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(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Ciaran Lavery – Live at The Mac

 
By on Wednesday, 21st December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Northern Ireland native Ciaran Lavery has just released his soon to be iconic live album ‘Live at the Mac’. Recorded December of last year, the album dropped ahead of Lavery finishing a short UK tour, which saw him revisit The Mac 2 years in a row. We don’t usually cover live albums, but since Ciaran only lives up the road from myself, we at TGTF decided we’d make an exception.

Lavery sprung to success after both his debut EP ‘Kosher’ and debut album ‘Not Nearly Dark’ were released in 2014. Two tracks in particular, ‘Left For America’ off the EP and ‘Shame’ from the LP could pinpoint Lavery’s seemingly instant success after racking up an impressive 29 million listens on Spotify, as well as producing many cover versions across the globe. Since then, he hasn’t stopped, as he states himself on his Web site bio, “I have a ridiculous fear of what might happen if I stop moving. I have to keep going”.

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‘Live at the Mac’ is Lavery in his purest form. He not only reprises the classic tale of a man and his guitar. But he presents himself in an honest and transparent sonic picture, through the fragile tone of his voice against the-bare boned accompaniment of his own guitar and a string trio. Somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live in Sin-é’, on this new album Lavery gathers together a collection of his most notable songs and presents them in the most captivating and moving setting.

The album begins with a short string intro that sways like the wind, as it implies the theme of his first track. Lavery subtly strengthens the string harmony with a light twinkle around the hinted chord progression, before bursting into ‘Awful Love’. A heavily emotional song is definitely the best way to open his set and thus begin the album. And with the added texture of Lavery’s light yet husky voice against the strong constant backbeat he creates with the heavy ghost note as he downstrokes the chords, there is an added element of urgency that gives the song momentum. Having such a stripped-back ensemble, the musical devices and harmonic expression has a lot more impact. You can tell this isn’t a problem for the group, especially within the second verse of ‘Awful Love’, which raises the level of intensity that bit further when the strings switch from the supporting role to a more forward approach with a strong staccato pulse.

Lavery moves from strength to strength, continuing the strong emotions with his highly acclaimed track ‘Left For America’. The thing about it in the live setting is that the strings seem to shed a new light on Lavery’s intentions with the song, their harmonic effects bringing new colour to the track. What seems like a song about change, with an undercurrent of travelling, now reveals the ups and downs within a family relationship. Without the drum groove from the studio version, it allows for the listener – the audience in this case – to completely immerse themselves in Lavery’s heartfelt and seemingly regretful lyrics. What helps to drive the message home, specifically in the chorus, is the juxtaposition of Lavery’s major key-based vocal melody against the delicate counter melody of the strings. Together they imply a sense of desperation similar to the bonds of a family when tested to extremes.

Among the 12 tracks on the album, 3 are covers, one of which is a Christmas song appropriate for this of year. The other two are Bruce Springsteen’s layman’s anthem ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ and Joy Division’s 1980 chart topper ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Lavery and his incredible string section beautifully represent both by portraying them in a far more desperate manner. It seems Lavery has dissected the lyrics of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, found the true message within and felt it worthy to portray it in such a way. The constant pedal drone in the higher register of the strings and the tremolo bowing technique at the end of the track act more like a sound design device than simply a musical addition to the track. The overall effect provokes a sense of unease and assists in driving the true message of the lyrics home.

Throughout the whole album, and considering the very small collection of musicians recorded on stage, the emotional highs and lows implemented are incredible. The gracious string work accompanying Lavery’s visceral vocal tone is stunning. And with the added texture of the clean acoustic guitar equipped with slack and bright-sounding strings, this ensemble is near perfect performing his amazing works.

8/10

Ciaran Lavery’s ‘Live at the Mac’ is out now on Believe Recordings. To read more about Lavery, including an interview at SXSW 2016 and coverage of his performances in Austin, go here. At the time of this writing, he is scheduled to be perform at SXSW 2017.

 

Album Review: Peter Doherty – Hamburg Demonstrations

 
By on Tuesday, 20th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Peter Doherty Hamburg Demonstrations album coverWhen it comes to Libertine and all round British poet/musician/artist Peter Doherty, you’ll often find divided opinion. There are those who are enamoured by his reckless yet gentlemanly demeanour, whilst the other side of the spectrum simply cannot stand him for both those reasons. Wherever you sit on this line, you can’t deny Doherty has written some of the most memorable songs of the last 10+ years with The Libertines. After the infamous splitting of said band, he then formed Babyshambles, a band that had almost as many ups and down as his prior, but without the immediate success. Now here we are with the second Doherty solo album, the follow-up to 2009’s ‘Grace/Wastelands’.

Doherty’s infatuation with Britannia always lends itself to his musical output. He does a sterling job of crafting songs filled with tales of the down and out, the shit on society’s shoe, but he also manages to romanticise it like no-one else. First track ‘Kolly Kibber’ is referencing a character from Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock – immediately we’re thrown into a picture of both woe and British romanticism. A much more folky sound – acoustic guitars, quiet drums, piano and bass – turns the song into a classic folk tale rather than a rock ditty, which he favours throughout the entire album. The choice of a folk direction allows the focus to fall upon his words, of which he certainly cannot be disputed at being a master of. On the occasion where electric instruments do make an appearance, they’re used with the same minimalist acoustic, with their only purpose to give a harsher edge to accommodate the darkness found in songs such as ‘Down for the Outing’.

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There’s certainly a sense that this solo album feels to have more of a focused, sober Doherty at the helm. ‘Birdcage’ is seemingly self-referencing, putting Doherty in a birdcage where the world is able to simple look and judge him, which is inevitably detrimental to his personal relationships. “Only love can bring the secrets of simplicity”: in so few words, Doherty manages to encapsulate a feeling that is impossible to recreate in anyway other than actually falling in love. This carefree and focused turn your mind takes in this state of bliss, where a serenity envelops you. Perhaps, in an almost satirical way, he next focuses upon the choices the youth of America have to make. “Come on boys, you gotta choose your weapon, J-45 or AK-47”. You can hear in his voice that he’s both fully invested in the message of peace and also in just having a good time.

Reaching a poignant moment, ‘Flags Of The Old Regime’ was previously heard back in 2011 after Doherty’s friend Amy Winehouse’s death. Reserved and fragile, the lyrics cut particularly deep when you consider the circus that enveloped and encouraged Winehouse and other celebrities who have gone down a road to ruin: “The fame they stone you with, you soldiered it, and made your fortune, but you broke inside”. Your emotions grow listening to this song, knowing that Doherty himself could’ve succumbed to the tragedy that befell Winehouse. His voice breaks through the gentle cadence he uses, with the final words supporting his recent sobriety, “let’s have it right, we all know the score, we’ve been up for nights, stood behind the door, sparkle on the floor, I don’t wanna die anytime”.

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A heart on sleeve gentleness hits with early single ‘I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)’. He uses mostly repetitive lyrics, though when he breaks out of this cycle, Doherty describes love in his unique way, with a raw and unbridled hurt. Perhaps most surprising is the third verse when American Civil war song ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ is introduced. ‘The Whole World is Our Playground’ is more of Doherty’s romantic yearn and hurt, but it’s on finale ‘She is Far’ where these topics take things to a whole new level. Quiet and reserved, he paints pictures of lovers and memories of London, memories that are fading away.

Doherty at a reserved level such as this is a blessing. It shows exactly why he is a gem to British music. Doherty proves on ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ he can play both erratic rockstar and forlorn folk singer with such ease that those who have sought to condemn him would do well to reconsider upon hearing this new album.

9/10

‘Hamburg Demonstrations’ is out now on BMG. To read more of TGTF’s coverage on Peter Doherty, follow this link

 

Album Review: Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct

 
By on Monday, 19th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Metallica Hardwired to Self-Destruct album coverOver the past 20 years or so, the announcement of a new
Metallica album hasn’t been much cause for celebration. Obviously, it’s great that the original behemoths of metal are still not only creating but experimenting. ‘Lulu’, anyone? But they’ve never really hit the same levels of influence that they did with their output in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With ‘Hardwired…to Self Destruct’ they’ve actually managed to recapture some of that earlier success and bring out an album that isn’t actually terrible. Running just under an hour and 20 minutes over two discs, ‘Hardwired…’ feels like Metallica are back in the game and want to make one hell of a statement.

Bar opener ‘Hardwired’, every track on the album runs well over five minutes which means there’s plenty of room for tracks to make an impression. iI’s just a ferocious LP, with palm-muted guitars and demonic sounding riffs, exactly what one wants from a Metallica album. As the album progresses, the intensity of delivery seemingly increases, proving that there’s life in the old dog yet, so to speak. It’s easier to break the album down into its two Volumes, as they both serve their own purpose:

Volume 1

‘Hardwired’, the shortest track on the record, is also the opener. It wastes no time in bursting through your speakers and completely grabbing you to go on this full throttle journey. Frontman James Hetfield has lost none of the anger that fuelled Metallica for so long, though presumably being in one of the most successful metal bands of all time it’s hard to really be *that* angry. Lyrically, the song stands as a testament to 2016: “we’re so fucked, shit out of luck, hardwired to self destruct”. If any truer words of this year have been laid to musical output, please drop us a line on Twitter.

‘Atlas, Rise!’ is the first of the big guns to hit us. Hitting with the immediacy of its predecessor, it takes its time in building to the velocity that Metallica operate at, using more melodic riffs to really power home Hetfield’s raging call of “Atlas, rise!” This method of rallying is used predominantly throughout the entire record, and pretty much the entire Metallica discography, so it’s not exactly new, but they do it bloody well.

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The centrepiece of disc 1 comes in the form of the final track, ‘Halo On Fire’ At over 8 minutes, it takes you on one hell of a ride. Starting with the standard ferociousness, it then falls into a more dream-like state, a la ‘Enter Sandman’, until it roars back into life. Rinse and repeat this over the course of 3 minutes or so. Then it moves into a second act, though nothing too extreme, as it’s the third act where things pick up. You’re rewarded for the perseverance throughout the beginning of the track with extremely melodic solos, a basic 4/4 beat and absolute power. A perfect closer for the first disc.

Volume 2

Opening the second half, ‘Confusion’ pretty much carries on with the groundwork laid in the prior half. The cleverly titled ‘ManUNkind’ is where a little variation comes into play, starting off with gentle bass and guitar playing wrapping around each other, before the obvious onslaught of noise and power. It does so with a little less melodrama that all of its predecessors, which is soon rectified by ‘Here Comes Revenge’, itself a searing and thunderous track.

Returning to a demonic state is ‘Am I Savage?’, which is rife with religious statement and straight up savageness, which answers the song title question that yes, yes they are. Volume 2 houses the tracks with brief lighter approaches, which only accentuates the barrage once it hits, as shown again in ‘Murder One’. Leaving it once again to the finale of the volume to bring the strongest attack, ‘Spit Out the Bone’ easily has the band at their best, with Hetfield’s snarl being particularly aggressive during the lines “long live machine / the future supreme / man overthrown / spit out the bone”.

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As a whole, ‘Hardwired…’ does what it’s main job ultimately was, and that’s resurrect the faith that Metallica still have the ability to create savagery and power that is timeless. They sound just as they did 20 to 30 years ago finally, and it just goes to prove why they’re the top dogs in the world of metal.

8/10

Metallica’s tenth and latest studio album ‘Hardwired…to Self Destruct’ is available now from Virgin EMI. For more on Metallica on TGTF, go here.

 

Single Review: Alessi – Wives

 
By on Thursday, 15th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Alessi Laurent-Marke, formerly known as Alessi’s Ark, has shortened her stage moniker to simply Alessi, ahead of a new album release scheduled for early next year. The new album’s current single ‘Wives’ is musically a step forward from Laurent-Marke’s previous quirky-but-cute brand of folk pop, but its feminist theme is a recurring one for Alessi, whose past songs about strong women have included ‘Wire’ from her 2011 album ‘Time Travel’ and ‘Veins Are Blue’ from 2013’s ‘The Still Life’.

In the press release for ‘Wives’, Alessi describes the new track as “a meditation on womanhood and the powerful roles, responsibilities and loving duties all women strive to fulfill in their lifetimes. [It was] inspired by women in my own family, in my close circle of friends and in the widely woven feminine collective.” She continues: “The idea of being someone’s wife inspires me to no end. Recently I’ve come to believe that to be married to oneself, to be committed to nurturing our own spirits, will give us the best chance at growing truly loving relationships with our partners.” This last idea is also, perhaps, an insight into Alessi’s newfound professional individualism.

The Luke Barham-directed video for ‘Wives’ is set in 1949, immediately post-World War II. It finds Alessi alternately narrating and portraying a fictional woman waiting for her soldier husband to come home from battle. Armed with a Ouija board, a crystal ball and a stiff drink, the wife sorts through her husband’s letters and belongings, trying to find a ray of hope. Alessi’s voice conveys a combination of desperation and stoicism as she conjures her character’s stark reality: “Her weathered skin is whiter now / to their four doves, she reads aloud in their room . . . Dad’s not been home for a few weeks now / he doesn’t bring in the paper, so the dog’s learnt how”.

Alessi’s further lyrical reflection imagines the hardships of “a fisherman’s wife / waving him off into the night” and the stresses faced by the wife of a porter: “she made him a back brace, just in case . . . she prays it works / she is pregnant again.” Her final lines bring the song around to a poignant first person perspective: “I could never have thought I would be your wife / but here I am, you are the love of my life / here I am, I am the love of your life”.

Alessi’s musical arrangement is in a similar vein as her previous guitar-based alt-folk, but in place of her light folky bounce and self-deprecatingly ironic tone, ‘Wives’ has an air of austerity, a strikingly unadorned sense of realism. Ultimately, ‘Wives’ suggests that the music on Alessi’s forthcoming new LP was composed by a songwriter whose message is clear and whose primary intent is to be taken seriously.

9/10

‘Wives’, Alessi’s first single under her newly shortened stage name, is due out on the 13th of January 2017 via indie label Super Fan 99. TGTF’s coverage of her previous project, Alessi’s Ark, is right back here.

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Single Review: Fenech-Soler – Cold Light

 
By on Tuesday, 13th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

2016 has definitely turned out to one of the most significant years of upheaval in my life, and I imagine it probably has for you too. A band who also underwent significant changes themselves this year are Fenech-Soler. Formerly a four-piece, the band from Kings Cliffe announced earlier this year that bassist Daniel Soler (whose full Maltese surname was used to name the band) and drummer Andrew Lindsay voluntarily and amicably departed from the band.

This left brothers Ben and Ross Duffy to carry on Fenech-Soler’s work as a duo. ‘Kaleidoscope’, an EP they unveiled in September, clearly shows they have no intention of stopping. The idea of them carrying on as a twosome may sound weird on paper, but electronics and production have been so important to the electropop act’s sound – have a listen to their 2010 eponymous debut and 2013’s ‘Rituals’ – that it seems like a no-brainer to keep it tight and in the family because they’re so highly competent in what they do.

The Duffy brothers announced at the start of this month that the third Fenech-Soler album ‘Zilla’ will be released at the start of February 2017. With that announcement, they also revealed an early cut from the album. ‘Cold Light’ begins less electro than I expected, with a more indie guitar sound, as a set of repeated haunting chords welcome you in. It’s a nicely bracing beginning, if sounding a bit tentative, both instrumentally and lyrically (“cold light, I look into the sky / fresh blood, you and I / I know I will not stray too far / when you’re close, I feel no fear of the dark”). That said, you can tell it’s designed to be a dramatic build-up, but to what?

The payoff comes in around the 3-minute mark, when the synths come in with a vengeance. Now, that’s more like it, lads! The rhythm introduced here is a great ‘70s-esque groove, morphing the tune from the otherwise chill feeling earlier in the proceedings into a full-fledged dance floor banger. Though it starts up slow, the conclusion of ‘Cold Light’ suggests Fenech-Soler are not eschewing their electropop roots. No, they demonstrate in their new single an intriguing way to create anticipation towards an anthemic ending.

8/10

‘Zilla’, Fenech-Soler’s third album and their first as a duo, will be released on the 3rd of February 2017 on So Recordings. They announced last week a few UK dates in February and March of next year, sandwiched between American and European shows. To read more of TGTF’s past coverage on Fenech-Soler, follow this link.

 

In the Post #156: Manchester’s Elbow make a spectacular return with ‘Magnificent (She Says)’, from upcoming studio album ‘Little Fictions’

 
By on Friday, 9th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Manchester alt-rock legends Elbow have returned to the music scene in spectacular fashion with an aptly-titled new single ‘Magnificent (She Says)’. The highly-anticipated new track is our first glimpse of Elbow’s forthcoming seventh studio album ‘Little Fictions’, which is due for release in the early part of 2017.

“This is where the bottle lands,” sings frontman Guy Garvey, laying the groundwork for a lyrical stream of consciousness “where a tiny pair of hands finds a sea-worn piece of glass and sets it as a sapphire in her mind.” Garvey’s freely associated lyrical phrases evoke the gauzy image of a young girl standing on a beach, while his bandmates re-create the swell and expanse of the ocean with a dazzling array of grand musical gestures.

As is often the case, Elbow’s orchestration is rich and vivid, with a bit of a retro feel. Warm, round guitar tones and bright keyboards contrast sharply with the angular drama of the full string section. The rhythm section is notably prominent, keeping a steady and urgent pulse under the breadth of sophisticated harmonies and shifting tone colors.

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Talking about the rhythm section inevitably brings us round to the elephant in the room, namely the departure of Elbow’s drummer Richard Jupp earlier this year. Jupp’s deft touch and dynamic sensitivity on the kit arguably helped to define the band’s sound, and the remaining four members (Garvey, guitarist Mark Potter, keyboardist and producer Craig Potter and bass player Pete Turner) haven’t publicly spoken about how they’re dealing with his absence. But they seem to have stood up to the challenge, at least in the context of studio recording, and their customarily strong rhythmic component is certainly felt here.

‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is by turns cordially familiar and crisply refreshing, in classic Elbow fashion. Its lyrics are graceful and poetic, and perfectly paired with the elegant orchestral setting. Despite the rather unwieldy song title, the broad declaration in its eponymous refrain, “It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says / It’s all gonna be magnificent”, might well be seen as an optimistic portent to the remainder of ‘Little Fictions’.

9/10

‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is the first single from Elbow’s seventh LP ‘Little Fictions’. The album is due for release on the 3rd of February 2017 via Polydor/Concord. TGTF’s previous coverage of Elbow is right back 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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