Tag Archives: folk

Low Duo – Dive and Slide into the Blue – Review

Charming lo-fi folk from two Sheffield brothers.

Low Duo - Press photo

Low Duo are, unsurprisingly a duo of brothers from Sheffield. Their music fits vaguely into the genre of alt-folk, alongside other lo-fi luminaries like Sparklehorse and Elliott Smith and this record certainly matches their gloomy aesthetics. This is the debut album for the group and it follows three fantastically named EPs (Hope and Despair, Fear and Failure, and Truth and Regret) which give you an idea of the level of melancholy we are dealing with.

The bands greatest strength is its commitment to minimalism. Each song is really only two layers, a vocal and a guitar, the latter of which is generally acoustic, and when it isn’t it is rough and ragged, like on opener ‘Keep Your Sparkle in the Pain’. The effect is unsettling, and aligns with a lot of the creepy themes running through the record. Most songs have a reference to death and/or pain and constantly use animals as a crucial part of their imagery, as in ‘Eagle’ below.

This focus on nature and fits the extreme lo-fi recording style, the band sound wild, with all the earnestness, calm and savagery that that would imply. It’s what Bon Iver’s debut album might have sounded like had he not been obsessed with girls and instead run naked through the woods every day.

According to the band the album is about ‘putting yourself back together’ and there is optimism tucked away amongst the overwhelming gloom. They manage to capture the Sparklehorsian trick of finding beauty in the dirt, as with ‘Born In To A Spider’ that is simultaneously skin-crawling and tender.

The album isn’t perfect, at only 8 tracks, none of which run longer that 3:09, it feels far too transient for a true debut LP. It also suffers from its maker’s devotion to lo-fi recording: none of the songs ever feel truly powerful. They pull off tender and bare very well, but there is no obvious single and nothing that jumps out on first listen.

The true highlight however is album closer ‘Bloodhound, where singer Leigh Greenwood lets his voice drop below its usual high tone, and it offers a more calm and reflective take on love’s brutality. The gentler approach really pays off to match the lyrics, and some delicate ooh-ing results in a nice earworm to take from the album’s end.

Click to go and listen to it

Dive and Slide into the Blue came out a couple weeks ago, and I should’ve reviewed it a while ago, I’m sorry. As penance, please accept these links to the bands facebook, soundcloud and bandcamp, where you can buy their album for as little as £2, which is very generous.

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Lucy Rose – Like I Used To – Review

Surprisingly good debut album from former Bombay Bicycle Club backing singer.

It would be easy to dismiss this album. Just another female singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar and a nice voice, playing radio-friendly, late afternoon coffee shop music, ready to be forgotten by the end of the month. But what actually emerges deserves comparison with another, similarly situated singer, Lianne La Havas. Like La Havas, Rose has been well supported by radio plays, and widely known for a long time before her album was even announed. For La Havas this was thanks to a show-stealing performance on Jools Holland, while Rose has honed her trade working with Bombay Bicycle Club, first on Flaws and then throughout A Different Kind of Fix. But unlike La Havas’ album, which was overwrought and less impressive than her Jools performance, Like I Used To is well structured and entertaining enough to warrant immediate second playthroughs and definitely removes her from the shadow of BBC.

Whether or not you will like this album depends pretty much entirely on whether you like Lucy Rose’s voice. Somewhere between Laura Marling and BBC frontman Jack Steadman, it warbles delicately over the top of acoustic guitar lines, and while being bit, yes, twee, it is very effective and carries the songs well. She apparently sells tea at her live shows, which will for some be a sort of ‘I told you so’ revelation, and there is definitely something provincial in the album, which, combined with the fact the album was recorded at her home and village hall, gives the record an sort of homely feel to it. What saves it from being just that dreaded put down of the critic – ‘nice’ – is the songwriting. Take lead single ‘Lines’, what could be a simple, delicate ballad becomes a fascinating song, with syncopated guitar parts and an unexpected gear shift into the chorus and then a shift up again for a rousing bridge. To top it all off the verse is in 7/4 which to my drummers ears is confirmation of a talent beyond what could have been her pigeonhole, and singles her out among acoustic artists, just as BBC’s 10/4 ‘Emergency Contraception Blues’ put them a foot above the standard indie plodder.

The flow of the album is something Rose has got perfectly right. There are just the right amount of songs so that the album never becomes boring, and each tender moment is countered by something more upbeat to prevent it being too samey. Songs like ‘Night Bus‘ and ‘Middle of the Road‘ show off Rose’s ability to write moving songs, while ‘Bikes’ and ‘Watch Over‘ provide the album with its happier, poppier moments, the latter containing little hints of Steadman’s Bombay stylings that will please fans crossing over between the two. Thankfully, this is the only moment reminding us of the connection. The overall theme of the album seems to be the past and adolescence. This is hinted at by the title, and album closer ‘Be Alright’ is be a brilliant moment where Rose effectively closes off this topic. Lyrically it reflects on love and relationships as you would probably expect, and it does it well, there’s never a grating lyric like many youthful acoustic bands suffer from.

As a debut this is highly promising. At its best it recalls the better folk/pop artists of the past in Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and even occasionally Cat Power. It isn’t without its Flaws (teehee its a reference), the variation is mostly contained as parts within each song, and it would be nicer to have one track where the sound is more experimental, although that was what became a major problem with the La Havas album. The album tracks have yet to really stand out from the singles and this could be a problem, but only time can tell as any one of them could be my favourite song by next week for all I know. What annoys me more is that like La Havas’ album it has a rubbish cover that does the music a disservice, but whatever.

Lucy Rose Like I Used To

While its critics might dismiss Like I Used To as the latest in a line of forgettable nu-folk, in reality it is a surprisingly strong record showing off a musical ability far beyond many of her peers, and deserving of repeated plays. The standout track by a country mile is track no. 4, ‘Shiver’. Anyone who fails to be moved by it has to be one cold-hearted bastard, one look at the long line of youtube cover versions will tell you of its instant appeal.

I am indebted to her performance for Chris ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins on 6music at the ungodly hours of the morning for finally persuading me to get the album after a week or so of appreciating the singles. It’s well worth checking out here (there’s only 1 day left so hurry).

Lucy Rose can be found on facebook, twitter, youtube and the internet as well as in the background of Bombay Bicycle Club songs.

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Heronshaw EP Launch – Review

Portsmouth band reach new heights (groan)

So on the 31st August I headed down to by far the most impressive venue for a gig I have ever seen: The Spinnaker Tower. The reason I was there was to see Portsmouth band Heronshaw release their debut EP, The Truth, It Hurts. The sharply dressed crowd ascended a full 100 metres upwards, we were treated to a pretty stunning view of the whole of Portsmouth by night, and one very fitting for a band raised there, and playing what could be their last gig on home turf before the core of the band relocates to London and university.

But before they could take to the very impressive stage, positioned directly in front of the terrifying glass floor, it was time for the opening acts. First up was Cherrelle Jefferson, playing a set of pop covers that culminated in a rousing rendition of ‘Call Me Maybe’ as the crowd tried to pretend that it didn’t know all the words. Supported by a jazzy keyboard and electro-acoustic guitar, Cherrelle closed her set with a version of her debut single ‘Girlfriend’, which became an entirely different beast to the recorded version, below.

Next was Fifi Smart. She opened with ‘Hazy’, moving into a new as-yet untitled song before playing a completely acapella version of (the Jeff Buckley version of) Lilac Wine that earnt rapturous applause from the growing audience. Fifi had picked tonight to release her debut solo single ‘Only He‘, unquestionably her most mature song to date, and so for the performance of it she brought on guest Anna Roberts to play Cello and provide backing vocals. It was a great move and helped make the live sound closer to the layers found on the record. She then closed with a cheesy as hell cover of Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’, as an apology for not playing anything happy, and actually managed to get a bit of a sing-a-long going, against all good reason.

So the time came for Heronshaw to take to the stage, as people braved the glass floor to get closer to the action and Mr Brightside pumped out of the PA. Wasting no time they launched straight into the opening song off their brand new EP, and my my personal favourite of their tracks, ‘Moving On, Moving Up’. It’s a raucous belter and the band more than do it justice when they play it. Just before they went on stage I managed to grab a couple words with lead singer Tom, and his comments about just wanting to go out on a big bang after the extraordinary effort the band and those helping have put in with the EP and setting up the show are clearly evident in the energy the band have on the stage. There’s a youthful energy thats very strongly reminiscent of early Gomez when they produced the album that won the Mercury Music Award, especially in the chorus of “so get out of my face” that is just cheeky enough to pull off.

They then follow that up with a very bluesy duo of their own song ‘Bluesy Swordsfish’ and a cover of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ that shows off some very cool piano skills. From then on the set shifts from the raucous bluesy/americana sound to a more grounded pop/rock vibe indebted to the Coldplay / Mumford school of modern music. The band is a five piece of two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist and a front man on vocals, keys or guitar. It should also be mentioned that their vocal harmonies are something to be envious of, as they are phenomenally tight and they manage to be kept up perfectly when they really rock out.

As the set enters its second half the band shows off the other two songs that feature on the EP, ‘Arms Length’, and ‘Open Sea’. Inbetween them is ‘India’ which can be seen above and showcases a more folky side to the band and features some tasty harmonica work. ‘Open Sea’ is the last original the band play and is built up hugely with all the band members driving away as the song gets bigger and bigger and the harmonies are roared. They close with two equally epic covers, ending on a version of ‘Hey Ya’ that is completely successful at getting the entire tower singing along.

Heronshaw - The Truth, It Hurts

Click the picture to go and download it

As the band starta to stagger off, no one quite believes it, and when the chant of encore gets going the band quickly reclaimed their places for a romp through Mumford and Sons’ ‘Little Lion Man’ which they played suitably epicly to close what was an immense night out.

As I and my gig companion Ralph sprint across Gunwharf Quays to catch the last train back to Winchester by exactly 50 seconds, we have just enough time to reflect upon the gig and we agree it was mightily impressive. Heronshaw gave a fitting end to their time in Portsmouth, 100 metres above the town in which they began. It’s a perfect way to start what Tom described as “the next chapter in our bandship”.

You can buy the EP ‘The Truth, It Hurts’ by clicking the artwork above, or go to the pages for Heronshaw on facebook, twitter or youtube. For a choice range of pictures from the night, check out this album by photographer Jack MacNally.

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