Gig Review – Car Seat Headrest @ O2 ABC, Glasgow

words + photos fae owen yule (@OwenYule)

With the releases of both Twin Fantasy and Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest has firmly solidified themselves as one of the most exciting bands on the indie rock scene. At the heart of these records is Will Toledo’s brutally honest lamentation and so, Toledo’s personality seems somewhat contrary to the typical characteristics of a zealous performer. In addition, what makes these records so great was the flawless amalgamation of varies styles of rock – Toledo has never shied away from structurally audacious tracks that manage to evoke the whole spectrum of emotion, and it’s for these reasons that I had my reservations upon entering last night’s venue.

Taking the mature decision to relinquish full control of his tracks, Will takes centre stage without a lead guitar. Rather, he performs with a microphone and his eccentricities. Not only is this decision indicative of Will’s efforts to recapture the sincerity of the studio recorded vocals, but also one that enables the flawless execution of the aforementioned complex tracks. This decision is reinforced by the bands performance of Cute Thing, which sees Toledo vocalising harmonies beautifully between the aggressive choruses.

Playing live with a 6-piece outfit, the band makes full use of their camaraderie to recreate the groove of Bodys that invigorates energy throughout the whole crowd. Nonetheless the band was never superfluous with their instrumentation and every note carried weight. The intimacy of tracks like Sober to Death wasn’t lost amongst the 6 members; rather, it was actualised by the efforts of each player. The performance of the track is initially stripped down before coming to full fruition in conjunction with the energy of the chorus.

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Although Toledo’s lyrical poignancy is somewhat derived from his personal anguish and insecurity, he was never a passenger on stage. Instead, he navigated the venue with confidence that brought a new vitality to the music without losing a personal touch. This was foreshadowed in the opening cover of the ever-funky Talking Heads’ Crosseyed and Painless. A track whose reputation is daunting in its gravitas, yet ever so delightfully incorporated into Car Seat Headrest’s live performance. Carrying out the 1980 classic, the band reimagines Talking Heads’ signature groove with cowbell orientated funk.

Their ambition here is carried with momentum all the way through to Toledo’s own rendition of Frank Ocean’s White Ferrari. Well aware of his vocals limitations, Toledo substitutes technical proficiency for heart wrenching emotion that mediates any incapability to recreate Ocean’s vocal expertise (as if one could ever be reprimanded for that shortcoming). Incited, and perhaps somewhat confused by the chants in unison of Glasgow’s very own little concert mantra, the band returned to the stage to encore Nervous Young Inhumans. After moving the crowd with Bodys, inspiring a wholehearted sing along with Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales and awakening mosh pits with Beach-Life-In-Death, Nervous Young Inhumans provokes the very same reactions as all of these tracks in a manner that is equally infectious.

While Car Seat Headrest’s appeal somewhat relies on the expression of alienation on their records, in a crowd of hundreds the band still instigates the same fundamentals of their recordings to their enthusiastic live audience.

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Hop Along offer a fourth LP full of “fine tuned to perfection tracks”

words fae ryan martin (@ryanmartin182)rating 8

Their 4th effort, Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog is their most potent, catchiest, and gorgeous effort to date. Each of the 9 tracks on the LP feel like they have been fine tuned to perfection. At the center of the album is frontwoman Frances Quinlan, she invited the listener to exist in the picture she paints with her lyrics with her bandmates’ help.

“Afternoon vanilla sun crawls away across the lawn

Through the phone I pull you and drag your voice around

Afternoon vanilla sun crawls away without a sound

Through the phone I pull you and drag your voice around”

Quinlan’s lyrics is the driving force that pushes this album from good to great. The instrumentation is surely impressive but are complimented perfectly by the themes of aging, relationships, and reflection. From the opener How Simple, the repeated refrain

“Don’t worry, we’ll find out just not together”

sets the tone for the record, while its themes may not be as cheery as the music itself, it invites you to look at these themes with a cheery outlook. Instead of looking back with regret, maybe look back with reflection and optimism.

The Philly indie rock outfit has been around since as early as 2005 when Quinlan was still in high-school. Over a decade later, their sound has gone from a bedroom pop sound to recognition in the emo/indie community to Bark. Their newest effort demonstrates what the band has been working up to all these years. Lush, grand and confessional songs that are rooted in indie and folk.

Something that’s really enjoyable about this album is the first listen is pleasant the whole way through. Some albums take some time to really digest all the lyrics and structures. On the first listen, Bark sneaks in repeated earworms that make the tracks really pop on your first run through them. The more that you revisit the album, these earworms act as a place marker for your first listen, as you pick up new favorite parts and lyrics or riffs you might have missed on your first listen. It’s certainly not an album that you need to spend time dissecting to fully enjoy, but rather one that encourages you to keep digging.

Each of the nine tracks feel like they have their own legs to stand on. They are developed enough that they don’t sound the same as the track before it but still adds to the cohesiveness of the album. There are some synthesizers that are peppered into harmonies throughout the 40-minute-LP. The duration doesn’t overstay it’s welcome either. Each song deserves its own attention to detail in some way. Bark is a truly remarkable album that goes down smoother with every listen.

As a quick reminder, it’s extremely important to support female-fronted artists in order to overcome the dominating presence of white males in the music scene, especially in the indie/emo community. Hop Along has crafted a gorgeous LP that deserves your attention. This applies to LGBTQ-fronted, trans-fronted, and artists of color as well. There’s a lot of talented musicians all around us, it’s important not to let their talents be unheard because of their gender/race/sexual identity.

 

Preoccupations hit their stride on latest LP ‘New Material’

by kieran cannon (@kiercannon)rating 7

On first impressions, it’s difficult to deny that Preoccupations aren’t particularly creative when it comes to dreaming up album names – after all, their first two full-length records are self-titled. Back when they recorded under the Viet Cong alias, their eponymous debut Viet Cong – while critically acclaimed – courted fairly significant controversy due to its historical and political connotations. After it became abundantly clear their band name was no longer tenable, the group mulled over a new name for several months before announcing they’d henceforth be known as Preoccupations. The album to usher in this new era for the group? Er… Preoccupations.

There’s beauty in simplicity, though. Just as Preoccupations was, in fairness, the perfect descriptor for the compulsive, anxious mood of their sophomore album, New Material is a surprisingly apt title for their third and latest effort. Compared to the nervous energy and angular riffs of previous records, they’ve sanded down the sharp edges. The result? A much more accessible, more nuanced record which transports them further still from their noise rock roots without sacrificing any of their lyrical sincerity or expression.

Lead single Espionage kicks off proceedings with some familiar industrial noise; what follows, however, is much warmer and less abrasive than we’ve come to expect from the Canadian quartet, leaning more heavily towards synths instead of the characteristic razor-sharp stabs of guitar. Whereas before it felt like Matt Flegel’s vocals were screaming, arms outstretched against a tidal wave of sound, now he rides the wave in seemingly greater harmony. This frenzied approach undoubtedly worked a treat on previous recordings, but it seems they’ve now settled down into a more comfortable groove.

With each subsequent album, Preoccupations are undergoing a marked series of changes – some subtle, some more apparent. Despite this willingness to traverse new territory, they certainly don’t seem reluctant to pay homage to post-punk forebearers such as Wire and Joy Division, the latter in particular on tracks like Solace. There’s no mistaking that distinctive Unknown Pleasures-era snare drum sound or the ominous Peter Hook style bass lines, but by no means is this a knock-off, supermarket own brand version. They’re taking cues from classics of a bygone era and using them tastefully as part of their modern, progressive take on the genre, resulting in one the highlights of the album with the thrilling conclusion to Solace.

Since their inception, multi-instrumentalist producer extraordinaire Scott “Monty” Munro has devoted a great deal of effort to achieving a certain aesthetic, ultimately hoping to “make a record where nobody knows what instrument is playing ever,” unleashing the full firepower of his gadget arsenal to this end. With that goal in mind he has been largely successful in creating fascinating and unique soundscapes across the entire recording, ranging from the expansive to the claustrophobic. Very occasionally, though, the sheer wall of sound becomes overbearing; reverb-drenched vocals leave the otherwise punchy Disarray feeling a bit washed out and lacking in oomph. These moments are few and far between, however. By and large, it’s an extremely well-produced and cohesive record.

The topic of the band’s unceremonious rebranding presents a strange paradox – a singer whose lyrics are dystopian, introspective and very often cathartic but who (along with his fellow musicians) seems disinclined towards being taken too seriously or becoming too political. Recognising that perhaps their original choice was ill-judged in nature, the easiest course of action seemed to be a change of identity to prevent it overshadowing their music and distracting people from the real message they’re trying to convey. If that was the major transition between their first two albums, they’ve taken a step further with New Material. By doing away with the 12-minute behemoth tracks, they’ll undoubtedly win over yet more listeners who might’ve found the sheer graft involved with listening to songs like that offputting.

One thing is for certain, though. Preoccupations remain a hot prospect for the future and it’ll be intriguing to see how they continue to forge their own path among their modern post-punk contemporaries. They’re tantalisingly close to greatness and, if we’re all lucky, their pioneering nature will hopefully see them reach those heights with subsequent releases.

Looking Back At… Antidotes by Foals

by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

Foals’ debut album, Antidotes, just turned 10 years old, providing an excuse to revisit this British indie staple. Today it would be hard to argue that Foals aren’t one of the best British bands of the last decade, consistently impressing release after release and garnering critical acclaim. In the past ten years the band have gone from playing local clubs in their hometown of Oxford to playing main stages of festivals around the world. All of this success stemming from one of the best debut albums to come from the indie scene.

Foals are often being referred to as being in the genre of “Math Rock”, which peaked as a musical style in the late 80s; it could be said that Antidotes is a Math Rock revival album. With the style of the album feeling very different from its contemporaries, who all began to sound increasingly similar since the success of bands like Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks and Franz Ferdinand. The album perfectly managed to keep an upbeat post-punk sound whilst creating something new in the UK indie scene, which at times was just plain boring and predictable.

The tracks are consistently catchy throughout the record, sounding cohesive as a project yet switching up tempo just enough to keep listeners guessing from song to song. The dreamy, intricate instrumentals on the album range from atmospheric and subtle to memorable moments that would go on to be an essential to any house party in the late 2000s. The vocal performance from Yannis Philippakis is also another standout feature of Antidotes as he takes a different approach to song writing compared to many other indie acts from the same time, and it really pays off. The lyrics are simple yet abstract, often repeating over the tight, upbeat guitar and groovy baselines found throughout the album.

This new approach to up-tempo catchy songs definitely shook up the British music scene, providing an important alternative to some of the more popular bands and going on to influence bands such as Two Door Cinema Club and Everything Everything. The versatility that was displayed on Antidotes, which sees the band regularly switch from soft spoken and delicate to shouting and abrasive, sets the foundation for what Foals have further explored on later releases, continuing to improve and make such great albums as Total Live Forever and Holy Fire. These records brought them to the mainstream and have gained fans from all corners of the globe, allowing them to sell out headlining tours and feature as highlights of festival lineups across the world.

Ultimately, Antidotes kick-started the career of one of the most exciting and charismatic bands to come out of the UK in recent years. The album really struck a chord with young fans that saw through the surface level indie rock replica bands, who were searching for something different and new. Many of these people will now look back fondly on Antidotes as a classic indie album, as well as acting as an introduction to Foals, whose reputation as one of the most exciting acts to see live is well earned.

Yup – Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy remake is better than the original in pretty much every way

ALBUM REVIEWrating 9

words by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

The new release from American indie rock outfit Car Seat Headrest isn’t quite as new as you’d expect: originally released back in 2011 by Will Toledo, Twin Fantasy was the sixth self released album by the act and showcased Toledo’s knack of crafting brilliant songs via a certain tone, witty (often controversial) lyrics or some mish mash of the two. The personal, somewhat handmade feel that Twin Fantasy evoked made it one that was definitely worth revisiting despite it’s crude lo-fi aesthetic meaning it wasn’t quite as accessible compared to the studio releases that would follow.

2016’s Teens of Denial was one of said studio releases and while it was far from bad (it received widespread critical acclaim which ended up further expanding CSH’s fan base) it did see Toledo take a bit of a different approach to his songwriting, keeping with his relatable millennial themes but making them less personal, often feeling like generalisations.

With new found popularity means that the chances your entire discography will be getting inspected which no doubt terrified Toledo: “listen to his first attempt, recorded at nineteen on a cheap laptop, and you’ll hear what Brian Eno fondly calls “the sound of failure” was part of the third person statement released upon the announcement Twin Fantasy, now subtitled (Face to Face) to avoid confusion with the 2011 original, wouldn’t so much be getting a touch up as opposed to a complete redo.

This remake truly feels like an instant cult classic that will be looked back upon as a staple of 2010s indie rock. The album has been regenerated from a lo-fi diary of a teenager’s inner thoughts to a masterfully concocted soundtrack of a time in the life of someone who is growing, constantly learning about themselves. The lyrics show the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with growing up, in an especially transitional time, turning from teenager to adult. This is one of the main themes that makes the album so familiar and comforting, writing songs that create this feeling of relatability takes a level of skill that few can achieve.

It appears that with this remake Will Toledo has fully grasped the production and instrumental capabilities that were perhaps not available to him back in 2011 and has come back to some of his finest work. This decision is commendable as it may have been a tough choice between moving the sound of Car Seat Headrest forward, continuing in the path of albums such as How to Leave Town and Teens of Denial, which have brought success to the band, or going back to an old release that many may have forgotten about by some. This decision has paid off immensely, fusing the distinct indie rock sound that has been created by Car Seat Headrest with their past few albums with the fantastic, raw lyrics that were written before any major success.

The album ties in synthesizers to the prominently guitar-based sound of Car Seat Headrest, adding an extra layer to the texture. Will Toledo’s vocals sound as good as ever, with his almost whiny tone being overlaid so that he is both the lead and back-up singer on most tracks. This self-harmonisation works very well to create an atmospheric sound that ties in really nicely, particularly on some of the longer ballads on the track listing. One thing that can be heard in the vocal performance on the album is that it feels more raw and emotional than some on some previous releases.

This could be due to the more personal subject matter, and can be heard immediately on the opening track, “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” as well as throughout the album. The spoken word segments present in some tracks can break up the tacks nicely, keeping anything from getting stale-sounding, as well as offering a deeper insight into some of the lyrics, like on the closing tack, Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)”.

It is also worth noting that the lyrics about depression and the struggle of expressing your sexuality on “Beach Life-In-Death” are some of the best approaches to such sensitive issues within any indie rock song. These stories that are told do not only express the emotions of an individual, but allow outsiders a window to relate and understand the issues that the individual is going through. This is something that could be said is often missing in the discussion on sensitive, personal issues such as mental illness and sexuality, often just focusing on one viewpoint or the other. The combination of these viewpoints is one of the things that really makes the album feel special.

Twin Fantasy is the best release from Car Seat Headrest so far. It is up there as one of the best rock albums of the past few years and should be looked back at as an indie essential of the decade. Last year it may have seemed near impossible task to outdo Teens of Denial however, equipped with resources such as better production and band-mates, Car Seat Headrest have yet again surpassed expectations.

 

Album Review: Golem Who Goes Fish – No Conscious Apparitions

by Ewan Blacklaw (@EwanBlacklaw)rating 7

Released in early December 2017, No Conscious Apparitions is the latest project from underground lo-fi indie rock outfit Golem Who Goes Fish, formerly known as Sontuk. This time Phil Castro, the mind behind Golem Who Goes Fish, creates a dreamy lo-fi sound layered beneath vocals reminiscent of Elvis Costello. Although this nasally voice makes the album stand out from other lo-fi projects, it may also put listeners off some of the catchy indie tracks on this album.

The lo-fi production sound of the album is achieved by using a 4-track, which is a popular method of recording in the lo-fi music scene. The reason that this technique is favoured is due to the ability to mix each individual component of the song together in a very natural way. No Conscious Apparitions is a prime example of this, with a majority of songs featuring a catchy combination of drums, synth, guitar and keys backing the signature vocals. This amalgamation makes for some very catchy songs such as one of the standout moments on the project, Alice Hieroglyphics Alice, which sounds as though it is could be a hidden gem from the peak of 70s rock.

Although the album does get off to a great start with memorable opening tracks, there is a lull during the midway section of the album. This could be due to the short tracks featuring nasally vocals and similar sounding instrumentals merging into one uniform sound. This lull is, however, broken with Simple Sugars (Do The Trick) which brings a new dynamic to the album, introducing a synth sound that sounds as if it has been pulled straight from the soundtrack of Hotline Miami or Drive. From this point onwards the album picks up again, mixing in different influences and sounds from various genres. One noticeable example of this is Malic Alice, which is the most intense track on the album, releasing a previously unheard garage rock sound that really stands out from other the other tracks of No Conscious Apparitions. Mixed in amongst the album’s catchy lo-fi indie rock feel are these occasional appearances of subtle instrumentals that serve as a moment of reflection, as well as a break from the whining vocals of Phil Castro.

One other factor of the album are the surrealist lyrics laced throughout the album, which seem to bring in a lot of original ideas. The lyrics seem to be distant and dreamy to match the backing instrumentals, as well as the overall tone of the record. Although the album does hit a bit of a slow patch, it is an overall solid project, standing out from other recent lo-fi releases with the unique lyrics and vocals which bring some new ideas to the indie rock genre. As well as seeming to move in a different way within the genre, No Conscious Apparitions is also a standout amongst previous releases from Golem Who Goes Fish, showing the growth in the personal sound of the project. The newest album ranks as the best of his three releases so far and hopefully he can continue to release good music well into 2018.

 

Wolf Alice interview: “This is the angriest we’ve ever sounded”

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

You bore me, you bore me to death” screams singer and guitarist Ellie Rowsell on Wolf Alice’s comeback track Yuk Foo, the world’s first taste of new music by the band since their 2015 debut My Love Is Cool. Blowing up seemingly overnight, the band toured extensively but are back with what’s set to be their most personal record to date with Visions Of A Life. With it set to drop later next month, we chatted to Theo Ellis (bass, synths, vocals) about what we can expect from the new LP as well as the string of intimate shows they have planned for it.

Blinkclyro: Many bands seem to falter on their second album, something people call the Sophomore curse – does that worry you?

Theo Ellis: The thing we were most nervous about on this album was our personal expectations that we had on ourselves and other external factors. We looked to see what we had achieved on our first album and what we could do to improve as musicians and songwriters. When we got it to a place where we looked back at it and collectively felt proud of it as a band then the worries stop.

Blinkclyro: The two singles that have been shown off show two sides of a coin emotion wise, is that something you sought out to do intentionally?

Theo Ellis: Definitely, we’re always trying to push and show more sides of ourselves. I suppose with the lyrical content, specifically on Yuk Foo, it’s a very angry song, the angriest we’ve ever sounded. It’s a way to vent when you’re most pissed off and want to shout. Our producer was who helped us reach that really raw point – when we wanted to be aggressive or, like on Don’t Delete The Kisses, very delicate then Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Paramore, M83, Blood Orange) would help us with that. 

Blinkclyro: Over the past year or so yourself and the band have been more politically active, especially with the rise of Corbyn. Is this something that’s bound to infiltrate your music and how was the reaction?

Theo Ellis: Nah, I wouldn’t say it has infiltrated our music at all. So far, with this record and our debut, we’ve not really written anything outwards in terms of social commentary or chatting about things that are happening. We just started to engage a bit more on our platform after Brexit happened since it made a lot of people realise what bad shit can happen when you don’t use your voice. The older you get, the more you start to define who you are as a person and what you stand for. There were definitely more positive people echoing our message than there were negative comments though there definitely were some. It seemed to be mainly older people, mainly men, who were saying we should keep our mouths shut and stick to the music.

Blinkclyro: You’ve got a line of intimate gigs planned, is there anything that fans should expect?

Theo Ellis: Some new songs (laughs). Nah, that’ll be the most noticeable thing but it will be a very high octane show that we’re gonna be very proud, playing some of the stuff off the new record and some of the older songs. It’ll be a fun opportunity to play in venues that we don’t really get the chance to play in anymore: expect music, bad banter and some larger if you want.

 

Blinkclyro: Despite being quite a fresh act, how did it feel to appear on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack, a film series known for its iconic music?

Theo Ellis: That was insane man, the way it came about was crazy: I fell asleep and when I woke up my girlfriend was watching the trailer, I was like “sick!” when Silk popped up instantly. As soon as it was out I had about one hundred emails! The first film has such an iconic soundtrack and managed to sum up 90’s culture with all those bands so to be included in a modern incarnation was a real compliment.

Blinkclyro: Not only did you get to have one of your songs appear in a film but you also wrote some original music for the reboot of Ghostbusters – what was the experience like?

Theo Ellis: We hadn’t seen any footage, they just gave us the script of a scene to write to so we all went away, came up with our versions and the returned to collaborate on it. It never ended up getting used actually, it was meant to be a song that played on the radio but they ended up cutting it so fuck them (laughs). Nah but it was really cool to collaborate on anything creative, especially as we’re all big fans of cinema, and it broadens those creative horizons. Scoring something like that is something I’d definitely want to do again.

 

 

Visions Of A Life is set to be released on September 29th via Dirty Hit.


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