Released: October 2014
It’s been a cruel five or six years for traditional British indie rock music (can something that kind of came about in the ‘80s be called traditional yet?), with crunchy guitars and rascally lead singers looking like a pretty tired formula as the Arctics go all Elvis, the Kaisers judge talent contests and the likes of The Cribs and The Kooks play smaller and smaller venues, living off scraps from the NME and Q Magazine.
Bands such as The Vaccines and Palma Violets have cropped up and been swiftly and politely swept under the curtain, whilst acts like The 1975 and Bastille try to tweak the model by essentially stripping indie of the edge and mischief that used to make it work. This brings us to Glass Caves, the latest likely lads to have a go at the big time with anthemic choruses and melodic riffs. They’re hardly reinventing the wheel here, so is there any reason for us to listen?
Alive is an assertive album with pace and energy. It does what it says on the tin by giving its listener fully fleshed out thunderbolts of indie rock, each instrument playing to its limits and coming together in a ramshackle yet perfectly meticulous manner. It’s the same old set up instrumentally, but on tracks like Tonight and Be Together the crashing drums and stinging guitar riffs do emanate a kind of carnage that breathes some fresh air into old lungs. Not all of the album holds together, however; Driving Home follows the Miles Kane guide to bland album fillers whilst This Road follows the conventions of ‘00s indie pop so strictly it sounds like Johnny Borrell has got a gun to the producers head. There are flashes of brilliance on here, but the vast majority of it is too tame to enjoy.
Vocally this is a really strong record. Similar to its instrumentation it bears all the hallmarks of recent indie records – falsetto hooks, airy female backing vocals, lyrics about escapism – but the passionate and extremely talented performances of the band’s lead singer, Matthew Hallas, add a real edge to otherwise average tracks, a trait that certainly doesn’t go unappreciated by indie audiences when displayed by a frontman. Bound together by stomping drums and a dominant riff, Let Go sees Hallas take on an emotive Dan Auerbach style, as he laments failing relationships and the charade of love: “Do you want this or are we just playing?”, and the lead vocals add conviction to the chilled sounds of The xx and Warpaint on Match.
What Alive sadly lacks is consistency. There are some absolute belters on this album but not enough to make it stand out from other indie bands from years gone by. Glass Caves is a band featuring some really talented musicians and going forward if they can channel that into a more creative approach to their songwriting there’s no reason as to why they can’t buck the trend of modern guitar acts. This is a flawed but promising debut.