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(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #395: C. Macleod

 
By on Wednesday, 17th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Mike Guest

Scottish folk singer/songwriter C. Macleod is, by all appearances, a musician in the middle of a makeover. The Facebook and Twitter links on his SXSW 2018 bio page are both inactive, but his official Web site links to different, fully operational social media profiles that appear to have been fairly recently created. Notably, these active profiles refer to the artist by his full name, Colin Macleod, rather than simply using his first initial.

If Macleod is indeed transitioning between names, it wouldn’t be the first time. According to his SXSW bio, “Colin started his career as alt-folk artist The Boy Who Trapped the Sun, working the same vibrant Glasgow scene as Frightened Rabbit and Snow Patrol.” In fact, TGTF’s own coverage of Macleod as The Boy Who Trapped the Sun dates back to 2009; you can read it all by clicking here.

Whichever stage name he ultimately chooses, Macleod seems to be making a concentrated attempt to redefine and solidify his sound. In the past several years, he has sought a balance between family and work, returning home to the Isle of Lewis and allowing its physical space and close-knit community to influence his songwriting. His current single ‘Kicks In’ is an intense blend of folk and rock, with warm guitars and shuffling percussion underscoring anthemic lyrics and Macleod’s sweetly stirring vocal delivery. Ironically, the song’s yearning refrain expresses a latent desire to run away: “so let it be known / one day I will leave this place / with a hope for something wide and new / though hell is just a step away / wait until it kicks in”.

Macleod has gathered a strong group of collaborators for this new chapter in his career. Well-known producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Laura Marling) took the helm on the recording of Macleod’s debut full-length album ‘Bloodlines’, which is due for release this March on BMG. For assistance in live shows, Macleod has recruited within close proximity, calling on his brother Callum and fellow Lewis natives Scott Macleod and Murdo Mackenzie to join his band. The only relative outsider in the entourage is, coincidentally or not, former Frightened Rabbit member Gordon Skene, who can be seen playing the prominent keyboard riff in ‘Shake the Walls’, just below.

Macleod finished 2017 playing support for veteran singer/songwriter Chris Rea, whose tour ended rather abruptly on the 9th of December in Oxford. Ahead of his trip to America in March for SXSW 2018, Macleod is slated to play at Americana Fest UK in London on the 31st of January and at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on the 1st of February.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, C. Macleod’s appearance in Austin is subject to change. We recommend that you consult the official SXSW Music Festival schedule for the latest information and updates.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #394: Sam Fender

 
By on Thursday, 11th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Jack Whitefield

Newcastle rock singer/songwriter Sam Fender is surely one of the safest bets for success at SXSW 2018. As stated in his SXSW bio, Fender has already laid the groundwork for a big break in the UK, playing support slots at home for Hozier and Catfish and the Bottlemen, as well as travelling to Europe with TGTF alums Bear’s Den and Declan McKenna. Fender has only released a handful of singles for public consumption, but they have been uniformly well-received, particularly debut track ‘Play God’, which has garnered air time on BBC Radio 1 and reached viral status on both iTunes and Spotify.

Thematically, ‘Play God’ isn’t exactly tailor-made to be a breakout hit, but it makes a strong introductory statement. There’s nothing “feel good” about Fender’s pessimistic lyrical forecast, which imagines an oppressive and perhaps not-so-distant future for Western society. “It’s all the same down in the capital / all the suits in cladded feet,” Fender intones darkly in the second verse, “sewer rats will shower the underground / in a race to make ends meet”.

The real drama, though, is in the song’s musical arrangement, which elucidates the pervasive thematic anxiety in its deeply resonating rhythm section and persistent electric guitar riffs. The production quality is stunning, slick and clean, but with a cutting edge, particularly in the vocal sound. The slight stridency in Fender’s voice conveys both cynicism and urgency, and his concise lyrical phrases slice sharply through the thick instrumentation. Added brass layers in the bridge section are another a surprisingly expert touch, adding harmonic texture and further ratcheting up the dramatic tension.

Fender’s recent single release, ‘Greasy Spoon’, explores a different kind of social oppression. His lyrics here imagine the female perspective on sexual harassment: “cat call and white van patrol / in the streets as she walks from work / grip hard and jeer from afar / as he sits with a drooling smirk.” He even goes so far as to declare “I am a woman” in the song’s bridge section, though whether ths is an expression of solidarity or an obscure metaphor remains unclear. Regardless, ‘Greasy Spoon’ continues where ‘Play God’ left off in terms of establishing Sam Fender’s presence on the international indie rock scene.

As with all of the SXSW 2018 showcasing artists we feature here at TGTF, Sam Fender’s appearance in Austin is subject to change. We recommend that you consult the official SXSW Music Festival schedule for the latest information and updates.

 

Bands to Watch #393: The Fernweh

 
By on Tuesday, 9th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

For my birthday last November, there was only one place I wanted to spend it in. Liverpool, these days, is famous for many things, including my beloved Liverpool FC and Anfield and having birthed the Titanic. While Manchester tries to shrug off its decades-old connections to Joy Division, the Stone Roses and Baggy, Liverpool revels in its place in popular music for being the birthplace of the Beatles. TGTF used to make regular pilgrimages to Liverpool Sound City when it was still a city festival: that’s where I felt the true heart of the city’s music scene. To be clear, I’m not faulting the organisers for wanting to host larger events to make more profit to pump back into the city. It’s just unfortunate that what used to be a useful proving ground for less-known acts is no longer with us.

Five to seven years ago, I heard first-hand the frustration some young Liverpudlian musicians felt in having to compete with the Fab Four’s long shadow. Today, as we sit looking towards the rest of 2018 to come, I think the music landscape in Britain has changed to reflect the modern turmoil of wars, refugees and uncertainty. A phenomenon we witnessed here in America following 9/11 was a return – or for some people, a mad dash – to eat the comfort food we loved as children, an attempt to recapture our innocence. If the same concept can be applied to music, it isn’t a surprise bands like Sheffield’s High Hazels and The Crookes (now defunct), Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings and London’s Hidden Charms have tapped into a sound from days gone by that delighted previous generations. And certainly, if you deride the American or UK record charts and their entries written by soulless hit-making teams, looking back when musicians actually wrote their own music seems like a no-brainer.

Liverpool’s latest entry into this growing market is The Fernweh (they don’t even have a Facebook yet), sat somewhere between the folky harmonies of The Mamas and the Papas and The Hollies the bridge between the Byrds’ Sixties psychedelia with that of current day Temples. Unsurprisingly, Fairport Convention’s fourth album ‘Liege and Leaf’ served to bond together The Fernweh’s members and sharpen their resolve to tap into “into an older English soundscape to create something fresh and exciting.” As of last summer, the band had been pretty mysterious, having only played a show in the Wirral, spending the rest of the time in hiding, presumably working on a debut album.

What The Fernweh have so far released to the world sounds magical. The just enough jangly guitars of ‘Next Time Around’ work well against the sweeping vocals. ‘Is This Man Bothering You?’ takes a more aggressive stance with fuzzy guitar and psych reverb. Their debut single, ‘The Liar’, is scheduled for release on the 26th of January, and appropriately on James Skelly’s Skeleton Key Records, a Liverpool indie label invested in doing things the old-fashioned way. It’s important to note that Skeleton Key also released Stockport band Blossoms’ early singles, so it’s not too big of a stretch of the imagination to picture The Fernweh capturing the country’s imagination with their sound.

Make no mistake, The Fernweh’s guitarist Jamie Backhouse is clear in a past interview with Bido Lito about their intent to distance themselves from the comparatively hedonist and lackadaisical English folk movement of the Sixties:

Folk music is often perceived singing about corn dollies and dancing round the maypole. But it’s important that it is relevant. The difference between the big folk revival of the ‘60s compared to now is that was a hopeful, post-war time and it there was a certain Arcadian paradise about it all. We’re posing different questions with the album, so it’s naturally gonna have a slightly darker tinge to it. It’s very much an album about this country. The darkness and violence has always seemed to be very close to the surface. There is a lot of tension and friction. The likes of Shane Meadows and Ken Loach seem to have really captured that and I don’t think all is well in this country. I think it’s an important time for culture to flourish and document the feeling of the time.

Watch this space for more from this exciting band from Merseyside. I, for one, will sure be keeping my eyes and ears out for more from them.

 

Bands to Watch #392: The Hunna

 
By on Monday, 26th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

The Hunna are an indie pop/rock foursome out of Hertfordshire who have been causing quite a splash since they released their debut single ‘Bonfire’ back in October 2015. In just over a year, they have built up an impressive fan base, toured the UK pretty extensively and also hit up a number of festivals this year, including The Great Escape in Brighton and Dot to Dot. To top things off, they released their debut album ‘100’ last month. All in all, it’s been a busy time for the group.

After a couple of years of writing music together as friends, the band had the bare bones of some tracks ready to record. In 2015 they worked with Tim Larcombe (Lana Del Rey) to put together the aforementioned single and its B-side ‘She’s Casual’. Both songs appear on ‘100’ and each have amassed plays in the millions on Spotify, along with the equally popular ‘We Could Be’ and You & Me’. The band’s name is slang for 100, so it’s apt that their first album echoes this sentiment. The emoji for ‘100’ has already been used to full effect on The Hunna’s social media: you can see it all over their Facebook.

With this band, it’s important to not judge a book by its cover. You will have trouble equating their music with the images of the band available on the internet. Their look, with long hair and tattoos aplenty, made me expect a sound that was grungy and gritty. This was a big disconnect to the light, airy sound with pop leanings that I heard when hearing ‘100’ for the first time. The Hunna are a definite listen for fans of their label mates, the catchy-sounding indie/pop band Coasts, whom they supported on tour in October last year.

Single ‘Bonfire’ is the opening track, leading with the lyrics “if you love me then why won’t you use me / if you hate me then why do you care”, introducing the subject matter of love and relationships explored in the rest of the album. ‘Never Enough’ opens with an enticing bass rhythm, before lead singer Ryan Potter repeats “I keep falling in love / it’s never enough” for much of the track. There’s a wide range of influences that can be felt on the album. ‘Rock My Way’ opens with a Strokes-esque vibe. ‘Be Young’ feels early Kings of Leon-esque at times in its jangling guitar notes. You can’t deny The Hunna’s passion for making and playing music they care about. If their number of followers is anything to go by, they are undeniably popular, so it’s interesting to see where they go next.

‘100’, the debut album from The Hunna, is out now on High Time Records in the UK and 300 Entertainment in the U.S. The band has a few dates in the calendar for late September/ early October, and you can catch them in a few cities across the UK.

 

Bands to Watch #391: Boredom

 
By on Thursday, 8th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum, does it? And with respect to the most noble art form of them all (to us here at TGTF Towers, anyway), the statement is especially true when it comes to music. Over the last few weeks, there have been gentle burblings about some new electronic kids in town. Except they aren’t really new kids at all. Yet another band with an unGoogleable name, the disco-leaning Boredom comprises ex-Delphic singer and bassist James Cook and Melodic Records label manager Andy Moss.

As is becoming increasingly de rigueur in music, their new musical partnership was cemented by digital means. Emails passed back and forth between Cook’s current location Amsterdam and Moss’ Salford, as the pair realised they had “a shared love of Polish disco, ‘80s Japanese pop and Paradise garage mixes”. “We’ve been emailing each other tunes we liked for years”, explains Cook. “The common thread was always real musicianship woven into electronic, danceable tunes…that hint of a human being in there making mistakes that computers don’t.” An EP out next week represents their first foray into the electronic world as Boredom, and what’s been already revealed is anything but.

Title track and lead single ‘Geometry’ is icy in its precision instrumentally. This chilly air extends to the vocals, not coming into until well after the 2-and-a-half minute mark, harkening back to the disaffected vocals of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’. Except there’s a sinister sneering quality to the minor key, especially in the chorus, making it feel that much more dangerous: “it’s a sin, always a sin / to keep it in, so I feel it out”. With its glittering synths, ‘Turn Your Head’ is the more straightforward of the two original tracks, the funky as all heck bass line proving to be the true star of the show. While there’s been no talk of an album – yet – the next logical step for Boredom is to see what else they can come up with between the two of them. Watch this space.

The ‘Geometry’ EP by new Amsterdam / Salford act Boredom is scheduled for release on the 16th of September on Melodic Records. The 12” vinyl follows on the 30th of the month. For more information on the digital and physical versions of the EP, visit Melodic Records’ Web site.

 

Bands to Watch #390: Xylaroo

 
By on Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

2015 was the year of XL Recordings rising stars and sisters Ibeyi. 2016 boasts a new sister act destined for greatness, and we have Rob Da Bank to thank in bringing them to our attention. Holly and Coco Chant, who are now better known under their whimsical act name Xylaroo, released their debut album ‘Sweetooth’ on Da Bank’s Sunday Best label. Prior to its release, they racked up support from Radio X’s John Kennedy on BBC 6 Music’s indie champion Steve Lamacq. No small feat indeed. One thing you should be aware of from the get-go with Xylaroo: prepare to be surprised.

But what made me stand up and notice the pair was an acoustic (dubbed ‘Home Sessions’) version they did of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’. The stripped-back approach Xylaroo took to one of the Sheffield band’s biggest hits added an unexpected fragility through their expressive voices. The sisters tapped into an entirely new facet to an otherwise one-dimensional, annoyingly frenetic tune I never warmed up to. It was a conversation starter, if there ever was one.

Their first single, ‘Sunshine’, may come as a shock after you learn about their globetrotting upbringing. The song features a quote from Dolly Parton, yet after being bounced around the world to follow the career of their civil engineer father, the sisters started gigging in Maidstone, Kent. They spent 10 of their nearly 25 years of life there, “around the Medway scene where all the bands were doing ska”. Not exactly where you’d imagine the beginning of a duo more aligned with the dulcet, harmonious tones of fellow sisters First Aid Kit than The Specials. The sisters are quick to point out that it was during their time living and going to school in Sri Lanka that they picked up a simpler way of performing, watching locals sing and play the guitar.

The sweet sound of ‘On My Way’ is jarred by the mention of black magic practitioner Aleister Crowley, drug use, a 2-day drinking binge and the gaily sung lyrics “I’m on my way to hell”. If this is the way to the River Styx, it couldn’t be any more enticing. Same goes for minor key masterpiece ‘Consume Me’, with its references to cannabis, coke and lust. The title of ‘Set Me on Fire and Send Me to Canada’ seems oddly prescient of the minds of some Remain voters post-Brexit, but it’s actually a saxophone-tinged, upbeat yet wistful number. If the Chant sisters were locked in a room with the Soderbergs, would they get along famously? Or would there be dead silence? Until that meeting happens, we’ll just delight in the wonderful melodies and harmonies Xylaroo have gifted us.

‘Sweetooth’, the debut album by Xylaroo, is available now from Sunday Best / PIAS.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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