This week we’re looking at an album 36 years in the making, a two-part indie effort, and a collaboration between rock groups…

Porridge Radio

Porridge Radio – Every Bad
8/10

Born out of Dana Margolin’s bedroom as a solo project, Porridge Radio’s transition into a full band has been as seamless as their happy knack for infectious guitar pop. There’s a loose, scrappy DIY band charm to them as fuzz-drenched guitars rattle around the record like a pinball.

However, there’s also a fuller, richer, more ambitious tone to the recordings here that sit very nicely between grungey garage band and polished melodic pop. Margolin’s natural melodic streak is constantly apparent and impressive throughout, at times recalling the blistering power of early PJ Harvey, as on Don’t Ask Me Twice, a track that is as ferocious as it is catchy. This duality of compositional writing that takes in guttural power alongside toe-tapping grooves is exactly what makes Every Bad such an interesting and arresting debut.

Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats – Citizens Of Boomtown
7/10

36 years since their last album, The Boomtown Rats invite us to play Name That Tune. Trash Glam, Baby leans on Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, and Sweet Thing’s no less nostalgic, again nodding to Bowie while rewriting The Troggs’ Wild Thing in the spirit of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Rock ‘N Roll Yé Yé glues together AC/DC and Joan Jett riffs before Bob Geldof converts it into a Knocking On Heaven’s Door tribute.

Yet Monster Monkeys, which combines The Beatles’ and Primal Scream’s Come Togethers, and Get A Grip, whose heavy sloganeering suggests Sigue Sigue Sputnik covering the Stones, confront the modern day with programmed drums. Here’s A Postcard, nonetheless, is calmer, blithely pairing Bob Dylan’s jangle with Paul Simon’s delivery. It’s best, though, to overlook the grungey, bluesy She Said No’s locker room talk.

Deap Lips

Deap Lips – Deap Lips
6/10

A collaboration between Deap Vally and The Flaming Lips, tonally, this album sits far closer to the latter band’s camp. The back-to-basics scuzzy guitar rock of Deap Vally takes a backseat in favour of a mixture of experimental pop, esoteric noises, wonky melodies and dreamy worlds to inhabit. However, Wayne Coyne is largely absent vocally, so it falls to Lindsey Troy to take on the lead role.

The end result certainly possesses a unique quality in terms of collaborative output – you won’t hear another record like it in 2020. However, it’s a pretty scattered, unrealised album that feels more like disparate bits and bobs pulled together to force out a finished record after they landed on a few songs that kind of worked. There’s probably a nice EP to be plucked out of this lot, but as a full long player it falls short. 

Circa Waves

Circa Waves – Sad Happy
6/10

Emerging in the wake of the noughties, Circa Waves survived in a period when no one knew what was going on with guitar bands. Zane Lowe made their second single his Hottest Record In The World and their debut album subsequently bulleted into the Top 10 in 2015. This, their fourth, is actually two albums, the first of which (Happy) came out in January.

In the world of streaming, every release must have a ‘story’, so this becomes a two-part concept. The tracks on Happy are perfectly acceptable Lego-assembled indie rock; while Sad is much stronger, featuring more more interesting lyrics and electronic arrangements, with singer Kieran Shudall’s vocal delivery more restrained and considered – much more of a tuneful Matt Healy rather than a helium Alex Turner. Final track Birthday Cake is a future iPhone torch-waving classic.

Horse Lords – The Common Task

Horse Lords – The Common Task
9/10

On paper, Baltimore’s Horse Lords sound more interesting than they do appealing. Like worthy but un-fun math-rockers. On this third album proper, for instance, they employ algorithmic composition techniques and knotty time signatures, and are fired-up by the radical socialist theories explored in Chile prior to General Pinochet’s coup d’état.

On record, though, Horse Lords run wild and free. Heavy microtonal riffs ring out feverishly over galloping polyrhythms and a cacophony of sax, synth and pipes of war as the four-piece pitch up somewhere between free-jazz skronk, the ecstatic wing of minimalism and a towering, Marvel Comics reimagining of 75 Dollar Bill. Only the tuareg guitar jam of People’s Park and The Radiant City’s manipulated bagpipes offer respite before the 18-minute-long Integral Accident stretches out into communal euphoria. So joyful that you’ll forget all about the knots.

 

Birthmarks

 

Hilary Woods – Birthmarks
8/10

Hilary Woods’ historic link to the pop-alt-rock band JJ72 could not feel further removed with every new release she puts out. 2018’s impressive Colt was a melancholy-tinged foray into Grouper/Mazzy Star territory, but on her latest, Birthmarks, she plunges even deeper into the darkness. Nerve-tingling pulses of industrial electronics hum menacingly alongside taut, intense string work, with her voice cutting through with a reassuring warmth.

There’s a deeply cinematic, overarching tone to the record, it being so rich in atmosphere and ambience as to be engulfing. It’s a beautifully layered album that can be as tender and vulnerable as it can be powerful and all consuming. Woods feels as much sound designer here as she does songwriter, and the amalgamation of both worlds results in a stirring presence. 

Ben Wardle, Wyndham Wallace, Daniel Dylan Wray, Chris Parkin

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