This Manchester trio first drew notice as a part of Britain's so-called New Acoustic Movement. Spawned in 2000, the scene was composed of a handful of bands reacting to the tough-talking antics of big-ticket Britpop acts like Oasis and Blur—bands that paired a Beatles-schooled melodic sensibility with a guitar-heavy presence cribbed from the Rolling Stones. I Am Kloot and their peers—Turin Brakes, Badly Drawn Boy, Alfie—retained the tunefulness while turning the volume down. The result was a tasteful coffeehouse folk-pop you could tap your toe to. On Gods and Monsters, their third album, the Kloot guys don't sound as hemmed-in as they used to be: Frontman Johnny Bramwell has become a modest master of the English sneer-sing, and the rhythm section—drummer Andy Hargreaves and bassist Peter Jobson—coughs up tasty grooves that swing harder than you'd expect from a couple of pasty English guys.
The Coral, a seven-piece band from Liverpool, don't sound as if they've ever belonged to a scene. They play ramshackle, freewheeling pop that's as full of musical echoes as a used-record shop. The tunes on The Invisible Invasion, the prolific young group's fourth album, are built atop the same bouncy Merseybeat foundation that's anchored countless bands since the Beatles' reign: "So Long Ago" is a shot of breezy acoustic melancholia that would've fit perfectly on Rubber Soul. But frontman James Skelly seems to think that his band's infrastructure is sturdy enough to support whatever else catches his fancy, and most of the time he's right: "She Sings the Mourning" throbs with a spooky pseudo-ska beat, while the fuzzy organ part of the "The Operator" recalls both the Mysterians' classic "96 Tears" and the deranged psych-rock of early Pink Floyd.
This cranky Glaswegian quartet represents the closest the United Kingdom has come to producing an equivalent of the great Los Angeles punk band X. Just as X's John Doe and Exene Cervenka acted out their romantic tribulations in rushed, scrappy songs that wavered between punk and country, Scott Paterson and Adele Bethel of Sons and Daughters use their stiff, scuffed-up cow-punk to flesh out cynical (but empathic) character studies of losers and miscreants. The band's full-length debut, The Repulsion Box, follows a year of touring that included stints opening for Franz Ferdinand and Clinic. The album is well-sequenced and sounds fine enough, with guitars buffed to a cruel sheen by the producer Victor Van Vugt, who's worked with fellow travelers Nick Cave and Polly Jean Harvey. But the CD works best if bought as a souvenir of the band's supremely bitchy live show, where Paterson and Bethel scowl at each other sexily (and hilariously) from opposite ends of the stage.
Idlewild are not at all hilarious. No matter how old they get, these Scottish lads—led by the perfectly named Roddy Woomble—will forever make the sort of sober, self-righteous alt-rock that used to butter college radio's bread: big guitars, soaring melodies, portentous lyrics about "reading a book without a last page." Idlewild are the progeny of groups like U2, James, and, especially, R.E.M. Woomble has been compared to Michael Stipe since the band's wide-eyed debut, Hope Is Important. For good reason: On "Welcome Home," the singer aims for the same tone of elegiac reflection that R.E.M. achieved on Automatic for the People. Over Rod Jones' folksy guitar strums, Woomble croons pensively, providing an easy picture of the worried expression creasing his stubbled face.
This California-based group features only one actual Englishman: drummer Nick Jago. But since forming in 1998, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—or BRMC, as they're called by people less enthused by the swaggering band's devotion to rock-and-roll bullshit—have been mistaken for a bunch of Brits, mostly because of their wholesale appropriation of the moves first made by the Jesus and Mary Chain, the volatile Scottish noise-pop band that coated sunny girl-group melodies with thunderous guitar distortion. Howl, BRMC's third album, is an attempt to assert their American id; the mode is ragged acoustic folk-blues, laced with traces of the band's old sound. Sometimes it makes for compelling music, as in "Ain't No Easy Way," where singer Peter Hayes channels his inner Robert Johnson over hypnotic, droning guitars and a rudimentary kick-and-snare drumbeat. Other times, as in "Gospel Song," about walking with Jesus (who else?), they just sound like they're ripping off the innovating English band Spiritualized. Apparently, old habits die hard.