Monday, 27 February 2012

Track of the Week: Willy Mason – Restless Fugitive

Released: 20th February
Get It: Free download

He's back. And it's about time too.

Few solo artists have done 'world-weary' in the past 10 years quite as well as Willy Mason. His debut album Where The Humans Eat is easily one of the greatest half-forgotten records of the 2000's, with tracks such as 'Oxygen' and 'Hard To Lie Down' retaining their power nearly a decade on. But all has been quiet from the gent for some time now. A smattering of live EPs aside, we've not really heard anything since 2007.

Thankfully now then he's back with a free download that brings his creaky alt. country voice into the new decade as though he's never been away.

With drum machines echoing a version of The xx who've been forced into the desert it announces itself much differently than Mason's acoustic based high-marks. The electric guitar that nimbly and sporadically flourishes over enhances the feeling of wide dark skies and heavy hearts. And this is before the vocal enters. Cracking in all of the right places and at the front of the mix it works wonderfully in leading the listener through the six minute journey.

There's hints of Neil Young and Johnny Cash but above all this is the sound of a valuable artist finding his feet again.

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Monday, 20 February 2012

Track of the Week: The Cribs - Chi-Town

Released: 21st February
Label: Wichita Recordings
Get It: Free MP3

With 2009's Ignore The Ignorant having lost a significant amount of The Cribs charm through over-thinking and over-production, it's fantastic to see them back on form with this stormer. Full details of new album In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull were announced this week, with the indication being that their visceral roots are being adhered to and massive punk stormers are back in.

Although not a single 'Chi-Town' is The Cribs best stand alone track since 'Mirror Kissers', and although it's more than likely that you've heard it already it's also the best new number to have appeared during the last week. The rattling piano that accompanies the Jarmans on this new song ensures that there's a progression from previous work, and points towards The Replacements as an influence - something which has already been noted - but overall just ensures that 'Chi-Town' is a massive amount of fun.

The dirt and grit that comes through the speakers with Ryan's trademark howl, the gnarly bass that threatens to overtake the mix, the meaty drums. It's all ace. They may be perennial NME favourites, but it just shows that sometimes the old rag gets it right.

It's good to have them back

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Monday, 13 February 2012

Track of the Week: This Many Boyfriends - Starling

Released: 20thh February
Label: Angular Records
Get It: Fanzine / MP3


Not that we've been through a slump over the past couple of years, but we're really being treated to some amazing pop music in 2012. I've said it before and I'll say it again now: golden age. And the pick of the pop pile is This Many Boyfriends.

For the uninitiated: This Many Boyfriends hail from Leeds and last year released the classic debut single 'Young Lovers Go Pop!' on Angular Records before their guitarist tragically passed away. 'Starling' is their follow up to this single and is out in time to coincide with their forthcoming tour. And as you can tell from the singles status as Track of the Week it's ace.

Snappy fun guitar pop it recalls both Art Brut and The Wedding Present whilst sounding distinctly like TMB. The vocals are to the fore and with plenty of memorable and quotable lyrics. Less instant than their previous single, it's nonetheless incredibly catchy and potentially deserving of the same classic status. The “ba-ba-ba-da” backing vocals towards the end of the single ensure that it leaves us on a positive sounding note, which is appropriate for what is a sweet and lovely single.

'Starling' is available on a Fanzine that's to be for sale at TMB's forthcoming shows where they'll support the likes of Allo Darlin' and The Cribs. Go and see them. The dates they're playing are below:

23 February 2012 - Manchester - with Allo Darlin', The Deaf Institute
24 February 2012 - Sheffield - with Allo Darlin' & Standard Fare, Queens Social Club
25 February 2012 - London Popfest - 100 Club, Oxford St
26 February 2012 - Leeds - with Allo Darlin', Brudenell Social Club
28 February 2012 - London - with The Cribs, ULU Live
29 February 2012 - Cardiff - with Allo Darlin', Buffalo Bar
01 March 2012 - Edinburgh - with The Cribs, The Liquid Room
02 March 2012 - Brighton - with The Cribs, Concorde 2
03 March 2012 - Leeds - with The Cribs, Metropolitan University

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Friday, 10 February 2012

Single Review: Freeze The Atlantic - Volcanoes

Released: 5th March
Label: Alcopop! Records
Get It: Alcopop! Store

Freeze The Atlantic: making us use the word 'supergroup' since 2011

Oh, this isn't pop. Nope this is very much rock. But seeing as KPL has featured The Darkness it might as well go all in and review the new single from the Alcopop!'s soon to be massive emotive rockers. 'Volcanoes' is the first release from the band since last year's Colour By Numbers EP and has been so long in coming I'd wondered if they'd split. It's also the first taste of what's expected from their debut album which is due this year.

As this laregly falls outside of my area of expertise it's safe to say the reference points for Freeze The Atlantic are possibly somewhat lost on me. However as several of the members have their roots in the British post-hardcore scene of the early-to-mid 2000's this is a good place to start when considering their music. Propulsive and driven there's a crunch to 'Volcanoes' that doesn't come purely from turning the volume up.

Rather the kick that comes from the tight hard rock instrumentation is complimented by the emotive and strained vocals that make the single sound like a venue filler. Of particular note is the growling bass and surprisingly minimal drumming that set Freeze The Atlantic above your common-or-garden variety rock band.

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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Single Review: Towns / Damages – Split Single

Released: 29th January
Label: Cartoon Records
Get It: Amazon MP3

Two completely different, yet utterly fantastic, slices of noisy pop.

With a decent marketing push behind them and talk of their '90s influences it'd be easy for Towns to be written off as the Viva Brother of 2012. And while it's way too early to say for certain what the band will bring in the long term, it's safe to say that their contribution to this split single is rather fab. 'Gone Are The Days' takes cues from shoegaze acts such as Ride, encapsulating the vibe of pre-Oasis creation. The drums race as splinters of guitar noise and effects shimmer abrasively over amongst the beats. The vocal sounds breathless and yet confident resulting in some exquisite dream-pop.

Of course there is every chance that Towns, from here are going to go on to be an irritating landfil act. However as groups with British 90s influences are hard to come by right now and the period in our pop history being sadly washed over it'd be very nice to have a counterpoint to all of the grunge influenced acts. If the next single is anywhere near as good as 'Gone Are The Days' I'll be sold on Towns.

From the same hometown (Bristol) as Towns come the second contributors to this split release. Damages however couldn't be more different. From the off 'Tie A Ribbon' is scratchy, aggressive art-pop in the vein of Help She Can't Swim or Bearsuit. On the intro, as the fuzzy guitars slot amongst the dance-punk drumming and yelped vocals you could easily imagine this single slaying indie dancefloors in 2004. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Hot Hot Heat are recalled with a catchy and yet slurred hook – essentially this is undeniably ace fight-pop that although of a recent style rarely gets made any more.

As a split single this gets top marks and is only prevented from taking a Track of the Week spot due to a plethora of very strong releases coming this way over the past couple of weeks. Keep an eye on both of these acts.

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Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Single Review: The Old Grinding Young – King Canoe

Released: Out Now
Label: Self-Released
Get It: Band Website

Two thirds of Ute return with a hazy, creeping download

Oxford three-piece Ute were certainly the strangest of Alcopop!'s roster. Their bizarre amalgamation of folk murder ballads and noisy art-pop ensured that moments such as 'Innocent Tailor' became one of the label's most distinctive tracks. Their split last year however hasn't seen the end of them as Ollie and Michael have returned with new act The Old Grinding Young already.

As creepy and unhinged as their previous material, 'King Canoe' explores the depths of Ute's folksier side, adding in additional jazzy instrumentation to the mix. Opening with an acoustic guitar and the distinctive vocal that we're all used to it's a pastoral opening that's lent an ancient air by the backing vocals. Later when wordless vocal sighs are accompanied by brass and traditional acoustic instruments the listener is quickly transported to somewhere else entirely. So much so in fact that when the song ends it feels rather abrupt.

Any fans of Ute will already be looking forward to a single/EP/album release by The Old Grinding Young now and it's safe to say that the legacy of the Oxford trio will continue in this guise, safely.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Album Review: Hysterical Injury – Dead Wolf Situation

Released: 6th February
Label: Self-Released
Get It: Big Cartel

Meaty and tense art-punk tales of claustrophobia

Hysterical Injury are a brother/sister duo (originally from Wales, but based in Bath & Bristol) that make a DIY rock racket that to start with you could assume sits nicely in the DFA 1979 mould. Bassist/vocalist/sister Annie takes lead from the off with a scuzzy bass riff and a menacingly cool vocal.

This is just 'Halo Alkanes' though, the opening number from Dead Wolf Situation, Hysterical Injury's debut album. And mid-way through this track Annie's bass and Tom's rolling drums are joined by some scratchy guitar resulting in a 90's alt. rock feel. With “ooh's” and “aahs” Annie's vocal is like a grungey Justine Frischmann. And whilst the band never feel as though they're imitating anyone there's multiple points across the record where elements of their sound can be likened to the unlikeliest of sources.

The poppier 'Icebreak's extended instrumental passages occasionally bring to mind mid-00s pop-punks The Automatic thanks to the post-hardcore influenced bass playing and Annie's sneer on 'Cycle One' dips into punk posturing such as that from John Lydon in his PiL days. These sections are always well integrated into the overall Hysterical Injury sound though. Across the fifty minutes their nuances become familiar and a concrete identity is crafted.

Riffy conclusions that utilise Annie's meaty bass riffs and Tom's powerful drumming become the norm and ensure that even moments you initially conceive as missteps evolve into something better. With 'Skyline Interference' Following on from the creepy 'Into The Cabin', which settles into a tense groove and showcases why the band describe their songs as being about “sex, rebellion and claustrophobia.” you worry that they're attempting to repeat the same trick right away. Luckily the song title isn't wasted and the band loosen up, bringing Death From Above again to mind.

Above all however those that stand out as highlights on Dead Wolf Situation are 'Rosetta's Waves' (droney, with a dream-pop floaty-ness to the vocal), 'The Works' (loud-quiet and punky) and 'Vision Of Trees'. It's the last of these that's probably most deserving of mention, recalling as it does the Victorian English Gentlemens Club. With an a'capella intro yr gradually lulled into the song that builds itself up very carefully before coming together for a meaty conclusion.

In all Hysterical Injury may prove to dwell in the dark too much for some, but there's some excellent moments on Dead Wolf Situation that make the band worth investigating.

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Monday, 6 February 2012

Track of the Week: The Darkness – Nothing's Gonna Stop Us

Released: 1st February
Label: Self-Released
Get It: The Darkness Website

They're back, they're amazing and nothing's gonna stop them.

Finally, the return of The Darkness. I've been waiting for this moment since they reunited with original bassist Frankie Poullain. And yes, I know that at their peak The Darkness were the least cool band, with the least credibility in the world, but at the time I was but 16 and not concerned with such things. But then neither am I now. Whilst this should be indiepop-tastic and The Darkness are anything but they are at their core an incredible party band with ace tunes. And if Big Scary Monsters can take Andrew W.K. in then so should you all accept The Darkness.

Luckily their new tune 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us' is in the spirit of their tremendous debut album Permission To Land, the record that opened up guitar music like no other album before had and one of the best things they've ever done. It's certainly better than anything from the under-rated One Way Ticket To Hell... And Back and could well be one of the best tracks of 2012.

With the lyrics about cycling around Lowestoft at night with a friend on yr pegs it's not going to give anyone any epiphanies regarding the human condition. But last time I checked neither do The Horrors, and this is certainly more fun. With life as it is right now there's not much to cheer us up. Most Pitchfork music is content to wallow in it's own sense of achievement this is the shot in the arm that punk was to the late '70s but without the pretence of claiming to change the world. It will however make you feel like you can.

Like 'I Can Do That' by The Futureheads, this is a song that can make you get off yr ass and really do something with yrself. It's better than any other big cock rock anthem, but at two and a half minutes long you could argue it's a bit short. Still, it's easy enough to press play as soon as it's finished or, like I did, set the iPod to repeat and let it play endlessly.

On the NME comments section 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us' has drawn comparisons to Art Brut, and although it has their bounce (and an animated video you could imagine visualising one of their earlier singles) this would sit comfortably at home on Generation Terrorists with it's nimble, glam guitar work and driven rhythm section. Still either way, when a song gives you as much vitality as this what can you call it other than vital?

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Friday, 3 February 2012

Album Review: Standard Fare – Out Of Sight, Out Of Town

Released: 30th January
Label: Melodic
Get It: Band Website

The second terrific album from the Sheffield indiepop stars

Despite debut album The Noyelle Beat being released in 2010 it's seemed like a long wait for Out Of Sight, Out Of Town thanks to a push-back of over a month. With the label, understandably, wanting to release after the festive season when people are once again interested in new music it's felt as if the CD has been a long time coming. Luckily it has been very much worth the wait and initial listens suggest that Standard Fare may have outdone themselves.

Other than vaguely using the term 'indiepop' and mentioning their three-piece vocals/guitar/bass/drums set-up it's difficult to describe Standard Fare's music. Unpretentious, it's the result of three very talented musicians getting together and playing excellent songs. With the vocal pair of Emma Kupa and Danny How both taking lead the sound remains fresh and varied across the album. Ensuring that these vocals are high in the mix too is a nice trick as it means that the pop nous at the core is highlighted and the songs burrow their way into the listeners head and stay there.

With so many terrific songs on Out Of Sight it's hard to pick highlights. But for the purposes of this review I guess I must. Even aside from the Star Wars reference 'Darth Vader' stands out by virtue of being so extraordinarily pretty. Slower and sadder than most of Standard Fare's songs it features what's likely to be the best opening song lyric of 2012. “I'm not Darth Vader / Luke, I'm not your father / I'm not leaving you for good”.

Sky Larkin-esqe single 'Suitcase' is also rather fab and more upbeat than you'd expect from a song about preparing for a nuclear winter/zombie apocalypse, but in terms of tracks that'll have you bouncing off the walls, 'Call Me Up' wins the prize. It's perhaps Danny's finest lead moment yet and with the chorus of “So call me up, call me up / But I'm not looking for love / It's just a one off / It's only a fuck” that goes absolutely poptastic for the finale it's impossible to resist.

If there's one weak point on the album it's around the middle with 'Bad Temper' and 'Older Woman'. Not that either are bad, but in following 'Darth Vader' their impact is lessened. Stil, it's a small gripe on an album that includes as brave an opening song as 'Look Of Lust' and epic close 'Crystal Palatial'.

Furthermore, the detail that's added to Standard Fare's lyrics really helps make them. 'Half Sister' in particular, which features the line “Do you have the same skin that burns to a crisp when the clouds part?”. But in terms of relating, it's 'Dead Future' that really hits home. “We're all bright eyed on the outside but out hopes are crushed” epitomises how even when we manage to get jobs they're not what we want to be doing and can create as much sadness as unemployment.

But those are just some moments. There's plenty on Out Of Sight to delve into and wrap yourself up in. At only thirty six minutes multiple plays don't take long and reward greatly. In short, this will be one of the best albums of 2012, and with Standard Fare sitting alongside Allo Darlin', This Many Boyfriends, MJ Hibbett & The Validators and Big Wave (not to mention the whole JoFo/LosCamp/etc movement) we're in the midst of a new golden age of indiepop.

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Thursday, 2 February 2012

EP Review: Gorgeous Bully - The Young Obese

Released: 20th February
Label: Art Is Hard Records
Get It: Bandcamp

Lo fi pop with plenty of added noise and emotive intent

As undergound DIY lables go, Art Is Hard Records is giving Alcopop! some strong competition. The Young Obese EP by bedroom popster Gorgoeus Bully is already their second cassette of the year – the first came from Mazes' Jack Cooper – and comes on top of a bi-weekly download/pizza CD release.

As for Gorgeous Bully; you might remember 'That Kind Of Girl' – a Track of the Week from the end of last year, that set him up as a singer-songwriter type with a warm lo-fi sound that verged on country. Well this demo sound has been expanded on for the full EP that features five tracks that retain his lo-fi appeal but add plenty of noise and pop nous.

From Phil Spector to Yuck there's some disparate reference points for The Young Obese . Opening song, and free download, 'Never Cry', for example buries a festive feel in it's fuzzy wall of sound and comes across as both pretty and bleak, like nostalgia beamed back from an alternative apocalyptic future. Or perhaps someone reconstructing a Pipettes song from a thousand destroyed tapes. This is followed by 'Stamp' which is perhaps the highlight of the release and wonderful from the off.

With a similar faded glamour that we heard from Big Wave there's the echo of a memory and some surprisingly emotive force in the lyrics “I just want to tear it down.”. Like noise-pop acts such as No Age there's colour in the fuzz and the clattering and oddness of arrangement, that's distinctly ant-pop resonates in an oddly striking way.

'Who Do You Think You Are' (unsurprisingly not a Spice Girls cover) is the rocker moment on the release. Although there's a pop song at its core it's buried down there with the guitars dissolving into noise on top for a grungey feel and pounding drums that ensure the head bobs more than slightly. It's on this and 'Quiet House' that the aforementioned Yuck and Bos Angeles are both recalled. With lyrics such as “I just wanna lie in the lounge all day” the listener is instantly transported to teenage days of oppressive summer heat and a broken 90s soundtrack.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Single Review: Katie Malco – Sad Eyes

Released: 30th January
Label: Alcopop! Records
Get It: Free Download / Buy the EP from Alcopop!

The best track from one of 2011's finest EPs. Outstandingly ace!

Although it was clear upon first seeing Katie Malco play live that she was a fantastic talent, it was last year's Katie Malco And The Slow Parade EP that cemented this fully. Of the five tracks present it was 'Sad Eyes' that made it's way the furthest into my heart and head.

So good news then, it's now available as a free download and there's a video to match.

Right from the start Katie's voice is right at the centre of the sound and delivers memorable and catchy lyrics. On the EP it sits between two much more acoustic numbers and this helps to accentuate the singles excellent pop sound. Although an acoustic guitar still drives the number it's accompanied by pianos, tambourines and multi-tracked vocals. Genuinely, this belongs on the radio and in the iPods of all discerning pop fans.

Malco's instrument of choice has seen her labelled as a folk artist, but really this is just proper indiepop. And when I find an indiepop tune that my girlfriend loves as much as I do then you can guarantee a winner. If you don't own the EP yet then download this NOW.

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