Friday, 17 August 2012

MARY AT MIDNIGHT – EP REVIEW

Mary At Midnight - Heads Will Roll EP

Mary At Midnight – Heads Will Roll EP

Release Date: November 2012

Oh great, yet another female singer-songwriter who has switched from the acoustic, folk world to the arena of electronica. That’s original. I mean, nobody has ever tried that before have they? I suppose I’ll give it a listen but I don’t really expect................hang on............what’s this?...........this is different. This is like Kate Bush singing Kimbra’s quirky songs with Florence + the Machine’s more ethereal tunes underneath it all. This is sumptuously multilayered and beautifully crafted music that has been put together with care, love and Swiss precision, which is odd considering the woman who has conjured up this music is part Indian, part North-Eastern, part London resident Kiran Hungin. Hungin is a musician who revels in creating music in that time between realising you are deprived of sleep and actually falling asleep. Those moments when the lines between reality and dreams are blurred and when you feel that blissful wooziness take over all of your decision making.

Title track ‘Heads Will Roll’ has nothing to do with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs track of the same name but it does possess the same pop potency as its doppelganger. A lurching beat drags the scattered melodies along a beach lit only by the first light of dawn and the embers of the previous night’s fires. There are folky, celtic influences at play that build in to a powerfully spirited chorus that evokes the image of forbidden lovers clinging desperately to each other in defiance against the world. ‘Palms’ is perhaps a more straight forward electro pop ditty but it still contains a sense 80s urgency and has synth laden chorus that wouldn’t be out of place playing over the credits of a thriller as the heroin watches the sun rise on a day she didn’t think she would live to see. ‘Army of Angels’ showcases the more soulful side of Hungin’s voice over a stumbling piano riff and lilting bass line and what emerges is a love song of epic proportions. This is pure, unadulterated pop music but with sophistication, intelligence and emotional depth that the likes of Jessie J can only peer enviously at through the shop window.

Mary At Midnight may be a one woman show but there is no doubt that she has the ability to go to the top as a musician or songwriter for performing pop-puppets. For my money it should only be a matter of time before Mary At Midnight is mentioned in the same breath as Florence, Goldfrapp and Sia. However, that will depend on how these songs are performed live and whether they are considered pop, alternative, electronica or, as should be, as all three. So, just goes show, don’t judge a book by its cover or an artist by their genre.


More M@M info at: http://www.maryatmidnight.com/

Thursday, 16 August 2012

PEERLESS PIRATES – EP REVIEW


Peerless Pirates - Thieves & Miscreants EP
Peerless Pirates – Thieves & Miscreants

Pretty much every emerging artist is told at some point that they need to find their niche or, shudder, Unique Selling Point. There is no doubt that Peerless Pirates have found their niche by dressing like pirates and singing almost exclusively about piratical themes – slightly odd for four blokes from land-locked middle England – but is it good to find a niche so specific that it potentially limits your artistic output? Because, let’s face it, there are only so many songs you can write about pirates unless you want to go all Somalian and, personally, I think it’s still too soon for that. Anyway, I digress, let’s talk about the music. Opener ‘The Ghost of Captain Kidd’ has the feel of some of the jauntier Smiths tunes but without Morrisey’s miserable dribbling and also features the line “you were captain of my heart” which reminded me of the 80s classic by Double. ‘Throw Down The Gauntlet’ starts off with a sea shanty style rhythm that begs for a few ‘yo-ho-hos’ but when Cliff Adams’ baritone voice booms the opening line you can’t help but feel that this is the music Neil Hannon would have made if he had watched Jonny Depp dress up as Keith Richards once too often.

With possibly the most contrived title, ‘Palaver at the Harbour’ is a great little indie tune that has a jangly, Mersey Beat-esque feel to it as well as plenty of tremolo guitar for effects enthusiasts. Meanwhile, final track ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ is a skiffly, perky number that the Coral would be proud of and the Zutons would kill for – if only to banish the ghost of ‘Valerie’. There’s no questioning the songwriting and technical abilities of Peerless Pirates and I have no doubt that their live performance is equally excellent but if I were an A&R scout (do they still exist?) I would have serious hesitations about the longevity of a band with such a niche market. I mean, if they’d managed to get a track on to any one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films or that mediocre offering from Aardman then there might be a chance of a couple of hits. Other than that I think the best bet would be to re-theme the band for each new release so that after the Peerless Pirates have run their course, they could try rebranding as the Kick-ass Knights, the Awesome Astronauts or Camp Cowboys (that last one’s just an excuse to wear assless chaps really).

Live:
31st August 2012 @ The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford
16th November 2012 @ The Wheatshead, Leighton Buzzard

Website:

THE LITTLE PHILISTINES – ALBUM REVIEW


The Little Philistines – Nuclear Envelope

Release Date: 8th October 2012

The recent Olympic closing ceremony celebrated the best of British pop music and pop culture as London 2012 took a final bow in front of the world’s eyes. Madness, Blur, Kate Bush and David Bowie were all present and correct with something for the younger viewers too in One Direction and Jessie “I wish I was Katy Perry” J. What Coe and Co really missed an opportunity to do though was showcase the future of great British pop music. Imagine a national battle of the bands with a prize of a 2 song set in the Olympic stadium in front of, well, THE WORLD! London quintet The Little Philistines would surely have won that battle and would have gone on to instant super stardom as a result. Instead, they will have to settle for a debut album full of finely crafted pop gems, the knowledge that they are excellent songwriters and a launch show at London’s legendary Wilmington Arms – not quite as glamorous but probably more credible than the Olympic closing ceremony.  

Nuclear Envelope kicks off with the infectiously jaunty ‘She’s My Food’ showing off the bands multi-layered vocal harmonies beautifully and bringing to mind the more upbeat moments of Belle and Sebastian. Trumpets, Violins, possibly a Kazoo and Carry On inspired lyrics (“I treated you like a number two when you should be number one”) all make for a very British pop song and at 2 minutes 17 seconds it’s a perky start to the album! ‘Idiom Idiot’ is that curious beast of a song with a high-brow subject but a low-brow way of hammering it home to the listener but repeating two words over and over again – kinda like Tony Blair’s Education, Education, Education mantra that still echoes around the corridors of Westminster on dark evenings. It is quickly apparent that what the Little Philistines embody is that rare thing of a band of friends with no focal point, no egos but bags of collective talent. More interestingly though, this isn’t just the standard gang of lads, yob-rock but rather a University educated group of friends who write songs over a tasty risotto and a glass of rioja. Now there’s a piece of me that opposes music that comes from that background, it’s the teenage, rebellious, idealistic part of me that didn’t know any better but since I’ve seen more of the world I have realised that there is space in the world for a whole buffet of music. I mean, sure, we all want the sausage rolls, potato wedges and ham sandwiches but every now again it’s nice to change things up with a skewered chilli king prawn, an avocado dip or some shredded duck wraps with hoi sin sauce.

‘Pick Me Up’ starts with lyrics about getting a Twix from a vending machine but ends up sounding like the Arcade Fire and then ‘Hot Phone’ comes screaming in with a beefy pop chorus and multi-layered melodies to die for – it’s no surprise that this was chosen as a single and might benefit from a re-release after the exposure this album is sure to get. The malady of ‘Pigeon Shit Bridge’ is remarkable on two fronts; Firstly because it is one of the very few indie-pop songs to use a waltz rhythm and secondly because it possibly has more swear words than the Super Furry Animals’ infamous ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ as it tells the story of getting mugged for an iPod under a grotty bridge by some hooded rapscallions. The gentle, choral strains of ‘Burns’ is a soothing influence on the ears and would fit nicely on any of the early Shine compilations between Echobelly and My Life Story. ‘Hugo Says!’ would also be at home in the 90s Britpop arena with its catchy call and response chorus and choppy guitar lines. Final track and album title track ‘Nuclear Envelope’, however, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Maximo Park or Futureheads album with its literary references, eccentric arrangements and sumptuous harmonies.

So, to sum up, the Little Philistines as a band are a middle class, University educated, buffet of a band who bring great harmonies, ear-worm melodies and sophisticated lyrics to the table. For fans of the Young Knives, Hot Club de Paris, Luke Haines and Belle & Sebastian it is good news – the Little Philistines are your new favourite band and, who knows, if enough of you buy their album, they can play at the opening ceremony of Rio 2016 once they are on their third album and have developed an absinthe and laudanum habit to rival a Victorian lush.

Album Launch Show: 5th October @ The Wilmington Arms, London

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

WHITE RABBIT ALL DAY SHOW – LIVE REVIEW

Listener, Crazy Arm, Bangers et al @ White Rabbit, Plymouth – 4th August 2012
Irony. Alanis Morissette never quite grasped it as a concept but life is steeped in it. Like a late bus delaying you from arriving in time for the start of an all day gig in a Bus Station for instance. That’s what happened on my way to the latest offering at the White Rabbit in Plymouth’s Bretonside Bus Station and because of that I only heard the closing strains of Bear Fight as I approached the venue. I can only apologise to the band for this but the murmurings among the rest of the crowd were that the Plymouth band was on fine form. So it was left up to Drexl to kick things off as far as I was concerned and what an intense start for 5.45pm on a Saturday!?! With humour, anger and a huge sense of injustice, frontman Chris Muirhead takes to the floor stage and eyeballs the entire crowd en masse. Muirhead’s brand of spoken word and lung busting screams draw the audience in only for them to be blasted away by the choppy, tight riffs and driving rhythm section. One hell of a wake up call from a band named after a minor alien beast from Star Wars!
Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls
Next up were Plymouthian trio As We Sink providing us with a blast of speed-punk and some of the most impressive bass work I’ve seen for a long time. Bassist Chris Ratcliffe plays his bass like he is trying to bring a recently deceased child back to life and has the look of a boy who has recently been told that he will be flying against the Luftwaffe that very evening despite only having been in the air twice. That’s all entertaining enough but throw in some rapid chops and furious drumming and you have what amounts to a serious level of noise and band that I want to hear more from. A short walk in to the main room of the White Rabbit brings me face to face with Exeter pop-punkers Muncie Girls and tone of the event changes immediately. Singer and Bassist Lande Hekt (one of only two women on the entire bill) beguiles the audience with saccharine sweet vocals sung over the top of simple but catchy melodies. Lazy journalists would mention likenesses with Veruca Salt and Hole but there is something very English and ever so slightly well-spoken about Muncie Girls that gives them a more unique and appealing sound. Hekt could do with some more roar behind her vocals but when you’re playing early on the bill and your microphone cuts out during one of the first songs you could be forgiven for not playing with all guns blazing. There’s a future for Muncie Girls though and I think part of that future involves a large part of America falling in love with them. Mark my words.
Coxy Music
When you commit yourself to a day full of watching bands that are mostly new to you, there are three things you need. A strong pair of legs, an open mind and the hope that you’ll discover a great new band – you must always have hope. Fights And Fires reward that hope in spades as they explode on to the stage like a whirling, snarling, spitting beast with a glint in its eye. Frontman Philip Cox looks like Kevin Smith’s younger brother wearing a Rowdy Roddy Piper T-Shirt but has the moves of a heavy metal version of Freddie Mercury and the wild abandon of Andrew WK. Guitarist Ryan Price is a Norse Viking with crazy, crazy eyes and a solid line in speed riffing along with the ability to move through the audience and play amongst them and, in one case, over them (it’s a complicated and vaguely sexual story for another time). Bassist Dan Solomon has the moustache and the mischief of a Victorian villain but the bass playing of a funky madman. And finally there’s drummer Lee Jackson wearing nothing but a Pepsi T-shirt and a constant, bewildered smile that suggests he can’t believe his luck at being in such an amazing band but he should as he’s got the rhythm of a metronome and some immense beats to boot. Even if Fights And Fires’ brand of punk-rock-screamo isn’t your cup of tea, I urge you to go see them if they swing by your town just for the stage show – you won’t regret it.
Like a kid in a sweet shop, I was finding it hard to control myself with great new bands everywhere I looked but then I stumbled across the musical equivalent of a bag of moldy cough candy twists when re-entering the main room to watch Solutions. On first impressions, this quartet sounded like a poor man’s 3 Colours Red but on further listening they just got worse. Playing on a bill full of impassioned, doing-it-coz-they-have-to, talented bands, Solutions stuck out a mile as run-of-the-mill, lazy and inexplicably arrogant considering the distinctly average rock they were peddling. The only entertaining point of the set was the red trousered bassist trying and failing to have some banter with the crowd but not, as he thought, because of his mild Welsh accent but rather because he was neither funny, interesting or captivating and those in the room were just bored and trying to work out where this all fitted in with an otherwise astounding line up. So, one last saunter through to the floor stage to catch Southampton’s Our Time Down Here who, by the time I reached them, were already bouncing between floor and ceiling and hitting hard with their brand of punk that made me want to go home and dig out all my old Atari’s and Engine 88 CDs that are gathering dust under my bed. They also boasted one of the most entertaining drummers I have ever seen, Shane Bonthuys, who head banged his way through the entire set without missing a beat and kept the OTDH juggernaut pounding relentlessly forwards. Singer Will Gould is probably the most mobile man of the day, bouncing off walls and switching between friendly, appreciative banter (take note, Solutions) and throat tearing vocals with the ease of someone changing lanes on the autobahn.
Bangers'n'smash
My weary legs drag me back to the main room where the last three bands are all due to grace the stage and first up is Cornish trio Bangers who look like they are going to play some Weezer covers and be fun but generally out of kilter with the rest of the night. Well, dear reader, this is the moment that the phrase ‘never judge a  book by its cover’ was coined for. Singer and Guitarist Roo Pescod (What a name?!) looks like he spends his days working as a really friendly travel agent and wouldn’t hurt a fly but when he opens his mouth to sing a staggeringly raspy voice comes out that belies his slight frame and constantly smiling demeanor. There’s a real joy about the music Bangers play but at times they look almost embarrassed, as though they were only writing this music for a laugh and now everybody has taken it seriously. As with most of the bands today these guys demonstrate excellent musicianship, water-tight timing and a real determination to put every drop of energy in to their performance. These guys are the real deal, doing what they love with passion and absorbing every ounce of the experience as they go. Impressive stuff indeed.
Penultimately (new word?) we have local gods Crazy Arm with a full 6-piece line up and dashing line in black shirts. Now, admittedly, I already know and love Crazy Arm but I’ve never seen them play a hometown show so I was particularly interested to see how their performance differed from the London shows I’d previously seen them at and I was not disappointed. Playing in front of friends and fans who knew all the words, these folk-punkers were freed from the shackles of trying to impress and seemed to thoroughly enjoy their set from start to finish. Jon Dailey’s acrobatic guitar work was a thing of beauty and Darren Johns fronts the band like a young Bruce Springsteen, all gravelly tones and wide legged rock stances whilst never losing eye contact with the front row. What sets Crazy Arm apart from the crowd are the songs though, and renditions of ‘Song Of Choice’, ‘Of The Tarantulas’ and a rare outing for ‘Kith and Kingdom’ have the crowd singing back every word with fierce pride and belief in the carefully crafted lyrics. The occasional additions of Patrick James Pearson on keys and violin as well as the demure Vicky Butterfield on backing vocals (see, I told you there was another woman) add a touch of class to proceedings that bring to mind Arcade Fire’s younger, angrier siblings and suggest that there is yet more room for the band to grow and more ground for them to cover.
Are you Listener-ing?
And so it all comes down to this. All day bands and fans alike have had the name of Listener teetering tentatively on their lips and with the most unassuming of entrances the Arkansas trio take to the stage to set up their gear. Then, with a brief huddle that wouldn’t look out of place at the Olympics right now, they’re off on a journey that everybody is invited on. The flamboyantly mustachioed Dan Smith and Tom Harrington-alike Christian Nelson are the faces of Listener and look like they would be totally at home about 30 feet to the left, sat in the bus station at midnight with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s and some great stories to tell. Luckily for the patrons of the White Rabbit, however, they rounded up a drummer and came to play their Cake meets Pixies meets Ben Folds Five brand of Garage Rock with Smith’s twitchy, tourettes-laden, eyeball popping, spoken word layered over the top like space rocks sprinkled on a meat and potato pie. Labeling themselves as ‘Talk Music’ is a great way of setting themselves apart from the crowd but I think it does Listener a disservice because there are songs here and good songs at that. Having Listener come to town to top such an impressive bill was a real coup for Plymouth and one that a lot of people got to enjoy thanks to the hard working folk behind the scenes on the Plymouth music scene. There should have been more people though and this is something that we all need to be wary of. Your local town has a music scene and the chances are it is precariously balanced between life and death so get out there and support it. Based on today’s evidence, there is plenty of talent out there and with your support that talent could go on to achieve greatness so don’t just wait for the touring bands to grace you with their presence. Get out there and support those bands that spend their days working in banks, supermarkets, pubs and cinemas but spend their nights baring their souls, chests and tattoos to anyone who cares enough to listen. After all, you would be the first one to complain if your local venue had to close down and be replaced by a Wetherspoon’s, wouldn’t you? Oh the irony.