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Album Review: Slaves – Acts of Fear and Love

 
By on Monday, 13th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Slaves Acts of Fear and Love album coverKent punks Slaves started 2018 with releasing the first record from their own record label Girl Fight, Lady Bird’s ‘Social Potions’, in February. A music editor’s first thought upon hearing a band has started their label is to wonder whether the band plan to reduce their own creative output to nurture other artists. Put away that worry for the time being with ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, Slaves’ third studio LP, which follows 2016’s ‘Take Control’. Following their brief flirtation with hip-hop and collaboration with Beastie Boys’ Mike D on track ‘Consume or Be Consumed’, the pair decided to return to work with Jolyon Thomas, producer of their breakthrough debut album ‘Are You Satisfied?’

The record begins with the “OI!” and dissonant guitar notes of acerbic ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’. Lyrically, it’s a blistering commentary on the pretty people who don’t care about anything except posing for photos on their phones and posting them on social media, but it’s not particularly fast. As an opener, this works well to ease the listener in for what’s up ahead. The most abrasive of all is ‘Bugs’, with brutalist guitar riffs and pounding drums accompanying lead singer Isaac Holman’s growls. “Another letdown generation! / Full of inaccurate information! / Another letdown generation!”: there seems no other intention but to rile up the fans to shout along with him. On the other side of the spectrum, pop-punk previously released single ‘Cut and Run’ is the most accessible track here, with its fast tempo and relatively reserved lead vocals from Holman. Jarring squeals of microphone feedback in the last third of the track seem to be the one rebellious moment, you know, in case you’ve somehow missed that this is a Slaves single.

There are some signs that that Holman and his compadre Laurie Vincent may want to be known for more than just loud instruments and shouting: take, for example, ‘Daddy’, which features only melodic notes from an electric guitar for instrumentation. “There were things he wishes he did / back when he was a kid” laments Holman, who is occasionally accompanied by the sweet voice of a female backing vocalist. Makes one wonder if Holman, now with a toddler of his own, has begun questioning his own mortality and is heading for the mid-life crisis he sings about. Guitars grind and drums pound on the title track, but only in between Holman’s wry observations on life, or perhaps more correctly, regret: “it’s funny how you forget things / so important at the time / it’s funny how you forget things”.

‘Chokehold’, the other single to precede the album’s release, is a sneering retelling of being dumped, surprising in that Holman admits that in the presence of his mates “I pretended that I didn’t care / but on the inside I was burning, my eyes trembling”. It seems the lads have grown up, previously lashing out at ‘Angelica’ on the last go-around, now having been in a more committed relationship where real feelings were felt and hearts were broken. The guitar lines on ‘Magnolia’, an ode to that creamy off-white paint colour that Holman insists lives on at least one wall in 65% of UK homes, bear similarity to those on ‘Chokehold’. Er, maybe ‘ode’ is the wrong word to use. On the track, Holman mocks conformity and living up to societal ideals but in a different way to ‘The Lives They Wish They Had’.

‘Photo Opportunity’ is the most interesting track on ‘Acts of Fear and Love’, as it seems to be a snapshot of what’s going on in Holman and Vincent’s heads these days. In between the loud bursts of sound, the dueling thoughts of not wanting to be stopped by a fan for a photograph and feeling directionless despite having ‘made it’ reminds us that for all their fame, they’re just normal blokes who have their moments of insecurity and lack of direction. While the overall sound of this third album from Slaves is indeed louder and more primal than on ‘Lose Control’, the surprising moments of nonaggression suggest there might be a day when Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent want more than to shout at us and make our ears bleed. It’s a conclusion I’m pleasantly surprised they’ve arrived to faster than I expected.

8.5/10

Slaves’ third studio album ‘Acts of Fear and Love’ will be out this Friday, the 17th of August, on Virgin EMI / AMF Records. They’ll be touring the UK in November. To catch up on our past coverage of Slaves on TGTF, come through.

 

Single Review: Cassia – Get Up Tight

 
By on Thursday, 9th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

With the blazing sun heating up the last few weeks for us here in the UK, we really are in need of some great summer tracks to keep us going. Luckily enough, up-and-coming indie Northern band Cassia have released their new single ‘Get Up Tight’ just in time. The tune has been teased at for a while now, at first being part of the band’s live repertoire, but after several cheeky teaser videos including this one, Cassia finally gave in and officially released the punchy track.

The summery instrumentation of ‘Get Up Tight’ has been kept bright with the use of twangy guitars and accented beats. The accompaniment never lags and is energetic from start to finish. Despite its repetitive nature, there isn’t a moment that feels boring. At any point in the song, you are able to pick out each instrument and its part perfectly: there’s always something else to catch your attention, even if it’s the fifth time round on the riff, an unusual quality in a song. Quite often, bands of this genre go a little over the top on instrumentation, Blossoms being a prime example, but Cassia have balanced it expertly, creating enough interest whilst allowing the audience to fully appreciate each instrumental aspect of the tune.

Admittedly, the vocals take a little getting used to. You almost have to tune your ear to Jake Leff’s diction like you would to someone with an unfamiliar accent, but it’s worth the acclimatisation. There are some unmistakable similarities to other artists within Leff’s voice, Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen being the most prominent, but there is also his own unique and definitive style mixed in. Leff’s vocal expression is cool and blasé, especially in the chorus where he casually half-speaks the title line, adding a laid-back feel to the song. The lyrics continue this relaxed theme with a ‘Devil-may-care’ attitude, blatantly obvious in lyrics such as, “She’s in love with someone else / none of it does bother me”. This lyrical perspective, combined with the punch of the bright accompaniment, really makes ‘Get Up Tight’ a tune to kick back and relax in the sun to. For a band with relatively little experience in the music industry, Cassia have demonstrated some real expertise in their crafting of their new single.

8.5/10

Single ‘Get Up Tight’ from Macclesfield’s Cassia is available now from Distiller Records. They are currently on tour around Europe; for information on those dates and their future autumn UK tour dates, visit their official Web site. https://www.wearecassia.com For more of TGTF’s coverage of Cassia, follow us here.

 

Single Review: The Twilight Sad – ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’

 
By on Thursday, 26th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

It has been a difficult few months for indie music fans following the shocking, untimely death of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison in May. As I’ve learned through Scottish friends in the industry and who knows who – which seems to be just about everyone to everyone else and back again – the musician community in Glasgow is remarkably close-knit. It is, then, unsurprising that his death would colour his friends The Twilight Sad’s latest release. Upon hearing ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, it’s impossible to separate the inherent unease of the song from the sadness on the loss of Hutchison. A dissonant whine of guitars introduces the song before an insistent rhythm begins that plays throughout the whole song, accompanied by the drone of guitars. All together, the instrumentation set off a feeling of fretfulness even before James Graham utters a single word in his trademark Scots brogue.

As the song goes on, it’s unclear to the listener if he’s singing to another person, to himself and his own anxieties, or a combination of both. What is amply evident is the amount of self-loathing going round in Graham’s head. There’s so much that he vocalises it first as someone else being the problem (“I don’t wanna be around you anymore / I can’t stand to be around you anymore”) before turning the anxiety on himself and self-diagnosing himself as the problem (“you don’t wanna be around me anymore / I don’t wanna be around me anymore / you can’t stand to be around me anymore”). Graham has described the song being “about my ongoing battle with not liking myself, trying to be a good person but constantly feeling like I’m failing myself and everyone I care about.” To the questions “Will you stop if your tears come back?” and “Will you stop when your tears run dry?”, Graham responds, “I’ll drink everything inside”, internalising and hiding the pain that otherwise would be on show through the act of crying. Whose pain will he drink up? His own, or someone else’s? Like film noir, it’s all terribly intriguing.

I have a favourite line in the Margaret Atwood novel Cat’s Eye that reads, “Whoever cares the most will lose.” The greatest tragedy of caring is while you can be in touch with what you feel and what you desire and why, you end up turning it around on yourself and making the assumption that bad things have happened because of what you’ve done. The repeated “why do you do this to yourself?” as the song climaxes at its conclusion seems to support this. For a song so rooted in mental illness and the burying of that pain, it’s weird for it to be so oddly catchy. But it is. And it’s the kind of song that feels like it would be best heard live in Scotland. If you have been in Glasgow when it’s pouring down rain, you understand this.

8.5/10

‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, the first new material from The Twilight Sad since 2014’s ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’ is out now on Mogwai’s label Rock Action Records. There’s talk of a new album from the group, which I imagine must be dropping some time this autumn, as they are already selling tickets to tours in North America (mid-October to early November) and the Continent (mid-November) and have two dates in the UK lined up following those tours, on the 27th of November at London Bush Hall and the 29th of November at Edinburgh Liquid Rooms. Seems strange that a Glaswegian show has been omitted, so I’d keep an eye out for one on their live schedule on their official Web site. Past Twilight Sad goodness is through here.

 

Single Review: Woodes – Change My Mind

 
By on Monday, 16th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter and producer Woodes began the new year with the release of second EP ‘Golden Hour’, the follow-up to her highly praised 2016 self-titled debut EP. More recently, the indie artist has been showcasing her talent in newly released single ‘Change My Mind’. Considering her previous work has been endorsed by streaming giant Spotify and caught the attention of scream queen Emma Roberts, the single has a lot to live up to.

Just as the lyrics suggest (“caught me by surprise…”), the opening verse does indeed surprise you after the gentle and atmospheric intro. Woodes’ vocals burst into the song accompanied by a syncopated, lo-fi drumbeat. Her signature vocals are immediately the star of the show, surely a production choice: it is a good one. Her vocal tone defines Woodes from other female indie artists such as LP or Sigrid. Characterised by a perfect mix of soft and staccato inflections, her vocals shine past all elements of the accompaniment. The lead vocals have been enriched by several layers of backing vocals that dip in and out of the song, echoing the lyrics. The placement of the backing vocals and the reverb effects that have been put on them have created a dream-like effect, these effects are reflected by numerous synths in the heavily-layered choruses. This dreamy, silky smooth texture brings out the richer tones in Woodes’ vocals, contrasting earlier tracks like ‘Origami’.

The lyrics present a fresh take on the basic theme of relationships, focusing on one that is past its best by date. There is a sense of female empowerment in the chorus where Woodes sings, “You could go and change my mind”, leaving the hard work of fixing a relationship to her partner. How refreshing. Although Woodes doesn’t opt for the copout ‘my heart is broken’ route that so many artists do when writing about love, there is a need for melodic and lyrical growth in ‘Change My Mind’ that she does not fulfill. As if in parallel, the lyrics, melody and accompaniment remain fairly unchanged throughout, and although these elements are all well-written, they become flat and need a change-up. Maybe the addition of a bridge with a little excitement in it could resolve this? However, even as is, Woodes has met her own high standards on ‘Change Your Mind’ and produced a worthy track.

8/10

Woodes’ new single ‘Change My Mind’ is out now. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Woodes, go here.

 

Single Review: SG Lewis feat. Clairo – Better

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

SG Lewis is not your garden-variety DJ. Probably the best description I’ve read on him is from this i-D article from last year, penned by former Heartbreaks singer Matthew Whitehouse, no less: “bit like if Bon Iver had gone to university in Liverpool and discovered club culture through a night out at Chibuku.” Though he is most famous through high-profile collaborations with soul singer Ray BLK, rapper Dave and decidedly not urban at all singer/songwriter and friend JP Cooper, it should be noted that Lewis is no slouch in the songwriting department. He’s a producer who when given the task of coming up with a tune, he gives as much thought to the nuts and bolts of the songwriting as he does to the production needed to make it a dance floor banger.

Last week, he released new single ‘Better’, which stars the topline lyrics and voice of Clairo, a 19-year old Bostonian YouTube sensation. The two had a chance meeting in Los Angeles to write together and the rest, as they say, is history. The pop song is a true 21st century creation: Lewis was quick to give credit on Facebook to his two cosongwriters, Montreal via Vancouver Juno-winning beat producer Pomo and guitarist Danny McKinnon. The song is pure summer, full of handclaps and the production remarkably simple on purpose, as Lewis explains, “I kept the beat unquantized from the jam as I felt like it gave the record an old disco feel.”

Uncluttered and with this old school feel, your ears naturally focus on Clairo’s vibe-y vocals and the spare backbeat that effortlessly accompanies her. The lyrics are from well trod on, but always welcome pop territory: Clairo sings of unrequited, or at least thwarted love. As I’m sure some of you know, this kind of love can be difficult to accept, especially when you know it can never be, even if all you want is to be close to someone you care about: “I know it isn’t right / you creep into the night / maybe you want a friend / maybe not in this life / why is it so hard, hard to please you / all I wanted was you in the room”. ‘Better’ may not be the flashiest pop entry of 2018, but it’s wonderful proof that songwriting is more important than all the bells and whistles in the world.

8.5/10

‘Better’ by SG Lewis and featuring the vocal talents of Clairo, is out now on PMR / Virgin EMI. Back in April, Lewis released ‘Dusk’, six tracks that represent the first part of a three-part album. Stay tuned for ‘Dark’ and ‘Dawn’ to follow later this year.

 

Single Review / Essay: William Doyle – Millersdale

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

Back in 2015, William Doyle released his second album under the nom de plume East India Youth. The emotional, electronic bliss of ‘Culture of Volume’, which dropped on XL Recordings a short time after his showcasing at SXSW 2015, was one of my top 5 albums of the year. North American, European and UK tours to support the album followed, but then Doyle announced in March 2016 that he was ditching the East India Youth project altogether. He disappeared for a time, re-emerging later that year to release ‘the dream derealised’, a collection of nine mostly instrumental, self-described “abstract and lo-fi pieces”, with all of the album’s profits going to mental health charity Mind.

In an article with The Line of Best Fit, Doyle explained, “I’m releasing them now as a cathartic measure, and as a message for others who may be going through difficult times themselves…What I told myself at the time, what I can tell you now: You are not in danger. You are not going insane. You are not alone.” The detachment from reality that results from derealisation, also known as depersonalization disorder, often occurs with or is triggered by other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Read more about it here at Psychology Today. As brave as this public acknowledgment and support of mental health was, it wasn’t a one-off. Doyle has spoken at a number of events since with his first-hand knowledge of the hard slog artists go through while living out their dream vocation and the mental health problems that come as a consequence of participating in an all too often unforgiving industry. He is also working with the NHS to develop a “a mental healthcare ‘package’ that can be bought by labels and written into record deals.” Things may be moving slowly towards healthier musicians’ lives, sure, but there is reason to be optimistic, if cautiously.

Following the death of his father, he was uprooted to a Southern residential development called South Millers Dale in Hampshire. The overly ordered, cookie-cutter style of the neighbourhood was in direct opposition from the traumatic incident that led him to the new environment. As he wrote a few days ago on his Facebook page, “It was a stark change of scenery, and a strange environment for a 13 year old to process loss and experience grief. Something about the modern suburb’s artificiality, with its planned and plotted nature and its winding, serpentine roads, seemed to jar when overlaid with something so human as grief.” Doyle has since relocated several times but had the opportunity to revisit the house 2 years ago, helping him to evoke “the untethered spirit of creativity” that led him to first begin making music in his suburban bedroom as a teenager and dream of a musical career.

New single and 5-minute opus ‘Millersdale’ is the next chapter of Doyle’s mental health journey. The euphoric feel of past tracks on the 2014 Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Total Strife Forever’ and ‘Culture of Volume’ is here, along with the unfettered release of free jazz in the intro and at the bridge. His vocals recall the jaw-dropping beauty of those on ‘Carousel’ but this time, they’ve got more oomph, evidence of hope and confidence. The accompanying promo video for the single starring Doyle is a perfect foil to the song. Directed by Sapphire Goss, contrasts are smartly utilised to address the light and the dark, familiarity and disorientation, the seeming humdrum of suburbia and fireworks.

In the new promo photos to go along with the release of ‘Millersdale’, Doyle is no longer dressed in a suit like in the East India Youth days. Instead, he’s in tailored khaki from head to toe, looking like he’s about to go on safari. The suburban David Attenborough, perhaps? Maybe, maybe not. The most important things to William Doyle these days is having control over his art and not chasing anyone else’s schedule or measures of success. And like for all my friends in this pressure cooker of a business, above all, I hope he’s happy.

7.5/10

William Doyle’s new single ‘Millersdale’ is out now. Stream and/or buy the song and read the lyrics at his Bandcamp. To read our past articles on his previous project East India Youth, 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. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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