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Bands to Watch #237: Of Monsters and Men

 
By on Friday, 17th February 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Starting with Austin’s famed SXSW and ending with Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington State, Of Monsters and Men are taking North America by storm. Within weeks of announcing their tour, 70% of their dates have sold out; some venues deciding to upgrade, others have added second shows. This Icelandic collective may be a welcomed surprise to those of us outside their homeland, but they are well known at home where they won 2010’s Músiktilraunir, an annual national battle of the bands.

The four track EP ‘Into the Woods’ was released globally in December 2011, garnering attention from both NPR and influential Seattle radio station KEXP. With comparisons to Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, they are destined to make their mark. But the likeness only goes so far. While certainly carrying on the folk rock/indie mantle, their music has a more majestic sound. Full of lush rhythms and compelling melodies, the songs transcend typical folk-rock music. “Iceland can be a very isolated country and that translates to the music,” female lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir says, adding, “we get stuck in our little world”.

I have to say that am I a big fan of the exploding folk rock genre and Of Monsters and Men is a genius entry into this burgeoning landscape. The songwriting is unique and absorbing – and not quite as happy as the music implies. The Icelandic backdrop lends its mystery and otherworldliness to the stories they tell. The music is layered and stands up to repeated listens; it is both delicate and majestic at intervals. While employing the dual vocals of Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson inevitably draws comparisons to the aforementioned bands, the sound is uniquely theirs, not simply the combining of a male and female lead vocal. The voices of the other band members are never far away though, as they chant at us through the mists.

Their first video, ‘Little Talks’, tells a fantastic tale of five sailors discovering a crystal princess and making the journey to return her home. Opening with the bright notes of a trumpet, you are sucked in by the unique and perfectly suited voices of Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson. The imagery reflects the wild landscapes of Iceland and one can almost believe in the monsters that might live there. As they croon, “though the truth may vary, this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore”, the story brings us back to the sailors as it fades away into the creaking of a wooden ship.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghb6eDopW8I[/youtube]

With an almost breakable, ethereal voice, Hilmarsdóttir leads us through ‘From Finner’ and ‘Love, Love, Love’ while she shares vocal duties with her co-lead singer Þórhallsson for the remainder. My hope for the debut LP is that we hear more of the dual vocals as that is when they shine the brightest. ‘My Head is an Animal’, Of Monsters and Men full length debut, is scheduled to be released worldwide on the 3rd of April. The album, which was released in Iceland several months back, hit number one there in short order. Although the songs from the EP’s are repeated on the full length, I look forward to hearing the seven new tracks.

Of Monsters and Men are Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (co-singer/guitarist), Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson (co-singer/guitarist), Brynjar Leifsson (guitarist), Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (drummer), Árni Guðjónsson (piano/accordion player) and Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bassist) and are signed to Universal Music Group.

 

Bands to Watch #236: Daughter

 
By on Wednesday, 1st February 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

After some singing practise and the assessment of a friend who used to be a vocal teacher, I’ve discovered that my voice is a lot sweeter than I expected or wanted it to be. I want to sound like a rock star. This, however, is not Elena Tonra’s problem and to our benefit, she is utilising her gorgeous, sweet voice in Daughter, a three-piece including Tonra’s electric guitarist boyfriend Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella.

Last year the band released 2 EPs. First out of the gate was ‘His Young Heart’ in the spring of 2011, which spawned BBC 6music playlisted track ‘Landfill’. You have not witnessed the truly beauteous side of heartbreak until you’ve heard this song, which encapsulates the sad coming to terms with the end of a relationship. Of course despair has been covered in music before…but this is abject pathos, put to a melody. It’s not until you reach the chorus that you get the whole story:

Well, this is tortuous
The electricity between the both of us
And this is dangerous
‘cause I love you so much
But I hate your guts
I want so much
But I hate your guts, I hate you…

What can hurt more than being around the person you once loved while realising the hold he has on you, that your fire for him still burns brightly, yet the current conditions force you to ignore your feelings? The genius of Daughter is taking a universal emotion – the pain of a broken love and the subsequent desperation to have what you once had – and giving it a fragile yet stunning honesty. Listen to and download the song below.

Following on the strength of ‘His Young Heart’, the band wowed festival audiences and then set about recording their next EP, ‘The Wild Youth’. This release was through Communion Records, the label that brought us Pete Roe and Nathaniel Rateliff. While ‘Landfill’ was pretty in its sparseness, ‘Love’ (free stream and download below; live performance on this previous Live Gig Video feature) and the other tracks on ‘The Wild Youth’ are more complex, leading to comparisons to Bjork and Jonsi. Being compared to those legendary artists is a great honour, but will Daughter be able to continue their momentum into 2012? The reception of their appearance at South by Southwest this March should be a good litmus test.

 

Bands to Watch #235: The Hummingbirds

 
By on Wednesday, 11th January 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

My mind is filled with the bits and pieces of my musical upbringing; there are plenty of memories of the first band I ever fell in love with, the Beatles. (Sorry if this was predictable. I’ve been told that because I’m American, it’s predictable.) They were the first band I was ever obsessed with: our public television station ran a documentary on them called The Compleat Beatles narrated by Malcolm McDowell, and I watched it so many times, I could quote all the narration word for word from memory and had mastered the Scouse accent, though it would be years before I even knew what “Scouse” meant. The Beatles came from a land faraway called Liverpool, England that sounded like a gritty yet fun place to my young, 8-year old mind. Lucky for us, years later Liverpool is still churning out great bands, even if the city is often passed over in favour of that other Northern musical hotbed slightly east that is Manchester. So today, I’m going to tell you about my latest Merseyside discovery via Twitter. (I would like to point out that I’m not suggesting that all the unsigned bands out there rush to follow me on Twitter. But it appears Twitter is acting admirably as the new MySpace in terms of musical discovery…)

If you go further back to the Fabs’ earlier days, when they started out playing skiffle, they had a more folk and bluesy-type sound and before they tried writing their own songs, they mostly played covers of their favourite American rock and blues artists. (You can hear evidence of this on the first CD of ‘The Beatles Anthology 1’.) This is the fond memory that is triggered when I get hearing the Hummingbirds’ ‘Bankrupt Blues’, which sounds more Eddie Cochran’s ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ than anything else of recent memory I can think of; it’s blues done right, a little rough around the edges but still fun. It’s a back to basics rock style the band is calling, rather accurately I think, “modern skiffle”.

I’ll be honest, when I opened up their official Web site and saw their header photo, my initial thought was, “oh no. Plaid shirts and acoustic guitars. Another Mumford and Sons?” I was however rewarded when I had a listen to their Soundcloud tracks. In addition to ‘Bankrupt Blues’, there is the excellent ‘Back to Liverpool’. Jay Davies’ clear and winsome voice in the verses rises above the admirable backing vocals of his band compadres. Since the days of first hearing the Beatles ‘This Boy’, beautiful male harmonies always slayed me. And good god, this song slays me. To death. If you like the Crookes, I’m pretty sure you’re going to love this band. It’s like a less frenetic ‘Backstreet Lovers’. The guitars and drums chug along satisfyingly as they would in Lonnie Donegan’s day.

The main differences are that the Crookes have electric guitars and favour a darker, Smiths-like lyrical direction, and the Hummingbirds are taking a more acoustic approach, and the approach is also much lighter. See ‘Awaiting Your Call’, a yearning ballad that is deceptively simple but if you look closer, it’s a clean, well-arranged song allowing for Matty Brougham’s guitar lines to shine in the bridge. My only complaint is that it goes on a lot longer than it should. But I’m not worried: when (not if) they are signed, I’m sure someone will recommend to them to trim the song down so the BBC can play it. These songs are available as part of the ‘Talking of Tomorrow’ EP released last autumn that I’ve embedded below so you can listen to them.

This is probably heresy to many Fab Four fans but the era of the Beatles that is nearest and dearest to my heart, owing to a ‘80s Christmas present of a new fangled thing called a CD of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Something that seems to get lost in the focus of the Fabs’ experimental and post-psychedelic periods is the gorgeousness and innocence of their early records. If you haven’t, have a listen to ‘Please Please Me’ and you will see what I mean. The Hummingbirds appear to have bottled this kind of innocence and nostalgia and gone for a simplified approach to pop/rock without sacrificing quality. “There’s things I’d like to say to you / when you’re back in Liverpool”: a warm welcome as any from five Scousers who could be the next big thing. Also included below is a band documentary. And yes. I am a sucker for a cute boy with a Scouse accent…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNrPRuizqek[/youtube]

 

Bands to Watch #234: Amplifier

 
By on Thursday, 22nd December 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

Amplifier are a strange entity: a band with a massive cult following, huge critical acclaim. Yet relative obscurity still surrounds them. Formed by Sel Balamir, Amplifier are progressive heavy metal in its purest form. Stripped down to its bare bones, with a guitar, bass and drums. Simple.

Their influences when you listen to them are obvious: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Def Leppard. All of these are combined, then given a kick up the arse and make up the amorphous beast that is Amplifier. Their first self-titled record drew 5 star reviews all around, while their latest record ‘The Octopus’ has been equally well received.

To start with this band though, you have to set aside time. This is not a band to be admired over dinner; they need your undivided attention. From their first album, tracks ‘Motorhead’ and ‘Airborne’ personify what this band is about: ferocious riffs, huge bass and a whole lot of noise. Tracks like ‘Glory Electricity’ (sound in YouTube embed below) let the band’s experimental side loose, and show Amplifier at their proggy best. ‘One Great Summer’, while clocking in at around 7 minutes like many of their tracks, stands out with its soaring guitars and lyrical excellence. Amplifier are embarking on a tour next year, so there is no better time to get around to listening to these guys.

To finish, if one statement about this band can summarize what they are, it’s this, from my Dad: “Amplifier are heavy metal how it should be, and it’s always a bonus when you can make out the lyrics these days.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve0o6HvFvI4[/youtube]

 

Bands to Watch #233: Dry the River

 
By on Wednesday, 21st December 2011 at 11:00 am
 

Remember when the indie folk scene took off a few years ago? Festivals were awash with bands trying to be Mumford and Sons (who really weren’t worth copying) and this left the market saturated. This culminated in 2011 being a fairly dull, uninspired year for new folk music. Luckily, though, it appears one band is looking to reinvent the folk scene for 2012, that band is Dry the River.

Citing their influences as Bruce Springsteen, At the Drive-In and Modest Mouse, the London-based five-piece are as inspired by America’s homegrown talents as they are British bands. Their sound, however, is inherently British folk but with a post-punk edge encompassing emotional vocal harmonies and acoustic ambience.

Having been shortlisted for the BBC Sound Of 2012, Dry the River are gearing up to release their debut album early next year. But their current catalogue is not to be sniffed at, as they have already managed to hone the craft of catchy melodies, imaginative lyrics and memorable songs.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iUHfAChgBA&ob[/youtube]

Their single from earlier this year, ‘No Rest’, starts with a beautiful vocal harmony that becomes the band’s staple throughout. With three of the five members all contributing to Dry the River’s collective voice, the overt softness is counteracted by the sheer power put behind the lyrics. The main chorus line “I loved you in the best way possible” is guaranteed to be ringing out of countless PA systems in fields across the UK next summer. Not only is the song criminally catchy but it’s genuinely heartfelt and brimming with emotion.

Dry the River have recently released an EP entitled ‘Weights and Measures’, which is worth buying just for the title track. Again based on lost love, it has an almost Arcade Fire limitlessness to it, as the band’s sound grows and swells into something really worth latching onto instead of just a throwaway MP3. If these guys can keep the momentum and passion going for their upcoming LP release, 2012 could be their year. Watch this space.

Dry The River’s ‘Weights and Measures’ EP is out now on RCA.

 

Bands to Watch #232: Youth Lagoon

 
By on Wednesday, 16th November 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

The birth of the MacBook has led to an interesting progression in music, especially because each machine comes equipped with the program Garage Band. Now, everyone with a laptop has access to a creative outlet, enabling every nostalgic, angst-y, twenty-something to express themselves via premade loops and heavily altered vocals. These projects tend to run together like the pigments in an over-saturated watercolour painting, making it hard for any particular composition to stand out amongst the floods of reverb that have doused the scene, and easy for any such project to be written off as layman.

However, Trevor Powers, the man behind one such project, has found a way to distinguish himself from the masses. Under the moniker Youth Lagoon, Boise, Idaho native Powers crafts budding, dream-like melodies which are conversely grounded in complex lyricism, making his project a legitimate effort. Powers has all of the necessary components of someone to write off: he is overtly nostalgic, drenches his vocals in reverb, and crafts simple, looping melodies. But unlike most of the amateur efforts, Powers has a distinct knack for both poetry and arrangement, and his recently released album, ‘The Year of Hibernation’, is one of the best bodies of work to hit the chillwave, homegrown scene. Watch the video for ‘Montana’ below.

Though Powers’ songs are somewhat methodical, he employs a formula that works. Beginning with a fragile melody, he layers effects, loops and haunting vocals until the song shifts from a quiet whisper to a booming hymn. It is a structure reminiscent of waking up from an all-too realistic dream, echoing the feeling of trading a somewhat unsettling dream for the cold breath of reality.

Lyrically, Powers poetically entwines themes of youth, mentality, and God with natural imagery, crafting cyclical and persistent metaphors. Powers is not touching on something unique or profound, he is tapping into questions many are asking, which is perhaps why there are so many bedroom musical projects in the first place. The difference is that Powers does it well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IKPT30jOJw[/youtube]

Keep your eyes peeled for further Youth Lagoon releases. If Powers plays his cards right, it is not unlikely that he will continue to be successful, joining the likes of Panda Bear, Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian, and continue to progressively define a growing scene.

 
 
 

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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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