Alcatraz is available at:
4th November, 2016
EACH time I encounter a new band, one of the first things I do…
is give them a good going-over. The clothes are ruffled and the hair inspected; the boots investigated and a quick interview conducted – checking whether the group is genuine and worth further regard. That might sound like I’m part of the judging panel at Crufts: I mean it metaphorically, you’ll appreciate. I have revealed my scepticism with regards bands in recent posts. I feel too many are proffered to Messiah-like heights after a song or two – critics vacillating and drooling without any good reason to. It is no coincidence the finest albums of this year – bar a couple here and there – have been created by solo artists – many of them already established and proven. I adore bands and feel they are the bedrock of the music industry. The trouble with the modern age is the pressure and expectation put on young shoulders. It is the fault of the media – myself to an extent – we celebrate and give acclaim to bands – hoping they will keep the quality high and provide originality and longevity. Before I go on to look at – common themes for me – original and different shades of Rock; Yorkshire coming back into prominence and the way to gain acclaim – it is worth continuing my point. I am not sure what has happened with the modern scene but the public see-saw has tipped the way of solo artists. Whether the band seat is too emaciated and slight; the solo side fatted and succulently full – I am not really sure. What I DO know is new bands are struggling harder to gain less acclaim. There was a time, after the explosion of Britpop and bands like Oasis, where you heard nothing but new bands come through. Right up until a couple of years ago, there was a heavy prevalence and focus on groups. Sorry to resurrect this discussion point but is an equation that has yet to be allocated a solution. I guess the mainstream directly correlates to, and inherently influences, the underground. If there is a bumper crop of mainstream groups flexing their muscles: new bands will find confidence and motivation; critics and the press will be more receptive and attune to the latest bands emerging? The last couple of years has been a bit slow for great band-made albums. It has been a while since mainstays like Foo Fighters have released material and answer me this: how many albums of this year – that were created by bands – spring to mind? Hmmm. It is a difficult one and I can only really name a couple, to be brutally honest.
I feel solo artists and duos are becoming more prominent and, as a direct result, attention is focusing their ways. The-next-big-thing-type bands like Blossoms fell short of the mark; Hooton Tennis Club’s latest album did not get the celebration it deserves – the solo star has been enjoying the choice picks from the critical banquet table. Against the (seeming) tsunami and slagheap of glass-half-empty philosophy and cloudy optimism – I am actually quite hopeful of the underground. The reason I bring up this point, about bands being under-valued, is not because of numbers but quality. There are hordes of groups out there but so many merge into one another – an indeterminate, beige sludge of copycat anti-rebels; the sort of lemonade variety that creates a short-term buzz but leaves little to no aftertaste. Those groups that dare to be different – to put their own personalities and vision into music – and those that succeed and rectify the imbalance we are seeing. Maybe the answer is as simple as that: bands are struggling because there are not that many standing out front. It is a rather cynical world-view but some truth remains. Fortunately – otherwise this review would be hyper-awkward – my featured artists are not only pretty special but have a sound that is all theirs. Sure, there are some influences embroidered onto the sleeves, but, on the whole, there is native energy and inspiration from boys who owe a debt to nobody. Before I carry on my point, and invariably raise a few new, let me bring the band to your attention:
“The energetic four-piece has been blowing away audiences the length and breadth of the UK playing multiple O2 Academy tours, headlining Club NME at KOKO in London and performing at a multitude of festivals including both Reading and Leeds, Dot to Dot, Live at Leeds, The Great Escape (BBC Introducing Stage) amongst others.
The band has also received previous support from the likes of Huw Stephens (BBC Radio 1), Dermot O’Leary (BBC Radio 2), Steve Lamacq (BBC 6 Music), Radio X, Gigslutz, Indie Current and got to Nr. 1 on the Hype Machine Twitter Charts”
Before I look at keys to success, the variations within Rock and the future for King No-One – it is back to the distinct and varied landscapes of Yorkshire. Last time out, when looking at a Yorkshire-based band, I was crestfallen and scarlet at the lack of search engine information. Not on the band for themselves but contemporaries emerging from Leeds – one of music’s most fertile locales and a veritable carnival of colourful and exceptional musicians. It has left me a bit jaded but, luckily, when it comes to the city of York, there is more information and support online. The King No-One boys, like fellow Yorkshire bands, prove what a huge and vital county it is. If one considers York’s bygone/established bands, there are plenty of options. Shed Seven and The Seahorses call/called York home – as do relative newcomers like Glamour of the Kill and Asking Alexandria. It is the new and hopeful crop of York bands that are getting critics excited – King No-One sit right near the top. If one evaluates their local peers: there are so many different types of bands to get the teeth into. Louder than War – http://louderthanwar.com/top-ten-york-bands/ – gave their review of the York-based bands that will be making waves this/next year. Whilst there are so many wonderful musicians coming out of York; there are so few magazines and websites collating the best and brightest (I wonder why this is?!). The Carnival Rejects are a Hardcore-Punk outfit of immense magnitude and magnetic allure – a live act that has overwhelmed and exhausted plenty of people. Naked Six, by contrasting virtue, provide a more settled, sentient sound – Blues-cum-Rock blends that have been compared to Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. If that is enough to get the mouth watering; consider the noisy clatter of long-time York legends, Soma Crew. Drone-laden and hypnotic: the band are rightfully considered one of the finest bands playing around York. Surf Sluts – one does not envisage a Jazz-rock trio when reading that name – combines Surf-Rock sunshine with the pint-of-beer-down-the-pants kick of Proto-Punk. That California-meets-Castleford paramour would seem inorganic and ill-fitting in lesser hands – the fact Surfer Sluts have been playing since 1999 shows just how masterful and assured they are. Fat Spatula – again: can’t fault that name! – effortlessly splice Post-Punk and Garage shades; laid-back but urgency and embracing. They are another live fixture around the city and have been tipped as mainstays of the future. Sam Forrest Band, with his Silverchair-sounding charm and skill, has melancholia but plenty of hopefulness and beauty. One of those slow-release bombs of music that has already impressed York locals – someone who has the ammunition and musicianship to resonate with a much wider thoroughfare.
York is a city that is synonymous with its musical diversity: King No-One have the energy and raw vibrancy of their Punk comrades but offers spades of light, space and flavour – teasing sweetness and kick together with love and world-weariness. Previous cuts have looked at the realities of relationships and bonds; the power play that occurs behind bedroom walls – they have familiarity to add unique insight into well-worn subjects. Not only have King No-One created excitement in York: they have managed to make their way to the privileged earlobes of radio’s biggest tastemakers. I’ll come to looking at Indie-Rock and its true meaning but, with the King No-One band in the spotlight, it is worth applauding their success. The regal anonymity of the name seems ironic juxtaposed against the popularity accrued so far. As you can see from the band’s scant biography: they have caught the ear of national radio and lauded by some of this country’s most influential publications. Not only are they familiar with O2 Academy tours and played across the capital’s finest venues – B.B.C. D.J.s like Huw Stephens, Dermott O’Leary and Steve Lamacq have nodded to the boys covering the wide-ranging demographics of Radios 1, 2 and ‘6 (Music). The grand young dukes of York have climbed the musical ladder not because of good looks (they are fine-looking chaps, mind), hype machines and chart-fodder sounds – they have got there because of a diligent, smart work ethic; brain-buzzing, heart-nourishing sounds and a chemistry that feeds into their studio and live performances.
I have, in the last few reviews, lambasted acts that neglect their social media pages and provide scant information for the new follower – I shall overlook King No-One on this occasion. While they have a few good photos up: it would be nice learning more about the individual members and how they formed; where they are heading and who influences them. It is a malady of many new acts: they are unwilling to reveal too much and overlook areas such as personal facts and fleshy biography. It is rather naïve in an industry where many musicians enjoy such short and stagnated careers. I hope they get their acts together and not only put more thought into this side of things – they are at the stage where they should have a more informative and information-heavy official website up. I know the band have their hands full and already done sterling work so far – they can find many more fans were they to expend some time towards these demands. If one were to explain the reason King No-One have got into the mindset of the nation’s radio mega-titans – it is because of their songs and how fresh they sound. In a year where there has been music tragedy and a cessation of fine (mainstream) bands – no wonder the York clan have such a following.
The guys call themselves ‘Indie-Rock’ but I feel that is more to do with tradition than truth. Many would assume – when faced with a band like King No-One – they are an Indie-Rock group. The trouble is, when we hear those words, there is a clear viewpoint of what sounds one can expect. Too many new Indie-Rock bands are stale, generic and stadium-lusting. Too many needlessly big choruses and little in the way of subtlety, depth and intelligence. I shall not name particular bands but there have been plenty of culpable participants – not just in the mainstream but new acts emerging. I feel King No-One bring genres like Alternative, Pop and Blues into their work. I feel we need to stop freely labelling musicians and pigeon-holing them. The risks run are tantamount to career homicide. If you define artists like King No-One as purely Indie-Rock, then many will have clear-set opinions and may pass them by. Whether this transgression is down to their label/the band themselves, I am not too sure. It would do them a disservice by narrowing their sound. King No-One, like some of their city-mate bands I mentioned earlier, combine myriad elements into something bursting with emotion, excitement and nuance. The boys have that instantaneousness and vibrancy but are equipped with maturity and experienced hearts; imaginative songbooks and a brotherly bond. I am unsure how you would define their music: it is exceptional and authoritative, however you look at it. Serendipity and fluke are not the reasons King No-One have reached the W1A postcode and the discerning ears of Lamacq.
PHOTO CREDIT: SODIUM
It has been an interesting career for King No-One over the past few months. If one looks at previous tracks from the band: you will see a development and rise from their earliest work to now. Alcatraz is the finest and most immediate song from the group. They are hitting their stride and really creating mainstream-worthy music. Say My Name – not the Destiny’s Child song – is a Reggae-influenced track that swaggers and moves about. It is a loose and nimble jam that bounces with energy and glee. The chorus is big and gets inside the brain. The hero’s vocals are stylish, emotional and memorable: hovering and holding words and delivering them with maximum consideration and skill. You get little hints of The Libertines’ Carl Barat. There is a bit of drool and that rasp but one hears a singer truly unique and determined; resonating in the senses. The origins and truth of the song leave you speculating: maybe regarding relationships and imbalance or something less personal. Say My Name will have each listener with their own views and taking something new away. Halo is one of their most recent songs and begins with rush and freshness. Like Say My Name, the song has a blend of Indie, Alternative and Reggae but is lighter than and not as bold as its predecessor. It is a track clearer and more decipherable than Say My Name. The vocals are more intelligible and the hero sees a girl wandering from the block; gun in hand, his feelings are being kept in. At the very first stages, you are curious and start to imagine the scenes unfolding. It is the energy and fun the band brings to the song that stays with you. The high-pitched, chorused backing vocals add to the foreground and elicit summer and sunshine. The lyrics look at regret and mess being made; fun had along the way and curious players. You wonder whether it is two lovers going through the motions and succumbing to the moment and being reckless. It is a fascinating song and one you immerse yourself in. Such is the strength of performance and shine of the song it is impossible to ignore. Halo improves from the band’s earliest work and is the most accessible and nuanced track they have come up with. Alcatraz adds to that and shows a band that are really creating original music and proving they are ready for the big leagues.
Those unfamiliar with King No-One are led in rather wonderfully. You do not need to familiar with their back catalogue to get a grip of what they are about. The hero is watching seasons pass “on the floor” and determined to be at the girl’s door – five years down the time he will be there. The opening notes of the song are funky, divine and spirited. If the band calls themselves Alternative-Rock or Indie, they are doing themselves a disservice. King No-One creates another exhilarating, exceptional and memorable. The bass bounces, springs and pirouettes whilst the band comes into the frame with alacrity and commitment. The percussion, subtle at this point, adds needed crackle and kick whereas the guitars shimmer and skim with lustrousness and adore. Like other songs from the Bristol band; you are never 100% sure what the song refers to and its true origins. The lyrics are more original and literary than most and do not go for easy clichés and stereotyped expressions. In the initial verse, I feel a love story is unfolding and being documented. The boy is pining for the girl and knows he will be thinking of her years down the line. The hero’s heart is in Alcatraz and he is feeling imprisoned and repressed by a feeling. Whether it is as simple as heartache and not being able to keep the girl – you start to speculate and conspire. The bass continues to pine and appeal; it does a lot of the work and projects an audible tension and heartbeat.
The rest of the band create something colourful and detailed around the vocals – different tones and pitches give the song a rounded and deep sound; one that brings different things from the lyrics. It is those lyrics that provoke the strongest reaction. Once again, the vocal performance mixes theatricality and heartfelt supplication. The words, at times, are held and elongated; others they are studied and precise. At every stage, the maximum degree of emotion is wrung from the song. It might be a ‘harsh’ thing to say – depending on your T.V. viewing decisions – but Alcatraz is a song that could score a scene from Made in Chelsea. I am culpable of watching the show – it has that addictive, voyeuristic pull – and I can see the song sound-tracking a scene from the show. Not only does it have commercial appeal but it is resolutely the sound of a group unlike any other. As the lines and song unfold, there is more clarity and direction. The hero’s heart is in a penitentiary and desirous of liberation. Maybe the girl has cast her spell and caused a lot of love to stir – that has been revoked and the fall-out is causing pain and regret. Maybe I am short-sighted, but I feel a man who is in turmoil and holding back his true emotions. Perhaps too painful to unleash the myriad anger in his soul – keeping it all down in case the breaking dam breaks him.
The track never relents its compositional bonhomie and perseverance. The electric notes have a child-like lack of discipline and lace the song with high-pitched fuses and delirious twirling. King No-One are a band who do not create sombre and black-velvet expressions; they always keep things light and above the water. They could easily fit alongside many of their finest contemporaries – you get embers of The 1975 and their latest album – and can make heartache and loss sound fresh and exciting. I was trying to dig to the core of the song and just what surrounds its inspiration. Maybe there has been a fight or the two have broken up years ago. There is that sense of being held back and not being able to reclaim that pure love. The listener is always committed to investigating the words and drawing their own mind to the meaning. Maybe I am off the mark but don’t want to be corrected: every great song begs for a unique take. The composition is not straight-forward and has such detail and enigma. Even if the sound comes across simplistic and optimistic; you have to give it time and it will evoke different reactions and feelings the more you hear it. Bands that overlook the necessary for complexity will never have long-term regard. I was invested in the song throughout and fell for Alcatraz. Every element and layer of the song works wonderfully and gets into the head. Broken fairytales are being reviewed – our man’s heart is in Alcatraz – and it seems like his soul has been claimed – “You got me good”. Our lead is “slowly dying” and going through some perilous times. You never get the sense of someone who is giving up and looking back. There is that steely determination to get back what is his and not surrender the fight.
One-half of yourself is dancing and merry against the composition whilst the other stands still and unravels the words. You picture two lovers in different places and the scenes unfurling – again, there is a ‘Chelsea-esque sentiment and feel to the lyrics. Not to undermine and cheapen the quality and sincerity of the story: it has a very modern feel and will be relatable to many people. Those who prefer their music a little more intelligent and soulful will be able to enjoy a lot. Alcatraz has maturity and never succumbs to infantile blame and immaturity. You have a song that puts its heart out there and looks for answers – perhaps knowing that is never wholly possible. That desire to be set free is paramount of evident: you want to see the lead escape the rhapsody of pain and cast the shackles of hurt. The most emotive and striking moment comes with a late repeat of the chorus: the vocal holds and rises to the ceiling with huge force and passion. It is enough to catch you off guard and really hit the heart. That is followed by explosions of colour and energy as the band is not keen to settle too long in dark and murky waters. By the end, you have witnessed so much and heard a lot. It takes a while to settle in but (Alcatraz) is a song you keep coming back to for many different reasons – always hunting for the truth and obsessed by the true meaning of it.
I was due to review (previous single) Halo. The fact I am reviewing Alcatraz is because, A) I had other reviews to do first; making Halo a bit outdated and, B) Alcatraz is a sharper and more immediate song. I know the chaps are busy promoting their music and getting out there. They hail from York but are perfectly familiar with London and the venues down this way. Not only have their got their foot in the door but have strode in and making themselves at home. It is encouraging seeing a young band make in-roads so soon. The tight performances and everyman songs have struck a chord across the capital and ensured the band have a permanent home here. That bring me to a new point – before I circle back to my original discussions – concerning their next year and futures. I have reviewed a lot of artists that have enjoyed the same accolades – the B.B.C. C.V.s and rarified acclaim – but few have quite the same dynamic and artistry as King No-One. It is the sheer confidence and majesty the boys expend that put them above the hustling throng of modern bands. They have an enduring lack of pretension and the sort of band you can find down the pub – perhaps buy them a pint and swap stories and banter with. Alcatraz takes no prisoners but, rather appropriately, is very difficult to escape from. Nominal authenticity means the single imprisons you and bolts the door shut; puts barbed wire on the walls and German police dogs patrolling the parameters. Unlike the former high-security San Francisco jail: The British band incarcerate you in a perfectly focused and economical song that sets out to seduce and strike and does so ably. It follows on from Halo but does not repeat that song. Halo looks at the realities and daily commonality of relationships and the tribulations that are faced. Alcatraz does not repeat that theme, but instead, sticks to relationship parameters but explores different territory. Put those two songs back-to-back and you see consistency and evolution. Over the course of a short period of time – there are only a couple of months between the releases of both – King No-One have crafted too essential, if different, songs that burrow into the hindbrain and evoke all manner of positive expressions and passionate smiles.
It gets me thinking about 2017 and how King No-One slot into the agenda. It would be great to hear an E.P. from them – no sure whether one has been mooted for next year – but one imagines it will not be too long. Such is the momentum and backing behind them: many will yearn to get a hold of a new E.P. from the lads. I can see Halo and Alcatraz being a swift one-two that kicks proceedings off with recognisable songs and plenty of energy – maybe mutating to two numbers more level-headed and emotional. The exact details and musical specifications will be known to the band but I am excited to see where they go. Alcatraz proves the band can live up to expectations and deliver a song of the highest order. Ignoring my gallows humour and pun-laden (attempts at) wit: the song is a solid and impressive release that stands above the multitude of rather average songs heard this year. What King No-One do is provide music one can escape to but immersive themselves in. I have speculated where the band might head and how they will grow into 2017. I predict they will have a successful next year and build their fanbase in this country. Take that further and the guys have the potential to cross into Europe and claim some territory there; maybe a stint in the U.S. and a chance to get their name heard there – that will be a big coup if they can get out there. In terms of the music they are making now: it is their most impressive and tight; sounds that have won the hearts of D.J.s and stations (and the wider world).
Before I close things down, I want to circle back to York-based music and band resurgence/state – a little bit of an ass-kicking repeat – and a bit about Rock/Indie-Rock. The venture capitalists of Indie-Rock: the York boys are providing hope and energy in a market that is lacking in consistent quality and sustainability. I know media eyes are predominantly focused towards London but York is an area that cannot be overlooked. If you think about the bands making waves in the city (above) it is clear there are some big acts playing there – just waiting to get their break and ascend to the mainstream. The city is among the country’s most upcoming and fascinating (in terms of new music) and should be heralded. Yorkshire is a county that continues to provide wonderful, interesting and original music. The creative juices flowing through York are starting to capture the imaginations of the press and King No-One are a band emphasising just what York is capable of. Not all cities/towns of Britain have active music scenes but York is an exception.
I am not sure whether King No-One are going to remain in York or whether they are moving down to London – they seem to have the best of both worlds at the moment. I have been a little critical – over the course of some reviews – about the Indie-Rock market and what is out there. If you look hard enough there are plenty of acts providing credibility and depth to the genre – still enough bands really not hitting the standard required. Sure, the overall quality has dipped over the past few years – solo artists coming up strong – but that is not to say Rock/Indie is dead – far from it. What we have are bands/acts mutating and evolving what we consider to be ‘Indie-Rock’. More Pop/Electronic elements are being introduced and the subject matters are changing – less about defiance and celebration; more concerned with relations and love. There was a time (in the 1990s and early-‘00s) when a more jubilant, optimistic mood pervaded – that is not quite as evident in 2016. Given the way things have changed, many have simply written off Indie-Rock and some bands are being irrelevant and weak. King No-One are ensuring such easy prejudices are left where they should be: their music elevates and motivates; gets people involved and happy. I hope the lads work on their official website and get their social media in order – more information and photos for journalists; a better range of options for new fans. Their music does a lot of the talking but it would be good to hear them do some, too. I’ll leave them be but end by congratulating the band on a solid and sharp song: another typically assured and insightful song that is impossible to throw off. Let King No-One into your life and…
WATCH them soar throughout 2017.
Follow King No-One