Monday, 3 March 2014

Johnny Foreigner - You Can Do Better

…And it starts like. Well no, it doesn’t anymore. Where to start in telling the story of Johnny Foreigner doesn’t really matter anymore. On the closing track of their third full length record ‘Johnny Foreigner vs Everything’ there’s the words “Hey, 2009, that was always almost enough.” It’s a self-consciousness of what; in terms of sales and hype was their peak, ironically placed on an album of as good quality as the material that placed them there. This awareness doesn’t fade in record four in the slightest. Front-man Alexei Berrow introduces the record with the words “It was patience that choked us in the end” before (an ever vocally improving) bassist Kelly Southern joins the chorus.
No, You Can Do Better is not the kind of album that ignores its roots, but nor is it the kind of album that traces them back in panic nor pulls them out of the ground in search of an altered timeline.

It’s no secret that here at Sound Influx, we’re fans of Johnny Foreigner, but that shouldn’t diminish the following statement. This might just be their most cohesive record since the first waves of Waited Up… first brought our collective ears to their music. There’s the maturity to whack in a quiet section in without becoming boring, but there’s still the boldness to take on a huge sound and win, basically at will. Lead track Le Sigh is a monster of a building track whilst just two songs later Riff Glitchard’s (we do love a good pun) delicacy and attention to lyrical detail (“I might as well be an organ in your body, the damage I do when I do nothing”) leaves you feeling drained of all emotion just before The Last Queen Of Scotland re-energises for the rest of the record.

Of course, a complete self-consciousness of your surroundings can come across as paranoia and Wifi Beach’s mix of about five different song ideas thrown into one is as bad an idea as it is a good one both sonically and artistically. In other places, the blunt honesty of To The Death’s “I need a spell to stop my friends from feeling guilty every time they talk about you” and the entirety of album closer Devestator, will resonate with listeners not too dissimilarly than that of Keaton Henson or Manchester Orchestra.

There’s something to be said for making honest music with the relative ambition of consistently getting better. Johnny Foreigner have encountered both the highs and derailments of this acclaim, but with their fourth effort; maybe it’s time to stop trying to call them out on all that’s come before and all that’s come before them and just listen to what is simply a solid record from a band doing exactly what they should be doing at this moment in time.


Braden Fletcher

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Cheatahs - Cheatahs

NB: We're aware this has been out a month, but some things need shouting about okay?

In an age that we’re told what to listen to by Capital Radio pushing their YouTube ads of Will.I.Am and The Wanted at us all, it can be refreshing, even for an audience with an increasingly pop taste to hear something that’s both nostalgic and forward thinking in terms of modern rock and roll.

Of course, rock and roll these days is sold to us on the front cover of the NME as Alex Turner’s quiffed head stares deeply into our souls, as he queries those who gave his band the Brits limelight and those who, en masse bought tickets to a huge Finsbury Park show alike “R U Mine?” Most of us look back with moderate tentativeness, before admitting that yes, we probably are. For bands like Artcic Monkeys, Foals and Kasabian, it’s been a lucky ride at times. Kasabian themselves admitted that their signing and huge promotional drive felt like being the last band to jump on the lifeboats to success whilst Sheffield and Oxford’s finest used the new-fangled media that was MySpace and relentless efforts of playing solid shows to make it off the sinking ship that we call the music industry. Once in a while, bands like The Vaccines, Mumford & Sons and The1975 are allowed to swim to the safety of Brixton Academy and beyond, but by that point, they’re just pop bands for those living in the aftermath of Generation X.

Now, it’s not like a reviewer is going to tell you that, amongst the colossal pile of what’s often referred to as landfill, Cheatahs are the one band you can count on; but when you take a live show as energetic as the London band’s (see aforementioned The Vaccines mixed with the relaxed anarchy of MBV) and mix it with the kind of sounds that we hear from slightly grimier success stories (see Blood Red Shoes and Drenge) of recent times; it can be accepted of you to vanish into a pile of fuzz pedals and declare your Topshop-purchased Nirvana t-shirt to be part of your gateway down the slippery slope to the last track of  this, Cheatahs debut and eponymous record.

Perfect? Far from it. The production possibly leaves out more edge than you’d desire from a record of such distortion to do whilst lyrically, there’s not so much as a whisper of poetry from the majority. Of course, it’s difficult to demand from shoegaze-influenced modern-rock, but if Sonic Youth could occasionally touch the heartstrings, you’d like an inkling of it from this record. It, after all, is a debut; something pained over through teenage years of angst and bad decisions.

This then, is the start. Lord only knows what it’s the start of, but for Cheatahs, let’s hope it’s the start of something that lasts. When you can centre a record around two singles (The Swan and Cut the Grass) that don’t even sound similar, the sky can be the limit. Here’s hoping there’s another raft on its way that will pick up these feline rule-breakers.


Braden Fletcher

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Sudanim - The Link EP

Her Records co-founder and South London electronic music maker Sudanim has released his new EP The Link this week. Wish Grime could take a few more steps forward into the modern age? Sudanim's got it all covered with this, his debut EP which hits you for 5 tracks of pretty intense and exciting music. Of course, across his genre, production is imperative and HR's co-boss delivers on that as well with Guy Fridge making the production sound incredibly tight whilst Sudanim creates music at the very cutting edge of club music.
We'll surely be seeing a lot more of the Her Records crew over the next years as the hotly tipped group play across the country and DJ regular shows in and around London.
For now though, have a listen for yourself. Best to switch the lights off first though, just to get a bit of atmosphere maybe?
Braden Fletcher

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sound InPhotos: Our Final Hour // Unicorn Camden

Hardcore outfit played a special show at Camden's Unicorn just before heading out to Europe on a tour on Sunday. Braden had his camera with him to take photos.

Sound InPhotos: We Are Scientists // Camden Barfly

Winding up for their upcoming TV En Francais record, We Are Scientists made a fleeting visit to the UK and played a show at the Camden Barfly. Mixing in their singles collection with a hefty chunk of their new tracks made for a great set; definitely worth keeping an eye out for the new record when it comes out in March.
Braden was on hand to take photos; here's a few of them...

Sound InPhotos: Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip // KOKO

Two sold out nights at Camden's iconic KOKO meant real business for Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip so with guest appearances from support act Itch and the one and only Billy Bragg, these nights were really spectacular.
Braden was on hand with his camera to take pictures of the night.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Phoenix // Brixton Academy

Post-2000 indie bands, and I count most of my musical existence from that point onward, have bequeathed us a certain disdain for anything too obvious, songwriters intellectualize everything and then release a cryptic love song. Phoenix, on the other hand, are in the business of delivering sensations that, more often that not, get you heart racing like it does in the first days of flirting with a work colleague. You want to wear something nice for a change, girls get their hair done and before you know it, you're daydreaming about running in the rain in Paris while the love of your life chases you into a steamy wine bar. And it doesn't seem at all odd that you would even find yourself wishing for such a pathetic thing.

They didn't play Fences - that alone ought to be the only sentence in this review, as a sort of punishment, and if it weren't for everything else they played - masterfully - it would be. Fences is a great tune. But let's say it's a forgivable lapse when the rest of the performance is punctuated by covers of Playground Love with Nicolas Godin himself on stage and A Cappella versions of Sick for the Big Sun.

I think I forgive them.

Phoenix aren't exactly your everyday grandiose stadium band but at the Brixton Academy on Wednesday they delivered and incredible show: entertaining, clever and leaving very little to chance, Thomas Mars and team sang about love as if they were going through the day's to-do list - "I'll marry you on Tuesday", he goes, like it's nothing. Disarming, that's the word.

Entertainment kicks off the night, it's the first single from their new album Bankrupt!, a synth-heavy concoction, fit for a Californian hotel lounge at times; others for an 80's hen party. The new work blends very trendy techniques such as loud keyboard, half-tempo double clapping and Casablancas-like distortion with tunes hovering R&B and House. After listening to this album, it won't come as a surprise to you that Daft Punk are old friends of the band and Casablancas himself was a guest singer and producer in the latter highly praised Random Access Memories. It's all in the annoyingly talented family.

Crafted to a filigree of detail in studio, Phoenix's music loses some of its layers on stage and that's one of the great joys of watching densely produced bands, the cathartic release they get from playing their songs in a less analytic environment washes over everyone.

The room is warming up and we're all prime to jump around. Lasso and Liztomania, two heavy-weight crowd pleasers from their nearly perfect 2009's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" follow suit. One couldn't help but admiring the courage - what would they grab the audience with from this point on?


Oh well well well well well well until you know me well", starts "Girlfriend", another chunk of gooey and ironic love from "Amadeus" as the album is tenderly referred to. Mars's echoey vocals are like home-made jam, you just know you're safe now. 
"Run Run Run" is next, what a tune straight from their 2004 "Alphabetical". The opening guitar is very similar to the cadence of a mellow-er Radiohead and it falls like sugar cubes each time Mars goes "fallin', fallin', fallin'"

By the way people are dancing, it's like we've all just been teleported to the sleek lounge of a Monaco casino in the 80s. With what looks like synthetic whistles, Trying to be Cool comes on - "I'm just trying to be cool. And it's all because of you" is a good a pick-up line for a room full of loved-up sarcastic fans as you'll ever gonna get.

The first M83 borrowed tunes of Chloroform kick in and again we're all letting our arms swing there along our torso while we close our eyes and actually nothing else is of much importance.
"Thank you very much Brixton."
Yeah, right.
They come back to gothic organs. The whole floor trembles and then Mars slips into his negligé and sings Sick for the Big Sun with no safety net, barely any guitar and even the room is silence like we're at the Opera or a classic concert venue. A room full of rock fans listening to a lead singer and not attempting to sing as well? Blimey.

Rome finishes it and I leave the room with the sensation of having been showed around the world through the blurred windows of an old friend's car. A friend I was always secretively more than friends with.

Ana França

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Interview: Priests

Hailing from Washington DC, are you a fan of the Riot Grrrl movement and are there any other artists in the area that you're excited about right now?
We do like a lot of music that is generally categorized as "riot grrrl", yes. But we also like a lot of jazz, lo-fi bedroom pop, noise music, "77 punk",  doo-wop, old "surf" style guitar instrumental music, lots of different styles of hardcore, old and new hip-hop. We like a lot of stuff, we are big fans of a lot of disparate kinds of music. And we always wonder, why is it no one asks us about this music? Why do they always ask us about Riot Grrrl? We have a few ideas, but don't want to make assumptions. A lot of bands we're into around DC these days. Some of them are Give, Protect-U, Teen Liver, The Deads, Dudes, Foul Swoops, Cigarette, Big Hush, there are a bunch, a lot of them aren't even new. 

You've just announced you're working with Don Giovanni, how does it feel and what made you go with them?
We are working with Don Giovanni and are very excited about this. We have our own record label, Sister Polygon Records, which is how we released our first single and first two cassettes. We became friends with Joe over the summer, he asked if we'd ever be interested in releasing some music on his label. We said well, maybe we'd like to do that but we'd like to get to know each other first. So we played a show together in New Brunswick with his solo project Modern Hut and lo and behold, we all became friends. So Don Giovanni and Sister Polygon will be co-releasing the next Priests record, and we're all really excited about this.  

Don Giovanni has a lot of other great female-fronted bands and female artists on the roster, was this something that you considered when deciding to work with them or was it just because you liked the label?
We just like Joe, we like how he does business, Don Giovanni just seemed like the "right" choice. Have you ever seen When Harry Met Sally? There is a part when one of the older couples are talking and the woman is like, "You just know, the way you know about a good melon", it was sort of like that. We published something in The Media last spring about our upcoming tour, about how we think accessible community space and playing all-ages shows are important. And Joe wrote to us and said hey, I thought that was cool. I just wanted to write and say hi.
You call yourself a "real life non internet band", what is it about being an internet band that disinterests you? Do you feel any disconnect with technology?
I think that is part of the description on our tumblr, yeah. All we mean by that is our band isn't just a website. We make records and play shows "IRL" (internet speak for "in real life", for the uninitiated) and it just goes beyond the internet. Uh, but sometimes for me personally the internet does accelerate communication and human relationships in a way I haven't become totally accustomed to yet, I feel like I don't always translate myself the way I'd like to, but I have a feeling a lot of people have this problem.    

You recently released Tape Two, a cassette-only tour release, what is it that attracted you to releasing music on cassette? Are you very involved in DIY culture?
Cassettes can be produced quickly, they are inexpensive, and cassette players are also very inexpensive at most thrift stores. A lot of people don't necessarily have cassettes or their players lying around, but if you'd like to be a part of that it isn't difficult. You don't need a lot of money and really, you might find a lot of cool music on tape for not a lot of money. The problem really is that you might find some bad stuff, too. One time Gideon found this tape that had 4 faces on the cover made out of clouds, it looked like it could've been a lost Earth, Wind & Fire record or something? Or maybe it was an Earth, Wind & Fire record? Anyway, it was a real let down for us because the tape was actually boring, there were no hits on it. No "Getaway" or "Shining Star" or anything like that. So yeah, I guess tapes are still a roll of the dice but we like them. We like them better than CDs but really, I'm even coming around to those. I mean, however you want to listen to music. We live in the future, the world and the music are truly at your fingertips. You can do whatever you want.    

Are you currently working on any new music or are you focusing on playing shows in NY and DC?
We're working on new stuff! Always working on new stuff! We get bored otherwise. Washington DC is our hometown though.

You wrote a song about author and playwright Lillian Hellman,  has her writing inspired your music in any way? 
She's so cool! I mean it's like the lyrics I wrote in the song, I literally read a biography about Lillian Hellman and thought, wow. Cool lady. Deserves a song. I'd encourage anyone to read about her life or read some of her plays or other works, she was a real character.

Lillian Hellman was very politically involved and you also mention some of early American politics in 'USA (Incantations)', are you a very political person?
Isn't everyone a political person? Even when we don't realize it, our actions and our values and opinions, the way we live our lives, all this stuff has meaning and impact.  

Do you have any other inspirations that influence the way you make music? 
Pretty much anything I surround myself with is an inspiration, I'm a real sponge. I think all of us are, we're all very impressionable and sensitive.  

Aurora Mitchell

Monday, 27 January 2014

Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes

High Hopes is the sixteenth album from the Bruce Springsteen, tidying up songs written over the course of the last decade or so alongside a couple of covers and a re-recording of his Steinbeck-inspired anthem for the common man, ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’

Several of these tracks were recorded during a break on the Wrecking Ball tour with ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and though on the surface purveyors of widescreen American rock and ferocious rap-metal have little in common, both Springsteen and Morello share a sense of empathy with the downtrodden and a debt to the works of both Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan that makes their collaborations less unlikely than they may initially appear. Unfortunately whilst perhaps shaking Bruce out of his roots-rock comfort zone is an admirable goal, many of Morello’s worse impulses are allowed to run unchecked. On the seven minute revisit of ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ – explosively covered by Rage on their patchy covers album Renegades - he smothers the track in wah-wah sounds, guitar pyrotechnics and his famous axe-as-turntable screeches but ends up with a lesser result than the stripped back original.

Springsteen has never been afraid to sing songs about the little man even now that he’s a very big man indeed but conceptually the grab-bag nature of the tracks undermines any sense of High Hopes as a cohesive album. For aficionados a studio release for ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ – originally written about the killing of Amadou Diallo by New York policemen and revisited in the wake of the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. – offers compelling testimony that Bruce has had a much better 2000s than he had a nineties but bar a pair of classic modern-era Springsteen cuts High Hopes flounders under the weight of curious celtic drum flourishes and predictable songcraft.

‘This is the Sword’ and ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’ are as stuffy and lifeless as their titles suggest, whilst the plodding ‘Harry’s Place’ suggests that although Springsteen can churn out widescreen mid-tempo rock in his sleep Harry’s place may actually be in the retirement home.

Fortunately, the sax ecstasy of ‘Just like Fire Would’ and ‘Frankie Fell in Love’s wailing Steve Earle guitar swing the pendulum back in favour of the more uplifting end of his output; tales of burning love with just enough hints of darkness to navigate a descent into hokey cheese but when you stop to think what High Hopes tell us about Bruce Springsteen, about America and about rock music, you realise that this is more of a stop-gap affair than a burning romance.


Max Sefton

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sound InPhotos: White Lies @ Camden Roundhouse

White Lies played an amazing show at Camden's iconic Roundhouse and Braden was on hand to take photos. There were lazers and everything.

Braden Fletcher