Tag Archives: album review

‘TOPS – Sugar at the Gate’ Album Review

After the success of 2014’s Picture You Staring, Montreal’s TOPS moved to LA to write their much-anticipated follow up. Described as a “teenage fantasy” by vocalist Jane Perry, Sugar at the Gate was recorded in a mini-mansion and former brothel in which the band were living in. But with this new setting and high expectations, has it affected TOPS’ psyche?

Arriving with the skeletal beat of Cloudy Skies, fluttering guitars transcend as Jane Perry’s celestial vocals glide into a sea of enveloping synths. Perry’s exquisite voice carries onto Further, which finds TOPS really pursuing the soft rock tag as luscious keys nestle next to velvety percussion. Seconds Erase, with its halcyon instrumentation, is utterly gorgeous and fits perfectly next to the flute embellished I Just Wanna Make You Real.

However, TOPS make sure to not compartmentalise themselves to this aesthetic across the record. The sensual Marigold & Gray is full of groove, whilst the lyrical delivery of Cutlass Cruiser has a low-key attitude running throughout. Dayglow Bimbo is full of lo-fi sounding guitars and Topless even has an almost trip-hop vibe to its beats and atmosphere.

As for the album’s bona fide centrepiece, that’s where Fleetwood Mac-esque Petals comes in. A sun-kissed journey down California’s west coast, this laid-back yet driving ride really captures the band’s relocation to LA.

With Sugar at the Gate, TOPS’ ability to craft such an eclectic bunch of tracks is a real testament to their existence. Setting them apart from the plethora of indie rock bands that have become far too comfortable with their sound, TOPS have refused to remain stagnant and have created a record that, not only thoroughly belongs alongside the rest of their discography, but also opens up numerous avenues in which they can explore in the future.

7/10

Liam Egan

‘Ulrika Spacek – Modern English Decoration’ Album Review

Every year there’s always a handful of albums that pop out of nowhere and end up being some of the year’s best. Hidden gems that rise through the ranks and give the world hope that we won’t be subjected to the plethora of banal indie landfill for the rest of our lives.

One album that fits this hidden gem bill is The Album Paranoia by London psych-rockers Ulrika Spacek. Released early last year, this wonderfully brilliant debut experimented heavily with krautrock and shoegaze. This has resulted in Ulrika Spacek quickly becoming one of the UK’s most intriguing bands and they have even had Slowdive singing their praises.

Now just over a year since the release of The Album Paranoia, Ulrika have returned with Modern English Decoration. Recorded, produced and mixed entirely in their shared house in East London, does this album live up to last year’s efforts and can it help propel Ulrika into the deserved spotlight?

From the off, Ulrika’s leanings to krautrock are ever present. Mimi Pretend is a steady and melodic krautrock jam that wouldn’t have gone amiss on TOY’s debut record, whilst Silvertonic ensnares you with its mesmerising outro. Elsewhere on the LP, the title track Modern English Decoration is incredibly woozy and feels like you’re tripping out after too much cough syrup. Full of Men is one of the album’s most interesting tracks, with its subtle build and satisfying pay-off.

Dead Museum arrives with a swaggering fuzz filled introduction and eventually transforms into a thick and sludgy colossus. Everything, All The Time is similar with its wicked and evil guitar lines. Resulting in a fuzz laden onslaught towards the track’s climax, Everything, All The Time is easily one of Ulrika’s best tracks to date.

Saw a Habit Forming‘s vocals warble like a track off of King Gizzard & The Lizard’s album Quarters, as they melt into a bed of guitar pedals and effects. Ending on stark and piecing metallic guitar strokes, Saw a Habit Forming bleeds into Victorian Acid. With a menacing bass and twisted vocals, Victorian Acid plays out like My Bloody Valentine thrown into a blender with a bunch of screws and bolts.

Unfortunately, there are moments where Ulrika fall short. The rather forgettable Ziggy gets lost amongst the rest of tracklisting and, by the time Protestant Work Slump rolls round, it already feels somewhat familiar.

Whilst not as immediate as their debut, Modern English Decoration is a brilliant next step for Ulrika. Though it may seem like they are covering tried and tested territory at times, Modern English Decoration is an intricate, sharp and utterly rewarding listen. Honing their sound and paying homage to their clear list of influences, Ulrika Spacek are on their way to greatness.

7/10

Liam Egan

‘Baby Strange – Want It Need It’ Album Review

Since their inception in 2012, Baby Strange have become the revered heroes of Glasgow’s music scene. Known for their raucous and rowdy live shows, the trio have achieved almost cult status through their constant touring and dedicated fanbase. Johnny Madden (vocals/guitar), Aidan McCann (bass) and Connaire McCann (drums) have backed this up with a constant stream of tracks over the years, which have never left either fans or critics disappointed. This immense graft has reached its inevitable resolution, with the Glaswegian indie punks now releasing their debut record Want It Need It. But does it live up to the wait?

Fan favourite Pure Evil begins the album and, after all these years, it still sounds as wicked and malevolent as it did back in 2013. Benefiting from being re-recorded for the album, Pure Evil’s opening riff is unforgiving and cuts into you deep. The bass from Aidan is angsty and captures the magic of Baby Strange’s live shows. Throughout the chorus Madden sings “Ooh ah, tired of my generation. Ooh ah, I only wanna be alone. Ooh ah, I’m tired of my own throne.” This is the perfect example of Baby Strange doing what they do best, writing lyrics that are begging to be chanted at the top of your lungs. Pure Evil’s chorus is so infectiously catchy and it is just the beginning of the trio showcasing their incredible songwriting capabilities.

With great group vocals and the urgency of a band who want to conquer the world, Nude is a perfect slice of traditional punk that harkens back to the early days of The Clash. This is then followed by 2015 single Pleasure City. A swaggering ballad that is topped off with a sweltering guitar solo that invokes uncontrollable hysteria.

California Sun is a shimmering piece of west coast garage rock. Madden croons about how he’s had his heart broken into two, whilst the sun-drenched melodies glow with ambition and prosperity. Then juxtaposed by the sultry VVV, Baby Strange turn into this threatening goliath. Carried along by an imposing and gooey bassline, McCann dominates the track as he looms over you like a nightmare that can’t be shook. Documenting someone who is in a relationship where their partner “just violates me” but also makes them “feel so high from this”, VVV is one the LP’s most interesting songs lyrically. Reassuring themselves that they’re “not sick, i’m just trying to find my new thrill”, VVV is a track that is worth taking some time to think about and dissect.

Another track that has gone under the re-recording treatment is Friend. With fuzzed out vocals , Friend comes and goes before you know it. Raw and bloody, Friend is Baby Strange at their purest and it’s fucking fantastic. Next is Trouble, another Baby Strange classic. A mix of early 2000s nostalgia and Baby Strange’s bite and prowess, this post-punk revival track is flat out fun and totally compelling.

2014 release Distance Yourself makes it onto the album, and what an addition it is. Madden’s guitar wails like it’s possessed, whilst the McCann brothers build the song’s minacious foundations. The choruses are rapturous, as Madden sings “They try to take our night, they try to take our fun”, which leads into the frenzied finale. Electrifying and hectic, Distance Yourself is one of Baby Strange’s best.

Human, a standout moment on the tracklisting, sees Baby Strange with their most driven and developed track to date. The chorus is anthemic and is ready built for big venues. Alternatively, the track’s intensity will excel in the small and sweaty boxes that Baby Strange have come accustomed to. In their four years of being together, Human really shows how far Baby Strange have come along as a band.

Finishing on the title track Want It Need It, Baby Strange close the album in classic punk fashion. Claustrophobic and fierce, Want It Need It bullies you into submission. As Madden sings about drugs and how “this comedown is messing up my head”, drummer Connaire performs with such power and momentum that it totally exhausts you. With abrasive guitar and an unapologetically mean bass, Want It Need It perfectly ends the album with deranged pandemonium.

Coming in at just under 30 minutes, Baby Strange have done something truly remarkable on Want It Need It. It’s an album where every track has earned its rightful place and all ache to be heard. It’s a tour de force of indie fused punk that gets everything right. One of the finest and most well deserved albums of 2016, exciting times lay ahead for Baby Strange.

9/10

Liam Egan