Sunday, 26 January 2014

2014: Year of the Guitar? – Part One

by Pete Rapp


A friend of mine recently published an article on Portsmouth Point about five albums he was excited for in early 2014 (link here). This got me thinking about which new music I was looking forward to myself – with music being such a broad subject, where everyone has different tastes and preferences, I thought I would give my own thoughts on albums coming this year.

Those who know me will be aware that I devote a lot of my time to my guitar playing, and, as such, a lot of my favourite music is from rock and indie “guitar bands”. Whereas 2013 was dominated by dance, dubstep and electronica (barring the return of Arctic Monkeys), I think that this year will be a great one for guitar music, so here are my picks as to who you should look out for.

Part One – Bands Returning With New Albums:

1.      Young The Giant

Last album: ‘Young The Giant’, 2010

California indie rockers Young The Giant took a fairly long time to gain mainstream success after the release of their self-titled debut; catchy, energetic stadium-anthem ‘My Body’ was iTunes’ Free Single Of The Week, and they gained a lot of buzz before their song ‘Cough Syrup’ was performed on Glee, when they started to gain real recognition for their work. Full of off-kilter energy, their first album was a breath of fresh air, with insightful lyrics accompanying fun dual-guitar melodies and frontman Sameer Gadhia’s fantastically emotive voice – it quickly became one of my favourite albums of that year. Returning at the end of 2013 with pumped-up rock track ‘It’s About Time’, the band seem to have moved onto a more polished sound, with more layered tracks and added electronic elements via the organ and keyboard. Singles ‘Crystallised’ and ‘Mind Over Matter’ showcased this more mature style, while retaining the energy that gained them so many fans originally. I would highly recommend their new album ‘Mind Over Matter’ – after such a long break, it’s great to see these guys back.

My favourite track: ‘My Body’


Best new track: ‘Mind Over Matter’ 


New album: ‘Mind Over Matter’, released 21st January

2.      We Are Scientists

Last album: ‘Barbara’, 2010

One of my favourite bands, this – I saw them live in summer 2013, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. We Are Scientists, another band hailing from California, have been around for a while. Formed in 2000, they have released 3 albums, as well as a live acoustic mini-album. Their debut, ‘With Love And Squalor’, had an out-and-out indie band sound and was packed with upbeat rock tracks, including hits ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’, before drummer Michael Tapper left, while frontman Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain remained. They subsequently unveiled ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’, which pursued a more indie-pop style while still having plenty of energetic headbang tracks in there (check out ‘Let’s See It’), and contained the band’s biggest hit to date in ‘After Hours’. The 2010 album ‘Barbara’ spawned songs like ‘Rules Don’t Stop’ and ‘Jack and Ginger’ which were catchy as all hell while having a more electronic twist on them, while tracks like ‘Nice Guys’ and ‘I Don’t Bite’ recalled the indie rock of early WAS. In summer 2013, standalone single ‘Something About You’ was released, before the ‘Business Casual’ EP in the winter revealed tracks from the new album such as ‘Dumb Luck’ and ‘Return The Favour’. Murray and Cain’s new songs are, first and foremost, downright catchy, and they seem to have successfully blended the old fuzzy indie rock of their debut album with polished production and witty lyrics to achieve music that will stick in your head and make you dance and/or rock out. Their new album, ‘TV En Français’ will have more of the same, and you do not want to miss it. Check out new single ‘Make It Easy’ if you still aren’t convinced.

My favourite track: ‘Let’s See It’:

Best new track: ‘Make It Easy’: 


New album: ‘TV En Français’, released 3rd March


3.      The Crookes

Last album: ‘Hold Fast’, 2012

And now, the Brits! Sheffield’s The Crookes were formed in 2008, and have been described as ‘the most hardworking band in Britain’. This is unsurprising when you see their discography: they’ve only been together six years, and have two albums and an acoustic mini-album under their belt, not to mention an insane amount of touring. A proper indie rock band (another one, I know, but they are seriously good), these boys combine catchy riffs with upbeat rhythms and chant-able lyrics to create danceable rock tunes that will never fail to put a smile on your face. Signing to famous London independent label Fierce Panda – once home to Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie – the self-confessed ‘NEWPOP’ band released ‘Dreams of Another Day’ in 2010. The acoustic album was lovely to listen to, with songs like ‘Backstreet Lovers’ and ‘Yes, Yes, We Are Magicians’ proving that a song can be both relax you and make you want to dance all at the same time. It served as a lovely introduction to the band, with the acoustic songs feeling more personal, showcasing guitarist Daniel Hopewell’s fantastic lyrics, and winning the band a dedicated fanbase early on. They then released their full-length debut ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ which was jam-packed full of danceable songs like ‘Godless Girl’, ‘Chorus of Fools’ and ‘Bloodshot Days’, alongside emotional and heartfelt tracks like ‘The Crookes Laundry Murder (1922)’ and ‘Youth’. The band is clearly versatile, able to write songs that will first bring a smile to your face and then make you feel sad and reflective, while the melodies will never leave your brain. The album served as the soundtrack to my summer of 2011, and will provides me with a smile whenever I listen to it! ‘Hold Fast’ came out in 2012, and showed an older, wiser Crookes: with retro lo-fi production giving the album a nice romantic air, songs like ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Maybe in the Dark’ gave us stupidly energetic and fun tracks that will make you jump up and get down. The album sounded more mature and aggressive, and the boys showed they had a fierce desire to make a mark on the music industry, while there was still the honest, heartfelt band of old in there on raw closing track ‘The I Love You Bridge’. After releasing standalone single ‘Bear’s Blood/Dance In Colour’ in summer last year, the band announced their new album ‘Soapbox’ along with single ‘Play Dumb’. Both singles continued the lo-fi production of ‘Hold Fast’ while ushering in a heavier sound which retained the catchiness of the band’s early work – just the title ‘Soapbox’ makes it clear that this band has something to say to the world. They are standing on their soapbox and shouting at you to like them, and I say you should.

Favourite track: ‘Afterglow’: 


Best new track: ‘Play Dumb’: 

New album: ‘Soapbox’, released 14th April. 

4.      Little Comets

Last album: ‘Life Is Elsewhere’, 2012

Little Comets are band who seem to have found themselves as they’ve got older: after releasing their debut album ‘In Search Of Elusive Little Comets’ on Columbia Records in 2011, they changed their sound in a big way when they released their second record on Dirty Hit. The Tyne and Wear band achieved mild mainstream success with singles ‘One Night in October’ and ‘Joanna’, before album tracks ‘Isles’ and ‘Adultery’ too became hits. Their debut was full of jerky rhythms and jagging, sharp, catchy guitar riffs, while frontman Rob Coles yelped out lyrics that were inspired by British life, often touching upon subjects such as politics (see ‘Darling Alistair’) and romance (‘Lost Time’). Their catchy, different indie sound caught the attention of the public, and the band performed impromptu early gigs in places like libraries and supermarkets to the delight of fans. Since then, their drummer has left and they were dropped from Columbia, so signed to Dirty Hit to release ‘Life Is Elsewhere’ in 2012. Their sophomore effort showcased a much more mature and clever songwriting style from the band, with unconventional song structures and odd rhythms making for an incredibly catchy and impressive new sound; I still haven’t heard anything else quite like it. Singles such as ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Worry’ were upbeat danceable numbers with intellectual lyrics regarding women and romance, while slower, more emotive songs like ‘In Blue Music We Trust’ and ‘Woman, Woman’ proving seriously touching to listen to. Standout track ‘Violence Out Tonight’ has rape and domestic violence as its lyrical subject matter, and delivers a scathing assessment of how often it goes unpunished. Every track on the album was still catchy danceable, however, which showed the band had not lost touch with their original sound – Coles’ voice is far less yelping on the second record, showing he has worked on his previously slightly sharp (even grating at times) vocals. They have promised three EPs and a new album over the next twelve months, starting with new release the ‘The Gentle EP’. The first song from the EP, ‘Little Italy’ continues the unpredictable and intellectual-while-still-damn-catchy trend of their music at present, and makes me very excited for what’s to come.

Favourite track: ‘Worry’:

Best new track: ‘Little Italy’: 

New album: Out sometime in 2014, no other information as of yet


5.      The Hoosiers

Last album: ‘The Illusion of Safety’, 2010

Now, there were a lot of bands I wanted to write about for this section, but I decided to throw a curveball in the form of one of very first ‘proper’ favourite bands. You may remember The Hoosiers after they released their debut album ‘The Trick to Life’ way back in 2007, which reached number one. The alternative pop/rock outfit dominated the radio waves with hit singles ‘Worried About Ray’ and ‘Goodbye Mr A’, and the album reached number one. ‘The Trick to Life’ was an interesting blend of more upbeat, rockier tracks like ‘Worst Case Scenario’, the aforementioned ‘Worried About Ray’, and ‘Cops and Robbers’ alongside more alternative, falsetto-driven tracks like ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and ‘A Sadness Runs Through Him’. However, the album is always rooted in lead singer Irwin Sparkes’ guitar playing – every song on the album seems chart-ready, filled with infectious hooks and unconventional pop songs, sometimes with a darker atmosphere hidden beneath head-bop melodies. In 2010, the UK band released their follow-up effort ‘The Illusion of Safety’, which came with a different, more electro-pop and synth-driven sound. The high point of this album comes on single ‘Choices’, which includes one of the best synth hooks I’ve heard, and was a departure from their previously natural instrument-filled sound. The whole album is again catchy and infectious though, with songs like ‘Unlikely Hero’ and ‘Bumpy Ride’ bringing a smile to my face upon hearing them. Since then, the band fell into obscurity, setting out with side projects such as Sparkes’ band The Sea & I. However, in late 2013 they released new single ‘Somewhere in the Distance’, which is something of a return to their original pop-rock sound, and seems a perfect comeback tune with its optimistic and bullish vibe. It has a rockier edge to it, with even a tinge of funk coming from the bouncy bassline, with a few synths in the background acting as a throwback to their last album. The Hoosiers have crowd-funded their third album ‘The News From Nowhere’, and seem to be coming back far stronger than they ever were before.

Favourite track: ‘The Trick To Life’: 


Best new track: ‘Somewhere in the Distance’:


New album: ‘The News From Nowhere’, released 3rd March

Notable others: Elbow, Maxïmo Park, Foster the People, Bombay Bicycle Club

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