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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 10th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
These days, we know that production and in-studio wizardry can hide a multitude of musical sins, from people who cannot sing (hello, Britney Spears, Kanye West and autotune) to people who cannot play instruments or bands who simply do not have enough people to play them (hello, drum machines and synthesisers). I was reminded of this when ‘Please Please Me’ appeared on Radcliffe and Maconie’s Tea Time Theme Time segment last month: before they became heavy drug using, psychedelic pioneers, people seem to forget that the Beatles didn’t need any help in the studio. In their earliest days working with George Martin, they relied good songwriting, their voices in perfect harmony and the tightness of their combined instrumentation to come up with excellent records. There was nowhere to hide, but nothing needed to be hidden. They were just that damn good.
Despite the manufactured pop star ‘development’ paths currently favoured by the major labels, there is a growing number of English bands that are working hard to go back to those golden years when singing and playing proficiently with limited use of technological assistance were the norm and bands took great pride in this. And I can’t really explain it why in the last couple of years, the phenomenon seems to have been most noticeable in the North, particularly in Sheffield. ‘Softly, Softly’ by Sheffield band The Hosts is the latest in a string of releases from this part of England that brings forth the innocence of the Fab Four’s earliest successes, taking that feeling and spilling it all over the unsuspecting current record-buying public, who include in their ranks the supposed indie kids who are in love with Bastille and The 1975. As I listened to ‘Softly, Softly’, it was the reaction of these people I wondered about the most. Would Tom Hogg’s voice slay them?
Because slaying is a good word to this case. When on tour with Roy Orbison (who, incidentally, inspired ‘Please Please Me’), the young Fabs were famously known to have hung out backstage watching the master at work, slaying the audience night after night. Having been described as “the missing link between Roy Orbison and Richard Hawley“, it should come as no surprise that frontman Tom Hogg’s voice has this slaying ability as well. Hogg’s voice has a distinctive timbre that can best be described as honey for the ears, and the main vocals are further supported in this aural beautification by the band’s ever harmonious backing vocals. I give to you exhibit A, my personal favourite ‘Would You Be Blue’, the opening track of the album, with verses such as, “set adrift on the star-filled skies / broken and bruised, with no reasons why / just the the waves that crash in the sea / are the waves that you should carry me free”. Accompanied with a building wall of sound that includes schmaltzy / waltzy instrumentation, it is perfection in less than 4 minutes.
In the chorus of ‘Would You Be Blue’, we are asked, “When I said I’ll be true / when I said ‘only you’ / why on earth would you be blue?” I really don’t know, Tom. I can’t answer that. I think I just expired on the floor from the loveliness of feeling like I was the apple – the sole apple – of someone’s eye. (If there was any doubt, yes, I am a hopeless romantic.) And the rest of the album serves as the blankets to envelope my emotion-aching soul. A gentle, rocking chair-type beat is underneath most of the songs on this album, serving to soothe any savage beast from within, even if said savage beast’s heart is breaking while this is happening (‘Where the Cold Wind Blows’) and we’re being told to sleep and dream of someone we once loved (‘In Dreams’, a cover of an original by, who else, Roy Orbison).
Regular 6music listeners will recognise ‘September Song’ and ‘Give Your Love to Her’ from the station’s playlist, both having been released as singles and gotten much support from the Laminator himself, Steve Lamacq. (‘September Song’ will, in fact, be re-released as part of a double A-sided single with the aforementioned ‘Would You Be Blue’ on the 17th of February.) ‘September Song’, with its flourishes of bright percussion taps, is a song about saying farewell to a lover in contrast to ‘Would You Be Blue’. I suppose it might be jarring to go from togetherness in track #1 to a tearful goodbyes in track #2, but I take it as interesting that both songs use the imagery of waves and them “crashing through” in the latter to describe being in love. In their Bands to Watch feature last summer, I alluded to the Hosts’ songwriting skill and how they don’t resort to anything uncouth in their lyrics. They don’t need those kind of words. No, they can woo any (well, intelligent, self-respecting) woman with any one of these songs.
Earlier single ‘Give Your Love to Her’ (stream above) is quicker in tempo than most of ‘Softly, Softly’ and, as a result, is more sprightly. I can see this song having a more visible response live in concert. But if this was the only Hosts song you knew and you bought this album, I think you would be disappointed. And there it is, the one complaint about this album: it’s a little slow. I suppose it should be expected, as it’s a collection of sentimental love songs, whether the ending of the story is happy or sad. The intention is to have the songs savoured, not having kids with their arms and legs flailing about at the local disco. Even though the chorus of ‘Wake Up’ has brightness and both ‘The One’ and cheeky closing track ‘Go Away’ benefit from maracas, these tracks don’t veer too far from the general formula (though these three songs would probably not be the ones I’d recommend to those not familiar with the band). And I am fine with this. These are the kind of songs I’d imagine I’d be spending my allowance on at the local dance hall’s jukebox if I’d been a teenager in the early Sixties.
I also know it is the kind of album my mother would buy. (As the mother of a music editor, it’s her cross to bear, having to hear promo CDs over and over again. As a result, she’s already a Hosts convert.) Had this album been out when my parents were dating, they’d be dancing to songs like this. The bigger question is, will the record-buying public bite? I do hope so. If you have a single romantic bone in your body, this should be a required purchase for your sweetie this week. (Guys, in case you’ve forgotten…Friday is Valentine’s Day!!!)
‘Softly, Softly’, the debut album from Sheffield band The Hosts, is out today, the 10th of February, on Fierce Panda. Double A-sided single ‘September Song’ / ‘Would You Be Blue’ will be released next week, on the 17th.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the worth of a song that paints a picture? The logic may be somewhat circular, but therein lies the dilemma of writing about music, I suppose. The songs on Neil Finn‘s upcoming album, ‘Dizzy Heights’, are the kind that create sonic atmosphere without specific images, using sounds to suggest ideas without explicitly naming or explaining them. In short, they’re the kind of songs that defy articulate description.
‘Dizzy Heights’ is an album about euphoria: striving for euphoria, achieving euphoria, reminiscing on past euphoria. Lyrically, there is an overarching concern with interpersonal connection, as opposed to the pervasive superficiality of virtual relationships facilitated by social media. Musically, the songs center around foundational bass grooves that allow the melodies, harmonies, and song structures plenty of room to wander.
‘Impressions’ is a groovy, echoing track that sets the mood for the entire album with fuzzy percussion and airy backing vocals. The string ensemble creates a broadly dramatic orchestral effect, here and on several other tracks, pushing the limits of traditional pop song structure even farther than Finn has in the past (think about the somewhat amorphous forms of ‘Try Whistling This’ or ‘The Climber’). Similarly, title track ‘Dizzy Heights’ is built on a smooth, lounge-y groove, and fragmented, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, such as the chorus: “Smoke drifting up to the dizzy heights / Where the elevator won’t come down / And the ceiling cracks like a treasure map / The mosquitoes buzzing round and round.” In a sidelong acknowledgement of his new, more intuitive rhythmic style, Finn comments, “If you don’t like the groove, then call the cops”.
The most artistically experimental track on the album is ‘Divebomber’, reviewed here when it was released in November 2013. The album’s first single release, ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, expected alongside the album release on the 10th of February, is much more straightforward, both in terms of song structure and instrumentation. In the same vein, ‘Better Than TV’ has a clear-cut pop structure grounded by a heavy keyboard ostinato which allows for flexibility in the vocal line as Finn sings, “If there is a chance, if there is a chance / That you wanted to dance, that you wanted to sing / Don’t die wondering, was there something missing?”
Finn has often been coy about his lyrics and subject matter, keen to let his listeners take their own meaning from what he writes. He has discussed the unique inspiration for ‘Divebomber’ and, in an interview with The Guardian, revealed that ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was instigated by his encounter with Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three, who were convicted of child-murder then exonerated after 18 years in prison.
Then there are songs like the exquisite ‘Lights of New York’, which is more difficult to pin down. Full of poignant but obscure imagery, there is no real emotional or musical development, but it feels vaguely like a love song, with the lyric, “As bridges stand against the tide / Satellites move across the sky / In all the years that I have seen you rise / You never look so supreme / When you’re lit by the lights of New York.” Ambient noise behind the piano and strings implies life passing by, outside the nostalgic introspection of the lyrics. The lilting piano melody at the end has the potential to develop into something further, but Finn lets it drift away, leaving behind a sense of melancholy, along with a lingering smile.
‘Dizzy Heights’ might not have the immediate impact of Neil Finn’s earlier pop hits, but it does have some finely-tuned emotional moments as it expands upon Finn’s already remarkable ability to create an atmospheric effect both with his lyrics and his music. Here, Finn displays a willingness, even a determination, to expand beyond the formula that has worked so well for him in the past. This record might fall into the art-rock category, but Finn flashes just enough pop sensibility to keep longtime fans from feeling completely disoriented by his euphoric explorations.
‘Dizzy Heights’ is due out on next Monday, the 10th of February on Lester Records via Kobalt Label Services. ‘Flying in the Face of Love’, its first single, will be released on the same day; stream the single below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 5th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
After shedding the superfluous first two words “We Are” from their previous moniker, Augustines – lead singer and guitarist Billy McCarthy, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson and drummer Rob Allen – reconvened after the success of their 2011 debut album to do something a little different. ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships’ yielded indie smash ‘Chapel Song’; this and the LP was borne out of the pain experienced by the unfortunate passing of McCarthy’s brother and mother. Now with their new name, which incidentally was their name previous to We Are Augustines (that’s confusing), they set forth with a new set of 12 songs, also called ‘Augustines’.
The album begins with the bare ‘Intro (I Touch Imaginary Hands)’, but the first real song on ‘Augustines’ is track 2, the U2-sey ‘Cruel City’ (video below). Unlike the aforementioned ‘Chapel Song’, this one, along with previously revealed massive-sounding single ‘Nothing to Lose But Your Head’, have the sweeping, stadium anthemic quality that bands like U2, Coldplay and Keane seemed to have monopolised over the last decade. While this may seem strange on the surface, as McCarthy has a gravelly marmite voice, Chris Martin’s voice isn’t that great either, and besides, those other three bands are in between things, so if there was a time for the Brooklyn band to make a go for it, now would be the time. “This was us moving on together,” says Allen. “It was wonderful to come through the other end and record a new record. It was a huge accomplishment and it looks towards a brighter future for us all.” And the overall brighter, richer sound compared to their debut agrees with this. Just how much input did co-producer Peter Katis have in all of this? As you listen further to the album, one begins to wonder.
The combination of a relentless drummed rhythm, enjoyable enough guitars, McCarthy’s voice and either a choir or backing vocals from his bandmates seem to be the formula on ‘Augustines’. In ‘Walkabout’ and ‘The Avenue’, the band stretch a bit to include piano ala the Killers; an appealing guitar intro for ‘Don’t You Look Back’ seems to portend its soon to follow Springsteen leanings. Far more pleasurable is ‘This Ain’t Me’, which sounds more honest and true to the band’s roots, and as is McCarthy’s scream to usher in closing track ‘Hold Onto Anything’.
While the overall consistency and good quality of tracks across much of this album is great news, the endeavour to sound more radio-friendly and therefore less inventive (or at least less varied) may leave ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships’ fans disappointed. However, if you like this new direction Augustines have gone in – and if yes, I have a feeling you will have a lot of company in this – then you probably don’t need much persuading to buy this record.
The self-titled second album from the newly reappointed Brooklyn band Augustines is out now on Caroline Records.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 5th February 2014 at 11:00 am
Kettering’s Temples, borne of psychedelia and glam rock, will be releasing their debut album ‘Sun Structures’ next Monday, the 10th of February, on Heavenly Recordings. Ahead of that, you can stream the whole shebang below. Us here at TGTF are not responsible for any regressions to past decades or other feelings of vertigo that may result from listening to the album.
Bombay Bicycle Club in 2014 have an air of the young man who has just returned from travelling after leaving school – but not in a pretentious ‘Gap Yah’ sense – but how they now seem to now be newly graduated gentlemen of the earth. A Bombay Bicycle Club with an immense sense of worldliness, if you will. Their new record ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is their most accomplished, all-encompassing effort so far, with flecks of international inspiration twisted and turned through a dance/synth infused mesh. The first we got to hear of this magnificent record was single ‘Carry Me’. Offering flecks of ‘Kid A’-ish experimentalism, wrapped around a difficult to carry beat. It’s undeniably Bombay at their best.
The daintily gorgeous Lucy Rose accompanies Jack Steadman on vocal duties throughout. It’s not a conventional combo, in any sense of the world, but more a marmite and cheese situation. Two ingredients that have no right to go together but somehow complement each other majestically, intertwining to create the texture that ensures Bombay Bicycle Club are set to rise above the rest. In ‘Luna’, you’re given a perfect example of this delectable duo’s talents. Steadman in his trademark croon, he winces, pushing out the chorus, while Rose’s fast-maturing tones yell, “I’m ready for you to find out”.
Around 5 years ago, with the release of ‘Always Like This’ and ‘Magnet’, it was blatantly obvious this band were of an extremely special disposition. They were delicate, quiet lads (on the surface, anyway) who could flit from the slightest of indie ballads, to a free for all of heavy influence. Their ambition was obvious as their second record was released, infusing elements from across the board. However, little did I expect Steadman to go Bhangra on us. Yes, Bhangra he has gone and with fantastic results.
The opener of ‘So Long See You Tomorrow’, ‘Overdone’ is a euphoric melt of some Bhangra samples swirled in a melting pot of dance and funk. With all these influences, surely the worry for the band was that the record was going to sound like the crash of an experiment gone wrong in a laboratory, with the catastrophe of sound that ensues, fighting for aural supremacy. Fear not though, as the quartet have evolved into a multi-faceted beast. A beast that is showcased majestically in ‘So Long…’
Until this album, Bombay seemed like a band still struggling to prove what they are, meandering between different markets, dipping into folk, electronica, math rock and indie. Their fourth record is a continuation of these endeavours for change and expansion, but they no longer sound like a band trying to affix to a specific sound. No, they’re now more a band who are completely comfortable in the niche they occupy.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth album, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, is out today on Island Records. They head out on tour in March; all the details are here. If you fancy it, the band are hosting a q&a session on their Facebook at 4:30 PM this afternoon; join up here.
American folk artist Nathaniel Rateliff is currently in the midst of a tour of the UK and Ireland in support of his second studio album, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’, which was released on the 20th of January. Folk-tinged rock and pop are certainly all the rage thanks to artists like Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, but Rateliff’s brand of folk music is purer than most, not merely rough around the edges, but coarse and gritty straight to the core.
‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is a soulfully dark collection of songs written from the perspective of a man who has hit rock bottom and lived to tell the tale, but he hasn’t quite pulled himself out of the mire. As a whole, the album reminded me very much of the overwhelming despair in Frightened Rabbit’s most recent full-length record ‘Pedestrian Verse’. With his stocky build and scruffy beard, Rateliff even bears a mild physical resemblance to Scott Hutchison. But instead of a Scottish accent, Rateliff’s music has a distinctly American inflection, with the use of coarse vernacular language, jazz harmonies and heavy acoustic guitar. And while ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the most extrospective of Frightened Rabbit’s repertoire, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ feels acutely and painfully personal.
Opening track ‘Still Trying’ immediately represents the main characteristics of the album. Rateliff’s rough gravelly voice sounds like that of a much older man, and his slurred delivery often makes his lyrics difficult to understand. This is particularly unfortunate, as the lyrics I was able to decipher were emotionally powerful if not always elegant, for example, “And if you’re rolling in it long enough your shit won’t even smell” and the roaring repetition of “I don’t know a goddamn thing”.
Vigorous tracks ‘Laborman’ and ‘Nothing to Show For’ save the album from becoming completely entrenched in its own anguished misery. ‘Laborman’ is a Springsteen-esque working man’s tune whose quick tempo and musical energy has the added benefit of clarifying Rateliff’s vocal delivery for one of the album’s best lyrics: “You’ll have to choke down the dust of me left in your mouth. You got the harness, so where you gonna drag me now?”
‘Nothing to Show For’ is resigned to its own despondence, but the pounding four-to-the-floor rhythm between the verses hints at a forward motion also suggested in the lyrics, “You don’t listen, you just talk / Well, leave me in the dark / I don’t wanna know.” The live video version below is, in my opinion, clearer and more effective than the version on the album itself.
The main surprises on the album came in the form of jazz harmonies and expanded instrumentation on ‘How To Win” and ‘Right On’. ‘Right On’ was my immediate favorite track on the album, though its smooth warmth and intimacy didn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest. The horns, piano and backing vocals set off the ironically optimistic lyrics, “Well, say that you’re with me / We’ll leave tomorrow / And slip through the daylight / Leave all the sorrow”, with a tiny but poignant sadness, a feeling of wanting to believe the words despite knowing they can’t be true.
Eponymous track ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is a perfect conclusion to the record. Its broadly arching musical phrases and wider instrumental sound creates a dramatic feeling of inevitable tragedy. The deep, almost spoken, vocal tone Rateliff uses to deliver the line “When I hit the ground, gonna laugh out loud / gonna lay there awhile and stare at the clouds” bring to mind classic American country artists like Johnny Cash.
Fans of the late Man in Black, as well as fans of the aforementioned Laura Marling and Frightened Rabbit, will find much to like in the deep emotional quagmire of ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’, while those looking for more of a Mumford-esque folk rock vibe should perhaps turn and run the other way. The painful honesty and poignant sincerity in Rateliff’s performance here would no doubt translate tenfold on a live stage for a listener brave enough to bear it.
‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ is available now on Mod y Vi Records.