Tuesday, 18 March 2014

2014: Year of the Guitar? – Part Two

by Pete Rapp

Back in January I wrote the first part of this article, recommending some of the most exciting guitar-centric bands and artists that were returning with new music in 2014 (you can read said article here). Well, we are now roughly a quarter of the way through the year, so I thought I would give you my top 5 picks for the most exciting new acts I’ve found – just in time for you to catch them on the festival circuit this summer! There are far more acts that I wanted to put on here, but when I look through who is on this list, I feel seriously good about new music coming this year. 

So, without further ado, I present to you Part Two: New Acts.

1.      Dan Croll

Starting things off with an artist I just cannot stop listening to, Dan Croll is a singer/songwriter who tends to come up with unpredictable, African-influenced & soulful pop-rock tunes, which are nigh on impossible to get out of your head. Think Paul Weller mixed with Prince, if you can manage it. Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme before moving to Liverpool to attend the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), Croll was one of 8 gifted students selected to have a one-on-one session with founder Sir Paul McCartney – when Croll played the Beatle his demos, he was told just to get them released; don’t change a thing. He’s got Macca’s approval, then. Signing to Turn First records in 2012, the 23-year-old released his first single ‘From Nowhere’ in September of that year; the song gained immediate buzz around various blogs thanks to its funky off-beat guitars and catchy keys. It was followed by ‘Compliment Your Soul’, ‘In/Out’ and ‘Home’, before Croll released his debut album ‘Sweet Disarray’ on 10th March 2014. The album itself is exactly what you would expect after listening to the singles preceding it, in that you can’t really predict where it will go next! Songs like ‘Thinkin Aboutchu’ (side note – a loveably silly title) and ‘Wanna Know’ mix elements of RnB while ‘Maway’ and ‘Always Like This’ are more upbeat, afrobeat-tinged summery numbers, with the title track and ‘Must Be Leaving’ exploring more bass-filled instrumentals with gorgeous harmonies. I love the album, personally – overall, with witty lyrics and unpredictable songs that are catchy as hell, Dan Croll should is a must-see act this year.
Debut album: ‘Sweet Disarray’, released 10th March. My favourite track: ‘Thinkin Aboutchu’(see video below - the track starts at 3:16), but then again the entire album is awesome:

2.      The Family Rain

The Family Rain are Will, Ollie and Timothy Walker, three brothers from Bath who are a throwback to proper foot-stomping rock tracks – Will is the lead vocalist and bassist, while Ollie and Tim both provide backing vocals while playing guitar and drums respectively. After spending their early days in bands influenced by AC/DC and The Darkness, the boys eventually decided to take music more seriously and changed their name to The Family Rain – they went on to deny any knowledge of their old bands, saying they used to be in ‘a **** covers band’. Happily, their new songs are brilliant! The band signed to Mercury Records after releasing their debut single ‘Trust Me, I’m A Genius’ on a smaller label, which was an aggressive, in-your-face anthem built around heavy bass grooves and drum fills, with a screaming guitar solo down in the middle. They went on to release singles ‘Carnival’, ‘Reason to Die’ and ‘Feel Better (FRANK)’, as well as the ‘Pushing It EP’ while touring extensively in 2013 – highlights included supporting the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park and Biffy Clyro at Mallorca Rocks and Ibiza Rocks. The pre-album singles followed largely the same pattern, with stadium chant-ready lyrics mixing well with catchy rock melodies and a healthy dose of distorted guitars. Debut album ‘Under The Volcano’ was released on 3rd February 2014, drawing comparisons to bluesy rockers The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Tracks like ‘On My Back’ help you see why, with a rhythm that you can’t help but headbang along to and choruses that make you want to sing at the top of your lungs, while songs like ‘Binocular’ and the aforementioned ‘Feel Better (FRANK)’ lend the band a more indie rock edge, with Beatles-esque guitar and Fratellis-style backing vocals coming into play. All in all, it’s a top album, and the gleeful rock out attitude this album carries should be a hit this summer.

 Debut album: ‘Under The Volcano’, released 3rd February. My favourite track: ‘On My Back’ (see link here). 

3.      Nick Mulvey

Nick Mulvey studied music in Havana, Cuba, a fact that shines through in the English singer/songwriter’s work. A student of Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (fancy, I know), Mulvey learned a great deal about culture and the historical context of music while drinking rum and jamming with friends from all over the world. Upon his return to England, he was one of the founders of Portico Quartet, in which he played the hang alongside a saxophonist, double bassist and drummer – the group’s first album ‘Knee-deep in the North Sea’ was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2008, and the band released second album ‘Isla’ in 2009 before Mulvey left in 2011 to pursue his solo career. His music is based around his intricate and immersive guitar playing, which often involves Cuban and South American-inflected rhythms to create something quite unique. His debut EP ‘The Trellis’ was released in November 2012, followed by the ‘Fever to the Form’ EP in July 2013, the latter of which added experimentation with more bassy and electronic sounds to his repertoire. Mulvey also toured with Laura Marling in summer 2013, naming her as a great influence on his music. Singles ‘Nitrous’ and ‘Cucurucu’ were released in late 2013 and early 2014 respectively, gaining him considerable buzz before debut album ‘First Mind’ is released on 12th May this year. The two songs both had a worldly style to them, mixing conventional finger-picked guitar with furious Latin and Cuban strumming patterns, with whimsical and intelligent lyrics top off the ensemble. If his early work is anything to go by, the album will be like nothing else in the pop music industry today, and for those of you looking for an atmospheric, intimate gig this summer, Nick Mulvey might well be your man.

 Debut album: ‘First Mind’, released 12th May. My favourite track: ‘Fever to the Form’:

 4.      Catfish and the Bottlemen

All hail the return of proper fist-pump indie rock! Catfish and the Bottlemen are a four piece who seem very uncool in this age of mysterious bands and blog buzz – and they are defiant in doing so. Just the name ‘Catfish’ tells you what you’re getting: unashamed, straight forward indie rock with no bells or whistles, and the band have worked without blogs and underground press to get big. Instead, they’ve taken the tried-and-tested route of relentless gigging, and boy do they put on a show. I saw them live in February supporting Little Comets, and they produced such an amazing energetic set that they quickly became a favourite new band of mine this year (they get bonus points for being really nice and signing my copy of their record). Hailing from the heart of Wales, they come across as a mix of Manic Street Preachers and Foo Fighters, with some Lostprophets in there too, producing short, powerful bursts of clearly thought out rock songs that demand to be played loud. The band have only released a handful of singles in ‘Homesick’, ‘Rango’, ‘Pacifier’ and ‘Kathleen’ on Communion Records, but have already played at Reading & Leeds and have twice been Zane Lowe’s ‘Hottest Record in the World’. Homesick starts off with frontman Van McCann’s emotional and raw voice over the top of carefully finger picked guitar before exploding into life in the chorus, while songs like ‘Rango’ and ‘Pacifier’ kick in with huge, distorted guitar riffs and cymbal crashes from the off and never let up. Add that to fantastically insightful lyrics about love, loss and the human condition, whose wit could rival the great Alex Turner (for example, a highlight from ‘Rango’ reads: “Now she’s wearing that top you love // and she’s topping it all off // by acting like something’s up // she always knew how to pull the strings”), and you have a band who really do grab your attention and keep it. An album will arrive at some point this year say the band: I’ll be ready and waiting, and so should you.

 Debut album: no news yet, but a release sometime in 2014 is highly likely. My favourite track: ‘Kathleen’ (see this link – and yes, the lyric video is entirely a compilation of Ewan McGregor clips. Problem?)

5.      Royal Blood

And now for the big finish – and when I say big, I really do mean it. Royal Blood are a two piece made up of bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, originally from Brighton. But here’s the thing: when I first listened to them, I didn’t know they were just a bassist and drummer, such is the hugely awesome racket they make. It’s a testament to how powerful their tracks are that they sound as though they’ve at least three guitars backing them up, and Kerr’s voice is a frankly awesome cross between Jack White and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. While they do make a LOT of noise, it’s incredibly melodic too, however – think the power of Thor’s hammer wielded with the dexterity of a neurosurgeon – while two piece legends such as The White Stripes and newer bands like Drenge did hit hard, I haven’t heard anything quite like Royal Blood ever before. To me, a bit of good old-fashioned, hard-hitting power rock is just what the music industry needs right now, a fact made all the better by how these guys have been championed by Radio 1 and are beloved by Arctic Monkeys (Matt Helders wore a Royal Blood t-shirt during his band’s televised set headlining Glastonbury in 2013…handy publicity, that). The two singles they’ve released so far, ‘Out of the Black’ and ‘Little Monster’ (as well as B-Side ‘Come On Over’) are only truly realised when the volume is turned all the way up and the listener(s) headbang, and even mosh, like there’s no tomorrow. Seriously cool bass riffs mix nicely with the attacking cries of Kerr’s vocals, while Ben Thatcher smashes his drums to bits in songs that move easily from verse to chorus, and often even a double speed climax to round it all off. Put simply, Royal Blood are the most exciting new band of 2014 for me, so please go and see them. I promise you won’t regret it. As the so-good-they’ll-make-your-head-cave-in riffs prove, Brighton won’t have any shortage of rock this year.
Debut album: again, nothing confirmed yet, but a 2014 release is likely. My favourite track: ‘Little Monster’ (see video below):


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