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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 9th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
Banners, the stage name of Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Mike Nelson, is set to make waves at SXSW 2016 next month. (Read Rebecca’s introduction to Banners from last month here.) Why do I say this? Every once in a while, I get a weird feeling in my bones about a new artist after listening to their music and I just know that superstardom awaits them. (Full disclosure: while I haven’t been 100% accurate, my record is none too shabby, having correctly predicted the success of Two Door Cinema Club, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Kodaline and The 1975.) I got the same kind of feeling upon hearing the opening track of Banners’ self-titled EP released last month.
‘Start a Riot’ begins as reverential as might be expected in this era of pop fully embracing synths and effects: with the electronic echo of a choir that are recalled a couple of times throughout the track. It’s a sweeping tune reminiscent of early Coldplay, with the guitars being the most energetic part of the track. Despite the single’s combative title, Nelson’s own vocals are more emotional than argumentative, providing support to a loved one “when your world falls apart” and “if night falls in your heart / I’d light the fire / in the dark, when you sound the alarm / we’ll find each other’s arms / for your love”. ‘Ghosts’ later on in the EP is another Banners track done in a wistful, Chris Martin style.
This slower, contemplative mood doesn’t last. You go straight into ‘Shine a Light’ next, a Kodaline-esque number with plenty of sing-along moments, so much that you can easily imagine it having been penned and sung by Steve Garrigan. Nelson has explained “the song is about feeling lost at sea and desperately searching for a beacon of light. It’s about waiting for that one big wave to finally pull you under while clinging on to that one last ray of hope. It’s a song to the person in your life that offers salvation while the storm is raging around you.” Given that, the use of Nelson’s forlorn falsetto in the slower verses to provide contrast with the faster, bouncier rock chorus is done to great effect, as if to mimic the highs and lows, the ebb and flow of our lives.
EP standout ‘Gold Dust’ is another anthemic pop number with a driving beat. In it, Nelson maintains a positive, engaging stance, insisting that like an alchemist, “when the nights grow cold / and it’s all gone to rust / we can turn it into gold dust”, he came make things better with his love. The EP ends on an equally strong note, with ‘Back When We Had Nothing’. It’s a nostalgic, yet painfully melancholic look back at a simpler, more innocent time.“I feel my blood rushing / burning like a glory blaze / back when we had nothing / we had everything”, he sings, with the desire of wanting to recapture that feeling. Nelson’s strong vocals, bolstered by glittering synths: pop doesn’t get much better than this.
The ‘Banners’ EP is out now on Island Records. If you’re lucky enough to live in North America, you’re in luck. Do yourself a favour and get yourself to one of the many club gigs Banners has scheduled before and after SXSW 2016. He also will be appearing at the Great Escape 2016 in Brighton in May.
Over the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of writing a Bands to Watch feature on Blanco White, the solo project of London singer/songwriter Josh Edwards. Highlighted in that article was debut single ‘November Rain’, which appears on Blanco White’s new EP titled ‘The Wind Rose’, along with three other Latin American-influenced songs that put a decisively contemporary spin on a traditional folk style.
Edwards initiated the Blanco White project in 2014, after studying classical guitar in Spain and learning to play the Andean charango in Bolivia. His vision for the project involved “bringing together elements of Andalusian and Latin American music alongside influences closer to home.” The end result is a set of songs with decidedly English lyrics and themes, set over the classical soundscapes of South America.
The Latin American influence here isn’t the uptempo salsa dance style often heard in mainstream pop music, but rather the contemplative minor-key sound of traditional Spanish and South American art song. Edwards’ orchestration includes the expected prominent virtuoso guitar figures but employs vividly modern, minimalist arrangements in the other instruments, creating dramatic energy to match his evocative lyrical style.
Opening track ‘The Lily’, recently featured by Adam Walton on BBC Radio Wales, begins with some of the EP’s most breathtaking imagery in the lyrical lines, “I left a sign with a candle in the streetlight that shone below / where through the night the people dance in linen and smoke / I still remember her song in my head . . .” Melding romance with impressions of fire and sea, Edwards’ rough-hewn singing voice is emotionally raw and instantly captivating as he sings of his elusive Lily, “vanished, some other place by the sea. . . banished by herself, not by me.”
The aforementioned ‘November Rain’ sets another oblique tale of emotional loss against the grey backdrop of a train platform on a cold autumn day. Its unanswered question “so is this why I couldn’t stay?” is never explained in the lyrical monologue, but its anguish is clearly expressed by each insistent repetition. The yearning woodwind solo following the repeated line “there’s nothing left I owe” leads into the song’s dynamic climax, where Edwards unleashes the strength of his voice ahead of the reflective final refrain.
Slightly gentler and more introspective, ’Chalk’ delves further into the feminine mystique with the vivid description of a palm reading enchantress who predicts her subject’s trip to Spain. The accordion and bowed strings in the song’s instrumental arrangement give a hint of the heady atmosphere of a street fair and Edwards’ lyrics are once again as beguilingly quixotic as the imagined siren of his serenade.
Final and eponymous track ‘The Wind Rose’ is even more strongly Latin-flavoured, with gently rolling harp and guitar figures under lyrics that switch between elegant English and sensual Spanish. Edwards is accompanied in the singing of the Spanish sections by Malena Zavala of Argentine indie rock band and Yucatan Records labelmate Oh So Quiet. Zavala’s light, clear vocals float delicately above Edwards’ coarser tone and echo hauntingly over the song’s closing lyric, “as the wind moves the water, in the chalice of a rose.”
Three of the songs from ‘The Wind Rose’ EP are streaming now on Yucatan Records’ official Web site, ahead of the EP’s impending release. If you’re as enchanted by Josh Edwards’ stunning voice and nimble guitar playing as I was, you can also watch a live video of Blanco White performing ‘Rust’, at the bottom of the page.
Blanco White will play a one-off show at London’s Sebright Arms on the 31st of March supporting Eliza Shaddad. His EP ‘The Wind Rose’ is out today on Yucatan Records.
Bloc Party are the definition of the word ‘evolution’. If you listen back to the sharp indie tones they burst onto the scene with ‘Silent Alarm’ back in 2005, you would struggle to believe that you’re listening to the same band now in 2016. Technically though, you aren’t listening to the same band. Only one half of the original lineup remains, with the band citing increased tension and disagreement in the barracks the reasoning for this.
What Bloc Party do here on ‘Hymns’ is, at the root of it all, be consistently inconsistent. This is something we’ve come to expect of them. Although after their debut they didn’t evolve the sound too much on 2006’s ‘A Weekend in the City’, third record ‘Intimacy’ was a full-on revolution in terms of the sound they created. Focusing more upon dance and electronic than indie rock, it was a brave and bold move that saw tracks such as ‘Flux’ and ‘One More Chance’ becoming massive Bloc Party staples, just sans guitars. Fourth album ‘Four’ was the weakest in this evolution, where the collapse of the band was seemingly imminent, and a Kele Okereke solo album showing where this evolution stemmed from. Now, none of this is necessarily a bad thing; It shows they can develop and evolve beyond being a one trick pony. But to the extent shown here, where one track is barely similar to the next, you find it hard to engage and follow the record. But, it’s still entertaining, as much as a McDonald’s burger is still food, but it’s not so exciting, so you just don’t Instagram it.
Opener ‘The Love Within’ was our first look at this second coming of Bloc Party, and it was met with a mixed reaction. The sound itself is not too dissimilar to that of ‘Four’ or ‘Intimacy’, but it’s the approach they take that lends itself to the confused reception. It seems almost abrasive in its attempts to be an opening statement telling us this record won’t be a return to 2005-era Bloc Party. This continues through to ‘Only He Can Heal Me’, which is a soft, yet dark dance track.
Track four ‘Good News’ becomes almost the Bloc Party twist on country, with a devilish helping of slide guitar that complements the chord structure beautifully. Of course, the next track is the exact opposite: ‘Fortress’ is soft, a sentimental dance track that relies upon a low rumble of bass to push it forward with synthesised drums providing the percussion rather than the human equivalent found in new drummer Louise Bartle.
‘Into Earth’ has a softer version of the twinned, alternating guitar progressions we’ve come to love and adore from both Okereke and co-guitarist Russell Lissack. Think ‘Banquet’, but if it was given some Valium. “You’ve seen the colour of my cash, does it not impress you, was I too flash?” is sung almost seductively by Okereke. The majority of the record from here carries on into a similar fashion: there are no particular fast numbers per se, and it all remains at a steady tempo, which can at times be a bit of a struggle to get through.
This is an evolution that Bloc Party have taken which, on an artistic level, has a lot of merit, though strictly it wasn’t necessary. While on the previous two albums, they’d already broken past being a straightforward guitar band and proving they had more to say, this new LP feels like an accumulation of trying to bury that past forever and sending out a new statement of who they are what they do now. Obviously it breaks boundaries and attempts new sounds, but at the same, it can be quite dull. Hopefully with time the new lineup will begin to pull together a sound that is a more controlled culmination of everything they’ve done so far rather than a proverbial smorgasbord of anything and everything.
Bloc Party’s fifth album ‘Hymns’, their first in 4 years, is out now on Infectious Records in the UK and Vagrant Records in North America. They’re currently headlining the NME Awards tour through next Friday, the 12th of February at Birmingham Academy. They’ll also be appearing at the 6 Music Festival in Bristol the weekend directly after, as well as SXSW 2016 in March in Austin. To read more coverage on Bloc Party on TGTF, head here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 2nd February 2016 at 12:00 pm
Peter and David Brewis are two intelligent guys who don’t sit still for very long. Or ever. Sometimes I wonder if they’re just musical vampires and don’t sleep at all. Last year, the composed soundtrack to the 1929 documentary Drifters that they were commissioned to compose by the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival was released to the wild. In 2014, while David was putting together his latest School of Language album ‘Old Fears’, his older brother Peter went off with frontman of Maximo Park Paul Smith for their own LP ‘Frozen by Sight’. Last year, I also saw them moonlighting as part of fellow Sunderland musician SLUG’s (Ian Black) backing band at the Great Escape 2015. So yes, while the last ‘true’ Field Music album was 2012’s ‘Plumb’, they haven’t exactly been sitting around the Good Apple Cafe, twiddling their thumbs.
The most noteworthy thing news-wise that’s happened to the Brewis brothers recently is Prince’s apparent discovery of them in early December. Evidently, the Purple One had a pleasurable head bop to the first single off of ‘Commontime’, ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, just as we have had here at TGTF Towers. (You can read Steven’s thoughts on the single here.) The inherent catchiness of the melody, matched with the always intriguing percussion of Field Music, is great already. But what makes the song truly a winner are the lyrics, which I think most people are reading literally as the acceptance of “getting on”, growing older and eventually the end.
I can’t help but read it within my own as well as in a musician’s context: those of us who are long past our school days but still go out to shows (or play them), who don’t do normal things like take the bus and go to bed at an acceptable hour, are looked upon as oddities and weirdos. It’s not that we’re going out of our way to be weirdos. It just *is*. To me, the song is a statement that we’re not going to change our ways. Which is something I feel must be a credo for this pair of talented bros. Throughout this delightful 14-track collection of tunes, there’s satisfying elements of pop and funk, sometimes together on the same track, and this combination with incisive lyrics makes Field Music what they are.
The Sunderland duo have pretty much cornered the market in art rock these days, and they don’t show any signs of changing their tune (no pun intended). With the off-kilter drums and guitars – neither of which I can be sure could be said to be leading or following – and its almost spat out words, ‘I’m Glad’ is bonkers, and amusingly so. ‘Same Name’ seems like a bunch of things were thrown into a pot at once – jerky guitar notes, other bits of noodling guitar, atypical drum patterns, piano chord crashes – and somehow, otherwise cacophonous, disparate elements manage to play nice enough with each other to come together as a relatively cohesive song. The vocal delivery of the verses of ‘They Want You to Remember’ is pretty pop, gently reined in to accompany a beautiful string section. But then the oom-pah-pah rhythm of the chorus comes in, and you’re reminded we’re not in mainstream land. Which is perfectly fine by me.
The other day I heard a Charlie Puth song called ‘One Call Away’. It’s not a terrible love song – it’s what passes for MOR pop on American top 40 radio these days – but the lyrics are pretty groanworthy. Contrast them to those of ‘Disappointed’, in which our protagonist asks for forgiveness for minor offenses in the context of a long-term relationship that seems to be a Pretty Good Thing otherwise. On the ultra funky and album standout ‘It’s a Good Thing’, the merit of giving up your singledom and pulling away from the pretense of “being fixed to the ocean” is explored: “It’s a good thing to give yourself away. It’s a good thing to give yourself to someone else.” And perhaps I’m the only one, but I can’t help laugh to myself when on a Field Music album I’m being sung to with a particularly clever line. In ‘Don’t You Want to Know?’, the listener is asked, “don’t you want to know what’s wrong with you?”, as well as encouraged (or perhaps mocked) to “time to use your brain”. Can you imagine the look on a top 40 station boss’ face upon hearing that?
‘Commontime’ also marks the return of keyboardist Andrew Moore, who hasn’t appeared on a Field Music album since 2007’s ‘Tones of the Town’. His contribution of twinkly notes and organ buzzes are appreciated on ‘But Not for You’, ‘That’s Close Enough’ (in which the piano stands up to a ghostly guitar solo) and the instrumental bridge of ‘They Want You to Remember’, where they are particularly effective. As mentioned earlier, there’s also a string section that appears on some tracks of this album, adding a level of smoothness (dare I say maturity?) to the proceedings. But fear not, this is still a Field Music album through and through, so there is *plenty* of weird and wonderful stuff going on.
‘Commontime’, the new album from Sunderland brother duo Field Music, is out this Friday, the 5th of February, on Memphis Industries. The brothers and their band will be appearing at the 6 Music Festival in a fortnight in Bristol (all the details here), and they will begin a UK tour in the last week of February (live dates listed here). For more on Field Music on TGTF, head this way.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 1st February 2016 at 12:00 pm
I didn’t think I’d ever encounter an album for which I’d have read that the artist in question had wanted the album to sound like a certain country, and then went on to actually achieve it. There hasn’t been one in recent memory that I can recall, so now I’m prepared to eat my words. The sophomore full-length effort from Brooklyn via Sydney duo High Highs is the source of all this confoundment. In the press release, multi-instrumentalist Oli Chang explains, “If you go to Australia, it’s a beach country…You have year-round summer, basically. That really influences the music.”
Despite ‘Cascades’ having been recorded in upstate New York, their hearts and minds were far away, thinking of home and the synthpop music they grew up with. In addition to their fondness for wide expanses of surf-y real estate down under, they’ve cited John Farnham’s mid-‘80s anthem ‘You’re the Voice’ and the back catalogue of Icehouse (a band also favoured by fellow Aussies Little May, who covered the band’s ‘Great Southern Land’ on their recent tour of America) as important inspirations for the new LP. Make no mistake, though: this album sounds fresh and bracing, not at all like a badge-covered denim jacket of that bygone era that’s simply been dusted off.
This desire to channel and, ultimately, also recreate this feeling of an arms wide open-type of freedom is palpable throughout the album. Opening track ‘Boxing’, which premiered in early December on influential Seattle radio station KEXP, moves forward in a pleasantly languid pace. The tune also tapped into the duo’s feelings of euphoria following their own early morning boxing classes, Chang describing the chord-driven instrumentation as “sound[ing] like a giant walking through a vast landscape”, while his recording partner Jack Milas’ breathy lead vocals add dreaminess. It’s a positive kind of dreaminess, too: one that will lift you out of the shadowy fog of this winter and onto a brighter plane.
Varying levels of this heavenly touch exist throughout ‘Cascades’, but through different filters. Album closer ‘Fastnet’ and ‘Movement’ see the duo flirt with r&b and soul, the former ending the proceeding with cool fingersnaps, while the latter favours bigger booms of percussion for added drama. Pop is approached splendidly on ‘Catch the Wind’, where a nice sequence of chord changes in the chorus are accompanied by further supporting this idea of liberty: “hey, you’re not alone / go break the mould / go where you are free.”
Album standout ‘How Could You Know’ is a great mix of pop and indie, with prominent guitars and a catchy Fleetwood Mac-esque beat playing off Milas’ voice extremely well, as if it was just another instrument in their arsenal. Another great, catchy moment is the LP’s title track, proving that even with a lot going instrumentally, in the right hands and with the right amount of restraint, a beautiful, timeless quality can be applied to a synth-driven pop song. Not too much, not too little. Just right.
When speaking of ‘Cascades’ as a whole, Chang says, “We just tried to make the record beautiful…We weren’t trying to be edgy or difficult – we were striving to make it as epically beautiful as we possibly could. Hopefully when people hear it, it will make them think of something that’s important to them.” Mission accomplished, guys.
The second album from High Highs, ‘Cascades’, will be out on this Friday, the 5th of February, on PIAS. For more on High Highs on TGTF, you can read my Bands to Watch introducing the duo originally from Australia that posted back last November here.
Post-punk heirs Savages are back and sounding more vicious than ever. Their sophomore effort ‘Adore Life’, the follow up to 2013’s ‘Silence Yourself’, is another fine example of a genre that, for a while, has been hidden in the junk cupboard of musical history. The four members of Savages, led at the helm by the ferociously prowling Jehnny Beth, are bringing forth a change in attitude to both the genre they’re front-running and women in music, through their snarl and bite. And this is most evident in this second effort.
The album opens with ‘The Answer’ (reviewed previously here): a wild, ravenous track that almost runs in circles with its continuation in riff and power. A manic guitar brings us in before being joined by Beth singing, “if you don’t love me, don’t love anybody, ain’t you glad it’s you?” Once the rest of the band kicks in, it’s chaos with the greatest aplomb. The abrupt end which leads straight into second track ‘Evil’ continues the ravenousness that consumes this record, featuring a prowling bass line and guitars that sit above it, haunting it.
In terms of Beth’s voice, she manages to use her howling natural sound, whilst simultaneously calling to mind other ‘80s post-punk leading members such as David Byrne. This can be heard somewhat in the previous song, but more so within ‘Sad Person’, almost becoming a female incarnation of Byrne. Similarly, within the chorus to ‘Adore’, the band shift into a modern equivalent of The Smiths, particularly with Beth’s Morrissey-esque howls of “maybe I will die tomorrow, so I need to say”.
You can clearly hear these influences, as well as many more, throughout the record, which is both a blessing and a curse. The ferociousness Savages bring to the record is, as previously mentioned, a new spark in a genre that has sat at the back of the classroom for too long so to speak, but the idea behind post-punk initially was to do something new, something fresh that moved the world forward. Of course, this shouldn’t take away from what they have created here, but at times it seems they’ve used a cheat sheet in certain places.
The second half of the record is where things truly pick up. ‘I Need Something New’ and ‘When in Love’ are fine cuts, closely resembling the first two tracks, but ‘Surrender’ brings out experimentation with sound. The track is ruled by the bass guitar, or rather a wall of bass guitars: it’s a terrifying sound to behold in the greatest possible way. The rest of the track is mixed below this noisy behemoth to accentuate the power and force intended. ‘T.I.W.Y.G’ picks up the pace drastically, with the rhythm section reaching a point of near insanity. Beth’s warning of “this is what you get if you mess with love” carries on the message that is seen throughout the record, that of if you’re going fuck with anyone, don’t let it be Savages, because they take nothing from nobody.
Finale ‘Mechanics’ is the longest cut on the album, and is where the band reach into the depths of their haunting and experimental abilities. With no real riff or chord pattern per se, it’s more an acclamation of reverb drenched guitars run through processors to create sounds that wouldn’t be amiss in a haunted house. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really reach a point of climax until the final 5 seconds that sees unnatural sounding feedback, almost to the point of white noise, taking control and as abruptly as the record began it ends.
Throughout the album, Savages come across as a force of nature, with unbridled power that harnesses the absolute serendipity brought with insanity. It’s a solid sophomore record that should see Savages grow larger in strength and come back to us with a third album that will in doubt be so beautifully ostentatious, we will enter a new post-punk era.
The second Savages LP ‘Adore Life’ is out now via Matador Records. They’ll be on tour in February and March 2016 in the UK. Read other articles on Savages on TGTF here.
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