May Holiday Music Review – the Horrors, the Black Keys, and Drive-by Truckers

This month it is all about rock. None of these delicate little singer songwriters with sensitive ballads of heartbreak and wistful longings. These three bands, whilst quite different, all know how to make some noise. That’s not to say they’re unsubtle however – in fact, all three have back-stories that are out of the ordinary and perhaps that is what makes each of them a lot more interesting than most “rock” bands.

The Horrors were, frankly, a bit of a joke for the first few years of their life, including their first album in 2006. Cartoon-like, Tim Burton goth-punks with unfeasibly tight trousers, and a private school background that didn’t exactly help with the old street cred. But they re-invented themselves after that first album, and Luminous is the third in a series of excellent, atmospheric, tuneful, layered (that’s my wife’s very appropriate word for them), synth-driven rock.

Luminous is a little more upbeat than their last, warmer and with more songs in the major key, but without losing the depth and still with some strong tunes. Older listeners might hear touches of psychedelia and reverb bands like MBV, plus 80s and 90s electro/pop/rock (Human League, James, Simple Minds), the spacious grooves of the Doves come to mind as well at times, and there’s even a bit of Giorgio Moroder in there.  I like it. 8.5/10

 

Another band who have far exceeded initial expectations since their formation in 2001 is The Black Keys. Seen initially as a bit of a low-rent White Stripes, they have quietly become one of the very biggest rock bands in the world, and Turn Blue, the new album and their eighth, went to number 1 on the US charts on release. They’re positioned as a fairly traditional blues rock combo, but one of their strengths is that they’re not afraid to draw from wider influences. This is a really varied album, you’ll hear soul and r ‘n B, English ‘glam’ and pop, contemporary dance and electronic in there.

It is a little more reflective and instant perhaps than their two previous albums, with lyrics around the breakup of songwriter Dan Auerbach’s marriage. But underpinning it all is their ability to write really great tunes, like the single “Fever”  - although note that track is more danceable than most of the album.  Here’s another song from Turn Blue, performed  live for BBC Radio One.  An album that is both instantly enjoyable and with depths to explore, I’m looking at a 9/10 here.

What does the phrase “southern US rock band” conjure up? Good ole boys singing about the South rising again? Some head banging three chord rifferama?

How about a band who have written one of the most convincing “rock operas” (from 2002, called simply “Southern Rock Opera”, and an essential album), songs that could be used as lessons in political history, and that contain characters as vivid as any acclaimed short story writer has greated?  Well, that’s the Drive-by Truckers.  Their new album, their tenth,  is confusingly called “English Oceans” but there’s nothing English about their sound, rooted in southern blues / country / rock. Some of their previous work has gone quite strongly down the Americana country route, but this is perhaps their purest ‘rock’ outing to date.

And it is very good indeed. Nothing truly ground-breaking, but classic soulful, country-edge blues rock, (the Stones Exile on Main Street came to mind more than once), along with lyrics a cut above the norm. An 8/10.

Here’s the excellent closing track of the album, an ”in memoriam” to one of their friends, Craig Lieske, (and have a look at this if you want to read about a life well-lived).

 

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