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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Martin and his missus may have coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling’, and Coldplay may have a new album out on the 19th of May. But on the same day comes the release of something far more interesting, and ironically enough, its contents might throw you into thinking about a kind of conscious recoupling. London band Longfellow, who many in Britain have tipped to challenge Martin’s band’s global stranglehold on the mainstream alt rock scene, will be dropping their next single ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ on that very day.
Seeing that Longfellow have signed to the exact same label to begin their career as Coldplay did in their early days – London’s Fierce Panda, whose ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ I reviewed a short while ago – it all seems very cosy. A little too cosy… However, it seems that Coldplay’s latest reveal, single ‘Magic’, has taken more reliance on beat than their past efforts, and they have cleared the way for a group like Longfellow to make it. That is, if they can write a pop anthem. Have they, in ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’? Let’s examine further, shall we?
When I first read the title, I thought the word ‘Makeup’ had to be a mistake. Surely it should have been referring to the act of making up after a break-up and not literally cosmetics? It bothered me a lot: hey, remember, I’m an editor! After further reflection, it made me think of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, in which there’s the immortal line, “my smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. So that made me grin. Like Smokey’s song, ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ is about the dreadful wanting of someone after realising you’ve lost the world you shared with that person.
The lyrics of this Longfellow song may make you wince from the desperation contained within; “I was there by your side as you reached for another / and a part of me, it died”; “don’t make these blue skies turn to red / I’m yours but I won’t regret it”), especially with the way lead vocalist Owen Lloyd emotes this desperation, but any such wincing is brief. With words like “so let’s grow old together, sweetness you’re my heart and soul / a thousand nights that I lay restless, praying you’d come home”, the song makes you want to believe, to keep the hope alive that fences can be mended.
There are two major elements to Longfellow that make the Coldplay comparison seem apt: the bombastic piano played by Ali Hetherington and the anthemic quality of their songwriting. One major difference – and what I think could push Longfellow to the top – is Lloyd’s voice, which is far richer and emotional than Martin’s. I had the good fortune having heard the band perform this song in their BBC Introducing set at SXSW 2014 last month, all under the kind auspices of one Steve Lamacq. All three of these pieces make the single one compelling piece of pop indeed.
Let us watch and wait. The gauntlet has been thrown.
‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’, Longfellow’s hotly anticipated followup single to ‘Siamese Lover’, will be out on the 19th of May on Fierce Panda. The band plays London’s Camden Barfly the next evening, on the 20th of May. They are purported to be filming a promo video for this new single in the West Country, and we’ll share that with you when we have it. But in the meantime, you can watch them performing the song live at Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase on the Thursday night at SXSW 2014 in Austin back in March below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 10:00 am
What timing. Their ears must be burning. Ahead of my holiday in Manchester this weekend, Delphic have released a new – and entirely free – mixtape for your delectation. I use the word ‘delectation’ because it is quite a tasty offering, which I’m pleased to say after our disappointment in last year’s ‘Collections’.
It’s called ‘Get Familiar’, which seems an entirely appropriate title for the sevensong-strong set. It seems to be the missing link between their brilliant 2010 debut album and hit spawning ‘Acolyte’ and 2013′s confounding experimentation. ‘Colours of the Day’, previously only heard as a demo in 2011, has been fleshed out to great effect. Quite possibly the best track in here is ‘The Giver’, which sees the band go back to what we loved about them in the first place: their effortless combining of electro with rock to make a wholly danceable tune. Good showing.
Colours Of The Day
Courtney Barnett’s debut ‘A Sea of Split Peas’ has been available from House Anxiety records since last November, but it’s this summer that sees her properly making a mark on the opposite side of the world from her native Melbourne. TGTF tipped Barnett as one of the artists playing all three urban festivals around the May Day bank holiday and picked out the 5-minute epic of ‘Anonymous Club’ as “showcasing Barnett’s ability to turn down the tempo and bring out a more circumspect, even sombre, mood, all led by her gently vulnerable voice.”
Said track has recently been treated to an accompanying video by Melburnian illustrator Celeste Potter. A monochrome, lo-fi, and subtly disturbing animation which evokes the restless dream of a child who’s read The Gruffalo too close to bedtime, both visuals and song inhabit a dreamworld of resigned despair – tears feature heavily. This is Barnett’s most downtempo, introspective work – elsewhere on ‘A Sea of Split Peas’, the tempo rises and humour is used to great effect, so this piece shouldn’t be taken as representative of her output as a whole. Nevertheless, a beautiful piece of art of which both Barnett and Potter should be duly proud.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 2:00 pm
In the indie rock world where a band often fold after their first album if it didn’t do well commercially, We Are Scientists – Keith Murray (lead vocals / guitar) and Chris Cain (bass / backing vocals) are doing pretty well in terms of sheer longevity. By the time I saw them live for the first time in the summer of 2008, a couple months after their superb third album ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ hit the streets, they’d already honed their deadly combination of rocking tunes and hilarious stage banter. They released their fifth album ‘TV en Français’ in March and while the new LP sees the duo veer from their original formula concocted in a university dorm room in 2007 -it was inevitable they’d mature in sound, yeah? – I’m happy to report that their live show hasn’t changed and in fact, is better than ever.
The fully capitalised PAWS from Glasgow opened for the New York City-based act. I ran into their band members by accident in a pizza shop open late at night in Austin during SXSW 2013 when I was in the company of another band. I tried to make small talk with them while waiting in the queue for the toilet at 2 in the morning, and I’m not very charming at 2 AM in the morning after I’ve been out carousing with friends, I’m just not. (Awkward.) Thankfully, my next encounter with the Glaswegians was nowhere near as awkward. Nope. In DC, they rocked our faces off with their brand of brilliantly melodic punk.
I am almost uncomfortable to give them the label of ‘punk’ or even ‘garage’, because that would seem to indicate they have complete disregard for melody, and their beards are evidence that they’re super anti-establishment. But the weirdly wonderful thing about PAWS is that they’ve got a knack for writing memorable tunes with massive sounding guitar riffs that just beg for headbanging, accompanied by a relentless rhythm section. ‘Sore Tummy’, from their 2012 debut ‘Cokefloat!’, is probably their best known track, but on Thursday night, I favoured newer track ‘Narcissist’, not even lasting 2 minutes. Whether he planned the hilarity or not, newest band member and bass player Ryan Drever pointed out the location of an unfortunate rip in his jeans before the band lit into this song. Whoops! Their second album on Fat Cat, ‘Youth Culture Forever’, isn’t out until the 2nd of June in the UK, but it’s out earlier in America, and as the band were cheekily selling copies of the LP before the official releases, I couldn’t say no.
Having five albums to choose from gave We Are Scientists a lot of latitude when it came to their set list in Washington. When I mentioned their very funny stage presence, this also included audience participation this night in the form of two different fans getting up on stage and introducing themselves to the audience, after which they were razzed by Murray and Cain. The second punter probably was drunk ,as he made the regrettable admission that he hadn’t listened to or bought their last 2 albums. Naturally, the audience started laughing and booing and Murray quipped, “sorry dude, we can’t help you now”. The punter did get the audience’s favour back when he yelled for how great their second album and breakthrough release ‘With Love and Squalor’ was, and the crowd responded with thundering applause. I think about this moment as being a prime example of what has made We Are Scientists such a fan favourite: they’re the guys who make you laugh, the ones you want to go out and have drinks with because they’re fun, self-deprecating and entirely unpretentious. You’d never see punters be invited onstage like that at most any other show, would you?
But you’re probably reading this review for information on the music, I’m sure. Whether it had to do with ‘TV en Français’ having been released too closely to this North American tour or like that aforementioned fan with his 15 seconds of fame, people just aren’t buying their most recent albums, the newer songs just couldn’t compete with the bigger hits of their back catalogue. I think no matter how long they continue on gigging – and I assume it will be a long, long time to come, so don’t worry – they will always play ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’ off ‘With Love and Squalor’, because they always cause mental crowd reactions, whether they’re playing a club or a festival. However, I’m pleased that others from their catalogue continue to be firm fan favourites, including the hooky ‘Rules Don’t Stop’, the oozy sleaziness of ‘Can’t Lose’ and the anthemic ‘After Hours’ (well, as anthemic as WAS dare to tread).
I had assumed that after ‘Barbara’ was released in 2010, I’d never hear ‘Lethal Enforcer’ from ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ ever again. Never say never. As the opening funky bass notes began, I couldn’t believe my ears. What? Are they really playing ‘Lethal Enforcer’? Year made. I also wondered if they would come out for an encore, as ‘The Great Escape’ had already been ticked off by the (first) time they said goodbye. Much to the delight of the crowd, they returned for one more, ‘Impatience’. By that time, I’d made it over to the bar to give my feet a rest and it was then that I noticed all the people who were not down the front; they’d chosen purposely to stand further back so they could cut some shapes and boy, were smooth moves being made the encore.
The crux of ‘Impatience’, besides its unyielding guitar, is the insistent voice of the song, pointing out to someone else that there’s no point of being impatient and that problems are only as big as you make them. As bad as us music journalists often make the music industry seem as a place where indie bands make no money and barely a career (and this is true), it was in that club Thursday night that I realised sometimes when you’re watching a gig like this, all of that stuff temporarily melts away from your consciousness and what you’re left with is seeing people who are actively appreciating live music. Ultimately, this is what we’re all in it for, isn’t it?
After the cut: We Are Scientists’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: We Are Scientists with PAWS at Black Cat, Washington DC – 17th April 2014
It’s summer 2011 – the Summertyne Americana Festival at the Sage, Gateshead. David Macias, the then president of the Americana Music Association, is due to make a presentation that addresses the thorny issue of: what is Americana? Those of us keener on actually watching some music in the beery sunshine rather than talking about it indoors, missed the official conclusion. But surely the answer then, and ever since, is: rather a broad church of American rock, blues, and gospel-based music, overlaid with a tang of country. Banjos feature prominently. But why stop there? Why can’t an album of grunge-tinged rock, featuring tracks which could fit straight into the great contemporary American rock songbook, qualify? Because if it could, what Afghan Whigs have delivered with ‘Do to the Beast’ would fit right in.
In their first career, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs were active for 15 years from 1986, releasing six albums on a number of independent and major labels, notably Sub Pop, home to grunge contemporaries Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. But despite fraternal connections, The Afghan Whigs have always shown influences more left-field than most of their contemporaries, with an evident enthusiasm for classic soul (cf 1992’s album of soul and R ‘n’ B covers ‘Uptown Avondale’), utilising avant-garde mutations of classic songwriting technique.
In contrast to the 16 years we’ve waited for a new release from The Afghan Whigs, now the record has arrived, it wastes no time in getting down to business. ‘Do to the Beast’ opens with ‘Parked Outside’, a swaggering, uncompromising, riff-laden dirge heavy with fuzzed guitars and Greg Dulli’s guttural roar. It’s the sound of grunge, made contemporary for 2014, by men who survived it the first time around. ‘Matamoros’ mixes an electronica-inspired insistent groove, a darkly intense chorus and some strings more Moroccan than Mexican. ‘It Kills’ reveals a delicate underbelly to the band’s sound – “It kills to watch you love another” a self-explanatory confessional matched in tenderness by the understated arrangement and Dulli’s cracked baritone. ‘Algiers’ (video below) is a great American road song, all passionately-strummed acoustic guitar and mid-tempo angst. The sort of thing that Cherry Ghost can knock off in their sleep, but no less evocative for that. ‘Lost in the Woods’ converts a maudlin intro into a unashamedly chart-bothering melodic chorus, one which could easily have come from the pen of soul-era Detroit song-factory luminaries, if they arranged for electric guitar. A curiously schizophrenic arrangement, and one which mirrors the personality of the record as a whole.
The second half kicks off with ‘The Lottery’, a riffy, noisy thing, similar to their very earliest work. More interesting is what follows. ‘Can Rova’ is a great example of where Afghan Whigs differ from their contemporaries – the ability to execute a delicate ballad of tender beauty. This is rock in name only, the Americana label writ large – there’s even some banjo. And then there’s the final duplet. ‘I Am Fire’ is a world-weary dirge arranged for handclaps and despairing vocal. And as triumphant endings go, ‘These Sticks’ is itself a triumph. Attempting the seemingly impossible task of weaving all the disparate threads of the album into one coherent whole, it succeeds. The electric guitars are back, the drums are real, there’s a horn section for good measure.
Don’t ask about the lyrical content. Dulli is famed for his hard-hitting autobiographical style, and there’s no reason to think that ‘Do to the Beast’ disappoints in that regard. There’s simply not enough time or room in a review to properly plumb the depths of his psyche, to do justice to the self-loathing and corruption bubbling within. Suffice to say, the title itself is enough of an indication of what to expect – presumably a corrupted reference to the ancient ethic of reciprocity: “Do unto the Beast as you would have the Beast do unto you.” It could take several years of therapy to unravel what he’s on about here, and that’s just the album title. Approach with caution.
So there we have it. This is the sound of band that have no time for creative boundaries – if it sounds good, it’s in, genre be damned. So there’s the heavy guitar riffs as expected, mixed in with widescreen road songs, acoustic interludes, all given coherence by Dulli’s distinctive voice, at times reminiscent of Billy Corgan and even Rod Stewart. It’s a remarkable achievement for a band that have been away for a decade and a half – to seamlessly carry on where they left off. And ‘Do to the Beast’, in both its sound and its content, is as good as anything Afghan Whigs have ever recorded. Old fans will be delighted, and there’s doubtless a whole new generation just waiting to be inculcated as to the ways of Dulli. Poor dears.
The Afghan Whigs’ newest album ‘Do to the Beast’, the American band’s first in 16 years, is out now on Sub Pop.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 10:00 am
Oh yes. There is a new album Dublin band The Minutes on the way – release date for ‘Live Well, Change Often’ is the 9th of May in Ireland, but we imagine a UK release date shouldn’t be far away. To whet your appetite for the new album – and if you find yourself as lucky as myself to attend Liverpool Sound City 2014, as the band are playing Saturday the 3rd of May at 10:15 PM at the Zanzibar – they’re giving away the track ‘Supernatural’ for free. With a driving rock groove and a completely infectious guitar riff, you’re going to want to listen again and again to this track. So why not have a listen to the song below and get your free download of it?
‘Supernatural’ follows the track ‘Cherry Bomb’, the album’s first single released to the wild in early March. Both Ben and I highly approve of the song; read Ben’s review of the single here.
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