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Album Review: Rival Consoles – Howl

 
By on Thursday, 22nd October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by Nick Roseblade

Rival Consoles Howl coverRyan Lee West, aka Rival Consoles, has been off the radar for a while. As hoped, this period of self-imposed exile has been spent writing and recording new music for his third album ‘Howl’, released on Erased Tapes Records. It features his trademark blend of acid-tinged electro-house that is as perfect for large nights out, as it is for reflective nights in.

The album opens with title track ‘Howl’. Galloping beats and some nice bass wobble before the melody kicks in. On the surface, this appears to be a simple song, but there is a rich tapestry of melody and refrains bubbling below the surface. The real highlight is the solo in the middle: sounding slightly like Captain Nemo going mental at a party on the Nautilus, it’s over before you know what’s hit you, very much like Nemo’s attacking tactics.

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At times, ‘Afterglow’ sounds like a musical version of Rice Krispies, as there are three main elements to the song. The snap is the fizzing bassline, Crackle comes in the form of that Nemo-type synth and Pop are the tight beats. Combined, they offer a slice of euphoria and one of the albums standout moments, next to the title track. If ‘Afterglow’ is a night out, ‘Pre’ is the morning after. There is a tinge of melancholy to the proceedings. The beat has the same timing and throbbing intensity as a bad headache the morning after and night of debauchery.

‘Walls’, like the title suggests, offers up dense slabs of bass, while synths scurry about beneath them. At times, the story of Jericho comes to mind, how horns brought down a wall that an army couldn’t: as the song progresses, the bass is lessened and the synths are brought up in the mix. ‘Low’ starts off with a jazz feel; rim shots and riffs offer up a suggestion of space and flux, while West inserts synths in the space to create a sense of movement.

‘Morning Vox’ is another stand out track. Euphoric manipulated vocals samples make up the barebones of the track, while sharp tight beats back it up to keep things moving and progressing. Three quarters of the way through, a dextrously plucked acoustic guitar makes a rare appearance. Its inclusion makes a nice change of tone and texture. There are hints of Orbital at their prime in here too. The only downside of ‘Morning Vox’ is its timing. It has summer anthem written all over it, as it’s an upbeat and euphoric masterstroke. The album closes with’ Looming’. Like ‘Walls’, its title is apt. As the song progresses you get the impression it’s stalking you, as West’s deft production raises the tension one notch at a time.

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While West has made an album that is an enjoyable listen, you do get the feeling that you’ve heard it all before. If you are into electronic music, you can help but notice flourishes and touches that are reminiscent of established artists work. Producers like Dan Snaith, William Bevan, Kevin Martin and a slew of others working in bedroom studios cast a spectral shadows all over ‘Howl’. their presence permeating each track. If you walked into a room and ‘Howl’ was playing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was in fact Caribou or Daphni, at times. There are post-dubstep flourishes to the album that help ‘Howl’ win you over immediately, but again these seem borrowed, and after repeat listens they start to grate and you want West to deliver some fresh ideas, rather than rehash old ones.

‘Ghosting’, for example, has a Hyperdub 2007 feel to it. Everything about it feels slightly murky and impenetrable, and it sounds great. But it’s 2015, and things have progressed. Throughout the album, downbeat breakbeats work exceedingly well juxtaposed with the faster synth loops that help add syncopation. While there is nothing wrong with ‘Howl’, the compositions pulse and throb in the right places, and the production is as tight as ever, it’s just we’ve heard it all before and in some instances, we’ve heard better.

7.5/10

‘Howl’, the new album from Rival Consoles, is out now on Erased Tapes Records. For past coverage on West and his music, including this interview editor Mary did with him at SXSW 2015, go here.

 

Album Review: Little May – For the Company

 
By on Tuesday, 20th October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by Steven Loftin, header photo by Mclean Stephenson

Little May For the Company album coverAustralia is synonymous with many things. Sunshine, surfing, kangaroos, etc., etc. One thing that doesn’t come to mind is dark, brooding indie music. But that’s about to change with the debut release from Sydney-based band Little May.

Consisting of three members, Liz Drummond (vocals and guitar), Annie Hamilton (guitar and backing vocals) and Hannah Field (lead vocals), Little May together they create the kind of music that marries perfect lyrical imagery with the musical equivalent of drinking just the right amount of alcohol for a buzz. Seeing these songs performed live before hearing the album in its entirety could potentially take away any preconceptions you may have or even give you false expectations before going into a proper listening session, but that’s far from the case. After seeing the band perform live in Manchester I can safely say everything is as it claims to be, and that is three musicians coming together to create music that pushes and pulls you emotionally and does it perfectly. The band takes this perfection from the studio to the stage, and delivers an exceptional performance each and every time.

Leading single ‘Seven Hours’ is the perfect example of this. A tale of a lost relationship that died prematurely, it starts with a gentle verse before going into a mildly more determined chorus. It then suddenly breaks into a rousing, pounding version of itself, utilising the most memorable form of a crescendo, with a chord change that instigates the warmest feelings in your soul. For a change of pace to the standard ‘woman gets screwed over by man, then writes song’, there are even tracks that embrace the subject of the female being the dominant heartbreaker, which can be found on ‘Sold’. Little May are certainly here to shake things up, and not in the conventional sense.

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The record has Aaron Dessner, guitarist and songwriter from The National, on production duties, and it shows. The tonality and lyrical quality of the songs is reminiscent to that of 2013’s ’Trouble Will Find Me’, almost as if they’re the antithesis, the muses to the subject matter on said album.

Another earlier released single from this record is ‘Oh My My’. Its main premise is the fear of being alone and needing your someone. Though the words may represent the weaker side of human emotion, the track’s musical background is its strongest defence. It’s mildly hypnotic, in the way it draws you into the story and uses crashing cymbals in the later chorus that are wrapped around the pulsating drums, which then creates a sense of urgency. Then it gently places you back in your room as the track fades.

In terms of track listing, the record is paced to ensure that not everything is kept on a melancholic level. The less than positive moments that pack a lot more punch musically are put in place to stop the album feeling like a heavy listen. More tender moments include ‘Bow & Arrow’ and ‘The Shine is Brighter at Night’, the latter of which is the final track on the record and one that couldn’t be more suited to the job of closing out the album. As if using the glowing moon as a metaphor for the struggle of not being able to get a lover out of your mind at night, even though you don’t want the thoughts to fade, the song is a gentle ending to what is a dynamic and ever-growing in strength album.

Little May certainly have shown all of their strengths in this debut record, from the aforementioned darkness to the emotional depth you might not necessarily want to revisit personally. There’s not a single moment that they don’t take care of you and let you know everything’s going to be all right.

8.5/10

The debut album from Sydney, Australia’s Little May, ‘For the Company’, is out now on Island Records.

 

Album Review: City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You

 
By on Monday, 19th October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

City and Colour IISGBY coverToronto singer/songwriter City and Colour (also known by the city and colour of his given name, Dallas Green) abandoned his native city and decamped to Nashville for the recording of his last album, ‘The Hurry and the Harm’. Finding success in that setting, Green once again headed to Nashville’s Blackbird Studios to record his current LP ‘If I Should Go Before You’. “In Toronto”, Green says in the album’s press release, “I think of what I have to do. In Nashville, I think of everything I have done”.

Green chose to draw on previous experience in self-producing the new album, with assistance from Karl ‘Horse’ Bareham, but perhaps more importantly, he also chose to enlist the members of his touring band to play on the recording. Comprising bassist Jack Lawrence, guitar player Dante Schwebel, drummer Doug MacGregor and multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly, the band certainly expanded City and Colour’s soundscape in the studio, but according to Green’s commentary below, their influence on the album started well before the recording process began.

They inspired me to want to create new music, just to create it with them. I don’t think I wrote these songs for the band, per se, but I certainly wrote them because of the band. Anybody who has seen us play will understand that this is the best representation of what we do live that we have ever recorded. I was so excited about being able to make and record an album with these guys that it just flowed. I felt so confident about their abilities to make all of my ideas come true.

Opening track and early album single ‘Woman’ (previously featured here), a sultry, bluesy affair that smoulders continuously throughout its languorous 9-minute length, is an immediate affirmation of Green’s sentiment. Its slow-burning intensity sets the bar high for the rest of the album, and for the most part, Green and his colleagues are able to deliver on its potential.

Most of the outstanding individual tracks on ‘If I Should Go Before You’ are on the first half of the album, building on the initial momentum of ‘Woman’. ‘Northern Blues’ is smoothly jazzy, with Green’s silky falsetto floating gracefully over a deep, pulsing groove, while ‘Mizzy C’ is grittier and more blues rock-oriented. Title track ‘If I Should Go Before You’ is another slow-burner whose allusive lyrics “when the night cries itself awake / dying in the light of day / our endless love will remain / until we meet again” benefit from both the jazz harmonies behind them and Green’s exquisitely sensual vocal delivery.

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‘Wasted Love’ is one of the album’s most upbeat tracks, its concise and forceful lyrics matched by a boldly bluesy instrumental arrangement. From that point forward, the album strays from its established formula and takes on a warmer, though less cohesive, overall sound. ‘Runaway’ has a rather unexpected country tinge, while the gospel flavour of ‘Lover Come Back’ is heartfelt but possibly a bit predictable. ‘Map of the World’ is an energetic acoustic number that builds upon the evocative opening lines, “there is a map of the world that lies upon my weary face / each line representing a mile that I have traveled from place to place”. Closing track ‘Blood’ wisely showcases Green’s beautiful singing voice over an amazingly effective instrumental arrangement that somehow manages to feel both austere and expansive.

The first half of ‘If I Should Go Before You’ is a successful and enjoyable sonic experiment for City and Colour, while the second half is more varied, but also perhaps more comfortable and familiar. Overall, the album isn’t as much a definite change in direction for City and Colour as it is an expansion of his already established songwriting skill and his band’s demonstrated performing prowess.

7.5/10

‘If I Should Go Before You’, Dallas Green’s fifth release as City and Colour, is out now on Dine Alone Records/Caroline International. Green will tour the album in the UK and Ireland early next year; you can find a list of live dates right here.  For TGTF’s full archive of coverage on City and Colour, click here.

 

Album Review: Editors – In Dream

 
By on Friday, 2nd October 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

Editors In DreamAfter the 2013 departure of guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, Editors doubled down with a new lineup and created the heavily rock-oriented album ‘The Weight of Your Love’ in an attempt to prove the resilience of their sound. Two years later, new band members Justin Lockey and Elliott Williams have settled firmly into their positions alongside founders Tom Smith, Russell Leetch and Ed Lay, and their presence seems to have inspired a broader collaborative effort for the band’s fifth LP and first self-produced album ‘In Dream’.

In addition to the more expansive sound afforded by a five-piece set up, Editors have brought in a pair of notable contributors from outside. Iranian photographer Rahi Rezvani was tasked with designing the visual schematics for the album, including all accompanying photography and video representations. His work centers around the dichotomy of light vs. dark and has been prominent throughout the album’s promotional process, as featured in the videos for already released singles ‘No Harm’, ‘Marching Orders’ and ‘Life is a Fear’.

Rezvani’s crisply graphic black and white visuals are a perfect illustration of the clean, sharply contrasting electronic sounds that dominate ‘In Dream’. Further emphasising that dramatic contrast, Editors have recruited Slowdive singer Rachel Goswell to contribute guest vocals on three tracks. ‘Ocean of Night’ builds to a dramatically layered climax with Goswell’s delicate whisper soaring above the dynamic swell of keyboards and percussion. Her warm, ethereal vocal tone floats effortlessly beside the trademark shadowy baritone of frontman Tom Smith to soften the harsh rhythm of vocal duet ‘The Law’ as she croons its hypnotic chorus “don’t let it get heavy / you are the law / why won’t you come get me? / you are the law”. Smith’s own falsetto is remarkably effective in the atmospheric ballad ‘At All Cost’, where Goswell’s ghostly vocals blend seamlessly into a graceful and deftly executed instrumental arrangement.

Aside from the previously unveiled singles, which are naturally the strongest tracks on ‘In Dream’, the serpentine track ‘Forgiveness’ is the album’s main standout, with its darkly beguiling melodic lines and Smith’s sneering vocal delivery in its title line, “forgiveness makes fools of all of us”. ‘Salvation’ is similarly dark and brooding, its string arrangement underscoring both the portentous anticipation of its verses and the striking declaration of the chorus.

‘All the Kings’ indulges Smith’s darkest lyrical tendencies, but its sharp, concise vocal phrases cut through the angular synth string arrangement and its chorus can best be described as anthemic as he chants “loneliness forever / holding back a river / all the kings are coming / marching to the sound from your ribcage”. Smith’s strained falsetto nearly obscures his some of his best lyrics in the heavy dance beat of ‘Our Love’, but its repeated plea “don’t stop believing” fairly begs for the ecstasy of a live audience. Closing track ‘Marching Orders’ is also sure to be a live favourite, with pounding keyboards and an echoing chorus that plays almost like an extended encore at the end of the album.

Smith’s menacing vocals and his stark, often bleak lyrics work surprisingly well overall in the predominantly synthesised instrumental context of ‘In Dream’, much more so in fact than they did on Editors’ previous album ‘The Weight of Your Love’. The instrumental arrangements here are expansive without losing focus, allowing their foundational rhythms a bit more room to move, their melodies a bit more freedom to breathe. In their aim to create an album that was “both pop and experimental”, Editors have found a nice balance between dark and light by displaying the extremes of the spectrum.

8/10

Editors’ fifth album ‘In Dream’ is due for release on Friday the 2nd of October on PIAS. The band will follow the album release with a run of live dates in the UK and Ireland starting on the 9th of October. Our full archive of Editors coverage can be found here.

 

Album Review: Hurts – Surrender

 
By on Friday, 2nd October 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Hurts Surrender album cover“If this is love, why does it hurt so bad?”

When Hurts’ debut album ‘Happiness’ was released in 2010, it debuted at #4 on the UK albums chart. But in this post-Mac DeMarco lo-fi, slacker rock / post-Tame Impala psychedelic time in indie, are the music-buying public keen for a new album from Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson? Or maybe the better question to ask is if the same fans who bought their first two albums will like this new one?

They’ve certainly ticked off all the right boxes when it comes to personnel: in addition to working with long-time collaborator Swedish producer Jonas Quant, the Manchester duo enlisted heavy hitters Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers) and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, We Are Scientists, Vampire Weekend) to lend their assistance in shaping ‘Surrender’. The result is a highly textured effort, having enough variety in pace and instrumentation to keep listeners on their toes and interest up. The album begins on an uplifting enough note: the title track soars with gospel singers vocalising against epic sounding synths and beats that have become Hurts’ trademark.

While the broody darkness Hutchcraft and Anderson so carefully cultivated for ‘Happiness’ (and again tapped into on 2013’s ‘Exile’ for songs like ‘The Road’) is evident if you’re paying close attention Hutchcraft’s vocals, the feeling of the first half of the album rhythmically is an upbeat one that may mask what’s lying underneath to the casual listener. On one hand, in a satisfying way, none of the songs early on in the tracklist of ‘Surrender’ ever register too low on the heartbeat monitor, making it wholly reasonable competition to the just-released second album from Disclosure, ‘Caracal’. On the other hand, an important question to ask is what exactly have they risked in these by going further into even more mainstream pop territory?

Aye, there are minor key synth progressions on ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ and Hutchcraft does an admirable job in making his voice soar during the breakdown, but the relentless beats sound so massive, there is no questioning their importance over anything else on this track. Another early reveal, ‘Lights’, sounds like the love child of Daft Punk slowed down and disco funk; the ‘Kaleidoscope’ “that keeps me spinning” appears to have been cut from the same cloth. ‘Perfect Timing’ takes the ’80s cliches of a saxophone solo and programmed drum beats but is clearly designed for the dance floor as well. If you’re a fan of the desperate love anthems as played out on their earlier single hits ‘Wonderful Life’ or ‘Sunday’, I can sense your concern amid these dance floor bangers.

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The aptly named ‘Slow’ is a languid, sultry jam, oozing from beat to beat, with moments of Hutchcraft’s voice rising up in almost a shout – “I just want to love you, I just want to hold you close / what you’re doing here is murder, when you whip your body close“ – while pulling back to a softer timbre on the verses. It seems like the second half of ‘Surrender’ is a compromise, especially if you spring for the deluxe edition with three bonus tracks that include ‘Weight of the World’, with its industrial grinding sound like the most previous Hurts-esque effort of the new material. At the end of the album, ‘Wings’ is swiftly followed by ‘Wish’, both exhibiting the grandeur of the Hurts we first came to know 5 years ago. ‘Wings’, the non-dance standout of the album, spins a tale of fallen angels and the safety of a lover – “there’s a hole in my parachute as big as my heart / and the gravity is pulling me down / will you catch me when I fall? / wrap your wings around my body” – and it’s beautiful imagery.

If you do spring for the deluxe edition, your album will end with ‘Policewoman’, which from the outset seems like a strange title to close out an album on. It starts with organ notes, making is sound almost hymnal, and as the song progresses, it seems to be describing a woman with responsibility for keeping the mean streets clear of crime and hoodlums (“when I hear those sirens coming / my iron maiden’s running / to serve and protect my loving”). But it’s got to be more than that, to be about a higher power, something bigger, much as I think is the purpose of ‘Surrender’ as it ends with ominous clanking and what sounds like the words “from the pain” repeated. While they’ve evolved towards a dancier direction on the first half of this album, the second half reminds us that this is just one chapter of the ongoing story of Hurts. From their newest album, you just get the sense that there is so much more that they are destined for.

8/10

‘Surrender’, the third album from Manchester dark electropop duo Hurts, is out next Friday, the 9th of October, on Sony and will be available in regular and deluxe versions. The band have three live dates in the UK scheduled in February. For past coverage of Hurts on TGTF, including my review of the excellent first taster from the new album, ‘Some Kind of Heaven’, go here.

 

Album Review: New Order – Music Complete

 
By on Thursday, 1st October 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

Words by Nick Roseblade

New Order Music Complete coverWhenever you hear that a classic band is reforming without certain members, you immediately fear the worst. When the Manic Street Preachers decided to carry on without the missing Richey Edwards, it worked at first, but as the albums got progressively worse, you questioned their reasoning. Why not just rebrand yourself ‘MSP’? We all know what it stands for, you can still play the old songs, but then a line has been drawn in the sand, we know you aren’t the same band.

After the death of Ian Curtis, the remaining members of Joy Division went away, then came back as a new group, christened New Order. During their best years, New Order redefined the pop landscape and released a slew of classic singles until they called it a day in 2007. Now they have returned with a new album, ‘Music Complete’, but like the Manic Street Preachers before them, they’re missing a key member. Luckily original bassist Peter Hook hasn’t done a Richey Edwards, but sadly after falling out with frontman Bernard Sumner, he’s no longer with the group.

Lead single ‘Restless’ kicks the album off: classic New Order synths and keyboards fill your speakers, and it appears to be business as usual. That is until Sumner starts singing, “I want a nice car, a girlfriend / who’s as pretty as a star / I want respect / as much, as much as I can get”. It’s hardly ‘Temptation’ or ‘True Faith’, is it? But you put it down to first song jitters and with an open mind you continue to the next track ‘Singularity’. Sadly, it’s more of the same. Uninspiring music and sixth form lyrics, “and all I wanna do / is make the right impression / the instrument of truth / a soldier with no weapon”.

The album continues in this vein. With each new track, you hope it’ll get better, but deep down you know it never will. The next three tracks – ‘Plastic’, ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘People on the High Line’ – feature Elly ‘La Roux’ Jackson. ‘Plastic’ sounds like a reworking of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, but where you’d expect Jackson to come in, Sumner does and she is relegated to mundane backing vocals. ‘Tutti Frutti’ sounds like a Yello album track in the 1990s, complete with faux-computerised vocals. ‘People on the High Line’ proves to be the most fun track of the first half of the album: ‘90s Italian keyboards mix with a jaunty beat that sounds like music would have been played on a high-street fashion show in a local shopping centre in the decade.

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‘Stray Dog’ features Iggy Pop on vocal duties; this is an atmospheric slow burning narrative piece. It’s reminiscent of the 1999 track ‘Pop’ recorded with Death in Vegas, but this New Order tune never quite reaches the levels of darkness or brooding that ‘Aisha’ does. The next selection of songs follow on from the pattern that ‘Restless’ started and blur into banality. ‘Superheated’ closes the album with an uplifting number, but like ‘Music Complete’, it feels empty and half-hearted.

There are three main problems with ‘Music Complete’. Firstly, it isn’t 1998 anymore. Due to Sumner’s song writing style, it all sounds very dated, musically speaking, and it’s hard to work out if these are in fact new songs or just old demos that Hook didn’t like and now he’s not around, Sumner has complete control to do what he wants with them. Retro-sounding synths and drum beats? They pepper the album. I like nostalgia as much as the next person, but I also like bands to progress, especially after such a long break. Secondly, the lyrics aren’t that great. While it can be said that Sumner and Hook were never classic lyricists, on ‘Music Complete’ it seems like the words have been treated as an afterthought.

And thirdly, Peter Hook’s driving and diversive bass-playing is missing. While Tom Chapman does a pretty good impression of Hooky, you know immediately it’s not the real thing. In the past, Hook’s bass would stalk you through the album, before he delivered that killer blow by note, but now the spirit of his bass playing is only there in spirit. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this album, and old and new fans appear to like it. It sounds like their ‘90s dance stuff. If that floats your boat, get involved. Personally, I’d rather sail away.

New Order should rebrand themselves ‘NO’, that way we’d all know where we stand.

6/10

‘Music Complete’, the first new album from Manchester electronic legends New Order in 10 years, is out now on Mute Ltd. They’ll be on tour in the UK in November.

 
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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.

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