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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 1st September 2015 at 12:00 pm
Teenage friends and songwriters Chris “Barny” Barnard (vocals) and Tom Piggott (guitar) are at the heart of London-based act Passport to Stockholm, who I introduced you all to last summer in this previous Bands to Watch. Just last Friday, the group – which includes percussionist Henri Grimes and cellist Mariona De Lamo – released their latest EP, ‘All at Once’. It seems quite a prophetic title, given that Passport to Stockholm are set to perform this year’s CMJ in October in New York City, having already caught the eye of our friends Baeblemusic in the Big Apple who said their EP track ‘Chemistry propels the band “…into the pantheon of passionate and sincere British pop / folk / rock which has dominated the charts for the last 5 years.” But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
The title track begins the EP in earnest, Barnard’s full voice rising, sweeping note to note and above satisfying above the anthemic but otherwise brilliantly understated guitar strums, cello notes and percussion. The overall effect is lush, with his bandmates’ backing vocals joining to add further richness. The pizzicato strings add interest in the verses of ‘Let Me Know’, which are then followed by Barnard’s alternating staccatoing and smooth vocal delivery; the textural differences show a maturity that puts Passport to Stockholm far ahead of any of their indie pop contemporaries.
The earlier mentioned ‘Chemistry’ is the EP standout track, beginning and continuing on with pounding beats, accompanied by the yearning cello. But it’s Barnard’s vocals and the lyrics that are the real stars here. The chemistry addressed here is the tricky, ridiculous kind that stems from the weird gut feeling we get when we meet someone else and know we should be with him/her and going further from that, the terrible feeling that keeps us up at night when she/he is already with someone else (in this case, the woman is married to another man). The painful conflict of reconnecting with and romancing someone you loved and still love is evident in the words “already in love, you got back in touch, I just couldn’t turn you down.” You feel the ache, the void as the song ends with ” I won’t love like this again / I’ll never love like this again.”
The EP closes with the catchy, xylophone-laden ‘Wanted It More’, and if you’ve been listening to the EP from start to finish you come to the conclusion that this song, or any on this EP really, would feel right at home on a rom-com soundtrack or, dare I say it, Radio 2. The sweeping instrumentation with Barnard’s vocals make for a poppy, accessible sound that I’m betting will make waves far beyond their native England in short order.
‘All at Once’, the new EP from Passport to Stockholm, is out now.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 28th August 2015 at 11:00 am
I’m a little behind in posting this album stream, but better late than never, right?
Earlier this month, singer/songwriter Luke Sital-Singh revealed a brand new EP, ‘The Breakneck Speed of Tomorrow’. It follows nearly 1 year on from the release of his debut album on Parlophone, ‘The Fire Inside’. (You can read Carrie’s review of his debut here.) Designed to go with the EP, Sital-Singh wrote a hand-printed letterpress ‘manifesto’, and it’s pretty stunning, given that it was written in poem form. Click on the image under the EP stream if you’d like to zoom in and read it in full.
‘The Breakneck Speed of Tomorrow’ EP is available digitally now. The physical release on Raygun Records, in 10″ and 10″ limited edition with hand-printed letterpress sleeve formats, will take place the 25th of September. For more on Luke Sital-Singh on TGTF, go here.
London singer / songwriter / producer Laurel Arnell-Cullen, known in music circles simply as Laurel, has the singing voice and musical chops to make her a bona fide pop star, not to mention a certain physical beauty–she moonlights as a model alongside her music career. Indeed, she has already garnered an impressive number of online fans: 3,000 followers on her Soundcloud, 14,000 followers on her Facebook and more than 5,000 followers on her Twitter feed. But take a look past the pretty face, vocal acrobatics and heavy dance beats, and you’ll find a few pleasantly unexpected quirks in Laurel’s musical style that distinguish her from her alt-pop contemporaries.
Laurel’s released her breakout track ‘Fire Breather’ in January 2014. Its stark rhythmic pulse and Laurel’s sultry vocals are a remarkably effective musical accompaniment to the fiery lyrical imagery in the song’s chorus “No, it’s too much / burn my sun / up in flames we go / you fire breather / ash and dust on my door / smoke rise / trying to survive inside your arms”.
‘Fire Breather’ was quickly followed in April 2014 by an EP titled ‘To The Hills’ which features three different mixes of the string-laden title track along with the mesmerizing fan favourite ‘Shells’. Laurel subsequently posted three remixes of ‘Shells’ on her Soundcloud, each emphasising a different facet of the song, revealing both a strong musical foundation and an intrinsic flexibility in her work.
Laurel’s next EP ‘Holy Water’ came out during the Christmas season of 2014 and contains an excellent collaboration with TGTF alumnus Sivu called ‘Come Together’. The duet vocals of ‘Come Together’ alternate between the square, almost robotic delivery of the opening lyrical lines “I’m the maker of rituals / I’m gonna swallow you up and eat you” and the softer, sweeter vocal harmonies that immediately follow. The shimmering wash of instrumental sound is slow and sensual, grounded by a heavy bass pulse and a crisp percussion rhythm.
April 2015 saw the online release of a Laurel’s experimental mixtape EP called ‘Allelopathy’. As our science-minded editor Mary probably already knows, alleleopathy “is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.” It’s an interesting title for a set of songs, presumably referring to the figurative chemistry of a romantic relationship. The songs on the EP are given the scientific names of different plant species, including the cheeky ‘Laurocerasus’, or common laurel.
Laurel’s most recent release is a new single titled ‘Blue Blood’, which sees a return to her alt-pop comfort zone, with dramatic strings and tribal drum beats in the instrumental arrangement along with Laurel’s impressive vocal flexibility. The delicate, ethereal quality of the layered backing vocals is matched by the translucent visual layers in the accompanying video, directed by Ben Newbury.
While Laurel’s most popular songs lean toward a homogenous mainstream pop style, her naturalistic lyrical imagery and the inherently dramatic quality of her instrumental arrangements keep them fresh and unique. Her more experimental work and her collaborations with other artists are equally intriguing, with potential for shaping the evolution of her already precociously prolific body of work.
Laurel’s latest single ‘Blue Blood’ is out now on her own independent label Next Time Records.
Having emerged as a solo artist in 2014 with the release of two critically acclaimed EPs (‘Heart Full of Beef’ and ‘Nobody Dies’), Daisy Victoria quickly gained attention from the likes of BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens. Her developing success also earned the young star support dates with Canadian-American folk rocker Martha Wainwright on her UK tour in October 2014. Almost a year later, Daisy Victoria is back with her brand new single ‘Pain of Dancers’.
Recorded at 4AD’s London studio and mixed by Damian Taylor (best known for working with Bjork, Arcade Fire and Robyn) at Golden Ratio in Montreal, ‘Pain of Dancers’ is four minutes of pure, raw emotion. This captivating track showcases Daisy Victoria’s operatic vocals over noir-esque synths, a sparkling guitar line and driving drums.
‘Pain of Dancers’, which was written by Daisy and her brother/songwriting partner Sam Lawrence, combines elements of mainstream pop with a beautifully charming, irresistible sound. The result is a track that contains the enchanting charm Daisy Victoria’s existing fanbase have come to know and love, while also appealing to a wider audience.
Ultimately, ‘Pain of Dancers’ is a fine example of Daisy Victoria’s talents and the output she is capable of. With a sound many existing artists could only dream of after two EPs, you can’t help but wonder what other tricks this intriguing, gifted young artist has up her sleeves. If she’s not already on your radar, make sure Daisy Victoria is, as there are big things to come from this small star.
Daisy Victoria’s single ‘Pain of Dancers’ will be released on the 25th of September. If you can’t wait until then, you can catch Daisy Victoria at her headline show at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington in London on Monday, the 21st of September.
You only have to listen to a sample of London-based newcomer PILLARS to realise that she is the kind of artist that can give you goose bumps on top of your goose bumps. Fresh off the back of her second single’s whirlwind success and an appearance at The Great Escape Festival 2015 in May, the elusive songwriter has unveiled ‘You Got This’: a sophisticated, intriguing number with a poignant message.
There’s a real coherence to PILLARS’ music, with her latest track perfectly slotting into her growing collection of ambient electronica (which already boasts her debut single ‘Attacker’ and the follow-up ‘Woman Without Her Love’), while also revealing more about the singer’s restricted musical and personal identity. The track, which uses samples of her own voice to build up distinctive, hypnotic arrangements, has a sound that is both pleasantly familiar, yet is delicately injected with just enough darkness to leave the hairs on the back of your neck trembling for more.
Produced by Deafkid and recorded and mixed by Brett Shaw (Florence and the Machine, Say Lou Lou) at Peckham’s 123 studios, ‘You Got This’ features well-crafted, cryptic lyrics, which are sung over a bed of murky basslines and hard-hitting synths. There’s an elegant, haunting tone to PILLARS’ voice that you can’t help but appreciate and admire.
With three solid singles under her belt already and a featured vocalist credit on ‘Temptress’ from hotly-tipped UK producer Daktyl, PILLARS has well and truly got the ball rolling in terms of her music career. In order to keep that momentum going, the songwriter will need to continue to output music of this calibre (whether it be another new single or possibly even an album). With preparations well underway for a debut London show this summer, this certainly won’t be the last we’ve seen of PILLARS, something this reviewer is extremely thankful for.
PILLARS’ single ‘You Got This’ is out now on East City Records.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
It’s a precarious time for synthpop bands. With the return of both Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers, not to mention the reappearance of The Prodigy, synthpop bands would do themselves a favour if they went back to basics their pop sensibility. This includes keeping their distance from what the top 40 pop sound has turned into, tracks tinged or dunked into r&b and soul. Glaswegians Prides have done this to some extent in their Island Records debut last month, ‘The Way Back Up’, but they couldn’t maintain the quality of their songs. In contrast, the buoyancy of the songs on Cut Ribbons‘ debut album tell me they’ve got both the songwriting and performing chops, and I believe both will serve them well as they support this album and beyond.
Frankly, I have no idea how you can listen to ‘We Want to Watch Something We Love Burn’ without smiling and wanting to wave your arms in the air. Outside Patterns on Thursday at the Great Escape this year was a rainy, dreary mess to open the festival. The kind of day where drinking seems to be the only decent option to spend the day. The Llanelli, West Wales band paid no mind to this, as their light touch with their songs brightened everyone’s spirits and closed out the Gorwelion / Horizons afternoon showcase on a high note.
There’s something very special in the main singing duties shared between Lluan Bowen (keyboards) and founding member Aled Rees (guitar), whether they’re singing in sweet harmony or they’re taking turns on lead. Cut Ribbons songs can sound like the kind of music you’d expect soundtracking the latest Disney flick, except that you’re continually reminded by the nimble synth lines that this music can be enjoyed by adults too. Like the aforementioned debut from Prides, there’s been effort on here to include some slower numbers to break things up but comparatively, the Welsh band come through head and shoulders better on the ballads than their Glaswegian peers, showing believable sensitivity on the dreamy ‘Truth in Numbers’ and ‘I’m a Wretch’.
But you’re not really here to listen to me waffle on about the ballads on a synthpop group’s debut LP, are you? Right, let’s get to it. With its booms of percussion and synth chords alongside the memorable guitar riffs, ‘Clouds’ mesmerised me live, with the chorus “Saw all the colours with you / kaleidoscopes with a view / caught everything that you threw / ‘cos that’s what lovers should do” chronicling the unbreakable bond of a strong relationship. Less about destruction than the end of an era, a synthpop ‘There Goes the Fear’ contending “we’ll sink like a stone, into the unknown”, the relentless title track is a cardiovascular workout. Similarly, album standout ‘Walking on Wires’ will keep your heart rate up, while lyrically being inspirational as two people go forward together in strength, just as Bowen and Rees’ voices join in beautiful harmony: “hold on tight this time / two lost souls defined / everything’s gonna be fine / everything’s gonna be fine”. Near the end of the tracklisting is ‘Bound in Love’, its ’80s pop heart on full display while the guitar and xylophone notes bounce and its connecting passages build anticipation to ride you out to the crest of the next wave.
Less frenetic in structure and more anthemic is ‘White Horses’, which skirts that Disney / Olympics-ready line. Throughout the song, the band build a wall of sound with guitars, synths and drums that’s more reminiscent of what a psych band would do. But it works and works well in this context because they’ve arranged it smartly so that Bowen and Rees’ vocals sound sweet and are loud enough in the mix to hold their own against the instrumentation. And hurrah, I think Cut Ribbons are the only pop band whose album I’ve heard this year that didn’t end with a snoozefest. ‘Sink Ships’ concludes the album on another bright anthemic note, even if the song revisits the earlier theme of the unknown. Cut Ribbons are a young band, so anxiety is to be expected about the future. Though one wonders what they’re feeling so anxious about, putting together a winning album like this.
‘We Want to Watch Something We Love Burn’, Welsh band Cut Ribbons’ debut album, is out tomorrow, the 21st of August, on Kissability. To read my coverage of them performing at the Gorwelion / Horizons showcase Thursday at the Great Escape 2015, go here. To see them in action as well as see yours truly be interviewed about their performance, watch the video here on >the Gorwelion / Horizons page on the BBC Web site.
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