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In the Post #155 / Essay: Tom Chaplin previews his debut solo album with ‘Hardened Heart’

 
By on Thursday, 25th August 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Following the announcement in autumn 2013 that Keane were splitting up, fans had a bit of a reprieve. Frontman Tom Chaplin, known for his singing and charismatic presence onstage and not for his own songwriting, revealed his desire to release his own solo album. After the release of ‘The Best of Keane’ in November of that year, the months and years passed. Except for a one-off cover of Stornoway’s ‘Fuel Up’ with Chaplin on vocals and bandmate and primary Keane songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley on piano in April 2015, we heard nothing. I had begun to think that this Tom Chaplin solo album was nothing but a faraway dream that would never be realised. Then in the middle of July, Tom Chaplin registered an Instagram account and started posting photos. A lot of them. As Chaplin had always been someone relatively reticent on social media, this new development meant something big was obviously afoot.

One of the first true tastes of his forthcoming debut solo album ‘The Wave’ due out mid-October is a clear indicator of the pain Chaplin suffered during the years of superstardom with Keane and after. Read this feature by Neil McCormick from the Telegraph this month, and you will be astonished by Chaplin’s honesty with his recent battles with drug use and anxiety, which he – and all of us fans for that matter – thought he’d kicked a decade ago, following treatment at The Priory in London. As a longtime appreciator of Keane, it hurts me deeply that someone I’ve looked up to, with the most precious of musical gifts – his amazing voice and his showmanship – has lived such a hidden, troubled existence. Chaplin admits that in recent years, his family had all but given up on him, his wife saying at one point, “I want to tell you that I love you because I don’t know whether I will get a chance to again.”

A quick examination of the lyrics of ‘Hardened Heart’ reveals Chaplin’s tortured soul, one grappling with depression, part and parcel of the fallout of a life ravaged by addiction. This song is written from the inside of depression looking out. When you’re depressed, the outside world seems like a strange, almost cartoony place. Everyone around is getting on with their lives, but you can’t. You’re stuck in one place. “It’s such a beautiful world”, yet you don’t see it. All that’s in front of you is filtered through grey shaded glasses, darkness. It’s a tough place and even as concerned as they are, it’s hard to explain to those on the outside.

His pronouncement that “all the people that love me / they never know if I’m up, down or round”, mirroring the Jekyll and Hyde characters described in Barry Hyde’s ‘Monster Again’ on his own debut solo album ‘Malody’ (“Who am I tonight? What am I tomorrow?”). But arguably the worst part of this form of mental illness is realising you could be close to losing everything, but feeling helpless, unable to do anything to lift yourself out of the mire. As noted in the start of the chorus, it’s part of a vicious cycle: “hurting everyone I know / bringing everybody down so low / stuck along a road of sadness with nowhere to go”. Another sinister slice of depression is apathy, coupled with the overwhelming desire to reach a place of emotional normalcy. “Oh, I know that my hardened heart is beating still / I drove it to the point of madness just to feel”, sings Chaplin expansively. Though it sounds counterintuitive, finally going from numb to feeling is important towards the transformation, on the road to recovery.

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The promo video for ‘Hardened Heart’ was filmed in the Peak District, starting with Tom Chaplin’s silhouette framed by the first few snatches of daylight at dawn. The visuals effectively parallel the shifting moods contained in the track, as the misty clouds lift over the water and rolling hills. Even with the sunshine, the landscape is rough with brush and bracken. Yet Chaplin finds a dirt path, walking down it with not just a renewed faith, but with gusto as the chorus turns to uplifting, with expressive strings and driving drumbeats: “here’s hoping that the signs are real / and tomorrow with a spring in my heel / somewhere on the road of sadness lies a better deal”. After years of leaning on the artistry of bandmate Rice-Oxley, media pundits have understandably wondered if Chaplin had the talent of penning a pop hit of his own. The answer is a resounding yes. And that voice? It’s never been better.

It takes strength to return from the brink, to come back better than ever, to fight for another day. Tom Chaplin is living proof of this. This song is his way to remind others who feel lower than low that even if you don’t feel it yourself, you matter. You matter to the people who love you. Above all, you are worthy of this life. The title ‘Hardened Heart’ speaks of not only of what depression does to our most important emotional organ, but also how the heart can survive and rise above after battling mental illness.

9.5/10

Tom Chaplin’s debut solo album ‘The Wave’ will be released on the 14th of October on Island Records. To read TGTF’s back catalogue of posts on his old band Keane, follow this link. To read about depression and addiction from a doctor’s perspective of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, go here.

 

Album Review: Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being

 
By on Wednesday, 24th August 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Glass Animals How to Be a Human Being album coverA few years ago, a little EP called ‘Leaflings’ was released by a mysterious act called Glass Animals. Soon discovered by one Paul Epworth, who signed them as the first band on his record label Wolf Tone’s roster, their combination of disparate elements of rock, pop, r&b and hip hop proved not only unique but weirdly irresistible to the public. Global stardom followed their debut album ‘Zaba’, so it seems good fortune that I caught them live at Liverpool Sound City 2014, a month before its release in June. On their second album out this Friday, Glass Animals are out to prove they’re more than a one-trick pony.

Thematically, the new LP is a major departure from ‘Zaba’. Instead of fanciful stories about peanut butter vibes, twee voles and hermits lacking sex and violence that only seemed possible to have come out of a drug-addled haze, realism rules the day on ‘How to Be a Human Being’. Primary songwriter Dave Bayley admitted in early press releases that the new material had been inspired by people they’d met during their travels: “I try to sneakily record people, and I have hours and hours of these amazing rants from taxi drivers, strange people we met outside of shows, people at parties. People say the strangest shit when they don’t think they’re ever gonna see you again.” Snatches of these secretly taped conversations appear to have found their way onto this LP, acting as spoken word interludes between songs or in the case of ‘[Premade Sandwiches]’, a whole track that sounds like Darth Vader going off on Whole Foods. Let’s hope he got clearance to use these clips. This on the ground, secretive sampling is on par with what frontman Bayley’s biggest hero, Kanye West, gets up to. Err, right.

On their last album, there was a strange yet oddly intriguing juxtaposition between the world of a child and the dark existence that loomed outside of it. Because ‘How to Be a Human Being’ is placed in the real world, there’s less possibility – and room – for whimsy. In a recent interview with Consequence of Sound, Bayley explained that the new record is meant to mirror a path from birth to death, with “Everything in between is what happens in life.” Early on in the album’s ‘life’, video game sounds are incorporated into ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ and ‘Pork Soda’ to reflect the lazy days of childhood.

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Bayley’s falsetto flits from track to track, singing of things that fit into Glass Animals’ slacker image. Unveiled this week, ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ mentions cereal, cola and “getting blazed”. It’s also a prime example of where the band from Oxford appear to have lost the plot. While the vocal melody is pleasant enough in a singsong, nursery rhyme fashion, the rest of the song is literally voice, video game blips, a keyboard warbling and minimal percussion. Where Glass Animals used to shine – in making something exotic, different and most importantly, groovy – has been lost. Listening to the album, I’m reminded of the ‘90s gangsta rap Bayley says was influential in his formative year in College Station, Texas. Back in the day, how minor keys were used and the menacing undercurrent to the music made sense in the context of the heavy subject matter (drug use, domestic violence, murder).

This kind of negative fog hangs off of several album tracks – ‘Mama’s Gun’ in particular – making for a less distinctive, less than memorable listen. Forgetting its unsettling human barks, ‘The Other Side of Paradise’ is an unflattering snapshot of the very “caught up in camera lustings”, image-centric industry Glass Animals now find themselves the darlings of. Bayley croons, “I feel so fucking numb”, and you’re left wondering if he’s speaking of his own confused mental state inside the machine or if the song is based on an anecdote told to him by another. Because he’s been unwilling to admit which parts of ‘How to Be a Human Being’ are autobiographical or which are stories he’s woven from the experiences of others, you’re never 100% sure of their source. [Update: Bayley revealed in a previously recorded interview with Steve Lamacq that aired on BBC 6 Music on 24/08/2016 that this song was partly based on the real life of his favourite American basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon. You can listen to the interview 2 hours and 30 minutes on BBC iPlayer here.]

On the plus side, ‘Cane Shuga’ has bouncy synths and an intriguing drum pattern from Joe Seaward that will make it fun to watch live. The sleaze of ‘Take a Slice’, with its lo-fi, fuzzy production and wigged out guitar line, tempers its shockingly frank messages, such as “I’m filthy and I like it”. Prostitution rears its ugly, real head in ‘Poplar Street’, the guitar hook intro catchy but similar to John Frusciante’s work on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Under the Bridge’.

Bayley’s self-described closing bookend to the album, ‘Agnes’, seems to mock our society’s reliance on technology, the sad sound of a mobile phone’s dying battery trilling in the background. Instrumentally, this is as uplifting as this album gets, which highlights what’s missing from this album. I suppose you could argue that while ‘Zaba’ was written from a perspective inside the jungle of a children’s book and this new one is from the concrete jungle, there were bound to be wildly major differences between the two. Because there’s much less to latch on to on ‘How to Be a Human Being’, it makes for a challenging follow-up listen.

6/10

‘How to Be a Human Being’, the sophomore album from Oxford’s Glass Animals’, will be out this Friday, the 26th of August, on Wolf Tone / Caroline International (UK) and Harvest Records (North America). Read my past review of the LP’s first single ‘Life Itself’ through here. For more on Glass Animals on TGTF, follow this link.

 

LeeFest 2016 Interview: Oscar

 
By on Wednesday, 24th August 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Oscar Scheller, or just Oscar as he’s known professionally, is a fast upcoming pop darling, with tunes that consist of melody and a rough indie edge, whilst his baritone delivers a quaintly simplistic yet deeply emotive carry. Talking to Oscar about anything, you find the same kind of thoughtfulness that’s present in his music. Our interview at LeeFest 2016, which took place in a catering tent backstage, was no different.

“I think its nice playing smaller festivals because you do get the focus. People are genuinely there to enjoy everything, and they have the time to do that”, Oscar explains about the differences between the larger and smaller festivals that our country has on offer. “Like Glastonbury, it’s kind of hard to enjoy anything because you’re just worried about how long it’s going to take you to get from side to the other, it can feel like a whole day.”

It was a few weeks prior that Oscar had played Latitude Festival in Suffolk, which is where he felt his first real movement up the musical ladder. “Latitude was the first time that people stayed to like, meet me afterwards. There was at least like 40 people, we were doing selfies and selling t-shirts. Every show is going better and better. People are singing along to the words now and there’s real, sort of like, fan activity.”

His fondness for this moment is found in his description of the Suffolk getaway, “I really like small festivals, but I think Latitude is genuinely my favourite festival. For me, it’s like if I was still at school it’s one I would go to. It was amazing”. He appreciates that the difference between a festival and a gig can be quite a challenge, but it’s something he relishes. “The other thing about festivals is it’s different to a gig, because a gig people are coming to see you. They’re going to be into it. Whereas festivals, you have no idea who’s watching or what they’re into, so you really have to try and make that connection.”

Oscar’s fanbase has been steadily growing since the release of his debut album ‘Cut and Paste’, but he’s not one to sit back and hope things fall into place. He has ideas and wants to reach you all with them. “We’ve got headline tours in September and October in UK and the European festival circuit up until the end of the year, so the real emphasis is on that. I am writing and recording demos for the next record, I mean, I have so much left over.”

Oscar is somewhat of a creative factory, he explains. “I’m always making stuff, whether it’s album worthy or not. Which is good in a way, because it means I can just pick the best songs. I’m not in a rush.” This certainly means that he’ll have no issue with the follow up to ‘Cut and Paste’, though the second album is normally where people come unstuck (no pun intended). “I think half the problem with that is people can’t write on the road, or they don’t have the means to do it, [or] that’s not how they work, but I can actually write wherever. I could write in here, back of a bus, a melody could come at any time or anywhere. It’s just getting them down.”

With such a free-flowing process, he’s aware that he needs to remain focused upon the smaller goals, although he does have the larger ones in the back of his mind, “I do have massive ambitions. I guess one of them is to eventually cross over to commercial attention. That would be one of them, and write for other people, big people, do top lines for big artists, I’d love that. Yeah, just kind of keep building it”. This isn’t necessarily a modern way of thinking in this fast-paced society, as he fully well knows. “It is an old school method that I’m taking. It’s not hard or fast, it’s slow and steady. I think it will hopefully be a much richer and deeper pathway to wherever I want to go, rather than like just having it thrown at me.”

Speaking with brutal honesty, he continues into talking about the more traditional idea of success in music. “You know all these bands that get signed to major labels, they all get dropped within six months. About 90% of people who get signed to major labels don’t make it, you don’t even hear of them. That very rare 10%, those are the ones you hear about, so in a way I think it’s good that I am where I am now. If a major label wants to sign you and you haven’t got anything going, that’s really dangerous. They own you. I think it’s pretty scary. I think a lot of artists are quite naive about that.

“Signing to a label is the easiest part of the artistic process. Everything that comes after that, that’s the challenge. People say ‘I want to get signed!’ The only thing it changes is maybe you have a bit of money, and resources, just like going to university. You may have access to things you wouldn’t normally. Apart from that, your artistry doesn’t change, [and] hopefully your mentality doesn’t either. Other artists, if they meet me or whatever, or friends who aren’t signed, I say, ‘you don’t need a label’. I was lucky enough to have a really great label interested in me, they have love for it. It’s not just a business. Of course there is that aspect to it, because they have to survive, but it’s a labour of love.”

Even if such successes are sought after by the masses of budding artists and bands, they should all heed Oscar’s advice: “I think you have to hone your craft, and if that’s making things in your bedroom and breaking through that way and kind of getting natural attention like that, I mean, everyone has their own method of doing it and there’s no single way of getting through. You just have to do what’s true to you and try not to worry about it too much”.

TGTF’s full previous coverage of Oscar, including his appearance at SXSW 2016 earlier this year, is right back this way.

 

Video of the Moment #2167: Twin Atlantic

 
By on Tuesday, 23rd August 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Have a listen to ‘The Chaser’ by Glaswegian rockers Twin Atlantic, and you’d swear you’d been dropped off somewhere in the excesses of the Seventies. While its promo video might be missing glitter, platforms and big hair, this song falls pretty well in line with the work of Slade and T. Rex. Except ‘The Chaser’ also has a bit more of a pop sheen to round things out, you know, for those who don’t want things going off the rails too much. Yet it’s got a killer guitar solo in the bridge to remind you this is a rock song after all.

So which way is Twin Atlantic’s fourth album ‘GLA’, out the 9th of September on Red Bull Records, going to go? We’ll have to wait and find out. Watch the video for ‘The Chaser’ below, filmed in the Glasgow bar where the band played their first-ever show. For more on the Scottish rock band on TGTF, head here.

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Album Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich – After the Rain

 
By on Tuesday, 23rd August 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Benjamin Francis Leftwich After the Rain album coverSince his 2011 debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has been on somewhat of a hiatus, releasing just the four-track EP ‘In The Open’ in 2012. Shortly after the EP’s release, his father was diagnosed with cancer, causing him to cancel a North American tour that winter. His father sadly passed in April 2013, leaving Leftwich distraught: “I just needed to live outside of music”.

Two long, hard years later, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has released his long anticipated second studio album ‘After The Rain’ this month. On the new LP, Leftwich is essentially serving up his life over the past few years on a plate, as he addresses the pain and heartache he went through as he grieved the loss of his father. As a commemoration, ‘After The Rain’ is both melancholic yet optimistic in its delicate yet grand decorum.

The album opens with the previously released ‘Tilikum’, which was also his first release in 3 years. Its meandering guitar melody intro sets the scene perfectly for Leftwich’s vocals to return in the whispering falsetto previously engraved in our minds in 2011. As he paints a picture of the times shared with his father, the track continues in a delicate, ghostly fashion, the musical equivalent to a light, late afternoon autumn breeze. Each part of the song, from the female backing vocals harmonising the topline to the light brushwork on the drums, were thoroughly thought out and perfectly executed when sculpting the overall sound of the track.

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Although the same elements are used throughout, third track ‘She Will Sing’ carries more of a tribal feel. With a lot more momentum, the song shows a far more exciting side to the album. The heavy use of added percussion, together with a rhythmic vocal melody, play a huge part in creating vigour within the track. Aside from these two major elements, we continue to hear a very delicate vocal tone, Leftwich’s trademark fingerpicked guitar melody that meanders around the chords and an equally as soft and simple pad sound that weaves together with the guitar.

‘After the Rain’ can be categorized instantly with a few similar artists. Twinkly guitar lines and falsetto vocals scream Bon Iver and Ben Howard, which we hear religiously throughout. This works for Leftwich, and it works well. But when we look past the obvious, specifically in tracks like ‘Kicking Roses’ with its minimalist indie electronic vibe, and the abstract sample sound used in ‘Mayflies’, the music points towards The Postal Service and James Blake. Considering Leftwich’s similarities with singer/songwriter types, these outsider influences are like a breath of fresh air. The only downside is that they don’t appear as often as one would like. An equal blend of the two separate reference groups would be perfect in pulling the whole album together, rather than an overuse of folky, easy listening elements and an underuse of the electronic ones.

‘Mayflies’ is the only song on the album in which elements from both sets of influences are utilised cohesively. A colourful, off-beat drum groove intertwined with a simple, syncopated guitar melody form the foundations of this folk-orientated track. The vocal melody has been planned carefully to allow for downtime during the verses, with longer phrases and fewer syllables, with the change to a more rhythmic melody with much sharper projection. Intriguingly, Leftwich puts focus on the aforementioned abstract sample sound, specifically throughout the end of each chorus. The use of this sample here effectively gives the track a lot more momentum, while carefully adding one more element of interest and surprise for his listeners.

Emotionally and lyrically, this is an incredible album with great use of instrumentation. It is touching and emotional in a very direct way, a window intosome of Leftwich’s very personal matters. Sonically, I feel it could take a little more work. The broadening in sounds and experimentation with influences is a well-accepted addition to the album; however, these moments come few and far between. If executed as strongly as we hear in ‘Mayflies’ or ‘Kicking Roses’, he could be onto a very unique and individual sound, and one that could be the groundwork for something bigger.

6.5/10

‘After The Rain’ is out now on Dirty Hit Records. Benjamin Francis Leftwich will begin a UK tour next month on the 21st of September in Norwich. This will be followed by mainland Europe and American tours in October through December. For more on TGTF’s coverage on Leftwich, go here.

 

Album Review: Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis

 
By on Monday, 22nd August 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Biffy Clyro Ellipsis coverScottish rock giants Biffy Clyro appeared as if they could do no wrong. Ever since the release of 2007’s ‘Puzzle’, they just kept on climbing up and into the stratosphere, where they sat perched on a throne made of solid rock gems. With such escalating expectations, it was inevitable there was going to be a slight slip. And ‘Ellipsis’, produced by Rich Costey, is just that.

Being the sixth release over a career that has seen their sound turn from jagged, raw and ferocious to mammoth, orchestrated and hard hitting, where they would go next was always a question hanging in the air. They have certainly decided that the future doesn’t involve regressing back to their earlier years and the grandiose sound that is now synonymous with the name Biffy Clyro is certainly here to stay.

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Opening with ‘Wolves of Winter’, they show they certainly don’t mess around with the epic soundscapes. However, there is a certain lightheartedness once this all falls away and the instrumentation takes on an almost playful stance, especially pre-chorus. ‘Friends and Enemies’ continues this trend, though with much greater aplomb, but it’s on ‘Animal Style’ where the savage beasts return in full form. The pre-chorus of “why do you waste your time with me, I’m an animal, can you realise, my head’s a fucking carnival” is where Simon Neil’s songwriting is at its most raw and striking. This trend continues through to the chorus that is as large as the words he forcefully puts upon us to mark his territory.

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“I am explosive and volatile, I’m on the turn”, Neil sings during the opening verse in later cut ‘Howl’, and nothing has ever been truer of this band. Though things certainly are feeling mildly stagnant in places, the experimentation doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s good to see them trying out new sounds in the hope that something helps lead to a higher level. But an album should have a flow or an air, and ‘Ellipsis’ just doesn’t.

Perhaps far more noticeable than the lyrics is how the complete and utter divergence from the record’s flow is obvious. A far cry from the introductory three tracks, ‘Re-arrange’, with an electronic beat and a glittering picked guitar line is the merging of two differing worlds that both leave a different taste, be it good or bad, in your mouth. This is a recurring feature of the album, with the Biffy sound alternating and experimenting with different flavours that the majority of the time just don’t work, Yet when they do work, the result is glorious. Case in point to the former, ‘Small Wishes’ is another strange pause on the album. It takes on a folk feel, but with a complete disdain for any kind of rhythm. It follows ‘On a Bang’, another ferocious and dark track that screams all that makes Biffy Clyro, making for a huge disconnect.

‘Medicine’ has a similar feel to ‘Machines’ from the aforementioned ‘Puzzle’. More of a carry-on from there musically, lyrically it’s definitely happier, which is saying something, considering this is a song about heartbreak. Biffy barraging us again, we then get into ‘Flammable’, another of the album’s stronger moments. A wonderfully melodic turn into the more modern day Biffy Clyro, it’s a perfect agglomeration of their sounds. Finale ‘People’ continues the acoustic stopgap trend that appears throughout, with piano and guitar marrying to create a beautiful sound that echoes Neil’s words of human relationships and the complexity that they can form. It’s the most emotive moment on the record, and it’s beautiful. It’s just a shame that we had to follow the chaotic flow of ‘Ellipsis’ to get here.

‘Ellipsis’ is certainly an experimental Biffy Clyro record, which, as mentioned previously, is definitely a good thing for the Scottish band. It’s a stepping stone to what could be a much stronger follow-up. Their arrangements can be orchestrated beautifully and filled with grandeur, but they can easily go into a completely savage and beastly realm, something Biffy have near perfected now. Some of these cuts could quite easily have been placed upon a separate collection or used as b-sides in the band’s search for the next step. But the mere fact they’ve chosen to use all of them on a fully-fledged studio album means they feel they can either do no wrong or they want to shake things up a bit. Either way, whatever follows ‘Ellipsis’ will certainly be interesting.

6/10

‘Ellipsis’ is out now via 14th Floor Records. Catch up on all the Biffy Clyro coverage (we have a huge back catalogue of the stuff) on TGTF here.

 
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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.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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