Monday, 30 July 2012

Magic Trick - Ruler Of The Night

If ever a record has sounded like the aural equivalent of joss sticks and patchouli oil it is ‘Ruler of the Night’. Eschewing the complex, almost proggish narrative of last year’s ‘The Glad Birth of Love’, the second album by San Francisco singer-songwriter, Tim Cohen and his backing group is a collection of smoky downbeat sing-alongs that conjure the ghosts of Skip Spence or Arthur Lee on the comedown after their psychedelic voyages.

The opening track nods cheekily to Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ with dramatic vocals from Cohen and minor key piano backing but from then on the focus is more on mood than any specific cultural references. The sleepy arrangements can be surprisingly experimental, with autoharp and slide guitar that brings to mind PJ Harvey or the Bad Seeds.

‘Invisible at Midnight’ features a comforting acoustic guitar figure and bluesy pleas ‘Lord please forgive me’ over Latin percussion and backing singers Noell Cahill and Alicia Vanden Heuvel’s wordless chants. Weaving Fleet Foxes harmonies dominate on ‘Torture’, with the two backing singers bewitching and bewailing the hapless narrator before a descending guitar hook takes over whilst ‘Next to Nothing’ suddenly pivots around a minimal flute motif, soaring wordlessly with as much power as any vocal track on the album. These idiosyncrasies manage to be artfully engaging, fusing 60’s spirit to a DIY ethic evident in the album’s stripped back production.

The problem with ‘Ruler of the Night’ is that whilst this hazy atmosphere is a reassuring fug to sink into for an evening there are few moments of real distinction. After half a dozen listens you’re no closer to decoding what it is that makes Cohen tick. He wears the guise of downbeat balladeer well but even a line as ominous and filled with potential as ‘I’m barely alive today’ on ‘Melodies’ is all threat and little substance. On early standout ‘Sunny’ he claims he’s ‘only trouble…what took you so long to find out?’ The real magic trick would lie in crafting a convincing narrative to hang his undoubtedly curious threads upon.


Max Sefton

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?

Increasingly in the world of music, the trend is to fill everything out with as much instrumentation as possible and over produce it to the max, until it is so layered the bare bones of the song become hard to find. Artists seem scared of their own song writing ability, fearful that if they left everything simply their audience would see through them. Of course, this is not a unanimous trend and is hardly noticeable until an album created with just the right amount of simplicity comes along. ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ is that album.

If you have seen Lianne La Havas live, you will understand what I mean. There is something humbling about watching this seemingly tiny woman on stage, with just a guitar and her voice, who can capture an entire audience. This ability to hold the attention of anyone is translated impeccably onto her debut album. Opening in electrifying, a-capella harmony with ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’, the track sets the calm, and occasionally melancholy, tone for most of the album. The story of La Havas’ debut sees her ‘doing an Adele’ and writing about a break up. But this is understated, not melodramatic. ‘Lost and Found’ is an obvious example, with Lianne La Havas’ soulful vocals easily transporting the listener as she sings ‘you taught me to truly hate myself’. Not exactly a bundle of laughs. But its tracks like this and ‘Gone’ which show off the extraordinary ability of La Havas, to write songs with so much emotion in. ‘Gone’ is full of evidence of the jazz influences on the album, carefully sliding into different keys while La Havas’ voice is so full of emotion, it is like three whole Adele albums in four and a half minutes.

It’s not all romantic despair though. Title track ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ proves that Lianne doesn’t spend all her time crying over her ex and instead can write pretty awesome, albeit full of sexual innuendo, pop songs. There are sassy finger clicks and hand claps, TWO BRIDGES, and a chorus of epic proportions. ‘Au CinĂ©ma’ and ‘No Room For Doubt’ keep everything chilled, with the latter being a duet with Willy Mason, both their voices blending and remaining distinct in a spine tingling manner.

I hope her ex has heard this album because this is one lady I would not want to mess with. Fans might be disappointed that a lot of the songs on ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ are simply revamped demos, but there is still plenty to be excited about, whether it’s occasional new songs or simply how mature an artist La Havas sounds. Sometimes you don’t need gimmicks or oodles of production, sometimes it’s better to stand up and say ‘I am not scared of being judged for my song writing or my voice’. For Lianne La Havas, what may have been a gamble has certainly paid off.


Jessy Parker Humphreys

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Future Twin - Future Twin Deluxe Edition

A token read-through of their press release gives the reader the impression that these female-fronted San Francisco rockers could be a deeply irritating combination of do-gooder self-help guide and production-line hipster indie clones. They boast of organising ‘guerilla-style outdoor shows’ and the singer calls herself Jean Jeanie. This is a band who decided to release their debut EP on cassette. Yep, you read that correctly, a quartet who deliberately sought out the least loved musical format in history as the medium through which to introduce themselves to the world.

Fortunately once you get past that their EP is actually fairly good, with a sound best described as Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney fronting the kind of rough garage-rock that Sonic Youth might jam on a slow day, although for something billing itself as ‘Deluxe Edition’ it sounds a long way from a finished product. An amalgam of their recent ‘Situation’ 7” single and the afore-mentioned tape-issued 5-track, the ingredients are organic and unfiltered but a little sheen might make them significantly more easily digestible.

Opener ‘Get Up or Get Out’ bolts a wobbly, highly-strung riff underneath a vocal strongly reminiscent of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The lyrics even include a chorus of ‘heads will roll’ but it lacks the original’s glitter ball stomp. ‘<3’ has a title more suited to being absently doodled on a desk than screamed for in a crowd, but with love-lorn Best Coast-y lyrics and cooed backing vocals it’s a good slice of pastel clad, west-coast indie-pop. ‘Situation’ and ‘Yuka’ up the angst but forget the tunes.

Fortunately ‘Lockits’ named for a San Fran all-girl moped group, is a much more convincing manifesto than their press release, with a catchy blend of thumping drums, drawled backing vocals and riot-grrl attitude. The best is saved for last however. Fittingly for a group with its origins in the city which gave us both Grace Slick and Janis Joplin ‘Bad Seed’ interweaves the group’s abrasive guitar attack with swampy sixties organ parps and flourishes and allows Jean Jeanie to unleash her most convincing wild-child vocal. A promising beginning as a grittier alternative to the current lo-fi LA sound.


Max Sefton

Friday, 13 July 2012

Twin Shadow - Confess

Two years after Twin Shadow’s debut ‘Forget’, George Lewis Jr is back with a second album of sophisticated New-wave and melancholy R&B, released on indie haven 4AD.

Relatively restrained opener ‘Golden Light’ doubles down on twinkling synth and downbeat piano, evoking neon lit streets as the singer looks back at a break-up and agonises over walking away. ‘You Call Me On’ begins with a scratchy, distorted guitar and a kind of industrial RnB backdrop before the vocalist shows up, pondering another partner who led him on. ‘Five Seconds’ goes for belting anthemics, sharing much of the same DNA as the synth-rock of Ladyhawke’s debut album. The vocal is strong but the lyrics and melody are less so, making it one of the least distinctive tracks on the album and a curious choice for lead single. Luckily four songs in the album really kicks into gear and doesn’t let up from then on. Said to be inspired by a motorcycle ride through Los Angeles, ‘Run My Heart’ perfectly captures the sense of freedom and exhilaration, like Bruce Springsteen if his leather jacket was studded with rhinestones rather than stained with petrol. Opening with a spooky Cure-like guitar line it’s helped by a full throttle chorus ‘This isn’t love / I’m just a boy / you’re just a girl’ that becomes more intense and vital with each repetition.

His leather-clad appearance in the artwork to ‘Confess’ may resemble George Michael but the second half of ‘Confess’ clearly owes more to the heady mix of God and Sex that made Prince such an explosive talent. In fact when the vocalist croons ‘I built a sanctuary for all your troubles and doubts’ on ‘Patient’ he’s closer to the Purple One’s lurid vision of psychedelic sky-scraping pop vision than Prince himself has been for years.

With a clear voice that suits both driving R&B and the Purple Rain-esque power ballads Lewis Jr is a powerful presence even if some of the tracks are rather too slick to provide genuine insight into his emotions. ‘I Don’t Care’ could be Brandon Flowers at his most louche whilst ‘The One’ opens on a vocal line strongly reminiscent of one of Morrissey’s solo tracks. Another standout, the lovelorn ‘Beg For the Night’ hangs around a shimmering U2-like guitar figure in the chorus but gives way to glossy New Wave synths in the verses and of course a squalling Prince-esque outro solo.

It’s rare that a record on 4AD shares more influences with Lady Gaga than Lush but ‘Confess’ demonstrates the revered labels knack for picking artists who can channel a whole range of influences into a cohesive and contemporary whole. A great night-time soundtrack.


Max Sefton

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Beacons Festival 2012 - Preview

Beacons festival bounces back after last year’s flooding nightmare. With ticket prices at less than £100, a beautiful Yorkshire setting and a fun, family orientated atmosphere, it looks like this festival is definitely going to be a gem amongst the ‘dark satanic mills’ of the North*. And that’s without mentioning the line up! The headliners, Roots Manuva, Wild Beasts and Toots & The Maytals are three fabulous acts which are more than worth the ticket prices anyway, let alone a line up which includes new, up and coming bands from all over the country, but especially from the North. It is a credit to the festival that 5 out of the 7 acts chosen for this preview are from the North of England; Beacons seems to really support artists from the North.

*(Note: there are not actually THAT many dark satanic mills up here)

The festival also boasts a long list of non-musical awesomeness, with workshops including a collaborative festival zine and spoon making (I know!!) as well as Fancy Dress Friday with a theme of ‘All The Fun Of The Fair’.

But back to the music; who should you go and see if you take the very wise decision of buying a Beacons Festival ticket? 

          Headliners of the Saturday night, Wild Beasts. It will be your only chance to see the band in the North of England this summer! Think of it as a Northern exclusive. The band’s stunning mix of voices is no secret in the indie world, but then neither are their lyrics, often dripping with sexual innuendo. The highlight of their live set often includes a mass sing-along to ‘The Funpowder Plot’: ‘This is a booty-call, my boot, my boot, my boot, my boot up your asshole!’ it’s always a treat to hear a crowd swear together. Just one of the many reasons not to miss them.

     The fantastic, eccentric, Patrick Wolf will play an acoustic set, which one might feel might change the usual upbeat, party-style atmosphere of his live show with the new album, Lupercalia. However, fear not, as his older albums prove, his music is folky and stripped back at heart. This acoustic set will surely bring out his true troubadour style.

Pins are a Manchester band with an American sound, drawing comparisons to Warpaint. Four badass women making fuzzy, echoey pop music, Pins are a kick-ass girl group and one to watch out for. 

Mazes are another Manchester band, who play very short and very catchy fuzzy, summery songs. This translates into an energetic,  infectious live show which I can personally recommend!

Frankie & The Heartstrings play on the Sunday. This Sunderland band are fantastic live. A definite must-see for the festival, with singer Frankie Francis’ fantastic stage presence and the band’s catchy, infectious indie pop. One to dance to!

Eagulls from Leeds are really fucking great. Excuse the profanity, I think it’s really needed. Their songs are scuzzy and loud, fuzzy and frantic, but there’s enough pop fun in there for them to be accessible for a lot of people. With a new EP out really soon, it’s safe to say that this band is pretty exciting right now.

Sunday headliners Toots & The Maytals are yet another fantastic booking.(on a side-note, my dad would probably hate me if I didn’t include them, too.) They probably don’t need any introduction to you; they are one of the biggest and best legends in reggae. Expect the set to include classics such as Monkey Man and hopefully some brilliant new songs, too!

Holly Read Challen

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan

Dave Longstreth, frontman of renowned indie experimentalists Dirty Projectors, is an undeniably fascinating musician. Over the years the experimentation that flows through him has manifested in many bizarre and largely rewarding ways, within his Dirty Projectors project. A concept album about Don Henley (2005's 'The Getty Address'), followed by an attempted re-construction of Black Flag songs purely from memory (2007's 'Rise Above') and then in 2009 their real breakthrough album 'Bitte Orca', an album influenced by African rhythms and r'n'b beats to an extent, and also a gateway towards expansion for the band with Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian (now departed) & Haley Dekle taking arguably more pleasing vocal duties along side the more difficult to work with yelps of Longstreth. 

With 'Bitte Orca' being so largely praised and heralded for its willingness to push boundaries, yet still remain wholly accessible, a new Dirty Projectors record would have to deliver a lot to keep the new fans they garnered in 2009 happy, and to satisfy the cult-like following of devotees that have been with them since the start. And luckily with 'Swing Lo Magellan', that is achieved. If anything, this album perhaps panders slightly more towards the new crop of fans and to an extent the 'mainstream', with an underlying emphasis throughout the album being placed on melody and often more simple, catchy rhythms. But the lack of thorough intrepid off-the-wall songs that were commonplace on 'Bitte Orca', in place for more instant quick-fix tracks (nearly all tracks fall under 4 minutes run-time) is comforting and highly enjoyable.

Opener 'Offspring Are Blank' is the most uncompromising track on the album, starting off softly with ritualistic chants, Longstreth's wildly quivering vocals building into a guitar squealing chorus very pleasingly. It's borderline thrilling and lulls the listener slightly to believe that 'Swing Lo Magellan' might be a more abrasive and pulse-quickening album then it actually is.

It wouldn't be totally insane to say that the first 3 songs on 'Swing Lo Magellan' are amongst the best openings to an album of the last decade or so. 'About To Die' is an almost perfect indie pop song, it's got a glorious, springy, off-kilter beat behind it that shifts up and down in tempo majestically. It's got one of the catchiest choruses you'll hear all year, helpfully backed by Coffman and Dekle's enchanting tones. And the lyrics are as poignant and self-aware as anything Longstreth has written before as he tackles the subject of death with dexterity and finesse: "You reach out into the absence and gasping, the vastness grabs you like an alien embrace, your face to it's face, no end and neither beginning you're spinning, your breathless orb but in a dark and hateful star", after which he then regresses about the regret of not living felt upon one's deathbed. When listened to deeply it really packs an emotional punch, and is amongst 'Stillness Is The Move' for the title of the band's best ever song.

Well, that is if you're discounting the near-flawless third track and single 'Gun Has No Trigger' with it's rapid fire yet understated drum beat and the ever-building vocal under-current provided by Coffman and Dekle. These elements combine with yet more lyrical gold from Longstreth, again centred around the themes of regret and death, to create another of 2012's finest tracks; "
If you had looked, you'd be no one's coward, distance, justice, power. You'd glimpse the password, you wouldn't need the book, you'd own both slave and master, if you just had looked" being just one glowing excerpt.

But once you've been sufficiently blown away and emotionally warped by those tracks, the album takes the pace down a notch. Everything calms down a bit, the album's title track 'Swing Lo Magellan' sounding like Bob Dylan digressing round a campfire, and 'Just From Chevron' featuring playground handclaps, being generally far more restrained instrumentally. And 'Dance For You' is a simple love song featuring mildly grating vocals from Longstreth (at least for people not entirely familiar with his voice). There are more moments like 'Dance For You' in the latter half of the record that do fall irksomely flat, 'Impregnable Question' sounds like a late-Beatles re-hash and 'See What She Seeing' is a bit too innocuous in it's discordance to really resonate memorably, although both still demonstrate just how many ideas this band have circulating round their minds, just not quite as well as other moments from the record.

Some more of the album's stellar moments come from the prominently Amber Coffman voiced tracks, like the beautiful paean for admiration 'The Socialites' and the thrillingly inventive 'Unto Caeser' (probably the closest track to anything on Bitte Orca).  The Coffman dominated tracks also provide a cathartic respite for those who need a break from Longstreth's strained crooning, creating a more engaging listen and also adding that bit more accessibility. That's just what this album is really, engaging and simplistic on the surface with complex under-currents presenting themselves in the lyrics, drum patterns and vocal delivery.

It might be a stretch to call this Dirty Projectors' best album, but it comes very close to a flawless piece of work at it's best, only occassionally swinging lo.


Toby McCarron 

The Killers - Runaways

From the very first time we heard THAT guitar start on a song called ‘Mr Brightside’, we all knew that The Killers were going to be a special band. They’re the kind of band who even though they have sometimes strayed from the rightful path, will always hold that special place in your heart. It’s been a while since ‘Day and Age’ came out and I think we can forgive them for the interesting lyrical choices now. Brandon went and wrote a pretty exciting album that sounded exactly like The Killers, and the ones no one’s ever heard of did stuff too. We’ve moved on, maybe our memories of The Killers began to gather dust. 

But now they’re back with album number four. ‘Runaways’ is the comeback single heralding their return. And what a return it is. There are drum rolls galore, a killer chorus (excuse the pun) and more than a little bit of Springsteen tucked into these four minutes. It’s a song guaranteed to make you smile just as a result of the enormous bombasity of it all, and as per The Killers pull it off with remarkable aplomb. The new album, ‘Battle Born’, looks set to show off a band just as formidable as when they released their first album eight years ago. 

Jessy Parker Humphreys

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Foals - Tapes

Of course it was so predictable that one day the internet would bastardise the phenomenon of tape making. The ‘oh so twee’ gesture of every teenager since forever has been turned into an opportunity for indie bands to show off a couple of niche cuts from their ipod. K7! have granted this honour to Foals, or more specifically, keyboardist Edwin Congreave. The former poster boys of math rock showcase a taste in music that not many fans would necessarily have gleaned from their releases (unless you paid particular attention to some of the percussion on ‘Total Life Forever’), with most of this tape sounding like something you’d find playing in a seedy corner of Shangri-La at Glastonbury.

“Blue-wave” musician Nicolas Jaar opens ‘Tapes’ with his ‘Variations’ which proclaims that ‘most consumers gave up on cassette tapes years ago’, the irony of course being that this tape is hardly re-enforcing their importance, considering its still mainly on release as a download. However ‘Variations’ is one of the highlights, kicking off a triumvirate of the best tracks on the mix. The slowed down beats under sporadic voices extolling the virtues of tapes segues seamlessly into the Bibio remix of ‘Ted’ by Clark. Looped minimalist guitar patterns provide echoes of Steve Reich or Philip Glass before we descend into the more upbeat ‘Tropical Hands’ of Dorian Concept, full of video game synths and funk to the max.

There are points where the songs begin to jar as everything becomes bogged down and submerged in psychedelia. ‘Mushrooms’ is such a point, as Marshall Jefferson takes the listener on a trip which isn’t much fun if you’re not actually tripping. The Blood Orange cut is a rare disappointment from Dev, his voice obscured by bleeps and bloops and its let down by a seeming lack of structure. However the ‘Tapes’ finish triumphantly with ‘Yes God is Real’ by The Comforters, a classic gospel song reminiscent of some Otis Redding.

There are going to be people trawling through every track on this mix, desperately looking for a sniff of a possible new Foals direction. But it’s definitely not clear cut. We could possibly be looking at a release full of Afrobeats funk and psychedelic electro, but on the other hand the tape could bear no resemblance to the music Foals are making. ‘Tapes’ has reminded us that Foals are still out there, and more than whetted our appetite for something original from the band. But at the end of the day, this is just a bunch of songs put together by people who you don’t know. And while it’s nice to discover new titbits from artists you hadn’t previously heard of, it turns out mixtapes just aren’t as fun if you can’t hear the reasons behind them.


Jessy Parker Humphreys

Frank Ocean - Sweet Life

Coming out of a turbulent week for the young singer (no pun intended) any new release by Frank Ocean is destined to be pulled apart in search of further insights into his personality and sexuality so what better way to sidestep this intrusion than by delivering a track that steps away from the personal into a world of cocktails, manicured lawns and HD televisions?

With ‘Sweet Life’ Ocean gently mocks the cosseted boy or girl, who lives in ‘the black Beverley hills’ but wastes their opportunities to go out into the world preferring to remain in their privileged bubble where their clothes are washed for them and any problems can be solved by hiring more help. In its own way it reminded me of the socialite ‘Miss Lonely’ in Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ which can never be a bad comparison to evoke and it does manage to nail at least one great line with ‘why see the world when you got the beach?’

I admire his actions and Frank seems to across as the most likeable and intelligent member of the Odd Future collective but I’m still yet to be sold on the music and this is no exception. A brief burst of internet bleeps usher in the kind of smooth RnB jam, co-written with once ubiquitous hit-man Pharrell Williams, that’ll sound great for a weekend but be swiftly forgotten afterwards.
Frank's debut album Channel Orange is now streaming here

Max Sefton

Monday, 9 July 2012

St. Vincent - This Wave

St Vincent is pretty much the queen of the indie world right now. While indications suggest that her recent collaboration with David Byrne is going to make us all weak at the knees, she was also recently voted ‘2012’s Sexiest Woman in Indie Rock’ as part of a poll by Nerve. And now she’s decided to remind us all just why we fell in love with her in the first place, by releasing a bonus track from the Japanese release of her most recent album ‘Strange Mercy’. Dreamy and wistful , ‘This Wave’ is calmer than some of ‘Strange Mercy’; Annie Clark’s voice continues to be mesmerizingly hypnotic. Opening with a whistle and piano duet before Annie slowly makes her way through melody and lyrics, as the song reaches a crescendo complete with drum rolls. Give us more Annie, give us more, we all screamed!

Listen over at hypetrak

Jessy Parker Humphreys