Drenge embrace the weird and uneasy on Strange Creatures

Drenge have made their grand return to the UK rock scene with their latest album Strange Creatures. This latest effort arrives after a relatively quiet few years for the band, whose last full studio album was released back in 2015. After the success of their self-titled debut and its follow-up Undertow, this period of absence has left a very particular itch unscratched for many fans. Known for their dark and blues-inspired grunge sound, the Loveless brothers usually kept their songs concise and direct, delivering memorable riffs and fast-paced action throughout their previous two albums. The usual distorted and heart-racing sound of their prior efforts have been largely left in the past by Drenge, who on this latest album deliver some of their most haunting and intricate work to date.

Some of the longer form and lyric-driven tracks from Undertow are the standout remains of the Drenge that fans had come to love, as their new sound often combines pulsating synthesisers and hyper-realistic lyrics to create an eerie soundscape that is often used by Eoin Loveless to explore deeper lyrical themes than on previous releases. This is not to say that the album has a slow pace overall, as some of the most pop-sounding songs of theirs to date can also be found on Strange Creatures. The two main cases of this are “This Dance” and “Autonomy,” which were both released amongst the flurry of singles that culminated in the build-up to the band’s comeback. The tracks take on more of a New Wave sound, yet still feature a certain edge from Eoin’s songwriting, particularly on “Autonomy,” where he delivers some of his most skeptical and witty commentary on the album. This new approach to writing catchy songs relies on a certain contrast between the upbeat instrumentals and the creeping vocals and backing synths, which make for an excellent addition to the band’s arsenal.

It has to be said that after the album’s introduction from three of the singles, Strange Creatures really does come into its own. “Teenage Love” provides an infectiously stirring track, with flat-out creepy lyrics that fit with the overarching theme of the record. This continues through to “Prom Night,” which is most definitely one of the standout tracks, featuring some of the most visceral and evocative storytelling that Eoin has produced over the course of all three albums. The merging of the classic Drenge guitar sound and some particularly spooky synths has been immaculately pulled off by the Loveless brothers. The shift away from guitar driven songs does not ever feel forced or alien, but more that it was the natural projection for the band’s evolving sound. This can be heard yet again on “No Flesh Road,” which feels alienating and estranged, which are themes that have always been found in Drenge’s own twisted musical stylings.

Without a doubt, the anthem of the album in “Never See The Signs,” which offers all of the aforementioned qualities in one blow. The track has all the catchiness of some of the new-wave elements of the record whilst simultaneously incorporating the dark undertones that give the album an overall eerie feel. The two closing tracks then seem to follow the apparent theme from Drenge’s previous two albums, giving the album a grandiose, almost ballad-like close. “Avalanches” offers a slow and distortion-induced shoegaze trip featuring some reverberated vocals from Eoin that combine with some isolated keys that add to the reflective tone of the track.

This is a nice change of pace that slows down nicely as the album comes to a close on the final song “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” The track definitely stands out as the most ‘out there’ and different from the Drenge of past years. The symphony of chanting vocals, acoustic guitar and prog-type synths is truly different to anything that Drenge fans will be used to, but the experimental sound seems to work for the brothers, with a solid vocal performance yet again, leaving the closing track sounding reminiscent of a Nick Cave song. This could also be said for the new role that Eoin appears to be taking in the band as he takes up the full-time job of a frontman by ditching his guitar during live shows. Although the two may not be correlated, it feels as though this change, or perhaps the maturing of the brothers, has led to a revitalised approach to songwriting, one that sees some of the band’s best written songs to date on the record, along with some of the most captivating vocal performances.

With Strange Creatures, Drenge have created an uncomfortably different yet enthralling soundscape that strays far from their simple two-piece roots. It seems that the band have abandoned the simple guitar and drums grunge combo and have opted for a more complex and moody sound that tends to deliver some haunting moments. It is great to see the Loveless brothers back in action after a four-year absence, and even better to see that they have remained consistent in their delivery of solid records. The disturbing world of Strange Creatures is almost incomparable to their previous studio albums, yet it contains songs of an equally great nature. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 8

FIDLAR Are Sillier Than Ever On “Almost Free”

FIDLAR first properly entered the public consciousness in 2013 with their self-titled debut album. An energetic garage punk affair with lyrics focusing around themes of drug use, depression and general debauchery, FIDLAR’s lyrics have always been on the cringey side but their debut had a level of charm and strong, simple songwriting which made it the soundtrack for angsty teens experimenting with drugs and skateboarding everywhere.

Almost Free has FIDLAR flex their versatility as a band. The group plays with a varied palette of sounds with the band dipping their toes in hip-hop, blues, and even gouse music, amongst other styles. The album also boasts a warm and full production style that contrasts nicely with their earlier lo-fi leaning endeavours.

This album also stands out as FIDLAR’s most hilarious album to date. When the listener puts on Almost Free they are immediately hit with the group trying to do a cool hip-hop track complete with aggressive, yet cringey vocal delivery and cool dad-rock worthy blues licks. A truly strong start for the band if they were aiming to make their funniest album yet. The problem here is that it’s unlikely the band were trying to make funny music (with the exception of By Myself but we’ll get to that). However, the blend of sounds the band has adopted over the years mixed with the still cringe-ridden lyrics makes a lot of Almost Free just unintentionally funny.

Too Real features lead vocalist Zac Carper giving out hot takes about current American politics and society today with an attitude that can only be described as too woke. The bridge section sees Zac spitting venom about flaws in both left and right leaning politics in a progressively angry tone. After some awkward ranting the chorus hook enters “Was that too fucking real?!” the listener is left thinking No. Not Really.

By Myself, arguably the silliest track on the album starts with Carper on acoustic guitar singing the song’s chorus, solo: “I’m cracking one open with boys, by myself”. Now ignoring the glaring fact that the boys in FIDLAR have based the hook of their song around a long dead meme there seems to be a level of irony built around the track that’s a bit refreshing. By Myself proves that FIDLAR are able to laugh at themselves from time to time and also shows a level of self awareness they’ve never shown before (Carper can even be heard laughing at his own bad joke). However, when the song launches into the verse section and adopts a cheesy house beat the self awareness disappears and we can be treated to FIDLAR running a dead meme song into the ground for just under four minutes.

This is all quite unfortunate as a level self awareness would greatly benefit FIDLAR’s music at this stage in their career because in some ways they seem to have developed into an unironic parody of themselves over the years.

When this album isn’t being edgy it tends to just be downright bland. Tracks such as Can’t You See and Flake have very generic indie aesthetics especially with the former which sounds like a track written by any local Arctic Monkeys influenced band ever.

Almost Free is far from terrible with songs such as Alcohol and Called You Twice been stand out tracks. The band are obviously competent songwriters and skilled musicians but it’s the band’s blend of cliched ‘cool’ blues riffs, generic indie stylings, bad integration of hip-hop and the all round cringefest that is FIDLAR lyricism that really makes Almost Free stand out as FIDLAR’s most unintentionally funny album yet. – Liam Toner (@tonerliam)

Deerhunter Never Lose Sight of Their Identity on “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?”

Atlanta indie veterans Deerhunter have kicked off  2019 with their much-anticipated comeback album after a relatively quiet few years by their prolific standards. The band, led by cult figure Bradford Cox, amassed a large underground following after a consistent string of stellar releases ever since their 2007 full-length studio debut Cryptograms. From there, the band went on to pioneer many new sounds during the height of the indie revival, introducing noise, art and psychedelic sounds that drew on the sprawling soundtracks of the 60s and some of the more experimental releases of the 90s. During this experimentation, Deerhunter produced some of the finest indie rock albums since the boom of new releases in the early 2000s, including both Halcyon Digest and Microcastle, both of which garnered critical acclaim and established a loyal following.

During the band’s hiatus, there was no lack of side projects and other artistic endeavours from the members, but with the turn of 2019 approaching, it was very quickly looking like it could be a four year wait for new music, leaving fans pondering the next release. Just as hope may have been diminishing for any new Deerhunter music in 2018, the band released singles “Death in Midsummer” and “Element” whilst also announcing a new album to be released in early 2019, much to the joy of the indie community and their fans. The singles did have that signature quality present across all of the bands work, the combination of beautifully atmospheric soundscapes and winding and sedate vocals from Cox, yet did seem to possess more of a softer pop feel than some of the more experimental work in their discography.

Upon the release of Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already?, it was clear that this new sound was to be carried across the entire album. The themes and inspirations for the new release seem to be more focused on synth pop and ambient sounds, rather than some of the rougher garage cuts that would maybe be expected from the Deerhunter of last decade. This could be seen as a move away from the past sounds that could leave the band drowning in a pool of nostalgia, and also as a conscious effort to move forward in their careers and continue to revamp sounds of the past with their own Deerhunter touch that brings each album into the future. On this latest release, looking forward seems to be a recurring theme, which flows effortlessly in the dream like atmosphere of the songs. Tracks such as “Futurism” and “What Happens to People?” really highlight this theme and give a glimpse into the mind of Bradford Cox, who always seems to be setting trends in his own weird and wonderful world. These tracks are also the finest examples of this new sound finding the perfect balance between the future and past from the perspective of a fan. Stylistically, these tracks are reaching into the realm of pop with catchy melodies and light, upbeat jingles feathered throughout, but maintaining the poetic nature of Cox’s lyrics and his unique and unflinching delivery that soars with the backing instrumentals.

Some of the more experimental and artsy takes on the album such as “Détournement” are definitely a step in a new direction, although the futuristic prose delivery does feel like a cut from a sci-fi dystopian movie and drags on a bit in the already short album run-time. It would be nice to hear more interesting sounds like those present on “Tarnung” and “Greenpoint Gothic,” which feature a very dense and layered soundtrack that could really bring the album to the next level if developed and interwoven. This is not to say, however, that the album ever feels disjointed, in fact there is a solid flow back and forth from these synth-heavy soundscapes and indie pop choruses and versus that make for very easy listening.

On the whole, Why Hasn’t Everything Disappeared Already? feels like a step away from the overbearing madness of modern life, and a look back at the simpler things that hold beauty. The ever-poetic Bradford Cox is back on winning form with another collection of abstract lyrics that are carried by some of the most interesting and detailed instrumental accompaniments heard from Deerhunter in some time. It’s great to see the Atlanta idols deliver yet again, particularly after the death of long-time bassist Josh Fauver, who passed away in November of last year. Despite a change in sound, Deerhunter remain sharp and on-point, constantly on the edge of their own innovation, in their own world and detached from the rest of indie rock. The band never compromise themselves or go for the conventional or easy routes. In doing so, they have delivered yet another unique and deeply interesting album that will no doubt capture the attention and hearts of their cult following, whose wait for new music is finally over. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 7

The Twilight Sad keep it brilliant with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

Five years is a long time at the best of times. However, in this day and age, five years is like ten years. Back in 2014, we lived in a world where Brexit wasn’t even a thing, David Cameron fucking the pig wasn’t even a thing, and we just lived in the bosom of the shiny-faced moon man that had a hard-on for killing the poor and disabled… and a hard-on for pigs, clearly. So much can change, and as we’ve seen, very little for the better. So, what has five years changed for Scottish post-punk heroes The Twilight Sad? 2014 saw the released of Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave, accurately surmising the mood of British and EU citizens respectively.

Back with IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, five years hasn’t changed much for the band, but with that, they provide a consistent sound with sonic developments. Slightly more upbeat than NWTBHANWTL, IWBLTATT opens with the rolling synth of [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs], with James Graham’s reverberated vocals dancing over the top. The album, which is easier to type than IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, is poppier than its predecessor. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a cynical assault on a faceless, mainstream sound, this album still has the melancholic feel of its predecessors and The Twilight Sad’s influencers.

Songs like album closer Videograms feels like it’s come straight from the eighties, but with a modern tilt. Think legwarmers with Yeezys, Walkmans with Airpods. The band are influenced heavily by post-punk bands like The Cure, and whilst songs like these remind you of eighties post-punk and shoegaze heroes, they stand shoulder to shoulder with them, rather than in their shadow. The Twilight Sad have simply taken a tried and tested blueprint and put their own sonic twist on it.

IWBLTATT doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises coming straight from NWTBHANWTL, though seeing as NWTBHANWTL was greeted by rave reviews, the smart move would be to follow the same path and offer slight variations. Think of NWTBHANWTL as a vodka lemonade; crisp, refreshing, always enjoyable. IWBLTATT is a vodka lemonade… with lime. It’s what you know, with a refreshing twist, but doesn’t completely change the formula. Please though, do not try to drink this album.

Though do drink in the sonic layers offered by this album. Underneath the vocals are a rock band, underneath that are crystalised synths. Good production can take a bad album and make it a good one, with this, good production has made a good album a great one. Moving from album to album is a gamble for any band, and The Twilight Sad have clearly made a killing by not looking to rock the boat too much. So many bands these days will put all their eggs into a basket of a brand new sound and turn fans off whilst failing to convert new fans.

This album does offer an alternative challenge though; picking your highlights. Rarely is an album so well done that you struggle to find your key points, rather appreciating it as one body of work. The only negative is The Twilight Sad’s policy of writing a novel as well as an album. You put a bit of The Twilight Sad on at a gaff, your mate says “This is good, who’s this?”. You’re excited, they’re invested in your musical taste. “Oh, it’s [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] by The Twilight Sad off their album IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME” you reply excitedly. It’s been four hours, they’ve all gone to the club and you’re sat in the dark. It’s twilight, you’re sad. Poignant.

Find your highlights where you want to find them and you can’t go wrong. However, the melancholic synths of Keep It All To Myself are definitely a high water mark on the album. Sunday Day13 is particularly heart-wrenching, mixing delicate and moody synths with lyrics that seem to tell a story of a slowly crumbling relationship. Graham’s repeated questions of “Would you throw me out into the cold, would you throw me out into the road?” hitting you in your gut. The meaning of the lyrics are up to you to interpret, but the darkness of the words do not change.

Whilst IWBLTATT isn’t that far a departure from NWTBHANWTL, it’s a definite evolution and favours punchy pop hooks over the intimacy of its predecessor. Tracks like VTr definitely have the DNA of the eighties’ biggest pop tracks and feels like they could spearhead The Twilight Sad into the upper echelons of the genre, and indeed, music as a whole. Whilst some bands cynically pursue the mainstream AHEMBRINGMEAHEMWIFEBEATERAHEM, others find themselves naturally creating a sound that appeals to everyone; the old faithful and a new breed of fans open to pop hooks and post-punk sensibilities.

Though overwhelmingly, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME is a perfectly crafted album, and could well see the band soar to new heights, whilst staying squarely on the ground. Whilst, for now, they stand amongst their influences, they could well soar to stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. – Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Sex Education: The first great TV show of 2019

I think we can all agree, the only thing more awkward than the greasy, confusing, acne-ridden years of puberty were the embarrassing and wholly uninformative sex education classes taught by your elderly Maths teacher who broke into a sweat every time he said “vulva”. “Sex” was the hushed word on everybody’s lips and with it spread increasingly ridiculous myths like a bad case of oral herpes. No one knew anything, even the people who had already “done it”. Thankfully, current media has picked up the mantle school curriculums so clumsily dropped and have taken it upon themselves to impart their wisdom of the nether regions. Netflix has already opened eyes to the grim truths of puberty with their hit show Big Mouth – a funny and ridiculous cartoon that everyone should check out, even if they think they know everything about S-E-X – and now they continue their wildly entertaining educational journey with Sex Education.

Sex Education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame), a sexually repressed young man with a sexually liberated mother, Jean (played by the utterly fantastic Gillian Anderson of X-Files). Jean works from home as a sex therapist and despite this being a topic of distress for the irked Otis, it soon becomes apparent that her skills have rubbed off on Otis. Maeve (Emma Mackey) – a wickedly smart and blunt social outcast at high school – recognises Otis’ talent after seeing him couch a fellow student through a sexual problem. Maeve, being the cunning young entrepreneur that she is, convinces Otis to set up a high school-based sex counseling business with her for their sexually hapless student body. The plot unfolds with all the whacky fun and explicitly captivating sex tales you would imagine from this setup.

Along with a long line of ridiculous yet fully relatable sexual drama, the show also outlines a clear and captivating story arch thanks to the brilliance of the characters. It would have been so easy to simply rely on worn out high school stereotypes but thankfully Sex Education takes time to craft fully realised, complex characters. Thanks to this, it’s difficult to find a character you fully dislike as everyone has a characteristic that people can relate to or empathise with. The show strives to show that there’s more to people hidden behind the guise of Jock or Bully or Popular or Nerdy – everyone’s going through similar puberty issues and everyone’s got their backstory.

The realness portrayed on screen is helped in large part by the excellent casting. There wasn’t a weak performance in the bunch; everyone fully encapsulated their character. Amazingly, the majority of the main young cast are all fairly new to acting, with some only having two or three credits on their IMDB pages; this would not be at all recognisable based on their performances. Performances from Ncuti Gatwa (who played Otis’ enthusiastic and lovable best friend, Eric) and Emma Mackey, in particular, demonstrated a sort of tender beauty which should certainly help launch their acting careers.

The series offers more than any school curriculum could – it’s got intelligence and heart. The wide and inclusive scope of topics explored are handled with care and respect. The show takes time to analysis and explores each character’s issue and it gives the audience time to care and empathies even if they cannot personally relate. Although the show seems to tick off the list of topics that should be discussed, it never feels forced or like the audience is receiving a lecture and that’s mainly because the show as a whole feels so real and cleverly crafted.

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Brains isn’t all Sex Education has, it’s bright in more ways than one. The actually visual aesthetic is brilliant in its fun, retro style. The series looks like a visual ode to American 80’s rom-coms from the likes of John Hughes, with enough eye-assaulting bright colours and clashing patterns to give a vintage fashion fan wet dreams. Despite the complete 80’s feel with aged architecture and furniture completing the retro portrait, it’s clear the series is not actually set in this period due to modern technology continually cropping up. Visually, it’s more like a little-idealized pocket of time that’s free from the constraints of reality.

This series was a delight, with far too many brilliant plot points and characters to discuss in just one review. Sex Education should be added to everyone’s Netflix list, whether you’re a sexual novice or practised expert. It’s difficult not to feel attached to the characters of Sex Education and with a second series planned, fans will surely be excited to see what’s still to cum (sorry). – Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)              

rating 9

The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

Okay Embrace leave a lasting impression with ‘Drought (Song of California)’

Centered around twenty-year-old wunderkind David Schaefer, who cut his teeth in the L.A. indie rock circles in his teens with the band French Negative, Okay Embrace find virtue in the bedrock of a bygone era of indie rock: the guitar solo.


On the group’s debut single “Drought (Song of California),” the comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo are obvious and tempting (as are the associations with Third Eye Blind and Semisonic), but it’s the forthrightness and immediacy of the Schaefer’s vocals/lyrics that distinguish Okay Embrace from the cluster of 21st century indie bands fighting for attention and adoration with flashy guitar tricks. Schaefer, with his grounded, commanding voice, finds empathy in the bedridden mother swapping poetry lines with her child and the fire abatement officer lamenting his own inefficacy.

The guitars are fuzzed out and sun-faded, which serve the clarity of Schaefer’s singular voice and hark back to alt rock’s heyday in the 90s. There’s a drought in California, as we all know, but through Embrace’s perspective, it’s a global concern. – sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)