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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 23rd August 2016 at 6:00 pm
Have a listen to ‘The Chaser’ by Glaswegian rockers Twin Atlantic, and you’d swear you’d been dropped off somewhere in the excesses of the Seventies. While its promo video might be missing glitter, platforms and big hair, this song falls pretty well in line with the work of Slade and T. Rex. Except ‘The Chaser’ also has a bit more of a pop sheen to round things out, you know, for those who don’t want things going off the rails too much. Yet it’s got a killer guitar solo in the bridge to remind you this is a rock song after all.
So which way is Twin Atlantic’s fourth album ‘GLA’, out the 9th of September on Red Bull Records, going to go? We’ll have to wait and find out. Watch the video for ‘The Chaser’ below, filmed in the Glasgow bar where the band played their first-ever show. For more on the Scottish rock band on TGTF, head here.
Since his 2011 debut album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has been on somewhat of a hiatus, releasing just the four-track EP ‘In The Open’ in 2012. Shortly after the EP’s release, his father was diagnosed with cancer, causing him to cancel a North American tour that winter. His father sadly passed in April 2013, leaving Leftwich distraught: “I just needed to live outside of music”.
Two long, hard years later, Benjamin Francis Leftwich has released his long anticipated second studio album ‘After The Rain’ this month. On the new LP, Leftwich is essentially serving up his life over the past few years on a plate, as he addresses the pain and heartache he went through as he grieved the loss of his father. As a commemoration, ‘After The Rain’ is both melancholic yet optimistic in its delicate yet grand decorum.
The album opens with the previously released ‘Tilikum’, which was also his first release in 3 years. Its meandering guitar melody intro sets the scene perfectly for Leftwich’s vocals to return in the whispering falsetto previously engraved in our minds in 2011. As he paints a picture of the times shared with his father, the track continues in a delicate, ghostly fashion, the musical equivalent to a light, late afternoon autumn breeze. Each part of the song, from the female backing vocals harmonising the topline to the light brushwork on the drums, were thoroughly thought out and perfectly executed when sculpting the overall sound of the track.
Although the same elements are used throughout, third track ‘She Will Sing’ carries more of a tribal feel. With a lot more momentum, the song shows a far more exciting side to the album. The heavy use of added percussion, together with a rhythmic vocal melody, play a huge part in creating vigour within the track. Aside from these two major elements, we continue to hear a very delicate vocal tone, Leftwich’s trademark fingerpicked guitar melody that meanders around the chords and an equally as soft and simple pad sound that weaves together with the guitar.
‘After the Rain’ can be categorized instantly with a few similar artists. Twinkly guitar lines and falsetto vocals scream Bon Iver and Ben Howard, which we hear religiously throughout. This works for Leftwich, and it works well. But when we look past the obvious, specifically in tracks like ‘Kicking Roses’ with its minimalist indie electronic vibe, and the abstract sample sound used in ‘Mayflies’, the music points towards The Postal Service and James Blake. Considering Leftwich’s similarities with singer/songwriter types, these outsider influences are like a breath of fresh air. The only downside is that they don’t appear as often as one would like. An equal blend of the two separate reference groups would be perfect in pulling the whole album together, rather than an overuse of folky, easy listening elements and an underuse of the electronic ones.
‘Mayflies’ is the only song on the album in which elements from both sets of influences are utilised cohesively. A colourful, off-beat drum groove intertwined with a simple, syncopated guitar melody form the foundations of this folk-orientated track. The vocal melody has been planned carefully to allow for downtime during the verses, with longer phrases and fewer syllables, with the change to a more rhythmic melody with much sharper projection. Intriguingly, Leftwich puts focus on the aforementioned abstract sample sound, specifically throughout the end of each chorus. The use of this sample here effectively gives the track a lot more momentum, while carefully adding one more element of interest and surprise for his listeners.
Emotionally and lyrically, this is an incredible album with great use of instrumentation. It is touching and emotional in a very direct way, a window intosome of Leftwich’s very personal matters. Sonically, I feel it could take a little more work. The broadening in sounds and experimentation with influences is a well-accepted addition to the album; however, these moments come few and far between. If executed as strongly as we hear in ‘Mayflies’ or ‘Kicking Roses’, he could be onto a very unique and individual sound, and one that could be the groundwork for something bigger.
‘After The Rain’ is out now on Dirty Hit Records. Benjamin Francis Leftwich will begin a UK tour next month on the 21st of September in Norwich. This will be followed by mainland Europe and American tours in October through December. For more on TGTF’s coverage on Leftwich, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 22nd August 2016 at 6:00 pm
Following her appearance at the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music Foundation showcase at SXSW 2016, teenage British singer/songwriter Billie Marten will be releasing her debut album next month. ‘Writing of Blues And Yellows’ will be available everywhere on the 23rd of September on Chess Club / RCA Victor (UK) and on Columbia Records (America). Late last week, she unveiled album track and current single ‘Lionhearted’ and its music video. Slow and smoky, it’s definitely one for the singer/songwriter lovers. (I’m looking in Carrie’s direction.) Watch the promo for ‘Lionhearted’ below. To read more of our back archive on Billie Marten, go here.
Scottish rock giants Biffy Clyro appeared as if they could do no wrong. Ever since the release of 2007’s ‘Puzzle’, they just kept on climbing up and into the stratosphere, where they sat perched on a throne made of solid rock gems. With such escalating expectations, it was inevitable there was going to be a slight slip. And ‘Ellipsis’, produced by Rich Costey, is just that.
Being the sixth release over a career that has seen their sound turn from jagged, raw and ferocious to mammoth, orchestrated and hard hitting, where they would go next was always a question hanging in the air. They have certainly decided that the future doesn’t involve regressing back to their earlier years and the grandiose sound that is now synonymous with the name Biffy Clyro is certainly here to stay.
Opening with ‘Wolves of Winter’, they show they certainly don’t mess around with the epic soundscapes. However, there is a certain lightheartedness once this all falls away and the instrumentation takes on an almost playful stance, especially pre-chorus. ‘Friends and Enemies’ continues this trend, though with much greater aplomb, but it’s on ‘Animal Style’ where the savage beasts return in full form. The pre-chorus of “why do you waste your time with me, I’m an animal, can you realise, my head’s a fucking carnival” is where Simon Neil’s songwriting is at its most raw and striking. This trend continues through to the chorus that is as large as the words he forcefully puts upon us to mark his territory.
“I am explosive and volatile, I’m on the turn”, Neil sings during the opening verse in later cut ‘Howl’, and nothing has ever been truer of this band. Though things certainly are feeling mildly stagnant in places, the experimentation doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s good to see them trying out new sounds in the hope that something helps lead to a higher level. But an album should have a flow or an air, and ‘Ellipsis’ just doesn’t.
Perhaps far more noticeable than the lyrics is how the complete and utter divergence from the record’s flow is obvious. A far cry from the introductory three tracks, ‘Re-arrange’, with an electronic beat and a glittering picked guitar line is the merging of two differing worlds that both leave a different taste, be it good or bad, in your mouth. This is a recurring feature of the album, with the Biffy sound alternating and experimenting with different flavours that the majority of the time just don’t work, Yet when they do work, the result is glorious. Case in point to the former, ‘Small Wishes’ is another strange pause on the album. It takes on a folk feel, but with a complete disdain for any kind of rhythm. It follows ‘On a Bang’, another ferocious and dark track that screams all that makes Biffy Clyro, making for a huge disconnect.
‘Medicine’ has a similar feel to ‘Machines’ from the aforementioned ‘Puzzle’. More of a carry-on from there musically, lyrically it’s definitely happier, which is saying something, considering this is a song about heartbreak. Biffy barraging us again, we then get into ‘Flammable’, another of the album’s stronger moments. A wonderfully melodic turn into the more modern day Biffy Clyro, it’s a perfect agglomeration of their sounds. Finale ‘People’ continues the acoustic stopgap trend that appears throughout, with piano and guitar marrying to create a beautiful sound that echoes Neil’s words of human relationships and the complexity that they can form. It’s the most emotive moment on the record, and it’s beautiful. It’s just a shame that we had to follow the chaotic flow of ‘Ellipsis’ to get here.
‘Ellipsis’ is certainly an experimental Biffy Clyro record, which, as mentioned previously, is definitely a good thing for the Scottish band. It’s a stepping stone to what could be a much stronger follow-up. Their arrangements can be orchestrated beautifully and filled with grandeur, but they can easily go into a completely savage and beastly realm, something Biffy have near perfected now. Some of these cuts could quite easily have been placed upon a separate collection or used as b-sides in the band’s search for the next step. But the mere fact they’ve chosen to use all of them on a fully-fledged studio album means they feel they can either do no wrong or they want to shake things up a bit. Either way, whatever follows ‘Ellipsis’ will certainly be interesting.
‘Ellipsis’ is out now via 14th Floor Records. Catch up on all the Biffy Clyro coverage (we have a huge back catalogue of the stuff) on TGTF here.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 19th August 2016 at 6:00 pm
East Hampshire trio Blaenavon have a new video out for their current single. ‘Let’s Pray’ is currently making the rounds on BBC Radio 1, having been championed by both Annie Mac and Huw Stephens. Director Claes Nordwall had this to say about the inspiration for the promo:
I wanted to bring the exploitation and revenge-film style into a current scenario. Taking a loose cue from Abel Ferarra’s “Ms. 45” (1981). This cold blooded / calm tempered girl being a dystopian example of an increasingly detached youth who spend too much time online. It felt like a suitable plot for the song’s dark lyrical themes.
Sufficiently intrigued? You can watch the dark (literally and figuratively) video for ‘Let’s Pray’ below. In terms of festivals, the band have Reading and Leeds and Bingley Music Live left this summer season. In addition to support slots with The Sherlocks and The Hunna in September and October, they have a headline show lined up at London Scala on the 14th of October. For more on Blaenavon on TGTF, go here.
You might remember our review of Wild Beasts’ first single from ‘Boy King’, ‘Get My Bang’, which was described as sleazy, but in the best way possible. Well, it appears that they have carried this through to the entire record, and it’s a perfect execution. From the outset, they have no problem with getting the atmosphere to a point where you want wherever you are to always be dark, lowly lit and to contain some form of your desire. They’ve previously described this move as avoiding “being comforting” and see it as a way to keep the entire Wild Beasts idea fresh, away from stagnation.
‘Big Cat’ shows the album’s style early on with a slowly pulsating drum rhythm, enveloped by electronica and more generic instrumentation. The lyrics are always alluding to some form of predatory action, most obviously with the title and references to it, leading man Hayden Thorpe being top of the food chain. The overall formula doesn’t change throughout the LP, which is a good thing. It’s almost conceptual in its idea and execution. With it being a look into the more animalistic stylisation of human nature and the way we sometimes just want to get down to the most primal of instincts within our coding, it’s filled with grand and sometimes obvious statements.
Another fine example of this is ‘Tough Guy’, with the words “now I’m all fucked up and I can’t stand up, so I better suck it up like a tough guy would”. It succeeds in breaking down the barriers of supposed niceties and what is expected of gentlemen, yet we all let go sometimes and occasionally it works out for us. The chorus also has a rather obnoxious synth line that cuts across everything and mildly similar in sound to Ace of Base’s leading riff in ‘All That She Wants’. Maybe it’s coincidental, or maybe it’s a genius method of subtle referencing to the state of mind of the song’s main protagonist?
Of course, Wild Beasts aren’t ones to forget the fairer sex. ‘Alpha Female’ pays tribute to the fact that woman truly do control us men, and how we have no problem setting our steps behind you. ‘Get My Bang’ still has enough sleazes and sultriness to more than support the rest of the album. As mentioned previously, the instrumental makeup of the record really doesn’t differ too much. And it’s just a delightful walk through the more intense senses. ‘Celestial Creatures’ attests to this, with its ethereal and focused description of humanity at its most organic.
‘2BU’ uses Tom Fleming’s baritone is used to take the album’s voice down in ‘2BU’, which is interesting in that the rest of the track describes nothing but wanting to overtake someone’s life and be them because they have everything you want. ‘He The Colossus’ lives up to its name, with a powerfully sounding chorus that challenges the vocals for space in the mix, bringing though a colossally memorable sound. Taking the sound found throughout and warping it slightly, ‘Ponytail’ uses some more of Fleming’s baritone and an opposing instrumentation that collide together.
The two final tracks of the album bring the affair to a climax, with a truly egotistic look at the mind of the modern man in ‘Eat Your Heart Out Adonis’ and a more vulnerable truth within ‘Dreamliner’, where man’s overall vulnerability is hidden by the bravado that is often used to front this in the real world. The former is the last of the power and focus, a gruelling bass line with haunting sounds swirling in the background, with the vocals laying down the law of the animal kingdom, where the stronger thrive. The latter is a much more withdrawn affair, being a mostly acoustic affair. With the strings being audibly plucked, it’s as the atmosphere behind it swells that the track gains its momentum. The momentum drops away occasionally, which brings out the vulnerability, before the grandeur makes its slow way back in.
‘Boy King’ is perhaps one of the greatest documents of modern man and his true return to the natural state. Wanting to be the powerful Adonis, he who rules the kingdom and has his queen. Wild Beasts have managed to create this world, while giving it a sound that will not only transverse generations, but also one that will also prove a strength in their discography.
‘Boy King’, the new album from Wild Beasts, is out now on Domino Records. Catch up on more of Wild Beasts’ coverage on TGTF here.
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