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By Adam McCourt
on Wednesday, 15th February 2017 at 12:00 pm
For a band who have only been together just over a year, Orchid Collective are already making tremendous strides within the Irish music scene. Since the release of their debut EP ‘Courage’ in November 2016, the Dublin-based lads have gained a lot of mainstream media attention from the likes of Clash Magazine, Hot Press Magazine, Irish national radio station RTE 2FM and Nialler9, who recently premiered their most recent single from the EP, released last Friday.
‘Waited on the Sun’ is the second single from ‘Courage’, and it has been self-described by the band as “the perfect ode to the final days of winter.” The longing for warmer nights and brighter days is a sensation everyone can relate to, which is why the track’s anthemic opening brings familiarity, a sense of safety and warmth upon listening. The intro, which doubles as the chorus, acts as the driving force of the song. David O’Shea’s lyrics seem to work as a guiding light rather than its leading feature, leaving enough room for the instrumentation to take a leading role, something that Orchid Collective’s folk-rock predecessors failed to experiment with. This gives the track a hint of ambiguity opening its meaning up for personal interpretation by each individual listener, such as a sonic representation of that moment you notice the buds on trees opening up, indicating the first signs of spring.
The song has an overarching message of love and lust, but this is presented in a rather physical manner, less subtle than the change in seasons. Shea Tohill’s lead guitar parts take on the spotlight role, bringing a real vibrance to the track whilst highlighting the intensities of the song’s dynamics through the use of the extended range of his guitar. This leaves enough open space for Darra Doyle and Hugh O’Neill to experiment with their respective mobile bass lines and physical drum parts, creating tensions and resolutions where necessary.
With a subtle, light and breathy synth pad in the foundation of the track, plus intricate three-part vocal harmonies, ‘Waiting on the Sun’ is a song that can challenge patience and serenity, while displaying strong physicality and vitality.
‘Waiting on the Sun’, the newest single from Orchid Collective, is available now. You can also catch the band at their next headline show at Dublin Unitarian Church on the 4th of March. To read more of TGTF’s past coverage on the band, including editor Mary’s coverage of them at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 last October, go here.
The 4th annual Output Music Conference and Showcase returns to Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter on the 16th of February. Set up by Belfast City Council in partnership with Generator NI in 2014, the conference has continually grown in size and popularity. Bringing hundreds of artists, businesses and students together each year makes it the leading music industry networking and showcase event in Ireland.
Held primarily at the MAC in Belfast city centre, Output will house a lineup of various seminars and lectures conducted by many of the world’s top industry professionals. Once the evening hits, Output turns its sights on the huge number of home-grown talent through a night of showcase gigs held across various venues within the Cathedral Quarter. Confirmed hosts for 2017 include blogs such as Nialler 9, State.ie and The Thin Air. Voodoo and The Nerve Centre will be among the many local venues used. Organizations such as Smalltown America Studios and PRS will be among those presenting and curating gigs.
Last year’s conference hosted the incredible Steve Albini as the closing keynote speaker of the conference. Having someone who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry speak at the conference was a huge honour for the city and the event, providing attendees the unique opportunity to learn from one of the most acclaimed and respected figures in the music business.
Closing the conference this year is legendary industry analyst, critic, commentator and creator of the email Lefsetz Letter industry newsletter, Bob Lefsetz. Output will also offer insightful talks presented by Spotify, PRS Foundation, Adidas and Jagermeister’s music teams, Marc Sylvan (Million Pound Drop, Total Wipeout) and creator of Leefest Lee Denny. Speed networking sessions and panel discussions also figure into the daytime programming.
Acts of note appearing at this year’s Output’s music showcasing portion include SXSW attendees from Northern Ireland Jealous of the Birds, Ryan Vail, Silences, Robocobra Quartet and New Portals, among many others. Although specific details on venues have yet to be announced, many other incredible Irish acts playing this year are Callum Stewart, TOUTS (under the same management as The Stone Roses) The Wood Burning Savages, Joshua Burnside, Sullivan & Gold, Scenery, Autumns and Kerrang! favourites Making Monsters.
Output is a completely free event in Belfast next Thursday, the 16th of February. All you have to do is register on their Web site. What are you waiting for?
By Adam McCourt
on Wednesday, 21st December 2016 at 12:00 pm
Northern Ireland native Ciaran Lavery has just released his soon to be iconic live album ‘Live at the Mac’. Recorded December of last year, the album dropped ahead of Lavery finishing a short UK tour, which saw him revisit The Mac 2 years in a row. We don’t usually cover live albums, but since Ciaran only lives up the road from myself, we at TGTF decided we’d make an exception.
Lavery sprung to success after both his debut EP ‘Kosher’ and debut album ‘Not Nearly Dark’ were released in 2014. Two tracks in particular, ‘Left For America’ off the EP and ‘Shame’ from the LP could pinpoint Lavery’s seemingly instant success after racking up an impressive 29 million listens on Spotify, as well as producing many cover versions across the globe. Since then, he hasn’t stopped, as he states himself on his Web site bio, “I have a ridiculous fear of what might happen if I stop moving. I have to keep going”.
‘Live at the Mac’ is Lavery in his purest form. He not only reprises the classic tale of a man and his guitar. But he presents himself in an honest and transparent sonic picture, through the fragile tone of his voice against the-bare boned accompaniment of his own guitar and a string trio. Somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live in Sin-é’, on this new album Lavery gathers together a collection of his most notable songs and presents them in the most captivating and moving setting.
The album begins with a short string intro that sways like the wind, as it implies the theme of his first track. Lavery subtly strengthens the string harmony with a light twinkle around the hinted chord progression, before bursting into ‘Awful Love’. A heavily emotional song is definitely the best way to open his set and thus begin the album. And with the added texture of Lavery’s light yet husky voice against the strong constant backbeat he creates with the heavy ghost note as he downstrokes the chords, there is an added element of urgency that gives the song momentum. Having such a stripped-back ensemble, the musical devices and harmonic expression has a lot more impact. You can tell this isn’t a problem for the group, especially within the second verse of ‘Awful Love’, which raises the level of intensity that bit further when the strings switch from the supporting role to a more forward approach with a strong staccato pulse.
Lavery moves from strength to strength, continuing the strong emotions with his highly acclaimed track ‘Left For America’. The thing about it in the live setting is that the strings seem to shed a new light on Lavery’s intentions with the song, their harmonic effects bringing new colour to the track. What seems like a song about change, with an undercurrent of travelling, now reveals the ups and downs within a family relationship. Without the drum groove from the studio version, it allows for the listener – the audience in this case – to completely immerse themselves in Lavery’s heartfelt and seemingly regretful lyrics. What helps to drive the message home, specifically in the chorus, is the juxtaposition of Lavery’s major key-based vocal melody against the delicate counter melody of the strings. Together they imply a sense of desperation similar to the bonds of a family when tested to extremes.
Among the 12 tracks on the album, 3 are covers, one of which is a Christmas song appropriate for this of year. The other two are Bruce Springsteen’s layman’s anthem ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ and Joy Division’s 1980 chart topper ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Lavery and his incredible string section beautifully represent both by portraying them in a far more desperate manner. It seems Lavery has dissected the lyrics of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, found the true message within and felt it worthy to portray it in such a way. The constant pedal drone in the higher register of the strings and the tremolo bowing technique at the end of the track act more like a sound design device than simply a musical addition to the track. The overall effect provokes a sense of unease and assists in driving the true message of the lyrics home.
Throughout the whole album, and considering the very small collection of musicians recorded on stage, the emotional highs and lows implemented are incredible. The gracious string work accompanying Lavery’s visceral vocal tone is stunning. And with the added texture of the clean acoustic guitar equipped with slack and bright-sounding strings, this ensemble is near perfect performing his amazing works.
Ciaran Lavery’s ‘Live at the Mac’ is out now on Believe Recordings. To read more about Lavery, including an interview at SXSW 2016 and coverage of his performances in Austin, go here. At the time of this writing, he is scheduled to be perform at SXSW 2017.
Irish math pop band Enemies have made their name with poppy guitar hooks, meandering yet recognisable melodies and light-hearted harmony to the math rock genre. On their 2013 release ‘Embark, Embrace’, they showcased all of the above perfectly. Some tracks even included two simultaneous drum tracks.
It’s no secret that they are set to split after a career spanning 10 years and after the release of their third studio album. In sight of this, the foursome have released four singles from their anticipated final album ‘Valuables’. The latest of these offerings is ‘Glow’, which includes guest vocals from Louise Gaffney.
Following a series of hard times and setbacks both musically and personally within the band over the years following ‘Embark, Embrace’, Enemies wrote in their own press release that ‘Valuables’ would be written for the enjoyment and pleasure of themselves, taking away the pressure of expectations. Single ‘Glow’ represents this beautifully. The track flows for 5 minutes with no significant signs of progression. It seems to capture and hold the listener in a dreamlike state for the duration. To hold your interest, Enemies purposely step away from using catchy guitar hooks, sudden changes and heavy riffs. Instead, they utilise a soothing wash of delightful harmonies with a soft but steady backbeat to provide the strongest foundation possible for Gaffney of Dublin’s own Come On, Live Long to sprinkle her sublime vocals over.
Although the harmony and chords chosen are classic Enemies, and the shared guitar work between Lewis Jackson and Eoin Whitfield is as fluent as ever, the track carries a much more relaxed and mature sense of musicianship. The lack of movement within the track has more of an impact than anything else. It allows for the band to play more with layers and textures, in this case with things like the pedal loop of glitches and feedback that ebb and flows with the dynamics of the track.
In saying that, there is no escaping the focus of the track, being Gaffney’s guest vocals. In the past, it was uncommon for Enemies to place so much importance on a top line. However, this new approach truly tested their songwriting ability in a positive way. Whether the approach was the inspiration for writing it, or the song came about purely out of love for what they do, ‘Glow’ is definitely a step in the right direction for Enemies.
‘Valuables’, the third and final album from Irish group Enemies, drops on the 9th of December on Top Shelf Records. Sadly, Enemies only have one last show left, at Dublin Vicar Street; find tickets for the gig here. For past TGTF coverage on the lads, go here. Otherwise, just put on one of their records, listen and reminisce.
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.
I must begin this review with a couple of regrets. This show brought me to the Empire Music Hall for the very first time, despite living and studying in Belfast for 3 months during 2012. It was also the first and regrettably the last time I will see Augustines live, for the ‘This Is Your Life’ tour was the group’s final farewell string of dates.
I was met by a three/fourths full venue of eager Augustines fans, with a sprinkle of Fatherson fans as I entered the rustic Empire Music Hall on Botanic Avenue. Everything seemed almost too fitting. The emotionally uplifting music produced by Fatherson somehow mixed really well with the neoclassical décor of the venue where Fatherson appeared like preachers, sending out their word among their listeners.
The Scottish band were the perfect support act for these final few Augustines shows. Despite knowing nothing about them prior to the show, the level of musicianship and professionalism alone was enough for me to think they were a great band. It was after their song ‘Cat Stevens’ when I fully began to appreciate them. Individually, each member was as compelling as the next, each having their own little nuances in movement that caught our attention as the eyes of audience members were glued to the stage. Frontman Ross Leighton, in particular, had everything nailed, from his mike technique to his strumming patterns. The vocal melodies and harmonies only strengthened the messages Fatherson were conveying and in such a beguiling way that left shivers down our spines long after they exited the stage.
With a short crossover time between Fatherson and Augustines’ sets, I took the chance to explore the venue in greater detail. Although it was decorated in fake cobwebs and skeletons just in time for Halloween, The Empire is one of the most prestigious in the city for up-and-coming but soon-to-be massive acts. The two-tier venue still has curtain lining the outer edges of the stages, with protruding columns and pilasters, which are still visible from the original foundations, similar to those of an old theatre hall. The dramatic surroundings proved to be a perfect venue for a farewell show.
Augustines graced the stage with pride, dignity and a lot of excitement. Their loyal fans made a clear barrier between the average punter and the band, welcoming the act with whole-hearted cheers. Without letting too much time go by, they began their first song ‘The Avenue’. It didn’t take long for the crowd to join in ultimately drowning out lead singer Billy McCarthy. Without hesitation, McCarthy and Rob Allen introduced drummer Eric Sanderson and touring trumpet player John Panos, which wass when the party truly started, diving into ‘Headlong Into the Abyss’.
Throughout the set, Augustines put their absolute all into the performance, which for their followers must have been extremely rewarding and quite a spectacle. For newcomers like myself, it brought about wonderment and awe. Every lyric was from the bottom of McCarthy’s heart, whether they were words of wisdom, love, tough times or good, or even patriotism, which is what he explained their song ‘Juares’ channels, everything was all for one.
The band did a great job in relating to their Belfast crowd by sympathising with their drinking shenanigans. This prompted the whole room to gradually begin a stomping their feet and chanting ‘Olé’, a sentiment that for some reason has been reappropriated by mainly Irish football fans. In response to this, the band replied with very kind thanks.
From start to finish, the rousing atmosphere never died. They had total control of their audience and delivered such a passionate performance, I imagine the whole room will find it hard to forget. It was clear from the show how much it meant to Augustines. Although they seemed sad by the end to be giving it up, I sensed they felt a great sense of accomplishment. As said before, my only regret is having not seen them before their final tour.
Editor of TGTF Mary Chang contributed to this report.