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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th March 2015 at 12:00 pm
It was November 2013 when Only Real flew smack dab onto TGTF’s radar. But South Londoner Niall Galvin gave the big dance in Austin a pass last year. Delaying his appearance at the world’s biggest music festival by one year was the right choice: he showcased at a well attended evening at Latitude 30, the home of the British Music Embassy for the week, sponsored by Blackjack London and the Association of Independent Music in the UK (AIM), where punters totally fell in love with his sunny, slacker style of music right at home on a lazy Friday night fuelled by too much booze and the inevitable exhaustion that comes with the week that is SXSW Music. His appearances in Austin were timed perfectly to show off tunes from his debut album for Virgin / EMI, ‘Jerk on the End of the Line’.
For the debut, Galvin halved his time between Atlanta and London, working with producer Ben Allen (behind the most recent Kaiser Chiefs album ‘Education, Education, Education and War’) and Speedy Wunderground label boss Dan Carey in Streatham, South London, to create an enjoyable listen and certainly an album that come true summer will be spun on open-top convertible CD decks. Fans familiar with his past releases -2013 EP ‘Days in the City’, monster hit ‘Cadillac Girl’, singles ‘Backseat Kissers’ and ‘Blood Carpet’, more recent single ‘Pass the Pain’ – will recognise and appreciate his past bangers, but there are also some excellent new entries on the LP as well.
After listening to ‘Jerk…’ closely, something fascinating to me came out about Galvin’s music: despite that sunny, beachy exterior and the psych-ey, slightly out of tune guitars driving the pop melodies forward, there is lyrical depth available to the listener, if one so chooses to seek it out. He also manages the feat of effortlessly blending the happy-go-lucky style of surf rock with what usually comes across far less bright, lyrics delivered in a hip hop style. Yet the overall effect is as pop and feels as wholesome as sucking on an iced cherry lolly in the middle of Latitude.
A single in early 2015, ‘Yesterdays’ is pure pop goodness for sure, but its chorus- “it’s in the way we were made, yesterdays” – exhibits a wistfulness, even if abstract, in the way things are. He’s not wanting them to change, he observes them as “it is what it is” and can be positive about it. I view this as Galvin’s quirky attempt to express “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Considering how down people are about life, the government, economy, etc., we could all use an injection of positivity, and what a friendly nudge in the right direction this is. With its strident guitar notes and electro beats and shuffles, another album standout ‘Daisychained’ takes a look back at happier times and our desire to hold onto those moments.
While Galvin is clearly someone who doesn’t take life too seriously, jumping into a bathtub full of Froot Loops for our benefit in last year’s ‘Pass the Pain’ promo, he shows his emotional side in some songs here, wearing his heart on his sleeve when it comes to failed relationships. He asks forlornly, “do you think of me at all? / ‘Cause it feels like we were already strong” in recently unveiled ‘Can’t Get Happy’. This is quickly followed up on the album with ‘Blood Carpet’, in which Galvin insists, in a Beach Boys-esque harmony, “oooh, I can’t forget you…at all.” The oddly mesmerising, repeated minor key guitar line in ‘Break It Off’ appropriately conveys the sorrow of being broadsided by the end of a relationship (“I thought that it would be me / to break it off / look at me now”) and the subsequent attempts to shake it off (“enough about love, it’s back to the lust”). Yes, even laid-back skaters can get their hearts broken. Sadface. Even with the heartstrings being tugged, Galvin does a good job of it, pulling off a catchy beat and unforgettable melodies.
Only two songs on the album deviate from the formula. ‘Petals’ sees Galvin go into a darker, moodier direction, channeling Dre, Snoop and the ’90s hip hop he explained in my interview with him in Austin that he loves. Closing track ‘When This Begins’ also exhibits dramatic shade, as Galvin sings, “I don’t want to wait no more / I never used to / guess I’m all grown up”. There comes a point in time that all young people realise they must accept responsibilities that come with being an adult. I don’t think he will completely leave the fun Only Real persona behind because having met him, I know that’s him. He’s a happy guy and his business is helping others escape into his sunny world. But if my chat with him in Austin is anything to go by, he’s choosing to and ready to take on even bigger things in the very near future. I’m looking forward to see what he does next.
‘Jerk at the End of the Line’, Only Real’s debut album for Virgin / EMI, is out today.
Among the ever-growing milieu of soulful singer/songwriters, Hertfordshire’s James Bay seems poised to become the next big thing. In more ways than one, he is following in the very successful footsteps of an immediate predecessor, Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. Bay toured in America as Hozier’s support act last year (look back at our live review here), and just last week in Austin, Texas at SXSW 2015, he played the very same Communion Music showcase where Hozier made a name for himself in America at SXSW 2014. (Keep an eye on TGTF for upcoming coverage of last week’s Communion showcase, including Bay’s live performance.)
Hot on the heels of his SXSW 2015 appearances, Bay has just released his debut LP ‘Chaos and the Calm’, which continues with the blues rock, gospel-tinged song formula that first drew attention to his music. Comparison to Hozier’s debut album is probably inevitable, given the convergent career paths and superficial stylistic similarities between the two. While Bay’s sound is less boldly experimental than Hozier’s, on his LP Bay has done one notable thing that Hozier didn’t quite manage on his debut: specifically, Bay has found the sweet spot between variety and predictability. Where Hozier’s album was an intricate exploration of blues, gospel, folk and pop, Bay’s record is almost stunningly simple, drawing its power from his soulful vocal delivery and subtly evocative guitar lines. Bay’s lyrics on ‘Chaos and the Calm’ are likewise consistent, focusing on the heartache of love in transition, at the crossroads of breaking apart.
‘Craving’ is an immediately anthemic track with a driving rhythm and a passionately sung chorus that are particularly well-suited for opening live shows, which Bay has done on both of the occasions I’ve seen him. Hit single ‘Hold Back the River’, typically the final song on Bay’s live set list, begins with the stark yearning of a solo guitar, then gradually builds intensity by adding gospel harmonies behind Bay’s emotionally charged chorus and increasingly husky vocal timbre. The frenetic energy of harder-edged tracks ‘Best Fake Smile’ and ‘Collide’ provides propulsive momentum among moments of intense emotionality.
The album’s quieter moments are equally effective, including the achingly sensual slow-burner ‘Move Together’ and the gentle pleading of ‘Scars’. Bay closes the album with the more pensive ‘Incomplete’, which is true to its title in that it leaves behind a sense of longing for resolution. Rather than offering closure, however, Bay seems to be deliberately leaving himself open to further possibilities.
Bay’s songs might not be groundbreaking, but they are authentically and unapologetically emotional, and that is a large part of their appeal. Combined with Bay’s unique voice and the production assistance of Nashville’s Jacquire King, that quality has resulted in a strong album of engaging and instantly relatable tracks, which is becoming something of a rare find. In the midst of a singer-songwriter genre that is growing ever less focused and more loosely defined, ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is, despite its title, refreshingly sincere and straightforward.
James Bay’s debut album ‘Chaos and the Calm’ is out now on Virgin / EMI. Bay is set to embark on a run of live dates in the UK next month; find all the dates here.
Laura Welsh is a fine example of an artist’s sheer persistence and hard work paying off. The Staffordshire-born singer/songwriter began her music career as the front woman of indie rock group Laura and the Tears. Following the band’s split, Welsh embarked on a solo career under the Hey Laura alias, before finally settling on her birth name for the release of her content.
It’s been quite the journey for the 28-year-old, which has already seen her perform as a support act for the likes of Ellie Goulding and London Grammar. Not to mention the fact she supplied the vocals for Gorgon City’s summer anthem ‘Here For You’, providing her with the major exposure she needed to grab her big break. Welsh reflects upon this journey within her debut album ‘Soft Control’: the ideal pedestal for Laura Welsh to display her array of talents as a singer, songwriter and producer, to which she rises to the challenge with an almost perfection.
As early on as the album opener and title track ‘Soft Control’, it’s clear to see that there’s something incredibly special about Laura Welsh. Throughout the album, which flickers between euphoric pop anthems (such as ‘Break the Fall’) and heartfelt ballads (such as ‘Still Life‘), Welsh’s emotive, raw-sounding vocals perfectly complement the untainted honesty and emotion buried within her lyrics, combined with commanding choruses that will be imprinted on your mind.
Intertwining the tracks is the underlying idea of dealing with emotional struggles, a theme which forms the basis of ‘Hardest Part’, the captivating collaboration between Laura Welsh and ‘All of Me’ singer John Legend. Whereas there was a danger of the amalgamation of two dominant voices clashing, the two harmonise beautifully to form a truly heartfelt track. ‘Soft Control’ also features Welsh’s previous singles, including the piano-pop sound of ‘Unravel’, the sensual ‘Cold Front’ and ‘Ghosts’, a powerful song with a menacing backdrop (reviewed by me here on TGTF in January).
Laura Welsh’s ‘Soft Control’ is the result of years of tough grind, and it has undoubtedly paid off. The album uncovers the singer/songwriter’s vast array of talents, forming a unique blend of a number of contemporary artists: there’s a tablespoon of Jessie Ware, a couple of grams of Florence Welch and (dare I say) a pinch of Adele. ‘Soft Control’ is likely to give Laura Welsh the breakthrough she deserves, as she carves her niche in an overcrowded horde of up-and-coming talent.
Laura Welsh’s debut album ‘Soft Control’ is released today on Outsiders/Polydor. She appears next week in Austin, Texas, at SXSW 2015.
Blackpool has yet to be labelled with a reputation for cultivating firecracker, grunge rock. With their mini-album ‘Petals’ however, the town’s native rock ‘n’ roll trio Darlia could be in a position to complete that transformation.
That transformation will have to come after you piece your way through their previous singles, mind. Darlia’s attempt at a so-called ‘mini-album’ sees them strike at your ears with what is essentially, an extended EP: a half way house between their ballsy breakthrough singles and a debut full length, which is anticipated for release at the end of 2015.
‘Stars Are Aligned’ has been a defining track in their steady rise, with a fug of heavy, thrashing riffs that kicks open the eight-track collection, as 20-year old frontman Nathan Day’s adds woozy Brit-drawl with the lyrics, “Let’s not make peace again, I’m tired of hearing amends”. Darlia are committed to casting a sound far bigger than their three-piece, pulling it off with catchy appeal and memorable choruses, both here and on ‘Never Been to Ohio’. The band’s notoriety first came with their breakout track ‘Queen of Hearts’, which has been supercharged with a new recording for ‘Petals’. The swift 2 minutes and 47 seconds are now even more intense, as they navigate dramatic and charging shifts in momentum, from steady indie rock verses that are laced with a volley of riffs, before surging into euphoric choruses.
‘Candyman’ is where the band really hit the sweet spot of their anthemic indie rock and live up to the expectations as one of the UK’s most promising new bands, however. They remain grungy and fierce, rushing with overpowering choruses, but the driving bass, lofty drums and bolshy vocals (“choose which doomsday suits you most, while I set the scene…”) keep them sounding more controlled and mature as they ebb into the grunge-pop of ‘Dear Diary’. On ‘Say Your Prayers’, Darlia come as close to a ballad as they may ever come, and it’s a cracking effort. Slow burning, at this tempo they accomplish their most nostalgic moments, including with their acoustic closing cuts of ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Candyman’.
Just as they needed to prove their worth as more than flat-out rock and rollers, Day and his bandmates have proven themselves to be songwriters who are equally adept at channelling a more passive and composed sound. Reverbing riffs are still their backbone, but Darlia have finally highlighted that there’s far more to them than raucous energy alone. Now it’s just a question of which direction they’ll take their album in – they can only coast along on their standout singles for so long.
‘Petals’ is out now on B-Unique Records. You can stream it in full below. Tickets to their just announced April/May UK headline tour are on sale now.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 4th March 2015 at 12:00 pm
Last year when lead singer of the Coronas Danny O’Reilly was explaining to RTE 2fm presenter Rick O’Shea how they never thought they would make it out of Ireland, I realised I had never really considered how bands outside America or the UK might feel like they’ve not reached their full potential or even somehow failed if they never are able to bring their music outside of their country’s borders. Having sold out countless venues at home and having already released three studio albums on their own label 3ú Records at home in Ireland, you can now certainly say the Coronas have made it out: last summer they inked a deal with UK heavyweight Island Records and if a physical gesture of their commitment was needed, the band also pulled up roots, now calling London home. I can’t help but think the name of their first album for Island, ‘The Long Way’, is a wry smile and nod to the years of graft and the lengthy journey they needed to take to get them where they are today.
While the album’s songs were written well before their signing to Island, some credit must be given to producer Eliot James, who also worked on Two Door Cinema Club‘s monster debut ‘Tourist History’ and Kaiser Chiefs‘ ‘Off With Their Heads’. Further, as you would rightly expect with the backing of a major label, the Coronas sound is much bigger and grander this time around than their last album, 2011’s ‘Closer to You’. The new LP begins confidently with heavy hitter ‘All the Others’, which peaked at #3 on the Irish Singles Chart when it was released there last May, the band’s highest charting single to date. It’s followed by the brash single ‘Just Like That'; its emotional lines “I’m not saying I want you back unless you say it first / ’cause I’ve said things just like that only to end up getting hurt” are so incredibly catchy, the desperate sadness of the words is masked. Almost. You also can’t help but chuckle at the hoovers in love in its accompanying promo; who knew the secret lives of our cleaning machines were so complicated?
‘The Long Way’ is not a complete downer. However, one can’t really escape the feeling that some of the more upbeat numbers are a bit forced. ‘How This Goes’ sounds like a cardio workout at a music festival near you this summer, played at rapid speed and replete with echoing whoa-ohs. ‘Get Loose’ recalls the happy-go-lucky style of Jason Mraz, its bouncy rhythm certain to put a smile on your face, if not change your world. Is this what happens to a band after they sign their life away to a major? I try not to think about Maroon 5’s transformation after the ‘Harder to Breathe’ era.
Somewhat ironically, it’s the tracks that see the Coronas returning home, to the feeling they created on their first three homespun albums that feel the most genuine, as if you’re looking right into their hearts. ‘What a Love’ smartly utilises understated instrumentation to highlight O’Reilly’s warm vocals, which lift and open up in the bridge, as he encourages all to “choose the kind [of love] that gets you safe / someone to share the blame, but share the great…yeah it should inspire you”. ‘At the Same Time’ is my vote for clear standout, chronicling a painful breakup where “we both walked out from the same fight / but I never thought we’d give up at the same time”. While there is comfort to be found in the pop melody, with joyful piano and synths moving the song forward as if in parallel to be sympathetic to the protagonist’s need to move forward with his life, there’s no denying the underlying hurt (most likely the breakup of O’Reilly’s relationship with Irish tv presenter Laura Whitmore).
When Kodaline first appeared on the scene in 2012, a lot of critics were saying they’d be the Irish Coldplay, but Kodaline’s mates the Coronas could very well be next in line to the piano stadium rock/pop throne. Another heartwrenching standout ‘If I Gave to Someone Else’ is a worthy competitor to ‘All I Want’ as O’Reilly asks miserably, “if I gave myself to someone else / would it hurt just a little less?” as Dave McPhillips’ bright guitar line throughout lightens the tune up considerably. With its melancholic moments, ‘The Long Way’ can be a tough listen, but the reward is in hearing the beginning stages of a band well on their way to becoming international stars.
‘The Long Way Home’ is out next Monday, the 9th of March, on Island Records. Catch the Coronas on their 2-week UK tour that begins on the 20th of March in Leeds.
‘Shedding Skin’ is the title of a new LP released by Ghostpoet, the London-based vocalist and electro producer whose debut album ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ was nominated for the 2011 Mercury Prize. His second studio attempt, 2013’s ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’, seemed to fall victim to the all-but-inevitable sophomore slump, but Ghostpoet has regained some lost momentum with this third album, perhaps as a result of shedding the heavy expectations set forth early in his career.
Throughout ‘Shedding Skin’, Ghostpoet (aka Obaro Ejimiwe) matches the smooth groove of the bass with his languid baritone, setting a mood that manages to be at once blissfully chill and delightfully sensual. The slightly warmer feel in comparison to the earlier albums is undoubtedly down to the instrumental arrangements in the recording, which for the first time in Ghostpoet’s studio repertoire include live musicians from his touring band (Joe Newman on guitar, John Calvert on bass and John Blease on drums). The self-produced album also features cameo vocal appearances from Nadine Shah, Etta Bond, Melanie De Biasio, Lucy Rose and Paul Smith of Maximo Park.
‘Shedding Skin’ is perhaps less brash than ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ and less darkly morose than ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’, but it is more emotionally mature, both in its subject matter and its musical expression. One of the more extended tracks on the album ‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ contains several lyrical phrases that seem to get to the heart of what the album is all about, particularly the lines “my heart wants to be free / back flip and somersault / be careless of me / but life gets in the way / my past won’t let go of me / I’m frightened away”.
Opening track ‘Off Beat Dreams’ features Ghostpoet’s trippy beat poetry vocal delivery over stacked piano chords and a softly wailing guitar riff that develops into a fully-realised solo by the end of the track. Title track ‘Shedding Skin’ is more ominously bass-oriented, the foundational groove providing depth under the duet vocals in the chorus “you think you know me / you never know me / simmer down”.
In the grittier musical context of ‘That Ring Down the Drain Kind of Feeling’, the raspy female vocal intones the phrase “I’m back where I started / I’m back where I started again / left broken-hearted / but maybe my heart’s on the mend / then again…”, which leads into the quicker tempo and sharper-tongued lyrics of the next track ‘Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me’. Ghostpoet ratchets up the raw sensuality near the end of the album in the alliterative ‘The Pleasure in Pleather’.
The soaring instrumental arrangement behind final track ‘Nothing in the Way’ leaves the listener with a serene sense of warmth and optimism, which perhaps best captures the underlying tone of ‘Shedding Skin’. Even in the album’s faster paced and more strident moments, the songs have an air of calm self-assurance that comes from experience, both personal and professional. Having shed the skin of early expectation, Ghostpoet has here evolved toward the full potential of his songwriting talent.
Ghostpoet‘s third LP ‘Shedding Skin’ is out now on PIAS. He will support the album release with an April tour of the UK and Ireland; find all those live dates here.
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