A review of the best indie released in April 2021. Featuring The Snuts, Dry Cleaning, London Grammar, Skullcrusher, Dinosaur Jr., Sour Widows and Nasty Cherry.
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.
W.L by The Snuts
West Lothian's finest The Snuts set the standard for music releases this month with the release of their debut record W.L. The hype was off the scale for this album, matched in a chart performance which achieved them the first number 1 debut album for a Scottish band since The View's Hats Off to the Buskers (2007).
Whilst it's by no means a perfect record, W.L. proved there's still a place for bands in the mainstream. In any normal year, it's the album of the summer not just for indie fans, but for many pop music fans too. Unfortunately we're living in less guitar-friendly times which may impact on the album's reach.
It's the sound of a band that should soon be headlining festivals and selling out shows across Europe. And if Lewis Capaldi (who is from nearby Bathgate and began on the same gig circuit) can have hits in America, who's to say The Snuts can't fly over the big pond and find a level of success there too?
It's funny, I went from being cynical to all the hype to quickly getting on board. A couple of tracks - such as 'No Place I'd Rather Go' and 'Top Deck' - took a while to fully appreciate, but they now feel essential parts of this album. The only track I'm refusing to budge on is 'Somebody Loves You', a track too cynically pop and corny for my liking. I'd be lying if I didn't admit my contempt for it!
The Snuts edge more to the funk side of rock 'n' roll over the rawer, punkier side of the abovementioned The View proving they - unlike many 'current' bands - aren't simply trying to rehash the garage rock revival sound of the early to mid 2000s.
The flow of the record is also excellent and there's barely a dull moment over the 45 minutes run time. If you're ever worried about the record losing focus on a track, the band will simply raise your spirits with energy and big hooks on the next. They aren't the finished article by any stretch - certainly the vagueness to some of the lyrics dictate that - but this is an explosive start.
W.L. is an incredibly accomplished and enjoyable record, fit for festival headline sets and sing-along gigs. The hype it's been getting is entirely justified so you may as well get on board!
You can read my The Snuts: Does W.L. justify the hype? feature for more thoughts on the hype surrounding the band and a review of their excellent debut album.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Always, Glasgow, Don't Forget it (Punk)
Californian Soil by London Grammar
On 16 April, London Grammar released their third studio album Californian Soil, one which has been met with mixed reviews from music fans and critics alike.
On first listen it was obvious that the indie-pop trio haven't exactly reinvented the wheel with this new record, but continue with an irresistible winning style that will remind you why they're so popular in the first place (4.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify is not to be sniffed at...).
For me, you can't ignore the brilliant flow of the record and the polished production which showcases Hannah Reid's stunning voice. The cinematic soundscapes on offer on tracks like 'All My Love' and 'Talking' are seriously impressive, a real statement of intent from the trio. That only four of the tracks here don't feature an orchestra speaks volumes too for the grandiosity they're aspiring to.
Big props also go to the stunning intensity of the music and the big radio-friendly hooks on many of the tracks. It really is no surprise that tracks like 'Baby It's You', 'Lose Your Head' and 'How Does It Feel' have been picked up by Radio 1 and given constant airplay. Super catchy, well-produced pop songs with heart.
The criticisms are also clear to see too. Many reviews have bemoaned the unambitious blandness of some tracks (one Twitter follower of mine described it as a "snoozefest"!). The big pop choruses on some of the tracks, as well as the repetitiveness and vague lyricism, may also disengage people who've come into the album thinking it's an alternative one.
At 44 minutes you leave the record just about satisfied, though had it ran on a track or two longer it may have been a different story! Thankfully Californian Soil is saved in many of these criticisms by the textures and soundscapes they produce from track to track meaning you're able to forgive its shortcomings.
Hannah Reid's powerful and haunting vocals leave such a lasting impression time and after time. It's an impressive effort but not without its flaws.
You can read more thoughts on the album by visiting my Why has London Grammar's Californinan Soil been so divisive? feature.
Rating - 7.5/10
Best three tracks - Baby It's You, Californian Soil, How Does It Feel.
New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning
Ah yes, Dry Cleaning. One of my most listened to albums this month has been from this London art-rock band who released their debut New Long Leg on 2 April on 4AD.
Upon hearing the irresistible sound of 'Scratchcard Lanyard' one morning on BBC 6Music, I couldn't wait to hear if they could deliver with a full album. Thankfully they do. It's a record which doesn't take itself too seriously, yet still feeling important.
Let's be honest, frontwoman Florence Shaw isn't exactly your most conventional lead singer. Performing on KEXP Seattle's KEXP radio station, she admitted to initially being too anxious to join the band and needing some convincing to perform with them. As a means to overcome her mental health issues, eventually Florence decided she had nothing to lose and signed up.
How happy we are that she took the plunge, providing detached vocals and surrealist lyrics to counter the tight, energetic post-punk sounds of the rest of the band. The unconventionalness contributes to their appeal, soon you can't get enough of Florence's dry turn of phrase and seemingly random lines!
The band have delivered one of the most unique records of 2021, a sound which I - and many others - just haven't been able to get enough of.
Sometimes success comes from the unlikeliest of places. Everyone loves an underdog story. Go on yourself Dry Cleaning!
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - Scratchcard Lanyard, Her Hippo, Strong Feelings.
Storm in Summer by Skullcrusher
Skullcrusher might sound like the name of a Scandanavian metal band, but don't be deceived. The music of Helen Ballatine's solo project couldn't be further from the genre if she tried!
Ballentine's second EP (released 9 April on Secretly Canadian) is a delightful, alt-folk release featuring subtle shoegaze and emo tendencies. The 15 minutes fly in, pulling at your heartstrings along the way.
Title track 'Storm in Summer' reveals why the acclaim is necessary, culminating in a climactic refrain of "I wish you could see me/ start this storm". Banjos have never felt so melancholic, vulnerable and yet so uplifting.
I'm predicting big things for this LA=based singer-songwriter.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Storm In Summer, Song For Nick Drake, Steps
The Movie by Nasty Cherry
Stars of 2018 Netflix docuseries I'm With The Band, this Charli XCX formed band released their third EP The Movie earlier this month (2 April). The 13-minute record features five smooth indie-pop tracks with chilled grooves and immediate hooks.
It's funny, Spotify threw this recommendation at me one afternoon. Reading their backstory and accompanying aesthetics, I was close to not bothering, making a judgment on them before I'd listened to their work.
Instead, I went against my gut-reaction and gave Spotify the benefit of the doubt. And I suppose I'm happy that I did, there were a couple of surprises and delights, albeit it's not exactly an EP I've been raring to revisit.
The highlight of the EP is 'Her Body', a radio-friendly synth-pop tune about a lover's deceit. NME described the track as a "contender for track of the year" and it's hard to disagree. It's a cool vibe.
Rating - 7/10
Best three tracks - Her Body, Lucky, All in My Head
Sweep It Into Space by Dinosaur Jr.
Massachussets alt-rock giants Dinosaur Jr. have just returned with their twelfth studio album Sweep It Into Space (23 April on Jagjaguwar). Co-produced between lead singer J Mascris and Kurt Vile, the band have delivered a solid rock record, bound to ingratiate itself with those who were already fond of their extensive work.
Over the 45-minute record, the trio rarely deviate from their signature melodic alternative sound and low-key vocals, but this shouldn't be considered a criticism considering the quality on show! It's a grower and not exactly hard-hitting from the off, moments of delight reveal themselves gradually rather than at once.
Zach Schonfeld, reviewing the record in Pitchfork, described the record as "their breeziest and most melodically generous of the trio's reunion efforts" and it's been widely praised elsewhere too. My favourites included the sweet English-folk vibes on 'Garden', the punky and carefree 'Hide Another Round' and penultimate track 'Walking To You'.
Together with Pixies (who released their brilliant seventh album Beneath The Eyrie in 2020), Dinosaur Jr. have proven that there's still merit in the reunion. My only criticism is the way the album ends, 'You Wonder' is a rather anticlimactic finish to solid album!
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Garden, Hide Another Round, Walking To You
Crossing Over by Sour Widows
Thanks to a recommendation on Twitter, one new artist I've been listening to a lot over the past week has been Sour Widows, a bedroom pop trio from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Their second EP Crossing Over (23 April 2021 on Exploding In Sound) features four brilliant tracks, expertly fusing an indie-rock and folk experience for a delightful 22-minute listen.
With it's sweet vocal harmonies, suble atmospheric textures and understated sounds, it may be a rainy day record, but it'll be one you'll be drawn to time and again.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - Walk All Day, Bathroom Stall, Look the Other Way
For something a bit different...
Why not check out AJ Tracey's Flu Game? It can be easy to sceptical considering the West London rapper is never off the radio airwaves, but his second album proves exactly why he's at the top of the grime league!
Like his self-titled debut, Flu Game (which is a reference to an infamous 1997 basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz) is effortlessly packed full of fresh beats and big hooks, an irresistible Friday record to get you in the mood for the weekend. The collaborations throughout (featuring Mabel, T-Pain and MoStack amongst others) also means there's barely a dull moment to be had over the 50 minutes.
Best three tracks - Anxious, Dinner Guest, Little More Love
Best and worst releases
This month was an easy choice for picking a favourite release, easily opting for The Snuts debut record W.L. The West Lothian band really delivered on the hype and it's not a surprise that the indie community has backed them to the hilt, inspiring them to a number 1 album. I had it on repeat for days!
As for worst, that's a tough one as all of the EPs and albums were rated favourably. Considering Nasty Cherry "only" achieved a 7/10 it would have to be their EP The Movie for not hitting the mark as much as the other releases. April has definitely delivered, now can May do the same?
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.