FYI our fearless editor Mary is currently on holiday (sort of, she says, since she'll be working on blog-y things for most of it) in Britain and the site won't be as updated as frequently until she returns stateside after the 23rd of May. Don't worry though, we'll be busy this month going to festivals (Liverpool Sound City, the Great Escape) and loads of great content is on its way!
By Mary Chang on Monday, 2nd July 2012 at 12:00 pm
The other day, I was flipping through television stations and happened upon an old episode of Austin City Limits on American public television, watching Mumford and Sons play to a captive audience at the famed Moody Theatre. While time has marched on since the release of ‘Sigh No More’ in 2009, there seems to be no end to the trotting out of Mumford-like bands on the British music scene. Some have fared well: take, for example, previously profiled as a Bands to Watch Dry the River, who looks to be taking advantage of Mumford’s absence from the record racks. However, a new contender has appeared on the horizon, and with parentheses in their name to boot. Harry Oakwood (Millionaire) is a curious moniker; oddly, there is no-one in the band who is actually named Harry Oakwood, and further, their drummer is named Chopper. Hmmm. Going to their official Web site yields more questions than answers: the “Who is Harry?” link from the navigation bar leads you to a ‘bio’ that begins thusly:
The Millionaire, Harry Oakwood had a dream. He would build a band. A band of brothers who would serve him and act under his name. Harry Oakwood (Millionaire) are that band.
As Harry himself states, “Harry Oakwood (Millionaire) are a streamlined ocean liner of music, steering a true and steady path through an unpredictable sea of three part harmony and foot pounding beats which, combined with an ear for the alternative, enable this incredible ensemble to deliver consistently strong live performances and, most importantly, great songs.”
The ‘bio’ continues with a laudatory Tweet from comedian Tim Minchin (“If you have a chance to see @HarryOakwood play, take it. That is my directive for the day.”) and notable DJs like BBC Radio Merseyside’s Billy Butler and BBC London/Amazing Radio’s Gary Crowley stepping forward as fans of the new five piece band. But, as they like to say in many a business, the proof is in the pudding, and is this self-titled EP any good?
It begins with ‘Scared Crow’, and this song begins as a gentle, Fleet Foxes-esque number, echoing the folkier, more introspective bits of Lilac Time-era Stephen Duffy. As the song goes on, there’s a strange brass-heavy bridge, before it goes jauntier, ending with the words “I heed the call of the cruel moon rising / scared is the crow of the cruel moon rising” repeated to close the song on a joyful note. Not sure why a crow would be scared of a moonrise, but evidently, according to Harry Oakwood (Millionaire), this is something to celebrate. Second track ‘Brothers’ (performed for the Snug Sessions in the video below) has a feel like the Band’s ‘The Weight’, which probably should come as no surprise, given that the band cite Levon Helm’s band as their strongest influence, followed by Patrick Watson, Lowell George and Elliott Smith as other inspirations to their craft.
If it’s something more upbeat, then look no further than ‘Journey Song’, complete with honky tonk piano and winsome vocals. I really like the beginning of ‘Empty Chair’, reminding me fondly of the start of the Beatles‘ ‘Blackbird’, the lead singer sounding like Macca, perfect with spare instrumentation of guitar and harmonica. It’s almost a shame when the rest of the parts come in. It’s a nice song nevertheless, but I would have preferred a stripped-back version. Perhaps this will happen live one day. I hear they’re a pretty good band live, but of course, right now their live appearances are restricted to London.
All the while when you’re listening to this pack of four songs, you get this unsettling feeling that it’s all been done before. And it has. The litmus test for listeners, I think, will be whether they think this nu-folk / nu-roots rock revival is equal or better to what they’ve listened to – and loved – before.
The eponymous ‘Harry Oakwood (Millionaire)’ EP is available digitally now from Old Money Records.
The Dig, out of Brooklyn, New York, follow up their 2010 release ‘Electric Toys’ with the slow burning ‘Midnight Flowers’. I saw the Dig support Editors in early 2010 just before their first album came out and while not blown away, I was impressed enough to remember their name. So when ‘Midnight Flowers’ popped up, I was happy to give it a spin. I feel rewarded at having remembered them, but was not blown away by them yet again. The album is a collection of songs that have nothing outstanding to recommend them but would be comfortable on many playlists as ambient filler.
A fairly low tempo album, ‘Midnight Flowers’ would find a great home on a late night uni radio station. I don’t see it starting any parties, but it’s definitely the kind of album that could be played long into the night, pleasing stoners and philosophers alike with its steady, droning pace. The musicianship seems up to par with some interesting bass lines and some noticeably good riffs. The lads have paid their dues honing their music by playing relentlessly on the NYC small club scene. The weakness I find in this album is in the vocals from David Baldwin. I feel they lack a forcefulness or individuality that is needed to elevate the low-key music to something really worth paying attention to. I am also a bit bored by Mark Demiglio’s drumming. The dreamy, atmospheric tracks could have been punched up some with interesting percussion, but I feel it falls short in what could have been done with the relatively simple arrangements.
Earlier this month we gave away the album’s first two singles, ‘Red Rose in the Cold Winter Ground’and ‘I Already Forgot Everything You Said’, in this MP3(s) of the Day post. The first of these grabbed me right away with its insistent metronome-like beat and fuzzy guitars. ‘I Already Forgot Everything You Said’ is a dreamy lament on things not working out. But sadly, I did “already forget” much of the song after listening to it. ‘Hole in my Heart’, however, is a great tune, with a steady intoned voice over a bright bouncy guitar line and catchy chorus.
This is a solid, albeit subdued album from a young band still working hard to find their success.
‘Midnight Flowers’, the new album from the Dig, is available now from Buffalo Jump Records.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 27th June 2012 at 12:00 pm
Sheffield’s Crookes know how to work their fans into a frenzy. They did a nail-biting countdown to the release of their newest video, ‘Maybe in the Dark’, on Facebook last Thursday. The video itself is a warts and all, musicians’ sweat, blood and tears, black and white presentation, which I find very interesting in that they could have easily hired in a selection of dance hall or club-type actors to recreate the story of the song literally.
By a mere 6 seconds, ‘Maybe in the Dark’ manages to be the shortest song on their second long player ‘Hold Fast’, and instrumentally, it’s a taut little number with melodic guitar guaranteed to stay in your head forever. Or at least a very long time. I know I can’t get it out. Not that you would ever want to: its gaiety and punchiness with George Waite’s rapid fire lyrics make for one engaging piece of pop music indeed. But therein, you see, lies the deception. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you should never, ever judge a song solely on the way it sounds. The words, at least in my experience, are often criminally overlooked if the powers-that-be deem the song to be ‘catchy’. Sometimes, it is the lyrics that prove there’s something far deeper in meaning that the people who are stuck on the sheer catchiness fail to hear.
I asked Daniel Hopewell of the band if he would be so kind to provide me the lyrics for two reasons: so we could have a look together and I could better analyse them for the purpose of this review. Daniel’s punctuation has been kept intact below.
Maybe it’s just cheap easy lust with chemicals. We’re dirt forever.
Maybe we’re blessed. I’ll rip your dress, you pull my hair and we’ll leave together.
Maybe you’re young. I’ll bite your tongue, your lip will bleed. We’re trash forever.
Maybe you’re right, just for tonight. But your clumsy kiss won’t taste so clever.
And all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you….
I’ll take the shame, lust to blame. What if we ever meet again?
I’ll know your face, not your name. But we’ll know
Maybe I’ll find pleasure tonight? With chemicals I’ll hardly miss her.
Maybe you wear clothes like she wears. Same coloured hair. I’m sick forever.
And all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you….
I’ll take the shame, lust to blame. What if we ever meet again?
I’ll know your face, not your name. But we’ll know
Our eyes were bright, out of sight. Two strangers caught behind the night.
You’re the perfect second best.
Every time I see your ghost…(you’re the perfect second best)
But the line going into the chorus is pretty telling: “and all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you…” Even though Waite sings this in such a way that seems carefree, it’s a loaded statement. He’s drinking to forget a woman. Beer goggles or whatever, lust has taken over and he’s accepted a girl who looks like the girl he loves is “good enough” in the dark and worthy of his affections, or at least worthy of his lust. The desire coupled with liquid courage is overtaking him, causing him to hallucinate this girl in front of him as “maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you…” Call it a rebound move, call it what you want, but it is what it is.
And let’s talk about that darkness. I’ve had a couple conversations with some girlfriends of mine, and we’ve all agreed that as women, club lighting makes everyone look better: imperfections that would be obvious in bright or even regular lighting are minimised or disappear altogether. I imagine this also works conversely: if you’re a woman and you’re looking at a man, he probably looks all the more handsome and debonair, framed by the darkness. Taken together with the alcohol, this is setting up our protagonist for a train wreck. He knows it’s wrong, admitting “we’re dirt forever” and “we’re trash together”, willing to “take the shame, lust to blame” for his reckless actions, feeling completely regretful that “I’ll know your face, not your name” in his attempt to rub out the painful memories of the woman he lost with the woman that could be “…right, just for tonight”.
At the end of the song, there is one saving grace to his thoughts, if you could call it that. “You’re the perfect second best” is our protagonist’s admittance that no-one, even a cute girl he runs into while drunk at a dance, can take her place. This, I imagine, is the sadness he feels when he’s alone and stone cold sober. No matter how much you drink, the next day you wake up – with the hangover – and the realisation that yes, I’m still without her. No matter with what drink or what woman you try to rub her out of your life, the ghost of her still lives (“Every time I see your ghost…”) How they’ve managed to distill all these feelings in less than 2 and a half minutes is nothing short of a miracle. Unfortunately, I think most people will latch on the fact that “Hey! This is catchy as hell! Woohoo!” and not bother to look further.
However, reader, I implore you to try listening to this song in the dark, where you will find a lingering, heartbreaking feeling. Sometimes the most innocuous pop song reveals so much more, if you’re willing to scratch the surface.
You can help the Crookes out a bit in the funds department by preordering ‘Hold Fast’ on PledgeMusic. There is still some pretty sweet ‘prizes’ up for grabs, such as the signed guitar Daniel Hopewell used to record ‘Hold Fast’ (£350), a five-a-side football match with the band against you and your mates to take place in Sheffield (£100) and a set of 10 professionally matted photos of the band taken by drummer Russell Bates (£40), just to name three of many options. The Crookes’ album ‘Hold Fast’ drops officially on the 9th of July on Fierce Panda.
By Mary Chang on Thursday, 21st June 2012 at 12:00 pm
It’s exciting times for General Fiasco. On Wednesday the 6th of June, the band headlined a free concert to celebrate the Olympic torch passing through the Northern Irish capital city. Considering they could have chosen any Northern Irish band for this special event, the Fiasco lads should feel very proud indeed for being bestowed this honour.
Besides the Olympic nod, SXSW, and outings of a newer track called ‘The Age You Start Losing Friends’ that they’ve been airing on tour this spring, the young four-piece are gearing up to release their next album to be released in a few short weeks, called ‘Unfaithfully Yours’. Ahead of the big release day, they’ve already given us another taster to the material on this highly anticipated second album, in the form of the single ‘Bad Habits’.
Their 2010 debut ‘Buildings’ was comprised of singles like ‘Rebel Get By’ and ‘Ever So Shy’ and bubbled with the sprightliness of youth and youthful abandon, imploring “let’s get wasted”. Some have suggested that ‘Unfaithfully Yours’ may be a stark contrast to this ethos. After all the drinking and partying and you’ve been given some time to mull over what has come before, you might come to some realisations that you perhaps weren’t ready to believe. Or accept.
The start of ‘Bad Habits’ is heavy: a crashing riff that’s repeated, as if taken together they were part of a bigger wake up call. It’s interesting that in the first verse, Owen Strathern states that people’s bad habits aren’t thought out and show a lack of self-restraint; in the next verse he indicates some bad habits are “costly”, which makes me think he’s either talking about cigarettes, drugs, or some other contraband along those lines, something that you can get “tangled” in. He asks again and again throughout the song, “are you gonna let me in?” There is conflict here, of wanting to start a relationship. With someone with an expensive habit that seems to be clouding her judgment.
The best line, hands down, of this song is this one: “You’re smart enough to figure it out.” This is the end of the chorus, after the in your face “hey! / be my world / you’re all I ever wanted / hey! / take my heart / but I’m not here to spend and pay”. I take that to mean, I’m available, I’m trying to help. But if you can’t get it through your thick skull (and heart) that I’m the one for you and you can’t beat this bad habit, then maybe we’re not supposed to be together. He’s putting his heart out on the line, making it evident that she is the girl of his dreams, yet she’s wrestling with a wallet-busting thing in her life that she can’t shake. Or maybe the high costs of this habit are a metaphor for something else? The crashing riffs are so jarring, I almost feel like musically, they’re a clear sign General Fiasco have grown up, showing off these manly riffs. Strathern’s vocals are strong and emphatic too. Verdict: practically flawless, it’s a winner, folks.
Special thanks to @Jancey_ for making the lyric video at the end of this post, which was not only useful for ‘translating’ most of the lyrics to the song correctly but was also highly entertaining, with appearances by Pinocchio. I salute you.
‘Bad Habits’, the first single from General Fiasco’s second album ‘Unfaithfully Yours’, will be released on the same day as the album, the 30th of July, on Dirty Hit.
Hot Chip aren’t your average band. Their members appear to be cropping up everywhere (2 Bears,New Build etc) but the band are consistently putting out a record every two years. They’ve been everywhere, with everyone and gained notoriety as both a good band and exciting live band, but they’ve never stepped out of everyone elses shadows for long enough to shine at their top billings (LCD Soundsystem immediately spring to mind). Furthermore they’ve had plenty of success without ever actually having released a great album (‘Over and Over ‘and ‘Ready For The Floor’ carrying them through.) So what does album five have to show?
“Remember when the people thought the world was round, the world was round” opens Alexis Taylor on ‘Motion Sickness’. It’s light, it draws you in and then it bursts into a chilled track that just oozes summer for a whole 5:21. Then comes what sounds like a 2 Bears single in the form of ‘How Do You Do?’. Alexis’ vocals are what turn it from the kind of thing that could be dropped in a club to something that could be played almost anywhere, and that’s what makes Hot Chip the band they are; they’re likeable and inoffensive.
This doesn’t make them a great band though. Inoffensive is the stuff of Train and Eliza Doolittle. Likeable is the kind of thing that got Gary Barlow and Will Young into the dreams of middle aged Britain. Herein lays the problem for Hot Chip. “Within In Our Heads”, there’s a lot of decent music. ‘Flutes’ for example, is enjoyable, but not speciall. Those aforementioned opening two tracks; great if you want to chill out in a field all summer but by the time you get down to ‘Now There Is Nothing’ though, you’ll be iPod scrolling as you finish off that bottle of Koppaberg.
There are of course exceptions on both ends of the scale. If you’ve seen the video for ‘Night and Day’ (below), you’ll know that its full of everything that could have made Hot Chip a big band for all the right reasons. It’s borderline bombastic, in your face and huge sounding, without crossing the line to being a Calvin Harris track (minus the Justin Timberlake style “You know I’m thinking about you”). On the other hand, you’ve got the tedious “Look at Where We Are” and ‘I Have Always Been Your Love’. They’re probably intended to show the deeper side of the band, but they come off as nothing short of mind-numbing.
Hot Chip are not an average band. But if they keep on like this, they’re in danger of sounding like one.
Hot Chip’s fifth album ‘In Our Heads’ is out now on Domino Records (their first for this label).
Maxïmo Park burst onto the scene in 2005 with their Mercury-nominated Warp album A Certain Trigger, followed by an album every other year… until 2011, when this writer concluded that they were on indefinite hiatus, with Paul Smith himself declaring, “we needed to have a break.” Just enough time to record a modest solo album, eh, Paul? But only a year behind schedule, shiny long-player ‘The National Health’ is here. Ostensibly something to do with an “out of control nation”, this could be a very important throw of the dice for the ‘Park lads – with critical acclaim slowly diminishing since their debut, they really need to pull something out of the bag here.
They make a decent start: ‘When I Was Wild’ is a lovely minute-long amuse-oireilles, and then it’s into the punchy title track. ‘The National Health’ joins a growing band of recent songs reflecting disaffection within contemporary society, but in common with the rest of the album it falls short on details – the lyrics are vague enough as to avoid explaining why “England is ill and it is not alone”. Monetary crisis? Political weakness? Societal decay? Paul Smith declines to be more specific, which is a shame, as the song is a strong one, driving along at a fierce tempo, only the slightly odd middle eight (“I went down to the council today / they sent me away / my word holds no sway”) dropping hints that maybe it’s the inertia of local government that’s got him all hot under the collar.
That particular triplet also encapsulates a widespread lyrical difficulty – that of the rhyme for rhyme’s sake. They’re all over the place, and they stand out like the lazy agglomerations that they are, as they did on Smith’s solo album. They even infect a song title, “Hips and Lips”, which in this case is forgivable as it’s a decent pop song, with its mixture of electronica, hazily suggestive vocals, and powerful guitars. The video is a particular treat. ‘The Undercurrents’, a widescreen, end-of-the-pier, lighters-aloft piece, is just crying out to soundtrack a particularly poignant moment in Hollyoaks, and completes a successful first third of the album.
After such a strong start, what follows is somewhat baggy in comparison – competently executed, and on occasion downright catchy, but it’s all a little lacking in spice, consisting as it does mostly of wistful romanticisms. ‘Write This Down’ is a complaint about a girl with a diary, and I forget what comes next until ‘Banlieue’, which is found face down in a puddle, complaining “here come the animals”, evoking the burning cars and peripheral urban vice after which it is named. There’s a lovely, by which I mean screamingly dissonant, interplayed guitar/synth solo – why isn’t there more of this stuff elsewhere? Then it’s business as usual, back to the pseudo-easy-listening pop-rock of ‘This Is What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted’ et al. It’s not until the very last track ‘Waves Of Fear’ that the band pick up their skirts and dare to get angular and dangerous again. And by then it’s a bit too late, really.
Just to put things into context: there’s a bandwagon emblazoned with “State of the Nation Address” at the minute, and these guys have jumped straight on it with the “The National Health” concept. To which I say: where were you five or even ten years ago when things were starting to go pear-shaped in this country but it wasn’t too late to do something about it? I’ll stick my neck out and say these sentiments are sticking their necks out right now because the the rug has suddenly been pulled from under certain sections of client society’s cosy oblivion, and there’s currency to be made in pandering to their fears, 1984-style. Pretty cynical if you think about it, but I’m sure the band would argue that they have their audience’s best interests at heart.
In the end, for all Smith’s pronouncements of contemporary relevance, the record sounds like it could have been made at any time in the last ten, or possibly even twenty, years. Which is not necessarily a bad thing: there’s elements of early Britpop which bring back fond memories for those of a certain age, even if they serve only as impetus to break out a few old Menswear or Gene CD singles. There’s very little here that’s scary, or challenging, or specific, and there are melodies, hooks, and decent playing throughout, which means it could do very well in the CD racks of Tesco North Shields, or the Metro Centre Asda, and in the end that’s the whole point of pop music. On the same lines, a lot of these tracks could be pretty successful singles, appealing to Radio 2’s edgier side. It does have one, honest.
However, anyone hoping for a musical thesis of what’s wrong with the world, from the peculiarly slanted perspective that living on Tyneside gives, will be sorely disappointed. Either the band aren’t capable of it, or they’ve avoided the matter for another day, either of which makes the title a bit of a misnomer. In one way a missed opportunity then, but overall there’s no doubt this is a decent album, that people can take to their hearts. If the country is in as such a mess as Maxïmo Park say it is, every comfort helps.
Maximo Park’s ‘The National Health’ is out now on V2 / Co-Op in the UK and in America as a joint venture between the band’s own Daylighting Records label and brand new North American label Straight to the Sun, a part of the Musebox Label Group.