Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

English Oceans is the twelfth album by Americana stalwarts the Drive-By Truckers and the first to contain a 50/50 split on song writing and vocal duties between Paterson Hood and Mike Cooley, this gives the record a slightly different feel to previous work but ultimately it’s a trick that pays off well. With solid musicianship across all thirteen tracks it beautifully blends alt-country, blues and rock and can go from mellow to full on in the course of one song. Tracks like ‘When He’s Gone’ ‘Pauline Hawkins’ and ‘When Walter Went Crazy’ are reminiscent of Richmond Fontaine as they play out as stories containing some great characters. Opener ‘Shit Shots Count’ has an early Stones feel to it as does a few others that while being carefully constructed can still have a sense of the ramshackle. With the addition of horns and organs the band delivers a great base for the Hood/Cooley lyrics to sit on and I admit it takes a few listens for it to open up but when it does I can’t help but press play every time closer ‘Grand Canyon’ fades out.

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Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast

First it was the Pixies now after a fifteen year hiatus we are treated to the return of the mighty Afghan Whigs. The Greg Dulli lead combo released a series of albums that just bettered themselves and accumulated with the classic and highly underrated ‘1965’ now with ‘Do To The Beast’ they are back, bigger and bolder and ready to show everyone just how it’s done. From the chuggy guitar on ‘Matamoros’ to the heart-breaking piano driven ‘It Kills’ to the dense overlays of ‘The Lottery’ there is no denying that this is a classic Whigs album. Dulli’s vocal is on fine form and the lyrics range from the barbed to the beautiful. Musically they sound fresh while still retaining their unique style and with piano and strings joining the traditional line of bass, guitar and drums they prove that they have a real knack for a hook. Rock nestles alongside soul and ferocious guitars sit side by side with mellower moments making an album that doesn’t always follow convention but is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. Time will tell if this record will be enough to garner any newer younger fans but it should certainly please any existing fans as it ticks all the right boxes.

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Pixies – Indy Cindy

It’s been over twenty years since the last album from the Pixies so it was quite a surprise when they released E.P. 1 in 2013, it even came as a bit of a surprise when it was followed by E.P. 2 but when news of a third hit, that would join the first two as an album proper, then fans began to get really excited and so ‘Indy Cindy’ was born, twelve new Pixies songs recorded in secret with the original line up. Listening to the songs in groups of four I wasn’t convinced by all of them but now they are collated I can honestly say I’ve been a fool, there is not a bad one among them, it is in effect pure Pixies. Scuzzy guitars, catchy choruses, bits sung in another language, lyrics that will have you puzzling over the meanings, harmonies it’s all here and it’s all what you would expect. Opening with the ferocious ‘What Goes Boom’ the album takes in many styles along the way but always sounds unmistakably like the band, from the infectious ‘Greens and Blues’ to mellower title track ‘Indy Cindy’ back into the fuzz and shouting of ‘Bagboy’ before chilling again for a few track before unleashing ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’ and you are only just over halfway. Not content with using the Loud quiet loud method, that titled the reunion documentary, in the songs they have used it on the track listing. But for a band that have had such an immense gap between records it shouldn’t sound this great, it feels like it picks up right from where they left off and yet doesn’t sound dated. So then a brilliant addition to a small catalogue that once again reminds us just what a great band the Pixies are. Their greatest hits was called ‘Death to the Pixies’ well I say long may they live if they are going to give us albums like this.

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Beck – Morning Phase

It’s been six years since we have had a Beck album but let me tell you ‘Morning Phase’ was worth the wait. Here a much more mature sounding Beck replaces the jokey hip hop delivery and nonsense lyrics of old with real song writing, real musicians playing real instruments and echoing the heyday of music of the seventies, most notably ‘The Band’. Guitars and piano are under pinned by slouchy drums and drawn out organ notes giving the songs a really laid back summer feel, but it’s in the catchy choruses and melodies that Beck really shines not only as a writer but also as a singer, his voice has never sounded better. Clever and subtle double tracked vocals and harmonies with himself permeate each track and hang beautifully off the music, provided once again by many of the same musicians he used on ‘Sea Change’. Clearly influenced by Nick Drake, Neil Young and the previously mentioned The Band the album contains thirteen of the best traditional songs that Beck has done and to quote another of his album titles what he has achieved here is ‘Mellow Gold’.

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War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream

After several line ups, one famously including Kurt Vile, Adam Granduciel has now made ‘War on Drugs’ his own ‘Lost in the Dream’ is their third album and sees them settle on not just a band but a definite sound. Somewhere between The Hold Steady and Springsteen with a touch of Dylan’s delivery this is sixty minutes of meandering tunes that are uplifting and catchy. If you can imagine a seventies prog stadium band playing eighties music at a stoners pace and you are in the right ball park. Granduciel’s voice is getting better and has thankfully been pushed more up front in the mix but his tight band of musicians also deserve a nod. While no one would call songs that last 7 or 8 minutes lean there is feeling of speed to the compositions that doesn’t make them feel at all their length and despite being written after a break up the lyrics aren’t all as depressing as you might think, there is a lot of hope here. Basically if you liked ‘Slave Ambient’ then you are in for a real treat here as the War on Drugs grow into the band they always threatened they could be.

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Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

There is a saying that goes ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ and that certainly applies to Elbow’s sixth album, that’s not say it’s bad by any means, it just has an air of familiarity about it. Thankfully for the band some fans will champion this, it’s the Elbow they know and love, big sweeping tunes, heartfelt lyrics, it’s a warm hug on a cold day. But by not expanding their sound beyond what we know has in my opinion created just another Elbow album. That said the standard of their output is so good that it is still a great record, not their best, but can hold its own in place alongside their other material. For me the highlight is ‘My Sad Captains’ ‘Another sunrise with my sad captains, With who I choose to lose my mind, And if it’s all we only pass this way but once, What a perfect waste of time’ Guy croons over the sublime music, strings provided once again by the Hallé Orchestra. The title track is this albums equivalent of ‘One Day like This’ but it never really reaches the highs of its sister track. ‘New York Morning’ and ‘Charge’ are both epic songs destined to sound great in the arenas of this year’s tour but other tracks unfortunately don’t fare as well. As a band they are competent musicians, consummate performers and they have a poet as a lyricist I just hope they don’t fall into the trap of becoming boring, I for one believe they’re better than that.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

There are few and far between directors who have such a unique style that shown a portion of any of their films you could instantly name them, one such working today is Wes Anderson. Anderson debuted with ‘Bottle Rocket’ but it was really ‘Rushmore’ and the excellent star studded ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ that cemented his reputation and started to form his trademark quirky flair. So to his latest ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ an old fashioned romp in a fictional world that boasts a whole host of characters and situations you’d have come to expect from an Anderson movie. The first thing to notice here quite early on is that this is Anderson back on form, perhaps not quite hitting the heights of ‘Tenenbaums’ or ‘Life Aquatic’ but not far off, secondly the setting are as much a star of the film as any of the actors, at times the attention to detail in the background of almost every shot probably warrants another watch just to take it all in, each element a part of the overall puzzle from objects to colour palette. Then to the cast that contains, if all too briefly, Wilson, Law, Amalric, Dafoe, Brody, Murray, Keitel, Norton, Goldblum, Schwartzman, Swinton, Wilkinson, Ronan and Seydoux but despite this plethora of talent this is definitely Fiennes film, from the moment he is introduced he is mesmerising and for a man we are so used to seeing playing serious roles his comedy timing is impeccable. In particular he delivers one line; I won’t spoil it that had me giggling longer than it should. It is also worth mentioning Tony Revolori who plays Zero, the Wise to Fiennes Morecambe, aiding in delivering punchlines and also adding a few of his own. With a story as strange as it is entertaining it allows the director and cast to really have some fun with it and it shows drawing the viewer in to the weird and rewarding world of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

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