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Album Review: Kate Nash – Yesterday Was Forever

 
By on Tuesday, 17th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Kate Nash Yesterday Was Forever album coverLast year at SXSW 2017, I came across established pop princess Kate Nash performing at Latitude 30, wearing a pink boa, a cute dress and fishnet stockings. It was 10 years on since her breakout hit ‘Foundations’, yet in this bar in Austin, it seemed all her fans in town were there and we were transported back in 2007. It’s those devoted fans who put money into the Kickstarter kitty for her fourth album ‘Yesterday Was Forever’, out now on Nash’s own label Girl Gang Records. She’s very different from the BRIT School graduate thrust into the spotlight before the age of 20 and who made ‘Made of Bricks’ for Fiction Records a decade ago. She has an acting career, with the starring role in Netflix female wrestling comedy GLOW, and splits her time between London and Los Angeles. Nash feels a responsibility “an advocate for young women – that’s what drives me and my career.” But what does Kate Nash sound like on record now?

At 14 tracks, it’s an album that overstays its welcome and would have benefited from with some self-editing. That said, Nash hasn’t put out an album since 2014’s ‘Girl Talk’, so she has a lot to say and this time, without the hands of a major label, she can say what she wants, right? She has struggled with mental illness over the years – most notably, obsessive-compulsive disorder – and says this album ‘reads’ like a stroll through her teenage diary. Spoiler alert: it’s a bumpy ride. You remember the teenage years: hormones raged (‘Body Heat’) and confusion about relationships (‘Take Away’ vs. ‘Hate You’) and your own identity abounded. What will determine your enjoyment of ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ lies in whether you can look back at that time in your life with any sort of fondness.

A good litmus test is opener ‘Life in Pink’, in which Nash tries to balance her inner demons (“wish I could let my brain / decide and stop the pain”) with trying to be cute (“I keep heart-shaped glasses close to me”), screeched in a Courtney Love-esque vocal. This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Love is one of Nash’s heroes. You either embrace or reject the contrast of sugary sweet popster and punk rocker grrl. On ‘California Poppies’, Nash channels Love again for another vocal cord-ripping exercise.

One wonders if Nash considered doing an entire album with a punk feel but only walked it back because, well, pop sells better. Early taster ‘Drink About You’ suffers from throwaway lines like “spots are coming out on me, what should I do?” But to the general listener, it’s more important that the high energy tempo and the gay guitar tune are catchy. She goes into the popular pop topics of sex whilst drunk on ‘Karaoke Kiss’ and a disconnection with the digital world on ‘Twisted Up’, both songs exploring female desire.

Most of the songs on this record are encased in a sugary sheen of production. It’s unfortunate, as when Nash breaks from this trend on ‘Musical Theatre’, she’s also the most honest with herself and with us. The mostly spoken word song sounds like a feed from her mind, a stream of consciousness while she copes with an anxiety attack. It’s a brave moment and should as applauded as an emotional moment Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit has written. But that’s not what ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ will be remembered for. This is a schizophrenic album with pop, punk and attempts at balladry, with mixed results.

7/10

Kate Nash’s fourth album ‘Yesterday Was Forever’ is out now on her own Girl Gang Records. She is currently in the midst of a North American tour, stopping at Englewood, Colorado’s Gothic Theatre tonight. For past coverage on TGTF on Nash, go here.

 

Album Review: Lissie – Castles

 
By on Tuesday, 27th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Lissie Castles coverWhen we at TGTF last spoke to American singer/songwriter Lissie in a post-show interview at SXSW 2016, she had just moved from California back to her midwestern home of Iowa to find her roots after years living on the West Coast. She was also touring her album ‘My Wild West’, which was written and recorded as a kind of farewell to California. Now firmly established in the Midwest, Lissie has released a new record titled ‘Castles’, which is as much an exploration in musical sounds as it is an examination of the life she’s created for herself.

Ironically, despite Lissie’s decampment to farm country, the songs on ‘Castles’ are less organic sounding than you might expect, especially from a woman whose last album was firmly grounded in folk rock. Working with a host of collaborators including electronic artist Nick Tesoriero, Lissie has fashioned a dreamy, ethereal soundscape of synths, drum machines, and distant backing vocals. “When I wrote on a guitar I felt limited”, she says. “It was so much more spontaneous and natural to sit down with someone who would give me a beat and a chord progression on a synthesizer. I started having all these new ideas.” Lissie’s sonic experimentation places ‘Castles’ into a pop/r&b scenario, and while she doesn’t venture into uncharted pop territory, it’s a new sound for her, and the result is, predictably, a bit patchy.

Opening track ‘World Away’ sets the sonic tone with a hazy dream pop sound apropos to an album called ‘Castles.’ But Lissie’s raw singing voice, which was powerful enough to cut through hefty guitars and drums on ‘My Wild West’, doesn’t sit as comfortably in the new synthesised backdrop. Her natural raspiness occasionally comes across as abrasive, and the thinner underlying arrangements expose the squareness in her lyrics and vocal delivery.

The album gains momentum early with a strong trilogy of songs. Lissie’s voice is strong in title track ‘Castles’, whose fairy tale analogy and catchy refrain are immediately engaging. Piano ballad ‘Blood & Muscle’ (https://www.theregoesthefear.com/2017/12/video-of-the-moment-2750-lissie.php) has a smoky quality that suits the natural timbre of her singing, especially as the chorus builds to its dynamic climax. ‘Best Days’ has a  country rock feel which might have worked even better had Lissie more fully committed to it, under lyrics about wanting both “a pickup truck” and “a diamond ring”.

From there, the album begins to lose traction. ‘Feel Good’ and ‘Boyfriend’ carry on the country rock flavour, but the lyrics in both are trite and slightly preachy, as Lissie sings in the latter, “I don’t want a lover, I want a man / coming from the heart now, living in my heartland”. In an attempt to branch out from country rock, Lissie makes two overtures to r&b on ‘Castles’, neither of which is particularly successful. The vocal delivery in ‘Crazy Girl’ feels contrived when she sings “I’ve been talkin’ shit all of the time, other girls foolin’ around”, and the effect is amplified later in the tracklisting in ‘Love Blows’, where the understated synth backing exaggerates the stilted, uncomfortable lyrical rhythm.

Near the end of the album in ‘Peace’, Lissie softens her tone and weaves her voice delicately between the bass groove and the exotic plucked string instrumentation. Here she finds a sweet spot, and though the moment doesn’t last long, it’s an interesting suggestion of where she could potentially take this new soundscape. Final track ‘Meet Me in the Mystery’ is another strong piano ballad whose minor key harmonies reflect the elusiveness in its title, while electric guitar, synths, and percussion create a dramatic tonal tapestry behind Lissie’s naturally bewitching vocals.

‘Castles’ is without a doubt a brave departure from Lissie’s former folk rock sound. She gathered a host of contributors, including collaborators from ‘My Wild West’ and producers AG and Liam Howe to help her navigate the new soundscape but in the end, the album may have suffered from “too many chefs in the kitchen” without enough definitive direction or intent.

6.5/10

Lissie’s new album ‘Castles’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl. She will play a run of four live dates in the UK in April; you can find all the details here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Lissie is collected back here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

 
By on Thursday, 22nd March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

CMA album coverAlt-country singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews appeared last week in Austin for SXSW 2018, to preview her forthcoming seventh album ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. Andrews garnered attention in the UK last year with the re-release of ‘Honest Life’, her self-produced sixth record, which drew comparisons to Laurel Canyon-style folk artists like Joni Mitchell. But where ‘Honest Life’ had more of a folk flavour, ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ finds itself firmly in the country category, albeit a more old-school, traditional country sound than you might hear on mainstream radio on either side of the pond.

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits), ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ captures both a well-worn country sensibility and a fresh, modern take on the traditional style, with subtle elements of rock and blues sweetening the mix. Lyrically, the album was inspired by Andrews’ 10 years of life on the road as a touring musician, and it deals with themes that feel at once timeless and conspicuously current. She says:

The people that I’ve met on the road these past few years got me thinking about my childhood, and the people around me that I’ve known, and the stories that come from my family,” Andrews says. “It became clear how many people are struggling through the same issues. People are constantly chasing that bigger life. A lot of people are poor in America—and because of those unattainable goals, they’re also mentally unstable, or sad, or depressed or unfulfilled. A lot of people—myself included at some point in my life—are loving somebody through this. That’s sort of the theme of the record: coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.

Gospel-tinged title track ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ addresses that idea in straighforward fashion, but with an underlying message of optimism. Lyrics like “fortune might buy diamonds, all shiny and new / but it can’t buy you happiness or love, that is true” might seem trite when written on a blank page, but they ultimately ring sincere when couched in Andrews’ simple melodies and her gently yodeling folk-country vocal style. The dynamic growth of her singing voice in the song’s powerful chorus showcases both strength and subtle emotion.

The album’s fundamental optimism is reprised later in the tracklisting with another gospel-laced track ‘Kindness of Strangers’, which celebrates small favours in the face of unrelenting adversity. “People come and people go,” Andrews observes here in a jaded tone, ” . . . you need the kindness to survive”. Standout track ‘Two Cold Nights in Buffalo’ is one of the album’s more spirited moments. Its uptempo country rock underscores a tough tale of hard times on tour with a sense of perseverance and humour. But Andrews also takes the opportunity to muse on the situation’s larger implications: “what happened to the middle class / mom and pop, five and dime? / soon they’ll be knocking it all down / to build that high-rise.”

A handful of well-worn love songs including ‘Rough Around the Edges’ and ‘Took You Up’ pull at the heartstrings with yearning melodies and all-too-familiar lyrical details that feel comfortable even when they aren’t pretty. She easily juxtaposes lofty imagery like “desert sunsets and movie scenes” with the more mundane “frozen dinners when money’s tight / making love on a laundry pile”, finding equal emotional value in both. Andrews’ voice exudes a palpable sense of warmth and welcome in humble ballad ‘This House’, singing “for every rose there’s a weed / but every weed is welcome / this house ain’t much of a house / but it’s a home.”

Near the end of the tracklisting, the dryly ironic tone of ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ displays a typically country-rock bravado and the emotional subtlety of trying to mask a pain you don’t want to admit to in the first place. “Mother says we love who we think we deserve,” Andrews remarks here in a wry tone, “but I’ve hurt worse.” The album closes with ‘Long Road Back to You’, which underscores the pervasive longing and quiet hope in this collection of songs. The guitar riff between its verses is achingly desperate, while Andrews’ vocal in the yearning refrain is a barely-restrained cry of loneliness. But the return of gospel harmonies in the piano and backing vocals manages to leave behind a prevailing sense of promise.

Courtney Marie Andrews has made her career in music the hard-working, old-fashioned way, and her commitment to the traditional country aesthetic pays off in spades on ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. The album’s beauty lies in its simplicity, which highlights Andrews’ delicate balance of grit and grace. Her rough-around-the-edges vocal style infuses her lyrics with a sense of authenticity, and her dusty, sepia-toned soundscape conveys both steadfast resilience and hard-won hope.

9/10

‘May Your Kindness Remain’ is Courtney Marie Andrews’ seventh studio album and her second release for Mama Bird Recording Co. (America) / Loose Music (UK). The album is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 23rd of March. Stay tuned to TGTF for live coverage of Courtney Marie Andrews at SXSW 2018, to post in the coming days. Our past coverage, including Andrews’ answers to our SXSW 2018 themed Quickfire Questions, is back through here.

 

Album Review: Brian Fallon – Sleepwalkers

 
By on Thursday, 8th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

brian fallon Sleepwalkers coverAmerican rocker Brian Fallon already has a busy schedule for the early part of 2018. He will embark on a UK headline tour with his current band, The Howling Weather at the end of this month, which will be followed by North American dates extending through the spring. His summer plans include headline shows and festivals with former band The Gaslight Anthem in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their hit album ‘The ’59 Sound’.

Fallon’s upcoming solo shows are in support of his new LP ‘Sleepwalkers’, which like his previous studio effort, 2016’s ‘Painkillers’, will probably be stronger live than on recording. Thematically, Fallon’s songwriting on ‘Sleepwalkers’ dwells in those aching moments in life when the stars don’t quite align. He takes on the role of romantic anti-hero very well, and his earnest sincerity is undeniable. Musically, ‘Sleepwalkers’ is an extension of the folk rock sound Fallon developed on ‘Painkillers’, but with a bit more of the anthemic gospel of The Gaslight Anthem added to the mix. Opening tracks ‘If Your Prayers Don’t Get to Heaven’ and ‘Forget Me Not’ are prime examples, though the subtle restraint in the former and the perspective shift in the final chorus of the latter both come as pleasant surprises.

‘Sleepwalkers’ doesn’t have many well-defined high or low points in terms of dramatic tension and intensity. Its tempos and dynamics are cranked up high through the first part of the tracklisting, almost monotonously so, with the exception of standout track ‘Etta James.’ Fallon is probably sick to death of the constant Springsteen comparisons, but he really does choose fortunate moments to channel his fellow New Jersey predecessor, and the soulful, slow burning ‘Etta James’ is one of those.

Later in the album sequence, there is more variety, as in the folk-leaning dance instrumentation of ‘Proof of Life’ and the brass-tinged jazz rhythms of title track ‘Sleepwalkers’. Unfortunately, Fallon’s half-spoken/half-sung delivery isn’t melodic enough to lift the heavy, square melodies and the overall effect is a bit dragging. His slurred vocal delivery works better in the country-tinged ‘Watson’ whose clever, if slightly awkward, lyrical metaphor finds him singing in character, “I’m worried when I’m old I’ll be lonesome / chasing all the umbrellas in London”. Fallon’s signature gritty vocals, along with hard-edged guitars and pounding drums, are central to ‘My Name is the Night (Color Me Black)’, which though lyrically a bit trite, finds some dynamic variety without losing any of its emotional intensity.

Album closer ‘See You on the Other Side’ is a stripped-back guitar ballad that exposes both Fallon’s strengths and his weaknesses. Its verse lyrics, where he pledges to “spend my life in your majesty’s service / and call myself satisfied”, create a nice symmetry with an earlier track, but his unnuanced vocal delivery doesn’t quite overcome the square, singsong quality of the chorus.

Fallon’s solo efforts continue to vex me to a certain degree. His public persona (both on stage and in interviews) is so thoughtful and genuinely charismatic that I find myself truly *wanting* to like his songs. Taken individually, the songs on ‘Sleepwalkers’ are strong, but the album as a whole falls slightly short of its potential. In the end, with ‘Sleepwalkers’ as with ‘Painkillers’, it comes down to a toss-up between Fallon’s singing and his lyrics. I feel absolutely sure that at some point, there will come a magical moment when Brian Fallon hits the target on both at the same time, but as yet, that hasn’t materialised.

7/10

‘Sleepwalkers’, Brian Fallon’s second solo LP, is out tomorrow, Friday the 9th of February, on Virgin EMI. TGTF’s past coverage of Brian Fallon is collected through here, and our previous coverage of The Gaslight Anthem is back here.

 

(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Album Review: The Academic – Tales From the Backseat

 
By on Tuesday, 30th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

The Academic Tales from the Backseat album coverIn less than 2 months’ time, The Academic will be returning to Austin for their second SXSW, and with a major career achievement ticked off. Earlier this month, the lads from Mullingar in the Irish midlands released their debut album ‘Tales from the Backseat’. The LP has proved so popular in their home country, it knocked major label giant Ed Sheeran from the top of the Irish official album charts. Give it a spin, and you’ll find there’s enough here to keep your toes tapping for days and a smile on your face.

Single ‘Different’ is not a new song for the band, having appeared on their 2015 EP ‘Loose Friends’. Its energetic brashness, then and now, is impossible to ignore. The album version is more polished: with more layers to love than in its previous guise, the touch of album producer Tim Pagnotta (Neon Trees, St. Lucia, COIN) on this track and the rest is one of the keys to this record’s success. Lyrically, like One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, it’s a tale of empowerment, a boy telling the girl he likes that she’s unique and that’s what makes her special. The updated ‘Different’, currently making the rounds on SiriusXM Alt Nation and BBC Radio 1 specialist shows, is sure to inspire youngsters of all ages to dance like loons at a festival near you this summer. ‘Feel It Too’, with its driving beats and wiggly synth effects, also has a disarming edge: frontman Craig Fitzgerald admits his own vulnerability in the lyrics “…I’m your fool / I’m not so cool / you know I feel it too / you’re not alone”.

The topics broached on ‘Tales…’ reflect the concerns inside the heads of four adolescents from small-town Ireland. “What’s my motivation?” Fitzgerald asks on album opener ‘Permanent Vacation’. The song conveys a young man’s discomfort of coming to grips with adult responsibilities that loom in the rearview mirror. Another single, ‘Bear Claws’, has become a live favourite with its rousing “Ay! Oh!” call. Last October, the band created a first-of-its-kind Facebook Live performance of the song, using the audio/video time lag to create a mesmerising visual loop sampler.

On some of these songs, The Academic wear their most important influences on their sleeve. Though the lads are no longer in need of them here in America, ‘Fake ID’ recalls the anxiety and innocence of trying to get into a club with false credentials. The words “it’s hard to act my age when I look like a 12-year old / and I hate it when I don’t get in, left stranded in the cold” are accompanied by early Two Door Cinema Club-esque winsome guitar work and bright percussion. ‘Television’ owes a debt to The Strokes, the tune’s bouncy beat and melodic guitar a nod to Julian Casablancas and co. Lest you think The Academic have only mastered one sound, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’ sees them reigning in their excitement. It’s a nice signal that their songwriting can veer into still upbeat but less frenetic, guitar-driven rock.

What these songs lack in depth is compensated for in spades by the level of their youthful exuberance. ‘Tales From the Backseat’ reminds us that we can go back in time in our minds, to when our younger selves’ biggest worry was how to impress the boy or girl we had our eye on. Life is so complicated these days. Slow down and say hello to that younger version of yourself with this album as your soundtrack.

7.5/10

‘Tales From the Backseat’, the debut album from The Academic, is out now on Downtown Records in America. The group will tour North America starting in mid-February and continue on through to the week before they are due in Austin for SXSW 2018. Continental Europe and English live dates will follow in April. To read our past coverage here on TGTF on the Irish lads, come through.

 

Album Review: The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

 
By on Thursday, 25th January 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Spook School Could It Be Different coverGlasgow-based indie pop band The Spook School have become known for combining emotionally honest lyrical treatment of gender and sexuality with an upbeat and unapologetic pop-punk musical sound. Their first two albums, 2013’s ‘Dress Up’ and 2015 release ‘Try to Be Hopeful’ both explore queer and trans identities in a broad societal context as well as in the more intimate context of personal relationships. The band’s new third LP ‘Could It Be Different?’ leans noticeably toward the personal end of that spectrum, its songs reflecting on past relationships and measuring their impact on present ones.

The album’s first two singles place themselves on either end of the dichotomy. Album opener ‘Still Alive’ is a triumphant liberation from an abusive relationship, with a rebellious chorus that will surely become a crowd-favourite singalong in live performance: “fuck you, I’m still alive / and I’m not going anywhere with you.” Follow-up release ‘Less Than Perfect’ is lighter and brighter in tone, but subdued in its acceptance of unfulfilled expectations. “We’re made of puzzle pieces / and I hope that I am right,” sings Anna Cory, “when I guess the parts you recognize / could be the parts you like.”

Cory’s lead vocal sets up another juxtaposition on ‘Could It Be Different?’, this one musical in nature. Alternating the lead vocal between Cory and Nye Todd adds an element of interest to an otherwise homogenous sonic palette. The Spook School’s fuzzy lo-fi guitars and relentlessly uptempo rhythms are deliberate hallmarks of their sound, but while they lend cohesion to the album, they also become a bit predictable. The variation in vocal timbre and lyrical perspective counteracts this effect nicely, especially on Cory’s late-album tracks ‘I Only Dance When I Want To’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’.

Backing vocals are cleverly applied in several places on ‘Could It Be Different?”, notably in the poignantly nostalgic ‘Keep In Touch’. Cory’s lofty “ahhs” lend a feeling of hazy memory behind the bittersweet reflection “we were so naïve / we were so together / we were so young . . .” That air of reflection takes on a different tone in ‘I Hope She Loves You’, where Todd sings from a removed and distinctly present point of view, “I’m a whole different person / I’m not inclined that way.”

The Spook School also examine current social issues in terms of their personal impact. ‘Bad Year’ tackles the demoralising effect of Brexit in the UK, as Todd describes his emotional shock: “I admire your optimism but I just need to feel it / I just need to take a moment before I can start dealing.” Current single ‘Body’ takes a head-on look at body dysmorphia, opening with a stark and brutally honest statement, “do you like the way you look naked? / I don’t know if any of us do”, but softening the blow, as usual, with their quirky guitar pop sound.

Album closer ‘High School’ harkens back to gawky adolescence with lyrical lines that are awkward in places, but its adult perspective is clear: “I’m not saying I regret the old days / can’t take back the choices that I made / I guess I wouldn’t want to anyway”. Even in this more sombre-toned ballad, The Spook School refuse to descend into complete sonic despair. Despite the weighty subject matter, their energetic music ultimately projects the idea that these conflicted and confused feelings are okay.

‘Could It Be Different?’ embraces the messiness and ambiguity in human relationships across the spectra of gender and sexuality. The songs are specifically intended to address gender-fluid relationships, but their underlying sentiments are universally applicable, and the band’s lo-fi indie pop is engaging without being intimidating. The Spook School haven’t necessarily stepped out of their own comfort zone with this album, but they might just encourage the rest of us to step out of ours.

7.5/10

‘Could It Be Different?’ is due out tomorrow, Friday, the 26th of January via Alcopop! Records (UK) / Slumberland Records (America). The Spook School will support alt-pop duo Diet Cig on their North American tour beginning on the 29th of January; find details on their official Facebook. TGTF’s past coverage of The Spook School is collected through this link.

 
 
 

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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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