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Album Review: Zero 7 – Simple Science EP

 
By on Thursday, 14th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

While it may not be true in other musical genres, or even frowned upon as if it indicates lack of talent, collaboration in the genre of electronic music quite often leads to incredible results. Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, who began their careers in music as studio engineers doing support work for the likes of Pet Shop Boys and Robert Plant in the ’90s, have been doing their own music under the name Zero 7 for over a decade and a half. While it’s been over 13 years since their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Simple Things’, the duo have returned with help from a bevy of musical colleagues, including Los Angeles singer/songwriter Tommy Leonard, to create the ‘Simple Science’ EP, released next week.

Electronic music done beautifully is perfectly demonstrated in the title track, which features the vocal talents of Danny Pratt and backing vocals from Leonard. The press sheet describes it well as having a “Frankie Knuckles-esque arpeggio synth motif”, which shimmers like a jewel in the single/EP version that nears 8 minutes in length. That’s another thing that people who don’t favour electronic music seem to have a problem with: to understand this genre, you have to come to terms with a kind of music that begs to be savoured, where every percussive element stands out like a star on its own, yet is an important player in the whole.

Numbers like ‘Simple Science’ that are drawn out to a duration far beyond radio single play are drawn out for a reason, to prolong the bliss. The refrain of “should be simple science, but / you know I love you too much / we’re splitting atoms that are meant to join” compares the emotion of love to a scientific endeavour, a chemical reaction that makes sense (or should) and is a no-brainer. Well, until you realise that the act of loving someone is “not for the faint of heart” and leads to second guessing choices (“kiss the night goodbye / I fall into you every time”).

Just missing the 7-minute mark, ‘Red Blue & Green’ is, except for a few snatches of heavenly voices, an instrumental. It’s the kind of tune that you would expect soundtracking an upbeat yet chill segment at your local planetarium, while the stars dance and play with each other above your head. “Cosmically aware” would be the hippy dippy way of describing it. ‘Take Me Away’ is ultra funky from the start with an ace bass line, but as the vocals of South East London’s Only Girl begin, the song’s tone morphs into something more ethereal. It’s actually more satisfying when the main vocal line cuts back out around the halfway point of the track, allowing the bass line to command your attention as it frolics unfettered with the synths.

The EP is rounded out with handclap punctuated ‘U Know’, explained by the duo as “we knocked up after a long hang out at Block 9 at Glastonbury last year”. No matter where they came up with it or how you slice it, the synth chords the duo lays down and beats a-thudding will keep your pulse running at a feverish pace. It’s been 5 years since Zero 7’s fourth studio album; if this EP’s radiance is indicative of their game right now, it’s high time they thought about conceiving and recording album #5.

8/10

Zero 7’s new EP ‘Simple Science’ will be available in digital download format next Monday (the 18th of August) on Make Records. Available now are 12″ vinyl singles of ‘Simple Science’ (backed by ‘Red Blue & Green’) and ‘Take Me Away’ (backed by ‘U Know’).

 

Album Review: Terry Emm – Starlight

 
By on Wednesday, 13th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Terry Emm 'Starlight' coverBedfordshire singer/songwriter Terry Emm’s third album ‘Starlight’ is an unabashedly sentimental collection of love songs, ranging in mood from reflective and wistful to sweetly uplifting. Following the admittedly dark mood of his previous album, 2012’s ‘Petals Fallen Off The Sun’, Emm says in the press release for ‘Starlight’ that he “was trying to get out of quite a dark place…and was needing a new approach creatively”. To that effect, he found himself collaborating with two musicians who had inspired him in the past, producer Michael Clarke (formerly of the band Clarkesville) and violinist Calina De La Mare (Sophia, Tindersticks).

While the dominant flavor of ‘Starlight’ is acoustic folk with minimal song structures and simple, straightforward lyrics, Emm has allowed Clarke and De La Mare to tincture the sound with their touches of their own style. De La Mare’s sensitive string arrangements are featured throughout the album, especially on opening track ‘Wilderness’ and standout track ‘Loved and Never Lost’ (video below). Clarke’s pop/rock sensibilities can be heard in the upbeat ‘Forever and After’ and the groovier ‘Resound’. Emm further tinkers with different musical choices in the bluesy guitar riff to ‘Is There an End to Your Love’.

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Aside from those songs, however, there is surprisingly little variety on ‘Starlight’. The simplicity of the melodic lines is saved from monotony by the elegantly played acoustic guitar, but the unadorned vocal and musical phrases become a bit repetitive over the course of the album. The song structures are very basic and the pop style repeated choruses feel a bit lacking in dynamics and intensity.

Emm’s lyrics, while sweet and sincere, are similarly plain. The title track opens and closes with a poignant lyric, “It’s too late when I find you gone…”; otherwise his words are not particularly poetic or compelling. Unfortunately the square, undeveloped melodic lines amplify a couple of moments where the prosaic text doesn’t quite fit into the rhythm. Emm’s vocal delivery is likewise earnest but slightly awkward, with a slightly nasal tone that leans more toward declamatory speech than expressive singing. Some variety in either poetic choices or vocal timbre would have made a big difference, I suspect, in the overall mood of the album.

The final two tracks on ‘Starlight’ are among the prettiest of the 10 songs. The string melody behind the vocals in ‘Jetstreams’ illustrates the dreamy quality of the lyrics possibly better than the words themselves do. The delicately arranged, quietly sung ballad ‘Sunset’ is a perfect choice to draw the album to a close. Terry Emm’s poetry and vocal style may lack somewhat in elegance, but their straightforward expression is nonetheless heartfelt. Despite its shortcomings, ‘Starlight’ left me with a warm, mellow feeling that only the coldest of hearts could resist.

6.5/10

‘Starlight’ is available now on London boutique label Azez Records.

 

Album Review: The Courteeners – Concrete Love

 
By on Tuesday, 12th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

At the end of 2013, Liam Fray revealed there was uncertainty about the Courteeners’ future, or at least doubt on when the Manchester indie rock/pop band would be appearing next at a venue near you. Speaking to Gigwise after a hometown arena show last December, Fray suggested it could be a year or more before they made another live appearance, stressing a “need to go away and decide which ones work best, what we like and reassess really for the next ‘phase’”. Clearly, these qualms didn’t last all that long; songwriting and recording for the group’s fourth album ‘Concrete Love’, to be released next Monday, must have surely commenced soon after.

The first taste of the new album appeared back in June. ‘Summer’ is an unabashed attempt at a summer smash, replete with a bouncy rhythm and feel good guitar strumming that puts you in an island state of mind. When the chorus comes in, there’s an echo effect placed on both the guitars and Fray’s voice that makes ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘You Overdid It Doll’ days of yore seem like a distance memory. For sure, the song has charm at this time of year, but are we really going to be listening to it when the leaves have fallen and winter has taken hold? Doubtful. Still, one could argue that if they’re going for single sales, it was a well-timed effort.

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Funnily enough, it was Fray himself who said in that aforementioned Gigwise interview, “I definitely think that labels and producers whatever are putting all their eggs in one basket for two or three tracks. Whereas, I think it has to be about everything really, you have to try and make every song as big”. Maybe this is where they got ‘Concrete Love’ wrong? Each of these 11 tunes on the LP has elements that could be deemed ‘big’, but few have staying power. The collection also suffers from a lack of cohesiveness, as well as an ill-conceived song order.

In stark contrast to the sunniness of ‘Summer’, the album begins with ‘White Horses’ (seriously, what is up with rock stars and their preoccupation with equines?), which is dark, loud and bombastic, as if the Courteeners are trying to shed their pop image. It’s an emphatic beginning but some momentum and mood is lost as it’s directly followed by their current single ‘How Good It Was’. This sees the band embracing the pop/rock sound they’re most popular for, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not as catchy as ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’ from last year’s album ‘Anna’, it’s memorable, but if you’re sat listening to this album start to finish, it can feel like an uncomfortable segue.

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Nearly halfway through the LP is ‘Black and Blue’: with its frenetic rhythm and Fray’s sometimes menacing cadences, it would have felt more appropriate on an EP with the similar ‘White Horses’ and can be regarded as a natural progression from 2012 single ‘Lose Control’. ‘Saboteur’ is this release’s ‘You Overdid It Doll’ moment, with funk, synths and squeals of guitar. Then there is ‘Next Time You Call’ – with a riff that appears to have been stolen from Elbow’s ‘Grounds for Divorce’ – has Northern swagger, something that there is sadly too little of on this album.

Most of the album’s pace slows to a near halt due to the balladry, in the form of ‘Small Bones’, ‘Has He Told You He Loves You Yet’, and ‘International’, and later on to close out the album with ‘Dreamers’ and ‘Beautiful Head’. These songs aren’t bad, but there isn’t much there to hold your attention for long. Fray’s vocals introducing ‘Small Bones’ are admirable in their sincerity, but the horn section that comes in soon after him seems heavy-handed and breaks the reverie. ‘International’ and ‘Beautiful Head’ have percussive bluster and piano so Coldplay-esque, it’s almost painful. As a result, the album feels schizophrenic: at their shows, are you supposed to jump up and down with abandon, or are you supposed to stand there static or perhaps gently swaying in place with your LED wristband? We’ll have to see how the new material fares at Reading and Leeds.

6/10

The Courteeners’ fourth album ‘Concrete Love’ will be out next Monday, the 18th of August, on Polydor Records. Visit the band’s Web site for more information on how to order signed copies of CDs; deluxe CDs including the ‘Live at Castlefield Bowl DVD, filmed in July 2013 in Manchester; and the album on limited edition white vinyl.

 

Album Review: A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent

 
By on Monday, 11th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Sea When Absent cover art‘Sea When Absent’ is the third full-length release from A Sunny Day in Glasgow, but it is in many ways an album of firsts for the loosely Philadelphia-based band. After a series of lineup changes surrounding previous album ‘Ashes Grammar’, this LP marks the first time A Sunny Day in Glasgow have recorded as a full band; their prior recordings had mainly been the work of primary songwriter/instrumentalist Ben Daniels and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Josh Meakim. On ‘Sea When Absent’, vocalists Jen Goma and Anne Fredrickson have stepped in to write lyrics, melodies and string arrangements, while the band’s rhythm section, bassist Ryan Newmyer and drummer Adam Herndon, interlace the component parts of songs being composed from several different corners of the world.

While Daniels contributed from his Sydney, Australia home and Newmyer telecommuted from Brooklyn, Meakim recorded and engineered the album in Philadelphia alongside producer Jeff Zeigler (The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile). Working with a producer was another first for the band, but probably a necessary one, as the band attempted to move from its self-described “ambient maximalism” into a more approachable rock-oriented sound. The most notable change is in the recording of the vocals, which have been shifted to the forefront, allowing Goma and Fredrickson’s melodies to provide much-needed hooks into the thick and sprawling instrumental textures.

The lightly singable chorus to ‘In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry In The Tradition of Passing)’ allows a bit of a respite from an otherwise unrelentingly bright barrage of sound. (Take a listen and read the lyrics in the video below.) The amorphous tracks in the middle of the album create a blurry psychedelic ambience with flashes of brilliant color, such as the slight pentatonic feel in the instrumental interludes of ‘Crushin’’ and the diffusive impressionism of ‘Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It’s Ok])’. Final track ‘Golden Waves’ is a mishmash of sounds and styles, leaving the album in a state of mutable vacillation.

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The songs on ‘Sea When Absent’ are never restricted by melodic form or lyrical direction; instead, the vocal lines and guitar riffs are woven into the constant motion of a deliberate musical evolution. As a result, the tracks are mesmerising, but a bit unwieldy for a casual listen. (The song titles are equally awkward. Of the 11 tracks on the album, 7 have parenthetical subtitles; one of those was too long for the album information data in iTunes, one is in Japanese, and another contains a sub-subtitle in square brackets.) Even with the band’s stated intent to refine their focus, ‘Sea When Absent’ is still a concentrated stream-of-consciousness, if such a thing exists.

7/10

‘Sea When Absent’ is available now on Lefse Records. Alongside the album, A Sunny Day in Glasgow have also released a new EP called ‘No Death’, available exclusively in independent UK record shops. The EP features two new tracks and three remixes. You can sample the Ice Choir remix of ‘Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)’ below.

 

Album Review: Angus and Julia Stone – Angus and Julia Stone

 
By on Friday, 1st August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Australian brother and sister Angus and Julia Stone have reunited in the studio for their third duo album, titled simply ‘Angus and Julia Stone’. The pair had gone their separate ways after touring their previous album, 2011’s ‘Down The Way’, each delivering a solo project the following year. They were brought back together by California producer Rick Rubin, whose magic touch has recently been felt on recordings by Ed Sheeran (‘X’) and Jake Bugg (‘Shangri-La’).

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is at once more expansive and more cohesive than the siblings’ past records together. The aforementioned ‘Down the Way’ was a large step in this direction, well beyond the purely acoustic folk sound of 2007’s ‘A Book Like This’. Though both previous albums contained California-themed titles, Angus’ songs in particular on ‘Down the Way’ began to explore the warm, mellow West Coast sound, while Julia expanded into thicker and more dramatic instrumentation. Where the two previous albums were studies in contrast between the two Stones — Julia’s raw, taut emotionality and Angus’ laidback, almost sullen drawl — the new self-titled album uses a heavy dose of blues groove to meld their distinct styles into a unified sound.

Rather than strictly alternating lead vocals, the best songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ intertwine the two voices in clever ways. I must admit here that I’ve never particularly cared for Julia Stone’s singing voice; it’s precisely the kind of overaffected little girl whine that usually begins to grate on my nerves after one or two songs. But she sounds remarkably lovely when her voice is layered with Angus’ brooding declamatory style, and the assortment of vocal combinations on this album, varying between straight harmonies and back-and-forth duets, display that feature to its fullest advantage.

The double-tracked vocals throughout opening track ‘A Heartbreak’ make a very definite statement about the collaborative nature of the album as a whole. The song’s first lyrics are an immediate grab for attention: “I met your parents, they were lying about falling in love”, and the rest of the songs continue in that verbally strident vein, softened by the easy blend of the Stones’ voices.

On standout track ‘Heart Beats Slow’, the vocal back and forth is matched up with a bright keyboard melody and lively rhythm over a mellow bass groove. The chorus conjures imagery of the fast-paced L.A. scene in its lyrics, “You say I move so fast that you can hardly see / You say I move so fast, how could you be with me? / But my heart beats slow.” The lovelorn duet ‘Wherever You Are’ and the off-kilter ‘Other Things’ feature the same kind of vocal interchange over a sparser acoustic backdrop.

Individually, each sibling takes the opportunity to stretch his/her own musical style. Angus delves deep into a steamy blues groove on ‘Grizzly Bear’, with Julia doubling on the seductive chorus, “Can I take you home? / We can go anywhere you wanna go.” (Check out a recent live version of ‘Grizzly Bear’ below.) Julia’s impressive lead vocal on ‘Death Defying Acts’ starts out slow, then takes a sultry turn before the song evolves into its hypnotic close.

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The album proper ends with the slow, surly vocals and extended blues guitar riff of ‘Crash and Burn.’ The deluxe version of the album might be worth shelling out a few extra pennies, if only for the rhythmically spellbinding and harmonically intoxicating bonus track ‘Roses’.

The songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ are still recognizable as the intimate folk pop that fans of the sibling pair have always loved, but with a few added layers of musicality. Lyrically, there are moments of poetic brilliance among the pair’s typical repetitive and mesmerizing choruses. Rick Rubin’s subtle production flourishes spike the overall flavor with blues and shimmering psychedelia, which fuses the Stones’ individual styles together and provides a fresh sonic foundation for their songs to grow from.

8.5/10

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is due for release on the 4th of August on Virgin EMI Records. Angus and Julia Stone are back together on stage as well; you can find their upcoming UK tour dates here.

 

Album Review: Fink – Hard Believer

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I was first introduced to Fink by fellow TGTF writer Cheryl, who described their 2011 album ‘Perfect Darkness’ as being “like a smooth whiskey”. We listened to it while getting ready to go out to a gig (I can’t remember now who we were going to see), and it occurred to me very quickly that a more apt comparison has probably never been made. Fink’s lyrics, sung by frontman Fin Greenall, are dark and bittersweet, their potent flavor quickly subdued by the deep, spreading warmth of the rhythmic groove provided by bassist Guy Whittaker and drummer/guitarist Tim Thornton.

Fink were looking to build on the success of ‘Perfect Darkness’ (reviewed by our John here) when they wrote and recorded their fifth LP ‘Hard Believer’. Once again, they decamped to Los Angeles to work with American producer Billy Bush, who also produced ‘Perfect Darkness’, at Sound Factory studios. The band have described ‘Hard Believer’ as their most collaborative effort to date; thus, I’ve chosen to use the name Fink here to refer to the full trio rather than to Greenall himself. (Watch the band’s video commentary ‘The Making of Hard Believer’ below.)

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According to Ninja Tune Records, who have provided support for the album’s release, the phrase “Hard Believer” comes from the vernacular of the American South, where it refers to a person “who is difficult to persuade, who requires proof”. Musically, that Southern drawl is felt immediately in the bluesy guitar riffs and languid vocals of the title track, which you might already have heard in our previous MP3 of the Day feature.

As the album progresses, its tone shifts between artfully coaxing another person and desperately hoping to convince oneself, as in the subtle but edgy ‘2 Days Later’ and the fragile façade of ‘Looking Too Closely’ (featured earlier as a Video of the Moment). ‘Pilgrim’ pairs the provocative lyric “Come a long way / not to ask the question that’s been on your lips all the way” with a palpably anxious and harmonically dissonant rhythmic pulse. The expansive and evolving ‘Shakespeare’ reflects on the fictional tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the context of a failed romance, building from a sparse and gentle acoustic to a lush, full dynamic over the repeated phrases “Turn the pages / and learn nothing…”

Throughout the album, Fink make effective use of their usual tools: hypnotically repetitive lyrics, spellbindingly sensual rhythms and Greenall’s alluring vocals. While only a few specific moments stand out on ‘Hard Believer’, the record maintains a sense of penetrating emotional warmth and its parting impact is strong, not at all unlike the effect of a rich single malt Scotch late in the evening.

7.5/10

Fink‘s fifth album ‘Hard Believer’ is out now on Fin Greenall’s new label R’COUP’D.

 
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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.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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