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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.
I settled in to a comfy spot on my sofa on Tuesday night to listen to Ben Howard‘s newly premiered track ‘End of the Affair’. Anticipating a warm, mellow acoustic song along the lines of his previous hit ‘Only Love’, I armed myself with a cozy pillow and a nice cup of coffee before I put my earbuds in and clicked the play button. At this point, I noticed that the track was almost 8 minutes long, and as the sparse acoustic guitar intro started, I wondered if Howard could stretch it that far without putting me to sleep. I sipped my coffee, in case the hit of caffeine turned out to be necessary.
However, the delicate opening riff soon revealed a sharp and dissonant twist, foreshadowing the possibility that there might be more to this song than poignant lyrics set against the richly textured timbre of Howard’s singing voice. The first part of the track is a gentle but insistent tug at the heartstrings that could easily circle to a predictable close around the 4-minute mark. Defying that expectation, Howard has chosen instead to delve into a deeper musical territory, intensifying the emotional anguish with an evocative and instrumentally expansive coda.
As that exquisite final section drew to a close, I realized that I was actually holding my breath, my mouth dropped open but stunned silent. Perhaps a shot of whiskey might have been a more appropriate accompaniment than the cup of coffee that now stood cold on the table next to me. Prepare yourself accordingly before taking a listen to ‘End of the Affair’ below.
The taster track ‘End of the Affair’ will feature on Ben Howard‘s sophomore album. We’ve been promised that details about the new LP will be revealed to the public soon, so hang tight.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 4th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
I have joked with bands I know that if they know what’s good for them, they should release new albums around Christmastime. Why, you ask? Well, it stands to reason (at least from this music editor’s standpoint) that a release around that traditionally generous time of year makes for a thoughtful gift to a music lover, especially if said gift giver hasn’t been known to be all that ‘hip’ in the past. Music lovers themselves are more likely to treat themselves when the weather’s gone cold and anyone and everyone is in a festive mood too. At the very least, Christmastime releases don’t go without physical reminders, in your face at the high street music ships, so they’ll work in a pinch as last-minute stocking stuffers.
However, as this summer season has wore on and I’ve been drowning in what feels like a tidal wave of summertime singles including the return of The Courteneers with their way too obviously titled single ‘Summer’, I’m having second thoughts. Maybe the time to aim for new releases is in summer, when everyone’s in high spirits and are more in the mood to hand over their hard-earned cash for some new tuneage to pop in the car stereo and let ‘er rip while with the windows rolled down, wind whipping through one’s hair? If this sounds like you, then ‘Sunshine’ from Young Kato is for you. If you enjoy brass in your pop, that is…
The first obvious thing that hits you in the face at the start of this song is a somewhat whiny saxophone. Let’s dispense with the Gerry Rafferty ‘Baker Street’ jokes, please. Bear with it for a moment. I’ll be honest, as soon as I heard that distant wail going along with a trademark Young Kato synth line, I thought they’d lost the plot. What are they doing? Young kids, synthesisers and saxophones don’t exactly mix. Or do they? You’ll have to decide for yourself below.
Thankfully, they leave the saxophone behind a quick 7 seconds in, letting singer Tommy Wright’s voice shine through. Well, they do, until Wright takes a break…and the saxophone comes back in. In a seemingly stark contrast, a bit further along in the tune, Wright whistles gaily a short but sweet piece of melody. Is whistling summery? I’d say yes. Is the whistling better than the saxophone? YES. (Sorry. Needed to shout there.)
What makes ‘Sunshine’ is the slow build towards the chorus, which has been a successful template for most of Young Kato’s songs. Smartly utilising Wright’s soaring range, the six-member strong band from Cheltenham come together to wield a harmonious, shimmering wall of sound with an indelicate, driving beat towards the pop-loving public. If you close your eyes, you’d swear blind you were hearing a slightly harder Friendly Fires, circa 2008. Maybe that’s where they got the saxophone idea from…
But if you’re just left it behind, lads, I’d argue this would be a far stronger, less gimmicky showing. ‘Sunshine’ is good, just not great.
The ‘Sunshine’ EP, Young Kato‘s next release, is out the 15th of September on Republic Music / YK Records.
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