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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 4th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
Here in America, we don’t have the BBC. If you switch on your radio here in Washington, most of what you are going to get on the corporate-owned radio stations are same old top 40 mainstream hits every hour. Thanks to the internet, music fans young and old have the opportunity to learn about bands far beyond just what mainstream radio is telling us what we should like, and I think that’s amazing. It’s very important to me that TGTF brings attention to great new music and bands to people of all ages, but probably the most important to educate about good music are the kids. They are the key to music’s enduring future. Without them, we’re destined to a future of major label manufactured Mileys and One Directions, with indie music unsupported and underfunded, dwindling away. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I come from a very large family (you should see the size of our Thanksgiving get togethers), and one of our most avid readers is my cousin’s daughter. She’s a junior in high school here in the DC area, and because she’s been very interested in what we do at TGTF, I’ve been bringing her to shows with me, and she’s been so eager to learn about new music. I was thinking about her when I started thinking about how I was going to write this Bands to Watch, as the kids in the band in question are around Kara’s age. They might be young, but the more important thing is that they’ve got heart. And from what I’ve heard from them, they’re pretty damn talented too.
The Busker’s Sons are a young rock group from Macclesfield, the town generally most famous as being the birthplace of Ian Curtis and Peter Crouch, though our John thinks of it more recently as the place that birthed the Virginmarys. I used the word “young”, as they’re all in college now, and they only just formed last summer, having met each other in high school, though three of them – singer Alex Briscoe, guitarist Harry Gold and drummer Micah Whadcock – had played in another band before this one.
I hope this doesn’t result in a tidal wave of Tweets in my direction – but it probably will, now that I’ve opened my big mouth – but I found the five-man strong group on Twitter and did some investigating, which led me to their Soundcloud. (Note to new bands: if you aren’t already on Soundcloud and you aren’t using it to your advantage, you’ve lost the plot.) Earlier this year, the band self-released an album, ‘Northern Ignorance’; if I had no idea how old these guys were or where they were from, I’d assume they were 1) older and 2) already signed. Why do I say this? I’ve seen some pretty bad opening bands in my time as a music editor, bands that can’t figure out how to write a proper melody and/or write lyrics that mean something and aren’t just words thrown together without much thought; I’m stood there in front of the stage, wishing I was somewhere else. But somehow The Busker’s Sons have already figured this all out – and winningly – well before they’re even legally allowed to drink. I’m imagining this is same kind of epiphany Martin had discovering The Orielles.
It can be hard to find videos of a new band. When I went looking on YouTube for one of the Busker’s Sons, I found this surprising gem filmed in what I’m sure is some bandmate’s bedroom. Very rarely can us music writers see the evolution of a song from an earlier stage to the recorded version, but you can with ‘Disguise’ by watching the video below, followed by streaming to the album version from the band’s Soundcloud. The track appears on the album but was an earlier song released previously on an EP. It’s good. It’s really good. It got stuck in my head after the second listen.
The ‘Northern Ignorance’ album showcases a variety of styles, which signals to me the band haven’t settled on exactly what direction the Busker’s Sons plan to go in. ‘Bury Your Head in the Sand’ displays a harder edge, with Briscoe channeling Alex Turner and Ian Brown, and the stomping rhythm of ‘Mose’ further proves they could be a rock band versus a pop one. The sweet melody of ‘Over My Shoulder’ will make you think early Beatles, while the guitars of ‘Magazines’, another album standout, morph from the those of early frantic Two Door Cinema Club or Hot Club de Paris into those of the Libertines, then back again. The LP also features two covers, the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ and Editors‘ ‘Munich’, both of which benefit from Briscoe’s higher register, with the former sounding more comfortably bluesy than the Fabs’ original, if that’s possible.
‘Northern Ignorance’? Hardly. While the band cite their local heroes Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Joy Division as major influences, they don’t sound like they’re copying any of them. If they can keep on writing gems like these, The Busker’s Sons have a good chance of making a name for themselves and maybe one day, we’ll be writing about them, just like those other legendary bands from Manchester.
London alt-rockers Wolf Alice are likely to bring in new fans from all corners at their SXSW 2014 shows next month. Their sound is a hybrid of styles, a slightly unsettling middle ground among cerebral indie folk, bright garage pop, and murky grunge rock. The band has grown from modest acoustic origins to a fully realized rock band, but even with the piercing guitar riffs and heavy bass reverb, they haven’t completely left behind their more organic characteristics, including the multi-tracked vocal harmonies of lead singer Ellie Rowsell.
Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie began their career together as an acoustic folk duo, adopting the name Wolf Alice from a short story by Angela Carter, which explores the social civilization of a feral child as she grows into a young woman. It’s an interesting analogy between that story and the development of Rowsell and Oddie as songwriters, especially with the addition of Joel Amey on drums and Theo Ellis on bass to flesh out the more savage emotional aspects of their songs.
Wolf Alice’s debut EP ‘Blush’ is incredibly mercurial for a collection of only four songs, alternating between wispy, breathless vocal lines with hazy bass foundations and frenetic bursts of rhythmic energy overlaid with piercing guitar riffs. The band’s own lyric, from the title track, ‘Blush’ might actually be the best description of their overall sound: “Punch drunk, dumbstruck, potluck, happy, happy.”
After their appearance at SXSW, Wolf Alice will embark on a headline tour of the UK; all dates are listed here. The ‘Blush’ EP is available now on Chess Club Records; watch the video for its first single ‘She’ below.
Note: Thomas Lombardi informed us on Twitter this week that he’s not 100% confirmed to appear at SXSW 2014. Keep an eye on the official SXSW schedule for further updates.
Thomas Lombardi, performing under the moniker Tom the Lion, is splashing back onto the scene after a 3-year absence. Debut album ‘Sleep’ is poised to give this Londoner a career jolt. Blending low-fi, chamber pop and modified symphonics, ‘Sleep’ is a mysterious, masterful work. Previous release ‘The Adventures of Tom the Lion’ brought him under the radar commercial success even though it was an amalgam of live performance and limited edition vinyl-only EPs. Despite the difficulty in finding his music – currently available only via Rough Trade or his Web site, it is worth the hunt (hint: try Soundcloud). Both works hold gems that identify this singer as an endearing entry into the male singer/songwriter milieu.
The title track on ‘Sleep’ possesses Bon Iver-esque vocals, but Lombardi has much more power in his voice than Mr. Vernon typically displays. The majority of the tracks have much more weight, with lyrics that get to the guts of the matter and an interesting quality to his voice that makes you want to hear what he has to say. The comparison to Villagers is also warranted with the punctuated delivery of ‘Oilman’, another tune on ‘Sleep’.
The definitive musical Renaissance man, Lombardi plays every instrument, every sound on his albums, proving to be the ultimate musician’s musician. I am very curious as to how this plays out live. Does he pre-record parts, vastly simplify his sound or bring additional musicians with him? The texture of what he produces is so finely wrought, that despite my preference against it, I would like to see him pre-record parts to retain their original flavour. Lombardi’s style wanders over several genres, weaving stories of love and distance using everything from simple folk to crashing electronics. His ability to weave a story into a beautiful sonic landscape is a strong point he capitalizes on with deep folds and nuances to both the soundscape and the words.
Tom the Lion’s debut album ‘Sleep’ is out now on Rough Trade. It’s sure to make a splash, as he certainly will do once he gets to Austin to showcase his talents at SXSW 2014.
South London band The Melodic have just finished touring America with Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit in support of their debut full length album, ‘Effra Parade’. The album’s American release on Anti- Records was on the 5th of November 2013; it will be available in the UK on the 24th of February, according to the band’s Facebook page. For now, The Melodic appear to be focusing on the American side of the pond, ahead of their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2014.
The Melodic’s international-flavoured folk pop was undoubtedly a perfect compliment for Flynn’s darker but equally electic folk style. ‘Effra Parade’ is a light and jaunty mix of carefree melodic lines, casual vocal harmonies and diverse instrumental textures. While musically whimsical, the songs’ thoughtful lyrics often deal with larger intellectual topics, such as the Pinochet-era political turmoil in Chile in ‘Ode to Victor Jara’. (See the wonderfully creative video for that track below.)
First single ‘On My Way’, released on an EP of the same name, is a bit more generally relatable, with its lively percussion and optimistic lyrics about moving forward in life. Already getting airplay on BBC 6music, it’s a catchy kind of tune that sticks in your head after just one listen, but it’s pleasant enough that you’ll probably want to listen twice anyway.
Principal songwriters Huw Williams and Rudi Schmidt cite their Brixton upbringing as a major influence on their music, particularly their early exposure to to a wide range of musical styles, including ’60s and ’70s era folk revival records. ‘Effra Parade’ was recorded in a soundproofed bedroom in Schmidt’s childhood home, with band members John Naldrett, Lydia Samuels, and James McCandless rounding out the ensemble of 18 instruments and various vocal combinations. Their relaxed, straightforward performance style should translate easily to the festival atmosphere in Austin, as well as anticipated UK tour dates later in the year.
Despite their swift and tightly-scripted rise to attention in 2010, Newcastle alt-rock quintet Let’s Buy Happiness have yet to release their much anticipated debut album, ‘Chants for Friends’, which was expected to be out at the end of 2013. The band did a headline tour through the UK in October of last year, and the album’s first single ‘Run’ was released on the 4th of November last year, but after a smattering of shows to end the year, Let’s Buy Happiness seem to have gone quiet, at least for the moment.
This isn’t the first silent spell in the history of Let’s Buy Happiness. After self-releasing its first EP ‘No Hot Ashes’ in 2009, the band have been only intermittently active, releasing a smattering of singles beginning with ‘Six Wolves’ in October 2010, followed by ‘Fast Fast’ in February 2011 and ‘Dirty Lakes’ in September of that year, both on their own Ghost Arc Records label. They returned to the studio in 2012 to work on their full-length album, but have since released only two singles, ‘Works Better on Paper’ in June 2012 and the aforementioned ‘Run’.
It appears that taking some time to mull things over might have been a good move for Let’s Buy Happiness. ‘Run’ is a departure from the band’s earlier introverted sound, still haunting and melancholic, but more dynamic, more expansive and certainly more immediate. Sarah Hall’s light, ghostly voice floats over wailing guitars and synth strings, and her delivery withers away at the end of a line in a way that reminds me a little bit of Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders.
The band’s Soundcloud page reveals several remixes of ‘Run’, including a remarkable psych-electro version by fellow Northerners Hey Sholay that turns the distant melancholy of Hall’s ethereal vocals to a visceral, piercing chill.
Let’s Buy Happiness is scheduled to showcase at SXSW 2014 next month in Austin. The festival appearance might give the band a chance to reignite its longtime fan base and to gain new American fans as well. In the meantime, we can hope that ‘Chants for Friends’ is still on the books for release later this year.
Brighton-based four-piece Wildflowers center their folk rock sound around the vocal harmonies of sisters Siddy and Kit Bennett. Siblings almost always have a unique ability to perfectly match their vocal diction for seamless harmonies, but the sisters also share a love of rebellious female songs, citing Alanis Morrisette as an early musical influence. Hints of Morrisette certainly appear in Wildflowers’ lyrics and Siddy Bennett’s vocal delivery, but the overall sound leans more toward the bluesy country of Patsy Cline. The Bennett sisters cite their nomadic, bohemian upbringing as an influence on their music as well, with American bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac informing the full-scale vocal harmonies they share with band members James Ashbury and Kendal Sant.
On listening to the tracks available on the band’s Soundcloud page, I was struck by the variety in their songs. The live version of ‘Let It Go’ from BBC Introducing in September 2013 is catchy, upbeat and a little gritty, but nicely balanced by the sweet vocals. ‘Tell Them I’m Your Woman’ makes the Patsy Cline influence abundantly clear, and while Siddy Bennett’s voice doesn’t quite hit that mark, her throaty vocals and the sexy percussion and guitars do pack some emotional heat. The bluesy, almost gospel sound is turned up even further on ‘I Need to Hit That Road’ (don’t miss the chorus of this one!) and ‘Took Me to the River’ (see the video for this track at the bottom of this post).
Wildflowers are just finishing a supporting tour for singer/songwriter Tom Odell and are set to embark on their own headline tour of the UK in March, ahead of their scheduled appearance at SXSW 2014. Their debut EP ‘Wild Among The Flowers’ is available now.
Thursday 13th February 2014 – Sheffield O2 Academy (supporting Tom Odell)
Wednesday 5th March 2014 – Manchester Castle Hotel
Thursday 6th March 2014 – Glasgow Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s
Friday 7th March 2014 – Liverpool Korova
Saturday 8th March 2014 – Birmingham Sunflower Lounge
Monday 10th March 2014 – Bristol Louisiana
Tuesday 11th March 2014 – Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
Wednesday 12th March 2014 – Cambridge Portland Arms
Thursday 13th March 2014 – London Sebright Arms
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