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At a time when the term apathy is almost an outlawed word in Scotland, it’s ironic that an album by a band from north of Hadrian’s Wall inspires an overwhelmingly apathetic feeling within me. From the beginning of We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third outing ‘Unravelling’ – barring sparse sections of the record – all I could think was what else I could be doing rather than listen to this record.
Maybe I’ll listen to the new We Are the Ocean song ‘ARK’. That’s been buzzing around my head nicely for a while. Or perhaps I’ll try and write a feature piece on that BBC Music cover creation of ‘God Only Knows’, to delve into the madness where they put Dave Grohl in the same vein as (definition of flash in the pan) Sam Smith. Or perhaps I’ll listen to that 30-second snippet of the new Foo Fighters album in the documentary promo.
For me, those thoughts gave the underlying impression of an album that failed to do what I demand from music. It neither grabbed me, nor did it take me on a journey, nor did it inspire any poignant emotion within me – barring apathy – if that can be classified as a discernable emotion. I didn’t feel it was truly experimental either; there was nothing which jumped out and grabbed me and made me think, nobody else is doing that at the moment.
The record truly just doesn’t get going until quarter of an hour in, despite flecks of promise at the end of LP opener ‘Safety in Numbers’. ‘Night Terror’ at least had enough about to wake me from the faux-slumber I drifted into at the top of the album. Perhaps I was expecting too much? But when the NME call their second album “Punchy, literate guitar music”, I expect a bit of punch before around 25 minutes into the blooming thing. ‘A Part of It’ starts off with a bit of bite and vigour, almost enough to nudge me awake from my stasis.
From the brilliantly angst-ridden breakout record of ‘These Four Walls’, We Were Promised Jetpacks showed a great promise in the brilliantly honest songwriting that underpinned the power of their debut outing. Despite their being an almost overwhelming sense of anxiety throughout ‘Unravelling’, this album just doesn’t hit the emotional highs and lows that predecessors have found the note on. As far as British post-rock is going, the group looked certain to push their way to the forefront, but this album despite having all the sheen of a brilliant production and some slick guitar work just feels a little underwhelming.
I just thought a band with the word ‘jetpacks’ in the title may be a little more exciting with maturity, but even after ‘Unravelling’, I still think we’re waiting for lift-off.
Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third album ‘Unravelling’ is out now on FatCat Records. Read Mary’s review of previous single ‘I Keep It Composed’ here.
When an artist’s debut album garners a Mercury Prize nomination and two Brit Awards, following it up with a second full release must seem a monumental proposition. Undaunted by his early success with 2011’s ‘Every Kingdom’, Ben Howard has succeeded in not only fulfilling but exceeding the expectations he set forth for himself with his new release, ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Where ‘Every Kingdom’ alternated between quiet introspection and uptempo folk-pop, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ takes a darker, more dramatic turn, replacing carefully crafted hooks with broader instrumental sections and an extended sonic palette.
Produced once again by drummer Chris Bond, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ is more pared back than the lengthy ‘Every Kingdom’, but the individual songs on the new album are characteristically expansive, with 7 of the 10 tracks exceeding the 5-minute mark. Most notable among those is the epic ‘End of the Affair’. Though it appears late in the overall sequence, the early single release of this song set the tone for the album, swapping Howard’s usual warm acoustic instrumental setting for one based in the echoes of electric guitars. Which is not to say that the song lacks emotional connection; indeed Howard’s rasping vocals drip with the sad bitterness of his lyrics. Each repeat of the chorus – “living without her / living at all / seems to slow me down / living forever / hell, I don’t know / do I care, do I care / the thunder’s rumbled sound” – is more anguished building into the frenetic, breathtaking coda.
The evocatively reverberant electric guitar riff of opening track ‘Small Things’ introduces the new sound without preface, offsetting the ominous vocal line of the chorus, “has the world gone mad or is it me? / all these small things, they gather round me”. The deep angst in the closing instrumental section segues flawlessly into the driving beat of second track ‘Rivers in Your Mouth’. Title track and recent single ‘I Forget Where We Were’ is more rock than folk with its wailing guitars and crashing cymbals. The electric guitar solo in the bridge section perfectly illustrates the growing dissonance and despair of a relationship starting to unravel.
Among the howling guitars and propulsive drums, Howard weaves in hints of his signature acoustic folk sound. The rhythmic finger-picked guitar figure of ‘In Dreams’ is both ethereal and portentously energetic, matched with a moaning hum in the backing vocals and and a bowed string countermelody. ‘She Treats Me Well’ is a soulful acoustic ballad whose slight blues inflection grows stronger as its equally blues-tinged lyrics play out.
Amazingly, the songs on ‘I Forget Where We Were’ maintain their high level of intensity and focus into the second half of the album. ‘Evergreen’ pinpoints the distant wintery chill that characterises most of the record, the lyric “there in the lights you said something, but I can’t remember what” capturing the essence of memory that is fading, yet still haunting in its emotion. In standout track ‘Conrad’, Howard makes lyrical reference to Polish-English author Joseph Conrad, comparing his former lover to the breached ship in Conrad’s ‘Lord Jim’ and his protagonist to the novel’s title character. Closing track ‘All is Now Harmed’ continues the theme of disillusionment, but returns to a more sensual musicality, building to a soaring instrumental dynamic with the repeated chorus “what is in your nature looms inside your blood / hold me in harm’s wake, baby, all is now harmed”.
Thematically, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ combines restrained intellect with a sense of slow-burning emotion just below the surface. It’s not as heart-on-sleeve as ‘Every Kingdom’, but musically, it has more edge, more bite. Howard has refined his songwriting to the point where every sonic choice has definite musical or emotional intent, and the concentrated tracklisting allows each song to deliver its full emotional impact. It’s rare to hear a sophomore album more powerful than its hit predecessor debut, especially one as critically acclaimed as ‘Every Kingdom’, but Howard has truly outdone himself here.
‘I Forget Where We Were’ by Ben Howard is out now on Universal/Island Records. Howard will embark on a sold out tour of the UK and Ireland in December.
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.
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