Monthly Archives: January 2013

Laces – Beachcombers EP – Review

Laces - Beachcombers

Laces are a duo originating from Bradford, consisting of long time musical conspirators Ben Walker and Patrick Wanzala-Ryan. This is their debut release, an EP of five songs, tentatively titled Beachcombers. While they can list influences that would delight any music obsessive in Can, Steve Reich, Miles Davis, Aphex Twin and Fela Kuti, it’s incredibly clear that a certain Mr. Yorke and a certain Radio-Headed Band are the real parents of the ‘Laces sound’, no coincidence that ‘Keep Your Eyes Down’ declares ‘You told us this was how to disappear. Which is to say that they merge Indie-informed songs with a post-Kid A predisposition to experiment electronically. Each level of guitar strumming will be counteracted by Eraser-esque drum machine, and for every percussion part, and ambient echo will whirl in the background.

There are only two true ‘songs’ on the EP, the tracks ‘Screens’ and ‘Keep Your Eyes Down’, the surrounding tracks serve as Intro, Interlude and Outro respectively. Which is not to say that these tracks are worthless, far from it, like Alt-J and The XX they actually give the EP a sense of framing, which is a trick most small records ignore. Listening to Beachcombers feels suitably like a journey to a desert island, ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’ is a gentle arrival upon a calm beach, while ‘Screens’ then gives us a pleasant solid song as we start looking around. ‘Lift’ is a discovery of a demented circus (with echoes of Pale Seas) subverting the calm of the opener and shifting us up a gear to bring us into ‘Keep Your Eyes Down’, a mocking fable that, along with clattering percussion, lends the menace arms and legs. All that’s left is for closer ‘Ghost Woken’, an Aphex-indebted ambient track to drift our corpse back over the beach and out to sea.

Overall the EP is an enjoyable, if transient listen. The duo’s flexibility with all sorts of sounds gives the tracks a lot of variety, and they manage to come up with lots of ear worms like lead track ‘Screens” cry of ‘bleed yourself blind’. The record is more a sign of promise in the group than a burst on to the scene, more tracks like the clearly dominant ‘Screens’ would provide that service, but as a first release this is a worthy endeavor. Furthermore, the band are currently offering this on a free download from their bandcamp site, so there aren’t many excuses not to pick this up and have a listen. Fans who can’t wait enough for the Atoms for Peace album will find this might just help them bide their time till its release.

laces live

You can find Laces on Facebook here, and download the Beachcombers EP here on a pay-what-you-want basis.

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Everything Everything – Arc – Review

2013’s challenger to the Art-Pop throne approaches. (My Beardfood review of it is here)

Everything Everything - Arc

It’s a brand new year and the first record to grab AiA’s attention is the second album of mancunian art-poppers Everything Everything. Their 2010 debut, Man Alive, featured some of the most insane, and most brilliant songwriting and spawned a number of alt-radio insta-classics in ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ and ‘Schoolin”. Unfortunately they couldn’t sustain the genius/insanity balance across a whole album, but they were widely praised for creating a unique and innovative sound with their first record. No pressure then, for this follow-up… Fortunately most fears about what could go wrong were allayed by the fantastic first single, and also opening track, ‘Cough Cough’. It was so successful that last year it actually snuck into the top 40, an impressive feat for a band so experimental.

But that of course, is where Everything Everything’s true genius has always been. While other bands like Django Django and fellow mancs Dutch Uncles seek the same sonic experimentation, EE have always had the pure songwriting chops to accompany their musical adventurism and it is on Arc that this songwriting gets it’s true showing. Let’s cut to the chase, this album has no ‘Photoshop Handsome’, EE have toned down some of their more insane moments and it is slightly dissapointing, but they haven’t abandoned their sound at all. Instead they’ve pushed it towards a more coherent model. The pop songs on Arc have more in common with Man Alive track ‘Final Form’ (no coincidence that was the last track released), while much of the album sees EE persuing ballads in the vein of Man Alive’s ‘NASA Is On Your Side’. This yields mixed results. There are only 5 tracks that could be considered the Art-Pop that made up the majority of their debut, the rest are all variants on this balladic form. Some, like the orchestral ‘Duet’ and ‘Choice Mountain’ seem to echo other bands, the former touches very close to Coldplay while the latter wouldn’t have gone awry on Alt-J’s debut Album. They’re good songs, certainly better than the troughs of Man Alive, but not quite as good as the heights hit by the pop singles of ‘Cough Cough’ and latest release ‘Kemosabe’, whose nutty lyrics will satisfy long term EE fans.

However where this album really earns its stripes, and where it deserves to be called an improvement on their debut is when their ballads work. ‘Feet for Hands’ and ‘The House Is Dust’ are good, but ‘Radiant’, ‘Undrowned’ and ‘The Peaks’ are just majestic. With atmosphere’s that build beautifully to explode and unleash a torrent of musical awe, these songs rapidly became my favourites on the album, and earns Everything Everything their new direction. These ballads have a stronger permanency than the singles, however brilliant and mad, and canm have a much stronger emotional impact, even if they don’t give you that earworm of a whistly hook that ‘Schoolin” did.

The overarching theme of the record is some sort of technological apocalypse, picking off perhaps where Photoshop Handsome left off. ‘Undrowned’ sees frontman Jonathon Higgs’ trademark rapid-fire falsetto vocals deliver some deceptively relevant lyrics about modern Britain, only to close in an echo of Radiohead’s cult favourite ‘True Love Waits’, with a earnest plea of ‘Don’t leave’. ‘Radiant’ brings in enough of the art-pop to allow it’s monstrous nerdy cry of ‘I see a geiger counter / I see a richter scale’ to be genuinely terrifying, let alone it’s despairing chorus of ‘Go! Leave your homes! Take whatever you can! It’s no joke! It’s coming towards you.’ and just as the song fades Higgs drops in the line ‘I can make a difference so easy / I could make a difference but I don’t / Darling, I’m closing.’ It’s left to following track ‘The Peaks’ to gather it together, but all we get is what reads like a deity looking at the collapse of civilisation ‘And I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born / I’ve seen more towers come down than children grow up’, a couplet which twists in an even more horrific plea towards the song’s close. Why one of Britains most forward looking bands is so terrified of the future we’ll never know, although it should be mentioned that the undertones of ‘Cough Cough’, with it’s video footage of the London riots, might’ve been about some large impending doom to our society: ‘There’s something wrong but it’s okay if we’re still getting paid’.

And now they’re proving why I’ve been so intently calling this band Art-pop. You don’t have to think about these songs to enjoy them. The cries of ‘Yeah! So, Um? Wait a second!’ are catchy and fantastically fun (even though ‘Duet’ apes Coldplay, there’s no way Chris Martin would ever sing a line like ‘and of all the dead vocanoes on earth you just happened to retch and roll through mine’) and musically they’re just astounding to listen to, but these songs all carry some sort of emotional and intellectual weight too. It’s one of the hardest tricks to pull off but it’s the reason Everything Everything are so good and the reason this album works so well.

However, the album isn’t without it’s flaws. It’s a great shame that the title track is so transient. It would work better if it’s brief hook was more memorable, but it doesn’t quite have the effect it could which seems a missed opportunity, especially as giving it your album title makes listeners more keen to have it as the crux of the record. The record will never get a perfect score because only half the ballads are mind-blowing, the rest are merely average, which makes it all the more frustrating so few true pop songs make it on and that the three best of those all come right at the start. But by far the most frustrating thing is that the final song, ‘Don’t Try’, admittedly a great song, wastes the chance to have the sublime ‘The Peaks’ as the album closer. There would be few things more magnificent than having the last sounds on the album Higgs’ cry of ‘Tell me that my world is gone’. It’s so annoying to feel fully sated by an album, only to have a song pop up and ruin the perfect calm, although I can understand if Higgs and Co. wanted a slightly more upbeat ending, but if ‘Don’t Try’ had been slotted in around the equally good ‘Amourland’ it would definitely improve the overall feel of the record. Even without that change, it’s still a fantastic album, with some great emotional moments, but beyond that it’s also one of the most purely fun records I’ve heard in the last few years. I’ll leave you with what is probably the most fun song on Arc, ‘Torso Of The Week’, a wry look at our fitness obsession with a brilliant chorus.

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Who Will Make The Album Of 2013

So having just finished my end of year list way too late to have anyone care, I thought I’d get ahead of the game for once, and have a go at guessing which artist will make what would be the album of 2013. It’s clearly ridiculous, but it’s just a bit of fun, and also a way for me to bag some proper ‘I told you so’ rights in the coming year.

The Indie Rock Debut Contenders

Here we have the bands, championed by the NME and the odd critic out there for Indie Rock crown. The best of the bunch seem to be the following: Peace, Palma Violets, Savages and Haim. The latter just won the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll/list/whatnot, which should make them major players, but they don’t do anything for me. The songs are good and fun (their rendition of The Chanukah Song was a highlight of 6music’s Christmas playlist), but they sound too much like what my head thinks the 80s sound like. They are undoubtedly good, but not fresh enough to make an album that would stun. Palma Violets on the other hand are exactly that. Their lead single ‘Best of Friends’ was the NME’s song of 2012, they deftly signed to Rough Trade after never releasing any songs and having seen them live, the phrase ‘Fucking Amazing’ does spring to mind. But my main worry, is that they haven’t got enough songs of ‘Best of Friends’ caliber. ’14‘ and ‘Tom the Drum’ are songs that I do think rock, but don’t quite have the catchy power of BoF. Ultimately though, their secretism about releasing tracks will work in their favour, as it makes guessing this much harder, they could still come out and stun us.

Savages are in a tight bind. While probably my personal favourite of all four (how can you not love a post-punk band of Siouxsie meets Joy Division), they have one stonking track in ‘Husbands’ and a great sound. But I can’t help feeling they’ve rushed into the making of their album, especially as they have remained independent, on their own ‘Pop Noire’ label. They need to take the time, tour even more than they already have so that when they have a full album out, it will be packed with tight and infectious intense songs like ‘Husbands’, a poor record here could kill them early on.

So, my pick for the Indie Rock album of 2013 folks is Peace. Why, because unlike Palma Violets I know their other songs are awesome, I saw them live and know that they rule, and genuinly, every single track this band have put out, (all 8), is golden and that’s more songs than on a Springsteen album. All it takes is one more cheeky single that does something different around when release day for the album hits and they will have nailed it. Peace 4 2013. Rumours of a Rock Revolution are abounding, and are as stupid as they were the first time some hack journalist propagated them… Indie won’t be the place the music revolution will happen, it will be in POP…

The Pop Debut Contenders

Music is changing, and it’s not the way you think it will be. Rather than Indie wiping out stupid boring pop music for big men with guitars who sing about girls and drugs and leather jackets, it’s the Pop that will go Indie. Over the last couple years it’s become increasingly more acceptable for the #cool #indie #types to admit to being fans of pop music, or even hideously uncool pop acts, but 2012 is the first year where artists are properly combining Indie nous with Pop Power, giving a crossover power that will destroy all in their wake. The two new bands leading the charge are both British, one from Glasgow, and one from London. I talk of course, of two nominated for BBC’s poll as well, AlunaGeorge and Chvrches.

AlunaGeorge I’ve been aware of since early on in 2012, when they made me break my unwritten rule of not buying singles when I bought ‘You Know You Like It’ after hearing it on the radio. Something about its awesome production and catchy as hell chorus made me have to grab it. In other words, it worked exactly like pop singles are supposed to, except on twee indie types like myself. The follow-up single ‘You Know You Like It’ was even better, and again, I bought it. The band have nailed making interesting, arty music that can get the pop factor essentials absolutely right, and it’s why they really should have won Sound of 2013. Now with these 2 perfect singles, and a teaser clip for a new song that sounds great, and a sneaky chilled out one that sounds supercool, their album should be a shoe-in for a record that combines pop sales with Indie coolness.

I can’t really split between them and Chvrches for who is better. While AlunaGeorge are more slinky, more post-dubstep, Chvrches are full on synth-pop. The heavy, heavy tones of the synths allow vocalist Lauren Mayberry to plant sugary sweet melodies in your brain with a fantastic scottish accent that makes them especially shine out. Singles ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Lies’ are both impossible to forget, but also rewarding on repeated listens. Their album should devastate if they can even put out one more song as good as the previous two, and from interviews they all seem to have cool heads on their shoulders so it should be no problem. These two bands are just as likely as Peace to make the record of 2013, but so far all I’ve looked at is new bands…

Established Band Contenders

Leading the pack of bands that have already put out albums in Foals. The main single ‘Inhaler’ sounds like someone took their ambient selves from previous album Total Life Forever and trapped them in a room with 1993 era Soundgarden until they were prepared to RAWK. Mighty riffs and screaming vocals make it a breath of fresh air in dainty indie land. Being still the darlings of the press, they have enough about them to make an album that can surprise and twist even if other single ‘My Number’ is just a bit ok.

They will probably be trumped though, if current biggest Alt band in the world besides Radiohead, Arcade Fire, manage to beat the turn of the new year with their as yet unconfirmed but being worked on fourth album. It’s estimated for late 2013, or early 2014, and considering they have put out 3 records of era defining quality, it should seem an easy game for them to take album of the year, especially with James Murphy at the helm of production. But Yorke and pals could have revenge with Atoms for Peace‘s debut album Amok. Only single ‘Default’ was pretty awesome and live footage keeps emerging that finally makes sense of how someone as physical as Flea fits into a sound as odd as the one Yorke creates. Arguably this could even sound better than Radiohead’s last LP which left a lot of people very cold with its Caribou stylings.

A group of assorted older bands will be making ventures into 2013, among them Mudhoney, Eels, Pearl Jam, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but most asonishingly My Bloody Valentine, who have claimed the new album is actually finally mastered, only 22 years after their last was released! Some of Indie’s less hype-intensive small groups are also due to be making 2013 inroads, Everything Everything hope to follow fantastic single ‘Cough Cough’ with a quality album, Local Natives have been gathering a cult following throughout 2012, and thi smight be their breakthrough year, while band-that-I-just-heard-on-the-radio Villagers have a very nice single out in leiu of their album due out in 4 days. Good for them.

But in all honesty, if I know myself, if won’t be Peace, AlunaGeorge, Atoms for Peace or Chvrches that turn out album of the year. It will be some weird act that I’d never heard of until mid-July who emerge from nowhere with a completely different sound. And that’s not a bad thing, the internet and the disfigured shape of the music industry mean that any odd record can wind its way into your hands, and it means that taste doesn’t have to be so tribal, we can like what we like. That said, I’m still humming ‘Lies’ by Chvrches, so you can probably count them as favourites.

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