Tuesday, 27 March 2012

FEATURE: Young Liar

*Originally published for The Generator's, 'Tipping Point Blog' (27/3/12)

With big-ups from Gideon Coe at BBC 6 Music and Sean Adams at Drowned in Sound, as well as support-slots with the likes of Errors, The Futureheads and The Twilight Sad, it looks like the instrumental Geordie 5-piece, Young Liar are really starting to register on people’s radars.

Monday saw the release of their second EP (quite literally titled, ‘EP 2’) through the independent label, The Calico Print, following the record’s launch party at a deserted warehouse in the Ouseburn Valley on Saturday. As hipster as the event sounds, the post-rock tidal wave of noise that sprouts from Young Liar’s single, ‘Sponsored Silence’ is refreshingly modest, but powerful in its delivery.

Opening with a crackle-snap snare and a warm, melting bass line, ‘Sponsored Silence’ invites you into a world of relative calm, before spasming, math-rock inflected guitar and pulsating reverb dashes you right across the head. The track has a bottled-up urgency; like it’s trying to reach some unknown destination. It would be the perfect accompaniment to a night-time drive with the windows wound down.

Even more appealing are its little nuances of experimentation. Sure, it has its predictable break-downs and imitated Explosions In The Sky hooks, but some of the guitars are bent by tremolo arms that splash with jittery Americana. ‘Sponsored Silence’ actually sounds like Explosions with more balls. While that’s a huge statement, no one can deny that some of the Texans’ songs stretch for a bit too long. Young Liar are considering the listener’s needs for musical escapism, but keep it tort at a nice 4 minutes.

‘EP 2’ is now available as a digital download or (if you’re quick) you can get your hands on a limited edition CD via The Calico Print.
Catch them at the Evolution Emerging on 1st June 2012 at the Star and Shadow Cinema.

Monday, 26 March 2012

REVIEW: Sam Airey - A Marker And A Map EP

*Originally published for For Folk's Sake (26/3/12)

A Marker And A Map is a fitting title for Sam Airey's latest EP, as it is analogous to the many journeys that he finds himself on throughout the record. From hesitant ramblings to shrewd lyrical observations, Airey is candid about his experiences growing up in a world that shuns the rural life that he is so accustomed to. And he does this through four perfectly crafted songs.

Lead single ‘The Unlocking’ opens with a stirring, delicately-picked acoustic that chases Airey’s husky vocal at its heel. The guitar melody is evocative of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘The Giantess’ though it is fleshed out with a lilting, tremolo guitar that throws the song into bigger soundscapes. “I waited for the moment when I’d know for sure, that I could see some shelter in your eyes,” reveals Airey’s caution over new love, but he soon jumps with both feet in.

‘The Window’ is full of rich pastoral imagery – the hills where he will lay his body down, the sea where his mind can go wandering – and a motif for the longing of home appears. Airey’s rasping breath is held aloft by stunning free-flowing harmonies and discreet strings detail his every narrated move. It is really pleasing to hear such considered musical accompaniment; you can clearly picture the day when Airey first penned this song.

Country-folk, knee-jerk rhythms whizz through the abundance of things that Airey has learnt on his journey so far, in ‘To All the Pieces of the Puzzle’. We hear that gods do not love but are ignorant to love; that fairytales often promote arrogance over modesty. You cannot fail to notice that this is a more mature song lyrically, regardless of its whimsical allusions.

A flickering banjo, earthy cello, shattered drums and tender strings celebrate Airey passing on the wisdom that he has gained in ‘The Floodgates’: “The water is higher than the floodgates show, the end was always coming, why fear it so?” The song is littered with a variety of instruments, but it remains as raw and organic as the preceding tracks, with Airey’s warm tones simmering until its close.

A Marker And A Map will undoubtedly lull you into its beautiful cradle of lore, naivety, growth and love. If this is what Airey is producing so early into his career, who knows what he is yet to muster.

Friday, 23 March 2012

REVIEW: Jonquil - Point of Go

*Originally published for the Oxford Music Blog (23/3/12)

The closing of one chapter often allows a fresh start for the next. Jonquil are thus in the perfect position, having seen a flurry of line-up changes in recent years with three members leaving to form Trophy Wife and a new member joining the ranks. But have these new dynamics breathed the “new lease of life” that frontman Hugo Manuel had so hoped for? Certainly, but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
Point of Go is a more light and upfront affair than Jonquil’s previous releases. With the blossoms of spring upon us, this is quite a welcoming sound; the insanely happy bubblegum tones of ‘Point of Go Pt.2’ and the 90s-inspired piano jolts on ‘Getaway’ are charming; the boo-doo-wap harmonies and fiesta drums on ‘Mexico’ have a hunger for warmer climes. Yet there is something irksome about the melodies on the album and it is difficult to pin-point why.
The LP’s first single, ‘It’s My Part’, is carried by cow bell rhythms that syncopate with an animated Foals-esque guitar and Manuel’s narcissistic lyrics, “It’s my part, and I will play it how I want”. It is a catchy song, but not the strongest choice for the album’s lead single. ‘Real Cold’ is similar in its immediacy, with bass, guitar and drums stealing the limelight from the vocals in unison and allowing mature brass instruments to embellish the melody.

‘Run’ sees a simple continuation of the many elementary pop structures that consume the record, save for its bold, reggae-inspired chorus and ‘Swells’ is a throw-away track. But with the album’s many blunders, however, comes its promises. It is the reserved tracks that ironically shed the most joy.‘Psammead’ is a pretty instrumental, laced with a forlorn piano that trails behind a desert guitar riff. It plays for just over 60 seconds, but it stays with you long after the album’s close. The progressive, ‘History Of Headaches’ projects uncanny Chad Valley (Manuel’s side project) harmonies, with Kid-A era keys and thrashing tom toms and resonates just as much as ‘Psammead.’

But it is the buyout vocals, ethereal guitars and glitch synths in, ‘This Innocent’, that really demonstrate the band’s potential, even if the song harks to Jonquil’s by-gone, edgier sound.

It is this nostalgic feeling that swamps your listening: there is something missing in their reincarnation. Their darker sound has virtually disappeared and the line-up adjustments seem to have curbed their openness to experimentation. For some listeners, this breezier sound will be an unwelcome change, but for others it is the start of an exciting new chapter.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

REVIEW: Hella Better Dancer - 'Living Room' EP

*Originally published for For Folk's Sake's 'New Bands Panel' (20/3/12)

It would be an understatement to say that Hella Better Dancer's new EP, Living Room, is quite good. As the title suggests, here lie four calm and unobtrusive gems, restful in the comfort of what appears to be a very lo-fi/bedsit recording. Each track is so completely charming, provoking and infectious that you simply have to stop what you are doing and listen.

Living Room constantly swells and grows, offering sparse nooks and tinny acoustics akin to Big Deal in opener, ‘Brother’, before moving to wistful harmonies, multi-layers and a Spanish-inflected vibrato guitar at its close (‘B2’).

Dusky vocals scream teenage lust on ‘After School’, with boxed hip-hop beats and an improvisational tremolo guitar. Though, like ‘Brother’, it is maddeningly short.

Stand-out track, ‘Last Song’, is oddly evocative of Parachutes-era Coldplay, with its tender, aquatic guitar chords. The looped melody, ‘daytime is too bright’, is contagious; spinning over crackling drums, hand-clapped rhythms and melancholic accordion notes.

These deeper textures are what will really get the band noticed, but it would also be a sorry affair if they were to negate their generally unassuming and fuzzy sound. Whatever lies ahead of them, Living Room is extraordinary and I hope that others will find it equally captivating.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

LIVE: Laura Marling - The Sage, Gateshead (5/3/12)

*Originally published for The Courier (7/3/12)

Going to The Sage makes one feel cultured; its two meandering amphitheatres are reminiscent of the Guggenheims’ architecture and it offers some of the most elegant views of the Tyne by night. Moreover, to see England’s foremost folk maiden, Laura Marling, perform here is a real treat. Tonight she is no maiden though, but a woman who has grown in confidence and bears the stories of someone twice her age.

Set-opener, ‘I Was Just A Card’, immediately boasts Marling’s ability to sway effortlessly between vocal keys; holding the polite and breathless crowd in utter awe. Her band, lingering upstage, gently support her melodies with burgeoning horns, jazzy snare shuffles and warm strums. It’s not until ‘Salinas’ that the Marling/band combination becomes truly comfortable, where the grassy banjo, celestial harmonies and yearning cello strings move to the rhythm of Marling’s earnest vocals.

Delving deeper into her back catalogue, Marling pulled out old crowd favourite, ‘Ghosts.’ The acoustics glistened in the wooden theatre, with crisp piano notes and a full band harmony bouncing around the audience. The girl who never once lifted her angelic head in her early performances now throws it up to the beam of the spotlight, as if to face her personal and religious dichotomies full on. Agnosticism is a recurrent theme in her debut album, and now she stands, feet a foot or so apart, ready to show the world that she’s worked herself out.

The most mesmerising moments are when the band allows Marling’s solo performances of ‘Goodbye England’ and rarities, ‘Pray For Me’ and ‘Flicker and Fail’. ‘Goodbye England’s’ guitar melody is delicately picked by Marling, full of its gorgeous glottal stops, her head tilted to the side as if recalling the romance of that winter’s day.

Where ‘Sophia’ never quite reaches its peak, ‘Rambling Man’ and ‘I Speak Because I Can’ compensate by sounding astonishing live. The former sees instruments chatter and roll beneath Marling & co’s earthy harmonies and the latter radiates every last morsel of energy; Marling lists off her regrets, never missing a note, nor a feeling, nor an opportunity to completely envelop you in her world. A truly unforgettable performance overall.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

REVIEW: Peter Broderick - 'http://www.itstartshear.com'

*Originally published for the Oxford Music Blog (7/3/12)

‘The website that is an album, an album that is a website. It’s kind of like liner notes that are alive.’ This is Peter Broderick's experiment. From the album’s URL title, it wouldn’t be out of the question to sense some pretension. But pretentious it is not. In fact, what lies in this cyber-space is a collection of very personal and honest songs, each accompanied by visuals and simple explanations of their compositions. Broderick urges you to criticise or praise or say anything about the tracks, so here are my thoughts.

Anthropomorphism is an immediate and recurring theme, evidenced in album opener, ‘I Am Piano’, and the following track, ‘A Tribute To Our Letter Writing Days.’ The stark, monotonous notes of the piano in the former are lifted by a family of intricate violin lines, elementary marimba notes and Broderick’s balmy vocals. His liner notes offer an alternative definition of piano: ‘soft; subdued’, and it becomes apparent that he is introducing this aspect of his personality. The composition sounds like a movie soundtrack, with the layered instruments quietly carrying a protagonist on a journey of discovery.
The latter track also flows with autobiographical content, in which Broderick personifies the lovelorn letters between himself and an ex-lover, “Read me, read me over and over.” Call-and-response singing, rattling acoustics, and a gentle melodica give the song both a grassy Americana and French feel – perhaps representing the foreign distances between the two singers –but, interpretation aside, it is a wonderfully humble love song.

These songs of innocence are completely counteracted by ‘Asleep’ at the album’s core. Explicitly stated as a tribute to the death of a friend in a kayaking accident, ‘Asleep’ escapes the self-concerned nature of the aforementioned tracks. Broderick requested that people from all over the world send him recordings of themselves reciting the song’s lyrics, as if, he explains, “this great loss could be felt by everyone everywhere.” A trickling guitar and fog drone evoke distressing imagery, lilting below an array of voices that interlock in collective mourning. Swarms of choral harmonies enter, clashing and marrying with one another, expressing confusion, lament and anger in the face of death. It’s devastatingly moving.

The oddest moment on the record comes in the form of ‘It Starts Hear’. The track is built around a clicking beat made by a tapped guitar pick-up, with a plodding bass line, staccato strings, and Broderick talking in robotic, abstract verse. The chorus strangely spells out, 'http://www.itstartshear.com', and it is nothing but humorously reminiscent of a cheesy jingle for a provincial radio station.

Broderick pays homage to art for art’s sake in, ‘With The Notes On Fire.’ Fittingly, the track’s notes and melodies are exactly that; they have an urgency, with fingers running over guitar strings, vibraphone notes jumping across Broderick’s hails and bongo drums rolling unstoppable rhythms. It is glorious and completely uplifting, just like the hands that pick up the dejected spirit in, ‘Blue.’

Originally a song written by Broderick’s father, ‘Blue’ is the most delicate track on the record and yet it is the one that speaks the loudest. Its lyrics are simple and universal in appeal: “You better realise then what’s hurting you. Or it will keep you blue, so blue,”; its gently-picked folk guitar immediately arresting and the slight delay on the vocals warmly consoling.

Peter Broderick has penned a subtle and gorgeous record that retains the grounded feel of a handwritten letter, yet he has somehow achieved this through a digital medium. A striking effort overall and an open gaze into the future of our listening habits.