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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 11th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
Jamie Woon is back with a beard. But more importantly, he’s brought along with him the first taster of his upcoming album out later this year on PMR Records, the follow-up to his well-received debut ‘Mirrorwriting’ in 2011. I’m sure fans who have been waiting for something more than his brief stop-gap appearing as guest vocalist on ‘January’ appearing on Disclosure’s 2013 Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Settle’ are very excited. And from the word go, the coolness of his previous standout ‘Night Air’ is immediately evident on this track ‘Sharpness’, which is a great start.
But that’s really where the similarities between the two songs end. It’s almost if the percussion and hand claps are fighting with Woon’s voice in an effort to make the track more radio-friendly, and I reckon this was a massive mistake. The beauty of ‘Night Air’ was that it gave his voice room to breathe, and on ‘Sharpness’, because the instrumentation has been made too in your face, you can’t concentrate on anything else. If Woon is going to separate himself from the rest of the Radio 1 pack, he needs to stand out, and the style of this song minimises his singing talent that made him so special.
It’s lyrically where ‘Sharpness’ has its saving grace. Woon sings in the chorus, “every day is the day that you saved me / light into darkness cut on the sharpness of you”, which by itself deceives you on what the song is about. Loneliness. His lover has left him (perhaps it’s a friends with benefits situation?) and he’s contemplating who he was when he was with her; he existed and gave into something bigger than he was that was amazing, and he’s wondering what he’s done wrong (“is it written on my back?”), yet he seems desperate to have her back (or to get that feeling back) at any cost, even if she has to leave again (“take it back and then let it go”).
There are deep emotions on display here, and it’s a shame that the instrumentation couldn’t take a backseat to let Woon fully explore this.
‘Sharpness’, the new track from Jamie Woon, is slated to appear on his second album, expected later this year on PMR Records.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 2nd July 2015 at 12:00 pm
In the shadowy back alleys of Sheffield at night (and also at a pub called Fagan’s in town, depending on who you believe), there walks a man with a well-appointed quiff, spectacles and a knowing swagger all his own. This, my friends, is Richard Hawley, who like Jarvis Cocker is a beloved local singer/songwriter who’s done quite well for himself beyond the confines of South Yorkshire, a legend in his own right. I can hardly believe that after his time in the Longpigs and a stint with Cocker’s Pulp, he had already put out seven albums. Well, until we heard on Tuesday of this week that LP #8 was already in the can, ready to be unleashed on the public in September.
Three years on since the release of ‘Standing on the Sky’s Edge’, which garnered his second Mercury Prize nomination after being given the nod for 2005’s ‘Coles Corner’, Hawley is gearing up to release ‘Hollow Meadows’ on the 21st of September. On his last album, he went into a decidedly psychedelic, more in your face approach than in previous efforts, and I massively disliked the new material at the time, favouring instead the beautifully melancholic tones from the ‘Lady’s Bridge’ and ‘Truelove’s Gutter’ albums. ‘Which Way’ is the first preview we’ve been given to ‘Hollow Meadows’, incidentally named for the supposed “location of a hospital that existed as recently as the 1950s…(in a place) originally known as Auley Meadows – a name thought to derive from the Hawley family who lived there between the 14th and 17th Century”.
You get a good feeling right from the start. To be clear, the guitars make their presence known. But except for the instrumental bridge with a guitar line that starts up like a chainsaw (not ideal), this new tune is led by Hawley’s rich voice, not by or to having to compete with the axes until the outro, where they’re used for an effective ending. There’s a pretty obvious contrast to previous ‘Standing…’ single ‘Down in the Woods’, which was all about how noisy and upfront the guitars could be than anything else.
Instead of psychedelia, the overall feel in ‘Which Way’ is a bluesy one, further supported by a soulful female backing singer and appropriately restrained drumming. Lyrically, the song treads blues ‘poor me’ fodder as well: Hawley sings, “back in time, it would be all right / I knew where I was going for once in my life / now that storm has felled all my dreams / now there’s a shadow hanging over me”, and you feel it in your bones. Considering this is much more than can be said about his Mancunian counterpart Morrissey‘s latest album ‘World Peace is None of Your Business’, odds are based on this taster track that Hawley’s on to something here in album #8. Can’t wait to hear it in full.
Richard Hawley’s eighth studio album, recorded in Sheffield in the spring of 2015, will be released on the 21st of September on Parlophone. For all past TGTF coverage on Richard Hawley, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 23rd June 2015 at 12:00 pm
From the last video off their second album ‘Exile’ released in 2013, it’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, aka London synthpop duo Hurts. So imagine me on a hot Sunday night when I’m minding my own business, scanning my Twitter feed, and my jaw drops to the floor when I’ve seen Hutchcraft drop the news that Hurts’ third album ‘Surrender’ is on its way in October. Oh, and by the way, in case you missed it a couple weeks ago, here’s the promo video to the first single ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, give it a go, eh?
As I hadn’t heard the single before watching the video, there’s no escaping commenting on the unusual and disturbing storyline of the video. The action focusses on a strange gathering in someone’s house, and while everyone seems to be drinking the same punch and is weirdly happy and placid, there’s definitely something off here, something straight out of Jonestown. Also included are scenes of Hutchcraft running down a dirt road, away from a speeding car – the automobile equivalent to the suspenseful crop-duster chase scenes Cary Grant endures in North by Northwest – and across a darkened forest with nothing to light the way except vehicle headlights trained on him, poised on his every move, as if he’s just escaped prison or a concentration camp. Unsettling. What’s even weirder is that for most of the house scenes, he’s inside the house being urged on by a creepy older man who appears to be the charismatic leader of this group, but the promo begins and ends with him looking on at the activities of the people in the house as if he’s detached from the proceedings.
Musically, the song is a step away from the anthemic overtones of ‘Somebody to Die For’ off of ‘Exile’. This is dark but still pure pop, written with the intention of being featured on Radio 1. To Hutchcraft’s credit, when you tease some of the lyrics away from the incredibly catchy melody, do do dos and the tribal rhythm of the bridge, they stand alone as pretty poetic: “I don’t need hell to make me scared of love / I don’t need a symphony to sing my song / there’s a choir of angels deep inside my lungs.” Heaven and hell are familiar themes to Hurts, having already broached the subject in earlier tearjerker ‘Sunday’, but the tragic end felt less forced and more beautiful in ‘Sunday’. Maybe ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ and its style are just symptomatic of the way pop music is going these days?
Still, damn, this is catchy. Welcome back, Hurts. You have been missed. Bring on the ‘Surrender’…
‘Surrender’, the third album from Hurts, will be released on the 9th of October on Sony. If you pre-order the album, you’ll get the single ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ as a download instantly. For past coverage on Hurts on TGTF over their last two albums, head this way.
Foals have been slowly teasing out news of their new album over the last fortnight, with chatter rife on Facebook and Twitter after a serious of shady photos were uploaded to the social platforms. It’s been 2 and a half years since ‘Holy Fire’, and on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show on Tuesday, they premiered the brutish title track to their forthcoming album, ‘What Went Down’.
The band formally return on the 28th of August, when Warner Music release the band’s fourth studio album featuring 10 new songs, all recorded in a 19th-century French mill. On listening to ‘What Went Down’, there’s the distinct influence of the album’s producer James Ford, who has previously worked with Arctic Monkeys and HAIM. Their opening is bracing and ferocious, with punching guitar riffs and a striking similarity to Kasabian.
“I buried my heart in a hole in the ground..” begins frontman Yannis Philippakis anxiously. That anxiety doesn’t last long though, as soft howls creep in alongside fiendish drums and a general atmosphere that just screams ‘danger!’ In seconds it’s as if he’s gone from introverted and tepid, to riled and ready to size you up for a back-street brawl.
Sure enough, the growing danger erupts as Philippakis shrieks, “when I see a man, I see a liar!” and his bandmates aggressively shred through the chorus with vigour. According to the accompanying press release, Philippakis himself has said, “I wanted to tap into my inner madman…feel like I was channelling some sort of fevered creature”, and that’s exactly what he’s pulled off here.
As one fan commented online earlier this week, Foals have the perfect ability on each new record to sound as they did on their debut, but also unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. It’s a pinpoint summary of ‘What Went Down’, where the English rockers’ are abrupt and scuzzier but still dabble with flagrant, ambient guitars and a galloping electronic organ that slices through the chaos. This is a 5-minute onslaught where they’re more upfront and unabashed than they’ve ever been before. The message that Foals’ are back is crystal clear; what they must now prove is that they’re more intense and visceral than any of their earlier manifestations. This is the perfect brawling starting point…
Foals’ fourth album ‘What Went Down’ will be released on Warner Records on the 28th of August. For all past coverage of Foals on TGTF, head this way.
José González hit widespread public consciousness with his 2003 UK platinum début ‘Veneer’; his sparse combination of nylon-string fingerpicking and somnolent voice proved one of the highlights of the year and was heard on innumerable TV, film and advert soundtracks. 2007’s ‘In Our Nature’ passed with far less fanfare, despite being arguably the more interesting record, introducing more percussive textures and channelling Nick Drake, Ben Harper, and, in a hair-shirt version of ‘Teardrop’, Massive Attack. Never one prone to prolificity, a tardy 8 years later González returned in February with ‘Vestiges & Claws’, from which ‘Open Book’ is the third single to be drawn.
The version we feature here is a B-side to the album version (remind me how B-sides work in the digital age?), enhanced by a modest orchestral arrangement by New York’s pop-classical musicians-for-hire yMusic. The album version is the usual bare González guitar and vocal affair, but here we have strings and a lovely bit of clarinet and flute interplay, resulting in a much richer listen. The only mystery is why one would bother with the original version at all. Surely if there’s anything González needs to do after three bites of the cherry is to break the mould of his sound a bit, and experiment with new ways of presenting his admittedly strong songs. This version of ‘Open Book’ is a modest step in the right direction.
Also here we’re spared the bizarre original video, which sees González umbilically attached to a man-sized worm that he carries around in a giant wooden case. He cares for the ungrateful annelid, tolerating its futile thrashing, even when it spills his drink of iced Swedish cider and keeps him awake at night. He does allow it to provide the song’s whistled solo, so it’s not entirely without virtue. Whilst the visuals are indeed metaphorically congruous with the album’s reference to ‘Vestiges…’ and the song’s gentle plaints of love and loss, the creature is alternately repulsive and laughable, so it’s not an easy watch. Far better to settle back with the simple pencil drawing of the enhanced yMusic version, perhaps with a refreshing beverage. As long as there’s not a giant worm around to spill it.
With their recent signing to FatCat Records, Sheffield lo-fi indie pop quartet Best Friends are looking ahead to the release of their debut full-length album, ‘Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane.’, which is due out on the 4th of July. The newest single from the album, ‘If You Think Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out’ is set for official release on the 18th of May but is streaming now on the band’s Soundcloud.
The new single feels exponentially more frenetic and anxious than the album’s lively initial teaser ‘Shred Til You’re Dead’, which was featured here on TGTF as an MP3 of the Day back in January. The relentless forward momentum of ‘If You Think Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out’ spins on the verge of losing control, propelled by the constant push of the drums and the repeated wail of the main guitar riff, while the thin layer of echoing backing vocals add to the overall sense of disorientation. Lead singer Lewis Sharman’s abrasive vocal lines are often more growled or shouted than sung, unlike his more laid-back vocal delivery on ‘Shred Til You’re Dead’ and more similar to hard-edged previous single ‘Fake Spit’.
The three tracks do share a couple of notable qualities, particularly the piercingly hooky guitar lines and infectious punk energy that are likely to weave their way through the anticipated LP release later this year. Of the three tracks, however, I would say that ‘If You Think Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out’ is probably the least memorable and the least engaging, as it lacks the distinctive intro of ‘Fake Spit’ or the sunny musical mood of ‘Shred Til You’re Dead’. Its dynamic level leans heavily on the loud end of the spectrum and Sharman’s vocals are overly harsh. I found that sonic combination to be a bit tiring to my ears, despite the catchiness of the guitar riffs and the racing immediacy of the song’s tempo. I suspect that ‘If You Think Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out’ might work better in the context of the complete LP, depending on the intensity of the other songs and its placement in the tracklisting. Then again, maybe I’m overthinking it.
Best Friends embark tonight on a tour of the UK with fellow Sheffield duo Nai Harvest. You can read previous TGTF coverage of Best Friends right back here.
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