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An Americana band from Sheffield? Can that be a genuine thing? As it turns out, the answer is a resounding yes. With the release of their second full-length album, The Payroll Union have established themselves as serious contenders in the indie folk genre as well as honing a more specific proficiency in analyzing U.S. history by using a style of music that is typically associated with America. The band’s first two EPs, ‘Underfed and Underpaid’ and ‘Your Obedient Servant’, both released in 2011, established the foundational exploration of American history that continues to inform their work, including 2013 debut LP ‘The Mule and The Elephant’ and their new album ‘Paris of America’.
The album’s title refers to the city of Philadelphia, nicknamed the “Athens of America” for its cultural and political atmosphere in the time period immediately following the American Revolution. Philadelphia’s history took a violent turn in the so-called ‘riot era’ of the 1830s and 1840s, when eruptions of hostility and aggression fed by racial, social and economic upheaval agitated the city in what might be considered aftershocks of the revolution in France some 50 years earlier. The Payroll Union’s academic and artistic endeavours in the making of ‘Paris of America’ were supported by the Arts Enterprise project at the University of Sheffield, which led the band’s lead singer and songwriter Pete David to collaborate with filmmakers, illustrators, other musicians and most notably historian Dr. Andrew Heath, on a project titled ‘Faith and Fear in Philadelphia’.
Thematically, the songs on ‘Paris of America’ take an alternative and character-specific approach to illustrating the anguish and turmoil of the time period, telling deeply emotional stories with careful and fascinating attention to detail. Musically, there is a strong and unsettling sense of dramatic tension throughout the album. Anxiously persistent bass and percussion rhythms buttress piercing electric guitar riffs and the deep, menacing baritone of David’s vocals, which are particularly effective in the recurrent moments of fire and brimstone imagery.
The album’s opening track ‘The Ballad of George Shiffler’ takes on the passionate perspective of Nativist militants vowing revenge for the killing of one of their young members in an anti-Catholic riot. The final verse is a broad call to arms, “do not remain in mourning long, the fighting does not cease / we’ll pull down every headstone, whether commodore or priest / so sing this song for years to come, George Shiffler is his name / a gentleman, American, who fought the papists’ claim”, while the chorus, “we light the sky” is an anthemic rallying cry.
While most of the tracks on ‘Paris of America’ are forcefully immediate in their passion and fervor, ‘Winter of ‘41’ is, by necessity, a bit more introspective, though no less dramatic than the others, as it details author James Fennimore Cooper’s account of an unusually long and bitterly cold winter that brought Philadelphia to a standstill. The song’s slow 8-minute evolution starts with a delicate, ethereal keyboard melody under through-composed verses that seem somehow appropriate to the poetry of the time period: “The winter of ’41, it lasted oh so long, it lasted through the spring / we almost weakened in the frost, frozen in our fear, paralysed by loss”.
First single ‘The Mission Field’ is the jaded narrative of a Protestant minister, who points out the sin and depravity of the people he is tasked to save. The turbulent percussion tumbles through his multifaceted examination of how civil unrest has affected the city of Philadelphia, exposing personal flaws to daylight and judgment before descending into a chaotic milieu of background vocals.
After exploring the growing divide between Philadelphia’s social classes in ‘Wo Unto Sodom’ and ‘Blood or Bread’, the album looks ahead in history to an even greater period of unrest, the American Civil War. Its final track is a resigned and melancholy piano ballad called ‘The 6th’, which refers to a regiment of black soldiers who volunteered to join the fight for their freedom.
As you have probably already deduced, ‘Paris of America’ isn’t an album designed for casual Sunday afternoon listening. Though the songs fully elucidate the context of historical drama and tension all on their own, their sophisticated level of detail will likely inspire, or indeed require, a bit of background research for listeners who are unfamiliar. The Payroll Union have with this album proved a remarkably high level of dedication to both the intellectual and emotional aspects of their craft with character portrayals that are both historically accurate and, at the heart of it all, profoundly human.
The Payroll Union’s second album ‘Paris of America’ is out now via Backwater Collective.
It’s very important not to confuse Kieran Leonard, our subject here, with Kiran Leonard, his Mancunian almost-namesake. Five-letter Kiran is a precocious peddler of psych-beat in the grand Liverpool tradition yet to hit his twenties. Six-letter Kieran débuted in 2010 with ‘Jerusalem’, a spectacular 6-minute takedown of contemporary British foreign policy, sounding as if Damien Rice was born in Hampshire and a regular viewer of Question Time. He’s not been slack in the meantime, releasing 2012’s collection ‘Out Of Work Astronaut’, and he’s back right now with new single ‘Underwood Milk’ under the artist name Kieran Leonard and the Horses.
This time he’s left the acoustic guitar at home: in its acoustic-electric wall of guitars, parping Farfisa and slap-backed vocals, the vibe is early-’90s revivalist (join the queue) college rock, which matches his bleached Cobain hair and heart-shaped shades, but admirably Leonard manages to throw in some surrealist lyrics (“I dreamt I was being harassed by a very large cat in a surgical mask”), and of course the whole thing is a play on Dylan Thomas’ gently surreal 1954 drama Under Milk Wood. Quite a novel combination.
In a bid to acquire household-name status, Leonard supported The Strokes and Beck at last week’s Hyde Park gigs, and apparently has a roll call of famous friends for every occasion: choose between fragrant (Lana Del Rey), broken (Dave Grohl), grumpy (Ryan Adams) and pious (Father John Misty). The sweary B-side to ‘Underwood Milk’, ‘Holy Shit’, was recorded at the latter’s wedding, which shows just how well they get on. Given his literary pretensions, ability to vary his style, and biz connections, talents, the overused epithet ‘one to watch’ could easily be applied to Leonard. Catch him at the excellent Standon Calling Festival 2015 at the end of July.
‘Underwood Milk’, the new single from Kieran Leonard and his new act Kieran Leonard and the Horses, is out today on Fierce Panda Records. Read Carrie’s Bands to Watch on Leonard solo here.
Header photo by Ben Morse
In anticipation of the release of his sixth studio album, Frank Turner has recently unveiled the video for a brand new track called ‘The Next Storm’. If this song is any indication, the eagerly awaited new album, titled ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’, will be a much more uplifting affair than his previous LP, 2013’s ‘Tape Deck Heart’. Indeed, the other songs from the new album that Turner previewed earlier this year at SXSW 2015 seem to be written from a much more positive frame of mind than heartwrenching songs like ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and even the rollicking ‘Recovery’, both from ‘Tape Deck Heart’.
‘The Next Storm’ is a typically Frank Turner track, with energetic rhythms and straightforward lyrics, but it does have a surprisingly different flavor from what Turner has already put on offer as appetizers for our hungry palates. Its refrain of “I don’t want to spend the whole my life indoors / lay low, and waiting on the next storm / I don’t want to spend the whole my life inside / I wanna step out and face the sunshine” has a definite air of determination about it, while the rolling piano and the backing chorus of “rejoice, rejoice” give the song a jubilantly euphoric, though very slight, gospel rock tinge.
The presumably symbolic video for ‘The Next Storm’ features scenes of Turner duking it out in the boxing ring with WWE champion C.M. Punk, interspersed with typically energetic performance shots of Turner and his backing band The Sleeping Souls. Turner takes a hefty beating in the ring, with Sleeping Souls drummer Nigel Powell in a cameo as the match referee declaring him down for the count, but he bounces back in the end to shake hands with his victorious opponent. Though Turner has clearly taken a tough loss, he appears to come away stronger for the experience.
‘The Next Storm’ will be released on the 3rd of August as the first single from ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’. The album itself will be released on the 7th of August on Polydor Records. You can read our previous coverage of Frank Turner, including his shows at SXSW earlier this year and his upcoming November UK tour dates, right back here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 23rd June 2015 at 12:00 pm
From the last video off their second album ‘Exile’ released in 2013, it’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, aka London synthpop duo Hurts. So imagine me on a hot Sunday night when I’m minding my own business, scanning my Twitter feed, and my jaw drops to the floor when I’ve seen Hutchcraft drop the news that Hurts’ third album ‘Surrender’ is on its way in October. Oh, and by the way, in case you missed it a couple weeks ago, here’s the promo video to the first single ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, give it a go, eh?
As I hadn’t heard the single before watching the video, there’s no escaping commenting on the unusual and disturbing storyline of the video. The action focusses on a strange gathering in someone’s house, and while everyone seems to be drinking the same punch and is weirdly happy and placid, there’s definitely something off here, something straight out of Jonestown. Also included are scenes of Hutchcraft running down a dirt road, away from a speeding car – the automobile equivalent to the suspenseful crop-duster chase scenes Cary Grant endures in North by Northwest – and across a darkened forest with nothing to light the way except vehicle headlights trained on him, poised on his every move, as if he’s just escaped prison or a concentration camp. Unsettling. What’s even weirder is that for most of the house scenes, he’s inside the house being urged on by a creepy older man who appears to be the charismatic leader of this group, but the promo begins and ends with him looking on at the activities of the people in the house as if he’s detached from the proceedings.
Musically, the song is a step away from the anthemic overtones of ‘Somebody to Die For’ off of ‘Exile’. This is dark but still pure pop, written with the intention of being featured on Radio 1. To Hutchcraft’s credit, when you tease some of the lyrics away from the incredibly catchy melody, do do dos and the tribal rhythm of the bridge, they stand alone as pretty poetic: “I don’t need hell to make me scared of love / I don’t need a symphony to sing my song / there’s a choir of angels deep inside my lungs.” Heaven and hell are familiar themes to Hurts, having already broached the subject in earlier tearjerker ‘Sunday’, but the tragic end felt less forced and more beautiful in ‘Sunday’. Maybe ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ and its style are just symptomatic of the way pop music is going these days?
Still, damn, this is catchy. Welcome back, Hurts. You have been missed. Bring on the ‘Surrender’…
‘Surrender’, the third album from Hurts, will be released on the 9th of October on Sony. If you pre-order the album, you’ll get the single ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ as a download instantly. For past coverage on Hurts on TGTF over their last two albums, head this way.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 22nd June 2015 at 12:00 pm
When we first heard Manchester’s Everything Everything’s first single ‘MY KZ UR BF’, it was clear they were a band who weren’t going to follow anyone else’s lead. Their debut album ‘Man Alive’ was a watershed moment in indie, their percussive, off kilter sound catching the eyes and ears of the 2010 Mercury Prize nominating committee. Follow-up ‘Arc’, which followed in January 2013, continued their raison d’etre to push sonic boundaries, but maybe not with the same success. Here in June 2015, the group have returned with their third album ‘Get to Heaven’, and just as we usher in summer festival season, Everything Everything have already surfaced at their live appearances nattily dressed in matching suits, as if aping the Temptations. Hmm…
Speaking about the new album to NME, Jonathan Higgs said the effort was borne out of the uncertain, worrisome time it was written in: “I think you’d have to be blind and deaf to have lived through 2014 and not shed a tear. If you put out a record this year and it’s all smiles, then I think you’re a liar, basically.” Going on that statement, it’s not surprising at all that ‘Get to Heaven’ is both jarring to the ears and challenging. The question then is, is this an album that you’ll want to queue up start to finish again? Is it a summer must-have? Without a doubt, it definitely sounds different from ‘Arc’, much more muscular and energetic than the more dour, introspective moments we heard on the last record.
The earliest revealed singles from Everything Everything’s third album prove their continued excellence in writing a hit pop song. The bounce of ‘Distant Past’, owing much to its powerful drums, funky bass line and Higgs’ trademark staccatoed, MC-style lyrical delivery, is an earworm of the highest calibre. Going back to that mention above about their new look as a 21st century Temps, the harmonies of ‘Regret’ have a gospel feel, while Higgs leads the proceedings with his lilting falsetto in the chorus. The overall effect is mesmerising.
‘Spring / Summer / Winter / Dread’ surprised me the most on this record, as musically it’s the band’s most overtly mainstream pop effort to date. If it weren’t for the words where Higgs accuses “I know what you are / a thief and a murderer too / you stole the face that you wear / from a craven baboon”, with the kind of synth action it has, it would feel at home on a Bastille album. And the tune ends with a guitar lick Eddie Van Halen would be proud of. Where the heck did that come from? Maybe that was meant to echo the underlying sentiment of wanting rebellion. Another standout on ‘Get to Heaven’ is opening track ‘To the Blade’, which has both moments of gentleness and in your face freneticism.
Much of this album is, as alluded to earlier by Higgs’ quote to the NME, unsettling to the listener. ‘Fortune 500’ has a sinister bent towards the Royal Family, yet with a weirdly New Wave-y way, with synths more to the foreground than its percussion. ‘The Wheel (Is Turning Now)’ is rappy, buzzy, skittish, hitting out at blind politicians leading the blind. “I’m going to kill a stranger / so don’t you be a stranger / oh baby, it’s all right / it’s all right to feel / like a fat child in a pushchair / old enough to run / old enough to fire a gun” are probably going to be the defining lyrics of this album, and eerily so that the release date is just days after the Charleston Emanuel AME church massacre, but what the band was getting at writing ‘No Reptiles’ was the insanity of emotional detachment from what we should be feeling when horrors are committed against our fellow man.
And that’s the point of ‘Get to Heaven': to get you, the listener, to stand up and take notice, if not get angry, go out there and really do something about the injustices you see. While it’s admirable for its moral focus, it’s not exactly light fare for the summer lyrically. I commend Everything Everything on is having written an interesting record that on the surface is enticing rhythmically, and if one in 20 young people listening to their songs on Radio 1 is inspired by their music, then they should consider it a job well done.
Everything Everything’s third album ‘Get to Heaven’ is out on today on RCA. Catch them on tour in November in the UK. For all our past coverage of the band on TGTF, right this way.
New Music Fridays is the name for the new global release date of all albums and singles. The move, which comes into effect from Friday, the 10th of July 2015, is being implemented by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents the worldwide recording industry. The introduction of New Music Fridays is taking place in 45 recorded music markets worldwide. Only 11 of these markets currently release music on a Friday.
So, why is the change being introduced? Currently, albums and singles are released in the UK and France on Mondays and in America and Canada on Tuesdays, while consumers in Australia and Germany have to wait until Friday to get their hands on the latest releases. Not only does this cause frustration for music fans when other parts of the world can access new releases before them, but this old system no longer makes sense in today’s digital world. IFPI believe that the move will benefit artists who want to harness social media to promote their new music, creating an opportunity to reignite the excitement and sense of occasion.
In the UK, the introduction of New Music Fridays is causing some major changes to the way in which the Official UK Top 40 is announced. The Official Chart Show, which is currently broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on a Sunday, will move to a new slot on a Friday evening, where it will be hosted by new show presenter Greg James.
The move has gained approval from some big names in the music industry, including Edgar Berger, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment. He described the move as “good news for music fans everywhere”, saying, “Today’s recorded music industry operates in an increasingly borderless world. Hits can come from anywhere and spread everywhere. Some superstars have already launched their albums simultaneously worldwide, now all artists will be able to reach their global fan bases on the same day.”
New Music Fridays has also received backing from retailers, including HMV. Paul McGowan, chief executive at Hilco (owners of HMV), said of the change, “It’s a big opportunity for us to get music fans into our stores, and it’s something I hope gets full support from across our industry. New Music Fridays will get music to the high street when people hit the high street. As the UK’s leading entertainment retailer, that makes perfect sense for us and our customers.”
Streaming services such as Deezer and Spotify are also supporting the move. Hans-Holger Albrecht, the CEO of Deezer, said, “Deezer welcomes New Music Fridays and the sense of occasion it will bring to the release of new music. Deezer’s editors are primed to make Friday the new start to their week to help people wherever they are make that exciting new discovery, just in time for the weekend.”
New Music Fridays begins on Friday, the 10th of July. All new albums and singles will be released at 00:01 local time. Further information on the new initiative can be found on the New Music Fridays Web site.
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