Single Review – Florence and the Machine – Sky Full of Song

Cast your mind back to 2015, and the familiar vocal of Florence Welch was roaring the lyrics to the thunderous What Kind of Man; the lead single to her band’s third album. Now, three years later, and we find ourselves in a similar position, gifted with another release from Florence and the Machine…although this one is much, much different. Their latest release – Sky Full of Song – is a soft, acoustic number, punctuated by bass and with little other instrumental addition. Welch’s voice glides over the track, discussing painstaking lyrics of doubt and the stress of her industry. The atmospheric single isn’t perhaps as exciting as some of their arena-filling past material, but it is interesting to hear Florence’s ghostly voice pushed in a different direction, perhaps signposting a new style for the British band’s fourth LP.

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Alice Merton – Lash Out

After the huge success of 2017’s No Roots, Alice Merton returns with the equally ferocious and addictive Lash Out. A funky opening riff paves way for fiery lyrics of rebellion, with Merton stating the song detailed the struggles of the industry: “Being an artist and a human in this world always means confronting people who make you feel like you have to act according to their rules. Like most people, I wanted and still want to live by my own rules. The idea, or, if you like, the need, to write and record ‘Lash Out’ was born of a feeling within me.” The track has an undying energy, peaking at the effervescent choruses. It’s the vocals of Florence and the Machine meeting the bold vitality of nostalgic 2000s indie pop classics.

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Johnny Marr – The Tracers

After announcing his third album as a solo artist last year, Johnny Marr has dropped the first single from the record to be released later in 2018. The Tracers begins with the chant of “hoo hoo” to the growl of guitars, making way for the entrance of moody vocals. The track has a mysterious ghostliness to it thanks to the distortions, but it still remains a fairly no-nonsense rock, easy to just have on in the background. The track and album may come in the wake of ex-band-mate Morrissey’s recent releases, but The Tracers puts Marr in good stead for producing a track list much more rich and enjoyable.

Ellie Chivers

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex and Food Review

New Zealand born and Oregon based project of Reuben Neilson returns with their fourth full length album off the back of Multi-Love from 2015. With Sex and Food they have looked to ply gloomy Disco with brazen Psych Rock and combine that with deeper lyrical observations of the world around them. They have sought to balance their finessed approach with the more scattered mentality of their other tracks. It’ll be to balance this and ensure each approach compliments each other track by track for a complete album

‘American Guilt’ ramps up the typical mild lo-if sound to fuzzy, distorted whirring with Reuben’s creaking vocals cutting through to the centre of the sound. It evokes all of that Desert Rock imagery and though immaculate in its delivery; it is a well worn sound and you imagine one that can only serve them a finite amount. Though it does show that they can tangle with a bulkier, heavier sound, it this is not an album defining song, but is one that’s hard to ignore amongst the track listing. The mere concept of the title ‘American Guilt’ signals the sharp tongued lyrical intent for the album. ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ falls into the finesse category. Familiar chiming organs and keys give way to a crisp beat with shuffling support from which similarly smooth chamber instrumentation bops on to a quickened tempo. Reuben’s hushed falsetto sails easily over it all as his vocals are cleverly backed up by the bass line only; thus freeing other elements to accentuate and expand the boundaries of the song. A cleverly arranged and produced track which despite its infectious hooks features including ‘we’re growing in a viscous garden, we don’t complain for nothing’ as they reflect the feelings of the current generation. A poignant message packed into a piece of funky electronica.

‘Not In Love We’re Just High’ begins as an slow, oscillating track which drops pools of electronica with the space and free for Neilson’s vocals to wander in and out of soulful caricatures. Beats eventually befall the track as it gradually grows to a larger sound with backing vocals, distorted hi-hats and the inevitable plunge into depths of Neo-Psych guitar. It is generally a mature, well developed track. ‘Major League Chemicals’ fully embraces this tag with the warped guitars, rumbling bass lines and manipulated vocals; even organs are thrown in for good measure to emulate a retro piece of Psychedelia. ‘Hunnybee’ is most reminiscent of the pie last album with falsetto vocals atop Pop strings and arrangements. The album is undoubtedly a solid effort and does nothing to diminish the talent of Neilson’s project as they go on to push their lyrical content further into view and continue to push their sound to its boundaries. One thing missing is a musical direction track by track. The album often seems lost and it isn’t variety where it stumbles, but consistency in-track. Some get lost in a lack of production discipline as they try to chase fruitless transitions and progressions. With a little more consideration and imagination this album would have been amazing, but instead confirms what we already know about UMO.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex and Food = 8/10

Owen Riddle

Jack White – Boarding House Reach Review

Jack White. The Jack White: One half of the White Stripes, Part of the Raconteurs, Part of the Dead Weathers, founder of Third Man Records, multi-instrumentalist maestro, producer and singer-songwriter. Even before Jack White went solo in the late 2000s his legacy was already cemented as one of the best musicians, never mind Rockstar’s of recent times. Yet, his most recent solo records have flattered to deceive. The hallmark of his two previous solo LPs, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, rather than his trademark eccentricities has been safety and timidity. Whilst there have been moments of the weird and wonderful, by and large, it’s been solid after standard rock and blues tracks which, although consistently decent have been short of the energy and creativity which White has shown to possesses on previous projects like the White Stripes. On Boarding House Reach, however, White delivers in abundance and with such aggression that you really can’t look away. With few exceptions, Jack White delivers on an experimental and genre-wrestling album which forces the worlds of rock, electronic, blues and funk into one impressively unique and cohesive whole.

Whilst the opener, Connected by Love, nails its colours to the mast with it’s hypnotic beat and intricate melding of the guitar and organ for an impressive solo, structurally and lyrically it sounds more like Jack White from Blunderbuss than the Jack White who appears throughout the album. Thankfully, the follow-up track more seamlessly combines Whites blues background with the powerful electronic influence into an interesting ballad. It also features one of the best, of the many, guitar solos on the album as the guitar struggles against the electronics, cutting out intermittently and distorted before bursting through.

White is just so eccentric on this album. Even on the more upbeat tracks like Corporation, which for the majority of its run time features random shouting and a killer instrumental with some incredible bongo-style drumming. It’s companion piece, Respect Commander, has another banging instrumental with eccentric guitar riffs and escalating distorted electronics but slows down before segwaying into a wild guitar solo while Jack sings about his complete devotion to woman who has his complete respect and power over him. Structurally, the lead single, Over and Over, is peak Jack White and from the roaring of the opening riff you know you’re in safe hands with White’s energy and ferocity echoing Icky Thump era White Stripes.

Things get stranger when we move away from some of the more obviously Rock influenced tracks. For instance, on Ice Station Zebra White goes meta and spells out the whole idea of the album; both sonically and lyrically. The odd instrumental in the first half with this spikey guitar in the background and the lick of piano keys transitions into the much funkier second half all perfectly fits in with White’s point that music can’t simply be put into neat boxes, nor can artists think they are creating something in a vacuum: “Everyone creating is a member of the family, Passing down genes and ideas in harmony, The players and the cunics will be thinking it’s hard, But if you rewind the tape we’re all copying the same God”.

Even the instrumentals on this thing are so odd and cinematic. On Everything You’ve Ever Learned, Jack turns fiery preacher whilst on Esmerelda Steals the Show turns back to his more singer-songwriter style. The only time the experiment may go too far is on the track, Hypermisophoniac, which although innkeeping with the concept of the album has some ear grating electronic sounds which get stale and staler fast.

Overall, Boarding House Reach is a brave, experimental and eccentrically odd album that only Jack White could deliver; not only in the sense that White’s personality shines through on virtually every single track but also in its technical mastery and just how layered the songs are. If Boarding House Reach succeeds in anything (and it succeeds in a lot) it is to rejig (or remind us of) our idea of what a ‘Jack White Album’ is. No longer is it a stale, copy and paste, coffee house rock and blues, instead, it’s something all its own.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach = 9/10

Callum Christie

This Weeks Music Video with The Voidz, Tyler The Creator, The Vaccines, Leon Bridges, Bon Jovi and The Middle Kids

The Vaccines – Combat Sports Review

Three years ago, The Vaccines jumped on the synth-pop bandwagon with their release of English Graffiti, channelling the idea that the pining for eighties euphoria in indie groups was a winning formula. Not true; their third LP was a bit of a flop. Now, three years and two new bandmates later, the West London five-piece release an album reminiscent of their garage-guitar days, and is perhaps better than the initial sound that bought them their ticket to the bigtime. Welcome to Combat Sports.

Songs like Nightclub, Surfing in the Sky and Out On The Streets exemplify why Combat Sports is Come of Age sat on a red-hot flame. Sharp, clean guitar reigns, with thrashing chords topped with lyrics ready to be roared at festivals. The energy that bubbles in these tracks incite much more thrill than English Graffiti ever did. It reaches further into the Britpop era than anything else, with the stock British vocals bellowing brazen lyrics, but moulds the genre, adding fire to the tracks to make them all the more arena-worthy.

Despite the frequent growl of guitar, there are some softer numbers. Opener Put It On A T-Shirt recalls the no-nonsense indie of their earlier material most, with the more aggressive tones coming towards the end. Maybe (Luck of The Draw) precedes Young American. The former of the two reflects the Melody Calling EP’s twinkle, with piercing riffs and an ethereal sound. The lyrics are simpler – much like the overall track – but more heartfelt, and by no means boring. The latter is a seductive acoustic track that could easily have been a song Morrissey side-lined for his most recent release. The most stripped back on the album, it provides a nice break from the layers of heavy instrumentalism before jumping straight to Nightclub.

The shining star of the album, however, is I Can’t Quit; a stellar example of indie pop that glows without the over-use of synth. A track mostly whittled down to basics is the most fun, with lyrics that are completely infectious and hooks that are nowhere near genius but buoys a song that is effortlessly entertaining.

Combat Sports is exuberant, it’s clever, but also one of the most straightforward rock records I’ve heard in a while. Probably the best thing The Vaccines have ever done.

The Vaccines – Combat Sports: 9/10

Ellie Chivers

Single Review – Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays

If you’re looking for charged Psych Rock and gloomy Disco, then New Zealand’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra are the band for you in 2018. Following on from the last full studio release Multi-Love in 2015, Ruban Neilson’s group have went on to throw distorted weight behind some tracks and a refined finesse to others. Their new album Sex and Food is due for a April 6th release and their latest single from their fourth studio album ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ falls into the finesse category. Familiar chiming organs and keys give way to a crisp beat with shuffling support from which similarly smooth chamber instrumentation bops on to a quickened tempo. Ruban’s hushed falsetto sails easily over it all as his vocals are cleverly backed up by the bass line only; thus freeing other elements to accentuate and expand the boundaries of the song. A cleverly arranged and produced track.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Chvrches – Never Say Die

Love Is Dead is the title of Chvrches third studio album due for a May 25th release. The Glaswegian SynthPop group have got the in demand Greg Kurstin onboard as producer for this album and some of his influence is noticed on their new single ‘Never Say Die’. Though the gourd have always had the ability to feature a light and shade depth to their work, Greg had led them to the hushed, siren like openings of the song’s opening and enabled their bridge transitions to sound smoother and more gradual. Beyond that, he’s sharpened their sound further with heavier, louder beats leading to the chorus and grinding chords add to the sharper feel. It accentuates their hooks and allows Lauren Mayberry vocals to ride the tide of the music. It is a well worked piece of SynthPop, but it isn’t something that really takes Chvrches out of their comfort zone; more or less adding a charged cinematic element to their work. You do wonder where else they can take this particular sound as easy on the ears it is.

Owen Riddle

Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else Review

Have you ever gone through a long, dreary day at work thinking about a giant chocolate bar or something you’re going to devour when you get home, and then when you eventually eat it you eat it too quickly, or have too much, and you feel a bit off for the rest of the evening? A bit of a disappointment, right? Well, that’s kind of what Fickle Friends’ debut album, You Are Someone Else, feels like.

The Brighton-based 5-piece first started getting noticed in 2013 after playing Jamie Oliver’s ‘The Big Feastival’, and five years later their first LP has finally arrived. The album hosts 16 tracks, filled with glimmering indie-pop hits, guaranteed to soundtrack the ideal summer barbeque. Summing up their sound best is Brooklyn, with pulses of eighties sizzle pumped throughout to support catchy lyrics and chorus instrumentalism comparable to a more pop-ish The 1975. It’s a track guaranteed to inspire emphatic dancing in the venues they’ll sell out. In similar veins come Lovesick – which has an incredible bass hook – Hello Hello, and Say No More. Alternatively, Midnight injects a bit of a heavier element of bass in the intro, showing a little more diversity to their happy-go-lucky indie style. Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot of change. Fickle Friends’ take on the genre is one I really like, and many songs will definitely feature on a good summer playlist, but there’s just a lot of it, with no songs really standing out, as many just blur into the next.

Having said that, not everything is all smiles and rainbows. The shimmery synths often engulf introspective and bleak lyricism. Hard To Be Myself is riddled with anxiety, while Paris offers a sense of self doubt when it comes to ending a relationship. The youthful euphoria of the backing tracks often juxtapose the lyrics, which seems to be a clever way of representing a sense of naivety as this young band begin to experience different things for the first time; dominated fervour and ecstasy, underscored with a tinge of fear.

Other times, the solemn lyrics are more noticeable. The incessant joyous instrumentalism is broken up by In My Head, which strips away the extravagance of the earlier songs to provide a raw intermission about mental deterioration and loneliness. Album opener Wake Me Up – though much more prevalent in it’s instrumental presence and thumping bassline – chants some pretty pessimistic lyrics: the chorus, for example, is dominated by the words “we are absolutely failing”.

There’s not much more to say about You Are Someone Else other than it’s just…good. There’s no doubt Fickle Friends are hugely talented musicians – this album proves it in bucket loads – but after you’re 16 songs worth of persistent jaunty indie-pop down, you’d be forgiven for switching onto something else.

Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else: 6/10

Ellie Chivers