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Note: Tom the Lion informed us on Twitter this week that he’s not 100% confirmed to appear at SXSW 2014. Keep an eye on the official SXSW schedule for further updates.
Tom Visser, performing under the moniker Tom the Lion, is splashing back onto the scene after a 3-year absence. Debut album ‘Sleep’ is poised to give this Londoner a career jolt. Blending low-fi, chamber pop and modified symphonics, ‘Sleep’ is a mysterious, masterful work. Previous release ‘The Adventures of Tom the Lion’ brought him under the radar commercial success even though it was an amalgam of live performance and limited edition vinyl-only EPs. Despite the difficulty in finding his music – currently available only via Rough Trade or his Web site, it is worth the hunt (hint: try Soundcloud). Both works hold gems that identify this singer as an endearing entry into the male singer/songwriter milieu.
The title track on ‘Sleep’ possesses Bon Iver-esque vocals, but Visser has much more power in his voice than Mr. Vernon typically displays. The majority of the tracks have much more weight, with lyrics that get to the guts of the matter and an interesting quality to his voice that makes you want to hear what he has to say. The comparison to Villagers is also warranted with the punctuated delivery of ‘Oilman’, another tune on ‘Sleep’.
The definitive musical Renaissance man, Visser plays every instrument, every sound on his albums, proving to be the ultimate musician’s musician. I am very curious as to how this plays out live. Does he pre-record parts, vastly simplify his sound or bring additional musicians with him? The texture of what he produces is so finely wrought, that despite my preference against it, I would like to see him pre-record parts to retain their original flavour. Visser’s style wanders over several genres, weaving stories of love and distance using everything from simple folk to crashing electronics. His ability to weave a story into a beautiful sonic landscape is a strong point he capitalizes on with deep folds and nuances to both the soundscape and the words.
Tom the Lion’s debut album ‘Sleep’ is out now on Rough Trade. It’s sure to make a splash, as he certainly will do once he gets to Austin to showcase his talents at SXSW 2014.
South London band The Melodic have just finished touring America with Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit in support of their debut full length album, ‘Effra Parade’. The album’s American release on Anti- Records was on the 5th of November 2013; it will be available in the UK on the 24th of February, according to the band’s Facebook page. For now, The Melodic appear to be focusing on the American side of the pond, ahead of their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2014.
The Melodic’s international-flavoured folk pop was undoubtedly a perfect compliment for Flynn’s darker but equally electic folk style. ‘Effra Parade’ is a light and jaunty mix of carefree melodic lines, casual vocal harmonies and diverse instrumental textures. While musically whimsical, the songs’ thoughtful lyrics often deal with larger intellectual topics, such as the Pinochet-era political turmoil in Chile in ‘Ode to Victor Jara’. (See the wonderfully creative video for that track below.)
First single ‘On My Way’, released on an EP of the same name, is a bit more generally relatable, with its lively percussion and optimistic lyrics about moving forward in life. Already getting airplay on BBC 6music, it’s a catchy kind of tune that sticks in your head after just one listen, but it’s pleasant enough that you’ll probably want to listen twice anyway.
Principal songwriters Huw Williams and Rudi Schmidt cite their Brixton upbringing as a major influence on their music, particularly their early exposure to to a wide range of musical styles, including ’60s and ’70s era folk revival records. ‘Effra Parade’ was recorded in a soundproofed bedroom in Schmidt’s childhood home, with band members John Naldrett, Lydia Samuels, and James McCandless rounding out the ensemble of 18 instruments and various vocal combinations. Their relaxed, straightforward performance style should translate easily to the festival atmosphere in Austin, as well as anticipated UK tour dates later in the year.
Despite their swift and tightly-scripted rise to attention in 2010, Newcastle alt-rock quintet Let’s Buy Happiness have yet to release their much anticipated debut album, ‘Chants for Friends’, which was expected to be out at the end of 2013. The band did a headline tour through the UK in October of last year, and the album’s first single ‘Run’ was released on the 4th of November last year, but after a smattering of shows to end the year, Let’s Buy Happiness seem to have gone quiet, at least for the moment.
This isn’t the first silent spell in the history of Let’s Buy Happiness. After self-releasing its first EP ‘No Hot Ashes’ in 2009, the band have been only intermittently active, releasing a smattering of singles beginning with ‘Six Wolves’ in October 2010, followed by ‘Fast Fast’ in February 2011 and ‘Dirty Lakes’ in September of that year, both on their own Ghost Arc Records label. They returned to the studio in 2012 to work on their full-length album, but have since released only two singles, ‘Works Better on Paper’ in June 2012 and the aforementioned ‘Run’.
It appears that taking some time to mull things over might have been a good move for Let’s Buy Happiness. ‘Run’ is a departure from the band’s earlier introverted sound, still haunting and melancholic, but more dynamic, more expansive and certainly more immediate. Sarah Hall’s light, ghostly voice floats over wailing guitars and synth strings, and her delivery withers away at the end of a line in a way that reminds me a little bit of Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders.
The band’s Soundcloud page reveals several remixes of ‘Run’, including a remarkable psych-electro version by fellow Northerners Hey Sholay that turns the distant melancholy of Hall’s ethereal vocals to a visceral, piercing chill.
Let’s Buy Happiness is scheduled to showcase at SXSW 2014 next month in Austin. The festival appearance might give the band a chance to reignite its longtime fan base and to gain new American fans as well. In the meantime, we can hope that ‘Chants for Friends’ is still on the books for release later this year.
Brighton-based four-piece Wildflowers center their folk rock sound around the vocal harmonies of sisters Siddy and Kit Bennett. Siblings almost always have a unique ability to perfectly match their vocal diction for seamless harmonies, but the sisters also share a love of rebellious female songs, citing Alanis Morrisette as an early musical influence. Hints of Morrisette certainly appear in Wildflowers’ lyrics and Siddy Bennett’s vocal delivery, but the overall sound leans more toward the bluesy country of Patsy Cline. The Bennett sisters cite their nomadic, bohemian upbringing as an influence on their music as well, with American bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac informing the full-scale vocal harmonies they share with band members James Ashbury and Kendal Sant.
On listening to the tracks available on the band’s Soundcloud page, I was struck by the variety in their songs. The live version of ‘Let It Go’ from BBC Introducing in September 2013 is catchy, upbeat and a little gritty, but nicely balanced by the sweet vocals. ‘Tell Them I’m Your Woman’ makes the Patsy Cline influence abundantly clear, and while Siddy Bennett’s voice doesn’t quite hit that mark, her throaty vocals and the sexy percussion and guitars do pack some emotional heat. The bluesy, almost gospel sound is turned up even further on ‘I Need to Hit That Road’ (don’t miss the chorus of this one!) and ‘Took Me to the River’ (see the video for this track at the bottom of this post).
Wildflowers are just finishing a supporting tour for singer/songwriter Tom Odell and are set to embark on their own headline tour of the UK in March, ahead of their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2014. Their debut EP ‘Wild Among The Flowers’ is available now.
Thursday 13th February 2014 – Sheffield O2 Academy (supporting Tom Odell)
Wednesday 5th March 2014 – Manchester Castle Hotel
Thursday 6th March 2014 – Glasgow Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s
Friday 7th March 2014 – Liverpool Korova
Saturday 8th March 2014 – Birmingham Sunflower Lounge
Monday 10th March 2014 – Bristol Louisiana
Tuesday 11th March 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
Wednesday 12th March 2014 – Cambridge Portland Arms
Thursday 13th March 2014 – London Sebright Arms
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 7th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
If you hail from Canterbury, Kent like this next band, you probably get tonnes of Chaucer jokes flung in your direction. (Or at least that’s what I assume. I’ll ask to be sure though…) Probably not a good idea in this case though. So, Broken Hands: the name conjures up a pretty aggro image in your head (like “ROWR! I’ve broken hands!”), or possibly, depending on the way you look at it, a really good or really bad drunken night out. Turns out their music sounds more the former. The Kent quartet – comprised of Dale (vocals) and Callum Norton (drums), and Jamie Darby (guitar) and Thomas Ford (bass) – make bluesy, growly rock, which makes a whole lot of sense if you consider that Southampton’s Band of Skulls endorse them wholeheartedly, having taken them on tour across the UK and Europe.
Ahead of two shows next week on the 11th (sold out) and the 12th of February at London Bridge Miller, they’ve released new track ‘My Orbit Changes Everyday’, which is a study into something very interesting. With a wigged out intro not dissimilar to Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, you already know you’re in for something a little different. True to its name, ‘My Orbit…’ has a space age sound to be sure, but it’s the punishing guitars and Dale Norton’s swaggery vocal that will stick with you. What else will stick with you is how the song deceives you as you think it is about to end around the 3-minute mark, but in actuality, this is just before its outro lays into you like a Led Zeppelin jam. Let the headbanging commence!
The band will be heading to Austin for their first SXSW next month, and if your musical tastes run to the bluesy, they’re unmissable.
Some bands hit you with their driving guitar, others are piano driven, still more are pure synth. For me, a band’s appeal hinges quite solidly on the voice. Some bands of questionable musicianship have appealed to me simply for the compelling lead singer. Other bands can have blindingly good music and the vocals just turn me off. (Dare I admit to not liking alt-J?) Glaswegians Holy Esque have a particularly identifiable voice leading their sound and I can’t quite tell if I like it or not.
Pat Hynes’ heavy vibrato wrangles above the rapid fire drumming and ringing guitars giving it an otherworldly feel. It tints the tone of all they produce, driving the lyrics to a strange and mysterious place, irrespective of the actual sentiment in the song. This continual quavering is the natural way he sings and not an affectation to add interest, so it permeates every song. That’s fine, but it still sounds quite unusual. However, they are not without supporters in high places, with both NME and Huw Stephens have given them the nod.
Teaser track ‘Silences’, taken from their yet-to-be-named debut album, premiered just 3 weeks ago and opens with a supremely catchy riff. Less ‘goat-like’ than the songs on the EP, I like this song better than those earlier ones. It’s got a thick wall of guitar, punctuated by Hynes’ distinct vocals that are tempered a bit. The intensity of this track supports my idea that this band should have an ardent following passionately devoted to their rather unique sound.
After a string of successful dates last year, including the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury and The Great Escape, Holy Esque heads back to SXSW for the second year in a row. Their self-titled EP is now available and gives a glimpse into what they are about. It is left to be seen what the full length album will bring.