Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Maccabees @ Manchester Ritz 13.5.15

It’s unusual for a band not to preface their gig with a taster of their new material. The only new track released before this tour was the driving rocker‘Marks to Prove it’ so there is an air of uncertainty as well as excitement to see how the new material goes down live.
Prior to the Maccabees long overdue return to Manchester its time for the warm-up band Gengahr pre-listens to a few of their tracks on Soundcloud suggests that they could be a good listen. It is disappointing that the band don't live up to that promise as they fail to ignite a crowd who are awaiting something special.
Gengahr resemble a lost puppy in a mincer. There’s clearly something missing here the backing is muscular but the vocals are too twee which leads to a clear disconnection with the audience its all a bit all over the place and bar their half decent single at the end their 30 minute set is a shambles which is a shame because underneath all the mess they could have some good songs.
Thankfully they are not the main event because the Maccabees herald their arrival to the stage with all their big hitters from their excellent ‘Wall of Arms’ album each one a mass singalong blowing their warm-up act out of the water.
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What’s great about the band is they are all about the music and people joining in for a shared experience that’s what makes the Maccabees connect with their audience. In a previous that I attended on the ‘Wall of Arms’ tour they stopped the music due to a scuffle in the front and wouldn’t restart until it was resolved.

The new stuff is decent too with the Maccabees taking a more heavier and experimental approach but they have never sounded better ’Marks to Prove it’ is given a new urgency live, even the old stuff sounds fresh most bands could only dream of having this many hits and still maintain that tangible connection with their audience . It is noticeable that they have moved on from their laddish ways and seem to be appealing to a new audience.
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Their old songs see them let loose as we are all reminded of those heady days when the Maccabees were first introduced. 'Latchmere' is a highlight with its call and response and precious time while new track something like happiness is a tad starsailorish and although has a good chorus lacks a bit of personality.

They end with ‘Pelican’ which shows how far the band have come. They are no longer little tykes they have all grown up but it seems they have not forgot their roots.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The War on Drugs @ Albert Hall Manchester - 18.2.15

Gracing most of the end of year lists last year The War on Drugs became the hottest new band that somehow everyone was talking about so how did an American band of relative unknowns become one of the most talked about bands of 2014.

This was probably due to 'Lost in the Dream' which demonstrated a pop sensibility underneath its motorik rhythms and as well as their excellent songwriting.

The band are playing two sold out nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall which itself is a magnificent venue perfect for the bands epic wall of sound.

Tonight there is a packed crowd anticipating the band’s appearance but that is to come a little later.First up its Amen Dunes who are the brainchild of new Yorker they are similar to the Philadelphian band but don’t have too much substance and most of their music just fades into the background.

Its clear that the crowd are really here for the main event as the hall increases in number. When the band enter the stage they open with album highlight “Under the Pressure” which blows away the cobwebs with its shuddering reverb signalling the start of a blistering 70 minute set of all and new tracks each showcasing the bands musical prowess the triumphant ‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’ and the breezy 'Lost in a Dream' which stuns the crowd into silence and the majestic pop of 'Red Eyes'. Its hard to resist the bands hypnotic grooves .The band barely pause for breath other than to briefly take in the venues surroundings and to address some members of the crowd.

The set-up is different from the record with a fleshed out band including brass accompaniment its all the more better with live instruments rather than backing track-you listening one direction?. It is also noticeable how tight the band are with each member committed to putting on a faultless assured performance.

Some quarters of the music press branded the band boring and were astonished when they were announced in the top albums of the year it’s clear that with this blistering assured performance War on Drugs are anything but- maybe some drugs aren't that bad for you.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


As we enter another hopeful year of fresh new releases from artists young an old. It seems that now is a good time to look back at last year's outstanding artists. In 2014 we had comebacks from old artists, debuts from fresh acts and some records that shocked and stunned us.

Here are the few that stood out for me in a year that failed to disappoint once again.

Here's to another magical musical mystery voyage in 2015! :)

10. Beck - Morning Phase

Being one of the chameleons of rock must be quite exhausting. Always changing your musical style not remaining the same is no mean feat. We have had funky beck, bluesy beck digitised beck and now we have Beck returning after 6 years in the musical wilderness with this subtle blissful collection of gorgeous acoustics. Morning Phase seems to hark back to Becks Sea Change album. There a definite heartbreak and longing running through this record as blue moon and  but however downtempo proceedings get Becks musical knowhow guides it through to a satisfying close. Its a long an arduous journey but with Beck as captain there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

9  Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were

Keen followers of this very blog may have noticed I picked a track in a my last feature. What was suprising is that I would even think of including him as a credible artist. With the widespread acclaim that was reaped by his previous release, Every Kingdom he could have gone in two directions. He could've made the same record to cater for his mainstream audience thereby denouncing his artistry in the process or go the complete opposite direction and make a non commercial album that was still accessible. Thankfully he chose the latter and the album is all the better for it. You wouldnt have found ‘end of the affair’ on his last album clocking in at over 8 minutes its not a staple for radio but it is emotional and constantly engaging with its varied guitar fretwork. 'I forget where we Were' harks back to a lost love with its effects laden textured guitar and impassionate vocals it is absolutely heartwrenching. What is clear is that Ben has stayed true to himself and made the album that he wants to make, where to next is anybody's guess.

8  Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots

Love him or loath him you have to admire Damon Albarn with the many projects that he puts his hands to. Whether it be Gorillaz or Africa Express you always know you are going to get a certain quality of music. You might have thought that this album would be the perfect chance for him to either inflate his ego or focus on his personal tribulations. The surprising thing is that its neither. What it is, is a gorgeous collection of songs which have a restrained feel. There are some quite stunning tracks on this album which gently tug the heartstrings. One being ‘Lonely Press Play’ which has an infectious melody and displays his prodigious songwriting talent and the title track imagines a world bereft of technology to magnificent effect. We also get 'Mr Tambo' a perky pop number complete with backing choir which is about a baby elephant that Damon encountered in Africa to ensure the tone isn't totally sombre. 'Everyday Robots' is another fine string to add to Mr Albarn's bow.

7 Jack White - Lazaretto

Proving that he is quite capable of going it alone Jack White's second solo outing was a showcase of his incredible talent combining his trademark bluesy vocals and taut riffs on the albums title track with was a downright funky number taking him as an artist into new and exciting frontiers. It was also an album that didn't take itself too seriously it was essentially White showcasing his obvious talent but enjoying the process as well. Case in point 'Black Bat Liquorice' which was a funky folk number which even included a violin accompaniment demonstrating the ambition of its artist. Lazaretto was a breakup album and essentially a vehicle for White to channel his emotions and was all the better for it.

6 Jungle - Jungle

The south London duo retained an elusive nature at the start releasing snippets of tracks on soundcloud stirring up a small buzz with their artwork and design. They went by the initials J and T.Their sound was akin to a lost Blaxploitation film soundtrack with its musical style aesthetically a cross between 70s soul and funk. The band struck a chord in the summer with a killer album of the same name containing some of the best up-tempo feel good music of the moment. An early hit ‘ The Heat’ which showed huge promise at the start and ‘Busy Earnin was a high energy brassy number. Rather than become their influences they also added tropical percussion and psychedelic washes to the mix. They topped 2014 with a well deserved mercury nomination but it was really on the live scene where the band really came alive with DIY raving about their 'fearsome live reputation'. With Jungle they took the blueprint of soul and made it vital and fresh.
5 Royal Blood - Royal Blood
With their zeppelin sized riffs and propulsive rhythm section its easy to think that this is a full band. Its only when discover that there are just two of them that it really hits home how unbelievably tight and talented this Brighton duo are. When 'Come on over' came out it was clear that here was a band that demanded to be heard. Their urgent and full blooded rock sound was used to great effect on key cut 'Ten Ton Skeleton' which sounded a tad like classic nu-metallists Papa Roach. They capped off a great year with a well deserved nomination, but it was really in a live setting where the band came alive slaughtering everything in their wake. Its true what they say two heads are better than one.

Alt-J - This Is All Yours


If their first release was full to the brim of potential singles. Their sophomore release was short on standout tracks preferring to expand their sound to a more pastoral pop feel.
Coming two years after their first album minus a bassist the band's main underlying themes are essentially love and sex as frontman connotes in one of the verses for ‘licking like a crisp packet’  on ‘Every other Freckle’ and the Black Keys like ‘Left hand free’but taken as a musical patchwork it is impossible to resist its musical textures, as although it takes its sweet time it rewards with repeat listens with its hooks and unconventional songwriting which ensures that the band always remain interesting however experimental and extroverted they become.
 3 Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow

Its fair to say the east london indie collective are not one to rest on their laurels, with each album markedly different from the previous one. Their first album was a riotous punky affair, their second introduced a more stripped back folk sound. Their third went for a more expansive and stadium sized sound whilst still remaining true to their indie credentials. With 'So Long See you tomorrow' BBC have produced their best work yet. Building on the templates set by previous releases with more of a worldly influence which is ever present on the album. The album consists of shades of light and dark. ‘Overdone’ heads off the album with its swelling indian strings and infectious melody,There is a lot of experimentation with beats and rhythms on this album but this is never is at the expense of the solid songwriting. I was fortunate to see the band live this year and the band effortlessly demonstrated how these songs were built for live exposure.There is a feeling that the band are at their most comfortable on this album. There is a lot of postive energy running through the record with each track standing alone from the other. It seems that Bombay have actually found their niche.

2 First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

With their previous album the Soderberg sisters demonstrated their phenomenal talent and grace with their gorgeous close harmonies and folky melodies.  'Stay Gold' takes this further with a new found maturity in their songwriting the songs themselves are more realised as well with the addition of a 13 piece orchestra.The title track is a lush downtempo delight which portrays the sisters songwriting as beyond their years as they procrastinate about life and its changes.’ Silver Lining’ is another key track with its slide guitar and stark songwriting but its really on ‘ Master Pretender' where the sisters show their lyrical bite and what actually separates from other nu-folk acts. With Stay Gold the Soderberg’s once again demonstrated that they were a force to be reckoned with- musically speaking.

1 - War on Drugs - Lost In a Dream

Whilst not having the most rock n rock name for a band War on Drugs clearly have the spirit of rock n roll coarsing through their musical veins. Taking their influences from a fellow philadalphian artist with their heartland rock with a a slight dylan influence whilst giving their sound a shoegaze feel with their emotional lyrics and hazy guitar textures they have created a stunning piece of work that seems almost at once familiar but also timeless. There is a fair bit of heartbreak running through the record which could easlily make for bleak listening but the shimmering guitar sounds lift it out of the gloom. Tracks like 'Under Pressure' deal with dark themes but the music gives some light to proceedings. 'Red Eyes' is the real pop moment with it being the most accessible song on the record but this is an album that restores your faith in the album as a true piece of art with each track seguing into the other and the album rewards with repeated listens which is why it has hardly left my player all year. The true genius of this record is that although its influences are obvious they are never overbearing which is credit to the accomplished musicianship of its creators. A mesmerising, stunning record and a worthy record of the year.