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Album Review: Royal Blood – Royal Blood

 
By on Monday, 1st September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Arguably, it has only been in less than the last 20 years that the dynamic hard rock duo (with minimal or no electronic intervention live, mind) has emerged not only as a potential but an entirely viable business proposition. Naturally, given the success of the now-defunct White Stripes and the currently riding high Black Keys, the media are quick – not to mention lazy – to compare Royal Blood to both. However, as easy as it would be to compare Ben and Mike to Dan and Patrick, there is one major difference.

Bass guitar vs. guitar.

You’re talking to a bass player, so there is no contest here for me. However, for the rest of you reading this who don’t share the joy and wonderment of playing bass, I will spend the rest of this review convincing you why Royal Blood’s self-titled album out this week is a major step forward for rock music in the 21st century and why you need this album. For starters, if you’re the kind of person who easily gets impatient and hates albums that seem to drag on forever, this one is predictably short. Mike Kerr (vocals / bass guitar) and Ben Thatcher (drums) aren’t the kind of guys to beat around the bush. For that reason alone, it’s a good “starter” album for those who don’t buy albums or haven’t bought an album in its entirety for a long time (*cough* pirates *cough*).

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If you’ve been following the Royal Blood story for a while, three of the best tracks – ‘Out of the Black’, ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Come On Over’ – will be familiar to you from their appearance on previously released EP ‘Out of the Black’. The title track of the EP will probably be best remembered by this summer’s festivalgoers for Thatcher’s machine gun-style beats that usher in the song; they partner up remarkably well to the vitriolic, man scorned lyrics: “so don’t breathe when I talk / because you haven’t been spoken to / I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it / but a trigger for a heart beating blood from an empty pocket”. Contrast this later to ‘You Can Be So Cruel’, which is also filled with angst but in a self-harming, lonely manner, while recent single ‘Figure It Out’ wades into the muddy waters of relationship-based confusion.

A lot of people avoid hard rock albums on the sole basis that they think it’ll be cacophonous chaos, as if it’s impossible for hard rock to be melodic. Kerr manages to conjure amazing things from his bass guitar as well as be an entirely commanding frontman with his voice. Throughout the album, Kerr puts his voice through its paces and comes out as a winner. On ‘Come On Over’ and ‘Little Monster’, he is the convincing bad boy ready to melt the rock girl’s heart. (Yes, there were quite a few gals at their DC show fawning over both him and Thatcher. I had to open and close my eyes a few times, wondering, am I really at a hard rock show?)

The punishing yet melodic bass guitar playing from Kerr also deserves proper credit. When I first started playing bass, my mother asked me how bass differed from guitar; my response was, “you know how drumming doesn’t have notes? Bass is like playing drums; you’re playing rhythm, but with melody.” That explanation doesn’t really hold water when you’re describing Kerr’s skill on the axe. On ‘Come On Over’, if your ears can’t discern the lower register of his bass, you’d swear it was someone like Slash ripping it on his Les Paul. The authoritative bass riff on ‘Loose Change’ doesn’t beg for your attention, it requires it as you get sucked into the groove of the song.

Interestingly, one of the standouts of the album is ‘Careless’. In the lyrics, Kerr plays around with the nuances of ‘careless’ vs. ‘care less’ and during the verses and bridge, the bass takes a quieter backseat (for Royal Blood, anyway), letting the powerful chorus speak for itself. As the album closes, you can’t help but sense that Royal Blood’s road to becoming as big (or bigger?) than Led Zeppelin seems assured. Thatcher’s thudding drums, as about as gentle as a pneumatic drill, is paired with the sexy bass line of ‘Better Strangers’ and Kerr’s pained yet mesmerising wailing. In a word, awesome. Resistance is futile, my friends.

8/10

Royal Blood‘s self-titled album is out now on Warner Brothers. If you’re quick, you can catch Kerr and Thatcher playing live for Steve Lamacq on the 29th of August in the BBC 6music kitchen (I’m being serious) here.

 

Single Review: Gerard Way – No Shows

 
By on Friday, 29th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by Jennifer Williams

Former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way and his crazy legs return to music with the shimmery Britpop influenced-single ‘No Shows’ from his forthcoming debut solo release ‘Hesitant Alien’.

For over a decade, Gerard Way helmed one of the most beloved and occasionally reviled bands of recent years. After the release of their fourth studio album ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys’ in 2010, things started to go downhill for the group and Way pulled the plug. In an interview with NME, he had two choices: “Break the band or break me.” The release of’ No Shows’ follows on the heels of free download track ‘Action Cat’.

In ‘No Shows’,Way drops rock ‘n’ roll excess, returning to his art school roots. The video for the single sees Way and his backup band The Hormones performing on Pink Station Zero, which looks like Top of the Pops from outer space, with club kids from 1984 dropped in for good measure. It is as awesome as it sounds. Way, looking sharp in his suit and tie and Kool-Aid coloured hair, shows off incredibly spastic legs that you aren’t sure if he is trying to dance or having tremors.

I was pulled in straight away by its glam rock riff and airy harmonies, and all of a sudden it feels like 1994. Things shift a bit midway through the track, taking a detour into shoegaze country; the crisp guitars get the full fuzz pedal treatment. One thing that hasn’t changed is those epic one-liners when he sings coolly, “it’s not love if it’s just fucking”. Don’t know how well his plan to reboot Britpop in America is going to work out. I suppose we will find out in a month’s time.

9/10

New Gerard Way single ‘No Shows’ is out now. Way’s solo album ‘Hesitant Alien’ is out the 30th of September on Warner Brothers Records.

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Album Review: Tom the Lion – Sleep

 
By on Thursday, 28th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Tom the Lion 'Sleep' CoverLondon singer-songwriter Tom the Lion, aka Tom Visser, officially released his debut album ‘Sleep’ on the 11th of August on Wrasse Records. Initially an independent effort pursued by Visser and his manager, the album was picked up by Rough Trade earlier this year and garnered enough support on its own merits for a full release. We here at TGTF have already featured one of its tracks, ‘Silent Partner’, as well as the non-album track ‘Wasting Sunlight’.

Visser is a multi-faceted musician who writes, plays, and produces all of his own material. His early musical influences started at home, where his mother exposed him to classic singer/songwriters like Rickie Lee Jones and Bob Dylan and his jazz musician father introduced the likes of Miles Davis and Chet Baker. It does seem that having a background in jazz produces a particular willingness to experiment with sound, and Visser is no exception in that regard. On ‘Sleep’, he balances a strong sense of poetic lyricism and melody with a variety of instrumental textures and harmonic choices to shade the album’s fundamental melancholy tone with subtle degrees of emotion.

‘Sleep’ feels like a break-up album, though it hasn’t been specifically billed as such. The obliquely evocative lyrics mingle sadness and regret with hope and optimism, beginning with the opening title track. Its anthemic chorus “you could wait a lifetime for this / strike my name off the list” is one of the album’s most uplifting moments, despite the later lyric, “you’re on your own with one last wish.” ‘Every Single Moment’ is a similarly straightforward track with an appealing chorus, “as if this is your last phone call / may I just hear your voice / as if this is your last power chord / can I just let you talk”, that builds to the climactic repeated ending line “I love every single moment.”

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In contrast, tracks like ‘Oil Man’ and ‘November’s Beach’ are stark and edgy. ‘Oil Man’ has a thin, synthetic sound that emphasizes its strange, unsettling harmonies and eerie vocal tone. The machine-produced drums on ‘November’s Beach’ create a crisp chill under the diffuse shimmer of keyboards and guitars. ‘Winter’s Wool’ features a groovy bass line and guitar melody under its smooth instrumental sheen.

The album ends with a especially nice sequence of memorable tracks. The delicate texture and uneven rhythm of ‘Ragdoll’ adorn some of Visser’s most poignant lyrics, “you lost without a fight / just to be polite…you’re a ragdoll in my arms / with no charms / I’m a tyrant in this land / blood on my hands”. The persistent rhythm and and guitar line in ‘Heal’ lead into another inspiring chorus with the determined lyric “I choose now to heal”. ‘Come to Life’ ends the album with another tinge of sadness in the haunting lyric “The note you left behind / on the pillowcase I’ll find / I’m nothing but disguise / dressed as your lover might”. Its deliberately unresolved emotion is representative of the album as a whole, which is a series of vignettes left to speak for themselves rather than being painstakingly expanded or meticulously explored.

In that way, Tom the Lion distinguishes himself from artists to whom he is likely to be compared to, including inevitably Bon Iver. Visser’s songs are similarly impressionistic, with the same falsetto vocal that Justin Vernon and Thom Yorke fans adore, but their brevity gives them a greater sense of emotional urgency and allows the unique experimental aspects of the music to make a more powerful impression.

7.5/10

Tom the Lion’s debut album ‘Sleep’ is available now on Wrasse Records.

 

Album Review: Erland and the Carnival – Closing Time

 
By on Wednesday, 27th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

This week marks the release of ‘Closing Time’, the latest album from Erland and the Carnival. While the band are on an indie (Full Time Hobby), considering that many bands can’t even get past their first albums without getting dropped, losing interest in the endeavour or breaking up, being able to say you’ve put out your third LP to the wild is a major accomplishment. The band, featuring the strong songwriting partnership of Orkney frontman Erland Cooper and ex-Verve guitarist and keyboardist Simon Tong, show off in fine fashion on ‘Closing Time’ their best work yet.

While 2011′s ‘Nightingale’ saw the band stretching their artistic arms towards the fanciful, with songs that might have felt more at home soundtracking films and/or utilising quirky electronic sounds, this album’s strengths are the storytelling in each of the individual tracks and the emotional content therein. The album begins with the twinkly title track, with precious xylophone and keyboard notes. Is it a death knell for a release to announce, repeatedly, from the start, “closing time / time to get you out of my mind / time to get you out of my life / nothing lasts forever”? Not necessarily.

The feeling stands more as a motto for the collection of 10 songs, an indicator of what is to come. And when I used the words ‘emotional content’ before, I meant it. There are some truly heart-wrenching moments on this album. ‘Closing Time’ expresses regret over a failed relationship and also possibly death (“please don’t talk about me when I’m gone / I’ll keep to the shadows after the light has gone”). Despite its upbeat tempo and seemingly gay guitar work, Cooper’s self-deprecation is on display in ‘Wrong’, as Cooper insists he’s “plain wrong” and begs for someone “can you help me?” as strings sympathetically hum.

Previous single ‘Quiet Love’, which features backing vocals and guitar for surprise guest Paul Weller, is a study in loneliness, a lilting paean to waiting for the Right One to come along but in the meantime, it’s perfectly okay to find peace in being alone. On standout ‘That’s the Way It Should Have Begun (But It’s Hopeless)’ Cooper might not be as witty as Neil Hannon, nor would the Divine Comedy mastermind be likely to use electronic chords or effects, but the feeling of hopelessness in a relationship being played out over a pop melody is very Hannon-esque.

The other major theme on this album is mortality. While touched upon on the title track, closing number ‘Daughter’ best exemplifies this. Written with a half bottle of whiskey and shortly after Cooper became a father for the first time, his process to describe leaving this world is an attempt to reassure (“just before I say goodbye / loving you won’t die”). Of the song, Cooper says, “I was trying to write and record the simplest song that can say a number of deeper things while saying something completely obvious.” The song is actually not that simple: while it features a repetitive but music box-like soothing piano melody, it features some looped backing vocals interspersed throughout that I guessed were the band’s attempt to mimic the disorientation one feels when nearing the end. The result is a song that is beautiful but also unsettling, unearthly.

Also haunting is ‘They’re Talking About You Again’, a conversation about “a different kind of love” (presumably homosexuality) and whether we will arrive in Heaven exalted (“will there be stars in my crown? / the evening sun’s going down / are we blessed in the mansions of rest? / will there be stars in my crown?”). In the tune, the guitars are suitably downbeat, as are the descending piano notes that are alternately forlorn and beautiful.

In the face of all this darkness and depth, some lighter moments feel out of place. ‘I Am Joan’ was originally titled humorously in honour of Tong’s nickname of ‘Joan of Arc’ for Cooper and sounds more like the prog folk rock band they began as 6 years ago; it comes across as enjoyable, but it’s fluff nevertheless. ‘Birth of a Nation’ is poptastic with its bright synths and marching gait, so there’s no question why this was chosen as a single. But it’s lightweight compared to some of its song brethren on ‘Closing Time’. Still, as a whole, this album proves Erland and the Carnival can write and record serious, yet touching, beautiful stories with engaging melodies. They also aren’t afraid of putting their heart on their sleeve or broaching some serious topics in popular song. And on all three counts, they should be truly commended.

8.5/10

Erland and the Carnival‘s third album ‘Closing Time’ is out now on Full Time Hobby. The band will be on tour in the UK in October. If you’re quick, you can hear the band live on BBC 6music iPlayer on a session they recorded with Marc Riley on the 6th of August.

 

Album Review: The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

 
By on Monday, 25th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Sitting in a bizarre juxtaposition to early Black Sabbath and the Indian subcontinent are The Wytches. It’s an odd place to be, but this three-piece are relishing the company – not in the way Bombay Bicycle Club did, mind – but more in a “look, here’s a snake charmer, OK? We’re done now, let’s melt your face off” kind of way.

‘Annabel Dream Reader’ is the band’s debut album and from the start, it grabs your attention with its ambition. We’ve got a vocalist in Kristian Bell who’s a mix between Eoin Loveless at his most lyrically scathing and Steven Ansell at his most lovelorn, spinning guttural, powerful yarns about his dejected heart-broken existence. Song number two ‘Wide at Midnight’ introduces you to the underlying concept of the record, dejection. Prior to that and almost through the entire first half of the record you’re transported to a grungy Mumbai market, as a snake-charming tune underlies the melody.

‘Fragile Male for Sale’ is a plundering tub-thumper of a track with some thudding, juddering drum pelts and a booming bass line. The entire record reeks of this DIY nu-grunge revolution that seems to be gathering force under the banner of bands like Drenge, Slaves and, to a lesser extent, Royal Blood. I’m steering away from the term Great British Guitar Band Revolution, because firstly it doesn’t fucking exist and secondly because it’s a figment of NME’s imagination.

The Wytches are most definitely the new poster boys then, as they tick all the right boxes in their debut outing. I mean, even in their promo shot they look effortlessly cool, whilst still managing to pull of the faux-grunge look by having questionable hair styles. The record spins between remarkably heavy going, in both melody and prose: Dan Rumsey and Gianni Honey are an indomitable engine room behind the musings of Kell. Some of the heavier tracks almost merge into the territory of doom rock; however, the subject matter veers away from the bloody and dismembered, which I’d most certainly count as a positive development.

If you’re a guitar purist, you may be perturbed by the sheer quantity of reverb on most of the songs. But if you like your riffs unrefined and dirty as the floor of your car, then ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ is the place for you. There are hints of The Melvins and The Scientists, in their noise-punky sound, but it’s got a far more 21st century edge, the kind which will undoubtedly see them compared to Nirvana.

As frontmen of this nu-grunge revolution, this Brighton born triumvirate will be waving their tricolore abroad as they are one of the chosen few bands, alongside acts like The Wombats, Dry the River, Fenech-Soler, Hadouken, Imogen Heap and Waylayers, in receipt of a share of £1,750,000 over the next two years. Why you ask? So the UK government can encourage them to promote their music around the world as part of the Music Export Growth Scheme.

With the 47-minute belter that ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ is in The Wytches arsenal, I doubt audiences in America and afar will struggle to become as enamoured with the band as I have. The record is effortlessly powerful and manages to show a real heart in ‘Summer Again’ and ‘Weights and Ties’, showing that the boys can play it tough, but can also connect with an audience through some overwhelmingly powerful narratives.

Viva La Revolution, then?

9/10

The Wytches‘ debut album ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ is out today on Heavenly Recordings. Catch the band live as they traverse the UK in the last 3 months of 2014; all their touring plans are here.

 

Album Review: Twin Atlantic – Great Divide

 
By on Friday, 22nd August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Glasgow-born foursome Twin Atlantic have always walked on the poppier side of the alternative rock road. Nowhere near heavy enough to share the sidewalks with the likes of Biffy Clyro and far too prone to a spate of jazzy piano – take ‘I Am an Animal’ as case in point – to brush shoulders with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age. Yet with their rock credentials on show, they’re still keeping well clear of the likes of Snow Patrol and Travis.

I was never really one to question their rock credentials, but after the release of ‘Heart and Soul’, I felt a swift check over their authorisation was in order to allow them access to the venerated Alt-Rock circle. ‘Heart and Soul’ is a bold statement, it’s not exactly the most subtle in the message conveyed – “When you open up your heart and your soul / take my love and never grow old, yeah / open up your heart and your soul” – and after a few listens, it did sound rather formulaic. However, to release a single after your breakthrough album that strikes such a tangent from what’s expected from the band is about as courageous a statement as you can make with the band in its infancy.

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Their new album released this week, ‘Great Divide’, feels a bit schizophrenic. There are light hearted numbers like ‘I Am an Animal’, which feel like Beatles-inspired pop bouncers, whilst ‘Hold On’ and ‘Cell Mate’ both have all the hallmarks of balls out guts or glory arena rock. It’s in these big, kilts up charge the English moments where Twin Atlantic are at their best (yes, I’ve gone full Mel Gibson in Braveheart). OK, so Sam McTrusty may not be painting his chest, swinging his cock around and screaming, “they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” But ‘Cell Mate’ is an absolute stormer, with a stomping riff and a huge chorus of “Don’t let me down / from so far away/ ’cause I’m you’re cell mate / yeah I’m you’re cell mate”, where McTrusty, Barry McKenna, Ross McNae and Craig Kneale do their best to talk champion fraternity and put the boot in to the bonus-grabbing, office dwelling bourgeoisie. Their sentiment, not mine (I worked in a bank once).

‘Brothers and Sisters’ (watch it here) is one of McTrusty’s most poignant pieces of songwriting and is certain to be a hit with the already enamoured Radio 1-ati – especially as Fearne Cotton, Zane Lowe and Greg James are all already drooling into their respective buckets, which they’ve of course used for drool after their ice bucket challenge, after listening to ‘Great Divide’. The more timid of the tracks, in particular ‘Rest in Pieces’, do feel slightly clichéd and almost forced. The four-piece are certainly at their best when they’ve got their amps turned up to eleven and are going for a solid bit arena sized cock-rock.

That’s where the disappointment in ‘Great Divide’ lies, as it feels like an album with, to forgive the pun, but a Great Divide of its own. It’s a record from a band, that are almost having a post-university, quarter-life crisis. They’ve had a great time touring and promoting the incredibly successful ‘Free’ and now they’re stuck at home deciding what exactly they want to do with themselves. Sadly, like most people suffering from their own quarter-life crisis, they will probably have to learn from their mistakes here; the clichés are overdone and all too obvious. But, there’s solace in some of the Foo Fighters / Bon Jovi-lite stadium rock they’ve clocked up. They may not have found a niche, but hopefully when they tour and festival the bejesus out of this material they’ll get to the ‘Heart and Soul’ (pun #2 of this review) of where *they* want to be going. I don’t think it’s the soppy cliché ridden ballad route, and I don’t think they want to go that way either.

6/10

Twin Atlantic‘s third album ‘Great Divide’ is out now on Red Bull Records. Catch the band on tour in the UK in October; all the details are this way.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music 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 idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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