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Album Review: Hilang Child – Years

 
By on Friday, 10th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Thomas Harrison

Hilang Child Years coverLondon-based singer/songwriter Ed Riman, known professionally as Hilang Child, captured my attention earlier this year at SXSW 2018, with his memorable performance at the official showcase of his record label, Bella Union. While the lighting and atmosphere at the Parish that night contributed to the brilliance of his show, it was the vivid soundscapes he created on stage that echoed in my mind long after the evening was over. Riman’s solo performance at SXSW was a natural precursor to the release of his upcoming debut album, titled ‘Years’.

Thematically, this LP is a prolonged introspection on reaching adulthood and the ephemerality of youth. As with many such intropective albums, ‘Years’ is sonically atmopheric and suggestive of moods rather than specific storylines. To label its music as “impressionistic” would be accurate but might call to mind the wrong ideas: Riman paints here with broad, sweeping brushstrokes and vivid colors rather than the soft, misty haze that term generally implies. The most immediate example of that bold sonic quality is in the album’s opening track ‘I Wrote a Letter Home’.

The main focus throughout ‘Years’ is on Hilang Child’s overarching sonic textures. In this regard, Riman says that he has learned through experience to trust his instincts in writing and self-producing these unique soundscapes. Speaking of his early recordings, he remembers, “I was always more excited about my home demos, recorded on a laptop, than the final recordings. I learnt that the only way I could convey the sound I wanted was by producing it myself, despite having little knowledge or ability in production.”

This is not to say that Riman completely ignores lyrics or melody; it’s simply that he uses them in service to the overall sound. His song forms don’t always follow the predictable verse/chorus/verse pattern, though his lyrics and do contain fragments of refrain, and his light, flexible vocal tone blends seamlessly into the instrumental backdrop. His piano melodies are bright and well-defined, standing out against the instrumentation in a way that his singing voice doesn’t, but they are not designed as catchy hooks or motifs. He enriches his textures with interesting percussion throughout the album, adding a distinctive rhythmic quality and sense of motion to the pensive, slow-moving harmonic progressions.

Riman allows his vocals to come to the forefront on ‘Sleepwalk’, arguably the album’s centerpiece, where Riman wonders, rhetorically, “what’s it all for, what can I show? / for 25 years alive, don’t know if I’ve ever tried, I’m sleepwalking tonight”. His hazy instrumental backdrop is propelled toward self-absolution by a shuffling rhythm, and his lilting vocals are powerfully emotive as he sings the final lyric, “this darkening down inside ends tonight’.

Following a brief instrumental interlude titled ‘Boy’, Riman makes another bold statement in ‘Starlight, Tender Blue’, which features layered synths and vocal lines over brooding guitar lines and heart-pounding drums. ‘Rot’ returns to the more pensive side of things, with the permeating warmth of its musical arrangement illustrating the sentiment behind its opening lyric, “even after everything I know, I’m not the bitter one”. ‘Endless String’ is similarly muted and self-reflective, its whispered vocals anchored into a rhythmic and tonal context by strong underlying piano chords.

Riman rounds out ‘Years’ with a flourish, or rather two of them. The anthemic recent single ‘Crow’, which is perhaps the most easily accessible individual track on the album, outside its full context. The song’s emphatic rhythm and and melodic piano lines are among the album’s most memorable moments, and Riman’s vocals reach their peak intensity in its swelling chorus. The album’s elusively-titled final track ‘Lissohr’ is deliberately more evasive, with an amorphous instrumental underlying vocal layers that echo as if from a great distance.

In the press release for ‘Years’, Riman mentions that his stage name, Hilang Child, translates from Malay as “missing child”. Certainly the thematic material on this album reflects a young adult’s struggle to find identity, but in terms of Riman’s musicality, the name Hilang Child might be something of a misnomer. Ambitious in its scope and brave in its sonic exploration, ‘Years’ presents Hilang Child as a composer who is clearly finding his place, with confidence in his own skill and a keen sense of clarity about his sonic vision.

8/10

Hilang Child’s debut LP ‘Years’ is out today, the 10th of August, on Bella Union. TGTF’s coverage of this intriguing artist at SXSW 2018 can be found through here.

 

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.

 

Album Review: Kodaline – Politics of Living

 
By on Wednesday, 8th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Kodaline Politics of Living album coverWhen I reviewed Kodaline’s sophomore album ‘Coming Up for Air’, I noted their “newfound self-confidence”. I also noted the Dubliners’ concerted effort to move away from their folkier, Gary Barlow-endorsed beginnings (‘Love Like This’, anyone?) and towards a more mainstream pop sound. That was 3 years ago. I don’t think I would have predicted this, but ‘Politics of Living’, out this Friday, is even more pop than their last. Is their confidence still on the up and up? I’ll have to see about that when they swing by Washington in December. Surely, this third album is a distillation of their attempts to continually evolve and grow as artists and musicians, with varying degrees of success. Like its predecessor, ‘Politics of Living’ is the product of their collaboration with producer Steve Harris and quite a few big names in the industry, including Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran), Johnny Coffer (RagNBone Man, Beyonce) and Jonas Jeberg (Dizzee Rascal, Kylie Minogue).

Kodaline appear to be most comfortable when they return to their roots, that is, when the production is relaxed, the tempo is slower and the emotions run high. The gorgeously simple melody that unfolds from the mostly a capella ‘I Wouldn’t Be’ sounds like it came straight from the lips of an Irish mother singing to her child. In this form, beginning with lead singer Steve Garrigan’s voice alone, then leading to perfect, four-part harmonies, makes the song unforgettable. ‘Angel’ and previous single ‘Brother’ (single/essay here) broach death and friendships, respectively, both holding the enduring strength of love with much reverence. They are a band who can uplift us even in our darkest days, the best example of this in the whistle-happy ‘Head Held High’. It isn’t hard to imagine that they’re sat “waiting for the sun to shine again” right along with us, supporting us.

The problem is when they go too far from their comfort zone to relate to more urban, Radio 1 palates. Replete with syncopated beats and flicks of tambourine, ‘Born Again’ and ‘Come Around’ sound too much like Glass Animals‘ retreads. If we were to view ‘In a Perfect World’ hit ‘All I Want’ as at the desperation stage of grief in a breakup, ‘Hell Froze Over’ is at the anger stage: “I would do anything for you / but I won’t do that again / we might never get closure / heaven knows it had to end”. Sure, we all get upset, but it’s hard to picture the squeaky clean and super sweet Kodaline lads truly lashing out at an ex.

Bridging the distance between the group’s best and their not so best on this LP are the grand stadium pop numbers that have been unveiled as previews prior to the album’s release. ‘Follow Your Fire’, wrapped up in its shiny production, is an upbeat, zippy pop number about living life without regrets. Piano-led “gospel-tinged” ‘Shed a Tear’ slows things down with a message akin to soul classic ‘Stand By Me’. ‘Politics of Living’ closes with the pop/soul mix ‘Temple Bar’, celebrating the famed district south of the River Liffey in Dublin. In it, frontman Garrigan repeats the rhetorical question, “where did it all wrong?” It’s one question I posed to myself about this album before I committed any words down for this review.

The elephant in the room on Kodaline’s third outing is the lack of direction. While the most heartfelt moments and poptastic singles are fantastic, the rest of the album misses the high bar the band already set for themselves. The variety of songs may serve to appeal to different groups of the music listening public but as a whole, the collection lacks consistency. Too bad.

6.5/10

‘Politics of Living’, the third album from Irish band Kodaline, will be released this Friday on Sony Music. Have a listen to ‘Worth It’, the latest taster to the album, in the embed below. To catch up on all of our past articles on the group, come through.

 

Album Review: Years & Years – Palo Santo

 
By on Monday, 6th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Years & Years Palo Santo album coverWe all hoped the cheesy ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys-ey boy bands were a thing of the past, right? The band genre made a comeback a few years back in the form of JLS and One Direction, but again we left these behind, and music had progressed since then, had it not? Years & Years appear keen to rekindle this dying flame in their newest album ‘Palo Santo’. Although their 2015 debut album ‘Communion’ seems miles away now, there is an unmistakable Nineties’ / Noughties’ boy band vibe running through the 14 tracks of ‘Palo Santo’. The use of layered vocals, Nineties’ style synthesisers and manufactured drum beats reminscent of those dance-pop tunes from yesteryear we all know and secretly love.

The final track of ‘Palo Santo’, ‘Up In Flames’, takes this comparison the furthest as it really feels as though it has been plucked out of 2000. The song opens with a familiar sounding drum machine beat, embellished with what sounds like shakers and perhaps most surprisingly, a bell. After the first verse, in comes a clunky synth riff and backing vocals, that couldn’t get more Backstreet Boys if it tried. Oh, but it does. At the end of the chorus, ‘Up In Flames’ there is a bright synth stab that, although subtle, is undeniably a direct take from ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ and that song’s defining feature of the 1997 song, and now here it is in a Years & Years track. Although the nostalgia is pretty enticing, the foundations of the song are well past their best by date.

Not only do many of the tracks of ‘Palo Santo’ recall songs that have come before, they are also hard to define within the album itself. Very few of the tracks have any elements that really stand out and demand your attention. Despite the fact that there are songs that are upbeat and dancey – for example ‘All For You’ or ‘Rendezvous’ – the album feels beige. Take the songs ‘Hypnotised’ and ‘Here’, two tracks that should sound completely different on paper. ‘Hypnotised’ is a capella but ‘Here’ is not, and yet they still manage to blur together. Yes, they are in different keys, use different instrumentation and are at dramatically different lengths to each other, but the essence is the same. These are two tracks that should sound a world apart but without any hooks or memorable lyrics, they become the two slow songs on the album.

The two tunes that actually stand out from the beige are the catchiest songs from the album, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’. ‘Sanctify’ is a throwback to 2015 album ‘Communion’, having the same energy and memorability as tracks like ‘Shine’ and ‘King’. The song begins with a simple drum machine accompaniment to Olly Alexander’s distinct vocals which then explode into a powerful and catchy chorus. ‘If You’re Over Me’ goes down the more generic upbeat pop route, the percussive claps giving it a Jason Mraz-esque ’Have It All’ / ‘Unlonely’ quality. Its lyrics are sassy yet relatable, and although they’re not particularly imaginative, it doesn’t really matter in this setting as they succeed in being easy to remember and sing along to. However, imagination is not in short supply when it comes to the music videos accompanying these two tracks. Both videos have been produced in a sci-fi style with a narrative that runs from one to another, and although unusual they are fun and perhaps the most interesting offshoots of the entire album.

As only the second studio album from the band Years & Years, ‘Palo Santo’ is a disappointment. The tracks lack freshness; instead, they reminisce on music from irrelevant times. Although ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’ have become big hits, it’s just a shame for the rest of the album to be so weak.

5/10

‘Palo Santo’ is out now on Polydor Records. Years & Years began their world tour this month and will be stopping in the UK from the 11th of August. For more information on their live dates, visit the band’s official Web site.

 

Album Review: Jealous of the Birds – The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep EP

 
By on Tuesday, 31st July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Daniel Alexander Harris

JOTB Moths EP coverNorthern Irish alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) has recently released a new EP with an elusive but thought-provoking title, ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.’ While the title might seem a little unwieldy, especially for a 5-track EP, the songs contained on the new recording are a bit less intimidating, in and of themselves.

Of the five songs presented here, only EP opener ‘Plastic Skeletons’ is brand new, as you might have seen back in May when editor Mary featured it as our Video of the Moment #2843. It’s a strong opening to the EP, immediately upbeat and groovy, with shuffling percussion and an elastic guitar riff under Hamilton’s distorted vocals. She sings the verses in a slow, sensual drawl, lilting suggestively over the lines “hope you have it in you to undress again” and “I’ve become addicted to the smell of your cologne”. While the song’s chorus isn’t exactly catchy, its crunchy guitars give the song an extra edge as Hamilton poses the question, “do you wanna wrap me up in suede / smudge off my black eyeliner?”

The other four songs on ‘The Moths of What I Want’ appeared on Jealous of the Birds’ debut full-length album ‘Parma Violets’, which was released in back in 2016 just after Hamilton’s first appearance at SXSW. The middle sequence of three songs, ‘Miss Misanthrope’, ‘Trouble in Bohemia’, and ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, is lifted directly from LP, with some notable production edits from the album versions.

The gentle folk arrangement of ‘Miss Misanthrope’ stands in marked contrast to ‘Plastic Skeletons’ with gentle woodwind adornment and intricate vocal layering underscoring its introspective musings. Subtle yet pleasantly surprising in places, the poetry and the musical effects both leave a warm sense of empathy in their wake. The trippy folk-rock of ‘Trouble in Bohemia’ is muted and a bit grungier in its reworking for the EP, but still retains its upbeat rhythm and lo-fi production quality. ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, which we at TGTF heard in live performance at SXSW 2017, is similarly dialed back in its production, with its serpentine synth melody and Hamilton’s vocal line blended more smoothly into an overall instrumental arrangement that better suits the song’s self-consciously literary quality.

EP closer ‘Russian Doll’ already had a grungy, garage rock feel in its ‘Parma Violets’ recording, which fitted the defensive mood of its lyrics. Talking about the song’s underlying meaning, Hamilton says, “It’s about when you’re in a relationship and you’re having someone else projecting certain things on you . . . and you don’t have any control over that. It’s matching up the person you want to become and what someone else sees you as.” The new EP recording, re-mixed by Ben Baptie (Young Fathers, Daughter, Lianne LaHavas, London Grammar), dials back the crunch of the guitars, emphasising instead the percussive rhythm and disjointed quality of vocal lines, giving the song a sharper edge and stronger overall profile.

Though we here at TGTF have covered Jealous of the Birds quite extensively over the past few years, we missed the opportunity to review ‘Parma Violets’ on its initial release. ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep’ serves as a good reminder of what attracted us to Jealous of the Birds in the first place, but also gives a glimpse into where Hamilton might take her music in the future. Her alt-folk and acoustic talents having been fully displayed, she’s now taking a bolder, more rock-oriented tack, without losing the unapologetically poetic lyrical qualities that make her songs unique. If you liked ‘Parma Violets’, this new EP is simply a fresh take on some of those songs, with the added bonus of ‘Plastic Skeletons’ to whet your appetite for more new music from Jealous of the Birds. If you didn’t catch ‘Parma Violets’ the first time around, ‘The Moths of What I Want…’ is your second chance to get acquainted.

8.5/10

‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat My in My Sleep’ is out now via Hand in Hive (UK) and Canvasback (U.S.). You can find TGTF’s collected coverage of Jealous of the Birds through 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.

 
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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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