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2011’s fourth album ‘D’ brought about a continuation of White Denim’s career theme: an eccentric noodling take on math rockery. In ‘D’ they showed an audaciousness that was perhaps unseen in their previous works and served to get them noticed, perhaps so noticed that they ended up headlining TGTF’s stage at The Great Escape in 2011. But that’s by the by.
They were experimental to almost excessive lengths on ‘D’; on their new release ‘Corsicana Lemonade’, they seem even more hell-bent on shoe-horning as many time changes and genres into the record. One moment, you’re bopping at a low key club with an electro beat pumping through you on ‘Limited by Stature’, the next you’re in Rio swept up by a carnival atmosphere before you’re whisked away on a trippy as balls magic carpet by ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’.
The harsh guitar rhythms are a constant of the album, driving it on; however, it is in songs like the aforementioned ‘Let It Feel Good (My Eagles)’ where White Denim’s funk credentials are unleashed, as they bound forward with an old-school drum beat and some fancy strum work from Austin Jenkins and frontman James Petralli.
The band’s blues and jazz background comes to the fore on this record too, perhaps even more than in ‘D’ and ‘Fits’. We’re even treated to some dirty, DIRTY sax on ‘Cheer Up / Blues’, where Petralli is bleeding a schmooze-y, sexy kind of sleaze. Old-school meets the very, very new-school in a brilliant way throughout this ten-song testament to White Denim’s immense need to challenge everything.
Any semblance of conventional song structure is a thing of the past for the Texas four-piece. It’s a not a ‘giant middle finger’ to the dogma of 21st century experimentation, it’s a whole different take that manages to sound authentic and homely whilst stretching frontiers. Most of the album is rather frenetic, and then everything settles down as the tenth track slides effortlessly in: ‘A Place To Start’ is a contradiction to the rest of the album, it’s spellbindingly simple – a demonstration of how White Denim are developing their sound and using James Petralli’s gorgeous vocals to take them to an entirely new level.
My personal highlight comes within the first 30 seconds of the record, with a criminally funky roll through the chords during ‘A Night in Dreams’. I challenge anyone to listen to the first 30 seconds of this album and not be breaking out a horrendously finicky air guitar. Combine that with the scathing vocals and you’ve got a winner in ‘Corsicana Lemonade’: an album with enough hooks to get them noticed, and enough daring to keep everyone guessing what their next move could be.
‘Corsicana Lemonade’, the latest album from Texans White Denim, is out now on Downtown Records. Watch the band bust out ‘A Night in Dreams’ for LA radio station KCRW below.
Ireland’s Glen Hansard, best known as leader of The Frames and half of The Swell Season, has followed up his debut solo album, ‘Rhythm and Repose’, with a new charity EP called ‘Drive All Night’. Sales of the EP will benefit Little Kids Rock, an American nonprofit organization aiming to revitalize music education in public schools.
The ‘Drive All Night’ EP centers on Hansard’s cover of the classic Bruce Springsteen track. This version features an appearance by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder as well as Jake Clemons (nephew of the late E Street Band member, Clarence Clemons) on saxophone and production by Americana singer-songwriter Joe Henry. Hansard’s singing voice is richer and more melodic than Springsteen’s, adding an extra degree of warmth to his interpretation, which is otherwise true to the smouldering intimacy of the original.
‘Pennies In the Fountain’ and ‘Renata’ are both soulful, yearning love songs crafted to showcase the expressive emotional qualities of Hansard’s singing. The former is a gently rocking piano number in a swaying triple meter whose mournful lyrics, ‘we loved for the joy of love itself / we threw our pennies in the fountain, wished for nothing else’ convey the ephemeral nature of a lost romance. The latter is a bluesy and beseeching torch song with a groove that practically begs for a slow dance in a darkened room.
‘Step Out of the Shadows’, penned impulsively in 2012 just before a show at New York’s Housing Works Bookstore Café, is an impressive nod to Hansard’s traditional folk style. Its simple verse-chorus-verse structure and completely a capella arrangement allow the heavy but hopeful lyrics to make maximum impact. This is the kind of tune that could (and probably did on the aforementioned occasion) reduce the audience to jaw-dropped silence in a live performance. In fact, any of these four tracks would be a fine addition to Hansard’s touring repertoire.
Glen Hansard will play two dates at Dublin’s Vicar Street on the 25th and 26th of November. All proceeds will go to the Peter McVerry Trust and the Dublin Simon Community, both of which work to combat homelessness in Dublin.
‘Drive All Night’ will be released on the 25th of November in the UK (26th of November in America) on Anti Records. It is currently available to stream for a limited timeon the New York Times Web site.
Little Matador, the side project of Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly, have recently announced their 4-track EP called ‘Liar Liar’. Physical copies of the EP are only available at the band’s live shows, but an online stream is available here in advance of the band’s full-length release, which is due out in early 2014.
Though billed as a Snow Patrol spin-off, the musical influence of Snow Patrol is minimal in Little Matador’s sound. This EP is aggressively direct, relying on heavily distorted guitar riffs and forceful vocals rather than poetic lyrics or graceful melodies. Connolly’s singing voice is surprisingly strong, especially for those of us who have only heard him do backing vocals for Snow Patrol, but it is largely drowned in the enormity of the guitars and drums.
Fortunately, his hard-hitting lyrics don’t require exquisite precision to make their impact. Raucous tracks ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Liar Liar’ (available for free download at the band’s Web site) capture the essence of the band’s overall sound, while outstanding track ‘Gimme All You’ve Got’ features a glimpse of lyrical sensitivity and an incisive keyboard rhythm.
Watch a short film the band made ahead of their tour this month with their own headline dates and some supporting Queens of the Stone Age below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 19th November 2013 at 12:00 pm
I don’t care for, nor have I really ever cared for boy/girl singing duos, or bands with male and female voices harmonising. This is an unfortunate position to be in as a music editor I suppose, since there seem to be so many of them right now! My guess, though, is that my lack of interest in them probably has to do with two things: my own vocal training as an alto, and the fact that I generally can’t stand women with those higher pitched, baby, Minnie Mouse-y voices. So I wondered why the latest single from Alice Costello and Kacey Underwood, aka Big Deal, affected me the way it did. Maybe it has subliminal messages hidden in it? If you listen to BBC 6music on a regular basis, you will understand when I say this song has been drilled into your consciousness over the last couple of weeks.
Along with ‘Teradactol’ released in December 2012 and March 2013′s ‘In Your Car’, ‘Swapping Spit’ is more evidence for anyone (especially for those who haven’t picked up their sophomore album ‘June Gloom’ yet) that the duo have decided to turn towards a harder edge than the one they began with on their 2011 debut ‘Lights Out’. Part of this is mechanical: the pair now have a bassist and drummer playing with them on recordings and live, so sonically, the entity of Big Deal can be and will be louder and more of an actual force of be reckoned with. In ‘Swapping Spit’, there are lovely muscular bass lines throughout as the melody chugs along and appropriately bright drum high hat hits during the chorus. So yay for that.
Upon further contemplation of this single, it dawned on me who the song reminded me of, with its washy guitars and gentle yet emotional lyrics: New York’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The song begins by painting a scene of desolation in a parking lot (yes, Underwood is American, if you were wondering), a situation in which we find the lovers meeting and “we stay out after dark / we’re nowhere to be found / there’s no-one else around / there’s no one else to tell us we’re no good”. It’s not imagined; at least one of them (probably the voice that’s singing) is expressing the shame of what is about to transpire in a place where they’re so far removed from everyone and everything else.
I can’t find the lyrics to the song online, and the enunciation along with the lack of vocal clarity in the video isn’t great, so I had to guess at some of the other words. But the later phrases that were most interesting to me were “you feel it slip away, my heart is now my own, there’s no better way to go, there’s no better way to go”, followed by, “I thought I saw you shake following me home / I wanted you to know / I wanted you to spin the wheel again, swinging for the fence / what do I do, what do I do?” This seems to indicate to me that the plot is about mates who are ‘friends with benefits’, but one of them has fallen in love with the other person, and he/she is waiting for the other to make a grand pronouncement that the love is reciprocal. She wants to “give up giving in” to the act, repeating “I will, I will” as part of an emphatic declaration that will take her heart out of this mess. But it’s the worst kind of love. Unrequited love, with the first person being upset and trying to accept “all lovers swapping spit, I’ll get used to it” that nothing is going to happen beyond the physical sex that’s happening at this very moment. Heartbreaking, and in its sparseness of conveying so much emotion, it’s arguably the best track of ‘June Gloom’. Good job.
Both the single ‘Swapping Spit’ and the band’s second LP ‘June Gloom’ are now available from Big Deal’s label Mute Records.
Photos by Cheryl Demas
Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of seeing Northern Irish soul singer Foy Vance play Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. However, those of you in the UK and Ireland will be soon be treated to the same pleasure, as Vance begins touring his new album ‘Joy of Nothing’ on your side of the pond.
The Jammin’ Java show was the final gig of the North American leg of Vance’s tour, and the Saturday night audience had the room filled to capacity. True, it’s a small venue, but its intimate size and acoustics are perfect for Vance’s soulful solo style, as opposed to the Tabernacle in Atlanta, where I last saw him open for Ed Sheeran in January. Perhaps it wasn’t the venue that seemed to dwarf Vance on that night, but the other acts on the bill, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks and the aforementioned ginger headliner. As the main act on the bill at Jammin’ Java, Vance was much more confident and relaxed; he appeared right at home on the small, sparsely equipped stage.
As Vance gained popularity in America on the strength of his opening act for Sheeran, it follows that his new fans would pay special attention to his choice of guests on his own headline tour. In this case, the opening act couldn’t have been more stylistically different from Vance. Fellow Northern Irish musician Peter McCauley, who uses the stage name Rams’ Pocket Radio, makes the kind of electronic synth-driven music that brings to mind old TV episodes of ‘Friends’ with Ross on his tiny Casio keyboard. That’s, of course, if you aren’t familiar with Rams’ Pocket Radio, and I was not.
Once he started playing, I found very quickly that I had made a mistake in not taking a listen to him sooner. His clear, evenly measured melodies and pleasantly modulated singing voice allowed his intriguingly erudite lyrics to capture my attention. (I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that I had to consult a dictionary while reading through the liner notes of his album, ‘Béton’, which I was impressed enough to purchase from the merch table.) His music falls squarely into the dreaded ‘progressive’ category, but I found it to be surprisingly listenable, despite its purposefully streamlined, deliberately minimal aesthetic, partly inspired by the Functionalist industrial designs of Dieter Rams. While most of the songs on Rams’ Pocket Radio’s setlist were accompanied by synthesized drums, Vance came on stage and took drum kit himself at one point, making a minor cameo before his own set began.
When Vance did begin his own set, it was McCauley on the drum kit and Conor McCreanor on bass providing the rhythm section. In contrast to the taut precision of Rams’ Pocket Radio, Vance appeared mellow and relaxed from the outset. He opened with ‘Be the Song’ from 2012 EP ‘Melrose’, but from that point forward focused almost exclusively on songs from ‘Joy of Nothing’, which recently won the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Prize. Eight of the 10 songs on that album appeared on the set list this night, and the audience were clearly familiar with them, especially ‘Janey’ and the anthemic ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’.
Vance’s relaxed mood quickly carried over to his audience. We were quiet with anticipation at the beginning of the show, but his banter and storytelling ability, no doubt the product of growing up as the son of a preacher, soon warmed our hearts and won our rapt attention. Just over halfway through the set, he made the first of several seamless deviations from his original set list, introducing a new song about his current girlfriend, whom he affectionately described as ‘a keeper’. We obliged his request to keep our cameras in our pockets to avoid having the song appear prematurely on YouTube, but this is definitely a tune to keep your ears open for. Perhaps also owing to the easygoing nature of this final gig, Vance accepted a cheeky request from the front row for an old favorite tune, the poignant masterpiece ‘Indiscriminate Act of Kindness’. He closed the set proper with ‘I Got Love’, a simple, soulful tune with an extended suspension in the bridge that left us literally begging for an encore.
At this point, it has become accepted practice for Vance to finish his shows with the well-known ‘Guiding Light’, which is also the final track on ‘Joy of Nothing’. The song is more of an ‘au revoir’ than a final good-bye, and we wistfully joined in singing the chorus at the end, knowing that our evening was well and truly drawing to a close. In the style of a master performer, Foy Vance left us with warmed hearts and smiling faces, but also with the hope of seeing him perform again in the future.
Catch Vance on his current UK and Irish tour; all the dates are here.
It’s a bit hard to believe Jake Bugg’s second studio album ‘Shangri La’ is released today, in November 2013, even as his self-titled, 2013 Mercury Prize-nominated first album continues to make the rounds. While it might be unusual for the influences of the two records overlap, the songs seem to have developed and progressed in a very natural way, making the transition from ‘Jake Bugg’ to ‘Shangri La’ feel almost seamless.
In short, ‘Shangri La’ is not as different from ‘Jake Bugg’ as I initially expected it to be. The first two singles, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ (reviewed here) and ‘Slumville Sunrise’ (watch the video here), seemed to mark a striking change in direction toward a heavier, edgier sound, but much of the album is more in the vein of Bugg’s earlier acoustic folk rock. The main musical difference between the two albums is in the song arrangements, which have branched out into added layers of electric guitar, keyboards, and percussion. Bugg’s songwriting hasn’t drastically changed, even with the influence of famed Californian producer Rick Rubin. His lyrics are still unrelentingly real, and his song structures still plainly straightforward. Opening track ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’ is a quick and dirty introduction to his typical pugnacious style, which he revisits on ‘Messed Up Kids’ and ‘Kingpin’. However, Bugg does have a few tricks up the sleeve of his leather jacket, and these are parceled out slowly over the course of the album.
The major surprises on ‘Shangri La’ come in the form of two love songs, ‘Me and You’ and ‘A Song About Love’. The larger instrumental arrangements are most effective on these tracks, and Bugg’s singing voice sounds better than it ever has, especially in such raw emotional passages as the chorus of ‘Me and You’. ‘A Song About Love’ is surely the record’s pièce de resistance, displaying a deftly written tenderness in its lyrics and a remarkably effective vocal technique, particularly from a singer not known for his emotionally effusive personality.
The general tempo on the second half of ‘Shangri La’ slows down a bit, with the sultry bass line and keyboard riffs of ‘Kitchen Table’ and the austere narrative of ‘Pine Trees’. Heavier tunes ‘All Your Reasons’ and ‘Simple Pleasures’ have a languid, minor key blues feel. True to his roots, Bugg ends the album with a pure folk ballad, ‘Storm Passes Away’, which nods to his expanded repertoire of sound by including a fuller arrangement of instruments than we previously might have heard.
The expanded sonic palette on ‘Shangri La’ adds an intensified degree of emotional depth to Bugg’s already precocious songwriting ability. Bearing in mind that he is still only 19 years old, I am inclined to forgive his determined ‘rebel without a cause’ theme if it means a chance to hear brilliant moments like ‘A Song About Love’. ‘Shangri La’ doesn’t venture as far from the pathway as it might have, but it does show the confidence and scope of an artist who has hit his stride.
Jake Bugg will be touring through the end of the year and has announced a lengthy list of live dates for 2014 as well. His upcoming UK dates in early 2014 can be found here, and a full list of live shows can be found on his official Web site.
‘Shangri La’ is available starting today from Jake Bugg Records / Virgin Records.
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