IT MAY be his first solo album since The Gaslight Anthem announced an indefinite hiatus last year, but Painkillers is very much business as usual for the New Jersey rockers' frontman Brian Fallon.
Fallon's distinctive gravelly vocals and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics sound as sincere as ever, and while the punk edge of Gaslight's early days has all but gone, the classic all-American songwriting influences of Springsteen and Petty have never been more apparent.
The country-tinged rock of A Wonderful Life and Nobody Wins are the most memorable tracks on a consistently good album, the only dud note being the hackneyed stomp of Mojo Hand.
Whether Painkillers gains Fallon any new fans remains to be seen, but followers of his old band will find it all reassuringly familiar.
THE Oregon singer-songwriter – 'Him' from She & Him, and a member of folk-rock supergroup Monsters Of Folk – returns with an excellent eighth solo studio album.
Inspired by the world's ability to "process unending bad news on page one and then go about our lives the way the style section portrays us", the album is a bundle of contradictions – opening with the captured sound of a rainstorm, but offering such uplifting moments as You're So Good To Me, closer I'm Going Higher and the "doo-wop sha-la-la-la" backing vocals on Little Baby.
Guest musicians include k.d. lang and regular collaborator Neko Case, while ex-REM axeman Peter Buck adds to a heftier guitar sound than is typical of Ward's work, most notably on Temptation and Time Won't Wait – reminiscent of Richard Hawley's psychedelic rock diversion on Standing At The Sky's Edge.
WITH each track edited from 30-minute sonic jams and the album recorded in a church in just over two days, there was more than a suspicion that the debut release from this indie rock 'supergroup' may be unlistenable to all but the biggest fans of Beirut's Ben Lanz and The National's Scott and Bryan Devendorf.
However, any concerns quickly dissipated. This is a delightful rhythm-led slice of driving music that captivates from the off.
Although it does tail away slightly in the middle, Future You (reminiscent of Joy Division), Beneath The Black Sea and final track, Samarra, impress enough to make this a solid effort.
SINCE 2011, Polica have been consistently making one of the best cases for synthetic beauty I've heard, but on their third record, United Crushers, the band are trusting more than ever to the power of Channy Leaneagh's vocals.
Yes, Ryan Olson's production values are still there, pulsing away, Channy's voice still oomphed and shadowed by synths, but she's punching through so much more, her clear, high voice knocking back the electronica.
Summer Please has hints of Feist to it, Someway quivers and jitters, while Lately is yearning and best played on full volume while driving. There is an epic current to the record, tugging at you throughout.
Admittedly, nothing on it compares to their first single Dark Star, off Give You The Ghost (it is near perfection), and much is an extension of 2013 record, Shulamith, without much reinvention – but still, it's hard to get enough of Polica.
IT HAS been a long and difficult road for Treetop Flyers to follow up their debut album, The Mountain Moves. Three hard years later though and Palomino has finally surfaced.
On the face of it, it's a very pleasant album. The band specialises in a brand of folk rock that keeps the mood and vigour of each genre, while bringing in harmonic elements from country music.
You, Darling You is an upbeat, almost summery track and sounds like The Magic Numbers if they took a bit more time to express themselves, which is all to the credit of Treetop Flyers for not rushing it.
Everything is well paced without being too raucous; it's controlled enthusiasm and that in turn displays a welcome maturity in the band's sound. The tempo keeps things exciting, while the vocal harmonies show off a synergy and quality that's refreshing, and backed up by excellent guitar work.
However, it doesn't quite hit the mark as an LP. There are hints of many bands here; Athlete, Elbow, Neil Young, and even Crosby, Stills & Nash. The problem is that for all these similarities – and they're all good bands to sound like – it feels like the point has been missed.
It's a good album, but it's not great. The technical abilities are there and all the hallmarks of a great band are ticks in boxes, but for all the warm, lilting sounds and smart, poetic lyrics, it's not quite concise enough.
It's a slow burner, and a grower of an album, but it's not a classic.
Little Green Cars
IRISH indie soft rockers Little Green Cars follow up their debut, 2013's Absolute Zero, with a second album that treads familiar ground, but ultimately lacks the standout tracks and energy of their first outing.
Singers Stevie Appleby and Faye O'Rourke share duties on songs that range from folk and indie rock, to piano ballads and soulful crooners, although it's the former styles that the band sound most comfortable with.
The album's best moments come when the instrumentation and singing builds on brooding verses to climax in stirring choruses, notably on The Song They Play Every Night, The Factory and The Party.
The duo's harmonies are a delight to listen to, but their relative sparseness throughout the album leaves you wishing they'd made more use of them.
Although they're clearly talented songwriters, especially when opening a window into their personal lives, there are still a few too many directionless songs to make the album a standout.