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I was sadly (but necessarily) disappointed to miss Nottingham wunderkind Jake Bugg in Austin earlier this year at SXSW 2016, where he played the BBC Music showcase at Stubb’s BBQ. But my lingering regret over that fateful evening has been fully assuaged by listening to Bugg’s brilliant new LP ‘On My One’.
Bugg has been lauded over the past several years for his songwriting and musicianship, which are both incredibly advanced given his young age. But what many critics miss, in my opinion, is the power and efficacy of Bugg’s singing voice. The nasal drawl that listeners associate with Bugg after his hits ‘Lightning Bolt’ and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve commented on his vocals in reviews of both his previous albums ‘Jake Bugg’ and ‘Shangri-La’, particularly the delicate beauty of ‘A Song About Love’ from the latter LP. But Bugg has raised his game considerably in this latest collection of songs.
The new album opens with a forceful one-two punch in the form of title track ‘On My One’, followed in quick succession by early single ‘Gimme the Love’. Displaying his aforementioned vocal prowess, Bugg knocks our emotions off balance straight away with a heartwrenching delivery of the lyrics “where’s God, where’s God? / he’s even left me on my one”. Then, before we can come up for air, he pummels us with the fast rhythmic pace and high energy guitar riffs of ’Gimme the Love’.
I wondered at first about the wisdom of putting such a powerhouse combination right at the start of the album’s tracklisting, but as it turns out, Bugg has plenty more where that came from. The soaring chorus of ‘Love, Hope and Misery’ might not be one of Bugg’s strongest lyrical moments, but it’s certainly among the album’s strongest melodic lines, and once again his vocals are surprisingly graceful. He does some of his level best singing and storytelling in the shadowy track ‘The Love We’re Hoping For’, where his voice reminds me very much of another singer whose voice I adore, Stornoway‘s Brian Briggs.
‘Put Out the Fire’ is the type of foot-stomping folk rock we’ve come to expect from Jake Bugg, and he shows off his acoustic guitar chops to their best advantage between its rapid fire verses. ‘Never Wanna Dance’, by contrast, is a smooth, groovy affair where Bugg again offers up a velvety vocal tone alongside a lush brass solo in the bridge. The pugilistic ‘Bitter Salt’ ratchets up the emotional tension with an anxious drum beat and strident electric guitars punctuating its darkly menacing verses and driving chorus. Bugg then segues into the muted hip-hop rhythm of ‘Ain’t No Rhyme’ and revisits his own early Americana style in the wailing slide guitar of ‘Living Up Country’.
Bugg’s vocals are once again painfully and beautifully tender in the melancholic ballad ‘All That’, and the album closes quite fittingly with the nitty-gritty blues guitar track ‘Hold On You’. For all its surface variety, ‘On My One’ remains cohesive because of its underlying focus on that blues style. “Blues is my favourite genre,” says Bugg. “Whether it’s soul or hip hop, it all stems from the blues.”
According to the album’s press release, the title ‘On My One’ comes from a colloquialism in Bugg’s native Nottingham: rather than saying “on my own”, they say “on my one”. What is perhaps most impressive about the record is that Bugg wrote, performed and produced most of the 11 tracks himself, remarking that “in a lot of ways [the title] sums up this record because it mainly has been me on my own”. Easily the best album I’ve heard so far this year, ‘On My One’ raises the bar significantly for the remainder of 2016.
Jake Bugg’s third LP ‘On My One’ is out today, the 17th of June, on Virgin EMI. Bugg will play a full summer schedule of festival dates, as well as a UK tour in October. You can find a complete list of his upcoming live shows here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Jake Bugg is back here.
Veteran Irish songstress Lisa Hannigan has just previewed her upcoming new album ‘At Swim’ with the release of the album’s first single, a haunting, elegant track called ‘Prayer for the Dying’. If this first sample is any indication of the full record, ‘At Swim’ will see Hannigan moving definitively away from the quaint and folksy DIY quality of her previous two albums, 2008’s ‘Sea Sew’ and 2011’s ‘Passenger’.
The lush instrumental backdrop of rich, round piano tones, wailing slide guitar and gently rocking percussion in ‘Prayer for the Dying’ might be a bit unexpected from Hannigan. But it is perhaps less so from her producer on ‘At Swim’, The National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner. For her own part, Hannigan’s vocals on here feel much more self-assured here than they have in the past. She has done away with her previous timid whisper, singing this powerful lament in a delicate but resonant full-voiced tone. Her deftly executed half-tone slurs in the verse melody and the echoing refrain “your heart / my heart” immediately bring to mind the vocal strength and emotional impact of Patsy Cline.
Speaking of the full album ‘At Swim’, Hannigan says it its press release that it’s “in part about homesickness and isolation as well as about love.” She wrote it while living away from home, without her “usual anchors and points of reference” to use as a guide, which perhaps was the inspiration for the album’s title. Guidance came for her in the form of producer Dessner, who helped her record the album in upstate New York. “He didn’t want it to sound too pretty,” Hannigan says. “He wanted it to have a texture rather than have big arcing melodies.” In ‘Prayer for the Dying’, the pair have achieved elements of both.
Lisa Hannigan’s third album ‘At Swim’ is due for release on the 19th of August via PIAS in the UK and ATO Records in North America. Hannigan is currently playing a run of live dates in Ireland; you can find details here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Lisa Hannigan can be found by clicking here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 12:00 pm
It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from Aussies The Temper Trap. It’s been so long that frankly, after the way their second album ‘The Temper Trap’ was pretty much panned across the board for lack of a vision, I wasn’t really sure if they had it in them to continue. The band were hit out at for being uninspired, including on ‘London’s Burning’, painfully revisiting the London Riots that were on their doorstep during the time they lived in the Capital. Four years since that release and another incredible 7 years after their well-received debut LP, they’ve attempted to return to their earlier ‘Conditions’. The question is, will anyone be listening?
The name ‘Thick as Thieves’ is a reference to the band’s soldiering on as a four-piece following the amicable depature of lead guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto and the strong, brotherly bond that has grown between them since. Joseph Greer, who came aboard as a touring member around the time of ‘Conditions’, has grown into the lead guitarist position since Sillitto’s departure but is also still on keyboards. Structurally, the biggest change on this album compared to past efforts was their willingness to work with other outside songwriters.
An idea previously shunned by the band, it gives the LP somewhat of a patchwork feel, with so many (and possible too many) cooks in the kitchen. Early single ‘Fall Together’ is the result of a collaboration with frequent Lana Del Rey cowriter Justin Parker. Its bouncy, buzzy synths are innocuous, but the overall it’s a mainstream, feel good anthem led by frontman Dougy Mandagi’s massive vocals, recalling the best populist moments from their debut. Both the title track and ‘Lost’ are cut from a similar cloth, with even its lyrical content similar: all three explore the importance of unbreakable relationships.
Speaking of, one will begin to notice a weird phenomenon after listening to the album all the way through more than once. There isn’t much variation to the topics being broached on ‘Thick as Thieves’. ‘Burn’, whose title might suggest the passion of a romance heating up, is less about anything salacious and more about taking a chance in a general sense. It begins on a nice, winsome note, building towards an upbeat tempo, perfect for ‘Sweet Disposition’-esque festival pogoing, if you were wondering. ‘Alive’ includes the trite lyrics of “it feels so good to be alive!”, which are not unlike those from ‘Burn’ (“you’ve got burn just to feel alive”). I realise that Carrie and I spend much more time looking at song lyrics than the average journo. However, anyone not a pedant like us would notice and be put off by what comes across as lazy songwriting.
‘Alive’ is followed by ‘Riverina’ and ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’. While neither is spectacular, the fact that they’re structurally different makes them of interest. The former has a very catchy melody and sees The Temper Trap on the anthem motorway once again. Hats off to Pascal Gabriel, famed for writing some of Dido and Kylie Minogue’s biggest hits, so it’s not a surprise this is one of the album’s standouts. Close your eyes, and the guitars of ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’ are lifted from ‘Science of Fear’, just slowed down. If you have spent any significant time with ‘Conditions’ like I have (I taught myself bass with it), you will get a sense of deja vu from time to time listening to ‘Thick as Thieves’. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your point of view: do you want something that’s comfortable, or something that’s beguiling in its newness?
Years ago, I had the pleasure of having a relaxed conversation with Mandagi outside the House of Blues in Boston in October 2010, hours before their headline show there. He asked me point-blank what I thought of their debut album, wanting my opinion of it. By that time, I’d seen them perform a few times but was still pretty much a rookie at covering live shows, let alone interacting with rock stars. I bit the bullet, somewhat painfully disclosing to him that I far preferred their live set to them on record, figuring he’d never read my review of it on TGTF.
Instead of reacting badly, he appreciated my honesty, grinning and agreeing with me. He said that when the band were in the studio, he felt like they were holding themselves back, whereas live, they would leave everything behind onstage and give it their all. There’s certainly nothing objectionable here on ‘Thick at Thieves’, but like its 2012 predecessor, there is a weird lack of inventiveness and sheer excitement throughout, leaving the listener wanting so much more. However, having experienced them many times live, including their headline slot at the TGTF stage at Liverpool Sound City 2012, I will wait to cast further judgment until after I’ve seen them play this album live this autumn.
‘Thick as Thieves’, The Temper Trap’s third album, is out now on Infectious Records in the UK and Glassnote Records in America. For more coverage on TGTF on the Aussie band, follow this link.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 15th June 2016 at 12:00 pm
Two years ago, indie rock stalwarts Kaiser Chiefs came out swaggering with a new album, and new drummer Vijay Mistry in tow. It was their first without original principal songwriter Nick Hodgson, deciding to leave the band who had made him a star. Naturally, there were big questions being lobbed around the future of the group, left untethered out in the ocean. To the surprise of most everyone, myself included, fifth Kaiser Chiefs album ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ with American Ben Allen as producer gave proof that there was life left in their career yet. (I wrote about ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ on my other site Music in Notes here.) This week, they’ve revealed their newest track and indeed, we see (and hear) the Kaisers in a way we’ve never seen them before.
According to frontman and judge on The Voice Ricky Wilson, there was a concerted effort while writing this new album to return to their early roots. “When we wrote the first record we were very direct, little needed explaining. The songs seemed to speak for themselves and did all the hard work for us. ‘Parachute’ is pretty self-explanatory and a bit of a return to that. ‘Parachute’ is probably the first love song we’ve written since ‘Ruby’.” Interestingly, they’ve chosen to work with producer Brian Higgins (New Order, Girls Aloud, Pet Shop Boys) on the new material, which has led to the development of a surprisingly completely different sound. Wilson says, too, that the topic for discussion changed as well: “When we finished writing the last record we realised that the most important thing to everyone is what’s going on in their lives. Their “personal politics” and that’s what this album is about. If ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ was our protest album, then ‘Stay Together’ is our relationship album.”
If this is an album about relationships, the uber-shiny synth finish of ‘Parachute’ suggests a more obvious, joyful bent that’s far more mainstream pop-orientated than the Kaiser Chiefs sound has ever been before. One major negative to the single: because of the way it’s constructed, you can’t hear the individual players’ contributions, which is what you come to expect from an indie rock band. However, this is partially mitigated by Wilson’s voice, which works well – astonishingly well! – within a pop treatment. In the bridge, he sings in a reserved manner “I don’t mind / it’s not important anymore / I realise / you’re at the core of what I need”. Is this really the same man who brought us the satisfying anarchy of ‘I Predict a Riot’?
Early detractors have cited that Wilson’s time with The Voice has negatively and irreparably affected the band’s direction, but I think that’s too easy of a conclusion to draw. True, the sweetly sung, slightly irritating chorus of “if we’ve only got one parachute, I’d give it to you” isn’t on par with the cheekiness of “what do you want for tea? / I want crisps” of ‘Never Miss a Beat’. However, with the exception of Mistry, dare I say it, Wilson and co. have reached middle age. And the older you get, the less you’re inclined to be singing the same songs you were singing when you were an angry kid, am I right?
In an interview at the NME Awards 2016 in Austin, Texas, back in February, Wilson further explained that “For the last ten years, I thought to write a universal song to appeal to everybody you had to talk about big topics… but we’ve never really written love songs.” If he’s being completely honest about their aspirations for this new release – and I’m inclined to believe him – then I think it will be well worth our while to wait for the full album and see just how good (or not) they are to crafting a popular love song.
Not a requisite purchase for the devoted Kaisers fan by any means, but such an interesting, unexpected curve ball I don’t think anyone saw coming.
Kaiser Chiefs’ sixth album ‘Stay Together’ will be out on the 7th of October on Fiction Records / Caroline International. Latest single ‘Parachute’ is out now. The band will be hosting a special fan-only show at London Palladium on the 11th of July. For more on Kaiser Chiefs on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 13th June 2016 at 12:00 pm
Words by Adam McCourt
Singer Tom Farrer and drummer Ben Niblett were collaborators in their adolescent years, gigging in local pubs together. After a few years apart, working on separate projects and developing their musical prowess independently, they reunited to form Desert Planes. And the London duo have taken the UK indie rock scene by storm. Since their debut single ‘Wake In Fright’ was released on 3rd of May, they have garnered accolades from Radio X, Amazing Radio and Clash Music.
The track draws influence from various aspects of indie rock from the last decade. Farrer’s vocal style is similar to Tom Smith of Editors, smooth in tone and strong in character. The guitar riff is reminiscent of mid-Noughties Modest Mouse, but a little less disjointed and staccato-y. However, what differentiates this duo from the rest is Niblett’s drumming. It isn’t a case of showing off how good of a drummer he is. Instead, he sources the overall feel of the track and plays towards that. In this case, he creates a constant drive with very little variation in order to fit the dance-like nature of the song. Simple, yet effective, it acts as the glue that ties each section together.
Overall, it is very well-structured and extremely well-crafted. Each layer is in its place for a reason; nothing is over or underused. The main guitar riff is introduced within the first 10 seconds of the song, and doesn’t return for another minute and 10 seconds. It doesn’t seem like much, but in a song only lasting 3 minutes and 14 seconds, that’s a long time to hold off a melody so memorable. Between each guitar melody, however, Farrer fills the gap with his sensual voice, telling a story of heartache. With a hint of low-lying falsetto backing vocals, they help in expressing the message of love lost.
The pair do an excellent job in appealing to a pop music fan base with this song, but they still possess the cool factor of being an indie rock band. Incredible detail clearly went into constructing this song so that it would hold the attention of any average music lover. For example, holding off the chorus hook for as long as they possibly can and, going through a double intro, verse and a pre-chorus before unleashing the catchy chorus hook within the lyrics “you wanna help me well then tell me aw / aw baby keep it together.” And as it is so short the first time round, it leaves the listener wanting it again and again. Unfortunately in one listen we only receive it twice with a slight variation of the melody at the end. Luckily for Desert Planes it just means we have to go back and listen again. And again and again.
‘Wake in Fright’ is out now on Killing Moon Records.
We at TGTF first covered Manchester garage rock band Spring King back in 2015, when they appeared at that year’s SXSW Music Festival. At that point, Spring King (comprising lead singer, songwriter and drummer Tarek Musa along with Peter Darlington on lead guitar, Andy Morton on rhythm guitar and James Green on bass) were working feverishly to make their name known. In my review of their performance at the 2015 Transgressive Records showcase, I commented on the band’s “strong sense of propulsive momentum and energy”, which has now materialised in the form of a full-length album titled ‘Tell Me If You Like To’.
As far as energy and momentum are concerned, ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ delivers on Spring King’s early promise. The album is a massive wall of sound from beginning to end, rarely pausing to catch a breath, much less relax or rest on its own laurels. The album’s opening track is the insistent and rather clamorous early single ‘City’, which was drawn from the band’s 2015 EP ‘They’re Coming After You’ and which was chosen as the first song to be played on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio on Apple Music in June 2015.
Late album track ‘Demons’ is taken from Spring King’s 2014 EP of the same title, but the rest of the album is composed of new material, including recent singles ‘Rectifier’ and ‘Detroit’. Following ‘City’ in the tracklisting, ‘Detroit’ continues the album’s breakneck, full-tilt pace with fuzzy guitar melodies and unrelenting drums. Its rather morose verse lyrics contrast sharply with the undeniably catchy chorus line “I don’t wanna be nowhere else except for Detroit city”.
The album’s tone turns slightly darker with the deep bass growl and existential chorus of standout track ‘Who Are You?’. Musa’s vocals aren’t particularly remarkable, but his lyrics occasionally are, including the refrain “tonight I just wanna be somebody else, somebody new / tonight I just wanna be something that I can say is true”, and the echoing repeat of the song’s title line. An unexpected sax solo just before the final chorus feels somewhat out of place in the context of the song’s frenetic psych/punk/rock tone and is the first hint of overproduction on Musa’s part.
One of the album’s relatively slower moments is in the chugging tempo, echoing vocals and slightly softer verse dynamic of ‘It’s So Dark’. That song’s overarching darkness theme segues quite nicely into the hazy, drunken tempo of the surprisingly sensual ‘Take Me Away’. These mid-album tracks, where Spring King step momentarily outside the confines of their garage rock comfort zone, are among the most interesting moments on the LP.
Title track ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ is decidedly brash and unreasonably bratty, adamantly declaring “tell me if you like to / I wanna fight you / punch you through the ceiling / I got the feeling now” in its opening lines. ‘The Summer’, Musa’s ode to Beach Boys icon Brian Wilson, was featured as BBC Radio 1’s Track of the Day back in May. But rather than lifting the album’s mood, the song somehow comes across as a bit murky, despite a bright keyboard melody peeking through the heavy rhythm section and a full chorus of backing vocals.
Final track ‘Heaven’ achieves a slightly more lofty tone, despite its muscular framework of bass and drums. Its oft-repeated chorus “heaven, heaven, heaven is where you know yourself / and you’ve opened your heart to someone else” could easily become a live singalong favourite; expect to hear it on Spring King’s October tour of the UK.
In the end, Spring King seem to have gotten caught between two of their own stylistic tendencies, manic post-punk and slacker garage rock. The relentless drive and energy of the punk side, which seems to be Spring King’s stronger suit, eventually becomes bogged down in the album’s hefty instrumental arrangements and overblown vocal distortions. But while the production on ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ is perhaps a bit heavy-handed, Tarek Musa and Spring King have nonetheless put together a solid collection of generally likable songs that will no doubt continue to garner attention.
Spring King’s debut album ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ is due out tomorrow, the 10th of June, via Island Records. TGTF’s previous coverage of Spring King is back here.