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Album Review: Aqualung – Magnetic North

By on Monday, 24th May 2010 at 12:00 pm

If there’s one glaring, standout feature of Matt Hales (aka Aqualung), it’s his consistency to turn out solid albums. Indeed, “Magnetic North” sounds like a Part II of the relatively ignored “Words and Music.” Some may see sameness as a weak point, but listen to this latest album, and you’ll see that occasionally it’s okay not to change. That said, this one is perhaps more suitable for the veteran fans rather than those poking around for something new.

At any rate, Hales shows that he’s back indeed with the rather quirky, upbeat “New Friend” intro track. If it weren’t for the waling background singers that start to warble in the middle of the song, I would have guessed it to a song by done a slightly lethargic Beck. Meanwhile, “Reel Me In” sees Hales pounding away on those ivories while delivering words that veteran fans are no doubt familiar with, “Washed over to the waterfall, I got swallowed by the undertow”, as well as creating a very accessible sound to new listeners.

Aqualung slowly begins to creep back into his vintage signature, with “Sundowning” and “Lost” which are the kind of mediocre songs that really do nothing to pull at the emotional heartstrings of listeners, but is calm and placid enough to play for the sake of background music.

Still, no need to fix what’s not broken, and “36 Hours” and “Lost” proves to be standout numbers off the album. On one hand, in the former mentioned song, we hear a highly likeable piano driven track complete with infectious loops, and hey check this, even the use of an underutilized samba. Hooray. “Lost” on the other hand, is a stripped back song that bares the soul of Hales as he delivers melancholic vocals of a trembling relationship. Again, both tracks are the traditional types of songs that garnered Hales a fan base in the first place, though casual listeners may see such tracks as run-of-the mill, angst-driven tunes from yet another Coldplay wannabe.

It was once rumored that Hales was fed up with music and wanted to altogether retire from the fickle industry. Thankfully, he didn’t throw the towel in to become some rambling school teacher, because there’s a calming strength is his songs that prove to be too pleasant to contain. While his music and sound isn’t exactly revolutionary, the reliability of creating something unswerving but also fresh is found herein his “Magnetic North.”


Live: Tom McRae and the Artistes of Hotel Cafe at the Islington Academy – 28th November 2006

By on Wednesday, 29th November 2006 at 1:53 pm

“Tonight is all about something that doesn’t happen enough these days – Musicians helping each other” announced Tom McRae last night as the Hotel Café tour rolled into London after a year long tour of the USA. The feeling was great: a series of artists who are all too small on their own to undertake a full UK tour, but altogether they have the ability to sell out a venue in days.

Taking a revue style to the evening, Tom opened proceedings at 8:30, and we then witnessed an amazing 2 hours and 40 minutes of non stop music. No lengthy change over’s with houselights up, we’re talking one person walks off as the next comes on, with different people joining in on different tracks when they felt the urge to, before “we start to bump each to each other, drop guitars, and generally run headlong into chaos until someone makes us leave the stage”.

First song, Hawaii and the sound goes halfway through. No problem: he just keeps on strumming and talks to the crowd, explaining the tour and how the evening is going to work. One more song and he’s off, to be replaced by Steve Reynolds, who has a voice that sounds like he’s lived in a musty back-street pub for most of his life. Two songs from Steve, and he’s quickly replaced by Joe Purdy, who has, quite frankly, legendary facial hair (which leads to a comment from Tom that he “shaves once a month and if Joe doesn’t for an hour he ends up like this….”). Joe Purdy managed to be a skilled guitarist and harmonica player, a genius if ever there was one. Next up was Cary Brothers, who was one of the main reasons I had been to see the evening: his two songs “Ride” and “Blue Eyes” are some of the best around. He played “Ride” first then “Honestly”, both from his forthcoming album next year.

Then we had a very nice surprise: Aqualung. In the spirit of the real Hotel Café in LA, bands are quite welcome to turn up and play a few songs, or just sit around and get trashed with the other artists. Aqualung came and played a new song and then “Brighter than Sunshine” – just fab, and they stuck around to play keys on “Blue Eyes” later in the evening.

After this point things got a bit blurry: the artists came back on, joined each other, did different songs, until about 10:50 when Tom came back, did “Silent Boulevard”, “Boy with the Bubblegum” and “My Vampire Heart”. By this point everyone was in very high spirits, and things were getting a bit more ragged, but still very coherent, and had everyone in the crowd in exceptionally high spirits not seen since the Pipettes swept through the capital.

All in all an excellent evening of entertainment, well worth the money: not many bands this year put on 2 hours 40 minutes of non stop music: they’re playing at Kings College Student Union next week, so go and see Tom and the artistes of the Hotel Café: it’s well worth the money, and you will have one of the best evenings of the year.


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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 was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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