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Live Review: Knox Hamilton and Fenech-Soler at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 26th April 2017

 
By on Friday, 28th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

You know that saying, “war makes strange bedfellows”? If you consider surviving the music business a kind of war, then maybe it isn’t so surprising that bands choose unexpected tour mates. One major benefit of choosing a band to tour with you whose genre doesn’t match yours: priceless exposure to fans who might not otherwise come across your music. That’s what I’m thinking was the thought process behind the North American coheadline tour starring Little Rock, Arkansas band Knox Hamilton with Northamptonshire brother duo Fenech-Soler, which began in earnest in Washington, DC, on Wednesday night. The tour will take the two bands up the East Coast, into Canada, across America and down the West Coast.

As kids, brothers Boots and Cobo Copeland worked in a thrift shop on their summer holidays. When it came time to name their band, they recalled a photo from a ‘70s yearbook with a hip looking dude named, you guessed it, Knox Hamilton. You can picture this dude now hanging out with Fleetwood Mac, can’t you? Singer Boots wears a black knit hat just like Aussie Hamish Anderson does, and the band dress like they’re ready to break out a harder rock number. However, this band’s style is definitely more pop than rock, and this has likely helped them rack up a good number of keen fans. One girl behind me spent nearly their entire set screaming with excitement, then yelling requests to the stage. Odds are you must be doing something right if you’ve got fans like her.

Knox Hamilton in DC

Despite the lack of an actual live keyboardist, they must have saved effects for live performances. It’s hard to imagine a Southern town like Little Rock churning out too many bands who use synths, making Knox Hamilton a curious anomaly with their glittery pop/rock. You couldn’t help but be drawn into the catchy rhythm of ‘Pretty Way to Fight’, and also into ‘Back Porch’, the closest they would get to a Springsteen-esque moment. ‘Work It Out’, with an anomalous introduction of xylophone notes, was the clear fan favourite of their set. Its unexpected camp feel with its rapidly sung lyrics that bounce on leads me to the lesson of the night: don’t judge a dude by his beard, hear him sing first. File them next to San Cisco’s earlier work.

Ben Duffy of Fenech-Soler

We’ve been supporters of Fenech-Soler for as long as I’ve been writing here at TGTF. That’s a really long time! In 2011, I saw them open for Example at Manchester Apollo a few days after my birthday, but seeing stick figures on a stage didn’t do it for me. They were supposed to appear at both SXSW and the Great Escape 2 years later but unfortunately for me, they didn’t show. By 2014, I’d lost all hope they’d ever come to Washington, so I went up to Brooklyn on a Saturday to see them. They didn’t disappoint. Three years on and with three albums under their belt, I was beyond pleased for them to finally make it here and to begin their first-ever major North American tour in our city.

Fenech-Soler in DC 4

The question that must be on the minds of any long-time fan of theirs has to be, “what do they sound like now as a duo?” A very reasonable question, even with a touring keyboardist and drummer. This evening’s rendition of ‘Last Forever’, known on record for its irrepressibly summery vibe, had been reworked to a much languid, less cluttered version. To be completely honest, I was aching for the original live version. However, fans, don’t lose heart. Because Ben and Ross Duffy have always been the driving force of the songwriting for Fenech-Soler, what’s on current album ‘ZILLA’ and what is up ahead for them isn’t likely to stray too far from their successful formula, I don’t think. Dance fans in particular will enjoy their live performance more too: they’ve chosen to showcase less tracks in a set to allow for longer outros, which crescendo towards even more massive climaxes.

Ross Duffy of Fenech-Soler

One direction they’ve already shown the wherewithal to experiment with – and to do it well too – is with covers, the rumour being that there’ll be a whole slew of them released together on record sometime soon. Prince and David Bowie covers are already on their SoundCloud, and a particularly excellent version of Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’ slayed the DC audience. The lively ‘On Top’ and brilliant ‘ZILLA’ single ‘Kaleidoscope’ frontloaded their set with plenty of vigour, with fans all too eager to dance along. Of course, there was plenty of pilfering from their back catalogue too, from one of the first songs the brothers ever wrote, ‘Stop and Stare’, to the fantastic ‘Demons’ and ‘Somebody’ from 2013’s ‘Rituals’.

Fenech-Soler in DC 1

Their hour set flew by and before we knew it, we’d reached the encore. ‘In Our Blood’, with its bursts of syncopated compressed synths and Ben Duffy giving us his all on vocals was, in a word, incredible. While myself and everyone else would have loved for Fenech-Soler to have played every single banger they’d ever recorded, we’ll just have to be happy with the thought that they’ll return to us for another all-out dance party soon. America is theirs for the taking. Catch both bands on tour in North America over the next few weeks, including in New York tonight at Bowery Ballroom.

After the cut: Fenech-Soler’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Knox Hamilton and Fenech-Soler at U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC – 26th April 2017

 

Live Gig Video: Fenech-Soler share 360-degree ‘Conversation’ promo video from ‘Zilla’

 
By on Thursday, 13th April 2017 at 4:00 pm
 

In my books, Fenech-Soler have always known what it takes to make a creative promo video. Their latest is no exception. They released their third album ‘ZILLA’ in February, and you can read my review of it back here. This week, they have for us a special live video, filmed in 360-degree glory. The act, now a duo starring brothers Ben and Ross Duffy, are seen in this video with their backing band, performing ‘Zilla’ track ‘Conversation’. Enjoy the live video below. The brothers will be playing a series of live dates in North America starting on the 26th of April in DC (yes, I know!) through late May; all the dates are listed here. To read much more of our ongoing coverage of Fenech-Soler, go here.

 

Live Gig Video: Fenech-Soler perform tracks from new album ‘Zilla’ at Los Angeles radio station KCRW

 
By on Wednesday, 15th February 2017 at 4:00 pm
 

Prior to the release of their third album ‘ZILLA’, their first as a duo, English brother act Fenech-Soler headed out stateside for a pair of shows, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, sadly none near yours truly. Before heading back to blighty, Ben and Ross Duffy plus a cousin (?) spent an extra day in LA to record a pretty nifty live session for the Morning Becomes Eclectic breakfast programme on KCRW. I can’t recall a favourite British band stopping in for such a long session and interview with the radio station. During the session, they perform ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Night Time TV’, ‘On Top’, ‘Conversation’, a cover of Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’, ‘Somebody’ from their second album ‘Rituals’ and ‘Stop and Stare’ from their 2010 self-titled album. Enjoy it below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOZ4hsrgsIc
 

WIN / Tickets to see Fenech-Soler in Manchester -OR- London

 
By on Tuesday, 7th February 2017 at 11:00 am
 

Brother electropop duo Fenech-Soler just released their third album ‘Zilla’ on So Recordings. You can read my review of the LP through here. Following shows in New York City and Los Angeles, Ben and Ross Duffy will head out on a UK tour in late February into early March. Thanks to the lovely people at Gigs and Tours, we’ve got a pair of tickets each to their Manchester Gorilla (the 28th of February) and London Heaven (the 1st of March). Want to win a pair? ‘course you do! Learn more about entering our contest below.

We need your name and your email address to contact you if you win. We’ll also need to know which of these two shows you want to win tickets for. Then you’ll need to answer this question about Fenech-Soler: What town in England are they originally from? From all the correct entries, we’ll choose a lucky winner at random. Be quick and be sure to get your entry in before the contest closes this Friday, the 10th of February, at 5 PM UK time. Any duplicate or incomplete entries will be discarded. Good luck to all! In case you want to buy tickets to tickets to their tour in February and March, I’ve listed the tour dates below. To read more of our coverage here on TGTF on Fenech-Soler, follow this link.

Friday 24th February 2017 – Brighton Patterns
Saturday 25th February 2017 – Norwich Waterfront
Monday 27th February 2017 – Bristol Thekla
Tuesday 28th February 2017 – Manchester Gorilla
Wednesday 1st March 2017 – London Heaven
Saturday 4th March 2017 – Nottingham Stealth

This contest is now closed. The winner has been contacted by email.

 

Album Review: Fenech-Soler – ZILLA

 
By on Wednesday, 1st February 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Fenech-Soler Zilla album coverFor a group who started out in earnest in Northamptonshire over a decade ago, the dropping out of their like-minded peers from the late Noughties, and given what has happened to the music industry in recent years, it’s heartening that Fenech-Soler are still in existence. Last year, the electropop group based in London announced bassist Daniel Soler and drummer Andrew Lindsay had amicably left the group. Continuing on as a duo, Ben and Ross Duffy have confidently written and produced a new album out this week. According to the press release and probably to the disappointment of some of you reading this, ‘ZILLA’ is named after a friend and is in fact not a cutesy homage to a fictional Japanese monster. It’s important to note that the new LP includes four tracks that starred on their September 2016 EP ‘Kaleidoscope’, which might be disappointing to those who already own the previous release.

Fenech-Soler were always the kind of band you’d ask to perform at your party to get bodies bumping. Since their eponymous debut album was released in 2010 and continuing on after 2013’s ‘Rituals’, they’ve enjoyed prominent billing at major festivals around the world, even an invite to play at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Most dance bands would kill for experiences like these, but then again, most dance bands are not creating bangers like ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Magnetic’. Following the departure of two band members, Fenech-Soler could have kept going on the same direction and with the same winning formula, and I’m not sure anyone would have batted an eye. They would have been too busy dancing.

However, Ben and Ross Duffy had other plans for ‘ZILLA’. While they initially demoed songs intended for the album with producer Jacknife Lee in Los Angeles, the brothers ultimately returned to Northamptonshire, where they became truly inspired by old disco and soul records. On the new LP, they mix things up, daring to be experimental in a world where experimentation in pop is widely discouraged. While they have maintained the pop sensibility that has been so important to the Fenech-Soler sound, they’ve added more light and dark to their songs, adding interest and changing the mood.

A measure of foreboding in previously unveiled single ‘Cold Light’ foreshadowed their new path. You can read my thoughts from back in December through here. They also seem to have found their soulful side, probably best exemplified by the vocalisation on almost-instrumental ‘Zilla I’. ‘Be Someone’ begins as reverently as a church hymn, Ben Duffy putting his voice beautifully through its paces alongside a vaguely Oriental, ‘80s-style guitar line. He sings, “leave me to dance all night, there’s one chance left, I’ve been waiting for all my life”, as the song chronicles every artist’s dream, to finally make it in a difficult business. In album closer ‘From Afar’, Ben Duffy favours a staccatoing, almost hip hop vocal line to follow the beat, before returning to the expansive, anthemic reach of his voice as seen on ‘Last Forever’.

Happily, ‘ZILLA’ includes some stellar tracks that fit well with the dance floor bangers already in existence in the Fenech-Soler oeurve. Previous EP title track single ‘Kaleidoscope’ that begins the album on an appropriately colorful note, like a carnival packed into one hell of a track. ‘On Top’ recalls the days of the late Noughties, when the band were in direct competition with the now-defunct Friendly Fires. With crashing synths building towards a crescendo, dropping back down for brief bridges of quieter reflection, ‘Grace’ must be intended for those all arms-in-the-air moments late night in the club. ‘Conversation’ (stream available at the end of this post) follows a similar formula to past hit ‘Demons’, starting with a seemingly unrelenting dance rhythm that soon gives away to Ben Duffy’s considered vocals.

The difference is this time around, on ‘Conversation’ and on many of the tracks on ‘ZILLA’, the brothers Duffy have chosen to let their songs breathe more. This might sound counterintuitive to what electropop is meant to do: get bodies on the dance floor. While they might not have broken the mold on dance-driven pop music on this album, they’ve stretched the mold and themselves, proving themselves entirely capable of going beyond what has worked so successfully for them in the past.

7.5/10

‘ZILLA’, by brothers Ben and Ross Duffy who now comprise Fenech-Soler, will be out this Friday, the 3rd of February, on SO Recordings. Following shows in New York City and Los Angeles, Fenech-Soler head out on a UK tour in late February into early March. To read more of TGTF’s none too shabby archive of articles on the act, including an interview I did with them in Brooklyn in 2014, follow this link.

 

Single Review: Fenech-Soler – Cold Light

 
By on Tuesday, 13th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

2016 has definitely turned out to one of the most significant years of upheaval in my life, and I imagine it probably has for you too. A band who also underwent significant changes themselves this year are Fenech-Soler. Formerly a four-piece, the band from Kings Cliffe announced earlier this year that bassist Daniel Soler (whose full Maltese surname was used to name the band) and drummer Andrew Lindsay voluntarily and amicably departed from the band.

This left brothers Ben and Ross Duffy to carry on Fenech-Soler’s work as a duo. ‘Kaleidoscope’, an EP they unveiled in September, clearly shows they have no intention of stopping. The idea of them carrying on as a twosome may sound weird on paper, but electronics and production have been so important to the electropop act’s sound – have a listen to their 2010 eponymous debut and 2013’s ‘Rituals’ – that it seems like a no-brainer to keep it tight and in the family because they’re so highly competent in what they do.

The Duffy brothers announced at the start of this month that the third Fenech-Soler album ‘Zilla’ will be released at the start of February 2017. With that announcement, they also revealed an early cut from the album. ‘Cold Light’ begins less electro than I expected, with a more indie guitar sound, as a set of repeated haunting chords welcome you in. It’s a nicely bracing beginning, if sounding a bit tentative, both instrumentally and lyrically (“cold light, I look into the sky / fresh blood, you and I / I know I will not stray too far / when you’re close, I feel no fear of the dark”). That said, you can tell it’s designed to be a dramatic build-up, but to what?

The payoff comes in around the 3-minute mark, when the synths come in with a vengeance. Now, that’s more like it, lads! The rhythm introduced here is a great ‘70s-esque groove, morphing the tune from the otherwise chill feeling earlier in the proceedings into a full-fledged dance floor banger. Though it starts up slow, the conclusion of ‘Cold Light’ suggests Fenech-Soler are not eschewing their electropop roots. No, they demonstrate in their new single an intriguing way to create anticipation towards an anthemic ending.

8/10

‘Zilla’, Fenech-Soler’s third album and their first as a duo, will be released on the 3rd of February 2017 on So Recordings. They announced last week a few UK dates in February and March of next year, sandwiched between American and European shows. To read more of TGTF’s past coverage on Fenech-Soler, follow this link.

 
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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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