TRACK REVIEW: Chaos Jigsaw – You Make It…

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Chaos Jigsaw

 

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You Make It…

 

9.6/10

 

 

 

You Make It… is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2reUOpulRK8

GENRES:
Rap; Hip-Hop

ORIGIN:

Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.

RELEASED:

2nd December, 2016

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THERE have been some terrific British sounds bouncing all over…

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the place this year. Whilst, in terms of critics’ choices of the year, the U.S. is gathering most of the attention: our home-grown acts are not to be overlooked and have made some terrific music in their own right. Most of my ‘job’ involves scouring the vastness of music’s landscape for the best and most nimble talent out there. A lot of great bands have come to mind; some terrific Folk-based artists and musicians you really can’t compare with anyone else. One of the things I have been looking for is a fantastic young Hip-Hop talent. I mention this based on the rise of great Grime and Rap acts putting this country firmly on the map. If the U.S. has been scoring a lot of the focus regarding this year’s best albums: Britain’s hungry street poets are among the most relevant and important voices in our midst. If you had to look at certain nations and sounds associated with them: many would not put the words ‘Hip-Hop’ and ‘Rap’ with ‘the U.K.’. That natural partnership has always been an American possession. We shine when it comes to Rock bands and some kick-ass Electro.-Pop acts; some of the best and brightest young songwriters you’ll hear. The Americans tend to corner the market with reference awesome Hip-Hop acts. This genre, when linked with Rap, has so many offcuts and sub-genres. There is the more granite-levelled spit of Grime – where the portrayers talk about the realities of the street and what it is like growing up in a twenty-first-century Britain. There is Trip-Hop – which was more prevalent and popular in the 1990s – and derived styles – including Breakbeat, Ghettotech and Rap-Rock. That final one links me to former Bi:Lingual frontman, Dylan Cartlidge. His solo venture, Chaos Jigsaw, teases together Rap and Hip-Hop but not as you’d expect. Not your average, contemporary version: what we are treated to is something much more rounded, unique and heartfelt. I know a lot of modern Hip-Hop splits its inspiration between personal issues and more wide-ranging societal concerns. I know Chaos Jigsaw’s creator has had a rough and eventful last few years – having to struggle against depression and doubts – and brings this into his music. That is not to say the songs are awash with depressive and anxious songs.

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What Chaos Jigsaw produces are songs that look at personal concerns and love but a lot more interesting and original than all that. You get some strange and fascinating characters; some wonderful storylines and quotes – a writer who does not follow a ‘norm.’ and tries to fit in with the mass of other artists out there. Being Hip-Hop/Rap-flavoured; you do have that swagger and intensity but plenty of discipline, melody and groove can be detected. Before I move onto other points, I wanted to look at artists starting out and things to consider. Cartlidge’s endeavour is not his first foray into music but it is a brand-new outfit. Departing and moving on from the band days – which I will address later – it is a bespoke, fascinating mixture of British and American Hip-Hop styles with that undercurrent of Funk, Rap and Rock. I know Chaos Jigsaw will want to expand, develop and grow as time elapses: get the music across the country and not just become confined to British audiences. You Make It…is not the first Chaos Jigsaw song but it is the first video. That is a scary and exciting prospect and one that has been greeted with a professional and memorable film. When arriving into music, as I have said in countless blogs, you have to consider all things and not assume others will do the work for you – or you can be a bit slack with some areas and not others. In terms of that first video, you have to create something true to the song but is not generic and uninspired. Bringing people into platforms like YouTube not only means the music is exposed to a lot more people but gives the music that crucial visual aspect and reality. You Make It…has a fine video and I will make sure to address that at an appropriate point. What I wanted to look at is the other visual aspects of new music. One of the biggest criticisms of artists in 2016 has been their lack of social media information, photos and official websites. Although Chaos Jigsaw is a newborn; there are thousands out there who will want to hear that music and discover everything on offer.

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Because of this, you have to make sure – as Chaos Jigsaw does – you have the spread and nourishment the consumer needs and demands. The music is hefty, authoritative and pure: the other, lesser elements have to be addressed. There is not a demarcation between the music and the peripheral aspects – or the neutron floating outside the proton and electron. Making sure your website and social media pages are proper and easy-to-navigate is crucial. This is the last time I shall whip this particular mule in 2016: it is something that every single artist needs to get right and keep pushing. If the Facebook/Twitter sites are kept updated, on-point and interesting then you are going to stand a much better chance of keeping fans and recruiting new ones. I have stopped following so many artists because they either fail to provide updates, and thus slip into obscurity, or they post too much asinine, trivial things – one of the most irksome and fury-inspiring things about social media. You have to have some biography and details: who your influences are and a brief timeline; where you came from and a bit about your sound. On top of that (there is quite a bit to get sorted) you need a selection of good photos. I see a lot of acts with a few, badly-shot live snaps and a few Smartphone-produced candids. It can be quite depressing having to struggle to put faces to names and letting the music itself fill all the gaps out. Chaos Jigsaw is one of the most promising and original artists I have heard, and knowing Cartlidge and how prolific he is, I will be looking closely to see whether these recommendations are fulfilled. The fact there are a few photos repeated around this review is no big deal but I know there are opportunities for Chaos Jigsaw to get some professional shots made, or, at the very least, some high-quality shots around Stoke-on-Trent/Birmingham – some location pictures or whatever suits the mood. Give the Facebook site some more information (personal insight and goals) and get an official website sorted out. The photo point is the first one to look at – then, make sure there is information and all the pertinent links included.

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Making sure you can quickly access the music-sharing platforms is paramount – without a new fan having to put it all into a search engine and having to do all the hard work. Lastly, and perhaps just as important, is making sure all the existing music is promoted and pushed; any forthcoming tracks and teased and mentioned. I bring this point up, not just to have another rant, but prepare the best and brightest for next year. We are just about to leap into 2017 – make it a rosier and less tragic one than what has just passed – and the horses will be bustling out the gates come 1st January. I think Chaos Jigsaw will get that nailed and go on to enjoy a lot of success in the industry. Not just because there is a definite niche for Hip-Hop and Rap but because of the type he provides. Traditionally, the genres are defined by a lot of aggression, sound and confidence. You do get more reflective, nuanced cuts but there is a certain image we all have when you mention this kind of music. Chaos Jigsaw has a lo-fi agenda which places bass funkiness and twang over hardcore beats and polished production. Things are stripped down and honest; imbued with a production sound that is D.I.Y. and uncomplicated. You get plenty of excitement and confidence but things, for the most part, are more restrained and controlled. It is not often you hear an artist that steps into a genre like Hip-Hop and give it such an inimitable spin. I have heard a few songs from Chaos Jigsaw and they are consistent in the fact the lyrics are intriguing and original – not addressing the themes you might imagine – and has that distinct production. The way the bass comes out front; the song has that homemade feel – it is exciting thinking just where that music can go and how it will change. Whether it does change is up to Cartlidge and how he envisions things going. I am really fascinated by Chaos Jigsaw and how the music makes you feel. When listening to it, you never hear any elements of anyone else. It is a rarity discovering an artist impossible to connect with any other. It is down to that special approach and dynamic: sounds that are going to inspire others and change (many musicians’) way of working.

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Before looking at Chaos Jigsaw’s past and present music; I have been thinking about former band leaders who have to embark on a new career on their own. I shall not bring up Bi:Lingual too much (although the split was, for the most part, quite amicable) only to use it as the springboard for my point. I have seen many bands break up over the year and that dilemma befalls its members: where do you go when your way of life ends? You can get comfortable in a group and feel it will last for many years to come. When things, for whatever reason, change you have to look around and come up with a Plan B. In that way, it is a musical divorce: separating from that former rock and having to rebuild your life. Cartlidge was frontman for the Rap-Rock/Hip-Hop band. Their music was defined by stunningly inventive, fast-flowing raps and modern poetry: songs that addressed important themes but did so in an intelligent, thought-provoking way. Whether the pitfalls and obsession of social media or humans that deserve a dressing-down: the band was masterful at highlighting these common grievances and bringing life and character to them. It was Cartlidge’s voice and delivery that made the songs what they were. His accent and passion; that ability to switch from angered to sly and witty – there are few leaders that have quite that range and ability. Like (fellow review subjects) The Bedroom Hour and Crystal Seagulls; the frontmen of each of those acts has managed to find new lease and life after the collapses. Rather than replicate Bi:Lingual, Cartlidge has taken the band’s best assets and put them into his solo venture. Being a one-man arsenal, it is impossible to project that same epic sound and primacy that his former colleagues created. Instead, you have a musician who retains that exceptional songwriting talent and sounds completely in control. There are no nerves and hesitations; he is not struggling to find balance and security. It is just a point I thought I’d raise. Many assume transitioning from a band to solo work (or another band) would be fraught and difficult. I am very pleased Chaos Jigsaw has been formed and already picking up new fans and eager listeners.

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There is a bit of Outkast in Strawberry Blonde’s Snip and its cool, casual delivery. The hero needs some time alone to figure out the riddles in his head. Our man feels old and is trying to come to terms with things and make sense of it all. Maybe the result of a relationship division or something inside of him: it is a curious tale that gets you guessing and a tune that will definitely lodge in the head. The percussion is quite heavy and consistent throughout. Never too dominant or clean: it is a punchy and hollow sound that gives the song plenty of smack, rouse and guts. The bass is assuredly catchy and proud. It has that elastic funkiness and is perfect backing for a vocal that ranges from achingly cool to cautious and vengeful. It is a performance that makes the song such a complete thing. The composition has its own life (as do lyrics and vocals) and a song you keep coming back to just to experience that incredible performance. The World Outside looks at the… well, world outside. It is a faster, more ‘traditional;’ Rap performance. Where Strawberry Blonde’s Snip was laid-back and two-toned: here, there is more emphasis on that urgent delivery and quick-stepped rapping. The vocal is constantly flowing, encapsulating and emotional. Occasionally, and like Bi:Lingual, there is that quiet-loud dynamic which yields some overt anger and fire. For the most part, the track looks at personal and universal issues; the bad kids becoming side-kicks and things not working the way they should. Instead, the topsy-turvy skin of The World Outside is a truth and hopefulness that come out. Even if there is a lack of justice and fairness at times; there is much to live for and reason to keep going. The hero lets his voice rise and crack at times; it has so many different sides and expressions. The bass is less prominent on this track. Greater emphasis is placed on the percussion which is a solid, defiant heartbeat that gives the song its guidance, rhythm and melody.

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Love Spoons gained Chaos Jigsaw his first review a few months ago and is, at that point, the most confident and stunning track in his locker. Little vocal eccentricities remind me of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; there is a whiff of Big Boi and little suggestions of Prince at times. For the most part, it is the Stoke-on-Trent native putting it out there and owning it. That message of strength and fortitude can be found once more. If love seems wrong or people are telling you to do something you don’t want to do – you can fight against it and need to follow your own mind. It is a song raging with Funk and cool-assed stride. You bounce along with the track and its blend of relaxed temperament and river-flow lines. It might take a few listens for all of the song’s layers and pleasures to come together: when things do fully form the result is pretty special. One of the reasons I love Chaos Jigsaw’s work is because of the difference between each number. There is no repetition and sticking with boring themes. Every song sounds completely new and the work of someone who does not want to repeat tricks and stand still. Each song, and the positive reception it accrues, gives Chaos Jigsaw the confidence to up his game and produce even better material. His first songs were wonderful and stunning but songs like Love Spoons and You Make It… are his finest yet. The latter has its own video and shows just how much faith its authour has in the music. With at least four solid and incredible songs under his belt there is enough material to go into an E.P. Maybe Chaos Jigsaw will look at an album and getting some other musicians into the fold – to provide his upcoming tracks other sounds and instruments. I am not sure what he has planned with regards new music but I know there are so many possibilities. I would love to see an album and a ten/eleven-track record that boasts the sort of gems we know Chaos Jigsaw is capable of. He may be starting out but his material already sounded properly formed and without equals.

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Keen to create something new and progressive – but keep the best bits of his previous material – You Make It… has pattered, enticing beats and some groovy bass. These are elements we know and love about Chaos Jigsaw. Here, they are mingling and sparring with one another in a brilliant introduction. When the hero comes to the microphone, the syncopated, propulsive lines get the mind working right away. If the girl didn’t change the list of games – getting tied to her “Zimmer frame” – our boy would be amazed; the wire from the sirens is in the mains and all manner of things is going on. The words compel some imaginative diversions and speculation. The “internal rubbish” being lobbed at the hero is not only predicted but digested. He never seems to see it common but still allows it to get inside his head. Maybe the girl is old before her time or spinning those same lies; she might be trying to pull a fast one or deceiving the hero. Her apologies and excuses are finding a willing scapegoat: that long-term beat-down has to stop right now. Not wanting to take this anymore, you can hear an audible annoyance. The lead is weary of all the same old days and feeling a particular way. We all know that kind of situation/person: where a heroine takes advantage and uses the guy; the lessons are not learnt and the same mistakes seem to be made. The chorus is a chance to step away from that fevered and excitable verse delivery. It is here where our hero is more relaxed but seems to be wrestling with his own mind. The song’s title is sung but with no real answer. There is that lingering ellipsis and question mark remaining. Maybe the weight of emotion is too heavy – or there is too much suppressed answer to provide a conjunct, restrained answer.

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Aiming “silver bullets” and inside the “pet cemetery” of the bond seems to be some fonder memories and times. Maybe things were not always so sour and unsettled. You Make It… keeps you invested with its unpredictability and changeable nature. Towards the middle stage, the vocal gets even more accelerated and tumbling. Like emotions bubbling and the heat rising: the song gets more intense and determined as time elapses. Some of the words you catch whereas others free-fall and rush right by. It is an exciting section that departs from the more lackadaisical, louche sound of the chorus. Still keeping nimble and lively; the vocal then changes directions again. After the chorus is a shouted and different-vibed delivery that is the tensest and most unsettled moment in the song. Your head, at this late point, has been stretched in all sorts of directions and is taking all the words in. In my mind, I was seeing a hero that had had enough of the constant disappointment and sacrificial lamb behaviour. He is getting caught up in something rather unwarranted. There is always an air of mystery around the song. I say this about a lot of songs but lyrics that are not too obvious (and make you think) are much more appealing. You think it concerns love and a spiteful heroine but maybe there is other things are play. Perhaps the song looks at problems beyond relationships and the world at large. Given the themes explored on The World Outside; it would not be a huge stretch to suggest You Make It… casts its imagination further than you might think. Whatever the true nature of the song it is a marvellous offering from an artist unlike anyone else. I have mentioned other artists but they play such a small role in the overall sound. It is all down to Cartlidge and his personal vision that goes into the music. You Make It… got me thinking and guessing; it made me come back and want to listen countless times. The lyrics have that intelligence and poetry that means they warrant digging and care; the performance is assured and commanding whilst the composition has so many different strands.

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I have been looking at the so-called ‘best’ albums of this year and what they represent. Depending on whose polls you look at you’ll notice a few names cropping up time again. Aside from the likes of ‘6 Music; there has been a general consensus that is recognising music that strays away from the usual mainstream fare. It was the case, a few years ago, that Rock bands and radio-friendly albums were topping those end-of-year lists and exciting critics. You know the kind of album I am talking about. This year, and given the way politics and the world stage has changed, there seems to be a need and demand for music of a different nature. Beyoncé’s Lemonade seems to be the out-and-out champion: that record that resonates and gets into the heart; propels the soul and body whilst spiking the brain and imagination. The most confident, direct and personal album of Beyoncé’s career: maybe not a surprise it was deemed the finest album of this year. In fact, black artists are being exposed and included in a way they have not in previous years. This is something I will mention in a separate post but it is pleasing to see some (attempt) at equality. Aside from Beyoncé, artists like Chance the Rapper, Kanye West and Michael Kiwanuka have been lauded and tipped; Solange, A Tribe Called Quest and Frank Ocean have made it into the top-ten lists. Not only is there a racial and national split (American artists stealing focus) but stylistic and genre, too. Gone are the predictable lists of Rock and Alterative darlings; the banal and heavily-processed Pop acts – replaced with something a lot more credible, relevant and high quality. It is the ‘relevant’ part of that sentence that stands out. 2016 is taking no prisoners in the wider world – with regards notable deaths and unquenchable violence – and that extends to music. Consumers are growing tired of the same old generic crap and forgettable fare.

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Albums that burn, explode and linger are being favored; ones that look at the world around and deal with serious issues are en vogue. Even Lemonade, that looks at infidelity and love, does so in a new and very personal way. This should give artists like Chaos Jigsaw direction and confidence. The British Hip-Hop upstart is making music that would not sound out of place was it dropped among the big names of 2016’s music. Perhaps it doesn’t boast the same fresh and polished production values but that is part of its appeal and originality. It is the subjects, sounds and genres of You Make It…that will see Chaos Jigsaw do some big business in 2017. Before I come to Chaos Jigsaw and look at his future, I wanted to wrap up the points I made earlier. Artists coming into music not only have to make sure their aural packages are full and prepared: they need to consider their social media platforms and the visual side of things. It may seem like a lesser importance but that would be foolhardy in a modern, digital age. Your social media pages are you selling yourself. Musicians that overlook this issue and provide scant details are going to struggle to find big fan numbers and really impress. It is not a coincident that the new artists building the biggest fanbase keep their pages updated, full and visually arresting. Chaos Jigsaw is just starting out but is keeping fans updated and looped into his happenings. I would like to see a lot more photos going up and all those (all-important) social media links in one place; a full biography and more revelation from the songwriter. Not merely for disclosure and confession: it gives reviewers, fans and the curious what they need to form a fuller picture and get inside an artist’s mind. I know Chaos Jigsaw will continue to build pages because he is an exceptional and promising artist.

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It is that promise that comes at a time where music is redressing the balance of sorrow felt in the world. Artists are filling gaps and providing us some form of escape, fulfilment and distraction. British music is at its peak right now. It is not just the mainstream that is improving, changing (for the better) and diversifying. Our underground acts are matching their critically-approved colleagues and showing huge energy, invention and quality. Certain genres are coming to the forefront like never before. I am not sure whether it is because of society demands – acts that talk about real life and have a grittier sound – or something else: we are hearing Hip-Hop, Rap and Grime coming much more into the fore. Aside from the Mercury win of Skepta; there has been a band of agile and striking acts looking to make big footprints next year. It is encouraging to see and a perfect time for the likes of Chaos Jigsaw to rock up. Whilst his brand of Hip-Hop and Rap is not as swaggering and pummeling as many of his counterparts; it is a lot deeper, more interesting and accessible I feel. Those who prefer their music more sedate, emotional and romantic will be seduced and tantilised. It is that more stripped-back, bare-boned approach to music that perfectly bridges sounds like Folk and Pop with the more edgy and physical excitement of Hip-Hop, Rap and Rock. I know Cartlidge has plenty more songs under his belt and excited by what is to come. I have heard his previous songs and can see that consistency and variation. He is not a musician that repeats himself and narrows his focus. You have a core and solidified sound but the subject matter and signatures change; each song has its own soul and says different things. You Make It…is a typically assured and compelling slice from a young man who has plenty more left inside. Being lucky enough to hear some early drafts of his music; I can vouch at just how far he has come along and fervent his imagination is. He is based in the Midlands but is no mere local secret.

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I know Chaos Jigsaw will be looking forward to the coming year and what he can achieve. I know there is talk of an album or E.P. but not sure what form it will take. The music put out there is being met with praise and love. I expect Cartlidge to keep producing stunning songs and setting his sights far and wide. Here is a musician constantly experimenting, working and teasing new music. He never seems to slow and is one of the hardest-working acts I have seen in a long while. Even if songs talks of darker subjects – the weight of mental illness or painful fall-outs – they are never presented with negative emotions and fatigue. I would love to see a Chaos Jigsaw for a couple of reasons. For one, you will get to see the full range of moods and ideas from Cartlidge. His songs are so fresh and addictive you will keep coming back and be transfixed by what they to offer. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it will put a genuine talent into the mix. There are few Rap stars that do things like Chaos Jigsaw and have the same demeanour and abilities. Given the music being celebrated in 2016; it is likely Chaos Jigsaw will gain foothold and momentum in 2017. I am not saying he will be elevated to the mainstream in the coming months but will make necessary strides and bring in new followers. I know his music is being heard right across the U.K. and that will lead to gig demands up and down Britain. I can see him finding small fortune in London and slotting alongside the Hip-Hop/Grime stars bringing life and sermons to the capital. Who knows just what he can achieve next year but I know there is a real need and desire for the type of music Chaos Jigsaw is producing. After such an unforgiving and expendable year, that is…

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WHAT we all need.

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Follow Chaos Jigsaw

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Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/chaosjigsaw/?fref=ts

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/DylanCartlidge

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/chaosjigsaw/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/dylan-cartlidge

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTdFIXU41DchN5LWG6cuEPg

TRACK REVIEW: Ben Sparaco – Don’t Try to Wake Me Up

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Ben Sparaco

 

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Don’t Try to Wake Me Up

 

9.2/10

 

 

 

Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is available at:

https://soundcloud.com/ben-sparaco/dont-try-to-wake-me-up

GENRES:
Folk; Folk-Rock; Country; Bluegrass

ORIGIN:

Nashville, U.S.A.

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The album, Wooden, can be preordered here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/wooden/id1182501796?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

RELEASE DATE:

13th January, 2017

TRACK LISTING:

Make Me Feel Alone Tonight
Exposition of a Traveling Salesman
Wooden
Soul Miner
Things Happen
Cypress Hotel (ft. Luther Dickinson)
Sycamore Jones
Heartless Home
Don’t Try to Wake Me Up
I Know That

Ben Sparaco: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar; Vocals and Claps
Ross Holmes: Fiddle, Vocals; Claps and Production
Royal Masat: Bass
Taylor Jones: Drums
Jon Estes: Engineering, Mixing and Single Mastering

Artwork by Madalyn Stefanak

Recorded at The Bomb Shelter, Nashville, TN.

Copyright Ben Sparaco, 2016

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I feel the best way to transition into Christmas and bring this year down…

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is with something quite calming and heartfelt. That is not to say Ben Sparaco produces music without energy, spirit and passion – far from it in fact! I shall come to him very shortly but for the moment I was keen to reintroduce a few different themes: looking at websites and visibility; young artists and their maturity; American music and the different styles that will be favoured next year – a little bit about performances and the importance of the live setting. On that first point, an artist’s website might not seem relevant to music and how good it is – that is where you’d be wrong. There is not enough emphasis put on a musician’s online portfolio and what is contained. Marketing, promotion and accessibility are just as important as the actual music itself. Considering how competitive and crowded music is, the consumer/reviewer has little time to go searching and fill in the gaps. If you have an artist who puts together a barely-there set of social media pages – scant biography and a couple of crummy photos – then that is not saying much and quite frustrating. We need to know more about an artist and who they are: a visual representation of what they are doing and what they can provide. Sparaco’s website (official) is as full, well-designed and impressive as any I have heard – link at the bottom of this review. One can, when visiting his website, get all the information they require. There is a list of upcoming tour dates (I shall flesh out more soon) and biography; bits about his music and lots of sharp, well-defined images. Alongside, you have a great design and clear website that is easy to navigate. That not only makes me want to find out more but makes me want to recommend Sparaco to others – knowing they will have so much information and clarity at their fingertips. Of course, the music itself is paramount but there is a certain lackadaisicalness to just leaving it there. Those who take pride in their work, and realise the importance of bringing followers in with a crisp pitch, are those who will remain longest. Ben Sparaco has done this and has a wonderfully clear, full and eye-catching official website. That meant I was hooked and motivated to learn more about the man behind the music – this is where he comes in:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ross Holmes

Ben Sparaco is a young guitarist, singer, and songwriter living in Nashville, TN with a sound that combines energetic and soulful guitar playing with a unique blend of rock, soul, blues, jazz, and folk music. At only 19 years old he has begun to make a name for himself around the country playing with various acts including The Ben Sparaco Band.

Starting at the young age of 11, Ben began playing guitar with cover bands around his native Broward County, Florida. Not long after, he found the sound he had been hearing in his head in blues music from the likes of B.B. King, Elmore James, Freddie King, and Muddy Waters. Following this music forward in time, he discovered the Allman Brothers Band, which he still cites as one of his main influences.

By the time he was 15, Ben began playing his original music to audiences around south Florida with his first original band. Throughout his time in high school, he began to hone his skills on slide guitar while simultaneously delving into a study of various traditional music styles such as Gospel, R&B, Eastern Classical (Sarod), American and European Folk, Bluegrass, and Jazz.

In early 2015 Ben began a stint as a full-time lead guitarist with south Florida jam legends Crazy Fingers; a gig which exposed him to the music of the Grateful Dead until his full time departure in August of 2015. On August 18th, 2015- the night before moving to Nashville, TN- he assembled his own band and welcomed many guests to the stage of the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, FL. This band would undergo some personnel changes and quickly prove to be an in-demand musical force in the southeastern United States and beyond and is now called the Ben Sparaco Band. In May of 2016, the Ben Sparaco Band’s debut EP “Bring The Jubilee” was released.

After a busy summer of touring, Ben recorded his debut album “Wooden” in the fall of 2016 in Nashville, TN. Produced by Ross Holmes (Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers, Warren Haynes, Mumford and Sons), the record displays a decided shift in Ben’s sound towards a more string-based Americana sound mixed with his wide-ranging jazz, rock, and soul influences. Wooden is due out January 13th, 2017.

Immersed in the national jam scene, Ben has had the opportunity to share the stage with members of The Allman Brothers Band, Dead and Company, North Mississippi Allstars, Warren Haynes Band, Susan Tedeschi Band, Jerry Garcia Band, Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds, Devon Allman, Matt Schofield, The Heavy Pets, Roosevelt Collier, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and more at venues across the country.

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The maturity of Ben Sparaco – a good album title, no?! – is not just reflected in his professionalism but the music and attitude to his craft. Sparaco is not even in his twenties but has already been performing for years now. Folk, and sub-genres of, are seeing a lot of young artists (teens and early-twenties) emerge who are showing their peers how it should be done. A little diversion coming up: this was motivated by a recent letter/statement from Björk – when the press criticised her D.J. sets; stating it was hard to see her and she did not interact with the audience – who labelled such complaints/demands sexist. Women in music are expected to bleed their hearts out (the Icelandic genius described it in more vivid, chest-opening terms) and surrender – talking about their cheating boyfriends and not allowed to sing about science, philosophy or other subjects. Men, by comparison, are allowed this creative variation and do not have limited expectations placed on their shoulders. Maybe a parable, but one can look at Folk and how it contrasts the mainstream/Pop-driven artists. There, there is a proliferation of fake sounds and romantic catastrophism. Its representatives, both male and female, are obsessed with retribution, self-flagellation and over-reactive heartache mandates. Maybe there is something about Folk/Americana that attracts a more level-headed, mature songwriter. I noticed this when reviewing certain artists this year: you get greater intelligence, wisdom and originality. Of course, there are Pop stars and Rock acts who do not expend all their energy on tired themes and predictable love songs. Sparaco is a young man but has the shoulders and mind of a much older (experienced) musician. You get plenty of introspection and longing but gone are the songs that villainise a sweetheart and rip the heart to pieces. I always look for musicians that go beyond easy possibilities and dig deeper for their inspiration. That is not to say Ben Sparaco – not at this stage at least – is negating relationships and blame culture. You get songs about passion and bonds but there is never that juvenile sensibility.

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After a long time with U.K.-based artists; it is great being back in the U.S. and discovering an artist who brings me to a veritable wonderland of great music – Nashville in Tennessee. Sparaco has recorded and based himself here and that is understandable. It is not often I get to look at any music/musicians that have been born from Nashville. Although there are Country shades in his music; there is a variation of genres including Folk, Rock and Soul. The Tennessee city is a desirable hub for new musicians. There, one is afforded access to myriad venues, bars and contemporaries. It such a lively and bustling area: often overlooked in favour of New York and Los Angeles. If Tennessee’s are insane Trump supporters: at least their music and musicians are a little more appealing, palatable and wise. To be fair, Nashville is in Davidson County: Hilary Clinton gained a majority vote there so I can limit my judgment of Tennessee to counties other than Davidson and Shelby. Getting back on track and it seems Nashville is becoming more and more attractive to artists – not just here but all around the world. It is not as crowded and harsh as New York (or the reputation many give it) and better, in some ways, to L.A. There are friendly citizens and some wonderfully varied areas. I know musicians who have rocked up to Nashville and all say the same thing: it is a city nobody wants to leave and instantly feels at home in. It is not a surprise to find Sparaco thriving and succeeding here. Armed with a collection of gorgeous songs – already a string of tracks under his young belt – there is also a great local scene there. To the north-west (of Tennessee) is Illinois; to the south-west Mississippi; Florida is to the south-east. Between those three states, you have cities like Chicago, Jackson and Miami – New Orleans is directly south of Jackson and another wonderful region.

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What I mean is how Sparaco has this world of opportunity in a commutable distance. If California has Nevada on its doorstep – New York has Toronto nice and close – then there are even more choices for a Tennessee resident. Sparaco and band have been hitting Florida and Tennessee; they have been getting around the South and bringing their unique brand of music to the good people. I am fascinated by U.S. music and how it changes from state to state. When Wooden arrives (the debut from Sparaco) that will be met with a series of tour dates around the tri-state area but further afield. He will want to focus on Christmas for now but January is sure to be a busy one – a great way to kick-off the New Year. I feel Nashville is too associated with Country music and few understand how diverse and utilitarian the music scene is there. To say Nashville is only Country is to say London is only Rock. It is a narrow (and false) assumption that will see many timid when exploring. I would urge people to commit to Ben Sparaco but other musicians around Tennessee. I shall come to Sparaco’s music but it is interesting placing Nashville and just how many fantastic musicians play there and how convenient it is placed with regards musical states.

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In order to get some perspective and clear impression of Sparaco’s present, we must look back and see how he has developed as an artist. Bring the Jubilee is the E.P. (released last year) that shows just how impressively he started. Walk on the Levee twangs with Blues strings and Rolling Stones-like licks. Flourishes and ripples cascade, kiss and breathe lustfully. Funky guitars and percussion combine with whirling organs and spirited stomp. A storm comes across the lake; the hero needs to pack his bags – a gravelled voice and a real gutsy performance make it the song it is. Constant stutter, skip and energy can be discovered: you are helpless to resist its sheer charm, kick and energy. One is compelled to bob their head and immerse yourself in the song. If the storm comes “it’ll make a change”. You speculate whether it is a physical, literal storm or an emotional one. I feel there is a mixture of the two and a need to evade coming clouds and find fulfilment and self-improvement. An exceptional blend of Blues and Folk-Rock mean it will appeal to lovers of 1960s-‘Stones and more modern examples. It is a really developed and accomplished song – it could easily fit into the catalogue of any decades-old band. Ghost of a Self is a more traditional Country-Rock track and still has that solid core and powerful vocal anchoring everything. Lovely interludes brim where guitar stands out and shines. I can hear a definite sound of America and Nashville. It has its heart beating in that landscape but definitely appeals and cross-pollinates. The guitars shine and the delicious licks are not bashful when getting into the earlobes (and other more visible regions). The songwriting looks at humanity and deeper issues but never truly exposes its meanings. The lyrics keep oblique and can be open to interpretations.

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Hammer That Nail uses hammer-and-tool imagery to look at love or support. The heroine, it is said, can hammer the nail as hard as possible; the hero will hold the picture up and not let it fall. (The song) maybe looks at stress and struggle and being a shoulder and support; emotional dependence and a release for inward rage. It is interesting to dig into the song and see if it is about loyal love and friendship – or has its heart elsewhere. The song takes its mind away from obvious wording and clichés to present something quite homespun, quirky and interesting. Bring the Jubilee is a five-track E.P. defined by loyal bonds and standing up for someone. It does mention and cover love but never in such an obvious and uninspired way. The Ben Sparaco Band (as it were) is unified and tight throughout. The guitars are a blend of Country, Blues and Rock; the vocals have heart and soul but are primed and suited for the more gritty and raw end of the spectrum. It never cheapens the moments or makes it less genuine. It is a step forward from earlier tracks My Favourite Things and live examples of the E.P. tracks. It is clear touring and local gigs galvanised the band and led to some terrific studio confidence. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up has some of the more spirited and juggernaut components of Bring the Jubilee but there is a tonal shift. Things are more stripped back and there is a move from Country/Blues-Rock to Folk-Rock. That Folk element has not only defined the foundations but the lyrics too. The words are more compelling and direct. Whereas the E.P. mixed oblique and ambiguous: here, there are metaphors and similes but more direct focus and bare-boned sentiment. The vocals are more rounded: switching from the black-and-blue swagger of the earlier work but employing yellow, orange and blue hues. A broader emotional spectrum emerges and a more nuanced, deep and touching song with it. The production is sharper throughout and digs straight into the heart. Whilst barer and more lo-fi, it seems more professional somehow. You feel like (Don’t Try to Wake Me Up) is a live song but you can hear the studio quality. Sparaco is definitely committed to an album and the consistency needed to succeed. The E.P. was incredible and memorable but here Sparaco steps out on his own and really shines. A more level, complete and tender song: it never feels slow or less impactful.

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Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is Sparaco’s current single and a beautiful example of what Wooden is about. Starting with aching and yearning strings – in a way, I got visions of Small Faces in the initial seconds – there is a mix of Folk and Country. You never get the full, over-the-top twang and accent of Country (a little too sickly and southern) but not quite as restrained, acoustic and level-headed as Folk. It is a satisfying blend that creates an incredibly smooth and nourishing cocktail.  Before a word is sung you are compelled by the sensual, evocative introduction that promises fine things. The hero is waking from bed to the sound of a knock at the door and a gentle woman’s voice. There is that scenery of sloth and inactivity: our man is very unwilling to budge and is being reasoned with. Perhaps there is heartache or aching bones; something weighing him down that is compelling him to embrace all the comforts of bed and sleep. In a way, the subject matter fits with a lot of Folk/Country songs and suits the tone of the composition. The way the vocal sound and is delivered reminds me a little of the late, great Leonard Cohen: there is no quite the low-down gravel and gravy of Cohen’s voice but something in the way it sounds that made me think of him. Whatever has inspired the song; you start to look at your own interpretations and views. Whilst the outside-the-door woman is stomping her feet and trying to rouse the defiant hero; he is committed to dreaming and trying to ignore the outside world. To me, the world and love have got him down. Things are moving too fast and there is, one imagines, a girl that might be playing on his mind – someone he is struggling with or perhaps let down by. Sparaco’s voice is never too heavy and wrecked; it is soft and compelling but still carries some scars and fatigue.

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As the song continues, the lyrics look more at everyday/teenage concerns: not wanting to come out of bed because it is much warmer there. It is cold/less warm outside and the “average day” is bearing no appeal and meaning. Again, you start to wonder if an event or person has caused this general malaise; maybe it is one of those times where sleep and relaxation are the only tonic. One gets images of Nashville and the heat (even if the lyrics paint a colder, less sunny view) but there is something deeper, more interesting lurking beneath the sheets. Our man is unwilling to reveal too much of the backstory but I feel like there is a compendium of doubts and strains spiralling around his head. It is never quite as simple as not wanting to move and be left alone. Whether it is a parent (mother) trying to motivate the hero – or a girlfriend, perhaps – you can picture it all too clearly – we have all been in that situation. In a “picture-perfect Hell” our hero is struggling to reconcile the perfections of dreams and the limitations and realities of life. Even though the chorus has vocal chorusing on a real energy and sing-along charm; you are always hooked by the anxiety and fatigability of the lead’s words. Maybe he is trying to get away from some heartbreak and place himself somewhere tropical and Paradise: he is not enjoying having to face the world and whatever awaits him. You root for the hero and can emphasise with his plight. There is no reason to suggest he is over-reacting and being petulant. It is likely something has happened to see him ensconced in bed and not wanting to move. Slide guitar, electric spirits and Blues sparks give the song energy and extra layers as it moves along. It is not just a straight-forward Country/Folk song:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Madalyn Stefanak

Sparaco is an accomplished songwriter who knows how to keep a song interesting, unpredictable and appealing. As invested in the storyline as you are; it is the composition that steals focus towards the end. It is the final verse/words that really strike and unveil huge chunks of revelation. Our man wants the attention to go away and not be discovered. There are children involved – perhaps Sparaco speaking in third-person – and the suggestion of a ghost. The children will find where “their father needs to go” but there is the fear, when the door is opened, all but a ghost remains. It is a stark image and one that compels a few different interpretations. There is that familial suggestion and needing to escape; a young man that wants to achieve more and not satisfied with the world around him; a simplistic tale of someone not wanting to elude the comfort of his bed. At the very end, that repetition of “average day” sticks in the mind and will resonate with every listener. We have all been in the situation where what lie ahead holds no appeal or promise. In terms of Sparaco’s song; you feel like there is more at play and secrets he might be holding back. Perhaps there is some backstory and heartache but you are never sure exactly what. Perhaps that is the beauty of the song: there are no true answers but possibilities and what-ifs. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up might not be able to win every single person who prefers their music harder and heavier but that is okay – there are plenty out there who will fall for Sparaco’s music. He is not just reserved for lovers of Country and Folk: there is that variation and lack of borders that means his music will strike a chord with many hearts. Wooden will provide more sides of the story and reveal Sparaco’s true artistry and abilities. As it stands, Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is a fine song that shows how an everyday topic can, in the right hands, yield a lot more fascination than you’d imagine. Exceptional lead vocals – and some great support by his band of session musicians – and you have a single that singles the Nashville artist as one to watch in 2017. I am excited to see where he will go and how people will react to Wooden – an album that is going to be packed with delight and wonderful moments.

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Consider it allegory or beauty: Sparaco’s music is not easy to compare with others because it has that personal, unique affectation. There is universality to the themes and sounds but that extra ingredient that makes Don’t Try to Wake Me Up so enigmatic and seductive. Ross Holmes produced Wooden. He played fiddle and mandolin with Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers; arranged the strings for Mumford and Sons’ album, Babel. Some of the songs are Folk-Rock but others have Soul skin: Bluegrass lingers whilst Psychedelic-Rock shades make appearances. Before I go into more details about the album and Sparaco’s place in 2017 music, I wanted to return to my points about Nashville music, website/social media organisation and how undervalued maturity and originality are – and, of course, how 2016’s most-celebrated albums will have an effect on the new artists emerging. If we start with Nashville and one can easily discover hot talent and some fantastic music. New artists such as Wild Cub, Audrey Assad and The Vespers play here; as does Kate Arminger, The Weeks and The Delta Saints; Rachel Lynae and Tyler Flowers can go on the list too. Not only do these names help contextualise Nashville but demonstrate just what a variety of music is being played in the city. I know I long-bemoan the surfeit of attention certain areas are provided. British music media is too London-centric whilst the U.S.’ pages, for the most part, resounded strongest to the heartbeats of New York and Los Angeles. It has been the way of things for years based only on these grounds: they are two huge cities and has a cosmopolitan population. The argument dies there and many forget just how wealthy and vociferous other parts of America are. Nashville is as notable because of its music scene as Detroit, Seattle and Manhattan. The local (Tennessee) media is raising awareness but it would nice to see that reflected in the national media. No matter because with artists like Ben Sparaco pressing and rising from the trenches – surely his name will ascend beyond Tennessee-Florida-the South and see him demanded right across the country.

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His adaptable, chameleon-like musicianship means he could find fortune in polemics like New York and California but succeed in all sorts of musical geographies and conurbations. It all starts with awareness and activity: appreciating a fine artist and making strides to promulgate his abilities. I hope Sparaco can find some time and dollars to come to the U.K. and perform here. In this country, there are plenty of cities and towns that would welcome him in. Not only is London catered for artists as multifarious and away-from-mainstream-expectations as him but other areas. Yorkshire is giving birth to so many wonderful Folk artists and wonderful young talent; cities like Manchester and Liverpool are traditionally hospitable and welcoming; consider Scotland and locales Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are plenty of places around the U.K. that would love to hear Ben Sparaco and Wooden’s delights. I have talked about maturity and how it’s a commodity not appreciated by all musicians. I realise a slightly ingénue, child-like naivety – a kind way of calling someone moaning and hysterical – will be popular and connect with many. There will always be a place for acts who put their hearts on sleeves and let it bleed all over the floor. Björk was right: not only is it more interesting talking about something meaningful/original but those who do often have to fight for credit and equality (women especially).  Don’t Try to Wake Me Up trades commodities like love and emotion but it is certainly not your average tale of woe and bitterness. Far from it, in fact. It is a song that hits you straight away but stands up across time – you will not tire of it and find something new to appreciate each time you come back. Despite Sparaco’s tender years, we have an artist who seems ready for the challenges ahead and already comfortably over the first few hurdles.

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The fact he takes a serious and dedicated approach to his music is mirrored in his online presence. The social media pages are a-flowin’ with updates and insights: the young artist always eager to keep his fans informed and let them know what he is doing. His official website remains one of the most characterful and memorable I have come across. Housed are all the social media links and music; the biography, photos and tour dates. That is what you want from a musician – so many negate this and provide very effete, sallow scraps. Rebus, romance and a business-like approach can be found on that homepage: it is an asset that will help recruit so many new fans and be an indispensable tool for any venues and promoters in this country. I shall leave those points alone because the most important thing is the music itself. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is a fantastic track but joined with plenty of sibling support. The album is something you will want to get hold of. Wooden confirms what a consistent and strong songwriter Ben Sparaco is. If you are a fan of his previous E.P. and the rousing Blues numbers then you will not be disappointed but there is more emphasis on the classic songwriting playbook the likes Neil Young and Bob Dylan penned in the 1960s and ‘70s. The lyrics are no less evocative and scenic; the characters, emotions and performances just as personal, emotional and open. That is not to say Wooden is a sombre and low-energy album: it has plenty of rouse, swing and spirit when required; songs that paint very ornate, beautiful pictures; moments that impress and amaze in their candour and literary imagery. Nobody will be able to hear the album and not be amazed. I am judging my review/sentiments on the few numbers I have heard.

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I know Sparaco will want the album to resonate as widely as possible. It is not just reserved for cliques of Tennessee, Florida and the southern states of the U.S. Wooden is a universal, one-for-all creation whose sweet-scented oaks and tender heart will seduce and compel listeners around the globe. Although there is more emphasis on Sparaco: the Wooden album features a line-up of Nashville-based session musicians; Luther Dickinson makes an appearance too. Talking about the album, Sparaco had this to say: “These songs all were written on the road and each one sort of follows a different character. Usually the stories end up being kind of morbid in an almost comedic, ironic, way. I think it makes for an interesting combination when you put some seriously weird, dark lyrics in a song that is otherwise happy and hopeful sounding, and with some of the jazz and jam influences that I’ve always had, it ended up being something that I think sounds comfortable and familiar while still being unique in its own way.” After such a tumultuous, strange and hard year for many: 2017 will be given an earlier treat and reassurance things will be that much better. For now, Ben Sparaco can relax in the knowledge he has crafted a fine album that marks him out as an extraordinary songwriter – one instilled with confidence, natural ability and an original voice. His music is not reserved for a particular mood or time: it is a faithful companion when you are upbeat and inspired (looking for an appropriate soundtrack) or in need off an unhappiness suppressant. Similarly, if you want to reflect and ponder things; Sparaco’s music is perfectly suited for the task. January will be an exciting one for the Nashville resident. Not only is he going to be busy promoting his debut album but will be thinking what to do once Wooden is out in the world. There will be the obligatory local dates but he will be casting his mind further afield. I know international demands will arrive in time and that will see Sparaco’s music exposed to new lands and faces. With all that in mind, and festive sounds echoing in the breeze, I know Ben Sparaco will have…

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A very happy Christmas.

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Follow Ben Sparaco

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Official:

http://bensparaco.com/

Facebook:

https://en-gb.facebook.com/BenSparacoMusic/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/bensparacomusic?lang=en

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/bensparacomusic/?hl=en

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/ben-sparaco

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/Bensmusic127

TRACK REVIEW: 40 Shillings on the Drum – Everyman

TRACK REVIEW:

 

40 Shillings on the Drum

 

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Everyman

 

9.6/10

 

 

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Everyman is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TNvIFP4ijU

RELEASED:
16th December, 2016

GENRES:
Folk-Rock; Punk; Gaelic-Folk

ORIGIN:

Brighton, U.K.

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IT is hard coming up with new angles to describe bands but, luckily, Brighton’s…

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40 Shillings on the Drum provide enough inspiration and personality to compel original aperture. I will get to them in a second but, knowing their influences and type of sound, it gets me thinking about older artists; more about the sheer breadth of Brighton acts and facets missing from contemporary music. A lot of modern bands – and other musical denominations – source their sound from ‘newer’ musicians. I have been following some hot and talented bands this year: by and large, you hear influences from the ’90s – present day – a range of bands from Arctic Monkeys to Oasis, for instance. It is understandable this should occur: they are among the most popular and influential acts we have seen this generation; many have been compelled to start bands and follow in their footsteps. I am interested why certain acts/time periods inspire certain artists. It may be too complex for this short space – lest I forget the reason I am writing a review – but I am finding a lot of bands doubling-up and melting into one another. I can see the lure of, say, having Oasis and The Libertines as guidance: two youthful, pride-against-the-tide bands that took themes of Britishness and modern life and gave it a hopeful, optimistic bent – albeit with their distinct blends of swagger, wit and defiance. There is a validity in admiring such artists; taking their music to heart and creating your own version. The trouble is, too many new bands are either indistinguishable from their heroes or too bland to really spark any sort of interest. I feel, as time progresses, attention spans will become shorter and modern music – in the band market at least – will be very narrow and homogenous. Whilst it is wonderful discovering new groups and the energy they possess: I yearn to find those who cast their minds further back. Often I have mentioned a band (from the ‘60s and ‘70s) and been met with blank-eyed gormlessness.

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Many reply with the illogical and clichéd: “That was before my time!”  Reassuming you have no access to the Internet, radio or conversation that would wash: the fact that is not the case means such a phrase is inexcusable and stupid. It sounds like a diatribe unfolding but too many people’s musical imaginations begin and end in the last couple of decades. Fortunately, there are some artists breaking through who have grown up with savvy parents and developed a keen taste for music of older decades. Whatever your age or music tastes, it is vital for one, in order to become more rounded and cultured, look back at music’s full spectrum and genealogy. I was brought up listening to the likes of T. Rex, Steely Dan and The Rolling Stones. Being a ’80s child – but preferring ‘90s sounds – I was introduced to the cream of (the previous couple of decades) and actually getting to hear great music of the 1940s and ‘50s. Now, that passion and retrospection have fostered a deeper and more varied musical collection. Was I stubborn and content to stick with the best of the 1980s – perhaps a misnomer and contradiction in terms to most – that would mean denying myself a world of wonderful music. To the same extent, I feel bands that blow second-hand musical smoke is robbing future generations of older artists. This all ties in neatly (or loquaciously) to the Brighton-based band, 40 Shillings on the Drum. The band love modern music but one hears, when digging into their music, shades of The Clash and Elvis Costello – two names very few modern-day bands source. I shall expand on this, but for the minute, let’s learn a bit about the band of the hour:

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After over a year’s preparation, ’40 Shillings On The Drum’ launched online in July 2016 and performed their first gig on Wednesday 27th July as part of Churchill Square’s Busk Stop event in Brighton. Attracting the largest turnout of all the acts to perform, the band subsequently went on to win the competition and recorded a song and music video in famous local studio, Brighton Electric, in September 2016 as a result. As well as the competition, the band have established themselves on the local scene with shows at The Hub, The Marwood and the prestigious Prince Albert. They also appeared at the Brightona Bike Festival (the largest motorcycle festival in Europe) and Oxjam Festival Lewes, along with interviews on national station Heart FM. The band shall be seeing 2016 out with a final performance and single launch show at the Latest Music Bar in Brighton on 21/12/16 where they will also be showcasing their music to the founder of End of the Trail Records.

40 Shillings On The Drum are armed to the teeth with an array of songs about life, love, friendship, and getting smashed out of your brain, and are ready to take on the world, one town at time.

 ‘Great recordings. Love the distortion, violin and your guitarist. You’ve got a great Brit pop style of vox too!’ Bobby Banjo, Beans On Toast

I love the energy on these recordings, it’s something that I think is really missing from contemporary music. There is obviously an Irish influence, but I hear shades of The Clash (at their best), Thin Lizzy, Boomtown Rats, Elvis Costello. You’ve really managed to capture the feeling that you are reflecting real people on the street.’ Mark Flannery, Engineer/Producer (U2, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode)

‘Opener Ode To Old Reilly set the tone of a band big on musicianship and melody — and intelligent lyrics with both a meaning and enough hooks to get under the skin of even the most hardened music lover.’ The Brighton Magazine, brighton.co.uk

‘Ain’t too many acts have mixed Gaelic folk and rock successfully. Great musicianship, catchy songs, I think you deserve to do really well. I can hear it stands head and shoulders above most of the new stuff I hear.’ Alex McNamara, The Australian Pink Floyd Show (The world’s biggest selling tribute act)”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kris James Photography

Critical snapshots show keen ears detect some mighty musicians in the songs of 40 Shillings on the Drum. The band’s name itself seems born from the 1970s – how many modern bands have a name as long, interesting and forgoing a preposition (at the start of their name)? The East Sussex crew have, I would imagine, enjoyed a rich and qualitative childhood consisting fine vinyl and their parents’ record collections. Either that or the guys have forgone the worst instinct of their peers and expanded their mind past the 1990s. Before addressing a new topic, I wanted to carry on with the idea of influences. There is a cogent and wonderful blend of 1970s/’80s Punk and Thin Lizzy-esque energy to 40 Shillings on the Drum. It might be doing the band a disservice but you can hear their inspirations blazing on their sleeves. Rather than merely replicate lesser-included influences, they use them as a springboard and provide their inimitable sense of identity, character and delivery. Not only do we you hear some fantastic artists in the music of 40 Shillings’ but that will obviously inspire their peers to be bolder and more original with their sounds. I will go into more depth in the conclusion, but I am excited to hear another Brighton band come to view. Talitha Rise was the last act I reviewed from the city (they are based nearby in Lewes) but it is hard to connect dots from them and 40 Shillings on the Drum. What one gets from the guys is a blend of relatable songwriting tropes – relations, friendships and the bonds that tie us – with a healthy dose of kebab-festooned, beer-scented belch. It would be rather humdrum were (the band) another group of teary-eyed youths toiling under the lash of doomed love. 40 Shillings on the Drum, despite hints to monetary units and older-days whimsy, are capable of staggering into town and vigorously urinating on the nearest lamppost – perhaps it is unsurprising they have been branded with the same iron as The Clash.

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Ever since the downward arc of bands like The Libertines and The Strokes; I have been lusting after a group of boys (keep going…) that have that leather-clad, who-gives-a-f%ck attitude but keeps things intelligent, mature and intriguing. Back down on the East Sussex coast, I can talk about Brighton and just what a cornucopia of talent lurks down there. With reputable venues such as Green Door Store on their doorstep, the guys have ample opportunities to cut their teeth and find the perfect canvas for their artistic blend of (young and rowdy) Expressionism and (British, rebellious) Dadaism. Normally, I am ensconced in London and pre-occupied with all the music coming from there. The last few weeks have given me a chance to look at Brighton and what is happening there. It is not a surprise the city should be back in the forefront – it has always been a terrific area for creativity and excellence. There is something about the community, vibes and landscape that inspires so many musicians to do terrific things. More diverse and colourful than many northern enclaves; less suffocating and quasi-homicidal than London’s bustle: Brighton provides a comparable safe haven and vibrant melting pot many are being attracted by.

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The band have got a lot of positive reviews and vibes from their current single, Everyman. Looking back, we are still at the early stage of 40 Shillings on the Drum’s career. The boys have released the track Brighton Belle – one that differs from Everyman but is no less alluring, striking and immediate. Brighton Belle begins with explosions – that recall, rather futuristically Jamie T’s Tescoland (from Trick) – and has that smell of the city. You can hear the late-night unpredictability and the sunshine of the day – the contrasts and shades that make Brighton what it is. The song’s heroine, perhaps in the seaside city or somewhere else, grabs a latte and accentuates her figure – flirtatious, fulsome and fun. You are helpless to resist the sheer bonhomie and chanting vocals from the band. The Combat Rock-era Clash comparisons are not so short-sighted. There is that mix of Reggae, Rock and Punk; shades of Folk and some Alternative undertones. Following the story, you get impressions of a rather alluring girl who defines the city and has the hero spellbound. Squalling, flurried guitars and determined percussion is the soundtrack to a one-night dream: a chance to get with the divine heroine. At every stage, there is that sense of abandon and carefree attitude – that flies against the tendency to produce something anxious, heartbroken and sorrowful. It is small wonder the song has captivated so many and provided so important. It will be very well-received in the live environment and surely get the crowds singing along and enraptured. The fiddle/violin inclusion that occurs near the song’s end has been lauded and highlighted. It shows the band can mix Gaelic Folk threads and bond that with something resolutely English, swaggering and spitting. Few bands can pull off such an odd and two-sides-of-the-tracks marriage. The fact they make it work so wonderfully shows how assured and talented they are.

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40 Shillings on the Drum have original songs in their arsenal such as Ode to Old Reilly – which was, and several other tracks were, played at Busk Stop at Brighton’s Churchill Square Shopping Centre (back in July). One imagines these recordings will find their way onto a future E.P. but, as they explain to interviewers and YouTube commentators, they are full of spirit and looking to make some big moves in 2017. One can hear where the band have come from and how their material has developed. Brighton Belle, when it was performed in July, was hugely popular with local shoppers and has been compared to bands like The Waterboys. It is interesting to see which other groups commentators compare the Brighton band with. The Levellers have been mentioned as have Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Dan Scully, Steven Cobley and Seb Cole; Barry Bloye, Sue Buckler and Danny Woodford make up the intrepid gang and have grown more confident and assured with every new song. When Scully travelled from Miami to the Bahamas, in search of inspiration, that is what he got. Having played in other bands and other genres: the exposure to tropical seas and island breeze directly compelled a new direction – 40 Shillings on the Drum and their Folk-Rock mantras. Not only is it (Folk-Rock) a place Scully could express his feelings and stories organically and openly – he could expand his imagination with a large and supportive band; there are fewer limitations in terms of sonic ambitions and personnel numbers. All that has come before – and Everyman among us – it appears the group have a proper set of songs and definite vision. It would be nice to see their previous numbers like Ode to Old Reilly and Brighton Belle included: put some newer moments in there and really throw their all into it. Just how far they can go is anyone’s guess: do not bet against them being one of the hottest-tipped acts of 2017.

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There is psychogeography and flâneur mixture that greets Everyman. In that sense, there is the impression of floating around urban conurbations and spectral in a city; on the other hand, a certain casualness and romantic stroll – it is rather exciting, contradictory and unpredictable. Those wanting a Brighton Belle-like bull out of the (Folk) gate will be rather taken aback. Conversely, Everyman opens with plaintive, elegant pianos. You get flecks of the Irish countryside and a rogue figure traversing the craggy heath: the wind in his hair and the bare, twilight horizon in the middle-distance. The band’s idiomatic beauty and tenderness make the song less a Folk classic and more a sweeping, shivering epic. If the composition is spine-tingling, full and heart-warming: the scenes and images it provokes are peripatetic and fast-moving. Anybody who can predict what comes next is prescient and clairvoyant. The guys, in the video, plug in their gear and take the song in another direction. The guitars and plugged – the amps go up to twelve – and the strings and pianos sharpen; percussion tight and fierce; the bass strong and resolute. Again, you get a Clash-esque burst mixed with The Undertones, Levellers and The Jam. Sure, there are ‘70s Punk-Rock suggestions but the band are completely separate from any influences. None of the band mentioned would start so sweetly and graceful. At the beginning, you feel we’re bedding-in for a song about heartbreak and confusion: one where the hero would bemoan his lack of luck and survey the ruins in which he stands. The fact Everyman turns into an after-hours lock-in is to be commended. It certainly catches the most astute ears by surprise and destroys images of literary alpha males wiping the rain from their brows. In fact, you get a clean-shaven drunk wiping the cigarette ash from their teeth.

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One of the minor, if completely understandable, criticisms is the sheer pace of the delivery. It means the words can overlaps and create run-on sentences: you might be a few seconds behind and trying to piece the song together with little success at the start. It is not a big issue because it is the song’s energy and dance that resonates and impresses most. One can glean thoughts of the hero avoiding a licking fire and remaining above the heat; other succumbing to a certain fatefulness and limitation. Maturity is investigated and the hero does not want to be (like his counterpart). Whether endless drinking sessions and a lack of responsibility are compelling our man; the need to taunt risk and keep his life interesting and changeable – you interpret the song and try to get to the bottom of it. In terms of genres/sounds, you can hear 1970s inspiration but there is a bit of the ‘80s in there as well. The big arena bands of the decade are all in there so too are the more credible Punk artists. Everyman is such a standout track that no other band is attempting. Vintage, classic compositional tones melt with modern, relevant lyrics that we can all relate to. The performances from all are exceptional and tight. As the song races along, the band keep up with things and ensure proceedings do not get undisciplined, rambunctious and needlessly sprawling. It is, at this juncture, you can hear a continuation of Brighton Belle: that same knees-up festivity and lack of future plans. The hero is taking advantage of his age and lack of commitments; he is embracing what it is to be regular and ‘normal’. That is what I got from the song: a parable of a soul who will not submit the boredom and nine-to-five attitudes that surround him. That is one of the strong points of Everyman: it can be taken a number of ways and will mean different things to different people.

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Our man is trying to be tied down and defined: neutered and brainwashed into being Just Another Human. The song’s fierce, rousing and brothers-in-arms fizz makes it an insatiable, moreish cocktail of sharp spirits and cooling cocktail fruits. Crunching, head-nodding and a real swinging beast: another song that will get the audiences diving, jiving and lost in a sea of sweat and hoarse chorusing. Given that misleading, if utterly beautiful, introduction, you have a lot of catching up to do. The fact the song is neither too intense nor too slight makes it nuanced and repeatable. You come back to experience that moment: the one where Classical pianos give way to pissed-up strings. It is that intoxicated, fingers-up-to-the-authorities jailbreak that sounds like a superhero theme. In a way, that is what Everyman is: an epic, bracing song that could score a sort of twenty-first-century super adventure – one where domesticity, maturity and responsibility are favoured over superpowers, arch villains and saving the brave citizens. The hero does not want to be a man “like you” – perhaps someone who is too buttoned-up and safe. Our man gives no quarter to such overly-safe attitudes and wants to revel in his crapulence; embrace something much less advisable and ‘adult’. Again, I might be overlooking something more pure and contrasting. I hear these themes and concerns being raised; something that matches the trouser-kick rowdiness of the performance. With Rock and modern Alternative bands too mannered, watered-down and riskless: what place have artists like 40 Shillings on the Drum in the modern scene? Well, the answer is very obvious: they are more needed and necessary than ever before. Everyman is a song whose title tells you all you need to know. It is a song for the masses that speaks for them – even if the overall desires and electioneering is a little teenage and destructive. The band deals with heartaches and love but love to ladle lashings of gin, rum and lager.

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In fact, the band name suggests shanties about seaside rumpus and oiled blokes spilling into the street. One hears strings ache in the distance; the bass cutting in and driving the song; the percussion cracks and gives punch and pugnaciousness to the lyrics. It is the shredding and axe work that makes the biggest impression. The fire-handed arpeggios and sheer epicness of the delivery puts a smile on the face. I have mentioned superheroes and dramatic themes songs. Everyman could score a film or an awesome, action-packed scene. The guitars are scintillating and the heavens open with cosmic ballet, impending invasion and spiralling winds. The hero is trying to make it where he can and grab opportunities that come his way. He is, after all, honest and real – perhaps something that is holding him back. Into the final moments, the band throws it all together in an awesome way. Strings strike with Classic beauty; the bass, piano and percussion create their own weather systems and emotions – the guitar continues to ignite, explode; uttering fireworks and expletive wherever it chooses to roam. You are left giddy with excitement and energy: always grabbing onto the composition like a raft in the tormented seas. Everyman is another stunning song that shows Brighton Belle is no one-off fluke. That is quite reassuring and pleasurable: the band has that inbred talent and natural affinity for what they do. How this develops, with talk of a rumoured debut album afoot, will be wonderful to see. The blossoming, blooming marvellous boys (and girl) are going to be one hell of an exciting band to see in 2017.

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In terms of the mainstream artists making moves through 2016: there have been so many great albums produced and it all looks really promising for next year. I am keen to see how 2017 plays out for the established artists but more so for those just starting out. The musicians making their initial steps are competing for longevity and future acclaim. It is always encouraging finding an act that seems ready and prepared for all music will throw their way. 40 Shillings on the Drum not only have the live experience and zeal to succeed but a special sound that belong to them alone. I started by looking at themes like older influences and what is missing from a lot of musicians – I shall return to those topics before I finish off. Everyman is a confident and terrific track from a Brighton band already being recognised and proffered. It is not just the local press that is seeing what they’re capable of. The group are getting respect further afield which brings me to their nationwide potential and international accessibility. Every time I review an artist, I am seeing where they can head and who they’d most likely appeal to. 40 Shillings on the Drum are not just reserved to those who like a bit of Rock or prefer their bands looking a certain way. There is a chameleon-like ability to the boys that bleeds into their music. It is hard to define what genres they play and they seem to cover a wide spectrum of emotions and sounds. At its heart, you have a group that look at common issues but never make it sound too serious and morbid – something many can take note of. That originality and flair are being lauded in Brighton but I feel there are bigger opportunities for the band. I know London has plenty of venues and fans waiting; there will be other cities primed and oiled (waiting for the boys). In terms of non-U.K. gigs, I would expect 40 Shillings on the Drum to look around Europe and the U.S. Even though the majority of our people seem content to abandon the E.U. – that is not the case with regards our musical talent. If budget and time allow such adventurousness: I can picture the group performing a few gigs on the continent and enjoying success there. Given their fondness for loose beer taps, loose tongues and loose morals: who knows what carnage and chaos they can bring?! That does them down but they do have that youthful energy and ambition that should not be faulted.

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If this year has proved anything it is how the landscape is changing and what is currently being favoured. By that, I mean there is a definite desire for music infused with urgency and truth. There are acts/bands who talk of romance and their experiences finding success – mainly, it is those acts who focus on other areas that are being afforded the biggest slice of the critical cake. I have tried to explain why 2016 has differed from previous years in terms of its success, consistency and themes. A lot of the top albums of this year has been defined by a certain energy and defiance: a need to hit against oppression and address important issues. I am not sure whether this will continue into 2017 or whether there is going to be a change. It is always hard predicting which artists are going to impress critics at any given time: I am sure 40 Shillings on the Drum are going to get their share of acclaim and create some rather special memories. I would love to see an E.P. from them – I think they may be planning an album next year – and more songs like Everyman. They have a great sound and attitude to music that is reflected in their songs. In addition, they have that live reputation and a collection of solid reviews. It is the location, dynamic and attitude of the band that really excites me. Were they based in London they might feel a little suffocated and struggle to get the acclaim they hoped for – with so many other artists playing in the city. Sure, they would be successful but there would be a sense of anxiety and stress. The fact they are in Brighton not only provides more space and breathing room but a different (perhaps easier) way of life is proving conducive to fantastic music. The city has some great venues and is starting to take some attention away from London – bands such as The Wytches have made sure of that.

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I know the 40 Shillings on the Drum armada will be travelling around the country next year but have a good and reputable base in Brighton. It is, unlike many smaller towns, somewhere they’ll always be opportunities and willing audiences. The group manage to balance a relatable core of love and relations with their own lyrical bent. You never feel bored or uninspired listening to Everyman: it has some familiar lines and ideas but is one of the more original and interesting songs I have heard this year. The guys are young and living life: they have had their hearts broken but are resolute and defiant. As they state quite flatly: they like a beer and night out and do not want to grow old gracefully. That spirit and youthfulness are already seducing the media and pulling in a loyal core of fans. Let’s hope they keep the juggernaut steaming ahead and continue to provide the same wonderful music they have ended this year with. It is not just the brilliant songwriting and tight performances that define Everyman: any influences you hear are quite unexpected and add a certain something to the song. It might sound odd but one grows tired of the same bands employing the same influences. I won’t name names (on either side of the coin) but you know the type of thing I mean. There are a lot of modern sounds being reinterpreted by modern bands – you do not get many older acts coming in. Perhaps it is not a huge issue but it is refreshing finding a young band who cast their mind and attention back to the legends of the 1970s. I mentioned elements of The Clash, which other reviewers have alluded to, and bits of Elvis Costello. There are faint hints but it is always pleasing finding this type of musician inspiring the new crop. All of these considerations, elements and strands put together have led to a band worth watching next year. It is the sort of time those eager and forward-thinking start to look at those artists they feel will define 2017. I will start making lists (the ones to watch 2017) and will add 40 Shillings on the Drum to that. The band are hungry and know what they want to achieve: they are looking for success and expand their fanbase. If they continue to work as they have, and provide incredible music to the people, that will be…

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A reality very soon.

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Follow 40 Shillings on the Drum

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Official:

http://40shillingsonthedrum.uk/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/40ShillingsOnTheDrum/?fref=ts

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/40shillings

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/40shillingsonthedrum/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/scullzz

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsHOB0XHK0W_MQeq3I2ZKCg

INTERVIEW: The Artisans

INTERVIEW:

 

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The Artisans

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MUSIC is defined by many different things but rarely does one…

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experience musicians who do something truly noble. Robert Woodside and Brian Lawlor are The Artisans. Their latest project is called Trilogy of the Somme: a beautiful, dramatic Rock piece/suite that helps to raise money for Erskine Home, Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion. The guys wanted to highlight the wastefulness of war and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. In addition to planning new material for next year, the chaps have been busy on the interview circuit in Scotland – getting the message out there and raising awareness for their project. It is a worthy and impressive feat from men who know the true cost of war and have paid tribute (to the men who died) through music. It was, therefore, an honour to speak to Robert and Brian about Trilogy of the Somme and the inspiration behind it. The guys talk about 2017 plans and how they are spending this Christmas.

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Hi guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi Sam. We are absolutely fine: had a busy week just coming up to Xmas – same as everyone else

Robert and Brian, you are The Artisans. What was the reason behind the name and how did you two get together in the first place?

Robert: I came up with the name The Artisans because I thought it meant ‘workmen’. It’s also an anagram of ‘Sinatra’….which is no bad thing!

Myself (Rab) and Brian played in several club/cover bands in the ‘80s/’90s. We were the rhythm section for many a band but decided to do some of our own stuff, rather than covers!

You are from Hamilton (Scotland). What is the music scene like there and was there a lot of local support for The Artisans?

Robert: We are both from Bellshill, Lanarkshire. There’s always been a healthy music scene in Bellshill and the people there have always been supportive of any bands or artists.

Trilogy of the Somme is your new project – it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. What is it about that battle that resonates and compelled you to mark it?

I wrote Trilogy of the Somme to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle.

Did you chaps have relatives involved in that battle?

My own grandfather took part in the battle. He was an orphan so if he never survived the Somme my family would never have existed!

I also wanted to highlight the waste in lives – on both sides – which affected every city, town or village from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The C.D. was getting some airplay coming up to Remembrance Day – and hopefully every future Remembrance Day.

The project raised funds for Help for Heroes, Erkisne Home and Royal British Legion. Are those important charities to you and will you continue to work with them into next year?

Trilogy’ was set up to raise money for the Erskine Home, Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.  Hopefully, it will carry on into the future, on each future Remembrance Day.

You have toured radio stations and spoken to a lot of people about Trilogy of the Somme. What has been your favourite experience over the last few weeks?

We were recently over at East Coast F.M. interviewed by Dave Knight and it was a total blast! A great time had by all concerned.

Not a lot of people are doing anything similar to this. Is it quite frustrating knowing – excuse the wordplay – you are in the trenches fighting alone?

Yeah, that’s right, Sam: not too many people involved in this type of thing. Given the fact that the battle itself was a hundred years ago that’s totally understandable.

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I believe you are heading back into the studio to record new material – helping to raise funds for R.A.F.A. What will that involve and can you reveal what you will be releasing?

Yes. We’re going back into the studio to record a charity single for the R.A.F.A. (Royal Air Force Association). It’s going to be called The Finest Hour (super marine) and will be out in time for the R.A.F.’s 100th birthday on April 1st, 2018.

I’m hoping to sample the sound of the spitfires’ engine, (The Rolls Royce Merlin), and also the voice of Winston Churchill on the single!

What does the rest of this year hold for you in terms of music/promotion?

Myself and Brian have been to several radio stations in 2016 and hope to continue to visit new stations in 2017! Catherine arranged all of those visits and has been amazing throughout the year. She really has pushed hard to promote Trilogy of the Somme.

Looking ahead to 2017: is there a temptation for The Artisans to release an album or E.P.?

We’re hoping to record The Finest Hour in January 2017 and then work on an album (of mainly Rock stuff, Reggae and a few ballads). So, yes, an album is on the cards.

It is almost Christmas. Any plans for the big day and how will you be spending it?

Xmas Day is always a family affair and is the only day I have an ice-cold glass of Champagne whilst sitting in a very hot bath and watching telly!

Is there a message you’d give to the people out there? Maybe those you are raising money for?

I would like to thank the staff at Erskine Home who are just incredible and made our visit there earlier this year so welcoming.

Finally, and for being good chaps, you can each request a song and I’ll include it here (not one of your own as I’ll sort that out).

Robert:  Lady Antebellum – Need You Now

Brian: ­ Toto – Africa

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Follow The Artisans

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Official:

http://theartisanproject.co.uk/index.html

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/ScotsArtisans/?fref=ts

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Scots_Artisans

FEATURE: 2016: The Tragedy and the Triumph

FEATURE:

 

 2016: 

 

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The Tragedy and the Triumph

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THE one thing people keep saying about this year is…

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how much heartache and loss have defined it. Every time you switch on the news we are reminded of the conflict and hatred that is pervading society. Whether it is the continuing – slowing but still occurring – disruption and bloodshed in Aleppo; the strange rise of the bloated demagogue Donald Trump or the upset we see reported on the news- nary a day elapses without something sobering unfolding that reminds us how fragile and capricious humanity is. That is true of music that has seen its Grim Reaper equivalent be especially cruel and elitist. Many are saying there’s conspiracy afoot and a bad aura: the fact is, people die and it is a bad year. When musicians get to a certain age, there is always the risk they will die; diseases like cancer are still rife and take no prisoners when selecting its subjects. I am not sure why 2016 has been so ill-balanced and sadness-heavy but the one thing we can take from it is that 2017 will be a lot smoother and less fraught – that is the intention anyway. In terms of politics and separation; we have seen the worst of it this year; I cannot imagine a year quite as spectacular and world-changing as 2016 happening for a very long time. The reason I wanted to write this was to document the loss we have suffered in the music world whilst balancing it with the joy and pleasures.

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I’ll start with the ‘bad’ side of thing: The Devil that has been hovering on the shoulders of the divine and making sure things are not as smooth and happy as they should be. Of course, we all remember how badly this year started. It is almost a year since David Bowie died: perhaps the starkest event that has afflicted music in 2016. I remember waking up to the news and not being able to comprehend or understand it at all – he wasn’t reported as being ill so how does he just die?! We all know the truth now – the fact Bowie was keeping his cancer fate hidden from the media – so it kind of seems explicable and rationale. Nobody expected David Bowie to leave us for a couple more decades at least so it seems like we have been robbed of many more years of music. Luckily, Blackstar was released days before his death and, many would argue, the biggest and most ambitious album of his career. Arriving from a man who knew there was nothing he could do to prolong his life: Blackstar is surprisingly brave, focused and accomplished – few of us, in the same situation, would retain the strength and fortitude to produce music; let alone anything as stunning. The album was recognised for a Mercury Prize and was met with huge critical acclaim. There has not been a Bowie album, since his last golden period of the 1980s, when there was such universal consensus: a work of genius and a startling insight into a human ailing and tackling mortality. The fact Bowie has gone should not cause sadness but remind us of what an artist we have – someone who, nearly a year after his death, has more music in the vaults for us.

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Following Bowie’s death, nobody would have expected Prince to be the nex big musician to die. That news was perhaps even more of a shock: the fact Prince’s death was self-inflicted (albeit accidental) made it extra poignant and unexpected. Dying alone at his Paisley Park ranch/studio; overdosing on pain medication in a lift – such a harrowing and upsetting image. Again, we were delivered the news without warning and were forced to face a future without new Prince music. Like Bowie, Prince has delivered such an extraordinary body of work that will live in infamy. We must not ignore the influence and affect Prince has had on modern music. I’d say he is even more influential than Bowie when it comes to inspiring the new generation and leaving a mark. Despite not being a huge fan of either musician, I recognise their status and excellence: I have been retrospectively falling in love with their finest songs and realising, a bit too late, what mavericks and peerless leaders they were. Prince, like Bowie, was/is a hugely innovative and staggering musician that cannot be compared with any one human and created shockwaves around the world. It was not just David Bowie and Prince who died this year but Leonard Cohen too. In my view, the second-best songwriter the world has seen (behind Dylan) was also someone who kind of suspected he would not live too long. His final studio album, You Want It Darker, hints are death and mortality with unfiltered frankness and wit. Cohen knew he was in his final moments and, like the great Bowie, funnelled this into a career-high record. I will not speculate as to why this correlation occurs: it is no accident Leonard Cohen and David Bowie threw everything into their final word; impending demise focuses the mind in an alarming way, creatively. Cohen’s 2016 album is full of poetic brilliance and wonderful rich scenes. Being Leonard Cohen, there is humour and pathos in the same marriage bed; quotable lines and that gravelled, rich voice that will echo through the ages. With only a few days of this year remaining, let’s hope there will be no more casualties to add to the list of legends we have lost this year. Glenn Frey and Lemmy have gone; other, lesser artists – but no less important – and it has been such a cruel year for the industry.

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Against the tragedy of 2016 has been a coexisting, paralleled triumphalism. Music has outstripped every other art form in terms of excellence and inspiration – maybe a biased view but no film, play or work of art can rival what the best of music has provided. There is a lot of debate surrounding this year’s biggest album: many critics opt for Beyoncé’s firecracker, Lemonade, whilst many plump for the likes of Frank Ocean and Bon Iver. The mainstream has been rather prolific and sensational this year I must admit. The past few years have seen some great albums but not the variation and mass one would hope. It is not just the ‘established’ and well-trodden artists that have produced immense work. New bands like Car Seat Headrest and Hooton Tennis Club have turned up the heat; age-old gods Paul Simon and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have provided us immense albums – I shall address the latter soon. New, vibrant artists Anderson Paak, Angel Olsen and Jenny Hval are all among 2016’s best: Frank Ocean, Solange and James Blake have to be in anyone’s top-twenty list; The 1975 and Chance the Rapper deserve the hearty nods the media are providing them. Even if once-reputable sources like NME have gone off the boil at the moment  – 1975 are good but absolutely do not deserve to receive the Album of the Year accolade – is a minor kink. More lucid and sage sources seem to boil the best five albums down to Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Solange’s A Seat at the Table; David Bowe’s Blackstar and Frank Ocean’s Blonde – Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book usually get the fifth place. Of course, there have been many more terrific albums created. Two things I am noticing is the dominance of female artists and more politically-minded records being established.

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From Kate Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos – an album that should be on everyone’s list of 2016 greats – and Anohni’s Hopelessness; the male equivalents in the form of Skepta’s Konnichiwa and Kano’s Made in the Manor – two Grime albums that documented the realities of the street and the true state of modern Britain. The fact Skepta won the Mercury Prize not only shows how far genres like Grime and Hip-Hop (British) are assimilating into the mainstream: it is good to see black artists being given such respect. It may seem strange but against the tide of racism and discrimination in the wider world: music’s cosmopolitan, arms-together sensibilities are being seen. Sure, there is still racism and some discrimination in music but less than current years. Beyoncé and Solange (Rhianna and Laura Mvula too) have shown just how strong and inspiring they are – two black musicians that have crafted sublime albums. Kano and Skepta have put black British music firmly in the public consciousness whilst Frank Ocean and Kanye West have unleashed some of this year’s best albums – I would say, in a typical top-ten list, 40-50% of the albums included are from black artists. The boys of mainstream music have done well but it is their female equivalents that are making biggest leaps. Aside from the bold and brilliant artists like Solange and Beyoncé: more considered, more nuanced artists like Jenny Hval, Angel Olsen and Julia Jacklin should not be ignored. Jacklin’s Don’t Let the Kids Win ranks as one of my favourite albums of this year and pairs wonderful, heart-melting vocals with deep and mature lyricism into an album that begs for multiple listens. In addition to Anohni’s debut album and an especially satisfying album from PJ Harvey (The Hope Six Demolition Project); I feel female artists have outstripped their male counterparts – in terms of quality, boldness and range.

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Not only has it been the upbeat and defiant albums that have struck a chord: the more reflective, solemn and stately records have played their part in 2016. The fact the tastemakers have accrued their end-of-year polls to reflect an optimist, energetic and hopeful sensibility: we mustn’t downplay the importance of albums whose heart beats slower and soul sings louder. I have mentioned David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker but there is a third one to be added to the list: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree. Like Bowie and Cohen: Nick Cave is one of those stalwarts who has been creating fine music for decades. Like his British-Canadian brothers, the Australian’s latest album was affected by personal tragedy and death. Skeleton Tree, for the most part, was inspired by the death of (Cave’s) young son, Arthur – who fell from a cliff in a tragic accident whilst out playing. The teenager’s passing occurred at a time when Cave was conceiving and recording the album. That shocking news not only shook the songwriter but changed the course/sound of the new L.P. Take Skeleton Tree on face value and you are awed by its potency and beauty; the incredibly gripping and immersive vocals in addition to the detailed, dark songwriting. A stunning album hard to define and distill in few words: Skeleton Tree is not just one of 2016’s finest albums but one of the best from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Not only have 2016’s experienced artists provided beautiful record but some brand-new artists are making their voices heard. Julia Jacklin, as explained, brought us the divine Don’t Let the Kids Win whilst our own Billie Marten, and my album of the year, gave us Writing of Blues and Yellows.

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Vaults are another new group who defy expectations and worst instincts – a band that has their music used in a John Lewis Christmas campaign are usually written off – with Caught in Still Life. BBC has compiled their list of ones to watch next year – including Cabbage, Jorja Smith and The Amazons (photoed above). Whilst the BBC are not the most reliable divining rods for new artists: it should be treated with success and there are plenty of acts on their longlist who have the potential to make big noises in 2017. The abiding takeaway is that this year has seen upset and loss but is largely remembered for its extraordinary music and hopes for next year. The best albums of this year, as decided by the wise elders and collected voices, is a fine bunch whilst my ten best of 2016 – largely consistent with consensus – has a couple of outsiders in the high positions. I have not seen a year quite as exciting and memorable as 2016. So many wonderful albums and great new artists poking through. I always get depressed when, no huge offence to them, acts like Adele and Coldplay get awards and regarded as the best of the best. Even the least fussy and discriminating music connoisseurs would not include those two in the best of the year – to me, rather bland and mediocre. What this year has shown is tastes and changing as grittier, more realistic sounds are being proffered. Urban acts and street-wise prophets are finding leverage; bands that stray from the predictable and deliver something sharp and original; acts who are addressing the concerns of the people and turning away from avenues of love and self-obsession – tides are turning and there is a detectable rise in quality. Who knows what next year holds but we all hope for a smoother, less morbid year than the one just past. I am sure that will be true but I know music will continue to grow and burgeon. Those newly-tipped musicians will start laying down their debut albums and others will gain strength and focus from the acclaim they have received in 2016. I cannot wait to see how 2017 pans out and the artists who will shine and intrigue. No matter what, few can deny just how unusual and anomalistic 2016 has been. Against the sense of loss and displacement many have felt, music has played its role and shown just how…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jimmy King

MUCH beauty and wonder there is in the world.

TRACK REVIEW: The Federal Empire – Bad Habits

TRACK REVIEW:

 

The Federal Empire

 

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Bad Habits

 

9.2/10

 

 

 

Bad Habits is available at:

https://soundcloud.com/thefederalempire/bad-habits

GENRES:

Pop; Alternative-Rock

ORIGIN:

Los Angeles, U.S.A.

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The E.P., The American Dream, is available at:

https://soundcloud.com/thefederalempire/sets/the_american_dream_ep

RELEASED:

October 2016

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BECAUSE I will not be assessing too many bands before the end of…

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this year; it is worth concentering on one that is already making people listen and stand to attention. I have mentioned all the great bands coming out of London: L.A. is also another area that is producing some rather excellent acts. Before I come to the band in question, I want to return to L.A. music and who will be making it big in 2017; the bands who, in America especially, will be attuning to a new way of life given Trump’s presidency and the reason why we should all pay closer attention to the best groups coming through. That initial point – L.A. musicians and their merits – is something I have been extolling most of this year. You do not need to know your music to know how many great groups have come from Los Angeles. The same could be said of New York and London: Los Angeles is one of the most important and relevant areas of music in history. Not to mention the likes of Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine; newer bands like Warpaint and icons such as The Doors and Gun N’ Roses – hardly slacking when it comes to producing fantastic offspring. I feel a lot of us here (the U.K.) only really hear about L.A. music through radio and the media. It seems, like many people out there, we are not that adventurous and do not really make a concerted effort to seek bands out. I, as part of my job, keep my eyes peeled and always keen to see which bands/acts are being talked about in the U.S. New York is, perhaps, better when it comes to solo artists and genres like Rap and Hip-Hop: L.A. seems peerless when considering harder genres like Rock and Alternative – a few of the names I have listed are testament to that. This year, the likes of Los Angeles Police Department – who released their eponymous debut E.P. in 2014 – have been developing and building on their early success. Bones, and his unique gothic raps, have been intriguing critics and showing just what he is made of. Throw in Death Valley Girls and you have an all-terrain-ready assault of Punk, fuzz and rebellion. They are a unit that has been making marks – one suspects to stages across the U.S. – this year and will be looking to build on that in 2017.

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MRK is one of the most individual and unique artists you will find in the U.S. – these tips have come from L.A. Weekly. She has been compared with Kate Bush but has elements of stripped-down Pop and digital facets to her music – not to mention videos like River of Blood certainly stick in the mind. Powers are a suave, cool and sensual duo that have written for mainstream giants like Kylie Minogue but are not neglecting their own material: ensuring they are slinky, sexy and hot as Hell. That is really an overview of the L.A. artists who have been impressing critics this year. Of course, there are many more and we should all be more wary of the talent that is out there. If we look ahead and there is a big opportunity for L.A. musicians to strike and effect. There have not been too many (if any) polls conducted this year recommending the Los Angeles musicians worth investigating next year – the same goes with London and a certain lack of foresight from the media. If you are looking for a band relevant and urgent, you cannot go far wrong with The Federal Empire. Chad Wolf, Keith Varon and McKay Stevens complete the trio and have just released (in October) their E.P. It seems like a very apt and ironic title given the political unfolding in the U.S. – I will come to that a bit later. The boys have been performing for a while but seem, now, at their most solid and extraordinary. The E.P., I shall pick apart later in this review, has been amazing fans and getting new ears pointing in their direction. It is all encouraging and, before I come to some good points, want to urge the lads to get their websites sorted out. This is a point I labour and exhaust beyond words but feel The Federal Empire would benefit more biography and insight.

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Their official website points to their social media/music-sharing sites but gives scant detail about who they are and where they came from; the kind of acts that inspired them and their views on Trump. Of course, social media helps a bit (and they update regularly) but too many artists are neglecting their biography and forcing the listener to guess and fill in blanks. That is okay to an extent – and it is good letting the music take focus –but it would make bands like The Federal Empire more fleshed-out and appealing were we to know more of them; have a few interviews laid out there and glean more about the fellas. No matter because there are bigger nuts to crack. I opened by saying I’d look at L.A. bands making it big in 2017 and The Federal Empire can be added to that list. The tastemakers have been a little slow off the blocks this year and I am sure, in the next few weeks, the first polls and lists unveiled. I am excited to see who will be included and whether they (the lists) will be band or solo-heavy. In the past, L.A. was celebrated because of its solo acts and what they produce: I feel bands are becoming more relevant and vital in the current landscape. Although The Federal Empire are not, strictly speaking, a political band: they are performing in a time where there is a lot of anger and confusion wafting around America. In fact, looking at their E.P. track Never Saw It Coming: that song title could be written about the election result and what is happening in America now. L.A. is, as I showed with a few of the classic acts, synonymous with its Rock bands and those who address societal issues. Rage Against the Machine are one of the most political and an act you wouldn’t bet against mounting a revival and getting back out there – I know Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha will not be sitting idly and accepting what is happening in The White House. My general point is the fact bands are going to become more important and motivated in 2017 America. Were Hilary Clinton elected then there would be calmer people; I feel there’d be fewer protest songs and disgruntled musicians. As it stands, there is a large faction of pissed off musicians that are shell-shocked and angry. The tone of music will change and there is going to be a lot of frustration channelled into songs. The Federal Empire, on their latest E.P., look more at personal issues and friends; relationships and the sort of subjects most artists document. I imagine, if another E.P. were to arrive next year, it might be more focused on how the country is changing and addressing the imbalance and insanity.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags

It is still hard to believe how the election played out but there must be a reason (other than stupidity) people voted for Trump – maybe those who voted for him wanted someone straight-talking and confident? It is going to be interesting seeing how Trump and musicians transition in the next few months and what happens. Being Democrat territory; L.A. must be especially unctuous and aghast the result. The Federal Empire’s music sounds more urgent and compelling given the unfolding events and I suspect the band will be looking to incorporate more political themes into their music next year. We should be looking at bands next year as I feel they are going to be the most relevant type of musician playing. Solo artists will be creating sensational music but I feel, given general malaise and unrest, it is groups that will be striking hardest. It is going to be exciting seeing how The Federal Empire develop and just what they can come up with next. I know the trio takes great pride in The American Dream (as they should) but its title takes on a new, rather ironic twist given the recent happenings. Next year will be busy for them and they are going to capitalise on their momentum and support. If previous years have seen celebration and acclaim provided to solo artists – that is going to change now I feel. The Federal Empire, with their name alone, strike you as a unit and political party: a rebel alliance that has the potential to galvanise and unify people and inspire others. The American Dream is a wonderful start and an E.P. that shows just what an emphatic and impressive force they are.

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It is hard to compare The American Dream with anything else as this is the first offering from the L.A. trio. The E.P. is stunning and packed with plenty of energy and huge vocals; some more refined Pop moments and hypnotic tracks. The guys have created a buzz over the last two months and the E.P.’s lead-off single, I Never Liked Your Friends, reached number eight on Hype Machine’s trending list – the E.P.’s title track was added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist. L.A. sources like All Things Go, Ones to Watch and The Daily Listening have lauded the band and the guys have been playing some of the finest venues around the city – touring with Dandy Warhols and Lindsey Stirling. Whilst it is hard comparing their material one can get a sense of where they have come from and where they are going. The guys formed after a publisher requested their write songs for acts like The Chainsmokers and David Guetta. It was only after a couple of tracks were penned the boys realised the chemistry and bond were impossible to ignore. This realisation has led to a band that provides classic Americana songwriting with Electronic strands and the sort of gang vocals that are much-needed and desired in the modern landscape. The guys will be vibing off the acclaim they have received and the respect they have accrued from local media. Into 2017, they will look at recording new material and getting more out there; expanding on what they have already done and making a bigger name for themselves.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags

I wanted to focus on Bad Habits not just because of its title – that gets me thinking of The Last Shadow Puppets – but where it sits in the E.P. line-up. The opening track is the excitement of new love with a bit of an unpredictable twist. The girl comes along and turns the hero’s heart upside-down. That bond and passion are huge and you get a tangible feeling or lovers that could be bonded for ages. The third track sees the heroine (whether the same one) castigated and sleeping with another man; at her friends’ place and self-destructing – a group of friends that have been a bad influence and very unwise in their attitudes and decisions. In a way, Bad Habits is an explanation and insight into the downfall; the black box that explains how things manage to change from perfect to horrific. It is a vital track that not only transforms the direction and attitudes of the E.P. but is the strongest cut from the set. The song, rather than blame the heroine or investigate her follies, looks at the heroes and his ‘quirks’. The track opens with island-vibe and sunny strings; there’s a definite rush and a typical serotonin burst from the L.A. faction. The guys bring the track up and expend enough energy in the introduction so the listener is enticed in and gets some chance for guessing. When the lyrics do arrive, there are some rather colourful and standout images. Our guy is a chain-smoking, tattoo-heavy chap that chases the curvaceous and satisfying. Among that sybaritic rider is cigarettes and poker; late nights and a party lifestyle. In a way, hearing the track unfold, reassess my views of the follow-on track and the title slice for that reason. The American Dream looks at figures who embrace the cheap and shallow way of life: the band deliver it in such a way that suggest that is the face of America and something that should be purged. The fact the hero seems to fit into this mould (a little) makes you wonder about the sincerity and angle of the song – whether it (the title song) is an attack on those types of a confession that many people fall into that way of living naturally.

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Again, I look at the third track and the fall-out – where the heroine is staying at friends and sleeping about a bit. It might not be surprising she fell for the guy (given the similarities and the allure of someone a bit rebellious and rough around the edges) but she has immersed herself in that life and embraced all its heady and dangerous sides. Getting back to the song and you are struck by this new-found truth and look at the song differently. In a sense, the hero should be blamed a little as he seems to have led the girl astray and caused a lot of the issues. This is something he admits to an extent – the line “That I’m one (bad habit)…no good for you” – seems to be his disclaimer and way of distancing himself from responsibility. The song, in a way, is something that could have been set in the time of James Dean and the leather-clad film idols. Acting like a companion piece to Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die and Honeymoon albums – where Lizzie Grant fell for tattooed hunks and revelled in the top-down, trousers-down sweat of the open road – and casts its mind around the ‘50s and ‘60s. If The Federal Empire do not have the lush orchestration and smoky vocals of Lana Del Rey: their music is more focused, modern and masculine. There is a laddishness to the song, especially when the vocals unite and practically shout, and one can hear a bit of Imagine Dragons in that sense. The song has a split of emotions and dynamics which appeals to different parts of the body. The lyrics and confessions beg for a more regretful and contemplative delivery but what we get is something unapologetic, defiant and drunken.

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It is a song that has a certain shallowness but it is intended as honesty and openness. The hero knows he is not perfect but he fits into that idea of The American Dream: the pursuit of the cheap and accessible; surrendering to an inevitable decline. You sort of sympathise with the lead and the fact he is just a product of the American system – a Californian ‘ideal’ that many subscribe to. At every stage, the spirit is there and there is no letup in the West Coast hoe-down. Our hero sees the girl look at him and wonders if she’s lying to herself. He knows he is a bad habit (a strange addiction) but she is tempted to that for a reason. There is a psychology at play and it is not as simple as sexual attraction and escapism. Why would a girl, who, at this point, is undefined and seems pure, be swayed by someone who has a Devil nagging on his shoulder? Not only does it provide tantalising backstory but explains some of the actions and results that occur later in the E.P. Bad Habits is a resounded success from the band and song impossible to dislike. Yeah, it deals with a central figure who has fewer good points than bad but he is admitting that. He is, as it goes in the song, human and we all have these proclivities and addictions. Few will walk away feeling any guilt or dislike for the hero: you are left satisfied and recruited into The Federal Empire and more than happy to dedicate yourself to their mission – one that involves losing yourself once in a while and having fun.

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Before concluding things, and going into a bit more depth of the E.P.’s remaining tracks, it is worth going back to my original points and looking at the boys’ future. The Federal Empire released their debut E.P. in October at a time when the U.S. was uncertain and very fearful. Although they are not directly concerned with political messages and the type of band that write about that sort of thing: no musician in the country could ignore what was happening and how their nation was changing. That transformation will become more defined and alarm into 2017 and will motivate many artists to say something about it. Never has there been such a feeling of disgust and unrest in the U.S. (not for a while at least) and I expect music to become a lot sharper and more urgent next year. I stated how solo artists have been grabbing headlines and the most attention. That will shift and I cannot wait to see the bands that will emerge strong very shortly. The Federal Empire sit in a city (at a time) where there is a great opportunity to make impressions and big strides. There are very few bands in the mainstream I have been impressed by and stand in the memory for too long – the solo acts have made the biggest impact in 2016. It is going to be interesting discovering the bands making waves and I know The Federal Empire will be among them. Los Angeles is that epicentre of history, culture and musical excellence: a place that has seen some of music’s true titans grow and conquer. I looked at some of the Rock acts that call L.A. home but there is enough variation and range to satisfy any musical taste. L.A. is a fascinating area and a natural Mecca for musicians. I have been bowled over by the sheer confidence and talent of the artists playing out of the city. The band, by comparison, have been a little quiet but I am starting to hear changes and seeing that shift occur. Groups, whether trios, quartets or larger, have always been relevant and we should not assume solo artists are the biggest draw in music. Even if acts like Beyoncé have been topping end-of-year lists and getting critics hot: the next year is going to see many more bands rise and create stunning albums.

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If The Federal Empire can get their social media sorted out a bit – I only learned about their past through their P.R./management – then more fans would be enticed and it would provide much more scope and clarity. As things stand, the guys are making their music do the talking and a good job of it too. I am not suggesting they overhaul everything and redesign their websites: in a modern, competitive age, there is no real excuse for being a little slack in these areas. The guys are striking hot and they should be added to the list of ones to watch in 2017. Whether we will see a paradigm shift and huge revolution in music I am not sure. I hope artists around the world do not get caught up in petulance and anger and focus those emotions into something more creative and inspiring. Out of the horror and disappointment of the U.S. election result, here is a time where musicians can speak louder and become more relevant than ever before. I know there will be a lot of people trying to erase the memories of 2016 but we can learn a lot and take heart from it. In musical terms, this year has been fantastic and a lot of future stars are starting to make their move. I love The Federal Empire and the way they work. Their story and creation is natural and charming: the guys have that affection for one another and that comes through in their music clearly. I hope the boys get over to Europe and come and play the U.K. very soon. I know there will be a lot of attention and respect for them over here. I have seen a few U.S. bands come over here in 2016 – city-mates The Vim Dicta had a long residency over here – and I can imagine The Federal Empire afforded the same hospitality and affection. I know London will produce a kind and opportunistic house: lots of venues waiting for them and a city similar to L.A. in terms of variegation, talent and energy.

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Never Saw It Coming opens with spirit and hand-claps; light strings and an overall bounce and uplift. The hero sings about being lost and in a place that was confusing and rather strange. Perhaps it was a predictable and safe life but one that was lacking that spark and excitement. Soon enough, a girl came along and changed all that. Turning life upside down; there is that inexplicable and invisible force that gets into the heart and makes life so much better. Although the song does not address new themes or provide too much originality; it is the way the guys write the song and deliver their words that make the song so impressive. They do not overwhelm the song with electronics and processed sounds – everything is very natural and honest. The song looks at the heroine as an addiction and sugar. She is sweet and hot; she’s alluring and deceptive – captivating the mind and intoxicating the senses. Our hero never saw things coming and could not predict life would work out like it has. The guys write a song that has charm and plenty of energy coming in. The chorus brings more force and verve in; the vocals chant and the composition throws colours and flavours together. It is a song that contains nuance, in spite of its urgency and simplicity, and a song you will come back to for a sense of release and encouragement. Its spirit lacks cynicism and is perfectly attuned to the desires of 2016 – a song that puts a smile on the face. Similarly, I Never Liked Your Friends makes you grin but for a different reason. “I wished you well/even though you’re sleeping with somebody else” is a sentiment that could have been delivered with spite and sarcasm. The band almost delivers it tongue-in-cheek and matter-of-fact. The track looks at regrets and the heroine making mistakes. You can see The American Dream as a concept album on love, honesty and relationships. If songs like Never Saw It Coming is the prelude and first chapter; the moment it all clicks and the romance blooms – this is the time when cracks are showing and deception reigns. At every stage, the song remains dignified and strong: the composition has that fizzing, vibrant and non-stop movement.

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The girl is keeping bad company and hanging around people (the hero) was wary of and not happy about. She is strung-out and falling; she is down the bottom of a hole and there is no way out. I am not sure what caused the infidelity and relationship break-up – one suspects a differing worldview and too many arguments – but there seems to be little resentment and blame. The hero is concerned about his former love and seeing the place she is in right now. The anger and accusation are aimed at friends and not the heroine. Perhaps they are the ones who have been pulling the strings and showing very little conscience. The sheer vitality and explosion one feels during the chorus – with those gang vocals  and huge weight – is tremendous. The boys never cheapen things by throwing it all into the mix and hoping something sticks; they do not bring down the mood but still deliver an important message. You know they have written for some of Pop’s best names and you can hear that commercial edge and radio-friendly flair. Usually I am not too enamoured of chart-ready music and the sort of songs that are designed for a particular demographic – predominantly teens and those who do not really know quality music. The Federal Empire are a lot more credible and strong and transcend easy criticism with their infectiousness, songwriting quality and consistency. Skilled writers who know how to deliver a song and get people singing: The American Dream is rife with bangers and tracks that get the body moving. In spite of the acid and vivid scenes that unfold throughout I Never Liked Your Friends; you remember it for its catchiness and deliriousness in addition to the earnestness of the performances. The title track has already gained a lot of respect and it is not hard seeing why. It is the most original song and one that gives new light to the E.P. title. The American Dream, as seen here, has a teenage edge and a certain sloth-like attitude.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags

Smoking weed in a “Netflix nation” (almost the kind of line Green Day would deliver) there is a mixture of apathy and commentary. The burger-eating, supersized person; the type that yearns for apple pie, fast food and faster pleasures – being given a certain undressing thorough. The message of the song seems to be this: people want what they want and not what they need. The song’s hero, whether the frontman or a visualisation of a typical American, just wants fast cars and mansions; they want to get head, go to bed and party until the small hours. It seems, given the Republican movement, that way of life has transferred into government. Trump seems like the type who would recommend and patronise that sort of immaturity and recklessness – presuming the party-goers were white and not of Mexican origin! The song, like all the rest on the E.P., has a rousing coda and infectious chorus; the boys come together and give it stomp and spit. The lyrics are enticing and interesting as there is that judgmental edge but you wonder whether they (or their peers) embrace this lifestyle without irony. It is a song that gets you thinking but stick in the memory too.

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Those L.A.-like dream ideals – shallow girls and the kind of poser that should be eradicated from the landscape – paints a picture of America – one that has been proffered by musicians, artists and tourist boards for decades. The reality of Los Angeles, and America too is somewhere more dignified, substantial and intelligent. The Federal Empire leave some doubts – how much of this way of life do they take in and ignore – which is a perfect way to end things. The entire E.P. seems to breeze by and you are longing for more at the very end. Each of the four songs gets right into the mind and impresses with its solid songwriter and variation of themes. I keep playing the songs and caught by the energy and passion the band throws in every second. Not just another Pop/Rock band who are aimed at the charts with little in the way of grit and credibility – the guys are a strong and hungry band that have the authority and sound to mix it with the best bands coming through right now. Make sure you check the E.P. out and discover music that not only gives us a glimpse into 2017 but…

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LIFTS the mood and appeals to all of the senses.

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Follow The Federal Empire

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Official:

http://www.thefederalempire.com/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/thefederalempire

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/FederalEmpire

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/thefederalempire/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/thefederalempire

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpAQkhzFi0CpjKUkHVjN6CA

FEATURE: The December Playlist: New Songs and Christmas Classics

FEATURE:

 

The December Playlist: New Songs and Christmas Classics musicmusing...

 

The December Playlist: New Songs and Christmas Classics

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GIVEN the fact it is a week or so until the big day…

I felt obliged to throw a selection of Christmas classics into the list. There is some cheese and crackers; some real gifts and some rather unwanted pair of socks. Among the bulk-load of Christmas ‘cheer’ there are some typically reliable downbeat and introspective track from the finest current music has to offer. That is not fair: there are plenty of rousing and spirited tracks among the pile. Among videos from Elbow and Bastille are songs from Years and Years and Crystal Fighters. Take some time to sift through the new music collection and take a dip into the Christmas honeypot. If you get fatigued, save it for another day and rejoice. At any rate; plenty to keep everyone amused until the big day – when I’m sure we won’t hear any more Christmas songs again!

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new songs/videos/christmas songs THE DECEMBER PLAYLIST

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Bastille Blame

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Vanessa ForeroA Song for Christmas

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SIIGHTS – At Christmas

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Surfer BloodMatter of Time

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PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Husband

ElbowMagnificent (She Says)

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The MelvinsCarol of the Bells

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PHOTO CREDIT: Greer Aylece Robinson

TalmontReach Out, I’ll Be There (The Four Tops Cover) | Ont’ Sofa Live at The Crypt Studios

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The Flaming LipsSunrise (Eyes of the Young)

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SlavesHypnotised

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PHOTO CREDIT: Katia Temkin

Maggie RogersDog Years

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Raleigh Ritchie Sicko

Lola CocaXmas Day 

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Artificial PleasureI’ll Make It Worth Your While

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J. ColeEverybody Dies

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KylieAt Christmas

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Gregory Porter Don’t Lose Your Steam (Magic Radio Presents…)

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De La Soul (ft. Estelle and Pete Rock)Memory of…(Us)

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Kacey MusgravesChristmas Makes Me Cry

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Gulp Search for Your Love

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Banks and Steelz (ft. Florence Welch)Wild Season

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She & HimChristmas Memories

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Connie Constance (ft. Jelani Blackman) Clouds

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Terry Wogan The Floral Dance

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Frank TurnerGet Better (Lyric Video)

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Sting One Fine Day

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Best CoastChristmas and Everyday

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Catfish and the Bottlemen – Outside (From Castleford Bowl)

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Una Healy The Waiting Game

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Rag ‘N’ Bone Man Human

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Metronomy Hang Me Out to Dry

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Crystal FightersGood Girls

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LowSome Hearts (at Christmas Time)

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Proclaimers Christmas CollectiveDance Tonight (It’s Christmas)

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NERVO & Askery (ft. Brielle Von Hugel)ALONE (Mesto Remix)

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The London Hospices Choir and Paul CarrackThe Living Years

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Justin Timberlake and Anna KendrickTrue Colours

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Friends of Jo CoxYou Can’t Always Get What You Want

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GalantisPillow Fight

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James ‘Shinny’ DavenportChristmas Number 1

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Nathan SykesHave Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

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Little Simz (ft. Tilla)Poison Ivy

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Matt Redman (ft. Natasha Bedingfield)Help from Heaven

 

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Sinead HarnettRather Be With You

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Years and YearsBoth Sides Now

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Lucy RoseMerry Christmas Everyone (Live at Maida Vale)

'6 MUSIC'S ALBUMS OF 2016

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Kate TempestKetamine for Breakfast

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Bon Iver666 ʇ

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Car Seat HeadrestVincent

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Radiohead (ft. CR78)Present Tense

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Thee Oh SeesThe Axis

A Classic Christmas featuring  SLADE| WHAM! | Mariah Carey| JONI MI...

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SladeMerry Christmas Everybody

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Wizard I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

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The RamonesMerry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

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Destiny’s Child 8 Days of Christmas

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Mariah CareyAll I Want for Christmas Is You

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Chris ReaDriving Home for Christmas

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Bing CrosbyWhite Christmas

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Wham!Last Christmas

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Cocteau TwinsFrosty the Snowman

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Joni MitchellRiver

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The RonettesSleigh Ride

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Bing Crosby and David BowieThe Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth

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Louis ArmstrongChristmas in New Orleans

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Aled JonesWalking in the Air

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John Lennon & Yoko OnoHappy Xmas (War is Over)

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Kings College ChoirSilent Night

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Paul McCartneyWonderful Christmas Time

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Band AidDo They Know It’s Christmas (1984)

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Jackson 5Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

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Andy WilliamsIt’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Elvis Presley – Blue Christmas

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The Pogues (ft. Kirsty MacColl)Fairytale of New York

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All in all, you’ll agree there is quite a stocking’s worth of delight there – I’ll drop the Christmas analogies. The next week will see a few tracks released but not too many new singles. I will probably collate a collection of songs I feel will be important in 2017: that or current songs from bands, both mainstream and unsigned, I feel will be doing exceptional things. Who knows what will be contained within but it is something you will want to see. That will come before the New Year, but, until then, have a good Christmas!