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They’re one of the best things to come out of Wales in a good while, and no, they are not Tom Jones. They’re Toy Horses: Adam D. Franklin and his stepdad Tom Williams are the principal protagonists in this story and this story is about brilliant pop music.
On first listen to their self-titled, I am already hooked; on my second listen, I discovered the beautiful lyrics; on third listen I sat back and enjoyed myself; on fourth listen, the realization set in that this was a piece of work that people NEED to hear. Track ‘Interrupt’ (live version from Berlin in this previous Live Gig Video) is a piece of quintessential pop, quickly transcending their billing as an indie act. It borders on psychedelia, but there are no tricks apparent. The vocals are magical and it’s difficult describing just how much of a good mood it puts you in.
But the same can be said of the entire album; it’s hard to pick out a song that doesn’t have its merits. But ‘Interrupt’ is by far the best example of what this album is about, beautiful pianos which have me harping back to the Beatles, and I don’t say this lightly. (First-ever Beatles comparison in a review. Ever.) Single ‘And It Was You’ (review here) is a slow-burning number, full of charm, and again, it’s much like the rest of the record.
Adam and Tom’s vocals mix perfectly on ‘Damage Done’: the bass hums along keeping the pace nicely, while Adam and Tom’s vocals continue to soar above the music. Toy Horses’ music translates best on their upbeat pacey numbers. However, when the pace is slowed down in ‘Last Chance’, an acoustic number, the album loses its charm somewhat.
The album as a whole is easy listening, and that statement is not to detract from the merits of this record. Its beauty isn’t harsh on the ear and is easily digestible for the harshest music buff to your casual Radio1 listener on the Greg James show.
Their casual ‘60s-ish sound is something that isn’t around at the moment, giving Toy Horses a unique platform and niche from which to enter the mainstream. Rave reviews of their live performance have already come from last year’s South by Southwest and from listening to this album, it’s difficult not to see why the reviews have been so favourable.
A thoroughly enjoyable listen, to which revisiting is a must.
The self-titled debut from Toy Horses is available now from Albino Sparrow. Their March UK tour starts tonight at Manchester Roadhouse; all the details of the tour are here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 27th February 2012 at 12:00 pm
Canadian act Memoryhouse comprises self-professed classical music lover and composer Evan Abeele and photographer Denise Nouvion. According to the press release for debut new album on Sub Pop, ‘The Slideshow Effect’, their collaboration wasn’t initially intended to be musical in nature at all. Their original plan was to take their individuals strengths and join forces in an artistic outlet to combat the anxiety and boredom of the long, cold winter in the depths of frozen Southern Ontario. What instead occurred: they formed Memoryhouse, named after German-born English neo-classical composer/artist Max Richter’s own album of the same name and a massive influence of Abeele’s, and proceeded to use photographs as a starting point for a direction a song could be written towards. In an interview with Pitchfork, Abeele said of Richter’s work, “for me, in my musical development, there was a ‘before Memoryhouse’ and an ‘after Memoryhouse’…Hearing that fundamentally changed the way I approached composition. I just wanted to pay tribute to that. I wanted to have that to ground us, wherever we took our own music”.
I had not heard of Richter’s album before this, but I can say that for the purpose of this review, I didn’t consider it, and you shouldn’t need to either in order to appreciate it. It’s interesting to note Nouvion previously focused solely on photography, as there’s an expansiveness to the Memoryhouse sound, like looking at a breathtaking landscape. Nouvion’s voice is startling in its earnestness, and Abeele’s careful production isn’t heavy-handed at all, letting the songs breathe: all dream pop is marked with echo and reverb, but the effects used on ‘The Slideshow Effect’ never wear out their welcome and always feel like they were made for the songs they’re used on. Xylophone, which has become a more commonplace instrument in indie pop/rock over the last couple of years, never feels out of place like it does on some other bands’ records, where it can sound like a childish gimmick.
I expect other critics comparing them to Best Coast and Beach House are inevitable, but Memoryhouse’s songs are better and more memorable. And they’ve already given away two of the best songs on this album, which makes me think the duo is confident people will buy the album once they’ve heard these. ‘Walk With Me’ (previous MP3 of the Day here) is haunting in its beauty. It tells the story of a love lost that will never be forgotten but you can’t help but want to keep a hold of: “I can’t forget / the place this started / walk with me / will you walk with me?” ‘The Kids Were Wrong’ (previous MP3 of the Day here) and ‘Heirloom’ are jaunty and bracing as (dare I say it) a cold Canadian winter’s day.
But I go back to the comfort of Abeele’s production across the slower, more brooding numbers: ‘Little Expressionless Animals’ with its sorrowful violin, the slide guitar of ‘All Our Wonder’, the otherworldliness of Nouvion’s vocals in ‘Pale Blue’ all sound like perfection, wrapping you like the warm blanket your nan knitted for you when you were small. It’s definitely more of a sleepier, winter-type record, but seeing that we’re in February, that’s quite all right. Whether you’re a loner or you’re in a committed, loving relationship, this is the perfect antidote to any cold in your heart. Just as it was originally intended for the two people who made it.
Memoryhouse’s debut album ‘The Slideshow Effect’ is out today on Sub Pop.
Emerging from the post-millennial resurgence of North East guitar music that also gave us the Futureheads, of which Peter Brewis was a founder member, Field Music continue to plough their own distinctive furrow several years later. With Maximo Park taking an indefinite break and new pretenders to the North East crown like Frankie and the Heartstrings and Beth Jeans Houghton emerging into the mainstream, Field Music are a reassuring, almost elder-statesman presence, and 2012 could well be their most fertile year yet, seeing the release of their fourth album, and a national tour that kicked off with two sell-out dates in Newcastle.
‘Plumb’ is an elegantly constructed album full of miniature delights: wistful vignettes of thoughtfulness and loss, only occasionally punctuated by more meaty pieces which could justifiably call themselves fully-grown songs. However, even the shortest pieces pack in more musical themes and complex arrangements than many albums manage over their entire running length. Not a second is wasted; no sooner has the album started do the complexities present themselves: a musicologist could define the arrangement of the opening track ‘Start The Day Right’ as ABCBCBDC; such a bald technical summary is obviously inadequate to describe the brief beauty of the track, but it does help to communicate the songwriterly depth on offer. Immediately we are treated to delicate xylophone, swelling strings, the trademark Field Music chromatic guitar figures, and of course broad Wearside accents.
Four songs but only just over 5 minutes in, second single ‘A New Town’ heralds the first of the longer pieces. There’s an unmistakable water-bubble sound by way of introduction, which can be interpreted as the sound of blowing into a Coke straw, sucking on a shisha pipe, or enjoying a relaxing bong, depending on your social background. Nevertheless, it features throughout the song, and achieves an unsettling backdrop to the music; rather a clever strategy, and hints at the “found sound” sampling which is so prevalent in ambient electronica. A similar tone continues in the lyrics, which document a crumbling relationship on the verge of collapse, and ponder whether a fresh start could rescue things. A brave choice for a single.
Newcastle is literally heard in ‘A Prelude to Pilgrim Street’, with its chiming clock and pedestrian crossing beeps recorded on location in tribute to the Tyne-Bridge-to-Northumberland-Street thoroughfare, which carries plenty of history but currently has its best days behind it, being mostly a derelict mess nowadays. In its urgent, ticking arrangement, dreamlike lyrical imagery, and thumping ’70s drum tone, this could be a lost B-side from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ sessions.
To continue the neo-retro tone, the album implies two distinct sides, and would benefit from being played on vinyl: made easier by its LP-friendly running time of 45 minutes. The second half starts with ‘Who’ll Pay the Bills’, possibly the most overtly political piece on the album, yet still pretty oblique. Ostensibly, there is plenty of political content here, but it is sufficiently disguised by artifice as not to be obvious. This is both a benefit and a disadvantage: overtly political statements can often alienate large chunks of one’s audience; however musicians are in a powerful position to comment on and even influence the political process. As it is, ambiguity is chosen over partisanship.
Nothing outstays its welcome, indeed several of the shorter songs leave you wanting more, and wishing they had been developed further. Yet everything hangs together as a piece; there’s enough detail to keep even the most fervent, cerebral listener occupied for some time, as the album reveals its subtleties. Two of the finest tracks appear just before the end: ‘From Hide and Seek to Heartache’ is as good a paean to loss of innocence as has ever been committed to tape, and ‘Just Like Everyone Else’ – possibly the best track here – is a spaced-out, reverb-laden mid-tempo masterpiece, referencing early Fleetwood Mac in its bluesy guitar, and potentially heralds a new, more relaxed direction. More of the same, please.
Throughout the album there’s a nagging sense of loss, bleakness, and a desolate end-of-the-road finality. This is reflected in some of the song titles: ‘So Long Then’, ‘How Many More Times’. There’s clearly something on the minds of the Brewises; it’s a tribute to their songwriting that’s it’s never obvious exactly what. A troubling thought: if there was going to be a last Field Music album – and many thought that the hiatus that brought about the brothers’ individual solo projects in 2008 was the last we’d heard of them – then this would be the way to end things. But let’s set aside that depressing thought for now.
Not afraid of assertive techniques like hard panning, it’s great to hear long-lost production sounds make a comeback in such a contemporary album. There’s plenty of double-tracked vocals, and the thudding drums are spectacular – a sound once thought lost down the back of Nigel Olsson’s drum stool circa 1975 makes its long-awaited return here. Musically, the sound of late ’60s and early ’70s British songwriting looms large, seasoned with a sprinkling of New Wave. The influence of the Beatles is probably almost too obvious to mention in the harmony vocals and documentary lyrics, but I’d be very surprised if one or other of the brothers hadn’t heard and loved Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s autobiographic pinnacle Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; ‘Plumb’ sounds comfortable in the company of such strong examples of the grand tradition of English provincial songwriting.
Quite what it is about Field Music that asserts such passion is a complex question: certainly most of their songs are not immediately hummable; but perhaps its a tribute to their fans that such complex, cerebral guitar music is so popular. The utter antithesis of the three-chord trick and tired quiet-loud arrangements, the ongoing success of Field Music proves once again the listening public’s hunger for intelligent, well-thought-out guitar music.
‘Plumb’, the new album from Field Music, is out now on Memphis Industries. You can watch Field Music playing ‘(I Keep Hearing About) A New Thing’ live in session for the Guardian at the end of this post. Suggested listening companions are as follows (accompanied by Spotify links):
The Kinks – The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society
10cc – How Dare You!
Milky Wimpshake – My Funny Social Crime
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 13th February 2012 at 1:40 pm
It must be nice to live in Paris. If only for one thing, I have this idea in my head that you must never be far from the music influence of Kitsuné chief Gildas Loaëc. I really should send him a bill for all the incidentals surrounding my 2010 Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club gig chasing because after all, he’s the one who gave these bands the green light and now both bands are known the world over.
We’re in 2012 now, and Gildas has hand-selected another batch of bands who are either Paris-based or have some kind of Parisian/French connection and as the press release suggests, the purpose of this compilations is to “gather and present to the world some of the romantic city’s freshest players”. This couldn’t come at a better time; as Editor of TGTF it hasn’t escaped my notice that we haven’t posted a review of a true dance album in a while (partly because I am outnumbered by the mostly male, rock-loving writership of our blog), but this is something that needs to and can be to swiftly rectified with my sharing of thoughts on this comp. So here we go…
Let’s start with the standouts of this album. ‘Angelina’, the offering from Nameless (promo video below), is the earworm of the collection, with Two Door Cinema Club style-y guitars and an infectious as hell chorus. I’ve been unable to find a Web site for the band, as there seems to be a hip hop producer, bands in America and Argentina and even a digital communications in Bristol that go by the ambiguous name ‘Nameless’, so if anyone can hook a sister up… Juveniles’ ‘Ambitions’ is cut from a similar cloth, except I’m guessing those of you who don’t like dance clubs will think it too in your face; it should come with a defibrillating warning.
It should also be noted that this album is heavy on strong female vocals: ‘So Long My Love’ by girl/boy duo Tomorrow’s World is minimal on the beats but heavy on class, solo artist Birkii’s beauteous voice dazzles over ‘80s synths, while Owlle’s ‘Free’ (Parisien mix) will conjure up Bat for Lashes.
Need a break from vocals? Beatacue’s ‘Kiho’ is a refreshing and freeing orchestration of sound that should get bodies bumping. At barely over 4 minutes, they could have kept going and I wouldn’t have noticed, lost in the music. Pyramid, a 21-year old from Lyon who has admitted Daft Punk is a massive influence, proffers ‘The Race’, which was recorded on a laptop in his bedroom. When you listen to well-formed dance tracks like this, you figure you might as well give up.
On the other side of the spectrum, Wolfpack Beartrack’s ‘Modern Realm’ does go modern, in the sense that the vocals border on the hip hop side of the city that I’m not bothered with. No thanks. Kitsune is promoting Exotica as a supergroup, but the melody of ‘Spectrum’ seems tinned and rehashed from a previous era. ‘About the Girl’ by Tiger Evolution: Josie and the Pussycats? Thanks, but no thanks. Except for these few missteps, it just goes to show that Gildas Loaëc has still got it – it being the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, to suss the potential diamonds in the rough from thousands of contenders. It’ll definitely be interesting to see which of these newbies will rise to stardom. Until then, put on your dancing shoes and give this collection a whirl.
Kitsune’s latest compilation, ‘Kitsune Parisien II’, is out today. The digital release includes two bonus tracks: SingTank’s ‘The Party (Lucas Sorel remix)’ and KIT’s ‘Those Words’.
From the first bars of ‘Sweet Sour’, I know I am listening to a Band of Skulls record. The drum beat is almost deafening and you can smell the influence of the White Stripes in the first beat!
Band of Skulls broke onto the scene with their debut album ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey.’ With single ‘I Know What I Am’ leading the charge on the album, it gained huge critical praise, no doubt with drums that would make even John Bonham think, “ooh, that’s loud”. Their brand of garage-blues rock and the fact they are a boy-girl partnership earned them a lot of White Stripes’ comparisons. But that shouldn’t count against them; nobody can replicate the ‘Stripes’ and nor have Band of Skulls tried to. This band have a lot more of a grunge-y feeling then the Stripes ever did, and this isn’t just because their guitarist Russel Marsden looks a little Kurt Cobain-ish.
‘Wanderluster’ is a bittersweet romantic’s look at lust and loving, and it works brilliantly with Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson’s vocal clash. ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’ won me over with its title alone, but the chaos of the song in itself is simply brilliant. The guitars are screeching all over the place, and the drumming is ferocious. ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On’ starts as it means to go on; the pace is high, the vocals dripping with sleaze: “You turn on but there’s nobody home/ Your feet straight but you’re not as natural.” This band has gone gritty with this record and by and large, it’s hard to criticise them.
Slow-paced ‘Navigate’ takes a different tact with Richardson leading the vocals. It’s still pacey as you expect from the Skulls but at nearly 5 and a half minutes, it does drag on slightly. ‘Hometown’ is the same kind of formula and really does show that the second half of the album is a more mellow affair than the beginning. The change of pace, sadly, is not a welcome in my eyes. The vocals are immaculate throughout, but Band Of Skulls sound best when they are thrashing away. So it’s a joy when ‘Lies’ kicks in with a harsh drum beat and some bass riffery.
My opinion on this album is one of two halves. The beginning of the record, especially title track ‘Sweet Sour’ (free download from this MP3 of the Day last week, brand new video below), is fantastic; it’s classic Band Of Skulls and the kind of songs I cannot wait to hear live. Then comes the slowdown in pace near the album’s close, and this is what lets it down. However, don’t let this deter you from buying this solid effort from a seriously talented band.
‘Sweet Sour’, the new album from Band of Skulls, will be released on the 20th of February on Electric Blues Recordings. You can stream the album for free at SPIN or Pure Volume. Catch the band live on a tour starting on the 17th of February in Darlington; all the details are here.
‘Kisses on the Bottom’, the fifteenth offering from pop institution Paul McCartney, is a blend of jazz classics with an odd Macca original stirred in. It was never likely to knock ‘Mull of Kintyre’ off its perch, or stop ‘Hey Jude’ being wheeled out for every goodwill mission, but an insistence on an empty kind of easy listening risks the album becoming just a kitsch footnote to a jaw-dropping back catalogue.
The title sounds like a dirty comment from an elderly relative: so desexualised by time that imagining the literal seems comic, but is still enough to raise a lump in the throat. Luckily, the brushed snare and teetering double bass slide so fluidly in to Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young‘s ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ that the joke can be forgiven. Macca’s voice has returned with a light husk that compliments the beat-like cool in this intro; there’s a touch of ‘Kind of Blue’ without Miles Davis’ freewheelin’ trumpet heralding a plethora of improvisation.
‘Home (When Shadows Fall)’ has a lullaby-like quality (used to great effect in ‘The Shining’) but verges on Disney, lying closer to late Nina Simone (or that bloke off the Stella Artois advert) than its music hall roots. The front porch fiddle on ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ gives it a honky tonk feel although – as with the sickly sweet ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ (obviously dusted off from the honeymoon) – McCartney brings in too little variation or dynamism. The flatlands continue through ‘The Glory of Love’ and ‘We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)’.
‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’ is a sort of unknowing wink to the recent jazz revival (which may explain Jamie Cullum‘s soppy appraisal on the Guardian) and is so forcibly merry it should perhaps be contained to the odd rehab clinic. On the other hand, with ‘My Valentine’ McCartney’s emotion breaks from the prevailing monotony; creating a certain melancholy, with trademark Beatles key change and composition, and a Latino vibe that reminds you why in 2000 a BBC poll named him the “greatest composer of the millennium”.
Then the Stella Artois guy is pushed drunkenly back on to the midnight terrace, tinkering at the back of ‘Always’. The song possesses mellowness that smacks of honeymoon apathy, which is carried through the Hawaiian horizon of ‘My Very Good Friend the Milkman’. And so on, in to the redemptive ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ (which somehow manages to stick dangerously close to its Beatles namesake), the lamenting Sinatra croon of ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’ and the childish whimsy of ‘The Inch Worm’. On ‘Only Our Hearts’ he is dynamically unshackled, free to envisage the world through the spectrum of vintage film moments he has tied together. There’s more to keep you hooked in the first 30 seconds than the last 3 tracks combined, ending on an unmistakable harmonica outro by Stevie Wonder, which shows that, save the odd jaunt in to mediocrity, McCartney’s material should now be considered more classic than ‘the classics’.
Paul McCartney’s fifteenth (yes, you read that right, fifteenth) studio album ‘Kisses on the Bottom’ is out now on Hear Music/Mercury.