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Interview: C Duncan (Part 1)

 
By on Monday, 6th November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

On paper, C Duncan – Christopher Duncan on his birth certificate – sounds like someone who might be pretty buttoned up and stoic about music. Born to classical musician parents, having been raised around classical music and having played classical piano since the tender age of 5, I prepared myself to interview someone who was as obsessive about Chopin’s adagios as my own father. “They had quartets, and they would come over to the house. When I was very young, my mum ran a music store from one of our backrooms, for sheet music. So loads of musicians were coming and going [from the house].” But he relates this story as a welcome memory of his childhood, possibly an early measure of comfort he would later have around the musically inclined.

Saturday night, he was in Washington, DC, for a support slot with Elbow at the legendary 9:30 Club. (The review of the show will post today at 2 PM BST.) I happily found out, stealing him away for a lovely chat before the show, that his journey from childhood to the musician he is today was never forcefully directed one way or another. His delight in making the music that appeals to his own interests and makes sense in his mind is obvious and infectious. The open-mindedness of his parents and even his teachers during his formative years helps to further explain how his creativity blossomed into developing something much his very own. He has honed what has now become his recognisable blend of startling beautiful composition and harmonising vocals with plenty of toe-tapping pop sensibility, such a beguiling blend that both music lovers and the critics have taken notice of.

Pop was something he’d embraced early on. “I did the typical kid thing and listened to pop music. I kind of had that rebellious thing against classical music, which was good, because it meant I could expand my interests. As I got older, I started realising that my parents were right, that classical music is good as well!” He also credits his professors at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), where he graduated with a degree in Composition, for not keeping the focus of his studies squarely on classical music, which he disclosed is an all too common occurrence at other music schools in the UK. “I was always encouraged to listen to pop music. All the composing teachers were interested in what was happening in pop music, and they were very influenced by it as well…they basically said [to us], ‘obviously, this is a contemporary classical course you’re taking. But listen to everything, get inspired by everything, do anything you want. It’s valid as music’… There wasn’t anything stuffy about it.” For more on his schooling at the Conservatoire, I dug up this interview he did with them earlier this year.

The Scottish city that Chris calls home also looms large in the C Duncan story, and in a similarly accepting way, feeling like a warm, welcoming tartan blanket that’s there to make everything okay. “Glasgow is a very open place for genre crossing. Everyone is interested in everything…In Glasgow, everyone knows a musician, or someone who’s in a band, or all your friends are in bands. And everyone talks about music and listens to each other’s music a lot. No-one is in competition with each other, for anything, which means it opens the door for people to try all sorts of different things.

“Glasgow is quite far away from the rest of the UK, we’re very far from London. I think as a result, we don’t really have anything to live up to. Glasgow can do its own thing entirely, which is really cool, and the sense of community [there] is really important. That’s how you meet [other] musicians, I would never start a band and get session musicians in from the get-go. Maybe later on when you needed more people. I like to have friends surrounding me.

“In Glasgow, you get to know so many musicians, and you become friends first. That’s really important. I like that in Glasgow, you’re in it together, you’re not by yourself, you’re in it to make music with other friends…it’s a very natural thing in Glasgow… So many people collaborate in Glasgow, I did a thing with a woman named Kathryn Joseph, you should definitely check her out.” If Joseph’s name sounds familiar: she won the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award in 2015 for ‘Bones You Have Thrown Me, And Blood I’ve Spilled’, the same award Duncan was nominated for the following year for his FatCat Records debut and Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Architect’. She and Duncan have also been tourmates, continuing the theme that Glasgow nurtures such relationships. Duncan also clues me on a close friend from back home having recently joined Franz Ferdinand, Julian Corrie, who also releases electronic music as producer Miaoux Miaoux. Glasgow is certainly proving to be a small world.

C Duncan circa 2014, photo taken by Warrick Beyers
Photo of C Duncan by Warrick Beyers, circa 2014,
before the release of ‘Architect’, from the artist’s Facebook

Naturally, the conversation turns to the Mercury nomination for ‘Architect’ 2 years ago. “It was very strange”, Chris says with a knowing smile. “Up to that point, we’d done lots of gigs, very small, just establishing ourselves. We had a lot of help from the BBC radio stations. That was great. But it takes a lot more than that to push things forward a lot. After that [the nomination] happened, it was just phone call after phone call, interview after interview. I was self-managed at the time, so I was trying to make do with all of that. It was great fun, but it was hectic!”

The nod turned out to be a fantasy come true for him: “I’ve always thought very highly of it. It’s becoming slightly less diverse at the moment, but I think they’re trying to branch out [in the genres]. I was always really interested in it as a kid. It [being nominated] was very surreal and really exciting… It’s been interesting, the shows we did around that time and after, the Mercury came up quite a lot. It’s real music lovers who really hone into the Mercury [shortlist]. It’s really nice, it’s any musician’s dream to appeal to true music lovers, as opposed to people who shove it on in the background. It just shows how highly people in Britain still think of music, it doesn’t matter how shit the charts are, there’s a big population really interested in music, people who are interested in that other side of music.”

It’s exactly these kind of music fans that Duncan thinks are making his support appearances with Elbow, especially here in North America, super successful. “Playing to their crowds, it’s been really fun. As the support act, generally, the pressure’s off you… Sometimes I’m very nervous, but the majority of the time, I’m just having fun, trying to give people a fun show, and something representative of my music. I know it’s not exactly the same as Elbow’s, but it’s gentle enough, and their music is gentle enough to sit well together at a gig. Some people might think, ‘ooh, that first guy was a bit weird, I’m here for Elbow, this is going to be great’, whereas some people, it’s ‘oh, actually, that’s really cool’. I think there is some crossover, and it’s been a great way to pick up fans… Elbow fans, they generally are really into music. They are music lovers, they’re not background music people, which means they want to see the whole show. That’s what I do. If I see one of my favourite bands are playing, I always go in the beginning to see who’s supporting.” A good reminder to all.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview with C Duncan, posting at the same time tomorrow. He performs tonight alongside Elbow on their North American tour at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. Much more on C Duncan here on TGTF is through here.

 

Album Review: Ibeyi – Ash

 
By on Friday, 3rd November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Ibeyi Ash coverFrench-Cuban twin sister duo Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, collectively Ibeyi, released their sophomore album ‘Ash’ at the end of September, at the youthful age of 22 years apiece. Their self-titled debut LP only came out 2 years ago, but in the interim the pair have attained a sense of maturity and confidence in their music-making, as well as moving on to address more serious and socially relevant thematic material.

Song titles like ‘I Carried This for Years’ and ‘When Will I Learn’ convey the kind of heaviness that comes from living in a constant state of fear and oppression. The former track is a dramatic and singularly appropriate lead-in to the rest of the album. Its synthetic-sounding choral voices in the former track immediately set a tone of anxiety or even dread, while the cacophonous overlay of the vocal and instrumental parts implies chaos and confusion. Nearer to the end of the album, ‘When Will I Learn’ is more introspective, taking refuge in the music itself as the lyrics lament, “I can’t climb on tall trees, I don’t bend like the reeds, but I can play on the drums . . .” as a contemplative piano melody emerges from the context of drum machine rhythms and filtered vocals.

Early single ‘Away Away’ is another song where the sisters find freedom in their music, employing soaring vocal harmonies and joyful Afro-Caribbean rhythms under mixed language lyrics in a combination that sounds distinctly celebratory. By contrast, recent single ‘Deathless’ featuring saxophonist Kamasi Washington (below) gives some insight about what Ibeyi might be seeking refuge from, namely cultural and sexual oppression. Written about Lisa-Kaindé’s detainment by a racist police officer when she was, as her lyrics state, “innocent / sweet sixteen / frozen with fear”, its stylistically metaphorical video treatment emphasises rebirth after trauma. Bold, concise lyrical lines, jarring rhythmic shifts, and a deftly-rendered solo from Washington place this among the LP’s outstanding moments. Read more about Lisa-Kaindé’s encounter with the police officer in this interview with NPR.

‘I Wanna Be Like You’ expands on the longing for freedom with a fortuitous outtake from the recording process, where Lisa-Kaindé asks portentously, “Can I have a tiny bit more of my voice?” The song’s deep, sensual bass is viscerally entrancing, and sister Naomi’s distant backing vocals serve to heighten the hypnotically seductive soundscape. The flip side of that coin is album standout ‘No Man is Big Enough for My Arms’, whose title speaks for itself in terms of feminism and self-realisation. Its powerful musical treatment, including vocal samples from former First Lady Michelle Obama, is squarely on point with its message.

Several tracks on ‘Ash’ use autotune on the vocal lines, not as a crutch to hide poor singing, but rather as an intentional sonic device. In the Spanish language song ‘Me Voy’, which features guest vocals from Mala Rodriguez, the autotune filter creates a sharper and edgier sound in contrast to Ibeyi’s usual soft sensuality. Eponymous album closer ‘Ash’ combines synthetic filtering with natural vocal harmonies to create a brilliantly vivid, yet darkly dramatic effect.

Like its predecessor, ‘Ash’ the album relies heavily on Ibeyi’s signature sound, comprising Lisa-Kaindé’s softly sensual vocal style and Naomi’s pervasive organic rhythms. Neither is necessarily unique in and of itself, but for Ibeyi, lyrics and rhythm take on equal importance, intertwining inseparably and providing both momentum and dramatic impetus to the songs. With this new record, Ibeyi have purposefully expanded their sonic palette in both areas to encompass a set of broader, more outward-looking range of lyrical themes, demonstrating an astonishing musical growth in the process.

8/10

Ibeyi’s second LP ‘Ash’ is out now on XL Recordings. The pair are currently on tour in North America, playing tomorrow night in Philadelphia. Our past coverage of Ibeyi, including a live review from SXSW 2015, is back through here.

 

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.

 

Single Review: The Lost Brothers – Echoes in the Wind

 
By on Wednesday, 1st November 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo for Gabriel Sullivan

Incredibly, we’re rounding the decade mark for Irish duo The Lost Brothers’ debut album ‘Trails of the Lonely’. Since then, the guitar-toting singer/songwriters have released quite a bit of music and played shows all over the world, including multiple appearances at SXSW. Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech, masters of an Americana, folk sound, have announced they’ll be releasing their fifth studio album, ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’, in January on Bird Dog Records. Of the upcoming release, Oisin says, “Many of our albums have been quite desolate, but this one has tiny slivers of hope. We’ve been challenged, and that has made the songs richer. We have definitely polished the gloom a bit! Weirdly, it’s our most forward-thinking record.” It follows 2014’s ‘New Songs of Dawn and Dust’, one of my favourite albums of that year.

To get our interest piqued for the upcoming release, they’ve revealed ‘Echoes in the Wind’, the lead single from the album. Like many of their past songs that have filled my ears with wonder, this is a song that takes full advantage of the pair’s gorgeously complementary harmonies and dexterous acoustic guitar notes. The only other instruments that appear on the relatively unadorned track are some twinkles of a piano and the beat of an ordinary drum, simply used to keep the beat.

In the span of 3 and a half minutes, McCausland and Leech do their best to disagree with Dylan Thomas’ words of “do not go gentle in that good night”. In the words of the chorus “hear the night come calling us home”, the duo sing wistfully, not regretfully or even rebelliously. “All we are is just an echo in the wind” should translate to a feeling of vulnerability, about the ephemeral nature of life, of each days passing ever so quicker towards the day we say goodbye to this green earth. However, when presented to you in this pair’s rich vocal tones and evocative guitar-playing, the emotion conveyed instead is the sense of contentment that we’re all in this together in this thing called life. ‘Echoes in the Wind’ is a great preview of what should be another stellar collection of music from these talented Irishmen.

8.5/10

The new single from The Lost Brothers, ‘Echoes in the Wind’, is available now. LP ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’ is scheduled for release on the 26th of January 2018 on Bird Dog Records. Catch up on TGTF’s past coverage on the Irish folk duo through this link.

 

TGTF Spotify Playlist: October 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 1st November 2017 at 11:00 am
 

October draws to a spooky end with Halloween, and TGTF’s October 2017 Spotify playlist is full of goodies for your audio trick-or-treat bag. TGTF celebrated Halloween day itself with the ominous title track from Royal Blood, ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ Several other song titles on this month’s list fall neatly into our ghoulish theme as well, including Everything Everything‘s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and The Spook School‘s latest single ‘Still Alive’.

October 2017 also saw new music from established favourites Franz Ferdinand and Morrissey, along with up-and-coming artists like Barns Courtney and Lo Moon. Just like our taste in Halloween sweets, everyone’s music preferences are a bit different but whatever your mood or inclination, you’re certain to find something to your liking on our playlist this month.

If you do hear something you love, be sure to follow our monthly Spotify playlists. Just head over to Spotify, type “spotify:user:tgtftunes” (no quotes) into the search bar, and click the Follow button. You can connect with TGTF on social media via Facebook and Twitter too!

 

Single Review: Beans on Toast – Open Door Policy

 
By on Tuesday, 31st October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Self-described “drunk folk singer” Beans on Toast (aka Jay McAllister) begins his new single ‘Open Door Policy’ on a decidedly pessimistic note: “the world is dying / shit is getting serious / everybody’s lying / it’s impossible to tell the truth”. But despite his initially despondent outlook, ‘Open Door Policy’ finds a ray of sunshine in its biting commentary on the state of Western politics and society.

McAllister’s typically simple folk arrangement allows complete focus on the dry humour and self-depracating wit in his lyrics. He places himself in seemingly contradictory roles throughout the song’s narrative, first identifying himself as “a pacifist, eternal optimist” and then declaring that “I am my own propaganda machine”. He also bemoans the prevalence of “dark money and big data, and the mass manipulation of the human race”, and I have to admit a certain admiration for any songwriter who can fit a phrase like that into a recognisable melody.

The video juxtaposes pixelated and otherwise distorted images of McAllister in a variety of  physical settings with another series of him experiencing virtual reality, presumably in an attempt to illustrate the weird blurring of the boundary between the two. The song itself might be a bit verbose, but ultimately, it’s worth listening through to the end for McAllister’s more hopeful conclusion, which finds a quaint visual counterpart in the pretty yellow dandelion on his hat.

7.5/10

Beans on Toast’s new LP ‘Cushty’ is due for release on the 1st of December via Xtra Mile Recordings. You can have a listen to its cheeky recent single ‘Taylor Swift’ on Spotify. Beans on Toast will be on tour with Xtra Mile label mates Skinny Lister through the end of this year; you can find details on his official Facebook. TGTF’s previous coverage of Beans on Toast is back through here.

 
 
 

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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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