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At a time when the term apathy is almost an outlawed word in Scotland, it’s ironic that an album by a band from north of Hadrian’s Wall inspires an overwhelmingly apathetic feeling within me. From the beginning of We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third outing ‘Unravelling’ – barring sparse sections of the record – all I could think was what else I could be doing rather than listen to this record.
Maybe I’ll listen to the new We Are the Ocean song ‘ARK’. That’s been buzzing around my head nicely for a while. Or perhaps I’ll try and write a feature piece on that BBC Music cover creation of ‘God Only Knows’, to delve into the madness where they put Dave Grohl in the same vein as (definition of flash in the pan) Sam Smith. Or perhaps I’ll listen to that 30-second snippet of the new Foo Fighters album in the documentary promo.
For me, those thoughts gave the underlying impression of an album that failed to do what I demand from music. It neither grabbed me, nor did it take me on a journey, nor did it inspire any poignant emotion within me – barring apathy – if that can be classified as a discernable emotion. I didn’t feel it was truly experimental either; there was nothing which jumped out and grabbed me and made me think, nobody else is doing that at the moment.
The record truly just doesn’t get going until quarter of an hour in, despite flecks of promise at the end of LP opener ‘Safety in Numbers’. ‘Night Terror’ at least had enough about to wake me from the faux-slumber I drifted into at the top of the album. Perhaps I was expecting too much? But when the NME call their second album “Punchy, literate guitar music”, I expect a bit of punch before around 25 minutes into the blooming thing. ‘A Part of It’ starts off with a bit of bite and vigour, almost enough to nudge me awake from my stasis.
From the brilliantly angst-ridden breakout record of ‘These Four Walls’, We Were Promised Jetpacks showed a great promise in the brilliantly honest songwriting that underpinned the power of their debut outing. Despite their being an almost overwhelming sense of anxiety throughout ‘Unravelling’, this album just doesn’t hit the emotional highs and lows that predecessors have found the note on. As far as British post-rock is going, the group looked certain to push their way to the forefront, but this album despite having all the sheen of a brilliant production and some slick guitar work just feels a little underwhelming.
I just thought a band with the word ‘jetpacks’ in the title may be a little more exciting with maturity, but even after ‘Unravelling’, I still think we’re waiting for lift-off.
Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks‘ third album ‘Unravelling’ is out now on FatCat Records. Read Mary’s review of previous single ‘I Keep It Composed’ here.
When an artist’s debut album garners a Mercury Prize nomination and two Brit Awards, following it up with a second full release must seem a monumental proposition. Undaunted by his early success with 2011’s ‘Every Kingdom’, Ben Howard has succeeded in not only fulfilling but exceeding the expectations he set forth for himself with his new release, ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Where ‘Every Kingdom’ alternated between quiet introspection and uptempo folk-pop, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ takes a darker, more dramatic turn, replacing carefully crafted hooks with broader instrumental sections and an extended sonic palette.
Produced once again by drummer Chris Bond, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ is more pared back than the lengthy ‘Every Kingdom’, but the individual songs on the new album are characteristically expansive, with 7 of the 10 tracks exceeding the 5-minute mark. Most notable among those is the epic ‘End of the Affair’. Though it appears late in the overall sequence, the early single release of this song set the tone for the album, swapping Howard’s usual warm acoustic instrumental setting for one based in the echoes of electric guitars. Which is not to say that the song lacks emotional connection; indeed Howard’s rasping vocals drip with the sad bitterness of his lyrics. Each repeat of the chorus – “living without her / living at all / seems to slow me down / living forever / hell, I don’t know / do I care, do I care / the thunder’s rumbled sound” – is more anguished building into the frenetic, breathtaking coda.
The evocatively reverberant electric guitar riff of opening track ‘Small Things’ introduces the new sound without preface, offsetting the ominous vocal line of the chorus, “has the world gone mad or is it me? / all these small things, they gather round me”. The deep angst in the closing instrumental section segues flawlessly into the driving beat of second track ‘Rivers in Your Mouth’. Title track and recent single ‘I Forget Where We Were’ is more rock than folk with its wailing guitars and crashing cymbals. The electric guitar solo in the bridge section perfectly illustrates the growing dissonance and despair of a relationship starting to unravel.
Among the howling guitars and propulsive drums, Howard weaves in hints of his signature acoustic folk sound. The rhythmic finger-picked guitar figure of ‘In Dreams’ is both ethereal and portentously energetic, matched with a moaning hum in the backing vocals and and a bowed string countermelody. ‘She Treats Me Well’ is a soulful acoustic ballad whose slight blues inflection grows stronger as its equally blues-tinged lyrics play out.
Amazingly, the songs on ‘I Forget Where We Were’ maintain their high level of intensity and focus into the second half of the album. ‘Evergreen’ pinpoints the distant wintery chill that characterises most of the record, the lyric “there in the lights you said something, but I can’t remember what” capturing the essence of memory that is fading, yet still haunting in its emotion. In standout track ‘Conrad’, Howard makes lyrical reference to Polish-English author Joseph Conrad, comparing his former lover to the breached ship in Conrad’s ‘Lord Jim’ and his protagonist to the novel’s title character. Closing track ‘All is Now Harmed’ continues the theme of disillusionment, but returns to a more sensual musicality, building to a soaring instrumental dynamic with the repeated chorus “what is in your nature looms inside your blood / hold me in harm’s wake, baby, all is now harmed”.
Thematically, ‘I Forget Where We Were’ combines restrained intellect with a sense of slow-burning emotion just below the surface. It’s not as heart-on-sleeve as ‘Every Kingdom’, but musically, it has more edge, more bite. Howard has refined his songwriting to the point where every sonic choice has definite musical or emotional intent, and the concentrated tracklisting allows each song to deliver its full emotional impact. It’s rare to hear a sophomore album more powerful than its hit predecessor debut, especially one as critically acclaimed as ‘Every Kingdom’, but Howard has truly outdone himself here.
‘I Forget Where We Were’ by Ben Howard is out now on Universal/Island Records. Howard will embark on a sold out tour of the UK and Ireland in December.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 10th October 2014 at 10:00 am
Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune just finished up a support slot opening for Glass Animals on their massive autumn tour of North America. I’m generally not a huge fan of straight rap, but there was just something about Fortune’s opening performance at the Black Cat in Washington DC on 17 September that I found very honest. Not to mention he’s quite catchy with his rhyme and got everyone’s hands in the air too!
Guess they’re all pals now, as Dave Bayley reworked their new buddy Rome into a new version of their upcoming single ‘Hazey’, which drops next Monday, the 13th of October, on Wolf Tone / Caroline International. (We previously posted the promo and live from London Meltdown Festival versions of the single on TGTF.) So for today’s MP3(s) of the Day (and more!) post, we’re streaming below that rework, along with the entire ‘Small VVorld’ album from Rome Fortune that premiered on Billboard on Tuesday, which Fortune is offering up entirely for free. Have a listen to both and if you fancy grabbing the album for your very own, you can do so through this link.
According to their record label Fierce Panda, Sheffield indie rockers The Crookes are “never knowingly underemployed”, and in keeping with that mantra, they have announced a list of live shows in England to follow their current American tour.
To accompany their American tour dates, the band have released ‘When You’re Fragile’, from their recent LP ‘Soapbox’, to American radio. The track will also feature as a b-side to upcoming single ‘Howl’, due for release on the 24th of November to coincide with their live shows on this side of the pond. You can have a listen to ‘Howl’ below the tour date listing. Tickets for the following shows are available now.
Sunday 23rd November 2014 – Oxford Jericho
Monday 24th November 2014 – Preston Ferret
Tuesday 25th November 2014 – Liverpool Arts Club
Wednesday 26th November 2014 – Norwich Waterfront Studio
Thursday 27th November 2014 – Manchester Sound Control
Friday 28th November 2014 – Leeds Wardrobe
Saturday 29th November 2014 – Middlesborough Westgarth 2
Sunday 30th November 2014 – Derby Victoria Inn
Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis have a new collaboration. ‘Frozen By Sight’ combines Brewis’ formidable musical chops with Smith’s rum lyrics, inspired by, or possibly lifted verbatim from, notes collected on his travels. Which amounts to some jazz-rock noodling overlaid with Smith’s momentously banal observations. There’s more than a whiff of Grauniad-endorsed chin-stroking implied here, with a side order of 6th-form pretension: imagine your least favourite uncle’s holiday slide show commentary with a soundtrack by Creme Brulée from The League of Gentlemen and you’re in the right ballpark.
‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’ comes first. Ignore the ugly Americanism “exiting” and focus on the fact that the story largely comprises Smith hanging around in a London park observing a chap taking a phone call, meeting up with his girlfriend (who, it is noted, is wearing pink flip-flops), and wandering off into the distance. And there was I hoping for some incisive social commentary. ‘Barcelona (At Eye Level)’ is similarly dramaless – some people wander around the marina and lightning flashes a few times. Why did Gaudi bother?
Having said all that, as you might expect Brewis is as strong as ever, intertwining delicate yet assertive strings throughout his arrangements, showcasing the south-of-Tyne sounds we’ve come to know and love – big, thudding ’70s-style drums, fluid time signatures ebbing and flowing as required, and meaty, up-front production. Smith is known for his, as Yoko Ono would put it, “moon, spoon, june” lyrical style, so it’s quite pleasant to hear him take a more stream-of-consciousness approach here, which suits the meandering nature of the soundtrack and indeed the concept as a whole. And to be fair they do deliver on the concept – Smith has frozen a moment in time by visual observation, and baldly recorded it in a literary form halfway between prose and poetry, rather than a more conventional medium – that of photography, say.
Both tracks essentially desperately want to be ‘A Day in the Life’, and whilst Brewis does have a good stab at that multi-movemented style of orchestral pop, sadly Smith is no Paul McCartney when it comes to telling a story. He’s far too literal, lacking any sense of the fantastic, not letting his imagination intervene in his transcriptions of the day-to-day goings-on he observes. A decent dose of fancy, perhaps a tinge of psychedelia, or a few thousand conceptual holes, would have helped him climb out of a literal, lyrical one. But it will in all likelihood make a decent live happening, so for those of you lucky enough to live in London, Manchester or Gateshead (coincidentally the finest three cities in the UK), their live show is coming to you in December.
‘Frozen By Sight’ is due to be released on the 17th of November on Memphis Industries. The three-date English tour is set to take place in mid-December; all the details are here.
Former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry has just announced a month-long tour of the UK for next spring. This massive list of dates promises to feature classic Roxy Music hits alongside Ferry’s solo efforts, including his new album ‘Avonmore’, which is due for release on the 17th of November. You can take an early listen to album track ‘Loop De Li’ below the tour date listing. Tickets for the following shows will go on sale this Friday, the 10th of October, at 10 AM.
Friday 8th May 2015 – Cambridge Corn Exchange
Saturday 9th May 2015 – Oxford New Theatre
Monday 11th May 2015 – Cardiff St. David’s Hall
Tuesday 12th May 2015 – Southend Cliff Pavilion
Thursday 14th May 2015 – Leicester De Montfort Hall
Friday 15th May 2015 – Bridlington Spa
Sunday 17th May 2015 – Newcastle City Hall
Monday 18th May 2015 – Manchester Palace Theatre
Wednesday 20th May 2015 – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Saturday 23rd May 2015 – Harrogate International Centre
Sunday 24th May 2015 – Edinburgh Usher Hall
Tuesday 26th May 2015 – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Wednesday 27th May 2015 – Sheffield City Hall
Friday 29th May 2015 – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Saturday 30th May 2015 – Blackpool Opera House
Monday 1st June 2015 – London Royal Albert Hall
Thursday 4th June 2015 – Brighton Dome
Friday 5th June 2015 – Portsmouth Guildhall
Sunday 7th June 2015 – Poole Lighthouse
Monday 8th June 2015 – Bristol Colston Hall
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