Wednesday, 31 July 2013

#142: King Blood - Self-titled (EP review)

These days, it seems the term lo-fi is used, more often than not, as a synonym for poor production quality or, even worse, a lack of talent. Too often do bands douse themselves in liberal lashings of under-produced fuzz, migraine inducing drums and other general miscellaneous bullshittery that masquerades as aesthetic decisions made in order to draw attention away from sub-par musicianship. Thankfully, however, Bury St Edmunds' King Blood aren't such a band and, following in the footsteps of other bands from the area such as Keys or Horse Party, they're encompassing a DIY aesthetic that serves only to heighten their genuine lo-fi appreciation.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Monday, 29 July 2013

#140: Moones - Better Than Ice Cream (EP review)

In this line of work, you come across hundreds of bands, some of those are destined to remain in the back-rooms of dive bars nationwide while others are certain to catapult themselves from the dusty and downtrodden confines of such venues on to greener pastures. One band destined to find their place in a much grander setting are London trio Moones. Made up of three lads with existing ties to the musical world, most notably in the form of Laurent Bernard, founder of Gallows, and Tariq Kahn, brother of Bat For Lashes, their music is a blend of traditional guitar-fuelled indie with smatterings of synth loops and brit-pop energy.

Releasing their début EP last month, Better than Ice Cream establishes the band's aesthetic fantastically. Over the course of four tracks and 16 minutes, irresistible pop hooks are fused with an undercurrent of darkness that entwines itself around more optimistic elements, providing a sharper more aggressive edge to what would otherwise be your usual sugary indie-pop fare. This is perhaps most evident in both EP opener 'Universal Remote Control' and closer 'Roll A Penny' in which the standard synth-pop is offset and underpinned by a brooding and and claustrophobic darkness.

Opting to include to the tracks in the order they have gives one the impression that Better than Ice Cream is a well-rounded a thought out EP; tracks 2 and 3, ('Better Energy' and 'Cut and Paste' respectively) form the radio-friendly, accessible centre of the record whilst tracks 1 and 4 form a darker, more weathered exterior that seemingly needs cracking open before the rich and emphatic centre spills out, indeed 'Cut and Paste' in particular makes use of some great percussion production in a manner evocative of Bastille, an impression that continues in to the vocals and even the synth track, this is a song completely written for open air stages and not the confines of a pub's back-room.

There is, without a doubt, something about Moones that will appeal to anyone, no matter what their musical persuasion. There's elements of the long-forgotten nu-metal being brought to the table in the form of 'Universal Remote Control' especially in the chorus, which brings to mind early Lostprophets records or even Fear Factory whilst 'Better Energy' will appeal completely to fans of Reverend and the Makers. It's this diversity that will allow the band to stand firm when some many of their contemporaries fall by the wayside. The musical credibility exhibited by the trio is second to none, and while my own personal tastes pull me towards the band's more downbeat tracks, there's certainly nothing to diminish the more uplifting tracks featured, so much so that I would be surprised if Moones weren't gracing the pages of mainstream music press by Christmas.


This review was originally written for Ears On. Click here to check them out!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

#138: Doggone - No Brow (EP review)


No Brow

July 26 2013 (self release)


Very little is known about London's Doggone; deriving their name from a Frank Black track, the four-piece, comprised of members, Josh, Pete, Mary and Billy, are making music that is a dreamy blend of lo-fi aesthetics, reverb-soaked vocals and caustic undercurrents that hark back to the shoegaze bands of the 80s and 90s. Despite only being together for a short space of time, the musical understanding, and the professionalism exhibited by Doggone exceeds any expectations

This article was originally written for Little Indie Blogs, click here to read it in full.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

#137: Top 5 Unsigned - 20/07/13

She Drew The Gun

"Lo-fi lyrical journeys through a glacial lullaby-blues" purports the Facebook page of Liverpool troubadour She Drew the Gun. It's an accurate description, but don't be fooled in to thinking that lo-fi, at least in this respect, is a synonym for poor production values, far from it; every note, every word is as clear as you could ask for, lo-fi here comes to mean the stripped down and candid nature of the music. Silky smooth vocals are dripped generously over an meticulously plucked and understated acoustic guitar. It's a hazy summer evening personified and the perfect soundtrack to the current climate.


Morning Smoke

Several months ago, I covered this band and gave them a mixed review, poor production qualities hampered the overall quality of the single I looked at and it was, unfortunately, something I couldn't overlook. I closed my review stating that, in a year, they could make me eat my words. As it happens, in less than half that time, the band have recorded a couple more tracks and given me a severe case of indigestion after metaphorically consuming the last review in a vain attempt to save face. The lo-fi qualities exhibited in their first single 'What A Shame' are still present, but this time they're fully realised and completely on point. The sheer speed that this band have turned around is fantastic, they've embraced a well-trodden aesthetic and dragged it kick and screaming in to the present in the process. This is music in which the talent speaks for itself. Brilliant stuff.


Ancient Times

Once again, whilst not technically an unsigned band, Brighton-based Ancient Times nostalgic indie-pop was far too catchy not to include, and prove a perfect accompaniment to the current weather. Jangly indie-pop guitars take precedence with Morrisey-esque vocals providing a rich layer of texture across the board. It isn't music that's going to break any boundaries, but really is this type of indie pulled off with such precision and aplomb, that it really doesn't matter if you've heard it before, chances are you haven't heard it done as well as this. Sure there's almost certainly going to be the obligatory comparisons between the vocalist and "Mozzer", but overlook that and you'll a band who are as musically tight as they are lyrically emphatic.


The Hiding Place

Again, whilst potentially not an unsigned band (I'm yet to confirm either way) The Hiding Place I found completely by accident whilst listening to another band's SoundCloud and they're probably my personal favourite this week. Appealing to my pop-punk sensibilities, the band are of a similar ilk to band's such as You Me At Six, minus the legions of tween girls snapping at their heels. They're a little bit heavy, a little bit emo but ultimately they're just very good at their trade. With vocals reminiscent of Funeral For A Friend's Matt Davies coming courtesy of singer Dominic Webber, and guitar solos with a surprising amount of groove for a pop-punk band there's certainly something here for those who prefer music of the heavier persuasion, coupled with more "Woah"s than an Offspring album you've got an eclectic but ultimately irresistable band who are destined for the pages of Kerrang! It is worth noting that the songs on the band's SoundCloud are fairly old, but that doesn't track from the calibre in any way, shape or form.


Before the Story Ends
These days, it seems, the output of quality music coming from Birmingham has risen massively. One such band are Before the Story Ends, who are joining a wealth of artists from the city enjoying the spotlight on the city's scene brought about by acts such as Swim Deep and Peace. Fusing together classic rock hooks with a attitude flecked with punk snarl, the bands music is a refreshing change to the indie-pop pouring out of the city now. Singer Von has an air of Tsunami Bomb's, Agent M and her effortless vocals bubble with a fierce undercurrent that threatens to burst forth at any moment whilst buzz-saw guitars and pounding drums, form a formidable backdrop.


Check out last week's Top 5 Unsigned by clicking here.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

#136: Cat Bear Tree - Let's Share Hearts (EP review)

Years ago, the DIY aesthetic belonged, almost completely, to a generation of punks and counter-culturists; a generation that was maligned by the mainstream, yet one that viewed it's naysayers with equally high contempt. However, in this day and age, when almost every band is signed to some form of label or another, and majors are avoided like the plague more often than not, it seems that the DIY route is the route of choice for more than a select few bands. One such band is London's Cat Bear Tree. A trio of lasses whose music is a delightfully moreish blend of riot grrrl sensibilities with a smattering of post-punk ambition, topped off with a saccharine pop veneer that masks the energy beneath it.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

#135: Catching Up With...The Ninth Watch (U&I Magazine - July issue)

It seems every city in England has it's own flag ship band that not only perpetuates what it is that their city is about, but assimilates their city's musical heritage and makes it their own. Coventry have The Enemy, Leicester Kasabian, and Manchester? Manchester had The Courteeners, but let's face it, while their music was quintessentially Manchester, the pomp they put out now is more Broadway than Mancunian Way, inevitably leaving a space that a multitude of bands have clamoured for. The fact of the matter is, only one band could fill the pointy-toed and stacked-heel boots left behind by Liam Fray et all. Enter, The Ninth Watch.

Formed in 2011, the band have harnessed and tamed whatever musical energy it is that runs through the city, soothing it's erratic and rambunctious nature until they could bend and manipulate it to a styling of their own accord. Not a band to be ensnared by the confines of genre, Vocalist Stephen Ahern and his cohort of Manc every-men can go from swooning and melodic to raw and guttural with seemingly no effort what so ever, suggesting a maturity and a sense of longevity from a band who will hopefully fill their new-found position for a long while to come.

This maturity is best exhibited in songs such as 'The Optimist' a swooning and self-explanatory track that's destined for bigger audiences and bigger stages than those of Manchester's back-street dives. Ahern's vocals glide effortlessly over melodic instrumentation in a manner evocative of Coldplay, securing the track as a favourite for radio-play. Conversely, 'Concrete Boots' brings proceedings crashing back to reality and is indicative of Patron Saint of Manchester, one Ian Brown.

While both the aforementioned easily assert The Ninth Watch as a young band of Manchester upstarts worth getting excited about, it's tracks like single 'Forever is A Long Time' that affords them their claim to their spot in the city's legacy. Starting with an understated drum and bass combo the track soon sees itself becoming a fully realised and incredibly well-structured song, complete with string-section, that will no doubt once again appeal to fans of The Stone Roses or The Verve.

It's clear that Manchester is a city with a wealth of musical talent just waiting to be plucked from anonymity and guided rather than thrust in to the metaphorical arms of indie stardom. The Ninth Watch are one such band. Time and time again they prove they're not just one trick ponies. They wear their influences proudly: Elbow, The Stone Roses, Doves, they're all there, though always underpinning, never overbearing, allowing The Ninth Watch to reap the benefits of their sound but never once coming off as contrived, or carbon copies. 

Expect big things from this band. 

Expect them soon.

Hi guys, to kick things off, I was lucky enough to feature you on my personal blog several months back with both a single review (Forever is A Long Time) and an 'EP review' of sorts. What's been happening over at The Ninth Watch camp since then?

Well we’re been cherry picking gigs lately so we can concentrate more on writing and recording some new tunes which we hope to have boxed off by the end of summer. We supported ‘All the Young’ on their UK tour when they played at Indiependence in Wigan, we also played at Mattfest and last weekend we was main support at Cadence festival which was top.

Given that this particular column is about the Manchester scene, what do you think it is about the city that makes it the hotbed for young talent that it is?

I think it’s the number of icons with Mancunian roots, whether its fashion, music, football or industry Manchester’s got it and every iconographically aware person knows it. It always seems like the rest of the country is trying to catch us up.

You must have played with a number of local bands since you started gigging, any that you'd particularly like to mention or recommend?

Yeah we’ve had some cracking gigs with another local band called ‘Stolen Haven’, we got on with them dead well and we’re into their music too.

Your Facebook page is littered with pictures and status' that suggest you're a band that don't take yourselves too seriously. Do you think it's important to establish a balance between the serious and the light-hearted when playing in a band, it can't all be groupies and Jager shots right?

Well we take our music very seriously, but there’s nothing worse than a bunch of ‘johnny-come-latelys’ with their heads stuck firmly up their own arses going on social media everyday begging people to like their band or buy their demo or come to gigs. If your music’s good enough people will be into it and into your band. We see our gigs as a good night out with mates and fans we’ve acquired along the way.

Manchester's a city that's full of venues, from the tiny-capacity dives of the Northern Quarter to the hugely corporate M.E.N Arena, which is the best to play at from a band's perspective and why?

We think that Manchester Academy is the best venue, the main room. Its still got that intimacy you need to create an atmosphere but at the same time its got a big capacity. We’re lucky enough to have played at the Academy, not many bands can say that.

Last month you played Mattfest which resulted in a friend/fan breaking a rib. How did that come about?

We usually finish our set with ‘Concrete Boots’ as it tends to really get the crowd going. A few people tried crowd surfing towards the end and I guess he didn’t quite get the support he needed. The next thing we knew he was on the stage with a cracked rib. We’ve actually gotten to know this guy quite well over the last year he comes to all our gigs so fair play to him. You think he would have known better though ‘cos he broke a collar bone doing something similar not long ago.

You must have had your fair share of free beer at the gigs you've played, what would be in your ideal rider?

For me it would be a comedian to kill that time between sound check and gig. Someone like that Welsh guy, what’s he called, Rhod Gilbert? Oh, and Ian wants a Dodo egg!

You're involved with The Online Festival with a healthy amount of other local talent. Do you want to elaborate on just exactly what that's about?

Yeah it’s a great collaboration of unsigned bands from around the UK. We headlined their first ever Manchester gig at Dry Bar and it went down a storm. We’d definitely be up for working with them again. Its got a large social media presence and is great for linking up bands from around the country.

There's a kind of guttural romance to Manchester that lends itself so well to the bands that it produces but what do you think it is about the city that has such an established cultural appeal?

Manchester seems to have been leading the way for years now, like I said before whether it’s football, industry, music fashion Manchester’s got it, and when you tell people that your in a band and from Manchester they expect things from you. The bench marks set pretty high and you want to live up to it without being a cliché. I think people from Manchester generally have a sense of pride and confidence that others simply don’t have.

Finally, any forthcoming live dates, EP/single releases or other news you'd like to let us know about?

We’re still finishing off some tunes at the moment, but we are playing at the One day/One love festival in Castlefield, Manchester on 27th July. The details are on our facebook page. We’re also up for playing at any of the decent venues Manchester has to offer, so promotors are welcome to get in touch with us.

Friday, 12 July 2013

#134: The Dark Lights - Stop Existing, Start Living (EP review)

It only takes a couple of seconds before The Dark Lights sophomore EP Stop Existing, Start Living asserts itself as a record founded on moody atmospherics and tempestuous dynamics; like the band’s first effort before it, The Boy Who Saw Through Walls, this second outing from the Australian-Anglo-Portuguese quartet exhibits an off-kilter sincerity and romanticism that shirks any misconceptions and ideas of Australian stereotyping brilliantly. This sincerity is upheld all the more by the recent inclusion of singer Tristan Roe, who brings his personal experiences to the table by means of emphatic and emotive lyricism.

The first track 'Clear the Air' is an angry and angst-ridden affair that surprisingly brings to mind band’s such as Billy Talent, without the penchant for a nasally whine. Founding member Matt Ho’s guitar work is fantastic here and exhibits an understanding in the equal importance of those notes you don’t play as those you do. Conversely, the following track 'Sticks and Stones' has it's roots firmly in math-rock ground as off-kilter guitar permeates an eviscerating bass and drum combo that drives the chorus forward without compromise.

The second half of Stop Existing...begins with 'Game of Two Hearts' and provides a much needed breather after the unrelenting tenacity of it's predecessor. The picked guitar is once again present as is some equally impressive drums but the real highlight of this track comes in the form of Roe's vocals, that glides effortlessly across the tops of the instrumentation, seemingly unphased. The high notes, not only attempted by Roe, but attained are atypical of the previous tracks but suggest a much higher level of musical diversity in his vocal capabilities, and, when coupled with some contemporary piano work, only serves to heighten the auditory experience that the track offers. The record concludes with 'Ghosts' which sees business for the band return to normal, though it seems clear that they've saved their strongest song to close with. The lyrics are perhaps the best seen across the whole of the EP, though that's by no means a slight on the other songs, Roe's lyricism is both personal and universal, drawing on his own experiences to create a cathartic expression for his listeners, and it clearly works in his favour.

The Dark Lights are clearly a band with an unprecedented amount of both talent and energy, the latter of which, often subdued, finds occasional moments of blistering opportunity that burst forth from behind a placid façade in fleeting moments of hardcore-inspired aggression. If their first record was a band cutting their metaphorical teeth, then Stop Existing, Start Living sees them razor sharp and gleaming. There's simply no denying the passion and the fervour that bubbles, unrelentingly beneath the surface a band destined for greener pastures. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

#133: The Smashing Pumpkins, Manchester Academy - 01/07/13

Live review: The Smashing Pumpkins, Academy 1, Manchester - 01/07/13

This article was originally written for Muso's Guide. To read the full review, click the link above.

#132: Introducing...Silent Party

A lot of bands these days, unfortunately, seem to fall victim to their own ambitions; best intentions wind up as best pretensions and a penchant for grandeur becomes a penchant for pomposity. Thankfully though, that isn't the case with London's Silent Party who are making music steeped in grandeur, without even the faintest air of pretension.

Despite only being a band for little over 3 months, the band have honed their sound to such an extent you'd be forgiven for thinking it had been much longer. There's a distinct element of dynamics at play, juxtaposing what the band have deemed as “sonic intensity” with more melodic “pop sensibilities”. And in short, it works, and it works well.

There are too many influences at play across the three songs featured on the band's SoundCloud page to be able to label Silent Party with any one genre; the first song to be uploaded, for example, is 'Taxidermist' a track which begins mellow and understated before quickly accelerating in to a frenetic tour de force of math-rock guitars, backing vocal harmonies and tenacious drums. The other two tracks uploaded more recently however, couldn't be more different, indeed when compared to 'Taxidermist' but also when compared to one another. Interestingly enough, both tracks form the recent In Memory EP, and as such you would think that there would be some similarities between the two. What this does for the band though, is suggest a musical maturity beyond their years while allowing them to exhibit the diversity of their music. 'Lifeline' for instance, is a slow-building but ultimately uplifting shoegazey affair in the manner of Glasvegas and in that respect, is perhaps most similar to the aforementioned. Steady drums and a choir form the track's backbone while guitars entwine themselves around the lyrics effortlessly. In contrast, 'Turns' is a bourbon soaked rockabilly lament. Singer Mike Goward's voice is eerily suited to the track's wild west aesthetic that in turn brings an almost-literal meaning to desert rock.

The fact that Silent Party succeed where so many bands fall, is easily a testament to them as both musicians and song-writers. For a band that have only been playing together for a short space of the time. The three tracks featured on their SoundCloud page are impressive feats and only briefly hint at what they could accomplish 12 months from now. This is a band destined for bigger stages, bigger audiences and even bigger ambitions.

Be sure to check out their latest single 'Qucksand' when it drops soon.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

#131: Top 5 Unsigned - 09/07/13

Why We Love

Given the recent space of sun we've been enduring here in the UK, it seems only fitting that this weeks first band, Bristol-based Why We Love, are upholding a degree of summer whimsy in their personal brand of indie pop. Their music is both understated and romantic though never wholeheartedly strays in to twee territory the way it could do. The combined vocal efforts of guitarist and bassist (Joe and Rachel respectively) assert a deeper set of textures than would be possible with single sex vocal duties; indeed, Rachel's vocals particularly make 'Blisters' as catchy and accessible as it is. Why We Love are without a doubt a band with potential, and their infectious melodies will appeal to fans of bands as diverse as Voxtrot and early Foals.


Calm as the Colour

Scottish four-piece Calm as the Colour are a band whose music is steeped in nostalgia. Combining elements of shoegaze, britpop and rock and roll has allowed them to formulate a sound that's as refreshing as it is familiar. In different hands, this amalgamation of genres may come off as forced or mismatched, but with Calm as the Colour, it works perfectly as traditional britpop verses feed effortlessly in to walls of noise that are purposefully never quite realised. Rather than allow the sonic evisceration of shoegaze acts of yesteryear to permeate and eventually erode other, more delicate, facets of their music, the band chose to understate what could overpower, and their music is all the better for it. Brilliant stuff.


Other Dogs

Despite their only being one song on their SoundCloud page, Walsall's Other Dogs are hinting at almost limitless energy and enthusiasm. Their début track 'After Party Blues' is soaked in both beer and self-deprecation and pretty summarises gritty indie-pop anthems in three and a half minutes. The youthful exuberance that emits from the band has its feet firmly planted in punk influences just as much as indie, with the gang chant chorus a sure-fire live favourite, providing the energy translates from MP3 to stage. If any of Other Dogs forthcoming tracks hit as hard as this then you can be sure to see them in the pages of the music press soon.


Beartown Zodiac

Whilst their not strictly an unsigned band (though so few are these days) Beartown Zodiac are a band who have been on my radar for several months now, and whose music is far too summery and far too infectious to put off including any longer (the only reason I haven't included them thus far is because they're signed, albeit to an indie). There's a distinct diversity in the lyricism and composition of the band's music, as tracks range from folk numbers to shoegaze outings without even trying. Ultimately, there's far more going on with Beartown Zodiac than you would find from your average folk group; Mumford and Sons they are not (you can breathe your collect sighs of relief now). It's hard to pinpoint just what it is about the band that make them so utterly irresistible, but if you think of the older and more mature brother of Misty's Big Adventure with some 90s influences thrown in for good measure, then you're probably about halfway close to getting just what it is the band are about.



Despite their seemingly young age, Leeds-based quartet Icarus' entire sound is underpinned by a maturity and verbosity similar to that exhibited by band's such as Little Comets. Similar to Little Comets again, the band obviously have a penchant for jangly indie-pop guitars and an ear for melody; even though their SoundCloud page only has two songs uploaded, both 'Venice' and 'Try' suggest that there's much more to come from Icarus, and I personally can't wait to see what they have to offer in the coming months.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

#130: Talk In Colour - Rushes (EP review)

London-based quintet Talk In Colour are a band who take their eclectic tendencies seriously, and as a result, their overall sound isn't easy to pigeon-hole, should you choose to try. Their influences stem from the likes of artists such as The xx and Battles right down to whole genres that share the band's sense of eclecticism, like afrobeat and folktronica, correspondingly, the forthcoming EP, Rushes is a brooding affair in which lyricism and instrumentation are held in equal regard.

This article was originally written for Little Indie Blogs, click here to read the review in full.