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Album Review: Camera Obscura – Desire Lines

 
By on Friday, 7th June 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Camera Obscura Desire Lines coverI’m a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian. And as a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian, I feel like I have to come clean and admit that I have been cheating on them with another Glaswegian indie-pop group who also thrive on their quaintness (quaintosity?); a band more twee than Zooey Deschanel walking a clowder of cats around the garden of her thatched cottage.

It all started in 2010 when I was eagerly awaiting Stuart Murdoch and co.’s eighth album, ‘Write About Love’. Whilst impatiently trying to find something to fill the gap whilst I awaited its release, I found Camera Obscura (or rather, Spotify Radio found them for me). Their latest release at the time, ‘My Maudlin Career’, had dropped the previous year to almost universal acclaim and I decided to see what the fuss was about. I quickly found out. With gorgeous instrumentals and precious vocals, Camera Obscura are without a doubt the closest thing there is to a female counterpart to Belle and Sebastian.

Camera Obscura are a relatively unknown band with a few relatively recognisable songs in their repertoire. ‘French Navy’, arguable one of their best tracks, has been doing the rounds on British television adverts for the past couple of years, which has done great things for their exposure.

Now three years on from my first encounter with them, ‘Desire Lines’ is to be released: the band’s fifth studio album, their first of which to have been recorded in the United States. The album continues the band’s exploration of wistful themes and again brings memories of the long summers days spent doing absolutely nothing in the sun. It’s quintessentially Camera Obscura down to a tee, something that could be its own downfall for some listeners. In other words, the band have not evolved at all since their previous effort 4 years ago. Belle and Sebastian have managed to remain fresh since their first album nearly 20 years ago, something that Camera Obscura have failed to replicate with ‘Desire Lines’. With the exception of a couple of tracks, the album throws the usual catchy, summer pop tunes at you in abundance.

One of the standout tracks on the LP has to be ‘Cri de Coeur’, which my GCSE in French can tell you is roughly translated as ‘Cry of the Heart.’ Down tempo and sentimental, lead singer Tracyanne Campbell truly sings a tale from the ‘coeur’. It’s a welcome turn away from the usual upbeat pop songs that dominate Camera Obscura albums and the hypnotic percussion makes the song almost like a lullaby. (Note to self – business idea: Have Camera Obscura release an album of children’s lullabies. That would sell.)

On the subject of vocals, it would be hard to review ‘Desire Lines’ without paying great compliment to Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet pipes. They carry a sentimental and wistful tone that is without a doubt Deschanel-esque, (even if the band were around even before the world caught Zooey Fever). In fact, the entire album could have been a She and Him album without the Him. Coincidentally, the bands will be touring together for a string of dates this year in the United States.

Campbell’s crooning takes a back seat on ‘New Year’s Resolution’, instead the lead guitar riff takes the centre stage and it works perfectly. Playing almost like a duet between the guitar and vocals, it is a refreshing change to hear the rest of the band take the limelight. Although a great song, the smooth Fleetwood Mac-like track transitions awkwardly into the next song ‘Do It Again’. Any soothing feeling caused by the former tune quickly evaporates and you are once again taken to the usual happy-go-lucky pop song that we expect from the band.

Overall, the Glaswegians-that-aren’t-Belle-and-Sebastian have released a great summer album. While it’s an album that won’t break boundaries in the indie-pop game (and doesn’t even break boundaries for Campbell and co.), it is nonetheless a great listen.

7/10

Camera Obscura’s ‘Desire Lines’ is out now on 4AD.

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #264: Dan Croll

 
By on Tuesday, 12th March 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

“Very nice track.”
“Solid goodness.”
“Love it, great song!”
“Niiiice song.”

These are all comments left by fans on the Soundcloud page of the up and coming Liverpudlian folktronica singer/songwriter Dan Croll. I’m aware that an elongated “nice” from a random stranger on the Internet is not the most reliable of endorsements, but with Paul McCartney and numerous Radio1 DJs also behind him, he’s definitely one to watch in 2013. And that includes his appearances this week at SXSW 2013.

Considering ‘Compliment Your Soul’ is only his second single, Croll has gotten about quite a bit Having already supported Michael Kiwanuka and Bombay Bicycle Club; he is currently touring America with Darwin Deez as we speak.

A breath of fresh air yet remaining vaguely familiar, the Scouse singer fits snuggly in your iTunes library perched between Metronomy and Vampire Weekend. He utilises his Ben Howard-esque pipes with actual pan-pipes and it works. Imagine if Howard went on a spiritual journey through Africa and returned re-awakened. That’s Dan Croll.

Croll’s angle is a refreshing one: he blends beautiful folk melodies with a busload of instruments to create a chaotic blend that’s very easy to get lost in. Released at the beginning of April, ‘Compliment Your Soul’ (stream it below) is the perfect example of this. It features a huge chorus backed by African folk beats, it’s unbelievably catchy. If this is the man’s second single, then I am incredibly excited for his future.

Probably the most exciting release from a Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts graduate since Liam Lynch’s United States of Whatever’ (remember that?), Dan Croll is looking to have a very successful 2013.

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

 
By on Thursday, 7th February 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

The Joy Formidable Wolfs Law coverThe follow-up to fan favourite ‘The Big Roar’ was always going to be an anticipated release, but it’s finally here and The Joy Formidable have outdone themselves. Writing their new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ whilst touring has definitely had an effect on the record; with more stadium-rocking tracks then their previous effort and the sort of self-reflecting and philosophical lyrics that seem to have come as a result of the long hours travelling between venues.

The band, made up of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, drummer Matt Thomas and bassist Rhydian Dafydd (a name only out-Welshed by Tom Jones riding a sheep down Snowdonia), amp up the thick basslines and heavy guitars that have fared them so well in the past to great avail. The highlight of the album would definitely have to be the ‘Maw Maw Song’, a track that will have you MAW MAW MA-MA-MA MAW MAWWWW-ing for the rest of the year and a crazy-good guitar solo that just blows you away. And although the band are known for their fast tempo tracks and unrelenting guitar thrashing, it’s lovely to hear their slower side on ‘Silent Treatment’. The aptly named track is accompanied by beautiful acoustic guitars and Bryan’s gorgeous vocals; it’s a refreshingly welcome change of pace that breaks the album up nicely. On the song, Bryan sounds almost like a female Ben Howard.

Tracks on ‘Wolf’s Law’ may sound familiar; three of the tracks have already made the rounds as singles and free promos, and the entire album was available to stream for a week before its release. Alongside this, the Welsh trio kept listeners satiated in the wait between albums with their ‘Cholla’ EP. It featured one of the ‘Wolf’s Law’’s best songs (as well as a phenomenal acoustic version) as the EP’s title track and was greatly received by TJF fans.

The entire album is The Joy Formidable through and through. The frenzied intro of The Leopard and the Lung, the catchy guitar riff throughout ‘Cholla’ (single review here) and Ritzy Bryan’s aggressive vocals in Bats will gather more Formidable-ites as well as retaining those who tuned in to The Big Roar all the way back in 2011. My favourite Welsh band with a female lead (since Catatonia) are most definitely back, proving the sophomore slump to be non-existent in the fields of North Wales with their highly impressive second album.

9/10

‘Wolf’s Law’, the second album from the Joy Formidable, is out now on Atlantic. Stream the album here. Catch the band on tour in the UK later this month through early March; after that time, the band will head on over to Austin for SXSW. (We previewed them in the rock / metal / punk UK bands chapter of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013.)

 

Album Review: Villagers – {Awayland}

 
By on Wednesday, 30th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Villagers Awayland coverPacked full of surprising basslines, crisp vocals and acoustic guitars aplenty, ‘{Awayland}’ is Villagers‘ second album. Their 2010 debut album ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was nominated for awards left, right and centre. Lauded for being both charming and low-key, can Conor O’Brien and his band of merry Irishmen maintain the success they achieved with their first LP?

The entire record features a mix of influences; ‘Passing a Message’ is a horn section away from ‘Belle and Sebastian’ circa 2003, and the title track ‘{Awayland}’ sounds like an axed instrumental from Love’s 1967 album ‘Forever Changes’. It’s also great to hear more of an input from the backing band who seem to have taken a back seat in the past. Tracks such as ‘My Lighthouse’ feature heavenly harmonies and it makes for one of the best tracks on the album.

The vocals are hit and miss throughout the record. On the one hand, O’Brien’s voice is beautiful throughout and fits perfectly with the overall tone of the album, however on tracks like ‘Passing a Message’, ‘Rhythm Composer’ and ‘Earthly Pleasures’, the half-speaking, half-singing vocals are slightly too laid back and start to become dull. O’Brien’s rhyming style on the latter track coupled with this speak-singing just seems to remind me of an uninterested recital of a Dr. Seuss book. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate spoken singing, or sprechgesung as Google tells me it’s called, from bands like Cake, but O’Brien doesn’t have the same smooth flow that vocalists such as John McCrea has.

It’s great to see Villagers attempting to stretch out their artistic wings, however I can’t help but feel it doesn’t work on the lead single from the album, ‘The Waves’. Backed by a morse code beat reminiscent of Swedish electronic duo The Knife, it’s one of the weakest songs on ‘{Awayland}’. It is definitely worth Youtubing a live performance of the track though. I’ve seen stripped down video which consists solely of O’Brien at the mic with his acoustic guitar and a moustache-laden gentleman on the piano. It’s at least thirty times better than the album version. I have heard multiple times that Conor O’Brien and company put on a killer live show; this is perfect news for British fans as they are touring next month throughout the United Kingdom. The LP has also been doing the rounds on the radio and was the 6 Music Album of the Day last week.

Overall, the band have followed up their acclaimed debut album with a record that retains the sensitive crooning that earned them their Mercury Prize nod back in 2010, but also attempts to branch out and incorporate new and interesting styles into their music. It may not be all there at the moment, but I have high hopes for the third album.

7/10

‘{Awayland}’, the second album from Villagers, is out now on Domino Records. The band are on tour in the UK in February and March.

 

Album Review: Haim – Don’t Save Me EP

 
By on Wednesday, 16th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Who said the Haim sisters’ summertime pop was confined to a season? Their warm (but oh-so-cool) debut track ‘Forever’ was the perfect accompaniment to the sun of July ’12; a mix of Vampire Weekend calypso pop and Stevie Nicks-esque vocals proved to be a winning mix as the single was a hit with the critics. So the release of their latest EP ‘Don’t Save Me’ is a toasty blanket on these cold, dark evenings.

Sibling bands are a tried and tested formula for success in the music world. Going back to The Jacksons, Smoosh and even Hanson. (Apologies for including the ‘MMMbop’ warblers, but Grammy nominations and millions of album sales is still quite a feat, even if they will forever be known for their two syllable hit.) Haim are no exclusion to the rule, producing tight percussive beats and beautiful harmonies that take time to develop. Luckily, they’ve known each other for a good few years.

That undeniably catchy sound they showcased in their first release has now been perfected. Fronted by ‘Don’t Save Me’ and backed by ‘Send Me Down’, their latest EP expands on their new wave roots and features the most handclaps I’ve heard on a song since The Fratellis came and went. (Remember them?)

The title track, definitely the strongest of the two, is rife with ’80s synth and more percussion than you can imagine. It was released alongside a video of the three women showing off their basketball skills against a group of men, this proving their independence; in the song the sisters repeatedly sing “don’t save me, no, don’t save me”. The second track is falsetto-laden and features my favourite use of the tuba in a pop song; an instrument that will forever remind me of Neighbours’ Harold Bishop (I like to imagine he is the featured musician on the track).

YouTube Preview Image

Haim have somehow managed to improve upon the defining track of last summer. The sisters ooze a sort of laidback cool where they wouldn’t even care that I think they’re cool, they’d just shake it off, pull up their short shorts and ride away on their vintage bikes. Overall the ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP impresses and just proves Haim to be ones to watch this year. And it’s the perfect length too; the tracklist is just long enough to satisfy our Haim fix and keep us with baited breath as we await their debut album.

9/10

The ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP by BBC Sound of 2013 winners and sisters Haim is out now on Polydor.

 

10 for 2013 Interview: Oscar Manthorpe of Theme Park

 
By on Monday, 17th December 2012 at 11:00 am
 

London band Theme Park landed at #4 on our 10 for 2013 countdown as voted by you TGTF readers. Guitarist Oscar Manthorpe, ever so humble when proclaiming himself the “Other guitarist” in the band on his personal Twitter kindly answered Tom’s questions.

For the new listeners out there, how would you describe your sound?
The core of the sound is based in danceable pop music; catchy hooks, strong melodies, concision in the songwriting – at least that’s what we aim for. But I’d hope people don’t judge it in that framework alone; there are weirder and darker aspects, particularly lyrically and rhythmically.

How do you feel about the constant comparisons to the Talking Heads?
On the one hand, great! They toyed with what a pop song could be. That philosophy of mixing great hooks with odd sounds and rhythms to make something darker and dancier is absolutely something we strive for. But beyond ‘Milk’, I believe we execute that blueprint in a really different way, a different aesthetic. I know how easy it is to listen to new things with that ‘file next to’ mindset, but I think it’s often better to judge something on its own merits, outside referential parameters.

I mentioned earlier how you’ve supported many bands; who’s been your favourite to be on tour with?
Two stand out for different reasons. Bombay Bicycle Club was a lot of fun because they’ve been friends since however long, and Bloc Party ‘cos well… it’s Bloc Party. They released ‘Silent Alarm’ just as we were getting to grips with what an electric guitar was. So to share a stage with a band that people love so much was an honour.

Bands with brothers in are always a big yes, but are there any Oasis-style spats whilst on the road?
None! Not a single one, I’m afraid. The Haughtons (Miles and Marcus) are a very peaceful pair, and I’ve known them for about 20 years, so we’re all settled in to the rhythms of friendship. The closest we’ve come on tour is bow and arrow battles in castles.

Oscar Manthorpe, are you aware of the following you’ve gathered in the form of the There Goes The Fear podcast?
Ha, no! Should I be worried? [I think Tom needs to flesh this out in a future piece for TGTF. Just sayin'. - Ed.]

If you weren’t in this band, where would you be right now?
I love the idea of working in film or teaching. I’m planning on teaching classical guitar for a bit in the next break from touring actually. And Miles is perennially working on a screenplay, but he’s very protective of it. It could end up as a lost masterpiece.

The Mystery Jets remix of ‘Jamaica’ is incredible, what was it like working with such a great band?
Fun! At least, as much as working over email can be. I remember seeing them at Mean Fiddler just after ‘Making Dens’ was released, it was incredible. So having our paths cross was very cool.

Blaine Harrison’s dad famously played bass for Mystery Jets when they started out, is there space in the band for anyone’s father?
I’d have to credit my dad with introducing me to many of my musical favourites, but he only knows how to play one song, ‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen, on guitar. So, barring a *dramatic* change of direction, probably not.

If you could have written any song already released, which would it be?
It’d have to be ‘Across 110th Street’ by Bobby Womack. Although it’s about growing up in a world a million miles away from my own, it’s just so atmospheric and evocative that it feels almost canonical. If I write a song 1/100th as good as that, I’d die a happy man.

TGTF thanks Oscar for answering our burning questions and Adam for facilitating.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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