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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 12th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
From the chart success of their first two albums, it’s clear White Lies are the kings of the post-punk anthem. With their new album ‘Big TV’, Harry McVeigh, Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown again proffer up their signature doom and gloom lyrics accompanied with feel good guitars and synths, with mostly positive results. The main problem ‘Big TV’ suffers from is the same problem that plagued both ‘To Lose My Life…’ and ‘Ritual’: while there are some huge songs on here that are obviously going to be released as singles and will bring crowds to their feet, the rest of the songs don’t reach such lofty heights, and there are two interludes included in this set of 12 tracks that don’t really serve much purpose.
‘Big TV’ was produced by Ed Buller, whose other most recent and high-profile production work was on Suede’s amazing comeback album ‘Bloodsports’ released in March. Whether it is a compliment on Buller’s expertise specifically or not, there is no denying that lead singer Harry McVeigh’s voice has never sounded better, confident and clearly able to fill stadiums with its strength. The album begins with the title track, hitting you with typical White Lies’ bombast. The introduction of the song conjures up of great ‘80s New Wave tunes, before a driving rhythm by drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown and lonesome guitar chords are banged. The synths continue the New Wave theme, as McVeigh intones desperation, insisting, “bring me to the hand of fate / the river or the new arcade”. The hopelessness of fighting against the march of progress, the existence of trash and garbage in our lives and what we make of it all, wondering where real life begins and the fantasy inside one’s mind ends: these are larger than life themes that seem to fit well with the painting of the astronaut on the album’s cover.
Early giveaway track ‘Getting Even’ (“wrestling with conscience”) and single ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ sound quintessentially White Lies, with the aforementioned shimmery synths, crashing guitars, and punishing beats. They’re just tailor made for the Radio1 audience, shiny with pop sensibility that will assure their mainstream success. (You can grab ‘Getting Even’ for free from this previous mp3 of the day post, and watch the promo video for ‘There Goes Our Love Again’ here.) Lyrically though, they’re not bassist Charles Cave’s best.
For that, you need to venture to ‘Change’, at the lucky number 7 position. Now this song is likely to stand the test of time the same way as Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Already Gone’ does. To be honest, it’s the breathy, nonconfrontational version of ‘Already Gone’: when you’re listening to it, it’s not hard to imagine you’re floating on a soft, fluffy cloud, or even in heaven, even while the sadness of a man who is telling his love to be brave even though it’s time for them to part is tearing your own heart apart. This is a track I certainly was not expecting from White Lies and I don’t know how this will fare among fans, but it’s absolutely beautiful. If they don’t release ‘Change’ as a single in the next couple of weeks, they’ve missed a trick.
So it’s all the more jarring for ‘Change’ to follow up with ‘Be Your Man’, which is upbeat but somehow it’s missing heart. (This is also the fate of ‘Tricky to Love’, as well as album closer ‘Goldmine’.) I get the message: the voice in the song doesn’t want harm or trouble to befall his lover and he wants to be her man when an emergency happens. Err…ok. The music that goes with it doesn’t seem to match the sentiment either. At least the instrumentation that goes with ‘First Time Caller’ is suitably epic for the song’s plot, which I’m gathering is either about phone sex or a call girl service. The wishes for “a little hope out of nothing” and for someone to be patient and truly to listen to them are something wanted by both people on the line. The lyrics from the chorus of “I want you to love me / more than I love you / tell me is there something you can do?” sung in a sweeping style by McVeigh couple nicely with an equally sweeping, gorgeous instrumentation.
After such beauty, you have to wonder what they were thinking with the confounding existence and placement of the two interludes, named unimaginatively ‘Space i’ and ‘Space ii’. While I can appreciate the desire to do some short instrumental pieces, these two do nothing for the album and act as strange, out of place bookmarks that you’re likely to skip if you buy the entire LP. For the proper way to insert interludes into an album, see Cave Painting’s ‘Votive Life’. Then there are some lyrics like the opening of ‘Tricky to Love’ – “My love, changes with the weather / my heart, red imitation leather” – that are truly cringe-worthy and make you wonder how it was possible these songs were conceived by the same people who wrote ‘Change’. With the highest of highs and lowest of lows, ‘Big TV’ brings you moment to savour, but also moments of confusion.
‘Big TV’, the third album from London trio White Lies, is out today on Fiction Records.
Norn Ireland’s Kowalski has finally graced us with a full length LP. I have enjoyed following them from their EPs ‘You are Noisy Sunshine State’ and ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ and now they have grown into a proper album with ‘For the Love of Letting Go’. Hailing from Bangor, they share the pedigree with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and the lads of Two Door Cinema Club. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a familial connection in that last one there.
Since their last release ‘Take Care, Take Flight’ in the spring of 2010, the band have been diligently crafting and redefining their sound. Only the very danceable ‘Get Back’, with the perfectly apt lyric ‘Get back to the place that you know’, moves forward with the guys. The rest of the disc is filled with fresh new tunes. Opening with the brightly upbeat ‘Forfey’, Kowalski sets out to bring an album’s worth of shimmery electro-pop. With guitar licks and a well-crafted pop sensibility, the band hooks you with dreamy melodies and an infectious body-moving vibe. ‘Burning Blue’ reaches out as my favourite though. “I don’t ever want to go back and lose/ You say it’s about to change, so go far now” speaks to where I am right now and makes me want to look for those “highest heights” that are “burning blue”. Album closer ‘Let’s Start Over’ sounds like a band looking to the future, letting go of where they were and looking to the fresh beginnings that await them. Here’s to hoping they like what they find.
My one criticism is that although what they do they do very well, there is little variety between songs. Occasionally I catch myself wondering whether or not there had been a track change or if it was just a really long song. More mature than their EPs, but still full of fun, bouncy tunes, ‘For Love of Letting Go’ continues the tradition of great music coming out of Northern Ireland.
It would be easy to say that Kowalski ‘burst onto the scene’ but since both ‘While We Drive’ and ‘Outdoors’ were released quite a while ago as teasers to the album, review of the former here, it’s clear that this album has been waiting to go for a while. Makes me wonder what they are up to now.
‘For the Love of Letting Go’, Kowalski’s debut album, is now available from their Bandcamp. You can name your own price for the digital version, and the 12″ limited edition vinyl version of the album is only £15 (to be shipped out on or around the 15th of August). Stream the album on the widget below.
Franz Ferdinand headlined Reading and Leeds in 2006. Cast your mind back to that for a minute: a band at the height of their powers, with an album that has sold over 3 million copies, they’d won the Phillip Hall Radar Award in 2004, two BRIT Awards in 2005 for Best British Group and Best British Rock Act and had been compared to The Who and The Rolling Stones in the pages of the New Musical Express. High praise no matter what scale of cynicism you’re working on, this was a band with pomp, pride and a spring to their step.
Roll forward 7 years and as politely as I can express this, I’d forgotten that Franz Ferdinand were anything more than that poor bloke who gets the blame for the cause of World War I. Whether that is my inherent sense of forgetfulness or a reflection on the bands somewhat fall from grace, is yours for the mulling. But GCSE/O-Level history lessons aside, the Glasgow indie-rockers are back with a new record, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’. Since their self-titled debut, it seemed their journey was taking the shape of a baby oil-drenched slippery slope, with Alex Kapranos leading the slide, shirt off and splashing for dear life.
With ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ they may have hit a slight incline. Nothing dramatic, but enough to at least to grab the attention of potential naysayers and remind them that these Glaswegians are some of the best lyricists and creators of funkery that have graced these bonny shores in a while.This record swings like the ‘60s and ebbs and flows with some funky freshness that I haven’t seen from Franz in a while. The choruses that Franz have become known for are lurking in the deeps too.
The album also sees the band delve into altogether murkier territory, in subject matter at least. I’m not talking White Lies’ epic levels of doom mongering, as these boys aren’t capable of that (so I think), though Kapranos does get a bit touchy in final song ‘Goodbye Lovers and Friends’, as he spits out “Don’t fake your memories / Don’t give me virtues that I never had”, to leave us on a rather unpleasant note. It seems an overawing sense of sullenness is the underlying theme of this album, with the image of Kapranos being batted about, bullied and maligned for being that archetypal skinny indie boy coming to mind. But intrinsically, that is what Kapranos is. The conventional indie kid.
I suppose this could be looked at as a quintessentially indie album, with flecks of disappointment and glumness interspersing the album and track ‘Treason! Animals’ chugging along like a gospel funeral parade, a la ‘Live and Let Die’, with more synth. But with less murder and stuff. But that would be an overtly simplistic view, it’s certainly not about disaster, but those typical themes of loss, monogamy and lust are explored in trademark indie fashion. “Rigid in the matrimonial superking bed / pretend to sleep / pretend to sleep / pretend to sleep” paints a hauntingly poignant image of infidelity during ‘Brief Encounters’. Combining that with the erstwhile suspicion and honkytonkery of ‘Evil Eye’, and it’s an album that is showing enough signs of bi-polar and suspicion to have even the most psychiatric professionals scratching their heads.
Lyrical gushing aside, musically it suffers from a lot of the flaws Franz Ferdinand suffered during ‘Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’: a certain predictability that detracts from what challenges to be a rather exciting deeply charged record. Instead, it sounds flat at times, with track ‘Fresh Strawberries’ being a mid-point in mediocrity that has my interest waning severely by the end.
It seems whilst they have climbed the highest highs (they’ve played with bloody Doctor Who, which no matter anyone’s reckoning is undeniably cool) they seem to have hit an iceberg, perhaps not of Titanic-like proportions, but instead enough to cause a serious graze in the hull of the good ship Ferdinand. Keep ploughing ahead boys, surely a late 2018 resurgence is on the cards. I’m thinking Other Stage at Glastonbury? See ya there, boys.
‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’, the new album from Franz Ferdinand, will be released on the 26th of August via Domino Records.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 6th August 2013 at 12:00 pm
When casual popular music listeners think about Liverpool and its surrounding Merseyside, there is only one band and only one group of names – John, Paul, George and Ringo – that matter. It is obvious from the larger than life black and white poster decorating the long, horizontal window out front of the HMV at Liverpool ONE that it’s guitar music is the prevailing legacy of music days gone past. So when a band like Outfit comes along to challenge that notion, music reviewers like us stand to attention and notice. The band have been pottering round under the radar since their formation in 2011, wowing our head photographer Martin at Constellations Festival that year, probably just when they’d just gotten around to making their first public splash. Two years later they are ready to release their long-awaited long player, entitled ‘Performance’, on Double Denim Records.
As we’ve seen far too many times in this post-iTunes world, the two singles that have been revealed from the album are strong contenders singularly, but they don’t give an accurate picture of what ‘Performance’ is all about. ‘I Want What’s Best’ mixes it up between dreamy pop with a disaffected vocal from lead singer Andrew Hunt in the verses and a funky, beat-heavy chorus. This is a song with an identity problem. You can’t call it a dance song, or really a dream pop song either. It lies uncomfortably between the worlds, possibly confusing both the Tom Vek / Friendly Fires fan who adores the chorus and the Beach House devotee fangirling over the stretched guitar notes sounding like a faraway bird calling. Interesting song, no doubt about it, it’s just not one I think I’d like to hear over again over again.
Newer single ‘House on Fire’ is currently making the rounds on 6music, as it’s firmly entrenched in this week’s B-playlist. It’s Egyptian / Middle Eastern in its note progressions (a theme explored again in the guitar pluckings in ‘Spraypaint’), and the accompanying vocals are suitably echoey for this purpose. The melody is repetitive, which to some might be welcome, but I find it grating. I can see it causing the masses to spin around like whirling dervishes at the remaining summer music festivals of this season, but is this sound still going to be fresh going into autumn? I doubt it. >According to the Guardian, the clicking sound you hear throughout is the sound of a DVD player’s tray opening and closing. I haven’t decided yet if including the sound in here is genius or ridiculous. They self-produced their album in an estate in Liverpool called The Lodge, so maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe it was a The Shining-type situation and they all went a little mad?
Speaking of their digs during the recording of this album, the press release says of it, “The estate owned by their previous landlord had a block of abandoned flats based in the mansion’s grounds. Previously used as a refuge for asylum seekers, they picked an old dining room in the 150 capacity building and created their studio.” This is all very interesting to note, as whether it is the minor keys employed on much of the album or if it’s genuinely the tone they were trying to evoke on this record, I detect a sense of desolation that runs through this entire album.
‘The Great Outdoors’, despite its synthesised beats that evoke the ‘80s more than it does our 21st century, has a measure of loneliness despite the loveliness. Title track ‘Performance’, which lacks enunciation (I accidentally thought the words were ‘For Four Walls’ when I queued this up on my mp3 player on a run and wasn’t looking at the song titles), has, to be sure, sweeping vocals, but it’s got the reverent vibe of a monastery. While there are mini-climaxes spread out in songs like ‘Phone Ghost’ and its industrial clanking and the aforementioned ‘Spraypaint’, there are no distinct “aha!” moments that stand out to stir the soul. After a while, if you’re not paying close attention, a lot of the songs start to sound samey and despite loads of exciting electronic gadgetry going on in the background, emotionally I don’t feel anything.
Thankfully, to break you out of the doldrums come Outfit’s seemingly happiest, poppiest moments. The first comes courtesy of ‘Thank God I’m Dreaming’. While it begins with a beautifully ambient intro, Hunt’s lead vocal sounds as wide-eyed as Alex Trimble’s in Two Door Cinema Club. This, along with album closer ‘Two Islands’, a glorified tropical pop number, save the album from bleakness.
Some have compared Outfit’s style to Hot Chip, but time will tell how far their dance floor fillers will take them. The real question is if people who buy this debut album from them will actually take to the songs that don’t sound like ‘I Want What’s Best’ and ‘House on Fire’, because this album has two faces.
‘Performance’, the debut album from Liverpool outfit Outfit, will be released on Monday (12 August) on Double Denim Records. Stream the album on Guardian Music here.
Brooklyn-based indie folk songwriter Christopher Paul Stelling is currently touring America in conjunction with the release of his second album, ‘False Cities’. His first album ‘Songs of Praise and Scorn’ was absorbed in the indistinguishable morass of acoustic folk rock, but this new set of songs makes a more dramatic mark.
With ‘False Cities’, Stelling has expanded his sound beyond the sheer virtuosity of his guitar playing to include a wider array of musical influences, including African-American spirituals (‘How Long’) and Spanish flamenco (‘Who I Am’). The most notable difference from his previous album, though, is in Stelling’s singing. Here, he makes excellent expressive use of his voice, which changes in texture from light whisper to savage growl with apparent ease. Stelling’s vocal delivery takes center stage in the album’s opening track and first single, ‘Brick X Brick’ (video below). The song’s frenetic pace becomes more intense with each howling delivery of the lyric, “Brick by brick, I will tear this city down / And from the remnants I’ll build me a road”.
‘Every Last Extremist,’ is a more traditionally folk track, but its foot-stomping rhythm and virtuosic guitar line would be impressive in live performance. Up tempo tracks ‘Free to Go’ and ‘Writhing in Shambles’ also display both the newly discovered anguish in Stelling’s voice and his chops on the acoustic guitar. One of the most intriguing tracks on the album is ‘The Waiting Swamp’. Stelling captures the visceral, almost religious, feeling of darkness with minor key harmonies and rustling percussion behind the mysterious lyrics, “In the evening, I like best to just close my eyes and sway / Sing that hymn my sweet mama taught me / Alleluia anyway”.
Current single ‘You Can Make It’ (stream below) reveals the softer side of ‘False Cities’. With its simple, sweetly melodic chorus and dulcet backing vocals feels, it remarkably like the “exhausted lullaby” mentioned in its lyrics. Similarly gentle, ‘Homesick Tributaries’ is a rumination on the father-son relationship reminiscent of Harry Chapin’s ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’. The song’s light acoustic texture and straightforward poetic structure set the focus squarely on Stelling’s pensive lyrics, “If I ever have a son here of my own / I pray he’ll have his mother’s eyes / They’ll both see that Daddy tries / If I ever have a son here of my own”. The album closes on another delicate ballad, the yearning and melancholy ‘Go Your Way, Dear’.
Despite the obvious comparisons to more mainstream folk artists, the musical range of ‘False Cities’, especially Stelling’s powerful vocal delivery, makes a unique impression. His fire-and-brimstone lyrics are by turns concretely narrative and vaguely evocative, depending on the tone and focus of the song. As a songwriter, Stelling handles his subject matter quite deftly. And while his studio performance on the album is effective, I have a feeling his impact would be greater in a live performance setting.
‘False Cities’, the latest album from Christopher Paul Stelling, is out now on Mecca Lecca Recordings. Stream the entire album below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 10th July 2013 at 12:00 pm
On my last trip to Britain, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend more time in the North than I usually do, having spent glorious days in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh (I know, both are in Scotland, not really the North, but that’s close enough for an American like me!), Newcastle and Sheffield. I can’t help it. There is something about the North, something nonspecific that I can’t put my finger on it, that gives me this wonderful feeling inside. And the most heartwarming thing that can happen to you while you’re travelling – or I suppose after the fact, which where this story is going – is the feeling of belonging, of being welcomed into a community that you previously felt like an outsider to.
I can only assume that my recent coverage of shows in and bands from the North is the reason why I am constantly receiving the kindest invites to gigs in Northern towns; sorry folks, but at least for the time being, this editor is stuck stateside and can only look at these invitations with extreme envy. (All legitimate Northern job offers will be gratefully considered…) Further, I have made a similar assumption that my receipt of an EP sampler being put out next Monday by South Yorkshire indie label Of National Importance had to do with my recent but brief first visit to Sheffield. Considering I was only in good ol’ Sheff for a grand total of 24 hours, I consider this a pretty cool turn of events.
This oddly titled EP, ‘Pareidolia’ (defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features”), is, interestingly enough, a collection of tunes all from bands that hail from Barnsley, which I gather is in the northwest corner of the country, just north of Sheffield. Because each of the six tracks are from a different band, I didn’t think it was fair to give the overall EP a rating, so each song will get a rating as if they were individual singles.
The collection begins with a song by the Black Lamps called ‘Low Hanging Fruit’. This might be fruit you aren’t interested in. The sparse, angelic soundscape that begins the song quickly turns into a catchy indie pop affair even before the vocals begin. To be fair, I think the instrumentation might just be the best part of the song, with hooky guitar and percussive flourishes. I say this because I can’t get behind the lead vocals. Err… “I’m kitchen sink / I’m Cote d’azur / surrounded, confounded by lust / and spoonfuls of hand me down dust” – huh? And forced rhymes: don’t do it. Also, “I’m wet dog smell”? I think I missed something. (6/10)
Next up is ‘Suddenly I’m Outside Myself’ by Aztec Doll, a duo fronted by sultry singer Roxanna Mitchell. Goth post-punk your thing? (The title alone should have been a dead giveaway on the genre here.) Are Savages too heavy-handed for your liking? The act makes it no secret their primary influences – the Cure, PJ Harvey, Siouxsie and the Banshees – so if you like those bands and appreciate a dark sparseness, I think you’re going to like this one. Further, lyrically lonerism at its finest: ” I wonder what all the shame is really worth / suddenly I’m outside myself feeling like I don’t exist no more”. (8/10)
Hmmm. How to describe McCarthy Vigil? It’s probably the hardest to do of the artists on this sampler. Less in your face than most of the other entries, there’s a kind of Villagers-type preciousness, with obvious good songwriting chops, but this song ‘Chinese Candle’ kind of plods along instrumentally. I like what I hear, don’t get me wrong, but I think a full album from the band might work better? (7/10)
Owl City‘s ‘Fireflies’ from 2009 kind of made electronic bleeping in intros a crime. But wait for it, ‘Crying in the Temple’ by Imoko Set (pictured at top) gets better. If you can get past any preconceived notions of songs with such additions, you will be rewarded with words like “how can I deplore you / when really I adore you / it’s a double-edged sword” and a smooth rock/pop edge with very nice hooks. Really also like the juxtaposition of the vocals, male (indie) and female (saintly, appropriate for a song called ‘Crying in the Temple’). Also, if you were wondering, the album cover was designed by their singer Jamie Briggs (nice one). (9/10)
Toba Caldera kind of freaks me out. I was as if Ian Curtis’ ghost was following me around after the first time I heard their track ‘Fade Along with Me’. Swirly guitars, intonation of vocals…you’d swear it was 1979 all over again. They named themselves after the largest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years in Northern Sumatra, which I’m guessing my father is getting a big kick out of right now, but the track is anything but volcanic. A bit of a sleeper. Lyrically as should be expected, a bit dark in here too: “Open arms / lay down beside me / and I’ll drag you down / to where I belong / again”. (7/10)
The sampler winds down with the Exhibition‘s ‘Memento Mori’. The song title sounded familiar, and once I Googled, I remembered why: it’s Latin for ” remember that you will die”. A bit bleak, innit? Oddly (or not?), the song sounds anything but. This is restrained rock that I (dare I say it) will soundtrack those rare introspective Made in Chelsea moments in due time because it’s beautiful in its gentleness but also has its harder rock edge moments. The bleakness comes from the lyrics, which are repetitive and run from romantic “in 4 years I’ll be longing / I’m longing now” to self-loathing “in 4 years I’ll be nothing / I’m nothing now”, I only wish there was more meat on the bones. (8/10)
Good work, Of National Importance. I think by all indications this collection is proof that Barnsley is ready to be put on the musical map. Well, for something other than being the birthplace of Saxon. Stream all of the tracks from ‘Pareidolia’ from the Of National Importance’s tenth record below. The EP will be released on Monday the 15th of July in both digital and physical CD formats. Ahead of that, this coming Saturday sees the Pareidolia release party, get all the info from the label’s Facebook.