Author Archives: Elliott Blackburn

UK Artist of the Week: The Duke Spirit

Sharing the stage over the last decade with Queens of the Stone Age, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, British Sea Power, R.E.M., Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Supergrass, Eagles Of Death Metal, and Jane’s Addiction, The Duke Spirit were rising stars before going on hiatus in 2012.

Now veterans of the UK music scene, The Duke Spirit has returned with their fourth studio album and their first in 5 years, KIN. The band have been through a great deal since their last record, all of which has gone to creating an incredibly mature and diverse new collection of material.

With a range of influences coming together on the album including shoegaze, indie-pop, and rock, the band have created a rich palette that, despite the diversity in musical directions, underpins the album as a cohesive whole. Latest single “Wounded Wing” is a particular stand-out with its sombre piano and gorgeous male/female harmonies, and “Pacific” with its use of a quivering Theremin, exhibits the band’s flair for experimentation.

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Needle Drop: The Calm Fiasco, “Lose Control”

Last month I authored an Artist of the Week feature on Glasgow band The Calm Fiasco, and since then they’ve gone and released their second single, “Lose Control.” I thought I better go check it out.

I hate to say I told you so, but it’s another great tune. The band have built on the more accessible “She Said” to produce a grittier, more aggressive track which relies on a driving drum beat and echoed by the rhythm of the guitars. Del Morin’s vocals snarl and snap, as he urges himself to put the low of a breakup behind him by going out and losing control.

While the musical backing and the lyrics take inspiration from the grittier end of the indie spectrum, there’s something of a much more classic blues feel to the way the verse’s vocals are delivered as if they’ve been lifted from a classic John Lee Hooker song. It’s an interesting combination which again demonstrates The Calm Fiasco aren’t just going through the motions.

Despite its move away from the more radio-friendly “She Said,” “Lose Control” retains that indie-floorfiller vibe. Danceable and singable from start to finish, it gets its point across in just over three minutes, no messing about, straight to the finish. Keep it coming boys.

“Lose Control” is out 22nd April 2016 via Chewy Records.

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Needle Drop: Caralis, “Logic”

What began as a the solo-project of electronic pop artist Dan Frau, Caralis has developed into a fully fledged band, producing a sound that sits somewhere between dreampop and electropop.

Their first single as a full group, “Logic” demonstrates this well, taking cues from the likes of Caribou and Bonobo. A catchy piano riff is the base of the song, rolling back and forth under Frau’s vocals, the style of which reminds me of (please don’t take this the wrong way, Dan) Keane’s lead singer Tom Chaplin.

The chorus raises us above the driving rhythm of the verse as Ex Libra’s frontman Amit Sharma plays a light guitar part which intertwines nicely with Frau’s now floating vocals. The song at this point feeling more similar to Wild Beasts in nature—it’s a nice change-up before the plunge back into the beefier verses. Toward the end of the song the urgency is upped in a long outro, a buzzing synth bassline drops in (“wait for the drop!”) with Frau repeating the line “different agenda,”—the whole thing feels rather sinister at this point.

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UK Artist of the Week: Vienna Ditto

Duo Vienna Ditto are fantastically weird. Their music takes inspiration from all over the shop with bits of indie, blues, gospel, surf-rock, and whole host of other areas. Rap and hip-hop excluded, you could make the case for almost any style appearing in the mix somewhere.

But it doesn’t stop there—the band’s approach to their videos, their look and general persona, portray them keen to be as creatively experimental as their imaginations will allow.

Their press release describes their latest EP “Ticks” as “a collection of seven sonically-alluring sci-fi blues tracks that slip somewhere between a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, a charity shop Bacharach-on-the-Moog-Synthesizer album, and a bad night on the brown acid.” Which simultaneously makes complete sense and is entirely confusing. To help clear things up, take a listen to the title track of the EP as a perfect introduction to Hatty Taylor (vocals, synth) and Nigel Firth (guitar).

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Needle Drop: AmatrArt, “Mirror/Soft Skin”

AmatrArt (pronounced “amateur art”) are a 5-piece band out of Glasgow, Scotland who produce music which is anything but amateurish. (I’m so sorry for that.) Their double a-side single “Mirror/Soft Skin” is an incredibly mature (sorry, I’ll stop) couple of tracks which show of display beautiful intertwining melodies and killer choruses.

“Mirror,” which premiered on Vic Galloway’s New Music Show on BBC Scotland, opens with a low throbbing synth sound sweeping in and out around a palm muted guitar line, before vocalist Jonathan Mullen enters, his voice almost lazily sliding between notes creating a really nice meandering effect.

A great build toward the chorus with the repeated line “Where did I go wrong?” ups the ante before everything drops and a fantastic guitar riff from Josh McGeechan cuts through, driving the chorus forward while some falsetto “ooohs” float over the top. However the real highlight of the song, again coming from McGeechan’s guitar, is a raucous guitar solo which writhes and thrashes almost chaotically around (very Johnny Greenwood) before seamlessly dropping back into a final chorus. The whole song is over 5 minutes but it races by before you’ve even realised.

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Needle Drop: Tryptamines, “Metropolis” EP

“Metropolis,” the reissued EP from Tryptamines is wonderfully weird. The Aberdeen-based experimental band doesn’t stick to any one musical style on the record, instead veering between Caribou and Beck-influenced dream-pop and the true experimentalism of CAN and Captain Beefheart.

You’d think a wild range of styles might struggle to coalesce, and I suppose there is a bit of truth to it—between one track and another you could be listening to two different sounding bands. While this might make it difficult to draw an audience to their sound, the EP taken at face value is four rather well accomplished pieces of music.

The opening title track is true dream pop. Dancing keys skip over a lively drum beat, while the vocals—very reminiscent of a In Rainbows-era Tom Yorke—bleed into each other as they’re delivered in almost a constant stream. The increasing tension this creates is broken by a chorus which feels distinctly like coming up for air and has a mildly euphoric feeling as a result.

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Needle Drop: Luke Howard, Two Places

Luke Howard’s new album Two Places is an incredible journey via both classical and electronic music structures with a sound that is rich and complex built upon its intertwining instrumentation.

A session performer and composer for film and television, Howard has collaborated with numerous high-profile musicians such as Ben Frost and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, garnering a great deal of critical acclaim for his collaborations and now for his solo work.

On Two Places, Howard continues to experiment with the melding of both classical and electronic music, building upon his previous release Sun, Cloud. The title track “Two Places” is a standout with a solo piano laying a foundation over which shimmering, sweeping synth and string sounds swirl, creating a crescendo of noise which comes to a head before suddenly slipping away.

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UK Artist of the Week: The Calm Fiasco

Irony is a famously misunderstood concept. A prime example would be Alanis Morissette’s iconic song which horribly misses the point—unless the ironic aspect is that she has written a song called “Ironic” that isn’t about irony. An oxymoron—that’s a far better understood one—and The Calm Fiasco is a prime example.

The band that emerged from the fertile Glasgow music scene in 2014 with debut single “Turquoise” are much more than a clever name, however. The four-piece play no-nonsense indie-rock, plush with catchy lyrics and gritty guitars—a hot knife cutting through the overly complex, produced-within-an-inch-of-their-life bands that seem all too common these days.

“She Says,” the first track to be released from their upcoming second EP, “The Fear,” is another strong showing, but it is one that reveals the band aren’t happy just to sit in their comfort zone. The track displays a darker, more brooding side to their music while keeping those same guitars and hooks consistent throughout. If the rest of the EP is anything along the same lines, we’re in for a treat.

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UK Artist of the Week: Right Hand Left Hand

The first thing I notice when listening to instrumental post-rock duo Right Hand Left Hand is that these are musicians who have mastered their instruments. Seamlessly moving among them—often within the same song—they build their music with a maze of intertwining beats and melodies.

Andrew Plain and Rhodri Viney played in numerous bands around the Cardiff scene, but after hearing Trans Am by chance in a Dutch nightclub, the two decided to form a group that would explore more experimental leanings.

Two albums later that chance moment looks to be an even more significant one. The music, while being based on that of bands like Trans Am and The Fucking Champs has developed into so much more, to the point where I’d say there is no other band doing what they are at this time—a rare thing to find today.

I’m clearly not the only one who feels that way either, with the duo having supported Dead Meadow, Errors, The Mahjonng, The Mae Shi, Super Furry Animals, Funeral For A Friend, and Los Campesinos. To top this already impressive list, they are just about to head out on their second tour in support of Future of the Left (full details below).

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UK Artist of the Week: Cut Capers

Cut Capers is a band that has been around for a number of years now. The Bristol based ska-hip hop-swing-gypsy-seriously difficult to categorise 8-piece have had some fantastic success on the live scene building a solid core of fans in the process.

However, despite having played Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, and Boomtown Fair as well as touring in the UK, France, Belgium, and Ireland with their high energy live performances they’re yet to have a breakthrough befitting of their abilities.

Originally formed by childhood friends Mark Pearce (vocals and tenor sax) and Nick Van Tinteren (guitar) along with Eloy Bandin (vocals) and Matt Sunderland (drums), they released their first EP “Pinstripe Tux” as a four piece. Doubling in size over the next few years as they brought in Jane Thomas (vocals), Dan Plimmer (bass), Tommy Taylor (baritone sax), and Angel Rodriguez (trumpet), they’ve continued to build momentum with a succession of singles including the stand out track “Say What.”

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Needle Drop: Connah Evans, “Wait For Me”

Connah Evans is a young singer-songwriter from North Wales. Yes, he sings introspective songs while strumming an acoustic guitar, but he supplements these basics with so much more, to a point where you end up with something more akin to Imagine Dragons or Circa Waves.

His latest single, “Wait For Me” with its lively guitars and drums that seem to almost skip, is a real earworm. After an initial listen, I was off to my lunch-break where I found myself humming the chorus without even noticing what I was doing—which I suppose for a good pop song is exactly what you want.

After releasing his debut Labels last year, Connah has clearly been busy, as the accompanying “Wait For Me” tour video shows him playing to numerous packed venues in a jaunt around the UK. This is all the more impressive as apparently Connah books most of his own gigs.

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Needle Drop: Right Hand Left Hand, “Seat 18c”

Right Hand Left Hand are an alt-rock two piece from Cardiff on the verge of releasing their second album via Jealous Lovers Club. With an impressive touring record, having supported Super Furry Animals, Los Campesinos!, and Funeral for a Friend, they are definitely ready for the big time.

With both members swapping guitars and drums and an extensive use of loops, their sound obviously takes cues from the heavier side of post rock, but they are absolutely not just revivalists. Incorporating elements of math rock and electronica—with metronomic, driving drums and looping layered guitars—they make an impressive amount of noise for just two people.

“Seat 18c” is the second release from their upcoming, self-titled album and it is relentless. Following first single “Tarts and Darts,” it begins with layers of fingerpicked guitar creating a very real sense of unease, and it’s not long before the obligatory riff breaks through driving the track forward. It’s reminiscent of Mogwai’s heavier tracks and definitely impressive. If I’ve any criticism it’s that it ends so abruptly, and to me it seems like the build-up deserved more. It’s a great song however, so do yourself and favour and play it loud.

Right Hand Left Hand’s self-titled album is released February 12th.

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Needle Drop, The Frisbys “The Cause” EP

One can never tire of a good harmony. Something about the sounds made by two or more intertwining vocal melodies is beautiful and often otherworldly. Twins Nicola and Helen Frisby have been creating such harmonies for years.

Now on The Frisbys’ second EP, “The Cause” they have used their harmonic talents in conjunction with some strong writing to produce a great six song collection. With tracks that deal with a wide array of issues, both of the lighter and darker sides of life, it’s an epic EP.

Lead track “Born and Raised” is a prominent moment. Released as part of the double a-side single along with “Give Into The Dark,” the twins’ songwriting shines with some fantastic use of melody and great hooks, kicking off the EP in style.

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Needle Drop: Me And
My Drummer, “Blue Splinter View”

If you haven’t come across Berlin duo Me and My Drummer to date—do yourself a favor. I’m excited for their upcoming second album, Love is a Fridge from which they’ve released their latest single “Blue Splinter View.”

The song itself is wonderful—a laid back Americana influenced track with verses that sway back and forth, rocking gently before being blown away by Charlotte Brandl’s powerful vocals. However, as this is a video review and despite my enjoyment of the song, I have to admit being rather disappointed by the visual accompaniment.

The entire four and a half minutes of the video sees Brandl slowly rotating while singing the song, not moving except to occasionally change the angle of her head. Meanwhile, perhaps trying to emphasise the sense of openness that the Americana style often conveys, several different skyscapes are projected onto a wall behind her.

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UK Artist of the Week: Crow’s Feet

There is a fair bit of mystery surrounding Crow’s Feet. Emerging out of nowhere over the last couple months with the beautiful “Alarm Clock Bones,” the project of former WOMPS drummer Lewis Tollan has the air of something special about it.

Of course I’m just going off of one song here, but the base of the harmonium (I wrongly thought it was an organ) is delicately layered up with strings, echoes, guitar, and wonderful vocals from Calum Stewart to a crescendo of noise that makes the hair on your arm stand on end.

With not much to go on when glancing through Twitter, Facebook, or Soundcloud pages, it appears that Tollan is determined to let the music do the talking. The lack of social media reminds me a bit of when Jungle broke a few years back—not with the Saturday Night Fever rip offs or lack of creative diversity, but in the way their lack of interaction was actually quite refreshing.

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