Album Round-Up: the Best From Recent Months with Chris, Fickle Friends, Hannah Trigwell and More

We’ve been lazy since Reading Festival in terms of our music reviews, so let’s catch up with some of the worthwhile albums of recent months, including a couple that we only cottoned on to after we heard the artist in question at the festival.

One such example is Fickle Friends, who went down very well at Reading with their bouncy, tuneful, female-fronted electro-indie-pop tunes. Their debut album, You Are Someone Else is quite reminiscent of The 1975’s first album in places, although perhaps without that hint of weirdness that emerged more strongly on album two for that band. Can Fickle Friends show a similar progression? I’m not sure; but this is an enjoyable if somewhat unchallenging 7.5/10.

Hannah Trigwell is a singer-songwriter from Leeds and had a strange experience as a student - her cover versions posted on YouTube made her a big star in Vietnam and Mongolia! (Some of her covers are very beautiful, although whether anyone should be allowed to do Hallelujah post Jeff Buckley is a moot point – she gives it a good go, to be fair).

Anyway, it has taken her a while to produce Red, her first album, but it is worth the wait and it is much more interesting than we might have expected. She wrote or co-wrote it all and the heart-felt lyrics suggest she has obviously had her heart broken. The music swings between an almost folky Kate Rusby vibe (her beautiful voice is definitely Rusby-like) and a more contemporary Rae Morris / Sigrid electro dance-pop style. It’s all rather affecting and lovely – we might have said 8/10 for the album, but having seen her give a great performance in front of a very small crowd in Bristol recently (see picture), we’ll up that to a 9/10. And we really hope she succeeds – she seemed like a genuinely lovely person.

We saw London-born Isaac Gracie at Reading last year (2016) when he looked somewhat terrified and came over as a bit shocked that his sensitive bedroom-recorded songs had given him first Soundcloud and YouTube stardom, then very quickly, a recoding contract.  So, his eponymous debut, isaac gracie, is a pleasant surprise. He can certainly do the sensitive Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake type singer-songwriter thing (as on Reverie), but there are much more upbeat mid-tempo pop rock songs here like Last Words that would appeal to fans of the Maccabees for example. He’s got a great voice too - very good indeed and an 8.5/10.

OK, we have a bit of a puzzle here. Christine and the Queens first release was our favourite, our number 1 album of 2016, and the release of follow-up Chris was proceeded by a couple of excellent “single” releases. Many reviewers gave this album 10/10 or 5 stars, but the Times’ excellent Will Hodgkinson went out on a limb with a rating of just 2 out of 5 stars, finding this boring, basically. I’m somewhere in between, I think. I am not finding it as compulsive, engaging, innovative or charming as the debut, so I am a touch disappointed – a few tracks come across as dance-pop “filler” frankly.

I do think some reviewers have been blinded by her incredible, once-in-a-generation intelligence, coolness, emotional sensitivity and general all-round amazingness as a person. But we must judge the music, not her – and to be fair, tracks like 5 Dollars are as strong as anything around at the moment. So not the great leap forwards we might have hoped for, but not bad, and when Chris is headlining Glastonbury in 2020 after her third album, there will be 4 or 5 tracks here that will be worth their place in her set. But there will be more in that set from the debut album, I suspect. So, I’ll take a middle road and go for an 8/10.

Actually, talking of expectations, we were marginally disappointed by Trophy Eyes live at Reading, but their debut American Dream (ironic title maybe for a band from Australia) is excellent if you like their rock / pop / punk genre. Lead singer John Floreani has a stronger, deeper voice than most singers in this sort of band, which brings a distinctive touch to songs that fall somewhere between Blink 182 and Green Day on one wing and Biffy / Foo Fighters on the other. Strong, catchy anthemic tunes, good driving music (in both senses), and a positive 8/10.

Years and Years looked like just another pop group with a pretty (and openly gay) actor as lead singer (Olly Alexander) when they appeared three or four years ago, but Palo Santo, their second album, shows they are growing into a serious musical force, headlining Wembley Arena earlier this year.  Sexy electro-pop with nods to great pop stars of the past, from Jacko to Madonna, this is varied but always commercial and listenable dance-pop fronted by someone with real star power. Songs like “If You’re Over Me” are modern classics, sounding like they’ve been around forever – and we suspect there is more interesting work to come from Mr Alexander in the future. Another 8/10.

The great thing about Reading is discovering those bands that you would never have come across otherwise. We mentioned Welshly Arms here - the band from Ohio combine a traditional 4-piece blues rock set up with a powerful lead singer, plus two excellent gospel singers who are far more than “backing” in terms of the influence they have on the sound. But there are two strands here on No Place Is Home, their second album.  One is a blues / gospel guitar-driven sound, a bit like Hozier in his blues-ier moments, or older heritage bands such as Free.  The other is a more electronic, keyboard-based pop sound that Imagine Dragons have made into a huge money-earner – but Welshly Arms still bring their blues feel to those big tunes too. Some of the tracks are achingly commercial - Legendary, which falls more into the second camp, has 60 million Spotify listens. Luckily, I like both styles and this is one of my favourite albums of the year so far. 9/10.

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