Review: Personal Best – Arnos Vale

The sun’s coming out, everyone’s feeling less gloomy and summer seems like it’s just around the corner. Sounds like the perfect time for a new Personal Best record to come out, yeah? Well, you’re in luck – Arnos Vale is out this week and it’s absolutely cracking.

Of course, that’s to be expected with the melody-wrangling superteam that is Katie, Tom and (at the time of recording) Lou, who have an impressive back catalogue of hits from their time in Bedford Falls, Attack Vipers and Caves respectively. It starts out strong with ‘If You Meet Someone In Love’, which instantly hits you with a wall of full-on riffage and perfect singalong opportunities. Katie’s vocals strike the perfect tone, and it’s impossible not to join in. Perhaps that’s the most impressive thing about Arnos Vale – at every step of the way, you kind of feel like you’re part of the gang, and that’s what music should be all about. It’s impossible not to relate to tracks like ‘Human Nature’ or ‘This Time Next Year’, and it makes you want to pick up a guitar or a drumstick yourself. After all, if being in a band can be as fun as Arnos Vale makes it seem, why aren’t we all doing it?

For all the brilliant chorus-and-riff bangers, Personal Best are not afraid to get a little weird in places either. The verses in ‘Poor Old You’ are backed with this brilliant, spidery riff and ‘This Is What We Look Like’ has a real grungy chorus with some fantastic distortion. Arnos Vale gives everyone a chance to try out something a bit different to their usual projects, and although the record has some super 90s vibes, it still sounds totally fresh and completely unique.

Arnos Vale is an absolute gem of a record. Unflinchingly honest and often beautiful, Personal Best have put together 24 minutes of solid joy. It’s super posi-indie-pop and it makes no apologies for it. Although Lou will be moving on to different things, there’s no doubt that the next Personal Best record will be just as fun. However, for now, know that Arnos Vale exists and the planet is far better for it.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Robyn’s Top 10 Records of 2014

Another year is over, and what a bloody great one it’s been for music. This year has seen records that I know will stand the test of time. Records that are innovative, playful, punk-as-fuck and just plain catchy. Normally, this list is comprised of just albums – I tend to find I sink my teeth into those much more readily – but this year, I’ve had to alter my expectations and a few EPs can be found here too. Here’s my snapshot of 2014 – grab a cuppa and get stuck in.

Leaving is Bristolian punk rock at its finest. Brutally honest, charmingly melodic and just damn good. The perfect antidote to blustery winter days, Leaving is truly quite wonderful, and the kind of record that finds itself clinging on hard to your stereo. As it’s an EP, it’s not that long, and inevitably ends up leaving you craving more. It also happens to be the finest record that Caves have done to date – check out our review for more.

A glorious return from the queen of punk, Diploid Love is a far more mature record than any of Brody’s previous outings. Main single ‘Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy’, featuring Shirley Manson, is probably good enough to enter this list itself, but there’s plenty of fantastic moments threaded throughout. Even the bizarre Casio keyboard. There’s a definite QOTSA influence cropping up in the guitar tones, but that just serves to make Diploid Love even sharper and cleverer. We headed down to the Birmingham show earlier this year and had our minds blown.

NFG’s eighth record, and their first without founding member Steve Klein, is an absolute banger. A fantastic return to form, this record proves exactly why pop-punk isn’t dead. I’ve been a huge NFG fan for years, but it’s not all been plain sailing. However, Resurrection harks back to those early days, with songs reminiscent of the incredible Sticks and Stones, but with a much older and wiser feel. It’s still all about girls and staying posi, but it’s damn catchy. It also makes it impossible to forget who really invented the pop-punk beatdown.

Have The Lawrence Arms ever brought out a bad record? The answer, is of course, ‘no’. Another solid entry to the discography, Metropole has a more down-to-earth feel than some of the band’s earlier records, but it still has that same great storytelling capacity that The Lawrence Arms are famed for. It’s also crazy that this is the first full album since Oh! Calcutta! in 2006, but it was more than worth the wait, if only for ‘Drunk Tweets’ alone.

Imagine if Justin Timberlake and Architects got together and jammed. Got that ridiculous notion in your head? You know, if that ever happened, you’d probably end up with the debut album from Issues. IT’S METALCORE MIXED WITH R&B. The how and why are so far past being relevant right now, you just need to know that it exists and that it’s brilliant. Tyler Carter’s vocals are sublime, the songwriting is surprisingly intricate, and truth be told, I’ve never had so much fun listening to a metal record.

Bangers had the mental idea that they were going to write and record a whole bunch of songs in 48 hours, then put whatever they came up with onto a tape. And you know what? It turned out more than okay. Mysterious Ways is classic Bangers, through and through, but it’s also a lot more spontaneous, as one might expect, and it ends up being a whole lot of fun. If you missed out on purchasing this, just try and find a YouTube upload of ‘Mosquito’ somewhere. Totally worth it.

Hebrews is bizarre. Not content with the usual guitar-bending, synth-melding pop-rock bonanza that usually forms a Say Anything record, Max Bemis decided to enlist a string orchestra and went analogue, baby. Even so, half of the riffs on here (coming from violins) are still some of the punkest sounding things I’ve heard in a long time. Also, in true Say Anything style, Max pulls in all of his buddies to guest star, with some pretty surprising results. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but Hebrews is one of the most mind-blowing records of the year.

Andrew McMahon’s first ‘solo’ album proper is one of the most beautiful pop records you’ll hear this decade. After deciding that it was time to move on from Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew decided to travel from studio to studio, practice space to practice space, and came up with ten incredible tracks. Each song has its own personality and identity in a way that most major pop artists struggle to achieve, and the record as a whole is a perfect example of highly emotionally intelligent songwriting. We were lucky enough to interview him earlier this year, and that’s possibly the coolest thing I’ve done with this zine.

Nervous Like Me totally knocked me for six. I’ve been following Cayetana since their first demo was released and they got picked up by Tiny Engines, but I didn’t expect an album that was so clever, so raw and yet so polished, and ultimately, so incredible. The Philly trio have become masters of melody in just a short time, having formed in 2011 while hardly ever having touched an instrument in their lives. We gave this 5 out of 5 earlier in the year, and wouldn’t hesitate to give that score all over again.

Bold. Brave. Beautiful. That’s what Transgender Dysphoria Blues is. There probably wasn’t any other way an Against Me! record could have gone, after Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, but the result was a cathartic, vitriolic and ultimately enthralling record. Laura’s always been one of the best songwriters in the business, and the sheer variance of sound and style on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, while still sounding like a coherent whole, is testament to that. Everything sounds so good. Even if you can only really sing along to the line ‘you’ve got no cunt in your strut’ in the car on your own. Is it the best Against Me! record? To be honest, I’m going to hazard a yes – no other Against Me! record has ever felt this free, and it’s glorious.

Review: Caves – Leaving [12″]

It’s been a bloody good year for punk rock. We’ve been treated to some truly outstanding records – Against Me!’s massive hit Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Cayetana’s incredible debut Nervous Like Me, the ridiculous yet wonderful 48-hour tape Mysterious Ways from Bangers, another great record from The Lawrence Arms… I really could go on. I could go on forever, and I probably will when it gets to my end of year list. And here’s another record that is 99% sure to make that list.

Caves have always been great at crafting big tunes, and Leaving is a short, sharp blast of pure punk rock joy. Their new 12″ is a shining example of what Caves are capable of, and an excellent follow-up to Homeward Bound. Like any great punk rock record, it starts out with an absolute banger. ‘Sad’ is a fast, thrashy affair, and effectively sets the tone for the rest of the record with grungy undertones and some truly great vocals from Lou. ‘Oh Antonio’, my favourite song on the record, follows on with rumbling bass and megaphoned vocals, and that’s just a sign of things to come. There are fantastically spidery guitar riffs taking the forefront, great singalong choruses – even without any gang vocals in sight – and razor-sharp songcraft. No song overstays its welcome, but every track leaves you wanting more. Finally, the record closes with ‘Sadder’ – two minutes and thirteen seconds of sheer WOAAAAAAAH. I’m not lying. The production’s a lot tighter than previous records, but Caves still haven’t lost that gleeful sense of reckless abandon. If anything, every hook punches harder. You get a much clearer sense of the rhythm, and it leaves a lot more room for experimentation.

Lyrically, it’s all pretty good too. Leaving is all about holding your ground, and ‘Anchor’ portrays this perfectly with nautical metaphors that playfully mess about with cliché. ‘Puddle’, with its 90s emo vibes, makes concrete cities seem prettier than they are. Title track ‘Leaving’ is so posi that it makes my cheeks hurt from smiling. Caves are great at tackling the little things that mean a lot, and this record is just more great reinforcement of that notion.

Leaving is pure punk perfection. Buy it for yourself for Christmas and then sneakily listen to it all throughout November because screw it, the nights are getting longer, the weather’s getting colder and you need something as joyful as this in your life.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Live: Attack! Vipers! – Kelsey’s, Leamington Spa, 14/1/11

The Leamington scene has been under threat lately. With the closure of Spayce, the last venue that wouldn’t charge extortionate amounts to the promoters, it looked like there was little hope for us. Laurence and Move To Leamington put on a show or two in his house (such as the RVIVR show last year that was epic) but it’s just impractical. However, tonight saw a kind of revival as student bar Kelsey’s offered the top floor for a night of punk rock. It was, to say the least, an interesting evening.

First up were Lineker (who I sadly can’t find a link for online!), a band clearly named after the Walkers man/popular ex-footballer. One of the other bands made a joke that they should put out a split with a band called Gascoigne. It would probably be a stellar release. Apparently one of their first shows as a new band, they performed well! Pretty gruff stuff but not too heavy. Hopefully, they should be playing more shows near here soon.

Cannons And Tanks were up next and as always, were bloody great. Having caught them with RVIVR last year, it’s safe to say they’ve definitely pulled it all together now to form a much tighter unit. Matt thought they sounded a little bit like Small Brown Bike, which is probably obvious from the name. If you like that kind of stuff, then Cannons And Tanks are most definitely for you. It’s music from the heart and it sounds awesome. At the end of their set, they threw in a cover of Waiting Room by Fugazi. From the opening bass riff, I was apprehensive. I am not a huge fan of covers and to even touch Fugazi is usually asking for trouble, but it was actually a pretty impressive attempt and I can’t wait to hear more from these guys.

Caves had a bit of a mixed bag going here. The beginning and end of the set were both excessively awesome, with those awesome pop melodies shining on through, but the middle of the set was a little lacklustre. However, it was still a very good performance. Caves just have this awesome energy, as if they could play all night, and it definitely transfers into the crowd. Some of the oldies there were getting very excited. The new material sounds pretty good and they have a new CD out soon – check back here for details.

Section 13 were very average. Although the majority of the audience were there to see them, they were the worst band on the bill. They play an 80s brand of hardcore which is just impossible to make original. Were they playing that kind of stuff back then? Probably, but if that’s the case, then it’s time to move on. The highlight of the set was possibly the weirdest moshpit I have ever seen, as old dudes in tartan collided with lager louts in a kind of slow frenzy. When I have lost the jadedness of youth and am old and enthusiastic, then I’ll mosh like that. Until then, I’m content to remain vaguely hipster-esque with my arms folded and the occasional toe-tap. They might have done covers, but I couldn’t really tell.

So, hooray forAttack! Vipers! who were just incredible! This is brutal hardcore at its best and a fine example of what’s coming out of England right now. A combination of intense growls and great melodies, they could be likened to early Fight Paris but way more brutal. A great crowd reaction was almost as entertaining as the band themselves – human pyramids and what can only be described as dizzy dinosaurs with almost every member of a band there picked up and thrown in the air was absolutely mental. For a tiny room at the top of a shitty bar, the sound was great and managed to pull up some highly bewildered looking students from downstairs. Hopefully, Attack! Vipers! will be coming to the all dayer in March, as they are certainly not to be missed.

Live: North Lincoln – Robbin’s Well Leamington Spa, 12/10/09

It turns out that my university has a little society called ‘Punksoc’, where people sit around, talk about punk and go to a lot of shows. The idea of this intrigued me, being a fan of such things, so I signed up right away. Monday was the first gig social, and we went to nearby town Leamington Spa to see North Lincoln at Robbin’s Well.

There were three awesome things about this particular gig. The first was that it was an actual basement show. Sort of. The Well has a downstairs area for gigs which is pretty much like a basement in that everyone crowds around the band who are playing on exactly the same level as you. This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing something like that, so it’s totally a basement show. The second was that it was North Lincoln’s last tour, and we got to see them in such a small and intimate environment. I will admit, I’d never heard of North Lincoln before (I really should follow record labels more considering they’re on No Idea) or any of the other four bands on the lineup, which brings me to the third awesome point – five bands for a mere £5. I am fed up of paying ridiculous prices for gigs. In January, I’m seeing Henry Rollins, and paying £22 a ticket for the privilege. It’s just not punk rock any more. So five for £5 is pretty damn good, even if the drinks were fairly expensive.

First band up were Caves, a fairly melodic punk band from Bristol. We came in late and missed about half of their set, but from what I could tell, they were pretty good. Nothing particularly original, except that their lead, female singer had an exceptionally gruff voice for a girl. Not a bad thing at all.

Second on were Big City Plan, hailing from Birmingham. It’s difficult to compare them to anything else, but I seemed to think that they were like a less hardcore No Trigger with rougher vocals, which is still pretty awesome. These guys were one of my favourite acts that night, with their tuneful, energetic songs receiving a great reception. Really good fun, and their song ‘Paint The Town Rad’ is a must listen. They’re also playing again soon, and I’ll definitely be seeing them again.

Next up was James Black, a folk punk artist from London. Now, I like folk punk, and I like it a lot, but every song here sounded exactly the same, both lyrically and musically, and not in a good way. I found him to be fairly bland and he didn’t really fit with the rest of the line up. Folk punk is tricky to get right, and you don’t need to shout all the time to do it. It also wasn’t too interesting to watch, even though I’ve found someone with nothing but a guitar to be compelling in the past. Personally, I’d give this guy a miss.

The Amistad, a relatively local band, were on next. The Amistad have this real charm about them, probably because they talk lots in between songs and are genuinely quite funny. The songs are good too. Very catchy, with the potential to become real anthems. They probably didn’t sound as good as they could, due to the vocalist having taken over bass duties and not really being able to play it. He managed pretty well though! Great energetic punk rock and one I’ll definitely be looking out for.

Finally, North Lincoln took the floor. I really have only one word to describe their set – amazing. They had a really laidback approach, and knew that they were having fun, which in turn meant we were having fun with some awesome music. Their gruff punk anthems filled the basement well, playing really old stuff as well as the last few songs they wrote. Everybody in the crowd was there for the same reason – to see North Lincoln – which sounds like a strange and obvious remark, but too often, I go to gigs and see people there because they were dragged there with friends, or because they wanted to see the support, or because it’s something to do, and it made for an incredible experience. All I can say is that it’s a shame North Lincoln won’t be touring again, because their wonderfully melodic punk needs to be heard live to be truly appreciated.