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Header photo by Andrew Zaeh
Allison and Catherine Pierce, known collectively as The Pierces, are one of the more established acts in a recent series of sister bands on the alternative rock scene. (You can find previous TGTF coverage here.) Following the same path as bands like Haim, Heathers, and First Aid Kit, The Pierces have refined their songwriting skills and natural propensity for seamless vocal harmony into a hybrid blend of folk structure and rock instrumentation. After touring their 2011 breakthrough album ‘You & I’, the Alabama natives relocated to Los Angeles, where they sampled the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca and soaked in the local Laurel Canyon sound.
The title track to The Pierces’ latest album ‘Creation’ reveals that the California experience has added some striking new elements to the pair’s musical style. The shimmering percussion and echoing yodel of the backing vocals conjure up imagery of spirit journeys through the desert, while bright, mellow instrumental melodies evoke warm West Coast sunshine.
The structure and lyrics of the admittedly singable chorus, “You live, you learn, you laugh, you cry”, will inevitably bring to mind Alanis Morissette’s 1995 single ‘You Learn’, at least for those of us who came of age with ‘Jagged Little Pill’. But while the overall message of the two songs might be the similar, the mood and musical language are entirely different. The Pierces’ lilting vocals and placidly atmospheric instrumental effects are certainly easier on the ears than anything Morissette ever released.
‘Creation’, The Pierces’ fifth studio album, is due for release on the 1st of September via Polydor Records, along with its title-track single.
I was first introduced to Fink by fellow TGTF writer Cheryl, who described their 2011 album ‘Perfect Darkness’ as being “like a smooth whiskey”. We listened to it while getting ready to go out to a gig (I can’t remember now who we were going to see), and it occurred to me very quickly that a more apt comparison has probably never been made. Fink’s lyrics, sung by frontman Fin Greenall, are dark and bittersweet, their potent flavor quickly subdued by the deep, spreading warmth of the rhythmic groove provided by bassist Guy Whittaker and drummer/guitarist Tim Thornton.
Fink were looking to build on the success of ‘Perfect Darkness’ (reviewed by our John here) when they wrote and recorded their fifth LP ‘Hard Believer’. Once again, they decamped to Los Angeles to work with American producer Billy Bush, who also produced ‘Perfect Darkness’, at Sound Factory studios. The band have described ‘Hard Believer’ as their most collaborative effort to date; thus, I’ve chosen to use the name Fink here to refer to the full trio rather than to Greenall himself. (Watch the band’s video commentary ‘The Making of Hard Believer’ below.)
According to Ninja Tune Records, who have provided support for the album’s release, the phrase “Hard Believer” comes from the vernacular of the American South, where it refers to a person “who is difficult to persuade, who requires proof”. Musically, that Southern drawl is felt immediately in the bluesy guitar riffs and languid vocals of the title track, which you might already have heard in our previous MP3 of the Day feature.
As the album progresses, its tone shifts between artfully coaxing another person and desperately hoping to convince oneself, as in the subtle but edgy ‘2 Days Later’ and the fragile façade of ‘Looking Too Closely’ (featured earlier as a Video of the Moment). ‘Pilgrim’ pairs the provocative lyric “Come a long way / not to ask the question that’s been on your lips all the way” with a palpably anxious and harmonically dissonant rhythmic pulse. The expansive and evolving ‘Shakespeare’ reflects on the fictional tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in the context of a failed romance, building from a sparse and gentle acoustic to a lush, full dynamic over the repeated phrases “Turn the pages / and learn nothing…”
Throughout the album, Fink make effective use of their usual tools: hypnotically repetitive lyrics, spellbindingly sensual rhythms and Greenall’s alluring vocals. While only a few specific moments stand out on ‘Hard Believer’, the record maintains a sense of penetrating emotional warmth and its parting impact is strong, not at all unlike the effect of a rich single malt Scotch late in the evening.
Fink‘s fifth album ‘Hard Believer’ is out now on Fin Greenall’s new label R’COUP’D.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 21st July 2014 at 12:00 pm
Even though they’re still a relatively new band, I’ve written quite a bit on London five-piece Longfellow already. Having sufficiently impressed me on the strength of early single ‘Siamese Lover’, then in person live in Austin and in conversation at SXSW 2014, I think this group have what it takes to make it.
It seems quite strange in my mind that their current release ‘Prelude’ is being hawked around as a mini-album, as if a full album designation isn’t warranted. While it has only eight tracks and some of these have already seen the light of day (singles ‘Siamese Lover’ and ‘Hug-Kiss-Make Up’), these eight tracks are very good, and although it’s only available digitally as of now, a physical release through their label Fierce Panda will follow the first week of August, just 2 weeks from now.
If you’ve been following Longfellow up to now, their music up to this point has aspired to be majestic indie rock and stadium-filling, which has drawn the band comparisons to their label’s earliest success story, Coldplay. So it is with some surprise that in ‘May the Light’ sees the group calling out to Jesus and breaking out the tambourine to go towards folk. (There is also hints of this in later number ‘Wolf Cry’.) However, that doesn’t last (sorry if that’s your thing, but it’s not my bag). Mini-album opener ‘Polaroid’ is more representative, featuring Ali Hetherington’s winning piano and James Thomas’ guitar lines at the start. Frontman Owen Lloyd’s haunting voice provides an effective counterpoint when virtually alone but melding nicely with the instrumentation in the chorus.
Newer track and album standout ‘Lullaby’ continues this trend. Lloyd’s lyrics as sung in the chorus “stitch me, heal me, help me escape my mortality / bathe me, dress me” weigh heavier than normal for pop music, but you can do nothing but simply appreciate words like these: they indicate the reliance we have for another when we’re in a relationship, and the universality of how our very existence is intertwined with another’s. The bridge of this song shows just how effective their songwriting can be, with just Hetherington’s notes on the ivories and Lloyd’s voice.
The imagery of being washed of sin, or at least the effort to be repentant, is repeated in album closer ‘The Convent’, which begins poignantly, with piano and strings. The song invokes further emotion in the chorus: “And I don’t want to be your heartbeat, I tell you all the time; maybe I’ll sleep tonight / And I don’t want to feel your breathing, pretend you’re not alive; maybe I’ll sleep tonight”. There’s certainly conflict in here, between what is right and wrong, between what feels right and what feels wrong. I have my suspicions on what this song is about, but what’s most important is that we are hearing truly heartwrenching thoughts through the voice of this sweeping song.
‘Lullaby’ and ‘The Convent’ seem to be polar opposites in mood to previous single ‘Siamese Lover’, which just begs for pogoing during the chorus. The words “standing on the edge of the world” seems to indicate there is looming danger and anxiety, but the harmonised emphasis of “don’t lose faith” leaves the listener with optimism. ‘Hug – Kiss – Make Up’, their latest single I reviewed before my last trip to England, rings with similar brightness and now that Longfellow have inked an American label deal with Brooklyn indie Ooh La La Records, with the song’s spectacular bombast, it would be my choice for their debut single here stateside.
Older song ‘Gabrielle’ (promo video at the end of this post) has a memorable melody and rhythm, but even more impressively, it manages to have lyrics that seem on the surface entirely callous with regards to the end of love: “I’m tired of life, I’m always losing / And I don’t want to see her, I just want to see her cry”. In fact are proof that the man that’s singing this to us and telling his story is hurting deeply inside. That’s what I want people take away from this (mini)album: too few musicians these days show us their hearts and make it in this business. Music that stirs true feelings within is not only important but vital to all of us. Buy ‘Prelude’ and prove to the industry just how essential music like this truly is.
‘Prelude’, the first mini-album from London band Longfellow, is out now digitally, with a physical release to follow on the 4th of August on Fierce Panda Records.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 16th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
I know it’s inevitable in my life as a music editor, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness the sad break-up of bands I have come to know and love. Last month, London five-piece Zulu Winter announced that they were splitting up. You could practically hear the sound of my heart breaking. I always say things in life happen for a reason, and that includes the people that come into your life too. During my first SXSW in 2012, I met Will, Iain, Dom, Henry and Guy to do an interview with them. After a bewildering week in Austin, meeting such truly nice guys who were jokey and sweet was just what the doctor ordered.
Two months later, I accidentally ran into them on the first day of my first Great Escape while they were unpacking their van in the middle of Brighton. What are the odds of that? Had to be more than a coincidence. Later that night, when I couldn’t get into Brighton Dome, I went to see them play at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and they were so appreciative that I’d come to see them. Last year, I was minding my own business, having dinner alone in a pub one night in Brighton when I heard someone calling my name. It was their guitarist Henry Walton, remembering me from the first time we met, then asking me how I was and saying how great it was to see me. It’s little things like this that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
So it feels very cutting personally that they’re calling it quits and even though several of them are starting an entirely different project, it’s heart-wrenching to me that I will never see Zulu Winter again how I remember them. Thankfully, instead of leaving us with just one album to their name (2012′s ‘Language’), the band came together to record one final release. ‘Stutter’, which is being called a mini-album in the press sheets I’ve read, is actually not a mini-album at all but instead a 10-pack of songs.
It starts in a very promising way, with band members’ harmonies and then singer Will Daunt’s voice emphatically rising before the funky beats come in on the driving ‘Trigger’. Later in the album at lucky #7, Daunt’s voice is up to its ‘Language’-era acrobatic sweeps heights in ‘The Drift’, holding its own against the dancey bass beats and the sexy guitar line. As Daunt sings “I’m stuck in the drift / there once was a time / when I felt absolutely free / but I stumble and shake / try to screw it all up and twist it into shape” with the swirling instrumentation, you’re reminded how great this band really are. Or I suppose I should now use the word ‘were’, past tense. Both these songs are attention grabbing, as were standout former singles ‘We Should Be Swimming’ and ‘Silver Tongue’ in their own time. It should be noted that the beats, and neither dreaminess nor pop, are placed in the forefront of most of the songs on ‘Stutter’, which is an interesting development in the band’s sound and possibly a harbinger of why they decided to split?
Some of these tracks are more experimental and less pop than we’re used to in the previous incarnation of Zulu Winter. In the cases of ‘Feel Love’ and ‘Need You Onside’, the former is an attempt at electronic soul, while the latter builds up to a Beatles late ’60s psychedelic trip but sports a title that seems more appropriate for World Cup time. ‘Games’ and ‘The Other Man’ sound like Field Music if they’d just swung more pop. And slightly more conventional. Psychedelic, swirling rock instrumentation wraps itself around Daunt’s falsetto soars on ‘Heavy Rain’, an early taster released in June (promo video below), while ‘Silence is Golden’ is anything but silent, with plenty of wigged out synths and guitars.
‘Let Sleep Close Your Eyes’, with its buzzing ’70s era synth, is the best example of how the album’s press sheet describes the album: “a very sad ELO”. Perhaps the slower tempo throughout the album suggests a sadness in one’s ears, but I don’t detect sadness in how this was written or recorded, which I take as a good thing, confirmation that these five young men are still friends, even if they are no longer in a band together.
The only sour note here is how the album ends, strangely with ‘Bodies’, which (I hope entirely unintentionally) sounds more like Ellie Goulding‘s ‘Lights’, the bobbing synth notes seeming far too joyful than makes sense for this LP as a whole. Maybe the point was to leave us with something brighter, to indicate the brighter days ahead? All in all though, ‘Stutter’ is an interesting collection of songs that will leave us wondering “what if?” when it comes to Zulu Winter, but also appreciative that they have granted us this final gift. Good luck fellas, I know our paths will cross again sometime soon.
‘Stutter’, Zulu Winter‘s final album release, is out digitally next Monday (the 21st of July) on Fierce Panda Records.
‘Slider’ is the first single to be taken from Bo Ningen’s third album, the appropriately entitled ‘III’. The video is directed by London-based fashion film director Marie Schuller, who swathes the band within her obsessive monochrome geometry. The stylish, stylised video combines vintage techniques like video feedback with digital manipulation – a combination which echoes the band’s blend of 60s garage psychedelia and contemporary avant-garde rock. Guitars squall and squeal as if in protest of being distorted into shards of tremoloed treble.
In its four-to-the-floor groove and conventional vocal melody, ‘Slider’ is one of the more accessible tracks on ‘III’, lacking the atonal primal screams found on the rest of the album; one suspects a strong Yoko Ono influence. But as if to prove me wrong, with a rarity akin to the blooming of Amorphophallus titanum, the band drop briefly into 5/4 time halfway through the track to create a memorably audacious middle eight. Bo Ningen have been going for a while now, but if this video is anything to go by, their live performance will be crackling with garage-y, psychedelic energy. They play Sheffield’s Tramlines festival on 27th July, before returning to the UK in November to support Band of Skulls.
Bo Ningen’s single ‘Slider’ appears on their third album ‘III’ out now on Stolen Recordings.
Sheffield neo-folk duo Slow Club are set to release their steamy third album ‘Complete Surrender’ just in time for the heat of the summer. ‘Complete Surrender’ is a deliciously refreshing blend of uptempo pop, emotional balladry and r&b groove. The individual tracks are a study in contrasts, with a mix of radio-friendly dance tunes, bluesy torch songs and introspective acoustic numbers, maintaining variety and momentum through the pleasantly relaxed vibe that permeates the album.
The recent trend of juxtaposing male and female lead vocals is almost always a winner in my book, and ‘Complete Surrender’ is no exception. The real star of the album is Rebecca Taylor’s singing voice. It’s rare in pop music to find a female voice that is both powerful and sensitive to dynamic without being rough or raspy. Taylor maintains a pleasant tone quality on both ends of the dynamic spectrum, and she executes a wide range in terms of pitch and emotional quality. By contrast, Charles Watson’s smooth, even vocal tone plays nicely off of Taylor’s flashy flexibility.
The album’s opening track ‘Tears of Joy’ eases in with a slow jam, which is perhaps an unusual choice on a record containing crisply upbeat tracks like the eponymous ‘Complete Surrender’ (featured as Video of the Moment here). But it’s those exquisite slow burning moments that make this album stand out as something special among the blitz of typical mainstream dance pop.
The bluesy ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’ (also featured in a recent Video of the Moment) is a surefire radio hit, with its lush brass instrumentation and Taylor’s sultry vocals. ‘Not Mine to Love’ takes the blues influence even further, featuring wailing guitars and forlorn lyrics about lost love; Taylor’s perfectly executed vocal improvisation in the final chorus is not to be missed. She shows the deeper, softer side of her voice on the theatrical torch song ‘Dependable People and Things That I’m Sure Of’, and country-folk waltz ‘The Queen’s Nose’.
Watson’s lead vocals are featured in a variety of musical contexts as well, including rhythmic groovy track ‘The Pieces’, piano ballad ‘Number One’ and the expansive final track ‘Wanderer Wandering’. But his singing is at its most effective on acoustic folk tune ‘Paraguay and Panama’, where he gently croons through the lilting melody and misty lyrics, “Painted girl upon the wall, covered carefully in Paraguay and Panama, you were the hourglass beauty queen, just flick your hair and move your lips around, in the shape of words that you knew before all of this”.
‘Complete Surrender’ is one of those rare albums that experiments with a variety of musical styles and somehow manages to combine them into a cohesive unit. In this case, Slow Club use their refined lyrical expression and emotional sensitivity, not to mention some brilliant singing, to unify the songs and keep the energy flowing through all 11 tracks. (Insider tip: Don’t miss the sneaky hidden track at the end).
‘Complete Surrender’, the third album from Sheffield’s Slow Club, will be released on Monday (the 14th of July) on Caroline International. It can be streamed at The Guardian, here.
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