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Allison and Catherine Pierce, known collectively as The Pierces, are one of the more established acts in a recent series of sister bands on the alternative rock scene. (You can find previous TGTF coverage here.) Following the same path as bands like Haim, Heathers, and First Aid Kit, The Pierces have refined their songwriting skills and natural propensity for seamless vocal harmony into a hybrid blend of folk structure and rock instrumentation. After touring their 2011 breakthrough album ‘You & I’, the Alabama natives relocated to Los Angeles, where they sampled the hallucinogenic tea ayahuasca and soaked in the local Laurel Canyon sound.
The title track to The Pierces’ latest album ‘Creation’ reveals that the California experience has added some striking new elements to the pair’s musical style. The shimmering percussion and echoing yodel of the backing vocals conjure up imagery of spirit journeys through the desert, while bright, mellow instrumental melodies evoke warm West Coast sunshine.
The structure and lyrics of the admittedly singable chorus, “You live, you learn, you laugh, you cry”, will inevitably bring to mind Alanis Morissette’s 1995 single ‘You Learn’, at least for those of us who came of age with ‘Jagged Little Pill’. But while the overall message of the two songs might be the similar, the mood and musical language are entirely different. The Pierces’ lilting vocals and placidly atmospheric instrumental effects are certainly easier on the ears than anything Morissette ever released.
‘Creation’, The Pierces’ fifth studio album, is due for release on the 1st of September via Polydor Records, along with its title-track single.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
After a 2-year hiatus that saw frontman Jonny Pierce chance a short-lived solo career, The Drums are back, reinvigorated and curiously back to how they were when they first got started in 2008: simply a duo starring Pierce and best friend Jacob Graham. When the band, then a four-piece, first hit the indie scene in 2009 with then Steve Lamacq favourite and summer stunner ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, things looked pretty superficial. When I interviewed Pierce and then drummer Connor Handwick in the autumn of 2010, it was obvious to me quickly, especially from Pierce’s erudite discussion of the importance of film and photography to him while drinking a hot cup of tea, not booze, that there was more to the Drums than meets the immediate eye.
For better or worse, their self-titled debut album shot to #16 on the UK Albums Chart that same year, probably due to the sales of people who didn’t scratch below the surface. However, I think those fans who bought their sophomore album ‘Portamento’ and might have wavered in their loyalty or those expecting another album chock full of chirpy tracks like ‘Me and the Moon’ and ‘Best Friend’ might have trouble stomaching this leaner, meaner version of the Drums.
The vibe off taster track ‘Magic Mountain’ suggests the red satin jacket and high school sports jerseys Pierce has favoured in previous incarnations of the band might be up for retirement permanently. Why do I say this? Because, well, despite naming their song with the same moniker of one of America’s enduring theme park franchises Six Flags, this sound pretty dark. If anything, except for maybe the joyous handclaps at the start, it sounds like it was concocted in a mad scientist’s lab. A mad scientist from Scooby Doo, maybe.
Otherworldly synth notes wiggle and shake against menacing Graham’s guitar notes. Pierce sings high up the scale, the minor key vocal line appearing purposefully dissonant against the instrumentation and driving rhythm. Further examination of the lyrics adds causes additional confusion: “inside my magic mountain we don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on / inside my magic mountain I don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on”. Is “my magic mountain” some kind of euphemism? I can’t take this seriously.
It’s strange structurally as well, with an unnatural pause at 2 minutes 25 seconds before the song starts again. In its premiere with Noisey, Pierce describes the song as ” ..about shedding off what binds you and protecting what’s good, finding a safe place away from everyone and everything that wants to destroy you”. Hmm. Perhaps maybe ‘Magic Mountain’ is meant to be a grower, but I can’t see it appealing to their pop fans who swooned over ‘Let’s Go Surfing’. This is the Drums, mark IV. I still have an open mind about their future, but this left me cold.
No word yet on when the third album from the Drums will be released, but the word on the street is that the album was completed earlier this year, so I’m expecting something out before the year is out. I’m also guessing from their Soundcloud that they’ve started their own label, Minor Records. Should be interesting to see what comes of it, even if it’s sinister. Watch an album teaser from the duo below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 8th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
It’s been some time since we’ve heard from Melbourne folk rockers Husky. It’s been 2 years since their fab debut ‘Forever So’ on Seattle’s famed Sub Pop Records; I worry when it’s been some time since I’ve heard from a band, I always assume the worst (band break-up). So it was with some relief that hearing just last week that the Aussie group, comprised of frontman/songwriter Husky Gawenda, cousin Gideon Preiss and Evan Tweedie, have returned to us, revealing a taster from their so far untitled sophomore album.
‘I’m Not Coming Back’ is the lead single from the second outing. Despite its rather negative sounding title, tempo-wise it’s an upbeat song (handclaps at the ready, anyone?) and not anything I expected from its name. The guitar work is masterful, as are the harmonies that made fans fall in love with them on previous ‘Forever So’ tracks such as ‘The Woods’. As for its meaning, I assumed, most probably incorrectly, that the song was about a man with who split town with fury after being jilted by his lover. Maybe that exists as a subtext, but the tune is more of a farewell letter that feels scathing to the whole place: “my hometown has cursed me lately / I’m not coming back!”
However, in the bridge, there seems to be some doubt in his mind, as if his conscience is answering him: “I woke with fright, with the moon outside / Sleep won’t come (You don’t really need it) / You just can’t tell (You never can, son) / I hope I’ll breath. (Hope so too)”. Maybe, then, this running away is not just from his hometown but from the ties that bind us to our old ways, and the fear we have in ourselves when we leave the things that have become familiar. Rich is its lyrical content while also being spellbinding in the richness of its instrumentation and harmonies, if this single is anything to go by, the second LP from Husky will be a good’un indeed.
‘I’m Not Coming Back’, the first single from Husky‘s yet to be named second album, is out now on Sub Pop.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 25th June 2014 at 12:00 pm
Several days ago, the 2012 Mercury Prize-winning alt-J unleashed the first single from their hotly anticipated sophomore album ‘This is All Yours’. Since winning the Mercury gong, the band has downgraded from a quartet to a trio: bassist Gwil Sainsbury announced in January he was leaving the group for personal reasons and from all signs, his departure was amicable. alt-J have since decided to soldier on as a three-piece and though they are one man down, the first taste of their follow-up shows no indication of any growing pains (losing pains?) caused by Sainsbury’s departure. Actually, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ might be their most accessible song to date.
As described by the band themselves in this piece by NPR’s Bob Boilen, the song’s intent is to recreate, sonically, the physical hurt and pain of missing someone (‘pining’) and the song has nothing to do with coniferous trees at all. Unfortunately, what’s been getting too much attention is the trio’s use of a Miley Cyrus sample from her song ‘4 X 4’. I think that’s truly unfortunate. Cyrus’ actual lyric of “I’m a female rebel” doesn’t add anything to the song’s meaning itself, and I actually think it’s jarring to the haiku-like exquisiteness of singer Joe Newman’s own words (“Sleeplessly embracing / Yawn yearns into me / Plenty more tears in the sea”) lost in an enticing sea of reined in electronic beats that encircle the listener.
As has been pointed out by several music fans, if no-one had pointed out the vocal sample was from Miss Cyrus, we’d probably never have known, and maybe the song would have been better for it if we’d been in the dark. As it is, the addition makes the song more of a novelty and detracts from the otherwise beautiful, otherworldly quality of ‘Hunger of the Pine’. Also of note, it appears Newman has either toned down or they’ve somehow managed to lessen the nasal sharpness of their frontman’s voice, which was the major stumbling block to me liking alt-J in the first place.
All in all, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ confirms the anticipation for ‘This is All Yours’ is well-deserved.
Listen to ‘Hunger of the Pine’, alt-J’s latest song, in this Video of the Moment feature. (The band have since pulled the stream of the single from their Soundcloud account.) ‘This is All Yours’, the group’s second album, will be out on the 22nd of September on Infectious Music.
Previous coverage of the band – when they were still a foursome – can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 19th June 2014 at 12:00 pm
Sivu’s next single, ‘Miracle (Human Error)’, got its premiere radio play Tuesday night on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 evening programme. The promo video for the song continues his excellent track record of pairing his thought-provoking lyrics with a compelling story told unconventionally in front of our very eyes. From the very start of the video directed by Georgia Hudson, as we’re confronted with the words, “Are you afraid of death? Because I am too.”, you can’t help but be mesmerised. The single also represents a less alternative, more conventional singer/songwriter style of writing for Sivu, which I think I could pay off for him in garnering a whole new group of fans.
The song itself is made up of pretty dark subject matter. Is it about existentialism? I sense this is the case, at least partially. The expansive chorus of “Because it’s time to collide / This human error’s what were made for / But now were dead inside / We’re ones and zeros of a half lived life” shows Sivu seeming to equate human beings to machines made up of binary code, of discrete yeses and nos, “dead inside” as if our lives have already been chosen for us, “half lived” because we don’t have control over it. Part of this too my guess is pointing towards society’s reliance on technology and how social media and the internet have made us desensitised, emotionless.
But this isn’t the whole story. If you close your eyes and listen to what else and how he’s singing, the vocal delivery is not sad. It’s uplifting, in a sweeping way, and it feels to me like a love song that he’s cleverly hidden amongst truly philosophical issues. If you return to the start of the song and verse 1, he sings of what wonderful things human beings are, with the potential to go on and do great things: “Are we a miracle / Tell me glory / As we’re bound and born / To rule beautiful places”. Yet in the video, we’re presented with images of lonely people in late night situations: drinking alone, lying in bed alone, looking at themselves in a mirror alone. Not so wonderful, eh?
Then Sivu goes on, “We carved a future for ourselves / In our lowest of lonelys”: he is pointing to people who were cognisant of putting themselves in these situations. Further, the lyrics “But still we break like a toy /Without a parachute on / I’m a cog with a glitch so worn / No man can fix / No man can fix” illustrate human frailty beautifully. In contrast to the chorus, he’s acknowledging we aren’t made of steel, we aren’t machines. And that is an inherent quality of being human, just as is “to err is human”, which is what I’m imagining he was getting at with the “(Human Error)” part of the song title: we are human and have the ability to make choices. Some lead to better things and some hurt us, but us having the choice is critical.
Going back to what is at the song’s heart, a love story, the repeated request of “I need a miracle, a miracle” and the most dramatic of all these lyrics, “Are you afraid of death / ‘cause I am too / ‘cause they’ll be no more me / And they’ll be no more you”, are nothing short of enchantingly haunting. Morrissey was right: another important quality of being human is the need to be loved. The beauty of ‘Miracle (Human Error)’ is in recognising we all need to feel love, along with the fact that no one of us is perfect. Yet as humans, we have the power to change, but it has to come from within. Loneliness is not a terminal condition, as long as you’re willing to open your heart, to chance it.
‘Miracle (Human Error)’, Sivu’s forthcoming single, is out on the 28th of July on Atlantic. Sivu has confirmed appearances scheduled at Tramlines, Beacons Festival, Reading and Leeds and Bestival, amongst others. For a full listing of his summer appearances, visit his official Web site. My previous coverage of Sivu is right this way.
Fun fact: The lead single from each of Cheryl Cole’s albums has gone straight to #1 in the Official UK Singles Chart.
The former Girls Aloud singer stormed the chart with her debut solo single ‘Fight For This Love’ in 2009, from her ‘3 Words’ album. This was followed by ‘Promise This’ in 2010 (from ‘Messy Little Raindrops’) and ‘Call My Name’ in 2012 (from ‘A Million Lights’).
Cole, who is returning as an X Factor judge for the show’s 11th series, revealed that she would also be making a return to music, with a new album scheduled for a winter release. This comes as no surprise considering the television music competition will be dominating our screens for approximately 5 months, providing Cheryl Cole the perfect opportunity to market her new material.
On the 2nd of June, the lead single from her currently nameless album premiered on radio stations across the UK. Titled ‘Crazy Stupid Love’, the track features English rapper Tinie Tempah and was penned and produced by Wayne Wilkins, who previously worked on Cheryl’s previous hits, ‘Fight For This Love’, ‘The Flood’ and ‘Promise This’). With all these elements combined, surely this must be one of the best pop tracks of the year?
‘Crazy Stupid Love’ is about falling head over heels in love with someone, but fans aren’t going to fall head over heels in love with this song instantly. During the first couple of listens, the track sounds more like a leaked demo rather than the final release, as it seems to build but never really climaxes.
Nevertheless, this is a track that benefits from being overplayed, which is bound to happen considering the amount of television chat shows Cheryl is expected to appear on and the inevitable overplaying on radio stations. Once you familiarise yourself with the track, it’s actually quite enjoyable, mostly because of the saxophone instrumental.
The saxophone MIDI has dominated the charts recently, having featured in the likes of high-flying tracks such as Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’ and Ariana Grande’s ‘Problem’. Hoping to ride on that success, ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ features a surprisingly catchy, post-chorus saxophone instrumental. It might not make you want to dance as much as the Calvin Harris-produced ‘Call My Name’ did, but it will get stuck in your head.
As for the lyrics, they aren’t particularly memorable. Cheryl’s verses are full of the typical clichés that we have come to expect from pop tracks, and the chorus would have been a redeeming factor if it wasn’t for the line, “It’s like a roller coaster, but I’m only going up”, which doesn’t really make much sense, if you ask me. Thankfully, Tinie Tempah’s verse contains his typical short, catchy lines, saving the lyrics from being a total shambles.
With her very loyal fan base and numerous public appearances, Cheryl shouldn’t struggle to achieve a high chart position. However, due to the mixed reception the song has received, ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ is not a guaranteed #1, unlike her previous lead singles. Nevertheless, it’s a definite grower that would benefit from a good remix.
Cheryl Cole’s new single ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ is released on the 20th of July, with her next album to follow in the last quarter of 2014.
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