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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 25th August 2016 at 12:00 pm
Following the announcement in autumn 2013 that Keane were splitting up, fans had a bit of a reprieve. Frontman Tom Chaplin, known for his singing and charismatic presence onstage and not for his own songwriting, revealed his desire to release his own solo album. After the release of ‘The Best of Keane’ in November of that year, the months and years passed. Except for a one-off cover of Stornoway’s ‘Fuel Up’ with Chaplin on vocals and bandmate and primary Keane songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley on piano in April 2015, we heard nothing. I had begun to think that this Tom Chaplin solo album was nothing but a faraway dream that would never be realised. Then in the middle of July, Tom Chaplin registered an Instagram account and started posting photos. A lot of them. As Chaplin had always been someone relatively reticent on social media, this new development meant something big was obviously afoot.
One of the first true tastes of his forthcoming debut solo album ‘The Wave’ due out mid-October is a clear indicator of the pain Chaplin suffered during the years of superstardom with Keane and after. Read this feature by Neil McCormick from the Telegraph this month, and you will be astonished by Chaplin’s honesty with his recent battles with drug use and anxiety, which he – and all of us fans for that matter – thought he’d kicked a decade ago, following treatment at The Priory in London. As a longtime appreciator of Keane, it hurts me deeply that someone I’ve looked up to, with the most precious of musical gifts – his amazing voice and his showmanship – has lived such a hidden, troubled existence. Chaplin admits that in recent years, his family had all but given up on him, his wife saying at one point, “I want to tell you that I love you because I don’t know whether I will get a chance to again.”
A quick examination of the lyrics of ‘Hardened Heart’ reveals Chaplin’s tortured soul, one grappling with depression, part and parcel of the fallout of a life ravaged by addiction. This song is written from the inside of depression looking out. When you’re depressed, the outside world seems like a strange, almost cartoony place. Everyone around is getting on with their lives, but you can’t. You’re stuck in one place. “It’s such a beautiful world”, yet you don’t see it. All that’s in front of you is filtered through grey shaded glasses, darkness. It’s a tough place and even as concerned as they are, it’s hard to explain to those on the outside.
His pronouncement that “all the people that love me / they never know if I’m up, down or round”, mirroring the Jekyll and Hyde characters described in Barry Hyde’s ‘Monster Again’ on his own debut solo album ‘Malody’ (“Who am I tonight? What am I tomorrow?”). But arguably the worst part of this form of mental illness is realising you could be close to losing everything, but feeling helpless, unable to do anything to lift yourself out of the mire. As noted in the start of the chorus, it’s part of a vicious cycle: “hurting everyone I know / bringing everybody down so low / stuck along a road of sadness with nowhere to go”. Another sinister slice of depression is apathy, coupled with the overwhelming desire to reach a place of emotional normalcy. “Oh, I know that my hardened heart is beating still / I drove it to the point of madness just to feel”, sings Chaplin expansively. Though it sounds counterintuitive, finally going from numb to feeling is important towards the transformation, on the road to recovery.
The promo video for ‘Hardened Heart’ was filmed in the Peak District, starting with Tom Chaplin’s silhouette framed by the first few snatches of daylight at dawn. The visuals effectively parallel the shifting moods contained in the track, as the misty clouds lift over the water and rolling hills. Even with the sunshine, the landscape is rough with brush and bracken. Yet Chaplin finds a dirt path, walking down it with not just a renewed faith, but with gusto as the chorus turns to uplifting, with expressive strings and driving drumbeats: “here’s hoping that the signs are real / and tomorrow with a spring in my heel / somewhere on the road of sadness lies a better deal”. After years of leaning on the artistry of bandmate Rice-Oxley, media pundits have understandably wondered if Chaplin had the talent of penning a pop hit of his own. The answer is a resounding yes. And that voice? It’s never been better.
It takes strength to return from the brink, to come back better than ever, to fight for another day. Tom Chaplin is living proof of this. This song is his way to remind others who feel lower than low that even if you don’t feel it yourself, you matter. You matter to the people who love you. Above all, you are worthy of this life. The title ‘Hardened Heart’ speaks of not only of what depression does to our most important emotional organ, but also how the heart can survive and rise above after battling mental illness.
Tom Chaplin’s debut solo album ‘The Wave’ will be released on the 14th of October on Island Records. To read TGTF’s back catalogue of posts on his old band Keane, follow this link. To read about depression and addiction from a doctor’s perspective of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, go here. The Priory have also gotten in touch with us about their mental health services. They encourage anyone reading this article to learn more about addiction and anxiety disorders on their official Web site.
If you’re a regular TGTF reader, you might recall that we featured Sheffield-based alt-rock band The Payroll Union last summer, when they released their captivating second album ‘Paris of America’. With that project now complete, The Payroll Union’s Pete David recently contacted TGTF about a new project being undertaken by the band’s independent record label Backwater Collective. Having already released three albums, two for The Payroll Union itself, the label is now preparing to release its fourth LP, in the form of a new solo record from Payroll Union guitarist Tom Baxendale titled ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’.
Talking of his own solo work, Baxendale describes himself as “a prolific songwriter who takes elements of country, folk, new wave, rockabilly, pop . . . you name it, to create a distinctive sound of his own.” Certainly, his work with the Payroll Union would have provided a unique experience, both in terms of musical arrangement and songwriting, but Baxendale has taken a more mainstream tack for his album’s first single ‘All My Nightmares’. The song’s story line deals with a broken romance from the point of view of a protagonist who just can’t quite tear himself away. Musically, it has a rather surprising and unapologetically catchy, lo-fi, retro Seventies’ sort of sound.
According to the press release for ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’, the new album is “packed with narrative tales that reveal an unsettling unconscious desire, with murderous pacts, love trysts, familial conflict, and, at the heart of it, a deepening sense of loss in love.” We can’t speak to all that just yet, but we can definitely hear the seeds of it in ‘All My Nightmares’. We’ll look forward to the full album release in September to find out whether or not Baxendale harvests his new song’s full potential.
Tom Baxendale’s new solo album ‘In the City a Short Time Ago’ is due out in September via Backwater Collective.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th December 2015 at 12:00 pm
The career of the Mystery Jets hasn’t exactly followed a linear path. One could argue that their journey has been affected immeasurably by line-up changes, including the notable departures of founding member and Blaine Harrison’s dad Henry from live performance in 2007 and bass player Kai Fish in 2012 to embark on a solo career. However, having been together now as a band unit for over 2 decades is clear proof of their resilience in the ever-changing music industry.
This week, after being quiet except for a one-off show here and there since the release of ‘Radlands’ after Fish’s departure, Mystery Jets announced that their fifth album ‘Curve of the Earth’ is now scheduled for release in mid-January. With that announcement, they’ve also revealed the promo video to the first taster from the LP. I’ve always had a soft spot for the band, personally relating to Blaine Harrison’s health struggles and their third album ‘Serotonin’ – named after a neurotransmitter, exactly the sort of thing that brings a smile to a biologist’s face – soundtracking a summer romance. New song ‘Telomere’ (pronounced TEEL-oh-meer) is another nod to science, referring to the protective ends of a chromosome. Basically, at least how it was explained to me by a genetics professor when I was in university, as you age and depending on your intake of certain antioxidants, the telomeres on your chromosomes get shorter and shorter, until you die.
Rather than take the literal morbid interpretation of the song title, consider Harrison’s thoughts to NME about the new track: “Telomeres are the things that keep your DNA together. I think, in essence, what [the song is] about is that there’s something in your blood that will never die, that’s bigger than human life. It’s some way coded into your DNA strands.” Similarly in a track-by-track analysis of the upcoming album for The Quietus, Harrison waxed philosophical with the following words about the song and its accompanying video: “They are thought to hold the secret to ageing and ultimately immortality. I loved the idea that there is this co-dependency between life and death that we will never fully understand. This is probably the first time Henry and I have used such an expressionistic approach to writing lyrics. It felt like a chance to let our listeners join the dots, and the same openness applied when we asked film makers to present an idea for the video.”
And the video is indeed an odd one. I’m going to take a stab and guess that after viewing what appear to be red blood cells under a microscope, everything else – really, *everyone* else – you see in the video are supposed to be representative of the building blocks of life. Their mud-smudged figures with indistinct faces dance around and carry on their important business, but they’re not particularly special individually. Harrison himself is changing form, his face swelling at one point in the video, then later getting covered in mud as he silently screams. Throughout the song, there’s a slightly annoying, yet earworm-y repeated guitar line that sounds like the rock equivalent of an ECG machine, which detects and monitors heartbeat and life.
While the song continues the existential theme that was explored on ‘Radlands’, missing is the heavy-handed Americana influence and out of place pedal steel guitar that pervaded the previous album. Perhaps this is not an odd turn of events, considering they’re still going after all these years, but the overall message in the sweeping chorus that life will continue on despite physical death is an uplifting one that carries ‘Telomere’ into anthemic territory. An excellent start.
‘Curve of the Earth’, Mystery Jets’ fifth studio album and their first for Caroline International following their departure from Rough Trade Records, will be released on the 15th of January 2016. Have a watch of the new album’s trailer below. For everything Mystery Jets on TGTF, head here.
Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, or Lissie as she’s known professionally, is back with new single ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ and a third album, ‘My Wild West’, scheduled for release next year on Cooking Vinyl. While Lissie is a definitely a talented musician and songwriter, she’s not had the best run of luck. When she released her debut ‘Catching a Tiger’ in 2010, the music world wasn’t quite ready for her brand of melancholy-laced Americana. Nor, sadly, were they ready for someone to infuse their music with as many Fleetwood Mac-isms as she did, that would take three sisters from California to re-start the Mac revival.
But enough of the past. What does ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ sound like? Is the title a cunning ploy in which Lissie asks us to keep the faith and buy her new album after the 3 years since her sophomore album ‘Back to Forever’, or is it a heartfelt plea to an ex-lover? ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ is chock-full of catchy melodies and insightful lyrics (“you are the moon, I feel your weight / you tug at the ocean, you help it change”). But the star of the show, as with most Lissie songs, is her voice, jumping from ethereal to ragged as effortlessly as if it was simply a chord change. As the song progresses, the emotion ramps up and by the end, you feel Lissie is singing either about you, or for you. This is a notable change in her music. In the past, she seemed happy to tell her stories of love, rejection and redemption, but now she managed, through touring and recording two albums, to deliver an emotional connection.
For all its positives, the single sounds like a track from a future Emmylou Harris album, where she’s taking compositions from ‘cool’ bands and songwriters to try get a new audience. From the hypnotic opening guitar riff, driving drums and pulsing bass, ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ sounds like it was written by King of Leon. Ultimately because of this comparison, ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ feels a bit flat, as we know Lissie is capable of so much more. Let’s hope ‘My Wild West’ contains songs akin to the driving ‘Little Lovin’’, which set her apart from her peers in 2010, instead of ‘I Bet on You’, which for all its charm was just a standard album track.
The new Lissie single ‘Don’t You Give Up on Me’ will be released the same day as her third album, ‘My Wild West’, on the 12th of February 2016. The LP can be preordered now from her official Web site.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 16th November 2015 at 12:00 pm
Those who have known me for years are aware that I can be an insufferable sentimental git. I hold on to every last memory, good and bad. Last week, I had already formulated in my mind generally how this piece on Clock Opera was going to go. And then Friday night in Paris, the unspeakable happened.
Some people – the kind of people like my own mother who had quaked at the mere thought of me boarding a plane after 9/11, and every single time I’ve done it – are going to be too scared to go out in public, to go to a live show for quite some time. Maybe it will be for months, years, I don’t know. But the more I have read in the last 48 hours of the incredible humanity of those who survived the terrible goings-on in the Bataclan, the outpouring of love from the our whole music community to honour those we have lost, I don’t feel so ashamed of being that insufferable sentimental git at this very moment.
We – all of us – have suffered a great loss, beautiful lives have been cut short, and for what? It is impossible to comprehend through our grief, to make sense of what is truly senseless. But no matter where we are in our lives, whenever we are a party to sorrow, to trauma, we can go deep into our minds and our hearts, where the good memories live and will live on forever. We must do this now, in remembrance of those we’ve lost, many of whom who thought they were going out on a normal Friday night to enjoy live music at a gig, something that many of us do all the time and don’t think about too much, because we take it for granted that we will be safe.
Our lives have changed, yes. But we will keep going, keep living, and living our lives every day for those we have lost who cannot.
I have a fond memory of meeting Clock Opera in Liverpool 3 years ago, shortly after their debut album ‘Ways to Forget’ had been released on Island / Moshi Moshi. They were one of three bands playing the TGTF showcase we put on at the Arts Academy in May 2012, sandwiched in between Brighton’s Dear Prudence and Sydney, Australia’s The Temper Trap, the latter of whom were still running on the success of ‘Sweet Disposition’ and their debut album. It was a great night: the venue was rammed, the bands sounded incredible onstage and we had gobs of punters entering our lucky draw for a Clock Opera CD and a Temper Trap t-shirt.
I met the guys and welcomed them when they arrived at the venue, hours before the showcase was to start, laden down with all their gear. They were effusive in their praise of our Web site. I had a quite funny but brief conversation with frontman Guy Connelly about his epic beard, which I remember as if it was yesterday. I asked him if he would allow me to touch the famed beard; he laughed and said, “you don’t know how many people reach out and touch it *without* asking!” So I was looked upon as a friend from then on.
Clock Opera emerged in 2009, at an interesting time for British music. If you look at the BBC Sound of 2010 longlist, which appeared less than a year after I joined up here as USA Editor at TGTF, you’ll recognise a lot of names on there, when synth-led music and indie were kings as the new decade dawned. But you’ll also note most every artist or group on the list still standing has had to reinvent themselves or change significantly in the 5 years since those names were revealed.
The band went silent after the end of 2012, and I imagined they’d be back before I knew it, and with some smashing new single for us to sink our teeth into. Then a year went by…and while a year in band terms sometimes means musicians are taking a well-deserved rest or maybe simply just getting on with Real Life, relationships and families, I’d assumed after Connelly’s usually otherwise prolific remix well went dry and quiet, that would be the last we’d heard of them. Imagine how grateful I felt when early in November, new Clock Opera track ‘Changeling’ was released to the wild. Although they lost keyboardist Dan Armstrong last year, it sounds like time has been good to them, as it sounds like they haven’t lost their identity but instead have refined it, in a time in the music business when it’s uber important to distinguish your band and your sound from everyone else’s.
Unbeknownst to me, they were working on a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 to make enough money to record their second album. Luckily for us, the campaign’s target was reached in July, so this highly anticipated second outing is purported to be out next year. If ‘Changeling’ is indicative of Clock Opera 2.0, the exciting percussive nature of their music exemplified by their live tour de force ‘A Piece of String’ has been retained by the heavy, buzzy synth rhythm and the clanging bells. However, it appears they’ve ‘grown up’ in a way, choosing to go in a darker direction, the song described on the press release as “a mysterious, haunting hymn of loss and disbelief”. Not exactly the sweet-sounding, wistful yearnings heard on older single ‘Belongings’, is it?
As it appears that Delphic have disbanded and Bloc Party‘s return last month with ‘The Love Within’ is nothing but a whimper, there is a huge gap in the British market for an indie, rhythm-led synth group, and Clock Opera’s return couldn’t have been timed better. Roll on 2016!
Download ‘Changeling’ for your very own by signing up for the band’s mailing list here. Clock Opera will play their first show since their public return next Thursday, the 26th of November (seriously, why is everything happening on my birthday in the South of England?) at London Old Blue Last. For those of you penny pinchers, the show is free, so if you’re anywhere near the Capital, stop what you’re doing that evening and go. Then they’re straight off to Europe to fill the support slot of North East band Maximo Park on the Continent. For all our past coverage on Clock Opera on TGTF (essentially the previous chapter of the band of days gone by), go here.
For any Crowded House fan, or really for anyone who lived through the late ’80s, the title of the Dunwells’ new track ‘Hey Now’ is sure to conjure up echoes of the Neil Finn-led band’s breakout hit ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. But once you’re past the opening line, the Dunwells’ track strikes a very different tone from the Antipodean band’s 1986 release.
The main similarity between the two songs is in their lyrics, which are in both cases non-specific but heavily laced with possible hidden meaning, allowing the emotional tone of the musical arrangement to lead the listener’s imagination. Building on their previous ‘Lucky Ones’ EP, the Dunwells have clearly continued to focus on the details of their instrumental arrangements with ‘Hey Now’, leaning less on traditional guitar riffs and more on their collective vocal abilities.
The first sonic impression of ‘Hey Now’ is percussive, its forceful drum beat underscoring frontman Joe Dunwell’s emotive lead vocal as he intones the title lyric ‘hey now, it’s been a long time coming / but I’ve been ready for a while”. The guitar melody is surprisingly understated, as thick layers of gospel-style backing vocals highlight the song’s anthemic lyrics, particularly the repeated plea “leave a light, leave a light on”. The dizzying swirl of backing vocals and the persistent keyboard ostinato take center stage in the final repeat of the chorus, as the arrangement builds in intensity, then draws back in anticipation of its closing strains.
‘Hey Now’ is the first teaser from the Dunwells’ upcoming new LP, which is currently slated for release sometime in 2016. If you’re keen in hearing more from the Dunwells in the meantime, you can check out our archive of past coverage on the band, which includes the title video from the band’s previous EP ‘Lucky Ones’ and a stream of the title track from their standout 2014 EP ‘Show Me Emotion’. The group recently announced a headline tour of the UK for this November. You can find a listing of those live dates here.
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