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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 4th February 2015 at 12:00 pm
Two years ago, Kodaline‘s debut album ‘In a Perfect World’ seemed uneven: they seemed to be a band who were uncertain about their direction. Would they be about electric guitars playing to thousands upon thousands? Or would they feel more at home in an intimate pub, jamming with harmonicas and mandolins? The Irish group now find themselves at the all important fork in the road, right at what we journos call ‘the difficult second album’, and they have made their choice.
While ‘Coming Up for Air’ doesn’t represent an whole scale reboot for the Kodaline brand – and make no mistake, some things have stayed the same, to this editor’s great relief – the band’s objective has changed. With that change comes a beefing up in sound. Mighty lead single ‘Honest’, which debuted in early December 2014, was met with some fans voicing their opposition, saying Kodaline have sold out, as well as questioning, “Where is the acoustic guitar?”
Others have stepped up to support the band, saying there’s nothing wrong with pop and there’s nothing wrong with trying something new; I agree on both counts, seeing ‘Honest’ as the first major clue in this shift in their ambition. The progressing evolution of Kodaline’s sound comes across loud and clear as shown through the power of the single’s words and its epic chord progressions and harmonies. (Read my single review here.) Yes, the mandolin days were nice. I really did love ‘Love Like This’. But ‘Love Like This’ worked well on the rooftop of Maggie Mae’s; it wasn’t really meant for stadiums. Both ‘Lost’ and ‘Ready’ are energetically bubbling with pop sensibility and are incredibly fun, the latter being my choice for the next single, featuring a squealing guitar solo that shoots up as high as the band’s new found self-confidence.
In addition to ‘In a Perfect World’ producer Steve Harris, they brought in two heavy hitters in the production world, Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol, R.E.M.) and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding, Kylie Minogue), further indicating Kodaline wanted to take their overall sound to the next level as their songwriting has matured. A fuller, richer sound has been achieved magnificently on songs like ‘Autopilot’, while those Kodaline harmonies we know and love have stayed and continue to ring true. This one will be a real beauty performed live. About midway through the album is ‘Unclear’, a beautifully sweeping track punctuated by a children’s choir. It’s a song about the universal struggle of uncertainty, which seems to be quite apt, given where Kodaline find themselves now. They’re still a relatively young band, and while they have their eyes set on the prize, we’ll have to see how the public reacts to this ‘new’ version of Kodaline.
On the metaphorical flipside, there are some tracks that aren’t entirely believable as Kodaline songs for some reason. ‘Human Again’ and ‘Play the Game’ in particular have rock and r&b edges, respectively, which I can’t say I saw coming. As songs, they’re all right, but as they come along without warning in the midst of the tracklisting, like when you’re sailing down a deserted motorway at high speed, only to have to slam on the brakes upon approach of a roadblock. Somewhat ironically considering torch song ‘All I Want’ is the song they’re best known for, three of the ballads – the cloying ‘Better’ and ‘The One’, as well as the almost too overbearing, hymn-like ‘Everything Works Out in the End’ – that most disappoint, by slowing down an otherwise good and largely positive pace.
The title of ‘Coming Up for Air’ seems to describe well how Kodaline must have felt, ‘coming to’ after all the touring and excitement off the back of their debut album, then having to return to the studio to write new material. They have a very different kind of life now than the one they had when we first introduced you to them in the summer of 2012. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pop. Or having fun. This album shows the band are enjoying trying something new and while some fans from way back might be disappointed and feel like they lost some old friends, they’ll easily be replaced by new ones who can’t help but be drawn in by the infectiousness of these tracks.
‘Coming Up for Air’, Kodaline’s second album length effort, is out on next Monday, the 9th of February, on RCA Victor. They’ll be on tour in the UK in February and March before they head out to North America in mid-April. For all things Kodaline on TGTF, head this way.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 3rd February 2015 at 1:00 pm
At merely ages 19 and 20, young Pennsylvania band The Districts could be said they’re living the dream. Having formed in 2009 while all their band members were in high school, I doubt any of them would have imagined 5 years later they would be signed to famed Mississippi indie label Fat Possum Records. Now they’re starting 2015 strong with the release of their newest album to the world. It’s with much relief that ‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, which was recorded in Minnesota and produced, engineered and mixed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans), manages to retain all the rough edges of the band that made ‘The Districts’ EP such an untamed joy in early 2014.
The album starts with a fine buildup in the form of earlier revealed track and lead single ‘4th and Roebling’, named for the Brooklyn intersection where the band happened to park their van the first time they ever played in the city. The song itself is a mournful yearning for a lover who has changed, or perhaps even a life that no longer exists. Yet despite its sadder, more pensive moments as ably emote emoted by frontman Rob Grote, it’s an engaging listen and a clear standout, with its driving rhythm, masterful guitar and its stompathon style conclusion. Though ‘lo-fi slacker’ could be used to some extent to describe the Districts’ chosen style of instrumentation, their ability to put both melancholy and rage on show in the same song – and convincingly – sets them apart from many of their singer/songwriter and band contemporaries. Grote charms his way through rhythmically upbeat number ‘Peaches’, which has already caught the eyes and ears of American late night tv presenter Jimmy Fallon, no doubt for its indie rock catchiness. Later on in the line-up, ‘Bold’ shows off the band’s psychedelic leanings, as the drum beats vibrate and the guitars wail, their lines bending with effects.
A few songs on this album tell of just how hard growing up can be. The atmospheric drums and guitars on standout ‘Chlorine’ boom a nostalgic feeling throughout as Grote’s voice oozes in the chorus, “it’s such a shame / nobody’s feeling it now / it’s not that way anymore”; in the background, a tambourine shakes almost solemnly. Shortest track ‘Suburban Smell’ sees Grote coming to terms with leaving behind their suburban childhood in the sleepy town of Lititz, Pennsylvania they used to call home. Although Grote sings, “he’s sick of that suburban smell” and “16 houses on every street”, the song is performed in such an tender acoustic style, as if an acknowledgement that we all come from a beginning that was humbler than what we become and even if our childhood moments weren’t always the best, we will always have those memories. Considering their relative youth compared to other bands in the business, such observations for a time period that was not so far in the past seem incredibly astute and are refreshing.
Listeners who hold tight to the end of the album are rewarded with two great tracks. At nearly 9 minutes, ‘Young Blood’ is like a multi-act play, with a fun part one, a jammy instrumental bridge, and an even more fun, raucous conclusion with excellent guitar licks. Lo-fi ‘6 AM’, which closes out ‘A Flourish…’, includes the refrain of “all we are is all we are / and still I will become / all I am and what I thought I can’t become.” As the words are repeated and repeated, seeming more desperate as the song goes on, there is a sad poignancy in the resignation of Grote’s loneliness, of life being ‘it is what it is’. For kids of all ages who feel lost and abandoned, either by boy/girlfriends and/or society, this song will resonate with them. There is an rawness and honesty with ‘6 AM’ and the Districts. They have heart. Nothing is contrived here. If I were a betting woman, I’d say based on the strength of this album, The Districts are on the verge of becoming massive.
‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, the second album from The Districts, will be out on the 9th of February on Fat Possum Records. After their scheduled appearance at this year’s SXSW, the band will be touring the UK and Ireland in April and May.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 28th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Words by Harry Gold
Bridging the gap between Baggy and Britpop in the early ‘90s, the Charlatans were one of many bands that rode the wave of success of the Manchester music scene that developed after the emergence of the Hacienda as a ‘superclub’ in the late ‘80s. Despite offering their own take on the psychedelic swagger of Madchester sound, the easiest way to describe the group’s 1990 debut LP ‘Some Friendly’ would be “The Stone Roses with an organ player”, offering an arguably more accessible and poppy sound. Re-emerging in 2015, The Charlatans seem to have completely remolded themselves, with vocalist Tim Burgess’ Gallagher-esque drawl having seemingly dissipated into something more versatile and wide reaching. The music also appears more expansive, sounding surprisingly cosmopolitan for a group hailing from Northwich.
Stripped down to its bare bones, ‘Modern Nature’ can be described as a record by a West Coast psychedelic rock band with electronic and acid house undertones. This, interestingly, would be also have been a fitting way to describe the band at the height of their success in the ‘90s, making ‘Modern Nature’ a massive sonic departure, but also a remoulding of old influences. While ‘Some Friendly’ was a testament to staying indoors and taking drugs at shady nightclubs, the album as a whole feels like the rediscovery of a world outside of raving and clubbing, a welcome contrast to draw with convoluted modern pop music.
Opening track ‘Talking in Tones’ marks a departure from the electronic groove-led energy of the band’s earlier material, the group appearing to be looking around and appreciating the world around them more rather than focussing exclusively on themselves and their immediate surroundings. The main musical influences are immediately noticeable, with the shadow of the Doors being omnipresent throughout the record, especially on album track ‘Let the Good Times Be Never Ending’. Paired with a drum sound reminiscent of New Order’s ‘The Perfect Kiss’, the group’s Stephen Morris being one of the guest drummers playing on the LP, the band seamlessly merge together sounds originally created decades apart.
Recent single ‘So Oh’ hints at more contemporary psychedelic wanderings, with the thought of Tame Impala immediately springing to the fore. There are moments when such sunniness seems almost unconvincing coming from a group that have probably only experienced a heat wave once in their lives, living in an otherwise gloomy part of Britain. Beneath the vibrant exterior, the creation of ‘Modern Nature’ feels as though it has occurred alongside the daunting realization that the group has outgrown their old youthful energy and need to “grow up”. The album, as a result, feels like a result of these blind meanderings, a transitory moment for the band as songwriters and musicians, but also as people.
‘Modern Nature’ doesn’t, however, feel like a step into the future, rather a celebration of the past. After the passing of drummer Jon Brookes in 2013, The Charlatans seem to have garnered a new appreciation for life, allowing them to see not only the world around them, but also themselves, in a completely different light. Featuring members of the Verve, Dexy’s and Factory Floor, the record is a celebration of all that has come before, with musicians born generations apart pulling together, marking ‘Modern Nature’ as a key point in the groups career, encapsulating their past into one record so they can move forward into the future.
‘Modern Nature’, the Charlatans’ 12th studio album to date, is out now on BMG / Chrysalis. The band have lined up a UK tour in March, with many of the dates already sold out.
Header photo by Chloe Aftel
San Francisco alt-rock duo The Dodos, comprised of lead singer and guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber, met and began making music together in 2005. Naturally, given their instrumental preferences, their sound is heavily rhythmic, combining the complex syncopations of Long’s guitar parts and the propulsive motion of Kroeber’s percussion. Having turned from a primarily acoustic sound to electric guitar on 2011’s ‘No Color’ and following the idea through 2013’s ‘Carrier’, The Dodos have carried the development of their style a step further on their latest album, ‘Individ’.
According to Long, “the best time to make a record is right after you’ve finished one”. The Dodos began recording ‘Individ’ immediately after finishing ‘Carrier’ with producers Jay and Ian Pellici, using the analog equipment at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone Studios. ‘Carrier’ was indeed an immediate and energetic album, purposefully written with the addition of punk guitarist Christopher Reimer as a touring member of the band in mind. Reimer’s untimely death just before the album was recorded certainly had an impact on the final sound, and his influence on Long’s songwriting, which Long himself describes as “patience to let a song develop and a judgment-free enthusiasm for sound”, can be heard not only on ‘Carrier’ but carrying through to ‘Individ’ as well.
Long and Kroeber looked even farther into their now-deep back catalogue during the process of writing and recording ‘Individ’. “In a lot of ways making this record brought us back to making ‘Visiter’ (The Dodos’ brilliant 2008 LP), relying heavily on the movement that occurs between just two instruments, guitar and drums. From the first take of the first song we tracked, things sounded huge and that set the tone for the entire thing.”
‘Individ’ is bookended by two epically lengthy tracks, ‘Precipitation’ and ‘Pattern/Shadow’, both of which exemplify Long’s stated premise. ‘Precipitation’ introduces the album with the sonic anticipation of an impending storm before evolving into heavy percussion and thundering guitar riffs. Closing track ‘Pattern/Shadow’ makes the album’s final and most lasting impact, its distinct musical sections unified by echoes of the opening lyric “your shadow remains / I cannot resist / the mirrored escape / of your pattern”.
First single ‘Competition’ is possibly the most immediately accessible track on the album, and yet the relentless percussion and interlaced guitar parts are another example of The Dodos’ grandiose intent. Long’s echoing double-tracked vocals are intensely melodic, though his rhythmically repetitive lyrics become almost indistinguishable in the wash of guitar and percussion. Other album highlights include the gentle lull and harmonic intricacy of ‘Darkness’, the mutable time signature of ‘Goodbyes and Endings’ and the potent percussion and gritty guitar riff of ‘Retriever’.
Nothing if not complex, the music on ‘Individ’ is almost too much to take in all at once, leaving a only a shadowy impression after the first listen and subsequent ones alike. By contrast with ‘Visiter’ and ‘Carrier’, ‘Individ’ seems more cerebral then emotional, and it’s missing a strongly convincing hook to maintain the listener’s attention. But what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in its broad atmosphere, and perhaps the energy of live performance will allow for a more visceral effect. The Dodos will play a series of live dates in North America this winter leading into their appearance at SXSW 2015 in March.
‘Individ’, the sixth album from the Dodos, is out today on Polyvinyl Records.
Since Rae Morris signed a recording contract on her 18th birthday, she has been teasing her loyal, yet ever-growing fanbase with her music, or so it seems, with each of her six EPs offering a tiny glimpse of what to expect from her debut album. It’s almost as if Atlantic Records knew they had something special, yet didn’t want to unleash it to the world until she had matured. Now aged 21, Rae Morris has released ‘Unguarded’, and it’s clear to see why she has been hotly tipped as one of the female artists to watch in 2015.
With production of the album coming from Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Charli XCX), Jim Eliot (Kylie Minogue, Ellie Goulding) and Fryars (Lily Allen), ‘Unguarded’ tackles the subject of life-changing, character-building relationships and the highs and the lows that come as a result. Take ‘Skin’ for example. The album opener details the guilt of continuing a toxic love affair; a powerful introduction told through a rare integrity that emanates from the lofty chorus and sophisticated melody. Likewise, ‘Closer’, taken from the EP of the same name, focuses on Rae’s distance from her family and how that has made her more appreciative of her own identity as a result.
Female singer/songwriters are ten a penny in the music industry at the moment. However, Rae Morris stands out in this market thanks to an elegance in her vocals and a genuine honesty in her lyrics, which complements the pop flair with an almost perfection. This is particularly evident on ‘Love Again’, a graceful track about getting back on the horse, and the up-beat electro-pop single ‘Under the Shadows’. The record also features a number of Rae Morris’ previous singles, including the incredibly moving piano-led ballad ‘Don’t Go’, the highly entrancing ‘Cold’ (ft. Fryars) and the tantalising ‘Do You Even Know?’, a track she wrote in her shed in Blackpool.
‘Unguarded’ is a coming-of-age album for Rae Morris, as she makes the leap up from a teenager writing songs in her bedroom to a contemporary pop star on the verge of unprecedented success. Was it worth the wait? Without a doubt.
The debut album from Rae Morris, ‘Unguarded’, is released today on Atlantic Records. She begins a UK tour on Sunday in Liverpool; all the details are this way.
Whenever I’m listening to a new album for review, I generally try to steer clear of reading other reviewers’ opinions, at least until my own review is officially in the books. I’ve had particular difficulty this week avoiding the barrage of media attention for Belle and Sebastian’s new LP ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. Music critics and diehard fans alike have been eagerly awaiting this release since it was announced late last year, especially now that their attention has turned from end-of-year charts to the business of making predictions for 2015.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance’ is not only new music for the new year, it marks a slightly new musical direction for Belle and Sebastian as well. As implied by its title, this set of songs unabashedly experiments with dance pop, which comes as a bit of a surprise from the Scottish indie sextet, who have previously been known for their sunny and cerebral brand of twee. In fact, I was astonished to find myself delightedly dancing along to the album’s first single ‘The Party Line’ when I heard it played on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6music programme last week.
Aside from being a gleefully giddy bit of pop pleasure, the track is a strong statement of the band’s intent for this, their ninth studio album. Its trippy, heavily synthesized disco beat, deep pulsing bass and catchy vocal hook, “jump to the beat of a party line / there is nobody here but your body, dear”, put the radio-friendly dance vibe squarely at the forefront of the overall sound. (Watch the video for ‘The Party Line’ in our previous Video of the Moment feature.)
This is not to suggest, however, that frontman and main songwriter Stuart Murdoch has gone soft on his normally erudite lyrical style. Album opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a deeply introspective look at Murdoch’s own introversion, examining the disconnect between himself and the world around him. But the song’s probing lyrics, “we are out of practice, we’re out of sight / on the edge of nobody’s empire / and if we live by books and we live by hope / does that make us targets for gunfire?” are disguised by a sprightly instrumental arrangement and uplifting gospel choir backing vocals that convey more something more akin to optimism than self-doubt.
‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ is a glittery disco ball of a track with slick synths and programmed percussion backing the lyrically astute vocal trade-off between Murdoch and Sarah Martin. Likewise, ‘Perfect Couples’ features a sensually serpentine guitar riff and an irresistible, almost tribal sounding dance beat behind a tersely cynical lyrical examination of the superficiality of modern relationships: “sexual tension at the fridge / he makes for the organic figs / from on her lips dangling a cig”.
Possibly the most intriguing track on ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is a different kind of dance tune entirely. ‘The Everlasting Muse’ shifts back and forth from a seductive Spanish dance rhythm to a heavy, more Eastern European march tempo. In contrast to the glossy, polished production of the disco numbers, this track has a more traditional dance feel, right down to the handclap rhythms and the hints of modal harmony.
Belle and Sebastian step away from the overarching dance theme in the album’s more characteristic indie pop moments, including the dreamy haze of recent single ‘The Cat With the Cream’ and the blissfully pastoral acoustic arrangement of ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’. Final track ‘Today (This Army’s for Peace)’ closes the album in a similarly contemplative vein, with distantly echoing vocals and a meditative piano solo over a constant and soothing rhythm, delicately executed by drummer Richard Coburn.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ is solid evidence that even as they approach the 20-year mark of their career as a band, Belle and Sebastian are willing to stretch the limits of their established musical style. At this point, anything they release would be likely to create a buzz of anticipation in the music media, but here they live up to the hype with an album of songs that are by turns pleasantly unexpected and comfortably familiar.
‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, Belle and Sebastian‘s ninth studio album, is out now on Matador Records. Belle and Sebastian are scheduled to perform at a slew of festivals this year, including a high-profile slot at Coachella (Saturday 11 April) and Liverpool Sound City 2015, where they will be headlining Sunday night (24 May) with a full orchestra at the event’s new Bramley Moore Dock location (more information here).