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Album Review: Daniel Pearson – Escape Acts EP

 
By on Thursday, 17th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Escape Acts EP CoverEnglish 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”.

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‘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.

7.5/10

‘Escape Acts’ is out now on Saint In The City Records.

 

Album Review: Various artists – Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014

 
By on Monday, 14th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Fierce Panda Records may be famously noted by pedants of the British music business as being the label that launched the careers of Coldplay and Keane, but if that was all to the label, it wouldn’t be still standing. It’s hard for me to fathom that here we are in the year 2014, and Fierce Panda has been in business for 2 decades. The London indie label has championed the little guy and released so much great music in the last 20 years, it would take me far too long to go through their storied history than there is space on our humble Web site. Instead, I’m going to focus on a new 18-track compilation the label is offering up for free with any record purchase from their online shop.

The LP’s title ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ is innocuous enough, not at all telling of its contents when, in fact, it is a careful selection of, oddly, the saddest songs from their back catalogue of the last 10 years. I say oddly, because celebrating and (surviving) 20 years in anything these days is cause for celebration, surely? However, despite being advertised by the label themselves as “some of the weepiest tunes it has had the tragic pleasure to put out over the past ten years”, you should be more impressed by the quality of the music not to slit your wrists. Hopefully, anyway. Maybe the whole ‘sad song’ is meant to be cheeky, now that I think about it.

‘Endangered’ does not rely solely on sob story, folky singer/songwriter types and in so doing, shows the breadth of Fierce Panda’s roster. But let’s first examine the more obvious sad songs. Danish girl/boy duo The Raveonettes‘ ‘Last Dance’ is innocent and twee, and Canadians Woodpigeon‘s ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ that opens the album is similar, but with added Simon and Garfunkel influence. Los Angeles quintet Milo Greene‘s harmonies shine on the Biblical leaning ‘Son My Son’, while the voice and songwriting of Tom Hickox, already being compared to Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s, haunts with desolation on ‘Let Me Be Your Lover’, with sombre piano and then added strings and horns.

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The more bombastic numbers in this collection include the now-on-hiatus Walkmen and their optimistic (or delusional?) ‘In the New Year’, the slow burning Acres of Lions‘ ‘Collections’, Hatcham Social‘s rich guitars in ‘Sidewalk’ and Dingus Khan‘s whistle-filled ‘Made a List’; the latter’s inclusion in particular surprised me, but it just goes to show that even if you’re looking rough and tumble on the outside, you can still feel sadness inside. The sonic beauty of Ultrasound‘s ‘Sovereign’ is marred, presumably on purpose, by the repetition of the lyric “we are unclean” and the business of sex and sin, all wailed by singer Andrew “Tiny” Wood. The same can be said for tracks that include synths or twinkly keys: ‘They All Laughed’ by the Spinto Band sounds cheerful in a music box sort of way but it veils, not very well, the disgust he has for a former love, while the psychedelic feelings that Hey Sholay‘s ‘The Bears The Clocks The Bees’ engenders are appropriate for a song about confusion in a relationship.

It should also noted that sadness can also come out of mind games, craving someone else or the deepest regret. The industrial Nine Inch Nail-sey sound of Department M‘s ‘J-Hop’ (stream above) comes with the element of desire with its sensual lyrics, “we ply / by the logic of the reasoned minds / and one last time I’ll come to your body / what do you need?” The genius behind Art Brut‘s ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ is Eddie Argos’ admittance, in his usual funny way, that he’s messed up in a relationship and he wants a second chance. Meanwhile, a similar request for a second chance is captured in a brilliant snapshot in ‘Last Decade’ by Goldheart Assembly (video below), showing a man’s final moments, first desperate to reconcile with a lover but then resigning to his fate: “but you know I’d go back, but there is no way…” I Like Trains‘ ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ I’m guessing is named for chess champion and famed recluse Bobby Fischer, using his hermit existence as a metaphor for how love can cause depression. The self-deprecation and admittance of weakness in the little girl voice of Melanie Pain in ‘How Bad Can It Be’ is, no pun intended, painful: “everyone knows I won’t change / everyone knows love is not my game / everyone know who I am / everyone but you.”

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Additional Panda melancholy comes courtesy of Sheffield in the form of two exemplary tracks. A man’s exasperation over his lover’s worry about losing him is made all too real in Tom Hogg’s expressive vocals with his bandmates’ gorgeously crooning backing in ‘Would You Be Blue’ by the Hosts (stream below) from this year’s debut album from them, ‘Softly, Softly’. Meanwhile, the loneliness of the protagonist of The Crookes ‘Howl’ from ‘Soapbox’ released today is haunted by the memory of another’s love, as George Waite’s voice is alternately dreamy and contemplative in the romance of song-induced candlelight: “and there’s no time, only light / no clocks, but shadows that hide the point when day becomes night / it’s hard to tell with these skies… I heard the howl, I love you but you keep me down.”

I think those two songs tell the ‘sad song story’ of Fierce Panda’s last 10 years the best, and why? Sad songs, like love songs, are often misunderstood. Emotions like sadness, loneliness and indeed, even love are like jewels. Whether they mean to or not, the people who gloss over emotion don’t seem to understand that they aren’t one-dimensional but instead multi-faceted, with dull and lifeless versus bright and sharp faces and something new to discover upon each listen. As a collection of the ‘sad song’ genre, ‘Endangered’ is a great introduction to the many wonderful artists on the Fierce Panda roster, and I can’t imagine you won’t find at least one song that will make you feel something deep in your heart.

7.5/10

You can get ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014′ now for free if you order any album from the Fierce Panda online shop here. For more information on the bands signed to Fierce Panda, those included in this collection and those not, visit the label’s official Web site. For a limited time, you can get another eight-track song sampler (not all sad songs!); more details in this previous MP3(s) of the Day post.

 

Album Review: Glass Animals – Gooey EP

 
By on Thursday, 10th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I’ve been, shall we say, mildly obsessed with Glass Animals since seeing them at SXSW 2014 last month. They were on my peripheral radar, one of those bands I’d heard of but never really listened to, until their oozing electro sensuality captured my attention first at Harvest Records showcase and again at the the British Music Embassy. It seems appropriate that their latest EP centers around a track titled ‘Gooey,’ as their overall vibe does have a sort of thickness to it, a stickiness that grabs me and holds me in, though not entirely against my will.

I’ve discussed my feeling of disorientation regarding electronic music on several occasions, (read here and here for example), but I think I’ve connected to the Glass Animals’ take on it because they come from a more visceral and organic direction; the melding of the reverberant live instruments, the synthetic electro effects and the soulful R&B vocals is as palpable as it is audible. Bayley’s soft falsetto slithers smoothly around often nonsensical lyrics that are almost tangible themselves, including “I’d say I told you so, but you just gonna cry / You just wanna know those peanut butter vibes”.

The ‘Gooey’ EP contains the dizzyingly sensual original version of its eponymous track, as well as a reworked version with a rap overlay by Chester Watson and remixes by Chicago producer Gilligan Moss and Los Angeles DJ / producer Kingdom. The Gilligan Moss remix is a bit more crisply upbeat, the percussion a bit sharper, the electro sounds a bit edgier than the original. The purely instrumental Kingdom remix is ethereal and dark, even a bit harsh without the fluidity of Bayley’s vocals.

‘Holiest’ features responsively slinky female vocals by urban r&b singer Tei-Shi mingling with Bayley’s. Speaking of the collaborations on the EP, Bayley says, “I love collaborating. I love it when someone outside the group can bring something to a track that we can’t ourselves. Be it a crazy idea, a skill or something stylistic…we’re only four boys from Oxford and there’s only so much we can do musically.” However, this EP proves, if nothing else, that Glass Animals are more than willing to stretch their limits. [Then again, we already knew this from their covering of a Kanye West track down under last week. - Ed.]

7.5/10

Stream the entire ‘Gooey’ EP below. The EP is out now on Wolf Tone/Caroline International.

 

Album Review: High Hazels – In the Half Light EP

 
By on Thursday, 3rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Sheffield band High Hazels will be releasing their debut EP on Monday. But before I dive headlong into a review of the songs themselves, I wanted to take a moment to discuss its wonderful title first. ‘In the Half Light’ is, putting it mildly, incredibly evocative. In the wilds of my imagination, my mind conjures up scenes of stirring just as the sun peeks its head over the horizon, as the beauty of dawn breaking is revealed. In the context of the songs on this EP, however, my mind goes one step further, seeing a lonesome male figure awoken by the memory of someone dear but lost to him, as the noted half light turns into day and the wistfulness -and sadness – remains.

‘In the Half Light’ may be only a small collection of a paltry four songs, but it’s an incredibly strong set of four songs. The EP begins with ‘French Rue’, a tune I fell in love with researching this Bands to Watch feature on the group back in the summer of 2013. If you read other media outlets’ impression of the band, the word “psychedelic” is bandied about. But are High Hazels’ guitars psychedelic? Not from my vantage point, and not in the trippy, multi-coloured kaleidoscope way, but perhaps more so in a nostalgic, echoey, at times drone-y fashion.

And to be perfectly frank, I wouldn’t want to be under the influence of anything while listening to High Hazels. (Just to prove to you how un-rock ‘n’ roll I am, I’m reviewing this sat with my laptop as my washing machine is chugging away with my laundry in the next room.) There’s something to be said when you’re enjoying a song with vocals clear as a bell, emotional guitars and understated drumming that holds everything together like the final piece of a puzzle. In a less talented group’s hands, this EP could have gone horribly wrong. But in hands of this band, it’s perfection, and High Hazels have set the bar high for their future.

‘French Rue’ evokes true heartbreak with the backdrop of a sympathetic setting sun; previously revealed, beautiful yet incredibly catchy ‘Summer Rain’ (my review from last month here; promo video here) moves the story into the bedroom, where dreams of a former lover and more carefree days under the same sun haunts its protagonist to the core. Though it’s not as strong as these two, frontman James Leesley’s vocals are nimble across the melody in ‘Loose Stitches’ are admirable, as the track weaves a nighttime tale of fading light, togetherness, dreams and desire.

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But I bring your attention to track 2 of the EP. We may be in the throes of the start of spring, but the tastefully plucked notes of ‘Winter Song’ brings back memories of colder days, of “ghostly roads”, icy ground and the loneliness you feel in that aforementioned half light: half awake, half asleep, in a hazy dream. I reckon that was the point of this whole EP: ‘In the Half Light’ was made to make you feel something, and something deep. With that goal in mind, High Hazels have succeeded.

8/10

‘In the Half Light’, the debut EP by High Hazels for their label Heist or Hit Records, will be released next Monday, the 7th of April. The band will be playing an EP launch party at home at the Sheffield Queens Social Club next Friday, the 11th of April. The following week, they head out on tour with their city brethren the Crookes on a 2-and-a-half week tour of the UK; all the dates are listed here.

 

Album Review: School of Language – Old Fears

 
By on Tuesday, 1st April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I’ve probably given this far too much thought, but my thinking goes like this: if I had a pinkyful of imagination and talent from either of the Brewis brothers, I’d be pretty well off. The two of them, David and Peter, have made a name for themselves as the incredibly prolific, incredibly forward thinking Field Music. And lest you ever think either of them actually takes time off from their musical careers, think again. While it has been 6 long years since the first School of Language album, ‘Sea from Shore’, no-one would dare call David Brewis lazy; I have this vision of the cogs of his brain constantly on, constantly moving, thinking, scheming. He’s just been busy with Field Music stuff, okay? So in 2014, he has gifted us with the latest from his solo project, an LP titled ‘Old Fears’.

In early March, David, his brother and several friends appeared as School of Language the live experience to perform live on Marc Riley’s BBC 6music show. (Listen to the session on iPlayer here.) During the interview, Riley asks him what he played on the new album. He replies that he played everything. (What did I say about the pinkyful of talent earlier?) Even if you knew nothing about School of Language or Field Music, the one major takeaway from ‘Old Fears’ is this is one funky record. I’ve never visited Sunderland, and to be honest, the only things I know about it are Field Music, Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings and their Pop Rec Ltd store. Maybe there is a long standing history of funk hiding out somewhere in Sunlun, but I’m not aware of it. While Sam Smith may have been anointed the BBC Sound of 2014 winner, proselytising white boy soul, Brewis has sewn up and done a far better job with white boy funk. In addition to the funk, just like he and his brother have done with Field Music, incredibly inventive electronic, rhythmic and vocal elements are on display on ‘Old Fears’ as well.

‘Between the Suburbs’ was our first taste of the new album back in January. With a wibbly, wobbly, warbly synth, an addictive rhythm helped along with tambourine and an equally addictive vocal recalling David Byrne at his finest in Talking Heads, it’s an earworm and a half. Album opener ‘Distance Between’ seems not too far from David’s Field Music work, with syncopated vocals guaranteed to move your body. Amazingly though, unlike too many releases these days, there is incredible variety of song on ‘Old Fears’. A pulsing rhythm achieved by barely whispered dum dum dums, followed by a punishing line of drumming in ‘Suits Us Better’, are both endearing, as is Brewis’ falsetto. He weaves a mesmerising cadence into ‘Small Words’ and the words follow suit. In a word, the song is beguiling. The instrumental title track sounds like the march of strange alien beings; I half expected some lumbering green blobs to come tumbling out of headphones as I listened to it. I can’t explain why, but the extremely catchy ‘Dress Up’ makes me think of a wonky yet still funky ’80s Lionel Richie as well. Have a listen to it below and see if you agree.

Lyrically, there are plenty of gems as well, including two songs that caught my attention immediately. I asked David about ‘A Smile Cracks’, as it seemed to have a too happy way about looking back at a whirlwind relationship. Never mind; his response was as follows:


The reason for my line of thinking was the chorus, which read to me as words of hope: “I don’t regret trying too hard, and I don’t regret being nice / no wasted time, doesn’t seem bad when I think back, a little smile cracks.” [NB: after David read this review, he pointed out I had heard wrong and that the line is actually "I don't regret trying too hard, and I don't regret being naive". Need to brush up on that Sunderland accent! - Ed.] We’ve all had this happen: the further you get away from the pain of a relationship that didn’t work out, even if you are still really upset by the way things turned out, there are times you can look back on and think, you know, that was a really nice moment in my life. However, it sounds like David’s reason for writing the song was more to remember what it was like being caught up in the moment while that relationship was happening, but focusing on how he was feeling rather than the relationship itself.

Incredibly evocative is the closing track ‘You Kept Yourself’, with all its instruments including a sad guitar and pensive piano, seeming forlorn, bending to Brewis’ will. “You kept yourself as much from yourself as you did from me”, the track begins, indicating the person he’s singing to was never true to herself, let alone to him. As the song continues, there is a refrain “it makes no sense to be apart, it makes no sense to go home / all the things left to learn would be best learnt together”. Once track 10 came and went, I was left wondering what he meant by the title ‘Old Fears’. Are these fears of his own, or fears he has in other people? In an interview with Rocksucker (yes, there really is a Web site with that name), Brewis says the track ‘Moment of Doubt’ is addressed “To me. Most of the record is addressed to me!” Hmm. Really? I’m still wracking my brain about these songs. Buy this album. It’ll be the most thought-provoking album you’ll buy all year.

8.5/10

‘Old Fears’, the second album from David Brewis’ solo side project School of Language, is out on Monday (the 7th of April) on Memphis Industries, the same day he and his band will be playing an album launch party at Newcastle Cluny to celebrate the release. Other UK dates follow later in April (full details here), culminating in a show at Manchester Deaf Institute on the 28th of April. If you’re keen, come to the gig and say hello, as I will be in attendance that night.

 

Album Review: Howler – World of Joy

 
By on Wednesday, 26th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

The defining moment of Howler’s sophomore release, ‘World of Joy’, is its title track. The passenger door opens, and still at top speed, any memory of youthful, throwaway ditties about girls and under-age drinking are unceremoniously ejected, forever to languish by the side of the road. What replaces them is an enormous, uncompromising Phrygian riff, some insane, atonal organ, countless layers of distorted guitar – and the song title repeated over and over again. It’s like being assaulted by The Joker’s teeth – a sickly sweet psychedelic smile of a song, determined to make you submit to its groove by sheer force of personality alone.

Not that the rest of the album is exactly easy listening. Ten tracks in 28 minutes shows an admirable attention to brevity – less than half of the tracks here broach the 3-minute mark. ‘World of Joy’ is a collection of brief jolts of energy, like sticking a fork in an electrical socket. There’s no clever production techniques – indeed, on more than one track a point is made of retaining the studio ambience: talking in the background, amp hum, mise en scène artifice at once clichéd yet effective. ‘Al’s Corral’ sets out the stall – cowbell, a guitar 101 riff, and a story which presumably makes sense to teenage American males. ‘Drip’ is the first hint of how psych Howler are prepared to go: 50s B-movie sound effects adorn a 2-minute noisefest of threatening intensity. ‘Don’t Wanna’ comes over all relatively melodic, the clean guitar arpeggios reminiscent of The Lemonheads’ ‘Ray’ period, and could even be the stroppy cousin of early R.E.M., comparisons which recur throughout the album.

This is American garage rock, wildly updated for 2014 – of course the U.K. has had its fair share of ramshackle indie revivalists, from the millennial soap opera posturing of The Libertines, who with hindsight sound tame and overblown, to the recent noisy bromance of Palma Violets, whose promise still remains tragically unfulfilled. Thus Howler have a neat vacuum into which to step. They are faster, louder, crazier – simply better – than the competition. After a long period of the Brits showing the Americans how to do garage rock, here’s the payback. Rock and roll is alive, and it lives in Minneapolis.

8/10

Howler’s second album ‘World of Joy’ is out now on Rough Trade. The band just began a UK tour with support group Broken Hands on Monday; all the details are here.

 
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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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