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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 18th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
A recurrent theme from the history of many a British band is the use of music as a means of escaping a dead-end town. In the case of Holy Esque, the overwhelming desire of band members Pat Hynes (lead vocals) and Keir Reid (keyboards) to leave the grey industrial confines of post-war created East Kilbride caused their flight to the cultural hub of Scotland. According to Hynes, “Growing up there wasn’t hugely inspiring, other than perhaps giving us this dying need to escape from a young age. It was a major mission to get out of there as quick as we could – and Glasgow was the nearest port of call.”
As that classic saying about Northerners goes, “you can take the boy out of the North, but you can’t take the North out of the boy”, the same can be said about Holy Esque and their music: despite having escaped their desolate corner of Lanarkshire, they haven’t lost the feelings that caused their flight out in the first place, on show in their debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. The LP’s title underlines its songs’ dramatic themes of alienation, darkness and what might be beyond the grey, seen through a hazy, sorrowful lens. It begins on a bombastic note with ‘Prism’, the sheer power of the guitars and drums seemingly desiring oblivion, while Hynes’ rough and tortured vocals try to keep up.
Like fellow Scottish band The Twilight Sad, they’re not shy to take on decidedly less sunny slices of real life. While James Graham put his vocals through its paces on 2009’s ‘I Became a Prostitute’, Holy Esque take on the same topic with album track ‘Doll House’, the second entry in an ongoing trilogy of songs about a streetwalker’s sad life story. (The first was 2012’s ‘Ladybird Love’, and the trilogy ends with recently premiered non-album single ‘Oslo’, which will be released on a limited edition 7” on the same day as the new album.) The haunting guitar line and the overall shoegaze effect are left just enough in the background to let Hynes’ voice to shine through, the sweetheart dance melody belying its true nature. The appropriately titled ‘St.’, swathed with religious imagery and swirly guitars, is explained by Hynes as it “portrays a character that loses everything around him through an actual fear of loss itself, which in turn, results in bitter tragedy.”
On the more upbeat tempo side of things, the older song ‘Silences’ is reminiscent of classic White Lies, the repeated lyric “worst than all this precious pain” confirming their ability to hide true emotion behind an accessible pop melody. So does their debut single from 4 years ago, ‘Rose’, with Hynes wailing, “god knows I’m cold / lying here with my rose”, while synth chords bounce away cheerfully. Self-destruction is the topic of ‘Hexx’, described on the album press release as “a bid for stadium filling greatness”, a claim that can’t be disputed by its driving drumbeat and the feel good guitars. Meanwhile, a tune like ‘Strange’ have that slightly off-centre post-punk quality made famous by Echo and the Bunnymen, while the shadowy synths of ‘Covenant (Ill)’ recalls less dancier moments of new wave giants New Order.
One sticking point remains: how fond are you of Pat Hynes’ gruff, guttural voice? If you can get past it or indeed, enjoy it in combination with Holy Esque’s memorably piercing guitars and agreeable synth lines or are a post-punk fanatic, there’s a lot to like here in ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. Just don’t stand too close to the edge.
The debut album from Holy Esque, ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, will be released next Friday, the 26th of February, on Believe Recordings. The Glasgow-based band will be appearing as one of the Scottish band offerings next month at SXSW 2016. They also have live dates across the UK in March, April and May; have a read over their entire tour here. For more on Holy Esque on TGTF, head this way.
Australian singer/songwriter Ben Abraham is a new face and name. He’s someone you won’t have heard of or seen before. But, on the cusp of releasing his debut record ‘Sirens’ comes his second single ‘You and Me’. It’s an acoustic ballad that is full of deep emotion and raw, unbridled heartbreak. After the initial verse ends, when everything just stops and the piano comes into the mix in solitude, completely alone, a piece of perfect symbolism for the emotion Abraham conveys. You get the sense of the level of heartbreak Abraham is conveying. The majority of his material was written while working in a hospital, and you can feel this in the way he performs. Everything is calm and collected, even when you feel you yourself would lose control.
The musical composition of the track is crafted to develop distinct emotional responses. The rhythm section gives the song body, while the twinkling percussion and piano lightens the entire track. What results forms a perfect meld of audible distinction between hope and loss. You’re hard pressed to find a new artist who can perform with such beautiful abandon and bring new meaning to the term “songwriter”. What Abraham crafts aren’t just songs. They’re raw and heart on your sleeve confessions that happen to be backed by compositions that hold your mind firmly in his grasp.
Abraham has been championed by Zane Lowe on his Beats 1 radio show, an indication of the level of attention he’s been garnering. and If this second release is anything to go by, the future is going to be bright for Abraham, and it’s going to be an emotional ride.
‘Sirens’, Ben Abraham’s debut album on which this single ‘You and Me’ appears, will be released on the 4th of March on Secretly Canadian.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 11th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
From the outset, an act’s name like Let’s Eat Grandma sounds awfully aggro, doesn’t it? So you might be quite surprised that the duo are actually a pair of teenagers from Norwich. Multi-instrumentalists Rosa Walton, aged 16, and Jenny Hollingworth, aged 17, have been best friends since the age of 4. Given the fact that they look like they could easily pass as twins, you have to wonder how long they have been making music together. It must have been long before Let’s Eat Grandma was even a thing. Based on their tender age, I was mighty sceptical upon hearing the buzz about the girls ahead of the first night of Norwich Sound and Vision in their hometown last October.
The scepticism continued when I saw their garb onstage at Norwich Arts Centre: yellow-green sparkly tops, baggy trousers and bared midriffs. Based on this, and perhaps if I’d not heard anything about them prior to that moment, I’d have expecting something along the lines of Lorde or Charli XCX to come out of the speakers, but I was in for a refreshing surprise. Now on famed indie label Transgressive Records, ‘Deep Six Textbook’ is Let’s Eat Grandma’s first offering since being signed. Instead of going in a far too predictable pop direction for youngsters their age, they’ve decided to do something totally different, which is what I’m guessing their act’s name is supposed to suggest: forget what’s expected, and get ready to be wowed by the unexpected.
The debut Let’s Eat Grandma single is exactly along those lines. There is an unending feeling of atmospheric desolation: unemotional programmed beats with equally unemotional chords emanate from a synthesiser. The girls’ voices, both innocent and unearthly, are then introduced alongside the slowly lumbering melody. I can’t think of anyone else doing music right now like this, described on the press release as “[crossing] the worlds of experimental pop and progressive weirdness”. They’re like a plodding, non-rhythmic, ghostly version of the xx, but with loads of hand-clapping games. Which can’t be a bad thing, right?
Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut single for Transgressive Records, ‘Deep Six Textbook’, is available for digital download now. A special coloured vinyl 7” release follows on the 18th of March.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 9th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
Banners, the stage name of Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Mike Nelson, is set to make waves at SXSW 2016 next month. (Read Rebecca’s introduction to Banners from last month here.) Why do I say this? Every once in a while, I get a weird feeling in my bones about a new artist after listening to their music and I just know that superstardom awaits them. (Full disclosure: while I haven’t been 100% accurate, my record is none too shabby, having correctly predicted the success of Two Door Cinema Club, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Kodaline and The 1975.) I got the same kind of feeling upon hearing the opening track of Banners’ self-titled EP released last month.
‘Start a Riot’ begins as reverential as might be expected in this era of pop fully embracing synths and effects: with the electronic echo of a choir that are recalled a couple of times throughout the track. It’s a sweeping tune reminiscent of early Coldplay, with the guitars being the most energetic part of the track. Despite the single’s combative title, Nelson’s own vocals are more emotional than argumentative, providing support to a loved one “when your world falls apart” and “if night falls in your heart / I’d light the fire / in the dark, when you sound the alarm / we’ll find each other’s arms / for your love”. ‘Ghosts’ later on in the EP is another Banners track done in a wistful, Chris Martin style.
This slower, contemplative mood doesn’t last. You go straight into ‘Shine a Light’ next, a Kodaline-esque number with plenty of sing-along moments, so much that you can easily imagine it having been penned and sung by Steve Garrigan. Nelson has explained “the song is about feeling lost at sea and desperately searching for a beacon of light. It’s about waiting for that one big wave to finally pull you under while clinging on to that one last ray of hope. It’s a song to the person in your life that offers salvation while the storm is raging around you.” Given that, the use of Nelson’s forlorn falsetto in the slower verses to provide contrast with the faster, bouncier rock chorus is done to great effect, as if to mimic the highs and lows, the ebb and flow of our lives.
EP standout ‘Gold Dust’ is another anthemic pop number with a driving beat. In it, Nelson maintains a positive, engaging stance, insisting that like an alchemist, “when the nights grow cold / and it’s all gone to rust / we can turn it into gold dust”, he came make things better with his love. The EP ends on an equally strong note, with ‘Back When We Had Nothing’. It’s a nostalgic, yet painfully melancholic look back at a simpler, more innocent time.“I feel my blood rushing / burning like a glory blaze / back when we had nothing / we had everything”, he sings, with the desire of wanting to recapture that feeling. Nelson’s strong vocals, bolstered by glittering synths: pop doesn’t get much better than this.
The ‘Banners’ EP is out now on Island Records. If you’re lucky enough to live in North America, you’re in luck. Do yourself a favour and get yourself to one of the many club gigs Banners has scheduled before and after SXSW 2016. He also will be appearing at the Great Escape 2016 in Brighton in May.
Over the Christmas holidays, I had the pleasure of writing a Bands to Watch feature on Blanco White, the solo project of London singer/songwriter Josh Edwards. Highlighted in that article was debut single ‘November Rain’, which appears on Blanco White’s new EP titled ‘The Wind Rose’, along with three other Latin American-influenced songs that put a decisively contemporary spin on a traditional folk style.
Edwards initiated the Blanco White project in 2014, after studying classical guitar in Spain and learning to play the Andean charango in Bolivia. His vision for the project involved “bringing together elements of Andalusian and Latin American music alongside influences closer to home.” The end result is a set of songs with decidedly English lyrics and themes, set over the classical soundscapes of South America.
The Latin American influence here isn’t the uptempo salsa dance style often heard in mainstream pop music, but rather the contemplative minor-key sound of traditional Spanish and South American art song. Edwards’ orchestration includes the expected prominent virtuoso guitar figures but employs vividly modern, minimalist arrangements in the other instruments, creating dramatic energy to match his evocative lyrical style.
Opening track ‘The Lily’, recently featured by Adam Walton on BBC Radio Wales, begins with some of the EP’s most breathtaking imagery in the lyrical lines, “I left a sign with a candle in the streetlight that shone below / where through the night the people dance in linen and smoke / I still remember her song in my head . . .” Melding romance with impressions of fire and sea, Edwards’ rough-hewn singing voice is emotionally raw and instantly captivating as he sings of his elusive Lily, “vanished, some other place by the sea. . . banished by herself, not by me.”
The aforementioned ‘November Rain’ sets another oblique tale of emotional loss against the grey backdrop of a train platform on a cold autumn day. Its unanswered question “so is this why I couldn’t stay?” is never explained in the lyrical monologue, but its anguish is clearly expressed by each insistent repetition. The yearning woodwind solo following the repeated line “there’s nothing left I owe” leads into the song’s dynamic climax, where Edwards unleashes the strength of his voice ahead of the reflective final refrain.
Slightly gentler and more introspective, ’Chalk’ delves further into the feminine mystique with the vivid description of a palm reading enchantress who predicts her subject’s trip to Spain. The accordion and bowed strings in the song’s instrumental arrangement give a hint of the heady atmosphere of a street fair and Edwards’ lyrics are once again as beguilingly quixotic as the imagined siren of his serenade.
Final and eponymous track ‘The Wind Rose’ is even more strongly Latin-flavoured, with gently rolling harp and guitar figures under lyrics that switch between elegant English and sensual Spanish. Edwards is accompanied in the singing of the Spanish sections by Malena Zavala of Argentine indie rock band and Yucatan Records labelmate Oh So Quiet. Zavala’s light, clear vocals float delicately above Edwards’ coarser tone and echo hauntingly over the song’s closing lyric, “as the wind moves the water, in the chalice of a rose.”
Three of the songs from ‘The Wind Rose’ EP are streaming now on Yucatan Records’ official Web site, ahead of the EP’s impending release. If you’re as enchanted by Josh Edwards’ stunning voice and nimble guitar playing as I was, you can also watch a live video of Blanco White performing ‘Rust’, at the bottom of the page.
Blanco White will play a one-off show at London’s Sebright Arms on the 31st of March supporting Eliza Shaddad. His EP ‘The Wind Rose’ is out today on Yucatan Records.
Considering they are a collective of people, numbering a maximum of 12, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros certainly know how to bring out the delicacy in folk music. You would think the larger the number of members, the thicker and more lost the sound would get but they’ve managed to acquire the skill that gives us music which is just as emotive and insightful as, say, early Mumford and Sons, or even First Aid Kit.
On this next single ‘No Love Like Yours’, which is from the upcoming third album ‘PersonA’, the group manage to bring all of their skills to the forefront. What is missing though is the wonderfully harmonised chorus section that wears its heart on sleeve and when that usually is partnered with the sheer size of the band, it swells to create an unstoppable force. That’s not to say the harmonies aren’t here; they certainly are, but it’s a far cry from their breakout hit ‘Home’, so much that it almost feels reserved. Leading man Alex Ebert still manages to use his voice in its most raw and pure form, evoking emotion and as if he’s singing his purest thoughts. When singing, his voice occasionally breaks: it’s barely audible, but when you do hear this, it just adds to the message he’s communicating.
The instrumental driving force behind the track is a tactful combination of intricately plucked guitars and percussion that sits relatively low within the entire mix. Of course, there’s so much more going on, like a slight addition of piano that twinkles lightly above everything, along with the bass supporting the lower end of the track. It all comes together to form a rather pleasing listen that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
The track doesn’t particularly gather in strength. In the conventional sense, ‘No Love Like Yours’ certainly has a beginning, middle and an end, but it’s all quite flat which doesn’t lend itself to what we’ve normally come to expect from the band. As previously mentioned, it’s certainly a pleasant listen. But let’s hope what the rest of the album has to offer has a bit more to it.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ new single ‘No Love Like Yours’ is out now. Their third album ‘PersonA’ will be released the 15th of April via Community Music Group. To read more on Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros on TGTF, go here.