Another Month’s Top Notch Listens (+ Radio Show Announcement!)

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Is anybody out there?

I’ve been having an incredibly busy summer, holidaying, writing music, living it up with my free time. This, unfortunately, means I haven’t written much original content for this blog in a while, sorry about that. But I have been writing for Bitter Sweet Symphonies, and have been reposting those articles on here, and I’m also going to write a piece on NOS Alive ’16, since I went, and saw, amongst other things, Radiohead and Arcade Fire. That’ll be worth a read right?

But anyway, for now, I thought I’d quickly do the same thing I did last time I had no time for full formal reviews, a cheeky roundup of what’s been on my headphones the last few weeks. ALSO stay tuned till the end, as I’m announcing details of a radio show I’m hosting next week (Wednesday 3rd August) in which some of these tracks might feature!

Cigarettes After Sex – Affection

‘Oh you’re gonna feel it someday’. So hums the gentle voice of Greg Gonzalez in this incredibly woozy tribute to love and strife. When you strip away the layers of reverb and ambience, the track itself is actually very simple, but the feel of heartache that quivers under the song’s skin is really quite something. I have a lot of love for this band.

Ty Segall – Californian Hills

I mean, come on, this track is just filth right? The murky, scratchy guitar lines, the nasally vocal delivery, the frantic intersections where all becomes rabid and wild, Ty Segall sounds downright dastardly on this cut from his newest album.

Mogwai – Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home

Part of the problem of constantly writing about new music is you tend to overlook the classics. Mogwai, a band I am very familiar with now (check out my review of Atomic), sound just as cinematic on this, their debut, as they do now. This opening track, with its patient bassline and stuttering opening speech, is thoroughly captivating, particularly on a long journey.

Rosemary Fairweather – Too Low

Now, I’ve written extensively about Rosemary Fairweather on Bittersweet Symphonies, but not on this track, which is by far my favourite. Atop a simple hip-hop beat, Fairweather’s delicate vocal and sensitive approach to dream pop sounds downright fantastic. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite tracks of this year, and I suggest you check the rest of her stuff out.

And there you have it, just a selection of the tracks I’ve been indulging in the last month or two. NOW, that radio announcement…

Cambridge 105, a community radio station based in Essex and Cambridgeshire, is giving me an hour to takeover their station and play some local unsigned music from both Cambridge and Manchester. I’m doing it under my band’s name Too Cool Kid, and I’ll be spinning some GREAT music, some you may have heard, much you won’t have heard. The show is live and on air on WEDNESDAY 3rd AUGUST at 9pm. If you fancy tuning in, you can do so via the online player on Cambridge 105’s website, which is…

http://cambridge105.fm/

To recap, the show is TOO COOL KID NMG TAKEOVER, Weds, 9pm BST. Do tune in!

More posts coming soon, take care, wash your hair, brush your teeth, look after yourself x

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The Strokes – Future Present Past EP REVIEW

 

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The Strokes embrace every element of their new EP’s title

The Strokes have always been hampered by their past exploits, and the problem has always been the same: if they continued making music like their debut, they were called safe, and if they deviated, people complained because it wasn’t Is This It. But in recent years, the band has diversified massively, with Albert Hammond Jr’s solo project, Julian Casablancas’ album with The Voidz, and Nikolai starting up Summer Moon. This could mean that finally, people will stop expecting The Strokes to recreate their past glory, and let them just do what they do best.

And it seems that, after 3 years of musical silence, they’ve decided to return with a concept EP, as Future Present Past’s track list seems to mirror its content. If the sinister 80s synth grumble of Drag Queen represents the band’s future, then OBLIVIUS is the band’s transitional present, and Threat Of Joy is a nostalgic flashback to the glory days.

Drag Queen, a song that’s strangely evasive despite its relative simplicity, kicks off the EP. Although the sound of this track is very sinister and interesting, it feels weirdly uncertain, as if the band weren’t quite sure what sort of song they wanted to make. There’s a noticeable influence from Julian Casablancas’ extra-curricular activities too; in fact, this track feels like it could’ve slotted neatly into the tracklist for Tyranny with its odd jazzy guitar stabs and tense chorus soaked bassline.

By contrast, OBLIVIUS is a flawless meld of every version of the band’s sonic blueprint. The low-fi feel of Room On Fire (a production style that encompasses the whole EP) is teemed with slower moody touches reminiscent of First Impressions Of Earth. The vocal melody darts about during the verses, settling on a fantastic hook in the choruses. ‘What side are you standing on?’ howls Julian, as the track explodes with pent up energy. It’s a great new addition for the band, although it feels as if it could’ve benefited from more solid backing vocals.

Threat Of Joy, with its spoken word opening, feels especially tongue and cheek. Julian Casablancas seems to be actively engaging with the band’s critics, asking why they won’t play with him anymore. But the song itself, with its laid back vibe and woozy delivery, is itself very playful. But, like OBLIVIUS, the song is crying out for committed backing vocals. We get some attempt, little bits here and there, but the choruses of both songs would benefit massively from a really strong harmony, and would take these songs to the next level.

What’s re-assuring about this EP is that it shows that The Strokes are still capable of working together and cranking out some really delightful tracks. The band sound largely cohesive throughout, though less so on Drag Queen. Future Present Past, as its title suggests, is very aware of the band’s heritage and history, and although its something of a safe release, it sounds like The Strokes are having fun playing together again, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that really matters? Despite its shortcomings, Future Present Past is a lot of fun, and a cheerful reminder that, for The Strokes, this isn’t it yet.

ALBUM REVIEW: MOGWAI – ATOMIC

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Mogwai hit harder than an atom bomb on their newest album

Inspiration is the key to all great art. Without it, it becomes directionless, and serves little purpose. The right inspiration, in the right hands, can create something truly brilliant.

This is just such the case with Mogwai’s stunning new album Atomic, an album which follows the band’s 20th Anniversary. Created as a soundtrack to the equally brilliant documentary of the same name, Atomic’s vast sonic landscapes and jittery sense of urgency are a perfect match for the danger and uncertainty of the documentary’s musings on nuclear power and its implications.

From the get go, this album soars. The uplifting tone of Ether, with its twinkling keys and staccato bass, perfectly mirrors the optimism of the nuclear age, whilst much of the rest of the tracks act as a stark contrast to this. Paranoia, power and the fear of untimely destruction are woven into the throbbing synth bass lines and ethereal keyboards that twinkle throughout tracks such as ‘U-235’ and ‘Weak Force’.

The album is as intoxicating as it is varied, pulling off delicacy and violence with total ease. French Horn and Violin on tracks like ‘Ether’ and ‘Are You A Dancer?’ provide a gentle relief from the growling textures of the more intense tracks like ‘Scram’. Some may find the steady build of the tracks tiring, but it’s worth your patience. Beautifully mixed as ever, full of fantastic music (and titles too; ’Bitterness Centrifuge’ is a particular favourite), there’s a lot to love about this project.

But this is not merely Mogwai pumping out a soundtrack. This album showcases real improvements to the band’s delivery. The inclusion of some of the more electronic elements of 2014’s Rave Tapes feel far more integrated into the arrangement this time around, and the blend of natural and electronic percussion works especially well, especially in consideration of the source material; just such a meld of natural and synthetic elements goes on in science.

Though there’s the odd moment where a track might seem to drag, overall this is a fantastically varied, highly intelligent album, full of levity and also foreboding. It’s a strong showing that again confirms Mogwai to be modern masters of their art.

LIVE REVIEW: Cigarettes After Sex at Fallow Cafe, Manchester

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An intimate and captivating performance from the New York gloom rockers

Sometimes a band can make too much noise. So much in fact that the purpose of making a listener feel anything can be lost. Excitement can be drawn from a whisper just as well as a shout, and in the case of New York ambient pop band Cigarettes After Sex, they did just this, giving an irresistibly hypnotic and deeply heartfelt performance at Fallowfield’s Fallow Café.

 

Cigarettes After Sex’s sonic texture may strike some as formulaic; the resonant guitar playing and wash of gentle synthesizers does not vary a great deal. But the interplay between the instruments adds an unmistakable atmosphere. This lick of dark paint, when applied to a set of already charming songs, sets the band apart from anything else you’re going to hear.

In the hands of any other band, captivating ballads such as ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ and ‘Affection’ could’ve been crassly misused and over-performed. For Cigarettes After Sex, the simplicity of their delivery is what makes them so appealing. It took only a quick glance around the room to see their impact. The whole audience were wide-eyed and silent, totally involved in a hazy trance. It felt as if you were intimately connected to the band as they mused on new-found love and barely remembered drunken arguments.

They channelled all of the somber introspection of The XX and Joy Division, but seemed to do so with a sense of underlying levity. The best descriptive sentence I can come up with for them is sad songs sung with a smile. If there were only a single word available to describe Cigarettes After Sex, it would be tranquil.

The evening was incredibly chilled and hugely enjoyable, in part due to the fantastic performances of the band, but mainly due to the quality of their material and ability to craft an alluring mood. Should they grace Manchester with their presence again, I would strongly urge you to go and see them. And invite that person you secretly fancy along too; the music is so romantic it’s bound to make them fancy you right back.

Review: Foals & Everything Everything Live at Manchester Arena

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Foals and Everything Everything storm Manchester Arena in a blaze of glory

In all honesty, there’s little that can be said about Foals’ recent tour that hasn’t already been said. They’ve been crushing it wherever they turn up, playing fantastically and getting some huge love from their audiences at every gig they do; their show at Manchester Arena on February 13th was no different. At this point, it’s a widely held view that they (along with equally stunning support act Everything Everything) are one of the best live acts in the country. I have to agree, but not without applying a sense of reflection to the subject, just like Mark Twain would’ve wanted.

Perhaps it should be pointed out how I hold very opposite views about the bands’ most recent albums. In short, I found Foals’ to be as exciting as Shredded Wheat, and Everything Everything’s to be not only one of the best albums of that year, but also one of the most creatively jaw-dropping.

As such, Everything Everything’s set was undeniably captivating for me. A punchy set (and I mean punchy, the band didn’t waste a second for unnecessary chit chat) of mostly new material (they played nothing from breakout album ‘Man Alive’), the band, adorned in surprisingly stylish matching jackets, or in the case of Jonathan Higgs, Jedi robes, were brilliant.

Again, something that’s been written about endlessly is how fantastic ‘No Reptiles’ off their newest album is live. I was skeptical, I didn’t love that song, but the masses were right about it live. Perhaps it’s the harmonies, perhaps the added savagery of the synthesizer through PA speakers, either way it was the highlight of the set, but certainly not by default, as the whole show was superb. The only thing that held it back was the lack of visuals and space for the band to move, but then that’s the trade off of being a support act, and Everything Everything made it their own nonetheless. Highlights also included a bombastic rendition of ‘Distant Past’, as well as ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Fortune 500’.

Foals, capitalizing on the levity of Everything Everything’s aftermath, launched into a brutal set of hits, and also brought a kaleidoscopic LED backdrop, which moved higher or lower depending on the mood of the song, a nice touch. ‘Snake Oil’ kicked off the set, and the energy level remained consistent throughout, with the struggle for supremacy in the various mosh-pits being an ongoing battle. But the real supremacy went to the musicality of the band themselves, who didn’t make a single false step, even when lead singer Yannis Philippakis was engulfed by the crowd upon which he was surfing. It was a blistering affair, and unlike Everything Everything, the band even delved into their first album material, cranking out Two Steps Twice to the surprise and delight of the crowd.

Can a band’s impressive live status mitigate an underwhelming album? No, but Foals’ performance did make me at least go back and re-listen to ‘What Went Down’ (my opinion of it is largely unchanged), as well as delve deeper into their back catalogue, so perhaps that’s all the matters.

Either way, both acts were hugely exciting to watch, though I would have liked to see more of Everything Everything. If you catch a chance to see them or Foals nearby, go. You won’t ‘Regret’ it (I couldn’t resist).

BAND HYPE: NUDE

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Nude, Manchester’s Funk Rock Darlings

What do you get when you cross Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Led Zeppelin? NUDE, although I can assure you the result is no joke.

An excellent quartet studying at Manchester’s Royal Northern College Of Music, NUDE boast a set of instantly memorable and highly entertaining songs. Though their lyrics are simple and easily accessible, their music is underpinned by instrumentals which dart and jump from rhythm to rhythm, melody to melody, and new idea to new idea.

Their musical prowess, combined with a tongue in cheek stage presence personified by hip thrusting and morsels of witty humour, make them an extremely likable live act, and one which have been winning over audiences wherever they play. A blend of rock, disco and funk influences pervade much of their material, all of which tends to be upbeat and danceable. Think of a younger, more aggressive Chic.

And NUDE certainly have an old-school quality about them; they’re not a band looking to get in your face or make you feel as if you’re witnessing some sort of second coming. They may, in the eyes of some, lack an edginess in this respect, but that’s missing the point. What they are, is a band that put on a fantastic live show and dish out some great songs that immediately put a smile on your face.

It’s refreshing to see a band remember that music is entertainment, that it can be a feel-good force for enjoyment rather than self indulgent typecasting. NUDE seem to fully understand this, and they just want you to dance.

Even in these early stages, NUDE are carving out a distinct sound for themselves, using their full arsenal to good effect, and writing some damn good music, so go and see them live. Get on board and expose yourself.

NUDE FB: https://www.facebook.com/BANDWITHAPLAN/?fref=ts

Originally published in The Mancunion 24/02/2016

 

REVIEW: NME AWARDS TOUR, MANCHESTER ACADEMY (BLOC PARTY, DRENGE, RAT BOY, BUGZY MALONE)

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Saturday’s NME Tour was an evening of nostalgia and new beginnings

If there’s one theme tying together every act at Saturday’s NME Awards Tour, it’s new beginnings.

NME itself, having re-launched as a free magazine to massive criticism, is in something of a soul-searching phase currently, and in sense, so too are all of the artists from the evening’s lineup.

Bugzy Malone, rising star of the hip-hop scene, is fighting to prove he’s more than just another Grime rapper, a genre often labeled as being a fad. Rat Boy and Drenge are also looking for their place in the music world, with Drenge having just come out with a new album that showcases a beefier sound. And then of course there’s Bloc Party, currently touring with a new lineup and an eclectic collection of new material.

It seems that all involved in Saturday’s show are out to prove themselves, and all are looking for a happy ending to their new beginnings.

Bugzy Malone kicked off proceedings with a lively, albeit uninventive set. However, despite the lacking instrumental variety, he made good use of his vocal prowess, at one point indulging in a ferocious solo flow which culminated in what can only be described as a filthy drop.

Next up were Rat Boy, who practically tumbled onstage in a ramshackle mess of scruffy clothes and teenage cheekiness. Entertainingly petulant throughout, the youthful foursome were hugely enjoyable, ballsy, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Drenge, arguably the underdogs of the evening, delivered just as exciting a set. However, the band seemed at times far too clean-cut and calculated for the kind of dirty modern rock they were dishing out; they lacked a sense of danger that bands of their category should carry with them at all times. This didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of their set though, as crowd surfers were being dragged from the mass of bodies at least once per song, particularly noticeable during ‘Bloodsports’.

And then Bloc Party arrived.

Lead singer Kele, sauntering onstage in what can only be described as pajamas, greeted the crowd with his usual cordiality, as the band not so much launched but initiated their set. Beginning with ‘The Good News’ wasn’t the explosive start that everyone was anticipating. It seemed to undercut the visceral excitement that had been built up by the previous acts. The next few new tracks were received with some excitement, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a band of Bloc Party’s status. At times, the members even seemed nervous; Russell and Kele looked bored during ‘Banquet’, a song which was a little sloppy in its performance. Not that anyone cared of course, any and all Bloc Party material pre-dating 2010 caused nothing short of a hysteria. Classics like ‘Helicopter’ and ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ were met with thundering applause, as was ‘Flux’.

But throughout the set, however much the crowd were loving it, there was the inescapable feeling that Bloc Party were desperately trying to get the audience to love their new material, material which just isn’t as strong as their older work. No matter how good the band were, no matter how inventive the sampling or poignant the lyrics, the longing for great Bloc Party classics such as ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’ was there, and that’s a shame, because performance-wise, the band were virtually flawless.

What’s clear is that Bloc Party’s new lineup doesn’t detract from their live impact, and I’m certain that the crowd left the venue satisfied, even craving more. But for this reviewer, the way that the band’s classics outshone the rest of the set is a sad sign that they have little more to offer their fanbase.

Overall though, the evening was a blast, and if nothing else, it demonstrated that there’s plenty of fresh musical meat on offer for the future.

 

Originally published in The Mancunion 15/02/2016