June Music Review – Bon Iver, Arctic Monkeys, Puressence, Pete and the Pirates

An excellent month, with two contenders for “album of the year”, and two other unexpectedly strong albums emerging.

Firstly, Pete and the Pirates, from Reading, the most unassuming indie band in the world. Their first album was full of chirpy indie-pop songs, but One Thousand Pictures potentially moves them up a level – if they can get themselves into the public eye a bit more! It is still recognisably “indie” but in places strides into the sophisticated indie / rock territory occupied by very credible and successful US bands such as The National, as well as detouring (successfully) into Giorgio Moroder type ‘disco’ on “Winter 1”. Their dominant emotional setting is a sort of upbeat wistfulness, if that makes sense.  Anyway, a very strong, interesting and varied album, and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves. 8/10.

Formed in the very early 90s in Manchester, and with a career full of ups and downs, Puressence are a slow burner of a band; Solid State Recital is only their 4th new album in 20 years, and only now are they selling out pretty big venues.  They combine the atmospheric indie-rock of the Doves with the soaring vocals and chiming guitars of bands such as Starsailor and Geneva, and just  a touch of the ‘Madchester’ dance rock feel (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays) although that seems less pronounced than in their earlier work.  There’s even Judy Collins (yes, THE Judy Collins) providing ethereal backing vocals on a couple of tracks.  And it’s easy to see why they’re finally getting recognition; this is accessible but not formulaic ‘adult’ rock, with definite appeal to fans of mega- bands like Elbow and U2, as well as those mentioned above.  An unexpected treat - thanks to my friend Paul for making me listen to them! 8/10

Now the big boys.  I’ve always enjoyed the Arctic Monkeys without being a real fan, so Suck it and See, their fourth album was a pleasant surprise. While they’ve lost something of their initial northern lyrical wit and punk-influenced aggression, there’s more mature and varied song writing and instrumentation this time, and it’s less reliant on Alex Turner’s vocals and lyrics – they are an impressive all-round band now. (A couple of tracks sound like Milburn, another Sheffield band who influenced the Monkeys, but were quickly overshadowed by them,  and sadly split up after their second very good album).  Anyway, back to Suck it and See - there’s also a real mix of styles from pretty heavy rock to melodic ballads, even a waltz, and I don’t think I’ve heard an album this year that is simply more all-round enjoyable.  9/10

Bon Iver’s intimate first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, recorded in a log cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness, has become very special to many people – including me – and is one of the albums of the last decade. So how on earth could he follow it up?  Very successfully, is the answer.  His second eponymous album, Bon Iver, shows a progression, with a wider range of songs and styles, from the beautiful, almost-country-soul ballad Holocene to the 80’s Bruce Hornsby sound of Beth / Rest, which has been slated by some critics, but I rather like. But I have to warn you – fellow music fan (and wife) says “it’s OK but a bit dull and his voice is boring”. Oh well, each to their own.  Personally, while I don’t think it will occupy the place in our hearts that Emma does, it is a solid contender already for my album of the year. 9/10

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Voices (3)

  1. David Atkinson:

    Beard rock. Impossibly cool.

    Might grow mine.

  2. Paul H:

    More great stuff here – well I would say that wouldn’t I!! Here’s a link to the BBC breakfast interview with Judy Collins about Puressence on Sat morning – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13914577.

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