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Album Review: Various artists – Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014

 
By on Monday, 14th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Fierce Panda Records may be famously noted by pedants of the British music business as being the label that launched the careers of Coldplay and Keane, but if that was all to the label, it wouldn’t be still standing. It’s hard for me to fathom that here we are in the year 2014, and Fierce Panda has been in business for 2 decades. The London indie label has championed the little guy and released so much great music in the last 20 years, it would take me far too long to go through their storied history than there is space on our humble Web site. Instead, I’m going to focus on a new 18-track compilation the label is offering up for free with any record purchase from their online shop.

The LP’s title ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ is innocuous enough, not at all telling of its contents when, in fact, it is a careful selection of, oddly, the saddest songs from their back catalogue of the last 10 years. I say oddly, because celebrating and (surviving) 20 years in anything these days is cause for celebration, surely? However, despite being advertised by the label themselves as “some of the weepiest tunes it has had the tragic pleasure to put out over the past ten years”, you should be more impressed by the quality of the music not to slit your wrists. Hopefully, anyway. Maybe the whole ‘sad song’ is meant to be cheeky, now that I think about it.

‘Endangered’ does not rely solely on sob story, folky singer/songwriter types and in so doing, shows the breadth of Fierce Panda’s roster. But let’s first examine the more obvious sad songs. Danish girl/boy duo The Raveonettes‘ ‘Last Dance’ is innocent and twee, and Canadians Woodpigeon‘s ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ that opens the album is similar, but with added Simon and Garfunkel influence. Los Angeles quintet Milo Greene‘s harmonies shine on the Biblical leaning ‘Son My Son’, while the voice and songwriting of Tom Hickox, already being compared to Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s, haunts with desolation on ‘Let Me Be Your Lover’, with sombre piano and then added strings and horns.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLGd50B16Ck[/youtube]

The more bombastic numbers in this collection include the now-on-hiatus Walkmen and their optimistic (or delusional?) ‘In the New Year’, the slow burning Acres of Lions‘ ‘Collections’, Hatcham Social‘s rich guitars in ‘Sidewalk’ and Dingus Khan‘s whistle-filled ‘Made a List’; the latter’s inclusion in particular surprised me, but it just goes to show that even if you’re looking rough and tumble on the outside, you can still feel sadness inside. The sonic beauty of Ultrasound‘s ‘Sovereign’ is marred, presumably on purpose, by the repetition of the lyric “we are unclean” and the business of sex and sin, all wailed by singer Andrew “Tiny” Wood. The same can be said for tracks that include synths or twinkly keys: ‘They All Laughed’ by the Spinto Band sounds cheerful in a music box sort of way but it veils, not very well, the disgust he has for a former love, while the psychedelic feelings that Hey Sholay‘s ‘The Bears The Clocks The Bees’ engenders are appropriate for a song about confusion in a relationship.

It should also noted that sadness can also come out of mind games, craving someone else or the deepest regret. The industrial Nine Inch Nail-sey sound of Department M‘s ‘J-Hop’ (stream above) comes with the element of desire with its sensual lyrics, “we ply / by the logic of the reasoned minds / and one last time I’ll come to your body / what do you need?” The genius behind Art Brut‘s ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ is Eddie Argos’ admittance, in his usual funny way, that he’s messed up in a relationship and he wants a second chance. Meanwhile, a similar request for a second chance is captured in a brilliant snapshot in ‘Last Decade’ by Goldheart Assembly (video below), showing a man’s final moments, first desperate to reconcile with a lover but then resigning to his fate: “but you know I’d go back, but there is no way…” I Like Trains‘ ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ I’m guessing is named for chess champion and famed recluse Bobby Fischer, using his hermit existence as a metaphor for how love can cause depression. The self-deprecation and admittance of weakness in the little girl voice of Melanie Pain in ‘How Bad Can It Be’ is, no pun intended, painful: “everyone knows I won’t change / everyone knows love is not my game / everyone know who I am / everyone but you.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE667lCVBDA[/youtube]

Additional Panda melancholy comes courtesy of Sheffield in the form of two exemplary tracks. A man’s exasperation over his lover’s worry about losing him is made all too real in Tom Hogg’s expressive vocals with his bandmates’ gorgeously crooning backing in ‘Would You Be Blue’ by the Hosts (stream below) from this year’s debut album from them, ‘Softly, Softly’. Meanwhile, the loneliness of the protagonist of The Crookes ‘Howl’ from ‘Soapbox’ released today is haunted by the memory of another’s love, as George Waite’s voice is alternately dreamy and contemplative in the romance of song-induced candlelight: “and there’s no time, only light / no clocks, but shadows that hide the point when day becomes night / it’s hard to tell with these skies… I heard the howl, I love you but you keep me down.”

I think those two songs tell the ‘sad song story’ of Fierce Panda’s last 10 years the best, and why? Sad songs, like love songs, are often misunderstood. Emotions like sadness, loneliness and indeed, even love are like jewels. Whether they mean to or not, the people who gloss over emotion don’t seem to understand that they aren’t one-dimensional but instead multi-faceted, with dull and lifeless versus bright and sharp faces and something new to discover upon each listen. As a collection of the ‘sad song’ genre, ‘Endangered’ is a great introduction to the many wonderful artists on the Fierce Panda roster, and I can’t imagine you won’t find at least one song that will make you feel something deep in your heart.

7.5/10

You can get ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ now for free if you order any album from the Fierce Panda online shop here. For more information on the bands signed to Fierce Panda, those included in this collection and those not, visit the label’s official Web site. For a limited time, you can get another eight-track song sampler (not all sad songs!); more details in this previous MP3(s) of the Day post.

 

Interview: Dingus Khan at Hit the Deck Nottingham 2013

 
By on Friday, 31st May 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Standing in that unique niche between the Britpop revolution that is Blur and the metal behemoths Slipknot are, seemingly, Dingus Khan. With that kind of billing, it’s a wonder you haven’t already heard of them! But since they sound nothing like Slipknot, I think you should make your own mind up and listen to their debut album ‘Support Mistley Swans’, which comes with its own supporting comic. It’s utterly, utterly brilliant and includes the line, “who would want to listen to a band with less than three bass players?” Do I need to sell it further?

But onto the band, who I caught up with after their set at Nottingham’s Hit the Deck Festival. Where did I catch up with them? Just nonchalantly on the roof of a 16-storey parking garage that overlooks where the festival’s debauchery takes place, here’s a video of our elevator journey up there with the eight members of Dingus:

As we arrive atop the windswept parking structure the band proceeds to introduce themselves, to which I understand they all gave each other’s names. Which is bad for a feature, but good if you want some comedy from a gaggle of eight sweaty lads atop a building in the middle of Nottingham. Lead singer and guitarist (I think) Ben Brown announces himself by explaining why he has a bleeding gash on the top of his head: “Tom (or Alex) jumped on me and smashed me in the head with his bass guitar, and I caught his eye before he did it and I think he probably did it deliberately!”

To which Tom (or Alex) responds: “It wasn’t deliberate, because I was at the point of hitting you, upside down.”

Take this as a warning, to any who partake in the viewing of a Dingus Khan show, that it is an entirely participatory experience that requires vigilance from you as an audience. I looked away for just a minute when I saw them at May’s Liverpool Sound City in Sound and Vision and I looked up to find Brown, resplendent in blue robes standing atop a table roaring his lungs out to their single ‘Knifey Spooney’.

At the Nottingham gig though the audience enjoyed the rather bizarre performance from the band, which if I haven’t mention consist of three bassists, three drummers, an electric ukulele player and a guitarist: “There were some girls at the front of our gig who were just kind of like *mimes clapping like a seal would when handed a nice rubber beach ball* clapping along who did seem to be really enjoying it throughout, which did kind of spur it on a bit.

“As it’s the case with these kind of gigs that you turn up and you don’t know what it sounds like out front because you rush on, strum your guitar a bit, the sound guy goes, ‘great that’s a guitar’, and ‘ooh, that’s not a drum, hang on!’ Then you kind of rush on and hope that it sounds all right. So to see people enjoying it is good.”

Another band member chimes in; he said his name was Nick, so I’ll assume that his name is Josh: “Everyone kind of lines the walls at the start of the show when you are setting up, and then they kind of move in very slowly as you get going.”

The band have been trawling the festival circuit mercilessly and unrelenting performing their no holds bars kind of insane live set to as many people as they can get to bare whiteness to them in a small room as possible. Their unyielding touring though does have the disadvantage of a slight lack of control: “It’s our first time playing Hit the Deck Festival but we were kind of supposed to play in Bristol yesterday. But well…” (The attention then turns to a man named Gaz, who is tasked with explaining the tomfoolery.)

Gaz clarifies: “I was driving the van from a local gig up in Ipswich and the police stopped me because we had a brake light out and the police stopped me and it turns out I don’t have the right licence to drive a van of that size.

“So I got three points on my licence and a £60 fine.” To which the assembled band proceed to giggle and guffaw at the unlucky lad.

It seemed thought that 60 quid and a blot on an otherwise clean driving licence was not the end of their tumultuous tale of travel: “We needed to be in Bristol by like half 7, so we didn’t do it in the end and as you might of noticed we are one person short as well now. Well, that’s because one of the members of our band Tom Armstrong [maybe?] just didn’t travel along.

Why, I ask? “Well he has this thing where he can’t swallow at the moment and it’s become this kind of paranoia for him. It may sound untrue, but this is serious, he can’t leave the house at the moment and he is really ill.”

So what are this band about? When told they’re a link between Blur and Slipknot they politely as a group shrug off the billing and Ben, their Dingus in chief it seems says: “A bit between Oasis and AC-DC, with a bit of Supergrass and Slade and Pink.”

Tongue and cheek it may be, but this band are all about the tongue and indeed the cheek and a sense of humour is required if you are going to watch a Dingus show. But don’t take it away from the tunes, they aren’t a bunch of one trick ponies relying on their humour and quirks. They have big tunes, full of heart and covering ever relatable topics like, when your bag for life breaks in the shop, or when you can’t find a knife and you have to use a spoon.

So come on, give the boys a chance. ‘Support Mistley Swans’, they need YOUR help.

Many thanks to the band for this interview and Joe for setting this up for us!

 

Great Escape 2013: John’s Day 1 Roundup

 
By on Wednesday, 29th May 2013 at 1:00 pm
 

As I stepped foot on the platform of Brighton station, I was met with not the 65 MPH winds that I was foretold, but instead with flecks of sunshine and a bustling throng of people ahead of me. So I trundled cautiously down the street wrapped in my cardigan and carrying my rather inconspicuous suitcase, I walked past The Hope, where my first live music experience of The Great Escape 2013 would take place.

Who would be that first experience? Well, a band that I came upon, completely by chance at The Great Escape 2011, by the name of Brother and Bones. Their signature brand of acoustic-driven stompery, which struck a real accord with me then wasn’t the centre point of their set this time around.

Instead, the focal point was that of Richard Thomas’ majestic vocal talents. The all out hoe-downery of their past shows was forgotten in favour of the more sensitive and subtle touch. Whether it was the best approach ion the tight confines of the Hope, is up for debate, but regardless of that Thomas and co.’s elegant harmonies struck an accord with the partisan audience of critics, A & R’s and the rest. Fully acoustic number ‘Gold and Silver’ was a mixture of what is brilliant about Brother and Bones though, fully showcasing the vocal prowess of Richard, whilst drawing attention to the elegance of the songwriting. (7/10)

After a brief interlude for a spot of Tiffin and a change of clothes to more sun-appropriate attire, I headed to The Warren to catch hotly tipped Tom Odell. After a reasonable amount of time queuing for an act, whom I believed was overhyped but worth a listen, I ended up in the staging area of the venue. A kind of Secret Garden Party / 2000 Trees hybrid in the middle of Brighton. Quaint? Yes. But after quarter of an hour longer waiting I lost patience and decided to head to The Prince Albert for some light folk.

Now Dancing Years (pictured at top) are an entirely different kind of prospect to what I expected. Going in relatively unprepared, I was expecting some wobbly synths, dodgy time signatures and all the other indie clichés that we love and loathe in equal measure. What I was met with was a touching mix of melancholic folk, but with the focal point of David Henshaw, in a more understated fashion than Brother and Bones earlier. In fact, the show revolved around the man, with the gentle violin being drowned out by his obvious talent.

He came across as a kind of squeaky clean Jack Steadman / Will Harvey hybrid. Resolute in stance, yet face-to-face as personable as any frontman, he makes the perfect central point for Dancing Years. The band’s gentle melodies are only going to see their stock gather strength and with shades of Dry the River interspersed amongst the soaring harmonies, they make for easy listening. Add to that equation that big hitters like Seymour Stein were in the audience and you’ve got ones to watch right here people. The only disappointment was the rather sparse crowd, probably owing to the venues distance from the main swarm of events. (8/10)

The allure of something raw like Dingus Khan was too much after the sheened sounds of Dancing Years, so off to the Hope I rattled my broken body. Only to be met by a sprawling queue, which while being entertaining in the characters I met, who included a Dingus Khan fan from Warner Music, a 19-year old PA for We Were Evergreen’s manager. and two bookers from the Netherlands’ PinkPop festival, who I’d like to note had some fantastic hairstyles.

And while the conversation was stimulating, the popularity of Dingus proved too much, as I was not allowed into the venue. However, I am reliably informed by Ollie McCormack of Top Button Digital that they were brilliant, and that the album is great to shake of the cobwebs of TGE on a Monday.

Following up from the disappointment of missing Dingus, I stumbled into the Hope for the second time that day to catch Dinosaur Pile-Up. Another Leeds-based outfit that in 2011 provided me with the scenes of the most chaotic gig in my memory, with stage invasions galore, circle pits aplenty and an appropriate amount of urine in plastic cups. It’s a festival, eh?

This set was a far more restrained affair, with the audience only really getting into it properly in the final few songs. Dinosaur Pile-Up’s hectic, strangled shredding should have been perfect for this venue, with shoulders pressed firmly against the walls by band and punters alike. ‘Mona Lisa’ kept its attraction and proved the hub of the set for me musically. Nevertheless, the moment of the short set was when a circle pit broke out at the front, and the smile of the veteran moshers face next to me as he watched with glee at the chaos unfolding, albeit momentarily in front of him. (6/10)

 

Liverpool Sound City 2013: John’s Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 14th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

Header photo by TGTF Head Photographer Martin Sharman

Home-grown boys Alpha Male Tea Party’s set started abruptly, causing the amassed gaggle of hipsters to spill their cans of Tuborg. The three-piece. who could only be described as being dressed like male ejaculate, ripped into their set with a wave of screeching guitars passing over the crowd in Screenadelica, a venue which did its best to remind you of a scene from any poor horror film, but with more attractive artwork.

They busted out the hits, including that well-known tune ‘Bill Paxton is a Fucking Clogger’, which saw the band’s bassist pull an assortment of serial-killerish faces which the arrayed photographers ate up glutinously. The instrumental heaviness seemed to translate well on the audience that had gathered and for a band with obviously very little touring experience; they acquitted themselves well with some well-crafted riffs from their diminutive Alex Pettyfer-lookalike frontman. Their live set is similar to the frantic chaos of a Pulled Apart by Horses set, but the tunes unlike PABH aren’t there yet. Ones for the future, perhaps? (7/10)

Struggling to follow up to the lunacy of Alpha Male Tea Party were Luxembourg’s (supposed) finest Mutiny on the Bounty whose opener can only be described as an overegged tribute to the original Power Rangers theme tune. Normally from me that would be a compliment, especially if the band were looking for that kind of nostalgic comedy. Alas, MOTB were not aiming for that level of self-depreciating comedy and instead embarked upon an almost entirely instrumental set of wonky riffs and constant panning to the crowd.

At one point the band’s lead guitarist who was sporting the look of the day, a well-coiffed boutique moustache, pled for the crowd to come closer. A few obliged, but it was an indicator of how little the band’s peculiar metal-math-rock stylings were endearing them to the Sound City punters. (5/10)

A change of scenery then to Liverpool Sound and Vision, where alongside watching the acts, you can get a freshly made stone-baked pizza, as if the music wasn’t enough! This was to see The Pukes who are an 11-piece band, fronted by eight female ukulele players who played a hilarious assortment of punk covers and their own material.

They freely admitted that the gaggle of people standing between tables and by the bar were in fact the youngest crowd they had played to ever. The lasses fronting the unique outlet emitted a very ‘70s punk revival feel, whilst the crowd really got on board with what they were trying to do. The band didn’t exactly cover any untouched ground, no boundaries were broken and the time signatures were as ordinary as Jeff down the pub on a Saturday. But it was good fun, nothing sordid, seedy or particularly rude. Just a ruddy good time and some punk rock. (8/10)

To close the stage at Sound and Vision were a personal favourite of mine, Dingus Khan from Essex, whose music was first billed to me as “the missing link between Blur and Slipknot”. With a billing like that, it was obvious that their live show was something to behold. And with three bassists and three drummers in such a small space, the sound they made was nothing short of catastrophic. For one I was surprised that the building held up under the aural assault it was being pelted with.

Sound problems dogged them at the start, but instead of going all diva on the soundman the affable chaps of Dingus took it in their stride and powered on through a half hour set of immense bass chugs and oddly relatable songs. From the start lead singer Ben Brown relays to the crowd, “if this sounds abrasive and weird, we’ll have done it just right”. Weird, it does sound and abrasive, well, it’s not the kindest on the ear I suppose, but the songs and the pure rock ‘n’ roll attitude of the boys combines for a show of unknown excitement. Songs like ‘Knifey Spooney’ from their new record ‘Support Mistley Swan’ were barrels of fun, whilst frontman Brown continued to accentuate their eccentricity by climbing tables and singing without a microphone. To finish the gig of a bout of coordinated dance moves from the Khan boys was a classy end to a genuinely fun, over-the-top gig, with the best bit of whistling since Peter, Bjorn and John’s ‘Young Folks’, which whilst not being tunefully spectacular, left everyone with a firm grin affixed to their chops. (9/10)

The less said about Unknown Mortal Orchestra (pictured at top) at the Garage really is the better. For a band so hotly tipped to fall so flat, really is a surprise. What’s likeable about them is a mysterious factor to me and it seemed anybody in the half-filled Garage as when each song ended their seemed to be a pause to look around to see if anybody else was going to gratify them with applause. To me that is not right, but further investigation may be necessary to discover to what extent this band blows. (4/10)

As the night entered the wee hours and the 3rd turned to the 4th, attentions turned to Screenadelica again for Arcane Roots, whose new album ‘Blood & Chemistry’ is pulling up trees for their brilliant take on alternative rock. Arguably, they are the first band who properly gets the crowd into what you would expect from a rock band, which is of course a swaying mass of flailing limbs, windmills and the occasional mosh pit.

Frontman Andrew Groves is resplendent in an elegant suit jacket and his almost soprano tones are close to a screech as he channels all his energy into a wild riff ridden set, intermittent with screams from hairless bassist Daryl Atkins. Their frenetic set features big hits like ‘You Are’ and caters for the casual audience well enough for them to have earned a good few new supporters as they leave the stage to be replaced by the behemoth that are Future of the Left. (8/10)

Future of the Left are outstanding from start to finish, with ‘Small Bones, Small Bodies’ apparent as one of the biggest tunes of the entire festival, even in one of the smaller venues that the festival is being hosted at. The fans throughout go utterly ballistic, even to the point that one of the members of Dingus Khan who shall remain unnamed gets a little too excited, crowdsurfed then almost pulled a light fitting off, before being restrained by security and knocking one of them over.

As the hordes in front of the stage get within touching distance of ‘the talent’ on the pedestal, lead singer and post-hardcore hero of banter Andy “Falco” Falkous diffuses the crowd with his indescribable wit and guile. The set overall was a triumph, with the band’s stock as diehards of the scene truly nailed down in front of the swirling mosh pit. (9/10)

 
 
 

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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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