February Album Review with Pinegrove, Sunflower Bean, Mystery Jets, King Charles and Jack Garratt

What do you mean it’s not February?? It must be!

Anyway, people often ask me – where do you find out about albums to review and to listen too generally? Well, the NME and the broadsheet newspapers (particularly the Sunday Times actually) are all useful, as are of course the classic music websites such as Drowned in Sound and Pitchfork. Spotify “New Releases” is invaluable these days, but the most useful for finding those hidden gems is probably Metacritic, which is a website aggregator of reviews from other websites and publications. Just look at their list of “top scores of 2016” for a fascinating cross section of the “best” albums of the year so far, from rap to country, soul to pop. It is somewhat US-centric but still invaluable. A shout-out to Alphabet Bands too for interesting indie-pop-dance stuff too!

And that is where I found this rather different new release – what we can only describe as emo-indie-country-rock from Pinegrove, from New Jersey, with their debut album, Cardinal. It reminds us at times of last year’s excellent Districts album but there are bits of banjo and pedal steel here that take us back to classic Americana like early Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, but the general feel and lyrics come over much more with an introspective indie vibe. This short album – just 8 songs and 30 minutes – somehow works though and I rather liked it - 8/10

Here’s another US band you may not have heard of – Sunflower Bean, a US three-piece with a female vocalist and slightly psychedelic indie sound on their debut, Human Ceremony. Touches of Blondie, as well as Tame Impala perhaps, with floaty vocals, harmonies, lots of reverb and echo on some songs, and a more straightforward pop-rock sound on others. There are good tunes generally, but I did find it slightly washed over me without making too much impact. Very enjoyable listening, but might just fall into the “great background music” category rather than something that grabs the full attention, so 7.5/10

OK, let’s come back to the UK with a quintessentially English band, Mystery Jets, who fit into our tradition of quirky, literate pop-rock songwriters that at its best includes Ray Davies of the Kinks and Difford and Tilbrook (Squeeze). It’s over three years since their last album, and The Curve of the Earth has a different sound, somewhat more “mainstream” than their previous works, more reflective, a little Coldplay / Keane in places, but with an interesting Sgt. Pepper feel at times too. Good tunes still, and the most grown up of their albums. I’m not sure it beats their wonderful Seratonin album but this is very good (and still growing on me), and we were delighted to see it doing well in the charts; the Jets deserve to be a bigger band than they have been up to now - 8.5/10

King Charles with his second album Gamble for a Rose has received remarkably little coverage. Yet he should be a star by now. An amazing look, a talented musician/ singer / songwriter, great live, friends with the Mumfords (Marcus M produced this album). The lack of attention is a shame, because it is a good album and has an appeal that should be pretty mainstream – strong pop/rock tunes with the odd touch of nu-folk. If there is a criticism, it is that we have heard this before (including from the Mumfords), so apart from his look, maybe there just isn’t enough that leaps out at the listener. But we suspect most of our readers would find this thoroughly enjoyable - 7/10

Phase from Jack Garratt is one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Having won every “one to watch for 2016” award going, including a Brit, Garratt comes somewhat burdened by the weight of expectations. Indeed, there was a bit of a backlash even before this was released. Many of the songs are also familiar, which perhaps does not help, as he has had a lot of coverage in the last year or so. However, this is a strong album, although it suffers for me in comparison to his passionate and sometimes jaw-dropping live performances (he plays guitar and keyboards to virtuoso standards, does the percussion and electronics simultaneously, sings brilliantly ...) He is also not a fully mainstream artist – he is some way away from the MOR of James Bay, for instance. Indeed, his closest comparator is the innovative James Blake. Like him, he uses electronics and ideas from dubstep and dance alongside his more traditional singer-songwriter craft. Not the killer debut we hoped for perhaps, a few tracks are both somewhat dull and tuneless, but when he is good he is very good. (Do note that this track here is perhaps the most obviously “commercial” on the album – it is gorgeous as well). 8/10.


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