November Album Review with the Foo Fighters, Gemma Hayes and the Hookworms

As we move towards our end of year round up, there are still a few big albums emerging, as well as some unexpected surprises.

Of the latter group, Bones and Longing by Gemma Hayes is certainly one. The jaw-droppingly beautiful Irish singer songwriter issued her first album, the excellent Mercury Prize nominated, tuneful folk-pop Night On My Side back in 2003. But her three subsequent albums, whilst perfectly pleasant, didn't move her forward, and I thought she had disappeared into domesticity or song writing for others. But now in her late thirties, she is back with certainly her best album since the debut. It's a bit different in style - the opening track is a re-working of a old song of hers, but with no trace of folkiness- instead it has a lovely, wistful, shoe-gazing, electronic vibe. Some other tracks are more like her previous style, but generally there is less in the way of folk influences and there is a directness and personality to the whole album, with a personal edge to the lyrics, that is very appealing. For fans of music spanning the Laura Marling to Taylor Swift to Bat for Lashes axis, I'd suggest. 8/10

(And good news for Ms Hayes - a track from the album is being used as the music for Aldi's Christmas advert in Ireland - and it's rather lovely)!

Hookworms second album Hum is not exactly easy listening. Their first Pearl Mystic was a critics' favourite in 2013 but I found their mix of high intensity psychedelic, techno dance-rock, and often angst-laden almost screamo vocal styling all a bit much. They haven't exactly toned it down this time - within 10 seconds of The Impasse, the opening track. starting you're into a driving, punk backing and the lead vocalist going crazy in the foreground. But as the tracks run into each other, it has an almost hypnotic attraction. On Leaving is six relentless minutes on two chords and is brilliant, as is the instrumental iv fades to a quiet beauty after beating us around the head very vigorously. In a world where much music is homogenised and "pleasant" to the point where my 80 year old mother in law and 20 year old daughter pretty much like the same artists, we need people like Hookworms. This could be anything from 6/10 to 9/10 depending on exactly how I'm feeling...

The latest from the Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways, has eight tracks written and recorded in eight different US cities, with an accompanying (very good apparently) TV series, charting the process and the musical story of each city.

But on record, I'm not sure that means a lot - it is not as if they duet with Dolly Parton on a hillbilly love song when they do their "Nashville" track for instance. That track is "just" another straight ahead rock song, not a very memorable one actually. However, the Foo Fighters have not become one of the every biggest bands in the world by accident. The opener, Something for Nothing, provides a good model for their success - starting with an acoustic guitar it gradually builds into a pretty heavy mid-tempo rocker, with the vocals getting more and more impassioned, and a nifty guitar solo, but still but underpinned by a catchy melody.

That's what you get from the Foos. And that is the problem to some extent - as their eighth studio album, this is not going to attract any new fans, or even make current fans get excited. It's fine, but the gimmick does feel a bit like an attempt to bring some character to an album that intrinsically perhaps lacks a little. But fans will enjoy it, make no mistake. 7/10

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  1. David Atkinson:

    I saw Gemma Hayes in concert about three years ago, and soon hoovered up all of her albums. She’s really special, but in a crowded market. She’s no longer quite young, hip, or metropolitan enough to attract lazy music journos who recycle their articles on the latest London-based honey with a guitar.

    Hopefully Gemma will be making music for a long time to come, and I’ll be stalking (I mean following) her along the way. 😉

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