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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?
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st January 2014 at 12:00 pm
Let’s face it: there a lot of men out there trying to negotiate the choppy waters of electronic music as solo artists, with varying levels of success. The trick seems to be finding your own special niche in the already overcrowded electro market, something that this act has done well. And seemingly so quickly too.
James Page records and performs under the stage name Sivu (I think you know why he *might* have chosen a stage name now, right?), and it was just under a year ago that he released his first single, the critically acclaimed ‘Better Man Than He’. A recent press release reveals that Page used to be a call centre worker before he found his calling (no pun intended) as a musical artist, and his work since then hasn’t gone without notice: he placed on the prestigious amongst us music editors Blog Sound of 2014 long list. What else has Sivu been up to? Last summer, Burberry picked up on his music as well, grabbing him to film one of their famous acoustic videos. He supported Marika Hackman on a tour of England last month, which no doubt culminated from their collaboration on their Hype Machine-topping collaboration on 2013 track ‘I Hold’, which we featured on this MP3 of the Day post back in November.
But the proof is in the music. There is something beautifully desolate about ‘I Lost Myself’, which was released as the lead single from the EP of the same name last autumn. Is it the sweeping music that feels effortless? Is it Page’s haunting voice itself? No, it’s everything coming together perfectly for something truly timeless. Page is currently working on his debut album with production help from Charlie Andrew (alt-J), and it’s expected to be released later this year. ‘Can’t Stop Now’, sounding awfully like he’s channelling Bombay Bicycle Club, should not to be confused with the early Keane song of the same name; it will be Sivu’s next single. Have a listen to the track at the bottom of this post; the single will released on the 24th of March on Atlantic Records.
Yes, you read that right. Atlantic. A major. You’re probably now wondering, why haven’t I heard of this guy before? With the single receiving its premiere radio play Monday night on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 programme, it won’t take long for Sivu’s star to skyrocket. He’s scheduled to perform at this year’s SXSW and if you miss him in Austin, don’t come crying to me later. You’ve been warned.
Inevitable comparisons to the last indie kings of Scotland, Franz Ferdinand, will dog Glaswegian band Casual Sex in their early days. Songs ‘What’s Your Daughter For’ and ‘Stroh 80’ are faux-indie, surf-pop machinations in the Ferdinand mould, but understandably Sam Smith (not to be confused with the new BBC Sound of… darling) tries to avoid comparisons with his elder contemporary Alex Kapranos.
For a band which describes their genre as sleaze, it’s unsurprising ‘Stroh 80’ (stream at the bottom of this post) is a ditty about nobbing your best friend’s bird when you’re absolutely changed off your tits. They do their best to revert to type throughout their back catalogue, with another song ‘The Bastard Beat’ towing very much the ‘casual sex party line’ – I suppose that’s all you can expect from a band who have named themselves Casual Sex.
Anybody looking for quintessential British indie boys will be pretty delighted by what this four-piece have to offer, as Casual Sex appear to be an indie offering cultivated from a mix of what’s doing the rounds at the moment, a la Franz Ferdinand, Royal Blood, The 1975 and Night Engine. There’s a broody, almost sullen vocalist in Smith, backed by Edward Wood providing the dreampop guitar elements, Peter Masson on bass and Chris McCrory tapping away on drums. Mixed in with some pre-1970s goodness for proper measure, they’re a taste of all things British in four-good looking blokes. Marketable and sure to be gobbled right up by the A&Rs at SXSW.
Singer Douglas Dare may be an odd duck in the crowded field of solo artists. He’s not your run of the mill singer/songwriter. He is first a wordsmith, crafting poetry and short prose that he later uses to develop into lyrics. Based in London, this musician from South West England could make a splash with his uncommon and sophisticated style.
When casting about for comparisons, the prevalence of the ’piano man’ seems to be oddly lacking at the moment. We have Tom Odell of course, and a passing similarity to James Blake since the instrument he plays has a keyboard. But both those comparisons ring hollow to me. Dare’s maturity seems to vastly surpass both of these peers. At times he says he has sat at the piano to write and “only when my wrists start to ache that I think to stop”. Not content to dwell within a genre, it’s neither pop, nor electronic, or even indie, Dare’s music is both simple and developed and surely not your standard musical fare.
Dare is currently at work on his first album but shows great promise in the four-track EP ‘Seven Hours’ from Erased Tapes. His work focuses on a simple piano line and a rich, haunting voice. This is not so say the composition is simple though. Electronic percussion gives it an off-kilter sound that unbalances the potentially modest sound. He owes this magic to his friend and producer Fabian Prynn. Thoughtful and intently hewn, it is not bright, happy music but it does walk a fine line between too melancholy and just right.
Despite the fact that he is on our radar because of SXSW in March, Dare has also been announced for the Great Escape in Brighton, a favourite festival here at TGTF taking place in May. Check him out, he may have songs from his forthcoming debut out for a listen.
Scottish duo Honeyblood finished recording their debut album in November of last year at Tarquin Studios, the Connecticut home studio of American producer Peter Katis. Katis is probably best known for his long-standing relationship with The National, but he has also co-produced and engineered several other Scottish bands, including Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, and We Were Promised Jetpacks. This puts Honeyblood’s Stina Tweeddale (vocals, guitar) and Shona McViccar (drums) in good company as relative newcomers, and the release of their first album will be hotly anticipated heading into their SXSW 2014 appearance.
Honeyblood’s first single ‘Bud’ was produced by London producer Rory Attwell (Palma Violets, Veronica Falls) and released in October 2013 on FatCat Records. Despite the jaunty rhythms and uptempo beat, the band says on their Tumblr, “It’s a song about when everything goes to shit, fuck it.” Its lyrics are a bit dark, but the darkness is mitigated by the delicate natural imagery, as in the first verse: “My problems seem to stem / From the little seeds I plant / … When I finally say I’m never going back / They begin to flower.” The accompanying video (watch it below) was shot at Great Brampton House outside Hereford, where the pretty, natural setting seems to fit perfectly with the duo’s candy-coated vocal harmonies and organic, lo-fi instrumental sound.
The single’s B-side ‘Kissing on You’ is more aggressively punk, with harsher vocals and a pounding four-to-the-floor chorus. There is no subtlety in the lyrics here, no florid metaphor, just a direct statement of desire straight through to the end of the song, which insistently and somewhat awkwardly repeats, “I can’t think of anything better to do / Than spend my day kissing on you”, almost like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.
Honeyblood’s twee grunge pop has drawn fully warranted comparisons to California groups Best Coast and Haim, not only for the female lead vocals, but for the laid-back vibe, fuzzy garage band tone and mildly rebellious lyrics. Honeyblood spent most of 2013 spreading their sunny pop sound through the Glasgow music scene, but Tweeddale and McViccar aren’t new to playing big shows and festivals, having played in the support slot for Palma Violets, Sleigh Bells and Deap Vally. Last summer, they played at Tramlines and The Great Escape as well as T in the Park in their native Scotland. After their appearance at SXSW, the duo are anticipating a UK tour in support of their expected album release this spring.
Alt-folk collective Cocos Lovers formed in Kent in 2008 when its members decided to quit their day jobs and travel through Europe, busking and making music however and wherever they possibly could. Predictably, the influences on their style are widely varied, including English folk and choral music, American Southern gospel and Spanish flamenco, as well as the complex rhythms and tonalities of African and Eastern traditional music.
The band fluctuates from six to eight members, presumably as dictated by circumstance and musical requirements, and all of the members take part in the songwriting and arranging process. Their eclectic instrumental orchestrations include flute, mandolin, banjo, trumpet and varied percussion in addition to the typical guitar, bass, and drums. Those unique instrumental timbres are particularly effective in accenting the rhythmic virtuosity and melodic craftsmanship of the songs. Also notable are the band’s flawless vocal harmonies, which shift from solo voice to multiple parts and vary among the vocal combinations of the band members, alternately mixing and separating male and female voices.
With all the complexity in their music, it’s easy to overlook the poetic beauty and simplicity of Cocos Lovers’ lyrics. For example, the bluesy, haunting ‘Emily’, from the band’s most recent album, ‘Gold and Dust’, is at once sad and hopeful, with a mournful guitar melody and an ethereal flute descant framing the chorus: ‘Emily oh don’t you weep / When I am gone it’s time to sleep / Spark the flame that never dies / The ghost a shadow by your side’.
Cocos Lovers have released all three of their albums through their own co-operative label, Smugglers Records, which has expanded to include 12 artists and 15 records since its inception in 2008. The record label has also sponsored three yearly Smugglers Festivals, showcasing underground roots music, art and theatrical performance in the Kentish countryside.
Cocos Lovers have earned a reputation as fantastic live performers at larger festivals including Glastonbury, Cambridge Folk Festival, Green Man Festival and Sidmouth Folk Week, as well as touring in support of Mumford and Sons. They recently sold out their Christmas show at the Lighthouse in Kent, and after taking some time for writing and recording, they will appear at SXSW in Austin this March.