Album reviews: Spielbergs, Nina Nesbitt, Ward Thomas, Sean MccConnell
Tis Is Not The End
IS THIS it? Has the rule of electro-bedroom pop started to wane? I'd put my money on Norwegian garage band the Spielbergs hoping that's the case. It's been a long time since a new dirty guitar-led band have stuck their heads above the parapet. NFL has stirrings of a new anthem, along similar lines to the Dandy Warhols well-trod path, not to mention what could be the influence of And You Will Know Us by Trail of the Dead (specifically Relative Ways), and surprisingly We're All Going to Die echoes Franz Ferdinand. This is definitely an album that will speak to the millennial generation. This is a truly eclectic piece of scuzzy mastery that is both as bleak and as bright as our future can be. And anyone that can work McDonald's into a song title has got to have something going for them!
The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change
NINA Nesbitt's second album has been a long time coming, and the effort that's gone into it shows. The 24-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter's new record, her first since leaving major label Island for independent label Cooking Vinyl, is slickly produced and well-considered. She's grown up and progressed musically since her more saccharine, acoustic guitar-filled 2014 debut Peroxide, which drew mixed reviews. Nesbitt possesses an agreeably clean-cut vocal that slips into a dreamy falsetto on the tracks that could be considered cookie-cutter mainstream fodder by the most irksome of music snobs, but she's cleverly toeing a line between electronic, R&B and ethereal soul, all wrapped up in a poptastic bow. Songs like Colder fit into a that moodier pop space, reminiscent of Lorde and Rated R-era Rihanna, while Loyal To Me could have been an early Noughties Mis-Teeq hit. A notable improvement for this young rising star.
WARD Thomas are on the cusp of superstardom. But don't ask me, ask their record label – Sony Music – who have primed the British country duo with a sprawling third album of deeply felt, pop-friendly treats just aching to top the charts. Ward Thomas, AKA 24-year-old-twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy, have taken a page straight out of the Taylor Swift playbook. After two albums of solid songwriting and cut-glass harmonies recorded in Nashville, London and Hampshire, their third is a poppier affair, backed by an army of writers favoured by the big record labels. Restless Minds sees the sisters stray from the modern country sound of Cartwheels, their second record and the first British country album to top the charts. Now they focus on the perils of social media, mental health and the women's movement. Restless Minds is a statement of intent. The shadowy forces of the faceless industry have placed their chips behind Ward Thomas. You probably should too.
ATMOSPHERIC, guitar-twangy folk pop is the order of the day on American singer-songwriter Sean McConnell's 13th album Secondhand Smoke. He may not be a too-familiar a name this side of the pond, but the Tennessee-based artist is worth a punt if his kind of easy-listening, mellow and, at times, atmospheric country pop is your thing. He's written songs for the likes of Tim McGraw, Meat Loaf and the Plain White T's, as well as for hit TV series Nashville, so there's a weighty amount of talent here. A handful of the tracks would fit nicely on Radio 2, such the beautiful Devil's Ball, a calm ballad backed with melodic reverby guitar, and the rousing, glorious Alien. Shaky Bridges is a pretty lovely track, punctuated with the ole' country music staple: a wobbly harmonica. It's not ground-breaking music but McConnell is clearly a skilled songwriter and performer, and there's no harm in something that errs on the side of safe and cosy, like this.
VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
SOME 40 seconds into Slaves Of Fear, HEALTH's fourth album proper, the band grab you by the scruff of the neck and throw you into a swirling vortex of discordant electronic beats and unsettlingly beautiful melodies. If you were a fan, you would have seen this coming. But even the most hardened of acolytes will be surprised by how mature the LA noise rockers now sound. Bursts of white noise shock while a heady mix of deconstructed industrial techno, big beat and emo-balladry overcome. It's a potent combination and one HEALTH have been plying since their return with Death Magic in 2015 after a six-year recording hiatus. That album saw the three-piece embrace their least trendy but most compelling pop tendencies. And they continue in that vein on this obtusely named record – fully titled VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR. When HEALTH dabble with hip hop, as on Strange Days (1999), they produce a pleasing alchemy. When they stray into bastardised US dubstep on Rat Wars, the results are less pretty. No doubt Slaves Of Fear will satisfy the band's fans. But more than that, it could tempt those who shudder at the thought of industrial music to perhaps reconsider.