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Live Review: Us Vs. Them curated by Field Music at Leeds Brudenell Social Club – 2nd December 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 6th December 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is one of those mythical places that you have likely heard of due to its connection to Wakefield’s finest the Cribs. But unless you live in Yorkshire and/or have attended Live at Leeds over the years, you’ve probably never visited the place. That’s the boat I was in until last Saturday, when for a second year running the venue, in coordination with Futuresound Events, put on a Us Vs. Them festival showcase curated by the most prolific musicians of the North East, Field Music. (Last year’s was curated by Welsh band Los Campesinos!) TGTF have been long-time supporters of the Brewises and since it so happened I was in the vicinity of Leeds (er, sort of…it’s a long story, ha) and the lineup was indeed pretty amazing, I thought it was my editor duty to stop in.

The Cornshed Sisters (Tyne and Wear)
They’re folky, they’re poppy and they have connections to Field Music, which make them a convenient addition to this evening’s bill. The ukulele-playing Jennie Brewis is Peter Brewis’ wife, and Liz Corney plays keyboards and sings backup in Field Music. As you might expect for women from the North East, they are women with minds of their own and they have wit, judging from jokes about their live drummer Ian Black, who fronts his own band SLUG (keep on reading this review), and a dinosaur. I won’t spoil the latter for you, you can ask them yourselves when you see them live; it’s toilet humour, but remarkably high-brow toilet humour.

The Cornshed Sisters Us vs Them 2

Anyway, right, back to the music. I arrived at the Community Room after they’d already begun, a crowd listening to them in rapt attention. Their second album ‘Honey and Tar’, was released in early November, and is filled with catchy tunes and important meaning. ‘Jobs for the Boys’ was introduced as “one of the misogynists”; its peerless four-part harmonies superbly infectious for reasonably weight subject matter. The mostly a cappella ‘Sunday Best / Small Spaces’ is a welcome treat, its second half led by Jennie Brewis conveying something so simple – being in close confines with a loved one – beautifully. It always feels odd to me to hear Americana folk somewhere outside of my country, but the Cornshed Sisters do it so well.

SLUG (Sunderland)
Inside one Mr. Ian Black of Sunderland lives a truly depraved mind. Who else would come up with a song entitled ‘Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped in Plastic’? But let’s leave that gem for a moment. The far more important thing to note about Black and his band is their commitment to rock, rocking out and doing so in a way that is off the wall mad. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Whether it had to do with him throwing off his glasses and running to the Main Stage like the crazy ginger he is, or if he was just having a bad night, guitar problems delayed SLUG’s set.

SLUG Us vs Them 1

In exchange for the delay, his drummer played a pretty rad solo with funny interjections about the location of the cowbell in his kit while Black was stuck trying to tune several different guitars. When the boho-looking band finally got started, a good chunk of their playing time had already evaporated, leaving the group to play out their set with‘Cockeyed Rabbit…’ and the sleazy, percussion-driven ‘Greasy Mind’ and ‘Running to Get Past Your Heart’. (Seriously, how has a SLUG song *not* managed to appear on a Wes Anderson film yet?) The best I can do is to describe them as a certain sweet convergence of pomposity, squealing guitars and buzzy percussion. If you know anything about Field Music and their North East friends, they are unpredictable and don’t do anything linearly. And just as I saw at The Great Escape 2015, SLUG’s music is always fantastic.

Emma Pollock (Glasgow)

Emma Pollock Us vs Them 2

Ex-Delgados Emma Pollock has a funny story about being invited to perform at this festival. She explained she herself had curated an event to celebrate Kate Bush and that the Brewis brothers attended the event when it was being put on in Glasgow this past spring. Great minds and all that, eh? Performing only with her voice and guitar and accompanied by a keyboardist, her performance was a stark contrast to the boisterousness of the Cornshed Sisters earlier. Lights of red and blue swathed Pollock in an eerie glow, her voice strong, yet haunting, providing the most wintry-feeling set I saw all night.

C Duncan (Glasgow)
A month prior to this, I saw C Duncan open as a one-man act for Elbow at the 9:30 Club and was already wowed with what he could do solo. Here, finally, was my big chance to see Chris Duncan with a full band. As you might expect, the bigger setup leads to a far more robust and exciting sound than is achievable with a one-man band, even with a laptop and synths available at a touch of a button.

C Duncan Us vs Them 1

This is probably most obvious with the joining of three male voices in perfect harmonies on ‘Say’ and ‘Like You Do’. While an appreciation of choral music is of course not a prerequisite to liking C Duncan’s music, having witnessed evensong the evening before at York Minster was a good reminder of Duncan’s achievements recording and tweaking versions of his own voice for an ethereal choir sound on record, as well as organizing the live performance of his music. The innocent, dreamlike qualities of ‘Do I Hear’ from his second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ come through on the oozy, woozy lyrics, as Duncan waxes philosophical on the early halcyon days of a relationship. Ever fallen in love? This song, like many of C Duncan’s orchestrations, makes your heart swell. It’s wonderful to be invited into this special world, with a sweeping grandeur you can be a part of. It makes me want to stretch my arms out and throw them around, er…Paris?

Warm Digits (Newcastle)
Time for something heart pumping and in a different way. North East duo Warm Digits, fine purveyors of wonky dance beats, with the guest vocals of such luminaries at Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell on ‘Growth of Raindrops’ and Field Music themselves. They were exactly what the doctor ordered on a chilly night in Leeds, turning the Community Room at the Brudenell into a Berlin discotheque. By the time I arrived, the room was packed and I wasn’t going to push my way to the front. People weren’t exactly bumping and grinding to their music at the back; more heads appeared to be craning to see the projections of cartoony images and splashy big words in bold colours behind the pair. Hopefully there was more actual action down the front?

Dutch Uncles (Manchester via Marple)

Dutch Uncles Us vs Them 1

Now on to the prolific group from the other side of the Pennines, Dutch Uncles. Songwriter Robin Richards just keeps going like the Energizer Bunny, having scored a documentary on the Chernobyl disaster-ravaged city of Pripyat last year and spent time in Caernarfon, Wales in an artist residency there. The band themselves released their fifth album early this year, ‘Big Balloon’, so they’ve got plenty to pick and choose from in their back catalogue. The bubblegummy ‘Oh Yeah’ might suggest this LP is their most accessible yet.

But not to worry, there are still plenty of weird time signatures and bops in all directions on ‘Hiccup’, impressively aggressive live. They pulled out the frenetic ‘Flexxin’ from 2011’s ‘Out of Touch in the Wild’, and it sounded as good as it did way back then. The Main Stage floor was packed out again, no doubt by people who had seen Dutch Uncles loads of times before and were eating up Duncan Wallis’ amusing stage patter and what appeared to be drummer Andy Proudfoot’s smashing impromptu rendition of Semisonic’s ‘Secret Smile’. Something tells me a good number of these folks saw them at Leeds Town Hall at Live at Leeds 2015 (I didn’t; you can thank the Cribs for that).

To conclude…
Annoyingly, in order to catch a train and to rest a wonky, swollen foot that I must have twisted the day before in York, I entirely missed Field Music’s own set. The one comfort I have, and you should have too, if you were not present Saturday night, is that the band from Sunderland have UK tour dates in March and May 2018, so you’ve got your chance in the new year. In case you have been living under a rock, they recently revealed ‘Count It Up’, the first taster to seventh album ‘Open Here’ due out the 9th of February 2018 on Memphis Industries, and you can bop your head to the highly political, supposedly ‘Material Girl’-inspired track below.

All in all, who I did manage to see at the Field Music-curated Us vs. Them in Leeds were great, excellently showcasing some of the best acts, new and old, from the North of England and Scotland. I hope the Brudenell and Futuresound Events continue this annual tradition. Really, who better is there to put together a festival but musicians who actively listen to other musicians and can choose prudently a lineup that their own fans would love to see? For more photos from the festival, visit my Flicker.

 

Video of the Moment #2399: Dutch Uncles

 
By on Wednesday, 12th July 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Dutch Uncles have a new video out for ‘Streetlight’. Taken from their fifth album ‘Big Balloon’ (reviewed by our Steven through here), the song, as well as its accompanying video, is a bit unusual, as singer Duncan Wallis explains:

‘Streetlight’ felt like it demanded a more cinematic visual so have our mugs involved would’ve only distracted, or even muddied, that vision. The trust and experiences we’ve shared with our dear friend Nick made him a perfect candidate to handle the exposed nature of the song. He sort of hit the nail on the head with the idea of falling in love with a streetlight, as it really is that literal an analogy within the song. Sort of…

Watch the promo, directed by the band’s mate Nick Middleton and starring dancer Brazilian dancer Gabriela Flarys, below. It might not make you dance circles around a streetlight like Gene Kelly, but it’s still quite interesting. For much more on Dutch Uncles here on TGTF, use this link.

 

Album Review: Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon

 
By on Thursday, 9th March 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Weird indie pop strikes back with the return of Dutch Uncles and their fifth album ‘Big Balloon’. Not afraid to be whatever the fuck it wants, ‘Big Balloon’ is unabashed with its highs and lows, and it’s all the better for it. Wasting no time, proceedings start with the title track where there’s literally no escaping the groove. The bass kicks in toting a rapid attitude, which the drums dutifully mirror. But it’s when the track’s melody appears that you’re sucked into the long game, creating an irrefutably catchy chorus. While the layout of the track may be oddly precarious in its separate pieces, together as one, it comes together to form a powerhouse of an indie pop track.

‘Baskin” continues this trend, but lowers the assault to a guitar pop level rather than straight forward, abrasively sugar-coated indie. Not quite the earworm as its predecessor, its sounds appear and, as soon as they’ve arrived, they disappear around you, keeping you intrigued and paying attention. Following this, ‘Combo Box’ is unashamedly Eighties: a track that could quite easily have been written by a mid-Seventies, ‘Fame’-era Bowie.

Staying consistently out of the ordinary, ‘Same Plane Dream’ is a flurry of synthesisers and singer Duncan Wallis’ trademark androgynous vocals. It’s all very good at getting you hooked in and almost hypnotising you, but there’s no major differentiating between them all ultimately. That is, until ‘Achameleon’. Beginning rather modestly with a simple piano line, which Wallis joins with similar simplicity, with the line occasionally stepping out of its projected bounds just to remind you that it’s Dutch Uncles you’re listening to and not some other paint-by-numbers ballad band. It continues through to a pleasing melody, while abrasive-cum-beautiful strings join in building a more frantic tempo. You soon realise that the track isn’t a simple piano-man heart on sleeve situation but rather the track is made to represent a madness that comes with those feelings.

As the abrupt ending of ‘Achamelon’ leaves you a little bit lost, ‘Hiccup’ does as its name suggests. It winds in and out of peacefulness until a powerful pop chorus emerges from the building quirkiness. Now we’re full steam back into pop mode. ‘Streetlight’ has a major funk edge to it, with synthesisers adding their power to the bass’ marching thunder. There’s also a wonderful way about the Dutch Uncles approach to songwriting, where they manage to construct the notions the songs are about into worlds that you can visualise. ‘Street Light’ has a dark evening hidden amongst its soundscape, influencing the song’s title.

‘Oh Yeah’ has none of the real charms the previous tracks featured. It feels like a direct lift of a cliche Eighties track. By all means it’s fun, but it turns the journey that has been crafted, swiftly into a mere facsimile rather than a clever, modern take. Definitely one that should have made its way to the cutting room floor. Somewhat of a saving grace, ‘Sink’ has a dark pop nature to it. Featuring a consistent canvas of jittery synth, the rest of the track stacks neatly on top, forming one of the albums less cheery moments, which is a relief to the perma-smile the rest somehow feature.

Finale ‘Overton’ is a world of its own, decidedly apart from everything before it. Rather than opting for a grandiose effort, it feels more akin to a throwaway, though its abrupt ending does seemingly fit the album’s curious nature. A solid fifth return from Dutch Uncles, while it may not be groundbreaking, it’s certainly a challenging listen that demands a lot of you. Something that can’t be said for a lot of releases.

6/10

‘Big Balloon’, Dutch Uncles’ fifth album, is out now on Memphis Industries. You can read more of TGTF’s coverage on Dutch Uncles through here.

 

Video of the Moment #2313: Dutch Uncles

 
By on Friday, 3rd March 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Marple’s Dutch Uncles released their latest album, their fifth called ‘Big Balloon’, in mid-February on Memphis Industries. In their previous videos, the band have taken full advantage of the elasticity and gracefulness of the body of their lead singer Duncan Wallis, and the latest promo is no exception. In ‘Oh Yeah’, Wallis takes a spin around the roller rink, with famous friends we’ve featured here on TGTF, Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep, dressed like The Pink Ladies, no less. (They and fellow Manchester-based band Everything Everything both donated guest vocals to this single.) Not sure what statement they were trying to make with an avocado and a glass of wine, guess I’ll have to ask next time I see them. Watch the freewheeling (no pun intended) video for ‘Oh Yeah’ below. To read much more on Dutch Uncles on TGTF, follow this link.

 

Video of the Moment #2263: Dutch Uncles

 
By on Monday, 16th January 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Before the new year, Manchester math rockers Dutch Uncles revealed ‘Big Balloon’, the lead single and title track to their upcoming newest studio album. ‘Big Balloon’ the LP will be their fifth and is scheduled for release on Memphis Industries on the 17th of February. At the start of December, our Adam reviewed the single, now A-listed on BBC 6 Music. You can read Adam’s review through this link.

The single now has a promo video, directed by Nick Middleton and filmed at Buxton Raceway. Getting to the place required a drive through some idyllic countryside, and I’m assuming the contrast between the rolling green hills of England and mangled metal cars was intentional. It’s like the beguiling study of contrasts that every Dutch Uncles song contains. Watch the video below. We’ve got a pretty big archive on the band on TGTF, which you can have a look through here.

 

Single Review: Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon

 
By on Thursday, 1st December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

When it comes to out of the ordinary, new wave, alternative pop music, it seems that Manchester is the place to be. There may not be many bands doing this kind of thing, but the calibre of bands who are is incredible. Dutch Uncles are definitely one among the great Mancunian new wave scene who have just shared the release date for their upcoming 5th studio album ‘Big Balloon’. And luckily for us, they have released the title track, the album’s first single, last week as a preview to the long player.

Dutch Uncles present a forward-thinking side to pop music. It is very intricate, intelligent and thoroughly thought out. Each instrument plays its own part, and never used just to fill space. After four previously released studio albums, the Mancunian four-piece now have quite a back catalogue of releases. With each album, there is an unexpected development within their music, shown through the band experimenting more with ambiguous time signatures and phrasing, as well as producing erratic rhythms catchy hooks.

Without a doubt, ‘Big Balloon’ continues this trend. The song opens with an absolutely monstrous bass riff from primary songwriter and bassist Robin Richards, then goes into what Dutch Uncles do best: create an off-kilter rhythm that plays around with the accents of a 4/4 beat, creating the illusion that it’s in an irregular or compound time signature. Being a bass player, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn the bass line. The first 5 seconds of this track shows so crystal clear why Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot work so well together. The heavy use of mid frequencies within the bass tone are excellently accompanied by Proudfoot’s huge, deep, full-sounding drums, filling out the lower frequencies, thus resulting in an exceptionally powerful rhythm section.

Frontman Duncan Wallis defuses the tension of the strictly rhythmic bass and drum groove perfectly with an ‘80’s synthpop keyboard sound and his soft, calming vocal tone we all know and love. He recites lyrics that point perhaps toward mental health, but it’s always difficult to decipher his ambiguous and sometimes genderless lyrics. The approach to the vocal melody within ‘Big Balloon’ is very well executed, despite being in some ways basic. Melodically, it doesn’t venture far from what would be considered safe, but what Wallis showcases in rhythm is where the topline grasps the listener. Bearing this in mind, Wallis’ note choice, in partnership with the extended chords, manages to embellish the bass incredibly well. In this case, what he’s doing is both difficult and simple, as the bass is only playing one note (D) but in two octaves.

The structure of this song is strength in itself. The band knows how good the drum and bass intro is and how well it carries the track. With it, they know how long it can continue before it loses its novelty. Right on the cusp of waning interest, the chorus drops – rather unexpectedly, but still as driving as the previous 39 seconds of bass-driven pop. The chorus opens the song up, unveiling the hidden choir of vocal harmonies and dream-like synths that sprinkle the seemingly never-ending chord progression, solidly led by the thick, heavy bass notes. Although the guitar has been quiet up until this point, it continues the chorus somewhat with an emulation of the vocal melody, but covered in fuzz. In doing this, it helps strengthen the main focal point of the track by providing a contrast to Wallis’ smooth vocal melody with a crunchy, distorted version of the melody.

If the single ‘Big Balloon’ is anything to go by in relation to the upcoming album, we’re in for a serious treat.

9/10

‘Big Balloon’, the fifth studio album from Dutch Uncles, drops on the 17th of February 2017 on Memphis Industries. The single is available now; stream it below. You can find dates to the supporting tour in the new year here. For much more TGTF goodness on Dutch Uncles, go here.

 
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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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