STATE COWS – Challenges

State Cows have been making excellent westcoast/yacht rock music since 2010. Always unashamed in their retro-ness, the band have delighted fans across the world with various self-penned homages to Toto, Steely Dan and late 70s Doobie Brothers. There’s nothing obviously original about the Cows’ choice of style, but there’s no denying they do it better than most…and even after so many years, the fact that this most American of sounds was perfected somewhere in Sweden is a fact that still amazes.

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LIsten: Dream poppers Cathedral Bells release new single ‘Ephemeral’

In October 2019, US dream pop duo Cathedral Bells gave fans a taste of their upcoming album when they released a new single ‘Ephemeral’. The track gave everyone everything they’d hoped for with a hazy throwback to 90s dreampop and shoegaze, all the while still showcasing the band’s gift for a vaguely gothy melody.

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DENNY SMITH – From The Dark

Best known as being one of the creative forces behind Nashville’s The Great Affairs, Denny Smith is a prolific songwriter. At any given time, he’s stockpiling ideas for new songs and recording demos. He even seems to instinctively know whether the song idea is destined for his main band, a solo album, or even a side project where oddities ultimately end up.

Various stripped back ideas formed his first solo album ‘An Overnight Low’ in 2016. It was a record that appeared to reach an audience of twelve people. His second solo record, ‘From The Dark’ gathers more introspective material that wouldn’t all fit with the Great Affairs mould of straight up roots rock, but fans of that band will surely find an easily recognisable voice within the album’s ten songs. As its title suggests, ‘From The Dark’ is an album that often seems concerned with a future unknown and of life’s unexpected wobbles. The songs are often presented in a way that its messages come from up close and, in Smith’s own words, are “stripped of artifice”. Although he says the album isn’t about story-telling in the strictest sense, more a case of “getting things off [his] chest as unself-conciously as possible”, From The Dark’ is personal, but rarely feels like a voyage into abject misery. Even at its most heart-wrenching, it appears thoughtful and reflective; you won’t find anything here that’s as laid barely as, say, Mike Viola’s heartbreaking ‘Painkillers’ or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Little Green’.

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Watch: Northern Ireland’s Paper Tigers unveil new video

Paper Tigers’ debut single ‘Gucci Smiles’ is a monster. In a little over three minutes, the Northern Irish rockers unveil a range of great hard rock sounds. Between a hard driving verse where the drums come with a near relentless attack, through to a massive chorus where melodies are at the forefront, the band seem to constantly pull between aggression and melody.

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HI/JACK – Rank And File EP

Hi/Jack’s 2016 album ‘No Cover’ is one of those records that lacks something. Across its forty minutes, the duo pound through eleven tracks that blend a garage punk aesthetic with furious metal riffs. They certainly couldn’t be accused of approaching their work in a half-arsed way, but it shows why the guitar/drums/no bass set up is perfect for a purer garage rock sound but not much else. When applied to music that should be given the full bells and whistles approach – as with the semi-metallic influences that infuse most of Max Liam’s guitar playing – the lo-fi approach just sounds shoddy.

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