SXSW 2016 | 2015
| 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012
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Irish math pop band Enemies have made their name with poppy guitar hooks, meandering yet recognisable melodies and light-hearted harmony to the math rock genre. On their 2013 release ‘Embark, Embrace’, they showcased all of the above perfectly. Some tracks even included two simultaneous drum tracks.
It’s no secret that they are set to split after a career spanning 10 years and after the release of their third studio album. In sight of this, the foursome have released four singles from their anticipated final album ‘Valuables’. The latest of these offerings is ‘Glow’, which includes guest vocals from Louise Gaffney.
Following a series of hard times and setbacks both musically and personally within the band over the years following ‘Embark, Embrace’, Enemies wrote in their own press release that ‘Valuables’ would be written for the enjoyment and pleasure of themselves, taking away the pressure of expectations. Single ‘Glow’ represents this beautifully. The track flows for 5 minutes with no significant signs of progression. It seems to capture and hold the listener in a dreamlike state for the duration. To hold your interest, Enemies purposely step away from using catchy guitar hooks, sudden changes and heavy riffs. Instead, they utilise a soothing wash of delightful harmonies with a soft but steady backbeat to provide the strongest foundation possible for Gaffney of Dublin’s own Come On, Live Long to sprinkle her sublime vocals over.
Although the harmony and chords chosen are classic Enemies, and the shared guitar work between Lewis Jackson and Eoin Whitfield is as fluent as ever, the track carries a much more relaxed and mature sense of musicianship. The lack of movement within the track has more of an impact than anything else. It allows for the band to play more with layers and textures, in this case with things like the pedal loop of glitches and feedback that ebb and flows with the dynamics of the track.
In saying that, there is no escaping the focus of the track, being Gaffney’s guest vocals. In the past, it was uncommon for Enemies to place so much importance on a top line. However, this new approach truly tested their songwriting ability in a positive way. Whether the approach was the inspiration for writing it, or the song came about purely out of love for what they do, ‘Glow’ is definitely a step in the right direction for Enemies.
‘Valuables’, the third and final album from Irish group Enemies, drops on the 9th of December on Top Shelf Records. Sadly, Enemies only have one last show left, at Dublin Vicar Street; find tickets for the gig here. For past TGTF coverage on the lads, go here. Otherwise, just put on one of their records, listen and reminisce.
Laura Marling might not specifically identify herself as a feminist songwriter, but her work has taken a decidedly feminist turn of late. Following her most recent project ‘Reversal of the Muse’, a series of podcasts which she described as “an exploration of femininity in creativity’, Marling has announced a new album with a distinctly feminist title: ‘Semper Femina’.
Due for release early next year, ‘Semper Femina’ will be Marling’s sixth full length record, but its first single, ‘Soothing’ marks her first experience as a music video director. Inspired by “a series of vivid dreams Laura experienced whilst making the album,” the promo video is a study in contrasts, both visual and musical.
The predominant imagery in the video features two female bodies clad in shiny pleather, synchronously writhing and weaving to the tribal drum rhythm and the serpentine groove of the song’s bass line. This scene is interspersed with views of a small and staid gathering of onlookers, and a male-female couple sensually intertwined with a long blue ribbon. Marling’s vocals throughout the song are as striking as the pleather garments on her visual subjects. Her voice is ever so slightly strident, angular and sharp against the lush but subdued instrumental arrangement, beginning and ending her loose narrative with the same lyric: “you can’t come in, you don’t live here anymore.” The dark, unusual colour of the bowed string harmony only adds to the song’s elusive quality.
‘Soothing’ might invoke more questions than it answers about ‘Semper Femina’, but it’s an intriguing first look into Marling’s headspace after her starkly personal previous album ‘Short Movie’. From this point, the album could easily veer off into experimental avant-garde territory, but it might also be the album that establishes Laura Marling as one of the defining songwriters of her still-young generation.
Laura Marling’s sixth studio album ‘Semper Femina’ is due for release on the 10th of March 2017, via More Alarming Records/Kobalt. Marling has already announced a list of UK live dates to support the album release; you can find details here. TGTF’s full archive of previous coverage on Laura Marling, dating back to 2008, is right this way.
Indie rockers The Big Moon have had a pretty busy 2016. Aside from hitting a bunch of festivals including The Great Escape and releasing a bunch of singles, they also found time to record their debut album, ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’. Ahead of its release on the 7th of April 2017, the female foursome have shared single ‘Formidable’. The song received air time on Radio 1 as Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World: a statement that I’m not really going to try and disagree with. ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ was recorded in London, and in addition to ‘Formidable’, it will feature a re-recorded version of previously revealed track ‘Sucker’, as well as singles Cupid’ and ‘Silent Movie Susie’ released earlier this year.
I’ve been a fan of The Big Moon for some time now, ever since I got to write a little about them ahead of their appearance at SXSW 2016, and their latest release doesn’t change that. ‘Formidable’ burns softly, with the simple yet heartfelt chorus “I am not invisible / I’m on your side / I’ll be formidable” packing a punch like a confident mantra. Other lyrics,like “did she make you swallow all your pride?/ Does the love still shiver down your spine?” are a testament to the seriously good songwriting.
In fitting with the band’s indie grunge sound, ‘Formidable’ is slow in tempo and layered with cagey drums, distorted guitars and lead singer Juliette Jackson’s full-on vocals. It starts out pretty mellow, before picking up the pace just a little as the chorus kicks in, and again when Jackson yells out ,“you let me see your battle scars!” It’s altogether a great track and well worth a listen if you’re a fan of edgy indie rock.
The Big Moon have been announced as one of the first acts to appear at next year’s Live at Leeds 2017. They have a few dates between now and next April in America and the UK, if you want to check them out live. Their debut album ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ will be released on StarTime International / Columbia Records. To read my introduction to the band in the context of SXSW 2016, go here.
Aussie singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin, according to her Web site, found inspiration at an early age in the shape of Britney Spears, something I’m sure plenty of fellow ‘90s-born folk can relate to. This interest led to Jacklin taking singing lessons in her hometown of Blue Mountains – if you Google the place, it appears to be set in a landscape just as brilliant as the name suggests – before her interests moved on to Avril Lavigne and the edgier Evanescence. She went on to form a band with an old friend and initially as the singer, but then went on to write and play guitar too.
It’s always incredible to hear of people that work seemingly normal day jobs, and manage to create stirring and out of the ordinary music and art in their spare time. ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ is the debut album from Jacklin, which she wrote whilst she was working in a factory. Recorded at Sitting Room Studios in New Zealand, the ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ is a foray into the folksy and fanciful and is jam-packed with evocative and imaginative lyrics. It doesn’t actually sit comfortably into any one genre: it’s more of a melting pot of charming country rhythms, folksy storytelling and moments of bluesy indie rock.
Single ‘Pool Party’ opens with “I was shorter than my dad’s dining table / you were taller than my bedroom doorframe”. It’s just one of the tracks on the album that uses words to create quirky and playful imagery, yet is laced with a bittersweet kind of nostalgia. The rhythm of the track is slow and soulful, with old-sounding rumbles of bass and sharp drumbeats, tied together with a guitar that rolls along like it’s being played in a small town full of chequered shirt-wearing locals.
‘Coming of Age’ is one of the heavier tracks on the album, although describing any of the LP as heavy is probably taking things a bit too far. It’s upbeat musically, with a country guitar jangling throughout. The chorus, which repeats “didn’t see it myself / my coming of age”, further adds to the wistful nature of the album. On her Web site, Jacklin tackles this topic: “When I was growing up I was so ambitious: I’m going to be this amazing social worker, save the world, a great musician, fit, an amazing writer. Then you get to mid-20s and you realise you have to focus on one thing”.
A standout track is ‘Leadlight’, where Jacklin really shows off her melodic voice, gentle at times, then soulful and uplifting at others. It’s a stripped-back track, with just a steady drum and guitar at times, then swelling to include a choral accompaniment towards the end. Much like this is ‘Hay Plain’, which also builds up throughout the track after a soft start, but finishes just as gentle as it begins. The song has me missing a life that I haven’t even lived, as Jacklin transports you into the story she’s telling.
Similarly low-key is title track ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, which features just Jacklin’s voice and a guitar as she sings nostalgically about valuing time with family and friends. It’s a sweet and sentimental track.
The whole album is easy listening but will also get you thinking about the carefree days of your youth if you feel like you’re already past them. Or hopefully make you appreciate them even more if you’re still living them. It can be comforting at times to realise that other people have the same doubts about getting older or, as Jacklin puts it, “yeah, we’re getting older, but it’s not so special. It’s not unique”.
‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’, Julia Jacklin’s debut album, is out now on Transgressive Records. Jacklin has a bunch of upcoming dates in her native Australia and New Zealand, until February where she’ll hit Europe, including dates in Germany and the UK. All dates can be found listed on her Web site, and her UK ones are listed in this previous post. For more coverage of Jacklin here on TGTF, go here.
Header photo by William van der Voort
All three members of gothic rock trio Esben and the Witch, Thomas Fisher (guitar/keyboards), Daniel Copeman (electronics/guitars) and Rachel Davies (vocals), have recently relocated to Berlin from their former base in Brighton. Along with the geographic broadening of their horizons, the band appear to have expanded their musical boundaries as well. Their latest release ‘Older Terrors’ looks, on the surface, like an EP, with only four songs on its tracklisting. But its total running time of 46 minutes is actually lengthier than both of the last two albums I’ve recently reviewed. (For reference, Skinny Lister’s ‘The Devil, the Heart & the Fight’ packed 12 concise songs into 36 minutes, and Bell X1’s ‘Arms’ kept to a svelte 9 tracks and 38 minutes.)
What does this mean? Have Esben and the Witch recorded four exceptionally prolonged alt-pop songs, or have they composed four miniature symphonies? I wasn’t familiar with the band before listening to ‘Older Terrors’, and I found it difficult to answer that question without context. My ambiguous first impressions of the album were of dramatic, slowly evolving musical arrangements geared toward creating a dark, ominous ambience, and a singer whose voice is by turns ethereally beautiful and emotionally tortured, often a blend of both.
A quick virtual trip through TGTF’s archive of past coverage on Esben and the Witch served to confirm my initial thoughts. In a a 2010 Bands to Watch feature, our writer remarked that “lead singer Rachel’s voice does, at times, bear a strong similarity to that of Florence Welch”. A review of the band’s debut LP ‘Violet Cries’ talks about the “Brighton trio’s fixation with darkness . . . feelings of dread and solemnity, [and] the overriding sensuality of it all.” Editor Mary used the words “eerie”, “sinister” and “haunting” to describe videos from Esben and the Witch’s second LP ‘Wash the Sins Not Only the Face’ and the phrase “stark and forlorn” to describe ‘Dig Your Fingers In’, the first single from third album ‘A New Nature’.
Looking back upon ‘A New Nature’, we can see Esben and the Witch starting to explore longer, and more expansive musical arrangements: two songs on that record are over 10 minutes long, and three others are over 6 minutes in duration. With ‘Older Terrors’, the band has completely set aside any preconceived notions of writing songs within a 3-minute box, instead choosing to develop musical ideas in a fashion more typical of classical composers than rock musicians.
Opening song ‘Sylvan’ is comprised of three distinct sections, Davies’ serpentine vocal melody weaving through each, loosely holding them together with a series of indistinct but strangely evocative words and phrases. The primitive drum beat and slow harmonic tempo of section one gives way through an extended guitar riff to a stark, anticipatory middle section and ultimately to a dynamic and dramatic climax in the third and final section.
The minor key Spanish guitar melody warms but doesn’t disguise the sinister undertones in ‘Marking the Heart of a Serpent’. Davies’ vocal tone is once again light and limber in the fluid melodic line, almost hypnotic in quality, and it leads the unsuspecting listener to a bit of a shock in the dynamic attack of the song’s middle section. The lyricless instrumental frenzy of section three stretches into a coda that runs out of steam rather than coming to a conclusive finish.
‘The Wolf’s Sun’ opens with the protracted growl of guitars and singularly Gothic-sounding lyrics: “so lead me through the dark / your fingers clawing at my heart / clutching me against your breast / inside your crook, I’ll lay my head”. The hypnotic initial combination of steady bass ostinato and amorphous vocal melody evolves into a surprisingly groove-based middle section, and a positively primal freak out at the song’s end.
Closing track ‘The Reverist’ opens with a slow, hazy instrumental prelude that evokes a vague visual idea of gradually emerging from shadow into a dim and misty light. Davies’ middle section lyrics, however, twist the narrative into something more sinister with the repeated phrase “ships on fire”. The musical arrangement follows suit, growing more and more agitated before it descends into the depths of its own eventual demise.
The broadly experimental nature of ‘Older Terrors’ is to be applauded, even if the songs themselves occasionally stretch past the point of cohesion. To use a drama-related analogy, which seems appropriate for such an inherently dramatic set of songs, there are moments where the plot wears a bit thin, and its devices, in this case the instrumental arrangements, become overly convoluted. Nevertheless, ‘Older Terrors’ leaves in its wake a post-apocalyptic sense of utter stillness and of dark, delicate beauty. A massively impressive effort, and for myself, an indelible first impression.
‘Older Terrors’, the fourth album from Esben and the Witch, is available now via Season of Mist. TGTF’s complete past coverage of Esben and the Witch is collected through here.
When it comes to out of the ordinary, new wave, alternative pop music, it seems that Manchester is the place to be. There may not be many bands doing this kind of thing, but the calibre of bands who are is incredible. Dutch Uncles are definitely one among the great Mancunian new wave scene who have just shared the release date for their upcoming 5th studio album ‘Big Balloon’. And luckily for us, they have released the title track, the album’s first single, last week as a preview to the long player.
Dutch Uncles present a forward-thinking side to pop music. It is very intricate, intelligent and thoroughly thought out. Each instrument plays its own part, and never used just to fill space. After four previously released studio albums, the Mancunian four-piece now have quite a back catalogue of releases. With each album, there is an unexpected development within their music, shown through the band experimenting more with ambiguous time signatures and phrasing, as well as producing erratic rhythms catchy hooks.
Without a doubt, ‘Big Balloon’ continues this trend. The song opens with an absolutely monstrous bass riff from primary songwriter and bassist Robin Richards, then goes into what Dutch Uncles do best: create an off-kilter rhythm that plays around with the accents of a 4/4 beat, creating the illusion that it’s in an irregular or compound time signature. Being a bass player, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn the bass line. The first 5 seconds of this track shows so crystal clear why Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot work so well together. The heavy use of mid frequencies within the bass tone are excellently accompanied by Proudfoot’s huge, deep, full-sounding drums, filling out the lower frequencies, thus resulting in an exceptionally powerful rhythm section.
Frontman Duncan Wallis defuses the tension of the strictly rhythmic bass and drum groove perfectly with an ‘80’s synthpop keyboard sound and his soft, calming vocal tone we all know and love. He recites lyrics that point perhaps toward mental health, but it’s always difficult to decipher his ambiguous and sometimes genderless lyrics. The approach to the vocal melody within ‘Big Balloon’ is very well executed, despite being in some ways basic. Melodically, it doesn’t venture far from what would be considered safe, but what Wallis showcases in rhythm is where the topline grasps the listener. Bearing this in mind, Wallis’ note choice, in partnership with the extended chords, manages to embellish the bass incredibly well. In this case, what he’s doing is both difficult and simple, as the bass is only playing one note (D) but in two octaves.
The structure of this song is strength in itself. The band knows how good the drum and bass intro is and how well it carries the track. With it, they know how long it can continue before it loses its novelty. Right on the cusp of waning interest, the chorus drops – rather unexpectedly, but still as driving as the previous 39 seconds of bass-driven pop. The chorus opens the song up, unveiling the hidden choir of vocal harmonies and dream-like synths that sprinkle the seemingly never-ending chord progression, solidly led by the thick, heavy bass notes. Although the guitar has been quiet up until this point, it continues the chorus somewhat with an emulation of the vocal melody, but covered in fuzz. In doing this, it helps strengthen the main focal point of the track by providing a contrast to Wallis’ smooth vocal melody with a crunchy, distorted version of the melody.
If the single ‘Big Balloon’ is anything to go by in relation to the upcoming album, we’re in for a serious treat.
‘Big Balloon’, the fifth studio album from Dutch Uncles, drops on the 17th of February 2017 on Memphis Industries. The single is available now; stream it below. You can find dates to the supporting tour in the new year here. For much more TGTF goodness on Dutch Uncles, go here.
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