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Nathaniel Rateliff is known for his brutally honest, rough-around-the-edges style of songwriting. His themes are often dark, and his music is suitably heavy in tone and color, even when the tempo is a little more upbeat. However, his new recording of live favourite song ‘Closer’ feels lighter and less cumbersome than what I’ve heard from him in the past. It’s the title track from his upcoming EP of the same name, which is billed as “Rateliff at his most stripped back and personal”. And if it’s any indication of what the rest of the EP holds, it is a bit of a change in direction from his last album, ‘Falling Faster Than You Can Run’, which I reviewed here back in January.
Rateliff couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate time to release his winter-themed new single, which with its exposed vocals and minimal instrumentation draws to mind trees stripped bare of their leaves by cold November winds. In fact, the first minute or so of the song is entirely a cappella, with the acoustic guitar melody finally echoing through as if from a distance, even creating a slight discord at times with the vocal line. Rateliff’s lyrics are likewise seasonal and bittersweet, for example, the lines “wishing it was summer / weathering this slow pace / come on, stop crying / wipe the ice from your face / I don’t mind the freeze as long as you’re here to hold me / this blanket of frost has got to melt I know” in the first verse. Despite the thematic chill, Rateliff’s vocal delivery conveys a sense of hopeful warmth. His voice is both richly textured and slightly rough, wrapping around the listener’s ear like a warm scarf as he sings the repeated chorus, “we’re closer now, we’re closer now than we’ve ever been”.
‘Closer’ is the title track from Nathaniel Rateliff’s new EP, due out on the 26th of January 2015 on Mod y Vi Records. Rateliff will tour the UK and Ireland in January 2015; you can find all the details here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 5th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
If you think this year’s Cassette Store Day on the 27th of September was a novelty not to be repeated in the future, that digital has killed off the format, think again. Halifax’s The Orielles have decided to release their own cassette single (or as they adorably prefer to call it, ‘cassingle’), just last week. Even more unique is the fact that the run has been limited to a mere 100 copies, so if our readers’ collective prescience naming the band #3 on our 10 for 2014 bands to watch countdown and indeed, that of our contributors including yours truly, are correct, this single in its physical form could make you a pretty packet sometime in the future.
Not like you needed any more reason to buy it besides this review, but the artwork on the cassette is pretty cool too: it seems like a simple drawing, but then you squint to look closer and what? It’s a hand (I’m assuming it’s a pun on the front half of two of their members’ surname) holding a bouquet of tulips, but the hand has legs underneath, so the figure is skateboarding at the same time. You can’t make this stuff up, kids… And how old are these kids again? When I was their age, I wasn’t thinking about playing in a band, let alone coming up with artwork that’s both whimsical and thought-provoking. (Don’t laugh, but seeing that I have no drawing skills, I was sat staring at the art for a good while, trying to figure out how they came up with the idea.)
‘Yawn’, this latest offering from the trio – Esme Dee Hand-Halford on vocals and bass, her sister Sid on drums and their close schoolmate Henry Wade on guitar – feels more closely aligned to their 2013 independently released EP ‘Sunny Daze and Sleepless Nights’ than the more recent, harder-edged ‘Hindering Waves’. (Perhaps this is why they’re offering up a demo of ‘Deduce’ from the former EP as its B-side, then?) While single ‘Entity’ (review here, video here) was more dramatic lyrically, there is a gentleness to the new single, as Esme Dee Hand-Halford sweetly sings in the chorus, “I feel like I’ve been asleep / and I’ve dreamed a thousand dreams / feels like I’m not waking up / and I find it hard to breathe”. The effect is not unlike the feeling you get when you’ve woken up from the best dream ever. You don’t want to get out of bed. And you don’t want to talk about it after, because it would tarnish its memory.
As if the notes are in a daydream themselves and are not directly connected with the words, Wade’s guitar playing is equally as playful. Yet somehow it all works together, the guitar complementing the swirly, fantasy nature of the song. Sid Hand-Halford’s drumming with high-hat accents too provides ample flourishes to keep this track from going too dreamy. I mean, after all, this is a band who pride themselves on being surf pop / rock purveyors, not to be confused with all too often snoozy dream pop. No, this is a song that will stay in your head for a long time and by that, I am giving it the highest of compliments.
You can buy the ‘Yawn’ single, backed by a demo of earlier track ‘Deduce’, from the Orielles from York’s Swirly Records here and yes, if for some reason you don’t own a cassette player, a digital version is available.
When I first heard that the band that makes me weep in this awesomeness were planning a concept record, I was fearful. Were they going to go full Muse on ‘The Resistance’ and forget what made them the accessible, fucking amazing group they are now? I felt a bit queasy in that place in your tummy that goes all squirty when your boss calls you into the office with THAT look on their face… The undoubtable feeling that this could go completely arse over face…
As the build-up towards Foo Fighters’ return gathered traction, I became more and more nervous. Numerous octogenarian musicians were wheeled out for amazing cover songs. Dave and co. haven’t lost IT, but I was still feeling that sense of foreboding about the record. They hadn’t lost IT, but they may have lost their minds, retreated up their own arses and made one of those concept records which bands who have done so well tend to do when they get to this stage, Muse’s ‘The 2nd Law’ as the prime example (I’m really giving Muse a hammering lately and I love Muse. Sorry, Muse).
20:50 last Thursday night, Zane Lowe had been tickling and teasing with clips from an interview with Grohl, Shiflett, Mendel, Smear and Hawkins, and on came and the opening chords of ‘Something From Nothing’, the first track on upcoming release ‘Sonic Highways’ came on. At that point, I sighed a neurosis releasing breath of relief – the man Grohl was back, and he had in fact NOT disappeared up his own arse.
We’ve got Wayne’s World-esque guitar solos and it goes full DIY with a honky-tonk funkadelic groove. And finally, we’re furnished with the Grohl yell, “FUCK IT ALL I CAME FROM NOTHING! I’M SOMETHING FROM NOTHING / YOU ARE MY FUSE!”
It’s classic Foo all over. Whilst it isn’t a departure from the DIY sound which made ‘Wasting Light’ such a success, the song has the fundamentals of any Foo songs and is underpinned by a huge, fist-pumping chorus.
Now, the theory of an album made from stories gathered on an enormous musical road trip across the USA is an intriguing one. The sounds of the States have trickled through modern music and changed it at its very core, whether its the punk scene of Seattle or jazz and blues in New Orleans. Whether putting them together in eight songs will actually make a decent album is the question we’re still waiting for the answer for… But already the signs are looking good.
Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis have a new collaboration. ‘Frozen By Sight’ combines Brewis’ formidable musical chops with Smith’s rum lyrics, inspired by, or possibly lifted verbatim from, notes collected on his travels. Which amounts to some jazz-rock noodling overlaid with Smith’s momentously banal observations. There’s more than a whiff of Grauniad-endorsed chin-stroking implied here, with a side order of 6th-form pretension: imagine your least favourite uncle’s holiday slide show commentary with a soundtrack by Creme Brulée from The League of Gentlemen and you’re in the right ballpark.
‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’ comes first. Ignore the ugly Americanism “exiting” and focus on the fact that the story largely comprises Smith hanging around in a London park observing a chap taking a phone call, meeting up with his girlfriend (who, it is noted, is wearing pink flip-flops), and wandering off into the distance. And there was I hoping for some incisive social commentary. ‘Barcelona (At Eye Level)’ is similarly dramaless – some people wander around the marina and lightning flashes a few times. Why did Gaudi bother?
Having said all that, as you might expect Brewis is as strong as ever, intertwining delicate yet assertive strings throughout his arrangements, showcasing the south-of-Tyne sounds we’ve come to know and love – big, thudding ’70s-style drums, fluid time signatures ebbing and flowing as required, and meaty, up-front production. Smith is known for his, as Yoko Ono would put it, “moon, spoon, june” lyrical style, so it’s quite pleasant to hear him take a more stream-of-consciousness approach here, which suits the meandering nature of the soundtrack and indeed the concept as a whole. And to be fair they do deliver on the concept – Smith has frozen a moment in time by visual observation, and baldly recorded it in a literary form halfway between prose and poetry, rather than a more conventional medium – that of photography, say.
Both tracks essentially desperately want to be ‘A Day in the Life’, and whilst Brewis does have a good stab at that multi-movemented style of orchestral pop, sadly Smith is no Paul McCartney when it comes to telling a story. He’s far too literal, lacking any sense of the fantastic, not letting his imagination intervene in his transcriptions of the day-to-day goings-on he observes. A decent dose of fancy, perhaps a tinge of psychedelia, or a few thousand conceptual holes, would have helped him climb out of a literal, lyrical one. But it will in all likelihood make a decent live happening, so for those of you lucky enough to live in London, Manchester or Gateshead (coincidentally the finest three cities in the UK), their live show is coming to you in December.
‘Frozen By Sight’ is due to be released on the 17th of November on Memphis Industries. The three-date English tour is set to take place in mid-December; all the details are here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 25th September 2014 at 12:00 pm
It’s been some time since we’ve heard from London band Fiction. To be more exact, it was a year and a half ago when they released their debut album ‘The Big Other’ at the start of March 2013 on Moshi Moshi Records. The LP proved to be one of my favourite LPs of last year, so I was really pleased to see they’d returned with new material. I then attributed the brilliance of the songs on ‘The Big Other’ in large part to the lightness the band imparted to them; nothing ever felt heavy-handed or overdone.
So it’s with much pleasure that I can report that they’ve achieved lightness again with new song ‘Lonely Planet’, but in a different, yet still intriguing way. The song is the first taster off their upcoming ‘In Real Life’ EP. ‘80s New Wave style percussion is still present, but it’s more understated. More obvious is the definite funkier feel to this track, especially in the chorus as Mike Barrett’s haunting voice slinks in and around the words, “somewhere there’s a lonely planet, where the sun goes down / but I’m somewhere else, I’m somewhere else / aliens grab hold of my hands / but my head’s up here / I’m somewhere else, I’m somewhere else”. If we’re meant to take the chorus literally, I sense an interesting duality: there is much you can explore in your own imagination and dreams, but if you stay lost in those thoughts, your existence away from everyone else can be a self-made lonely existence.
Memorable spiky guitar effects at the start grab your attention, but they aren’t the only instrumental points of interest in ‘Lonely Planet’. Nearer to the end of the song, horns and violins turn the tune angelic, keeping with the dreamy theme. Is it weird that I’m imagining humanoids and aliens on a faraway star, waving their arms in the air in unison to this song? Certainly, Fiction have written a beautiful song, but it’s also whimsical. And it’s got soul.
Thank you, Fiction. More, please.
Listen to the new Fiction track ‘Lonely Planet’ below. We don’t know yet when the ‘In Real Life’ EP from Fiction will be out, but we’ll keep you posted.
It’s not often that I’m completely dumbstruck by hearing a new band play, but that is exactly what happened the first time I heard Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Field Report. I was moved to tears by their poignant lyrics and austere instrumental arrangements when I saw them play a support slot for Stornoway last year in Chicago, and my reaction was much the same upon hearing their new single ‘Home (Leave the Lights On)’.
Thematically, the song deals with a well-worn singer/songwriter topic, the lonely jadedness of constantly being on the road. The lyrics open with a hint of bitterness, “Cold snap like a coiled spring / You can feel the frost coming on / We are marigolden, dropping orange and umber / Barely holding on”, but songwriter and frontman Chris Porterfield hasn’t quite succumbed to all-out cynicism. The perpetual motion of the synth line behind the acoustic guitar leads to a disillusioned but hopeful chorus and a determined final verse, “the body remembers what the mind forgets / archives every heartbreak and cigarette / and these reset bones, they might not hold / but they might yet.”
With its melancholic subject matter and Porterfield’s weary vocal delivery, ‘Home (Leave the Lights On)’ could easily have been a country song, but his deeply introspective lyrics, along with the reflective keyboard lines and understated guitars, give it a mimimalist sort of alt-rock sound. The accompanying video, featured below, takes a similarly clean and streamlined approach to classic Americana. Directed by Milwaukee production studio Black Box Visual, it features Porterfield driving a vintage Ford F-100 pickup truck through expansive scenes of the sprawling American Midwest.
Field Report’s sophomore album, ‘Marigolden’ is due for release on the 6th of October via Partisan Records. In addition to ‘Home (Leave the Lights On)’, Field Report have premiered the album’s lead track ‘Decision Day’ via CMT Edge. The band is currently on tour in America; a full list of their upcoming live dates can be found on their Facebook page.
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