June Music Review – Fixers, Blood Red Shoes, the Walkmen and Natalie Duncan

OK, this month we have some not particularly well known bands for you – but hey, what did you expect? Cheryl Cole? And actually we’ve got four very good albums here , maybe not quite up May’s best of the year so far, but well worth a listen.

Blood Red Shoes are a boy / girl duo who up to now have made a punky, indie pop noise and over their previous two albums have achieved a decent following – they’re a good live band as well.

This, In Time To Voices, their third album, sounds like their bid to step things up a level, and it deserves to do so. With a deeper, bigger production, more complex songs and instrumentation, it’s not a million miles away at times from a Garbage or even a Foo Fighters rock sound. There are strong tunes as well, but just to emphasise their punk credentials,  Je Me Perds is a 90 second Pixies throwback that acts like a bucket of iced water in your face half way through the album and shows this is no MOR sell-out. One of the best rock records of the year so far, and for me, they’ve definitely achieved that step change. 8.5/10

The Walkmen are a tough band to pigeonhole, but what is clear is that Heaven is their most straightforwardly “commercial” album yet.  Much of their music is deceptively simple guitar based rock – jangly guitar, solid rhythm section, then the excellent vocals of Hamilton Leithauser. Yet they’re beloved by the most arty and pretentious of the music publications, and their songs have a way of drawing you in, with touches and twists that don’t hit you first time through. Sometimes they have an unsettling edge as well - listen to their best known track The Rat to see what I mean.

Their new album  however shows a different, somewhat softer side to the band. That’s not to say they’re suddenly singing sloppy ballads, but it is more friendly – slightly slower paced in places. The first track We Can’t Be Beat features harmony vocals and a simple backing that sets the scene for a more mature and perhaps immediately enjoyable album than their previous two, which in my case took a while to really get into (but both of which I rate highly now).  “Heaven” here is a good example of that.  At times, I’m reminded of classic REM...  which is a hell of a compliment. I find their work quite hard to assess quickly, as it takes a while to sink in. But it’s looking like another very good album and a worthy addition to their impressive body of work.  8/10

The Fixers are a young band from Oxford, whose first album We’ll Be The Moon  sounds surprisingly American, with clear Beach Boys and psychedelic influences to the fore. But it’s livened up with some pace and drive, along with a nod to more recent “clever” contemporary US bands like Animal Collective.  Majesties Ranch is a great lead-off track and gives me a good feel for the whole 40 minutes of highly enjoyable listening. It’s charming, entertaining and impressive without being overly lightweight.  Is this the beginning of a great career or a one-off burst of talent that the band will look back on fondly when they’re teachers and web-designers in ten years time? Who knows, it is so hard to predict what drives success these days. But this is a lovely album for the summer (if it ever arrives) and really an excellent debut. 8.5/10

Finally, I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but if you haven’t heard of this young lady yet, you will. The next Amy Winehouse / Aretha Franklin / Carole King? So the critics are saying. Natalie Duncan is from Nottingham, writes her own material, plays piano in an interesting blues / jazz / classical style ( I love the interlude one minute into the video here), and sings like – well, the above comparisons are not too far off the mark. The style of music is not my personal absolute favourite, but this is real talent – you heard it here first (maybe). And if you like this video, which is one of her own songs, seek out her cover of Gimme Shelter, which is stunning.


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