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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 10th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
If the story of London band Wolf Gang was ever made into a film, it would be one that came out at Christmastime for the whole family. Because as the group stands now, it is a family. And the family that plays together stays together, am I right?
We first wrote about Wolf Gang on TGTF 5 years ago when it was solely a project of Max McElligott, a former student at the London School of Economics who dropped out to do music instead of bean counting. And music he did, did well, and of a stunning, orchestral variety. It took some time for McElligott to find the right members for his live band but as fate would have it, he found the perfect brothers to continue his musical journey with: Gavin Slater on guitar, James Wood on bass and Lasse Petersen on drums, as well as more recent addition Beau Holland to assist on keyboards and guitar on the road. When it came time to record a follow-up to his 2011 debut solo album, McElligott says, “we immediately had this chemistry, so it was a really easy decision to move on from ‘Suego Faults’ to recording this next album together with the four of us, so as a result it sounds really different because of it”.
What was most unexpected about ‘Suego Faults’ was its maturity despite McElligott being in his early 20s. ‘Alveron’, then, can be described as a great next step evolutionarily for the band, showing further maturity, as well as an understanding of how the industry is evolving as well. The evidence begins from the first notes of opening ‘Now I Can Feel It’, whose bluesy, r&b vibe shows an appreciation of what’s popular in America today. Make no mistake though: it’s still clearly Wolf Gang, with a classic pop sensibility that McElligott does so well, but with an edge.
You can feel this edge through most of this album, so much as you’re spinning this record, it feels like you’re Meg Ryan on her bicycle at the end of City of Angels. There is a bit of danger in it all, you accept this, but oh man, you close your eyes and it feels good, you’re loving life. This is the curious juxtaposition of McElligott’s powerful, dramatic lyrics with the uplifting instrumentation of Wolf Gang, now working together as a four-piece full band. The band consciously recorded this album to capture as much of the energy from their live shows as possible, and you can hear this vitality throughout the album.
Previous releases ‘Black River’, ‘Lay Your Love Down’ and ‘Back to Life’ are love songs but not in the traditional sense, and the band should be commended for not falling into the trap of going for the obvious. The message of ‘Back to Life’ in particular is noteworthy: you may have lost all hope from a previous heartbreak, but you will survive from it stronger. You will soon realise that person no longer in your life gave you some keys to life so you can love better the next time, and McElligott’s voice soars to reflect the positivity of the piece.
Numbers ‘Into the Fire’ and ‘Underneath the Night’ are both upbeat in tempo and the lyrics run appropriately buoyant, the former insisting, “your life is what you make it, with reasons to believe”. ‘Last Bayou’ also falls into a similar mould; the song appeared as a standout on the ‘Black River’ EP released in April, with its melodic guitar line and the youthful declaration “these young dreams are all we breathe”. The LP closes out with title track ‘Alveron’, another inspiring tune for you to wave those legendary flags at Glasto to. Oh wait, we’re in winter now, aren’t we…keep forgetting that.
The slower songs on the album feel like when you throw water onto a campfire: you can still see the glowing embers, but the vitality is lacking. Like the disappointment felt seeing a film after reading the book it was based on, the album version of ‘Ghost in My Life’ fails to deliver on record in light of me having the benefit of seeing it performed live with nothing but acoustic guitar accompanying McElligott’s voice, which was absolutely beautiful. The ghostly feeling of the instrumentation is possibly done too well, with the strings disorientating and the trumpet just a tad too loud and gay with McElligott’s otherwise desperate words, “and I want you to know, that I need you to stay / would you try to let go, if I stood in the way? / and I need you to see now, there’s nowhere to hide / if tonight you should leave as the ghost in my life”. A less is more approach probably would have served the otherwise poignant song better. ‘Frozen Lands’ attempts for orchestral epicness, but its breathy echoing dampens the effect they were trying to achieve.
Still, if the band was shooting to make an album with an overall mood of optimism, I’d say they’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘Alveron’. Smart songwriting, catchy and tight instrumentation and wow, a positive message! What more could you ask for?
‘Alveron’, the second album from London indie pop band Wolf Gang, is out now on Cherrytree / Interscope Records. Watch a behind the scenes making of the album video below, narrated by the band, below.
When I’ve listened to Damien Rice‘s music in the past, I’ve always found it to be brutal, hard on both the heart and the hearing. His debut album ‘O’ was lyrically edgy, with songs like ‘Volcano’ and ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, and second album ‘9’ was full of angst and frustration, as evidenced by the pugilistic refrain of ‘Rootless Tree’. So when Rice announced after an 8-year hiatus that he would be releasing a new album, I winced internally at the prospect. Surprisingly though, Rice’s latest effort, titled ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, is more subtle and introspective than his earlier work, and it displays a greater degree of musical elegance.
Opening with eponymous track ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, the album immediately displays a bit of a theatrical flair. Starting off as a desperate torch song, it calls to mind the main character in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. The music is a metaphorical mix of poignant melody and ever-so-slightly discordant harmony that eventually succumbs to an almost frenetic sadness. The instrumental arrangement of ‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ is similarly beguiling, featuring an unusually complex counterpoint woven among the vocal line, the contemplative piano riff and the soaring string melody.
Rice employs an impressive level of vocal sensitivity in ‘The Greatest Bastard’, where he approaches the melodicism of bel canto style while still maintaining his typically rough, emotionally-charged vocal timbre. He makes effective use of his falsetto throughout the album, but in the full voice moments in the chorus of this track, he squarely hits the intersection between beautiful singing and potent expression.
Lyrically, Rice is somewhat more restrained on this album than I might have expected, though he hasn’t lost his sense of viscerally evocative poetry, such as the “dogless bone” simile of ‘Colour Me In’. Recent single ‘I Don’t Want to Change You’ is probably the most predictable track on the album, though its repetitive chorus doesn’t necessarily hinder the song’s beauty or its effectiveness. Placed in the middle of the track sequence, it provides a nice mental respite from intensity of the first three songs, and without breaking the general mood of the record.
Where ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ opens its namesake album with a hazy trip down memory lane, final tracks ‘Trusty and True’ and ‘Long Long Way’ close the album with a feeling of looking ahead to the future. The symmetry is appealing, but despite the length and expansiveness of the individual tracks (‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ comes close to 10 minutes all on its own), the end of the album feels a bit abrupt, like a film screen gone black before the ending is assured. I’m of two minds on the issue of the overall tracklisting: on one hand, the concise length conveys what Rice wants to say without extra fluff or froth; on the other, the lack of denouement and resolution in the last two tracks left me wishing for something more.
Performed without the softening effect of Rice’s former partner Lisa Hannigan, the songs on this album depend on the strength of his own singing and the endurance of his love for the act of songwriting. Rice himself describes the new album as being “sung straight into the metaphorical mirror”, which may account for his somewhat gentler approach. Known for being a perfectionist and temperamental, Rice has apparently calmed those self-critical tendencies with the assistance of producer Rick Rubin (Angus and Julia Stone, Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran), who convinced Rice to “open up and have faith in the songs”. These are certainly songs worth believing in, and the album is well worth the lengthy wait.
Damien Rice’s third studio album ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is available now on Atlantic Records. He will play a sold out show at the London Palladium this Friday, the 7th of November. Previous TGTF coverage of Damien Rice can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 6th November 2014 at 11:00 am
Norwegian electronic heroes Royksopp sadly revealed earlier this year that they would be releasing their fifth and last final album in 2014. Next Monday sees the release of ‘The Inevitable End’, and ahead of that, the band are streaming the entire LP for your listening pleasure. It follows hot on the heels of their highly successful mini-album collaboration ‘Do It Again’ with fellow Scandinavian Robyn. But before you get too depressed, please note that this does not spell the end of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland’s music-making. Svein explains:
“We feel like this is a goodbye to the traditional album format. In our consecutive run of albums, we have been able to say what we want to say and do what we want to do with the LP. We’re not going to stop making music, but the album format as such, this is the last thing from us.”
The album will be released on Dog Triumph via Wall Of Sound and Cooking Vinyl on the 10th of November.
The Sheffield connection is difficult to ignore when it comes down to High Hazels; it’s pertinent to recognise when a city has had a fundamental influence in sculpting the sound of a band. From the first listen, an obvious influence on the four-piece is Alex Turner’s motley band of international superstars, Arctic Monkeys. They’re another group who’ve started with a sure-fire underground fan base in the city and has moved out to bring the kind of Midlands but wannabe Northerner vibe to the rest of the UK.
One thing is for sure when listening to ‘High Hazels’: they pull off the everyman sound that has made Arctic Monkeys so accessible far better than Jake Bugg. It sounds genuine and unforced throughout from the opening strums of ‘Valencia’, to strolling along ‘The Promenade’ (a TGTF MP3 of the Day last week) at the album’s crescendo. High Hazels have missed a trick releasing this album at the end of October though. It’s screaming out to be enjoyed in the parks and beaches of Brighton or London: it’s got a distinctly summery feeling and listening to it as the back-end of a hurricane sweeps in alongside torrents of rain doesn’t whet my appetite as much as it could have in the beautiful Indian summer we’ve just enjoyed. Yes, the record does feel slightly dreamy and surf poppy, but that’s by the by.
‘How Long’s It Gonna Be’ is a tribute to some of the fantastic songwriting on the band’s debut effort, while ‘Hanging Moon’ is a slow-burning bastion of the toe-tapping goodness this album encapsulates throughout. The album finishes with ‘The Promenade’, where frontman James Leesley sings of how “we fell into a very bad dream”, possibly induced by the terrific dream pop stylings on lead single ‘Misbehave’ earlier in the album.
One slight criticism of ‘Misbehave’, is how much it reminds me of the advert for Mattesons Fridge Raiders where everyone in the world turns into the Shadows’ Hank Marvin. I mean, come on! That riff is so Hank Marvin. Barring that, it’s a complete pop banger that should be getting some primetime air on Radio 1, but is instead probably relegated to the B-list behind that buffoon Jason Derulo.
Indisputably, the band has its lyrical high point on ‘Shy Tide’, as Leesley laments, “don’t you dare tell me that I owe you everything”. It probably shows the band at their most emotional nand tormented, which probably isn’t too bad seeing as the album makes me feel as sunny as a summer holiday in Greece lounging by the pool in some discount speedos. That dark, disturbing image aside, the debut effort by this next band of Sheffielders to take their whack at the big time is a formidable effort, chocked to the brimful of bouncy choruses and toe-tappingly splendid riffs.
The self-titled debut album from High Hazels is out now on Heist or Hit Records. The quartet have just begun a UK tour this week.
London-via-Leeds quintet To Kill a King are hard at work on their second studio LP and making preparations for their recently announced March 2015 UK tour, but to keep our appetites whetted, they have in the interim released a new EP titled ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’. Comprising 5 tracks, ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ is more of a mini-album than an EP, though I suppose that distinction is rather overly specific. The tracklisting seems to be carefully thought out, more like a full album than the pastiche quality of many EPs, beginning with the striking single ‘Oh My Love’, and alternating between extremes of style and tempo before ending on the subtle sentimentality of ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’.
Lead singer Ralph Pelleymounter’s singing voice is a mesmerising combination of Michael Hutchence and Matt Berninger, capturing both the sultry sensuality of the former and the brooding introspection of the latter. Guitarist Grant McNeil and keyboardist/producer Ben Jackson provide an almost orchestral sense of sonic drama behind the vocals, while rhythm section members Josh Platman (bass) and Josh Taffel (drums) maintain a propulsive forward motion throughout the EP.
‘Oh My Love’ finds Pelleymounter’s dramatic lyrics and hypnotic vocal timbre struggling through the insistent wail of the backing voices. His opening line is an instant hook, “penny for your thoughts, I’m saving up to buy them all”, and its metaphor continues into the second verse, “line them up and let them loose, incarcerated red balloons”. Pounding drums and synthesised brass allow the chorus to soar above the rest of the song despite its heavy lyric, “oh my love, we’re destined to demise”.
After a brief respite in the form of a lilting and uplifting guitar ballad called ‘Breathe’, the tempo picks up again in the percussive, piano-driven track ‘The Constant Changing State of Us (Gold)’. Oddly distorted vocals at the beginning of the song build into the anthemic repeated chorus, “if you hold on too tight, then you will lose sight” before Pelleymounter intones the final line, “you know what I mean when I say love will change”.
‘Love is Coal’ gradually evolves from a declamatory, almost spoken, vocal line backed by a solo electric guitar into a dynamic arrangement of racing percussion and vibrant backing vocals. Pelleymounter’s first delivery of the chorus “love is not like diamonds, love is coal to keep you warm” is stark and hypnotic, followed by the introduction of a slow, visceral heartbeat in the rhythm section, which grows more insistent until after the second chorus, when it shifts into high gear and drives the song to a close.
Final track ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ is a jazzy piano ballad that reminded me, surprisingly, of John Hiatt’s ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’. The sudden change of tone and flavor is slightly startling, but Pelleymounter’s vocals here are as convincingly soulful as at any point on the EP, especially in the heartfelt lyric “I hope you find some peace, whatever the hell that means”.
If ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ were a full-length vinyl LP, the faint curiosity roused by ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ would mark the perfect place to flip the record over and see what the other side might hold. The EP feels very strongly like the beginning of an album proper, both in its sense of sonic continuity and its thematic variety. If To Kill a King continue writing and recording in this vein, their second album will surely shape up to be a fine listen.
‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’, the latest release from London’s To Kill a King is available now, both digitally and on 10” vinyl, via Xtra Mile Recordings (buy it here).
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 27th October 2014 at 12:00 pm
The Staveley-Taylor sisters – Emily and Jessica and Camilla – are better known as the Staves, now well known for their jaw-droppingly brilliant, familial-driven harmonies. When you’re this good, you don’t need a whole lot of instrumentation, and I feel pretty honoured to have seen them play a stripped back session as part of the bill put together by Communion Records’ Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons fame at my first SXSW in 2012.
After several early high-profile touring slots supporting the likes of the (now defunct) Civil Wars and their most current highly acclaimed and sold out UK tour this month, it seems strange that the three sisters haven’t released a follow up to 2012 debut album ‘Dead & Born & Grown’ yet. One can only assume that they’ve biding their time, continually honing their craft and choosing to release music only a trickle at a time, under their own terms. The latest from the Staves’ fountain comes in the form of the three-track EP ‘Blood I Bled’, out today on Atlantic Records.
In a classic example of an artist suffering for their art, the EP was produced in the dead of winter in Wisconsin by Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon. Just from the title alone, you know already this was going to be a painful affair. The title track has been released as a single and as should be expected, ‘Blood I Bled’ is the standout on the EP. The lyrics speak of a storm coming (“calm the gathering rain”) but of a relationship confused: “suffering as I suffer you / you when you speak of pain / if I was, if I am, if I did, if I have”. The strings and horns lend an amazing grandeur to what might have been an otherwise sparse Staves track, and they suit the powerful vocals, expressing conflict and bewilderment, well.
‘Open’ opens the EP initially gently and pleasingly but as the song rolls on, it seems like Vernon’s contribution was to make this release dark, as crackles and an ominous backbeat more suited to Patrick Wolf’s darker days give the song an overall unsettling feeling. Third track ‘America’ reads like a love letter to their temporary home, the girls requesting “do not disturb me ‘til the morning”, while “drinking in the evening and sinking in the sun”. Less dramatic than ‘Open’ and less emphatic than ‘Blood I Bled’, it’s more the sweetly-finishing song that most Staves listeners are used to. It’s a nice enough group of songs; there is little to criticise here, except maybe more variety between the tracks would have added some autumnal spice?
The ‘Blood I Bled’, the latest from the Staves, is out today on Atlantic Records. If you purchase the EP from iTunes, you’ll also get a bonus track, a special remix of ‘Open’ by Justin Vernon that you can listen to below.