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Our three budding journalists were given three albums to listen and review during August/September, and this is what they think.

Paley & Francis – Paley & Francis

It’s always exciting hearing about Black Francis from The Pixies working on another project. Forever known as the iconic, larger than life front man of the one of the most inspirational and successful alternative groups of the last 30 years, he has now teamed up to collaborate with his long time acquaintance and friend Reid Paley.

Recorded in just 2 short days in Nashville Tennessee, Paley and Francis relish their DIY ethics even now as they push on the winter of their career. As soon as the album starts, you hear Francis’ high distinct vocals dominating the minimalist production on the track ‘I Put A Curse On You’. The two vocalists seem to contrast and compliment one another with their extreme difference and range of styles. Paley’s struggling voice moans over the bluesy riff and piano on second track ‘On the Corner’. As the album continues it is evident that Francis has been open to Paley’s ideas as the blues post-punk comes as a fresh approach to the ex-Pixies front man’s usual style. If you’re expecting the usual Frank Black screaming punk style, then you’ll be very disappointed.

Paley strains and pushes his vocals throughout the album, sounding like an aged Bruce Springsteen. With Francis backing him with his sweet tone and original surf-pop guitar arpeggios, they sell the album well to fans of blues and simple pop melody structures. The album is a triumph for accessing older styles that are rarely used in the current music climate and is well worth the money.

Smokescreen – The Human Condition

Arguably the biggest and most exciting musicians are coming from the heavier side of the music industry. Smokescreen are a band who show that off as much as any other. With a similar attitude to The Foo Fighters latest material, this album has been made to sound as heavy as possible (with the vocals still being understandable). Having mentioned Foo Fighters, Sam Loose’s vocals are that of similar style to Dave Grohl, that pure energy and passion coming through on each individual track. A must hear track on the album is certainly ‘Dungeon of Me’, with instrumentals similar to that of Audioslave, and with the same raw power coming through. The band clearly have the talent and the desire to push towards a breakthrough, they just perhaps need to develop their sound in order to gain more of an original sound across tracks as the album becomes rather similar towards the end.

It seems as if the heavier music scene has a lot to boast about as far as the calibre of musicianship goes, as the solos and connection between band members seems to shine through on The Human Condition. Although this style of music may not actually be what I’d usually listen to. I was pleasantly surprised on first listen, whether I’ll come back to it is another story.

Middleman – Spinning Plates

With Zane Lowe, Steve Lamacq, and NME all raving about this band, Middleman have a lot to prove. Poetical and simple indie-rap, with a dance touch, the band present themselves as pushing the boundaries of the indie scene with tunes that will leave you smiling and dancing as you slowly merge into the night. I can only imagine late night festivals in a small dance tent when listening to the album, Spinning Plates. This band sound like the sound of the summer.

‘Snap Shots’ is a track with an energetic dance beat over their silky monotone rap. The track is an anthem and could be played at any club night across the country. Despite their dance and electronic roots, you can hear much more rock and alternative beats and riffs on ‘Chipping Away’, with the blunt and working class lyrical content over the monster riff in the punching chorus. The lyrical content of this band are what really stand out. Middleman remind me of early Arctic Monkeys, with lines completely simple and straight to the point such as “I turn on the radio, but my favourite song is interrupted by the news and weather”.

The bands merges rap, dance heavy rock and modern day indie and are not held back by any stereotypes they may feel they have to adhere to. Middleman are a band with flare similar to that of The Streets or Hadouken were when they first started. Perhaps they don’t have the perfect album yet, as I’m unsure if this is a masterpiece, but they do show promise. They’re a band to be looking out for and one we will be hearing more of soon enough.

by Josh Nicol

Prince Edward Island – This Day Is A Good Enough Day

Prince Edward Island formed in late 2005, writing about heart ache and heart break. This album is a bitterly honest insight into the life of a Scots man. The track ‘Like Bouncers We Stand’ includes an entourage of strings that help to liven up what would first be possibly bland. Like all their songs, ‘I am A Pig and You Are A Cow’ shows the warts and all of young love. ‘Sex In The Morning’ is a successful, perceptive account of a possibly working class adult. Many bands fail to deliver a believable and honest working class account, but Prince Edward Island is faith restoring song writing at its best. The tracks that are slower work much better as a whole; for example the harmonic violins in ‘Sex In The Morning’ sound impressive juxtaposed with the taboo language used. It is an enjoyable album, although I feel the novelty of a couple of expletives may wear thin quite quickly.

Hyde and Beast – Slow Down

Residing from the North East, bluesy rock and roll duo Hyde and Beast produce the most seemingly effortless harmonies. It is effortless because of the cunning use of airy guitars and breezy breakdowns. Slow down is 60s inspired, but not so that it’s old fashioned. Quite insouciant melodies and marvelous mumblings help to create a wistful atmosphere that doesn’t come across as forced. Hyde and Beast would be alluring to those who grew up in the 60s but they would also intrigue any music lover. The fact that it is released on their own label ‘Tail Feather Records’ shows just how confident Hyde and Beast are. The lyrics are not genius but they don’t need to be as the tunes themselves are very extraordinary, ‘All Because of You’ is a fabulously modern take on the classic genre (blues) and ‘Trees are Falling’ has a glimpse of woozy harmonica which is incredibly enjoyable. This duo could have easily played it safe and created an album with similar chord progressions throughout, but it is far more diverse with a compilation of textured sounds.

Trent Miller and The Skeleton Jive– Welcome to Inferno Valley

Trent Miller has the most distinctive   voice; each alt. folk track on his new album compliments it proficiently. Gothic strings help to make the album more upbeat, but even without a band Miller would be strong enough to stand alone, with his guitar to occupy him. He is confident and falls wonderfully into any music collection which contains Laura Marling and Ryan Bingham. Miller’s voice is wiser than his years and Welcome to Inferno Valley showcases that fact. ‘Witch Trials’ could take you to a small sea town that is not ruined by tourism and ‘Sunday Morning Goin’ Down’ could take you on a dusty road journey in an open top cart with hazy country sunshine.  Every track on Welcome to Inferno Valley is a thrilling twist on classic folk. Not one song falls short of excellent, as they aren’t once samey or repetitive. Trent Miller and The Skeleton Jive could accompany any season and any mood and their rounded sound could take to you any idyllic place in existence.

By Lydia Evans

Huron- Mary Celeste

As nu-metal goes, it is considered a fairly one dimensional art form. The shredding guitar that has the tone down to near 0, the bellowing singer, thumping duo foot pedal drum kit and the beat keeping bass is all something we have probably heard before and many times over the past 15 years. Huron, however, bring a different approach to this in a number of ways. Similar to Slipknot's early albums, there are barely any guitar solos, (only on the opening and closing track does a true distorted solo raise its head). Mary Celeste commences with the bizarre gong smashes of "Branded" before transcending into a string bending and teeth grinding riff accompanied by a vocal range beyond expectation and a change in tempo that is impossible not to find yourself head banging away to. The title track starts with random samples of individuals shouting before the snare drum build-up kicks the song into overload. Bizarrely with a metal record, the guitar and other instrumentation seem to take a back seat to allow the vocals to be the clearest and largest element of the sound. "Blood In, Blood Out" opens with a more traditional metal chord progression, filled with crackly distortion for a really impressive noise. The vocals range from a shouting squeal of early Bruce Dickenson, to a bellow that would rival Corey Taylor in an extremely angry mood. "Eternal Sea pt 1" is a brilliant surprise. A totally acoustic track, this allows the listener an intimate moment with the band, harmonies and all. The background is filled by the low grown of strings before a more dominant rhythm guitar takes over during the chorus'. By the end a perfectly executed Spanish solo is being performed while the strings have risen to epic proportions. "Black Harvest’'s murky intro is reminiscent of early Metallica i.e. "Enter Sandman" before the overdrive once again kicks the speakers into overload. The album finished with the second part of "Eternal Sea", a near-8 minute epic containing a finishing guitar solo that fades straight down into the depths of hell. No wonder the Iron Maiden frontman likes them so much.

Thee Faction- Up The Workers

"Dance to socialist r n b" says Thee Faction's website, luckily its not the kind of r n b we've come to hate as lovers of proper music, but the offshoot from rock n roll, rhythm and blues. The music on Thee Faction's latest effort is all in a 1960's style, and is incredibly catchy and reminiscent of the time. However, the music also has another side to it, which is the message conveyed in the lyrics themselves. As strong socialist believers, they constantly shine the capitalist view of the world in a negative light and refer to an event in which socialism will gain enough power to overthrow the capitalist government currently in the UK, called "The Revolution". Originally formed in the late 70's by four school friends who go by the names of Billy Brentford, The Hard Man, Nylons and Dai Nasty, a fifth member named Babyface joined in the early 80's. Shortly after this, the band decided to go touring into the "other side of the iron curtain", in the USSR and Poland, and until last year were never seen in the UK again. However, with their return, they have brought with them their first proper studio album (as in the past they refused to sign to any major labels or do any interviews due to their strong political views). "Up The Workers" featured a strong cover image, of fists pumping the air, which is incredibly fitting and motivational for what the listener is about the experience. Opening track "366" starts with a short introduction of all the members before launching into a flurry of rhythm and blues. The strongest member is immediately highlighted, lead vocalist Billy Brentford. With the addition of heavily distorted mic effects, this guy has pipes, and is not afraid to use them in order to get his views across. "Customer" is a snarling number about the public's consuming of various products on the market and "Deft Left" is a straight groove, with female vocalist Kassandra Krossing on backing. The album closer "Capitalism Is Good For Corporations, That's Why You've Been Told Socialism Is Bad All Your Life", may be dubbed a bit extreme and also may be taken as the band trying to force their opinion upon the listener, however, it is incredibly catchy and a well written piece of music all round. Something different, which is designed as well to inform, to bring a smile to fans of the genre.

The Horrors- Skying

When The Horrors first burst onto the scene in 2007, no one had seen anything like them for a good few years. It was Goth, it was fresh looking and most importantly it sounded brand spanking new. "Strange House" was a perfect starting point. Fast, punky songs mixed with chilling lyricism and random screams, this was a debut album to be proud of. Following its release, reports of band members throwing black paint over audiences spread across the underground scene. The band then disappeared, hopefully to come up with an album that proves as good as or better than their sole studio effort. They did return in 2009, but not with what the fans expected. "Primary Colours" was something much different. It was soft. It had keyboards and the majority of guitars were set to clean. At first fans did not know what to think, while music press hailed it as genius. NME made the album number 1 in its top 50 poll of 2009. Then, earlier this year, lead singer Farris Badwan teamed up with female vocalist Rachel Zeffira to form new band Cat's Eyes. Soon after came the release of the third album by The Horrors.

First of all, do not expect a raucous comeback album. This is, if anything "Primary Colours" part deux. Except pretty guitar less, or well hidden guitars. With this album Farris and the boys have decided that the best way to go about things is to make them longer and more synthy. But not pop. More like, lets Radiohead-up our original band and see what that is like. Mixed with the experience Badwan gained from being in Cat's Eyes and doing gigs in churches. Everything is very epic and has a much stronger edge to the percussion than any previous efforts the band has managed to pull out of the bag in the past four years. "Skying" is the next chapter. Its an ambitious one, you cannot fault the band in that. Gone are the fake names they used in their goth days, the drainpipe trousers and the layers of makeup. Album opener "Changing The Rain" has us in the mindset of a glockenspiel factory in the production stage before a burst of fluctuating, organ-like keys puncture the soundscape that has been created. Farris comes in with his fairly standard, murky, swaggering vocal style and we're off on an adventure that is seemingly positive this time around. Single "Still Life" provides a strong drum and bass backing to a very eighties synthesiser line, putting us in mind of Simple Minds at their peak. "Don't hurry, give it time" simpers Badwan, and he's right, this album needs a lot of your time and it will begin to grow after a few listens. It is not our ideal Horrors, but its all we have now until they wake up and smell the deep, dark coffee that made them a band in the first place. "I Can See Through You" may be fitting at a fairground, while epic "Moving Further Away" shows the bands ability to hold an audience for over eight minutes these days. Or can they? This could very well be an album of the year in the eyes of fans of late 80's/early 90's synth pop, but most of us just want our loveable Goths back.

By Callum Barnes

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