The Kooks / Atlas Genius

"It's a word that looks and sounds beautiful," says Luke Pritchard. "I love the roundness of it, the simplicity of it." The word the Kooks singer is extolling is "Listen" -- which also happens to be the title of the band's new album. Luke's reasons for choosing that title become clear the moment you dive into the new record -- as they do when he starts to describe its genesis, and the personal and emotional transformation he experienced while making it. "To me," Luke continues, "this album is about pure expression. Even the way we made the album felt fresh. Rather than us just being a band in a room, playing our guitars with the vocal over the top, which is what we'd always done before, we were really listening to what was going on around us, picking up ideas. The whole thing was much more natural."

"Listen was" kick-started by the track "Around Town," the bare bones of which Luke laid down in his flat in London. The song's subject matter is catty, its melody infectious and immediate -- and, compared with the Kooks' previous material, it represents a major shift. "I'd got really heavily into soul music and Afrobeat," Luke explains. "I remember doing 'Around Town' and thing, 'Hmm, ok: this is interesting.' Everything, the whole album, crystallised around that one song. And it was only meant to be an experiment; I didn't think of it as a song for the Kooks at all. All of sudden, it became the direction. I think I was on a bit of a mission, looking back: I'd gone all around the States for about 10 months, working with different people. I'd only ever written by myself or with the other guys before, so it was something I was a bit dubious about to begin with. But I wanted to open up a bit. There was too much negativity in me; I knew I needed to get away, get back to who I am, which is a writer."

Luke's chief ally in that task was the producer, Inflo, who he credits with helping him dig far deeper than he has before as a songwriter. The most powerful and haunting example of this on "Listen" is the poignant "See Me Now," on which Luke addresses his father, who died when Luke was a young child. "That was a real case of Inflo pulling a song, an emotion, out of me," says Luke. "We were talking about it and he just said, 'Write a letter to your dad.' A lot of the lyrics, I just wouldn't have been brave enough to share them before, but he went, 'Do it; they're beautiful.' I found that completely disarming; his whole attitude was, 'That's what music is all about. Let all your defences down.' And that song epitomises that."

Choosing to work with a producer rooted in hip hop and dance music struck some of the people on team Kooks as a risk, Luke admits. "I had heard his music and then his name came up when we were discussing how to approach the new album. I'm not sure many people thought it could work, but I really wanted to meet him. I loved the sound on the records he'd done -- they had this amazing clarity, they were modern but with this rootsy feeling behind them." Luke stuck to his guns, however, and his hunch proved correct. "The moment I met him, it felt right; although we were, on the surface, from quite different backgrounds, I knew his cousin, Leona Lewis -- we were at school together, we'd done songs together and made that sort of music. So in that sense, it felt almost like going back to something. I had 'Around Town' already, and he then pulled all this other stuff out of me. He got where my head was at. We had such a strong connection."

Evidence of that connection can be found throughout "Listen." Lead single "Down" hares out of the traps, its staccato guitar, call-and-response vocals, punctuating cowbell, falsetto harmonies and self-knowing, defiant lyric ("You can't break a man who's already down") adding up to one giant kiss-off of a song, to an earworm melody that puts down roots in your head and settles in for the long term. "Around Town," so central and crucial to the album, rides in on a tide of joyful gospel harmonies, as Luke confesses "I need someone to love me when the chips are down". Stripped-back, loose-limbed, lyrically candid and unblinking, "Around Town" comes across like a musical manifesto, a mission statement from a band who have rediscovered what they loved about making music in the first place, 10 long years ago in Brighton. Yet, as Luke says, the picture wasn't always so rosy. "The experiences I'd had the year before we made the record were so intense; I'd never felt that low before. I was in a very poisonous relationship, and becoming quite vacuous in my life. Songs such as 'Down' and 'Around Town' are coming from that place, most of the record is. And things weren't going well with the band either; we were doing well, but on the inside, things were a mess. We needed to come out of that, and it really was a case of music saving us."

Everyone in the band knew things had to change, Luke says. So out went the old thinking ("The over-thinking," Luke laughs), and out, too, the old approach to the recording process. "I went completely off chords. We got really obsessed with lines of notes. When you listen to Stones records, the genius of them is the interplay between them. They'll have a few chords, but it's much more about those interlayered guitar lines. Flo gave us the confidence to change our approach. It's difficult in the studio, because the temptation always is to go, 'Right, I'm going to do my bit here, and you do that there'. With this record, we didn't do any rehearsing beforehand. I'd write a song with Flo, or on my own, put it up, and we'd all play over it. So there was a real freedom to the process."

Freedom is certainly the right word for "Are We Electric?," whose sparse verse, resting on the sweetest of soul-funk grooves, gives way to a chorus of glorious, incandescent joy. One of many surprises on Listen, the track's warmth and laid-back vibe are replicated on "Forgive & Forget," a song that is driven by one of those riffs guitarists dream of coming up with, with added call-to-the-dancefloor handclaps, and conjures up a band of friends and n'er-do-wells cruising along a Californian highway, roof down, high on life. On "London," the band come up with a "Street Fighting Man" for the 21st century, as Luke surveys the riot-damaged city, over another monster riff. "Dreams" is similarly minimal, a woozy, just-woke-up ode to the places our heads go when they hit the pillow.

Immersion in "Listen" is as liberating for us as the making of it was for the band -- in which case, job done, says Luke. "We were back doing it for the love of it. I'd had the hardest year of my life, so it felt like the shackles were being released. It's good when you can rise above all the shit that gathers around you. What's happened with our band has been pretty crazy, internally, for years. But it's great now. I've never felt this comfortable before. It's like we've found peace."

He's so proud of the album, he says, that his hardest task now is stopping himself banging on about it. "I know that I'm in danger of being too confident about it, because in my head, I just think it's the best thing in the world; you always do when you come out of making a new record. But I've got to keep that in check -- I don't want to go all Kanye West about it." Should Luke Pritchard fail in that vow of silence, well, he will deserve our forgiveness. Because do you know what? The Kooks have just made the album of their lives.

Atlas Genius

The members of Adelaide, Australia's Atlas Genius do things a little differently... They set about building a studio where they could write and record music for their newly formed band 3 years before they even played their first live show as Atlas Genius. For two years, they devoted their days to constructing their dream studio and spent their nights performing songs by The Police, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at local pubs to pay the bills. "We really got down and dirty with dry walling and literally laying the floorboards, and at the same time we were taking a couple of days a week to focus on writing songs," recalls Keith Jeffery, Atlas Genius's vocalist/guitarist. "We had a lot of song ideas and it was important to us to have our own studio where we could experiment and hone in on our sound," adds brother and drummer, Michael Jeffery. The studio was designed and outfitted by the brothers with the help of their father (who comes from a music and engineering background). Once the studio was complete, the first song that Atlas Genius finished was a song called "Trojans," which they wrote, recorded and produced in collaboration with their friend, keyboardist Darren Sell. After many weeks tweaking the song, Michael insisted that the song was ready to be heard outside of the studio walls. Within an hour, "Trojans" was on the Triple J Unearthed Website, SoundCloud, and for sale via TuneCore on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify worldwide.

"We had begun to think that music was a pipedream and we had all gone back to university to pursue more realistic careers," says Keith. "We'd had such a long slog of playing late nights and working all day, and it felt like we didn't really have anything to show for it." But then, in the midst of cramming for their Fall 2011 semester final exams, Neon Gold discovered "Trojans" on the Triple J Unearthed Website and wrote a post praising "Trojans" as a song sure to "invade your head, all dressed up in a clever disguise of earnest vocals riding a hooky riff." Checking the band's email account for the first time in over a month, the band found that dozens of record labels, publishers, lawyers, booking agents and management companies from all over the world had contacted them.

"We were trying to focus on school, but it was just impossible," recalls Keith. "So we said, 'There's something going on here. Let's get back to the music.'" The band added manager, Jonny Kaps from +1, to their extended family to navigate all of the interest as the band focused on writing and recording more songs.

Quickly named an iTunes Single of the Week in Australia and New Zealand, "Trojans" reached #4 on Hype Machine by the end of May. In August, SiriusXM Satellite Radio's Alt-Nation discovered the song on a blog and decided to give it some spins. There was an immediate reaction from listeners, and in September, "Trojans" was placed into heavy rotation, where it maintained a top-five position on the listener-generated Alt-18 countdown and peaked at number one for 4 consecutive weeks in January 2012. "Trojans" began selling over a thousand tracks per week on U.S. iTunes and soon climbed to 45,000 sales -- all with zero promotional efforts from the still-unsigned Atlas Genius.

"Knowing we had this audience that was waiting on new songs, we had a much greater sense of purpose than we had before," says Keith. "It was really exciting to know that there were people who wanted to hear more of our music." Although labels were clamoring for the band to come to the U.S. and play a series of showcase gigs, Atlas Genius turned down those offers in favor of staying in Adelaide to keep writing and recording new songs. In February 2012, after months of communicating with numerous labels via Skype, the band chose to travel to the US in order to make their label decision.

"We'd never been to America before," says Keith. "We flew in at night and saw this sea of lights, and it really became apparent to us how massive the U.S. is. It was pretty intimidating -- like 'How do we fit into all this?'" In April 2012, the band returned to the states having made their decision to sign with Warner Bros. Records. "We felt a connection with them," notes Keith. "Everyone there feels very creative and dedicated to the music."

The band's first release from their new label home, the EP "Through The Glass" (produced, engineered and mixed by the band), came out in June of 2012. With "Through The Glass" completed, Atlas Genius then holed up in its studio and worked on writing and recording its first full-length album, while at the same time rehearsing for their first ever tour. The tour started in August 2012 which led to three more tours back to back in the US. Thus, their full-length debut was finished up between tour dates and got completed just before Christmas 2012. "When It Was Now" is set for a US release on February 19th, 2013, with an international release to follow soon after.

The debut captures Atlas Genius's singular combination of sophisticated musicality and warm, wistful spirit. Infused with a classic sensibility, each of the songs would fit seamlessly if somehow slipped into a long-treasured mixtape. On the shimmering "Symptoms," for instance, taut keyboard riffs mesh with urgent acoustic strumming before the band bursts into a gently frenetic, guitar-drenched chorus. Meanwhile, "Back Seat" blends its pulsing bass throb with a sweetly infectious beat and tender vocals that alternately soar and sigh. And on "Trojans," Atlas Genius begins with a restrained guitar melody and vocal ("Take it off, take it in/Take off all the thoughts of what we've been") before giving way to the handclap-accented, harmony-soaked refrain and lush yet kinetic bridge.

"It's still surreal," says Keith of all that's happened over the past 18 months. "I think when we were very young, we had hopes that something like this might happen one day," he continues. (Thanks largely to encouragement from their Beatles fanatic parents, who encouraged the brothers to begin playing music by age 14.) "But then you grow up a bit and it seems less and less likely. So when we put 'Trojans' out, we figured it would be a success if maybe a hundred people heard it. We don't want to force our music onto anyone. Our goal is to write songs that we love and we hope they connect with other people too."

Hailing from upstate New York, this crew of indie rockers has a distinct sound that fuses unforgettable power pop with synth-heavy electronic rhythms. They first rose to prominence with “Dangerous,” am eerily infectious single spawned from a collaboration with Big Data. Joywave was cemented as a mainstay in the multi-genre sphere of indie-electronica with 2014’s How Do You Feel?, featuring their YouTube sensations “Somebody New,” an undulating, peppy number, and “Tongues ft. KOPPS,” a relentlessly catchy, melodic modern opus. The five members of Joywave continue to blaze new e-trails; the 2016 release Swish contains a reworked version of the hit “Destruction,” a haunting, metal-laced ballad (check out the ironically hilarious accompanying video).

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