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Album Review: Haim – Don’t Save Me EP

 
By on Wednesday, 16th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Who said the Haim sisters’ summertime pop was confined to a season? Their warm (but oh-so-cool) debut track ‘Forever’ was the perfect accompaniment to the sun of July ’12; a mix of Vampire Weekend calypso pop and Stevie Nicks-esque vocals proved to be a winning mix as the single was a hit with the critics. So the release of their latest EP ‘Don’t Save Me’ is a toasty blanket on these cold, dark evenings.

Sibling bands are a tried and tested formula for success in the music world. Going back to The Jacksons, Smoosh and even Hanson. (Apologies for including the ‘MMMbop’ warblers, but Grammy nominations and millions of album sales is still quite a feat, even if they will forever be known for their two syllable hit.) Haim are no exclusion to the rule, producing tight percussive beats and beautiful harmonies that take time to develop. Luckily, they’ve known each other for a good few years.

That undeniably catchy sound they showcased in their first release has now been perfected. Fronted by ‘Don’t Save Me’ and backed by ‘Send Me Down’, their latest EP expands on their new wave roots and features the most handclaps I’ve heard on a song since The Fratellis came and went. (Remember them?)

The title track, definitely the strongest of the two, is rife with ’80s synth and more percussion than you can imagine. It was released alongside a video of the three women showing off their basketball skills against a group of men, this proving their independence; in the song the sisters repeatedly sing “don’t save me, no, don’t save me”. The second track is falsetto-laden and features my favourite use of the tuba in a pop song; an instrument that will forever remind me of Neighbours’ Harold Bishop (I like to imagine he is the featured musician on the track).

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Haim have somehow managed to improve upon the defining track of last summer. The sisters ooze a sort of laidback cool where they wouldn’t even care that I think they’re cool, they’d just shake it off, pull up their short shorts and ride away on their vintage bikes. Overall the ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP impresses and just proves Haim to be ones to watch this year. And it’s the perfect length too; the tracklist is just long enough to satisfy our Haim fix and keep us with baited breath as we await their debut album.

9/10

The ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP by BBC Sound of 2013 winners and sisters Haim is out now on Polydor.

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Everything Everything – Arc

 
By on Monday, 14th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Everything Everything Arc coverIt’s incredibly good timing for Manchester-based Everything Everything to be releasing an album this month: for one, they’ll be showcasing for the first time at SXSW 2013, a huge opportunity for them to make a big impression in front of the movers and shakers. (It certainly worked for Haim last year, didn’t it?) Showing its face about 2 and a half years after the brilliance of their debut ‘Man Alive’, this follow-up ‘Arc’ has a lot to live up to.

The album has been preceded by two brilliant singles, first ‘Cough Cough’ (review here), then ‘Kemosabe’ (review here), which appear one after another at the start of this collection of 13 tracks. Therein lies the problem to ‘Arc’: it begins with guns blazing, setting the bar to an incredible height that is never quite reached again. ‘Radiant’, at the #11 position, is a sultry pop number with jaunty guitar hooks on top of smooth, buzzy synth and slow jam percussion. It’s the high point of the other end of the album.

This is not to say there aren’t interesting elements elsewhere on ‘Arc’. Take, for example, third track ‘Torso of the Week’ takes the gossip papers as lyrical fodder, with a rocking chorus and singer Jonathan Higgs again invoking his now famous falsetto. It’s good, but it pales in comparison to the singles. ‘Duet’ comes across as a showcase for Higgs’ voice, the song building in magnificence with beauteous harmonies.At the same time, I’m wishing the restraint – and the lack of sheer poppiness of previous tracks like ‘Qwerty Finger’ and ‘Schoolin’’ – was there when it isn’t.

The same could be said for ‘Choice Mountain’, ‘Feet for Hands’, ‘The Peaks’ and even ‘The House is Dust’, which in its sparseness makes me sad, because this isn’t how their music used to make me feel. To add further insult to injury, ‘Arc’ (or as it’s stylised on the cover, ‘_Arc_’) isn’t a full song, feeling like a breathy, strange interlude between two halves of the album. Loads of bonus points for making a title track entirely impossible to be a single, but minus several thousand for it not having a true role on the album.

‘Don’t Try’ is the parting blow from the band. With quick tempo and matching quick tempo lyrics, it’s my vote for their next single. But it’s too little, too late. Of the early reviews I’ve read, there seems to be agreement that in ‘Arc’, Everything Everything are having their Radiohead moment, which probably explains my reaction to it. I really, really wanted to love this album the second I dropped it in the CD drive of my laptop, but like the Peter Bjorn and John song, unfortunately “it don’t move me”.

6.5/10

‘Arc’, the second album from Everything Everything, is out now on RCA Victor in regular and deluxe formats. Watch a documentary about the making of it below. They’re on tour in the UK in February. Shortly after that, the band will be heading to Austin for SXSW 2013.

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Album Review: Dry the River – Shallow Bed acoustic version

 
By on Thursday, 10th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Dry the River Shallow Bed acousticSince their first single release, 2011’s ‘No Rest’, Dry the River’s profile has steadily risen, culminating in last year’s album release and triumphant accompanying tour. Unwavering support from the likes of Amazing Radio is no less credit than they deserve for a punishing live schedule which has seen not a single month pass since 2011 when they haven’t played a gig.

Even more impressive then, is that they have found the time to return to the studio and completely re-record their debut album, ‘Shallow Bed’. For those who missed ‘Shallow Bed’ the first time, here follows the executive summary: a thing of both delicacy and power, ‘Shallow Bed’ channelled the burgeoning folk-rock revival whilst still maintaining an air of credibility, probably thanks to the dual virtues of well-honed material, and notable virtuoso performances from the band, in particular singer Peter Liddle’s distinctively keening vocal.

Fast forward 9 months later, and ‘Shallow Bed’ the acoustic version is upon us. The casual observer would be forgiven for imagining that this is a simple stop-gap, a melange of previously released acoustic versions and even (shock, horror!) demos, but all the evidence points to this being a full re-recording of the entire album. As such, even though the basic material is the same, this release warrants reviewing as a new piece.

The original album found itself rocking out at times, which is not the case here. Instead, drama is generated from subtle instrumentation and savoured, drawn-out lyrical delivery. This all lends itself to careful absorption and analysis of the material – which stands up ably to such scrutiny. ‘Bible Belt’, always a piece which relied more on emotional rather than instrumental impact, is slowed down even further, the guitars exiled, and simple strings and piano take their place. The ensuing tension is palpable.

In ‘History Book’, swathes of delicate harmony vocals take centre stage, with just the minutest of guitar embellishments for company, setting the lead melody free to become, if anything, even more beautiful. <a href="Emmy the Great pops up on ‘Shaker Hymns’: the female voice such a rarity on Dry the River material, it shines like a gold nugget nestling at the bottom of the eponymous dessicated bedrock, in comparison with Liddle’s unctuous delivery, where each vowel eases its way out with the gentle effort of a birthing monotreme.

Overall, the mood is misty, mournful, righteous. This album sounds wonderful, a true pleasure to listen to on a good sound system, the acoustic instruments breathing clearly in a well-constructed ambience. Its gentle sound may suit background listening, and is superb for easing children off to sleep, but it deserves just as much foreground attention as its louder forebear. There’s nothing shallow here but the name.

8/10

Dry the River’s acoustic version of ‘Shallow Bed’ is available now from RCA Victor.

Listening companions: Ryan Adams – ‘Love Is Hell’ (parts 1 and 2)

 

Album Review: Dutch Uncles – Out of Touch in the Wild

 
By on Friday, 4th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Ever since I started blogging a good 4 years ago, I’ve come to expect at least a good 2 years’ time lag between albums, because bands need to tour the dickens out of the first album to get as much mileage as they can before they are allowed to go back to the studio and hole up for months to plan, write and record the follow-up. Further time is spent (wasted?) moving these recording tapes back and forth between producers and mixers before the master is finally finished, and while I completely accept that good things take time, I can’t help feeling antsy about my favourite bands’ upcoming releases.

Dutch Uncles Out of Touch coverDutch Uncles’ last album length effort, ‘Cadenza’ (review here), was released on the 25th of April 2011, but in the same year I was pleasantly surprised to get a taste of even newer material live in Manchester in December 2011, and then again a couple months later at SXSW 2012. After a Great Escape panel discussion on indie labels last May 2012, I found out in a cheeky reconnaissance-type chat with co-head boss of Memphis Industries Ollie Jacob that Dutch Uncles were making good time on their next album, which suffice it to say, was way ahead of this established schedule in my head. I thought, woohoo! Then summer came and went without so much as a peep of news.

Finally in September, my waiting was finally rewarded: ‘Fester’ was announced with fanfare, available as a freebie for fans for a short time. (Watch the video below.) But I had to wait a couple more months to today, when I can tell you my thoughts on ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ having heard the new album at last. At a spry 37 minutes, this is not an album you will be languishing over, wondering when it will stop. No, you’ll have wondered where the time has gone when the Marple boys are done with you.

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If you thought the song titles on ‘Cadenza’ were mental (‘Dolli’, ‘X-O’, ‘Zalo’), get a load of those on the new album. ‘Zug Zwang’ wins the prize for the oddest here, but ‘Pondage’ is a close second. I didn’t think it was a real word, but Wikipedia asserts it has the very boffin definition of “the comparably small water storage behind the weir of a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power plant”. As the first track, it is a gentle push, a nice toe into the water with broad string orchestration and Duncan Wallis’s dream-like vocals on top of an otherwise frantic, speedy guitar line.

Speaking of the orchestration, usage of a string section is nothing new for Dutch Uncles, if you’ve been following their story since spring 2011, when ‘Cadenza’ was released. ‘Sting’, with its sweeping grandeur stuck in the ‘70s, was just a precursor to ‘Flexxin’. This carefully layered track is a catchy as hell singalong (“you can hold my hand / I feel it / you understand”) with driving drums and strings, has been picked up by none other than that ‘influential’ American music Web site my own mum has equated to a rampaging mob of reviewers, so we can expect a whole new group of people being turned on by this band’s musical charms. While I’m happy about this, I’m also mentally preparing myself for all the drunk people being irritating and yelling, “play ‘Flexxin’!” at all their future shows. Along with layered vocal effects, ‘Godboy’ uses these strings to take the band to new heights.

Another standout on the album is ‘Bellio’; glittering with disco synth and a super funky bass line, it’s my sure favourite from the bunch. ‘Fester’, getting the nod from American music blog granddaddy Stereogum, is a percussive tour de force of delivered by marimba and insistent banged piano notes. The general vibe of ‘Threads’ is similar, it’s just less obvious. The melody of ‘Nometo’ slinks around corners with Wallis’s voice slickly; the tune is the math-rock version of the lounge song: smooth, yet still eclectic. The only song that didn’t please me was ‘Phaedra’. Named after a female character with a colourful life in Greek mythology, the song itself was anything but colourful, almost dirge-like with a menacing bass undertone.

The longest track on the album, at nearly 6 minutes, is closer ‘Brio’, which I can’t decide whether it’s an ode to the Swedish toy manufacturer or not. The driving rhythm will get your toes tapping and your brain swinging from side to side like a metronome. It reminds me of the time I discovered Kraftwerk through Newton’s Apple, an American public television show’s use of ‘Ruckzuck’. Ahead of their time they were. The same could be said for Dutch Uncles. While ‘Cadenza’ had several amazing highlights (‘X-O’, ‘Fragrant’, ‘The Ink’), ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ comes across more fully-formed and is the better of the two for a continuous listen.

9/10

Dutch Uncles’ new album ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’ is out on the 14th of January on Memphis Industries.

 

Album Review: Pulled Apart by Horses – Tough Love (Deluxe Edition)

 
By on Friday, 21st December 2012 at 5:00 pm
 

Pulled Apart by Horses Tough Love original coverV.E.N.O.M! V.E.N.O.M!

Since the original version of the ‘Tough Love’ album was released months ago, I’ve struggled to find a better example of good and proper rock ‘n’ roll then that song. Pulled Apart by Horses on record are chaotically brilliant, making every time you listen to the album a treat.

So when I saw that they were releasing a new deluxe album, it was never going to be a case of flogging a dead horse. It’s fresh, engaging, exciting and full of the bounce of the wall sense of electricity that fuels PABH’s music. Tom Hudson, James Brown, Lee Vincent and Robert Lee, from the moment that they released ‘Meat Balloon’ and the utterly ridiculous ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’, there was always an opportunity for these guys to really make something special.

From the slowed down screeches of album opener ‘Blue Jeans’, to the skewed and wonky time signatures of screechfest ‘Grave Dohl’, this is immediately apparent. ‘Grave Dohl’ bursts out of the mark with a thudding bass line moving at breakneck speed, with noodling providing the backing to the incessant screaming of “that’s what they all say / that’s what they all say!” by Hudson. But there’s a definite sense of method the madness, to use the cliché, during seventh track ‘Night of the Living Dead’. You could almost be in Romero’s classic film of the same name, or even be the arcade style shooter sharing the name. The unpredictability you get from PABH is the beauty of them; you never know what’s going to come next. The last album I listened to with that many changes of pace was Gorillaz’s ‘Dare’, and seeing as this is a rock band without Mr. Albarn’s name, I think the Leeds rockers have represented themselves well.

‘PWR’ is a stomping beast of a track, with the lyrics “I’m not lazy / I’m just tired” resonating in the voice boxes of any tweenager across the world. Going back to ‘Night of the Living Dead’, there is an element of horror, which is a constant theme throughout the record. During ‘Shake of the Curse’, Hudson wails, “you won’t take me back to the dark place / you won’t take me back to the dark place”. It’s hardly Rob Zombie, but one thing PABH have is an ability to spread a bit of doom and gloom. If you’re looking for uplifting, then you will definitely have to go elsewhere for your 60 minutes of sunshine.
As far as length goes as well, you won’t be finding many 5-minute air grabbers, with PABH preferring the more in your face 2- to 3-minute belters. The deluxe edition of ‘Tough Love’, then, adds a lot to the equation for Pulled Apart by Horses and gives them a platform for a little more remuneration, but more importantly sets them apart from the Rolo Tomassis of the world who are just going to fade away into the breaches of 21st century screech rock.

These boys are going to be around for a while, get ready for a headache. (A good one.)

7.5/10

The original and deluxe editions of ‘Tough Love’ by Pulled Apart by Horses are available now from Transgressive.

 

Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 18th December 2012 at 11:00 am
 

Wowsers, has this year flown by or what? I can scarcely believe we’re ready to celebrate Christmas in a week’s time, but you know what that means, boys and girls. It’s time for the editor’s top picks of 2012. Unlike most lists that have already published either in print or online, there will be no mentions of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar or DIIV. Sorry. No, and this year, I tried to get away from dance as I could, which seems really odd considering where I found myself 2 years ago; this is probably good commentary on the music scene at large, where beats – either urban or poppy – have invaded nearly every facet of radio and except for the odd album or two, I found these to be completely devoid of heart. Or character. (But there were 3 in my top 10 that were arguably dance albums, so maybe there’s still hope…) Without further delay, here are my picks for 2012.

The-Crookes-Hold-Fast-cover1. The Crookes – ‘Hold Fast’ (Fierce Panda) – In the shadow of love – in its electric (2010’s #1, Delphic’s ‘Acolyte’) and nostalgic, life affirming (2011’s #1, Noah and the Whale’s ‘Last Night on Earth’) forms – my #1 this year goes as far back to basics with the good ol’ pop-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Sheffield’s Crookes. I’ve always thought that the smartest songwriters are those that can write catchy tunes while also offering up thought-provoking, intelligent lyric; guitarist Daniel Hopewell fits this description to a T.

This album would feel equally at home in the 1960s as it does in 2012. There is no studio trickery or fancy production here, just heartfelt (and heartbroken in ‘Maybe in the Dark’) feelings being sung to memorable melodies that can help to remind you of simpler times. Or simply remind you of the important people who have coloured your life. Do yourself a favour and get this album. If you’re not sold yet, read my review of ‘Hold Fast’ here.

Keston-Cobblers-Club-cover2. Keston Cobblers’ Club – ‘One, for Words’ (Beatnik Geek) – It has been shown to us time and time again that family members who sing together make some incredible music. (For one, the Beach Boys.) In Julia and Matthew Lowe, we have familial alchemy at work again, this time on some incredible folk pop. When one album can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wistful for a former lover, make you remember through happy tears your life experiences, that is truly special indeed, and that’s what I’ve gotten out of ‘One, for Words’. I expect to be playing this album again and again until my final days. You can read my review of their debut album here.

Grimes-Visions-cover3. Grimes – ‘Visions’ (4AD) – Claire Boucher is now one of the hottest commodities in the music business these days, and surely the biggest game changer from Canada since Arcade Fire. Every time I tried to catch the baby-voiced master of synths and sequencers in 2012, I never actually managed to get in. Thankfully though, I have this album to keep me company whenever things have gone boring in my life. Variety is the key word of this album, with ambient, industrial, pop and minimalist genres all touched on for one eclectic group of songs. Every time you pick up this album, you’ll hear something exciting you missed the last time around, and I don’t think it’s possible for ‘Visions’ to get old. Read my review here.

Casiokids-Aabenbaringen-over-aaskammen-cover4. Casiokids – ‘Aabenbaringen over aaskammen’ (Moshi Moshi) – There’s no way I could have forgotten the craziness of Casiokids’ third album. Even in the middle of winter, thoughts of a pineapple-shaped maraca, the sheer wonkiness of ‘Det Haster!’ and ‘Dresinen’, and disco and jungle beats working in harmony on the same album easily warmed my heart. This is controlled chaos, in a way that only Nordics manage to do it. And even if you go into this album thinking, “no way is this album going to lift my mood”, trust me, it will. You’ll even leave it with a knowing yet silly grin on your face.Read more here.

Husky cover5. Husky – ‘Forever So’ (Sub Pop) – The Husky debut album was an example of when you keep hearing the name of a band so many times, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, wonder no more. If you’re the first-ever signing to a indie label as storied as Sub Pop, then you better bring the goods, and Husky Gawenda and co. do just that in a Fleet Foxes meets the sadness of Nick Drake vehicle. If you’ve ever been slayed by gorgeous harmonies, this album’s for you. Read my review of it here.

After the cut: some albums that just missed the top 5 cut, and others that disappointed.

Continue reading Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks

 
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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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