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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.
Though she has only a grand total of only 20 years’ life experience under her belt, singer/songwriter Lauren Aquilina has spent the last four of those years concentrating on her music career. Aquilina wrote, recorded and self-released her first EP ‘Fools’ in 2012, when she was just 16 years old. ‘Fools’ found its way into the UK iTunes Top 10, and Aquilina quickly followed it with two more EP releases, ‘Sinners’ in 2013 and ‘Liars’ in 2014, the latter of which made it onto six Billboard charts in the US. Early next month, Aquilina will release her fourth EP and Island Records debut ‘Ocean’.
Ahead of the 9th of October EP drop, Aquilina has shared the video for the ‘Ocean’ EP’s title single. Musically, the song follows the tried and true pop formula of beginning slowly and building to a climactic wall of sound. But the real focus, as with Aquilina’s previous tunes, is on her lyrics. Inspired most recently by the self-doubt of her early days as a songwriter, Aquilina has now progressed to a place where she can look back and put those feelings into song. Here on ‘Ocean’, she keeps her vocal delivery fairly simple, choosing to let her instrumentation and production skills set the song’s unsettled and introspective tone.
The initial instrumental arrangement of ‘Ocean’ is spare, from the piano melody behind the opening line “so fast, so free, these deep blue waters drown me in jealousy” to the echoing vocal effects that bloom behind the first statement of the chorus. After Aquilina poses her central question “and they call it freedom, how can it be / when we all follow patterns and live on repeat?”, the song bursts into a wash of synthesised sound, providing a new context for the lyrics to circle back on themselves like the cyclic waves of the sea.
That illustrative songwriting device is very basic, yet also quite effective in combination with Aquilina’s natural, unaffected vocal style. The instrumental arrangement is likewise unpretentious, which suits the unresolved questioning in her lyrics very well. ‘Ocean’ might not be Aquilina’s most memorable track, but it is nonetheless a nice effort from a songwriter who is building momentum toward the crest of her own wave.
Lauren Aquilina will support the release of her ‘Ocean’ EP with a run of UK live dates at the end of October; all the details are right here.
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 11th 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.
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