Cat SFX – Upside Down

On thunderous new single Upside Down, Cat SFX use an Echobelly via The Slits via L7 britpop, punk rock, grunge fusion vehicle to ponder whether it’s wise for a society constantly bombarded with demotivating images 24/7 through smartphone and tv news channels to turn to antidepressants as a first choice pick-me-up. Along with previous singles ‘All The Money In The World’, ‘Doom Generation’ and ‘Reunite’ Cat SFX are forcing pressing topics to the fore and giving them to the world wrapped in razor sharp spunky brilliance.

Fur – Anybody Else But Me

Anybody Else But Me is 60s psychedelic pop, early Beatles, rock’n’roll brought in a technicolour time warp to the 2020s. Replete with ba-ba-bas and hand claps the Brighton group have a knack for an upbeat melody and although the song is essentially about self-doubt it’ll still make you smile and stomp your feet. With a string of singles already behind them, their debut album When You Walk Away is out on 5th November 2021 and looks to be well worth checking out.

Landfill – Mutiny

Sometimes all you need to make surefire danceable rock’n’roll is guitars, drums and a frontman with an excitable yelp. Thankfully Landfill received the memo and made a band around it. Mutiny shoots and lands somewhere between Buzzcocks and Supergrass. Last year the 2000s alt scene was given the grim name of ‘indie landfill’, this Medway four piece turn the put-down on it’s head by attaching it to this solid indie banger. It’s definitely high time for a mutiny and they’re having a fine time instigating it!

Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament

No one expected this to happen. Well, to start with no one really expected Manic Street Preachers to still be in existence and making records thirty years after they initially promised to split up on making one culture-obliterating album, but also that on the release of their 14th studio album Manic Street Preachers would achieve a number 1 album for only the second time in their career. That’s exactly what transpired last week with The Ultra Vivid Lament, an album about grief, about political nomadism, about losing conviction. And as is regularly the case for latter day Manics, when the subject matter gets truly gritty and controversial the glitter is laid on thicker, the melodies made lighter, bordering on pure pop sheen.

The Ultra Vivid Lament can’t help be framed by current events – the aftermath of Brexit and it’s affect on UK politics, blurring the left and right wing divide, the isolation and boredom imposed by COVID-19 lockdown, the omnipresent nu-propaganda found in social media and personal events in the life of lyricist Nicky Wire – the sudden death of both of his parents. Deep and painful subject matter they decided to soundtrack with overt Abba influence and songs written chiefly on James Dean Bradfield’s late neighbour’s piano. The lyrical lamentation is strong, the melody is gleaming and more ultra vivid than they have ever been before.

The album is one of two halfs, part full throttle polished rock songs, part C-86 piano led indie that wouldn’t be out of place amongst Know Your Enemy’s experimental reaches. There is an icy, glacial quality holding it all together. Still Snowing In Sapporo is of the former kin and a heart tugger from the off. Much like Lifeblood’s first track 1985, it maps out good intention for the rest of the album. Discussing an image of the band as a four piece in Japan, 1993, before the horror of the Holy Bible era and Richey Edwards’ breakdown unravelled, accepting the tragic loss of their missing friend and all the wide-eyed optimism they fizzed with in the early years, yet in the refrain “it couldn’t last without the hurt” admitting that loss as the bedrock of their success. They have written about Richey Edwards before but this song feels like they’re grieving all over again.

When promo began for The Ultra Vivid Lament Orwellian was the first song the band discussed, comparing it to If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next and it certainly exists in the same soundscape. Wide, expansive and drenched in echo, the haunting anthem tries to pick apart the confusing fuckery happening in the public arena, how delicate living memory is and how easily history can be rewritten. For the first time on the album the piano comes right to the forefront with Bradfield still managing to fit one of his mighty guitar solos in before the end.

A clear radio ready standout single featuring Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming in full chanteuse mode, The Secret He Had Missed looks at the lives of sibling welsh artists Augustus and Gwen John and the polar opposite lives they lead. Quest For Ancient Colour looks at uncertainty, delving into personal and world history to try and recover some design for life and coming up with nothing but more confusion.

The latter half of the record is soft and breezy feathered with piano and acoustic guitar, like much 80s lo-fi indie – McCarthy or The June Brides. Yet in places the words are the most firey and revolutionary of their entire stockpile. In Don’t Let The Night Divide Us they demand the listener “Reject all propaganda”, that “Vengeance will be yours and mine”, “This is a warning, not a prayer”, aiming their ire directly at the elite, as they did on the brilliant 30 Year War from Rewind The Film “Don’t let those boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten”, focussing on the universal promise of dawn always arriving after a long cold night.

On Diapause James Dean Bradfield’s voice becomes an apparition amid a sparse, piano led landscape of grief and shouting at an empty sky. Complicated Illusions would sit easily on Everything Must Go if it wasn’t for all the magnificent synths.

Into The Waves Of Love is the least Manics song the band have created. Musically it is fey and the words read as a rejection of all the band previously held central to their philosophy of culture, alienation, boredom and despair, being left with nothing to do but throw themselves into the ebbing and flowing tides of love. If to prove how much of a departure the song is, a soul singer takes us through to the final chorus. Blank Diary Entry includes the vocals of Mark Lanegan, sounding like Johnny Cash on his cover of Hurt and is the most rootsy number on the album, creating gold from the idea of running out of inspiration.

With the words “I saw the smile of a dying hero, I saw the tears of a love that’s leaving”, Happy Bored Alone further explores grief and the resignation someone feels when a loved one has gone and the griever has found peace with the loss. Afterending considers COVID-19, clapping for the NHS, the fall of EU flags and the knocking down of slave owners statues, living through a revolutionary time of change and having no idea if what comes next will be positive, the final notes playing deceptively out like a sing along on a sinking ship.

On Gold Against The Soul b-side Donkeys the Manics sang “Put some lipstick on, at least your lies will be pretty”. The Welsh three piece have gone on to keep a similar ethos in mind throughout their entire career and on The Ultra Vivid Lament it is especially evident – the uglier and more difficult the message, the more gorgeous, shimmering and lipstick covered the pop song needs to be. The fact that this is their most shimmering album yet screams volumes about the message behind it.

Snail Mail – Valentine

Behind the moniker, Snail Mail is 22 year old Maryland, USA singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan. Brand new single Valentine breaks a two year silence after the indie sensation’s debut album Lush landed inside our earholes and is every bit as good. Jordan’s velvety voice spins a tale of doomed love. The melody grows rocky and the drums bash as the singer laments being erased by her lost valentine. As acceptance kicks in, the mood grows dejected as Jordan leaves us lingering on her hopeless adoration for the song’s protagonist after compromising herself for them. Your heart won’t be able to help panging for her a bit.

For fans of: Phoebe Bridger, Julien Baker, Clairo.

Spector – No One Knows Better

In the early 2000s Supergrass released a line of badges that boasted they were “Your second favourite band”. Twenty years on and Spector could probably proudly boast of holding the same space in every indie music fanatic’s heart. Leading up to the release of third album ‘Now or Whenever’ the acerbic London four piece have dispatched a bombardment of vital sounding new singles and No One Knows Better is the latest.

Frontman Fred Macpherson is a tragically underrated lyricist, a fact loudly on display in our current listening material as he bemoans the slow and indecisive death of a relationship – said partner hating how he leaves the corners bent in a coffee table book about illegal raves and left him staring disinterestedly at his unshaven reflection in the vicinity of Jim Morrison’s grave.

This single is on the pensive, reflective side of Spector’s repertoire, keeping a low and slow tempo, until the bridge arrives and the song lifts with Macpherson delivering the bruising couplet “Every time you say that you shouldn’t stay I’m shaking/ But the song that plays as you drive away is amazing”. Bring on the album’s release date, 1st October!

Kipper Gillespie – K (Be Funny) EP

Irish boy in London Kipper Gillespie’s five track debut EP K (Be Funny) is a sparkling, lo-fi strut of an EP, released on Big Richard Records.

Recent single How’s She Cuttin’ sounds like a lazy, blissed out Mac Demarco, tuneful bouncy guitar under Kipper’s sleepy vocal. Beware Of The Man is a 21st century clash of The Velvet Underground’s Waiting For The Man and Pixies Here Comes Your Man. Three’s A Charm borrows from 90s jangly garage indie, as Bad Habits is a spoken word contemplation of the devil making work for idle hands over a light twinkling six-string strum. Feels Like 54 plays the EP out with an early Weezer feel complete with oversized shirt and baggy trousers.

Kipper Gillespie sounds like an exciting artist to keep an ear out for. We’ll definitely be keeping tabs on him here.

Peter Doherty & Jack Jones of Trampolene- Sin City, Swansea – 18/09/2021

Tonight’s gig is a homecoming gig for Swansea’s own Jack Jones. Looking happy to be on his own turf, adorned in trademark green Fila tracksuit jacket, later joined by a Swansea football shirt torpedoed onto the stage by an enthusiastic audience member, the Trampolene frontman treats us to a choice group of songs and verse from the band’s career so far.

The set is opened with a recitation of poem Ketamine from local Trampolene follower and poet Steff Scar, and an introduction from the head of Trampolene’s new record label Strap Originals, Peter Doherty himself. We’re then treated to a clutch of songs that range from a touching rendition of The Gangway, which Jack announces is about a street just up the road from the venue, Lighter Than Paper, a song, he tells, inspired by Esther Rantzen’s love and grief for her late husband, the fierce crowd participation of Ketamine, Alcohol Kiss, and Poundland, before which Jones exclaims how perfect it is that through COVID and the closure of Topshop and BHS, his favourite Great British discount store Poundland has remained stoic and strong.

All performed like a hero with a broken foot in a plaster cast.

Peter Doherty’s set also feels celebratory. A set list free, off the cuff trip through his entire career, the evening takes in songs from The Libertines, Babyshambles, solo work and Puta Madres. Without backing musicians for most of the show, Doherty stands by himself, centre stage with his guitar, appearing relaxed in a suit, flat cap, lace-less brown shoes and a Who’s Been Having You Over? t-shirt, confident in the catalogue of tunes he has spent twenty years building.

Opening with Libertines singalong favourite What Katy Did, part of the evening focusses on lesser outed songs like For Lovers, this blog’s namesake Arcady, Oscar Wilde inspired Salome and Brighton Rock alluding I Love You (But You’re Green), as factions of hardcore fans sing along to every single word. Unbilotitled and Back From The Dead feel particularly stark and poignant whilst Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven sees Doherty belting out the lyrics at full volume, almost begging those “religious fanatics with a military mind” not to go down that route, later offering The Ha Ha Wall as a more positive life option. Time For Heroes, Can’t Stand Me Now and Delivery feel triumphant, with the crowd singing so loud, at times threatening to overwhelm the singer’s own voice. We’re treated to an anonymous new song, an early version of which received an outing on last year’s Libertines lockdown live stream.

During the final segment of the set, Peter is joined by girlfriend Katia deVidas on keyboard for You’re My Waterloo, at times the frontman glances back to his partner with what can only be taken as a look of pride, contentment and love.

The pair welcome their roadie onto the stage to stand in for Carl Barat during the song’s guitar solo. DeVidas remains on keyboards and at takes the lead on harmonica for Babyshambles highlight Albion.

The set closes with a semi Puta Madres reunion as Jack Jones joins Katia and Peter for a joyfully tear-inducing version of the song he penned for the band, Paradise Is Under Your Nose and lastly Somewhere Else To Be – the Ride Into The Sun/Don’t Look Back In Anger medley, with lyrics tinkered for Swansea to become “Ride into the Mumbles sun”. As Peter belts out the Velvet Underground words “I’m looking for another chance, of someone else to be”, in this current post-lockdown mood of hope, positivity, happiness and jubilation it seems like he may now finally be given that chance.

Lauran Hibberd – Goober EP

The Goober EP is a FUN record! Bleugh is sarcastic bubblegum punk with an English accent and dumb guitar riffs. In it, Hibberd casually tears apart a disinterested lad from the skatepark she dated for a bit and then dumped. Old Nudes is a bit more quirky pop than punk, this time with Lauran sticking a knife into the front of some boy obsessed with an old dodgy pic of her. How Am I Still Alive? is slacker rock, like Karen O singing Weezer. Boy Bye is a female Blink 182 in contemplative mood, imagining fondly hanging an ex-boyfriend from a chandelier before kissing him goodnight. Crush is a wall of sun kissed heavy fuzz about ending a relationship before it falls apart. You Never Looked So Cool is a wistful California acoustic reminiscence that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Best Coast record. Fun, like rollerblading around the park with your mates on a Friday evening fun. (I can’t rollerblade and don’t have any mates who can either but if I did I reckon that’s what it’d be like).

Drool, The Young, Ocean Flaws, Lyena – This Feeling, Kings Cross Water Rats, London – 10/09/2021

You join us on a hot and sweaty Friday night at Kings Cross Water Rats in late summer for, what is for many attendees and performers, the first live gig after COVID-19 lockdown. There is what could be a faint sense of caution in the air with groups of people and couples dotted around the venue and adjoining bar trying to ease themselves back into a sense of normality while keeping a careful social distance. It is onto this stage that the bands playing tonight find themselves walking. Everyone wants to enjoy themselves but they may take a little coaxing.

The support bands have a great go at doing just that. Lyena are an energetic post-punky three piece who get the room of early arrivals heaving from the get-go. They extend a warning to the rest of the bands that it’s very, very hot on the stage but after a back-of-the-hand wipe of the forehead they swelter on through.

The crowd thins out for Ocean Flaws but having come armed with bags of melody, like early Keane or U2 with a sprinkling of Pet Shop Boys, they get the room bouncing again in no time, treating us to a set including latest single Hologram, which is worth a listen.

The Young have brought a bus full of fans with them and their polished hooks and commanding front man keep the crowd going up until the headline act.

Drool get straight into Playground Wars, arguably their biggest song yet, making the crowd jump from the get-go. Singer Joey slinks and stalks effortlessly about the stage, hanging from the microphone as they storm through Dumb Chat but eventually technical difficulties rear their head and proceedings come to a brief halt. The first show back was never going to go perfectly smoothly. After all the cables are plugged back in the right place the show truly seems to start and the lads hit their stride.

The latter half of the set features two brand new inclusions, currently titled Teenage Skin and Radio. The latter is short, sharp and we are prophetically informed will “get your ankles going”. Debut single Fun becomes a celebration of guitarist Louis’s birthday and he repays our rendition of Happy Birthday with a version of the song at it’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aping finest.

A heart rending performance of Lizard is given as a worthy tribute to bassist Charlie’s cousin Abbie Louise who recently passed away from cancer.

Final song, Junkyard, kicks things up to a classic rock high with Joey exploring his finest Jeff Buckley-esque vocals. There’s a brief false ending after which the tune descends into Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ as strobe lights thrash about the room. All that’s left is for Drool to triumphantly leave Water Rats knowing they’ve banished the boredom of lockdown safely from the heads of a venue full of very happy fans, at least for tonight.