This is the first of a series of blog posts to be released over the next couple of months catching up on all the albums I’ve been wanting to review but simply haven’t had the time to. As the weeks go on the albums discussed will get more and more recent until we catch up (hopefully) to the here and now. Here I’ll be giving opinions on the latest albums from Blaenavon, Future Islands, Laura Marling, Real Estate and Rose Elinor Dougall!
Blaenavon – That’s Your Lot
Blaenavon have risen as one of the great indie rock hopes of recent years – gathering a cult following, they have finally released their debut album ‘That’s Your Lot’ nearly 4 years on from their debut EP and it was worth the wait. Fans of The Maccabees and Foals’ early work will find a lot to love on ‘That’s Your Lot’, with ‘Let’s Pray’ and ‘Lonely Side’ particularly evoking memories of late 00’s indie parties gone by.
That’s not to say that Blaenavon are just a tribute band, because they most certainly aren’t. While their influences are clear, frontman Ben Gregory’s unique vocal stylings bring a new twist to the sound and on the second half of the album Blaenavon really start to spread their wings with some lengthy tracks like ‘Alice Come Home’ and ‘Swans’ – for me this progressive streak is where the band really shines. Given some room to breathe outside the standard four minute indie pop song, the guitars gleam and Blaenavon truly sound epic and mature beyond their years – see ‘Ode To Joe’.
It’s quite hard to pick highlights when near enough every track is of an incredibly high quality – you can tell real love has gone into this album in the time they’ve had to make it, and you can feel the band already evolving into their own skin by the time the lengthy LP finishes. Blaenavon could very well be the new Maccabees we’re all pining for, they certainly carry a similar mood. If this is their ‘Colour It In’, I can’t wait to see their ‘Wall Of Arms’.
Real Estate – In Mind
Real Estate have returned for their first album since the departure of founding member Matt Mondanile, ‘In Mind’ and the jangly guitars are back in full force, particularly on opening track ‘Darling’. I truly believe ‘Darling’ to be one of the best songs of 2017 so far and I could write reams of paper on why that guitar work is so perfect and deceptively simple and how the sentimentality of the chorus hits just right, but I’m sure that can be saved for the inevitable ‘Best Tracks of 2017’ at the end of the year. It’s truly excellent.
‘Darling’ sets the bar incredibly high for this album, and while the rest of the LP doesn’t quite live up to it, this is a great collection of tracks and the dreamy sound that penetrates the album comes to a peak on the hypnotic ‘Two Arrows’ which echoes ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ with its never ending riff jam in the second half. It’s maddening in the best possible way.
Overall, ‘In Mind’ is a touch samey throughout but there’s great music to be found here provided you give it the time, with particular highlights being the Shins-esque ‘Holding Pattern’ and ‘Saturday’. ‘Darling’ is a masterpiece though and I’ve yet to find many, if any tracks that have topped it this year. Listen below. I implore you.
Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
It took me longer than I’d like to admit to come across Rose Elinor Dougall’s second solo album ‘Stellular’. Released right at the beginning of the year, this is one that without a doubt slipped under the radar for me, but I’m glad to have discovered it. Produced by Boxed In’s Oli Bayston, ‘Stellular’ is full of rich indie pop soundscapes with swirling synthesisers and echo-soaked guitars. Fans of Oli’s work should definitely check this album out too – not only is his production very apparent, but he also features in a vocal capacity on ‘Dive’.
Opening track ‘Colour of Water’ is a highlight and a great introduction to the sound of the album and following it is another highlight, ‘Strange Warnings’. While these two opening tracks have a similar vibe, there is also some great variance in style over the course of the album – ‘All At Once’ is a bit more electro/disco, ‘Poison Ivy’ is more of a ballad, and ‘Hell And Back’ is reminiscent of recent indie rock bands like ‘The Big Moon’ at first, before descending into a far more unusual jam. Be sure to also check out ‘Answer Me’, which has a chorus sounding like a modern take on 60’s hits by artists like The Supremes (it even has a whoa-whoa!).
I can’t say there are many other artists out there right now who sound like Rose Elinor Dougall, her voice dances around these tracks like an indie-twinged Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the guitar and synth work on nearly every track is brilliantly infectious. While ‘Stellular’ might not be one of the most widely talked about albums of 2017, it is fast becoming one of my personal favourites.
Future Islands – The Far Field
Future Islands are back for their fifth studio album, ‘The Far Field’, and from the opening track ‘Aladdin’ the album presents us with a fantastically danceable sound. 80’s style spacey synthesisers and bouncy, creative basslines are complimented by Sam Herring’s unparalleled vocals. This theme continues throughout the album, and this proves to be its only flaw. While every song is of excellent quality, the formula is essentially the same throughout – other than ‘Candles’, a slower ballad which very much breaks the mould, every track feels like tempo variations on the exact same idea.
The best songs to pop out of this formula are probably ‘Cave’ and ‘North Star’, but it is honestly quite hard to distinguish track from track here. ‘Shadows’ features the legendary Debbie Harry and is another highlight, with her voice suiting this synthpop style perfectly, but again the song formula is the same.
Future Islands have nailed the sound on this album. It’s clean and it’s produced wonderfully, but there isn’t enough variation to hold the listener for the album’s full length. If you like the first track you’ll like the whole thing, and individually every song on ‘The Far Field’ is great, but perhaps this sound should have been kept to a couple of core tracks to allow for something different.
Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Singer-songwriter Laura Marling is on impeccable form on her latest album ‘Semper Femina’. This is a brilliantly mellow and at times brooding album through and through, with the opening trio of tracks (‘Soothing’, ‘The Valley’ and ‘Wild Fire’) being particularly excellent. Naturally this is a folk album at heart, but a certain alternative rock twinge can be found on ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, which also includes some very 60’s string arrangements, similar to those found on last year’s The Last Shadow Puppets album.
The only real misstep on this album for me is ‘Wild Once’ – the strong, well-pronounced British accent displayed on this track sticks out like a sore thumb and it just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the songs here. It’s a bit too twee compared to everything else, but the songwriting is of course excellent as always.
As well as the aforementioned string arrangements, something of Laura’s songwriting itself on this album has a very classic feeling to it, like some of these songs have been dug up from a forgotten studio session in decades gone by. There really is something Beatle-esque here, and the fingerpicked guitar on ‘Nouel’ screams late-Beatles McCartney, which is always a good thing.
‘Semper Femina’ is a gold standard of modern folk songwriting with some real genre variance hidden in there too to keep things interesting. It has been said many times before by many critics and fans, but Marling is wise beyond her years.