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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th November 2014 at 6:00 pm
We’re pleased to see The Very Best – singer Esau Mwamwaya and producer Johan Hugo – make a reappearance. Their new single ‘Hear Me’ came from a politically charged place: the pair was in Malawi during the time of the latest presidential election in Malawi and also the 50th anniversary of the country getting their independence from colonial rule. The song soundtracks a beautifully shot – and turns out secretly shot also – time lapse video of Malawi shot by the duo themselves.
A new album is in the works. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more from our previous coverage on the Very Best, come this way.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 24th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
“Hypnotic. Arabian funeral. Depression in the desert. Sepia rainbows.
“This is the psychedelic nightmare spun by The Wytches, who are spreading their subversive message across the UK in the dark guide of SOS surf riffs, desert riffs, melancholic shuffles and a kaleidoscopic stage performance that will put you under.”
This was the description on the DC9 Web site of Thursday evening’s headliner the Wytches. Quite accurate, I reckon: there is a dark and dangerous undercurrent of subversion to the music of the Brighton-based trio, which initially sounded strange to me, given that they live by the beautiful southern coastline of England. However, I learned on the night that two of their band members are originally from Peterborough; I’ll have to ask our John what the deal is with that place and if it informs the pervading doom and gloom of their sound. But that is neither here nor there: what is far more important to note is that despite my initial impression of the tracks of theirs I heard online and thinking, “is that all?”, the live performance of the Wytches is an interesting, beguiling mixture of swirly guitar and powerful bass and drum beats, delivered with animalistic, raw vocals, and money spent on a ticket to see this band will be worth every last penny.
Further, anyone who has listened to their music before knows of the muscle and raucousness of the group’s sound, but what you will find when experiencing them live is the nuances of brilliant songwriting that might not be immediately apparent to the untrained ear. That is, there is method to this madness. They can write and play a good song, as well as give good show. Isn’t it a truly sad development of popular music that these three things are all too often mutually exclusive these days?
I found myself easily and entirely willingly drawn into the Eastern-tinged melodies of the band, most always delivered alongside a punishing rhythm section. There were moments where I could not help but smile to myself, thinking about my younger years when I thought Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ was a pretty cool tune. I’m happy to say that the kind of vibe managed by Led Zeppelin on ‘Physical Graffiti’ has not only been inspirational to a younger generation of musicians, the vibe is been continued. And stretched, modified and improved on.
Past singles ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ and ‘Burn Out the Bruise’ are noteworthy for the anguished screams of guitarist/frontman Kristian Bell and its entirely headbanging-inducing thunder well appreciated by the crowd assembled in Washington. The seductive rhythm of ‘Robe for Juda’, probably better known to most readers of TGTF for its extremely low-budget video, doesn’t fail to bring rapture to tonight’s audience, is a standout at this show too, along with debut single ‘Digsaw’. All the while, you can only be mesmerised by what is enfolding in front of your very eyes: three young men, clearly skilled with their weapon of choice, giving their all and ostensibly, if you pay close attention to the lyrics, giving life what for when it comes to the suffering of relationship-based angst.
‘Weights and Ties’ provides a superb counterpoint, showing the band’s more surf pop, softer side. See, they can play their instruments without pummeling them to death. ‘Wide at Midnight’, characterised by a slower tempo than most of the Wytches’ debut album ‘Annabel Dream Reader’, is another indicator that there is far more here than just loud guitars, loud drumming and wailing. Both tell me that there is still plenty of mileage in the ethos this trio are peddling. More, please.
You might be in luck to catch the band live next week after they return from the States; all the details of their last dates in 2014 are this way.
I had the pleasure of seeing Hitchin’s most famous hat on the head of singer/songwriter James Bay at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC earlier this month, when he was on tour supporting Irish phenomenon Hozier. Following that tour, Bay embarked on his own tour of the UK and Ireland which continues into this week, coinciding with the release of his latest single ‘Hold Back the River’, out today.
At this point, the male singer/songwriter genre is so fully saturated that it has become difficult to distinguish one from the others. Newcomers to the scene have to develop and emphasise some unique aspect of their style in order to set themselves apart. Bay isn’t exactly a rookie, even at the young age of 24, having spent a fair amount of time honing his live skills on tour with Kodaline, John Newman, and Tom Odell. Aside from his ubiquitous wide-brimmed hat, Bay’s most distinctive characteristics are his melodic guitar style and his warm, rich vocal timbre. On the singer/songwriter spectrum, I’d put him somewhere between the pop-oriented sensibility of Luke Sital-Singh and the gospel tinge of Foy Vance or Hozier himself. He doesn’t have the pretentious alt-folk affectations of artists like Bon Iver, preferring to stick with a more straightforward guitar rock style, flavoured with both folk and blues.
The new EP release of ‘Hold Back the River’ includes 4 tracks, bookended by the title track in both studio version and a live performance recording from the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. The studio version emphasises the contrast between the halting rhythm in the opening vocal melody and the steady pulse of the drums, while the guitar melody plays up the naturalistic folk character in the lyrics. Bay’s vocals combine with hints of gospel harmony in the backing voices as the song builds to its anthemic chorus.
Second track ‘Sparks’ is much more pop-oriented, with crisper rhythms and angular blues guitar riffs. Its title is particularly appropriate: the friction between Bay’s husky singing voice and the sharp instrumental lines was electric enough to raise goose bumps on my arms.
The final two tracks on the EP, ‘Wait in Line’ and ‘Hold Back the River (live)’ are both stripped back to acoustic guitar and solo voice. ‘Wait in Line’ is particularly powerful in its starkness, allowing Bay’s emotive singing voice to take centre stage, both in its clear falsetto and its resonant full sound. For my money, the live version of ‘Hold Back the River’ is the real gem of this collection, as the dynamic and emotional contrasts are somehow more fully realized than in the studio arrangement.
James Bay is definitely one of those artists whose true energy comes across best in live performance. If he can find a way to translate that energy to his recordings, he will certainly establish himself as a force to be reckoned with among the singer/songwriter melee.
James Bay‘s new single ‘Hold Back Tte River’ is available now on Republic Records. You can read our previous coverage of the title track by watching the official video and viewing a live version of the single from Transmitter. James Bay is currently finishing off his November tour of the UK and Ireland. He will play a headline show at Koko in London on Thursday the 12th of February next year before heading out on a full spring tour in April.
‘I Forget Where We Were’ is the title track on Ben Howard‘s stunning recent LP, released in back in October, reviewed here. The starkly metaphorical new video, a directorial debut for Howard, features a slightly-shortened version of the track and plays off of the song’s abstractly poetic lyrics, visually capturing the balance between romance and realism in just the way Howard’s music does on the album.
Irish singer/songwriter Hozier has upped the ante once again, unveiling not one but two separate videos for his recent single ‘From Eden’. The song features on both his self-titled debut album and the earlier ‘From Eden’ EP. The album version of the song is slightly different to the EP version, and the new official video highlights one of the main differences between the two iterations, namely the slithering, flamenco-flavoured instrumental bridge. The video takes a slightly off-kilter view of the oft-celebrated Bonnie and Clyde scenario, perfectly synching the crisis point of the dramatic action with the aforementioned bridge section.
In addition to the official video, Sofar Sounds have just premiered a live performance video from Hozier’s appearance at their Manchester showcase back in September. The intimate Manchester performance features a stripped back version of ‘From Eden’, emphasising Hozier’s soulful singing and bluesy acoustic guitar chops over his sense of dramatic flair. The skillfully edited video below demonstrates both the high quality of Hozier’s musicianship and the cozy, informal atmosphere that has become synonymous with Sofar Sounds. Watch both below.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 21st November 2014 at 6:00 pm
After announcing a new UK tour for May 2015 and a headline slot at Liverpool Sound City 2015, Belle and Sebastian now have released the video for ‘The Party Line’, the first track revealed from their upcoming album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, due to be released on the 19th of January 2015 on Matador Records. You ready for Stuart Murdoch and co. to get a little funky? Watch the throwback video for the song with a prominent disco beat below.
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