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.

Album Review: Beck – Colors

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

rating 5

Ever since exploding into public consciousness with the sardonic slacker anthem Loser in 1994, Beck has established himself as one of music’s most notorious shapeshifters. His bizarre but engaging musical journey has seen him landing in country-via-hip-hop territory on Odelay, bombastic Prince-infused freak funk on Midnite Vultures and stripped back folk rock on Morning Phase; an album which saw him once again drop his characteristic snark in favour of a more sincere, humble approach à la Sea Change. After this reprise, another tectonic shift was always on the cards and, after a great deal of uncertainty, it has arrived in the form of Colors.

Of all the singles, Dreams was perhaps the most reliable indicator of what to expect from the Californian singer-songwriter and his latest sonic philosophy. In stark contrast to the introspection and melancholy of songs like Blue Moon, scratchy overdriven guitar immediately bursts forth and upbeat, pop-driven vocals signal a resurgence of confidence after the vulnerable, confessional nature of Morning Phase; a rebirth of sorts. Teaming up with quintessential pop producer Greg Kurstin, with whom he recorded the majority of the album’s instrumentation, Beck has stated his intention was always to navigate a drastic shift away from the atmosphere of his previous album. “I was really trying to make something that would be good to play live” he said, intimating a desire to rediscover the energy of earlier records.

What follows is an album whose songs occupy a spectrum: at one end, experimental pop and at the other, straightforward dance-rock. Along the way and to varying extents, influences ranging from ’60s Beatles to ’80s chart stalwarts are channeled. Undaunted by being overly simplistic, the primary focus of his latest material appears to be raw energy and straightforward, hedonistic enjoyment. The Beck of yore, the man who once sung of “running through the mini mall in [his] underwear“, makes only a cameo appearance. Instead, his trademark metaphoric and often-surreal lyrics have been significantly dialed down to be exchanged for radio-friendly, vague pop/rock tropes. Take, for example, the titular opening track Colors: through effects-laden vocals he sings “All my colors, see the colors, make the colors, feel the colors / Tell me, do you feel alive?“, a half-arsed, generic feelgood chorus; as uninspired as you’re ever likely to hear from him. On this and an unfortunate number of other tracks (the worst culprits: Up All Night and Square One), it’s hard not to observe that his persona has been sanitised – somewhat diluted in the pursuit of ‘fun’.

Where his music shines the most is on absurdist, sample-heavy material from the Dust Brothers-era or the tender, heartfelt introspection on records like Sea Change; however, all too often on Colors the relentless optimism coursing through the majority of the album borders on nondescript and ‘for the sake of it’. Arguably Wow ranks as the outright low point, a track which, for a while, was almost destined for the recycling bin before his children convinced him otherwise. Previous forays into the realms of alternative hip-hop, such as the wonderfully rambling Novacane, have generally been successful thanks to his snarling wit and turn of phrase, but in this context it feels remarkably forced. Proceedings are underway with a saccharine pan flute riff backed by a trap beat and, as the insipid chorus approaches, it becomes apparent even Beck’s celebrated genre-meshing capabilities have their limit. Whether or not delivered with colossal amounts of irony, the regrettable conclusion is it’s just a bit shit. Chance the Rapper was supposedly invited to collaborate on the track; however, had he accepted, it’s difficult to envisage how much of an impact he would’ve delivered. Unless, of course, he decided to veto that obnoxious pan flute.

Despite this, there are several promising moments throughout the record where his latest musical doctrine shows signs of clicking. Dear Life, undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album, stands alone as a rare moment of doubt among a sea of optimism. Outwardly cheery, featuring an incredibly catchy honky-tonk piano riff and several unpredictable chord changes, the melody hides darker lyrical content. “How long must I wait / Before the thrill is gone” he muses, a brief period of apprehension among euphoria – a recognition that it won’t last forever. The midsection – containing three solid numbers Dear Life, No Distraction and Dreams – is evidence that, perhaps with refinement and greater attention to detail, another album following a similar format could work. The majority of this record (Wow being a notable exception) makes for pleasant enough listening; there’s no doubt he has succeeded in creating ‘fun’ music. Bearing in mind the sheer ingenuity of albums like Morning Phase and Odelay, however, it’s difficult to avoid disappointment when Beck writes music that fails to make an impact.

EP Review: Broad-Shouldered Baby – I Must Be Tired

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

It would probably surprise you to hear that despite the abundance of music projects available on the internet, only a hand few seem to ever reference this in some shape or form. What wouldn’t surprise you is that out of those artists that have, Tom Fraser can raise his hand and say he has. To those that know Fraser, or happen to follow him on his twitter, his wit and humour is one of the first features of his that will pop to mind: after all, we’re talking about the man whose twitter name is an infusion of a Channel 4 presenting duo and the person responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

Fraser is not a one trick pony though, currently playing in Codist as a drummer and backing vocalist, two contributions that helped their debut LP Nuclear Family to be one of the best records of last year. Now the spotlight is finally upon him as he has a stab at the big bad music world with his project Broad-Shouldered Boy, dropping the first EP under this moniker I Must Be Tired (see, that intro wasn’t a waste after all!). 

While it could be easy to let the pressure topple Fraser over, his solo efforts stand firmly on their own, embedding his own unique quirkiness into the staple bedroom pop/rock template that makes for one of the most refreshing listens of the year so far. An essential example of this would be the second track Trunk, a song that focuses more on a giant grey elephant than the boot of a car. Stomping along at a steady pace with its bellowing drums, Fraser’s silky vocals adorned with a Scottish tinge lead as he sings about insecurities and paranoia, outright mentioning the EP’s title to touch upon the exhaustion these feelings have caused.

It reaches its peak as Trunk approaches its climax, Fraser naturally warping his voice into this deep narration to detail this metaphor for this anxiety (The elephant is in the room, has its trunk around my neck), a moment that highlights Fraser’s knack for making emotions that countless artists talk about into something truly special.

It really is Fraser’s vocals and lyrics that make I Must Be Tired such an essential listen though that’s not to say the instrumentals are drab or dull by any means. Following on from the aforementioned track featuring a large grey mammal, Cake is a far slower number that features layer upon layer though is juxtaposingly sombre in tone, reaching a turbulent conclusion which includes a spine chilling piano feature alongside a timid projection of Fraser’s vocals. This mixing pot of wit, lyricism and an undeniable talent helps Broad Shouldered Boy to stand out in a scene that feels over-saturated quite frequently. 

Finishing off with that staple acoustic number, there’s a real feeling of The Hotelier with the running inclusion of a simplistic lyric and the different sound it evokes as seen on Goodness (I see the moon, the moon sees me) . Broad Shouldered Boy is a dangerous project due to it traversing the fine line of bedroom pop, a genre that is traditionally very safe: using that appealing sound and infusing it with many of the traits Fraser embodies, I Must Be Tired comes off as one of 2017’s strongest EPs. The future is looking bright for Fraser’s venture though he could do with a rest – he must be tired. 

8.5/10


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Looking Back At…OK Computer by Radiohead

By Harry Sullivan (@radiohedge)

Twenty years of OK Computer. THE OK Computer. Arguably the most influential alternative rock album of the nineties, and the top of many fans’ ranking lists. Where does one start?

Well, Airbag probably. A hugely underrated track inspired by a nasty motoring accident, the album kicks off with a bass riff and what sounds like sleigh bells, with the Radiohead stamp of uniqueness coming in the form of a punchy (albeit repetitive) beat from drummer Phil Selway and vocals which seem to be about an octave higher than anyone else the genre from lead songwriter and all-around god Thom Yorke.

The song fades out, being replaced by that iconic four beep transition into one of the greatest songs – nay, compositions – of modern music: Paranoid Android. It is described as Radiohead’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ since it is effectively a slightly-longer-than-usual track split into three distinct smaller tracks, and the fact that it’s their best-known song apart from Creep (though arguably leagues above it technically and as a song to listen to) – in fact, BoRhap is cited by the Abingdon five-piece as key inspiration in the songwriting process. The resultant sound is a surreal composition that is very technically skilled, containing seventeen-time signature changes. The accompanying music video is probably their weirdest, too, with the final scene involving a high-level politician head and torso sitting in a tree being fed fish by a bird.

A particular highlight is the following track, Subterranean Homesick Alien, which offers an outsider’s perspective on the human condition against Radiohead’s formula of a strong beat and some very open guitar work. Next is Exit Music (For a Film), written for the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, which has one of the biggest crescendos on the album and is described by Thom as being something he was particularly proud of, the first track they had written which he ‘could turn up really loud and not wince at any moment’. Let Down is certainly not a letdown, providing one of the most emotionally engaging moments on the album, with the point around the two-minute mark where the drums are their strongest and Thom’s voice begins to quiver being a poignant struggle-not-to-cry moment.

Karma Police is arguably the best track on OK Computer, finding strength with simplicity, musically speaking and in the video, with ‘this is what you’ll get…when you mess with us’ being one of the most memorable lyrics on the album. It’s difficult to know what to think about Fitter Happier – at first listen it’s so jarring it’s almost unlistenable but after you take the time to get through it the lyrics (if you can call them lyrics?) are the most potent on the album. Conversely, Electioneering is much more jaunty, being the most energetic of the album and having one of the most political of messages. Climbing Up The Walls features one of Thom’s most harrowing vocal performances, and Phil’s use of toms where snares would usually be is particularly offputting. No Surprises is another big song from the album, performed in an almost lullaby-esque way, and echoes the strong simple style of Karma Police. The final tracks, Lucky and The Tourist both have relatively large crescendos during their chorus but overall are two of the more forgettable moments on the album.   

Radiohead were one of the first modern bands to create short compositions to as opposed to just songs that were jammed to, exemplified by OK Computer. Lyrically, OK Computer is a very clever critique of modern society. In fact, there is an element of foresight to this album that makes it more applicable in today’s climate than ever before, with themes such as political corruption and consumerism prevalent all through the LP. Musically, when compared to their previous efforts of Pablo Honey and The Bends, it is the first moment they break out from the generic of-the-era alt-rock style and became their own unique band. Following the 1997 release, Radiohead embarked on The OK Computer Tour which brought about exhaustion in the band. This caused the band’s entire mindset to change, with Kid A written almost as a reaction, turning out to be a huge change of direction but also a work of genius. And of course, you can’t mention OK Computer without mentioning the link to their strongest work to date: 2007’s In Rainbows, which forms half of the famous 0110 playlist.

A key point about Radiohead is that their work is so varied but counterintuitively, still niche. It is impossible to judge the band on one song alone, instead, their work begs to be appreciated as a whole, be it through a single album or their entire discography. This is why, when you ask someone whether they’re a Radiohead fan the answer is unlikely to be ‘yeah, they’re alright’. Instead, a more realistic reply will be either ‘haven’t listened to them’ or ‘YES I LOVE THEM OMG MARRY ME THOM ❤’’ because they’ve listened to their all their albums and B-sides a hundred times each. Some may argue that this lack of immediate accessibility is a reason to dislike the band as it is a barrier to getting into them in our busy 21st-century lives.

A better perspective to have is that Radiohead, OK Computer in particular, is the much-needed segue to a greater appreciation of music.

9/10


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TRACK REVIEW: LET ME OUT by GORILLAZ

By Dominic V. Cassidy (@Lyre_of_Apollo)

The latest track to be dropped by the Gorillaz, Let Me Out – following the release of the four other tracks from their upcoming album – is a hard faced solid song, with racism in America at its bones.

The track is just as electrically infused as Andromeda and Saturnz Barz; however, at a slower pace, the song captures the listener into a gentle head bob throughout the tune. It could be easy to get lost in the gentle lullaby beat, if it were not for the bare faced, honest lyrics, courtesy of Pusha T: “Tell me there’s a chance for me to make it off the streets, tell me that I won’t die at the hands of the police, promise me I won’t outlive my nephew and my niece,” these lyrics, confronting the issue and throwing no punches, creates an almost electro-protest vibe to the song, like a space age Billy Bragg.

The song is set up with the narrative of the two featuring artists Pusha T and Mavis Staples with the former referring to Mavis as “Mama Mavis”. As the song goes on it gets more and more revolutionary almost, creating easily the most lyrically rewarding of the Gorillaz new tracks, sacrificing the dance beat and fun for thoughtfulness.

Towards the end of the song, the song almost calls for taking one’s defence into their own hands, “Tell me there’s a heaven in the sky where there is peace, but until then I’ll keep my piece at arm’s reach,” this lyric, being at the end of a verse does create a punchiness, which is not lost on the remainder of the track.

Overall, after the four previously released from the imminent release of Humanz, which wet the appetites of many for more Gorrilaz the release of Let Me Out has done nothing more than set the charges finally, and if the album continues on the path the singles have drawn out, Humanz is already a strong contender for album of the year.

10/10

Foals – Mountain At My Gates track review

Best of July #6

Last month I asked a simple question: do Oxford rockers Foals have a fresh future ahead of them? At the time they had just teased us all with a 12 second trailer consisting of mainly silence with some looming synths and  thankfully since then things have become a lot clearer. Not only did we get a new Foals single What Went Down but we also got given a release date for their fourth album which shares the same name as their single. On the 28th of August we’ll have our question answered.

In the meantime however, how does the band’s latest single Mountain At My Gates hold up? After the absolute carnage and appealing mess of sound that What Went Down delivered, you’d probably be surprised by how much their new single differs though at this stage it would be stupid to pigeonhole the band. This is the band who went from math rock to soothing indie rock in the space of their first two albums. A band that, no matter what sound they mess about with, consistently deliver the goods and are yet to stumble in terms of quality.

If What Went Down was the Inhaler of their upcoming album then Mountain At My Gates is the Milk And Black Spiders. Front-man Yannis Phillipakis’ soothing voice transcends through angelic poppy harps and pounding drums whilst showcasing the uncensored lyrical approach Phillipakis is taking on album number 4. “Mountain At My Gates was from me getting more interested in seeing what would come out lyrically where there wasn’t a pre-conceived idea.” The songs’ finale is just as interesting with a breakdown of guitars and cathartic noise while Phillipakis somehow keeps his cool. A lovely end to a beautifully crafted track.

Acting on instinct has provided the band with one of their most dreamy and enchanting tracks to date, something that is obviously tame in comparison to their previous track but still leaves an impact. There’s no doubt in my mind that next year you’ll see Foals headlining Glastonbury or Reading + Leeds. God knows they’ve earned it.

Listen to it here!

Liam Menzies
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Fresh future ahead for Foals?

12 seconds.

That’s all it took for for Foals teaser trailer, simply titled 2015, to set Twitter’s music community on fire. Although fans knew there was an album in the making, this was the first glimpse of album number 4 and I’m not kidding when I say glimpse. Out of the 12 seconds, the majority is complete silence bar 3 seconds of sound. This of course isn’t enough to completely judge the style the Oxford band are going for but it is enough to give us some sort of idea about what we should expect until we get a proper single or, as some fans are praying for, a surprise album release.

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In an interview with the love them or hate them magazine NME, frontman and beard goals for many guys Yannis Philippakis was very forward with his excitement about the new material. The band have never been one to shy away from loud anthematic tunes, see songs like Inhaler to back this up, and their upcoming album will not be any different. “This new stuff’s going to decimate venues; we’re itching to play it,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to get back on stage and obliterate places.” Going back to the teaser trailer, the band are playing in a rundown warehouse whilst an apocalyptic-esque synth plays in the background. Call this over analysing or just fan speculation but this, on top of the milliseconds of screaming we get from Yannis, could be a sign of their return to the synth heavy sounds of their early work, specifically debut album Antidotes, as well as revamping the sound on latest album Holy Fire with tinges of punk and grunge.
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Not only is the sound set to change but so too are the lyrics. “On [2013’s ‘Holy Fire’] I tried to consciously push the lyrics somewhere personal that was more like real life, whereas on this one I just wanted to strip the layers of myself away, have the reptilian part of my brain speak directly and not analyse or censor it,” he said. This censorship being removed will most likely result in some psychotic sounding lyrics, nothing that’s too unusual for the band but it’s usually kept to a minimum, making way for slower and atmospheric tunes like Spanish Sahara and Milk & Black Spiders.

Regardless of what direction the band are going, it’s clear that whatever is happening in the background is going to be exciting and might just result in one of the best albums of the year.

If you’re part of a band or are an individual artist then don’t hesitate to contact me below so I can check out your music etc. ☺
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Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe

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Now this album could have gone horribly wrong. Chvrches could have produced a bland album with repetitive and dull songs and been a total let down from the potential they had shown on their previous EP’s as well the hype they had accumulated on the music scene.Thankfully this is not the case with The Bones Of What You Believe being an exceptionally refreshing piece of music from the three-piece Glaswegian band.

        Instead of rambling through the tracks that are on offer on this album, I’ll just give a few favourites of mine on TBOWYB. The second track We Sink has a ridiculously catchy chorus and shows off the great talent of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty who have selected a great pallete of sounds with Lauren Mayberry’s voice gracefully fitting in and never feeling out of place. Gun, the following track which previously has been on its self titled EP, retains the same traits as the preceding track which creates a strong introduction for the album. Tether goes in a different direction by replacing the vibrant beats with more calming bursts of synthesizers with Mayberry providing a calm and confident vocal performance over it which nearer the end becomes likes the previous tracks in the best way possible by introducing the vibrant beats yet again, creating a stand out track which is very much enjoyable. Under The Tide allows a change of vocals which is a welcome change with a lovely production value. Recover is a favourite of mine and is the first track I heard from the band a few months ago and still holds up now with Mayberry’s confident voice fluttering over the resonant and vivid beats which is sure to be the band’s concert gem like The Captain is for Biffy Clyro.

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The album is by no means a perfect one. Some tracks can feel a bit half hearted and many might feel that the album can feel repetitive at times. However, it does take a lot of guts to release debut album from a band that are relatively new to the majority of the public at the same time as bands from the same genre (MGMT) and popular bands from other genres (Arctic Monkeys) are releasing their albums and thankfully, the band’s unique voice provided by Lauren Mayberry with special kudos to the other two members of the band Ian Cook and Martin Doherty ,who handle the synthesizers for the tracks on this band like any experienced musician would, make this a top notch debut album and gives Chvrches a very promising future.

Mumford And Sons – Babel

If you were to ask any member of the public a few years ago if a band dressed like they worked on a farm and performed folk music would become internationally recognisable, you’d be ridiculed but that’s exactly what has happen with Mumford & Sons. Their 2009 debut was a surprise and up to now is still an indie gem full of foot stomping anthems that many songwriters dream about making so it’s no surprise that the build up to Mumford’s new album was full of both excitement as well as anxiety. It can be said that most of these worries can be put to rest as Babel has delivered the goods.

Whereas their debut started off with the chilling Sigh No More before venturing off into The Cave and Winter Winds, Mumford are very much aware of where they are in the media’s attention as a refreshing, energetic band and so start off with Babel, a track that’ll be on their setlist at gigs and festivals for years to come which is followed up Whispers In The Dark, a song full of beautiful lyrics and a classic chorus that will have fans of the band shouting and screaming during it from the top of their lungs. It’s at this point in the album that you would expect things to die down into something a bit slow but with the confidence that the band are showing, they belt out hit after hit showing that they’ve not lost the same charisma that have made the band instantly recognisable. So what can be wrong with something full of enthralling tracks that are admirable and brilliant? Well the problem with Babel is it seeming a little too safe which can be argued as being exactly what fans wanted but it almost seems like there’s something Mumford are holding back on and they may just be waiting for their third album which is currently in development to showcase this but this may leave some fans feeling a little let down but with tracks like Lover Of The Light and Hopeless Wanderer, they’ll hardly be complaining. 

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Babel is proof that Mumford & Sons deserve to be in the position that they’re at in the music world and the charisma that they portray in both of their albums is best to be experienced live. Babel’s only downfall is the fact that it plays it safe and many like myself would like to see them experiment with their sound to show progression that would make their mark on the music world. Babel is proof that they’re well on their way to do so.