A Silent Film rocketed into this critic’s consciousness when the Oxford, UK-based band issued “Danny, Dakota and the Wishing Well” back in April. The post I made here on this site extolling the virtues of that track and dubbing the band’s at-that-time-unreleased full-length “the indie pop album to watch for this summer,” quickly became the most popular “Artists To Watch” post ever!
Since that time, Sand & Snow, the band’s sophomore album, came out in early June. And though it is unfortunate the band still remains mired in obscurity here in the US, the album has launched a new single which builds on the potential of “Danny, Dakota and the Wishing Well,” upping the ante on Robert Stevenson’s stadium-worthy vocals. Comparisons to Snow Patrol and Bell X1 are still valid when aimed at “Harbour Lights,” but the band is quietly making its mark and proving they’re ready to dominate the same stages. It is past time for this band to get a push here in the US. Radio won’t play it, but “Hear! Hear!” will — lap it up in a stripped down live version below (you’ll really hear the “Rocky Took A Lover” comparisons in that version) or enjoy the full single version here.
Bringing together the best of Bell X1 and Snow Patrol with an immensely danceable pop backdrop, A Silent Film has a real winner on its hands in “Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well.” The acclaimed Oxford, UK four-piece has built a reputation for itself with this type of expansive, blow-your-mind epic pop, and though it’s a cliche to say it, there’s something for everyone on this wide-reaching track. An accidental hybrid of Bell X1′s “Rocky Took A Lover” and Noah and the Whale’s “Tonight’s The Kind of Night,” the song spills over with ear-catching hooks and singable moments, creating a song just itching for the chance to go viral. With their new album, Sand and Snow, coming out June 5th, this is a tantalizing first taste of what should be the indie pop album to watch for this summer.
With a self-titled EP coming out April 23, Scotish indie-rockers Holy Esque are readying a full-scale assault on the American audience, with “Rose” leading the charge. Bringing the best of melodic Snow Patrol with vocals which remind this critic of the band Gomez, lead singer Pat Haynes delivers his band’s message with intensity and verve, and the rest of the band backs him with atmospheric arrangements suitably furious and raw. The result is fresh and definitely worth the listen.
For those of us who love 90s alternative music, Holy Esque is the perfect way to get our fix without feeling like we’re stuck in a world of nostalgia — this, my friends, is not backward-leaning music. “Rose” shows Holy Esque grabbing alt-rock by the ears and dragging it dramatically into the new decade. With any luck we’ll be hearing this on the few remaining terrestrial rock stations in America really soon, played on repeat. Until then, eagerly await the EP and spread the word!
Escape Directors, an alt-rock and indie inspired quartet from Bergen County, New Jersey, really brings the hooks on their latest single, “The Distant Past” — off their upcoming EP The Crowded Room, due out July 16th. The single was featured today as a free download on AbsolutePunk.net as part of their “Free Music Friday” feature, and damned if it’s not a rare indie track worthy of an ITunes purchase! The band’s got a clear, crisp sound which incorporates elements of Augustana or Snow Patrol’s pop tunesmithing with the more indie-alternative aesthetic of Northern Room. These guys are the real deal, and if you’re lucky you can say you heard them here first!
Year of the Album — #022
Augustana – “Augustana” (2011, Epic Records)
Eponymous albums are supposed to be statements of a band’s new direction, and Augustana’s third album for Epic is definitely that; like an unholy vocal alliance between Crowded House’s Neil Finn and Bruce Springsteen, Don Layus’s powerhouse vocals anchor this album’s ten tracks with an incredible barrage of hooks the likes of which I haven’t heard on a pop album in years, if even in the last decade.
But will the band be able to capitalize on it? Bob Lefsetz recently argued that bands who spend years crafting albums in today’s climate wind up missing the boat completely as the musical world passes them by — spending your time marketing singles on a regular basis is today’s music, while spending three years crafting an album-lover’s album is so 1975. And he may have a point. But Augustana is such a perfect album, it deserves to find an audience, even if it means flying under the radar as both their previous efforts have.
Still, with singles-in-waiting like “Steal Your Heart,” “Wrong Side of Love,” “On The Other Side” and “Counting Stars,” the first four songs on the album, it’s going to be a huge disappointment if the band doesn’t at least hit the mark with one of them. “Boston” and “Sweet and Low” pale in comparison with the mindblowingly catchy “Steal Your Heart,” which is one of those rare songs you’ll be singing along with midway through your first listen. Even in today’s impatient internet radio world, it’s a song with hooks so determined you can’t fight it! It’s eerily reminesent of Crowded House’s first two albums, pop music so pure it’s invigorating.
Like Crowded House’s own eponymous debut, the ten tracks of the album play as a cohesive whole, while each serves as an individual hook-filled statement of purpose. With music this brazenly addictive, Augustana deserves to be 2011’s version of 2006-era Snow Patrol, lighting up the radio with hit after hit and selling millions. But if they’re simply destined to remain 2011’s best working band, putting out great music for a loyal audience of converts, maybe that’s just as good. In a world where pop music is frequently mere ephemera, Augustana is still batting a thousand, and Augustana is their best effort yet, an easy candidate for my end of year top ten, and we’re only ending May. That’s got to speak for something.
Gordon Lightbody wants you to know he hates Greatest Hits records, so don’t call Up To Now one. But for fans of the band who never heard the band prior to its two breakthroughs, Final Straw and Eyes Open, it’s intended to be a reminder that the band had a 15-year span of great music which, while perhaps not always hits, were at the very least “favorites” for those who heard them. So the band put its take on those favorites onto a double LP and set it out there for us so they could, as Lightbody puts it, “leave the last 15 years behind and look forward to fifteen years in the future.”
Okay, so that aside, is it an essential album? This critic would certainly say yes. Unlike most “greatest hits” affairs which add a slapdash single to make a handful of tracks you already own seem more palatable, this album carefully sequences three new songs into the mix, songs which are forward-leaning, suggesting the band’s future direction amid the retrospective.
The tracks from prior albums, including some from Lightbody’s other band, The Reindeer Section, are arranged thoughtfully rather than chonologically. It therefore becomes possible to hear older songs in a new light, enjoying just how much great music the band has produced while thinking about new directions they’ll be exploring in the new decade.
The new songs themselves are revealing. “Just Say Yes,” the first single, is perhaps their most radio ready. It’s already been used in movie trailers for the latest Amy Adams rom-com, and for fans who want more songs like “Hands Open” or “Chocolate,” it’s right there for you to enjoy. “Give Me Strength,” meanwhile, Lightbody tightly crafts another of his songs to employ an easily memorable and repeatable chorus over a melody of incredible simple construction, something mildly reminescent of the likes of Crowded House’s Neil Finn.
My favorite of the new tracks is “Dark Roman Wine,” however. The single opens with a bare synth melodic drone, which allows Lightbody’s voice to shine in its rawest sense, immediately drawing comparisons to Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine during the band’s exploratory albums of this past decade’s early years, very much also in the vein of the likes of “Golden Floor” from Snow Patrol’s 2008 album A Hundred Million Suns. The song builds carefully as Lightbody sings of the fragile nature of love, but keeps pulling back, as though afraid to reach something so cliched as a chorus and risk shattering all hope. When the song reaches its conclusion, there’s a palpable sense of release, of raw elemental beauty the likes of which you rarely find on something as banal as a “pop” album, let alone a “best of.” If this track is a symbol of the direction the band’s aiming for in the next ten years, I’ll be first in line.
Lightbody and Snow Patrol have been very successful when it comes to showing their vast collection of solid songs in the kind of setting that allows these songs, spanning a 15 year period, to sound as though they all appeared naturally on this album for the first time. That alone should make this a worthy purchase for the long time fan and the Snow Patrol neophyte alike.
Even for someone who has long appreciated the band for their strong sense of songcraft and attention to detail within albums, Up To Now reveals hidden layers within songs which, for all intents and purposes, should feel played out, yet here they sound brand new. If the band continues in this direction, it’s hard to fathom what great music could be waiting for us, whether it be on a new Snow Patrol album or on Grandson of Evil Reindeer. Either way, I’m hooked.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.