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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.
Jon Allen is a relative latecomer to the music biz – he released his début album ‘Dead Man’s Suit’ in 2009 at the ripe old age of 32. It’s been 3 years since 2011’s blues-influenced, Jools Holland-approved ‘Sweet Defeat’, but Allen is back, slightly wrinklier and considerably hairier, with ‘Deep River’, released this month. The mournful live version ‘Falling Back’ is free to watch, and it’s a corker of a thing, beautifully played, with nary a second of wasted space in the arrangement. There’s some card game metaphors in there, but surely he’s too upset to have just lost a few quid.
Allen has an uncanny knack for mimicking a plethora of rock ‘n’ roll legends. ‘Down By the River’ sounds for all the word like a long-lost Rod Stewart hit from 1972. Swing-blues ‘Fire in My Heart’ wouldn’t be out of place in Clapton’s canon, perhaps released in his millennial revival period. There are echoes of José Gonzales’ glassy nylon-string fingerpicking, and even, in the Hammond organ washes and mid-tempo strumming, hints of Pink Floyd’s later years.
All of which means if one fancies an evening with one of the great folk-rock performers, but can’t decide which one, then don’t despair. Put on something by Jon Allen, or even better, go and and see him live, and he’ll run you through some originals that sound just like the real thing. Which is no mean feat indeed.
Allen tours the UK in October and November. ‘Deep River’ is out now on Monologue Records.
Not content with being a successful yet obscurantist singer-songwriter with a penchant for self-depreciating everyday glamour, Courtney Barnett is also the proprietor of Milk! Records, the increasingly relevant Melbourne-based record label that she set up herself, rather than go to all the bother of letting someone else sign her up. A commendable effort indeed, even more so when one peruses her astute roster. Jen Cloher’s scuzzy blues-rock proves she’s got as many Lou Reed records in her collection as Rolling Stones ones. Fraser A. Gorman purveys wonderfully convincing old-time country – even more remarkable given the fact he’s Melburnian rather than Texan. Royston Vasie may not have the most original name (its third appearance in popular culture by my reckoning), but they’ve got a decent line in Dandy Warhols-esque garage-pop.
But back to Courtney. To celebrate the release of an upcoming Milk! Records compilation, she’s released ‘Pickles From the Jar’, one of the most unconventional – not to mention sweetly touching – loves songs one is likely to hear all year. Complete with false start, using the tried-and-tested White Stripes arrangement of clangy guitar and earnestly-thudded drums – she’s in love with a man who’s 15 years her senior, and culturally separated by 1,000 miles. But never fear! They bond over a shared love of Christopher Walken – an unlikely cupid, but hey, the man’s a genius, there’s nothing he can’t turn his hand to.
All the bands mentioned here are included on the compilation, to be released on the 31st of August. Their AU$5,000 funding target was crowdsourced on the very first day, but some pledges are still available. For instance, for a bargain £27, one can be the very proud owner of a signed, limited edition 10” vinyl copy. What is hugely encouraging about this project is the level of enthusiasm for artifacts – of music as object rather than transient pleasure. For instance, all three of the “Super Collector” options have sold – what you get for your £111 is a test pressing of Barnett’s second EP, a “virtually extinct” copy of a Jen Cloher / Courtney Barnett split 7”, in addition to the new 10”. That’s it. Unless it’s their parents buying them, this is one seriously hot record label right now. As is Melbourne, for that matter.
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