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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 1st February 2016 at 12:00 pm
I didn’t think I’d ever encounter an album for which I’d have read that the artist in question had wanted the album to sound like a certain country, and then went on to actually achieve it. There hasn’t been one in recent memory that I can recall, so now I’m prepared to eat my words. The sophomore full-length effort from Brooklyn via Sydney duo High Highs is the source of all this confoundment. In the press release, multi-instrumentalist Oli Chang explains, “If you go to Australia, it’s a beach country…You have year-round summer, basically. That really influences the music.”
Despite ‘Cascades’ having been recorded in upstate New York, their hearts and minds were far away, thinking of home and the synthpop music they grew up with. In addition to their fondness for wide expanses of surf-y real estate down under, they’ve cited John Farnham’s mid-‘80s anthem ‘You’re the Voice’ and the back catalogue of Icehouse (a band also favoured by fellow Aussies Little May, who covered the band’s ‘Great Southern Land’ on their recent tour of America) as important inspirations for the new LP. Make no mistake, though: this album sounds fresh and bracing, not at all like a badge-covered denim jacket of that bygone era that’s simply been dusted off.
This desire to channel and, ultimately, also recreate this feeling of an arms wide open-type of freedom is palpable throughout the album. Opening track ‘Boxing’, which premiered in early December on influential Seattle radio station KEXP, moves forward in a pleasantly languid pace. The tune also tapped into the duo’s feelings of euphoria following their own early morning boxing classes, Chang describing the chord-driven instrumentation as “sound[ing] like a giant walking through a vast landscape”, while his recording partner Jack Milas’ breathy lead vocals add dreaminess. It’s a positive kind of dreaminess, too: one that will lift you out of the shadowy fog of this winter and onto a brighter plane.
Varying levels of this heavenly touch exist throughout ‘Cascades’, but through different filters. Album closer ‘Fastnet’ and ‘Movement’ see the duo flirt with r&b and soul, the former ending the proceeding with cool fingersnaps, while the latter favours bigger booms of percussion for added drama. Pop is approached splendidly on ‘Catch the Wind’, where a nice sequence of chord changes in the chorus are accompanied by further supporting this idea of liberty: “hey, you’re not alone / go break the mould / go where you are free.”
Album standout ‘How Could You Know’ is a great mix of pop and indie, with prominent guitars and a catchy Fleetwood Mac-esque beat playing off Milas’ voice extremely well, as if it was just another instrument in their arsenal. Another great, catchy moment is the LP’s title track, proving that even with a lot going instrumentally, in the right hands and with the right amount of restraint, a beautiful, timeless quality can be applied to a synth-driven pop song. Not too much, not too little. Just right.
When speaking of ‘Cascades’ as a whole, Chang says, “We just tried to make the record beautiful…We weren’t trying to be edgy or difficult – we were striving to make it as epically beautiful as we possibly could. Hopefully when people hear it, it will make them think of something that’s important to them.” Mission accomplished, guys.
The second album from High Highs, ‘Cascades’, will be out on this Friday, the 5th of February, on PIAS. For more on High Highs on TGTF, you can read my Bands to Watch introducing the duo originally from Australia that posted back last November here.
Header photo by Holly Andres
Radiation City, founded back in 2009, have with roots in Portland, Oregon. So far, they have released two full-length albums, and their third, ‘Synesthetica’, is scheduled for release on the 12th of February on Polyvinyl Records. It’s a bit of a departure from their previous stuff. Past album ‘Animals in the Median’, which was released in 2013, is much more indie pop than the latest singles, although the synth element is still there. ‘Milky White’ is the second release from the upcoming album, and is another teaser of what is expected when ‘Synesthetica’ is released next month (the first was ‘Juicy’, which was released in back November). Jeremy Sherrer, of Modest Mouse and Gossip collaboration fame, produced the new LP, so you should have some idea about how exciting this track is.
‘Milky White’ is a pleasure to hear: it glitters and shines, like a track cut from a diamond made of synthpop. I honestly can’t stop listening to it! It’s funk, with an addictive bass melody popping throughout the track. The melody is layered over with various samples, organ parts, spirited guitar riffs and bleeping synth sounds, coming together to create something really unique. The choral vocals in the background enhance the soul feel of the track, further adding to the complexity of and the range of influences that ‘Milky White’ channels.
Initially gentle, the track builds into an incredibly addictive tune that’ll have you bopping along to by the end of it. There’s so much going on, but it’s done in such a way that the song doesn’t feel clumsy of overstuffed with unnecessary moments. It’s dreamy and otherworldly, conveying a gentle intensity. That’s the thing: it’s a whole lot of elements that don’t sound like they should work on paper, but they do. Picture a psychedelic James Brown or George Clinton bopping along to the rhythm of the track like I did. Following some personal issues that came about after the release of ‘Animals in the Median’, it seems like they’re back on track and more polished than before.
The new single is like a sign of positive growth in many ways: it’s bolder and gutsier than the older stuff, but it’s also terrifically elegant and controlled. If you do one thing today, make sure you give ‘Milky White’ a listen.
‘Synesthetica’ will be out in mid-February. Radiation City have tonnes of dates coming up in America and a few dotted around the UK, so if you’re a fan of the single, make sure to check them out live if you can.
Post-punk heirs Savages are back and sounding more vicious than ever. Their sophomore effort ‘Adore Life’, the follow up to 2013’s ‘Silence Yourself’, is another fine example of a genre that, for a while, has been hidden in the junk cupboard of musical history. The four members of Savages, led at the helm by the ferociously prowling Jehnny Beth, are bringing forth a change in attitude to both the genre they’re front-running and women in music, through their snarl and bite. And this is most evident in this second effort.
The album opens with ‘The Answer’ (reviewed previously here): a wild, ravenous track that almost runs in circles with its continuation in riff and power. A manic guitar brings us in before being joined by Beth singing, “if you don’t love me, don’t love anybody, ain’t you glad it’s you?” Once the rest of the band kicks in, it’s chaos with the greatest aplomb. The abrupt end which leads straight into second track ‘Evil’ continues the ravenousness that consumes this record, featuring a prowling bass line and guitars that sit above it, haunting it.
In terms of Beth’s voice, she manages to use her howling natural sound, whilst simultaneously calling to mind other ‘80s post-punk leading members such as David Byrne. This can be heard somewhat in the previous song, but more so within ‘Sad Person’, almost becoming a female incarnation of Byrne. Similarly, within the chorus to ‘Adore’, the band shift into a modern equivalent of The Smiths, particularly with Beth’s Morrissey-esque howls of “maybe I will die tomorrow, so I need to say”.
You can clearly hear these influences, as well as many more, throughout the record, which is both a blessing and a curse. The ferociousness Savages bring to the record is, as previously mentioned, a new spark in a genre that has sat at the back of the classroom for too long so to speak, but the idea behind post-punk initially was to do something new, something fresh that moved the world forward. Of course, this shouldn’t take away from what they have created here, but at times it seems they’ve used a cheat sheet in certain places.
The second half of the record is where things truly pick up. ‘I Need Something New’ and ‘When in Love’ are fine cuts, closely resembling the first two tracks, but ‘Surrender’ brings out experimentation with sound. The track is ruled by the bass guitar, or rather a wall of bass guitars: it’s a terrifying sound to behold in the greatest possible way. The rest of the track is mixed below this noisy behemoth to accentuate the power and force intended. ‘T.I.W.Y.G’ picks up the pace drastically, with the rhythm section reaching a point of near insanity. Beth’s warning of “this is what you get if you mess with love” carries on the message that is seen throughout the record, that of if you’re going fuck with anyone, don’t let it be Savages, because they take nothing from nobody.
Finale ‘Mechanics’ is the longest cut on the album, and is where the band reach into the depths of their haunting and experimental abilities. With no real riff or chord pattern per se, it’s more an acclamation of reverb drenched guitars run through processors to create sounds that wouldn’t be amiss in a haunted house. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really reach a point of climax until the final 5 seconds that sees unnatural sounding feedback, almost to the point of white noise, taking control and as abruptly as the record began it ends.
Throughout the album, Savages come across as a force of nature, with unbridled power that harnesses the absolute serendipity brought with insanity. It’s a solid sophomore record that should see Savages grow larger in strength and come back to us with a third album that will in doubt be so beautifully ostentatious, we will enter a new post-punk era.
The second Savages LP ‘Adore Life’ is out now via Matador Records. They’ll be on tour in February and March 2016 in the UK. Read other articles on Savages on TGTF here.
If you are a band from Manchester, chances are you’re going to be tarred with the same brush as those before you: Oasis, Stone Roses, Joy Division, etc., etc. The bands that do deserve this, they try to replicate past winning formulas, mostly because they work. But there also those who don’t conform and like to try do things a little differently. MONEY are a fine example of the latter.
Their sophomore album for Bella Union, ‘Suicide Songs’, is full of vast, open soundscapes that contain the inner workings of the mind on its darkest levels but more specifically, the mind of frontman Jamie Lee. Coated in references to mental health issues, heartbreak and various romanticism throughout life, Lee takes whatever comes into his mind and forms poetic lyricisms to crush your soul and also take care of it. Along with these lyrical themes, there are also musical influences taken from Indian culture, with the guitar sounding almost sitar-like from the get go in ‘I Am the Lord’, which itself is a slow introduction to this new phase of MONEY.
‘I’m Not Here’ is oddly bittersweet in its content and form. It’s as close to jubilation as MONEY get in its musical qualities: the song has a euphoric atmosphere that melds a string accompaniment with the broken guitar warble that recurs throughout the album. Layers of vocals and chanting create an almost heavenly wall that surrounds the song, it soon reaches its crescendo point where everything drops out bar more solo guitar and layered vocals, ending with reverb drenched exclamations of “I’m not here!”
’Suicide Song’, the apt halfway point of the album, is akin to that of fellow Mancunian legends The Smiths, albeit partially. There is something Morrissey-esque about the way Lee sings, “This is your, suicide song…” With added horns behind the soloing guitar, nothing but a dreary, grey Manchester afternoon is conjured in the mind. And you really do begin to see through Lee’s eyes the further the album plays. ‘Hopeless World’ is a perfect statement on the state of the world today, and along with its outro that follows a chord sequence reminiscent of the Britpop era, it’s certainly a safe statement that ties the record together nicely.
Final track ‘Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year’ is one which is certainly not on the upbeat scale. A piano is sparingly played, while another horn section slowly takes it over amidst wails of “and I’m wasting all my time, on cocaine at Christmas, and bottles of wine”. The song is quaintly endearing in its ability to remain sombre, even as it references being “happy as a child.” (You can grab the live version of the song from the performance presented in the video in this previous MP3 of the Day post from earlier this month.)
The qualities from their debut record ‘The Shadow of Heaven’, which was acclaimed for its depth and etherealness, are all but lost on this record. On their debut, MONEY approached the songwriting with the finesse of Grizzly Bear and the mind of New Order. In contrast, with ‘Suicide Songs’, they take this musical formula and see more of their own unique approach coming out resulting in a further, darker development in what makes MONEY talk.
‘Suicide Songs’ is out this Friday, the 29th of January, on Bella Union. The band will be on tour in the UK in February to support this new release. For more coverage on MONEY on TGTF, follow this link.
If you’ve been following our previous coverage on them, you’ll already know that we here at TGTF have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sheffield indie pop quartet the Crookes’ fourth LP ‘Lucky Ones’. As it turns out, the feeling of anxious anticipation is itself a pervasive undercurrent running through the songs, providing an energetic momentum that sweeps through the entirety of the album’s concise 33 minutes.
Though short in duration, ‘Lucky Ones’ is an album of broad musical gestures and sonic experimentation. The Crookes have taken a consciously artistic turn by bookending its eight proper songs with opening prelude ‘Brand New Start’ and corresponding reprise ‘B.N.S. Pt. II’. ‘Brand New Start’ does indeed come as an invigorating breath of fresh air after the brooding introspection of the Crookes previous album ‘Soapbox’, its crisp drum beat and silvery synth arrangement combining with lead vocalist George Waite’s distant, dreamy vocals to set a markedly different tone.
‘Brand New Start’ segues into the album’s relentlessly uptempo current single, ‘The World is Waiting’ (streaming below). The restless promise “I swear I’m gonna get my shit together” in the song’s opening line of might not ring entirely true, but it serves as a shot in the arm, spurring the album into motion. Its breathless frenzy spills over into ‘I Wanna Waste My Time on You’ (reviewed on its own merits here), where the pulsating bass riff and soaring synths illustrate the euphoria of “spinning round the skyline / when everything was new” in a dizzying way that reminded me of Neil Finn’s last solo album.
The ubiquitous influence of American writer Jack Kerouac on Crookes lyricist Daniel Hopewell is tangibly present throughout ‘Lucky Ones’, most notably in the song title ‘Roman Candle’, but also in the album’s underlying themes of wanderlust and escape from the monotony of everyday life. It’s easy to imagine the bright, hazy sheen of the album’s instrumentation as having been inspired by a long trek across the wide open landscape of the American Southwest. (Interestingly enough, I first listened to ‘Lucky Ones’ myself while jogging through a stretch of that same spectacular desert.)
Like any good road trip, the Crookes’ journey takes a few minor detours. The kicky rhythm of ‘If Only For Tonight’ could easily have turned into a Broadway show tune, perfect for a chorus line of dancers, but the prominently layered guitars keep it from veering too far off course. Similarly, the synth keyboard in the intro to ‘Six Week Holiday’ sounds like it might have been commissioned by a game designer at Nintendo until the song is redeemed by its jazz-tinged chorus. The blue notes happen in both the bass line and the vocal melody, where Waite deftly negotiates his lower register in order to pull off the smooth groove.
As always with the Crookes, Waite’s dulcet vocals are the perfect vehicle for Hopewell’s lyrics, finding the delicate balance between Hopewell’s cool ennui and barely-shrouded fragility. There is something vaguely French about the understated sentimentality in Hopewell’s writing, which he has recaptured here after straying from it somewhat in the abrasiveness of ‘Soapbox’. But in the end, as Hopewell himself said in this interview back in October, ‘Lucky Ones’ is essentially a very British record, and its expansive penultimate track ‘No One Like You’ improvises on the adage “there’s no place like home”. Vibrant brass and a glittering harp meld with reverberant guitars in a dynamic and dramatic climax before the album circles back around to ‘B.N.S Pt. II’.
‘Lucky Ones’ is thematically and sonically the Crookes’ most adventurous recording to date. Its bold experimentalism and brazen free spirit were clearly born from the success they achieved with ‘Hold Fast’ and ‘Soapbox’. But perhaps more importantly, ‘Lucky Ones’ will without a doubt serve as a powerful catalyst for the next part of their journey.
The Crookes’ fourth LP ‘Lucky Ones’ will be released this Friday, the 29th of January on Anywhere Records and Modern Outsider. The band are set to play a run of UK live dates supporting the album in February before heading to America for SXSW 2016. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of the Crookes can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 22nd January 2016 at 12:00 pm
While I am certainly not saying that he wasn’t adequately celebrated while he was alive, one of the biggest lessons I think we should take away from David Bowie’s passing is that we should truly acknowledge the gifts of the greatest musical talents we idolise, whose music we hold dear in our hearts, and while they’re still living. We’re all mortal, and one day too soon, it will be too late.
And one such person I wish that would get far more attention than already does is my subject for today. Scottish singer/songwriter Steve Mason used to be most famous primarily as a founding member of The Beta Band, then pioneering a genre that was then not even termed folktronica. Since The Beta Band’s disbanding in 2004, Mason has had a moderately successful solo career, having unleashed his debut album ‘Boys Outside’ in 2010, followed by ‘Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time’ in 2013. Having my interest piqued by the effortless folky soul of ‘All Come Down’, I’ve been keeping tabs closely, ever keen to hear more from him.
Earlier this month to start off 2016 on a positive note, he announced his third solo outing, ‘Meet the Humans’, will see a late February release. Coinciding with the new album news, he also unveiled new single ‘Planet Sizes’, and it seems too perfect to be writing about such a song the week that a possible ninth planet in our solar system has been discovered by Caltech astronomers.
In my mind, Mason’s politically-charged double album ‘Monkey Minds…’ would be a tough act to follow, especially in the wake of Britain’s current political climate, not to mention the entire world’s. Since that last album, Mason has had a change of heart, at least with respect to his songwriting process, and this new, simplified approach is crystal clear upon listening to the new single. In a different yet oddly similar guise to that of ‘All Come Down’, the genius of ‘Planet Sizes’ is its driving melody, paired handily with Mason’s sweepingly positive vocals in the chorus.
He’s always been a deft hand lyrically, and he doesn’t disappoint here. The verse “know my 6 times table / I learned where the planets lie / I know my planet sizes / the universe makes me cry” suggests that he has an intellectual understanding of how the world works through the practical (maths and science). However, he wants to go against the grain, beyond what he’s been told is possible, beyond the planet sizes that are accepted as fact, concluding, “the universe is mine” to have. What an inspiring concept.
Even the single’s animated promo video is another take on (relative) simplicity. Coloured, indistinguishable blobs that turn out to be humans toil apathetically on earth while planets and constellations play and dance above society’s heads. Well, until society finally gets the hint and joins them. How many of this world’s ills would be solved if we all stopped long enough to be kind to one another and dream of the positive energies that lie beyond our usual realm of comprehension? (In his own way, isn’t that what Bowie did for most of his career too?)
‘Meet the Humans’, the third album from Steve Mason, will be released on the 26th of February on Domino Records. Mason will be playing Saturday night at Motion at the 6 Music Festival 2016 in Bristol next month. For past articles on him on TGTF, go here.