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Album Review: Johnny Flynn – Country Mile

 
By on Tuesday, 1st October 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Johnny Flynn Country Mile album coverAs 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.”

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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.

7/10

‘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.

 

Album Review: Fenech-Soler – Rituals

 
By on Monday, 30th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Fenech-Soler Rituals coverSince 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.

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‘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.

8/10

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.

 

Album Review: The Static Jacks – In Blue

 
By on Thursday, 26th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Static Jacks In Blue coverIt’s pretty sweet when you can watch a band’s progression through the years and see them grow up. That’s the sense I get with the Static Jacks from Westfield, New Jersey. Back in my early years as a music journalist, I seemed to have much more time to investigate the support bands on a bill and have some feeling even before I arrived whether or not I’d like them. I forget which song it was on their MySpace, but I was impressed enough to show up early for their opening slot with headliners the Futureheads and other opener, the short-lived girl group the Like (who, for the record, I didn’t like). I was not disappointed that night at the Black Cat in June 2010, nor was I when they opened Biffy Clyro‘s first headline show in the DC area, at DC9 in September 2010. At the time, they were probably best described as loud, abrasive, and fun. These three adjectives also work well to describe their 2011 debut album ‘If You’re Young’, and although that was only 2 years ago, it’s a great snapshot of what the Static Jacks were then.

In 2013, the New Jersey rockers offer up a new album called ‘In Blue’, to be released next Monday the 30th of September in America on Old Friends Records. There is still most definitely an element of fun on the new record – the same kind of “rah rah rah!” drunken fun reserved for house parties – but the Static Jacks sound has matured. Usually, I’ve found that’s a bad sign, especially if a band had become known for raucous recordings and live performances, and then they seemingly suddenly morph into another band without warning. The 11 songs that make up ‘In Blue’ show a clear progression of the band in becoming better songwriters, with catchy as hell choruses and stick in your head guitar riffs, while not losing the energy of youth.

Even the inclusion of the short, less than 2-minute long song ‘Horror Story’ to begin the proceedings shows wisdom; ‘If You’re Young’ blasted your eardrums straight away with ‘Defend Rosie’, but in stark contrast, ‘Horror Story’ gently eases you into the new album, acting as if it’s one of those introductory clips at the start of the film to help set the scene for what is to come. Even Nick Brennan’s drums seem pensive until the song really gets going after the first minute. Singer Ian Devaney emotes, “take a stroll through your misery / I’m not afraid of the house or what you used to be / and now you wanna start again, so differently / I’m not afraid of the house or what you used to be”. Food for thought. Good way to start.

I’ve already discussed on TGTF previously revealed singles ‘I’ll Come Back’ (free mp3 here) and ‘Wallflowers’, which follow ‘Horror Story’ in quick succession. Both are exemplary on how to do guitar rock right: super memorable melodies, insistent instrumental bridges, singalong choruses. Maybe touring with Futureheads and Biffy in the States rubbed off on them in a good way. ‘Wallflowers’ in particular, simply because it’s a bit slower, showcases Devaney’s voice, and it’s not a hard stretch of imagination that girls will be swooning over him at their live shows. This will happen. I guarantee it. Guitar work by Henry Kaye and Michael Sue-Poi provide the perfect foil to the vocals in the song too.

The charm doesn’t end there. The relentless driving rhythms of ‘Home Again’ and ‘Katie Said’, paired with its wistful vocals, conjures up great ’80s power pop. Like the aforementioned singles, they’re tailor made for summer festival headbanging and dancing. ‘Decoder Ring’ has – gasp – buzzy synths. It’s not Foster the People, thank god, but more of an everyman anthem in the grand tradition style of fellow New Jerseyans Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’.

However, it’s when you get closer to the end that you are met with the gems of this album. It’s interesting that this album is coming out in September, because title track ‘In Blue’ would be perfect in a rom-com to describe young love gone wrong in all its anguish, as if the guitar chords as they fly in mid air are sympathetic to the story. For sheer pop perfection, the award has to go to ‘People Don’t Forget’. And you won’t forget it. I am still hearing the words and infectious hooks in my heads days after I first heard the album. It’s that good.

Less poppy and more hard is ‘Ninety Salt’, which should suit those of the harder rock fraternity, with severe, severe guitar chords appropriate for severe headbanging. “Alone with all our feelings were bleeding out of me”: hello, ’90s angst rock. And if you’ve been paying attention up to now, you’re rewarded: lyrics from ‘Horror Story’ also reappear here. This is the song that best exemplifies this bit from their most recent press release: “In the end, we decided that we just want to watch the audience slowly headbang and lose their hearing.” Job well done, then.

9/10

The Static Jacks’ sophomore album ‘In Blue’ will be released on Monday the 30th of September in America on Old Friends Records.

 

Album Review: China Rats – Don’t Play with Fire EP

 
By on Wednesday, 25th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Perhaps it’s just too much thinking on my part – and too many years spent on this side of the Atlantic considering the impact of what us Yanks call from the ’60s the British Invasion – but a war, however cosmetically portrayed by NME or other music magazines, may be waged between two bands very soon in the North East. Reading over the press release for the upcoming EP from China Rats, it seemed to me a mighty fine coincidence that this new release of five songs to be collectively known later this month as ‘Don’t Play with Fire’ was produced in the band’s hometown of Leeds by none other than Matt Peel of Cottage Road Studios.

Peel happens to be the same man whose golden production touch is on both of the Crookes‘ albums ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ and ‘Hold Fast’, and my guess is he’ll also be working on their third later this year. Clearly, Peel lets the bands do what they do best and helps them sound their best, because despite sharing a producer, the bands both sound monumentally good. But different. And the way I see it, the Crookes are the Beatles and China Rats are the Stones in this made-up battle in my head. For those of you Fab Four / Stones scholars, you will recall that the Stones took a bit longer to get rolling on releases and popularity, but rather quickly they found themselves caught up to the Beatles and developed a massive fan base of their own.

China Rats’ most high profile performance at this year’s SXSW was on the Friday night, playing the British Music Embassy’s evening showcase being sponsored by PRS and Kilimanjaro Live, a major UK event promoter. Curiously, they appeared on the bill just before the Crookes. I know, because I was there and I have the promotional poster. I knew a couple of the band’s songs and to be honest, wasn’t all that impressed by them on record. Live, I thought they were good, but not great: they seemed a little tentative, which I suppose should be expected for a bunch of English lads on their first trip to Austin. Fast forward 2 months to Brighton and the Great Escape 2013, where the band played to a rammed Old Ship Paginini Ballroom on Saturday night: the more jaded journalists might say that they were playing to a captive audience who arrived early for the 1975 later, but there was no denying the crush of bodies down the front, fists raised, for the Leeds band.

So does the new EP sink or swim? The best song on here is second track ‘Deadbeat’, with its driving drums and what is to become an instantly recognised banging guitar intro. ‘N.O.M.O.N.E.Y.’ (previous Video of the Moment here) and ‘Get Loose’ both have good, strong whiffs of earlier, less inhibited, less sleepy recent Vaccines, which in my opinion can only be a good thing after that train wreck known as ‘Melody Calling’. You can just see the punters now, throwing their bodies round a circle mosh pit at a festival to these songs. I sort of imagine frontman Graeme Thompson looking at his own image in a mirror, practising his best anti-establishment, Johnny Rotten-type sneer. My guess though is, from his age at least, is that Thompson more likely picked up the sneer from the Gallagher brothers, and now is better at his active bitch face – and growly voice – than either of them.

Track ‘Reeperbahn’ just by the name is a nice nod to the infamous red light district of Hamburg where the Beatles honed their craft and ‘became’ men. Oddly, it’s not the raucous, firing on all cylinders affair I’d expected to be but instead something that might have been in the earlier portions of the Fabs or the Stones’ back catalogues. It’s passable, but it feels like a letdown after the first three very good songs. Luckily, EP closer ‘Green Tears’ brings back the swagger, with psychedelic vocal effects and more boots up the backside. This song also features an absolutely brilliant guitar solo; forget the groups that NME are touting as the next great British rock band, China Rats are the future.

If the Crookes are in line to become the kings of Tramlines very soon, then it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination that China Rats could be the same for Live at Leeds if they can keep their songs up to this level. If a battle between the two actually materialises, it will be us, the music-loving public, who will win. Play on, lads.

8.5/10

‘Don’t Play With Fire’, the second EP from Leeds rockers China Rats, is out the 30th of September on Once Upon a Time Records.

 

Album Review: Rise Against – Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013

 
By on Tuesday, 24th September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Rise Against Long Forgotten Songs coverRise Against are most widely known for being that shouty punk band from Illinois, who are all do goody and support Amnesty, PETA and other organisations like that. Not in an, “ooh, look at me I’m saving an orangutan”, while the TV cameras encircle the terrified primate. They’re more of the understated, we’ll slam the political dialogue in the verses and let our music do the talking, and for the past 14-ish years it has quite comfortably.

Now after releasing six politically charged albums they have released a collection of b-sides and songs that got lost in the ether: ‘Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013′. A collection of thrown away half-baked ideas it is not though, compiled to be an extra pay cheque with minimal effort. Instead the record bizarrely has a kind of cohesiveness to it that it really shouldn’t. Not that this reviewer is complaining in the slightest.

Twenty-six songs was always a weighty ask, but when there are changes of pace galore as you race through this goliath of a record you can hardly gripe and moan. There’s some Rise Against token acoustic gold in the shape of the beautifully crafted ‘Everchanging’, where Tim McIlrath does his best to tug on the heartstrings, maybe not to the same ilk as the touching ‘Hero of War’, but still McIlrath is at his sentiment wrenching best.

Then when you reach the conclusion of this bountiful chest of forgotten tracks that have fallen by the wayside, there is a smattering of quite unusual covers. Which are absolutely what you would not expect from a band like Rise Against. However, what a surprise they are with the star studded cover of ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’, proving to be the jewel in the crown and the perfect way to finish the record. While their cover of Boy’s ‘No Good’ is as unexpected as it is majestic.

Altogether, it’s a testament to the musical ability of Tim McIlrath, Zach Blair, Joe Principe and Brandon Barnes that their leftover pizza, after the night out that is dining on their six albums, still tastes as good right now as it would have earlier.

8/10

‘Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013′, a compilation of Rise Against b-sides and rarities, is available now from Polydor.

 

Single Review: The Static Jacks – Wallflowers

 
By on Monday, 23rd September 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

One of my fave bands ever from New Jersey, The Static Jacks, are gearing up for the release of their second album, ‘In Blue’, which drops on the 30th of September stateside on Old Friends Records. In mid-summer, the band revealed ‘I’ll Come Back’, which we featured as a previous Video of the Moment here. ‘I’ll Come Back’ is a real earworm if there every was one. If I’m entirely honest, that song was so great, I didn’t think there was any way they could top it. I was wrong.

Just a couple days ago when I was on holiday, they revealed another song off ‘In Blue’, called ‘Wallflowers’. A while ago, the band asked their fans on Facebook for a bunch of ’80s specific games and toys for a project they were working on. In the promo video embedded below, you can see why they needed them. It’s an adorable homage to the ’80s cult film Weird Science, but with a twist. I don’t want to tell you more, b/c it’ll ruin it for you.

The more I’ve listened to the song, the more it reminds me of earlier We Are Scientists, and these days, based on ‘Something About You’ and ‘Return the Favor’, I’d say they sound more like We Are Scientists than We Are Scientists sound like We Are Scientists. (Try saying that three times fast.) It also simultaneously sounds like the kind of mega guitar rock with huge riffs that I would listen to in the ’90s by Everclear and Weezer. (God, just saying that out loud makes me feel old…) The guitar riffs and melody of this song will not, I repeat, WILL NOT leave you. Resistance is futile.

And speaking of bands changing sound, the Static Jacks have definitely evolved since their 2011 debut. ‘If You’re Young’ was very much an in your face affair, with singer Ian Devaney’s punky, shouty vocal style perfect for ‘Defend Rosie’ and ‘Into the Sun’ (my personal favourite from the album) and his trademark thumpy, boot stomping on ‘My Parents Lied’ when played live. ‘Wallflowers’ is still sounds huge rock-wise, but it seems like the Static Jacks have refined their aesthetic, and the result is a more mainstream, radio-friendly sound that even us indie snobs will love. I’ll go into more detail in the album review for ‘In Blue’ that I’m planning to do in the coming days, but for now, all you need to know is that ‘Wallflowers’ is a song you definitely want in your music collection now, because it’s going to make the rounds very soon.

9/10

The Static Jacks’ second album ‘In Blue’ will be released next Monday the 30th of September in America on Old Friends Records.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music 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 idiots.

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

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