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.

HOW DOES MUSIC JOURNALISM DIFFER FROM TRADITIONAL JOURNALISM?

For a lot of people, staying out late and talking to various musicians is the dream. For music journalists it’s just one part of a long day’s work.
When you’re not out living ‘the high life’ you’re locked away in your room listening to music all day, getting to know the ins and outs of note after note. Then you go and write about it, examining every little detail, just like the obsessive girl who writes letters about her latest crush to her most loyal of companions, “Dear Diary.” The job is then very much reminiscent of our teenage years. However, would you make the same comparison for someone writing about the latest war? Probably not. Continue reading “HOW DOES MUSIC JOURNALISM DIFFER FROM TRADITIONAL JOURNALISM?”

Role of the Critic

Frank Zappa once said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” but what does this mean? Perhaps it suggests that the job of the music critic is essentially pointless, why read about music when you can listen to it? Or, in the same way that a dancer may know very little about architecture, the music critic actually knows very little about music. With the boom of online blogs run by anyone who fancies themselves a good writer, Zappa could well have a point. Continue reading “Role of the Critic”

Media and Mythology

Is it mere coincidence that a handful of iconic artists have died at the age of 27 to join ‘the club’ or is this some kind of myth formulated by the media? Musicians die at many other ages however the media seems to have thrust the idea of the magic number 27 into our faces, formulating one of the biggest conspiracy theories in the world of music – are artists killing themselves to join the so called 27 club? The most recent example is Amy Winehouse; Mallika Rao wrote on The Huffington Post of the “niggling rumour…that the disturbed singer purposely killed herself to join the famous musicians known collectively as “the 27 club””. It is interesting to see the transformation of Winehouse as the center of drug related jokes, to an artist who fell victim to a tragic death, almost as if no one had dared joke about her drug abuse in the first place. Continue reading “Media and Mythology”

What Makes a Good Writer

It is a cerebration of one’s brain that a respectable piece of workmanship should abstain from pretentious exhaustion of diction. Get any of that? What I meant to say was if I’m ever going to understand some writing I would prefer not to be attacked with a swarm of long words that hurt my brain long before I can begin to understand them. Rather, a good piece of writing should ideally stand as a clear representation of the writer’s thoughts. Continue reading “What Makes a Good Writer”

Women and the Music Media

I’m trying to decide which music magazine to buy and I can’t help but think a drooling, spotty, teenage boy should be standing in my place. It’s funny how we use a rack to display magazines to then display ‘racks’. Even when the music magazines don’t feature a sultry looking female, the surrounding ‘lad mags’ seem to point to a misconception that only men are interested in these music publications. Meanwhile, us women are shunned to the other end of the shelf to laugh at some famous face’s ‘red carpet calamity’. Continue reading “Women and the Music Media”

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.

LIVE REVIEW: We Are The Ocean – Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms 10/02/13

Following the release of We Are The Ocean’s third record ‘Maybe Today, Maybe Tomorrow’, the pressure was on guitarist Liam Cromby to step up as frontman after the departure of vocalist Dan Brown in 2012. A solo acoustic rendition of “Stanford Rivers” from the recent album showed that he was more than prepared to take centre stage. The rest of the band then joined him to see the whole place immediately come alive and sweaty to the angst ridden riffs of “Bleed” also from the new album. We Are The Ocean seem to be proving themselves to even the most die hard fangirls of previous poster boy Dan Brown.

Cromby proceeds to show off his frontman capabilities with interaction between songs, rather enjoying the crowd coining his very Essex ‘alright’ as phrase of the night. Even during older songs where Brown would have been the main focus, the band managed to keep it strong and we heard more of guitarist Alfie Scullie’s voice to accompany Cromby.

The set ends as it started with just Cromby on stage with his acoustic guitar, this time singing “Young Heart”. He is by no means alone however as the entire crowd scream his lyrics right back at him. Furthermore the rest of We Are The Ocean, along with support acts Yashin and Straight Lines bombard him with a hat and some shades to complete the frontman look, almost as if he hadn’t already proved himself worthy of the slot.

ALBUM REVIEW: Foals – Holy Fire

‘Holy Fire’? More like Holy Fuck, Foals have done it again. The indie-rock band deliver their third album with a generous variation of chill-out songs such as “Moon” and “My Number”, an infectious dance tune that will prove nearly impossible to shake off. “Late Night” comes across as a sensually sinister single with a sense of rage shining through the piercing vocals that lead the slowly ascending rhythm.

The past few years have seen Foals gain a vast amount of recognition and certainly more radio airplay. To top it off the band have taken up a main stage slot at this year’s Reading Festival, unsurprising really when you take in the intense sound that can only be perfected by turning up the volume on a warm Summer’s day. This album, albeit worthy of it’s number one position on iTunes, is not necessarily a breakthrough. ‘Holy Fire’ shows a similar summery mood to previous album ‘Total Life Forever’ although the new tracks showcase a slightly darker tone with less of the soft sound of the synths and more focus on bass and percussion.

Nevertheless there is little room for criticism as ‘Holy Fire’ showcases a fine working of Yannis Philippakis’ unique vocals and the equally innovative melodies. The eerie instrumental launch of “Prelude” almost tricks us into thinking we are listening to The Cure. However we are soon greeted with the wails of Philippakis rather than those of Robert Smith and there is no mistaking this smooth introduction to one of Foals’ darkest albums yet.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mallory Knox – Signals

They may have been endorsed by Rockstar but have Mallory Knox got rockstar potential?

2013 seems to suggest that yes they do. The Cambridge five piece have supported Don Broco on their sell out tour, nabbed a slot at this year’s Slam Dunk Festival and have also seen debut album Signals make it into the UK Top 40 just days after release.

Beggars is reminiscent of Blink 182’s classic “What’s My Age Again” featuring a similar introductory riff however this track is a much less high-spirited song with some of front man Mikey Chapman’s more coarse vocals. “Bury Your Head” is a delicate number, the simple drone of piano throughout the verses makes it seem very plain. Chapman seems to play it safe vocally and while this track is pleasant to listen to it is just that bit too simple to hit it’s potential as an astoundingly beautiful single. “Creeper” however seems to hit a middle ground as it features both delicate and hard hitting vocals paired with a lighter use of guitars than the majority of the album yet not light enough for the track to be regarded as a soft number.

Their rock melodies are hardly original and vocals not always pitch perfect however Mallory Knox utilise what skills they do have to create a wholly authentic sound. Having not strayed too far from how they first started, the quintet have simply drawn themselves a lot tighter together and shown that perfection is not necessarily the key to success.