The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Aufheben
With a back catalogue as extensive as R.E.M., The Brian Jonestown Massacre (named from the former Rolling Stone and location of a mass cult suicide) is the lifeblood of Anton Newcombe. The band has always been an underground group of musicians, varying over the years and living through more line-up changes than an ageing Motown group. New album Aufheben is an eclectic mix of alt-rock stretching from Eastern-rhythms (opener Panic in Babylon, folky Face Down On The Moon and Paint It Black inspired Spiritualized-esque Stairway To The Best Party) to vibrant stomp (Walking Up To Hand Grenades, Seven Kinds Of Wonderful and the gorgeous messy closer Blue Order New Monday). In between is the cool Franco-pop of Illuminomi and Viholliseni Maalla, and the equally sparkling duo of I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand and Clouds Are Lies. Another truly intriguing and complicated album from a band who consistently complicate and intrigue.
Top Tracks: Seven Kinds Of Wonderful, Blue Order New Monday and I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Crown and Treaty
This is the third album from Sweet Billy Pilgrim and follow-up to the 2009 Mercury Prize nominated Twice Born Men (the year Speech Debelle won and Bat For Lashes should of...). Crown And Treaty is just as good with vocalist Tim Elsenburg on top form. Opener Joyful Reunion sets the immediate dramatic tone, Blakefield Gold slows things down with gorgeous guitars and production and Blood Is Big Expense is the obvious highlight with Arrived At Upside Down the curious centre-piece. In the second half the massive Brugada adds sublime arrangements and pop stylings, Shadow Captain gives singer Jana Carpenter more of a lead role, and the eight and a half minute closer Blue Sky Falls unfolds like a Sigur Ros anthem.
Top Tracks: Blood Is Big Expense, Brugada and Arrived At Upside Down.
Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People
It's been a while for Garbage but now Shirley Manson and Butch Vig are back with a new album, seven years after the disappointing Bleed Like Me. First impressions of Not Your Kind Of People are good - the production is typically slick, the songs catchy and punchy, and Manson is in feisty mood. Automatic Systematic Habit is part Abba, part Madonna while Big Bright World blends quiet start with noisy finish, and Blood For Poppies is a cool single. But this borders on an 'old' band trying to sound young. The big meaningful 'ballad' Control sounds like they never went away and the odd title track tries something similar but descends into self-congratulatory repetition. The slickness often distracts from the music but Felt gets it spot on - it's a bit of new but a lot of old. Sadly the second half of Not Your Kind Of People is lacking ideas and inspiration. Battle In Me puts up a fight (pun intended) but Man On A Wire is a hopeless last resort. Closer Beloved Freak is a brave attempt to salvage a weak finish. This could have been a brilliant return but ends up going through the motions somewhat.
Top Tracks: Control, Felt and Blood For Poppies.
Ren Harvieu - Through The Night
Oh what might have been. Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu, who is lucky to be here after breaking her back and learning to walk again, has released a promising, if old-fashioned, début Through The Night. The title track is easily the best song on the album with Dave McCabe's (Zutons) opener Open Up Your Arms a close second, but elsewhere it's a mixed average bag. With songs penned by Howie Payne, Ed Harcourt and Jimmy Hogarth, this is something of a 60s revival. Harvieu's wonderful clear precise voice lifts a bunch of ordinary mid-tempo pop tunes: Do Right By Me, Forever In Blue and Holding On work beautifully but the rest are out-of-date (Tonight and Walking In The Rain would be rejected by Tom Jones these days) or over-the-top (Summer Romance). Harcourt delivers a classic in Love Is A Melody for the spirited finish. So a mixed bag for the débutante who can hopefully reach her potential with a better, more modern, more meaningful collection of songs.
Top Tracks: Through The Night, Open Up Your Arms and Love Is A Melody.
Keane - Strangeland
We all like bands to try something new once in a while, but if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Keane are one of those bands who, ever since their impressive début Hopes And Fears - and subsequent follow-up Under The Iron Sea, have written and delivered terrific pop songs. Strangeland is exactly what you would expect. From the shiny hopeful piano-driven You Are Young, to the 'old-yet-good Coldplay' single Silenced By The Night, to the brilliantly evocative On The Road and the Olympics-inspired The Starting Line (if it isn't used by the BBC to accompany shots of athletes in joy/pain/tears, I want my license fee back - Ed), this is always predicable but often great. The big ballads arrive in the second half: Black Rain followed by Neon River then the anthemic In Your Own Time and soft dramatic Sea Fog. This is a much-expected yet entirely justified and proficient return for Keane.
Top Tracks: The Starting Line, Silenced By The Night and On The Road.