From: Lincoln, UK
Genre: Pop Rock/Punk
It is always a joy around the month of May when the annual International Pop Overthrow (IPO) festival takes place. Although having a few manifestations over the globe, it has always been the honour of the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool to host the UK leg of this event, which over eight days showcases the best local, national and international artists from the world of Pop. From chirpy acoustic singer-songwriters to heavier riff-ridden Rock n Roll groups, the entire spectrum gets covered and it goes without saying that amongst a bill of over 130 bands, you will be hard pressed not to come across what could very well be the “next big thing”. In years past the festival has given recognition to many unknown bands including RDM favourites Ivan Mudd and The Dirty Royals, who otherwise may never have gotten a second glance due to their lack of publicity, despite being two of the most upbeat and fun bands of modern times (see articles on both bands in the Rediscover Music archives). Particularly in this age of technology where everything is available quicker than the flick of a switch, this festival not only puts on the best up-and-coming talent but gives enthusiasts the rare chance to relic in an abundance of live music not yet readily available online due to the sheer freshness of the bands. Freshness does not necessarily mean inexperienced though… IPO somehow manage to skim the cream right from the top and do an exceptionally stellar job of it.
That being said, it was this year’s 14th edition of the festival that welcomed the unique Pop Punk sounds of Lincoln four-piece B-Leaguers. Admittedly, we have not had the opportunity to listen to every band on the bill, but after having heard this great blend of 90’s UK Britpop and Punk, there wasn’t really a need to look any further; We had found the superstars of the year. In fact, lead singer and songwriter James Styring is no virgin to the scene, having performed at this very banquet in 2013 with a slightly less Punk but similar sounding incarnation going by the name of The Popdogs. Now, in 2016, he has returned alongside Ched Howard (Guitars), Mikey Barraclough (Bass) and Mark Barrett (Drums), to bring us the B-Leaguers‘ debut album entitled Death of a Western Heart; seven tracks of pure Pop greatness filled with instrumental melody and piercing vocal traits comparable to Michael Stipe, Brett Anderson and at times Bowie. Anyone familiar with 90’s Glaswegian Guitar-Poppers Astrid will know exactly what we mean. How about Easyworld, or Ooberman… Anyone remember their innocent Pop gems?
Kicking off with the opening title track, we are eased in to the record with a beautiful sombre melody before the unique sound of James’ vocal quickly enters the mix in preparation of the chugging guitars that bring the song straight into its Punk element, much to the tune of Beauty School Droupout and notwithstanding the infectious breakdowns and harmonies of the Scottish one-album wonders. “Amnesia” then treats us to more of a Punk Rock number, heavy on the three-chord essentials popularised by the likes of SR-71 at the turn of the century, with its anthemic “woah woahs” providing a distant, although not really needed, nod to the wave of folk-influenced Indie bands that have recently become flavour of the month across radio stations worldwide. Can’t knock a band vying for appeal, but that really would be nitpicking on what is overall a sensational and catchy track; one which contrary to its name will definitely have you humming along on those early morning commutes.
Following that injection of Americana, things remain stateside somewhere between Pixies and R.E.M., with the heavy hook-laden Pop Rock of “Numbers”. Perfectly paced and produced it is a non-stop burst of energy as the vocal harmonies once more compliment the essence of the band’s sound. Whilst more and more bands seek to do things on their own watch as the digital era continues to rise, it is of the utmost importance to establish an identity, as pertains to the branding of an artist, where different will always stand out and where standing out will attract attention. Not a new concept by any stretch, but nonetheless more valid than ever before and with such a unique and high frequency, B-Leaguers certainly have that advantageous edge.
As we reach the mid-way point “Canyon’s (Suburbs and Centres)” slows things down on what one could call the arena Rock interlude of the record; very ‘big’ sounding and putting an extra oomph into the slightly lighter Counting Crows-esque vibes of its neighbouring tracks. Without having the pleasure of seeing B-Leaguers live it would be nothing more than an educated assumption that this would serve as the outro (or pre-encore send off) for the band’s set. For sure it has the power. “Rock and Roller Toons” then brings things back to hooks and riffs as the short album enters side B (or the second half of side A as this CD-only release dictates), where R.E.M. can once again be felt as if covered by a fresh Green Day with their trademark beat, vocal effects and bassline-driven breakdowns. The rub of the stalwart Punk Rock legends then continues immediately into penultimate track “Lemonade”, an ode to the trio in terms of its ferocious opening, power chords and overall structure. Very Insomniac-era and not shy of those great rhythmic rides, this is the shortest track on the record clocking in at 1:56.
Rounding off, again with a more slowly paced tune in the form of “Rise and Line”, the bluesy reverb of the intro reflects the band’s appreciation of Classic Rock, which has been very subtle thus far, lead by some smooth basswork and encompassing almost all the aforementioned influences into its mould, as everything is brought back to the core with stylish professionalism.
B-Leaguers were smart to keep this release trimmed down to seven tracks as it gives a perfect example of their collective roots, giving new ears a sample of what they have to offer without over-saturating them, whilst at the same time creating an appetite for more. Overall it is brilliant Pop music and the world is forever a better place when bands are coming out with music like this.
You can listen to Death of a Western Hart over at their Bandcamp page and pick up the CD copy via Kool Kat Music (a Power Pop label based in the US who clearly know excellent music when they hear it and were shrewd enough to put out the album themselves).
The band can also be followed on Facebook so give them a like if you will, if you like… which you will! That way you can stay informed on all the latest happenings and hopefully get down to a show when they are in your town.