band down to nothing more than Smith’s vocals and a single guitar. I love the instruments on ‘The Currents’ and the political edge of the song, and I think ‘Winter of Our Youths’ acts as a pretty good melancholy closer to the album (if you ignore the bonus tracks on what is called the ‘complete edition’).

If you’re looking for a set of fun, catchy pop songs, then Wild World will more than meet your need. Though if you were expecting something new from Bastille, then you’ll probably find it as disappointing as me.

Essential Songs: ‘The Currents’, ‘Two Evils’, ‘Send Them Off!’.

 

Review: Blossoms (2016) by Blossoms

It’s pretty hard to dislike Blossoms’s debut album. Apart from a few duds, it’s pretty much wall-to-wall solid songs – almost all of them could be singles (and, from a brief glance at the band’s Wikipedia page, eight out of twelve of the album’s tracks are). They’re the sort of songs you can put on a party playlist with the safe knowledge that no one’s going to ask you to skip them.

But I suppose the main problem I have with Blossoms is that, I guess, it’s a little bit too safe. The band don’t really do anything you haven’t heard before with any of these tracks. A lot of their songs harken back to older bands – they say Oasis and The Stone Roses are their biggest influences – and so there’s not really much that feels challenging about this album. With this album they’ve simply tried to create a collection of catchy pop songs – and that’s something they’ve done really well.

The album kicks off with its best song, ‘Charlemagne’. The song doesn’t waste any time getting started, and just hits you immediately; it’s just the sort of song you want to dance to. Like most great songs, it’s got a great bass riff and the lyrics are pretty catchy: ‘My eyes tried, hide, cried, died’. It’s also pretty concise, finishing before it goes on for too long, making it easy to listen to several times – and a perfect fit for radio.

The three songs that follow are, if not quite as solid as the opener, still great songs. ‘At Most a Kiss’ continues the fast/short/catchy vibe of ‘Charlemagne’, while ‘Getaway’ and ‘Honey Sweet’ slow the pace down a little bit. The synth in the latter track is used to create a warm and gentle vibe, and it’s another clear stand-out on the album for me. One of my other favourite songs on Blossoms – one of the few that isn’t a single – is ‘Smashed Pianos’. The twanginess of the instruments in the second half of the song creates a great off-kilter/wonky vibe that generates the image of a smashed piano pretty well.

Many of the other songs on the album are strong – ‘Texia’, ‘Blown Rose’, ‘Deep Grass’ – but like I said, there are a few duds. ‘Cut Me and I’ll Bleed’ doesn’t really do much for me – it’s not awful, just kind of eh – and ‘Onto Her Bed’ and ‘My Favourite Room’ definitely feel like filler tracks. ‘Onto Her Bed’ in particular feels like it’s just trying to fill up the album’s runtime, kind of just meandering for a few minutes before abruptly fading out. Its lyrics are pretty cheesy as well: ‘My tears down the windy alley drain’.

Like I said, it’s pretty hard to dislike this album. Like many debut albums, it feels like the band is simply trying to collect all their best songs into one place – so it’ll be interesting to see where they go with their next one. Will they deliver another collection of singles or instead try to go for something more cohesive?

Essential Songs: ‘Charlemagne’, ‘Honey Sweet’, ‘Smashed Pianos’.