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When it comes to out of the ordinary, new wave, alternative pop music, it seems that Manchester is the place to be. There may not be many bands doing this kind of thing, but the calibre of bands who are is incredible. Dutch Uncles are definitely one among the great Mancunian new wave scene who have just shared the release date for their upcoming 5th studio album ‘Big Balloon’. And luckily for us, they have released the title track, the album’s first single, last week as a preview to the long player.
Dutch Uncles present a forward-thinking side to pop music. It is very intricate, intelligent and thoroughly thought out. Each instrument plays its own part, and never used just to fill space. After four previously released studio albums, the Mancunian four-piece now have quite a back catalogue of releases. With each album, there is an unexpected development within their music, shown through the band experimenting more with ambiguous time signatures and phrasing, as well as producing erratic rhythms catchy hooks.
Without a doubt, ‘Big Balloon’ continues this trend. The song opens with an absolutely monstrous bass riff from primary songwriter and bassist Robin Richards, then goes into what Dutch Uncles do best: create an off-kilter rhythm that plays around with the accents of a 4/4 beat, creating the illusion that it’s in an irregular or compound time signature. Being a bass player, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn the bass line. The first 5 seconds of this track shows so crystal clear why Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot work so well together. The heavy use of mid frequencies within the bass tone are excellently accompanied by Proudfoot’s huge, deep, full-sounding drums, filling out the lower frequencies, thus resulting in an exceptionally powerful rhythm section.
Frontman Duncan Wallis defuses the tension of the strictly rhythmic bass and drum groove perfectly with an ‘80’s synthpop keyboard sound and his soft, calming vocal tone we all know and love. He recites lyrics that point perhaps toward mental health, but it’s always difficult to decipher his ambiguous and sometimes genderless lyrics. The approach to the vocal melody within ‘Big Balloon’ is very well executed, despite being in some ways basic. Melodically, it doesn’t venture far from what would be considered safe, but what Wallis showcases in rhythm is where the topline grasps the listener. Bearing this in mind, Wallis’ note choice, in partnership with the extended chords, manages to embellish the bass incredibly well. In this case, what he’s doing is both difficult and simple, as the bass is only playing one note (D) but in two octaves.
The structure of this song is strength in itself. The band knows how good the drum and bass intro is and how well it carries the track. With it, they know how long it can continue before it loses its novelty. Right on the cusp of waning interest, the chorus drops – rather unexpectedly, but still as driving as the previous 39 seconds of bass-driven pop. The chorus opens the song up, unveiling the hidden choir of vocal harmonies and dream-like synths that sprinkle the seemingly never-ending chord progression, solidly led by the thick, heavy bass notes. Although the guitar has been quiet up until this point, it continues the chorus somewhat with an emulation of the vocal melody, but covered in fuzz. In doing this, it helps strengthen the main focal point of the track by providing a contrast to Wallis’ smooth vocal melody with a crunchy, distorted version of the melody.
If the single ‘Big Balloon’ is anything to go by in relation to the upcoming album, we’re in for a serious treat.
‘Big Balloon’, the fifth studio album from Dutch Uncles, drops on the 17th of February 2017 on Memphis Industries. The single is available now; stream it below. You can find dates to the supporting tour in the new year here. For much more TGTF goodness on Dutch Uncles, go here.
November has been a bit of an abbreviated month for posts here at TGTF, with our American contingent (editor Mary and myself) taking time off to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday last week. However, we have seen no shortage of new music this month, with exciting tracks from Sylvan Esso, the xx and Rick Astley (no, really, we wouldn’t rickroll you!) coming across our desks. You might also notice that a few previously covered favourites have resurfaced, from the likes of Syd Arthur, Big Thief, Frightened Rabbit and Spring King. We’ve had a plethora of live gig coverage this month as well, featuring David Ramirez, LANY with Transviolet, and Kaleo with Bishop Briggs.
If you haven’t kept up with our daily features this month, you can get all caught up just by listening to the playlist below. Want more TGTF on Spotify? Subscribe to the TGTF Spotify account, by plugging “spotify:user:tgtftunes” (no quotes) into the search bar and clicking the Follow button. Happy listening!
Former frontman of the Verve and now veteran alt-rocker in his own right Richard Ashcroft has announced a brief arena tour of the UK for next April, to follow his upcoming shows at the Liverpool Echo Arena on the 7th of December and the London O2 on the 9th of December. Ashcroft will postscript the newly listed April tour dates with a special headline show at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl as part of mini-festival Sounds of the City.
Back in May, Ashcroft released his new album ‘These People’, which includes the recent single ‘Out of My Body’. You can watch the promo video for ‘Out of My Body’ just below the tour date listing.
Tickets for the following live shows will be available for general sale tomorrow, Friday, the 2nd of December at 9:30 AM. Final tickets for Ashcroft’s December shows in Liverpool and London are available now. TGTF’s previous coverage of Richard Ashcroft is just through here.
Tuesday 18th April 2017 – Glasgow SSE Hydro
Thursday 20th April 2017 – Birmingham Arena
Saturday 22nd April 2017 – Leeds Arena
Friday 30th June 2017 – Manchester Castlefield Bowl
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 30th November 2016 at 6:00 pm
As mentioned in this In the Post I wrote last week here on TGTF, in case you’ve been living under a rock, surprise! The xx are back! Romy Madley-Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith have reconvened to announce their third album ‘I See You’, slated for release the 13th of January 2017. They even guested on Saturday Night Live in America to celebrate. The first taster from ‘I See You’ is ‘On Hold’, which comes across a little weird to me, primarily for the weak rhymes employed in it (read that In the Post for more of my thoughts on the single). Now, rather predictably, the song has its own promo. No longer the shy, introspective goths we thought they were back in 2009, their ‘new’ pop sound is matched visually with…high school students? Er, right… Watch it below. If you wish to regale yourself with our past coverage of their former shadowy selves, go here.
Delicate but firm, Will Varley manages to create a world to lose yourself in with just his voice and some taut strings. This isn’t an especially new method of working, in fact it’s almost as old as music itself. But the artists who manage to stand out from this crowd are the souls with stories to tell, stories that survive the tests of time. Varley has said himself of this album and its content which “may not be radio friendly, or even ‘friendly’ at all”, but in all honesty it’s nice to have something that steers clear of the infinite happiness that consumes pop music. Darkened acoustic tracks offer a different side to life, the one that is all too real for all of us and gives an unrelenting relatable factor.
With Varley, his strength lies in the darker side of songcraft. It’s not an entirely happy listen – minor chords are in abundance – but there’s something utterly entrancing about his compositions. The first track, ‘To Build A Wall’, kicks things off with its ballad styling and talk of building walls that act as a defence for family, life and love. It’s a delicate first bite but it shows Varley opening himself up to prepare you for exactly where the album is heading: deep into his mind, and it’s not going to be an easy ride.
Following this, ’Something Is Breaking’ takes the atmosphere straight into the realistic and sombre. What is presumably a look at the modern world and its haphazard way of “survival”, a constant divide that fixes nothing but “turns your past into our future”, Varley takes aim at politicians and their broken way of working. More lost lives appear in ‘When She Wakes Up’, which features entwining stories that all lead to the unconscious protective dormant mind that needs to learn of all this new information. Is it a metaphor for the naivete of the majority of the world? Probably not, but the beauty of music such as this is you can read whatever story and meaning it brings out to you and associate it to your own personal needs.
Another delicate track, ‘February Snow’, approaches more death with the title offering the instant scene setter. Varley’s guitar plucking takes on the symbolic form of a heavy snow, while his lyrics offer the ground for these flakes to fall upon and the soft string accompaniment brings it all together with such a light touch that you’d be forgiven for actually missing it. To follow such an irenic track is no easy feat, even for the creator, but on ‘Let Your Guard Down’, he does just that. Opening with the words “In a KFC, in the early hours, someone giving out threats, someone giving out flowers”, Varley somehow manages to completely juxtapose all that came before it. It takes a special kind of talent to write a track such as ‘February Snow’ and then commit “KFC” as lyrics within the track that follows. Yet Varley manages to pull both off without a single hitch and without a need to compromise in his dusk-filled world.
Perhaps more obvious in topic, ‘We Want Our Planet Back’ sees Varley going full-on political. The simplicity of the words, not aiming for hidden meaning but going full heart-on-sleeve, offers the track as something of an anthem for the liberals and hippies. Given the current political climate of the world, that’s certainly not a bad thing. The minimal use of additional instruments throughout, from the aforementioned strings, to the spattering of jolting electric guitar here, the basis of Varley’s voice and guitar to serve as the canvas doesn’t falter or give up any of its built-up success.
At this point, over halfway, you gather that there aren’t going to be any left-field surprises and this is an album that is served as sold. ‘Too Late, Too Soon’ and ‘Wild Bird’ are both eloquent and full of picturesque lyricism and full of more of Varley’s delicate guitar work, but the album takes a turn into ‘Back Down to Hell’. Taking on a dark-folk angle, it paints a picture of a temptress in only a way that Varley can describe. One standout line in particular, “she melts the sunset with the candle in her eye”, gives both a message of futility and despair. But just in case you weren’t at that feeling yet, Varley follows it with “woke up this morning, thought I was gonna die, it’s a long way down”.
The final two tracks ‘One Last Look at the View’ and ‘We’ll Keep Making Plans’ just completely go full throttle into the quaint and heartbreaking folk tale side of Varley. What he’s managed to create with ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ is a record to swallow you whole and leave you feeling fragile, a point that is backed up by the latter track. At 1:59, ‘We’ll Keep Making Plans’ is the shortest cut, but at the same time the most open. It fades in with airy finger picking, soon to be joined by Varley’s voice, ghostly and ravaged with emotion. It carries on through until it simply fades away, leaving you distraught and lost. Listen to ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ in the dark of night whilst it’s raining, with no distractions. You might feel sad, but Varley is there with you to keep you company.
Will Varley’s ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ album is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.
Laura Marling has announced the release of her sixth studio album ‘Semper Femina’ for the 10th of March next year, as well as a list of UK live dates to coincide with the album release. ‘Semper Femina’ follows Marling’s ‘Reversal of the Muse’ podcast series, which focused on femininity in creative endeavours, and her 2015 album ‘Short Movie’, which TGTF touched upon here and here.
Tickets for the following shows will be available for general sale this Friday, the 2nd of December. You can also buy tickets now with pre-orders of ‘Semper Femina’ on Marling’s official Web site. Stay tuned to TGTF in the near future for a review of the first single from ‘Semper Femina’; in the meantime, you can read through our past coverage of Laura Marling right back here.
Wednesday 8th March 2017 – Leeds Academy
Thursday 9th March 2017 – Bristol Colston Hall
Friday 10th March 2017 – Glasgow ABC
Sunday 12th March 2017 – Manchester Albert Hall
Monday 13th March 2017 – Oxford Academy
Tuesday 14th March 2017 – Birmingham Institute
Wednesday 16th March 2017 – Brighton Dome
Thursday 17th March 2017 – London Roundhouse
Friday 18th March 2017 – Salisbury City Hall
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