Monday, 30 April 2012

The So-So Sailors - Des Moines

 Between 2010 and 2011, I spend 10 months in Nebraska studying at a liberal arts college as part of an Northern Ireland/U.S.A exchange programme. One of the purposes of the programme was to hold lectures to educate Americans on life in Northern Ireland. For me, this meant an opportunity to educate Nebraskans about the rich history of music from our great place, from Them to Snow Patrol and everything in between, which includes The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Therapy?, The Four of Us, Ash, Divine Comedy and, for a laugh, Baltimora. Whether I did a good job of spreading the word of our music remains to be seen, but if we see a band from Nebraska contributing to a tribute album to "1977" in the near future, then you know I did a good job.

But anyway, I'm digressing slightly from my main point, which is to introduce you to The So-So Sailors, who seem to have taken the opposite path to myself. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the group are currently signed to Belfast based label No Dancing (the home of The Wonder Villains & Elspeth), and show off their Midwesternly charm with their first single "Des Moines", which is currently available as a free download. The track is a sprawling, slow burning track that calls to mind a chilled out Bruce Springsteen. It's an understated, yet highly effective introduction to the band. If The So-So Sailor's are indeed Nebraska's musical ambassadors to NI, then they have done the Cornhusker State very proud indeed.

"The Young Hearts E.P" will be released on June 10th.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Duke Special - Punch of a Friend

When I posted about Duke Special's cover of "You Spin Me Round" earlier this month, I was quite unprepared for the overwhelmingly positive response it got from visitors to the blog. People have called it an absolutely sublime song, complimenting both the radical re-interpretation of the song and Mr. Wilson's great voice (as well as his Belfast accent).

Yet one thing I heard from people who loved the cover was that they had never heard of Duke Special before hearing the song. This is rather unfortunate; although the Duke is very highly regarded within the Northern Irish music scene, it seems that further afield he doesn't seem to enjoy the same status. It seems that the unavoidable presence of "Freewheel" on Radio 2 around 2007 and the corresponding V2 released album, "Songs From the Deep Forest", seem to have been all but forgotten.

Thankfully the Duke is still bringing out fantastic new music. This week he released the first single from his upcoming album. "Punch of a Friend", which is available for the low, low cost of an email address, sees him dealing with hopeless romanticism in his own vaudeville-esque style. The song sees some exquisite woodwind added to the mix, as well as strings that wouldn't sound out of place in a Lee Hazlewood song.

"Punch of a Friend" will feature on Duke Special's upcoming album "Oh Pioneer", which is released on June 17th. He embarks on a UK wide tour in May, which features a concert with the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall, Belfast on May 12th.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Not Squares - Fall Far

New material from Belfast based dance-rock trio Not Squares is a great cause for celebration. Their 2010 debut album "Yeah OK" showcased their own idiosyncratic style which won them fans both in their hometown and further afield. After all, how many groups can write a song about vomiting and still make it the most catchy and infectious song released that year? (Pun only half-intended). They have also developed into one of the best live acts in Northern Ireland, with the atmosphere at their high energy gigs being an absolute joy to behold. 

It is under this backdrop that the band have released the first taster from their sophomore album. "Fall Far" sees a change of direction for the band. Seemingly abandoning the 'mantra' approach to lyrics that defined their first album, the song is perhaps the closest the band have come to using a more traditional chorus-verse-chorus pop structure. It's a completely irresistible track, with it's heavily vocoded vocal hook and funky bassline driving the song along very nicely.

"Fall Far" by Not Squares is available now to download for free.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Future History - Surrounded by Faces

Of all the bizarre facts that I have read about the recording of albums, I don't think I have come across anything as off-beat (and heartbreaking) as one from Canadian alt-rock band Future History:  "We...sampled a whale that produced the wrong frequency, which consequently ostracized her from other whales because she didn't communicate properly." Let that act as a relief to anybody whose parents disapproved of you joining a band. It could be much worse - at least you won't be abandoned by your own species for making music (Justin Bieber aside, that is).

But anyway, Future History's latest single, "Surrounded by Faces", is an expansive rock tune that is exquisitely produced, emotive without sounding too angsty, and despite an overwhelming instrumental onslaught, it has a surprisingly 'earthy' feel to it.

"Loss:/Self", the debut album from Future History, is out now, with "Surrounded by Faces" available as a free download until the end of May. 

This Many Boyfriends - (I Should Be A) Communist

Leeds based funpop band This Many Boyfriends are gearing up to release their next single. "(I Should Be A) Communist", which has been produced by Ryan Jarman of The Cribs, is a re-recording of a song first featured on their "Getting a Life With... E.P", and shows the band as charming, spiky and endearing as ever. The music video for the song has also been released, which an hilarious exercise in hipster-bating. Lovely stuff as usual from the gang.

(I Should Be A) Communist by This Many Boyfriends will be released on May 21st on a groovy red 7".

Monday, 23 April 2012

Sons of Caliber - The Tundra E.P

After winning over live audiences around Titanic Town (aka Belfast, in case you didn't get the memo) for over a year now with their winsome charm, folk troubadours Sons of Caliber have released their debut E.P, "The Tundra", to the world.

Some of the tracks that have been previously released make their way on to the record, with the gorgeous "Falling for You" and the tender "My Way of Thinking", my own personal favourite, sounding just as fresh and emotive as the first time they marked their presence. Elsewhere on the record, the country-tinged "Young Dove" sees Andrew Farmer and Rosie Barry's vocals working in perfect unison, with the harmonies bright enough to shine through even the foggiest day. "Irish Wolf" is has a jaunty feel to it, whilst closer "Ship Aground", is an eternal, slow building ode to rejection. It's an intriguing introduction to the 5 piece's world. Thankfully, Sons of Caliber are most definitely firing on all cylinders throughout "The Tundra."

"The Tundra E.P" is available to download now. Sons of Caliber will officially launch the record on May 2nd in The Black Box, Belfast with support from Pat Dam Smith and Twin Headed Wolf. "Falling For You" is available as a free download.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Sun Electric Band - In the Clouds

Are you disappointed the your pop doesn't have enough jangle in it? Is the only thing in harmony in your life the balance of good bacteria in your stomach? Are you tired of waiting several more years for a new Teenage Fanclub record to come out? If so, then The Sun Electric Band is for you.

"In the Clouds" shows the Mancunian 5-piece on top form. With their sumptuous harmonies, ringing guitars, and feel-good lyrics, the song sounds like it's a forgotten gem culled from the "Grand Prix" recording sessions, which is of course no bad thing indeed.

"In the Clouds" is taken from The Sun Electric Band's debut E.P, "Want to Feel Like..", which is available now.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Pocket Billiards - So Many People, So Little Time

Has it really been 10 years since Belfast ska-punk 9-piece Pocket Billiards first burst on to the scene? Apparently the answer is "yes", as the group will be playing in Belfast's Mandela Hall next month to celebrate the group's Aluminium Anniversary, as well as to launch the band's sophomore album.

In anticipation of the event, the band have made their latest single available as a free download. Featuring a guest appearance from Rory from And So I Watch You From Afar, "So Many People, So Little Time" is a laid back tune, featuring some fantastic brass lines and lyrics about finding happiness behind life's general drudgery. 

The band seems to have incorporated a few dance influences into their sound on this release. As well as the airhorn noises, the structure of the song seems to have a dubstep feel to it, with the song being in half time until the final 30 seconds, when all hell breaks loose and the song goes into full out party mode. Of course, if you do want proper dubstep, then the flipside remix from Giant Sekoya might float your metaphorical boat.

Pocket Billiards will play in the Mandela Hall, Belfast on May 12th to mark their 10th year together, with their second album, "Last Chance to Dance", being launched on the same night.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Plastic Rose - Boy Racer

 After March's release of "Build From The Ground Up", which in a rather novel move was only released as a physical single, Belfast 4-piece A Plastic Rose are gearing up to release their second single of 2012.

Abandoning the majesty of its string-laden predecessor, "Boy Racer" is instead a ballsy-rock number, complete with dentist-drill guitar riffs (the good kind), intriguing uses of the quiet/loud dynamics,  and another one the band's trademark anthemic choruses. I do enjoy the heavier side of the band's arsenal, and if they can continue such a varied path on their releases, then their upcoming album could end up being the most exciting release on this island in 2012.

"Boy Racer" will be released on June 18th, and will feature on A Plastic Rose's debut album, "Camera.Shutter.Life", which is due out this summer. 

We Were Evergreen - Baby Blue

"You like Allo Darlin'? You'll LOVE We Were Evergreen‏!" That was the message that got me interested in the sounds of kooky indie-pop Parisian trio We Were Evergreen. Their upcoming single, "Baby Blue", shows off the band's delicate charm, with their toybox approach to production and sumptious boy/girl vocal harmonies playing off well against the song's bossa nova rhythms. If Phoenix took their instrumenal cues from kindergarten children, then if would sound as gloriously child-like as this.

 "Baby Blue" will be released as a single on June 4th.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Our Krypton Son - Plutonium

Derry natives Our Krypton Son are gearing up to release their follow up single to the cataclysmic "Catalonian Love Song," which reveals a change in pace. The radioactive "Plutonium" (see what I did there?) features a more stripped back production to its predecessor, with it's piano and vocal style calling to mind Suede's "By the Sea" (have I mentioned that "Coming Up" is my favourite album of all time), with a vocal style that seems to sit somewhere in the murky water between E from Eels and Damon Albarn

The lyrics touch upon Chris McConaghey's penchant for lovelorn apocalyptics ("you have a touch that makes this ocean flow and burn like ammonia"), plus the recording features some subtle studio trickery to make the track stand out that little bit more.

"Plutonium" by Our Krypton Son will be released on May 14th in colourful 7" vinyl form from Smalltown America, complete with two newly recorded b-sides.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Capsula - Hit & Miss

As a music fan, one mistake that I am still prone to making is to base my feelings on a band by how they are used to describe others. Take the Rolling Stones for example. Stones-eque rock seems to be used as a short-hand for blues inspired rock & roll with sexually suggestive lyrics, and as such was used as a criticism for Primal Scream's "Give in But Don't Give Out" album. It's because of this, as well as my general apathy for the Stones' songs that I have been familiar with, like "Brown Sugar" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash", that I never really took much interest in them. However, in the last few months, I've started to re-assess their back catalogue, and realised that I had not been fair enough to them. Songs like "She's a Rainbow" and "Fool to Cry" reveal a much richer variety to their sound than I have previously given them credit for, and show that sometimes it is unfair to jump to conclusions about some artists.

Which brings me on to Capsula, the Argentinian born but Spanish based trio. Their latest single, "Hit & Miss", has a sound that could easily have been categorised as Rolling Stones-eque blues-rock suggestiveness. Yet this would be both unfair to both Capsula and to Jagger & co, so it is probably best to judge the song on its own merit. Which is fair enough, as "Hit & Miss" is a finely tuned rock number, complete with wailing guitar lines and interesting boy/girl vocal harmonies.

"Hit and Miss" is taken from their album "In the Land of Silver Souls", which is out now.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Nikki Murray - She's Electric

Smartly crafted guitar-pop is the order of the day for English singer/songwriter Nikki Murray. Which is not surprising, given that his backing band have worked with a list of geniune legends, including Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton & Sting. And let's not forget the talent of Nikki himself, who was awarded the title of "Best Acoustic Guitarist" by "Guitar Player's Magazine."

"She's Electric" is a well crafted song that is finely produced to a tee. However, it doesn't let this get in the way of the song, which is a toe-tapping, earworm inducing, radio friendly tune that has infectious written all over it.

"She's Electric" will feature on Nikki Murray's debut album "Strange Life."

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Ourlives - Where is the Way?

Here's a question for you - how many Icelandic artists can you think of that are well known outside of their home country? I'm sure many of you could make it to one with Bjork, possibly two if you remember Sigur Ros. If you're a real smart-arse, you could probably add múm to that, and if you have a penchant for cheesy late 90s pop singers with big hair, you could add the oft-forgotten Alda to that list.

Yet Iceland houses such a vibrant group of exciting artists, making very interesting sounds. Which is where Reykjavik quartet Ourlives come in. With a critically acclaimed album already under their belt in their native country, the band are releasing their first international E.P. Taken from it is "Where Is the Way?", which is currently available as a free download. The song is a welcome introduction to the band's world, a track that builds up into a crescendo of force. It's epic, but without sounding too overblown, plus it has something that is oft-neglected in songs where guitars are the main driving force - tight vocal harmonies. Along with the rest of the E.P, it's a cracking introduction to the band, and on the strength of it, they could go on to match their fellow countrymen in the popularity stakes.

"Where Is the Way?" is taken from the "Out of Place" E.P, which is out now on Spartan Records.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Jonas Schwartz - Ideas

Here's a fun fact about Swedish artist Jonas Schwartz - he has a phobia of the number 6, and must avoid it at all cost. Okay, maybe it's not such a fun fact if your name is Jonas Schwartz, but it most definitely has not stopped him from pursuing a career in music, and ahead of the release of his debut album, he has put out a captivating track to introduce himself to the world.

"Ideas", which is available as a free download, is a cracking doom-dance number, which is exactly as I'd imagine White Lies to sound like if they were a Swedish solo artist. It's a really engaging introduction to his world.

Jonas Schwartz will be releasing his debut album, "Six" (probably not the best title in hindsight), on April 25th.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Paper & Places - To Berlin

German based trio Paper & Places seem to know what buttons to press when it comes to crafting a fine indie-rock tune. On their track "To Berlin", which is available as a free download, their American singer Harrison McClary sings about young lust in the city that has inspired such musical creativity. It builds up from a hypnotic guitar riff into a fully fledged Bloc Party-esque track that seems destined to get crowds flailing wildly in trendy student's unions across the country.

The "To Berlin" E.P will be released on April 13th through AdP Records.

Duke Special - You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)

Peter Wilson, aka Duke Special, is one of the most unique artists that Northern Ireland has produced in recent years. He has released several acclaimed albums over the past few years, including collaborations with Bernard Butler and Steve Albini amongst others, recorded tributes to Ruby Murray, written the music for a Bertolt Brecht play, as well as attempting to get on stage with every single band playing in Belfast (I'm not too sure if the last part is entirely true, but it's nigh on impossible to go to a gig in Belfast without bumping into him at some point).

Duke Special is gearing up to release his latest studio album, "Oh Pioneer", in June. In anticipation of the release, he has recorded a few cover versions, which he has refashioned in his heartbreak-vaudeville style. These include his version of  "Love Will Tear Us Apart", which has been a part of his live set from as early as 2005, as well as a Chaka Khan cover. But the highlight of the set is his radical reworking of Dead or Alive's camp classic "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record). The song tears away the electronic noodling of the original, and replaces it with piano, heartbeat mimicking percussion, and Peter's plaintive vocals, which strip away the irony of the original version and replace it with something more genuine.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Foxes - White Coats

After getting the blogosphere's collaborative head in a tizzy with her debut single "Youth", Louisa Rose Allen, who records under the moniker Foxes (not to be confused with the similarly named Foxes!, or The Foxes, or indeed Fleet Foxes for that matter) seems to be on her way to uber-stardom. Now with an E.P release on the super trendy Neon Gold label forthcoming (which helped to launch the career of Ellie Goulding and The Naked and Famous, amongst others), she has released a taster track to whet the appetites of those awaiting the second coming of noise. But is it the track any good?

The answer is indeed, a yes. "White Coats" might have the sound that seems to appeal firmly to the underground, but there is no denying that this is firmly, and proudly, a pop song. It's like someone has tried to find a cross between Phantogram and Marina & the Diamonds, with the slider very much in Marina's favour. This song will be inescapable next year once Foxes inevitably gets picked up by one of the major labels and it gets a full single release, so enjoy the song while you can before it becomes completely ubiquitous.

"White Coats" is taken from the E.P "Warrior", which is out in June, and is available to download for free.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Two Glass Eyes - Seats and Windows

Hailing from the lovely north coast of Northern Ireland, Two Glass Eyes caught my attention this week through their emotional, yet anthemic take on hard rock. "Seats and Windows" starts off nicely enough, with its arpeggiated guitar style sounding like an out-take from Snow Patrol's "Final Straw" album sessions. However, at the 40 second mark, the thundering guitars come in, making it a genuine fist thumping behemoth of a track, like a more manageable version of Biffy Clyro. Northern Ireland hasn't really had a major hard rock band break through since arguably Therapy? in the 90s, so could Two Glass Eyes be the band to break through? It's early days yet, but if they can follow through with tunes as strong as this, it's a distinct possibility.

"Seats and Windows" is taken from the E.P of the same name, and is available as a free download.