Festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017, can be read through here.

SXSW 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
Sound City 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Great Escape 2015 | 2013 | 2012

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Album Review: Dan Croll – Emerging Adulthood

 
By on Tuesday, 25th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Dan Croll Emerging Adulthood coverHave a look above and you’ll see that singer/songwriter Dan Croll‘s recent press photo is much more serious than the one we’ve used for him in the past. His expression is now slightly drawn and his eyes are more knowing, maybe even a bit jaded. Make no mistake, Croll is still quite young at age 27, but the songs on his new album ‘Emerging Adulthood’, his second, center around the well-worn theme of a young adult coming of age. In this case, though, the writing seems to take a real-time approach to the matter, rather than the usual angsty, after-the-fact introspection.

Musically, Croll is a crafty songwriter, known for his multi-instrumental talents and his off-kilter combination of synth pop and folk. Those basic elements haven’t changed since the 2014 release of his first album ‘Sweet Disarray’; if anything, his penchant for electronic sounds has grown with ‘Emerging Adulthood’. But his execution is still all over the shop, with a sense of constant experimentation winning out over comfortable sophistication.

The album’s opening track ‘One of Us’ was previously released as a single back in 2015, and it opens the new record on a strong note. Croll interprets the idea of peer pressure with a punk style heavy guitar riff and the repeated opening lines “heard you can’t beat the rush / give in and be one of us”, while the lagging tempo and quirky electro sounds give the song a very likeable pop feel. ‘Bad Boy’ is Croll’s take on another young adult cliché, namely female attraction to the stereotypical male rebel. It’s a catchy little tune that has already become a favourite track on Sirius XM Alt Nation here in America as well has having been featured as our own Video of the Moment #2377. The song’s subject matter and simple musical arrangement are instantly relatable, and Croll’s vocal melodies are easy-on-the ear, despite a hint of lyrical bitterness for all the self-proclaimed “nice guys” out there.

The hazy dream pop sound of ’24’ also centers on simple vocal lines and rhyming lyrical couplets. It’s not entirely clear whether Croll’s entreaty of “please don’t let it be a heart attack” refers to a health scare, but his leaning toward romantic concerns later in the album suggests that he might have been thinking metaphorically here. ‘Sometimes When I’m Lonely’ employs a strong bass groove that was probably meant to be soulful, while ‘Educate’ takes a more ostensibly seductive r&b tack, laced with quirky electronic sounds and unapologetically the nerdy lyrics “educate any way that you like . . . I wanna be just like you, I wanna educate with you, my mind”. ‘Swim’ uses a slightly more elegant metaphor in its dual-voiced romantic inquiry, “don’t you wanna explore the waves I’m willing to make?”

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‘Away from Today’ is more substantial both in texture and tone color, with brass and additional percussion adding interest and drama under Croll’s softly diffuse voals and minor-key vocal melody. The anticipatory drama of the music is matched by the natural scenery featured in the song’s promo video, where we see Croll running great distances through forests, among ancient ruins, and along rocky seashores, only to come face-to-face with himself in the end. The sweeping track ‘Tokyo’ ends the album on a high note, starting with the rather clever pentatonic tinge in its opening piano melody. The song’s lyrics deal with emotional distance, bitterness and jealousy, but its geographically-distant chorus (“no, I’ve never been to Tokyo / never made my inhibitions known / don’t look kindly on the things you do / from my enigmatic point of view”) is equal parts quirky and catchy.

Despite its moments of brilliance, ‘Emerging Adulthood’ is plagued overall by what might be called growing pains. For every mildly clever lyric or musical gesture, there’s an equally awkward one to match it. The overarching concept is interesting, but the songs come across as a bit superficial in their emotion, and their musical settings feel somehow removed or overly-contrived. That said, the album’s stronger tracks are highly enjoyable and worthy of inclusion on the inevitable “best-of-summer” playlists that will begin cropping up in the next few weeks.

7/10

‘Emerging Adulthood’, the second album from Dan Croll, is out now on Communion Music. Croll will play a run of live shows in America this September; you can find those dates listed through here. To read through TGTF’s previous coverage of Dan Croll, follow this link.

 

Album Review: Declan McKenna – What Do You Think About the Car?

 
By on Tuesday, 18th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Declan McKenna What Do You Think About the Car album coverSome people are just destined for greatness. Far less common in life are those who can predict such greatness in themselves. There might be some disagreement with this, but a recording of Declan McKenna when small seems to have been remarkably prescient. In response to his oldest sister Rosanna’s question, “Dec, what do you think about the car? Do you like it?” The 4-year old Declan responded, “I like it, it’s really good and now I’m going to sing my new album now.” Now the formerly nonsensical name of his debut album for Columbia makes sense!

In case you’re late to the Declan McKenna party, you can start by reading this Bands to Watch I wrote ahead of his appearances at SXSW 2016. Out of the gate in 2015 with ‘Brazil’, which handily skewered the hypocrisy of world football-governing body FIFA, McKenna showed himself to be more than just a wild card. He had the ambition of becoming a pop star with – gasp! horror! – a social conscience. This new record from the Hertfortshire teen is a convenient collection of his live favourites and past singles, including ‘Brazil’, ‘Bethlehem’ and ‘Paracetatmol’, all of which appeared on ‘Liar’ EP back in the spring. Unlike his mostly one-dimensional contemporaries, McKenna isn’t easily pigeonholed with one style or sound. While ‘What Do You Think…’ is certainly a 21st century album, produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford (The Last Shadow Puppets, Depeche Mode) and taking advantage of current technology, listening to it is like no other album out there today.

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The LP begins with single ‘Humongous’: its instrumental solo and McKenna’s double-tracked vocals in the chorus give the feeling not of 2017 of a song of a past generation. Or at least the last one. The leisurely tempo of ‘Humongous’ eventually gives way to a frenetic ending, but not before McKenna thumbs his nose towards duplicitous politicians: “Do you care? / I’m big, humongous, enormous and small / and it’s not fair that I am nothing and nobody’s there”. The wonky waltzy rhythm of ‘Mind’ and its theme of teenage angst of young love not going quite right will remind you of early Mystery Jets. Maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, since Ford also produced 2006’s ‘Making Dens’? McKenna’s voice on ‘I Am Everyone Else’ also has a Blaine Harrison quality, while the melody chirps along with both guitars and synths. There’s more synth action on the feel good ‘Why Do You Feel So Down’, on which one-man band McKenna sounds like a more electric Vampire Weekend.

However, what will more likely be more important to this 18-year old’s legacy is his willingness to go beyond the usual and often too simplistic teenage song topics. It’s been during the Millennial generation that the concerns of the LGBT community have been more widely aired. However, young McKenna took on the tragic suicide of Ohioan transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in ‘Paracetamol’ because “People need to start getting it.” Guitar-driven foot stomper ‘Bethlehem’ tackles the holier-than-thou stance of those willing to kill and die in the name of religion (“but you sin as you wish”). The not quite ballad, not quite pop song ‘Listen to Your Friends’ closing the album alludes to the importance of speaking up and out against injustices, instead of following everyone else’s apathy. This statement seems even more important following the young people’s vote in the June 2016 General Election; check out McKenna’s wail during the song in live performance below.

‘What Do You Think About the Car?’ is a debut that never has a dull moment, and it’s got as much variety as an assorted pack of jelly beans. A pleasant listen throughout, along with plenty of great lyrics to sink your teeth into and make you think, Declan McKenna should be proud of writing a debut record that has a good shot of standing the test of time.

8.5/10

‘What Do You Think About the Car?’, the long-anticipated debut album from pop wunderkind Declan McKenna, will be released this Friday, the 21st of July, on Columbia Records. Have a stroll through our archive of posts on the young McKenna here on TGTF through this link.

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Single Review: Fenne Lily – What’s Good

 
By on Friday, 14th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Turn the lights off, hit play and pay attention to the first official music video release from Bristol-based singer/songwriter Fenne Lily. ‘What’s Good’ was self released back in March, but the heart-on-sleeve-influenced music video premiered just last week.

In 2016, Fenne embarked on her very first UK headline tour and also had a one-off support slot with Lucy Rose. The Bristolian has continued into 2017 with a tour supporting Charlie Cunningham in Europe and landed a slot on a co-headline tour with Siv Jakobson, Paul Thomas Saunders and Sivu this October, which you can read all about here. Fenne has since been working on new material, which is expected to drop later this year. And if it’s anything near as beautiful as ‘What’s Good’, we’re in for quite a treat.

‘What’s Good’ speaks directly from the fragile, painful side of love. Captured by a combination of raw production techniques, a simple yet captivating song and a collection of beautifully honest lyrics, Fenne’s vocals are front and centre throughout the whole track, making it impossible to ignore her sorrowing, self-pitying lyrics. With no sign of vocal processing or even hints of effects to soften the projection, the listener hears in full Lily’s soft, quivering tone as she tenderly makes her way through the deeply personal track. The development of the track seems ambiguous, as a single acoustic guitar softly provides harmonic context to the vocal melody. The song progresses through an empowering yet exposing pre-chorus. Her lyrics “And I know what I want/But I know what I’ll lose” hint at a fight-or-flight state of mind, in this case swaying more towards fight. Approaching the steadily rhythmic chorus, there’s a sense of relief, even though the lyrics continue to address Lily’s vulnerable state: “’cos I need this more than I knew / More than I like, more than you do”.

Following the success of previous singles ‘Bud’ and ‘Top to Toe’, which together have accumulated over 20 million Spotify streams, ‘What’s Good’ has only made Fenne Lily more accessible. With the release of a music video, we can now enjoy a visual representation of her painfully honest music.

8/10

‘What’s Good’ by Fenne Lily is out now, self released by Fenne herself. If you wish to catch Lily live this year, be sure to check out her tour dates through here.

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Album Review: alt-J – Relaxer

 
By on Wednesday, 12th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

alt-J relaxer photoTrue to its title, the new album ‘Relaxer’ from alt-rock trio alt-J is a deliberate attempt to revitalize the band’s safely-established sound by injecting a larger sense of space. It was hard to know which direction alt-J might take after their Mercury-nominated debut ‘An Awesome Wave’ and their Grammy-nominated sophomore outing ‘This Is All Yours’. Certainly the pressure was on them to make another “successful” album, whether that success is measured in terms of critical accolades or commercial sales, and the idea of relaxing, of taking a bit of breathing room, was surely welcome.

In terms of radio play, alt-J have already achieved a degree of success here in America with album single ‘In Cold Blood’. It’s a catchy track despite its ominous undertones, and one sure to have turned a more than a few intrigued ears in the direction of ‘Relaxer’. But as it turns out, the sharp, tightly-composed arrangement of ‘In Cold Blood’ isn’t particularly indicative of the album as a whole.

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Opening track ‘3WW’ is a better representation, which might be why it was chosen to be first in the tracklisting. Its langourous instrumental intro immediately sets a slower, more relaxed vibe, and when the vocals finally do enter, they are divided among three voices: keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, frontman Joe Newman and guest vocalist Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice. The off-kilter ballad, as described by the band, “traces the adventures of a wayward lad on England’s northeast coast, culminating in the whispering of three worn words.” It’s a brilliant beginning, and very promising indeed when paired with ‘In Cold Blood’ as the next track in the sequence.

After that point, however, ‘Relaxer’ begins to stray from its expected path. alt-J’s cover of The Animals’ classic ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is interesting at first, especially with the minor but meaningful lyrical alterations they’ve made. But their consciously expansive musical arrangement ultimately stretches too thin, and the dramatic momentum of previous versions is lost in Newman’s somberly-intoned vocals.

‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ attempts to revives some lost energy with a dose of the ’60s psychedelia that alt-J removed from ‘House of the Rising Sun’. The song is weirdly hypnotic and sensual, but on closer examination, its lyrics (“I’m fucking loose, you’re gorgeous, I don’t care / come closer, baby, slap me like that snare”) left me feeling a little dirty, and their devolution to the lines “fuck you, I’ll do what I want to do” seems either gratuitous or just plain lazy.

The largely unintelligible lyrics of ‘Deadcrush’ are underpinned with a deep, enticing bass groove that somehow reflects back to the rhythm of ‘In Cold Blood’, and its subject matter, literally romantic crushes on dead women, is equally bizarre once you can decipher what Newman is singing. Conversely, recent single ‘Adeline’ is a mournful and misty atmospheric ballad, cloaked in acoustic strings and gauzy backing vocals, that builds to a sonically dramatic finish.

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Penultimate track ‘Last Year’, featuring guest vocalist Marika Hackman, brings alt-J’s folk roots back into focus ahead of the album’s grand finale, ‘Pleader’. With the soaring voices of the Ely Cathedral choir serving as a backdrop, alt-J close ‘Relaxer’ on a dynamically and texturally expansive note, taking glorious inspiration from classic literary and musical sources of the past.

alt-J have pulled out all the stops for ‘Relaxer’, in an attempt to step out of their comfort zone and broaden their sonic horizons. The album never takes a decisive direction, and it lacks the immediate accessibility of alt-J’s earlier work, but it’s rather a brave collection of work nonetheless. If nothing else, ‘Relaxer’ is an eclectic display of the sonic possibilities at alt-J’s disposal, both for the present and for the future.

6.5/10

Alt-J’s third album ‘Relaxer’ is out now on Infectious Music / Atlantic. A list of the band’s worldwide tour dates can be found on their official Facebook.  TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of alt-J, dating back to 2012, is collected here.

 

Album Review: Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

 
By on Monday, 10th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Katie Ellen Cowgirl Blues album coverFollowing the breakup of their pop punk band Chumped last year, frontwoman Anika Pyle and drummer Dan Frelly branched out into fuzz pop to start a new act. The name Katie Ellen was inspired by Pyle’s own grandmother’s stage name, a radio maverick in the 1950s called Kaytee Ellen whose on-air identity was unfortunately considered her employer’s property.

Staunch feminist Pyle explains giving the project a pseudonym “lent me a bit of creative anonymity to try new things and explore my own identity, especially as it pertains to autonomy, femininity and vulnerability.” They’re so anonymous, the press photos I was given for this review aren’t of the band themselves (I don’t think) but anonymous women whose faces are obscured by flowers. While you could argue their sound has a punk soul, there’s also an innocent country twang in Pyle’s voice that refuses to be ignored.

With its sweeping lyrics and gentle guitar notes, ‘Han’ sounds pretty quintessential country. However, the lyrics “there’s a thousand different ways to say you’re sorry in Korean” don’t sound like it might have been sung by a man in a 10-gallon hat, do they? Nods to an old fashioned way of life and thinking are peppered throughout the LP. “Take me to the drawing room, where I’ll withdraw from everything but you”, shouts Pyle in repetition in the satisfyingly rocky conclusion of ‘Drawing Room’, the room in stately homes women would withdraw to separate themselves from the men after social events. Later on in the tracklisting, foot-stomping standout ‘Houses Into Homes’ recalls the days when a woman had to go on blind faith that the man she chose to marry would be her forever. The song de-evolves from a woman’s naïve thoughts of “meet me in the courtyard, darling / tell me I’m the one / you and me forever, baby / nothing could go wrong” to the acceptance that the man has left her for another woman. As terrible as the story ends, it‘s a fantastic, yet all too brief torrent of female angst.

On poppy lead single ‘Lucy Stone’, Pyle shoots down having children “because they make me less a woman” and considers “getting married is a socio-economic reason”. She wants to be loved but past doomed relationship have left her pragmatic: “nothing lasts forever, it’s stupid to think so / so love me until one of us wants to be left alone”. Though the Katie Ellen song is already a pop rock tour de force, it concludes with a brash, guitar-heavy, freewheeling climax. Contrast this treatment to that of ‘Proposal’, with a guitar the only accompaniment to Pyle’s strident vocals. On it, she questions whether matrimony is a good idea at all, and given the acoustic treatment, repeating the F word is surprising.

The impression from ‘Cowgirl Blues’ is not that Pyle is anti-man, but rather she’s anti-establishment, anti everything that serves to put women in a box without any choices of their own but to conform. She wails, “I could have been happy” on the title track, and the vocal register chosen is almost painful to hear. Pyle confronts the outdated institution of marriage handily, yet she’s strong enough to admit her own vulnerability too. She notes to a suitor that she could never live up to his “parents’ golden expectations” on ‘Sad Girls Club’, also acknowledging, “sad girls don’t make good wives.” Bright bursts of percussion and gently jangling guitars punctuate the slower tempoed ‘TV Dreams’, in which Pyle admits she misses a former lover and according to her own Sad Girls Club manifesto, that’s totally okay.

And that’s how it should be. Freedom and commitment shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, and neither should a woman and her emotions because society has made her feel weak by daring to show them. “I am keeping my own rules”, asserts Pyle on ‘Lucy Stone’. What is a woman’s truth, she should be allowed to live it. While ‘Cowgirl Blues’ isn’t terribly inventive musically, its empathetic message to women and men makes it a must listen.

7/10

‘Cowgirl Blues’, the debut album from new American band Katie Ellen, will be out on this Friday, the 14th of July, on Lauren Records.

 

Album Review: Lucy Rose – Something’s Changing

 
By on Friday, 7th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Lucy Rose Something's Changed album reviewWhen most artists find themselves at a loss, they tend to seek out inspiration that makes them remember why they started writing songs in the first place. Lucy Rose found herself doing just that, only instead of maybe just finding a different producer, or writing somewhere else, she enlisted the help of her fans. Being just one person and with her guitar, she travelled to South America, where she visited cities that rarely get any attention from the music world, and on two conditions: her fans book the gigs, and she also got to stay with them.

What happened during this trip is Lucy found herself thrust into a realm of inspiration she’d never found before. Whilst living with people who have far less than her, and in countries that can be closed-minded against more progressive life choices, she heard many stories about struggles and life experiences. It’s these stories that allowed Lucy to open up to a whole new level of vulnerability. From the get-go on ‘Something’s Changing’ with the aptly named ‘Intro’, it’s the delicateness that hooks you in. A simple piano line beckons the beginning of the record, in a sparse and lonely manner that is repeated throughout the record.

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While ‘Intro’ sets the tone, ‘Is This Called Home’ brings into action the ideas that build the record up. More sparse instrumentation, this time guitar, kicks the song off while Lucy’s voice perfectly compliments the highs of the guitar with her angelic tone. The slow nature and accompanying string accompaniment accentuate the vulnerability that she exposes throughout with lyrics such as, “Am I the monster? Did I deserve all of those words?”. With somewhat of a change in pace, ‘Strangest of Ways’ takes up a slow waltz with a quaintly catchy chorus, finger snaps included. “Let me live in the wild tonight, I’ll never be alone”, Lucy sings above the music, possibly referring back to her influential trip and the different people, places and creeds that she was surrounded by.

‘Floral Dresses’ returns to the vulnerable, with just her voice and guitar taking centre stage to begin with before layers appear, filling the wide open audible spaces. Notching things back up a slight gear once more, ‘Second Chance’ has a jazzy tempo that’s pushed forward by the thick double bass and shuffling drums. The ever so slightly quickening pulses that appear throughout the album are needed because you can find your attention waning, but there is certainly a beauty to the quiet and bare tracks. ‘Love Song’, of course, goes to the strummed acoustic guitar, but with flourishes that add a quirky flicker to its pace.

The distorted guitar lines of ‘Soak It Up’ break out of the regular format slightly, but it’s the chorus that holds the real driving power. Pounding guitars that build upwards whilst Lucy repeats the song’s title have the most power on the record: a tentative power, nonetheless. Throughout the record, you hear Lucy doing just as she sings in the track, “so open up, feel my love’, a clear reflection on her time away and finding out that being far out of your comfort zone can be a blessing. Conveying these messages is what Lucy’s craft was made for, and she does it spectacularly.

‘Moirai’ has more pleasant and enjoyable songwriting, with instrumentation and lyrics coming together to make a lovely rhythm that carries you away. Soft strings sit below the piano line as the drums patter along before it all falls away to build to a gentle crescendo: in one word, delightful. ‘No Good At All’ (single review here) goes about its business, no different to any of the others, a dainty striking electric piano line coming in during the pre-chorus, but the chorus all of a sudden becomes a luscious, soft, soulful rhythm. It’s lightly soaring, with everything done with the most extreme of caution, but works so perfectly, an album highlight.

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No points for guessing what ‘Find Myself’ concerns, but isn’t that why we’re all here? Storytelling is a part of the art, and if you don’t expect to hear about the writer’s experience, then you’re listening to the wrong genre. Both ‘Find Myself’ and ‘I Can’t Change It All’ have the most substance to them, gifting the most that Lucy has to offer, all for it to be rounded off by the latter’s soaring and sweeping string crescendo, coupled with soft horns.

Overall, ‘Something’s Changing’ is a listen that requires attention and a want to find more from life. That’s what Lucy did and she’s giving it to us through proxy of her album. There are lows and there are highs, but the same can be said of life.

8/10

‘Something’s Changing’ is out today on Communion Records. To read more of TGTF’s coverage of Lucy Rose, follow this link.

 
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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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