Butlerisms: Why Your Dad Is Wrong About Hip-Hop

by oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)

Ah, 2018. Six days into you and we’ve already had a dick swinging contest between the USA and North Korea and learned that the leader of the former is a petulant child who enjoys cheeseburgers and hairspray. Not even the Gorilla Channel could soothe our already weary souls, as we realise that this year probably isn’t going to get much better. Just more of the same shit under a different banner.

So it was no surprise that everyone’s favourite free puppy training paper, the NME, took time out of its busy schedule reporting on Liam Gallagher taking a shit or comparing some big band with The Beatles (because every band’s benchmark in life is to be the fucking Beatles) to furrow their indie brows, scratch their chins and cluck “Is Hip Hop now bigger than Rock?”.

Side note: I once got into an argument with the nice lady who works in my local record store because she tried to give me a copy of the NME and I really, really didn’t want it.

 

2018-01-06

 

First of all, the data confirms it. Hip-hop artists filled Nielsen’s end of year data on what people listened to, with only Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift muscling in the top ten, the latter proving that an appetite for eating shit is still rife. Really, that’s come as a shock to nobody who doesn’t believe that music peaked with Oasis. Hip-hop has forever been a more accessible genre, able to cross all tastes. The average metalcore fan and the average pop fan would both be able to listen to Drake with relative ease, because it’s easy on the ears with an accessible sound and theme, but would the average pop fan be able to swallow up some Architects? Probably not, whilst it’s not a secret club, any kind of rock music is indeed an acquired taste unless it’s got a poppy, accessible sound.

Hip-hop being bigger than rock isn’t really the problem, because, at the end of the day, it’s all music; good music is good music regardless, and shouldn’t have to be held aloft purely because it belongs to a certain genre. The real issue here and the one that’s grinding my gears to no end is as per usual, the reaction to the statement that hip-hop is bigger than rock.

“God help us” tweets yer da, who’s currently praying that an Oasis reunion will finally show the kids some good music.

“Crap-hop, more like, Kanye West isn’t half as talented as REAL musicians” your boyfriend comments, desperately searching for that clip of Ye singing Bohemian Rhapsody, determined to prove his point by missing out his entire discography.

“Eugh, it’s just people saying ‘yo yo yo’ and talking about their ‘bitches'” says your weird coworker, who’s probably never listened to hip-hop, but is pretending they know something.

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The problem here is tribalism. People are so damn narrow-minded that they think bland, milquetoast indie rock like Oasis is the absolute pinnacle of music, or believe that the true flag bearers of rock and roll are the Foo Fighters. Both of these bands are good, but you need to wake up and smell the fucking coffee man as there’s a whole world of great music beyond a driving songs compilation!

Maybe it’s the folk I’ve encountered over the years, but most of this tribalism comes from people only listening to rock music. That’s it. Just rock music. None of that pop for me thank you, I’m happy listening to just rock music (and from experience, not good rock music), and you can keep that stupid hip-hop away from me, it’s just people in hats talking to a beat – it’s so fucking stupid.

When the Coachella announcement landed this week, former boyband heartthrob Louis Tomlinson took to the auld Twitter to ask where all the bands were. I mean, first things first, there ARE bands there you dumb fuck, with alt-J, Highly Suspect, A Perfect Circle, Alvvays and FUCKING CHIC, THE BEST BAND EVER, making an appearance. But obviously, because The Weeknd, Beyoncè and confusingly, Eminem were headlining, this now meant that there were no bands there, and band music was dead. You see what I’m on about here? Because hip-hop/R&B takes statistical prominence, that suddenly means that all the bands ever have been violently culled and will never perform anywhere again. Pull the fucking other mate, and take a look at the Download line up if you want bands.

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I’mma keep it real with you here chief, I don’t listen to that much hip hop compared to some of the other writers here, but I still keep my ears open and palette clean for fresh beats. Some of the best music I heard in 2017 was hip-hop, including Brockhampton & Kendrick Lamar, and I just know that there’s more of that out there, and it’s clear to see why it’s the biggest genre. If someone like me, who does live off a primary diet of heavy rock, metal & big riffs can appreciate the genius that goes into hip-hop, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular; it’s for everyone, it’s relatable, it’s without dumbing it down too much, poetry on the beat.

This stupid tribalism in music needs to fucking stop. People need to get their heads out of their asses and realise that there’s more to life than thinking rock music is the be all and end all, and that all rock music is great, because it’s really, really not. If you think The Hunna, Liam Gallagher, and The Courteeners are levels above someone like Kendrick, Future or even Kanye, you need your fucking head rattling, because just because it’s rock music, doesn’t mean it’s automatically better. I absolutely love rock music, I love heavy metal, I consider Motörhead and Black Sabbath to be the best acts of all time, but I’m not so damn blinkered that I believe that is all there is to music.

So go on, go and explore some hip-hop, even if ashamedly, you end up liking it. Nobody’ll tell on you.

Album Review: American Fall by Anti-Flag

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)rating 9

One year ago, the sun rose on a brand new America. Of course, this was not reminiscent of the hope that Barack Obama inspired 8 years previous, more the four-year clusterfuck that Donald Trump’s election had fired the starting gun on.

All throughout this period, slack-jawed yokels cared not that millions were about to be uninsured or deported, but that “Woo, at least this’ll be a good time for punk!”. A blase and ridiculous comment to make, but a correct one as American punk heroes Anti-Flag are back with their first album since 2015’s American Spring, the aptly titled American Fall.

Surprisingly enough, this album has one theme flowing throughout it; negativity decrying the fall of the American nation: whodathunkit? Nature enthusiasts will also tell you that this album’s lineage has skipped summer, flying straight into the murky nothingness that fall (or autumn for us Brits, God save the Queen her taxes!), “fall” isn’t the season, it’s the complete collapse of the system.

The opening track, American Attraction starts with an ethereal and eerie guitar solo, but soon gets thrown out the way for some good old-fashioned punky drum beats & huge riffs. American Attraction could be a metaphor for the attractiveness of er… America with the lyrics referencing guns, bombs, blood & drugs, with the line “There’s no escaping the American Attraction” feeling pretty poignant. America can seem like a pretty attractive place looking from the outside, but on the inside, it’s just guns & blood all the time. And the fucking Kardashians.

It’s clearly surprising that a punk band have a lot to say about society, but Anti-Flag has burst straight out the gate with this one, pulling no punches as they give a play-by-play commentary on the state of the crooked nation.

Angst & delusion at the American Dream course through the veins of this album, whilst offering a no-bullshit approach to music. It’s classic fast-paced punk rock, with The Criminals a textbook example of an angsty punk track, decrying the modern civilian lifestyle in the US of A, tackling topics such as healthcare & guns, two hot-button subjects in a shattered state. Whilst this feels like a textbook punk album, nothing feels generic or factory fresh, allowing you to be battered by sauntering riffs and smashing drums, keeping you hooked whilst they give their sermon on the mount.

However, it wouldn’t be classic punk without a bit of anarchy and Armageddon – so When the Wall Falls (gee, no points for guessing what THAT’s about) sounds like modern jazz. On a punk record! Jazz! The anarchy! However, they could create a gospel fusion record and still get their message across in a clear & concise way, whilst still retaining a sense of urgency in their call to arms.

The only criticism you could level at this album is that it’s not clear on what inspired this album. You know, a song called When the Wall Falls? Racists? Who is this album about?! What’s caused this album to happen? The mind boggles. However, the biggest praise is that this album, much like their counterparts who’ve trod the same ground of protest music before them, is that not only do they hold the microphone to their lips, they hold it to the lips of millions of marginalised, downtrodden & forgotten people; they are the voice of the voiceless.

There isn’t a song on this album that doesn’t pack a punch or carry a strong message. Every song is a call to arms to stand up and be counted. There’s no ambiguity in Anti-Flag’s message. You’re taken on a political rollercoaster, and anyone who’s never been on that wacky ride will come out as a fan of rollercoasters… or politics. You pick the metaphor here. Whilst this album decries the American Fall, there also feels like there’s a message of hope in every word of every song. Things WILL get better, but only if we all squad up and work together.

With that being said, the album also ends on a positive note, with Casualty giving a voice to the oppressed masses who’ve felt ashamed to be who they are.

 

Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun

By Liam Toner (@tonerliam)rating 7

Hiss Spun is Chelsea Wolfe’s 5th album and her darkest and heaviest one yet. The Californian singer-songwriter’s music has always been hard to define: while a lot of reviewers might give her the tag of doomfolk, she’s experimented thoroughly with sounds ranging from electronic music, goth, dark folk, industrial. On this new album, however, rock and metal shine through as the biggest influences on its sound. A lot of the tracks on Hiss Spun were never intended for release under the Chelsea Wolfe name as they were originally a side project of hers with drummer Jess Gowrie and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen. However, they decided to take the songs and use them on the next Chelsea Wolfe release with the intention of touring these new songs.

Another reason for this particular album being one of Chelsea’s heaviest yet is due in no small part to Kurt Ballou’s producing. The Converge guitarist’s production back catalogue is rife with extreme and heavy bands from grindcore bands such as Full of Hell, Nails and Magrudergrind to other heavy bands more recently such as The Dillinger Escape Plan and Code Orange to name just a few. Understandably, choosing Ballou for this project makes it easy to see why this album sounds so colossal at times.

Spun starts the album and opens with wailing guitar feedback into a thick sludgy riff which is then joined by Chelsea’s haunting vocals. The song grooves along from here and creates quite an ominous, foreboding atmosphere. Twice in the song the momentum of the groove breaks and the instruments fall in to a brief frenzy complete with a blast beat from drummer Jess to then snap right back into the ominous groove. Chelsea’s vocals in the choruses almost mimic the feebacking guitar as she sings “spun”, blending in perfectly with the dark noisey backing of the band.

16 Psyche continues the album in much the same way with an almost bluesy riff playing in the verses and building up to the gargantuan power chord section of the choruses. Again it’s Chelsea’s vocals that really bring the sound together with her high reverb-drenched voice on this track, adding a layer of emotionality unachievable with just instruments.

Vex stands out as probably the strongest and most musically diverse track on the album. A driving, lively yet dark bassline carries the song’s momentum while Chelsea’s vocals add an ethereal melody on top. Vex also stands out as one of the most metal influenced songs on the album. During the verses a distorted electric guitar plays a hypnotic tremolo riff which would fit in easily on a black metal recor. The track also features guest vocalist Aaron Turner (of metal band Isis) adding death metal style growls to build up another layer of brutality on an already brooding and heavy song.

The album continues on in much the same fashion, which proves to become a little formulaic. This is probably in part to the songs being written as full band with the intention of being rock songs. On Chelsea’s previous releases she tends to do all the writing herself then takes it to the band, allowing for a wide variety of styles and song structures to come out as she doesn’t have to think about the chemistry and dynamic that comes with playing with a full band.

Until the penultimate track, the doomfolk label usually associated with Chelsea’s music seemed completely void as Two Spirit showcases the only track featuring acoustic guitars. Running into Two Spirit is the interlude style track Welt which begins with a minute of industrial noise leading into a soft piano section that winds down the album perfectly for the upcoming acoustic track. Despite the lack of distorted heavy guitars on this track it still ends up being incredibly dark and sinister, but also one of the more beautiful ones as well thanks to Chelsea’s dreamy atmospheric vocal work.

A last criticism is that the album is too long at 48 minutes. If a couple of the weaker tracks were taken off then the album could come across less repetitive and would make for a better listen all round without sacrificing what makes the rest of the album so good.

While Hiss Spun might not be one of Chelsea Wolfe’s strongest or most unique albums it still proves to be a very captivating listen, featuring some tracks that really stand out artistically as something they should be proud of creating.

 

 

Album Review: Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

By Karsten Walter (@boc_maxima)

Mogwai are, and always have been, a band that doesn’t make music seeking to satisfy the requirements and expectations of fans or a particular style/genre of music. Instead, they’ve always been a band who create an album in exactly the manner and approach they want to, and aren’t afraid to evolve their sound in an alternative way to their last release. Their new LP, Every Country’s Sun, is further proof of that.

The band first revealed the album by playing it in full at a surprise set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona in June. The LP is the first of Mogwai’s to be produced by legendary engineer Dave Fridmann since their second record, Rock Action, and the influence he has had on it is evident.

Since 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, the Scottish band have followed a noticeable change in tone and mood with their music, straying away from the melancholy sounds of Mogwai Young Team and respecting a more extravagant and grand sound which, if anything, inspires rather than weakens the listener. The band are for the most part instrumental but have delved into modern pop songwriting since their second album and on Every Country’s Sun, the track Party in the Dark is the most outright pop song they’ve written yet. Featuring rarely-heard Stuart Braithwaite vocals over instrumentation that is reminiscent of bands such as The Cure and The Jesus and Mary Chain, it doesn’t quite stick as many of the other tracks do, but it’s a worthwhile example of the shift in musical approach from the band.

Brain Sweeties is where the album really seems to take shape, and find itself. The emphatic bassline of the track carries it more than the actual synth-led melody line does, and the slow and meditative rhythm adds to the increased pressure of the track. The strongest piece on the album, Crossing the Road Material is an epic and thrilling track that hits the spot. It’s Mogwai at their best, and is easily one of their best to date, and would feel at home in their early discography. The grand and inspiring chorus is led by a high-pitched melody that just keeps rising in what is one of the band’s best progressions yet. It eventually descends to a calming climax, and gives the listener goosebumps like any good post-rock piece should.

aka 47 is another track that is reminiscent of the band’s previous discography, a slow and private number, that makes fantastic use of the synths the Scottish band have become so familiar with in the past decade. Although different to many other tracks on the LP, it doesn’t feel out of place, even when neighbouring two straight post-rock pieces that Mogwai are renowned for. The other one of these tracks is 20 Size, a heavy and hard-hitting recording with a slow yet fierce guitar melody carrying it, surrounded by the accomplished fills of drummer Martin Bulloch. It ends abruptly but in the best way it could.

The band return to a reserved output with Don’t Believe the Fife; that is until the energetic and raw chords of Stuart Braithwaite. Mogwai have always been fantastic at recognising the dynamic contrast between quiet and loud, and interweaving the two into a track effectively. This track is the perfect example, seeming at first like another minimal synth piece, before exploding into an emotive, powerful and compelling cacophony of sound. By far the most aggressive piece on the album is Battered At a Scramble, which features the band thrashing their instruments in a fashion that’s familiar to their early records. The drums are loud and messy and the guitar screeches like an animal. Mogwai don’t rest with this on the next track, Old Poisons, which equally sounds like the Scots having their way with their instruments. The dynamic contrast to earlier tracks is astounding, and shows the large palette of sounds that Mogwai can put to their use.

The closing track, the title track is testament to this. It ends on a brutal note, that on first listen reminds the listener of bands such as Deafhaven (which may not come as a surprise to some after their cover of Punk Rock and CODY by Mogwai). It’s the perfect way to show how Every Country’s Sun is able to attain both the hymnal and beautiful track in those such as Coolverine, but still stay savage as they have been in the past.

Albeit not the band’s defining work, or the best flowing or most coherent one, Every Country’s Sun is wonderful proof of Mogwai’s signature sound being still being developed decades on from their debut in the post-rock world.

8/10

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Album Review: Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Film fanatics! You know those films where there’s airy, dramatic synth as the protagonist walks across a high, barrier-less bridge, to meet their fate? Imagine that they’ve done that, and they’re about to open this grand, tall doorway, and instead of meeting their nemesis or Dumbledore or some bollocks like that, they open the door to find Queens of the Stone Age throwing a raucous, rowdy shindig? That’s exactly how Feet Don’t Fail Me opens their brand new record, Villains. Strolling out of the desert, this is an insanely dancey record that doesn’t put a foot wrong, and with Mark Ronson producing this record, you can really feel the groove as your feet start to move.

Unsurprisingly, firstly because it’s QotSA, the two singles released in the run up to the release of VillainsThe Way You Used to Do and The Evil Has Landed (the song titles don’t get shorter), were was very promising in terms of quality, and the sound that they’d be going for, which feels like an old-school rock sound, with that fuzzy, driven sound that’s synonymous with Queens of the Stone Age, along with epic, eerie and ethereal synth being thrown into the mix. Pretty standard stuff, but QotSA know a thing or two about high standards.

Compact in the number of tracks, it’s just nine songs long, but each one is a blockbuster, an epic or a dirty, funky groove that’s bound to get you moving. It’s been a long time since …Like Clockwork, but Villains makes the four year wait well worth it.

Killer riffs form a foundation for an album that’s actually… a dance album, if that sounds right? Not dance as in EDM, but the sort of dancing you’d find in Grease, except Queens of the Stone Age are the rowdy greaser gang, getting up to no good, punching people with guitars and what have you.

Two of the best tracks on the album are right at the start and right at the end, with Feet Don’t Fail Me being the epic opener designed to get you groovin’, with Villains of Circumstance being the long, slow, emotional ending. It moodily sits at the bar, sipping whiskey, sucking on cigarettes and suffering. It’s not the usual fare you expect from QotSA, but it fits into the same category as tracks such as Vampyre of Time and Memory and Mosquito Song; those heavy, emotional songs that bring a darkness into your mind. Lyrics like “Close your eyes and dream me home, forever mine, I’ll be forever yours” are dark, poignant and tell a tale of someone who’s lost their love.

Ronson’s Rowdy Rock Production has really added something to this album. It’s retained that classic QotSA sound, assumedly because Josh Homme is a man who takes no shit and would have easily chokeslammed Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch through his own decks if the tried to overhaul QotSA, but the funky feel to it, with the long, deep emotional songs turning every song into an epic on its own merits. For instance, Head Like a Haunted House feels like it’s come straight out of the 60s & the 70s, with a real surf rock vibe to it, but has that dirty, fuzzed up QotSA feel to it that funks you sideways.

Un-Reborn Again is a track with weird synth and punching guitar, and is, without getting too excited about this album, is another blockbuster. Hideaway is a driving, bluesy track, Domesticated Animals comes right out of the QotSA textbook, and Fortress is cut from the same cloth as Villains of Circumstance, a slow, emotional track that gets into your head whilst pulling at your heart strings.

More than anything, this is a front to back, side to side, up and down enjoyable album. Perfect? It’ll never be Songs for the Deaf, but it gets incredibly close to reaching that bar. And when a band’s being going for song long, it gets harder and harder to bring out a quality album, something Josh Home and the Dancin’ Queens have been able to do this time.

Pleasantly surprising, full of funk, dance, emotion, riffs and power, Villains might just be one of the best albums you’ll listen to this year. They needn’t worry about their feet failing them.

9/10

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Track Review: Babe Punch – Stanford

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

CW: Rape

Punk has always been the counter-culture genre, standing up for the little man as the privileged establishment rule from their ivory tower. However, it’s only been recently that we’ve seen a real rise in the number of female fronted bands in the scene, wielding their guitars, drums and mics, ready to throw a punch or two while sounding fucking sick in the process.

Welcome to the stage Babe Punch, a Nottingham/Derby punk outfit who, to put it lightly, are fucking sick of their fellow women being abused, undermined and generally being mistreated. A recent case that fuels their rage drenched single Stanford is the Brock Turner rape case, an example of not only victim blaming due to the woman in question being intoxicated but a chilling reminder of how being a white man with power can get you away with just about anything.

Golden boy/ Daddy’s golden boy” is just one line of many that will be familiar to those who have paid a hint of attention to social media with most mainstream publications tending to side with the perpetrator: even Brock’s own father vomited out a “20 minutes of action” quote, further enforcing the rape culture that surrounds us. The menacing guitars do a great job of putting the listener into a similar state as a victim: slowly alluring the listener into a falsely secure environment before pouncing, brandishing a vexed set of screaming.

Tracks that touch upon social issues can easily be brushed off as just repeating a narrative or trying to enforce a viewpoint but Babe Punch complete the difficult task of not only discussing relevant and important issues but making them sound fucking great in the process.

9/10

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Track Review: Queens Of The Stone Age – The Evil Has Landed

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Oh, like The EAGLE Has Landed. Haha. That’s funny.

Back with another single off the imminently arriving VillainsQueens of the Stone Age have treated us to another track, this time in the form of a classic QotSA slow-but-heavy, The Evil Has Landed.

As soon as that dirty, filthy, mmph yeah, octaved riff kicks in, you know that you’re planted firmly in Homme territory. It does, of course, help that Mark Ronson is producing this album, but nonetheless, it’s that familiar sound that feels like you’re getting a Thai massage from Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and with QotSA, you know there’ll be a happy ending.

Whilst two tracks does not an album make, both this and The Way You Used to Do are very positive signs as to how Villains will look, sound and feel. The Evil Has Landed is a bluesy slow jam, with growing, whining guitar bends aplenty, ideal for getting that slow headbanging on the go as you tap your foot and slide down into the very depths of this song, sort of like a rough riding version of Alan’s Deep Bath from I’m Alan Partridge. Let’s just finish your neck off now with some final suds. Mmmmm!

But towards the end of the song, the slow jam pulls you out of the bath as you’re thrown into a hard ‘n’ rockin’ finish, making it feel like a song of two halves. The bluesy slow jam at the start, and the struttin’ rock-out-with-your-cock out at the end. You’ve literally been given two songs for the price of one here. That’s the kind of people Queens of the Stone Age are.

Not to paint this song in a negative light, but there’s nothing special about this song. There’s no real talking point, apart from a Spanish-ish rolled ‘r’ from Josh Homme towards the end. Sounds a bit like “Rrrrrrow!”. The ending of the song is great, even if the first half was bad, it’d be saved by the end of the song. Whilst there’s no massive talking point about this song, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a rockin’ track from QotSA, the kind we’ve come to expect from them over the years. It’s just fantastic. It’s a platter of tasty riffs and mini solos to fill you to the brim. It sounds mean, somewhat unapologetic, like it’s about to take a swing at you.

If the rest of Villains sounds like the two tracks that have already broken cover, QotSA may just well top the brilliance that was …Like Clockwork, but at the very least, will bring out one of the most enjoyable albums this year. It might not be special, but The Evil Has Landed will certainly get you up, moving and rocking.

8/10

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Album Review: Fangclub – S/T

By Gregor Farquharson (@Gregoratlantic)

Irish rockers Fangclub have been around for 4 years now and are starting to form a great reputation in their homeland’s rock scene as well as in the UK. Their Bullet Head and Coma Happy EP’s were relatively successful and led them to support some big name artists, such as Twin Atlantic and Frank Carter. Having just dropped their debut LP, it’s safe to say that the garage rock outfit are set to have a bigger and brighter future ahead of them.

Intro track Bullet Head is a track that has already became a favourite amongst fans, having featured on their debut EP, and is the perfect way to show listeners what Fangclub are all about – opening with a hard riff, and a rough chorus, the song is the ideal way for the band to kick things off. Succeeding track Role Models continues this high octane action, throwing in some crashing drums into the equation that sound perfect, perfectly sounding for the band. While both songs may sound very similar, it ends up feeling like a sonically cohesive introduction to the band that packs a punch.

Songs like Lightning, again, very much sound similar to what we are used to from the band, yet still show some elements of new sound, with higher pitched guitar tones being just one fresh element out of many.  Lead single Bad Words is probably the strongest on the album, the powerful yet catchy riff being perfect for tiny, sweat fest shows and the vocals fit the feel of the song completely. The drums are another key aspect of this track, with crashing cymbals playing a key role in making the song what it is. Best Fake Friend perfectly showcases the rough side to the band, with gritty vocals really coming through on the chorus of the song. Drums also play a huge role in this track, perfectly setting the feel and tone of the track throughout.

Common Ground has a Foo Fighters like feel, quite like some B-side off Wasting Light. The guitar tones and vocals play a key element in making the track what it is. Better To Forget is a very strong and very well polished track from the band, with its huge chorus and unique tone, the track is surely set to be a fan favourite. The album is rounded off with the much slower Animal Skin, a track with very played out guitars and drums, and mellow vocals, a very fitting end to what is a highly anticipated album. Fangclub have managed not to stumble on their first full length record, something that many acts wish they could have done. While it may not be breaking any new ground, it kicks things off perfectly for the up and coming act, making it likely that we’ll see more of the band in the near future.

7/10

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Album Review: Big Thief – Capacity

By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

Despite existing on seemingly disparate musical strata, hip-hop and indie rock share more common ground than one might presume. Both genres, generally speaking, tend to feature lyrics that serve to perpetuate distinct personae for their respective artists, with hip-hop espousing delusions of grandeur and indie rock false humility and overzealous self-deprecation.  Artists from either camp who indulge too blithely in these tropes tend to catch flak from audiences and critics alike; materialistic, hyper-masculine rappers are written off as tacky or contrived while lugubrious rock singers are dismissed as unconvincing and unnecessary.  

Though Brooklyn-based Big Thief fall into the latter category, their self-effacement is hardly disingenuous and their keen lyrics suggest a kinship with some of hip-hop’s more inspired songwriters.  On Capacity, Big Thief’s sophomore LP, the group deliver a reassuring continuation of the sound that so frequently impressed on their debut Masterpiece and refines the poetic lyricism of front-woman Adrianne Lenker, which effortlessly conflated unyielding sincerity with gut-wrenching viscera.   

            Similarly to Masterpiece, Capacity meshes together the warm guitar sound of late-‘60s/early-‘70s roots rock and garage music’s characteristically unpolished veneer.  “Shark Smile,” a Springsteenian tale of geographical travel and personal travail, incorporates a CCR-inspired chord progression to quell the disquiet of the song’s paroxysmal intro. On more subdued tracks like “Black Diamonds,” the lightly-distorted instrumentation butters up the otherwise dry album’s even-tempered musicianship (thanks to unsung heroes Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia). But that’s not to say that the quieter songs falter without this roughness.  The record’s opener “Pretty Things,” with its gentle finger-picked guitar arpeggios, would be perfectly in place as a McCartney or Lennon ballad on The White Album but for its inimitable lyrical content courtesy of Lenker.  Soft or loud, Big Thief can sustain an intensity that lesser bands could only hope to achieve.

            As a lyricist, Lenker places the listener just outside of the intimacy of her songs’ characters.  Her words conversational and personal, Lenker’s songs sounds like private interactions we’ve entered in on, yet from which we haven’t been shooed.  Take “Haley” for example, whose lines “Just like how it used to be, Haley/ Kicking around, burying letters we wrote” capture the sanguine nostalgia of childhood friendship despite the distinct non-universality of the scene.  Even if the memory isn’t accessible to everyone, the bond between these two characters is. 

            Perhaps Capacity’s most pored-over song is “Mythological Beauty” due to its reportedly autobiographical third verse, but the verse preceding this highly-discussed stanza truly bespeaks Lenker’s talent for crafting lyrics.  Referring to her mother’s venture into young parenthood, the line “Seventeen, you took his cum and you gave birth to your first life” evinces Lenker’s aptitude for writing lyrics that are frank without becoming crass, personal but not indulgent.  In this regard, she’s like Frank Ocean, another songwriter who may similarly speak bluntly in his songs, yet remain stoic enough not to render a line licentious or trite.  Lenker’s air of aloofness is facilitated in part by her Karen Carpenter-like penchant for keeping an even-tempered voice throughout these songs in spite of the sensationalist subject matter therein.  Singing the affirmation “I am a beautiful bird, fluttered and floating” on the album’s title track, Lenker barely rises above the song’s mix, opting instead for a more furtive tone in her vocals. Her voice may be meek, but her ideas aren’t.

            Thematically, much of the album deals with the confrontation (or lack thereof) of trauma; “You can wake up now, Mama/ From your protective coma,” Lenker sings on “Coma,” describing the harrowing situation of a woman feigning sleep to withstand a (presumably sexual) assault.  “I can feel the numbness accompanying my plight,” from “Mary,” likewise describes the employment of unhealthy disengagement as a transitory coping mechanism for abjection.  Other times, the band depict intrepidness as a means of conquering distress, as in the line “Kissing on the vampire, Kissing on the werewolf/ We have no enemies” from “Objects.”  Singing in the first or second person, Lenker explores with adept laconicism highly personal accounts of tragedy, far beyond the lightweight clichés of unrequited love and perennial ennui that’s become well-trod territory in the indie rock community.  As such, a more apt lyrical comparison might be to Earl Sweatshirt, whose ever-increasing terseness also explores personal issues (alcoholism, drug addiction, parental abandonment) with unflinching honesty and a proclivity for astute self-reflection.

            Though Capacity never loses focus or control of its larger narrative, it suffers the pitfalls of a group whose musical identity is such that significant deviation would jar listeners, leaving it rooted in a fully developed, yet oft-repeated sound that lags in places on the album’s latter half.  The rustic instrumentation of “Haley,” while appropriate among the song’s bucolic imagery, fails to keep the track afloat and instead marks it as nondescript.  The same is true of “Black Diamonds” inasmuch as its tried and true guitar/bass/drums paradigm reduces the closing track to a modest gesture rather than a grand statement more apropos of the album’s previous heart-rending content.  

To be sure, there are no bad songs on Capacity; the album is a warm, ruminative exploration of personal strife and triumph with far more successes than failures, yet its musical consistency at times stymies it from achieving notability on each cut.  Still, Big Thief are perceptive and intuitive enough to compensate for these minor shortcomings, and Capacity serves as a confirmation that the brilliance they displayed on Masterpiece wasn’t just beginner’s luck.

8/10  


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

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5/10


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