A review of the best indie music released in July 2021. Featuring Inhaler, The Shop Window, Sam Fender, Leon Bridges, and Sunstinger.
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.
It Won't Always Be Like This by Inhaler
Dublin hand Inhaler are in a bit of a difficult spot. Their lead singer Elijah Hewson is the son of U2 frontman Bono, which has ultimately opened plenty of doors for them. On the other hand, they're trying hard to shy away from such comparisons and mark their own path in an indie world cynical of his father's mainstream chasing success.
Having finished fifth on the BBC Sound of 2020, the pressure was high for them to deliver on their debut.
On 16 July, It Won't Always Be Like This marched straight into the UK Official Albums chart at number 1, kicking Olivia Rodrigo's Sour from the top spot. Helped by the likes of NME and Radio 1, they became the first Irish artist to top the chart since The Script in 2008.
At 45 minutes long, the flow of their debut is impressive. Opening track 'It Won't Always Be Like This' is a brilliant statement of intent, with energy, a pummelling bass-line and an explosive chorus, whilst 'My Honest Face' holds a certain pounding stadium rock quality.
You can't deny that Elijah passes more than a passing resemblance to his father. You're immediately drawn to his 80s style mullet and earring, and sonically you'll definitely hear more than the odd glimpse of his old man. Though, in fairness, this feels natural rather than a contrived attempt at currying favour with U2's established worldwide following.
With the obvious comparison undoubtedly to be made, they've backed up their media praise with a brilliant 11 track album that combines indie rock, groove-filled songs and synth-pop to great effect.
'Totally' was an immediate favourite. Deliciously poppy, groove-filled and heart-breaking, you'll find yourself wanting to hit that repeat button upon completion! Sitting nine tracks in, it's a delicate pop song that definitely adds a certain freshness to the end of the record.
It Won't Always Be Like This is an incredibly smooth indie rock record, with pop hooks, swagger and plenty of interesting moments thrown in for good measure.
The album title may provide a chin-up style message about heartbreak, but it can also equally refer to the early media reporting of the band. The more they deliver with great tunes like on this debut, the less people will draw upon the famous connection.
You can read more of my thoughts in my Inhaler: The blessing and the curse of being Bono's son's band feature.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks: Totally, It Won't Always Be Like This, My Honest Face, Totally
The State of Being Human by The Shop Window
Kent-based indie jangle-pop band The Shop Window have just released their debut album The State of Being Human and it's already a heavy favourite within certain indie circles.
Originally released on Bandcamp and vinyl, it came to streaming platforms on 2 July, and, to be honest, I haven't been able to stop listening since! Now a dedicated 'fanboy' (well, as much as you can in two weeks...), it's now my mission to spread the word to ensure as many people as possible hear the brilliance they have to offer!
Championed by the likes of 6Music and actor Robert Carlyle (and who are we to ignore the advice of Trainspotting's Begbie...), their debut is full of proper heartwarming indie-pop anthems to brighten up your day and allow for a moment of reflection. The harmonies are fantastic, inspired by the likes of Ride, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Teenage Fanclub.
Recorded between March 2019 and August 2020 at Raffer Studios in Kent, The Shop Window's debut features heartfelt and joyful indie rock that harks back to both the 80s/90s. It's a timeless sound that sounds as fresh now as it did then.
They're doing things by their own rules and truly deserves to go places, backed by an amazing story of reconciliation and emotion.
You can read more of my thoughts in my feature, The Shop Window's debut: Addictively brilliant and nostalgic jangle-pop.
Best three tracks - 2nd Book, Out of Reach, Flags, Disengage the Robots
Beyond the Frame by Sunstinger (EP)
Thanks to a Twitter recommendation, I quickly became obsessed with the new EP from Fife shoegaze band Sunstinger.
It's becoming rarer these days to put on an unfamiliar band and then be completely and utterly blown away. Though, I'm happy to report that this is exactly what happened when I clicked play on opening track 'Bonnie's Kaleidoscope'!
I was immediately hooked by the fuzzy, distorted opening and muffled vocals before a wall of sound punches your ears to raise the hairs on your neck tenfold.
Sunstinger quote Joy Division, DIIV and Slowdive amongst their main influences, hitting a similar vibe perfectly. They feature members of bands Sergeant, Tomas Bird & The Blonde Spirit and Rioteers, bands who've performed at Glastonbury and T in the Park, and supported the likes of Oasis and The Fratellis.
They've used their experience to create a fantastic sound, describing themselves as "experimenting with noise and melody to create unfound sounds" and able to "conjoin cinematic soundworlds with spaced out vocals".
It feels both fresh and yet also a noise you feel familiar and comfortable with. Final track 'All My Friends Are High' is the most sugary and hooky over the 20-minute record with more than a slight nod to fellow indie countrymen Jesus and the Mary Chain.
It's heavy, spacey, sweet, intense and, most of all, majestic. What a sound. The fact they only have 1,474 monthly listeners (and counting) on Spotify is criminal. Please check them out and spread the word!
Rating - 10/10
Best three tracks: Beyond the Frame, All My Friends are High, Bonnie's Kaleidoscope
Seventeen Going Under by Sam Fender (single)
We all got very excited when Geordie singer-songwriter released his new single 'Seventeen Going Under' and announced a new album of the same name was on its way.
His 2019 debut Hypersonic Missiles was a fantastic collection of Springsteen-inspired tracks that powerfully commented on issues ranging from Brexit, the problem of suicide amongst young men and one night stands.
Judging by the new single, the new record is expected to be a more personal record, focusing on Sam's difficult experiences growing up in North Shields. It's commanding, with a feel-good War On Drugs air of uplifting and emotional rock 'n' roll.
Our writer Josh Robinson was so impressed that he wrote a passionate and detailed article on Why you should be excited for Sam Fender's second album.
Gold-Diggers Sound by Leon Bridges
Now, here's something a little different. I first came across Grammy-nominee Leon Bridges through his brilliant 2020 Texas Sun EP with blues-rock band Khruangbin, perfectly fusing soul and psychedelic rock to great effect.
His new album may be a little shy of the guitar of his most recent work, but it's a seriously impressible 36-minute R&B/Soul record that's both heartfelt and groove-filled in equal measure.
The 32-year-old Atlanta singer's third album compares favourably to contemporaries Frank Ocean and Anderson .Paak and has received rave reviews since its 23 July release.
'Sweeter', which features famous Sax player Terrace Martin, is an emotional response to the George Floyd killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2021, whilst 'Why Don't You Touch Me?' is a beautiful take on a diminishing relationship.
Album highlight 'Motorbike' is the slickest and most funky on the record which he described to Rolling Stone as being "about living in the moment and escaping with someone". The Anderson .Paak directed video is a Bonnie and Clyde/Pulp Fiction inspired storyline and is a lot of fun.
Rating - 7.5/10
Best three tracks - Motorbike, Why Don't You Touch Me?, Sweeter
That's an easy one. I'd never heard of Scottish shoegazers Sunstinger until I put on their debut EP Beyond the Frame and was utterly blown away by their wall of noise. It's 20 minutes of noise and bliss!
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.