THE return of soft rock titans Keane has been the biggest draw of the past musical week, with new LP Strangeland set to be their fourth consecutive No 1.
Clearly sales volumes and quality don’t always go hand in hand (as explicitly displayed by 2008’s Perfect Symmetry), but this record does nonetheless represent a revival of sorts in that they’ve essentially admitted to past mistakes and settled back into a comfort zone.
That means a return to the inoffensive but terrifically accomplished piano-rock of their first two records, making the most of Tom Chaplin’s undoubted vocal abilities whilst sticking to a fairly rigid songwriting formula.
It’s not going to sway any detractors, but is at least better than most of the other records that shift bucketloads in Asda.
This week also saw a new release from Wakefield trio The Cribs, one of the best loved bands on the UK’s indie circuit.
In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull marks their first outing since the departure of legendary ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, the Jarman brothers have gone back to basics and created an album which evokes the punky garage spirit of their earlier days.
Thankfully, they’ve lost none of that initial vigour, with the likes of Chi-Town and Come On, Be A No One being among their finest songs to date.
There’s even a four-piece suite at the end, which works surprisingly well given that it’s a format which hardly lends itself to sloppy imperfection.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one which fully pays off on their best record yet. Here’s Chi-Town.
Not so well known, but no less excellent are Canadian trio Silversun Pickups, who have just unveiled their third full-length, Neck Of The Woods.
The band have long drawn comparison to the Smashing Pumpkins (largely down to singer Brian Aubert’s nasal style), but they’ve well and truly distanced themselves from such parallels here, with a distinctly different sound to both of their previous records.
What’s most noticeable is that the distorted guitar attack has been toned down, in favour of a sound which makes greater - though not overwhelming - use of electronic elements.
It’s a shift that takes a while to get used to, but those who persevere will likely find it just as fulfilling as their other works.
Another artist who has undergone a stylistic shift is Sheffield-based singer songwriter Richard Hawley.
Standing On The Sky’s Edge - his seventh studio effort - displays a significantly heavier tone than his previous efforts, abandoning the string section in favour of a morbid psychedelic slant.
It sounds like a cross between Nick Cave and The Verve circa Urban Hymns, and although some may find it hard going the rewards are rich.
Opener She Brings The Sunlight, for instance, is a soaring cloud of grim dirge which could hardly contradict it’s title more, while the title track presents a more dynamic take on this perennial bleakness. Stream the whole thing here.
If Hawley’s seven-minute slabs of tangled psychedelica can be a little long winded, hardcore supergroup Off! present quite the opposite extreme.
Brisk, direct and energetic, the LA quartet’s self-titled debut LP (hot off the heels of last year’s First Four EP’s compilation) harks back to the genre’s 80s origins - hardly surprising given that their singer is former Black Flag and current Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris.
Although not quite as good as those early EPs, the record is nevertheless a thrilling throwback, and with 16 songs crammed into a 16-minute run-time represents American punk in its purest form.
British post-punk is hardly in need of a shot in the arm, but Leeds quartet I Like Trains are an exciting proposition regardless, having just released their third full-length The Shallows.
Although not especially original, the quartet certainly seem capable of making an impact on the scene, and should bring plenty of satisfaction to those who enjoy bands such as Wild Beasts, Foals and The Horrors.
Frontman David Martin’s presence is especially enticing, with his vocals falling somewhere in between the morbid baritone of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and the charismatic wit of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. Subtle, streamlined and sexy, it’s a record which delivers emphatically on its maker’s long standing ones-to-watch tag.
Finally, with new album Valtari imminent, now is the ideal time to revisit the catalog of Icelandic post-rock masters Sigur Ros.
The quartet first gained international recognition in the early noughties, with an outstanding run of records capturing hearts and minds around the globe and influencing countless imitators.
( ) and Takk... are both masterpieces in their own right, but for me the majestic and mysterious Ágætis Byrjun remains their finest achievement, portraying an angelic beauty scarcely matched before or since.
Post-rock as a genre has since become tiresome and saturated, but this benchmark proves that when perfected there are few - if any - sounds which can compete.