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Header photo by Andrew Zaeh
Allison and Catherine Pierce, known collectively as The Pierces, are one of the more established acts in a recent series of sister bands on the alternative rock scene. (You can find previous TGTF coverage here.) Following the same path as bands like Haim, Heathers, and First Aid Kit, The Pierces have refined their songwriting skills and natural propensity for seamless vocal harmony into a hybrid blend of folk structure and rock instrumentation. After touring their 2011 breakthrough album ‘You & I’, the Alabama natives relocated to Los Angeles, where they sampled the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca and soaked in the local Laurel Canyon sound.
The title track to The Pierces’ latest album ‘Creation’ reveals that the California experience has added some striking new elements to the pair’s musical style. The shimmering percussion and echoing yodel of the backing vocals conjure up imagery of spirit journeys through the desert, while bright, mellow instrumental melodies evoke warm West Coast sunshine.
The structure and lyrics of the admittedly singable chorus, “You live, you learn, you laugh, you cry”, will inevitably bring to mind Alanis Morissette’s 1995 single ‘You Learn’, at least for those of us who came of age with ‘Jagged Little Pill’. But while the overall message of the two songs might be the similar, the mood and musical language are entirely different. The Pierces’ lilting vocals and placidly atmospheric instrumental effects are certainly easier on the ears than anything Morissette ever released.
‘Creation’, The Pierces’ fifth studio album, is due for release on the 1st of September via Polydor Records, along with its title-track single.
Jon Allen is a relative latecomer to the music biz – he released his début album ‘Dead Man’s Suit’ in 2009 at the ripe old age of 32. It’s been 3 years since 2011’s blues-influenced, Jools Holland-approved ‘Sweet Defeat’, but Allen is back, slightly wrinklier and considerably hairier, with ‘Deep River’, released this month. The mournful live version ‘Falling Back’ is free to watch, and it’s a corker of a thing, beautifully played, with nary a second of wasted space in the arrangement. There’s some card game metaphors in there, but surely he’s too upset to have just lost a few quid.
Allen has an uncanny knack for mimicking a plethora of rock ‘n’ roll legends. ‘Down By the River’ sounds for all the word like a long-lost Rod Stewart hit from 1972. Swing-blues ‘Fire in My Heart’ wouldn’t be out of place in Clapton’s canon, perhaps released in his millennial revival period. There are echoes of José Gonzales’ glassy nylon-string fingerpicking, and even, in the Hammond organ washes and mid-tempo strumming, hints of Pink Floyd’s later years.
All of which means if one fancies an evening with one of the great folk-rock performers, but can’t decide which one, then don’t despair. Put on something by Jon Allen, or even better, go and and see him live, and he’ll run you through some originals that sound just like the real thing. Which is no mean feat indeed.
Allen tours the UK in October and November. ‘Deep River’ is out now on Monologue Records.
Small, intimate festivals are as common as poorly thought out Ed Sheeran being named most important act in black and urban music jokes.
They’re quite literally ten a penny. If that penny was actually £150…
So finding a festival which has sprung from the humblest beginnings, with a purpose and a drive that is simply the sheer love of music is relatively pleasing. 2000 Trees is a festival with an immense amount of heart and started by six mates who became disillusioned with the mainstream festival circuit. They were sick to death of the over-inflated ticket prices, the overzealous commercialism and the alienated feel they left with. With a Glastonbury ticket setting you back £210, with the addition of some nonsensical booking fee that is rising at a rate comparable to the rise of Isis, it’s understandable that some people would become disillusioned. But instead of moaning about it, the lads got together in 2007 and started 2000 Trees Festival at Upcote Farm.
In its eighth year, the festival opened its doors to a maximum 5,000 people to keep things at an intimate level, and with the mantra to showcase the best in new, unsigned and underground UK bands. This year was no exception. Thursday was for the early birds and those who had cunningly booked the time off work shortly after 2000 Trees 2013 closed the gates.
For those lucky enough to have pitched up at glorious Upcote Farm on the Thursday, like myself, you would have been treated to the talents of Bristol singer/songwriter Oxygen Thief and Reading’s Ben Marwood. These acts were playing on Trees’ second stage, which a few years ago was named by fans of the festival as The Cave. The first band I got to lay eyes upon after snaking along Gloucestershire’s whirling winding country roads were Johnny Foreigner, who provided the kind of aural assault that my mind needed to forget about all the speed cameras I’d raced past with no regard for country lane speed limits.
The following 45 minutes preceded to be a jarring wave of punk-y energy, interspersed with the odd yelp from Alexei Berrow and Kelly Southern. After twelve songs, all dripping with the anti-establishment edge the band are going for Berrow cut a figure as the sweatiest man in the South of England. Possibly even the world. Berrow held no quarters as he threw himself entirely into the feel of the festival: from set-opener ‘You Can Do Better’ to the final screeches of ‘The Coast Was Always Clear’, it was a glut of anarchic energy from onstage, which is bound to get the band noticed in the next year.
For Berrow and co.’s unreserved abundance of dynamism on stage, he was rewarded with a warm seal of approval and what certainly will add up to an invite back to the farm at a more popular slot. (8/10) They rarely forget a friend here at Trees.
Johnny Foreigner’s set focussed on a sense of anarchy, whirling the crowd into a frenzy. Gnarwolves capitalised on the palpable energy throbbing from within The Cave. The first mosh pits of the weekend were extremely kind during their set, with kids pussy-footing around, bouncing up and down with wide smiles plastered across their faces. When Gnarwolves stepped up, it signalled the end of this for the foreseeable future. Elbows were flying and every man with one of those stupid bushy hipster beards immediately threw themselves into the fray to try an impress the nearest girl in short denim shorts with a display of testosterone and violence. No, Gnarwolves playing did not induce time travel, it’s just what happens when a cool skate-punk band starts roaring about how ‘Smoking Kills’.
What the Brighton based three-piece did induce, apart from the first primal displays of viciousness of the festival, was a few roaring singalongs and a big hype around one off the up and coming talents of the scene at the moment. Not only do they have a wicked cool name, but in The Cave they displayed some big tunes with a lot of pop-punk heart and just enough nautical references to differentiate them from less brutal bands like Four Year Strong. Congrats lads, now lose the gash beards. (8/10)
Headlining the Thursday evening entertainment was Dan Le Sac (pictured at top) vs. Scroobius Pip. Quick breakdown: despite the vs. in the title, nobody had a fight. Which is a shame, as I think ole Scroob could probably have the midget DJ that is Dan Le Sac, for then he’d earn twice the money (available for representation soon).
The set was a change of pace from the previous two acts though, as there was neither a guitar nor a drum kit in site. Just a man with a comical shark hat on his head (Mr. Le Sac) and a taller gentleman with one of those hipster beards – but he had one before everyone did – so he can get away with that one. I was expecting a really lively set, as Scroobius has cut a name for himself as a superb showman -the British answer to Aesop Rock or Andre 300’. Instead, it was a bit flat.
The set relied on at least a modicum of the audience knowing the lyrics to more than just one of his songs, to give it all a bit more life. With this not being the case, Scroobius ended up cutting a rather lonely figure bouncing around the small stage, as Dan Le Sac laid down the beats. For the songs where there was a bit of a call and repeat, Scroobius’ showmanship shone through and he gave the farm another taste (he headlined 2 years ago) of the kind of live show people have become accustomed to from the Essex-made rapper. (6/10)
As Dan Le Sac skipped off stage the festivities for the evening did not end there. Unless you were one of those boring old farts who almost went to bed like me.
Around the campsites – from Camp Reuben to Camp Turner – small guerrilla-style acoustic stages came to life. Singalongs ensued and even the smallest, least well-known singer-songwriter drew in sizable crowds, and enough to get a fun vibe going on. The highlight for me was on 2000 Trees’ central busking stage, where Patrick Craig delivered a collection of songs with an immense sense of heart. It was no surprise that a crowd of nearly 300 people huddled around in the small stage in the cold, as Craig passed round an empty Coke bottle full of wine. There was an immense of community right there, and the kind of vibe (god, I hate that word, but it’s the only one for the job) that epitomised what 2000 Trees is all about.
Stay tuned for more of John’s 2000 Trees coverage on TGTF soon.
Not content with being a successful yet obscurantist singer-songwriter with a penchant for self-depreciating everyday glamour, Courtney Barnett is also the proprietor of Milk! Records, the increasingly relevant Melbourne-based record label that she set up herself, rather than go to all the bother of letting someone else sign her up. A commendable effort indeed, even more so when one peruses her astute roster. Jen Cloher’s scuzzy blues-rock proves she’s got as many Lou Reed records in her collection as Rolling Stones ones. Fraser A. Gorman purveys wonderfully convincing old-time country – even more remarkable given the fact he’s Melburnian rather than Texan. Royston Vasie may not have the most original name (its third appearance in popular culture by my reckoning), but they’ve got a decent line in Dandy Warhols-esque garage-pop.
But back to Courtney. To celebrate the release of an upcoming Milk! Records compilation, she’s released ‘Pickles From the Jar’, one of the most unconventional – not to mention sweetly touching – loves songs one is likely to hear all year. Complete with false start, using the tried-and-tested White Stripes arrangement of clangy guitar and earnestly-thudded drums – she’s in love with a man who’s 15 years her senior, and culturally separated by 1,000 miles. But never fear! They bond over a shared love of Christopher Walken – an unlikely cupid, but hey, the man’s a genius, there’s nothing he can’t turn his hand to.
All the bands mentioned here are included on the compilation, to be released on the 31st of August. Their AU$5,000 funding target was crowdsourced on the very first day, but some pledges are still available. For instance, for a bargain £27, one can be the very proud owner of a signed, limited edition 10” vinyl copy. What is hugely encouraging about this project is the level of enthusiasm for artifacts – of music as object rather than transient pleasure. For instance, all three of the “Super Collector” options have sold – what you get for your £111 is a test pressing of Barnett’s second EP, a “virtually extinct” copy of a Jen Cloher / Courtney Barnett split 7”, in addition to the new 10”. That’s it. Unless it’s their parents buying them, this is one seriously hot record label right now. As is Melbourne, for that matter.
I was first introduced to Fink by fellow TGTF writer Cheryl, who described their 2011 album ‘Perfect Darkness’ as being “like a smooth whiskey”. We listened to it while getting ready to go out to a gig (I can’t remember now who we were going to see), and it occurred to me very quickly that a more apt comparison has probably never been made. Fink’s lyrics, sung by frontman Fin Greenall, are dark and bittersweet, their potent flavor quickly subdued by the deep, spreading warmth of the rhythmic groove provided by bassist Guy Whittaker and drummer/guitarist Tim Thornton.
Fink were looking to build on the success of ‘Perfect Darkness’ (reviewed by our John here) when they wrote and recorded their fifth LP ‘Hard Believer’. Once again, they decamped to Los Angeles to work with American producer Billy Bush, who also produced ‘Perfect Darkness’, at Sound Factory studios. The band have described ‘Hard Believer’ as their most collaborative effort to date; thus, I’ve chosen to use the name Fink here to refer to the full trio rather than to Greenall himself. (Watch the band’s video commentary ‘The Making of Hard Believer’ below.)
According to Ninja Tune Records, who have provided support for the album’s release, the phrase “Hard Believer” comes from the vernacular of the American South, where it refers to a person “who is difficult to persuade, who requires proof”. Musically, that Southern drawl is felt immediately in the bluesy guitar riffs and languid vocals of the title track, which you might already have heard in our previous MP3 of the Day feature.
As the album progresses, its tone shifts between artfully coaxing another person and desperately hoping to convince oneself, as in the subtle but edgy ‘2 Days Later’ and the fragile façade of ‘Looking Too Closely’ (featured earlier as a Video of the Moment). ‘Pilgrim’ pairs the provocative lyric “Come a long way / not to ask the question that’s been on your lips all the way” with a palpably anxious and harmonically dissonant rhythmic pulse. The expansive and evolving ‘Shakespeare’ reflects on the fictional tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the context of a failed romance, building from a sparse and gentle acoustic to a lush, full dynamic over the repeated phrases “Turn the pages / and learn nothing…”
Throughout the album, Fink make effective use of their usual tools: hypnotically repetitive lyrics, spellbindingly sensual rhythms and Greenall’s alluring vocals. While only a few specific moments stand out on ‘Hard Believer’, the record maintains a sense of penetrating emotional warmth and its parting impact is strong, not at all unlike the effect of a rich single malt Scotch late in the evening.
Fink‘s fifth album ‘Hard Believer’ is out now on Fin Greenall’s new label R’COUP’D.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 21st July 2014 at 12:00 pm
Even though they’re still a relatively new band, I’ve written quite a bit on London five-piece Longfellow already. Having sufficiently impressed me on the strength of early single ‘Siamese Lover’, then in person live in Austin and in conversation at SXSW 2014, I think this group have what it takes to make it.
It seems quite strange in my mind that their current release ‘Prelude’ is being hawked around as a mini-album, as if a full album designation isn’t warranted. While it has only eight tracks and some of these have already seen the light of day (singles ‘Siamese Lover’ and ‘Hug-Kiss-Make Up’), these eight tracks are very good, and although it’s only available digitally as of now, a physical release through their label Fierce Panda will follow the first week of August, just 2 weeks from now.
If you’ve been following Longfellow up to now, their music up to this point has aspired to be majestic indie rock and stadium-filling, which has drawn the band comparisons to their label’s earliest success story, Coldplay. So it is with some surprise that in ‘May the Light’ sees the group calling out to Jesus and breaking out the tambourine to go towards folk. (There is also hints of this in later number ‘Wolf Cry’.) However, that doesn’t last (sorry if that’s your thing, but it’s not my bag). Mini-album opener ‘Polaroid’ is more representative, featuring Ali Hetherington’s winning piano and James Thomas’ guitar lines at the start. Frontman Owen Lloyd’s haunting voice provides an effective counterpoint when virtually alone but melding nicely with the instrumentation in the chorus.
Newer track and album standout ‘Lullaby’ continues this trend. Lloyd’s lyrics as sung in the chorus “stitch me, heal me, help me escape my mortality / bathe me, dress me” weigh heavier than normal for pop music, but you can do nothing but simply appreciate words like these: they indicate the reliance we have for another when we’re in a relationship, and the universality of how our very existence is intertwined with another’s. The bridge of this song shows just how effective their songwriting can be, with just Hetherington’s notes on the ivories and Lloyd’s voice.
The imagery of being washed of sin, or at least the effort to be repentant, is repeated in album closer ‘The Convent’, which begins poignantly, with piano and strings. The song invokes further emotion in the chorus: “And I don’t want to be your heartbeat, I tell you all the time; maybe I’ll sleep tonight / And I don’t want to feel your breathing, pretend you’re not alive; maybe I’ll sleep tonight”. There’s certainly conflict in here, between what is right and wrong, between what feels right and what feels wrong. I have my suspicions on what this song is about, but what’s most important is that we are hearing truly heartwrenching thoughts through the voice of this sweeping song.
‘Lullaby’ and ‘The Convent’ seem to be polar opposites in mood to previous single ‘Siamese Lover’, which just begs for pogoing during the chorus. The words “standing on the edge of the world” seems to indicate there is looming danger and anxiety, but the harmonised emphasis of “don’t lose faith” leaves the listener with optimism. ‘Hug – Kiss – Make Up’, their latest single I reviewed before my last trip to England, rings with similar brightness and now that Longfellow have inked an American label deal with Brooklyn indie Ooh La La Records, with the song’s spectacular bombast, it would be my choice for their debut single here stateside.
Older song ‘Gabrielle’ (promo video at the end of this post) has a memorable melody and rhythm, but even more impressively, it manages to have lyrics that seem on the surface entirely callous with regards to the end of love: “I’m tired of life, I’m always losing / And I don’t want to see her, I just want to see her cry”. In fact are proof that the man that’s singing this to us and telling his story is hurting deeply inside. That’s what I want people take away from this (mini)album: too few musicians these days show us their hearts and make it in this business. Music that stirs true feelings within is not only important but vital to all of us. Buy ‘Prelude’ and prove to the industry just how essential music like this truly is.
‘Prelude’, the first mini-album from London band Longfellow, is out now digitally, with a physical release to follow on the 4th of August on Fierce Panda Records.
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