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Album Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years

 
By on Wednesday, 28th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Cymbals Eat Guitars Pretty Years album coverWith rapturous and resounding aplomb, New York band Cymbals Eat Guitars have returned with ‘Pretty Years’, an album filled with tracks filled to the brim with rhapsody. From the first track ‘Finally’, no prisoners are taken in their quest for complete domination of mind and soul. Beginning with a guitar playing the song’s main chord sequence alone, the track all of a sudden bursts into life as the rest of the instrumentation joins in. A reverberant guitar line creates a vast space that is occupied by every instrument vying for your attention, it’s a perfect opening that gives the record immediate traction. This is quickly followed by ’Have a Heart’, a perfect encapsulation of youthful mistakes that are forgiven over time. Musically, it’s slightly more subdued than its predecessor, but its chorus makes a lasting impression: catchy, memorable and most of all, striking.

The sound of the instrumentation throughout the album is one that appears raw on the surface, almost clumsy. However, just below this, there’s a distinct cleverness as each layer comes together to create appealing melodies and hooks. ‘Wish’ features an overbearing saxophone that sounds crude but the song would be amiss without it, while ‘Close’ relies upon delicate use of synthesiser to build the darker soundscape which gives the track a dark dominance.

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On ‘Dancing Days’ is where Cymbals Eat Guitars show they can also slow things down and bring delicacy to what they do. A light, pattering percussive introduction leads into the verse that goes through the motions with no real fanfare, but once again, it’s the chorus that gives the song its true weight. Curving away from the melody and into a more euphoric setting, the lyrics oppose this euphoria and almost with finality: “Goodbye to the dancing days, goodbye to the friends who fell away, goodbye to the pretty years”. A song that is evidently about growing older and feeling your time here speed away, Cymbals Eat Guitars prove they have depth as well as the ability to craft catchy music.

Urgency is restored with ‘4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)’. Kicking straight in after the calm of the previous track finishes, it becomes clear that the album itself is influenced by leading man Joseph D’Agostino processing the idea of growing old and reflecting on past times. ‘Beam’ enters furious punk territory, a refreshing move for its position on the album, near the end, it renews the record’s vigour all the way up until the crescendo that breaks into screaming vocal chaos from D’Agostino.

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Once again not adhering to musical similarities, ‘Mallwalking’ is another slow, almost dreamy track. The song takes on another retrospective stance, seemingly referring to a dream D’Agostino had after the Columbine Massacre, doing so with perfect clarity. The slow percussive crawl that takes the song forward is broken as the guitar cuts through with a sharp and alert riff, making sure that this break in proceedings doesn’t cause CEG’s audience lose interest.

The most interesting aspect of the album is how each track has its own voice. They never sound like they’re from a similar vein. You find yourself nearing the end of the record and it doesn’t feel like it’s been an uninteresting slog, which too many albums sadly can. ‘WELL’, while not one of the strongest cuts, still has a draw that keeps you enthralled. At first it appears to refute the rest of the album’s appeal with its slow pacing, but suddenly it comes into its own during the bridge section toward the climax. With layers of soft piano lines and dreamy guitar riffs, it suddenly breaks down and collapses in on itself.

Album finales are where the previous hard-fought and built atmosphere can be lost. So the traction that pushes the listener to this point needs to capitalise on the moment and create a lasting impression. ‘Shrine’ opts to use a more subdued but nonetheless effective approach. The longest cut on the album, it doesn’t go for the immediacy of prior tracks but goes for a more progressive and building movement in the music. Never really reaching a climactic point, it falls away into a rapture of noise, nearly the opposite to the opener of the album. It does the job, leaving you feeling that you want more, so you listen once again. It’s a perfect move that ensures you have a complete experience and shows the power an album can have when it’s crafted to its full extent. A full on experience, ‘Pretty Years’ will help you get through the ageing process and the nostalgia that comes with it.

8/10

‘Pretty Years’, the fourth album from New York City’s Cymbals Eat Guitars, is out now on Sinderlyn Records. For past coverage of Cymbals Eat Guitars on TGTF, go here.

 

Album Review: Slaves – Take Control

 
By on Tuesday, 27th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Slaves Take Control album cover“What are you going to do about it?” That, my friends, is Isaac Holman’s rallying cry in Slaves’ latest single ‘Spit It Out’. On the surface, dripping with barely veiled contempt, it sounds like a lad’s standard response to a mate’s whinging about the problems in his life. In these trying times of a declining world economy and the lack of upward mobility available to youth, this kind of whinging is common and depending who you talk to, increasingly justified. The interesting part about this song is it’s not just railing on, being loud and obnoxious just to be loud and obnoxious. Holman continues, “maybe you should put yourself / in someone else’s shoes / try hard not to dwell upon / decisions that you choose”.

Hmm. So maybe Slaves have indulged in a bit of philosophical thought since their 2015 bracing debut ‘Are You Satisfied?’, eh? One wonders if being nominated for last year’s Mercury Prize impressed on the Tunbridge Wells duo the need to contemplate beyond unbridled menace. For their energetic, uncompromising manner onstage, the pair – Holman on lead vocals and drums and Laurie Vincent and guitars – have become firm favourites on the live scene. Their always raucous gigs and festival appearances have garnered impassioned overtures from fans and casual observers alike. A common complaint about ‘Are You Satisfied?’ was that it lacked the energy of their live shows. So how does ‘Take Control’, their new long player out Friday, compare? If you’re judging this album by sheer loudness, it should receive an A+ and then some.

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In the recording of ‘Take Control’, they enlisted the help of a punk and hip-hop A-lister and founding member of the Beastie Boys Mike D, who upon hearing ‘Are You Satisfied?’, was excited to work with an act with an ethos all too familiar to him. “I feel right now the world needs an album like this. Something that is more raw, more alive and less polished. I was impressed with the band’s strong point of view. They actually speak their minds about social topics.” Mike D features prominently on ‘Consume or Be Consumed’, a growly number punctuated by shouts – including what sounds like the indignant screams of a man getting his legs amputated, eep! – and rapid-fire, melodic verse. At the most basic level, this song can be interpreted as a reflection of our dog-eat-dog world. These are tough times, but Slaves’ message is best summed by Mike D’s own line of “now get your shit together, brother”.

This is a pair of blokes who are not satisfied with merely laying waste to your ears. You might not like their music. But you have to give them credit for trying to inspire their young fans to feel something. To do something positive. Taking a less confrontational angle, using a new wave robotic drumbeat to great effect, Slaves go off script on ‘Steer Clear’. Holman trades verses with Baxter Dury on the tune with the cautionary phrase, “please don’t kill yourself / behind that steering wheel / I don’t really know who I am / but I need to keep it real”. On the throat and axe-shredding ‘Same Again’, Holman gives it his all in an almost maniacal manner, struggling with the mundaneness of everyday life that appears to be stifling him. But in Slaves’ usual way of sticking it to the man with their thundering sound, he insists with angrily yelled words “I’ll get the next one!” This is a man who won’t be licked as long as he’s got blood pumping through his veins. It closes out the album on an inspiring note. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.

Still, Slaves are never in danger of taking themselves too seriously, and that’s fine by this editor. Some days, you just need an album you can blow off some steam to and have a laugh with after a trying day. ‘Angelica’, one of the songs recorded on Beastie Boys’ vintage equipment, has the hilariously memorable rhyming couplet, “Angelica, she’s a bloodsucker!” Naturally, this song with a dirty guitar groove is about a village bicycle-riding maneater. The offshore account holding, out of touch millionaire (“he’s been dying since the day he was born / boxes of watches that have never been worn“) are mocked in ‘Rich Man’.

Except for a few rare moments, like a freight locomotive, ‘Take Control’ is loud and pretty much never lets up. This is not the kind of album you should be listening to if you have anger management issues. It’s too bad that summer festival season is another 8 months, because this is exactly the kind of music to incite a mosh pit. Please enjoy responsibly.

7.5/10

‘Take Control’, the sophomore album from Kent punk duo Slaves, will be out this Friday, the 30th of September on Virgin EMI.

 

Album Review: Warpaint – Heads Up

 
By on Thursday, 22nd September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Warpaint Heads Up album coverHaving just passed their 12th year anniversary as a band, with two previously released studio albums including their critically acclaimed self-titled second album from 2014, these girls need no introduction. However, with their third album out in less than 24 hours, I suppose it won’t hurt to shout out… Fully female L.A. based dream pop four-piece Warpaint are set to release their eagerly awaited third studio album ‘Heads Up’, due out tomorrow on Rough Trade Records. In announcing the album, the girls released an accompanying single, ironically titled ‘New Song’ back in August (read my review here).

After an interview in NME surfaced in March 2015 stating that Warpaint didn’t want to do another album, fans thought this day would never come, especially as the statement was backed up by the band taking somewhat of a hiatus to work on their own solo projects throughout the whole of 2015. During which time, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg released a solo album titled ‘Right On’, reviewed by Carrie back here. After regrouping in early 2016, not just with each other but also with former producer Jacob Bercovici (who produced their 2009 debut EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’), the band wasted no time. By May of this year, the record was done and what an album it truly is.

‘Heads Up’ explores a mature side of Warpaint, and in ways previous efforts lacked. Rather than providing a sonic overload within each song, the quartet managed to simplify their approach to song writing, which gives a lot more time and space to absorb the sweet vibes their providing . This approach is apparent when listening to the album opener ‘White Out’. If you listened to the bass, guitar and drums in isolation, each hint at totally separate directions to the next, with very subtle connections to each other within note choices and rhythmic patterns. But when taken as a unit, they work perfectly together.

The guitar is the constant in this case, taking somewhat of a backseat role following its introduction. As the bass and drums dance around it with rather busy yet poppy patterns, Kokal’s vocals sprinkle the track with an equally upbeat topline produced by her imperfectly sensual vocal tone. The bass specifically gives the impression that it’s locking with the vocal rhythm more so than the drum pattern, which, although is quite rare in pop, it pays off and helps strengthen the top line. The drums within ‘White Out’ have a higher level of complexity, ironic given that for a lot of beginning writing sessions for the album Stella Mozgawa wrote her parts on sample pads and drum machines, due to an injury that left her unable to physically play. With this in mind we must applaud her, every pattern is played for a reason. The ghost notes aren’t for flair, they add that extra burst of movement to the track, whilst the off beat, dynamic contrasts on the hi-hats keep the listener hooked from start to finish.

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‘By Your Side’ showcases what we know and love about Warpaint’s blended voices, an unconventional style of harmony in today’s pop music. The girls sing about what sounds like being in a relationship with a cheater, but with a darker, slightly sinister twist. The lack of repetition within the music and a topline that’s shared between two or more members causes the focus of the song to wander, a purposely unclear melody used to great effect. The track oozes a creepy, ‘you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you’ side Warpaint unseen until now.

Further down the album, tracks such as ‘So Good’ and title track ‘Heads Up’ could easily be considered modern day alt-pop gems. The diatonic harmony within provides an easy to grasp understanding of the music that, combined with the fun, poppy grooves, gives both of these numbers commercial appeal. The focus towards electronic elements and the vocals sway these tracks, and the record for that matter, away from being so heavily guitar orientated, the way ‘The Fool’ and ‘Warpaint’ were. Lindberg put it best, by describing the new material as “an evolution of our band. It sounds like a mature version of Warpaint”. The ‘get in, get to the point and get to the next track’ approach of ‘Heads Up’ as an album is a great mark of their newfound professionalism.

Underestimating how far these four will go to provoke various emotions within a record would be a mistake. ‘Dre’, aside from being somewhat of an ode to influential American hip-hop producer Dr. Dre, is one that physically and sonically takes you by surprise eight songs into the album. Following the deeply emotive ‘Don’t Let Go’, ‘Dre’ has a huge, industrial sounding drum part that paves the way for an eerily beautiful, long-held chord progression that never seems to rest. With the pads acting as the foundations for the harmony, it leaves the window completely open for all remaining elements to create a sonic picture of what it would be like if Dr. Dre collaborated with Warpaint.

Easily Warpaint’s most diverse effort to date, ‘Heads Up’ shows these ladies are equally at home with abstract, avant garde sounds (‘By Your Side’) and poppish new wave (‘So Good’). The new rule of no overthinking works fully in their favour, which in turn gives us a clearer view into the true soul of Warpaint.

8/10

Heads up! ‘Heads Up’ is due out tomorrow, the 23rd of September, on Rough Trade Records. If you’re as excited about it as I am, you’ll already have it on pre-order. Warpaint are currently on tour in the U.S., which will be followed by with a short string of dates in UK and Europe. Find out whether they’re coming to you and get your tickets through this link. For more of TGTF’s coverage on Warpaint, go here.

 

Album Review: VANT – Karma Seeker EP

 
By on Thursday, 15th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

VANT EP coverVANT are currently one of the new class of bands drawing attention, particularly due to frontman Mattie Vant’s political voice he puts forward in his songwriting. Their previous singles, such as ‘The Answer’, which concerns the questionable UK/US relationship, have already shown his solid songwriting process that leads to tracks filed with raging choruses and affecting lyrics It’s with their debut EP ‘Karma Seeker’ that all of these key points join in perfect execution.

The EP opens with title track ‘Karma Seeker’. It’s about the idea of searching out the future and seeking the reward rather than living day to day, a notion that probably could serve the majority of the current generation well. Beginning with a simply strummed acoustic guitar that’s joined by the rest of the instrumentation and into a rather Blur-like swagger, as the verse runs through, it’s the chorus where the cause meets effect. Furiously pounded drums align with Vant’s roaring call of “karma seeker don’t sway, karma seeker pure bliss, if you search you’ll destroy what you miss”. A full-bodied track that doesn’t quite hit as hard as the previous singles ‘The Answer’ or ‘Fly-by Alien’, this tune still packs the power to set the scene for the rest of the EP.

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‘Welcome To The Wonderful World of Berners Lee’ tackles conspiracy theories and how easy they are to be consumed by their mystery and as excitement from regularf life. From the idea of lizard people being in control (“maybe she’s a lizard, maybe she’s a lizard, who knows?”), to the major events of the 1960s as government conspiracies (“the man on the moon shot JFK”), each point is repeated incessantly, with the ending of “my futile mind has just been blown”. The use of repetition represents the seemingly never-ending stream of different theories and how even as one point is debunked, it will come back in a stronger form., As a fairly straightforward track that does little to build upon the traction gained from ‘Karma Seeker’, musically, it doesn’t hold as much weight as its predecessor.

American culture is a big influence on Mattie Vant’s songwriting, with ‘Jesus Was a Conman’ referring to the country’s infamous 2nd amendment that gives its people the right to bear arms. Pushing further forward from ‘Welcome…’, ‘Jesus…’ has a much stronger stance that supports his powerful position against the law. The chorus sums up the idea within the song completely – “let’s get naked, fire 47s, get naked, fire 47s, get naked, fire 47s, fire 47s on heroin”, with a rousing and soaring musical accompaniment. You could quite easily refer to each verse within the track and the points made toward changing the second amendment (that’s why it’s called an amendment). In previous interviews, Vant has made it clear that he wishes to use the band as a vehicle to speak about important issues to the generation he’s a part of. With tracks such as ‘Jesus…’, he’s doing a mighty fine job.

Finale ‘Birth Certificate’ tackles immigration, in particular the loss of Vant’s girlfriend, who was deported back to Australia. You can hear the passion in his voice as he sings his deeply personal lyrics. Most affecting is the second verse, “patriotism is a fucking lie, I’ll be branded British until the day I die, I got this label through invasion, so maybe one day we’ll be called Korean”, though none of this holds its true weight without the chorus “it only takes a second to burn your birth certificate, if the world’s ours, then why she gotta go home”. Another vicious track that does its damnedest to support the words that so easily carry his point across, it’s a perfectly apt closer, especially considering the recent Brexit events in his home country.

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‘Karma Seeker EP’ is a must listen (and buy) for everybody. It features a political voice not heard for many years and finally gives the current generation a positive influence. When VANT finally release their debut LP, they have the chance to influence a generation who could, in turn, influence the future. There’s a reason VANT are such a widely watched band: they have the songs, they have the power. It’s just a matter of time until it all comes together into a movement.

9/10

VANT’s debut EP ‘Karma Seeker’ is out now on Parlophone Records. To read previous coverage of VANT on TGTF, including about their appearance at Reading 2016 last month, click here.

 

Album Review: SAFIA – Internal

 
By on Tuesday, 13th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

SAFIA Internal album coverWhat lesson did we learn from the tale of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. While on paper this doesn’t seem like a winning strategy in the music business, we may have a prime example of success in exactly this way, via an album released just last week. Australian electronic trio SAFIA were one of my top picks from the Aussie BBQ at SXSW 2015. Despite not having released a debut LP, they’ve been fixtures of the Aussie live circuit for the last 7 years, gaining fans and admirers on the booking side of things over time.

The wait for their first big release is over, and if the strength of this 12-track collection is anything to go by, they’re about to become a household name way beyond Oz. The band comprises Ben Woolner (lead vocals), Henry Sayers (guitars and synth) and Michael Bell (drums). All gifted producers on their own, it’s no wonder that they self-produced this album, and there’s no indication that this arguably biased approach has hindered their creative process in any way. In fact, one might argue the greatest take home message of ‘Internal’ is the sheer talent on display on this record, making one wonder why we haven’t heard of this band outside of Australia before. Atmospheric instrumental ‘Zion’ begins the album as if traversing the wild west of electronic music. A mysterious land that seems barren, even dangerous, soon reveals itself, giving way to beguiling beats, then to futuristic, more chill sounds.

The r&b swagger, with its vise-like grip on pop, is evident on ‘Internal’, working in the trio’s favour rather than against it. The bouncy rhythm of ‘My Love is Gone’ makes it a leading candidate in the dance floor filler stakes. A similar celebratory feel is an integral part of ‘Together, Locked Safely’, as Woolner puts his vocals through its melodic paces. Woolner’s soulful, melancholic “I don’t want to be lonely” vocals on ‘Fake It Til the Sunrise’ lead into a tropical beat, then the breakdown where an irrepressible beat underpins the buzzing synths. The heart pumping ‘Close to You’ is another revelation, though the use of autotune seems unnecessary, while ‘Over You’ slinks along appealingly. Hmm, sensing a theme here?

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However, it’s the more out-there, surprise tracks that interest me far more than those I already know can (and will) show up on top 40 in due course. ‘Embracing Me’ switches back and forth between pensive, slower moments allowing Woolner’s voice to shine and more frenetic, beat- and synth-driven ones. The lyrics are relatively simple and repetitive; Woolner is making the case to a woman who has told him to leave her alone “you don’t know, all the things that could set you free / like embracing me”. It might be awkward phrasing, yes, but I find it a refreshingly innocent way to court a girl. And seriously, what intelligent woman would say no to a song like this? On the other side of the spectrum, ‘Make Them Wheels Roll’ is a murky hip-hop-esque number, Woolner’s falsetto reminiscent of Dougy Mandagi’s in early Temper Trap material. A slightly gentler approach is taken, surprisingly led along with guitar, in the angsty, dark ‘Go to Waste’.

The album ends with ‘External’, a pep talk to Woolner himself that “there’s no convoluted metaphors for this hollowed space” where he no longer loves who he once did. Some heavy stuff. In its breakdown, the vocals and synths uplift, bringing ‘Internal’ to a positive conclusion and satisfyingly, as if burdens have been shed. There must be a back story to the naming of the album and this song, which will be perfect when we get around to interviewing them. Mixing r&b and electronic into one easily accessible package, it’s a no-brainer that SAFIA are about to be welcomed with open arms by pop fans around the world through ‘Internal’. If I were a betting woman, I’d put all my money on them.

8.5/10

‘Internal’, the amazing debut album from Canberra, Australia’s SAFIA, is out now on Virgin EMI (the UK) and Island Records (North America). For past coverage on SAFIA on TGTF, including my review of their appearance at the Aussie BBQ during SXSW 2015 in Austin last year, go here.

 

Album Review: Jamie T – Trick

 
By on Monday, 12th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Jamie T Trick album coverThe social savant that is Jamie T has returned with what could possibly be his best work yet. ‘Trick’ is a walkthrough all that makes British music great. From the electronically pounding opener of ‘Tinfoil Boy’ to the closer ‘Self Esteem’, which recalls the building grandiosity found with bands such as The Last Shadow Puppets, this is an artist who can do it all with such ease. Being such a musical chameleon, switching from punk-laden tracks to those with an obvious hip-hop influence is no trouble at all for Jamie T. ‘Drone Strike’ has a fast-paced rhythm with which he easily keeps the pace. It’s when the chorus hits that the actual power of the song becomes apparent. A thunderous strike of “watch out for the drones, drones, drones” builds the unforgiving nature of the track.

As the album progresses through, one of the more prominent influences clear on the album are The Clash. This is apparent once you hit ‘Tescoland’. Even the title is reminiscent of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ from the untouchable ‘London Calling’. The latter concerns Mick Jones’ formative years and his feeling of being lost at home, whereas Jamie T utilises this metaphor as a reference to his home of England and how he runs away to America to escape heartbreak but can never escape ‘Tescoland’ if you live in Britain.

Purposefully or not, this comparison shows Jamie T’s penchant for influence and bringing it into the modern world. Later track ‘Robin Hood’ also bears resemblance to ‘Hateful’ from ‘London Calling’. As suggested by the song’s namesake, ‘Robin Hood’ refers to a lifestyle choice made by the song’s protagonist to fight for those less fortunate, an ethos gallantly represented by the entirety of The Clash’s discography, not to mention the outro that features Jamie T enthusiastically screaming ‘everybody loves a bank robber” repeatedly (‘Bankrobber’ was a Clash track that featured only on the band’s 1980 compilation EP ‘Super Black Market Clash’.)

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Both previously released singles, ‘Tinfoil Boy’ and ‘Power Over Men’, are brilliant excerpts to introduce the makeup of the album. ‘Tinfoil Boy’, as mentioned previously, is an introduction to the album that leaves no doubts in your mind that ‘Trick’ will be anything but boring. From the sampled intro that Jamie T utilises so well through his back catalogue, to the pounding electronically charged chorus, it’s a trigger to this major new weapon in his arsenal It’s in ‘Power Over Men’ that the classic songwriting and straight instrumentation becomes apparent as a major strength in Jamie T’s arsenal: a straightforward beat, glittering guitar sections and lyrics that strike. The focus here is upon a female protagonist’s control over men through her natural instincts, much like a call girl.

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It’s through lyrical content such as this where Jamie T shines. His entire back catalogue is rife with tales and stories of the darker side of life. Much like Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines, it’s done with projected sincerity, almost as if the stories are directly from his own life. ‘Joan of Arc’ carries this through, with a protagonist who is no doubt a character from his personal experience. It’s fully reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, both in the jumpy hook and lyrical content that also concerns a female who comes to terms with her life through a retrospective narrative.

Each of the songs on ’Trick’ deserves its own essay, as the depths you can find in a Jamie T song is truly staggering. By far, the most personal sounding is ‘Sign of The Times’. You can hear the raw feeling that he sings of his personal experience starting in the industry in 2007, a year famed for being the midst of the landfill Indie era. With this time came a change in social attitudes and an eventual growth that saw the generation living it grow out of it, just as the genre that encapsulated it did. What Jamie T does here is portray his personal experience of living and surviving this time, wishing he could go back and change his own path. It become a song to truly evoke an extreme emotional response, with the guitar that leads it reminiscent of the sound you might find in a teenager’s bedroom. The guitar is only accompanied by bass, leaving a whole spectrum uncovered, pushing the emptiness found in the lyrics forward.

In its full form, ‘Trick’ just goes to prove that Jamie T is a gem amongst the British music crowd. Where his past and current contemporaries that were mentioned earlier in this review have developed into versions of themselves that are no longer recognisable compared to what they were in their more formative years, Jamie T somehow manages to continue exuding the charm and realness that he’s shown since day one.

9/10

Jamie T’s fourth album ‘Trick’ is out now on Virgin EMI. To read our past coverage on Jamie T on TGTF, go here.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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