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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 25th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
The North West has always had an understandably strong sense of pride when it comes to churning out quality rock bands. Hooton Tennis Club, while still relative newcomers in the early days of their career in the industry, are of particular pride: they were one of the first signings to local Edge Hill University’s not-for-profit record label The Label Recordings, which I expect to have an important nurturing hand in the cultivation of young new groups from the region for years to come.
The band from Chester then went on in autumn 2015 to get signed to Heavenly Recordings, currently the label home of such artists we’ve featured here on TGTF such as Doves’ frontman Jimi Goodwin, Stealing Sheep, Temples and The Wytches. Not bad for a group who in a previous incarnation were merely a Supergrass covers band. This Friday, the lo-fi band – their members known by the extremely short and snappy names Khal, Haz, J. Dean and Uncle Ry – will be releasing their debut album ‘Highest Point in Cliff Town’, recorded at Liverpool’s famed Parr Street Studios under the tutelage of childhood friend Bill Ryder-Jones.
Most folks’ first exposure to Hooton Tennis Club was their early single ‘Jasper’. Probably the best adjective to describe this song – and indeed, this album as a whole – is ‘easy’. Is their sound indicative of slacker laziness, or just a full-scale embracing of a slower way of life that we should contemplate further on? There were times when I was listening to this LP that I thought of The Beach Boys’ earlier, sunnier, more innocent pop leanings, especially recent 6 Music fixture ‘Kathleen Sat on the Arm of Her Favourite Chair’: “out on Market Hill, I get by with a couple of friends / and even if you’re lonely, maybe we could go for a walk in the park / or maybe go swimming? / I hope we don’t drown.” It was written in Ryder-Jones’ mum’s house, keeping on with that theme of innocence.
On the other side of the spectrum is upcoming single ‘P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E.’, also to be released on Friday. With its discordant, squealing guitars, it isn’t too hard to imagine the band with Ryder-Jones having a whale of a time recording it in the studio. (The animated promo video above also gives you the sense that this tune probably sounds better to stoners.) You get the same kind of feeling from LP opener ‘Up in the Air’, a lazy float down a garage pop song, punctuated with a “whoo!” at the end. Melodic guitars strum languidly by in ‘Something Much Quicker Than Anything Jennifer Could Imagine’ and ‘…And Then Camilla Drew Fourteen Dots on Her Knee’. Like text speak? Have a gander at the titles for ‘Always Coming Back 2 You’ and ‘Fall in Luv’ (groan).
This isn’t earth-shattering, genre-bending, experimental music. But if the popularity of Courtney Barnett, Mac DeMarco and Happyness is anything to go by, Hooton Tennis Club will do just fine.
‘Highest Point in Cliff Town’, Hooton Tennis Club’s debut album effort, will be released this Friday, the 28th of August, on Heavenly Recordings. You can listen to the band in session and chatting with Lauren Laverne last week on BBC 6 Music here; they’ll be on tour in the UK in October and November. For all things Hooton Tennis Club on TGTF, head this way.
With a revamped roster and production assistance from none other than the multi-talented Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange, formerly Lightspeed Champion), London alt-pop quartet Spector are set to release their highly-anticipated sophomore album ‘Moth Boys’. Slick and streamlined, the new album is noticeably more synth-centric than the band’s energetic 2012 debut LP ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’, and also much more ponderously deliberate in its overall ambience.
Frontman and lead vocalist Fred Macpherson channels the vocal style of Editors’ Tom Smith in this set of morose and melodramatic songs, taking advantage of his dark and ominous baritone timbre to convey the ostentatious misery in his lyrics through the course of the album. Though there are a fair few upbeat dance tempo tracks, even these tend to drag a bit, weighed down by Macpherson’s lyrical bitterness but also by the narrow, self-absorbed musical focus, which comes across as a very conscious effort by the band to take themselves more seriously.
The album opens with a strong sequence of tracks, starting with early single ‘All the Sad Young Men’, whose angular instrumental lines and pulsating rhythm underscore the rather bratty recurrent declaration “I don’t want to make love / I don’t want to make plans / I don’t want anyone to want to hold my hand”. Current single ‘Stay High’, which we featured recently in this live video, is similarly uptempo with a sharp guitar lick behind the double-tracked vocals in the chorus “stay high / you know tomorrow is a lie / and maybe so you and I” and is immediately followed by the shimmering disco hall effect of ‘Believe’.
The pretentious lyrical theme of emotional detachment begins to wear thin by the time fourth track ‘Don’t Make Me Try’ rolls around, its conceit showing through in the lines “these emails I draft but never send / works of art you couldn’t comprehend / I miss you / don’t make me try”. The song’s drone-like keyboard tone is likewise abrasive, but its crisp percussion and backing vocals redeem it somewhat, as does the subtle mood shift at the end when the title line changes to “don’t make me cry”.
The lengthy ‘Cocktail Party – Head Interlude’, co-written by Hynes, contains some of the album’s most dramatic and desperate lyrical imagery over bright keyboards and a skipping percussion rhythm that keeps the momentum going as Macpherson imagines the object of his affection “smearing off last night’s lips / you’re running from a 2 AM kiss / he makes you think about yourself / I hope you make it home”. The rhythm drops out in the coda, and a thin wash of synths leaves a lingering sense of desperation.
The jazz inflection of early single ‘Bad Boyfriend’ is a welcome change of pace in the middle of the tracklisting. While its gloomy lyrics are more of the same, alternating between insult and self-deprecation, the vivid harmonic colour in its chorus is one of the album’s most memorable musical moments.
From that point forward, the album slides from the morose into the purely maudlin. ‘Decade of Decay’ is precisely what you’d expect from a song with that title, and ‘Kyoto Garden’, while inventive in its musical references and rhythmic pulse, is a lyrical morass of depression centering around the lines “so what am I supposed to do / if I was you I’d hate me too / I get it”. The bitter jealousy of ‘West End’ dampens that song’s ragged dance tempo, while final tracks ‘Using’ and ‘Lately It’s You’ drag and plod into aimless self-absorption.
Spector were clearly feeling the weight of expectation after the success of ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’, and it appears that they may have neglected to take their own advice. ‘Moth Boys’ is an intricately planned successor, but its meticulous machinations have left it completely devoid of joy. It might have been better off trimmed to an EP or even a more concise and focused shorter album. As it is, the album’s first half is a good listen, with songs that are more instinctive and visceral as compared to the intellectually and emotionally contrived later tracks.
Spector’s sophomore LP ‘Moth Boys’ is out today on Fiction Records. The band will tour the album through the UK this October; you can find the listing of live dates by clicking here. Previous TGTF coverage of Spector is right back this way.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
It’s a precarious time for synthpop bands. With the return of both Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers, not to mention the reappearance of The Prodigy, synthpop bands would do themselves a favour if they went back to basics their pop sensibility. This includes keeping their distance from what the top 40 pop sound has turned into, tracks tinged or dunked into r&b and soul. Glaswegians Prides have done this to some extent in their Island Records debut last month, ‘The Way Back Up’, but they couldn’t maintain the quality of their songs. In contrast, the buoyancy of the songs on Cut Ribbons‘ debut album tell me they’ve got both the songwriting and performing chops, and I believe both will serve them well as they support this album and beyond.
Frankly, I have no idea how you can listen to ‘We Want to Watch Something We Love Burn’ without smiling and wanting to wave your arms in the air. Outside Patterns on Thursday at the Great Escape this year was a rainy, dreary mess to open the festival. The kind of day where drinking seems to be the only decent option to spend the day. The Llanelli, West Wales band paid no mind to this, as their light touch with their songs brightened everyone’s spirits and closed out the Gorwelion / Horizons afternoon showcase on a high note.
There’s something very special in the main singing duties shared between Lluan Bowen (keyboards) and founding member Aled Rees (guitar), whether they’re singing in sweet harmony or they’re taking turns on lead. Cut Ribbons songs can sound like the kind of music you’d expect soundtracking the latest Disney flick, except that you’re continually reminded by the nimble synth lines that this music can be enjoyed by adults too. Like the aforementioned debut from Prides, there’s been effort on here to include some slower numbers to break things up but comparatively, the Welsh band come through head and shoulders better on the ballads than their Glaswegian peers, showing believable sensitivity on the dreamy ‘Truth in Numbers’ and ‘I’m a Wretch’.
But you’re not really here to listen to me waffle on about the ballads on a synthpop group’s debut LP, are you? Right, let’s get to it. With its booms of percussion and synth chords alongside the memorable guitar riffs, ‘Clouds’ mesmerised me live, with the chorus “Saw all the colours with you / kaleidoscopes with a view / caught everything that you threw / ‘cos that’s what lovers should do” chronicling the unbreakable bond of a strong relationship. Less about destruction than the end of an era, a synthpop ‘There Goes the Fear’ contending “we’ll sink like a stone, into the unknown”, the relentless title track is a cardiovascular workout. Similarly, album standout ‘Walking on Wires’ will keep your heart rate up, while lyrically being inspirational as two people go forward together in strength, just as Bowen and Rees’ voices join in beautiful harmony: “hold on tight this time / two lost souls defined / everything’s gonna be fine / everything’s gonna be fine”. Near the end of the tracklisting is ‘Bound in Love’, its ’80s pop heart on full display while the guitar and xylophone notes bounce and its connecting passages build anticipation to ride you out to the crest of the next wave.
Less frenetic in structure and more anthemic is ‘White Horses’, which skirts that Disney / Olympics-ready line. Throughout the song, the band build a wall of sound with guitars, synths and drums that’s more reminiscent of what a psych band would do. But it works and works well in this context because they’ve arranged it smartly so that Bowen and Rees’ vocals sound sweet and are loud enough in the mix to hold their own against the instrumentation. And hurrah, I think Cut Ribbons are the only pop band whose album I’ve heard this year that didn’t end with a snoozefest. ‘Sink Ships’ concludes the album on another bright anthemic note, even if the song revisits the earlier theme of the unknown. Cut Ribbons are a young band, so anxiety is to be expected about the future. Though one wonders what they’re feeling so anxious about, putting together a winning album like this.
‘We Want to Watch Something We Love Burn’, Welsh band Cut Ribbons’ debut album, is out tomorrow, the 21st of August, on Kissability. To read my coverage of them performing at the Gorwelion / Horizons showcase Thursday at the Great Escape 2015, go here. To see them in action as well as see yours truly be interviewed about their performance, watch the video here on >the Gorwelion / Horizons page on the BBC Web site.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
Besides being the never standing still, Gumby-esque frontman of Tyneside’s Maximo Park, releasing his debut solo album ‘Margins’ in 2010 alongside a book of collected Polaroids to show off his keenness for photography, and his collaboration last year with Field Music’s Peter Brewis for ‘Frozen by Sight’, Paul Smith will be releasing this week the album ‘Contraindications’. It’s taken the better part of the last 4 years to write and record music for his newest project, Paul Smith and the Intimations, and the results are pretty fantastic.
Two early reveals from the new album suggested a fun, pop nature to Smith’s newest material. ‘Break Me Down’ is a perfect slice of breezy pop the way nature intended, with equally catchy rhythm and melody and just enough “oohs” to get fans to join in when listening to the song from the comfort of their bedrooms. ‘Coney Island (4th of July)’ goes in a bouncy direction percussively, but the lyrics and melody are off-kilter not unlike to the style favoured by Smith’s buddies Field Music, Smith’s warblings not following a straight line. Even from the coast of North East England, he can conjure up a light-hearted image of a place far away that Brits have long romanticised.
Compared to 2010’s ‘Margins’, which sported more reverb and echoing than I could cope with, ‘Contradictions’ shines in its overt playfulness, its jangly guitars and lively rhythms practically daring you to keep up with them. Perhaps it’s so named to point out the massive contrast between the two efforts? For sure, this is a fantastic driving record, so much that I wish Smith had released it earlier in summer so all of us could have taken full advantage of it. You’ll think he definitely missed a trick there when ‘All the Things You’d Like to Be’ queues up, as its winsome guitars bouncing their notes will result in chair-dancing. Unless, of course, you happen to be somewhere standing up.
The album title gets an early mention in opening track ‘The Deep End’, in which Smith describes the many unknowns in a relationship, a running theme: “water flows in my mouth / I’m immersed in the deep end now / these are themes I’ll allow / all my dreams are contradictions.” Another standout, ‘Fill the Blanks’, name-checks the picturesque Jesmond Vale in the Ouseburn Valley of Newcastle, and I think the ambiguous conclusion he comes to at the end of the song is perfect, as we’re not sure what’s happened except something serious has changed: “spending summer pale / walking through the vale / heading down the back lanes / wet with rain / it’ll never be the same.” Prefab Sprout’s Wendy Smith (no relation) provides backing vocals on several album tracks including Quick’, which is a sweetly nuanced ballad to a lover, with the words, “how can I describe the way / your heart consumes me?”
‘Before the Perspiration Falls’ is the most Maximo-sounding track and lyrically, it’s the cheekiest, with the opening line “why do your hands feel so special?” Ooh, matron. LP closing track ‘Fluid Identity’ also has whiffs of Maximo Park, its instrumental freneticism a foil for Smith’s paranoia (“I dress like a square / but this is not your affair / will you just stop staring at me?”). ‘People on Sunday’ turns into a surprising foot stomper, reminding me of ‘90s band Gin Blossoms and making me wonder what memories he has about Berlin that has held his imagination so much that he had to write a song about them.
The instrumentation affords Smith’s vocals some breathing room in ‘Reintroducing the Red Kite’ recalls early, wide-eyed Byrds, which seems quite appropriate given that it sounds like the welcoming of a return of a bird native to the UK, one known for its gentle gracefulness. I’m not going to pretend I know exactly what Smith is trying to convey in the lyrics, but his deftness in using themes of nature and flight suggest the desire to be free of one’s fears. While this song is less obvious and in your face than some of the album’s more brasher pop moments, it proves Smith’s talent for being able to do both and well. ‘Contradications’ as a whole is musically engaging and lyrically witty.
‘Contradictions’, Paul Smith’s latest project with his new band The Intimations, is out this Friday, the 21st of August, on Smith’s own Billingham Records. Paul Smith and the Intimations will be touring the UK in September. For past coverage of renaissance man Smith on TGTF in his various musical guises, follow this link.
Nathaniel Rateliff’s last full-length album ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’ was, to say the least, a bit intimidating. His more recent EP ‘Closer’, released last winter, was frosty and austere, but it was also quite a bit more inviting. Now, at the pinnacle of summer, Rateliff has cranked up the temperature and the intimacy with a new LP titled ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’. Recorded with a full seven-piece ensemble, this album fairly radiates with heat—the band aren’t called the Night Sweats for nothing. They add an element of rhythmic energy and intensity to Rateliff’s already soulful sound, playing perfectly into the retro r&b vibe of this new set of songs.
The first half of the album flies by at a frenetic pace, with four-to-the-floor rhythms and exuberant brass instrumentation. Rateliff’s lyrics are full of pent-up energy and emotion. The opening of early single ‘Howling at Nothing’ immediately brings to mind the similar r&b stylings of Leon Bridges, but where Bridges is suave and smooth, Rateliff is gravelly and gritty. The rhythmic sensuality works equally well in either context, the former creating a slow burning effect and the latter fully bursting into flames.
The energy level is particularly remarkable on ‘Trying So Hard Not to Know’, a raw soulful number whose backing vocals help Rateliff’s voice cut through the raucous instrumental arrangement. In contrast, the somewhat softer dynamic of ‘I’ve Been Failing’ employs a gospel chorus underlay as the chorus “don’t you weep, don’t you worry” slowly builds to the desperate promise “I’ve been failing you, but I can’t stop trying”.
The first half of the LP culminates with ‘S.O.B.’, a foot-stomping, hand-clapping romp about drowning one’s sorrows in drink. The harmonies of the “oh-oh-oh” chorus are an ironic allusion to southern gospel, and the repeated lines “my heart is breakin’ / my hands are shakin’ / bugs are crawlin’ all over me” call to mind the ecstatic preachings of a rapturous minister. But make no mistake, this song would not be considered appropriate to most churches. Rateliff preaches his version of the gospel in the prison-themed official video for ‘S.O.B’; you can see it for yourself just below.
The overall tempo slows somewhat in the album’s second half, adopting a sort of country-bar-jukebox-at-the-end-of-a-long-night feeling, with the wailing slide guitar of ‘Wasting Time’, the simple repetitive chorus of ‘Thank You’, and the slow, mellow sway of ‘I’d Be Waiting’. Even the horns in uptempo single ‘Look It Here’ have a slightly mellower sound as compared to the earlier tracks, and the lusty innuendo in the bridge lyric “I got a love so hard I can’t stand it” creates a perfect thematic segue into the starkly rhythmic and blatantly sexual following track ‘Shake’. Final track ‘Mellow Out’ is energetic but laid-back, its “do-do-do-do” chorus balancing out the anxious energy of the initial track sequence.
On ‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’, Rateliff and his cohorts have found a way to make Rateliff’s brutally honest and unapologetically emotional songwriting accessible to a wide audience of listeners. In the album’s press release, Rateliff was open about that goal: “I’m trying to do something that’s emotionally charged and heartfelt, and I want the experience to be joyous, for people to feel excited and dance around instead of being super-bummed by reality—I mean, things are hard. But I can remember dancing around to some song that was breakin’ my heart, dancin’ with tears in my eyes. I love that feeling, and I wanna share it with people, and hopefully they’ll feel it too.” Mission accomplished, Mr. Rateliff, and well done indeed.
‘Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ is due for release on the 21st of August via Stax/Caroline International. Rateliff and the full band have scheduled a tour of the UK for this autumn. You can find all past TGTF coverage of Nathaniel Rateliff by clicking here.
Last month, Manchester favourites Elbow pleased their fans with the release of a new EP called ‘Lost Worker Bee’. The release came as somewhat of a surprise, as the band members have been busy of late with a handful of festival appearances (including Kendal Calling 2015) as well as their own “various solo projects and collaborative endeavours”, which include frontman Guy Garvey’s record label venture Snug Platters and his new BBC 6 Music series ‘Music Box with Guy Garvey’. Of the ‘Lost Worker Bee’ EP, Garvey says “we just felt we really wanted to get something away to tide fans over until the next album. We’ve always loved the EP as a format and we’ve enjoyed making this one so much I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another before long.”
The four brand new songs on the EP are all set in Elbow’s hometown of Manchester. Garvey elaborates, “Manchester’s symbol has been the worker bee for hundreds of years and the lead track is about finding love far away from home.” Our own editor Mary featured the video for the eponymous and altogether charming ‘Lost Worker Bee’ just after the EP’s release.
The rhythmic complexity of ‘And It Snowed’ is a trademark of Elbow’s compositional style, expressed here in an asymmetrical meter that highlights the crystalline keyboard melody. The lyrics are a bit abstract, but the lines “you’ve done your leaving / livid in your splendour and alone / I kiss the stillness” seem to harken back to the lost romance theme of Elbow’s 2014 album ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’, which dealt with Garvey’s split from his longtime partner.
In the captivating ‘Roll Call’, Garvey recycles a lyric, “streets alive with one man shows”, from ‘My Sad Captains’, a popular tune from ‘The Takeoff and Landing of Everything’. He prefaces it with a bit of a wink and nod, warning that “I’m not digging deep tonight”, but in truth, his lyrics are as rife with evocative imagery as ever, and the vocal harmonies supplied by his bandmates in this chorus are just as rich and pleasantly unexpected.
Similarly, the EP’s final track ‘Usually Bright’ feels like an extension of Elbow’s previous album, with simple poetic lines alluding to separation as “the saddest journey ever made”. The spare musical accompaniment, which perhaps coincidentally sounds a bit like an old-fashioned music box, allows Garvey’s poignantly simple lyrics to make their full nostalgic impact, marking a clear delineation between the past and the potential of the future.
Elbow’s ‘Lost Worker Bee’ EP is out now on Polydor. Elbow are scheduled to play the On Blackheath Festival in London on the 12th of September. Our full catalogue of previous Elbow coverage is right back this way.
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