All Saints were The Rolling Stones to the Spice Girls’ Beatles in the girl-power pop world. And while they never achieved the same global reach and ridiculous level of adulation as the Spiceworld phenomenom, their hip blend of R&B and UK garage was always considered more authentically “edgy” by anyone who had moved on from lollipops to alcopops. Marrying genuine rock stars instead of rich pretty boy footballers didn’t hurt either. Now nearly 20 years on from their chart-topping debut, and a decade after their disastrous 2006 comeback record Studio 1, the quartet of Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis and the Appleton sisters are back with their fourth album Red Flag. Punchy opener One Woman Man and lead single One Strike (both inspired by Nicole Appleton’s split from Liam Gallagher) are modern soul-pop anthems, and with the stripped-down funk of Summer Rain and the rousing This is a War, Red Flag proves to be a triumphant second comeback.
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas
After the gritty reality of 2013’s industrial inspired Vertikal, Swedish post-metal outfit Cult of Luna are joined by Julie Christmas, former lead singer of noise merchants Made Out of Babies, on Mariner, their seventh full-length album and first without founding guitarist Erik Olofsson. Very much a concept album delving into the expanding boundaries of the cosmos (as the Scandi rockers tell us somewhat pretentiously, “Onward, forward. Like the old seafarers, we explored the vastness of space”) Mariner stretches five epic tracks over 50-plus minutes, as Christmas’ vocal talents bring an ethereal and new dimension to the band’s colossal sound. Building slowly over three minutes with a drone of impending doom, opener A Greater Call suddenly unleashes a thunderous wall of sound that would penetrate even the furthest depths of galatic darkness. Christmas then takes centre stage on Chevron, her soft melodic vocals and piercing screams slicing cohesively through the powerful rhythmic assault, before the heaviness intensifies on the fantastic The Wreck of S.S Needle. Beautiful and brutal stuff.
It’s not every day you hear a riff played on a dog’s chew toy, but on the Squeeki Tiki, that’s exactly what garage-punk trio The Coathangers turn to. “We had to go to PetSmart and audition squeaky toys,” says guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel. From their fearless choice of percussion instruments, to the album’s playful artwork (singer Melissa Franco posing with a bloody nose) there’s obviously an element of fun to the freewheeling Atlanta rockers fifth album, Nosebleed Weekend. Recorded in Long Beach California, the follow-up to 2014’s Suck My Shirt still has a loose punk spirit to its choppy power chords, but after a decade together the three band mates finally sound a confident and more effortlessly tighter unit. Less volatile than their previous outings, the album does lose its punk energy at times with the driving rhythms occasionally lacking some punch, but the trio still snarl when they get gritty. The brooding Down Down and Watch Your Back, with its dynamic breakneck harmonies, are the most captivating highlights of the 13 ball-busting melodies.
Following on from last year’s more experimental Monastic Living EP, Human Performance is the third album proper from New York indie darlings Parquet Courts, and expands on the angular ramshackled punkiness of their 2012 breakthrough Light Up Gold. Continuing to wear their Talking Heads influences unashamedly on their sleeves, the jarring slacker riffs and minimalistic instrumentation will still draw rife comparisons with the arty garage rock of Pavement, but with repeated listens Human Performance reveals a band truly forging their own path. It’s an album that seemingly questions relationships and our existence, and like their former recordings the astute observations on mundane life are inflicted with a deadpan wit. Plodding opener Dust, with its repeated chant of “Sweep” isn’t a metaphor for rock’n’roll party powder, but a genuine concern for, well, dust. “Nothing lasts, but nearly everything lingers, in life”, spits Andrew Savage lazily on the twangy western Berlin Got Blurry, and with themes of isolation and anxiety running through it, the album proves to be the band’s poppiest and most enjoyable to date.