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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 29th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
It’s been some time since we’ve heard from Northwest American indie band Modest Mouse. The last time they released and toured a studio album – 2007’s concept album ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank’ – ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was one of their full members (Marr has since gone on to his own successful solo career). 2015 will see the release of ‘Strangers to Ourselves’, Modest Mouse’s sixth studio album, which will be released in early March on Epic Records. Prior to Christmas 2014, the band revealed the LP’s first single, the all over the place ‘Lampshades on Fire’ (stream here). Just this last week, they revealed second single ‘Coyotes’, a much more understated and thoughful affair that gives clues that ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ will have its introspective, melancholic moments.
The accompanying promo video for ‘Coyotes’ allows the listener to join what appears to be an urbanised coyote as he takes a light rail journey in an empty train car through Portland, Oregon. (Apparently the whole thing as reported by the Portland Mercury is a re-creation of actual events that happened on the town’s MAX Light Rail in 2002, starring what I assume is a very well-trained, Hollywood-type, coyote-looking dog.) The timing of the journey, in the wee hours of the morning, further lends a lonesome air that matches the song. After boarding, the coyote chooses to sit, then relax on a seat on the train, looking about as comfortable as any one of us might be spending a lazy Sunday afternoon on the sofa in front of the telly.
As you’re watching this video, you can’t help but make the connection between the surprising content in a wild animal’s face and body language to our own overwhelming complacency about our changing environment, that it’s someone else’s problem to deal with. In the suburb of Washington, DC, where I born and raised, many deer and a whole host of other wildlife regularly feed on our gardens and build homes and nests in our trees and under our lawns, much to the chagrin of homeowners. From the animals’ perspective, they have had to make do while their own natural habitat and way of life have been encroached on. Who is wrong, who is right? The song is simple, beginning with an easy guitar melody, before it heads into a sweeping chorus with staccatoed notes and backing vocals. This is more of a thinking song.
Frontman Isaac Brock’s haunting lyrics – “Coyotes tiptoe in the snow after dark / at home with the ghosts in the national parks / mankind’s behavin’ like some serial killers / giant ol’ monsters afraid of the sharks” – point squarely to this moral conflict that developers and urban dwellers are challenged with. Going further, he shows how ridiculous we are in being all too often unwilling to find real solutions for our problems: “And we say: ‘We’re in love with all of it’ / and we say: ‘We’re in love with everything’ / and we say: ‘What can we say?'” Is there a one size fits all answer to the mess we find ourselves in, to habitats being destroyed, to global warming, to the destruction of our earth? No, but Modest Mouse deserve mad props for taking to their soapbox to shame us for our own complacency.
The new Modest Mouse single ‘Coyotes’ is out now. ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ will be released on Epic Records on the 2nd of March.
At TGTF we pride ourselves in specialising in new music, so this addition to our SXSW 2015 coverage is a little left-field. The Pop Group debuted in 1979 and return this year with new material after an incredible 35-year hiatus.
The album is heralded by the release of its title track, ‘Citizen Zombie’, as a single. The song initially sounds like an unlistenable mess of noise, but careful attention reveals its layers; there’s a decent groove hidden in there, a lounge-jazz interlude, and its main hook is a particularly persistent earworm. There’s occasionally even some proper lyrics (“like a bad, bad robot spinning out of control”), which reveal a darkly humourous streak pushing through all the chaos.
Ostensibly a post-punk outfit, The Pop Group were inspired by the commercial tail of punk to pursue a more eclectic sound. As contemporaries of The Clash, there’s a definite similarity in the two bands’ sounds – the white-boy funk, the ska influence, the half-spoken, heavily-accented vocals – but The Pop Group are a far more experimental and challenging listen. Perhaps that’s why they don’t share the bigger band’s legendary status of course, but then again there’s always those who prefer to cheer the underdog. The Pop Group are for them. And they’re all still alive, which helps.
As if to prove there’s nothing new under the sun, a quick trip through their back catalogue reveals a sound that at times wouldn’t be out of place being played by a bunch of teenagers from, say, Bristol. ‘Mad Truth’ has Carib-jangle rhythm guitar and a cleanly-plucked, reverbed lead line part that countless indie bands are deploying right now to good effect. But no contemporary band can match the granddads’ irreverent attitude or ability to make you feel very uncomfortable indeed.
They’re embarking on a modest U.S. tour before rocking up at SXSW. Quite how those shows will be received is anyone’s guess. A bunch of grumpy, grey-haired English blokes making a right old racket is surely not what the increasingly touristy SXSW punters have in mind when they buy their tickets. But one thing’s for sure: it’s bound to be very memorable indeed.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 28th January 2015 at 6:00 pm
Longfellow have released the new promo for their latest single ‘Medic’, which was released back on the 12th of January. Considering how powerful their live action video for ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ was last spring, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel with an animated one from them. There’s a definite twist at the end of this video that I never saw coming, and for that alone, it’s worth it to check out this video below.
The band have two London shows lined up for February: they’ll be at The Fix night at the Social on Little Portland Street on the 3rd of the month, followed by a headline show all their own on the 26th at the Borderline. For all our previous coverage on Longfellow, head here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 28th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Words by Harry Gold
Bridging the gap between Baggy and Britpop in the early ‘90s, the Charlatans were one of many bands that rode the wave of success of the Manchester music scene that developed after the emergence of the Hacienda as a ‘superclub’ in the late ‘80s. Despite offering their own take on the psychedelic swagger of Madchester sound, the easiest way to describe the group’s 1990 debut LP ‘Some Friendly’ would be “The Stone Roses with an organ player”, offering an arguably more accessible and poppy sound. Re-emerging in 2015, The Charlatans seem to have completely remolded themselves, with vocalist Tim Burgess’ Gallagher-esque drawl having seemingly dissipated into something more versatile and wide reaching. The music also appears more expansive, sounding surprisingly cosmopolitan for a group hailing from Northwich.
Stripped down to its bare bones, ‘Modern Nature’ can be described as a record by a West Coast psychedelic rock band with electronic and acid house undertones. This, interestingly, would be also have been a fitting way to describe the band at the height of their success in the ‘90s, making ‘Modern Nature’ a massive sonic departure, but also a remoulding of old influences. While ‘Some Friendly’ was a testament to staying indoors and taking drugs at shady nightclubs, the album as a whole feels like the rediscovery of a world outside of raving and clubbing, a welcome contrast to draw with convoluted modern pop music.
Opening track ‘Talking in Tones’ marks a departure from the electronic groove-led energy of the band’s earlier material, the group appearing to be looking around and appreciating the world around them more rather than focussing exclusively on themselves and their immediate surroundings. The main musical influences are immediately noticeable, with the shadow of the Doors being omnipresent throughout the record, especially on album track ‘Let the Good Times Be Never Ending’. Paired with a drum sound reminiscent of New Order’s ‘The Perfect Kiss’, the group’s Stephen Morris being one of the guest drummers playing on the LP, the band seamlessly merge together sounds originally created decades apart.
Recent single ‘So Oh’ hints at more contemporary psychedelic wanderings, with the thought of Tame Impala immediately springing to the fore. There are moments when such sunniness seems almost unconvincing coming from a group that have probably only experienced a heat wave once in their lives, living in an otherwise gloomy part of Britain. Beneath the vibrant exterior, the creation of ‘Modern Nature’ feels as though it has occurred alongside the daunting realization that the group has outgrown their old youthful energy and need to “grow up”. The album, as a result, feels like a result of these blind meanderings, a transitory moment for the band as songwriters and musicians, but also as people.
‘Modern Nature’ doesn’t, however, feel like a step into the future, rather a celebration of the past. After the passing of drummer Jon Brookes in 2013, The Charlatans seem to have garnered a new appreciation for life, allowing them to see not only the world around them, but also themselves, in a completely different light. Featuring members of the Verve, Dexy’s and Factory Floor, the record is a celebration of all that has come before, with musicians born generations apart pulling together, marking ‘Modern Nature’ as a key point in the groups career, encapsulating their past into one record so they can move forward into the future.
‘Modern Nature’, the Charlatans’ 12th studio album to date, is out now on BMG / Chrysalis. The band have lined up a UK tour in March, with many of the dates already sold out.
I approached Vision Fortune with a sense of trepidation rather than excitement. Any band which decides to shroud its song titles in a series of Roman numerals, either by trying to be too avant-garde and arty for me, are obviously far too clever for a simple mind like myself to comprehend. Throughout the 3 and a bit hours I spent listening to these guys, I was left feeling like I really didn’t understand what was going on – lots of head scratching, bouts of melancholy – generally just feeling like whatever concept these guys are going for has gone completely over my head. It wasn’t pleasant to say the least.
I’m normally a big fan of anything prog/industrial. But throughout my time listening to the London band, I was just left a bit baffled. For example, during ‘XVII’ I felt like I was beamed up by some kind of creepy Roswell-esque / X-Files-style aliens. When I first dived in with this group, I was immediately thinking, these guys sound like a beefed up version of Tall Ships. However, when they move away from the Roman numerals on tracks like ‘Black Ocean Glow’, they do manage to create a rather pleasant soundscape, plodding through a desert in a stoner rock fashion.
They’re nothing like what I’ve ever encountered recently, with their sound flipping wildly between the understated picking rhythms and thudding, whining tunes that sound more and more like a swarm of bees every time you hear it. Often it seems as if for vast swathes of tracks, the band have just left a tape in the machine and let it get stuck on a specific section for a good 2 minutes, as it jerks and squirms in the machine. You know that sound? Surely if I’m old enough to remember tapes, you all can too?
As a live outfit prospect, I’m intrigued to see how this will all work and I can see Vision Fortune somehow being a very popular draw at SXSW. I mean, music with seldom any obvious lyrics has worked incredibly well in the case of Public Service Broadcasting, whilst the mystery factor was enough to push 2014 breakout duo Jungle into the wider public’s eyeline. You only need to do things a little differently to get noticed and at SXSW I sense this is the kind of act which will draw lines snaking out of the venue, with the entire crowd formed up of industry trendsetters in their lens-less glasses, lumberjack shirts and nipple-length ginger beards. Hipster fodder they may be, but with such a distinctive sound Vision Fortune are difficult to ignore, despite the fact I’m now trying to.
Vision Fortune’s debut album ‘Country Music’ is out now on ATP Recordings; a trailer for the off-kilter LP is below. The band will be heading out on a UK tour in March, just prior to their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015.
The 6 Music Festival is back! And it’s coming to my town. For two evenings in February, the coolest place for a music lover to be is Gateshead: the Sage Gateshead on the iconic Newcastle/Gateshead quayside, to be precise. Newcastle gets to kick off the event on the Friday night, hosting an opening party at the O2 Academy, the lineup for which is impressive indeed: Interpol, Mogwai, Sleater-Kinney’s first UK performance for 10 years, and the winner of 6 Music’s album of the year, The War on Drugs. Tickets for this will set you back a mere £25, and considering the bill is essentially four headline-worthy performances, that’s impeccable value. The venue capacity is 2,000, and there’s only 1,800 tickets on offer, so all those lucky enough to procure a ticket will get a decent view.
The whole shebang then moves (just) south of the river to the hip and happening borough of Gateshead, which, as everyone in the know has known for a while now, is a far superior place to live and party than its more famous little brother Newcastle. It’s all happening at the iconic Sage, into which the powers that be are managing to cram four performance spaces into its voluptuous, snail-like curves. I’ll give an alphabetised list at the end of this article, but this writer’s picks of the Saturday night are: Kate Tempest and Eliza Carthy, who will bring two stylistically dissimilar but familiarly connected strands of English folk music together in a unique, and uniquely powerful performance; Gruff Rhys, whose latest project American Interior, documenting Welsh explorer John Evans’ epic journey across the eponymous landscape, will surely feature highly; and The Cribs, whose stamina and endurance are second to none, and are still turning out music worthy of a catalogue which extends back more than a decade.
Readers’ attention must be alerted to the capacity of the Sage, compared with the number of tickets sold, so they are prepared what they might get for their money. The Sage is essentially a shell within which two separate auditoria exist: the stunning all-seated Hall One (capacity 1,640), and the much smaller, less formal, standing Hall Two (capacity 400). There’s also a small room called the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, capacity 250. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that this is a total capacity of 2290, but ticket sales are set at 3,400 – the capacity of the entire building, not just the auditoria. Apparently the concourse will absorb the overspill, which means over 1,000 people milling about outside trying to get to see the show of their choice, although there will be 6 Music DJs on the concourse as well. Just to reiterate, if every ticket holder wishes to see the big headline performance in the main room, less than half will be able to do so. I am prepared to stand corrected on my numbers, but if I’m right I can see trouble, and overcrowding, ahead. The Sage are notoriously uptight about rules – this isn’t your usual free-and-easy gig venue – so expect short shrift from the stewards if the room is at capacity. Also expect white-collar drinks prices, and with a no readmittance policy, it could turn out to be an expensive evening, with no guarantee of seeing the show of one’s choice, albeit with all the falafel wraps one can eat. Caveat emptor.
As long as post-festival drinks didn’t go on too late at the superb Central Bar across the road from the Sage, Sunday dawns with yet another superb lineup of acts, with a flavour not unlike a Glastonbury Sunday: more left-field choices, perhaps established acts that need a bit of a boost. In that vein, picks from Sunday include the vintage post-punk outfit Wire and the vintage post-soul diva Neneh Cherry. Gaz Coombes will bring the newest of his superb solo work, and Public Service Broadcasting will reveal the direction they’ve chosen for album number two.
In summary, this is an impeccable list of acts for what promises to be an exciting weekend on Tyneside. I haven’t even touched on the 6 Music By Day strand, which is to run in Newcastle’s creative hub, the Ouseburn valley, and include interviews by 6 Music presenters with the musicians who are playing later, performances from bands local to the North East, and a record fair. Our cup runneth over! Given the fact that it’s all only 10 minutes on the bus from my front door, I personally couldn’t be happier. Anyone for an after party?
Bands performing at The 02 Academy Newcastle on Friday 20 February from 5 PM:
– Mogwai, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year
– Sleater-Kinney, their first UK performance in almost 10 years
– The War On Drugs, BRIT 2015 nominees whose 2014 album ‘Lost in the Dream’ was 6 Music’s Album of the Year in 2014
Artists and bands performing at The Sage Gateshead across four stages on Saturday 21 February from 6 PM:
– Hot Chip, performing exclusive brand new material for the first time
– Royal Blood, Mercury Prize 2014 and BRIT 2015 nominees
– The Fall
– Jungle, Mercury Prize 2014 nominees
– Maximo Park, local North East heroes
– Kate Tempest, Mercury Prize 2014 nominee
– Gruff Rhys
– Simian Mobile Disco
– Django Django, performing exclusive new material
– Father John Misty
– Ghostpoet, performing brand new material
– The Cribs, performing brand new material
– Villagers, performing exclusive brand new material for the first time
– Ibibio Sound Machine
– Kate Tempest and Eliza Carthy: performing together in an exclusive 6 Music collaboration
– A Northern Soul Night (from 5-10.30 PM), hosted by 6 Music’s Funk and Soul show presenter Craig Charles, with Richard Searling and Stuart Maconie plus further DJs to be announced soon.
Artists and bands performing at The Sage Gateshead across four stages on Sunday 22 February from 6 PM:
– The Charlatans: performing exclusive brand new material
– Jamie T
– Neneh Cherry
– Jon Hopkins
– British Sea Power
– Gaz Coombes
– Young Fathers, Mercury 2014 winners
– The Maccabees, performing exclusive new material
– Glass Animals
– Lonelady, performing brand new material
– King Creosote
– Public Service Broadcasting, performing brand new material
– Unknown Mortal Orchestra, performing brand new material
– Additional DJ sets (from 5-10.30 PM), hosted by 6 Music presenter Nemone, with Richy Ahmed, Daniel Avery, 6 Mix residents Rob da Bank and DJ Yoda, and others to be announced soon.
Tickets for each night of the festival will go on sale at 10 AM across 3 consecutive days: tickets for Friday go on sale on Friday 30 January, priced £25 plus fees; tickets for Saturday 21 February go on sale on Saturday 31 January, priced £35 plus fees; and tickets for Sunday 22 February go on sale on Sunday 1 February, priced £35 plus fees. For more information on the event in Newcastle, visit the BBC 6music Web site. Information on the festival by day will be announced on BBC 6music on Tuesday 3 February.
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