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Those unfamiliar with the name Just Jack simply need to dig out his 2006 hit ‘Starz in Their Eyes’ for the glimmer of recognition to alight upon their auricles. Never one prone to bouts of prolificity, nevertheless his three albums in 7 years comprehensively describe the glowing centre of a Venn diagram where the dance, urban, pop and chill-out genres intersect. 2002’s ‘The Outer Marker’ is an evocative collection of comedown classics peppered with intelligent flow (“I loosen up your consciousness like a syrup of figs”), downtempo beats and great swathes of portentous synths. A little-known classic.
Jack moved away from post-club lethargy and headed towards the charts with 2007’s ‘Overtones’, the aforementioned ‘Starz’ popping up all over the place on TV trailers and soundtracks, a somewhat ironic state of affairs since the topic of the song is a knowing commentary on the dangers of the reality television machine. It netted him a silver disc, reaching #2 in the charts in the UK and Ireland, and it would become his best performing single.
2009’s ‘All Night Cinema’ continued the pin-sharp observational lyrics and his genre-skipping musical magpie habit. ‘The Day I Died’ is a curious choice for a single, a bittersweet description of a perfect day of the average man on the street – until he gets run over, that is. Elsewhere, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Goth in the Disco’ both describe the seamier side of nightclub culture, packed full of surreal imagery and with more than the sniff of chemically-enhanced personal experience. And that was it, a trifecta of albums demonstrating the singular genius of Just Jack, after which there were no more…
Thankfully for those partial to all things Just Jacksian, this week sees the release of a fresh four-track EP. The optimistically-titled ‘Winning’ sees him back to what he arguably does best: bedroom dance-tinged electronica, overlaid with his distinctive just-the-right-side-of-can’t-be-arsed vocal. These four songs are absolutely as good as anything he’s ever released. The title track is the obligatory observational pop song, sharp as ever. ‘Droids’ is the dancefloor classic, with disco intent in the massive bassline and an increasingly complex arrangement, Jack comes across as a barrow-boy Daft Punk. ‘Inside’ hints at dubstep orchestration, and sees him back at his downtempo best, with talk of endorphins and bed and breakfasts perfectly summarising the blend of ethereal and mundane that characterises the best of Just Jack’s work.
And is he really musically taking on the 21st century cult of religious extremism on ‘Minefield’? To a disco beat? It’s about time someone did. Extra merit points, Mr Allsop.
‘Winning’, the latest EP from Just Jack, is available for purchase in digital download format now at Jack’s Bandcamp.
This week, American sister band The Pierces released their 5th studio LP ‘Creation’, a shimmering desert mirage of ethereal vocal harmonies and transcendental lyrics that reflects the pair’s recent relocation to Southern California. We here at TGTF have already featured the eponymous track ‘Creation’ and its accompanying video, which characterize the outstanding features of the album as a whole.
The title track to ‘Creation’ is a strong hook for the rest of the LP, showcasing Allison and Catherine Pierce’s seamless vocal blend in the context of pounding tribal rhythms, resonant backing vocals, and iridescent percussion. Its luminous keyboard line glistens behind the perpetual motion of the chorus, “you’re the creation / you’re the reason / you’re the rising sun and the colors in my mind / you’re the changing of the seasons / you’re the growing old and the passing of the time.”
The album’s first single and second track ‘Kings’ has a more pop-oriented rhythm and edgy, cool vocals that immediately made me wonder if this is what the Bangles might have sounded like with synths instead of guitars. The dramatic chorus, “if we want to / we could do what kings do / I can feel the earth move when you speak”, has an especially ’80s feel to it, particularly in the contrast between the vocal melody and the sultry lower-voice harmony.
The anxious heartbeat rhythm and contrasting back-and-forth vocals of ‘Believe in Me’ and the cagey moving harmonies in ‘Come Alive’ are promising hints of variety that unfortunately don’t quite play out on the later part of the album. From this point forward, ‘Creation’ begins to lose momentum, becoming wrapped up in the increasingly contrived lyrics and the monotony of the same rhythms and minor key vocal arrangements being recycled on every track.
The 13 tracks on the album could probably have been culled down to 9 or 10 in order to maintain the thematic focus and mitigate the cloying effect of the rich vocals. Upbeat foot-stomping track ‘Honest Man’ is buried between two vaguely-titled and rather more bland tracks, ‘I Can Feel’ and ‘Must Be Something’. Toward the end of the album, folk ballad ‘Confidence in Love’ feels almost more clinical than emotional, while ‘The One I Want’ is an exquisitely slow-burning exploration of the “masculine mystique”. Final track ‘Flesh and Bone’ is a delicate ending that highlights the dynamic beauty of the sisters’ voices as the album’s main strength.
The Pierces have clearly attempted to expand their musical horizons on ‘Creation’, even going so far as to procure a shaman and ingest ayahuasca to inspire their experimentation with new sonic effects. And while ‘Creation’ is somewhat of a departure from their past, the contrast isn’t as dramatic as it might have been. The sisters’ deep spiritual journey doesn’t extend musically beyond the visceral rhythms and echoing vocals into, for example, more fluid song structures or harmonic variety. In the end, ‘Creation’ is a bit stifled by its own lofty lyrics and airtight vocal harmonies. But the almost tangible energy at the beginning of the album and the graceful precision of the lighter tracks near the end are worth the wandering journey through the middle.
‘Creation’ is out now on Polydor Records. The Pierces will begin a tour of the UK in support of the album later this month; you can find the details here.
It’s no secret that Kimberly Anne accidentally became a singer/songwriter. The South London-born artist started out by performing at local poetry nights, but a tender word from an encouraging booker broke the news to Kimberly that performing with a keyboard is, really, more musician than poet. Nevertheless, her poetic talents shine through in her songwriting and her latest release, the EP ‘Liar’, is a fantastic example of this.
Working with acclaimed producers including Mark Crew (Bastille), Rich Wilkinson (Lianne Le Havas, Bombay Bicycle Club) and Charlie Hugall (Florence and the Machine, Ed Sheeran, Lucy Rose), the ‘Liar’ EP brilliantly demonstrates Kimberly Anne’s abilities as a singer/songwriter. Aided by an acoustic guitar and a propulsive drum beat, title track ‘Liar’ is predominantly driven by Kimberly’s soulful vocal inflections and is a highlight of the EP. During the incredibly catchy chorus, Kimberly sings, “there’s more than I could share, more than I can bear, to be a liar, to be a liar”, over a melody rich tune.
Kimberly’s talent of writing excellent lyrics is also evident in ‘Girl Next Door’. The track, which contains a funky guitar riff, features memorable lines such as, “’cause he bought his feelings from a second-hand store, we trace the steps of a life he can’t ignore.” The powerful lyrics and the emotion Kimberly manages to express are clearly evident throughout, which makes for extremely pleasant listening. Written and recorded in less than 4 hours as part of a challenge, ‘Almost on My Feet’ is a stripped back track which highlights Kimberly’s strong vocals. Solely accompanied by an acoustic guitar, ‘Almost on My Feet’ draws similarities to the likes of Tracy Chapman (one of Kimberly’s inspirations) and the aforementioned Sheeran.
The final track on the EP is the ‘Liar’ Jakwob remix. Having previously produced remixes for the likes of Ellie Goulding, Lily Allen and Lana Del Rey, Jakwob has become renowned for delivering time and time again, and his remix of ‘Liar’ doesn’t disappoint. Jakwob has produced a laid-back drum and bass remix, which doesn’t take away the passion and emotion Kimberly Anne perfectly portrays.
Despite only being four tracks long, the ‘Liar’ EP superbly demonstrates Kimberly Anne’s array of talents as both a singer and a songwriter. Remember the name, as Kimberly is a big name to watch out for in the future (and she has even bigger hair to match).
Kimberly Anne’s new ‘Liar’ EP is out now on Polydor Records. Catch her on the Communion New Faces tour, which commences in November and also stars FYFE, Oxford pop quartet Pixel Fix and Nottingham five-piece Amber Run.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 1st September 2014 at 12:00 pm
Arguably, it has only been in less than the last 20 years that the dynamic hard rock duo (with minimal or no electronic intervention live, mind) has emerged not only as a potential but an entirely viable business proposition. Naturally, given the success of the now-defunct White Stripes and the currently riding high Black Keys, the media are quick – not to mention lazy – to compare Royal Blood to both. However, as easy as it would be to compare Ben and Mike to Dan and Patrick, there is one major difference.
Bass guitar vs. guitar.
You’re talking to a bass player, so there is no contest here for me. However, for the rest of you reading this who don’t share the joy and wonderment of playing bass, I will spend the rest of this review convincing you why Royal Blood’s self-titled album out this week is a major step forward for rock music in the 21st century and why you need this album. For starters, if you’re the kind of person who easily gets impatient and hates albums that seem to drag on forever, this one is predictably short. Mike Kerr (vocals / bass guitar) and Ben Thatcher (drums) aren’t the kind of guys to beat around the bush. For that reason alone, it’s a good “starter” album for those who don’t buy albums or haven’t bought an album in its entirety for a long time (*cough* pirates *cough*).
If you’ve been following the Royal Blood story for a while, three of the best tracks – ‘Out of the Black’, ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Come On Over’ – will be familiar to you from their appearance on previously released EP ‘Out of the Black’. The title track of the EP will probably be best remembered by this summer’s festivalgoers for Thatcher’s machine gun-style beats that usher in the song; they partner up remarkably well to the vitriolic, man scorned lyrics: “so don’t breathe when I talk / because you haven’t been spoken to / I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it / but a trigger for a heart beating blood from an empty pocket”. Contrast this later to ‘You Can Be So Cruel’, which is also filled with angst but in a self-harming, lonely manner, while recent single ‘Figure It Out’ wades into the muddy waters of relationship-based confusion.
A lot of people avoid hard rock albums on the sole basis that they think it’ll be cacophonous chaos, as if it’s impossible for hard rock to be melodic. Kerr manages to conjure amazing things from his bass guitar as well as be an entirely commanding frontman with his voice. Throughout the album, Kerr puts his voice through its paces and comes out as a winner. On ‘Come On Over’ and ‘Little Monster’, he is the convincing bad boy ready to melt the rock girl’s heart. (Yes, there were quite a few gals at their DC show fawning over both him and Thatcher. I had to open and close my eyes a few times, wondering, am I really at a hard rock show?)
The punishing yet melodic bass guitar playing from Kerr also deserves proper credit. When I first started playing bass, my mother asked me how bass differed from guitar; my response was, “you know how drumming doesn’t have notes? Bass is like playing drums; you’re playing rhythm, but with melody.” That explanation doesn’t really hold water when you’re describing Kerr’s skill on the axe. On ‘Come On Over’, if your ears can’t discern the lower register of his bass, you’d swear it was someone like Slash ripping it on his Les Paul. The authoritative bass riff on ‘Loose Change’ doesn’t beg for your attention, it requires it as you get sucked into the groove of the song.
Interestingly, one of the standouts of the album is ‘Careless’. In the lyrics, Kerr plays around with the nuances of ‘careless’ vs. ‘care less’ and during the verses and bridge, the bass takes a quieter backseat (for Royal Blood, anyway), letting the powerful chorus speak for itself. As the album closes, you can’t help but sense that Royal Blood’s road to becoming as big (or bigger?) than Led Zeppelin seems assured. Thatcher’s thudding drums, as about as gentle as a pneumatic drill, is paired with the sexy bass line of ‘Better Strangers’ and Kerr’s pained yet mesmerising wailing. In a word, awesome. Resistance is futile, my friends.
Royal Blood‘s self-titled album is out now on Warner Brothers. If you’re quick, you can catch Kerr and Thatcher playing live for Steve Lamacq on the 29th of August in the BBC 6music kitchen (I’m being serious) here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 29th August 2014 at 1:00 pm
Seems like just yesterday we were writing about Dry the River like a brand new band. (It was actually 3 years ago.) This week, they released their second album ‘Alarms in the Heart’ on Transgressive Records, and in case you haven’t picked yourself up a copy or you want a have a listen first, they’ve made it available for streaming below.
The ‘and more’ part of this post? The band filmed a making-of documentary of their time in Iceland recording the new album. We’ve embedded the documentary below the album stream. Enjoy.
You can peruse TGTF’s archive on Dry the River through this link.
London singer-songwriter Tom the Lion, aka Tom Visser, officially released his debut album ‘Sleep’ on the 11th of August on Wrasse Records. Initially an independent effort pursued by Visser and his manager, the album was picked up by Rough Trade earlier this year and garnered enough support on its own merits for a full release. We here at TGTF have already featured one of its tracks, ‘Silent Partner’, as well as the non-album track ‘Wasting Sunlight’.
Visser is a multi-faceted musician who writes, plays, and produces all of his own material. His early musical influences started at home, where his mother exposed him to classic singer/songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones and Bob Dylan and his jazz musician father introduced the likes of Miles Davis and Chet Baker. It does seem that having a background in jazz produces a particular willingness to experiment with sound, and Visser is no exception in that regard. On ‘Sleep’, he balances a strong sense of poetic lyricism and melody with a variety of instrumental textures and harmonic choices to shade the album’s fundamental melancholy tone with subtle degrees of emotion.
‘Sleep’ feels like a break-up album, though it hasn’t been specifically billed as such. The obliquely evocative lyrics mingle sadness and regret with hope and optimism, beginning with the opening title track. Its anthemic chorus “you could wait a lifetime for this / strike my name off the list” is one of the album’s most uplifting moments, despite the later lyric, “you’re on your own with one last wish.” ‘Every Single Moment’ is a similarly straightforward track with an appealing chorus, “as if this is your last phone call / may I just hear your voice / as if this is your last power chord / can I just let you talk”, that builds to the climactic repeated ending line “I love every single moment.”
In contrast, tracks like ‘Oil Man’ and ‘November’s Beach’ are stark and edgy. ‘Oil Man’ has a thin, synthetic sound that emphasizes its strange, unsettling harmonies and eerie vocal tone. The machine-produced drums on ‘November’s Beach’ create a crisp chill under the diffuse shimmer of keyboards and guitars. ‘Winter’s Wool’ features a groovy bass line and guitar melody under its smooth instrumental sheen.
The album ends with a especially nice sequence of memorable tracks. The delicate texture and uneven rhythm of ‘Ragdoll’ adorn some of Visser’s most poignant lyrics, “you lost without a fight / just to be polite…you’re a ragdoll in my arms / with no charms / I’m a tyrant in this land / blood on my hands”. The persistent rhythm and and guitar line in ‘Heal’ lead into another inspiring chorus with the determined lyric “I choose now to heal”. ‘Come to Life’ ends the album with another tinge of sadness in the haunting lyric “The note you left behind / on the pillowcase I’ll find / I’m nothing but disguise / dressed as your lover might”. Its deliberately unresolved emotion is representative of the album as a whole, which is a series of vignettes left to speak for themselves rather than being painstakingly expanded or meticulously explored.
In that way, Tom the Lion distinguishes himself from artists to whom he is likely to be compared to, including inevitably Bon Iver. Visser’s songs are similarly impressionistic, with the same falsetto vocal that Justin Vernon and Thom Yorke fans adore, but their brevity gives them a greater sense of emotional urgency and allows the unique experimental aspects of the music to make a more powerful impression.
Tom the Lion’s debut album ‘Sleep’ is available now on Wrasse Records.