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Night Engine were one of 2013’s one to watch, with a spectacular show at Liverpool Sound City, and for those that were there, an equally successful one the following week at The Great Escape. They released a three singles on limited coloured vinyl, each of which duly went on to sell on the secondary market for some stratospheric prices. Foundations duly laid, Night Engine have similarly ambitious plans for 2014, with an album release slated for the autumn, preceded by the single ‘All I Got’.
It almost goes without saying by now that Night Engine channel Fashion-era Bowie – a comparison primarily due to the remarkable vocal talents of Phil McDonnell: all camp authoritarianism and demonstrative vibrato. The band deliver slick, dark funk, with a hint of Strokes haughty garage rock, topped with the electronica of early Depeche Mode. On ‘All I Got’ McDonnell is apparently bemoaning the high expectations of a, shall we say, ‘acquaintance’. There’s talk of one night in leather, caged animals and flared nostrils. Oo-er missus. The band maintain a sleazy groove through the crooned middle eight; come the chorus they let it all hang out in a thunder of fizzy guitar and overdriven bass.
Night Engine truly deserve the plaudits they’ve gathered since their inception a couple of years ago. Theirs is arch yet danceable, disco-retro cool, with the whole Bowie factor adding to the novelty. If this single is anything to go by, the album should be one of 2014’s finest moments.
‘All I Got’, Night Engine’s next single, is out on the 2nd of June. ‘Wound Up Tight’, their debut album, is slated for a release in the autumn.
Just over a week ago, Editor Mary and I had the opportunity to catch Neil Finn at his sold out show at the Lincoln Theater in Washington, DC (reviewed here). One of the highlights of that gig was the opening act, a band from Denton, Texas called Midlake. Normally a band of six, Midlake were represented on this tour by only three of their members – lead vocalist/guitarist Eric Pulido, multi-instrumentalist Jesse Chandler and guitarist Joey McClellan – for an acoustic interpretation of their atmospheric folk rock sound. While their full electronic complement might have seemed a more suitable pairing for Finn’s recent experiments in psychedelic rock, Midlake’s stripped back adaptation worked remarkably well, even allowing some intermingling between the two acts during the show.
Midlake’s fourth album ‘Antiphon’ was released late in 2013, after the band underwent some significant line-up changes with the departure of their former lead singer Tim Smith. Current frontman Pulido seemed confident in his newly adopted role when I chatted with him after their Lincoln Theater gig, talking readily about the new album, the band’s upcoming tour plans and the experience of performing on stage with Neil Finn.
Midlake’s fourth studio album ‘Antiphon’ is out now on Bella Union Records. Midlake will perform a handful of shows in the UK this summer, including both festivals and headline slots; dates are listed on the band’s Web site. Stream the album’s title track below.
Sheffield rockers The Crookes have just released a video for ‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’, which according to guitarist Tom Dakin’s comments in this interview with Mary, is set to be the next single from their new third album ‘Soapbox’ (reviewed by Mary back in February here).
The artsy black and white video is a montage of clips the band filmed during their recent trip to America and features their time in Austin for SXSW 2014. I must admit to smiling particularly at the faces and places I recognized from being at SXSW myself, including the chairs outside Latitude 30 where Mary and I did several artist interviews during the week. But the entire video shows the playful and mischievous side of the band, including the requisite sightseeing tours and “drinks in the hot tub” scenes. ‘Don’t Put Your Faith In Me’ isn’t exactly a good-humoured song, but with its upbeat music and catchy chorus, it does have a rakish quality that fits quite nicely with the mood of the video. Watch out for the release of this track and count it among potential pop anthems of summer 2014.
‘Soapbox’ is now available from Fierce Panda.
If there ever was a band defined by their frontman, The Crookes is it. George Waite, for it is he to whom one’s eyes cannot help but constantly be drawn, wields a hoiked-up bass, throwing it into all sorts of shapes whilst emoting into the microphone for all he’s worth. In the face of such competition, the rest of the band make up no more or less a competent background noise while Waite embarks on his various whimsical tales of romance with song titles lifted from Allan Ginsberg. It’s all unashamedly straightforward – there’s little in the way of artifice, in the music at least. The Libertines are a clear reference point, in the jangly arpeggios, keen-as-mustard drumming, and sweetly melodic vocal lines. That’s where the comparisons end, however, as there’s the sense that The Crookes would never think of veering anywhere near Pete Doherty levels of debauchery. They’re too nice and polite for that. At least in public anyway.
The new material does add some welcome maturity to their sound. Respite from jolly guitar japes is provided by ‘Howl’: a downtempo affair, admirably considered and reflective, with a nice big chorus that relies on emotional depth for its impact, rather than just up tempo guitar strumming. Also off the new album is ‘Outsiders’. We’re back to the romance theme again – they appear to sing of little else – but they are still displaying a maturity as befits a band promoting their third album. The lyrical content is artfully bookish, peppered with literary references and generally treading the well-worn path of contemporary realism, romantic yearning and the odd bit of existential despair.
Oops – my eyes have wandered from Waite for a second. A brief loss of attention. I’ve missed a moment, never to be brought back. Must keep watching, listening.
Could the band really be just a vehicle for his charisma? What if there was only him? As if sensing the same question, Waite dismisses the band – they’re “tired” – and addresses the crowd with just his voice and a battered Telecaster for company. ‘The I Love You Bridge’ is the highlight of the set – an unadorned paean to the power of a vocal melody and a handful of roughly-strummed electric guitar chords. Waite has the crowd in his hands, everyone knows it, and all are perfectly comfortable with the situation.
Which somewhat calls into question the need for three supporting players. Yes, drums are essential, as is a bit of electric guitar to fill in the treble range that the bass can’t reach. But are two guitarists really necessary? Apparently, Daniel Hopewell is responsible for a great deal of the lyrical content, for which he should be commended; but onstage, newly paunchy, sullen, mute, with his rhythm guitar turned down to the point of near audibility, one wonders how the sound would open out with just the one midrange instrument. Certainly Waite’s personality is the central celestial body, generating the charismatic field by which the others orbit – where’s the difference between two moons or three?
Harsh words, perhaps, and as a founder member and lyricist, clearly Hopewell’s position is secure. But the feeling remains that perhaps the band isn’t quite delivering the musical potential to do true justice to the intricate, erudite lyrics, that both guitarists are reading from the same crib sheet rather than playing disparate yet complementary parts. A subtle point, perhaps, that should take nothing away from the great ride that The Crookes have taken us on tonight. They’ve got some great tunes, of which the new ones are the best, a world-class frontman, and give enjoyable show. And one final word – the dedication of some of their fans is quite remarkable. One enthusiastic chap had already seen them in Leeds the day before this gig, and was planning to see tomorrow’s too. He could barely contain his delight in wangling the signed set list. Any band capable of such loyalty must be doing quite a lot of things very right indeed.
View Martin’s entire set of high-res photos from the Crookes’ set in Newcastle here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Martin and his missus may have coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling’, and Coldplay may have a new album out on the 19th of May. But on the same day comes the release of something far more interesting, and ironically enough, its contents might throw you into thinking about a kind of conscious recoupling. London band Longfellow, who many in Britain have tipped to challenge Martin’s band’s global stranglehold on the mainstream alt rock scene, will be dropping their next single ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ on that very day.
Seeing that Longfellow have signed to the exact same label to begin their career as Coldplay did in their early days – London’s Fierce Panda, whose ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ I reviewed a short while ago – it all seems very cosy. A little too cosy… However, it seems that Coldplay’s latest reveal, single ‘Magic’, has taken more reliance on beat than their past efforts, and they have cleared the way for a group like Longfellow to make it. That is, if they can write a pop anthem. Have they, in ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’? Let’s examine further, shall we?
When I first read the title, I thought the word ‘Makeup’ had to be a mistake. Surely it should have been referring to the act of making up after a break-up and not literally cosmetics? It bothered me a lot: hey, remember, I’m an editor! After further reflection, it made me think of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, in which there’s the immortal line, “my smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. So that made me grin. Like Smokey’s song, ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ is about the dreadful wanting of someone after realising you’ve lost the world you shared with that person.
The lyrics of this Longfellow song may make you wince from the desperation contained within; “I was there by your side as you reached for another / and a part of me, it died”; “don’t make these blue skies turn to red / I’m yours but I won’t regret it”), especially with the way lead vocalist Owen Lloyd emotes this desperation, but any such wincing is brief. With words like “so let’s grow old together, sweetness you’re my heart and soul / a thousand nights that I lay restless, praying you’d come home”, the song makes you want to believe, to keep the hope alive that fences can be mended.
There are two major elements to Longfellow that make the Coldplay comparison seem apt: the bombastic piano played by Ali Hetherington and the anthemic quality of their songwriting. One major difference – and what I think could push Longfellow to the top – is Lloyd’s voice, which is far richer and emotional than Martin’s. I had the good fortune having heard the band perform this song in their BBC Introducing set at SXSW 2014 last month, all under the kind auspices of one Steve Lamacq. All three of these pieces make the single one compelling piece of pop indeed.
Let us watch and wait. The gauntlet has been thrown.
‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’, Longfellow’s hotly anticipated followup single to ‘Siamese Lover’, will be out on the 19th of May on Fierce Panda. The band plays London’s Camden Barfly the next evening, on the 20th of May. They are purported to be filming a promo video for this new single in the West Country, and we’ll share that with you when we have it. But in the meantime, you can watch them performing the song live at Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase on the Thursday night at SXSW 2014 in Austin back in March below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 10:00 am
What timing. Their ears must be burning. Ahead of my holiday in Manchester this weekend, Delphic have released a new – and entirely free – mixtape for your delectation. I use the word ‘delectation’ because it is quite a tasty offering, which I’m pleased to say after our disappointment in last year’s ‘Collections’.
It’s called ‘Get Familiar’, which seems an entirely appropriate title for the sevensong-strong set. It seems to be the missing link between their brilliant 2010 debut album and hit spawning ‘Acolyte’ and 2013′s confounding experimentation. ‘Colours of the Day’, previously only heard as a demo in 2011, has been fleshed out to great effect. Quite possibly the best track in here is ‘The Giver’, which sees the band go back to what we loved about them in the first place: their effortless combining of electro with rock to make a wholly danceable tune. Good showing.
Colours Of The Day
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