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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th October 2013 at 12:00 pm
Two years on from their brilliant debut album ‘Curse Our Love’, Young Rebel Set are one member lighter but showing no signs of slowing with the release of ‘Crocodile’, their sophomore effort. If you were wondering about the title of the LP, no, the the Stockton-on-Tees band have no designs on becoming reptile keepers, nor are they avid reptile pet collectors. I don’t think, anyway. In a feature with Contactmusic.com, guitarist Mark Evans explained that ‘Crocodile’ is actually a reference to a moment in the film ‘The Krays’, about the gangster twin brothers mentioned in Morrissey’s ‘The Last of the International Playboys’ when the two showed a twin telepathic connection in front of their schoolteacher. For Young Rebel Set, the imagery proved strong and exactly the kind of synchronicity they hoped to achieve in recording the album in Glasgow with frequent Mogwai collaborator and producer Paul Savage.
I have a serious question. Is being loved by Germany the kiss of death for English bands? It seems to have been the way for Hurts, who seem to have also become as revered as gods in Eastern Europe and Russia too, while struggling at home. When ‘Curse Your Love’ came out, I had been advised that Young Rebel Set, similarly, had a large fan base in the Fatherland. The bands don’t look alike or sound alike, so I can’t figure this one out. However, the longest song on ‘Crocodile’, clocking in at over a long 5 minutes, is ‘Berlin Nights’, which might just be a melancholy love letter to Deutschland, as frontman Matty Chipcase recalls “the cold of Berlin nights” in the middle of an affair, while wondering out loud, “who’d want to heed the one who’s carrying the weight of all the world? There must be colour in your eyes.” I like the song, I just think it could have been shortened and made tighter.
Single ‘The Lash of the Whip’ (single review here, Video of the Moment here) was the perfect choice as the first taster of the album, as it’s got echoey effects on the vocals and guitars and a jaunty rhythm that keeps it from being too serious. And it’s terribly infectious, like a more fun and debauched ‘Lion’s Mouth’. It’s located three songs into the album, after which time if you became a fan off the back of ‘Curse Your Love’, you’re probably wondering where the piano went. It isn’t until track #5, ‘The Girl from the 51′, when you’re rewarded with what sounds like an inspirational song to “Josephine, your heart was broke but strong / you refused to give up, and live on / you lost yourself and that’s all you’re a part / and you can decide where you belong”. It’s a little downbeat though. So where best to go next?
‘Another Time, Another Place’ vies with ‘The Lash of the Whip’ for standout track on ‘Crocodile’. (Get the track for free when you sign up for the band’s mailing list here.) Fuelled by exuberantly rocky guitars with Chipcase’s growly voice at the start until the song opens up at the chorus to become entirely winsome, even when he’s singing rather morbid thoughts like “before the reaper comes around and lays me 10 feet underground”. The song shows the protagonist’s inner conflict of being in love (“I hate that boy I know I used to be / so careless with love”) while acknowledging that a girl turned him into a person he did not want to become and/or destroyed him (“maybe if it had been another time, another place / then maybe I’d have walked away, but she pulled me back to the wrong side of the tracks / and bent my mind and left me astray”), yet, like I said, it sounds euphoric. Maybe it’s another case of a songwriter purposely trying to confuse us?
If we’re comparing this album to ‘Curse Your Love’, ‘Tuned Transmission’ comes across as a less tender but an equally relationship-generous ‘If I Was’. ‘Show Your Feathers and Run’ has its sweeping audience participation moments in the choruses that threaten to rival those in ‘Walk On’. ‘Unforgiven’ (live below) and ‘Where Have I Been Going?’, which can be thought of as solo acoustic numbers, remind you that this endeavour began as Chipcase’s solo career until he brought on five other musicians to help realise his vision. But there was something more sentimental and heart-wrenching about ‘Bagatelle’.
But what’s really missing here are the obvious festival-type crowd pleasers like ‘Walk On’, ‘Borders’ and ‘Fall Hard’ that made Young Rebel Set’s debut such a force to be reckoned with. I know when I had named ‘Curse Your Love’ one of my favourite albums of 2011, I was sharing a very unpopular opinion directly in opposition to people who marginalised this band with unfavourable comparisons of them with Mumford and Sons. I still think Young Rebel Set is the better songwriting band of the two, but for some reason ‘Crocodile’ left me less than excited. I still haven’t seen this band live yet, so maybe I will eat my words if I ever hear these new songs live up against the older ones and I am surprised.
‘Crocodile’, the second album from Stockton-on-Tees band Young Rebel Set, is out now on Ignition Records.
It’s almost 3 years since I fell head over arse over heels in love with Brother and Bones’ music. Stumbling aimlessly into a basement in Brighton for the Great Escape 2011, I expected to be subjected to a typically synthed up pile of indie bullshit and was surrounded by nodding A&Rs as we all yearned to discover that next big thing. In this basement though, it was a hotbed of primal energy. Because that is what Brother and Bones are about; immensely powerful rock and blues riffs that have you jumping up and down on the spot like a maniac.
Three years on and there seems to be a shift in the bands tact – towards a new emphasis on lead singer Richard Thomas’ voice. The Cornish five piece haven’t completely ditched the rolling raucous bass lines, but there is a subtle shift towards showcasing the tremendous vocal range of the pint-sized Jack Sparrow lookalike Thomas. New single ‘To Be Alive’ is testament to this understated change of direction. The video is a sepia showcase of a band who obviously are an extremely tight unit, spending every waking minute on the road joshing about. There are even a few shots from their live shows, which I can pray testament to by saying they are best experience live. With double drummers the sound they make is absolutely massive and in Richard Thomas they have a humble and amicable frontman.
The final 30 seconds of To Be Alive are testament to the beautiful soulful rock and roll that Brother and Bones have been producing for the last three years. I can only hope that their new EP will be when the rest of the world realises what a gem in the British music scene that Brother and Bones are.
The ‘To Be Alive’ EP by Brother and Bones will be out on the 4th of November on Last Step Records. Watch the promo video for the title track below.
Out now, there is a lovely new album from French-Canadian singer Carole Facal, under the moniker Caracol. ‘Shiver’ is full of jaunty sounds and wistful lyrics. Its sweeping sound glides over some deeper depths while still managing to be cheerful and accessible. Following great success in both Canada and France, Facal is branching out and testing the waters further afield by singing primarily in English on this album. With only two songs in French, ‘Certitudes’ and ‘Blanc Mercredi’, both taken from her previous album, she is now more accessible to an English market.
Starting off as a professional snowboarder doesn’t seem like the most logical choice for an indie folk singer but there you have it. Facal spent 6 years pursuing that passion before turning to songwriting. Add to that a background that includes classical training on violin, and you have the potential for very interesting music.
Opening with a ‘60s girls band throwback sound in ‘All the Girls’, Facal establishes her roots. The punchier ‘Shiver’ (promo video below) is a good choice for the first single, and the rousing ‘Horseshoe Woman’ is a fun romp. Since I know no French at all, I wonder what the two French tunes are about, but I do know they sound both dreamy and driving. Darker songs ‘Sailor Boy’ and ‘The Sabres of Truth’ show Facal in clear strong voice simply accompanied by ukulele in the former and acoustic guitar in the latter. These two are the strongest pieces on the album with lines like, “Here they come, the sabres of truth / lost in a field of stars, my eyes are open most painfully / So here they come, and they’ve done just what they meant to”.
Her sound varies dramatically from track to track, ranging from retro-soul arrangements to pure folk melodies with quite a bit in between. It’s nearly impossible to categorize her music. My criticism is that with so much going on, the album is a touch disjointed. The songs are a little torchy, a touch country, and some straight up indie. A more uniform sound or at least a better flow from one style to the next would have appealed to me more. But with influences the likes of Amy Winehouse, Jack White, Billy Holiday and Gillian Welch, her eclecticism comes through honestly. Lead single ‘Shiver’ has been heard on both BBC Radio 2 and 6Music, so listen for it.
‘Shiver’, the new album from French-Canadian singer Carole Facal aka Caracol, is out now on Indica Records.
Jake Bugg’s first album, ‘Jake Bugg’ (reviewed by me here) was hailed as a fresh take on folk-rock; its combination of tenacity and musical sensitivity took listeners by surprise, especially from someone so young. With ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, Bugg upends his punk-folk image with a foray into heavy guitar rock, using brash electric guitar effects and a bolder, harsher singing tone to make a direct statement of musical intent.
In the introduction to the stark black and white video accompanying the song, Bugg talks about trying to avoid gritty subjects in writing his second album, but in the end, he says he was unable to escape those tough influences and experiences. Thematically, the song deals with what Bugg calls “smaller subjects”, witnessing the mugging of a friend and being left by a lover. Musically, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is as about as straightforward as they come, electric guitar banging out power chords over pounding drums as Bugg snarls through his fast-paced verses. But the lyrics in the chorus provide an interesting twist. The opening line, “What doesn’t kill you…” never completes the idea with the expected “…makes you stronger.” Instead it crashes right into the next thought, “sometimes you feel you’re up against the world”, then, “this life, it seems, can bring you to your knees”, and, “you try, you bleed, then finally you breathe”. The song ends abruptly on this final lyric, as Bugg’s intention becomes fruition.
The video for ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ features Bugg and his sullen punk demeanor in stereotypical rock fashion: black leather jacket, nothing in the shot with him but his guitar and amplifier. While the forceful, hard-edged electric sound comes as a welcome surprise, Bugg’s singing voice isn’t quite as well suited to heavy rock as it is to his previous alt-folk tunes. His nasal tone, which blended with the warmth of his acoustic sound, comes across as a bit whiny as he competes with the volume of the guitar and drums. But Bugg’s music has never been about purely pretty singing, and his tone here goes right along with the less-than-subtle shift in his style. I might personally prefer his folkier debut album, but this change in direction will keep interest piqued among erstwhile fans in the UK and American fans who are still discovering Jake Bugg.
Jake Bugg’s second album ‘Shangri-La’ will be released on 18 November on Jake Bugg Records / Virgin. First single ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is available now; the accompanying video can be viewed below. Bugg heads out on an UK tour in mid-October but sorry folks, it’s entirely sold out now, including three huge London Brixton Academy shows.
As you might glean from the title, Johnny Flynn’s third studio album ‘Country Mile’ is all about travelling, both geographically and metaphorically. The creation of the album was a journey of sorts in itself, an organic experience that Flynn called “demoing with intent” outside the confines of studio spaces and timelines. While the vernacular idea of a country mile as an undefined distance provides an air of freedom to the songs, it also implies a sense of uncertainty, which is felt in Flynn’s ambiguous song structures, even as his singing voice ventures confidently forward.
Several of the songs on this album deal with profound metaphysical ideas, but Flynn handles them in a light, airy way, never becoming too bogged down in trying to reach a conclusion. In ‘After Eliot’ (stream it below), he explores a relationship that never quite came to fruition, using snippets of evocative poetic imagery that float by without converging into a fully-realized mental picture. Similarly, ‘Einstein’s Idea’ describes the famous theory of relativity to a young child, especially the idea of attraction between objects, with the abstract but lilting lyrics, “The gap between them is nothing to us / Our eyes cut the distance as loving eyes must / From me unto you, son, from dust unto dust.”
Introductory single ‘The Lady Is Risen’ (single review), ponders the elusive feminine mystique, and the effect that lofty ideal might have on real relationships. Its soulful brass and backing vocals lend a spiritual air, and the lightly tripping rhythm section keeps the song from dragging even as the main vocal line remains solidly grounded. Eponymous track ‘Country Mile’ also has a gospel air, with a bit more ragged blues in the guitar part. The harmonies tend toward open fourths and fifths rather than thirds, creating a visceral sense of unresolved searching and wanderlust, especially in the chorus, “I’ve only got so near / I’ve only gone so far / I walk another country mile”.
Aside from gospel and blues, Flynn samples an interesting variety of musical styles. ‘Fol-de-rol’ references South American folk music, particularly the psychedelic Peruvian chicha, in a fashion vaguely reminiscent of George Harrison’s treatment of Indian music and the Hare Krishna faith in ‘My Sweet Lord’. The austere arrangement of ‘Gyspy Hymn’ includes piano and duetting vocals, with a divinely sheer female harmony floating over Flynn’s deep baritone. He saves his purest lyrical singing for the album’s final and perhaps most deeply reflective track, ‘Time Unremembered’.
For lovers of true folk music, ‘Country Mile’ will prove to be a treat, with its thoughtful lyrics and technical range. However, the heavily philosophical subject matter and musical intricacies may overwhelm more casual listeners who are looking for a strong hook to pull them in. Flynn’s extensive experience on the theatrical stage might allow him to make up for what these studio recordings lack in immediate emotional connection when he performs the songs live with his band, The Sussex Wit. They will embark on a headline tour of the UK in October, including a date at London’s Hackney Empire.
‘Country Mile’ is out now on Transgressive Records. The full album is available to stream online on Flynn’s official Web site. Flynn goes on tour with the Sussex Wit in October.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 30th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
Since the release of Fenech-Soler‘s self-titled album in 2010, the Kings Cliffe band have had a tumultuous time of it. Singer Ben Duffy was diagnosed with cancer in early 2011, which understandably put touring and songwriting to a stop. Compared to most other fans, on a personal level I probably was much, much more worried about Ben’s condition than what would happen to the band, and then when it was revealed that they’d made the decision to go back out on the road later that year, as the motherly music editor type, I thought maybe it was too much, too soon. However, after I did this interview with Ben that autumn, I had faith that they’d made the right decision and that all would be fine. Most of the tour dates on that rescheduled UK tour ended up selling out, which to me was a testament to just how massively loved Fenech-Soler are in Britain.
Three years later, the band – comprised of brothers Ben and Ross Duffy, Daniel Soler (whose full Maltese surname was borrowed for the group’s moniker) and Andrew Lindsay – have a new release with Warner Brothers out today called ‘Rituals’. While the physical gold and glitter from ‘Fenech-Soler’ might be gone, the majority of what is being offered up in ‘Rituals’ is as dance gold as their debut. When they first appeared on the music radar in 2010, Fenech-Soler were being compared to two bands we’d already written quite a lot about here on TGTF, now destined for the Where Are They Now? pile: Friendly Fires appear to have all but disappeared and Delphic have chosen to go not to continue down the merry path of electro dance and went r&b instead. In that sense, Fenech-Soler have stayed true to their roots and as a electronic dance fan, I am very grateful.
The opening measures of the album-starting ‘Youth’, with its handclaps and layered synth effects makes you feel like you’re lying on a beautiful beach somewhere, all of your senses heightened by your body feeling the rays directly. So the tropical feel of many of the songs on ‘Rituals’ suits its end of September release date well. Listening to the rest of ‘Youth’ with its extended synth lines, especially nearer to the end where there’s a huge celebratory build-up, you get the sense that you could listen to this album at nearly any time of the year and channel those good vibes. Another sunny standout is ‘Maiyu’ (stream it below), which I’m imagining would be so fun to watch live, with sequencers, synths and drum pads being hit at rapid succession, as Duffy’s wistful voice stretches across the track and seems to be in perfect harmony with the hard chords of the chorus. When the band pulled out of both SXSW and the Great Escape this year, I was devastated. So if you have the opportunity to go see them before the end of 2013, by all means, go.
‘All I Know’, which I previously waxed philosophical on both its lyrics and sound here, is my favourite among the singles. But just on the basis of populist accessibility, the chiller ‘Last Forever’ and the huge-sounding ‘Magnetic’ are guaranteed toe-tappers. ‘In Our Blood’, which follows ‘All I Know’ in the song sequence on ‘Rituals’, could rival ‘Magnetic’ in scale of sound, and its unique syncopated synth lines in the chorus. Superficially, the lyrics are about having a good time out dancing, but the subtext is much more interesting: Duffy is denying his feelings and leaving his broken heart out on the dance floor in favour of losing himself and all that feeling to the music: “it’s in our blood tonight, even if I have to dance alone…either way, this is who we are / so let’s get lost in the dark”.
The album isn’t without its faults. ‘Somebody’ sounds too Tom Vek, until it thankfully Fenech-Soler sobers up in the last minute and a half. The next track ‘Fading’ has a similar fate, except it has an r&b feel that I’m guessing is supposed to make it more palatable to the top 40 listening public; in other words, it sounds too generic and could be by any number of Radio 1-played artists. I’m not a fan of ‘Two Cities’ for similar reasons.
Okay, we now need to have a talk about these musical interludes, transitions, transitoires, whatever you want to call them. They need to stop. Of all the albums I’ve heard in the last 12 months, there has only been one band’s album – Cave Painting‘s ‘Votive Life’ – that has used this instrumental device in an album successfully. It works for them because in dream pop, the device feels natural. Now these things are popping up most everywhere, from White Lies‘ ‘Big TV’ to the 1975‘s ‘The 1975′. Do we need to stage an intervention? In the case of the two that are slotted in the lineup of this album of Fenech-Soler’s, they come across as an extended intro that got chopped off unceremoniously from the front of ‘Last Forever’ (‘Ritual I’) and what might have worked as a wispy outro to ‘Two Cities’ (‘Ritual II’). In both cases, I would have preferred fully fleshed-out songs instead of wondering what might have been from the great potential in these short sound bites.
Still, mostly what is on offer on ‘Rituals’ is epic and proves unlike most dance bands, Fenech-Soler are worth much more than their singles. You’re going to want to dance to this. And often.
Fenech-Soler’s second album ‘Rituals’ is out today on Warner. The band will be touring the UK and Ireland in November; all the details are here, though some dates have already sold out.