Transition, Baby!- Lost- Track Review

 

Transition, Baby!

 

‘Lost’

 

Track Review:

 

 

8.6/10.0

 

A keen sense of humour; and a keen eye towards the art of tune invention (of the highest pedigree), combine stock in your brain; courtesy of a band, ‘knee deep in pudding’.

 

 

Availability: ‘Lost’ is available via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxmJ_itF8PA

 

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First moves are always some of the most nervous and fascinating, when it comes to music…

 

Well, I say fascinating; it doesn’t always ‘good fascinating’. A lot of debut albums or first songs from any given artist, tend to stray close to a safe a prefabricated model or mould, where they can thrash and stretch, but not look too longingly at a dark moon or bright sun. There is the odd glimmer, or moment of intricate complexity; more inscrutable and baffling as Beals conjecture, and just about as influential as well. There have been a lot of riffs; a fair deal of wordy posturing; and a whole lotta verificationism. In the rubble and backrooms you get some survivors and stayers. There does seem to be a lot of more or less of the same, and whether one has legs to run in the future, depends primarily on the initial moves made. I have been lucky, and have born receipt of many exciting and captivating songs, from many wonderful new acts. There has been some derision and beige amongst the swell, but by and large I have been deeply impressed. This seems to be a reflective malaise of a larger fallibilism in the industry. It is assumed by a vast majority that the acts that are heralded and held aloft by the music press, and mixed within citrus zeal of commercial press, that will produce the greatest music. It is a false equivalence, as to my mind, the best new music is- and probably will always be- largely undiscovered; contained to back rooms and small clubs of the north. Take a trip down the streets of Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and an interconnecting train line of bands, and you will be straining your ears to doorways, emanating smoky siren calls, brutal The Doors-esque ’70s majesty and rollicking Yorkshire punch and spit. In a lot of instances you have only to travel a few miles from one act, to hear a completely new landscape and palette. Whether there is a lack of awareness within the record labels and such, as to the existence of such happenings, is a mystery. I would say at the least, there is a willingness not to travel too far behind the bright lights of Camden and the surrounding 10 miles. In terms of column inches, there have been few groups or artists revered in fond tones, that have hailed that far north of the Midlands. A lot of American and European interest has been proffered recently, but there are still huge patches of untapped coal pits of gold, that have yet to have their recesses investigated. I mention it, not as a gripe or a general moan, but more of a need for a recession; a change in attitude and energy. Social media and music sites have given every new act an outlet on which to get their music heard, and if you look hard enough and are willing to open your ears for long enough, treasures are uncovered and new infatuations are liberated.

 

Today, however, there is going to be more love poetry dedicated to the north, as the combustible 4-piece Transition, Baby! are based in Audenshaw. The band have a growing and impressive following on Twitter and Facebook, and are burgeoning into a serious band to watch for 2013-2014. Regardless of your defaulted musical orientation, the boys project a lovable and rarely-matched humour. They claim that one of their key influences is Steve Coogan. Jeremy Irons is also an important figure for them, and I could never imagine these two actors being in the same production or room, let alone the biography of an upcoming band. The bands, shall we say… secondary causation (?), is a intercontinental gut rubmler of McDonald’s and Eva Green. I am hugely enamoured of Eva, and have occasionally been partially to a bit of corporate fast food, but never had these ideals or appetites in my mind simultaneously. Bobby Davro is a comic muse for the band, and a mere cursory reading of the band’s Facebook page, puts in my mind, strange cabaret and night clubs, where Davro chatters on, Coogan gets drunk, as Irons looks around crestfallen. McDonald’s remains lie strewn under chairs, and a local approximation of Eva Green serves behind the dimly lit bar. The band themselves loves people to see them, and have a bit of a sing-song, and dance; so it perhaps unsurprising or without irony that these seemingly disparate icons co-mingle within a communal space. The band are, as it happens, James Cotterill, Joe Dobes, Dan Arrowsmith and Andy Forshaw; four likely lads and blood brothers of a brilliant sound, that is going to cause some tremors and tectonic realignment, closer to the capital. The lads have been pioneering and playing for a few years now, and amounting an impressive collecting of sharp and memorable songs. As to elicit- I hope- a deeper retrospective appreciation of the band, I had my eyes focused upon ‘Lost’, which was the band’s first song, and written by Cotterill.

 

Starting out with a tumbling but taut guitar line, there is an instant sense of authentic Manchester; one can hear slight strains of the classic bands as well as the more recent ’90s wonders. In spite of everything, there is a great deal of originality, and was not drawn to an existing band or forced to compare the intro to an existing song. Maybe my ears are a bit off today but maybe there were little sparks of R.E.M. as the drums joined the beat and added heartbeats to the guitar. It is a harder, more youthful sonic approximation than the Georgia legends, but the sound builds and kicks slightly, as the vocal arrives. The tone has a lot of urgency and power to it, at times causing some indecipherable quality; not through lack of technique, but as an emotional punch as our hero is “Lost inside this lonely town“. Between the repetition of the aforemention line, there is a hint of Alex Turner-esque enunciation, but the vocal as a whole seems less weighted down by the world, able to have a fresh ’60s sound to it. It is admirable that the band keep the mood lighter, given some of the subject matter and there is no needless distortion or heavy guitar work; they are able to weave a pleasing and intelligent sound together that supplements and supports the vocals. Between the chorus and verse, are little constellations of guitar, bass and drum, that draws in sounds of the U.S. as well as little nods to ‘Good Times Bad Times’ in the tail end. Or maybe it is early The White Stripes; whatever comes to mind, it is a seamless link to the next verse, as again there is a strong and youthful vocal, with a vigour and weight behind it; not hamstrung, simply affected. I suspect that there is a little revocation of happiness; of soul or purpose as words such as “It is with my every day”are sung. The ensuing vocal play has a little of Turner and associated artists, but again sound fresh and incomparable to a large degree, which is pleasing. The sonic snatches are at once scratchy and fierce- complete with pummeling drums- and the next soft and still. By the 2:20 mark, the mood goes down and the atmosphere builds up and up, as the vocal comes back in. All the while the message remains true to the idea of being unsure or dislocated, but it is never a message that is hard-hitting or divisive; there is a warmth and comfort in the voice as well as the music. It is a hard truth or a unwanted realisation, but it is never weighing our protagnoist down too much, capable as he is, of creating a lively and electric mood, with the assistance of his trio of cohorts.

 

As I said about new bands: you just have to know where to find them. I have been focused on the north for a while and seems to be where the reservoir flows at the moment. Transition, Baby! are a band with a bright future and will improve and galvanize year by year, as confidence grows. They have recorded a set of brilliant tracks over the last 7 months which has illustrated their growth and powerful evolution. I will hopefully review one of those tracks another day, but wanted to see and hear how it all began for the band, and how much potential was there from the first notes. A lot, as it happens. There is a rare confidence and playfulness, and ‘Lost’ is a song with a focused and unchanging message that is simple and effective. The words and music will stay with you, and the entire band are tight and impressive throughout. The result is quite wonderful, and puts no doubt in my mind, that next year may see them playing large festivals and headlining, in fact. They are worth getting excited about, because, if we’re honest with ourselves…

 

… there are few new bands that can achieve so much so early on. 

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Twitter:

https://twitter.com/transitionbaby

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/transition-baby/259062655460?id=259062655460&sk=info

SoundCloud:

http://soundcloud.com/transitionbaby

YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/transitionbaby?feature=watch

ReverbNation:

http://www.reverbnation.com/transitionbaby

MySpace:

http://www.myspace.com/thisistransitionbaby

 

 

 

 

Night Beds- Even If We Try- Track Review

 

Night Beds-

 

 

‘Even If We Try’

 

 

Track Review:

 

9.8/10.0

 

 

If you debunk over-earnest comparisons; Night Beds will capture with its rather incongruous beauty.

 

 

Availability: ‘Even If We Try’ is available via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iljkaDZvyw

 

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Today- in lieu of any brand-spanking new music- will be dedicated to an awed retrospection…

 

Although it is a retroactive review that is timely, as well as it is pressingly urgent. Night Beds is touring London through April, and is featuring heavily in the press as well as on the tongues of many native and international fans. Before I get to the more important business of reviewing the young man behind the moniker, I need to discuss a matter of some delicacy. It is concerned with a subject that is dear to my heart; as well as one that plays on my nerves, daily: comparisons. It seems like the first thing that a music reviewer or press source does, when tasked with critiquing a new artist, is to make an instant comparable. I am guilty, to an extent. I do it to draw comparisons, and, should an artist stray too closely to an existing one, urge caution and future consideration. I am more concerned with the tendency for journalists to refer to artists as ‘The Next …’; whether it is Adele, Amy Winehouse, The Killers, or whomever, it is always a bone of contention. It is quite acceptable to hint at possible influences, when reviewing a track, album or voice. If it is obvious then you can’t get away from it, and as much as anything it helps to interlink and conjoin fans of the artist in question, with the new idol. It is 2013, and there has been a raft of new music that has strayed, at times, too closely, with other artists. It is hard, I guess as there has been so much music since the ’20s and ’30s, that nearly everything there is to be said, has already been said. The greatest acts, artists, albums and songs, have- rather regrettably- already been recorded. It may be a rash statement, but am aware that the best releases, have already been recorded. All the best singers have come, and put their marker down, and the finest acts in history have been and gone. The issue facing any new artist, is how to be original, but not too bland or divisive. Those who manage to avoid any obvious comparison tend to fade quickly, or are seen as a curiosity. Those who are too close for comfort in terms of originality, are rightfully criticised and rebuked. There is a growing core that have superseded expectation and pigeon-holing; managing to stay fresh and pioneer a truly unexpected and incomparable sound. It is the media reviewers who hear a few seconds of one song, and instantly lump them in with another artist or band, that is going to be the death of creativity. If you do this, then people expect too much from you, or dismiss you as a second-rate wannabe. As much as anything, it says that that musician has no creativity or transferable talent, and your attention or appreciation is instantly dragged away, before you’ve even heard a note of any of their songs.

 

I mention it, because Night Beds have been strongly compared with two, rather different artists. American solo artist Winston Yellen is the man behind the name. The back-story of this intriguing star can be traced back as early as 2006, when, with a friend, conversations and ambitions were discussed. Two years later the first workable Night Beds song was formulated- called ‘You Were Afriad’. Subsequently, there was a lot of mountain air, drinking, pontificating, and dreaming, before Nashville was designated as Yellen’s new home. The parable and scenes of cabins, isolation, love splits, heartache and loneliness, many have pointed out the similarities with Justin Vernon (A.K.A. Bon Iver). Yellen is not a child who has read all of the Bon Iver tales and decided, rather than seek a path of city lights and endless joy, he’d rather plump for a story of bleakness, a Emerson-cum-Hemingway blend. The fact that the U.S.A. is a huge and diverse country with millions of people and 50 states with very little in common, doesn’t seem to have registered in the minds of lazy reviewers. Statistically there are going to be quite a few singers and bands who have similar issues and circumstance as that of Vernon; and Yellen is not going to be the last artist who has a similar hard road to glory. If you put the first pointless diversion out of your mind, there is a second one. This is the comparison to Jeff Buckley. It began in 1994, when Radiohead recorded The Bends. Yorke, inspired by a performance by Buckley, rushed to the studio, where the staggering ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ was laid down. It was said that the softer and more elegiac moments were inspired by Buckley. It certainly played a huge part in the bands career, and it is argued that without the influence of Buckley, they may have never recorded many of their greatest tracks. Although there are some influences in Yorke’s vocal he already had the voice before he heard Buckley; the epiphany was not to alter his voice, more write more sensitive and spellbinding songs. Since then critics and music-lovers alike have lazily compared the two, and in fact any artist now that pertains the wisp of falsetto, is referred to as ‘The Next Jeff Buckley’. It is galling, as no-one will ever get anywhere near to Buckley’s range, power, potency and tone. If they do then they are mimicking him, and is not something to commend. Buckley was a forefather for modern man; an icon that showed that sensitivity and an amazing voice were not to be frowned at or feared. He is not a synonym for ‘falsetto’ or ‘sensitivity’, nor is he someone who should have his name associated with artists who are not worthy or have no aspirations to be him. If you disassociate these lazy comparisons from your mind, the listening experience is a much more transcendent experience. Night Beds blend a majesty of autobiography and purpose, with incredible atmosphere, topped off with an atomic cherry of stunning vocals. The album ‘Country Sleep’ has been available for a little while; garnering effusive and celebratory reviews from a huge following, that has not only earned its figurehead Yellen a second home here in England- should he want it- but also a huge worldwide fan-base.

 

Right from the get-go, ‘Even If We Try’ dispels and eradicates any post hoc ergo propter hoc journalism and narrow-minded naivety. It is the voice that greats us first. It is a haunting and spine tingling sound, that- if you wanted a comparable vocalist- resembles an early-career Rufus Wainwright. There is a similar majesty and theatrical power to the voice; able to hold steady and powerfully, amidst a hail of emotion and heartache. The opening moments are largely acapella; the vocal is right up front, crystal clear; as if the author was alone in a candle-lit studio one night, just his own soul for company, and was so close to the microphone that it may have needed to be wiped clean after the take. This means that you are drawn in and cast under by the beautiful voice aching from the speakers. The delivery is quite unique. Certain syllables are emphasised and punctuated; which creates a swoon and flight. It also creates an impactful jolt as well. The musical titration is in the distance, and the decision to focus primarily on the vocal is wise; it is the strongest suit and it means that your attention is captured immediately. The lyrics, I suspect, have a deeply personal relevance to our hero; and are direct and poetic alike. Early samples such as: “Well all the rivers rage/Descend upon this age”, shows mature signs of Neil Young, Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. There is a sense of the influence of the ’60s and ’70s; the words are a cross between a confession and a eulogy. There is never a sense of the morbid suicidally of Drake, nor any evocation of wanting to get away from it all. There is honest and a summation of a scene that has left many stones unturned with broken bones and blood. There is a Gothic windswept imagery to the words; one suspects the likes of Bryon, Poe or Stoker would tackle, were they songwriters. It is the sort of track you could imagine being performed in a church or cathedral. There is silence, except for the sound of the vocal, and I could well imagine that the congregation would keep a respectful and hushed silence for the duration; keen to learn about the woes of the young Yellen. There is a wordless chorus and the sound of plaintive and evocative strings, that transcends the sonic and emotional shift. From deeply personal doubt and heartache, we swim in a calmer lake, where we can be alone and reflect, before the next verse is upon us. The structure of the verses remains unabated; the same pace and sway of vocals, except they are accompanied by strings and sweltering audio lust. Where as the first verse was intended to grab and implore, the remainder of the track, instead is designed to elevate the senses and have all your hairs standing to attention. The lyrics remain unimpeachable in their reverence and emotional sacrament. When it is said “Remember what is true/As you watch the colors (sic.)”, it is true that our protagonist has seen too much, and forgotten too little. He is wise but hopeful of a regression and remission of his current malaise. It seems that there is perhaps some sense of literary license some of the later lyrics such as “Come on Johnny, please won’t you speak to me?” and scenes of late-night debacle: “And wailing on the doldrums/Had ourselves a lonesome night”. I wonder if this is a song of broken romance, of a tumultuous friendship, or a conglomeration of the two; there is a sense of mystery that leaves many of the words open for interpretation. Around 2:50, there is a distorted and haunting vocal choir- a mingling of purity and machinery in tone; it gains momentum, gets louder, and washes over you. It is a startling bookend all in all. We go from tender and divine vocals at the beginning, to a wailed disorder to end. Imagine a combination of the end of Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier’, and the sound of a B-52 bomber being shot down into the sea, and you’re sort of half-way there. Just when you think that that is going to be that, it ends, and there is a brief, but fascinating vocal call; that is wordless but evocative, and brings the track to a close.

 

The male market, and especially the solo end of it, is one of the most overcrowded and competitive sectors. Every week there is some new 20-something-year-old, each equip with guitar, songbook, and a voice of some sort. It is very rare that a voice comes along that can overwhelm or inspire so much. Night Beds achieve a mean feat of projecting such a voice, but teaming it with a set of concise and memorable lyrics; a beautiful composition, and some unexpected twists and turns. If you are listening to the audio alone, I would suggest watching the accompanying video on YouTube, as it is a curious video. Whether it is a juxtaposition, or commentary it is quite stark, strange and unforgettable; filled with odd scenes, and harrowing moments. I was initiated to the wonder of Night Beds as recently as three days ago, and have been bowled over by the effects and joys of the music. If you explore more of ‘Country Sleep’ there is a palette of diverse themes and sounds, and is not merely an album of duplicated versions of this track. I have been inspired to write a song, rather annoyingly. I had settled on a set of songs for a ‘mini-L.P’; contented at 6 songs, but have started another, after listening to ‘Even If We Try’- the bastard! That is what great and tremendous songs should do: activate you into picking up a pen and following suit. Yellen will be back in the U.K. soon, I hope, as he has just finished a residency here. I thought there were more dates, but think he is in Sweden today, wowing the northern peaks of Europe. It is free to listen to, and will bring rich rewards, that keep on giving. If you are bored of the vast sway of soulless, stale and androgynous solo artists out there at the moment, and are seeking something quite special..

 

… check out the YouTube link at the top of the review, and be overcome.

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Official:

http://www.nightbeds.org/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/NightBeds

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/BandNightBeds

iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/night-beds/id378369900

SoundCloud:

http://soundcloud.com/deadoceans/03-even-if-we-try

 

 

 

Jingo- Same Without You- Track Review

 

Jingo-

 

 

‘Same Without You’

 

 

Track Review:

 

 

9.8/10.0

 

 

It’s that combination of voice, music, and subsequent augmentation that sends the song over the edge.

 

 

Availability: ‘Same Without You’ is available via http://soundcloud.com/jingomusic/same-without-you

 

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It’s not a valedictory speech; more of a pre-sabbatical review …

 

as I search around for new and exciting songs, and deal with things close to home. I hope to be singing the praises of a new song, and or band, by Tuesday, but for now, I am excited to be inspecting a band, I have been fascinated by, since getting a hold on their track IQ84. That has been bouncing around my brain for a while, and my faith has been cemented and has not been inculpated, since. I will return to the band in a little while. For now it is worth returning my focus to the matter of bands and their relative quality and ambition. There is something oddly ”The Hound of the Baskervilles’-like, with regards to the music business. It appears that every time the innocent citizens are rested and relaxed in their world; contextually the good-natured music lover is contented with the band scene, something arrives that terrorises and strikes fear; whether that is a metaphysical beast of market force or an enforced burden of commercialisation; or it is a certain band(s), that arrive, and leave their stench all over the place. I have been tasked with reviewing a fair few bands over the past month. I am always impressed by the depth and conviction of the music. It is clear that the respective members all take very seriously what they are doing; as well as have an intimate knowledge and respect for the business; thus they are capable of enforcing their own style, as well as integrating colours to the palette that the public will find pleasing. It is that last point that grind my gears, somewhat. It is wise, I suppose to fit some way of ‘fitting in’ with the current scene; although that often comes at the expense of individuality and original thought. Bands- and indeed many solo artists- seem hell-bent on creating a recapitulating of an existing or defunct band, that they come off as a second-rate tribute. I have heard several groups lately whom have put forth some impressive and conquering songs; riff-heavy, sharp and powerful, with all the right intrigue and swing to it. There is one big problem: it has already, largely, been. The second I have heard some songs, I have been able to detect other bands so clearly, it is as though I am listening to a ‘lost track’ of theirs. Some groups or acts manage to stray from the path of mimicry, but suffer from an equally inexplicable faux pas: predictability. I know where the lyrics are heading; where the music is going to take us, and ultimately, where I have heard it before. It is reserved for a select few that I proffer the following adjective: barn-storming. Colloquial, yes, but prescient. They have included HighFields, The Open Feel, as well as Dead Sea Navigators: two bands I was amazed by; in no short part due to their bold and exciting sound, not concerned with sounding like anyone else; instead dominating an under-valued patch of land, where few have broken ground. That’s not to say I haven’t been hugely gripped by every band I’ve reviewed- I have, and feel no need to exaggerate or give false praise; it is just my brain looks for and loves new and different.

 

I reviewed Jingo a little while ago, and was genuinely impressed and in awe of their original sound. I would never cheapen the mood by saying their music was jingoistic (although I may have in the review, thinking about it), but there was a strong sense that in a non-political sense, they were pervading a strong national identity and passion, as well as a disregard for any bland or uninspiring compatriots. It is the combination of playful publicity photos (part Presidents of the United States of America; part Pixies), that gives them a very credible air of relatability. Like Fleetwood Mac it is the combination of U.K. and U.S. band members and close kinship, that makes the group memorable and solid. Katie Buckett is the sole American, and in charge of keys, vocals and guitar and is married to Jack, whom is also on vocals and guitar. In no ways a Mick Fleetwood, is Joseph Reeves. The band are fairly newly-formed (they are 4 months old), and at the moment, are building a steady fan-base. They are quite self-deprecating in relation to their appeal, and are fun and good-humoured. It is rare to see a band display these qualities, as most get caught up in being all serious/nervous; afraid that if you smile or do not compare yourself to the greatest artists of all time, then people will not bother listening to your music. It is clear that the fledgling group are going to big and unexpected places; they sure are making big waves with only a couple of songs and have a keen observation and realisation of how they can fit in and show other groups how to go about things. As I settled down to listen to ‘Same Without You’, I was expecting a cinematic treat…

 

There is a familiar, solid opening in the song. The piano is dark and a little heavy; there are hints of Beethoven and a lot of the romantic composers. There is a bit of ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in the tones, and at once evocations of a romantic night and starry skies. In a contemporary sense, maybe it a sound that the likes of Elton John sometimes employ, as well as a truncated and slowed-down sound of the likes of U Say USA. The vocal that elicits emotion, is suitably classic and heart-warming. There are tones of blues legends such as Billie Holiday in Katie’s voice. It is a little Madeleine Peyroux; a touch of Joan Wasser, too. It is style of vocals and sound that is much unheard of today, mostly reserved for U.S. solo artists. Although as Katie is American it is perhaps unsurprising. Peyroux is from Georgia; Wasser from Connecticut. Both are along the eastern coasts, and perhaps is a style of vocal that has been picked up or influenced by the villages and jazz and coffee clubs of New York. Anyway, the point is that it is a stunning and calming voice. One that hinges the black blues women, with that of modern-day jazz and soul. The lyrics have scenes and scores of the ’50s and ’60s; all smoky siren and street-lit avenues: “What if I called your bluff…” and “Please don’t lie to me”, are early cuts, and paint the picture of a woman who has either been wronged and is seeking validation, or is in search of honest. Before you have a chance to let your thought wander to the alleys of a U.S. city, where there is black and white sensuality and a variegated tension, there is a sonic kick that takes decisions out of your hands, and controls your hands and thoughts. The piano skips and bounces, as an echoed reverb lingers and vibrates, as the percussion waits, watches and kicks when needed. The tricolour of audio innovation has a baroque/pop sensibility. In the same way Rufus Wainwright is able to expertly tie in blues, jazz, pop and classical influences, and create an intriguing symphonic punch, Jingo do the same, albeit it more brooding. The passage continues for a fair few seconds, creating its own gravity and momentum, and takes its time to capture you. There is no need to fill every second with lyrics; the band know that it is just as important to project beautiful music in order to create a stunning effect. When it subsides, it is told that our heroine “never made you feel sad”. The voice becomes harder and stronger, showing all of its lungs as a crescendo is unleashed. Katie possesses a similar belt and force as Adele; you can practically sense the hordes of record label bosses running towards the band, with a wardrobe, hair scissors and cosmetics in hands, perhaps thinking they have a U.S. Adele on their hands. Unlike our countrywoman, Jingo’s feminine tones posses a subtlety and consequential soul that has been sadly lacking from a lot of Adele’s recent numbers. In spite of all the pertinent and heartfelt words; imploring questions and contorted emoticons, whether it is a good or a bad thing, our heroine is “the same without you”. Past the 1:30 mark, there is a clattering and dance of guitars, percussion, with bits of Muse in there (before they started phoning it in). It is at once foreboding and heavy, but also melodic and planted firmly on Earth. It is another shape-shift and takes your consciousness to another place, once more. Lesser acts may plump for a steady and rigid composition that conveys the emotion through a linear mood and doctrine, that seems a little too anxious to change course or be adventurous. It is the pioneering and playfulness that the band readily posses, that also does wonders where their music is concerned. It is that transferable quality that adds emphasis and credence to an already gripping song. The track mutates into a skiffling and shuffling jazz/swing little number- but the vocal is still powerful and impassioned- as the piano punctuates sternly; around it, a motivating and searching juggernaut is unleashed. As our heroine says that “I am trying to stay true”, the accompanying composition, tied in to the audio of the previous 10 seconds or so, reminded me of the adventurous and bending philosophy of Bjork. The Icelandic princess is constantly capable of dragging you to dark and magical woods, where fairies and monsters cohabit with little qualm. She also- sometimes with David Arnold– creates sweeping and emphatic sound-scapes that are bristling with introverted passion and Brothers Grimm scares. In a similar and prudent way, Katie’s voice has a touches of ‘Debut’ and ‘Vespertine’ Bjork; youthful and sweet, yet capable of ripping your head clean off if you push her too far. It is quite electrifying. As the chorus ends again, there is an echoed vocal; as though we have reached the rooftop and through a bullhorn, our heroine is shouting her message, not just to her disgraced beau; but to anyone else who is within an ear’s reach. He is not within sight, and with amplification a second thought, the operatic and full-bodied passion is back. The voice crackles, rips and tears asunder as there is a trickling and flailing guitar weave, that to my ear had some traces of Jack White. Think solo album, mixed with the majesty unveiled during his ‘Get Behind Me Satan’/’Icky Thump’ regency. I smelt a flavour of Steely Dan in there as well circa-‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’. It is a most unexpected sonic diversion, and again adds a layer of U.S. influence to the melting pot. Bits of Santana, Slash and Clapton are heard in the D.N.A. as the sound of piano comes in. Instead of being romantic a hand is run across the keys with verve, as a ghostly and unstoppable snowball hurtles towards the village. Holmes and Watson can stop looking for a strange beast, as it seems that the hurtling ball of impending doom is going to cause instant catastrophe. The guitar gives out cries and anguished yelps, as the drum beats with vermilion fury, never out of control, but keeping a very sharp and mythologised spine. Katie comes in to restore some semblance, as she lets it be known that she is the same without her man (not Jack, obviously). The chaos abates, and a lilting and romantic piano ends the track, and brings sunshine to the stormy and harsh night, previous.

 

No bones remain in the ravaged and picked carcass of emotion and mood, and no bones about the fact that it is one of the most impressive new songs I have heard in a long while. There are some hints and patterns of other artists in bits of the song, but it is the fresh originality of all of the elements that gives the song a credible and fantastic edge. No one player is the star of the show. Katie demonstrates a huge vocal range and prowess; capable of switching from a mannered restraint, through to an emotional and powerful belt. There is no needless posturing or ululation: she is filled with genuine passion and conviction. Jack demonstrates an ability to be able to create a calm mood, that keeps the song level one moment, and at the next he can infuse a sense of electricity and danger into the mix; able to whip up a storm with his guitar. Joseph shows some real power and panache when armed with sticks. He can bolster and avalanche, as well as keep a steady and dedicated beat. This, couple with intelligent and memorable lyrics, brews together beautifully and provides an intoxicating and over-powering kick.

 

I have been impressed by the band since I heard ‘1Q84’, and was compelled to keep an eye and an ear out for the group. Although they are young, and still looking for fans, followers and ears, it will be a matter of when, not if, based on the evidence. They are incredible songwriters, who are forging a path to uncharted and still waters, where few other bands or acts are daring to sail. In a scene and set where there is an undeniable sense of ‘playing it safe’ and keep to a rather muted and unambiguous sound, it is quite frankly about time that a group comes along, and has a sound of a classic era- ’60s and ’70s U.S. and U.K.- and shines the rough edges, whilst injecting a lot of modern gleam and fashion. Regardless of your musical political tastes; whether it be to the left, and quite conservative, or more right-wing: intense and rebellious, or somewhere in the middle-ground, then there is no need to fear, as it is an ubiquitous and universal sound that can unite any balkanised clans. And for any undecided voters or fence-sitters, unsure of what sort of music should be lodged within their brain for 2013. It is definitely fair to say Jingo should be near the top- if not at the top of- your list. They may be in their infancy; absorbing sounds, sights and smells. But as undervalued or under-subscribed as they may be at this moment in time; they…

 

… will be familiar to a lot more ears, very soon.

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Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/jingomusic?fref=ts

 

 

 

Freddie Dickson- Shut Us Down- Track Review

 

Freddie Dickson

 

 

‘Shut Us Down’

 

 

Track Review:

 

9.6/10.0

 

 

Being described as a “male Lana Del Rey” is not an especially flattering comparison, to my mind. Luckily, Freddie has the vocal prowess to overcome sloppy journalism.

 

 

 

Availability: ‘Shut Us Down’ is available via http://soundcloud.com/freddie-dickson/freddie-dickson-shut-us-down

 

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I’ll take a different slant, when describing the solo market…

 

because a few hours ago, whilst extolling the virtues of Johnny Sands, I covered a fairly conclusive patch of land. I have noticed an indelible corkscrew currently wedged in the blood-brain barrier of the music industry. For every solo artist worth their potential weight in gold, there appears to be an insurmountable obstacle that is in place, stopping them from truly being appreciated widely; and by an audience who are unslaked, and hungry. Historically, at least, the most memorable voices have resonated from those who have a disregard for what corporate minds required, and what is seen as ‘fashionable’. In that regard, they have a hereditary attitude of contumacious rebel. The likes of Freddie Mercury, Aretha Franklin, John Lennon, Robert Plant and Stevie Wonder have always made music to inspire and enthral fans, as well as stay true to who they are, where they have come from, and where they want to go. It is this unbridled authenticity and desire not to compartmentalise fans and sectors; instead draw people together, that has meant they have had their names carved into the eternal public consciousness. With few exceptions, the greatest singers tend to be part of a band. There are enough solo artists who have managed to ignite the senses, but, whether it is down to the combined talents of their cohorts, or something else; it has always worked better when there are 3 or 4 other people with you, bringing the best out of your voice. In the last 15 years or so, coinciding with the death and marginalisation of the Britpop movement, there has been a renewed focus on the solo artist, and going it out alone. It can be a lonely and tough environment. Great singers write their own music, and if you are on your own, there is that extra pressure to be good, as well as the burden that comes with having to shoulder any expectation or critical benchmark. To be fair, there are a lot more solo artists than there needs to be. It is admirable that so many want to be involved with music, and each want to have their voices heard. Although the fact of the matter is that so few actually have any discernible voice at all. I have heard a lot of songs used in commercials over the last few months. Ranging from promotions by John Lewis, B&Q and various mobile network providers, each has featured some reedy, pointless voice, in need of palliative care. Most are- unfortunately- from female artists, and is staggeringly depressive that it is felt simple being able to sing in tune and be vaguely human are criteria enough to be able to create music. They are not. Far from it. To add an injurious cherry to the top of the kick in the nuts cake, a lot of the tracks have been covers. ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ are two fairly recent examples, and made my skin crawl each time I heard them. It is- as you can tell- a bug I have about singers. Being someone who has been honing his voice for 14 years, and writing original material for several years longer, I get sick and tired when I hear of some ‘next big thing’ being thrust forward; only to discover they are a dismal dirge of an artist.

 

The male market seems to have suffered from the same fate. I have never got the appeal of, or been interested in Ed Sheeran. He has an average voice, and is a dreadful songwriter, who has garnered a sea of praise, for reasons inexplicable. This seems to be all too common, in an industry where the public can be reduced to performing seal by the mere mention of a guitar and a healthy head of hair. It was George Orwell whom wrote: “Man is only creature that consumes without producing”. It seems pertinent as far as music goes. I have a lot of time for the likes of Justin Timberlake, and artists who can write and perform a decent set of songs, but they are in a vast minority. The worrying hypochondroplasia seems to endemic of a wider malaise: fickle and immature market force. The pre-pubescent and teen market is a burgeoning one, and those largely responsible for the popular rise of sub-par artists. There is, however, a loyal core of solo artists that are truly mandible-dropping. Some of female (Jessie Ware, Laura Marling); some male (Matt Corby, Bon Iver); but it is the upcoming talent, where most eyes are focused. I was informed of the existence of Freddie Dickson, by a very wise and cultured fellow music lover, whom has steered me to some notable artists recently. Freddie is brand new; he is 24-years-old; he is English; and has been collating a small band of followers for a little while. ‘405’ compared Freddie to Lana Del Rey. That is the first thing that annoyed me. I like Del Rey as a human; take away the controversy, the endless commercialisation, and such, and underneath is a genuine and sweet woman. She comes across as someone who is a normal woman, and is aware that her career may not be as long as most. Musically, however, there is little to recommend. Her debut album contained, at best, 3 great songs, with a lot of filler. The hoopla and press around her, perhaps gave false promise. As much as anything she is a marketing tool; a creation; a commodity that can stand next to a sports car, where a cardigan, and flog whatever the hell a company needs her to sell. She has a few aces up her sleeve: a great voice, the odd sharp lyric, and an ability to conjure mood and melody with unequivocal aplomb. If you are to compare the two, it would simply be down to the fact that they have an equal love of conjuring stirring soundtracks, and not solely relying on their voice to do the talking. I can see the two of them becoming close; like characters from ‘Naked Lunch’; they could collaborate. But I feel that there are few linear adjectives that can be shared. There is a vague procedendo between their musical relationship, but nary else. I’ll take a better stab at this…

 

The opening seconds of ‘Shut Us Down’ are awash with re-verb and strange sounds, that could be a sample of sound reversed, or a mutated snatch that has been elongated and altered, to create a dizzying hum. There is a lot in the way of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ experimentation in the opening. I was reminded of ‘Treefingers’ quite a lot, as well as Yorke’s solo work (and recent work with Atoms for Peace). There is that same sort of electronic mood and pout, that at once can enthrall and sedate. The first moments, bring to mind, dark city scenes and buzzing neon signs. It is an audio sample that would fit as much at home sound-tracking a Michel Gondry film, as it would being as an emotional ballast piece on Breaking Bad. Just after the strange organ/machine-cum-early ’00s Oxford has time to sink beneath the waves like Resurgam, a beautiful voice enters. This would be roughly what I was referring to by ‘mandible dropping’. In the same way that Jeff Buckley did when he first opened his mouth to sing over 20 years ago, or Antony Hegarty did (back before ‘I Am a Bird Now), there is an instant and visceral reaction upon hearing Dickson’s honeyed tones. To my (slightly) trained ears, I was hearing a little of Patrick Watson (whom himself is a small doll inside of Chris Martin, whom is underneath Jeff Buckley matryoska foundation). There are some familiar comparable that can be traced in the vocal, but nothing so obvious as to dilute the potency at all. Like the Canadian Watson, Dickson manages to elicit a majesty of beauty, not from soulless penile displays like so many male singers, but by allowing a sensitive and delicate whisper guide the notes. The verse is awash with barely contained emotion, as one can only imagine the atmosphere of candles and hushed silence when the song was recorded. When the mantra: “Just don’t/Just don’t hide away” it is a once a truncated chorus, as well as the first stunning punch, that will elicit a mesmeric calm amidst the soul. From there, the music gives a little tribulation; in the same was as Massive Attack did for ‘Teardrop’; Dickson lets us know his pulse is still there, underneath the heartache. There is a pleasing and emphatic backing vocal, that sounds like a choir of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. Perhaps past the one-third mark there is a similar melodic sound to that of Del Rey’s ‘Born To Die’, but with a much greater emotional impact. It is said that, Dickson’s sweetheart, has become scared “of what I’ve become”. There is a definite need for depannage; hearts have been broken, which have caused bleak causality; the body and soul is starting to fade, too. Dickson is “numb” and keen, it seems, to have his projection subjected to a beta test, and for his rattled spirits to be safely ensconced. The refrain returns, to add credence and weight to what is being said; it has a simple and forceful pull that can simultaneously be chanted at festivals, or whispered in dark bedrooms. “If only/We could start again”, seems to be the bedrock and business plan; the lyrical territory may be safe and familiar ground, but the way that the raw and worn out mood, combines with the ethereal and tender vocal, is a spellbinding treat. Shakespeare wrote in ‘King Lear’: “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again”. The song seems as much as an exaltation as it does a plea. The unwavering plaintively then is replaced by something much more cannibalistic. A vocal crescendo is unleashed, almost indicative of a breakdown; the words “I should have stopped”, are almost wailed; as if the young man were drowning, performed a sin of omission, or was simply at the end of his rope that hangs from a ceiling rafter. It is tornado that comes after the calm before the storm, and drags your head and heart in opposing directions. As one would expect, the effect and aftertaste is something quite profound.

 

I am filled with praise for Dickson. At times there were large chunks of Patrick Watson, and similar troubadours in the vocal sound and enunciation; that same smoky falsetto. I can imagine that Dickson’s voice is much more utilitarian, capable I’m sure of being able to scale the demanding peaks of hard rock and metal, as it would be of matching many modern-day chanteuses. The lyrics are obviously whole-heartily relatable to anyone who has even suffered the fall out from a break-up, and there is no mordant self-flagellation; merely bare-boned proclamation and earnest soul-bearing. The sonic landscape is awash with tension, calm and metamorphosis. The resultant Big Bang, is sure to win many a fan, the world over. There are so few genuinely intriguing and exciting solo artists, that are capable of penning impressive songs and hanging gorgeous vocals on top of them. For any anyone who feels compelled to slovenly label Dickson as a male counterpart to Del Rey, they need to listen to both in isolation and see that there are very few comparables. Aside from a similar talent for atmosphere and stunning emotional resonance, the voices and biographies are worlds apart, and Del Rey appeals to very few male music lovers. For someone who is always on the hunt for scintillating and enrapturing talent, I will be watching Dickson, with a sweaty and fervent brow. There obviously be a lot of new music coming soon, from the young Londoner. For now, play ‘Shut Us Down’; play it again, and let it wash over you, and better yet; let it inspire you to pick up pen and paper and unshackle any demons that are lurking in your heart, eager to escape. In a year where the most stunning albums will arrive in May and June, and the majority will be from established and populist acts, it will be exciting to see how Dickson’s forthcoming release will be received. I hope open arms will greet it, as well as open minds. Seldom few arrive from seemingly nowhere, and achieve a spectral mandate which goes against the current tide. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that Dickson…

 

… may have just pulled it off.

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Official:

http://freddiedickson.tumblr.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/FreddieDickson

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/freddiedicksonmusic

Johnny Sands- Getitforfree- Track Review

 

Johnny Sands

 

 

‘Getitforfree’

 

Track Review:

 

 

9.1/10.0

 

 

As well as being a model and music promoter, he is quite adept at producing slices of intriguing lo-fi beauty.

 

 

Availability: ‘Getitforfree’ is available via http://johnnysands.com/music.html

 

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It is a return, of sorts, to the parable of the solo market …

 

but there is something quite nontraditional and classic about Mr. Sands. I shall explain more in detail soon, because the male solo market is a bit of an undervalued currency, still. It is a genre or sector, which has been present since the birth of the music universe. The second that the first notes were sung by the legendary blues artists, back in the ’20s and ’30s, a strange and wonderful evolution began. Blues was little more than solo artistry. The likes of Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James were some of the earliest pioneers, and paved the way for a host of subsequent blues artists, all keen to pay homage to, and best the previous generation. When the ’60s arrived the band market was more prevalent, and seemed to overhaul the solo market, and maintained a foothold right through to… well… now, really. It appears that being part of a band and having a sort of musical comfort of ‘safety through numbers’; is the pervading methodology when trying to obtain success and longevity. It is not entirely factious, as with the exception of a few legends (Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley etc.), the greatest number of hallowed singers, and celebrated songs have emanating from groups. This is still the case in 2013, but perhaps there has been a marginal shift in musical directionality. It is true that some of the most reviled and hated members of the music world, are solo artists. Naming no names, but you, as well as I, know full well whom they are. There is a lot of critical attention levied at bands too, but it is in the underground, as well as on the fringes of public consciousness, that the most exciting and furtive music is taking place. I have been excited by the news of a forthcoming album by Laura Marling– to my mind, the most exciting solo female artist currently making music. There is a lot of speculation as to whether the likes of Lily Allen, Adele and Jessie Ware will be releasing material in 2013/14. Beyond the aforementioned names, there is a small number of notable female talent in this area, but most of the incredible music made my women, is reserved for certain areas of the country; most of which is either largely unheard of, or fledgling in its infancy. It is an equal share market, but the scarcity of bright female talent is not indicative of a lack of participants; more a sign that the proliferation of bands emerging at the moment, are elbowing solo artists out of the way, relegating them to an intellectual sub-section in most people’s minds. The male market has fared slightly better since the ’50s and ’60s when the earliest examples of the breed were greasing their hair, strumming their strings, and winning hearts. Sadly there has been a bit of a dirge of male solo artists; each seemingly convinced that strumming an acoustic guitar and sounding vaguely bored in the key to unequivocal success. Again, no names shall be proffered, but there are far too few. If you dig a little deeper beneath the skin, and under piles of rubble, there is shining light. Matt Corby and Ben Howard seem capable of keeping a torch of glory lit for a few years more; but again, there seems to be a startling case of quantity over quality when it comes to the male market. If you want to be captured and fascinated, you need to steer away from the main road, take a detour, and stop off at charming little rural environs, and take in the sights and smells. It is there where- one hopes- the future good live, and I am confident that once a greater attention and distribution is given to the genuinely talented solo artists, there will be a much more balanced and diverse scene. This takes me some way to explaining Johnny Sands

 

He may have a name that lends well to vivid imagery of spies and suave C.I.A operatives, but there is a similar intrigue and romantic within the biography of the Liverpool musician. Johnny seems like he was born in black and white, and he has a rather vintage and bygone mystique. Sands is as enamored with the 1950s and typewriters, as he is with motorcycles, Bob Dylan, old watches and E-type Jaguars. It seems that he would have been more at home 50 or 60 years ago, and it is very rare that in a highly modern and electronic age, that there is someone in music, who has such a passion and respect for a classic time. In photographs, Sands is predominantly shot in black and white, and has a style that is Gaelic handsomeness, Brendan Benson-cum-Nordic warrior. It is unsurprising, perhaps, that Sands is also a model and a fashion icon. With a sharp wardrobe and sharp features, he has featured in the likes of GQ (whom crowned him their ‘Best Dressed Man’ in 2010). Sands is fascinated by linguistics and European beauty; he has an Icelandic-worded tattoo on his arm, and a similar one on his chest, which is French. It is no shock that Sands told GQ that he considers his style and look to be largely indebted to the cinema of France and the U.S. of the ’60s. It is an interesting back-story, but somewhat of a secondary appeal, considering we are here to talk music. There is a relevance and transferability between his style and noir lifestyle to that of his music. In various songs Sands sings in French, and manages to juxtapose foreign influences with the homespun majesty and history of his native Liverpool. It is a rare combination, and one that has served Sands well. As well as lighting up his local hangs, he has captured a mostly wider attention, in no small part due to his brilliant 2012 debut ‘mini album’, ‘Postcards’. Subsequent plaudits followed, which earned him support slots with the lofty kings Wild Beasts, Django Djano, and Alt-J. I have longed been protesting how a lot of the great new music and future stocks are reserved and held in the north-west, and north-east. It is perhaps unsurprising given the rich musical heritage of the areas. When critical eyes and drooling record bosses look to London for potential stars-in-the-making, they should stop being so narrow-minded and turn their diffuse attention-spans towards a geographical area that is deserving of more than localised praise, and feint ardor.

 

I was introduced to the talents of Johnny Sands by a fellow musician, who resides in the north. I was surprised that his name had not been mentioned in the social media circles and to a wider degree, the music press. It is the codification of talents such as Sands, that has angered me quite a bit; but my boiled blood is mollified when I hear the opening moments of ‘Getitforfree’. There is an electronic drum pulse that pecks and taps with stylised punch. In the same way as the cinematic chef-d’ouevres capture and seduce with smoky monochrome kisses, the track builds atmosphere and mood with a simple and concentrated lust. There are modern tones to the intro; in places I was reminded of Wild Beasts, Thom Yorke’s solo work, as well as tones of The xx. When words are spoken, there in a lo-fi echo to them, and I was reminded of The Strokes and Casablanca’s trademark vocal sound. It is quite an unexpected pleasure, and there are shimmering colours of French eletronica. The lyrics are purging and inquisitive, as Sands poses the following to a departing sweetheart: “… Why do you want to get when you get it for free?” The programmed beat is consistent and not modulated, which keeps the emotion in check, and provides a level-headed drive, that propels the song. The focus is on vocals and words, and the vocals are clear and high in the mix, free from any distortion or overproduced epidemiology. Sands’ vocal lifts slightly past the 0:40 mark and shows a bit of tender restraint, before the abated noir soundscape, returns to the fold. The unnamed and unmanned former-paragon seems to have run from Sands’ home, and into a Tarrantino film, as it is asked: “Why you wanna stall/When the men got a gun?”. Whether this nervy imagery as deployed metaphorically or literally, it is an evocative and striking scene that is being set. Sands has a talent for painting tension and palpable emotion throughout. There are a lot of questions being asked by our hero, fully aware that few will be answered by the outlawed beau. It is perhaps unsurprising that there is little sympathy in the words, or any sign or redemption or Stockholm Syndrome in the future. It is a sharp tale of love-gone-wrong and the consequential effects on the various parties. Sands seems concerned mostly with the fate of his woman, rather than portraying any sense of self-doubt or insularity. It is a composed spit-ball, carefully subjugated so that no venom or bile taints the song. It is fitting, at this point, to mention Bob Dylan. Like the sainted Mr. Zimmerman, Sands has a solid blues conviction to his voice, that has as much in common with the black blues of the ’50s, as is does with the biddable suburban heartache, that is the tapestry of a lot of The Strokes’ work. The style of the song has a lot in common with Dylan, circa 1963/’64. Where as Dylan’s focused had a politicised and philosophical bent, Sands’ heart and storytelling has more relevance in the modern streets, and modern times. Where as a lot of male solo artists opt for a bleeding heart sensitivity, which matches falsetto musings with a Beta Male mandate; Sands does a reverse. The vocal is strongly masculine, with flecks of east coat America. The lyrics are honest and a maelstrom of pointed words and pertinent questions. He wants to know why his former girlfriend has fled, when he can give her all she wants for free. There is a little longing in the lyrics when it is said that (she) is “what I need”. When there is an introduction of hand-clapping (and the tonal mood shifts), there is an invigorated passion employed. Sands vocal has a lighter edge of Ray LaMontagne, when he implores: “Out there, out there, out there/It’s me”. He is making a scene, and seems to be some regret or lamentation in his words, although damned if he shows it in the vocals, keen to play the role of stoic James Dean/Marlon Brando.

 

As the song comes to an end it is surprising to learn that it has received under 300 listens on SoundCloud. Sands has a very modern and relevant sound, and one which fits perfectly in the credible Mercury Prize-worthy sector. The song is tight and focused, and the music itself switches from metronomic electronic pulsing, to romantic blues. Sands’ vocal has a pleasing consistency to them, and have little directly in common with the likes of The Strokes’ front-man, to be honest. There are little whispers, but by and large it is highly individual. This is perhaps not a shock, given what we know about him; his background, and his enviroment. It is a great song that stands up to repeated listens, and is at once instant, and slow-burning. With so little credence paid to artists whom are willing to break from the overstuffed modern mould and create something personal and relevant to them, it is refreshing that the track is not a commercial or bloated number. Sands has a fascinating mystique and variegated style about him, yet has a tangibility to him, that adds weight and conviction to his music.

 

Just this morning, Sands Tweeted that he was deciding on the most expeditious way of charging around Liverpool, in the hope of curating as much talent as possible for this year’s Liverpool Sound City festival. As much as he is in love with music, art, and sound; he is also keen to further and aid other artists, and above all, cultivate a group of like-minded artists whom can put their stamp on the music world. In a climate where the blueprint seems to contain too many straight lines, grey edges and neo-venacular/hair shirt modernism, Sands has a older influences and modern twists, to create something a lot more eye-catching. It may not be a high-rise modern sky scarper; instead it is a charming stylish French cafe, or nightclub. In the short term it may not be as profitable, but in the long run it will still be there; still be drawing in huge crowds of loyal patrons, and will not be consigned to the pages of forgotten curiosity. Take a listen, and let the songs absorb into your consciousness, and be inspired to hear more of Sands, as well as keep an eye out for associated Liverpudlian talent. I have been invigorated this morning by the brilliant music, as well as the inspiring personality. Probably best…

 

… you get on board, before ‘Getitforfree’ becomes a pricey commodity.

 

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Official:

http://johnnysands.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/johnny_sands

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/JohnnySandsMusic

YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnnySandsMusic?feature=watch

SoundCloud:

http://soundcloud.com/johnnysands

MySpace:

http://www.myspace.com/jonnyboysands

 

 

Highfields- ‘The Chase (Oh Lord!)’- Track Review

 

Highfields

 

 

‘The Chase (Or Lord!)’

 

 

Track Review:

 

 

9.8/10.0

 

  

 

Fresh-faced, multi-nationality sextet, make music to conjure a myriad of emotion, that ellict a peaceful bipartisanship. Prepare to be inspired.

 

 

Availability: ‘The Chase (Or Lord!)’ is available via http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH3b104QN6A

 

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It has been a while since I’ve been able to analyse a band…

 

that hail from, and originate, from lands and towns beyond those of Great Britain. I have even gone biblical with regards to formatting. I wanted a font and colour scheme that reflected the group. I have plumped for a multi-coloured affair; as representing them through colours and tones, is as difficult and mind-melting, as trying to summarise and describe them through words. It is something I shall- attempt to- do, duly. For now, though, I am reminded that there is not a lot of national endeavour or cross-continent unification, when it comes to groups and acts. If you are part of a 4 or 5-piece group (or even larger), chances are, that depending on your gender, the rest of the group will be of the same sex. It is more common for a duo to be unisex, than larger bands. Occasionally there is a bit of a mixture, but more often than not, unless you are The xx or Fleetwood Mac, or whatever; there is not a lot of gender mix. The mention of the latter example may go some way to explaining the reason behind this phenomenon. It is well documented- what went on during the band’s history. Leading up to- and especially during the recording of- ‘Rumours’; there was a palpable and excruciating tension. Cocaine marathons, aside, there was so much tension between the two couples of the band, that it is surprise that the album got made, and turned out to be so successful. I guess it pertains to the adage that you should never work with anyone you are in love with. The fact that you spend a vast amount of time together, and are under each other’s feet, will always result in a fight or disagreement. The fact that ‘Rumours’ was the band’s masterpiece, is the exception that proves the rule. It was not a break-up album, instead one that was fuelled by and invigorated by tension. Songs like ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun’ were enforced by tension and affairs. Most other bands and acts, who have men and women co-mingling, have either dissipated, or ended messily. The xx are a modern band, who remain focused and collegial, due to the fact that there is no underlying personal clash; just sagacious music. As for the reason why there are few bands who mix nationalities, I am not sure. I guess you form a band with people you know and are similar, and chances are they will be of the same kin and locality. Past bands have managed to posses a diverse palette of cultural elements; but it is the modern scene that seems to be displaying a worrying trend. There is little mixture of races and nationalities. Bands tend to be very singular; not deliberately segregational or exclusive; yet its patrons, I suspect, have little concern with diversification. The inclusion of foreign and diverse sounds and ideas can revitalise and strengthen a band. Bringing together a varied air of melting pot ingredient, can galvanise a common thread, as well as inject a credit of egalitarianism. The mention of gender and race within music is pertinent. The fact that it is a comparative rarity should be questioned. It may display a wider issue of insularity and homogenisation within music, but as Highfields show, having a cultural mix of players, leads to a phenomenal brew.

 

The 6-piece, are a new band to my ears, and I found them via a website called Unsigned You. They post new bands and music each day, which- if you are like me- gives you a chance to experience new sounds and inspirations. Delving into their social media properties, they come across as charming, pioneering, and focused. They consist of: Robert Mulder, A.K.A., “Wise Man Mulder”, their principle songwriter, who provides vocals and guitars; Leon Pearce (with an accent over the ‘e’), or “Le-Le”, the TASK MASTA, their cellist, banjo player, and fellow guitarist; Marius Rekstad, the “Moustachioed maestro”, who provides piano and accordion duties; Runar Nybo (forgive the missing diagonal line through the ‘o’), a Knows What’s Best- bassist extraordinaire, A.K.A “Rune Poon”; Alec Brits, or “The Menne” Groove Factory, whom provides percussion; and finally, Melodie Ng, in charge of aux. percussion, glock. and melodica, going by the sobriquet, “Mel Mel”. I was impressed that the band have assigned monikers and nicknames (like The Travelling Wilburys did). This gives them an extra layer of likability, and shows they are light-hearted and want to cultivate personality and a touch of fictionalised fascination to their aesthete. It is obvious from the names, who origins from what country, but they hail from (not in incongruous order): Canada, Norway, Jersey, Singapore and South Africa. It is the mutual friendships, as well as the multicultural diversity that makes the group so strong. There is no municipality within the band; instead a sense of musical laissez-faire, concerned not with personality hierarchy, but focused on creating a principality of strength and common ground. In 2012, songwriter/producer Guy Chambers provided laudation and props to Highfields, praising them most highly. This year they have been working with producer Jon Withnall, whom has produced for the likes of Feeder and Elbow. Their trajectory certainly is going to see a vast ascendancy, and a continuation of positive critical reception, that will see them with a very full scrapbook of wonderful memories, by the time winter rolls back around. They have been heralded as a wonderful new act to watch, and have obtained this, not through providence or luck; instead a balanced cohabitation of fresh folk sounds, and an undeniably tight and established mutuality of obligation. In print they exude a fun-loving and playful air, and the laundrette-themed imagery on their Facebook page, portrays a band that are comfortable with portraying an outer skin of regalement and fun. Most bands, in photos, are serious and moody, concerned that any hint of playfulness will result in them being ostracised from hearts and minds. The irony seems lost on a music scene concerned too much with mannered portfolios, and business-like songs; even bands who are loose and adventurous through music, often come across as defined by ego or po-faced ‘cool’. It was a breath of fresh air that proceeded the intro to ‘The Chase (Oh Lord!)’.

 

You won’t need a spectrum analyser to sense the excitement and elevation in the intro. The accompanying video on YouTube may allude to British ‘Breaking Bad’-esque scenes; potential violence and tensions beckon there; but the track elicits a merriment as an edge of cello and string strung, begins a building scintillation. The initial seconds sound like an Anne Dudley composition: parts P.G. Wodehouse; bits ‘Les Mis’; seconds of The Grotesque linger in the mix. The ensuing explosion of good time roll, and jazz/swing rumble, implores you to kick off your shoes and dance along. There are classical edges to it; it is like listening to a 6-piece orchestra that you would hear in the piazzas of Covent Garden; where sway and invigoration are the order of the day. It is difficult to point to any nationality or thread influencing the sound, but there is western Europe and Scandinavia to the flavour. Before any words have been proffered, an energy and folk charm has been infused; like Mumford and Sons, sans faux-Irish tones and overall nausea. Our “Wise Man Mulder” options that: “I don’t have a penny to my name”, although there is no sense of moody blues. The vocal is at once ubiquitous, and exponentially unidentifiable. It is an original and refreshing voice, and one that will not be instantly comparable. It is the interjected rabble chorus of “Oh Lord!”, that provides a celebratory and humoured countenance. If you were to imagine the more enlivened and extrospective numbers on ‘The Beatles’ (‘The White Album’); then this will sound familiar. I could imagine McCartney writing this kind of number in 1967/8; quietly plotting his musical machinations. The lyrics have a modern and timeless relatability, as well as a personal relevance to them (for its author): “Please pull me up/Before I drown” is a transitory sentiment, but is a influential pebble in an ocean of emotional ripple. The audible sense of gay abandon is infectious; at times sounding like an expurgated and transversed Run-DMC; at others there are spritzer splashes of Gaelic cocktails; with Andy Stewart-cum-Latin insouciance-cum They Might Be Giants. The words tumble with syncopation, modulation and breathless enunciation; as the band are up to the task, and up for the craic. It is a same sort of break-neck pace that you would hear on ‘One Week’, but the themes here are more heart-aching; there is always a sense of running away from things, and having to keep doing so. The music video to the song lends credence to this, and although it depicts a petty theft/chase/incarceration scenario, it is a congruous tableaux. At 1:05 there is an orchestral piano air of Rachmaninoff; a little bit of Joe Jackson-esque vocals (‘Something Going On Around Here’ came to mind). The piano and sonic kick becomes more subdued, as the vocal and lyrics take charge in the foreground. If you’re watching the YouTube video, this is the part where the band cameo; if you’re not, you’ll have to take my word for it. There is a lovely musical break as the harmonica blows with a strong pull; the piano bobs along the waves, and bass see-saws, and the band whip up an intoxicating folk smoke. It pulls your attention away from the troubles of our protagonist, and what ails his mind; instead abating any woe, and recruiting you to a merrier beat. There is struggle and a return to the parable, as it is said that “I don’t always get it right”. There is always determination and resilience through the lyrics, as our hero wants to get things right, and make everything good. And although he doesn’t have the trust of an unnamed muse, or indeed any pennies in his pocket, there is an optimistic theology that runs through. And before I could dust off my bitchin’ dancing clogs, the song was at an end; able to wrap up its message and lodge in your mind, in under 3 minutes. If you have not seen the video for the song as well, I would advise a viewing, as it gives a visual dynamic, and probably is a projection of what comes to everyone’s mind when trying to pen a filmic narrative.

 

The residual aftertaste I get from reviewing a lot of new bands, is that of trying to tick preconceived boxes, in order to conform to an idealised model of what ‘a band should be’. Solo artists have more freedom to explore and rebel, but all seem too encumbered and shackled by a desire to please/secure a record label before winning over legions. It was Oscar Wilde who said: “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable, that we have to alter it every six months”. I can see in my mind a placard or poster of this in the offices of E.M.I or Sony, where perhaps timelessness and originality are not bedfellows. So many virgin acts are worried about slipping into a musical quicksand, that they err too closely to the shores of existing bands; often losing their own voice and sense of purpose. For those who are established and perhaps less indebted to market forces, they can fall victim to overindulgence and a qualitative lack, when it comes to experimentation. For those fledgling bands that are willing to shows the guts to win the glory; the results can be nerve-wracking (from the perspective of a label head or music lover), but are spellbinding. It shows true character and strength to supersede expectation and labels, and instead write and perform what you love, and what you hold true; a sound bereft of quick comparable. New music and an irrealist mood, or not mutually exclusive, nor predicated by logic. For those musicians who have broken free from the bedrooms, garages, local dive bars and pre-pubescent music venues, the first steps to adulthood can be frightening. I understand- as a songwriter myself- just how intimidating being head can be, and how difficult it is to be recognised, and hold to a collective bosom. With the likes of so much gut-rotting flatulence within the current scene, the secret to alchemy seems to be a mixture of compounds, thus: originality, energy, tight sound and a desire to commandeer consciousness and predict future needs. I will conclude my summation of the current scene with a quote from Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. One suspects that this should be on a poster on the walls of the the musical big wigs. Loyal and ardent music obsessives like me would live longer, and die a lot happier, too.

 

There are a lot of fantastic things about Highfields. As I have mentioned, they have garnered a lot of press from some distinguished patrons. Aside from any intellectualisations, the band succeed because they are bloody good. They have a fair few followers on the social media pages, and quite a few more views on YouTube. I feel that this alone, is a simultaneous decremental commentary on modern music fans, and a worrying sign of the times. So many less-deserving and comparatively diminutive acts have received greater fanfare and attention. In a time where the likes of a monumental cretin like Justin Bieber gets millions of fans, followers, dollars and corporate reach-arounds, it is quite frankly disturbing that so many superior and more credible humans in music, have to electioneer much harder to obtain a modicum of the plaudits. That said, being a likeable human, who is not a naive and thoughtless jerk is more important than anything. The band are filled with exciting and noble members, who are aware of what it takes to make excellent music. The effort they have put in to their fan pages, and how they portray themselves is admirable. They care as much about fans and listeners, as they do the music itself. It is not a coincidence that the music itself is (consequentially) amazing. As well as being incredibly original and fresh, it is also born of and belonging to an era past, where empirical superiority reigned. Although I have spun just one of the band’s tunes, none of my words are hollow or unjustified. The group have plenty of ‘The Chase (Oh Lord!)’s’ in their back pockets, and when E.P.s and albums are on the horizon, then their status as one of the must-watch bands of 2013 will well and truly be consecrated. Highfields have the pedigree and talent to set fire to the scene. The creators are multi-instrumental wizards, imbued with a sense of fun as well as straight-laced honest. The local cuisines of the band members may not seem to blend well on paper, or work if you ever put them into a cooking pot; but it is because of the diversity and captivating personalities that they do, so well. Fickle minds and an overcrowded market have buried and drowned many a good act. The 6-piece should have no fear, as they already must sense that the public and professional will be theirs; as they are the kings and queens of an intersection where quality and quantity meet. In relation to the following quote by Confusius, Highfields achieve success and gold-plated musical attribution because of an autobiographical and honest understanding of the first, a disownment and ignorance of the second; and by a personal assessment of, and commercial expectation of, the thirds. That is: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience which is the bitterest”. But have no fear…

 

 

… Highfields need no chicanery or slights, to become wise.

 

 

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Official:

http://highfieldsband.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/highfieldsband

Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/highfieldsband

YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/highfieldsband

 

 

Marc Otway- ‘Find Your Way’- Track Review

 

Marc Otway-

 

‘Find Your Way’

 

 

Track Review:

 

 

 

9.6/10.0

 

 

Dynamic Yorkshire songwriter, lets his voice as well as lyrics (and musicianship), shine.

 

 

Availability: ‘Find Your Way’ is available via http://soundcloud.com/marcotway/fi

 

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The geographical merits may have been expounded on here, a lot…

 

as of late. I won’t go too much into the percussive swell of eager and diverse talent, that is hustling and bustling in the north, at the moment. Greater Manchester may be busiest in terms of numbers, but is less individualised and wide-ranging when it comes to sound and vision. A great proportion of bands and acts have more than a hint of current or past Manchester bands. On a couple of recent occasions, I have noticed a certain Sheffield band being heard more than slightly, in the tones of two particular groups. Steve Lamacq recently theorised, that the future of music will not necessarily emanate from London; suggesting that it is further north, that the most fascinating and long-lasting sounds will be heard. This is true; I think there is just a more determined attitude in these parts. Less concern with following what is trendy or sought after; more concerned with a strong and willing work ethic, that includes, daring sound collaborations, captivating song-craft and an appealing personality. There is better humour, greater endeavour, and more of an eagerness to be shared and saluted by a wider audience. In the struggle and scuffle of competition and friendly rivalry, the configurations of bands seems to be rather predictable; in terms of numeration and gender distribution. I will talk more about Marc Otway, on his own merits, shortly; but he first came to my attention as one half of Marc and Abi; a mesmeric duo from the idyllically situated and cosmopolitan, Bradford. I shall speak more of Abi Uttley, later, as well; but she caught my attention om the track ‘Like You Do’. Marc was the song smith behind the soul, but the passion and beauty belonged to Abi. She is possessed of an ethereal and stunning voice that can portray immense beauty, as well as terrific power as well. With a fascinating history and a determined drive and ambition; coupled with amazing beauty; there was star quality and chanteuse allure in equal measures. In the midst of the silky vocal notes, the wonderful and gorgeous composition, alongside intelligent, sharp and memorable lyrics, stunned me. It was a wonderful and incredibly natural combination- it was as though they had been performing together their entire lives. I will allude more to Abi and Marc individually, anon; but another thing that surprised me was the lack of solo talent from Yorkshire. Aside from the odd few that are currently signed to fledgling and promising labels, there isn’t exactly a proliferation of one-man and one-woman warriors. It seems strange; or perhaps I am not looking in the right place. Either way, there needs to be a social media ballast, in order to help build a consciousness of these hidden treasures. It is a demographic that is seen a lot in London, and further south, but in a largely band-based culture of the north, it is refreshing and exciting to hear about pulsating solo talent.

 

Marc Otway has a varied and impressive list of influences, ranging from Frank Sinatra, to Stevie Wonder. He can switch from the dapper fashion of Sinatra and Gershwin, to a modern relaxed cool of Jason Mraz. It is safe to say that the majority of influential voices and hero’s on Marc’s top 10, enjoyed success and adulation in the ’60s and ’70s, predominantly. It is a rare set of influence in a modern music scene, and is made all the more impressive, considering what has been achieved by the young artist. Marc developed an almost Motzart-like ability to master instruments and music, and develop a talent free from precociousness. As well as having an affinity with guitars and drums; he also is a skilled keyboard player, and is able to inject his influences and various talents into each of his songs. As I mentioned I was impressed hugely by his and Abi’s collaboration of ‘Like You Do’. It was Abi’s voice that stole the spotlight, but it was the instrumental flourishes and moods; combined with an impressive set of lyrics, that added unexpected colours and shades. Marc has been writing for 5 years now, and honing his craft and skill set. There are an array of YouTube videos and cover versions; as well as glowing reviews and testimonies, that pay homage to the bubbling potential that lies within Marc’s bones.

 

‘Find Your Way’ begins as a starling twinkle of acoustics. There are whispers of Nick Drake, Kings of Convenience, as well as the masters such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It is a hymn for spring, and is evocative of a walk by a river, as the sun beats down. Nothing lingers threateningly in the air; there is just peace, and a gentle breeze. It puts you at ease at once, and settles and eradicates any tension or ambivalence, you may have had, before listening to the song. The guitar strums and skips; before hopping and swimming in the cool; meandering, seducing and stamping an early mark of quality. There is adventure and turns in the intro, and shows the talent that Marc has to evoke a lot of pleasure and curiosity, from a few strings. By 0:17 the guitar trip was a glorious mix of ‘Songbird’ Eva Cassidy, and ‘Quiet Is The New Loud’, Kings of Convenience; with a smidge of ‘Harvest Moon’ Neil Young. It would be cheap to make comparisons, or predict what the vocal would sound like, given the evocations and memories contained within the intro. Marc sings in a calm and mannered way, that means that his words can be heard, understood and appreciated, without any stutter, drawl or any cloying ephemera I have heard from a lot of nearby bands and acts. There is clarity and directness: perhaps the two most important elements that should be employed when attempting to win hearts and minds. There is remembrance and stories of a carefree life; an alternative way of life, and a conversation being held between him and an unnamed paramour. “Don’t be afraid/’Cause you don’t know the way”, are the words of comfort that are proffered, when it seems that there is uncertainty and hesitation in mind. The vocal remains strong and overcomes the emotion that is being portrayed. Lesser artists may be concerned with histrionics and needless plaintive mewing, desperate to wring out every drop of feeling from their lyrics. Marc deploys the guitar, as a device to convey a gorgeous and still mood, but also add shades and layers that others just can’t. The vocal itself is genuinely original. I have reviewed a lot of acts, and have been able to pick the vocal apart, assigning tones and accents to various other decades, albums and bands. But here, there is none of that. With inspirational themes, and a mandate that implores his beau, as well as the listener in general; to not let life pass by, and find your own path, at your own speed. Marc asks: “maybe I can find you”, as the acoustic strum sparks and ignites the mood, and his voice shows some vulnerability, but never cracks. There is a guitar and piano calling song, where light and gorgeous notes mix with duskier shades; creating a bucolic emotional calm, as once again, a musical passage allow you to catch your breath, reflect, and absorb what has been said. The instrumental touches have a lovely hint of Cassidy to them. In the way she could reinterpret and own a song like Fields of Gold, Over the Rainbow and Autumn Leaves, Marc displays a superior guitar talent, knowing that the words are all his. Whether taken from autobiography, or rooted within a dream-like fiction, it is a mystery; the way he lets his voice hold and float and dive, shows a keen understanding of how to convey atmosphere and emotional resonance, with as few breaths as possible. As I said- there is no need for over-zealous showboating; he wins and convinces with a simple directness and unequivocal determination. As the second half becomes settled in, and comfortable, the words of encouragement, motivation and strength are displayed once more. “You need to rise up/Get yourself dressed” are delivered; with certain words elongated; others punctuated, designed, above all, to catch the ear and mind, and make you smile as well as think. The vocal backing provided by Abi, around the 3:00 is wordless and invigorating, as the two create a lullaby of a harmony, and bring the song to a stunning conclusion.

 

The elegance and beauty of ‘Find Your Way’, is hard to ignore. With regards to the purity of the performance, it can rank alongside the fi9nest solo artists going today. Where as a lot of the market are concerned with too much self-indulgence, and do not have a great lyrical talent, Marc is able to strike the right words at the right time, and does not clutter the landscape. Everything is employed for maximum affect; the message may be simple and universal, but the way it is premiered, is certainly not. It is predominantly the female solo market where the combination of still beauty and stirring passion are mixed so effectively lyrically, vocally and musically. Usually an artist falls at one or more fences, and yet still maintains a lot of fans and adulation. There is a great originality to the vocal tone as well as delivery, and Marc establishes himself as an incredible guitarist; not contended to strum aimlessly, instead pioneer and seek out the most sterling and lilting notes, in order to conjure up the purest and simplest beauty. I am sure there will be several avenues Marc can take. Abi Uttley is  the strongest vocalist, perhaps, and has the sex appeal and siren tones to make hearts melt; yet Marc is his own man, and has a fantastic voice, that pleases and invigorates. He is a multi-talented guitarist and would be just as adept at laying down some scuzzy, dirty electric riffs as he is with painting riparian delights. Similarly he is a skilled pianist and composer, and could do conjure orchestral majesty into songs as well. Marc and Abi need to remain, as the two of them combined, can create an enormous fan-base, and win a lot of support. Whether they have an E.P. in their minds or not, there will be a huge demand. If Marc also decides to pursue a solo career, it will also be met with high expectations and back orders. It is an exciting and promising next few years ahead, that makes me wonder what moves he will make next. Whether there is going to be any hard or heavy rock gems; snaking blues monsters, or caressing acoustic kisses. It is all up to him, but I for one, am keen to spread the word. With comparatively few followers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, when matched against many local- and inferior- music acts, he deserves a lot more attention, and for people to hear all he has done with, and without Abi. There will be record labels beating a path to his door, as well as a vast amount of options. It is the early days and the formative years that provide greatest insight and unexpectedness. I am keen to see…

 

… what moves Marc makes next.

 

 

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Official:

http://www.marcotway.co.uk/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/marcmischief

Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Marc-Otway-Musician/180949738624931?fref=ts

MySpace:

http://www.myspace.com/marcotway

YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/marcmischief?annotation_id=annotation_696967&feature=iv&src_vid=ovYn5zs6Uxk