Friday, 30 September 2011

The Big Pink - Stay Gold



So the Big Pink still exist and they’re still making fire-bellied anthems stewed in noise and backed up with thumping great drum beats. There’s a nice minor key change in the pre-chorus and the chorus itself is as bludgeoningly hook-heavy as one could hope, but in all honestly it’s still very much the same as what they were covering on their debut. Hopefully the rest of the new record (named Future This) will see a touch more progression. It’s by no stretch a bad track, it just doesn’t feel worthy of anybody’s attention. It’s easy to imagine that some producer will get their hands on it and transform it into the kind of banger it so desperately wants to be, but in the meantime we’ll just have to make do with this functionary slice of laddy indie-dance.

By Ned Powley

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation



The Year of Hibernation is a fitting title for this, Youth Lagoon’s debut release. It implies rest and calm. It’s also suggestive of someone storing, withholding that which they have collected until they are ready to release themselves, renewed and revitalised. The Year Of Hibernation is masterful record, each track imbued with a slow-building power reminiscent of The National. This drive is even more astonishing considering that Youth Lagoon is a lone 22 year old Boise, Idaho native by the name of Trevor Powers.


The album is only 8 tracks in length, but this never gives a feeling of incompletion to proceedings. The record is shrouded in a gloopy lo-fi fuzz that restrains the chest beating drum machine lines and snaking guitarwork until the moment is right and they are unleashed. Power’s tremulous falsetto becomes an instrument itself, chasing through the songs like a child with a torch, in awe of the world he can make with his mind.


Possibly the most startling aspect of the record is it’s sparseness. The layers of instruments give an overpowering effect but Powers never allows it to swamp the elements at it’s core. It is ostensibly a chest-beating, “it’s me and against the world and I don’t give a fuck” kind of record, but it’s rawness has been sweetened and contained. Any sense of delusion or indulgence has been purified out, leaving only proclamations that ring true and clear.
As an album, it’s a marvellous piece of work but as a debut, it’s nothing less than miraculous

 8/10
By Ned Powley

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Nurses - Dracula



Portland trio Nurses’ second offering is most definitely a grower, at first seeming a little slow or boring. However one or two listens definitely do not do this wonderfully offbeat psych-pop album any justice whatsoever. Lead vocalist Aaron Chapman’s voice is distinctive to say the least, an oddball falsetto if you will, and it takes a bit of getting used to at first. However it definitely marries well with the off-kilter music; most of the songs on Dracula are textured and hypnotic, reminiscent of Animal Collective and Yeasayer.

Spaced-out opener ‘Fever Dreams’ gets the album off to an excellent, echoey start; this strong start is continued through ‘You Lookin’ Twice’ and on early listens the album seems to go downhill from here. The songs just don’t seem to have Animal Collective/Yeasayer’s instant kooky appeal. However Dracula as an album isn’t short of weird noises echoing around like half-imagined animal calls in an exotic jungle. ‘You Lookin’ Twice’ for example has a sort of prehistoric whistling running through it (that reminds me specifically of short-running CBBC cartoon Pitt & Kantrop, maybe slightly obscure and off topic) It is these elements, along with layered harmonies that make the album a very intriguing listen.

On further listens, other songs start to jump out too, such as ‘Trying To Reach You’, where these offbeat harmonies, plonky piano and a clap-along beat make it pretty infectious, especially with the layered harmony of "waiting..." at the end. Other stand-out songs include ‘Extra Fast’ (which I adore due to the lyric ‘I’m walking extra fast...’ summing up my approach to pounding the pavements.); and ‘Wouldn’t Tell’, with its rattling drums and strange, echoey noises in the background, not to mention it being a prime example of Aaron Chapman’s impressively odd voice. Dracula is brilliantly and defiantly quirky, and not boring in the slightest, with plenty of hooks that you may find yourself warbling along to, even if you don’t understand what Chapman is warbling himself a lot of the time!

7/10

By Holly Read-Challen

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Emmy The Great / It Hugs Back / Gabrielle Aplin @ Lancaster Library - Live Review


Lancaster Library has a great tradition of brilliant artists who have strummed, drummed and warbled amongst the bookshelves, including Florence and The Machine, Adele, The Wombats and, more recently, Slow Club. Today is the turn of anti-folk darlings Emmy the Great, fronted by Emma- Lee Moss.

One of two supports, and something of a Youtube star, Gabrielle Aplin’s husky voice certainly is beautiful. She includes a few covers in her set, including a rather gorgeous Bob Dylan cover, as well as her own rather clich├ęd songs. Despite this, ‘The Day the World Went Mad’ does prove a highlight, as a slightly spooky prediction of the London riots (written a week before the title was heeded). It does, however, get to the point when you wonder how many songs one girl and an acoustic guitar can rattle out before it gets tiresome. The answer seems to be not that many, though saying that, she is still young and her stage presence has time to grow and develop.

After a slow opener, Kent based outfit It Hugs Back definitely feel like a breath of fresh air, (they actually play electric guitar! And have a drummer!) arriving onstage without introduction, other than an open guitar case at the front, proclaiming their name. It is a pity that half the audience can’t seem to be bothered to stand up after the interval. Maybe the library floor is just that comfortable. They really look like they want to be there, grinning at each other every now and then; and play a brilliant set of spaced-out shoegaze-y indie.

Emmy the Great’s set contains the perfect mix of new and old material, including old favourites ‘MIA’ and ‘First Love’. ‘MIA’ is so beautiful it may just have produced a few tears from this reviewer. Moss’ songs seem to be fixated with religion, and more specifically her atheism; ‘Easter Parade’ and new one ‘Trelick Tower’ show this more than any (with Easter Parade comparing God to a ghost: "There is no such thing/ As ghosts"). Her wit and passion shine where Aplin’s mundane musings fell down; her songwriting is sharp and focuses on the real life as well as the surreal. The clarity of her voice, too, is beautiful, and when backed with the full band, the sound is powerful. Emma-Lee also has a charming stage presence, excited to be playing a gig in a library. On the request of an audience member ("Play the song about Diane Cluck!"), during an encore she plays ‘24’, and a spine-chilling rendition of ‘Edward is Deadward’. A beautiful, enchanting set, and thoroughly recommended.

By Holly Read-Challen

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Apparat - The Devil's Walk


There’s not a lot that can be said for Sascha Ring. His music has always done the talking. Whether it be in his first few Apparat albums or collaborations with the likes of Modeselektor (Moderat) or Ellen Allien. His DJ-KiCKS album brings together a whole load of brilliant artists from Thom Yorke to Telefon Tel Aviv in one beautiful record and his music has been used in flight compilations by Air France. All in all, he’s doing pretty well for himself.

With all of that success in his own field though, huge mainstream recognition has never come to Apparat. Of course this is mostly due to the fact that his music isn’t the most radio friendly, however with artists such as Four Tet and Flying Lotus gaining so much recognition, you’d think that by now, the same would follow for Sascha. Maybe the Devil’s walk will bring this? Well, not really. The Devil’s Walk will bring in new fans for sure, but there’s no real departure from the man being real to himself. The record is full of slow, quite moving tracks that really utilise his fantastic voice. It would be easy to make comparisons to the most recent Radiohead album and to his co-collaborators in the past, however this album is just different enough to stand out.

It’s relaxing and emotive at its heart with ‘Black Water’ which has a pulse that will maintain your head involuntarily nodding for quite some time, or the intricate beat in ‘Candil De La Calle’, which will have you near hypnotised. ‘Ash/Black Veil’ surfaced online a while back now, and it really is a gorgeous climax of tension that retains for the rest of the album right until the last thirty seconds of ‘Your House is my World’.


The Devil’s Walk then is, by all accounts beautiful. Gone are the days when the likes of Arcadia defined Apparat as Walls is all but forgotten comparatively to this offering. I can’t quite get my head around whether I consider this a good thing though. As much as I enjoy the serenity of this album, I long for a stronger beat or brilliant hook at some point, but it never comes. In a way, it’s like Bon Iver without a happy ending, gorgeous, yet seemingly unfinished.

8/10

By Braden Fletcher

Nicola Roberts- Cinderella's Eyes


As everyone knows, Nicola Roberts is part of the longstanding girl group Girls Aloud. She’s always been the ‘in the background’ girl in the group so on the news of Roberts embarking on a solo career, safe to say I’m sure more than a few people were a bit bemused. Although, she’s been slowly working her way towards the prestigious solo career goal for a while now and worming her way into the music industry’s hearts. The lead single from her debut full length ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’, ‘Beat Of My Drum’ is an unmistakably Diplo produced first attempt to break the mainstream and it fails to arouse any kind of excitement. Especially with strange barking esque noises and Nicola’s shrill (and often annoying) vocals, repeated listens definitely do not reward and I don’t recommend it.

Things take a turn for the incredulously catchy with follower ‘Lucky Day’; a looping synth hook and Roberts ingeminating ‘Could it be my lucky day?’ start off a feisty quirk pop dance along. The highlight on the whole album, this is the only song that really sees her potential shine through and her perky optimism rubs off with this fun motivational number.  It’s frustrating that it doesn’t carry on with the same bounce, ‘Yo-Yo’ could easily be written for swagger brat Cher Lloyd. The instrumental is too minimalistic, the vocals are flat and uninspiring and the lyrics leave much to be desired; ‘All the other girls/ they say you’re full of it and talking shit’ Roberts spits with minimal effort, jealousy doesn’t quite suit her.

It’s only on Joe Mount produced track ‘I’ that we’re faced with an authentic instrumental that holds up well, swelling synths and twanging guitars backing Roberts’ vocals which sound like Mount’s female equivalent. Roberts chimes, ‘I hope that everybody loves my new direction’, it’s nice to see she actually cares what people think about her music but you can’t help but feel that her wish won’t be fulfilled. There’s a lot of work gone into this album, reflective on the title and album artwork; ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’, Nicola Roberts is somewhat of a Cinderella , she’s made her way up from being ‘the ginger one’ in Girls Aloud’ to having major producers back her and a debut album under her belt. This album is by no means a game changer but it’s refreshing to hear a Girls Aloud solo project that doesn’t sound anything like Girls Aloud.

6/10
By Aurora Mitchell

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CANT - Dreams Come True


Dreams Come True is Chris Taylor’s debut record as a solo artist. The Grizzly Bear bassist partners up with George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow for this release and the end result is sublime listening. No comparisons can be made from Grizzly Bear to CANT, other than the fact Chris Taylor is the genius behind it, however there is a definite Twin Shadow influence throughout the entire record. Dreams Come True has a strong seasonal feel to it, I can't imagine myself enjoying it all that much during the heat of summer, though I can envision it playing through my headphones on a cold, dark winter morning with ease.

That's enough about the weather. The album is made up of only eight tracks, thirty minutes of music but that by no means makes Dreams Come True a minimalist record. Everything about it has been done to the most exquisite detail, the production itself could not be any better, and allows for very smooth listening. The opening track 'Too Late, Too Far' kicks things off in style, its a very interesting start to the record. If anyone was predicting a half hearted effort, 'Too Late, Too Far' immediately rules that out. It's a subtle explosion of creativity, blended beautifully with Chris Taylor's vocals. However it's '(brokencollar)' that provides the highlight, it lacks the fascinating array of sounds that the multi instrumentalist includes in the album's other songs. Infact it is much more stripped down than any other track on the record and it makes for a brilliant change of pace.

Dreams Come True comes to a swift end with the eighth song, which shares its name with the albums title, its as though the record finishes a bit too soon, but with that said, its a fitting end to a courageous, bold album. Hopefully the first of many from CANT. 
 

8/10

By Josh Barrow

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Jens Lekman - An Argument With Myself EP


Imagine a calypso bar in the middle of New York where Belle and Sebastian were doing an impromptu set and you wouldn’t be far off the tone of the latest EP from Swedish musician Jens Lekman. The palm tree on the cover art says it all.

The EP begins with ‘An Argument With Myself’, a confident and witty opener demonstrating Lekman’s self-deprecating delivery ability. Drawing on some of the more catchy elements of Barenaked Ladies it features a trippy, reggae bridge featuring a literal argument with himself. ‘Waiting for Kirsten’ is a story about trying to find a girl to tell her how he feels, a fairly normal premise for a pop song but Lekman manages to make it sound not only fresh but heartfelt. The narrative is simple, again indicating Lekman’s supreme lyrical aptitude as he casually comments that "they drew a swastika in your cappuccino" and the listener cannot fail to be touched and sad as Lekman is told that he is too drunk and has to leave, failing to reach the girl.

‘A Promise’ is a rather bizarre story about promising an ill friend that they will go on holiday and it is here where it becomes evident that Lekman’s music can be very hit and miss. This track fails to quite reach the kooky wit which allows Lekman to be superior to many other musicians trying to do a very similar thing. ‘New Directions’ begins with a trumpet solo before a drum beat bounces into the toe tappable style and dreamy flutes introduce ‘So This Guy At My Office’ which is much slower than the rest of the EP and an appropriate end and outro.

In a world where you have to be complex to stand out Lekman takes music back to its roots, with an EP that is an unashamedly simple set of songs telling engaging stories. And he is definitely someone you’d want to have at a dinner party.

8/10

By Jessy Parker

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Girls - Honey Bunny



San Francisco outfit Girls’ latest offering is a glorious piece of wonky foot-shuffling surf-pop which has drawn comparisons to ELO and Belle and Sebastian. With lead singer Christopher Owens’ wavering vocals and backing-singer harmonies, it’s not so hard to see where these comparisons have sprung from. The song contains the sort of lyrics that I expect many an awkward teenage boy will be able to relate to; "they don’t like my bony body, they don’t like my dirty hair..." And Owens’ trademark "whining" (his words) voice only adds to the sense of longing and wishful thinking; the line "I want a woman who loves me, me, me, me..." is sung with such fragility it could break your heart. But the slightly sombre lyrics don’t detract from the rich guitars and rumbling drums of this slightly fuzzy and very summery song (It does make you wonder, however, whether it is being released a little late in the year.)

Girls may have been criticised for being "unoriginal", and they are certainly playing it safe with this single, but those rattling drums and Chris’ heartfelt lyrics mean that this is a pretty damn good comeback. The song leaves you pining for scorching summer’s days spent on a really cool road trip in a soft top car like they do in the movies. Proper pop.

By Holly Read-Challen

Surfer Blood - Miranda


With their new EP out in more ways than it should be possible to release an EP, Surfer Blood have let anyone who pre-orders ‘Tarot Classics’ before its full release on 25th October get their hands and ears on a track in advance. Miranda retains all the trademark Surfer Blood sounds, except one pretty big feature. All the echo and reverb has gone in favour of a more clean-shaven sound. It’s a good track. Catchy riff, festival style bounce and it’s definitely radio-friendly.

What worries me though is how this could easily fit onto The Vaccines album, if The Vaccines were from California. Surfer Blood have got the right sound to be listened to, I’m just cautious that they may lose their identity should the whole EP be like this, especially after how good Astro Coast was. Still, I look forward to singing the name Miranda repeatedly in a crowd full of confused West-Coast music lovers.

By Braden Fletcher

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Joe Goddard - Gabriel (Feat. Valentina)



Joe Goddard is a man with his fingers in many pies: vocalist/percussionist/synth man from off-beat electronic pop band Hot Chip; one half of house-inspired duo 2 Bears; remixer, producer, and solo artist. The latter’s latest offering is the title track of a joint- released, four track EP on DFA records and Goddard’s own Greco-Roman label. Featuring new songstress Valentina’s effortlessly beautiful vocals, this is a laidback and understated track. By this very nature this means that it is also a bit of a slow burner , but give it a couple of listens and the insistent, dance floor-ready drums and hypnotic melody will have you hooked. The track is apparently inspired by Goddard’s love of songs with a religious focus, and aims for "that gospel feeling" that such songs evoke, hence the name 'Gabriel', which is also a reference to the Roy Davis Jr song (Which is, in Joe’s words, "a garage classic")

It may drift by during listening, not unpleasantly I may add, sending you into a foot-tapping, head-nodding daze, but that hook will be on the brain long after it’s done. This song is further proof that Goddard really understands what he’s doing: he truly knows how to make clever, beautiful music. Oh, and it has a pretty trippy video too.

By Holly Read-Challen

Top 5 Twin Peaks Musical Moments

If you aren’t already familiar with the early 90s crime drama Twin Peaks, you should probably leave right now and look it up on Google. Twin Peaks combines unnerving characters with confounding storylines containing gaping plot holes that gradually build up towards a result that will equally confuse you. To celebrate the masterpiece that is David Lynch and this iconic cult programme, here is a top 5 musical moments from the show;

1. Those Opening Credits


The entrance to the dystopian world that is Twin Peaks, a theme song provides a fitting intro into this imaginary town full of amazing nature and wildlife but also full of sharp turns. There's something so uplifting about the scenic shots accompanied by the eerily positive music that doesn't quite prepare you for the murky depths beneath the seemingly clear surface in this typically rural town. Although you're more than likely inclined to skip past the intro on your DVD for most TV series, it's impossible to get tired of this compelling yet strikingly 'missing jigsaw piece' effect video. 


2. Laura Palmer's Theme

Although not included in the proper Series 1, this scene depicting the emotional devastation of Laura Palmer's parents as they both understand what's happening when Sheriff Truman comes up to tell Leland. The atmospheric nuanced instrumental we later come to know as a trademark plays throughout the parents conversation and strangely crescendos to the uplifting piano progression the moment both Sarah and Leland realise the news. A spine-chilling moment.


3. Audrey's Dance 

Whenever Audrey bursts into sporadic dancing moments, you become more interested in Audrey but also you can't help but share the expression of the customers sitting down in the 'Double R Diner' as it's slightly bewildering and especially Donna who bares an uneasy smile, not quite sure what to do with herself. This comes just after Audrey has confessed to Donna that she fantasises about Dale Cooper and although it seems abstract (as do many things in Twin Peaks), you might find yourself infectiously clicking along accompanying Audrey's strange sway-dance. 


4. Cooper's Dream

Accompanying the first perturbing look into the secrets of Twin Peaks, first we are met with eerie drone that keeps you on the edge of your seat whilst we're guided through Cooper's dream but things take a turn for the jazz with The Man From Another Place dancing along to Audrey's Dance with flashing lights blaring as Laura Palmer whispers the name of the killer into Cooper's ear.  It's possibly not as surreal as the characters talking backwards gibberish but it's close and the incoherence makes for a very realistic dream scene, which would later become one of the most iconic scenes from the show. 


5. The Awkward Singing Scene with James, Madeleine and Donna
Firstly, why does James sound like Gross Magic? Or vice versa I suppose you could say. This is the ultimate awkward moment when the three sing "Just You And I" together and you realise both Madeleine and Donna have fallen for James (god knows why). It just shows the technology used to improve voices before autotune infected everything and even the creepiest shows can have a musical number for no reason. 


By Aurora Mitchell 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy



With St. Vincent (Annie Clark)’s musical background, it’s no surprise that she’s more than great at making her own music. After stints in The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ touring bands, Clark decided to make her own music and has since released two full lengths, Marry Me and Actor but has given herself more freedom for her third studio album Strange Mercy. After Actor saw St. Vincent become more successful, the 2 year build up to her third album has left many fans with baited breath interested to see what Clark has done next. Where she squashed herself into a box that perhaps wasn’t completely her for both previous albums, there’s a real sense of freedom and running wild throughout Strange Mercy.

Underneath the reassuring but seductive vocals that encase the album, there are some darker themes and self doubt that could often be ignored by oblivious listeners. Opener ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ contains scuzzed up belligerent drums, a distorted classic rock guitar riff and Clark’s distinct vocals that are somewhat brushed under the chaotic instrumental.  It’s an entrance with attitude and the album carries on with the same exerted force onto second single from the album, ‘Cruel’ which starts off very childlike and fairytale esque but bursts into a massive chorus with Clark’s soaring vocals accompanying a skilled and distorted guitar freakout which sounds epic compared to the more understated guitar freakout at the end of lead single ‘Surgeon’.

Throughout Strange Mercy, there are several immense guitar riffs that prove Annie Clark is definitely not someone you’d want to battle against on guitar hero. Not only is she musically skilled but she also has a certain way with words that produces perplexing and sinister lyrics but transforms them into cleverly playful phrases with her fragile voice. Most notable lyrical point on the album is on ‘Champagne Year’ where Clark softly utters ‘It’s a champagne year for the sober ones’ on one of the slower points on the record.

Although already surrounded by adoring fans, it’s this record that really sees Annie Clark’s talent shine and she just builds upon her mysterious nature with exquisite guitar playing and astounding vocals that take you by surprise from the first few seconds of ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ to the last few seconds of ‘Year Of The Tiger’. An album immersed in glory and pain simultaneously, Strange Mercy shows that by letting go, you can acquire something equally beautiful. 


9/10

By Aurora Mitchell

Zola Jesus - Conatus


Zola Jesus aka Nika Danilova recorded her debut album, The Spoils "in the womb of a Wisconsin winter" from 2008-2009, holed up in her apartment. What was produced was a fuzzy and lo-fi yet beautiful puzzle. Trying to work out what she was singing was hard but in songs like "Clay Bodies" one thing was clear, her classically trained voice was a force to be reckoned with. From apartment to studio Zola Jesus’ sound has gradually evolved into powerful, clean, industrial dance music over the course of 3 albums, 3 EPs and a few collaborations.

"Conatus", Zola Jesus’ third album (named after a philosophical concept), is similar to her previous studio efforts. You can expect lots of synth, haunting tones, mournful lyrics about lost lovers and a powerful sound. But that doesn’t mean it’s less breathtaking or spectacular. Album opener "Swords" is just an intro but with its dramatic piano and distant vocals it is pure Zola Jesus. "Vessel", which was free to download in June, will be familiar to fans but it still hits hard with its strong chorus and crunching beats. "Seekir" takes on an almost tribal feel, the chanting and swooping synths make the song stand out from all the others. It breaks up the album and stops it from becoming one long song. "In Your Nature" would sound more at home on the soundtrack of "1984" with its screeching 80s drum machine beats but somehow Nika gets away with it. After an emotionally exhausting nine songs the calm and serene "Skin" really lets Nika really show off her talents as she’s accompanied by a piano and nothing else. The clean, pure sound is worlds apart from the hazy, fuzzy vocals on "The Spoils" and her operatic tones are enough to reduce anyone to tears.

Throughout the album the one thing that really shines through are the vocals. Every song is tinged with sadness as Nika’s voice is even emotive, clearer and more powerful than ever. Conatus will provide a fix for the hardcore fans and hook in ones, making them fall in love with the masterpiece that is Zola Jesus.

8/10
By Eden Young

Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams


Dum Dum Girl’s latest album ‘Only in Dreams’ due out September 23rd represents not only a musical growth for the band, but also a hugely personal journey in terms of song writing for lead singer Dee-Dee, as she takes emotions from the death of her mother and puts it together to make a real honest lyrical album from the heart. Not only is the lyrical content of the album about loss of Dee-Dee’s mother but also about the struggles of separation from her husband on tour (Brandon Welchez – from Crocodiles), which together makes the album definitely worth a listen.

‘Only In Dreams’ is a jump for the band as they move away from their first album which was considered to be a bit lo-fi, featuring heavy prominent drum beats, has now been transformed to a softer approach in terms of using melodic guitars along with the girl’s distinctive vocal sound. However the change in the album or in fact the addition of these softer songs, like ‘Coming Down’, hasn’t taken away or totally lost their upbeat and lively image. It’s defiantly still there! Even with repetition of loss in the lyrics of the album, which a lot of bands use widely in song writing, there catchy bass melody is still present within the lyrics, giving the album a range of elements, especially in ‘Teardrops on My Pillow’ and ‘Hold Your Hand’. Both emotional songs but with that Dum Dum Girl's happy vibe. Not only is the band’s music a little infectious, the girl’s 60’s/indie style adds to the overall Dum Dum Girl’s package.

With the release next month of the album and a huge number of gigs ahead around America and Europe from August to November, will it all set the ball rolling in time by growing a larger following? I hope so! Upbeat, infective and bold, ‘Only In Dreams’ gives the feeling of going back in time and is more impressively perhaps Dum Dum Girls’ most cohesive work to date.

8/10

By Ailsa Morris

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Reading Festival 2011 Review: Friday



Despite the promise of a weekend in a constant state of intoxication, there is no doubt that when the morning sun rises on Friday morning at Reading Festival, the masses are there for the music. A community of tents has the potential to form overnight in the contagious atmosphere, and already groups of people are circling around those with the day’s schedule, selecting who they can afford to miss and who they never could.

My day started with convincing the group that the NME stage was the place to be on Friday, which didn’t take too much effort; the promise of Miles Kane, Mona, The Naked and Famous, Patrick Wolf, Metronomy, The Vaccines, and Noah and the Whale one after the other was enough to drag even the most hungover of hipsters to the tent of NME. Miles Kane arrived ten minutes late to his slot in the schedule but the fans were awfully forgiving as the opening bars of ‘Come Closer’ sets the crowd on fire- even those who don’t have a clue who this well-dressed young gentleman on stage is cannot resist shouting along to the epic "aaaah, ohhhh" of the chorus. Closing with ‘Inhaler’, there is no way anyone could have left the tent without singing his praises.

However, whilst Miles Kane seemed hard to beat, it was Nashville Tennessee’s Mona that surprisingly stole the show that afternoon. Radio favourite ‘Listen to Your Love’ opens the show and carries through the state of excitement from Miles Kane. A few less well known songs such as ‘Lines in the Sand’ merely give the audience reason to focus their energies on dancing rather than singing, and the final song ‘Shooting the Moon’ caused the tent to erupt. The contagious chorus that consists of nothing but the words "I am, I am, I am, shooting the moon" are learnt in a heartbeat, and live music virgins finally realise what their gig obsessed friends have been talking about all these years. The simplistic yet powerful guitar chords echo through the air, and every person screams their lungs out- I am, I am, I am shooting the moon. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Nick Brown feeds off the crowds energy like it’s fairy dust, lapping it up and jumping into the first few rows before clambering back on stage to smash his guitar into pieces on the floor.

Following a few hours on the NME stage, we regrettably leave prematurely from a Naked and Famous set that is capturing hearts with the epic synth pop tunes in order to migrate to the smaller Festival Republic Stage, to scout out new indie/chart heroes Foster the People. We arrive ten minutes before the start of their set and the devotees are falling out of the tent; there is no room for the hundreds of other people that also thought this would be a low key affair. There is no doubt that the anthem of the summer for many, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, has taken the country by storm, so really, there’s no surprise that the turn out is bigger than expected. Nonetheless we cram into the tent and push our way to the front, when, unable to breathe, the guitar starts. Opening with ‘Helena Beat’, at first we think maybe we made the wrong decision cramming into such a tiny space for a band that is known mainly for one song. However, as the name suggests, Foster the People really do take on every member of the crowd as one of their own, and after a few more songs and the electric riff of ‘Houdini’, everyone is in love with them. By the time Mark Foster declares it is time for their final song, we’ve forgotten that we’re waiting for ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, and are simply pumped up. Nevertheless, the song we were all waiting for doesn’t get to the second bar before the tent explodes in screams and yells, which continue throughout the song. Foster steps back from the microphone with his hands in his hair, the look of utter disbelief and complete ecstasy covering his face as several hundred teenagers sing every word. He returns and finishes the song with a less than perfect vocal, as he starts to shout along with the crowd, which only pleases us all even more. We worshipped them. We were the kids with the pumped up kicks.

It’s hard to believe that everyone manages to make it to the NME tent for The Vaccines as the mosh pits throughout the day left us with bruises galore. But no one is going to miss The Vaccines, a band unheard of by most this time last year that have jetted so rapidly onto every radio station just about everywhere that no one really saw it happening. Nevertheless, The Vaccines have a prestigious spot on the Friday and following a slightly slow start after ‘Blow It Up’ the pace picks up, and people start to dance. Despite rather serious vocal discrepancies of the previous month or so, lead singer Justin Young doesn’t seem to be having trouble wooing the Reading crowd with his performance, his dulcet tones lapping over the simplistic yet effective rhythm guitar with what is, arguably, perfection. Some people would say The Vaccines are overrated, and my response to these people would be to say that they did not witness the epic ballad that was ‘Wetsuit’. A song containing the lyrics ‘we all got old at breakneck speed, slow it down, go easy on me’ seems deliberately crafted for a festival. The speed of ‘If You Wanna’ causes the ground to shake as everyone jumps, and it’s obvious that if anyone could ever create the perfect pop song, it might just be these guys. As Justin Young and his band of merry men skip off the stage with smiles plastered across their faces, may will wonder if their next record can top their first. What did we expect from The Vaccines? Definitely not this.

Headliners My Chemical Romance face adoring fans and bitter cynics as they are preparing to play in front of hundreds of thousands of wet and muddy festival goers; it has to be said that many have them down as the leaders of a suicide cult. Any doubts are blown out of the water as soon as the unmistakable riff of ‘Na Na Na’ pierces the cold evening air. No one can say that the red haired sporting, biker boot wearing, dancing loon jumping around the stage is the leader of any such cult. This infectious riff and ridiculous fun-loving lyrics has everybody bouncing, and is a well-chosen start to what goes on to be a flawless set. Gerard Way’s vocals are pitch-perfect, delivering song after song with such enthusiasm and pitch-perfect passion that even those who aren’t familiar with the older, perhaps, on occasion, slightly more dark material, manage to enjoy it just as much as those dressed head to toe in their merchandise. ‘Planetary Go’ has the beat of a work out video but of course is ultimately less annoying, and results in a pleasing sight of a hundred thousand people bouncing in unison. The light show going on behind the band depicts perfectly the mood they are going for here, and Gerard Way has the masses eating out of his hands as he commands his loyal followers to sway in time to the slower yet more meaningful ‘The Kids From Yesterday’. The show is unbelievable, and is sure to sway many an indie-worshipping cynic. And the boys leave the stage, and it all ends.

Or that is what we are led to believe. The stage is dark, and quizzical looks are exchanged as a drum beat starts not a minute after MCR have disappeared from view. It is a drum beat that is perhaps the most iconic in music history- We Will Rock you. The beat spreads through the site like wildfire, and every man, woman and drunkard is joining in. All of a sudden the lights return to reveal Brian May himself, and along with MCR, they perform ‘We Will Rock You’ to a festival crowd that will never forget that experience. We know the song word for word, and it’s a dream come true for music lovers to see it performed live, and the legendary guitar solo performed by Mr May is faultless. Looking at the crowd, there is no doubt that his friend Freddie Mercury would be proud. Finishing on ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, with Brian May still happily grinning and playing away, it is a set that leaves gobsmacked faces in its wake.

The festival experience was made by Gerard Way’s band of heroes, and they make the day, without a shadow of a doubt. When asked if they saw the headliners, those that did simply squeal, and those that didn’t look pained to have missed it. You’d have to be seriously deluded to say that the show put on by Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye was anywhere near as impressive as the event on main stage, even if you hated the headliners. The appearance of Queen’s Brian May was an event all by itself. The fireworks that exploded into the sky seem to portray the feeling that can’t quite be put into words, felt by hundreds as they trudge slowly back to their tents, after a day of what can only be described as music at its best. Whether it’s the drink, the festival atmosphere, or just sheer luck, all acts mentioned here did not disappoint in the slightest, and it is with fond memories and slight drizzle that the Friday of Reading slips into the early hours of Saturday morning; lost, but never forgotten.

By Emily Pratten

Friday, 9 September 2011

St. Vincent - Cruel



St. Vincent, the musical alias of 28-year-old Annie Clark, has gone through a lot of styles in her time as a solo artist and as a member of other projects. After leaving The Polyphonic Spree and playing in Sufjan Stevens live band for a short period of time, she began to release music as a solo artist; her first album, Marry Me being released to critical acclaim in 2007. Her sophomore album, Actor, was a more orchestral affair, Clark gaining inspiration from watching childrens films on mute while writing music to soundtrack the scenes. On upcoming album Strange Mercy’, Clark has reinvigorated herself as a guitar-playing goddess, Cruel being the first proper single to be released from the album.

Upon hearing the opening ten seconds of Cruel, it appears that Clark hasnt stopped soundtracking scenes from Disney films. But a pulsing, kick-drum beat, and the distinct vocals soon kick in, leading to the arrival of the songs spiky guitar riff, with Annie crooning the title over and over. The songs continues with the same format until the Disneyesque vocal melody is reinvented with Clarks guitar sounding like a malfunctioning chainsaw; a massive contrast to the woozy vocals provided before and after. The tracks main riff carries on with Annies passive voice soaring over the top, sounding like a jittery, disco ballad about having your heart broken. The song finishes with Clark embracing her inner guitar heroine by playing a howling, siren-like solo.

Annie Clark may be trying something new and different for solo album number three, but it sounds like she has been doing it for years. However, theres a simple explanation for that; she was born to play guitar.

By Calum Stephen

Monday, 5 September 2011

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost



The second record from San Francisco band Girls sees them take a more expansive sound with everything from heavy distorted guitar solos to soft acoustic moments to gospel accentuating the melancholy of Christopher Owens' voice. The songs make sure they cannot be pinned down, many metamorphosing into something entirely new in their duration. 

No song is simple on this album. The raucous opener ‘Honey Bunny’ speeds up then slows down into a lighters in the air moment before speeding up into an abrupt ending, while ‘My Ma’ is tinged with gospel but features a distorted guitar solo. ‘Forgiveness’ feels like an intrusion until it becomes a funk song with a huge Prince –esque epic guitar solo. ‘Vomit’ twists and turns starting as a simple acoustic riff before growing into a distorted guitar solo which segues into ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ which could be straight off a Beach Boys album before finally blowing up into an epic gospel finish while Smith sings softly “come into my heart” seemingly oblivious to his backing.

But it’s sometimes when Girls stick to one genre per song that their ability really shines through. ‘Die’ is a hardcore head banging piece of heavy rock and ‘Just A Song’ uses a lack of production to highlight a Billy Bragg guitar part and simple strings to allow Owens' vocals to act as a haunting distraction. The catchy, jaunty ‘Magic’ will have you clicking your fingers or tapping toes without even realising, while ‘Love Life’ is straight off a Best Of 50s Rock n Roll record and ‘Jamie Marie’ is a broken hearted goodbye.

It is clear that Girls are not a band to be pigeonholed and their versatility is firmly proved on this record. The ability for every song to be contrasting and different while at the same time to fit together is a rare quality. Majestic song writing spanning every genre, I dare anyone to not enjoy this rather wonderful record.

9/10
By Jessy Parker

Gross Magic - Teen Jamz EP



Who would have thought that the most eagerly anticipated debut release of 2011 would be an EP of 5 glam-tinged and ultra-scuzzy slices of pop made by a bored Brighton-dwelling 20 year old? Teen Jamz is that release. Clocking in at just 18 minutes, the songs are powered by the weirdo energy that musicians who have been labelled slackers by the press have been drawing from for years. Every track is a showcase for main man Sam Mcarrigle’s skills as a songwriter and purveyor of simply enormous riffs. The problem that arises across the EP is it’s sincerity. Though Mcarrigle is clearly in thrall of Bowie and Bolan, his references to their sound can come off as lazy, each riff undistinguishable from the last. No new ground is ever broken. 

Mcarrigle’s voice is also likely to divide opinion, a dog-botheringly high pitched wail that permeates every moment of the record. And therein lies the problem at the heart of  Gross Magic; the wanton lack of fucks being given is an obvious aesthetic choice, adding heaps to their already established slacker image, but it drains the EP of any real warmth, leaving only artificial joy. One would hope that the obvious talent at work could be better utilised, maybe Gross Magic should go back to their beloved bedrooms and come out when they’ve written something that really demands our attention.


5/10
By Ned Powley

Slow Club - Where I'm Waking/Rough Trade East Instore



“Where I’m Waking” is the second single to be taken from Slow Club’s second album “Paradise” (release date September 12th 2011) and after the mixed reactions of “Two Cousins” there was much speculation over whether to expect anything great from the following single.

“Where I’m Waking” is upbeat, full of fantastic vocals on both Rebecca and Charles’ behalves and an almighty drumbeat. “Where I’m Waking” demonstrates how Slow Club have matured from “Yeah So” and the song is accessible to many more listeners and I have no doubt that it will do incredibly well.


To accompany the album release, Slow Club performed an instore gig at Rough Trade East, London. A large amount of fans, young and old queued outside and they were not disappointed. Rebecca and Charles performed a beautiful set entirely of new songs including the two latest singles; “Where I’m Waking” and “Two Cousins”.

Rebecca asked the crowd who had bought their new album and with a response she asked them to email her their thoughts to beyonce@beyonce.com”, demonstrating they have not lost their lovely sense of humour when performing live.

Both of their vocals were stronger than ever and the introduction of two new live members has worked in the band’s favour.
I recommend seeing Slow Club on their tour this month (http://www.slowclubband.com/category/gigs) as you will not be disappointed.

By Julia Christmas
Photography By Lucy Ansell

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Drums - Portamento

Portamento is a mixed album to say the least. At points there are songs which are some of the best The Drums have ever written but parts of it are dire and almost embarrassing. The departure of Adam Kessler is not obvious but it is clear that the now three-piece have tried to take a new direction on the follow up to their eponymous album, with Portamento sounding a lot darker than their previously slightly twee work. 


At first it appears The Drums are simply going to do what they do best, by writing jangly indie pop tunes. ‘Book of Revelations’, the opening track, does just this with Jonathan Pierce in his element, acrobatically falsettoing and crooning “I believe that when we die we die/so let me love you tonight”. ‘Days’ has the nonchalant sadness that has become the bands trademark, and one of the reasons why they prompt so many comparisons to The Smiths, while the single ‘Money’ is a song that lingers as Pierce continues to show off his impressive vocals over pulsing guitar. 


It is in the middle of the album that things start to fall down. ‘I Don’t How To Love’ sees Jonathan Pierce wallowing in self pity and ending up sounding slightly self obsessed and ‘If He Likes It Let Him Do It’ sounds creepy but not in a good way. ‘Searching For Heaven’ is the worst with a synth part which could have been taken from a video game and Jonathan sounding nauseating.

Fortunately the remaining tracks pull the album back up. ‘I Need A Doctor’ is light relief and contrasts to ‘In The Cold’ with dysfunctional harmonies putting the song on edge. The loneliness and coldness seems to seep through. ‘How It Ended’ finishes the album in a similar style to how it started with catchy rhythmic ‘uh’s proving that The Drums can still do what they do best very well.


It’s much better for a band to at least attempt to move on their style and when The Drums manage to pull off the edginess they yearn to swathe this record in, it’s brilliant. But at points it absolutely crashes. We can only hope that in the future The Drums will be able to make the transition into a new style with more fluidity and ease.


7/10
By Jessy Parker

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Wavves - I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl



Wavves will never be remembered as a band who changed the world. They will be remembered for being in the right place at the right time all the time. They will be remembered for having connections with other bands vital to particular moments or scenes that have a resonance. They have been through several line-up changes during their three year existence. In many ways they are a classic band, ticking boxes and fulfilling stereotypes wherever they go. And now as they ready new E.P “Life Sux”, Wavves seem to have finally turned into to the band they always threatened they could be. “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl” is dumb, unchallenging and simplistic. It is also one of the best pop records of the year.


Nathan Williams’ voice, once caught in an eternal struggle between a frazzled male Ronette and a whiny beach bum drawl, is now firm and full. The song has a sense of completion to it that has been lacking from so many of Wavves’ previous efforts, a smooth three note riff and a super fuzzy bassline are wrapped up in a sea of thunderous percussion. It’s thrilling, it’s fun and above all, it’s the work of a group who have finally found their feet. That the song had it’s debut on the soundtrack to a new MTV show (the wonderfully named “I Just Want My Pants Back”) that aired after the VMA awards, bringing them to the attention of the  wider audience that always been just out of their reach. It’s been a long time coming, but Wavves finally feel like they band they’ve always threatened they could be.

By Ned Powley

Luke Leighfield And Jose Vanders - Split EP


Having toured together last year Luke Leighfield and Jose Vanders are releasing a split EP covering each other’s songs. This release was preceded by a wonderfully eerie cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Blindside’, with Jose Vanders’ vocals managing to live up to the benchmark set by Justin Vernon’s unique falsetto style. However the EP, unfortunately, is unable to fulfil its ambition. The main problem is that the two songwriters inhabit quite different genres and neither of them manages to translate their covers anywhere particularly significant.

It begins with Luke Leighfield covering ‘Metal Detector’. While this song has all the components to be transformed into a bombastic power pop song like much of Leighfield’s other records, he instead tries to be delicate and ends up missing the mark entirely. ‘Man On Wire’ is better with Leighfield bringing enough emotional depth to it to carry it off well. Jose Vanders brings sensitivity to ‘Every Day’, the highlight of the EP, sounding bitter and hopeful at the same time. But she cannot pull of the frivolity of ‘Have You Got Heart?’ It would have been excellent to see Jose Vander really let go and launch herself into the song, throwing off the parameters it often seems she is bound by, but sadly her efforts do not come to fruition.

The real disappointment of the project is that it is possible to see what the EP could have been. Two different but still intrinsically similar (both make music based around keyboard) artists swapping mantles for two songs each to show off their talent, but neither artists manages to fill the others shoes. This is not a bad record by any means; it just could have been so much more.

4/10
By Jessy Parker