Out Of The Black.
Out Of The Black is available at:
These princes of Brighton have noble D.N.A. indeed. Their heady and exhilarating raw blend serve up a tantalising sound that is hard to resist.
IT may have been down to the fact that this year has been a bit inclement…
in terms of new music, or maybe something else. There has been a malaise and disquiet that has weighed my mind down, and caused me to become somewhat introverted. Let me qualify for you. Over the course of 2013 I have witnessed and experienced some exciting and plaudit-worthy new musicians come through the miasmic fog of the music industry. The colour chart of originality has been dominated by grey and beige shades, and there has not been a whole lot to by inspired by. Over the courses and pages of my blog, I have examined and celebrated some great new acts, from the likes of Universal Thee, Issimo- as well as some fantastic solo artists. Each time I have sat down to review a new act, I have always scrutinised them in the context of the current scene: harking back- possibly unfairly- to a ‘better age’ of music, and seeing how they shape up by comparison. For those inoculated to my brand of high octane drooling, will attest that I have droned on about one particular (musical) decade: the 1990s. I was a six-year-old when the decade began, yet hade indelible imprints stamped into my mind, thanks to the hypnotic and overwhelming banquet that was being offered up. I have always felt that that decade (the ’90s) was the last example of when everything perfectly fell into line: the range and quality of genres and artists galvanised public consciousness and offered something mesmeric. From the extraordinary- but perhaps comparatively innocent- style of dance music, we also witnessed the birth of Britpop. Great new bands came and played; tugged at the heartstring and campaigned robustly. The definition of ‘mainstream’ was not seen in cloudy or sybaritic terms: there was something for everyone with little filler along the way. By the time the new millennium hooved into view, your music lover (as well as casual listener) had been enriched and cultivated by a strange and rare phenomenon: a musical decade that provided little to loathe. I am not an embittered and belligerent old man (although I sometimes feel so), but my point has meaning. I am not saying that we cannot recreate any essence of what the ’90s offered- that would be incongruous. It is likely that we will never see the sheer explosion and spectrum of quality of those years, yet that is no reason to bridle. My concern has always been that the talent out there are not looking too firmly into the distance. Some of the new acts local to me have been campaigning and striking hard to realise their musical dreams, yet I see a wider fatigue in the industry. Ambition seems to have stifled somewhat, and the past eleven months have offered up some greatness- although not nearly enough. I don’t know. I have adored a couple of choice offering from some established acts this year (I won’t bore you with the details)- which has given me inspiration as a song writing. When I go to delve into the capacious melting pot of new music, I am often left empty-handed. Social media and a wider network has meant that getting music out is easier than it has ever been. The flipside is that the sheer quantity has meant that finding quality is harder than ever. That is my abiding point. As the years have progressed, the market has filled and swollen: it has meant that some truly great artists have been suffocated amongst the surge. My reticence and reservation has been firmly set over the last few months or so. It has been solidified by the rise and unabated evolution of twee and faux music stars such as Miley Cyrus: artists such as her have stolen too many headlines and shifted focus away from the truly worthy. Sounds and originality have mutually exclusively capitulated transversely; offering brief sparks but essentially imploding. I can sympathise whole-heartedly with the new musician. There are many whom want to make a genuine mark and ensure that they provide influence and leadership. It is still the case that there are still too many acts that are here for the fun: little regard or mind is provided towards doing anything worthwhile. If you accept that a surging population growth will distil genuine quality and consistency ever more, then the question is this: how do you detect the minority of nebulas and hope-bearers? I have alluded to social media, yet there is a double-edged sword at work. The benefits are only evident if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. If you happen to share the words and work of a particular artist; in turn that is spread further and wide, then you often miss out. Too many people are reluctant to connect with one another. This marries to a self-absorption of many to shy away from spreading music beyond their own grasps and ears. What we are left with is a huge potential network, that is compartmentalised and drip-fed. The way I have detected and discovered great new music is thus: talking to real people. It was by talking with like-minded folks that I have discovered some truly terrific new music. Essentially everything I have reviewed over the last year has come about and originated from discussions with music-loving peers. That has compelled me to concentrate my time to disseminating the work and wonder of (worthy) new music. I hope that technological development and focus will find a way of funnelling great music to the collective masses, but for now it seems that you still have to search (too) hard. Over the past few weeks I have examined some great bands from further north, such as Issimo and Universal Thee. Southern beauties such as Lydia Baylis, Elena Ramona and Chess have excited my mind. Great bands such as Crystal Seagulls have been doing great work, and pioneers such as Nightwolf have been enflaming the senses. In all of my reviews I have focused on three distinct themes: location, value and originality. It seems that the majority of my focused-upon stars have been based north of London. The subjects for today’s review have bucked the trend. I will explain more about our Brighton duo, whom have made strides at putting the south coast on the musical map. Being a southern boy, I am always keen to promote any local artists, as I feel the north (as well as Scotland) have been making all the best moves (as-of-late). When we consider value, it is important to look in terms of how memorable a band or song is; how besotted or alive you after hearing them; how long their legacy will last. I have often highly-praised a new musician, only to become weary or disappointed upon further listens. Originality has been a big issue for me as well. Few whom I have had the pleasure to review have been truly original. Most new music employs some very familiar strands. A great deal of those I have investigated have reminded me strongly of past (or current) artists. I feel if the three subjects are expertly dealt with and a balance is perfectly struck, then that is enough to grab your attention- and keep it for a very long time. When it comes to my subjects, I feel that in them, this has been achieved. I only encountered their majesty a couple of weeks ago, yet have been compelled to share their music further. The boys are been hotly tipped for greatness over the next year, and on the evidence of Out Of The Black, they are not false prophets.
They are probably going to unfamiliar to many (if any) reading this. I will go into more about why this is, but it is the unique nature of social media that has lead to a delay with regards to realisation. In spite of any ignorance or lack of awareness, it seems that the music media have firmly grabbed onto the two-piece. Paul Lester in The Guardian featured the band as one of his ones to watch. Lester was keen to promote how potent the lads are, with just vocals, drums and strings at their disposal. They are no replicates of Black Keys or Arctic Monkeys: there are echoes of Led Zeppelin as well as some of the gods of ’60s and ’70s music. Lester went onto say that there are no real limits to what the band can achieve, with regards to their own sound, as well as their festival potential. Over in The Independent, lofty adjectives has been put their way. In their summation of the coming year, they have ranked the lads as one of their ‘Ones To Watch’. This all arrives vicariously from BBC’s poll, and their estimation of who will be storming the music world in the coming year. I have always found their ‘Sounds of…’ list to be somewhat variable- in terms of the quality and potential. Over the years the likes of Jessie J. have been included amongst the ranks- who can genuinely say they feel anything but nausea when it comes to her? However, there have been some genuinely good names on the lists, and it seems that Royal Blood are worthy include-ees. It has been the case (recently) that stations such as XFM and Absolute Radio have been the bastions of championing guitar bands- it seems that the more mainstream stations have been remiss. Radio One has been criticised for focusing their minds away from where it needs to be- they have been letting the ball drop as it were. It is hoped that the new year will see a re-appropriation and rethink amongst the commercial masses. If the likes of Radio One spin music by Royal Blood, then it will bring them to a new audience, and will go some way to raising awareness of genuinely fantastic music out in the ether. The two-piece band may be a formula that has been tried, tested and exhausted. I feel that the four of five-piece configuration is over-used, whereas the old adage of ‘strength in numbers’ seems less relevant when applied to our Brighton heroes. If the likes of The White Stripes (as well as Brighton folk Blood Red Shoes) have shown, is that two can be as potent as four. The White Stripes especially demonstrated what focus and concision can do with regards to their output. The somewhat militaristic approach adopted by leader Jack White compounded and confounded preconceived expectations and stunned the music world in the early ’00s. Since then there have been a range of garage and rock bands that have plumped for the two-piece structure- finding it beneficial when distilling their essence and reducing membership. Of course a duo requires a great deal of kinship and friendship. It seems that there is a fraternal bond between Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher. In our paradigm of Detroit husband-and-wife-brother-and-sister paragons, Mike is our Jack: the voice and bass are his. The drums are Ben’s territory. Of course it would be short-sighted to instantly compare the Brighton duo to the now-defunct Michigan pair. There is much more of an equal foothold within the band: each makes an equal mark on surroundings. The bearded duo as well strike you not only as men you would not mess with, by a ubiquitous duo that have a universal appeal. They are not bound by uniformity and rigidity: casual clothing and an all-encompassing charm mandate their coda. The two-piece are adept at instilling a sense of triumph as well as excitement into their music- as well as a raw sexuality as well. If you are still unfamiliar or lost with regards to our subjects, then let me shed a little light. The simpatico between the ersatz brothers seems to be a key component to their alchemy. Each musical component extends and augments the music: listen carefully to what Thatcher does in the background in order to bolster Kerr. Although a lot of wordplay has been exhausted towards the shores of Jack and Meg, it is also prudent to note that U.S. idols such as Pixies, Guns ‘N Roses and R.A.T.M. are also detectable- as well as home-grown idols such as Arctic Monkeys. As much as it is important to try to link musicians to a common thread and comparable shoreline, it also quite discrediting too. Far too many music journalist are keen to tie bands and solo artists to an existing example: determined that that is the only way they are relevant; as thought that is a panacea of self-fulfilment. Let me think way outside of the box here. The boys from Brighton have nuances of America and are clearly influenced by the inter-generational and inter-denominational sounds that have emanated from here, yet are very much a band of the U.K. The boys do not want to be directly lumped in with another band as they are very much their own men. Their music is direct and primal on the one hand; complex and multi-layered the next. As I say, the lads have an everyman identity and look to them; they are poster boys for the 21st century music lover: those whom want to negate and dispense with image obsession, yet want to adore musicians they can relate to. I have been hearing some fond whispers near my way (Surrey): it seems that the vibrations are travelling steady north. In the same way as Bradford duo Issimo have been sowing their seeds to the south, Royal Blood look dead-set to be residents amongst the London scene (over 2014). In the sense that they have a transatlantic and international sound, it would be no surprise to hear them taking to the highways of the west coast of the U.S.; the busy cities of the east coast and the charming and curious bars around Sydney and Melbourne. In an industry where relatability and focus as cachets that are gilded and sought-after, it is only right that their hard work is rewarded. Before I get on to the song itself, I shall talk about their social media demographic. Over on Facebook (at the time of this review), they have 6,387 ‘Likes’; as well, they have no sense of vainglorious boasting: their page is a awash with encapsulating imagery and down-to-earth narration. There are status updates talking of recent interviews with Steve Lamacq- as well as ones promoting a Brighton-based tattoo artist. On Twitter they have 1,945 ‘Followers’ and have amassed a great deal of loyal support. I am predicting the next year will see their fan army rise considerably, and it is hoped that they can lay siege to the plastic pop muppetry; raise their swords and slay the ineptitude of a large swathe of the music industry. If any band are likely to do so, then it is Royal Blood. Their name literally beckons imagery of variable tableaux: war, prestige, musical illuminate as well as rebellion. You can hear the influences in their songs, but you can hear the originality and intention: they want to be around for a very, very long time. As much as I have been excited and in awe of mainstays such as Queens of the Stone Age and The National this year, there have been some new musical expresses that have derailed my cynicism; given my food for thought, and given my a sense of hope. As a (fellow) songwriter it is always inspiring to be inspired, and Royal Blood provide just that: Out Of The Black is a blissful representation of just how big these boys will become…
There is no room to breathe in the opening gambits of Out Of The Black. Peppered and pulsating drum beats are thrown up front, electrifying and mood-setting. The intro. has all the hallmarks of a classic- Back In Black, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Smoke On The Water- as it creates a heightened sense of intrigue and momentum. There is an electronic shudder and stutter; it moulds and spars with the percussive slam and the combination is a mesmeric one. One cannot help but be reminded of Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine. There is that same fists aloft, f*** you mentality about it. It implores you to dig deep and shout loud. In its exploration and build-up the introduction baits and switches, it punches and retreats and has sonically-speaking is a fighter on tip-toes- bouncing and entering the ring, eyes staring straight. Once the Ruy Lopez opening has commenced, we settled down into the song. Initial words paint vivid imagery: “Out Of The Black/It broke your skin…”, our hero crepuscular and tempestuous. Kerr’s voice is dark but not divisive: it contains a pleasing soothe to it, just has the right amount of menace and conviction. When the initial parables are delivered, with words like “Every part of you” repeated- ensuring that the message is drilled into the skull and soul. Before the 0:45 mark, we are back under the wheels of a sonic assault. Kerr and Thatcher strut and shoulder barge. Again the twanging gravity of the foreground sucks you in, as the drilled and hailstorm drumbeat completes the seduction. Before you can settle in and dissect the weight of the composition, Kerr returns to the mic., spitting “You made a fool out of me!”. Whomever the unnamed sweetheart is that has caused such derision, is being given a stern lecture. As Kerr rebukes, slams and waxes lyrical, he talks of having his skin taken “off of my back“. Imagery is very much at the forefront, and the evocativeness of the lyrics twinned with the rolling ball audio spikes your attention. There are similarities one can draw to California’s R.A.T.M.: a similar vein of quality can be tied to the band’s 1992 debut. Perturbation swings and wallows as Kerr wraps his tongue around his teeth as he mandates: “Don’t breathe when I’m talking/Because you haven’t been spoken to!”. Evisceration and exhortation are prescient. There are demons and anger at the surface which come to the forefront with rambunctious clarity. I know that Arctic Monkeys are a fan of the band, and perhaps some of Alex Turner’s drawl and croon can be heard in Kerr’s enunciations. Unlike the Sheffield boys, Royal Blood mix ’90s west coast U.S.A. with smatterings of ’80s and ’90s U.S. grunge and metal. Our hero has a “gun for a mouth“: evident and apparent as he puts the world to rights. Thatcher is elementary in creating a force majeure– his drumming not only strong-arms the song’s sway, but also emphasises the vocals and bass. It is rare for a band with such a heavy (metal) heart to have talent for nuance. Most similar bands just go for an aural torpedo: throwing as much noise into the atmosphere in the hope of winning you over with violence. Instead, Royal Blood carefully structure the composition so that each note and line are given maximum weight- and repeated listens pay testament to that statement. The stockpiled inner tension is restrung and swung as Kerr continues his sermonising. At around 1:08 he steps back from the mic. again, as another musical rattlesnake is released into the streets. This time the guitar is more frantic. It grabs you by the throat and launches a flurry of gut punches; the percussive wingman stands by loyally, ensuring that justice is meated-out. It is not long before vocals are back in the spotlight, as Kerr re-examines and launches his stinging attack. The beauty of the track is that no one facet is allowed too much time to fester and stagnate. Vocal lines are sharp and short: they retreat and allow a sonic whirlwind, before Kerr steps back up. In this manner the track has a constant gravity as well as disjointing intoxication to it. Just after the halfway mark, the potency and tattoos of the introduction are in your face again; resetting your emotions and preparing you for another thrill ride. The boys intertwine and integrate electronic and percussive lines together, bolstering the overall sound and pulling your focus and brain in different directions. In the twilight stages lyrics are repeated. The ideas and images that struck hard in the first half are reintroduced: making sure that the message is not forgotten and that brevity is synonymous. There is no need for wasted words and a lack of economy: Kerr’s words are direct and chiselled. Whether the inspiration for the track lies in fiction or reality it is hard to know, yet there is clearly a lot of resentment and frustration. As the remaining 30 seconds tick-and-tock there is a final sonic blast. Thatcher keeps his muscular slam consistent, as Kerr’s guitar work batters and kicks- with hobnail boots. With a closing trip, pummel and retreat the song comes to an end, and we are giving the chance to breathe (and reflect).
There is a hell of a lot to recommend about Our Of The Black. As well as the clever wordplay of the song’s title, the lyrics are memorable and concise. A lot of bands that pervade and trade blues and metal tend to be lacking in any intelligence or sophistication. Their lyrics often drag their knuckles and employ profanity- assuming that their average listener wants to be enraged and assaulted. Royal Blood employ enough conviction and anger, yet it is done so with regard to all strands of the market. Inventive and original is their sound, and their music begs for repeated listens. In the way that tracks off of …Like Clockwork had their instant-classics as well as slow burners; here the song has an instantaneous impact, yet reveals its true dynamic after half a dozen listens or so. I have often criticised bands for lacking any clarity when it comes to vocals. The kids do like to mutter, stutter and drawl, so that you can’t understand a damn word they say. In addition under or over-production tends to force sound and guitar noise above the vocal: so that the frontman/woman is buried in the avalanche. Here Royal Blood consider the listener. Not only are the twin pillars of the participants passionately spliced- so that equal weight is given- but the vocals are clear and concise. You can hear what Kerr is saying; impressive as I imagine the studio take would have been epitomised by a ferocious and hard-hitting vocal turn. The track may not convert those whom prefer their music softer and more subtle, but it will recruit a host of undecided voters and fence-sitters. In addition, those affiliated with metal, grunge, rock and punk will find much to recommend here. As well as encompassing some embers of ’80s and ’90s legends such as R.A.T.M. and Pixies, there is a fresh and vibrant buzz to the music, which is contemporary and urgent. I know, alas, I have somewhat ‘rambled’ with regards to ‘new music’. I apologise. Being besotted by the legacy that has gone before, I am intuitively predetermined to seek out golden progeny. As much as I am convinced that the ’90s will never been revisited- in terms of the quality and sensations that were offered up- I am not completely resigned to pessimism. I feel that there is just a great deal of music out there. Of course, this can be a good thing: there is something for everyone essentially. There are just a couple of problems when it comes to the burgeoning open-door policy. For one thing you have to work a lot harder in order to identity and detect the best of the bunch. In addition, social media is rife with self-obsession and the facile. When it comes to sharing great music and promoting it to the masses, there are many kinks in the chain. Information is surreptitiously discovered; drip-fed fragments are offered up- there is a sense that most people are not concerned with new music as much as they are themselves. I may be coming at this from a subjective angle, but if bands like Royal Blood are to gain the market share that they richly deserve, then these ‘trends’ need to change. Music media is quick enough to idolise and drool with saccharine regard towards any new act that can write their own lyrics: often they are cut down with a fickle disregard shortly after. The responsibilities that new musicians are charged with is primarily to inspire and influence. Too much focus is paid towards retrograde and reminiscence. If we do not take flavours and colours from the present and integrate them into our consciousness, then there is a fear that music will slowly fade away. There has been enough on offer over the last year to suggest that the musical beaten track and highway can integrate to form an unbreakable infrastructure. It is probably apt that some established and recognised acts are getting plaudits and certification: it is the natural order. I am hoping that the current generation are quick and decisive when making their mark. Royal Blood have shown that a lack of pretence, ballast to a sturdy work ethic gets you to where you need to be- in an instant. They have been working hard for a long time, but have seen their stock rise considerably lately. Out Of The Black is just a morsel of what they can achieve. Black Mammoth Records have a prestigious band in their stables, and I am hoping that an E.P. or album is in the works. It is always exciting wondering what a future E.P. or L.P. will sound like, and what will be contained within. On the basis of the couple of tracks I have heard, I am in no doubt that it will be a triumph. It is important that Royal Blood take their time and plot their next moves carefully. They have the momentum and the backing of the music industry and fans alike, so a sense of expectation will be upon them. In Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher are two men who have the arsenal and mind-set to be as big as they want to be. The next year will, consequently, be jam-packed for them: festivals and touring is an imminent proposition. It is not only noteworthy that a home-grown act have put their town (as well as country) on the map, but they have created a sound and sensation that seems- strangely- foreign this year. Whilst the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane have provided a semblance of hard-hitting flair, there has been a shift towards the more introverted and sensitive songwriter. Artists such as James Blake (Mercury Prize winner no less) as well as Laura Marling and The National have gained focus; as well as some tender and heartfelt solo artists. It seems that the likes of Q.O.T.S.A and Arctic Monkeys have been in a minority. In that respect, Royal Blood have timed it perfectly. They are coming into an overcrowded market, but are entering with a sound that is sought-after, yet not vulgarly in vogue. As a- for want of a better term- ‘pissed off’ writer and music-lover, I have been waiting long for a sea change; biting my lip when presenting with another soulless cretin. Arise Royal Blood, survey the kingdom, and take the throne. They came, they saw, and they will surely conquer, surprisingly…
SOMEWHAT out of the blue!
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