The Guardian Indie

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  1. Various venues, Brighton
    A handful of standout acts were exhilarating but this celebration of new music highlighted a drift towards sameness and whimsy

    If Brighton’s three-day festival of new music is any guide, and it’s usually a good one, the talent pool feeding into pop is currently on the tepid side. The sense in previous years that you could dive in at random and pluck out pearls is missing. The drift is towards homogeneity and uninspired solipsism. So many indistinguishable dreamy girls, moody boys and whimsical or overwrought guitar groups, all with half an eye on the BBC Sound poll. So many over-contemplated navels.

    The Great Escape’s other strength abides: what is good, and new, is likely to appear here. Among the most refreshing acts are those who, turning their focus outward, offer a kind of manic inclusivity. Had early Red Hot Chili Peppers been fuelled by empathy and adrenaline rather than machismo and testosterone, they might have been half as much fun as disorderly punkoid Bristol showband Idles. Queer Russian theatrical disco troupe Sado Opera are all saucy, big-hearted joy. A rambunctious set by London’s Giant Party calls to mind Lionel Richie on Marvin Gaye’s drugs.

    Future stars of a just universe are here, too. Led by human firework Amy Taylor, Melbourne’s magnificent garage crew Amyl and the Sniffers play the single most exhilarating rock’n’roll show I’ve seen in years. London duo Audiobooks may feel like a baffling wind-up – half art-school brat, half wizard – yet they’re a cracking (and very funny) synthpop act. Effervescent Bay Area rapper Saweetie is more talented than she is raunchy, and she is certainly raunchy. The piercing, dissociative songs Dana Margolin writes for Brighton’s own brilliant Porridge Radio reveal an ever more sophisticated capacity to unnerve.

    The festival’s closing showcase spot, usually sold out, has recently hosted British rap stars at the moment self-generated success jumps to national fame. Going by the lower turnout, Birmingham headliner Mist isn’t yet at the level Skepta and Stormzy were, and he doesn’t summon here the coiled energy they did. The standout turn is Fredo, the distinctive London grime MC, his steady delivery precisely doubled by his stage partner, giving it real heft, tension and drama.

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  2. (Rough Trade)

    If the ballad-heavy Human Performance(2016) found New York’s Parquet Courts finally starting to cast off their lo-fi trappings, then the follow-up, their sixth album, takes their shuffle into commercialism several steps further by bringing in Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton as producer. Musically, it’s easily their most expansive set to date, with squally punk (Total Football) rubbing up against 60s bubblegum pop (Mardi Gras Beads), woozy psychedelia (Back to Earth) and the clattering early-00s punk-funk of Wide Awake.

    The most pronounced influence, however, is the Minutemen, who in the early 1980s overturned hardcore punk orthodoxy by placing bass, rather than guitar, at the centre of their sound and dabbling in jazz and funk stylings. Indeed, on Violence and NYC Observation in particular, the hollered vocals even recall those of the late D Boon. Lyrically, meanwhile, our tumultuous times have evidently proved an inspiration, as themes of climate change, gun violence and general disquiet abound. But for all the po-faced worthiness of lines such as “collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive”, there are undercurrents of absurdist, tangential humour here, too – and a blunt rejection of Trump-endorsing jock Tom Brady. Wide Awake! might be too scattershot to appeal to a much wider audience, but it does cement Parquet Courts’ position as one of US indie’s more intriguing outliers.

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  3. (Domino)

    For a man who recently declared “I’m basically over”, Stephen Malkmus sounds surprisingly animated on his seventh album with the Jicks. Now 51, the former Pavement frontman still possesses the qualities that distinguished his years with the 90s band – an off-kilter sensibility and a love of language – but there is a newfound readiness to confront the iniquities of the real world. “Men are scum, I won’t deny,” he sings on the dreamy Middle America, a burst of fury built around an ageless chugging riff, while Bike Lane deals with the death of Freddie Gray, a victim of police brutality in Baltimore (“Kick off your jackboots, it’s time to unwind”).

    Elsewhere, as if to underline his status as one of indie rock’s great eccentrics, Malkmus makes a decent fist of orchestral pop on the frisky, staccato-like Brethren, and severs all ties with conventional songwriting, revealing an aptitude for space rock (Difficulties/Let Them Eat Vowels). And if a duet with Kim Gordon (Refute) suggests that Malkmus wants to wallow in the past and reprise the woozy rock with which he made his name, its lilting country melody indicates otherwise.

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  4. The south London carpenter turned guitarist tackles big topics in his intense indie music – and he means every single word

    Liam Ramsden is Mellah, an outrageously talented south Londoner who plays several instruments, writes his own songs then directs videos for each of them. He’s also a carpenter who went from building props for Black Mirror’s second season to having one of his first songs featured in season three. On stage, he has rebuilt his solo studio project into an eight-headed group who might look like they just met at a bus stop but are the most exciting indie big band in tiny venues since Arcade Fire’s first tour.

    Ramsden shares some of that band’s guileless intensity, if not their pretension, and is similarly happiest tackling big topics. Last year’s debut EP, Liminality, included songs about his dad’s death, depression, mindless war and selfish hedonism, while new EP Middle England takes a tour through suburbia, social media and psychosis. At a time when our best bands retreat into roleplay or cynicism, there’s something deeply affecting about a writer unafraid to provoke genuine emotion (or “feelies”, as Ramsden would have it) regarding real, rather than imaginary, things.

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  5. (Domino)

    Whether in Pavement, Silver Jews or with the Jicks, Stephen Malkmus has never been shy of ploughing his own musical furrow, and this seventh album with the latter is a case in point. At first, the songs don’t seem to follow logic or convention. There are no archetypal big choruses; guitar patterns hurtle around like busy mice. However, Malkmus’s fuzzy logic soon takes hold, and seemingly off-kilter arrangements emerge as highly accessible, killer tunes. Over 11 of them, his sonic palette extends from cosmic and country rock to sun-drenched neo-psychedelia and prog-pop, with Television-style guitar virtuosity and XTC-type jerky rhythms.

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