Maximo Park – Risk To Exist Review 


Risk To Exist is the sixth studio album by North East four piece Maximo Park and whilst they’ve always featured politically charged lyrics alongside those that dissect the features of relationships; they’ve pushed this more than ever before on this occasion. They spoke of making an album that was a reflection of the “dire state of the world in 2016” and it is that, which on the surface is their ambition for this album. On their last two albums in particular, musical exploration and experimentation was the driving force of their music and it was only not going further with it that held those albums from being something special. There are always certain familiarities that included Paul Smith’s Teesside tones and his ability to produce compelling narratives that allow them to take whicher direction. Has playing to their strengths worked this time around?

In ‘Risk to Exist’ the band is uses more traditional keyboards than in their previous work. Before their sound was quite sparse, with more of a focus on guitars, but the angular quality of their riffs has been filled out really nicely with more of a focus on those keyboards. At the start of the song the drums are the main instrument and in the chorus there are three or four different keyboard sounds. This marks a greater maturity in their song writing. The song is quite anthemic and will probably do well on the festival circuit this summer. The lyrics address a very big problem in today’s society: the stigma on refugees. They sing: “Put your arms around me, I’ve come too far and the ocean is deep…where’s your empathy?” and by mentioning “the expert colonisers” they address the UK, “Risk to Exist” might be a subtle reminder of Brexit. They also call out for action on the refugee problem and how they are treated and seen as well as the lack of willingness for anyone to admit they are responsible with the lyrics: ” The Talkshows talk, but nothing gets done, who wants to be responsible for Europes biggest sum? Show us some responsibility!” ‘Get High (No, I Don’t)’, is a song ‘about resistance in the face of repetition and coercion’ – according to front-man Paul Smith. And the singles video, directed by James & James, reflects the bands anti-elitist theme. Showing the main protagonist reaching a frantic choreographed breaking point amongst Smith’s unique lyrics, perfectly intertwined with a relentless pop-melody, which heavily displays the bands soulful, groove-based influences. ‘Get High (No, I Don’t)’ is a brilliant slice of Maximo Park at their anti-establishment best, if with the tiniest bit of midlife crisis style, complaining about the government, thrown in for good measure but after all isn’t that exactly what we love about Maximo. ‘What Equals Love?’ runs counter to the tracks released so far which have been rather pointed in tone lyrically (which is more than welcome). This track though, seems to echo Paul Smith’s ability to portray difficulties in human relations with such musicality and sing-a-long quality. It is a nice shift in tone and variety for the album and though using the same tools, this track has many Pop qualities with infectious rhythms, melodies and harmonies. They are a band that have been sending out solid pieces of music for a long time, but this is stronger track that will serve their album and their gigs well. 

‘What Did We Do To You To Deserve This?’ is a slick and smoothly delivered track with steady, bouncing organs, drawn out and sparse guitars in the chorus with a clicking percussion. This gives Paul Smith the liscense to either belt out in the chorus or cram lyrics together and he does both. Lyrically he tackles long standing noitions of Conservative ideology, selfishness and Post Truth politics. An eloquent musical setting to talk about these subjects. ‘The Hero’ has a canny, electric jolting rhythm to it and is a sign that the group’s musicality has generally improved over the last twelve years. A track that builds in energy. ‘Respond To The Feel’ and ‘Alchemy’ are tracks that have shades of their recent work with a more angular production. ‘Make What You Can’ on the other hand is more reminiscent of their earlier work with sharp, jumping rhythms that collapse in the bridge for a ringing hook in the chorus. The remaining tracks don’t really stick and whilst well delivered like all their tracks, they are uneventful affairs that act as ballast to fill out the album. For the most part, this is another solid album with flashes of brilliance. The production methods of the last two albums have left their guitar based sound sharper and more purposeful and the emotive lyrics fit into several different settings. A album worth your attention even if it won’t be the first to be recalled at the end of the year.

Maximo Park – Risk To Exist = 7.5/10

Owen Riddle, Hayley Miller and Lea Fabbrini 

Hurts – Surrender Review

The Manchester synth-pop duo return with their first new material since their second album Exile in 2013 which was an album that was barely an improvement from their first, but a welcome change of tone with a darker and more atmospheric feel. A more significant shift is always required from a third attempt however and they really need to build up to something more significant that they promised with their debut back in 2010.

With ‘Some Kind of Heaven’ they’ve retained and delivered a more clearer and catchy sound whilst varying between this and the darker verses too. This works pretty well in that sense and pushes on the pop sensibility that was their making, even if at times it’s a little familiar. It remains an elegant and melodic piece of modern pop music that’s as stylish as their clothes, but only offers up subtle alterations on their existing sound. ‘Rolling Stone’ shows a bold and direct version of Hurts that the pop duo have managed to pull off flashes of this in the past, but with this track they have advanced these theatrical pop statements encasing a dark and detailed lyrical narrative. To do this they’ve sacrificed none of their sleek delivery, but have added smoother progressions and transitions via trembling string sections and choir-like backing vocals. These verse styles set up the hit of the chorus with leader single Theo Hutchcraft switching from an easy, intimate vocal to a more powerful and far reaching style of the chorus with heavy hitting beats and samples with a shredding guitar imitation cutting it’s way through it all. It makes their previous single look a little mundane in comparison. ‘Wish’ is a typical piano ballad with a set up that doesn’t suit Theo’s vocals too well and aside from that, it is a track that leaves little impression lyrically and atmospherically.

‘Lights’ sees them turn to Disco which was a turn few of us were expecting from the duo. It certainly has shades of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, but in a more purer form of Disco with the low slung bass lines, jingling riffs and whispy electronica with handclaps and all. Theo Hutchcraft offers up a smooth and lavender-like vocal to match up with the time reversed instrumentation. It’s a pretty fun song in isolation and certainly signals a sense of real variety amongst the album, but you still get the sense that this was perhaps a little random in the grand scheme of things. ‘Slow’ shifts back to the more theatrical, electronically tinged pop that was offered up with ‘Rolling Stone’. It opens with bursts of grinding synths and snapping drum samples which allows for a subtle environment for Theo Hutchcraft’s vocals to stray in and out of audible focus and to go on to deliver a more powerful tone into the more echoed and drawn out chorus and typical pop high pitched vocals. It’s not a track of great purpose and struggles to reach a great conclusion, without being remaining intricate and detailed. It is however a well produced track, but one of the lesser singles of the album. Songs such as ‘Why’ are more akin to the sort of track we’d use for Eurovision and that speaks for itself. ‘Nothing Will Be Bigger Than Us’ is a mildly improved rendition of many a Calvin Harris track and the stale and worn through sound sort of has no setting in amongst the rest of the album. Kaleidoscope offers us a more disco variant on the previously mentioned track, but sounds lost compared to ‘Lights’ for example. Unfortunately the areas of promise in the singles is completely non-existent in the album tracks that are filled with cheap, tasteless noughties pop music. The lyrics do little to make up for it and each track leaves no trace and it’s only saved by it’s singles. It seems that they are a little lost at the moment in terms of their sound and hopefully they’ll find themselves with their next album as they have the potential for so much more.

Hurts – Surrender = 5/10

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – HURTS – Slow

A fourth single from the Manchester/Teesside electro pop duo HURTS’ upcoming third album Surrender (expected on October 9th) has been released and ‘Slow’ shifts back to the more theatrical, electronically tinged pop that was offered up with their previous single ‘Rolling Stone’. Their current single opens with bursts of grinding synths and snapping drum samples which allows for a subtle environment for Theo Hutchcraft’s vocals to stray in and out of audible focus and to go on to deliver a more powerful tone into the more echoed and drawn out chorus and typical pop high pitched vocals. It’s not a track of great purpose and struggles to reach a great conclusion, without being remaining intricate and detailed. It is however a well produced track, but one of the lesser singles of the album.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Paul Smith & The Imitations – Contradictions Review

Teesside’s Paul Smith has used the time taken out of his role as lead singer of Maximo Park to form a little group of his own and release a second album away from that more well known role. Contradictions has been released on Billingham Records, the town he’s from no less and the general content and feel of the album is very much a reflection of the North East or Northumbria and his obvious affinity with it. Smith’s solo venture back in 2010 was much more introspective than anything Maximo Park had done at that time and this greater personal content is something we can expect here too, but is this sacrificing some key aspects to the sound?

‘Break Me Down’ is a pop inspired, rhythmic and catchy affair with a slight leaning towards the older material of Maximo Park, but it certainly remains it’s own thing with a more warped and loose guitar part and a generally more spaced out and breezy sound. This sound is accentuated by the Pop backing vocals and anchored by Smith’s earthy accented vocal. ‘All The Things You’d Like To Be’ features the echoed and meandering riff to open the track, something more at home on a Shoegaze track. This addition is more stripped back however without sacrificing the sonic quality and from here the track takes on a nice rhythmic jolt and maintains an urgency throughout. The lyrical content as always with Smith is very visual and descriptive as he describes the derelict office blocks of his home town for example.

‘Reintroducing The Red Kite’ is a track driven by a more prominent bass line and a deeper riff from which the vocals can break away in a light and airy fashion. The snappy percussion in the background only makes the verses more appealing in it’s catchiness, but the chorus does seem a little like a forced attempt to fit the song’s title into the track. The track as a musical affair works the juxtaposition between verse and chorus well however. ‘Coney Island (4th of July)’ is a track replicative of an 80’s pop track with breezy overtones as the warping bass line runs alongside the light whirring backing vocals. A steady Track. More folk-inspired tones are found on tracks like ‘The Gold Glint’ with the closely recorded acoustics feeding in to a slow paced, jangling ensemble that is ‘Fill in the Blanks’ as the track builds up it’s sonic quality with the addition of a wiry lead guitar behind the steady instrumentation. Other tracks such as ‘The Deep End’ continue that atmospheric quality to the album tracks with the close recording of vocals set against a more purposeful, rhythmic sound and this makes the lyrics stand out too. The lyrics are certainly one of the album’s strong points and even though the album isn’t bursting full of invention, it gathers together a good mix of sounds that make the album a dynamic one within the context of Paul Smith’s introspective messages.

Paul Smith & The Imitations – Contradictions = 7.5/10

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – Hurts – Lights

With their third studio album Surrender so far offering up Electro-Pop or Theatrical singles, Hurts have now threw Disco into the mix with their new single ‘Lights’ which was a turn few of us were expecting from the Teesside/Manchester duo who release their third LP on October 9th. It certainly has shades of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, but in a more purer form of Disco with the low slung bass lines, jingling riffs and whispy electronica with handclaps and all. Theo Hutchcraft offers up a smooth and lavender-like vocal to match up with the time reversed instrumentation. It’s a pretty fun song in isolation and certainly signals what will be the duo’s most varied and open album yet, but you still get the sense that this was perhaps a little random in the grand scheme of things. We always welcome surprises though…

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Single Review – Paul Smith and The Limitations – Break Me Down

Maximo Park’s Paul Smith is to release his second solo album(ish) on August 21st with Contradictions. He and his group The Imitations have released another track in ‘Break Me Down’ from the album and is a pop inspired, rhythmic and catchy affair with a slight leaning towards the older material of Maximo Park, but it certainly remains it’s own thing with a more warped and loose guitar part and a generally more spaced out and breezy sound. This sound is accentuated by the Pop backing vocals and anchored by Smith’s earthy accented vocal. A nice little track from the Teessider.

Owen Riddle @oriddleo1995

Sunday Suggestion – Maximo Park – The National Health

Rewind two years and Maximo Park were a well established band in the UK and Europe and of course, hugely respected in their native North East. They formed as students at Newcastle University and lead singer, Paul Smith is a man of Teesside too. Two of these things are applicable to me, but beyond any skewed loyalty I might have, they have deserved every piece of credit they have received. Whether it was their fully charged 21st century indie anthems, their reflective ballads or their political protests and commentaries. It’s the later that currently appeals to me. Their fourth studio album of 2012 was entitled The National Health after all and the title track spoke volumes of the frustrations of the day. Musically, it’s a song of rapidity and urgency with the flashing leading rhythms, staccato piano melodies and the highly charged whirr of the lead guitar atop of it all. Smith’s delivery is as urgent and evokes the frustration of the lyrics he delivers about the struggles of riding the local trains, lost identities and ignorant councils. The title of the track is a sharp play on words itself. Whether it’s the dismantling of the National Health Service or the general poor state of the National in general., it relates to both.

Single Review – Paul Smith & Peter Brewis – Exiting Hyde Park Towers

Two key leading lights of North East music have come together to create an album titled Frozen by Sight which will be out on November 17th. These two leading lights in collaboration are Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith (A Tynesider via Teesside) and Peter Brewis of Field Music (A man of Wearside) and their album is to be centred around Smith’s travel writing and Brewis’ chamber orchestra arrangements with each track relating to a place or location and intends to take you from the shores of North East England to Los Angeles. Their latest track from the album is entirely evocative of the album’s intended nature. ‘Exiting Hyde Park Towers’ has that gradual rise and fall of the louder piano chords and tumbling percussion with Smith’s vocals slotting between each musical signpost for a gentle and sweeping feel that is enhanced by the fine strings linking the parts together. A song with subtle instrumental flexibility and vocal intricacy.

Alistair Sheerin Q&A Interview

Remember the name because this guy is going places. Middlesbrough’s Alistair Sheerin talks to Stockton’s Owen Riddle (I’m reliably informed that’s me) about supporting Miles Kane, Why he got into music and about Teesside too. For which he talks a lot of sense.

For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to hear your music; can you describe your sound and what you’re about?

Well my name is Alistair Sheerin, i write rock n roll. It’s catchy, honest and doesn’t mess around! I’m from Middlesbrough and have been gigging for a long time now both acoustically and with my backing band, just finished a Miles Kane tour supporting him throughout the UK and been working with Tom Clarke from The Enemy. I’m in the middle of doing the festivals for this time of year whilst recording some new stuff in the studio. Exciting times man!
           Who are the primary influences to your music?
Well the reason i picked up the guitar was because of Noel Gallagher, i saw ‘Familiar to Millions’ from 2000 at Wembley Stadium and i was like ‘fuck! I wanna do that’. So i started learning guitar after that and then through Oasis i found Paul Weller, The Kinks etc. In my house though the radio was always on and i was brought up on people like The Beatles and Motown music. So i think it was in the blood from an early age. Noel and those are still my primary influences today along with Tom Petty, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. But you should never pigeon hole yourself! There’s too much good music out there to enjoy, i make sure i listen to everything i possibly can!

You’ve got yourself a band if I’m right! Who’s who and how good are they?

That’s right. They don’t have a name or anything they are my backing band. We sometimes go with ‘Ally She and the Knobhead Three’ for a laugh haha. I’ve been playing with them a year and a half now. It’s Luke Freeman on rhythm guitar, Ryan Shaw on bass and Ste Fenton on Drums. We’re all from Middlesbrough so we have the same craic. They are great players, i throw everything i can at them and they just take it and play it exactly how its meant to be played. Live we have so much energy, i can’t fault them at all. I’m very lucky to have met these people and they’ve become like my best friends too and it’s such a joy to be on the road with them. It’s nice to be able to say that after all this time after some of the shit i’ve put up with in the past when i used to be in other bands and stuff, very lucky indeed!

There’s a bit of resurgence in more straight up classic rock from The Strypes, Jake Bugg and Miles Kane of course: Do you think it can last and get bigger?

Absolutely! What people forget is that type of music never goes away. Yeah it has moments where is not the ‘in thing’ but it always comes back around bigger and better when all the little fads die out. There’s always an audience for it and a loyal audience too! I’m all over it man. I’m happy that people are including me as part of it and its nice people are putting me in the same leagues as Miles and Jake Bugg etc. There’s still a lot of work to do but it’s gonna be bigger thats for sure, i’ll certainly be part of that for as long as i can because i have a point to prove and things to say!

Being a fellow Teessider, it’s great that there are acts like yourself about. However, do you think it’s harder for the region to compete with other areas of the country due to how strong chart music is here?

I think Middlesbrough is a forgotten part of the UK in general. Not just in music but in every sense. Sometime’s it feels like we’re the arsehole of the country and we’re not! We have some of the best audiences up here who are dying for big names to tour this way and we have some great bands coming through. I think it is easier for bands in say London to get noticed because of it’s vastness and because there is an audience for everything. But then i think those artists struggle up north because we know what we want and if it’s shit we just don’t follow it. It’s irritating that acts in Boro have to travel to get recognition but then again isn’t that the name of the game? We have some promoters doing great work for unsigned music here and it’s building man, it just takes time. I think we’ll get there eventually.

What’s the reaction been like to your music in Middlesbrough, Stockton etc.?

Off the scale mate, it’s taken a while but i’ve got a loyal following now and it’s really been set in stone this year. I returned to The Empire in Middlesbrough for a headline gig and it was packed out! I felt great and i thought ‘i’ve finally arrived’. Stockton Weekender was a great reaction too, a lot of familiar fans in the crowd came down and sang along. At alot of the gigs i get my songs sang back to me and its emotional but really makes me feel good. Like i said it’s taken time but im here now, and i’ll keep going to spread the word as far as i can.

‘I Don’t Need You’ is a quality song. What is the song about lyrically and musically?

Thank you, it’s been the closing song in the set, alot of people really dig it and have connected with it. At the time i wrote it it was about being in a relationship with a girl who was holding me back and would do that thing of ‘pulling a mood’ after a gig if girls wanted pictures or because i couldn’t spend time with her because of a gig. Musically i had the riff for ages and i took influence from a French artist called Jacque Dutronc, he has a song called The Responsible and i loved the way he sang the verses and i used that technique and tried it in mine and it worked. But for other people you can take what you want from it, it’s not just about a girl if you don’t want it to be it can be about a shitty job or a mate, anything!

What do you think is your most complete tune?

Hard to say because i always try and better myself on every song and for me i get most excited about the brand new stuff. I’d love to name one but i don’t think i’d be being honest.

You do some other songs justice too. What are your favourite songs to cover?

I used to do an acoustic cover of Miles Kane Come Closer with an off-beat strumming, that went down well. I threw in a cover of Noel’s If I Had A Gun at a gig a year ago and people went nuts for it! But my favourite i think was when me and the best used to do Cold Turkey by John Lennon at gigs, it was rocking and we made it a bit heavier. I used to love playing that guitar riff in the verses!

You’ve supported Miles Kane which must have been alright! What was it like for you and did he give you any words of wisdom or encouragement?

It was top! They were some of the best shows i’ve ever done and what made it more special was people had been checking me out when it was announced and so the venues were full for me going on. I was buzzin! Really nice, loyal fans. I spoke to him a fair bit but i wouldn’t say he gave me any words of wisdom. I was only meant to do two shows on the tour but he saw my first gig and then told me he was gonna’ get me on more so i ended up doing most of the tour! That was encouraging for me to know that he really liked my music and wanted me on the bill with him.

What’s the best venue you’ve played at?

Birmingham O2 Academy. Not for the actual venue but the crowd were the best i’ve played to yet, one of the best gigs of my life!

Is there a venue that you’d really want to make it to?

There’s loads mate but the ideal one for me would be The Royal Albert Hall. I’ve seen my heroes play there and the sound is amazing too. For me that would be a massive achievement.

Where do you record your tunes? Is it easy to do so?

I record them all over, it depends where you want to go really, no set place. At present i’ve been keeping it up north with a guy called Steve Metcalfe producing my stuff. It’s a long process recording, its easy when you and other musicians know everything really well, but sometimes its good to challenge yourself and take yourself out your comfort zone and do things you don’t do live.

What have you got in mind for the future? An album perhaps?

Nah not an album yet, it’s too early. I’ve got some more songs which i will eventually be putting out, gigging more, something special happening next year that i can’t reveal. For now all i can say is follow me on Twitter or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/alistairsheerinmusic) and keep a look out for what’s going on. I’m in a good place right now and i just want to keep going until my time has arrived, its all exciting!
Thanks to Alistair for giving some straight up and honest answers and be sure to have a look at his music.
Image from © Tim Bailey 2012