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Album Review: Jealous of the Birds – The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep EP

 
By on Tuesday, 31st July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Daniel Alexander Harris

JOTB Moths EP coverNorthern Irish alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) has recently released a new EP with an elusive but thought-provoking title, ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.’ While the title might seem a little unwieldy, especially for a 5-track EP, the songs contained on the new recording are a bit less intimidating, in and of themselves.

Of the five songs presented here, only EP opener ‘Plastic Skeletons’ is brand new, as you might have seen back in May when editor Mary featured it as our Video of the Moment #2843. It’s a strong opening to the EP, immediately upbeat and groovy, with shuffling percussion and an elastic guitar riff under Hamilton’s distorted vocals. She sings the verses in a slow, sensual drawl, lilting suggestively over the lines “hope you have it in you to undress again” and “I’ve become addicted to the smell of your cologne”. While the song’s chorus isn’t exactly catchy, its crunchy guitars give the song an extra edge as Hamilton poses the question, “do you wanna wrap me up in suede / smudge off my black eyeliner?”

The other four songs on ‘The Moths of What I Want’ appeared on Jealous of the Birds’ debut full-length album ‘Parma Violets’, which was released in back in 2016 just after Hamilton’s first appearance at SXSW. The middle sequence of three songs, ‘Miss Misanthrope’, ‘Trouble in Bohemia’, and ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, is lifted directly from LP, with some notable production edits from the album versions.

The gentle folk arrangement of ‘Miss Misanthrope’ stands in marked contrast to ‘Plastic Skeletons’ with gentle woodwind adornment and intricate vocal layering underscoring its introspective musings. Subtle yet pleasantly surprising in places, the poetry and the musical effects both leave a warm sense of empathy in their wake. The trippy folk-rock of ‘Trouble in Bohemia’ is muted and a bit grungier in its reworking for the EP, but still retains its upbeat rhythm and lo-fi production quality. ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, which we at TGTF heard in live performance at SXSW 2017, is similarly dialed back in its production, with its serpentine synth melody and Hamilton’s vocal line blended more smoothly into an overall instrumental arrangement that better suits the song’s self-consciously literary quality.

EP closer ‘Russian Doll’ already had a grungy, garage rock feel in its ‘Parma Violets’ recording, which fitted the defensive mood of its lyrics. Talking about the song’s underlying meaning, Hamilton says, “It’s about when you’re in a relationship and you’re having someone else projecting certain things on you . . . and you don’t have any control over that. It’s matching up the person you want to become and what someone else sees you as.” The new EP recording, re-mixed by Ben Baptie (Young Fathers, Daughter, Lianne LaHavas, London Grammar), dials back the crunch of the guitars, emphasising instead the percussive rhythm and disjointed quality of vocal lines, giving the song a sharper edge and stronger overall profile.

Though we here at TGTF have covered Jealous of the Birds quite extensively over the past few years, we missed the opportunity to review ‘Parma Violets’ on its initial release. ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep’ serves as a good reminder of what attracted us to Jealous of the Birds in the first place, but also gives a glimpse into where Hamilton might take her music in the future. Her alt-folk and acoustic talents having been fully displayed, she’s now taking a bolder, more rock-oriented tack, without losing the unapologetically poetic lyrical qualities that make her songs unique. If you liked ‘Parma Violets’, this new EP is simply a fresh take on some of those songs, with the added bonus of ‘Plastic Skeletons’ to whet your appetite for more new music from Jealous of the Birds. If you didn’t catch ‘Parma Violets’ the first time around, ‘The Moths of What I Want…’ is your second chance to get acquainted.

8.5/10

‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat My in My Sleep’ is out now via Hand in Hive (UK) and Canvasback (U.S.). You can find TGTF’s collected coverage of Jealous of the Birds through here.

 

Album Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

 
By on Monday, 23rd July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Florence and the Machine High as Hope album coverOur favourite Earth mother Florence Welch is back, this time leading her band on a 10-track journey of organic creativity. Florence + The Machine have stripped it way back in their new album ‘High As Hope’, leaving much of their pop preferences behind and instead colouring their LP with folk influences. It’s easy to see why many are mistaken in thinking ‘Florence + The Machine’ is simply Welch’s pseudonym when their newest release feels like Welch’s singular creation, the role of the band feeling a little unclear. The background accompaniment takes a backseat to Welch’s theatrics: compared to her previous albums, this one is simple and acoustically driven, giving full attention to the vocals. All ten tracks put a spotlight on Welch’s vocal abilities, expressed in earthy, raw and rich tones that only Welch can do.

One of the most successful aspects of the album is that each song is like a different page of a diary, particularly tracks ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, which feel more like letters than songs. ‘Grace’ starts as a beautiful piano ballad, with Welch sounding timid and sincere until the song blooms into a powerful chorus bringing with it heaps of emotion. The direct address to ‘Grace’ really creates a sense that the listener has intruded on a personal moment as Welch divulges her deepest thoughts and fears in lyrics such as “I guess I could go back to university / try and make my mother proud”. Although ‘Patricia’ is more upbeat, there is still a heartfelt address to a character that seems to have had a significant impact on Welch. There is a pure honesty and sincerity that bursts out of ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, offering an authenticity that stands out against the rest of the album.

There is an undeniable intimacy to ‘High As Hope’, not just through the ‘diary’ narratives but also through the use of a capella sections in ‘No Choir’ and ‘Sky Full of Song’. Few artists are brave enough to showcase their vocals abilities through a capella, but it works brilliantly for Florence and the Machine. The unaccompanied vocals open these songs, instantly setting an intimate tone as no accompaniment can distract from Welch’s lyrics. This is most effective in portraying a melancholic emotion in The start of ‘No Choir’ is effective at conveying melancholy as Welch sings, “And it’s hard to write about being happy, ’cause all that I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”. Listeners cannot escape from the sadness Welch is expressing; instead, we are forced to deal with these emotions and engage with the song. It is a powerful tactic and one that is heightened by the subtle accompaniment rising and falling in perfect tandem with Welch, never once overpowering the vocals, yet still supporting the emotion.

Heavenly connotations across several tracks keeps ‘High As Hope’ unique, which are again supported beautifully by the instrumentation. Fourth track ‘Big God’ addresses this theme in its title, while opening track ‘June’ connotes heaven through references to angels: “you’re so high, you had to be an angel”. The instrumentation and production shadow the theme by creating huge, angelic sounds through layered strings and gorgeously dramatic, reverberating vocals. Despite such powerful sounds, the production isn’t overdone and hasn’t distorted the natural sounds of the instruments.

One of the first singles released from the LP ‘Hunger’, has been accompanied by an artistically abstract video. The single is catchy and radio friendly, yet it still carries the profound message of human nature’s hunger for love, perfectly captured by the visual accompaniment. The video portrays this through the use of statues as symbolism for human isolation. Symbolism continues in abundance, with images of forests evoking the organic nature of song and the rest of the album. The music video is atypical, more like a piece of art than it is a music video.

Florence + The Machine have taken a turn down a different road for ‘High As Hope’, showcasing another side to Welch’s songwriting. The album feels like a slice of Welch’s soul, giving us a much more honest and genuine perspective of Welch than in any previous albums. Authentic and personal elements make the LP so alluring, each song having a purpose, an emotion and a message. Radio stations may fool you into thinking that ‘Hunger’ is the only power track here, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The entire album is a masterpiece.

9/10

‘High As Hope’, the fourth studio album from Florence + the Machine, is out now on Virgin EMI and Republic Records. Catch Welch and her band on their world tour starting in the UK from the 15th of November. For more information on live dates visit Florence + The Machine’s official Web site. Read through all of our past coverage on the artist through this link.

 

Album Review: Dentist – Night Swimming

 
By on Thursday, 19th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Dentist Night Swimming album coverAs the saying goes, timing is everything. Human beings tend to brood and get nostalgic around the winter holidays and as the year closes. In contrast, summer is when it feels most appropriate to brush the cobwebs out of one’s mind, let one’s hair down and kick the shoes off and all cares away. That’s the kind of thinking I’m assuming led to New Jersey band Dentist’s thinking to release their debut album ‘Night Swimming’ in the middle of July. Feeling at times like having an ice cream at the beach but never proving too cloying, it’s an upbeat LP that at times flirts with bubblegum pop territory.

In some ways similar to Katie Ellen’s ‘Cowgirl Blues’ that was released this time last year, ‘Night Swimming’ conveys the thoughts of an independent woman with an agile mind, bolstered by surf-y, lo-fi guitar chords that lend a scrappy, ‘skinned knees’ kind of quality to the proceedings. Most of the songs on this album are short – around the 3-minute mark or a good deal shorter – which means if you’re not a fan of frontwoman Emily Bornemann’s twee vocal pitch, it never stays around long enough to bother much during a collection of songs that, taken together, barely pass the 30-minute mark. The animated and simply fun rock guitars and drums throughout also provide a worthy distraction.

Things get off to an exuberant start with ‘Upset Words’, on which she asks cheekily, “do I make you proud?” On fun lead single ‘Corked’, Bornemann’s sweet and girly vocals are an asset here, providing an interesting juxtaposition to the introductory strummed guitar notes, scuzzy with feedback and audible clicks left in and not polished off the record. “Something’s wrong again ‘cos we’re still friends”, she wistfully scoffs in the first chorus before the muscular part of the song gets going. LP standout ‘Figure-Four’ should be our credo for the rest of 2018, with its suggestions to let it go and don’t sweat the small stuff. Bornemann sings, “it’s okay / every day / we’ll be fine / I’m sure, I’m sure” and its entreaties to “accept your fate”, it’s Dentist’s way of saying trust in the process of the Great Big Thing called Life. We need more of this thinking. Too many bad things are happening around us and to us that sometimes we all forget that we’re here to live.

On the simply titled ‘Oh’, she quips, “wish that I could turn my brain off / then that would mean that I am dead”. The instrumentation going with it is so peppy, you have to ask yourself if the lyrics are meant to be rhetorical to the listener or if they’re meant to be droll or even possibly cutting observations that hide her own anxiety about life and relationships, something the Crookes did so well. ‘All is Well (In Hell)’ sees Bornemann on a brief but lovely, slower, acoustic interlude; it’s a bit soppy and entails her begging her lover not to leave her because “that is worth than anything”. Dentist get down and dirtier for a brief moment on the minor key ‘Tight Spot’, with squealing, surf-y guitars and harder hit drums to go along with the existential lyrical musings.

In the rapid fire drumbeat-driving closer ‘The Latter’, Bornemann implores, “I have opened up to you / you have done the same / tell me now what I can do / to make this great escape”. With an album like ‘Night Swimming’, you are invited to give someone else control of the steering wheel. This is the kind of music to listen to on those long drives out to the coast by day and into the steamy summer evenings when there’s nothing to do. Or at least you’re pretending there isn’t. This is one Dentist that won’t make your teeth ache.

7.5/10

‘Night Swimming’, the debut album from New Jersey’s Dentist, is out tomorrow, the 20th of June, on Cleopatra Records. Read my review of them at SXSW 2018 through here; they were one of my unexpected finds in Austin this year.

 

Album Review: Joshua Burnside – All Round the Light Said EP

 
By on Monday, 2nd July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Joshua Burnside All Round the Light Said album coverThese days, you have two pretty clear options on the kind of music you can listen to: true escapist fare of little intellectual consequence to take your mind away from what’s going outside your door, or songs with a conscience and enough meat on the bones to make you contemplate where you or the world has gone wrong. One is neither better than the other, but as time passes, I know which kind can console me now. Northern Irish alt-folk singer/songwriter Joshua Burnside’s latest release, the ‘All Round the Light Said’ EP, falls in the second category, and its title alone leads to some heavy questions. What is the light? Is it benevolent? Are we meant to be going towards it? While Burnside’s EP may not hold all the answers, it follows nicely from his Northern Ireland Music Prize-winning debut album ‘Ephrata’ from last year and its political and emotional content framed by South American rhythms.

The EP begins with previously unveiled single ‘A Man of High Renown’, a lumbering waltz of air organ and accordion oozing Irishness. A gay and catchy melody belies the song’s dark lyrical content as the song feels like one of those films where you’re bounced between terrible events of the past and present day. At the song’s core is a struggle between the powerful and the weak. You’re left wondering if wrongs have been righted; perhaps that was the intention, to leave it as a cliffhanger? The accompanying video sees Burnside on accordion, being accompanied by dancers because, well, everyone knows the Irish are famous for their music and their dancing, right? The split screen accomplishes the same thing as the lyrics, juxtaposing locations of old and new Belfast.

‘Rearranged’ can be viewed another exercise in looking back, while also looking forward to see how far one has come or what’s up ahead. Or not. Burnside’s own technophobic tendencies have translated into a meandering guitar melody and a warbly vocal delivery. These feel like are good parallels to the noodley thoughts in your head of anxiety. ‘Northern Winds’ is a song in two acts, the first a more conventional folk song. About halfway through, a gentle drumbeat is accompanied by trumpet and banjo. The tempo speeds up and so does the overall volume as Burnside’s voice turns more insistent, referencing Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, itself a study of compassion and sacrifice. Long a staple of Burnside’s live show and recorded in analogue, it’s interesting it immediately precedes ‘Paul’, a much more experimental number with unusual percussion, disorted organ notes and synth effects. While an obvious strength of Burnside’s is his Americana-style songwriting, the way ‘All Round the Light’ concludes suggests a future more experimental direction that would be even more intriguing.

8/10

The newest release from Joshua Burnside, the Editor Mary reviews Northern Irish alt-folk singer/songwriter Joshua Burnside’s latest release, the ‘All Round the Light Said’ EP out now on Quiet Arch. EP, is out now on Quiet Arch Records. His next live appearances include UK headline shows at Glasgow Nice N Sleazy on the 10th of July and London Paper Dress Vintage on the 24th, in addition to loads of Irish appearances through the summer. A full list of his live appearances are available on his official Web site. Read through our past coverage on Burnside through this link.

 

Album Review: Matt Maltese – Bad Contestant

 
By on Tuesday, 26th June 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Matt Maltese Bad Contestant album coverIn an era where Noughties landfill indie has been usurped by this decade’s overproduced shiny pop, it’s difficult to make a name for yourself if you don’t sound anything like that. The pages of TGTF are littered with artists we love who are anything but conventional. One of the things I most enjoy about South London-based singer/songwriter Matt Maltese is his choice of words. You’re unlikely to find someone else like him on the top 40. If you’re a Morrissey, Leonard Cohen or Divine Comedy fan and you’re used to hearing brutally honest, self-deprecating and often satirical lyrics sung by a crooner, this debut album will be right up your alley. Like those established artists, Maltese is marmite.

‘Bad Contestant’, Maltese’s debut, is a pop album, but one that will make you laugh and ache about that four-letter word called love in equal measures. It begins with the toe-tapping ‘Greatest Comedian’, which compares the woman he loves to “the highest quality hardwood door” and “Jesus” who he’s heard “was a very handsome girl”. The problem? He misses her because she’s so very far away. And so it begins: Love can be an addiction and it doesn’t lead to the best choices, does it? In previously released single ‘Nightclub Love’, he chronicles his blinded-by-love stumblings around the apple of his eye in his most hated of places, a loud and sleazy nightclub. On the jaunty ‘Guilty’, he admits he’s being used by a woman who is already spoken for. Somehow, he always winds up back with her, even at the expense of his own heart, leading to his eventual fate of loneliness.

If it’s all for love, Maltese will gripe about it, but he’ll suck it up in the name of want and desire, even if it’s only temporary. He covers heartbreak equally as well. On ‘Less and Less’, Maltese comfortably scoots into the role of the sad songwriter at the piano, showing himself to be the best 21st century peer to Burt Bacharach. He croons, “you should take yourself / see the daylight and the change that spins / though I ain’t sure I’ll ever feel nothing / I’ll feel settled in a simple sense”. It’s the quiet acceptance that their relationship is over, but he’ll never be the same having loved her.

On the self-deprecating side of things, he is also quick to point out his lowly status on oddly catchy title track ‘Bad Contestant’ – “I’m a dead end, a budget hotel / I’m pretty good at feeling sorry for myself / I’m a deck chair / Your cheap underwear / A bad Christian who never goes to prayer” – before wrapping things up with the immortal line “I ain’t much but baby I could impress you / They say the underdogs are always the best ones”. Like Stornoway’s ‘Love Song of the Beta Male’, Maltese is not the stereotypical macho man who wants to throw his weight around and show off. He might be hard on himself as he was on the aforementioned ‘Nightclub Love’, but he also accepts that he’s better off being the quiet man in the corner.

As if to prove he’s more than a lovesick hack who does everything wrong in his relationships, Maltese’s album ends with two doom and gloom numbers. Early single ‘As the World Caves In’ shows Maltese at his most Morrissey-esque, savouring the last days on earth with the woman he loves and with sweeping grandeur: “oh girl it’s you that I lie with / as the atom bomb locks in”. It’s a heavy-handed way to end the LP with ‘Mortals’, its weightiness about leaving Earth behind seeming out of place with the rest of the LP.

This is not to say that the rest of ‘Bad Contestant’ is light. It’s an album that can make you swoon and nod with agreement, that is if love is your poison and you can relate to the feeling of being swept up by it. If you can’t, this album will be a tough go. Should you open your mind to Matt Maltese’s world – a world with twinkly piano and his droll observations on love and life – don’t be scared, and embrace something different.

8.5/10

Matt Maltese’s debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ is out now on Atlantic Records.

 

Album Review: Lily Allen – No Shame

 
By on Monday, 25th June 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by Lily CresswellLily Allen No Shame album cover

After a 4-year wait, Lily Allen released her fourth studio album ‘No Shame’. The album feels very much like an extension of her third album ‘Sheezus’, keeping the upbeat vibe, and manufactured beats that lie under the majority of tracks on both ‘Sheezus’ and ‘No Shame’. However, Allen has clearly matured since her 2014 album, which is clear from the unrelenting emotional theme undoubtedly driven by her very fresh divorce from Sam Cooper.

The album appears to have been split into three sections, opening with songs that present a club vibe, leading onto a few incredibly intimate ballads, then ending with some straight-up catchy pop tunes. These three sections leave the album feeling rather discordant, but if you’re willing to dig through this stylistic confusion, there are some absolute gems. The first six tracks on ‘No Shame’ are the weakest of the whole 14. I can’t help but feel that Allen has tried too hard to appeal to Friday night clubbers by using over-processed, worn-out beats that feel out of place with the emotional content of the song.

The lyrics of the first track ‘Come On Then’ are hard-hitting as Allen sings about the tribulations of fame, an issue that is particularly relevant in 2018, especially from a female artist. The subtle touches upon anxiety, depression and the hardships faced by a female in the spotlight are poignant and frankly, a refreshing change of the usual topics featured in the charts of love and heartbreak. Isolate the lyrics, and the track is doing the topic a great deal of justice. For example, the lyrics “my head can’t always hold itself so high / what if inside I’m, dying / every night I’m crying” directly deal Allen’s suppression of feelings whilst in the public eye. However, together with the overdone beats and synths, the serious issue is lost in a cloud of ‘try-hard’ club music.

Just as all hope was about to be lost, Allen saves the album with three shining diamonds: ‘Family Man’, ‘Apples’ and ‘Three’. These three songs slow the pace of the album right down and provide a well-needed resting point. The relaxed tempo, introduction of acoustic instrumentation and beautifully melodic vocal lines give listeners an intimate connection with Allen. ‘Family Man’ allows for a different narrative of the divorce, presenting a vulnerability reflected in the melancholic piano accompaniment, whilst ‘Three’ brings us back to the issue of fame, this time from the perspective of Allen’s 3-year old. This second section of the album is a real highlight of ‘No Shame’ and exhibits the raw talent of Lily Allen.

The final five tracks return us to a brighter mood, exemplifying influences from ‘Sheezus’ and Allen’s earlier releases. Although there are still remnants of processed beats heard earlier in the album, there is much more of a radio pop vibe. In the best possible way, it is easy to imagine ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ or ‘Cake’ becoming a tragedy of radio overplay, going on to be the most remembered tracks of the album. With these, Allen has really succeeded in living up to her old school hits such as ‘22’.

The video for ‘Lost My Mind’ really captures the aesthetic of the album: quirky, yet emotionally expressive. It opens with the Allen sat in a bathroom, wrapped in a towel, sporting a wet hairdo. The normality of this scene creates the sense that the audience are intruding on Allen’s day-to-day life, reflected in the lyrics’ intimacy. We are then taken to a bedroom where the audience are made to feel like a fly on the wall as we watch her argue with her partner. It then reaches an emotionally climactic end, her hopelessness summed up as Allen is drenched in rain. The video is simple, yet powerful and adds an emotional dimension to ‘Lost My Mind’ not conveyed on record.

Bypass the first six songs, and ‘No Shame’ is an album with much promise. Despite the discouraging start and the somewhat conflicting styles, the album shines a light on a vulnerability that connects us to Allen. The general production by Fryars and Mark Ronson is exceptional, particularly in the punchy pop tunes, elevating the album even in its weaker sections. Overall, this is an album worth getting if only for the beautifully intense emotion of ‘Three’.

8/10

Lily Allen’s fourth album ‘No Shame’ is available now on Parlophone and Regal Records. Catch Allen on her world tour taking place from June to December, with four dates in the UK from the 11th to the 17th of December. For more live date information, visit Lily Allen’s official Web site.

 
 
 

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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.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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