SMS | Courting – Grand National


The boys get going with the blitzing title track that is firing on all cylinders right from the off, featuring a mix of candid lyrics, blunt vocals and a raw, buzzing rhythm that gets you properly bouncing with excitement, especially with the whirlwind smack dab in the middle.

Seamlessly, they saunter along into the next number, Popshop, where the drumming gets a simple yet addictive beat on the go, and while lighter by nature, it still keeps the energy running nicely, with much of that owing to, again, the frankness of the singing.

More of that plain cheekiness radiates through Crass, which is equipped with cracking riffs and cool basslines, and the intensity levels are constantly rising towards a strong finish, and then we come to Slow Burner, which fittingly enough lives up to its namesake, grooving at a stable pace to start with, then as expected unleashing into a flurry of bloody berserk chaos.

A job well done from Courting; the Grand National EP kills it with a series of belters that are short and to the point but damn entertaining and memorable, pretty much cementing the reason why the Liverpool punk lads are being put on the map as of late in the midst of a bustling national scene.


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SMS | Flinch – Enough Is Enough


Staring At The Broken Cornicing breaks the ice awfully nicely, majorly due to Beth’s lovely, velvety vocals that are just so tranquil to the senses. Now with you sitting comfortably, she proceeds on with Escape From Rupture Farms, a wonderful single with an addictive beat accompanying it.

February spawns goosebumps with its dreamy environment and sincere, nostalgia-itching lyrics, and that tiny little addition of the glockenspiel does wonders. Michael Scott and Sorry I Puked On You stay on course with that fixating mood of being caught up in the past, the latter making such a mighty emotional impression as Beth speaks freely and self-reflects.

After keeping you stuck in that trance, the energy comes back in How Do You Do It and its delightful riffs, and A Type features such a memorable, pleasing chorus with lyrics that get left wedged in your head. Thanks Ophelia is another appetizing lo-fi punk bop, and then we return to the truly hypnotic material through Just Because and especially Your Skin, soon easing out gently with the melancholy I Said You Could Have This.

I’ve never doubted Beth Black’s talents in the past, as demonstrated in her excellent contributions to the likes of Slowlight and 10AM, but under the Flinch banner, my respect for her as grown tenfold.

Enough Is Enough surpassed my expectations and I’ve only gotten fonder of it with every listen, it’s such a beautiful album that frequently tugs at the heartstrings and on more than one occasion toes the line of turning on the waterworks. I simply love it.


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SMS | Quiet Marauder – The Gift


Intro piece The Fire effectively establishes both the stripped back sonic direction and the gripping narrative set to define this record. Now settled in, the group proceed on with Will I Remember To Remember, and it’s here that we truly get to see long-time backing vocalist Kadesha take centre stage with flying colours, donning the role of the story’s key figure Willow through her stunningly luscious voice.

The lyrics continue to gain strength in the brief My New Foster Parents, where the multi-layered instrumentals form a sensationally infusing sound, but suddenly they venture into a different path with No Friends Just Visions, opting for a mood less warm and graceful and more jazzy through a smooth and juicy rhythm tagged by splendid bass chords, light guitar grooves and spurts of sax.

Her Love Interest hops along cheerfully, and serves as a firm contrast to the more low-key sibling track His Love Interest. The Future has a terrific blend of acoustics, piano keys and pure-quality accompanying harmonies, and those qualities bleed over into I, Robot, albeit at a solemn pitch with a nice extra furnishing of brass.

The writing of The Ballad Of Loss And Self-Doubt is amongst the most engaging yet, with Kadesha undoubtedly enforcing that element, then cleverly implementing various themes relating to technology in Domestic Appliances, most notably, of all things, the Whirlpool Corporation’s notorious history of faulty white goods; something I never ever thought would make it into a song, but that’s Quiet Marauder for you.

Mastering My Powers has a pleasing flowing melody, Infinite Versions makes a big splash within a miniature timeframe, Let’s Run Into The Flames Together emanates a bittersweet tone in the content in-between the upbeat nature of the music, and the curtain call Extinguished ends things on a firmly thoughtful and powerful note that has you sitting hypnotically as you absorb the record’s final moments.

The Cardiff troupe made a huge first impression on myself when I was introduced to them via their supreme and humorous Tiny Men Parts EP, which subsequently made my best of 2020 list. So when given the opportunity to look at this album, I was admittedly expecting more of the same, but oh my, was I taken aback here.

The Gift is a fantastic release on two accounts; of course, as a collection of top-notch tunes with lasting entertainment value, but more importantly, as a ravishing, fixating tale that sucks you in and doesn’t let go, getting you contemplating and thinking and opening yourself up to the deep meanings behind the words and the overarching plot.

Quiet Marauder are more than just another fabulous act in the Welsh scene, they have proven to be a heck of a fresh and creative tour de force who stand head and shoulders above the crowd.


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SMS | Seas, Starry – Anatomy


Skull / Tone / Skull kicks off on a faint note, patiently building and building up with further additions of several instruments as it goes, from a consistent looping riff, to ringing effects, to glockenspiel clinks and the like. In the latter third, we get our first taste of the decent harmonies as the intensity is continuously cranked up.

Now we really get into the swing of things with Stabbed In The Eyes, initially with an engaging, murmuring rhythm that suddenly develops into something coarser and more energised while the group fire out some bloody good, grooving guitar sequences, resounding bass chords and booming drum beats.

Nun The Wiser sticks to a more traditional format, for lack of a better description, but the buzz sure as hell hasn’t died down. In fact, this is straight up the best of the lot. The lead singing is sound, with the backing vocals ranging between dry, robotic tones and mighty yelling. Meanwhile, the melody comes alive in a frenzied carnage that is so fricking infectious and breath-taking.

Lastly we come to the extensive finale, New Ruins, which begins at ease with an ominous, reverberating rumble that is sustained for a fair amount of time while other elements are thrown in along the way comparably to the opener, and a nice sense of atmosphere is spawned and steadily expanded upon.

Seas, Starry have popped up in my radar once or twice in the past, although never with much in the way of lasting results. However, the Anatomy EP is a different story. The Aberdeen ambient-punk outfit have put together an enthralling package of tracks that nail a broad variety of moods and directions within a short duration. Whether steady and engrossing, or blitzing at a mental pace, it’s damn fine stuff.


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SMS | Runrummer – Unconscious Meanings


No Point gets the EP rolling hot straight away with taps of the piano, cool electronic hums and a vivid beat, while Livi displays her as-per great vocal talents as she hits out with some solid lyrics. It’s Strange is similarly melodic and well-written, but here shining with a brighter vibe and an overall jubilant sensation.

Now we really get into the spicy goods moving into the second half, starting with Toronto, which is still in my mind Livi’s best work to date. It’s a bloody brilliant, high-octane banger that gets you buzzing with its bopping rhythm, proudly spouted writing and immensely awesome chorus.

That contagious elation remains fresh and hearty moving on to the final tune, I Like Getting High, another feverish track with juicy building verses that lead into fervent, hard-hitting hooks which could get the dancefloor of any club joining in.

And if by this period you’re feeling down that it’s over, you’ll be happy as Larry to discover that we’re treated to a bonus pair of smashing remixes; Tokota’s rendition of Toronto certainly mixes it up with trippy tingles, and Tommy Goes Harderrr transforms I Like Getting High into a near-8 minute belter that sounds like a dream.

3 years after her amazing debut, Runrummer has persisted in living up to her early promise with another show-stealing record. Unconscious Meanings takes the best elements of the first release and cranks those up several degrees; another notch to certify Livi Morris as one of the raddest electropop artists currently on the English scene.


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SMS | Devil Sold His Soul – Loss


A melancholy mood surrounds the listener in the opening moments of Ardour, before the guys unleash into a furiously emotional surge; the main vocals gushing with a lot of heart, making previously bottled up feelings public, and the screams letting loose said feelings in a powerfully hard-hitting manner.

Without wasting a moment, they immediately dive into the next piece, Witness Marks, which keeps the established virtue running high; hell, if not even more so; and it should be noted that the instrumental performances across the board are freaking superb; staggering riffs, echoic basslines and quaking beats of the drums; all of which are accentuated by the phenomenal, utterly crisp production work.

Burdened explodes out of the gates at an immensely stampeding tempo with an indescribable intensity that the blistering, breakneck drumming impressively drives, briefly settling down into a groove before picking it back up for the unreal chorus. As they maintain that strength through Tateishi, the lyrics continue to cut deeply, letting the audience into the inner mind and displaying the harsh mental struggles that are developing and spinning around as a result of the situation.

A trinkle of synths bring in The Narcissist, which is more or less the most straight-forward of this record so far but is still a proper thumper, and that momentum carries through into the equally dynamic Beyond Reach. And then we get yet another insane smash with Signal Fire, where the passion on both sides of the singing reach a palpable all-time high; I don’t know how you couldn’t possibly get serious goosebumps here.

Acrimony is a solid entry, then we get more outstanding writing with But Not Forgotten, which captures the long and hard road to finally reaching acceptance and coming to grips with reality, afterwards following up with a beautiful mark of respect and an ode to cherished memories in the poignant title track to conclude on a lasting note.

It has been years since Devil Sold His Soul treated us to an album, and god damn, you couldn’t have asked for a better return to form than this. Loss is extraordinary, a landmark in the modern metal scene that is so monumental in how much it strikes at your heart and draws you into the events and their effects and how they are responded to.

No amount of words could do justice at all here, it demands to be listened and experienced in person, it’s a flawless opus that makes a significant impression and is certain to stay with you for the foreseeable future.


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SMS | Josephine Sillars – Desperate Characters


Josephine commences the EP with the title track, making an immediate stiff impact through the words of various people giving their take on what they – and many of the public – consider the terrible state of British politics recently and currently. With that tone freshly brewing in the air, Jo gets things musically running with Measured, featuring provoking lyrics that taps into negative, nihilistic mindsets, the effects of those, and how it’s scarily become the norm in a way.

After that is the first of the pair of singles on offer: Enemy, which is perhaps Jo’s most beautiful track to date, thanks to a perfect mixture of earnest words, absolutely stunning strings, transcendent vocals and a fiercely addictively main hook. Gone To War has a lovely beat and in the latter half features sweet melodic piano keys and a sprinkling of light guitar chords, and the structure gives it a likeably poetic, folk vibe of sorts.

Then we come to the other single, California, another extraordinarily potent number with palpable writing reflecting on the failing environment of the planet and how it’s already digging its claws into certain parts of the world; case in point, California, bridled with forest fires and the like so often in recent memory; and the dual harmonies are just flooding with heartfelt emotion, and the tender Happy proves to be a great finale to efficiently cap off this collection.

I’ve been enamoured with Josephine Sillars and her talents dating back to 2015 when given the opportunity to review her Ripped From The Wire Spine EP, continuing on through a string of lone releases including Vincent, Down and the flawless Problems With Power, but Desperate Characters is on another level altogether.

The songs on this record are swelling with complex themes that are tackled in a strong and sophisticated manner, explored to a deep degree as opposed to being simply touched upon. Beyond that fact, the tunes are so expertly crafted and Jo’s skills as a performer only improve and impress all the more with each passing year.

Desperate Characters is hands down one of the finest Scottish releases of 2021 so far, and there’s little doubt by now that Josephine Sillars is one of the best, most respectable musicians to have emerged out of the Highlands over the last decade.


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