5/ Richard Hawley ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’
It would have been easy for Richard Hawley to follow the highly acclaimed ‘Cole’s Corner’ and ‘Lady’s Bridge’ with more of the same. After all, his warm & classic sound has certainly earned him a devoted following in his post-Pulp years. However, from openers ‘She Brings The Sunlight’ & ‘Down In The Woods’ it becomes immediately clear that this is an entirely different record. Surprisingly heavy and with a strong pyschedelic influence, the album is as bold as it is excellently produced throughout. Perhaps lacking any obvious single choices (apart from ‘Seek It’ – which bordered too close to whimsical for my liking) Sky’s Edge is the rarest of finds in this day and age – an album that works best as collective body of work rather than just as a grouping of radio friendly singles.
4/ Alt J – An Awesome Wave
A worthy winner of this year’s Mercury Prize, over the last six months Alt J have seemingly come from no where (a.k.a. Leeds) and conquered the radio masses & hipster scene alike. Of course there are lazy comparisons to be made with the likes of Radiohead and Wild Beasts, but with Alt J there feels little pretension (or certainly less than of that associated with the former); the band somehow managing to keep their feet on the ground amidst all the hype and multi-layer harmonies. Breakthrough track ‘Breezeblocks’ will be familiar to most, but it’s the real gems such as ‘Tessellate’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Something Good’ that suggest a long bright future.
3/ Bruce Springsteen ‘Wrecking Ball’
They say the best art comes out of adversity. And Springsteen; still riding the wave of a late noughties comeback, is no stranger to hardship. Now facing the backdrop of economic burden and financial crisis ‘Wrecking Ball’ delivers both a scathing attack on those who have caused so much misery, and a rallying call for everyone still living with the fallout. ‘We Take Of Our Own’ sits comfortably alongside The Boss’ vast back catalogue of stadium sized anthems, whilst tracks such as ‘Jack Of All Trades’ & ‘Rocky Ground’ paint a much more sombre picture of an America trying to slowly piece itself back together. The album’s highlight comes from ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ – a rousing outburst of emotion that so few manage to channel anywhere near as well.
2/ The Gaslight Anthem ‘Handwritten’
“If I wanted to, I could start over again”, sings frontman Brian Fallon on standout single ‘Here Comes My Man’. And that’s exactly what Gaslight have done on this, their fourth full length to date. Shedding the weight of expectation placed upon them ever since their breakthrough second offering (2008’s ‘The ’59 Sound’), Gaslight have returned with a more commercial, and slightly grungier sound than their previous punkier offerings. Whilst lead single ’45’ is Gaslight by numbers, the likes of ‘Mullholland Drive’ & the aforementioned ‘Here Comes My Man’ are both balsy moves into a new direction. Throw into the mix the pure two minute joy of ‘Howl’, and Gaslight have once again delivered an album that sounds wonderfully unique. The two superb covers ( of Tom Petty’s ‘You Got Lucky’ & Nirvana’s ‘Silver’ – both available on the deluxe version) certainly match, if not surpass the originals. It pains me to say it, but Gaslight are surely only one more hit away from becoming fully-fledged arena fillers.
1/ The Menzingers ‘On The Impossible Past’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The best albums are the ones you go back to time & time again, with your favourite track consistently shifting until you end up back where you started. This third offering from The Menzingers had me from the simple yet so addictive hook of ‘Sun Hotel’. But with repeated listens I’ve moved onto the more delicate symphony of ‘Gates’, to the all out passion of ‘Casey’, right through to the glorious finale of ‘Freedom Bridge’. Every song offers something different, and yet the album flows seamlessly, with no single track feeling out of place. The perfect contemporary punk album; schizophrenically shifting between harmonic verses to gutsy choruses, with understated melodies coming up to boil nicely under the driving guitars and drums. An instant classic.
Best Of The Rest
Say Anything ‘Anarchy, My Dear’, The Maccabees ‘Given To The Wild’, Lana Del Rey ‘Born To Die’, The Vaccines ‘Come Of Age’, No Doubt ‘Push And Shove’, Mumford & Sons ‘Babel’, The XX ‘Co-exist’, The Killers ‘Battle Born’, Fun. ‘Some Nights’, Band Of Horses ‘Mirage Rock’, Deftones ‘Koi No Yokan’, Craig Finn ‘Clear Heart Full Eyes’, The Smashing Pumpkins ‘Oceania’, Crystal Castles ‘III’, The Cribs ‘In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull’, Benjamin Gibbard ‘Former Lives’, ‘ The Swellers ‘Running Out Of Places To Go’ (EP), Alexisonfire ‘Death Letter’ (EP)