Check it Out – January 2017

January is a strange old month, kinda slow and long, and come the end of the year it’s been pretty much forgotten. However, that doesn’t stop the music business getting off to a lively start, with 2017 already throwing up some banging releases. There is already a whole bunch of quality records flying around Spotify and filling the racks in record stores, so, with that in mind I figured it was time for something brand spanking new to fill these digital pages.

This new section of Hard Pressed, replacing the now defunct ‘What’s Hot in My House’, aims to introduce people to some of the hottest recommendations each month. It could feature anything from the obvious to the obscure, just depends what’s been grabbing my attention. So here we go with the first crop of big hitters to be jumping around my virtual stage or crooning in my own personal backroom bar.

The xx – ‘I See You’
‘I See You’, the third album from Mercury Prize winners, The xx, is the obvious big release from January and it does not disappoint. Their hushed indie pop sound has progressed into something more expansive and exploratory as they deliver an absolutely gorgeous record. They’ve retained that air of thoughtful vulnerability, while also showing greater confidence, resulting in a gratifyingly adventurous album exploring the textures of well constructed pop music. This is sure to be kicking around for a while and is well worth immersing yourself in – don’t be surprised to see it on many album of the year lists. Superb.

Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
As hip-hop albums go, this is like the anti-thesis of all the brash American rappers bragging about riches and the glamorous gangsta lifestyle. This is not an album about how amazing Loyle Carner is, it’s about life, something we can all relate to, nostalgia, reminiscing, missing the simplicity of childhood, musing on the mundane – damn it, this boy can rhyme about anything. Loyle boasts an effortless almost low-key flow as he glides smoothly through these snapshots of urban life in distinctly chilled out fashion. This is the future of British rapping – sublime.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – ‘Modern Ruin’
On their sophomore album, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have evolved into a slick blend of hard driving rock and twisted punk, with a liberal spattering of Frank’s brand of uncompromising vitriol that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and the Sex Pistols. And what a great album it is. Sure there is a full on dose of power chords and radio friendly choruses, but this is a band moving forwards and progressing into a serious proposition. Besides which, Frank’s lyrics remain as unforgiving as ever with tracks like the incredible ‘Thunder’ putting post Brexit prejudices under the microscope. Great record.

Sepultura – ‘Machine Messiah’
Although balls to the wall, scream til your ears bleed thrash metal may not be everyone’s bag, the innovative new album from Brazilian giants Sepultura is still well worth a listen. The album is essentially a conceptual affair expounding on the robotisation of society and is simply excellent in every department, from the stunning cover art down to the faultless production. Andreas Kisser and Co. have reached an enviable level of technical excellence and they use it to great effect on this creatively diverse record. Doom laden epics? Got em. Superfly shredding? Yep. Cinematic orchestration? No problem. There’s even some adventure to the rhythms and vocals. To be frank this is one of the finest albums of Sepultura’s long career and as metal goes, it’s gonna be hard to beat. Full review: http://alreadyheard.com/post/155988183668/review-sepultura-machine-messiah

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Halestorm – ReAniMate 3.0 Covers EP Review

Halestorm recently dropped ReAniMate 3.0, the third in their series of covers EPs, which they use to fill stop gaps between albums, and to put it bluntly, it’s pretty damn fine. What you get is an eclectic mix of six covers from the various sub genres of rock and pop, all of which are a nice fit for Lzzy Hale‘s raspy rocker voice.

It all kicks off with live favourite ‘Still of the Night’, which stays true to the original, moody mid section, blistering solo and all. It’s very close to their own style, but they breathe some freshness into the Whitesnake classic.

Much more surprising is the hard rock twist they put on ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’, the nineties pop classic from one hit wonder Sophie B. Hawkins. Sure, it has a killer hook to the chorus and is catchy as hell anyway, but some laid back radio friendly riffing turns it into a feel good hit for the summer, giving the listener that blaring from the car stereo cruising on LA freeways feel. Joan Jett‘s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ is up next and is everything you might expect; straight forward banging hard rock tune.

It’s the second half of the EP where they really stretch themselves though, nowhere more so than on Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Heathens’. On first listen, it’s not an obvious winner, especially after the radio-friendly rockiness of the first three tracks, but repeated plays reveal it to be truly excellent. Vocally, Lzzy demonstrates surprising versatility as she wraps her chords around the tongue twisting verses, while musically they retain the darkness of the original, but succeed in giving it a harder rockier edge; great track.

Soundgarden‘s ‘Fell on Black Days’ follows in a similarly dark vibe and, like the original, it’s good, but nothing spectacular. Covering Metallica is always a bold move, especially on a raw thrash track like ‘Ride the Lightning’, but they pull it off. Sure, the guitar sound is a little less meatier and as raspy as Lzzy’s voice is, it’s difficult for her to emulate the same naked aggression of the original. Even so, as the song progresses it thrashes along as fast as the original and the solo totally nails it and besides, this is Halestorm‘s version not a copy, so it has to be respected.

It’s testament to the band’s talent and versatility that they can shift easily from rock to pop to grunge to thrash so easily, whilst paying sufficient homage to the original without losing their own identity/style. A lot of upcoming bands could learn from EPs like this; for me it’s a win win situation, you keep your fan base involved between big releases and tours, maybe attract some new fans, whilst also testing your own talents on a variety of styles. Metallica is another band that have long enjoyed a cover, often using them as a way of blowing away the cobwebs in the studio.

So, all in all, a great little release and well worth a listen – fair play Halestorm. Now, about the new album…..

9/10