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Album Review: Rae Morris – Unguarded

 
By on Monday, 26th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

Since Rae Morris signed a recording contract on her 18th birthday, she has been teasing her loyal, yet ever-growing fanbase with her music, or so it seems, with each of her six EPs offering a tiny glimpse of what to expect from her debut album. It’s almost as if Atlantic Records knew they had something special, yet didn’t want to unleash it to the world until she had matured. Now aged 21, Rae Morris has released ‘Unguarded’, and it’s clear to see why she has been hotly tipped as one of the female artists to watch in 2015.

With production of the album coming from Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Charli XCX), Jim Eliot (Kylie Minogue, Ellie Goulding) and Fryars (Lily Allen), ‘Unguarded’ tackles the subject of life-changing, character-building relationships and the highs and the lows that come as a result. Take ‘Skin’ for example. The album opener details the guilt of continuing a toxic love affair; a powerful introduction told through a rare integrity that emanates from the lofty chorus and sophisticated melody. Likewise, ‘Closer’, taken from the EP of the same name, focuses on Rae’s distance from her family and how that has made her more appreciative of her own identity as a result.

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Female singer/songwriters are ten a penny in the music industry at the moment. However, Rae Morris stands out in this market thanks to an elegance in her vocals and a genuine honesty in her lyrics, which complements the pop flair with an almost perfection. This is particularly evident on ‘Love Again’, a graceful track about getting back on the horse, and the up-beat electro-pop single ‘Under the Shadows’. The record also features a number of Rae Morris’ previous singles, including the incredibly moving piano-led ballad ‘Don’t Go’, the highly entrancing ‘Cold’ (ft. Fryars) and the tantalising ‘Do You Even Know?’, a track she wrote in her shed in Blackpool.

‘Unguarded’ is a coming-of-age album for Rae Morris, as she makes the leap up from a teenager writing songs in her bedroom to a contemporary pop star on the verge of unprecedented success. Was it worth the wait? Without a doubt.

9/10

The debut album from Rae Morris, ‘Unguarded’, is released today on Atlantic Records. She begins a UK tour on Sunday in Liverpool; all the details are this way.

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #332: Howie Lee

 
By on Monday, 26th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

The deadmau5 vs. Paris Hilton feud and equipment aside, electronic dance music (EDM) could easily be argued as globally the most level playing field of all current musical genres. All EDM artists, no matter how many of there you are in your group, if you’re male or female or where you’re from, you’ve got one goal: get as many people out there to dance to your music, whether it be on a sweaty dancefloor, down the street while they have you in their headphones, or in the privacy of their own bedrooms while listening to you on speakers.

Moreover, except for maybe the artists with swelled heads and swelled egos, the request for and the process of creating remixes is considered a sign of respect. Up-and-coming EDM producer and DJ Howie Lee might call Beijing home, but after he got a call in 2012 from none other than Snoop Lion (the Rastafarian formerly known as the rapper Snoop Dogg) to do a remix of his new reggae track ‘La La La’, the size of Lee’s world and consciousness grew, and the “future music of downtown Beijing” as Lee calls his style is and will be all the better for it.

Having been heavily influenced by the UK bass music scene, Lee left Beijing for school, working on and graduating with a master’s degree in Sound Arts from the London College of Communication. He used his time there to further experiment with the type of bass music sounds that brought him to blighty in the first place, recording the shuffles and frantic beats of ‘Borderless Shadows’ in what SmartShanghai deemed as #2 on their list of best mainland China albums “a sublime rhythmic mix on the headier side of intelligent bass music” that Lee created for his qualifications.

Now back in China, Lee has no doubt taken what he learnt in London and the new ideas he brought back to come up with some truly inventive music in the last quarter of 2014. His most recent release, December 2014’s ‘Swallow’ EP released on Shanghai’s arty SVBKVLT label, is a three-pack of rhythmic goodness. You can barely take a breath listening to first two tracks ‘Garret Jungle’ and ‘Flea'; one can only assume from the song titles and the title of the release that the general idea was to follow the frenetic motion of these creatures. If I’m correct, this is done really well, and the idea that anyone would be able to recreate these tracks live under the microscope at SXSW 2015 is a challenge, but one I am sure Lee is keen to take on when he appears in Austin in March.

 

Video of the Moment #1727: The Voyeurs

 
By on Friday, 23rd January 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Earlier this month, John introduced us to The Voyeurs, who got a shout for this year’s SXSW in March. This week, they have a new promo for ‘Train to Minsk’, which is the second single to be taken from the bands second album ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’, released in November on Heavenly Recordings. If you’re not fond of bright colours or are prone to epileptic seizures, you should probably skip this one! Otherwise, watch the promo that Entertainment Weekly described as “a color-saturated collage of manipulated found footage created by founding Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart” below.

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(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #331: Pale Seas

 
By on Friday, 23rd January 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Hollie Fernando

Southampton dream pop quartet Pale Seas formed in 2011, when frontman Jacob Scott was inspired to drop out of university and follow his songwriting muse. Their first studio endeavour resulted in a single, ‘Something or Nothing’, which was released in March 2012 and received radio attention from BBC Introducing later that year. On the strength of that single, the band played their first headline tour as well as landing support slots with The War on Drugs, Beach Fossils, The Lemonheads, and TGTF favourites Stornoway.

They quickly recorded a follow up, the double A-side single ‘Bodies / My Own Mind’ with producer Paul Butler (The Bees, Devendra Banhart, Michael Kiwanuka), who contributed a tapestry of “thick, luscious soundscapes” to fortify the wistful melancholia of Scott’s songs. The single was released in September 2012 with the assistance of Communion Records, and ‘Bodies’ kickstarted Pale Seas’ ascent, garnering over one million online plays.

In their brief history, the band have already faced a couple of lineup changes, including the departure of Scott’s former girlfriend and backing vocalist Zealah Isabella Anstey and the addition of drummer Will Hilliard. Having apparently settled in their current incarnation (Scott on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Graham Poole on lead guitar, Matthew Bishop on bass and Hilliard on drums), the band recorded their first EP ‘Places to Haunt’ with Butler once again at the production helm and Poole and Bishop collaborating on the songwriting. The EP, which features guest vocals by Alessi’s Ark, was released in August 2014 via Native Pop and includes the following track ‘Evil is Always One Step Behind’.

After spending the better part of the last 4 years establishing themselves as a band and cementing the direction of their sound, Pale Seas are poised to make a mark on the indie music scene in 2015. Their scheduled trip to SXSW 2015 in Austin in March is their only announced live appearance since their UK tour in October of last year, but I predict that we’ll see more of them, either on stage or in the form of their anticipated debut album. Just below, you can watch the video for ‘Blood Return’, which is taken from that effort.

 

Video of the Moment #1726: The Subways

 
By on Thursday, 22nd January 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

The Subways will be releasing their self-titled album – their fourth – on the 9th of February. On the same day, they’ll also be dropping the single ‘Taking All the Blame’, which now has its own promo video. Interestingly, you can watch the band performing the song in this, but not exactly the way I bet you’re imagining it. Watch it below.

Grab ‘The Subways’ when it comes out on the 9th of February on YFE Records / Cooking Vinyl. John’s review of previous single ‘I’m in Love and It’s Burning My Soul’ can be read here; all of TGTF’s coverage on the Subways is this way.

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Album Review: Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

 
By on Thursday, 22nd January 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

B and S album cover artWhenever I’m listening to a new album for review, I generally try to steer clear of reading other reviewers’ opinions, at least until my own review is officially in the books. I’ve had particular difficulty this week avoiding the barrage of media attention for Belle and Sebastian’s new LP ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. Music critics and diehard fans alike have been eagerly awaiting this release since it was announced late last year, especially now that their attention has turned from end-of-year charts to the business of making predictions for 2015.

‘Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance’ is not only new music for the new year, it marks a slightly new musical direction for Belle and Sebastian as well. As implied by its title, this set of songs unabashedly experiments with dance pop, which comes as a bit of a surprise from the Scottish indie sextet, who have previously been known for their sunny and cerebral brand of twee. In fact, I was astonished to find myself delightedly dancing along to the album’s first single ‘The Party Line’ when I heard it played on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6music programme last week.

Aside from being a gleefully giddy bit of pop pleasure, the track is a strong statement of the band’s intent for this, their ninth studio album. Its trippy, heavily synthesized disco beat, deep pulsing bass and catchy vocal hook, “jump to the beat of a party line / there is nobody here but your body, dear”, put the radio-friendly dance vibe squarely at the forefront of the overall sound. (Watch the video for ‘The Party Line’ in our previous Video of the Moment feature.)

This is not to suggest, however, that frontman and main songwriter Stuart Murdoch has gone soft on his normally erudite lyrical style. Album opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a deeply introspective look at Murdoch’s own introversion, examining the disconnect between himself and the world around him. But the song’s probing lyrics, “we are out of practice, we’re out of sight / on the edge of nobody’s empire / and if we live by books and we live by hope / does that make us targets for gunfire?” are disguised by a sprightly instrumental arrangement and uplifting gospel choir backing vocals that convey more something more akin to optimism than self-doubt.

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‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ is a glittery disco ball of a track with slick synths and programmed percussion backing the lyrically astute vocal trade-off between Murdoch and Sarah Martin. Likewise, ‘Perfect Couples’ features a sensually serpentine guitar riff and an irresistible, almost tribal sounding dance beat behind a tersely cynical lyrical examination of the superficiality of modern relationships: “sexual tension at the fridge / he makes for the organic figs / from on her lips dangling a cig”.

Possibly the most intriguing track on ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is a different kind of dance tune entirely. ‘The Everlasting Muse’ shifts back and forth from a seductive Spanish dance rhythm to a heavy, more Eastern European march tempo. In contrast to the glossy, polished production of the disco numbers, this track has a more traditional dance feel, right down to the handclap rhythms and the hints of modal harmony.

Belle and Sebastian step away from the overarching dance theme in the album’s more characteristic indie pop moments, including the dreamy haze of recent single ‘The Cat With the Cream’ and the blissfully pastoral acoustic arrangement of ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’. Final track ‘Today (This Army’s for Peace)’ closes the album in a similarly contemplative vein, with distantly echoing vocals and a meditative piano solo over a constant and soothing rhythm, delicately executed by drummer Richard Coburn.

‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is solid evidence that even as they approach the 20-year mark of their career as a band, Belle and Sebastian are willing to stretch the limits of their established musical style. At this point, anything they release would be likely to create a buzz of anticipation in the music media, but here they live up to the hype with an album of songs that are by turns pleasantly unexpected and comfortably familiar.

8.5/10

‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, Belle and Sebastian‘s ninth studio album, is out now on Matador Records. Belle and Sebastian are scheduled to perform at a slew of festivals this year, including a high-profile slot at Coachella (Saturday 11 April) and Liverpool Sound City 2015, where they will be headlining Sunday night (24 May) with a full orchestra at the event’s new Bramley Moore Dock location (more information here).

 
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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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