Check out our festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, 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: Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers

 
By on Thursday, 8th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

brian fallon Sleepwalkers coverAmerican rocker Brian Fallon already has a busy schedule for the early part of 2018. He will embark on a UK headline tour with his current band, The Howling Weather at the end of this month, which will be followed by North American dates extending through the spring. His summer plans include headline shows and festivals with former band The Gaslight Anthem in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their hit album ‘The ’59 Sound’.

Fallon’s upcoming solo shows are in support of his new LP ‘Sleepwalkers’, which like his previous studio effort, 2016’s ‘Painkillers’, will probably be stronger live than on recording. Thematically, Fallon’s songwriting on ‘Sleepwalkers’ dwells in those aching moments in life when the stars don’t quite align. He takes on the role of romantic anti-hero very well, and his earnest sincerity is undeniable. Musically, ‘Sleepwalkers’ is an extension of the folk rock sound Fallon developed on ‘Painkillers’, but with a bit more of the anthemic gospel of The Gaslight Anthem added to the mix. Opening tracks ‘If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are prime examples, though the subtle restraint in the former and the perspective shift in the final chorus of the latter both come as pleasant surprises.

‘Sleepwalkers’ doesn’t have many well-defined high or low points in terms of dramatic tension and intensity. Its tempos and dynamics are cranked up high through the first part of the tracklisting, almost monotonously so, with the exception of standout track ‘Etta James.’ Fallon is probably sick to death of the constant Springsteen comparisons, but he really does choose fortunate moments to channel his fellow New Jersey predecessor, and the soulful, slow burning ‘Etta James’ is one of those.

Later in the album sequence, there is more variety, as in the folk-leaning dance instrumentation of ‘Proof of Life’ and the brass-tinged jazz rhythms of title track ‘Sleepwalkers’. Unfortunately, Fallon’s half-spoken/half-sung delivery isn’t melodic enough to lift the heavy, square melodies and the overall effect is a bit dragging. His slurred vocal delivery works better in the country-tinged ‘Watson’ whose clever, if slightly awkward, lyrical metaphor finds him singing in character, “I’m worried when I’m old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London”. Fallon’s signature gritty vocals, along with hard-edged guitars and pounding drums, are central to ‘My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)’, which though lyrically a bit trite, finds some dynamic variety without losing any of its emotional intensity.

Album closer ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a stripped-back guitar ballad that exposes both Fallon’s strengths and his weaknesses. Its verse lyrics, where he pledges to “spend my life in your majesty’s service / and call myself satisfied”, create a nice symmetry with an earlier track, but his unnuanced vocal delivery doesn’t quite overcome the square, singsong quality of the chorus.

Fallon’s solo efforts continue to vex me to a certain degree. His public persona (both on stage and in interviews) is so thoughtful and genuinely charismatic that I find myself truly *wanting* to like his songs. Taken individually, the songs on ‘Sleepwalkers’ are strong, but the album as a whole falls slightly short of its potential. In the end, with ‘Sleepwalkers’ as with ‘Painkillers’, it comes down to a toss-up between Fallon’s singing and his lyrics. I feel absolutely sure that at some point, there will come a magical moment when Brian Fallon hits the target on both at the same time, but as yet, that hasn’t materialised.

7/10

‘Sleepwalkers’, Brian Fallon’s second solo LP, is out tomorrow, Friday the 9th of February, on Virgin EMI. TGTF’s past coverage of Brian Fallon is collected through here, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem is back here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: The Academic – Tales From the Backseat

 
By on Tuesday, 30th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Academic Tales from the Backseat album coverIn less than 2 months’ time, The Academic will be returning to Austin for their second SXSW, and with a major career achievement ticked off. Earlier this month, the lads from Mullingar in the Irish midlands released their debut album ‘Tales from the Backseat’. The LP has proved so popular in their home country, it knocked major label giant Ed Sheeran from the top of the Irish official album charts. Give it a spin, and you’ll find there’s enough here to keep your toes tapping for days and a smile on your face.

Single ‘Different’ is not a new song for the band, having appeared on their 2015 EP ‘Loose Friends’. Its energetic brashness, then and now, is impossible to ignore. The album version is more polished: with more layers to love than in its previous guise, the touch of album producer Tim Pagnotta (Neon Trees, St. Lucia, COIN) on this track and the rest is one of the keys to this record’s success. Lyrically, like One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, it’s a tale of empowerment, a boy telling the girl he likes that she’s unique and that’s what makes her special. The updated ‘Different’, currently making the rounds on SiriusXM Alt Nation and BBC Radio 1 specialist shows, is sure to inspire youngsters of all ages to dance like loons at a festival near you this summer. ‘Feel It Too’, with its driving beats and wiggly synth effects, also has a disarming edge: frontman Craig Fitzgerald admits his own vulnerability in the lyrics “…I’m your fool / I’m not so cool / you know I feel it too / you’re not alone”.

The topics broached on ‘Tales…’ reflect the concerns inside the heads of four adolescents from small-town Ireland. “What’s my motivation?” Fitzgerald asks on album opener ‘Permanent Vacation’. The song conveys a young man’s discomfort of coming to grips with adult responsibilities that loom in the rearview mirror. Another single, ‘Bear Claws’, has become a live favourite with its rousing “Ay! Oh!” call. Last October, the band created a first-of-its-kind Facebook Live performance of the song, using the audio/video time lag to create a mesmerising visual loop sampler.

On some of these songs, The Academic wear their most important influences on their sleeve. Though the lads are no longer in need of them here in America, ‘Fake ID’ recalls the anxiety and innocence of trying to get into a club with false credentials. The words “it’s hard to act my age when I look like a 12-year old / and I hate it when I don’t get in, left stranded in the cold” are accompanied by early Two Door Cinema Club-esque winsome guitar work and bright percussion. ‘Television’ owes a debt to The Strokes, the tune’s bouncy beat and melodic guitar a nod to Julian Casablancas and co. Lest you think The Academic have only mastered one sound, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ sees them reigning in their excitement. It’s a nice signal that their songwriting can veer into still upbeat but less frenetic, guitar-driven rock.

What these songs lack in depth is compensated for in spades by the level of their youthful exuberance. ‘Tales From the Backseat’ reminds us that we can go back in time in our minds, to when our younger selves’ biggest worry was how to impress the boy or girl we had our eye on. Life is so complicated these days. Slow down and say hello to that younger version of yourself with this album as your soundtrack.

7.5/10

‘Tales From the Backseat’, the debut album from The Academic, is out now on Downtown Records in America. The group will tour North America starting in mid-February and continue on through to the week before they are due in Austin for SXSW 2018. Continental Europe and English live dates will follow in April. To read our past coverage here on TGTF on the Irish lads, come through.

 

Album Review: The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

 
By on Thursday, 25th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Spook School Could It Be Different coverGlasgow-based indie pop band The Spook School have become known for combining emotionally honest lyrical treatment of gender and sexuality with an upbeat and unapologetic pop-punk musical sound. Their first two albums, 2013’s ‘Dress Up’ and 2015 release ‘Try to Be Hopeful’ both explore queer and trans identities in a broad societal context as well as in the more intimate context of personal relationships. The band’s new third LP ‘Could It Be Different?’ leans noticeably toward the personal end of that spectrum, its songs reflecting on past relationships and measuring their impact on present ones.

The album’s first two singles place themselves on either end of the dichotomy. Album opener ‘Still Alive’ is a triumphant liberation from an abusive relationship, with a rebellious chorus that will surely become a crowd-favourite singalong in live performance: “fuck you, I’m still alive / and I’m not going anywhere with you.” Follow-up release ‘Less Than Perfect’ is lighter and brighter in tone, but subdued in its acceptance of unfulfilled expectations. “We’re made of puzzle pieces / and I hope that I am right,” sings Anna Cory, “when I guess the parts you recognize / could be the parts you like.”

Cory’s lead vocal sets up another juxtaposition on ‘Could It Be Different?’, this one musical in nature. Alternating the lead vocal between Cory and Nye Todd adds an element of interest to an otherwise homogenous sonic palette. The Spook School’s fuzzy lo-fi guitars and relentlessly uptempo rhythms are deliberate hallmarks of their sound, but while they lend cohesion to the album, they also become a bit predictable. The variation in vocal timbre and lyrical perspective counteracts this effect nicely, especially on Cory’s late-album tracks ‘I Only Dance When I Want To’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’.

Backing vocals are cleverly applied in several places on ‘Could It Be Different?”, notably in the poignantly nostalgic ‘Keep In Touch’. Cory’s lofty “ahhs” lend a feeling of hazy memory behind the bittersweet reflection “we were so naïve / we were so together / we were so young . . .” That air of reflection takes on a different tone in ‘I Hope She Loves You’, where Todd sings from a removed and distinctly present point of view, “I’m a whole different person / I’m not inclined that way.”

The Spook School also examine current social issues in terms of their personal impact. ‘Bad Year’ tackles the demoralising effect of Brexit in the UK, as Todd describes his emotional shock: “I admire your optimism but I just need to feel it / I just need to take a moment before I can start dealing.” Current single ‘Body’ takes a head-on look at body dysmorphia, opening with a stark and brutally honest statement, “do you like the way you look naked? / I don’t know if any of us do”, but softening the blow, as usual, with their quirky guitar pop sound.

Album closer ‘High School’ harkens back to gawky adolescence with lyrical lines that are awkward in places, but its adult perspective is clear: “I’m not saying I regret the old days / can’t take back the choices that I made / I guess I wouldn’t want to anyway”. Even in this more sombre-toned ballad, The Spook School refuse to descend into complete sonic despair. Despite the weighty subject matter, their energetic music ultimately projects the idea that these conflicted and confused feelings are okay.

‘Could It Be Different?’ embraces the messiness and ambiguity in human relationships across the spectra of gender and sexuality. The songs are specifically intended to address gender-fluid relationships, but their underlying sentiments are universally applicable, and the band’s lo-fi indie pop is engaging without being intimidating. The Spook School haven’t necessarily stepped out of their own comfort zone with this album, but they might just encourage the rest of us to step out of ours.

7.5/10

‘Could It Be Different?’ is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 26th of January via Alcopop! Records (UK) / Slumberland Records (America). The Spook School will support alt-pop duo Diet Cig on their North American tour beginning on the 29th of January; find details on their official Facebook. TGTF’s past coverage of The Spook School is collected through this link.

 

Album Review: Django Django – Marble Skies

 
By on Monday, 22nd January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Django Django Marble Skies album coverBack in 2012, Edinburgh art school synth and percussion geeks Django Django were nominated for the Mercury Prize for their eponymous album. Lovably off-kilter, ‘Django Django’ was quickly and voraciously gobbled up by music lovers everywhere, including myself. No-one at the time was doing anything like ‘Default’ and ‘Love’s Dart’. Memorably for this music editor, the Django Django mania came to a crescendo in an uncomfortable, packed, sweaty Blind Tiger in Brighton to close out night 2 during The Great Escape 2012. Joined by some friends and about 6 years later, the Scots have returned with their third album, ‘Marble Skies’, which sees them stepping out of their former boxes (wait a minute, did they even have boxes?) and in a few different directions.

The title track starts the LP off in fine fashion, with synth notes hit in precision and an irrepressible drumbeat provided by Metronomy’s Anna Prior. Vincent Neff’s vocals are, as ever, catchy. “Take us as we are, we have gone too far…we are following marble skies”, he sings. It sets the stage to make us wonder what these marble skies are, and why are Django Django (and ultimately, we, too) are chasing them? Is a journey to salvation or a fool’s errand?

Speaking of a fool’s errand, in case you missed it, the promo video for early single ‘Tic Tac Toe’ (review here) sees Neff running around Hastings in search of the all-important milk needed for a cup of tea. The song, like ‘Marble Skies’ itself, reminds us that these Scots know their way around a catchy pop track. Another early teaser, the Erasure-inspired ‘In Your Beat’, is further proof of this. ‘Real Gone’ later in the tracklisting continues the New Wave feel with an even more frenetic pace. When Neff channels a Sixties-era Roger McGuinn on ‘Champagne’ and ‘Further’ – both songs showing a strange preoccupation with trees – the results are still largely successful.

‘Marble Skies’ features two collaborations that may give a clue to Django Django’s future. The buoyantly brilliant ‘Surface to Air’ features a female guest vocal from Rebecca Taylor, most famously known as the female half of Sheffield’s Slow Club. Her first single last year ‘Your Wife’ as solo artist Self Esteem was produced by the Djangos’ drummer Dave MacLean, so a collaboration now seems natural. I do wonder, though, if Taylor is so effective as a singer to Django Django’s instrumentation, does this mean a side project with her at the front going to bud off from this album? Or is this simply a one-off?

‘Sundials’ is another departure from form, this time for its cowriter Jan Hammer, the composer of the Miami Vice theme song and ‘Crockett’s Theme’. Sadly, ‘Sundials’ doesn’t throw you on a Floridian beach, as it’s a more subdued affair, more breathy and less frenetic than you might like. Still, it works as a moment to catch your breath from what is collectively an enjoyable mish-mash of styles and sounds. ‘Marble Skies’ also makes the case that Django Django’s return to the live stage will be an exciting one.

8.5/10

Django Django’s third album ‘Marble Skies’ will be out on the 26th of January on Because Music. Starting later this month, their upcoming live in-store appearances and proper shows in the UK are listed on their Facebook. Bassist Jimmy Dixon and drummer/producer Dave MacLean were in conversation with BBC 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie on the 12th of January, you can listen back to that interview on the 6 Music Web site through here (scroll forward to the 1 hour, 30 minute mark). For more on Django Django here on TGTF, follow us this way.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: The Lost Brothers – Halfway Towards a Healing

 
By on Thursday, 18th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Lost Brothers Halfway Towards a Healing album coverRarely is there a pair like folk maestros The Lost Brothers. Despite having met and formed in Liverpool and now being based in Dublin, the influence of Americana on the songwriting of Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland is undeniable. Like their 2008 debut album ‘Trails of the Lonely’ produced in Portland, the duo returned to the land they are so indebted to. They touched down in Tucson to work with Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb on their latest album. According to the press release for ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, he had some unconventional production techniques. Gelb would pick up the duo in the morning for their day of work, then drop them off in the middle of the desert for a walk, presumably to get their creative juices flowing while being wholly inspired by the desolate environment.

Self-described as their “most forward-thinking record” and displaying “tiny slivers of hope” and less gloom than its predecessors, The Lost Brothers’ latest is a tidy collection of beautiful tunes worthy of inclusion in Leech and McCausland’s growing oeuvre. This album also sees the Lost Brothers collaborating with their friend, tourmate and fellow Irish troubadour Glen Hansard, who cowrote three songs on the LP. One of these, ‘More Than I Can Comprehend’, is a catchy little ditty does its best to describe the wonderment of love. In a span of just over 2 minutes, the song manages to be both tender and droll about the most powerful of human emotions: “Why draw a line through what matters most? / Darling, this love might just kill us both.” Another relatively uptempo number is ‘Cry for a Sparrow’, where the duo use the idea of a bird in flight, either soaring or diving, as a metaphor for the ups and downs of life.

But the slower, more pensive moments are where The Lost Brothers shine here. LP standout ‘Where the Shadows Go’ places you in a land created in the pair’s collective mind. Standing with them on a bluff, you can look over their beautiful domain while a forlorn horn section plays alongside their peerless harmonies. Previously revealed single ‘Echoes in the Wind’, reviewed by me here, brilliantly captures the ephemeral, yet beautiful nature of life.

Later in the tracklisting, the lyrics “I’ll get through somehow / slowing down on a poison ground” in ‘Nothing’s Going to Change Me Now’ seems tailor-made for these difficult times. A lonesome violin accompanies the words of a man jaded by his broken heart. The instrumental ‘Reigns of Ruin’ has a Mexican feel, no doubt a product of the location where they chose to create this record. Closing out the first half of the album if you’re partial to vinyl, it’s a truly evocative moment, transporting you to a different place and a different time. Things are slower here in the land of The Lost Brothers. And that’s quite all right.

The Lost Brothers only recently caught the ears of another songwriter well versed in beautiful vocals and equally beautiful songs, Richard Hawley, who compared their “tender close harmony singing” to that ‘50s legends The Everly Brothers. Given the mastery of their vocal and instrumental gifts, it’s only a matter of time for the rest of the world to catch up with this great Irish songwriting partnership.

8/10

‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, the new album from Irish folk duo The Lost Brothers, is scheduled for release on the 26th of January on Bird Dog Records. Watch the promo video for the title track below. The pair are one of several Irish acts to have been announced for SXSW 2018, taking place 13-18 March in Austin, Texas. Not going to Austin? No problem: catch them on their UK and Irish tour that will start on the 30th of January at London Lexington. To read more of our coverage on TGTF on The Lost Brothers, go here.

 

Album Review: First Aid Kit – Ruins

 
By on Tuesday, 16th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

FAK RuinsDespite their relative youth, Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit are slowly but surely establishing themselves in the arena of folk rock. If their 2014 album ‘Stay Gold’ was a career breakthrough for Klara and Johanna Söderberg, then new fourth album ‘Ruins’ is the work that will solidify their position as serious and dedicated musicians at the precocious respective ages of 25 and 27. The LP was produced by Tucker Martine and features contributions from Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Glenn Kotche (Wilco) and McKenzie Smith (Midlake).

The sisters Söderberg have undergone a renaissance since the heady days of ‘Stay Gold’. As detailed in the press release for ‘Ruins’, extensive touring led them to a breaking point, and for the first time in their lives, a physical separation. Johanna settled in Stockholm while Klara decamped with her fiancé to Manchester “to escape and find her own space.” But as Klara’s romantic relationship dissolved, she found her personal and professional relationship with her sister evolving in a positive way, and those events collectively inspired the songs on ‘Ruins’.

‘Ruins’, according to Klara, is “a documentary, and it’s quite sad.” It chronicles the end of Klara’s engagement without any poetic or musical equivocation. Unlike their previous albums, which leaned heavily on the pure beauty of the sisters’ seamless vocal harmonies, lyrics and authentic emotion are the main focus points on ‘Ruins’. “We don’t want it to feel perfect,” says Johanna, who served as a sort of editorial director for Klara’s songwriting on the album. “We want it to feel rough, gut-wrenching.” Opening track ‘Rebel Heart’ strikes immediately, with angular melodies and echoing vocal harmonies over a persistent, heart-thumping rhythm. The measured yodel in Klara’s vocal line, “why do I keep dreaming of you?” conveys an intense longing as she laments the self-perceived shortcomings that may have broken her romance apart.

Sweeter in tone and more country-tinged, ‘It’s a Shame’ strategically places its vocal harmonies over shuffling percussion and spare guitar chords. Here, Klara flirts with denial of the relationship’s demise, positing “maybe it’s all right / if I just spend the night” ahead of the clever harmonic modulation in the song’s anguished bridge section question “who have I become / who will I be / come tomorrow?” Current single ‘Fireworks’ poses a similar self-examination, “why do I do this to myself every time?”, but in a more muted and introspective musical context. The song’s ethereal backing voices imply a sense of detached memory, while the specific imagery in its title is expertly text-painted with muffled, distant sounding percussion.

At the heart of the album, ‘Postcard’ and ‘To Live a Life’ touch on the long-distance aspect of the central relationship, with anachronistic references to letters and phone calls rather than e-mails and text messages. But these allusions to tangible, if old-fashioned, things demonstrates both the charm and the skill in First Aid Kit’s songwriting; mentions of pop culture would certainly have felt out of place in the sonic milieu of guitar, pedal steel and high-lonesome harmonies.

The songs on the second half of ‘Ruins’ take on a more pensive tone as their themes progress to healing and acceptance. Title track ‘Ruins’ finds perspective in some of Klara Söderberg’s most profound lyrics, “I lost you, didn’t I? / but first, I think I lost myself.” Straightforward folk ballad ‘Hem of Her Dress’ alludes to the bitterness of seeing a former partner move on, and while the drunken singalong coda feels awkward, there’s no questioning its reason for being. Existential final track ‘Nothing Has to be True’ brings the album to a resolute close, declaring “we might have seen something / but we ain’t seen nothing yet” before diving headlong into a lengthy instrumental outro whose bold musical momentum clearly demonstrates First Aid Kit’s newfound conviction.

‘Ruins’ is a mature album for two women still so young, but its real strength lies in its sense of resilience. There is very little about this album that feels jaded, despite heavy thematic material and a vintage folk musical style. Instead, First Aid Kit have allowed their life experiences to revitalise their passion for making music, in the process crafting a collection of strikingly spirited and exquisitely emotional songs.

8.5/10

‘Ruins’ is due out this Friday, the 19th of January, on Columbia Records. TGTF’s previous coverage of the sisters Söderberg is collected through here.

 
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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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