Fellow Brummies Peace may have beaten them out of the debut album gates, but I suspect that it’s SWIM DEEP and Where The Heaven Are We (Chess Club) who’ll pip them to the post when it comes to those Debut Album of the Year lists.
All four of the singles are included, the New Order and Kaiser Chiefs tinged King City giving way to the languid indie shoegaze of Honey with its nagging ‘don’t just dream in your sleep’ chorus, the laid back druggy The Sea and, providing the albums closer, the truly gorgeous dreampop She Changes The Weather (Chess Club).
If that evoked thoughts of the Stones Roses at their most Waterfall blessed, then the album is surely the band’s answer to the Manchester outfit’s own debut. With the cascades of shimmering guitars, sparkling synths and Austin Williams’ floaty narcotic vocals, it’s hard not to draw comparisons when you hear new numbers like Francisco and Colour Your Ways, but then you’ll also hear aspects of The Smiths, the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Inspiral Carpets and The Cure too. The acid-coated 80s – and the Madchester sound especially – are clearly part of their musical DNA, but, in the same way as She Bangs The Drums and I Wanna Be Adored, there’s hints of folk-rock influences to their psych-pop haze, notably so on Red Lips I Know. But from wherever they draw their inspirations, there’s a freshness and tingle that goes way beyond nostalgic homages.
Every track is immediate, curling up inside your brain and sending its tendrils to your nerve endings like small explosions of bliss, just listen to the languid Stray with its understated funky bass while the glorious Soul Trippin was surely born to become the soundtrack to chilled out festivals the world over. Make My Sun Shine they sing and the clouds roll away. Utterly divine, this is the album that will define the summer of 2013.
Birmingham and the Black Country have produced many of the country’s finest heavy metal bands. I’m fairly confident in saying MY GREAT AFFLICTION (above) are not likely to join their ranks. Derivative of any 70s or 80s UK metal outfit you care to name, the trio’s new three track Paragon Of Girth (Monolithic) EP serves up generic punishing riffs and relentless heavy drums while frontman and guitarist Ste Gough growls out the sub-Lemmy vocals with little regard for modulation or melody. To be fair, in context of what they do, they do it well enough, Good Times To Come a no nonsense headbanger and Mountain (Out Of A Mole Hill) a suitably prowling hard rock churn with, as in all the tracks, the obligatory guitar solo (with wah wah pedals), but there’s nothing to set them apart from dozens of others doing the same thing in small pubs up and down the country.
Formerly with Peel favourites San Lorenzo, OWEN TROMANS has been ploughing a solo – and largely acoustic - furrow for some time, to which end 2011 saw the release of Eternal Western Youthdream, a decade-spanning compilation drawing on EPs, albums and sessions, the 12 minute prog-folk John’s On The Bridge included, along with two new numbers, Youth and Scratching At The Stitches.
This year sees the release of For Haden (Sacred Geometry), a five track collection of mostly gentle orchestral acoustic folk and songs that offer wistful reflections on faded youth and growing up in Cradley Heath, both Greg (about Greg Ackell, singer with 90s American indie outfit Drop Nineteens) and the nostalgia-laced Trinity Records (an amalgam of three long defunct B’ham record stores) using music as the marker of lost years, while, turning on the power and cranking up the throaty electric guitar, the Thin Lizzyish Count The Lights views the past through a West Bromwich Albion lens.
The equally electric and slightly Floydian eight minute title track is also steeped in youthful memories of Haden Hill, referencing pubs The Bell and the Haden Cross, while the remaining number, the acoustic brooding orchestral folk Bella In the Witch Elm sees Tromans join the lengthy list of songwriters who have pondered on the local mystery and myth of the female skeleton found inside a hollow Wych-elm tree in Hagley Wood.
It’s probably a little late in the day for him to be embraced by the new folk movement, but there’s a talent here that rises above such fleeting fads.
Describing their music as grit-rock, a fusion of grunge, pop, punk and indie with a dash of ska, Redditch four piece NEW KILLER SHOES released debut album I Ain’t Even Lying earlier this year. Now comes I Ain’t Even Plugged In (Gospel Oak) featuring acoustic versions of most of the songs on the album. It works exceedingly well, Snakecharmer and Throwin’ Shapes bringing new dimensions without moving too far from the original Madnessy ska-driven blueprints while Love Rocket gets a total makeover, losing its riff driven urgency in favour of claustrophobic prowling electronics (which rather belies the album title) and snakelike growling vocals from frontman Jon Kings, and Pretty Reckless transforms into attractively choppy reggae tinted folk-pop. In addition there’s two new numbers, I Ain’t Got A Chick recalling The Police when they still had credibility and respect, and the skanking Hypocrite with its UB40 undertones.
Existing fans will naturally appreciate the new stylings, but they could well pick up a whole different audience who might not have given the rockier originals a hearing. They’re the Laboutins of the bCity scene.
JAWS (above) follow up their Milkshake EP with new digital download single Gold (Rattlepop), a further dose of the lazy shimmering shoegaze they do so well, this time bearing hints of early Suede with a nasal twinge of Oasis balladry. It’s unlikely now that there’ll be an album this year, so that’s already something to make you want 2014 to come sooner.
Former Grover alumni, Simon Fox aka WORLD OF FOX released his solo debut some five years back with Everything Is For The Best, an album of leafy pastoral English folk that prompted comparisons to Nick Drake, Sufjan Stevens and Devendra Banhart while I’ll Pay More Attention To You also suggested the heady 60s alt-folk of Roy Harper.
Signing to Where It’s At Is Where You Are, 2010 saw the release of Respect, an inspired and eclectic acoustic and minimally arranged 80s covers collection ranging from madrigal-like treatments of Altered Images’ Don’t Talk To Me About Love and The Smiths’ Jeane to a jerky musical toy box version of The Cure’s Six Different Ways and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye filtering Soft Cell through psychedelic Syd Barrett.
Now comes his third album, Borrowed Time, and one that finds him in particularly intoxicating form and, almost entirely instrumental, again rings the changes on past releases. Moody Spanish guitar provides the setting for two numbers, the sparse opener Bad Apple and the slightly bluegrass tinted Fuuke, while both the brooding, reverb heavy 234567B and CinemaVerite (the only track to feature vocals, and somewhat impressionistic lyrics) have a dry Leone Western feel. With what sounds like treated banjo loop, the minimal, circular melody Xmas Isthmus revisits the mountain music air to conjure frost on pines, while Morning Has Broken Me is a drone built upon a flurry of pulsating strings.
Waking 1 and Waking 2 provide ambient chill-out soundscapes, the former with icy piano and electronics, the latter introducing guitar into the dreamstate miasma, leaving the album to close on There Are No Others, There Is Only Us, a near 10 minute electronic journey of sonic ebbs and flows that, summoning thoughts of Klaus Schulze and Philip Glass, builds to a sustained note climax (with distant Celtic whistle) that fades into the unknown, almost as if the album’s taken you on a expedition from an Andalucian village to the rim of space.