Monday 26 March 2012

Elspeth - Think Back

When I was drawing up my list of bands from Northern Ireland to watch out for in 2012, there was one band that almost made the list, but just missed out by a hairs breadth. That band were the Newry based quintet Elspeth. Now the band are lining up to release their debut album, and have released a track so good that it's making my regret my decision a little.

"Think Back", which is available as a free download, is a track that feels like a 3 1/2 minute crash course for those interested in learning about the grittier side of Britpop. There are elements of Longpigs, Geneva, Bluetones, and even little specks of Bends-era Radiohead thrown in for good measure. It's hardly re-inventing the wheel, but then again there's a reason why the wheel's remained the same for thousands of years - it works, plain and simple.

"Think Back" is taken from Elspeth's debut album "Coax", which will be released later this year.

Sunday 25 March 2012

The Metaphorical Boat's Album Briefs - March 2012

Whilst I listen to quite a lot of albums at TMB, I very rarely get around to writing up full reviews of each one I listen to. Therefore, I will be introducing a new monthly feature where I will briefly look at some of the albums that have been floating The Metaphorical Boat over the course of the month. Starting with:

Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball


It's reassuring that in Bruce Springsteen's 6th decade of music, he can still throw the odd curveball in his music. In contrast to the hopeful messages of  his previous album "Working on a Dream", "Wrecking Ball" is perhaps the most angry record that he's ever recorded, and his most directly political one as well. With lyrics like "I'd find the b******* and shoot 'em on sight" being targeted at those individuals responsible for economic downturn, it's an album guaranteed to make those of us who didn't do business at university breathe a sigh of relief.

"We Take Care of Our Own" is the closest to a 'pop' single The Boss has released in about 20 years, with the rest of the album featuring elements of Celtic-rock ("Death to My Hometown"), country ("We Are Alive"), and even a hip-hop gospel track, the spectacular "Rocky Ground."

Released: March 2012

Highlights: We Take Care of Our Own, Rocky Ground, Easy Money.

 The Black Keys - El Camino


Until recently, The Black Keys seemed to have been forever confined to the history books as being nothing more than a mere footnote on the blues-rock history alongside more accomplished luminaries like The White Stripes. However, their decision to allow their music to be used incessantly in advertisements has seen their fortunes rise tremendously, to the level that they are now fully certified stadium rockers. This of course means that the band have now accepted the mantle of being the 10's version of Moby.

By now you're all probably familiar with "Gold on the Ceiling", which has been all over TV recently in an advert for donkey urine that has somehow managed to pass itself off as a lager. If you like that track, then you're probably going to like the rest of the album, which doesn't really veer too far from the blueprint of driving drums, dirty guitar riffs and keyboard sounds courtesy of producer Danger Mouse that sound like they've been ripped straight out of the 70s.

Released: December 2011

Highlights:  Gold on the Ceiling, Hell of a Season.

Tribes - Baby


In almost every review I have read of "Baby" by Tribes, the same album comparison keeps cropping up again and again: this album is the 21st Century version of "Coming Up" by Suede (the only exception I've seen is the Pitchfork review, which bizarrely compares it to "Dog Man Star"). I am going to go right ahead and say it now: this album is nothing like "Coming Up." In my humble opinion, Suede's "Coming Up" is the greatest album ever released, so to compare any album to it is a futile experience indeed.

That being said, "Baby" is a decent debut album from the London boys. "We Were Children" sounds like it could easily be a Manic Street Preachers b-side (which is by no means an insult), and "Corner of an English Field" sounds like it's been tailor made for festival season.

Released: January 2012

Highlights: We Were Children, Corner of an English Field

Tigercats - Isle of Dogs

(Fika Recordings/Acuarela)

One of the interesting things about the release of Tigercats' debut album is that it is being released by two different labels. Although artists releasing albums under two different is not uncommon, what is uncommon is for each label to be handling different formats - Fika Recordings will be releasing the vinyl version of "Isle of Dogs", while Acuarela will be releasing the CD version. I can just picture the Looney Tunes-esque shenanigans going on behind the scenes of the two labels in order to convince the band's fans to go for their chosen format over the other.

The album itself is a rather fun beast indeed. There is a real sense of playfulness in not just the band's indie-pop stylings, but also in their not-very-subtle winks to their influences (one song is called "The Vapors", whilst another is an ode to the formerly married pair from Sonic Youth). It's a light, fluffy album, but one that is likely to make you hit repeat over and over again.

Released: April 4th 2012

Highlights: Full Moon Reggae Party, Konny Huck, Harper Lee

Monday 19 March 2012

All Is Beta - I Wanna Join Your Band

 All to often, we are prone to seeing popstars try to prove how 'real' they really are, despite the fact that most of them are the product of tweaking and micromanagement by a committee of major label figures ever since they signed away their soul in the hopes of a few cover stories on a copy of Smash Hits. 

Which brings us on to London based artist All Is Beta, a project that isn't ashamed of its pop credentials, or the transient nature of its single "I Wanna Join Your Band." A collaboration with German vocalist Saz, the two of them never met in person during the making of the record, apparently being content with making their sound "with a combination of Twitter, Dropbox, GarageBand and GoogleDocs." What they've created is a very likable electro-pop banger that's bound to get stuck in your head for hours.

"I Wanna Join Your Band" is released on Helix Music, and is available as a free download.

All Is Beta - I Wanna Join Your Band (feat. Saz) by helixmusic

Sunday 18 March 2012

Professor Penguin - Pirate

London based nine piece (yes, there are nine of them - had to read the Press Release a few times to make sure I wasn't imagining it) Professor Penguin seem to have found a few famous fans in their short time around, with production guru Brian Eno apparently being among their supporters. The group will be releasing   their upcoming single, "Pirate", on 19th March, which is a charming introduction to the band.

"Pirate" is a slow building indie-rock tune that features some incredibly intelligent production values and some interesting lyrical word play - I particularly like the use of homonyms in the chorus, a technique that so often goes ignored in music today. Whilst I doubt the band's academic credentials (what kind of university would appoint a penguin?), their musicianship is rather good indeed.   

"Pirate" is taken from Professor Penguin's debut album "Planes", which is out on April 9th. 

Pretty Child Backfire - I Wish I Knew You Better

On their latest single, "I Wish I Knew You Better", Pretty Child Backfire have written a song that just screams "summer". This is despite the fact that a) summer is still 3 months away, and b) the guys hail from Belfast, a city that only gets 2 seasons, "wet" and "slightly wetter." Still, it's another example of the big-hearted folky-pop that has made Pretty Child Backfire so irresistible for all these years, plus it's another one to add to the list of "awesome hand clap songs".

Pretty Child Backfire are currently in the middle of a UK tour, and will be playing with Runaway GO in The Empire, Belfast on 29th March. 

Saturday 17 March 2012

RunawayGO - Electric

Sometimes all it takes is a few simple changes before a band begins to make some significant waves. Whilst Belfast based band Runaway GO may be less than a year old, the truth is they've been around for longer than that. Up until the end of last year, the quintet traded under the name Phoenix Fire, a band that itself rose from the ashes (pun unintentional) from an earlier project, Kagura. Now with a new name, a new vision, and a couple of acclaimed singles ("Alligator" & "Delicate Man") under their belt, the group are gearing up to release the track that should thrust the band into the public consciousness.

"Electric" is a track that builds upon what made their early singles great - boy/girl vocals that switch from sweet to bitter effortlessly, aggressive yet accessible instrumentation, and haunting yet fine guitar riffs. Runaway GO surely have what it takes to make a big splash in the future. Let's hope they don't change again any time soon.

"Electric" will be released on April 6th, with a launch party for the accompanying E.P being held on 29th March in The Empire Music Hall, Belfast.

EDIT 23rd March: RunawayGO have now released the music video for "Electric." Did somebody say "guyliner"?

Album Review: The Wedding Present - Valentina


It’s strange to think that at one point The Wedding Present held the record for the most top 40 singles in a calendar year. Between January and December 1992, the band notched up a stunning 12 charting hits, a record that would not be beaten until 2004 (by Elvis Presley, no less). Now 20 years later, David Gedge & company are releasing their eighth studio album, “Valentina”, into a musical landscape where the band’s indie-pop template has been adopted by an onslaught of acts, from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart to The View. But in light of these young contenders to the crown, can The Wedding Present still remain engaging and relevant?

On the strength of “Valentina”, the answer is an overwhelming yes. The group have made what is perhaps their strongest album since their early 90s heyday, with the songs capturing the hope-inspied romanticism of David Gedge. The album kicks off with “You’re Dead”, a sprawling six minute opener that goes from out-and-out rocker to calming self-reflection over it’s running time. This is followed up by the biggest pop moment on the album, “You Jane”. The track sees Gedge take the lead as a neo-romantic crooner. “I’m Bogart, you’re Bacall”, he sings, whilst also comparing himself to Tarzan.

Many of the tracks feature the same template of hard-soft dynamics mixed David Gedge’s slightly sly delivery. However, some of the album’s best moments occur when the group abandon this formula and go into different territory. “The Girl From the Door” seems to be one of the most tender song on the album, there is a great lyrical dissonance, with Gedge proclaiming that “I’ve been using you all this time”, one of the darker moments on the album. “524 Fidelio”, an ode to a minor planet in the Milky Way, features an unusual time signature and a rather funky bassline, leading me to conclude that it would make a great, if left-field 2nd single from the album. 

From a production point of view, “End Credits” is the most interesting song, with two drumkits being played in tandem without feeling either overwhelming or superfluous, making it one of the sole tracks on the album that is better suited to headphones than the stereo.

Whilst the album is rather good, it is far from being perfect. “Stop Thief”, the only real clunker on the album, never seems to get out of the starting gates, whilst I cannot understand the need for the 30 seconds of white noise at the end of the otherwise enjoyable “Back a Bit…Stop.” Perhaps it’s to waken up less attentive listeners? Still, these are minor quibbles in what is a largely solid album.

“Valentina” is an album that reminds us why so many of us fell in love with The Wedding Present in the first place. It may have been 20 years since the band were chart stalwarts, but that doesn’t mean that they are no longer relevant. “Valentina” is a love letter to those heady days viewed through 2012’s lenses, capturing what made the band so special and making it relevant for today’s music fans.

Released: 19th March

Highlights: “You Jane”, “524 Fidelio”, “End Credits”. 

Sunday 11 March 2012

Tigercats - Full Moon Reggae Party

Let's be frank, who honesty could not love a delicious slice of freshly crafted indie-pop? (A. Goths. Goths could not). Our side of the Atlantic has quite a plethora of hot new indie-pop bands coming through the ranks at the moment, and the most recent band to come to my attention are London quintet Tigercats.

Following on from a few dates where the group played along blog favourites This Many Boyfriends and Allo' Darlin, the band have released their latest single into the wild, "Full Moon Reggae Party." Even though the title is slightly misleading (the track features no werewolves, or syncopated rhythms), the track is a quirky track that manages to be cute without falling into the twee trap. The video for the song is a rather stunning piece of psychedelic animation which has to be seen to be appreciated.

"Full Moon Reggae Party" features on Tigercats' upcoming album "Isle of Dogs", which is released on April 9th.

The Babies - My Name

What would happen if Caitlin Rose moved to Brooklyn and co-fronted a garage rock band? You might get something like The Babies. Their latest single, "My Name", is a lightly country-tinged indie-pop tune with lo-fi sensibilities that tackle that age-old problem of growing up.

"My Name" will be released as a double A-side 7" and on cassette on April 21st.

Monday 5 March 2012

Shy Around Strangers - Never Look Down

 If Blondie were starting out today rather than in the murky depths of the 1970s, then I imagine they would sound a little bit like New York trio Shy Around Strangers. Their debut single "Never Look Down" (which is available as a complimentary download), shows a band starting as they mean to go on, with the powerful raspy voice of Emily Powers dominating the song, which wouldn't sound out of place on the Yeah Yeah Yeah's "It's Blitz" album.

Fuzzy Empire - Contraband

 It's been all change in camp Fuzzy Empire since the last time I put metaphorical pen to paper about them. The Dublin electronica merchants have now expanded to a trio with the recent addition of bassist Hil White, and have marked the occasion with their first post-expansion song, "Contraband."

"Contraband" is the strongest song the group have released by far. The added bass has added a bit of depth to the group's sound, as well as adding, for perhaps the first time, a sense of fun. It's electro-punk territory calls to mind the less polished side to LCD Soundsystem, as well as calling to mind another Irish trio doing rather snazzy stuff at the moment, Not Squares. I'm not sure whether the song will act as the new "Ground Zero" for the project, but it's a great demonstration of a band with heaps of potential upping their game to exciting new levels.