When it comes to new sounds, the indie genre is surely bubbling with innovation. If heavy metal, thrash, punk and rap-rock largely stick to a specific formula, musicians creating ‘non-metal-modern rock’ often blend influences as diverse as psychedelic, progressive, folk, electronica and symphonic music to create their own unique sound.
While both, the US and the UK, have led the way for the alternative scene, 2012 has arguably belonged to the British. though the Americans have produced gems like Some Nights by Fun and Blunderbuss by Jack White (read our review here).
Here, we take a look at five such albums released this year by older acts as well as debutants. None of these albums have achieved whopping commercial success, but the quality of their music is unmatched. What’s remarkable is that all of them sound totally different, and despite some obvious influences, have a style of their own.
In no specific order, you could check out
Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
The Sheffield-born singer-songwriter-guitarist has been on the scene for a decade now. He’s had a following of his own, mainly for the rich timbre of his voice. While earlier albums like Coles Corner and Truelove’s Gutter boasted of brooding ballads straight out of the Frank Sinatra and Roy Orbison style sheets, his latest venture is a trippy diversification into space rock territory.
Wailing distortion-filled psychedelic guitars and effortless rock-friendly vocals characterize this nine-song effort. The opener ‘She Brings the Sunlight’ begins with Indian-styled strings but soon settles into screaming riffs. The title track, which begins with the lines ‘Joseph was a good man though he killed his wife,’ sees Hawley in prime vocal form. Every other track is a gem, but personal favourites are ‘Down in the Woods’, which has traces of Jesus & Mary Chain, and the mellowed-down, moody ‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Alt-J was somewhat rejected by the media till it won the coveted Mercury Prize last week. This Brit indie-pop quartet combines the individual talents of guitarist/ bassist Gwil Sainsbury, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green to create a heady mix, but it is vocalist Joe Newman’s distinct vocals that gives the sound an edge.
The sound is a smooth cocktail of elements ranging from alternative pop, hip-hop, trip-hop, folk and synthesizer-driven rock. The instant charmer here is ‘Breezeblocks’, with its infectious vocals, strong bassline and neat choruses. Other stand-out tracks include ‘Tesselate’ with its electronica flavour, ‘Something Good’ with its consistent drum beat and groovy synths, and ‘Taro’ which has incredible vocals and melodic orchestrations at the end.
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Fronted by Jason Pierce, Warwickshire outfit Spiritualized isn’t new in the business. In fact, it has been around since the early 90s, and ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ is its seventh studio album, coming after acclaimed efforts like 1997’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ and 2001’s ‘Let It Come Down’.
The group’s sound is characterized by repeated vocal lines and choruses set against neo-psychedelic sonic structures. The new album has a very offbeat cover which just says ‘Huh?’ because the album was originally supposed to be called that. The highlight is the nine-minute ‘Hey Jane’, also known for its provocative and ultra-violent video revolving around a transvestite. ‘Little Girl’ slows down the tempo, with philosophical lines like ‘Sometimes I wish that I was dead, ‘cause only living can feel the pain; sometimes I wish that I could fly; you get so grounded that life will pass you by.’ One of Spiritualized’s biggest strengths is its lyrics. Aided by a versatile set of songs, they have a winner here.
Django Django – Self-titled album
The psychedelic quartet, which met at art school in Edinburgh, has recently released its self-titled debut. It won a Mercury Prize nomination, but lost out to Alt-J. Consisting of drummer-producer David Maclean, singer-guitarist Vincent Neff, bassist Jimmy Dixon and synth-man Tommy Grace, the band relies on vibrant drumming and spacey synthesisers, aided by melodic and charming vocals. Some of the numbers have a dance feel too, broadening their appeal. If you’re looking at influences, you’ll find a bit of Kraftwerk electronic pop and the Beach Boys’ surf-rock here mixed with a contemporary club feel.
Adrenalin-filled tracks like ‘Waveforms’ and ‘Default’ were popular even before the album was released in January; all13 tracks have their own certain vibrancy. ‘Zumm Zumm’ begins with the lines ‘Got to get to know… know you’ against strong synthesizers and rhythms, and ‘Wor’ kicks off with a wailing siren against a thumping drum ‘n’ bass line. ‘Life is a Beach’ has an incredible guitar line and snazzy vocals. ‘Firewater’ has a stunning bass backdrop, and vocalist Neff is on great form on ‘Storm’ and ‘Hail Bop’. Finally, the Middle Eastern ambience ‘Skies Over Cairo’ is something to die for – the kind of stuff you can play all day.
Muse – The 2nd Law
What an album, really! Devon-based Muse is another band which has been on the scene for a while, earlier impressing on the album Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance. Their latest, The 2nd Law again sees them at their versatile best, blending alternative rock, space rock, progressive-metal, electronica and even strains of symphonic music.
Matthew Bellamy is simply outstanding on vocals, guitars and keyboards-synthesizers, and he’s ably assisted by bassist Christopher Walsteinholme and drummer Dominic Howard. The rhythmic ‘Supremacy’, the freaky ‘Madness’ and the marvelously constructed and chorus-heavy ‘Survivors’ are among the highlights. The two-part epic ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’ and ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System’ boast of incredible keyboards and conversational dialogues. The picks of the lot are ‘Animals’, with its tuneful guitar-drum interaction, and ‘Explorers’, with its outstanding vocals and Beatles-ish influence. They are just among the best songs created this year, proving Muse is here to stay.
All five bands are worth checking out. Press play!
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