Only the second full week of the year, and already some big-hitters are back in the game. Literal laser-wielding stadium rockers Muse unleashed a new beast with some terrifying makeup jobs in tow; Jack White played in what looks to be the most socially-distanced venue we’ve seen yet for his new track; Fontaines DC are somehow following up with yet another new record, and much more besides.
Muse - Won’t Stand Down
2018’s ‘Simulation Theory’ showed us a near-parody of Muse, the trio’s love for theatrics and sci-fi gone feral; aiming for cinematic celestial synth-rock but ending up closer to wherever straight-to-DVD sits these days. Just try and listen to the Timbaland-enlisting ‘Propaganda’ and not stifle a laugh. If ‘Won’t Stand Down’ is any indication as to where the stadium rockers are headed ninth time around, they’re thankfully much closer to earth. Still with a heavy dose of straight-faced pomposity - let’s be honest, would we expect any less?! - but here the fist-pumping moments are scattered among metallic riffs and straightforward pop nous. Haters still gonna hate, but at least it’s not entirely ridiculous. (Emma Swann)
Fontaines DC - Jackie Down the Line
All three Fontaines DC albums have looked at Irishness from a different angle. While debut ‘Dogrel’ saw them interrogate their upbringing, 2020 follow-up ‘A Hero’s Death’ looked from the outside in, reflecting on their heritage while on the road. Third album ‘Skinty Fia’ ponders “Irishness existing in England” after all the band moved abroad. First single ‘Jackie Down The Line’ is written “from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t want to be good or doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be good,” Grian Chatten told Rolling Stone, and he plays the sullen, downbeat character exquisitely. Inversely, it also happens to be one of Fontaines’ catchiest songs to date, a slithering earworm with a chorus that sticks in the head. (Will Richards)
Mitski - Love Me More
Mitski said her new album “needed to create something that was a pep talk” for herself, and as such evolved “to be more up-tempo and dance-y”. After this approach was first shown stunningly on euphoric recent single ‘The Only Heartbreaker’, new track ‘Love Me More’ continues the trend. A thudding synth-pop jam, ‘Love Me More’, shows Mitski evolving and proving that, alongside her trademark intensity, you can also put her new music on at a party. It’s a swerve that suits her well. (Will Richards)
Jack White - Love Is Selfish
With the glut of double (or - gasp! - triple) albums having thankfully passed, whether Jack White’s likely to have much competition in the ‘let’s promote two albums consecutively’ stakes is yet to be seen, but he’s probably right into the sonic gear-shifting regardless. Following October’s ‘Taking Me Back’ - a song with two disparate identities; one full-on rocker, the other a lulling, subdued take - comes ‘Love Is Selfish’, another from the softer, second record, July’s ‘Entering Heaven Alive’. And despite being a wholly stripped-back number - it’s just Jack on his, er Jack with his acoustic here - there’s enough echoes of earlier White Stripes material in the song’s self-deprecating lament to keep those (ahem, hi) more attuned to his noisy numbers entertained. So for those into his wistful, country-leaning ways, it’ll prove a charming listen. (Emma Swann)
Kae Tempest ft. Kevin Abstract - More Pressure
‘More Pressure’ is an eclectic conflation of BROCKHAMPTON figurehead Kevin Abstract, and the visceral spoken word of Kae Tempest; a pairing that results in a track that straddles the line between downtempo garage mixtapes and heady ‘heart on your sleeve’ poetry. This candid curveball saunters along at a casual, yet hurried pace. Kae’s relatable cadence opens the track into a beat-driven lofi soul number, with a whisper of Kevin’s US hip-hop sensibilities apparent in his verse. Lucid and heavy - ‘More Pressure’ is an uncanny transpacific requiem. (Alisdair Grice)
Pavement - Be The Hook
Slacker kings Pavement’s 1999 fifth album ‘Terror Twilight’ stands as the record that ostensibly called last orders on the band; produced by big time deck-handler Nigel Godrich, it was an attempt at the straight and narrow by a band who’d always existed on the wonk. ‘Be The Hook’ - the first of 28 previously-unreleased tracks to see the light of day via an upcoming reissue - however is a charmingly rough around the edges thing, full of ad libs and intimacy. Scrappy, catchy and full of the characterful vocals that Stephen Malkmus reigns supreme at, it’s a glimpse into the other side of the record’s coin. (Lisa Wright)
Placebo - Try Better Next Time
Placebo cruise towards another stunner with ‘Try Harder Next Time’. Laden with poetry and insistent, dark imagery, Brian Molko’s inimitable voice evokes as much emotion as ever, imploring and meandering through lyrics that are semi-sarcastic, semi-hopeless. The song’s melody, on the other hand, continues down Placebo’s path towards the slightly more upbeat, throwing in a couple of poppy drum lines, synths and electro effects chiming in alongside the grind of guitars propelling the group into their new era with a futuristic flourish. (Ims Taylor)
The Mysterines - Dangerous
Sleazy and dark, ‘Dangerous’ is a loud masterclass in alt-rock. Radiating influence from Royal Blood’s vocal delivery and candour, the latest from The Mysterines packs an intimate punch. The shout-along chorus is complete with atonal cooing “Ooooh Ooooh”’s that tie the distinct sections of the track together, and the raging guitars strumming seems to never end, harnessing the impact of momentum to their advantage. (Alisdair Grice)
CMAT - Lonely
The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and for Dublin’s CMAT those details happen to regard the specific conundrum of being depressed in a shopping centre food hall, dreaming of Robbie Williams. You can sub the specifics out as applicable, however: a lilting country-tinged ballad that marks the singer’s most contemplative offering to date, beneath the lolz the sentiments are universally relatable ones. We’ve all been lost and lonely, but CMAT? She’s loving angels instead. (Lisa Wright)
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard - Break Right In
Deft, intentionally bombastic and scathingly sardonic, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard are certainly not afraid to sugar coat dark themes with the energy of the swinging ‘70s. ‘Break Right In’ is an oddly uplifting track that delves into the psyche of an unnamed character on his last legs, forced to steal and ‘break right in’ in order to “make it through the night”. Vocalist and guitarist Tom Rees exits the lyrical comfort zone of typical Buzzard tracks and lights up ‘Break Right In’ with his dry wit, partnered with dancing fuzzbox solos, a hammered piano rhythm and their brisk pacing. (Alisdair Grice)
Oscar Scheller & Chloe Moriondo - Hard Being Alive
Bringing together the light and the dark in both halves of the duo, ‘Hard Being Alive’ boasts as much gloomy darkness as it does buoyant charm – videogame synths bop along with Oscar Scheller’s fuzzy, trudging vocals, which pairs with Chloe Moriondo’s lighter moments to make for a true tune of both sides. It feels like wading through the dark days, dissociating, and knowing that something better is on the horizon all at once – the perfect encapsulation of its message. (Ims Taylor)
Arab Strap - Aphelion
Terse and confrontational, new Arab Strap means only one thing: Aidan Moffat has been staring into an empty pint glass once more, as the ‘last call’ bell tolls. ‘Aphelion’ is a slow lament, originally recorded in the same session as their 2021 album ‘As Days Get Dark’. Aidan’s nasal delivery slides along the jagged edges of the track, joined by minimal crunchy guitar phrasing and the ever-present tectonic strumming of a wandering acoustic guitar. A worthy B-side for a fascinating act. (Alisdair Grice)
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