Music Reviews: New/Recent Releases June 2017

New/Recent Releases June 2017

Time for another look at some of the best music released on the unsuspecting public in the last few months. We’ve got yet another varied bunch of stuff for ya, all bound together by the high quality of each of the acts featured.

Click one of the links below to jump to a specific review, or scroll through and find something new!

Rocket Turtle EP (The Double Standards)
Free Spirits EP (Lisa Kowalski)
Goo Goo Shoom (Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes)
Whoever That Is… EP (Matt Scott)
Under The Bridge EP (Royal Bloom)
The Hijacked (The Hijacked)
Business And Pleasure EP (Tio Rico)

The Double Standards: Rocket Turtle EP (April 2017)

The debut EP by The Double Standards is called Rocket Turtle. Somehow that quite neatly encapsulates most of what you need to know about the band and their record! It’s bright, it’s big, and it’s fun. Over six tracks the band don’t take themselves too seriously, but they do play their music with skill and style.

The accompanying artwork continues the vibe, depicting – in hand drawn style, on lined paper – well… a turtle, flying a rocket. Obviously! The EP contains six cuts of compelling, uptempo, heavy indie rock. It’s well recorded, with a huge, bold sound typified by the opening of lead track She’s Not As Cool As She Thinks. Both it, and the later Kimono Girl, are huge, catchy pop/punk numbers which would stand proudly on any soundtrack album to a 90’s/00’s teen movie – think American Pie, or 10 Things I Hate About You. They’re fast and exuberant, with stellar, thumping work from drummer Ross Macnamara. Kimono Girl has a thrilling breakdown featuring a flurry of messy, clattering guitar (by the duo of Marc McFadyen and Callum Williamson) while the low down bass tones really cut through on She’s Not As Cool As She Thinks, which drags you right along with the fast paced, clipped delivery of singer Connor Anderson.

Elsewhere, Boyle For Prom Queen which kicks off with a slinky guitar intro, then machine gun drumming into a fast, propulsive beat. Anderson’s vocals are lower, punkier than might be expected. This fits perfectly with the first two tracks we mentioned, while provide a cool contrast on the more indie sounding material that makes up the rest of the EP. The band tightly control the musical dynamics throughout, with some cool stop/start moments, jangly build ups and a great, thick bass lead in the middle 8 – also handled by Anderson.

First single Wavess also superbly plays with dynamics. Opening with some subtle chords the band take their time to work things back up into another rollicking blast. Again the vocals are somewhat in juxtaposition to the genre of the song, but again this provides an interesting angle on the music. Another spiky guitar solo with speedy high-hat playing brings in shades of the Arctic Monkeys.

At times the low register singing does get a little buried in the fervour that surrounds it, and the tempo does drop just slightly on final track Hello, which allows the vocals to cut through more and really showcase the singer’s command of tone. Somewhere near the end of the song The Double Standards drop in a huge left turn as Marc McFadyen reels off a fiery guitar solo. It’s brilliantly crazy and flashy – I certainly didn’t see it coming – providing a breathless ending to a vibrant, enthusiastic and above all – that word again – very fun record.

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Lisa Kowalski: Free Spirits EP (April 2017)

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By Cameron Arndt, photos © Lisa Kowalski Music

Also ably dispelling some of the doom and gloom in the world, and using music as an optimistic, positive force in her hometown and beyond, is Paisley teenager Lisa Kowalski. After picking up the guitar when she was 13 it wasn’t long before she was busking on the High Street and playing at open mic nights around the town. She quickly acquired a repertoire, and a reputation, and also took to writing music of her own.

This is her debut EP, comprising four tracks of her own devising, and helped to become a reality by a grant from Paisley 2021 – the town’s bid to become City Of Culture in 2021. Kowalski has eagerly given back to the town, promoting the bid and Paisley itself at every opportunity. She cites busking on the High Street as ‘a microcosm of the features that make Paisley special and such a strong contender for the bid,’ citing the sense of community as the biggest defining factor. The people of Paisley welcomed her as the youngest female busker to regularly appear on their streets despite the fact, she says, that her initial set was 80% early Taylor Swift songs that nobody knew!

So what of the EP? Titled Free Spirits, it’s a confident, buoyant offering. With years of experience playing live it’s no surprise that Kowalski’s own performance is top notch, but she’s also created a powerful group of songs with a bright folk/pop sound, all based on her own experiences. Opener Hearts Of Gold harkens back to the great atmosphere she found busking, with the chorus lyric explaining ‘The streets are paved with hearts of gold.’

The track – and indeed the whole EP – are slickly produced, with a professional sheen that allows you to fully absorb the songs. Kowalski has a lovely voice – soft and smooth, but capable of jumping up a gear and an octave at will, as she does on the lead in to the chorus of that first song. While the music is undoubtedly reminiscent of mellow tracks by Scottish songwriters such as KT Tunstall and Amy McDonald, there’s also small hints of country and Americana, and strong melodies throughout, not least in the final track where Kowalski is joined by a full band for a driving pop/rock number. . It reminds me of that song by Sixpence None The Richer… take from that what you will!

These two cuts bookend the polished, sturdy title track and the delicate Looking But Not Finding. Free Spirits itself leads with a staccato acoustic guitar over which Kowalski sings with charisma and grace. The band then smoothly slides in to another shiny, melodic groove. Kowalski’s backed primarily by Aidan Smith (guitar, backing vocals, piano, bass) and Grant Doyle (bass, piano, guitar and drums) and each does a stellar job throughout. In particular the short passages of lead guitar on the title track (and Hearts Of Gold) are just right, while the percussion is just enough to keep things ticking along without being overbearing.

Looking But Not Finding has a slightly slower opening, sprinkled with little touches of piano. The lyrics are poignant, searching, just a little melancholy, ‘Ain’t it sad how I can’t open up my heart without someone sneaking in.’ It’s impressive stuff for someone of such a young age. The key line in the chorus is perhaps ‘There’s a traffic jam in my head, thinking of words I should have said’ as Kowalksi laments the trials and tribulations of life and relationships.

The ending of the song is almost acapella, and this really lets the vocalist’s superb singing shine through. It’s perhaps the single moment which most showcases Lisa Kowalski’s talent – on an EP that’s full of many more of them.

Like Lisa Kowalski Music on Facebook to keep up to date!

Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes: Goo Goo Shoom (9th June 2017)


By Cameron Arndt, photos © Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes

Joe Bone And The Dark Vibes are (almost defiantly) hard to categorise. In terms of musical genre they touch on elements of jazz, blues, reggae, rock… and loads more besides… meanwhile they’re immediately memorable in live performance, and endlessly intriguing in style. They also have a distinct darkness, an almost gothic streak about both their music and their image. Much of this is doubtless thanks to frontman and guiding light, Joe Bone. Well known around Glasgow, both from his time fronting The Coffins, and for his unreserved, forthright manner, it’s his magnetic presence that provides the clear direction – and no doubt the lion’s share of out-there ideas – that the band needs to go forth and delight and beguile their audiences.

Part funded by a kickstarter campaign – a good barometer of fan interest these days – Goo Goo Shoom is the long anticipated full debut album from the band. Any caution or reserve seems to have been easily cast to the wind as the record runs the full gamut through any and all genres the band choose to touch, with epic performances, crackling voiceovers, chilling moments and fearless observations – not to mention a barrel-load of good songs.

It’s not for the faint hearted though, some of it takes a few plays to sink in, some of it be a little hard edged for some… Joe Bone asks no quarter, and Joe Bone gives no quarter. Proceedings open with the aptly named Procession Of The Dark Vibes, a gothic-sounding piano piece which provides a superbly theatrical beginning. This short intro is abruptly halted by the heavy, synthy groove of Don’t Talk To Me. The full weight of the band hits you square in the face, just before Bone clobbers you round the head with his opening vocal ‘Don’t Talk To Me, I’m a fuckin’ robot, put together by the state, don’t talk to me.’ Already it’s pretty biting stuff, Bone’s vocals are low and acerbic, full of character and grit. They’re never quite comfortable to listen to, but you’re never quite able to tear yourself away before hearing his next scything couplet or bold take down.

Which is not to say there isn’t some light, melody and beauty in this album. Much of the latter two are provided by the vocals of ­­­­­­­­­­­­Sue Nicolson who’s high, lilting voice provides a substantial counterpoint to the frontman. At times the two vastly different styles seem not to gel, but in many ways the huge contrast helps provide a lot of the sense of energy and uneasiness in the music. There’s no comforting, average-sounding lead singing in the middle range, everything’s at an extreme, leaving your ears and your brain struggling – but in a good, provocative and energetic way – to make sense of what you’re hearing.

A jazzy piano intro leads into the centrepiece DWP, a popular live cut and excoriating critique of the failings of the Department for Work And Pensions. As angry as the track is in tone, it’s also relentlessly catchy, and softens to practical desperation in the chorus, ‘DWP why don’t you like me? DWP why do you hate me?’

Elsewhere Bone celebrates a home town hero on the rousing Benny Lynch, about the ‘Glasgow born and bred’ boxer. The track rides along – as with much of the album – on a cool, deep groove provided by the solid bass of Martin McCann and pinpoint drumming of Jenny Tingle and ends with the frontman doing his best ringside announcer, repeatedly crowing ‘Benny Lynch, the flyweight champion of the world!’ to overlaid applause.

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Other standouts include the down and dirty jazz-blues of Voodoo Blood which brings back the gothic horror vibe and employs some gloriously old-school, spooky piano which I imagine being played by Vincent Price, but is actually ably handled by Allan French. The track and the record avoid descending into schlock, however, and here the two opposing vocals combine superbly to hit just the right tone of menace and reality.

The key track towards the end of the album, just before ethereal closer Never Have I Been (Anything That’s Clean), is the amusing, subversive The Bible According To Joe Bone, in which the frontman twists and tears bible stories to tell them in his own idiosyncratic style. Guitarist Davy Irvin gets full freedom to drench the song in tasty licks which reverberate around the vocals. Meanwhile, Bone paints vivid, off-kilter pictures with images like ‘Jesus was born from a leprechaun,’ ‘Moses died on the side of a hill, shot between the eyes by Buffalo Bill,’ ‘Goliath was a midget in a travelling freak show.’ It’s both weird and seditious, and somehow very much fits the man and his personality. It’s all capped by the payoff, ‘How do I know this? Just because I read it, or I heard that somebody said it…’

Indeed.

Goo Goo Shoom is everything you might have expected from Joe Bone And The Dark Vibes – though what you should always expect from this band is the unexpected. If that doesn’t quite make sense, it’s perhaps a good reflection of the mysteries of this album. Boosted by strong musicianship across the board it’s an unusual, rebellious and intriguing offering which challenges, confuses and excites in equal measure.

Catch Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes on Facebook!

The album will be launched tonight, 9th July with a show at Ivory Blacks in Glasgow. Get all the details here.

Matthew Scott: Whoever That Is… EP (10th June 2017)


By Cameron Arndt, photos © Matt Scott Music

Whoever That Is… is the new release from Glasgow singer/songwriter Matt Scott. While the title may be a subtle, self-effacing jab at his own expense, the music contained within belies any potential insecurity. Across four strong, well written tracks Scott displays full confidence in himself and his music – and has clearly put a lot into making sure the songs reached their full potential.

The four cuts – really it’s three songs, with one wee extra bonus piece – roundly display a strong folk vibe, with hints of Americana, blues, and even Celtic rock. All are based around Scott’s precision acoustic guitar playing and dynamic, gritty vocals, but he’s layered on plenty of extra instruments to fatten up the sound and add extra points of interest as the record barrels along.

Curiously the EP opens with the aforementioned ‘bonus’ piece, Whenever It Is Lost has an upbeat folk- groove with a repeated chorus of voices singing, ‘Love lost love and it’s all my fault.’ It’s an unusual but cool intro, though to my mind it may have functioned better as an extended coda to the next track (full disclosure, this could be because I initially heard the songs in the wrong order!)

Nevertheless, it leads in nicely to Love Me Honey Love which has a similar, slightly bouncy vibe and a punchy harmonica intro. There are some effective moments where the harp doubles the vocal, and some cowbell-accented stops which add both subtlety and style before a harmonica and violin solo in the middle. There’s plenty going on but it’s all based around Scott’s lead, with the pithy payoff to the lyrics, ‘You’ll treat me wrong, then treat me right, but if you love me honey enough then that’s all right.’

You Cried ramps things up – somewhat contradicting it’s downbeat title, it turns out to be a Springsteen style folk-rocker, which Scott sings with an understated Celtic tinge. Though the lyrics are a little, melancholy the song itself has an infectious feel, built on a powerful drum performance and laced with dancing harmonica and violin.

The final number, I Was Out All Night, has a mid paced groove, with slight stomp and traces of a 50s-style rock n roll ballad in it’s DNA. The softly mixed guitar and drums give full play to the vocals, and Scott’s singing is once again particularly good as he’s able to give full reign to the aching, wrenching lyrics.

Whoever That Is… is a solid, interesting EP. Though it’s perhaps a little short to give a full account of the artist’s skills, everything included is of a high standard, and provides an enjoyable listen. There’s an authentic folk-rock atmosphere throughout which was a nice surprise, and it would be interesting to hear what Scott can produce if given space to stretch out more – I happen to know he does a mean version of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well

Like Matt Scott Music’s page on Facebook.

Whoever That Is… will be released with a show at King Tuts, Glasgow on the 10th June (tomorrow!). Get all the details here!

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Royal Bloom: Under The Bridge EP

Under The Bridge - EP

By Gavin Tudhope
Photos from Royal Bloom official website, © Royal Bloom  

It’s been a while since I gave my ears a good workout, but Royal Bloom’s debut EP, Under The Bridge, has given them just that. On listening to the record, I feel that I can give an accurate prediction of this band’s imminent rise. Let’s look at the 6 songs found on this EP.

The first song shares the title of the album itself. I get a slightly heavy Kaiser Chiefs vibe from this track, which to me is not a bad thing at all. It allows the song to be light enough to be accessible to people starting their journey exploring the rock genre, but also heavy enough to be a distinguishable example of rock music that will earn the respect of more hardcore listeners, making this a good starting point for the record.

The tone changes completely with Can’t Complain. In contrast to the more upbeat Under The Bridge it has a grungier sound. This is carried throughout the song, yet all the instruments sound clean – a difficult balance to get right, yet the members of Royal Bloom have achieved it with style.

All ‘n’ All, meanwhile, is something I’d consider to be in the middle of the range of vibes displayed throughout the EP. It returns to a similar sound to that established on Under The Bridge, but includes some subtle decorations, like little second-long drum fills which add to the technicality.

Bland is the first song here to begin with a quiet introduction, and stands out immediately from the preceding numbers. The song also changes speed constantly, which works very well. It starts slowly with a quiet guitar briefly accompanying the reflective vocal. It then quickens pace, raising the energy of the whole song. Although letting the quiet guitar play a little longer would allow for a more diverse song range, this is a tiny complaint on an otherwise well executed song.  The penultimate cut, Disdain, is, in my opinion, a little similar to Bland – only the order of loud/soft sections is reversed. It’s still a great track, however, showing off the skills of all the musicians involved very well.

The final song, Motown, is a very underappreciated number and is perhaps my favourite on the whole EP. This is where the band’s tonal diversity shines the most and is perhaps the heaviest of all the songs in this album. It kicks off with a great drums intro, sounding not unlike a jazz ensemble with a deep rockish twist. The title is appropriate, recalling the “Motor City” itself in the jazz influence of the intro, and the more mechanical sound of the rock aspect. This was something I found rather striking with this song.

This is a very promising start to the band’s career. Their music is quite diverse, with some relatively light, easy listening chart songs that will appeal to almost anyone and also including slower, more brooding pieces which more enthusiastic and developed listeners of the rock genre can get their teeth stuck into. My only major criticism is that this variety doesn’t really shine through in terms of the tempo of the songs – most of the tracks are played at a consistent moderato/allegro tempo across the EP. But this is a band that is just starting to blossom. These guys are in their teens/early 20s and already have some seriously impressive skills behind their instruments. Though not necessarily the most technical music ever produced, I am confident that if the band wishes to go in this direction, they still have plenty of time to advance their skills even further.

Links:

Royal Bloom Official Website
Royal Bloom on Facebook

The Hijacked: The Hijacked (May 2017)

By Cameron Arndt, photos © The Hijacked

Bursting out from West Yorkshire with a no-nonsense attitude and back to basics approach, The Hijacked have already made a bit of a name for themselves with high profile slots at the Leeds and Reading Festivals, and have been featured on BBC Introducing nationally. Their self titled debut album was released last month and scored a very impressive placing of 6 on the iTunes rock chart. Their sound has been described as a mix of indie, punk and rock n roll – leading to the coining of the term ‘indropunk’ to define them.

So far, so impressive. With such credentials we had to check out the band, and set about immersing ourselves in the aforementioned record. Any Port In A Storm grabs you right from the off with a buzzing, spiky guitar part heralding a big chord and crashing drums. Singer Clark Whitham puts in a great shift throughout the album, with a cool voice that contains just a hint of the knowing leer of AC/DC’s Bon Scott, mixed with the attitude heavy performances of Liam Gallagher Oasis or the wasted chic of The Libertines. I’d credit Whitham with being a technically better singer than those latter two, however and he delivers the catchy chorus of the opener with plenty of swagger, ‘I’m the kind of guy that finds any port in a storm.’ The rest of the band, and the recording quality, are excellent with the drums of Mike Carter in particular sounding fantastic with a bright, snappy snare sound. There’s some nice texture added to the dirty rock n roll vibe thanks to the floaty, ethereal backing vocals and middle 8 while some wailing lead guitar parts in the background are engaging without being too in your face.

The record continues with plenty of riffs, hooks, and memorable tunes along, with a huge helping of rock n roll style. Sinner has a clattering riff dispensed by Shaun Mallia’s guitar, over which Whitham adds a fast paced, clipped vocal. It all leads to the stomping refrain, ‘Bang bang, gonna shoot, gonna shoot my sins just to lighten the load.’ The track sweeps you right up and along. Cocaine, meanwhile, is a somewhat different beast, with a quieter intro and ominous overtones. Whitham gets right down in the mire of the haunting, confessional verses, detailing the ‘darkest days’ that lead to a curious image of deliverance as a saviour figure is equated with the titular drug, ‘You’re my salvation, you’re my cocaine.’ Mallia gets his first true guitar solo on this track, but again doesn’t overplay, opting for some wah-infused leads that are perfect for the track.

It’s Over then sees the band change things up a little with the Feeder-esque ballad. Whitham again shows his versatility with a melancholy vocal over some expansive U2-style soundscpaes. Excellent rolling snare backing and a guitar solo with just a hint of grime are the only extra flourishes as the band resist the temptation to go big and loud and instead hold on to a relaxed vibe which allows the vocal to really grow in stature, and let the heartbreak evident in the lyrics shine through.

Back in the old days it was an oft-used trick to front load an album with the strongest songs – usually the singles – so that if a record was put on at a party it would sound like a barrage of hits. Casual listeners would then buy the record on seeing it stacked with their favourites. Meanwhile the other tracks might contain some of the less immediate material – which could also often contain some gems which ‘true’ fans would discover later in the album.

I’m not sure this style of tracklisting matter much anymore, given the general pointlessness of the singles chart and the ability to download random tracks on a whim. I still think the integrity of the album is important though and The Hijacked have – for me anyway – avoided front-loading by placing some of my immediate favourite cuts towards the end.

So as the record heads into the home straight we find the abrasive chords and pumping bass drum of El Fabio – which kicks in like a blow to the head – and the huge stomping open, propulsive beat and euphoric, call-to-arms vocals of 27. Helped along by a sweeping lead guitar part this one was clearly built to be sung along to, especially the hooky middle 8 ‘take what you want and you leave me nothing, you take what you want leaving nothing for me.’ It’s capped off with some full on lead guitar heroics. The final track, Lovers, is another gem, with a thudding intro and deep groove backing Whitham’s wrenching vocal.

The Hijacked is an assured, enjoyable debut from a band riding high on the confidence engendered by their sterling live reputation.

Find The Hijacked on Facebook and Soundcloud.

Tio Rico: Business And Pleasure EP (7th July 2017)

By Kristaps Baumanis, photos © Tio Rico

Tio Rico are a fresh noise gunk trio from Manchester. Yes, you read that right, noise gunk! Distorted, punky, grungy goodness reminiscent at times of Alice in Chains and at other times even of the likes of Blink 182. As paradoxical as that may sound, it seems to work. It has the feel-good, somewhat ska, punkish Less Than Jake vibe, without wind instruments, while keeping the mix raw and dark.

Business and Pleasure is their six track debut EP. The opening track is called Hate Me and the first riff is immediate mosh pit territory. The first line when the verse kicks in is “What the f*** is happening here?” That is exactly how I felt when listening to it! In a good way, of course. Right from the get go the statement of aggression (in a fun way) is established and the record hardly ever relents. Though the chord progressions are often bright and positive, keeping the feel-good vibe going.

Ed’s vocals are raw, smoky and unforgiving. There is a bit of a The Clash edge to his voice as well. And Scott (bass player) occasionally adds a backing vocal in a similar vein, in particular in T-Rex Charlie (Does this Charlie surf I wonder?) which is a song about how the T-Rex is his favourite animal. No matter how serious or ludicrous the lyrics get, it is obvious that Ed is singing/shouting his heart out. With the fast, distorted, upbeat music, altogether the impression is that their live show would be exactly the kind of mayhem you can expect from a band describing themselves as noise gunk!

Their first single, Article Seven, is the second track of the EP and the opening sequence with the gloomy little guitar picking section brings forward more of the grunge side of things. The drums soon kick in, though, and things become too fast and energetic for grunge, but still retain the dark vibe that the chords provide.

My one beef with this EP is the drum sound, in particular the snare. I found it to be a little flat. It could have been a bit more punchy, ringing out a bit more. Same with the cymbals. The guitar and bass are very high in the mix obscuring some of the noise that the drums provide. This release is chock full of energy and I feel like the kit deserves to scream at the listener “f*** you!” every time it is struck. Then again, the occasional tambourine section is quite prevalent in the mix.

Overall this is a great a little debut EP that I will be listening to again. And if I ever get the chance to see these guys gig, I certainly will because they sound like a lot of fun of live.

8/10

Tio Rico Official Website
Tio Rico Facebook Page

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