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Album Review: A.S. Fanning – Second Life

 
By on Thursday, 12th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

AS Fanning Second Life coverIrish singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning is making a ‘Second Life’ for himself, with a new solo LP of that particularly apropos title. The former frontman of Dublin-based bands Porn Trauma and The Last Tycoons, Fanning relocated to Berlin several years ago. Finding it to be more affordable than Dublin for his practical and musical purposes, he decided to stay on, and he finished recording the self-produced album ‘Second Life’ there earlier this year. Just after wrapping up the record, Fanning made his American debut at SXSW 2017, which is where TGTF happened to make his acquaintance.

As is often the case with carefully crafted pieces of music, the collection of songs on ‘Second Life’ have evolved over a lengthy songwriting process, and some of them have already made the rounds as early single releases. ‘Carmelita’, for example, dates back to the end of 2015, and it has stood the test of time for inclusion on the full LP. Indeed, the ironic religious imagery in its poetry and the desperately yearning quality of its refrain distinguish it straightaway as one of the album’s strongest tracks.

Appearing later in the album, ‘Dark Star’ has also been part of Fanning’s live repertoire for at least the better part of a year. Fanning’s dramatic baritone delivery of its darkly brooding lyrics “you met a sweet boy in that stupid bar with no name / he was so kind and helpful, apologised when he came” were a memorable part of his setlist at SXSW, and the song makes a similarly striking impact in the tracklisting of ‘Second Life’. Current single ‘Never Been Gone’ is slightly more uptempo in its shuffling rhythm, and distinctly warmer in tone than many of the tracks on the LP. Its light instrumental interludes and gently wistful lyrics, “soft summer sun, memory so strong, nothing needs explaining, just a feeling that you’d never been gone”, are a welcome glimpse of sunshine amongst the figurative shadows where Fanning more typically dwells.

Midway through the album, Fanning takes on a deliberately artistic aesthetic with instrumental piece ’The Heron’. Purely instrumental tracks are often more difficult to interpret than songs with words, but this one comprises musical gestures that are angular, delicate and tranquil, like the graceful bird mentioned in the title. Penultimate track ‘Empty Suitcase’ isn’t strictly instrumental, but its brief and distant vocal lines are clearly secondary in focus to the deftly constructed instrumental layers that make up its rich harmonic and textural soundscape.

‘That’s Where They’ll Find You’ is similarly expansive and dynamic in its instrumental arrangement, but much more ominous in tone. Its throbbing heartbeat pulse and heavy keyboard structure frame sinister lyrical references to places of “sickness and plain despair and all that is unjust / where raving madmen find their bliss and stiff john lust.” Here again, Fanning’s deep baritone plays to its greatest effect, with its unique combination of dry humour and utter solemnity.

Final track ‘Louis Armstrong’ is shaped as an old-fashioned jazz ballad with prominent brass in the backing arrangement, inspired by the famed American jazz musician who evidently factored into Fanning’s musical upbringing. Its lyrics have a mildly pessimistic bent, which keeps the song from feeling entirely out of place on the record. “I can only pray the joy outweighs the sadness in the end”, Fanning sings, and closing the album on this clever and surprising note ultimately brings that lyrical wish to fruition. A.S. Fanning’s ‘Second Life’ as a solo artist may be just beginning, but the wide range of his musical and lyrical ability has set him off to a very promising start.

8/10

A.S. Fanning’s debut LP ‘Second Life’ is due out tomorrow, Friday the 13th of October, via Proper Octopus Records. Tomorrow night, Fanning will play an album launch show at Dublin Whelan’s. TGTF’s previous coverage of A.S. Fanning, including live reviews from SXSW 2017, is right back this way.

 

Album Review: Gill Landry – Love Rides a Dark Horse

 
By on Wednesday, 4th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Gill Landry LRADH coverWe at TGTF encountered American folk singer/songwriter Gill Landry earlier this year when he played support for alt-folk duo Bear’s Den. At the time, I was unaware of Landry’s credentials as part of bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show, with whom he won two Grammy awards. Landry has since left the group to focus on his solo work, which includes three previous LPs and a brand new album, titled ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’.

Landry himself has written an extensive press release for ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’, which provides unique insight into the inspiration behind this collection of songs. Landry says he found himself at a difficult crossroads, as his departure from Old Crow coincided with the end of a long-term romance. “The future was looking like an exhaustingly long walk through a knee-deep tunnel of shit ending in death,” he explains, “but I wanted to find a light in the darkness. This album is more of a map out of the darkness than an invitation to it.”

The record is concise and tightly woven in its narrative, but its individual songs unfold slowly and deliberately, brimming with sentimentality and heartbreak. Landry avoids becoming entirely maudlin with a generous dose of dry humour in his lyrics and richly expressive instrumental gestures in otherwise straightforward folk rock arrangements. Early single ‘Denver Girls’ takes advantage of Landry’s deep baritone vocal timbre, setting a shadowy tone around the question “if it’s not paradise now, tell me what you’re waiting for / don’t you know, there is no evermore?”

Landry has enlisted a full cadre of collaborators on this album, including female singers Karen Elson and Odessa,, who contribute tangibly to the overall colour of the songs. The refrain of impressive recent single ‘Berlin’ features particularly effective backing harmonies from Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit, but Landry’s own velvety delivery in the line “after all you put me through, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s you” makes the strongest emotional impact.

Jaded tales of failed romance dominate the body of the tracklisting, most notably slow-burning ballads ‘Broken Hearts’ and ‘Scripted Love’. Landry describes the latter as the centerpiece of the album, as it “reveal(s) characters trapped in scenes they didn’t create as much as rehearsed”. These tender tracks are balanced by the stronger tempo and pervasive brass in ‘The One Who Won the War’, where he sings of “defeated expectations hiding in your pain / like every hopeful dreamer you left screaming in the rain”.

A scattering of lighter moments keeps the album from being altogether grim. Strategically placed in the middle of the sequence, ‘The Only Game in Town’ opens with a gently cynical rejoinder: “we just met / I appreciate your enthusiasm, but don’t fall in love just yet”. Nearer to the end of the album, ‘The Woman I Love’ is both romantic and shrewdly genuine as its protagonist’s lover whispers “get me the fuck out of here” ahead of the song’s deftly harmonised chorus. The album finishes with a pensive moment in the instrumental intro to ‘The Real Deal Died’, which though soft-spoken is biting in its editorial commentary. The song’s mournful lyrics lament the superficiality of the music industry and the loss of true artistry in the ubiquitous quest for commercial success.

Landry unquestionably meets his own high standards of artistry and authenticity with ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’. The record is a beautiful combination of evocative storytelling and aural cinematography, with subtly graceful instrumental elements and Landry’s exquisite baritone hitting their emotional targets throughout. Emerging from the darkness of professional and romantic disillusionment, Gill Landry has created a triumphant album that singularly fits his definition of “dark horse” – “a candidate or competitor about whom little is known, but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.”

9/10

Gill Landry’s fourth solo album ‘Love Rides a Dark Horse’ is due out on Friday the 6th of October via ATO (U.S.) / Loose Music (UK). Landry will be on tour for the remainder of 2017, supporting Rising Appalachia on the American West Coast before heading to the UK in November with Ian Felice. December will find Landry back in California, Oregon and Washington with Valerie June. A full list of Landry’s live dates can be found on his official Facebook.

 

Album Review: Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapés

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Ghostpoet Dark Days album coverGhostpoet, real name Obaro Ejimiwe, is the London-born, twice Mercury Prize-nominated poet and musician. His debut album released in 2011, titled ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ earned favourable reception and showcased Ejimiwe’s unique blend of electronic Sprechgesang. Since then, he’s released three more studio albums, his latest ‘Dark Days + Canapés’ out now on Play It Again Sam. On the new record, Ejimiwe touches upon a wide range of subjects and ideas from relationships and dating, to social media and the media, and how we frame our connections to others in a modern world. He also moves into a moodier and more subdued musical territory than the album that came before it, ‘Shedding Skin’.

‘Immigrant Boogie’, the first single released from the album, sets the precedence for an album that comments and critiques society, this single digging into the refugee crisis and the emotions surrounding migration. Opening with a jarring guitar note and repetitive drum and synth rhythm, there’s a spookiness to the track, emphasised in the echoing of the music and Ejimiwe’s voice. Ejimiwe positions himself as a refugee, highlighting the struggle that people go through when attempting to find better lives for themselves in a country other than their own: “I was dreaming of a better life / with my two kids and my loving wife / but I can’t swim, the water’s in my lungs / so here if ends when life has just begun”. This track is especially evocative when considering the events of the last few years and the terrible images that have shared as a result of the refugee crisis. The track will no doubt leave some listeners feeling a little uncomfortable and hyper aware of their own privileged in contrast to their heart-breaking plight of many people who are forced to leave their homes every day. .

Then, on ‘Freakshow’, Ejimiwe talks about modern dating. “so I swipe left and figure it out / it’s a freakshow” is a clear reference to Tinder and the bizarre circus of social media dating. On the track, Ejimiwe’s deep and drawling tone matches well with the steady pulse of the backing track and distant-sounding hum of electric guitar that runs over the track. Social media commentary is echoed again on ‘Dopamine If I Do’, specifically with the lyric “shaky on your toes / Instagram your foes”, again hitting out at the bizarre ways that we interact now that our lives are played out on our smartphones.

With a hypnotic electronic opening rhythm, on ‘Live>Leave’ Ejimiwe says, “I’m afraid of the future / I’ve forgiven the past”, again touching at the fear of an uncertain future that is repeated in the media every day. He goes on to say ‘I’m not dumb, I read papers’ and ‘people sold down the river / could be me could be you’, talking about the way in which various groups of people are marginalized not only in society but also targeted with negative stereotypes in the media.

Overall, the album is a melancholy and dark summation of the times that we are in. Scathing recounts of the treatment of our fellow man are placed side by side with criticisms and observations on contemporary life. The title of the album itself speaks of this problematic dichotomy, that darker days exist alongside canapés, a symbol of good fortune and celebratory times. Like much of Ghostpoet’s catalogue, the title and this album are an eloquent way of highlighting the dual aspects of first-world society, with the unfortunate and the privileged existing simultaneously. It’s the type of album that sticks with you long after you’ve listened to it, and tugs at your heartstrings whilst you are listening, by pointing out very relevant and very human issues. On the album, Ejimiwe captures something of the time that we live in, and manages to put into song both the mundane and life-changing issues people face in the modern world.

8/10

Editor Mary Chang contributed to this review. ‘Dark Days + Canapés’, the fourth album from the cerebral Ghostpoet, is out now on PIAS. Catch him on tour starting in late October when he plays shows in the UK and Ireland. For more on Ghostpoet here on TGTF, follow this link.

 

Album Review: Barns Courtney – The Attractions of Youth

 
By on Thursday, 28th September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Album CoverBritish-American rocker Barns Courtney apparently has only one speed setting, and it’s full throttle, all the time. He’s been on a fast track to success since his appearance at last year’s SXSW 2016.  At the time, his collection of released music was a bit haphazard. He had a pair of blazing singles, ‘Fire’ and ‘Glitter & Gold’, propelling his momentum, and he released an EP titled ‘Hands’ later that year. But the long-term project of recording a full album seemed to be a bit of a challenge, especially given his relentless live schedule. Fast forward to autumn 2017, and Courtney’s highly anticipated LP is ready for release, primed for consumption by over a year’s worth of touring on both sides of the pond. The album, aptly titled ‘The Attractions of Youth’, is as full of piss and vinegar as Courtney himself, bursting with the fire and enthusiasm of a young artist on the edge of massive stardom.

Most of the songs on ‘The Attractions of Youth’ aren’t new to fans who have been following Courtney on the live circuit. But the album cuts are every bit as powerful as his live performances: his production team have definitely found the sweet spot in that regard. First impressions being the strongest, the album opens with established single ‘Fire’, easily its most powerful individual track, followed in quick succession by ‘Glitter & Gold’. From there, a refreshed version of gritty EP track ‘Hands’ is followed by the relatively sweet recent single ‘Golden Dandelions’, which for all its sentimental romance manages not to sap away the breakneck pace of the tracklisting.

As blindingly good as the first part of the album is, its real gems start to come out later in the sequence, starting with the spoken introduction to ‘Hobo Rocket’. In this track, Courtney displays both an ironic sense of humour and a musical awareness I might not have given him credit for on first glance. Centered on a theme of homelessness and desperation, the song’s energy takes flight in the chorus, “gonna fly on my hobo rocket / outta time, nothing in my pocket”. It’s a musical reference that somehow manages to conjure two different Beck songs, ‘Loser’ and ‘Where It’s At’, and is quite simply awesome. The subtle artistry is further solidified in the following studio-manipulated interlude ‘Hobo Outside Tesco, London’. [Is he hoping for a grocery store advert sync? – Ed.]

Current single ‘Champion’ is another rock anthem tailor-made for a sporting soundtrack. Courtney’s husky singing voice works remarkably well in the fire-and-brimstone context, and the song’s lyrics about rising from the ashes are both darkly determined and uplifting in the same vein as Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’. The bruised and swollen ‘Never Let You Down’ (streaming below) is more angular and slickly polished, with a jangling piano added to the instrumentation and a hypnotically groovy instrumental bridge. ‘Goodbye John Smith’ and ‘Little Boy’ demonstrate Courtney’s folkier sensibilities, the former showing an exquisite sensitivity in the vocal delivery, while the latter takes on a charming Americana feel.

Courtney once again goes balls to the wall in the characteristically unapologetic rock anthem ‘Rather Die’, where his delivery is nothing short of absolutely convincing in the lyric “I take a beating but I’ll never give up, I think I’d rather die”. But he saves one final surprise for the album’s close. Eponymous track ‘The Attractions of Youth’ dials back the intensity, but only slightly, as Courtney once again turns on his sarcastic humour in a deliberately over-the-top, circus-style album finale.

The rapid-fire success of Barns Courtney’s early singles is firmly validated with ‘The Attractions of Youth’. The album’s 14 tracks could possibly have been culled down a bit, but in total, they serve to display the voracious hunger behind Courtney’s skyrocket to commercial fame. And though such early success is often volatile and short-lived, Courtney has also demonstrated a compelling intellectual artistry that will sustain his career beyond the initial flash in the pan.

9/10

Barns Courtney’s debut LP ‘The Attractions of Youth is due out tomorrow, the 29th of September, on Virgin EMI. Courtney will finish his current UK tour with a show at London’s Dingwalls on the 5th of October. TGTF’s previous coverage of Barns Courtney is right back here.

 

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: Tree House – Into the Ocean EP

 
By on Monday, 25th September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

TreeHouse Into the Ocean coverWe at TGTF have never written before about London-based electronic musician Will Fortna, but if you’re a particularly astute reader, you might have spied a photo of him here. Multi-instrumentalist Fortna travelled to America last year for SXSW 2016, as touring bass player for alt-pop singer/songwriter Oscar. Our own Editor Mary captured Oscar and Fortna in action that year at the Huw Stephens and PRS for Music Showcase.

Earlier this month, Will Fortna released a new EP of his own original music, titled ‘Into the Ocean’, under the moniker Tree House. The Tree House project began several years ago, when Fortna was living in Brooklyn and teaching himself to compose and play music in a windowless loft. Now living in London and finishing a course of study in American History and Ethnomusicology, Fortna has expanded his compositional style to encompass a wide range of musical influences, most notably American minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Fortna does the singing and much of instrument playing himself, but the EP does feature a few colleagues from his live band, including Alfie Long on bass, Izaak Binet on keyboards, Joel Burton on drums, and Tom Wells on electric guitar.

Opening track ‘Nonsense’ introduces the EP with an immediate smooth jazz feel, centered around a simple, repeated keyboard motif. Fortna’s vocals are equally smooth, his slightly breathy timbre finding just enough traction to keep his lyrics from being lost in the instrumental underlay. “There’s times we get caught up in top down love / and there’s times reality seems so far gone,” he sings, seemingly from a distance, as if the words might have been an afterthought to the musical composition.

Several of the compositions on ‘Into the Ocean’ naturally invoke the ideas of water and swimming, including the EP’s first single ‘Water Fountain’. More slick and polished, this track also takes a slightly darker tone, as Fortna invites us to “take a deeper step into the tide.” He shows here that he isn’t afraid to let a musical idea evolve organically, taking the first instrumental bridge into delicate, Eastern harmonies before kicking back into the shuffling beat of the verse, then into a warmer, mellower second interlude.

The sunny, laid-back sound of ‘Warm Blue Feeling’ is a nice mid-album change of pace, with a gently swaying rhythm and Afrobeat-style guitars. Fortna’s lyrics are a bit less cerebral here as well, as he spends an idle moment enjoying “the sound of crickets dancing all around” and “the warm blue feeling of letting go.”

Early Tree House composition ‘Classical Symphony’ showcases Fortna’s emphasis on rhythm and uncomplicated instrumental textures. The simplified instrumental arrangement puts more focus both on his singing voice and on his lyrics, which are a bit ironic here as he declares, “I never had the patience for classical symphony.” Final and eponymous track ‘Into the Ocean’, by contrast, demonstrates Fortna’s gained expertise in counterpoint and instrumental arranging. The string introduction is mildly reminiscent of Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’, and the initially disconnected percussion grows into a steadier back beat as the song progresses. Fortna’s vocals excel here, particularly in the echoing and open-ended final refrain.

Decidedly intellectual in approach and eclectic in its influences, ‘Into the Ocean’ is a strong initial effort from Will Fortna. His ongoing musical studies and genuine interest in a wide variety of musical styles are sure to shape his future endeavours, as well as refining his technical and compositional skills. In the meantime, the songs presented here are a pleasurable and intriguing first listen.

7.5/10

Tree House’s debut EP ‘Into the Ocean’ is available now from Brighton indie label Memorials of Distinction. You can stream or purchase the EP on Bandcamp right 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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