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Album Review: Zero 7 – E.P.3

 
By on Monday, 13th April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Good news, electronic fans! There’s a brand new album from pioneers Zero 7 expected to drop this autumn. Further good news? Today marks the release of Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker’s newest stop-gap until the new LP, an EP with the rather non-descript title of ‘E.P.3’. But there’s a method to the madness: the first two releases from the duo, before they ever caught the eye of a major label, were named ‘E.P.1 and ‘E.P.2’, so the name of the new EP is in deference to their humble beginnings.

And humble would be the operative word to describe this collection of five tracks from the famed electronic production duo. While the first two tracks feature names from their ‘Simple Science’ EP released last year (Danny Pratt and Only Girl), their third collaborator was dug up from much further back, a clear sign this is an entirely different animal to the summer 2014 release.

Swedish singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez, member of Junip and a solo artist in his own right touring North America at the moment, doesn’t strike you as an appropriate musical partner to Zero 7, does he? But he appeared on several songs on the 2006 Zero 7 album ‘The Garden’. On this outing, Gonzalez adds smoky vocals to ‘Last Light’, evoking scenes of nature and security (“keep you safe and sound / ‘til you feel the same”) to the piano and synth-driven soundscape. The synths keep the mood bright, but the overall effect is one of thought and contemplation.

‘Last Light’ isn’t exactly the club banger I was expecting, but Binns and Hardaker explain the premise of this EP: “Late last year we finished a couple of stray songs we’d been working on and have been trying to find a suitable home for them since. As they didn’t really fit with much else we were doing at the time, they were put aside while we thought about what to do with them…. To us, they seemed to share something with the Mark Hollis cover we did a while ago so we’ve buddied them up and thrown in a little instrumental for good measure and come up with the imaginatively entitled it ‘E.P.3’. Hope you enjoy.”

Given the above, the chill nature of the collaborations with Danny Pratt (who guested on ‘Simple Science’) and Only Girl (vocalist on ‘Take Me Away’) on ‘E.P.3’ compared to those on the ‘Simple Science’ EP make much more sense. Pratt’s part on ‘400 Blows’ in staccato form, melodically and as overlaid with vibrating effects, matches the purposely jumpy synth and xylophone notes, which the backing piano reins everything in. To be sure, it’s catchy. The EP ends strangely with John Wizard’s remix of the track, in which the South African producer loses the plot and takes ‘400 Blows’ and turns it into an electronic caricature of the original.

‘The Colour of Spring’ is at perfect timing with the season, starting in with the chirps of birds, and like on ‘Take Me Away’, Only Girl’s vocals are again ethereal, but this time the understated instrumentation allows her voice to come forward, front and centre. It’s equal parts stunning and haunting. ‘Crush Tape’, the only instrumental on the EP, is filled with handclaps and effortless cool. I have to wonder if it was the starting point for ‘400 Blows’, as it seems to be the latter’s purer, more enigmatic cousin.

The biggest question is, what direction are Zero 7 going for this upcoming album? They went pop in the ‘Simple Science’ EP, but it is as if ‘E.P.3’ doesn’t want to acknowledge the 2014 effort. Interesting. In any event, Binns and Hardaker will keep us guessing until the leaves start changing colour.

7/10

Both the 12″ vinyl and the digital download versions of Zero 7’s latest release on Make Records, ‘E.P.3’, are out now. Past writings on TGTF about Zero 7, including a chat with Henry Binns last year, are this way.

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Album Review: Emmy the Great – S EP

 
By on Tuesday, 13th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

I’ve followed Emma-Lee Moss’ career with great interest upon hearing the beautifully heartbreaking single ‘We Almost Had a Baby’ from her debut album. Emmy the Great’s ‘First Love’ was released a good 5 years ago now and while both it and her 2011 LP follow-up ‘Virtue’ were released on Moss’ own label Close Harbour Records, her forthcoming EP ‘S’ this month will be released on Simon Raymonde’s celebrated Bella Union label.

It’s unclear whether her addition to the Bella Union roster has resulted in a permanent change in direction, but what is evident in the EP’s first single ‘Swimming Pool’ is her experimentation beyond the usual singer/songwriter-y sound with which Moss has made her name under the Emmy the Great moniker. ‘Swimming Pool’ is a breathy, diaphanous work that skirts the line between a choral hymn and dream pop, described well in the press sheet as “replete with rippling keys and dream laden bass”. If there’s a guitar in here, it’s hidden very well. Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts also makes a surprising and welcome vocal guest appearance on the single, shadowing Moss’ voice on the chorus. The guitar does return in ‘Social Halo’ but like in ‘Swimming Pool’, there is a dreamy, floating feeling throughout the song. Despite its theme of awkwardness in social situations, the track also feels vaguely Christmassy with glittering chimes, as if to take some of the edge off the anxiety.

Moss says the songwriting on this EP reflects looking outward to the outside world versus her own internal musings that inspired her first two albums: “My previous recordings were a reflection of my internal world, but this is a record of me trying to engage with the outside. Over the course of travelling and touring for the last two years I inhabited many cities and landscapes.” ‘Solar Panels’ is the most obvious example of this shift, as Moss’ lyrics seem oddly wooden against the backdrop of booming synthesisers, speaking of “Japanese / companies are making energy / from the heat in California”. Sonically, it’s very jarring to hear such a synthesised sound from Emmy the Great. It’s like, what’s next? Is Calvin Harris going to jump out from behind the mirage?

Thankfully, closing track ‘Somerset (I Can’t Get Over)’ brings it all back to more familiar territory. The sweet, lilting quality of Moss’ vocals, full of wistful emotion yet with characteristic Emmy the Great restraint, is front and centre here, even if there are a lonely percussive beat (a spoon?) and purposefully dreamy effects effects on the guitar line. The desire to hear an acknowledgment from her lover that she won’t be forgotten rings forlorn and true. Although I’m not a huge fan of this change in direction, this one song makes me hopeful Moss hasn’t given up everything we knew and loved about Emmy the Great. Let’s see how 2015 pans out for her, shall we?

7.5/10

‘S’, the forthcoming EP from singer/songwriter Emmy the Great, will be released next Monday, on the 26th of January, on Bella Union. She’ll be touring the UK later this month. It was also just announced on 13 January that Emmy will be showcasing at SXSW 2015 in Austin in March.

 

Album Review: Monterey – Sailors EP

 
By on Tuesday, 25th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Some things are better raw. A good steak at a French restaurant, par exemple – I believe the phrase is, walk the cow past a fire and cut a bit off. Sushi, being raw fish, is also of course best enjoyed raw. Music at its most raw is normally found during an artist’s infancy, when the band are too down on their arse to afford any frills and fancy production techniques. Or when they have a Foo Fighters-esque renaissance and decide to record everything on analogue in a garage.

Monterey are the former: a band starting out in every way. Even in their stock band photos, the three-piece look a bit awkward and a bit clumsy, as if you can hear their psyche telling them, “just try and look as normal as you can. Oh, make sure that bump in your jeans doesn’t look like you’ve got a rod-on too”. It’s almost as if you’ve asked a cartoon to ‘act casual’ and of course they’re going to either smoke a pipe or look as contrived as possible. But enough of those quasi-awkward situations.

Contrived is as far from where Monterey sits on the scale of genuineness. The lyrics are all brutally honest and relatable, yet without being patronising. From the onset of ‘Can’t Live Like This’, frontman Carter Henry paints a brilliant everyman picture as the band strives to hit all the right notes on their ‘Sailor’ EP. The four song long record is laden with clever changes of pace that demand your attention, and there are even a few choruses with hooks that like to get caught in your grey matter and won’t stop tugging. Ouch, sorry if you’re squeamish.

The licks on ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ are clever and the New Jersey trio manage to create a soaring soundscape that builds to an impressive crescendo. The title single has a nautical lick to it in the first 10 seconds and builds on to arguably the most anthemic chorus of the short EP, “remember all the times you said that you love me? How come now it’s hard to find the time”. The lyrics may be slightly clichéd, but the delivery of them for the final time smacks of a band who have certainly found their feet and a fair bit of promise on this record.

Certainly ones to watch, if not for hand-on-heart choral delivery, than for a propensity for awkward stock photography.

8/10

Monterey‘s new EP ‘Sailors’ is now available from their Bandcamp and iTunes.

 

Album Review: James Bay – Hold Back the River EP

 
By on Monday, 24th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I had the pleasure of seeing Hitchin’s most famous hat on the head of singer/songwriter James Bay at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC earlier this month, when he was on tour supporting Irish phenomenon Hozier. Following that tour, Bay embarked on his own tour of the UK and Ireland which continues into this week, coinciding with the release of his latest single ‘Hold Back the River’, out today.

At this point, the male singer/songwriter genre is so fully saturated that it has become difficult to distinguish one from the others. Newcomers to the scene have to develop and emphasise some unique aspect of their style in order to set themselves apart. Bay isn’t exactly a rookie, even at the young age of 24, having spent a fair amount of time honing his live skills on tour with Kodaline, John Newman, and Tom Odell. Aside from his ubiquitous wide-brimmed hat, Bay’s most distinctive characteristics are his melodic guitar style and his warm, rich vocal timbre. On the singer/songwriter spectrum, I’d put him somewhere between the pop-oriented sensibility of Luke Sital-Singh and the gospel tinge of Foy Vance or Hozier himself. He doesn’t have the pretentious alt-folk affectations of artists like Bon Iver, preferring to stick with a more straightforward guitar rock style, flavoured with both folk and blues.

The new EP release of ‘Hold Back the River’ includes 4 tracks, bookended by the title track in both studio version and a live performance recording from the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. The studio version emphasises the contrast between the halting rhythm in the opening vocal melody and the steady pulse of the drums, while the guitar melody plays up the naturalistic folk character in the lyrics. Bay’s vocals combine with hints of gospel harmony in the backing voices as the song builds to its anthemic chorus.

Second track ‘Sparks’ is much more pop-oriented, with crisper rhythms and angular blues guitar riffs. Its title is particularly appropriate: the friction between Bay’s husky singing voice and the sharp instrumental lines was electric enough to raise goose bumps on my arms.

The final two tracks on the EP, ‘Wait in Line’ and ‘Hold Back the River (live)’ are both stripped back to acoustic guitar and solo voice. ‘Wait in Line’ is particularly powerful in its starkness, allowing Bay’s emotive singing voice to take centre stage, both in its clear falsetto and its resonant full sound. For my money, the live version of ‘Hold Back the River’ is the real gem of this collection, as the dynamic and emotional contrasts are somehow more fully realized than in the studio arrangement.

James Bay is definitely one of those artists whose true energy comes across best in live performance. If he can find a way to translate that energy to his recordings, he will certainly establish himself as a force to be reckoned with among the singer/songwriter melee.

7.5/10

James Bay‘s new single ‘Hold Back Tte River’ is available now on Republic Records. You can read our previous coverage of the title track by watching the official video and viewing a live version of the single from Transmitter. James Bay is currently finishing off his November tour of the UK and Ireland. He will play a headline show at Koko in London on Thursday the 12th of February next year before heading out on a full spring tour in April.

 

Album Review: To Kill a King – Exit, Pursued by a Bear EP

 
By on Monday, 3rd November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

To Kill A King Exit EP coverLondon-via-Leeds quintet To Kill a King are hard at work on their second studio LP and making preparations for their recently announced March 2015 UK tour, but to keep our appetites whetted, they have in the interim released a new EP titled ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’. Comprising 5 tracks, ‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’ is more of a mini-album than an EP, though I suppose that distinction is rather overly specific. The tracklisting seems to be carefully thought out, more like a full album than the pastiche quality of many EPs, beginning with the striking single ‘Oh My Love’, and alternating between extremes of style and tempo before ending on the subtle sentimentality of ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’.

Lead singer Ralph Pelleymounter’s singing voice is a mesmerising combination of Michael Hutchence and Matt Berninger, capturing both the sultry sensuality of the former and the brooding introspection of the latter. Guitarist Grant McNeil and keyboardist/producer Ben Jackson provide an almost orchestral sense of sonic drama behind the vocals, while rhythm section members Josh Platman (bass) and Josh Taffel (drums) maintain a propulsive forward motion throughout the EP.

‘Oh My Love’ finds Pelleymounter’s dramatic lyrics and hypnotic vocal timbre struggling through the insistent wail of the backing voices. His opening line is an instant hook, “penny for your thoughts, I’m saving up to buy them all”, and its metaphor continues into the second verse, “line them up and let them loose, incarcerated red balloons”. Pounding drums and synthesised brass allow the chorus to soar above the rest of the song despite its heavy lyric, “oh my love, we’re destined to demise”.

After a brief respite in the form of a lilting and uplifting guitar ballad called ‘Breathe’, the tempo picks up again in the percussive, piano-driven track ‘The Constant Changing State of Us (Gold)’. Oddly distorted vocals at the beginning of the song build into the anthemic repeated chorus, “if you hold on too tight, then you will lose sight” before Pelleymounter intones the final line, “you know what I mean when I say love will change”.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0_glXU9qCI[/youtube]

‘Love is Coal’ gradually evolves from a declamatory, almost spoken, vocal line backed by a solo electric guitar into a dynamic arrangement of racing percussion and vibrant backing vocals. Pelleymounter’s first delivery of the chorus “love is not like diamonds, love is coal to keep you warm” is stark and hypnotic, followed by the introduction of a slow, visceral heartbeat in the rhythm section, which grows more insistent until after the second chorus, when it shifts into high gear and drives the song to a close.

Final track ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ is a jazzy piano ballad that reminded me, surprisingly, of John Hiatt’s ‘Have a Little Faith in Me’. The sudden change of tone and flavor is slightly startling, but Pelleymounter’s vocals here are as convincingly soulful as at any point on the EP, especially in the heartfelt lyric “I hope you find some peace, whatever the hell that means”.

If ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ were a full-length vinyl LP, the faint curiosity roused by ‘So My Friends Want to Marry’ would mark the perfect place to flip the record over and see what the other side might hold. The EP feels very strongly like the beginning of an album proper, both in its sense of sonic continuity and its thematic variety. If To Kill a King continue writing and recording in this vein, their second album will surely shape up to be a fine listen.

8/10

‘Exit, Pursued by a Bear’, the latest release from London’s To Kill a King is available now, both digitally and on 10” vinyl, via Xtra Mile Recordings (buy it here).

 

Album Review: Little Comets – The Sanguine EP

 
By on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Arguably, the most famous thing that late Factory Records boss and journalist Tony Wilson ever said was, “but this is Manchester. We do things differently here”. The same can be said for bands in the North: far away from the reach, influence and trappings of London, the majority of them choose not to leave their home for the big smoke, instead making their name under their own terms, many thriving thanks to old-fashioned determination and incredibly hard graft.

Little Comets are one of the bright stars from Newcastle, though the brothers Coles and their growing families now call the Midlands (Birmingham to be more exact) home. The trio – singer/guitarist Rob Coles, his brother Mickey on guitar and Matt Hall on bass, supplemented by live drummer David “Greenie” Green – decided earlier this year to go it alone and leave Dirty Hit Records to strike out on their own The Smallest Label for all future releases. One of their great ongoing marketing plans in 2014 has been to release a series of EPs in lieu of a full album. (This will come later, in February 2015, when ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ will be released.) Monday sees the release of the third and final EP in the trilogy, ‘The Sanguine EP’, which follows ‘The Gentle EP’ (starring the brilliant ‘Little Italy’) released in February and ‘Salt’ in June. As seen with those previous records, Rob Coles’ lyrical content continues to be weighty and reflective, while the music is intelligent.

The foot-stompingly good ‘Ex-Cathedra’ begins this EP. As described by Coles himself on this entry on the band’s blog, the title comes from a Latin phrase “from the seat” that is used to describe the infallibility of the Pope’s thoughts and decisions. But ultimately, Coles wrote the lyrics to it in remembrance of his son William’s birth: the word ‘sanguine’ (frankly not used enough these days) that appears in the EP title also makes an appearance here as a sign of optimism, and the words “never let the winsome die” further this upbeat feeling.

The moniker of ‘Creeping Up Appearances’ is no doubt a pun on the BBC’s farcical tv series starring Patricia Routledge, but in some ways it’s a perfectly appropriate title if you consider Hyacinth Bucket’s primary goal throughout the series: to keep up her and her husband Richard’s appearance, things are business as usual as she continues her reign of snobbery while totally unaware of how she really appears to be to other people. While the guitars are suitably jaunty for Little Comets’ fare, the actual topic Coles is talking about is how the status quo is being maintained in Parliament while no-one is being held accountable. The overall instrumentation is restrained, allowing for the Comets’ trademark harmonies to shine bright.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVkBhKJwRUk[/youtube]

With cheerful guitar noodle-y bits that sound like country western crossed with Jimmy Page’s parts in ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, ‘Cover Your Rain’ (shown acoustically live above) is the most instrumentally interesting track of the EP. Though the two songs sound different and have entirely different purposes, I can’t explain why this song reminds me of ‘A Little Opus’, the title track of their second studio album ‘Life is Elsewhere and it’s really bothering me. Maybe it’s time for me to sit down for another chat with the lads and pick their brains again to get to the bottom of this irksome feeling in my psyche.

And while I had their attention, I’d also thank them for ‘The Assisted’. It is in stark contrast with the rest of the EP, as it is presented as simply as humanly possible, with just Rob Coles’ voice and him playing piano. He’s explained it’s about assisted suicide and not wanting to live any longer with a terminal illness. As you can probably imagine, this is quite loaded subject matter; in the wrong hands and without true consideration of the gravity of such a situation, a song like this could easily come across completely insincere and out of touch, the song equivalent of the most terrible of train wrecks.

Instead, Coles has written a truly beautiful, moving piece, showing an astonishing gentleness and cognisance of a difficult decision, and a final one at that. It’s a real tearjerker. For those of us who have had to contemplate for ourselves or for others such a fate, it’s not something that can or should be taken lightly. Even if the song doesn’t resonate with you personally, you can use it as one of many examples of the Little Comets back catalogue of their great artistry. If you haven’t figured this out already while following their story, Little Comets are a band who aren’t afraid to defy convention, to touch hot button topics like this and deal with them head on, and we should thank our lucky stars every day for this.

8.5/10

‘The Sanguine EP’ will be released on Monday, the 3rd of November, on the band’s own The Smallest Label. Their third album ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ can now be pre-ordered on their PledgeMusic Web site, along with the opportunity to purchase a whole series of unique and limited edition items. The album will be released on the 16th of February 2015. You can stream EP track ‘The Assisted’ below.

 
 
 

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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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