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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Martin and his missus may have coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling’, and Coldplay may have a new album out on the 19th of May. But on the same day comes the release of something far more interesting, and ironically enough, its contents might throw you into thinking about a kind of conscious recoupling. London band Longfellow, who many in Britain have tipped to challenge Martin’s band’s global stranglehold on the mainstream alt rock scene, will be dropping their next single ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ on that very day.
Seeing that Longfellow have signed to the exact same label to begin their career as Coldplay did in their early days – London’s Fierce Panda, whose ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ I reviewed a short while ago – it all seems very cosy. A little too cosy… However, it seems that Coldplay’s latest reveal, single ‘Magic’, has taken more reliance on beat than their past efforts, and they have cleared the way for a group like Longfellow to make it. That is, if they can write a pop anthem. Have they, in ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’? Let’s examine further, shall we?
When I first read the title, I thought the word ‘Makeup’ had to be a mistake. Surely it should have been referring to the act of making up after a break-up and not literally cosmetics? It bothered me a lot: hey, remember, I’m an editor! After further reflection, it made me think of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, in which there’s the immortal line, “my smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. So that made me grin. Like Smokey’s song, ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ is about the dreadful wanting of someone after realising you’ve lost the world you shared with that person.
The lyrics of this Longfellow song may make you wince from the desperation contained within; “I was there by your side as you reached for another / and a part of me, it died”; “don’t make these blue skies turn to red / I’m yours but I won’t regret it”), especially with the way lead vocalist Owen Lloyd emotes this desperation, but any such wincing is brief. With words like “so let’s grow old together, sweetness you’re my heart and soul / a thousand nights that I lay restless, praying you’d come home”, the song makes you want to believe, to keep the hope alive that fences can be mended.
There are two major elements to Longfellow that make the Coldplay comparison seem apt: the bombastic piano played by Ali Hetherington and the anthemic quality of their songwriting. One major difference – and what I think could push Longfellow to the top – is Lloyd’s voice, which is far richer and emotional than Martin’s. I had the good fortune having heard the band perform this song in their BBC Introducing set at SXSW 2014 last month, all under the kind auspices of one Steve Lamacq. All three of these pieces make the single one compelling piece of pop indeed.
Let us watch and wait. The gauntlet has been thrown.
‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’, Longfellow’s hotly anticipated followup single to ‘Siamese Lover’, will be out on the 19th of May on Fierce Panda. The band plays London’s Camden Barfly the next evening, on the 20th of May. They are purported to be filming a promo video for this new single in the West Country, and we’ll share that with you when we have it. But in the meantime, you can watch them performing the song live at Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase on the Thursday night at SXSW 2014 in Austin back in March below.
It’s summer 2011 – the Summertyne Americana Festival at the Sage, Gateshead. David Macias, the then president of the Americana Music Association, is due to make a presentation that addresses the thorny issue of: what is Americana? Those of us keener on actually watching some music in the beery sunshine rather than talking about it indoors, missed the official conclusion. But surely the answer then, and ever since, is: rather a broad church of American rock, blues, and gospel-based music, overlaid with a tang of country. Banjos feature prominently. But why stop there? Why can’t an album of grunge-tinged rock, featuring tracks which could fit straight into the great contemporary American rock songbook, qualify? Because if it could, what Afghan Whigs have delivered with ‘Do to the Beast’ would fit right in.
In their first career, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs were active for 15 years from 1986, releasing six albums on a number of independent and major labels, notably Sub Pop, home to grunge contemporaries Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney. But despite fraternal connections, The Afghan Whigs have always shown influences more left-field than most of their contemporaries, with an evident enthusiasm for classic soul (cf 1992’s album of soul and R ‘n’ B covers ‘Uptown Avondale’), utilising avant-garde mutations of classic songwriting technique.
In contrast to the 16 years we’ve waited for a new release from The Afghan Whigs, now the record has arrived, it wastes no time in getting down to business. ‘Do to the Beast’ opens with ‘Parked Outside’, a swaggering, uncompromising, riff-laden dirge heavy with fuzzed guitars and Greg Dulli’s guttural roar. It’s the sound of grunge, made contemporary for 2014, by men who survived it the first time around. ‘Matamoros’ mixes an electronica-inspired insistent groove, a darkly intense chorus and some strings more Moroccan than Mexican. ‘It Kills’ reveals a delicate underbelly to the band’s sound – “It kills to watch you love another” a self-explanatory confessional matched in tenderness by the understated arrangement and Dulli’s cracked baritone. ‘Algiers’ (video below) is a great American road song, all passionately-strummed acoustic guitar and mid-tempo angst. The sort of thing that Cherry Ghost can knock off in their sleep, but no less evocative for that. ‘Lost in the Woods’ converts a maudlin intro into a unashamedly chart-bothering melodic chorus, one which could easily have come from the pen of soul-era Detroit song-factory luminaries, if they arranged for electric guitar. A curiously schizophrenic arrangement, and one which mirrors the personality of the record as a whole.
The second half kicks off with ‘The Lottery’, a riffy, noisy thing, similar to their very earliest work. More interesting is what follows. ‘Can Rova’ is a great example of where Afghan Whigs differ from their contemporaries – the ability to execute a delicate ballad of tender beauty. This is rock in name only, the Americana label writ large – there’s even some banjo. And then there’s the final duplet. ‘I Am Fire’ is a world-weary dirge arranged for handclaps and despairing vocal. And as triumphant endings go, ‘These Sticks’ is itself a triumph. Attempting the seemingly impossible task of weaving all the disparate threads of the album into one coherent whole, it succeeds. The electric guitars are back, the drums are real, there’s a horn section for good measure.
Don’t ask about the lyrical content. Dulli is famed for his hard-hitting autobiographical style, and there’s no reason to think that ‘Do to the Beast’ disappoints in that regard. There’s simply not enough time or room in a review to properly plumb the depths of his psyche, to do justice to the self-loathing and corruption bubbling within. Suffice to say, the title itself is enough of an indication of what to expect – presumably a corrupted reference to the ancient ethic of reciprocity: “Do unto the Beast as you would have the Beast do unto you.” It could take several years of therapy to unravel what he’s on about here, and that’s just the album title. Approach with caution.
So there we have it. This is the sound of band that have no time for creative boundaries – if it sounds good, it’s in, genre be damned. So there’s the heavy guitar riffs as expected, mixed in with widescreen road songs, acoustic interludes, all given coherence by Dulli’s distinctive voice, at times reminiscent of Billy Corgan and even Rod Stewart. It’s a remarkable achievement for a band that have been away for a decade and a half – to seamlessly carry on where they left off. And ‘Do to the Beast’, in both its sound and its content, is as good as anything Afghan Whigs have ever recorded. Old fans will be delighted, and there’s doubtless a whole new generation just waiting to be inculcated as to the ways of Dulli. Poor dears.
The Afghan Whigs’ newest album ‘Do to the Beast’, the American band’s first in 16 years, is out now on Sub Pop.
Darlia aren’t known for reinventing the wheel. In fact, they’re known for doing things by halves; half ball-busting rock riffs and husky vowels over arpeggiated melodies. And, so it is that the three boys from Blackpool return with a collection of tracks that can be defined by their relative diversity within this occasionally prescriptive spectrum. The timing of their latest EP ‘Candyman’, released last week on B-Unique Records, means that any prospective degree of success could serve as a potent fuel to the band’s festival prospects, having already signed up for the likes of Rock Am Ring, Great Escape and 2000 Trees.
‘Candyman’ (stream it below) starts bombastically; a mess of durgy power chords and high tension squeals that creates a rush of anticipation akin to the anticipation after uttering the famous title phrase 3 times in the mirror. In tried and true Darlia style, there is a significant tonal shift between the beef of the riff, and the jangling quorn of the verse.
Think A on the likes of ‘Nothing’; it is a complex tapestry, but one that has been stitched together with some accomplishment. The chorus is a catchy cacophony of rousing choral tropes backed by more meathead chords. But it is let down somewhat by a second vocal layer thrust so high in to the mix that it detracts from the main impetus. The solo sticks flaccidly to the top end of the neck, leaning back into a classic rock groove that fits with the overall flow but will not melt your face off. The track calls time with another round of chorus, pushing the limit of vocal reverb so much that it sounds as though it is being played from the back of a truck speeding past at 100 mph.
The second number, ‘Animal Kingdom’, is an altogether sunnier affair, still tinged with a kind of ‘Black Hole Sun’ quirkiness derived from an almost aquatic secondary guitar tone. Both tracks possess a singalong quality, but in such disparate ways. ‘Animal Kingdom’ attempts to inspire emotion in it’s irreverence, but ends up being almost irritatingly non-committal. This is highlighted by the spaghetti western solo, which seems to come from nowhere but is at the same time one of the most endearing and clear elements of unique character.
A rolling bass line comes to the fore on final track ‘Blood Money’. It is a track for the rhythm section purists, with verses supported by neat flourishes by Jack Bentham on the skins, creating an original beat with a cute little skip to it. Sadly, the rest of the number veers towards a kind of self-indulgent, fractious anarchy in the mould of The Vines, that cites it as the weakest of the three.
Overall, this EP is a bit like climbing into a steaming hot shower, only for your deaf nan to go and switch on the cold tap at the kitchen sink; it leaves you wet, exposed and just a little confused. The title track bears all the hallmarks of previous releases that have hiked the band up by the belt buckle to where they now dwell. But, ‘Animal Kingdom’ and ‘Blood Money’ feel like an experiment designed to find the answer to a question that didn’t need asking. Darlia don’t do dull. If they stick to massive riffs, melodic verses and a hint of wild-eyed warbling, then they’ll do just fine.
5/10 (7 for ‘Candyman’)
Darlia’s latest EP ‘Candyman’ is out now on B-Unique Records. As described by our Martin back in February here, the band will be making high-profile appearances at Liverpool Sound City, Live at Leeds and the Great Escape in May 2014.
English singer/songwriter Daniel Pearson has just released a new EP, ‘Escape Acts’, leading into his appearance at Live at Leeds next month. In his recent interview with us, Pearson described ‘Escape Acts’ as an intermediate step between albums and an opportunity to fine tune a couple of his previous recordings. Along with two reworked tracks, the EP is bookended by two new tracks intended to whet the appetites of his growing audience.
The songs on ‘Escape Acts’ are somewhat varied in terms of musical style, but Pearson has pointed to the lyrical theme of “escaping or wanting to escape” as a unifying factor on the EP. Opening track ‘Lost My Way’ (video below) is a fairly straightforward rock number with a punchy “na-na-na” chorus. The lyrics in its verses reflect Pearson’s struggles as an indie artist, “Tell me I’ll never eat lunch in this town again / I need to be told everything twice / Keep your enemies closer than your friends / I got sick of taking bad advice”.
‘Promises Promises’ is a tighter, cleaner version of the guitar-driven, blues rock-flavored track ‘Promises’, from 2012 release ‘Mercury State’. The vocals are featured more prominently in the sound mix of the new version, which I felt was a step in the right direction for a writer whose lyrics are really the distinguishing factor in his music. Pearson similarly focuses on the poignant lyrics of ‘Satellite Town’, giving it a little more space and vocal expression here than in the original version from 2011’s ‘Satellites’. New track ‘I Dug Myself a Hole’ has a bit of a country twang behind its electric guitar riff and a haunting backing vocal in the final chorus, which finally hits Pearson’s emotional mark at the very end of the EP.
‘Escape Acts’ is a solid group of songs that gives a nice taste of what Pearson is capable of as a songwriter. The simplicity and emotional value of the lyrics is appealing, but the unadorned melodies and sparse instrumental arrangements left me wanting more from Pearson’s rather detached vocal delivery. In spite of that, his lyrics do strike an emotional chord, and the raw authenticity of these songs is certainly the strong point of both the new and revised recordings.
‘Escape Acts’ is out now on Saint In The City Records.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 16th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
We’ve been keeping an eye on young Halifax band the Orielles since Martin caught them at Liverpool Sound City last year in the wee hours of Thursday night into Friday morning and my own serendipitous run-in Saturday afternoon with the Hand-Halford sisters (Esme-Dee on vocals/bass, older sister Sid on drums) at the Brink cafe. Just a few weeks ago, the band released their second EP, their first under their new moniker The Orielles, after having shed their original name The Oreoh!s, ‘Hindering Waves’ (video for title track in this previous Video of the Moment). Definitely ones to strike while the iron is hot, they quickly followed up this release with several high-profile support slots, including two sold-out shows at the London Lexington where they opened for the Primitives the first weekend of April. But now we can focus back and squarely on the band again, for they have a new single out the 12th of May called ‘Entity’.
At first glance, ‘Entity’ seems a quite weighty title for a trio of young people still too young for university and sounds like it could have been a b-side on Delphic‘s debut ‘Acolyte’ alongside other one-word standouts ‘Halcyon’ and ‘Submission’. Beginning with a uniquely smooth bass line that sounds somewhere in between the Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’ and Presidents of the United States’ ‘Peaches’, the words then begin, and in my view, they’re pretty snarky: “you are so dead but still in my mind / a voice in my head so hard to define”. Whoever Esme-Dee Hand-Halford is singing about, the person is either physically dead or not real. See what we were saying about them being wise beyond their years? Mind. Blown.
But what’s holding this all together is the second verse: “File your face like you file a letter, at the back like a winter sweater / I like you, it’s pure and plain to see / I like you, but you’re an entity”. The title ‘Entity’ seems to suggest this person, the object of her affection, isn’t a person at all, or lacking things that make a person human, such as proper emotions, or at least manners and consideration. If you’re looking at the word ‘entity’ itself in plain semantics, an entity is generally inanimate, which I think is what the lyrics are trying to get at, and the very chill vibe of the song reflects this.
The second verse is describing the difficult process of putting someone out of your mind. It must be difficult, because the female protagonist has to describe exactly what she’s doing – filing him away, and far enough in the back where she doesn’t think about him – and if it was easy and came second nature to her, she wouldn’t be describing the process to us, would she now? Esme-Dee Hand-Halford’s vocals are measured, as if she’s trying to hold emotions in, while she and guitarist Henry Wade providing backing vocals repeat in between the verses and at the end, “I don’t see you anymore, I don’t…but I don’t mind, boy, I don’t care at all”. But does she really not care at all? Somehow, I think she’s trying to be strong…
But it’s packaged with such a memorable melody! You won’t forget this one. Any way you slice it, ”Entity’ is a wonderful piece of pop, bright yet cool, and it makes me eager to hear what else these young, brilliant and talented minds come up with next.
The Orielles’ next single, ‘Entity’, will be released by Scruff of the Neck Records on the 12th of May. I’ve been told a promo video for the single will be coming very soon. The band will be having a launch party for the single on Saturday the 26th of April at Manchester Deaf Institute. They will also be appearing at the Shipping Forecast on Friday the 2nd of May during Liverpool Sound City and the Packhorse on Saturday the 3rd of May during Live at Leeds.
Header photo by Rich Gilligan
Side projects and collaborations seem to be all the rage among established musicians these days, and Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan has recently jumped into the mix with a venture called Printer Clips. The project consists of a series of duets written by Noonan and performed with female singers including previous duet partner Lisa Hannigan, Martha Wainwright, and Julia Stone, then recorded in spontaneous and unstructured settings.
The first release from the project, ‘Apparatchik’, features the somewhat predictable combination of Noonan and Hannigan, whose voices blend together in harmony as beautifully here as on their version of ‘Some Surprise,’ from the 2006 project The Cake Sale. ‘Apparatchik’ is a very pretty, melodic little tune, which I found myself humming back after only one brief listen, but as usual with Noonan’s songwriting, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Lyrically, it has moments of downright ugliness, especially in the lines, “These are the punches that we roll with / This is the shit / But it’s so much easier to stomach it / When I’m downwind of you.” The juxtaposition of that obnoxiously unpleasant line with its elegantly lilting melodic phrasing is jarring, I suspect deliberately so.
The song’s title, ‘Apparatchik’, is an old Russian term for a professional member of the Communist party, now often used in a disparaging way to describe members of any large political organization as parts of a self-perpetuating machine. I almost wonder if Noonan might have been referring to his own role in Bell X1 there, but overall the song seems like a larger rumination on life, especially in its final repeated line, which I believe is quoted from a stencil by street artist Banksy, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”.
‘Apparatchik’ is the first release from Printer Clips’ upcoming EP ‘The Left Sleeve’, which is due for digital-only release on the 25th of April. A second digital EP, ‘The Right Sleeve’, is scheduled for release on Bone China Records on the 16th of May, followed by a physical and digital release of the full self-titled LP on the 23rd of May. This curious schedule reminds me of the idea Noonan discussed for Bell X1 album ‘Chop Chop’ in my interview with him last year, and it’s interesting to see that design come to fruition, albeit in a slightly different context.
In the end, as always, the interpretation lies with the listener; you can form your own opinion after taking a listen to ‘Apparatchik’ below. Printer Clips will perform a live premiere on the 24th of May at The National Concert Hall, Dublin.
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