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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.
Those unfamiliar with the name Just Jack simply need to dig out his 2006 hit ‘Starz in Their Eyes’ for the glimmer of recognition to alight upon their auricles. Never one prone to bouts of prolificity, nevertheless his three albums in 7 years comprehensively describe the glowing centre of a Venn diagram where the dance, urban, pop and chill-out genres intersect. 2002’s ‘The Outer Marker’ is an evocative collection of comedown classics peppered with intelligent flow (“I loosen up your consciousness like a syrup of figs”), downtempo beats and great swathes of portentous synths. A little-known classic.
Jack moved away from post-club lethargy and headed towards the charts with 2007’s ‘Overtones’, the aforementioned ‘Starz’ popping up all over the place on TV trailers and soundtracks, a somewhat ironic state of affairs since the topic of the song is a knowing commentary on the dangers of the reality television machine. It netted him a silver disc, reaching #2 in the charts in the UK and Ireland, and it would become his best performing single.
2009’s ‘All Night Cinema’ continued the pin-sharp observational lyrics and his genre-skipping musical magpie habit. ‘The Day I Died’ is a curious choice for a single, a bittersweet description of a perfect day of the average man on the street – until he gets run over, that is. Elsewhere, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Goth in the Disco’ both describe the seamier side of nightclub culture, packed full of surreal imagery and with more than the sniff of chemically-enhanced personal experience. And that was it, a trifecta of albums demonstrating the singular genius of Just Jack, after which there were no more…
Thankfully for those partial to all things Just Jacksian, this week sees the release of a fresh four-track EP. The optimistically-titled ‘Winning’ sees him back to what he arguably does best: bedroom dance-tinged electronica, overlaid with his distinctive just-the-right-side-of-can’t-be-arsed vocal. These four songs are absolutely as good as anything he’s ever released. The title track is the obligatory observational pop song, sharp as ever. ‘Droids’ is the dancefloor classic, with disco intent in the massive bassline and an increasingly complex arrangement, Jack comes across as a barrow-boy Daft Punk. ‘Inside’ hints at dubstep orchestration, and sees him back at his downtempo best, with talk of endorphins and bed and breakfasts perfectly summarising the blend of ethereal and mundane that characterises the best of Just Jack’s work.
And is he really musically taking on the 21st century cult of religious extremism on ‘Minefield’? To a disco beat? It’s about time someone did. Extra merit points, Mr Allsop.
‘Winning’, the latest EP from Just Jack, is available for purchase in digital download format now at Jack’s Bandcamp.
After playing a summer full of festivals including Glastonbury and the Green Man Festival, The Pictish Trail (otherwise known by the name Johnny Lynch) has just released a new single to follow the April release of ‘Wait Until’. Called ‘Long in the Tooth’, the new track is also taken from his double album ‘Secret Soundz Vol. 1 & 2’, which was released in June on Moshi Moshi Records.
Directed by Cardiff-based photographer and filmmaker Ryan Owen Eddleston, the video for ‘Long in the Tooth’ was filmed on the Isle of Eigg in the Scottish Inner Hebrides as Lynch hosted the first ever Howlin’ Fling Festival. While the song itself seems to discuss a dwindling friendship, the video sees a grinning Lynch in the back of a truck, picking up an assortment of friends as he rides through the scenic landscape. Lynch’s raw, rocky vocal style matches the scenery quite nicely, but the jangling and jaunty instrumental sounds, along with the mildly incongruous electronic sound effects, are an interesting contrast to the glum and gloomy lyrics about having “lost what we had so long so completely now”. At the end of the video, Lynch and his mates are dropped out of the truck, presumably to make happy memories on a camping adventure. The unseen truck driver leaves them in the distance as the song trails off in its repeated refrain.
‘Long in the Tooth’ was officially released this past Monday, the 18th of August, by Moshi Moshi. Along with the single release and its accompanying video, Lynch is also debuting his new Web site and blog at www.thepictishtrail.com.
The Pictish Trail is scheduled to appear at the Stirling Fringe Festival in September before embarking on a co-headline tour with labelmate Sweet Baboo at the end of November. Details on those shared dates can be found in our earlier feature here.
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