You can wake Billie Joe Armstrong up now, and while you’re at it, tell him he slept through some brilliant album releases. This month’s rundown is such a whopper, we had to split it in half. Here’s your first slice of September:
8. Battle Lines – Primal
Leeds seems to be a city with quality bands crawling out of its every alleyway right now. Battle Lines’ have been around for a while in a variety of guises, but their official debut is a real dark pop treasure.
Carly Humphries’ powerful yet vulnerable vocals are exceptional here, falling somewhere between Florence Welch and Kate Bush on the spectrum. ‘Wildlife’ and the title track showcase it at its best, while ‘Sea of Fear’ introduces a more dark, electronic vibe in the vein of Curve. If driving rhythms and gazey riffs are more your thing, ‘Smother’ is likely to be your go-to track, and the haunting ‘Skull’ is another peak point.
It’s an accomplished first full-length record from the four-piece which, in the best way possible, doesn’t sound like a debut.
7. Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
Something nags away at the back of my mind with Beach Slang. The romance of wasted youth, drenched in alcohol, glorious guitar distortion and punk rock as it was meant to be. I dunno, it can all just seem a little too perfect sometimes. Lyrics like “When I found rock n’ roll none of it mattered, I knew I was alright” and song titles like ‘Wasted Daze of Youth’ are pushing the boundaries of cliché are they not? Then it all swings back to these glorious songs and their sincerity (and there’s absolutely no doubt Beach Slang’s James Alex comes across as sincere as they come) and it all feels right again.
There’s no surprises on this record and if you’re a Beach Slang fan you probably didn’t want any. ‘Atom Bomb’ is yet another perfect Beach Slang song and it’s just one of many on both this and their previous records. Beach Slang are one of those bands that will grow and grow. They’ll continue to build the kind of fanbase that will idolise them, get tattoos of lyrics and logos, lie in bed at night and dream of being in this band playing in a small, sweaty basement club. This record will not slow that process down one little bit. If you’re in, you’re in for the long term with this lot. I’m going to start ignoring that nagging voice in my head and just go with it, the songs are simply too good so let’s enjoy it with carefree abandon. Where’s my nearest tattoo shop?
6. Deap Vally – Femejism
The oxymoronic/pun title of Deap Vally’s second album sums it up. It’s a record stuck in an angry quagmire of annoyance at, and acceptance of, female stereotypes. With ‘Smile More’ very much the centrepiece of the album, lyrics like ‘I am not ashamed I am no-one’s wife, though the idea does sound kind of nice’ encapsulate the committed yet compromised feminism the duo espouses.
The girls do moody and bluesy better than bratty and shouty, and some of my favourite bits on the album are the likes of the grinding, scuzzed-up, stop-start guitars on ‘Bubble Baby’, which sound almost like trying to eke a riff out of a failing motorcycle engine.
There are songs I don’t much care for on this record too, most of them near the start of it, but as track 6 says “everyone is a fucking critic” and “it’s easy to hide behind your computer”, so maybe I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
5. LVL UP – Return to Love
LVL UP’s excellent previous album Hoodwink’d was released through Double Double Whammy and Exploding in sounds and now the band have hopped, skipped and jumped over to Sub Pop in what seems to be an attempt to release as many records on as many great labels as possible. This is indeed a great record right from the off. Opening track ‘Hidden Driver’ not so much makes a nod to Neutral Milk Hotel but actually sounds like it could be a cover version and I’m not complaining. The whole album just sounds gorgeous, like you’d want your most reliable, cheerful best mate to sound if they were a record. At the midway point “Pain” encapsulates all that is great about this band with its mix of gentle strumming, melting melodies, bounce and crunching guitars. Return to Love is arguably good old American indie rock by numbers but hey, those are some pretty perfect numbers.
4. Pixies – Head Carrier
It’s fair to say that the Pixies’ comeback has been somewhat underwhelming. I don’t think they’re not trying, and I can get over Kim Deal being replaced by the more than able Paz Lenchantin, but something about them seems a bit tame, pardon the pun.
This continues on Head Carrier, which is by no means a bad album, but just doesn’t grab, challenge or excite the listener like most of their previous work does. I think the main problem is Black Francis himself, who seems a bit restrained musically and lyrically these days. ‘Talent’ is an example of what could be a decent song let down by a lacklustre delivery, and a lot of the tracks just sort of plod along after encouraging starts.
There are high points, and they mostly involve Paz. She and Francis trade lines well on ‘Bel Esprit’, and she takes the lead vocals on ‘All I Think About Now’ (which borrows nicely from ‘Where Is My Mind?’), but really there’s nothing here that you’d put on a Best of Pixies mixtape/playlist.
It makes our list because, taken in isolation, it’s a decent listen. If it were a band’s debut you’d call it ‘promising’, if it were an established band’s third or fourth album you’d call it ‘solid’, but this is the Pixies and, for that reason, it’s disappointing.
3. The Pooches – The Pooches
As a staple of the Glasgow live music scene The Pooches are a band to cherish, even if they perhaps don’t cherish themselves as much as they should. This self-titled debut album is as charming as it is riddled with self doubt. ‘I’ll be Gone’ is the perfect example of knowing your own qualities but not having the confidence to show them and by the time others realise it’s already too late. I can definitely relate. This record is absolutely bursting with indie-pop gems. Pure guitar pop crammed with melodies and all put together to sound uncomplicated and straightforward as the best pop music usually is. The album is often reminiscent of any number of 60s guitar bands and the sensitivity of the Vaselines. If you like nice things in your life don’t get a dog, get The Pooches.
2. Teenage Fanclub – Here
Summer’s not over without a serving of jangly Britpop from Scottish veterans Teenage Fanclub, who reach double figures in the studio album stakes with this very likeable effort.
Being British and a bit of a ‘90s dweller, I’ve always appreciated the band without being able to list them as a favourite, and this album hasn’t changed my opinion. It’s agreeable, catchy, fun, optimistic, and a great soundtrack to a lazy, hazy day. With harmonies and melodies aplenty on tracks like ‘I’m in Love’ and ‘The Darkest Part of the Night’, they do tend to lean towards the twee at times when I like to hear a bit more edge and abrasion, but that’s a personal preference, and the instrumental sections of the likes of ‘The First Sight’ contrast nicely with the lads’ vocals.
Certainly something to tide you over until the clocks go back.
1. Ultimate Painting – Dusk
Despite being in other bands this duo don’t take much time to relax. Dusk is the 3rd album in not long over a couple of years from Ultimate Painting and their craft continues to captivate. This time around the record feels somewhat more restrained than the previous two, not that the previous two were unrestrained by any means. Ultimate Painting create wonderfully subtle songs, two guitars filling the sound as though they’re just playing instinctively, one always knows what the other is going to do next. On the surface they’re not obviously catchy but listen to ‘Bills’ or ‘Who is Your Next Target’ a couple of times and don’t even think about trying to forget them. Not that you’d want to forget them for a second. At what point does this stop being the guys from Veronica Falls and Mazes and when do we start referring to those bands as the guys from Ultimate Painting? They’re a vital band, Dusk simply hammers that point home.