Drenge embrace the weird and uneasy on Strange Creatures

Drenge have made their grand return to the UK rock scene with their latest album Strange Creatures. This latest effort arrives after a relatively quiet few years for the band, whose last full studio album was released back in 2015. After the success of their self-titled debut and its follow-up Undertow, this period of absence has left a very particular itch unscratched for many fans. Known for their dark and blues-inspired grunge sound, the Loveless brothers usually kept their songs concise and direct, delivering memorable riffs and fast-paced action throughout their previous two albums. The usual distorted and heart-racing sound of their prior efforts have been largely left in the past by Drenge, who on this latest album deliver some of their most haunting and intricate work to date.

Some of the longer form and lyric-driven tracks from Undertow are the standout remains of the Drenge that fans had come to love, as their new sound often combines pulsating synthesisers and hyper-realistic lyrics to create an eerie soundscape that is often used by Eoin Loveless to explore deeper lyrical themes than on previous releases. This is not to say that the album has a slow pace overall, as some of the most pop-sounding songs of theirs to date can also be found on Strange Creatures. The two main cases of this are “This Dance” and “Autonomy,” which were both released amongst the flurry of singles that culminated in the build-up to the band’s comeback. The tracks take on more of a New Wave sound, yet still feature a certain edge from Eoin’s songwriting, particularly on “Autonomy,” where he delivers some of his most skeptical and witty commentary on the album. This new approach to writing catchy songs relies on a certain contrast between the upbeat instrumentals and the creeping vocals and backing synths, which make for an excellent addition to the band’s arsenal.

It has to be said that after the album’s introduction from three of the singles, Strange Creatures really does come into its own. “Teenage Love” provides an infectiously stirring track, with flat-out creepy lyrics that fit with the overarching theme of the record. This continues through to “Prom Night,” which is most definitely one of the standout tracks, featuring some of the most visceral and evocative storytelling that Eoin has produced over the course of all three albums. The merging of the classic Drenge guitar sound and some particularly spooky synths has been immaculately pulled off by the Loveless brothers. The shift away from guitar driven songs does not ever feel forced or alien, but more that it was the natural projection for the band’s evolving sound. This can be heard yet again on “No Flesh Road,” which feels alienating and estranged, which are themes that have always been found in Drenge’s own twisted musical stylings.

Without a doubt, the anthem of the album in “Never See The Signs,” which offers all of the aforementioned qualities in one blow. The track has all the catchiness of some of the new-wave elements of the record whilst simultaneously incorporating the dark undertones that give the album an overall eerie feel. The two closing tracks then seem to follow the apparent theme from Drenge’s previous two albums, giving the album a grandiose, almost ballad-like close. “Avalanches” offers a slow and distortion-induced shoegaze trip featuring some reverberated vocals from Eoin that combine with some isolated keys that add to the reflective tone of the track.

This is a nice change of pace that slows down nicely as the album comes to a close on the final song “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” The track definitely stands out as the most ‘out there’ and different from the Drenge of past years. The symphony of chanting vocals, acoustic guitar and prog-type synths is truly different to anything that Drenge fans will be used to, but the experimental sound seems to work for the brothers, with a solid vocal performance yet again, leaving the closing track sounding reminiscent of a Nick Cave song. This could also be said for the new role that Eoin appears to be taking in the band as he takes up the full-time job of a frontman by ditching his guitar during live shows. Although the two may not be correlated, it feels as though this change, or perhaps the maturing of the brothers, has led to a revitalised approach to songwriting, one that sees some of the band’s best written songs to date on the record, along with some of the most captivating vocal performances.

With Strange Creatures, Drenge have created an uncomfortably different yet enthralling soundscape that strays far from their simple two-piece roots. It seems that the band have abandoned the simple guitar and drums grunge combo and have opted for a more complex and moody sound that tends to deliver some haunting moments. It is great to see the Loveless brothers back in action after a four-year absence, and even better to see that they have remained consistent in their delivery of solid records. The disturbing world of Strange Creatures is almost incomparable to their previous studio albums, yet it contains songs of an equally great nature. – Ewan Blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)

rating 8

The 1975 break into the stratosphere on ‘A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships’

The 1975 are provocative and genius (if a bit pretentious) or overrated, maddening and straight-up wanky, depending on who you ask. One thing that everyone should admit, even those who can’t stand the sight of Matty Healy before he even opens his mouth, is that there’s no band quite like The 1975 in music today.

They released their underwhelming self-titled debut in 2013 and were essentially written off critically – yet this didn’t stop them amassing a huge fanbase. However, rather than giving the critics the middle finger and continuing down the same path, they released their sprawling, near 75-minute sophomore record i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it in 2016, a record where bubble-gum pop anthems rubbed shoulders with 6-minute instrumentals.

i like it when you sleep… remarkably won over some of the critics who had so vehemently trashed their debut, and by the end of that record’s touring cycle – The 1975, still one of the most divisive bands in music, had sold out the O2 Arena, Madison Square Garden and headlined Latitude Festival.

This meant that, in a weird way, the pressure was off when it came to making A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. If they were to look at it cynically, as long as there are radio hits (which The 1975 churn out for fun – just look at highlight It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) ), this album will send them into the stratosphere – as they proved on their first record, they don’t need critical acclaim, and already have a huge legion of fans who worship the ground they walk on.

But, rather than playing it safe, Healy and his bandmates (drummer/producer George Daniel, bassist Ross MacDonald and lead guitarist Adam Hann) revel in this, and make A Brief Inquiry…their boldest (and best) album yet. How To Draw / Petrichor is the best possible evidence – a reworked B-side from i like it…, the track’s first half is lullaby-esque – with gorgeously glittery piano and xylophone floating in and out of the mix, before Matty’svocals come in, absolutely buried in vocoder. However, then you have the second half – a production masterclass from Healy and George Daniel, an industrial dance beat with skittish beats that genuinely sound like an Aphex Twin track. Seriously, who would have predicted after The 1975’s debut that they would be drawing Aphex Twin comparisons on just their third album?

This Aphex comparison is a segue into a main point of discussion for this record. Matty is a huge LCD Soundsystem fan and in a manner similar to James Murphy’s LCD records, A Brief Inquiry…wears its influences very prominently on its sleeve – the intro track The 1975 – which has appeared in a different iteration on all 3 records – is a perfect example of this. A Brief Inquiry’s version hears Matty singing through a vocoder which sounds like a swarm of Matty robots, in a way that more than pays homage to Bon Iver’s 715 – CR∑∑KS.

Elsewhere on the record, the infectious single TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME sounds exactly like a dancehall Drake track, with breezy surface-level lyrics about infidelity. It’s undoubtedly generic and is the kind of track that those who love to hate The 1975 will latch onto, but somehow it’s irresistibly catchy and infectious.

There’s more Bon Iver influence on I Like America & America Likes Me (more like I Like Bon Iver and Bon Iver likes me, eh lads? Eh? Anyone?) where Healy’s voice is once again drenched in vocoder akin to 22, A Million. However, Matty is clever here – he knows he doesn’t have Vernon’s subtlety so substitutes this for his trademark brashness – America is carried by a massive trap beat and Healy’s lyricism is scatterbrain and manic, addressing the gun crisis in the USA (“kids don’t want rifles / they want Supreme”), but the unhinged and rapid-fire delivery and lyricism seems to suggest that Healy is using this rant as a way to deflect from his heroin addiction which saw him go to rehab during the making of this record – particularly as he howls “I’m scared of dying / its fiiiiiiine!” America is unhinged, wild and deranged – but it’s one of the best tracks this band has ever made.

While the rest of The 1975 are perfectly capable musicians, and George Daniel is a production wizard behind many of this record’s best moments. A Brief Inquiry…is dominated by the ever-fascinating Healy. This is especially evident on massive closer I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes), which sounds at some points like a Nickelback track and at other points like an Oasis track – Matty himself even called it “a gritty, English ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’” – it teeters right on the edge of being unbearably cheesy, but Healy’s earnestness manages to pull it off and then some – the bridge’s mantra of “if you can’t survive; just try”is genuinely tear-jerking and inspiring.

However, when discussing Matty, even the most loyal fans of his work will admit that he is prone to talking absolute shite from time to time, and if A Brief Inquiry…is a reflection of his personality, then it reflects this too. Lead single Give Yourself a Try is good but not great, and the idol worship elsewhere on the album is taken too far here as the guitar riff is a rip-off of Joy Division’s Disorder. Elsewhere, Surrounded By Heads and Bodies is entertainingly titled after the first sentence of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (“Because nobody reads it all the way!”) but that is unfortunately the most interesting thing about the track, as it is a forgettable acoustic track.

These are only small missteps in the album’s near-impeccable 59-minute runtime, and these are more than overshadowed by the band’s best song yet – the monumental Love If If We Made It. Released as a single before the album, the lyrics were released in advance of the track, and with lines as brash as “fucking in a car / shooting heroin” and “poison me, daddy”, even the most devout fans found themselves cringing. However, when the track was properly released it dumbfounded almost everyone who heard it.

It’s been called a millennial ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, as it simply lists the biggest news headlines and social events of the tumultuous past few years (“a beach of drowning 3 year olds / rest in peace Lil Peep”), Matty doesn’t give an opinion on any of these events and simply states the headlines, but his passion is evident. Particularly on the track’s incredibly moving bridge, where he quotes Trump twice, including the strangest pop lyric of the year “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What brings this cultural melting point of a track together is the powerfully simple chorus when Matty declares “modernity has failed us, but I’d love it if we made it”; it’s an admission that our world is a mess, but what comes through in Matty’s impassioned delivery is a true desire and a plea for humanity and kindness. It’s a protest song of sorts, but as only The 1975, and only Matty Healy could pull off. As unlikely as it may have seemed in 2013, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships makes a very strong case for The 1975 as the band that the world needs in 2018. – andrew barr (@weeandreww)

While She Sleeps make a welcome return with ANTI-SOCIAL

Some artists will become the flag-bearers for their genre; a hallmark of quality and THE starting point for any genre. However, some bands will take that flag down and put up their own, reshaping the genre and changing the face of it, or creating a whole new genre. Step forward, While She Sleeps.

Ever since introducing themselves with The North Stands For Nothing, WSS have been a band on the rise, somehow remaining solidly consistent across three full-blown releases, peaking with You Are We last year. Whilst classed as a metalcore band, they, like Architects, transcend the genre with their approach to musicianship and production.

So at some point, they’ve got to run out of puff, right? Potentially, but with the release of their new single ANTI-SOCIAL last night, the Sleeps brothers don’t look like that’ll happen any time soon.

There’s something different with this track, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. The track still contains the classic Sleeps trademarks – big riffs, and bigger gang screams – but feels more progressive than You Are We.

It’s not like they’ve turned down and pursued a poppier sound, it still hits with the same venom and angst as ever before. You could argue the heavy, ominous synth is something new, but not exactly outside their range. The sound just feels like an upgrade, but not from one album to the next, it feels like they’ve learnt a lot and are applying it to their craft.

Past the synth however, it’s business as usual with frantically picked guitars, thunderous riffs and a chorus of screams. It just… it just feels like an evolution of the band. As if they’ve gone from being a Pikachu; an absolute unit, roundly popular, to a Raichu; even more electric and more powerful than ever before.

ANTI-SOCIAL is the first release from Sleeps’ fourth full-length album, SO WHAT?, due next March, and whilst we’re just one track in, you’d be foolish not to already be tipping the band to release an album of the year contender in 2019.

However, this album does come with an added pressure. The band have sold out halls, institutes and academies across the land, and SO WHAT? will be crucial, in that it could be the album that takes them to the arena-filling and festival headlining level, and turn them into metal’s latest giants. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

IDLES tackle everything from Brexit to gym lads on ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’

Aggressive, political and raw is perhaps the best way to describe UK punk rock five-piece IDLES’ sophomore album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. The follow up to their 2017 debut Brutalism defied all odds for a punk band in 2018, shooting straight to number five on the UK album charts.

Opening with the raw and anthemic Colossus, the album really starts as it means to go on. Huge drum beats accompany the dirty, slow riff while the almost 50/50 blend of screaming and melodic vocals from singer Joe Talbot take centre stage. The repeated lyrics of “it goes and it goes and it goes” create an eery and intimidating listen throughout the whole track, making it a strange but equally enjoyable first listen. The track then slows right down, before launching right into a heavy riff and changing tempo to a much faster feel. The track encapsulates what this album is about, and sets the mood perfectly from the get-go.

 

The songwriting displayed on the tracks throughout this album is perhaps what makes it stick out. Poking fun at all aspects of life in modern Britain, the topics tackled by IDLES on this record range from ‘gym lads’ to politics and Brexit.

Never Fight A Man with a Perm is the second track on the record, and perhaps one of the best on the whole album. It’s the lyrics that particularly stand out on this one. Poking fun at those lads obsessed with the gym and going clubbing to pinch girls’ arses, Talbot sings “You look like a walking thyroid / You’re not a man, you’re a gland / You’re one big neck with sausage hands / You are a Topshop tyrant / Even your haircut’s violent / You look like you’re from Love Island”. 

The album continues to produce great tracks as it goes on. The brilliant chorus of Danny Nedelko is a song worthy of fans to mosh along to at gigs. The track is a strong punk track with a deep, political theme: immigrants. Written about a good friend of the group who is a Ukranian immigrant, the opening lyrics of “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant” set the mood for the rest of the track. This is precisely what the band, and the spirit of punk, is all about: giving a big ‘fuck you’ to the system.

It’s safe to say the songwriting and vocal style are among the biggest reasons this album has achieved so much. Samaritans deals with toxic masculinity while Great looks at Brexit and scoffs at some of the more irrational reasons people may have for voting. Lyrics such as “Islam didn’t eat your hamster” and “wombic charm of the union jack, as he cries over the price of a bacon bap” work perfectly in this song. They are funny, while also showing how silly this whole Brexit nonsense is.

IDLES have done superbly in this album. While the instrumentation is perhaps not as strong as other records out there and the style is not for everyone, the meaning behind the tracks is what makes it great. This album has soared to number five in the charts and allowed the Bristol punk rock outfit to play massive sold out shows all over the UK. It’s safe to say they are going to continue to do so. – gregor farquharson (@grgratlntc_)

rating 7

Deaf Balloons bring light from darkness with The Black Country

At the best of times, Wolverhampton is a bleak place. Nestled in the Black Country, in the middle of Grey Britain, fun is a commodity in short supply. Whereas other cities across the land boast of their “scene”, the closest we get to a scene is a crime scene.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop bands from trying to be the best Wulfrunian export since Beverly Knight. Or Steve Bull. Or orange chips.

One of the latest bands to give that a whack is Deaf Ballons; arguably an indie band, but their sound is a bit fizzier than that. They’ve just released their first ‘proper’ EP The Black Country, hoping that much like their city’s motto, out of the darkness of Wolverhampton shall cometh light. And if you’re so inclined, out of Sandwell cometh shite.

Still in their infancy as a group, they could be forgiven for taking baby steps on their first EP (and their headline show at The Sunflower Rooms in Birmingham), but as the show opened up and the first notes rang out, they took total control of the rather full and sweaty room with complete confidence.

Another important thing is playing around your problems when you’re taking baby steps, and any technical woes were brushed off or laughed off by frontman Ed Scott, already owning a stage without any issues. The band look well glued together as well. They all seem to be enjoying themselves and the company of their bandmates, rather than being rooted to the spot. A good indicator of whether a new band are gelling and comfortable in their own skin: does the bass player look like they’re plotting a murder-suicide in their band? If they look happy, everyone’s happy.

The set was a fully blown one, comprising of the old songs from roughly recorded EP Dreaming of Somebody Else followed by a few new tracks with punk inclinations, before moving onto the real meat – the new EP. Let’s do the same, shall we?

Starting off slow and melancholic, The Black Country paints a dull and grey picture, inspired by life in the city. It doesn’t move past a slow crawl, and accurately captures a dreary day in a grey and anonymous scene. As a opener it works fantastically, settling you into the EP before something a bit more uptempo. Gangster Lean does just that with its heightened drum beat and brighter feel.

It feels unfair parcelling the band off as “indie” when they don’t stick to a linear blueprint, but there are some really light and airy beats on here, with Gangster Lean being a fantastic example of that. In terms of notes and feedback to improve their performance, you can’t really pick up on any glaring errors, omissions or black holes that need plugging. The only thing for Deaf Balloons to do is to keep doing what they do until they can do no more doing, and that? That will do. They have a solid foundation on which to grow, and the only thing is to keep it simple; save the flashy shit for the arena tour and the experimental shit for at least the fifth album.

A good example of deviating from a linear blueprint is EP highlight Crocodile Tears. A throaty scream opens the track, before a grungy riff starts to rattle your eardrums. There’s also the lighter indie bits in the verses, but the hefty part of track is that big, meaty riff. Let it in your ears, let the sludge permeate your soul and corrupt your children.

The Black Country is a solid EP, and a statement of intent from the band. Nothing’s a given in the music business, but Deaf Balloons are showing they’re prepared to work hard on the stage and in the studio to get the results they crave. All that’s needed now is to make sure they don’t float off, and to make sure they’ve always got a solid ear on what they’re doing. – oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Gig Review: Twin Atlantic @ Summer Sessions

words + photos fae gregor farquharson (@grgratlntc)

As cliche as it is, Glasgow is always the best place for a gig. Now, put a band who grew up in the city on a massive stage with 15,000 Glaswegians and you’ll be on to a winner. That was exactly the case last night, when Twin Atlantic were main support at Glasgow Summer Sessions.

Opening with the first song off their last album, GLA, the bar was already set high from the start. Lead singer Sam McTrusty graced Bellahouston Park with a beautiful patterned suit and the band stormed through hits from throughout the years. Going straight into Valhalla then The Chaser, it was hard to believe that the band’s latest album GLA has now been out for nearly two years and we can now start to look forward to whenever the band release new material for fans to scream live.

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Tracks from earlier album Free, despite now being 7 years old, still did the job of being massive festival pleasers. The ballad of Yes, I Was Drunk was a real crowd pleaser and had just about everyone screaming every lyric back to the band.

Going from slow to fast, the band dedicated the fast paced indie track I Am an Animal to headliners Catfish and The Bottlemen. The track went off, fans erupted and the atmosphere in Bellahouston Park was colossal. Other tracks from the band such as You Are The Devil and Brothers and Sisters felt like they belonged to be played in this setting: a massive gig in the city the band were born.

Closing with No Sleep and Heart and Soul, the crowd erupted into a sea of mosh pits and bouncing fans. The set was a perfect way to bring day into night, and everyone in the crowd that night would have went home with memories and stories to tell for ages.

Mitski is full of paradoxes on glorious return “Be The Cowboy”

From the outset of Be The Cowboy, Mitski warns us she is volatile. The first single to be released from the album, Geyser, uses this natural force to set the tone for what is to come. The beauty of the geyser is its coexistence of power and powerlessness – that inevitable surge of strength is made all the more violent by its unpredictability.

It is a turbulent thing to be a young woman; sometimes chaotic, often vulnerable. On this album, Mitski’s voice can express this clearly, mostly without the distortion that marked her previous two albums and sounding more defiant than ever – but always just on the cusp of losing control. “I’m a geyser,” she sings, “feel it bubbling from below.” So when the emotion does come, bright or dark, we cannot say we weren’t warned.  

The premise behind the album’s title is Mitski’s desire to embody the power of a cowboy – the unapologetic white male figure who behaves with complete authority and no consequence. In this spirit, each short track on the album is brief but explosive, making its mark before swaggering off into the sunset. In interviews, however, Mitski has made it clear that this choice is more pragmatic than artistic. A notably different concept from, for example, a 13-minute Father John Misty think-piece on self – she wastes no time in order to fight against marginalisation and make her voice heard. What we are left with is succinct, but loses nothing in musical or lyrical complexity, marked by the same hard-hitting mixture of vulnerability and strength that defined her 2014 breakout Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2016’s compelling Puberty 2.

Cracks in the cowboy façade are not weaknesses but highlights, as our protagonist lets us glimpse the excruciation of trying to craft an image and maintain control when the game is rigged against you. On country-tinged Lonesome Love, our cowboy berates and praises herself in equal measure, casually delivering the album’s best line with “nobody butters me up like you / and nobody fucks me like me.” On Pink in the Night, she captures the anxiety of a perfectionist losing control: “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right / can I try again,” repeating the latter phrase until the song ends, a geyser trying in vain to stem the emotion which can’t help but erupt.


In calms between storms, we are treated to theatrical little vignettes such as the fond and reminiscent Old Friend, or the Broadway-ish Me And My Husband, where our protagonist considers the deceptive calm of domesticity and the warring desires to be both everything to everyone and nothing to no one: “I’ll steal a few breaths from the world for a minute / and then I’ll be nothing forever.

Be The Cowboy is teeming with such paradoxes. A Pearl is dazzling, exposing the powerless terror of pushing someone away by being too distant: “I’m sorry I don’t want your touch / it’s not that I don’t want you,” before the music swells and Mitski admits the impossibility of letting go of a love so tempestuous. Such moments of vulnerability expose the cost of cowboy-ism; it is hard to wreak your own havoc without catching a couple of blows.

Remember My Name is the record’s angriest song, but also the most defeated, expressing the typically female exhaustion that comes with wringing yourself out for a lover; a friend; an audience: “I need somebody to remember my name / after all that I can do for them is done.Washing Machine Heart could be the prelude to this emptiness, its insistent beat backdropping an infatuation both mundane and all-consuming: “will you kiss me already / and toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart/baby, bang it up inside.

Nobody is a glorious centrepiece – birthed out of the excruciating solitude of a Christmas spent alone in Malaysia, the chorus is twistedly jubilant, repeating the empty pronoun until there’s nothing left to do but sing along. Mitski recently toured with Lorde, and it would fit that Nobody is a banger whose ideology is firmly in sync with the spirit of Melodrama: taking the sad, messy, tender parts of existence (particularly young female existence) and making them danceable. At times it borders on satirical – those upbeat disco guitars have no place backing such melancholy, and there is something delicious about the absurdity of a cheesy pop clap at the end of the repeated “still nobody wants me.” It is a neat little triumph that laughs at the double bind of a soul unable to control its outbreaks of emotion, but at the mercy of the impulse to make the pain marketable.

As the album nears its close, Blue Light seems to recall the opener of her 2012 debut Lush, ‘Liquid Smooth’ – a piano ballad expressing the theatrical desperation of young loneliness (‘what am I to do with all this beauty?’) expressing all the anxiety of a young woman plagued by the pressure to gather her rosebuds while she may. Be The Cowboy’s version is shorter, simpler, yet all the more manic with its urgent guitars: “I’m going crazy / I’m walking round the house naked,” distilling the turbulence of young female emotion in few words.

Mitski has a chameleon skill for seeing the same issue from polarised angles. Where the ephemerality of youth and love is desperate on Blue Light, the song hasn’t even reached two minutes in length before we are swept into the introspective Two Slow Dancers, a vignette of an old couple dancing with sad resignation to very same passing of time that was cause for a tailspin only one track earlier. It is a surprising lull with which to close the album, a slow but spirited surrender to those forces which can no longer be fought against.

Mitski’s latest is an album of paradoxes. In fourteen short songs, she asks us to understand (or at least gaze upon – she doesn’t want our pity) what it is to be both too naïve and too old, too distant and too close, too restrained and too chaotic. This is her best work yet, establishing herself as an artist who contains multitudes. Be The Cowboy gives us a lucky glimpse of just 30 minutes of them. – lizzie mccreadie (@franzgaffka)

rating 9