Belfast Telegraph

Albums of the week - from Spielbergs to Nina Nesbitt

Sean McConnell album Secondhand Smoke
Sean McConnell album Secondhand Smoke

Singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt’s second album The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is up for inspection, along with the latest offering by the country pop duo Ward Thomas, Restless Minds.


Is this it? Has the rule of electro-bedroom pop started to wane? I’d put my money on Norwegian garage band The Spielbergs hoping so.

It’s a long time since a new dirty guitar-led band have stuck their heads above the parapet. The song NFL has stirrings of a new anthem, on similar lines to the Dandy Warhols, or what could be the influence of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (specifically Relative Ways), and surprisingly We’re All Going to Die echoes Franz Ferdinand.

This eclectic piece of scuzzy mastery is both as bleak and as bright as our future can be. And anyone that can work McDonald’s into a song title has got to have something going for them!

8/10: Rachel Howdle


Nesbitt’s second album has been a long time coming, and the effort that’s gone into it shows.

The 24-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter’s first record since leaving Island for independent label Cooking Vinyl, is slickly produced and well-considered. She’s progressed since her more saccharine, acoustic guitar-filled 2014 debut Peroxide, which had mixed reviews.

Nesbitt’s clean-cut vocal slips into a dreamy falsetto on the tracks that could be considered mainstream fodder by the most irksome music snobs, but she’s cleverly toeing a line between electronic, R&B and ethereal soul, all wrapped up in a poptastic bow. Songs like Colder fit into a moodier pop space, reminiscent of Lorde and Rated R-era Rihanna, while Loyal To Me could have been an early Noughties Mis-Teeq hit. The Moments I’m Missing is another high point, with major Taylor Swift vibes.

7/10: Lucy Mapstone


Ward Thomas are on the cusp of superstardom. Sony Music have primed the British country duo with a sprawling third album of deeply felt, pop-friendly treats aching to top the charts.

Ward Thomas, aka 24-year-old-twins Catherine and Lizzy, have taken a page straight out of the Taylor Swift playbook. After two albums of solid songwriting and cut glass harmonies, their third is a poppier affair. The biggest indicator of this? Like Swift’s fifth album, 1989, Restless Minds is backed by an army of writers favoured by the big labels. Ed Drewitt, the talent behind One Direction’s History and Little Mix’s Black Magic, is on hand. So is Rachel Furner, who’s worked with The Vamps and Craig David.

Restless Minds sees the sisters stray from the modern country of Cartwheels, the first British country album to top the charts, to focus on the perils of social media, mental health and the women’s movement.

6/10: Alex Green


Atmospheric, guitar-twangy folk pop is the order of the day on American singer-songwriter Sean McConnell’s 13th album Secondhand Smoke.

He may not be too familiar this side of the pond, but the Tennessee-based artist is worth a punt if easy-listening, mellow and, at times, atmospheric country pop is your thing. He’s written for Tim McGraw, Meat Loaf, the Plain White T’s and for TV series Nashville.

A handful of tracks would fit nicely on Radio 2, such as the beautiful Devil’s Ball, a calm ballad backed by melodic reverby guitar, and the rousing, glorious Alien. Shaky Bridges is a lovely track, punctuated by the country music staple: a wobbly harmonica. It’s not ground-breaking, but McConnell is a skilled songwriter and performer, and there’s no harm in something that errs on the side of safe and cosy, like this.

6/10: Lucy Mapstone


Some 40 seconds into Slaves Of Fear, HEALTH’s fourth album proper, the band throw you into a vortex of discordant electronic beats and unsettlingly beautiful melodies. Even the most hardened of acolytes will be surprised by how mature the LA noise rockers now sound.

Bursts of white noise shock while a heady mix of deconstructed industrial techno, big beat and emo-balladry overcome. It’s a potent combination and one HEALTH have been plying since their return with Death Magic in 2015.

No doubt Slaves Of Fear will satisfy fans. But more than that, it could tempt those who shudder at the thought of industrial music to perhaps reconsider.

6/10: Alex Green

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