Sunday, 22 December 2013

#227: The Courteeners - Phones 4 U Arena - 13/12/13

It seems to me that The Courteeners are a band you either love or hate. Many people are under the impression that they’re an arrogant Oasis cover band (ironically much like Oasis being an arrogant Beatles cover band), however there’s far more to Liam Fray et al than just being a LAD band, which unfortunately they very much are. They seem to be a band for the people, and for the people of Manchester, and it’s for this reason that we go in to this evening expecting big things.

This review was originally written for God is In the TV Zine, click here to read in full.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

#226: Thee Oh Sees - Singles Collection: Vol 3

As a reviewer, it goes without saying that some of the music you’re tasked with writing about won’t always be to your taste. When this happens, it’s usually quite easy to be able to say why you don’t like it, and then go on to pick out some redeeming features of the record. What can also happen, though thankfully not all that often, is you’re given a record and, even after five or six listens, you still haven’t formed a solid opinion on the piece. One such album was Singles Collection: Vol 3 from San Fran psychers, Thee Oh Sees.

This review was orignally written for Far Out Magazine. Click here to read in full.

Monday, 16 December 2013

#224: Grizzly Bear - Shields: Expanded

Originally released in September 2012, Grizzly Bear’s Shields was a wonderfully rich album of lush compositions and textures. Musically it was an adventurous step for the band, expanding on the ground laid by three previous albums in almost every aspect; lyrically it saw the band expand even further, weaving a loose narrative thread deftly in to a dense patchwork of contemporary folk and neo-psych in what was an important decision for the band. “For this record, it was really important for us to try and make sure that lyrics had a weight to them and at least some sense of a narrative” proclaimed bassist and producer Chris Taylor There were lyrics in previous albums that seemed to have no meaning whatsoever. And that always really annoyed me.” Fortunately for Taylor, it seems as if his wishes came true, as the lyricism across Shields manages to distil an almost feeling of both romantic and platonic distance, that always teeters on the edge of loneliness, without ever headlong in to the gaping abyss beneath. Now, fourteen months after the record’s initial release, the band have released Shields: Expanded, a collection of b-sides and remixes that never made the album’s original cut but are finally seeing the light of day.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

#223: Ecstasy - Exhale (EP review)



December 9 2013 (National Anthem)


Though it's coming late to the game, Exhale could very well be one of the best EPs I've had the pleasure of reviewing this year. Marking London quartet Ecstasy's debut release on National Anthem (Haim, Chvrches), it comprises four tracks of irresistible dream-pop atmospherics and sugary synth loops that sound, somewhat fittingly, like Chvrches would do after a weekend on the band's namesake pharmaceutical (which, by all accounts, is never a bad thing). There is more to it than that, however, and despite there being very little information on Ecstasy at the moment (no bad jokes, please) Exhale feels like the record that's going to get more than a select few excited about them.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

#222: Velocets - Guillver's, Manchester - 06/12/13

It hardly seems like two weeks have passed since the last showcase from illusive Manchester promoter Mr. Peeps. In actual fact, almost four months have been and gone since the the last one, and as a result the expectation and anticipation surrounding tonight is almost palpable. Gracing us with their presence tonight are three of Manchester’s most promising bands, and Cleethorpes-based psychers Kismet Ryding, who kick off the proceedings excellently.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

#221: Itch - Roadhouse, Manchester - 20/11/13

Unfortunately, arriving somewhat later than planned due to a mixture of both work and tonight's unusually early start time, we descend the stairs of Manchester's Roadhouse just as the final notes of the support band RDGLDGRN ring out, and have barely enough time to grab a beer before Itch takes to the stage. Tonight is the Kevin Says Tour, an offshoot from this years Warped Tour featuring a selection of contemporary artists from the line-up including the aforementioned RDGLDGRN as well as The Hype Theory and Ghost Town. Upon listening to those that I missed when I got home, I came to the conclusion that fifteen year old me would have been in my element, which could well explain why much of the crowd were fresh-faced and beerless, and ultimately perplexed by the headliner himself.

Ex-King Blues frontman Itch struck out on his own soon after the announcement of his band's death, and has obviously been relishing in the new found freedom he has at his feet, particularly when it comes to collaborations. The most recent of which, 'Hopeless Romantic' kicks off tonight's set list brilliantly. With Taking Back Sunday's Adam Lazara taking up vocal duties on the chorus (he isn't actually here), it's a fairly mellowed start to an evening which promises to get heavier. And get heavier it does, almost immediately in fact with 'Diplomat' the first song from Manifesto Part 2 setting the tone for what's to follow excellently. Not one to miss out on the action himself, Itch seems to spend most of the night down on the floor with the audience, much to the surprise of some of the younger members of the crowd.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening comes just after the halfway point in the form of 'Gutter Starz', with sleazy rock guitars forming the verses and an anthemic synth chorus it's a fusion of styles that summarises Itch himself perfectly. Sure it's been done before, but really with this much passion, this much conviction. There's an energy about tonight's show that surpasses that of your usual live performance, sure the political sentiment might be lost on some people, or and people might even disagree with some, but no one can deny the absolute fervour and fire with which Itch delivers his Manifesto.

There's something inherently punk about Itch, and I don't mean 'punk'. It's this that bleeds in to the crowd in a way that rarely happens at gigs and could only happen in a venue such as the Roadhouse, or any other of Manchester's spit 'n' sawdust venues. As a front-man, Itch was just that. As a solo artist, he's far more. The King Blues were a fantastic feel good band to which you could get drunk and dance; Itch feels like someone you have to listen to, have to watch. And for that, his performances are only going to get better. 

#220: Catching Up With...The Slow Readers Club (U&I Music Magazine - December Issue)

The Slow Readers Club were, up until last year, one of Manchester's best kept secrets. While it can't be said that they're unheard of outside of their city, the band hold a special place in the hearts of those who have been there from the word go, seeing Slow Readers Club grow and evolve in to the band they are today, an intelligent and musically sound quartet whose sound has drawn numerous and fitting comparisons to the likes Editors and Interpol.

Not only does their music seem as if it would go down perfectly in one of Manchester's sticky-floored indie clubs, it has gone down perfectly in those clubs, serving to only heighten the sense of Mancunian pride in which the band are draped. The Slow Readers Club, their debut album released last year, was filled with frenetic and angular guitars and driving percussion occasionally offset by candid moments of poignancy. More recenet releases, however, such as last month's single 'Forever In Your Debt' and it's flipside, 'Days Like This Will Break Your Heart', feel much more realised, as if the grandiose aesthetics hinted at in their debut have not only returned, but have been explored, built upon. There was always a maturity exhibited by the band (something attributed to three-quarters of them having been in much-lauded Manc outfit Omerta) but latter tracks in their canon just hold up that little bit more, begging the question, will 2014 see the release of a much anticipated second album?

It's safe to say the answer is yes. With support from XFM, NME, BBC6 Music to name but three, the support behind The Slow Readers Club is incredible and a follow-up to their self-titled is as inevitable as it is anticipated. With a wave of hype building within in Manchester at the moment around bands such as MONEY and Kult Country, it seems a fitting time for TSRC to make a push, joining such influences as Arcade Fire on festival bills, not just club playlists.

We caught up with singer Aaron Starkie for a chat about Manchester, influences, and most importantly, what we can look forward to going in to 2014.

Hi Aaron, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. First of all, The Slow Readers Club is a fantastic name, where did it come from?

AS: Thanks, glad you like it. One of my clearest memories from childhood is being taken around the senior school and being shown the different class rooms. One of the rooms was labeled ‘Special Needs’, I remember finding it alarming that you could be classified like that. I guess our name is an expression of discomfort with that notion.

U&I: Your most recent single 'Forever In Your Debt' has garnered plenty of attention from smaller blogs and online publications. How important do you think this kind of media coverage is to up-and-coming artists such as yourselves?

AS: Very important, we are self funded so don't have a marketing budget for press and radio plugging. At the moment we are promoting our selves using Twitter and Facebook. They have been great tools for getting our music out there and getting in touch with bloggers.

As you say we have had great support from a lot of independent music blogs and we have also had lots of great support from fans posting links to our videos and Soundcloud and helping to spread the word.

U&I: 'Forever In Your Debt' seems to somewhat more matured, maybe more fleshed out than some of the tracks on your debut. How much do you think you have progressed as band since the release of The Slow Readers Club? And what can we expect from any forthcoming material?

AS: Yeah I would say it feels like a step forward from the first album. Its more intelligent in terms of arrangement, its quite sparse compared to previous tracks, we had a lot of synths and sequenced stuff on the first album.

In terms of more stuff we have been experimenting with different beats and sounds, we want to do stuff that excites us. We are working on some really cool tracks at the moment and we have a great working relationship with our producer Phil Bulleyment. People can expect good things!

U&I: You've been playing live for a number of years now, as a result you've played with your fair share of other bands from Manchester, who have been some of the best to gig with?

AS: Puressence are probably the best Manchester band we have played with, we have done a few gigs with them over the years and always get a warm welcome from their crowd.

U&I: Similarly playing such an amount of gigs is bound to have given you some stories to tell. Care to share any with our readers?

AS: Ha! What happens on tour stays on tour…

U&I: You've drawn comparisons to the likes of Interpol and Editors plenty of times before, something which can obviously be attributed to the sense of moody anthemics within your music, but what other bands would you cite as influences that we might not have picked up on?

AS: Currently listening to The National, Maccabees, London Grammar, Foals, Arcade Fire, LCD Sound System. In terms of older bands The Smiths, The Beatles, Bowie, Echo and The Bunneymen, Lou Reed, The Doors, New Order, Elvis... too many to mention.

U&I: What do you think it is about Manchester that has made the city such a massive place for both contemporary music, and older bands that have become household names?

AS: You have a good mix of cultures I suppose, it has a massive student population and it draws people in from all over the world. It also has its fair share of council estates, rain and misery. I think a lot of bands start making music to escape the drudgery. You would think geography would be less relevant in the internet age, perhaps it will be in the future.

U&I: Do you think that being a band from Manchester, people already have a certain idea about you, and do you feel that you might be expected to live up to certain stereotypes?

AS: Yes probably, its understandable I suppose. There’s a strong image in most people’s minds of traditional Indie/Madchester in terms of both sound and image but It’s a shame really because the music coming out of Manchester is as diverse as that of any other place.

U&I: Manchester's a city renowned for it's array of eclectic, if not occasionally ramshackle, bars and venues, but which has been your favourite to either play, or watch a gig at?

AS: The Deaf Institute, The Night and Day and The Ruby Lounge

U&I: Finally, what can we expect from the band going in to 2014 and beyond?

AS: We are going to be releasing another single in March with a small tour, with our second album to follow soon after.

U&I: Thanks a lot guys, it's been a pleasure.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

#219: Art Class Sink - Illa (EP review)

Art Class Sink


November 25, 2013 (New Level Music)


Having shared stages with the likes of Skaters and Temples it seems that Oxford-based four-piece Art Class Sink are well on their way to earning the same kind of recognition that the aforementioned found this year. And well they should. Having featured the band earlier in the year, I was eager to hear how far they've progressed in the six months since then and with the release of their most recent EP Illa, it's clear that the band have matured, tightened and built upon every aspect of their sound.

Beginning with 'She', the record begins with a moody and atmospheric aesthetic that feels like being welcomed back to familiar territory. Built almost entirely around impactive instrumentation, the track feels like a statement of intent, hinting at what's to come, and while it ends on a rather heavy note, the opening vocal melody of second track 'Time To Go' offsets the weight brought on by the ever-present freneticism of the drums.

'A Cry For Help', on the other hand, offsets the energy and relentlessness of the previous two tracks, replacing it with a sense of melancholy that, rather atypically, isn't juxtaposed against an inherent optimism Art Class Sink purport in other tracks. It's quite a restrained track, but it's a welcome restraint, providing some brief respite from their driving guitars and pounding percussion.

The crowning point of Illa however, it's zenith if you will, comes in the form of the final track 'Someone to Try For'. Featuring some seriously blissed out grooves, it's the band mellowing, as much as they can mellow, and is the perfect soundtrack to a festival evening, a couple of months the wrong side of summer.

With Illa, the band have expanded on a sound that was already head and shoulders above most of their contemporaries. A fusion of different ideas and aesthetics, the EP brings that many different aspects of Art Class Sink to the fore, it's difficult to even label it. Relaxed and laid back indie-pop is nestled in side by side with moodier tracks that are, in turn, fitted in perfectly next to shoegaze elements in a combination that one wouldn't think would work. It never feels erratic or disjointed though, and that's the beauty of it, the band manage to create a huge sense of space and of openness, whilst never lacking the drive nor energy to keep things interesting, definitely a band to watch out for as we go into 2014 and beyond.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

#218: NARCS - Karaoke (single review)



November 2013 (Clue Records)


Leeds isn't the first city in the North of England that you'd think of when it comes to groove laden indie-rock. It is, however, where snarling five-piece NARCS hail from, and with their most recent single 'Karaoke', a scathing examination of the X-Factor syndrome, the band are contending with some of the North's best underexposed acts, to put Leeds on the musical map permanently.

At less than three minutes long, it's a short sharp and acerbic jibe at celebrity culture. Taking no time to kick off proceedings, a chunky guitar and drumming somewhat akin to that of the first Arctic Monkeys record drive the song forward, all the while backboned by a fantastically produced bass and rhythm section.

With their previous single '19' attracting positive attention from a number of small music blogs such as this one, it's only a matter of time before NARCS gain the attention of a wider musical sphere, and make the waves they've already set in motion, even bigger.

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#217: The Darlingtons - Don't Give Me Hope (single review)

The Darlingtons

Don't Give Me Hope 

November 25, 2013 (self-release)


Following on from September's excellent live EP, Who Says There's No Beach in Doncaster? Taunton's The Darlingtons are back with new single 'Don't Give Me Hope' and it's B-side 'Contagious/Courageous'. As I mentioned in an earlier review, there's an air of melancholy that permeates the band's optimism, a kind of relatable miserabilia that manages never to feel cloying, and is, at times, adds to the inherently uplifting nature of their music. With 'Don't Give Me Hope' however, that seems to have fallen by the wayside in what serves to be one of the band's most emotionally intense release to date.

As a standalone track, 'Don't Give Me Hope' would serve perfectly to encapsulate the essence of The Darlingtons in just under four minutes. As it happens however, with 'Contagious/Courageous' following it, the pairing of these two tracks together makes for a compelling listen, that doesn't so much as summarise the band, as showcase their defining facets.

'...Hope' sees the band take a realist's view of a relationship by means of an anthemic and optimistic track, the inevitable narrative outcome juxtaposed effortlessly against the track as a whole whilst the ending sees a shoegaze-y breakdown conclude. Conversely, 'Contagious/Courageous' sees the band head in an almost dream-pop direction, drawing on the softer side of the their influences, draping the track in a lazy haze whilst still maintaining the their optimistic ideals.

Having already been championed by such magazines as Artrocker, it's obvious that 'Don't Give Me Hope' is attracting attention from all the right places. This, coupled with the band's tireless work ethic and gig schedule, they've won over fans across the country, and as we go in to 2014, you can't help but think that it could quite easily become the year of The Darlingtons.

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Monday, 2 December 2013

#216: Jubilee Courts - Room With A View (single review)

Jubilee Courts

Room With A View

December 16 2013 (Stalkers Records)


Though they've been writing and gigging for some time now, it wasn't until earlier this year that Northants five-piece Jubilee Courts took on their “final finished form”. Their music - an unusual blend of post-punk, psych and shoegaze - feels as nostalgic as it does contemporary, and finally, despite numerous set backs over the last year, the quartet are set to realise their debut single 'Room With A View' and B-Side 'Strip Down'.

This review was originally written for Little Indie Blogs. Click here to read in full.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

#215: The Family Rain - Ruby Lounge, Manchester - 17/11/13 (Photo-review)

Manchester's Ruby Lounge is arguably one of our city's most important venues for up-and-coming local acts, as much as those from further afield. Whilst also playing host to a number of more established acts looking for a more intimate setting, the venue, along with the Night & Day and the Roadhouse, acts as rung on the ladder to the top of any band's game as far as Manchester is concerned, and one such band, Bath's The Family Rain teamed up with London's IC1's to ply their trade up North. Once again, Trust A Fox, was there, camera in hand, to catch the nights action.