Album Review: Alvvays – Antisocialites

By Becky Little (@sometimesboring)

Before we get underway with all the serious stuff, let’s just be clear on one thing: Alvvays are the cutest band in the world. So twee! So dreamy! Ah! On with the show!

Having burst onto the scene with their eponymous album being released in 2014, the dreamy Canadian four-piece are probably best known for Archie, Marry Me, one of those songs you just have to sway to. Now, 2 years later, they are back with second album, Antisocialites, which lives up to the promise of their debut. According to the band’s frontwoman Molly Rankin, they’d probably be best described as “jangly” indie pop, with their tracks varying from lullaby-like to incredibly upbeat. Adding to this, Pitchfork recently described them as being laced with the sounds of the 1960s in their recent review of the band’s sophomore release.

The album somewhat shows a newfound maturity both stylistically but also in production; as while their debut was endearingly lovey-dovey and lo-fi, the lyrics of songs such as Not My Baby (“no need to turn around to see what’s behind me“) and In Undertow (“there’s no turning back after what’s transpired”) suggest that perhaps things have moved on and there are bigger fish to fry. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, Alvvays are still staying true to themselves and keeping up with their signature fast and poppy brand with tracks like Your Type and Lollipop (Ode to Jim), which could arguably be seen as a nod to the style of earlier tracks such as Adult Diversion and Atop a Cake.

On the topic of production, it’s very clear that Rankin and co have upped the ante. Their sound has developed from hazy bedroom pop into well-produced, spine-tingling and game-changing indie. That being said, it is noticeable in Dreams Tonite that Rankin‘s voice gets a little lost under the production, which is probably the single worthy criticism of the album. However, this little flaw could be purposeful as the track itself does display a slight element of melancholic vulnerability, juxtaposed to the “I’m over it” attitude of In Undertow it can display that there are two sides to every breakup.

It appears that the album is full of subtle juxtapositions. Lollipop (Ode to Jim) is a hilarious jeer at a presumptuous ex-partner responsible for a sketchy introduction to LSD. Rankin must really have been sick of this person since the song ends in her chanting “alter my state to get through this date”. On the other hand, Saved by a Waif is instead a rant about the pressures of family life and how restricting it can sometimes be (very #relatable content); “Mommy wants you to be a doctor so she can tell her friends” could ring true to many.

For an album of 33 minutes, Alvvays have really managed to jam pack Antisocialites with some total gems, namely the first single from the release and opening track In Undertow. It is here that the band does itself an immense amount of justice and shows just how far they have come since the days of Archie. It’s clear that Antisocialites is a wave goodbye to the days of their happy go lucky brand with the introduction of lyrics which mock and contradict, but they manage to stay grounded and genuine. Alvvays have truly grown up.

9/10

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Album Review: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

By Becky Little (@sometimesboring)

5 years. A lot can happen in half a decade, and a lot has happened. The outbreak of ebola, two sets of Olympics, Brexit, the list continues. Within that time the musical world has been rocked and seen inspiring heights and shocking declines of many a band. What hasn’t happened since 2012, however, is a release from folk-rock giants, Grizzly Bear.

The New York four-piece, which many group in with the icons from the 2000’s age of indie rock (think Vampire Weekend, Interpol, The Strokes), have been off the radar for quite some time. However, their latest studio album Painted Ruins has been heralded by many as a triumphant return and something for other bands in their league to aspire to. What with the current climate for indie bands to be receding into low quality rubbish (ahem, Arcade Fire), it’s admirable that a band such as Grizzly Bear want to take hold of the reins of indie again and show the industry how a comeback is really done.

Even from the first listen, it appears that Painted Ruins has definitely lived up to the hype. MourningSound, the second song of the album, is a beautifully catchy but equally dark track, with their signature use of acoustics similar to those used throughout their previous and incredibly successful effort Shields. It’s one of those songs which you can perfectly imagine booming around a packed-out arena with fans losing their minds over its grandeur. However, what really lifts this track as well as the album itself is their fantastic use of synths, which have been expertly utilised throughout to provide so much more depth to certain tracks. A brilliant example of this is Glass Hillside, which starts out as quite a mellow number, but once the chorus comes around you easily find yourself bopping your head to the lyrics about “the only ride in town, object of all desire.” (Could easily be digging at someone, you reckon? Gotta love cleverly slagging people off.)

A notable feature of Grizzly Bear releases since the days of Horn of Plenty and Yellow House is the sheer detail and thought put into every note played. Painted Ruins does the band so much justice, and the sheer musicianship of Droste and co is demonstrated perfectly, with each member playing to their full potential. Four Cypresses; a stand-out track progresses from intricate yet frantic percussion through to a grand baroque-style masterpiece. This truly reflects the sheer strength of Grizzly Bear as a collective, with Droste, DrossenTaylor and Bear creating uniquely anthemic tracks with such delicately balanced and mismatched sections which in some way makes total sense.

It’s phenomenal that each individual layer of each song is so clearly heard, which must be an art they have been perfecting throughout their discography, as Three Rings can easily be likened to Sheilds’ Sleeping Ute with its sprawling melodies. Additionally, another detailed and layered track which is a highlight is Cut-out, in which we see the band potentially dealing with past romance. “Inhale your older self, cut it up and let it go” could easily be interpreted as Droste reflecting on his past and gaining a new lease of life, which we all need to do once in a while.

Overall, the album is so phenomenal that some could argue that it has genuine healing properties. What Grizzly Bear have been doing for some time is creating music which is unconventional yet appeals to so many. They arguably shaped the scene with the release of Veckatimest in 2009 which propelled them into the mainstream with huge track Two Weeks, and now they are back to do a very similar thing but in a very different way. Painted Ruins is an album which will shake the indie scene once more and reaffirm their place as one of the most unique bands on the circuit. Long live Grizzly Bear.

9/10

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GIG REVIEW: ARCADE FIRE @ CASTLEFIELD BOWL

Written by Becky Little (@sometimesboring)

Following the devastating attack on Manchester just over a month ago, there seems to be an unshakable feeling of solidarity among the crowds of Manchester gigs. Speaking from experience of both the recent Radiohead gig at Old Trafford Cricket Ground and the Canadian legends, Arcade Fire at Castlefield Bowl, it is clear that the Manchester music scene is alive and kicking as ever, not one to back down in times of adversity. It is truly awe-inspiring.

Being quite a newbie to Manchester venues, The Castlefield Bowl shocked me (in a good way) by how tiny it was! Arriving at around 6pm, an hour after doors, I was convinced that we wouldn’t get as good a spot as we’d hoped. How wrong I was! There was the typical small crowd of hardcore fans swarming towards the centre-barrier, and oddly the seating area was jam-packed, but our spot was perfect, for both Arcade Fire and their well-chosen support act, Beak.

On the topic of Beak, I think the frantically typed ‘Beak!!!!!!!!!!!!‘ in my phone’s notes says it all. Effortlessly cool but somewhat self-deprecating, the electronic three-piece really got the crowd going with their hazy and summery sound, with my gig partner and fellow contributor Harry (@radiohedge) describing them as being like an “indie version” of math rock giants Battles, with a slightly post-rocky edge. However, despite being an appropriate opener, it was noted that the songs they played almost fused into one, making them sound a little bit samey. Nevertheless, they got us brilliantly riled up for what was to come.

Before I go on, I feel as though I should point out that the new offerings from Montreal’s finest didn’t really get me going.

HOWEVER.

The opening notes of Everything Now, the eponymous single of their newly announced 5th album, shook the entire crowd and instantly got everybody grooving, dispelling any suggestions that they had lost their edge. Their sheer power on stage and incredible presence was resounding throughout their set, which was littered with tracks from across their discography. Rebellion (Lies) of their debut and the second song of their set, saw many a fan get on a set of shoulders. You could tell by the huge smiles on the faces of  Win Butler and his brother Will that they were inspired by how energetic and receptive the crowd was, especially after such hardships that the city has faced.

Beautiful moments cropped up during the gig, with Win dedicating iconic ballad The Suburbs to “all the daughters and little girls” and ending their set beautifully with Neon Bible, unexpectedly followed by a heart-wrenching rendition of Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear Us Apart, a moving tribute to an incredible place. Also, you can watch the crowd sing the intro to Wake Up in unison (disclaimer: you will get goosebumps).

Overall, Arcade Fire undoubtedly put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. I was left completely speechless (and if anyone knows me well enough, it was mainly because I finally saw Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) live).

What wasn’t as incredible, however, was the quality of the draught Strongbow Dark Fruits available at bar. C’mon Castlefield Bowl!

10/10


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Album Review: Alt J – Relaxer

By Becky Little (@sometimesboring) and Harry Sullivan (@radiohedge)

It’s crass intro time. Relaxer, Alt J’s most recent offering has definitely lived up to the trend set by its predecessors as being a grower, not a shower… that was a bit painful to type but it’s true.

Solely on first impressions, the album as a whole seemed a little underwhelming. Now, Alt J and underwhelming are not two things you would usually see in the same sentence. The main crux around this issue is potentially the fact that the release of Alt J albums tends to receive a lot of excitement and apprehension. However, upon the first listen, Relaxer as a whole didn’t seem to live up to the hype.

We were teased a few months ago with the release of gentle 3WW and the brash, intense In Cold Blood. It may seem to the untrained ear that these singles left us a little high and dry, as other tracks on the album arguably didn’t match the anticipation which followed the album like a stray puppy.

3ww-alt-j

ON! THE! OTHER! HAND!

Second listen. Oh, the glorious second listen. That’s where you find out that your first thoughts were wrong and in fact, that’s just what they want you to think. They want you to have to listen to it again in order to truly understand the unique cohesion, a trademark of the art-pop pioneers of the 2010s. The balance between the harsh Hit Me Like That Snare and more mellow tracks such as Last Year and Pleader is inspired, alongside the delightful cover of the iconic folk gem, House of The Rising Sun, popularised by The Animals in the 1960s.

On the topic of Pleader, the track really is reminiscent of the subtle, sparse yet powerful tracks of their debut; An Awesome Wave. The album ender almost shows signs of similarity to Intro and Bloodflood, confirming that the Leeds graduates have plunged back into their niche beginnings which propelled them to their initial success.

Alternatively, another of the pre-released singles, Adeline, bears similarities to the band’s sophomore album This Is All Yours, specifically Bloodflood, Pt. II. The track’s frantic percussion and orchestral elements towards the end also bear likeness to Woodkid’s Run Boy Run.

It is clear that the trio is drawing influence from across their discography and even potentially further afield, keeping it beautifully nerdy in the process. It’s almost as if they have gone full circle, with An Awesome Wave setting out their cleverly unique sound, This Is All Yours nodding towards the mainstream and Relaxer bringing some obscurity back home.

8/10


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Looking Back At…An Awesome Wave by Alt-J

 

By Becky Little (@sometimesboring)

May 25th. Looking back into history, quite a few interesting things happened on this very day; the restoration of the British monarchy, JFK’s announcement that he was going to put a man on the moon and the birth of Cillian Murphy (heart eyes) and Mike Myers (Shrek-shaped eyes). However, arguably none of these are as exciting as the debut release of those groove-inducers, Alt-J. An Awesome Wave is the album in question, and awesome it is 5 years down the line.

2012 was the year heralded by many as being a fundamentally important year for indie rock, with massive releases from artists such as Tame Impala and The XX, this year set off many an embarrassing indie phase for today’s cool kids. An Awesome Wave was one of those albums which people displayed across their Tumblr accounts (no doubt because the triangle imagery was so #aesthetic), or it was one which slowly and surely grew on many. However, as years have passed and people have grown through their teens with the album, it has matured and gone from being Tumblr-core to an essential album in anybody’s collection. It’s one of those which you can listen to all the way through, albeit a difficult task for many musicians to execute well.

It is throughout An Awesome Wave that Alt-J’s signature euphemistic raunchiness is established. With tracks such as Fitzpleasure and Tessellate, outright NSFW lyrics are disguised with discreet references to trigonometry and “feckless men who queue to be the next.” This trend continued further into their sophomore release, This Is All Yours, too but that’s a discussion for another day since we shouldn’t really be talking about S-E-X in front of the C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N. (Sex Cauldron? I thought they shut that place down! – Ed)

In order to counter the naughtiness, the incredibly inventive Leeds University grads litter their first offering with beautiful interludes, which all differ stylistically and split the album into 3. The first section offers the critically acclaimed track Breezeblocks, which had its fair share of airplay before and after the album’s release. Whether this was one of the reasons the album did so well is unsure, however what is true is that Alt-J arguably went from being niche to very widely mainstream. While some would claim this is a bad thing, in the case of An Awesome Wave it opened the floodgates for more less-conventional pop to enter the charts. Somehow, it also mingled its way into pop culture with the sensational Youtube video, How To Write An Alt-J Song, which has racked up 6 million views. It’s undeniable the influence that this unique debut has had.

The second and third aforementioned sections feature some more mellow tracks, one of which being Taro, a history lesson which has been turned into an Indian-influenced emotion-fest. Taro tells the tale of a photographer, ‘Capa’, during what can only be assumed as being wartime in South Asia, with “Indochina” being the first lyric of the haunting yet beautiful song. The powerful bass riff in the middle of the song followed by a cheerful ‘hey Taro!’ is definitely one of the most memorable moments of the entire album, which in itself is full of surprises.

It is very safe to say that An Awesome Wave has aged miraculously well, and upon reaching half a decade of gracing our ears, we must thank Alt-J for making being a little bit weird so damn cool.

9/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: PURE COMEDY by FATHER JOHN MISTY

By Becky Little (@sometimesboring)

Scrolling through Twitter today, it is clear to see that everyone’s favourite narcissist Josh Tillman, known more commonly to you and I as Father John Misty, has created yet another version of his pseudonym. What will it be this time? ‘Farmer Jah Misery’? Nope. Of course, it is ‘Feather Jam Ministry’. Whether this is a big fuck you to critics and the music industry we may never know. It probably isn’t, due to the critical acclaim of his most recent offering Pure Comedy, released on the 7th April. It’s almost as if he loves taking the piss out of himself. However, his online presence is undeniably full of eccentricity, which is to be expected when your success has come from whinging about existentialism so beautifully.

Pure Comedy is the third album our Holy Father has released, which packs in just as much punchy realism and sheer gorgeousness as predecessors Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear, respectively released in 2012 and 2015. We were teased in 2016 with the release of Real Love Baby, the first single post-I Love You, Honeybear, a song which rings true with desperate millennials everywhere by claiming “I want real love, baby, ooh don’t keep me waiting.’ Joking aside, the single may have wrongly set us up for an LP just as romantic.

Instead, Pure Comedy is a beautiful and sometimes harrowing critique of 21st-century life, almost taking the piss out of the internet and the culture surrounding it. A perfect example of this is personal favourite Total Entertainment Forever, a track which begins with ‘Bedding Taylor Swift, every night inside the Oculus Rift’. It seems a little sarcastic, no? To be honest, you couldn’t really expect anything less from Josh than a quippy reference to popular culture, which can be seen again in Ballad of the Dying Man, as he references ‘the homophobes, hipsters and 1%’, despite arguably being part of one of those demographics…(I mean hipsters. He isn’t a problematic fave. He’s just a pure fave. As far as we’re aware.)

Further into the album, the song A Bigger Paper Bag seems to tackle more sensitive issues involving coping with mental health, with our Josh singing about being “bent on taking demons down with only your fists”. It is within this song that one of the greatest lyrics of the entire album is nestled – “What a fraud, what a con, you’re the only, one I love”. Here we find a little bit of that missing romanticism, despite it being in a song presumably about alcoholism.

Moving on, and not to sound like a GCSE English essay, but it could be interpreted that Pure Comedy is a grandiose message about the state of current society. Especially with lyrics such as ‘I’ve got the world by the balls, am I supposed to behave?’ which could easily be a reference to the leaders of our world who have no clue what they are doing. They’re in it so they can have their white, wrinkly hands on our incredible diverse world by the balls. Our collective balls.

Thanks, Josh, once again we are left contemplating our own existence. Very on brand.

8.5/10


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