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Courtney Barnett’s debut ‘A Sea of Split Peas’ has been available from House Anxiety records since last November, but it’s this summer that sees her properly making a mark on the opposite side of the world from her native Melbourne. TGTF tipped Barnett as one of the artists playing all three urban festivals around the May Day bank holiday and picked out the 5-minute epic of ‘Anonymous Club’ as “showcasing Barnett’s ability to turn down the tempo and bring out a more circumspect, even sombre, mood, all led by her gently vulnerable voice.”
Said track has recently been treated to an accompanying video by Melburnian illustrator Celeste Potter. A monochrome, lo-fi, and subtly disturbing animation which evokes the restless dream of a child who’s read The Gruffalo too close to bedtime, both visuals and song inhabit a dreamworld of resigned despair – tears feature heavily. This is Barnett’s most downtempo, introspective work – elsewhere on ‘A Sea of Split Peas’, the tempo rises and humour is used to great effect, so this piece shouldn’t be taken as representative of her output as a whole. Nevertheless, a beautiful piece of art of which both Barnett and Potter should be duly proud.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 2:00 pm
In the indie rock world where a band often fold after their first album if it didn’t do well commercially, We Are Scientists – Keith Murray (lead vocals / guitar) and Chris Cain (bass / backing vocals) are doing pretty well in terms of sheer longevity. By the time I saw them live for the first time in the summer of 2008, a couple months after their superb third album ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ hit the streets, they’d already honed their deadly combination of rocking tunes and hilarious stage banter. They released their fifth album ‘TV en Français’ in March and while the new LP sees the duo veer from their original formula concocted in a university dorm room in 2007 -it was inevitable they’d mature in sound, yeah? – I’m happy to report that their live show hasn’t changed and in fact, is better than ever.
The fully capitalised PAWS from Glasgow opened for the New York City-based act. I ran into their band members by accident in a pizza shop open late at night in Austin during SXSW 2013 when I was in the company of another band. I tried to make small talk with them while waiting in the queue for the toilet at 2 in the morning, and I’m not very charming at 2 AM in the morning after I’ve been out carousing with friends, I’m just not. (Awkward.) Thankfully, my next encounter with the Glaswegians was nowhere near as awkward. Nope. In DC, they rocked our faces off with their brand of brilliantly melodic punk.
I am almost uncomfortable to give them the label of ‘punk’ or even ‘garage’, because that would seem to indicate they have complete disregard for melody, and their beards are evidence that they’re super anti-establishment. But the weirdly wonderful thing about PAWS is that they’ve got a knack for writing memorable tunes with massive sounding guitar riffs that just beg for headbanging, accompanied by a relentless rhythm section. ‘Sore Tummy’, from their 2012 debut ‘Cokefloat!’, is probably their best known track, but on Thursday night, I favoured newer track ‘Narcissist’, not even lasting 2 minutes. Whether he planned the hilarity or not, newest band member and bass player Ryan Drever pointed out the location of an unfortunate rip in his jeans before the band lit into this song. Whoops! Their second album on Fat Cat, ‘Youth Culture Forever’, isn’t out until the 2nd of June in the UK, but it’s out earlier in America, and as the band were cheekily selling copies of the LP before the official releases, I couldn’t say no.
Having five albums to choose from gave We Are Scientists a lot of latitude when it came to their set list in Washington. When I mentioned their very funny stage presence, this also included audience participation this night in the form of two different fans getting up on stage and introducing themselves to the audience, after which they were razzed by Murray and Cain. The second punter probably was drunk ,as he made the regrettable admission that he hadn’t listened to or bought their last 2 albums. Naturally, the audience started laughing and booing and Murray quipped, “sorry dude, we can’t help you now”. The punter did get the audience’s favour back when he yelled for how great their second album and breakthrough release ‘With Love and Squalor’ was, and the crowd responded with thundering applause. I think about this moment as being a prime example of what has made We Are Scientists such a fan favourite: they’re the guys who make you laugh, the ones you want to go out and have drinks with because they’re fun, self-deprecating and entirely unpretentious. You’d never see punters be invited onstage like that at most any other show, would you?
But you’re probably reading this review for information on the music, I’m sure. Whether it had to do with ‘TV en Français’ having been released too closely to this North American tour or like that aforementioned fan with his 15 seconds of fame, people just aren’t buying their most recent albums, the newer songs just couldn’t compete with the bigger hits of their back catalogue. I think no matter how long they continue on gigging – and I assume it will be a long, long time to come, so don’t worry – they will always play ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’ off ‘With Love and Squalor’, because they always cause mental crowd reactions, whether they’re playing a club or a festival. However, I’m pleased that others from their catalogue continue to be firm fan favourites, including the hooky ‘Rules Don’t Stop’, the oozy sleaziness of ‘Can’t Lose’ and the anthemic ‘After Hours’ (well, as anthemic as WAS dare to tread).
I had assumed that after ‘Barbara’ was released in 2010, I’d never hear ‘Lethal Enforcer’ from ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ ever again. Never say never. As the opening funky bass notes began, I couldn’t believe my ears. What? Are they really playing ‘Lethal Enforcer’? Year made. I also wondered if they would come out for an encore, as ‘The Great Escape’ had already been ticked off by the (first) time they said goodbye. Much to the delight of the crowd, they returned for one more, ‘Impatience’. By that time, I’d made it over to the bar to give my feet a rest and it was then that I noticed all the people who were not down the front; they’d chosen purposely to stand further back so they could cut some shapes and boy, were smooth moves being made the encore.
The crux of ‘Impatience’, besides its unyielding guitar, is the insistent voice of the song, pointing out to someone else that there’s no point of being impatient and that problems are only as big as you make them. As bad as us music journalists often make the music industry seem as a place where indie bands make no money and barely a career (and this is true), it was in that club Thursday night that I realised sometimes when you’re watching a gig like this, all of that stuff temporarily melts away from your consciousness and what you’re left with is seeing people who are actively appreciating live music. Ultimately, this is what we’re all in it for, isn’t it?
After the cut: We Are Scientists’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: We Are Scientists with PAWS at Black Cat, Washington DC – 17th April 2014
It’s summer 2011 – the Summertyne Americana Festival at the Sage, Gateshead. David Macias, the then president of the Americana Music Association, is due to make a presentation that addresses the thorny issue of: what is Americana? Those of us keener on actually watching some music in the beery sunshine rather than talking about it indoors, missed the official conclusion. But surely the answer then, and ever since, is: rather a broad church of American rock, blues, and gospel-based music, overlaid with a tang of country. Banjos feature prominently. But why stop there? Why can’t an album of grunge-tinged rock, featuring tracks which could fit straight into the great contemporary American rock songbook, qualify? Because if it could, what Afghan Whigs have delivered with ‘Do to the Beast’ would fit right in.
In their first career, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs were active for 15 years from 1986, releasing six albums on a number of independent and major labels, notably Sub Pop, home to grunge contemporaries Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. But despite fraternal connections, The Afghan Whigs have always shown influences more left-field than most of their contemporaries, with an evident enthusiasm for classic soul (cf 1992’s album of soul and R ‘n’ B covers ‘Uptown Avondale’), utilising avant-garde mutations of classic songwriting technique.
In contrast to the 16 years we’ve waited for a new release from The Afghan Whigs, now the record has arrived, it wastes no time in getting down to business. ‘Do to the Beast’ opens with ‘Parked Outside’, a swaggering, uncompromising, riff-laden dirge heavy with fuzzed guitars and Greg Dulli’s guttural roar. It’s the sound of grunge, made contemporary for 2014, by men who survived it the first time around. ‘Matamoros’ mixes an electronica-inspired insistent groove, a darkly intense chorus and some strings more Moroccan than Mexican. ‘It Kills’ reveals a delicate underbelly to the band’s sound – “It kills to watch you love another” a self-explanatory confessional matched in tenderness by the understated arrangement and Dulli’s cracked baritone. ‘Algiers’ (video below) is a great American road song, all passionately-strummed acoustic guitar and mid-tempo angst. The sort of thing that Cherry Ghost can knock off in their sleep, but no less evocative for that. ‘Lost in the Woods’ converts a maudlin intro into a unashamedly chart-bothering melodic chorus, one which could easily have come from the pen of soul-era Detroit song-factory luminaries, if they arranged for electric guitar. A curiously schizophrenic arrangement, and one which mirrors the personality of the record as a whole.
The second half kicks off with ‘The Lottery’, a riffy, noisy thing, similar to their very earliest work. More interesting is what follows. ‘Can Rova’ is a great example of where Afghan Whigs differ from their contemporaries – the ability to execute a delicate ballad of tender beauty. This is rock in name only, the Americana label writ large – there’s even some banjo. And then there’s the final duplet. ‘I Am Fire’ is a world-weary dirge arranged for handclaps and despairing vocal. And as triumphant endings go, ‘These Sticks’ is itself a triumph. Attempting the seemingly impossible task of weaving all the disparate threads of the album into one coherent whole, it succeeds. The electric guitars are back, the drums are real, there’s a horn section for good measure.
Don’t ask about the lyrical content. Dulli is famed for his hard-hitting autobiographical style, and there’s no reason to think that ‘Do to the Beast’ disappoints in that regard. There’s simply not enough time or room in a review to properly plumb the depths of his psyche, to do justice to the self-loathing and corruption bubbling within. Suffice to say, the title itself is enough of an indication of what to expect – presumably a corrupted reference to the ancient ethic of reciprocity: “Do unto the Beast as you would have the Beast do unto you.” It could take several years of therapy to unravel what he’s on about here, and that’s just the album title. Approach with caution.
So there we have it. This is the sound of band that have no time for creative boundaries – if it sounds good, it’s in, genre be damned. So there’s the heavy guitar riffs as expected, mixed in with widescreen road songs, acoustic interludes, all given coherence by Dulli’s distinctive voice, at times reminiscent of Billy Corgan and even Rod Stewart. It’s a remarkable achievement for a band that have been away for a decade and a half – to seamlessly carry on where they left off. And ‘Do to the Beast’, in both its sound and its content, is as good as anything Afghan Whigs have ever recorded. Old fans will be delighted, and there’s doubtless a whole new generation just waiting to be inculcated as to the ways of Dulli. Poor dears.
The Afghan Whigs’ newest album ‘Do to the Beast’, the American band’s first in 16 years, is out now on Sub Pop.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 10:00 am
Oh yes. There is a new album Dublin band The Minutes on the way – release date for ‘Live Well, Change Often’ is the 9th of May in Ireland, but we imagine a UK release date shouldn’t be far away. To whet your appetite for the new album – and if you find yourself as lucky as myself to attend Liverpool Sound City 2014, as the band are playing Saturday the 3rd of May at 10:15 PM at the Zanzibar – they’re giving away the track ‘Supernatural’ for free. With a driving rock groove and a completely infectious guitar riff, you’re going to want to listen again and again to this track. So why not have a listen to the song below and get your free download of it?
‘Supernatural’ follows the track ‘Cherry Bomb’, the album’s first single released to the wild in early March. Both Ben and I highly approve of the song; read Ben’s review of the single here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 21st April 2014 at 6:00 pm
Last week, I reviewed Halifax band the Orielles‘ forthcoming single ‘Entity’. (Read the review here.) They now have an ace promo video out for the single, filmed in the appropriate chill environs of Blackpool on the North West coast. Sun, waves, wind blowing through three youths’ hair and an awesome pop song: what more could you want? Watch it below.
Catch the Orielles playing at Manchester’s Deaf Institute on Saturday the 26th of April (this coming Saturday) at their launch party to celebrate the release of ‘Entity’ on the 12th of May. They will also be playing Liverpool Sound City at the Shipping Forecast on Friday the 2nd of May and Live at Leeds the day after, at the Packhorse on Saturday the 3rd of May.
Photos by Carrie Clancy and Mary Chang
It’s always exciting to see a favorite artist live, and I had been happily awaiting Neil Finn’s show at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC for weeks before the day actually arrived. That kind of gleeful anticipation can occasionally lead to a bit of a letdown if the show isn’t quite up to par, but Finn and his band of cohorts seemed particularly determined not to disappoint on the night, and they most definitely didn’t. The evening was a mix of happily obliged expectations and a few surprises, both planned and spontaneous.
The first of those pleasant surprises for me was opening band Midlake, who played an acoustic set with only three of their usual six members in attendance. Hailing from Denton, Texas, Midlake were an interesting choice of guests for Finn, but the chemistry between the two acts was clear. The Lincoln Theater show was the last on the North American tour, and the bands celebrated it by comingling freely, with Finn appearing on stage to play piano on one of Midlake’s tunes and members of Midlake returning the favor at several points during Finn’s set.
Midlake played a handful of songs from their debut record, ‘Antiphon’, pointing out several times that these versions were “stripped down especially for Neil Finn.” I quite enjoyed their streamlined sound, especially the deft and dexterous use of the flute in several of their arrangements by keyboard player Jesse Chandler. Midlake closed their set in appropriate fashion for an acoustic set, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released.’ I’ll admit to not being very familiar with Midlake before this show, but I was impressed enough to chase down their frontman, Eric Pulido, for a quick interview after the show (stay tuned for that audio clip in the coming days).
Midlake’s atmospheric sound and stream-of-consciousness lyrics were a perfect foreshadow for the songs from ‘Dizzy Heights’ (reviewed here), two of which opened Finn’s set. Hazy album opener ‘Impressions’ and debut single ‘Flying in The Face of Love’ both played perfectly off the psychedelic stage backdrop. From that point forward, Finn interspersed older hit songs with the newer ones, touching on Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn Brothers, and Pajama Club tunes throughout the set.
While the older numbers were inevitably well received by Finn’s audience of diehard fans and Frenz, I was most impressed with how comfortably the ‘Dizzy Heights’ songs fell into the playlist. Finn gave the new songs full attention and full arrangements, which highlighted them against the creative and often sparser reworkings of some of the older songs. ‘Better Than TV’ and ‘In My Blood’ were both charged with energy, and ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was absolutely electric toward the end of the set. The last played of the new songs, ‘Pony Ride’ was performed with special energy for Finn’s father, who was in attendance via the magic of Skype.
Finn’s onstage banter included several references to Bruce Springsteen’s recent Australian tour and the marathon-length gigs The Boss puts on, even at this late point in his career. Finn was apparently inspired enough to emulate Springsteen in his own shows; according to a printed set list nabbed from the stage, Finn had planned a lengthy set for DC, and while he did eventually deviate from his own agenda, he most certainly didn’t cut the song list short. He mentioned that he was trying to honor as many last minute fan requests as possible, which led to a widely varied set, including a few rare gems, such as the extended jam in ‘Chocolate Cake’ and a loungey piano version of Split Enz track ‘Message to My Girl.’ I was near to ecstatic when Finn closed the set proper with a personal favorite of mine, solo hit ‘She Will Have Her Way’.
Naturally, Finn acknowledged the customary and genuinely enthusiastic crowd request for an encore. (At this point, a disclaimer: I went into fully-fledged fangirl mode during the encore, dancing and singing along rather than taking notes. The actual encore deviated significantly from the set list in the above photo.) He broke out several fan favorites, playing to the heady desires of his audience, including an exquisite version of ‘Private Universe’ utilizing the vocal and instrumental talents of Midlake. Having already touched on the ubiquitous ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ earlier in the set, Finn chose to end the evening with an impromptu and delightful performance of ‘Weather With You’.
Neil Finn takes his ‘Dizzy Heights’ tour to the UK and Ireland starting next week. Full tour date listings can be found here.
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