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We love a bit of Frank Carter here on TGTF. Well, I do at least, so a new album from Carter’s best project to date – Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – was always going to cause a bit of excitement. But was it worth all this getting hot and bothered over? Absolutely.
‘Modern Ruin’ presents Carter and co. at their absolute best, Carter displaying the full length of his ability. Interestingly for music from the man, it’s a far cry from a brutal incessant constant attack: it ebbs and flows like a good record should. For instance, take the album opener ‘Bluebelle’, a reserved and slow track dredged in reverb with Carter singing softly below the music. You wouldn’t expect this approach to begin a second album, but it works a treat because come track two, ‘Lullaby’, the brute force of The Rattlesnakes is put into action. Written to his daughter, musically its not quite as aggressive as much as it is melodically encapsulating. But lyrically Carter creates a personal touch that you probably would never have expected from him.
‘Snake Eyes’ is another powerful attack, but with a bit more spirited life to its lyrics, such as the contextualising line in the choruses, “what did I do last night and will I be ashamed?”. It should be noted Carter’s lyrics mostly come from larger stories that he writes, so this isn’t Carter necessarily exposing a sordid lifestyle, though also it may very well be. The idea of a writer is to paint a vivid picture that blends both reality and fiction, something he definitely has nailed down. Carter has the ability to craft words that are both violent yet deeply seductive, brutal with an edge that you just can’t help but fall for.
While this trend continues through ‘Vampires’, it’s on ‘Wild Flowers’ where the loving assault kicks up a notch. It’s super melodic in the chorus and the lyrics are particularly romantic, a strange concept if you’re used to Carter’s back catalogue with Gallows and Pure Love, but it flows so naturally. ‘Acid Veins’ and ‘God is My Friend’ are a bit closer to what you would’ve come to expect from a natural follow up to the Rattlesnakes’ 2015 debut album ‘Blossom’, if that’s what you’re really looking for. But that’s not what this album is about. This album is about Carter doing whatever he wants because he can, and we love it. What we’re hearing is his fully formed ideas coming to life with the power and focus of a freight train.
After the two previous tracks, there’s just a little bit more absolute savagery in less-than-a-minute long ‘Jackals’, which is a torrent of drums before breaking into a rapid punk track and then simply stopping. Perfectly placed, this small brash punk attack takes us nicely into the more developed Rattlesnakes sound. Concerning the war-torn state of the world, with poignant lyrics such as “killed in beds where they should be safest, they’re all mothers and fathers and children too” and “I’ve seen a woman buried to her neck, stoned for disbelief, I’ve seen a man thrown from a tower because he loved another man” show Carter will not only approach the harder-hitting topics but will call out all the bull the rest of the world idly lets happen. Soundtracked by a building crescendo, the power behind the words is met by the band’s aggression. Straight after this, he hits us again with another emotive wrecking ball in ‘Real Life’. It’s soon one-upped by title ‘Modern Ruin’, a fast paced track with Carter at his best: screaming and backed by music faster than you can say the word ‘brutal’.
Album closer ‘Neon Rust’ is perhaps the icing on this solid cake. It’s a tune that begins in the most reserved way of all of them on this record, with Carter’s vocals being tender to the point of unrecognizable. However, they build into a crashing repetitive post-chorus, with Carter howling, “we don’t belong in a wasteland”. The album ’Modern Ruin’ is perhaps the best encapsulation of the last few years in the real world. Filled with frank (no pun intended) lyricism and crashing music, it’s a solid album that deserves to be marked as Carter’s magnum opus. Though he’ll surely come back even stronger, it’s important enough to be taken as a stamp of our social time.
‘Modern Ruin’ by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes is out now on International Death Cult via Kobalt Label Services. For more on Carter and his band on TGTF, including an interview Steven did with Carter at Leefest 2016, go here.
We at TGTF first experienced the stark fragility of Donegal-based singer Rosie Carney’s songwriting about a year ago, when she appeared as a showcasing artist at SXSW 2016. Though her performances in Austin were breathtaking in their beauty, there was also a feeling of reluctance about her then, an air of uncertainty about her own ability and her place as an artist. Carney’s hesitation was undoubtedly due in part to a previous difficult record label experience, but in the intervening time, she has also revealed a personal blog which chronicles her simultaneous private struggle with depression and anorexia.
Now, at the still tender age of 20, Carney seems to have found surer footing with London indie label X Novo and a newly-released single dealing with the emotions surrounding her mental illness.Titled ‘Awake Me’, the new track is both an austere expression of self-awareness and an appeal for compassion from those around her. The song’s opening guitar ostinato is both rhythmically hypnotic and harmonically vague, and Carney cleverly exploits its tonal ambiguity as her intensely personal narrative unfolds through the key phrase “I’ve been a fool for more than half of my life / I’ve tried too hard”. The simple plea of the chorus, “awake me, don’t break me” then grows into a soaring bridge section, where the harmonic progression and stunning agility of Carney’s singing voice become suddenly, startlingly clear.
If ‘Awake Me’ represents a fresh start for Rosie Carney after the difficult first years of her singing career, she would seem to be taking bold and very deliberate strides in a positive direction. Her understated lyricism and ethereally ambiguous musical style were well-established (as incongruous as that statement may sound) in her youth, but ‘Awake Me’ demonstrates an added element of maturity in her songwriting, and it serves as a promising pivot point for her future artistic endeavours.
Rosie Carney’s new single ‘Awake Me’ is available now via X Novo and, according to Carney’s official Facebook, will appear on her forthcoming EP release. TGTF’s previous coverage of Rosie Carney is back through here.
New Jersey multi-instrumentalist and composer Steve Marion uses the stage name Delicate Steve both for himself and for the band he leads. But to simplify the issue, he’s taken the production helm and played all of the instrumental parts for his new LP ‘This is Steve’. And to be clear, all of the parts are instrumental. Though Marion refers to his tracks as “songs”, they have no lyrics and are thus technically “pieces” of music. But none of the typical words for short instrumental works seems to fit Delicate Steve’s essentially lyrical, undeniably singable melodic style as precisely as the word “song”.
The tracks on ‘This is Steve’ are concise and tightly-structured, in the vein of a standard three-minute pop song, but with sharply defined guitar riffs rather than vocal melodies serving as the foundation for instrumental counterpoint and textural layering. And despite the complex interplay of rhythms and the variety of instrumental timbres, the easy flexibility of Marion’s guitar technique and the fluidity of his melodies stand out above everything, assuring that the songs (and they do ultimately feel like songs, despite the lack of singing) never feel square or contrived.
The opening tracks on the album are undeniably catchy and upbeat. ‘Animals’ leads with an engaging hook, which Marion clearly establishes before sliding into a sassy display of virtuosity. ‘Winners’ is mellow and gently rocking, but with a steady undercurrent of buoyant energy that is visually illustrated in its boardwalk themed video (just below). The adrenaline-fueled, overdriven ‘Cartoon Rock’ ( video at the bottom of the page) displays Delicate Steve’s guitar rock chops, but its gritty, dirtier sound is contrasted with a layer of synth sounds and off-kilter rhythms in the coda.
Around the halfway point, ‘This is Steve’ takes a moodier and definitely more introspective turn. ‘Tomorrow’ is the album’s first hint of darkness, with a suggestive piano intro and a sultry, seductive guitar riff. The darker, shadowy tone prevails through the anxious rhythm of ‘Help’, the more experimental and off-kilter ‘Swimming’, and lightly soaring piano arrangement of ‘Driving’. Following an impressive display of counterpoint in the bridge of ‘Together’, the warm gospel piano chords and a subtly sensual guitar melody in title track ‘This is Steve’ end the album on an endearingly confessional note.
With its 10 tracks clocking in at just over 28 minutes, ‘This is Steve’ doesn’t give you time to overanalyse. It moves quickly from one vignette to the next, without concern for overt connection or cohesion. Its concise, defined song structures leave plenty of room for improvisation to materialise in live performance, and though it starts in one place and ends somewhere entirely different, the flow of the songs feels entirely genuine, natural and spontaneous.
Delicate Steve’s third studio album ‘This is Steve’ is available now on Anti- Records. The album is streaming in full on Delicate Steve’s official Web site. Delicate Steve is scheduled as a showcasing artist for SXSW 2017 this March in Austin, TX. For news and updates on SXSW 2017 showcasing artists, please consult the festival’s official schedule here.
If a new band with a wildly successful debut album falls victim to the so-called “sophomore slump” with their second release, then their third album is inevitably viewed as a comeback effort of sorts. Such has apparently been the case with London indie pop trio the xx, who recently released ‘I See You’, the follow up to their 2009 debut ‘xx’ and 2012 sophomore LP ‘Coexist’.
For the xx, album number three came after a slight detour. The year 2015 saw band member Jamie xx (aka Jamie Smith) put out a solo album titled ‘In Colour’, which our own editor Mary described as “polarising” in her essay from June of that year. ‘In Colour’ wasn’t a complete separation for Jamie xx and his bandmates (the xx co-lead singer Romy Madley-Croft contributed vocals), and as far as sonic colour is concerned, ‘I See You’ is similarly entwined with Smith’s solo work.
The brighter-than-expected overall tone colour of ‘I See You’ leans heavily on Smith’s electro-dance production talents throughout the album. This is not to say that the xx have delved into sunny-sweet pop, only that they’ve lightened things up a bit, and added some texture as well. Album opener ‘Dangerous’ is a prime example, starting off with a chorus of brass and bouncing steadily along to Smith’s beat-driven shuffle. The vocal lines provided by Madley-Croft and Oliver Sims are relegated to secondary status behind the bold statements made in the instrumental arrangement.
Sims and Madley-Croft have their moment soon enough in second track and recent single ‘Say Something Loving’. Their voices are perhaps nothing special individually, but the interplay between them as they trade lyrical lines is sinuous and smooth. The song’s chorus lyrics evolve with each repetition, and both singers hit the emotional target as muted cynicism (“say something loving / I just don’t remember the thrill of affection”) becomes fluttering hope (“you say something loving / it’s so overwhelming, the thrill of affection”) and vulnerable self-expression (“I say something loving / I can’t hold it inside, the thrill of affection”).
The middle of the album becomes a bit wrapped up in its own dark, downtempo production vibe, but while the songs run together, there are still a few moments of brilliance. Sims’s voice is subtle and smooth against the sharp-edged backdrop of Smith’s synths in ‘A Violent Noise’, while Madley-Croft’s vocals in ‘Performance’ are poignantly fragile, laid over a stark, strikingly minimalist instrumental setting.
The album’s lead single ‘On Hold’, featured by editor Mary in this past In the Post, was chosen for good reason. It’s really the only song on the album with a distinct pop hook. While certainly not upbeat, it does pick up the rhythmic pace a little bit, and it allows the album to rebuild some of the momentum lost in the middle section. ‘I Dare You’ has a similar rhythmic energy and radio-friendly quality, and Madley-Croft’s lead vocal in the lines “I’ve been a romantic for so long / all I’ve ever heard are love songs” is as enticing here as it was in the album’s opening tracks. But it’s Smith, in the end, who has the figurative last word in the dark and shadowy final track ‘Test Me’, scored with subtle brass behind the vocal lines and echoing ambient synth sounds in the extended coda.
‘I See You’ is undoubtedly a product of the xx’s growth, both as a group and as individual musicians. While Smith’s contribution is perhaps the most pronounced change, it says something for the musicianship of Madley-Croft and Sims that they have been able to adapt stylistically and adopt a fresh take on the band’s established sound.
The xx’s third LP ‘I See You’ is out now on Young Turks. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of the xx is collected back here.
‘Lemon Memory’ is the second album from Leeds-grown indie surf rockers Menace Beach and is the follow up to their 2015 debut ‘Ratworld’. Although the album was recorded in Sheffield, the songs were actually written in Ibiza, which you wouldn’t be able to guess considering the edgy rock flavour to the album. The band is fronted by Ryan Needham, formerly of Komakino, and Liza Violet, also of Department M. Truly a product of Yorkshire, the current line-up also includes Nestor Matthews (Sky Larkin), Matt Spalding (You Animals) and Nick Chantler (Seize the Chair). It’s an album that feels like a bit of an experiment. The tempo and guitars are dialled up more on some tracks than others. There’s also an occasional use of subtle industrial-esque synth distortion on some tracks, while others have a heavier, punchier attitude.
Standout ‘Maybe We’ll Drown’ is the second song on the album and sees Violet take the vocals front and centre. It’s easy to see why this was released as a single, and the thrumming guitar and Violet’s voice is reminiscent of Emily Haines of Metric. Featuring ghostly synth sounds contrasting with Violet’s soft vocals that are joined by Needham’s distorted voice in the chorus, the track has a spooky quality that draws you in. Like ‘Maybe We’ll Drown’, ‘Watch Me Boil’ features both Needham and Violet singing together. There’s something very special when the two voices join in song as the pair croon “kick me on the fire / you’ll only make me higher” repeatedly over a sluggish guitar and drum rhythm.
There’s also something pretty catchy about ‘Suck It Out’, with Needham singing the title of the track over and over in the chorus. It’s a hazy track, with indistinct guitars and a steady drumbeat marching away in the background. Sounding like he’s far away on the track, Needham’s voice almost blurs together with the whirring guitars at times, whereas at others, the hissing guitar hook plays like an emergency siren.
The album plays out to the gentle and haunting ‘Hexbreaker II’, with Violet softly crooning on the track over a steady drum and guitar giving just a touch of feedback. It’s an eerie track that ties up the loose ends of the album, and provides a nod to the supposed curse that has been placed on the house of Violet and Needham. Spooky and pared back, the song feels like a gentle and subdued conclusion to an album that is at times a fuzzy, distorted experiment, and at others a homage to classic indie rock ‘n’ roll.
Having said that, I do feel like there’s something left to be desired on the album – not all of the tracks feel cohesive and some definitely stand out more than others. I would have liked to hear more of Violet and Needham singing together, as the tracks on which the two voices appear together feel the most rounded and memorable. But all in all it’s definitely not dull, and is worth a listen if indie surf rock is your bag.
Menace Beach’s second album ‘Lemon Memory’ is out now on Memphis Industries. They will begin a tour of the UK on the 31st of this month, which continues through February. The band are also scheduled to appear at SXSW 2017 in Austin in March. For more of TGTF’s coverage on the band, follow this link.
My first live review of 2017 took me north to Portland, Oregon, where the cold and rainy weather was a shock to my system, coming from the fairly mild winter we’ve had at home in Tucson. However, Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge proved to be a cozy place to catch a show, with a lovely log-cabin themed bar and restaurant upstairs and a small, but sonically spectacular, music venue nestled below. As it turned out, the venue’s crisp, clear sound was perfectly suited to the new FM-radio rock-leaning sound of last Friday evening’s headline act, London alt-folk duo Bear’s Den.
Bear’s Den were preceded on the Doug Fir Lounge stage by singer/songwriter Gill Landry, with whom they had shared a bond years earlier on Communion Music’s Austin to Boston tour. Formerly a member of the Americana collective Old Crow Medicine Show, Landry also has three solo albums under his belt. The most recent of those is a self-titled LP released in 2015, which, interestingly, includes a duet with Laura Marling called ‘Take This Body’.
Landry started his set with a couple of relatively uptempo numbers, even dedicating one song to the newly inaugurated American president (in a less-than-complimentary fashion, it must be said). But it soon became clear that Landry’s catalogue of bluesy folk rock leans to the self-described “tender” side, and the chatter of the still-gathering Doug Fir Lounge audience became a bit of a distraction from his subdued and somber acoustic balladry. Those of us near the front of the stage, though, got the full effect of Landry’s warm baritone in feminine muse-inspired songs like ‘Emily’ and Old Crow Medicine Show cover ‘Genevieve’.
The restless crowd had filled to capacity by the time Bear’s Den made their dramatic entrance to the stage, opening with the first two tracks from their recent album ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. Officially pared down from a trio to a duo consisting of Andrew Davie and Kev Jones, the band presented here as a six-piece, and their arrangements of the new songs were immediately lush and full, true to the recorded album versions.
The band made a subtle change of course mid-set with an interlude of older songs, including a pair of tracks from their 2014 album ‘Islands’. ‘Stubborn Beast’ was a particular treat, as it’s been a mainstay of the band’s repertoire for several years now. (We at TGTF featured this live version of it back in 2011.) Also thrown in for good measure was the poignant ‘Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away’, which I hadn’t heard since the band released it on their EP ‘Without/Within’ back in 2013.
Naturally, Bear’s Den’s newer songs dominated the setlist, with ‘Roses on a Breeze’ and ‘Dew on the Vine’ making an especially strong impact. But Davie and Jones also took full advantage of their four touring members in expansive live orchestrations of ‘The Love that We Stole’ and ‘When You Break’, which fit seamlessly into their recently modernised sonic milieu. Their drummer and keyboard player even pulled double duty on several songs, taking on brass arrangements in addition to their primary instruments.
After closing the set proper with a singalong chorus in ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’, Bear’s Den played a generous four-song encore, starting with ‘Napoleon’. Davie and Jones briefly descended into the crowd, along with touring bandmate Christof, for a fully acoustic rendering of ‘Gabriel’, then returned to the stage for a well-chosen cover of ‘Paul’s Song’, originally by M. Ward, in reference to the pervasive “Portland rain.” Cementing their warm reception in chilly Portland, the band closed with their instantly recognisable alternative radio hit ‘Agape’.
Friday evening marked Bear’s Den’s third appearance at the Doug Fir Lounge, but their first time selling it out, and they were clearly quite pleased by their audience’s positive response. The attention is well-deserved for a band who have spent most of the past five years on the road, cultivating and evolving their sound, whilst never losing track of the quality musicianship and songwriting that got them started in the first place. Bear’s Den are a band very decisively coming into their own, and this live performance bore full witness to their confidence and capability. A pure joy to behold.
Bear’s Den will be on tour in North America through mid-February. They will play a run of live dates in Ireland and the UK later this spring; you can find the details for those shows right back here. TGTF’s archived past coverage of Bear’s Den is through here.
After the cut: Bear’s Den’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Bear’s Den with Gill Landry at Doug Fir Lounge, Portland – 20th January 2017
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