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(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #387: Amber Arcades

 
By on Wednesday, 13th April 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Dutch-born singer Annelotte de Graaf, who goes by the stage moniker Amber Arcades, has recently announced her signing to Heavenly Recordings. She has already revealed two singles, ‘Turning Light’ and ‘Right Now’, ahead of her debut album release. The unusual yet cohesive blend of shimmering folk and subtle synthpop is brought together on both singles, and both are a taste of the singer’s debut LP ‘Fading Lines’, which will be out in June. De Graaf’s unorthodox sound is only one aspect of her appeal: her non-music exploits are equally interesting. When she isn’t writing and recording music, De Graaf can be found pursuing humanitarian work, including working with the UN to aid people who have fled Syria. De Graaf began writing back in 2010 and released her first EP in 2012. For her debut LP, she teamed up with producer Ben Greenberg (who has worked with Brooklyn-based Beach Fossils and The Men, among other acts), flying out to New York last year to record with Greenberg in Brooklyn’s Strange Weather studio.

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Amber Arcades’ sound is fresh and iridescent, with an elegant and unassuming style that has a lasting impact and will be stuck in your head long after you hear the tracks. While Amber Arcades is De Graaf’s alias as a solo artist, she recorded her debut with a band, comprising of Shane Butler and Keven Lareau of Quilt, and Jackson Pollis of Real Estate on guitar, bass and drums respectively. This collaboration, along with Greenberg’s production, has resulted in an ethereal and lofty couple of tracks, which have set a precedent for one highly anticipated LP.

Both previously unveiled songs ‘Turning Light’ and ‘Right Now’ are tantalising, pairing De Graaf’s gentle, dreamy vocals with hypnotising rhythms. Each track offers something different, yet taps into the unique signature sound that Amber Arcades embodies. ‘Turning Light’ is a mesmerising track, layered with a harmony of otherworldly sounds. The lyrics “when all is quiet / I’m inside turning light” show the simple yet introspective nature of the song. There’s a gentle, dreaminess to the track, which makes sense, considering it was dreamed up in the early hours of the morning. The steady thump of the drumbeat along with De Graaf’s serene voice creates a ghostliness amplified by the subtle synth static and trippy guitars that accompany it.

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‘Right Now’ opens boldly with the crisp jangling of a guitar, which sounds at first like it might be better suited to a country number, or at the beginning of a Magnetic Fields song. The folky riff, playing off of the refined, ethereal nature of De Graaf’s vocals, as well as the steady beat of drums, all draw together to make something that sounds like it probably shouldn’t work but really does. The chorus is as catchy as it is poignant: there’s a beautiful simplicity to the song, sounding like it’s been forged out of pure sunlight. De Graaf has created a sound that is a mixture of subtle melancholy and glittering energy.

Amber Arcades’ debut album ‘Fading Lines’ is scheduled for release on Heavenly Recordings on the 3rd of June. She appeared at SXSW 2016 last month in Austin. She has a number of upcoming dates scheduled around the UK and Europe, including The Great Escape in Brighton, Green Man Festival in Wales, and Amsterdam Woods Festival.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #386: Frances

 
By on Monday, 14th March 2016 at 11:00 am
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

At just 22 years of age, Frances already has two heady honours under her belt, having been shortlisted for both the 2016 BRITs’ Critics Choice Award and the BBC Sound of 2016 (both of which ultimately went to Jack Garratt). In 2015, the Oxford singer/songwriter released three singles in 2015: ‘Grow’, ‘Let It Out’ and ‘Borrowed Time’. This past week, she followed these with the release of ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ on Capitol Records.

‘Grow’, Frances’ debut single, is a confidently understated track. It’s just Frances and her piano, accompanied by a symphony of vocals at times, before returning to the gentle lull of piano and voice. Despite her relatively short career, she’s also been cowriting with some fairly big names already. Most recently, Frances has been working with Greg Kurstin, who collaborated with Adele on her mammoth comeback hit ‘Hello’. ‘Borrowed Time’ was cowritten with Howard Lawrence of Disclosure and is thus a synthpop number . However, the song still puts focus on her incredible vocal range.

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Newest Frances single ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ starts gently and softly, with emphasis placed on the strength of Frances’ crystal-clear vocals, before the piano and layered vocals join in, allowing the track to swell with a choral intensity. Frances’ vocals sound like a blend between Birdy and Lorde: her voice has the power and gravity of Lorde’s tones, paired with the stripped-back nature of Birdy, also matching Birdy’s purity and clarity of tone. Judging by the successes that she has achieved so far less than 2 years after the release of her debut single, she seems set to follow in both Birdy and Lorde’s footsteps and we can expect to hear a lot more from her over the coming year.

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Frances has a number of upcoming festival dates set for the coming year, including SXSW this week (her appearances in Austin includes a slot at the BBC Introducing and PRS for Music Foundation showcase Wednesday night at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30), Coachella, Blissfields and Frequency. She is also scheduled to join James Bay on a number of his performances at the Hammersmith Apollo in London this month.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #384 and #385: Jane Weaver and Holly Macve

 
By on Thursday, 10th March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

As promised in my earlier article on feminism at SXSW 2016, I’m rounding off my SXSW preview coverage with a feature on two female solo artists scheduled to showcase in Austin next week. Both Jane Weaver (pictured at top) and Holly Macve have recently received funding from the PRS for Music Foundation, Weaver specifically for her trip to SXSW, and Macve for the completion of her upcoming debut LP.

Manchester’s Jane Weaver has transformed herself many times throughout the course of her nearly 20-year career in music. She started out with pop group Kill Laura, then formed an electronic folk project called Misty Dixon while simultaneously branching off as a solo artist. Her extensive back catalogue includes five previous solo albums, as well as a multitude of collaborations and side projects. Her current sixth album ‘The Silver Globe’ was released back in 2014 via her own label imprint Bird Records, which purposefully aims to “cultivate and promote Manchester’s lesser-documented female musicians”. Last year, Weaver re-released a deluxe edition of the album that contains an additional disc of new material.

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Weaver’s light, ethereally floating vocal tones are easy on the ear, but her musical accompaniment has a very deliberate edge. The electropop backing to songs like ‘Mission Desire’ and ‘The Electric Mountain’ is powerfully percussive and rhythmically propulsive, even through the shining haze of synths and electric guitars. Leading into SXSW 2016, Weaver’s track ‘I Need a Connection’ has been featured by Austin radio station KUTX as its Song of the Day, as well as by NPR on its SXSW preview list The Austin 100.  The song’s breezy lyrics are, appropriately enough, about redefining one’s own self-image, and the repeated lines in the coda, “I want to protect you / I want to impress you / I want to suggest how I’m sending the message” linger in the memory long after the song fades away.

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In comparison to the veteran Weaver, 20-year-old Holly Macve is a mere babe in the music business. Hailing from Brighton and recently signed by Simon Raymonde for Bella Union Records, Macve lists female heavy-hitters Billie Holliday and Gillian Welch among her influences, along with the more obvious Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. To my own ear, Macve’s shadowy songwriting and emotionally evocative vocals are similar to those of Laura Marling, though perhaps without the bitter aftertaste. Macve’s haunting demo version of ‘The Corner of My Mind’ is starkly captivating, while her recently unveiled track ‘We Don’t Know Where We’re Going’ realises the full potential of what she can achieve in the studio. We look forward to checking out both of these leading ladies in Austin next week.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #383: Autobahn

 
By on Tuesday, 8th March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

Autobahn are a spirited post-punk five-piece from Leeds. They will be taking their brand of haunting melancholy from the post-industrial North to SXSW 2016 in Austin next week. Fronted by Craig Johnson on vocals, with guitarists Gavin Cobb, Michael Pedel, bassist Daniel Sleight (bass) and Liam Hilton on drums, the band released their debut LP ‘Dissemble’ back in August 2015 on Tough Love Records. They kicked off this year with a winter tour across Europe, which wrapped up in February.

If you haven’t heard of the band before, don’t let the name ‘Autobahn’ fool you into thinking they have anything to do with the German highway system or the famous fourth studio album by the electronic band Kraftwerk. The band, who have been together since 2013, have created a confident and ballsy debut LP that positively oozes a raw, feral and unforgiving attitude. There is a dark intensity to ‘Dissemble’ that demands to be paid attention to.

It’s the dark intensity that draws comparisons between the band with the likes of Joy Division and the Chameleons. Like Ian Curtis and Mark Burgess before him, Autobahn lead singer Johnson has an intense depth to his vocals that border on gloomy. Similar also musically, a number of Autobahn’s tracks, such a ‘Society’ and ‘Beautiful Place to Die’, open with the biting bass or guitar sounds reminiscent of those in Joy Division and Chameleons songs.

‘Dissemble’ is a powerhouse of an album, bursting with confidence and atmosphere. When listening to the album, it’s easy to believe that you’ve somehow managed to tune into a radio station that has tapped into a frequency sent directly from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. It was recorded in a disused church over a 6-week period, and it’s almost as though the desolate and eerie gloom of such a setting has seeped into the fabric of the record.

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‘Society’, Autobahn’s most played track on Spotify, is a stand-out favourite from the album, from the jarring bass guitar introducing the track, to the dense drawl of Johnson’s vocals. The song builds into a solid track that pulsates with the energy of controlled chaos. The lyrics, whilst not wholly decipherable, challenge the warped version of reality that is imagined throughout the LP. ‘Immaterial Man’ is another standout, and like ‘Society’, opens with a firm and ominous bass line. The trippy bass continues throughout, layered over with intense drumbeats and resonant guitars, with Johnson’s melancholy voice moving through the song. They’ve started out their career with such a fearless and intense record that it’s going to be exciting to see where they go next.

Autobahn are set to appear at SXSW 2016 in Austin, as well as the London Calling Festival in Amsterdam, both in March.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #382: The Sherlocks

 
By on Tuesday, 1st March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

The Sherlocks are an alt-indie fourpiece from Sheffield comprising two sets of brothers. They boast over 500 gigs under their belts: impressive, particularly when considering that they are yet to sign to a record label. The band have released a couple of new singles over the past few months: ‘Heart of Gold’ was released in October 2015, and ‘Last Night’ was released in January.

I remember people talking about The Sherlocks during my breaks from uni, when I would visit my hometown just outside of Sheffield. I still see references to the band popping up on my Facebook feed. Just last week an old school friend checked into a gig at The Duchess in York headlined by The Sherlocks as part of their UK tour. They’re often spoken about in the same sentence as Millburn or Arctic Monkeys; it’s inevitable, of course, considering all three acts have spawned from Sheffield’s lively music scene. There’s a sense of ownership over these bands in the way that people from Sheffield and the surrounding areas speak, the stars of the indie and alternative music scene are the local treasures and heroes.

Impressively, this is a band whose success has come off of the back of the hard-work put into the hundreds of live shows that they have done over the past few years and the loyal wave of followers that has swept them along as a result, rather than through publicists or record labels. But the hype has spread beyond Yorkshire, and the band has recently played sold out shows in Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham amongst others.

They’ve been together since 2010, and in that time have amassed an impressive collection of live performances, including supporting The Enemy at some gigs on their 2014 tour, and supported The Libertines at some shows on their tour earlier this year. They’ve developed a sound that is both evocative of their various influences, from The Jam to the Arctic Monkeys, while also distinctly original. ‘Live for the Moment’, their debut single, peaked in the Official UK Singles Chart at number 91, shortly followed by their second single ‘Escapade’, which reached number 45.

‘Heart of Gold’ is a punchy indie number, with an addictive hook and catchy chorus. Prepare to feel the urge to dance around the room when hearing it for the first time. It’s a continuation of their earlier singles, but with a slight lean towards a more indie pop sound, similar to the Pigeon Detectives. The jingle of the opening guitar rhythm, the jump of drums and lead singer Kiaran Crook’s brash yet smooth vocals breaking into the track set up the heartfelt number. The lyrics are also great, evoking Alex Turner’s style of writing about the everyday. “When you’re sat on your own at home crying / why couldn’t we have tried?”: you just know that this kind of lyric wouldn’t sound the same without a ballsy Northern accent.

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Their latest single ‘Last Night’, whilst belonging to the same vein, feels different from their other stuff. There is a confidence to it that is evident in the marching drum beat and static guitar sounds that introduce the track, before the guitar bursts into a crisp, melodic riff. The lyrics, like ‘Heart of Gold’, tell a common story that many will be able to relate to the morning after a night of drinking. There are bold moments in the track, from the distorted warbling at the end, to the tinny megaphone-like echoes of Crooks’ voice throughout, and the overall feel of the song has a fantastic feel to it, like the band have really found their footing.

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The Sherlocks have plenty in store for 2016. Last summer saw the band play Reading and Leeds, and this coming summer they are already announced to be appearing at Y Not Festival in Derbyshire in addition to their visit to Austin for SXSW 2016 this month, which includes a prime spot on the BBC Introducing and PRS for Music Foundation showcase Wednesday night in Austin. They have a number of upcoming dates for 2016, including a return to the acclaimed live music venue in their hometown, Sheffield Leadmill in June, and announced this week that they will be playing The Great Escape held in Brighton this May.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #381: Declan McKenna

 
By on Monday, 22nd February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Editor’s note: we’re making some exciting changes in the way we cover SXSW 2016 this year, especially in the way we preview all the bands that we want to introduce you to before the big event in Austin in March. Read all about our big plans here.

It’s rare to have an artist heading out to SXSW 2016 who’s not only younger than our drinking age (age 21), but also below the legal adult age here (age 18). But I think this speaks more to Declan McKenna’s talent and the rarity of his outspoken art than anything else. The Hertfordshire teen won Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition last summer, beating out previous featured on TGTF band from Newcastle Shields and many other young hopefuls from around Britain. Winning the competition gave him a sweet £5,000 prize from PRS for Music Foundation, a wonderful and direct investment to his future in music. But his win also resulted in zealous courting by many UK record labels, eager to sign the talented teen. He ultimately chose to go with major Columbia Records.

This doesn’t mean, however, that’s McKenna has signed away his name and responsibilities to a major to live high on the hog. Far from it. Last year, he self-released two hard-hitting singles, ‘Brazil’ and ‘Paracetamol’, the former claiming the #1 spot for 3 straight weeks on the American SiriusXM Alt Nation station’s Alt 18 countdown. ‘Brazil’ is McKenna’s personal indictment of FIFA and professional football, citing the hypocrisy of giving the country the much desired World Cup competition money maker in 2014 while much of its local population suffered in poverty.

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Similarly, ‘Paracetamol’ – better known on American shores as acetaminophen or its trade name Tylenol – on which he collaborated with electronic favourite and one of my personal favourite people Tom Vek, tackles another hot button topic, the misrepresentation of transgender teens by the media. How many young folk do you know are stepping out to make their politically charged opinions known on a world stage, and do it well? Already drawing favourable comparisons to Jamie N Commons and Jake Bugg, there’s nothing to stop this young, precocious talent from taking off.

Declan McKenna is scheduled to perform Wednesday afternoon, the 16th of March, at the Radio Day stage in the Austin Convention Center, as well as Friday evening, the 18th of March, at Empire Control Room.

 
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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 the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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