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When I first heard that the band that makes me weep in this awesomeness were planning a concept record, I was fearful. Were they going to go full Muse on ‘The Resistance’ and forget what made them the accessible, fucking amazing group they are now? I felt a bit queasy in that place in your tummy that goes all squirty when your boss calls you into the office with THAT look on their face… The undoubtable feeling that this could go completely arse over face…
As the build-up towards Foo Fighters’ return gathered traction, I became more and more nervous. Numerous octogenarian musicians were wheeled out for amazing cover songs. Dave and co. haven’t lost IT, but I was still feeling that sense of foreboding about the record. They hadn’t lost IT, but they may have lost their minds, retreated up their own arses and made one of those concept records which bands who have done so well tend to do when they get to this stage, Muse’s ‘The 2nd Law’ as the prime example (I’m really giving Muse a hammering lately and I love Muse. Sorry, Muse).
20:50 last Thursday night, Zane Lowe had been tickling and teasing with clips from an interview with Grohl, Shiflett, Mendel, Smear and Hawkins, and on came and the opening chords of ‘Something From Nothing’, the first track on upcoming release ‘Sonic Highways’ came on. At that point, I sighed a neurosis releasing breath of relief – the man Grohl was back, and he had in fact NOT disappeared up his own arse.
We’ve got Wayne’s World-esque guitar solos and it goes full DIY with a honky-tonk funkadelic groove. And finally, we’re furnished with the Grohl yell, “FUCK IT ALL I CAME FROM NOTHING! I’M SOMETHING FROM NOTHING / YOU ARE MY FUSE!”
It’s classic Foo all over. Whilst it isn’t a departure from the DIY sound which made ‘Wasting Light’ such a success, the song has the fundamentals of any Foo songs and is underpinned by a huge, fist-pumping chorus.
Now, the theory of an album made from stories gathered on an enormous musical road trip across the USA is an intriguing one. The sounds of the States have trickled through modern music and changed it at its very core, whether its the punk scene of Seattle or jazz and blues in New Orleans. Whether putting them together in eight songs will actually make a decent album is the question we’re still waiting for the answer for… But already the signs are looking good.
Alt-folk trio Bear’s Den have just released their much-anticipated debut album ‘Islands’, after achieving critical success with two previous EPs. Signed to acclaimed UK/US record label Communion, the band took part in the label’s Austin to Boston Tour in March 2012 on the strength of their first EP, ‘Agape’, before releasing ‘Without/Within’ in October 2013.
Now comprised of frontman Andrew Davie, drummer Kevin Jones, and guitar and banjo player Joey Haynes, Bear’s Den have been on TGTF’s radar for several years now, dating back to July 2011. But Davie cites the following year, 2012, as a major turning point for the band, starting with the recruitment of Haynes. “I got goose bumps at the first rehearsal”, he recalls. “We’ve got wildly disparate influences, but the three of us together have got real chemistry.” Then the aforementioned cross-country tour of America, beginning at SXSW 2013, saw them join the likes of fellow Communion-associated acts Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Staves. “That was the point we really bonded as a band”, acknowledges Davie.
I first encountered Bear’s Den myself when I reviewed ‘Sahara’ from the ‘Without/Within’ EP, and I was lucky enough to see their repeat appearance at SXSW 2014 earlier this year. A mere 6 months later, they have emerged with a full LP combining a handful of previously released tracks with newly composed songs, including recent singles ‘Elysium’ and ‘Above The Clouds of Pompeii’.
The album title ‘Islands’ shares its inspiration with the moniker of the band itself, as Davie reveals in the accompanying press release. He says that Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s story ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ allows “a dual perspective of seeing the world through both a kid’s and an adult’s eyes. A lot of our songs address the world in the same way. Bear’s Den is our name for the island the kid escapes to”. The island metaphor goes back to early track ‘Stubborn Beast’, included late in the tracklisting here, which Davie says “was the first song our manager heard and connected with. The isolated nature of it embodies pretty much everything we’re trying to express”.
The album’s general theme of exploring personal relationships is more straightforward in some songs than others, encompassing the idea of platonic love in opening track ‘Agape’ and the idea of an idyllic afterlife in ‘Elysium’. The child-adult dichotomy is sharply illustrated in ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’, which considers the instability of a child’s relationship to his parents. The Biblical setting of ‘Isaac’ reverses that perspective, examining the relationship of parent to child in the lyric “Isaac, I could never learn / that a father’s love must be earned / while your mother need not learn / how to love you”. The opposition is fully elucidated in the music as well, with the gradually building instrumental background of ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’ contrasting the static, introspective setting of ‘Isaac.’
The overall feel of the music on the album is atmospheric and ethereal, often lulling the listener into a trance with its subtly layered beauty. The warm acoustic sounds of ‘Agape’ and closing ballad ‘Bad Blood’ are balanced in the more progressive rock feeling of ‘The Love That We Stole’ and ‘Think of England’, but nothing on the album ever threatens to cross into the frenetic folk energy of the inevitably-compared Mumford and Sons. Davie’s calm, even lead vocals and the steady harmonies in the backing vocals give ‘Islands’ a sense of stability and continuity, providing context for a few surprising moments, including the jarring lyric “I want to fuck away all my fear” in the dynamic climax of the album ‘When You Break’.
If ‘Islands’ is a somewhat predictable full length debut, it’s only because Bear’s Den have taken plenty of time to refine their sound and their songwriting before releasing it. Here, they’ve taken what clearly works best for them and displayed it to their best advantage, combining simple folk song structures with thought-provoking lyrics and effective instrumental arrangements to create a record that is at once cohesive and expansive, appealing to both intellect and emotion.
Bear’s Den‘s debut album ‘Islands’ is out today via Communion Records / Caroline International. They will tour the UK and Ireland in early 2015; all the details can be found right here.
Photo above amen from Martin’s coverage of Kendal Calling 2014
The long, sunny days of summer festivals are now fading into distant memories. But behind the scenes things are moving apace. Autumn is the time where festivals are awarded their baubles – most toilets per head, gloopiest mud, highest concentration of dreadlocks per square mile, that sort of thing. And planning for 2015 is already under way. For those of us pining for those heady days and nights, here’s a quick update of the state of play for some of TGTF’s favourite events as we head towards the season before the season of festival season 2015. Or something.
There’s a new record for Glastonbury ticket sales, many of which sold out before they were even released, leading keen industry observers, and many physicists, to further speculate about the invention of time travel devices in the not so distant future. Which would also explain Radio 4’s spookily accurate racing tips this week. Critics of such a theory point out that surely a time travel device could be put to better use than simply jumping the queue for festival tickets. Which is a fair point, although consider involvement of Britain’s favourite pin-up physicist, Brian Cox – it all starts to make sense. If D:Ream feature on Glasto’s bill next year, the hypothesis will be considered proven.
Everyone’s favourite non-mainstream mainstream festival, Kendal Calling has been nominated for four awards at the “prestigious” UK Festival Awards. They won Best Medium Sized Festival last year, and considering this year it was only a bit bigger, they’ve got a good shot at winning again. Suede’s performance is nominated for Best Headline Performance, which it was, at least for this correspondent. I’m not so sure about Best Toilets though – cubicles with no toilet paper or sanitiser within the first hour of the festival are hardly best practice. Mr A. Loos needs to do better. They’re also nominated for Best Family Festival, which brings us neatly to…
Deer Shed Festival
Never ones to rest on their laurels, Deer Shed have announced an expanded site and an expanded time-frame, introducing Sunday night camping for the very first time. Just like every other festival then, although the lack of Sunday camping has long been an attraction for parents wanting to get their kids (and, for that matter, themselves) in a comfortable bed at a reasonable hour for school on Monday morning. It’s back to the past for the first band announcement, which sees Dave Gedge’s Yorkshire indie pioneers The Wedding Present back for their first gig since headlining the first ever Shed. Early bird tickets are on sale today, Friday the 10th of October, at the bargainacious price of £89, so don’t delay if you like punky indie on the hottest North Yorkshire weekend of the year.
PS The Wedding Present are releasing several of their back catalogue recordings as multi-disc sets this October. With previously unreleased audio, TV footage, and ‘ephermera’, these will be for completists only. It’s nice to know there are still some out there.
Liverpool Sound City
And finally… Sound City have opened the application process for bands wishing to play the event in 2015. So for any readers with an unrequited passion to play at a world-renowned career-launching industry event, get your applications in without delay. You can’t fare any worse than Willy Moon.
Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis have a new collaboration. ‘Frozen By Sight’ combines Brewis’ formidable musical chops with Smith’s rum lyrics, inspired by, or possibly lifted verbatim from, notes collected on his travels. Which amounts to some jazz-rock noodling overlaid with Smith’s momentously banal observations. There’s more than a whiff of Grauniad-endorsed chin-stroking implied here, with a side order of 6th-form pretension: imagine your least favourite uncle’s holiday slide show commentary with a soundtrack by Creme Brulée from The League of Gentlemen and you’re in the right ballpark.
‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’ comes first. Ignore the ugly Americanism “exiting” and focus on the fact that the story largely comprises Smith hanging around in a London park observing a chap taking a phone call, meeting up with his girlfriend (who, it is noted, is wearing pink flip-flops), and wandering off into the distance. And there was I hoping for some incisive social commentary. ‘Barcelona (At Eye Level)’ is similarly dramaless – some people wander around the marina and lightning flashes a few times. Why did Gaudi bother?
Having said all that, as you might expect Brewis is as strong as ever, intertwining delicate yet assertive strings throughout his arrangements, showcasing the south-of-Tyne sounds we’ve come to know and love – big, thudding ’70s-style drums, fluid time signatures ebbing and flowing as required, and meaty, up-front production. Smith is known for his, as Yoko Ono would put it, “moon, spoon, june” lyrical style, so it’s quite pleasant to hear him take a more stream-of-consciousness approach here, which suits the meandering nature of the soundtrack and indeed the concept as a whole. And to be fair they do deliver on the concept – Smith has frozen a moment in time by visual observation, and baldly recorded it in a literary form halfway between prose and poetry, rather than a more conventional medium – that of photography, say.
Both tracks essentially desperately want to be ‘A Day in the Life’, and whilst Brewis does have a good stab at that multi-movemented style of orchestral pop, sadly Smith is no Paul McCartney when it comes to telling a story. He’s far too literal, lacking any sense of the fantastic, not letting his imagination intervene in his transcriptions of the day-to-day goings-on he observes. A decent dose of fancy, perhaps a tinge of psychedelia, or a few thousand conceptual holes, would have helped him climb out of a literal, lyrical one. But it will in all likelihood make a decent live happening, so for those of you lucky enough to live in London, Manchester or Gateshead (coincidentally the finest three cities in the UK), their live show is coming to you in December.
‘Frozen By Sight’ is due to be released on the 17th of November on Memphis Industries. The three-date English tour is set to take place in mid-December; all the details are here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 7th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
From his very first single ‘Better Man Than He’ with a promo video filmed from inside an MRI machine, it was clear that Sivu would be an artist with a difference. Early on in his career, Page’s sound under his moniker Sivu was described by many as ‘eclectic’, and while using this adjective to describe his music is good, I don’t think the one word does his style justice. What makes ‘Something on High’, Sivu’s debut album for Atlantic Records, particularly of interest is that no two songs on this 11-track album sound alike, yet with successive tune, you’re drawn further into his world of fragility and poignancy.
Known to his mum as James Page, like many young people wanting a change of scenery, the singer/songwriter left Cambridgeshire for the bright lights of London. As might be expected for sensitive souls such as his, the transition took an emotional toll on him, causing him to reflect on the meaning of life and an individual’s place in this world. It’s one of the reasons not to be surprised that a major theme of the LP is the finding of and acceptance of the fragile, tender beauty of life in desperate, lonely situations. If that sounds pretty despondent, it is. But it is meant to be, reminding you of the painful cries of Daughter’s Elena Tonra on ‘Landfill’ and ‘Smother’, leaving you wondering why Communion didn’t snap up Page for their illustrious roster. (He also happens to be touring as the main support for another Communion artist, the Mercury Prize-nominated Nick Mulvey, starting on Friday.) Was he just too out there, too weird? But that’s a conversation for another time…
The album is peppered liberally with Sivu’s past successful singles and EP contents, which makes the whole affair a treasure trove for new fans to discover anew while providing a handy. Remarkably upbeat past single ‘Can’t Stop Now’ comes in at the fifth position on this album and provides a good dose of levity. ‘Better Man Than He’, with its oddly comforting repeated “lo lo los”, was written by Page about a friend’s troubles, but it has a wonderful everyman feeling, “we’ll find faith in the most magical of places / and find home in the smallest of rooms / we’ll find life in the most barren of faces / we’ll touch Christ in impending doom”.
It is probably now time to note that while I don’t think he planned on it specifically, religion is another natural theme on this album, as existentialism and mortality are explored in this past summer’s brilliant single ‘Miracle (Human Error)’ I reviewed back in June. The allegory of Noah’s Ark specifically is used as a plot device in previous EP title track ‘Bodies’, with the mesmerising rhythm and Page’s sweeping melodic vocal sonically conjuring up the image of looming, destructive floodwaters as a metaphor for wiping the slate clean and starting over in life.
And there are even more brilliant gems beyond these, all eliciting the purest of emotions. ‘Sleep’ is the self-deprecating, 2014 sister to the Smiths’ ‘Sing Me to Sleep’, with the tear-jerky lyrics “I’m a cruel, cold-hearted waste of space / now let me sleep so I can slip away” quite possibly going beyond in the waterworks stakes than Morrissey’s own. Album opener ‘Feel Something’ seems to speak to society’s tendency for indifference, or at least indifference on the surface with hiding all true feelings inside. (Sounds a bit like typical English stiff upper lip, eh?) When Page croons, “’cause I don’t really care if you break me / I’m reading signals in the dark that’s gonna find and take me down to our death”, you’d have to be a stone not to feel an ache deep within your heart. Loneliness and the desire to reach out and touch base with someone far away, either physically or emotionally, is examined wonderfully in ‘Communicate’, as the soft strings and other instrumentation beautifully frame Page’s falsetto.
Page has said the title of this album, ‘Something on High’, was inspired by the Vincent Van Gogh painting ‘Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate)'; the Dutch artist completed the work 2 months before committing suicide. He has said he chose the album title not for its religious overtones but to reflect the personal self-doubt and uncertainty he felt while he was writing the songs in unfamiliar surroundings. However, taking into account the final product that will be out in the shops next week, Page should be proud of his art and confident that the truest sentiments he has put into his music will find many new fans able to relate to and eagerly embrace those feelings.
‘Something on High’, the debut album from Sivu, is out next Monday, the 13th of October, on Atlantic Records. Page himself offers up a track by track analysis of the album below. He will be playing a headline show at London Oslo Hackney next Tuesday, the 14th of October; he also begins an opening slot as primary support for Nick Mulvey on his UK tour starting Friday in Falmouth.
It almost seems irrelevant to write a review of Hozier‘s self-titled debut album at this point. His hit track ‘Take Me to Church’ has been all over radio and internet for months now, and the song’s themes of sexuality and rebellion against institutionalised religion have been discussed ad nauseum. He’s previously released two EPs, ‘Take Me to Church’ and ‘From Eden’ (the latter previously reviewed here), which contain the bulk of the material on the full album, as well as several individual tracks and videos. But, if you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 6 months and haven’t heard about Hozier, now’s the time to come out and have a listen.
The album opens with the dramatic ‘Take Me to Church’, which despite its predictability is a strong choice, as it foreshadows the musical and emotional themes Hozier explores in the rest of the songs. The strong blues and gospel influence sets the sonic tone, and the two repeats of the ‘Amen’ section still give me the same goosebumps I experienced when I heard him perform the song live at SXSW earlier this year. Both this song and second track ‘Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene’ both reference the literary idea of la petite mort, or small death, which is often used as a metaphor for orgasm. Perhaps as important, however, as the sensual connotation is the subtler implication of having a deep emotional experience, and the music later on the album is nothing if not emotional.
Along with the prevalent religious themes in many of his lyrics, Hozier also employs a distinctly gospel sound in the backing vocals on several tracks, including the sultry ‘Work Song’ and the more pop-oriented ‘Sedated’. The upbeat track ‘Jackie and Wilson’ is Hozier’s wink and nod to his musical influences, with the playful final chorus line, “we’ll name our children Jackie and Wilson / raise ‘em on rhythm and blues”. But the earlier lyric in the chorus “with my mid-youth crisis all said and done / I need to be youthfully felt, ‘cos God I never felt young” might be more telling, as the depth in his songwriting belies his youthful age.
As the album progresses, several interesting facets of Hozier’s work come more sharply into focus. The album versions of ‘To Be Alone’ and ‘From Eden’ are more refined than the EP releases, with the howling chorus of the former shifted exquisitely to the backing vocals and the bridge section of the latter featuring an interesting string and percussion arrangement that fits perfectly with the song’s serpentine lyrics.
Along with the lyrically Romantic (note the capital R) ‘From Eden’, the album includes three tracks that might have been considered art songs if they were taken out of context, due to their emphasis on the vocal melodies and poetic imagery. ‘In a Week’, featured in a live performance here, is a delicate but earthy take on eternal love, performed as a haunting duet with Karen Cowley of Wyvern Lingo. ‘Like Real People Do’ is a gentle ballad, with a perpetually rocking rhythmic motion and angelically blended backing vocals between the verses. ‘Cherry Wine’ closes the album with a deceptively sweet finger-picked guitar melody and ambient birdsong behind its passionate lyrics.
Overall, the album is an intriguing mix of styles, blending the raw sensuality of the blues with the immediacy of rock and the tempered sensitivity of folk and classical song. Hozier’s fundamental idea of death as a dramatic reference reminds me of the Death Gospel genre explored most notably by American singer/songwriter Adam Arcuragi, who described the concept as “anything that sees the inevitability of death as a reason to celebrate all the special wonder that is being alive and sentient”. It’s unusual in this era of ephemeral pop music to hear such lofty intellectual artistic ideas receiving air play on mainstream radio, but Hozier presents them on this album in an impressive display of his blossoming musical prowess.
Hozier‘s eponymous debut album is out today on Rubyworks / Island Records.
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