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Album Review: Slaves – Acts of Fear and Love

 
By on Monday, 13th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Slaves Acts of Fear and Love album coverKent punks Slaves started 2018 with releasing the first record from their own record label Girl Fight, Lady Bird’s ‘Social Potions’, in February. A music editor’s first thought upon hearing a band has started their label is to wonder whether the band plan to reduce their own creative output to nurture other artists. Put away that worry for the time being with ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, Slaves’ third studio LP, which follows 2016’s ‘Take Control’. Following their brief flirtation with hip-hop and collaboration with Beastie Boys’ Mike D on track ‘Consume or Be Consumed’, the pair decided to return to work with Jolyon Thomas, producer of their breakthrough debut album ‘Are You Satisfied?’

The record begins with the “OI!” and dissonant guitar notes of acerbic ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’. Lyrically, it’s a blistering commentary on the pretty people who don’t care about anything except posing for photos on their phones and posting them on social media, but it’s not particularly fast. As an opener, this works well to ease the listener in for what’s up ahead. The most abrasive of all is ‘Bugs’, with brutalist guitar riffs and pounding drums accompanying lead singer Isaac Holman’s growls. “Another letdown generation! / Full of inaccurate information! / Another letdown generation!”: there seems no other intention but to rile up the fans to shout along with him. On the other side of the spectrum, pop-punk previously released single ‘Cut and Run’ is the most accessible track here, with its fast tempo and relatively reserved lead vocals from Holman. Jarring squeals of microphone feedback in the last third of the track seem to be the one rebellious moment, you know, in case you’ve somehow missed that this is a Slaves single.

There are some signs that that Holman and his compadre Laurie Vincent may want to be known for more than just loud instruments and shouting: take, for example, ‘Daddy’, which features only melodic notes from an electric guitar for instrumentation. “There were things he wishes he did / back when he was a kid” laments Holman, who is occasionally accompanied by the sweet voice of a female backing vocalist. Makes one wonder if Holman, now with a toddler of his own, has begun questioning his own mortality and is heading for the mid-life crisis he sings about. Guitars grind and drums pound on the title track, but only in between Holman’s wry observations on life, or perhaps more correctly, regret: “it’s funny how you forget things / so important at the time / it’s funny how you forget things”.

‘Chokehold’, the other single to precede the album’s release, is a sneering retelling of being dumped, surprising in that Holman admits that in the presence of his mates “I pretended that I didn’t care / but on the inside I was burning, my eyes trembling”. It seems the lads have grown up, previously lashing out at ‘Angelica’ on the last go-around, now having been in a more committed relationship where real feelings were felt and hearts were broken. The guitar lines on ‘Magnolia’, an ode to that creamy off-white paint colour that Holman insists lives on at least one wall in 65% of UK homes, bear similarity to those on ‘Chokehold’. Er, maybe ‘ode’ is the wrong word to use. On the track, Holman mocks conformity and living up to societal ideals but in a different way to ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’.

‘Photo Opportunity’ is the most interesting track on ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, as it seems to be a snapshot of what’s going on in Holman and Vincent’s heads these days. In between the loud bursts of sound, the dueling thoughts of not wanting to be stopped by a fan for a photograph and feeling directionless despite having ‘made it’ reminds us that for all their fame, they’re just normal blokes who have their moments of insecurity and lack of direction. While the overall sound of this third album from Slaves is indeed louder and more primal than on ‘Lose Control’, the surprising moments of nonaggression suggest there might be a day when Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent want more than to shout at us and make our ears bleed. It’s a conclusion I’m pleasantly surprised they’ve arrived to faster than I expected.

8.5/10

Slaves’ third studio album ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ will be out this Friday, the 17th of August, on Virgin EMI / AMF Records. They’ll be touring the UK in November. To catch up on our past coverage of Slaves on TGTF, come through.

 

Album Review: Hilang Child – Years

 
By on Friday, 10th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Thomas Harrison

Hilang Child Years coverLondon-based singer/songwriter Ed Riman, known professionally as Hilang Child, captured my attention earlier this year at SXSW 2018, with his memorable performance at the official showcase of his record label, Bella Union. While the lighting and atmosphere at the Parish that night contributed to the brilliance of his show, it was the vivid soundscapes he created on stage that echoed in my mind long after the evening was over. Riman’s solo performance at SXSW was a natural precursor to the release of his upcoming debut album, titled ‘Years’.

Thematically, this LP is a prolonged introspection on reaching adulthood and the ephemerality of youth. As with many such intropective albums, ‘Years’ is sonically atmopheric and suggestive of moods rather than specific storylines. To label its music as “impressionistic” would be accurate but might call to mind the wrong ideas: Riman paints here with broad, sweeping brushstrokes and vivid colors rather than the soft, misty haze that term generally implies. The most immediate example of that bold sonic quality is in the album’s opening track ‘I Wrote a Letter Home’.

The main focus throughout ‘Years’ is on Hilang Child’s overarching sonic textures. In this regard, Riman says that he has learned through experience to trust his instincts in writing and self-producing these unique soundscapes. Speaking of his early recordings, he remembers, “I was always more excited about my home demos, recorded on a laptop, than the final recordings. I learnt that the only way I could convey the sound I wanted was by producing it myself, despite having little knowledge or ability in production.”

This is not to say that Riman completely ignores lyrics or melody; it’s simply that he uses them in service to the overall sound. His song forms don’t always follow the predictable verse/chorus/verse pattern, though his lyrics and do contain fragments of refrain, and his light, flexible vocal tone blends seamlessly into the instrumental backdrop. His piano melodies are bright and well-defined, standing out against the instrumentation in a way that his singing voice doesn’t, but they are not designed as catchy hooks or motifs. He enriches his textures with interesting percussion throughout the album, adding a distinctive rhythmic quality and sense of motion to the pensive, slow-moving harmonic progressions.

Riman allows his vocals to come to the forefront on ‘Sleepwalk’, arguably the album’s centerpiece, where Riman wonders, rhetorically, “what’s it all for, what can I show? / for 25 years alive, don’t know if I’ve ever tried, I’m sleepwalking tonight”. His hazy instrumental backdrop is propelled toward self-absolution by a shuffling rhythm, and his lilting vocals are powerfully emotive as he sings the final lyric, “this darkening down inside ends tonight’.

Following a brief instrumental interlude titled ‘Boy’, Riman makes another bold statement in ‘Starlight, Tender Blue’, which features layered synths and vocal lines over brooding guitar lines and heart-pounding drums. ‘Rot’ returns to the more pensive side of things, with the permeating warmth of its musical arrangement illustrating the sentiment behind its opening lyric, “even after everything I know, I’m not the bitter one”. ‘Endless String’ is similarly muted and self-reflective, its whispered vocals anchored into a rhythmic and tonal context by strong underlying piano chords.

Riman rounds out ‘Years’ with a flourish, or rather two of them. The anthemic recent single ‘Crow’, which is perhaps the most easily accessible individual track on the album, outside its full context. The song’s emphatic rhythm and and melodic piano lines are among the album’s most memorable moments, and Riman’s vocals reach their peak intensity in its swelling chorus. The album’s elusively-titled final track ‘Lissohr’ is deliberately more evasive, with an amorphous instrumental underlying vocal layers that echo as if from a great distance.

In the press release for ‘Years’, Riman mentions that his stage name, Hilang Child, translates from Malay as “missing child”. Certainly the thematic material on this album reflects a young adult’s struggle to find identity, but in terms of Riman’s musicality, the name Hilang Child might be something of a misnomer. Ambitious in its scope and brave in its sonic exploration, ‘Years’ presents Hilang Child as a composer who is clearly finding his place, with confidence in his own skill and a keen sense of clarity about his sonic vision.

8/10

Hilang Child’s debut LP ‘Years’ is out today, the 10th of August, on Bella Union. TGTF’s coverage of this intriguing artist at SXSW 2018 can be found through here.

 

Single Review: Cassia – Get Up Tight

 
By on Thursday, 9th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

With the blazing sun heating up the last few weeks for us here in the UK, we really are in need of some great summer tracks to keep us going. Luckily enough, up-and-coming indie Northern band Cassia have released their new single ‘Get Up Tight’ just in time. The tune has been teased at for a while now, at first being part of the band’s live repertoire, but after several cheeky teaser videos including this one, Cassia finally gave in and officially released the punchy track.

The summery instrumentation of ‘Get Up Tight’ has been kept bright with the use of twangy guitars and accented beats. The accompaniment never lags and is energetic from start to finish. Despite its repetitive nature, there isn’t a moment that feels boring. At any point in the song, you are able to pick out each instrument and its part perfectly: there’s always something else to catch your attention, even if it’s the fifth time round on the riff, an unusual quality in a song. Quite often, bands of this genre go a little over the top on instrumentation, Blossoms being a prime example, but Cassia have balanced it expertly, creating enough interest whilst allowing the audience to fully appreciate each instrumental aspect of the tune.

Admittedly, the vocals take a little getting used to. You almost have to tune your ear to Jake Leff’s diction like you would to someone with an unfamiliar accent, but it’s worth the acclimatisation. There are some unmistakable similarities to other artists within Leff’s voice, Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen being the most prominent, but there is also his own unique and definitive style mixed in. Leff’s vocal expression is cool and blasé, especially in the chorus where he casually half-speaks the title line, adding a laid-back feel to the song. The lyrics continue this relaxed theme with a ‘Devil-may-care’ attitude, blatantly obvious in lyrics such as, “She’s in love with someone else / none of it does bother me”. This lyrical perspective, combined with the punch of the bright accompaniment, really makes ‘Get Up Tight’ a tune to kick back and relax in the sun to. For a band with relatively little experience in the music industry, Cassia have demonstrated some real expertise in their crafting of their new single.

8.5/10

Single ‘Get Up Tight’ from Macclesfield’s Cassia is available now from Distiller Records. They are currently on tour around Europe; for information on those dates and their future autumn UK tour dates, visit their official Web site. https://www.wearecassia.com For more of TGTF’s coverage of Cassia, follow us here.

 

Album Review: Kodaline – Politics of Living

 
By on Wednesday, 8th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Kodaline Politics of Living album coverWhen I reviewed Kodaline’s sophomore album ‘Coming Up for Air’, I noted their “newfound self-confidence”. I also noted the Dubliners’ concerted effort to move away from their folkier, Gary Barlow-endorsed beginnings (‘Love Like This’, anyone?) and towards a more mainstream pop sound. That was 3 years ago. I don’t think I would have predicted this, but ‘Politics of Living’, out this Friday, is even more pop than their last. Is their confidence still on the up and up? I’ll have to see about that when they swing by Washington in December. Surely, this third album is a distillation of their attempts to continually evolve and grow as artists and musicians, with varying degrees of success. Like its predecessor, ‘Politics of Living’ is the product of their collaboration with producer Steve Harris and quite a few big names in the industry, including Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran), Johnny Coffer (RagNBone Man, Beyonce) and Jonas Jeberg (Dizzee Rascal, Kylie Minogue).

Kodaline appear to be most comfortable when they return to their roots, that is, when the production is relaxed, the tempo is slower and the emotions run high. The gorgeously simple melody that unfolds from the mostly a capella ‘I Wouldn’t Be’ sounds like it came straight from the lips of an Irish mother singing to her child. In this form, beginning with lead singer Steve Garrigan’s voice alone, then leading to perfect, four-part harmonies, makes the song unforgettable. ‘Angel’ and previous single ‘Brother’ (single/essay here) broach death and friendships, respectively, both holding the enduring strength of love with much reverence. They are a band who can uplift us even in our darkest days, the best example of this in the whistle-happy ‘Head Held High’. It isn’t hard to imagine that they’re sat “waiting for the sun to shine again” right along with us, supporting us.

The problem is when they go too far from their comfort zone to relate to more urban, Radio 1 palates. Replete with syncopated beats and flicks of tambourine, ‘Born Again’ and ‘Come Around’ sound too much like Glass Animals‘ retreads. If we were to view ‘In a Perfect World’ hit ‘All I Want’ as at the desperation stage of grief in a breakup, ‘Hell Froze Over’ is at the anger stage: “I would do anything for you / but I won’t do that again / we might never get closure / heaven knows it had to end”. Sure, we all get upset, but it’s hard to picture the squeaky clean and super sweet Kodaline lads truly lashing out at an ex.

Bridging the distance between the group’s best and their not so best on this LP are the grand stadium pop numbers that have been unveiled as previews prior to the album’s release. ‘Follow Your Fire’, wrapped up in its shiny production, is an upbeat, zippy pop number about living life without regrets. Piano-led “gospel-tinged” ‘Shed a Tear’ slows things down with a message akin to soul classic ‘Stand By Me’. ‘Politics of Living’ closes with the pop/soul mix ‘Temple Bar’, celebrating the famed district south of the River Liffey in Dublin. In it, frontman Garrigan repeats the rhetorical question, “where did it all wrong?” It’s one question I posed to myself about this album before I committed any words down for this review.

The elephant in the room on Kodaline’s third outing is the lack of direction. While the most heartfelt moments and poptastic singles are fantastic, the rest of the album misses the high bar the band already set for themselves. The variety of songs may serve to appeal to different groups of the music listening public but as a whole, the collection lacks consistency. Too bad.

6.5/10

‘Politics of Living’, the third album from Irish band Kodaline, will be released this Friday on Sony Music. Have a listen to ‘Worth It’, the latest taster to the album, in the embed below. To catch up on all of our past articles on the group, come through.

 

Album Review: Little Sparrow – Just 3 EP

 
By on Tuesday, 7th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Manchester singer/songwriter Katie Ware, perhaps better known by the name Little Sparrow, has recently released a new and distinctively charming EP to whet her audience’s appetite for a forthcoming full album. The EP release, simply titled ‘Just 3’, is brief but emotionally evocative, showcasing the beautiful singing voice that gave Little Sparrow her name, as well as the classically-influenced instrumental arrangements borne of her continued collaboration with producer Jonny Lexus, pianist/composer Robin Dewhurst and cellist Sarah Dale.

Ware is currently in the process of writing and recording a new album, which she hopes to release in 2019. But an opportunity presented to her back in 2016 set her path on a slight detour, which has turned out to be more of a happy accident than a deterrent to her progress. The ‘Just 3’ EP began to take shape when organisers at the 2016 Kendal Calling festival suggested that Ware, who was performing at the festival, might team up with Dewhurst and Dale to work on a classic rock cover. That collaboration grew from working on the cover to writing and arranging two additional Little Sparrow songs as well, and judging from the result, the three musicians have found a successful synchronicity.

In the EP’s opening track, Little Sparrow presents the fruit of the original collaboration, a drastic reinterpretation of Madness’ 1980 hit ‘Baggy Trousers’. In the hands of Ware and company, ‘Baggy Trousers’ is transformed from a zany punk anthem to a musical theatre-style vignette of melancholy introspection. Ware’s vocals find the sweet spot between sultry pop expressivity and beautiful classical technique, while Dewhurst’s delicate piano and Dale’s yearning cello provide an evocative backdrop to Little Sparrow’s remarkable reimagining of this song.

The middle track on the ‘Just 3’ EP is one we’ve heard before at TGTF, early single ‘Tender’, which was released on its own back in December of last year. As we mentioned in our review of the single, ‘Tender’ is a heartfelt and very personal song for Ware, and her video treatment, which includes fan-submitted photographs of loved ones alongside Ware’s own shared images, is equally emotional. The sentimental quality of the song makes it a nice pairing with the Little Sparrow version of ‘Baggy Trousers’, continuing both its nostalgic mood and its graceful musicality.

As if on cue, ‘Just 3’ closes with an unapologetic tearjerker, the aptly positioned ‘Dry Your Eyes’. In the EP’s press release, Ware relates that she wrote this song several years ago, when she was in the midst of suffering from a bout of depression. However, she emphasises that “the song is intended to be positive and to encourage the listener to ‘dry your eyes’ and to know that ‘you are not alone’.” Her uplifting message is inspiring both to the heart and to the minds of her hopeful listeners, who upon hearing these three tracks will no doubt be more eager than ever to hear Little Sparrow’s next collection of elegant and carefully-crafted songs.

8/10

Little Sparrow’s self-released ‘Just 3’ EP is available now. You can find TGTF’s past coverage of Little Sparrow, including a review of her debut LP ‘Wishing Tree’, through this link.

 

Album Review: Years & Years – Palo Santo

 
By on Monday, 6th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Years & Years Palo Santo album coverWe all hoped the cheesy ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys-ey boy bands were a thing of the past, right? The band genre made a comeback a few years back in the form of JLS and One Direction, but again we left these behind, and music had progressed since then, had it not? Years & Years appear keen to rekindle this dying flame in their newest album ‘Palo Santo’. Although their 2015 debut album ‘Communion’ seems miles away now, there is an unmistakable Nineties’ / Noughties’ boy band vibe running through the 14 tracks of ‘Palo Santo’. The use of layered vocals, Nineties’ style synthesisers and manufactured drum beats reminscent of those dance-pop tunes from yesteryear we all know and secretly love.

The final track of ‘Palo Santo’, ‘Up In Flames’, takes this comparison the furthest as it really feels as though it has been plucked out of 2000. The song opens with a familiar sounding drum machine beat, embellished with what sounds like shakers and perhaps most surprisingly, a bell. After the first verse, in comes a clunky synth riff and backing vocals, that couldn’t get more Backstreet Boys if it tried. Oh, but it does. At the end of the chorus, ‘Up In Flames’ there is a bright synth stab that, although subtle, is undeniably a direct take from ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ and that song’s defining feature of the 1997 song, and now here it is in a Years & Years track. Although the nostalgia is pretty enticing, the foundations of the song are well past their best by date.

Not only do many of the tracks of ‘Palo Santo’ recall songs that have come before, they are also hard to define within the album itself. Very few of the tracks have any elements that really stand out and demand your attention. Despite the fact that there are songs that are upbeat and dancey – for example ‘All For You’ or ‘Rendezvous’ – the album feels beige. Take the songs ‘Hypnotised’ and ‘Here’, two tracks that should sound completely different on paper. ‘Hypnotised’ is a capella but ‘Here’ is not, and yet they still manage to blur together. Yes, they are in different keys, use different instrumentation and are at dramatically different lengths to each other, but the essence is the same. These are two tracks that should sound a world apart but without any hooks or memorable lyrics, they become the two slow songs on the album.

The two tunes that actually stand out from the beige are the catchiest songs from the album, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’. ‘Sanctify’ is a throwback to 2015 album ‘Communion’, having the same energy and memorability as tracks like ‘Shine’ and ‘King’. The song begins with a simple drum machine accompaniment to Olly Alexander’s distinct vocals which then explode into a powerful and catchy chorus. ‘If You’re Over Me’ goes down the more generic upbeat pop route, the percussive claps giving it a Jason Mraz-esque ’Have It All’ / ‘Unlonely’ quality. Its lyrics are sassy yet relatable, and although they’re not particularly imaginative, it doesn’t really matter in this setting as they succeed in being easy to remember and sing along to. However, imagination is not in short supply when it comes to the music videos accompanying these two tracks. Both videos have been produced in a sci-fi style with a narrative that runs from one to another, and although unusual they are fun and perhaps the most interesting offshoots of the entire album.

As only the second studio album from the band Years & Years, ‘Palo Santo’ is a disappointment. The tracks lack freshness; instead, they reminisce on music from irrelevant times. Although ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’ have become big hits, it’s just a shame for the rest of the album to be so weak.

5/10

‘Palo Santo’ is out now on Polydor Records. Years & Years began their world tour this month and will be stopping in the UK from the 11th of August. For more information on their live dates, visit the band’s official Web site.

 
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About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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