A review of the best indie music released in August 2021. Featuring The Killers, Swim School, Bleachers, DMA's, Jake Bugg and Vistas.
The music has come thick and fast this month with a host of big indie releases to digest. Afraid you've missed anything? Here's a look at the best indie releases from the past month and something a bit different if you're looking for a change.
Pressure Machine by The Killers
During the pandemic, Brandon Flowers went through a period of reflection, contemplating on his formative years in the small Utah town of Nephi. As a result, he's conjured together a collection of songs inspired by his childhood and teenage years.
The first thing you notice on the record is that the majority of the songs are introduced by voice-overs from normal, small-town Americans from the abovementioned Nephi, Utah. They tell us about both the mundane and important issues that affect them, from religion to hunting, to horse-riding and addiction.
First impressions were that these felt slightly contrived and a little patronising, but after a few listens they soon became essential to the character of the album itself.
Onto the tracks themselves and from the off you're definitely sensing the strong influence of Bruce Springsteen's 1982 acoustic album Nebraska. I guess you can also throw in The Boss' excellent 2019 country record Western Stars too!
Opener 'West Hills' is a delightful and grand country-rock song. It describes the story of a man arrested for possession of "hillbilly heroin pills, enough to kill the horses that run free" before later seeking salvation. It's an epic tale, aided by strings, harmonicas and mandolins. An outstanding introduction to what the band are trying to achieve, providing a certain wow factor.
For the most part, Pressure Machine is a delightful change of pace for The Killers, more stripped down and humble without the need for explosives. Encapsulated by the small-town tales and characters it provides a voice to, there's something about this record that will make you feel optimistic and warm inside. You may even come out of this record with a newfound respect for Brandon Flowers as a storytelling songwriter.
Wanting to rekindle their love of America in the wake of the success of the very British 80s inspired Hot Fuss, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is the album The Killers wanted to make with Sam's Town. Well, they've redeemed themselves somewhat here!
Over the 11 songs, Brandon explores character-driven tales of abandoned dreams, tragedies, small-town drug problems, domestic abuse and faith. There may be the odd clunky line here and there, but, for the most part, it works.
You can read more of my thoughts on the record in my Have The Killers regained their credibility? article
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks: Totally, West Hills, Pressure Machine, Quiet Town
making sense of it all by Swim School
Swim School are a Scottish alternative band that have been hotly tipped for the past couple of years in both their home country and the UK. They produce a hard-hitting, hook-filled rock sound that's destined to take them far beyond their east of Scotland roots.
The five-track EP certainly does sound familiar. The Edinburgh band have brought together genres like grunge, dream-pop and shoegaze to produce an irresistible listen that will demand your attention.
As you listen, you'll notice a range of influences across the indie world including Wolf Alice, Dream Wife, Ride, The Cure and Foals. Mostly for me, though, I was drawing comparisons to Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable and their spine-tingling, explosive rock sound. This isn't to say they're a copycat band, they merge these influences to create their own character.
Tracks like 'Anyway' and 'Outside' also showcase the band in their anthemic rock glory, whilst mid-way track 'Everything You Wanted' allows for an atmospheric breather, finishing on a singalong and pounding, industrial note.
Swim School may draw upon many familiar indie influences, but their sound will instantly make you want to fall in love with them. making sense of it all definitely left me satisfied and also wanting more.
You read more of my thoughts on my Swim School's 'making sense of it all' EP is one of 2021's best review blog.
Best three tracks - let me inside your head, anyway, outside
Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night by Bleachers
Last November, Jack Antonoff promised to "take the sadness right out of Saturday night" in his new single 'Chinatown'. It was an excellent new track that featured a guest appearance from the one and only Bruce Springsteen. Soon after hearing said song, it quickly became one of my favourite songs of 2020!
With its 80s Springsteen vibes (of course), dreamy, lo-fi vocals and upbeat melody, I found myself vibing to the song over and over again, obsessively playing it on repeat and unashamedly belting out the chest-pumping "Cause I wanna find tomorrow / Yeah, I wanna find tomorrow" chorus hook. Nine months later, he's now released his third album (30 July).
What is a pleasantly enjoyable 33-minute record throughout - without exactly blowing you away throughout - finishes awkwardly. 'Strange Behaviour' feels too much of a contrived nod to The National, with Jack Antonoff's vocal delivery bearing more than a slight resemblance to Matt Berninger. It just feels too forced.
Similarly, 'What'd I Do With All This Faith' has little impact for the same reasons. What was a fun record to this point, departs on a disappointing anticlimax and you're left questioning how much you enjoyed it in the first place. Isn't the point of a 33-minute record to leave you wanting more?!
It was clear from the first listen that this was going to be a record to divide listeners. The high point of the album is clearly 'Chinatown', and the nostalgic formula he's replicated on a range of different tracks works well throughout. However, you're also left with that lingering feeling that this isn't exactly the most original or complex of records and it's a sound that can wear thin the more you listen.
When he does attempt to stray away from the obvious Springsteen influence, just as you're about to applaud him, you then wish he'd quickly turn back to the familiar sound. For what is on offer on the stripped back, acoustic tracks is a banalness that leaves little impression.
An enjoyable, if unconvincing effort from Jack Antonoff who never reaches the heights of second track 'Chinatown'. However, the presence of that addictive number ensures you're likely to give him an ever so slight benefit of the doubt.
Rating - 6.5/10
Best three tracks: Chinatown, Don't Go Dark, Big Life
I Love You Unconditionally, Sure Am Going to Miss You by DMA's
I loved DMA's new EP so much, I listened to it three times in a row on release day. It's short, sweet and absolutely addictive. I had it on so much in the days after that the obsession soon began to feel a little unhealthy!
As a recent fan of the Australian trio in the wake of last year's The Glow, the surprise announcement of new self-produced music was met with plenty of excitement and eagerness to see what direction they would take next.
They could easily have released a few more songs in the same mould as last year's brilliant third album, but they've decided instead to go back to their roots in sound and mix things up a little.
Songs like '1 Way' and 'We Are Midnight' have a more shoegaze vibe than we're used to from their last outing, with layers of guitars brilliantly distorting Tommy O'Dell's vocals and pop hooks.
Meanwhile, 'Viol' follows a similar path, but with more groove and added punch. 'Junk Truck Head F*ck' is a delightfully acoustic closer and a welcomed change of pace, giving your eardrums much-needed relief!
An outstanding 15-minute experience from the Sydney boys!
Best Three Tracks: 1 Way, We Are Midnight, Viol
What Were You Hoping to Find by Vistas
Edinburgh trio Vistas have just released their second album What Were You Hoping to Find and it's one full of energetic, singalong indie-pop anthems that breeze through on first listen.
The songs are fantastically produced and they deliver an accomplished guitar pop record that has the capacity to surprise and awe. Opener 'What Were You Hoping to Find?' and third track 'Dayglow' are two highlights that both carry the energy and mainstream groove of Northern Irish band Two Door Cinema Club.
Meanwhile, 'Start Again', which was released as a single ahead of the record, is an enjoyable pop tune that can't help but get stuck in your head. Speaking of which, 'Stuck in Your Head' is deliciously sugary and has that exact effect!
My main criticism is the samey-ness on some of the tracks, particularly towards the end of the album. In isolation, these songs are perfectly fine, but two-thirds in I did find myself yearning for something a bit different and contemplating what I'd be listening to next.
Tracks like 'This Information' and 'Tied Up' fit this bill, offering nothing different from what has preceded it. Thankfully, the final track 'The Love That You Leave Behind' saves the day and ensures we leave the record on a high rather than on a whimper. It's heartful, joyful and infectious.
Rating - 7/10
Best three tracks - The Love That You Leave Behind, What Were You Hoping to Find, Dayglow
Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Jake Bugg
I'm not going to lie, I went into Jake Bugg's fifth studio album fearing the worst. In the days following its release, I'd read a few comments from people who felt the new pop record was a mishap on the Nottingham singer-songwriter's part.
However, whilst I wasn't exactly overawed on my first listen, there was still enough on show for me to return back for more. Part of the reluctance to his latest album was his largely banal indie-pop lead single 'All I Need'. It's a song which, for a while, seemed to be on Radio 1 all the time and adverts every time I turned on the telly. It did very little for me and I soon began to resent its presence like I would with, say, a Justin Bieber song.
In fairness, the second preview single 'Lost' did a good job in redeeming the hatred I quickly gathered for the first with a killer bassline and disco grooves. Tracks like 'Kiss Like the Sun' and 'About Last Night' were other highlights with a certain well-produced self-assurance, whilst 'Downtown' is a convincing and heartfelt ballad.
There are a few tracks on here that are too forgettable though, lacking any kind of character to carry your interest levels ('Scene', 'Maybe It's Today', 'Rabbit Hole' 'Screaming').
'Hold Tight' is the album closer and is a pretty number, with Jake reminding us of the country-folk singer (together with his faux-American accent) we came to love back in 2012 with his self-titled debut.
It's a solid indie-pop record that can be a mixed bag at certain points, but thankfully there's enough here to win you over on his changed pop approach.
Rating - 7/10
Best three tracks - Lost, Kiss Like the Sun, Hold Tight
An easy one this month! It has to be Swim School's excellent debut EP making sense of it all. I fell in love with that one on first listen!
Did you agree or disagree with any of the above? Feel free to agree or berate me @BFloodlights.
Want to be kept in the loop with new, regularly updated indie tunes? Check out the 2021 Blinded by the Floodlights indie recommendations playlist.