Album reviews: New releases rated
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING – EVERY VALLEY
PUBLIC Service Broadcasting have long made old public information films the foundation for their boundary-pushing, instrumental post-rock, and Every Valley is no different.
There is a certain politics to the samples this time around, however, pitting plummy 1950s tones extolling the virtues of labour against a healthy slab of Welsh miners from times past, wise to their own exploitation and the broken promises of their paymasters.
In another first for a PSB record, these stories and soundbites are countered by sung vocals, Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell and Welsh rock legend James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers among the guests, but without letting either overwhelm the track. It is this ear for balance which makes it so enjoyable.
This is the kind of music that can spin on a penny's edge, smart enough to span a wealth of emotions in seconds, nimble enough to make the segues seamless and powerful enough to carry the listener.
It's experimental rock music, to be sure, but without the pretensions of prog: PSB's music is gritty and canny, and emotive, sad and angry and uplifting. Such a broad palette is all too rare.
HAIM – SOMETHING TO TELL YOU
FOUR years after blowing up with their polished yet youthful debut, the trio of LA sisters return with Something To Tell You.
Recorded mainly in their parents' front room, the songs are layered thick – sometimes in fact too thick, particularly in the case of the final track Night So Long.
Heavy handedness in the studio is apparent throughout but there is obvious catchiness, too, with Want You Back and Little Of Your Love.
Despite its shortcomings, expect this record – and Danielle Haim's rich American vocals – to further increase their growing influence both here and in the US.
But whatever fans make of this album, Courteeners' frontman Liam Fray may have gone too far with his assertion on Twitter earlier this month that Haim are "one of the best and most important bands" of the past two decades.
LITTLE BARRIE – DEATH EXPRESS
DEATH Express is the fifth album from Nottingham trio Little Barrie. Gamers will recognise the band from track Surfer Hell and fans of Breaking Bad will be happy to find the theme to Better Call Saul nestled at the end of this very album.
Vocalist Barrie Cadogan played with Primal Scream and the band have toured with a who's who of the rock community.
The songs stick to a great lo-fi aesthetic. The lyrics don't explicitly refer to the current state of the world but there is some heavy subtext on tracks like Copter and Vulture Swarm. The commentary never overshadows the music, though, and the tunes are enough to get the most reticent toes tapping.
The drums on some tracks have a breakbeat quality to them, complemented by Lewis Wharton's pulsing bass. Little Barrie's guitar work is on point throughout, running the gamut from wailing solos to juddering rhythms.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – HUG OF THUNDER
BEFORE Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie and The National there was Broken Social Scene (BSS): the original indie/alt rock supergroup. After a seven-year absence they return with a new album, Hug of Thunder.
It sticks to their tried and tested formula of slightly melancholic alt-rock. It's wistful and pensive; like they're reliving memories both good and bad, and we're to join in on this emotional exploration.
The vocals and subsequent harmonies BSS muster up have always been a big draw, but particular credit should go to the imaginative bass work on the album; adding subtle tension to an otherwise light song or stability to more experimental work.
It would almost be a crime for Broken Social Scene's importance in shaping both indie and alt rock for the 21st century to be overlooked. This may not be their best work but it's a reminder that class is permanent.
Stand-out songs include Protest Song and Skylight.