Music of 2011, part three

6th November 2011 – 3.50 pm

After my previous collection of new music I felt a bit disappointed, and perhaps a little downhearted about my continuing search for good music. As it turns out, there is still plenty to be discovered, as long as I look in the right places. My third collection of mini-reviews of music I've bought this year finds me pretty happy.

I was more of an Amiga person in my teens, but new album Is This Hyperreal? by reformed Atari Teenage Riot gets my attention with a positive review in the NME. The machine-gun beats that open the album, in the single Activate, set the tone for a relentlessly angry and political album. There is penty to be angry about in contemporary society, all of which is elucidated well enough through the vocals and uncompromising music. The album's not an easy listen but it is engaging and worth investigating.

She Keeps Bees is another of my continuing attempts to find compelling music fronted by gorgeous female vocals. Having bees in the name of the band surely must be a positive sign, and debut album Dig On starts well enough. Saturn Return opens with some pleasant vocals backed only by a lightly strummed guitar, soon developing in to a dramatic burst of slow energy that eventually gives way to the more conventional-sounding and still thoroughly appealing second track Found You Out. The rather slow-paced songs continue throughout the album, emphasis created more by volume than tempo, which suits the gentle mix of guitar and drums and lets the vocals rest on top of the music. Most songs may be under three minutes in length, but this just means that each slice of mellow pop comes along sooner and keeps the rhythmic variety flowing. Dig On is just what I have been looking for.

Oh dear. I see some hints that Little Dragon, despite being Swedish, may be well-known and popular here. Hints like Ritual Union being their third album and not a debut, that they are playing an established venue with tickets not being bargain-priced, and they turn up on Later.... I fear that finding out about this lack of obscurity only after buying the album sounds the death-knell for my enjoying it, but even after listening to it with an artificially jaded ear I cannot help but like the electro-pop on offer, particularly on songs like the swinging Shuffle a Dream. It is jaunty, catchy, and the lead vocals are delicately pleasing. Everything seems understated and relaxed, calming even, despite having obvious pop overtones.

Love Inks have a great name, which is too often enough of a reason to pick up a debut album. So it is that I buy E.S.P. I am a little taken aback by the use of a drum machine, but I am not averse to a bit of electronica and once I listen past it to the melodies and vocals I am more than happy to relax and accept it as part of the sound, easily done when confronted by the gorgeous Leather Glove. The vocals are dreamy, guitars are suitably understated, and the songs catchy and tuneful. And just when you think everything may possibly be sounding a little too similar Love Inks pull out Rock On, somehow retaining all the familiar elements yet shifting the feel noticeably. Most songs are under three minutes long, the whole album coming in under twenty-seven minutes, but that simply makes each one a small gem that gets better with each listen. I'm really happy having bought the completely adorable E.S.P. It's almost as if I could sense I would be beforehand.

Razika are another Scandinavian band but, unlike Little Dragon, are not yet established, Program 91 being their debut album. This makes me more comfortable listening to the band, without the pressure of popularity showing its rather-too-conforming face. Straight away the pop of opening track Youth bounces along breezily, ska-influenced beats topped by vocal do-do-dos. Even when the lyrics are in Norwegian, first heard in third track Vondt I Hjertet and continued throughout the album, the enjoyment of the songs is not lessened by not understanding what's being said, although I more think I am listening to Gorky's Zygotic Mynki than a Norwegian band. Program 91 is full of good pop music, topped by a super voice, and containing enough variety within their basic sound to be a wonderful listen from start to end.

Uh oh. I buy Lights Out, debut album from Big Deal, on the strength of the review in the NME but a label on the cover of the CD has an endorsement by a major newspaper. That doesn't mean anything in itself, I suppose, even if I tend to avoid the mainstream as being mostly bland, and the lead guitar growling over the top of an acoustic guitar is a promising start to the album. The vocals are great too, the duo's voices complementing each other nicely, and it all combines well in to some enjoyable songs, if a little melancholy by design. But it seems there is only so much you can do with two voices and two guitars, which seems odd when Slow Club create so much more with sometimes less. Songs blend with each other along the length of the album, the band's sound itself not quite enough to distinguish them all clearly, but they each track is certainly good in isolation. Lights Out is a fair album and, even if the songs get a little repetitive by the end, Big Deal are a promising band.

Slow Club return with their second album Paradise, and it is a different breed to their debut. Where the first album was twee and intimate Paradise has matured and reaches out to a bigger audience, easily seen by the way that first track and single Two Cousins has successfully wormed its way in to my head after a few listens, making me come back for more. Slow Club still features primarily Charles on guitar and Rebecca on drums, and there are some reminders of where they came from in tracks like, poetically enough, Never Look Back, but even the stripped-down feel of these tracks have a more complex overall structure in the music and vocals. It is a stronger sound, less whimsical, and one that works very well once accepted. And it's good to see how Gold Mountain fits in to the Slow Club oeuvre, having stood out before in the live set as being different it can now be seen to bridge the old and new. Paradise is a great evolution of Slow Club.

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