November indie review: IDLES, The War on Drugs, Damon Albarn, Oasis, The Reytons and more
Featuring IDLES, The War On Drugs, Courtney Barnett, Damon Albarn, The Reytons, Apollo Junction, Oasis, Nation of Language, Red Rum Club and more.
The music has come thick and fast over the past couple of months with a host of big indie releases to digest. Afraid you've missed anything? Here's a look at the best indie releases and something a bit different if you're looking for a change.
CRAWLER by IDLES
IDLES faced a barrage of criticism in the run-up to 2020's Ultra Mono, with claims that they were pouring scorn on the working classes and sloganeering. They're back just over a year later to completely change the perception many people had of them.
Fourteen months is a really short time between albums to present any kind of change or progression. In this case, the distance couldn’t be more gaping in terms of subject matter. Fearing they’d become too predictable, caricatured and likely weary of another backlash, IDLES have changed their focus more inward for fourth album CRAWLER.
Their latest album is their most introspective to date, influenced by near-death experiences and addiction problems to alter their attention from social justice to personal battles and reflection.
Vulnerability isn’t exactly something we expect from the Bristol post-punk band, so they need to be applauded for their radical swing from social commentary to introspective contemplation. On first listen, one track in particular will make you sit up and pay extra attention for this reason. ‘Progress’ has Joe Talbot at his most focused, least playful and, similar to the opener, in full-on reflective mode.
A few of the tracks don't hit the mark (the claustrophobia on 'Meds' and 'Car Crash' in particular), but the strength of the record is the added experimentalism combined with the familiar punchy, punk sound of before.
IDLES have proven their dynamism on CRAWLER just before anyone can complain about their predictable, repetitive nature. That it comes around only a year after their last is even more impressive.
The political preaching of before threatened to turn the band into a giant cliché so this is a welcomed return from the Bristol band. They’ve made the best decision of their career to change their focus and add in some added character to their sound.
You can read my full thoughts on the record by visiting my review, IDLES overcome previous social class controversies with reflective new album CRAWLER.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks: Progress, MTT 420RR, When The Lights Come On
I Don't Live Here Anymore by The War on Drugs
Released just too late for my October indie review (29 October), The War on Drugs new record deserved a proper write-up, so it's been thrown in with the November releases!
Rather than reinvent the wheel, The War on Drugs have refined their winning recipe on their latest offering, I Don’t Live Here Anymore. It’s a style that, over 2014’s Lost in the Dream and 2017's A Deeper Understanding, shot them up to a high level of critical acclaim and prominent Billboard 200 chart positions.
The songs on their new album are stacked with delicacy, pop hooks, and intricate layers of pianos, synths and guitars. Its evidence that the three year production time over seven studios has paid off. The songs are sprawling to a certain degree and yet still sound so focused with each listen revealing new moments of genius that may have gone unrecognised on first listen. The music is both instant and a collection of "growers", proof of an artist at the top of their game. It flows wonderfully.
Title track ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ has an instant and nostalgic feel that can’t help but take your breath away on first listen. Sitting six tracks in, it feels like the album’s centre point in more ways than one. That heartfelt, 80s groove will touch your soul and have you reaching for that repeat button so you can savour that feeling of desire and regret all over again.
‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is the most experimental song on offer – the opening will have you thinking Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight’ before moving into a longing chorus and addictive hook (“I don't wanna wait / Yeah, but I'm running to you / I'm starving”).
The main criticism was the vagueness of the lyricism and the quality of the album being stacked favourably in the first half's direction. Still, the songs are produced brilliantly and have you feeling their vibe so well that this is only a minor point of negativity on an otherwise fantastic album.
You can read my full thoughts on the record in my review, The War on Drugs continue their brilliance with ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’.
Best three tracks - I Don't Wanna Wait, I Don't Live Here Anymore, Victim
A Way Forward by Nation of Language
Always on the lookout for something a little different from my usual, one record I really enjoyed this month was the latest one from Brooklyn synth-pop trio Nation of Language. They've just released their second album, A Way Forward just a year after their debut Introduction, Presence.
I came across them through Kiley Larson's excellent Check This Out review, forced to take the plunge upon reading references to LCD Soundsystem, New Order and Kraftwork. Being a fan of such artists I was intrigued to give the album a spin and it didn't disappoint!
In his review, Kiley would conclude on the success of the new album.
"A Way Forward is not as immediately contagious as their debut but is highly rewarding when given the proper time and spins. Nation of Language deserves a round of applause for not making the same record again, as is the case with many synth-driven bands. All of their successful elements are here, but the vision is more themed this time, as they give an ace outing of the krautrock sound they set out to achieve."
You can read more about the album on Check This Out! A very rewarding record with a nostalgic feel. Wanting a break from the guitars? Give this one a listen.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks: Across That Fine Line, Wounds of Love, This Fractured Mind
Things Take Time, Take Time by Courtney Barnett
The Australian singer-songwriter is now on her third album, becoming one of the most consistent indie artists of the last few years. While her debut 2015 Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit had a certain raw, punk quality, her new album is a far more relaxed and polished guitar record.
It opens with the midtempo and daydreamy 'Rae Street' and that lackadaisical sound is heard throughout the first half. 'If I Don't Hear From You Tonight' raises the tempo on the biggest hook on the album and is followed by 'Write a List of Things to Look Forward To'. Jangly and upbeat, both are an absolute delight.
Courtney Barnett's nonchalant sound and detached vocals won't be for everyone, but there's a few very delightful tracks that perhaps lack too much longing impact. The main criticism overall is that there simply lacks that spark that saw so many fall in love with her first time around. She struggles to really blows us away over the ten tracks and this is one of her less memorable pieces of work to date.
Best Three Tracks: What I Know Now, If It Happens, I Wish You Well
Kids Off The Estate by The Reytons
Hailing from South Yorkshire, The Reytons released their debut album earlier in the month. It's a record full of indie bangers and working-class British swagger, following a similar path to indie darlings Arctic Monkeys (early era, of course) and The Courteeners.
Kids Off The Estate is a 42-minute journey filled with populist indie anthems. You could argue, such songs belong firmly in the mid-2000s garage rock revival scene (I refuse to use the term indie landfill...), though the enduring popularity of that time (and social class consciousness within the genre) ensures they'll find (and evidently have found) an adoring audience.
Their debut takes off from February's addictive May Seriously Harm You and Others Around You EP which I covered in my February indie review, describing the band as "four normal, working-class lads with the ability to make an absolute racket."
There's a punchiness and street edge on tracks like 'Broke Boys Carel', 'Mind the Gap' and 'Antibiotics', whilst the record also contains a certain vulnerability on tracks like 'Shoebox'. Title track 'Kids off the Estate' feels like a perfect ending, a nostalgic track about the antics of kids in the scheme, a certain euphoria achieved on the final words on the song ("And they call us Reytons!").
Fourteen tracks may have been pushing it in terms of track length, but this is an album which plenty of punchy high points and anthems about misadventures. The kids off the estate have done good.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Broke Boys Cartel, Kids Off the Estate, Mind the Gap
How to Steal the World by Red Rum Club
Liverpudlian band Red Rum Club have had a very productive year, following up 2020's The Hollow Of Humdrum with their third album, How To Steal The World. It features a familiar style to before, the Latin-infused tunes ensure a smooth, dancefloor-friendly vibe is achieved throughout.
Tracks like 'Vibrate', 'Nightcalling' and 'Come Back, Anna Marie!' will get the hips shaking, whilst nostalgic songs like 'Eighteen' bring the pace down, showing the band's versatility. There are bangers throughout in another infectious album, granted they don't quite match the highs of The Hollow of Humdrum (one of my favourites of 2020, no less).
In fact, it still astounds that this band are on their third record, it really feels like they should be bigger than they currently are. How To Steal The World may overstay its welcome by a track or two, but this, for the most part, is a brilliant effort.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Vibrate, Nightcalling, Eighteen
All In by Apollo Junction
All In is the second album from Leeds band Apollo Junction, a band self-described as a "New Britpop powerhouse". Their new record is a fantastic collection of anthemic tunes, bringing together a sound inspired by electropop, Britpop and disco.
Soaring guitars, big drums and hooks define this excellent new record. It brings life to the mundane, the band explaining it to be an album about "lifestyle, holding down jobs, running homes and having families whilst holding the self-belief in what you are doing".
Whilst still on the ascent, Apollo Junction had a helping hand in the fact that their songs ('Borderlines', 'On The Ropes' and 'Light Up The Sky') have been featured on the likes of BBC's Match of the Day and the Champions League on BT Sport, whilst they've also had songs played on Radio X and BBC 6Music.
Honestly, I was sold as soon as the guitar came in on opener 'Light Up The Sky'. I knew I was going to love this record from that point forth and my gut reaction was spot on. An excellent album to restore your faith in guitar music (not that you ever lost it anyway).
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - Sometimes, Light Up The Sky, Are You Happy?
The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure Stream Flows by Damon Albarn
The Blur and Gorillaz frontman is one the most productive men in the music business, thirty years into a career that has seen him move from Britpop to experimental rock, to hip hop, jazz and soul.
Having missed the boat the first time around with his 2014 debut Everyday Robots, I went into Damon Albarn's debut not really sure what to expect. It's release had kinda gone under the radar for me with so many other great albums coming out this month, so I put it on one early morning and listened intently.
With his latest, he's produced a beautifully emotive and textured album with plenty of haunting moments. It's more in line with Sigur Ros and latter-day Radiohead than 90s contemporaries Oasis. It'll have you questioning if this really was the same guy who sang 'Parklife' and 'Girls and Boys', for we're so far removed from such gleeful mockney anthems.
Albarn's voice has never felt so heartfelt and pure either on tracks like the title track and 'Darkness to Light'. It reveals a new side to the now iconic singer, a man who evidently always feels the need to challenge himself and sonically distance himself from his 90s pop status. It's a gorgeous record though one you'll need to be in the mood for!
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - Polaris, Darkness To Light, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure Stream Flows
Once Twice Melody (Chapter one) by Beach House
Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House are a classic indie cult band, gathering a loyal fanbase over their 17-year career. They've spawned seven albums over that time, with records like Teen Dream (2010), Bloom (2012) and Depression Cherry (2015) evoking strong emotions due to their uniquely dreamy and melancholic sound.
For their eighth album Once Twice Melody, Beach House have decided to do things a little differently. Rather than release it all in one go like most artists, with the odd preview single, they've decided to release the double album in four chapters.
The strings on the opening title track reveal a particularly wintery feeling, 'Superstar' has them in the more familiar synth-pop territory. 'Pink Funeral' shows a darker, more ominous side to the band, before it all ends on the electro-dreaminess of 'Through Me'.
An excellent 21-minute preview to whet the appetite for the next three instalments (8 December, 19 January and 18 February).
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - N/A
Knebworth 1996 (Live) - Oasis
To support their cinematic film release (23 September), Oasis took us on a trip down memory lane once again with the live album of their infamous Knebworth gigs (10/11 August 1996). Over two nights, the Manchester indie giants played to 250,000 adoring fans at a concert regarded as the peak of their career and a landmark occasion in the history of British guitar rock.
Recalling how he got tickets, the buzz for the occasion and collecting his memories of the day itself for a blog on our site, Nick Dale (who was 20 at the time) described it as "the most culturally significant event of this era". Now we can hear why.
This album is a godsend to those of us too young to fully experience the mass hype of Britpop. With the swagger and attitude we've come to admire (and hate) from the Gallagher brothers, this 100 minute listen is packed with bangers and bravado. It's the sound of a band at the peak of their powers, the sound of a generation.
Rating - 10/10
Best three tracks - Columbia, Live Forever, Champagne Supernova
Favourite album and new songs
The quality of music releases November 2021 has been outstanding and arguably the greatest of the year. To pick one favourite from the nine albums its not an easy ask so I'll narrow it down to between Apollo Junction and The War On Drugs!
We've also seen some excellent single releases too this month. We reviewed Foals first new music in two years with 'Wake Me Up' and also produced a feature on stunning West Lothian electropop band Dictator and their new single 'Candlemaker Row'. Both have remained on constant rotation in November.
New tunes from Bloc Party ('Traps') and The Snuts ('Burn The Empire') have been heavy favourites this month also. A special shoutout for jangle-pop band The Shop Window and their addictive new single 'Lay of the Land' which follows on from their excellent debut album The State of Being Human.
The Lathums Christmas song 'Krampus' (which I reviewed on the Dead Good Music site), Kasabian's return with Serge on lead vocals ('ALYGATYR'), Alfie Templeman's '3D Feelings' and The Skinner Brothers new single 'Put Me Down as a Maybe' are amongst a few of our other favourites this month.
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. All the tracks mentioned above feature.