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Album Review: The Ruby Suns – Christopher

 
By on Thursday, 24th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Ruby Suns Christopher coverThe Ruby Suns‘ American label Sub Pop Records describes Ryan McPhun as “a musical wayfarer, collecting sounds and styles from his travels around the globe”. ‘Christopher’, the group’s fourth album, was written in Oslo, Norway, after the break-up of McPhun’s romantic relationship, and Sub Pop describes it as an album “about starting over, but not necessarily moving forward”. This is an apt description of the album’s musical content. Its beautiful, icy sonic scenery clearly shows a Scandinavian influence, but it conveys very little action or tension, and while its sound effects are interesting, they don’t seem to serve any particular dramatic purpose.

This album contains surprisingly little of the color and catchiness of The Ruby Suns’ previous work, such as 2010’s ‘Fight Softly’ (review here). Opening track ‘Desert of Pop’ is a shimmery, high gloss dance number, which is catchy in the moment, but doesn’t stick to the ears after it ends. The album ends similarly, with the upbeat but largely static ‘Heart Attack’. The sterile, highly-polished electronic sounds and McPhun’s thin, sleek falsetto vocals are hypnotically pretty but often obscure the songs’ lyrics. This is particularly unfortunate, as ‘Christopher’ was apparently conceived as something of a story, following the metaphorical title character through his mirroring of McPhun’s own coming of age.

The most memorable song on ‘Christopher’ comes early in the sequence. In ‘Real Life’, the album’s second track, uses heavy drums and a catchy chorus (“I never want to live in real life / I’m not ready for the real life”) to break through the glossy sheen of its highly-produced, electronic sound. This song is one of the album’s few moments of lyrical clarity, and the lyrics are thought-provoking, like for example, “whenever you are, I’m already then / if then is now, then now is never.”

Beyond those three tracks, the album is largely unremarkable, aside from a few a few randomly scattered moments of sonic interest. Its trance-like ambience would provide nice background music for some other activity, but it isn’t particularly engaging in and of itself.

Within the context of The Ruby Suns’ oeuvre, ‘Christopher’ is an accurate portrait of where McPhun was in the time of the album’s inception. Taken out of context, the album lacks focus and dramatic interest. The bright sonic shimmer blinds the listener and distorts the dramatic view from that narrow vantage point. However, if each Ruby Suns album is taken from a broader perspective as a portrait of its own physical or emotional setting, the album’s vivid depiction of Scandinavia’s icy insularity, as well as the cold isolation following the end of a romance, fits in quite nicely.

5/10

‘Christopher’, the new album from The Ruby Suns, will be out on the 28th of January on Memphis Industries in the UK. The American release follows the next day on Sub Pop. You can download the track ‘Kingfisher Call Me’ from the album from this previous MP3 of the Day post.

 

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

 
By on Friday, 18th January 2013 at 11:00 am
 

The Joy Formidable are offering up a free stream of their new album, ‘Wolf’s Law’, until it is released on Monday on Atlantic Records. Have a listen below.

The Welsh band will be showcasing this year at SXSW 2013; we included them in the exclusive TGTF rock, metal and punk listing of UK bands that have gotten a shout from the legendary annual festival, which takes place in Austin in March.

Not going to SXSW? Not to worry. The band start a UK tour on Tuesday.

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Gallops – Yours Sincerely, Dr. Hardcore

 
By on Thursday, 17th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

These guys are all over the place, never knowing whether they are coming or going in a chaotic mass of what I can only describe as math rock inspired, post-apocalyptic bizarreness. It feels like prog, but it edges into the kind of electro territory that Foals seem to have down so nicely.

Gallops Yours Sincerely coverGallops are described on that bastion of all knowledge Wikipedia as “an experimental rock band from Wrexham, Wales”. But ‘experimental’ is probably as big an understatement as saying that Joey Barton is just a bit silly, or that Dave Grohl is only a little bit famous. These Welshmen are breaking boundaries and since their self-titled 2010 EP release have been smack bang in the middle of everyone’s new music radar. Traditional song structure, like the classic ABAB and then rinse repeat, is nowhere to be seen on ‘Yours Sincerely, Dr. Hardcore’, their debut album released in December. The songbook is entirely ripped up from opening song ‘Astaroth’ to the skitz out that is closer ‘Crutches’.

Its madness and unpredictability is its greatest strength though. Second track ‘Jeff Leopard’ (video below) is a perfect example of the syncopated randomness. It sounds like a warped, hyped up version of a Super Mario theme with a dash of Pokémon Blue chucked in there for good measure. ‘Lasers’ has the feel of a rocked-up house track, with guitars smashing up against the electronics produced by Paul Maurice and frontman Mark Huckridge, while ‘G is for Jalie’ feels like a stripped back Everything Everything but without the squealing tones of crooner Jonathan Higgs. The technical brilliance that these guys are showing off though is all there to be seen on this record though.

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It takes a subtle brilliance to mash the hardcore rhythms that Gallops are playing with to the electronic beats that they’re producing. If you’re a fan of good prog though, the kind of stuff which has you sitting there, wherever you are listening, scratching your head, then these boys are 100% for you. They are making something that you definitely won’t have heard anywhere else. Just listen to the utter chaos that is ‘Window FX’, with its revolving scales of howls and what I can only assume is a sound effect of a man going “OHHHH” in the background. Morphing into a noodling guitar solo of Josh Homme, in Biffy Clyro’s ‘Bubbles’ kind of proportions, it really is that good that I’m comparing some of the guitars to that ginger-haired god of mosh.

The songs are intricate and at first difficult to really get your head around, but after a proper listen, this band can give you some serious rewarding. In the form of frankly some of the best balls out music that you’ll hear for a while. These boys may not be hitting the big time, but my word, you need to keep an eye on them. Because god. They. Are. Cool.

9/10

‘Yours Sincerely, Dr. Hardcore’, the debut album from Gallops, is out now on Blood and Biscuits. You can listen to the album in full on the band’s Bandcamp. The band is one of several high-profile Scottish rock bands performing at this year’s SXSW; for more information on the UK bands set to perform at this year’s event, check out the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013 and the rock/metal/punk UK band edition of the TGTF Guide.

 

Album Review: Haim – Don’t Save Me EP

 
By on Wednesday, 16th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Who said the Haim sisters’ summertime pop was confined to a season? Their warm (but oh-so-cool) debut track ‘Forever’ was the perfect accompaniment to the sun of July ’12; a mix of Vampire Weekend calypso pop and Stevie Nicks-esque vocals proved to be a winning mix as the single was a hit with the critics. So the release of their latest EP ‘Don’t Save Me’ is a toasty blanket on these cold, dark evenings.

Sibling bands are a tried and tested formula for success in the music world. Going back to The Jacksons, Smoosh and even Hanson. (Apologies for including the ‘MMMbop’ warblers, but Grammy nominations and millions of album sales is still quite a feat, even if they will forever be known for their two syllable hit.) Haim are no exclusion to the rule, producing tight percussive beats and beautiful harmonies that take time to develop. Luckily, they’ve known each other for a good few years.

That undeniably catchy sound they showcased in their first release has now been perfected. Fronted by ‘Don’t Save Me’ and backed by ‘Send Me Down’, their latest EP expands on their new wave roots and features the most handclaps I’ve heard on a song since The Fratellis came and went. (Remember them?)

The title track, definitely the strongest of the two, is rife with ’80s synth and more percussion than you can imagine. It was released alongside a video of the three women showing off their basketball skills against a group of men, this proving their independence; in the song the sisters repeatedly sing “don’t save me, no, don’t save me”. The second track is falsetto-laden and features my favourite use of the tuba in a pop song; an instrument that will forever remind me of Neighbours’ Harold Bishop (I like to imagine he is the featured musician on the track).

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Haim have somehow managed to improve upon the defining track of last summer. The sisters ooze a sort of laidback cool where they wouldn’t even care that I think they’re cool, they’d just shake it off, pull up their short shorts and ride away on their vintage bikes. Overall the ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP impresses and just proves Haim to be ones to watch this year. And it’s the perfect length too; the tracklist is just long enough to satisfy our Haim fix and keep us with baited breath as we await their debut album.

9/10

The ‘Don’t Save Me’ EP by BBC Sound of 2013 winners and sisters Haim is out now on Polydor.

 

(SXSW 2013 flavoured!) Album Review: Everything Everything – Arc

 
By on Monday, 14th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Everything Everything Arc coverIt’s incredibly good timing for Manchester-based Everything Everything to be releasing an album this month: for one, they’ll be showcasing for the first time at SXSW 2013, a huge opportunity for them to make a big impression in front of the movers and shakers. (It certainly worked for Haim last year, didn’t it?) Showing its face about 2 and a half years after the brilliance of their debut ‘Man Alive’, this follow-up ‘Arc’ has a lot to live up to.

The album has been preceded by two brilliant singles, first ‘Cough Cough’ (review here), then ‘Kemosabe’ (review here), which appear one after another at the start of this collection of 13 tracks. Therein lies the problem to ‘Arc’: it begins with guns blazing, setting the bar to an incredible height that is never quite reached again. ‘Radiant’, at the #11 position, is a sultry pop number with jaunty guitar hooks on top of smooth, buzzy synth and slow jam percussion. It’s the high point of the other end of the album.

This is not to say there aren’t interesting elements elsewhere on ‘Arc’. Take, for example, third track ‘Torso of the Week’ takes the gossip papers as lyrical fodder, with a rocking chorus and singer Jonathan Higgs again invoking his now famous falsetto. It’s good, but it pales in comparison to the singles. ‘Duet’ comes across as a showcase for Higgs’ voice, the song building in magnificence with beauteous harmonies.At the same time, I’m wishing the restraint – and the lack of sheer poppiness of previous tracks like ‘Qwerty Finger’ and ‘Schoolin’’ – was there when it isn’t.

The same could be said for ‘Choice Mountain’, ‘Feet for Hands’, ‘The Peaks’ and even ‘The House is Dust’, which in its sparseness makes me sad, because this isn’t how their music used to make me feel. To add further insult to injury, ‘Arc’ (or as it’s stylised on the cover, ‘_Arc_’) isn’t a full song, feeling like a breathy, strange interlude between two halves of the album. Loads of bonus points for making a title track entirely impossible to be a single, but minus several thousand for it not having a true role on the album.

‘Don’t Try’ is the parting blow from the band. With quick tempo and matching quick tempo lyrics, it’s my vote for their next single. But it’s too little, too late. Of the early reviews I’ve read, there seems to be agreement that in ‘Arc’, Everything Everything are having their Radiohead moment, which probably explains my reaction to it. I really, really wanted to love this album the second I dropped it in the CD drive of my laptop, but like the Peter Bjorn and John song, unfortunately “it don’t move me”.

6.5/10

‘Arc’, the second album from Everything Everything, is out now on RCA Victor in regular and deluxe formats. Watch a documentary about the making of it below. They’re on tour in the UK in February. Shortly after that, the band will be heading to Austin for SXSW 2013.

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Album Review: Dry the River – Shallow Bed acoustic version

 
By on Thursday, 10th January 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Dry the River Shallow Bed acousticSince their first single release, 2011’s ‘No Rest’, Dry the River’s profile has steadily risen, culminating in last year’s album release and triumphant accompanying tour. Unwavering support from the likes of Amazing Radio is no less credit than they deserve for a punishing live schedule which has seen not a single month pass since 2011 when they haven’t played a gig.

Even more impressive then, is that they have found the time to return to the studio and completely re-record their debut album, ‘Shallow Bed’. For those who missed ‘Shallow Bed’ the first time, here follows the executive summary: a thing of both delicacy and power, ‘Shallow Bed’ channelled the burgeoning folk-rock revival whilst still maintaining an air of credibility, probably thanks to the dual virtues of well-honed material, and notable virtuoso performances from the band, in particular singer Peter Liddle’s distinctively keening vocal.

Fast forward 9 months later, and ‘Shallow Bed’ the acoustic version is upon us. The casual observer would be forgiven for imagining that this is a simple stop-gap, a melange of previously released acoustic versions and even (shock, horror!) demos, but all the evidence points to this being a full re-recording of the entire album. As such, even though the basic material is the same, this release warrants reviewing as a new piece.

The original album found itself rocking out at times, which is not the case here. Instead, drama is generated from subtle instrumentation and savoured, drawn-out lyrical delivery. This all lends itself to careful absorption and analysis of the material – which stands up ably to such scrutiny. ‘Bible Belt’, always a piece which relied more on emotional rather than instrumental impact, is slowed down even further, the guitars exiled, and simple strings and piano take their place. The ensuing tension is palpable.

In ‘History Book’, swathes of delicate harmony vocals take centre stage, with just the minutest of guitar embellishments for company, setting the lead melody free to become, if anything, even more beautiful. <a href="Emmy the Great pops up on ‘Shaker Hymns’: the female voice such a rarity on Dry the River material, it shines like a gold nugget nestling at the bottom of the eponymous dessicated bedrock, in comparison with Liddle’s unctuous delivery, where each vowel eases its way out with the gentle effort of a birthing monotreme.

Overall, the mood is misty, mournful, righteous. This album sounds wonderful, a true pleasure to listen to on a good sound system, the acoustic instruments breathing clearly in a well-constructed ambience. Its gentle sound may suit background listening, and is superb for easing children off to sleep, but it deserves just as much foreground attention as its louder forebear. There’s nothing shallow here but the name.

8/10

Dry the River’s acoustic version of ‘Shallow Bed’ is available now from RCA Victor.

Listening companions: Ryan Adams – ‘Love Is Hell’ (parts 1 and 2)

 
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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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