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(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In

 
By on Monday, 25th February 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Caitlin Rose The Stand-In coverCaitlin Rose does country music the old-fashioned way, rightfully earning comparisons to artists like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Her authentic Americana style, unfairly marginalized into the alt-country category, is untouched by the cliché-laden, factory-produced sound that prevails in contemporary mainstream country music. On sophomore album ‘The Stand-In’, Rose blends folk, gospel, and blues with simple, plain-spoken lyrics and a singing voice that alternates between sweet and sultry without becoming overly twangy.

Throughout the album, Rose’s singing switches easily from sweet softness to supple throatiness, depending upon the emotion of the moment. Her voice does lack weight at the bottom of her register, which occasionally leaves her sounding whiny instead of weary. The higher part of the voice, however, is beautiful at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, and Rose takes full advantage of that ability.

As a whole, ‘The Stand-In’ calls to mind images of a smoky bar at last call, when only the hardcore drinkers and the lonely hearts are left to pair off or fend for themselves. Opening track ‘No One to Call’ (stream below) has a drunkenly stumbling rhythmic figure at the end of its chorus. ‘Pink Champagne’ is a charmingly woozy, unabashedly sentimental two-step, which I could easily hear playing from a jukebox on a nearly-empty dance floor. The album’s swan song ‘Old Numbers’ is another allusion to drunk-dialling, but its sultry jazz trumpet and slippery guitar solo are more suggestive of old pay phones than modern mobiles.

Close attention to the seemingly straightforward lyrics yields a broad spectrum of dark emotion. First single ‘I Was Cruel’ (live version below) puts a masochistic twist on the typical lovelorn break-up song. Its ending, sung in a beautiful clear tone, takes a slight detour in perspective: “Peace of mind, honey, I’ll treat you kind, sometimes. / I’m a selfish man with my head in my hands, and I’m crying for you.” In ‘Dallas’, Rose cuts her sweet singing with edgy lyrics, “let’s move this fucking jet, I have to go, despite all sleet and snow”. (Also worth noting here are classic country references to a “portrait in velvet” and a “3-night run at The Palace.”) The chorus of ‘When I’m Gone’ is one of the album’s most memorable lyrics: “Come on, you can sleep when I’m gone, I was lying when I said there’d be plenty of time.”

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‘Everywhere I Go’ is something of an outlier on the album. With its driving rhythm section and clear keyboard quality, it could easily fit on a more pop-oriented record, if not for the ever-present slide guitar. ‘Menagerie’, an upbeat four-to-the-floor number, has a strident guitar riff and the equally strident lyrics, “I’m gonna dance over broken glass and destroy all of these beautiful things.”

Overall, ‘The Stand-In’ doesn’t stray far from the formula that worked so well for Rose on debut album ‘Own Side Now’. Lyrical depth, musical variety, and emotional authenticity once again balance Rose’s silvery singing and clever charm. Mainstream country ingénues could certainly take a lesson or two from this talented singer.

8/10

‘The Stand-In’, Caitlin Rose’s second album, is out today on Names Records. She starts a UK tour tonight at Brighton Haunt; the details of the tour are below. After that she will return to America for SXSW 2013, where she will showcase at Club De Ville on Friday 15 March at 8:00 PM, then go out on a tour of the East Coast and Midwest.

Monday 25th February 2013 – Brighton Haunt
Tuesday 26th February 2013 – Bristol Fleece
Wednesday 27th February 2013 – London Dingwalls (sold out)
Thursday 28th February 2013 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Friday 1st March 2013 – Manchester Ruby Lounge
Saturday 2nd March 2013 – Glasgow CCA
Sunday 3rd March 2013 – London Brixton Windmill
Monday 4th March 2013 – London Rough Trade East

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Cave Painting – Votive Life

 
By on Monday, 11th February 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Cave Painting Votive Life coverI have a very good excuse on why my review of the debut album from Brighton’s Cave Painting is so late The album was released in September 2012 but I didn’t get my promo copy until the week before I was due to leave for Australia. So in a rush, I popped the CD in my car so I could listen to it on the way downtown to see Husky gig at Red Palace. I was rewarded with one of the chilliest and possibly one of the best albums of 2012 you’ve never heard. I am so pleased that they will be bringing their dreamy, yet evocative pop to South by Southwest next month, where I am positive they will make a big impression.

I mention Australia because when I was down under, I had some conversations with our friends at the AU Review about what I consider a rhythmic pop sound that seems to be inherently Australian (think Men at Work at the height of their fame in the ‘80s). However, listening to ‘Votive Life’, it was clear this sound I was trying to link to Oz wasn’t Oz’s exclusively. Listen to Cave Painting’s ‘Gator’ (watch the video below), with carefree vocals, bouncy marimba and animal calls, and you will see what I mean. I dare you not to shout “get up!” with the band, it’s so infectious. Is it a song about carpe diem, grabbing onto life by the horns, riding the wave? Or is it a song about getting intimate, feeling that desire when you’re having sex? To be honest, I don’t really care when it’s as poppy as this. A little slower but with a similar vibe is ‘So Calm’. This song is so relaxing with its dreamy lyrics and as a mesmerising bass line, I’ve chosen it to sync as my daily morning alarm, so ‘So Calm’, not an annoying clock beeping, is there to ease me into the start of the day. Try it. You’ll think you’re waking up in a tropical paradise, not an unwelcome rush to get to the office. You can get it for free from this previous MP3 of the Day post.

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But there are two songs that for me epitomise ‘Votive Life. The first is opening track ‘Leaf’. Lush guitar feedback usher the song in, and there’s a sexy as hell bass line throughout. But there’s an underlying solemnness delivered by the lyrics: “You are not alone in all that you’re going through / with this distance now, this broken ground” and the repeated refrain of “where the young go”. It’s a song about regret, a song about wanting to go back to a more innocent. Not usually themes in lounge-y, chill albums, are they? But this is an album of surprises.

The other is ‘Rio’ which appears later in the album. I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, but this is how I read it: the start is similar to Friendly Fires’ ‘Paris’ in which the protagonist is asking his girl to go far away to this magical place of Rio, as a place to escape. But upon being rebuffed, either for this invitation or in general as a suitor, he muses that it’s hard, and “find[s] it hard to let go / when we’ve been going so long / now I’m lying alone, feeling like I’m hollow”. It’s a heart-wrenchingly, achingly gorgeous study of a broken heart. To say that I’ve lost a few tears while listening to this song would be a gross understatement.

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From ‘So Calm’ on, just wrap your ears around this album and float downstream in an imaginary boat, miles from anywhere. ‘Only Us’ and ‘Pair Up’ are beauteously laid back odes to love. While more in your face percussive, maybe in a way if Django Django might be if they weren’t so manic and trippy, ‘Handle’ and ‘Simoleon’ still maintains an air of cool. The tribal drumming of ‘Forming’ isn’t heavy handed, it’s freeing, along with the soaring vocals; ‘Nickel’ is set apart by a crescendo of horns in ‘Nickel’ with a melodic guitar line.

And then there is a matter of the interludes. Generally, I’m not a fan of albums that these short instrumental bits bridging one song to another, or one part of an album to another. So few artists seem to be able to sort this out correctly, causing listeners to press the skip button when they encounter these interludes. Proper interludes should be enjoyed and relished, but that’s dependent on these musical segues being placed in the right place, and that they’re properly developed. One of my favourite albums of all time, Stephen Duffy’s 1993 album ‘Music in Colors’, is a shining example of the latter, bridging the unusual addition of esteemed violinist Nigel Kennedy’s contributions to Duffy’s pop with brief yet highly whimsical instrumentals. After ‘Only Us’, an instrumental version of ‘Gator’ makes a welcome ‘re-appearance’, and then following on from the emotionally raw ‘Rio’ is ‘Me You Soon’, which reaches heavenly heights. Which, aptly, is a good description of ‘Votive Life’ as a whole.

8.5/10

‘Votive Life’, the debut album from Cave Painting, is out now on Third Rock Recordings. Catch the band showcasing in Austin for SXSW 2013 in March. (We previewed them in the pop UK acts chapter of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013.)

Listening companion: Stephen Duffy featuring Nigel Kennedy – ‘Music in Colors’

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

 
By on Thursday, 7th February 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

The Joy Formidable Wolfs Law coverThe follow-up to fan favourite ‘The Big Roar’ was always going to be an anticipated release, but it’s finally here and The Joy Formidable have outdone themselves. Writing their new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ whilst touring has definitely had an effect on the record; with more stadium-rocking tracks then their previous effort and the sort of self-reflecting and philosophical lyrics that seem to have come as a result of the long hours travelling between venues.

The band, made up of frontwoman Ritzy Bryan, drummer Matt Thomas and bassist Rhydian Dafydd (a name only out-Welshed by Tom Jones riding a sheep down Snowdonia), amp up the thick basslines and heavy guitars that have fared them so well in the past to great avail. The highlight of the album would definitely have to be the ‘Maw Maw Song’, a track that will have you MAW MAW MA-MA-MA MAW MAWWWW-ing for the rest of the year and a crazy-good guitar solo that just blows you away. And although the band are known for their fast tempo tracks and unrelenting guitar thrashing, it’s lovely to hear their slower side on ‘Silent Treatment’. The aptly named track is accompanied by beautiful acoustic guitars and Bryan’s gorgeous vocals; it’s a refreshingly welcome change of pace that breaks the album up nicely. On the song, Bryan sounds almost like a female Ben Howard.

Tracks on ‘Wolf’s Law’ may sound familiar; three of the tracks have already made the rounds as singles and free promos, and the entire album was available to stream for a week before its release. Alongside this, the Welsh trio kept listeners satiated in the wait between albums with their ‘Cholla’ EP. It featured one of the ‘Wolf’s Law’’s best songs (as well as a phenomenal acoustic version) as the EP’s title track and was greatly received by TJF fans.

The entire album is The Joy Formidable through and through. The frenzied intro of The Leopard and the Lung, the catchy guitar riff throughout ‘Cholla’ (single review here) and Ritzy Bryan’s aggressive vocals in Bats will gather more Formidable-ites as well as retaining those who tuned in to The Big Roar all the way back in 2011. My favourite Welsh band with a female lead (since Catatonia) are most definitely back, proving the sophomore slump to be non-existent in the fields of North Wales with their highly impressive second album.

9/10

‘Wolf’s Law’, the second album from the Joy Formidable, is out now on Atlantic. Stream the album here. Catch the band on tour in the UK later this month through early March; after that time, the band will head on over to Austin for SXSW. (We previewed them in the rock / metal / punk UK bands chapter of the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013.)

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

 
By on Thursday, 31st January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Frightened Rabbit Pedestrian Verse coverFrightened Rabbit’s new release ‘Pedestrian Verse’ comes in the midst of a productive time for the Scottish alt-rockers. Since the release of their last full-length album ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ in March 2010, Frightened Rabbit have signed with Atlantic Records, toured extensively (making a name for themselves in America in the process) and released new material in the form of two EPs. The second of those, ‘State Hospital’, was a precursor to ‘Pedestrian Verse’ and contained tracks that the band had road-tested and recorded for possible inclusion on the full album.

Of the five songs on that EP, only one, the eponymous ‘State Hospital’, made it onto ‘Pedestrian Verse’. In a somewhat surprising twist of perspective, songwriter Scott Hutchison gives a dramatic third-person telling of a sad and well-worn story: “Born into a grave / and in the limp through years of bored schooling / she’s accustomed to hearing that she could never run far / a slipped disc in the spine of community / a bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse.”

The lyrics on this album are less acutely personal than those on Frightened Rabbit’s previous albums, particularly on ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. Though Hutchison himself billed 2010’s ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ as a less personal album, the songs on that album still contained moments of stabbing heartache. ‘Pedestrian Verse’ feels like a more resigned, chronic sort of misery. While Hutchison has maintained his unyieldingly graphic writing style, he now turns his brutal scrutiny outward. The visual imagery in the verses is as sharp and often grotesque as ever. If the choruses are predictable, they are also, as always, cathartically anthemic.

‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the first Frightened Rabbit album on which the entire band actively participated in writing the music. While the lyrics bear Hutchison’s trademark, the effect of collaboration on the music is evident. The album has somewhat less variety than its predecessors, but synth keyboards and electronic effects (such as those in ‘Backyard Skulls’) are more prominent. The backing vocal parts more ambiently harmonic than contrapuntal, which creates a bit of a hazy effect, like the stuffy feeling of a head cold. Countermelodies have been shifted to the instrumental parts, particularly guitar solos such as those featured in ‘The Woodpile’ and ‘December Traditions’. Drummer Grant Hutchison earns his keep, as always, banging out heavy rhythms and providing forward motion to music that might otherwise stagnate in the wretchedness of the lyrics.

‘Acts of Man’ opens the album with a tender piano intro and Scott Hutchison’s best pure falsetto, contrasting sharply with the deliberately vulgar lyrics. The lilting verse “I am that dickhead in the kitchen / giving wine to your best girl’s glass” builds slowly into the chorus “not here, not here, heroic acts of man”. Almost every song on the album follows this basic pattern of light introductions and lyrically dense verses rhythmically driven into heavily climactic and repetitive choruses.

Sonically, the most captivating moments on the album are found in the sparse musical introductions. ‘Late March, Death March’ features piano and percussion, accompanied by whistling in the background. ‘December Traditions’ begins with a recitative-style voice line backed by an eerily thin guitar. ‘Dead Now’ includes an interesting bass line, which is uncharacteristically melodic throughout instead of the usual ostinato drone. I was glad to note that Frightened Rabbit continues to experiment with symphonic form in their use of reprise, represented here by ‘Housing (In)’ and ‘Housing (Out)’. Another bit that caught me by surprise because of its lateness in the track sequence was a slight melodic modulation in the guitar line in ‘Nitrous Gas’. Hutchison may have been onto something with the lyrics “suck in the bright red major key / spit out the blue minor misery”, but that late-blooming idea doesn’t come to fruition until the album’s end.

The album’s final track ‘Oil Slick’ is Hutchison’s obligatory, self-aware song about songwriting. The most upbeat song on the album, it features springy guitars and a bouncing vocal line that almost made me want to dance. Hutchison laments his internal writing process in the lyric: “I came home with four worn-out limbs and not a single love song.” Later in the track, he essentially summarizes the album, “how predictable / this is all you’ve got.” But then he finishes on a more positive note: “still got hope / so I think we’ll be fine / in these disastrous times.” The song fades out to the sound of sweetly tweeting birds.

‘Pedestrian Verse’ is gray and moody overall, and while many of the lyrics are eloquent and evocative, the music is mostly formulaic. The sporadic but brilliant moments of variety left me wondering what the result would be if Scott Hutchison and company attempted to write about something pretty, or even (dare I suggest it?) happy. Perhaps Frightened Rabbit will be inspired by the extended change of scenery on their upcoming tour.

7.5/10

‘Pedestrian Verse’, the fourth studio album from Frightened Rabbit, will be out on Monday (4 February) on Atlantic Records. If you have the luck to be at SXSW, be sure to catch them at this year’s event; they were a late addition to the SXSW list the second week of January.

 

Album Review: Villagers – {Awayland}

 
By on Wednesday, 30th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Villagers Awayland coverPacked full of surprising basslines, crisp vocals and acoustic guitars aplenty, ‘{Awayland}’ is Villagers‘ second album. Their 2010 debut album ‘Becoming a Jackal’ was nominated for awards left, right and centre. Lauded for being both charming and low-key, can Conor O’Brien and his band of merry Irishmen maintain the success they achieved with their first LP?

The entire record features a mix of influences; ‘Passing a Message’ is a horn section away from ‘Belle and Sebastian’ circa 2003, and the title track ‘{Awayland}’ sounds like an axed instrumental from Love’s 1967 album ‘Forever Changes’. It’s also great to hear more of an input from the backing band who seem to have taken a back seat in the past. Tracks such as ‘My Lighthouse’ feature heavenly harmonies and it makes for one of the best tracks on the album.

The vocals are hit and miss throughout the record. On the one hand, O’Brien’s voice is beautiful throughout and fits perfectly with the overall tone of the album, however on tracks like ‘Passing a Message’, ‘Rhythm Composer’ and ‘Earthly Pleasures’, the half-speaking, half-singing vocals are slightly too laid back and start to become dull. O’Brien’s rhyming style on the latter track coupled with this speak-singing just seems to remind me of an uninterested recital of a Dr. Seuss book. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate spoken singing, or sprechgesung as Google tells me it’s called, from bands like Cake, but O’Brien doesn’t have the same smooth flow that vocalists such as John McCrea has.

It’s great to see Villagers attempting to stretch out their artistic wings, however I can’t help but feel it doesn’t work on the lead single from the album, ‘The Waves’. Backed by a morse code beat reminiscent of Swedish electronic duo The Knife, it’s one of the weakest songs on ‘{Awayland}’. It is definitely worth Youtubing a live performance of the track though. I’ve seen stripped down video which consists solely of O’Brien at the mic with his acoustic guitar and a moustache-laden gentleman on the piano. It’s at least thirty times better than the album version. I have heard multiple times that Conor O’Brien and company put on a killer live show; this is perfect news for British fans as they are touring next month throughout the United Kingdom. The LP has also been doing the rounds on the radio and was the 6 Music Album of the Day last week.

Overall, the band have followed up their acclaimed debut album with a record that retains the sensitive crooning that earned them their Mercury Prize nod back in 2010, but also attempts to branch out and incorporate new and interesting styles into their music. It may not be all there at the moment, but I have high hopes for the third album.

7/10

‘{Awayland}’, the second album from Villagers, is out now on Domino Records. The band are on tour in the UK in February and March.

 

Album Review: I Am Kloot – Let Them All In

 
By on Tuesday, 29th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

In case you missed it, I Am Kloot have released a new album, ‘Let It All In’. I say ‘in case you missed it’ because not one, but two members of one of my favorite bands, Elbow, were the producers and they are SHAMELESS! Craig Potter, keyboardist and oft-times producer for Elbow is quite worth a follow on Twitter, but when faced with a promotion task, he and his partner in crime Guy Garvey really stepped up their game. After a fast and furious set of hysterical tweets regarding the album’s release on Monday, they ended the day with a haiku. Yes, a haiku:

yes. let it all in.
like moon light in that bedroom
buy new I Am Kloot

I Am Kloot Let Them All In coverBut on to the album. The almost title track ‘Let Them All In’ is indicative of the kind of music we get from I Am Kloot. It’s not big music, but neither is it dismissive. Less folky than 2009’s ‘B’, yet not quite as slickly orchestrated as 2010’s ‘Sky at Night’, ‘Let It All In’ explores both the past and the future in a raw and honest way. Carefully crafted to leave just enough space between the bits to make it rich without being overly done, the tune fills your mind with sensation. This sixth studio album from the nonconformist Manc players is full of the dark twisted songwriting and slight sonic surprises that has marked their career in years past.

To my ear, ‘Bullets’ harkens back to the Richard Hawley/Guy Garvey duet found on Elbow’s Mercury Prize-winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. With the same kind of push and pull that made that song so appealing. ‘Hold Back the Night’ (video below), the first single released in October of last year, is reminiscent of ‘60s activists, maybe a Dylan-esque feel. One of my favorites wraps everything up. ‘Forgive Me These Reminders’ is the perfect blend of loneliness and regret. With a plaintive, simple voice and a gently picked guitar it builds with a jazzy brush played drum and low bass thuds. It’s very torchy and finishes fully developed with delicate strings. They have taken what is awesome about their past offerings and stripped it back a bit. Still found are the jazzy touches, the bit of northern accent creeping in, the strings. But whereas the orchestration felt just a tad too much on their last album, I felt like it really added to what they were doing this time.

Previous album ‘Sky at Night’ was shortlisted for 2010’s Mercury Prize and with heavyweights like Potter and Garvey providing their particular kind of prize winning magic, we could very well see I Am Kloot’s name popping up again this year.

8/10

I Am Kloot’s latest album, ‘Let Them All In’, is out now on Shepherd Moon.

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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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