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Album Review: Kate Nash – Yesterday Was Forever

 
By on Tuesday, 17th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Kate Nash Yesterday Was Forever album coverLast year at SXSW 2017, I came across established pop princess Kate Nash performing at Latitude 30, wearing a pink boa, a cute dress and fishnet stockings. It was 10 years on since her breakout hit ‘Foundations’, yet in this bar in Austin, it seemed all her fans in town were there and we were transported back in 2007. It’s those devoted fans who put money into the Kickstarter kitty for her fourth album ‘Yesterday Was Forever’, out now on Nash’s own label Girl Gang Records. She’s very different from the BRIT School graduate thrust into the spotlight before the age of 20 and who made ‘Made of Bricks’ for Fiction Records a decade ago. She has an acting career, with the starring role in Netflix female wrestling comedy GLOW, and splits her time between London and Los Angeles. Nash feels a responsibility “an advocate for young women – that’s what drives me and my career.” But what does Kate Nash sound like on record now?

At 14 tracks, it’s an album that overstays its welcome and would have benefited from with some self-editing. That said, Nash hasn’t put out an album since 2014’s ‘Girl Talk’, so she has a lot to say and this time, without the hands of a major label, she can say what she wants, right? She has struggled with mental illness over the years – most notably, obsessive-compulsive disorder – and says this album ‘reads’ like a stroll through her teenage diary. Spoiler alert: it’s a bumpy ride. You remember the teenage years: hormones raged (‘Body Heat’) and confusion about relationships (‘Take Away’ vs. ‘Hate You’) and your own identity abounded. What will determine your enjoyment of ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ lies in whether you can look back at that time in your life with any sort of fondness.

A good litmus test is opener ‘Life in Pink’, in which Nash tries to balance her inner demons (“wish I could let my brain / decide and stop the pain”) with trying to be cute (“I keep heart-shaped glasses close to me”), screeched in a Courtney Love-esque vocal. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Love is one of Nash’s heroes. You either embrace or reject the contrast of sugary sweet popster and punk rocker grrl. On ‘California Poppies’, Nash channels Love again for another vocal cord-ripping exercise.

One wonders if Nash considered doing an entire album with a punk feel but only walked it back because, well, pop sells better. Early taster ‘Drink About You’ suffers from throwaway lines like “spots are coming out on me, what should I do?” But to the general listener, it’s more important that the high energy tempo and the gay guitar tune are catchy. She goes into the popular pop topics of sex whilst drunk on ‘Karaoke Kiss’ and a disconnection with the digital world on ‘Twisted Up’, both songs exploring female desire.

Most of the songs on this record are encased in a sugary sheen of production. It’s unfortunate, as when Nash breaks from this trend on ‘Musical Theatre’, she’s also the most honest with herself and with us. The mostly spoken word song sounds like a feed from her mind, a stream of consciousness while she copes with an anxiety attack. It’s a brave moment and should as applauded as an emotional moment Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit has written. But that’s not what ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ will be remembered for. This is a schizophrenic album with pop, punk and attempts at balladry, with mixed results.

7/10

Kate Nash’s fourth album ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ is out now on her own Girl Gang Records. She is currently in the midst of a North American tour, stopping at Englewood, Colorado’s Gothic Theatre tonight. For past coverage on TGTF on Nash, go here.

 

Single Review: Friendly Fires – Love Like Waves

 
By on Wednesday, 11th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Good things come to those who wait. Or so the saying goes. If you believe those words to be true, then us Friendly Fires fans should have been in for a treat with their latest single. The St. Albans trio completed a trio of gigs last week, culminating in a triumphant sold-out show last Thursday at London Brixton Academy. Naturally, expectations for their return to stage, as well as to our ears, were understandably high. The same day, the band released ‘Love Like Waves’, which has thrown me for a loop. Having followed them through their first two albums – their 2008 Mercury Prize-nominated, self-titled debut and 2011’s ‘Pala’ with a parrot festooned on its front – I’ve heard from truly great things from them, as well as some missteps.

The new single, unfortunately, feels like the latter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to hear its tropical beats and revel in its lazy hedonism. There’s a beauty to the simplicity, I suppose. Hand over your tenner to me now, there’s going to be a lot of dad-dancing to this tune at a festival near you this summer. The crescendo building towards the end is predictable. The best thing about the track are the vocal delivery: Ed Macfarlane gives his vocal cords a good workout, flitting from falsetto to regular singing voice. In clips of their shows last week that I’ve seen so far, things haven’t changed since the those heady, Mercury nom days: Macfarlane is still the centre of activity onstage, and without his charisma, this song just wouldn’t work. The lyrics are a slick balance of repeated, easy to sing along to phrases and innuendo that most probably have missed.

All taken together, ‘Love Like Waves’ is their best attempt at creating a new summertime guilty pleasure, probably best enjoyed with a fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it. Friendly Fires’ main goal is to get bodies out on the dance floor, and that goal hasn’t changed since they got us to ‘Jump in the Pool’ and dance with the ‘Skeleton Boy’. If you consider ‘Love Like Waves’ in that context, they’ve succeeded. If you think too hard beyond that, you’ll be disappointed.

6.5/10

‘Love Like Waves’, Friendly Fires’ newest material in 7 years, is out now on Polydor Records. We’ve written quite a bit about Friendly Fires over the years, and you can read through the entire archive here on TGTF through here.

 

In the Post #160: Ben Howard announces his new album ‘Noonday Dream’ with first single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’

 
By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

If you follow Ben Howard‘s social media, you might have noticed a quiet but mysterious breeze blowing around his internet persona recently. That soft breeze became a full blown wind last Wednesday, as Howard announced the impending release of ‘Noonday Dream’, his first solo album in 4 years, which follows his breathtaking 2014 album ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Howard hasn’t been entirely idle in the interim, releasing an EP and a full long player last year with his side project A Blaze of Feather.

Howard has previewed ‘Noonday Dream’ with lead single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’, which received its first radio play last Wednesday on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. In the accompanying interview with the DJ legend, Howard himself described the song as “a bit of a patchwork quilt”. He went on to briefly explain the song’s birth and evolution over time: “It went through a lot of different lives, this one, and I think you can sort of tell.”

Indeed, the song’s soundscape moves through palpable stages over the course of its 7-minute duration, starting with an a harsh, synthetic intro and progressing to a lighter acoustic backdrop under Howard’s softly intoned vocals. The entire recording has a broad, airy quality, in contrast to some of the heavier tones he’s taken in the past, and distant voices in the background suggest a vast sense of open space. About halfway through the track, layers of percussion and keyboards add light and color to the sonic palette, and the texture thickens dramatically with the introduction of a dark guitar melody near the end.

Produced by Howard himself and recorded at various locations in England and France, ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ sounds like not only a continuation of what Howard did on ‘I Forget Where We Were’, but an even further extension of that atmospheric neo-folk sound. Lyrically the new song is as evocative and elusive as Howard has ever been in his writing, but musically he extends well beyond his acoustic folk rock beginnings. Take a listen to ‘A Boat to an Island off the Wall’ via Spotify at the bottom of this post.

8.5/10

‘Noonday Dream’ is due out on the 1st of June on Island Records. Just after the album’s release, Howard will play the below list of live dates in the UK. Listen back to Ben Howard’s interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1 and the song’s first play through here; the stream will be available for the next 24 days. find TGTF’s past coverage of Ben Howard back through here.

Wednesday 13th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 14th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 28th June 2018 – Edinburgh Playhouse
Friday 29th June 2018 – Manchester Albert Hall
Saturday 30th June 2018 – Cornwall Eden Sessions

 

Album Review: Lissie – Castles

 
By on Tuesday, 27th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Lissie Castles coverWhen we at TGTF last spoke to American singer/songwriter Lissie in a post-show interview at SXSW 2016, she had just moved from California back to her midwestern home of Iowa to find her roots after years living on the West Coast. She was also touring her album ‘My Wild West’, which was written and recorded as a kind of farewell to California. Now firmly established in the Midwest, Lissie has released a new record titled ‘Castles’, which is as much an exploration in musical sounds as it is an examination of the life she’s created for herself.

Ironically, despite Lissie’s decampment to farm country, the songs on ‘Castles’ are less organic sounding than you might expect, especially from a woman whose last album was firmly grounded in folk rock. Working with a host of collaborators including electronic artist Nick Tesoriero, Lissie has fashioned a dreamy, ethereal soundscape of synths, drum machines, and distant backing vocals. “When I wrote on a guitar I felt limited”, she says. “It was so much more spontaneous and natural to sit down with someone who would give me a beat and a chord progression on a synthesizer. I started having all these new ideas.” Lissie’s sonic experimentation places ‘Castles’ into a pop/r&b scenario, and while she doesn’t venture into uncharted pop territory, it’s a new sound for her, and the result is, predictably, a bit patchy.

Opening track ‘World Away’ sets the sonic tone with a hazy dream pop sound apropos to an album called ‘Castles.’ But Lissie’s raw singing voice, which was powerful enough to cut through hefty guitars and drums on ‘My Wild West’, doesn’t sit as comfortably in the new synthesised backdrop. Her natural raspiness occasionally comes across as abrasive, and the thinner underlying arrangements expose the squareness in her lyrics and vocal delivery.

The album gains momentum early with a strong trilogy of songs. Lissie’s voice is strong in title track ‘Castles’, whose fairy tale analogy and catchy refrain are immediately engaging. Piano ballad ‘Blood & Muscle’ (http://www.theregoesthefear.com/2017/12/video-of-the-moment-2750-lissie.php) has a smoky quality that suits the natural timbre of her singing, especially as the chorus builds to its dynamic climax. ‘Best Days’ has a  country rock feel which might have worked even better had Lissie more fully committed to it, under lyrics about wanting both “a pickup truck” and “a diamond ring”.

From there, the album begins to lose traction. ‘Feel Good’ and ‘Boyfriend’ carry on the country rock flavour, but the lyrics in both are trite and slightly preachy, as Lissie sings in the latter, “I don’t want a lover, I want a man / coming from the heart now, living in my heartland”. In an attempt to branch out from country rock, Lissie makes two overtures to r&b on ‘Castles’, neither of which is particularly successful. The vocal delivery in ‘Crazy Girl’ feels contrived when she sings “I’ve been talkin’ shit all of the time, other girls foolin’ around”, and the effect is amplified later in the tracklisting in ‘Love Blows’, where the understated synth backing exaggerates the stilted, uncomfortable lyrical rhythm.

Near the end of the album in ‘Peace’, Lissie softens her tone and weaves her voice delicately between the bass groove and the exotic plucked string instrumentation. Here she finds a sweet spot, and though the moment doesn’t last long, it’s an interesting suggestion of where she could potentially take this new soundscape. Final track ‘Meet Me in the Mystery’ is another strong piano ballad whose minor key harmonies reflect the elusiveness in its title, while electric guitar, synths, and percussion create a dramatic tonal tapestry behind Lissie’s naturally bewitching vocals.

‘Castles’ is without a doubt a brave departure from Lissie’s former folk rock sound. She gathered a host of contributors, including collaborators from ‘My Wild West’ and producers AG and Liam Howe to help her navigate the new soundscape but in the end, the album may have suffered from “too many chefs in the kitchen” without enough definitive direction or intent.

6.5/10

Lissie’s new album ‘Castles’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl. She will play a run of four live dates in the UK in April; you can find all the details here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Lissie is collected back here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

 
By on Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

CMA album coverAlt-country singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews appeared last week in Austin for SXSW 2018, to preview her forthcoming seventh album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. Andrews garnered attention in the UK last year with the re-release of ‘Honest Life’, her self-produced sixth record, which drew comparisons to Laurel Canyon-style folk artists like Joni Mitchell. But where ‘Honest Life’ had more of a folk flavour, ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ finds itself firmly in the country category, albeit a more old-school, traditional country sound than you might hear on mainstream radio on either side of the pond.

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits), ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ captures both a well-worn country sensibility and a fresh, modern take on the traditional style, with subtle elements of rock and blues sweetening the mix. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Andrews’ 10 years of life on the road as a touring musician, and it deals with themes that feel at once timeless and conspicuously current. She says:

The people that I’ve met on the road these past few years got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family,” Andrews says. “It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues. People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America—and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people—myself included at some point in my life—are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.

Gospel-tinged title track ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ addresses that idea in straighforward fashion, but with an underlying message of optimism. Lyrics like “fortune might buy diamonds, all shiny and new / but it can’t buy you happiness or love, that is true” might seem trite when written on a blank page, but they ultimately ring sincere when couched in Andrews’ simple melodies and her gently yodeling folk-country vocal style. The dynamic growth of her singing voice in the song’s powerful chorus showcases both strength and subtle emotion.

The album’s fundamental optimism is reprised later in the tracklisting with another gospel-laced track ‘Kindness of Strangers’, which celebrates small favours in the face of unrelenting adversity. “People come and people go,” Andrews observes here in a jaded tone, ” . . . you need the kindness to survive”. Standout track ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ is one of the album’s more spirited moments. Its uptempo country rock underscores a tough tale of hard times on tour with a sense of perseverance and humour. But Andrews also takes the opportunity to muse on the situation’s larger implications: “what happened to the middle class / mom and pop, five and dime? / soon they’ll be knocking it all down / to build that high-rise.”

A handful of well-worn love songs including ‘Rough Around the Edges’ and ‘Took You Up’ pull at the heartstrings with yearning melodies and all-too-familiar lyrical details that feel comfortable even when they aren’t pretty. She easily juxtaposes lofty imagery like “desert sunsets and movie scenes” with the more mundane “frozen dinners when money’s tight / making love on a laundry pile”, finding equal emotional value in both. Andrews’ voice exudes a palpable sense of warmth and welcome in humble ballad ‘This House’, singing “for every rose there’s a weed / but every weed is welcome / this house ain’t much of a house / but it’s a home.”

Near the end of the tracklisting, the dryly ironic tone of ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ displays a typically country-rock bravado and the emotional subtlety of trying to mask a pain you don’t want to admit to in the first place. “Mother says we love who we think we deserve,” Andrews remarks here in a wry tone, “but I’ve hurt worse.” The album closes with ‘Long Road Back to You’, which underscores the pervasive longing and quiet hope in this collection of songs. The guitar riff between its verses is achingly desperate, while Andrews’ vocal in the yearning refrain is a barely-restrained cry of loneliness. But the return of gospel harmonies in the piano and backing vocals manages to leave behind a prevailing sense of promise.

Courtney Marie Andrews has made her career in music the hard-working, old-fashioned way, and her commitment to the traditional country aesthetic pays off in spades on ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. The album’s beauty lies in its simplicity, which highlights Andrews’ delicate balance of grit and grace. Her rough-around-the-edges vocal style infuses her lyrics with a sense of authenticity, and her dusty, sepia-toned soundscape conveys both steadfast resilience and hard-won hope.

9/10

‘May Your Kindness Remain’ is Courtney Marie Andrews’ seventh studio album and her second release for Mama Bird Recording Co. (America) / Loose Music (UK). The album is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 23rd of March. Stay tuned to TGTF for live coverage of Courtney Marie Andrews at SXSW 2018, to post in the coming days. Our past coverage, including Andrews’ answers to our SXSW 2018 themed Quickfire Questions, is back through here.

 

Single Review: Ten Tonnes – Lay It On Me

 
By on Wednesday, 21st February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

It’s this time of year when we here at TGTF start to get nostalgic about our times in Austin and the acts we discovered there. Ethan Barnett, stage name Ten Tonnes, has been busy since I covered him live at SXSW 2017 last year. He performed at the Twix afternoon showcase at Bar 96 on Rainey Street on Wednesday, where I interviewed him. He also appeared at the Radio 2 showcase that evening, hosted by BBC Radio In Concert presenter Jo Whiley. It was a big week for him, as his new single ‘Silver Heat’ was released while we were in Texas. An EP with a rollicking title track single, ‘Born to Lose’, followed in the summer. More music lovers were introduced to his music in a blistering array of festival appearances and UK tour support slots with Stereophonics and RAT BOY. Getting out on the road and gaining confidence is in front of audiences will no doubt come in handy as his career progresses.

Barnett now has a new single out this month, and it’s notably different from his previous bluesy efforts. The first song Barnett says he’s written with someone else, ex-Kaiser Chiefs Nick Hodgson, ‘Lay It On Me’ eschews the frenetic guitar chords of ‘Silver Heat’ and the adorable vocal twangs of 2016’s ‘Lucy’. As if to cash in on the current popularity of lo-fi, an echo effect on Barnett’s vocals makes it sound like he’s singing to us down a tunnel. Is this necessary? Not really. A driving rhythm chugs along as he shows remorse of having left behind someone he truly loves. These verses of regret lead to an instrumental crescendo, oddly just over 30 seconds into the song. The vocal punctuation of “I know it’s been a while but I’m back again / back again to face the symphony” is an elegant way of stating he’s facing the music and owning up to his mistakes.

One step further, he’s offering to be anything his partner needs, as if it’s a modern ‘Lean On Me’. The single ends with a chaotic climax of banging guitars and Barnett’s vocals fighting with the cacophony. It’s an odd way to end a song with such a positive message, like we’ve gone from being totally serious to totally silly. The acoustic version of ‘Lay It On Me’ played solely by Barnett on a guitar feels truer to who he is an artist. Maybe it’s a sign that he should go back to writing alone to stay true to the artist he wants to be?

6/10

‘Lay It On Me’ from Ten Tonnes is out now on Warner Brothers. You can compare the studio single version and an acoustic live version by Barnett alone in the embeds below. To catch all of our past coverage on Ten Tonnes on TGTF, go here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours 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 no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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