It’s been a week of division and unprecedented change for the Western world. Fortunately, music will always be a unifier for the people. Even if you don’t like the same music, the love for music is a constant truth. So, we say indulge in our unifying trait and enjoy the latest releases from these artists that just want to perform some sweet tunes for you. This week we were lucky to get first listen to Big Thief’s Masterpiece, just an exceptional debut and Jake Bugg is back with album number 3 and still only 22 years old. It has had a mixed reaction but we got it.
Artist Big Thief
Album Title Masterpiece
Label Spunk Records
Moments Of Kevin Morby, Sharon Van Etten, The Pretenders
Stand Out Humans, Masterpiece, Paul
For Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek, Big Thief is more than just a side project. Starting with just the two members, they quickly expanded to a full band and are releasing their debut album Masterpiece early next month. Their folk-tinged rock has garnered praise from the likes of folk legend Sharon Van Etten, and pushed their debut album into the headlines as yet another masterpiece (pun intended) from a Brooklyn band.
Big Thief grabs a hold of something special on Masterpiece, maybe it’s the gentle balance of lo- fi rock, or the compelling acoustic ballads riddled throughout. Either way, they seem to have no difficulty standing out among the field of exciting new singer-songwriters like Father John Misty and Kevin Morby.
As is essential to any folk song, Adrianne Lenker seamlessly weaves a captivating element of storytelling into her harrowing vocals. While the songs feel simple, upon further examination we find that there is a strong sense of real, genuine pain and honesty to the stories Lenker sings about. Her musings about love and her introspective accounts of it, make up a large portion of the album. ‘Paul’ is a haunting example of this, as the aching swell of the guitars provide the soundtrack to a love that could have been.
As the standout track of the album, ‘Humans’ also broaches the subject of love. Amongst the pulsing drive of the drums and grinding guitars, Lenker sings that “Love is a cold infection alright”, expressing her clear confusion with the concept as the guitar breaks down into it’s own confused mess of fuzz and reverb. With a slightly more upbeat feel to it, title track ‘Masterpiece’ revels in the same lo-fi burn of ‘Humans’, championing the uplifting melody above anything else. Most of the songs on this album do the same, with Lenker’s ragged but charming vocals typifying the stark honesty of the desperate pain that spreads across it. The album feels like a collage of simple, yet considered songs, stuck together with no real purpose but to convey emotion. Songs like ‘Real Love’ and ‘Randy’, scored by hollow, distant guitars, permeate this true sense of sadness, as though they were meant to soundtrack a romantic drama like The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Big Thief bring something new to the table with Masterpiece. While not quite genre-breaking, there’s an inherent uniqueness to the sad quality of their songs and storytelling that sets them apart from their counterparts. Masterpiece is the sound of a band that knows what they stand for, a debut release that won’t be so easily surpassed.
Artist Night School
Album Title Blush
Label Graveface Records
Genre Fuzz Pop
Moments Of: These times, Last Disaster
Stand Out Teen Feelings
Contemporary California surf pop is back again with Night Schools debut album Blush. Get ready for maxed out girl power spearheaded by Alexandra ‘Lexy’ Mortes (formally of ‘whirr’) as you brace yourself for song after song of nostalgia, adolescent romance and summer vibes.
Night School were formed through friendship in Oakland, California where Alexandra Mortes and Baylie Arin met in the spring of 2013 through mutual friends and very shortly after began working on music together. From the get-go it’s easy to see Blush’s California pop punk influences, think Wavves, Best Coast and a touch of Weezer. Album opener ‘These Times’ heavily draws upon this with its twinkly opening guitar riff and catchy chorus. The track bounces along confidently, with a nostalgic 90’s electric guitar tone picking away underneath Morte’s dreamy vocals. The chemistry between the female trio can really be felt in ‘Last disaster’, with cool bass line and another playful summer guitar riff bringing the song together and giving hope for the album. Unfortunately for this short record (9 songs and barely half an hour) the follow-up tracks ‘Casanova’, ‘City Kiss’ and ‘Misty and Blue’, are similarly melancholic and just seem to blur into one another.
The latter half of Blush is where the group manage to show their collage of happy notes, summer distortion, and teenage heartbreak. The delirious ‘Hypnotized’ looks to create a wider variety of moods with its elements of fuzz, reverb and simplistic drumming that are hallmarks of surf pop and gives the tracks a generic sound. The perfectly weighted half-electric-half-acoustic ‘Teen feelings’ is a sure thing for this year’s favorite teenage love ballad. Every verse and every chorus evoke love and summer underpinned with dreamy guitar riffs and no percussion. ‘Teen feelings’ belongs in an indie flick; the teenage protagonist cruises through the countryside in a beat-up camper “You always pick me up so I know we’re together, I hope it’s just you and me forever“— chilled out, cliché and inexplicably magical. Album closer and short instrumental ‘Pink’ is a strange choice for last track as it is simplistic and lacks innovation, summing up Blush as a somewhat scattered album that is trying to find its place between sentimental and fun.
Night School’s debut is a lively one, but the usual surf rock pop sensibilities mean there is no real musical depth to their songs, but the group oozes charm and ambition. While Blush lacks true cohesiveness, you can forgive a newly spawned California surf pop group for trying. The guitar tones and catchy choruses are major standouts as they really do transport you somewhere beachy, and if that’s their aim well they nail it!
Artist Jake Bugg
Album Title On My One
Label Island Records
Genre Alt Rock
Moments Of Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond
Stand Outs On My One, Never Want to Dance, The Love We’re Hoping For
Jake Bugg is back again. On My One is his third album released since his self titled 2012 album. Despite the sheer volume of music Bugg is producing, he maintains the raw, rusty, soulful sounds that he is known for. Yet again his beautiful song writing and gravely voice are bringing the folk ballad back into mainstream music.
At only 22, Jake Bugg has crafted a raw, earth sound that he has made his own. Combining his own rough experiences of growing up in council estates in England with tender, heartfelt love ballads, Bugg weaves together two sides his world in song. His first album skyrocketed to number one on the UK charts when he was just eighteen.
An intrinsically vintage sound, the relationships between his voice and guitar are reminiscent of Bob Dylan with an alternative rock twist. At times the tenderness of his lyrics are a sharp contrast against his rough rock and roll sound. It is because of this that the raw emotion that is central to his sound is born. This emotional force has permeated all three of his sonically rich albums, which is what keeps his sound at such a high standard.
With a musical depth that you would only expect to hear from people twice his age, Jake Bugg is already clearly experimenting with his own musical style in this, this third, album. The eighth track on the album ‘Ain’t No Rhyme’ Bugg debuts a spoken word, almost rap, vocal style. Breaking away from the traditional sung vocal he is known for. His lyrics also feature a considerably more poignant political sting than previous songs. With lines such as ‘These kids need to think about time inside’ looking at youth culture and criminality in England no doubt harks back to his own childhood growing up in lower socioeconomic areas.
Jake Bugg has once again featured his beautifully nuanced storytelling in his lyrics. One of the greatest examples of this is ‘The Love We’re Hoping For’. With heart wrenching lyrics such as ‘They tried to help / but she wouldn’t answer the door’ emotions of tragic miscommunication and feelings of isolation become so vibrant. The entirety of On My One looks at feelings of loneliness and self acceptance, coupled with Bugg’s chilling sound and range of constantly evolving musical styles, he is definitely a young artist to watch and we can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.
Album Title No Grace
Label FatCat Records
Genre Pop punk
Moments Of Vundabar, blink-182
Stand Out Impermanent, Complete Contempt
Scottish outfit PAWS arrive teeth bared and claws out in No Grace, the latest addition to their steadily growing discography under indie label FatCat Records. Phillip Taylor (guitar/vocals), Ryan Drever (bass) and Josh Swinney (drums) step up their pop punk sound a notch or three, silencing any whispers of the dreaded third album syndrome. According to the band, No Grace is “the sound of the pure fucking energy and joy that comes from making something with your whole heart.” Hell yeah it is.
PAWS cut their teeth playing across the Glasgow music scene before signing to independent Brighton-based label FatCat records in 2012. The boys are following a solid trajectory of a release every couple of years, their third studio album No Grace rocking harder than ever before. The amplified energy and alt-rock direction has been steered by impressive production from Mark Hoppus of blink-182, who leaves his touch on the record through the driving bass lines and thrashing drums. It’s like PAWS have returned after two years to mark their height against the wall, and my how they’ve grown.
Where 2014’s album Youth Culture Forever was more romance and chilled out pop-rock, No Grace kicks out your teeth without kissing you better. The title track opens the record with a single guitar before the drums and sneery though spot-on vocals come crashing in together.
No Grace reflects the buzz about the band’s live show; PAWS have become renowned in the UK for their tight live set. ‘Gone So Long’ begins its first few bars with a muffled, distant sound, like you’re about to get to their gig but are still outside getting your wrist stamped. The band has already started and you swing through the doors mid song. It’s pumping, then the cymbals drop out to give some space to the first verse. The lyrics are hard to catch through the fleshed out sound, but they vibe on death and loss. Then there’s the thrashing, two-minute instrumental ‘Salt Lake’ that imitates an unscripted mid-set jam, and the album’s slower, sadder closer ‘Asthmatic’ that has the bittersweet light and shade of a final encore song.
Less everyman than their contemporaries like Modern Baseball, but more raw than pop punk giants like Green Day, PAWS stick to deceptively simple production that draws from 80s/90s alt rock. Taylor’s big-lung, committed vocals shine through on the excellent song writing of ‘Impermanent’, with slacker-rock elements in the distorted guitar solos and harmonies that would make Weezer proud. Achingly short break up song ‘Empire State’ nestles among tracks that aim even higher, with Taylor now prone to singing more about existence and experience than angst over heartbreak. ‘Complete Contempt’ has the hook of a crowd pleaser, and ‘Clarity’ is thick with guitars and drums that are exhausting and energizing at the same time. ‘Guild the Lily’ rings in your ears long after the last chord, with big-picture lyrics and relentless over-driven guitar.
The unrelenting pace of No Grace is a bold move, one that PAWS pull off without a hitch. It’s an album that grabs you by your collar and gives you a shakedown, but you come out of it feeling hyped up and unstoppable like PAWS themselves.