Slam Dunk Midlands Review

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Having recently been lucky enough to attend two days of Slam Dunk festival yet again, I decided to share to my experiences. Whilst it would be my fifth time at Slam Dunk South in Hatfield, it would be my second time at Slam Dunk Midlands, which this year moved to the NEC, making it the biggest Slam Dunk in history. Surprisingly getting in was relatively easy, as the queues were well manned and moved at an acceptable pace when I entered, although some better sign posting around parking as well as stages would help in the future.

Opening up the main stage was Moose Blood (8). The emo four piece from Canterbury are about to release their second album, Blush, which is the follow up to 2014’s incredible I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time, and are on a fast track to domination of the UK scene if today is anything to go by, and they blew me away despite this being the sixth time I would see them.

Boldly opening with the gorgeous new single “Honey”, the band rattle through favourites such as “Pups”, “Swim Down” and “Boston”, before closing with a crushing rendition of their best song, “Gum”. Gaining the day’s first crowd surfers and a healthy amount of sing-alongs, the band fair well on a big arena stage despite their small yet loyal following.

Following a quick drink break (Fiver for a medium bottle of cider, sort it out NEC!), Spunge (7) were taking to the outdoor Desperados Stage. Playing the third of 6 gigs in 72 hours, the band tore through ska party igniters such as “Jump on Demand” and “Roots”, however the undoubted highlight was “Kicking Pigeons In The Park”, a song as stupid as it sounds. Whilst nothing incredible, and lacking the hits of their peers, the band exemplify the fun that should be in all ska music, and their onstage joking and swearing at the nearby trains meant they were worth catching in the sun.

Following this up were Hit The Lights (6) over on the day’s dedicated pop-punk stage, who seemed to be having an off day. Forgetting what song they were going to play next a few times, and with a half interested crowd, the real saviour was the strength of the new tracks from last year’s Summer Bones album, with tracks like “Fucked Up Kids” sounding just as good live.

Back over on the main stage, and Mayday Parade (6) put on a perfectly adequate set, but it seemed like the size of the room slightly swallowed the band whole, and the lack of any really well recognised single did nothing to win over and uninterested and half-filled room.

Following this was Yellowcard (9), who played all of their Ocean Avenue album for the first ever time (partly due to technical issues limiting their set the day before). Opener “Way Away” kick-started proceedings, where things never really slowed down. “Only One” with it’s towing chorus and soaring violin was an obvious highlight, and prompted the unusual sight of air-violins being played, but it was of course “Ocean Avenue” itself that really stole the show, despite being played so early that it felt a little anti-climactic.

Next up were Mallory Knox (5), who brought their own giant “M K” lights. Unfortunately, the lights proved to be the one effort the band were prepared to exert today. When your entrance music being the Champions League theme song is the highlight of your set, you know something is wrong. With such a strong album in Asymmetry, the band have the songs to really set off a room like this, but they were utterly boring, and it felt like the definition of a “job” for the band, going through the motions. They can be better than this, and they know it.

Sub-headlining were New Found Glory (8). With a recently bleached Jordan bouncing around the stage, and the band in top form behind him, they crushed through their set, going from old hits such as the opening “Hit or Miss” and recent material such as “Selfless”. Down front, the crowd were lapping it all up, but I have heard that the sound towards the back of this arena was poor, which is a definite shame. The band even took requests for a song or two from fans, and finished with three straight tracks from their Sticks and Stones album, with “Forget My Name”, “Head On Collision” and smash-hit “My Friends Over You”.

Headlining that night was of course Panic! At The Disco (7). Opening with recent single “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time”, the band were completely solid on stage, with Brendon Urie his usual charismatic self. The new songs went down relatively well, which is good because they formed almost half of the set. In fact, he played almost no songs from any of the first three albums, but when he did, they were of course a huge highlight. “Time to Dance” was early on, as was “The Ballad of Mona Lisa”. Unfortunately, Brendon’s ego was once again the main distraction, as he kicked off their drummer mid-set for a drum solo, before resuming his usual position, sans jacket or shirt. If Brendon could just learn to reign in the spotlight searching a little, and maybe play the hits more, Panic could be a true force, because the songs are there, he just doesn’t want to play many of them.

Over on the pop-punk stage meanwhile, I caught the last half of The Story So Far (8) despite knowing I would see them the next day. A set filled with furious anthems, the only low point was when a technical difficulty left singer Parker Cannon awkwardly filling the dead air with some predator references. A rare outing for “Placeholder” was a massive highlight and the band sent bodies flying for their finale, where they cemented themselves as the best live band in the pop-punk scene.

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Awful Arsenal Performance symptomatic of everything wrong with Arsene’s later days at club

Another week, another disappointing performance from Arsenal. A 0-0 draw away at relegation threatened Sunderland has not only ensured Arsenal are mathematically unable to win the league, but has left Arsenal fans facing the realisation that they could miss out on a top four place (and Champions League football next season) for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 20 year reign.

Viewed in a microcosm, the match was troubling in itself, but actually, it served as a reminder of everything wrong with Wenger’s later years at a club that deserves far more.

Rumblings started when the team selection was announced. One move that was well received was dropping the young and rash centre back Gabriel to the bench, and replacing him with World Cup winner Per Mertesacker. Whilst the giant German is iceberg slow, his height could help combat the crosses that have been Arsenal’s problem as of late, such as the capitulation at West Ham.

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Unfortunately, the good decisions stopped there. The central midfield pairing of Coquelin and January signing Elneny was ripped apart, for reasons unknown to all, and instead Elneny was partnered by Aaron Ramsey, who went on to have an exceptionally poor game. Alongside this, up front inform Danny Welbeck was again relegated to the bench, in place of Olivier Giroud, who has failed to score in 19 out of his last 20 games for the Gunners.

On the pitch, Arsenal lacked any cutting-edge, with Giroud constantly offside or falling over, and the three behind him failing to carve any real chances. At the other end, Arsenal also looked exposed at times, as Mertesacker was caught out once or twice as his lack of anything close to pace was again targeted by opposition.

In games like this, you look to substitutes to make the difference, and unfortunately, they did anything but. Wenger is hardly known for his early substitutions and he again waited too late, making the changes at just after 70 minutes. Giroud was mercifully taken off so he could instead fall over via the bench, with Welbeck brought on to inject pace into the side. Youngster Iwobi was also taken off, with Walcott inexplicably chosen over Campbell to replace him. Welbeck looked sharp, but was given too little time, whilst Walcott yet again showed a lack of commitment and skill, pulling out of a crucial challenge to give up the games’ best chance.

Perhaps the one bright spot was a 10 minute cameo for Jack Wilshere after spending the whole season out, a cameo which oozed class once again, and perhaps left fans hoping to homegrown lad can inject some passion and urgency into their game. Ultimately though, it made no difference, and Arsenal yet again slip down the table, this time to a familiar and disappointing fourth.

As for what needs to change, the answer is difficult to find. Firstly, the squad has long been criticized for being mentally weak and they showed it yet again. Alongside this, a lack of passion is absolutely criminal. Fans travelled six hours to see today’s game, and yet very few players appeared to truly care.

Most worryingly, Wenger appears to be out of date. A lack of a league title in 12 years has been hidden by two recent FA Cup wins, and his style of play was found out 10 years ago by teams such as Bolton and Stoke. A lack of physical players and leaders leaves the team without inspiration and feeling physically dominated, without the ability to turn games around.

More than ever, Arsenal fans are split, between those who want Wenger hone, and those who can’t yet see what is painfully obvious: Wenger’s use-by-date passed long ago.

 

Live Triple: Part III – Basement & Tigers Jaw

Earlier this month, I found myself spending a Saturday night, the night before Valentines Day, in the heart of London, ready to watch two of my favourite bands perform at the Koko, Basement and Tigers Jaw.

First up though, was prolific multi-instrumentalist Alex G (5), supported by a full band and taking the role of guitarist/frontman for the evening. It’s hard to accurately describe how badly the band opened their set. It seemed each band member was not just playing different songs, but different genres entirely. When the first song relented from inflicting its misery any further, a voice to my left could be heard very clearly asking anyone who cared to answer, “What the fuck was that?”

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From here, the band actually improved vastly. Alex himself danced to his notes, and the songs seemed to get better as the set went on, with the group gelling onstage. The damage however, was already done and they sadly never won back the crowd.

Next up were Tigers Jaw (9). Opening with ‘Hum’, they launched into a set that covered all three albums (only one from Two Worlds, their weakest, was probably a good decision), and a cover. They played an incredible 15 songs, and for someone who looked forward to seeing them for the first time, it was a dream come true. Newer songs sprinkling the set sounded better than ever, whilst a cover of The Cure’s ‘In Between Days’, which they recently recorded for a split with Kevin Devine was a massive highlight.

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An acoustic one-two in the middle provided a brief moment to catch your breath, with ‘Teen Rocket’ already a fan favourite. Following that song was ‘Never Saw It Coming’ which was the nights first huge singalong, and it sounded better than even with keyboardist Brianna taking over lead vocals. ‘I Saw Water’ came relatively early in the set and also got the crowd surfers going for the first time, before a closing duo of ‘Plane vs Tank vs Submarine’ and ‘The Sun’ put the set into overdrive.

For many in the room tonight though, it was all about Basement (9). In a venue that cost £5.20 for just under a pint, there wasn’t a single complaint. This was the price to pay to see Britain’s best emo/post-hardcore band in such beautiful surroundings.

Opening with a new song can often be seen as a risk, but when it’s of the quality of “Brother’s Keeper’, that risk is non-existent. Immediately moving into older material, ’Cricket’s Throw Their Voice’ was absolutely mammoth, whilst ‘Bad Apple’ was an unexpected highlight.

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The set was evenly divided between albums, and was expertly crafted. Throwing newer songs like “For You The Moon’ between huge tracks like ‘Whole’ and ‘Canada Square’ made it easier to digest, new single ‘Aquasun’ was greeted like an old favourite, and making the aforementioned ‘Oversized’ come after the fast and brutal ‘Earl Grey’ was an excellent choice, that provided much needed respite.

For their encore singer Andrew Fisher, a teacher by day, played ‘Yoke’ from their debut album acoustically, and asked the crowd to say hello via video to his year 6’s. By the time ‘Covet’ signalled the end of their set, there could be no mistake that tonight Basement were truly reborn. Their first album since their hiatus ended, Basement have somehow performed a miracle, and returned from the dead stronger than ever, as Britain’s best young band.

Live review triple: Part II – The Front Bottoms

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The second concert I attended recently was The Front Bottoms in Birmingham’s Institute. It had just two bands on the bill, and yet the quality of both acts meant I couldn’t have been happier.

Opener Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band (8) was an act I knew a lot about, but never really listened to beyond when I saw news posts on music websites. I didn’t know what to expect, however I had recently listened to a split EP with Tigers Jaw, one of my favourite bands, that is part of an ongoing series and was impressed enough with the song I heard to give my full attention.

Opening with ‘Bloodhound’, the trio were clearly well supported by a large group of fans in the middle of the room who spent the entire set chanting, singing, jumping and dancing. It’s this kind of atmosphere that helped win over a room overflowing with energy, and clearing the bar song by song. Every song the three played was a hit, but the last two in particular, ‘Redbird’ and ‘Brother’s Blood’ were absolutely superb, with Kevin Devine rocking and writhing with every note from his guitar. Putting on a show this good, they visibly won a lot of new fans.

Tonight however, was all about the headline act. The Front Bottoms (9) walked on to Celine Dion’s mega-hit ‘My Heart Will Go On’, and the tongue was already firmly in cheek. Starting with the ridiculously catchy ‘The Plan (Fuck Jobs)’ was a surprising misstep, with its quality being undermined by its lack of pace compared to traditional openers.

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Despite this, it was the only slight hiccup in an otherwise fantastic set. Second track ‘Skeleton’ brought the party atmosphere quickly, with its singalong refrain of “And I got so stoned” being a highlight at always. ‘Newer song HELP’ was played early on, and confirmed its status as one of the best songs of last year and up there with the best songs the band have ever wrote.

‘Wolfman’ from the Record Store day split EP with rapper GDP was a treat, and the band revelled in playing one of their lesser known, yet best songs. Even the ancient (by TFB standards) ‘Maps’ sounded as fresh as ever despite being roughly five years old, sandwiched between a request from the crowd for ‘Peach’. Meanwhile newer songs ‘Summer Shandy’ and ‘Laugh Till I Cry’ closed the main body of the set on a huge high, with the latter’s amusing ending ensuring it will long take this place in the set, as Sella and the room both sang, “Ladies and gentlemen, the DJ just threw up on the dancefloor. Party is over, it’s time to go.”

Singer Brian Sella was in a typically humorous mood, revealing his dad to be in the crowd and introducing a random male audience member as the parent (who played along superbly), before they played ‘Father’, after which he concluded “We’re very close…”

The encore somehow elevated things further. ‘Flashlight’ is from their debut, and was greeted by utter madness, its fast pace and over the top lyrics a perfect piece of acoustic pop-punk. Perhaps the best thing about the song is the drumming by Mat Uychich, who tears up his rather modest kit with supreme ease. The band ended on ‘Twin Sized Mattress’, a song that is the jewel in the bands crown, with a singalong grandstand finish that will rival any other band within the scene.

At the end of the night, it was clear that The Front Bottoms are not only one of the most fun bands to come from the alternative scenes in years but one of the best, with a rabid fan base that feels like a gang for music’s best kept secret.

Live review triple: Part I – Turnover

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The first of three concerts I attended recently, Turnover played to a packed out Rainbow club in Birmingham’s trendy Digbeth district. Naturally, I was hugely anticipating hearing songs from my favourite album of last year, Peripheral Vision.

Unfortunately, the support bands were all largely unmemorable.

Opener Fullshore (5) had some impressive melodies and hooks, and despite not being the tightest band , it’s commendable how good they managed to sound considering they had a stand in guitarist. They clearly had home support, and as such it meant the crowd warmed to them as time went on.

Next up, Claws (4) took the stage. A much punkier outfit, they lacked the support or melodies of Fullshore, but seemed a tighter outfit. The mix tended to drown out the vocals of front woman Josie, but the energy of the songs came across well and the set got better it progressed.

Teen Brains (5) came next. They were without a doubt an improvement on the previous two bands, however their set was less than memorable. Well-rehearsed, with better songs than Fullshore or Claws, the band’s performance was perhaps undermined by a lack of interest and support.

Finally, it was time for Turnover (9). Opening with single ‘New Scream’, the opening notes reverberating, as the words were sung back from everyone present. From here they then played ‘Dizzy On The Comedown’, a song with a hypnotic rhythm that proved the deeper cuts were just as good live as on record. In the middle of the set, Turnover played two songs that will form a short EP to come out in March, and they sounded like a natural evolution of their new Cure-meets-Jimmy Eat World sound.

‘Take My Head’ provided an injection of pace, and penultimate track ‘Humming’ was even better live than on record, with it’s wistful and lovestruck lyrics proving utterly mesmerising. They ended on their strongest song, ‘Cutting My Fingers Off’, a song which elevated their entire set to the stratosphere. It feels faster, and a little harder, live, and the band played the final section with a fury that took me surprise.

The whole set was held together brilliantly by a band that had an impressive level of cohesion on stage. The songs and melodies transferred live, and the new songs point to this not being the peak for such a young band. Without a doubt, Turnover are a band to watch.

Best of 2015 – Part III: No. 5 – 1

So now we are into January, I decided it was time to post the final part of my best of 2015 list. It was at times hard to describe exactly how I feel about some of these albums, especially the album I picked as my number one album of 2015. All five of these, however, are truly great records that you simply must hear, spanning pop, indie rock, emo and more.

 

5) Carly Rae Jepson – Emotioncarly_rae
June 23 – Interscope

If there is any album on this list that truly surprised me, it was Emotion, the new album from Carly Rae Jepson. The “Call Me Maybe” singer ditched her boy-crazy persona for this album, and aside from the single “I Really Like You”, has moved from the bubble-gum pop sound that found her stardom.

Opening with the more recent single “Run Away With Me”, the album starts with one of 2015’s best and most overlooked songs. Saxophone bursts into life, before Carly sings in a tone far more seductive and moody than ever before. The lyrics on this song, and the album in general, still revolve around the topics of love, heartbreak and relationships, but they never devolve into cheesy territory. The album has a huge 80s influence and pulls it off in a way which Taylor Swift’s 1989 could only dream of. From the pulsating electronics, to the glimmering guitar lines, and the pounding bass, this song is one of the catchiest, most-dance-able tunes released all year.

Following this, the high points come thick and fast. Next is “Emotion”, which is another hugely impressive track revolving around Carly hoping that her ex realises he made a mistake being without her. “I Really Like You” is the only song here that sounds more like her older “Call Me Maybe” style tracks, yet pulls it off with aplomb. “Gimmie Love” is a more moody track with a darker synth beat, and latest single “Your Type” is a simple yet brilliant tale of unrequited love that builds instrumentally, whilst one of the strongest songs of the entire album is the B-side “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance”, which as the title suggests is the song that most resembles a club anthem.

The songs have verses catchier than most songs choruses, and never falls into Swift’s trap on 1989 where she often relied on repetition for hooks, and instead Emotion boasts some of the most impressive vocal melodies of the year. To back these up, Carly gives an impressive and versatile vocal performance, and one that always feels full of personality, and never fake. From the sentimental and delicate “All That”, to the broody “Gimmie Love”, and from the playful happiness of “I Really Like You”, to the carefree swagger of “Boy Problems”.

Whilst there are a few less cheerful tracks on Emotion, most of the record feels like a perfect encapsulation of the start of a relationship and the feelings that come with it, and no album this year has conveyed this feeling more honestly or believably.

 

ft_psfnp_7004) Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People
August 7 – Xtra Mile/Interscope

Mixing acoustic folk and punk, Frank Turner has carved himself a niche in the British musical landscape through hard work and non-stop touring. Often topping 250-300 shows a year, Frank’s early years saw him travel as far as America and Russia to play for whoever would listen.

Of course, hard work only gets you so far. Luckily, Frank Turner has also written five of the best British rock records of the 2000s. His second album, Love, Ire & Song, saw him breakout, and many maintain it to be his best to this day. Fourth album England Keep My Bones saw him enter the mainstream, and even open the 2012 Olympic ceremony with a performance watched by over a billion people worldwide, whilst fifth album Tape Deck Heart was a more downbeat affair yet was his most commercially successful album to date.

Now, for his sixth album, Frank has turned the noise up to 11, and in typically punk fashion, has followed his biggest album with his fastest, most abrasive album yet. It’s still catchy, and it’s still immediate, yet most of all, it’s still intelligent. “Josephine”, for example, features a large number of historical references, whilst “Silent Key” bases its story around the crash of the Challenger space shuttle and a broadcast made by Christa McAuliffe, and features guest vocals by Esme Patterson.

Frank Turner has often claimed his albums are reactions to the one that came before it, and this is no exception. Following the downbeat and extra personal Tape Deck Heart, this album centres on living life to its fullest. Highlight “Demons” exemplifies this the best, with its shout-it-out-loud chorus of “At this truth we have arrived: God damn, it’s great to be alive.” It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s hugely life affirming. Not only is this a great record, but it’s one you can listen to time and again for strength.

It seems fitting, then, that the final song be one of such utter despair. Similar to “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” from his debut, “Song For Josh” was recorded live at a venue that held huge emotional weight for the song, as it’s where the titular character worked and became close friends with Frank, before sadly committing suicide. The lyrics to this song are easily Frank’s most touching yet, and will certainly never fail to provoke an emotional response from me.

The second verse in particular, stands out as a lyric that will be all too well understood by anyone who has known a victim of suicide: “Why didn’t you say something on the last time we met? Why didn’t you say something? There’s always hope left. And I can’t say for certain what I would have done, but I can’t do anything now that you’re gone, and it kills me to think that for a second you felt alone.” During the bridge, Frank’s vocals noticeably strain, as he struggles not to break down himself. It’s a magical moment of pure emotion, on possibly one of Frank’s best songs yet.

It makes sense upon hearing this song, as to why Frank’s new record is about making the most of life. He knows as well as anyone that’s short, and we only get one shot. After losing a friend, Frank just wants to help the rest of realise this too.

 

death_cab_for_cutie_-_kintsugi3) Death Cab For Cutie – Kintsugi
March 31 – Atlantic

There is an art form from Japan that focuses on the power of healing. It involves taking pottery that has been broken, and using a golden lacquer to repair it, creating a piece of physical art that neither hides from its past, nor its flaws, but embraces and celebrates them for all to see. This art form is called Kintsugi and appropriately, this is also the title of Death Cab for Cutie’s first album in four years and their eighth studio album.

Opening with “No Room In Frame”, Death Cab show exactly why they are one of the most celebrated indie bands of the 21st century. The song builds throughout, whilst singer Ben Gibbard’s lyrics revolve around his divorce from New Girl star Zooey Deschanel. Whilst their last record, Codes&Keys, was a happier affair, this is immediately a more solemn release, as Gibbard sings “And I guess it’s not a failure I could help, and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else.”

Fourth track “Little Wanderer” is a more cheerful song, discussing a newer relationship with someone whose job also takes them around the world, and despite the talk of dodgy internet connections, the love-struck feeling permeates throughout, and it a rare positive moment in an album that has few.

Tracks five and six are the slowest on the album. “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life” is a slow burning track with lyrics that never hides it’s target, as Gibbard lament “You’re the mistress I can’t make a wife.” Track six meanwhile, is a beautiful and desperate acoustic song that sees Gibbard opening by asking his former wife “Darlin’, don’t you understand? That there are no winners?” The track closes as he quietly croons, “My love, why do you run? For my hands hold no guns.” It’s the most stripped back song on the record, and because of this is becomes something that feels truly special.

After this, Death Cab understandably raise the tempo with two dancier numbers, the first being “Everything’s A Ceiling”, which in a move reminiscent of heroes The Smiths or The Cure, the upbeat melodies and tempos hide more sad lyrics as Gibbard reflects upon Deschanel moving on with someone new. “Good Help (Is so Hard to Find)” meanwhile, contains guitars that flick in and out of consciousness and a rolling electronic undercurrent throughout, and it’s yet another highlight, one which apes the best parts of 2011s Codes&Keys.

Another standout is “El Dorado”, an indie rock number that discusses Deschanel’s apparent U-turn in order to star in New Girl. The lyrics contain constant references to Hollywood and the fabled city of gold, as Gibbard states “And I tried to be hyped for you, oh I’m trying to be hyped for you”, to a backing of flourishing guitars and tumbling bass.

It’s a record that is only surpasses in their catalogue by 2005’s Transatlanticism, and should see them sit atop the pile of indie bands once longer, with their self-given title of “The biggest small band in the world”.

 

front-bottoms-back-on-top2) The Front Bottoms – Back On Top
September 18 – Fueled By Ramen

For a band with such a stupid name, The Front Bottoms have become a pretty big deal. Now, signing to Fueled By Ramen (the label that broke Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic At The Disco, Fun., and recently Twenty One Pilots) they are being touted as the next big thing, despite being the last band one would anticipate breaking into the mainstream.

Playing acoustic pop-punk & emo with sarcastic and humorous lyrics, lead singer Brian Sella has a very unique melodic style, and his lyrics can often be touching and funny at the same time. Their third studio album (not including demo albums), Back on Top, is their best yet, and their first fully electric release.

Opening with “Motorcycle”, The Front Bottoms immediately prove they have created easily the most fun album of the entire year, as Sella sings “Sometimes you gotta close your eyes to truly see the light.” It’s the first of a hundred moments, that all make you want to jump up and sing at the top of your lungs, whilst the guitar lead throughout is a swirling vortex, only stopped when the music cuts to a gospel backing, before jumping back in at full speed.

Second track “Summer Shandy” has a chorus that builds each time around, with Sella at his most infatuated, singing “Yeah that would be great, that would be beach house living, every night, rest of our lives, you and me, we could go swimming.” Following this is single “Cough It Out”, which is one of the summer’s best chilled-out campfire songs. Whilst the chorus sings of being “delusional of love”, the verses tell the tale of a soured friendship, singing “I don’t care if you’re not sorry I forgive you, and with or without your support I will continue.”

Track four is quite simply the best song TFB have ever wrote. Titled “HELP”, it somehow opens with lyrics about pep talks and teeth brushing, before making the equally ridiculous lyrics “This is what I want, mother fucker make it happen to me” seem like a do-or-die prophecy, with a tongue firmly implanted in Sella’s cheek the whole time. There is not a single melody here, vocally or instrumentally, that isn’t designed to burrow inside your brain and make home there forever, and as a result you will find yourself singing this weeks after you last heard it.

The Front Bottoms have never hidden their use marijuana either, as Sella sings “Just you and me, getting high and hanging out, getting high and messing around, getting high and trying to figure it out”, before a spoken-word guest spot from New Jersey hip-hop artist GDP ends a more moody track named “Historic Cemetery”, which helps give the album some needed breathing room. “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” sees Sella at his most whimsical as he sings through laughing, “I fucking hate the comments, why do you feel you have to talk? Nobody asked for your opinion, your sick sad way of jerkin off.” The song is a more groove driven affair that is punctuated by catchy keyboard melodies and punchy riffs, and the odd trombone.

Ninth track “2YL” meanwhile, is possibly the second best track here. An all-out rock affair, its lyrics are about young love and sex, even managing a Marvin Gaye reference. The chorus is one of the catchiest of the entire year, with winding guitar lines that swerve into a moment of pure triumph, where they take a nod from The Cure’s “Close To Me” and have the last half of song feature a full brass band that leads the band to new stratospheres.

Back On Top really is an album that should be enjoyed by everyone, with something here for fans of all kinds of rock music, and an upbeat enjoy-life mentality to lift the dark clouds from even the unhappiest of people.

 

turnover_-_peripheral_vision1) Turnover – Peripheral Vision
May 4 – Run For Cover

“I always remember things better than they were, and miss people more than I should.”
This quote from singer Austin Getz came in the build up to Turnover’s second album, Peripheral Vision. Perhaps he considered it a throwaway answer, but it’s exactly this feeling of nostalgia and sentimentality that seeps from every pore of this album, and dominates its lyrical narratives.

Starting as a pop-punk band, their debut album Magnolia saw them take in emo and grunge influences and create one of 2013’s best albums. An EP title Blue Dream saw them take more ambient influences, with three songs that were mesmerising, and in the case of “Bella Donna”, incredibly beautiful.

The evolution has been slow, but it’s been precise. For their second album, Turnover have removed their punk shackles, and instead their sound is a mix of The Cure style indie rock, with Emo and shoegaze influences. The rhythm section is basic but driving, whilst guitars noodle throughout as Austin’s vocals arrive drenched in reverb. It’s all basic from an instrumental perspective, but it combines to create a gorgeous sound that even without the vocals, feels like pure nostalgia.

Opener ‘Cutting My Fingers Off’ is without a doubt one of the bands best ever songs. They create a swirling, hazy atmosphere surrounding 80’s-tinged pop melodies, whilst Getz spins a tale of lost love, singing, “You always said that every thought I had was geometric, I couldn’t think outside my own lines.” The song’s first half resembles a band such as American Football, with its quiet introspection, whilst the second half feels like the best parts of Mineral, and is a truly phenomenal opener.

Second track and lead single “New Scream” is one the more straight-up pop songs on the record, and perhaps most resembles The Cure. Jangly guitars and a bouncy rhythm front a track about the lust for a more exciting life, as Getz sings “I’m craving that new scream, lusting for more than just old dreams. I’ve been dying to feel alive, and I’ve been wasting all my time.”

Fifth track “Dizzy On The Comedown” is another highlight. Every line of the track is weaved expertly into a hypnotic melody that continues throughout. The song tells a tale of infatuation, with Getz singing “Would you come here and spin with me? I’ve been dying to get you dizzy.”

Another highlight is the reworked version of “I Would Hate You If I Could”, originally a song from a four way split EP. Gone are the grunge elements, and the poppier, cleaner tones suit the song perfectly. It’s a much sadder song that the rest of the record, and is a reflection upon a past relationship, with a reworked outro that places the backing vocals much higher in the mix. In all honesty, every lyrics from this song is brilliant, including the opening verse where Getz laments “I hear you’ve been telling all your friends that you’re done with me, like you always knew things wouldn’t work out. And I’ve been hearing things from people that I don’t want to talk to, like it matters who you’re sleeping with now.”

It’s an incredibly consistent record, and there really are no songs on the album that are anything less than brilliant. More than that, it’s an incredibly touching record, and one that I personally grew attached to incredibly quickly. The mix of atmospheric instrumentation, perfect for the evenings, and highly relatable lyrics meant that it quickly became my favourite record in about three years. Covering a wide emotional spectrum, Peripheral Vision is an album that somehow always feels suitable. It’s an album that constantly makes me search my own past, and has caused deeper introspection that any album in recent memory. It’s the soundtrack to many of the major events in my life, one that I’ve edited in later in life.

Perhaps the best part of this release is that it’s only the band’s second album. An incredibly consistent band that continually improve and progress, they are confirmed to already be working on new material, likely an EP, due for 2016.

If they manage to top this however, it could be something very special indeed.

Best of 2015 – Part II: No. 10 – 6

Following on from Part I, where I discussed honourable mentions, I shall now run down the places of 6-10 in my end of year album list.

 

10) The Wombats – Glitterbug
April 3 – 14th Floor (Warner)

Four years on from their second album, and eight since their debut, no one could accuse The Wombats of rushing releases for the sake of career momentum. In fact, when they released the first single from this album, “Your Body Is A Weapon”, it passed me by completely. It was only after the release of “Greek Tragedy” and “Give Me A Try” in January and February that I was informed of the release, by my co-host of the Humbucker podcast (R.I.P). The songs, though, were better than ever.

“Emoticons” open the album with the perfectly dreamy slide guitars, as singer Matthew Murphy sings “It’s tough to stay objective baby, with your tongue absailing down my neck.” Barely 20 seconds in, and it’s clear that The Wombats have evolved into a dancier, catchier beast. The first five songs in fact could all realistically be called the best songs the band have ever written.

“Give Me A Try” has one of the strongest claims to take that mantle though. The keyboard lead drives the song throughout, as Murphy’s stereotypically lovestruck lyrics capture the moments before a relationship perfectly. The song gathers pace throughout and even features a (sort of) guitar solo.

Devoid of filler, and telling a story that many will relate to, it’s an album that appears to have put them back in the spotlight, performing to big crowds at the Reading & Leeds festivals and getting airtime on national radio. In a year when bands like 5 Seconds of Summer have gotten even bigger, The Wombats wrote the pop-rock album to put them to shame.

 

9) Modern Baseball – MOBO Presents: The Perfect Cast EP featuring Modern Baseball
October 23 – Lame-O Records

I initially didn’t want to include EP’s within this countdown, but with six songs of this quality, I felt the latest Modern Baseball release warranted being included in the list. Following their unbelievable second album, it’s a collection of four songs recorded during the summer, plus two from beforehand, yet somehow it avoids feeling like a random group of songs. Instead it feels like a mini album of songs, that complement each other within the track listing. Opening with “The Waterboy Returns”, the band jump straight into their kooky and direct brand of modern emo and pop-punk mix. Influenced as much by Say Anything as American Football, the band throw unusual song structures and guitar patterns into every track to keep things fresh.

The highlights are undoubtedly the catchy and bouncy opener, as well as fourth song “The Thrash Particle” and closer “Revenge of the Nameless Ranger”. The former starts as a slow electric ballad before becoming an all-out grunge-tinged rocker, as singer Brendan Lukens sings “You suggested I write a song about the first time we met, well I don’t wanna remember there or then.

It’s a moment of naked truth, in an EP that often feel almost like an expose at times, due to the volume of their honesty. Perhaps the biggest of all of these moments comes in the final song, the aforementioned “Revenge Of The Nameless Ranger”. The music dies down and Lukens sings “You’re just not the same as when we met. I don’t know you anymore. Can you take me back to the time when your clothes took up my drawers? Of all the horrid things: your stupid smile; I saw your face when I said ‘why’d you have to go and change, ruin what we made, destroy everything.’”

It’s a moment that characterises everything great about Modern Baseball, in a band that specialise in creating dozens of moments just like them. With a third album on the horizon, Modern Baseball are a band to watch in 2016.

 

e-00108) Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep
19 January – PIAS Recordings

At a time when popular music feels less politically charged than ever, British Electronic Rock mob Enter Shikari have taken up the mantle. 2007’s debut showcased the young band as a combination of post hardcore and trace music, and their evolution ever since has been fascinating. Despite this, the band had in my opinion never created a truly great album, one without a couple of poor songs. They have now.

Opening with a call to arms from singer and ring leader Rou Reynolds, the band state their intentions to take over from Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down for this generations best political band. Topics range from Britain’s beloved National Health Service & a swipe at U.S. health care (“Anaesthetist”), science vs religion (“Never Let Go Of The Microscope”), racism (“Torn Apart”) and the financial crisis (“Bank of England”).

The singles showcase the variety on the album well; “The Last Garrison” is an uplifting melodic rocker, “Anaesthetist” has one of the album’s heaviest breakdowns, whilst “Never Let Go Of The Microscope” has large trip-hop influences. The deep cuts are similarly impressive, with “There’s A Price On Your Head” showing Rou doing his best Serj Tankian impression, and “Myopia” featuring lyrics based on Animal Farm.

A band that always take risks, their next album could take them to the stratosphere.

 

cektkkpuiaa3ann17) Neck Deep – Life’s Not Out To Get You
August 14 – Hopeless

In the height of the summer, Wrexham’s Neck Deep released the year’s best straight-up pop-punk record. Life’s Not Out To Get You is a pop-punk record that looks back the genre’s golden age, mixing the bounce of New Found Glory with the summery pop melodies of Blink-182, and fast pace of The Descendents. It’s a step up from their 2014 record Wishful Thinking, in which Neck Deep followed two fantastically aggressive EP’s with a debut that (aside from a few songs early on) lacked passion, inspiration and punk edge.

Opening with “Citizens of Earth”, Neck Deep make it clear that the pace and aggression is back, in a song that shows their hardcore inspiration. Lead single “Can’t Kick Up The Roots” is the third track and has some guitars that sound a little A Day To Remember influenced, without degenerating into generic breakdowns, whilst ADTR singer Jeremy McKinnon (who produced the record) makes a guest appearance himself on fourth song “Kali Ma”.

Tracks five and six are the strongest Neck Deep have written since their second EP. “Gold Steps” is a snotty skate punk anthem that sounds like summer and youthful abandon, and contains some of the bests most positive and life-affirming lyrics yet. Track six meanwhile, “Lime St”, is a more poppy track, that amps up the choruses for a singalong.

The album isn’t flawless, with track seven (“Serpents”) being a song that should never made it onto the album, however the second half of the album is strong enough to make up for it.

One of this releases hidden gems is the acoustic balled “December”, and follows older tracks “A Part Of Me” and “Head To The Ground” as further proof that Neck Deep do acoustic songs better than any other band in the genre, and all but confirms this as THE pop-punk record of the year.

 

6) The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
September 4 – Hopeless

When The Wonder Years, one of my favourite pop-punk bands, announced that for their new album they were moving away from their brand of aggressive self-conscious pop-punk and towards a more progressive sound, I was more than excited. I always thought they had the potential to do what Brand New did, and create a truly unique progressive album, and it seemed 2015 would be the year they did this.

In reality, their 2015 release “No Closer To Heaven” didn’t stray quite this far from their sound, but instead feels like a bridge record, between where they have come from, and where they want to be. Despite this, the bands quality shines throughout. Opener “Cardinals” has one of 2015’s most intense choruses as Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell shouts “I swear I’ll never you down again.” Later on, “You In January” is the first true love song the band have made, whilst “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then” sounds the most like their older material.

Lyrically, Soupy has taken wider inspiration, rather than his normal inward lyrics. “Thanks For The Ride” contains a “what if” discussion about a deceased young woman the band knew, and is one of their most obviously catchy songs to date. “Stained Glass Ceilings” looks at America’s race issues, and featuring a jaw-dropping appearance from Letlive.’s Jason Butler, who adds a mix of cleans and screams on the bridge, and it’s undoubtedly one of the strongest moments on the album.

The best song though, is the early track “Cigarettes and Saints”, which contains a gorgeous opening, and features Soupy reflecting on the death and funeral of a friend, and moves onto talk about the prescription drug service. The song contains some beautiful imagery, and is without a doubt one of the best songs The Wonder Years have ever wrote, with Soupy’s spectacularly emotive vocals quivering like a feather in the wind as he sings “I lit you a candle in every cathedral across Europe. I hope you know you’re still my patron saint.

Although it’s not as good as The Upsides, The Greatest Generation, or their magnum opus Suburbia, I Gave You All And Now I’m Nothing, not many albums are, and No Closer To Heaven is a great album in it’s own right. Filled with huge choruses, emotional moments and crushing guitars. It only makes you wonder what the band will accomplish next time with their new found direction.