Check out our festival coverage, including that from SXSW 2017 and BIGSOUND 2017, through here.

SXSW 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | Live at Leeds 2016 | 2015 | 2014
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Single Review: Ten Tonnes – Lay It On Me

 
By on Wednesday, 21st February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

It’s this time of year when we here at TGTF start to get nostalgic about our times in Austin and the acts we discovered there. Ethan Barnett, stage name Ten Tonnes, has been busy since I covered him live at SXSW 2017 last year. He performed at the Twix afternoon showcase at Bar 96 on Rainey Street on Wednesday, where I interviewed him. He also appeared at the Radio 2 showcase that evening, hosted by BBC Radio In Concert presenter Jo Whiley. It was a big week for him, as his new single ‘Silver Heat’ was released while we were in Texas. An EP with a rollicking title track single, ‘Born to Lose’, followed in the summer. More music lovers were introduced to his music in a blistering array of festival appearances and UK tour support slots with Stereophonics and RAT BOY. Getting out on the road and gaining confidence is in front of audiences will no doubt come in handy as his career progresses.

Barnett now has a new single out this month, and it’s notably different from his previous bluesy efforts. The first song Barnett says he’s written with someone else, ex-Kaiser Chiefs Nick Hodgson, ‘Lay It On Me’ eschews the frenetic guitar chords of ‘Silver Heat’ and the adorable vocal twangs of 2016’s ‘Lucy’. As if to cash in on the current popularity of lo-fi, an echo effect on Barnett’s vocals makes it sound like he’s singing to us down a tunnel. Is this necessary? Not really. A driving rhythm chugs along as he shows remorse of having left behind someone he truly loves. These verses of regret lead to an instrumental crescendo, oddly just over 30 seconds into the song. The vocal punctuation of “I know it’s been a while but I’m back again / back again to face the symphony” is an elegant way of stating he’s facing the music and owning up to his mistakes.

One step further, he’s offering to be anything his partner needs, as if it’s a modern ‘Lean On Me’. The single ends with a chaotic climax of banging guitars and Barnett’s vocals fighting with the cacophony. It’s an odd way to end a song with such a positive message, like we’ve gone from being totally serious to totally silly. The acoustic version of ‘Lay It On Me’ played solely by Barnett on a guitar feels truer to who he is an artist. Maybe it’s a sign that he should go back to writing alone to stay true to the artist he wants to be?

6/10

‘Lay It On Me’ from Ten Tonnes is out now on Warner Brothers. You can compare the studio single version and an acoustic live version by Barnett alone in the embeds below. To catch all of our past coverage on Ten Tonnes on TGTF, go here.

 

Single Review: Barns Courtney – Sinners

 
By on Tuesday, 13th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Barns Courtney Sinners singleIncorrigible alt-rocker Barns Courtney has paired up with an equally incorrigible partner-in-crime, Carl Barat (of The Libertines and Carl Barat and the Jackals fame), for what seems on first glance like it should be a bad-boy match made in heaven (or perhaps . . . somewhere else?). The two have co-written a rather aptly titled new single called ‘Sinners’ to follow up on Courtney’s excellent debut album ‘The Attractions of Youth’. Where the songs on ‘The Attractions of Youth’ seethe with youthful angst and energy, ‘Sinners’ takes a slightly heavier and noticeably more jaded tone, which is almost certainly attributable to Barat’s contribution.

The deep blues rock feel of the musical setting is exactly what you’d expect from this collaboration, but Courtney’s vocal delivery almost immediately stands out as special. His voice is strategically raw and dark in the song’s opening lines “fortune, fortune, smiling fate / I haven’t seen you much of late / need you now and cannot wait”. That spiteful sneer twists into a bitter, beaten down growl in the second verse, where he sings of “drinking gin and dropping lines / wasting beats of this heart of mine”.

Unfortunately, the chorus refrain of ‘Sinners’ doesn’t quite deliver on the dramatic promise in its verses. Rather, the chorus feels hastily thrown together, with liberal “yeahhhhs” rounding out the rhythms where words apparently failed. “I must be good for something”, Courtney moans, presumably searching for something more than “dancing on cold feet [and] marching on cobbled streets”. He doesn’t quite find it in ‘Sinners’, but the track will serve well enough to hold off the hordes of madding fans demanding something new from him after the whirlwind success of ‘The Attractions of Youth’. If you’re among that number, take a listen to ‘Sinners’ just below.

6.5/10

‘Sinners’ is out now on Virgin EMI. Our complete previous coverage of Barns Courtney, including a cheeky interview at SXSW 2016 is collected right through here.

 

Album Review: Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers

 
By on Thursday, 8th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

brian fallon Sleepwalkers coverAmerican rocker Brian Fallon already has a busy schedule for the early part of 2018. He will embark on a UK headline tour with his current band, The Howling Weather at the end of this month, which will be followed by North American dates extending through the spring. His summer plans include headline shows and festivals with former band The Gaslight Anthem in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their hit album ‘The ’59 Sound’.

Fallon’s upcoming solo shows are in support of his new LP ‘Sleepwalkers’, which like his previous studio effort, 2016’s ‘Painkillers’, will probably be stronger live than on recording. Thematically, Fallon’s songwriting on ‘Sleepwalkers’ dwells in those aching moments in life when the stars don’t quite align. He takes on the role of romantic anti-hero very well, and his earnest sincerity is undeniable. Musically, ‘Sleepwalkers’ is an extension of the folk rock sound Fallon developed on ‘Painkillers’, but with a bit more of the anthemic gospel of The Gaslight Anthem added to the mix. Opening tracks ‘If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are prime examples, though the subtle restraint in the former and the perspective shift in the final chorus of the latter both come as pleasant surprises.

‘Sleepwalkers’ doesn’t have many well-defined high or low points in terms of dramatic tension and intensity. Its tempos and dynamics are cranked up high through the first part of the tracklisting, almost monotonously so, with the exception of standout track ‘Etta James.’ Fallon is probably sick to death of the constant Springsteen comparisons, but he really does choose fortunate moments to channel his fellow New Jersey predecessor, and the soulful, slow burning ‘Etta James’ is one of those.

Later in the album sequence, there is more variety, as in the folk-leaning dance instrumentation of ‘Proof of Life’ and the brass-tinged jazz rhythms of title track ‘Sleepwalkers’. Unfortunately, Fallon’s half-spoken/half-sung delivery isn’t melodic enough to lift the heavy, square melodies and the overall effect is a bit dragging. His slurred vocal delivery works better in the country-tinged ‘Watson’ whose clever, if slightly awkward, lyrical metaphor finds him singing in character, “I’m worried when I’m old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London”. Fallon’s signature gritty vocals, along with hard-edged guitars and pounding drums, are central to ‘My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)’, which though lyrically a bit trite, finds some dynamic variety without losing any of its emotional intensity.

Album closer ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a stripped-back guitar ballad that exposes both Fallon’s strengths and his weaknesses. Its verse lyrics, where he pledges to “spend my life in your majesty’s service / and call myself satisfied”, create a nice symmetry with an earlier track, but his unnuanced vocal delivery doesn’t quite overcome the square, singsong quality of the chorus.

Fallon’s solo efforts continue to vex me to a certain degree. His public persona (both on stage and in interviews) is so thoughtful and genuinely charismatic that I find myself truly *wanting* to like his songs. Taken individually, the songs on ‘Sleepwalkers’ are strong, but the album as a whole falls slightly short of its potential. In the end, with ‘Sleepwalkers’ as with ‘Painkillers’, it comes down to a toss-up between Fallon’s singing and his lyrics. I feel absolutely sure that at some point, there will come a magical moment when Brian Fallon hits the target on both at the same time, but as yet, that hasn’t materialised.

7/10

‘Sleepwalkers’, Brian Fallon’s second solo LP, is out tomorrow, Friday the 9th of February, on Virgin EMI. TGTF’s past coverage of Brian Fallon is collected through here, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem is back here.

 

Single Review: We Are Scientists – One In, One Out

 
By on Tuesday, 6th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The last time we heard from American pop rockers We Are Scientists, in 2016, they had released their sixth album ‘Helter Seltzer’. You can read our review of that long player through here. It’s 2 years later, and Keith Murray and Chris Cain are hinting about their next record. As usual, the jokesters want to tease us a little with the first single from the upcoming release. An unexpected high-tech sound and an accompanying video is our first glimpse into ‘Megaplex’. The forthcoming album was produced by Max Hart, their partner in crime for 2008’s most excellent ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’, as well as ‘Helter Seltzer’.

Lyrically, ‘One In, One Out’ seems like a run-of-the-mill pop song, treading the all too common ground of angst of falling in love and feeling unsatisfied. Instead of pairing it with a trite melody, We Are Scientists have gone all futuristic, with icy robotic beats and Murray’s voice feeling faintly autotuned. An anthemic, feel good chorus pulls everything together. Instrumentally, the song bops along with a heavy synth line reminiscent of the New Wave-y ‘80s. Cain acknowledges in the press release that the direction of the new material is less philosophical and more hedonistic. “In the past we’ve used our music to educate, to enlighten, to awaken people to the depth and complexity of moral concerns. This time, we really wanted to drop a fun-bomb. Something to dance or f*** to.” Okay, then!

The video for the song looks like something out of the same era: pulsating dots bounce together for each of the band members’ silhouettes, while the band themselves are projected on a black-lit, magenta computerised checkerboard. I’m not going to spoil it for you but where the video ultimately goes is, in typical WAS style, unpredictable and hilarious. One clue: cheese and crackers are great, aren’t you? ‘One In, One Out’ is an intriguing preview of a much-awaited return from a pair of experienced singer/songwriters whose pop gems have rarely disappointed us.

8/10

‘One In, One Out’, We Are Scientists’ newest single, is out now. ‘Megaplex’, the American duo’s sixth studio album, will be out on the 27th of April on 100% Records. To read more on We Are Scientists here on TGTF, go here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: The Academic – Tales From the Backseat

 
By on Tuesday, 30th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Academic Tales from the Backseat album coverIn less than 2 months’ time, The Academic will be returning to Austin for their second SXSW, and with a major career achievement ticked off. Earlier this month, the lads from Mullingar in the Irish midlands released their debut album ‘Tales from the Backseat’. The LP has proved so popular in their home country, it knocked major label giant Ed Sheeran from the top of the Irish official album charts. Give it a spin, and you’ll find there’s enough here to keep your toes tapping for days and a smile on your face.

Single ‘Different’ is not a new song for the band, having appeared on their 2015 EP ‘Loose Friends’. Its energetic brashness, then and now, is impossible to ignore. The album version is more polished: with more layers to love than in its previous guise, the touch of album producer Tim Pagnotta (Neon Trees, St. Lucia, COIN) on this track and the rest is one of the keys to this record’s success. Lyrically, like One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, it’s a tale of empowerment, a boy telling the girl he likes that she’s unique and that’s what makes her special. The updated ‘Different’, currently making the rounds on SiriusXM Alt Nation and BBC Radio 1 specialist shows, is sure to inspire youngsters of all ages to dance like loons at a festival near you this summer. ‘Feel It Too’, with its driving beats and wiggly synth effects, also has a disarming edge: frontman Craig Fitzgerald admits his own vulnerability in the lyrics “…I’m your fool / I’m not so cool / you know I feel it too / you’re not alone”.

The topics broached on ‘Tales…’ reflect the concerns inside the heads of four adolescents from small-town Ireland. “What’s my motivation?” Fitzgerald asks on album opener ‘Permanent Vacation’. The song conveys a young man’s discomfort of coming to grips with adult responsibilities that loom in the rearview mirror. Another single, ‘Bear Claws’, has become a live favourite with its rousing “Ay! Oh!” call. Last October, the band created a first-of-its-kind Facebook Live performance of the song, using the audio/video time lag to create a mesmerising visual loop sampler.

On some of these songs, The Academic wear their most important influences on their sleeve. Though the lads are no longer in need of them here in America, ‘Fake ID’ recalls the anxiety and innocence of trying to get into a club with false credentials. The words “it’s hard to act my age when I look like a 12-year old / and I hate it when I don’t get in, left stranded in the cold” are accompanied by early Two Door Cinema Club-esque winsome guitar work and bright percussion. ‘Television’ owes a debt to The Strokes, the tune’s bouncy beat and melodic guitar a nod to Julian Casablancas and co. Lest you think The Academic have only mastered one sound, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ sees them reigning in their excitement. It’s a nice signal that their songwriting can veer into still upbeat but less frenetic, guitar-driven rock.

What these songs lack in depth is compensated for in spades by the level of their youthful exuberance. ‘Tales From the Backseat’ reminds us that we can go back in time in our minds, to when our younger selves’ biggest worry was how to impress the boy or girl we had our eye on. Life is so complicated these days. Slow down and say hello to that younger version of yourself with this album as your soundtrack.

7.5/10

‘Tales From the Backseat’, the debut album from The Academic, is out now on Downtown Records in America. The group will tour North America starting in mid-February and continue on through to the week before they are due in Austin for SXSW 2018. Continental Europe and English live dates will follow in April. To read our past coverage here on TGTF on the Irish lads, come through.

 

Album Review: The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

 
By on Thursday, 25th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Spook School Could It Be Different coverGlasgow-based indie pop band The Spook School have become known for combining emotionally honest lyrical treatment of gender and sexuality with an upbeat and unapologetic pop-punk musical sound. Their first two albums, 2013’s ‘Dress Up’ and 2015 release ‘Try to Be Hopeful’ both explore queer and trans identities in a broad societal context as well as in the more intimate context of personal relationships. The band’s new third LP ‘Could It Be Different?’ leans noticeably toward the personal end of that spectrum, its songs reflecting on past relationships and measuring their impact on present ones.

The album’s first two singles place themselves on either end of the dichotomy. Album opener ‘Still Alive’ is a triumphant liberation from an abusive relationship, with a rebellious chorus that will surely become a crowd-favourite singalong in live performance: “fuck you, I’m still alive / and I’m not going anywhere with you.” Follow-up release ‘Less Than Perfect’ is lighter and brighter in tone, but subdued in its acceptance of unfulfilled expectations. “We’re made of puzzle pieces / and I hope that I am right,” sings Anna Cory, “when I guess the parts you recognize / could be the parts you like.”

Cory’s lead vocal sets up another juxtaposition on ‘Could It Be Different?’, this one musical in nature. Alternating the lead vocal between Cory and Nye Todd adds an element of interest to an otherwise homogenous sonic palette. The Spook School’s fuzzy lo-fi guitars and relentlessly uptempo rhythms are deliberate hallmarks of their sound, but while they lend cohesion to the album, they also become a bit predictable. The variation in vocal timbre and lyrical perspective counteracts this effect nicely, especially on Cory’s late-album tracks ‘I Only Dance When I Want To’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’.

Backing vocals are cleverly applied in several places on ‘Could It Be Different?”, notably in the poignantly nostalgic ‘Keep In Touch’. Cory’s lofty “ahhs” lend a feeling of hazy memory behind the bittersweet reflection “we were so naïve / we were so together / we were so young . . .” That air of reflection takes on a different tone in ‘I Hope She Loves You’, where Todd sings from a removed and distinctly present point of view, “I’m a whole different person / I’m not inclined that way.”

The Spook School also examine current social issues in terms of their personal impact. ‘Bad Year’ tackles the demoralising effect of Brexit in the UK, as Todd describes his emotional shock: “I admire your optimism but I just need to feel it / I just need to take a moment before I can start dealing.” Current single ‘Body’ takes a head-on look at body dysmorphia, opening with a stark and brutally honest statement, “do you like the way you look naked? / I don’t know if any of us do”, but softening the blow, as usual, with their quirky guitar pop sound.

Album closer ‘High School’ harkens back to gawky adolescence with lyrical lines that are awkward in places, but its adult perspective is clear: “I’m not saying I regret the old days / can’t take back the choices that I made / I guess I wouldn’t want to anyway”. Even in this more sombre-toned ballad, The Spook School refuse to descend into complete sonic despair. Despite the weighty subject matter, their energetic music ultimately projects the idea that these conflicted and confused feelings are okay.

‘Could It Be Different?’ embraces the messiness and ambiguity in human relationships across the spectra of gender and sexuality. The songs are specifically intended to address gender-fluid relationships, but their underlying sentiments are universally applicable, and the band’s lo-fi indie pop is engaging without being intimidating. The Spook School haven’t necessarily stepped out of their own comfort zone with this album, but they might just encourage the rest of us to step out of ours.

7.5/10

‘Could It Be Different?’ is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 26th of January via Alcopop! Records (UK) / Slumberland Records (America). The Spook School will support alt-pop duo Diet Cig on their North American tour beginning on the 29th of January; find details on their official Facebook. TGTF’s past coverage of The Spook School is collected through this link.

 
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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. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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