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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.
New Zealander-turned-New Yorker Liam Finn has just announced his second studio album, ‘The Nihilist’, with the online release of ‘Burn Up The Road,’ an anxiously energetic guitar-driven track inspired by late night bike rides through the streets of New York. The album itself was made during a series of late night recording sessions, and ‘Burn Up The Road’ certainly has that frenetic, restless feeling of insomnia about it. Its feverish momentum and slightly unsettling vocal delivery is tempered by contemplative lyrics such as, “It’s rough now but I need you girl / I’m miserable when on my own / Is it worth it if you’re mourning?”
Despite the wailing guitars and frenzied rhythms of its instrumental sections, “Burn Up the Road’ doesn’t completely abandon melody, especially on the vocal hook, “In this town of beautiful girls / I look at the menu and always eat at home”. The song’s inherent melodicism and foundational bass groove keep it from descending into a raucous wash of unintelligible noise. Instead, the strident guitar jams take on an agitated feeling of their own, an all-but-unhinged sense of frustrated self-examination to match the song’s nervously neurotic lyrics.
‘The Nihilist’ is due out on the 5th of May on Yep Roc Records. Watch a live video of ‘Burn Up the Road’ below.
Header photo by Rich Gilligan
Side projects and collaborations seem to be all the rage among established musicians these days, and Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan has recently jumped into the mix with a venture called Printer Clips. The project consists of a series of duets written by Noonan and performed with female singers including previous duet partner Lisa Hannigan, Martha Wainwright, and Julia Stone, then recorded in spontaneous and unstructured settings.
The first release from the project, ‘Apparatchik’, features the somewhat predictable combination of Noonan and Hannigan, whose voices blend together in harmony as beautifully here as on their version of ‘Some Surprise,’ from the 2006 project The Cake Sale. ‘Apparatchik’ is a very pretty, melodic little tune, which I found myself humming back after only one brief listen, but as usual with Noonan’s songwriting, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Lyrically, it has moments of downright ugliness, especially in the lines, “These are the punches that we roll with / This is the shit / But it’s so much easier to stomach it / When I’m downwind of you.” The juxtaposition of that obnoxiously unpleasant line with its elegantly lilting melodic phrasing is jarring, I suspect deliberately so.
The song’s title, ‘Apparatchik’, is an old Russian term for a professional member of the Communist party, now often used in a disparaging way to describe members of any large political organization as parts of a self-perpetuating machine. I almost wonder if Noonan might have been referring to his own role in Bell X1 there, but overall the song seems like a larger rumination on life, especially in its final repeated line, which I believe is quoted from a stencil by street artist Banksy, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”.
‘Apparatchik’ is the first release from Printer Clips’ upcoming EP ‘The Left Sleeve’, which is due for digital-only release on the 25th of April. A second digital EP, ‘The Right Sleeve’, is scheduled for release on Bone China Records on the 16th of May, followed by a physical and digital release of the full self-titled LP on the 23rd of May. This curious schedule reminds me of the idea Noonan discussed for Bell X1 album ‘Chop Chop’ in my interview with him last year, and it’s interesting to see that design come to fruition, albeit in a slightly different context.
In the end, as always, the interpretation lies with the listener; you can form your own opinion after taking a listen to ‘Apparatchik’ below. Printer Clips will perform a live premiere on the 24th of May at The National Concert Hall, Dublin.
The Horrors have always been synonymous with an urban aesthetic of neon punctured gloom; of gothic, monotone fashion under bulging bouffants. It’s an image that requires two opposing characteristics – a strong sense of self-identity, and a dynamism capable of keeping pace with the zeitgeist. Some would say that the purest blend the five boys from Southend-on-Sea have achieved so far was on 2011’s ‘Skying’, but all the right signs we’re there with the first single from the band’s upcoming album ‘Luminous’, starting with the 7 minute 30 second epic single ‘I See You’. Their follow up, ‘So Now You Know’ – out now on XL Recordings – doesn’t go quite so far. And, here’s why.
A ponderous opening from the rhythm section of drummer Joe Spurgen and bassist Rhys Webb forms a familiar scaffold from which the rest of the song is hung. The droning guitar and clipped choral notes (half-buried in the mix), complete a desolate scene that is immediately dispelled by the upbeat cyclic riff of the verse. The vocals are lofty and tuneful, but singer Faris Badwan reverts to type as a moody, almost spoken chorus with a sound akin to arty ’80s pop ala Simple Minds. It’s a typically Horrors combo, which might have seemed progressive on one of their earlier offerings, but with not much else other than the odd techy guitar squiggle to note, this is a track that would slip under the radar of more avid indie aficionados.
What they have produced here is a kind of dot-to-dot effort that would doubtlessly be overshadowed by other East End trendies trying to forge a reputation by starting as an uncertified homage to The Horrors. The opening single suggested something fresh and altogether more intriguing, but all is not lost for ‘Luminous’ – scheduled for release May 5 on XL Recordings- as there were signs within the production (such as the guitar solo, that sounded like it was emanating from a nuclear silo) that more variety might be on the way. And, if all else fails, dream pop’s resurgence means they could just cheer up a bit, allow the synths to take over and give CHVRCHES a run for their money.
Single ‘So Now You Know’ is out now on XL Recordings. The Horrors’ fourth album ‘Luminous’ will be released on the 5th of May.
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