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Album Review: The Maccabees – Marks to Prove It

 
By on Friday, 31st July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

The Maccabees Marks to Prove It album coverFollowing their 3-year long absence from the music scene, the first song the Maccabees offered up to the public was their new fourth album’s title track single in mid-May, ahead of summer music festival season. ‘Marks to Prove It’, with a memorable guitar hook and a rhythm destined to incite field pogoing, is exactly how I remembered ‘Pelican’ from their last album. This frenetic, high energy number, accompanied by a promo video showing the frantic pace of living and working in London, is very different to ‘Something Like Happiness’; the new LP’s second single, which will be released on the same day as the LP. It’s laden down with horns and has moments reminiscent of ’70s style Spector-ising. This matches right up to how the group’s frontman Orlando Weeks described the new release to Gigwise as it has “a ‘really nice mix’ of all the members’ different styles” and he feels more confident than ever to sing on this new material.

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After having listened to the album all the way through a few times, I’m finding little that stirs the senses as well as its title track. The feeling I’m getting is similar to what I felt for Maximo Park‘s album last year, ‘Too Much Information’: there are bright spots for sure, but most of the tunes lack immediacy or catchiness and don’t grab you. It seems false advertising to have released as your first taster a song that isn’t at all representative of the album as a whole. Feedback and effects are a hallmark of this album, even on a more introspective turn like ‘Silence’. An almost jazzy piano presentation frames the regretful lyrics of a man who chooses to stop communication altogether, thinking it’s easier if he shuts out those he loves: “I understand that it never ends / she’s waiting round every corner, round every bend / when you’re scared or lost, don’t let it all build up / break the silence.” On ‘River Song’, the pace is still one that lurches rather than speeds along, the guitars wailing before turning strident, drowning out both Weeks and any backing vocals. Maybe that was the point, that the instrumentation and voices were to become one? For sure, it’s less melodic than the psychedelic leanings of ‘Ayla’ from their last album, the 2012 Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Give to the Wild’.

When the tempo speeds up as on ‘Spit It Out’, the closest the London band get to the pop magic of ‘Marks to Prove It’, they choose interesting note progressions on both the guitars and vocals that cause the song to sound chaotic. That is, until you pass the halfway point and things start to make sense. I see what you did there, Maccabees. You have to give them credit for doing something unexpected and different. This continues as they approach both the loud and the soft on the same song, which can be jarring if you’re not expecting it. Second track ‘Kamakura’ has gentle verses that are punctuated by Weeks’ yelling, “giving a bloody nose to the best friend he knows / the only time he’s cried since he was 7 years old / your best friends forgive you, your best friends forgive you / you get old” before the outro practically whispers the song out. On the other extreme, ‘Dawn Chorus’ is a dreamy number in which the horn guy (or gal) comes back in as if to wake you up from a trance.

You’ll enjoy the gentle slow-burning quality of standout ‘Slow Sun’, its masterful guitar throughout, a lonesome horn player in the distance calling you home, its piano notes adding a shimmering complement to Weeks’ voice, as he shows his admiration for a woman who has stuck it out through thick and thin: “no-one else knows it / the lengths that she goes to / to keep it together / that’s real enough.” While the rolling beats and soothing high-hats of ‘Ribbon Road’ and the dreamy ‘Pioneering Systems’ are pleasant enough, does pleasant and inoffensive cut it these days?

7/10

‘Marks to Prove It’, the Maccabees’ fourth album, is out today on Fiction Records in the UK and Communion Records in North America.

 

Album Review: Multiplier – Multiplier EP

 
By on Monday, 20th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Multiplier are a band from Manchester who take influences from high places: two are early days Radiohead and ‘80s post-punkers The Chameleons. But from listening to the first track ‘Choice’ and throughout their self-titled debut EP, what rings clearest are the echoes of a rock behemoth from their own hometown, Doves. BBC Introducing in Manchester’s support, then, doesn’t seem so surprising. The unique drumming sequence from the beginning is then joined by equally mesmerising shoegazey guitars, and Andy Gardner’s dreamy lead vocals aren’t that far off from those of Jimi Goodwin’s, or even Guy Garvey’s whose timbre is closer. “How the tables have turned”, repeats Gardner as the music swells, and you can’t help but be drawn into and get lost in the world they’ve created.

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Comparatively, ‘Heart of Gold’ is a massive contrast, with a happy, poppy, peppy beat. It also is a footstomper in some places, which is another surprise coming off the moody, swirly ‘Choice’. Things go back to a far dreamier place in the nearly 7-minute opus ‘Acres’, where the guitar flickers from note to note like starlight. In dramatic juxtaposition, Gardner’s lyrics of “there’s nothing left here / I’ve been digging a grave / for passions expired” spark something deeply emotional.

Having already shown great promise in their songwriting and musicianship chops and supported bands as varied as I Like Trains, The Woodentops and fellow BBC Introducing buzz band Blossoms, I’m eager to hear what Multiplier get up to next. And you should be too.

7.5/10

Multiplier’s debut EP is out now on the band’s own Bandcamp, where it can be purchased at name your own price. You can listen to all three songs below.

 

Album Review: Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

 
By on Friday, 17th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

SCrain Under Branch coverOn her fourth album ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’, Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain purveys a solid alt-country style that, ironically, aligns her more closely to the genre’s folk and blues roots than most of her modern mainstream counterparts. The wide thematic range of Crain’s songwriting extends from songs with political undertones, to narrative stories and character portraits, to heartrending romantic ballads. The instrumental arrangements of the songs are suitably varied, and Crain’s unique vocal delivery is exquisitely sensitive to each, alternating seamlessly between strident bitterness and soft introspection, finding all of the subtle shades of grey in between.

As stated in the press release for the album, Crain “has a jazz singer’s phrasing, often breaking words into rhythmic fragments that land before and after the beat, stretching syllables or adding grace notes to uncover hidden nuances in her lyrics.” This characteristic is immediately noticeable in the album’s first single ‘Outside the Pale’, which we featured in this Bands to Watch piece back in June. The song is sensual and dramatic overall, with a minor key string intro and deliberately unbalanced rhythms, especially in the repeated title lyric of the chorus, which echoes in the memory long after the song is over.

‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’ opens with a strong hook in ‘Killer’, whose slow, shuffling percussion and bass groove underlies the woozy, drunken feeling created by its uneven lyrical flow and weirdly ethereal synth strings. Crain delivers her brash, confrontational verse lyrics with measured precision, but it’s in the song’s brief refrain “they say the worst is over, the lowest reached / but it’s such a long road, keep marching” where her singing voice truly shines.

Crain evokes the idea of the feminine mystique in the folky ballad ‘Kathleen’, in which she recalls the warmth of friendship in a simpler time: “but there was a golden braid and an open ear / a funny joke and a lack of fear / the clock out of work, the joy of Kathleen”. The thread of that friendship carries through to ‘Elk City’, as Crain weaves a narrative of becoming trapped in a small town. While perhaps inelegant, Crain’s lyrics are evocative in their blunt honesty: the verse “I almost moved to Dallas / with my best friend Kathleen / but I met a guy at the Longhorn / he said he could fix my washing machine”, for example.

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‘Big Rock’ is an uptempo country track whose twangy lap steel and gritty guitars belie its lyrics, which talk about being stuck in a rut while life around you moves on. Like many country songs of its ilk, its chorus is catchy and optimistic in spite of the trouble: “but its a big rock / a big flat rock / make myself a little home / even though I’m all alone / the view’s alright”.

Crain presents a beguiling character study in ‘You or the Mystery’, whispering introspectively through the lyrical lines “he seemed like a sad man / and he slammed all the doors / never drew up his curtains / he was small and pale on the porch” over a slow, shadowy instrumental arrangement. ‘All In’ is similarly introspective, though more vaguely abstract and musically austere.

The poignant ballads ‘When You Come Back’ and ‘Moving Day’ are both plain-spoken and plaintive, the former dealing with the very public pain of a romantic breakup in a small town, the latter taking a glimpse into a more private and intimate moment between former lovers. The vocal duet in the penultimate verse of ‘When You Come Back’ intensifies the heartache of that song, while ‘Moving Day’ employs a sweeter vocal tone and a heartwrenching harmonic modulation under the lyrics “I know the day is gone / I missed the dawn far too long ago / could you hear me out? / I see it now, I’m not too proud” to achieve the same heightened effect.

With ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’, Samantha Crain has created and curated an engaging series of vignettes portraying the darker side of life in small-town America. Her attention to detail, both in her poetry and her vocal delivery, will delight singer/songwriter aficionados. Fans of fellow alt-country divas Natalie Prass and Caitlin Rose will likely find the album appealing to their tastes as well. Even you normally cringe at the thought of a stereotypical country twang, you might stop and reconsider after listening to Crain’s example of what finely-crafted authentic country music can sound like.

8.5/10

‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree’ is out today, the 17th of July, on Full Time Hobby. Samantha Crain was in session with Marc Riley last week, and you can listen to the session on BBC iPlayer here. She will play a run of live dates in the UK this August. For all past TGTF coverage of Samantha Crain, go here.

 

Album Review: Menace Beach – Super Transporterreum EP

 
By on Thursday, 16th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Menace Beach Super Transporterreum EP coverIt gives me considerable pleasure to introduce a great Leeds band. There aren’t that many right now, you know. Hookworms go without saying… um… Hope and Social are still around but have been going for ages, of course… anyway, answers on a postcard, please. But here we have Menace Beach. Their debut LP dropped early this year but there’s no stopping this cheeky quintet: they have a further EP to treat us with, from which ‘Super Transporterreum’ is taken.

It has been said that Menace Beach come across as a reboot of the grungier bits of Britpop, but that’s only half the story. If that. Yes, on ‘Ratworld’ there’s the occasional angularly aloof guitar riff, but mostly it’s chugging, overdriven Telecasters, phased group vocals and such a surfeit of punky, feedbacked attitude that would make even the most rebellious Goldsmiths student blush. To be honest, there’s not much Brit about it at all, taking as they do the majority of their inspiration from ‘90s American melodic punk. The revival continues apace.

‘Super Transporterreum’ takes the sounds of ‘Ratworld’ and distills them into a three-minute shot of multi-layered harmonic power-noise. The decision to employ a half-speed bonus pre-chorus does them no disservice at all. It’s as if Nevermind’s the prosthetic production values of ‘Nevermind’ agreed to mate with the disgusted nihilism of ‘In Utero’… as we all wished had happened first time around. And if that may be saddling a modest band from Leeds with the weight of grunge’s hopes and dreams… well, someone has to, and who better than a group of people of whom nobody would predict incredible things? I daresay Cobain would have wanted it that way.

The ‘Ratworld’ album from Menace Beach is out now. The ‘Super Transporterreum’ EP will be released in the UK on the 25th of September on Memphis Industries; the American release follows on the 2nd of October. Stream the title track of the EP in the Soundcloud widget below.

 

Album Review: Frankie and the Heartstrings – Decency

 
By on Friday, 10th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

There’s always been something delightfully subversive and cheeky about Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings. Visually, they’re a throwback to the ’50s with their quiffs, and judging from the press shot we got with the review copy of their third album, they’ve all decided to give in to black, if not all leather like the kind from which drummer Dave Harper’s favourite jacket was made. ‘Decency’, Frankie and the Heartstrings’ latest full-length LP effort, was recorded at the end of summer 2014 with the production help of MJ of Yorkshire psych outfit Hookworms. Since the release of the band’s 2013 album ‘The Days Run Away’, there have been significant lineup changes: lead guitarist Micky Ross left, to be replaced by Futureheads‘ Ross Millard (whose booming backing vocals are clearly apparent on this album), and departing bassist Steven Dennis has been replaced by Michael Matthews of Sky Larkin.

Despite the changes in personnel and the announcement earlier this year that the band’s own Pop Rec Ltd. store on Fawcett Street – itself a creative hub run on the principles of the band’s DIY aesthetic – is due to close this summer, it’s with much relief discovering that the overall sound of the Sunlun group has not been compromised, and neither has their ethos. While ‘Decency’ has 12 tracks, it’s worth noting that the first two are under 2 minutes each, and with the exception of four of the remaining nine songs, the others are all well under 3 minutes. Along with never boring the listener, this is well in line with their continuing effort to write the catchy pop song.

Title track ‘Decency’, clocking in at a mere minute and 44 seconds, is a model of efficiency; it’s a good taster to what Frankie and the Heartstrings does the best, as drums and guitars are tight with charismatic frontman Frankie Francis lead vocals, delivered in rapid fire succession as his bandmates back him with football-style chants. When you are write something as catchy at this, who needs a full 3 minutes? Another taut joy is ‘Someday Anna’, where Francis first sounds like he’s speaking next to you, before the song bursts beyond those confines and the horns come back in to add lightness.

A good portion of this album has been developed to keep your pulse racing, with Harper’s driving drumming and unrelenting guitars. Previously unveiled and borderline camp top tune (with a campy video to match) ‘Think Yourself Lucky’ is laden down with the Motown horns and is another example of good songwriting. Frankly, I’d rather listen to this than some over-produced sludge on Radio 1. (Or, sadly, that new song from The Libertines…) Millard’s guitar on the start of ‘Berlin Calls’ is an unexpected treat, before the rest of the song speeds ahead. The note progressions of ‘Balconette’ are some of the best since the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ (just don’t expect this song to pop up in a feel good film about the North East anytime soon). And the herky-jerky style they became famous for on past singles ‘Tender’ and ‘That Girl, That Scene’ makes another appearance in ‘Save It For Tonight’, its syncopated rhythm irresistible.

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The listener is afforded a nice change of pace when the band finally decides to slow down. ‘Hate Me Like You Used To’ has a wistful Smiths feel, even with Morrissey-esque non-word warbling to the melody, and massive-sounding guitars. “Life is only as hard as you make it”, Francis croons in ‘Just Not in Love’, but the introspection doesn’t last long, as if all the band members succumbed to itchy trigger finger. And everything is muted for ‘Knife in My Back’, proving that although songs of slower tempo might not their fans’ live favourites, Frankie and the Heartstrings are up there with the best of them.

Here are the potential problems that affect this album’s appeal: not everyone enjoys lyrics being shot at them machine gun style, nor does everyone enjoy a brass section. (If you don’t think the existence of a brass section on this album is real, read this appeal for brass personnel on Facebook.) Personally, I love both so this album is a no-brainer to me, but I can see for others these could grate on one’s nerves. Then again, with the whole LP totalling around 40 minutes, you can’t go wrong with giving this a relatively quick spin. As you should.

7.5/10

‘Decency’, the third album from Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings, is out today on Pop Sex Ltd. via Wichita Recordings. For all our past coverage on the band, go here.

 

Album Review: Lucy Rose – Work It Out

 
By on Thursday, 9th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Lucy Rose Work It Out coverIt seems somehow appropriate that I listened to Lucy Rose’s new album ‘Work It Out’ during my visits to the gym last week. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the kind of high energy workout music most gym rats would choose to get their heart rates pumping, the album is surprisingly uptempo and edgy, just enough so to keep my mind from wandering during a long run on the treadmill, and Rose’s delicate singing voice takes on new strength and self-assurance compared to what we heard on her 2012 debut album ‘Like I Used To’.

Most of the songs on ‘Work It Out’ explore love, either in its uncertain beginnings or its tumultuous endings, and both extremes are effectively expressed. Rose’s introspective lyrics are streamlined to make their most emotionally potent impact while her musical arrangements are expanded to suit the songs’ visceral nature, making use of groovy bass lines and complex, uptempo rhythms under prominent keyboard and guitar melodies.

Opening track ‘For You’ makes a strong initial statement, as Rose’s vocals grow from softly raspy over a stark guitar and percussion arrangement, through the gradual dynamic escalation in the bridge, to her final emphatic repeat of the chorus. ‘Our Eyes’ maintains the intensity with a quick dance tempo and synth keys under Rose’s smooth, almost jazzy vocal delivery. Current single ‘Like An Arrow’ starts out in a more expected acoustic fashion, but the synths and beats kick in again on the chorus to electrify one of the album’s most perfectly sung and perfectly singable melodies, “we took our chance and we flew, like an arrow, like an arrow”.

I’m not sure what might have inspired Rose to write a song called ‘Nebraska’, but of course I was intrigued by the reference to my own Midwestern home state. The darkly dramatic piano accompaniment to the lyrics “Nebraska calls my name / the harvest of my love / the greenness turns to grey” makes an aptly analogous description of the bleak late autumn landscape before evolving into the breadth of the chorus “the earth, it moves, it shouts, I’m alive.”

From that point forward, ‘Work It Out’ takes a slightly darker turn, starting with the anxious rhythms and sharp vocal shifts of ‘KOLN’ (which is, perhaps coincidentally, also the call sign of a television station in Lincoln, Nebraska). ‘Cover Up’ features an intense tribal rhythm which is, in combination with the heavy bass groove and Rose’s entrancing vocals, oddly hypnotic. ‘She’ll Move’ is similarly sensual and visceral, its emphasis on rhythm inspiring physical movement, while the contrasting layered vocal lines create a heady psychedelic effect.

Rose further displays her newly developed alt-pop sensibilities in the dramatic title track ‘Work It Out’, whose unresolved harmonic suspensions mirror the tense lyrical questioning in the song’s verses. Conversely, acoustic ballad ‘Into the Wild’ nods back to Rose’s folk-pop past, the light guitar arrangement allowing the pure unadorned beauty of Rose’s singing voice a brief moment to shine.

The album’s upbeat closer ‘Till the End’ features a groovy chorus with a heavy dance beat behind Rose’s light-as-air vocals. To celebrate the album’s release, Rose has unveiled an interactive behind-the-scenes video for the final track, allowing her viewers to choose among six scenes of Rose playing and singing the individual instrumental parts as she did on the studio recording.

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In speaking of ‘Work It Out’, Rose has said, “This record, it’s hopefully going to sort a few things out. Who I am. What I do. It’s direct. I love it.” She has clearly taken a bold step away from the safe folk-pop formula of ‘Like I Used To’, deliberately distilling her sound to intensify its emotional drama and musical momentum. Concise and confident, ‘Work It Out’ is sure to find its way onto a more than a few workout playlists, and probably onto a fair number of Best of 2015 lists by year’s end.

9/10

Lucy Rose’s second album ‘Work It Out’ is out now on Columbia Records. After making the rounds on the summer festival circuit, Rose will tour the UK and Ireland this autumn; you can find the details of those headline dates here.  For all previous TGTF coverage of Lucy Rose, click here.

 
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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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