After a lengthy, lengthy absence coinciding with inept laziness and the pressures of adjusting to the adult working life we are BACK! Nine months after the last Alt. Corner entry and I finally decided that it has been way too long. Almost criminally so. So, what better way to re-energise this long-forgotten series – pah, who are we kidding, it was barely-known to begin with – than by kicking of 2015 and celebrating all of the incredible music that we left behind in 2014. And, believe me, there was a lot of it.
So today I count down my top five alternative albums from the last twelve months. I have to stress that this listing is objective as possible, based on all of the music that I’ve personally listened to (and there’s a fair bit that I never got around to hearing), and it inevitably panders to my own tastes. But, after all, music is a subjective art.
1. Architects – ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’
In my head, it’s undisputable. ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’ is everything that you wanted from Architects, and so much more. From ‘Gravedigger’ to ‘The Distanst Blue’, ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’ shatters your eardrums relentlessly with simultaneously the heaviest and most melodic music that they’ve ever showcased. It’s a delicate balance, and one that’s so difficult to achieve properly, but Architects make it look easy.
The chorus to opening track ‘Gravedigger’ perfectly encapsulates the Architects brand of metalcore that’s displayed over the album’s duration – a controlled chaos, bottled and turned up to eleven, and God is it fun. It’s one of the reasons that they’re at the forefront of the metalcore scene, and one of the best British bands around.
Specific praise is reserved for vocalist Sam Carter, who truly shows his immense talent here. His ferocious hybrid vocal style – indefinably guttural or clean – drives every song on the album, running through every particle of this album like a freight train heading for the fucking moon. His range, power and control of such a vocal style is truly outstanding, and rightly earns him consideration as one of the best metalore vocalists around today.
2. Lower Than Atlantis – ‘Lower Than Atlantis’
Ahhh, the self-titled album. The traditional notching point of when a band decides to take themselves ‘seriously’. Well, I can’t say I’ve fully taken Lower Than Atlantis seriously up until now. I was divided on all three of their previous albums. They were imaginative, quirky, entertaining to a point, but disjointed and lacking a sort of focus that a band really should be striving for. But on their fourth release, they’ve finally nailed it.
‘Lower Than Atlanis’ is a coherent, fun and engaging album that still manages to showcase the band’s humour and decidedly ‘British’ nature. It may at times be cheesy – ‘Emily’ and ‘English Kids in America’ being of particular note here – but it’s a part of its charm, and all part of the experience. Unlike what I’ve found with the band’s previous albums, ‘Lower Than Atlanis’ is very easy on the ears. While I’ve found some of their previous work often alienating, this release is perfectly accessible and inviting for newcomers to jump in.
It’s no wonder that Radio 1 have accelerated their interest since the album’s release. If they can keep up with this own unique brand of pop-rock, then they’ll only keep rising up in the ranks of British alternative bands. For those sceptical of Lower Than Atlantis signing for a major label, fear not – it seems to be the best thing that they could have done. Rock on, boys.
3. Mallory Knox – ‘Asymmetry’
I make no secret of my love for Mallory Knox. Similar to another of my favourite groups, Young Guns, Mallory Knox cut the bullshit and focus on writing powerful and catchy rock songs. Their debut album ‘Singals’ saw them thrust in to the spotlight, and with such a surge in popularity rock-lovers where ‘Signals’ left off, with a little more gusto and a lot more confidence. Lead single ‘Ghost in the Mirror’ displayed more creativity than anything seen on their debut album, with a head-bopping riff and a chorus so infectious it could wipe out a small nation. The rest of the album follows suit, with the band breaching uncharted territory and displaying a greater array of talents and musicianship than we’ve seen from them thus far.
The versatility displayed is quite remarkable. Recent single ‘When Are We Waking Up?’ features an anthemic chorus and beautifully understated verses, while ‘The Remedy’ is as raw and primal as you could hope for in a rock song. But the show-stopper and album highlight is their seven-minute opus, ‘She Took Him to the Lake’. Oddly placed at the halfway-point of the album, ‘She Took Him to the Lake’ is an adventure in itself, introducing itself as a drifting ballad before swelling in to a chugging rock song that could quite easily have stood alone on the album.
‘Asymmetry’ reflects a level of experience and understanding beyond the years of a band who have just released their second album, and if it’s any indication of things to come then I am expecting big, big things from Mallory Knox in 2015.
4. Charlie Simpson – ‘Long Road Home’
‘That guy from Busted’ has long shed that mantle, having had huge success with the fantastic ‘Fightstar’ and now striking out on his own. ‘Young Pilgrim’ was solemn and understated, folky and dignified, and revealed a completely different side of young Charlie Simpson. Well, his second album ‘Long Road Home’ isn’t quite that. It crosses over to ‘pop’ rather than ‘folk’ more often than not, but that isn’t a criticism. As with ‘Young Pilgrim’, this is still a minimalist, acoustic-driven album that can be as soulful as it is fun.
These are introspective, pondering songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re depressing as one might think. ‘Haunted’ is a tap-along number with an upbeat tone, while ‘Comets’ chugs along with a beat and drive that’s unusual for an acoustic track. But the quieter moments are equally as satisfying, with ‘Would You Love Me Any Less?’ being a particularly rousing and graceful track. The album as a whole also benefits with more elegant and focused production, something that sets it apart from ’Young Pilgrim’.
Charlie Simpson is going from strength to strength as a musician, and now with two albums worth of quality songs, both in term of writing and composition, I’ve stopped referring to his solo efforts as a ‘side-project’, and instead recognise his direction as a career within its own right.
5. The Gaslight Anthem – ‘Get Hurt’
The Gaslight Anthem are my favourite band. I’m not hiding that. The fact that they’re not at the top of this list shocks even me but, as I stated in the introduction, I’m trying to be objective here. ‘Get Hurt’ was bittersweet for me. While I loved it, it just didn’t have that same… feel, as their previous albums. ‘Get Hurt’, to me, represents a directional shift for The Gaslight Anthem, and a new chapter for the band. I will always consider ‘The ’59 Sound’, ‘American Slang’ and ‘Handwritten’ as The Gaslight Anthem’s immortal trilogy.
That isn’t to say that ‘Get Hurt’ isn’t a good album. In fact, it’s a great album. It has the trademark retro-modern sound and charm, but tweaked are the narratives and working-class poetry of their previous, tinted through lead singer Brian Fallon’s own lenses, who here spills his life on to sheet music.
‘Rollin’ and ‘Tumblin’’ may be the most ‘rock and roll’ song that the quartet have written to date, a raw and energetic old-school thumper, while title track ‘Get Hurt’ may be the most emotional and introspective song that we’ve heard from Fallon. ‘1000 Years’ is a clear standout, featuring a riff that runs circles in your head and a chorus that will have you singing along by the time it comes around again. But what’s most clear about this album is its huge range of influences. While Bruce Springsteen has always been cited as the group’s major influence, here we see snippets of all genres and all generations. While ‘Get Hurt’ doesn’t quite possess the ‘timeless’ feel that its predecessors did, it makes for a compelling and refreshing journey over its 40 minute duration.
‘Get Hurt’ may not be the album we were expecting, but it’s refreshing for a band who have established themselves so solidly over the past ten years to do something different, even if it isn’t to everybody’s taste. Bold move, guys. Bold move.