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There’s no doubting that American singer/songwriter Ryan Adams is one of the more prolific songwriters around. ‘Prisoner’ will mark his sixteenth release, which is one hell of an output for one mind. Naturally, you would imagine that at some point there would be a lull in the quality. Having released such a career-defining debut, ‘Heartbreaker’ in 2001, the pressure has been on him from the start, and he really hasn’t helped himself because over the years he’s managed to churn out a solid body of work through various guises and forms. Lest we forget 2005 where he released three albums in 1 year, one of which was a double disc.
The modern day Ryan returned to us after his “retirement” back in 2009 with 2012’s ‘Ashes & Fire’, an acoustic, soul-baring album that proved his songwriting chops were still as fine as ever. 2014 gave us his self-titled album that brought a bit more life to the party and also gave birth to the sound he’s choosing to envelop himself in: a supremely vintage, eighties vibe with confidence and power ballad-esque potential. ‘Prisoner’ continues this while harking back to his earlier years (we missed you, harmonica).
The lead single from this effort came in the form of ‘Do You Still Love Me?’, which sticks close to the self-titled way of working, just with a bit more stopping and starting. The only trouble with the abruptness that careens throughout is it leaves you a bit dissatisfied. Like you’re constantly waiting for it all to culminate into one grand “fuck yeah” flourish. In terms of the chorus, there’s certainly a grabbing and encompassing melody to it. You can feel the heavy metal elements that he loves flowing through in the striking solo but lacking the ferocity that the genre usually shows, so it doesn’t hold as much sting.
Following this is the album’s title track that brings things down to a more reserved level. It’s a beautifully delicate number that brings out the rawness Adams is oh so adept at channelling into his music, especially considering the main inspiration for the album is his divorce from singer/actress Mandy Moore. The sparse and reverberant harmonica that kicks in during the outro is heartbreaking. Continuing with his mission to break open your emotions and spill them all over the floor, ‘Doomsday’ decides to just appear straight away with more harmonica, an instrument that when used right can cut you in two. Slightly more powerful than its predecessor, the post-chorus decides to try and pick you up slightly, but then the harmonica slinks back and pushes you back down and refuses to let go.
‘Haunted House’ doesn’t really differ from those before it, and in all in honesty, at this point in the record you wouldn’t expect any change. Adams is no stranger to musical experimentation, as shown from his back catalogue, but what he truly does best is tell his stories in a way that you can relate to. What listeners need to bear in mind when listening to ‘Prisoner’ is that while this may not be his strongest release, every artist makes records for a reason. This was one that he felt he needed to make, to those express dark and hurt feelings. No song shows this more than ‘Shiver and Shake’. A barren guitar, when twinned with Adams shaking vocals, is a dangerous thing, especially when you put those two ideas with lyrics such as “I’ve missed you so much I shiver and shake”. Thankfully, things pick up, only slightly, on ‘To Be Without You’. There’s a slight note of promise and hope, but ultimately it’s the lyrics that dash these ideas and leave you back in the gutter.
There’s a bit more life in following track ‘Anything I Say to You Now’. The reverberant and ghostly guitars still ultimately reign supreme, but the chorus has a melodic quality not seen since Adams’ 2003-era release ‘Love is Hell’. As his voice echoes and falls away from the musical backdrop, there’s a certain call back to the sound of The Smiths. Rain-soaked Manchester evenings have always been a central player in Adams’ more disparate sounds, thanks to his adoration for Morrissey and co., and that is more than highlighted across the entire album.
‘Breakdown’ is where Adams decides to go bare bones and builds the song up around the exposed skeleton he starts with. As the chorus hits, the bass has a run that you can’t help but follow, while the guitars glimmer in and out of its empty spaces. Its active moment comes from the middle chorus, which leads to everything falling as if down a set of stairs. Slowly. It’s brutal, and you truly feel Adams himself wasn’t too far off from “heading for a breakdown”. ‘Outbound Train’, ‘Broken Anyway’ and ‘Tightrope’ go for a majority acoustic offence, which is a nice break from the glimmering guitar sound of the rest of the album. It also allows Adams’ words and voice to take centre stage, which is where the true strength of this album lies. Oh, and the saxophone on ‘Tightrope’. That’s cool.
Finale ‘We Disappear’ is the weakest moment of the album. It doesn’t add to the depth of the story Adams is trying to tell. Nor does it add any variance musically, though it does have moments of madness that are likely the true meaning behind ‘Prisoner’. As a whole, the record does little to evolve Adams’ sound. In fact, it seems so annoyingly close to his previous album, but ultimately it’s a record he had to make for personal reasons. So, we thank you, Ryan Adams, for sharing your life.
‘Prisoner’, the sixteenth album from American singer/songwriter Ryan Adams, is out tomorrow, the 17th of February on PaxAm/Blue Note/Capitol. To catch up on TGTF’s past coverage on Ryan Adams, use this link.
“I came up to the surface, released the air”. Welcome to the first words spoken in what could be Cloud Nothings’ strongest record to date. ‘Life Without Sound’ is filled with brazen guitar pop that tackles the deeper side of life. While ensuring you remain fully invested to its real goal: to make you a massive fan of Cloud Nothings. Continuing through this opener, it reaches harmonious heights at its chorus and sets you up to believe maybe Cloud Nothings are a bit more restrained for their fourth outing. This idea is swiftly decimated by the following track, ‘Things Are Right With You’, which is a raucous and loud rocking number and gives the album its real flow and setting things up nicely.
The Cleveland, Ohio four-piece are known for their rocking ways, and you can see why. They know how to give a song a life force that engages and amazes you. ‘Things Are Right With You’ also highlight the strong lyricism frontman Dylan Baldi s capable of. Giving us the album’s title with its lyrically monumental moment “no life without a sound”, I’m sure we all as music folk can relate to this sentiment. ‘Internal World’ has a little less of a rocky edge, combining the approach of the previous two tracks, restrained but focused on its direction. On somewhat of a roller coaster ride, ‘Darkened Rings’ is a flurry of guitar lines, rhythm and distortion. It’s a little harder to understand what Baldi is trying to convey here due to the chaos, but the lyrical moments that do stand out carry enough weight for the entire song.
Taking the central place on the album, ‘Enter Entirely’ is perhaps the strongest cut too. With a supreme Nineties’ vibe given off from the Dinosaur Jr.-esque break during the pre-chorus, which soon leads rapidly into a melodic run off, it’s retro-cum-modern in the best way possible. The song finds its direction forward heading during the outro that is surrounded by more brash guitars, including a particularly satisfying guitar solo, while Baldi repeats, “moving on but I still feel it, you’re just a light in me now”. Not letting the momentum gained from here drop, the band kicks straight back in with lead single ‘Modern Act’, another standout. It’s another moment of lyrical strength: “can’t stand the modern act / whose war is this, what god is that?”, and the chorus leading line “when you feel like an ocean coming out of a creek, filling rivers to wait for you wherever you are”. The pop sense in the melody comes on strong during its central riff that carries a light touch, taking the strain off the wide-ranging lyrics.
‘Sight Unseen’ opts for more of a slow build to its reward. While it’s not as pleasing as the prior songs, the bridge is still worth the wait, featuring a savage outro that barrels into life with Baldi screaming “the world is sight unseen” over the instrumentation kicking things up into their highest gear. While all this rockin’ and rollin’ is happening, with its pop bones and rock heart, ‘Strange Year’ hits out of nowhere. A wandering and haunting track that stalks its way through, picking up pace at the half way point, it more acts as an emotional gas pedal that gives you Baldi’s state of mind and frustration. The most surprising aspect of the song is the immediacy with which it disappears, quite literally into nothingness. It’s also a precursor for the album finale, ‘Realize My Fate’. The longest cut on the album at 7 and a half minutes, it wanders and stalks just as the prior track but has far more aggression, followed by Baldi’s cries of “I believe in something bigger, but what I can’t articulate, I find it hard to realize my fate”. One of the album’s lyrically simpler songs, it does incredibly well to convey such complexities through few words. Not to mention the literal screaming Baldi undertakes at the end, power and madness rolled into one: quite like the world we’re living in.
This album serves as an important listen for anyone struggling with the idea of trying to survive the year ahead. Cloud Nothings have created a vehicle for listeners trying to understand the uncertainty and to express frustration. And the best part? It’s all soundtracked by banging guitar music.
American indie band Cloud Nothings’ newest album ‘Life Without Sound’ is out now on Carpark Records (US) / Wichita Recordings (UK). To read more of TGTF’s past coverage on Cloud Nothings, including their most recent promo video for ‘Internal World’, go here.
The Cambridge Folk Festival is a world-renowned festival in its own right. Countless legendary artists have played it, including Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies, Frank Turner and Mumford and Sons. And let’s not to forget this year’s headliner Jake Bugg. Quite the history, I’m sure you’ll agree. This year, there’s a new addition to the festival proceedings. From the 3rd until the 11th of February, there will be a mini-festival of sorts, aptly entitled City Roots. Why is this apt, you ask? Well this mini-fest takes place throughout the city of Cambridge itself, celebrating the heritage and connection the festival has with its mother city. Events will take place at venues all across the city, from The Portland Arms, a pub with a perfect little stage tucked at the back, to the more familiar Junction and Corn Exchange.
The opening night’s event is at the aforementioned Portland Arms and comes courtesy of local boy Steven James Adams and Band, the leader of whom is rather prolific, just check out his back catalogue here. If you head over to The Junction on Sunday the 5th, there’s a performance from folk mastermind Jim Foray who is simply not to be missed. His blend of folk music with video accompaniments will serve to recruit you as a fan in no time. The Corn Exchange will host the final evening’s event, a performance from Afropop artist Salif Keita (pictured at top), more affectionately known as ‘the Golden Voice of Africa’.
Though events like these are the intended main draw, the real magic is sure to come from the sessions that have been arranged across the city. Folk music is renowned for its ability to bring together people of varied social standing and unite them in the addressing of the world’s current issues.. With the world in its current state, there’s definitely to be some shining voices speaking out loud and sing-alongs aplenty. Head to The Union bar on the 7th of February for one such session, there’s no stage split listed yet. There could be anyone onstage, which makes for all the more fun!
This is just a short preview of what you can expect from City Roots starting tomorrow. Check out the full listing so far on the official event Web site. Be prepared to get lost amongst the traditionalism and storytelling of generations old and new. If you don’t come away from City Roots having found a new story that speaks to you, new artists who say what you cannot or even a new friend, then you get one more chance at the festival proper in July.
We love a bit of Frank Carter here on TGTF. Well, I do at least, so a new album from Carter’s best project to date – Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – was always going to cause a bit of excitement. But was it worth all this getting hot and bothered over? Absolutely.
‘Modern Ruin’ presents Carter and co. at their absolute best, Carter displaying the full length of his ability. Interestingly for music from the man, it’s a far cry from a brutal incessant constant attack: it ebbs and flows like a good record should. For instance, take the album opener ‘Bluebelle’, a reserved and slow track dredged in reverb with Carter singing softly below the music. You wouldn’t expect this approach to begin a second album, but it works a treat because come track two, ‘Lullaby’, the brute force of The Rattlesnakes is put into action. Written to his daughter, musically its not quite as aggressive as much as it is melodically encapsulating. But lyrically Carter creates a personal touch that you probably would never have expected from him.
‘Snake Eyes’ is another powerful attack, but with a bit more spirited life to its lyrics, such as the contextualising line in the choruses, “what did I do last night and will I be ashamed?”. It should be noted Carter’s lyrics mostly come from larger stories that he writes, so this isn’t Carter necessarily exposing a sordid lifestyle, though also it may very well be. The idea of a writer is to paint a vivid picture that blends both reality and fiction, something he definitely has nailed down. Carter has the ability to craft words that are both violent yet deeply seductive, brutal with an edge that you just can’t help but fall for.
While this trend continues through ‘Vampires’, it’s on ‘Wild Flowers’ where the loving assault kicks up a notch. It’s super melodic in the chorus and the lyrics are particularly romantic, a strange concept if you’re used to Carter’s back catalogue with Gallows and Pure Love, but it flows so naturally. ‘Acid Veins’ and ‘God is My Friend’ are a bit closer to what you would’ve come to expect from a natural follow up to the Rattlesnakes’ 2015 debut album ‘Blossom’, if that’s what you’re really looking for. But that’s not what this album is about. This album is about Carter doing whatever he wants because he can, and we love it. What we’re hearing is his fully formed ideas coming to life with the power and focus of a freight train.
After the two previous tracks, there’s just a little bit more absolute savagery in less-than-a-minute long ‘Jackals’, which is a torrent of drums before breaking into a rapid punk track and then simply stopping. Perfectly placed, this small brash punk attack takes us nicely into the more developed Rattlesnakes sound. Concerning the war-torn state of the world, with poignant lyrics such as “killed in beds where they should be safest, they’re all mothers and fathers and children too” and “I’ve seen a woman buried to her neck, stoned for disbelief, I’ve seen a man thrown from a tower because he loved another man” show Carter will not only approach the harder-hitting topics but will call out all the bull the rest of the world idly lets happen. Soundtracked by a building crescendo, the power behind the words is met by the band’s aggression. Straight after this, he hits us again with another emotive wrecking ball in ‘Real Life’. It’s soon one-upped by title ‘Modern Ruin’, a fast paced track with Carter at his best: screaming and backed by music faster than you can say the word ‘brutal’.
Album closer ‘Neon Rust’ is perhaps the icing on this solid cake. It’s a tune that begins in the most reserved way of all of them on this record, with Carter’s vocals being tender to the point of unrecognizable. However, they build into a crashing repetitive post-chorus, with Carter howling, “we don’t belong in a wasteland”. The album ’Modern Ruin’ is perhaps the best encapsulation of the last few years in the real world. Filled with frank (no pun intended) lyricism and crashing music, it’s a solid album that deserves to be marked as Carter’s magnum opus. Though he’ll surely come back even stronger, it’s important enough to be taken as a stamp of our social time.
‘Modern Ruin’ by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes is out now on International Death Cult via Kobalt Label Services. For more on Carter and his band on TGTF, including an interview Steven did with Carter at Leefest 2016, go here.
With what could be their best record yet, You Me At Six have returned all guns blazing. ‘Night People’ is everything a fifth album should be: a throwback to earlier times whilst making sure the growth is evident. The first glimpse came in the form of the lead single and title track, which opens the album. With its pounding and pulsating drumbeat, it feels quite different from the classic You Me at Six sound. This peek into the new age of You Me at Six symbolises not only their growth but their insatiable prowling of the top spot in British rock.
The band had such confidence in the new record, they’ve admitted they’re not even releasing the strongest songs. This set of songs are a treat for those who check out the album, and a treat they are indeed. All across the board, this record stands in a league of its own when compared to the rest of the past You Me at Six discography. After the aforementioned first and title track, things get kicked up another notch with ‘Plus One’, a fast and furious number that takes no prisoners. This then leads us nicely into ‘Heavy Soul’, a perfectly melodic track that makes use of the band’s ability to write catchy and powerful choruses.
Somewhat of a break in the onslaught of melody and tempo, ‘Take on the World’ is a vastly different beast. It builds gently over restrained finger-picking on guitar, while frontman Josh Franceschi gives a completely wholehearted performance, even down to the tensing of voice during the chorus. As the track falls away after its epic crescendo, another slow start greets us in the form of ‘Brand New’. As the album’s highlight, it has absolutely everything: a rampaging melodic chorus, heartfelt lyrics and a perfect performance all round from the band. If you don’t like this track, then what hope is there?
The rest of the album has a lot to live up to after this. While ‘Night People’ knocks it out of the park other songs don’t replicate the ‘Brand New’ magic, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself going back and repeating it, maybe a hundred times or so. ‘Swear’ kicks back in a rollicking drum attack, a nod back to their previous album ‘Cavalier Youth’ and proving their sound is still. ‘Make Your Move’ brings some more of that viciousness we first saw in ‘Plus One’, and takes it up yet another notch, just as ‘Can’t Hold Back’ does. What we’re seeing here is certainly You Me at Six finding the ground upon which they can finally build the mainstream recognition they deserve.
‘Spell It Out’ repeats the restrained introduction used on prior tracks, but does so in a darker manner. It’s almost the antithesis to ‘Take On The World’ in its execution: still slow and building, but instead of leading to a melodic and positive crescendo, it takes us to an aggressive world that the band aren’t afraid to enter. Finale ‘Give’ does what all good finales should do. Not only does it complete the album, but it also leaves you with a sense that you’ve been emotionally tested. Through Franceschi’s cries of “I’ve been wasting all this time / trying to keep you off mind / you off my mind”, and the euphoric musical accompaniment, ‘Give’ is quite literally You Me at Six giving it their all.
The most interesting aspect of this entire record is the thought of where they’ll go from here. They’ve created what is their best album thus far, filled with exploration and deviation from the standard You Me at Six formula. The future’s going to be tough, but with ideas like these in their arsenal, they’ll surely own it.
‘Night People’, the sixth studio album from You Me at Six, is out now on Infectious Music / BMG. You can look back at TGTF’s previous coverage of You Me at Six through here.
The eighth EP release from dance producer prodigy James Draper, better known simply as Draper, does exactly what you’d assume the eighth EP would do. It’s made up of tracks that are massive, filled with beats and none too explorative. Across the six tracks, only one of which doesn’t feature a guest artist, there’s a lot to make you want to move and shake. Which, ultimately, is all you can ask for from an EP by an electronic producer.
It wastes no time in getting down to brass tacks by instantly striking with loud, prominent beats that use techno flourishes at their finest with ‘Want You More’. One of the unspoken jewels in dance music production’s crown is the use of unnoticed or unfamiliar artists. In cases like this, you can normally guarantee the voice you hear singing the hook comes from an up-and-comer, and in this case, it’s Sam Sure. The London-based singer has a voice that is a cross between emotive and focused, giving the song a much-needed human touch. Next up is BB Diamond on ‘Jealous’, a track about, you guessed it, being jealous. Her voice definitely shows the vicious side of jealousy, Diamond’s vocal range tensing at times and often taking on a raw edge. The music itself is once again fairly standard for this genre – with no real progression – but it’s melodic and isn’t terrible, so there’s that.
However, ‘I.O.U’ saves the day, with a performance on vocals from another London-based singer, Kyko. There’s two different songs within this track that appear and disappear throughout. The first is a triumphant and euphoric-sounding electronic funk melody that really does draw your attention, especially when complimented by the delicacy of the second. Next up, ‘Reaction’ brings yet more flavour. Its restrained instrumentation allows the vocals to take centre space, at least up until the chorus, which is actually pretty damn good. This is pop at its finest: a melody that sweeps you away, though the vocal performance could do more to match this setup. Guest vocalist Milck‘s strength lies in the more sedentary verse; the chorus calls for a more emotive performance to match the powerful melody Draper creates, and the vocal lets the track down in that regard. Additionally, the vocal effect before the break into the final chorus is wholly unnecessary but is saved by the extremely Eighties’ sounding guitar solo that breaks out in the song’s finale.
‘Heartbeat Close’ is a pure and straight dance track. There’s no doubt what its purpose is: to get you dancing, while drunk in the club with your friends. No points for creativity, but kudos on managing to stick to the template. Finale ‘Who Are You’ features Sykes and is the strongest guest performance on the record. With a sound reminiscent of CHVRCHES, just a little less power, it has a draw that none of the other tracks do. It’s encapsulating and breathes a life of fresh air into the six tracks, which is a shame considering this song appears at the end of the EP. Vocals once again aren’t sufficiently powered to match the euphoria found within the music, though the execution is certainly better that seen on ‘Reaction’. And another Eighties’ guitar solo, you can’t go wrong with an Eighties’, reverb-laden guitar solo.
As a whole, the EP is nothing to write home about, though as a whole, ‘Luminous’ certainly proves Draper’s strength as a producer. The songs are to get you dancing, soundtrack the lighter side of your life and to not hang around longer than needed, Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s also not necessarily a good thing.
Draper’s ‘Luminous’ EP is available now from M:UK. You can stream the entire release below. He’s announced a show in London at Koko’s Friday BURST dance night on the 3rd of March. Stay tuned for more coverage on Draper in the coming weeks and months.
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