LOOKING BACK AT…TAPE DECK HEART by FRANK TURNER

By Andrew Barr (@weeandrewww)

The confessional singer-songwriter is perhaps one of the most tired clichés in music. You only have to look at the endless “douche with an acoustic guitar” parodies in music and in other aspects of culture to prove this. Even Father John Misty, who himself falls into this genre – as it has become – acknowledges this in some of the most hilariously self-deprecating moments of his latest record, Pure Comedy.

However, this doesn’t mean that the genre is becoming stale, or is failing to provide quality output. A quick look at the charts and the omnipresence of a particularly unimaginative acoustic-guitar-wielding male (not naming any names) would suggest otherwise, but the singer-songwriter album is alive and well. One of the finest examples of this in recent years is Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart, turning 4 years old in 2017.

Much of the genius on Tape Deck Heart is due to the fact that Turner isn’t afraid of complying with more than a few clichés of the singer-songwriter genre, but his songwriting is so strong that he avoids these pitfalls almost altogether to deliver a record which doesn’t seem to have aged a day in the 4 years since its release. Firstly, it must be noted that this record isn’t a stripped-back, solemn one-man-and-his-guitar affair. Turner is backed throughout by his band, The Sleeping Souls (who are named after a lyric from I Am Disappeared, from Turner’s previous album, England Keep My Bones) who provide guitar, mandolin, drums, bass, and keys to supplement his acoustic guitar both on his records and in his live shows.

Due to the contribution of The Sleeping Souls, the majority of Tape Deck Heart shows more sonic resemblance to indie rock records than singer-songwriter ones. However, it’s clear throughout that this is Turner’s record, and that, despite the obvious talent of his backing band, they are exactly that and are on the record to complement his songwriting. The aforementioned songwriting is what makes this record so memorable, even 4 years on. Opener Recovery is a throwback to Turner’s early records as it lyrically details his attempts to move on from a break-up but the pitfalls of trying to achieve this through partying and drinking. The track features struggles with both – quite troubling – matters and deals with them with witty lyricism (“I fumble for your figure in the darkness just to make it go away”) the song feels unbelievably fun, which has almost all to do with the guitar and mandolin harmony that carries the track.

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One such singer-songwriter cliché that this record does fall into is that many of its tracks do detail love, and particularly a break-up, but Turner manages to deal with the subject matter from so many angles, from heartfelt to humorous, that he avoids falling into any traps associated with this type of record. While Recovery opened the record on a humorous note, third track The Way I Tend To Be is perhaps the most heartfelt track on the record. This track also features a mandolin but feels like the instrumentation serves as merely a bed for Turner’s stunning lyricism. As the title suggests, it serves as a confessional of his struggles with himself (which are implied more than spelled out which makes the track endlessly relatable to the listener) to a plea to an ex, in a way that suggests that Turner felt that person was the only person who could save him from his flaws or the way he tends to be.

The next track, Plain Sailing Weather, is a complete contrast from the mandolin-driven, poppy first 3 tracks. Plain Sailing Weather is a throwback to Turner’s early days in hardcore punk, and the mandolin is replaced by a meaty-sounding electric guitar. This track is also as lyrically direct as it is musically, and seems to serve as a snarling critique of love and romance as it is displayed in Hollywood films (the first verse opens with the lines “Amelie lied to me/ this was supposed to be easy”). This is a refreshing turn of pace on the record, which features Turner almost growling his vocals throughout.

A strength of this record is that the lyrics are not solely the break-up and become wider-reaching at around the halfway mark. Good & Gone is a wonderful contradiction – a cheery-sounding track which develops the theme of disillusion with depictions of romance in films (“So fuck you, Hollywood”). A track which Turner deserves special credit for including on a major-label record is Tell Tale Signs, in which he admits to self-harm in his teenage years, in an almost confessional manner. The song itself is great – and with the recent focus on (especially male) mental health issues, Turner’s willingness to admit this on record is commendable.

The latter half of this record adopts an almost schizophrenic attitude to subject matter and musical style. Four Simple Words and Polaroid Picture are both big rock songs which owe a lot to The Sleeping Souls, but the former’s lyrics describe attending a gig and capture that euphoria brilliantly, and the latter is a poignant song about Turner aging and losing contact with old friends. The Fisher King Blues is a standout, Bob Dylanesque singer-songwriter tracks, with a subject focus so large it can only be described as “life”, and Turner’s lyrics on this track make him sound like observations of a battle-worn prophet.

The record ends on a brilliant double-punch. Oh Brother is a throwback to the fun, poppy nature of the album’s opening tracks, and serves as an ode to one of Turner’s oldest friends, adding friendship to the extensive list of topics that Turner has covered expertly on Tape Deck Heart. The track ends on a euphoric outro with the lyrics “time it will change us but don’t you forget, you are the only brother I’ve got”, ensuring it is a track that should be screamed between best friends after one too many.

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The outro of the euphoric Oh Brother transitions wonderfully into the gloomy, weighty closer Broken Piano. This is the “moodiest” track on the record, and despite being far from the only “sad song” on the record, the instrumentation is by far the most downbeat, with the gloominess reminiscent of the atmosphere that Radiohead have almost trademarked. This track lyrically details both the exact moment of Turner’s break up and the legend of the Fisher King which Turner dealt with in the track of the same name. At 5 minutes and 30 seconds, it is the record’s longest track and ends on a haunting drum sound.

Tape Deck Heart, throughout its 12 tracks, is a wonderfully diverse record which sees Frank Turner showcase his lyrical talents on more topics than many singer-songwriters will cover in their careers. The instrumentation is just as eclectic, which The Sleeping Souls deserve great credit for, as they complement Turner’s vocal brilliantly throughout. While singer-songwriter records have been done almost to death, Tape Deck Heart shows that there remains obvious merit in this genre, as the record has not aged at all in 4 years, and will probably sound just as fresh in 4 more years. The only problem is, not every singer-songwriter is as good as Frank Turner.


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Top 10 Gigs Of 2015

With 2015 over, here are the best gigs Glasgow had to offer last year, showcasing the variety the city has to offer!

Top 25 Albums Of 2015

It’s time.

List season. It’s odd how something with such a boring name could cause heated debate amongst many, though that’s nothing new for the internet. So as I’ve always done since 2013, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite albums of the past 12 months, ranging from heavy rock to pop to grime to rap, there’ll no doubt be something here for you. Disagree with me? Well you could always contribute to my Best of 2015 post which is coming next Thursday, just message me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll be sorted!

I hope you enjoy this list which took far too much time to make than I’m proud to admit. So put the pitchforks down for now and let’s dive in.

25. At. Long. Last. ASAP – A$AP Rocky

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Following up his 2013 debut Long Live ASAP, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky gets even more experimental on this sophomore album. While there’s significantly less chart gems present than his last outing, the same charm and production value can be felt on every track.

 

24. Purpose – Justin Bieber

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Time for all those awfully spelt insults and memes we made about biebs to disappear. He is back and with a totally transformed sound as those who once slated him are now praising him as tracks like Sorry are pop perfection. While his vocals might be a bit lackluster and too safe, the influence Kanye, Skrillex and co. have had on the lad has paid off.

23. Back On Top – The Front Bottoms

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While Talon Of The Hawk felt like a AAA version of The Front Bottoms’ self loathing lyric fueled sound, Back On Top feels like the beginning of a new chapter for the band. Historic Cemetery just screams Weezer and other tracks like Cough It Out are as catchy as a cold (albeit more enjoyable). A near flawless amalgamation of emo & pop-punk.

22. Every Open Eye – CHVRCHES 

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There’s no denying that CHVRCHES are one of the best new bands to come out in quite a while, breathing new life into the synth pop genre and yet again reiterating how vibrant the Glasgow music scene is. Every Open Eye is like the Empire Strikes Back for the band: more gritty, more epic but faithful to what made the band what they are.

21. For All My Sisters – The Cribs

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West Yorkshire band The Cribs might have hit out with their best album yet, full of the indie punk greatness that put them on the radar in the first place. See Pink Snow for a chaotic crescendo closer that results in another classic album for the band’s discography.

 

20. Currents – Tame Impala

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Despite constantly being compared to the likes of Radiohead for their album rock genius, Tame Impala somehow manage to merge frontman Kevin Parker’s uncontrollable love of pop and their trademark psychedelic sound to craft something truly special. A breakup album disguised as a feel good, funky gem, Currents is only as good as the sum of its parts and those parts are undeniably brilliant.

19. Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett

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Courtney Barnett has proved time and time again why she deserves to be put on a pedestal, despite what she might say on Pedestrian At Best. Sometimes I Sit.. has an unprecedented charm to it and is insanely listenable. Absolutely exceptional.

 

 

18. Art Angels – Grimes

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As abnormally appealing as they come, Grimes returns with a record which is far more pop orientated than anything she’s ever made before yet it still retains all her trademark characteristics. California is a radio friendly hit that never verges into sell-out territory. She may have scrapped an entire album before this but when the replacement sounds this good, we’re not losing any sleep.

17. Cherry Bomb – Tyler The Creator

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While the ever controversial Tyler may have had a bad 2015 (OFWGKTA is no more, fall out with best pal Earl Sweatshirt, banned from UK), he can end the year knowing his latest album is arguably his best yet. A Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, Cherry Bomb fuses Tyler’s influencers (N.E.R.D, Stevie Wonder) and his own own dubious rap style to make a distorted masterpiece.

16. Another One – Mac DeMarco

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It really is testament to how talented Mac DeMarco is that a mini album manages to stand above full LPs. In his own words, Another One is about “different kinds of facets of being in love, being out of love, wanting love, not wanting love”. This concept never grows tiresome over the record’s eight track length and further refines his already sublime laid back sound.

15. Happy People – Peace 

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Peace know what they are: floppy haired indie royalty, just like Arctic Monkeys before them. They’re not ashamed of this in the slightest though as they embrace this wholeheartedly. Happy People has exactly what you’d expect from the guys who brought you bloodshake as well as some even heavier tracks like I’m A Girl, showing the band are still as capable as ever to fire out some more indie-rock gems.

14. What Went Down – Foals

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It’s hard to recall an album this year that has managed to balance balls to the wall heavy rock and cordial little tracks all on the one LP. Foals have proven yet again that it’s not in their DNA to make a bad album.

 

13. Are You Satisfied – Slaves

81rIWd69XNL._SL1417_The debut album is often a record which most bands would play it safe on to be more approachable by the public. This isn’t the case for Kent punk duo Slaves who showcase their silliness on Feed The Mantaray while also trying to get their message across of “doing something with your lives” to listeners. Regardless if they succeed in doing so, the boys manage to stand out from every two piece band around at the moment, no small feat at all.

12. The Mindsweep – Enter Shikari

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2015 was undoubtedly one of the most important years for UK politics and no band knows and represents this better than Enter Shikari. From the feedback heavy track Anaesthetist dealing with the privatisation of the NHS to the unsubtly commentary on the corruption of bankers on Bank Of England, the band make their voice well and truly heard and it’s never sounded so good.

11. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late – Drake

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For a man who is worth millions, if not billions, Drake’s latest album is surprisingly minimalistic in comparison to other rapper’s records. However, this surprise release benefits from this, managing to hit out with the anthems you’d expect from Drizzy while managing to be retrospective. A man that can’t be stopped.

 

10. Too – FIDLAR

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Los Angeles band FIDLAR love drugs (despite just getting out of rehab), drinking and self loathing. They lay all their cards out on the table so that they and the listeners can get down to business and have a good time. Wouldn’t you know it, they do exactly that. Heavily inspired by the 90’s teen angst bands like blink-182, Too is a 42 minute record that is all about having fun and provides just that. Simple yet amazing.

9. My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice

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Is it any surprise that Wolf Alice are the biggest new act of 2015? The band have built up a hype hurricane since their very first EP which hasn’t been helped by the likes of NME naming them a “band that will change your life” and being nominated for multiple awards. Thankfully this hasn’t derailed the band who deliver a record bursting with heart and grunge-lite sound. One of the greatest debuts of the past decade.

8. Life’s Not Out To Get You – Neck Deep

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Pop punk has had its own sort of renaissance this year with Knuckle Puck mixing the emo sound of American Football with the appeal a genre like this brings. Neck Deep have filled the converse of blink-182 with an album that is full of the same polish and emotion as Enema Of The State. A band that are worth keeping your eye on.

7. Positive Songs For Negative People – Frank Turner

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You’ll struggle to find a solo artist with the same raw passion as Frank Turner. After constructing a record about heartbreak that was enough to make the toughest person feel second hand remorse, PSFNP does exactly what it says on the tin. Any self professed cynic will find themselves drawn in by the snarling guitars and folk rock genius of certain tracks, showing that Frank is arguably the most talented Turner in the business.

6. The Powers That B – Death Grips

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Sacramento experimental hip hop band Death Grips are…weird to say the least. This statement proves to be the most true when listening to Jenny Death, the second half of TPTB, which came out of fucking nowhere in traditional Death Grips fashion. It serves as a reminder to why many fell in love with the band: pure uncut anarchy with the staple MC Ride delivery. Although it isn’t as tremendous as The Money Store, it’s the perfect combination of rap and rock, especially on tracks like On GP.

5. Integrity > – JME

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Just like pop punk, Grime witnessed a second wind this year, solidified by artists like Skepta breaking into the charts and a flamethrower extravaganza at the Brits when many artists from the genre joined Kanye on stage. While it may not have topped charts, JME’s latest record is the best record in the genre since Boy In Da Corner. Independently released, JME preaches about keyboard warriors, veganism and his disinterest in others opinions. Over the 16 tracks and countless video game references, it’s painfully clear that JME is loving what he’s doing, not having to answer to a boss and in the process he’s stumbled upon one of the most refreshing albums of the year.

4. Get To Heaven – Everything Everything

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Bare with me here. Yes, if you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever enjoy an Everything Everything album I would probably have laughed you off. However, the Manchester act aren’t regarded as genre defying for nothing and their latest release is proof of that. Full to the brim with infectious pop and insanely danceable tracks, Get To Heaven is unlike anything to come out this year. It has political commentary so well hidden by its 60’s beats and weirdly catchy alarm clock samples that even if they were stripped away, the album as a whole would still stand on its own. Imaginative and unique, Get To Heaven can be three genres at once but still be described with one word: exhilarating.

3. That’s The Spirit – Bring Me The Horizon

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After a brutal history with the drug Ketamine, Oli Sykes says he came out of Rehab feeling like he didn’t want to scream anymore, he wanted to “sing from the fucking rooftops”. Just as Sykes overcame his addiction, so to have Bring Me The Horizon overcame the troubles that most bands face when changing their sound. Although hardcore fans who have been there since their metalcore days may be disappointed about the transition, there is no denying the layered and evolved synths and atmosphere that come in hand with them are on an such a level of quality that it’s hard to think of a band that does it as well as them. Without a doubt, the best rock album of 2015.

2. In Colour – Jamie XX

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It’s hard to fault Jamie Smith when it comes to his skills as a producer. Many felt like working with The XX was limiting his range, musically, and whilst members of the band make appearances throughout, In Colour not only stands on its own two legs, it stands out as an absolute juggernaut of a record. The brilliant thing about In Colour is how difficult it is to pigeon hole. It’s been described by some reviewers as a rave album and some tracks like the aforementioned Gosh could imply that it is such an album. However each track can be interpreted in so many and the term “electronic” is so vague that it’s almost insulting. Whether you think it’s a rave album, a techno one or even a semi reggae one for some reason, you’re both right and wrong. One thing is for sure though and that’s that you’ll definitely be in the latter if you decide to give this album a skip.

 

And the best album of the year is…

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

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What else was it going to be? Let’s all confess for a minute: we were all worried. How on earth could Kendrick Lamar top the move-esque masterpiece that was Good Kid m.A.A.d city? We were anxious as fuck but once To Pimp A Butterfly dropped out of nowhere, all those worries were laid to rest.

Criticise me if you wish but Lamar is the new king of rap as his scope reaches a ginormous scale you’d expect from a firearm. Showing the rage of Kanye (Blacker The Berry), romantic nature of Drake (Complexion) and the unpredictableness that only Lamar himself can provide, TPAB could have been a lame, safe follow up. Instead it tackles integrated racism in America, staying true to yourself by turning down stardom and…talking to Tupac. Seriously though, Kendrick is a man who knows where he stands in the music world. He knows he’s one of the biggest artists in the world and he uses this position for good, asking for gangs to reconcile, calling out rappers for being shams and telling the listener to love themselves.

There’s not much I can say about To Pimp A Butterfly that hasn’t been said already but what I can say is this: it’s not only the best album of 2015, it’s arguably the best album to come out this century.

Big love, Liam x

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Frank Turner @ Barrowlands Review – 13/11/2015

Barrowlands. Undoubtedly the greatest venue in Scotland, arguably the world,it’s hosted so many acts, ranging from The 12208573_917427804959246_3166259365936926584_nSmiths to the Foo Fighters, that just adjacent to the venue is a pathway listing all the bands who have came to Glasgow to play here. It’s a career defining venue with many home grown acts like Biffy Clyro playing some of the most intimate gigs of their lives there last December and their mark can still be felt there, in no small part to the stairs that proudly wear the band’s lyrics.

That alone would make most acts feel nervous about not being able to put on a show comparable to what the venue is used to. It’s not enough to have some good tunes or have a big fanbase. You have to make the stage your own, show why you deserve to be on the same platform that so many legendary artists have been on before you.

Welcome to the stage, Mr Frank Turner, hailing from Hampshire with more than a decade’s worth of musical experience under his belt. He’s managed to be part of a fairly successful band, London post-hardcore band Million Dead, and well after their break up, he’s still going from arena to arena all over the world with a solo career that most folk would do anything to have.

In fact, Turner himself told a story about a flag that’s been passed around every venue he’s been on tour at. It’s no reproduced item either, instead it’s passed on by fans who unite with one another over the music, something that the 33 year old has always voiced out with his first of two gig rules: be nice to one another.

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A very poorly taken picture (by me) when Turner stood on the barrier, less than a foot away.

The second rule? “If you know the words then fucking sing along” Turner shouted before belting out fan favourite track Peggy Sang The Blues which resulted in a crowd sing-along, one of many last night with people both young and old getting lost in the music. This was no doubt the reason that the smile on Turner’s face never faded for the whole night, a man who repeatedly says how he wants a little more love and a little less hate.

That’s exactly the sentiment that could be felt in the Barrowlands last night. Even when the crowd were frantically moving about to Get Better and many were getting smooshed by the thousands in the Ballroom that night, something that can be expected at any gig. However, people were helping one another out who were getting crushed, passing water with no hesitation, behaviour that sounds normal but, in my experience anyway, isn’t seen nearly as often as it should be.

Turner put on the show of a lifetime, showcasing tracks off his new album Positive Songs For Negative People as well as golden oldies. Many acts will tell you that they love Glasgow but Turner managed to get this across without explicitly saying it. The stories he told were entertaining and insightful, the chemistry he had for his backing band The Sleeping Souls and, most importantly, the appreciation he had for every single fan that has supported him over his career. Everyone there left drenched in sweat and aching from the 30 song long setlist but they came out knowing they’ve witnessed an artist who is in a league of his own.

Big Love, Liam x

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