Single Review – Gaz Coombes – Deep Pockets

Three years on from releasing the critically acclaimed Matador; Gaz Coombes is to release his ‘Frank Ocean inspired’ third album The Worlds Strongest Man on May 4th. Once he added hints of experimentation to his ever maturing songwriting in 2015 he was in a new submersible phase. This earned himself a Mercury prize nomination amongst other accolades. His recent comments about his third solo effort only suggest more exploration for the quietly confident singer-songwriter. ‘Deep Pockets’ immediately smacks with a buzzing energy and throbbing beat. Gaz’s echoed and wiry vocals skate atop the accelerating feel of the track as it drives towards the chorus to be met with a more rooted, lower vocal to meet the expansive and growing sounds around him. His eccentric melodies and introverted lyrics deliver messages of unchecked masculinity. Supergrass are but a distant memory and it’s likely it grow ever more distant by May 4th.

Owen Riddle

Alt-J – Relaxer Review 


The “Indie Rock”, “Folktronica” trio from Leeds have been a source of great frustration for many fans of exciting and dynamic music. As we reach their third album Relaxer we have seen them release exciting and intriguing singles as they have done twice before, yet it is often when you get the rest of the album where you find it lacking in the quality that you have been teased with. The group opting for only an eight track album may suggest that they’ve ditched the album filler. If they have, then they have the abilty to be one of those countries premier acts. 

‘3WW’ was the first release from the album. It opens with folk-like acoustic chords which echo into a sparse space with only the subtle electronic highlight. The opening vocals are reminiscent of old English folk songs in combination with the click beats. The song suddenly bursts into a chorus of vocals and sweeps off into a delicate piano ballad. From here it takes on the shape of a more typical Alt-J track with distortions and more prominent acoustic chords. Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell adds to the vocals to accentuate and diversify the song further. It is a shifting track that is dynamic and works in the changes of tone and style well. Completely contrasting the chilled and haunting tones of 3WW, alt-J have dropped the second single from Relaxed, In Cold Blood. With binary code, smooth licks of jazz and a brilliant key change, the wonderfully sinuous single is something quite unlike alt-J have ever done before, but also exactly what we’d hope and expect to hear from the Mercury Prize winners. They’ve somehow managed to braid pop, coarse folk and indie rock into one, with a frankly astounding finish. Layers of synth, trombone and expert percussion make up the track, with inflating vocals making the simplistic close all the more effective. The trio explained the track was written back in their “Leeds days” and was unearthed and completed last year, giving it its biting pop edge on a £1.05 Casiotone keyboard from eBay. Worth it, I’d say.  

‘Deadcrush’ is a typically abrasive song in the style in many an Alt-J hit. The rumbling distortion of synths features samples of heavy breathing filtering through it. Joe Newman’s lax and winding vocals cut through the instrumentation as the song progresses, as do choppy riffs and flickering beats. The chorus is marked with James Brown samples and falsettos that ring through the track in something like an alternative Bee Gees style. ‘Adeline’ is a beautiful piece of arrangement and vocal harmony to form a graceful, yet modern ballad. Perhaps surprisingly, the third track is a cover of The Animals cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. It is a cool and calm affair and whilst graceful, it feels a little unnecessary, that they could have featured this as a B-side and with only eight songs on the album anyway; it hints at a lack of ideas. Tracks such as ‘Hit Me Like A Snare’ aim for rough edged Blues Rock and whilst full of energy, it lacks the thin veil of consistency that any good song needs. In retrospect half of the album is great, but that’s just four songs. It is without album filler, but it has been replaced by nothing else. Given the talent they’ve shown, it is yet another frustrating album that doesn’t deliver what it had promised, but only flashes of it. 

Alt-J – Relaxer = 7/10

Owen Riddle & Ellie Chivers

Single Review – PJ Harvey – The Wheel

PJ Harvey is one of those artists that are impossible to pin down and like the late David Bowie, she likes to shift and change direction often. It is because of this and her own eccentric individualism that she still regarded as a powerful artistic force in British music. The fact she is only act to have claimed two Mercury Prize awards is testament to that. Her follow-up to the widely acclaimed Let England Shake from 20111 is The Hope Six Demolition Project. It is an album that has been recorded from her live performances at Somerset House in London last year and draws heavily from her travels in Kosovo, United States and Afghanistan over the last four years. ‘The Wheel’ is the opening track from the album and it features roaring saxophones throughout. These are set around loose, yet purposeful acoustic riffs and the understated power of the backing vocals. Polly Harvey’s own vocals are delivered with her typical rising vocals that move up in range with each line. The distinct imagery of the dark undercurrents of daily life in Afghanistan is something Harvey channels with a mix of subtlety and bluntness. It is without doubt a promising start to another exciting prospect for 2016.

 

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Young Fathers – White Men are Black Men Too Review

The Edinburgh based Hip-hop trio and current winners of the Mercury Prize, were very much shock nominees and winners of the award due to their relative obscurity next to the likes of Damon Albarn, FKA Twigs or Bombay Bicycle Club. It would be hard to deny them the prize however due to the interesting combinations on show for their debut album DEAD. That album, however, was made with little pressure or expectation. Now with their second studio LP, they will be a greater pressure to add to the success of their debut and justify their title of Mercury Prize winners. The initial promise with White Men are Black Men Too is one of a greater depth of variety and influence then that of their debut, but variety and innovative combinations don’t always work. Did the risk pay off?

‘Shame’ has an easily identifiable rhythmic purpose and directions with the collation of percussive types and samples along with the vocal ‘instrumentals’ with the backing vocals taking on the melody and are the light to the shade of bass-level, deep droning of the synths. This makes the track energetic and lively, but is produced in a slightly muffled and muted fashion that isn’t obtrusive or blocky. The earthy and slightly out of kilter vocals combine with the instrumentals to enforce the wiry and gently uplifting melody. By the close of the track, the electronica becomes more expansive and open to pick up the sound further in line with the growing vocal combinations. It’s a smart track that through less obvious means has generated a track with intelligent and creative melodies and rhythms. ‘Rain or Shine’ opens with warped and worn staccato-like organs which generates an urgency and alertness to the track. Again, this is set up behind a slightly muffled and distorted filter and this allows for the sung and spoken vocals so have freedom of movement to deliver the lyrics. The sung vocals also sit behind this distorted percussion and they act as a part of the instrumental set up in what is a minimalist track practically. The introduction of Joshua Hayward-like shredding guitars sees the song spiral and spin off to a an ever higher level of urgency as the song’s close.

’27’ has a more sweeping warped organ-like synth to open with which acts as the piece of fluidity amongst the oncoming piano chords, reverberating bass electronica and rotating percussion. These secondary elements fade in and out to often leave the organs sounds in atmospheric isolation, before the rest of the instrumentals swing back to progress the song more rapidly. ‘Nest’ is another piece of subtle, yet uplifting pop with the isolated and bold vocal production sat proudly ahead of the vocal instrumentals and the buoyant pianos and handclap percussion. The vocal combinations add an aspect of pure melody and a smooth progression to the track which is naturally fluid without the aid of too much production and with this track it was a case of what they left out which made it work. ‘Get Started’ mixes soulful vocals with experimental electronica that sits somewhere between Julian Casablancas and The Voidz and the Knife. Through this, a delicate and meandering tune extracted out of the track. The song goes on to develop a great burst of light against the early shade with the wistful backing vocals and the more expansive electronica. On the whole this album succeeded brilliantly in combining an even greater number of influences in their music and making them shine with intricate hooks and rhythmic qualities. These often un-cluttlered tracks ensure that they can advance their instrumentals methods and production solutions. It’s a fine album, deserving of many more awards for Young Fathers. A sign that British music is in good hands for the future.

Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too = 9.5/10

Single Review – Alt-J – Hunger Of The Pine

Alt-J

Alt-J return with their follow up to 2012’s An Awesome Wave with a new album entitled This Is All Yours which is due for a September release. An Awesome Wave had a mixed bag of reviews but in the end they earned a Mercury Prize and a fair bit of commercial success from it so it’s pretty damn fair to say that it was a solid debut. For their second LP they are releasing the first track from it ‘Hunger Of The Pine’. It’s a track that gladly throws up some unexpected methods and is ultimately a rejection of the same old structures and riffs. This is music for 2014. Not 2004. It opens with drops of whirring synths which join as one into a subdued rotation as the soft edged vocals cautiously meet it. A more solid drone ever so gradually creeps up on the song and lifts it before the percussion and beat kicks in. Here you’re oddly met by Miley Cyrus albeit a sample of her singing ‘I’m a Female Rebel’ which almost act’s as a circulating rhythm section itself. From here the song continues to lift with an assortment of percussion and vocal combinations along with that Miley sample. It actually works incredibly well. The song breaths and moves fluidly and the sample just hammers home the array of elements that combine so well. There is no definite function or structure, yet it does not require it. A dynamic and more importantly a modern piece of music.