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Album Review: Little Sparrow – Just 3 EP

 
By on Tuesday, 7th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Manchester singer/songwriter Katie Ware, perhaps better known by the name Little Sparrow, has recently released a new and distinctively charming EP to whet her audience’s appetite for a forthcoming full album. The EP release, simply titled ‘Just 3’, is brief but emotionally evocative, showcasing the beautiful singing voice that gave Little Sparrow her name, as well as the classically-influenced instrumental arrangements borne of her continued collaboration with producer Jonny Lexus, pianist/composer Robin Dewhurst and cellist Sarah Dale.

Ware is currently in the process of writing and recording a new album, which she hopes to release in 2019. But an opportunity presented to her back in 2016 set her path on a slight detour, which has turned out to be more of a happy accident than a deterrent to her progress. The ‘Just 3’ EP began to take shape when organisers at the 2016 Kendal Calling festival suggested that Ware, who was performing at the festival, might team up with Dewhurst and Dale to work on a classic rock cover. That collaboration grew from working on the cover to writing and arranging two additional Little Sparrow songs as well, and judging from the result, the three musicians have found a successful synchronicity.

In the EP’s opening track, Little Sparrow presents the fruit of the original collaboration, a drastic reinterpretation of Madness’ 1980 hit ‘Baggy Trousers’. In the hands of Ware and company, ‘Baggy Trousers’ is transformed from a zany punk anthem to a musical theatre-style vignette of melancholy introspection. Ware’s vocals find the sweet spot between sultry pop expressivity and beautiful classical technique, while Dewhurst’s delicate piano and Dale’s yearning cello provide an evocative backdrop to Little Sparrow’s remarkable reimagining of this song.

The middle track on the ‘Just 3’ EP is one we’ve heard before at TGTF, early single ‘Tender’, which was released on its own back in December of last year. As we mentioned in our review of the single, ‘Tender’ is a heartfelt and very personal song for Ware, and her video treatment, which includes fan-submitted photographs of loved ones alongside Ware’s own shared images, is equally emotional. The sentimental quality of the song makes it a nice pairing with the Little Sparrow version of ‘Baggy Trousers’, continuing both its nostalgic mood and its graceful musicality.

As if on cue, ‘Just 3’ closes with an unapologetic tearjerker, the aptly positioned ‘Dry Your Eyes’. In the EP’s press release, Ware relates that she wrote this song several years ago, when she was in the midst of suffering from a bout of depression. However, she emphasises that “the song is intended to be positive and to encourage the listener to ‘dry your eyes’ and to know that ‘you are not alone’.” Her uplifting message is inspiring both to the heart and to the minds of her hopeful listeners, who upon hearing these three tracks will no doubt be more eager than ever to hear Little Sparrow’s next collection of elegant and carefully-crafted songs.

8/10

Little Sparrow’s self-released ‘Just 3’ EP is available now. You can find TGTF’s past coverage of Little Sparrow, including a review of her debut LP ‘Wishing Tree’, through this link.

 

Album Review: Years & Years – Palo Santo

 
By on Monday, 6th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Years & Years Palo Santo album coverWe all hoped the cheesy ‘NSYNC, Backstreet Boys-ey boy bands were a thing of the past, right? The band genre made a comeback a few years back in the form of JLS and One Direction, but again we left these behind, and music had progressed since then, had it not? Years & Years appear keen to rekindle this dying flame in their newest album ‘Palo Santo’. Although their 2015 debut album ‘Communion’ seems miles away now, there is an unmistakable Nineties’ / Noughties’ boy band vibe running through the 14 tracks of ‘Palo Santo’. The use of layered vocals, Nineties’ style synthesisers and manufactured drum beats reminscent of those dance-pop tunes from yesteryear we all know and secretly love.

The final track of ‘Palo Santo’, ‘Up In Flames’, takes this comparison the furthest as it really feels as though it has been plucked out of 2000. The song opens with a familiar sounding drum machine beat, embellished with what sounds like shakers and perhaps most surprisingly, a bell. After the first verse, in comes a clunky synth riff and backing vocals, that couldn’t get more Backstreet Boys if it tried. Oh, but it does. At the end of the chorus, ‘Up In Flames’ there is a bright synth stab that, although subtle, is undeniably a direct take from ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ and that song’s defining feature of the 1997 song, and now here it is in a Years & Years track. Although the nostalgia is pretty enticing, the foundations of the song are well past their best by date.

Not only do many of the tracks of ‘Palo Santo’ recall songs that have come before, they are also hard to define within the album itself. Very few of the tracks have any elements that really stand out and demand your attention. Despite the fact that there are songs that are upbeat and dancey – for example ‘All For You’ or ‘Rendezvous’ – the album feels beige. Take the songs ‘Hypnotised’ and ‘Here’, two tracks that should sound completely different on paper. ‘Hypnotised’ is a capella but ‘Here’ is not, and yet they still manage to blur together. Yes, they are in different keys, use different instrumentation and are at dramatically different lengths to each other, but the essence is the same. These are two tracks that should sound a world apart but without any hooks or memorable lyrics, they become the two slow songs on the album.

The two tunes that actually stand out from the beige are the catchiest songs from the album, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’. ‘Sanctify’ is a throwback to 2015 album ‘Communion’, having the same energy and memorability as tracks like ‘Shine’ and ‘King’. The song begins with a simple drum machine accompaniment to Olly Alexander’s distinct vocals which then explode into a powerful and catchy chorus. ‘If You’re Over Me’ goes down the more generic upbeat pop route, the percussive claps giving it a Jason Mraz-esque ’Have It All’ / ‘Unlonely’ quality. Its lyrics are sassy yet relatable, and although they’re not particularly imaginative, it doesn’t really matter in this setting as they succeed in being easy to remember and sing along to. However, imagination is not in short supply when it comes to the music videos accompanying these two tracks. Both videos have been produced in a sci-fi style with a narrative that runs from one to another, and although unusual they are fun and perhaps the most interesting offshoots of the entire album.

As only the second studio album from the band Years & Years, ‘Palo Santo’ is a disappointment. The tracks lack freshness; instead, they reminisce on music from irrelevant times. Although ‘Sanctify’ and ‘If You’re Over Me’ have become big hits, it’s just a shame for the rest of the album to be so weak.

5/10

‘Palo Santo’ is out now on Polydor Records. Years & Years began their world tour this month and will be stopping in the UK from the 11th of August. For more information on their live dates, visit the band’s official Web site.

 

Album Review: Jealous of the Birds – The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep EP

 
By on Tuesday, 31st July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Daniel Alexander Harris

JOTB Moths EP coverNorthern Irish alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (aka Naomi Hamilton) has recently released a new EP with an elusive but thought-provoking title, ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep.’ While the title might seem a little unwieldy, especially for a 5-track EP, the songs contained on the new recording are a bit less intimidating, in and of themselves.

Of the five songs presented here, only EP opener ‘Plastic Skeletons’ is brand new, as you might have seen back in May when editor Mary featured it as our Video of the Moment #2843. It’s a strong opening to the EP, immediately upbeat and groovy, with shuffling percussion and an elastic guitar riff under Hamilton’s distorted vocals. She sings the verses in a slow, sensual drawl, lilting suggestively over the lines “hope you have it in you to undress again” and “I’ve become addicted to the smell of your cologne”. While the song’s chorus isn’t exactly catchy, its crunchy guitars give the song an extra edge as Hamilton poses the question, “do you wanna wrap me up in suede / smudge off my black eyeliner?”

The other four songs on ‘The Moths of What I Want’ appeared on Jealous of the Birds’ debut full-length album ‘Parma Violets’, which was released in back in 2016 just after Hamilton’s first appearance at SXSW. The middle sequence of three songs, ‘Miss Misanthrope’, ‘Trouble in Bohemia’, and ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, is lifted directly from LP, with some notable production edits from the album versions.

The gentle folk arrangement of ‘Miss Misanthrope’ stands in marked contrast to ‘Plastic Skeletons’ with gentle woodwind adornment and intricate vocal layering underscoring its introspective musings. Subtle yet pleasantly surprising in places, the poetry and the musical effects both leave a warm sense of empathy in their wake. The trippy folk-rock of ‘Trouble in Bohemia’ is muted and a bit grungier in its reworking for the EP, but still retains its upbeat rhythm and lo-fi production quality. ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’, which we at TGTF heard in live performance at SXSW 2017, is similarly dialed back in its production, with its serpentine synth melody and Hamilton’s vocal line blended more smoothly into an overall instrumental arrangement that better suits the song’s self-consciously literary quality.

EP closer ‘Russian Doll’ already had a grungy, garage rock feel in its ‘Parma Violets’ recording, which fitted the defensive mood of its lyrics. Talking about the song’s underlying meaning, Hamilton says, “It’s about when you’re in a relationship and you’re having someone else projecting certain things on you . . . and you don’t have any control over that. It’s matching up the person you want to become and what someone else sees you as.” The new EP recording, re-mixed by Ben Baptie (Young Fathers, Daughter, Lianne LaHavas, London Grammar), dials back the crunch of the guitars, emphasising instead the percussive rhythm and disjointed quality of vocal lines, giving the song a sharper edge and stronger overall profile.

Though we here at TGTF have covered Jealous of the Birds quite extensively over the past few years, we missed the opportunity to review ‘Parma Violets’ on its initial release. ‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me in My Sleep’ serves as a good reminder of what attracted us to Jealous of the Birds in the first place, but also gives a glimpse into where Hamilton might take her music in the future. Her alt-folk and acoustic talents having been fully displayed, she’s now taking a bolder, more rock-oriented tack, without losing the unapologetically poetic lyrical qualities that make her songs unique. If you liked ‘Parma Violets’, this new EP is simply a fresh take on some of those songs, with the added bonus of ‘Plastic Skeletons’ to whet your appetite for more new music from Jealous of the Birds. If you didn’t catch ‘Parma Violets’ the first time around, ‘The Moths of What I Want…’ is your second chance to get acquainted.

8.5/10

‘The Moths of What I Want Will Eat My in My Sleep’ is out now via Hand in Hive (UK) and Canvasback (U.S.). You can find TGTF’s collected coverage of Jealous of the Birds through here.

 

Single Review: The Twilight Sad – ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’

 
By on Thursday, 26th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

It has been a difficult few months for indie music fans following the shocking, untimely death of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison in May. As I’ve learned through Scottish friends in the industry and who knows who – which seems to be just about everyone to everyone else and back again – the musician community in Glasgow is remarkably close-knit. It is, then, unsurprising that his death would colour his friends The Twilight Sad’s latest release. Upon hearing ‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, it’s impossible to separate the inherent unease of the song from the sadness on the loss of Hutchison. A dissonant whine of guitars introduces the song before an insistent rhythm begins that plays throughout the whole song, accompanied by the drone of guitars. All together, the instrumentation set off a feeling of fretfulness even before James Graham utters a single word in his trademark Scots brogue.

As the song goes on, it’s unclear to the listener if he’s singing to another person, to himself and his own anxieties, or a combination of both. What is amply evident is the amount of self-loathing going round in Graham’s head. There’s so much that he vocalises it first as someone else being the problem (“I don’t wanna be around you anymore / I can’t stand to be around you anymore”) before turning the anxiety on himself and self-diagnosing himself as the problem (“you don’t wanna be around me anymore / I don’t wanna be around me anymore / you can’t stand to be around me anymore”). Graham has described the song being “about my ongoing battle with not liking myself, trying to be a good person but constantly feeling like I’m failing myself and everyone I care about.” To the questions “Will you stop if your tears come back?” and “Will you stop when your tears run dry?”, Graham responds, “I’ll drink everything inside”, internalising and hiding the pain that otherwise would be on show through the act of crying. Whose pain will he drink up? His own, or someone else’s? Like film noir, it’s all terribly intriguing.

I have a favourite line in the Margaret Atwood novel Cat’s Eye that reads, “Whoever cares the most will lose.” The greatest tragedy of caring is while you can be in touch with what you feel and what you desire and why, you end up turning it around on yourself and making the assumption that bad things have happened because of what you’ve done. The repeated “why do you do this to yourself?” as the song climaxes at its conclusion seems to support this. For a song so rooted in mental illness and the burying of that pain, it’s weird for it to be so oddly catchy. But it is. And it’s the kind of song that feels like it would be best heard live in Scotland. If you have been in Glasgow when it’s pouring down rain, you understand this.

8.5/10

‘I/m Not Here [missing face]’, the first new material from The Twilight Sad since 2014’s ‘Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave’ is out now on Mogwai’s label Rock Action Records. There’s talk of a new album from the group, which I imagine must be dropping some time this autumn, as they are already selling tickets to tours in North America (mid-October to early November) and the Continent (mid-November) and have two dates in the UK lined up following those tours, on the 27th of November at London Bush Hall and the 29th of November at Edinburgh Liquid Rooms. Seems strange that a Glaswegian show has been omitted, so I’d keep an eye out for one on their live schedule on their official Web site. Past Twilight Sad goodness is through here.

 

Album Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

 
By on Monday, 23rd July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Florence and the Machine High as Hope album coverOur favourite Earth mother Florence Welch is back, this time leading her band on a 10-track journey of organic creativity. Florence + The Machine have stripped it way back in their new album ‘High As Hope’, leaving much of their pop preferences behind and instead colouring their LP with folk influences. It’s easy to see why many are mistaken in thinking ‘Florence + The Machine’ is simply Welch’s pseudonym when their newest release feels like Welch’s singular creation, the role of the band feeling a little unclear. The background accompaniment takes a backseat to Welch’s theatrics: compared to her previous albums, this one is simple and acoustically driven, giving full attention to the vocals. All ten tracks put a spotlight on Welch’s vocal abilities, expressed in earthy, raw and rich tones that only Welch can do.

One of the most successful aspects of the album is that each song is like a different page of a diary, particularly tracks ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, which feel more like letters than songs. ‘Grace’ starts as a beautiful piano ballad, with Welch sounding timid and sincere until the song blooms into a powerful chorus bringing with it heaps of emotion. The direct address to ‘Grace’ really creates a sense that the listener has intruded on a personal moment as Welch divulges her deepest thoughts and fears in lyrics such as “I guess I could go back to university / try and make my mother proud”. Although ‘Patricia’ is more upbeat, there is still a heartfelt address to a character that seems to have had a significant impact on Welch. There is a pure honesty and sincerity that bursts out of ‘Grace’ and ‘Patricia’, offering an authenticity that stands out against the rest of the album.

There is an undeniable intimacy to ‘High As Hope’, not just through the ‘diary’ narratives but also through the use of a capella sections in ‘No Choir’ and ‘Sky Full of Song’. Few artists are brave enough to showcase their vocals abilities through a capella, but it works brilliantly for Florence and the Machine. The unaccompanied vocals open these songs, instantly setting an intimate tone as no accompaniment can distract from Welch’s lyrics. This is most effective in portraying a melancholic emotion in The start of ‘No Choir’ is effective at conveying melancholy as Welch sings, “And it’s hard to write about being happy, ’cause all that I get / I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”. Listeners cannot escape from the sadness Welch is expressing; instead, we are forced to deal with these emotions and engage with the song. It is a powerful tactic and one that is heightened by the subtle accompaniment rising and falling in perfect tandem with Welch, never once overpowering the vocals, yet still supporting the emotion.

Heavenly connotations across several tracks keeps ‘High As Hope’ unique, which are again supported beautifully by the instrumentation. Fourth track ‘Big God’ addresses this theme in its title, while opening track ‘June’ connotes heaven through references to angels: “you’re so high, you had to be an angel”. The instrumentation and production shadow the theme by creating huge, angelic sounds through layered strings and gorgeously dramatic, reverberating vocals. Despite such powerful sounds, the production isn’t overdone and hasn’t distorted the natural sounds of the instruments.

One of the first singles released from the LP ‘Hunger’, has been accompanied by an artistically abstract video. The single is catchy and radio friendly, yet it still carries the profound message of human nature’s hunger for love, perfectly captured by the visual accompaniment. The video portrays this through the use of statues as symbolism for human isolation. Symbolism continues in abundance, with images of forests evoking the organic nature of song and the rest of the album. The music video is atypical, more like a piece of art than it is a music video.

Florence + The Machine have taken a turn down a different road for ‘High As Hope’, showcasing another side to Welch’s songwriting. The album feels like a slice of Welch’s soul, giving us a much more honest and genuine perspective of Welch than in any previous albums. Authentic and personal elements make the LP so alluring, each song having a purpose, an emotion and a message. Radio stations may fool you into thinking that ‘Hunger’ is the only power track here, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The entire album is a masterpiece.

9/10

‘High As Hope’, the fourth studio album from Florence + the Machine, is out now on Virgin EMI and Republic Records. Catch Welch and her band on their world tour starting in the UK from the 15th of November. For more information on live dates visit Florence + The Machine’s official Web site. Read through all of our past coverage on the artist through this link.

 

Album Review: Dentist – Night Swimming

 
By on Thursday, 19th July 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Dentist Night Swimming album coverAs the saying goes, timing is everything. Human beings tend to brood and get nostalgic around the winter holidays and as the year closes. In contrast, summer is when it feels most appropriate to brush the cobwebs out of one’s mind, let one’s hair down and kick the shoes off and all cares away. That’s the kind of thinking I’m assuming led to New Jersey band Dentist’s thinking to release their debut album ‘Night Swimming’ in the middle of July. Feeling at times like having an ice cream at the beach but never proving too cloying, it’s an upbeat LP that at times flirts with bubblegum pop territory.

In some ways similar to Katie Ellen’s ‘Cowgirl Blues’ that was released this time last year, ‘Night Swimming’ conveys the thoughts of an independent woman with an agile mind, bolstered by surf-y, lo-fi guitar chords that lend a scrappy, ‘skinned knees’ kind of quality to the proceedings. Most of the songs on this album are short – around the 3-minute mark or a good deal shorter – which means if you’re not a fan of frontwoman Emily Bornemann’s twee vocal pitch, it never stays around long enough to bother much during a collection of songs that, taken together, barely pass the 30-minute mark. The animated and simply fun rock guitars and drums throughout also provide a worthy distraction.

Things get off to an exuberant start with ‘Upset Words’, on which she asks cheekily, “do I make you proud?” On fun lead single ‘Corked’, Bornemann’s sweet and girly vocals are an asset here, providing an interesting juxtaposition to the introductory strummed guitar notes, scuzzy with feedback and audible clicks left in and not polished off the record. “Something’s wrong again ‘cos we’re still friends”, she wistfully scoffs in the first chorus before the muscular part of the song gets going. LP standout ‘Figure-Four’ should be our credo for the rest of 2018, with its suggestions to let it go and don’t sweat the small stuff. Bornemann sings, “it’s okay / every day / we’ll be fine / I’m sure, I’m sure” and its entreaties to “accept your fate”, it’s Dentist’s way of saying trust in the process of the Great Big Thing called Life. We need more of this thinking. Too many bad things are happening around us and to us that sometimes we all forget that we’re here to live.

On the simply titled ‘Oh’, she quips, “wish that I could turn my brain off / then that would mean that I am dead”. The instrumentation going with it is so peppy, you have to ask yourself if the lyrics are meant to be rhetorical to the listener or if they’re meant to be droll or even possibly cutting observations that hide her own anxiety about life and relationships, something the Crookes did so well. ‘All is Well (In Hell)’ sees Bornemann on a brief but lovely, slower, acoustic interlude; it’s a bit soppy and entails her begging her lover not to leave her because “that is worth than anything”. Dentist get down and dirtier for a brief moment on the minor key ‘Tight Spot’, with squealing, surf-y guitars and harder hit drums to go along with the existential lyrical musings.

In the rapid fire drumbeat-driving closer ‘The Latter’, Bornemann implores, “I have opened up to you / you have done the same / tell me now what I can do / to make this great escape”. With an album like ‘Night Swimming’, you are invited to give someone else control of the steering wheel. This is the kind of music to listen to on those long drives out to the coast by day and into the steamy summer evenings when there’s nothing to do. Or at least you’re pretending there isn’t. This is one Dentist that won’t make your teeth ache.

7.5/10

‘Night Swimming’, the debut album from New Jersey’s Dentist, is out tomorrow, the 20th of June, on Cleopatra Records. Read my review of them at SXSW 2018 through here; they were one of my unexpected finds in Austin this year.

 
 
 

About Us

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.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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