Bastille - Wild World
It’s felt like a long three years since Bastille’s debut, Bad Blood. The big haired, big-chorus loving indie boys are sticking with their core markers on Wild World — pacy pop-rock overlaid with frontman Dan Smith’s distinctive, rangy vocals pogoing about. They’ve also boosted proceedings with the patchwork approach they used on their earlier mixtapes. Snatches of actress Kelly LeBrock in 1985 film Weird Science break up the patter on Good Grief, in a track that smacks of electronic duo Public Service Broadcasting, while borrowed audio snippets crop up on almost every track (Send Them Off!, Lethargy, Winter Of Our Youth). It’s annoying at points, superfluous, but discard those and you’re left with a punchy, catchy blueprint that is so very Bastille. Warmth clatters and bounces, epically ratcheting up as it goes, while The Current skitters and builds until your arms are lifting out of their sockets involuntarily. It’s not terribly nuanced — nostalgia, power, freedom, world news, avoidance, distraction (Snakes) and political darkness are running themes, but you can’t deny Bastille have heart, and no-one will make you pogo better.
Teenage Fanclub — Here
Scottish survivors Teenage Fanclub distinguished themselves among other grunge pop pioneers with their Beach Boys-like ear for melody and harmony. It’s this strain of their sound that remains on Here, the band’s 10th album, and their first in six years. There’s no place any more for the power pop fizz of early singles such as Star Sign and Radio, instead there’s maturity, polish, romanticism and an emotional openness nice to see to in a group of middle-aged men. As ever, the writing and main singing duties are a democratic allotment, with the three founding members, guitarist Norman Blake, bassist Gerard Love and lead guitarist Raymond McGinley getting four songs each. Blake gets opener and lead single I’m In Love, a classic slice of jangling pop, but it’s the other two who stretch the band’s sound. McGinley’s I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive compacts guitars into an ambient flow and then takes off underpinned by a motorik throb and Byrds-like sun-soaked harmonies. Love’s The First Sight features his trademark angelic vocals, but its fizzy pop is grounded with a sediment of feedback noise. As the album title suggests, this is a band happy to live in the moment. The time is now. Make the most of it with an album happy in its own skin.
Happy Diving — Electric Soul Unity
Happy Diving, self-styled purveyors of ‘Electric Unity Metal’, present their fourth album; a stomping beast, covered with dense fuzz, frequently howling with feedback. Underneath the effects, there is great dexterity in Matthew Yankovich’s guitar playing. Vocals are ably provided by Matthew Berry. While his lyrics often stray into angst — this is definitely most apparent on Lost My Way — their delivery is always assured. Unknown Feeling provides respite from the big sounds, with its acoustic accompaniment, but the album reverts to powerful form with River Will Flow. Critical opinion suggests that this Californian quartet deal in Nineties revival. Head Spell has something of Weezer to it; Don’t Be Afraid Of Love is much like an early Foo Fighters track. While the influence is definitely apparent, the album as a whole is more than the sum of its genetic makeup. It’s unfair to dismiss Electric Soul Unity as derivative, especially when it sounds this good.
Lucy Dacus — No Burden
Someone, somewhere, owns a Lucy Dacus crotcheted blanket. Last year, the 21-year-old Richmond, Virginia performer knitted hats, scarves and that one ‘big comfy blanket’, to fund sessions in Nashville that birthed No Burden. Missed out on the fundraising campaign? Not to worry: there’s warmth enough within this debut long-player to last all winter. Released in limited numbers in February, Dacus shone at the SXSW industry festival weeks later, sparking a label war. Her signature went to Matador, whose aesthetic fits with Dacus’ place at the sophisticated end of the indie-rock stratum. Re-issued now, the record’s sharply observant lyrics signpost Dacus as witty and empathetic. Its opener, and perhaps her signature song, I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore, mauls societal expectations, Dacus deadpanning: “I got a too short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one.” Her voice deep and dolorous, her future surely bright.
Hey Stranger — Black Dylan
After a lucrative career in Danish dancehall reggae, something that seems to be de rigeur these days, singer Wafande changed tack. Teaming up with compatriot and producer Nuplex, he formed Black Dylan. Black Dylan are Motown and soul revivalists, evident in an LP full of brass and finger-clicks. Get Up Child is a gentle alarm clock of a song, too torpid to wake anyone. The One is stripped-back double bass and guitar fare, all very pleasant. Who Got My Back has an echo of Portishead, however the recording is aching for more Trip-Hop influence, or some of the subtle soundscapes of, say, Gnarls Barkley. The whole album is slick, well-produced fare with great vocals, but penned by an artist who believes that every couplet has to rhyme. If you enjoy pop and soul though, Hey Stranger is beckoning to you.