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Over the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of writing a Bands to Watch feature on Blanco White, the solo project of London singer/songwriter Josh Edwards. Highlighted in that article was debut single ‘November Rain’, which appears on Blanco White’s new EP titled ‘The Wind Rose’, along with three other Latin American-influenced songs that put a decisively contemporary spin on a traditional folk style.
Edwards initiated the Blanco White project in 2014, after studying classical guitar in Spain and learning to play the Andean charango in Bolivia. His vision for the project involved “bringing together elements of Andalusian and Latin American music alongside influences closer to home.” The end result is a set of songs with decidedly English lyrics and themes, set over the classical soundscapes of South America.
The Latin American influence here isn’t the uptempo salsa dance style often heard in mainstream pop music, but rather the contemplative minor-key sound of traditional Spanish and South American art song. Edwards’ orchestration includes the expected prominent virtuoso guitar figures but employs vividly modern, minimalist arrangements in the other instruments, creating dramatic energy to match his evocative lyrical style.
Opening track ‘The Lily’, recently featured by Adam Walton on BBC Radio Wales, begins with some of the EP’s most breathtaking imagery in the lyrical lines, “I left a sign with a candle in the streetlight that shone below / where through the night the people dance in linen and smoke / I still remember her song in my head . . .” Melding romance with impressions of fire and sea, Edwards’ rough-hewn singing voice is emotionally raw and instantly captivating as he sings of his elusive Lily, “vanished, some other place by the sea. . . banished by herself, not by me.”
The aforementioned ‘November Rain’ sets another oblique tale of emotional loss against the grey backdrop of a train platform on a cold autumn day. Its unanswered question “so is this why I couldn’t stay?” is never explained in the lyrical monologue, but its anguish is clearly expressed by each insistent repetition. The yearning woodwind solo following the repeated line “there’s nothing left I owe” leads into the song’s dynamic climax, where Edwards unleashes the strength of his voice ahead of the reflective final refrain.
Slightly gentler and more introspective, ’Chalk’ delves further into the feminine mystique with the vivid description of a palm reading enchantress who predicts her subject’s trip to Spain. The accordion and bowed strings in the song’s instrumental arrangement give a hint of the heady atmosphere of a street fair and Edwards’ lyrics are once again as beguilingly quixotic as the imagined siren of his serenade.
Final and eponymous track ‘The Wind Rose’ is even more strongly Latin-flavoured, with gently rolling harp and guitar figures under lyrics that switch between elegant English and sensual Spanish. Edwards is accompanied in the singing of the Spanish sections by Malena Zavala of Argentine indie rock band and Yucatan Records labelmate Oh So Quiet. Zavala’s light, clear vocals float delicately above Edwards’ coarser tone and echo hauntingly over the song’s closing lyric, “as the wind moves the water, in the chalice of a rose.”
Three of the songs from ‘The Wind Rose’ EP are streaming now on Yucatan Records’ official Web site, ahead of the EP’s impending release. If you’re as enchanted by Josh Edwards’ stunning voice and nimble guitar playing as I was, you can also watch a live video of Blanco White performing ‘Rust’, at the bottom of the page.
Blanco White will play a one-off show at London’s Sebright Arms on the 31st of March supporting Eliza Shaddad. His EP ‘The Wind Rose’ is out today on Yucatan Records.
Considering they are a collective of people, numbering a maximum of 12, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros certainly know how to bring out the delicacy in folk music. You would think the larger the number of members, the thicker and more lost the sound would get but they’ve managed to acquire the skill that gives us music which is just as emotive and insightful as, say, early Mumford and Sons, or even First Aid Kit.
On this next single ‘No Love Like Yours’, which is from the upcoming third album ‘PersonA’, the group manage to bring all of their skills to the forefront. What is missing though is the wonderfully harmonised chorus section that wears its heart on sleeve and when that usually is partnered with the sheer size of the band, it swells to create an unstoppable force. That’s not to say the harmonies aren’t here; they certainly are, but it’s a far cry from their breakout hit ‘Home’, so much that it almost feels reserved. Leading man Alex Ebert still manages to use his voice in its most raw and pure form, evoking emotion and as if he’s singing his purest thoughts. When singing, his voice occasionally breaks: it’s barely audible, but when you do hear this, it just adds to the message he’s communicating.
The instrumental driving force behind the track is a tactful combination of intricately plucked guitars and percussion that sits relatively low within the entire mix. Of course, there’s so much more going on, like a slight addition of piano that twinkles lightly above everything, along with the bass supporting the lower end of the track. It all comes together to form a rather pleasing listen that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
The track doesn’t particularly gather in strength. In the conventional sense, ‘No Love Like Yours’ certainly has a beginning, middle and an end, but it’s all quite flat which doesn’t lend itself to what we’ve normally come to expect from the band. As previously mentioned, it’s certainly a pleasant listen. But let’s hope what the rest of the album has to offer has a bit more to it.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ new single ‘No Love Like Yours’ is out now. Their third album ‘PersonA’ will be released the 15th of April via Community Music Group. To read more on Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros on TGTF, go here.
Header photo: Red Hot Chili Peppers by Ellen Von Unwerth
Along with Glastonbury and Download Festival, there is another festival, or pair of festivals rather, that are a staple of the UK festival scene. Reading and Leeds take place in the August bank holiday weekend, which this year falls on the 26th-28th of August.
Reading Festival is actually one of the UK’s oldest popular music festivals, having been around in its current format since the 1970s. It’s become one of the prime festivals in the indie/rock scene due to its ability to gather some of the biggest names in the industry, as well as the occasional controversial headliner.
This year proves to be no different. The first of the headliners announced were Red Hot Chili Peppers, who need no introduction. They’ve been around for over 30 years, had multiple successful albums and have transcended from hard to funk to rock and everything in between. As a festival exclusive, this is the only place you can see them on the festival circuit this year. Along with the Chili Peppers’ exclusive appearance, Reading / Leeds also have the poster boys of peace and rock Eagles of Death Metal, who after the horrendous events in Paris last year have powered on and united the music world more than ever. Along with ‘Eagles…’, Imagine Dragons and Two Door Cinema Club are also exclusive to Reading / Leeds.
Recently announced to join the bill with Red Hot Chili Peppers, we have a joint headline act with Foals and Disclosure, meaning one act will be the main headline at one site, and at the other site the roles will be reversed. This is particularly exciting because Foals, who have worked from house parties to festival headliner, are infamous for live shows that turn to a frenzy, with leading man Yannis Phillippakis ending up hanging from some form of metalwork or walking above the crowd. This spectacle will be paired alongside electronic brother duo Disclosure, who have had a string of hits that have created a boost of momentum in the dance/electronic movement and brought it back into the minds of the mainstream. It’s worth noting that this pairing is not under festival exclusivity, which means we may be seeing these names elsewhere.
Other notable acts for this gigantic festival are the Brit indie group The 1975, who by August will be on their second album, with their fanbase growing faster and faster. We also have The Courteeners, the Mancunian band keeping the spirit of Britpop and the attitude of Oasis alive, while also keeping it fresh. In fact, calling it Britpop would to be selling their sound short: it’s developmental and massive. They have rousing choruses and songs that can get anyone moving, it’s always a great pleasure seeing The Courteeners on a lineup, and they never disappoint.
With these latest additions, this lineup is certainly looking strong. The newly announced acts have given the festival a much more varied approach, with multiple genres being represented, including hip-hop with Fetty Wap. Now we await the final headline announcement – the safe bet is on Biffy Clyro – and we hope Reading / Leeds keep up the quality and quantity they need to stay ahead of the game in this festival monopoly.
For more information and tickets visit http://www.readingfestival.com or http://www.leedsfestival.com.
Now that we’re into 2016, it’s time to get excited for the year’s festival season. We’d already seen a few of the lineup revealed for Live at Leeds (read this previous preview post), but now we’ve been not as much teased but inundated with over 65 new acts.
Joining the already stellar lineup of Circa Waves, We Are Scientists and Jess Glynne, we have a nice variety of genres being represented, from the small and unsigned to those acts who are well established in the festival circuit.
First of the major players is Ghostpoet (picture at top), who you may remember had his 2015 album ‘Shedding Skin’ nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. His is pretty much the name on the tip of the tongue of anyone involved in the industry at the moment. On playing the festival, Ghostpoet says, “It’s nice to be returning to Live at Leeds after playing it for the first time a few years back. Should be fun!”
Another name everyone should be familiar with is Mystery Jets, who over the past 13 years have been unrelenting in their output. Flirting with a mixture of genres has ensured they always have a fresh sound that’s apt for the time. They’ll no doubt be playing tunes from their latest album effort, ‘Curve of the Earth’, which was released last month.
There’s also Stockport’s Blossoms, who return after a triumphant show at Leeds Uni Stylus last year, as well as coming fourth in BBC’s Sound of 2016 list. They are certainly going to be a crowd pleaser and not to be missed.
Milk Teeth are another band that have been gathering a lot of attention of the past few months. Their style is reminiscent of early 90’s pop-punk with a twinge of grunge, a sound that is slowly making its way back into the mainstream consciousness. Their debut record ‘Vile Child’ is out now on Hopeless Records and will no doubt leave a massive impression on those who manage to catch their show.
Live at Leeds is fast becoming a staple in the festival season and is going from strength to strength. The way this lineup is shaping up, along with announcements for other festivals slowly creeping out into the daylight, 2016 could turn out to be one of the strongest festival seasons yet.
The entire plethora of announced acts can be found on the Live at Leeds Web site. Tickets are still available at http://lunatickets.co.uk/live-at-leeds-2016.html.
Bloc Party are the definition of the word ‘evolution’. If you listen back to the sharp indie tones they burst onto the scene with ‘Silent Alarm’ back in 2005, you would struggle to believe that you’re listening to the same band now in 2016. Technically though, you aren’t listening to the same band. Only one half of the original lineup remains, with the band citing increased tension and disagreement in the barracks the reasoning for this.
What Bloc Party do here on ‘Hymns’ is, at the root of it all, be consistently inconsistent. This is something we’ve come to expect of them. Although after their debut they didn’t evolve the sound too much on 2006’s ‘A Weekend in the City’, third record ‘Intimacy’ was a full-on revolution in terms of the sound they created. Focusing more upon dance and electronic than indie rock, it was a brave and bold move that saw tracks such as ‘Flux’ and ‘One More Chance’ becoming massive Bloc Party staples, just sans guitars. Fourth album ‘Four’ was the weakest in this evolution, where the collapse of the band was seemingly imminent, and a Kele Okereke solo album showing where this evolution stemmed from. Now, none of this is necessarily a bad thing; It shows they can develop and evolve beyond being a one trick pony. But to the extent shown here, where one track is barely similar to the next, you find it hard to engage and follow the record. But, it’s still entertaining, as much as a McDonald’s burger is still food, but it’s not so exciting, so you just don’t Instagram it.
Opener ‘The Love Within’ was our first look at this second coming of Bloc Party, and it was met with a mixed reaction. The sound itself is not too dissimilar to that of ‘Four’ or ‘Intimacy’, but it’s the approach they take that lends itself to the confused reception. It seems almost abrasive in its attempts to be an opening statement telling us this record won’t be a return to 2005-era Bloc Party. This continues through to ‘Only He Can Heal Me’, which is a soft, yet dark dance track.
Track four ‘Good News’ becomes almost the Bloc Party twist on country, with a devilish helping of slide guitar that complements the chord structure beautifully. Of course, the next track is the exact opposite: ‘Fortress’ is soft, a sentimental dance track that relies upon a low rumble of bass to push it forward with synthesised drums providing the percussion rather than the human equivalent found in new drummer Louise Bartle.
‘Into Earth’ has a softer version of the twinned, alternating guitar progressions we’ve come to love and adore from both Okereke and co-guitarist Russell Lissack. Think ‘Banquet’, but if it was given some Valium. “You’ve seen the colour of my cash, does it not impress you, was I too flash?” is sung almost seductively by Okereke. The majority of the record from here carries on into a similar fashion: there are no particular fast numbers per se, and it all remains at a steady tempo, which can at times be a bit of a struggle to get through.
This is an evolution that Bloc Party have taken which, on an artistic level, has a lot of merit, though strictly it wasn’t necessary. While on the previous two albums, they’d already broken past being a straightforward guitar band and proving they had more to say, this new LP feels like an accumulation of trying to bury that past forever and sending out a new statement of who they are what they do now. Obviously it breaks boundaries and attempts new sounds, but at the same, it can be quite dull. Hopefully with time the new lineup will begin to pull together a sound that is a more controlled culmination of everything they’ve done so far rather than a proverbial smorgasbord of anything and everything.
Bloc Party’s fifth album ‘Hymns’, their first in 4 years, is out now on Infectious Records in the UK and Vagrant Records in North America. They’re currently headlining the NME Awards tour through next Friday, the 12th of February at Birmingham Academy. They’ll also be appearing at the 6 Music Festival in Bristol the weekend directly after, as well as SXSW 2016 in March in Austin. To read more coverage on Bloc Party on TGTF, head here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 2nd February 2016 at 12:00 pm
Peter and David Brewis are two intelligent guys who don’t sit still for very long. Or ever. Sometimes I wonder if they’re just musical vampires and don’t sleep at all. Last year, the composed soundtrack to the 1929 documentary Drifters that they were commissioned to compose by the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival was released to the wild. In 2014, while David was putting together his latest School of Language album ‘Old Fears’, his older brother Peter went off with frontman of Maximo Park Paul Smith for their own LP ‘Frozen by Sight’. Last year, I also saw them moonlighting as part of fellow Sunderland musician SLUG’s (Ian Black) backing band at the Great Escape 2015. So yes, while the last ‘true’ Field Music album was 2012’s ‘Plumb’, they haven’t exactly been sitting around the Good Apple Cafe, twiddling their thumbs.
The most noteworthy thing news-wise that’s happened to the Brewis brothers recently is Prince’s apparent discovery of them in early December. Evidently, the Purple One had a pleasurable head bop to the first single off of ‘Commontime’, ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, just as we have had here at TGTF Towers. (You can read Steven’s thoughts on the single here.) The inherent catchiness of the melody, matched with the always intriguing percussion of Field Music, is great already. But what makes the song truly a winner are the lyrics, which I think most people are reading literally as the acceptance of “getting on”, growing older and eventually the end.
I can’t help but read it within my own as well as in a musician’s context: those of us who are long past our school days but still go out to shows (or play them), who don’t do normal things like take the bus and go to bed at an acceptable hour, are looked upon as oddities and weirdos. It’s not that we’re going out of our way to be weirdos. It just *is*. To me, the song is a statement that we’re not going to change our ways. Which is something I feel must be a credo for this pair of talented bros. Throughout this delightful 14-track collection of tunes, there’s satisfying elements of pop and funk, sometimes together on the same track, and this combination with incisive lyrics makes Field Music what they are.
The Sunderland duo have pretty much cornered the market in art rock these days, and they don’t show any signs of changing their tune (no pun intended). With the off-kilter drums and guitars – neither of which I can be sure could be said to be leading or following – and its almost spat out words, ‘I’m Glad’ is bonkers, and amusingly so. ‘Same Name’ seems like a bunch of things were thrown into a pot at once – jerky guitar notes, other bits of noodling guitar, atypical drum patterns, piano chord crashes – and somehow, otherwise cacophonous, disparate elements manage to play nice enough with each other to come together as a relatively cohesive song. The vocal delivery of the verses of ‘They Want You to Remember’ is pretty pop, gently reined in to accompany a beautiful string section. But then the oom-pah-pah rhythm of the chorus comes in, and you’re reminded we’re not in mainstream land. Which is perfectly fine by me.
The other day I heard a Charlie Puth song called ‘One Call Away’. It’s not a terrible love song – it’s what passes for MOR pop on American top 40 radio these days – but the lyrics are pretty groanworthy. Contrast them to those of ‘Disappointed’, in which our protagonist asks for forgiveness for minor offenses in the context of a long-term relationship that seems to be a Pretty Good Thing otherwise. On the ultra funky and album standout ‘It’s a Good Thing’, the merit of giving up your singledom and pulling away from the pretense of “being fixed to the ocean” is explored: “It’s a good thing to give yourself away. It’s a good thing to give yourself to someone else.” And perhaps I’m the only one, but I can’t help laugh to myself when on a Field Music album I’m being sung to with a particularly clever line. In ‘Don’t You Want to Know?’, the listener is asked, “don’t you want to know what’s wrong with you?”, as well as encouraged (or perhaps mocked) to “time to use your brain”. Can you imagine the look on a top 40 station boss’ face upon hearing that?
‘Commontime’ also marks the return of keyboardist Andrew Moore, who hasn’t appeared on a Field Music album since 2007’s ‘Tones of the Town’. His contribution of twinkly notes and organ buzzes are appreciated on ‘But Not for You’, ‘That’s Close Enough’ (in which the piano stands up to a ghostly guitar solo) and the instrumental bridge of ‘They Want You to Remember’, where they are particularly effective. As mentioned earlier, there’s also a string section that appears on some tracks of this album, adding a level of smoothness (dare I say maturity?) to the proceedings. But fear not, this is still a Field Music album through and through, so there is *plenty* of weird and wonderful stuff going on.
‘Commontime’, the new album from Sunderland brother duo Field Music, is out this Friday, the 5th of February, on Memphis Industries. The brothers and their band will be appearing at the 6 Music Festival in a fortnight in Bristol (all the details here), and they will begin a UK tour in the last week of February (live dates listed here). For more on Field Music on TGTF, head this way.
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