No one could ever accuse the Black Angels of shying away from their influences.
Over the course of their nine-year career, these stoner rock scions have incorporated everything from Jimmy Page’s electrified blues riffs to Ray Manzarek’s introspective vamp into their own unsettling take on the bad-trip brood of late-sixties psychedelia. Their last two albums presented slight variations on the theme, as 2008’s Directions To See A Ghost was lacquered with the hallucinatory drone of the Velvet Underground while 2010’s Phosphene Dream featured more tightened-up compositions that hedged towards the acid-fried garage styling of fellow Austin freakniks like the Moving Sidewalks and the 13th Floor Elevators.
There are hordes of road-dogged and battle-tested bands that flourish under the one-night-after-another pressure cooker of intensive touring, yet still struggle to find their comfort zone when the crowds are gone and the tape is rolling.
Belfast indie rockers And So I Watch You From Afar have developed a reputation over the past few years as circuit-hopping veterans, bringing their dizzying, punk-indebted instrumental compositions to dingy basements in Brooklyn, packed festival fields in Belgium, obscure music-deprived burgs in Russia, and sold-out arenas in their Northern Ireland hometown.
What is perhaps more significant than their passport credentials is the way in which they have consistently managed to avoid the aforementioned lightning-out-of-the-bottle letdown. From the laser-beam march that set off their 2009 self-titled debut to the thunderous tribal percussion that closed out 2011’s breakthrough ‘Gangs‘, these guys have approached each recording with the same sort of off-the-rails intensity and clenched-fist grit that they determinedly bring to the stage.
After weaving subtle psychedelic nuance through thick layers of lo-fi thrash and brute-force sludge on 2010’s ‘Immaculada‘ and 2011’s ‘Leave Home‘, these unassuming New York lifers pushed their experimental post-hardcore template past the concept of classification with last year’s critically-acclaimed breakthrough ‘Open Your Heart‘.
Their third record in as many years was a lesson in genre-defying ambition, as it somehow managed to synthesize the last four decades of guitar music into one solid statement. Shoegaze, punk, garage, alternative, indie, and straight-up classic rock all shared the spotlight, while still leaving room for a few brushes with barroom country honk.
With this year’s ‘New Moon‘, The Men have continued along their own ever-evolving path, this time careening further away from their basement noise beginnings and heading more and more towards full-blown hillbilly Americana. The immediate touchstones are no longer the muscular swirl of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., but instead the countrified distortion of Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the heartland freedom rock of latter-day Tom Petty. Acoustic, lap steel, mandolin, harmonica, and piano are each just as prevalent as electric guitar, and the screams, shouts and pleads of previous efforts are replaced with easy-amble melodies, sober meditations, and four-part vocal harmonies.
Universal healthcare, low levels of violent crime, easy access to higher education, and general economic stability are all social realities that contribute to the fact that it is consistently considered to be one of the happiest places on the planet.
Combine that with the lack of religious fundamentalism and an overall atheist-leaning ideology, and the small Scandinavian nation couldn’t be a more unsuspecting breeding ground for the angry anti-establishment ethos usually associated with punk rock.
So it was understandably surprising to see Copenhagen emerge as a DIY hotbed of punk-indebted activity in the past few years, and it was even more surprising to see how quickly the word spread about a scene that at first seemed destined for insularity.
This rise in popularity is a direct correlation to the emergence of Iceage, a group of four Danish teenagers whose 2011 debut ‘New Brigade‘ took the unharnessed energy of early-80’s American hardcore and fused it with their own blend of chilling post-punk rhythms and subtle no-wave dissonance. The record was more of a stepping stone than a statement; it felt as if each member was so bottled up with ideas that together they played like they were ready to write the next release during the recording of this one.
By the time the spring of 2010 rolled around, Ruban Nielson had already removed himself from the unsettling clamor of the award-winning New Zealand punk outfit the Mint Chicks in order to live a quiet and unassuming life as a graphic designer with his wife and kids in Portland, Oregon.
Flash forward nearly three years and that quiet and unassuming and decidedly non-musical life that Nielson once hoped to cultivate couldn’t be further from the truth. After cautiously creating a Bandcamp page to display a track that he recorded in his basement under the mysterious banner of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the would-be nine-to-fiver has since transformed his personal project into a live power trio, released a stellar self-titled debut for Fat Possum Records, locked himself into a rigorous international touring schedule, and signed on to indie juggernaut Jagjaguwar for a hotly anticipated follow-up.
Now you’ve been through our extensive Essential Listening 2012 series, which includes all our top choices from a past twelve months of albums, gigs and tracks, here some of our frankly super talented band of writers pick out their own favourite album of 2012, each making a convincing argument for the selected records in the process.
2010’s ‘The Monitor‘ was a watershed moment for New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus, one that saw them take the blend of beer-soaked street punk and indie rock self-awareness from their 2008 debut and stretch it out to the size of a sold-out Springsteen stadium.
It was a bold, career-defining piece of work, dutifully respected in most circles and religiously revered in others, so much that it was an expected – accepted, even – fact that whatever these misfits cooked up next would inevitably pale in comparison to its predecessor.
So rather than attempt to outdo the bombast of ‘The Monitor’, they opted to simply undo it instead. Gone are the theatrical Civil War monologues, special guest appearances, and blustering bagpipe solos, and in their place is a leaner, relatively straight forward rock record in the form of ‘Local Business‘.
Huntington Beach at the turn of the century is a long way from Memphis at the tail end of the 1950’s, but you would never be able to tell by looking at Nick Waterhouse.
With his horn-rimmed frames, buttoned-up Brooks Brothers suit, and clean-cut crop, the 25 year-old southern California native has considerably less in common with the skate-punk slackerism of his own generation than he does with the scotch-&-water swank of his parents’. On stage at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles last Sunday night, Waterhouse continued to look every bit the part of vintage soulman.
Ever since their inception back in 2007, throwback specialists the Jim Jones Revue have continuously danced around that thin line between pulling inspiration from a bygone musical era and becoming a slave to said era’s own stylistic limitations.
Their 2008 self-titled debut and 2010’s ‘Burning Your House Down‘ each wore its influences on its rolled-up sleeves, almost to a fault. Mixing the distorted Raw Power riffage of the 70’s with the greasy Great Balls Of Fire piano rock of the 50’s proved to be a powerful combination, yet it was hard for one not to wonder whether the wild-eyed urgency they created on the first two records could carry itself across a third without feeling like a cheap gimmick.
So it isn’t exactly surprising that the London five-piece would directly address the one-trick-pony concerns on their next release, but what is surprising, however, is just how easily they have pummeled those concerns into dust. As a result, this year’s ‘The Savage Heart‘ is a darker, more revelatory affair; one that sees them expand their sound into several unknown avenues, all without losing the sweat and grit of the manic twelve-bar boogie that defined their previous efforts.
A good six years into their career, London-bred and Brooklyn-based rockers Alberta Cross have released only two proper studio albums, the second of which has just seen the light of day in the UK this month.
Not to say that the group hasn’t been busy –they’ve toured extensively alongside such heavyweights as Them Crooked Vultures, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Oasis, earned coveted festival spots at Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and churned out a small handful of EPs along the way.
Yet still it’s difficult to ignore the noticeable sense of departure that permeates ‘Songs Of Patience‘, the years-in-the-making follow up to their 2009 debut ‘Broken Side Of Time‘.
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