Get tuned into the radio with Vince Staples on “FM!”

Just over a year on from the critical triumph that was Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples makes a surprise but welcome return with FM!, a fun concept album/EP/mixtape/whatever the fuck it is. While some artists’ side projects between main projects can fade into insignificance, in 22 brief minutes Staples still manages to make a lasting impression.

Although this project is short, Vince packs in the creativity we have come to expect from him. FM! plays out as a radio programme, with a few skits that resemble radio transitions, with the running theme being Vince urging listeners to call in to win tickets to see Kehlani live. With how short the run-time is it is impressive that Staples manages to tie the few tracks included together with a plot making the project feel more cohesive.

As far as the actual musical content the Long-beach rapper delivers, FM! contains some of his catchiest material to date. While the overall themes and sound don’t stray too far from where Big Fish Theory left off, this is not a bad thing at all as we get more of the sharp production we have come to expect from Vince Staples. From opening track Feels Like Summer, Staples continues to demonstrate why he is streets ahead of his competition. One element that is perhaps improved since his last album is the hooks. On this track and throughout the album the choruses pack a punch and refuse to be forgotten.

Thematically, this is familiar territory for Vince, though again this is no weakness as his takes on gang violence are always sincere and compelling. Once again he finds the balance between humour and addressing important issues and it creates a perfect blend of a project that is a fun listen but also a more rewarding listen if you so desire.

As with Big Fish Theory, the highlight of FM! is without a doubt the production. From the sinister bass of Relay with the accompaniment of Vince‘s snarling delivery or the bouncing beat of FUN! that almost sounds out of place but, when paired with Vince, fits perfectly and makes for another stand out moment. With each release, Staples is becoming more and more creative and exciting and even with what could have been a throwaway project, he shows no signs of phoning it in.

For what this project is, it doesn’t leave much to be desired except more of the same from Vince Staples. In fact, the only weak spots on FM! are when Vince is sidelined: Jay Rock, Kehlani and E40 all hold their own but Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga’s interludes underwhelm. On the whole, Vince Staples reminds us of what he is capable of and if this is what he does in his spare time then his next output is one to be excited for. – ethan woodford (@human_dis4ster)

rating 8

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Deaf Balloons bring light from darkness with The Black Country

At the best of times, Wolverhampton is a bleak place. Nestled in the Black Country, in the middle of Grey Britain, fun is a commodity in short supply. Whereas other cities across the land boast of their “scene”, the closest we get to a scene is a crime scene.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop bands from trying to be the best Wulfrunian export since Beverly Knight. Or Steve Bull. Or orange chips.

One of the latest bands to give that a whack is Deaf Ballons; arguably an indie band, but their sound is a bit fizzier than that. They’ve just released their first ‘proper’ EP The Black Country, hoping that much like their city’s motto, out of the darkness of Wolverhampton shall cometh light. And if you’re so inclined, out of Sandwell cometh shite.

Still in their infancy as a group, they could be forgiven for taking baby steps on their first EP (and their headline show at The Sunflower Rooms in Birmingham), but as the show opened up and the first notes rang out, they took total control of the rather full and sweaty room with complete confidence.

Another important thing is playing around your problems when you’re taking baby steps, and any technical woes were brushed off or laughed off by frontman Ed Scott, already owning a stage without any issues. The band look well glued together as well. They all seem to be enjoying themselves and the company of their bandmates, rather than being rooted to the spot. A good indicator of whether a new band are gelling and comfortable in their own skin: does the bass player look like they’re plotting a murder-suicide in their band? If they look happy, everyone’s happy.

The set was a fully blown one, comprising of the old songs from roughly recorded EP Dreaming of Somebody Else followed by a few new tracks with punk inclinations, before moving onto the real meat – the new EP. Let’s do the same, shall we?

Starting off slow and melancholic, The Black Country paints a dull and grey picture, inspired by life in the city. It doesn’t move past a slow crawl, and accurately captures a dreary day in a grey and anonymous scene. As a opener it works fantastically, settling you into the EP before something a bit more uptempo. Gangster Lean does just that with its heightened drum beat and brighter feel.

It feels unfair parcelling the band off as “indie” when they don’t stick to a linear blueprint, but there are some really light and airy beats on here, with Gangster Lean being a fantastic example of that. In terms of notes and feedback to improve their performance, you can’t really pick up on any glaring errors, omissions or black holes that need plugging. The only thing for Deaf Balloons to do is to keep doing what they do until they can do no more doing, and that? That will do. They have a solid foundation on which to grow, and the only thing is to keep it simple; save the flashy shit for the arena tour and the experimental shit for at least the fifth album.

A good example of deviating from a linear blueprint is EP highlight Crocodile Tears. A throaty scream opens the track, before a grungy riff starts to rattle your eardrums. There’s also the lighter indie bits in the verses, but the hefty part of track is that big, meaty riff. Let it in your ears, let the sludge permeate your soul and corrupt your children.

The Black Country is a solid EP, and a statement of intent from the band. Nothing’s a given in the music business, but Deaf Balloons are showing they’re prepared to work hard on the stage and in the studio to get the results they crave. All that’s needed now is to make sure they don’t float off, and to make sure they’ve always got a solid ear on what they’re doing. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Colour Carnival impress with sophomore EP ‘Panic Sold’

words fae Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

Edinburgh-based psych rock outfit Colour Carnival are one of the more eclectic acts to emerge from Leith Recording Company in recent months. Whilst their debut Count The Flies puts out a feast of different sounds for listeners to gorge on, it felt at times that certain elements didn’t quite belong on the plate. Their latest EP, on the other hand, constitutes a significant step forward for the three-piece group in their effort to distill down a myriad of influences into a slicker, more cohesive package. Panic Sold glides between various styles in a manner which is not only effective, but begins to build the foundations of their very own unique sound.

Ready For This kicks off with a blistering drum intro and some neat, intricate clean guitar work before giving way to crashing cymbals and distortion. The rhythm section of Graeme Jarvie and Michael Stuart does a great job of controlling the ebb and flow, especially as the structure is fairly freeform; in fact, none of the tracks on the EP are really your bog standard verse/chorus affair. It’s encouraging to see that Colour Carnival’s songwriting is already fairly accomplished at this early stage of their career, by and large avoiding pitfalls such as repetitive melodies or tired indie rock cliches.

Moral Rachet continues to impress as it begins with jabs of jarring, dissonant guitar and weaving basslines as Simon Anderson takes aim at the hypocrisy of the gun lobby – “hit me with your moral ratchet / candle vigils, thoughts and prayers” – before bursting into life midway with an almost palpable release of tension, providing a wonderful contrast to the anxiety of the first half. It’s a sign that they’re able to experiment and incorporate the odd tastefully deployed guitar solo without giving off the impression it’s been thrown in ‘for the hell of it’.

Penultimate track Run Its Race suddenly takes the EP in a new direction, and is testament to the band’s ability to switch it up. There’s some really nice touches throughout – the guitar hook is pretty damn catchy, plus the seemingly innocuous synths during the verse actually work to great effect. It’s undoubtedly a highlight and you’d be hard pushed to find a better starting point for the curious or the uninitiated.

The step-up from debut to sophomore EP is marked, and if Colour Carnival continue on this trajectory, they’re looking like a very hot prospect indeed. Once they smooth out some of the rough edges production-wise, such as the occasionally muddled vocals, they look more than capable of serving up a slice of brilliance on their next outing.

‘Panic Sold’ is set to be released June 29th. You can listen to it and buy a digital copy here.

I Feel Fine are doing well with an EP wrapped in emo influences

words fae ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

The debut EP from up-and-coming Brighton indie/emo band I Feel Fine acts as an rating 6attempt for the band to start gaining some real recognition for their efforts. The release features five tracks, with the opening being an introduction as opposed to an actual song. At this length, you get a real feel for what this band is all about, which is hard and fast songs that are also catchy enough to stick in the listener’s mind. The inspiration for I Feel Fine is fairly apparent from the get-go with the all-American emo punk rock sound taking its place front and centre on the EP. Popular bands such as Modern Baseball and Remo Drive can be heard in moments throughout the release, which makes a nice change from the regurgitated sounds that many promising British bands seem to take on.

One highlight from Long Distance Celebration is the playing and instrumentation. Nearly every aspect of the instrumentation is solid, with the band playing both loud and quiet equally well and going back and forth between the two effortlessly. The songwriting on the project is good enough but doesn’t stand out, in part due to the vocal performances. The vocals on this EP are one of the major issues, with the mixing occasionally leaving the vocals feeling lost and washed out. The whole group shouting thing also gets a bit repetitive and generally feels distant, not offering a personal feel during the songs, for the most part. Exceptions to this do occur, as sometimes the vocals do work, like at the beginning of Everyday Safari, where the vocal almost give a Modest Mouse type effect, which is obviously great.

The closing track, Pan For Gold also has that more personal feel, but it would have been nicer to have that kind of sentiment on other tracks. That is not to say that the tracks that feel less personal are bad at all, in fact, they are good, upbeat and catchy indie rock songs. Already mixing catchy melodies and transitioning between different intensities shows the talent from I Feel Fine, which is impressive considering this is the band’s debut EP. In terms of the tightness of the playing on the EP, there aren’t any bad moments and it would be hard to tell that this was the first release of any band, with some moments sounding like cuts off of albums by well-established bands that have likely provided inspiration for this project.

Overall Long Distance Celebration is really good for a debut EP but could really use a more personal touch. While I Feel Fine sound different from many of their British contemporaries, in the grand scheme of things they do blend in amongst other up-and-coming emo/punk indie bands and their inspiration maybe shines through a bit too bright sometimes. However, managing to blend into a sound and holding your own is great for a first release and provides a solid foundation to improve on. With such a solid collection of songs released on a debut, it’s clear that this band have potential: now they just need focus on what they’re strongest at and incorporate it to make their own personal sound, whether it be switching up the vocals are adding more interesting features to the instrumentation and production.

‘Pop Music’ sees Remo Drive polish their sound, for better or worse

words by ryan martin (@ryanmartin182)

Remo Drive’s debut, Greatest Hits exploded into the indie punk scene with a raw,rating 6 energetic sound. Now, they’ve followed it up with Pop Music, a three-song-EP. The new batch of tracks features a reworking of Heartstrings, which was previously featured on a split with fellow Minnesota band, Unturned. The reworking of Heartstrings loses the spunk of the original recording and sounds much paler than its predecessor.

Pop Music has an unmistakable polished tone to Remo Drive’s sound. This works well on Blue Ribbon and Song of the Summer, which sound like they were written with this tone in mind. Both tracks are shimmery pop-punk summer anthems. What fails to stick around in Remo Drive’s latest offering is the memorability that Greatest Hits had. Each song was different, had incredible hooks, and a sense of in-your-face-energy. While Pop Music sounds like it’s a step in the right direction for Remo Drive’s career, considering their recent signing to the giant Epitaph Records, it could potentially be a turning point for the many fans won over by Greatest Hits.

Remo Drive is not a band that sounds significantly worse when they step up their production. Frontman Erik Paulson’s vocals have a strikingly high range, which is shown on their brighter tracks like I’m My Own Doctor and Yer’ Killin Me. While the grittier tone works well with the songs on Greatest Hits, the structuring of the songs on Pop Music demand a shinier sound.

It would be unfair to call Pop Music a misstep for the band, or even a step at all for that matter.

If you liked this, check Ryan’s interview with Remo Drive or see where Greatest Hits landed in our Best Albums of 2017 list.

Suicidal Tendencies deliver disappointment and boredom in equal measure on new EP ‘Get Your Fight On!’

by liam toner (@tonerliam)rating 3

When first hearing that Suicidal Tendencies were releasing a new EP, the expectation was a collection of mediocre hardcore punk tracks performed by a cast of past-it middle-aged guys; upon listening, it becomes very quickly apparent that not even those expectations have been met.

Suicidal Tendencies’ golden moment in their long tenure came in the form of their 1983 self-titled album which blended sounds from both the early developing thrash metal movement and the sounds and energy of the American hardcore scene to pioneer the sub genre crossover thrash. The band went on to put out a slew of quality releases through the rest of the 80s and gathered a considerable fan base. Going to hardcore shows today you’re still likely to spot somebody with a trucker cap sporting the word ‘Suicidal’ beneath the visor.

The first glaring issue with this EP right off the bat is that this release clocks in at 45 minutes long, which is an absurd length for an EP. This might not have been so bad if 45 minutes of new Suicidal Tendencies was engaging and interesting, but they dropped the ball on that as well. We, the fortunate listeners, are treated to ten tracks. Two of these tracks (#1 and #4) are re-recordings of songs from vocalist Mike Muir’s 90s solo project Cyco Miko, the 6th track is a Stooges’ cover and the last four tracks are all different versions of the same song. This leaves us with three new, original tracks not including the four versions of Get Your Fight On.

The opening track Nothing to Lose is the strongest track on here for sure. It’s a high energy slice of crossover thrash with some really solid riffing and lead guitar work that, on the first listen, raises hopes for the EP actually being not too bad before progressively nose diving as it continues on. The only issue with this particular track, however, was some of the cheesy “let’s go let’s go” backing vocals.

Unfortunately, Nothing to Lose is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cheesy vocals and lyrics. The subsequent two tracks consist mostly of mid-tempo funk rock grooves allowing members of the band to rap over, which lets the cringe-worthy lyrics really shine through. There’s just something inherently silly about a bunch of middle aged guys writing childish lyrics about not taking shit from anyone and hating authority, but you’ll find plenty of that on here. The most cringe-inducing song on the EP is definitely Ain’t Messing Around and although you can see the band were trying to come across as inspiring and free thinking, the result was a lot more unintentionally hilarious than the band would have planned.

When Dave Lombardo’s name appears on the drumming credits for this Suicidal Tendencies release, it’s hard not to get excited to see what he would bring to the table. Lombardo played on all of Slayer’s classic 80s albums where he set the stage for how most drummers in thrash metal would play, as well as solidifying himself as one of the most influential metal drummers of all time. Unfortunately, though, his talents can’t make up for some of the lacklustre songwriting on the EP. As mentioned earlier, the second half of the EP features 4 versions of the same song. Two feature different vocals, while one is just a backing track for a four minute bass solo and the other for an equally long guitar solo. It’s mind boggling to think why the band decided putting all four of these tracks on here would be a good idea. All they do is bore the listener beyond belief and take the EP up to a ridiculous 45 minute run time.

Despite Suicidal Tendencies being a band of very talented musicians, what they have put out here is awfy disappointing – featuring sub par songs, cringe-inducing lyrics and instilling an overall feeling of boredom on the listener.

EP Review: Belle and Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 2)

by Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)rating 7

In their younger days, Belle & Sebastian were famously recluse and shrouded in mystery, developing almost to the point of a cult of personality. Interaction with the press was a rarity and their lyrics – sharp-witted, erudite and often self-depreciating – proved even more complex than the persona they propagated (intentionally or not). In the clutches of middle age, however, they’ve been undergoing something of a change in approach. In many ways they’re now more accessible than ever; whether this is a reaction to or a consequence of the changing landscape of music consumption remains unclear.

To Stuart Murdoch et al., the EP is an artform in its own right. Instead of stuffing such releases with studio outtakes and B-sides, they devote the same amount of love and attention as they would to a full-length album. Following in the footsteps of their late ’90s EP bonanza (Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane, and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light), B&S have committed to another trio of releases under the banner How to Solve Our Human Problems.

As they move onto the second installment of the trilogy, the purpose of this format is ostensibly to divide the tracks into three distinct acts or chapters in order to deliver a certain impact on each outing. On this occasion, their nonchalant demeanor seems to be a coping mechanism for the relentless negativity of the world we live in. Instead of fighting fire with fire, they’ve taken a conciliatory approach. “So let’s consider not being angry”, suggests Murdoch.

Tracks like Show Me The Sun embody this free-spirited attitude, a sort of reckless abandon which is a rarity in the B&S canon. It doesn’t indulge in any unnecessary navel-gazing; instead, it comes flying out the traps with a chorus of ‘na na nas’ before descending into cheery question-and-answer vocals and psychedelic guitars. Cornflakes, too, is nothing short of a riot – crashing cymbals and spacey synths.

The EP’s live and let live philosophy has undoubtedly been a consequence, at least in part, of parenthood. On lead single I’ll Be Your Pilot, Murdoch speaks with an unmistakable paternal tone as he implores his young boy Denny to enjoy his adolescent days while he can. “It’s tough to become a grown-up / Put it off while you can“, he urges. The dialogue plays out like a reassuring chat between father and son; a promise to look out for him, keep him safe. The sentiment is warm and loving, although there is a sense of foreboding when he alludes to the treacherous state of the world, “I tell you that when / You land in the world / It’s like quicksand“.

Part 2 constitutes a solid step forward in the How to Solve Our Human Problems trilogy and, as it happens, represents one of their strongest records in recent times. Despite the lack of characteristic catchy hooks abundant in their earlier material, all five tracks are charming and memorable in their own right. There’s no mistaking their ability to change with the times, though. 22 years on since the release of their debut Tigermilk, they show no signs of running out of ideas yet.