It's been a busy few years for The Black Keys' chieftain, Dan Auerbach. When not shredding dirty blues riffs with long-time drummer buddy Patrick Carney, the Ohio native could be found producing albums from Dr John, Ray LaMontagne and more recently Lana Del Rey. Keeping his foot firmly on the pedal, Auerbach now fronts a new side project, The Arcs, a collaboration of friends and studio musicians from diverse backgrounds. But make no mistake - this is the guitarist/vocalist's gig. Solo albums and band off-shoots are often an artistic itch that require a damn good scratch, and while Yours, Dreamily, explores a more psychedelic and funk side, it's instantly recognisable as Auerbach from the moment his distinctive gravelly voice belts out garage blues rocker Outta My Mind. Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels adds a strong soul influence, as on the wonderful Stay In My Corner and Chains of Love, which both would have sat nicely on The Keys' Turn Blue. It's certainly a fun poke around inside Auerbach's magic box and while it leaves you craving for more of the "real thing", this hopefully won't be the last we hear from The Arcs.
The Arcs Yours, Dreamily, Nonesuch Records
Described by frontman Yannis Philippakis as "lean and punchy", the fourth album from Foals opens with a raw snarling fury never before heard during their seven-year recording career. Foals are known as one of the UK's most visceral and exciting live bands, and the full-on title track is a brutal assault that sees the frontman bellowing "When I see a man, I see a liar" over an increasingly frenzied cacophony. It's simply staggering and rivals Inhaler as their best track to date. I would happily fly halfway around the world to witness Jimmy Smith rip his guitar to shreds as Foals attack this song on stage. Nothing else on the album quite matches this feral intensity - only the filthy synth groove of Snake Oil gets close, a buzz-saw bass line beefing up the funk as Philippakis perfects his howling. Second single Mountain At My Gates sees Oxford's second finest quintet (first? Radiohead, of course) on more familiar territory, propulsive math-rock with a twinkling pop sheen, that like the title track continues to build to a triumphant crescendo behind the relentless drumming of Jack Bevan.
Foals What Went Down, Warner Music
Much like mascot Eddie the Head gracing every album cover, the consistency of epic rock riffage of Brit metal titans Iron Maiden leaves very little second guessing as to what to expect from The Book of Souls, the band's 16th studio album. With a career about to enter its fourth decade, Bruce Dickinson's gang of headbangers are certainly old hands at this game, and yet they still have a creative drive strong enough to present their first double album. With its release delayed as Dickinson battled throat cancer (during which he recorded all the vocals), it opens with the raging If Eternity Should Fail, the frontman's golden roar driving a classic Maiden chorus. Each of the 10 blazing prog-rock tracks that follow are as dark and heavy as you could wish for. Saving their best chapter for last, it closes with Empire of the Clouds, a theatrical 18-minute opus that bassist Steve Harris has called a "masterpiece". Written by Dickinson about an airship crash, it begins with the frontman tickling the ivories, before slowly rolling through its many peaks and valleys and building to a beastly climax.
Iron Maiden The Book of Souls, Parlophone Records
"I can't feel my face when I'm with you/ But I love it, but I love it", sings Canadian indie R&B singer Abel Tesfaye in his finest falsetto over an insanely contagious beat. Purporting to be about a seductive woman (although some internet dwellers believe it's about anything from Satan to oral sex), it's not too difficult to spot ("And I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb") that it's really a metaphor for cocaine. With no doubt huge thanks to producer Max Martin (of Taylor Swift fame), this chart-topping song of the summer taken from The Weeknd's sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness, is as addictive as a bag of the devil's marching powder. On Shameless, the drug-induced bravado obviously hasn't worn off as Tesfaye queries, "who's gonna f*** you like me?" as he wanders into typical, banal R&B. There are certainly grandiose King of Pop aspirations on the '80s vibed In the Night and As You Are, but on the Lana Del Rey electro soul duet Prisoner, Tesfaye's "a prisoner to my addiction". The poor bloke clearly needs help.
The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness, Republic Records