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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 13th February 2014 at 12:00 pm
Reverend and the Makers appear to be the marmite of the dance pop world in Britain. Their stature or their notoriety, depending on who you speak to, is something I can’t begin to wrap my brain round. Me? Personally, I love them. (However, I should probably note that being pulled up onstage to dance with frontman Jon “The Reverend” McClure and members of the Enemy during a dance night at SXSW 2013 and having the time of my life might make me a wee bit biased.) Maybe it is because Jon McClure is and can be a polarising figure. But then again, so is Morrissey. I tend to ignore most of the more political, liberal things that come out of Morrissey’s mouth and yet still manage to thoroughly enjoy his music. So for the sake of you reading this review of the forthcoming Reverend and the Makers, let’s go forward with an open mind, shall we?
The group’s upcoming album is named ‘ThirtyTwo’, McClure’s current age. One might think that someone passing into his thirties (yawn, middle age, innit?) and naming his band’s new album that exact number might have a bone to pick with aging and therefore this album is going to be one of those groan-inducing, “I need to act my age and grow up” kind of efforts. This is what I thought, anyway. However, I am pleased to report that based on hearing forthcoming single ‘The Only One’ by itself, Reverend and the Makers are still the same uncompromising bunch who want nothing more than to lay down huge-sounding songs to get us our bodies bumping.
The song begins with the simple yet brilliant lines to set the stage: “I may not be your first, but I wanna be your last / I wrote the chapter and the verse / I’m being haunted by the past”. Described on the press release as “a personal battle with jealousy and its complexities – and the fact that it’s an emotion that doesn’t get easier with age”, ‘The Only One’ indeed has “the green-eyed monster” making an appearance. But the underlying message that comes blaring out of the chorus is that of wanting your lover to make you feel like you’re the only one in the world who matters. Hello, universal, everyman theme.
Nearly all dance songs in existence are designed, obviously, to get people out on the dance floor and have a good time. But the funny thing about the best, the cream of the crop dance songs is that they all manage to make anyone with a yen for a good beat feel sexy, male and female, young and old. Say what you will about the Reverend, but he’s still got it. In fact, he never lost it. In ‘The Only One’, he still commands all the attention in the room with his buckets of charisma, and with the Makers behind him, this is going to be a huge, beat-heavy single that will reverberate along with punters’ handclaps across festivals this summer.
Seeing how massive this single sounds, I now wonder how it is even possible that Reverend and the Makers have never played Ultra Music Festival. That’s mental. Sort that out, Miami. STAT.
‘The Only One’, the forthcoming single from Sheffield’s Reverend and the Makers, will be released officially on the 10th of March on Cooking Vinyl but is available digitally now. Watch the video directed by famed photographer Roger Sargent below. ‘ThirtyTwo’, the band’s fourth album, precedes the single, dropping on the 24th of February. Catch the band on their UK starting later this month. Just prior to the tour, the band’s second craft beer and a collaboration with Thornbridge Brewery, Reverend American Brown Ale, will launch at the Craft Beer Rising event taking place 21-23 February in London Brick Lane. McClure and guitarist Ed Cosens will preside over a DJ set on Friday the 21st during the event.
Los Feliz four-piece, synth pop band Northern American have managed to carve a unique niche in the American West Coast sound, somewhere between the hazy dream pop of bands like Mazzy Star or Local Natives and the frenetic energy of lo-fi garage bands like Deap Vally or FIDLAR. Their new single, ‘Wander’, was released last week on Heist or Hit Records. ‘Wander’ and its B-side ‘Record Forever’ both also feature on Northern American’s EP release ‘Happiness Hungover’.
‘Wander’ is at the same time mellow and upbeat, with ambient electronic sounds, shimmering keyboards and guitars over a resonant pulsing bass and lightly skipping drum rhythm. Lead singer and guitarist Nate Paul’s vocal tone is smoothly languid from the track’s opening lyrics, “Wander where you’ll go / I’ve been here before / We’ve waited for you / It’s all we ever do” through to the lilting closing lines, “dream all day / dance all night / dream all day / wander far away.” In the interim, the song slowly evolves into a rather surprising drum solo in the bridge before easing its way back to the familiar bass pulse and guitar riff. The song definitely wanders, but the blocked chord texture of the keyboard rhythm holds it together in the end.
The single’s B-side, ‘Record Forever’ is also loungey and laid-back, both hazy in texture and deeply reverberant. Paul’s velvety vocal tone shifts into an equally smooth high register during the rhythmically lurching chorus, “you are the record that spins inside of me / my heart / forever.” While perhaps less sophisticated than ‘Wander’, ‘Record Forever’ is certainly the catchier of the two tracks, as its uneven rhythmic pattern echoes both in the head and on the hips.
If the subject matter of ‘Wander’ and ‘Record Forever’ is a bit superficial, that naïve quality can be attributed to Northern American’s youthfully organic nature and collaborative songwriting technique. The band’s Facebook page quotes Paul: “We’re always changing. Our music is really free. We try to be as loose with it as possible; it’s the best version of all of us.” Northern American are currently in the studio working on their first full album, anticipated for release this summer.
‘Wander’, the latest single from Northern American, is available now on Heist or Hit Records. Both tracks are available to stream below.
London’s electro dance producer/singer Example has yet another track for us in advance of his next album due out in June. The original version of ‘Kids Again’ was finally revealed on BBC Radio 1. In an unusual move, Example had allowed several remixes of the song to be played on air ahead of the original, but now we have the proper version. Full of tasty dance beats and throbbing synth licks, ‘Kids Again’ comes to us in original, Dimension, Zed Bias, or MOTi flavours. (For your convenience, we’ve embedded the original version of the song at the bottom of this post, but if you visit Example’s Soundcloud, you’ll get to hear all of them.) Each of the remixes has a very distinct sound. At this point, the Dimension version has edged forward for me with its vaguely 80s opening.
Riding the wave of previous single ‘All the Wrong Places’ top 20 charting, this song will likely garner Mr. Gleave another chart topper. The buzz on this tune is good and it has an appealing topic, “I don’t wanna do whatever they tell me / I wanna feel oh so young today / so let’s behave like kids again”. After all, who doesn’t want to feel like a kid again?
Hinting that the new album will feature no rapping at all, ‘Kids Again’ shows his vocal chops much like on the last album. I will admit to liking ‘All the Wrong Places’ a tad better, but I am excited by this single as well. I am very enthusiastic about the upcoming next album.
The single for ‘Kids Again’ itself will be released on the 16th of March on Epic Records and follows on from September 2013’s ‘All the Wrong Places’. Example’s yet unnamed fifth album is due out in June.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 14th January 2014 at 12:00 pm
Anyone who’s been following The Crookes for any length (pardon the pun) of time is aware that the trademark of Crookes’ frontman George Waite has always been his long, floppy, ginger hair. But before they headed out to an isolated church in the mountains of Northern Italy to record their third album ‘Soapbox’, Waite’s locks were shorn and left forgotten on the floor, and away they went. This drastic event indicated to me that major changes were afoot. I have been pondering the motive for this haircut for a long time. My own brother, who is probably about George’s height, cuts his hair like that often because he’s simply too lazy to deal with it on a regular basis. And yes, my brother can be quite lazy.
Somehow though, I don’t think this radical new do of Waite’s came out of sheer laziness, nor was it simply cosmetic. Interestingly, the relative lack of hair on Waite’s head no doubt assisted in the filming of the band’s first video from the album, for brand new single ‘Play Dumb’. It’s the first single from the Sheffield band since the double A-sided ‘Bear’s Blood’ / ‘Dance in Colour’ single that was released in May 2013, the former of which represented a much harder, louder, uncompromising sound than had been previously proffered on their earlier releases. Post-’Bear’s Blood’, I’d decided it was safe to say that their days of tracks with contemplative whistling were behind them, and the reveal of ‘Play Dumb’ supports this.
The first clue that ‘Play Dumb’ is something different shows up at the start of the video. Waite is sat at a table, looking at the camera, initially nervously so, playing with his hands, until the song begins with a discordant squeal of guitar and pounding drums. As the camera focuses in on him, you can sense something has changed. He’s ready for his close-up, and in this new close-up, he wants to show everyone he’s not the same boy we used to know. Even the half-smile he gives us isn’t 100% true, with what seems to me like a bit of an evil glint in his eye. And he is about to tell us a story.
The song begins with, “I’ve had my mid-life crisis by the age of 25 / you say my head ain’t right / I’m tired of myself but don’t know why”: the protagonist of the story is unhappy with the way his life is going but doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. The intriguing, important next line includes the song title, and the line is repeated later in the song: “I’m dirt under your thumb, not pretty enough to play dumb”. As the video goes on, we’re watching Waite being transformed with makeup, a dress, pearls and a wig into, dare I say it, a damn fine-looking woman. What this made me think of first is what terrible things us women go through, trying to make ourselves prettier to impress men. But the sentiment could also be applied to men too, if you consider that while women are supposed to be soft, pretty things, in contrast, men are supposed to be tough and hard as nails, and some men aren’t made to be like that. Either ideal created by our society is hard, sometimes impossible, to live up to.
In lyricist Daniel Hopewell’s world, where if you are very pretty (or handsome for a man), you have the option of acting or playing dumb, because your prettiness leads to you not to have to worry about the mundane things everyone else has to. Isn’t this what image-conscious Hollywood tells us? If you’re gorgeous, man or woman, you don’t necessarily need a brain, and your career is more or less made. However, if you aren’t pretty enough and rather the “dirt under your thumb”, forget it, you don’t get the same concessions. By the time we get to verse two, there is no question that Hopewell is talking about the band’s own “poster boys” image. Like it or not, the Crookes are a very good-looking group of guys, which I’m sure has had its advantages and disadvantages for their career trajectory. “I’d rather you despise my every move” is an aggressive line and not something I would have ever imagined Waite singing back in the ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ era or even the latest ‘Hold Fast’ one: it’s indicative of a self-informed realisation that it’s better to be feared (or hated) than loved. Judging from the reactions I’ve seen from the boys playing live, there are an awful lot of people out there who absolutely adore them, but maybe that adoration comes at a cost?
You’re probably wondering why I’ve avoided the chorus up until now. I’m not a fan of it. The subtext of the song appears to be that the voice of the song is not living up to his woman’s expectations. Something has gone awry in their relationship, because he doesn’t need her anymore, and he’s bored with her. He wants her to “wake up” and take stock of the situation, while at the same time he refuses and “won’t change to get you off”. The line comes across as a clumsy way of saying “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam” like Popeye, and it’s so crass – it wouldn’t be a surprise, since the song seems to be sung with such a sneer to the world – truth be told, it makes me uncomfortable. Maybe that was the point: the press release for the new single has Hopewell saying ‘Soapbox’ “…certainly isn’t a happy, carefree album”.
‘Play Dumb’ is catchy for sure, but its melody and hook aren’t as bright when stacked up against those of the first single of ‘Hold Fast’, ‘Afterglow’. The timing of this release seems particularly apt: the single drops the week before the band are due back in the States for SXSW, so we’ll have to see what the Americans make of it. Overall, this song seems to indicate the Crookes have taken off in a new direction, so the real question is, what will the rest of the album sound like? We shall be waiting.
The first single from the Crookes’ third album ‘Soapbox’, ‘Play Dumb’, will be released on the 3rd of March on Fierce Panda Records; ‘Soapbox’ will follow on the 14th of April. The band are scheduled to appear at SXSW 2014 in Austin in 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.
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.
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