September Music Review with Alt-J, Ryan Adams, the Kooks and Catfish & the Bottlemen

A real range of albums to review this month. And despite my liking for female singers and artists, this month it is boys with guitars, basically. And recorders. (More on that later)

Let's start with the young upstarts, Catfish and the Bottlemen with debut album The Balcony. With a mouthy lead singer, lots of swearing in the songs, and loud guitars, they fit into that line of rock bands of which Oasis are probably the all-time icon. There are also reminders of early to mid period Kings of Leon, Kasabian, the Enemy... There's nothing new here, and many reviewers have been a bit dismissive because of that. There are strong riffs, simple sing-along choruses or repeated lyrical phrases, some slower and softer moments usually to prepare you for the next guitar onslaught. Very predictable, and with some dodgy lyrics featuring a fair bit of pointless f****g. And yet, songs like Rango and Kathleen - energetic, engaging, catchy, and resolutely retro - might just remind many of us more mature fans of why we first loved rock music. A score of 7.5/10

Ryan Adams with his band Whiskeytown, then his early solo albums made music that is right up there in my best of all time lists (Strangers Almanac and Heartbreaker in particular – if you don’t know those albums check them our NOW). He is prolific but the quality control is not always there, and he had made some decidedly dodgy albums too over the years. His new eponymous album, Ryan Adams, is very much a straight ahead 80s style AOR rock album, which little sign of his country influences. It fits into the Springsteen, Petty, Bob Seger rock pantheon, with touches of Richard Marz, Don Henley, even Bryan Adams. It rolls by in a pleasant but not particularly memorable way to be honest, with decent tunes and lyrics that fit into the Adams somewhat tortured and personal style. Not quite back to his best, but enjoyable if you're a fan of those other artists named above. 7/10

Alt-J's first album won the Mercury Music Prize and sold millions. It's amazing how quickly we assimilate weird music and take it into the mainstream, because I remember just how odd that album first sounded – but it ended up being my favourite album of 2012. Their new one, This Is All Yours, is hardly any less peculiar, a little less ‘dance’ and a bit more ‘folk’ amongst the long list of influences (monastic style chants, Miley Cyrus samples, a bit of dubstep and EDM, Jethro Tull type flute, the occasional middle eastern vibe, the kitchen sink).

Despite a recorder group playing a nice little harmony piece it is not all innocent stuff, there's a bit of sexiness too. "I want to turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet" from Every Other Freckle being a fairly disturbing image that is affecting my sleep somewhat at the moment. So you're probably not going to think this is "sort of OK". It is Marmite, love it or hate it music. I love (most of) it, the Pitchfork reviewer hated it – but how he can describe the gorgeous “Warm Foothills” as “barren” is beyond me – it’s warm, lovely and touching. (See live version below). I don't know yet if this is quite as good as the first album, but it's pretty amazing. 9/10

Unexpected comeback of the year award goes to the Kooks, who had a spell of fame sitting somewhere between "indie" and "boyband". (The “Libertweenies" someone called them). They had an interesting audience demographic - I went to their gig at the Astoria in about 2008 with my wife and daughter and have never been outnumbered in a venue (at least 5 to 1) by so many attractive women ranging from 14 to 50 years old. Anyway, happy memories notwithstanding, they disappeared after a poorly received third album in 2011 but are back now with Listen. And apart from the unattractive album cover, it is really good, from the opening gospel chorus on Around Town through to the smooth pop-funk of Sweet Emotion. More grown up, and “funky” is perhaps the best single word to describe it, with charm and good tunes. Could almost be Prince at times... They drew a huge crowd at Reading Festival recently and this looks set to cement their successful return to the front-line of popular music. 8/10

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