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(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: Ciaran Lavery – Live at The Mac

 
By on Wednesday, 21st December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Northern Ireland native Ciaran Lavery has just released his soon to be iconic live album ‘Live at the Mac’. Recorded December of last year, the album dropped ahead of Lavery finishing a short UK tour, which saw him revisit The Mac 2 years in a row. We don’t usually cover live albums, but since Ciaran only lives up the road from myself, we at TGTF decided we’d make an exception.

Lavery sprung to success after both his debut EP ‘Kosher’ and debut album ‘Not Nearly Dark’ were released in 2014. Two tracks in particular, ‘Left For America’ off the EP and ‘Shame’ from the LP could pinpoint Lavery’s seemingly instant success after racking up an impressive 29 million listens on Spotify, as well as producing many cover versions across the globe. Since then, he hasn’t stopped, as he states himself on his Web site bio, “I have a ridiculous fear of what might happen if I stop moving. I have to keep going”.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhZRAkWxUF8[/youtube]

‘Live at the Mac’ is Lavery in his purest form. He not only reprises the classic tale of a man and his guitar. But he presents himself in an honest and transparent sonic picture, through the fragile tone of his voice against the-bare boned accompaniment of his own guitar and a string trio. Somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live in Sin-é’, on this new album Lavery gathers together a collection of his most notable songs and presents them in the most captivating and moving setting.

The album begins with a short string intro that sways like the wind, as it implies the theme of his first track. Lavery subtly strengthens the string harmony with a light twinkle around the hinted chord progression, before bursting into ‘Awful Love’. A heavily emotional song is definitely the best way to open his set and thus begin the album. And with the added texture of Lavery’s light yet husky voice against the strong constant backbeat he creates with the heavy ghost note as he downstrokes the chords, there is an added element of urgency that gives the song momentum. Having such a stripped-back ensemble, the musical devices and harmonic expression has a lot more impact. You can tell this isn’t a problem for the group, especially within the second verse of ‘Awful Love’, which raises the level of intensity that bit further when the strings switch from the supporting role to a more forward approach with a strong staccato pulse.

Lavery moves from strength to strength, continuing the strong emotions with his highly acclaimed track ‘Left For America’. The thing about it in the live setting is that the strings seem to shed a new light on Lavery’s intentions with the song, their harmonic effects bringing new colour to the track. What seems like a song about change, with an undercurrent of travelling, now reveals the ups and downs within a family relationship. Without the drum groove from the studio version, it allows for the listener – the audience in this case – to completely immerse themselves in Lavery’s heartfelt and seemingly regretful lyrics. What helps to drive the message home, specifically in the chorus, is the juxtaposition of Lavery’s major key-based vocal melody against the delicate counter melody of the strings. Together they imply a sense of desperation similar to the bonds of a family when tested to extremes.

Among the 12 tracks on the album, 3 are covers, one of which is a Christmas song appropriate for this of year. The other two are Bruce Springsteen’s layman’s anthem ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ and Joy Division’s 1980 chart topper ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Lavery and his incredible string section beautifully represent both by portraying them in a far more desperate manner. It seems Lavery has dissected the lyrics of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, found the true message within and felt it worthy to portray it in such a way. The constant pedal drone in the higher register of the strings and the tremolo bowing technique at the end of the track act more like a sound design device than simply a musical addition to the track. The overall effect provokes a sense of unease and assists in driving the true message of the lyrics home.

Throughout the whole album, and considering the very small collection of musicians recorded on stage, the emotional highs and lows implemented are incredible. The gracious string work accompanying Lavery’s visceral vocal tone is stunning. And with the added texture of the clean acoustic guitar equipped with slack and bright-sounding strings, this ensemble is near perfect performing his amazing works.

8/10

Ciaran Lavery’s ‘Live at the Mac’ is out now on Believe Recordings. To read more about Lavery, including an interview at SXSW 2016 and coverage of his performances in Austin, go here. At the time of this writing, he is scheduled to be perform at SXSW 2017.

 

Single Review: Enemies – Glow

 
By on Thursday, 8th December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Irish math pop band Enemies have made their name with poppy guitar hooks, meandering yet recognisable melodies and light-hearted harmony to the math rock genre. On their 2013 release ‘Embark, Embrace’, they showcased all of the above perfectly. Some tracks even included two simultaneous drum tracks.

It’s no secret that they are set to split after a career spanning 10 years and after the release of their third studio album. In sight of this, the foursome have released four singles from their anticipated final album ‘Valuables’. The latest of these offerings is ‘Glow’, which includes guest vocals from Louise Gaffney.

Following a series of hard times and setbacks both musically and personally within the band over the years following ‘Embark, Embrace’, Enemies wrote in their own press release that ‘Valuables’ would be written for the enjoyment and pleasure of themselves, taking away the pressure of expectations. Single ‘Glow’ represents this beautifully. The track flows for 5 minutes with no significant signs of progression. It seems to capture and hold the listener in a dreamlike state for the duration. To hold your interest, Enemies purposely step away from using catchy guitar hooks, sudden changes and heavy riffs. Instead, they utilise a soothing wash of delightful harmonies with a soft but steady backbeat to provide the strongest foundation possible for Gaffney of Dublin’s own Come On, Live Long to sprinkle her sublime vocals over.

Although the harmony and chords chosen are classic Enemies, and the shared guitar work between Lewis Jackson and Eoin Whitfield is as fluent as ever, the track carries a much more relaxed and mature sense of musicianship. The lack of movement within the track has more of an impact than anything else. It allows for the band to play more with layers and textures, in this case with things like the pedal loop of glitches and feedback that ebb and flows with the dynamics of the track.

In saying that, there is no escaping the focus of the track, being Gaffney’s guest vocals. In the past, it was uncommon for Enemies to place so much importance on a top line. However, this new approach truly tested their songwriting ability in a positive way. Whether the approach was the inspiration for writing it, or the song came about purely out of love for what they do, ‘Glow’ is definitely a step in the right direction for Enemies.

8/10

‘Valuables’, the third and final album from Irish group Enemies, drops on the 9th of December on Top Shelf Records. Sadly, Enemies only have one last show left, at Dublin Vicar Street; find tickets for the gig here. For past TGTF coverage on the lads, go here. Otherwise, just put on one of their records, listen and reminisce.

 

Single Review: Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon

 
By on Thursday, 1st December 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

When it comes to out of the ordinary, new wave, alternative pop music, it seems that Manchester is the place to be. There may not be many bands doing this kind of thing, but the calibre of bands who are is incredible. Dutch Uncles are definitely one among the great Mancunian new wave scene who have just shared the release date for their upcoming 5th studio album ‘Big Balloon’. And luckily for us, they have released the title track, the album’s first single, last week as a preview to the long player.

Dutch Uncles present a forward-thinking side to pop music. It is very intricate, intelligent and thoroughly thought out. Each instrument plays its own part, and never used just to fill space. After four previously released studio albums, the Mancunian four-piece now have quite a back catalogue of releases. With each album, there is an unexpected development within their music, shown through the band experimenting more with ambiguous time signatures and phrasing, as well as producing erratic rhythms catchy hooks.

Without a doubt, ‘Big Balloon’ continues this trend. The song opens with an absolutely monstrous bass riff from primary songwriter and bassist Robin Richards, then goes into what Dutch Uncles do best: create an off-kilter rhythm that plays around with the accents of a 4/4 beat, creating the illusion that it’s in an irregular or compound time signature. Being a bass player, I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn the bass line. The first 5 seconds of this track shows so crystal clear why Richards and drummer Andy Proudfoot work so well together. The heavy use of mid frequencies within the bass tone are excellently accompanied by Proudfoot’s huge, deep, full-sounding drums, filling out the lower frequencies, thus resulting in an exceptionally powerful rhythm section.

Frontman Duncan Wallis defuses the tension of the strictly rhythmic bass and drum groove perfectly with an ‘80’s synthpop keyboard sound and his soft, calming vocal tone we all know and love. He recites lyrics that point perhaps toward mental health, but it’s always difficult to decipher his ambiguous and sometimes genderless lyrics. The approach to the vocal melody within ‘Big Balloon’ is very well executed, despite being in some ways basic. Melodically, it doesn’t venture far from what would be considered safe, but what Wallis showcases in rhythm is where the topline grasps the listener. Bearing this in mind, Wallis’ note choice, in partnership with the extended chords, manages to embellish the bass incredibly well. In this case, what he’s doing is both difficult and simple, as the bass is only playing one note (D) but in two octaves.

The structure of this song is strength in itself. The band knows how good the drum and bass intro is and how well it carries the track. With it, they know how long it can continue before it loses its novelty. Right on the cusp of waning interest, the chorus drops – rather unexpectedly, but still as driving as the previous 39 seconds of bass-driven pop. The chorus opens the song up, unveiling the hidden choir of vocal harmonies and dream-like synths that sprinkle the seemingly never-ending chord progression, solidly led by the thick, heavy bass notes. Although the guitar has been quiet up until this point, it continues the chorus somewhat with an emulation of the vocal melody, but covered in fuzz. In doing this, it helps strengthen the main focal point of the track by providing a contrast to Wallis’ smooth vocal melody with a crunchy, distorted version of the melody.

If the single ‘Big Balloon’ is anything to go by in relation to the upcoming album, we’re in for a serious treat.

9/10

‘Big Balloon’, the fifth studio album from Dutch Uncles, drops on the 17th of February 2017 on Memphis Industries. The single is available now; stream it below. You can find dates to the supporting tour in the new year here. For much more TGTF goodness on Dutch Uncles, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhb6sDKY7jg[/youtube]

 

Live Review: Augustines with Fatherson at Belfast Empire – 28th October 2016

 
By on Monday, 31st October 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

I must begin this review with a couple of regrets. This show brought me to the Empire Music Hall for the very first time, despite living and studying in Belfast for 3 months during 2012. It was also the first and regrettably the last time I will see Augustines live, for the ‘This Is Your Life’ tour was the group’s final farewell string of dates.

I was met by a three/fourths full venue of eager Augustines fans, with a sprinkle of Fatherson fans as I entered the rustic Empire Music Hall on Botanic Avenue. Everything seemed almost too fitting. The emotionally uplifting music produced by Fatherson somehow mixed really well with the neoclassical décor of the venue where Fatherson appeared like preachers, sending out their word among their listeners.

The Scottish band were the perfect support act for these final few Augustines shows. Despite knowing nothing about them prior to the show, the level of musicianship and professionalism alone was enough for me to think they were a great band. It was after their song ‘Cat Stevens’ when I fully began to appreciate them. Individually, each member was as compelling as the next, each having their own little nuances in movement that caught our attention as the eyes of audience members were glued to the stage. Frontman Ross Leighton, in particular, had everything nailed, from his mike technique to his strumming patterns. The vocal melodies and harmonies only strengthened the messages Fatherson were conveying and in such a beguiling way that left shivers down our spines long after they exited the stage.

With a short crossover time between Fatherson and Augustines’ sets, I took the chance to explore the venue in greater detail. Although it was decorated in fake cobwebs and skeletons just in time for Halloween, The Empire is one of the most prestigious in the city for up-and-coming but soon-to-be massive acts. The two-tier venue still has curtain lining the outer edges of the stages, with protruding columns and pilasters, which are still visible from the original foundations, similar to those of an old theatre hall. The dramatic surroundings proved to be a perfect venue for a farewell show.

Augustines graced the stage with pride, dignity and a lot of excitement. Their loyal fans made a clear barrier between the average punter and the band, welcoming the act with whole-hearted cheers. Without letting too much time go by, they began their first song ‘The Avenue’. It didn’t take long for the crowd to join in ultimately drowning out lead singer Billy McCarthy. Without hesitation, McCarthy and Rob Allen introduced drummer Eric Sanderson and touring trumpet player John Panos, which wass when the party truly started, diving into ‘Headlong Into the Abyss’.

Throughout the set, Augustines put their absolute all into the performance, which for their followers must have been extremely rewarding and quite a spectacle. For newcomers like myself, it brought about wonderment and awe. Every lyric was from the bottom of McCarthy’s heart, whether they were words of wisdom, love, tough times or good, or even patriotism, which is what he explained their song ‘Juares’ channels, everything was all for one.

The band did a great job in relating to their Belfast crowd by sympathising with their drinking shenanigans. This prompted the whole room to gradually begin a stomping their feet and chanting ‘Olé’, a sentiment that for some reason has been reappropriated by mainly Irish football fans. In response to this, the band replied with very kind thanks.

From start to finish, the rousing atmosphere never died. They had total control of their audience and delivered such a passionate performance, I imagine the whole room will find it hard to forget. It was clear from the show how much it meant to Augustines. Although they seemed sad by the end to be giving it up, I sensed they felt a great sense of accomplishment. As said before, my only regret is having not seen them before their final tour.

Editor of TGTF Mary Chang contributed to this report.

 

Album Review: Warpaint – Heads Up

 
By on Thursday, 22nd September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Warpaint Heads Up album coverHaving just passed their 12th year anniversary as a band, with two previously released studio albums including their critically acclaimed self-titled second album from 2014, these girls need no introduction. However, with their third album out in less than 24 hours, I suppose it won’t hurt to shout out… Fully female L.A. based dream pop four-piece Warpaint are set to release their eagerly awaited third studio album ‘Heads Up’, due out tomorrow on Rough Trade Records. In announcing the album, the girls released an accompanying single, ironically titled ‘New Song’ back in August (read my review here).

After an interview in NME surfaced in March 2015 stating that Warpaint didn’t want to do another album, fans thought this day would never come, especially as the statement was backed up by the band taking somewhat of a hiatus to work on their own solo projects throughout the whole of 2015. During which time, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg released a solo album titled ‘Right On’, reviewed by Carrie back here. After regrouping in early 2016, not just with each other but also with former producer Jacob Bercovici (who produced their 2009 debut EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’), the band wasted no time. By May of this year, the record was done and what an album it truly is.

‘Heads Up’ explores a mature side of Warpaint, and in ways previous efforts lacked. Rather than providing a sonic overload within each song, the quartet managed to simplify their approach to song writing, which gives a lot more time and space to absorb the sweet vibes their providing . This approach is apparent when listening to the album opener ‘White Out’. If you listened to the bass, guitar and drums in isolation, each hint at totally separate directions to the next, with very subtle connections to each other within note choices and rhythmic patterns. But when taken as a unit, they work perfectly together.

The guitar is the constant in this case, taking somewhat of a backseat role following its introduction. As the bass and drums dance around it with rather busy yet poppy patterns, Kokal’s vocals sprinkle the track with an equally upbeat topline produced by her imperfectly sensual vocal tone. The bass specifically gives the impression that it’s locking with the vocal rhythm more so than the drum pattern, which, although is quite rare in pop, it pays off and helps strengthen the top line. The drums within ‘White Out’ have a higher level of complexity, ironic given that for a lot of beginning writing sessions for the album Stella Mozgawa wrote her parts on sample pads and drum machines, due to an injury that left her unable to physically play. With this in mind we must applaud her, every pattern is played for a reason. The ghost notes aren’t for flair, they add that extra burst of movement to the track, whilst the off beat, dynamic contrasts on the hi-hats keep the listener hooked from start to finish.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1BqwONm4TE[/youtube]

‘By Your Side’ showcases what we know and love about Warpaint’s blended voices, an unconventional style of harmony in today’s pop music. The girls sing about what sounds like being in a relationship with a cheater, but with a darker, slightly sinister twist. The lack of repetition within the music and a topline that’s shared between two or more members causes the focus of the song to wander, a purposely unclear melody used to great effect. The track oozes a creepy, ‘you fuck with us, we’ll fuck with you’ side Warpaint unseen until now.

Further down the album, tracks such as ‘So Good’ and title track ‘Heads Up’ could easily be considered modern day alt-pop gems. The diatonic harmony within provides an easy to grasp understanding of the music that, combined with the fun, poppy grooves, gives both of these numbers commercial appeal. The focus towards electronic elements and the vocals sway these tracks, and the record for that matter, away from being so heavily guitar orientated, the way ‘The Fool’ and ‘Warpaint’ were. Lindberg put it best, by describing the new material as “an evolution of our band. It sounds like a mature version of Warpaint”. The ‘get in, get to the point and get to the next track’ approach of ‘Heads Up’ as an album is a great mark of their newfound professionalism.

Underestimating how far these four will go to provoke various emotions within a record would be a mistake. ‘Dre’, aside from being somewhat of an ode to influential American hip-hop producer Dr. Dre, is one that physically and sonically takes you by surprise eight songs into the album. Following the deeply emotive ‘Don’t Let Go’, ‘Dre’ has a huge, industrial sounding drum part that paves the way for an eerily beautiful, long-held chord progression that never seems to rest. With the pads acting as the foundations for the harmony, it leaves the window completely open for all remaining elements to create a sonic picture of what it would be like if Dr. Dre collaborated with Warpaint.

Easily Warpaint’s most diverse effort to date, ‘Heads Up’ shows these ladies are equally at home with abstract, avant garde sounds (‘By Your Side’) and poppish new wave (‘So Good’). The new rule of no overthinking works fully in their favour, which in turn gives us a clearer view into the true soul of Warpaint.

8/10

Heads up! ‘Heads Up’ is due out tomorrow, the 23rd of September, on Rough Trade Records. If you’re as excited about it as I am, you’ll already have it on pre-order. Warpaint are currently on tour in the U.S., which will be followed by with a short string of dates in UK and Europe. Find out whether they’re coming to you and get your tickets through this link. For more of TGTF’s coverage on Warpaint, go here.

 

Interview: Ryan Lindsey of BRONCHO

 
By on Tuesday, 6th September 2016 at 11:00 am
 

BRONCHO is a real party animal. He can’t be stopped sometimes. Sometimes it’s too hard to get his attention. Sometimes it’s too easy. Sometimes I’m not sure what he’s talking about, and sometimes you’re not either, right?” Thus begins our strange q&a with the Oklahoman band’s frontman Ryan Lindsey. “BRONCHO also seems to care about the people. He seems to be a real people person. A man of integrity. A promise keeper. A secret keeper. He always keeps secrets. Tell him one, and find out for yourself.” Enigmatic, yet enlightening. You see what sort of frustrating entity we’re dealing with here. Is BRONCHO friend or foe? Ally or enemy? Keep reading and find out.

As mentioned in my album review of their newest work ‘Double Vanity’, BRONCHO was born from a film project, when Lindsey was asked to compose music to an ‘80’s inspired punk film. The concept of visualisation has remained a constant for Lindsey, no matter what he’s up to: “I write in all the same ways. I think visually a lot when I write. Whether it’s for a project, or if the project is BRONCHO. I like to write songs with a visual in mind. Sometimes that visual turns into a video idea or ultimately a video.”

“I wanted the record to be a discovery process [for the listener]”, says Lindsey about ‘Double Vanity’. “I know it might take a minute for some people, but I like that. Some of my favourite records are records that I didn’t get the first time”. When asked about the reason for this and if there was a change in direction when writing the album he simply replied, “these songs made the most sense when they were slow. Keeping the songs slow left a lot of open space, so we added a lot of reverb to take up some space. That felt the most natural to me. Reverb is very dreamy, and I do love dreams”. You just imagine Ryan Lindsey smiling like a Cheshire cat saying those words. He is proving almost as enigmatic as BRONCHO.

Thankfully, the band was open-minded towards the recording and production of their new material, which appears to have reined in any fanciful notions on Lindsey’s part. “The way we recorded ‘Double Vanity’ was different than the previous two records. And those two were different from each other. I have a big imagination, so that finds its way into the process too.” Over the years, the band have undergone a few line-up changes, first losing original bassist Jonathon Ford, which led to the addition of Penny Pitchlynn (bass) and Mandii Larson (guitar). When asked how if at all has the changing line-up affected the music, Lindsey replies that this hasn’t fazed him one bit. “It hasn’t really affected the music. Just makes the hang on the road a lot more fun”. Make of that what you will.

If you’re a fan of BRONCHO, you know that they have quite an eclectic discography. Despite only being active since 2012, they have already released three studio albums each more diverse and forward thinking than the last. Album number two ‘Just Enough Hip to be Woman’ is their most commercially successful. Their songs ‘It’s On’ and ‘Class Historian’ were used in the soundtracks of HBO series, advertisements and Hollywood films, propelling the band to the mainstream. “I want everything I work on to be successful”, Lindsey says with bold, unfettered ambition. “I think that last record [‘Just Enough Hip To Be Woman’] made more sense to a larger audience. It wasn’t the plan or goal for that to happen. Our goal is always to be happy with what we do”. As if to prove there’s more to him than being seriously, Lindsey adds light-heartedly, “Or if we’re not happy about it, to at least get a few drinks in. Best case scenario, we are happy and get a few drinks in”.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGH86N4u398[/youtube]

Perhaps the Oklahoman five-piece will do just that when they come to the UK at the end of September. As the days draw closer, Lindsey can’t help but express his excitement: “I can’t wait to get to the UK! We love playing the UK, I think I’m supposed to live in the UK. I’ve always felt that”. Given they are currently finishing an extensive European tour, they may not be top of their game, but Lindsey is confident they won’t be flagging. “We won’t be too tired. Or maybe we will, but we won’t let that get in the way!”

Bring it on, BRONCHO. Be sure to get your tickets for one (or more) of the many dates on their UK tour starting later this month; you can find all the dates here. BRONCHO’s third and most recent studio album ‘Double Vanity’ is available now on Dine Alone Records. For more on BRONCHO on TGTF, go here.

Editor of TGTF Mary Chang contributed to this feature.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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