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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 2nd December 2016 at 6:00 pm
Hard-working Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro are well known for going shirtless at their high octane shows. I mean, you wouldn’t want them to catch a cold, would you? Naturally, many of their (female) fans are fans of them going sans shirts at gigs, so they can admire all their many tattoos. Right?
Their latest music video may not be sweaty at all, but those world-famous tattoos are given an unusual close-up. Quieter and less confrontational (or even poppy) than what we’re used to from Simon Neil and co., ‘Re-arrange’, from their summer 2016 album ‘Ellipsis’, is a sweeter, softer side to the threesome we see far too little of. The lyrical message, too, is really rather appropriate for this holiday season as well. Watch it below. For more on Biffy Clyro on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 2nd December 2016 at 4:00 pm
The purposeful controversy-causing London-based band VANT performed on the 12th of November at Newcastle Cluny. It was one in a series of shows on Dr. Martens #STANDFORSOMETHING autumn tour, which also starred twin brother dance duo Formation and Hackney MC Paigey Cakey. (A live performance by Formation from October at the Scandinavian Church in Liverpool on this tour can be watched here.) Today, we’ve got live video of VANT performing single ‘Peace & Love’ in frontman Mattie Vant’s childhood backyard of the North East. Watch the politically conscious band in all their live glory below. For more on the group here on TGTF, including a Q&A with him ahead of this appearance in the Toon, follow this link.
Header photo by William van der Voort
All three members of gothic rock trio Esben and the Witch, Thomas Fisher (guitar/keyboards), Daniel Copeman (electronics/guitars) and Rachel Davies (vocals), have recently relocated to Berlin from their former base in Brighton. Along with the geographic broadening of their horizons, the band appear to have expanded their musical boundaries as well. Their latest release ‘Older Terrors’ looks, on the surface, like an EP, with only four songs on its tracklisting. But its total running time of 46 minutes is actually lengthier than both of the last two albums I’ve recently reviewed. (For reference, Skinny Lister’s ‘The Devil, the Heart & the Fight’ packed 12 concise songs into 36 minutes, and Bell X1’s ‘Arms’ kept to a svelte 9 tracks and 38 minutes.)
What does this mean? Have Esben and the Witch recorded four exceptionally prolonged alt-pop songs, or have they composed four miniature symphonies? I wasn’t familiar with the band before listening to ‘Older Terrors’, and I found it difficult to answer that question without context. My ambiguous first impressions of the album were of dramatic, slowly evolving musical arrangements geared toward creating a dark, ominous ambience, and a singer whose voice is by turns ethereally beautiful and emotionally tortured, often a blend of both.
A quick virtual trip through TGTF’s archive of past coverage on Esben and the Witch served to confirm my initial thoughts. In a a 2010 Bands to Watch feature, our writer remarked that “lead singer Rachel’s voice does, at times, bear a strong similarity to that of Florence Welch”. A review of the band’s debut LP ‘Violet Cries’ talks about the “Brighton trio’s fixation with darkness . . . feelings of dread and solemnity, [and] the overriding sensuality of it all.” Editor Mary used the words “eerie”, “sinister” and “haunting” to describe videos from Esben and the Witch’s second LP ‘Wash the Sins Not Only the Face’ and the phrase “stark and forlorn” to describe ‘Dig Your Fingers In’, the first single from third album ‘A New Nature’.
Looking back upon ‘A New Nature’, we can see Esben and the Witch starting to explore longer, and more expansive musical arrangements: two songs on that record are over 10 minutes long, and three others are over 6 minutes in duration. With ‘Older Terrors’, the band has completely set aside any preconceived notions of writing songs within a 3-minute box, instead choosing to develop musical ideas in a fashion more typical of classical composers than rock musicians.
Opening song ‘Sylvan’ is comprised of three distinct sections, Davies’ serpentine vocal melody weaving through each, loosely holding them together with a series of indistinct but strangely evocative words and phrases. The primitive drum beat and slow harmonic tempo of section one gives way through an extended guitar riff to a stark, anticipatory middle section and ultimately to a dynamic and dramatic climax in the third and final section.
The minor key Spanish guitar melody warms but doesn’t disguise the sinister undertones in ‘Marking the Heart of a Serpent’. Davies’ vocal tone is once again light and limber in the fluid melodic line, almost hypnotic in quality, and it leads the unsuspecting listener to a bit of a shock in the dynamic attack of the song’s middle section. The lyricless instrumental frenzy of section three stretches into a coda that runs out of steam rather than coming to a conclusive finish.
‘The Wolf’s Sun’ opens with the protracted growl of guitars and singularly Gothic-sounding lyrics: “so lead me through the dark / your fingers clawing at my heart / clutching me against your breast / inside your crook, I’ll lay my head”. The hypnotic initial combination of steady bass ostinato and amorphous vocal melody evolves into a surprisingly groove-based middle section, and a positively primal freak out at the song’s end.
Closing track ‘The Reverist’ opens with a slow, hazy instrumental prelude that evokes a vague visual idea of gradually emerging from shadow into a dim and misty light. Davies’ middle section lyrics, however, twist the narrative into something more sinister with the repeated phrase “ships on fire”. The musical arrangement follows suit, growing more and more agitated before it descends into the depths of its own eventual demise.
The broadly experimental nature of ‘Older Terrors’ is to be applauded, even if the songs themselves occasionally stretch past the point of cohesion. To use a drama-related analogy, which seems appropriate for such an inherently dramatic set of songs, there are moments where the plot wears a bit thin, and its devices, in this case the instrumental arrangements, become overly convoluted. Nevertheless, ‘Older Terrors’ leaves in its wake a post-apocalyptic sense of utter stillness and of dark, delicate beauty. A massively impressive effort, and for myself, an indelible first impression.
‘Older Terrors’, the fourth album from Esben and the Witch, is available now via Season of Mist. TGTF’s complete past coverage of Esben and the Witch is collected through here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 1st December 2016 at 6:00 pm
It’s been a while since I’ve written about Parisian electronic duo Justice. Makes sense, though: they hadn’t shared any new music since 2012, and this year saw their album ‘Woman’ released to the wild. And now the disco-infused ‘Fire’ from the 2016 LP has its own music video. Probably the best thing about being known stars in the music world is being able to get whoever you want to star *in* your music videos. This promo is a good case in point, as Xavier de Rosnay & Gaspard Augé get to live out their fantasies by going on a road trip Thelma and Louise style. With none other than the iconic ‘Louise’, celebrated actress Susan Sarandon, the epitome of a strong ‘Woman’. Watch the music video for ‘Fire’ below. ‘Woman’ is available now from Ed Banger / Because Music. Admittedly old but still good coverage of past Justice releases can be found through this link.
When it comes to out of the ordinary, new wave, alternative pop music, it seems that Manchester is the place to be. There may not be many bands doing this kind of thing, but the calibre of bands who are is incredible. Dutch Uncles are definitely one among the great Mancunian new wave scene who have just shared the release date for their upcoming 5th studio album ‘Big Balloon’. And luckily for us, they have released the title track, the album’s first single, last week as a preview to the long player.
Dutch Uncles present a forward-thinking side to pop music. It is very intricate, intelligent and thoroughly thought out. Each instrument plays its own part, and never used just to fill space. After four previously released studio albums, the Mancunian four-piece now have quite a back catalogue of releases. With each album, there is an unexpected development within their music, shown through the band experimenting more with ambiguous time signatures and phrasing, as well as producing erratic rhythms catchy hooks.
Without a doubt, ‘Big Balloon’ continues this trend. The song opens with an absolutely monstrous bass riff from primary songwriter and bassist Robin Richards, then goes into what Dutch Uncles do best: create an off-kilter rhythm that plays around with the accents of a 4/4 beat, creating the illusion that it’s in an irregular or compound time signature. Being a bass player, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn the bass line. The first 5 seconds of this track shows so crystal clear why Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot work so well together. The heavy use of mid frequencies within the bass tone are excellently accompanied by Proudfoot’s huge, deep, full-sounding drums, filling out the lower frequencies, thus resulting in an exceptionally powerful rhythm section.
Frontman Duncan Wallis defuses the tension of the strictly rhythmic bass and drum groove perfectly with an ‘80’s synthpop keyboard sound and his soft, calming vocal tone we all know and love. He recites lyrics that point perhaps toward mental health, but it’s always difficult to decipher his ambiguous and sometimes genderless lyrics. The approach to the vocal melody within ‘Big Balloon’ is very well executed, despite being in some ways basic. Melodically, it doesn’t venture far from what would be considered safe, but what Wallis showcases in rhythm is where the topline grasps the listener. Bearing this in mind, Wallis’ note choice, in partnership with the extended chords, manages to embellish the bass incredibly well. In this case, what he’s doing is both difficult and simple, as the bass is only playing one note (D) but in two octaves.
The structure of this song is strength in itself. The band knows how good the drum and bass intro is and how well it carries the track. With it, they know how long it can continue before it loses its novelty. Right on the cusp of waning interest, the chorus drops – rather unexpectedly, but still as driving as the previous 39 seconds of bass-driven pop. The chorus opens the song up, unveiling the hidden choir of vocal harmonies and dream-like synths that sprinkle the seemingly never-ending chord progression, solidly led by the thick, heavy bass notes. Although the guitar has been quiet up until this point, it continues the chorus somewhat with an emulation of the vocal melody, but covered in fuzz. In doing this, it helps strengthen the main focal point of the track by providing a contrast to Wallis’ smooth vocal melody with a crunchy, distorted version of the melody.
If the single ‘Big Balloon’ is anything to go by in relation to the upcoming album, we’re in for a serious treat.
‘Big Balloon’, the fifth studio album from Dutch Uncles, drops on the 17th of February 2017 on Memphis Industries. The single is available now; stream it below. You can find dates to the supporting tour in the new year here. For much more TGTF goodness on Dutch Uncles, go here.
November has been a bit of an abbreviated month for posts here at TGTF, with our American contingent (editor Mary and myself) taking time off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday last week. However, we have seen no shortage of new music this month, with exciting tracks from Sylvan Esso, the xx and Rick Astley (no, really, we wouldn’t rickroll you!) coming across our desks. You might also notice that a few previously covered favourites have resurfaced, from the likes of Syd Arthur, Big Thief, Frightened Rabbit and Spring King. We’ve had a plethora of live gig coverage this month as well, featuring David Ramirez, LANY with Transviolet, and Kaleo with Bishop Briggs.
If you haven’t kept up with our daily features this month, you can get all caught up just by listening to the playlist below. Want more TGTF on Spotify? Subscribe to the TGTF Spotify account, by plugging “spotify:user:tgtftunes” (no quotes) into the search bar and clicking the Follow button. Happy listening!
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