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Album Review: Travis is a Tourist – Weakdays EP

 
By on Monday, 6th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Weakdays EP coverEditor Mary and I first encountered Belfast singer/songwriter Travis is a Tourist in a rather fortunate coincidence at SXSW 2014, where he performed both on his own and with fellow Northern Irish artist RAMS’ Pocket Radio. Travis is a Tourist, who is known offstage as Travis Gilbert, has been steadily on the TGTF radar since then, with an appearance at Liverpool Sound City 2014 and now, after more than a year’s wait, a new EP release titled ‘Weakdays’.

The EP’s title is thought-provoking, even before you hear a single note of the music. The tweaked spelling of ‘weekdays’ implies an unsettled feeling, a sense of restlessness and anticipation. Musically, the songs on the EP reflect that sentiment by way of wistful guitar melodies, lingering vocal lines, and perpetual rhythmic motion, while thematically the effect is achieved through the direct, concise emotional impact of Gilbert’s introspective lyrics. Gilbert’s restrained vocal delivery is key to the reflective nature of the songs, and the slight roughness in his singing voice is perfectly modulated to the mood of the music.

‘Weakdays’ opens with a frank and self-revelatory track called ‘Tourist’, whose initial line is a strong statement of intent: “For those who don’t know, I’ve always had a fascination with leaving home”. Melancholy and resigned, the song still retains a confident sense of determination and pace that sets the tone for the rest of the EP. (Gilbert also wins points here with a reference to one of my personal favourite Counting Crows songs in the opening verse.)

The EP’s first single ‘Loosen Up’, which you can download for free for a limited time from Gilbert’s SoundCloud, is a slow burner with a languorous opening verse and a quick, shuffling chorus that will make your heart skip a beat. The simple refrain is warmly memorable, more of a reassuringly whispered mantra than a boldly declared motto, with a repeated bridge section echoing beneath the final repeat. The song was premiered on The Thin Air last week and has already received radio play on BBC Radio Ulster’s Across the Line as that program’s Track for the Day #175.

‘Getting Close’ opens with a chugging muted guitar under the evocative lyrical hook, “evening crept in, just as afternoon had wore thin” before growing into an expansively melodic chorus. Despite its fretful title, ‘Worry’ is uptempo and energetic throughout, with blissed out vocal layers in its chorus, “don’t worry about the morning sun / don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you get up”.

The EP closes, appropriately, with the austere arrangement of ‘Loud’, which exemplifies Travis is a Tourist’s fundamental sound, distilled down to the raw emotional power of a single guitar and Gilbert’s intensely understated vocals before layering strings and backing vocals in the repeated chorus. Gilbert has wisely resisted the temptation to overproduce the songs on this EP, choosing instead to highlight his best assets, namely the fine grit of his singing voice and his honest, uncomplicated approach to songwriting.

8/10

Travis is a Tourist’s self-released EP ‘Weakdays’ is available now on his Bandcamp page.  Previous TGTF coverage of Travis is a Tourist can be found right back here.

 

Album Review: John E Vistic – What Will Be EP

 
By on Wednesday, 17th June 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

John E Vistic What Will Be EP coverI first encountered Johnny V as the support act for Radio 2 favourite Jon Allen at the end of last year at Newcastle Cluny 2. Mr Allen wasn’t my cup of tea, but I found Mr John E Vistic a more interesting character, and for my own benefit, if nobody else’s, it’s worth revisiting my summary of his set: “All told, Vistic does come across as a reasonably genuine article, a young-no-longer musician just trying to make an honest penny from his bare songs.”

Nothing too controversial there, you might think. However, he took enough exception to write to me and give me a six-point plan of how better to compose a music review, including the accusation of my having a “five second attention span”. Sheesh. That’s the same as a goldfish. Come 2015, he’s releasing his newest EP, ‘What Will Be’, and I’ve managed to stop sobbing into my teacup for long enough to have a listen to it. Well, 25 seconds of it anyway, given it has five tracks. Hope that’s enough for you, Johnny?

After which preamble you might forgive me for confessing to a slight irritation that ‘What Will Be’ is actually pretty decent. The title track is an end-of-the-night waltz, perfect for that whisky-soaked smooch with a new friend: an unconventional choice for opener. Slightly more upbeat is old favourite ‘Gamblin’ Man’, with a sound signature familiar from Jon Allen’s work; no surprise, as they share a producer in Tristan Longworth. If you’re partial to a flutter and want to hear the pain of losing made music by a kindred spirit, look no further. This is also an example of Vistic’s stylistic similarity to a certain (whisper it) Robert Zimmerman – his gruff vocal delivery and tooting blues harp solo see to that – but it’s a comparison he’s not very fond of, so I’d keep it under your hat.

One has the suspicion that being radio-friendly doesn’t come naturally to Vistic: in the preceding brace of songs, he’s toning down his literary pretensions and tendency towards darkness in favour of a more immediate, if less complex, reference point. The final three tracks are surely more true representations of his inner thoughts. ‘I Wait for No Man’, with its defiant lyric and big psychedelic climax, sees him unveil the full range of that careworn voice and make large with a distortion pedal and Hammond organ. That’s more like it, frankly. ‘Long Time Gone’ is in a country-tinged rocker and introduces fellow Bristolian Katey Brooks in a bittersweet tale of self-loathing. An acoustic version ‘Til My Loneliness Has Gone’ completes the collection, appropriately embellished with a darkly portentous piano.

The only shame here is that I can’t find anything naughty enough to say that might provoke another irked response from the man himself. Yes, it’s a bit safe, a bit Radio 2, but since that station continues to demonstrate a previously unsuspected fondness for heavy metal, even that particular remark has lost its sting. And a man’s gotta earn a crust somehow, after all. Ok, I give up, I’ll have to settle for being polite. As Vistic’s ‘Gamblin’ Man’ says, “the chance is in the numbers”. So whatever that means, I’m going with it.

7/10

‘What Will Be’, the new EP from John E Vistic, is out next Monday, the 22nd of June, via Black Heart Studios. Listen to EP track ‘Long Time Gone’ featuring Katey Brooks below.

 

Album Review: Lake Malawi – We Make Love Again EP

 
By on Monday, 8th June 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Making it in one’s own country is a Big Deal. I mean, if you could take a time machine back to 1963 Liverpool, the Beatles would have wholeheartedly agreed with you on that. But imagine the struggle to make it in the English-speaking world when your first language isn’t English! Lake Malawi are a band from the Czech Republic splitting their time between Prague and their adopted city London, and they come from Czech indie band royalty of recent memory. Frontman Albert Cerny (vocals / guitar) and drummer Pavel Pilch were formerly of Charlie Straight, an indie rock band that won the MTV Europe Award for Best Czech and Slovak Band back to back in 2010 and 2011, toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and caught the eye of Coldplay, who posted one of their videos on their own Web site. Not bad, eh?

With the new band led by Cerny, the sound remains in the same genre – Britpop-tinged indie rock – but at their appearance at the Old Ship Paganini Ballroom Thursday at the Great Escape 2015, I also sensed a dance party element. Maybe that was just in the moment, as this feel is largely absent from ‘We Are Making Love Again’, their new EP released at the end of May: on most of the five songs in the collection, the focus seems instead on writing anthemic pop for that rush of blood to the head (sorry).

Curiously, the EP begins tentatively, with the first full minute of the tune starring only Cerny’s vocals and a strummed acoustic guitar. After that, band members’ harmonies and a slew of jaunty piano chords work towards an uplifting build. It’s repetitive, but it’s reasonably enjoyable nevertheless. The midpoint, ‘Aubrey’, has boppy Little Comets-esque guitars, a rhythm that gently chugs along and faultless harmonies. There’s another upbeat number in ‘Young Blood’, a calisthenics workout, before the album slows things down with closer ‘Day for Finding Someone’, reminiscent of yearning ’80s New Wave number.

Far more rousing is EP standout ‘Chinese Trees’, its lively piano and synths and Cerny’s voice full of wonder coming together for something like a melodious cross between Coldplay and Crowded House. Themes of loneliness and escape are explored, with Cerny resolutely declaring, “if you can’t go back to / where we’ll leave it at / where we’ll leave it at / don’t!” If there’s anything emphatic to take away from this EP, be sure to have a listen to it: this band is going places.

7.5/10

‘We Are Making Love Again’, the debut EP from Lake Malawi, is out now.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8WbcPsMkEw[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Longfellow – Remedy EP

 
By on Thursday, 16th April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Longfellow Remedy EP coverLast summer, London-based alt rock / pop outfit Longfellow released the highly enjoyable ‘Prelude’, a so-called mini-album of tracks. More than an EP but marginally less than a full album, it certainly whet my appetite for further from the five-piece. I’ve been told their debut album is on the horizon (let’s hope it’ll see the light of day later in 2015), but on Monday, the band will release the EP ‘Remedy’, which will tide us over until we get their debut.

‘Remedy’ is a curious title, isn’t it? Are we talking about a cure of medicinal means, or something less literal or obvious, like Little Boots and her “dancing is my remedy, remedy”? There may only be four songs on offer here, but as a neat little set of songs, they run the gamut of human emotion in love and present different options for resolving relationships. The EP begins with strong single ‘Where I Belong’, which at first sounds vaguely stalkerish until you queue it up a couple times.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIw52v9XXB4[/youtube]

I was quickly got sucked into the mesmerising rhythm and held onto the spare yet somehow sultry guitar and piano notes (placed perfectly, I might add), and then I fully understood where the song was going. The chorus – “I confess it / I wanna see right through / wanna keep you ’til you’re dust and bone / I want to love ’til my heart stops beating / wanna hold you ’til you turn to stone” – indicates the protagonist of this song is, yes, obsessed with the object of his affection, but the overwhelming sense of loving desire overtakes eeriness. We previously featured ‘Medic’ as a Video of the Moment, and as has been described here and elsewhere, there’s a reason why Longfellow has been tipped to be the successor (and I pray the eventual toppler) to stadium kings Coldplay. Driven by piano tremeloes at the start, it continues to build to an anthemic chorus of “we need to work it out, work it out / we all need a little love sometimes”.

‘Chokehold’ is another beauty but its tempo is gentler; its premise is in stark contrast to ‘Where I Belong’, as it chronicles the need to get out of a toxic relationship, and how important it is to let go when a good thing has gone bad. The one oddball on the EP is track three, ‘Fabric’, which incorporates percussive, echoey synths against at times r&b lead vocal for a more mainstream pop effect. It’s not bad but some reason, it’s not entirely believable from these lads (“you’re so cold, you make my temper rise”), so here’s to hoping the debut album as a whole sounds more like the other three tunes. Fingers crossed.

8/10

Longfellow’s new EP ‘Remedy’ is out next Monday, the 20th of April, on Fierce Panda Records. Catch them at Live at Leeds on the 2nd of May and playing a headline show at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen in London on the 5th of May. For past TGTF coverage on Longfellow, head this way.

 

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.

 
 
 

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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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