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Night Engine were one of 2013’s one to watch, with a spectacular show at Liverpool Sound City, and for those that were there, an equally successful one the following week at The Great Escape. They released a three singles on limited coloured vinyl, each of which duly went on to sell on the secondary market for some stratospheric prices. Foundations duly laid, Night Engine have similarly ambitious plans for 2014, with an album release slated for the autumn, preceded by the single ‘All I Got’.
It almost goes without saying by now that Night Engine channel Fashion-era Bowie – a comparison primarily due to the remarkable vocal talents of Phil McDonnell: all camp authoritarianism and demonstrative vibrato. The band deliver slick, dark funk, with a hint of Strokes haughty garage rock, topped with the electronica of early Depeche Mode. On ‘All I Got’ McDonnell is apparently bemoaning the high expectations of a, shall we say, ‘acquaintance’. There’s talk of one night in leather, caged animals and flared nostrils. Oo-er missus. The band maintain a sleazy groove through the crooned middle eight; come the chorus they let it all hang out in a thunder of fizzy guitar and overdriven bass.
Night Engine truly deserve the plaudits they’ve gathered since their inception a couple of years ago. Theirs is arch yet danceable, disco-retro cool, with the whole Bowie factor adding to the novelty. If this single is anything to go by, the album should be one of 2014’s finest moments.
‘All I Got’, Night Engine’s next single, is out on the 2nd of June. ‘Wound Up Tight’, their debut album, is slated for a release in the autumn.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Martin and his missus may have coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling’, and Coldplay may have a new album out on the 19th of May. But on the same day comes the release of something far more interesting, and ironically enough, its contents might throw you into thinking about a kind of conscious recoupling. London band Longfellow, who many in Britain have tipped to challenge Martin’s band’s global stranglehold on the mainstream alt rock scene, will be dropping their next single ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ on that very day.
Seeing that Longfellow have signed to the exact same label to begin their career as Coldplay did in their early days – London’s Fierce Panda, whose ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ I reviewed a short while ago – it all seems very cosy. A little too cosy… However, it seems that Coldplay’s latest reveal, single ‘Magic’, has taken more reliance on beat than their past efforts, and they have cleared the way for a group like Longfellow to make it. That is, if they can write a pop anthem. Have they, in ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’? Let’s examine further, shall we?
When I first read the title, I thought the word ‘Makeup’ had to be a mistake. Surely it should have been referring to the act of making up after a break-up and not literally cosmetics? It bothered me a lot: hey, remember, I’m an editor! After further reflection, it made me think of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, in which there’s the immortal line, “my smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. So that made me grin. Like Smokey’s song, ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ is about the dreadful wanting of someone after realising you’ve lost the world you shared with that person.
The lyrics of this Longfellow song may make you wince from the desperation contained within; “I was there by your side as you reached for another / and a part of me, it died”; “don’t make these blue skies turn to red / I’m yours but I won’t regret it”), especially with the way lead vocalist Owen Lloyd emotes this desperation, but any such wincing is brief. With words like “so let’s grow old together, sweetness you’re my heart and soul / a thousand nights that I lay restless, praying you’d come home”, the song makes you want to believe, to keep the hope alive that fences can be mended.
There are two major elements to Longfellow that make the Coldplay comparison seem apt: the bombastic piano played by Ali Hetherington and the anthemic quality of their songwriting. One major difference – and what I think could push Longfellow to the top – is Lloyd’s voice, which is far richer and emotional than Martin’s. I had the good fortune having heard the band perform this song in their BBC Introducing set at SXSW 2014 last month, all under the kind auspices of one Steve Lamacq. All three of these pieces make the single one compelling piece of pop indeed.
Let us watch and wait. The gauntlet has been thrown.
‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’, Longfellow’s hotly anticipated followup single to ‘Siamese Lover’, will be out on the 19th of May on Fierce Panda. The band plays London’s Camden Barfly the next evening, on the 20th of May. They are purported to be filming a promo video for this new single in the West Country, and we’ll share that with you when we have it. But in the meantime, you can watch them performing the song live at Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase on the Thursday night at SXSW 2014 in Austin back in March below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 16th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
We’ve been keeping an eye on young Halifax band the Orielles since Martin caught them at Liverpool Sound City last year in the wee hours of Thursday night into Friday morning and my own serendipitous run-in Saturday afternoon with the Hand-Halford sisters (Esme-Dee on vocals/bass, older sister Sid on drums) at the Brink cafe. Just a few weeks ago, the band released their second EP, their first under their new moniker The Orielles, after having shed their original name The Oreoh!s, ‘Hindering Waves’ (video for title track in this previous Video of the Moment). Definitely ones to strike while the iron is hot, they quickly followed up this release with several high-profile support slots, including two sold-out shows at the London Lexington where they opened for the Primitives the first weekend of April. But now we can focus back and squarely on the band again, for they have a new single out the 12th of May called ‘Entity’.
At first glance, ‘Entity’ seems a quite weighty title for a trio of young people still too young for university and sounds like it could have been a b-side on Delphic‘s debut ‘Acolyte’ alongside other one-word standouts ‘Halcyon’ and ‘Submission’. Beginning with a uniquely smooth bass line that sounds somewhere in between the Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’ and Presidents of the United States’ ‘Peaches’, the words then begin, and in my view, they’re pretty snarky: “you are so dead but still in my mind / a voice in my head so hard to define”. Whoever Esme-Dee Hand-Halford is singing about, the person is either physically dead or not real. See what we were saying about them being wise beyond their years? Mind. Blown.
But what’s holding this all together is the second verse: “File your face like you file a letter, at the back like a winter sweater / I like you, it’s pure and plain to see / I like you, but you’re an entity”. The title ‘Entity’ seems to suggest this person, the object of her affection, isn’t a person at all, or lacking things that make a person human, such as proper emotions, or at least manners and consideration. If you’re looking at the word ‘entity’ itself in plain semantics, an entity is generally inanimate, which I think is what the lyrics are trying to get at, and the very chill vibe of the song reflects this.
The second verse is describing the difficult process of putting someone out of your mind. It must be difficult, because the female protagonist has to describe exactly what she’s doing – filing him away, and far enough in the back where she doesn’t think about him – and if it was easy and came second nature to her, she wouldn’t be describing the process to us, would she now? Esme-Dee Hand-Halford’s vocals are measured, as if she’s trying to hold emotions in, while she and guitarist Henry Wade providing backing vocals repeat in between the verses and at the end, “I don’t see you anymore, I don’t…but I don’t mind, boy, I don’t care at all”. But does she really not care at all? Somehow, I think she’s trying to be strong…
But it’s packaged with such a memorable melody! You won’t forget this one. Any way you slice it, ”Entity’ is a wonderful piece of pop, bright yet cool, and it makes me eager to hear what else these young, brilliant and talented minds come up with next.
The Orielles’ next single, ‘Entity’, will be released by Scruff of the Neck Records on the 12th of May. I’ve been told a promo video for the single will be coming very soon. The band will be having a launch party for the single on Saturday the 26th of April at Manchester Deaf Institute. They will also be appearing at the Shipping Forecast on Friday the 2nd of May during Liverpool Sound City and the Packhorse on Saturday the 3rd of May during Live at Leeds.
Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li has dropped the first proper single ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ from her coming album ‘I Never Learn’ for our waiting ears in advance of the album next month. Lykke has been away for over 3 years crafting her next work -and acting in a Swedish crime thriller! – having also spent quite a bit of time with iconic American director David Lynch. It would be easy to think that this off-beat filmmaker has had a significant influence on Li if you were listening as a neophyte. But truth be told, she’s always possessed an unnerving, otherworldly quality so the influence likely flowing in both directions.
Opening with smartly struck keys on the far right side of the keyboard, this simple theme returns at each valley of the song. Not breaking from the familiar haunting, slightly nasal sound from her past songs, she presents a tune that undulates from plaintive soul-bearing to crashing self-loathing. The pain of destroying a good love comes through with a swelling intensity as the lyrics build and recede, yet always pulling back into the simple beaten out piano melody, retreating to where it is safe and alone. The message is of simple pain and regret. Barely asking for redemption, the song has a simple acknowledgment of failure as the pain billows with the music’s crescendo and then abates into nothingness at the end.
The song becomes clearer on repeated listens, but it also becomes simpler. Initially, the crashing cymbals of the chorus obscured Li’s voice for me, but as it repeated, it settled into a nice little verse chorus verse structure. There is nothing wrong with that formula, nothing at all. But with an artist that has the experimental Swedish roots that she does, we can hope for a little more from the full length coming later.
‘No Rest for the Wicked’, Lykke Li’s forthcoming single, is out on the 21st of April on Atlantic Records. ‘I Never Learn’, the Swede’s third album, follows on the 5th of May.
Fresh off his recent trip to America, which included a stop in Austin, Texas for SXSW 2014, Rams’ Pocket Radio has just released a new single, ‘Love is a Bitter Thing’. The track appears on his full length album, ‘Béton’, and was a hit during Rams’ Pocket Radio’s SXSW shows, except for his last gig, where he rather curiously didn’t include it on the set list.
When I interviewed Rams’ Pocket Radio, who goes by the name Peter McCauley offstage, I was a bit unclear on the status of this new release. The full album was released last autumn, but ‘Love is a Bitter Thing’ is the first track released separately as a single. It is the most readily accessible track on ‘Béton’, with its presumably romantic theme, emotionally charged vocals and dramatic keyboard accompaniment. Where many of the other tracks on the album require more intensive study of the lyrics and musical gestures, ‘Love Is A Bitter Thing’ is fairly straightforward and heartfelt, perhaps proving that McCauley can indeed be “an emotional guy”, as he claimed in the aforementioned interview. The combination of piano and solo violin is a naturally emotional one, but it’s McCauley’s visceral and heartrending vocal delivery that captures breathless attention from the song’s first moment. The accompanying video, directed by Darren Lee of Maverick Renegade Productions, is equally breathtaking.
The single version of ‘Love Is A Bitter Thing’ is accompanied by two remixes from fellow Northern Irish musicians, one by alt-rock quartet More Than Conquerors and the other by electro artist Ryan Vail. Curiously, the More Than Conquerors remix is the more artifically synthetic sounding of the two. For my money, it completely misses the mark, squaring off all the rhythms and applying slick, robotic synthesizers and vocal effects, in the end creating the unfortunate emotional effect of distancing the listener from the rawness of the lyric. Not being an expert in the field of electronic music, or even a really fan of it, I do have to wonder if there isn’t something I’m missing in its particular musical language that might connect the sonic qualities of this remix to the emotional qualities of the original song. Further exploration might enhance my understanding, but I’m not sure this one will ever be a favorite in my heart. The Ryan Vail remix is a bit more organic, warmer and more sensually rhythmic, with light percussion taking the place of the keyboards. The poignant chorus of the original song is left out of this mix, leaving a general sense of dimly lit atmosphere without the intense dramatic motion.
Normally we include numeric ratings with our single reviews here at TGTF, but in this case, I’m left with a bit of a dilemma. If I were rating the original song itself, I would give it 9/10 for its beautifully executed vocals and elegant instrumental arrangement. I am, however, nonplussed by the remix treatments. Listening to Rams’ Pocket Radio always leaves a question mark hanging over my head, and in the end, this seemingly straightforward single has had the same effect.
‘Love Is A Bitter Thing’ was self-released by Rams’ Pocket Radio on the 17th of March and can be purchased via online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes. Rams’ Pocket Radio’s full album, ‘Béton’ is also available on his Web site.
Some lovely still photos from the ‘Love Is A Bitter Thing’ video shoot can be viewed here.
Having cultivated a reputation as the go to support act for bands that have debatably dipped below their highest watermark, you could be forgiven for thinking that The Minutes had missed the boat on the riff-oriented retro rock revival of the mid-to-late Noughties. Fans of the Dublin-based trio will be pleased to hear that the earliest indications from the bands eagerly anticipated follow up to their 2011 debut ‘Marcata’ suggest the upcoming release of ‘Live Well, Change Often’ could provide some of the most refined rock to come out of Ireland since The Giant’s Causeway.
First new single ‘Cherry Bomb’, released late last month on Model Citizen Records, is a swaggering, crotch grabbing number in the mould of glam rock aficionados T. Rex. Building up from the solid foundation of a tested blues base, the band constructs a neon fronted dive bar from which to hawk their seductively seedy wares. The delicately reverberating fuzz that permeates both Mark Austen’s guitar and vocals gives the track a warm, mock vintage quality that has the potential infect the music buying public with the same veracity as Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’.
What ‘Cherry Bomb’ proves is that The Minutes have used their time as understudies to the likes of The Strokes, Supergrass and Flogging Molly wisely. From the uncut diamond of a band that covered Led Zeppelin songs (albeit with an intriguingly abrasive edge) at gigs that were never quite designed for them, this track may signal a shift from support act to niche carvers. Many factors will have influenced this sea change, not least their time spent recording with Garth Richardson at Vancouver’s Fader Master Sound Studios, but the boys from Dublin ultimately deserve the credit for re-packaging their sound into something with a little more mass appeal.
‘Cherry Bomb’ is out now on Model Citizen Records. ‘Live Well, Change Often’, the Minutes’ second album, will be out on the 9th of May in Ireland (not sure about a UK release date but if we had to fathom a guess, we’d presume it’d be the following Monday, on the 12th of May).
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