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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd January 2015 at 6:00 pm
Earlier this month, John introduced us to The Voyeurs, who got a shout for this year’s SXSW in March. This week, they have a new promo for ‘Train to Minsk’, which is the second single to be taken from the bands second album ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’, released in November on Heavenly Recordings. If you’re not fond of bright colours or are prone to epileptic seizures, you should probably skip this one! Otherwise, watch the promo that Entertainment Weekly described as “a color-saturated collage of manipulated found footage created by founding Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart” below.
Header photo by Hollie Fernando
Southampton dream pop quartet Pale Seas formed in 2011, when frontman Jacob Scott was inspired to drop out of university and follow his songwriting muse. Their first studio endeavour resulted in a single, ‘Something or Nothing’, which was released in March 2012 and received radio attention from BBC Introducing later that year. On the strength of that single, the band played their first headline tour as well as landing support slots with The War on Drugs, Beach Fossils, The Lemonheads, and TGTF favourites Stornoway.
They quickly recorded a follow up, the double A-side single ‘Bodies / My Own Mind’ with producer Paul Butler (The Bees, Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka), who contributed a tapestry of “thick, luscious soundscapes” to fortify the wistful melancholia of Scott’s songs. The single was released in September 2012 with the assistance of Communion Records, and ‘Bodies’ kickstarted Pale Seas’ ascent, garnering over one million online plays.
In their brief history, the band have already faced a couple of lineup changes, including the departure of Scott’s former girlfriend and backing vocalist Zealah Isabella Anstey and the addition of drummer Will Hilliard. Having apparently settled in their current incarnation (Scott on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Graham Poole on lead guitar, Matthew Bishop on bass and Hilliard on drums), the band recorded their first EP ‘Places to Haunt’ with Butler once again at the production helm and Poole and Bishop collaborating on the songwriting. The EP, which features guest vocals by Alessi’s Ark, was released in August 2014 via Native Pop and includes the following track ‘Evil is Always One Step Behind’.
After spending the better part of the last 4 years establishing themselves as a band and cementing the direction of their sound, Pale Seas are poised to make a mark on the indie music scene in 2015. Their scheduled trip to SXSW 2015 in Austin in March is their only announced live appearance since their UK tour in October of last year, but I predict that we’ll see more of them, either on stage or in the form of their anticipated debut album. Just below, you can watch the video for ‘Blood Return’, which is taken from that effort.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 22nd January 2015 at 6:00 pm
The Subways will be releasing their self-titled album – their fourth – on the 9th of February. On the same day, they’ll also be dropping the single ‘Taking All the Blame’, which now has its own promo video. Interestingly, you can watch the band performing the song in this, but not exactly the way I bet you’re imagining it. Watch it below.
Grab ‘The Subways’ when it comes out on the 9th of February on YFE Records / Cooking Vinyl. John’s review of previous single ‘I’m in Love and It’s Burning My Soul’ can be read here; all of TGTF’s coverage on the Subways is this way.
Whenever I’m listening to a new album for review, I generally try to steer clear of reading other reviewers’ opinions, at least until my own review is officially in the books. I’ve had particular difficulty this week avoiding the barrage of media attention for Belle and Sebastian’s new LP ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. Music critics and diehard fans alike have been eagerly awaiting this release since it was announced late last year, especially now that their attention has turned from end-of-year charts to the business of making predictions for 2015.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance’ is not only new music for the new year, it marks a slightly new musical direction for Belle and Sebastian as well. As implied by its title, this set of songs unabashedly experiments with dance pop, which comes as a bit of a surprise from the Scottish indie sextet, who have previously been known for their sunny and cerebral brand of twee. In fact, I was astonished to find myself delightedly dancing along to the album’s first single ‘The Party Line’ when I heard it played on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6music programme last week.
Aside from being a gleefully giddy bit of pop pleasure, the track is a strong statement of the band’s intent for this, their ninth studio album. Its trippy, heavily synthesized disco beat, deep pulsing bass and catchy vocal hook, “jump to the beat of a party line / there is nobody here but your body, dear”, put the radio-friendly dance vibe squarely at the forefront of the overall sound. (Watch the video for ‘The Party Line’ in our previous Video of the Moment feature.)
This is not to suggest, however, that frontman and main songwriter Stuart Murdoch has gone soft on his normally erudite lyrical style. Album opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a deeply introspective look at Murdoch’s own introversion, examining the disconnect between himself and the world around him. But the song’s probing lyrics, “we are out of practice, we’re out of sight / on the edge of nobody’s empire / and if we live by books and we live by hope / does that make us targets for gunfire?” are disguised by a sprightly instrumental arrangement and uplifting gospel choir backing vocals that convey more something more akin to optimism than self-doubt.
‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ is a glittery disco ball of a track with slick synths and programmed percussion backing the lyrically astute vocal trade-off between Murdoch and Sarah Martin. Likewise, ‘Perfect Couples’ features a sensually serpentine guitar riff and an irresistible, almost tribal sounding dance beat behind a tersely cynical lyrical examination of the superficiality of modern relationships: “sexual tension at the fridge / he makes for the organic figs / from on her lips dangling a cig”.
Possibly the most intriguing track on ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is a different kind of dance tune entirely. ‘The Everlasting Muse’ shifts back and forth from a seductive Spanish dance rhythm to a heavy, more Eastern European march tempo. In contrast to the glossy, polished production of the disco numbers, this track has a more traditional dance feel, right down to the handclap rhythms and the hints of modal harmony.
Belle and Sebastian step away from the overarching dance theme in the album’s more characteristic indie pop moments, including the dreamy haze of recent single ‘The Cat With the Cream’ and the blissfully pastoral acoustic arrangement of ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’. Final track ‘Today (This Army’s for Peace)’ closes the album in a similarly contemplative vein, with distantly echoing vocals and a meditative piano solo over a constant and soothing rhythm, delicately executed by drummer Richard Coburn.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is solid evidence that even as they approach the 20-year mark of their career as a band, Belle and Sebastian are willing to stretch the limits of their established musical style. At this point, anything they release would be likely to create a buzz of anticipation in the music media, but here they live up to the hype with an album of songs that are by turns pleasantly unexpected and comfortably familiar.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, Belle and Sebastian‘s ninth studio album, is out now on Matador Records. Belle and Sebastian are scheduled to perform at a slew of festivals this year, including a high-profile slot at Coachella (Saturday 11 April) and Liverpool Sound City 2015, where they will be headlining Sunday night (24 May) with a full orchestra at the event’s new Bramley Moore Dock location (more information here).
Modestep are a tricky band to categorise, because they alternate between several different musical styles – dubsteb, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, heavy metal, and even straight pop – often within the same song. And while such stylistic confusion is one reason why it’s this writer’s sober wish never to hear their music again, there are no doubt plenty of listeners out there for whom Modestep’s magpie tendencies perfectly suit their iPhone-generation attention spans.
Their debut album ‘Evolution Theory’ runs to an ambitious 25 tracks on the deluxe edition; padded with various remixes and bonus tracks, that’s almost 2 hours of Modestep. Surely not even the most ardent fan could feel short-changed for quantity. It kicks off with the overwrought ‘Show Me a Sign’, dedicated to “the ones who care”; said dedication can apparently be demonstrated, not by perhaps helping an old lady across the street, or even sharing ones Polo mints with the office, but by holding a lighter in the air, an act of little practical use. Modestep throw the kitchen sink at their opening gambit – brostep, faux drum ‘n’ bass, and finally heavy metal riffing – conspiring to make a right old racket.
The title track is a bit more interesting: four rappers talk about which music has influenced them, namedropping profusely (Wiley, Dizzee), although it all inevitably descends into metal-step carnage towards the end. Similarly, ‘Praying For Silence’ has potential: it’s introduced by a news report on the 2011 London riots, and one would be forgiven for looking forward to a musing on that divisive episode from people closer in age and outlook to the rioters than your average man on the street. Sadly, there’s little social commentary, and the central refrain, “we’re praying for silence / now we’re burning with violence,” makes little sense. The rest is simply recycled brostep filler. An opportunity missed.
As an aside, what is the actual point of dubstep in 2015? Fair enough, when it was first invented, nigh on 20 years ago, it sounded edgy and novel, a break from the ubiquitous four-to-the-floor house scene, and probably heralded a move away from ecstasy to a novel plethora of barely-legal acronymic nightclub intoxicants. But now, with the advent of U.S. brostep and the ensuing mass cultural appropriation, the edge has gone and all we’re left with is the sound. Which, unfortunately for the genre, consists of deeply unpleasant bleugh, skweeeeek and wawawa noises. In other words, nothing to hum.
‘Time’ stands out like a black sheep – it’s a straight-ahead stadium ballad, with Hammond organ, piano, and real, heavily-reverbed drums. A jarring interlude in what is otherwise a dance album. And ‘Burn’ actually a pretty decent track, due to the contribution of a proper grime crew, Newham Generals, who actually have something decent to say, and say it well. But, yet again, the track is built around a bland platitude, in this case “can you feel the fire?”. Yes I can, and it’s in my ears. By this point, the album’s only halfway over. If you can stand to listen to the rest you’re a braver soul than I.
Let’s give Modestep the benefit of the doubt. Young listeners trying to work out exactly which genre floats their boat might listen to this and discover a previously unknown appreciation for drum ‘n’ bass, for instance, and end up seeking out some Roni Size and Goldie records. But whichever genre Modestep visit, and there are many, one can nominate a band that specialise in it… and do it better. If they chose one niche, and stuck to it, they might be more successful.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 22nd January 2015 at 11:00 am
It’s been a great running tradition that the BBC has hosted a night at massive band showcasing festival South by Southwest, and in just under 55 days, the Beeb will be making waves with yet another esteemed appearance in Austin! Taking place on the evening of Wednesday, the 18th of March, at the home of the British Music Embassy for the week, Latitude 30 on San Jacinto Boulevard, the event will no doubt give unprecedented attention to the acts chosen to perform on the night, and we here at TGTF are really pleased we’ll be in Austin for the festivities.
Last night on his evening drivetime programme on 6music, Steve Lamacq welcomed his fellow BBC presenter Huw Stephens to announce the line-up for the BBC Introducing night at SXSW 2015, partnering this year with PRS for Music Foundation, who gives their never wavering support to up and coming UK artists and their developing careers. Who will Lammo and Huw be bringing with them to the big dance in Austin in March? Here’s a rundown, in alphabetical order:
Blossoms – Stockport has the distinction of being the birthplace of Delphic and Dutch Uncles (both via Marple). But in 2015, all eyes will be back on the Greater Manchester town and five-piece Blossoms, putting on the psychedelic mantle that became cool again after the success of Temples last year. Will they surpass the Kettering group’s success in Austin in 2014? We’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure, their name should not lead you to assume they’re fragile Northern flowers: check out the swaggery cool of ‘Blow’.
Gengahr – there always seems to be contention on who will be the next great British guitar band. On the current list of hopefuls, London’s Gengahr certainly have their supporters. They aren’t the hit-you-over-the-head loud kind of obvious guitar band, preferring more thoughtful vocals and well thought out melodies that might bleed over to pop territory. Except they’re quite masterful on guitar: have a listen to ‘Powder’.
Jack Garratt – in case you were concerned that the epic British beard would not be covered at this year’s SXSW, have a look at Jack Garratt think again. But that’s beside the point. What’s far more important are Garratt’s piano playing and deep, soulful voice. One wonders if the Austin event could be his jumping off platform to superstardom as it was last year to Ireland’s Hozier.
Little Simz – it’s probably not a wise thing to ignore Islington’s Simbi Ajikawo. The rapper, who goes by the moniker Little Simz, had her debut EP ‘E.D.G.E’ exclusively premiered on Billboard last summer and has already been noticed by Jay-Z and his crew for her experimental style of rap. And just in case the music thing doesn’t work out, she has acting to fall back on as a vocation: you may remember Ajikawo as the character Meleka in a few episodes of E4’s Youngers.
SOAK – we’re not entirely sure why Derry teenager Bridie Monds-Watson goes by the stage name of SOAK. Her highly acclaimed EP in 2013 was titled ‘Sea Creatures’, so maybe she feels some kind of affinity to the sea and water? What we do know for sure: she’s got an achingly sweet voice, she recently signed to Rough Trade and her debut album for them is expected later this year. Stay tuned for more news on her in the coming months.
Spring King – with a new promo video just uploaded to their YouTube channel 2 days before Huw Stephens’ big announcement, something tells you Manchester garage rockers Spring King are just raring to go to Austin. The aforementioned promo, for the song ‘Not Me, Not Now’, was filmed when the band were in New York City last October for the other biggie American emerging music festival CMJ. Will the prior experience playing for American audiences help them in Austin? We shall see.
To read the official announcement from BBC Introducing, go here.
We here at TGTF will be bringing you even more preview coverage of SXSW 2015 in the coming weeks leading up to the big week in Austin in March. To catch up on any of our past reporting or if you want to keep an eye on our coverage as it continues, head this way.
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