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Review: Scholars – Always Lead, Never Follow (LP)

Could this be the best debut album of the year? Scholars prove they are more than worthy of your attention…

Artist: Scholars
Release: Always Lead, Never Follow (LP)
Release Date: 8th April 2013

Every once in a blue moon, there is a band that sticks out like a diamond in a rough. In a time where over populated alternative music genres and sub-genres overcrowd with so many bands sounding the same to the point of becoming cliche and generic, it is extremely tough to find a group of people with a fresh sound that gives everyone else a run for their money.
Ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce your new favourite band, Scholars.

Founded in 2007 in the heart of Hemel Hempstead, it has been an utterly painstaking wait to finally hear the highly anticipated debut album ‘Always Lead, Never Follow‘. In the time running up to this moment, Scholars have developed an established reputation for relentless touring (and hilarious tour video diaries), and for supporting the more DIY approach to being in a band. For example, selling hand made and pressed vinyl / CD packages, contributing to independent mixtapes, etc. They have also had a multitude of EP’s released in the build up to this, some of which are now collectors items due to the limited availability of them.
They have crafted a sound that is so melodic and easy on the ears, whilst maintaining a raw and unhinged energy  that can be compared to like, letting a Millwall supporter on speed, loose in a West Ham antiques dealer’s shop.

OK maybe that is a more surreal explanation, but if you want to garner  an idea as to what kind of sound Scholars have, imagine all the best bits of At The Drive-In, Hundred Reasons, Meet Me In St. Louis, Hell Is For Heroes, and Kinesis all put in to a pot, stir it all up and you have the most lively, fun, and original sounds in the UK alternative music scene today.

Additionally, they have also toured with and supported bands such as Pure Love, Hundred Reasons, The Computers, Gay For Johnny Depp, Lightsgoblue, Deaf Havana, Letlive, Hell Is For Heroes, Mallory Knox, Canterbury, and Twin Atlantic. So it is safe to say they have been extremely busy lads!

Always Lead, Never Follow‘ has so, so many good points about it. It is essentially 13 tracks of pure, unadulterated audio awesomeness. There are some tracks that some devoted Scholars listeners may be already familiar with such as live favourite ‘Fractures‘, album opener ‘Bad For Business’, and ‘Blinda Data’.

‘Bad For Business’ kicks off the proceedings with four light drumstick hits,  which then erupts in to an immediate charge of crunchy clean distorted guitars and snare hits which break out in to a cacophony of controlled yet anthemic alternative rock chaos.

One of the album highlights ‘Ties’ is the third track on the album, and displays some of the bands more electronic influences with some light almost 8-bit like drum and bass samples and synths breaking down in the middle 8 section of the song. This particular song has echoes of At The Drive-In‘s ‘Enfilade’, but that is in no way a bad thing whatsoever. The way this songs flows is absolute magic, and is by far one of the stand out tracks on the album.

In fact, there is far too many ranges of influences and styles on this album. You have the flat out rock anthems stocked up on here (‘Fractures’, ‘Black and Blue’, and ‘Bad For Business’). Then you have your more post-hardcore and punk influenced firecrackers (‘Rage Concern’, ‘Ties’, and ‘Damage’). But on the other end of the spectrum you have some more electronica driven songs (‘Baraka’ and ‘Hydrochaesin’), to the down and outright more calmer pop moments (‘Stellar’, and album closer ‘Waiting’).

The production and mixing on this album works extremely well with Scholars sound. It is not too clean, nor is it too lo-fi. It is somewhere in the middle, nurturing their riotous blend of clean distorted guitars and bass, machine gun fire drums, and of course not forgetting the sublime vocal harmonies. Vocalist Sam Nicholls is not just a great frontman, but he also establishes himself as a great singerHis almost operatic yet brilliant vocal style ranges somewhere in between the likes of Cedric Bixlar, Freddie Mercury, and Colin Doran. Without his voice, Scholars would have lost a key ingredient to their masterful sound. But as a package, they absolutely shine.

If you have no heard of this band before, then please do yourself a favour and check Scholars out immediately.

The are the most highly underrated and exceptional UK rock band to have emerged in years, same can be said to their maniacal live shows as well. What they have delivered with ‘Always Lead, Never Follow‘ is the most exciting, fun, and original UK alternative rock album to have come out in a very long time. The only personal nitpick that this writer has with the album, is that they did not include two other live favourites to this album being ‘Tornadoes’, and ‘Born Troublemaker’, which could have made this a solid package. But this is just merely a personal preference.

Regardless of that, Scholars may well be on the verge of being the UK best newcomer, and even possibly your favourite new band, but also bringing us one of the contenders for albums of the year. You just do not know it yet! An absolute near-flawless debut effort.

9/10

Reviewer: James Paul Matthews

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