ALBUM OF THE WEEK
ARIANA GRANDE - MY EVERYTHING
The petite songstress with the big voice returns with her second album, a year after her debut Yours Truly. Already on a roll with Problem, her chart-topping collaboration with Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande's success is sure to continue with My Everything. More pop and dancey than her previous offering, the 21-year-old soars throughout the album, which includes collaborations with EDM stars David Guetta (One Last Time), and Russian-German musician Zedd (Break Free), as well as OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder (Why Try). Grande also shows off her ever-sweeter vocals by teaming up with rappers Big Sean on Best Mistake, Childish Gambino on Break Your Heart Right Back and ASAP Ferg on Hands On Me. Her ballad roots book-end the record, with Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart, partly penned by One Direction's Harry Styles, and the title track.
COLD SPECKS - NEUROPLASTICITY
Anyone thinking Cold Specks, aka Canadian singer-songwriter Al Spx, has cheered up since her 2012 debut I Predict A Graceful Expulsion will have that hope shattered within the first distorted notes of opening song, A Broken Memory. It's only 2.25 minutes, but Spx's soulful vocals oozing over angry gospel-jazz-blues set the tone for the rest of the record:, ie: betrayal, let-downs and broken dreams. The only upbeat track is the cheerfully titled Bodies At Bay, while highlights include vengeful ballad Old Knives and Let Loose The Dogs, which showcases her inimitable voice. Neuroplasticity also uses percussion to create ominous, ear-catching harmonies, culminating in the understated, mournful male duet on closer A Season Of Doubt. It's stunning, but you may need a stiff drink afterwards.
DRY THE RIVER - ALARMS IN THE HEART
Dry The River have found it more difficult than most to negotiate the notoriously tricky second album. Pieced together in part by lead singer Peter Liddle and guitarist Matt Taylor singing down the phone at each other, the London band - sans violinist Will Harvey who quit in February - travelled to Iceland and holed themselves in a studio to record Alarms In The Heart. Their efforts have been rewarded, with the London indie rockers showing significant musical growth from their debut Shallow Bed. Armed with Liddle's unique vocals, Gethsemane, the first taster of the new album, was a rousing comeback. New single Everlasting Light is a highlight, as is Roman Candle featuring Delgados singer Emma Pollock.
ROYAL BLOOD - ROYAL BLOOD
Surrey-based duo Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher have already created quite a stir this year with a seismic performance on Later... With Jools Holland as well as supporting the Arctic Monkeys at their shows in London's Finsbury Park. Tipped as the next big thing, singer and bassist Kerr and drummer Thatcher have gone for a primeval sound on their debut self-titled album, bringing to mind the White Stripes on their first couple of albums and even harking back to Sixties acts such as the MC5. So, the big question is, does it live up to the hype? Well, to a large extent, the answer is yes. The band's first two singles, Out Of The Black and Little Monster, are included here, and are notable highlights with Kerr's thunderous basslines and impassioned vocal perfectly complemented by Thatcher's ferocious drumming. Ten Tonne Skeleton is an absolute barnstormer and although the remaining tracks don't hit quite the same heights, this album shows huge promise.
J MASCIS - TIED TO A STAR
J Mascis, after 2011's well-received Several Shades Of Why, returns with a far more mellow and acoustic offering. The former Dinosaur Jr frontman produced and played just about everything on the album, which makes for an intimate, low-key listen and Mascis's voice has rarely sounded sweeter. On songs such as Me Again and Heal The Star, the 48-year-old eschews his usual lackadaisical drawl for falsetto accompanied by the delicate pickings of an army of acoustic guitars. Cat Power crashes the party of one with backing vocals on the super sweet Wide Awake. The album only really gets up to mid-tempo on the almost noise pop of Every Morning, where Mascis plugs in for a ringing guitar solo. This is just about all there is to satisfy fans of Mascis's grungier beginnings, except for the generator-like feedback thrum that forms the bed of the otherwise bucolic and tranquil Stumble and Come Down. A solo success.
DAN MICHAELSON AND THE COASTGUARDS - DISTANCE
As he half-croaks, half-croons the album's opening line, "When all the leaves are brown, and fallen to the floor/Then whipped up by the wind, and blown around your door," you wouldn't think Dan Michaelson was in his thirties, and from Northampton. The gravel-voiced singer-songwriter sounds like a man twice that age, with many of those years spent sitting in a bar in America's mid-West sipping rough whisky. Heartbreak is Distance's central - perhaps only - theme, although such is his gift with a lyric, and the band's sophisticated playing, it never feels morose, indulgent or worse, boring. Fans of Ryan Adams, Tom Waits and Nick Cave will most definitely find something to love here.
On The Road
:: Ben Howard has announced details of a five-date UK tour in December. The live shows will kick off In Manchester on December 3, with gigs in Wolverhampton, Edinburgh and concludes with two nights at London's Brixton Academy on the 10th and 11th. Tickets now available via his website, www.benhowardmusic.co.uk.
:: The Courteeners will be going on a UK tour in November. Manchester's indie rockers will begin the tour at Sheffield's O2 Academy on October 27, stopping off at Aberdeen, Oxford, Hull and Leicester before culminating with a show at Liverpool's Echo Arena on November 21. Tickets are available now from www.gigsandtours.com
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