The May indie review: What were the best releases?
A review of the best indie albums released in May 2021. Featuring the Black Keys, girl in red, Baby Strange, St. Vincent, The Coral and Weezer.
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.
Delta Kream by The Black Keys
Now legends of the alternative rock scene, Ohio duo The Black Keys have pretty much earned the right to do as they please. This year definitely marked the "we're doing as we please" phase of their career. And why the hell not? Over the past decade (and more) they've produced a string of critically acclaimed albums like 2008's Attack & Release, 2010's Brothers and 2011's El Camino.
Following the release of their eighth studio album Turn Blue in 2014, Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitars) and Patrick Cairney (drums) went on an extended hiatus. With the two embarking on separate projects and rumours circulating that they'd fallen out, it was feared that the band were done for.
Thankfully these rumours turned out to be a load of rubbish and in 2019 they returned once again with Let's Rock. And while they played it safe with that offering, it contained the garage rock hooks we'd come to love from them. Sometimes bands can come back on a whimper after a break. Instead, their comeback was a welcomed return to form. They also remained popular as ever, 'Lo/Fi' even gaining them their first American Billboard Mainstream Rock number 1.
With the gaps between records getting even longer over the past decade, imagine our surprise (and delight) when they announced the release of Delta Kream in April, less than two years after the release of their last studio album.
Said to be recorded in less than 10 hours over two-afternoon sessions, lead singer Dan Auerback admitted that "we made this record to honor the Mississippi hill country blues tradition that influenced us starting out". Something a bit different, excitement ensued.
The new covers project sees the duo reconnect back to their blues-rock roots, featuring 11 songs that pay homage to their heroes (which include John Lee Hooker, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and more),
And the verdict is in...we absolutely love it! For an album almost one hour in length, each listen absolutely flew in. Their take on the delta-blues sound creates an absolutely captivating listen from start to finish.
Judging by the videos for 'Crawling Kingsnake' and 'Going Down South', it looks like the two are having the time of their lives too. They're no longer confined by the need to produce a big hit or stadium rock pleasers and this is reflected by the quality on offer. Yes, many of the songs are sprawling to some degree, but it's the band allowing the songs to breathe in their pursuit of delivering the cover the justice it deserves.
Picking a favourite is a very difficult task here, there's not a bad track amongst the 11. If I was pushed, I'd go for the infectious blues groove offering 'Sad Days, Lonely Nights' and eerie finisher 'Come on and Go with Me'.
The only tinge of disappointment here is that these aren't their own tunes, though, to their credit, they've made them their own. Let's hope they can return to this sound again in the near future!
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - Crawling Kingsnake, Come on & Go with Me, and Sad Days, Lonely Nights
Van Weezer by Weezer
I'd be lying if I said the release of a new Weezer record filled me with excitement. Even less so with one called Van Weezer. I mean, I'd been a fan growing up, especially their 1994 self-titled debut (also referred to as the Blue Album) and 2001's Green Album, but what interest would I have with an ageing, washed-up, pop-punk band?
Then, reading some positive comments on Twitter I began to question my reluctance to this hard-rock inspired record. Before long, I put it on, having absolutely zero expectations in doing so. And how happy am now that I did. What a feel-good and infectious listen it turned out to be!
The album had initially been announced in September 2019 with a release date for May 2020 to coincide with the Hella Mega Tour alongside Green Day and Fall Out Boy. With the tour cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band postponed the release by a year. In the meantime, they even released fourteenth studio album OK Human in January.
Van Weezer is a lot of fun, drawing inspiration from a classic 1980s sound, together with their usual power pop style. Rivers Cuomo is credited as the main songwriter over the 10 tracks, though credits are also given to artists as varied as Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Joel and Daniel Bedingfield (yes, you read that right...). And those names sum up the record pretty easily, a healthy mix of corn, pop hooks and heavy metal.
Tracks like 'The End of the Game' and 'I Need Some of That' follow the hard rock template of bands like Kiss and Van Halen, but still holding the infectious character of Weezer.
The poppiest and most anthemic on the album is the mid-tempo song 'All the Good Ones' which harks back to their 2008 hit 'Beverley Hills'. 'She Needs Me' is another romantic and explosive pop-punk anthem, which, again, takes us back to the band's glory days.
The album finishes with the seemingly sweet and nostalgic 'Precious Metal Girl', allowing us to take a breather from the heavier sounds of the previous half-hour.
It's not the most clever or most original by any stretch, but what a lot of fun this record is. Definitely for anyone who ever had a passing interest in the Californian band.
Rating - 8/10
Best three tracks - All the Good Ones, The End of the Game, She Needs Me
If I Could Make It Go Quiet by girl in red
Marie Ulven is a 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter better known as girl in red. She writes songs about mental health, anxiety and queer romance, and she's been causing a stir in the indie world over the last couple of years!
If I Could Make It Go Quiet was finally released on 30 April, missing my deadline for the April review, though allowing me enough time to fully digest it. It was released on the independent label AWAL and upon release, I couldn't wait to get stuck in.
Firstly, some praise for keeping the record succinct. I've always been a fan of a "less is more" approach when it comes to music. It can be tempting for a new artist to overindulge us with material on their debut in an effort to make an impression. She resists this with an 11 track record at just over 33 minutes. Kudos for that, kiddo.
The record definitely has its share of moments. The anger, regret, anxiety and honesty certainly leave an impression on some tracks. There's little pretence and I enjoyed the fact that she's using her music to get things off her chest, be it about depression or relationship woes. It may not be the cleverest lyrically or most poetic, but part of the charm is its immaturity. She's young, has things to say and doesn't care who she offends. I like that.
Now for the bad. In truth, the latter half of the album dragged. There are too many bland moments and it took more than a few listens before I could fully appreciate the album as a whole. It simply ran out of steam.
My initial impatience is certainly surprising considering the short run time of the record (33 minutes is a music bloggers dream!). Tracks like 'Apartment 402', '.' and 'Body And Mind' (which sounds like a mediocre Lorde track) left very little impression and I constantly found myself debating whether to hit that skip button. These songs were covering similar themes as before, just without the same impact or quality of hooks.
In all honesty, by the end, I didn't exactly leave the record wanting more and this is perhaps the album's ultimate weakness. The obvious reason for that is the scales being tipped firmly in the direction of the brilliant first half.
There's the refreshing honesty of 'Serotonin' and angst of 'You Stupid Bitch', two tracks which feature highly amongst my favourites of the year. Unfortunately, there's a steady decline in the second half and an interest level to match.
You can read more of my thoughts on the record in my Does girl in red's debut deliver on the hype? article.
Rating - 6.5/10
Best three tracks - Serotonin, You Stupid Bitch, Rue
Coral Island by The Coral
The Coral have just released their tenth studio album Coral Island and it might just be their best yet! The new record is a double album set in a fictional seaside resort and it's psychedelic indie-pop at its best.
Our writer Nick Dale recently described Coral Island as The Coral's masterpiece and a record to define the band in their post-hiatus days.
The first part of the record references the resort in the summer months and the second covers the desolation of a rundown resort over the winter months. It's all wonderfully narrated by the grandfather of band members James and Ian Skelly.
The band have stated that this is not a concept album, just an album with a theme running through it. Whether you agree with that or not, it certainly sounds like one!
Upon listening to the album, it's hard not to think of places on the North Wales coast that have their best years behind them. Old arcades with aged decor and entertainers going there for one last gig.
Coral Island is the sound of a band at the very top of their game and has provided us with one of 2021's surprising highlights.
You can read more about Nick's thoughts in the Why Coral Island is The Coral's masterpiece feature.
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - Love Undiscovered, My Best Friend, Golden Age
Land of Nothing by Baby Strange
One EP I quickly fell in love with this month is by Glaswegian indie-punk band Baby Strange who have just released their new EP Land of Nothing.
Frustratingly, it was released on 30 April, meaning I, again, missed my deadline for my April indie review! No worries though, instead, I've had almost a full month to obsess over their latest release and I absolutely love it.
It opens with 'More! More! More!' and, with its brooding and explosive post-punk sounds, the title of the song couldn't be more apt for what you desire upon completion. 'I Want to Believe' follows suit, Johnny Madden's swaggering vocals front another abrasive and energetic rock 'n' roll banger.
'Club Sabbath' is another highlight, a dark post-punk track that harks back to the noughties indie scene through its big hook. 'Over n Over' isn't too dissimilar in style, more upbeat in nature with a pounding bass-line and another explosive chorus ("everyone back to mine, over n over!").
A fantastic ending that has us demanding 'more!' once done. The punk energy is infectious over this 15-minute treat that'll hit you in the gut...hard. I simply couldn't get enough.
Rating - 9/10
Best three tracks - More! More! More!, I Want To Believe, Over n Over
For something a bit different...
Check out St. Vincent's new album Daddy's Home. The Dallas-raised artist's sixth studio album was released on 14 May on Loma Vista Recordings and was self-produced with Bleachers' frontman Jack Antonoff.
El Hunt, writing in the NME, wrote that:
"This 70s funk pastiche is her warmest album yet...her trademark dry humour meets a sunnier sonic palette influenced by Bowie and Sly and The Family Stone...here, with ‘Daddy’s Home’, Annie Clark has become a bourbon-swigging rockstar in a power suit and Hunter S. Thompson shades, channelling ‘70s funk and dirty New York grit."
Daddy's Home is said to be inspired by her father's release from prison at the end of 2019 and has been many people's favourites this month. Ok, so It won't be for everyone, but this is a really interesting record!
Best and worst releases
Oh, that's a tough one. I'll go for The Black Keys delta blues cover album Delta Kream. The Ohio duo are on top form from start to finish, even if there's a little overindulgence.
As for the worst, well girl in red's If I Could Make It Go Quiet has its moments, but the Norwegian bedroom pop's debut simply runs out of the steam and the second half completely underwhelms.
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.