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Single Review: The Twilight Sad – ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’

 
By on Thursday, 26th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

It has been a difficult few months for indie music fans following the shocking, untimely death of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison in May. As I’ve learned through Scottish friends in the industry and who knows who – which seems to be just about everyone to everyone else and back again – the musician community in Glasgow is remarkably close-knit. It is, then, unsurprising that his death would colour his friends The Twilight Sad’s latest release. Upon hearing ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, it’s impossible to separate the inherent unease of the song from the sadness on the loss of Hutchison. A dissonant whine of guitars introduces the song before an insistent rhythm begins that plays throughout the whole song, accompanied by the drone of guitars. All together, the instrumentation set off a feeling of fretfulness even before James Graham utters a single word in his trademark Scots brogue.

As the song goes on, it’s unclear to the listener if he’s singing to another person, to himself and his own anxieties, or a combination of both. What is amply evident is the amount of self-loathing going round in Graham’s head. There’s so much that he vocalises it first as someone else being the problem (“I don’t wanna be around you anymore / I can’t stand to be around you anymore”) before turning the anxiety on himself and self-diagnosing himself as the problem (“you don’t wanna be around me anymore / I don’t wanna be around me anymore / you can’t stand to be around me anymore”). Graham has described the song being “about my ongoing battle with not liking myself, trying to be a good person but constantly feeling like I’m failing myself and everyone I care about.” To the questions “Will you stop if your tears come back?” and “Will you stop when your tears run dry?”, Graham responds, “I’ll drink everything inside”, internalising and hiding the pain that otherwise would be on show through the act of crying. Whose pain will he drink up? His own, or someone else’s? Like film noir, it’s all terribly intriguing.

I have a favourite line in the Margaret Atwood novel Cat’s Eye that reads, “Whoever cares the most will lose.” The greatest tragedy of caring is while you can be in touch with what you feel and what you desire and why, you end up turning it around on yourself and making the assumption that bad things have happened because of what you’ve done. The repeated “why do you do this to yourself?” as the song climaxes at its conclusion seems to support this. For a song so rooted in mental illness and the burying of that pain, it’s weird for it to be so oddly catchy. But it is. And it’s the kind of song that feels like it would be best heard live in Scotland. If you have been in Glasgow when it’s pouring down rain, you understand this.

8.5/10

‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, the first new material from The Twilight Sad since 2014’s ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’ is out now on Mogwai’s label Rock Action Records. There’s talk of a new album from the group, which I imagine must be dropping some time this autumn, as they are already selling tickets to tours in North America (mid-October to early November) and the Continent (mid-November) and have two dates in the UK lined up following those tours, on the 27th of November at London Bush Hall and the 29th of November at Edinburgh Liquid Rooms. Seems strange that a Glaswegian show has been omitted, so I’d keep an eye out for one on their live schedule on their official Web site. Past Twilight Sad goodness is through here.

 

Album Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

 
By on Monday, 23rd July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Florence and the Machine High as Hope album coverOur favourite Earth mother Florence Welch is back, this time leading her band on a 10-track journey of organic creativity. Florence + The Machine have stripped it way back in their new album ‘High As Hope’, leaving much of their pop preferences behind and instead colouring their LP with folk influences. It’s easy to see why many are mistaken in thinking ‘Florence + The Machine’ is simply Welch’s pseudonym when their newest release feels like Welch’s singular creation, the role of the band feeling a little unclear. The background accompaniment takes a backseat to Welch’s theatrics: compared to her previous albums, this one is simple and acoustically driven, giving full attention to the vocals. All ten tracks put a spotlight on Welch’s vocal abilities, expressed in earthy, raw and rich tones that only Welch can do.

One of the most successful aspects of the album is that each song is like a different page of a diary, particularly tracks ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, which feel more like letters than songs. ‘Grace’ starts as a beautiful piano ballad, with Welch sounding timid and sincere until the song blooms into a powerful chorus bringing with it heaps of emotion. The direct address to ‘Grace’ really creates a sense that the listener has intruded on a personal moment as Welch divulges her deepest thoughts and fears in lyrics such as “I guess I could go back to university / try and make my mother proud”. Although ‘Patricia’ is more upbeat, there is still a heartfelt address to a character that seems to have had a significant impact on Welch. There is a pure honesty and sincerity that bursts out of ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, offering an authenticity that stands out against the rest of the album.

There is an undeniable intimacy to ‘High As Hope’, not just through the ‘diary’ narratives but also through the use of a capella sections in ‘No Choir’ and ‘Sky Full of Song’. Few artists are brave enough to showcase their vocals abilities through a capella, but it works brilliantly for Florence and the Machine. The unaccompanied vocals open these songs, instantly setting an intimate tone as no accompaniment can distract from Welch’s lyrics. This is most effective in portraying a melancholic emotion in The start of ‘No Choir’ is effective at conveying melancholy as Welch sings, “And it’s hard to write about being happy, ’cause all that I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”. Listeners cannot escape from the sadness Welch is expressing; instead, we are forced to deal with these emotions and engage with the song. It is a powerful tactic and one that is heightened by the subtle accompaniment rising and falling in perfect tandem with Welch, never once overpowering the vocals, yet still supporting the emotion.

Heavenly connotations across several tracks keeps ‘High As Hope’ unique, which are again supported beautifully by the instrumentation. Fourth track ‘Big God’ addresses this theme in its title, while opening track ‘June’ connotes heaven through references to angels: “you’re so high, you had to be an angel”. The instrumentation and production shadow the theme by creating huge, angelic sounds through layered strings and gorgeously dramatic, reverberating vocals. Despite such powerful sounds, the production isn’t overdone and hasn’t distorted the natural sounds of the instruments.

One of the first singles released from the LP ‘Hunger’, has been accompanied by an artistically abstract video. The single is catchy and radio friendly, yet it still carries the profound message of human nature’s hunger for love, perfectly captured by the visual accompaniment. The video portrays this through the use of statues as symbolism for human isolation. Symbolism continues in abundance, with images of forests evoking the organic nature of song and the rest of the album. The music video is atypical, more like a piece of art than it is a music video.

Florence + The Machine have taken a turn down a different road for ‘High As Hope’, showcasing another side to Welch’s songwriting. The album feels like a slice of Welch’s soul, giving us a much more honest and genuine perspective of Welch than in any previous albums. Authentic and personal elements make the LP so alluring, each song having a purpose, an emotion and a message. Radio stations may fool you into thinking that ‘Hunger’ is the only power track here, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The entire album is a masterpiece.

9/10

‘High As Hope’, the fourth studio album from Florence + the Machine, is out now on Virgin EMI and Republic Records. Catch Welch and her band on their world tour starting in the UK from the 15th of November. For more information on live dates visit Florence + The Machine’s official Web site. Read through all of our past coverage on the artist through this link.

 

Album Review: Dentist – Night Swimming

 
By on Thursday, 19th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Dentist Night Swimming album coverAs the saying goes, timing is everything. Human beings tend to brood and get nostalgic around the winter holidays and as the year closes. In contrast, summer is when it feels most appropriate to brush the cobwebs out of one’s mind, let one’s hair down and kick the shoes off and all cares away. That’s the kind of thinking I’m assuming led to New Jersey band Dentist’s thinking to release their debut album ‘Night Swimming’ in the middle of July. Feeling at times like having an ice cream at the beach but never proving too cloying, it’s an upbeat LP that at times flirts with bubblegum pop territory.

In some ways similar to Katie Ellen’s ‘Cowgirl Blues’ that was released this time last year, ‘Night Swimming’ conveys the thoughts of an independent woman with an agile mind, bolstered by surf-y, lo-fi guitar chords that lend a scrappy, ‘skinned knees’ kind of quality to the proceedings. Most of the songs on this album are short – around the 3-minute mark or a good deal shorter – which means if you’re not a fan of frontwoman Emily Bornemann’s twee vocal pitch, it never stays around long enough to bother much during a collection of songs that, taken together, barely pass the 30-minute mark. The animated and simply fun rock guitars and drums throughout also provide a worthy distraction.

Things get off to an exuberant start with ‘Upset Words’, on which she asks cheekily, “do I make you proud?” On fun lead single ‘Corked’, Bornemann’s sweet and girly vocals are an asset here, providing an interesting juxtaposition to the introductory strummed guitar notes, scuzzy with feedback and audible clicks left in and not polished off the record. “Something’s wrong again ‘cos we’re still friends”, she wistfully scoffs in the first chorus before the muscular part of the song gets going. LP standout ‘Figure-Four’ should be our credo for the rest of 2018, with its suggestions to let it go and don’t sweat the small stuff. Bornemann sings, “it’s okay / every day / we’ll be fine / I’m sure, I’m sure” and its entreaties to “accept your fate”, it’s Dentist’s way of saying trust in the process of the Great Big Thing called Life. We need more of this thinking. Too many bad things are happening around us and to us that sometimes we all forget that we’re here to live.

On the simply titled ‘Oh’, she quips, “wish that I could turn my brain off / then that would mean that I am dead”. The instrumentation going with it is so peppy, you have to ask yourself if the lyrics are meant to be rhetorical to the listener or if they’re meant to be droll or even possibly cutting observations that hide her own anxiety about life and relationships, something the Crookes did so well. ‘All is Well (In Hell)’ sees Bornemann on a brief but lovely, slower, acoustic interlude; it’s a bit soppy and entails her begging her lover not to leave her because “that is worth than anything”. Dentist get down and dirtier for a brief moment on the minor key ‘Tight Spot’, with squealing, surf-y guitars and harder hit drums to go along with the existential lyrical musings.

In the rapid fire drumbeat-driving closer ‘The Latter’, Bornemann implores, “I have opened up to you / you have done the same / tell me now what I can do / to make this great escape”. With an album like ‘Night Swimming’, you are invited to give someone else control of the steering wheel. This is the kind of music to listen to on those long drives out to the coast by day and into the steamy summer evenings when there’s nothing to do. Or at least you’re pretending there isn’t. This is one Dentist that won’t make your teeth ache.

7.5/10

‘Night Swimming’, the debut album from New Jersey’s Dentist, is out tomorrow, the 20th of June, on Cleopatra Records. Read my review of them at SXSW 2018 through here; they were one of my unexpected finds in Austin this year.

 

SXSW 2018 Interview: Harry Pane

 
By on Wednesday, 18th July 2018 at 11:00 am
 

My final interview of the SXSW 2018 music festival was with English singer/songwriter Harry Pane, who played a mellow late Saturday afternoon showcase at the Hilton Austin hotel’s Cannon and Bell Lounge as part of SXSW’s Second Play Stage series. Pane played a relaxed set in this acoustic setting and even engaged in some friendly banter with the intimate crowd between songs, which encouraged me to approach him for a quick chat after he finished playing.

Harry Pane internal

This performance at The Hilton marked Pane’s final show of SXSW 2018, and he seemed happy to take time for an interview after a busy week of gigging in Austin. “I did six [shows], overall. But they were kind of stretched out enough that it was enjoyable instead of just, like, an endurance test.” His shows included an official showcase at Stephen F’s Bar, as well as a set at one of my favourite Austin venues, The Tiniest Bar in Texas, and a radio performance for KSGR, where he peformed alongside fellow English songwriter and TGTF alum Frank Turner. “I [had done] a songwriting workshop with him and his band, who are really, really nice people”, Pane said of Turner. “He was on the KGSR show too, and he very kindly mentioned my name and gave me a shout out, which was really good.”

This year was not Pane’s first experience at SXSW. He played the festival once before, back in 2016, and that experience allowed him to come into SXSW 2018 with clearer expectations. “I kind of went in blind to that one, and I had one showcase. Didn’t really know what it was about or what I was doing”, Pane remembers. “This time around, two years later, I’ve done a few more things, worked a little harder. I feel this one’s been way more beneficial, and a lot more fun, actually.”

As a fully independent artist, Pane appeared in Austin without a band or entourage in tow, which made the small Second Stage venues a near-perfect fit for him. “I have a double bass player at home, and I’m trying to sort of slowly build a band, put it together. But at the moment it’s just me, on my own.” When I asked about label support, Pane demurred. “I’m not in a position to even talk about labels. I’m with AWAL, who are an amazing support for independent musicians.” AWAL is billed as “Kobalt‘s unique alternative to the traditional music label”, offering services to independent musicians who want to maintain control and flexibility. Pane continued, again very frankly, “If it came to the crunch, I do think that they would look after you way more and take less money off you.”

We also talked about the unique challenges of recording music as an independent artist, and Pane discussed them candidly in terms of his own current experience. “My last EPs that I did, I recorded with Dani Castelar, who worked with Paolo Nutini and other people that I really like.” He laughed, “I’m name-dropping now . . . But it’s really good, because we’ve got a really good friendship now, and I’ve got this kind of understanding with him where I record with a guy in London, on a cheap rate, and I send my stuff over to him, and he mixes it. He tweaks it and polishes it. This is a way I can afford it at the moment.”

Releasing singles, rather than full albums or even EPs, is Pane’s current way of keeping his name and his music afloat in the vast milieu of singer/songwriters. “At the moment I’m feeling like that’s working more, at my stage, to release song by song. I released the EP last year, [‘The Wild Winds’] and it was beneficial for the single, the leading song of that, but the other songs kind of got wasted within that EP, they got sort of lost.”

At the time of this interview, Pane had freshly released a new single called ‘Beautiful Life’. When I asked about forthcoming releases, Pane confessed, “I’ve got some songs in the pipeline, but nothing quite ready yet.” However, he has been keeping busy in the interim. This Friday, the 20th of July, Pane will release a new single titled ‘MacArthur Park’. While no preview of the track is yet available, you can pre-save ‘MacArthur Park’ on Spotify and iTunes now.

Harry Pane is scheduled to appear onstage at Penn Fest in Buckinghamshire on the 21st of July and at the Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire on the 27th of August. You can find a full listing of Pane’s live appearances on his official Web site. TGTF’s previous coverage of Harry Pane is collected here.

 

Single Review: Woodes – Change My Mind

 
By on Monday, 16th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter and producer Woodes began the new year with the release of second EP ‘Golden Hour’, the follow-up to her highly praised 2016 self-titled debut EP. More recently, the indie artist has been showcasing her talent in newly released single ‘Change My Mind’. Considering her previous work has been endorsed by streaming giant Spotify and caught the attention of scream queen Emma Roberts, the single has a lot to live up to.

Just as the lyrics suggest (“caught me by surprise…”), the opening verse does indeed surprise you after the gentle and atmospheric intro. Woodes’ vocals burst into the song accompanied by a syncopated, lo-fi drumbeat. Her signature vocals are immediately the star of the show, surely a production choice: it is a good one. Her vocal tone defines Woodes from other female indie artists such as LP or Sigrid. Characterised by a perfect mix of soft and staccato inflections, her vocals shine past all elements of the accompaniment. The lead vocals have been enriched by several layers of backing vocals that dip in and out of the song, echoing the lyrics. The placement of the backing vocals and the reverb effects that have been put on them have created a dream-like effect, these effects are reflected by numerous synths in the heavily-layered choruses. This dreamy, silky smooth texture brings out the richer tones in Woodes’ vocals, contrasting earlier tracks like ‘Origami’.

The lyrics present a fresh take on the basic theme of relationships, focusing on one that is past its best by date. There is a sense of female empowerment in the chorus where Woodes sings, “You could go and change my mind”, leaving the hard work of fixing a relationship to her partner. How refreshing. Although Woodes doesn’t opt for the copout ‘my heart is broken’ route that so many artists do when writing about love, there is a need for melodic and lyrical growth in ‘Change My Mind’ that she does not fulfill. As if in parallel, the lyrics, melody and accompaniment remain fairly unchanged throughout, and although these elements are all well-written, they become flat and need a change-up. Maybe the addition of a bridge with a little excitement in it could resolve this? However, even as is, Woodes has met her own high standards on ‘Change Your Mind’ and produced a worthy track.

8/10

Woodes’ new single ‘Change My Mind’ is out now. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Woodes, go here.

 

Single Review: SG Lewis feat. Clairo – Better

 
By on Wednesday, 11th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

SG Lewis is not your garden-variety DJ. Probably the best description I’ve read on him is from this i-D article from last year, penned by former Heartbreaks singer Matthew Whitehouse, no less: “bit like if Bon Iver had gone to university in Liverpool and discovered club culture through a night out at Chibuku.” Though he is most famous through high-profile collaborations with soul singer Ray BLK, rapper Dave and decidedly not urban at all singer/songwriter and friend JP Cooper, it should be noted that Lewis is no slouch in the songwriting department. He’s a producer who when given the task of coming up with a tune, he gives as much thought to the nuts and bolts of the songwriting as he does to the production needed to make it a dance floor banger.

Last week, he released new single ‘Better’, which stars the topline lyrics and voice of Clairo, a 19-year old Bostonian YouTube sensation. The two had a chance meeting in Los Angeles to write together and the rest, as they say, is history. The pop song is a true 21st century creation: Lewis was quick to give credit on Facebook to his two cosongwriters, Montreal via Vancouver Juno-winning beat producer Pomo and guitarist Danny McKinnon. The song is pure summer, full of handclaps and the production remarkably simple on purpose, as Lewis explains, “I kept the beat unquantized from the jam as I felt like it gave the record an old disco feel.”

Uncluttered and with this old school feel, your ears naturally focus on Clairo’s vibe-y vocals and the spare backbeat that effortlessly accompanies her. The lyrics are from well trod on, but always welcome pop territory: Clairo sings of unrequited, or at least thwarted love. As I’m sure some of you know, this kind of love can be difficult to accept, especially when you know it can never be, even if all you want is to be close to someone you care about: “I know it isn’t right / you creep into the night / maybe you want a friend / maybe not in this life / why is it so hard, hard to please you / all I wanted was you in the room”. ‘Better’ may not be the flashiest pop entry of 2018, but it’s wonderful proof that songwriting is more important than all the bells and whistles in the world.

8.5/10

‘Better’ by SG Lewis and featuring the vocal talents of Clairo, is out now on PMR / Virgin EMI. Back in April, Lewis released ‘Dusk’, six tracks that represent the first part of a three-part album. Stay tuned for ‘Dark’ and ‘Dawn’ to follow later this year.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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