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Modestep are a tricky band to categorise, because they alternate between several different musical styles – dubsteb, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, heavy metal, and even straight pop – often within the same song. And while such stylistic confusion is one reason why it’s this writer’s sober wish never to hear their music again, there are no doubt plenty of listeners out there for whom Modestep’s magpie tendencies perfectly suit their iPhone-generation attention spans.
Their debut album ‘Evolution Theory’ runs to an ambitious 25 tracks on the deluxe edition; padded with various remixes and bonus tracks, that’s almost 2 hours of Modestep. Surely not even the most ardent fan could feel short-changed for quantity. It kicks off with the overwrought ‘Show Me a Sign’, dedicated to “the ones who care”; said dedication can apparently be demonstrated, not by perhaps helping an old lady across the street, or even sharing ones Polo mints with the office, but by holding a lighter in the air, an act of little practical use. Modestep throw the kitchen sink at their opening gambit – brostep, faux drum ‘n’ bass, and finally heavy metal riffing – conspiring to make a right old racket.
The title track is a bit more interesting: four rappers talk about which music has influenced them, namedropping profusely (Wiley, Dizzee), although it all inevitably descends into metal-step carnage towards the end. Similarly, ‘Praying For Silence’ has potential: it’s introduced by a news report on the 2011 London riots, and one would be forgiven for looking forward to a musing on that divisive episode from people closer in age and outlook to the rioters than your average man on the street. Sadly, there’s little social commentary, and the central refrain, “we’re praying for silence / now we’re burning with violence,” makes little sense. The rest is simply recycled brostep filler. An opportunity missed.
As an aside, what is the actual point of dubstep in 2015? Fair enough, when it was first invented, nigh on 20 years ago, it sounded edgy and novel, a break from the ubiquitous four-to-the-floor house scene, and probably heralded a move away from ecstasy to a novel plethora of barely-legal acronymic nightclub intoxicants. But now, with the advent of U.S. brostep and the ensuing mass cultural appropriation, the edge has gone and all we’re left with is the sound. Which, unfortunately for the genre, consists of deeply unpleasant bleugh, skweeeeek and wawawa noises. In other words, nothing to hum.
‘Time’ stands out like a black sheep – it’s a straight-ahead stadium ballad, with Hammond organ, piano, and real, heavily-reverbed drums. A jarring interlude in what is otherwise a dance album. And ‘Burn’ actually a pretty decent track, due to the contribution of a proper grime crew, Newham Generals, who actually have something decent to say, and say it well. But, yet again, the track is built around a bland platitude, in this case “can you feel the fire?”. Yes I can, and it’s in my ears. By this point, the album’s only halfway over. If you can stand to listen to the rest you’re a braver soul than I.
Let’s give Modestep the benefit of the doubt. Young listeners trying to work out exactly which genre floats their boat might listen to this and discover a previously unknown appreciation for drum ‘n’ bass, for instance, and end up seeking out some Roni Size and Goldie records. But whichever genre Modestep visit, and there are many, one can nominate a band that specialise in it… and do it better. If they chose one niche, and stuck to it, they might be more successful.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 21st January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Words by Harry Gold
he garage rock moniker usually carries connotations of abrasive and energetic guitars, steeped in fuzz to an immeasurable degree. However, in the case of Virginia’s The Young Sinclairs, the genre is given a new meaning entirely, with their interpretation of it seems to be largely different from other bands classified as such, offering a cleaner, more vintage sound, leaning less towards punk rock and intertwining themselves with the garage rock’s predecessor of rock ‘n’ roll. Describing themselves as “far more than just a fleeting retro act” on their Facebook, it’s clear that the band are filled with the confidence and conviction, and indeed, justifiably so. Taken from their recently released, self-produced LP ‘This is the Young Sinclairs’, the opposing sides of the band’s latest single both offer a welcome complement to each other, drawing out different musical ideas from the group’s evidently sizeable list of influences.
Single ‘Dead End Street’ ambles into view with jangly guitars that would not have been out of place had they appeared alongside The Velvet Underground’s softer, more conventional songwriting moments. The brilliantly haphazard piano sound manages to seem simultaneously both childlike and endearingly antique, characterizing the track with a late ‘60s psychedelic atmosphere, cohesively coupled with a jangly C86 indie twist.
With vocalist Samuel J. Lunsford sounding like a stoned Paul McCartney fumbling his way through a Byrds classic, the flip-side of the double A-sided single ‘Mona Lisa’ is equally as impressive. More Beatles comparisons arise in the artful harmonies of the backing vocals throughout the track, the overall effect being that the whole song feels like a genuine unheard relic that has not been newly recorded, merely recently unearthed. The band’s refusal to submit to the conventional way of recording, making the decision to record and produce all their music independently, flitting between various indie labels, distances their work from modern influence and corruption.
The double A-sided single ‘Dead End Street / Mona Lisa’ from American band The Young Sinclairs is out now on Ample Play Records. You can listen to both songs below.
Marika Hackman has just announced a list of live dates for March and April, following the highly anticipated release of her debut album ‘We Slept at Last’, due out on the 16th of February. Hackman and her new live band will play 18 headline dates on the spring tour, including a show at Manchester’s Night and Day on the 4th of April. Tickets for the following shows go on sale this Friday, the 23rd of January, at 9 AM. You can stream ‘Ophelia’, taken from the new LP, below the tour dates.
Monday 23rd March 2015 – Leicester Musician
Tuesday 24th March 2015 – Hull Adelphi
Wednesday 25th March 2015 – Stoke Sugarmill
Thursday 26th March 2015 – Birmingham Rainbow
Saturday 28th March 2015 – Nottingham Bodega
Monday 30th March 2015 – Milton Keynes Craufurd Arms
Tuesday 31st March 2015 – London Bush Hall
Wednesday 1st April 2015 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Thursday 2nd April 2015 – Newcastle Think Tank
Friday 3rd April 2015 – York Duchess
Saturday 4th April 2015 – Manchester Night and Day
Sunday 5th April 2015 – Glasgow King Tut’s
Thursday 9th April 2015 – Bristol Thekla
Friday 10th April 2015 – Cardiff St. John’s Church
Saturday 11th April 2015 – Aldershot West End Centre
Sunday 12th April 2015 – Bedford Esquires
Tuesday 14th April 2015 – Cambridge Portland Arms
Wednesday 15th April 2015 – Southampton Joiners
Danish art rock band Mew have announced details of a forthcoming new album and a European tour for this May, including three live dates in the UK. The album, titled ‘+-‘ (read “plus, minus”) is due for release via PIAS on the 27th of April. Below the tour date listing, you can stream the album’s first single ‘Satellites’. Tickets for the following shows go on sale this Friday, the 23rd of January, at 9 AM.
Previous TGTF coverage of Mew can be found here.
Sunday 17th May 2015 – Glasgow ABC
Tuesday 19th May 2015 – Manchester Ritz
Wednesday 20th May 2015 – London Roundhouse
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 8th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
Last night on Steve Lamacq’s drivetime show on BBC 6music, longtime friends of TGTF Stornoway greeted the new year and their fans with a brand new song, the first single off their third album. Gathering enough money for recording the new album and hiring an outside producer (and for the first time on a Stornoway album) was easy: fans helped them meet their PledgeMusic campaign‘s target in just 4 days, and at the time of this writing, pledges are nearing four and half times the original goal. On production duties on the new album is Gil Norton, who produced such rock masterpieces as Pixies‘ ‘Doolittle’ and several of their other LPs, and Foo Fighters‘ first album as a band, ‘The Colour and the Shape’.
When I heard Norton’s name come up, my stomach started tying up in knots. Stornoway aren’t a straight rock band, so how on earth is this going to work? Is this really a good idea? When they released 2013’s ‘You Don’t Know Anything’, a mini-album of outtakes from second album ‘Tales from Terra Firma’, I’d already begun to wonder if they were stepping away from the simpler virtues of 4AD debut ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ in favour of a more impactful, louder sound. Thankfully, my fears – so far – have been unfounded upon the release of ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ to the wild. First impression: whatever happened to that band Fleet Foxes? Have they gone for good? Because if they have, Stornoway’s come to take their place.
A short bit of complex guitar played quickly begins the song, and as I looked at the single art – a bird diving headfirst through a manhole-shaped window and into the urban landscape – it made me think of the way sun dapples the surface of a river as the water ripples downstream. No time to contemplate life any further though, as you are met straight away with an massive harmony of the band members’ voices. Huge. Smartly, Norton chose to keep frontman Brian Briggs’ tenor voice front and centre, the primary focal point with just a slight yet perfect echo effect. The voices of Briggs’ bandmates and the myriad of instruments in the background bolster, not muddy, the strength of the main vocals, with prominent drum beats and crashing cymbals adding drama while also not taking away from the vocal line. The end result is gorgeous, sounding richer than anything they’d have been able to do in the past on their own.
The song itself is a homage to the famous Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, which just so happens to be one of my favourite poems. Ever. The voice of the poem tells of a choice he made at an earlier moment in his life where he had the option of two paths to take. In the song, the Oxford band have moved the story high up on a mountaintop where one can look down at where you might have gone, had you taken a different path. Briggs also continues the story of the poem with “sometimes when you get to the summit / you will see another hill to climb”, representing worthy ambition. The song may be short (barely 3 minutes to be radio friendly) but gets its point across well: although you can look behind you at the choices you might have made but did not, there are better, higher places for you to go from here.
The bird artwork is a not so subtle nod to singer Briggs’ academic and scientific training (he has a degree with ornithology), but its use here is intriguing in contrast to the cover artwork for ‘Tales from Terra Firma’, a cartoon image of a child in a bed as if in a boat at sea. As the title of the album has yet to be revealed, I suspect this image of wildlife beauty facing unfamiliar territory, and with determination of seeing things through, will play a role in the story the album will tell. It might also be an appropriate metaphor for the changes the band themselves saw themselves going through in making album #3 in a totally new way?
You can pre-order Stornoway’s third album now on their PledgeMusic page; the band explain their PledgeMusic project in the video below. Stornoway have previously announced a UK tour for April and May; all the details are this way. For our past coverage on TGTF on the band, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 22nd December 2014 at 11:00 am
When it comes time for a music editor to review the year’s releases, it’s something that should not be done lightly. With great power comes great responsibility. This will be my fifth top albums of the year at the helm of TGTF, so this year I feel this even more so. Without a doubt, 2014 was politically tumultuous, not only literally with the Scottish referendum and all that’s happening with Obama vs. Congress and Cameron vs. Parliament, but also on the music front, where we saw Apple buy Dr. Dre’s Beats Music and enable U2 to give iTunes users a free album they never asked for, Taylor Swift withdrawing all of her songs from Spotify, and online streaming outpacing and resoundingly beating download purchases.
I’ve got no industry crystal ball in front of me, but it’s clear 2015 will bring additional challenges for the music business. Companies will need to look to and develop new models and new sources of revenue, and at the same time, artists and bands will need to retool and reinvent themselves to not only endure and survive but thrive in these exciting, challenging times. With that, I turn your attention to the albums I deemed the most worthy of your purchase from this year, as I tell you about the artists who made them.
1. Teleman – ‘Breakfast’ (Moshi Moshi); Teleman on TGTF
It’s the most important meal of the day, isn’t it? So it makes uncannily appropriate sense to start with Teleman’s debut album. A lot has been made about the differences in sound from three out of four of their members’ previous band – the now-defunct Pete and the Pirates – and yes, they do sound different. There are buzzy synth lines by the Pirates’ former drummer Jonny Sanders, and overall, the sound is more pop than the rock of their previous band. The live experience, as I thankfully finally got the chance to witness in New York City in September, is a whole lot of fun too.
But the most important pieces have stayed constant: the band’s excellent songwriting and singer Tommy Sanders’ voice, going from angelic (opening track ‘Cristina’) to borderline vitriolic (‘Mainline’), depressive (’23 Floors Down’) to frantic joy (‘Skeleton Dance’), and everywhere in between. The jewel of the crown of ‘Breakfast’ is, I suppose somewhat ironically, the most difficult day and time of the week, ‘Monday Morning’, where Tommy Sanders shows yearning alternating with ire as he expresses regret about a relationship that could have been so much more…but wasn’t.
The album’s brilliance as a whole is that no two songs sound the same, yet they’re all about transport and the action of moving or leaving, and in a way that I’ve never been touched by before. I’ve laughed to this album, I’ve cried to this album, I’ve contemplated the meaning of life to this album. It hasn’t left my car since I got it for review in May, which says a lot. Magnificent, Teleman. Truly magnificent.
2. Sir Sly – ‘You Haunt Me’ (Interscope); Sir Sly on TGTF
I’m sure you readers have noticed I generally go out of my way to avoid mainstream artists who by some “miracle” just jump to success off the back of a major label. American indie rock / r&b trio Sir Sly have been around for a bit, but I didn’t pay much attention to them until I queued up ‘Where I’m Going’ as part of my research on them a couple of weeks prior for their co-headline slot on a North American tour with Wolf Gang. (Read my review of their show in Washington DC in September here.) I was hooked immediately by the sultriness of singer Landon Jacobs’ vocals, paired with a electronic pop / funk background that’s catchy as all hell yet mysterious.
Their debut album for Interscope finally dropped in mid-September, and it’s a pop masterpiece. Title track ‘You Haunt Me’ shows the band at their poppiest, with a bouncy, infectious rhythm guaranteed to make you pogo, while the synths gleam and glitter with the best of them. Yes, there is a commercial thread running through this album – a remix of ‘Gold’ was used to great effect to sell Cadillacs to young people in an American telly advert this year – but dark, buzzy beats on ‘Ghost’, rattling percussion on ‘Nowhere/Bloodlines pt. 1′ and the oozy smoothness of stretched synths accompanied with the painful vocal delivery in ‘Too Far Gone’ prove Sir Sly are no one-trick pony. In a world where pop, r&b and electronic struggle to coexist peacefully on the charts, this is one band that proves it can be done, and done very well. Expect them to be the next massive pop/r&b act.
3. The Crookes – ‘Soapbox’ (Fierce Panda); The Crookes on TGTF
And now, for something with a bit harder edge. Which sounds a bit strange coming from the happy, peppy, back to basics New Pop of Sheffield’s Crookes, doesn’t it? From the starting discordant guitar note of first single ‘Play Dumb’, they made it evident to the world that they wanted to be and should be taken seriously, which totally makes sense on an album called ‘Soapbox’. Prior to its release, it was a big year for the band, as they explained to me in an interview after SXSW 2014, having signed to American label Modern Outsider in 2013 and headlining their night that week in Austin at Parish Underground.
While the foursome didn’t entirely reinvent themselves, they really ratcheted up the quality of the songwriting on their third album. ‘Echolalia’ and ‘Howl’ exhibit a sadness you feel deeper through their words and music in such a different way than from their previous releases. ‘While You’re Fragile’ and ‘Outsiders’ confirm lyricist Daniel Hopewell hasn’t strayed far from his usual direction; at the same time the band haven’t lost their pop sensibility altogether for which they have become favourites with their fans. Hopewell said in an interview for One Week One Band’s Crookes feature earlier this month, “I think I’m more honest now. And hopefully my writing is improving so I can express simplistic, honest ideas in a more beautiful way”. Taken together with how they’ve changed musically from 2012’s ‘Hold Fast’, ‘Soapbox’ seems to suggest there is plenty more room for the Crookes to grow, both in lyrical and musical artistry.
4. The Lost Brothers – ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ (Lojinx); The Lost Brothers on TGTF
When two people are destined to be musical partners, you can listen to a single song of theirs and on some subliminal level, you just know. I don’t want to make it sound like the songs contained within ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’ are basic; rather, it’s a true testament to the Liverpool-via-Ireland duo’s gifts to us – beautiful singing voices and incredible guitar dexterity – that they can make indie folk sound so effortless, yet so gorgeous.
This is the ultimate autumnal folk record, probably best listening to late at night. You can practically hear the fallen leaves crunch under your feet as you listen further through the effort. From the gentle simplicity of instrumental ‘Nocturnal Tune’, on through the heartbreak experienced by the actions of one ‘Derridae’, then to the anguish of a disillusioned fighter in ‘Soldier’s Song’, there is a lot of poignancy to feel here. But then you get to a track like the seemingly too happy (for them; I talked to Leech about this in a recent q&a) ‘Walking Blues’, and you know the sun will rise again. All in all, remarkably restrained beauty.
5. Sivu – ‘Something on High’ (Atlantic); Sivu on TGTF
After several singles and EPs scattered over the last year or so, James Page’s debut album was long awaited by me, especially after chatting with him at SXSW 2014 and seeing him live in Austin. It was a special privilege to be present for his LP’s launch party at Hackney Oslo in mid-October, bearing witness to quite possibly his first overzealous fan and stage crasher. So what is it about ‘Something on High’ that can cause such crazed devotion?
Page has separated himself from the other guitar-toting, may I say boring male singer/songwriters (for one, hello, entitled Ben Howard in Norwich) or ones who are trying for the r&b votes (like Hozier, whose popularity still makes me groan). How? There is beat, experimentation and strings in opening track ‘Feel Something'; earlier single ‘Can’t Stop Now’ is inspiration in the form of sunny pop. Yet the true genius of ‘Something on High’ is just how much this album will lead you to think, to truly contemplate one’s existence, something truly rare when it comes to pop albums. Page examines the keys to human existence (‘Miracle [Human Error]’), the desire to start over (‘Bodies’) and crushing self-defeat in the face of heartbreak (‘Sleep’) and in such a sensitive, yet stunning way.
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