Sunday, 9 November 2014

Cold Comforts

It’s getting towards that time of year again when the cold is seeping in its wet dark and miserable outside and last summer is just a distant memory. Luckily, though you can’t depend on the weather one thing you can still depend on is the music as this is still going strong at this time of year as these 3 female fronted bands and a new favourite show. So take comfort in some of the best new music around at the moment and banish those winter blues.
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

From their second album of the same name this is the title track. It represents a musical progression in sound for the Swedish siblings and is a lush downtempo delight. With the Soderberg’s sweet vocals close harmonies and questioning why things can’t just stay as they are. Some may recall they were a musical highlight on this very blog a couple of years ago as ones to watch see in their twenties the sisters display a songwriting that belies their tender years and it’s a perfect introduction to their ethereal country pop sound. Check out the video below

 Honeyblood – Choker

It’s natural on first listen to Honeyblood’s scuzzy yet sugary pop, to think that they could be a bigger band than they actually are. The fact that these two Glasgow gals have such a fully formed sound is quite incredible considering their minimal set up.  Choker is one of their key tracks from their debut album out soon and its tight riffs and punky vocals made you sit up and take notice but it’s really how they craft their songs which shows off their musical nous. With its sinister backbone musically and lyrically peppered by sugary sweet vocals it’s a defining moment for the duo and promises more tracks in this ilk for their debut album. NME certainly think a lot of them including them on their recent New Breed Tour. Add to that they are on the achingly cool indie label Brighton’s FatCat records home to Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad that’s another plus for them.
You can check out 'Choker' on the link below along with other tracks from the band
Lucius – Tempest

At the other end of the spectrum and back in safe surrounds we find Lucius another female fronted band from over the pond. Yes they are from that prime location for musical artists Brooklyn but this indie pop five piece craft dreamy layered pop with vocals that are reminiscent of 60s girl groups. Tempest is a perfect introduction to multi-layered sounds with its soaring synths and sweet vocals along with their uplifting lyrics ‘just gotta believe’ its clear that the band are on to a winner and they have even got the look sorted with their matching outfits  and moustachioed backing band. You can find tempest on their latest album Wildewoman.


Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were

This might come as a bit of a shock to his many adoring fans but Ben Howard never did anything for me, whether it was constant radio play he got, the mumbling vocals and the uninteresting songs. Every Kingdom his debut made him huge but it didn’t really strike a chord with me. One listen to one of the prime cuts. title track from his ‘adventurous’ new release ‘I forget Where We Were’ and that disjointed feeling changed in an instant. It might have been the hazy guitar intro reminiscent of ‘War on Drugs’ another essential album this year which might have led me in but what hit me was the emotional and musical depth of the track in fact – I was totally floored by it. No longer was he treading water he was actually showing his genius as an artist. I had found my new favourite in Ben Howard. You can check out his stunning new release ‘I Forget Where We Were’ which is out now.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Alt-J @o2 Apollo Manchester 20/9/14

Former Mercury Prize winners play Manchester

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since Alt J won the prestigious Mercury prize which overnight meant that the Leeds band were taken from relative obscurity to widespread acclaim which included soundtracking tv commercials.

With a packed summer of festivals there hasn’t been too much respite for the guys, rather than take a break they have been hard at work on their new album ‘ This is all Yours’ of which some of the fruits we are about to hear tonight.

Most of the reviews have spoken of a more expansive direction for the band so its of some interest to me to see how this new direction translates to a live setting.

Starting with a new track ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and the brilliant 'Fitzpleasure' its clear that the bands strengths are there for all to see from the start with their complex production strange but alluring vocals from frontman Joe Newman and infectious riffs.  It seems like they have ramped up their percussion for their live sound courtesy of Thom Green and the close harmonies are a joy to behold and this induces the first big singalong of the night.

There is a bit of a change to the bands lineup as it was reported that their bassist Gwil Sainsbury left the band earlier this year but Cameron Knight is a more than fitting replacement for him and displays his accomplished bass playing throughout the set and Gus-unger Hamilton puts on a noteperfect performance on Keys and backing vocals.

The band continue their blistering start with newbie ‘left hand free’ which is a change of tack towards a bluesy soul direction owes more than a debt to the black keys. This is followed by the delicate tones of ‘Matilda’ the closest thing the band have to a love song if there was one about a hurricane.

Things briefly take a more restrained tone as the band play 'bloodflood2' from their new album. This seems to come too early in the set and isn’t in tandem with their blistering start. It seems the crowd are not too interested in this tempo change in the set.  This leads into a new song ‘out of the woods’ which showcases their pastoral folky direction as the crowd again seem unsure of how to react. This is quickly remedied by two double slightly erotic tracks in 'tessellate' with its ‘Bite chunks out of me’ and 'Every Little Freckle' which is a slow building delight with its subtle arrangements accompanied by vocal gymnastics and keyboard motifs. Its slightly disappointing that the band don’t have a female choir for the choral parts, as was seen on Jools the other night- an opportunity missed maybe.

'Taro' is a key track not because of its brilliant invention from straightforward pop structure to Bollywood string section but it also shows off the bands personality and adds a bit of human feel to their performance which is sadly lacking throughout. Frontman Joe speaks for the first time of an error he made at the start of the track and this shows that the band are not robots just playing everything from the records.

This 'human' connection seems to be an on-going issue throughout their 75 minutes performance. Despite the odd pleasantries in between songs there is no banter and not too much difference to listening to audio of the band and seeing the band live. The band mainly stay in the same positions not using much of the stage which seems a little one dimensional as far as performances go.

The band encore consists of the one song that made people sit up and listen in the first place ‘ Breezeblocks’ which whips the crowd into a frenzy again and as I leave the venue I can hear the refrains of ‘Please come back I love you so’ from the gig goers so its clear that they enjoyed the evening.

What is clear from tonight's performance is that the band make songs for mind and body and are undeniably talented and they can obviously captivate an audience with their material but they could be brilliant if only they injected more personality and energy into their live performance. It’s not that they are a rubbish band but if they added those two crucial elements to their live setting they could be a major force to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Return of a National Treasure

 Later.. Returns

Last night marked the return of one of the longest running live music programmes.  With its 45th year, Later has rocked up some mileage and still remains relevant and consistent with then new and established artists it showcases.

Last night’s edition was no different with its stellar line up across the music spectrum.  On the show was new acts FKA Twigs, Jungle, Vance Joy.  This week also showcased elder statesmen including O'jays and Ryan Adams along with former Mercury Prize Winners Alt-J.

Leeds Rock trio Alt J opened the show with new bluesy soul cut ‘Left hand Free’ from their expansive follow up album to An Awesome Wave a confident opening statement. There was clearly a Black Keys influence on there but their best song was to come later.

West London production duo Jungle were up next and were probably the most disappointing of the acts to appear. I am a fan of Jungle funky soul throwback sound but ‘Busy Earnin’ felt a bit flat sounded much better on their debut, and the choreography was a tad cheesy more work to improve their live sound and presence needed I think although their sound might be more suited to a festival rather a small studio.

Classic US R&B group O’jays were a breath of fresh air with their ‘Love Train’ some of the best close harmonies on show here and the dancing wasn’t too bad either.The fact they have been together more than 50 years says how solid they are as a band. Its quite some achievement.

Canadian rocker Ryan Adams has been heavily criticized in some quarters of the music press who state that his new material is very like his close namesake Bryan Adams which is a little unfair of how he is now on his fourteenth album and through each album he has progressed musically. However the track he performed ‘Give Me Something Good’ sounded a bit like Bon Jovi and therefore a bit dated his musicianship is still something to admire though.

Then came the treat of the evening from new electro singer songwriter FKA Twigs with a spellbinding performance of ‘Two Weeks’. There are no shortage of female singer-songwriters with their icy vocals and electro production but where she stands on her own is how FKA Twigs is in total command of her performance and artistic identity. With her phenomenal vocal range and her stunning performance she is good shout for this year’s Mercury music prize.

Another suprising low key yet engrossing performance followed with Melbourne Singer Songwriter Vance Joy with his indie pop hit ‘Riptide’. The track has been on the radio for some time and is one of those songs that you constantly hum with its perfect hooks and consistent melody. It was a shame Banks couldn’t make it although maybe one more icy vocal would have been a step too far.

Alt J ended the show with the slightly unsettling erotic ‘Every Little Freckle’ which is another classic to add to their already full roster of ace tunes. Starting off with low key instrumentation building to a choral accompaniment and then back to its intoxicating mix of sounds and textures its blindingly ace and provides an appetizing taste of what is to come when I see them live.

That concludes another packed half hour of Later, despite the mannerisms of its host still one of the best music programs around.
Last nights episode still available on  BBC I Player.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dan Croll @ Ruby Lounge Manchester 19.3.14

Dan Croll - Ruby Lounge Manchester 19/3/14

The boy from Liverpool via Stafford has literally come from nowhere to becoming one of the hottest properties around. Moving to Liverpool at a young age to study at LIPA led to a chance meeting with one Paul McCartney and said single was at the top of blog chart Hype Machine for 3 weeks and Croll received more airplay on radio and even got added on the prestigious ‘ a new band a day’. After cutting his teeth, supporting Bastille and Imagine Dragons, Dan was now ready to be thrust into the limelight.
After wowing the crowds at SxSW in Austin last year, Croll is now doing a whistle-stop tour of the UK along with support band Racing Glaciers.

 Ruby Lounge is crammed tonight with what seems like tweens all eager to catch a glimpse of a new pop obsession. It’s almost like a boyband has come to town so it definitely bodes for an interesting evening.
Local band ‘ Racing Glaciers’ are up first with their keyboard led sort of Coldplay lite brand of emotive pop which seems primed for larger arenas. This works well for the young crowd as it seems they can’t get enough of their frat boy looks but still just remains inoffensive music for the rest of the crowd.

Dan Croll and band enter the stage with ‘Hello My Baby’ which sounds like a lost Lady Black Mambazo song. Its rhythm sets the tone for the evening. Launching into the kaleidoscopic pop of ‘Thinkin bout chu’ with its cooing backing vocals sends the girls at the front wild having the same effect. It soon becomes clear why he has a young appeal with his loved up lyrics. 

The falsetto of ‘wanna know’ brings the first sing along from the crowd. The dancey In/Out gets the crowd shuffling their feet. It’s crazy that he has just released his debut and every song sounds so familiar. ‘Compliment your soul’ is the next major sing along with its lolloping melody, brass parps and close harmonies - it still sounds as fresh as ever. 

A mention for his ace band here with Dave Kelly’s rhythmic drumming ably accompanied by the tight riffs of Jethro, John and Jacob who somehow becomes easy fodder for the crowd. Occasionally the music veers close to Vampire Weekend and there is an obvious Paul Simon influence. However Dan has the likeability and variety in his arsenal with none of the complexities of Vampire Weekend which with his complete focus on the melody and songwriting is a winning combination. There is a variety of styles on show here especially with the switch from soul to pop to afrobeat but it’s all perfectly arranged so it doesn't seem to make a difference to the crowd.

With a mention of his Mum and his creased shirt you can tell that despite all this newfound fame Dan is still grounded. This is so rare in an artist nowadays and all to his credit and he genuinely looks astounded at his popularity.

 Dan ends his set with the gorgeous of home an earlier EP which showed so much promise and showcased his songwriting talent. It’s the perfect way to finish a faultless set of course notwithstanding the electronic folk of ‘From Nowhere’’ and the acoustic pop sweetness of ‘Sweet Disarray’ as a closer.

 We might be a few months away from summer but with this special brand of sunshine pop that Dan is bringing to the Ruby tonight, it’s almost like August is here already.