Friday, 29 July 2016

Viola Beach // Viola Beach - Review

When a Viola Beach album was announced, I was in two minds as to whether this was a good thing to happen. When the band were taken away from their family, friends and listeners, it seemed unlikely that we would be listening to an album now. However, having heard that they had already recorded a 5 or 6 track EP along with the 3 songs released already, it would only be fitting to hear the album. It's what they would have wanted.

It just so happens the album is full of catchy riffs, positive lyrics - and a slightly softer, lonelier side that I had never expected them to have. 'Call You Up' is a sombre tale of keeping in touch with someone that does not want to keep in touch with you, and making plans of wasting away with someone. Despite being called out by other sites as the weak link of the album, I would discard those comments. A lot of bands with this indie sound, that we've heard similar vibes from the likes of Peace and Two Door Cinema Club, fail to show variety and a softer side. They've done it from their first EP - now this album - and you have to give the band credit for that.

Elsewhere on the album, 'Really Wanna Call' is a hawaiian-tinged tale of a popular girl. Cliched, but it's personal to them and should be respected. The vocal delivery is perhaps more personal and accent-soaked then their previously heard material, which highlights how they want to sound different and themselves. They aren't copying anyone here, they are Viola Beach. Kris, the lead singer, had explained to his mum Lisa that Viola Beach did not represent a real place, but a place where happy thoughts can bloom. This album encapsulates that, and has been put together to enshrine their optimism for the world to listen to for years to come. Positivity is something we should all value as a personal trait in the hostile and uncertain times we live in.

The obvious highlights of the album are the previously heard trio of 'Swings and Waterslides', 'Like a Fool' and 'Boys That Sing'. Coldplay's tribute to the latter song was a fantastic reminder of how little credit small bands get - it is unlikely Viola Beach would be as known as they are today had they not suffered their tragic fate. This is something that I hope can change, as Coldplay do not need an interview or article written about their next album in NME, the next Viola Beach do, however.

If you have the money, go out a buy the album and stream it on whatever platform you use. The more money that goes towards the River Reeves Foundation, set up by the family of Viola Beach's lead guitarist River Reeves, the better. The rating is not just because what has happened to them is sad, it is for the music and the people that made it. Enjoy, and best of luck to the family.


Check out: the whole album!


Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Neighbourhood // Roundhouse, London - Live Review

When I went to see The Neighbourhood on Monday night, I had certain expectations. To be honest, I set them quite low. Not in such a way to say that I heard bad things about them live, or that I don't like the band - I'm a huge fan of their music - but it relative to the sounds on their album. Their guitars are tonally perfect and very specified, whether it is the soaring, eering leads found on the first album, or the trebly acoustic found on the second album. I also knew Jesse, lead singer, had a tendency to improvise on his delivery and even the lyrics. Quite a lot of their music relies upon the melody from him, so I was hoping he would stick to what is necessary and vary on what he could.

I turned out to be correct in my expectations. But let's start with the support first. Kevin Abstract was, well, abstract. I didn't enjoy his set, but then he was there to appeal to the crowd the band had drawn through their mixtape and r'n'b flavours, and not through their guitar-based work. The crowd enjoyed it, so there is that I guess. MOTHXR were another beast entirely, and were pleasant to listen to. They sounded almost like a less confident 1975, with a less obnoxious singer, with low-volume vocals. Having listened to the recordings, I can only assume he doesn't possess quite the standard of live voice as delivered on the record. Which is a shame, as songs like 'Touch' and 'Stranger' sounded fantastic, particularly in regards to guitar. The drums were very generic, and the bassist played with his back to the audience for the majority of the set. The band mentioned several times they were playing their own show the next day, and as they have been on Twitter, which is all good and well as long as the performance is not detracted - which it seemed like it was, sadly.

Then came the main act. The sound quality was much more balanced, with the vocals clearer and louder - and Jesse definitely delivered. Throughout the set, he delivered perhaps half of the vocal lines as they were on the record, and particularly liked to sing off-beat and at a different pace. The newer stuff, less so, which I appreciated, as did the audience. The strange omission of second single 'The Beach' indicated to me that he didn't want to sing as high pitch as he does in the chorus on that song, and throughout the set he rarely hit high notes, or attempted to. When he did, he did them with ease and elegance. It's a shame he didn't do this more.

Aside from the missing 'The Beach' and a mild dip in tempo early on due to a song off the mixtape and 'Baby Came Home', one of their first ever songs, the music flowed, oozing in quality. 'Cry Baby' sounded just right, with enough bass to satisfy an arena, but in the Roundhouse. There has to be a special mention for their session musician, who even had the guitar shone on him during 'Sweater Weather' as he played the acoustic guitar part towards the end. Throughout the night he played some underlying bass or acoustic guitar that wasn't by any means lead, but supplemented the music the band was playing. I am a huge fan of the guitar work both guitarists do, as they sound ambient but driven at times and I have a passion for that. Zach's acoustic guitar was far overpowered in some songs later on, particularly 'Baby Came Home 2', which must surely be a levelling error.

The best moments perhaps came unexpectedly. 'Wiped Out!' could be argued to be the weakest song off the album with the same name, yet sounded fantastic live. The guitar was louder, and the drums in the transition to the end were brilliant, with a fantastic light show highlighting the drummer too. The lighting throughout the gig was effective and not too much. However, having seen clips of the light show and stage setup they had in America, it is a bit disappointing to not see it over here. Perhaps they should have done a tour like this for a little cheaper (£17.50 is a great price for a touring band from America!), and then this autumn come back with the full stage setup. It is worth nothing that they have done a fair few tours already in the UK, and they are only on their second album. After opting to spell their name the UK way, it only seems fair.

Before the gig, I sat next to two business in a restaurant who were talking about the band. They were surprised at the huge queues for the band, which long went past the 7pm doors opening, so clearly were not aware of the fanbase or the recent trends in gigs. One of them looked up reviews for their album, and stumbled across Rolling Stone giving the band 2/5. "2/5!", he exclaimed. The other fellow replied "Rolling Stone? They're old hat, has beens." It was with that I realised the Neighbourhood was unlikely to gain any fans after tonight if they were not hugely into them, and secondly that they thought the magazine was run by the band. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I left them be and saw them at the end absolutely slaughtered, with smiles all around. Maybe they are fans now? All I know is, the gig was a perfect way for them to end the tour, and perhaps start thinking about where to go next on a third album.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Interview: FREAK

I first heard about new Chelmsford artist FREAK through a good friend of mine, Linn Branson over at Little Indie. I noticed he posted a photo about having a live band ready, after recording, producing and mastering his first EP all by himself. I recognised the place - it was the same studio I had used myself to record my first EP with Flares. After getting in touch with 18-year-old FREAK, real name Connar Ridd, I had a little interview with him recently. Have a read below and make sure you check out his recent EP, 'What Happened?".

Hello Connar, how are you firstly?

Hey Harry, yeah I'm good thanks, yourself?

I'm good, too! How would you describe your first EP to those that haven't heard it yet?

I'd describe my EP as a mix between rock and indie. It would appeal most to people who like music with an edge, that is pretty angry! If you like Nirvana, METZ, Artic Monkeys and Red Hot Chili Peppers then you should definitely give it a listen!

I am a big fan of what I've heard from you so far, and couldn't believe it when I saw Card Trick Studios on my timeline from you! Do you feel proud that Chelmsford is becoming the new Birmingham, with Rat Boy surging into the limelight too?

Chelmsford is wicked, how could someone not love a bit of Chelmo?! I think Chelmsford has a great music scene. There are so many bands playing the Asylum or Bassment that are really good, so it wouldn't surprise if more bands from here got attention!

Do you have any plans for more material in the near future, or is the album next?

I have already written my new song, which may be re-recorded professionally and then released as a single. Other than that, I have a lot of ideas, and whenever I have the time to write and record them I will! An album won't be out this year, perhaps mid next year, but that is all really far ahead! At the moment, I'm just focusing on getting three or four other songs ready to perform live with my band and get recorded.

Any festival dates or tour dates you could tell us about?

We are not looking to play any gigs or festivals. Me and the band are practising a lot, and when I feel we are ready in a few weeks then we will start thinking about getting some gigs lined up, but at the moment, it's all a bit too soon despite how much we would like too!

Where do you see yourself in a year's time?

In a years time... that's a hard one! In a years time, I'd hope to have had more people listening to my music and checking out the social media pages. I'd love to being playing a lot of gigs all over the country as well! In terms of songs, I would like to have written a large pool of them from which I can look at, and try to figure out what to do with - whether that be an album, EP or just more singles!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The 1975 // I Like It When You Sleep... - Review

Matt Healy is easily the most obnoxious, yet talented, person in music at the moment. If they had it their way, you wouldn't listen to any other band, as their injection into the media spotlight has been lethal and predictable. With a bucket full of panache, they've chucked their entire talent and wordy-lexicon onto a canvas. That has presented itself has the album, with a can't-believe-he-convinced-the-rest-of-the-band-that-this-was-a-good-idea title: 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it'. Make of that what you wish, but let it be known that it being lowercase is a travesty.

The first track after the intro, geniously titled 'The 1975', is 'Love Me'. It invites people to criticise him, as he criticises the media and society - something I really welcome. He talks of declining standards of what we accept, which is meant in both musical terms and in the UK. He references the Kardashians in the lyrics ("caught up in fashion, Karcrashian panache and a bag of bash for passion" is a fantastic lyric to hear), and David Bowie's 'Fame' and 'Fashion' in the guitar and overall 80s feel to the song. It's a great introduction to the new, slightly more pop sound that the band have clearly worked hard on.

'UGH!' is next, with an infectious guitar line that invites you in and continues throughout the whole song, as Matt muses over, again, what he hates about the media and his own demons and struggles with drugs. The subject matter isn't really hidden in this if you can get past his sometimes obtuse delivery in chunks of lyrical content, which does not happen on the first listen. Unlike with 'A Change of Heart', which slows the pace considerably, talking about how small breasts can be an issue in a relationship, and how taking photos of salads and putting them online is a bit shit. The girl in the narrative says to the recipient they "look like shit and smell a bit", and used to look like a face of a magazine, now just looks like anyone. It's a lugubrious tale indeed, and the simplest song on the album musically and to understand, similar to the later track dedicated to his grandmother, 'Nana'. The lyrics are touching, and reference his view on heaven, but nonetheless wishes she could hear him.

Elsewhere on the album, tracks like 'She's American' and 'The Sound' advance the sound of the first LP from the band. The guitar is catchy, almost copying what riffs they've done before. Challenging his own issues once more on 'She's American', he references his own breakdown on stage in 2014 where people commented that he'd lost it. The song acts as a self-referential come down from a massive drug binge. 'The Sound' attacks - and quotes in it's brilliant music video - it's critics from the first album. A positive and uplifting song about love in the chorus, is interspersed by comments during a relationship with someone who hates his shoes and his tunes, but still would move in. The brilliant thing is that all the quotes in the songs lyrics over the album are probably direct quotes, and someone has actually said all these ridiculous things.

The best moments on the album come from when they bravely try to advance some of their edgier aspects to the band. The synthetic sounds found on 'M.O.N.E.Y' and 'Menswear' are brought back with plenty of electronic drums and saxophone in a delicious blend of music input on 'If I Believe You'. It's truly fantastic, and provides, within the first five tracks, a huge amount of variety already, more so than other bands would have over an entire album or career. The following interlude, 'Please Be Naked', acts as a statement of intent with piano throughout and odd samples of what sounds like coffee cups being crushed and doors being shut. It presents itself as "please be naked, I am fantastic at what I do, listen to this", which is just what you expect from the frontman of a band that is outrageous and intelligent, with a screw loose. How convenient of a description, as 'Lostmyhead' follows, continuing an annoying pattern they have to put their finger up to grammar and forget about spaces and/or capitalization (// T H E I R  T W I T T E R  I S  P A I N F U L //). The song threatens to never get started, and just as it does, withdraws from existence.

'Loving Someone' is the arguably the best moment, in a large collection of 'moments', on the album. The collection of sounds that backup his near rap delivery provide a backbone for the message of loving someone. It sounds like their contemporaries 'The Neighbourhood' who they toured with a few years back, but it sounds just like they should be sounding all the time - unique. The title track provides several acts worth of nursery style music, but made for gigs, and clubs later on in the song, embodying the lovely message the title brings with it.

Before this review becomes as long as the 75-minute album, it can be said this is a brilliant collection of pop-alt songs. The singles sustain the album, it has to be stated, as otherwise it is a large collection of sounds that don't corroborate with the art they try to portray. Ignoring all the annoying media frenzy - and PR issues I have encountered with the band - this is well worth the time you would need to invest to digest this cynical album. This won't reinvent the wheel, as they clearly so wish they could do, but it can be laughed at, yawned at or danced to all at the same time. Both brilliant and boring in places, how many times can you say that about music?


'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it' is out now (although, rather annoyingly, not on Spotify until March the 11th).

Check out: Love Me // Loving Someone // Nana

Friday, 12 February 2016

Ocean Flaws // Dancing To The Fear - Review

Ocean Flaws have finally released their debut EP after a year of hard work. I interviewed the band over at The Verse, which you can read here, and have had the pleasure of having their 'Dancing To The Fear' EP for a week. Read on to see what I think of the band's release.

The EP kicks off with 'Intro', and provides an insight into the ambition of the band and what you're about to listen to for 18 minutes. Saxophone and reverb-heavy guitar starts off before a more piercing guitar comes into focus. The treble-heavy guitar and behind the pickup guitar play is welded together by some light drums before the first main track starts.

Mojo kicks off the album with a fantastic intro full of layered sounds. Whether it is the phaser guitar, the drums or the vocals - there is something to enjoy on this track. The backing vocals are a real addition to the track, as is the varied guitar in each verse, adding a sense of creativity often avoided with copy and pasted guitar work. Freedom always produces great lead guitar, and this is a fantastic example of that. The drums by no means are your normal indie drums, as they quicken at the right moment and take a backseat just when they need to. The build up is fantastic towards the last chorus, with the pedal twiddling guitar delay creating another layer to add to the song.

Having already heard 'Like a Fool' years ago, at first it was disappointing to see it make a reappearance. However, they have done a superb job of it. It may seem lazy to redo an old song, but there is sufficient evidence here to say this was not a quick rework of the song. Anyone who has been to see them live will know they have been reworking the song ever since release, improving it part by part. The bass is far more prominent and superior to the original bass lines, and the vocals are delivered more confidently, with emphasis on key lines throughout the verses. You can check out the video to the song below, shot at a school very close to home:

The title track, 'Dancing To The Fear', is a slower number from the band. Starting with harmonic guitar and a large helping of reverb, the vocals come in with a tale of liberation. The drums thump as they introduce themselves. Vocals are at the forefront of the track, and it makes a bold statement by the band. As guitar strum their way through the second verse, the track comes into its own just before the 3-minute mark with some delicate guitar reminiscent of The Maccabees 'Given To The Wild'. This is a great example of how music does not have to be full to the brim of lyrics all the time, or even drums or using all the members of the bands strings. The song ends as it begins, rounding off my personal favourite track of the EP.

Recently unveiled, 'Silver Screen' would not be out of place au cinĂ©ma. Bass starts the song, and then drums begin to take part. The vocals are probably the weakest on the album for me right at the start, but the guitar is teasing bigger things as the drums plod along in the background. The bridge is fantastic - hinting at the chorus, before pulling back to a guitar line that Foals wish they had written. They'll be jealous as fuck, this song is catchy.

Not once does this EP try to copy each anyone else, or even copy their past as 'The Shermans'. This is a promising sign of a new direction, and I wish them all the best. There is no self-indulgent bullshit that big bands like The 1975 and Kanye West can get away with, and I'm sure they will be the first to say they don't plan to ever to do that.

I really hope these guys go far, as they truly deserve it, and this EP is evidence of that.


'Dancing To The Fear' is out now.

Check out: Mojo // Dancing To The Fear