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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 1st November 2016 at 12:00 pm
Not often, but every once in a while, you come across an artist who is so full of talent, you’re wondering where he’s going to go and do next. Scottish multi-instrumentalist and bedroom producer Christopher Duncan, who goes by the stage name C Duncan, released his debut album ‘Architect’ last year, grabbing a 2016 Mercury Prize nomination and critical acclaim. Classically trained yet also well versed in more traditional rock band instruments like guitar and drums, his exceptional background gives him an edge over his electronic / dream pop contemporaries.
For his latest effort, sophomore LP ‘The Midnight Sun’, Duncan not only made the music on the album, but as an accomplished painter, also made the cover art himself too. He says he wanted the image of a dimly lit staircase in a house to reflect the environment in which the album was made. I mean, seriously? It’s like the brothers in Field Music. Dude, can you stop being so selfish and leave some talent behind for the rest of us?
The normal looking, yet oddly ominous cover is also a convenient segue into Duncan’s conceptual starting point with this album: he named his newest work after his favourite episode of the American suspenseful cult classic The Twilight Zone. However, you’ll find ‘The Midnight Sun’ as a whole is less about leaving you terrified than to create a sublime mood, something it seems that C Duncan is a master in fashioning. This kind of music is largely chill, not chilling. And that’s just fine by this music editor.
As you listen to this album, it’s easy to forget that this was all written, recorded and produced in Duncan’s bedroom. Entirely by himself. His ethereal vocals on standout ‘Like You Do’ provide just enough warmth to strike the perfect balance with the iciness of the synth notes and the soft swishes of percussion. In a track-by-track breakdown of the album with The Line of Best Fit, he explained it was written with the intention to reflect the daily struggles of a friend with depression, and it conveys this well.
Similarly beautiful vocals appear on ‘Other Side’, which begins solemnly with piano chords and a rolling drum beat. But first impressions can be deceiving: the track opens up into a sweepingly euphoric track broken up by chimes. The beauty of layer upon layer of synths on ‘Wanted to Want It Too’ achieves a unique, otherworldly feeling, unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Speaking of otherworldly, Duncan might as well be on another planet for ‘On Course’, rhythmically interesting and with angelic voices seemingly singing as part of a sci-fi choir, and also on the celestial ‘Jupiter’.
On ‘The Midnight Sun’, C Duncan takes full advantage of his background in choral music and combines it with his strengths in dream pop and electronic orchestration. It’s a wonderful next chapter from Glasgow’s chief ‘Architect’ and an album to keep your cosy through these winter months.
‘The Midnight Sun’, C Duncan’s brilliant follow-up to his 2016 Mercury Prize-nominated debut ‘Architect’, is out now on FatCat Records. You can watch a live version of album track ‘Do I Hear?’ below. He’s been announced as the support act during Elbow’s March 2017 UK dates, starting the 1st of March at Birmingham Academy. For more on C Duncan on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 31st October 2016 at 12:00 pm
As mentioned previously in my coverage of Hard Working Class Heroes 2016, more than any other culture it seems, the Irish have music in their blood. We expect siblings and other family members, regardless of heritage, to naturally come together with the most beautiful harmonies. The gift of growing up with music in the house, a tradition that goes back many generations in most Irish families, seems to have ensured that virtually anyone can get together and make a joyful, wonderful noise.
That’s exactly what has happened with Irish folk rock group Orchid Collective. Four musicians from various locations on the Emerald Isle, all having plenty of practical experience in their previous bands, came together to form this new group. From an informal conversation I had with the fellas after their Accents Café appearance during HWCH In the City, I understood they bonded over a love of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Hmm, things suddenly have become a lot clearer! I was deeply impressed by their acoustic performance that afternoon. As we all know, not all bands can pull off a stripped back performance beautifully and with aplomb. It’s even more amazing for a band who claim to have only been together for about a year.
The quartet recently self-released a new EP, ‘Courage’. This four-pack of songs were recorded in Dublin’s Westland Studios and at the studio of producer Rob Kirwan, who’s worked recently with Irish superstar and past HWCH participant Hozier, Editors and PJ Harvey. The EP begins confidently with the title track, confronting the courage needed to step away from a dying relationship. Lead guitarist Shea Tohill’s plaintive guitar notes are the perfect foil to David O’Shea’s lead vocals and the smoky quality of the band’s harmonies.
Orchid Collective do the gentle, evocative, yet grand folk sound, something Fleet Foxes made famous nearly a decade ago, well. Interestingly though, they also show the potential for a harder, fuller rock direction on this EP too. The understated drumming on ‘Tomorrow’ are in stark contrast with the sharp guitar lines in the bridge, before the vocals and instrumentation with a psychedelic bent return. ‘Waiting on the Sun’ fully showcase the group’s harmonies, building towards a crescendo at the song’s conclusion. Wholly satisfying.
Both of the band’s HWCH 2016 sets on the Thursday ended with EP closer ‘Blindfold’. The lyrics compare love to both luck and a fire. Seems pretty accurate, given how surprising and unpredictable love can be, and how passion burns when the fire of love is lit. While the verses O’Shea sings are relatively simplistic, when accompanied with the richness of the band’s instrumentation, these songs can soundtrack a world only you can imagine. Less is definitely more for Orchid Collective.
‘Courage’, the new EP from Irish folk rock group Orchid Collective, is out now; stream the EP below. For more on the band, reach through TGTF’s current archive on them that includes both of their appearances at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016.
So here we are, confronted with Green Day’s twelfth studio album, if you separate out their trio of LPs released in 2012. If ‘Revolution Radio’ were released by a newer, less prominent band, then it would be a critically lauded success. It contains elements of quiet maturity, a relevance that strikes hot to the modern masses. While some mainstream-ready punk sounds carry the album, when put into context of Green Day’s career-spanning culturally relevant and attacking albums, it fails to match up to any of their work pre-2009.
Billie Joe Armstrong and co. have sidled into the revival of ’90s punk bands that is sweeping through the mid 2010s, and they have done so with the same angst and aggression that has served them so well over these decades. The reason ‘Revolution Radio’ doesn’t stand out from the crowd is that it’s a little too paint-by-numbers. It serves as a reminder of the greatness they once accomplished with albums such as 1994’s ‘Dookie’ and their magnum opus 2004’s ‘American Idiot’, yet fails to surpass them.
Starting off with ‘Somewhere Now’, they immediately strike relatability. Lyrics concerning the mundanity that life can bring forth, especially with opening line “I’m running late to somewhere now, I don’t want to be”, prove that even the rock stars experience life like the rest of us. Track two ‘Bang! Bang!’ brings us straight into the fame game, with the song taking aim at the ease at which celebrity is gained even by those who commit crimes. Thanks to the technology at our finger tips, we see our ability to reach millions of people instantly as an opportunity to break through to the spotlight, and Green Day have perfectly encapsulated the twisted ideology behind it all. It’s a raging track, crafted in a way that only Green Day can, with furiously fast guitars carried by perfectly paced drums.
Title track ‘Revolution Radio’ is where the interest mildly wanes. It doesn’t really capitalise on the momentum triggered by the prior two tracks. The lyricism captures the idea of revolution, but it’s painted upon a muddied musical canvas. The same sentiment stands for ‘Say Goodbye’: driven by a stomping beat and guitars, it feels more like a leftover ‘American Idiot’ cut rather than a step forward in any direction. Anotherweaker moment comes in the form of ‘Bouncing Off the Wall’. It’s the most similar to their previous efforts, particularly 2012’s trio of albums ‘Uno!’, ‘Dos!’ and ‘Tré!’, and adds nothing to the album’s weight or feel.
It’s on ‘Outlaws’ that both the album and band both reach their peak contextually. Concerning the punk youth that started the journey that’s lead them to this point, it’s a slow, wistful track that delves deep, aiming for an emotional reaction. The words “first love / first forgiveness / we were delinquents / freaks of a faded memory” allows you to perfectly envision a young Green Day, not abiding by the suburban norms that have frequented a lot of their back catalogue (‘Jesus of Suburbia’, anyone?). It’s the album’s shining moment that shows the mindset of Green Day isn’t stuck in recreating the past, but placing a retrospective for new and old fans alike to understand them on a personal level.
‘Still Breathing’ decides to pick the album off its feet, sticking to the (un-admitted) evidently biographical viewpoint, it is barraging and features some of the perfect Green Day melodic chorus that we all know and love. Breaking away from the political or darker lyrical content, ‘Youngblood’ goes into classic pop-punk territory with love being its main focus, though not without the Green Day touch: “Are you broken / like I’m broken? / Are you restless? / She said “Fuck you, I’m from Oakland!” Musically, it’s similar to ‘She’s A Rebel’ from ‘American Idiot’, stomping its way through with loud and abrasive guitars that manage to melodically hook you while the drums chug it forward.
Throwing back to his youthful years once more, Armstrong goes back to his high school time and the era in general. Striking politically once more during the chorus “looking for a cause / but all I got was camouflage”, it’s the musical aspect that most interestingly could belong on their breakout ‘Dookie’. A perfect agglomeration of everything that makes Green Day so, it’s another high point.
For those who were missing the rock opera approach that ‘American Idiot’ took, have no fear. It returns in the form of ‘Forever Now’, a nearly 7-minute conglomeration of three separate tracks, essentially an encapsulation of the rest of the album. With political retrospect, it even circles back to the opener ‘Somewhere Now’ in its third act; though the more surprising aspect is that it’s not the album closer. That’s saved for ‘Ordinary World’, an acoustic ballad. If it were saved as a bonus track, or even a fourth act for the prior ‘Forever Now’, it would work well and continuing the album’s flow. Instead, the song grinds proceedings to a halt, especially after the aforementioned grandeur.
As a whole, ‘Revolution Radio, isn’t a bad album. It’s everything we’ve come to expect of Green Day, but in a too easy to digest manner. There are no signs of progress or further evolution, but with a band of their age and pedigree, is that expecting too much now? When you’ve written an album so politically and culturally outstanding as the much mentioned ‘American Idiot’, an album that’s so mainstream that it’s been adapted as a musical and even greenlit for a HBO feature film, where do you go afterward? Perhaps this is Green Day’s way of stoking the fire just enough to stay relevant while their years of service continue to serve them so well.
‘Revolution Radio’, Green Day’s latest studio album, is out now on Reprise Records. Past coverage on the band on TGTF can be found through here.
Rapper, poet and playwright Kate Tempest is a force of nature to be reckoned with. In 2013, Tempest won the Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry, the youngest-ever recipient of the award for her performance piece ‘Brand New Ancients’. She was branded by poet Ian McMillan as someone “who would be leading our national cultural conversations for years to come”. Her sensational first album, 2014’s ‘Everybody Down’, was also nominated for a Mercury Prize. Her latest offering ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ does exactly that by providing a raw and honest social commentary on modern life.
Similar in nature to her first album, ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’ is also a concept album. She takes us on a compelling journey through the lives of seven fictional characters who are each awake at 4:18 in the morning, and we are introduced to the issues defining their lives. Throughout the album, it is very easy to become involved with each of the characters who, while living separate lives and unknown to each other, are intrinsically linked. Each of the tenants tales are drawn together to create a bigger picture of how issues such migration, drugs and alienation affect us all. Despite being separated by walls, floors and buildings they are all connected by a shared fate. Tempest’s fictional narratives are accompanied by electronic music while lyrically, she seamlessly mixes together rap and performance poetry.
Despite it being a few years since her last musical offering, Tempest was certainly busy in between times. The release of her book ‘The Bricks That Built the Houses’ and her poetry collection ‘Hold Your Own’ meant that although Tempest was not actively creating music, her attentions were not taken away from social conscience. There are several recurring themes throughout the album, especially the prominence of drugs. On tracks such as ‘Ketamine for Breakfast’, we hear the story of Gemma contemplating her younger years that were blighted by drug use. Her lyrics here are emphatic and perhaps contain moments of truth. Rapping “My future is bright, but my past is tryna ruin me” is a devastatingly poignant sentiment of modern life and class divide,. and there is a restlessness and urgency to the chosen rhythm.
In times of such uncertainty, especially for young people in the UK post-Brexit, Tempest’s brutal honesty can be refreshing. Exposing modern truths of gentrification in London, ‘Perfect Coffee’ tells the tale of tenant Zoe as she packs her life into boxes. The reality, where the poorest of communities are being forced out of their homes and council flats are being exploited into million pound rentals, is harrowing: “The squats we used to party in are the flats we can’t afford”. It is a despairing portrayal of what London has become to represent: corrupt with greed, content in alienating the most vulnerable of people.
‘Europe is Lost’ is particularly poignant, with Tempest moving seamlessly through the song with fury. Each topic she touches on is more relevant than the last, speaking about politicians, oil spills and poverty. Barely stopping to take a breath, there is an anger to her delivery with cutting lyrics: “We have learnt nothing from history, the people are dead in their lifetimes dazed by the shine of the streets. Look the traffic is still moving, the system too slick to stop working, business is good. There’s bands every night in the pubs and there is two for one drinks in the clubs and we scrubbed up well “. It is a stark reminder how we, while all aware, choose to ignore what is going on around us in favour of easy and empty living.
The final song on the album ‘Tunnel Vision’ is a reflective musing by Tempest. The protagonists on each of the songs who were once strangers all become tied together in a shared epiphany of their surroundings. The notion of this album being commercially successful is a hard sell, considering it is an amalgamation of hip-hop and poetry. But the content Tempest is so passionately rapping about is so relevant and relatable. Her writing is extremely provocative and powerful and can stir quite a lot of emotion when listening to it. The album as a whole, then, is truly excellent as both a musical entity and critique of modern society.
‘Let Them Eat Chaos’, Kate Tempest’s second album is out now through Fiction Records. For more of TGTF’s coverage on Tempest, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 26th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
Being childhood friends who share musical interests often provides a massive nudge towards the formation of a band. However, a longtime friendship may not necessarily be enough to hold a band together. Two years ago, Two Door Cinema Club cancelled their headline set at Latitude 2014. While the official reason for their pulling out of the festival in Suffolk was frontman Alex Trimble’s hospitalisation in Seattle, unbeknownst to us, discord had been ramping up within the band, reaching a breaking point.
According to this interview they did with DIY last month, the pursuit of the next big success in their career since leaving their small-town Northern Irish towns caused friction within. The former schoolfriends found themselves at odds with each other, unsure of whether they were going to continue as a unit. Having rediscovered themselves as individuals and after giving themselves time off from the band and from each other, they came out of their hiatus still wanting to make music as Two Door Cinema Club. Unfortunately, ‘Gameshow’ seems like a step back, as merely a peek back through the music that has made them who they are, rather than being an obvious, positive next step in their evolution.
In a chat with Steve Lamacq live on BBC 6 Music the week of the LP’s release, Alex Trimble explained their respect for Michael Jackson. The admiration for him comes through loud and clear on the vocal styling chosen by Trimble for most of this record. Not a friend of the falsetto? Step away from this review, turn around and run. If you’re okay with a man singing in a higher register than is natural, then keep reading. The apex of falsetto on this album, if you will, is ‘Je Viens De La’, “I wake gently with you” in French. With its wealth of synths and big beats, it’s an unabashed tribute to disco, another potential land mine in popular music. Another disco number, ‘Fever’, begins in a minimalist, promising way like Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’, except there’s that falsetto again. As a keen singer, it’s hard to listen to this album, wanting to throw some Halls Soothers in Trimble’s direction.
With the falsetto and the overt nods to disco, their new sound seems so far away from their debut ‘Tourist History’ that relied more heavily on guitars than beats and production. For long-time fans, it’s jarring and takes getting used to. There are, however, some moments of brilliance. ‘Lavender’, whose title I’m assuming is a nod to another high-pitched wonder, Prince, begins with a note progression reminiscent of ‘Walk This Way’. The song shows the trio embracing funk and r&b, with an arresting, foot-stomping rhythm to provide the track with much needed structure.
‘Invincible’ invokes the introspective, emotional guitar lines popularised in the ‘80s, with an appropriately cheesy, boyband-y vocal to match: “every day I see him beside you / is he treating you all right? / the things I would do if I were in his shoes / no more taking for granted / everything I get from you”. It’s weirdly engaging, but you have to take a step back for a moment and remind yourself that this is a Two Door Cinema Club album, not one of Justin Timberlake’s. Confusion is expected here.
I had real reservations the first time I gave this record a spin. It seems ironic how much they are embracing synths on this album (and arguably, overproduction thanks to working with Jacknife Lee in Los Angeles), considering the first time I saw Two Door perform was on their first tour of North America as support for Phoenix. The band have made it clear that this album finally gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted, without self-censoring themselves as they might have before. I initially seriously wondered who this album was for, but after the kind of global success they had before the age of 25, it’s about time they made an album they wanted to make, even if they risk alienating their most devoted fans.
‘Gameshow’, Two Door Cinema Club’s third studio album, is out now on Parlophone Records. You can have a listen to the title track below. They’re on tour in the UK in January and February next year; all the dates are listed back here. For more on Two Door on TGTF, including my review of this album’s first single taster ‘Are We Ready? (Wreck)’, follow this link.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th October 2016 at 12:00 pm
The year I joined TGTF as its USA Editor, White Lies were on the longlist of the BBC Sound of 2009. So I feel a special kind of kinship towards the West London band. I like White Lies. I really do. I’ve seen them three times, and they’re a great live band. There’s no denying they’re a fantastic singles band: rattle off ‘To Lose My Life’, ‘Farewell to the Fairground’, ‘Bigger Than Us’, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’, all well received by fans and part of their ever enlarging oeuvre. But this is where their problems stem from. Whether purposeful or merely coincidence, they’re a band that has offered up three albums – 2009’s ‘To Lose My Life…’, 2011’s ‘Ritual’ and 2013’s ‘Big TV’ – with the highest of highs, only to leave you feeling let down with the rest of the album sounding hohum.
Unfortunately, this is the fate of their latest, ‘Friends’, released earlier this month on Fiction Records. The previously released single ‘Take It Out on Me’ begins the album at a heady height that the album never reaches again in its other nine tracks. What’s more, they’ve chosen to go in a disco direction on several songs on the LP, to varying degrees of success. Since their earlier beginnings toying with the grim fatalistic on ‘Death’ and ‘Unfinished Business’, they’ve been pegged as miserabilists, so the introduction of overly bright synths and beats seems like a massive disconnect.
As an album that primary songwriter and bassist Charles Cave has described as chronicling the spectre of getting older, of being pulled away from the mates you once felt so close to. Despite having an upbeat backbeat thanks to drummer Jack Lawrence-Brown, album track 2 ‘Morning in LA’, comes across clunky. The subject matter of ringing up a friend in Shanghai and finding it sad that it’s already morning in California may be of utmost importance to them. But as an American-based editor who corresponds daily with UK and Australian contacts out of necessity, it’s hard to be sympathetic.
‘Swing’ and ‘Come On’ are so lyrically uninspiring, as you’re listening to the album from front to back, your attention will dip way low once you’ve past ‘Summer Didn’t Change a Thing’, where Cave hides unrequited love behind a grandly anthemic façade. This song is so classic White Lies, you wonder why they can’t seem to repeat or improve on their basic winning formulas for a whole album. Do they get fidgety?
There are some great moments on ‘Friends’ that I would be remiss in not mentioning. ‘Don’t Want It Feel It All’ details the struggle of loving an unstable depressive, or possibly from the perspective of that depressive and the confusion within while trying to hold on to a relationship. It’s a brave move lyrically after the weirdness of ‘80s throwback track ‘Hold Back Your Love’ in which frontman Harry McVeigh oddly begs the object of his affection to deny love to him because he “wanna see what I feel without / every feeling is streaming out”. The excessively gay keys that accompany McVeigh’s yearning vocal are a strange juxtaposition initially, but somehow it works. The buzzing synths and big beats frame ‘Is My Love Enough?’, a rhetorical question posed by a partner to a lover, insisting that leaving is the kindest way forward, a disco version of Keane’s ‘Can’t Stop Now’.
‘Friends’ isn’t a bad album per se, but it does give one pause when considering it against the rest of White Lies’ catalogue. Charles Cave deserves props for confronting the march of time and what it does to relationships, but a disco beat may not have been the best choice to complement his often weighty topics.
‘Friends’, the fourth album from White Lies, is out now on Fiction Records. The band are in the middle of a European tour, before they return to the UK for a domestic tour beginning on the 22nd of November at London Shepherds Bush Empire. To see all of White Lies’ scheduled dates for the rest of 2016, go here. To read more of our extensive coverage here on TGTF on the West London trio, follow this link.