Thursday 28 February 2013

Valerie June - You Can't Be Told

Memphis born singer Valerie June is due to support Jake Bugg on his upcoming autumn tour, having played with him on a few dates this year. I'm slightly disappointed that their marketing departments appear to have missed a trick by not labeling it the "June-Bugg Tour", but then again what do I know? I'm just a humble blogger.

But anyway, Valerie June is due to release her debut album, "Pushin' Against A Stone" sometime this spring. Before that, she is due to release her latest single. Co-written with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, "You Can't Be Told" is a sumptuous slice of old-school delta blues which is boosted by June's gospel-inflected vocals, calling to mind artists such as Alabama Shakes.

"You Can't Be Told" will be released on March 4th on limited edition 7".

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Empty Lungs - Stand Up E.P

Belfast quartet Empty Lungs have been slowly building their reputation locally as a capable pair of hands to support touring rock groups. In the past year, they've enjoyed well-received support slots in the city for The Subways, Beans on Toast and Japandroids. But like all groups aiming for worldwide fame, there comes a point when they need to step out of their shadow and make a name for themselves on their own terms. And what better way to set out their stall than a brand new six track E.P?

Produced by Rocky O'Reilly, the closest the north has to a super-producer, "Stand Up" could be best described as heavy pop-punk. Tracks such as the short, snappy opener "Running In Circles" and "Release The Lifeboats" do a good job of updating the Northern Irish punk sound that once produced The Undertones, Rudi & Stiff Little Fingers to a 21st century audience.

The title track is how one would imagine Green Day might sound like had they grown up in Stranmillis rather than California, whilst the obvious highlight of the E.P is "Until The Day We Die." It's obvious from the song that the group took a few pointers from Japandroids during their supporting stint, as it has many of the qualities that make that group so attractive - loud guitars, strong rock hooks, and a chorus that you just want to shout along to. The only real misstep on the E.P is "Long Road Home", which unsurprisingly is also its slowest song.

Empty Lungs are a band who seem enamored of Northern Ireland's rock culture and subsequently put their own spin on it, one which deserves to fight its way out of this province and reach a worldwide audience. Hopefully "Stand Up" will be the release that helps them make that first step.

"Stand Up E.P" is available to buy now.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Northern Ireland Tunes - Round-up #11

So another month passes us by, with more new tunes that you can shake a metaphorical stick at. Here's a few tunes, mainly of the heavier persuasion, from NI that have floated this month:

Girls Names - Hypnotic Regression

I'd like you to try something out for me. Have a look at The Hype Machine's list of songs which have been tagged with 'Belfast' (which you can do here), and tell me by looking at the list who the biggest band in Belfast is.

It's okay, I can wait while you check.

Your're back? Okay.

As I'm sure you saw, the band who cropped up the most on that list are the post-punk inspired Girls Names, a band that the worldwide blogosphere can't help but fawn over. Yet within Belfast, there doesn't seem to be the enormous swell of support for them that this amount of blog love would suggest (which isn't to say that they haven't got fans here, because they do). So what is it about that band in particular that seems to attract such love from the blogs that other Belfast bands can only dream of?

Is it that their 80s alternative-resurrecting sound resonates with the current blogged zeitgeist? Is it because they're signed to record labels who understand the role that music blogs can have in reaching a global audience? Maybe the group are just simply better than every other artist from the city? Or even none of the above?

Nonetheless, the band's success is rather welcome, and hopefully their rather nice second album, "The New Life", will help to win them over new fans, both locally and across the world. Many local bands could learn a thing or two by following their example.

Taken from that album is the rather marvelous "Hypnotic Regression", a song that channels everything that was good about The Cure's "17 Seconds" album:

The Wood Burning Savages - Here's To You

Time for another visit to the UK's City of Culture with Derry four-piece The Wood Burning Savages. Although they might be better known for their upbeat rock, their latest single, "Here's To You", sees them treading more insular territory. It sounds like it could fit rather nicely onto 90s also-rans Geneva's "Further" album, which is mighty praise indeed.

Kasper Rosa - Khora

Progressive post-rock is the order of the day for Kasper Rosa, a band who clearly feel that a three minute song is for wimps. "Khora" is the first half of the band's single "Icebreaker", and is a well crafted six minute mini-adventure of rock, something that will appeal to fans of fellow post-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar. They'll be launching the single on 28th February in Queen's University Speakeasy, supported by  Before Machines & Pigsaspeople.

Abandcalledboy - Seize The Chair

And finishing off this month are post-hardcore trio Abandcalledboy (previously B.O.Y), who release their "Dead Academics" E.P this month. Taken from the set is "Seize The Chair", a song that seems to set the band up as N.I's answer to Biffy Clyro. Heavy guitars? Check. Strong local accent in the vocals? Check.  An understated pop aesthetic hidden beneath the scuzzy veneer? Present and correct. All in all, it's a confident effort from the group.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Big Black Delta - Side of The Road

LA native Jonathan Bates has been heavily involved with M83's live shows over the past year, so it comes as no surprise that some of their influence has seeped into his solo project, Big Black Delta. "Side of The Road" is the latest song to be unleashed to the world, a song that takes a heavy electronic framework and gives it a rock aesthetic, which isn't surprising given Mr Bates' previous life as a member of alt-rockers Mellowdrone.

Big Black Delta's self-titled debut album will be released on April 30th.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Public Service Broadcasting - Signal 30

I've extolled the virtues of London duo Public Service Broadcasting for the best part of a year now, so I will just assume that you know that the group consists of J. Wilgoose Esq. and his drumming buddy Wrigglesworth, who use samples from old public information films to create new electronic-rock tracks. Their debut album is one of the most anticipated debut albums of 2013, and they are lining up their biggest UK tour to date to usher its arrival (including a date in Belfast in May). Before their album drops, they are releasing their latest single, one which has become something of a live favourite in recent months - "Signal 30".

The song takes its name and vocal samples from a 1959 American road safety film of the same name, as well as interpolating elements from other road safety films such as The Bottle and The Throttle and None For the Road. Somewhat surprisingly, the track is a straight-up rock track, one that wouldn't sound out of place on Queens of The Stone Age's "Songs For The Deaf" album. Ever since the release of "Spitfire", there has always been the feeling that Public Service Broadcasting were secret metalheads, and the release of "Signal 30" confirms that suspicion.

And if there's one thing that rock really needs, then it's a song that reminds people of the dangers of drink-driving. It's a lot more fun than the road safety campaigns used in Northern Ireland, that's for sure.

"Signal 30" will be released as a limited edition 7" vinyl on April 20th. Their debut album, "Inform - Educate -   Entertain" follows on May 6th.

Monday 18 February 2013

Wonder Villains - Blonde

Last month, I was chuffed to bits to see this very blog profiled in The Guardian as part of its Blog Jam feature. One of the reasons why I started this blog was to cast a light on some of the great music that comes out of the north of Ireland, so I was glad to see some of our artists getting some added recognition as a result of that. However, when they asked me what song I most enjoyed, it was quite a challenge to choose just one, but in the end, I had to go with "TV" by Derry's finest Wonder Villains. As well as being a fantastic song in its own right, they are perhaps the artist that I've written about the most on this blog, so in a roundabout way, they were responsible for me getting featured in The Guardian in the first place. Thanks a lot, guys!

But anyway, what's important now is that Wonder Villains are finally putting the final touches to their upcoming debut album, which is due for release in the early summer. As predicted by yours truly in November, their new single is one that has become a live favourite for the group in recent months, "Blonde". The song is their slowest , and somewhat counter-intuitively, their shorted song to date, it still ranks as one of their most infectious pop songs to date. Not anti, indie or alternative, just pure, unadulterated pop. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

"Blonde" will be released on April 22nd, and will feature on their debut album "Rocky".

Saturday 16 February 2013

Wampire - The Hearse

Portland based duo Wampire sure are a difficult band to categorize. They are signed to Polyvinyl, the same label as last year's breakout group Japandroids, they emerged from the same scene as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and seem to have an image which evokes the 70s (from the picture above, it appears that one of them is Bill Oddie circa The Goodies, whilst the other has taken fashion tips from John Cazale's character from Dog Day Afternoon), yet on hearing their new single, it would appear that none of these things have had an effect on their sound.

"The Hearse" seems to have more in common with the indie-pop of DIIV, with its dreamy guitar lines, pulsating basslines, and vocals that appear to be recorded in a different universe to the rest of the track. It's a strong introduction to a group who seem likely to be total blog darlings by the end of 2013.

"The Hearse" will be released on March 5th, with their debut album "Curiosity" due for release in May.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Mudbitch - Quare & Technical

It's been absolutely lovely to hear one of Derry's finest radio presenters, Stephen McCauley, hosting a week-long show on BBC 6music, standing in for Gideon Coe. His Electric Mainline show on BBC Radio Foyle has been instrumental in giving a lot of local and alternative artists their first break. He was one of the first DJs to play SOAK, for example, and is also a fan of one of this blog's favourite new artists, Public Service Broadcasting.

It's great to hear that he has continued his support of Northern Irish musicians on his 6music show. One of the songs that he spun on the show was "Quare & Technical", the latest single from Mudbitch, a rock quintet from Coalisland in County Tyrone. The band sound like a lo-fi version of fellow Nordie hard-rockers Therapy?, although whether that's down to an aesthetic choice or due to recording limitations is something which remains to be seen.

So good luck to Stephen McCauley for the rest of his week's stint at 6music. Hopefully many more people discover some great new music through his influence.

"Quare & Technical" is out now on a pay what you like basis.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Amidships - Lost/Forever Here

It been far too long, Amidships. After falling in love with their "Friendly Fire" E.P back at the blog's inception, I'd had high hopes that the Northern Irish group would explode in 2012, even going so far as to place them on my list of local tips. Sadly, no new material was forthcoming, although they have done well as a live act during that time, supporting Frightened Rabbit and playing a well-received set at the Glasgowbury Festival.

After such a long wait, the band have finally announced the release of some new material, due for release next month. The double A-side single sees the band both revisiting the sound that piqued many peoples' interest in the first place, as well as furthering their sound into new territories. "Forever More" is more in line with the material on their "Friendly Fire" release, with their slow building alternative rock soundscapes exploding into Band of Horses-esque cataclysmics near the song's conclusion.

"Lost" on the other hand, is a completely different beast indeed. The song still maintains the deep anthemics that has become their trademark, yet take things into more upbeat territory. Echoes of LCD Soundsystem and Phoenix esque indietronica work hand-in-hand with distorted guitars and strings, making for the band's catchiest single to date. Hopefully there won't be a such a long wait for song more new material from the group.

"Lost/Forever Here" will be released on March 1st.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Hologram - Summer's Song

All things considered, it looks like 2013 is shaping up rather nicely for Belfast quartet Hologram. Having released two great singles at the tail-end of last year, the group have really come into their own as a live act, with their gig in Auntie Annies last month really blowing me away.

As if things weren't already going swimmingly for them, they have announced that the group will have a track featured on this year's Brit Awards soundtrack, which will see the group (officially credited on the album as Hologram & Paul Shevlin) finding themselves alongside such luminaries as Bruce Springsteen, Muse, The Killers and, um, LMFAO. Can't have it all, I guess.

Recording at the legendary Abbey Road studio, "Summer's Song" is slightly more melancholic and less anthemic than their previous singles, yet still wonderfully engaging as usual. Paul knows his way around a great piano-pop tune, and his vocals haven't sounded this good in quite a while. Hopefully the song's exposure should gain the group a following on the other side of the pond.

A potential early contender for Sound of 2014 lists? Very likely indeed.

"Summer's Song" will feature on the "Brit Awards 2013" album, which is released 11th February.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Randolph's Leap - News

Like many bloggers, Glasgow based octet Randolph's Leap first sprang to my attention when they were something of a surprise inclusion on the Blog Sound of 2013 longlist, most likely aided by the Scottish contingent. That boost gained them a lot more admirers, especially as the band found themselves amongst 6music's most blogged UK artists of 2012.

Building on this support, the group have released their first single of 2013, and whilst one might expect a band to release something grandiose and attention-seeking to build on their publicity, Randolph's Leap have seemingly done the opposite by releasing "News", a song that clocks in at the 77 second mark. It's a charming little folksy indie-pop ditty about not being able to spend time with the person you adore. It makes great use of brass instruments, with the end result sounding like a Mumford & Sons track that you don't feel the need to mutter under your breath.

"News" is out to download now, and is available to buy as a limited edition mug single.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Lux Lisbon - Get Some Scars

When this blog last heard from London band Lux Lisbon, they were busy shooting up zombies in the video for their electro-rock monster "Your Heart Is A Weapon The Size Of Your Fist". The band, which now features Belfast drummer Johnny Colgan,  are releasing an E.P on 25th March entitled "Get Some Scars", which collects several of their most prominent songs together, as well as a new track, which also goes by the name of "Show Some Scars". The song is much more relaxed that their previous offerings, probably being the closest to a ballad the band are going to get.

Once again, the group have filmed a rather brilliant video to coincide with the E.P, which takes the form of a pastiche of director Wes Anderson. Given that I consider Anderson's to be a pretentious to the point of naval gazing, and who seems to spend more time choosing what songs go into the film that writing the script (don't get we wrong - music supervision is very important, and the choice of songs are normally very good, but the soundtrack should never overshadow the film itself), anything that takes the proverbial out of him is very welcome indeed. The Lux Lisbon video for "Get Some Scars" uses the Margot montage from The Royal Tenenbaums as its jumping point, taking it into its logical ludicrous conclusion. It's a great little video from the group that stays true to the pathos of the song whilst injecting a bit of humour into the proceedings.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Just Handshakes - London Bound

Leeds seems to be the gift that keeps on giving, musically at least. The latest group from the city to pop onto my radar is indie-pop upstarts Just Handshakes. Since forming at university several years ago, the band have gone on to support such groups as Mystery Jets and Pete & The Pirates, played the Indietracks Festival, and released an E.P as a cassette, something which is increasingly becoming shorthand for "quirky C86 inspired indie-pop."

Their latest single "London Bound" is a decent introduction to the band's sound, albeit one that is apparently darker than much of their previous material. Dreamy guitars, honeyed vocals & a knack for a great pop chorus places the track somewhere between Kirsty MacColl, Allo Darlin' and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

"London Bound" will be released as a free download on February 18th, and will feature on their debut album "Say It."

Monday 4 February 2013

The Android Angel - Her Shoulders

The Android Angel is the alter-ego on Surrey-based musician Paul Caltofeanu, who is probably better known for the bonkers-pop he creates under the Free Swim moniker, including the wonderfully bizarre "Smell of Pregnancy."

Following on from last month's "Chicago John", the 2nd song to be taken from his upcoming album, "Her Shoulders", has premiered online. Like the rest of the songs released under this name, it was written in 2011 whilst travelling around Romania, Ukraine & Hungary, and sees Paul sounding slightly more serious than his Free Swim material. The song, which mixes organ sounds with spacey sounds and relaxed acoustic guitar, calls to mind songs from Spiritualized's "Ladies and Gentlemen" album.

"Her Shoulders" is taken from The Android Angel's debut album "Lie Back And Think of England", which will be released later in 2013.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Album Review: Eels - Wonderful, Glorious

(Vagrant Records)

It's hard to believe that in 2013 we are now on to the 10th album release from Eels, the vehicle for the songs of Mark "E" Everett. Ever since shooting into the public consciousness in the late 90s with his alt-rock hit "Novocaine For The Soul", and since then has been releasing albums of a consistent quality, with "Electro-Shock Blues", the hopeful "Daisies of the Galaxy" and the primal "Hombre Lobo" being some of the strongest records in his back catalog. "Wonderful, Glorious" is the group's first album in three years, and sees Eels alternating between the familiar, the unfamiliar, and the downright unexpected.

"Nobody listens to a whispering fool", E informs us on the album's opening track "Bombs Away", which sets the stage for Eels' journey of the delicate, the rough, and everything in between. It's a brave introduction to the album, yet has a feeling of familarity about it, sounding like a slower, funkier version of "Cancer For the Cure".

And it is this feeling of familiarity that greets many of the songs on the record. As mentioned before, the album's lead track, "Peach Blossom", fits somewhere between the sound of  "Souljacker" and "Hombre Lobo",  "True Original" sounds like a retread of "Jeannie's Diary", whilst "Accident Prone" sounds very much like Eels by numbers.

That's not so say that this feeling of deja vu is detrimental to the record. The best song on the album, "On The Ropes", is a wonderful song about the light at the end of the tunnel, about not allowing yourself to let the world knock you down, which in many ways revisits the themes of "Daisies of the Galaxy". It is very much a song that would sound trite coming from other artists, yet when performed by Eels it most definitely works. 

Despite this familiarity, the album does go off into unexpected territory and flights of fancy, particularly in the album's latter half. "Stick Together" sounds like the theme to a 70s gameshow into a hand-clap centric finale over the course of 3 1/2 minutes, whilst "Open My Present" contains a central guitar riff that wouldn't go amiss on the latest Jack White release. E leaves the biggest surprise for last though. The title track and album closer "Wonderful, Glorious", Sees E & co veer off into a strange amalgamation of funk rock and Beatles-eque psychedelia. It's a highly unexpected album closer, yet it feels strangely apt for a record of this sort.

"Wonderful, Glorious" is an album of great duality, showing that ten albums in, Eels have managed to find the right balance between comfort and shock, light and dark, and rough and smooth. It might not have the big  hits of "Beautiful Freak", the immediacy of "Daisies of The Galaxy", nor the consistency of "Hombre Lobo", but it is an album that will find a place in the minds of E's devotees.

Released: 4th February 2013

Highlights: "Peach Blossom", "On The Ropes", "Wonderful, Glorious".