Thursday, 22 December 2011

A very indie Christmas...

In a time when pop groups claiming to have the 'we can make Simon Cowell a lot of money' factor dominate the charts, it's easy to feel a bit cheated that Christmas no longer means a congregation of new festive themed songs. But fear not, the trend for covering old favourites and releasing original Christmas tracks seems to be on the up among folk and indie bands. Hurrah!

Unfortunately these songs will never be Christmas number one, so you do need to know where to look to get your Christmassy fix these days. I've pulled together six of the best from the last couple of years to get you feeling all festive again...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

This year was brought to you by the letter B

Well, I can hardly believe it but somehow it’s the end of yet another year, and that means (among other, more important things) writing about a few of my favourite albums for my seriously neglected blog! Instead of last year’s rather lazy approach, I’ve actually put a bit of thought into selecting this year’s top three. It was tough though, because I think it’s been an amazing year for music. In fact, this should probably be a top 11, because the albums listed at the end of this post are also bloody brilliant.

Some of the albums have probably missed out on being in the top three simply because they were released later in the year. And it’s also telling, that the top three are all bands that I managed to catch live – perhaps if I’d seen some of the other bands with new releases this year I would have picked them. Anyway, this is a run through of my top three albums this year.

And weirdly, my favourite artists of this year all begin with the letter B…


Beirut – The Rip Tide
This whole album is just kind of magical, and despite its short length (I think the running time is just over 30 minutes) I could listen to it over and over again, and still enjoy it as much as I did on the first listen. I mean, I defy anyone not to crack a smile at some point during Santa Fe. And if, like me, you’re someone who’s borderline obsessed with musical instruments of various shapes and sizes, then this band will never disappoint you. Afterall, it’s not often you get to see a guy performing a sousaphone solo, but Zach Condon’s bandmate pulls it off.

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind Of Fix
This was the soundtrack to my summer. Well, actually this was the soundtrack to my ‘summer holiday’… to Cornwall… in October. Me and eight or so friends packed our bags with boardgames, CDs and, in my case, a ukulele and left the big smoke for a beautiful house on the cliff’s edge in Port Isaac. We spent a week just hanging out and drinking (and eating, the boys even caught us some fish), but this album was often on in the background. The increasing and decreasing energy of the tracks mirrored our own (yeah, drink-induced) highs and lows... much like the ebb and flow of the tide outside the window.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This is an album that crept in as one of my favourite listens while I wasn’t really paying attention (I was probably busy avoiding haircuts, or wondering if flowery Doc Martens were acceptable for work). Plus, Bon Iver’s gig at the Hammersmith Apollo in October was one of the most emotional I’ve ever been to. The title of most emotional belongs to Blur at Glastonbury 2009. Just ask my friends – blubbering wreck doesn’t even cover it, I'm surprised they still speak to me. Anyway, the girls sitting in front of us back in October sobbed all the way through, and although I managed to keep it together, there is no denying the enchanting quality of Justin Vernon’s almost otherworldly music. The band is one of the tightest I’ve ever seen live too, and create sounds that can really transport the listener to another place. 

Special mentions:
Alexander – Alexander, Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues, Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials, Metronomy – The English Riviera, Other Lives – Tamer Animals, Primal Scream – Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Edition, Slow Club – Paradise, The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

Monday, 31 October 2011

Live review - Bombay Bicycle Club, Brixton Academy, 19/10/11

Written for and published by the wonderful For Folk's Sake

Bombay Bicycle Club gave the crowd at Brixton a real treat, rattling through the best of their material from the last couple of years as seamlessly as a band that has been together for decades.

They opened with ‘Shuffle’ a track from new album A Different Kind of Fix, and immediately the energy was through the roof. ‘Your Eyes’, a standout from the album, was next and heralded the entrance of Lucy Rose (onstage for the second time that night after playing as support as well as band Dry The River). If, at this point, the crowd thought they were in for a ‘new stuff only’ type of gig, they were swiftly proved wrong.  Jack Steadman and his pals then embarked on ‘Dust On The Ground’ from first album I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose. Given that this song is a quieter offering than many of the tracks on that album, the boys really rocked it on the night.

They revisited a lot of their much-loved older material throughout the set, even stopping to admit just before launching into the raucous ‘Open House’, “We haven’t played this for a couple of years.” This bit of communication was unusual in itself as the band barely stopped for breath between songs (which kept the energy rising relentlessly).  By the time we made a return to the most current album with ‘Leave It’ the crowd was well and truly warmed up. ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ got perhaps the biggest reaction of the night, indicating that a large proportion of the crowd were recent converts.

‘Always Like This’ was a true highlight and made us wonder whether the band hadn’t taken a (small) leaf out of Beirut’s book – the addition of some brass gave the track an almost Latin vibe.

Jack took to the stage alone for the first song of the encore and sang a beautiful, more than faintly Thom Yorke-tinged, version of ‘Still’ – the last track on ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. Just Steadman’s powerful yet vulnerable voice and the piano echoed through the Academy, bringing everyone down to earth a bit before ending on a storming version of ‘What If’. The contrast between these two tracks provided a great example of what Bombay Bicycle Club can do: in one instant write beautiful music that, at its best, rivals the likes of Radiohead, and in the next make a venue full of people jump around to what has become an indie rock standard.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

EP Review - My Crooked Saint, To Kill A King

Written and published for The 405, here.

Having already made some small waves on the folk scene, thanks largely to their signing to legendary London label Communion, To Kill A King look set to make a name for themselves with their extremely competent EP called My Crooked Saint.

Hailing from Leeds the band did some early gigs at Communion and have since won praise from Zane Lowe among others. So what’s all the fuss about? Well we begin with ‘Bloody Shirt’ a stomping and upbeat tune that shows off the bands musicianship and the brooding voice of singer Ralph Pellymounter, which incidentally has got to be one of the best names I’ve heard in a while.

‘Wrecking Crew’ runs with Pellymounter’s moodier side and confirms this band have rock running through their veins as well as the folksier stuff, which have lead to the inevitable comparisons with Mumfords and Sons, Noah and the Whale etc.

Perhaps what makes To Kill A King stand out though is that they are keen not just to make a good song but to tell a story too. The band have talked about releasing four music videos to go with each of the tracks, where the same characters pop up and the narrative develops with each video. This approach goes some way to proving the thoughtfulness behind Pellymounter’s songwriting and how this band put songs together.

To Kill A King aren’t all doom and gloom though, ’We Used To Protest/Gamble’ is a joyous and multilayered number, the jangly piano really helping to lift this song to approaching anthemic territory. ‘Family’ is more stripped back but there’s still plenty of evidence of careful arranging and orchestration, perhaps why the Guardian dubbed the band’s music orch-folk.

To Kill A King have all the tools they need to carve out a name for themselves in the folk circuit as a band that offer little of what we know and like about the genre already, but with perhaps a little something extra.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Interview - Matthew Lawes

The BBC Music Video Festival kicks off this week and runs until October 1st. It's the only dedicated music video festival in the UK and specialises in promoting talented, up and coming filmmakers.

Matthew Lawes is one such filmmaker/ director, founder of City Sessions and all-round lovely man. His first film, a vibrant animated music video for Fyfe Dangerfield’s Faster Than The Setting Sun, is one of 30-odd shortlisted acts that will be shown on big BBC screens all around the country. IWAOS caught up with him to talk about the festival, his plans and the importance of live music.

Fyfe Dangerfield - Faster Than The Setting Sun by Matthew Lawes from BBC Music Video Festival on Vimeo.

How did you get involved in the music video festival?
Ages ago I read about it online and I wanted to do it because if you get selected they play the videos on these huge screens all across the UK, apparently they go out to 1000s of people. And I chose the Fyfe video because it was the first thing I ever did, it’s the most lof-fi and I thought it sort of represented what I'm about.

So how did making a video for Fyfe first come about?

I was starting to do animation in my bedroom because I wanted to get into film. I seemed to be listening to Fyfe’s song a lot, I had it on all the time and I was thinking it would be so great if I could do something for him but I wasn’t really thinking it could be a something that could actually happen. But then Fyfe was playing in Rough Trade East, just a solo show and I went up to him at the end of the show and showed his some stills that I’d just done and I asked, ‘Do you fancy maybe letting me make a video for you?’ And he went, ‘Yeah alright then!’

How did City Sessions start?
Well basically me and Joe [Bulmer, sound engineer], were looking a lot at how to get into film and we were wanting to focus on music, but more in a live sense and making it really raw. I bought all the equipment, just totally ruined my bank account and then we started filming – Kevin Tuffy, Marques Toliver, then Kit Downes at the Royal Festival Hall. Then Bea Kerlin came on board as producer and everything accelerated after that to where we are now.

City Sessions_Film Four_Kit Downes from City Sessions on Vimeo.

How did you get to film at the Festival Hall?
I got in touch with Kit, and he said they couldn’t really do anything acoustically outside of a gig so he asked if I wanted to do it at the Royal festival Hall. So we said yes, of course! So I’m sitting down on the side of the stage, crouching out of the way with my camera and I was trying to find the right song and then he kind of gave me this look so I went in and filmed it in all in one go. A lot of the sessions are really high pressure because the artists have got almost no time but that’s the other thing about what we’re trying to do with these music videos – it’s easy for the artist to do, we only get them to do one or maybe two takes and we choose the best take. The videos will only ever be as good as they are so and I’m just trying to work with the talent rather than hiding behind postproduction, mirrors and effects, all that kind of stuff.
City Session - Film Twenty - Rosey Chan from City Sessions on Vimeo.

What do you hope comes across from your work?
Well I want people to realise that it doesn’t have to be about going to film school and getting into film that way, I’m completely self-taught and I’m not saying that I completely know what I’m doing but I have learnt everything from scratch! It shouldn’t be about high production values it should be about the talent that’s there – not from me, from the musicians and I want to be able to film that. All these musicians are just amazing and as long as they do their thing, it doesn’t really matter.

City Sessions - Film Ten - Michael Kiwanuka from City Sessions on Vimeo.

Is there an ethos behind your films about supporting up and coming talent or is it just that you like them so you film them?
We really want to push those acts who are up and coming and it is such a buzz to catch someone who is just on their way up. It’s amazing. It’s not like we’ve found them or anything but if we can help in anyway and put them out there and help their careers… that’s just such a buzz. And we’re in a same sort of place as them because we’re starting out too. But we also like having a go with more established artists, I think the main thing is that they have to be good live – if they’re not good live, we don’t do it.

You've certainly worked with some great new talent, how does working with these acts come about?
I mean someone like Marques [Toliver], I actually saw him busking when we were getting started and, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, but he was basically busking for money for food because he was so broke. He was unsigned, I think he had just come over from America, and he was trying to make it. I saw him in the street and thought he was amazing. Fast forward three weeks when we did the session with him and he had been signed, he had been on Jools Holland and we just thought 'Wow!' So with all these acts, it’s just great if we can give them a platform. There are lot of other session websites and you know, you can look at it like we’re all competing but I think we’re all just promoting good music, which is so important.

City Sessions_Film Three_Marques Toliver from City Sessions on Vimeo.

And your films were shown at Latitude this year too?
We were selected to showcase a selection of our videos at the Festival by Tania Harrison who runs the Film & Music Arena at the Festival. We compiled a half hour edit with films including Michael Kiwanuka, Goldheart Assembly and The Turbans. It was shown to 500-odd people, which was such a buzz. We would love to do more festival slots in the future.

How do you come up with locations?
Well sometimes it’s not really up to us. Like when we filmed We Are Scientists we caught them just on the back of their tour so we filmed them in their dressing room because it was literally the only place they could do it, which was a bit of a shame because really I like to do something different, do it on a boat, for example! Location-wise I just really want to explore – there are so many amazing locations in London and people are so generous, there is no money changing hands in any of this at all. So we’ve had churches, where they’ve given it to us for two hours and then the Royal Festival Hall. The thing is people are so nice and supportive of the whole thing.
City Sessions - Film Seven - We Are Scientists from City Sessions on Vimeo.

And now you’re expanding City Sessions...
We do a monthly night at the Wheelbarrow in Camden but we are also going to do some residencies with Goldheart Assembly so there’s four nights at the end of October and beginning of November at the Spice of Life in Leicester Square. Joe is actually building a studio at the moment which will be the City Session studio and on the back of that we really want to start a record label. It’s really about promoting live music, that’s the real buzz for us and people seem to enjoy it.

Any tips on a band that we are likely to be hearing about soon?
There’s a band called Other Lives who we did recently who are going to be massive, I just think they are absolutely amazing. Just after we filmed them they confirmed a support slot for Bon Iver so they are just going to be huge. They’ve got a real Fleet Foxes/ My Morning Jacket appeal to them and it’s all stripped back.

So what does the future hold for you?
Well I'm working on some scripts and film music but with City Sessions there’s a couple of things we want to do. I really want to be making a music video a week just to keep really pushing that and learn as much as I can. And we’re looking to getting it out there to more people, widening the appeal and doing a hell of a lot more bands, playing all different kinds of music. I hope we are going to do a City Sessions roadtrip in the States and get a van and a projector and get round some events. And the studio with Joe and record label. And of course, film as much and show off as many amazing artists as possible. Its’really good getting to work with so many amazing people – I have to pinch myself sometimes.

Keep an eye out for the big screens all over the country that will be showing Matthew's and other new and talented filmmaker's videos over the next couple of weeks and don't forget to visit City Sessions for more live music videos.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

3 new bands making 'old' music

If you've visited IWAOS before you might know I like new music and that I love tracking down new bands but what you may not know about me is that I also love old music. In fact nothing makes me happier than if Shirley Ellis' 'The Clapping Song' comes on while I'm on the dance floor. So in some ways this is a post on two of my favourite things - new bands who make 'old' music. One I have followed for a while and two are brand new to me but all of them have blown me away with their new take on an 'old' sound.

First up is the Allah-las, who must be pretty new as they only have two songs out, this one 'Catamaran' and the equally jangly and brilliant 'Long Journey'. According to one of my favourite music blogs Aquarium Drunkard (the reading of which makes me want to move to California immediately) the Allah-las are resident band at the Echo club in San Francisco where they play a free gig every month - it's just the getting there that will set me back then.

Then a band which I have sort of tried to follow for ages. I say tried to because every time I go to check them out they've changed their name. I think at this stage they were called Jack Lewis and the Cutoffs but now they're named Jack Lewis and Awkward Enemy. Anyway, I love the low-fi sound of this track 'Shadow Party' and the video is cool too.

And finally to Nick Waterhouse who I get the impression is something of a dude in his hometown of San Francisco, and with a soul sound like this you wouldn't expect anything less.

It's got me thinking that soul and rhythm and blues could well be on the up, perhaps the genre might even enjoy a massive revival a la folk music. American acts like Janelle Monae and Aloe Blacc have already made an impression on the charts in the UK and drew impressive crowds at Glastonbury. But if not I'll have to continue tracking down retro nights and the best of the new 'old' stuff coming out of the USA's west coast.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When twitter goes bad: London riots rumours

I joined twitter all the way back in January 2009 and ever since then I've been keen to champion the network to anyone and everyone. I truly do believe that twitter is a force for good but as I followed the ongoing dramas of the London riots last night and today, I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy. I was especially keen to keep tabs on Camberwell where I live and which thankfully escaped the brunt of the terrible riots on Monday night. But what I couldn't have known was that Camberwell was to become central to some very quick spreading rumours.

Camberwell is where I have lived since moving to London two years ago and, as well as wanting to know if I'd be able to make my way home OK from my job in King's Cross, I wanted to make sure my sister, who was at home in our flat, would be alright. This is where it all began to go wrong.
Keeping half an eye on twitter at work, I was staggered to read mid-morning that rioting and fires appeared to be kicking off in Camberwell.

As I glanced at my computer just before I headed out for a sandwich it appeared that the Guardian and the Telegraph were also reporting early signs of trouble in Camberwell. I gave my sister a call but she was blissfully unaware of the apparent mayhem that was happening just couple of hundred metres away.

I continued to find tweets that were reporting that the local McDonalds was on fire, just as the Guardian described in their live blog (these early entries have since disappeared from the website).

Soon though a number of people started tweeting contradicting the reports of riots and fires. In fact, lots of people were saying that everything was normal in SE5.

Still the tweets announcing trouble in Camberwell piled up - ranging from the very believable: groups gathering on the Green, British Transport Police warning they were diverting public transport away from Camberwell and Co-op being set alight - to the downright bonkers: King's College Hospital being evacuated.

Thankfully out of all the madness a couple of very sensible tweeters emerged, @Camberwellblog and @Sephora_Monroe. Sephora even appeared to go on a one-woman mission to quash every Camberwell rumour in the twittersphere and dear @Camberwellblog was clearly getting infuriated with the rumour-mongering and very carefully directed people to the local businesses and people who were actually on the scene.

In the end King's College and the Police had to tweet denying the rumours - proof of how widespread they were and how serious people were taking them.

I left work a little early, still unsure of what was going to meet me when I got back and of course, it was obvious straight away that everything was indeed fine. I set off for a little walk around Camberwell - partly so I could see for myself that Camberwell remained untouched and partly because I didn't want to feel like I was being forced to stay at home. I even took some pictures:

McDonald's, definitely not on fire.

Co-op, not a victim of rioting or arson but perhaps of some panic buying.

The Camberwell rumours are probably just one example of what has been happening across the capital and the entire country today, but regardless of location it's the ease at which these chinese whispers were spread that's most worrying. Especially because the rumours were picked up by the national press, perhaps without proper confirmation.

Making people feel afraid for no reason is definitely not what twitter is about, and the people who began tweeting the rumours probably didn't do so in malice. Twitter can be an extremely useful tool in times like this, so we should all make an effort to keep twitter rumour free.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Album Review -For Each a Future Tethered, Butcher The Bar

Originally written and published for Amelia's Magazine, here.

Butcher the Bar by Cheryl Windahl

Butcher the Bar's album For Each A Future Tethered is Joel Nicholson's second stab at this album malarky and if, as I suspect, this time he set out to create a collection of sweet and sunny folk-pop songs then he has succeeded.

There are a few artists that Nicholson in his Butcher The Bar incarnation brings to mind and many come from across the pond. His sweetly sung, breathy songs definitely evoke Elliot Smith but perhaps without the darker edge – from the amount of sunshine that comes bursting through the songs on this album it’s certainly difficult to believe that Nicholson is of a similar disposition to the late Smith.

Butcher the Bar by Emma Carlisle

Shoegazey ditties like Alpha Street West conjure Josh Radin or Jason Schwartzman’s band Coconut Records and there’s definitely something Eels-esque in the rousing Lullaby. As for a homegrown influence then you wouldn’t be far off if you imagined the best of Badly Drawn Boy’s back catalogue.

Butcher The Bar’s sound is quite a full one – layers of clarinets, keyboards, glockenspiels, trumpets, and guitars all pile up to make for some pretty hefty choruses. It would definitely be interesting to check them out at a gig to see if they can translate this big sound into their lives shows.

Inspiration for most of the lyrics seem to be taken from the every day with many tracks recounting little stories – including walks with loved ones, imagined romances and teenaged mums – giving the album a really lovely, personal feel.

Butcher the Bar by Natasha Hughes

Stand out tracks include Sign Your Name (“sign your name upon my heart for me”) and Silk Tilts, which will give anyone in need of a instant banjo hit a great deal of pleasure – just try not to continually misread and mishear the title, as I keep doing!

Giant with it’s refrain of “you’re my favourite, favourite one” is a good example of the material on offer here – it’s not complicated stuff, but it’s so sweet and backed-up by some pretty impressive musicianship. In fact most of the songs don’t surpass 3 and-a-half minutes so there is no hint that Nicholson is trying to do anything particularly wacky or experimental. For Each A Future Tethered is simply a collection of delightful indie-pop songs, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Album Review - I Want That You Are Always Happy, The Middle East

Written for and published by The 405.

In places this album hints at a change of track for Australian band The Middle East, and certainly there are more experimental sounds and sometimes just the bare bones of songs on I Want That You Are Always Happy, but just beneath the surface is a collection of achingly beautiful tracks. The sound might be simpler than their debut The Recordings of the Middle East, but this album will not disappoint fans of their previously more intricate acoustic sound.

First up and Black Death 1349 is a downbeat start but it’s a perfect introduction to Jordan Ireland’s voice, which is as bewitching a voice as I’ve heard in a long time and it’s this voice that still draws me to listen to Blood, perhaps their most well-known track to date, again and again.

The decidedly more chart-friendly Jesus Came To My Birthday Party is a standard in indie pop. I don’t know if the inclusion of songs like Jesus is a deliberate attempt at creating something more commercial or just a new direction the band wanted to explore? But it works – the song topped the charts in Australia as soon as it was released.

However, this is one of those albums that takes a few listens, perhaps because listened to together the tracks appear bitty and disconnected. At 14 songs, it’s quite a long album, which makes me think we could do without the more experimental tracks on the album – Mount Morgan and Sydney to Newcastle – that detract from the wonderful simplicity of the other tracks.

For those who are gagging for more of the pretty ditties that we heard on the first record, and it can’t be denied that this band can come up with the prettiest of ditties, there are plenty to choose from, including Land Of The Bloody Unknown, Dan’s Silverleaf, Months and the countrified Hunger Song and As I Go To See Janey.

The move away from the more complex, multi-instrumental arrangements of their first album has definitely landed The Middle East with more of a country vibe and they pull it off well. Americana is a common thread – Deep Water with its slide guitar and Ninth Avenue Revenue brings to mind the bluesy Ray LaMontagne – with their lyrics, “You say you can’t stop crying/ it’s just the power of the song/ riding along the midnight grass again”, it’s a potent combination and may well move you with the power of the song.

I hope The Middle East will find new fans with this release. Afterall since their debut in 2008 the folk scene has really exploded worldwide and anyone who is a fan of the likes of Fleet Foxes and their banjo touting and ethereal-voiced contemporaries should certainly feel happy that they’ve discovered The Middle East.

I Want That You Are Always Happy is released on May 30.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ear worms

Here's a little post that I'm writing for no real reason, other than wanting to share what have been my latest musical addictions. I guess that's what so-called music blogs do, right? Well here we go.

Bon Iver needs no real introduction, but this is the single from his latest record and it makes me desperate to see him play live again. He reduced a whole field of people to tears at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. This clip of him and his buddies singing a beautiful a cappella rendition of For Emma will give you an idea of how.

I've recently discovered Jon Ronson's (writer of fabulous The Men Who Stared At Goats) programme for Radio 4 called Jon Ronson On. I only really discovered the show because Adam Buxton of Adam and Joe recommended it and now I've discovered this track by Husky Rescue. I'm basically like some kind of cultural magpie. But do listen to Jon Ronson On, it's really fantastic, especially the one on Voices In Your Head, you can listen to them all, here.

I just found this version of Alela Diane's wonderful Tatted Lace, I think it probably speaks for itself. It makes me wish I was better at better playing guitar.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Album Review - Screaming Is Something, The Travelling Band

Written for and published on Amelia's Magazine.

The brand new album from The Travelling Band features all the trademarks of a good folk pop album, including introspective lyrics, fantastic harmonies and, as no self-respecting nu-folk band would be without, banjos a-plenty. With their sound deeply rooted in rock, folk and country The Travelling Band’s second offering Screaming Is Something will please the ears of acoustic music lovers everywhere.

Illustration by Natasha Thompson, you can see her blog, here.

The Travelling Band hail from Manchester, so the group are joining the ranks of some pretty impressive acts including Oasis, Elbow and Doves – although they much more closely resemble the latter two of that particular group. The first single from the record, Fairweather Friends could well have been inspired by their fellow Mancunians, the layering of instruments, shimmering guitars and affecting harmonies create a ‘big’ sound a la Elbow, perhaps even X&Y era Coldplay.

You’re reminded of their heritage every now and then too, when a Manc accent sneaks in, such as on Horizon Me And You. This is a fantastic folk pop song and shows real promise in their ability to create a catchy tune and yet make it their own.

It’s Sundial that claims the prize for best track on the album though, and it’s a real highlight – anthemic but all the while remaining sweet, “If I had a home to call my own/ then I wouldn’t need a sun dial/ to stop me roaming around” – it’s calling out for a sunny afternoon at a music festival one day this summer, and it stayed on repeat for a long while before my housemates and neighbours tired of it. Just give it a listen and see how long you can go without humming the chorus.

Indeed the band are no strangers to music festivals and actually got their break by winning the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition in 2008 where they then performed – I for one, am sorry to have missed them. A homemade video shows the boys hanging out, enjoying the sunshine, and performing Horizon Me and You at The Park at Glastonbury last year (above). And what an idyllic scene, boys performing their pretty music in the pretty countryside, makes you proud to be British.

Tracks Under the Pavement and Hindsight are perhaps a bit confused – the folksier sound definitely suits this band more than rocking out to guitars, but perhaps live this would actually work better. All-in-all this album passes in a hazy stream of sunny guitars and lilting harmonies, the slower songs are perhaps slightly less successful than the more upbeat tunes, which is where the band appear to really flourish, but if you’re looking for a soundtrack to kick off your summer then The Travelling Band’s new album Screaming Is Something could very well be the record you’re looking for.

Illustration by Melissa Dow, you can see her website, here.

The album is released on the 30th May 2011 on Cooking Vinyl. The band kicked off a UK wide tour this summer with a gig last night at The Nest in London. Details of further dates can be found here.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Album Review - In Love With Oblivion, Crystal Stilts

Written for and published on the ever so amazing Amelia's Magazine.

The new album from Brooklyn based Crystal Stilts is out now on Fortuna POP! The Joy Division comparisons are impossible to shake off, but we're still impressed by this second outing.

I was hoping to be able to stay away from the Joy Division comparisons while writing this review of New York band Crystal Stilt’s new album In Love With Oblivion, but like many before me I’ve found it basically impossible – the influence of Ian Curtis flows through the band’s second album like a vein of precious metal. It’s singer Brad Hargett’s drone-like vocal that does it, strongly recalling Curtis as well as the similarly enigmatic Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain. (And now I won’t mention the J D words ever again…promise.)

In fact quite a lot has been written about Hargett’s singing style, sometimes scathingly, and his vocals are a little monotonous. There are points on this record when I really wanted him to surprise me by stepping out of the echo chamber to give some these songs a bit of extra punch. On Silver Sun for instance, the whole band are doing some pretty great stuff – the guitars and the organs and the jangle of the tambourine but Hargett maintains his monotonal drawl. There are few upbeat tracks on this record and if Hargett switched his style up a bit on some of them, it would lift the whole album.

But perhaps I’m missing the point, this appears to be an album that is more concerned with creating atmospheres or feelings than totally nailing each individual track. Hargett’s obvious attachment to the echo effect and the whole lo-fi approach towards recording and production makes this album sound dreamlike, almost as if you could be listening to it underwater, and to over-produce or clean up the sound would mean losing some of this otherworldly charm.

There’s also a kind of filmic side to the album, thanks to the murky sound and doom-laden lyrics, not forgetting the use of sound effects. Songs open and end with gusts of wind, car crashes, and crickets – it’s totally atmospheric and a big hint that Crystal Stilts aren’t your average Brooklyn-based hipster garage band.

Illustration by Stephanie Thieullent, see more of her amazing work on her blog, here.

The band clearly includes some skilful musicians, the Johnny Cash-inspired guitar licks of opening track Sycamore Tree provides as good an introduction as any – this is a track that sounds like it’s been around for the last 50 years. In fact there are clear 1960s influences throughout and pretty convincing in places, like the band went to sleep in 1964 and woke up in 2011 and continued making music like nothing had changed, which for someone like me, who happens to love the music of the 1960s, makes this album a really interesting prospect.

There are peaks and troughs with this record though, the seven minute Alien Rivers is a needless addition but those that follow like stand-out track Flying Into the Sun is a fantastic listen and includes the inspired lyrics “There’s a black hole/ behind these eyes/ takes everything with it/ when it dies.” Like the album title suggests there is a bit of an emo vibe running through much of Hargett’s songwriting.

This is the kind of album then, that may well find itself providing the soundtrack to a whole host of late night gatherings and post-party hangouts, and I suspect could sound even better when you’re burnt out but not ready to go to bed just yet.

Crystal Stilts are playing in XOYO in London on June 21 – their only UK date and by the sounds of it, well worth getting down to.