Records of the Year – 2013

I have been avoiding this list like the plague. In a year of such incredible music, especially from our own fair United Kingdom, putting a list together seems completely arbitrary and not really a celebration of the year at all. But convention dictates that I really should do something. So, in the traditional fashion, I’ve gone for a top ten. Except for the top spot, all of these could be fairly interchangeable as to how fantastic they are. In their own way, each of these records represents a perfect moment in time, whether it was a great return or a truly exciting debut. So, without further ado, I give you my top ten albums of 2013. Now go and have yourselves a bloody good Christmas and a cracking New Year.

Heartthrob was completely different to the usual Tegan and Sara style. Instead of mysterious indie-pop, they went full-on with a bunch of synths and explicit lyrics. And it was good. There are places that are so 80s, you’d swear you were wearing frilly sleeves and more eyeliner than is good for you, until it breaks into a pounding chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place at your local nightclub. Totally unexpected, highly irreverent, completely fantastic.

It was a big year for comebacks, and Fall Out Boy had one of the biggest ones yet. I’ll admit, I was wary of the FOB reunion to begin with. But Patrick Stump’s time crafting R&B hooks was put to good use and combined with a few pop-punk sensibilities, Save Rock And Roll is a complete progression. A necessary one, some might say, and it showed the world that Fall Out Boy were back in full force and ready to take your radio by storm. Also, the bass riff to ‘Where Did The Party Go’ is one of the best things they’ve ever done.

“THIS. IS. SEMPITERNAL.” That gang chorus was a sign. Bring Me The Horizon were not taking any shit. Also, it’s a remarkably uncommon word, very clever in its usage, and that’s what Bring Me The Horizon’s fourth album is – extraordinarily clever. It’s not necessarily intricate, there’s nu-metal influence everywhere, but it completely bends and breaks previous expectations of the band and creates a sonic journey like nothing else. From the vitriolic ‘Antivist’ to the beautiful ‘And The Snakes Start To Sing’, nothing about Sempiternal is imperfect.

Hey You Guys! are an amalgamation of some of the Worcester scene’s heroes, and these dudes have brought together an unmatched sense of humour, savvy lyrics and catchy-as-fuck hooks into one mindblowing record. Our interview with Hey You Guys! explains further why we love them, but Gasp Shock Horror is 28 minutes of sheer joy.

This record came at the perfect time for We Are Fiction. With bands like Mallory Knox, Young Guns and Canterbury making it big, it’s only a matter of time until We Are Fiction are massive, and they absolutely deserve it. One of the hardest working bands in the UK scene have brought out a record that echoes the glorious post-hardcore scene of the early 2000s while still remaining fresh and relevant. The dual vocal approach from Phil Barker and Marc Kucharski works so well, and it’s one of those records that has you hitting ‘repeat’ the second it’s done. Kate’s review of One For Sorrow says it all.

Let’s be honest, apart from In With The Out Crowd which was a bit iffy, Less Than Jake always deliver the goods. See The Light is no exception. From start to finish, it’s filled with ska-punk bangers. As sunny as a Floridian summer afternoon, no other album has made me smile so much this year, or want to dance as much, and I look forward to blasting this out in the summer at all the barbeques.

An absolutely solid effort from Bangers this year, Crazy Fucking Dreams is the kind of record other punk bands dream of making. Although they’re sticking with the tried and tested ‘big riffs, big rants’ formula, there’s still plenty of innovation here, and their story-telling skills are in full swing, with tracks that can’t help but speak to you. If you like your punk honest and raw, but actually listenable with wonderfully gruff vocals, Bangers are the band for you. And Crazy Fucking Dreams is brilliant.

Again, this was a record I was slightly wary of. Lead single ‘Miss Jackson’ didn’t impress me much, but as soon as ‘This Is Gospel’ made an appearance, I knew that Panic! were back on track to an absolute hit. Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! is ten straight tracks of pop glory. Every song has a totally different feel to it, but all of them carry something wonderful to the front, whether that’s a catchy chorus or a beautifully poignant melody. Continuing post-Ross is one of the best things Panic! could have done – this is exactly why.

It was clear from the days of Reuben that Jamie Lenman was an almost unnaturally talented songwriter – how was it possible for post-hardcore to be so good and yet maintain a distinctly British voice? It just hadn’t been done before. Like Muscle Memory hasn’t been done before. The first side, Muscle, is the most gut-wrenching hardcore record of the year, with crushing, dirgey riffs abound. It’s utterly glorious. However, second side, Memory, is a folky, poppy, acoustic-y, big band-y foray into something completely genius. Separately, they’d both be incredible records, but together, they combine to create something phenomenal. Not to mention, releasing two records like this together is punk as fuck.

A predictable entry into the list, but an extremely important one. Burials is the best thing AFI have done since The Art Of Drowning. It’s not to say that their efforts in-between have been bad, but Burials was outstanding. A raw, emotional journey juxtaposed with some of the most intricate songwriting that AFI has ever exhibited? Sign me up. Twice. You can read my full love letter to Burials here, or better yet, you can go and buy it and remember why you fell in love with music to begin with.

Review: We Are Fiction – One For Sorrow

Where to start? We Are Fiction have an album out, and you need it.

I must begin by saying that, although I try to be objective when reviewing new music, this may be the most horrifically biased review you read all year. I love We Are Fiction. Their 2009 EP was fun and filled with a kind of youthful rage and snarkiness that can’t be mimicked with age. Then came the obligatory big clean vocalist change; lineup changes are inevitable in young bands, and it’s no wonder so many musicians derail their creation before tapping into its real potential. But thankfully this was not the case for WAF. Cue a more streamlined sound, considered lyrics and a far more complimentary vocal blend. The We Are Fiction on ‘One For Sorrow’ is older, more polished and with a clear direction. That isn’t to say that the album is over-polished and dull (like some of their peers’ recent efforts), rather the energy, boundless optimism and infectious hooks have increased tenfold. This is powerful, home-grown music as it should be. Not a string of watery riffs and lyrics based on their tattoo potential. You need this album.

While some tracks such as the anthemic ‘Sail On’, soundtrack to a thousand break-ups ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ and too-perky-for-words ‘The Worst Of It’ have been released prior to the album launch, this doesn’t alter the fresh enjoyment of the album. ‘A Thousand Places to Sleep’ kicks off proceedings with a deliciously old school (if you’re my age, at least) riff that compels you to move from the first lick. But a catchy hook isn’t enough; we get our first masterclass in blending harmonies in melodic post-hardcore. This is Alexisonfire with a library card; rage swaddled in poetic sincerity. ‘Bright Lights’ is fun; designed for crowd interaction and ridiculous dancing. Come tour season, venues will fold to this song. ‘Mansion House’ (presumably named after the cheap-yet-delicious alcoholic drink, rather than the tube station) is very much in the same vain- a fun, party-ready song filled with opportunities to headbutt your mate and throw some terrifying shapes. ‘Forget About Me’ is a delightfully unexpected musical interlude that proves We Are Fiction don’t only write songs to hurl yourself across the room to.  A gentle piano-led introduction builds to a frankly beautiful denouement; a sound so full and rich that you’d fight the compulsion to bathe in it. ‘Old Wounds’ is a blend of We Are Fiction’s trademarks; familiar guitar tones blend with mellow harmonies, all layered over impressively controlled rougher vocals (calling them ‘shouts’ or ‘screams’ hardly does it justice) to ensure a firm fan favourite.

‘Tilt’ shows off vocalist Phil Barker’s rougher range amazingly; his natural tone would be envied by many large hardcore bands, and when layered over Marc Kucharski’s ethereal vocal melodies, the whole sound becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. Slap bang in the middle of ‘Tilt’ is a guest vocalist, and the start of your new favourite collaboration.  Xidus Pain, a Peterborough-based hip hop artist, stomps in with a rap that you’ll rewind the track to learn. They don’t slip into TRC territory, but the blending of three vocal stylings is so pleasing that you’ll be hard pushed to do anything but grin from ear to ear. But one of the true highlights on One For Sorrow is the bafflingly titled ‘Wladyslaw’. For the most part; it’s a stripped down track; Kucharski croons over gentle instrumentals. That is until the heart-shattering chorus of ‘I never got the chance to tell you how much I love you’ blasts through the comfortable simplicity of the track and even the most casual listener hangs on every last word they sing.

One For Sorrow shows a phenomenal range of songwriting talents and musicianship. We Are Fiction have created a beautiful monster, ready to be adored by fans and envied by peers. Regardless of age, gender or musical taste, this album will provide the soundtrack to part of your life, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

5 out of 5 high fives!

Interview with We Are Fiction [6/7/2012]

Kitteh catches up with the fellows of We Are Fiction in Peterborough, chatting about Phil’s arse, fighting bears and of course, the music.

We Are Fiction – Earth Medicine [single]

Earth Medicine is the third single from We Are Fiction since their debut EP. The two previous singles, Sail On and My Dreams Are Haunted, have certainly treaded into more heartfelt, melodic territory in comparison to the positively destructive eponymous EP, but Earth Medicine dives straight on in and it immediately pays off. The slow burning verses with Marc’s angelic vocals are enough to send shivers down your spine, and his dulcet tones are perfectly countered by Phil’s heartwrenching screams. After that initial experience, the song then immediately launches into some seriously atmosphere building guitar and a soaring chorus, the likes of which We Are Fiction always do perfectly, completely knocking you for six. The end instrumental section and chant has just as much drama and intensity as the opening to an AFI album – which is to say, a hell of a lot. While We Are Fiction never disappoint, Earth Medicine is a resounding success and a firm reminder as to why they are one of the most exciting bands in the UK post-hardcore scene at present.

5 out of 5 high fives!

We Are Fiction – The Vault Rugby, 13/4/12

The Vault in Rugby is the kind of venue that every town needs; a well-stocked bar, snazzy decor and a liberal attitude to young gig goers (Seriously, a ‘12+’ show, I forgot they existed). The whole venue had a familiar, local feel about it while still remaining welcoming to out-of-towners such as myself. While such a comment may seem trivial and unimportant, believe me, I’ve been to enough back-water ‘local’ gigs to know what ‘unwelcome’ and ‘suspicion’ mean. And at three quid for entry, the evening might well have been the best value these kids will see for a long time.

Up first were bright, shouty young upstarts ‘Stop Fontaine’. While I thought being familiar with their previous work in ‘Lavondyss’ would give me a good idea of what to expect, I couldn’t be more wrong. With one guitarist down and the proclamation that tonight’s performance was only their second gig as a band, they blew all expectations out of the water and punched a metaphorical hole through the roof. Appearances can be deceiving, and I certainly didn’t expect to see a wirey ‘what-a-nice-haircut-I-bet-your-mother’s-proud’ vocalist throw himself across the stage with all the self control of Brian Harvey at a potato harvest. Neither did I expect his screams to be so powerful and vitriolic that they held my attention even through the inevitable teenage gang-bang that was happening on the sofas to my left. With riffs so meaty they’d make a vegetarian cry and a drummer so solid you’d fear he’d fall through the floor, they certainly made a lasting impression on all who saw them. With a quirky stage presence and palpable energy to their performance, they’re definitely one to watch.

The main support for the We Are Fiction tour, and next on The Vault’s mini-stage were Woking’s finest ‘Palm Reader’.  From start to finish, Palm Reader throw out a full-on hardcore assault; heavy and frenzied enough to tear your face clean off, but so mesmerising that you can’t help but get involved. More and more hardcore bands these days are leaving all physical exertion to the vocalist, and all other musicians tend to take a back-seat; slumping or crouching with their instruments, purposefully ignoring the presence of an audience. Thankfully, Palm Reader are the absolute antithesis of such a setup. With more energy than a toddler after a pint of Ribena and less spacial awareness than a fat lass in a lift (I was lucky enough to get to a few gigs on this tour, and the chances of a face to guitar-neck union were frighteningly high throughout), their stage presence is hard to rival. They’re heavy, they’re passionate and they’re a little bit mad. If you have any interest in punk, or even if you have any sense at all, I implore you to get online or get to a show and pick up their EP.

They say it’s always incredibly hard to review one of your favourite bands, as all objectivity is automatically removed, but sod it. We Are Fiction are a phenomenal live act, and you should get your arse in gear and head down to a show as fast as your tiny legs can carry you. The Peterborough five-piece have been destroying venues since 2009 and just about tore Rugby a new one. With a solid set of old EP material, painfully catchy new songs and inevitable crowd pleasers, WAF did nothing more than blow everyone away. Peddling their brand of catchy Alexisonfire-inspired/post-hardcore, they’re the sort of band that are impossible not to like. Their musicianship is enviable, their lyrics were made to adorn a thousand script tattoos and they take their music seriously. While they’re quickly becoming synonymous with heavy partying and Asda’s finest ‘Mansion House’,(It’s a …beverage that’s somewhere between sherry and despair, and the WAF lads seem to thrive on the stuff!), they carefully craft their music into something important and memorable. They don’t drown in sentimentality and they don’t crush their brains under the weight of too many breakdowns. Through their entire set, the venue was set alive with energy- whether through clumsy mosh-pits, sweaty screams, or flying bassists (followed by a falling and then painfully sprawling bassists), WAF’s short set could easily feel like your own little Woodstock. Their entire set was incredibly well-structured; with new material such as ‘Mansion House’ and ‘Earth Medicine’ sitting well against older more aggressive works as ‘Bitch’(my personal favourite) and ‘Desire Lines’, there was something for old fans and new alike. As ever, the set culminated in crowd-favourite ‘Sail On’, where vocalist Phil was found throwing himself into the crowd (which judging from the age-range, might have got him put on some sort of register), quite comfortably giving everyone present a masterclass in frontmanship.

Watching We Are Fiction is like watching the creation of a beautiful monster, and its only a matter of time until these venues are too small to contain it. With a new album due out this year (although their eta’s have been liberal at best!), We Are Fiction are becoming one of the brightest lights in the UK music scene. Go see them before they go stratospheric.