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Emily Barker

Fragile as Humans

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EMILY BARKER – FRAGILE AS HUMANS – ALBUM REVIEW

Through various guises and projects, the sublime musical talents of Emily Barker have been well established. Her career has taken her through Americana, Country and Folk, but each record has been indelibly identifiable as the work of Barker.

New album, ‘Fragile as Humans’ finds Barker in reflective mood, both looking inwards at her own life and diving into the wider human condition. This naturally makes this album emerge as one of the most personal releases yet from an artist who has always been able to craft their innermost thoughts into deep and beautiful lyrics.

WATCH THE LYRIC VIDEO FOR ‘WITH SMALL WE START’
Emily Barker – ‘With Small We Start’

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However, despite the themes of the record tackling raw emotions such as sadness, loss, sorrow and loneliness, it’s important to note the glimmers of hopefulness that weave their way through this collection of delicate and majestic ballads.

Barker has worked with the talented Luke Potashnick on this album, and the producer helps to elevate the musical side of the album to dizzying heights of intricacy and elegance. From opener ‘With Small We Start’ to finale ‘Acisoma’, this is a truly exquisite record that is deserving of your time and affection.

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Dea Matrona

For Your Sins

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DEA MATRONA – FOR YOUR SINS – ALBUM REVIEW

Irish duo Dea Matrona have been captivating audiences and gaining attention for their unique genre-bending rock mix. Now, finally that important career milestone that is a debut album is here to solidify their growing reputation.

‘For Your Sins’ is instantly enthralling as opening track ‘Stuck On You’ welcomes listeners with a funky rhythm and catchy chorus. As touched upon already, a diverse sonic palate is a key component of the duo’s endearing qualities.

Next song, ‘Stamp On It’, provides further evidence of this with its intoxicating charm and delectable stomp ala Tame Impala. Indeed the influences are plentiful and varied with Abba calibre pop songwriting, Led Zeppelin classic rock riffs, Pink Floyd ambition, Fleetwood Mac allure and Arctic Monkeys indie rock swagger all in the mix.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘RED BUTTON’
Dea Matrona – ‘Red Button’

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A range of genre’s become identifiable as the record continues but all are bound by the overarching identity of Dea Matrona. Yes, despite celebrating a range of styles, this doesn’t feel like a tribute album. No, this very much feels like a real statement of a collection from a band who clearly have an innate natural ability to craft a enchanting song.

That reputation will surely only continue to grow with an incredible debut album in the bag. Each and every one of the twelve tracks here is single quality and adds something unique to a record that holds your attention with undeniable ease.

In short, you couldn’t have asked for a better debut album from Dea Matrona and the potential showcased on ‘For Your Sins’ is actually quite scary!

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Frank Turner

Undefeated

FRANK TURNER – UNDEFEATED – ALBUM REVIEW

If ever an album title felt like a reflective and candid statement it’s, ‘Undefeated’, the brand new record from a battle-hardened Frank Turner. Indeed, this album is a significant one for the singer as it isn’t just his milestone tenth collection but is his first as an independent artist in over a decade after predecessor ‘FTHC’ concluded his label commitments.

This new found freedom comes at a time of change for Turner. Recent years have seen Turner hit his forties and settle down to married life by the coast. Away from the city and his previous classic rock n’ roll lifestyle, Turner has embraced a growing side-hustle as a producer. That production work has already heralded releases from PET NEEDS, The Meffs and others.

‘Undefeated’, however marks the first self-produced album from an artist who has worked with celebrated producers such as Rich Costey, Catherine Marks and Butch Walker. A the key role of a producer is to act as a sounding board and where necessary offer constructive criticism. One of the pertinent questions for this album then is can a determined Turner remain objective when marking his own homework?

Given however that Turner has already walked the tightrope of producing his own wife’s album (which is perhaps an even harder task), has gained significant recent experience and has had considerable exposure to the work of those previous esteemed collaborators, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that overall the answer to that question is yes.

Of course, the fact that he is again accompanied by his trusted group The Sleeping Souls (fresh from releasing their own separate album) also adds a level natural assurance to the recording process. As expected given the duration of their team-up, the Souls execute of the musical vision of Turner with precision.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘DO ONE’
Frank Turner – ‘Do One’

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We all hit those landmarks of life and we all arrive at different crossroads, both personally and professionally, although most of us find our solace and catharsis through different means to Turner. For Turner has always worn his heart on his sleeve and exercised his demons with the stroke of a pen and the strum of a guitar.

With now presenting a natural moment of self-reflection for Turner, it’s therefore predictable but welcome that ‘Undefeated’ finds Turner coming to terms with his new life whilst also taking aim at his doubters, naysayers and critics.

Turner has been the target of a catalogue of unwarranted and frankly quite absurd criticism and abuse during his career which sees him arrive at album ten beaten, bloody and bruised. Importantly though ‘Undefeated’ finds Turner defiant and ready for battle with opener ‘Do One’ perhaps acting as an apt tone setter for the album.

The following thirteen tracks all offer varying nods to Turner’s previous work as well as more than a glimmer of where he is going. These threads ultimately give the record something of a transitional feel; a celebration of a successful career but an acknowledgement that it’s also far from over.

The likes of ‘Letters’ and ‘East Finchley’ will fit effortlessly into the fan favourite category, and the rest of the album is able to hold its own with what is now a comprehensively strong back catalogue. Closing the record is the title-track which fittingly finishes the collection the same way it started – with Frank Turner rising up from two decades of hard slog, defiant and undefeated!

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The Zutons

The Big Decider

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THE ZUTONS – THE BIG DECIDER – ALBUM REVIEW

2008 is remembered for a financial crisis, the Beijing Olympics, Barack Obama being elected U.S. President and Iron Man kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe that now features an unfathomable amount of films and shows.

That year also saw The Zutons release their third album, ‘You Can Do Anything’ which, despite fairing well in the charts, failed to achieve the success of their previous two records. By the end of the 2009 festival circuit, the group quietly disbanded and a band once seen as having a big future was done.

With the members moving onto new projects, starting families and living life, it seemed for a long time that a reunion of any sorts was off the table. After a one-off show in 2016, it would then be 2019 when fans would finally get a more solidified tour in celebration of their debut album.

When a handful of shows occurred in the next few years it seemed that a semi-lasting reunion was in effect though any hopes of new music still seemed unrealistic. Fans therefore were delighted when a fourth album was teased with the legendary Nile Rodgers onboard as producer.

In true Zutons fashion it would then take a further two years to confirm the release of ‘The Big Decider’ some 16 years since their last album. That announcement was followed by the release of lead single ‘Creeping On The Dancefloor’, which instantly spotlighted the influence of Rodgers on the record. The bands custom indie sound surrounded by disco funk vibes.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘CREEPING ON THE DANCEFLOOR’
The Zutons – ‘Creeping On The Dancefloor’

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That track also welcomes listeners to the album before leading into recent single ‘Pauline’, which is more of a tone-setter for the nine track collection. Slower and more methodical than their previous work, there isn’t any of their trademark uplifting charm that shines through on classics like ‘Valerie’.

Indeed this is a very different band then the one that crafted their reputation of joyous guitar pop in the noughties. The fact is though that it’s a different world that they find themselves releasing this record (well except the financial predicament), and they are of course different people now. Literally in some cases with only frontman Dave McCabe, sax maestro Abi Harding and drummer Sean Payne still in situ.

Yes, ‘The Big Decider’ isn’t a rehash of their original output and nor should it be. With Rodgers’ and Ian Broudie’s assistance they’ve created something unique and different which is a good way of describing what the band has always been. They didn’t fit the landfill indie scene perfectly and they aren’t aligned with the recent indie resurgence.

That does raise the question of what the audience for this album will be? Whilst the 35 minute duration helps keep things succinct, there isn’t really anything that will grab your attention on here either. The album is worth a listen and is a nice reminder of the group’s talent. It doesn’t tarnish their early work as some returns do, but it doesn’t necessarily add much either.

Still, it’s good to finally have The Zutons back and releasing new music together. Hopefully ‘The Big Decider’ is just a first step into a brand new era from this gem of a band.

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Pearl Jam

Dark Matter

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PEARL JAM – DARK MATTER – ALBUM REVIEW

‘Dark Matter’ represents the legendary Pearl Jam’s twelfth studio album in their storied career. Coming to prominence during the early 90’s grunge explosion, the band have long since proven that there is more to them than the scene that they emerged from.

2020’s ‘Gigaton’ continued a path of exploration and experimentation from a group who, despite realistically having nothing left to prove, still appear keen to showcase their creativity together.

The sonic landscape of ‘Dark Matter’ however, whilst still pushing the envelope a little further, also feels somewhat familiar and almost a retrospective of the bands career. Much of this will be down to producer Andrew Watt who whilst working with a genre-less cohort of artists, has had great success recently with old-school rockers like The Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne and most importantly on Eddie Vedder’s 2022 solo album, ‘Earthlings’.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘DARK MATTER’
Pearl Jam – ‘Dark Matter’

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This experience and as Mike McCready terms it, Watt having “kicked their asses” seems to have worked wonders in harnessing the various strong suits of each member. Each aspect of their sound is on point throughout ‘Dark Matter’, with Vedder’s trademark crooning hypnotising as only he can.

The record really does feel like a love letter to Pearl Jam, which considering Watt’s proclaimed affection for the group probably isn’t far from the truth. Not that the band are going anywhere, but this is the sort of album which would be the perfect bookend for their career. In this form however, and with a freshness added to by Watt and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer’s involvement, you could actually see the band going on another golden run of releases.

Pre-release singles, ‘Dark Matter’, ‘Running’ and ‘Wreckage’ were probably the right choices to showcase what the album is all about, but as with most Pearl Jam releases this album deserves to be enjoyed as a collection. You can tell the love, affection and indeed attention that has been put into it, and that’s why every self-respecting Pearl Jam fan will need to take a moment of solitude to savour each moment of this record.

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Gun

Hombres

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GUN – HOMBRES – ALBUM REVIEW

Perennial rockers Gun have been riding the wave of their reunion now for fifteen-plus years, regularly playing solid shows and delivering decent albums. Whilst long-time fans of the group have embraced this new era however, it’s probably a fair assessment to say that they’ve yet to set the world on fire!

That is until now when perhaps their new album, ‘Hombres’, will act as the spark needed to light that fire. That’s because to put it simply, the album is undoubtedly Gun’s best work in decades!

The first half of the album is front-loaded with pre-release singles, ‘All Fired Up’, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Take Me Back Home’ and ‘Falling’ – all of which had raised expectations around the record with their slick classic rock sound.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ALL FIRED UP
Gun – ‘All Fired Up’

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When combined with the delicious ‘Fake Life’, the first five tracks on the record set a high standard for the rest of the album to follow; but thankfully the second half of the album is able to carry that mantle.

Each of the remaining five tracks are able to at least maintain the momentum of the album if not push it further. Over the course of the ten tracks, there isn’t a bad apple in the bunch and Gun have managed to set themselves a new standard.

Every aspect of the record from the guitar riffs to the lyrics and vocal work to the production and the driving rhythm represents Gun at their very best. This really does feel like a band who have rediscovered their spark, and that spark is now burning bright enough to attract the attention of the wider musical universe.

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James

Yummy

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JAMES – YUMMY – ALBUM REVIEW

When active, James have always been a very prolific bunch and with the release of new album ‘Yummy’, the band’s second era has now yielded the same amount of albums as the first!

‘Yummy’ is the groups eighteenth album (not including compilations, live albums and EP’s!), and it follows last year’s ‘Be Opened by the Wonderful’, which saw the band reimaging some of their favourite tracks in orchestral form.

With a runtime pushing fifty-four minutes, it’s safe to say that the creative juices are still flowing on ‘Yummy’, and the opening salvo of ‘Is This Love’ and ‘Life’s A Fucking Miracle’ offer an intoxicating welcome to listeners.

WATCH the Video for ‘Is this love’
James – ‘Is This Love’

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Always willing to experiment and test their artistic capabilities, James once again emerge with an eclectic and enthralling collection of songs which entices the listener to escape the madness of the world and get lost in the beauty of music.

That escapism is pretty key to the enjoyability of the record as the subject matters are pretty depressing when facing up to the realities of life in 2024. Sonically though the album is joyously uplifting and dances through adversity with the band taking aim at environmental disaster, the mental health pandemic, AI, conspiracies and more.

By the time the band say goodbye on the album closing ‘Folks’, they’ve taken you on a wondrous journey through their unique and captivating artistry. ‘Yummy’ is therefore yet another fine example of why James are such an underappreciated national treasure.

With every release James showcase their innate ability to stir something heartening even when surrounded by darkness. Fans of the band are blessed by their current form and ‘Yummy’ is a delightful addition to their stunning back catalogue.

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Feeder

Black / Red

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FEEDER – Black / red – album review

Frontman Grant Nicholas has described the making of Feeder’s latest release, ‘Black / Red’ as both a “musical pilgrimage” and a “labour of love” and the care and attention put into this collection is abundantly evident throughout.

The band have been rather prolific recently and it’s been said that this double album is a full stop to this creative period. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that over the course of the eighteen tracks, you can pick out the various era’s of Feeder. This does feel like a celebration of their career and ending rather than a new beginning.

That said, there are some new influences present on the album and the 80’s inspired ‘Hey You’ is one of the standout moments. So there is still a hopeful hint for the future which alleviates some feeling that this is a grand finale for the band.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘HEY YOU’
Feeder – ‘Hey You’

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The various incarnations and sounds of Feeder represented on this collection do make you ponder their career. A huge positive for the band has always been their ability to cross between genres and fandom’s with fingerprints in the indie and Britpop camps and across multiples sub-sections of the rock spectrum.

That dexterity and acknowledgement has meant that they can be step into each world with acceptance, but on the flip side has also meant that they’ve never really been fully adopted by any fan group other than their own hardcores.

That same logic perhaps also lends itself to this lengthy double collection. Whereas the record as a 66 minute whole achieves a solid four star rating, you can’t help but think that there is likely a five star rated 35 minute showcase held within.

So in that vein, ‘Black / Red’ is another great example of the immense musical talents of Nicholas and partner in crime Taka Hirose. Fans of the band will devour the record for the beautiful love letter that it is. However it’s highly unlikely to draw any new eyes to a band who deserve so much more appreciation then they generally receive!

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Dead Pony

IGNORE THIS

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DEAD PONY – IGNORE THIS – ALBUM REVIEW

Dead Pony have been doing all the right things since beginning to release music in 2020. That year may go down in history however as the definition of poor timing for a new band to share their art with the world. But even so, Dead Pony have garnered a dedicated fanbase which is growing with every single and every show.

Now they are ready to unleash their debut full-length album on the world with ‘Ignore This’, perhaps a not-so-subtle nod towards the every diminishing attention span of music aficionados. This record however commands attention and is certainly no half-measure at sixteen tracks and nearly fifty minutes of action.

The pace of the album though ensures that there are neither dips nor opportunities for lapses of concentration from the listener. Indeed each track grabs the listener by the collar and drags them into the action alongside the band.

Dead Pony – ‘RAINBOWS’

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Sonically intoxicating and lyrically captivating this collection of full-throttle modern rock mastery is amongst the best opening offerings in recent memory. You can call it making up for lost time, or flying out of the traps but whichever tired cliché is assigned to ‘Ignore This’ will be a positive one.

‘Ignore This’ is an expansive expression of artistry from a group who are able to pull from a diverse palette of influence and produce a fresh sound with a self-assured identity. If you’re somebody that has been sleeping on this band, then now is very much the time to jump on board.

That’s because one thing that is for sure, with this stunning debut album in the bank it’s going to be very hard to ignore Dead Pony moving forward!

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The Black Keys

Ohio Players

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THE BLACK KEYS – OHIO PLAYERS – ALBUM REVIEW

After a career long gap of five years between ‘Turn Blue’ and ‘Let’s Rock’, ‘Ohio Players’ marks the fourth album from The Black Keys in the past five years! Making up for lost time perhaps the duo have certainly showered their fans with new music lately, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the hype around this record feels slightly muted.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and perhaps everyone is a little Black Keys’d out? It’s good then that the band have brought in the likes of Beck and Noel Gallagher to work with whilst recording this, their twelfth studio album.

The presence of those guest musicians and particularly Lil Noid and Juicy J does help to bring something a little different to the now formulaic garage rock of the duo. That said the structure of these bluesy rockers is still the same that brought the band their acclaim.

WATCH THE VIDEO FOR ‘THIS IS NOWHERE
The Black Keys – ‘This Is Nowhere’

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At forty-five minutes and fourteen tracks this isn’t a short sharp shock to the system despite the changes. This is another flex by the duo who again showcase their incredible talents over what is a thoroughly enjoyable collection.

What this album doesn’t really do though despite the featured writers is offer much different to any of their previous work. That isn’t a bad thing of course, and if this was outlandishly different then people would no doubt criticise the band for abandoning their roots.

All in all, fans of the band will genuinely get pleasure from this album and that makes it another successful outing from The Black Keys.

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