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Album Review: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

 
By on Wednesday, 22nd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice album coverWhen two artists collaborate, the air of expectation can often kill the project before it’s even landed, especially when it comes to two of music’s most coolly laidback songwriters, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. The waves they’ve made separately have been tremendous, bringing the art of songwriting to the modern age with a feeling of ease. So the idea of them collaborating is almost too much to bear. Now that it’s here, we can finally unpack what they’ve given us.

Let’s face it, there was never going to be any form of groundbreaking EDM mixup collab featured throughout. Instead we find two minds that manage to bring out the inane and give it an acoustic tinge. Even from the first strum, a cool wave washes over you, as you wait for the journey to take you away.

Album opener ‘Over Everything’ is a track that finds its origins from Vile writing from the perspective of Barnett. The words perfectly set the scene, conveying the collective mindset of its makers with the immortal opening line of “when I’m all alone on my own by my lonesome” that truly encapsulates the life of two of modern music’s greatest songwriters. It doesn’t all quite stay so immediately breezy though. ‘Let It Go’ opts for a far more wandering and less direct approach. The intricately picked guitars entwine while Vile and Barnett take turns. There’s no real latch point that makes it less approachable, but there’s still a light energy about it that keeps you involved.

In stark contrast, the laughter that introduces ‘Fear is Like a Forest’ indicates a serious change in tone. While the actual track doesn’t really correspond with the jubilant entrance, the darkened nature mirrors the depth within the minds of the creators. Likewise, ‘Outta the Woodwork’, a cover of Barnett’s original interpreted by Vile, keeps along the darker edge, feeling entirely bluesy. However, once the two artists’ vocals pair up in the faint chorus, with their trademark lazy feel, it goes from feeling driven by emotion to a clumsy amalgamation of their talents.

Dissecting the minds of two revered songwriters is a task that could require many an essay, especially two like Barnett and Vile who seemingly see foolishness as a representation of the pitfalls of life. ‘Continental Breakfast’, for example, perfectly portrays the life both have undertaken. While they’re both heading toward their own end, they somehow come together to form a perfectly melodic account, placing you in the middle of these two journeys. One of the more intriguing moments comes from ‘On Script’. It’s another slow, blues-tinged number, but constantly feels like it’s heading to something more. On the verge of exploring even deeper territory, and while there is somewhat of a crescendo to get lost in, the fact it never truly delivers on this teased promise means you’re kept hanging on for more.

If ‘On Script’ was intriguing, then ‘Blue Cheese’ is straight up mind-boggling. Everything about it seems perfect, all the bricks are there for a solid track until you hone in and listen to the lyrics. That’s when you hear what is tantamount to nonsense (see: “now I’m calling the cops on you, nanny nanny boo boo”). Still, there’s an affection you can’t help but feel, and there’s nothing but positivity radiating from it. ‘Peepin’ Tom’, a Barnett solo over of the Vile original ‘Peepin’ Tomboy’, is exactly what a cover should be: a fresh interpretation of a track that means something to the covering artist. Light and stocked with a subtle power, be prepared to make a difficult choice on which is better, the original or this fantastic cover.

Closing the album is another cover, this time pretty unexpected. It’s a cover of dream pop band Belly’s track ‘Untogether’. A perfectly apt closer, it brings both voices together in unison, with the addition of chords that echo the dream haze from the original, it’s equal ground that truly show’s off the talents of these two great modern songwriters. ‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is a rare album that holds itself close whilst seemingly giving everything away. Just as confusing, and precious, as you’d expect anything from them both to be.

8/10

‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is out now on Matador Records. Learn more about the collaborating pair on their Web site. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Courtney Barnett, follow this link.

 

Album Review: The Horrors – V

 
By on Monday, 20th November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

The Horrors V album coverTen years have passed since The Horrors first appeared like gothic misers of their own indie-dom. When you really process this it’s incredible to witness how far they’ve actually come. No band has quite relished in the idea of evolution more than The Horrors.

Take, for instance, opener ‘Hologram’, which introduces the album with pulsating and swirling beats. The futuristic feel that you’ll find completely sweeps over the album is soon joined, in this instance, by jangled guitars, processed far from their natural sound. Frontman Faris Badwan soon joins in the party, with some seemingly heaven-sent vocals that truly embody the choruses repeated call of “are we holograms?” It’s a bright opener that wanders its warming way into seducing you for the rest of the album, particularly aided by the screeching and twinkling solo toward the outro, an aspect that repeats throughout.

Following on, the droning piano that first teases in ‘Press Enter to Exit’ reveals nothing that the actual track contains. Once the first four bars have their say, it breaks into a far more groove-filled romp that carries you with its sway up. Until the chorus, which feels like a contained explosion into a new pop-tastic level. Once again, the bridge breaks down into a far more intelligible chaos that falls away, letting the silence build until exploding once more into a soaring solo.

Earlier single ‘Machine’ greets us with an electronic drum pattern that runs rings around the sonic atmosphere. You can try and comprehend what’s going on but will ultimately fail. There’s an edge to the psychedelic sounds, one that brings a foreboding element that feels live one is being preyed upon. Filled with juddering sounds that oppose the melodic elements, it calls to mind a mechanical beast failing catastrophically. On a similar end of the scale, ‘Ghost’ goes for a more simplistic approach to the mechanical sounds. A slow tempo drum beat brings in Badwan’s singing, while distorted and flickering sounds eventually morph into a guitar line which completes its evolution from sparse wander into full-bodied orchestration.

The eruption of sounds and noise at just over halfway feels apt. It’s as if the album had to be building to something and this is what the first half will always be: an eruption of sparkling sounds that both dazzle and confuse. From here, both ‘Point of No Reply’ and ‘Weighed Down’ break away from the metallic sounds. Instead, the Horrors go in a far more delicately melodic one that relies upon Badwan’s vocals to offset the beautifully sweet electronica elements. ‘Point of No Reply’ eventually leaves as peacefully as it came.

‘Gathering’ is perhaps the most natural sounding The Horrors get on this outing. Acoustic guitar and natural drums, with the occasional psychedelic slide, leaves a much more digestible sound. That is, until ‘World Below’. Kicking things back into a higher gear with a distorted array of crunching guitars and electronica, it’s the beginning of both the final stretch and some of the strongest cuts on the album. The other two that make up this final third flow perfectly. ‘It’s a Good Life’ reverts back to the slow and emotive approach. This builds towards the finale of ‘Something to Remember Me By’, a track that completely lets loose and breaks into dance territory.

The fifth outing from Horrors mostly cements them as creators of their own future. They don’t relish being in the past. In fact, they stray as far away from their previous sounds as possible. No, the Horrors are are here to keep creating and evolving which, in all honesty, makes them one of the more exciting bands currently active.

9/10

‘V’. The Horrors’ fifth album, is out now on Wolf Tone / Caroline International. Our past articles here in TGTF are through this link.

 

Album Review: The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

 
By on Thursday, 2nd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Erik WeissThe Killers Wonderful Wonderful album cover

When The Killers released ‘Battle Born’ back in 2012, it was divisive. Some felt that they’d simply began to phone it in, while others found some solace in the pop-centric sound they came out wielding. Whichever side of this fence you stand on, the 5 years that passed, including the release of ‘Direct Hits’ in 2013, gave plenty of time for retrospect and time to let exactly what The Killers had achieved thus far sink in.

Fast forward to this year, which not only included the 10th anniversary of second album ‘Sam’s Town’, but also the official return of The Killers with brand new music. If you’re going to come back from an extended stint away, then ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is how you do it. ‘The Man’ puts Flowers in his macho persona, without crossing into the seedy territory many other bands have fallen into. It’s a perfectly orchestrated machismo funk fest, setting hopes high from the start for this new chapter of The Killers’ story.

Now we’ve had ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ for a while now, it’s time to see how easily it’s digested, starting with the titular track. Opening the album with a call similar to that of the conch shell taking pride of place on the artwork, it eventually reveals itself to be more predatory rather than one to immediately vie for your attention, more of a slow burner. After follower ‘The Man’, we find ourselves with ‘Rut’, which reverts back to the slow burn approach. Beautifully melodic, it’s more suited to this new era of The Killers than anything they’ve done previously.

‘Life to Come’ turns into a moment of throwing back to the band’s earlier experimental years, with a fast-paced rhythm and pure pop sensibilities layered all over. However, it’s ‘Run For Cover’ where the album really hits its stride. The urgent, natural sounding guitar that ushers in more electro-pop sounds bring to mind the epic Americana feeling from ‘Sam’s Town’. Just far less Springsteen this time around. (You can read editor Mary’s review of this single through this link.) The sample of commentary that welcomes in ‘Tyson Vs. Douglas’ is a clear call to the Las Vegas blood running through the veins of The Killers. The glamour of multimillion-dollar fights that took place in their beloved hometown ring out while they kick in with another pop-led smasher.

It’s ‘Some Kind of Love’ where they finally show their more reserved chops. The airy synth chords that welcome it before Flowers comes in with the words “you’ve got the will of a wild, a wild bird” add an earnest dimension to ‘Wonderful Wonderful’, one that also encapsulates Flowers’ wife’s struggle with depression and anxiety which led to the cancellation of a section of his 2015 solo tour. Still, though, they also still manage to tack on some more funk on the track. Bringing back the assuredness, ‘Out of My Mind’ is a lovelorn ditty that fully utilises layered vocals and massive synth sounds that gain your attention.

The end of ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ truly holds some mystical and magical moments, most notably American actor Woody Harrelson reading a Bible passage from Matthew 9:10-12 to introduce ‘The Calling’, before another uber-assertive funk beat kicks in, Flowers crooning hard over it. Gritty guitar lines and a swooning bass line make this a cut that’s got as much attitude as it does depth.

Finales are normally where The Killers tend to fail. They can kick proceedings off and give the songs in the middle important occasional bursts of gusto to keep you involved, but rounding it off seems to be a hit or miss situation. ‘Money on Straight’ is one of the few iffy tracks that could as well be removed, and the album wouldn’t suffer any real loss. Its only saving grace is the ethereal sounding electronica that plays perfectly with Flowers’ lyrical melodies and the cutting guitar riffs.

Overall, ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ certainly lives up to its title. It’s The Killers returning to form, with both substance and style, though occasionally, the substance does wane. The fact Flower’s If you find yourself feeling that way while listening, skip back to ‘The Man’ and you’ll be able to swagger your way through the rest.

7/10

‘Wonderful Wonderful’, the fifth album from Las Vegas rockers The Killers, is out now on Island Records. For more coverage on The Killers right here on TGTF, come through.

 

Album Review: Otherkin – OK

 
By on Wednesday, 27th September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Otherkin OK album coverWhile not necessarily anything brand new, Otherkin’s sound is something that’s certainly missing at the moment. A garage brashness that’s not been heard since the likes of The Strokes and The Vines over a decade ago, it’s a throwback to a time we all wish we could revisit. Well, with their debut outing ‘OK’, we can.

When an album opens with screeching reverberation, you know it’s going to hold a wild nature that’ll capture you, and ‘OK’ certainly does. Once the screeching gives way to the urgent drum beat, ‘Treat Me So Bad’ kicks into life with a “let’s go” and a bass line not too dissimilar from Violent Femmes’ ‘Blister in the Sun’, but with a refusal to relent.

It’s this structure that serves them so well throughout, you can’t help but feel like you’re constantly smoking on a street corner, pulling off your finest, ‘give a fuck’ stare. ‘Come On, Hello’, goes for the classic move of repeating the song title throughout the chorus, one that’s worked since the dawn of time, and for good reason. The ability to get that chorus firmly rooted in your head is any band’s greatest asset. I guarantee you’ll have “do it again, come on, hello” ringing around inside your head for days. ‘Ay Ay’ goes for the same strategy. Another hooky chorus that sings about “wanting another hit on the radio”, a straight play from the handbook of early-Noughties’ garage. This is all well and good, but it doesn’t feel like the plays they have lifted are being challenged. Instead, they are just facsimiles. ‘Feel It’ and ‘Yeah, I Know’ once again rinse and repeat the same ideas

It’s ’89’ that brings out a bit more from Otherkin. Immediately less direct, the wandering sound calls back to all of the above but finds new ways of coaxing out the urgency but doesn’t rely wholly upon it. The chorus cascades in with a more focused tempo, paving the way for the crescendo. This is brought forward by a bridge that stays away from any repetitiveness and instead uses its stalking bass line as a propellant.

‘Enabler’ further brings out a bit more of that forward-pushing angle Otherkin sadly stay away from in the first half of this album. ‘Razorhead’, while on the surface it has the same feel as the first half of the album, there’s an underlying approach that feels more carefully thought out, making every second count. The more you listen to ‘OK’, the more you begin to understand that the second half of the record is certainly stronge. Feeling more driven, it shows Otherkin staking their claim to the genre rather than copying others that have come before. ‘Bad Advice’ is the shortest cut on the record, but it gets to everything it needs to without rushing or feeling cramped. There’s a carefree effortlessness that just can’t be planned, like something naturally flowing that just comes out.

‘I Was Born’ continues this better trend, bringing out a side to Otherkin that pushes forward again. Still pretty basic four-on-the-floor rock, but once again it’s a much deeper feeling and understanding that they bring forward that adds a captivating edge. ‘React’ goes for simplicity once more, but finale ‘So So’ is the jewel in the crown of ‘OK’. The longest cut at a little over 5 minutes minutes, it’s a searing powerhouse until it falls away to a glittering guitar line and building drums. You know where this is going. With a blistering roar back into life, ‘So So’ sees this album home with a complete viciousness. All the sounds meld together to form one final behemoth that you almost circles back to the introductory screeching.

Like many rock albums, the fun can begin to wane after a while. Sure, for the first few tracks you’re catapulted back to a time that was as dangerous as it was carefree. But there’s only so much looking backward you can do before you need to eventually move forward. Luckily, Otherkin see that home in the second half of the record, making ‘OK’ a smouldering debut that’ll get you dancing about with reckless abandon in no time.

7/10

‘OK’, the debut album from Dublin rockers Otherkin, will be out on this Friday, the 29th of September on Rubyworks Records. The band will be touring the UK starting the 30th of September through October, some dates supporting InHeaven and others as headline shows of their own. Catch up on all of our past coverage here on TGTF on Otherkin through this link.

 

Album Review: Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out

 
By on Monday, 18th September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Slotface album coverAfter releasing a pretty damn good arsenal of EPs and singles, it seemed as if Sløtface could do no wrong. That thought continues onwards with their first full length. The debut from Norway’s finest new punk band has a sound that you need to wrap your ears around as soon as possible because with hooks this catchy, and lyrics this quotable, there’s no reason they can’t take over the world. A brand new arsenal of tracks ready to earworm their way into your head and heart, ‘Try Not to Freak Out’ is pop punk in its newest form.

The best part about Sløtface is that they’re not afraid of ruffling a few feathers. They kick straight in with ‘Magazine’ and a rapturous chorus of “Patti Smith never put up with this shit”. Being compared to similarly aged models on magazine covers doesn’t sit right with lead singer Haley Shea, and quite rightly so. The euphoric and downright catchy refrain makes sure her message remains engrained. Follow-up ‘Galaxies’ stays away from societal righting and instead plays to its strength, the impossibly hooky chorus, proving that you don’t always need to be attacking to be punk. The same happens with ‘Pitted’, which celebrates partying with your friends over all else. It’s rather apt that Sløtface sing about partying with your friends when all you want to do once you hear the track is grab a couple of drinks and have a good time.

‘Sunbleached’ once again refers to social gathering, but with a more reminiscent mode, a staple of pop punk. The chorus nod to Ryan Adams with “Come pick me up, ‘Heartbreaker’ on repeat” just about had this writer in complete fangirl mode. Sløtface have a gift for bringing popular culture to a relatable level where you find yourself more involved than the melodies already have you.

If you’re a fan of pop punk, right now you’re having a great time. Having less targeted motives, the tracks are more celebratory of life, and just having fun such as continued on ‘Pools’. Continuing this trend ‘Night Guilt’ has a ferocious funk to it that’s heightened by the repetitive riff throughout and lyrics about owing money to people. Not on a loan shark level; they’re kids, after all. If you’re a fan of Sløtface’s previous output, you might be wondering where the statements against sexism et al. are, which is a fair question, but sometimes music can just be about a good time.

One of the harder cuts off the album, ‘Nancy Drew’, holds an immediate urgency, quite fitting considering it appears to concern taking down the male-dominated songwriter world with the aptitude of Nancy Drew (the protagonist of a detective boardgame, for those of you out of the loop just as I was). Filled with the spit that you know and love of Sløtface. (Note: As Editor Mary previously noted, Nancy Drew is the famed protagonist of an eponymous youth detective book series. -CC)

The final three tracks are a change in pace from the rest of the album. ‘Slumber’ holds an innocence just like sleeping in those cold Norwegian nights with your friends, soundtracked by the longest cut on the record. The song culminates in a beautiful crescendo that laments friendship and life, and you can’t help but fall a little but more in love with Sløtface. ‘It’s Coming to a Point’ may be studio talk for 19 seconds, but its inclusion refers to far more. Almost literally just the title spoken by frontwoman Shea, it feels daggered toward the world rather than studio play, though I may be reading far more into this than necessary. Either way, it brings Sløtface to a human end before the finale, the rebellion-filled ‘Backyard’. Another celebratory tune filled with references to exploring places you shouldn’t, it perfectly sums up ‘Try Not to Freak Out’.

The message here is simple, but straightforward: take the time to listen to your favourite songs with your friends because you don’t know when this shitty world could take it from you. If you want the more targeted Sløtface, head back to their earlier releases. This time around it’s about celebrating, because life is all too short, and celebrating never sounded so good.

9/10

‘Try Not To Freak Out’ the debut album from Sløtface is out now on Propeller Recordings. You can read previous coverage of Sløtface on There Goes The Fear here.

Contributor Carrie Clancy edited this review.

 

Album Review: Childhood – Universal High

 
By on Friday, 25th August 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Childhood Universal High album coverThe cool, sweet, soothing sounds of Childhood are back with us. From the ethereal sounding get-go of opener ‘AMD’, you know ‘Universal High’ is going to hold more than you’ve ever expected from Childhood. While it still has the cool, calm and collected sound of their debut ‘Lacuna’, there’s also a clear evolution to the sound that finds sturdier ground. That is, as if they’ve been doing this for decades rather than 7 years.

Take ‘California Light’, for instance. The second track on the album is all kinds of wonderful. One of their strongest songs to date and it’s already a fan favourite, just look at the Spotify numbers. Six digits for a band that in reality aren’t of that stature, yet. It’s got everything from the foot tapping, gently swaying introduction to the rousing chorus that puts you right in, well, the California light.

While follow-up track ‘Cameo’ doesn’t hit with the same punch, something that’s none too surprising given the weight that ‘California’ holds, it still has a groove that’s undeniably addictive. The crunching bass that moves everything along is joined perfectly by synthesisers and singer Ben Romans-Hopcraft’s voice that perfectly hits every high and low it needs to with such little effort, you wonder if he’s actually of this world.

‘Too Old for My Tears’ retains little of the factors that got us here, instead opting to go for a more rocky feel. A more confident and strutting drum line kicks things up a notch from the more relaxed grooves before, but of course they return to their mellow vibe from before‘Melody Says’ still lets you hold close that relaxed vibe, but this song has a much more experimental, indie-pop vibe. Up to this point in the album, ‘Universal High’ is a bit here, there and everywhere, not completely falling flat, though it’s quite hard to keep the momentum when one of the strongest tracks Childhood have ever written is only second on the album. Still, all good so far.

The titular track heads back to where we began on the album, which is sorely needed. Beautiful melodies, striking choruses and sweet musical sounds are where Childhood flourish. ‘Understanding’ mixes both the traditional and more experimental side of Childhood, which wanes slightly, forcing a happy feeling rather than letting it flow naturally. A similar idea comes along in ‘Don’t Have Me Back’, another faster tempo number, though it’s the use of horns here that save it. Being more upfront, barging through the ensemble rather than being a reserved companion, gives the track a little fire.

‘Nothing Ever Seems Right’ is yet another wandering song, picking up pace occasionally during the chorus where the vocals become an entity of their own, along with the chorus. Feeling like a different song entirely, the chorus is the saviour of the track – the hook in the chorus is where Childhood really know what they’re doing. Getting to that point can sometimes be a struggle, but once you’re there the payoff is more than worth it.

Finale ‘Monitor’, with its harshly picked bass and dream like vocals, is a summary of everything before it. It’s a little bit of the experimental side, with a big chunk of the soothing melodies and a whole lot of soul. The only trouble with both ‘Monitor’ and 4/5ths of ‘Universal High’ is that Childhood simply struggle to match the impact of ‘California Light’. Having a song as strong as that is a blessing for any band. The only downside is, you have to try and at least somewhat match it consistently throughout the length of a record. Still, one hell of a second album, though.

7/10

‘Universal High’, the sophomore album from Childhood, is out now on Marathon Artists. The band don’t have too many live appearances left this year; for a list, visit their official Web site.

 
 
 

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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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