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The defining moment of Howler’s sophomore release, ‘World of Joy’, is its title track. The passenger door opens, and still at top speed, any memory of youthful, throwaway ditties about girls and under-age drinking are unceremoniously ejected, forever to languish by the side of the road. What replaces them is an enormous, uncompromising Phrygian riff, some insane, atonal organ, countless layers of distorted guitar – and the song title repeated over and over again. It’s like being assaulted by The Joker’s teeth – a sickly sweet psychedelic smile of a song, determined to make you submit to its groove by sheer force of personality alone.
Not that the rest of the album is exactly easy listening. Ten tracks in 28 minutes shows an admirable attention to brevity – less than half of the tracks here broach the 3-minute mark. ‘World of Joy’ is a collection of brief jolts of energy, like sticking a fork in an electrical socket. There’s no clever production techniques – indeed, on more than one track a point is made of retaining the studio ambience: talking in the background, amp hum, mise en scène artifice at once clichéd yet effective. ‘Al’s Corral’ sets out the stall – cowbell, a guitar 101 riff, and a story which presumably makes sense to teenage American males. ‘Drip’ is the first hint of how psych Howler are prepared to go: 50s B-movie sound effects adorn a 2-minute noisefest of threatening intensity. ‘Don’t Wanna’ comes over all relatively melodic, the clean guitar arpeggios reminiscent of The Lemonheads’ ‘Ray’ period, and could even be the stroppy cousin of early R.E.M., comparisons which recur throughout the album.
This is American garage rock, wildly updated for 2014 – of course the U.K. has had its fair share of ramshackle indie revivalists, from the millennial soap opera posturing of The Libertines, who with hindsight sound tame and overblown, to the recent noisy bromance of Palma Violets, whose promise still remains tragically unfulfilled. Thus Howler have a neat vacuum into which to step. They are faster, louder, crazier – simply better – than the competition. After a long period of the Brits showing the Americans how to do garage rock, here’s the payback. Rock and roll is alive, and it lives in Minneapolis.
Howler’s second album ‘World of Joy’ is out now on Rough Trade. The band just began a UK tour with support group Broken Hands on Monday; all the details are here.
Think of an annual music festival that takes place in verdant countryside, set amongst rolling hills and centuries-old oak trees, featuring a populist main stage, a superbly-programmed and forward-looking new music stage, with jazz, world, dance, and even hidden woodland stages, an exclusive lakeside VIP performance area, and an arts strand curated by a bona fide rock star. Which was voted best medium-sized festival of 2013 (which TGTF can confirm from personal experience – it was). Sound good? You’re thinking of Kendal Calling.
With a heady mix of Mancunians, Glaswegians, and Geordies in the audience, the atmosphere at Kendal is rarely far from party central, but this year’s lineup is shaping up to be the finest yet seen at Lowther Deer Park. The big headline news is that London’s finest flop-haired, council-estate glamourists continue their epic rebirth with their first full summer of festival performances – the first of which is Kendal. Anyone who just a few years ago put money on Suede being the one of the hottest live properties of 2014 would be singing all the way to the bank right now, but it’s true: a new generation of so young beautiful ones are going to be driven star-crazy by the chemistry between us – Europe is our playground and we have the power to stay together. Or something.
Frank Turner (pictured at top) brings his Sleeping Souls to headline Saturday at the Calling Out stage – as Kendal’s most-requested artist, he’ll surely have no trouble in filling the tent, or struggle to exhort a capacious crowd to sing along to his punky, Americana-influenced ditties. A slice of true American chaos arrives in the shape of Reel Big Fish, replete with parping horn section, lots of jumping around, and huge helpings of tongue-in-cheek-and-down-throat ska-punk. Here’s hoping for their cover of A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ – surely the cue for the Kendal crowd to go pogoing mental.
Those for whom festivals simply aren’t fulfilling experiences without not one but two helpings of Johnny Borrell need look no further. He’s there with old band Razorlight, or what’s left of it, presumably with a “performance as history lesson” ethos, given the band haven’t released a record since 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’. Perhaps this will please the of-a-certain-age Saturday afternoon main stage crowd, but overall seems a Noughties revival too far. Potentially far more interesting is Borrell’s new project, Zazou: heavy with sultry saxophone and avant-garde arrangements, this is the sound of a former rock star going just that little bit off the rails. ‘Cyrano Masochiste’, anyone? Well worth popping one’s head in for.
Everyone’s favourite postmodern diva Findlay will be there, the ever-underrated Athlete will no doubt remind everyone why they were the sound of 2003 (because they’re very good), and Happy Mondays will no doubt manage that combination of inspired madness and total car-crash that they’ve been known for, well, pretty much forever. Other highlights: Breton will be defining the actual sound of 2014, TGTF favourites Catfish and the Bottlemen will be again proving why they are the future of British pop-rock, and the North-East of England is strongly represented by the beautiful, fragile pastoralism of Lanterns on the Lake, and the beautiful ginger hair of the identical, and identically noisy twins of Gallery Circus, the North-East’s answer to Drenge. Except better. Oh, and Goldie’s DJing.
If you’re within walking, cycling, or hitching distance of Westmorland, Kendal is a summer essential, like a rain cape and warm lager. Except it never rains at Kendal, and the beer is always cold. Honest.
Also headlining the festival will be Brett Anderson and Suede. For more information on Kendal Calling including finding out how to book tickets, visit their official Web site.
In a small part of Kettering, it is forever 1969. Specifically, James Bagshaw’s home studio in the box-room of his parents’ end terrace house. Whether or not the strictures of this home-brewed recording facility have contributed to the distinctive sound of ‘Sun Structures’, there’s no doubt that the work stands as testament to the potential of a brave new world of self-production: a few microphones, a cheap computer, lots of patience and the odd spoonful of talent, and you too could create a work worthy of release on Heavenly Recordings. There’s no limit but your imagination.
Bagshaw has worked out how to recreate the sound of what are no doubt some of his favourite records from the very climax of the 1960s, when psychedelia bumped into hard rock in a beat-pop nightclub and they all decided to head home for several glasses of rough red wine, to inhale some heady incense, and pull off a through-the-night recording session. Pink Floyd’s ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ set the bar for far-out experimentalism, combining an ear for Lear’s absurd mind-pictures with The Kinks’ pastoral songwriting. Their sound is familiar, but searching for the archives for a band that Temples have actually plagiarised proves fruitless: even though there are several stylistic touchstones, Temples are their own band.
All four of 2013’s singles are collected here. In chronological order: début ‘Shelter Song’ is as good an introduction to Temples as any: massive 12-string guitar riff, classic analogue(-sounding) ’70s-style drum production, dreamily overlaid vocal parts with cavernous reverb… and is that a tape-reverse interlude? ‘Colours to Life’ is a wider, smoother production, akin to floating gently in a giant lava lamp’s convective drift. The chorus is a veritable choir of retro fantasy. ‘Keep in the Dark’ (video below) stomps along merrily, whilst ‘Mesmerise’ builds its whole around an evocative descending riff and even manages some twinkly harp. Throughout, there’s so much 12-string guitar, one suspects Bagshaw has bought shares in a guitar string manufacturer.
Of course with so much production one often can’t really hear what’s being sung, which encapsulates the biggest flaw of ‘Sun Structures’: the album is defined by its distinctive production. The wall-of-sound is the main course: in the manner of a catwalk model, the underlying bone structure of chord, melody and lyric are demeaned into subservience as garnish, a vector for glamourous frippery. And whilst it is clear that Bagshaw has created something distinctive and powerful in his band’s voice, the all-encompassing sameness of the sound means that there is too much album to eat in one sitting – there will be a vinyl release, and there’s little doubt that it deserves to be a proper gatefold, four-side affair. Thought of as two discs, as a brace of mini-albums, the whole becomes much more manageable – playing both discs back-to-back will be strictly a connoisseur’s treat.
For almost a year now, Noel Gallagher has been telling everyone within earshot that the future of human civilisation rests on the success of the Jagwar Ma and Temples albums. Whilst it’s open to debate as to whether the endorsement of a man whose defining musical characteristic being his magpie tendencies towards the Beatles is particularly useful to a band who take so much influence from the past themselves – the approval of a true visionary would carry far more weight – in a way Gallagher does have a point. Temples are a fine live band and they are creating complex, cerebral recorded music in a classic style that clearly deserves longevity, and in the process exposing a new generation to the sounds of the heady, optimistic days in which their parents (or indeed grandparents) grew up. In contrast to the cynical, manufactured side of the modern music business, Temples are a reminder of more innocent days, where people made music for love rather than money, and an album was a thing of beauty, to be savoured over time, rather than a quick, sugary fix. ‘Sun Structures’ is proof that music can still be made and consumed in the same way today, and for that it should be applauded.
The debut album from Temples ‘Sun Structures’ is out now on Heavenly Recordings. The band will be heading out to their first SXSW in March.
Update 11/02/14: sadly, we have been informed that Catfish and the Bottlemen will not be appearing at SXSW 2014.
Are Catfish and the Bottlemen actually at all cool? Granted, Van McCann has the best real frontman’s name this side of W. Axl Rose, and their hair ‘n’ leather jacket visual aesthetic is certainly a reliable if a little well-worn trope. But their music – straight ahead melodic guitar-rock, as popularised by (whisper it) Stereophonics, Oasis in the early days (when they were good), and trans-Atlantic superstars Foo Fighters – it’s a far cry from that nebulous, effete je ne sais quoi style that usually sets the blogosphere alight.
The thing is, they’re such desperately good fun that any doubts about their hipster status fade under a wave of multitudinous guitars, big rock drums and McCann’s insistent, stadium-ready voice. When TGTF last caught Catfish at a Communion night at Notting Hill Arts Club in March 2013, there were no doubts about their demeanour, but the occasional quibble about their songwriting chops and the production levels of their recorded material. It is with great pleasure, then, that we can confidently declare that their recent trifecta of releases calmly assuages such doubts.
Latest single ‘Pacifier’ has a chorus that could smelt iron, insistent guitar figures throughout, a very effective dynamic and a brilliant ending. ‘Rango’ exemplifies the loud-quiet-loud genre, but confidently takes what it needs and leaves, as opposed to displaying a crutch-like dependence on such a familiar structure. The insistent result throughout their latest material is a band that would sound right at home on a big stage, working through the rock playbook without a hint of irony. Given that the genre’s mainstream profile has arguably shrunken in recent years, perhaps encouraged by tongue-in-cheek acts such as The Darkness, it’s refreshing to hear a band dive right in without any sense of selfconsciousness.
No, they’re not cool. But they rock.
As if to celebrate a communal emergence from a very Dry January, this week three of TGTF’s favourite city-based festivals revealed great chunks of lineup. Live at Leeds and Liverpool Sound City take place on the same May bank holiday weekend, although Leeds is really only a one-dayer, whereas Liverpool treats its weary punters to the full 3-day marathon. And southerners don’t miss out either, as a week later the entire PR population of London decamps their beards and designer handbags to Brighton’s The Great Escape. For some, it’s a holiday, for others, well, they’ll need a holiday afterwards. [Having done both Sound City and Great Escape back to back 2 years in a row, I concur with the latter. - Ed.]
Like the artists themselves, for instance. There’s only so many buzz bands to go round of course, but at the time of writing already five hardy acts are lined up to play at all three events. Here we take a quick look at each and try to determine exactly why they’ve been picked to play three big shows in a week.
Liverpool’s Circa Waves (pictured at top) may well have heard the odd Libertines album in their time (and there were one or two odd ones!): the frantically strummed guitars and the big, melodic choruses have just the right amount of familiarity for them to sound like old friends already; the addition of a pronounced Liverpudlian twang in the vocal delivery of ‘Get Away’ adds a welcome point of differentiation from the seminal Londoners. Similarly, ‘Good For Me’ carries more than a hint of The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’, although forsaking the latter’s bone-dry retro production for a wider, more modern sound. The big question is, are they more than the sum of their parts, or simply destined to follow paths that others first trod over a decade ago? No doubt their live show will provide the answer.
The we come to Melburnian slacker chick Courtney Barnett, famed for her Dylan-esquely-meandering autobiographical ditties. ‘Avant Gardener’, in its baggy groove and surreal, stream-of-consciousness take on a medical emergency, sounds nothing less than if Shaun Ryder had happened to be an Australian woman and was produced by Beck. Stranger things have happened. But there’s more than just a swaying rhythm and a clever turn of phrase to this antipodean artisan: her debut collection ‘A Sea Of Split Peas’ displays an enviable depth and maturity: being no stranger to a 5-minute epic, something like ‘Anonymous Club’ showcases Barnett’s ability to turn down the tempo and bring out a more circumspect, even sombre, mood, all led by her gently vulnerable voice. Truly a talent deserving of a wider audience – and these three gigs will provide that.
If you spend your nights lying awake trying to decide which flavour of rock you like better – the big, heavy, riffy version with screamed vocals, or the more jangly, melodic stuff with at least vaguely recognisable lyrics, then I’m pleased to say you can sleep easier from now on – Darlia from Blackpool have locked both styles in a negotiating room, not letting them emerge until they agreed on some sort of uneasy musical truce. Despite its portentous title, ‘Napalm’ even goes a bit garage-rock in the middle eight, before the Metal Zone pedal is stamped on again and the riffage re-emerges. It’s doubtful that this is a tribute to Napalm Death, who in comparison make this lot sound like a nursery singalong, but it powers along nicely in its own punk-pop-metal way. There are hints of Green Day here, although Darlia come nowhere close to knocking out the sort of world-class melodies that Billie Joe and Co lose down the back of the sofa. Indeed, on occasion, such as on recent single ‘Queen Of Hearts’ from the Knock Knock EP, the light/heavy contrasts don’t sit easily together at all. Much as there’s no demand for a lemon meringue pork pie, I wonder whether metalheads might dismiss Darlia as too lightweight to admit to liking, whilst the riffs might scare off the mainstream audience that bought so many copies of ‘American Idiot’. Time will tell.
Dolomite Minor also do heavy, but theirs is the weight of a fuzzbox, lashings of spring reverb, a repetitive, loping groove, and handfuls of late-60s/early-70s proto-hard rock attitude. There’s a touch of psychedelia too, but they don’t venture far enough away from their riffs to really earn the epithet. And what they carry in musical weight they absolutely drop down the toilet in terms of lyrical sophistication. From ‘Let Me Go’: “The sun goes up / the sun comes down / everyone goes out on the town”, and ‘Microphone’: “Go get her a microphone / all she needs is a gramophone”. There’s a lot of “Spoon on the Moon in June” going on here. With a tune. To be fair to them, fancy-pants lyrics are not the point here: a fey singer-songwriter might have a bunch of clever words, but do they have an industrial revolution guitar riff and drums than could kill a pigeon? No. They’re from Southampton, and so are Band Of Skulls, and they play a Gretsch guitar, and so do Band Of Skulls, which are of course just a couple of big coincidences and in no way has one influenced the other. No sirree. Nevertheless, as the latest in a long line of two-piece teenage riffmeisters, nobody could accuse Dolomite Minor of poor timing. There must be a lot of unemployed bassists out there.
And so we come to Marika Hackman, who has featured in TGTF a number of times before; the Brighton-based singer-songwriter and sometime model knocks out pieces of delicate fragility and open-hearted honesty, sometimes bordering on gruesome realmusik (see ‘Cannibal’ from 2013’s ‘That Iron Taste’ mini-album). Mary caught the end of her very popular show at The Great Escape last year, a very sparse affair with Hackman accompanied by just her acoustic guitar. Let’s hope she’s expanded her live palette somewhat this year: a good part of the joy held within her recorded material are the entirely self-played arrangements – ramshackle at times – that add depth and groove to the idiosyncratic song structures.
There we have it – five artists “doing the triple” of urban festivals this May. There will be more lineup announcements between now and then, and if any more acts end up playing all three festivals, we’ll feature those too – but what more incentive could you need?
Only Real, aka Londoner Niall Galvin, is one of the most intriguing artists we’ve heard at TGTF for quite a while. At first listen of something like ‘Punks And Potions’ (stream at the bottom of this post), the lead-off track of 2013’s ‘Days In The City’ EP now out on LuvLuvLuv Records, the almost out-of-tune electric guitars overlaid with a heavy dose of lo-fi chorusing are the kind of thing any number of bedroom crooners (and surely this *was* recorded in a bedroom) would put out. The arrangement is in no particular hurry, or of any particular convention for that matter, the second verse lazily arriving at the two-minute mark. But Only Real’s talent is to hide within these inauspicious strictures some impressively ambitious and thoughtful work.
‘Get It On’ transcends another (perhaps deliberately) primitive production; kicking off with a memorable guitar figure, the verse ambitiously utilises two simultaneous vocal lines which, like a particularly complex Scalextric layout, follow two disparate, unconnected paths until they suddenly coincide just in time to cross the finish line. The chorus is surprisingly big, and the whole is a satisfying and mature solution of the problem of how to reinvent the electric guitar song for a generation born in the ’90s. He’s also partial to a bit of a rap, and if you can get past a tendency to veer towards Jafaican at times, there’s some decent content in the flow, as exemplified by ‘Backseat Kissers’: a lovely circular groove mated to a quickfire rap which, when combined, substitute for proper singing and arrangement. Still pretty “bedom”, but none the worse for that. Overall, the combination of a naïf approach to arrangement and production, combined with a decent ear for a melody and lyrics, make Only Real a great prospect. One wonders what he’ll be capable of when he finally emerges from that bedroom…
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