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Album Review: Emmy the Great – Second Love

 
By on Tuesday, 5th April 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

There’s a certain quaintness to Emmy The Great’s third album. It gently works its way into your consciousness and dances around with an abundance of air and grace, which is impressive for an album whose lyrical content primarily concerns modern life and technology. Of course, this is to be expected from an artist who is essentially the British equivalent of Zooey Deschanel.

The first glimpse into this new effort was the single ’Swimming Pool’, featuring Tom Fleming (Wild Beasts) providing a tenor accompaniment to the chorus that sits wonderfully below Emmy’s heavenly vocals. The track is dreamy in every sense of the word, from the airy instrumentation to the choral backing vocals. It all flows rather nicely into second track ‘Less Than Three’. Here, the lyrical content is darker, harking to the time where you find yourself heartbroken by an instigator who is less than apologetic. She manages to squeeze every ounce of feeling from the words, and with the most innocent of cadences. The song travels along to an almost childish nursery rhyme rhythm.

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One of the strongest weapons in Emmy the Great’s arsenal is her voice. She can reach angelic levels without sacrificing any of the power, which is entirely supportive of her lyricism that is often sweet with hyper-emotive tinges. Most impressively, she uses her lyrical talent to take classic situations such as romance and heartbreak and entwine them with modern phrasing and subjects, such as can be found in ‘Hyperlink’. On it, she takes us through the dating process where a partner “walks me to a cafe, where drinks cost more than music” that is filled with people “tapping keys where once they would read magazines”. The way she employs a poetic rhythm to the words just makes it all the more easier to fall in love with her lyricism.

Not forgetting the instrumentation, throughout the album there is always a mildly fresh sound, something to keep you interested. ‘Constantly’ could quite easily be a cut from a Vampire Weekend record, joyful and preppy but filled with power. ‘Dance W. Me’ takes a dance approach with its electronic beat and haunting backing vocals that are takes of Emmy’s housemates laughing and repeating “dance with me”. The important factor in the latter is the approachability it adds: it creates another dimension where you’re personally involved in the social scenario while seemingly feeling left out.

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‘Second Love’ is certainly a powerful return for Emmy The Great. The emotion that is delivered is tender and raw: it almost renders you catatonic once it’s over. But then you suddenly feel glad, as if she’s sung every word you’ve never been able to convey. Only one factor that is missing from the album, and that is potentially a faster tempothat would create a roller coaster effect. Almost, where you’re complacent in your mental position when listening ‘til suddenly you’re picked up again, if but briefly, and then put back down. But then again, do we have the emotional capacity to handle it?

8/10

‘Second Love’ is out now on Bella Union. For more on Emmy the Great on TGTF, including her transformation from an anti-folk to electropop artist, go here.

 

Album Review: The Joy Formidable – Hitch

 
By on Friday, 1st April 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

It seems somehow fitting that I’m taking a quick break from TGTF’s ongoing coverage of SXSW 2016 to review the new album from Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable. Our own editor Mary first introduced me to The Joy Formidable just over two years ago on the opening night of SXSW 2014, when the band played at Austin’s Clive Bar on what happened to be a rather wet and dreary evening. The rain could easily have put a damper on The Joy Formidable’s late set that night, but the venue was packed with eager fans, and Mary and I both felt fortunate to catch the band in what would be one of their last live gigs before they disappeared into the studio for a long stretch of writing and recording.

The product of that time away is The Joy Formidable’s new LP ‘Hitch’, which lead singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan says is “one of the most driving records we’ve made but also the saddest”. Recorded and produced by the band themselves in their North Wales studio The Red Brick, the album was truly a labour of love for the Welsh trio, both emotionally and musically. They’ve taken a more streamlined musical approach with ‘Hitch’, but the emotional quality of the songs is undeniably cathartic, and the band themselves have described the album as “a good purge”.

Opening track ‘A Second in White’ starts things off with Bryan’s low-register voice murmuring over an ominous ostinato of guitars and drums, but the pace picks up almost immediately with the following track ‘Radio of Lips’. The sharp, concise lyrical lines in the verses lead to an irresistably anthemic chorus, and the drawn out anticipation in the bridge section is likely to make this one a live favourite on The Joy Formidable’s upcoming UK tour in May.

The album’s provocative first single ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’, whose video edit is featured in the tour date post referenced above, sounds both sullen and sultry, and like ‘Radio of Lips’ before it, stretches over 6 minutes long in the full album recording. Indeed many of the tracks on ‘Hitch’ are quite lengthy, as if the band’s major hang-up might have been in somehow finding closure to the whatever emotional drama surrounded the making of the album.

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The first half of the album starts to drag a bit after the opening three tracks, wandering through more introspective tracks ‘Liana’ and ‘The Brook’ before regaining some momentum with the frenetic drum beat of ‘It’s Started’. Midway through the album, relatively shorter track ‘The Gift’ switches Bryan’s lead vocals for those of Dafydd, and perhaps it’s the contrast that makes Bryan’s vocals seem that much more on the album’s second half, especially as she sings the poignant line, “maybe we’re not alone after all” in ‘Fog (Black Windows)’.

‘Underneath the Petal’ is a rather gentler but still darkly dramatic affair that builds slowly in dynamic intensity and once again highlights the emotional quality of Bryan’s singing voice. ‘Blowing Fire’, by contrast, seethes intensity and spits resentment from beginning to end before the album closes with another soft, acoustic-tinged number. ‘Don’t Let Me Know’, which also happens to be the album’s longest track, spins slowly and elegantly into a climactic finale, or perhaps more accurately, into a heartfelt and bittersweet farewell.

While the songs themselves are a bit all over the shop, ‘Hitch’ makes up in variety and emotional power what it lacks in cohesion. Whatever emotional cleansing The Joy Formidable might have required was undoubtedly achieved in the album’s intense musical arrangements and lengthy instrumental interludes, but overall, the album feels dampened by the pressure of its own heavy emotional content.  Bringing the songs out of the studio and into live performance might be the impetus the band needs to complete its purge, once and for all.

7/10

The Joy Formidable’s third album ‘Hitch’ is out now on the band’s own label C’Mon Let’s Drift. TGTF’s full archive of coverage on The Joy Formidable is back this way.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Polica – United Crushers

 
By on Tuesday, 29th March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Polica United Crushers album coverThere’s something extremely dark and brooding about this third outing from Minneapolis alt indie/dance group Poliça, even more so than their prior efforts. It becomes the musical version of the tail end of a thunderstorm As in, you know something big has happened but there’s a calm serenity afterward. Supporting this initial metaphor is the opening track ‘Summer Please’, for obvious reasons. Within this track also, along with the title of the record itself, there are some serious political undertones. Upon reading the lyrics, something that is necessary due to the effects and processing applied to the vocals, you’re greeted with the world left for the youth. “Whatcha wanna be, when you’re big enough to realise it’s all shit…I’ve got mine, I’ll be fine”. It’s always good to open an album with a statement, may as well make it an approachable one.

The swelling and consuming action within the synthesisers and instruments is integral to the sound Poliça create, mainly because without it, you might find your interest waning slightly. The soundscapes created by the group are haunting and brooding but can feel mildly empty at times. While the lyrical content helps carry this emptiness, filling their songs with thought and purpose, though even this attempt can have sparse effect, the words juddering across rather than being a free-flowing expression.

There’s no doubting that there’s a beauty to be found within this record. At times, it’s delicate, especially with singer Channy Leaneagh’s soft, yet urgent vocals. This is prominent in the track ’Melting Block’, where she goes from matching the cadence of the instruments to suddenly soaring above them almost effortlessly. However, the overall rhythm of the album is largely flat, motioning toward more of a never-ending cyclical electronic beat rather than having a natural life of its own. Almost every song has an instantaneous introduction, allowing no room for an atmosphere to be built, so it’s a constant assault after each song. Sometimes when you’re listening to an album, a palate cleanser is needed to appreciate each song. But when the majority of the songs kick in from the get-go, you lose this perspective.

To really appreciate what Poliça are doing with this record requires a certain mindset. You can find yourself going from fully invested to mindlessly forgetting what song you’re on, all within the same track. The most interesting the album gets is on ‘Baby Sucks’, which flows nicely after prior track ‘Berlin’. The latter is a slow, sometimes stumbling number, while the latter channels late ‘90s dance music to great aplomb, even including a brief spurt of saxophone at the crescendo.

What would have made this record a fully formed idea, rather than a daydream, is calling back to the sounds of yesteryear as shown in ‘Baby Sucks’. This is where they manage to emulate the feeling from that era’s sound rather than just dawdle along creating a miser’s techno fantasy. If this method were applied to the rest of the album, they would find themselves with a much stronger result, but of course the whole idea behind creation is to experiment and try different things, which is something Poliça cannot be accused of not doing.

6/10

Polica’s third album ‘United Crushers’ is out now via Mom + Pop Music. For more on Polica on TGTF, go here.

 

Album Review: exmagician – Scan the Blue

 
By on Thursday, 24th March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

exmagician Scan the Blue album coverA part of me dies when a favourite band decides to call it a day. There is a touch of sadness associated with such an end, knowing you’ll never see the band in the form you knew it perform or make music together again. However, as many of you know well, just because one band ending doesn’t mean that’s the end of the road for the talented musicians who used to go by its name. While we don’t know how or why Belfast psych rock outfit Cashier No. 9 imploded, I feel utterly thankful that ex-members Danny Todd and James Smith decided to soldier on with a new project, christened exmagician.

Last autumn, they released the ‘Kiss Your Wealth Goodbye’ EP on Bella Union and this week, they return with their debut album effort ‘Scan the Blue’. While there are touches of Laurel Canyon psychedelia peppered across this new album, along with some folkier, introspective moments, there are louder, harder sounds achieved through rockier minor key progressions lyrics compared to the songs on 2011’s ‘To the Death of Fun’. This makes me wonder how much Todd and Smith’s own life experiences shaped their new sound. The press release says the songwriters had no desire to write a conventional love song, preferring instead “hope, trust and revenge…they always fall into those three categories,” further making this a refreshing listen. It’s also worth noting that on this album, in addition to the hard, there is also the soft, or at least the smoother.

‘Bend With the Wind’ may feel like it sticks out like a sore thumb, as it is neither in your face nor particularly acerbic in its words. Its shiny synth notes, coarse guitar lines and happy horn section have a bright, yet honeyed quality, as Todd sings, “in a few months, I’ll be lost and away / pointing in a brand new direction”. Of the tune, Todd himself says, “I wanted this song to sound a little bit broken, confused, nervous but at the same time triumphant.”

‘Bend With the Wind’ may have been the duo’s way of expressing their anxiety about releasing a new record, but as you listen to the rest of this album, you will find it is superfluous. ‘Smile to the Gallery’ and title track ‘Scan the Blue’ are more atmospheric entries but comparatively less impressive, like looking out over the water at the fog of the Irish sea. It’s a pretty sight, but it’s harder to find meaning from it. (I only bring this up because I’ve gazed exactly like that by the water in Liverpool, imagining the Beatles doing the same exact thing so many years ago, desperately trying to feel a modicum of cool.) Twangy guitar and a slower tempo on ‘Feet Don’t Fail’, appearing in the middle of the album, feels more like a palate cleanser, a towel to wipe one’s brow, if you will, before heading into the second half of songs.

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While ‘Job Done’ was played on guitars purposely tuned to bagpipe tones, you’re in for a shock two-thirds in, when a guitar solo kicks in and what somewhat gentle stomping rhythm that that has been burbling in the background suddenly feels like a slap to the face. Far more deft is the sneery, dark, bluesy feeling expressed through ‘The Rot Set In’, following by the slightly demonic beginning chords and foot stomps of ‘Wild Eyes’, going into a rollicking rock number. This is wide-eyed, swaggery, confident songwriting.

When exmagician go to that dark, shadowy place, it’s like the musical equivalent of a rough and tumble construction worker who strolls into the pub for a pint and makes it clear he takes no crap from anyone. So the question for me is, which is the true nature of Todd and Smith’s writing? The uncompromising, unyielding man in black, or the cool as a card shark dude in the shades, noodling away on his guitar, staring at his shoes? Either way, going along for the ride is wholly enjoyable.

7.5/10

‘Scan the Blue’, the debut album from exmagician, is out tomorrow, the 25th of March, on Bella Union. Watch the album trailer below. For more on exmagician on TGTF, go here.

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(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Miike Snow – iii

 
By on Wednesday, 23rd March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Miike Snow iii album coverChances are, if two-thirds of your outfit are a songwriting duo who have worked with the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears and Katy Perry, then you’re bound to hit some form of success. With Miike Snow, a collective consisting of producing duo Bloodshy & Avant along with singer Andrew Wyatt, who himself is no stranger to working with those who are unreachable by us mere mortals, notably Bruno Mars and his 2011 hit ‘Grenades’, we have all the ingredients for success. Naturally with these two forces ultimately joining up to create music, something was bound to stick, and stick it has.

Now on their third album, ‘iii’, Miike Snow show no sign of slowing down or loosening their metaphorical grip upon the indie/alternative dance world. ‘iii’ is a positively charged cycle of lustful and longing songs that will no doubt make various remix appearances around numerous clubs this summer. Opener ‘My Trigger’ is a piano-led upbeat number that perfectly sums up the approach of Miike Snow to songwriting, that being quantity over quality. Lyrically, the song is very weak, as are most of the lyrics on the record, with the highlight of this track coming from the line, “I’m in the graveyard, if looks could kill”. All style, no substance: not necessarily a bad thing, but unforgettable this maketh not.

The trouble with a group of producers/songwriters is that they tend to miss the flair and personality of an actual artist. We’re not so naive as to believe every single song in the charts currently was written by one singular, talented soul (there are obvious exceptions). There is always a crack team consisting of multiple movers and shakers who each has their own rhyming dictionary. But when you remove the artist, the body that brings some form of tangible life to the songs, it becomes a bit of a backing track almost, where you’re left waiting for the heartbeat to start.

For instance, with the latest single from the album, ‘Genghis Khan’, the foundations are certainly there. The music ticks all of the right boxes, a nice blending of vocal layering and low piano parts create a perfect storm. Once again though, lyrically, there are moments that stick but generally it becomes a bit throwaway. The song itself takes the perspective of two men who are chasing the same girl, with their own selfish motives, seemingly something that is found quite often in this millennial-driven world. We want everything now, even things that aren’t ours. As a song about selfishness, it’s quite pleasing.

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‘For U’, which features Charli XCX, is structurally very unsound. It feels more of an explosion of ideas rather than a careful melding. Her guest vocal is a pleasant break from the effects that Wyatt’s vocals are put through for the first half of the verses, which feel a bit unnecessary and just distract from the song itself. The entire album relies heavily upon repetition – something almost expected in music – but to the extent where every song becomes lodged in your head makes it had to discern exactly which ones are ok and those that are just annoying. ‘Over & Over’ has the most focused instrumentation, with a sharp distorted guitar riff kicking it off, leading into brooding and whispered vocals. It builds into a crescendo that isn’t completely pleasing, but resolving enough to leave you feeling as if you’ve heard something worthwhile.

At this point, it’s easier to give a brief summary of an album that, although it is pleasing, in the same way a One Direction greatest hits album would be. It’s very paint-by-numbers in both sound and lyrical content, proving that although certainly the people behind the songs are important, you can’t remove the personality and expect it to have the same impact.

5/10

‘iii’ is out now via Downtown / Atlantic Records. For our past TGTF coverage on Miike Snow, head this way.

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Jack Garratt – Phase

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd March 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Jack Garratt Phase album coverJack Garratt has had quite a year. Being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, winning the Brit Awards Critics’ Choice Award and only now releasing his debut record, the future is definitely looking strong for the British artist, but does the debut record live up to the hype? There is absolutely no doubting that Garratt has one of the more exciting sounds around currently, which could be considered either a good or bad thing, depending on who you are. By blending electronic music and heartache like it’s going out of fashion, he’s honed his craft, and the multi-instrumentalist has delivered an almost solid debut. Of course, electronic music and synthesisers aren’t for everybody, but Garratt tackles both subjects with approachability and little offence.

Opener ‘Coalesce (Synesthesia, Pt. II)’ is a welcomed foray into his world that divulges a serious passion for love and a drop that just about wakes the living dead. This ethos doesn’t quite carry through to ‘Breathe Life’, where things are slightly more reserved and revolve around more radio-friendly sounds, being solely piano and beat driven. The way Garratt morphs sounds into one another is impressive, being a one man band so to speak you’d expect there to be a capacity to the creativity, but this is definitely not so and especially shown in how he arranges and composes.

Subject matter doesn’t particularly stray from love and forlornness, which is a shame because not enough young artists who are in a position to be able to represent a generation like Garratt simply don’t. The voice of the generation represented by artists like Garratt could quite rightly be known as the drunken and heartbroken as this seems to be the general topic they edge towards. That’s not to say these lyrical subjects aren’t important but when an artist like Garratt, who is chosen by awarding bodies as a representation of British music, it almost seems a bit trivial.

Back onto the subject of the actual musical content of the album: it could almost be considered electronic soul. The rhythm of most of the tracks flows with ease, only occasionally hitting a whirlpool that disrupts it, something that can be found on ‘Surprise Yourself’. It turns away from the majority of the album being perfectly executed suddenly into a mash of soaring pop vocals and instrumentation befit to an X Factor winner. Along the line of the vocals, Garratt has a soft and calming ability that can suddenly break into a completely different cadence and emit roars, something that aids the power within his performance.

Overall, the record is a starting point that he should be absolutely proud of but by no means does this mean he should be finished honing his craft. There is much room for improvement in regards to the consistency of his sound. Experimentation is absolutely key in delivering a fresh sound, something to keep the listeners engaged. But floating between differing genres as the canvas for your sound winds up doing the opposite and encourages different reactions that don’t always fit together.

6/10

‘Phase’ is out now on Universal / Island Records. For past coverage of TGTF on Jack Garratt, go here. Stay tuned for Carrie’s coverage of Garratt at the Hype Hotel Tuesday at SXSW 2016 to post on TGTF soon.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

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

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