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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 15th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
Although still very young, 22-year old American Max Jury already has two acclaimed EPs released (‘Something In The Air’ and ‘All I Want: The Sonic Factory Sessions’), was named a New Favourite Band of Steve Lamacq’s and just finished up a support slot with Rufus Wainwright and under his belt. In mid-August, the young singer/songwriter from Des Moines, Iowa, on the keys gives The Piano Man Billy Joel a run for his money in ‘Great American Novel’.
Instrumentally, the song is structured well: the orchestral string backing adds polish, depth and emotion to the track while not detracting from its two main focal points: Jury’s spellbinding voice and his smoky piano-playing, and deservedly so. There is no pretension whatsoever in Jury’s vocal delivery, and it feels entirely effortless. The warmth of his voice is evident as he describes his woman’s voice as having its own story, as it/she “leaves me wanting more / lingers in my mind”.
You’re drawn into this story, although you’re given few details but a sad yearning, and you’re left wondering what happened between the two of them, as he’s stood waiting for a train leaving New York bound for Boston, the song continuing as Jury gives us more clues to their painful separation. He hears a song in his head, “loud enough to wake the dead / it’s a song for you and me / it’s a song for you and me”, suggesting that whatever terrible thing befell them, it’s something that is weighing heavily on him, not quick to be forgotten.
One thing’s for sure: you won’t soon forget this song and its beauty.
Max Jury’s single ‘Great American Novel’ is out now digitally through Marathon Artists. Jury performs at Latitude Festival this Friday, the 17th of July.
The first thought that springs to mind on hearing Glasgow-based quartet Catholic Action’s latest release is, “ooh, that’s jaunty”. If at some future point it was revealed to be the lost theme tune to an obscure low-budget ‘70s sitcom, I wouldn’t be surprised. A keen 12-string guitar sparkles away, there’s jolly banter between the lead and backing vocals, and all is well with the world.
Clearly these guys have Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura records in their collection, and probably a passing knowledge of the work of Ben Folds too. The song proper is over after a couple of minutes, but they bravely and rightly add almost the same again as an extended instrumental coda. It’s not to say I don’t like the vocals and lyrics, but I love to hear a band just playing their instruments without the burden of literary responsibility.
That’s not to say Catholic Action are all about the twee. There is a touch (but not much) of slacker rock about them, and by the end they manage to come up with this:
you’ll have time to waste
you’ll have money to save
you’ll have skirt to chase
…which is so close to a laddish haiku I’ll let them off the details. The fad for cassettes continues unabated, with ‘The Real World’ being released by Fuzzkill Records on a limited-to-50-copies snazzy white two-reeled number, which by the time you read this will have sold out. One can probably count the number of tape decks per square mile on the fingers of one foot, but at least it’s a reminder of the olden days.
Catholic Action’s new single ‘The Real World’ is out now. The band will play T In The Park tomorrow (Saturday the 11th of July) at 1:05 PM at the T Break stage.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 10th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
There’s always been something delightfully subversive and cheeky about Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings. Visually, they’re a throwback to the ’50s with their quiffs, and judging from the press shot we got with the review copy of their third album, they’ve all decided to give in to black, if not all leather like the kind from which drummer Dave Harper’s favourite jacket was made. ‘Decency’, Frankie and the Heartstrings’ latest full-length LP effort, was recorded at the end of summer 2014 with the production help of MJ of Yorkshire psych outfit Hookworms. Since the release of the band’s 2013 album ‘The Days Run Away’, there have been significant lineup changes: lead guitarist Micky Ross left, to be replaced by Futureheads‘ Ross Millard (whose booming backing vocals are clearly apparent on this album), and departing bassist Steven Dennis has been replaced by Michael Matthews of Sky Larkin.
Despite the changes in personnel and the announcement earlier this year that the band’s own Pop Rec Ltd. store on Fawcett Street – itself a creative hub run on the principles of the band’s DIY aesthetic – is due to close this summer, it’s with much relief discovering that the overall sound of the Sunlun group has not been compromised, and neither has their ethos. While ‘Decency’ has 12 tracks, it’s worth noting that the first two are under 2 minutes each, and with the exception of four of the remaining nine songs, the others are all well under 3 minutes. Along with never boring the listener, this is well in line with their continuing effort to write the catchy pop song.
Title track ‘Decency’, clocking in at a mere minute and 44 seconds, is a model of efficiency; it’s a good taster to what Frankie and the Heartstrings does the best, as drums and guitars are tight with charismatic frontman Frankie Francis lead vocals, delivered in rapid fire succession as his bandmates back him with football-style chants. When you are write something as catchy at this, who needs a full 3 minutes? Another taut joy is ‘Someday Anna’, where Francis first sounds like he’s speaking next to you, before the song bursts beyond those confines and the horns come back in to add lightness.
A good portion of this album has been developed to keep your pulse racing, with Harper’s driving drumming and unrelenting guitars. Previously unveiled and borderline camp top tune (with a campy video to match) ‘Think Yourself Lucky’ is laden down with the Motown horns and is another example of good songwriting. Frankly, I’d rather listen to this than some over-produced sludge on Radio 1. (Or, sadly, that new song from The Libertines…) Millard’s guitar on the start of ‘Berlin Calls’ is an unexpected treat, before the rest of the song speeds ahead. The note progressions of ‘Balconette’ are some of the best since the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ (just don’t expect this song to pop up in a feel good film about the North East anytime soon). And the herky-jerky style they became famous for on past singles ‘Tender’ and ‘That Girl, That Scene’ makes another appearance in ‘Save It For Tonight’, its syncopated rhythm irresistible.
The listener is afforded a nice change of pace when the band finally decides to slow down. ‘Hate Me Like You Used To’ has a wistful Smiths feel, even with Morrissey-esque non-word warbling to the melody, and massive-sounding guitars. “Life is only as hard as you make it”, Francis croons in ‘Just Not in Love’, but the introspection doesn’t last long, as if all the band members succumbed to itchy trigger finger. And everything is muted for ‘Knife in My Back’, proving that although songs of slower tempo might not their fans’ live favourites, Frankie and the Heartstrings are up there with the best of them.
Here are the potential problems that affect this album’s appeal: not everyone enjoys lyrics being shot at them machine gun style, nor does everyone enjoy a brass section. (If you don’t think the existence of a brass section on this album is real, read this appeal for brass personnel on Facebook.) Personally, I love both so this album is a no-brainer to me, but I can see for others these could grate on one’s nerves. Then again, with the whole LP totalling around 40 minutes, you can’t go wrong with giving this a relatively quick spin. As you should.
‘Decency’, the third album from Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings, is out today on Pop Sex Ltd. via Wichita Recordings. For all our past coverage on the band, go here.
It seems somehow appropriate that I listened to Lucy Rose’s new album ‘Work It Out’ during my visits to the gym last week. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the kind of high energy workout music most gym rats would choose to get their heart rates pumping, the album is surprisingly uptempo and edgy, just enough so to keep my mind from wandering during a long run on the treadmill, and Rose’s delicate singing voice takes on new strength and self-assurance compared to what we heard on her 2012 debut album ‘Like I Used To’.
Most of the songs on ‘Work It Out’ explore love, either in its uncertain beginnings or its tumultuous endings, and both extremes are effectively expressed. Rose’s introspective lyrics are streamlined to make their most emotionally potent impact while her musical arrangements are expanded to suit the songs’ visceral nature, making use of groovy bass lines and complex, uptempo rhythms under prominent keyboard and guitar melodies.
Opening track ‘For You’ makes a strong initial statement, as Rose’s vocals grow from softly raspy over a stark guitar and percussion arrangement, through the gradual dynamic escalation in the bridge, to her final emphatic repeat of the chorus. ‘Our Eyes’ maintains the intensity with a quick dance tempo and synth keys under Rose’s smooth, almost jazzy vocal delivery. Current single ‘Like An Arrow’ starts out in a more expected acoustic fashion, but the synths and beats kick in again on the chorus to electrify one of the album’s most perfectly sung and perfectly singable melodies, “we took our chance and we flew, like an arrow, like an arrow”.
I’m not sure what might have inspired Rose to write a song called ‘Nebraska’, but of course I was intrigued by the reference to my own Midwestern home state. The darkly dramatic piano accompaniment to the lyrics “Nebraska calls my name / the harvest of my love / the greenness turns to grey” makes an aptly analogous description of the bleak late autumn landscape before evolving into the breadth of the chorus “the earth, it moves, it shouts, I’m alive.”
From that point forward, ‘Work It Out’ takes a slightly darker turn, starting with the anxious rhythms and sharp vocal shifts of ‘KOLN’ (which is, perhaps coincidentally, also the call sign of a television station in Lincoln, Nebraska). ‘Cover Up’ features an intense tribal rhythm which is, in combination with the heavy bass groove and Rose’s entrancing vocals, oddly hypnotic. ‘She’ll Move’ is similarly sensual and visceral, its emphasis on rhythm inspiring physical movement, while the contrasting layered vocal lines create a heady psychedelic effect.
Rose further displays her newly developed alt-pop sensibilities in the dramatic title track ‘Work It Out’, whose unresolved harmonic suspensions mirror the tense lyrical questioning in the song’s verses. Conversely, acoustic ballad ‘Into the Wild’ nods back to Rose’s folk-pop past, the light guitar arrangement allowing the pure unadorned beauty of Rose’s singing voice a brief moment to shine.
The album’s upbeat closer ‘Till the End’ features a groovy chorus with a heavy dance beat behind Rose’s light-as-air vocals. To celebrate the album’s release, Rose has unveiled an interactive behind-the-scenes video for the final track, allowing her viewers to choose among six scenes of Rose playing and singing the individual instrumental parts as she did on the studio recording.
In speaking of ‘Work It Out’, Rose has said, “This record, it’s hopefully going to sort a few things out. Who I am. What I do. It’s direct. I love it.” She has clearly taken a bold step away from the safe folk-pop formula of ‘Like I Used To’, deliberately distilling her sound to intensify its emotional drama and musical momentum. Concise and confident, ‘Work It Out’ is sure to find its way onto a more than a few workout playlists, and probably onto a fair number of Best of 2015 lists by year’s end.
Lucy Rose’s second album ‘Work It Out’ is out now on Columbia Records. After making the rounds on the summer festival circuit, Rose will tour the UK and Ireland this autumn; you can find the details of those headline dates here. For all previous TGTF coverage of Lucy Rose, click here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 8th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
Years and Years are the kind of band I should like (read: electronic-based and associated with Kitsune) but don’t. I didn’t rate their monster, chart-topping hit ‘King’. However, love them or hate them, Years & Years are the kind of slick pop act who find themselves super popular with the Radio 1 listening crowd and the BBC themselves (they gave them the BBC Sound of 2015 for pete’s sake), and judging from Polydor backing them for their debut album ‘Communion’, they are here to stay. For now at least. If Gigwise’s report from Glastonbury 2015 is anything to go by, they smashed their first-ever appearance at Worthy Farm by taking the opportunity to support gay rights and equality at the Other Stage Saturday afternoon after America’s historic Supreme Court decision on gay marriage a day before. But can they put together a cohesive, enjoyable full-length LP?
Listening to ‘King’ and several of Years & Years’ singles, I can understand the popular appeal. Singer Olly Alexander, a child actor and the last member to join the band after he was discovered by guitarist Mikey Goldsworthy while he was singing in the shower, sounds very much like Michael Jackson in his prime. If you imagine any of the King of Pop’s biggest hits in the ’80s and put a dancey synth beat in the background, you get a good rough approximation of what Years & Years sound like. The album is top-loaded with their 2014 triumphs ‘Real’ and ‘Take Shelter’, both with bouncy yet darker rhythm lurking throughout. The upbeat ‘Desire’ shows up further down the tracklisting. There is just enough urban tinge to make it edgy but make no mistake, this is top 40 after all, so it’s all within safe, predictable, populist confines.
Giving credit where credit’s due, their upcoming single ‘Shine’ to be released on the 5th of July initially deviates from any obvious synthpop formula, the synths muted and understated as Alexander’s vocals bounce. Until the chorus comes in and he sounds like Jacko again. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a child of the ’80s, but it’s distracting me from anything else in their music. ‘Eyes Shut’ deserves a mention too, as Alexander pulls out the blue-eyed soul similar to what has made Sam Smith as a household name and the group smartly chooses a mostly modest instrumental framework that includes piano to accompany his vocals. A similar approach is taken but in an even quieter way with album closer ‘Memo’.
There’s nothing objectionable on ‘Communion’, and the album certainly has its toe-tapping moments that will keep fans dancing and festival punters happy. You’re just left spinning, as there’s nothing substantial here to cling to…
Years & Years’ debut album ‘Communion’ is out this Friday, the 10th of July, on Polydor Records. Catch the band on their recently announced autumn UK tour scheduled for October and November 2015.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 7th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
Flick on Radio 1 during the daytime, and synthesiser-led music is all over it, whether it be with an urban bent or a dance one, or a combination of the two. Stewart Brock, Callum Wiseman and Lewis Gardner of Prides prefer to keep their synthpop straight up, giving a nod back to the ’80s synthesiser bands of yore. Ah yes, such an innocent time…
While their debut album for Island Records ‘The Way Back Up’ has been a long time coming, fans of the Glaswegian band who have seen them on their tours the last 2 years will be very happy with the results. Well, at least with about half of them. The album opens with the buzzy, anthemic ‘I Should Know Better’, a song in which Brock sings, “I should be letting you know / that you should be singing with me”. Swoon. I mean, I don’t know a girl who *doesn’t* want that being sung to her. Good start.
Make no bones about it, the previously released songs that appear on ‘The Way Back Up’ can’t be beat and should be the focal point of your listening to this LP. ‘Messiah’, considered as the lead single to be released on the 6th of July although a promo video for the tune was issued in April 2014 and we previously featured it here on TGTF, follows a recurring formula of high energy, roof-raising, fist-pumping big beats with an overture of love (or an announcement of a breakup) being presented in the lyrics: ” I know now, that I want to keep it / oh my god, do I want love”. A much earlier track, the electronic kazoo-filled ‘Out of the Blue’ is another calisthenics exercise, probably sounds familiar due to its noted similarities to MGMT’s ‘Kids’.
Album standout ‘Higher Love’, released as a single this past March and premiered on Zane Lowe’s evening programme on Radio 1, should not be confused with the Steve Winwood song of the same name, but like its predecessor, it’s pure pop of the highest calibre, guaranteed to burrow deep within your brain and consciousness, never to come out. ‘The Seeds You Sow’, which I really enjoyed watching Prides perform live last year, is conspicuously missing. I think they’ve missed a trick there. Newer song ‘Little Danger’ skirts the Justin Timberlake-style of urban pop at the start and the verses, but otherwise generally, and smartly so, sticks to the formula, as does ‘Just Say It’. While there’s a not lot of inventiveness here, the overall sound is slick and catchy, so why monkey with it, yeah?
Other tracks ‘The Way Back Up’ indicate the effort to prove to critics that they shouldn’t be pigeonholed by their fast tempo singles. The problem with these is that they’re indistinguishable and to some extent like the MGMT ‘Kids’ comparison, sound like songs that have come before, whether intentional or not. ‘Let It Go’ sounds like a lighter version of Savoir Adore‘s ‘Sea of Gold’, while ‘Same Mistakes’ could be from a ’90s boyband.
While I can appreciate the lovely harmonies of last track ‘The Kite String and the Anchor Rope’, it is the brooding conclusion to an album that seems practically requisite to end all pop albums now. It (almost) never works. Why do major labels think this is a good idea? Unless you’re out to sell individual singles as mp3s, do a Jon Stewart, end on a high note and keep our hearts pumping until the end.
‘The Way Back Up’, the debut album from Scottish band Prides, is out this Friday, the 10th of July, on Island Records. A deluxe version of the album will also be available on the same day with an extra five new tracks. For all past coverage of Prides on TGTF, including this interview I did with the trio at SXSW 2014, can be found here.