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(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Album Review: The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd February 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

At merely ages 19 and 20, young Pennsylvania band The Districts could be said they’re living the dream. Having formed in 2009 while all their band members were in high school, I doubt any of them would have imagined 5 years later they would be signed to famed Mississippi indie label Fat Possum Records. Now they’re starting 2015 strong with the release of their newest album to the world. It’s with much relief that ‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, which was recorded in Minnesota and produced, engineered and mixed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans), manages to retain all the rough edges of the band that made ‘The Districts’ EP such an untamed joy in early 2014.

The album starts with a fine buildup in the form of earlier revealed track and lead single ‘4th and Roebling’, named for the Brooklyn intersection where the band happened to park their van the first time they ever played in the city. The song itself is a mournful yearning for a lover who has changed, or perhaps even a life that no longer exists. Yet despite its sadder, more pensive moments as ably emote emoted by frontman Rob Grote, it’s an engaging listen and a clear standout, with its driving rhythm, masterful guitar and its stompathon style conclusion. Though ‘lo-fi slacker’ could be used to some extent to describe the Districts’ chosen style of instrumentation, their ability to put both melancholy and rage on show in the same song – and convincingly – sets them apart from many of their singer/songwriter and band contemporaries. Grote charms his way through rhythmically upbeat number ‘Peaches’, which has already caught the eyes and ears of American late night tv presenter Jimmy Fallon, no doubt for its indie rock catchiness. Later on in the line-up, ‘Bold’ shows off the band’s psychedelic leanings, as the drum beats vibrate and the guitars wail, their lines bending with effects.

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

A few songs on this album tell of just how hard growing up can be. The atmospheric drums and guitars on standout ‘Chlorine’ boom a nostalgic feeling throughout as Grote’s voice oozes in the chorus, “it’s such a shame / nobody’s feeling it now / it’s not that way anymore”; in the background, a tambourine shakes almost solemnly. Shortest track ‘Suburban Smell’ sees Grote coming to terms with leaving behind their suburban childhood in the sleepy town of Lititz, Pennsylvania they used to call home. Although Grote sings, “he’s sick of that suburban smell” and “16 houses on every street”, the song is performed in such an tender acoustic style, as if an acknowledgement that we all come from a beginning that was humbler than what we become and even if our childhood moments weren’t always the best, we will always have those memories. Considering their relative youth compared to other bands in the business, such observations for a time period that was not so far in the past seem incredibly astute and are refreshing.

Listeners who hold tight to the end of the album are rewarded with two great tracks. At nearly 9 minutes, ‘Young Blood’ is like a multi-act play, with a fun part one, a jammy instrumental bridge, and an even more fun, raucous conclusion with excellent guitar licks. Lo-fi ‘6 AM’, which closes out ‘A Flourish…’, includes the refrain of “all we are is all we are / and still I will become / all I am and what I thought I can’t become.” As the words are repeated and repeated, seeming more desperate as the song goes on, there is a sad poignancy in the resignation of Grote’s loneliness, of life being ‘it is what it is’. For kids of all ages who feel lost and abandoned, either by boy/girlfriends and/or society, this song will resonate with them. There is an rawness and honesty with ‘6 AM’ and the Districts. They have heart. Nothing is contrived here. If I were a betting woman, I’d say based on the strength of this album, The Districts are on the verge of becoming massive.

8.5/10

‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, the second album from The Districts, will be out on the 9th of February on Fat Possum Records. After their scheduled appearance at this year’s SXSW, the band will be touring the UK and Ireland in April and May.

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #337: Dry the River

 
By on Tuesday, 3rd February 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

London alt-rock quartet Dry the River released their latest album of new material ‘Alarms in the Heart’ on the 25th of August last year via Transgressive Records. Recorded in Iceland, the album is Dry the River’s second full-length LP, following their 2012 debut ‘Shallow Bed’, which was released in both a full studio format and the acoustic version reviewed by our own Martin. Last summer, we here at TGTF featured a complete stream of ‘Alarms in the Heart’ as well as the video documentary of its recording process.

Dry the River combines the heavy guitars and drums of typical alt-rock with a folk-oriented focus on lyricism, vocal harmonisation and expanded instrumentation. Lead singer Peter Liddle alternates seamlessly between a fluttering falsetto and a grittier full-voiced timbre, his voice matching equally well with the lighter acoustic moments and the broadly expansive instrumental crescendos. Band members Liddle (guitar, lead vocals), Matthew Taylor (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Scott Miller (bass, percussion, vocals) and Jon Warren (drums, percussion) were until recently joined by violinist Will Harvey, who left the band just after ‘Alarms in the Heart’ was completed. Harvey’s absence surely poses an interesting challenge for the band, as his bowed string underpinnings were key to the folk quality of their sound, particularly on older songs like ‘Bible Belt’.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/J4EoNZQ0reI[/youtube]

The newer material on ‘Alarms in the Heart’ does lean more heavily toward rock than folk, with stronger emphasis on pounding drums and power chords, but the emotional, often Romantic quality of the lyrics is still present, along with the vocal harmonies and the exquisite dynamic variation in the instrumental arrangements. Early singles ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘Everlasting Light’ were released last summer ahead of the album proper. Both are centered around darkly brooding lyrics, but where ‘Gethsemane’ is slow and melancholic (“it started with the moon that turned an inexpensive room into St. Peter’s / there’s a parabolic story but it’s boring and it ends how you’d expect”), the sharply concise ‘Everlasting Light’ feels a bit more like a true radio single with its wailing guitar riff and repeated chorus, “I had my reasons at the time / I had my reasons at the time / something in the state of mind / oh, everlasting light”.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/C4XynrxpDI8[/youtube]

The album’s current single ‘Rollerskate’ starts off with a slightly brighter sound, but its chorus quickly descends into a dark angst, culminating in the spine-tingling coda of Liddle’s repeated “I couldn’t want you more than this”. The song’s accompanying video feels singularly appropriate for Dry the River’s upcoming tour plans, as it features up close looks at the band members backstage, onstage and mingling post-show with their fans.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/2tg-yGZkcKA[/youtube]

Dry the River will embark on a set of English tour dates in mid-February before heading across the pond for a few warm up shows ahead of their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2015 in March. A full listing of upcoming tour dates can be found on the band’s official Web site.

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #1733: The Pop Group

 
By on Monday, 2nd February 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Following on the reveal of title track ‘Citizen Zombie’ from their first album after a lengthy (35 years long) hiatus, The Pop Group have unveiled their promo video for their upcoming single. This black lighted visual for ‘Mad Truth’ was a collaboration with the group and acclaimed Italian director and actress Asia Argento. Watch it below.

To read Martin’s look back at their story so far is here. The band will be stopping by Austin in March for SXSW 2015.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReSbezi9kW4[/youtube]

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #336: Bad Breeding

 
By on Monday, 2nd February 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Stevenage is hardly a sleepy town, but it can’t be classed as a buzzing hub of musical creativity either. In fact, when you arrive there, the lasting impression is that there are an awful lot of underpasses and it feels like you may end up being involved in a scene out of Harry Brown, where Ben Drew “kicks your fackin’ ‘ead in”.

So it’s no surprise that Bad Breeding have burst free of this bite-size chunk of not-so-quaint suburban London and started making one hell of a racket. Their music hits you with an assault on all senses: seriously, you can smell the sweat, these guys are lively. Since Gallows faded into irrelevance, when Frank Carter decided to neuter himself and start singing about love and throwing knives in his dressing room, Britain hasn’t had a band flying the flag for old school punk values. We’ve seen pretenders from America like Trash Talk who have brought their own brand of chaos to our venues and festivals, but Bad Breeding are one of our own and deserve some recognition.

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

They’re the kind of band you’d want at your house party… Well, if it wasn’t your house. Their music is refined chaos and their first singles ‘Burn This Flag’ and ‘Age of Nothing’ are testament to the aural attack their music offers, blending the best elements of modern hardcore with enough reverb to make your bowels shudder and void themselves. The foursome sound like what they are, a group of angry young men bursting out, in remarkably the same way Gallows did almost a decade ago with Carter leading the ferocious charge.

SXSW fell in love with Gallows once and there’s no excuse as to why Bad Breeding can’t descend on Austin and do the exact same thing. It’s music to rip your shirt off, mosh around and punch someone in the face to, pure unadulterated testosterone in the form of 3-minute bursts of fire. This is Britain’s angriest band, bursting at the seams with rage and foaming at the mouth ready to nut you at SXSW. You in?

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Gig Video: The Districts perform ‘Suburban Smell’ and ‘4th and Roebling’ for La Blogotheque

 
By on Thursday, 29th January 2015 at 4:00 pm
 

In this lovely Take Away show from those French masters La Blogotheque, Pennsylvania growly indies the Districts perform two cuts from their upcoming album for Fat Possum Records, ‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, which sees the light of day on the 9th of February. You’ll recognise ‘4th and Roebling’, the lead single from the upcoming LP, performed as the sun sets by a canal. ‘Suburban Smell’, performed acoustically alone by frontman Rob Grote, gets its first airing in this video as well. Watch the performances below.

Stay tuned for my review of ‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, which will post soon here on TGTF. For our past coverage on the Lititz band, go here. The Districts are scheduled to perform at this year’s SXSW.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzkkRAn7h2k[/youtube]

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #334: The Pop Group

 
By on Thursday, 29th January 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

At TGTF we pride ourselves in specialising in new music, so this addition to our SXSW 2015 coverage is a little left-field. The Pop Group debuted in 1979 and return this year with new material after an incredible 35-year hiatus.

The album is heralded by the release of its title track, ‘Citizen Zombie’, as a single. The song initially sounds like an unlistenable mess of noise, but careful attention reveals its layers; there’s a decent groove hidden in there, a lounge-jazz interlude, and its main hook is a particularly persistent earworm. There’s occasionally even some proper lyrics (“like a bad, bad robot spinning out of control”), which reveal a darkly humourous streak pushing through all the chaos.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrfhR5gIyBc[/youtube]

Ostensibly a post-punk outfit, The Pop Group were inspired by the commercial tail of punk to pursue a more eclectic sound. As contemporaries of The Clash, there’s a definite similarity in the two bands’ sounds – the white-boy funk, the ska influence, the half-spoken, heavily-accented vocals – but The Pop Group are a far more experimental and challenging listen. Perhaps that’s why they don’t share the bigger band’s legendary status of course, but then again there’s always those who prefer to cheer the underdog. The Pop Group are for them. And they’re all still alive, which helps.

As if to prove there’s nothing new under the sun, a quick trip through their back catalogue reveals a sound that at times wouldn’t be out of place being played by a bunch of teenagers from, say, Bristol. ‘Mad Truth’ has Carib-jangle rhythm guitar and a cleanly-plucked, reverbed lead line part that countless indie bands are deploying right now to good effect. But no contemporary band can match the granddads’ irreverent attitude or ability to make you feel very uncomfortable indeed.

They’re embarking on a modest U.S. tour before rocking up at SXSW. Quite how those shows will be received is anyone’s guess. A bunch of grumpy, grey-haired English blokes making a right old racket is surely not what the increasingly touristy SXSW punters have in mind when they buy their tickets. But one thing’s for sure: it’s bound to be very memorable indeed.

 
 
 

About Us

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.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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