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Album Review: Monterey – Sailors EP

 
By on Tuesday, 25th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Some things are better raw. A good steak at a French restaurant, par exemple – I believe the phrase is, walk the cow past a fire and cut a bit off. Sushi, being raw fish, is also of course best enjoyed raw. Music at its most raw is normally found during an artist’s infancy, when the band are too down on their arse to afford any frills and fancy production techniques. Or when they have a Foo Fighters-esque renaissance and decide to record everything on analogue in a garage.

Monterey are the former: a band starting out in every way. Even in their stock band photos, the three-piece look a bit awkward and a bit clumsy, as if you can hear their psyche telling them, “just try and look as normal as you can. Oh, make sure that bump in your jeans doesn’t look like you’ve got a rod-on too”. It’s almost as if you’ve asked a cartoon to ‘act casual’ and of course they’re going to either smoke a pipe or look as contrived as possible. But enough of those quasi-awkward situations.

Contrived is as far from where Monterey sits on the scale of genuineness. The lyrics are all brutally honest and relatable, yet without being patronising. From the onset of ‘Can’t Live Like This’, frontman Carter Henry paints a brilliant everyman picture as the band strives to hit all the right notes on their ‘Sailor’ EP. The four song long record is laden with clever changes of pace that demand your attention, and there are even a few choruses with hooks that like to get caught in your grey matter and won’t stop tugging. Ouch, sorry if you’re squeamish.

The licks on ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ are clever and the New Jersey trio manage to create a soaring soundscape that builds to an impressive crescendo. The title single has a nautical lick to it in the first 10 seconds and builds on to arguably the most anthemic chorus of the short EP, “remember all the times you said that you love me? How come now it’s hard to find the time”. The lyrics may be slightly clichéd, but the delivery of them for the final time smacks of a band who have certainly found their feet and a fair bit of promise on this record.

Certainly ones to watch, if not for hand-on-heart choral delivery, than for a propensity for awkward stock photography.

8/10

Monterey‘s new EP ‘Sailors’ is now available from their Bandcamp and iTunes.

 

Album Review: James Bay – Hold Back the River EP

 
By on Monday, 24th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I had the pleasure of seeing Hitchin’s most famous hat on the head of singer/songwriter James Bay at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC earlier this month, when he was on tour supporting Irish phenomenon Hozier. Following that tour, Bay embarked on his own tour of the UK and Ireland which continues into this week, coinciding with the release of his latest single ‘Hold Back the River’, out today.

At this point, the male singer/songwriter genre is so fully saturated that it has become difficult to distinguish one from the others. Newcomers to the scene have to develop and emphasise some unique aspect of their style in order to set themselves apart. Bay isn’t exactly a rookie, even at the young age of 24, having spent a fair amount of time honing his live skills on tour with Kodaline, John Newman, and Tom Odell. Aside from his ubiquitous wide-brimmed hat, Bay’s most distinctive characteristics are his melodic guitar style and his warm, rich vocal timbre. On the singer/songwriter spectrum, I’d put him somewhere between the pop-oriented sensibility of Luke Sital-Singh and the gospel tinge of Foy Vance or Hozier himself. He doesn’t have the pretentious alt-folk affectations of artists like Bon Iver, preferring to stick with a more straightforward guitar rock style, flavoured with both folk and blues.

The new EP release of ‘Hold Back the River’ includes 4 tracks, bookended by the title track in both studio version and a live performance recording from the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. The studio version emphasises the contrast between the halting rhythm in the opening vocal melody and the steady pulse of the drums, while the guitar melody plays up the naturalistic folk character in the lyrics. Bay’s vocals combine with hints of gospel harmony in the backing voices as the song builds to its anthemic chorus.

Second track ‘Sparks’ is much more pop-oriented, with crisper rhythms and angular blues guitar riffs. Its title is particularly appropriate: the friction between Bay’s husky singing voice and the sharp instrumental lines was electric enough to raise goose bumps on my arms.

The final two tracks on the EP, ‘Wait in Line’ and ‘Hold Back the River (live)’ are both stripped back to acoustic guitar and solo voice. ‘Wait in Line’ is particularly powerful in its starkness, allowing Bay’s emotive singing voice to take centre stage, both in its clear falsetto and its resonant full sound. For my money, the live version of ‘Hold Back the River’ is the real gem of this collection, as the dynamic and emotional contrasts are somehow more fully realized than in the studio arrangement.

James Bay is definitely one of those artists whose true energy comes across best in live performance. If he can find a way to translate that energy to his recordings, he will certainly establish himself as a force to be reckoned with among the singer/songwriter melee.

7.5/10

James Bay‘s new single ‘Hold Back Tte River’ is available now on Republic Records. You can read our previous coverage of the title track by watching the official video and viewing a live version of the single from Transmitter. James Bay is currently finishing off his November tour of the UK and Ireland. He will play a headline show at Koko in London on Thursday the 12th of February next year before heading out on a full spring tour in April.

 

Single Review: Clean Bandit – Real Love (ft. Jess Glynne)

 
By on Thursday, 20th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

British electronic group Clean Bandit achieved phenomenal chart success in 2014 with ‘Rather Be’. The track, which features vocals from English singer/songwriter Jess Glynne, spent four weeks at #1 in the Official UK Singles Charts: it sold 163,000 copies in its opening week back in January, making it the second fastest-selling single of the year (behind Band Aid 30‘s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’). On the back of Rather Be, Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne have teamed up once again for their latest single ‘Real Love’.

The four-piece band’s unique selling point is their ability to fuse a range of genres together in their music, including classical, funk, dance and pop. Combined with the soulful vocals of Glynne, ‘Real Love’ offers a distinctive blend of styles that stands out amongst the wave of dance music that is currently dominating the charts.

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The track, which is the first to be taken from the new edition of their debut album ‘New Eyes’, opens with the rich sounds of a bass, cello and piano, as Glynne’s terrific vocals trickle over the top. As the momentum and energy builds, ‘Real Love’ bursts into a dance chorus that brilliantly demonstrates Clean Bandit’s signature style. While the lyrics tether on the edge of being too repetitive, as Glynne repeatedly belts out “this is real, real, real, real love” throughout the chorus, ‘Real Love’ is a solid track highly reminiscent of ‘Rather Be’.

However, this likeness to their first collaboration is the main downfall of the song. The song doesn’t bring anything new to the table, as Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne have played it safe by attempting to ride on the success of ‘Rather Be’. Had they taken a few more risks, this could have been a smash hit. Instead, we’re left with a slightly underwhelming track that will struggle to make a significant impact on the charts.

7/10

‘Real Love’ is taken from Clean Bandit’s debut album ‘New Eyes’, out now on Atlantic Records. The band recently announced that they are embarking on a UK/Irish tour in March 2015.

 

Album Review: Kill It Kid – You Owe Nothing

 
By on Monday, 17th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

If you’re a devotee of the harder end of the blues-rock spectrum, you owe it to yourself – contrary to the album’s title – to check out the new release from Bath rockers Kill It Kid. The defining feature of ‘You Owe Nothing’, in true Tap style, is the band’s willingness to turn everything up to 11. From the very first opening onslaught of ‘Black It Out’ – chopped-up guitars compete with an enormous fuzz bass to create a noise that could be the sound of two space robots hitting each other – the listener is left in no doubt that these guys mean to punch a hole in one’s eardrums… and have a party whilst doing it.

On ‘Sick Case of Loving You’, Kill It Kid reveal their party piece. Pianist Stephanie Ward steps forward to share lead vocal with Chris Turpin, and as their voices intertwine, one realises just how rare the female voice is in a rock context, and just how refreshing it is to hear it. In what can be an overly testosterone-soaked genre, Ward proves how capably a female voice can enhance the listening experience, both from an auditory and emotional perspective. She gets centre stage on ‘Blood Stop and Run’ and it’s a highlight of the whole album, in no small part due to her performance.

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After a three-track hard rock introduction, along comes the obligatory power-ballad in the shape of ‘Caroline’. Competent though it is, the band displaying quite spectacular commitment in wringing every ounce of emotive power from their performances, it’s perhaps where Kill It Kid admit they’re not afraid to be derivative when required. Gone is the interstellar guitar choppery, replaced by something that sounds like a Bon Jovi B-side. From 1992. And from that point on it’s difficult to escape the subtle but persistent whiff of cliché.

The second half of the album is comprised of mildly suspect romance-based double entendres seemingly inspired by Monty Python’s “Say No More” sketch. ‘I’ll Be the First’, ‘Don’t It Feel Good’, ‘Tried Used Loved Abused’ – they’re all laden with sexual overtones, with Stephanie Ward even making some bedroom-style noises at times. No complaints, and given the gender balance it can’t truly be called ‘cock rock’, but the overtones are certainly there – this is a record with sex on its mind.

Despite occupying the same genre segment, it’s a tall order to meet the standards of hard rock that were set in the ’80s and ’90s by legendary bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses, and despite a strong effort, Kill It Kid can’t quite reach those heights. Bath simply can’t provide the depth of sleaze as L.A., and that shows in the songwriting. What we’ve got here is a tamer, if perhaps more refined, sound. Still, it’s the first thing in years that gets close, and for that they deserve kudos – and a round of Jack.

7/10

Kill It Kid’s new album ‘You Owe Nothing’ is out today on Sire / Warner Brothers Records.

 

Single Review: Tei Shi – See Me

 
By on Thursday, 13th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Valerie Teicher, better known under her atmospheric stage name Tei Shi, recently signed to Mermaid Avenue, an imprint of American label Mom + Pop Music. And we couldn’t be happier for the inventive Brooklyn via Colombia via Vancouver artist. Her second single for her new label home differs quite a bit from the first, the #1 Hype Machine-placing number ‘Bassically’, which features an insistent ’80s beat and handclap and whooshing flourishes. ‘See Me’ is a much more restrained affair and reveals a more straightforward and yet far more wistful style than seen on her ‘Saudade’ EP, released in 2013.

According to a chat she had with the folks at Dazed Digital, she had one singular goal in writing this song: “I want the song to sound like fishies swimming up a stream made of chocolate mousse.” While that doesn’t sound very palatable, the results are stunningly beautiful. The track was coproduced by Teicher, long-time friend, collaborator and producer Gianluca Buccellati and Dave Bayley, with whom she teamed up with to write and record the Glass Animals‘Gooey’ EP track ‘Holiest’. She wowed the DC crowd in July with her talent when she supported Bayley’s band at U Street Music Hall in July.

Teicher’s vocals on this new single are airy and allowed to breathe, which was a smart choice to highlight her gorgeous voice. It’s as if the double-backed vocal line is floating and flying high in the sky like a bird, weaving a beautiful pattern among and in between the other parts of this song. These background elements – varying from mechanical creaks and clanking, mouth clicks, synths and light percussion – are never heavy-handed, complementing the vocal treatment well. The last minute of the song goes entirely instrumental, as animal noises, synths and beats are filtered and fogged to create an appropriately chill outro.

Then there are the lyrics themselves, which linger and recall memories like the cologne of an ex. Is it a breathy admittance to self-consciousness to a lover? Is a Dear Jane letter saying goodbye to a toxic relationship? Or maybe a combination of both? Whichever it is, it’s evident the protagonist can look to her lover and see his shortcomings: “you never look at your surroundings / you only think how they might change / but I’ll be like the trees / and I’ll grow while no one’s watching / and I unravel your mistakes”. More importantly, she wants to be seen for who she truly is. In that respect, the song does a perfect job of presenting Tei Shi’s stellar, near heavenly voice, and I hope this will be the single that brings her the fame she deserves.

9/10

‘See Me’, Tei Shi’s latest single, is out now on Double Denim Records.

 

Quickfire Questions #78: Lewis Watson

 
By on Wednesday, 12th November 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Oxford-born singer/songwriter Lewis Watson has gathered over 100,000 likes on Facebook and his music has been streamed over 5 million times on Spotify. Not bad for a 22-year-old who has never had a guitar lesson. Lewis took some time out from his current American tour to answer our Quickfire Questions. (Also, if you’re keen, you can also read the accompanying interview Lewis did with us last week here.)

What song is your earliest musical memory?
Probably ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. We loved that song as kids.

What was your favourite song as a child?
It’d have to be ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson (again). We’d listen to it hundreds of times a day if we could.

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What song makes you laugh?
There’s a song by a fella called DJ Syntax called ‘Middle Class Problems’ which always gets a smile on my face. Great beat and chords too.

What song makes you cry?
I rarely cry at music. I rarely cry at anything to be honest… but there was a song that Passenger performed when I saw him a few years ago called ‘Travelling Alone’ and it was beautiful. Definitely put a lump in my throat!

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What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc…?
Probably the second Bombay Bicycle Club record ‘Flaws’, it had just come out and I listened to it non-stop during that summer. Puts me there every time.

What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
I always listen to the first Slipknot album when I’m angry. I’ve always been a fan and the anger in that record makes me realise that it’s really not that bad (I also air drum the anger away). When I’m upset, I’ll listen to ‘Re: Stacks’ by Bon Iver. It gets me every time.

Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?
It’d have to be ‘Re: Stacks’ by Bon Iver (again, sorry…). That is a perfect song in my eyes and I’d hang up my boots if I’d written it.

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Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.) 
Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie). His lyrics are always so vivid and gorgeous. Pair that with his beautifully lazy melodies and I’m incredibly jealous!

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
I can honestly say that I have no idea… I’ve never been an ambitious person until this happened and I couldn’t think about doing anything else… at least right now!

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
Probably ‘Parachutes’ by Coldplay. Probably not the coolest choice, but it’s such a beautiful album with songs that match any mood.

Many thanks to Lewis for answering the questions and thank you to Julia for sorting this out for us.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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