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Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Cutback – Patriotism Is Not A Dirty Word
January 24, 2011

Awhile ago we reviewed Cutback’s single release “Audio Suicide”. The rock band from the UK now returns with a full-length album called “Patriotism Is Not A Dirty Word”.

The band has grown since the release of “Audio Suicide”. While they already portrayed a lot of energy the energy is now more channeled and the songs sound smoother and slicker and therefore come off more convincing.

The songs are powerful and entertaining and get your juices flowing. The opener Fix is like a plane’s turbo engines blasting the energy right through you and sets the tone for the album quite well. They follow with the radio-friendly One Last Time, which is a familiar song for those who already listened to the single last year. The infectious tempo and the strong work on the drums by Karl Jagger gives this song a powerful and energetic feel that works really well for this band.

Other songs that should be mentioned are the power anthem Breathe which is more paced down and is a good example of the increased vocal control of vocalist Chris Sammacicci, but also the punky 17 and the indie-rocker Fire, which may very well be the band’s breakout song. Good vocals, excellent guitar work and pounding drums. And with the heavy infusion of indie bands into mainstream radio in the past 5 years it’s hard to find new talent, but with that song, Cutback may have very well found justification to have their name known by a much, much wider audience. The rest of the album is of a good quality as well, with another impressive track (Sunrise) to close out the disc.

I was intrigued when I heard “Audio Suicide” but with the new release, “Patriotism Is Not A Dirty Word”, Cutback delivers on their promise. In less than a year, they show real growth and improvement and with a solid album and a few excellent songs (Fire in particular) they are ready to take it to the next level!

 

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Fearless Vampire Killers – In Grandomina [EP]
December 16, 2010

Fearless Vampire Killers is a band from London trying to ride along on the success of bands like My Chemical Romance, The Used and HIM. And while the “In Grandomina” EP features a couple songs with catchy hooks the songs lack depth and substance to really convince.

Even at first listen, a song like Faces In The Dirt sounds like something of MCR’s “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge”. The single Palace In Flames sounds quite promising with more suspense in the build up but after a few listens it gets quite pretentious and it gets in the way of the song.

The instrumental interval is no more than just that and the self-titled closer is a track you easily forget. The best track on the EP is without a doubt Don Teriesto which shows creativity and originality. On basis of this track alone I give Fearless Vampire Killers the benefit of the doubt.

Because they execute the songs well, it’s just that the songs themselves aren’t strong enough to warrant a feeling of enormous excitement, except for Don Teriesto. The fantasy world of Grandomina that is portrayed in the songs corresponds with a fictional story the band’s lead singer sells as a package with the EP. I’m sure this is a good fit but I judged the music on its own merits.

So yeah, there’s definitely a talent in this group, but they need to find a sound that is more original, a sound that is more of their own than of the bands in the same genre/the bands that influence them. If they manage to do that, and their songwriting can grow along with that, there is a real future for them. If they can’t manage to do that, it’ll be a long, hard road.

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Cherry Ghost – Beneath This Burning Shoreline
July 5, 2010

“Beneath This Burning Shoreline”, the sophomore release by Cherry Ghost. I remember seeing this band open for Crowded House, being impressed by their musical arrangements and sincerity. I then listened to “Thirst For Romance” and I knew Cherry Ghost was a band that too few people had heard of.

Now “Beneath This Burning Shoreline” is released and there is one word that comes to mind. Confidence. The band is not doing things differently so much, but they are just doing it better and even more convincingly. The songs are carefully constructed with deeper layers, complex arrangements and often heavier themes. The songs sound experienced and at times quite moody, but they are always accessible and exciting.

Opening track We Sleep On Stones immediately starts that trend and indie gems like Only A Mother, Black Fang and Diamond In The Grind show the class of this band that hasn’t yet broke through to the general public.

The truly creative and impressive British indierock bands have a tendency of not being noticed early on. Look at bands like Elbow, Guillemots, Doves, etc. and even The Verve & Supergrass if you are willing to go back in time a little bit. It’s not like they were noticed early on. Or not really at least. And in a way, it’s part of the charm of these bands. Not being in the limelight of pop music’s center stage allows them to do what they do best, make excellent music that is filled with excitement and class.

Cherry Ghost is still growing. They debuted strong with “Thirst for Romance” but made enormous steps on “Beneath This Burning Shoreline”. The pieces are falling into place and so do the songs on this album. One of the more impressive albums of 2010. I would urge you to listen to A Month of Mornings and Black Fang at least as those should definitely get airplay in the year(s) to come. The band’s debut may have been a surprise, but “Beneath This Burning Shoreline” is a confirmation and it’s an album that definitely has longevity written all over it.

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Ian Britt – BOX
Spring/Summer 2010

Ian Britt, a singer/songwriter from the UK with soothing vocals and a good ear for melody. A friend of mine recently mentioned he is about to release a new album and I kept scratching the back of my mind to remember where I heard his name before. A month later I realized I’d actually seen this guy open for Milow awhile back. So that was one mystery solved.

I went back and looked at my recap of that show, and while I didn’t write too much about his support, it seemed like I categorized it as pleasant and promising but not quite there yet. In the past few weeks I went back to Britt’s previous work. His debut full-length “One Day I” has a few interesting songs on it, and songs like Conquer The World and Life Ain’t Made showed real promise, but as a whole, the album was fine, not superbly memorable. The EPs Britt released in the following years (“Big Light” & “What Ilk?”) were definitely more solid as a whole, and songs like The Shape of Us…, Instincts… and Lost & Won were actually quite convincing. So I was very curious for “BOX”, hoping the progression and consistency are still continuing.

And right from the start, “BOX”  has a convincing, complete sound that balances between a more traditional singer/songwriter approach and a more upbeat radio pop/rock feel. On his previous albums Britt already showed he puts effort in his songwriting. A well written song is the basis of his work, and that hasn’t changed. He’s just become a lot more consistent and with a couple years of experience under his belt he’s become a stronger musician.

Lead off track Back Home is infectious, acoustic rock that lends itself excellently for foot tapping and humming along. And the album features a few more of these songs (Walk Alone, Boom Boom) but while these songs are quite good and a lot of fun, Britt’s real strength lies in the passionately performed singer/songwriter songs like Me & My Friend Cupid, Run Lola Run, Crazy Jane and the beautiful Pretty Little Flowers. The beautiful arrangements and personal delivery of these songs create a more direct connection between artist and listener, which is exactly why Ian Britt nailed it on this new release of his. More than before he is playing to his strengths and his beautiful, honest, direct lyrics and melodies are coming across perfectly because of it.

I am not entirely certain who Britt would list as his main influences musically but listening to BOX I would say there is some Paul Simon, Nick Drake, Steve Miller and a touch of James Taylor in there. Maybe it’s just me making these connections, but I think it gives you somewhat of an idea in what spectrum of the genre one could place Ian Britt. There is a new generation of singer/songwriters (Ben Howard, Joey Ryan, Alli Rogers, Milow, Josh Ritter, etc.) that writes pop songs with the same sincerety and connectivity as those artists did. And I would most definitely list Britt in that same category.

“BOX” is a strong effort, and where Britt was making progress on his previous EPs, he did not just take another step forward on this album, no, I would say he actually leapt forward, because “BOX” is a an album filled with beautiful songs that fit together well and yet have enough variety to keep your attention throughout the whole album. It doesn’t become too much of the same and there are new things to discover after several listens. I said it before, but 2010 is a good year for the singer/songwriters, and Ian Britt’s “BOX” is another confirmation of that.

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Goldfrapp – Head First
March 19, 2010

Goldfrapp made a little side step into a more folky, breezy arena with “The Seventh Tree” but with their new album “Head First” they are reinventing themselves. They did synthpop before, but this new album is nothing like their older work. It starts of with the dancefloor single Rocket which will be in my head for another couple of weeks.

The whole first half album is filled with clever beats, driving synths and underlying melodies that may just have their roots in 80s pop music. Apart from the excellent opening track, the ABBA-influenced Alive would instantly win them the Eurovision Songfestival. And also on the title track Goldfrapp seems to channel a little ABBA. But enough with the ABBA mentions. Goldfrapp defines themselves musically. And you can really hear that on excellent tracks like Hunt (sounds more mysterious, and in a strange way seductive) and the surprisingly persistent I Wanna Life.

I’m not known for my love for synthpop, even though I really do enjoy it from time to time, as long as it’s done right. And you can’t do it much more right than Goldfrapp on “Head First”. It’s consistent, it’s strong and the album really is a tribute to pop music. Not in the least to the music on the album itself.

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Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
March 1, 2010

This band from Scotland is back after a 3 year album drought. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a little lighter, and one might even say more civil, than the band’s previous release. The increased accessibility and pop sensibility may open a window for Frightened Rabbit to reach out to a wider and more mainstream audience.

I am certain some fans will criticize this move, but I think it’s done quite well. Yes, the record is a little more polished and it’s not as rough around the edges, it doesn’t paint the same stark picture that we got used to while listening to “The Midnight Organ Fight”, but it still sounds most certainly like Frightened Rabbit.

And that some of the songs are a little more upbeat or anthemic, I think, sounds like a very natural progression or musical evolution of the band. They are maturing and coming into their own as a band. You can hear this progression in the single Swim Until You Can’t See Land, which would light up my radio like a Christmas tree, because it sounds enough like other bands from the UK to be picked up by that medium but at the same time it is way more original than the bulk of these alternative pop bands cranking out radio singles that start to sound like one another. Thankfully Frightened Rabbit hasn’t fell into that same traphole yet.

And the album continues with more nifty pieces of music like Skip The Youth, which is great in its contrast and intense build-up (the song’s finale is pretty epic), the brazen indie/folk on Not Miserable and splendid lyrical content on the upbeat rock & roll track Living In Colour.

“The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is a versatile album that shows a band in top form. Where Frightened Rabbit was a rough gem on their last album, they are now a fully polished diamond. I would certainly not be surprised if this album ends up in several year-end-lists. There is still some room for improvement as on a few songs you feel the band could just let go a little more, but overall this is a highly impressive record that, in a just world, would mean a definitive breakthrough for this quality band.

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Aqualung – Magnetic North
April 20, 2010

Matt Hales, better known as Aqualung, releases his sixth album. Surprisingly he’s not really a big name as his music could be seen as a crossover between the gleamy Britpop of Coldplay, Keane & Athlete on the one side and the alternative singer/songwriter indie-pop of Ben Folds, Cary Brothers, Pete Yorn and the likes. Mix this with a bit of Elton John-like alternative piano pop and you sort of get the idea of what Hales does with his music.

It’s quite eclectic in that sense and in this fashion he creates albums that have a lot of variety, hold exciting songs and sometimes small, intimate songs while never really losing the pop appeal. On “Magnetic North” he does this yet again, and probably better than ever. The trippy New Friend reminds me of the late 60s/early 70s and it’s remarkably catchy, as is the bouncy Reel Me In, which would make an excellent radio single.

On other songs, Hales shows a softer, more soulful side (Sundowning, Lost, Thin Air) and then he shows more of a rock & roll approach on songs like Fingertip and Hummingbird. But the songs that stick with me most are Time Moves Slow which is performed with a lot of feeling and has a great build up, the melody slowly draws you in more and more, and the classy Ben Folds-ish Hummingbird.

There is diversity on “Magnetic North” but while the songs have different sounds and influences, they all do fit together. At first listen there isn’t really a theme to be found on this album, but as you listen to it more often, you’ll find that the songs follow one another very naturally and one could say that the theme is the ‘perception of the world around you’. Aqualung might not be a very well-known artist at the moment, but with a shred of luck, “Magnetic North” could very well provide a serious breakthrough for this fine musician.

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Feeder – Renegades
July 5, 2010

Feeder departed the more mellow and acoustic influences on their 2008 album “Silent Cry”. With the first of two releases in 2010, “Renegades” continues down that path. Yet it is different, it is faster-paced and post-grunge influences are more apparent than on “Silent Cry”. The album fares well on its intensity and strong energy and may very well lead Feeder to gain renewed popularity.

Yet when we look at it musically it doesn’t display the band’s variety and creativity as shown on albums like “Yesterday Went Too Soon”, “Echo Park” and “Comfort In Sound”. With “Renegades” they are closer to the straight forward garage rock displayed by bands like Foo Fighters, Puddle of Mudd & Velvet Revolver. It’s good, but the moments of excellence in the songwriting and especially in the build up of their previous songs is harder to find. It’s there at some points, like on the slightly more alternative This Town or the spunky Left Foot Right, and also on the more emotive, slower-paced Down To The River, which immediately sounds more like a classic Feeder song.

Where Feeder was the alternative rock band from the UK that stood out among all the similar-sounding bands, it seems that Fiction Plane is now the heir to that throne. With “Renegades”, Feeder delivers a solid album, a good album even, in quality it ranks among the better albums of the year, but it’s not very surprising or intriguing as was the case with their previous albums. You do have to commend the band on trying something now, trying to push the boundaries. And with the faded interest after “Silent Cry” at least they don’t try to release a pretentious album that’s bigger than they are. Instead they go back to basics and try to work their way up. In that aspect the album deserves some praise, as it’s done tastefully and once again Feeder shows to be a band that knows all about timing and cadence, as that is still from a world class level on each and every song. But that extra step, that they were able to make from the late 90s to the mid-2000s is missing a little. But since this is just the first release of two in the year, maybe the 2nd release holds some surprises.

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Amy MacDonald – A Curious Thing
March 8, 2010

Amy Macdonald burst on the scene pretty clearly with her previous album. Several hit singles and good media coverage propelled her to become a star all over the world. But with this next release she will have to confirm her status. “A Curious Thing” however, doesn’t really confirm that for me. It’s a little more articulate than her previous album, but in essence it’s still a very safe and mainstream approach. The only thing that really stands out is Macdonald’s vocals. The gravely, mature vocals give the songs more character and I would argue it actually makes the songs better.

You can’t say there’s anything wrong with Macdonald’s music or with her album. But that’s just it. It doesn’t stand out. Where similar artists like KT Tunstall or Paolo Nutini do something exciting, take the music in a different direction and don’t necessarily care about cut-for-consumption mainstream indie/pop/folk/rock (it all mashes together these past few years, but in the end it’s basically just radio pop), Macdonald does the same thing she did on her breakthrough release. It’s done well, tastefully even, but in my opinion it doesn’t stand out.

Songs like An Ordinary Life, Troubled Soul and the highlight of the album What Happiness Means To Me (which includes a pretty impressive Springsteen cover as bonus track) show that there is definitely talent present. I would hope that on a future release Macdonald can let go of the constraints that mainstream radio music brings with it and tries to venture into more exciting directions, or at least incorporates them in her music. Less format, more emotion, that would be my advice.

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The Boy Who Trapped The Sun – Fireplace
July 12. 2010

I recently stumbled upon some early recordings by a young man from Scotland. Colin McLeod, better known under his artist moniker ‘The Boy Who Trapped The Sun’, is a promising singer/songwriter who creates music with a subtle, sometimes sentimental undertone without losing sight of the songs’ pop sensibility.

With his first official full-length release, “Fireplace”, he is likely to gain recognition and critical acclaim from many places. Especially for a debut album, it is well balanced and features several excellent songs.

The mellow, laidback feel of the album fits McLeod’s soothing vocals and his lyrics are accessible and relatable. With folky pop songs like Golden and the beautiful Walking In The Dark you hear the basis of this singer/songwriter whose style is similar to artists like Ben Howard, Ed Harcourt, Patrick Park and Joseph Arthur. I wouldn’t immediately compare The Boy.. to them, but just for a point of reference those fall into a similar musical category.

There’s a good balance between the more breezy tracks like Golden, Fireplace, I See You & Copper Down for example and more upbeat pop songs that are quite attractive to mainstream radio like Katy & Dreaming Like A Fool. While sometimes the songs are a little simple, that doesn’t make the album any less. McLeod puts the principle of less is more in practice on some tracks and I would argue it makes these tracks stronger instead of weaker. By keeping it simple on key moments he keeps the songs accessible and catchy. The best example of that may be lead single Katy.

The world is overcrowded with singer/songwriters trying to make a name for themselves. And while there is a lot of talent out there, even a lot of those talented musicians don’t stand out enough to break through. This may be a shame, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t be good for the music scene if only the same and similar would make it to the big stage. The Boy Who Trapped The Sun however does have something going for him. I won’t say that his music is totally new or there has never been anyone like him, but there is a sense of originality and freshness in his music and attitude that shines through on “Fireplace”. With key tracks like Golden, Katy, I See You, Thorn In Your Side & Copper Down, there is a lot of talented songwriting displayed on this album and McLeod knows how to deliver his songs with feeling and conviction. And to be honest, that is where it starts for a singer/songwriter.

“Fireplace” is a promise of talent, maybe even a promise of big things to come for McLeod, but he will have to keep at it and work hard to deliver on that promise. But for now I say chapeau for a job well done and some well-deserved attention for “Fireplace” as it is a more than solid debut that completely validates for The Boy Who Trapped The Sun to get a shot at breaking through to a bigger podium.

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