Friday, 8 September 2017

#658: Leeds Festival 2017: Sunday

Despite getting little sleep thanks to the very public break-up that happened in the tent behind ours on Saturday night, Sunday morning arrives with the campsite in good spirits and the weather continuing its rare good form, as rumours begin to circulate about a ‘secret’ set over on the Festival Republic Stage from London’s Wolf Alice

#657: Leeds Festival 2017: Saturday

While I might consider myself something of a   Festival veteran these days, arriving halfway through the weekend is something I’d never done before. Unfortunately, work commitments meant that this year we don’t arrive on site until early Saturday afternoon, a move which has both pros, and cons.

#656: Mogwai - Every Country's Sun

Scottish post-rockers Mogwai are a band who need little introduction. Since their inception in 1995, the band have been at the forefront of the UK’s instrumental/post-rock scene, experimenting with time signatures and dynamics while subverting expectations on almost every album and soundtrack. And though their last record, 2014’s Rave Tapes might well have been their least ‘Mogwai’ record yet, their highly anticipated ninth studio album, Every Country’s Sun, isn’t so much as a return to form, as a re-embracing of their original ideals.

#655: Turnover - Good Nature

That ‘Good Nature’, the third album from Turnover should initially come across as light and breezy, ephemeral almost, is something of a surprise given the record’s overarching ideas of learning and self-development, something which has always seemed to play an intrinsic part in the band’s make-up. 

#654: Thumpers - Whipper & Glazed

With most tracks on Thumpers’ debut album ‘Galore’ clocking in at roughly the four-minute mark, it’s a bit of a shock that the average length track on ‘Whipped and Glazed’, their second album, comes in closer to nine. That’s not the only difference. Where ‘Galore’ came across as universally optimistic, floating on warm swells of upbeat instrumentation, ‘Whipped and Glazed’ feels somewhat torn.

*Please note: This review was of a demo version of the record accidentally serviced by the bands PR and isn't an accurate reflection of the finished album.

#653: Flogging Molly - Life Is Good

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the sixth album from Celtic punks Flogging Molly, ‘Life Is Good’, is arguably one of the band’s most upbeat and optimistic records to date. Despite the title coming from a conversation had between frontman Dave King and his mother as she lay on her deathbed, the likes of ‘The Hand of John F Sullivan’ and ‘Welcome to Adamstown’ kickstart the record with a feeling of urgency and elation.

Friday, 4 August 2017

#652: Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface

Anyone with even a passing interest in Manchester Orchestra can tell you that their disposition isn’t the sunniest. That doesn’t mean to say they’re a band who thrive on miserabilia however, merely that they understand exercising their demons through the medium of music is just as cathartic for their fans as it for themselves.

#651: Blink 182, Castlefield Bowl, Manchester

Photo by Lee Hammond

Every so often, a line-up comes around that’s so perfect one can’t help but wonder if it hasn’t been put together specifically for oneself. Tonight is one of those occasions. With Blink-182, Frank Turner and The Front Bottoms all having played important roles at some point in my life, this wasn’t a line-up I was going to miss.

This review was originally written for Line of Best Fit. Click here to read in full.

#650: Childhood - Universal Light

Second albums being notoriously difficult might be something of a cliché these days, but clichés wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t an element of truth to them. As such, Childhood’s decision to move away from the swirling psychedelia of their debut, towards the sleek, soul-inspired sounds of ‘Universal High’ is an interesting one.

#649: Waxahatchee - Out in the Storm

With self-doubt and self-deprecation acting as the cornerstone for much of Waxahatchee’s previous material, it’s a welcome, somewhat overdue surprise her fourth album ‘Out In The Storm’, should see Katie Crutchfield harbouring more confidence and self-belief than ever before.

Monday, 17 July 2017

#648: Life, Oh Life, Oh Life

Going back even to before American folk legend Woodie Guthrie emblazoned his guitar with the slogan ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’, musicians have been using their platform as a means to speak out against political and social injustices; acting as mouthpieces to those who otherwise wouldn’t have their voices heard, or providing a way to reach out to disenfranchised demographics.

#647: Introducing...TUSKS

While lazy comparisons might well lump London’s TUSKS in with the likes of London Grammar, look past the electronics and bold female vocal, and a vastly different aesthetic reveals itself. While the aforementioned deal in grandeur and bombast, TUSKS opt for a less is more mantra, resulting in organically evolving soundscapes that are as beguiling as they are beautiful, yet always subtle in their delivery.

#646: Arms & Hearts - Too Much Sleep, Not Enough Dreams (EP review)

While it feels almost impossible to go anywhere in Manchester without rubbing elbows with one of the city’s singer/songwriters, very few do little to distinguish themselves from the ever-growing masses of ‘Wonderwall’ covers and trilbies. Fortunately, there are those who manage to keep their heads above the water in what’s often a sea of mediocrity.

#645: Iron Chic, Rebellion, Manchester

Once harbouring a reputation as one of Manchester’s premiere metal venues, Rebellion, thanks in part to its new management, is beginning to shake that image by not limiting itself to any one scene. To prove that point, tonight sees Long Island’s Iron Chic take to their stage almost exactly a year since their last Mancunian sojourn.

Monday, 26 June 2017

#644: Rancid - Trouble Maker

It’s difficult to know where to begin with Trouble Maker, the ninth album from Californian punk stalwarts Rancid. On the one hand, it’s everything we could want from a Rancid record. Organs and upstrokes? Check. Buzzsaw guitar solos? Of course. Tim Armstrong’s breathy drawl juxtaposed with Lars Fredrikson’s biting bark? Naturally. On the other hand however, it’s also everything we’ve come to expect from a Rancid record and as such, does little to break a framework the band established albums ago.

#643: Kamikaze Girls - Seafoam

If there was a single track that managed to encapsulate the frustrations and optimism of Seafoam, the debut LP from Kamikaze Girls, it would be the sprawling final track ‘I Don’t Want To Be Sad Forever’. Coming at the end of the record, the track plays out as a cathartic culmination to all that comes before it. And while cathartic is certainly the right word to describe the track, and indeed the record as a whole, it’s not strictly the optimistic brand of catharsis one might expect.

#642: Tycho, Albert Hall, Manchester

Walking into Manchester’s Albert Hall, it’s hard to imagine a venue more suited to Tycho’s ambient electronica than a converted Wesleyan chapel. Arriving fashionably late, with the fading sun cascading through the venue’s stained-glass windows, it’s clear that this is one of the rare occasions on which the venue’s aesthetics boost the atmosphere tenfold. 

#641: London Grammar - Truth Is A Beautiful Thing

Where London Grammar’s 2013 debut ‘If You Wait’ harboured a brooding sense of bombast established from the outset, ‘Truth Is A Beautiful Thing’ is much more subtle in its delivery - the three and a half years between releases providing London Grammar with not just a new found sense of maturity, but with a more nuanced sense of musicality also.

Monday, 5 June 2017

#640: Maximo Park, Albert Hall, Manchester

For many, the fact that Newcastle’s Maximo Park are still massively active more than ten years since their inception is crazy. While so many bands of their era have either stagnated in to obscurity, or reached the dizzying heights of worldwide renown, theirs is a career of celebrated consistently, of which the 2000 people in attendance this evening are a testament.

#639: Mew - Visuals

Much like the country in which it was conceived, ‘Visuals’, the seventh album from Danish dream-poppers Mew, harbours an imposing nature concealed behind its inherent beauty. Written while on the road in support of previous release ‘+-‘, there’s a definite sense of the band attempting to, and succeeding in, capturing what frontman Jonas Bjerre refers to as a ‘creative peak’.

#638: At the Outside - Catching Up With Gnarwolves

Pop-punk has come a long way since the Descendents exploded on to the LA hardcore scene in the ‘80s, and these days, it has never felt more relevant. Now a far cry from irreverent humour, teenage angst, and, erm, fart jokes, pop-punk has grown up, and become more cathartic in the process.

#637: Gnarwolves - Outsiders

Three years have passed since Brighton punks Gnarwolves released their self-titled debut. In the scheme of things that might not so long, but the change in the band is more than evident. ‘Outsiders’, though harbouring the same energy and DIY ideals as its predecessor, is a record more nuanced, and more considered than anything the trio have released before.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

#636: Go Forth and Suffer for Your Art - Catching Up With The Smith Street Band

While it’s far from unusual for bands from overseas to find their footing in countries other than their own, their sense of national identity can often feel slightly diminished, watered-down somewhat, in an effort to maximise their appeal. Fortunately for Melbourne’s Smith Street Band, they embody an Australia that’s both stereotypical yet fitting of their generation.

#635: Diet Cig - Swear I'm Good At This

“I don’t want to make you feel nostalgic for something that never happened,” sings Alex Luciano on ‘I Don’t Know Her’, the penultimate track on Diet Cig’s debut LP. It’s an interesting sentiment, especially taking into account the ability of Swear I’m Good At This to make you feel just that.

#634: The Smith Street Band - More Scared of You Than You Are of Me

While Melbourne’s The Smith Street Band effortlessly craft images of a suburban Australia rarely experienced by those of us on the other side of the world, it’s not a sense of pseudo-exoticism that affords the band their resonance. Rather, it’s the familiarity of the scenes that play out against such a backdrop, and the emotional response to said scenes, that offer the appeal.

#633: Maximo Park - Risk to Exist

Having made their name thanks to their trademark angular and heartfelt pop music, that Maxïmo Park’s sixth LP ‘Risk to Exist’ should be predicated on politics comes as something of a surprise. It probably shouldn’t, however. The band’s native North East is a region built on industry, and like many others in the UK, has been hit hard by government cuts and rising unemployment. For a band whose lyrics are often hinged on a nostalgic romanticism to become a mouthpiece for the voiceless, the situation must be pretty grim indeed, and not just up north.

Friday, 24 March 2017

#632: Empty Lungs - Don't Get It (EP review)

Though the politics and nihilism of punk might well leave a lot to be desired in the scheme of things, the movement possessed a DIY spirit and sense of community that’s difficult not to admire. One band who seem to embody the very idea of those things, it’s Belfast’s Empty Lungs.

This review was originally written for Louder Than War. Click here to read in full.

#631: Great Cynics - POSI

The world’s going to shit. Plain and simple. You’re probably sick of hearing about it now, hell, I’m even sick of writing about it. Unfortunately, thin patience does little to change that, and the fact remains that the world is indeed going to shit. London punks Great Cynics are aware of this fact. Thankfully however, their fourth record POSI lives up to its name. Rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of failing political systems and rise of the Right, its focus feels much more personal while at the same time feeling universally resonant.

#630: Beachheads - Beachheads

With Kvelertak so entrenched in the rock and metal scenes of their native Norway, and indeed further afield, it’s easy to overlook the inherent melody behind their weighty riffs. With that in mind, that two members should conceive and eventually form a side project in which fizzy, pop melodies were intrinsic, isn’t all that surprising.

#629: Bonobo, Manchester Apollo

Having seen Simon Green’s DJ sets before, we were somewhat prepared for the sheer energy with which he performs as Bonobo. Seeing him tonight (2 March) with an eleven-piece live band however, said energy is magnified tenfold; a sold-out Manchester Apollo heaving to every bass note or flute trill.

#628: Connor Oberst - Salutations

When Conor Oberst released ‘Ruminations’ last October, it wasn’t quite the record he set out to make. Recorded in just 48 hours with nothing but his voice, piano, guitar and harmonica, what was originally intended as the record’s bare bones became its fully realised form. The result was arguably his most honest work to date, but while the world was singing his praises, he forged ahead with his plans to record with a full band.

Monday, 6 March 2017

#627: TYPES - The Future is Close Enough

With its working class playing such a huge role in the City’s musical history, it’s surprising how few of Manchester’s contemporary bands seem interested in the current social and political climate of the UK. And though there are a handful of bands with left-leaning tendencies, Cabbage for instance, they’re often overtly brash in their sentiment, all bark if you will. TYPES are an exception to this rule.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

#626: Here's to the Sixth Time - Catching Up With Los Campesinos!

“There are very few bands that formed in 2006 that are still releasing records now,” says Gareth David, frontman of Los Campesinos!. He has a point. In a testament to both the throwaway nature of indie-rock, and the lasting appeal of the band themselves, many of the acts they started out sharing stages with are now confined to the annals of history; remembered only in rose-tinted listicles and drunken YouTube sessions. Los Campesinos! on the other hand, have endured. But it’s not always been easy.

#625: Punk & Politics: Catching Up With False Heads

Punk in 2017 feels like a diverse, even contentious subject. Now approaching its 40th anniversary, there’s little doubt that what was once a moral panic causing act of youthful rebellion, is now accepted, even celebrated, by the establishment it once sought to rebel against (look to PUNK.London, for example, as proof). While the movement has become ingrained in British culture, often to the point of caricature, the general disenfranchisement felt across the social strata is crying out for another similarly motivated movement.

#624: Los Campesinos! - Sick Scenes

It’s been ten years since Los Campesinos! exploded on to the UK’s indie scene in a technicolour array of synths and suspicious looking stains they swore were cherryade. A hell of a lot has changed in that time, not least of all Los Campesinos! themselves, whose journey from indie-pop poster kids to genuinely skilled songsmiths is one of the most overlooked careers in contemporary indie.

#623: Sleaford Mods - English Tapas

While ‘English Tapas’ might literally refer to a menu item at “some random pub” visited by Sleaford Mods’ button-presser Andrew Fearn, it’s a fitting title for an album that’s predominantly interested in dissecting and digesting various pockets of society. At their strongest when pointing out the ironies and idiocies of modern day England, they’re a band who divide opinions while being unflinching in their own.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

#622: Sundara Karma - Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect

Already daubed rockstars in waiting, Reading’s Sundara Karma are a band destined to be huge. Forming way in back 2010 – though only becoming their current iteration in 2015 – the Berkshire-based four-piece have been turning heads since their inception, and now, signed to Sony’s RCA label, show little sign in slowing their ascent to the top.

#621: Dave Hause & The Mermaid - Bury Me In Philly

No stranger to the American punk scene, Philly-based troubadour Dave Hause earned his credentials playing in myriad bands throughout the 00s, most notably in both Paint It Black and The Loved Ones. And while said scene is still thriving, those that populate it are a far cry from the grizzled images the word punk connotes.

#620: Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band, The Deaf Institute, Manchester

From my view perched on the Deaf Institute’s miniscule balcony, the one thing that’s immediately obvious before the lights dim and Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band take to the stage, is how equally split tonight’s attendance is. Once the realm of mainly beards and plaid both on and off the stage, line-ups such as tonight’s have always attracted a specific sort of crowd, so to see such diversity is a pleasant surprise.

#619: Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes - Modern Ruin

Renowned for his incendiary live shows, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Frank Carter’s second record with his band The Rattlesnakes feels almost tame in comparison to last year’s ‘Blossom’.

Monday, 6 February 2017

#618: AFI - The Blood Album

Three and a half years have passed since the California punks released their last album ‘Burial’, and for long-term fans of AFI, new material is long overdue.

This review was originally written for Clash Magazine (Print). Click here to read in full.

#617: Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Last August, when Japandroids announced a run of shows slated for the tail end of 2016, it broke the silence on a three-year hiatus that followed a mammoth run of dates in support of their second album. A second announcement not long after confirmed what many people had spent two months speculating — a follow-up to 2012’s ‘Celebration Rock’.

#616: The Menzingers - After the Party

Pop-punk has always been a genre with youth at its heart. Forget the grizzled, cider-stained politics of its parent, for many growing up, its lyrics and upbeat melodies were a direct form of catharsis, providing the soundtrack to an adolescence populated by underage drinking and make-ups and break-ups, all while managing to articulate the heightened teenage emotions felt by its fans. But what happens when those fans — and indeed those bands — succumb to the inevitable and start to get older?

#615: Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound

Cloud Nothings have always been a band to relish in their DIY credentials. Third album ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ was a clattering, abrasive affair, drenched in lo-fi fuzz, and recorded whenever their heavy touring schedule allowed. It’s for that reason its follow-up comes as somewhat of a surprise.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

#614: Bonobo - Migration

Simon Green’s work has never fallen neatly in to a box. While loosely considered electronica, it’s always harboured a more natural, more introspective quality than traditionally contrived dance music. Fittingly, this is something which itself seemed to develop organically across the course of Bonobo’s career; both 2010s Black Sands and its follow-up The North Borders each expanding an already liberal sound palette.

#613: Tycho - Epoch

Released digitally at the end of September, Tycho’s Epoch is the culmination of a trilogy of albums that started with 2011’s Dive and continued with Awake in 2014. Taking listeners on an expansive and otherworldly journey, sound-tracked by an eclectic amalgam of analog sounds, electronic synths and live instrumentation, it’s a progression that feels natural, organic even, allowing listeners to see not just the evolution of the records themselves, but of Tycho as a band.

Monday, 2 January 2017

#612: Introducing...The Golden Age of TV

Though dead bodies probably make appearances in the narrative of songs more often than we think, it’s not very often that such subject matter is dealt with both eloquence and a certain degree of finesse. For Leeds’ The Golden Age of TV however, and their subject of “a buried dead body slowly realising what’s going on”, the inherent darkness that such a narrative brings has been offset by mesmeric arpeggios and a woozy falsetto. The result is a track steeped in narcotic and understated grandeur; the band’s chemistry, both evident and effortless, easily belying their short time together.

#611: The Front Bottoms, The Ritz Manchester

Having seen various bands progress through Manchester’s venue circuit over the last few years, the announcement that New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms were scheduled to play The Ritz just ten months after their their last UK tour was met, at least personally, with some reservations.

Though iconic in its own right, it’s an unlikely host for what’s arguably one of the strongest pop-punk tours of the year. More suited to indie gigs and various club nights, those few punk gigs that the Ritz does put on are attended by punks somewhat older and far more grizzled than the majority of tonight’s crowd. That said, while leather jackets have been replaced with lumberjack shirts and Doc Martin’s swapped for Vans, the plaid contingent is out on en masse.

#610: Matthew and Me - Startpoint (EP Review)

Both imposing and hauntingly fragile, the latest EP from Devon’s Matthew and Me feels much like the landscape that shaped it, at times stark, at others staggeringly pretty. While it’s unsurprising that Start Point, the area which gave the EP its name has, at least partly, shaped its sound, what does come as a surprise is just how far that sound seems to have come in the last eighteen months.

#609: Bayonne - Primitives

At a time when the world seems hell bent on regressing back towards the dark ages one giant step at a time, there’s a lot to be said for music that says something, that harbours political sentiment or a message of positivity. For that very same reason, there’s a lot to be said for music that provides a sense of escapism; that affords listeners the chance to forget their particular troubles, however briefly.