Photo by PurpleYam Productions
Though there are elements of both sides at work within most bands, I generally find that most alternative rock acts either veer towards raw, visceral aggression or soaring, majestic melodies. If like me you tend to favour the latter, then the debut EP Eyes Beyond Reflection from Stoke-on-Trent quartet In The Cards is hands down the best example you’re going to find this year. These tracks carry enough ferocity to get that addictive adrenaline flowing, but they never let their passion get in the way of crafting great hooks and exploring more musically intricate passages. ‘Maze’ features a fittingly elaborate breakdown, while ‘Beautiful Silence’ shows the band’s fiery side with its driving rhythm. Lead single ‘The Only Thing’ offers some of the biggest hooks of the EP, while ‘Hollow Hearts’ showcases some fantastic musicianship with the gentle opening guitar and the wonderfully expressive and dramatic drums providing some of the most enticing instrumental work. It’s ‘Careful Eyes’ though that stands out as the highlight here. The true magic of Eyes Beyond Reflection lies in Amy Colclough’s soaring vocals, and it’s on this track that they’re at their most arresting. In The Cards have shown that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeves, and you’ll be sure to see this EP make an appearance in my end-of-year list.
Fans of Dream State, Mallory Knox, Greywind and 30 Seconds To Mars should check out In The Cards debut EP Eyes Beyond Reflection out now.
With Venice being regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and having been a centre for art and culture for centuries, naturally it’s safe to assume that in growing up there some of that magic will rub off on you. Italian singer/songwriter Jacapo Rosetto, performing under his stage name IAKO, has released a collection of songs every bit as grand, elegant and impressive as the classical architecture of his native city. His debut EP Queen of Balance offers refined piano and soaring falsettos and stands out as one of the best EPs of the year. ‘Paint’ opens with a delicate folk sound akin to Bon Iver before expanding into a bittersweet choral sound, while ‘Bloodbath’ is all about the build as its mighty crescendo comes crashing down upon you. Vocally the title track bares some similarity to Sam Smith, ‘Stones’ carries a hint of vaudevillian drama, while the highlight ‘Vanishing Point’ takes a more upbeat approach, complete with some fantastic bass tones, that ends up reminding me a little of Five For Fighting. Showcasing a rich and varied array of musical talents, this debut release from IAKO offers a finely crafted and memorable first impression.
Fans of Bon Iver, Five For Fighting, James Vincent McMorrow and Rufus Wainwright should check out IAKO’s debut EP Queen of Balance.
On paper I shouldn’t like NeoRomantics’ new EP, but in reality this quartet from Tulsa, Oklahoma have proven to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. Though it has plenty of roots in contemporary indie, Homecoming also draws a lot of influence from noughties emo. I missed that phase growing up, and as such the music has never held any power over me, I’ve never felt a connection with it. In NeoRomantics I have finally found some understanding. Any band can pull together all the things you like and make a song you’d enjoy, not many bands can make you see music you never liked before in a new light.
The dreamy intro of ‘Gold Plated’ eases you into the release as though you’re drifting in on the back of a cloud, before launching into vocals both melodic and passionate. ‘Concentrated’ injects some energy with its emphatic drums and anthemic chorus, while ‘From Ella’s’ shows great light and shade between the dark guitar and bass interplay and the bright infectious melodies. The aptly titled ‘Issues’ sees the band at their lyrical best as they channel a mix of teen angst and more adult introspection, before a cathartic climax rounds off the record. Expressive and eclectic, poignant and polished, NeoRomantics are ones to watch and may be future trendsetter material.
Emo kids looking for a fresh fix, or indie fans looking to spread their horizons, should check out NeoRomantics’ new EP Homecoming out now.
I can’t remember the last time I stumbled across an EP as good as the debut release from this Oslo-based trio… if ever? With Distant Star, Spielbergs have captured more brilliance in just five tracks than many bands could manage across five whole albums. There’s a curious conflict at work here. This is a release that has emerged fully formed, all the insecurities that new bands usually face seem to have been cast aside, as they offer up nothing but the best for that all important first impression. Yet at the same time, you have a sense of where there’s room to grow, of how this stunning first release is just the steadfast foundation for something even greater.
The cheerfully titled ‘We Are All Going To Die’ is utterly relentless with its machine gun percussion, while the effervescent ‘Daisy! It’s the New Me’ bounds around with all the energy of a rabbit on a can of Red Bull. The expansive eight minute ‘Ghost Boy’ showcases the band’s more expressive and experimental side, while the calming closing track ‘Setting Sun’ feels like a more mature and heartfelt new direction. It’s the title track however that stands as the highlight. Capturing that universal desire of youth to break free with its sublime bass lines and spirited riffs, before concluding with retro 80s synths bursting straight out of the soundtrack to a John Hughes film. This feels like the start of something special.
Fans of Pixies, Titus Andronicus, Sonic Youth, Beach Slang and Black Foxxes should check out Spielbergs new EP Distant Star.
Americana is a curious one. It’s a difficult genre to put into words, yet you know it instantly when you hear it, as though it’s naturally ingrained in your spirit. Even more curious is the fact that much of the best Americana doesn’t even come from the states, it’s something you find the world over. Stray just over the border into Canada for instance and you’ll find incredible artists like Delta Jackson who offer heartwarming heartland vibes that are up there with the best of them. The wanderlust inducing ‘Willin’ sounds like it was pulled straight from The Last Waltz, while ‘Rise & Fall’ showcases the timeless beauty of Delta’s voice. The chilled out ‘Gimme One More’ is like the soundtrack to a summer daydream, ‘Blue Ink’ recalls the likes of Joni Mitchell, while ‘It Comes Down’ offers a more contemporary twist in the vein of Ryan Adams. Songs like this, that capture the Americana sound so keenly, have an ageless feel. They could have been big hits 40 years ago, and 40 years from now they will be just as potent and heartwarming as they ever were.
Delta Jackson’s eponymous debut EP is out now and is perfect for fans of Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Ryan Adams and Neil Young.
“What’s a man, anyway?” The question posed, and in some ways answered, by the new release from Minneapolis-based artist Andy Cook. Steeped in all the heartwarming hallmarks of classic Americana, and adorned with hints of 60s psychedelica and 90s dream pop, the EP provides an attentive yet accessible look into the human condition. It’s easy to make music about the dark underbelly of our new digital world and how it divides us, it’s much harder to look past all those distractions and focus on the things that we have in common and make us who we are; here, Cook manages both. The wanderlust inducing ‘Swirl’ whirls by like a summer breeze, ‘Red Lights’ boasts bright riffs and expressive drums, while the melancholy verses of ‘Run’ remind me of Isaac Gracie. The lumbering, other-worldly bass tones of ‘Nothing Changes’ really stand out, while the soft beat and soothing steel guitar of ‘Places We’ll Go’ just makes you want to lie back and watch the world roll by. With this new release you can either delve into the meaning behind it all, or retreat into yourself, the choice is yours.
Fans of The War On Drugs, Angel Olsen and Kurt Vile should check out Andy Cook’s new EP Modern Man out 13th April.
I can be rather selective when it comes to instrumental music. It needs to feel complete, as though adding vocals into the mix would take something away rather than add in something that feels missing. There are two ways to do this: the first is to pack in so much complex and unique instrumentation that there’s just no room left for vocals, the second is to make something so calming and chilled out that vocals would just disturb the delicate atmosphere. Flicker Rate, aka Irish multi-instrumentalist Spencer Bassett, somehow manages to achieve both of these sounds at once with his third and final EP Skylight. It makes for the perfect background music, but under closer scrutiny all the fantastic little details become clear as day. The title track shows his work at its most mellow and melodic, ‘Shimmer’ factors in electronic elements, and while the guitar generally takes centre stage there’a a lot to be said for captivating drum work on ‘Cloud Drop’.
Fans of Plini, Polyphia, Anathema and Intervals should check out Flicker Rate’s latest EP Skylight.
If there was any music trend that particularly stood out for me in 2017 it was that of members from established bands branching out and releasing solo work every bit as engaging, and sometimes even more so, than their previous work within the band. The debut release from Lokki seems a sure sign of that trend continuing well into 2018. This new project from Drew McFarlane of Glass Animals fame sees him exploring new horizons with the debut EP Cirrhi. The title track has a mystical feel to it, and you can just imagine the tune being carried through a forest on the mist, daring you to delve deeper. The timeless elegance of ‘Breathe A Breath Of Me’ has a few hints of The Beatles and is fleshed out beautifully by the addition of a choir, and the sweet and simple style of ‘I Catch You’ is reminiscent of the golden age of singer/songwriters, recalling the likes of James Taylor and Carole King. The androgynous inflections found in closing track ‘The Night’ really serves to showcase Drew’s range and versatility, and supplements his piano work with a smooth swell of strings. Even down to the artwork, everything points to Lokki being a project that is here to delight us for a long while to come.
Fans of Sampha, The Last Dinosaur, Flyte and London Grammar should check out Lokki’s debut EP Cirrhi
Great things rarely happen all at once, often it’s down to a multitude of little inconsequential factors that gather over time and end up knitting together perfectly. TALMA’s music grabs you in much the same way, all those little elements gel together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. With their second EP Out To Sea, this London based outfit offer a mature and elegant sound. ‘In Circles’ dabbles just enough in both retro and futuristic sounds to create a timeless feel, the bright dancing guitar tones on ‘Starless Skies’ imbue a sense of childlike innocence and nostalgia, while the hook heavy ‘Lifeline’ feels like a blend of Joy Division and Spandau Ballet with its pulsing post punk rhythms and soaring new wave vocals. It’s on the title track however where everything really comes together. The guitars wind a path through bluesy licks and indie riffs to reach a majestic climax, the bass line carries the very lifeblood of the song, and Henry Adams’ exceptional crooning vocals somehow steal the spotlight even more than usual. These artful alt rockers stand on the precipice of greatness with their refined and debonair approach.
TALMA’s new EP Out To Sea is out 23rd February and is ideal for fans of The National, Marlon Williams, The Smiths and Isaac Gracie
Great art need not come in the form of some grand sweeping gesture. Sometimes the most humble and unassuming creations can have the most profound effect on us, providing that they come from the heart. In the case of Cameron Jones, he just seems to radiate beautiful melodies as though with all the effortless ease of breathing. Crafting mature and refined songs that exude elegance and encompass you like the morning mist, and with a voice as pure as some faultless crystal, Cameron is one of the most gifted new singer/songwriters on the scene. ‘Let Me In’ builds up layers of atmospheric synths, dreamy guitar tones and expressive percussion to form a chilled out indie vibe reminiscent of The Paper Kites. The driving beat and simple yet illuminating riffs of ‘Love You Save Me’ pull you in deeper and deeper as the song progresses, while the stripped back piano balladry of ‘Warning’ gives Cameron’s vocals a chance to shine. Cameron Jones is yet to disappoint, and should that continue then we may have something deeply special from him in the near future.
Fans of Holy Holy, Lorne, The Paper Kites and Meadowlark should check out his latest EP Warning.