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As far as band formation stories go, NYC’s Hiccup has to be right near the top of the list for the title of Most Unique. The band’s co-lead vocalists, Hallie Bulleit and Alex Clute, first worked together in The LLC, which is the house band for The Chris Gethard Show, a late-night TV program on the Fusion Network. The band’s job on the variety show is to create quick, energetic snippets of music to accompany the fast-paced action, and Bulleit and Clute connected over their shared love of ephemeral-but-catchy pop hooks. According to Clute, they wanted to “translate [those pop hooks] into something similar but with more of a lasting impression”. They recruited drummer Piyal Basu, and Hiccup was officially formed.
Hiccup are set to release their debut LP ‘Imaginary Enemies’ on the 24th of March via Father/Daughter Records, just after their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2017. The album’s lead single is titled ‘Teasin’’, and it demonstrates straightaway the frenetic musical energy that Bulleit and Clute must have developed as bandmates in The LLC. Despite its coy title, ‘Teasin’’ is a lo-fi sonic assault, driven by an agitated rhythm and a battering ram of guitar distortion. Unfortunately, the production and/or instrumentation don’t do the dual-layered vocal line any favours, and I wasn’t able to make out many of the rapid-fire lyrics. The press release for ‘Teasin’’ calls Hiccup a “breakneck-paced, harmony-laden indie band”, but any attempt at vocal harmony between Bulleit and Clute has been drowned in a morass of guitars cranked up to 10 on the fuzz meter.
All that being said, if ‘Teasin’’ is any indication, Hiccup’s concise pop-punk approach is sure to be an instant hit at SXSW, where an aggressive and striking first impression can make all the difference to a breaking band’s success. Their infectious, high-energy sound is perfectly-tailored for a festival atmosphere; I can see it working equally well on sunny daytime stages and dark late night club showcases. Look for Hiccup to be one of the most buzzed about American bands in Austin this spring.
As always, any information we bring you about SXSW 2017 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts, and the artist lineup is subject to change. For news and updates on SXSW 2017, please consult the festival’s official schedule here. Keep an eye on TGTF for further preview coverage of the festival ahead of our yearly pilgrimage to Austin in March.
Brooklyn-based chamber-pop collective San Fermin didn’t give themselves a lot of room for growth when they began their career with eight members back in 2012. Personal and professional space comes at a premium in a rock band so large and so diverse, and lineup changes are almost inevitable. San Fermin have seen their share of those, especially among their roster of female vocalists. However, the band’s latest single ‘Open’ shows both a slight change in musical direction and a renewed emphasis on the female voices in the group.
‘Open’ presents itself as atmospheric and ethereal, almost intangible, in contrast with the heavy clamour of earlier tracks like ‘Sonsick’. Here, a tapestry of soaring strings and high, lilting vocal melodies is gradually woven with threads of bass, percussion and guitar, creating a steady dynamic ascent. But lead singer Charlene Kaye, backed by a descant vocal from bandmate Rebekah Durham, sets a thematic tone of emotional descent into illicit longing with the song’s suggestive opening lines, “Finally, are you ready for me? Is she gone?”
The jarring sonic dissonance in the instrumental bridges between verses is perhaps a less-than-sublte reflection of the lyrical protagonist’s inner turmoil, but the overwhelming impression of the song is one of exquisite sensuality. Kaye’s delivery of the chorus line “give me your mouth, give me your skin” is both possessed and possessive; haunting in its desperation, but also alluringly seductive.
San Fermin’s longtime bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone describes the track as follows: “‘Open’ was the keystone of this new record – the song I kept coming back to that shaped the direction of everything else. It’s a call from that little nagging voice telling you that you might be a bad person, or at least want bad things.” If nothing else, the song will leave you wanting to hear more of San Fermin’s sharper, smoother new sound.
San Fermin’s new single ‘Open’ is taken from their forthcoming album ‘Belong’, which is due out later this year on Downtown Records / Interscope. The band is currently scheduled to appear at SXSW 2017; keep an eye on TGTF for our coverage from Austin later this year. Our extensive previous coverage of San Fermin, dating back to their self-titled 2013 debut LP, is right back here.
I confess that until recently, I’d never heard of The Blue Aeroplanes. However, after reading up on the Bristolian band’s history and influence, as well as the work of its various members, it’s pretty clear they’re connected in some way to a wide range of artists that I’ve been listening to for a long time. From ex-members working with the likes of Placebo and Massive Attack, to reportedly being the best band that Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield has seen live, it feels like The Blue Aeroplanes have, whilst remaining relatively underground, permeated the layers of music history.
The Blue Aeroplanes haven’t released an album in 6 years, since ‘Anti-Gravity’ in 2011. Bearing in mind their first studio album came out in 1984, it’s quite an impressive feat in itself that they’re putting out new material after all this time. That’s even before you consider the band’s incredible history. The Blue Aeroplanes have released almost 12 studio albums across 4 decades and have had a dizzying history of band members over the years. The band’s current lineup also consists of long-serving drummer John Langley, Gerard Starkie, Sharp (bass), Bec Jevons (guitar/vocals) and Mike Youe (guitar).
Their latest, ‘Welcome, Stranger!’, was just released last Friday through Art Star and a PledgeMusic campaign. The album has an old school feel to it, particularly in the edgy drawl of guitars and lead singer Gerard Langley’s distinctive smoky vocals evocative of ‘90s shoegaze. This is a rather wonderful and eclectic mix of subdued indie upbeat rock with Sprechgesang. I can’t tell if I think it’s brilliant or just a bit mad, although I guess there’s not reason why it can’t be both.
Tracks such as ‘Here is the Heart of All Wild Things’, Poetland’, ‘Retro Moon’ and ‘Nothing Will Ever Happen in the Future’ feature Gerard Langley speak-singing over the track, pulling it off with a biting poetic flair. In the latter, he speaks over a gently twanging guitar during the verses, before singing “we want to be wanted / we need to be needed / we love to be loved” during the chorus. I’d argue this is more a pithy comment on celebrity culture than a personal confession. On ‘Dead Tree! Dead Tree!’, which opens up to a steadily beating drum before a shoegaze-esque guitar breaks in, Langley and co. repeatedly sing out the title of the track. It even features Langley imitating a crow in a strained squawk. This one is a must listen.
A bit like ‘Dead Tree! Dead Tree!’, ‘Elvis Festival’ is brilliantly strange: “You sing badly / but no one cares / you are Elvis”. Other lyrics from it made me laugh out loud at first (“his wife sewed on the sequins / but he made the cape himself”), but then I couldn’t stop playing it for the simple guitar riff and drum beat and brilliantly utilised cowbell that had me dancing along, wishing I was at a festival. ‘Skin’ is a little more upbeat, a diversion from other tracks on the album. Not only does it feature vocals from Bec Jevons (also of IDestroy), but it’s also a straight-to-the-point, fast-paced track. It’s an interesting contrast to the other obscure tracks on the album. Jevons sings, “this is my skin and I welcome you in”, with skin being the central focus of connecting to someone else, not only in tactile terms, but the idea of letting someone into your skin and seeing the world the way that you might see it.
Overall, it’s an interesting and exciting listen and deserves to be properly heard to appreciate the songs’ witty wordplay. Its timeless quality makes the LP sound like it could have been produced any time over the past couple of decades. Despite the fact that I found it an enjoyable listen, it’s unlikely to remove the band from their underground cult status and into the mainstream. Having said that, from what I’ve read of the band so far, it doesn’t seem like that’s likely to be their goal. ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ feels more like the work of a band that is making music for the joy of it rather than for fame or notoriety. And it’s sure to be an album that will please the existing fans that have been waiting patiently for new material.
The Blue Aeroplanes’ latest album ‘Welcome, Stranger!’, out now on Art Star, definitely deserves a listen, if you’re not already a fan. The band are in the midst of a UK tour this month; check out the UK dates listed on their official Web site. The bits we have here on TGTF on the band are back here in our archive.
Header photo by Julie Gardner
Last summer, Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young released his eye-popping 37th album ‘Earth’, which he described as “a collection of 13 songs from throughout my life, songs I have written about living here on our planet together.” Though the songs themselves weren’t new, the recordings were. Captured while Young was on tour with The Promise of the Real, the live audio was mixed with overdubbed sounds to make a point about the artificial nature of our lives and the damage we’re causing to our planet.
Though he hails from Canada, Young has often used his artistic activism to weigh in on American political and social events. In a Rolling Stone interview around the release of ‘Earth’, he remarked “I vote with my mouth. That’s my way.” Young could easily have rested on his laurels following ‘Earth’, but instead he turned his attention to unfolding drama in the United States, speaking out once again with an album of original music titled ‘Peace Trail’.
Recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-la Studios and co-produced by Young and John Hanlon, ‘Peace Trail’ is a mix of predictable acoustic folk rock and experimental synthetic sounds designed to provoke a specific and unsettling effect. Title track and album opener ‘Peace Trail’ is musically what you might expect from Young, with fuzzy guitars and folk-style tribal percussion, but its central lyric “I think I’ll hit the peace trail / take a trip back home to my old town / ‘cos everyone back there says / something new is growing” hints that change is afoot.
The opening lines of ‘Indian Givers’ are the centerpiece of the album, clearly speaking out against the construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline: “There’s a battle raging on the sacred land / our brothers and sisters had to take a stand / against us now for what we all been doing / on the sacred land there’s a battle brewing”. The rhyme might be a bit awkward but the sentiment is solidly stated, over a musical backdrop that combines Young’s blues rock with stark rhythms and austere harmonies more reminiscent of Native American traditional music. Young continues his humanist sermon with ‘Show Me’, a starkly simple arrangement of two-line verses and a repeated one-line chorus that challenges listeners with an ultimate vision: “when heaven on earth is improved by the hand of man / and people everywhere get together and join their hands / show me.”
From that point, the album takes a bit of a left turn. The discordant and rhythmically disjunct ‘Texas Rangers’ comes as a bit of a shock after the predictable folk rock of the previous songs. As jarring as the musical effect is, the lyrics are almost moreso: “Look, can you see things / when they show you / what they want you to know / watch what you don’t see / on the TV / when they hide the truth”. In similarly disturbing fashion, ’Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders’ explores the dark specters of racial and religious distrust among white Americans: “I think I know who to blame / it’s all those people with funny names / moving in to our neighborhood / how can I tell if they’re bad or good?”
‘John Oaks’ goes back to familiar musical territory with a lengthy and detailed acoustic folk narrative about migrant workers and racial tensions. ‘My Pledge’ has a similar poetic structure, but a distinctly modern and synthetic arrangement of the vocal melodies. One particular stanza, “I’m lost in this new generation / left me behind it seems / listening to the shadow of Jimi Hendrix / ‘Purple Haze’, sounding like TV” seems markedly appropriate in that context. Young closes the album on a somewhat lighter note with ‘My New Robot’, though sinister undertones peek through the acoustic arrangement in a wide and weird array of computerised voices, and the song’s ending can only be described as alarmingly abrupt.
Neil Young is a legendary and prolific songwriter with a wide and established audience. On ‘Peace Trail’ he has once again used his craft as a vehicle for preaching his broad humanitarian social platform. The messages contained in its songs are deliberate and blunt, not particularly elegant, but in their style, very particular to Young as an artist. The real significance of the ‘Peace Trail’ comes in the fact that Young felt the need to make these statements publicly, and that, at this point in his career, he continues to find bold, inventive ways to keep awareness of political and social injustice at the forefront of our collective consciousness.
‘Peace Trail’, Neil Young’s second album of 2016 and 38th album overall, is out now on Reprise Records.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 10th January 2017 at 12:00 pm
Header photo by Phil Knott
Ahead of his scheduled appearance at SXSW 2017, electronic musician and producer SOHN ushers in the new year with his newest album. Though the London-born Christopher Taylor has spent most of his creative time since 2012 living in Vienna, he temporarily relocated to a house in sleepy Northern California to work on this second outing, ‘Rennen’. Interestingly, the topics he explores on this effort aren’t entirely escapist; instead, he faces his personal life and international politics head on. And in an unusual move, Taylor decided to take a less is more approach on this SOHN album, limiting himself to three elements going into each track.
Meaning the action of running in German, the title seems to sum up well his escape to America following the whirlwind of critical attention paid to him and the exhausting touring he undertook to promote his celebrated 2014 debut LP ‘Tremors’. “I was running nonstop that whole time,” he says. “It was this incredible blur of seeing the whole world all in one go. I was going from experience to experience to experience always saying yes, and that’s just an incredible thing to put yourself through as a human.”
Given the popularity of ‘Tremors’, which contained the robust singles ‘Bloodflows’ and ‘Artifice’, any follow-up would be difficult. But the time away seems to have done SOHN’s new music a world of good. The influence of his co-writing and production work for other, more pop-centric artists, from Rihanna to Disclosure, have seeped into ‘Rennen’. This provides surprisingly wonderful moments on the album that might otherwise not happened. Changes in Taylor’s personal life since his debut – including falling in love, getting married and learning he will become a father – also affected the content of the new album, providing a unique window into the artist’s psyche during this snapshot in time.
‘Rennen’ begins with the bluesy ‘Hard Liquor’, a darkly appealing track with a clear r&b bent, quickly followed by two already revealed songs. The repeated lyrics in ‘Conrad’ – “I can feel it coming, we can never go back” – could sum up well our collective sorrows of 2016, but Taylor meant to point specifically to Europe’s uncertain future and shaky political climate, no doubt to include the passage of Brexit. The use of empty bottles and kitchen utensils for percussion adds to the scrappy desperate feel despite the song’s undeniable pop sensibility. ‘Signal’ debuted with a music video directed by and starring Hollywood starlet Milla Jovavich. The single itself sees Taylor return to what we formerly knew as the SOHN sound: less pop and more experimental, with intriguing synth note and vocal compression and a bare yet oddly soulful drumbeat. ‘Proof’ is another great example of this.
The rest of SOHN’s ‘Rennen’ will delight electro heads but will also fascinate open-minded pop fans with plenty of interesting bits in a post-Bowie/Prince world. The synth chords on ‘Dead Wrong’ are borderline ominous, but accompanied by Taylor’s r&b vocal and rhythm, you can imagine it’d be something Michael Jackson might have come up with if he was still alive today. On ‘Primary’, Taylor revisits politics, specifically the start of the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign: “nobody seems able to really change / I can’t believe we’re not better / I thought we were past this”. The bright, percussion-led ‘Falling’ mirrors the intoxicating adrenalin rush of love with its upbeat tempo. Is it too much to wish for him to finally record in daylight and be totally happy on album #3? Ha. On the starkly bare title track ‘Rennen’, Taylor’s double-tracked vocals and at times falsetto are beautiful. Maybe we should leave him to follow his muse.
An electronic producer has, pretty much, infinite options at his fingertips when he sets his mind on making music. In challenging himself to do more with less, Taylor proves without a doubt through his vocal and songwriting abilities on ‘Rennen’ that he shines in a relatively minimalist environment. An incredible achievement.
‘Rennen’, the second album from SOHN, will be out this Friday, the 13th of January 2017, on 4AD. Prior to his scheduled appearance at SXSW 2017, he will embark on a European tour in early February, culminating in a show at London Electric Brixton on the 1st of March. For more coverage of SOHN on TGTF, go here.
Header photo by Tom Oxley
Though they’ve been skirting the music scene for a few years now, Reading alt-pop quartet Sundara Karma are beginning 2017 with a grand formal entrance. The release of their debut LP ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ follows a whirlwind 2016, which included a main stage slot at Reading and Leeds, a co-headline slot on the first ever BBC Music Presents US tour, and radio accolades on both sides of the pond from BBC Radio 1, Beats 1 and Sirius XM Alt Nation.
The album’s title is striking in its self-awareness, especially when you realise that the members of Sundara Karma (frontman Oscar Pollock, guitarist Ally Baty, bassist Dom Cordell and drummer Haydn Evans), all at or near the ripe age of 20 years, are still in the very midst of what most of us would call youth. Thematically, the songs on the LP revolve around the egocentric angst of coming of age. Musically, the slick instrumentation, propulsive rhythms and catchy choruses channel that very real in-the-moment angst into a set of instantly anthemic radio hits, delivered in Pollock’s endearingly petulant baritone. (It should be noted that, as a frontman, Pollock bears an immediate stylistic and vocal resemblance to The 1975 lead singer Matt Healy, and Pollock’s androgynous stage name “Lulu” suggests that the impression isn’t entirely accidental.)
Most of the songs on ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ were released on previous EPs, including a pair from 2015 titled ‘EP I’ and ‘EP II’. But a few of the tracks are new, and final track ‘Loveblood’, was reworked specifically for U.S. release. Though they were clearly written over a period of several years, the tracks mesh with remarkable cohesion in the context of the album’s overarching thematic concept. Opening track ‘A Young Understanding’ sets the mood straightaway with sharp, edgy guitars and a potent lyrical refrain, “reach for a side, reach for an understanding”.
‘Olympia’ explores the well-worn idea of the feminine mystique from a rather aloof third person distance, as Lulu describes his elusive muse: “modern Venus, tender and frail . . . she’s the best in all of Paris at aching and breaking hearts”. Later in the album sequence, ‘Vivienne’ is the flip side of the coin, a passionate romance requited: “wild eyes, skinny jeans / disengaged at just 19 / you and I stuck in the in-between”. Existential youth anthem ‘She Said’ might be considered the very core of the album’s character. Lyrically, its conflict plays out in the final verse, as Lulu sings of a boy “acting like he doesn’t care / but he’s really the most self-aware . . . ain’t it funny how we’re never certain ‘bout the way we are / another youth wasted, an eternity tainted”.
The folky guitar intro and bouncy handclaps of ‘Happy Family’ disguise an expansive, Springsteen-esque narrative about reaching a dead end in life and making hard choices: “been searching for a long time in this town / looking for a gold mine so we can get out / to finer days, we’ll waste away…” Simpler instrumentation and a folk rock rhythm are also the foundation for ‘Lose the Feeling’, where ethereally distant synths are added to set the sonic tone for a “lucid dream” experience.
The album becomes notably heavier toward the end, with the dark and ominous ’Be Nobody’ (“all the kids are ravers / ‘cos the church is now the club”) and the angular, shadowy ‘Deep Relief’, which contains the eponymous lyric “good things they come and go / and if they don’t we’re wired to forget / we bear a heavy load / ‘cos youth is only ever fun in retrospect”. Final track ‘Loveblood’ (U.S. Version) is a brooding, vampiric melodrama that takes a notable lyrical misstep in refering to the “taste of the thunder from her thighs”, but ends with a more thematically appropriate line “one last kiss, away she goes / obsessed with loveblood and no one knows”.
Fans of recent upstart bands like The 1975 and Catfish and the Bottlemen might find themselves similarly obsessed with Sundara Karma after a listen to ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’. It reads a bit like a John Hughes film from the 1980s and borrows sonic gestures from the dark synth pop of the same era, but its musical approach feels fresh and novel from a distance of 30 years, which, once again, is longer than anyone in the band has been alive. Despite their relative youth, the album’s one-two punch of youthful emotion and sonic intensity is sure to propel Sundara Karma forward as one of the biggest new acts of 2017.
Sundara Karma’s debut album ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ is out now on Chess Club / RCA Victor. It’s also available for streaming in America via Bee & El / Sony RAL.