Jack White - Blunderbuss
On his first album recorded after the dissolution of The White Stripes, "Blunderbuss" has given Jack White the opportunity to record out of the strict rigidity he enforced as a member of the duo. Recorded in a similar way to his eye-catching recent TV performances, with half being recorded with an all-male backing band and another with an all-female backing band (a move that could be regarded as either brilliant marketing, or incredibly sexist, depending on what part of the feminist scale you currently reside on), it is perhaps the strongest thing Mr White has recorded since "Elephant" back in 2004.
The album does cover familiar territory. The power chord riff driven "Sixteen Saltines" could find itself at home comfortably beside "Fell in Love With With a Girl" or "Hypnotize", while "I'm Shakin'" sees his tradition of featuring at least one blues cover per album extended further (it's also worth listening to just to hear how he pronounces the word "nervous"). Elsewhere, "Love Interruption" mixes dark lyrics with light, clarinet led music, whilst closing track "Take Me With You Wherever You Go" goesfrom a piano led waltz into classic Jack White within the space of 4 minutes.
"Blunderbuss" is an incredibly strong contender for album of the year. Let's just hope that Mr White doesn't decide to go join one of his 1462 other projects before album no.2 comes.
Released: April 2012
Highlights: Sixteen Saltines, I'm Shakin, Take Me With You When You Go
Various Cruelties - Various Cruelties
I've been a great fan of "Great Unknown", the first single released this year from Various Cruelties' self-titled debut album, ever since I wrote about it last October. Apparently Rough Trade Records seemed to like my opinion, given that they quoted it on the single's release page (not that I'm bitter about not being cited). It's a cracking single, but the big question is can they maintain it over the course of an album?
The answer is a very heavy-hearted "no". The album undoubtedly has some wonderful gems on it. The short bounce of "Cold As You", the majesty of "Beautiful Delerium" and the infectious "Chemicals" are all brilliant in isolation, but over the course of the 11 tracks, it just doesn't seem to gel that well together. The problem might lie with vocalist Liam O'Donnell. Whilst undoubtedly a great singer, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of variety to his vocal technique throughout the album.
It's not a bad album, unfortunately it's just not as good as it had the potential to be.
Released: April 2012
Highlights: Great Unknown, Beautiful Delerium, Cold As You.
Pocket Billiards - Last Chance to Dance
In a recent interview, Belfast group Pocket Billiards expressed a desire to break away from the ska-punk genre that they had been pigeonholed into. I'm guessing that's a feeling that Michael Bay could sympathise with. It's a little known fact that Michael Bay had originally intended Transformers to be a heartfelt love story with social commentary inter weaved throughout it, until his financier said to him "Wait a minute, you Michael Bay, the explosions guy. Your audience doesn't want good stories, they want fiery balls of flame. Please change this pronto." Hence why that film is the hulking carcass we know today.
So anyway, "Last Chance to Dance", the 2nd album for Pocket Billiards, sees the band moving away from ska-punk and experimenting with different genres and sounds. Lead single "So Many People So Little Time" uses dubstep/drum and bass rhythms to enhance their sounds. The absolutely bonkers "Tetrisaurus Rex" encompasses elements of chiptune (including samples from Sonic the Hedgehog), whilst the short burst of "Drinkin'" is less of a ska-punk song, more a punk song that happens to feature brass instruments in it.
It probably won't stop people from labelling the band ska-punk, but "Last Chance to Dance" does show why the band is so beloved in the north, there's just something so unbelievable fun about them.
Released: May 2012
Various Artists - Home Volume 3.
Co-curated by punk-rock legend, 6music presenter and champion of new music Tom Robinson, "Home Volume 3" is the latest compilation from Rash Records which compiles some of the best underground and self-released music by new and upcoming artists. As well as featuring "Seaweed Under the Sofa" by Biscuithead & the Biscuit Badgers, one of the blog's top 50 songs on 2011, the album features protest-rock ("Things that Make Me Angry"), string lead folk ("Restaraunt"), and some epic indie rock courtesy of Pandas and People ("I Am the Floor"). What's even better is that all 20 tracks are available as a free download, so you can enjoy all these wonderful tunes for nothing.
Released: May 2012
Back in 2010, Dublin based label Indiecater Records did the impossible by releasing a 32-track World Cup album featuring football songs that were actually good. Now two years on, the label have released another football based compilation just in time for Euro 2012. Unlike the previous album, which featured a song about each team in the World Cup, "Sing Up for the Boys in Green" features 11 songs about one - the Republic of Ireland.
The highlight of the album is Ican Ican't with the fantastically catchy "Three Nil-Nils." Special mention much go out to The Holy Roman Army with "Royston Flies Into the Heart of Darkness", which has spawned what will no doubt become a future catchphrase: "Do I look like a want a f****** Tiffin Square?"
If you're not a fan of football, or the Irish national football team, then this is will probably not be your cup of metaphorical tea. But if you're one of those people that has followed the team's international progress with an increasing warmth, and you've heard "Joxer Goes to Stuttgart" one too many times, then "Sing Up for the Boys in Green" might just be the thing for you.
Released: April 2012