ALBUM REVIEW: Liars – Mess

I wrote this review as part of Southampton Solent’s ‘Magazine In a Day’ challenge. The whole Popular Music Journalism course were invited to create an Underground special edition of the uni’s Audio Addict magazine that would go live online later that night. The end result can be seen here:  http://issuu.com/audioaddict/docs/audioaddictunderground
We also recorded a podcast in which you can hear discussions of Underground music as well as some of the writers (including me) talking about the pieces they wrote. You can listen to the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/theundergroundissue/audio-addict-underground-issue

1554367_10152197133349245_691751966_n With flashy LA Art School backgrounds and six previous albums under their belt, New York based trio Liars’ refusal to be categorised is still going strong with latest album Mess. Doting on electronics since their name-making debut in 2001, Liars have never been ones to shy away from criticism of their experimental ways. This album highlights the band continuing to push boundaries in order to create something original with house and industrial influences. Continue reading “ALBUM REVIEW: Liars – Mess”

ALBUM REVIEW: Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos

Originally posted on Noise Cannon:  http://noisecannon.com/2014/05/05/yellow-ostrich-cosmos/
Yellow-Ostrich-CosmosNew York indie rockers Yellow Ostrich have applied their guitar driven melodies in new album Cosmos which is out May 5th. Prior to the writing of the album singer/guitarist Alex Schaaf occupied his time in Brooklyn engrossed in the study of astronomy while drummer Michael Tapper undertook a sailing trip from Mexico to Hawaii. With these two influences in play Cosmos reflects the ideals of both shutting yourself away from the world as well as venturing on to new ground. Soft tones lend the feeling of shutting yourself out from the world and floating in your own personal bubble while the slightly more aggressive beats and guitar melodies offer the buzz of first hand discovery. Continue reading “ALBUM REVIEW: Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos”

ALBUM REVIEW: Morain – Worlds Apart EP

Orignally posted on Noise Cannon: http://noisecannon.com/2014/04/12/morain-worlds-apart-ep/

a3883631858_10English four-piece Morain are about to deliver new EP Worlds Apart, a project that the band started in August with the help of producer Roni Szpakowski. After supporting Canterbury, filling out London venues, and the success of previous EP Are We Lost, expectations for Morain’s latest release are pretty high. The EP, set to show off the band’s refined brand of ‘expansive pop rock’, most certainly does not disappoint. Continue reading “ALBUM REVIEW: Morain – Worlds Apart EP”

ALBUM REVIEW: Natives – Indoor War

Originally posted on Noise Cannon: http://noisecannon.com/2014/03/13/natives-indoor-war/

nativesFrom playing in front of empty bars to then gaining the support of Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, New Forest band Natives have been working hard in the studio to produce debut album Indoor War. Set for release on March 17 the album centres on a character named Alvima who decides to ditch emotion and live his life on logic and science alone after suffering a huge loss.

Guitarist Jack Fairbrother claims that “it’s fairly simple to write music which is instantly infectious and I also think it’s equally simple to write music so personal that it reads like a diary and feels deeply profound.” This certainly shines through Indoor War with a collection of catchy hooks and good beats to get your feet tapping. ‘Can’t Say No’ is certainly one of these tracks with a captivating energy that listeners will find easy to sing along and relate to. While ensuing a primarily pop punk vibe there is an essence of something a little different in this album. It hinges towards an extra hint of rock in different forms with the odd few guitar riffs that tend to be heard at the hands of light and balmy indie bands. These riffs however are utilised in such a way to suit the pop rock vibe of Natives while demonstrating a wider angle in their sound. ‘L.O.V.E’ for example starts off with a strong air of pop yet the rock side of the band does creep out in little segments. In relation to the character Alvima, the band have said themselves that “half way through the album there is this moment where he just lets it all out and embraces emotion” and this is most probably that point, in case the song title didn’t give it away. In contrast to the previous pop outburst, following track ‘Big Plans’ is much heavier in its approach and so marks the start of a revival in Alvima’s character, which develops through to final track ‘For Everything’.

Natives have nailed a consistent narrative rich in energy with a little slice of diversity resulting in Indoor War which serves as a debut album that some bands may only dream of. It is only fair to say then that Fairbrother wasn’t just being cocky when he said writing this kind of music was “fairly simple”.

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Foreigner – You Can Do Better (for Noise Cannon)

johnny foreigner http://noisecannon.com/2014/02/25/johnny-foreigner-you-can-do-better/

Birmingham four piece Johnny Foreigner deliver a mash of indie and math rock with new album You Can Do Better, set for release on March 10. Undeniably unique, this album displays the distinctive identity of the band, spurning the norms of easy listening melodies and perfectly produced vocals.

You Can Do Better kicks off instantly with ‘Shipping’ which manages to maintain a foot-tapping beat despite a loose structure. The mix of rich and harsh vocals make for most of the album’s distinguishing sound. Following track ‘Le Sigh’ starts with a delicate tone before the pace quickens into an upbeat feel good tune, only just stopping short of sounding like strangled cats.

‘Riff Glitchard’ is an interesting number, starting off as a gentle instrumental that adds a moody depth to the album. Female vocals offer a lighter touch still, even when the guitar and drums kick in it still stands as a mild chill out track. Then the track takes a sudden turn in the last few seconds with an outburst of unmatched instruments and shouting vocals before an abrupt end. At this point the album becomes a selection of songs that are better appreciated in little segments rather than a full on listening in its entirety. The coarse, almost inaudible vocals littered throughout You Can Do Better follow an impressive pace however at times they do border on sounding like a car crash. Nonetheless, Johnny Foreigner save themselves with the dynamic nature of ‘Wifi Beach’, the calm vocals bringing your ears back to sanity, working nicely as a breakdown towards the end of the album. This is then carried on through the last few songs whereby the vocals hold more of a harmonious melody and abstain from shifting focus from the indisputable instrumental skill.

Final track ‘Devestator’ unfortunately really lives up to its name. Despite eventually reaching some kind of pace that the entrancing intro had suggested, this song somewhat devastatingly sounds like an unhealthy mash up of angry guitars and screeching amps. If you make it through this track, the album is then diligently saved by secret track ‘To The Deaf’, a lightly sung ditty providing the album with the cool down it needs.

Although the overload of abrasive vocals initially make it tough to endure as whole, You Can Do Better unquestionably reflects the raw talent and diversity of Johnny Foreigner. A greater balance of melodic vocals and display of musical talent rather than bouts of noise could have resulted in a much more ear-friendly experience.

Warpaint – Disco//Very (For Noise Cannon)

A month since the release of Warpaint’s self-titled album, enchanting little number Disco//Very is still proving difficult to shake off. Moody vocals and a hint of hip hop vibes offer an enticing energy that lends your body to a deep trance of head swaying and shoulder popping. Best played loud, Disco//Very is accompanied by an edgy bass line that adds to the fesity nature of the track. Warpaint show off a wide range of skills in an unforgettable song that leaves the listener feeling as if they have the power to take on the world.

Check out what the Noise Cannon team have had on repeat for the past week here.

ALBUM REVIEW: As It Is – This Mind Of Mine (For Electric Banana)

As It Is are a fresh faced pop punThis Mind Of Minek group from Brighton fronted by an American singer offering a dynamic in vocals against their otherwise typically pop punk sound. The band are set to tour the UK throughout February before releasing new EP, This Mind Of Mine on March 17th.

Though there is still a strong market for pop punk it seems that any group put under this genre seem to be doing the same thing. While this can be said for As It Is, This Mind Of Mine offers the promise of something a little different. The four track EP opens with ‘Bitter Broken Me’ and it couldn’t be more pop punk if it tried. The rough around the edges aesthetic is certainly in place however a hint of harmonic vocals throughout offer something a little easier on the ears. It is the same technique that makes following track ‘Horoscopes’ a worthy song. Coarse the vocals may be, but rounded off with a melodic charm they display a kind of teen angst that put them into context. The distinction between British and American accents create an alternative twist on the song that for the most part works in making the EP stand out from the norms of pop punk.

Third track ‘Can’t Save Myself’ displays more mellow vocals and this time the combination of different accents don’t quite complement each other until you get to the chorus and even then the vocals are slightly weak. Rather than letting the band down however, this adds to the rough cut feel of the EP. In fact the let down in this song is the ending, built up by the anticipation of a fast paced middle-eight, we are left with a retreat to the sound of the verses before, thus offering no sense of progress.

Final track, ‘Relive This Story’ begins with a mere whisper of vocals overpowered by guitar, a technique that could be improved with a more enticing set of music. Though this song starts as a delicate closing track, the rough vocals creep their way back in, giving us that ending that the previous track was missing as well as the twist to suggest that As It Is can push themselves beyond the pop punk stereotype.

This Mind of Mine is undoubtedly your typical pop punk EP, you have your rough vocals, no over production and a little sense of self hatred. What it is lacking is a unique perspective of the genre to put As It Is above similar groups but perhaps that is yet to come.

ALBUM REVIEW: Warpaint – Warpaint (For Electric Banana)

warpaintAmong this growing trend of girl groups with acoustic guitars and braided hair, it’s quite a relief to have Warpaint rising in popularity. Although widely recognised under the ‘indie’ genre, to describe this band as yet another indie girl group would not do them one ounce of justice. The LA four piece kick-start 2014 with long awaited, self-titled album Warpaint, a flawless representation of their musical depth. This is an album that will you will not only hear, but feel too.

First track, ‘Intro’ kicks in with a raw instrumental effect that leaves you with the feeling of listening in on a rehearsal and highlights this band’s edge. ‘Keep It Healthy’ is the track that flows from ‘Intro’, a smooth transition into a song with the perfect balance of energy and soothing vocals. Following this is an anticipation inducing introduction to ‘Love Is To Die’, a track you’ll feel running through your veins.  Soft vocals loom over the droning guitar producing a somewhat eerie and sinister tone in relation to the track’s name.

Warpaint then throw a bit of variation into the mix with some hints of hip hop elements sneaking into ‘Hi’ and ‘Disco//Very’. These tracks show that rather than just simply trying out a bit of hip hop, the four piece are putting their own spin on it to create something unique, something more than just some ‘sick beats’.  ‘Go In’ then follows with a deep bass line and hazy tone, the perfect chill out song after the burst of sinister energy in ‘Disco//Very’.

Warpaint demonstrates a broad range of music skills and influences in a concise manner so as not to be throwing too much at the listener. The instruments and vocals work hand in hand to create such an intense sensation that it is hard to focus on one particular element as they all blend in to one. Across the album there is an overwhelming range of vocal points, from the deep, sinister tones of ‘Disco//Very’ to the light and airy vocals of ‘Biggy’ that barely touch the surface. The distinction of such vocals make for an ideally balanced album consisting of diverse yet relatable songs that send shivers down your spine.

ALBUM REVIEW: ROAM – Head Down (For Electric Banana)

With new EP Head Down, Eastbourne-based five-piece ROAM have nailed the old school kind of pop-punk, perhaps five years too late for it to really stand out. The collection of five upbeat songs fit the pop-punk stereotype almost too perfectly without really making any individual stamp on the genre. Originality aside, the guys in ROAM have a lot of talent and enthusiasm and Head Down is a clear representation of this.

First song featured on the EP is ‘You Never Said’, which sneaks a glimpse into the humour of the band, starting with a sound byte of viral video ‘Just waiting for a mate’ before kicking into an all too familiar pop-punk riff and gravelly vocals rounded off with melodic hooks. Increasing the tempo is ‘Sticker Slap’ which in its not-so-lengthy play time sounds like it has been cut short, coming to an abrupt end just after one minute. A theme that comes across most frequently is the idea of young adults being behind everyone else in their lives and the idea of the misunderstood individual – nothing out of the ordinary there.
While Head Down works well as a package, the songs come across almost too similar, proving difficult to differentiate between tracks. A little more variation would have given the EP that zest it so requires. However, debut single ‘Headrush’ stands out at the very least with the slow middle eight, in which you can almost envisage a crowd of fans singing along. The structure of this track makes it the strongest of the five and as the final track it works well in rounding off the EP.

Musically, ROAM are there, however they still need a bit of variation and a pinch of originality to stand out amongst the crowd. Albeit an overly generically pop-punk selection of songs, Head Down is a well executed effort. With some fresh ideas and straying from the norms, the five-piece might be able to produce some music that doesn’t sound like something we’ve all heard before.

ALBUM REVIEW: Biffy Clyro – Opposites

“Oh that’s the band who sang that song that X Factor winner released a couple years ago, right?” – not exactly how a band with heavy metal influences want to be recognised. However this is no longer to be the case, Scottish rock trio Biffy Clyro have entered 2013 with the aptly named Opposites which provides two discs, each with a different concept. The first disc portrays some of the band’s darkest moments recently bought to light in an interview with Kerrang! These themes range from the band’s depression and alcoholism. The second disc however takes a more positive ideal supported by the energetic yet by no means aggressive mood given off by both the music and vocals.

This latest edition to the Biffy catalogue is essentially a portrayal of pitting the dark days against the happier times; learning to deal with their issues and learn from mistakes made. As much as this has formed the band, the men in question have also formed their most distinguished album yet. This is further supported by the artwork which features the oldest living tree that survives in Chile; suggesting the idea of formation over the years rather than destruction. It was designed by Storm Thorgerson, who also worked on the artwork of previous albums Puzzles and Only Revolutions.

Perhaps symbolic of the band sticking to what is true to them, the new album does not stray too far from the band’s melodic yet distinctive delivery of heavy guitars and a range of both soft and coarse Scottish vocals. Nevertheless there are hints of progression and innovation. The use of trumpets in ‘Spanish Radio’ almost lulls you into the expectation of a Ska number before the usual rough cut Biffy sound seems to hit you out of nowhere. This experimentation adds a little something to the album and contributes to the concept of positivity, providing an alternative form of energy to the usually aggressive energy that the songs facilitate for. ‘Stingin Belle’ starts off sounding like a built up demo with some jagged shredding of the guitar to reel us in. It ends with a domination of bagpipes over the drums and a softer use of guitar to follow the first upbeat verses. Despite the feeling that there should perhaps be another verse to follow this, the bagpipes serve as a clear recognition of the band’s Scottish heritage and fortunately for us even manage to avoid sounding like the wail of several cats in agony.

‘Black Chandelier’ could have easily done without the ironically dry opening “Drip, drip, drip, drip” as it just seems to be filling some space before any real vocals are introduced. Nevertheless the track is not tarnished, it turns out to be well balanced in it’s introductory soft guitar riffs leading towards a heavier finish. In particular the guitar solo toward the end creates an image of the band letting loose, hinting at signs of aggression which seem to relate to the darker themes of album.
In contrast, ‘The Fog’ uses softer vocals throughout and includes an unexpected instrumental that sounds like it should belong in a fantasy film from the 80s.

What we do expect however is front man Simon Neil’s thick Scottish accent dominating the edgy guitar riffs. Neil spurns the dreamy American sounding vocals often utilised by other British bands. Instead the Scottish pronunciation acts as a distinct reminder that this is a band that do what they want, a point very broadly put across in ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ with the line “this is not for your entertainment”. This does not mean to say that every song sounds like an angry Scot yelling over music or that the vocals clash with the melodies, rather the accent provides a delicate yet defiantly unique accompaniment to the softer songs. Additionally this track is introduced with a jittery guitar riff and then a kind of ironic use of piano to surround the aforementioned line as if to suggest a more typical sound than what is actually produced. While the vocals do indeed stand out, they do not necessarily do so in the manner of a sore thumb, alternatively they blend in as an appropriate compliment to the incomparable production of Opposites.

Opening with mellow riffs to back some of Neil’s more delicate vocals “Biblical” builds up to a repetitive chorus and a series of 30 Seconds to Mars style ‘woah-oh-oh’ to add a kind of anthemic feel to the track. This track seems to play it safe with the infectious rhyming lyrics of the chorus and repetition of verses. The only thing that seems to set it apart from other generic rock numbers is the ever prominent Scottish accent.

Overall Opposites seems to offer the same old Biffy sound with just a few hints of variation across the album. Rather than a change in the method of playing instruments there seems to be a wider range of instruments used to add to their sound. Rather than throwing alternative sounds in our face Biffy Clyro are now blending these into more generic melodies but not so much that the band are unrecognisable. The album seems to feature more of the angst featured in the early albums than their previous Only Revolutions however seems to maintain a tamed and structured nature. As a result Opposites stands as an album to both please old fans and open the door for more listeners. With a headline slot at Reading Festival on their agenda 2013 is certainly Biffy’s year and this latest album has had to prove their worth. While it may not hit a new listener in the same way as it would a dedicated long time fan Opposites certainly does the job. In portraying the highs and lows of the band this album acts as a quick guide in getting to know them and marks an important part in their career.