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Album Review: Pixel Fix – Running Thin EP

 
By on Thursday, 7th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Back in the spring, Pixel Fix supported Young Kato, Made in Chelsea’s current darlings and a band I had high hopes for when I’d first written about them in 2012. At the time when I posted about the tour in February, I’d heard a couple bits from the Oxfordshire quartet and reckoned a huge programming mistake had been when they were chosen as support. A good 6 months out from then and listening to their latest release, the selection doesn’t seem as crazy as I had previously thought. Out this week, ‘Running Thin’ is an intriguing set of four songs, none really much like one another. Which is actually a good thing in my book. It’s a sign they’re a band of many talents.

The EP starts strongly with ‘Lungs’. It’s got a tropical vibe that is Friendly Fires-esque but the feel is more synth than bass driven, yet not as synthy as Polarsets. The at times staccatoing lyrics sung on irregular beats by Marcus Yates not unlike the style of Little Comets‘ Rob Coles except pop enough like that of Liam Creamer’s of Hey Sholay or Will Daunt’s of Zulu Winter (RIP) to allow for airplay on Huw Stephens’ Radio 1 programme. Okay, I know that’s a lot of band names to be bandying about, but it’s been bothering me that this song sounds like several groups I am quite fond of and it’s stirring up old memories and to be sure, they’re good ones that should serve Pixel Fix well in pursuing fans of any and all of these bands.

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Second track ‘Change This’ is an interesting change from ‘Lungs’, as with its finger snaps and lounge-y vocals, it sees the band go towards a r&b jam, so it also has the potential for mainstream appeal. The synths are still there of course, but they’re left for background atmosphere as the focal point is Yates’ voice. ‘Still’ allows Pixel Fix to go back to their dreamier, more ambient roots. Barely over 2 minutes, it could have gone on much longer and us indie and electronic heads wouldn’t have batted an eye as what sounds like owls hooting lie underneath a catchy guitar line and ghostly synths, while those fingers keep a-snapping. The synths are then messed about with and compressed and stretched in EP closer ‘Overflow'; this one also has with finger snaps, but interestingly it seems to bridge the distance between ‘Lungs’ and ‘Change This’. The song has elements of pop but Yates’ voice isn’t frenetic, the notes gliding smoothly like skates across an ice rink.

The question is, then, where do Pixel Fix go from here? They clearly have a way with ambient soundscapes, while also doing well in the pop and r&b songwriting departments. Any one of these directions could lead the band to mainstream success.

8/10

Pixel Fix’s latest EP ‘Running Thin’ is out now on Owlbear Records but for now, you can stream the EP below to your heart’s content.

 

Single Review: Holy Esque – Sovereign

 
By on Wednesday, 6th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Holy Esque from Glasgow were a band I had intended to see at SXSW this year, but you know what they say about the best laid plans… I suppose though had I seen them live, I might have had an entirely different opinion of their new single ‘Sovereign’, which gets a release next week. ‘Silences’, which we featured as part of our Bands to Watch piece on them prior to them going out to the big dance in Austin for a second year in a row, has driving drums and an upbeat tempo ala Franz Ferdinand but with a scratchy, less melodically delivered vocal more like that of Billy McCarthy’s of American group (We Are) Augustines. ‘Sovereign’, however, has a more ominous feel.

The upcoming single takes full advantage of darker post-punk guitars and icy synths to make you feel like you’re inside a dimly lit room with nothing but the shadows for company. Everyone who I waved off before, the ones who were talking about Holy Esque before and kept insisting they were the new Echo and the Bunnymen, okay, yes, I hear echoes of Ian McCulloch and his band. The vocals, however, won’t remind you of anything like ‘The Killing Moon’ or even ‘The Cutter’, so just be prepared, they’re going to be a bit marmite.

Frontman Pat Hynes doesn’t so much sing as much as get the words out like Michael Stipe at his least melodic or Thom Yorke in his usual attempts to be melodic. But he explained to The Skinny in 2012 that he is content with his artistry: “I thought it was fucking weird. I was like, ‘Why can’t I sing?’ But I learned to appreciate it and work with it, and I gained a little bit of control over it. But I can’t stop it. It’s just the way it is.”

If you can get past the lack of melody in Hynes’ voice – or better yet, you actually like the way he sings – you are treated to a song of three acts. The first act of ‘Sovereign’ has Hynes singing almost in a hip hop staccato style, which matches the unfeeling synth notes from Keir Reid. The song does everything to be unobtrusive until shortly after the 3-minute mark, when thunder and lightning have now entered your dimly lit room in act two. Guitars crash messily and Hynes starts shrieking, as if to combat the noise of the guitars. The guitars eventually drone and fade out in the final act, and you’re left wiping your brow, wondering what the hell just happened.

Dramatic? Yes. Is it for everyone? No. Worth a listen? Yes.

7/10

‘Sovereign’, Holy Esque‘s next single, will be released next Monday, the 11th of August, on Beyond the Frequency Records. They tour the UK starting later this month and into September.

 

Single Review: High Hazels – Misbehave

 
By on Tuesday, 5th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Despite being over a month from its official release, the new single from Sheffield up-and-comers High Hazels, titled ‘Misbehave’, has already received its first mainstream radio spins. The track earned airplay on Huw Stephens’ BBC Radio 1 show last week after having been picked up by BBC 6music’s Steve Lamacq the week prior. While High Hazels garnered praise for their previous releases, the ‘In the Half Light’ EP (reviewed here by Mary) and especially single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’, it could be ‘Misbehave’ that really makes their mark leading up to their debut LP.

The beauty in High Hazels’ music up to this point has been the combination of their diffusely romantic lyrics with the sweet lilt of James Leesley’s singing voice and the hazy echo of the atmospheric guitar and percussion effects. Their songs have been the quietly introspective type that might provoke a wistful sigh, a rueful smile, or maybe even a catch in your throat. But with ‘Misbehave’, Leesley and his bandmates have purposefully unfixed their gaze from the tips of their shoes and decided to take a more direct approach.

The song’s suggestive opening lyric, “Do you want to misbehave?”, is immediately more visceral and outspoken than anything we’ve heard from High Hazels before. It isn’t an entirely novel idea in the canon of popular song, of course, but the appealing sincerity in Leesley’s singing keeps it from sounding like a bad pick-up line. His vocals become more throaty and anguished as the guileless chorus repeats, “I need to find my way / Before it gets too late / Just tell me what you want to hear / I need to know ‘cos I wanna be near to you.”

Musically, the concise lyrical phrases are punctuated by heavy, pounding drums and chunky guitar countermelodies, while the usually reverberant instrumental texture takes a slight turn toward woozy psychedelia. Producer Matt Peel might be responsible for the experimentation in the audio effects, but the design doesn’t come entirely out of nowhere. Hints of this sound could possibly be heard in the 4-to-the-floor rhythm of other ‘In the Half Light’ EP track ‘Summer Rain’, though ‘Misbehave’ definitely has more groove and more movement.

As a stand-alone single, ‘Misbehave’ is seductively catchy and infectious, but I’m more interested to find out where it will stand in the context of High Hazels’ full LP when that is eventually released. It could serve equally well as a quick change of pace or a complete change of direction. Either way, my curiosity is piqued.

9/10

‘Misbehave’ is scheduled for release on the 15th of September on Heist or Hit Records, to be swiftly (we hope!) followed by High Hazels’ debut LP. The official audio of the single can be heard below.

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Album Review: Angus and Julia Stone – Angus and Julia Stone

 
By on Friday, 1st August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Australian brother and sister Angus and Julia Stone have reunited in the studio for their third duo album, titled simply ‘Angus and Julia Stone’. The pair had gone their separate ways after touring their previous album, 2011’s ‘Down The Way’, each delivering a solo project the following year. They were brought back together by California producer Rick Rubin, whose magic touch has recently been felt on recordings by Ed Sheeran (‘X’) and Jake Bugg (‘Shangri-La’).

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is at once more expansive and more cohesive than the siblings’ past records together. The aforementioned ‘Down the Way’ was a large step in this direction, well beyond the purely acoustic folk sound of 2007’s ‘A Book Like This’. Though both previous albums contained California-themed titles, Angus’ songs in particular on ‘Down the Way’ began to explore the warm, mellow West Coast sound, while Julia expanded into thicker and more dramatic instrumentation. Where the two previous albums were studies in contrast between the two Stones — Julia’s raw, taut emotionality and Angus’ laidback, almost sullen drawl — the new self-titled album uses a heavy dose of blues groove to meld their distinct styles into a unified sound.

Rather than strictly alternating lead vocals, the best songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ intertwine the two voices in clever ways. I must admit here that I’ve never particularly cared for Julia Stone’s singing voice; it’s precisely the kind of overaffected little girl whine that usually begins to grate on my nerves after one or two songs. But she sounds remarkably lovely when her voice is layered with Angus’ brooding declamatory style, and the assortment of vocal combinations on this album, varying between straight harmonies and back-and-forth duets, display that feature to its fullest advantage.

The double-tracked vocals throughout opening track ‘A Heartbreak’ make a very definite statement about the collaborative nature of the album as a whole. The song’s first lyrics are an immediate grab for attention: “I met your parents, they were lying about falling in love”, and the rest of the songs continue in that verbally strident vein, softened by the easy blend of the Stones’ voices.

On standout track ‘Heart Beats Slow’, the vocal back and forth is matched up with a bright keyboard melody and lively rhythm over a mellow bass groove. The chorus conjures imagery of the fast-paced L.A. scene in its lyrics, “You say I move so fast that you can hardly see / You say I move so fast, how could you be with me? / But my heart beats slow.” The lovelorn duet ‘Wherever You Are’ and the off-kilter ‘Other Things’ feature the same kind of vocal interchange over a sparser acoustic backdrop.

Individually, each sibling takes the opportunity to stretch his/her own musical style. Angus delves deep into a steamy blues groove on ‘Grizzly Bear’, with Julia doubling on the seductive chorus, “Can I take you home? / We can go anywhere you wanna go.” (Check out a recent live version of ‘Grizzly Bear’ below.) Julia’s impressive lead vocal on ‘Death Defying Acts’ starts out slow, then takes a sultry turn before the song evolves into its hypnotic close.

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The album proper ends with the slow, surly vocals and extended blues guitar riff of ‘Crash and Burn.’ The deluxe version of the album might be worth shelling out a few extra pennies, if only for the rhythmically spellbinding and harmonically intoxicating bonus track ‘Roses’.

The songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ are still recognizable as the intimate folk pop that fans of the sibling pair have always loved, but with a few added layers of musicality. Lyrically, there are moments of poetic brilliance among the pair’s typical repetitive and mesmerizing choruses. Rick Rubin’s subtle production flourishes spike the overall flavor with blues and shimmering psychedelia, which fuses the Stones’ individual styles together and provides a fresh sonic foundation for their songs to grow from.

8.5/10

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is due for release on the 4th of August on Virgin EMI Records. Angus and Julia Stone are back together on stage as well; you can find their upcoming UK tour dates here.

 

Single Review: Pitbull – Fireball (ft. John Ryan)

 
By on Tuesday, 29th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Whether you love him or hate him, Pitbull has been no stranger to the music scene in recent months. The American rapper topped the charts with ‘Timber (ft. Kesha)’ in October 2013. This was followed by a top 5 position as a featured artist on Enrique Iglesias’ ‘I’m a Freak’ and his own single ‘Wild Wild Love (ft. GRL)’ peaked at #6. There was also the official World Cup track, ‘We Are One (Ola Ola) (ft. Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte)’, but the less said about that, the better.

For his latest single ‘Fireball’, Pitbull has teamed up with John Ryan. If you’ve never heard of him, a quick Google search will tell you that he co-wrote the likes of ‘Best Song Ever’ and ‘Story of My Life’ for One Direction. However, this is the first time the songwriter has leant his vocals to a track.

Surprisingly, ‘Fireball’, the first single to be taken from Pitbull’s upcoming album ‘Globalization’, isn’t the standard party pop track we’ve come to expect from Mr Worldwide. Instead, we are treated to a carnival-esque beat with a catchy chorus that has a bluesy vibe to it. Throw in the usual ‘Pitbullisms’ as I like to call them, such as the line “I came, I saw, I conquered / or should I say, I saw, I conquered, I came”, and you have all the ingredients for a feel-good track for the summer.

As for the chorus, John Ryan’s soulful vocals compliment the track well, as he sings: “I was born in a flame, Mama said that everyone would know my name / I’m the best you’ve never had, if you think I’m burning out, I never am.” Like all of Pitbull’s choruses, it’s simple, it’s catchy and it’s bound to get stuck in your head.

Overall, Pitbull has taken a number of risks with ‘Fireball’. The use of a Latina sound and a bluesy chorus is a long way away from the club bangers the rapper has previously churned out, though it seems to have paid off. Not only that, but the track is guaranteed to give guest vocalist John Ryan the exposure he needs to make it big in the music industry. Expect to be hearing this a lot over the summer.

7/10

Pitbull’s new single ‘Fireball’ has yet to be given a release date, although his eighth studio album ‘Globalization’ is set for an autumn 2014 release.

 

Single Review: The Pierces – Creation

 
By on Friday, 25th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

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.

8/10

‘Creation’, The Pierces’ fifth studio album, is due for release on the 1st of September via Polydor Records, along with its title-track single.

 
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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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