It’s one of those days where I’ve been listening to bits and pieces of new music but nothing’s really jumping out at me as the subject of a major post. “So,” thought I, “why don’t I write a little bit about each one?” And here we are.
I was a little suspicious of Smith Westerns at first. They claim to be influenced primarily by ’70s glam rock but they peddle just the kind of fuzzed-out retro garage beloved by Black Lips. Add to to that the kind of purposefully badly recorded vocals that have really never done anything for me and we have the makings of a forgettable band. But on listening closer, the glam influences come through, not in the instrumentation but in their approach to songcraft. There’s a sense of disinterested cool that slows the songs down but a need to play the guitars as loud as possible and it’s in those moments of sheer abandon that this sounds less like a group of kids wanting to sound like their contemporaries and more like a band who play exactly how they want to – just as Marc Bolan did all those years ago. This is shambling, kick-drum heavy rock designed to chill out to in summer and irritate your parents, which, given the ridiculous youth of the band, is probably exactly what it was meant for.
Whenever I hear that The Futureheads are going to release a new album, I get a mixed sense of joy and trepidation. You see, I consider their debut album to be almost perfect; completely full of breakneck post-punk pop songs that grab you and refuse to let go until Barry Hyde’s wonderful vocals have finally given out. Since the halcyon days of that first album, they’ve never quite lived up to that genius again. News and Tributes was a far more self-conscious album, and one that I felt didn’t suit the band and This Is Not The World regained some their initial enthusiasm but never quite reached the heights of that first effort. But after hearing their new ‘Heartbeat Song’, I can’t help but feel that third time’s a charm. It certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the debut album, but there’s enough of a change in tone to avoid making it a replication. Possessing the kind of youthful exuberance (and oddly, a similar guitar tone in places) that Blink-182 used to do so well, but with a British punk sensibility firmly in place, the signs for fourth album The Chaos are very good indeed.
The Futureheads – Heartbeat Song (YSI)
The Futureheads – Struck Dumb (Changed at label’s request)
This one comes courtesy of Hanan over at Music Induced Euphoria, whose sheer irrepressability about how good this band are won me over. The Morning Benders don’t disappoint – at least as far as I can tell by listening to ‘Excuses’. Built around a furiously strummed acoustic guitar and the occasional echoing drum, this possibly simplistic song is elevated into the blue skies of the stratosphere by Chris Chu’s summery vocal tones, beautifully old-school, almost barbershop, harmonies and the gorgeous string-filled crescendo of an ending. Look up the cover of their new album Big Echo and you’ll see just why they chose that image of seaside bliss as soon as you hear this song.
The Active Set are another one of those bands who’ve had a track sitting in my inbox for a fair old while, and made me regret it once I’ve listened to them. ‘Sea Legs’ is a slow-building beast drawing on elements of The National (epic, dark, full of drums), early Bloc Party, Echo & The Bunnymen and god knows what else. It’s a long track at over five minutes, but the band pack so much action into that time that it could easily be twice as long and still sound full. What centres it all is Matthew Stolarz’ mournful vocals that flicker between British inflections and the LA punk that he once was, saying very little, but saying it well. ‘So far I’m still looking to the land, I haven’t found my sea legs/And so far I haven’t got a plan, I’m set adrift upon these troubled waters’ is a beautiful refrain and one that frames the bulk of the song, letting it evolve into something far louder before joining in and making it seem almost transcendent. Beautiful, heartwrenching stuff.