Vant – Parasite/Do You Know Me? Double A Side Single

Download the single from iTunes here

Watch the video for Do You Know Me? below

It’s interesting how wrong you can be about a band. I saw Vant in Northampton on their recent tour. They were very….competent. Having been supported by two local bands who were well supported and brought energy in abundance, Vant came onstage, with a more polished sound, and plenty of attitude. They appeared not to want to be there (who can blame them? Northampton on a Friday night being not exactly the height of cool), fairly listlessly played for about 35 minutes and got off stage as quickly as possible. Sure, they had a couple of strong choruses (both featured on this single) but their best song was a country and western swing-along which felt like a throwaway, but was actually really very strong indeed. I couldn’t really fathom how they were going to be the “next big thing”.

And then I heard the two tracks that make up this double A side. With a  combined playing time of 3 minutes and 59 seconds, the band are certainly not hanging around. Opener ‘Parasite’ is a furious blast of snarling punk energy. It could be a lost Strokes classic. If only they played songs like they meant them. It lasts 1 minute and 24 seconds and still finds time for a ripping guitar solo. As a statement of intent it is unimpeachable.

As yo will have gathered if you’ve spent some time with the second song here, ‘Do You Know Me’ is something completely different. It is infused with a thunderously-beating melodic heart. It has a soaring chorus. It crests and bests anything put out by any band in the Britpop + sub genre in recent times. It’s the kind of thing that people used to get over-excited about The Vines for, or Cooper Temple Clause, or perhaps Nine Black Alps for, but it’s better than all of them. Seriously. If there’s more where this came from then Vant could be on to something very special indeed.

Sorry, I was wrong. Please forgive me.

Leprous – The Congregation

Order the album here

Watch the video for ‘The Price’ below

Leprous are a Norwegian prog metal band.

Still reading?

Good. That’s seen off the ones with weaker stomachs.

Released on the renowned Inside Out label, “The Congregation” is an eleven song exercise in melodic progressive metal. My initiation to Leproous, this album is not, perhaps, as heavy as you might expect from something termed “metal”, but the musicality at play here more than makes up for any shortcomings in the aggression department. This is a band with some serious chops. ‘Rewind’ is driven by some great tom work as it convulses through a soaring verse which, honestly, could only be created by a Norwegian band. I have no basis for that, except to say that the whole section, and indeed the whole song just sounds, well, Norwegian, in the best possible way. There’s no other part of the world that creates music that sounds like this. The way that guitars and synths augment one another, the almost complete lack of screaming in the vocals, their beautiful purity. ‘Triumphant’ features some lovely rhythmic work. If you can find and keep hold of the “1” you’re a better man than me. Later in the album, ‘Moon’ tastefully incorporates Rhodes and a bed of synths before exploding in to another glorious chorus. Again, I’ve lost the 1. Again I don’t really care. This is just too good.

To all intents and purposes, these could be the best kind of pop songs, except that most listeners would end shaking their heads in disbelief. If only people would persist! They are delivered with an alarming conviction. I can only imagine what they must be like live.

Bells Atlas – Hyperlust EP

Pre-order the EP here

Watch the video for Future Bones below

This EP is the follow up to the self-titled debut full-length from Bells Atlas. Again, an entirely new band to me. Coming in I had no idea what to expect. This is what their website says about them:

☀ kaleidosonic•soul•punch ☀

⚡ afro-soul, rhythm pop-sicles ☄ taste the r’nbow //// missy elliot meets bjork meets shadowcats and jolly sludge monsters ⚡

So, basically, anything goes, right? Well, yes, basically. As you’ll gather if you listen to the opening track from this EP above, there is plenty of soul, funk and groove here. Arguably it touches on reggae too. There are fantastic vocals, choppy guitars, and the kind of rhythm parts that make you sway in spite of yourself. There are time signature changes (always a plus, I’m sure you’ll agree). At points, it seems to me to touch on Eska or Laura Mvula of recent vintage, but this is far more creative and out there than either of those admittedly masterly artists have produced thus far. The beauty of this track is that it contains approximately three sections which could be argued to be its chorus, whilst never over-emphasising any.By the time the song is complete, I’m almost dizzy with the journey that I’ve been taken on. I don’t know what Bells Atlas are trying to say, I haven’t understood their language yet, but it’s the first language I’ve wanted to learn in a long time.

‘Sugar For the Queen’ swings in a 70s soul direction for a while. It has some glorious vocal harmonies in its tag section. Again, the interplay between bass and drums is fantastic.

I know I’m always raving about music. That’s the point of this section of my website, but seriously, SERIOUSLY, what is in the water that these guys are drinking? I want some.

‘Mess It Up’ rolls along on a dub groove and features an obvious “grab hold of me and never let me go” chorus, which is quite comforting amid the sheer musical turncoatism of the rest of this EP. It is, of course, a brilliant song.

Closer ‘Bling’ develops from some processed vocals and distant drums into another swinging wonder. These guys can seriously play. Just to prove that they don’t want to be pigeonholed once again (!) there is some crunchy guitar on this one too. Just, you know, because.

I’ve never seen or heard of an Atlas like Bells. Immerse yourself in this brave new world. Don’t ever leave it.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon

Pre-order the album here

Watch the video for ‘Living Zoo’ below

Do you ever wish the 1990s and its College Radio Rock boom hadn’t ended? Did you love Built to Spill the first time round? If you answered yes to either of these two questions then “Untethered Moon” is the album you’ve been waiting for.

I missed Built to Spill the first time round, but when I heard that they were back and with a new album on the way, I was intrigued to find out what they were all about. I have to admit to total ignorance. I was expecting some kind of shouty post-hardcore. Shows you how much I know. Some of these albums are wasted on me.

Of course, devotees of the band, and I’m certain there are many, know exactly what they will be getting with this new record. To my ears, sprawling opening duo ‘All Our Songs’ and previous single ‘Living Zoo’ offer a fuzzier, much more progressive take on peak-period REM (sacrilege! heresy!), with an added musicality and glorious propensity for wigging out. You have to wonder why Built to Spill’s reformation is not causing even more of a stir on the basis of these opening tracks.

Elsewhere, ‘Another Day’s’ driving 6/8 and heavily crunched Leslie organ (I hope that’s what it is) is a major highlight, as the aggression is amped up. Conversely, ‘Never Be The Same’ is almost sweet, festooned as it is in 60s pop vibes, This is a band at home in a variety of styles, but in vocalist Doug Martsch they have a leader distinctive enough to make them stand out from the crowd. For a band formed in 1992, “Untethered Moon” feels like a surprisingly youthful and jaunty record, the sound of a band maturing and improving ever more with age.

Chuck Ragan & Rocky Votolato – Kindred Spirit Split EP

Pre-order the EP here

Watch the video for ‘Sparks of Recovery’ below

Chuck Ragan and Rocky Votolato are fine singer/songwriters in their own right, but these long time friends, Kindred Spirits if you will (fnar, fnar, fnar) have joined together to showcase each other’s tracks, and draw attention to their individual releases and forthcoming tours. Fans of either will find much to love here. Opening with three from Votolato, you will be able to see and hear for yourself that ‘Sparks of Recovery’ is  a gorgeous folk rock song with a chorus to die for. ‘St. Louis” begins gently but contains a hint of snarl. Again, a fantastic chorus is the centre of the song. By the end of ‘Let Go’, if you’re not making a plan to immediately check out Rocky’s 2015 album “Hospital Handshakes” I’d be surprised. I know that I will be doing so.

Chuck Ragan’s half of the EP begins with ‘Justice and Fair Shake’, immediately lifting the tempo and the intensity of the EP. Where Votolato’s voice is tender, Ragan’s is strident and powerful. The driving fiddle on this track is something of a standout. We very much know we’re in the Deep South now. Again, perhaps unsurprisingly, a cast-iron gold chorus will ensnare you if you give it a chance. Chuck sounds somewhat like a vagabond, so that this is the title of the next track is apt. A bar-room stomp of a song, with some tasty Hammond, this makes it 5/5 on the stonking chorus front. Closing out the EP is ‘Before Dust’, a 3/4 full of violin and soaring guitars, where, if it’s possible, the vocal intensity raises up a notch. The weather-beaten story swings along carried on an almost chanted gang vocal and a walking bass part par excellence.

I have to admit (again) that this was my introduction to both artists, and for that I have to thank Side One Dummy. As a sampler of where both these fine songwriters find themselves as 2015 rolls towards summer, this is unbeatable. Delve in to the back catalogues of both. I fully expect not to be disappointed as I do in the coming days.