By Mary Chang on Friday, 14th June 2013 at 10:00 am
Brighton resident Marika Hackman wowed punters at this year’s Great Escape with her gorgeous vocals and deft guitar playing. (For more on her appearance at the Unitarian Church on the Friday night, go here.) So we’ve got a couple tasty Marika bits and bobs for you this Friday morning. First, it just wouldn’t be an MP3 of the Day post without a free download, and this one is a family affair: Marika’s current single ‘Bath is Black’ has been remixed by Hackman, aka Marika’s own brother. Second, we’ve been remiss about not posting the video for the single, so you will find that under the SoundCloud widget. Third and lastly, if you don’t have it yet, you can listen to the entirety of Marika’s mini-album ‘That Iron Taste’. Like it? It’s out now on Dirty Hit.
City and Colour is Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green, formerly with the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire. Green’s side project started out in Alexisonfire’s heyday in 2004, but he eventually left the band to focus on his work with City and Colour and refine his more melodic folk leanings. Fourth album ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ is a lovely piece, both gentle and exploratory. I am repeatedly struck by how often I am drawn to musicians who have turned their hardcore sensibilities into gorgeous acoustic guitar driven music.
Truth be known, I didn’t even know the genre folk punk existed until a few years ago. Green’s music is a step lighter than the likes of Frank Turner and Rocky Votolato in that respect, more folky and less aggressive than the other two. But with a full band behind him, Green has developed his sound from the quiet acoustic bit that drew him into solo work into full arrangements that offer him an opportunity to showcase more musical style than just the simple voice and guitar of his previous releases. Much more expansive than previous albums from Green, ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ has great drums, guitars and strings sprinkled throughout. Not afraid to experiment with the soundscape, Green still keeps the focus on his strong suit, words and melody.
Full of introspection and insight, the album addresses the very internal struggle of yearning and the quest for meaning. The title track itself is a treatise to the hurry-up society we live in today and how it does nothing to fulfill our deeper needs. Lead single ‘Thirst’ (lyric video above) is the most distinctively different with full drums and distortion filling it out to a full on rock song. ‘Two Coins’ is another heavy with bass that resonates both sonically and lyrically, its stark loneliness matches the rumble of the bass. The tune sets out to contemplate the redemptive quality of trying to find your way: “I’ve always been dark / with light somewhere in the distance / I’ve been so unforgiving / stranded in old traditions”. But there is still plenty that is vintage City and Colour to enjoy. ‘Of Space and Time’ rings clear with just the gentlest of augmentation to round out Green’s dulcet tones. While the searching quality of the lyrics suggests it is just another melancholy lament, it actually hints at reaching the end of the journey and being satisfied.
Perfect for a laid back Saturday afternoon in the garden, ‘The Hurry and the Harm’ could easily soundtrack a lazy summer, cool drink in hand swinging in a hammock. City and Colour will be touring much of Europe in June and will hit the UK for Reading and Leeds in August.
‘The Hurry and the Harm’, the latest album from City and Colour, is out now through Dine Alone Records/Cooking Vinyl Records.
By Mary Chang on Monday, 10th June 2013 at 12:00 pm
While I was on holiday in Scotland last month, having finished way too early in the night after the Treetop Flyers gig at Electric Circus, I was bored and flipping through the channels on the telly in my shoebox of a room in Edinburgh and chanced upon BBC Alba, the digital Scottish Gaelic station part owned by the BBC but with most of its content produced in Scotland. Once I got over some of the foreign language that totally went over my head, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway appeared (looking as jovial as the time I met him at SXSW 2012), then disappeared to let a rock band take the spotlight. I squinted. Wait a minute. These lads look familiar… Isn’t that John Wean? I practically screamed in light of my good luck.
Young Glaswegian rockers John Wean have been on my radar since the summer of 2011, when I heard early single ‘Desperate Dan (She Told Me She Was Single)’. While they’ve been around for a while and certainly have racked up quite a few gigs under their belt (according to their Facebook biography, they’ve supported another band favourite of mine, Stockton’s Young Rebel Set), they’ve only released one past EP and a single here or there. Last summer’s ‘New York Doesn’t Love You’, for one, was a standout. But now the quartet have their second EP out with the very humourous title ‘Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper and Scissors!’ But the content, at least from the start, is no joking matter.
If you’re the type like me who is easily offended by strong language, steel yourself for the opening line of ‘Drive Time’. Despite the poppish instrumentation, borderline cutesy rhyming scheme in the verses and oh oh ohs, this is not a happy song. At all. It’s the distillation of a man’s crushing realisation that the woman he loves is a conniving two-timer: “I’m laughing ‘cos I can’t believe what’s coming out / you’re lying to the bone, and I’m just finding out / I’m laughing ‘cos I can’t believe what’s coming out /you’re crying down the phone, but now I’ve sussed you out”. The song ends, satisfyingly and appropriately, on an unfinished note; this leaves it raw emotionally.
As a music reviewer, it’s a given that you go into a song titled ‘Ecstacy’ bemused. Is this song going to be about making love, or the party drug? My impression is the former, and to be honest, I’m relieved, because it’s so anthemic, with its feel good singalong chorus and noodling guitar lines. “My heart’s beating, won’t you find that feeling?” is the repeated refrain, as the singer explains all the beautiful places he’s found himself in, yet he’s still remembering that moment in winsome vocals, full of the wonderment of…well, something truly special and wonderful. After the pain-inducing ‘Drive Time’, it’s welcome. Another nice touch: the first 5 seconds of ‘Ecstacy’ is a cinematic, symphonic intro. (That didn’t go unnoticed, guys. Nice one.)
Three songs in, and you’re at ‘For the Girl’, which the band recently released a promo video for. (Watch it in this previous Video of the Moment post.) This is more of the John Wean of the ‘New York…’ I remember. It’s the most radio-friendly of the four tracks on this EP, but it’s got the most confounding lyrics. At first, I thought the song represented a single argument between two suitors fighting over one girl. But the more I think about it, I wonder if it was written such that it’s really two separate arguments that are happening in our protagonist’s head: his desire to convince the girl he loves that the boy he’s with isn’t the right one for her, and also to tell off another suitor, “hands off, she’s mine”. All that aside, the incredible catchiness of the song – delivered by a driving drum beat and rhythmic guitar – isn’t likely to be lost on Radio1 and if you’re not a lyrics geek like me, ignore the above and just enjoy the song.
And then we come to the end and ‘November’, which is only what I can describe as chaos: white lines, police fines, street fights, dog bites. Instrumentally, the crashing guitars and drums sound great. But on this EP, I liked this the one the least; it’s more of a germ of an idea than a fully formed song than the other three. But three good tracks on a four-track EP from a very young band just starting to really release material? Pretty damn good.
‘Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper and Scissors!’, the new EP from Glaswegian band John Wean, is out now. Stream EP track ‘Ecstacy’ below.
By Mary Chang on Friday, 7th June 2013 at 10:00 am
As I alluded to yesterday, Oxford’s ambitionless office disco purveyors Trophy Wife are calling it quits after a 5-day final tour next week. I’m really not pleased about this at all, but I have to say that they’re being extremely nice about their ending: they’re offering up their completed self-titled debut album on Bandcamp and you can name your price and download the entire album. If you’d prefer, you can stream the album track by track in the widget below. It’s a great achievement, I’m just so sad that’s the end of Trophy Wife. Best wishes guys, you’ve brought some truly lovely music to my ears in the last 3 years.
In January of this year, Irish rock trio Bell X1 completed work on their sixth studio offering, the somewhat bewilderingly titled ‘Chop Chop.’ The summer release of ‘Chop Chop’ is anxiously anticipated by Bell X1 fans, but perhaps more so by the band themselves. In advance of the release, they have made several tracks available on SoundCloud and YouTube for sneak previewing. While the individual tracks are strong enough to pique interest, their musical and emotional impact is best realized in the context of the full album. (For singer Paul Noonan’s thoughts on this subject, see our earlier interview with him here [part 1] and here [part 2]).
Bell X1 have always had an immensely underrated talent for making glorious music from the mundane. Their choices in subject matter on ‘Chop Chop’ are as unique as ever, from the murmurations of starlings and unexpected weather patterns to pensive soul-searching on both societal and personal levels. Like past albums, this one leaves an impression of slightly uncomfortable self-consciousness, with its quirky pop-culture references and often startling exposure of basic human weaknesses. While the fist-to-the-solar-plexus lyrics are kept to a restrained minimum, there are still moments of sharp wit and stinging candor. Bell X1 have never made music for the faint-of-heart; ‘Chop Chop’ is no exception to that.
Sonically, the album is much more organic than past offerings, lighter on synthesized effects and drum machines, which creates a welcome sense of intimacy. Memorable piano melodies are present on almost every track, most notably ‘Diorama’, sung in a gently introspective lilt by David Geraghty. Its hypnotically rocking piano figure is saved from sleepiness by a subtly shifting meter, while the lyrics are so understated that they almost slip by before you notice their brilliance. Especially captivating are the lines, “The woman she was before they met / he longs to meet again. / Wise is unknowing in the end,” but the whole song is elegantly and eloquently nostalgic.
In addition to their distinctive percussion, Bell X1 have experimented here with some different brass and vocal arrangements, presumably inspired by producers Peter Katis and Thomas Bartlett. Trumpeter C.J. Camerieri and “girl singer” Hannah Cohen, who have both worked with Katis and Bartlett in the past, provide ‘Chop Chop’ with a slightly lighter, warmer color than Bell X1’s past work. (Camerieri’s impressive biography can be viewed here.) Cohen’s debut album ‘Child Bride’, produced by Bartlett, was released in April 2012 on Bella Union Records.)
Bell X1 do have a tendency toward moments of jarring noise, particularly in otherwise bittersweet songs like ‘A Thousand Little Downers’. It feels almost as if they’re trying to create some distance from the tenderness in the lyrics, and, oddly, it does come as somewhat of a relief from the heart-rending melody. Stand-out track ‘Motorcades’ addresses that contradiction with a musically light-hearted take on an emotionally pregnant experience. The clever lyrics are specific enough to feel personal, while the predominantly third-person point of reference keeps the sentimentality at arms’ length: “People cry at the strangest things / Mine is the Venezuelan national anthem.” (For the record, mine is ‘Just Like Mr Benn’.)
Taken independently, the songs on ‘Chop Chop’ are an eclectic mix, ranging from ethereal grandeur to whispered sweet nothings, with a few moments of soulful hip-shaking (‘I Will Follow You’ and ‘Feint Praise’) added for good measure. It’s a delicate and carefully crafted set of songs; while short in duration, its thematic material is dense and intensely thought-provoking. It clearly required great care in the making, and it will be most appreciated by those who take the same care in listening.
‘Chop Chop’, the new album from Bell X1, is set for release on 28 June in Ireland, 1 July in the UK and Europe and 2 July in North America, via BellyUp Records. Stream first single ‘The End is Nigh’ below.
By Mary Chang on Monday, 13th May 2013 at 11:00 am
From whence we first knew them through their stunning 2011 debut album ‘Palace’, which featured strong singles ‘Oh Maybe I’ and ‘All the Eastern Girls’, Chapel Club decided to take a major change in direction for their second album, ‘Good Together’, out on the 3rd of June. Maybe you’ve heard the new sound already, in the form of the recently released video for ‘Shy’ (a single out on the 17th of June) or these songs we offered up earlier last summer, which I described as “sleazier” and “dreamier”. Either way, you can listen to the entirety of ‘Good Together’ below. Listen and tell us what you think in the comments!