A review of the best indie released in February 2021, featuring Wolf Alice, Mogwai, Arlo Parks, Django Django, Claud, Foo Fighters, The Reytons and Black Country, New Road.
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 as well as one record I really wasn't feeling.
The first couple of weeks of February were spent fully immersing myself in Arlo Park's fantastic debut Collapsed in Sunbeams, an album I reviewed earlier in the month naming it a "near-perfect debut". And I still stand by that. With the songs like 'Caroline' getting regular plays on both Radio 1 and 6Music, I'm delighted she's getting the mainstream exposure she deserves after a fractured 2020.
Songs like 'Hurt', 'Hope' and 'Black Dog' explore the topic of mental health with so much warmth and empathy, whilst the abovementioned 'Caroline' and 'Eugene' discuss youthful tales of broken relationships and desire. Her chilled out, conversational style just had me coming back for more time and again. Get on top of it if you haven't already.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a guide to 15 album releases I was looking forward to in the first quarter of 2021. Confession: this London-based Scottish art rock band were so off my radar, it didn't even cross my mind to include them!
When 6Music named new album Glowing in the Dark their album of the week earlier in the month, I was immediately intrigued after loving their self-titled 2012 debut. What we have a heady slice of escapism, incorporating a number of genres - Madchester, indie-pop, rave, dream-pop, funk - into an overarching dance-rock record. Opener 'Spirals' lured me right in with its psych-indie-dance vibes, a great introduction to the otherworldliness that would follow over the next 40 minutes.
The collaboration with Charlottle Gainsborough, 'Waking Up', is delightfully dreamy, whilst 'Free from Gravity' paints more sci-fi imagery with its lyricism and spacey synth sounds. My favourite on the record was 'Kick the Devil Out' through it's funky guitars and psychedelic vibes, though 'Glowing in the Dark' runs it close, anthemic and ravey.
Whatever you do, get this one played loud. The bass is so loud on the instrumental 'The Ark', I could hear the glasses in my kitchen rattling. Blame the new soundbar purchase on that one.
South Yorkshire's The Reytons are a new band right up my street. Just four normal, working-class lads with the ability to make an absolute racket. They've just released their new EP May Seriously Harm You and Others Around You on the Manchester label Scruff of the Neck and it's a banger-filled 18-minute experience.
With their buttoned-up polo shirts and Adidas clobber, Northern English accented tales of nights out and relationships - together with explosive garage rock choruses - you'd be excused for instantly making the early Arctic Monkeys connection. The new EP kicks off with the dark and aggressive 'Red Smoke', though my favourite moment was the ominous and punchy 'Broke Boys Cartels'.
I first heard Claud on Lauren Laverne's 6Music Breakfast Show and was immediately intrigued. My intrigue was soon peaked when I heard new album Super Monster (released 12 February) was the first to be released by Saddest Factory, a new label operated by the brilliant Californian singer-songwriter, Phoebe Bridgers. The new album is a healthy mix of bedroom pop and chilled indie in a similar vein to Alvvays, Beabadoobee and Bridgers herself.
'Soft Sport' is the undoubted highlight, together with 'Cuff Your Jeans' and 'Guard Down'. There's a whole host of smooth, coming of age bedroom anthems about love and growing up. I'm definitely loving the vibe on this one.
If the global pandemic was to be made into a film, Mogwai are exactly the kind of band you'd expect to soundtrack it (in fact, 'Helicon 1' from 2015's Central Belters is one track that has helped me find solace through all of this). 26 years after forming, the Glasweigan post rock band - who have built up a massive indie cult following over the years - have returned with their tenth studio album As The Love Continues. And yes, it is an absolutely stunning record.
It's full of emotionally powerful, textured post rock songs with an intensity to keep you engaged throughout. There's a certain ominous blissfulness to lead single 'Dry Fantasy' that I absolutely loved, whilst the hopeful and shoegazey 'Richie Sacramento' is already one of my favourite songs of theirs.
There may be a couple of tracks in the second half that don't quite hit the mark, making you aware of the band's lack of succinctity, but generally it's an exceptional effort. Unusually for this record, 'Ceiling Granny' has a heavy AND upbeat sound, though closer 'It's What I Want To Do, Mum' finishes in a darker and eerier place. The sonics on offer are seriously impressive and it was one my favourites this month.
Wolf Alice are one those bands - in true wannabe hipster fashion - I'm proud of telling people I liked them before they were big. Both My Love Is Cool (2015) and Visions Of A Life (2017) were amongst my favourites of those respective years. Four years is a long time for a (relatively) young band to go without new music, so I was absolutely buzzing when they announced new material was on the way.
On Wednesday 24 February, the London alternative band dropped 'The Last Man on Earth', also announcing their third album Blue Weekend would be arriving on 11 June. Let me be honest for a second, upon hearing the piano on the first few seconds, I'll admit to feel completely underwhelmed, expecting an uninspired ballad. Then, over the next 4 minutes I was completely won over.
It begins as a dreamy ballad, packing in atmosphere, soon drifting into an orchestral, Beatles-inspired jam. A stunning vocal performance from Ellie Rowsell on a beautiful track which is a gigantic departure from them!
Dave Grohl and co are now on their tenth album (feeling old yet?) having released Medicine at Midnight earlier in the month (5 February). They're hardly reinventing the wheel with their latest effort, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to enjoying a few tracks.
They may be as far removed from indie as you can get for a band these days, but a few people recommended I check this one out. Tracks like 'No Son of Mine', 'Holding Poison' and 'Love Never Dies' prove exactly why they're as popular as ever. It has it's fun moments and that, for me, was enough to look past the samey-ness of many others. A 7/10 effort.
One album I couldn't get into...
As much as I tried I just couldn't get into Black Country, New Road's new album For the First Time (5 February). Kitty Empire in The Guardian gave it as five star review calling it "one of the best albums of 2021", whilst Luke Cartledge in the NME, in another five star review, described it as an "utterly mesmerising debut".
I recognised the talented musicianship, diversity and how it tested the boundaries, but I just wasn't feeling it at all and sometimes you just have to hold your hands up to that. The free-jazz psychedlia made for a very unenjoyable, claustrophobic experience throughout and it was only the calmness of 'Track X' that brought any form of satisfaction.
Perhaps it was just me? Feel free to agree or berate me @BFloodlights.
Check out my 'Six new songs you need to hear this week' features in the Reviews and Features section of this site for more of the best new music.
Want to be kept in the loop with new, regularly updated indie tunes? Check out the 2021 Blinded by the Floodlights indie recommendations playlist.