Review: Twin Atlantic, SSE Hydro, Glasgow – May 9th 2015

Twin Atlantic are sort of a big deal.

Forming in 2007, the band, comprising of Sam McTrusty, Barry McKenna, Ross McNae and Craig Kneale, have taken a page out of fellow Scots Biffy Clyro’s book and have tackled every rung of the ladder to get to the stage where they can fill an arena of 13,000. It’s really no surprise as to how they got to this level though, as shown by their stunning performance on Saturday.

As soon as frontman McTrusty struts on stage, after Bohemian Rhapsody had played beforehand as per Twin tradition, the crowd went predictably mental. “It’s great to be home” he shouts before belting out opening song Make A Beast Of Myself from their 2011 sophmore album Free. This track perfectly highlights the band’s rock pop sound which, while not totally original, screams passion and leaves the audience hungry for more.

One problem I’ve always had with the Hydro is the sound and atmosphere, something that makes the venue a bit less formidable to local competition like King Tuts. This should be expected of a venue as big as the Hydro though Twin managed to work their way around this problem and outperform themselves, putting the gig well above their 2014 Barrowlands gig. Every band that performs in the hydro from now on has a new level of quality to surpass. However this didn’t mean there wasn’t a few cliches, one of which was the Hydro classic “turn the lights off and make the crowd turn their phone flash-lights on”. Maybe it’s just me that finds it annoying but if anything it’s a tiny nitpick that didn’t take away from the experience.

Despite this, the gig couldn’t have went better. A highlight for me was We Want Better Man, a song so unapologetically patriotic that it might as well be called the Alex Salmond Anthem. When the crowd yelled “here is the handle, now get a fucking grip” in unison, it sent a shiver down my spine. Even some of the new tracks off last year’s The Great Divide like Fall Into The Party showed their worth, the crowd giving back the same love that Twin were giving out on stage. What Is Light, Where Is Laughter also made an appearance, showing that the band still acknowledge their early days, although a few more tracks off Vivarium wouldn’t have went amiss.

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This Hydro gig can be described simply as an emotional homecoming. As the crowd sang along to the tearjerker track Crash Land, Sam McTrusty complimented the crowd saying “And that’s why you’re the fucking greatest city in the world.” A city well renown for its music scene, Twin Atlantic are definitely a success story that deserve all the praise they get. With festival season approaching, the rest of the world should prepare themselves for this powerhouse act.

Tidal: Wave goodbye to Spotify?

Kanye West. Jay Z. Beyonce. Nicki Minaj. Rihanna. Those names alone might sound like a festival’s list of dream acts for their line up. If you tuned into the Tidal Conference on Monday night though it all seemed like an illuminati meeting more than anything, hell, there was even a moment where each artist signed a piece of paper to show their dedication, albeit with ink and not their blood.

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Let’s clear up something first: what is Tidal? Tidal is a music streaming service, similar to the likes of Spotify and Deezer, which is owned by hip-hop giant Jay Z who purchased the company for $56 million dollars. The service isn’t the first of its kind though Tidal claims that it’s unique for two reasons.

Firstly it’s owned by the artists. This actually makes sense I suppose, Spotify has been under extreme scrutiny for paying artists a measly amount of money compared to how often their music is streamed. Incase you didn’t know, Spotify claims to have paid over $1 billion since its launch in 2008, at $0.007 a play. So a song would have to be played around 100 times to reach the iTunes retail price of a song. Artists haven’t taken kindly to this, all you have to do is look at pop queen Taylor Swift who controversially pulled her entire music library off the music streaming service last year following the release of her critically acclaim 1989. On its first week alone, the album sold 1 million copies and has became one of the best selling albums of the last year, selling more than 4 million copies since it’s release last October.

Secondly it provides lossless music quality at 1411kbps compared to Spotify’s 320kbps, something that Tidal has been bragging about to try and stand out from the crowd. The only fault with this is you’ll literally not know the difference between the two. There’s a sound test on their site and I tried it out and I can’t for the life of me point out anything significantly different, not enough to make me pay £20 a month for. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one of the major criticisms of Tidal. Actually there’s a few reason why Tidal isn’t as perfect as it seems.

First of all Tidal costs £20 a month for “lossless quality”, £10 if you just want standard. There’s no ad sponsored free tier, something that has riled some folk as Spotify has this option which may account for it’s large membership. Secondly, like I stated before, the lossless quality will not be noticed by the average music listener. You’ll need other music programs and peripherals like expensive headphones to notice this. I’m not saying there isn’t people who won’t enjoy the higher quality but the fact is you’re going to be spending more money than you’d think. On top of that if you’re out and about you can think again about using Tidal. An average lossless quality album stream will come up to around 400mb so if you’re on a contract that only allows 5GB, you’ll be struggling to play 10 whole albums a month on the go and that’s assuming there the usual 12 track length.

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The real problem with Tidal is that it claims to be something that will change the face of music, so much so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the conference was to announce the second coming of Jesus Christ. At the end of the day,if this group of musicians with a combined wealth of $2.7 billion really cared about the quality of music, they wouldn’t be investing in “lossless” quality streaming which, by the way, would be CD quality. Instead, they would release their catalogues on analogue via vinyl. I was disappointed to see Jack White, someone who is very enthusiastic about records, associating himself with Tidal as I was to see some of my other favourite acts signing up for nothing but more money.

And that’s the real problem. As much as these artists will deny it, Tidal is just to make the millionaires richer at the expense of isolating music fans who can’t afford it. A sad week for music.

The Revival of Vinyl

Just like the weather, music is unpredictable by nature. If it were to abide by a set of rules then many of the greatest artists the world has ever known wouldn’t be around as every song would be a bland rehash of another. The same can be said in the way that music is produced. During most of the 20th century Vinyl was the default format and it seemed like nothing could stop it but that wasn’t the case.

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Music veteran and record store-owner Sandy McLean explained this. “The creation of the CD definitely chipped away at vinyl’s success over time, becoming the new go to format while vinyl became second best. Arguably the final nail in the coffin for us was iTunes. At first it seemed over ambitious to think you could get an album without leaving the house but when it became reality, well that was when we got hit hard”.

The death of the record looked inevitable, sinking to as low as 0.5 million copies annually (Nielsen Soundscan). Recently though, the vinyl has experienced a resurrection that has surprised many. McLean explained that it comes down to various factors. “Vinyl is in the right place at the right time. People have become dissatisfied with digital downloads because even though they are portable, it doesn’t have the same satisfaction as going out, buying a physical copy and starting a collection.” Charlie Ward, 18, from Cambridge said “Records can transport you back to different eras as you’re hearing 100% of the original recording, nothing can beat the crackle of a vinyl, something that digital downloads can’t compare to”. In addition to this, 21 year-old Brendan Yorke stated that he prefers vinyl due to how unreliable downloads are.

Unsurprisingly record stores have benefitted greatly from this revival. From 2009 to 2013 there has been a 9% increase in the amount of record stores in Britain which has allowed for events like Record Store Day blossom into a special yearly event for music lovers. McLean spoke fondly about the event, emphasising that “RSD was a major success this year and it’s no surprise to see why people love it. Not only do you get special releases but you also get to communicate with other people who are passionate about vinyl and music, making the whole process of buying a record that bit more social-able and fun.” Marc Gouk, 19 from Glasgow, criticised the event though, stating that the event was ruined by touts reselling vinyl that were in limited stock for nearly 4 times their original price. McLean addressed the problem though, saying that “the trade association that we work with Entertainment Retailers Association found that only 5% of the items bought on RSD were then resold on auction sites so it was a very small percentage.” He went on to say that “it’s a part of human nature, as long as there are tickets for gigs and vinyl then there will be touts trying to make a profit”.

It’s not been all rosy for vinyl though. Regardless of the fact that 844,122 records have been sold in 2014 alone, critics like 24 year old Brodie McCulloch of Ayr say that this revival will be shortlived as “it is a fad just like pet rocks were back in the 70’s”. As well as this, others like Effy Brown of Glasgow say that it is unfair that “genres like indie rock are benefiting from this revival more than others”. McLean was quick to defend vinyl and address these problems. “In regards to people that say this revival is a fad, I think it’s incredibly naïve to assume that. Vinyl has been around for more than 70 years now and even though the popularity has dipped especially in the 90s, people are now beginning to show their dissatisfaction with other formats and have realised the benefits of records”. Talking about certain genres benefiting more than others, he pointed out that indie rock dominates the sales with artists like Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths but that isn’t such a bad thing. “It draws people into what is for most young people an unfamiliar phenomenon and having artists they recognise like the big rock bands of today and yesteryear means they can slowly ease their way into it all. Lots of genres and sub-genres have enjoyed success in this revival and it’ll only continue as the years go by”.

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It doesn’t matter what way you look at it, the popularity of vinyl at the moment is undeniable. By the end of this year sales are expected to surpass 1 million and big stores like Urban Outfitters and HMV are hopping onto the record scene. In what is predominantly an unpredictable sector of entertainment, music will now have to welcome back an old favourite. It may not have learned any new tricks but the sound still packs a bite.

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Odd Future are kind of a big deal right now. Well I say right now, they’ve been around since 2007 and since then haven’t really faded away. Whether it’s their fashion label, their TV show on Adult Swim Loiter Squad or even their own radio station, which you can find on the Dash Radio app, Odd Future are arguably the Wu Tang Clan of the 21st Century. However, the reason people who love the controversial hip hop collective group isn’t for their socks but for their music. There’s the multi personality ring leader Tyler The Creator who’ll be visiting Scotland in May to fuck up the Barrowlands. In addition there’s also the critically praised Frank Ocean who is probably on the CIA’s most wanted list now since he’s not released a new album since 2012’s Channel Orange. And then there’s Earl Sweatshirt.

earl-sweatshirt-announces-title-and-tracklist-of-new-album-releases-grief1Earl’s career hasn’t exactly been smooth by any means. After releasing his eponymous mix-tape, it seemed like he’d just disappeared off the face of the earth. It was revealed that he had actually been sent to a boarding school in Samoa by his mum who was disapproving of his music which referenced rape and murder to an excessive level. Even when he arrived back in 2012 and released his debut album Doris, he was still facing difficulties. Not only did his grandmother die during the making of Doris but since then he had split up with girlfriend Mallory Llewellyn as well as struggling with drug problems. With I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl sounds affected by all of these issues but simultaneously more confident in what he’s doing.

And so he should.

It’s no surprise that an album with such a troubled release would explore some negative themes.After listening to the first few tracks you can tell this album is different to anything Odd Future has released so far. There have always been tracks by various members about heartache and demons but usually the majority of the albums those tracks feature on are a bit more upbeat. With IDLSIDGO though, that’s not the case. On leading single Grief Earl speaks about the clarity he received after the release of Doris, being made aware of the people who only wanted to associate with him for the money and fame, “All I see is snakes in the eyes of these niggas”, an issue many rappers face after making it big. While Grief might focus on this new found fame, tracks like Mantra touch on his aforementioned relationship with Llewellyn, saying that “my absence of fucks was a problem that we ain’t never got to really solve” and how the trust just started to disappear over time.

His use of cannabis is also something that’s mentioned repeatedly during Earl’s sophmore album which is, in contrast to how Tyler The Creator portrays it, slightly more negative. Take Faucet for example where Earl talks about the ash on his face being the trace of him, which can be interpreted as being the bits of him that he’s losing to his chronic drug use or it’s just the literal ash he leaves after smoking. In a genre that constantly glorifies weed while exploring the negatives, it’s refreshing to hear something like this that can appeal to both sides of the legalise debate.

There’s very few things that I can complain about on this album. Could I say I want Earl to return to that style he had back in his mix-tape days? I could but at the same time I don’t want that. What Earl is showing on this album is the difficulties in his day to day life, something that we all face, whether it’s a bitter break up or not knowing the real you. The only minor grip I have with this album is maybe the absence of a Tyler track though that might be the bit of me that still hasn’t come to terms with EarlWolf not being a real thing.

2015 has been an amazing year for music, especially Hip Hop music. This year already we’ve had the highly anticipated follow up to Good Kid, m.A.A.d City from Kendrick Lamar as well as Death Grip’s Jenny Death, the album that many thought would never actually be released.We’re only in March and we’ve still got Drake and Kanye’s new albums later this year to get excited about. Earl can sit back rest assured that despite all the big name acts that might be surrounding him that he’s definitely proved his worth on this album.

You can buy I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside on iTunes and get Earl’s debut mixtape for free here.

Favourite Album Covers (Part 1?)

Album covers were originally just flimsy bits of paper to try and protect the shiny goods underneath but they have since evolved into something that musicians can use for their artistic expression. Although many artists tend to go for a bland picture of themselves with an equally as bland background, some musicians have produced some iconic and fantastic artwork. Just so my list doesn’t come across as too bias I’m going to only put one album cover per artist, also this is just some of my favourites so if you don’t agree or don’t see any of your favourites then just drop a message in my ask.

Biffy Clyro – The Vertigo Of Bliss

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With erotic titled tracks like “Toys,Toys,Toys,Choke,Toys,Toys,Toys”, it should be no surprise that the cover, which was created by prolific comic book writer and artist Manera, for the cult Scottish rock band’s second album was equally as erotic and controversial.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

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A testament to how simplicity can be equally as cool, the New York band’s cover for their critically acclaimed third album is egg-cellent.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

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It wouldn’t be an artwork list without mentioning one of the most iconic album covers of all time, one that features neither the artist’s name or the album name. Undoubtedly cool as well as simple, the set of successive pulses are from the first pulsar ever discovered,PSR B1919+21.

The Strokes – Is This It?

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Even on their debut, the New York band manage to cement their place as one of the coolest bands around. If it wasn’t their music, haircuts or names that done it then it had to be the album cover, one that’s become an all time classic and is instantly recognisable.

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

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EMI have stated that after Atom Heart Mother’s artwork that they knew working with the band would be difficult to work with. Although their previous album Dark Side Of The Moon’s front cover is far more recognisable, Pink Floyd’s artwork for their ninth album is equally as impressive. The image of two men having a handshake whilst one’s on fire is one that any music fan will recognise.

Nirvana – In Utero

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Cobain reportedly wanted to call Nirvana’s follow up album to Nevermind “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die” but thankfully bandmate Novosellic convinced him to change it. Although it would have made for some very odd artwork, In Utero still managed to have some equally as absurd artwork with a toned down title. It might not have the same cult status as Nevermind’s but In Utero still has one of the most odd yet captivating pieces of artwork for an album.

ALBUM REVIEW: TURN BLUE – THE BLACK KEYS

The Black Keys aren’t exactly new to the music scene. In their career that has spanned 13 years, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have released 7 albums that have gathered praise from critics and rock fans alike, most notably their 2010 release Brothers which brought the duo a lot of commercial success as they were now a grammy winning household name. Have the Ohio boys managed to continue their golden run with Turn Blue or has the success finally came to a halt?

One thing that you can rely the Black Keys delivering the goods on is production values and Turn Blue isn’t any different. Co-Producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton returns to lend a helping hand after assisting on El Camino and Brothers and his involvement really shows, managing to use the band’s blues rock canvas and fine stroking every detail that adds to the artistic brilliance of this album. This isn’t just a one man effort like it may have been back when the band started off as Auerbach and Carney are well regarded producers themselves with Dan assisting the likes of Lana Del Rey while Patrick has helped with lower profile bands like The Sheepdogs. You’d expect too many producers meddling with the sound to spoilt it but it does just the opposite.

After 8 albums, you’d expect Auerbach and Carney’s quality song-writing and talent to slip somewhat but you’d be wrong. The title track manages to highlight Auerbach’s falsetto voice’s finesse which prowls after Carney’s pitter patter drums which help to create a song that’s large in scale and one that needs to be listened through earphones, as advised by the duo, to really experience every fine detail that it captivates. Fever, the record’s first single, has an almost cyborg sounding background noise at the start and the rest of the track is just as interesting, showing the duo’s funkiness and an organ melody that once you’ve heard, you’ll fall in love with instantly. In Time features some ghostly vocals that are weirdly seductive sounding at the same time, as if Patrick Swayze somehow made his way onto the track. One of Turn Blue’s highlights has to be opening track Weight Of Love that has an intro so reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Speak To Me/ Breathe that you can see the 70’s influence escaping from your earphones. At 7 minutes long, it ‘s dangerously close to overstaying it’s welcome but its absence would definitely be one that would be missed.

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Other critics, I’m looking at you NME, might complain that Turn Blue isn’t like the band’s previous outings but when an alteration of the formula sounds as funky, psychedelic and overall amazing as Black Key’s latest record is, is that really a bad thing? The duo’s golden run is still continuing and at this rate, it’ll be one to make Dorothy herself jealous.

CLASSIC REVIEW: The Strokes – Is This It

Whether you like to call it the 2000’s or the noughties,there’s no doubt that the decade was a very exciting time for music as not only were applauded albums by former well praised bands released, Radiohead’s Kid A as an example, but the new wave of bands not only surprised critics but intrigued them as well with bands like Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys releasing some of the best albums to be released in the past 15 years.

One band that can proudly admit to being a part of this new wave are The Strokes, an American rock band that hail from New York, who came out of nowhere to not only release one of the most exciting pieces of music in the past couple of decades but also change the face of modern rock as we know it.

Throughout this album, there’s an ever present mood and atmosphere that are wonderfully brought to life by various aspects of the band, be it Casablancas’ hauntingly mesmerising voice which narrates the 11 tracks on this album, the dexterous and dazzling guitar performances by Valensi, Hammond Jnr and Fraiture or Moretti’s consistent flow that he provides on drums.

The songs on this album are of a very high standard and observe the life and times of living in a metropolis such as New York City. A song which represents this very well is the opening track Is This It? that tells of the manipulation that relationships can be a victim of with Casablanca’s voice hovering gracefully over the sound of quiet drums and a calming choir of guitars and this same theme continues over to Last Nite. This track gained the band a lot of initial hype and tells of the disappointment and aggravation that relationships can provide over time with a very upbeat tempo which will stick in your mind long after the album is finished.

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New York City Cops is clearly a not so sly hit at the city’s police department with a tongue in cheek snort at the end that adds to the album’s unique charisma. Take It Or Leave It is the concluding track and what a send off it is with Casablancas shouting over a hyperactive clash of drums and guitars that provide a brilliant album for the band’s debut.

What else can be said about an album that hasn’t been said by the hundreds of thousands of people that have listened to it? The album not only provides an insight into life in New York City but also provides the kind of character and charm that most albums can only dream of having. The album is a milestone is music and it’s no surprise that the album is regarded as one of the best albums ever made and the thing that makes me appreciate the album is even though the themes on this album were initially to give an insight of a life in a metropolis, it’s oddly relatable and explains why the album is cherished by music lovers all around the world as well as showing why this album is the greatest record produced during the noughties.