Tag Archives: Rock

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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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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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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Rock? Pop? Does it matter? Not at all, but I’m going to say it anyway

Last week I read this article on the BBC website claiming rock music had overtaken pop music in the UK album chart. My immediate thought was that this seems unlikely, but I’ll read it and see if this bold and broad statement has any weight.

“Rod Stewart’s ‘Time’ was the best-selling album to be classified as rock by the Official Charts Company, followed by Arctic Monkeys and Bastille”

Got to be classified as something right? Just makes things a bit easier. But where do you draw the line? And who gets to draw it? Is it fair for Rod Stewart to be in the same classification as Behemoth, who are the current number 37 in the Rock & Metal album chart? I’d argue that Rod Stewart’s music is far more similar to the likes of James Blunt, who finds himself in the top 20 of the pop album charts. My point is, I think, that genres are so crazily difficult to categorise accurately that statements such as “rock overtakes pop” are drastically too broad and vague to be considered accurate, and are frankly better off just being ignored.

The charts are something I struggle to take seriously, as you probably know, and I’m somewhat out of touch, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the music in the charts doesn’t even come CLOSE to covering the illimitable array of music that is out there that doesn’t receive the same publicity, and perhaps as a result does not appeal to as many people.

“Woolly definition”

It would appear Mark Savage, a BBC news entertainment reporter, agrees with me to an extent, as he claims that “Rock’s resurgence is helped by the Chart Company’s rather woolly definition – which includes Mumford and Sons (surely a folk-pop band) and Rod Stewart (better suited to the MOR category)”. Woolly is an interesting term, but I’d take it a step further and just describe their whole definition process as irrelevant and meaningless. If you’re going to cram anything with even a faint murmur of a guitar sound into the ‘rock’ genre, I say don’t bother. It’s as useful as a marine biologist comparing red fish to blue fish, when there are 35 million different sub-types of each.

I’m not saying “oh that’s not rock music, that’s just shitty old pop”; as easy as that would be, I certainly don’t have the right to make such a spunky claim, but I also don’t feel anyone else really does, apart from the artists themselves. But even then, if Katy Perry decided to claim she was a pig metal artist, well that would just be outrageous and fantastic, but she clearly isn’t, so there has to be a line somewhere. Either way genres exist, whether they can be categorically defined or not, and are an unavoidable aspect of music.

Both the BBC article, and the Chart Company’s genre’s are in my opinion complacent and inattentive. If I was in a self proclaimed metal band, and found myself sandwiched in the ‘rock’ charts between Rod Stewart and some other has-been with a marriage repertoire comparable to Henry VIII, I’d be pretty pissed off.

Should these two be classified as the same genre? Listen for yourself

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