LANA DEL REY WORTH THE HYPE? THE MACCABEES COME OF AGE
NADA SURF TRIUMPHANT RETURN
DRY THE RIVER HOWLER THE STAVES SPECTOR
RETURN THE SHINS
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SANTIGOLD’S BIG MOUTH She’s back! She’s swapped an o for an i but by golly she’s back! It’s been far too long since we last heard any music from Santi White but now, with the announcement of her new LP Master of My Make-Believe comes Big Mouth – her new single. Anyone expecting Lights Out Mk II will be disappointed. Anyone expecting a wonky, slice of jungle-pop will be pleasantly surprised. Not sure many people will be expecting the latter though, as i’m pretty sure I just made that genre up. Still, the main point here is the Santigold has a new track. It’s called Big Mouth.
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SPRINGSTEEN ANNOUNCES ‘WRECKING BALL’
On March 6th Bruce will drop Wrecking Ball, his first studio album since 2009’s woeful – and let’s be honest here, it was BAD – Working On A Dream. One can only hope he’s worked on his dream, fallen asleep, got his beauty rest and woken up refreshed cos we don’t want The Boss rabbiting on about queens of supermarkets now do we? No siree. Well there are no supermarkets here folks. Just a good ol’ slice of the Magic/Rising-sounding Springsteen stomp that he’ nailed for much of the last decade. According to his manager, Jon Landau, “Bruce has dug down as deep as he can to come up with this vision of modern life. The lyrics tell a story you can’t hear anywhere else and the music is his most innovative of recent years. The writing is some of the best of his career and both veteran fans and those who are new to Bruce will find much to love on Wrecking Ball.” Come Brucy, make it a good’n.
GREW UP AT MIDNIGHT
The epic final track of their sensational new record Given To The Wild
Classic guitar pop from a record full of classic guitar pop
FIRST AID KIT TO A POET
Perfectly nostalgic folk from Sweedish sisters
YOUNG EMPIRES WHITE DOVES
Euphoric post-LCD electro pop that acts as the centre point of the Toronto four-piece’s debut EP
Triumphant return dripping with sun-drenched melodies and a widescreen vintage FM sheen
Guitars and blast-beat drums act as a reintroduction to Sleigh Bells’ upcoming Reign of Terror album
10 TRACKS YOU MUST HEAR
Neatly sums up what they are about: big drums, skyline synths and plenty of “woah-woahs”
LANA DEL REY
Perhaps the most love-it-or-loathe-it track on a fairly love-itor-loathe-it record
THE BIG PINK STAY GOLD
High point of a fairly average second album
DRY THE RIVER NO REST
Wets the appetite for their upcoming debut
THE KINGS OF WARM
On the eve of the release of their seventh album, When The Gramophone Rings sits down with indie veterans Nada Surf to discuss their new ambition, why recording a covers album freed them up and why it’s never good to be hot. “Oh I could so some of that…” It’s a sunny but freezing cold morning in central London and Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws is in cheerful discussion with WTGR about the merits of vintage shopping in Essex’s ‘tranquil haven’ Saffron Walden. As bizarre as it sounds, it’s not entirely without reason. Having moved to the UK with his family 9 months ago he now resides in the nearby Cambridge. Caws has reason to be jolly. Exactly a week before his band’s 7th album is released, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy has, this very day, started streaming on NPR and feedback is positive. Drummer Ira Elliott hasn’t read it, having just arrived from the airport after a flight in from New York. When bassist Daniel Lorca joins us – all matted dreadlocks and to-the-floor trenchcoat – we settle down outside a fancy cafe. As the band order some breakfast and pull on bobble hats WTGR finds a group in good mood, armed with their first album of original material in four years and one that has, in the main, been well-received.
“There’s a time to restart the engine and get something that’s short and fast…”
In the build up to the release of Stars… you’ve talked a lot about wanting to record something that captures your live show. How much was that mission statement defined by the fun you had making (2010 covers albums) if i had a hi fi? MC: Pretty directly actually. The thing with that record was that the songs were already written and it was, you know, it was striking how that was such a different experience. I was like, ‘this is really fun’. The thing was from the moment we were working on the covers record in practice, since the songs were already written we’d just be playing all the time. So the whole time we were practicing we were playing the songs top to bottom and that helped us play them more like a gig. The way we’ve been working that last few years before that, that wouldn’t have necessarily been possible cos we didn’t really know what we were doing! DL: Normally what happens after a tour cycle is that we take a relatively long break and then we get back together and start working on new stuff and we didn’t wanna take a long break and you know, so we were like ‘lets do this fun covers record thing’. So we sorta did that right away. Then as soon as we were done with the touring we really felt like getting to work on one of our own records, so we never really did one of that long break before this one. It was on that tour cycle you did the album shows, playing your records in their entirety. Was looking back a key part of moving forward? MC: Well we had to really sit there and really listen to those records which, you know, underlined this feeling that maybe live we play a little differently to how we do in
IE: One or two were lying around… MC: …but a lot of them are new. IE: The When I Was Young thing was floating around for a year or two… MC: ..but they are the exceptions. The chorus of When I Was Young is seven years old I believe and just… I happened to be working on something else that felt right and it became what it is now. But a bunch of them were written in the few months before, which And is the deliberate attempt I think helps. We didn’t have to capture your live sound time to get bored of them. and this new-song energy a reaction to anything about You can hear that some of Lucky? them seem like they’re being DL: I remember us saying once written as you’re recording that we thought we had quite them. well covered the base of the MC: Yeh definitely! For sure! sort of….well done… What a great thing. The song IE: …mid tempo… Looking Through, we wrote the MC: …trying to be a bit elbass part the night before and egant. We always would sort of didn’t really play it all the way hold back a little bit. We’d ofthrough in the studio until the ten do things in the studio then take that’s on the record. It’s be like ‘lets slow this down a nice to have a bit of that. little bit and see if it still works’ DL: We had a bunch of other and that’s probably a really songs from other albums, and good and healthy thing to do sometimes we either recycle but if anyone wants to hear us or revisit them but generally its try and be a really careful and never on the next record. We elegant band then they can go tend to skip a record so that’s listen to those records. why When I Was Young is like, seven or eight years old yet on They’re a bit of trilogy this album. aren’t they? IE: Yeh I think without even Was that your decision to saying so much there’s a time make When I Was Young the to restart the engine and get first thing people heard from something that’s short and fast. the album? It’s like ‘ok, let’s get back into MC: No that was actually our gear’. It seemed like the right manager, who’s not usually thing to do. involved on a musical level at all. From the moment he You are trying to capture a heard that chorus however new-song energy yet haven’t many years ago was on some released new material in evangelical mission to make it HERE TOwas READ four years. How easy is that CLICK happen, so that really THE kind when you potentially have of his baby. Not in ORIGINAL the writing songs that are at least four of it, but in the…. I think I did years old (since the release put a little more effort into it as VISIT WTGR of Lucky)? he’s a really good friend. the studio and also, in another sense, just for me personally there was a lot of…having to listen to all these songs and sort of seeing that there are some types of things that I keep on revisiting again and again and again. A lot of it was really self-regarding and even though there’s still a bunch of stuff like that on this record I don’t think there’s as much of it because I was consciously trying to avoid that kind of self-analysis.
Ira Elliott (left), Daniel Lorca (centre) and Matthew Caws (right).
Head to the reviews section to read about our thoughts on their seventh studio album The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy... It struck me as interesting choice for people to hear first… IE: It does leave an impression that’s for sure… MC: It’s an interesting move and kind of fun when you put out something non-representative first and so to do that you have to believe that it’s really worth hearing and that the surprise of hearing the rest of the record and it being nothing like that won’t be disappointment. It’s a slightly confident move. I’m really glad we did it. Practically, how did you go about recording an album that you wanted to capture quite an intangible element – the energy of a gig? MC: It was super-quick. Two things: One… For a long time we’d been making our records out of town (New York City) cos we wanted to get away from distractions but that wouldn’t really work any more cos we’d end up with friends there so we didn’t get away from the temptation of like, you know, having a dinner party or going out a lot. We also find out that when travelling you’d finish the last day of rehearsal and even if you were ready to start right away you’d go home, pack up the apartment and the flights two days later… DL: All the gears gotta be put in flight cases and moved across the country…
MC: Then jetlag happens and you maybe play to the excuse cos you want a bit more time to finish writing and then being in a strange environment means you have to reacquaint yourselves with the songs. Any kind of muscle memory is gonna be gone. But in this case… I don’t know what day it was. Lets say it was a Sunday was our last day of practice. Then on the Monday we rolled the gear three blocks down the street to the nearest good studio. That’s literally where we recorded. It’s exactly between Daniel’s house and my house. And we did it in five days. The whole thing? MC: All the basic tracks. And then we mucked around with guitar tones a bit more back at The Loft. What’s great about that is that you can’t revisit anything and when you do a take it can’t be like ‘yeeeeh that could be the one’ its like ‘no, its got to be the one!’. And Chris Shaw’s appointment as producer, was that born out of wanting to get a live feel or was he on board before that? DL: He wasn’t really gonna be the producer at all. MC: Yeh. He was actually only hired as an engineer but… he doesn’t really advertise himself as a producer, he’s
a little soft-spoken about it but in fact he is incredibly capable. But you know for a while partially because of moving here (England) we were sort of maybe thinking about making a record in England, which would have been really tempting and possibly getting John Leckie or Gil Norton in to produce it. But then we had the idea of recording in New York and all of a sudden it’s like wait ‘wait, that guy’s local’ and he’d mixed Always Love and done such an incredible, phenomenal, fast job that once his name popped into the air there was no hesitating. If the record was recorded so quickly I’m assuming most of the songs must have been pretty nailed before you entered the studio? MC: There were two missing. The song at the end of the record called The Future had no arrangement we just had Ira play some beats and I just sort of had a three-chord thing in mind and sort of kind of the words of maybe a chorus. So that one was left up to chance. Then Looking Through didn’t exist. And writing right up until the last moment, I don’t think that could have happened with our other records cos we didn’t have the luxury of… if I was going to do some “work” there was a lot of other stuff that needed finishing and if I would have just started on
a new song that would have been reckless. So we went in with 8 and that felt like enough. IE: I loved when it clocked in at 38 minutes and 38 seconds. That’s a proper length for a record. A lot of bands really wear out their welcome.
“We’re completely powerless. Global warming is indifferent to our belief or disbelief that it exists. And just because you’re a doubter isn’t going to save you one bit when you’re frying…” The UK press is currently obsessed with the current so-called death of guitar music. Do you get that at all out in the States? IE: There was a huge article I think in the Times about how last year was supposedly the worst year for rock music. We still have the, sort of, stalwart Foo Fighters and stuff but, the American major league guitar rock is pretty thin on the ground at the moment. It’s pretty much rehash after rehash. We need a blast of guitars. It’s a bad time for guitars. MC: Dave Grohl was in Rolling Stone or something recently and he was like “guitar music is alive and well thank you very much, it doesn’t need your help”. Because in a way…. it’s thin on the ground in a Top 10 sort of way, it’s all hip-hop but there are loads of good records around and that’s never going to go away. I didn’t even know that’s where we were at. So that’s even better that this is the time we put out our real guitar record. One word that pops up time and time again on your write ups is veteran. Do you take that as a compliment in an age where a lot of bands get dropped after 1 or 2 records? MC: I mean… we didn’t do anything
to earn than just stay but it’s nice to get a little props for it. IE: I think it’s especially true of English bands that sell millions of albums first time out and second time out they sell a quarter of that then pretty soon you can’t even remember their names. The thing is – never be hot. I was watching Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip and Rob Brydon’s like, “never be hot, always be warm”. If you’re hot then people have these impossible expectations that you have to live up to. We’re the Rob Brydon of rock. We do a very fine Michael Caine as well. Your now 7 albums in. Is the feeling of excitement before your releasing your 7th album as strong as before releasing your debut? MC: I’m actually more excited about this period of touring than I have been for a really long time for the simple reason that we made a record that to me sounds like we want to sound onstage. The goal is clear and it wasn’t always before. It’s a tiny thing but we would play faster than our albums live and the end result was good but there were a lot of moments where we were doing it but you almost feel like you’re doing something wrong cos you’re playing so much faster so we’d push and pull and be in this confused place. On this one we’d practice for the tour and it was a breeze, just so much fun. IE: We’re actually going to play this record reeeeeeeeeaaaaaally slooooooooowly liiiiiiiiiiiiive. Lyrically, are Nada Surf a band that release albums that have messages? Is there a message throughout Stars…? MC: I would say two answers. One is no, nothing in particular but there are some things that come back a few times. If I had to say something… this record is more about the outside world and I think having a child changes things and changes how much I pay attention to nature and where we’re going there. If the world were to get really hairy or end in ten years or something I’d be 54. I wouldn’t really care. I’ve had a good run, a full
life. But having a son is like, well he’s gonna live through whatever it is. In fact, it’s kind of in the title. That’s why it resonated with me so much cos it’s an expression my father wrote which basically says that a dog doesn’t know it’s called a dog and a cat doesn’t know it’s called a cat and the stars and planets don’t know we gave them names, and they don’t care. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t interact with nature and enjoy nature but it’s a one way relationship. What it made me think of is how we’re pretty presumptuous in thinking that our opinions about the physical and natural world…that they’re accurate. We’re completely powerless. Global warming is indifferent to our belief or disbelief that it exists. And just because you’re a doubter isn’t going to save you one bit when you’re frying or whatever. So there’s that. I guess there’s also a little bit on there about the frittering away of our minds and just how people look at a screen and self-checkouts and gadgets. Do you think those things are negative things? MC: ……yeh. I mean, you know, I don’t think people know how to sit still as much so maybe you’re out of touch with your actual thoughts. And it’s too entertaining at this point, we might choke on it. I’m the same way, you can be endlessly entertained so the niche aspect of everything means that you can find the cable news show that reflects to you exactly what you think already and you’ll never learn anything and you’ll be in the symbiotic death dance. So you won’t be buying your kid an iPad any time soon? MC: I actually just got him a Wii yesterday. The world is the world. You can only try and steer better.
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“It feels like everyone wants what happened in 2001 to happen again.” Jordan Gatesmith, Howler.
DRY THE RIVER If the phenomenal success of Mumford & Sons has proved anything it’s that here in the UK acoustic guitars are very much back on the menu. Isolated and shunned for years due to the wave of weepy singer-songwriters that came in the noughties, the kings of the London nu-folk scene were at the spearhead of a group of artists that – to a younger generation of music fan at least – wrestled the acoustic back from David Gray, James Blunt, James Morrison and the like. London quintet Dry The River could go even further in the giving the
acoustic a better name. While they embrace the electric guitar a little more than Mumford et al, many of their songs build from a plucked guitar into roaring, soaring, heavy, emo-tinged choruses that drip with golden harmonies. The title track of their fantastic Weights & Measures EP is beefy at the very least and the chorus of recent No Rest single really rocks. The fact they don’t ponse around in waistcoats and tweed also helps add up to the fact that these guys occupy the rockier side of folk-rock. That’s not to say they are always turning up to 11. On the hushed Bible
Belt they strip it all back and focus on their voices melting into a wall of vocal honey. With violin and organ regularly on show the sound is well-worn rather than excitingly fresh. It’s the strength of the tunes though that will carry this lot. With their debut album Shallow Bed due for release in March and a full UK tour scheduled for April & May, 2012 will surely be a great year for Dry The River.
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There are surely no two band names that bring to mind the racket to expect from their imitators more than those following around Howler at the moment. You see, you won’t be able to read up on Howler without the stiff mentioning of two names: The Strokes & The Vaccines. It’s not surprising then than that this cheekboned US five-piece specialise in nofrills, fuzzy indie-pop that links them very much to the lineage of The Strokes. They’ve also toured with The Vaccines, which clear up the name checks. The constant wearing of Converse in early press photos didn’t help matters either. There are differences though. Where as The Strokes were masters of New York gloom and The Vaccines let their BPM’s amp up the joy, there appears to be genuine sunshine amid the fuzz and jangle of Howler. The catchy-as-sin Back of Your Neck showcases their ear for a memorable melody, if not an original idea. And Rough Trade liked them enough to snap them up. Their debut album, America Give Up is due in just a few weeks. If Gatesmith is right and people with a love of guitar music are pining for another 2001 moment, time will only tell as to whether Howler are the ones to provide it. CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
“We just want to make music that people feel a connection to, that they enjoy listening to and that we like…” The Staves. If your surname has the word stave buried within it you better end up being musical. Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, three sisters from Watford, and together The Staves, are one of the folk bands to look out for in 2012. Their brushed-acoustics and unfussy delivery will no doubt draw comparisons to Laura Marling, while support slots with James Vincent McMorrow and Mt Desolation
confirm they are certainly aiming to plough the turf of the rootsy, nu-folk songbook. While comparisons are going to be made, this does not mean that the trio do not deserve their own recognition; they combine guitar parts that resonate with tonality and implausibly beautiful vocal harmonies. Songs like Winter Trees are clever in the way that they own both a chilling soul and a warm resonance. Like many sibling groups it is when the girls break into their delicately woven harmonies that they shine, perhaps best highlighted on the brilliant Mexico. With their debut album overseen by the legendary Glyn Johns and due for release later in the year, the girls are making sure they
don’t get carried away. In a great interview with Nick Parkhouse they set out their stall: “As for conquering the world, we don’t know. We just want to make music that people feel a connection to, that they enjoy listening to and that we like.” For now though there is more recording and more gigs and a tour in support of the BBC Poll winner Michael Kiwanuka. Keep your eyes peeled though, we’ll hear more of these guys soon. If ever there was a band to soundtrack your Spring 2012, this is it. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
S P E C T O R
“We’re a pop group. Like One Direction or The Beatles…” Fred Macpherson – Spector. With the synth indie-pop sound of a band somewhere in between Pulp and Arcade Fire you would expect a perfect recipe for success. This is almost what you get with alternative hopefuls Spector. Fronted by Fred Macpherson (who previously featured in Les Incompetents and Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man. ) and battle-hardened by honing their skills in an East London snooker club they signed to Luv Luv Luv Records, released 3 singles and were nominated for the BBC Sound of 2011 award. Not what you would call a bad year then. New single Chevy Thunder neatly sums up what they are about: big drums, skyline synths and plenty of “woah-woahs”. Debut single Never Fade Away has obvious suggestions of an indie ballad and contains simple but politely sweet lyrics when MacPherson tells his lover “you know i’ll never fade away, but if I do, it will be because you asked me to”. Again, the instrumentation is set to skyscraper levels of hugeness. Subtlety isn’t something
Spector aim for. What they do aim for, and regularly hit, is the part of the brain that thoroughly enjoys it when great pop songs are disguised under thick layers of real instruments. The band is blossoming with talent. Their ambition is scary too, with MacPherson recently tweeting at his dissatisfaction of being brought into the ‘guitar music is dead’ debate by claiming “we’re a pop group like One Direction and The Beatles”. Their choruses could certainly rival those of 1D. With their debut album due for release this year it looks like it should be an exciting and enjoyable year for newcomers Spector. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL VISIT WTGR
REVIEWS Lana Del Rey Born To Die
Released 31.01.12 Interscope “Many have already made their minds up on Lana Del Rey and this isn’t the kind of album to change those opinions…” It’s been a long time since someone has come around like Lana Del Rey. Someone that divides opinion in the way she does. Someone that people love or loathe. Someone that has confused and confounded in equal measure. Perhaps it is the confusing back story, involving both an extremely wealthy father and a stint living in a trailer park. Or the scrap-that-and-start-again reinvention from Lizzy Grant to Lana Del Rey. Or, you know, the huge lips. One thing is for sure: those that don’t like Lana Del Rey really don’t like her. But the reasons for doing so are rarely the actual tunes. So with expectation, hype and backlash having already spread their wings since Video Games went up on Youtube six months ago, will Born To Die, in all it’s 12-track glory, finally put things to bed? The answer in as emphatic no. What you can’t deny, no matter which camp you stand in, is that Born To Die does posses some seriously good songs. It’s biggest problem however is that, with the release of various singles and the Lana Del Rey EP, you’ve probably already heard them. If you delve into this record in search of something more beautiful or haunting as Video Games, you will be disappointed. If you want something more knowingly cheeky as Off To The Races, you will come away disappointed. If you want something as slow-burningly delicious as its title track or the sticky Blue Jeans, yup you’ve guessed it. But let’s not forget that these tracks do appear here, no matter how familiar we already are with them. That they make up the opening quartet ensures Born To Die gets off to a magnificent, if not rather well-thumbed start. That it’s followed by one-two punch of ultra-poppy Diet Mountain Dew – her love letter to New York – and National Anthem – on which she shimmy’s and pouts more than any other track, something you will either love or find difficult to listen to – confirms that the first six tracks are of real quality.
What they also do however is set its writer up for one hell of a fall. You see, much like her audience her debut album is, quite literally, split right down the middle. It’s final six tracks stumble and are unsure of what they are trying to achieve. In essence, they sound chronically underwritten. Lifeless. None of them are total disasters, no. They all posses a half-decent chorus but that’s what you get when you work with a team of professional songwriters. You get what you pay for. Dark Paradise, which finds Del Rey ‘lying in the ocean singing your song’ and glides along over the top of a stuttering, cheap beat, has all the trimmings of the ‘big love song’ but she sounds detached and hollow. The sound of a love song being sung by someone that’s never truly felt the pains and joys of being swept up in it. Radio again, possesses a sugary sweet chorus in which she urges you to ‘pick me up and take me like a vitamin’. However, it’s the bridge, in which she delivers a breathy ‘no-one even knows how hard life was, I don’t even think about it now because’, that is rather hard to swallow. Without any further explanation or supporting lyrics, it sounds like a cheap trick to get a decent soundbite. Summertime Sadness, the records penultimate track, picks things up a little with a neat tempo
shift in its swollen chorus. That it’s the latter six’s highpoint yet could easily be a Lady Gaga song perhaps highlights the biggest weakness of Del Rey’s: she hasn’t yet developed her persona or her sound to stick to it over 12 tracks. In artistic terms, she’s incredibly young. Let’s keep things in perspective though. It’s her debut album. There are enough very good songs here to suggest she is an artist that deserves to be nurtured and given time. Album number two could be very interesting. There are as many flaws in Born To Die as there are shining moments of beauty. Many have already made their minds up on Lana Del Rey and this isn’t the kind of album to change those opinions. It’s been a long time since someone has come around like Lana Del Rey, and I for one am glad she did.
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Kind Words highlighted a new-found use of space, supplemented by beefy, muscular melodies. The rewards on offer for Given To The Wild then, are even greater. If The Maccabees can continue the upwards trajectory once more they will graduate wholeheartedly into the UK’s big league of exciting guitar bands – a depressingly small list at present. What becomes immediately clear within minutes of pressing play on Given To The Wild is that you’re dealing with a seismic shift in emphasis as large, if not larger, than the one from Colour It In to Wall of Arms. Throughout this record atmosphere often takes the place of urgency, groove steps in to give the pounding a break and songs are thoughtfully constructed via layers of sound rather than an urge to get to the end in a flurry of shrieking guitar.
“It’s their slowest record by far, the least immediate, the most beautiful and, by a country mile, their best..”
The Maccabees Given To The Wild Released 09.01.12 Fiction If the saturation of indie in the mid-noughties brought a slew of white UK boys with guitars pedaling half-memorable tunes and painted on jeans then it also brought us the assumption that some of them, perhaps even the majority of them, would not still be going from strength to strength in the years to come. Here we are, at the beginning of 2012, and who can honestly say that they’re chomping at the bit
for more releases from: The Kooks, The Futureheads, Bloc Party, The Pigeon Detectives, Franz Ferdinand et al…? Nope, me neither. Landfill indie indeed. There have been rare, fantastic, shining exceptions however. The Horrors, who perhaps started slower than many of the names mentioned aboved have blossomed into kingpins, their last two albums dazzling both critics and audiences alike
and featuring on many Best of Year lists. Wild Beasts too have weirded their way into a territory almost of their own. Then there’s The Maccabees. Their debut, 2007′s Colour It In, was an interesting beast and one that hinted at rather than rammed home their powers. Yes, it contained its fair share of indie-disco staples yet it failed to offer much of a personality of its own. 2009′s Wall of Arms then,
was an important record and one on which they faced a very real possibility – release a dud and forever roam the underground tunnels of the indie landfill. Fortunately for the London five-piece they aced it, and took a step towards the two acts above by achieving the actually-quite-simple feat of getting better, and more interesting, with every release. Two key songs from it, the dazzling Love You Better and the dark, brooding No
“It’s a spectacular record and one that deserves you putting the time in to discover its indisputable beauty...” The story has it that Wall of Arms was in debt to Arcade Fire. The truth is that, in its space and building, horn-supported high points, it owed far more to The National’s Boxer. This time around, Given To The Wild adds a devilish confidence into the mix, and more importantly sounds like the work of a band who have worked exceptionally hard to carve out a genuine sound of their own. The sceptics won’t be having any of it but this record genuinely doesn’t sound like anyone else. It’s their slowest record by far, the least immediate, the most beautiful and, by a country mile, their best. First single Pelican acts as the bridge between albums in its pop hooks and surging chorus, but it’s the tracks that The Maccabees take the bigger risks on that truly shine. The opening Child – introduced by the instrumental title track – is a blissed out, reverb soaked beauty on which a top drawer bassline is woven through the very core of its groove, all before the three minute mark when the whole thing steps up a notch and a demonic guitar solo
pierces the mix. Ayla, a rolling, electro-tinged uberballad and perhaps the most beautiful song ever to feature both a piano and such concrete-heavy slabs of guitar, sees Orlando Weeks singing “the wait is over…” and you can’t help feel that he’s right. It could well be the high-point of their career to date, that is, until Grew Up At Midnight enters the fray. The following Glimmer does exactly that, it’s shimmering guitars overlay another slow, pared-down groove on a song that neatly highlights the key word here, already mentioned: ATMOSPHERE. If restraint is used cleverly throughout this record to end up with something greater than the sum of its parts then it isn’t short of a few huge, arena-aping megatunes. Went Away, which has Weeks admitting that “the middle ground is still miles away…” is pure, unadulterated adrenaline – the kind of song that come its three-anda-half minutes close simultaneously makes you think you could run a marathon just as easily as bursting into tears. Towards the end of a review you usually do 1 of 2 things. If you’ve slagged off an album you’ll give one paragraph over to discussing it’s merits, or visa versa if you’ve built it up. I’m not doing that here. At 13 tracks you could be forgiven for thinking its perhaps a track or two too long, but you’ll be hard pushed to actually choose which ones they are while their blaring out of your headphones. It’s not a perfect album, but even if on Given To The Wild The Maccabees on occasion don’t quite reach what their aiming for, it’s exhilarating listening to them try. It’s a spectacular record and one that deserves you putting the time in to discover its indisputable beauty, its burning ambition and it career-making brilliance. Like the Andy Goldsworthy artwork of its cover it is powerful in its art and artful in its power. Ladies and gentleman, nine days into 2012 and we have a strong contender for record of the year. And it comes from The Maccabees. Who’d have thought it?
CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR THE MACCABEES ON WHEN THE GRAMOPHONE RINGS
The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy 16.01.12 Barsuk If you charted the course of music history you’d be hardpushed to name more than a handful of covers albums that offered the band a genuine creative spark. Often a worrying sign that its makers have nothing left in the creative tank, it all too often ignites (or is released during) a downward spiral in quality. For further reading of popular warning signs bands or labels like to throw at fans see also the misguided ‘Best Of’ released for absolutely no apparent reason. Indie veterans Nada Surf, who celebrate their 20th anniversary next year, haven’t yet released a Best Of. They did, however,
release a covers album. 2010’s if i had a hifi wasn’t the usual affair though. It didn’t confound the above assumption so much as smash it to pieces and rebuild it, wrapping it as it went in huge swathes of genuine-fan energy and walls of melody. After 2008’s Lucky – the final chapter in a self-confessed trilogy of “well-done, good sounding, mid-tempo” records that began with 2002’s sublime Let Go and continued with 2005’s The Weight Is A Gift – it felt like a needed shot in the arm. So, in the run-up to the release of The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy – a name
that refers to the favourite saying of lead singer Matthew Caws’ father, and their first album of original songs in four years – key words and phrases have been “new song energy”, “recreating our live sound” and “faster tempos”. With the bulk of the album recorded in five days the record fizzes with fun, perfectly encapsulated on the pounding opener Clear Eye Clouded Mind. If the last you heard of the New York trio was the acoustic lament of Lucky’s closing The Film Did Not Go ‘Round then this will be a wake-up call. Grumpy guitars and urgent drums drag
a wonderful Caws melody kicking and screaming to the end of its 3.40 minutes. And then it’s gone, as quickly as it came. As reintroductions go it’s exhilarating: the musical equivalent of the ‘this message will self-destruct in…’ voicemails from Mission Impossible. And like those films, no matter how po-faced your pretension lets you be, you can’t help but know that what’s coming next is going to be fun. Very fun indeed. Stars… is, quite simply and without putting too fine a point on it, a record full of smile-inducingly heart-winning indie-pop tunes. These songs
haven’t been fussed over. Often it’s their simplicity and the space within these recordings that allow you to focus on nothing other than the quality of the songwriting present. Jules & Jim, a wide-eyed, big-hearted triumph sails by on a sea of pop waves and a delightful glockenspiel hook. Looking Through, all down-strummed guitars and bubbling melody, could well soundtrack a 50’s prom, especially when Caws breaks into the final line of the chorus – “are you dancing, are you dancing at all?”. As is par for the course now with Nada Surf the almost unrelenting upbeat tunes sometimes mask Caws’ often contrasting lyrics, slipping nods to confusion or world weariness in under the radar: confessing in Looking Through that “every birthday candle that ever got blown out, is one more year of someone trying to figure it all out.” Due in the most part to its lightening speed recording the 10 songs here sound remarkably fresh and are free of even the merest ounce of fat. Even the wig-out solo that sees out the slow-burning When I Was Young never feels like it’s outstaying its welcome. The overriding emotion though, from the listener’s perspective at least, is one of excitement. Excitement that you’re listening to their finest work in ten years. Excitement that in this so-called rut of guitar music a band have recorded a back-to-basics guitar record and triumphed doing it. Excitement that Nada Surf are back. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
The Big Pink Future This Released: 16.01.12 4AD Finally. After a long-awaited hiatus of almost three years, electronic duo Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell return with their second album Future This following the renowned success of A Brief History Of Love. After slipping in under the radar back in 2009 and winning the Philip Hall Radar Award at the Shockwaves NME Awards, they shaped up to be quite the modern masterpiece. So, expectations of what these two would do next has been high. Having already crafted a louder-than-life sound born from their most unforgettable hit Dominos, which was so big and in-yer face massive, Future This would surely disappoint if it did anything less than blow the listeners ears off. After all Paul Epworth (producer of Adele, Florence and the Machine, Foster the People) was on board and promised ‘‘to push them to the next level”. However, after listening to Future This you may struggle to see how. It kicks off with the recently released Stay Gold which, with its faux hip-hop beat and skyscraper synths has a worrying sense of familiarity. Underneath its fuzzy overcoat
it also happens to be a shamelessly mainstream pop song, no bad thing in itself however you cant help but get the feeling that the band are playing it a bit on the safe side. You quickly realise that Future This could well be their attempt at writing 10 more Dominos. Unfortunately you can’t say this is an exception to the rest of the album. Hit the Ground (Superman) continues in treading safe ground. Predicted to be the highlight of the album, Cordell explained: ”it sums up the Big Pink in 3 minutes, 33 seconds” but it somehow lacks direction and a flair that means you will more than likely end up waiting for something, anything to break the monotony of the chorus. It arrives in the form of the song ending. Perhaps the biggest of Future This‘s problems is that the remaining eight tracks blur so seamlessly into one another that it becomes difficult to tell them apart. So determined are they to ensure mass appeal each track has been orchestrated so that that no risk or genuine personality has been experimented with or developed to produce that delightful sound we enjoyed in History….
That’s not to say there is nothing salvageable from the wreck. Future This, on which a polished, modern rnb beat flirts with an ever-so-slightly Money For Nothingesque guitar line, shows a satisfying glint of promise towards the end of the album while Palace offers a refreshing, whimsical sound that is more refined and considered than anything heard so far, with a powerful, uplifting chorus that drives the song forward. Horrah! Technically there’s nothing wrong with this kind of album. It’s easy listening, radio-ready for sure, but none of the songs are particularly memorable. Add to this the fact it’s being released just a week after we heard another indie band release a hugely ambitious piece of work in the form of The Maccabees’ Given To The Wild, you can’t help but feel it would have been courageous to hear the band challenge themselves a bit more. Throughout Future This it is Big Pink by numbers. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg have come a long way since they first captured wide attention with their haunting rendition of Fleet Foxes ballad, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song back in 2009. Following on from their debut studio album The Big Black and Blue, First Aid Kit are back with the release of The Lion’s Roar and have, in move aimed at progressing their timid sound, landed themselves indie producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes). Heavily influenced by their love of folk and country, Lion’s Roar enjoyably finds the sisters staying true to their crystal clear vocals and world weary lyrics but experimenting with an Americana-inspired full instrumental band. This spell-binding album begins with the title track The Lion’s Roar which opens with Klara’s bewitching voice and raw acoustic guitar. It soon develops into a rush of bittersweet harmonies that takes you on a five minute journey that perfectly sets the scene for the nine tracks that follow.
First Aid Kit
The Lion’s Roar Released 16.01.12 Wichita
Emmylou, the sister’s new single, romanticises country masters of eras past including the likes of Gram Parsons, June Carter, Johnny Cash and of course, Emmylou Harris. Emphasising the power of singing with the ones they love, they innocently plead ”I’m not asking much of you just sing little darling, sing with me”. The song floats magically along to create the most stunning moment of the album. So high is it’s quality it almost feels brave to have introduced it so early on, that is until you are welcomingly greeted with In The Hearts of Men, which confirms your adoration for the sister’s display of talent and wisdom far beyond their years. The album reaches its centrepiece with the wonderfully serene To a Poet, a ditty so laced with nostalgia and dreamy harmonies that it serves to encapsulate the very essence of the sister’s unique and personal sound. Their voices chime harmoniously together alongside the most minimalistic of instrumentation, allowing the duo’s
multilayered harmonies and flawless vocals to shine brighter. The girls begin to experiment with darker imagery in the form of Dance to Another Tune that evokes an intrinsicly haunting sadness that, quite simply, will melt your heart. This is swiftly juxtaposed with the following pairing of At New Years Eve and King of The World, where the record reaches a point of true optimism. The latter especially offering an uplifting, campfire strumalong co-written and featuring Conor Oberst as it brings the whole thing to a triumphant finish. That the sisters manage to so effortlessly create a timeless sound that is vulnerable yet musically mature can only be commended, and thoroughly enjoyed. Transcending the expectations of the listener, The Lion’s Roar has without a doubt become a contender for the most beautiful album of the year. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
The 2 Bears Be Strong
Released 30.01.12 Southern Fried “A record that bursts with catchy dance-pop…”
The 2 Bears – a duo made up of Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and London DJ Raf Rundell that has now spawned an LP and a Ministry of Sound radio show – have had to wait a while to get their debut album to us, after forming back in 2009. Both posses busy schedules when their day jobs are live and kicking but with Goddard’s band mates Alexis Taylor (solo career) and Al Doyle (LCD Soundsystem) also involved in other projects while Hot Chip are on the backburner, Be Strong has been constructed, layer by joyful layer in what most people would call “downtime”. When looking at its members you’d be a fool to expect a crooning country album, so it’s with little surprise but smiles all round that the record bursts into life on opener The Birds & The Bees. Starting with strong synths and a steady beat and finishing on a psychedelic trip with trumpets and glockenspiel, it’s fair to say they’re not afraid to push the boat out. With no lyrical content it works hard to grab the listener’s attention, which is, in essence, exactly what you want from an opening song. Take A Look Around and Ghosts and Zombies are both infested with funky, powerfully melodic keyboard lines, soulful vocal lines and pulsating bass throbs – exactly what you’d expect from men that specialise in melodic keyboards and pulsating bass throbs, but the songs are full of energy and soul. In the former the lyrics announce, ‘just let the music take control, you’ve got nothing to fear,’ a neat summation of what this song does. Then there is a rather unexpected transition. Time in Mind, reminiscent of a more urban Noah & The Whale with its lapsteel guitar and broad pop hooks, gets a little – even just a fraction – closer to that crooning country album. Delightfully charming and charmingly delightful it fits perfectly on the album as a
Whale with its lapsteel guitar and broad pop hooks, gets a little – even just a fraction – closer to that crooning country album. Delightfully charming and charmingly delightful it fits perfectly on the album as a slow but somewhat energetic number. Be Strong could do with a few more moments of such disparity. It’s downfall being the repetitive nature of their mission statement. Mid tempo pop song follows mid tempo pop song for much of this record. With it’s opening organ and bursting lyrics of love, the appropriately titled Church ends the whole thing on a positive note as a greatly expressive, and more importantly non-gooey love song. Once the introductory organ fades the track lifts up into a – yup, you’ve guessed it – infectious bouncy melody, and another good vocal line that sucks you into the song. It is perhaps the right way to close matters: an enjoyable, fun but hardly classic song ending an enjoyable, fun but hardly classic album. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
“It shows off Young Empires as a group more than capable of joining the dancefloor-ready elite...”
house on fire”. It gives a good indication of what Young Empires are here to do. White Doves, which with its mid-tempo pop hooks and powerful vocals sounds like the cutest MGMT lovechild of them all, is probably the strongest track here. It’s effortless stuff. With added “oh-oh-oh’s” it shows off Young Empires as a group more than capable of joining the dancefloor-ready elite. From here the songs do not lose the healthy glow of confidence and continue to build. Tracks such as Against the Wall and Let You Sleep ToIf you want a little dose of 1980s night are simultaneously dancefloor indie anthems that contain messages nu-wave and inspired electropop with of disparity yet manage to charm the pants off you at the same time. A big beats, trippy, energetic vocals and most perfect combination of faith and disappointment. clever lyrics, could do much worse There is no real shift in gear, leaving their debut LP to flesh out their than wrapping your ears around sound with some potentially more thoughtful moments. Hopefully that will Young Empires’ debut EP Wake All come but for now let us celebrate a very promising start indeed. My Youth. After a long while releasing CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL teaser singles and snippets, the now four-piece band from Toronto have CLICK HERE FOR WTGR now delivered an EP on which every song has been layered and arranged with the upmost care, and delivered with the most devastating precision. Opener Rain of Gold, which shows their fearless blending of styles and genres, instantly sets a pacey and infectious precedent. Early single Enter Through The Sun boasts more high quality Released 30.01.12 with strong synths, fast beats and the repeated lyrics of “we put this Pirates Blend
Wake All My Youth
The air of excitement is obvious at Brixton Academy. The sold out gig is buzzing. Buzzing with that most intangible of buzzes – of watching a band about to have a real ‘moment’ in front of your eyes. As the thousands wait for their conquering heroes there is an unspoken agreement that the next few hours is going to be special. With a raucous welcoming cheer they take their places on stage and open with the one-two punch of new album Given to the Wild’s opening pair Child and Feel To Follow. Orlando Weeks’ tentative vocals coupled with a slow cradling bass sees the crowd mesmerised by the former and energised by the latter as massive drums and a captivating guitar solo show just how much these new tracks build and build. During the barnstorming William Powers, taken from their second album Wall of Arms, Week’s archetypal humble and timid stage presence begins to vanish and a confident energy takes shape as the band seem self assured and comfortable in their surroundings. They’ve played here before of course. But never right at the start of a tour with one eye on arenas as they do so. The buoyant Can You Give It is met with thousands of amateur voices and an energetic mosh pit changes the mood of the venue to one of unbridled chaos. The frantic pace of X-Ray ensures the pace doesn’t slip as Weeks belts out the lyrics raucously to the sound of thrashing guitars. The crowd shouting ‘’x-ray, x-ray’’ repeatedly until their vocal chords give in.
New track, the mournful Forever Ive Known sees a zealous crowd mellow for a moment to the warm thrum and sultry drums only to be reawakened by the ferocity of No Kind Words‘ throbbing beats and machine gun guitar. Bassist Rupert Jarvis introduces a funk bassline which the audience soon recognise to be the uplifting Wall of Arms before the guitar stabs of recent single Pelican creates a sudden uproar in the audience that mirrors on stage. The band marvel gratefully at the audience’s reaction which is clearly seen in guitarist Felix White’s boundless energy and the chemistry he whips up between brother Hugo and Jarvis. Weeks’ vocals softy tremble into the enchanting Love You Better with a performance so deep with sincerity you feel he is channeling emotions previously held back until now. Whether it’s the vindication of more notable acclaim or how much they believe in their new record, or both, Weeks looks and sounds like a man reborn. As they return for the encore, they tease with the quiet and ethereal Unknow that again highlights the incredible range of his output. As they unleash the awaited First Love where the crowd make sure this group know the older tunes are still appreciated. The set finishes with the melancholic Grew Up At Midnight. Emotive falsetto vocals fills the room as the crowd is delighted by a chorus so embodied with sweet nostalgia they can’t help but show their sadness that the end of the set is near. The song develops into earth shattering drums and a crashing crescendo as Orlando exclaims “we were only kids then”. With this audience having spent the last five years watching The Maccabees grow-up, it’s a fitting, devastatingly powerful finale. CLICK HERE TO READ THE ORIGINAL CLICK HERE FOR WTGR
Live Review - The Maccabees Brixton Academy 26/01/12
Photo: Gaelli Beri
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