Modern English – 1 2 3 4 (InKind Music)

After a period of eight years since their last record, Modern English release their ninth studio album, simply entitled ‘1 2 3 4’, referring to the drumbeats at the beginning of several of the tracks and a reversion to the band’s minimalist punk roots in what is essentially a revival through the angst of these current times, achieved by louder production than on any of their previous releases.

It bursts open with first track and single, ‘Long in the Tooth’; a punk rock tempo referencing the phrase about getting old, featuring frontman Robbie Grey’s exasperated vocals and the band’s energising synthesisers, bouncing basslines and thunder-clad drums, which owe their credit to the superb productions skills of Mario McNulty. The album’s main single, ‘Not My Leader’, sees both noisy parts and minimalist stretches of post-punk guitar strokes from Gary MacDowell; unusually for Modern English the song has a political focus on the current government’s leadership failings.

‘Not Fake’ is one of the strongest and best produced tracks on the record; its deafening, hollowed drumbeats fill the entire track while electronic effects so typical of the band’s instrumentation play out in the background; alternating again between loud and quiet it explodes into uplifting defiance against the ever fake world of artificial intelligence, yearning instead for the preferred natural beauty of the planet and hints at The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, with the band also reconnecting to the pastoral heritage of their 1982 second album, ‘After the Snow’. However, despite also echoing the sound of their 1981 debut album, ‘Mesh & Lace’, this release uniquely differs from any of their previous albums.

‘Exploding’ has the bleak and repetitive chorus line, “Is that your fear; the danger of death?”; it lives up to its name being a track with intense noise washes and an industrial-style interlude marrying keyboardist Stephen Walker’s electronics with guitar scrapings; at times the guitar is even reminiscent of ‘After the Snow’ such as on ‘Tables Turning’. The accompanying track to ‘Not Fake’ is ‘Plastic’, which harkens a ridiculing message about plastic pollution. Third single, ‘Crazy Lovers’, is the most melodious song on the tracklist with an ’80s new wave synth edge, last seen on Modern English’s third album, ‘Richochet Days’ but with an updated vocal style.

The album then takes a grunge dip with the slow-play of ‘Genius’, sang by Grey with sardonic humour; its mechanical, hoovering bass riff intertwines with haunting slide guitar. ‘Out to Lunch’ could be another jab at the government and has beautiful cascades of high pitched, chiming guitar. On a contrasting tone, the release quietly ends on the mesmerising ‘Voices’, with its rippling synth, surf guitar and more reflective ombre that ends an otherwise explosive release. Aside to their early trilogy of excellent 4AD albums, ‘1 2 3 4’ seriously competes for a high status in Modern English discographic history.

‘1 2 3 4’ is out now on vinyl, coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

New Model Army – Unbroken (earMUSIC)

For their 16th studio release, the band returns to their roots with a punk rock album of defiance that harkens back to their 1984 debut record, ‘Vengeance’. Heavily political, it provides a running commentary of the abysmal mess of the current time and is an eclectic mix of sounds from New Model Army’s circa 45-year history mixed with the formidable skills of Tchad Blake.

Beginning on pastoral single ‘First Summer After’, which acts like an introduction, it simmers down to a keyboard drone and reignites with thrashings of acoustic guitar. ’Language’ is a tempestuous swirl of chaos, with a dark rhythm section and ominous spoken word interlude that displays Justin Sullivan’s astute yet bleak assessment of the situation: “It’s the things that you fear the most that you’re going to make happen.” ‘Reload’, which could be a single in itself, contains heavy metal guitar chords contrasting with the tumbling, glittering keyboards that reveal the smokescreen of nihilistic reality concerning global political corruption.

Second single, ’I Did Nothing Wrong’, focuses on the current Post Office scandal; having been written earlier it could not have been better timed for its release: a panicky track with ticking bass that questions the binary nature of computers, it contrasts between moments of quiet and sudden sonic explosions; the drum sound on this release being particularly emphasised. ‘Cold Wind’ echoes the main single; it also has string keys which could have benefited more from real instrumentation. The Bunrundi beats of dissociative song ‘If I Am Still Me’ are overlaid with magical guitar strokes that make it another album highlight.

The release ends on a couple of songs that differ from the overall feel of the rest of the track list; the most standout of these is ‘Idumea’, featuring a gospel choir with the bashings of tribal drums continuing, providing hope in the darkness as does the ending of the conflicting last song, ‘Deserters’, with Sullivan’s final assessment after much inner turmoil being, “These mornings I wake up singing, even if I can’t remember why”. A revolutionary apex in New Model Army’s rich discographic history that strongly contends for album of the year.

‘Unbroken’ is out now on vinyl, limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.

Black Grape – Orange Head (DGAFF Recordings)

Six years since their last studio album, the Black Grape duo formed of ‘Kermit’ Leveridge and Shaun Ryder, finally release their long-awaited fourth album, which was delayed upon release until this year. The record has a heavier rap focus moving away from the electronic funk of before, starting on the samba twirlings of ‘Button Eyes’ before the rappings of single, ‘Dirt’, which is fairly predictable in sound but connects with the genre on autobiographical experiences with their pair growing up in working class Manchester. Traditional Black Grape is seen in ‘Losers’, with its Western-style guitar funky rhyme influenced by Ryder’s Happy Mondays background.

Second single, ‘Milk’, unfortunately borrows a bassline from Gang of Four’s ‘What We All Want’, which is off putting. But third single, ‘Pimp Wars’, is a funky reggae rap; a highlight on the track list, it contains a summery brass section and centres around about street crime. The album finishes on the sardonic humour of ‘Self-Harm’ and the psychedelic garage guitar of ‘Sex on the Beach’. The release is a varied experimental development of the Black Grape sound to keep the duo amongst contemporary genres but still lacks the ‘wow factor’ of those previous chart topping albums.

‘Orange Head’ is out now on vinyl, limited edition coloured vinyl, CD and digitally.

© Ayisha Khan.