Another week hoves into view, and eight new contenders for rock's most precious prize are on the starting grid.
But first, we must congratulate the winners of last week's bonanza contest, Empyre, who romped home in first place and proved that there's still life in Northampton, despite the closing of the much-loved King Billy Rock Bar in November. We had some nights in there, we can tell you.
Congratulations are also due to the magnificent Lord Bishop Rocks, who came second, and to the equally magnificent Cats In Space, who took home the bronze medal. In fact, well done everyone. You are all magnificent. And before we get started with this week's candidates, here's Empyre again.
Myles Kennedy - In Stride
Anyone expecting a carbon copy of Year Of The Tiger (the Alter Bridge frontman’s introspective acoustic-based solo debut) will be surprised by In Stride – a thoroughly rock’n’roll affair, bathed in bourbon and gasoline and all that good stuff. Part bluesy resonator slide-fest, part glam boot-stomper (seriously, that main riff in the verses is positively Quo-esque), it’s an instant winner that’ll leave you genuinely curious about what else is on his upcoming solo record.
Tarah Who? - Manners
LA noiseniks Tarah Who? (aka singer/guitarist Tarah Carpenter and drummer Coralie Herve) are the twosome behind this commanding collusion of punk and brooding grunge. By turns spiky and swaggering, and tastily pepped up with flashes of bluesy slide, it’s the sort of racket we could imagine hearing Pearl Jam and The Distillers make, if they got together for a jam in a smoky dive bar. Plus with lyrics like ‘You think you raise a good human by making them religious and well mannered/but some of those social basics get lost’, it’s music to make you think and rock out. Nice.
Naked Gypsy Queens - Georgiana
No they’re not actually naked (or at least, not in this video) but these four 20-year-old school chums from Tennessee make a rather regal noise on this new heavy, slide-tastic mix of southern-fried blues and more urban tastes of the 70s – think Led Zeppelin meets MC5 in a hot chicken shack, and you’re in the right ballpark. "Our goal was to become the baddest live band around," says frontman Chris Attigliato. We haven’t seen them live so can’t vouch for them in that regard, but based on Georgiana it certainly sounds like they’re heading in that direction.
Andrew W.K. - Babalon
Nobody partied as hard as Andrew W.K. back in 2001, and nobody does now – as this new mix of operatic melodrama and skull-crushing beef confirms. Remarkably untarnished by the passage of time (his all-white attire, long locks and complexion could legitimately have come straight from the Party Hard video of 20 years ago; 20 years! How the hell did that happen?!) Andrew remains one of rock’s true enigmas, and for that we are immensely glad.
Deap Vally - High Horse (feat KT Tunstall and Peaches)
On their Digital Dream EP, Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards scrapped their usual two-piece set-up in favour of a free-for-all collaborative process – bringing in different guests, instruments and genres as the songs demanded them. On High Horse (written and recorded in Dave Grohl’s Studio 606) they combined their own leftfield rock’n’roll chops with Scottish songstress KT Tunstall and Canadian electro-punk provocateur Peaches. The result? A buzzy, charismatic fever dream with a whiff of Jack White’s latter-day off-kilter vibe.
White Void - The Shovel And The Cross
“This song is about the darkness we face while trying to figure out what the hell we’re supposed to be doing here,” White Void frontman Lars Nedland says of this latest cut from the enigmatic Norwegians’ upcoming album Anti. That might not sound like a recipe for a good time, but with its blend of 70s rock flamboyance and dark post-punk romance, The Shovel And The Cross is way more of a headbanger than its introspective premise might suggest. Basically yes, they’re deep thinkers and all, but they still want to party.
Lilith Czar - King
The artist formerly known as Juliet Simms – formerly known as the singer of Automatic Loveletter – returns with a new name, bags of attitude, and a song that suggests what Fleetwood Mac might have sounded like were they from the actual dark side. King is modern metallic pop at its most thrilling, with slinky verses, a chorus that crushes, and a five-second sequence starting at 1'49" that might be the greatest musical moment of the year so far but we're not telling you any more because we don't want to spoil the surprise.
Starbenders - Angel
Look everyone, it's our old friends from Atlanta, Starbenders! We've stopped counting, but it's possible that Angel is the 38th single to be taken from the band's excellent Love Potions album – this time from the new, deliciously expanded "Zodiac" edition. And while it might not crank into top gear in the manner of the previous 37 releases, those magical ingredients are still there: those clever shifts in melody, that effortless way with a chorus, and the almost bewildering ease with which the whole thing earworms its way into your brain.