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Arcane Roots Interview

I was ridiculously lucky enough to be able to speak to the top guys in Arcane Roots shortly before their show at the Portland Arms in Cambridge last month. Here’s what they said:

Hello. Thanks very much for agreeing to sit here and talk to me for this possibly very boring interview.

Andrew: No worries at all! Hey, it’s a nice day.

Exactly, that’s all that matters! So, several shows into the ‘megataurus rex’, how’s it going so far?

Andrew: It’s been great! Every tour we’ve been so lucky to be in a position where we are so surprised every time. It’s kinda silly I suppose… I’d like to think when you get to a certain stage it’s no longer surprising. But yeah we’ve played a lot of places we’ve never played before so far, and even the really random places, everyone’s been so welcoming

So is this the longest tour you’ve ever done?

Andrew: Oh my god yeah, I think it’s nearly over 2 months yeah so we’ve gotta kind of pace ourselves. But it’s been quite nice, we’re really lucky to play with bands who are good friends and we all look after each other. You know you have your days where you’re just not quite into it, or you have your day where you’re not feeling very well, or a day when you’re just really achy and tired, and everyone else just kind of helps you out.

You’re on tour with Black Peaks and Gallery Circus at the moment. You’ve said before you like to pick your support yourselves, so what was it that drew you to these guys?

Andrew: Yeah absolutely. Well we’d played with Black Peaks for a couple of dates before and our manager Matt who now manages them recommended them to us, and when we heard them we were like “we really like this”, “this band sounds really cool, lets have these guys”. Matt gave us the heads up that things were gonna be happening with them, which is important because they can’t just be your mates you know, they have to be doing something, and since they’ve been doing really well it validated our case for getting them on board. They truly are our favourite tours when everyone’s just really nice and we can hang out together and eat together and things like that. Gallery Circus, our booking agent actually recommended them to us, sometimes they send through lists of bands that he comes across. Solemn Sun had to pull out of the second half of the tour so now we’ve got Carnival Kids joining in.

Ok so switch it round, you supported Muse on some of their European dates last year which was obviously a pretty colossal thing to get the opportunity to do, what did you take from that?

Andrew: So much. I don’t think it’s ever really sunk in and I don’t think it ever will. It was such a quick succession of dates and such a very different way to play a gig, very comfortable, kind of isolated, and even though there’s that many people it’s a very quiet gig. With 80,000 people in front of you, they’re just kind of like pixels. For Muse when they all sing a long to every single song I’m sure that is absolutely incredible. I think for us that summer we supported all our favourite bands and watched them deliver world class shows every single night, and we watched them side stage every single night, and did our homework. I think it really affirmed for us as a band that this is what we want to do for the rest of our lives. Even just the comradery and spending time in those beautiful countries.

So you wouldn’t be content settling for tours of this size forever?

Andrew: Erm, I don’t think that the rock trajectory – if you know what I mean – is something that’s part of my plan, to do gigs and then do arenas and then do stadiums or whatever. I mean I love the idea of a stadium because it means you’ve made enough money to really take the music you make and spend that money on making it 3D. Literally have ALL the lights, ALL the artwork, everything. I watched the DVD of Coldplay live 2012 and it’s just phenomenal.

Yeah the wristbands were a genius idea

Andrew: Oh my god yeah exactly, and it just unites everyone, creed or colour, everyone’s in, they’ve got the wristband and you can just see everyone. That DVD really did have such a big effect on me, and what I wanted to aspire to. So I definitely like the idea of that, but I don’t know I’ve never really thought of us actually playing a massive arena. Basically I just want to do what we do better, that’s the real emphasis. I’d like to think that through some kind of loophole we could somehow reach that 3D stadium feel before we actually got to the stadium. I think it’s more important that we achieve something more uniting, and as well just doing something really different with the music and looking at ways to make our shows more entertaining and more effective.

You’ve been playing some new songs on this tour, with a new record coming out soon, hopefully extremely soon?

Andrew: Yes, well, I think September

Ok I guess we can just about wait that long. What’s it like playing a new song, because I’d imagine there’s a part of you that wishes people had heard the songs before you play them?

Andrew: There’s a little bit of worry, and it definitely taxes my voice and my muscles more as I’m thinking about it and not yet at that stage where I don’t really have to think about what I’m playing. Obviously there’s new vocals that I’ve not really sung before, and even though there are probably older songs that are higher and harder but new songs always wear down on me a lot more. Usually I’m really excited to play them though so I rock out even harder and get really tired! But for this record it was really imperative to us to consider that we do actually have a proper audience in front of us for every show, not just the big ones like London, Birmingham and Manchester. We’re playing fairly random places and we’re getting a pretty sizeable audience at all those places and that really crept into the writing process. We want to have a show, going back to the Coldplay thing, where everyone can get involved and really stay on board with it. Especially playing with Muse I was really aware of people who hadn’t heard our music before, you know there are loads of bits that can kick you off the groove, and unless you know the song you wouldn’t know what to do at that one stage. So this time round we wanted to kind of reverse engineer the songs, to have a moment that we wanted to achieve live, and then work backwards. Actually this record I would say that people do react more to the new songs, they do exactly what it is we wanted when we wrote the songs

So when you wrote the new record did you have a set motive? Were you writing it for a live performance?

Andrew: Very much so yeah. Before now live wasn’t really factored in, if we were excited by something we would just do it. But now the things that are really fun to play live are becoming more and more apparent. Something can just really work live, it can be the hardest thing to play ever, or the simplest thing in the world, it either does work or it doesn’t. It’ll be the case for the next album, and the single that’s coming out hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I just want to play a song where people jump up and down the whole time, there’s just a groove, and there’s just euphoria, and fire, and it’s just explosive. I wanted to come back from this kind of break we’ve been on, when people would say “oh we thought you were going to be poppier, heavier, and Biffy Clyro” and whatever, and just be like “here we are”. We have so many songs that go “Bit… Thing… Other thing… Bit… Another bit… Fast bit… Slow bit”, but I wanted a song where the mirror-ball comes down from the sky, and we can all just stand back for just two seconds and appreciate that we are playing a gig, and it’s just… magic. And that’s exactly what’s happened, we get to that bit that we wrote, we’re not rocking out, we’re just standing there and the music is just doing what it’s doing. For the single in particular, people just jump up and down, even if they’ve never heard the song before, they just jump up and down the whole time, even in Europe it happened when we toured with Enter Shikari. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of the songs we’ve got, and it seems like the audiences are genuinely really enjoying them

The London shows. That’s a pretty brilliant idea if I may say so (The first sees the band performing debut mini-album Left Fire in full, while the second will feature a set-list put together by fans). What’s the thinking behind them?

Andrew: Well it was actually our booking agent’s idea, he asked if we wanted to do something a bit different, and we just always want to be doing something different. For a long time we’ve been looking for somewhere to play where we could potentially dress the venue or do something unusual, so he was like “why don’t you do two really small shows, but do them completely differently?”. So we’ve asked that no one reviews the first show, and one of the main issues with playing London shows is that I should be having the best time of my life, but I spend it doing lots of press. I mean I’m really happy to talk to anyone, but in London it’s just ridiculous and I usually end up wearing out my voice before I’ve even played the show. We just wanted it to be us in amongst the crowd. It feels like ‘Left Fire’ was so long ago now and with this new record it feels like we’re really doing what we want to do as a band and really achieving what we want to achieve, and I’m so so proud of it. So it feels quite fitting that we’ll do one show where we do some of our old stuff and some of our new stuff, and I think we’ll try and play ‘Left Fire’ in a kind of updated form, because I didn’t want to do it exactly like-for-like as I think it asks for a bit too much comparison, and I don’t feel like people have come to hear the CD, they’ve come to hear us play it. There’s better riffs in there now anyway. And yeah the second show started out from a really weird idea when we were talking and wondering what everyone’s favourite song to hear live would actually be. I would think it would be ‘You Are’, but we genuinely didn’t know, so thought it would be nice to hear from people and see what people wanted, and it would work as a learning curve for ourselves. It’s nice to open yourself up and just say “hey what do you guys want?”. Usually I’m not in the vibe when it comes to London because there’s so much going on with family and friends and stuff, and I usually find those shows really difficult even though, the second we stand on the stage we feel SO good because of the audience. So we’ve decided for that show that it should only be about the audience and not about anything else, so I’m really excited to play them. I’m excited to play some really sweaty shows and just get in amongst our fans.

Awesome, well thanks very much.

Andrew: No worries at all. Can we just hear from Adam briefly?

Adam: Yep, food’s sorted

Andrew: Jack, what do you have to say?

Jack: I’m looking forward to dinner

Andrew: What did you order?

Jack: I ordered the falafel burger with houmous on the side

Andrew: That’s really strong

Excellent choice

Andrew: What did you order Adam?

Adam: Well originally I went for the chilli nachos, but they don’t do any form of chilli, and that was why I was not present in the interview

Andrew: But how does that make you feel about the show?

Adam: I’m just concentrating on the show

Andrew: Stop thinking about the show and start thinking about the gig

Adam: I’m a professional

Jack: It doesn’t matter what he eats

Adam: Energy goes in, energy comes out, it’s never lost

Andrew: Just redirected

Genius

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Arcane Roots, Black Peaks & Gallery Circus // Live Review @ Portland Arms, Cambridge

Riffs: The Portland Arms probably hasn’t seen as many gurn-inducing riffs as it did on Thursday night for a very long time. Arcane Roots are currently on their biggest tour ever, appropriately dubbed the ‘megataurus rex’, and came to Cambridge with support from the equally eminent Black Peaks and Gallery Circus.

Despite the fairly sparse crowd, Gallery Circus opened with hugely endearing vigour, and quickly exploded into a remarkable set. The Geordie twins made the stage look inadequate, frantically jittering from one corner to the other, while thoroughly unpredictable and intriguing sounds blasted from the brothers’ respective weapons. Literally stand-up drumming twinned with futuristic rock n’ roll-esque guitar riffs made for a captivating show that intensified exponentially. The beaming pair announced their departure with one final show of their almost unparalleled on-stage chemistry, the final song featuring – not for the first time – their mastery of the stop/start antics that so many would find near impossible.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Dadds

Black Peaks have experienced something of a meteoric rise of late, and are making several festival appearances this summer, which will only improve their chances of blowing the heads off as many people as possible. Head-banging is nigh on impossible to avoid while watching these guys. Gargantuan bass lines command the sound, while brutally powerful drums, furiously heavy guitar and a scream that makes Roger Daltry sound like a gurgling baby, make for a colossal show. New song ‘Set In Stone’ is particularly impressive, with front-man Will Gardner ominously staring above our heads before erupting into another almost overwhelmingly deafening scream. The inescapable prowess of these Brighton boys is astonishing during their closing track and main single ‘Glass Built Castles’. If you want to witness god-like power in musical form, go and see these guys, you won’t regret it.

Image courtesy of Sophia Groves @SophiaAGroves

As Arcane Roots take the stage in front of a now adequately warmed up crowd, the realisation that the quality of the evening can still get better is a heavenly one. Starting off with the first single from their 2013 album ‘Blood & Chemistry’, ‘Slow’ is an instantly recognisable opener that immerses you in their complex and intense sound from the very first chord. Despite it’s evident intricacy, the performance is flawless, and we are quickly escorted into ‘Sacred Shapes’. Immaculate pinch harmonics bring a well-deserved smile to lead-guitarist and vocalist Andrew Groves, who was clearly having an awful lot of fun, and his ensuing burst of rock-fuelled energy transfers that fun into the already gleeful audience.

Image courtesy of Carla Mundy @CarlaMundy

‘Over and Over’ comes next, their most recent release from last year, the crowd bounces along with it’s massively sing-a-longable chorus and infectious verse riff, exhibiting the Surrey three piece’s song writing ability brilliantly. A modest build up leads into ‘Energy Is Never Lost, Just Redirected’, the opening track from ‘Blood and Chemistry’, and is followed by another bafflingly energetic yet faultless performance. Those of us in the room who have waited patiently over the last year were excited to say the least by the next track, a new song entitled ‘Leaving’ that will be on their next record due out this September. Featuring typically divine riffs, and some quite ridiculously huge soaring vocals, this song goes down as well as the band could have hoped, and left us all wishing away the months between now and September.

Image courtesy of Sophia Groves @SophiaAGroves

A mesmerising delay-guitar interlude makes way for ‘Resolve’, which is then followed appreciably by ‘Left Fire’ stalwart ‘Million Dollar Question’, which is closed out with something reminiscent of a Muse post-‘Stockholm Syndrome’ riff extravaganza. A rare slower moment is brought on by the intro to ‘Hell and High Water’, which exhibits some of the skill and raw power of stand in Jack Wrench (In Dynamics), who is replacing usual drummer Daryl Atkins. Another new song ‘If Nothing Breaks Us, Nothing Moves’ – due to be released as a single in the coming weeks – arrives next. Groves humbly announces how much he’s enjoying himself – “it feels like I’m playing to family” – before unleashing this provocatively catchy tune that begs the audience to bounce along. The unmistakable drum and bass combination of ‘You Are’ tragically signals the final song of the set, with Adam Burton’s perhaps sometimes overlooked bass virtuosity taking centre stage. The haunting guitar tapping of this songs’ intro is just magical, and is one of many reasons why this song is such a fan favourite. The baying crowd bellows out the final few lines with Groves before the last big chords are played and the night is done.

The musical ability on show was just awe-inspiring. All three of these bands deserve recognition far beyond that which they are receiving currently, and I sincerely hope that more people are at some point in their lives privileged enough to be able to see any or all of them with their own eyes.

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Nordic Giants // A Séance Of Dark Delusions – Review

Live shows don’t come more spectacular, immersive and awe-inspiring than when Nordic Giants take the stage. Their performances have been captivating fans across the continent for a while now, and the release of their first full length record is sure to stir a great deal of excitement among those who know just what these guys are capable of. Nordic Giants’ unique and inventive sound lends itself to a phenomenal live show, but how will ‘A Séance Of Dark Delusions’ compare when they have already set the bar so high?

‘Elysian Skies’ opens the record, and is immediately recognisable to those who have heard anything from Nordic Giants before. Their use of drawn out atmospheric synth and string sounds combine with heavenly vocals to mesmerise the listener into a splendid state of calm and curiosity about what they have got in store. Building slowly, introducing some brilliantly synced brass, before disappearing into silence, the opener sets the scene gloriously.

Our curiosity is somewhat satisfied when ‘Evolve Or Perish’ commences. Elegant noise plays in the background of some empirical electronic sounds, before Nordic Giants’ characteristic soaring piano comes into play along with burgeoning drums, immediately showing that their live sound can be converted on to a record and still have the same goose-bump inducing effect. A brief interlude for a poignant sample of a speech – perfectly resonating with the tracks title – eventually plays along with the instrumental backing to fully engage the listener on all fronts.

Image courtesy of http://musicalmathematics.co.uk/

Rapture‘ introduces the first of a number of featured artists on the album, with Beth Cannon’s delicate voice adding further depth to a slightly more vibrant track than the last, which marches on with crashing snare-symbol combinations. Layered vocals race unrelentingly right through till the end, before track four commences with intriguing and captivating echoes. ‘Give Flight To The Imagination’ featuring more guest vocals from Freyja, is a gentle atmospheric number, bringing the tempo and tone of the album down dramatically from its forceful beginnings.

This slower pace does not last however, as we are again thrown into the majestic ambience of Nordic Giants’ vivid sound on ‘Dissolve’. This time a male voice can be heard via Saturday Sun, though it materialises in a similarly angelic style to the previous vocals. They accompany a sound of real vigour and prowess, with a slower tempo contributing towards a fierce and heavy tone; while always maintaining the trademark four-stroke piano riff throughout. ‘Illuminate’ uses an interesting new stimulus to keep things fresh, steering the record clear of any potential monotony expertly. Plucked sounds flirt with pulsating vocals, before an imposing burst breaches the middle of the track. Further interesting electronic sounds persist along with the lyric-less vocals, until another distinctive piano led burst, gaining volume and intensity before another abrupt end.

Nordic Giants

A very rare photo that I actually took myself at ArcTanGent Festival 2014

‘Futures Dark’ featuring Nadine Wild Palmer is yet another Nordic Giants barnstormer. If you didn’t know what Nordic Giants sounded like before now, you certainly won’t forget them for a long time after this mammoth four minutes. The short penultimate track ‘Black Folds’ again builds slowly and persistently, until the spine tingling brass echoes audible inspiration as only brass can do in this thoroughly satisfying short piece.

Closing with a seven minute titan, ‘A Thousand Lost Dreams’ builds excruciatingly, quietening down just as you feel like you can’t take the suspense any longer. Exploding into colossal life after what feels like an eternity, tearing through the suspense into something biblical. Apocalyptic roars of pure Nordic Giants perfection engulf the listener and finalise what has been a truly astonishing séance. No doubt this track, and album as a whole will be phenomenal to see live, with their ingenious use of relatively basic instruments, unparalleled use of the visual arts, and unmistakable attire, Nordic Giants will simply never disappoint.

A Séance Of Dark Delusions is released in the UK on 04/05/2015

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Vessels // Dilate – Review

Listening to music featuring little or no traditional instruments can prove understandably challenging for many, with some perhaps immediately disregarding it as background music, or losing patience with an apparent lack of substance, or reward for the perpetual build. Progressive electronica is fairly easy to promote to the die hard fans, but infinitely more difficult to make accessible to the masses. Whether Vessels intend to attempt this with their new record ‘Dilate’ remains to be seen, but I’d wager I’ll be hard pressed to use the words ‘generic’ or ‘predictable’ when describing it.

Eight quite lengthy tracks are introduced by ‘Vertical’, with looped percussion and distant bass sounds gently guiding us into the first thirty seconds of the record, before the bass intensifies and it’s melody carries us along for a while. Building magnificently slowly, chopping helicopter-like sounds brew ominously until a hugely nod-able beat bears down, eventually making way for some starry blends that take over for the close out of the song. Following on seamlessly into ‘Elliptic’, where bass is once again the driving force, yet beautifully controlled and far from overpowering. Repetitive sounding hooks are ever-present, but are kept fresh brilliantly through the constant addition of new elements, percussion especially during this track, while the beat remains un-phased by it’s changeable compatriots in sound.

‘Echo In’ alters the tone slightly with a more soothing bass sound, contrasted by a solid drum beat, meticulously built around a sharp snare. Enchanting melodies are layered upon a bubbling background, which lasts throughout this relatively short track, although given the overlapping merging of tracks, song length doesn’t really play a part in an album that is evidently designed to be listened to from start to finish. Vocals are heard clearly for the first time on ‘As You Are’, and play a seminal role in this subdued dream of a track, although the percussion backing once again provides something else for the listener to think about.

Intriguing futuristic sounds beckon is into track five ‘Attica’, which features a much bigger sound than has been heard before. Intense synth builds at an oddly enticing rate, and there is no pronounced ‘drop’ like you may find in other similar tracks, instead you simply find yourself soaring through huge sounds almost without you realising. ‘On Monos’ catches a breath before breaking back into a thudding drum beat while almost incomprehensible vocals echo sporadically. The very occasional use of vocals reminds us these sounds are made by human beings, not by some superior AI from the future.

Back to the basic bass and beats for ‘Glass Lake’, making way for a raving mid-section that could effortlessly get a room full of revellers moving, though it really would need to be very loud indeed, as it just doesn’t pack the same punch when listening at a regular volume. The final track ‘On Your Own Ten Toes’ then starts in much the same way as the others, though one can’t help but hope for something spectacular to close out a hugely enjoyable record. The humming bass acts as an ominous, yet upbeat foundation, while a quickly fluctuating sparkle of sound leads the way for the beat that follows. ‘Vessels’ likely never intended on this track reaching the size of the sounds heard on ‘Attica’, but I for one would have enjoyed perhaps something a little more spectacular to close out what is a fascinatingly modern record.

The sound of this record could potentially be described as something of a relay race of sound, with different elements and features taking their turn, then passing each track on to a different hook to carry for a while. It is executed extremely well, never becoming difficult to follow and always giving the listener something new to engage with, without ever becoming overwhelmed with too many different things going on.

Dilate is out Monday 02/03/2015

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Kodaline // Coming Up For Air – Review

Irish 4-piece Kodaline release their all important second album ‘Coming Up For Air’, which brings with it the unenviable task of bettering their breakthrough record ‘In A Perfect World’, an album that saw them gain widespread popularity in an increasingly difficult musical climate.

The opening track and lead single from the album ‘Honest’, gets things off to a prompt start, and immediately introduces us to the echoing synth sounds and “wooaah’s” that play a vital role in the composition of this record. Huge synth bass carries the poignant chorus, with Steve Garrigan asking “Is it in you to be honest?” Switching between relatively intense sounds and more solemn vocal parts makes this opening track an engaging and effortlessly catchy start. ‘The One’ follows on pleasantly with a gentle introduction featuring piano and Garrigan’s reflective vocals. This shamelessly gushing love song is made all the more enjoyable by well controlled strings and inventive synth sounds skulking behind the echoing guitars.

‘Auto Pilot’ begins with gentle percussion, followed by subtle guitar, smooth vocals and some sensitive harmonies. The percussive backing remains throughout, while the vocals build and the backing choir adds satisfying depth to what is instrumentally a relatively simple song. The alarming guitar and synth sounds wake us up promptly in ‘Human Again’. “I got a pain in my heart and a pain in my chest, I wanna be human again” rings out over a contrastingly upbeat sound, powered by a stamping snare drum. Raising the vocals an octave further emphasises the desire for positive change that screams from this track. ‘Unclear’ almost sounds like it’s been recorded underwater, with only whispering vocals and bass guiding us initially, before the ever present ‘wooaah’s’ again come into play. The choir of young voices is brilliantly used to once again hammer us into an unavoidably positive mood.

The sixth track, which bares an immense resemblance to Coldplay’s ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, features yet more wooing along with simple but hugely effective guitar riffs that explode into Garrigan’s “coming alive!”. Altering the riffs slightly each time keeps the track fresh and interesting, and staunchly maintains the records obdurately optimistic feel. ‘Lost’ is a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a recent ‘Muse’ album, with futuristic sounds fluctuating behind the rest of the track, in a similar vein to the heavily adjusted guitars that play a key role in the following track ‘Ready’. Very simple structurally, but effortlessly catchy, the piercing high notes towards the end of the song work surprisingly well and make up for the regrettably lazy lyrics of the chorus.

Acoustic guitar is used prominently for the first time on track nine ‘Better’, which is a turning point in the album, moving from relentless positivity to inconsolable sorrow in the blink of an eye. “It doesn’t feel right” saps the good feeling that has been built up for the duration of the album thus far, but gloriously delivered vocals in the chorus rouse this impossibly beautiful track into something of a show piece, with building strings accompanying the vocals superbly. “Cause it’s making me worse” aptly brings the song to an end, and leaves the listener wondering what an earth happened between tracks eight and nine to warrant such pristine melancholia. Mercifully though, spotting the title of the next track will settle the bottom lip of any potentially blubbering listeners. ‘Everything Works Out In The End’ is a contemplative track which returns to a positive tone, with soothing vocal accompaniment and prominent piano helping to build us back up again.

The penultimate track cracks off suddenly, with some ‘ooing’, and what may well be a kazoo in the mix. “Nobody’s gonna carry you” is a fitting lyric in this uplifting and motivating song that utilises a huge array of different instruments. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ closes out the record perfectly, persevering with the reflective tone “This ain’t no sad song, life has to go on”. The piano, drums and acoustic guitar are fortified with brass and a large choir of woah-ers, all while Garrigan majestically serenades us into a delightfully happy place.

‘Coming Up For Air’ then is a record that will likely satisfy those listeners who have wanted something new from the alt-rock/pop scene. It’s hugely accessible lyrics, uplifting and – for the most part – positive tone, combined with the modern feel of the album make it difficult to dislike, and with heavenly tracks like ‘Better’, I can see them outdoing their first release with ease.

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Lonely The Brave, Sam Duckworth & Bloody Knees – Live Review

Cambridge may not have as diverse a musical heritage as other towns and cities across the UK, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel like a proud father of five (despite being a resident for barely 6 months) when it’s most exciting sons ‘Lonely The Brave’ return home to show off their prowess that was nurtured in Cambridge not so long ago. Anticipation was in the air, anticipation for what was inevitably going to be an exceptional night, and one that Cambridge could feel rightly chuffed about.

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Bloody Knees

Lonely The Brave may have established themselves as Cambridge’s most well supported act on the scene at the moment, but Bloody Knees are without question the most exciting new act to come out of Cambridge since LTB themselves, and were a no brainer to open for them this evening. Grunge at it’s modern finest comes billowing from the stage along with the rasping vocals and thunderous drums that only intensify as their set progresses.

‘Bones’ is a particularly tight number that forced at least a nod out of the majority of the crowd, and was followed shortly thereafter by ‘Never Change’, the slowest song of their set by someway, and in my opinion the strongest. Vast growling guitar sounds and perfectly matched vocals made this a real spine tingling spectacle, worthy of the almost stunned applause it garnered from the now transfixed audience. ‘Stitches’ is another barnstormer, and the title of their latest record released earlier this year. “I’m covered in blood, but at least I’m having fun” is a snippet gifted to us in amongst the largely fuzzy lyrics, but this takes nothing away from the appropriately volatile delivery of the vocals from Brad Griffiths.

Sam Duckworth

Taking on the unenviable task of filling the gap between two Cambridge favourites was ex ‘Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly’ frontman Sam Duckworth. His mix of straight talking lyrics and impressive acoustic guitar work was a drastic contrast to the aforementioned grunge extravaganza, and as a result struggled to captivate the audience. Every song was clearly sung from the heart, but the fact that it was his well informed and delivered political rant on immigration and tax evasion that received the biggest cheer of the set proved that this audience were more than ready for their homecoming headliners.

Lonely The Brave

Come 9:30, the Junction was utterly rammed with expectant friends and fans, and come the lowering of the lights, the noise must have reassured any fears the band might have had that no one would turn up to witness their return to where it all began. ‘Call Of Horses’ is a pucker choice for an opener, easing us into their sound perfectly. Beckoned on by guitarist Mark Trotter, the crowd obligingly joins in with the incredibly singalong-able ‘Trick of the Light’, and even by the second song of the set you feel they have shown exactly why they evoked such excitement and expectation on their return to Cambridge.

Despite Trotters apparent confidence on stage, the band as a whole don’t emanate confidence in the same way that ‘Bloody Knees’ or many other bands on the scene seem to, particularly vocalist David Jakes, who often stands side on to the audience, slightly hunched over, clutching the front of his t shirt with an odd sort of gurn on his face. It’s unique and actually refreshing, especially when compared to the vast majority of frontmen who harass the audience into joining them in song. That said, what’s also refreshing is just how impeccably powerful and magnificently controlled his voice is, sounding if anything even better live than on ‘The Days War’, their album from which all but a couple of the nights set is taken from.

‘Kings of the Mountain’ is a track that deserves even more recognition than it is likely to get, with my other half stating “I could totally hear that song in the charts if it had a dance-y backing”, a statement which I can’t help but agree with (but think would be a tragedy and discredit to the band if it happened), and one that could easily apply to their entire discography. Soaring vocals and guitar work in perfect harmony to seduce the audience into a comfortable state of ecstasy, ready for an alluringly slow rendition of ‘Islands’, and then thrust into their most lively offering ‘Black Saucers’. Even the more elderly members of an incredibly diverse audience found themselves compelled into movement.

The set managed to maintain it’s intensity and authenticity with ease, thanks in no small part to the array of exceptionally well written songs that were immaculately performed by 5 men who can only be destined for even greater things. Leaving their two biggest crowd pleasers till the end, ‘Backroads’ goes down an absolute storm, with Jakes’ “I’ll be the sky and you’ll be the bird” proposal being raucously roared back at him. ‘The Blue, The Green’ finishes the set in bloody brilliant fashion, Jakes tears apart huge vocals before the climax, when Brad Griffiths reappears to leap into the crowd for a great big Cambridge love-in.

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Girlpool – EP Review

Los Angeles duo ‘Girlpool’ are uncompromising and undeterred by the prospect of being shunned by the mainstream in the wake of their occasionally provocative and blunt lyrics. The two piece use nothing more than a guitar (Cleo Tucker), bass (Harmony Tividad), and their voices. They do so precariously, yet proficiently, and I say precariously having remembered how I felt upon hearing the first track on the EP – ‘Blah Blah Blah’, and really struggling not to rip my headphones from my ears – but the more time one gives this record, the more one understands it is not designed to be a treat for the ears, at least I hope not.

We are immediately introduced to the strong female foundation that is pivotal to the entire EP. ‘Blah Blah Blah’ sets the lyrical tone of the record and tells of a girl who is no longer willing to be used by her partner. Accompanied by stripped back and appropriately simple instrumentation (featuring a quirky guitar solo), this track is a real test that you’d do well to pass.

‘Paint Me Colours’ sees the tempo diminish and the tone become desperately melancholy, and borders on being a sadcore anthem. Although the tempo does pick up nearer the tracks conclusion, the bleak bass riff that sets the song off does an excellent job of lowering morale through it’s compelling monotony. Vocal harmonies give depth to a track that would otherwise struggle to keep the listener awake.

Moving on, the record does gain some momentum, with ‘Plants and Worms’ comprising of some decidedly pleasant chords and acoustic sounds. Lyrically however, we are greeted by yet more gloomy commentary – “I’m uncomfortable looking in the mirror”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dreariness here and there – Radiohead have worked wonders with it – but relentlessly dreary lyrics combined with equally sombre music I find challenging to get my head around.

‘Jane’ however is refreshing in its relative positivity, telling the story of a girl who stood up to her tormentor named Tommy. The theme of women veering from their societal norms is continued in ‘Slutmouth’, which is sung from the point of view of a girl who is not comfortable conforming or doing what is expected of her – “I go to school every day just to be made a housewife one day”, an appropriate statement given current public issues surrounding gender equality.

The final track entitled ‘American Beauty’ is a welcome stimulation, and is the only track likely to stick in the mind of the listener, thanks largely to it’s chorus, “It’s not enough to watch a movie, eat me out to American Beauty” is a line not easily forgotten. The repetitive chords continue throughout and we are again reminded that the protagonist of this song is not the suppressed and weak woman that she feels she is expected to be, “If you’re lucky I’ll hold you tight”.

Despite ending on a high, this record struggles to stimulate any musical fire inside the listener, or make many groundbreaking and thought provoking statements on women or the lives of young people, BUT I can say with confidence that this strangled outcry is exactly what Girlpool intended when they put the record together.

Girlpool EP Cover

Girlpool EP Cover

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Will Robert – ‘Transitions’

The male singer-songwriter has been something of a challenge for both artists and listeners in recent years. People with undeniable talent, producing incredibly pleasing music have largely been getting nowhere, in most cases because they missed the bus that Ed Sheeran drove off to Radio 1 on, and took any remaining hope for the male soloist with him. But while talent perseveres, there will always be a chance that someone else can gain the recognition they rightfully deserve. Will Robert is a Cambridge based artist striving for just that.
 
Robert’s new EP ‘Transitions’ showcases his vocal and instrumental talents with charming modesty, as well as displaying his laudable songwriting ability. This aptly named record tells a story of change  both lyrically, and musically, all while treating the listener to some of the most serene acoustic sounds they’re likely to hear in their lifetime.
 
The opening track ‘City Lights’ idyllically introduces us to Robert’s sleek voice, setting the lyrical tone poignantly; “You seem so bold but a cold wind blows inside of you”. The contemplative and seemingly upbeat feel of this track is complimented by subtle percussion, which is maintained throughout ‘Transitions’, and adds an organic depth to the record.
 
Raising the tempo slightly on ‘Best Laid Plans’, we are treated to some of Robert’s smart guitar work, featuring Newton Faulkner-esque percussive playing as can also be heard on ‘Easy Way Out’. Alluring vocal harmonies gently bring about the chorus and again show Robert’s knack of using understated elements to create something stunningly simple yet engaging.
 
The transitional nature of this record is a testament to the amount of thought Robert has clearly put into it. We encounter lyrical and musical peaks, with a clear positive tone in ‘Castles’ and ‘Easy Way Out’ all after the more melancholic tone of ‘Hide Away’, in which Robert laments “sitting in the dark won’t keep you safe”. By the middle of the record, the tone becomes melancholic once again, with beautifully tempered electric guitar being introduced to display a further impressive range of musical knowledge and appreciation, and to also keep us guessing on how the transition will pan out.
 
Come track nine ‘Sleight Of Hand’, the saga appears to be coming to it’s conclusion, and the rousing chorus has an air of acceptance in it’s lyrical tone along with ‘Another Life’. Inventive guitar work  and a more intensive use of percussion really captivates the listener in this latest chapter. ‘Roads’ is another flawless example of simplistic songwriting at it’s humble best, with nothing but Robert, his guitar, and the faintest whisper of piano producing a gratifying penultimate track.
 
‘Open Sea’ is the final, and probably strongest track on the record. Majestically combining all the elements found throughout, this track is a triumph and a perfect closing song on a record that I sincerely hope gets the recognition it deserves.

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Nicki Minaj’s Arse – A Lamentable Role Model

Listening to Radio 1 is often an arduous and unpleasant task for a man with such stubborn and pretentious music tastes, but my respect for the channel was inflated yesterday morning by Nick Grimshaw’s unsubtle slating of Nicki Minaj.

Her illogical and frightening popularity is perhaps the worst thing to happen to women since the Spice Girls called it a day. This is largely down to her flamboyantly sexual lyrics and excessively erotic videos that can be doing absolutely no good for the young women of today who will unfortunately see her as a role model.

So I have decided that because I am as qualified to comment on her lyrics as she is to influence the youth of today, I would take a closer look at her latest single entitled ‘Anaconda’. Rest assured reptile lovers, this song is unlikely to be a tribute to the large limbless beast you all know and love.

Watching the video, you’d be for forgiven for thinking this was some sort of nightmare aimed at any women with even a shred of pride in their gender, but no, this is serious. The video also seems to have very little to do with the subject matter of the song itself. Two major themes can be taken from the song; Miss Minaj’s pride in her “big fat ass”, which I can’t see too much of a problem with, for now at least. The other theme however raises some issues, as it seems to be describing Miss Minaj’s sexual attraction towards murderous drug dealers.

To start, we are greeted with the notion that someone in the possession of an ‘anaconda’ has no interest in a ‘hun’ who hasn’t got ‘buns’. Literally, this can only mean gentlemen who may or may not be supernaturally well-endowed are only interested in women with a large posterior. A huge generalisation at the very least, not mentioning the immediate body issues that this simple opening verse raises. So, off to a questionable start.

The first verse spat by Miss Minaj is an eloquent summary of her admiration for a young man named Troy. I see little reason not to assume young Troy is lucky enough to be a proud owner of an ‘anaconda’ given that the entire first verse is about him and his lucrative lifestyle of drug dealing, which allows him to purchase gifts for Miss Minaj that the regular Grass Snake owner could only dream of. The verse then gets a bit silly when drug fuelled murder is threatened. Take from that what you will kids.

This leads on nastily to the chorus, which, in true Nicki Minaj style, is entirely based around sex and her confidence in how unconventionally attractive her plastic backside makes her. Finishing with the poetic line “Dun duh dun dun dun dun dun”; we glide into the second verse after some light-hearted drivel from Sir Mix-a-Lot, and an ear strangling few lines depicting a jealous competitor exclaiming their forgivable disgust at Miss Minaj’s rear (I may well run out of arse synonyms very soon).

Something's not quite right here

Something’s not quite right here

The second verse is a pleasant mixture of the first verse and chorus, a shamelessly sexual description of another drug dealing acquaintance. When describing our new friend Michael, Miss Minaj doesn’t feel the need to continue with the serpent imagery, but instead moves on to towers to describe his colossal manhood. “Dick bigger than a tower, I ain’t talking bout Eiffels”, so we can narrow it down to being bigger than any form of tower, but no bigger than the Eiffel tower. Doesn’t narrow it down all that much but we get the message. The rest of the verse really is such gibberish I won’t be wasting my time looking into it, but the basic jist of it is he deals some cocaine then compares her sexual organs to Romaine lettuce.

Following the second chorus our ears are lovingly invited to listen to some of Miss Minaj’s trademark maniacal laughter and nonsensical rambling. She dedicates the song to her “bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club”; which is blunt but not THAT offensive, however following this up with “fuck those skinny bitches in the club” really does cement her as an unparalleled hindrance to the women of the world.

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Hit The Deck Festival – Bristol – 2014

It may have taken 8 months, but I finally recovered from last summer’s PFD (Post-Festival-Devastation). My self prescribed treatment was another festival, and this came in the form of Hit The Deck; taken once a day, for one day, all day, in Bristol, and boy did it do the trick.

This year is HTD’s fourth gathering, and is one of the countries foremost indoor festivals, priding itself on playing host to some of the most energetic and impelling alternative acts around. Having seen the lineup from last year, I had high hopes, very high hopes. This year’s looked good, but there was still plenty to discover. Saw these guys:

The St Pierre Snake Invasion – O2 Academy 2

What better way to start the day than with some Bristolian/Welsh wit and pizzazz? Having seen TSPSI during last summer’s festival season, I was well aware that missing them would be a gargantuan mistake. The title of their EP ‘Everyone’s Entitled To My Opinion’ sums them up far better than I, or anyone else ever could. Voicing his opinions on society with endearing cynicism, and pre-vomit squeals, Damien goes about his business face to face with the crowd. Meanwhile the rest of the band provide an impressively tight backing from the stage, that was never even considered as a suitable platform from which to preach. Embarking on a European tour this summer suggests they are more than the piss-about many might have disregarded them as.

The Xcerts – O2 Academy

Starting immediately after TSPSI downstairs, the modest Scottish three-piece flaunt their atmospheric set with marked professionalism and hair. That hair. Murray Macleod’s embracing  guitar, vocal and hair combination deserve better than the subdued crowd that has the pleasure of listening to such stirring sounds in the early afternoon. Two new songs provide further blissful listening, which left me feeling safe and warm, just in time for some metalcore.

Picture courtesy of www.thisisfakediy.co.uk

Stood on a Lego block

Picture courtesy of Sarah Louise Bennett

http://www.thisisfakediy.co.uk/contributor/sarah-louise-bennett/

Cytota – Thekla

Despite us only managing to turn up halfway through the set, Cytota’s burgeoning talent was clear to see, even if the on-stage activity did lack a bit of what would be justifiable confidence. Adept guitar playing and some remarkably vicious growls made for an enthralling show, and given a few more years, I’d wager these guys will be much higher up the bill.

Bastions – The Exchange

Making our way across Bristol to The Exchange, we arrived to hear the crushingly disappointing line “We’ve been Bastions, this is our last song”. After confirming with my girlfriend that that was definitely what they’d just said, but still watching on in hope it wasn’t, they finished and we left disappointed, not at the song – that was great fun – but that we had no idea stage times had changed. If there was some glaringly obvious announcement somewhere that we just didn’t see or hear, then fair enough, but we had no idea at all. Went for whisky.

Gnarwolves – The Fleece

After receiving directions from a grateful seeming traffic warden who was in the middle of begrudgingly ruining someone else’s day, we found The Fleece, which was probably my favourite venue of the day. Containing nothing more than necessary, this venue was perfectly suited to the crowd surfing sweat-soaked shambles that was to follow. Gnarwolves just know what this is all about, having a bloody good time in a room full of people who also just want to have a bloody good time. An almost overwhelmingly energetic atmosphere was only enhanced by the Brighton trio’s shout-able repertoire of snapshot skater-punk, and you find yourself enjoying having the odd arse in your mouth. I’d even go so far as to say, welcoming it, that’s how much fun I had.

Neck Deep – The Fleece

Despite having barely acquainted myself with Neck Deep in the build up to HTD, I was convinced to stay, and the atmosphere about the place well before they even started confirmed I’d made the right decision. I got the impression these guys had no idea just how massive their following is. The place was rammed, not a soul in the building was stood still, and every song was greeted with even more enthusiasm than the last. Ben Barlow was clearly having the time of his life, and the performance was all the more impressive as a result. Having said that, there’s little point me trying to comment on technical aspects of the performance, as I was too preoccupied having a fucking brilliant time getting sweaty.

Memphis May Fire – Thekla

Following a hearty burrito from My Burrito on Broad Quay, we headed to Thekla for a bit of Texan metalcore. The young crowd was treated to some genuinely beautiful coordinated head banging, and secured to Cory Elder’s chin is quite possibly the most powerful beard I have ever seen. Jake Garland’s drumming was a sight to behold, and set the standard for what was an incredibly tight and well rehearsed performance. Despite lacking the atmosphere I experienced at The Fleece earlier in the day, it was still a predictably stellar show.

Even bearded bassists need to sneeze mid set

Picture courtesy of Cara Jade

https://www.facebook.com/carajadephotography

We then headed to The Exchange in the hope of catching the second half of Brutality Will Prevail‘s set, but once again only caught the last song, though this time we probably should have realised times had changed, so I’ll reserve my annoyance for a more worthwhile time.

Tremendous day, and PFD has been cured, only for the epidemic to return in late September, as it does every bloody year. At least there’s three months of excitement and festival ecstasy to experience first, which is absolutely worth the bleak nine months that follow.

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April 23, 2014 · 9:29 pm