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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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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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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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Decade, Light You Up, Hey Vanity, Standing Like Statues – Live Review

The music scene in Cambridge may not be quite as burgeoning as in other towns and cities around the country, but if this show taught me anything, it’s that scene strength makes no difference to how much one man can enjoy a gig.

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I was greeted by this endearing poster on my arrival, and was pleasantly surprised to see an extra band added to the bill. 4 bloody bands in one night for £9 (kept my coat with me like the shrewd economically aware genius that I am), get the fuck, in.

Standing Like Statues

Having only lived in Cambridge for a few months, I was eager to see what the locals had to offer. Though not hugely experienced, SLS held their own extremely well, particularly given some hideously frustrating and prolonged technical issues. Once these were out of the way however, their ability shone through. Frontman Jamie Wiltshire’s performance was particularly top notch, powering out lyrics with visible passion, accompanied by Beth Dalton, who is something of a pioneer given how few female band members you see around the circuit.

Hey Vanity

Next up was Hey Vanity, who I was particularly keen to see following their reformation from post-hardcore outfit Fei Comodo. The tightness of these boys was a real treat, as was the flawless stubble sprouting from all 4 chins. HV really set the standard, not just performance wise, but the atmosphere they created in the room made it all the more enjoyable. Exuding friendliness, and evoking some dusty old memories of Ace Ventura with their modest inter-song chat, I found myself grinning the whole way through. ‘Broken Artist’ was a personal highlight, as this well written track kicks off with a nod-worthy little riff which perseveres throughout, leaving you craving whatever else they have in their arsenal of finely crafted tunes. We were then informed by vocalist and guitarist Marc Halls that they would be playing a couple of new tracks, and these served to further improve my (and hopefully everyone else in the rooms) opinion of these immensely talented gentlemen.

Light You Up

I mentioned the impressive passion coming out of Standing Like Statues’ frontman, but I’m afraid he was trumped by Tom Napier, who wouldn’t have been out of place fronting Guns N’ Roses with his on, and mostly off stage antics. Jumping about like it was his last ever show, you have to admire his enthusiasm. Taking nothing away from the band, the songs were solid and very listenable, and they were (as was a delightful theme of the night) clearly enjoying themselves. The last song saw some crowd participation when Beth from SLS was invited on stage to roar out the final chorus, and the audience was rewarded with a very sincere thanks for watching.

Decade

The headliners of the night were Decade, a band I’d seen this summer at 2000 Trees festival, and was keen to see again as they were immediately likeable. With an awkwardly expert approach to proceedings, it’s wall to wall catchy classics, from the boppy brilliance of ‘Brainfreeze’ to the tormented and terrific ‘I Don’t Care’. Minor technical difficulties took nothing away from their show of skills, and we were given a lesson in how to entertain an audience without flailing about on stage like a daddy long-legs searching for it’s purpose in life. The crowd interaction cemented this show as probably the friendliest I’ve ever been to, it was just so bloody nice. Finishing off with exactly the same vigour that accompanied the first song, the pleasingly dense crowd was evidently having as good a time as I was, and the band left the stage looking rightly chuffed. I defy anyone to walk away from a Decade show and not have at least one of their songs welded to the forefront of their mind, they really are tremendously infectious and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

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