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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 14th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
In Stuart Maconie’s book “Cider with Roadies”, he explained how he once described ’70s-’80s Perth band The Triffids, after seeing them live, as makers of “huge music written under huge skies for long trips through empty deserts”. While on a long roadtrip on my birthday visit to Australia 2 years ago this month, I commented to a blogger friend of mine with a similar idea, that there must be something very special as to why much of the music made by so many Aussie and Kiwi artists made me feel so great, and in a way I couldn’t easily put into words. Timeless? Yes. Beautiful? Yes.
While dreamy indie pop duo High Highs no longer live in Sydney, having relocated to Brooklyn for their shot at professional success, their sound still seems to me to still feel very Aussie-influenced. Which in my books is a very good thing. Following on from the huge global success of The Naked and Famous but following their own rules and style, Jack Milas and Oli Chang look poised to be the next big thing from Down Under. They already have a self-titled EP and a debut album (2013’s ‘Open Season’) under their belts, but the next stage of their career is just beginning.
At the start of October, the duo released their latest EP ‘Ocean to City’, comprised of three amazing tracks. The timing of this release couldn’t be beat; soon we’ll all be plunged into the bleak, dark winter, and yet ‘Ocean to City’ is giving us a relaxed respite from all of that. The title track’s video, which premiered on Billboard last week, shows Milas and Chang driving around in an open-top convertible in the carefree land of California, while they pass surfers, beaches and palm trees, all under a seemingly never-ending blue sky. (Funny, the time I visited Sydney, I thought, “hmm, this is like London. Except it’s sunny and clean…”) Milas’ dreamy vocals telling of the yearning of a lover counterbalance the upbeat driving rhythm of the track so it’s neither too sweet or too melancholic. It’s the natural choice for a single, guaranteed to get toes tapping and new fans singing along to its chirpy yet loving message.
‘Glamorous Party’ is pensive, brooding. Chang’s keyboard chords match the drama of Milas’ voice, which oozes from falsetto and not, adding shades of light and dark to the song. But it’s ‘Catch the Wind’ that holds my attention the longest. It’s a study of relationships, and it’s a study of loneliness. It’s a modern pop retelling of that classic chestnut, “if you love somebody, set her free. If she comes back, she’s yours, If she doesn’t, she never was…”
Milas sings in the chorus, “hey, you’re not alone / go break the mold / go where you are free” and echoing oohs swirl around you, a product of High Highs’ ambient pop palette. True beauty. We’ll have to wait and see if this duo will join the illustrious ranks of legendary bands from their homeland. But based on the strength of this latest EP, a packed residency at Pianos in New York City and a past sold out show at London Old Queen’s Head, I think they have an incredibly good shot at making it.
High Highs’ ‘Ocean to City’ EP is available now from their Bandcamp at a price you name.
Irish singer/songwriter duo Hudson Taylor, comprised of brothers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor, have slowly but surely gained a steady following of fans with their energetic, heavily harmonic brand of folk pop, inspired by classic folk rock acts like Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills and Nash. They officially declared themselves a band in 2011 and have since released 3 EPs (‘Battles’ and ‘Cinematic Lifestyles’ in 2012 and ‘Osea’ in 2013), as well as touring in support of Kodaline and Jake Bugg.
Hudson Taylor’s latest single ‘Chasing Rubies’ is due for release via Polydor Records on the 19th of October, just as they are finishing another round of support shows with Bugg. Like their previous songs, ‘Chasing Rubies’ is an energetic, lovelorn track featuring infectiously singable melodies and the type of seamlessly blended vocal harmonies that are best achieved by finely tuned sibling voices (think of Swedish duo First Aid Kit or fellow Dublin-based sister act Heathers).
The brothers show the full depth of their songwriting skill with the darkly dramatic ‘Battles’, a stomping Mumford-esque track about competing for a lover’s affection. In the accompanying video, featured below, they temper their fiery, vengeful lyrics, “I will lift her love and I’ll break your spirit / I will dig a hole and I’ll throw you in it” with imagery of colorfully costumed children playing battle in the woods. The children’s wide-eyed innocence contrasts sharply with the final line in the song’s chorus, “only time will tell if we’re all just cynics on the run / if we’re all just cynics come undone”.
Hudson Taylor are currently working toward a full LP release tentatively planned for early 2015. You can listen to a full playlist of their music on their YouTube channel, or sign up to their e-mail list to receive a free download of their jaunty acoustic track ‘Strangers’. Better yet, catch them live on their just announced headline UK tour scheduled for February 2015.
Header photo by Leigh Burnette
Chesapeake, Virginia six-piece band The Last Bison are set to release their 3rd studio album, ‘VA’ (as in the American postal abbreviation for the state of Virginia), on the 30th of September via Media House Music. The group released their first album, 2011’s ‘Quill’, independently before signing to Universal Republic Records for their 2013 release ‘Inheritance’. ‘VA’ finds The Last Bison harkening back to their earlier independence, self-producing the songs they recorded in an old A-frame cottage near southern Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp.
The sheer number of members in their band allows The Last Bison to create a uniquely lush, richly-textured sonic backdrop for its otherwise very basic folk-pop tunes. Their latest single, ‘Bad Country’ would seem to be a perfect fit for radio, with its uplifting optimism, soaring string arrangement and melodically memorable chorus, “I feel the wind blowing south again to the bad country / so it begins, we’re going down again to the bad country”. Frontman Ben Hardesty’s gritty singing voice has just the right balance of warmth and traction to make the song’s emotion feel authentic.
The true outstanding moment in ‘Bad Country’ is its anthemic and evocative bridge section, “scorched by the blazing sun / burnt to the falls we run / into the dark we dive / coming alive”. Maybe it’s my own recent move to the American Southwest, but to my ear, the backing vocals sound like eerie canyon echoes, bringing to mind imagery of treacherous mountains and rough desert terrain.
Earlier single ‘Every Time’ (which can also be found on the band’s Soundcloud page) is more traditionally folk-flavoured, but with powerful tribal percussion rhythms and strong backing vocals punctuating the verses. The insistent repeated lyrics in the chorus, “every time I look back / you were standing there / casually aware of me”, along with the dramatic and unrelenting percussion drive the song perpetually forward. The dynamic contrast and instrumental variation in the far-too-brief bridge section whets the appetite for more potential sonic brilliance on the full album.
For an even more tempting taste of what The Last Bison have to offer, check out their video trailer for ‘VA’, filmed at their rustic and secluded recording studio, just below.
When I first heard about this band, I couldn’t help but wonder why a Northern Irish band situated in Liverpool would call itself Southern. As it turns out, the moniker is the surname of two of the band’s members, brother and sister Thom and Lucy Southern. Accompanied on drums by Eoghan Clifford, the sibling pair saw the band’s edgy new single ‘Where I Want to Be’ released by Marathon Artists earlier this week. Following up on their previous single, ‘Where the Wild Are’, the new track has already received airplay on BBC Radio 1, where it was recently featured by Fearne Cotton.
Though originally from the same general geographic vicinity as the Wonder Villains, whose lineup also features a sibling pair, Southern’s bluesy guitar rock sound is probably best compared to another brother/sister act, Angus and Julia Stone. In fact, Southern covered the Australian duo’s ‘Big Jet Plane’ in Paris for the following video.
Southern’s first self-titled EP was released back in December 2013 and included their best known track to date ‘World Don’t Shine’. In January of this year, they were tapped to perform for a Sofar Sounds session in Liverpool, where this acoustic version of ‘World Don’t Shine’ was recorded.
‘Where I Want to Be’ is an ambitiously energetic track with a gritty guitar rhythm and sharp vocal harmonies highlighting the insistent lyrics “I’m where I want to be, in my life.” The song’s simple structure allows the bombastic chorus to build its raucous energy to the very end. In contrast, the single’s B-side ‘The Way You Breathe’ is a softly whispered ballad featuring Lucy Southern’s crooning lead vocals. Watch the live session video for ‘The Way You Breathe’ just below, and be sure to keep an eye on TGTF for more on this up and coming band.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 20th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
Come summertime every year, I will think of my trip in 2010 to Denmark, when I went to cover Roskilde Festival’s 40th anniversary. There is a certain pleasant vibe to Scandinavia – especially during their warmer months, when the days are sunny and long – that I don’t think can really be matched anywhere else in the world. I’m not entirely sure where London-based alt-folk / pop band Passport to Stockholm got their name, but when I listen to their music, I like to think their mission is to assist your mind to escape to a place like the Nordic region, where things are, or at least seem to be, from the viewpoint of this neurotic East Coast American, calmer and more beautiful.
I forget now where I had first heard about them. I do remember going to look for them on Facebook and we all know what fledgling bands’ Facebook pages look like, devoid of much information because they’re just starting out. I liked their page, figuring I’d keep an eye on their page and eventually get around to writing a feature on them when more information was available. That time is now.
I got an email recently from their new PR representation, and while it’s disappointing to me that they’re still unsigned, with proper promotion, I expect this talented foursome to be snapped up quickly by an A&R man in due course. Their debut single to the world, ‘Imperfections’, is unusual enough to set them apart from the rest of the folk / pop pack, but also has all the hallmarks of pop that could break them into the mainstream.
Barny Barnard (vocals) and Tom Piggott have known each other since they were teens, having written songs together since the tender age of 14. While this part of their history sounds pretty similar to many other bands that have now achieved success, this is where things veer off from the usual course. Completing the line-up are percussionist Henri Grimes and most interestingly, cellist Sophie English, who adds an unexpected, dramatic and (dare I say this?) more adult piece to the proceedings. While fiddle and violin aren’t uncommon instruments in artists we love here at TGTF (e.g., Van Susans, Keston Cobblers’ Club, Stornoway), cello is, usually held back for classical affairs only.
And indeed, the lower timbre of cello notes from English are a welcome accompaniment to Barnard’s compelling vocals. I don’t favour the gravely singer/songwriter types (Tom Waits and Bob Dylan come to mind), preferring those like Barnard’s: more melodic, with more richness, more depth. The video, which was released yesterday, is embedded at the end of this post and I’m assuming the message is that this is a band that cannot be reduced to petty fighting, which has otherwise tarnished the reputations of a few hotheads in this business.
The rhythm of ‘Imperfections’ begs to be stomped to as well, suggesting this would go down well in front of a crowd, whether it be in a club like Camden Barfly where they’ll be launching the single on the 16th of September or a much larger crowd at a summer festival. From the recording, it sounds like they’ve come quite some ways from “pumping fresh air into the lungs of the acoustic genre since forming in 2012”, in these post-Mumford and Sons days clogged with a dime a dozen Mumford clones, fresh air is exactly what this industry needs.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 30th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
Words by Jess Mason
Let’s play a game, shall we? Let’s play how many bands you can count whose name starts with the word ‘we’. We Are the In Crowd, We Are the Ocean, We Are Scientists, the list goes on. Now, you may not have heard of them yet, but I reckon there’s one more band that are about to get themselves on this memorable list for all good reasons.
We the Living are a five-piece alt rock band who threw themselves onto the new music scene with their debut gig in Sheffield’s Royal Standard a few Saturdays back. I know when you hear the word debut, you tend to expect a bunch of stubbly dudes wailing along to covers of Green Day and having about as much stage presence as a bunch of bananas. But this time, it was definitely not the case.
Straight out onto the stage, We the Living’s frontman Nick Phillips – looking like Russell from Disney’s Up grew up and stole Don Broco’s stylist – stares into the crowd and yells ‘We are We The Living, and our songs don’t have titles’. Boom, and straight into song number one.
What they lack in ability to name songs, they certainly make up in talent. These boys packed so much energy into the performance, they genuinely made ‘that pub between the 24-hour gym and the rental car place’ seem like a much, much bigger venue.
Now we all know that your first time isn’t perfect, but We the Living damn well know how to carry on playing in times of crisis. Not even stopping when guitarist Tom Gammon’s amp cut out, or when Tom’s D string snapped mid-riff (all in one song, poor guy), and they even managed to get through a song while kicking the bass drum back into place as it was shimmying off the stage and into the poor guy’s face in the front row.
This band is fun, they’re new and they’re definitely a band to watch if you’re into the likes of Mallory Knox, Lower Than Atlantis and that fast-paced smooth vocal area of alt rock.
Get these boys to Rock City. But before then, you can find out for yourself what the fuss is all about: catch We the Living at The Frog in Worksop, Nottinghamshire on the 13th of September.
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