Written 8th October 2012:
Nine Black Alps - Sirens
The Band: Sam Forrest (lead vocals/guitar), David Jones (lead guitar/bass), Karl Astbury (bass), James Galley (drums)
Disclaimer: Please note this review contains the word ‘rock’ a lot for which I make no apologies!
So October (or as it’s better known Rock-tober) sees the return of Manchester’s very own, no-nonsense Indie rock, ‘grunge’ band Nine Black Alps with this their fourth album ‘Sirens’. The band first arrived on the scene with their debut album ‘Everything Is’ back in 2005 and let me say the album ‘Is Everything’ you would want to see in a debut record: a great range of catchy-rock songs, with fast, frenetic rock-heavy riffs, to full-on grunge tracks and then a couple of brilliant acoustic ballads, it’s a gem of an album and one I’d happily recommend the effort in tracking-down. This was subsequently followed up by the somewhat more poppy but still guitar-heavy Indie effort ‘Love/Hate’ in 2007, before the band went back a bit more to their roots with the again heavily Indie-rock-influenced, maybe a little bit more psychedelic ‘Locked Out from the Inside’ in 2009. So after a 3-year break what form of Rock can we expect from the band’s latest record ‘Sirens’?
1. Be My Girl2. Don’t Forget to Breath
3. My One and Only
5. Living in a Dream
6. Waiting Room
7. Hand Me Down
8. Penny Cinderella
9. Away From Me
10. Find It My Own Way
11. What You Wanted
12. Another World
Crashing in with a jolly, rocking, foot-stomping guitar riff, opening track ‘Be My Girl’ immediately has a typical Nine Black Alps feel about it, as it bounces along with a catchy rhythm. It has a nice fast tempo about it with a catchy bridge in the middle “If you could save me……You must be crazy!” It gets the album off to a fun, rocking start and sets the overall tone for the record. With a much more industrialist, heavier grungy sound to it ‘Don’t Forget to Breath’ quickly follows and shows the band in full-flow of capturing their live sound on record, with the heavy grunge sound pulsing along right through the track. Previously made available to download online, it’s another rock-heavy track with an instantly likeable chorus. ‘My One and Only’ see guitars quickly accelerating and duelling with each other throughout it as Sam opens with the catchy lyric “Tell me doctor/What’s the worse/Am I blessed/Or am I cursed?”, it’s the fastest paced track on the album so far and nicely features a guitar solo of the main rhythm of the song in the second half of the track from David which works very well.
‘Phosphorescence’ is not only a word that I had to look up (“a process in which energy absorbed by a substance is released relatively slowly in the form of light”) but also finally gives the listener a bit of chance to catch their breath after the hard-hitting opening three tracks. With a slowly picked electric-riff for the first 30 seconds before more heavy backing guitars and bass start chugging along and help build the full sound and flow for the track overall. The track has a nice tempo and rhythm to it and it’s on the whole quite a serene track, while yet still retaining a rock edge to it. ‘Living in a Dream’ picks up the pace again, and features a fast punchy, grungy sound to it, which would easily see Wayne and Garth from ‘Wayne’s World’ happily head-banging along on cue. “I don’t want it/I don’t need it/I don’t have to see the feeling”, the track smacks of a punk-angst feel to it all while “Living in a Dream/Dream/Dream!” With steady, delightful guitar picking ‘Waiting Room’ is the acoustic ballad of ‘Sirens’. Despite, the Alps being most renowned for a guitar-heavy sound, when these lads pick up acoustic guitars not too many do it better in my opinion. This is a delightfully, charming track albeit tinged with a feeling of sadness and sorrow “I’m so sorry to hear/That you got so near/Fell down way to soon”, the song hints an individual’s pursuit to move onto bigger things but is dealing with reality of things not quite working out. It’s a beautiful written track and features some excellent guitar picking throughout and a nicely picked solo in its second half. ‘Hand Me Down’ instantly raises the tempo of the record, with jaggered guitars assaulting the listener’s ears at full-pace while a distinct and brutal bass line, from recent new band member Karl, really helps to accompany the fast-paced rhythm here and complete the full-on, fast sound of the track. Expect to see this track backing a Formula-1 compilations clip near you soon!
Swaggering its way confidently onto the album is track 8 ‘Penny Cinderella’, with another punchy 1-2 guitar melody to it, you can really hear the guitars being slowly worn away by the band here through its verses and I love the bridge in vocals mid-way through the track “So many times I tried to break out/There’s no excuse, there is no way out”, it’s really effective and then is followed by excellent, effective guitar solo. ‘Away From Me’, has a bit of an American college-feel to it for me as it confidently and care-free swaggers into the record with its flowing guitars and bass and punchy percussion from James, it’s another quite instant, likeable track, while ‘Find It My Own Way’ raises the tempo of the album again, initially with ‘distant’ guitars before the track fully-finds its own groove, of a little bit more heavier, faster guitar melody, rocking away happily like a drunken grandparent at a wedding after discovering the Sherry!
‘What You Wanted’ initially opens a bit more understated, again with an initially picked riff, its interspersed by a nice, typical Alps guitar melody as it features the song-title’s hook throughout “If that’s not what you wanted so far”, before a more slowed-down melody in the middle and another solo from David in its second half, it’s a cleverly structured track and probably the most complex on the album featuring small collections of guitar riffs neatly packaged together, it works very well and is another highlight on the album. Closing track ‘In another World’, initially features gentle, delicate guitar as the track slowly dictates its own pace as Sam’s lyrics depict a journey over land and water as metaphor “Sail down/Sail down/A dirty river” before the much more rocky chorus with the snarling line of the title-track “In another World/In another World/You heard what everyone says/Your gonna do it your way” which also helps to close the track and ultimately the record.
So in closing, Nine Black Alps have returned with yet another, standard fare of solid no-nonsense Indie rock with this ‘Sirens’ their fourth album. I think with this record the band have gone back into the studio after a good 3-year break and have decided to further their own familiar sound to their fans, while at the end of the day capturing their dynamic live sound both of which they successfully achieve here, but here’s the trick, while these style of tracks are of a rock/grunge nature may lack originality to some, the Alps always seem to capture this style brilliantly effortless and are one the better bands that are capable of this in my opinion. I’m going to award ‘Sirens’ 7 blue flashing lights out of 10 as I genuinely really like the album, for the fun, tight rock record that it basically is and, I’ve listened to the album plenty already and can see me still listening to this plenty in the future, however, if you like have fun listening to rock music and, if like me, are still the proud owner of an air guitar, add another mark on to this review as I’m sure you will enjoy this album for the pure and simple rock album that it is as much as I currently am!
Track 2 ‘Don’t Forget to Breath’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4FkEKg3p6c
Track 5 ‘Living in a Dream’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKXc9swgmsk
Nine Black Alps track-by-track guide to ‘Sirens’ – Part 1http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qILRoX2i3l4
Nine Black Alps track-by-track guide to ‘Sirens’ – Part 2