Monday, 31 October 2011

Track of the Week: The Spills - Summer Vibes

The Spills sound like a lot of your favourite bands, and despite the lead track from their new album being unseasonally named you really want to listen to it.

As a taster from Occam's Razor (which is released today and available from their bandcamp page) The Spills are letting you download 'Summer Vibes' for free, and it's a great demonstration of their crunchy indie rock that's sure to make you want to pick up the album. Those band that you love - Pavement, Johnny Foreigner, Mazes, The Cribs - well there's elements of what makes all of those groups great in the sound of The Spills.

Summer Vibes by The Spills

And what's more - the artwork for the album is fantastic. Easily one of the best of the year:

There's a tour starting next week too, that takes in Sheffield (Monday 7th) as well as dates in Leeds, London and Preston. It's likely to be worth catching.

Keep Pop Loud

Friday, 28 October 2011

Album Review: The Juliets – A Perfect Season

Released: November 5th

You don't get an awful lot of indiepop from the US. At least you don't get a lot of decent indiepop. America is better at giving us 'serious' acts and it's probably why a lot of British bands struggle across the pond. Our bands have a tendency for self-deprecation and a sense of humour that can easily translate as being disposable. American acts meanwhile can seem a bit pretentious over here and British acts who take themselves as seriously as their counterparts over the pond are quickly shot down.

So why mention this. Well, The Juliets hail from Detroit and yet have moments on new album A Perfect Season that can only really be described sonically as indiepop tunes. But ones with a hefty classical influence. 'Chamber Pop' is no doubt how it's described elsewhere, but we're going to think of them as the American My Life Story. Only taking themselves a little more seriously.

It opens really well with 'The Loon' which through having an electric guitar at the front of the mix concentrates the attention of the song as opposed to the production. The additional layers add to the cinematic quality and it sums up all of what makes The Juliets an intriguing proposition. It is by a long way however the best song on A Perfect Season, if not the only highlight. 'Heart In Heart' recalls the arrangements of The Beach Boys whilst 'Hey Stars' and 'It's Simple' are epic and uplifting. Instrumental classical piece 'The Lost Memory' is also worth a listen as a complete counterpoint to The Juliet's song-focused achievements.

Here's the issue however. Unlike British bands who might have a similar sonic template (Belle & Sebastian for example) The Juliets seem a bit oblivious to the absurdity of it all. They know their talents but in being keen to highlight them can sometimes become a bit single paced and over serious. The title track is arguably the epitome of this on the record and whilst cinematic it lets the layers overtake the song and ends up a little bit too close to the middle of the road.

That's not to say it's fatally flawed however, what they sometimes lack in spontaneity they make up for in sheer scope. Cinematic is the key word, and if you like your pop to contain lots of intricate and tinkling piano parts and orchestral flourishes The Juliets will definitely appeal. It's easy to see the big break coming for the band when they inevitably get picked up Temper Trap style for a film soundtrack, and like the Aussies it'll be hard to begrudge their success when it comes. This is good and it's pretty, but whether you'd take it over My First Tooth is another matter.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Live Review: British Sea Power @ The Leadmill, Sheffield

Date: Wednesday 26th October 2011

During a break between songs Yan, the nearest British Sea Power has to a frontman, thanks Sheffield for coming out and says something along the lines of “This is the first date of the final leg of our final tour”. I sincerely hope he meant either for a while, or in the current line up. The prospect of a world without British Sea Power in it simply doesn't bear thinking about. Over their four studio albums, multiple EPs, soundtracks and singles they've demonstrated repeatedly how they are one of the greatest bands in the world, and fully deserving of the 'national treasures' tag that's frequently applied when they reappear.

First support act The Kontours seem unlikely to ever be described as such. Decent musicians (especially considering they look REALLY young) but far too indebted to mainstream hard rock to break out of the 'local band' feel, they do nothing really more than pass the time. Unlike main support Seize The Chair who're from Sheffield but prove to be rather good. Throwing bits of everything in the mix, at times they seem to have the post-punk obtuseness of The Futureheads and the punk drive of The Undertones, whilst at others they come across like a lost '60s beat group. Fun, interesting and worth further investigation.

If this does turn out to be the last time I see British Sea Power (admittedly it's also only my second, with the first being Spring 06 when they put Open Season to bed) then it's a excellent summary of their career that's on display. A friend reports that their Jodrell Bank set over the summer leaned too heavily on Valhalla Dancehall to the point of excluding The Decline Of.... That's not the case tonight, although plenty from their latest is aired, as is only appropriate for a tour to promote the release. 'Who's In Control?' opens the set with all of the ferocious aplomb that you'd expect, with extra member/multi-instrumentalist Phil Sumner adding a third guitar to the din. 'We Are Sound' and 'Lights Out For Darker Skies' are both aired early on complemented brilliantly by the viola of Abi Fry, who seems to glide across stage left in contrast to the tumbling of the guys.

Visuals on side of stage screens accompany the Valhalla Dancehall tracks whilst the older numbers receive a strobe and blinder heavy light show. The crowd aren't as animated as I've known them to be for BSP in the past but it's not to say they're not involved. The Hamilton lead 'No Lucifer' gets an “EASY! EASY!” chant going and 'The Lonely', 'It Ended On An Oily Stage' and 'Fear Of Drowning' all receive tremendous applause. Also woth a mention is 'Oh Larsen B' which sounds particularly wonderful tonight fleshed out with the full six piece. On my previous live encounter with BSP they'd just lost Eamon to Brakes and were operating as a stripped back four. With Open Season quite the sore thumb in the British Sea Power catalogue it was great to see such a moment given the airing it deserves.

'Remember Me', despite being the one that most people seem to be waiting for, doesn't stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of British Sea Power's set tonight. With it being arguably the greatest rock song of the 21st century it shows something about the rest of the Sea Powers set. It's played towards the end, but the encore is saved for 'Waving Flags' and 'Carrion' which is then taken into 'All In It' before finally we get the traditional closer 'Rock In A', the last strains of which echo around the venue after the band have left the stage and audience have started to file out.


Keep Pop Loud

PS: If anyone from BSP HQ read this – please re-issue 'Spirit Of St. Louis'

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Keep Pop Loud Update

Well, it's been a while since I posted at any length about what Keep Pop Loud Records is up to right now. So sorry if it seems like things are a bit quiet. Thankfully there's quite a bit of great news that you may well have seen if you're following either the Twitter or Facebook feeds. There's also plans afoot for the next stage in KPL Records existence... but I can't tell you about that just yet.

Firstly the Keep Pop Loud CD is selling pretty well (so if you've not got your copy yet then you might want to now) and has recieved a pretty big boost by getting reviewed in the current (Nov 2011) issue of Artrocker Magazine. As well as sitting in between the reviews of the latest Coldplay and Florence + The Machine releases they only went and gave the CD 5 STARS! That's full marks. Obviously I knew it was that good - as do those of you who've already got your copies - but the fact that such a major publication thinks that we're heading in the right direction has been a massive morale boost.

If you're interested you can read the review right here:

The other big piece of Keep Pop Loud Records news that you might have missed is the interview that I did with Katie from Better Weather in Britain. As a fellow Sheffield citizen it was really great to meet with Katie and discuss all kinds of pop stuff. The interview is available to listen to at that aforementioned link with the show being a special dedicated to all things KPL. You can hear some of the tunes from the CD and get to listen to me talk about the inspiration behind what we're doing. So listen to it now and follow Better Weather on Facebook to keep abreast of what's going to be featured in future shows. GREAT STUFF!

As well as Better Weather in Britain on Tranquilizer Records Radio Katie is also responsible for putting on ace pop shows in Sheffield. And coming up at Christmas is something rather special which all Keep Pop Loud fans and friends should come to.

The 5 Bands of Christmas will be at West Street Live on December 20th and is headlined by none other than Keep Pop Loud CD stars Bordeauxxx. This is sure to be a FAB night and as it's free entry there's no excuse! Travel from far and wide and we'll drink to a poptastic year!

See you there!

Keep Pop Loud

Oh, also if you check out this interviews tag you can get an insight into some of the bands on the CD. There's chats with Bordeuxxx, The Half Rabbits, Pris and Aug Stone from H Bird.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Album Review: Kutosis – Fanatical Love

Released: 14/10/11
Label: Barely Regal

Spending time with records is wonderful. Sadly it's not something that's often afforded to someone who attempts to run a whole reviews section on their own. But with unemployment and a (very) slow job market records such as Fanatical Love by Cardiff based Kutosis can find themselves the subject to the amount of time and effort that allows them to unfurl and reveal their otherwise glanced-over facets. Y'see, what initially appears to be a fairly straightforwardly art-punk assault becomes a more complex beast whose little joining stitches achieve prominence through familiarity.

That's not to say that Kutosis deal in something completely unfathomable. There's plenty of entrance points into what they do. Influences such as mclusky, Future of the Left and Les Savy Fav are worn on the sleeve and provide the base template for the band (Ben, Ian and Jim) to throw themselves into. Which they do (after the ease in of the instrumental intro '#asongtostartarecordwith') with the minute long burst of 'Salton Sea', which throws in Kutosis' lot with their aforementioned Cardiff brethren.

It and 'Shadows' are certainly highlights of the first half of the record, screeching along at breakneck speed and with the FotL-isms surfacing in their gnarly bass and ear-splitting guitars, but across Fanatical Love as a whole it's the more progressive leaning elements of the second half that stay in the mind. Specifically 'Lights To Lead Us' an undoubted album highlight that brings to mind the underrated dalliances of The Cooper Temple Clause, whilst transporting the listener to a grubbily unreal industrial landscape. Like if Kick Up The Fire... had been recorded on Coruscant. Maybe.

'Battle Lake' meanwhile features guitars that sound like alert klaxons and drums like falling artillery. It's certainly more epic than the bands sales would have you indicate, but rather than achieving this with glossy dynamics it comes at you relentlessly, but unforced and uses space as much as sound to immerse. That it exists alongside 'House Sounds' (think of The Automatic's heavier moments) without either jarring too much is a testament to how the band have created and inhabit their own sound.

Elsewhere there's 'Skin' with an intriguing spoken word section, and 'Devo' which sounds as though it'd be one hell of a live highlight with its obvious chorus and stabbing riffs. The latter is as close to filler as the record gets in terms of actual songs, and this aside it's only 'Islands vs Oceans II' a reprise of earlier instrumental ('Islands vs Oceans I' – obviously ) that could be described as superfluous, sounding, as it does, like a disappointing album outro.

Fortunately it's not. Kutosis are better than that and they instead close with the cracking 'Breeders'. With a beat that you can dance (or at least go apeshit) to and wind tunnel guitars it races to the finish and ensures that Fanatical Love leaves a good taste in the mouth and encourages you to play the record again and again. Which, as mentioned, only benefits its sounds, oddities and layers. In a year remarkably short on decent rock albums Kutosis have delivered one that's vibrant and forward thinking, primal and exciting.

Keep Pop Loud

Monday, 24 October 2011

Track of the Week: Standard Fare - Darth Vader

There's a lot of love for Standard Fare at KPL Towers, nearly as much as there is at Hibbett HQ ("THIS is a band with LOADS of TUNES"). But this shouldn't come as a surprise, Standard Fare are a proper modern indiepop band with excellent musical chops, and that's enough in itself to make me wrap my ears around any new material with excitement. But the fact that the song debuted this week has a big old Star Wars reference... well you couldn't keep me away.

But don't worry, it's not actually about Star Wars ('Darth Vader', as a title, makes sense in terms of the excellent opening lyrics) and musically it's a noticeable evolution from their debut album. Slower and more confident in itself. The three piece sound is bolstered by the additional instrumentation (violin and trumpet) that's supplied by members of One Happy Island and Nat Johnson & The Figureahds and brings the sound towards Los Campesinos! territory.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Town the forthcoming second album on which 'Darth Vader' is to feature is out on Melodic Records on December 12th. With the band now working with a label based outside their home city (The Noyelle Beat came out on ACE Sheffield label Thee SPC) it's hopeful that some more recognition should come their way.

Although sadly with their album coming out this late in the year it seems destined to be missed off many End of Year lists (The Fly have already compiled theirs it seems). But with Standard Fare, Los Camp! and Johnny Foreigner still to come it seems 2011 has saved the best for last.

Listen to 'Darth Vader' at This Is Fake DIY

Friday, 21 October 2011

EP Review: My Pet Monster - Soundtracks

Download from Bandcamp

How one thing leads to another. I can't feature a band on Keep Pop Loud without hearing from another, and although I do try and listen to as many as I can it's inevitable that some slip through the net. My Pet Monster stand out however, having got in touch following on from the Joanna Gruesome EP review.

Although they sound little alike; both My Pet Monster and Joanna Gruesome hail from Cardiff, have self-released these EPs on Bandcamp and, broadly-speaking, fit into the lo-fi category. Whereas JG specialise in a more traditional indiepop MPM are much closer to what you'd think of as a 'noise pop' act with their listed influences reflecting as such (Sonic Youth, No Age, Times New Viking etc). But it's not all noise; their ear for a hook and willingness to deploy is demonstrative of a healthy influence from The Cribs.

Track One on the free download opens with a sound that's akin to the artowrk. A cross between static and distant roaring waves, it paves the way for some slacker, Copy Haho-esque guitar work. Titled 'TheDanielWall' it's covered in a No Age fuzz with vocals that have the same American ring as Yuck. At over four minutes, 'TheDanielWall' is arguably a little overlong, but doesn't drag – after all this is only the band's first number.

With 'Radio' and 'Soundtracks' largely delivering the same kicked back distorted pop noise – solidly, but without too much surprise – it's closer 'Whatdafugbug' that deals the real puch, being by far the best song on Soundtracks. A bit slacker, a bit rock and roll and all fuzzy it opens with a sample and kicks straight into gear. A Cribs-meets-Strokes riff adds to the feel of abandon and the quicker pace means ensures that it's exactly the sort of song that you can feel yourself singing along to loudly at a gig. Good stuff in other words.

Yes, there's a lot of clear reference points at this early stage in the life of the band. It's easy to draw a direct line to their influences and given the time and chance it's something they may transcend. However, as their influences are impeccable and well combined it's churlish to slate them based on this. My Pet Monster have songs – good ones – and for now that's more than enough.

Keep Pop Loud

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

"They were seriously planning on setting three of the band on fire" - an interview with The Half Rabbits

For the latest interview with acts from the FIVE STAR Keep Pop Loud CD we sent some questions over to our favourite Oxford post-punk types The Half Rabbits. With there being so much going off in their home city and with their various projects it was hard to know where to start, so we thought some introductions may be in order....

Hello, The Half Rabbits. Any chance of a quick introduction to the band, the members and your history for those who don't know ?

Michael: Hi Keep Pop Loud. We’re the Half Rabbits from Oxford, UK. I sing and play guitar, Chris plays guitar too, Alice plays bass guitar and sings, and Sally plays drums. We formed a few years back in Oxford, after Alice, Chris and I met at school. Actually, Chris is the only original band member and the only one who really knows the story behind the band name. Something to do with a Japanese folk tale, I think. We’ve been playing live all over the country ever since.

Outside of music where does the band draw it's influences from? Are there any films, books, TV shows (etc) that we should really check out?

Michael: Absolutely. For books, let’s go with the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. As for films, I’ve always loved movies with amazing soundtracks –think The Crow, 28 Days Later, Oh Brother! Where Art Thou, and Donnie Darko. A more recent favourite of mine is the movie There Will Blood and the related Upton Sinclair novel Oil!. For why There Will Be Blood is on the list, listen out for news around our track 'Gasoline'

From the outside it seems The Oxford scene is pretty amazing and eclectic right now, how does it feel to be a part of that/do you feel that you're a part of that community?

Michael: It’s pretty amazing from the inside too! Such variety, quality, and passion. Every time I check out my favourite music blogs and sites it seems another three Oxford bands have broken through.

I’ve just been asked to contribute vocals to a Tiger Mendoza track. Given the superb job they did with our track 'When The Rain Stops' (which you can download free from our site and Reverbnation), I’m really looking forward to it.

You have to remember that this is made even more amazing by the fact that Oxford is so small. Most bands are concentrated in the Jericho and Cowley districts of the city. It’s very common to see very well known musicians picking up a coffee right by your house on a Tuesday morning. Oxford music packs a punch bigger than most cities two or three times the size. Maybe even five times the size.

What bands/artists from your area right now should we go and investigate?

Michael: There are lots of different styles of music doing the rounds at the moment, and you’ve probably heard of some of them already. Trophy Wife seem to be doing well, as do Chad Valley. Foals of course. It’s a shame that Ute split up recently, and I thought they were great. If you’re looking for tips for 2012, my favourite Oxford bands at the moment are The Scholars, Tiger Mendoza and The Cellar Family.

Michael, you've been playing in The Winchell Riots too this summer. How did that transpire?

Michael: Hell yeah! We played at Reading and Leeds festivals, plus an awesome headline show in Oxford. It was great fun. There were a thousand people at Reading and they punched the air as we played all the anthems.

I used to live with two of them – Phil and James – and we’re all great friends. The Half Rabbits and the Winchell Riots put out a double A-side single to celebrate Christmas one year. We’ve even played covers as a supergroup on New Year’s Eve at the Oxford O2 Academy. I was Dizzie Rascal. Sorry.

As for how I teamed up with them, the Winchell guys had just parted ways with their previous guitar player and suddenly found out that they were playing at Reading and Leeds. It was pretty short notice, but absolutely exhilarating. I was living in London at the time, so used to come back for late night rehearsals with both bands. The first rehearsal with the Winchell Riots was in a disused shack in a farm in the middle of nowhere. We just opened all the doors and windows and blasted the songs out into the night.

The Half Rabbits played a monumental show for the BBC at the O2 Academy in August, then the next day I had to memorize a whole new set with a completely different band. It was a bizarre experience, but a wonderful one. Hopefully I’ll be playing my own songs at the festivals next year.

On top of that, Punk Elvis (your record label) is coming up to it's tenth release. What do you have planned for it and do you have any lessons from the first nine that we need to bear in mind at KPL Records?

Michael: We do indeed. People usually ask me about the band and less so the label, even though the whole project has gone very well.

We’ve got to PELVIS007 (our Optimists EP) and the Half Rabbits are releasing PELVIS008 at a live show at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford on Friday 18 November. We’re recording that new EP with Pat Collier, the awesome guy who recorded our Optimists EP, who you’ll know for his work with such megabands as Primal Scream and Jesus & Mary Chain. And Katrina and the Waves’ 'Walking on Sunshine', which I think he’s quite bored of people asking about.

With the label in mind, we’d like to use this opportunity to announce our Punk Elvis winter extravaganza, taking place on Saturday 3 December at the Phoenix Picture House in Oxford. It’s going to be amazing. We’re playing, and so is Phil from the Winchell Riots. Plus an awesome new act named Gert Lassitude, who’s got a great thing going on with a classical guitar, a sampler, and some amazing lyrics. I challenge you not to like his track 'By Stealth, By Forc'e. We’re planning on putting that out for free as PELVIS010. So proud.

You've used terms such as post-punk and art-rock to describe yourselves on your various sites. What do those terms mean to you and why do you think that less and less acts seem to be identifying with such sub-genres?

I think the important thing is more what they mean to people who’ll be interested in our music. Someone recently describes us as sounding like the Smashing Pumpkins with Ian Curtis from Joy Division on vocals. I think terms like post-punk and art-rock help to get that message across.

'Gasoline' is on the Keep Pop Loud CD (and there's a video in the works). What might we not know about the song, it's inception or recording that you can tell us?

The song was the lead track off our Optimists EP. It’s probably the one that most people associate with that release, probably because it’s first and is the most accessible track. Pat added an awesome drum machine sound to it, which gave it a really driving but almost detached feel.

Michael: I mentioned that we played a BBC show in summer. It went so well that we got speaking to Sam and Tim from the BBC about doing a video for 'Gasoline'. We’re recording it in November at an abandoned airfield. The last time I spoke to the BBC guys, they were seriously planning on setting three of the band on fire (!), so make sure you look out for that.

Incidentally, we were interviewed and filmed by Oxfam yesterday. Chris and I played them an acoustic version of 'Gasoline', so check that out here

You seem to have had a pretty good year as a band especially with regards to becoming better known nationally. What's next for The Half Rabbits?

Michael: We’ve had a very good year as a band. We’re going to see where the new EP takes us, as well as continuing to promote our album and Optimists. We love playing in cities like London, Reading and Bristol, and are also traveling further afield, as always. Perhaps a show in Sheffield, Keep Pop Loud?

Quite possibly, I'll have to see what I can do...

Who is your favourite pop star of all time? And crucially, why?

Sally: I’ll take this one. I’m going with Freddie Mercury because he wrote such great songs and was also such a good performer.

Michael: My choice is Johnny Cash, who somehow I’d accidentally avoided until a month or so ago. He could get more emotions into one song than most people get into a whole career.

Is there anything else that you want to rate/slate/promote/etc?

Michael: I’m pleased you asked. We’re co-headlining Oxford’s Oxjam festival this year. It takes place across five venues in the city centre on Saturday 22 October. We’re playing acoustic set in a brand new venue, named the Turl St. Kitchen, which as its name suggests is a food and wine place during the day. I went there the other day and it’s a really nice place. We’re really looking forward to it, especially as we headlined last year’s Oxjam event and helped to raise over £400. It was great fun.

Thanks Guys!

Visit The Half Rabbits site, where you can get ahold of their ace discography which includes the stunning album From The Horizon To The Map and this year's Optimists EP

Keep Pop Loud

Monday, 17 October 2011

Track of the Week: Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness

(Please keep in mind that this was written a few days ago as I'm away right now. Some things may have changed)

Things are looking so good from Los Campesinos! right now. Even those of us feeling a little peeved that Heat Rash isn't quite as quarterly as promised (10 months in and only one issue) are expecting the fourth album from the Cardiff gang to be one of the best albums of 2011. Gareth's promised that it'll be more direct than previously, and the first video that appeared seemed to confirm this (watch the excellent 'By Your Hand' here).

But initial album tasters can be misleading. So the unveiling of song number two, and title track from the record was a bit of a big moment in KPL Towers. And, as you've heard by now - IT'S GREAT! Expectation for the album really could not be any higher, especially following their career thus far.

Devasatingly undervalued by the major British printed music press, Los Campesinos! have exceeded expectations at each turn. That handful of decent demos evolved into an excellent debut, that was soon kicked into shape by second release We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Last year's Romance Is Boring basically has claim to being the indiepop album of it's generation. Now Hello Sadness promises to at least meet it.

Chuffing hell! Talk about it being a great time for pop music.

Stream 'Hello Sadness' this week's Track of the Week over at Pitchfork

Keep Pop Loud

Thursday, 13 October 2011

EP Review : The Dancers – New Chemistry

Out now
Available here

Let's not beat around the bush. The Dancers Twitter profile half-jokingly describes them as “the pop band you've been searching for years”. And before we go any further, I'll be honest and say that this is about right. New Chemistry is a six song EP that's got the biggest catchiest choruses since The Wombats and delivers them with the slick new-wave cool of Phoenix. If you like pop, I mean genuinely like POP then The Dancers are for you

It's both odd and completely appropriate that The Dancers have just finished a tour with The Subways. Where their sounds are completely different there's some core similarities. Both are trios of two boys and a girl and both are brimming with the youthful exuberance that makes music as fun to listen to as it sounds like it was to make.

There's something to recommend every song. Each has a disjunctive flavour that gives away this EP's intention – showing the world what The Dancers have to offer.

Opener 'Eyes Closed' is all jerky guitars and disco grooves that's covered in boy-girl vocals. If Alphabeat's second album had got anywhere close to this then they'd be the best pop act in the world right now, no question. 'Running' on the other hand is more of a post-punky number with a throbbing bass riff underpinned by glistening keyboards and a chorus that YCHISMB-era Franz Ferdinand would arch an eyebrow in appreciation of.

Elsewhere they prove that they can add more traditional indiepop elements - jangly guitars, handclaps, chorus that you know every word to by the second play - to their template (see 'Dancing Game') or keep it really simple – 'Lights' in it's rhythm and structure recalls 'Raoul' by The Automatic and 'Not A Wanker' is a sweary gem that would have been a Top 40 hit in the mid-00s. In all it's hard to pick a favourite. I said there's different flavours and you really do feel like a child in a sweet shop. If pushed I might well go for 'Dirty Evening', a song where they keyboards are allowed to dominate and usher in a 'driving at night' feel. There's some lovely adolescent yearning and nostalgic glamour that twinkles like light from a mirrorball. Lovely.

So many references then, but that's what happens when you sit and pick apart something that's as instantaneous as this. It recalls all the good time that you've had with fun music. This is easily accessible and mighty fun. Given the chance these three could get really big.... So are they the band you've been looking for then..?

Keep Pop Loud

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Gig Review Round-up:The Crookes & The Whip / Art Brut / Mayor McCa & Hot Club de Paris

It's easy to forget that September/October is gig season. At least it's easy to forget that if you're me. That's to say it's easy to forget if you've become something of a recluse of late.

We begin the round-up the day after the previously reported Subways/Computers/Dancers gig in the very same venue. The Foundry at the Students Union. My old haunt back in the University days when I was a lighting technician. After meeting up with some of the current crop of volunteer upstarts a few days previous I found myself working the first 'Jack Daniels Live' event at the Students Union on the old site and day that the legendary Fuzz Club was held. Which is appropriate as the main band I'd given up my whole day for was The Crookes.

Like me, The Crookes were old Fuzz regulars. I caught them on at least one occasion (supporting Art Brut) gracing the stage there but never really took much notice. As you may gather from the coverage they've been getting on KPL this year this has changed somewhat now following a wonderful evolution in their sound and two fantastic releases (EP Dreams Of Another Day and album Chasing After Ghosts) and I'm paying so much attention I'm at the venue at 11am to help set up the stage, load in the bands, build barriers and engage in all kinds of manual labour. Fun times.

Whilst realising that I'm not as strong as I once was (that front of stage barrier is HEAVY, kids) I got to catch bits of the opening two acts soundcheck. Local acts both and sounding like it. Despite there being no publicity for it these days, I'm sad to report that Sheffield is still full of bunches of lads replicating the sounds of Oasis/Libertines/Arctic Monkeys. I can't remember exactly which two it was this night but the names Mabel Love and The Velotones ring a bell. Either way, I had my dinner whilst they were on.

The Crookes however, were ace. Still breaking in a new guitarist after Alex Saunders left they're still finding their feet with this new line-up but exude all of the charm and presence on stage that you expect from proper pop stars. They open with (possibly my favourite of theirs) 'Chorus Of Fools' and play a short, but hit-packed set. 'Backstreet Lovers' and 'Bloodshot Days' are highlights and that the crowd mostly leave after their set ('Yes, Yes, We Are Magicians' being the closer) despite there being one more act to come shows how The Crookes follow on from acts such as The Long Blondes in being the truly beloved hometown heroes.

So, onto headliners The Whip, who I'm sad to say provided a somewhat unengaging set. I'm sad to say it of course because they seem like thoroughly decent people and play their songs flawlessly. The light show is spectacular (as it has been throughout the night)but with their being backlit and sounding so precise it's almost as if it's a DJ set. And with the room slightly too empty it doesn't have the atmosphere to make it work. They do of course close with 'Trash' which is again superbly executed.

I finally get home just before 3am. A good few hours after the music stops.


Venturing back down the hill a few days later, I'm a properly paid up punter for the Art Brut gig and a little disappointed to find, when I get there, that they're playing the small room. Obviously this isn't anywhere near as bad news as that which emerged a week previously concerning This Many Boyfriends who were due to support.

Still, as I've said before; Art Brut are one of the most consistently brilliant live acts on the planet. You know when you see them that you're going to get plenty of hits and a fair amount of Eddie Argos talking nonsense. Still, he can talk as much nonsense as he likes when he's wearing a Keep Pop Loud badge, as he does for 'Formed A Band'. Star!

To report on everything of note that Eddie says during the set would take up a full review in itself. Suffice to say, he's on top form. During 'Formed A Band' he follows the Israel/Palestine lyric with "and then Kele and the NME", whilst classic single 'Modern Art' sees him in the crowd, getting the audience to sit down whilst he improvises himself into a corner. "Modern Art! Makes Me! Want To Buy A T-Shirt" he sings for the final chorus of the song once he's back on stage.

With album #4 Brilliant! Tragic! having come out this year the set features some choice cuts that show just how well it holds up in their strong discography. 'Lost Weekend', 'Axl Rose' and 'I Am The Psychic' are strong contenders but it's 'Sealand' that (if memory serves) closes the main set that's my fave.

Some songs are missed out ('Direct Hit', 'Moving To LA') but we're treated to a punky new one that perhaps hints at more material sooner than we'd expect from the Brut. 'DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake' is played after a vote for requests and 'Emily Kane' gets the crowd loosened up a bit. Which brings us on to a slight nag, that (admittedly) I'm partially to blame for... When I've seen Art Brut in Sheffield in the past the whole crowd has really gotten into it. Whether it's because we're all a little older now or because there's less of us there's much less of that jumping around malarkey. It's a shame, but no reflection on the band. In fact, one chap I met at the gig said it's the best he's ever been to.


Which just about brings us up to date, apart from Monday night of this week when I ventured down to SOYO to see Hot Club de Paris and Mayor McCa. A three band bill (Mad Colours are in between) for free is not to be sniffed at, especially when the acts are of this standard.

Mayor McCa, the Duke Of DIY, as he introduces himself is a smashing bearded Canadian one-man-band who writes bluesy rock and charming indiepop ditties. Using a variety of peddles and samples he sits on his kick drum and plays keyboards, a guitar and a ukulele. Frankly it's amazing that he's opening here and not getting masses of press, combining as he does the best bits of the Pitchfork-approved indie scene and the quirkiness that's often paraded on Jools Holland. If that doesn't sound appetising then trust me, he's great and you should watch this video.

The aforementioned Mad Colours are next and provide an interesting arty punk attack and feature a bass player that looks like an MFI middle manager from 1988. Still, they're good but not done any favours by the sound system. There's a bit of Young Knives going off in what they're doing but they're much less rural. Worth checking out if that sounds like your bag.

And finally it's Hot Club de Paris the most criminally underrated band in the UK. They play songs from their three album career whilst eschewing the singles (no 'Hey! Housebrick' or 'Sometimesitsbetter...') in their far-too-short set. The sound means that the vocals, and specifically the crazy harmonies that Hot Club lather their songs in are mostly inaudible, whilst between-song banter remains unheard by pretty much all of the audience.

It's been far too long since I've listened to the first Hot Club album and it shows. I can't remember hardly any of the words and was constantly reminded that I need to change this. The highlight was, as expected 'Free The Pterodactyl 3', a song that I raved about last year. Other great moments came from 'I'm Not In Love And Neither Are You' and 'My Little Haunting'. Give it a few years and people will be talking about these songs the way that they now do about mclusky's 'To Hell With Good Intentions'. They may not sell loads but Hot Club de Paris are keepers.

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EP Review: Bonjour - Motivational Suicide

Out Now
Available from Bandcamp

Fans of Johnny Foreigner rejoice. Bonjour are a band from Philadeplia that sound a little bit like our Brummie heroes, with a little bit of those other pop scamps Mazes thrown in for good measure. What's not to like? Their downloadable EP Motivational Sucicide is available now, and an excellent demonstration of how 'fight-pop' has translated rather well over to the other side of the pond.

'I Tried It I Liked It' may open with a brief moment of Arcade Fire like epic, but this is merely misinformation as guitars and straining vocals come a-crashing in. The song itself is a crashing of guitars and drums that could instrumentally pass for JoFo's more straightforward earlier moments. There's multiple vocal parts that overlap and threaten to confuse each other and the general air of a band that are at once tight and threatening to fall apart.

All of which are things that I'm pretty sure I've said about JoFo before. And I'm sorry to keep making the same comparisons, but take a listen to the above embed and tell me I'm wrong. It'd be easy to read JoFo as an influence on these guys, as would it to draw links to Hot Club de Paris (see the zinging guitar lines that spiral all over each other on 'Football Hero') and The Blood Brothers (the yelped vocals over the more aggressively punk 'Trenton Makes The World Baked'), but in all likelihood it's that we're living in a realm of ever decreasing circles where lots of bands are drawing from fairly similar influences. Either way, Motivational Suicide is certainly worth your time if any of the above comparisons take your fancy.

After all, the EP is barely over 10 minutes long and in that time traverses all of the above as well as the slacker punk of 'Many Things Are Destroying Me'. With more of a jangle and a looser grip on the reigns it's bit freer in itself and with the emo leaning vocal the potential to bring in a different audience - all the while packing a kick.

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Monday, 10 October 2011

Track of the Week: Asobi Seksu - Little House Of Savages

Since the re-vamp and indiepop focus Keep Pop Loud has been unforgivably neglectful of music from outside of the borders of the UK. Great if you're an Anglophile, but not so fantastic if you've an international appreciation of The Pop.

Specialising in the swooning 'dreampop' variety of indiepop is Asobi Seksu, who I have to admit have passed completely under my radar until this past week. With five albums under their belt there's no justifiable reason why this should be so, as by all accounts they've very much the sort of thing KPL is here to champion. Dense swirly shoegaze pop that pre-dates Ringo Deathstarr by far and takes influence from legends such as Galaxie 500.

Strange then that the two piece from New York had to cover The Walkmen to grab my attention.

As with all great covers, this version of 'Little House Of Savages' puts a fresh mark over the song, whilst retaining it's spirit. It's distinctly Asobi Seksu and guarantees that you'll not hear the original in quite the same way again. The revving guitars echo those of the original, whilst Yuki Chikudate's vocals float over maelstrom of sound. The moments where the drums don't come back in to meet the bass are truly terrific, in a floor-dropping-out way. And the minute from the uplift to the crackling climax is amongst the best of the year.

You can download 'Little House Of Savages' from RCRD LBL for free. And you should. If (like it has with me) you find that it piqued yr interest in Asobi Seksu you can find out what you need at their website.

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Thursday, 6 October 2011

EP Review: Joanna Gruesome – e.p.

Out Now
Self-released. Available from Bandcamp.

Unlike most Joanna Gruesome aren't afraid to describe themselves as 'twee'. At lest they're OK with it on their Facebook page. Which is good enough for me, and as the chorus to opening song 'Sugarcrush' prominently mentions a cardigan (at least it sounds like it does - everything is pretty fuzzy and indistinct), a good place to start when describing the sound of the Cardiff five-piece.

But don't be put off, because as with anything half decent there's much more to it than you'd gather from a stereotype of a 'genre'. Helpfully there is much of late 80s/early 90s indiepop about the band but to this base is added the energy of garage bands, a contemporary lo-fi grubbyness and the throwaway bubblegum hooks, that when done right (as they are here) that allow bands to wriggle into our less-than-cynical hearts. If proper indiepop is what you're after then Joanna Gruesome are the band to find it in.

As a side note, it's an excellent band name too. Both punny and distinctive, it sets them against the wishy-washy-ness of much of the press-favoured alt. scene and hints at both humour and independence. Excellent, so about the music then...

The aforementioned 'Sugarcrush' is a mesh of boy-girl vocals and guitars that sound like the (great) title. 'Madison' is noisily tuneful with spades of distortion that's perfect for shaking yr hair to when you're dancing around yr room whilst 'Pantry Girl' is their most tuneful number with a side of melancholy and the sprinkling of 'Be My Baby' drums that no self-respecting band can be without in their early days. For reference points in relation to other groups: 'Lemonade Grrl' is like having Bordeauxxx in one ear and Ramones in the other, whilst 'Yr Dick' could be a feral Los Campesinos! playing with My Bloody Valentine. Excellent news all round then.

This early in the game Joanna Gruesome aren't going to be setting the world on fire. However, tn the strength of this EP I can tell you that they are bloody good and deserve the chance to create something truly fantastic. Be the audience that they can share this with.

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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Album Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Hysterical

Label: V2
Released: 12th September

Let me start by talking about The Killers. You remember them right? They came out of nowhere with a barnstorming album in Hot Fuss, full of chart-slaying singles, and then went a bit... well... off. It was clear that they wanted a new sound, which worked for some singles, but generally destroyed what had gone before. This reviewer even walked out of their headline Leeds Festival set around the release of Day & Age as they'd lost the dancing, arms-in-the-air side of their performance that had drawn many in before (although Hot Club De Paris and Young Knives were on another stage)!

So why mention The Killers at this junction? This is a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah review after all. Well, several years after The Killers experimented with a change in sound, CYHSY have actually followed them down the route of that same sound, but here the results actually work. Comparisons will always exist, as if you squint your ears on Hysterical's longest track, 'Adam's Plane', or on 'Siesta (For Snake)' you may even think you're listening to Mr. Flowers. That illusion soon disappears when other tracks follow.

Despite this, to pin this album down to one sound actually does it a disservice. Hysterical marks a step change for a band who's first record was undoubtedly “indie”, whilst their second felt like they were trying to be deliberately obtuse at times and certainly not mainstream. This third record, ambitious at 55 minutes, actually broadens, refines and cleans up their sound. Songs still feel distinctly CYHSY due to Alec's vocals (more on that later), but of their three, it feels like this record has had the most care in its composition. The contribution of strings and piano, in particular, at times feel so beautiful that the music to these songs would happily stand alone of the vocals as an enthralling instrumental.

And this of course is where most people's love affair with CYHSY would immediately come to an abrupt stop, the vocals. To my ears the voice of Alec Ounsworth actually perfectly complements the music, particularly on tracks like 'Hysterical' and 'Ketamine And Ecstasy', but to others his voice will sound whiny or moany. It is fair that his vocal style is the reason that so few lyrics are referenced in this review, as they can often be indecipherable, but personally that is not a reason to avoid this excellent and wide ranging album.

Hysterical offers something that few other albums do, in that every song feels like it has its place. Strangely, despite its length, this record doesn't feel long, with the evolution of the sound as the record progresses being the likely cause of this. From the really “big” opening tracks of 'Same Mistake' and 'Hysterical' to quieter numbers like 'In A Motel', there is certainly no room for filler. A good example of this is 'Maniac', which sounded rather ordinary as a free-download release in advance, but between 'Misspent Youth' and 'Into Your Alien Arms' it's place is clear. I've not tried it myself, but I'm certain this LP would sound at its best through the largest speakers possible to truly appreciate the breadth of the audio.

Many will say that they don't like CYHSY in much the same way as Marmite, however if you think you know Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I can certainly say that with the release of Hysterical that it's worth not jumping to conclusions. In short, buy this record and give them a second (or possibly third) chance.


John Wilkins

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Track of the Week: Two Wounded Birds - Together Forever

To describe 'Together Forever' as "a blast of youthful exuberance with fuzzy hooks at every turn, that points as much to rock and roll's past as it does to the mainstream future of indiepop" probably won't do it much favour. It will also make me sound like I write for the NME. However, it is an accurate description of the new Two Wounded Birds single. Another accurate description would be for me to say

It sounds like Ramones

Because it really does

Like the Ramones, Two Wounded Birds (and singer Johnny Danger in particular) are informed by an in depth knowledge of the history of pop music. This results in a single that's instantly memorable, youthful and fun. It makes you want to jump in piles of Autumn leaves or swagger around with a bass guitar.

Along with The History Of Apple Pie, Two Wounded Birds are the band most likely to take our version of indiepop towards the alternative mainstream. This may well mean that in six months time over-NME-exposure will mean that we don't give a hoot about the Birds. But right now this is GREAT!

'Together Forever' is out on Moshi Moshi Records soon.

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