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.
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 5th November 2013 at 12:00 pm
Funny how this single from The Courteeners comes along just shortly after Keane announced they had decided to go on hiatus. ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’, the opening track of the Manchester band’s third album ‘Anna’ released in February, will be released as a single in its own right in December on Polydor. Surely, the Courteeners’ fan faithful have already committed this song to memory, having bought the album and seen the band on tour or at festivals this year. But even if you don’t have Liam Fray’s poster on your bedroom wall, it’s a tune worth your attention, and I’ll tell you why.
I mentioned Keane in the previous paragraph because the anthemic piano banging that takes place in ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’ has been compared by others to Doves but I find it more like Tim Rice-Oxley in its key scratching, in terms of more recent memory. The subject matter isn’t new: a man is clearly bemoaning that a woman’s choice – or maybe desire is the better word? – to settle for a man who might not be the right one for her. It’s not spelled out, but the suggestion the protagonist is a far better choice is hiding in here. Another theme is that of running away and escaping to a better life; perhaps that’s where NME was going when they were comparing this song to Doves and therefore our namesake ‘There Goes the Fear’? One could argue the “notion” in the song could be marriage, or love itself; for the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t matter. The girl wants to “quit Debenhams” and leave her shop girl existence to “elope and get married in the sun”, and she’s already gleefully informed her girlfriends “that all your [her] dreams were made”. Do I know girls like this? Yes. More importantly, do you know girls like this?
Along with its feel good chorus perfect for a singalong, this would have been enough for a radio hit. However, Fray has some interesting word choices, elevating this song from usual Radio 1 fodder. “You linger on a feeling / that you can’t quite put your finger on / reminiscent of a summer in the Isle of Wight” – our protagonist insists the feeling is fleeting and isn’t sufficient to tie down the girl, even if she thinks “it’s too late / to back out at this stage”. Later on, Fray quips, “but then your home screen flashed some more / he was never one for serenade”: ‘the one’ in question uses texting to romance his lady love. Not exactly Shakespeare, is it? But it drives home the point of the song: don’t settle.
The next single from the Courteeners, ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’, will be released on the 9th of December on Polydor. They will be on tour in the UK in December.
What sums up the youthful exuberance and blossoming success of the British hardcore/metal scene in 2013? Is it Bring Me the Horizon’s ‘Sempiternal’? Quite possibly. Is it the fact that Arcane Roots have just supported Muse on a stadium tour? Maybe. Or is it the fact that Bingley five-piece Marmozets have been signed to Roadrunner Records and with their new single ‘Move, Shake, Hide’ looks set to catapult them firmly in to the eyes of the great British public? Most definitely.
The rise of Marmozets over the past 2 and a half years has been a slow burner for the most, supplemented by some fearsome tour schedules. Over the last 10 months, though, Marmozets have encapsulated everything that is good about British metal at the moment: a fearlessness to experiment, an arrogance or confidence that can only be borne of youthful enthusiasm and raw talent. Probably the kind of mix Greg Dyke is looking for in the next generation of British footballers… In music though, we don’t get commissions and boards. But we are treated to, in much the same way as football, incredible breakthroughs that get us excited and have us off our seats.
While ‘Born Young and Free’ was probably that first goal which makes you take notice of them, ‘Move, Shake, Hide’ is that one of those feats of near brilliance which lets you know that there is something special. Becca Macintyre’s immense vocals are supplemented by a double guitar assault, with breakdowns that range from the heavy to the funky. I can pay testament to this track in a live arena is utter carnage; orchestrated by Miss Macintyre who is increasingly showing her credentials as the heir to the throne left vacant by Amy Lee – that of the faux-goth superstar.
Chuck in to the mixer that the hooks are despicably catchy, and it’s obvious that Marmozets are no longer new kids on the block. They’re ready to but their 18-year old noses in to the big leagues – at least now school is out.
‘Move, Shake, Hide’ will be Marmozets’ first single to be released on their new label Roadrunner Records on the 18th of November.
Lithe, lovelorn Lancastrians The Heartbreaks are back (not that they ever went away – The Heartbreaks are surely one of 2013’s hardest-working bands), with the first single from their forthcoming sophomore album. ‘¡No Pasarán!’ not only has a Spanish title (which translates as “they shall not pass”), it lovingly mimics the gimmicks of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks: castanets, muted trumpet, and even his trademark stabs of percussive bass vocal. Although the phrase “¡No Pasarán!” has a history of political connotations, particularly from its use in the Spanish Civil War, as far as can be discerned, this is still a love song, perhaps with a struggle at its heart. Despite the genre stylings, it still has the essential Heartbreaks songwriting chops, and the earnest vocal couldn’t be mistaken for anyone but Matthew Whitehouse.
The new album doesn’t have a release date, or a title, but there are glimmerings that the band might be gearing up to unveil it – there’s a couple of free shows in London and Manchester coming up next month. Unfortunately they’re both sold out, but no doubt a number of new songs will be showcased there. The PR twaddle frames their new material as a “riposte to the all-conquering Age of Beige the UK currently finds itself in” – quite how a country with such a vibrant music and arts scene (of which The Heartbreaks are a notable, but still small part) can be accused of being beige is quite unfathomable. Perhaps they should get out more. But that over-excitable press release aside, this release moves The Heartbreaks’ story on nicely, and bodes well for the forthcoming album.
You can download the Heartbreaks’ ‘¡No Pasarán!’ for free by signing up for their mailing list in the widget below. You can also stream the song below as well. We’ll keep you posted on the band’s second album release date as soon as it becomes available.
London-based Bear’s Den have had a very busy 2013, and they appear set to finish the year on a strong note. After selling out a UK tour in February, they spent the summer playing festivals, then released their highly acclaimed EP ‘Agape’. On the strength of that effort, they joined Mumford and Sons for the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour before supporting Daughter’s early autumn American tour. Now nearing the end of a string of Australian dates, Bear’s Den will release their new EP ‘Without/Within’ next Monday (the 28th of October).
The EP’s first single, ‘Sahara’, is a continuously expansive 6-minute track in which Bear’s Den display a talent for setting a mood before delving into the song’s deeper emotional content. The first 2 and a half minutes of the song are effectively a slow intro, with instruments and voices being added one by one, gradually building dynamic and emotional tension. The lyrics are poignant and incredibly effective in this musical context, especially when Andrew Davie sings, “As the sun beats down hard upon your skin / Yeah, you can feel her now in all that you can go without, within / A flower grows even though nobody asked it to / A bluebird sings and won’t let herself go out of tune”.
Vocal harmonies are added for the first chorus, “All my life, I wasn’t honest enough, and I thought I would never get over you”. Then the pulsing rhythm section kicks in, along with a driving guitar melody, as the tone of the lyrics changes in the second verse from pensive regret to hard-won triumph. That uplifted, anthemic feeling carries through to the end of the song, where the brief coda steals a backward glance at the contemplative introduction.
Davie’s voice is smooth and even throughout the song, never allowing his own singing to take precedence over the lyrics, which are clearly the impetus for the song as a whole. The vocal harmonies provided by band members Joey Haynes (who recently answered editor Mary’s Quickfire Questions here) and Kevin Jones are similarly effective, adding depth to the sound where the lyrics demand it. This emotional sensitivity, along with strong vocal and instrumental melodies, appeals simultaneously to the ear and to the heart. And while the song’s title might slip your mind (there is a lyrical reference in the first verse), its emotional lyrics and expansive sound will certainly stay with you.
‘Without/Within’ is due for release on the 28th of October on Communion Records. Its first single, ‘Sahara’, can be streamed below, along with ‘Writing on the Wall’, which is being included as a free download with all pre-orders of the EP.
It’s almost 3 years since I fell head over arse over heels in love with Brother and Bones’ music. Stumbling aimlessly into a basement in Brighton for the Great Escape 2011, I expected to be subjected to a typically synthed up pile of indie bullshit and was surrounded by nodding A&Rs as we all yearned to discover that next big thing. In this basement though, it was a hotbed of primal energy. Because that is what Brother and Bones are about; immensely powerful rock and blues riffs that have you jumping up and down on the spot like a maniac.
Three years on and there seems to be a shift in the bands tact – towards a new emphasis on lead singer Richard Thomas’ voice. The Cornish five piece haven’t completely ditched the rolling raucous bass lines, but there is a subtle shift towards showcasing the tremendous vocal range of the pint-sized Jack Sparrow lookalike Thomas. New single ‘To Be Alive’ is testament to this understated change of direction. The video is a sepia showcase of a band who obviously are an extremely tight unit, spending every waking minute on the road joshing about. There are even a few shots from their live shows, which I can pray testament to by saying they are best experience live. With double drummers the sound they make is absolutely massive and in Richard Thomas they have a humble and amicable frontman.
The final 30 seconds of To Be Alive are testament to the beautiful soulful rock and roll that Brother and Bones have been producing for the last three years. I can only hope that their new EP will be when the rest of the world realises what a gem in the British music scene that Brother and Bones are.
The ‘To Be Alive’ EP by Brother and Bones will be out on the 4th of November on Last Step Records. Watch the promo video for the title track below.