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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 27th May 2016 at 12:00 pm
Words by Jennifer Williams
I always thought Neil Gaiman’s short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties sounded like a song that Jarvis Cocker would write. Seriously, think about it. It just makes sense. Fitting it is, then, that this week sees the release of the UK SkyArts TV series Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories. The four, 30-minute mini-films are the work of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who gave us the cinematic gem that is 20,000 Days on Earth. Along for the ride, Cocker is along for the ride too, onboard to provide the musical accompaniment to Gaiman’s imagination made flesh. Let’s be honest: there are many people that could do the job, sure. But very few should, or could take on the task with elegance, sex appeal, and yes, the creep factor. In short, Jarvis is THE person for the job, and he delivers.
Included in the press release for the EP featuring the first substantial new music from Jarvis Cocker we learn a wee bit about the project from the man himself: “Four grubby tales set in all night cafes, low rent drinking dens and doctor’s surgeries. I didn’t have to leave my comfort zone for this assignment.” Gaiman is a writer with his own take on the human condition with a balance of cold realisation and yet maintaining elements of warmth, even if it gets a bit scary sometimes. What Gaiman achieves in his literary work, Cocker strives, succeeds, and often exceeds similar in his songwriting. The evocative ‘Likely Stories’ theme comes complete with warm female backing vocals, set against a musical backdrop that is uneasy and unhinged.
It also also does have a bit of Nick Cave vibe. (‘Red Right Hand’, anyone?) While both Cave and Cocker are master storytellers, their methods do vary a bit. Where Cave leans more towards the cerebral, the Cocker approach is all about the affective laced with the intellectual. We are talking about Jarvis Cocker though, so there is no shortage of sex appeal. Cave has his sexy moments too, but they are just that: moments. Jarvis’ vocals will pretty much make text from the mundane to the murderous into a more sensuous affair. On the track ‘Foraging’ on this EP, on this EP, for example, the lyrics are comprised solely of a list of edible fungi, and yet it sounds like a proper come on.
Sex and the creep factor is a winning combination for Cocker, and this really shows through on EP track ‘Looking for the Girl’. He sounds like that guy that recites the most amazing romantic poetry, poetry that he probably penned after killing off potential rivals. ‘Poor Babes in the Woods’, the track the closes the EP out, is not even 3 minutes long, but Cocker does not need extra time to flip the fear switch in this sinister lullabye.
Fans of old school Pulp – and by old school I am talking ‘Masters of the Universe’ type stuff here – you will find much to appreciate in this new release in this new release. The final result is a score that is equally beguiling as it is haunting,, making it the perfect sonic companion for Gaiman’s narratives. Here’s to hoping the show is as good as its soundtrack.
‘Likely Stories’, a new EP from Jarvis Cocker to accompany the release of the UK SkyArts TV series of the same name, is out today, this today, Friday, the 27th of May, on Rough Trade Records. A 7″ version of the EP is available now in the UK; the American release will will follows on the 3rd of June. Watch the trailer to the TV series below.
We at TGTF have had our ears on Brooklyn indie rock band Big Thief since last autumn, when I saw them open for Here We Go Magic at the Valley Bar in Phoenix. Six months on from that show, Big Thief are quickly garnering fans from across the musical spectrum with songs from their genre-stretching debut album ‘Masterpiece’. An imaginary Venn diagram of the album might depict an intersection of alt-country, indie folk and psych rock, with ‘Masterpiece’ falling squarely in the centre.
Frontwoman and songwriter Adrianne Lenker has crafted a series of songs around what she describes as “the process of harnessing pain, loss, and love, while simultaneously letting them go, looking into your own eyes through someone else’s, and being okay with the inevitability of death.” Her constantly shifting character perspective keeps the quell of emotion inherent in those themes at a measured distance, and her bandmates (Buck Meek on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass and Jason Burger on drums) create a discordant and disorienting sonic backdrop for her hazy existentialism.
The album’s eponymous track and lead single ‘Masterpiece’ is a full sonic realisation of Lenker’s artistic vision, with bold, round guitars, heavy drums, and a catchy chorus under the blunt desperation of her verses: “you whispered to a restless ear / can you get me out of here? / this place smells like piss and beer / can you get me out?”. Lenker’s singing voice, like her lyrics, isn’t exactly pretty, but its half-whispered, half-yodeled tone is both poignantly fragile and vividly evocative.
The album’s current single ‘Real Love’ was a live standout when I saw the band play on the Ground Control Touring showcase at SXSW 2016, and it’s a highlight on the full album as well. Lenker’s haunting vocal melody fluctuates between pure country (“mama got drunk and daddy went to prison”) and unadulterated realism (“riding in the back seat, watching my spit fly”), and her delicate singing is punctuated by gritty, strident rock guitar riffs.
The estranged father-daughter ballad ‘Interstate’ is somewhat lighter in texture but its sonic undertones are harshly discordant, particularly under the wistful line “you could go back in time”, which is underlaid by disorienting shifts in harmony. Lenker takes on the perspective of a sympathetic onlooker in the lyrics, “she is getting thin / you are going grey and white / and you don’t know how to tell her as you say good night”, but you get the sense throughout that she might in fact be the daughter, especially when the track fades to a child’s voice innocently chanting, “I like our truck”.
A pair of love contrasting love ballads sits at the heart of the album, the acoustic-flavoured ‘Lorraine’ and the bittersweet ‘Paul’. The former is a brief wisp of memory, perhaps of a fleeting romantic encounter that never developed into anything tangible, exemplified by the lyric “like we were hummingbirds screaming at ravens, you started to move me from fact into fable”. The latter is an edgier electric-flavoured track about another doomed love affair, this time from the opposite perspective: “I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whisky breath / I’ll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death.”
‘Humans’ returns to the harder, harsher tones of the earlier tracks, with a distorted bass and guitar foundation under Lenker’s slurred, mumbled verse lines “humans in the honest light / love is a cold infection, right”, while a piercing guitar riff brings the repeated chorus lyric into sharp focus. Conversely, ‘Animals’ is fuzzy and obscure throughout, with shifting harmonies and tempo keeping the listener consistently off balance. Final track ‘Parallels’ features another brilliantly written verse, “caterpillar on the floor / can you teach me to transform . . . I can’t say I’ll miss my human form much” juxtaposed with a simple, relentlessly repeated chorus.
Appropriate to the title of its closing track, ‘Masterpiece’ is an album of parallels and juxtapositions. It never attempts to come full circle or to establish a definitive direction, but Adrianne Lenker’s uniquely crafted songs and distinctive vocal style nevertheless leave a lasting impression, both in live performance and on this studio recording.
Big Thief’s debut LP ‘Masterpiece’ is due out tomorrow, Friday the 27th of May, on Saddle Creek Records. Our previous coverage of the band is back this way.
West London singer/songwriter Isaac Gracie released his debut EP ‘Songs from My Bedroom’ at the end of March, just after his appearance at SXSW 2016. Gracie impressed me in Austin with the tender vulnerability of his singing voice and the insightful emotional honesty of his song lyrics. As you might expect, songs like Gracie’s are most effectively presented in their raw acoustic form, and that is exactly the presentation Gracie has arranged for them on ‘Songs from My Bedroom’.
The EP’s lead track ‘Terrified’ was released as a single on the 13th of May on Virgin EMI, and it epitomises the overall sound of ‘Songs from My Bedroom’. The lo-fi recording (which actually took place in Gracie’s bedroom, according to the man himself in my interview with him at SXSW) results in a warm but distant quality, almost as if Gracie were singing to himself. His sweet voice is backed at first only by a single guitar, and the slight warble in his tone only emphasises the stark melancholy of his opening lines, “well, I sleep all day / drink all night / just give me one reason / and I’ll turn off my light”.
The song expands with the addition of backing vocals as it moves into the refrain, and Gracie displays the full strength of his own lead vocal in its opening line “I don’t wanna be your boy, I wanna be a man” before he executes a graceful decrescendo into the key lyric “I’m terrified that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this”. The recording style emphasises simplicity and spontaneous musicality over technical precision, and as a result there are a few rough vocal moments in the performance. But rather than distracting from the overall mood or effect, these only serve to enhance the genuine emotional quality of the song.
The five-song tracklisting for the UK version of ‘Songs from My Bedroom’ contains ‘Terrified’, along with ‘Hollow Crown’, ‘We’re So Very Lost’, ‘All The Burning Lovers’ and ‘Darkness Of The Day’. The American version has only four songs, starting with Gracie’s early single ‘Last Words’ and includes ‘Terrified’, ‘Hollow Crown’ and ‘Darkness of the Day’. Both are available now on Buried Crowns / Virgin EMI.
Isaac Gracie is scheduled to appear at the Dot to Dot Festival in Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham over the upcoming second May bank holiday weekend. He has just announced an American tour for June, after which he’ll return to the UK for more festival appearances at Barn on the Farm, Latitude, and Reading and Leeds. You can find a full listing of Isaac Gracie’s upcoming live dates on his official Facebook. TGTF’s previous coverage of Isaac Gracie is back this way.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 24th May 2016 at 11:00 am
Formation have been heating things up this year, following on from their star turn at the NME / UK Trade and Investment night to close out their SXSW 2016. Twins Matt and Will Ritson come from a DIY / improvisation background, but there’s no mistaking their talent for knocking at floor-filling bangers. The hyped duo are booked for a whole slew of festivals from now into early September, a testament to just how desired their beats are to events all over the UK and Europe.
…but they’ll be returning to London in October (the 25th to be exact) to play a show at Village Underground in Shoreditch, and we’ve blagged 2 pairs of tickets from our friends at Gigs and Tours to give away to two lucky TGTF readers! Think of it as a special May bank holiday gift from us to you. Is there a friend, family member or significant other you’d like to treat with a special surprise this upcoming long weekend? Then you’ll want to enter our contest.
To do so, you’ll need to fill out the below form completely. First, give us your full name. Second, give us your email address. (We need a way to contact you if you win, naturally.) Third, to prove you’re not a robot and you actually follow the band on social media, answer this one question: what is the name of the most recent promotional video the band has released as of April 2016? You can locate this information by Googling, but let’s hope you won’t have to resort to that.
That’s it. Of all the correct entries we receive, we’ll choose two winners at random to receive a pair of tickets apiece to the concert on the 25th of October. All good? Be sure you get your entries in by 12 PM British time Thursday, the 26th of May, when we’ll close the contest. As mentioned above, we’ll contact the winners by email, so make sure you’ve entered your email address correctly. Good luck! If you’d rather not chance it and want to buy tickets to this show, you can buy them here.
Please note: this contest is open to UK residents only and you must be able to get yourself to London for the show at Village Underground. Please note that this show is 16+; all under 18s must be accompanied by an adult (these are the venue’s rules, not ours, and TGTF won’t be held responsible if you’re turned away at the door for being underage and not meeting the venue’s age requirement). All duplicate entries will be discarded.
This contest is now closed. The winners will be contacted by email.
Now that the hype train has (almost) stopped rolling for new Radiohead material, we can finally take a look at what we’re left with in the aftermath. The initial social network buzz that started by the band, ironically, removing themselves almost completely from the internet, soon turned into a tangible video. ‘Burn the Witch’ is a terrifying and prowling song whose main objective is to build an extreme amount of tension before simply dying. Using strings to create the initial urgency, it’s when the electronic instruments kick in that the urgency becomes a chaotic mash of analogue and digital. In short, a more than apt metaphor for Radiohead’s general modus operandi.
The key component to Radiohead’s sound is experimentation. Truly no two of their albums sound the same, even if on the outside they may appear to. The genius behind Thom Yorke and co.’s approach is hidden within the detail. Every track on ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is expertly crafted with not only an auditory reaction but an emotional one too. Taking you from sad to terrified to elated, all within one song, Yorke is able to orchestrate our minds just as he is able to instrumentation.
Track two ‘Daydreaming’ is an vast change of pace from its predecessor, though it retains the gradual descent into madness with a crescendo that sees more strings wrapping around a haunting vocal accompaniment that turns into demonic roars. At this point, it almost feels like Radiohead are just trying to haunt every aspect of your head, ‘Decksdark’ takes on a more standard appearance with a classic drums, bass, guitar and piano compositon. Of course this doesn’t last: when the verses break, we’re met with an array of sounds that echo around the sonic spectrum. ‘Desert Island Disk’ revolves around a repeating acoustic guitar line, which marries well with the dark and brooding electronic atmosphere.
It’s clear that the 5 years between 2011’s ‘The King of The Limbs’ and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ has not been in vain. Evolving their sound to incorporate more electronic elements than ever before has allowed them to branch into an entirely new strand of menacing alt-rock. ‘Ful Stop’ uses more of the build up approach as seen on the opening two tracks, but instead of leading to a string laden eruption, it becomes this determined and furiously thick guitar riff that once again swells with atmospheric sounds and a pace quickening drum beat. ‘Glass Eyes’ is a sombre, piano-led ballad that has Yorke’s voice sporadically drowned out by overbearing strings, it’s also the shortest cut on the record that flows nicely into ‘Identikit’. Opening with a complex drum pattern, another consistency throughout, the rhythm section is always a structure Yorke plays with the utmost respect. Building the compositions around this complex network of drums is a part of this records beauty.
Within the undertones of the album lies within love, loss and life. ‘True Love Waits’, a track that’s been in the works since 1995, is a barren and exposed track that tears away the majority atmospheric elements and instead leaves the mind play left to the lyrical content. ‘The Numbers’ concerns the state of the earth and our responsibility to rectify our mistakes before it’s too late.
With some of the tracks dating to decades before this release, what Radiohead have done is created a conglomerate of past and future. An orchestration of time and how it doesn’t dwell in one central point. In classic Radiohead fashion, they’ve given us everything we could’ve wanted and more.
‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is out now in digital form on XL Records. A physical release follows in June. Read more on Radiohead on TGTF here.
In Part 1 of my interview with Danny Todd and James Smith of exmagician, we discussed the pair’s new album ‘Scan the Blue’, which was released in March on Bella Union.
Following the late March release of their debut LP ‘Scan the Blue’, Belfast alt-rock duo exmagician have planned a full summer of live appearances to promote the album. They recently played at Festival SOS in Murcia, Spain as well as making a stop this past weekend at The Great Escape 2016 in Brighton. Following The Great Escape, exmagician headed to continental Europe to play in Amsterdam, supporting Australian surf rockers Hockey Dad. Looking ahead to the middle of summer, the band are scheduled to play at Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival and the exclusive Tunbridge Wells festival LeeFest Presents: The Neverland in July. “We really love playing festivals,” said band member James Smith. “Certainly my favourite type of gig is a really good festival. July is a lot of festivals, the sort of smaller, boutique festivals in England, which look really good fun. We’re looking forward to them.”
Between those festival appearances and a handful of upcoming UK and Irish headline dates that are still to be announced, Smith and bandmate Danny Todd are currently working on a complete remixing of ‘Scan the Blue’. The new versions of the songs will be pared back performances of the tracks on the album, similar to the ones they recently performed in this live studio session with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music.
The next official single from the album proper will be ‘Bend With the Wind’, which our own editor Mary remarked upon as a standout track, and Todd revealed plans for a new video to accompany its release. “It’s an animated video by an Irish artist called Eat the Danger. That should be coming out in the next month, maybe, or so. So we’re really excited about that track.” Asked which other songs from the album the band are eager to share, Todd continued, “I think they’re all quite different in their own way, which is what we try to do. But we’ve just come off tour, and it’s been nice to play ‘Smile to the Gallery’, because we’ve only really started playing it in the last 3 weeks. So we’re doing that one and ‘Feet Don’t Fail’, James’ one. It’s really nice to play that.”
Songs from ‘Scan the Blue’ have been receiving radio play on the American side of the pond as well as in the UK. Seattle public radio station KEXP featured the album track ‘Job Done’ as its Song of the Day back on the 17th of February, before the full album was even released. In the same blog entry, KEXP also shared the official video for ‘Place Your Bets’, which you can view just below.
Todd hinted that exmagician might be considering a run of tour dates in America to support the album, though he also remarked that the outcome of the American presidential election might preclude a visit to the United States. “If Trump’s president,” he said, “I don’t know if we’re going to come out.” Though I’ve spent some time pondering the state of the current American presidential contest myself, I hadn’t previously thought about how the election might affect tour plans for artists from abroad, and I wondered aloud about the possibility of bands boycotting America entirely, refusing to tour here. Smith sadly concurred with his bandmate on that point. “Yeah, that’s a possibility. I think a lot of people are very scared. But that’s one of the things, to get over there, because our album is out in the States, and we’d like to get over and support it and tour a bit over there.”
Keep your eye on exmagician’s official Web site and Facebook page for updates on live show announcements and festival appearances. (And if you’re in the United States, keep your fingers crossed for that American tour!) TGTF’s preview of LeeFest: The Neverland, which included a mention of exmagician, posted earlier this week; if you missed it, you can read it right back here. Our full collection of coverage on exmagician is back this way.
Special thanks to Jamie and Luke for kindly arranging this interview.
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