Album reviews: Plan B, Peace, Gaz Coombes, Leon Bridges, Frank Turner, Eleanor Friedberger

This week, Plan B returns with his first solo album in over eight years, while Peace and Frank Turner both preach a little more compassion

Drew tends to sing rather than rap, as though he feels he has less to rage against
Drew tends to sing rather than rap, as though he feels he has less to rage against

Plan B – Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose

★★★★☆

Download this: Mercy, It’s A War, Sepia, Guess Again, Flesh & Bone

It’s time for Plan B. The artist born Benjamin Drew returns with his first album since 2012’s Ill Manors, the critically acclaimed soundtrack accompanying his film of the same name – and his first solo LP in more than eight years.

Plan B preceded that heart-on-sleeve, big-voiced, true grit type of artist we now see in the form of singer-songwriters such as Tom Grennan and Rag’n’Bone Man. Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose doesn’t have quite that same visceral, bristling energy as an album like The Defamation of Strickland Banks, but it’s a beautifully composed and welcome comeback; the creation of which Drew recently confessed “cost me a lot”.

As an artist who has offered plenty of snarling social commentary on his earlier projects, fans might be surprised to hear less of that on Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose. Drew tends to sing rather than rap, as though he feels he has less to rage against; and has made peace with much of what caused that anger on previous works.

That said, he offers up a few sharp thoughts on intro of the title track, singing in a desperate cry: “They sold us a dream, one they know that won’t come true.” The song warns against a kind of passiveness, or oblivion, at what’s happening in the world around us.

Opener “Grateful” features his signature, smoky soul style, asking “what have I got to lose?” before the beat darkens and the song adopts a more urgent tone. Further into the album and the electro swing recalls the work of producer Parov Stelar.

Drew has always been a superb writer; and working with the likes of singer-songwriter Foy Vance and Kid Harpoon, he amplifies a well-tested formula of meticulous, modern production with retro-sounding equipment, beneath his old-soul vocals that sing about a futuristic, almost alien landscape.

The single “It’s A War”, a standout on the album, features the “pew-pew-pew” of a video arcade game and a mournful piano tune with Drew’s slightly slack-jawed delivery; it makes for a black-humoured, catchy and somehow uplifting track. It’s a protest song, urging people to continue fighting for change, with the future they could achieve for themselves as the motivation: “The bad men are winning/They been waging war on you from the beginning.”

“Guess Again” is one of the few tracks where he switches to full-on hip hop mode: it’s an MIA-style, sirens-wailing, all-guns-blazing siege, with scuzzy distorted vocals and a ska-influenced delivery.

“Mercy” is another pleasing surprise that plunges headlong into a pulsating dance beat Hot Chip would be proud of. While it’s the most danceable track on the record, it also feels like Drew’s most personal; he refers to the struggles he’s been through, his daughter, the punk rocker father who walked out on the family, and the experience of finding himself at a crossroads in his life, which took place after the release of Ill Manors.

Closing on “Sepia” feels like a “come full circle” moment, where Drew finds himself in a place that feels right; his voice is clear and strong, the beat is steady, the uncertainty gone, and that chorus hints at just a slight turn of the head as Plan B glances back at his past, then looks again to the future. (Roisin O’Connor)

Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man

★★★★☆

Download this: Walk The Walk, Slow Motion Life, Vanishing Act

With 2015’s Matador, Gaz Coombes elevated himself from Supergrass frontman-turned-solo-artist into a Mercury Prize-nominated musician that could be taken on his own (substantial) merit. Its follow up, World’s Strongest Man, sees Coombes propel himself further, allowing the more experimental side hinted at on the aforementioned to really come to the fore.

Even from the outset, the loping falsetto of the title track earmarks World’s Strongest Man as far more than another indie record. Each track feels completely different from the next, without ever feeling fractured, or out of sorts.

Whether it’s the motoric outro of “Deep Pockets”, the fragile fingerpicked guitar of “Oxygen Mask” or the Pixies-esque delivery of the penultimate “Vanishing Act”, there’s little here that Coombes doesn’t test the waters of. And though in lesser hands such eclecticism may have felt forced and disjointed, here it’s nothing short of excellent. Supergrass this ain’t. (Dave Beech)

Peace – Kindness is the New Rock and Roll

Darker corners: the new record is a departure from the carefree vibes of their sophomore effort

★★★★☆

Download this: Silverlined, From Under Liquid Glass, Magnificent

When Kindness Is The New Rock and Roll opens with recent single “Power”, three minutes of undeniably quintessential Peace, it’s easy to assume that it will set the tone for what’s to follow instantly. And though ideas of upbeat positivity are something that recur throughout, such assumptions are only partially right.

It’s surprising just how rich – how nuanced – KITNRAR actually is. Going in expecting the anthemic, though somewhat predictable, indie-pop of the band’s previous releases will leave any such listeners impressed with how far it feels they’ve come since 2015’s Happy People.

This is arguably something that stems from their recent signing to indie label Ignition Records, allowing their creativity to blossom, out from the confines of a major. The likes of “Silverlined”, “From Under Liquid Glass” and “Magnificent” all show a tender, more introspective side to Peace while amping up their trademark anthemia to almost dizzying levels.

Though harbouring disparate aesthetics, KITNRAR’s overarching narrative is one of positivity, and sanguineness, linking each track thematically, if not sonically. And while its bombast certainly feels like Peace graduating into the realms of rockstardom, its message is one that suggests a lack of the ego that traditionally goes with it. A stunning return. (Dave Beech)

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

★★★★☆

Download this: Make American Great Again, Common Ground, 1933, Brave Face

It seems that Frank Turner has been on an upward trajectory since 2015’s Positive Songs for Negative People, both emotionally and professionally. Be More Kind picks up where that record left off, and finds Turner at his most empathetic, and most accessible.

Eschewing the live-sounding production of the previous record, Be More Kind relishes in its own glossy, poppy production – something that compliments the sprightly electro-pop that flirted with on tracks such as “Make American Great Again” or “Common Ground”.

It’s not just a more diverse sonic palette that sets the album apart from its predecessors. At a time where the world seems hell-bent on imploding, this is a record that imparts a simple, yet powerful message: be a better person. And though much of Turner’s music has always had a positive outlook, this one couldn’t have been timelier.

Far from preachy however, the likes of “1933” and “Brave Face” blossom with the same tender tenacity on which Turner has made his name, suggesting that though Be More Kind is certainly a step in a different direction, it still retains much of what everyone fell in love with, while appealing to a much broader audience than ever before. (Dave Beech)

Leon Bridges – Good Thing

Bridges pays homage to his working class upbringing

★★★★☆

Download this: Mrs, Bad Bad News, Georgia To Texas, Forgvie You

With Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home, the Texas-born singer went from working as a dishwasher and running the gamut of open mics to a household name – seemingly overnight. On his way he earned two Grammy nominations, performed at the White House for President Obama and even became a standout on Big Little Lies for his song “River”.

Now, the 28-year-old musician has amplified his talent on his sophomore record Good Thing. The album title – which was born out of a lyric on the jazzy “Bad Bad News” (“I made a good, good thing out of bad, bad news,” he sings) pays homage to his working class upbringing.

While the record embodies Bridges’ Sam Cooke-influenced vocals, he doesn’t just find himself attached to Sixties soul: he finds himself transcending time with the sparkling, disco “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and the Eighties synth-influenced “Forgive You”. “Sometimes I wonder what we’re holding on for/Then you climb on top of me and I remember”, Bridges sings on the sexy, lovesick “Mrs”. Bridges has matured, and that is absolutely a good thing. (Ilana Kaplan)

Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound

Friedberger’s latest work is dark, exhilarating and life-affirming

★★★★☆

Download this: Everything, The Letter, It’s Hard, Rule of Action

If Eleanor Friedberger’s latest effort sounds different to you, you’re right. Unlike her previous work, Rebound isn’t a guitar-driven album. Instead she experiments with synths and drum beats to keep her eclectic edge going. It’s something that was inspired by her time spent in Greece back in 2016 where she immersed herself in the culture.

The title of her album was even born from an “Eighties goth disco” in Athens. It was there she found the sound for her fourth album: something dark, exhilarating and life-affirming.

Friedberger forges ahead crafting her own brand of pop music with the haunting, yet catchy tracks like “My Jesus Phase” and “It’s Hard”, and songs that could appear in Eighties teen romcoms like “The Letter” and “Everything.” On her latest effort, the singer-songwriter proves that the power of reinvention suits her just fine. (Ilana Kaplan)

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