The UK Boom

Like the springtime sun peaking over an eastern horizon, some great new bands from the UK are on the rise. Our allies across the pond have always been good for musical taste making; here are a few of their exports that are worthy of some American acclaim as well.

The Cooper Temple Clause

Certainly one of the more adventurous new UK rock acts generating a buzz on these shores, the Cooper Temple Clause defy easy classification. On their latest, Kick Up the Fire and Let the Flames Break Loose, this six-piece ensemble creates its own dynamic tension with a compelling mix of fairly common components: uneasy electronic atmospherics, swirling psychedelia, explosive guitar rock and Oasis-homage vocals. The fast-chugging single “Promises, Promises” is the most traditional rocker on the album, but the Temple is at its peak on drawn-out trips like “Talking to a Brick Wall” and the seductive “Music Box.” Here, slow, creepy movements give way to gut-socking choruses, offering six-minute journeys that access extremes, but stop shy of catharsis.

On stage, the Cooper Temple Clause are a force to be reckoned with. Playing to an ambivalent crowd at Seattle’s Crocodile Café earlier this spring, they threw down a commanding performance that had the room buzzing with the excitement of discovery by night’s end. Lead singer Ben Gaultrey’s stoic stage presence is appropriately Gallagher-esque, presiding over an assembly of musicians who function together with surprising sophistication for a band so young. On top of the usual rock band lineup, the entire left side of the stage was filled with an array of keyboards and consoles for sonic architect Tom Bellamy, who impressively manipulates various effects while contributing guitar and vocals as well. It was a performance that, just like their record, loudly declares their place among the UK’s most promising new bands.

Snow Patrol

What seemed at first like a refreshingly, pretty indie-pop band now seems likely to become, as an insider at Seattle’s influential KEXP put it, “this year’s Coldplay.” Comparisons to Britain’s most recent pop saviors are inevitable, given Snow Patrol’s uncanny sonic (and wintry name) resemblance to them, but don’t write them off as mere imitators. Snow Patrol’s most recent album, Final Straw (actually their 3
rd

, but thanks to a new deal with A&M, the first to receive any attention in the U.S.) is an instantly likeable collection of Scottish-accented power-pop and heart-felt balladry. It is at once catchy and beautiful, thanks to singer Gary Lightbody’s lovely voice and their obvious gift for crafting solid hooks. The sound can get suitably gritty on some of the more aggressive numbers, like “Wow” with its pounding guitars and distorted vocal declarations (If it looks like it works and feels like it works then it works). But overall, the production is pristine, especially on the three stand out singles: “Spitting Games,” “Chocolate” and “Run,” which were all mixed by Switchfoot’s hitmaker, Chris Lord-Alge. “Run” easily takes a place alongside “Wonderwall” and “Yellow” as one of the great uplifting anthems of the British empire, building to its soaring chorus: Light up, light up / As if you have a choice / Even if you cannot hear my voice / I’ll be right beside you dear. That couplet, though, is a lyrical exception—many of the choruses, while bursting forth with strong, simple melodies, defy cliché by avoiding rhyme.

Perhaps Seatttle-ites are unusually susceptible to Scottish charm, but Snow Patrol’s recent show here was a striking lovefest for a band that nobody had ever heard of two weeks before. The early-May show at the Crocodile Café sold out well in advance—the band’s first U.S. sell-out—which was a tidy little feat for their very first time in town. It is a testament to how quickly and thoroughly people connect to their music once they hear it. The best surprise of the show, besides just how darn cute these lads are, is that for all the pretty songs, they know how to bring the rock too. The brief, emotional set proved Snow Patrol able not only to live up to the expectations set by their excellent record, but also to expand on them. Lightbody, clearly delighted by the crowd’s boisterous reception, was a spastic source of motion, punishing his guitar and performing his vocals with the earnest energy of a man who knows his band’s time has come.

Starsailor

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Silence may be easy, but when the title track of Starsailor’s latest album Silence is Easy sweeps over you, it is difficult to keep still. If ever there were a song to sway your upraised arms to, this is it. Certainly some thanks go to legendary producer Phil Spector, who left his Wall-of-Sound mark on this and one other track, but when it comes to making pop sound glorious and grandiose, Starsailor are naturals. This album, their second, flows over you like a pristine tide, with each listen closing in on the rocky edges we leave exposed, setting us afloat on waves of sonic grandeur. Strings cascade, keyboards pulse, and always, James Walsh’s evocative vocals soar. Walsh is effortlessly gorgeous in both face and voice, the perfect vehicle for pretty, if insignificant, pop music that believes in itself wholeheartedly. Whether revving it up on “Four to the Floor,” vaguely praising God on “Born Again,” or declaring rock n’ roll salvation on “Music Was Saved,” broad strokes set the tone both musically and lyrically, tying the whole record together with a soothing legato.

Starsailor bring their instinct for the epic into their showmanship as well. Playing to a capacity crowd of a few hundred at the Crocodile, the band performed as though this was another of the mega festival crowds they regularly command back in Britain. Walsh’s vitality and magnetism as a performer heightened their already dramatic songs, and the four-piece band not only managed to sound bigger than the sum of their parts, but cohered as a unit with exceptional skill. They infused “Born Again” with a sinful slinkiness, and redeemed “Good Souls” with a loc-tite bass groove that gave way to a chaotic freak-out coda.

The cover of Silence is Easy shows a man lifting his arms toward the heavens while others stand unmoved around him. He knows something they don’t. He knows the love of Starsailor.

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