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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.
The Horrors have always been synonymous with an urban aesthetic of neon punctured gloom; of gothic, monotone fashion under bulging bouffants. It’s an image that requires two opposing characteristics – a strong sense of self-identity, and a dynamism capable of keeping pace with the zeitgeist. Some would say that the purest blend the five boys from Southend-on-Sea have achieved so far was on 2011’s ‘Skying’, but all the right signs we’re there with the first single from the band’s upcoming album ‘Luminous’, starting with the 7 minute 30 second epic single ‘I See You’. Their follow up, ‘So Now You Know’ – out now on XL Recordings – doesn’t go quite so far. And, here’s why.
A ponderous opening from the rhythm section of drummer Joe Spurgen and bassist Rhys Webb forms a familiar scaffold from which the rest of the song is hung. The droning guitar and clipped choral notes (half-buried in the mix), complete a desolate scene that is immediately dispelled by the upbeat cyclic riff of the verse. The vocals are lofty and tuneful, but singer Faris Badwan reverts to type as a moody, almost spoken chorus with a sound akin to arty ’80s pop ala Simple Minds. It’s a typically Horrors combo, which might have seemed progressive on one of their earlier offerings, but with not much else other than the odd techy guitar squiggle to note, this is a track that would slip under the radar of more avid indie aficionados.
What they have produced here is a kind of dot-to-dot effort that would doubtlessly be overshadowed by other East End trendies trying to forge a reputation by starting as an uncertified homage to The Horrors. The opening single suggested something fresh and altogether more intriguing, but all is not lost for ‘Luminous’ – scheduled for release May 5 on XL Recordings- as there were signs within the production (such as the guitar solo, that sounded like it was emanating from a nuclear silo) that more variety might be on the way. And, if all else fails, dream pop’s resurgence means they could just cheer up a bit, allow the synths to take over and give CHVRCHES a run for their money.
Single ‘So Now You Know’ is out now on XL Recordings. The Horrors’ fourth album ‘Luminous’ will be released on the 5th of May.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 7th March 2014 at 12:00 pm
The meteorological start of spring is only 2 weeks off now, but Sheffield indie band High Hazels are already looking much further ahead. To summer. Last Friday, the group revealed new song ‘Summer Rain’, to feature on an upcoming EP with Heist or Hit Records, whom they signed with last summer.
Like previous single ‘Hearts Are Breaking’ (review here, video here), this new one features what might just become High Hazels’ trademark, guitars sounding echoey – and therefore plaintive in their loneliness – accompanied by frontman James Leesley’s melancholy yet surprising bright vocals. Yet the overall feel is noticeably softer. The lyrics this time were penned by bass guitarist Paul Barlow, and reading the words out as if poetry are as powerful as hearing them in the song. The refrain of “I was sleeping while you were letting our love slide / I was sleeping and I dreamt of you with another” comes across strong with Leesley’s buoyant vocal, yet the actual lyrics suggest the abject helplessness as the only outcome when your imagination runs wild with the thought of the one you love(d) belonging to someone else.
Imagination is a good word to use in describing ‘Summer Rain’, as the imagery Barlow takes you through is quite gorgeous despite the very real pain of the protagonist. The summer rain falls on a window pane, seemingly uncaring about the love that has “waned”, as the voice of the song is in disbelief, “love has waned / I never thought I’d see it change”. He imagines his lover swimming in a stream with another man, then recalls what how their love (or quite possibly also the woman herself) was so beautiful, “jewels are scattered all around / I’ve forgot just how they shined”, but he’s tortured by this faceless man who has taken his place.
The nail in the coffin? “I was sleeping and you walked away turned your back, lover.” So sad. How did our protagonist get here? I’m not entirely sure and I think that’s a question for Barlow in person one day, but getting here is a beautiful, beautiful journey.
The new release from Sheffield’s High Hazels, the ‘In the Half Light’ EP, will be released on the 7th of April on Heist or Hit Records and will be available on limited edition 10″ and also digitally. The group will be supporting The Crookes on their April UK tour and also at their homecoming show on the 31st of May.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 4th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
Following on from their American label signing to Dualtone Records last summer, Little Comets have released new songs ahead of their February UK tour. The songs, which include this one, ‘Little Italy’, and ‘The Blur, the Line and the Thickest of Onions’, feature on their next release ‘The Gentle EP’, out the 24th of February that the band are self-releasing. Little Comets have never been ones to follow the pack, so it should come as no surprise whatsoever that ‘Little Italy’, the first of the songs to get a public airing, sounds off-kilter and terribly original as their previous offerings.
The meaning behind the song is described eloquently by Rob Coles himself here, so I’m not going to go into that. Instead, I’m going to focus on the sound of the song. What Rob does very well when he sings is use his voice as another instrument, which is as it should be. In ‘Little Italy’, his vocals are like an additional set of percussion, its staccato quality akin to a ballet dancer’s feet bouncing and pirouetting across the score. It’s nothing short of impressive. His brother Mickey’s guitar lines are in tandem with the vocals, sounding in my mind, mathematical in their precision. There are these weird buzzing, industrial notes that I’m guessing are either a guitar or bass with an effect placed on them, but I can’t be sure. I did say ‘original’, didn’t I?
After the first chorus and the song approaches the second verse, the guitar lines descend and what sound like bells going through another effect pass as the song turns poppier at Matt Hall’s bass comes in. The lyrics are a bit dense in content (the chorus goes, “Life don’t animate / just creeps up on you slowly / Surely holy water / flows as normal water does? / In Little Italy I re-adhere”) but somehow the musical treatment seems to suit them, even as those buzzing notes in the bridge sound somewhat ominous. Overall though, what’s most important is that the sound of ‘Little Italy’ is compelling, and that’s all that matters. Is it a song that can be replayed without one getting bored? And is it a song with a sound you will be remember? A resounding yes on both counts.
Little Comets’ ‘The Gentle EP’ will be released by the band themselves on the 24th of February.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 13th January 2014 at 12:00 pm
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from North West band City Reign, so here’s a quick recap. After releasing their album ‘Another Step’ in early 2013, the group are still based in Manchester. Good. They’ll be playing a hometown show at the Castle Hotel on the 21st of March, which I’ve been advised is close to selling out (well done, guys), so if you’re keen on going, you best get on that right away. Why all the excitement? Because there is a new City Reign single out in March, that’s why. Judging from their Instagram, the boys have been very busy recording in the studio, and to whet your appetite until the release next month, they’ve sent over the single’s b-side ‘Package It Up’ for us to listen to.
‘Package It Up’ begins very simply with just guitar chords and Chris Bull’s forlorn vocals; the chords continue throughout the song, with the addition of mournful strings coming into the song later. When I read the song title by itself, I wondered what “it” was, and I don’t think it’s meant to be a specific thing. Like many songs, this “it” can be interpreted and mean different things to different people. “Package it up and we’ll see what we have to / like there’s nothing we can do / package it up so we can all sleep at night / package it up because is not our fight”: there is a sad acceptance in whatever this song is referring to, it’s something that has been recognised as a problem. It feels to me that it’s something that cannot be or has become something that cannot be talked about.
In his last sweeping vocal gesture in the song, Bull’s voice soars with, “there’s nothing we can do”. Is it a secret that is killing you because you can’t tell anyone else? Is it about a situation that someone finds him/herself in that is so desperate, but he/she can’t say anything, for the risk of losing face? The fact that this song leaves the door open to interpretation and can have such universal application to each and every one of us makes it very intriguing indeed.
Clocking in at barely 3 minutes, ‘Package It Up’ is winter melancholia at its best.
Watch for ‘Package It Up’ to be released on City Reign’s own Car Boot Records as the flipside to forthcoming live single ‘See What It’s Worth’ on the 24th of March.
About 2 weeks ago, we were treated to the anything but a ‘Sweet Sour’ follow-up to Band of Skulls’ aforementioned 2011 record, bonus single, ‘Be Mine’. It hardly starts in true, chug-a-lug-ing Band of Skulls format, with a lingering guitar solo from Russell Marsden building in to the twin harmonies of Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson, underscored by an old school piano melody. The song builds like the back drop to a love scene from a an old western, and I felt the first time that I was walking into an old saloon bar, as the two harmonised, “hit me with your love, be mine / all our future’s in the balance”.
The time signature smacks of an old school waltz for the first 2 minutes, floating aimlessly around an empty saloon bar.
Then BOOM. “Hit me with your love babe!” And the Band of Skulls, we’ve grown to love over the past four and a half years pumps in to action, shredding an insatiable riff underneath the franticness of Marsden and Richardson’s vocals. Suddenly, it’s a jolt of life into the slow burning track, which will be appearing on the band’s next full-length album as an iTunes exclusive bonus track for the 31st of March release of ‘Himalaya’. As a taster of the alt-folky goodness we’re in store for, ‘Be Mine’ is a nice build up, as we see in the video a hint of the studio playfulness that has gone in to the new album.
I, for one, can’t wait.
Watch the video for ‘Be Mine’, the latest from Southampton band Band of Skulls, below.
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