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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 29th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
It’s been some time since we’ve heard from Northwest American indie band Modest Mouse. The last time they released and toured a studio album – 2007’s concept album ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank’ – ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was one of their full members (Marr has since gone on to his own successful solo career). 2015 will see the release of ‘Strangers to Ourselves’, Modest Mouse’s sixth studio album, which will be released in early March on Epic Records. Prior to Christmas 2014, the band revealed the LP’s first single, the all over the place ‘Lampshades on Fire’ (stream here). Just this last week, they revealed second single ‘Coyotes’, a much more understated and thoughful affair that gives clues that ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ will have its introspective, melancholic moments.
The accompanying promo video for ‘Coyotes’ allows the listener to join what appears to be an urbanised coyote as he takes a light rail journey in an empty train car through Portland, Oregon. (Apparently the whole thing as reported by the Portland Mercury is a re-creation of actual events that happened on the town’s MAX Light Rail in 2002, starring what I assume is a very well-trained, Hollywood-type, coyote-looking dog.) The timing of the journey, in the wee hours of the morning, further lends a lonesome air that matches the song. After boarding, the coyote chooses to sit, then relax on a seat on the train, looking about as comfortable as any one of us might be spending a lazy Sunday afternoon on the sofa in front of the telly.
As you’re watching this video, you can’t help but make the connection between the surprising content in a wild animal’s face and body language to our own overwhelming complacency about our changing environment, that it’s someone else’s problem to deal with. In the suburb of Washington, DC, where I born and raised, many deer and a whole host of other wildlife regularly feed on our gardens and build homes and nests in our trees and under our lawns, much to the chagrin of homeowners. From the animals’ perspective, they have had to make do while their own natural habitat and way of life have been encroached on. Who is wrong, who is right? The song is simple, beginning with an easy guitar melody, before it heads into a sweeping chorus with staccatoed notes and backing vocals. This is more of a thinking song.
Frontman Isaac Brock’s haunting lyrics – “Coyotes tiptoe in the snow after dark / at home with the ghosts in the national parks / mankind’s behavin’ like some serial killers / giant ol’ monsters afraid of the sharks” – point squarely to this moral conflict that developers and urban dwellers are challenged with. Going further, he shows how ridiculous we are in being all too often unwilling to find real solutions for our problems: “And we say: ‘We’re in love with all of it’ / and we say: ‘We’re in love with everything’ / and we say: ‘What can we say?'” Is there a one size fits all answer to the mess we find ourselves in, to habitats being destroyed, to global warming, to the destruction of our earth? No, but Modest Mouse deserve mad props for taking to their soapbox to shame us for our own complacency.
The new Modest Mouse single ‘Coyotes’ is out now. ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ will be released on Epic Records on the 2nd of March.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 21st January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Words by Harry Gold
he garage rock moniker usually carries connotations of abrasive and energetic guitars, steeped in fuzz to an immeasurable degree. However, in the case of Virginia’s The Young Sinclairs, the genre is given a new meaning entirely, with their interpretation of it seems to be largely different from other bands classified as such, offering a cleaner, more vintage sound, leaning less towards punk rock and intertwining themselves with the garage rock’s predecessor of rock ‘n’ roll. Describing themselves as “far more than just a fleeting retro act” on their Facebook, it’s clear that the band are filled with the confidence and conviction, and indeed, justifiably so. Taken from their recently released, self-produced LP ‘This is the Young Sinclairs’, the opposing sides of the band’s latest single both offer a welcome complement to each other, drawing out different musical ideas from the group’s evidently sizeable list of influences.
Single ‘Dead End Street’ ambles into view with jangly guitars that would not have been out of place had they appeared alongside The Velvet Underground’s softer, more conventional songwriting moments. The brilliantly haphazard piano sound manages to seem simultaneously both childlike and endearingly antique, characterizing the track with a late ‘60s psychedelic atmosphere, cohesively coupled with a jangly C86 indie twist.
With vocalist Samuel J. Lunsford sounding like a stoned Paul McCartney fumbling his way through a Byrds classic, the flip-side of the double A-sided single ‘Mona Lisa’ is equally as impressive. More Beatles comparisons arise in the artful harmonies of the backing vocals throughout the track, the overall effect being that the whole song feels like a genuine unheard relic that has not been newly recorded, merely recently unearthed. The band’s refusal to submit to the conventional way of recording, making the decision to record and produce all their music independently, flitting between various indie labels, distances their work from modern influence and corruption.
The double A-sided single ‘Dead End Street / Mona Lisa’ from American band The Young Sinclairs is out now on Ample Play Records. You can listen to both songs below.
A recent trend in the Official UK Charts is the rise in female solo singers off the back of appearances as a featured artist. Take Ella Eyre, Becky Hill and Jess Glynne for example, whose successes didn’t go unnoticed in 2014. Someone looking to replicate their achievements is Staffordshire-born singer-songwriter Laura Welsh. The 28-year-old cowrote and provided the vocals for Gorgon City’s summer anthem ‘Here For You’, though she herself looks set to come into her own with ‘Ghosts’, the fourth single to be taken from Welsh’s upcoming debut album, scheduled out in March.
‘Ghosts’ explores the theme of learning lessons from situations and overcoming them, rather than letting them get you down. It’s a strong message, which Laura Welsh delivers with an untainted conviction. Her commanding and captivating vocals bellow over the dramatic backdrop and its menacing drum beat, with powerful lyrics (written by herself and Jonathan Lipsey) to match. You can almost feel Welsh’s pain in the chorus, as she sings, “I need you to help me through / I can’t lay these ghosts to rest.”
The accompanying music video is made up of black and white vistas that depict charming scenes from New York City, intertwined with shots of Laura Welsh singing in the shadows. The video’s eerie overlay gives an ethereal feel: extremely fitting for a song entitled ‘Ghosts’.
Easily comparable to the likes of Jessie Ware and Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), Laura Welsh is an artist worthy of success on the back of her hard work and persistence. While ‘Ghosts’ may not be enough to get Welsh the recognition she deserves, it remains an extremely strong single from someone who has a bright future ahead of her.
Released today, ‘Ghosts’ is the fourth single to be taken from Laura Welsh’s debut album ‘Soft Control’, which is pencilled in for a 9th of March launch on Outsiders/Polydor.
Having formed in 2012, Amber Run already boast an impressive collection of achievements. The five-piece indie pop band, who met at the University of Nottingham, have made numerous festival appearances (including Reading and Leeds), received recognition on BBC Radio 1 from Zane Lowe and Fearne Cotton and have built up quite the following after touring with TGTF mates Kodaline and Lewis Watson. And it looks like 2015 is going to be even bigger and better for Amber Run, with the release of their debut album, which is being produced by Mike Crossey (Foals, Jake Bugg, The 1975) and Sam Winfield.
The first single to be taken from the album is ‘Just My Soul Responding’ – a powerful anthem brimming with raw emotion. There’s a real passion that shines through on the track, as lead singer Joe Keogh belts out the chorus in his Bastille-esque tone, “and it’s just my soul responding to the happy heart of holding, and it’s just my soul responding to the love you took from me.” The vocals are backed by soft keys and a powerful, thumping drum beat, as well as some strong harmonies that are bound to send a shiver down your spine.
Accompanying the track is a poignant music video, which follows the story of an underground fighter losing sight of what he loves. Rather than fighting for his relationship with his girlfriend, he fights for money, and tension builds between the couple. The video, embedded below and previously featured on TGTF before the holidays last month, ends on a cliffhanger, which is set to be concluded in another episode coming soon.
Amber Run, who recently headlined the Communion New Faces Tour, are regularly compared to Coldplay, one of the band’s major influences, and it’s clear to see why. If their first single is anything to go by, their debut album looks set to be one of this year’s best releases. This is definitely a band to keep your eye on.
Amber Run’s ‘Just My Soul Responding’ will be released next Monday, the 19th of January, on RCA Victor. The band embark on a seven-date UK tour next month; further details can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 8th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Last night on Steve Lamacq’s drivetime show on BBC 6music, longtime friends of TGTF Stornoway greeted the new year and their fans with a brand new song, the first single off their third album. Gathering enough money for recording the new album and hiring an outside producer (and for the first time on a Stornoway album) was easy: fans helped them meet their PledgeMusic campaign‘s target in just 4 days, and at the time of this writing, pledges are nearing four and half times the original goal. On production duties on the new album is Gil Norton, who produced such rock masterpieces as Pixies‘ ‘Doolittle’ and several of their other LPs, and Foo Fighters‘ first album as a band, ‘The Colour and the Shape’.
When I heard Norton’s name come up, my stomach started tying up in knots. Stornoway aren’t a straight rock band, so how on earth is this going to work? Is this really a good idea? When they released 2013’s ‘You Don’t Know Anything’, a mini-album of outtakes from second album ‘Tales from Terra Firma’, I’d already begun to wonder if they were stepping away from the simpler virtues of 4AD debut ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ in favour of a more impactful, louder sound. Thankfully, my fears – so far – have been unfounded upon the release of ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ to the wild. First impression: whatever happened to that band Fleet Foxes? Have they gone for good? Because if they have, Stornoway’s come to take their place.
A short bit of complex guitar played quickly begins the song, and as I looked at the single art – a bird diving headfirst through a manhole-shaped window and into the urban landscape – it made me think of the way sun dapples the surface of a river as the water ripples downstream. No time to contemplate life any further though, as you are met straight away with an massive harmony of the band members’ voices. Huge. Smartly, Norton chose to keep frontman Brian Briggs’ tenor voice front and centre, the primary focal point with just a slight yet perfect echo effect. The voices of Briggs’ bandmates and the myriad of instruments in the background bolster, not muddy, the strength of the main vocals, with prominent drum beats and crashing cymbals adding drama while also not taking away from the vocal line. The end result is gorgeous, sounding richer than anything they’d have been able to do in the past on their own.
The song itself is a homage to the famous Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, which just so happens to be one of my favourite poems. Ever. The voice of the poem tells of a choice he made at an earlier moment in his life where he had the option of two paths to take. In the song, the Oxford band have moved the story high up on a mountaintop where one can look down at where you might have gone, had you taken a different path. Briggs also continues the story of the poem with “sometimes when you get to the summit / you will see another hill to climb”, representing worthy ambition. The song may be short (barely 3 minutes to be radio friendly) but gets its point across well: although you can look behind you at the choices you might have made but did not, there are better, higher places for you to go from here.
The bird artwork is a not so subtle nod to singer Briggs’ academic and scientific training (he has a degree with ornithology), but its use here is intriguing in contrast to the cover artwork for ‘Tales from Terra Firma’, a cartoon image of a child in a bed as if in a boat at sea. As the title of the album has yet to be revealed, I suspect this image of wildlife beauty facing unfamiliar territory, and with determination of seeing things through, will play a role in the story the album will tell. It might also be an appropriate metaphor for the changes the band themselves saw themselves going through in making album #3 in a totally new way?
You can pre-order Stornoway’s third album now on their PledgeMusic page; the band explain their PledgeMusic project in the video below. Stornoway have previously announced a UK tour for April and May; all the details are this way. For our past coverage on TGTF on the band, go here.
Singer/songwriter Marika Hackman has recently announced the release of her debut LP ‘We Slept At Last’, which is due in February. Looking back at her prior collection of EP releases, including her seven-track outing ‘That Iron Taste’ from early 2013, it’s difficult to imagine why she hasn’t put together a full album before now. However, if the LP’s first single ‘Drown’ is any indication, the time she’s spent mulling over the details might translate into a set of songs well worth the long wait. Released on the 8th of December, ‘Drown’ immediately announces itself as being more complex and multi-faceted than standard singer/songwriter material. Despite her young age, Hackman has here displayed an already mature talent, lacing her darkly brooding lyrics with richly intricate and often unexpected musical elements.
Hackman’s lyrics are rife with metaphor and symbolism but nebulous enough to leave any concrete interpretation to the imagination of the listener. She sets up a clear rhyme scheme in the first verse, only to blur it in the second verse, and though the choruses are clearly stated, the song’s overall feeling is ethereal and elusive. The second verse in particular implies a hopelessly unrequited longing: “and I was born with a healthy appetite / for all that glisters white and pure in the night / I had to find your words, your heart / well, where can I start?”
The ambient sound of the song’s introduction is at clear odds with the gentle rocking of the acoustic guitar entrance, providing an early hint of the internal conflict that will play out in the lyrics. The lugubrious, deliberately lethargic vocal melody has an interesting chromatic flavor that clearly suggests an intricate art or folk song aesthetic rather than the usual straightforward tonality of singer/songwriter fare. Open harmonies between the double-tracked vocal parts give an impression of vast emptiness, and the dramatic gradual layering of the instrumental arrangement builds to an unavoidable sense of doom when the low strings come in at the end.
The disturbingly literal, yet somehow graceful video for ‘Drown’ by Marika Hackman can be viewed below. The single version of the track is available now via Dirty Hit Records, or you can receive it as an instant download when you pre-order ‘We Slept At Last’, which drops the 16th of February 2015.