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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.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
After a 2-year hiatus that saw frontman Jonny Pierce chance a short-lived solo career, The Drums are back, reinvigorated and curiously back to how they were when they first got started in 2008: simply a duo starring Pierce and best friend Jacob Graham. When the band, then a four-piece, first hit the indie scene in 2009 with then Steve Lamacq favourite and summer stunner ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, things looked pretty superficial. When I interviewed Pierce and then drummer Connor Handwick in the autumn of 2010, it was obvious to me quickly, especially from Pierce’s erudite discussion of the importance of film and photography to him while drinking a hot cup of tea, not booze, that there was more to the Drums than meets the immediate eye.
For better or worse, their self-titled debut album shot to #16 on the UK Albums Chart that same year, probably due to the sales of people who didn’t scratch below the surface. However, I think those fans who bought their sophomore album ‘Portamento’ and might have wavered in their loyalty or those expecting another album chock full of chirpy tracks like ‘Me and the Moon’ and ‘Best Friend’ might have trouble stomaching this leaner, meaner version of the Drums.
The vibe off taster track ‘Magic Mountain’ suggests the red satin jacket and high school sports jerseys Pierce has favoured in previous incarnations of the band might be up for retirement permanently. Why do I say this? Because, well, despite naming their song with the same moniker of one of America’s enduring theme park franchises Six Flags, this sound pretty dark. If anything, except for maybe the joyous handclaps at the start, it sounds like it was concocted in a mad scientist’s lab. A mad scientist from Scooby Doo, maybe.
Otherworldly synth notes wiggle and shake against menacing Graham’s guitar notes. Pierce sings high up the scale, the minor key vocal line appearing purposefully dissonant against the instrumentation and driving rhythm. Further examination of the lyrics adds causes additional confusion: “inside my magic mountain we don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on / inside my magic mountain I don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on”. Is “my magic mountain” some kind of euphemism? I can’t take this seriously.
It’s strange structurally as well, with an unnatural pause at 2 minutes 25 seconds before the song starts again. In its premiere with Noisey, Pierce describes the song as ” ..about shedding off what binds you and protecting what’s good, finding a safe place away from everyone and everything that wants to destroy you”. Hmm. Perhaps maybe ‘Magic Mountain’ is meant to be a grower, but I can’t see it appealing to their pop fans who swooned over ‘Let’s Go Surfing’. This is the Drums, mark IV. I still have an open mind about their future, but this left me cold.
No word yet on when the third album from the Drums will be released, but the word on the street is that the album was completed earlier this year, so I’m expecting something out before the year is out. I’m also guessing from their Soundcloud that they’ve started their own label, Minor Records. Should be interesting to see what comes of it, even if it’s sinister. Watch an album teaser from the duo below.
The new track ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ from Wolf Alice rings with energy. This four piece outfit hailing from London has captured the attention of many, garnering Radio 1 airplay with their crushing guitars yet surprisingly delicate vocals from lead singer Ellie Rowsell.
Starting with a deceptive acoustic line, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ changes 10 seconds in with a crashing assault on the ear. The simple acoustic line is carried through the noise and cleverly lifts the entire song with its melody keeping a lightness to it, despite the dark lyrics and heavy overlay of noisy guitars on top. They pack an exciting bit of unknown into that explosive 2 and a half minutes. The soft start of this tune that then opens into a nice hard edge on the interior coupled with the non sequitur, oft indecipherable lyrics harken back to my particular favourite, old style Biffy Clyro. If this is the direction the band choses to follow, they will continue to have a great champion in me.
The new Wolf Alice EP ‘Creature Songs’ will be with us on the 26th of May from Dirty Hit Records. Wolf Alice is on tour throughout the UK now, check out their tour dates here. Below is a video released earlier this month of the band performing the song live in session.
A new song from singer/songwriter James Bay has hit our desk and it’s another one to make the girls weak in the knees. I have really been taken with the soulful, mysterious, bluesy offerings of guys like Hozier and Foy Vance, and Mr. James Bay fits this mold quite nicely. ‘Running’ has both the musical chops to make your breast swell and the lyrics to bring a tear to your eye. Lines like “wherever we go” repeat and build like a call to action until you know you will likewise go running to follow this guy anywhere too.
Making a name for himself on the festival circuit, with 2014’s Liverpool Sound City and the Great Escape coming up next, he’s looking to melt hearts across the country. His influence from old school American folk masters the likes of Bob Dylan and James Taylor can be clearly felt. Starting with deep breathy vocals, the escalating intensity with the emotion of the song mimics the fight to be with the one he loves. A perfect blend of keyboard and acoustic guitar prevents it from being labelled as primarily either and the vocal stands out as the primary instrument.
If you are at either Liverpool Sound City or the Great Escape over the next 2 weekends, I highly recommend you checking out this chap.
James Bay’s new EP ‘Let It Go’ is out on 13 May on Republic Records. Listen to ‘Running’ below.
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