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Album Review: General Fiasco – Unfaithfully Yours

 
By on Monday, 30th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

General Fiasco have done a good job in the last year to stay in the public’s consciousness. After signing to new label Dirty Hit (run by their London-based manager) in late 2011, they released the ‘Waves’ EP in November, followed by the EP ‘Don’t You Ever’ in March just after their appearances at SXSW 2012. The Olympics even gave the band a special nod: they were chosen to headline a special show in Belfast in early June, when the Olympic relay passed through the Northern Irish capital.

After releasing the promo video for new single ‘Bad Habits’ on the 20th of June, the band is ready to unleash their second album (and their first with Dirty Hit), ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. While several songs will be familiar to fans as EP and/or single tracks, there is plenty enough freshness to make this one of most cheered about releases of 2012. Ex-Panama Kings keyboardist and guitarist Stuart Bell joined last year as well, adding another axe as well as another dynamic to the mix, giving this album a different feel from 2010’s ‘Buildings’ put out on Infectious Records.

I was so sure the title suggested that the direction of this record was based on bad relationships, but in an interview earlier this month with Chris Jones of Alternative Ulster, drummer Stephen Leacock explained the title came from a nasty letter they wanted to send to an amplifier company. This company gave them an endorsement but the band wanted to write them a note, with a completely unlaudatory signature of “unfaithfully yours” to emphasise that their products proved completely unreliable. They never ended up sending the letter, but Leacock said the two words “unfaithfully yours” felt like a good fit for the album title.

The name also likely alludes to the fact that as reported in Jones’ article, they were dropped by Infectious Records, who were pushing for an album to be released quicker than the band could produce one of a caliber they were happy to put out. I think it’s safe to say us music bloggers are all too aware of the bands we know and love being pressured to put out material more quickly than they want to and not necessarily at the high standard (or even style) they want. (For more discussion of this, see my interview/review of the new Olympic single by Delphic.) In the case of General Fiasco, it sounds like they had groups of songs written at different time points and had plenty of material, but the breathing room the signing to Dirty Hit afforded them proved crucial, allowing the band to put out the album they wanted to this summer.

The quickfire pace is set with first track ‘Gold Chains’. (A live version is embedded in this MP3 of the Day and more post.) This could prove to be the band’s ‘I Can Talk’; it’s begging for an equally frenetic video (if it becomes a single as I suspect it will be, that is). Just a bit less in the frantic department is ‘Closer’, which could very well be Owen Strathern’s “close-up” song with the hordes of girls already in love with him; these girls will know all the words to this song, you just know it from his emphatic singing of “I wanna be closer…you should be right here”.

All joking aside, like all of General Fiasco’s catalogue, ‘Closer’ has a happiness that only happens when their guitars and drums come to together with Owen’s voice. I can’t scientifically or not, explain it better than that; songs like this and ‘Sleep’, previewed at SXSW this year (video in my review of their appearance on the Thursday afternoon Music in Ireland showcase in an Irish pub on 6th Street here), will get your toes tapping, if not up and out of your chair to dance. ‘Temper Temper’ sounds like it could be the brother of ‘Don’t You Ever’; if you liked the latter, you will for sure love this one. That said, if loud, fast, in your face songs are not your thing, I don’t think you’re going to like this album very much. And I can see that this is probably where this effort is going to be unfairly judged by mainstream media critics.

A funky guitar riff pervades ‘Brother Is’, Owen sings, “you should stay cool when you’re heating up / you’re a delicate boy / not a delicate man” and “we’re up against a firing line / just waiting to die”. Not exactly pop lyrics, are they? However, the song strikes me as a good example of the maturity of the songwriting; I think it’s best described as an “advice” kind of song, coming from a big brother or father figure, explaining how important it is to be your own man, thinking for yourself and acting your age. ‘Hollows’, a definite highlight on ‘Unfaithfully Yours’, also feels more mature. Instrumentally, it’s rich with another funky riff plus fantastic drums and percussion from Leacock and what sounds like a violin but might just be guitar (?); add all of that with Owen’s chorus of “I go, I go, I go for it / my heart, my heart, and my heart beats less / I want, I need somebody else” and his resignation of “I know this won’t get better / it’s all right, we won’t get better” make for a compelling song. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is “just a pop band”; General Fiasco is proving with smart songwriting that they’re far more than that.

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‘This is Living’, the one slow song on this album, is just Owen’s voice and piano. It’s too early to say if Chris Martin should be getting worried. While it starts slow, ‘The Bottom’, beginning as a heartfelt, almost wistful ballad at being at the end of your rope, breaks open into a powerful, rousing number. “We’ve done to ourselves / nobody will know / what we’ve done to ourselves” are the last, emotional words. Below is an acoustic version of it; if you think this version is full of feeling, just wait for the album version. That’s right: go get this album. Immediately. Once they get an American label contract – something I bet they will have soon enough – Two Door Cinema Club, watch out.

8.5/10

‘Unfaithfully Yours’, General Fiasco’s second album, is out today on Dirty Hit. If you purchase the album from iTunes, you will receive a bonus track, ‘Maybe I Might’.

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Album Review: Passion Pit – Gossamer

 
By on Monday, 23rd July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

They may have cancelled the next few shows on their world tour so their leader can deal with his self-admitted mental issues, but fans of hipper-than-hip, Massachusetts outfit Passion Pit can take solace in the release of the band’s new album ‘Gossamer’, out today on Columbia.

When a band delivers an excellent debut there is a certain amount of pressure when they’re recording their next. So many bands, in my opinion, have fallen at this hurdle but I was sure Passion Pit was to become another member of this club with their 2009 debut ‘Manners’. After all, it showed all the signs: a child of the MySpace music generation, hype surrounding the band before their debut was even released, as well as critical success when the album dropped. Not to mention the fact that you couldn’t be in my car during the summer of 2009 without hearing ‘Little Secrets’ or ‘Moth’s Wing..’ (However, this isn’t much of a compliment for the band; my car mix-cds would often include such classics as ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’ or ‘Return of the Mack’ and I’m not even ashamed).

But for one time in my life, I am happy to say I was wrong; Passion Pit’s sophomore effort is as impressive as the first and it’s not even hyperbolic to suggest that they’re so multi-genre, they’re in a genre of their own. ‘Constant Conversations’ is a prime example of this; imagine an r&b, R. Kelly-esque song written by Rufus Wainwright but with instrumental duties handed to Phoenix and vocals and harmonies given to Ra Ra Riot. On paper I’m aware I’ve made it sound like a god-awful track, but on record it just works. Listen to it below.

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This is Passion Pit in a nutshell; originality. Lead singer Michael Angelakos’ versatile falsetto and depressing lyrics contradict the upbeat electro instruments for a truly unique style. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair / still I’m the only one who seems to care” from ‘It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy’ stand out as my favourite couplet and perfect example of Angelakos’ manipulation of music and lyrics.

Lead track on the album ‘Take a Walk’ is not content with being the best track on the album, it also has an utterly fantastic video to accompany it. (We featured it as a Video of the Moment last month here.) Filmed with a helicam, the video and the song remind fans why they fell in love with the band 3 years ago. Catchy synth riffs, and a lot of them. If you’re not humming these songs for days at a time, then there’s something wrong with you.

When listening to Passion Pit’s debut back in 2009, you were blindsided by an amazing Cranberries cover at the end of the album. Their version of ‘Dreams’ was an absolute treat and was the perfect contradiction with the lyrics from the rest of the album. I thought this was an intelligent end to a CD and thought a similar thing might occur, however this has not carried over to ‘Gossamer.’ Overall, it’s a perfect sequel to ‘Manners’. Expanding and improving on everything that made their 2009 debut such a breakthrough hit, the band’s distinct sound is still relevant and its number one selling point.

9.5/10

‘Gossamer’, the sophomore effort from Passion Pit, is out today on Columbia.

 

Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

 
By on Friday, 20th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Combining the energy of rock, the ethos of punk and the earnestness of folk the Gaslight Anthem return to us with their fourth album ‘Handwritten’. The band have been teasing fans with ‘unlockable’ previews of the tracks for a week or so even though the lead single ’45’ was premiered on BBC Radio 1 back in April. But now the album is finally available in full.

Coming from the same kind of working class, New Jersey background as Bruce Springsteen, comparisons are inevitable. Luckily, they share a mutual appreciation of each other and occasionally share a stage. But this band has so much to offer in their own right. At the risk of sounding un-American, I prefer this album over the Boss’s latest offering. With tracks like ‘Keepsake’ and ‘Mae’, you can feel the driving urgency to tell the stories lead singer Brian Fallon has locked up inside him. An uncompromising commitment to the egalitarian element of punk, the Gaslight Anthem speaks to everyman in a way that young and old can relate to.

Making an effort to return to their roots, Fallon told Kerrang earlier this year, “There’s punk songs on there, and they’re more punk than our last record”. Hard and fast, the tracks move with lightning speed through the emotions, trials and tribulations that have always obsessed the impassioned young bucks who sing them. Fallon may be maturing with his band, but the excitement of pure rock still rings through each of his songs. Title track ‘Handwritten’ describes the way a song “travels from heart to limb to pen”. The confessional ‘Keepsake’ tears at the fragility of lost familial connections. ‘Mullholland Drive’ is a monster of a track with some respectable shredding from axeman Alex Rosamilia, and the guitar solo in ‘Biloxi Parish’ keeps it rough and real.

The album comes to its close with the down tempo ‘Mae’ and acoustic ‘National Anthem’. ‘Mae’ seems to be the most ‘Jersey’ of them to me. Having grown up summering on the Jersey shore, it strikes a chord with me. While I like quiet moments inside an otherwise rocking album, it seems as if ‘National Anthem’ was custom made for the inevitable rounds of radio and in-store promo acoustic appearances. Tracking could have been improved if these two didn’t follow one another.

With hard driving guitars, insistent drums and heart on the sleeve lyrics, the album lives up to its predecessors. The only criticism for this album would be that many of the tracks sound similar; there is not a lot of experimentation with their tried and true sound. This, I am sure, is welcomed news for the faithful, but I like to hear changes and growth throughout a band’s discography. Notwithstanding the similarity of the music, the album is definitely still as brilliant as we know the Gaslight Anthem are capable of.

8.5/10

‘Handwritten’, the new album from the Gaslight Anthem, is out on the 23rd of July on Mercury. A brief ‘making of’ the album video is below. While the band don’t head to the UK for club dates until October, Cheryl will be bringing you coverage of their DC gig tonight very soon here on TGTF.

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Album Review: exlovers – Moth

 
By on Thursday, 19th July 2012 at 3:30 pm
 

‘Moth’ is the latest album by London band exlovers, and it’s packed with 10 guitar-based tracks. The album starts nicely with two singles, ‘Starlight, Starlight’ and ‘This Love Will Lead You On’, both romantic and sweet. They are very catchy, featuring sing-along choruses. They also set the tone of the album, gently reminding you that summer is really here. ‘Emily’ is a long (5 minute) track but you probably will not realise the time has passed when listening to the track. The guitar on this track goes so well with the vocals, so much as if hand in glove. The track changes from being heavy on vocals at the beginning to plain instrumental in the end.

The next track ‘Just A Silhouette’ is light and refreshing, especially when contrasted with the preceding track. The guitar intro is quite jingle-like and the whole song alternates between bursts of vocals and instrumental. It is a short and light song, very suitable for brisk, short strolls in the shade during summertime. ‘Unlovable’ is another long track, featuring a duet from Pete and Laurel of the band, their voices harmonising. It’s slow-paced and has quite a waltz-like beat, making it ideal for summertime garden dancing. Ballrooms are overrated!

I find myself agreeing to parts of the lyrics to ‘You Forget So Easily’ (“I know that you forget so easily/ I know the future doesn’t favour me”) and ‘The Ruins’ ( “I know that all I did was disappoint you/ yeah I know that all I did was disappoint you” and most of exlovers’ lyrics do sing out the stories of many. Coming in between the two, ‘You’re So Quiet’, is by no means quiet but instead rather ardent, with he drums fast and guitars strummed loudly. Finally, bonus track ‘Moth-eaten Memories’ ends the album with a lot of powerful guitar playing.

As a whole, ‘Moth’ is very guitar-centred and sounds a bit low-fi at times. It also seems to be clouded by a tiny sense of dreaminess thanks to their music being soft rock and also to the weather. All the songs sounds good to the ears, and so are the lyrics. The album is very easy tolisten to, but there is a lack of highlights in here, so ‘Moth’ isn’t memorable.

6.5/10

‘Moth’, the new album from exlovers, is out now on Young and Lost Club. Watch the band-directed video for ‘Emily’ below.

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Album Review: Guillemots – Hello Land!

 
By on Tuesday, 17th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Guillemots come into 2012 with an ambitious project. Not content to spend months writing and recording an album, then waiting for management to put together an appropriate media package so they can tour relentlessly to promote said album, Guillemots are creating four, yes four, albums this year. At least they plan to. In a self admission of guilt, they acknowledge that the first of these seasonal albums, ‘Hello Land!’ was ‘late’, not hitting the streets until May. Recorded in Norway about an hour north of Oslo, ‘Hello Land!’ is evocative of the craggy, isolated, surreal beauty found in that Nordic country. The band described the village where they hunkered down as their own private Narnia. Ever interested in experimenting with their sound, the album is clearly a departure from their offering from last year, ‘Walk the River’.

I initially thought that each of the four albums would be more like EPs, shorter and with slightly less polished. That notion was supported when I saw that the first album had only eight songs and the first was a very short instrumental introduction. But with the remaining songs averaging over 6 minutes, there are no shortcuts here. It’s full of meaty, albeit dreamy tracks that were fashioned with love and attention. But clearly their days of ‘wild’ experimentation are behind them.

‘Hello Land!’ opens with an instrumental piece that highlights the talents of the Norwegian Flute Ensemble to give an ethereal quality that sets the tone of the album. This type of orchestral element is planned for each of the four releases this year. Local brass band Jaren Hornmusikkforening is also featured on tracks throughout the album. The album takes us on an upward trajectory of otherworldly tracks to its pinnacle, ‘Outside’, where there is return to the more familiar Guillemots sound. The remaining three tracks take us back down, with one of them being the extended, 9-minute instrumental track ‘Byebyeland’, before closing with the pulsing ‘I Lie Down’. But the stand out track is ‘Southern Wind’. Calling to mind the lonely windswept mountain peaks of the Norwegian village where it was recorded, the song speaks to making your own way in life. Complete with the crackle of a fire and the whistle of a kettle, the track winds through the completion of the pensive portion of the album.

I can see how fans of their previous works could see this atmospheric collection as an unwelcomed departure from what they love about Guillemots, but growing and changing is the hallmark of a maturing band. Perhaps the second in the cycle will show us something entirely different again. With the craft they put into this first album, I’m a little skeptical that we will see three more albums in the next 5 and a half months, but I could be very wrong. There may be another one right around the corner.

7/10

‘Hello Land!’, one of a purported four releases this year from Guillemots, is available now. Download album track ‘Fleet’ from this previous MP3 of the Day post.

 

Album Review: The Magic – Ragged Gold

 
By on Monday, 16th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

It’s rare one comes across a genuinely ground-breaking album. Most collections owe something to that which has gone before; indeed, the theory that all modern popular music can trace its roots back to Deep South blues is as widely accepted as social theory can be. But it’s just as uncommon to find one that wears its influences quite blatantly on its sleeve, or in the case of ‘Ragged Gold’ by Canadians The Magic, as metaphorical sewn-on band patches on the back of a bleached denim jacket.

Lead-off single ‘Mr. Hollywood’, with its bleeps, bangles and glossy harmonies, has a backing track straight out of a DX-7 demo ROM, overlaid with that kind of clean, palm-muted guitar that sold so many chorus pedals thirty years ago. Effortlessly evoking bright white yachts cutting through sparkling Mediterranean water, populated by men and women in skimpy Speedos, who end up in a glossy, chromed nightclub with a neon-lit dance floor; references to Coupes de Ville and pink champagne only serve to amplify the general ambience of glamorous excess. There’s stunning sequenced bleeps behind the main arrangement – overall, a masterclass in styling and justly chosen as ambassador for the album.

Continuing the ’80s theme, opening track ‘Lightning Strikes’ leaves the listener in no doubt as to what is to come, with its enormous, mid-tempo chorus, primarily arranged with synth washes, synth bass, and – yes, you guessed it – wailing synth lead notes. Only a pair of pulsing rhythm guitars saves the track from being entirely electronically-arranged. ‘Night School’ is a more threatening, uptempo white-funk workout, which wears its flyaway bleached blonde fringe unashamedly, stuttering across the stage with peacock pride. Vocal duties are shared between brothers Geordie and Evan Gordon, with the silky vocals of Sylvie Smith as a counterpoint. In fact, Sylvie’s voice is just as important as the boys’, taking lead duties on the jaunty, be-saxophoned ‘Call Me Up’, and providing useful harmonic balance. Indeed, the saxophones are an important part of the latter half of the album, which moves away from the 80s and opens up a whole new cupboard of influences, this time primarily of the previous decade. Like a fine wine, there’s a conflation of a number of individually delicious flavours into one congruent whole – one can spot Chic, 10cc, Quincy Jones, Pet Shop Boys; deeper down even New Order and contemporary revivalists like Chromeo and College. Quite a melting pot, but due to the careful rein on arrangements, nothing feels overblown. The game of spot-the-influence can actually be a hindrance to the music itself – a fun distraction from enjoying the resulting blend.

This is a record that’s supremely self-confident in its source material, refreshingly honest about its stylistic influences, yet simultaneously deeply original – all the pieces are arranged in new ways, whilst still sounding comfortingly familiar. Heavy retro influences abound without descending into parody. There’s disco in the square-wave synths, ’70s AOR in the electric piano and saxophones, shedloads of funk in the bass, early ’80s flouncing pop in the cheap drum machines and archly-delivered male vocals, with the occasional flash of contemporary hip-hop sensibility. Arrangements are architecturally precise, modernist constructs – music by which to ascend the lift in a van der Rohe skyscraper, marvelling at the clean lines and glossy surfaces.

The Magic have done a good job on their debut. Whether they can transcend their influences and develop their sound into something more personally reflective remains to be seen. But to make a debut record that works as both a historical reference point and enjoyably contemporary listen is no mean feat… it’s The Magic.

8/10

‘Ragged Gold’ is available now as a digital download from Half Machine records, and a delectable 180 g vinyl is available to pre-order here.

 
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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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