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Besides having really great album art and a frustratingly hip name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. have talent. They can write a damn good pop song. “Vocal Chords” is one of three examples off their Horse Power EP, which also includes a cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”.

Have a listen:

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Oh you’re so silent Jens. How long has it been? 3 years since you last charmed us with Night Falls Over Kortedala? Where have you been? What have you been up to? Heartbreak, if “The End of The World is Bigger Than Love” is anything to go by. Staggering, string-laden heartbreak.

Jens Lekman – The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love by stripeyjumper

With Chamberlain Waits, one of 2010’s early punk standouts, The Menzingers have garnered comparisons to melodic punk heavyweights The Lawrence Arms and Sink or Swim-era The Gaslight Anthem, and rightfully so, as their sound seems to fall perfectly between the two. “Time Tables” is the stand out off their sophomore album and if there ever was a criteria to writing a fun punk song, they’ve got most of the boxes checked: harsh/melodic vocal trade offs, uptempo riffs, nostalgic/relatable lyrics, and sing-a-long gang vocals come together in what is surely one of the best punk songs 2010 will offer.

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If you’ve read my reviews for Pavement’s Quarantine The Past or Malkmus’ solo album Real Emotional Trash, it’s really no secret that I adore the band. Unfortunately, I was 9 years old when Pavement broke up and at the time probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, if I had even known. I was 9, I didn’t listen to music and I sure as shit didn’t care about some awkward indie band. I grew to care, though. A lot. Fast forward to adolescent me, trapped somewhere between overlapping fashion trends and habitual mood changes, and the demise of Malkmus, Kannberg, and co. was suddenly a big deal, regardless of how late I’d arrived to the party. Total bummer. What was left for me? Over time I’d learn every word to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, spend lazy Sunday afternoons pouring over special editions of Slanted and Enchanted and Wowee Zowee, and hell, I discovered The Fall simply because Mark E. Smith once contemptuously remarked of the band: “It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads”.

But, obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if things had stayed that way. No, our old friends decided to give this whole touring business another go, no less than a decade after they originally called it quits and I was there to witness the conclusion of a 4-day run of sets at the O2 Academy Brixton. To warrant four back-to-back shows in such a high…

It’s a little bit difficult to call Crown on the Ground a pop song. While the vocals of Alexis Krauss are firmly rooted in accessible, catchy melodies, they’re caught in a whirlwind of Derek Miller’s (ex-Poison The Well) aggressive, in-your-face instrumentation, a flurry of dense guitar wailing, handclaps and loud, buzzing synths that engulf what is otherwise so sweet and simple. Go loud or go home. The best part is, for all its disorienting, decibel-abusing madness, it’s actually fun.

Their debut album, Treats, drops May 11th on M.I.A.’s NEET Recordings label.

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There’s a certain almost unexplainable grandeur about The National. It feels inherent in everything they do – the quiver in Matt Berninger’s baritone, the forcefulness of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming – and this quality was none more evident than last night at the Royal Albert Hall in London. As the lights dimmed and the five nearly still silhouettes on stage broke the nervous, excited silence with the first chords of “Mistaken for Strangers”, lead singer Matt Berninger beckoned the seated crowd beyond the standing pit to their feet, engaging them like a group of friends. The energy seemed to rush forward with every knee buckled upright, back past where I stood in the huddled standing crowd and on to the stage where these Ohio-born musicians had only just begun to charm a crowd that had long since fallen in love with them. They already had us in the palms of their hands.

All photography by David Emery

The show continued with this same momentous energy, following with “Anyone’s Ghost”, before reaching one of the many highlights of the night, just 2 songs in, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. A staple in their live set since early 2009, it elevated the already terrific atmosphere into something close to life-affirming, the crowd moving and holding on to every word as Berninger collapsed into the exhausted “I’m on a bloodbuzz….God I am” chorus. Boxer favourite “Slow Show” was another highlight, coming in about half way through the initial…

“Havin’ My Baby” is absolutely exhausting. From that prolonged sample that plays it in, to the single keyboard note bashed for three entire minutes, it’s just relentless. Add Martin Cesar’s soulful delivery, the simple drum beat, and that ascending guitar wail and if you’re not left doing some sweaty rendition of the running man by the time the song comes to its close, nothing can save you. Think About Life’s Family may have been a hit-or-miss affair (a lesser Dear Science, in a lot of ways) but when it hits, it does so with such soaring electro-soul ingenuity that it becomes impossible to ignore.

You can listen to “Havin’ My Baby” below but god damnit you better be ready to get funky.

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Sweden has always had a strong DIY culture. Look no further than the brand name most famously exported from the Scandinavians, IKEA, for an indication of the trait. Easy, self-assembled and stylish furniture, much like the music that the nations independent scene has made its name with. Where the status quo of mainstream pop music in most other countries is that of record executives with dollar signs for pupils and the incendiary scorn of independent/niche fans, Sweden owes a huge part of its musical history to the genre; ask anyone to name a Swedish artist and seminal pop act ABBA will undoubtedly fall from their lips, and for good reason. ABBA may in fact have been the most important group ever to emerge out of the country. As well as lighting the world up with hustle inducing hits like “Waterloo” and “Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)”, they encouraged a nation to let loose their inhibitions and muster up the confidence to write music in English; simple, excellent pop songs, kooky accent and all. Bands like Roxette (of “Listen to your Heart” fame) and The Cardigans followed suit, creating intelligent, accessible pop that lit up the charts throughout the 90’s, with the former registering four #1 singles in the US and dozens more UK Top 40 hits.

ABBA, in all their glory.

Looking specifically at the contemporary state of the independent scene, you wouldn’t have to go further than the…

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