March Album Review with The 1975, Jack Garratt, the Hanging Stars and Into It. Over It.

Two of the most anticipated UK albums of the year surfaced this month.

The 1975 sit in a very interesting space. They’re part boy band, with a cadre of teenage female fans who are not averse to a bit of screaming, part credible indie-rockers, part 1980’s dance pop throwbacks, with a lead singer who has semi-famous parents and occasionally says stuff that makes the media go “ooohh”! Their second album, titled “l like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” (pretentious – moi?) has a bit of the “serious second album syndrome” with some sombre instrumentals as well as tender ballads and out and out pop-dance bangers.

Over the 75 minutes of what we oldies would have called a “double album” you get a bit of everything. But above all, you get some brilliant pop tunes and hooks that worm their way into your brain, along with lyrics that are self-depreciating, heart-felt and often funny. If there is a catchier song this year than the one below I need to hear it. All in all, it is far from perfect, it is self-indulgent at times, but overall it’s excellent, both timeless (I hear Scritti Politti, Wham!, Chic, Bowie, Duran Duran and Television in there) but also very much of its time -  9/10

When we first saw Jack Garratt at Reading Festival 18 months ago we were knocked out by his talent (singer, songwriter, Hendrix-type guitar, amazing keyboards, percussionist both real and electronic…) The problem is the hype over the last 6 months or so. He won a Brit Award, the BBC new artists award and lots more so almost inevitably his debut, Phase, has been greeted by some as a bit of an anti-climax. And to be fair, it is not as commercial as you might expect from the media coverage. He is more James Blake (interesting electronics, sparse production at times, dubstep influences) than Ed Sheeran or the dreaded James Bay, although he can write a tune like Weathered that would sit easily in the Sheeran canon.  Live, he brings real passion to his performance and on record some of the songs suffer compared to the live versions, feeling a little more sterile. He will make better music, we suspect, but this is an interesting and stimulating collection and Weathered remains one of the best songs of the last few years. 8/10

(This is a solo performance which captures the emotion and charisma of his live work – the album version is great too, I should say).

So having covered the obvious albums, let’s veer off into less chartered waters with the Hanging Stars, a London band but with an American sound- they have been described as “cosmic country”. The debut album Over the Silvery Lake was recorded in “Nashville, LA and Walthamstow”.  The sound is clean and very listenable indie pop / folk / country / psychedelic, and generally it is just great. It doesn’t sound quite like anything else around at the moment (that I’m listening to anyway), but historical reference points might be Crosby Stills and Nash or Brinsley Schwarz. The pedal steel guitar adds a certain je ne sais quoi to their songs, which are tuneful and interesting and work as both gentle background music or for more intensive focus, preferably with a nice glass of something in the garden as the sun goes down. Another 8/10.

Here’s another album I would not have discovered if it were not for Metacritic - anything that scores an average mark of 84% on that review aggregation site is usually worth listening to. As is the case with US ‘band’ (mainly Chicago musician Evan Thomas Weiss) Into It. Over It. and their album Standards. The genre is “emo”, so sensitive, modern rock, with strong tunes, thoughtful if obtuse lyrics, and a generally emotionally charged feel to the whole thing.  Don’t think it is lacking in power though; muscular drumming from Josh Sparks keeps things moving powerfully on tracks like “No EQ”. At times it reminds me of Bon Iver’s genius album “For Emma, Forever Ago”, other more rock based reference points might be Death Cab for Cutie or Dashboard Confessional.  I need to listen to this a few more times but I can’t see it being any less than yet another 8/10.

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