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Indie pop four piece The Academic, who are based in Mullingar, have become one of Ireland’s most exciting new young bands. Honing their own infectious blend of indie pop and rock, the band have been building quite a reputation for their live performances. The band released their debut single ‘Different’ in early 2015 to a rapturous reception, while also receiving airplay by both Radio X and BBC Radio 1. Touring extensively throughout 2015, the band also supported Catfish and the Bottlemen, Kodaline and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, while also managing to sell out their own headline shows.
Having stormed the past 12 months, the band’s latest release ‘Mixtape 2003’ has been receiving considerable attention after the success of their first EP ‘Loose Friends’, which was released in October 2015. As the name ‘Mixtape 2003’ suggests, the song takes a nostalgia-inspired trip back to when mixtapes were our main means of listening to and sharing music. The band also seem heavily influenced by bands from the early Noughties such as The Killers, Kings of Leon and also The Strokes, with the song drawing heavy influence from that era.
One is instantly hooked by the song’s energetic and melodic guitars, coupled with the simple but catchy lyrics. This all makes for the perfect quintessential indie hit, similar in style to lyrics we would have heard from bands such as The Kooks or The Cribs in the infamous year referenced in the song title. Lead singer Craig Fitzgerald paints a picturesque scene of a carefree youth: “In my car there’s a cd, a mixtape of 2003, a better time for both of us, of skinny jeans and roll ups”. The song itself manages to capture that raw and raucous energy that the band have become increasingly famed for across Ireland. Succeeding in balancing contemporary charisma and retro vibes, The Academic have blended both these elements together to present the audience with their own unique indie sound.
‘Mixtape 2003’ by The Academic will be released on the 12th of August 2016 through Room 6 Records. The band will be touring the UK in October; details are here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 28th July 2016 at 11:00 am
“Well, it was more about liking the way the word looked written down than the fact it was a Suede song”, Drowners frontman Matthew Hitt says about his band’s unique name. “Having said that, that whole Britpop thing has influenced my writing, lyrically. I think Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn are master songwriters, and I regularly revisit their records.” Hitt and his New York City-based band released their second album on Frenchkiss Records, ‘On Desire’, in June. You can read my review of the long player here.
Their eponymous debut album, which was released in winter 2014, was described by Q as standing in stark contrast to the electropop saturating the airwaves that year. “When I started writing the songs for the first record, I feel like every band I went to see in New York were drenching themselves in reverb, and there was a lot of like drawn out 4-minute songs,” explains Hitt. “So I guess I was trying to do the opposite of that and have everything trimmed and clipped into the bare essentials. My attitude to that has since changed, but it was really a reaction to the bands I was seeing live at the time. Nowadays, I think we just try to write music that is some sort of reflection to who we are and what we feel as a group.”
Hitt quickly dismisses the cliché of the difficult second album. “It wasn’t really that difficult because by the time we came to writing it ,we all had ideas we wanted to try, and that meant things were exciting again. After touring the first record, we were all ready to start working on new things. When we first met Claudius [Mittendorfer, their producer for ‘On Desire’], we talked about wanting the record to have an atmosphere to it in the way that [Echo and the Bunnymen’s fourth album] ‘Ocean Rain’, for instance, does.” Working with Mittendorfer turned out to be a comfortable for Drowners. “He was very helpful in showing us how to technically achieve these different sounds. We all got along with him, and so the environment in the studio was pretty light and fun. We would try a lot of things out and constantly bounce ideas. I just look back on it being a really fun experience.”
Something that one will latch onto quickly while listening to ‘On Desire’ is the pairing of lyrics on painful subject matter regarding breakups with oddly joyful sounding instrumentation, especially in the guitar work, reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s exemplary playing in The Smiths. Hitt concurs with this. “Yeah, that painful lyric / joyful music thing is something I think we all love about songs in general. It’s certainly present in The Smiths, and for that reason, they are a big influence. I’ve been a lifelong fan, so it makes sense that it affects my musical vocabulary.” When I ask him what other artists had guided them along in the making of the new album, he says, “While we were writing this record we were also listening to a lot of Roy Orbison, ABBA and Echo and the Bunnymen, so I guess they all influenced it too.”
The stories told in the songs on ‘On Desire’, in particular ‘Someone Else is Getting In’ (see live video from SXSW 2016) and ‘Conversations with Myself’, are hard-hitting on the emotions and seem very personal, which Hitt says is true to some extent. “I think they’re a combination of personal experience, things I’ve overheard people say and things I’ve read about. I think the songs that are on the record were chosen because they shared themes. The main one, I think, being the idea of desiring something. I spoke to Erik [Lee Snyder, Drowners’ bassist] a lot on this record about the types of things we wanted to sing about so I got some ideas from him. Um…otherwise, it’s the same thing I always do: keep a notebook of lyric ideas and browse through it to see if anything ‘fits’ with the music we had written.”
A standout track on the new album is single ‘Pick Up the Pace’. I asked Hitt if he could tell me about the writing of it. “Well, Erik and Daniel [Jacobs, Drowners’ drummer] wrote the music for it, and we recorded it at Electric Lady Studios. I walked around listening to the recording for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out the top line. I wrote it the lyrics one morning and recorded it that afternoon. I guess it’s about lack of communication in general, and the evasiveness that can come from that.” The Welsh-born singer even brought in part of his upbringing to add personal flavour to the track. “In my mind, it all takes places in the village I grew up in, hence the reference to terraced houses.”
Earlier this summer, Drowners toured in America as support for another band we’ve covered a lot here on TGTF, The Joy Formidable. Hitt says it was a great experience. “The tour was a lot of fun. It was a few weeks before the record came out, so it was interesting to see what kind of reactions we were getting to the new songs that most people hadn’t heard before. The Joy Formidable are lovely people and we had a couple of nice evenings with that lot.” As for the rest of the year, the band will be pretty busy getting ‘On Desire’ out there live to the masses. “We play Lollapalooza at the end of July, and then [there’s] more touring. I know we’re heading to the UK and Europe in October, which I’m pretty excited about. I love touring the UK.”
And lest you think that Drowners would ever rest on their laurels during these dog days, think again: “I know we’re also keen to start writing more new tunes, so I suppose that’s how we’ll spend our summer.” But what if they’re tired of having their heads down, of being studious musicians working on new material? Matthew Hitt has a solution that will work in a pinch. “We always listen to ABBA’s greatest hits in the van. Full-on Swedish singalongs.”
‘On Desire’, Drowners’ sophomore album, is out now on Frenchkiss Records. The band appears in Chicago at Lollapalooza this coming Saturday, the 30th of July, at the BMI stage at 3.20 PM.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 26th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
Early evening the day before Valentine’s Day 2016, I started receiving frantic Facebook messages from people asking me if it was true about Viola Beach. What was true? I was confused. I hadn’t heard anything. I soon confirmed from multiple sources on social media that the unthinkable had happened. The band had left Norrköping, Sweden, following a well-received set at Where’s the Music Festival, their first appearance outside of Britain, and their car inexplicably went off a bridge, plunging into the water below. As a music editor planning just a month off from SXSW, I’d already pencilled in the band on my schedule in Austin, as had many of my professional contacts. It was unfathomable that young lives such as theirs were gone.
It was especially a terrible loss to the North West town of Warrington that Viola Beach called home, as early indicators suggested success would soon be in their future. Already having their brand of peppy pop receiving the support of BBC Introducing in England, they’d also been anointed with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase as part of the BBC Introducing bill at SXSW 2016, which they sadly never made it to. In their memory, the families of the band have decided to release their debut album this Friday on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records:
We are tremendously proud of everything the boys achieved in such a short space of time. Craig, Jack, Kris, River and Tom shared a huge passion, talent and dedication to music. We believe the best way to celebrate our sons’ lives is to release an album of their songs. This is their legacy and we know deep in our hearts that the boys would want the world to listen to the music they poured everything into. This was only the beginning for them and these nine songs were written with every intention to be shared, heard and, most of all, enjoyed. We hope that it brings you as much happiness listening to it as we know it did to them making it.
The music made by four wide-eyed lads is, as one might expect, innocent and sweet, or at least honest about that period of life (see ‘Drunk’). Self-released in autumn 2015, debut single ‘Slides and Waterslides’ is the perfect example of this. The song quickly made the rounds in the blogosphere not only in Britain, but also in America. American music blog Pigeons and Planes commented that the single had “a swagger that is not often found on indie pop records”. Let’s just say that this kind of swagger is more TGTF’s speed than Cher Lloyd’s. Despite its title, ‘Swings and Waterslides’ is actually a snapshot of puppy love. Lead singer Kris Leonard croons, “you’re not with me tonight / and only you could make it right”, before the chorus kicks in, with youthful shouts from his bandmates. Overall, the effect is, while greatly helped with a bright guitar melody (think early Two Door Cinema Club) and accompanying bouncy percussion, one of pure pop. The more I listen to this song, the more I hear the promise in Leonard’s voice. You can picture its potential of having as much mainstream influence as Liam Gallagher’s, as a new representation of young (and Northern) England. Now we’ll never know.
Many of the songs on ‘Viola Beach’ read as tropical pop numbers, with dashes of pop, hip hop and rock. While there’s an obvious reliance on upbeat guitar notes and drum beats, a nod to what’s popular with the kids these day, there’s also a smartness at play. They liked playing with the tempos, changing them from tune to tune to allow for different feels. The jittery ‘Like a Fool’ and ‘Get to Dancing’ (watch it live from their BBC Introducing session from Maida Vale recorded in late 2015 below) have moments when Leonard and his bandmates are shouting at the top of their lungs. They must have had a whale of a time recording those. In contrast, the echoey, chill vibe of ‘Really Wanna Call’ makes it sounds like it was recorded in the Caribbean.
Another previously released track ‘Cherry Vimto’ is relatively simple, but it showcases Viola Beach’s ability to slow things down and write a ballad. ‘Call You Up’ is another slower one, puts Leonard’s voice through its paces. It’s particularly interesting, as drummer Jack Dakin’s cymbal and other effects inexplicably crash in the background, as if to mimic the emotional tension within the song. One could reasonably hypothesise that this was their one experimental number on the album, and perhaps an indicator that they didn’t plan to stay in the tropical pop genre forever.
‘Boys That Sing’ closes the album and following Coldplay’s tribute to them during their headline set at Glastonbury this year. As Leonard sings it, it’s clear it’s about a girl he’s fallen for and yet, everyone thinks their union is crazy. The chorus goes, “and she said that together we could do anything / and she told me that she loves a boy who knows how to sing / so I learnt how to sing”, what comes across as the sweetest reason a young boy would ever use to decide to become musical. For one night, this song had its time on the world’s biggest stage, and it was beautiful.
I know that not everyone believes in heaven or the existence of an afterlife. I do. And I choose to believe that those who leave us, especially those who leave us before their time, they are with us in spirit and can see what we’re up to every day of our lives. Even though we didn’t have Viola Beach with us for very long, they reminded us that there is inherent joy in the making of music and it is a gift that is best shared and has no boundaries. Their families have had a terrible loss, but I hope that through sharing this album, this gift that they have kindly bestowed on us, they can see that even beyond their physical time on this earth, their boys will continue to bring joy to many.
The eponymous debut album from Viola Beach will be released posthumously this Friday, the 29th of July, on the band’s own Fuller Beans Records. Our thoughts on and coverage of the tribute to them at SXSW 2016 can be found through here.
Up-and-coming Irish indie rock quartet The Academic have scheduled a quick run of live dates in the UK for this October, including a London show at the Waiting Room on the 10th of the month. The Academic’s latest single ‘Mixtape 2003’ recently premiered on Clash and is streaming just below the tour date listing. The single will be released on the 12th of August.
Ahead of the October dates listed below, the young band will play European festival slots at Pukkelpop and Lowlands, as well as Irish festivals Timoleague and Rose of Tralee. Tickets for the following headline shows are available now.
Wednesday 5th October 2016 – Glasgow Garage
Thursday 6th October 2016 – Birmingham Rainbow
Monday 10th October 2016 – London Waiting Room
London neo-folk artists Bear’s Den have spent their fair share of time on the road in their 5-year history. TGTF’s own first feature on the band, way back in 2011, found them playing for the now-defunct project Bands in Transit. They subsequently joined Mumford and Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour and Communion Music’s Austin to Boston tour, as well as making two appearances at the SXSW music festival and playing worldwide headline dates around their debut album ‘Islands’, released back in 2014.
Now, just under 2 years on from that first LP, the band’s relentless toil and travel has resulted in a breathtaking new album, titled ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. In the process of making the record, Bear’s Den have slimmed down from a trio to a duo, with the amicable departure of Joey Haynes in February of this year. “Being on the road so much pushes friendships to the limit and really affects your relationships outside of it. You get extreme highs and lows,” remarks lead singer Andrew Davie.
Bear’s Den have also streamlined their sonic identity, finding inspiration in the FM radio soundtracks of road trips past – Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen – as well as current artists like The National and Sufjan Stevens. “We spent a lot of time on the road and that music really fitted our head space,” Davie explains. “It felt like the natural musical progression.” Davie’s bandmate Kev Jones continues that train of thought: ”We wanted to make a great album for driving at night. There’s a technical level to that, matching the sounds to Davie’s lyrics, but thematically, a good metaphor for the mood is the idea of driving forwards while looking in the rear view mirror. A sense of contrary motion.”
The album starts with a quick hit of adrenaline in its anxious title track ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’. The song could depict either a desperate escape or a pleading return as Davie sings, “please don’t pin all your dreams on me / you can count on me to fuck up everything”, but the blindly repeating chorus “don’t you remember, love? / don’t you remember anything?” propels the song, regardless of its ambiguous direction. Sharp guitar riffs and anxious pulsing rhythms maintain the album’s restless momentum through the emotional crossroads of ‘Emeralds’ and ‘Dew Upon the Vine’. Both songs combine the familiar folk element of Davie’s Romantic-style lyrical imagery (“though the morning light will burn away / all the fog that night creates / there’ll still be a trace of our love left behind / in the dew upon the vine”) with sleek, synth-laced instrumental arrangements and angular vocal harmonies to create a darker, more visceral soundscape than what we heard on the diffuse and dreamy ‘Islands’.
The choruses throughout ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ aren’t so much catchy as acutely gripping. The excruciating refrain “somewhere deep down I still believe / you’ll always be / the love of my life” punctuates the off-kilter rhythm and stream-of-consciousness lyrics in ‘Roses on a Breeze’. The introspective and acoustic-flavoured ‘New Jerusalem’ entwines and circles around itself in the lines “love is just a word you thought you heard / all it means is never, never say never, no / don’t give up on me yet / can you learn to forgive all that you learned to forget?”. ‘Greenwoods Bethlehem’ has a similar acoustic tone, but a jarring dynamic change in its chorus marks the thematic contrast between sweet memories and bitter present reality.
Memory is a central theme on the album, and it stands out particularly in a pair of intense mid-album tracks. ‘Love Can’t Stand Alone’ is a painful childhood recollection of loss that finds Davie channeling Springsteen to astounding effect in the lines “I prayed for the day my prayers would end / but nothing ever came that was heaven sent”. Lead single ‘Auld Wives’ is equally dramatic and emotionally effective, with a haunting keyboard melody and deep chugging guitar rhythms underscoring the anguish of losing a loved one to dementia.
Heavy and formidable track ‘Fortress’ features some of Davie’s most striking and convincingly sung lyrics, “I’m calling the blame / won’t you let me own it . . . a coward might call it a conscience / and a liar might call it the truth”. Current single ‘Gabriel’ is instrumentally lighter and warmer, but its lyrics are deeply introspective, and its exquisite vocal harmonies keenly illustrate their duality and sharp internal conflict.
Album closer ‘Napoleon’ makes skillful use of lyrical analogy and musical device to portray the uncertainty and pain of childhood with an emotionally destructive parent. The song’s melodic counterpoint, march-like drums and regal brass lend a rather ironic sense of optimism as Davie compares an alcoholic father to the eponymous and ill-fated French Emperor in his opening lines “I still see you there / a tall glass of Napoleon and an off-white leather chair” and his closing refrain “we’ve only got one shot now, Napoleon / it’s not too late to mend what we’ve broken”.
While time spent on the road has clearly given Bear’s Den the opportunity to reflect upon relationships and ponder past memories, it has also provided them the means and motivation to refine and even redefine their sound. Davie and Jones have jump-started their alt-folk lyricism and atmospheric musicality with a bolder, darker dynamic and a more technically focused, purposeful approach to their songwriting. Sonically compelling and emotionally evocative, ’Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ is, quite frankly, a stunning success.
‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’, the sophomore album from Bear’s Den, is due for release on Friday the 22nd of July via Communion / Caroline International. They will play headline dates in the UK this November in support of the album; you can find the details here. TGTF’s complete previous coverage of Bear’s Den is conveniently collected here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 20th July 2016 at 8:00 am
American alt-rock behemoths Pixies have announced a series of live dates in the UK for the end of November into the start of December 2016. Black Francis and co. have officially announced that touring bass player Paz Lenchantin is now a full member of their band. This new tour will follow the release of their upcoming album ‘Head Carrier’, which is expected out on the 30th of September on Pixies Music / PIAS. The new LP was produced by Tom Dalgety, who is most famous around TGTF for producing Royal Blood and Broken Hands‘ debut albums. You can have a listen to hard-hitting early taster ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ below the tour date listing. There’s a presale going on today starting at 9 AM, but the general sale will commence this Friday, the 22nd of July, also at 9 AM. For past coverage of the Pixies on TGTF, go here.
Monday 28th November 2016 – London Brixton Academy
Tuesday 29th November 2016 – London Brixton Academy
Wednesday 30th November 2016 – Leeds Academy
Friday 2nd December 2016 – Glasgow Barrowland
Saturday 3rd December 2016 – Newcastle Academy
Sunday 4th December 2016 – Manchester Apollo
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