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In the Post #160: Ben Howard announces his new album ‘Noonday Dream’ with first single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’

 
By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

If you follow Ben Howard‘s social media, you might have noticed a quiet but mysterious breeze blowing around his internet persona recently. That soft breeze became a full blown wind last Wednesday, as Howard announced the impending release of ‘Noonday Dream’, his first solo album in 4 years, which follows his breathtaking 2014 album ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Howard hasn’t been entirely idle in the interim, releasing an EP and a full long player last year with his side project A Blaze of Feather.

Howard has previewed ‘Noonday Dream’ with lead single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’, which received its first radio play last Wednesday on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. In the accompanying interview with the DJ legend, Howard himself described the song as “a bit of a patchwork quilt”. He went on to briefly explain the song’s birth and evolution over time: “It went through a lot of different lives, this one, and I think you can sort of tell.”

Indeed, the song’s soundscape moves through palpable stages over the course of its 7-minute duration, starting with an a harsh, synthetic intro and progressing to a lighter acoustic backdrop under Howard’s softly intoned vocals. The entire recording has a broad, airy quality, in contrast to some of the heavier tones he’s taken in the past, and distant voices in the background suggest a vast sense of open space. About halfway through the track, layers of percussion and keyboards add light and color to the sonic palette, and the texture thickens dramatically with the introduction of a dark guitar melody near the end.

Produced by Howard himself and recorded at various locations in England and France, ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall’ sounds like not only a continuation of what Howard did on ‘I Forget Where We Were’, but an even further extension of that atmospheric neo-folk sound. Lyrically the new song is as evocative and elusive as Howard has ever been in his writing, but musically he extends well beyond his acoustic folk rock beginnings. Take a listen to ‘A Boat to an Island off the Wall’ via Spotify at the bottom of this post.

8.5/10

‘Noonday Dream’ is due out on the 1st of June on Island Records. Just after the album’s release, Howard will play the below list of live dates in the UK. Listen back to Ben Howard’s interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1 and the song’s first play through here; the stream will be available for the next 24 days. find TGTF’s past coverage of Ben Howard back through here.

Wednesday 13th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 14th June 2018 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 28th June 2018 – Edinburgh Playhouse
Friday 29th June 2018 – Manchester Albert Hall
Saturday 30th June 2018 – Cornwall Eden Sessions

 

SXSW 2018: Keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen – 14th March 2018

 
By on Monday, 9th April 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo by Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

My SXSW 2018 Wednesday afternoon technically began late in the morning at the Austin Convention Center, with an 11 AM keynote speech by YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen. I was a bit tardy in arriving to the Convention Center to queue for the popular talk, and I ended up sitting in the overflow room, where the speech was being simulcast on a big screen TV. This arrangement in no way detracted from Cohen’s message or the enthusiasm of the attendees, who nodded and occasionally even applauded as if Cohen himself were actually at the front of the room.

Lyor Cohen internal

Cohen began his keynote address by giving some background on the earlier days of his career in the music industry, as a way of explaining his lifelong passion for music and for promoting musicians. His career started in artist management for up-and-coming rap artists at Rush Productions in the 1980s, and his success eventually led him to high level executive roles at Def Jam and Warner Music Group. Cohen’s brief autobiographical sketch was accompanied by DJ/producer D-Nice, who supplied audio clips from a number of artists on Cohen’s historical rosters, including RUN-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Warren G, Sum 41, The Killers, and Fetty Wap. (Want to hear it for yourself? D-Nice’s playlist is available, of course, on YouTube. Click here to listen.)

D-Nice

In the context of his career highlights, Cohen made note of some of the biggest changes he’s seen in the industry, emphasising his own willingness to accept new ideas and his ability to adapt to an ever-changing landscape as the keys to his success. From that point, he moved on to discuss his current position at YouTube, including plans for some major changes that are already in the works. Cohen described his vision for music on YouTube in terms of three basic goals: (1) creating diversity of distribution through ads and subscriptions, (2) collaborating with label partners to promote and break artists and (3) giving artists, labels and managers the best direct consumer access across any other platform.

You read that right. YouTube will, in the near future, institute a paid-subscription service which will be layered on to YouTube’s current ad-based service. The new monthly-fee subscription model was supposed to launch in March, around SXSW, but has apparently been delayed until later this year. Nevertheless, Cohen was undeterred by the delay, saying, “There are plenty of leaned-in listeners willing to pay, so we will convert them to paid subscribers. We know we’re late to the music subscription party, so we are making an enormous investment to launch a music product that combines the best of Google Play Music’s context listening and YouTube’s breadth and depth of catalogue.”

As for breaking new artists, Cohen outlined his plans to continue in that arena as well. “Breaking artists is my drug and now, here at YouTube, I can do so on a massive, global scale. This past year we’ve partnered with Sony, Warner and independents to support artists like Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, and Ozuna. We got to flex our platform to help promote their music, tell their stories and grow their global fanbases.”

artist candid

While I’m not entirely convinced about the wisdom of Cohen’s first two ideas, his third, regarding direct consumer access via YouTube, was at least partially on point. “The most powerful aspect of YouTube is our ability to allow artists, managers, publishers, songwriters and labels to engage with their fans with no hoops to jump through,” he said. “Whether it’s promoting a new video, an album, a tour or a live stream, the only place the music industry can play in both commerce and direct to consumer is YouTube.” Let’s hope Cohen keeps it that way.

If you’re interested in hearing Cohen’s hour-long keynote speech in its entirety, SXSW has made the full video available online. You can watch and listen just below.

 

SXSW 2018: Tuesday night with a mix of American, English and Scottish artists – 13th March 2018

 
By on Monday, 2nd April 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

Tuesday evening at SXSW 2018 was a bit of a mixed bag, but as often happens with mixed bags, there were treasures waiting to be discovered within. I started my night session at the Seven Grand, which played host to the Killing Moon x ReverbNation showcase. The UK indie record label and the American artist development company had joined forces to create a strong lineup representing both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I arrived early for an interview with London singer/songwriter Allman Brown (watch for that article to post in the coming days), but the action on stage started with Massachusetts rock band Lux Deluxe.

Lux Deluxe internal

I had never heard of Lux Deluxe before that Tuesday night, but they had a handful of devoted fans in the small crowd at the Seven Grand, as evidenced by the cheering and dancing that broke out as soon as the band hit the stage. To my ear, there was nothing particularly remarkable about their generic rock ‘n’ roll, but it was unquestionably energetic and there was nothing really offensive about it either. Unfortunately, my main impression was that lead singer Ned King, for all his enthusiasm, looked like Rick Moranis doing a bad Mick Jagger impersonation, and that mental image, once formed, was one that I couldn’t unsee.

Lux Deluxe 2

Unlike the exuberant band before him, Allman Brown came on stage alone and with a distinctly unassuming air about him. His banter with the gathering crowd was engaging, even to the point of distraction, until he mildly admonished an enthusiastic woman dressed in a panda suit [Amanda Panda – Ed.], “We’ll talk later, I’m kind of in the middle of something now.” Luckily, his impassioned singing soon had the crowd’s full attention. TGTF featured Brown’s track ‘Sons and Daughters’ in collaboration with Liz Lawrence in our (SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Bands to Watch #397, but his solo acoustic performance at the Seven Grand was more powerful, and his latest ballad ‘Moonlight’ took on an even more delicate beauty.

Allman Brown internal

The remainder of the  Killing Moon x ReverbNation docket included UK bands Francobollo, Flyte, and Otzeki, but after Allman Brown’s lovely interlude, I excused myself and headed for the Driskill Hotel, whose Victorian Room is a sure bet if you want to hear singer/songwriters at SXSW. I was excited to see Chloe Foy, whom we also previewed ahead of her appearance in Austin, but I arrived early enough to catch the act on before her, Brooklyn folk duo The Brother Brothers.

Brother Brothers internal

As with Lux Deluxe, I hadn’t acquainted myself with The Brother Brothers, who are actually twins Adam and David Moss. My ears were greeted with their graceful Americana sound as soon as I walked into the otherwise quiet Victorian Room, and I was immediately fascinated when I noticed that one of the brothers was plucking and strumming his violin in the style of a guitar. He would switch to the more traditional method as their set went on, and the instrumental harmonies between the violin and guitar were as simple and sweet as their vocal counterparts. Click here to watch The Brother Brothers perform their song ‘Tugboats’, and on an actual tugboat!

Chloe Foy internal

In the interim after The Brother Brothers’ set, I took a seat on the carpeted floor, as is customary in the Victorian Room, to get a better vantage point for Chloe Foy. When I next looked up, I found myself sitting cross-legged next to NPR’s Bob Boilen. He and I have crossed paths before at SXSW, most memorably in 2016 when we both covered Brighton singer/songwriter Holly Macve. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see him, as Foy and Macve have similarly enchanting alt-folk overtones, though Foy’s influences lean more toward the delicate beauty of the English art song tradition. Foy played a mesmerising set at the Driskill, including the darkly dramatic ‘Fire and Flood’.

Coln Macleod internal

Scottish songwriter Colin Macleod might be considered an exception to the Driskill’s standard singer/songwriter fare, as his brand of folk rock is more alt-rock than folk-influenced. However, the emphasis on lyrical composition is clearly part of Macleod’s repertoire, and in that way, he fits quite nicely into the singer/songwriter category. Unfortunately, the reserved and decorous vibe of the venue didn’t entirely suit the style of his music, and his performance ultimately felt a bit constrained. The highlight of the set was his current single ‘Kicks In’, which did in fact lift the energy level in the room for at least a brief moment.

Belle Adair internal

Macleod’s set actually ran a bit short, so I had plenty of time to make my next appointment at B.D. Riley’s for Alabama indie rock band Belle Adair. I’ve typically visited B.D. Riley’s during the annual Full Irish Breakfast, so it initially felt a little strange for me to hear American accents coming from the small stage. However, Belle Adair’s mellow pop-rock was an easy adjustment to make, and their engaging warmth on stage clearly resonated with the crowd in the Irish pub. Listening to their current single ‘Get Away’ was indeed like taking a brief mental vacation from the hustle and bustle of SXSW; watch the official video just below

My final stop for the evening was at The Main II for an Irish rock band I’d first seen last year at B.D. Riley’s, The Academic. Mary was already at the venue when I arrived, and though we don’t typically double up on coverage, this was to be The Academic’s only SXSW 2018 show, and neither of us wanted to miss it. You might already have read Mary’s report on the show back here, so I’ll only add that this was a very different band to the four shy lads who stared at their shoes on the B.D. Riley’s stage a year ago. This time they had a hit album under their belts, and the room was full of young female fans, as well as a rowdy group of Irish punters who’d come specifically to see them play their 1 AM show. The Academic took full advantage of the triumphant mood, playing an exuberantly sweaty and altogether brilliant set to cap off their North American tour.

The Academic internal

 

SXSW 2018: Tuesday morning brunch with Output Belfast and my first taste of this year’s music conference – 13th March 2018

 
By on Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Header photo: emcee and organiser Mark Gordon with Touts

Following my frenzied Monday night at SXSW 2018, I started off Tuesday at a slightly more relaxed pace, with my third visit to the Output Belfast Boat Party. The party consists of brunch on a boat, floating down the Colorado River, with entertainment provided by the some of the finest musicians Northern Ireland has to offer. While the brunch and the scenery are always pleasant for this affair, it’s really the high quality of the music that draws me in every year, and Output Belfast didn’t disappoint in 2018.

Lost Brothers internal 2

Following brief speeches by organiser and emcee Mark Gordon of Score Draw Music and Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala MacAllister, the music began with folk duo The Lost Brothers, who had a hand in organising the inaugural Northern Irish boat party back in 2015. They were back in Austin this year with an excellent new record in tow, titled ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’. You can read editor Mary’s review of the album through here.The album was recorded in my adopted hometown of Tucson, and the distinct southwestern desert flavour of the new songs, along with The Lost Brothers’ yearning vocal harmonies, actually made me feel a bit homesick. Midway through their set, the Lost Brothers were joined by Austin musician Ragtime Willie, who had also appeared here back in 2015 and who added the bright tone color of resonator guitar to the muted sonic mix.

Joshua Burnside internal

After a brief stage break, 2017 Northern Irish Music Prize winner Joshua Burnside began his set. As our Adam McCourt reported in his review of the prize-winning album ‘Ephrata’, “the album seems to serve a pivotal point in Burnside’s career, transitioning him from indie folk to a strand of alt-folk that incorporates world music, found sounds, synths and subtle experimentations with techno.” Burnside’s eclectic sound was more rock oriented than I expected in this live performance, where he was accompanied by a brilliant band comprised of drums, bass, and trumpet alongside his own electric guitar.

Touts internal

Lest we in the audience be lulled to sleep as our boat ride drifted from morning into afternoon, the final act on the docket seemed deliberately designed to recharge and revitalise our senses. Derry punk-rock outfit Touts gave off a sullen demeanor that disguised their raw, frenetic energy, and they made more much more exuberant noise than might be expected on a polite brunch cruise. These lads are young and still relatively new on the scene, but in terms of unfiltered potential, I’d put them high on the list of acts to watch from SXSW 2018. Touts also appeared on the BBC Introducing showcase at Latitude 30 on Tuesday night; you can watch part of that performance just below.

After disembarking from the boat, Mary and I parted ways (you can read her Tuesday afternoon recap here), and I headed to the convention center to catch my first conference session of the week. In The Horseshoe: The Roots of Canadian Rock n’ Roll, author David McPherson shared his thoughts on celebrated Toronto music venue The Horseshoe, drawing from his recent book on the topic, titled ‘The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History’.

David McPherson

McPherson was joined by Horseshoe owner and concert promoter Jeff Cohen, who talked about the challenges of maintaining a high quality music venue in an age when so many mid-size venues, notably New York’s CBGB and The Bottom Line, have been forced to shut down. Cohen emphasised his focus on two main factors: his customers and the artists they come to see. Patrons are consistently drawn in by food, drink and the opportunity to interact with other music-loving patrons, while the artists are rewarded with a quality performance opportunity, including full crowds to play for each night. From the sounds of things, the Horseshoe is likely to be a mainstay in the Toronto live music scene for many years to come. If you find yourself in southeastern Canada for whatever reason, it might be worth your time to check the Horseshoe’s schedule of events–chances are one of your new favourite bands will be gracing its stage.

 

Album Review: Lissie – Castles

 
By on Tuesday, 27th March 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Lissie Castles coverWhen we at TGTF last spoke to American singer/songwriter Lissie in a post-show interview at SXSW 2016, she had just moved from California back to her midwestern home of Iowa to find her roots after years living on the West Coast. She was also touring her album ‘My Wild West’, which was written and recorded as a kind of farewell to California. Now firmly established in the Midwest, Lissie has released a new record titled ‘Castles’, which is as much an exploration in musical sounds as it is an examination of the life she’s created for herself.

Ironically, despite Lissie’s decampment to farm country, the songs on ‘Castles’ are less organic sounding than you might expect, especially from a woman whose last album was firmly grounded in folk rock. Working with a host of collaborators including electronic artist Nick Tesoriero, Lissie has fashioned a dreamy, ethereal soundscape of synths, drum machines, and distant backing vocals. “When I wrote on a guitar I felt limited”, she says. “It was so much more spontaneous and natural to sit down with someone who would give me a beat and a chord progression on a synthesizer. I started having all these new ideas.” Lissie’s sonic experimentation places ‘Castles’ into a pop/r&b scenario, and while she doesn’t venture into uncharted pop territory, it’s a new sound for her, and the result is, predictably, a bit patchy.

Opening track ‘World Away’ sets the sonic tone with a hazy dream pop sound apropos to an album called ‘Castles.’ But Lissie’s raw singing voice, which was powerful enough to cut through hefty guitars and drums on ‘My Wild West’, doesn’t sit as comfortably in the new synthesised backdrop. Her natural raspiness occasionally comes across as abrasive, and the thinner underlying arrangements expose the squareness in her lyrics and vocal delivery.

The album gains momentum early with a strong trilogy of songs. Lissie’s voice is strong in title track ‘Castles’, whose fairy tale analogy and catchy refrain are immediately engaging. Piano ballad ‘Blood & Muscle’ (http://theregoesthefear.com/2017/12/video-of-the-moment-2750-lissie.php) has a smoky quality that suits the natural timbre of her singing, especially as the chorus builds to its dynamic climax. ‘Best Days’ has a  country rock feel which might have worked even better had Lissie more fully committed to it, under lyrics about wanting both “a pickup truck” and “a diamond ring”.

From there, the album begins to lose traction. ‘Feel Good’ and ‘Boyfriend’ carry on the country rock flavour, but the lyrics in both are trite and slightly preachy, as Lissie sings in the latter, “I don’t want a lover, I want a man / coming from the heart now, living in my heartland”. In an attempt to branch out from country rock, Lissie makes two overtures to r&b on ‘Castles’, neither of which is particularly successful. The vocal delivery in ‘Crazy Girl’ feels contrived when she sings “I’ve been talkin’ shit all of the time, other girls foolin’ around”, and the effect is amplified later in the tracklisting in ‘Love Blows’, where the understated synth backing exaggerates the stilted, uncomfortable lyrical rhythm.

Near the end of the album in ‘Peace’, Lissie softens her tone and weaves her voice delicately between the bass groove and the exotic plucked string instrumentation. Here she finds a sweet spot, and though the moment doesn’t last long, it’s an interesting suggestion of where she could potentially take this new soundscape. Final track ‘Meet Me in the Mystery’ is another strong piano ballad whose minor key harmonies reflect the elusiveness in its title, while electric guitar, synths, and percussion create a dramatic tonal tapestry behind Lissie’s naturally bewitching vocals.

‘Castles’ is without a doubt a brave departure from Lissie’s former folk rock sound. She gathered a host of contributors, including collaborators from ‘My Wild West’ and producers AG and Liam Howe to help her navigate the new soundscape but in the end, the album may have suffered from “too many chefs in the kitchen” without enough definitive direction or intent.

6.5/10

Lissie’s new album ‘Castles’ is out now on Cooking Vinyl. She will play a run of four live dates in the UK in April; you can find all the details here. TGTF’s previous coverage of Lissie is collected back here.

 

SXSW 2018: Monday night with American bands at the Mohawk – 12th March 2018

 
By on Friday, 23rd March 2018 at 2:00 pm
 

My time in Austin for SXSW 2018 was a little bit condensed in comparison to past years. Mary and I have typically both arrived early to catch the beginning of the music festival action (which Mary was able to do this year as well; you can read her Monday reports here and here). But this year, I didn’t arrive in Austin until Monday evening, so as soon as my flight landed at Bergstrom International Airport, I made a mad dash for downtown to catch as much music as I possibly could. After a quick stop at the Convention Center to grab my credentials, I headed to the Mohawk on Red River, which was already almost full in anticipation of the three American bands on the evening’s lineup.

Bully

The first band on the Mohawk’s outdoor stage was Nashville grunge rock band Bully. We previewed them in our (SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2785, and their performance at the Mohawk was true to that preview. They sounded very much like a female-fronted version of Nirvana, but it must be said that frontwoman Alica Bognanno’s distinctive vocals add an interesting flavour to that swampy, heavily distorted sound. It’s a little hard to believe that music like this is coming out of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, but not at all hard to see why Bully are signed to Sub Pop, Nirvana’s former label.

Wye Oak internal

Both the mood and the lighting at the Mohawk changed for Baltimore’s Wye Oak, who took the stage next. Frontwoman Jenn Wassner immediately announced that things were about to get “vibe-y”, and she delivered on that promise with a set full of new songs from the band’s forthcoming LP ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’. Wassner confessed that this was the first time the band had played them live, as well as the first time they’d performed as a trio (the typical duo is comprised of Wassner and drummer Andy Stack). Dreamy and atmospheric, but with a distinct rhythmic quality, the new tracks made a positive impression on the fans in Austin. ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’ is due for release on the 6th of April via Merge Records; listen to the title track just below.

It’s no coincidence that Wye Oak played just ahead of the final act of the night, veteran North Carolina rock band Superchunk (pictured at top), whose members Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan founded Merge Records back in 1989. Superchunk, touring here with bassist Jason Narducy in Ballance’s place, released their 11th studio album ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ earlier this year.

Having never before listened to Superchunk, I wasn’t sure what to expect from them, but they clearly had a good number of enthusiastic fans in the Mohawk crowd. The unapologetically political themes in Superchunk’s new songs were no affront to those long-time listeners, but the energy in the venue ramped up exponentially when the band played their older favourites, especially set closer ‘Slack Motherfucker.’ Despite their longevity in the music business, Superchunk’s career has been anything but slack in recent years, as evidenced by the driving energy of eponymous album track ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ and the delight of their fans in Austin late on the SXSW Monday night.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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