Song Of The Week – Catfish and the Bottlemen – Homesick

If you’re looking for tales of youth, love, life and rebellion then look no further than Catfish and the Bottlemen. Homesick is a prime example of how the band manage to encapsulate perfectly the feelings of your teenage years as the world and all its highs and lows is opened up to you. From its gentle opening with smooth and distinctive vocals from Ryan McCann, the song turns into a full-on rock beast as the chorus hits home hard. For such a young band, the honesty and clarity of thought are impressive, with lyrics at a standard up there with the Arctic Monkeys debut material.

 

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Album Review: The Corrs – White Light

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The Corrs are back in town with new record White Light, and being 10 years since their last one, they aim to show all these youths how to do pop properly.

The evergreen siblings haven’t lost their touch either, and the good thing is they haven’t been swayed into changing their direction in order to cater for a new audience; they’ve stuck to what they’re great at, updated it a little and made sure they were happy with what was produced – the way it should be.

The instantly recognisable Corrs sound filters through right from the start, with an added electro pop tinge in I Do What I Like, swiftly followed by Bring On The Night warming you up like a knowing hug. Vocal wailing in the middle section here is something Enya would be proud of, and shows that the sisters voices are still in fine fettle.

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Things really start to heat up as Unconditional shows us the band still know how to write a Grade A pop tune, mostly comparable to something off of Taylor Swift’s 1989 – not a bad starting point for anyone to follow from. The track does really well to sound current and classic all at once, with its power being in its simplicity.

The slow and sultry Strange Romance is one of those classic 90s style breakup songs where you can almost see the rain dribbling down the window, whereas Ellis Island takes us back to The Corrs’ folk-minded best. Piano and vocals play off each other here and become a kind of duet, taking turns to progress the track amidst snippets of beautiful harmonies that raise from nowhere to add to the atmosphere.

The great thing about White Light is straight away you can tell they’re not trying to be different, but staying to their roots and giving us something that’s lost in today’s mish-mash music genre fusions: a sense of simplicity and direction. They’re helping the world remember an uncomplicated time without smart phones and everything being rush rush rush, but asking you to sit back, relax and listen. The Corrs have made a distinguished and elegant return here, and it feels like they were never away.

Score: 4/5

Hidden Gems: Tim Wheeler – Lost Domain

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One thing I can’t stand is when a singer from a band goes solo and makes something that sounds exactly like the full band. What’s the point? The answer is, there is no point. If you go solo you’re supposed to get away from everything and fly on your own wings; not resort back to type. Too many still do this, but thankfully not Mr Tim Wheeler from Ash. His solo album is one of those rare finds that shies away from the punk rock and pop ballads of his band, instead drawing on Tim’s relationship with his father and eventually losing him to Alzheimers.

It’s a pretty heavy-hearted topic to build and album around, but Lost Domain feels as though Tim needed to make it, to make sense of everything and delve deep into his emotions as a form of self-therapy. What comes out is a moving semi-concept album of beauty, sadness and tenderness that leads to some fantastic music.

Album opener Snow In Nara is perfect for setting the scene; instrumental wonders over rising guitar gives off an atmosphere of contemplation, and the lack of words could be seen as Tim’s way of grieving for his loss. Do You Ever Think Of Me? is as touching as it is emphatic, using acoustic guitar against violin before the chorus kicks in with a crescendo of sound, feeling like a release of emotion for the singer.

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Hospital is a real tear-jerker, being a story-lead track based around Wheeler visiting his father on his death bed. The lyrics are the most open and honest we’ve ever heard from Tim, and must have been almost impossible to sing without feeling pain: ‘It’s so hard to see you in this way, I wish that I could take your place’. The track gradually builds, and before it comes predictable quickly changes style to keep the listener interested and keep the message within strong.

And that’s what Tim does so well on this record; he changes things up just before songs become anything near generic. He has a real gift for this, and this is seen once again on album highlight Medicine. It’s gentle bass and flowing synths hypnotize the listener with the subdued vocals almost being held back, maybe a comment on the numbing of the drugs his father takes for his disease. It then changes into a dreamy state with distant piano and Tims lyrics the main focus, as he describes learning to play music with his Dad. The sound then becomes happier as the memories progress from sad to joyful ones. It’s all very clever and testament to the singer’s clarity of thought and ability as a song-writer.

It’s an intriguing journey to be a part of as the album progresses, and rather than leaving you down and sorrowful due to the records subject matter, you feel honoured that you’ve been allowed to experience this through someone else’s eyes. Wheeler paints pictures so vivid and full of emotion that it’s impossible not to get swept away, and the music is the perfect accompaniment to the contemplation and questions that Tim puts forward as he bares his soul. Lost Domain is a sentimental masterpiece that draws on the power of love and loss, and gives Tim Wheeler a platform to boost awareness for one of the hardest diseases for an entire family to deal with.

 

Song Of The Week: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Spread Your Love

This track should have simply been called ‘Dirty, Sexy, Blues Rock’, as it embodies all of these elements to the max. This is BRMC at their best, vamping up the fuzz, heavy on the stomps and with a simple rhythm reminiscent of any blues classic. The band brought the filth back to the blues for a new generation, and Spread Your Love was the track that illustrates all of what they do best; simple, loud, sordid blues.

Album Review: The Self Help Group – Dead Stars

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When folks done right, it shines. When folks done well, it sparkles. The Self Help Group, with songwriter Mark Bruce at the helm, managed to create a glow of musical energy with debut album Not Waving But Drowning, and luckily for us, they continue the fluorescent folk with new record Dead Stars.

The listener is welcomed back into the bands trademark three-part harmonies that continue over a theme of story-laden weirdness, all set over a more powerful band-driven sound that has been more apparent in recent live shows. This has led to some really strong and competent music, such as album opener Myrtle Mae. If you’re going to compare it to anything, the track sounds like a completely stripped back early Oasis effort, made over with wonderful harmonies that lift the music to another level, and brightened by intermittent synths and sounds. The Box sings from the same hymn book, but adds in a completely bonkers story angle of a man mailing himself to Australia so he doesn’t miss his daughters birthday. This madness sits perfectly over the subtle background instruments, and the simple chords and gentle vibe are heightened because of it.

It’s not all sultry and ardent however; Smile Club manages to bring you back down to earth, giving a gentle nod to Fleetwood Mac whilst serving up a sunny disposition set against lyrics of ‘sky high suicide’ and ‘insidious smiles’. With lyrics like those, its a wonder how the song still makes you feel like it should be listened to driving along on a hot summers day with the roof down and your hair blowing in the wind. Birds Still Sing takes a country tone, hitting the nail on the head with its perfect harmonies and simple production against strong melodies, whereas Eddie’s House shows off the spirit of folk with fantastic build-ups and lively guitars leading to an impressive crescendo of noise.

If you’re looking for an album highlight, look no further than Woody’s Song. Beautiful acoustic guitar backed by birds singing (not as cheesy as it sounds, I promise) complement this fine arrangement with some of the best harmonies on the record. It’s short, its sweet and will have you hitting that repeat button over and over.

Dead Stars is a step forward for the band, and the effort that’s been put into this record is apparent from the very start. Not only have they managed to tame sounds that they have no right in doing so, but they do it with an apparent ease and simplicity that really appeals to the folk indie sound they’ve achieved. The Self Help Group have hit on something wonderful here, and its quite an accomplishment with the fact that it’s only their second album.

Score: 4/5

Song Of The Week: Dear God – Monsters Of Folk

When four masters of contemporary folk and written word loveliness form a so-called ‘super band’, it could either be really rubbish of pretty damn fantastic. Luckily when two members of Bright Eyes, one member of My Morning Jacket, and the underground indie-cool M.Ward got together, it was definitely the latter. Dear God is thought provoking, rhythmically addictive (which definitely helped spawn a hip-hop cover by The Roots) and so undeniably simple that it just hangs around in your head for days. With each member taking a turn on a verse, the song tos and fros through different vocal styles, switching from the unique and reverberating vocals of M.Ward to the innocence and presence of Conor Oberst. They rattle through thoughts of mortality and question the voice of a higher being, all in a magnificent 5 minutes and 7 seconds of brilliance.

Live Review: The Cribs – Oxford O2 Academy

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It’s hard to believe that The Cribs have been around for over ten years now. The first time I discovered them I was at university, and chanced upon a link to their song Another Number on a Libertines message board; ever since I’ve been hooked. It was the raw energy and exuberance that drew me in, and the more tracks I discovered, the greater I could see their passion and love of music.

Ten years on and that passion can still be seen in their live gigs. As the crowd waited with anticipation in the relatively small Oxford venue, looking around it was clear what a diverse mix of fans the band now has. From the followers of the early days where the band would perform somewhere for a crate of beer and petrol money, to the people who were drawn in when Johnny Marr joined the band, right up to the present influx of fans more enamoured with their polished pop sound, fans come from all different backgrounds and brought together for a general love of the music.

The Cribs sauntered on in their usual care-free fashion – these days looking like seasoned tour generals – and Ryan welcomed the crowd before the band threw themselves straight into first track Ancient History – a strong opener that got the crowd immediately raring to go. Second track I’m a Realist – also taken from their Men’s Need’s, Women’s Need’s, Whatever record – with its more melodic nature showed the band don’t need to rely on chaos and rawness that was a staple in their early gigs, but are able to draw people in with the strength of the songs.

The gig heavily focused on the Men’s Needs record, but also pushed new album For All My Sisters. With some gigs you can be somewhat subdued when newer material is brought out, but not so here. The new songs  already sound like you’ve heard them, loved them, and have become part of the overall Cribs mentality. Summer of Chances is testament to this, the band expertly throwing the track into the mix with a huge chorus, addictive hooks and played to perfection. The crowd loved every second and the band were clearly enjoying themselves.

Of course, the Jarman’s also didn’t forget to throw in a few of the fan favourites, working the crowd up into a sweaty frenzy. Another Number – with people chanting the riff throughout the gig – raised the bar with its gentle and melodic nature, before the crowd went mental for You’re Gonna Lose Us – a throwback to the chaotic early days of the band, and the crowd mirroring this with moshpits, crowdsurfing and shouting back the well-known lyrics.

Spoken Word track Be Safe showed off it’s epicness, with the brothers Jarman noticeably enjoying themselves, and drummer Ross performing his usual trick of standing on his drum set and hitting from high, whereas Come On, Be a No-one fed off the crowds energy as Ryan spouted his way through lyrics of remorse and love.

The Crib’s live sets are so diverse now; they might not have as much chaos and punk of the early days, but with their back catalogue they’re able to rely on a strong set of songs that show them for one of the most rounded and individual bands out there. It’s  also noticeable how much better their vocals are live, this coming from years of practice, and really raises the songs to another level. Seeing The Cribs live is a journey of reminiscence, a journey of new discoveries, and a way for people from all walks of life to get together and just enjoy some truly fantastic music.

Song Of The Week: Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian At Best

Courtney Barnett is awesome. She fought her way onto the scene a while a go and has been hanging around spouting her purposely jumbled  but completely relatable style of wordplay ever since. She’s a breath of fresh air in this land of cool, playing by her own rules, and creating instead of mimicking. Pedestrian at Best is a fine example of Courtney’s work; hard hitting musically with its punky guitar and distorted sound, and lyrically masterful, grabbing hold of the English vocabulary and throttling out longwinded prose of paranoia and disdain in a way that Dylan would be proud of. Listen to if you’ve had a rubbish day and want to get away from it all.

Top 5 Movies About Bands

For music fans, there’s nothing quite like a good band movie. Needless to say, some out there are absolutely terrible, but every once in a while you get that diamond in the rough that hits perfectly on the fun, frustration, comedy, exhilaration, anger, power and the damn well awesomeness of being in your own band. So here are my top 5 band movies; I’ve decided to limit this to fictional bands and, as always, feel free to add comments with your own opinions or favourite scenes!

In no particular order…

1) The Blues Brothers

This one HAD to be in there. The story of Jake and Elwood is heartwarming, hilarious and down right ridiculous at times, featuring some of the greatest cameos not just in band movies, but of any movies (Princess Leia as a psychopathic gun-wielding woman scorned anyone?). Not only is the blues and R&B some of the best of the best here, but with songs and appearances from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, the film could have been rubbish and still would have been worth watching for the songs alone. Luckily the script is just as strong and bizarre, making for a true classic for any music buff.

2) Frank

Relatively new, only being released in 2014, but fully deserves a place on the list. Anyone in a band will relate to the song writing inner monologue of Jon at the very beginning, and from there it just gets more surreal as we’re introduced to the band, fronted by a man with a giant papier mache head. Yes, you heard me right. With an indie film feel backed up with an indie band sound, the film not only hits the nail on the head with the internal frustrations of throwing everything into something musically, but also deals with mental illness, the overbearing eyes of social media in today’s society, and wraps this all up with surreal dark comedy and some great performances. Well worth a watch if you haven’t seen.

3) Almost Famous

This one could divide a few people. I know that many say it’s cheesy and full of cliches, but I think that’s what gives it its charm. For me, its warmth and humility exuberate throughout and you pine to be in the nostalgic 70s world from the very beginning. Following the journey of a teenager (apparently based of director Cameron) with a love of writing and music, you get whisked into the terrifying and fantastical land of rock journalism, as he goes on tour with fictional band Stillwater. Funny when needed, emotional when necessary, the film is coming of age personified, and does what it should do; makes you want to be in a rock band.

4) Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

This one is hard to explain; you really just have to watch it. Director Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead fame) delivers this movie based on the cult graphic novel series with all the little touches, witty dialogue and perfect humour that made his past exploits such big hits. With CGI and geeky references littered throughout, the journey of the band  takes a back seat to Scotts overall story, but has enough presence to show you how much being in a band means to you when you’re young, even if it is just to get with girls…

5) This Is Spinal Tap

The absolute classic. This movie hits the nail on the head when it comes to being in a band, showing it for its stupidity, brilliance, arrogance, and rolling it all into a docu-comedy which was one of the first of its kind. Some of the best scenes and most quotable references (“these go to 11”), this never gets old, and will bring you right back down to earth if you’re in a band and taking yourself too seriously.

Jools and the Musical Journey

Later… with Jools Holland, what a show.  As soon as it comes on it makes you fall in love with music all over again. The sheer number of different musical styles presented is astounding and helps you realise that the genres you listen to are but a slice of the music content out there in the world.

Another reason it stands out for me is many of the bands on there aren’t doing it to be cool or make money, they’re on there because they love music and love playing it.  On what other show can you be watching a Venezuelan vocal group one minute then suddenly be thrown into a 3 piece jazz band followed by a hillbilly grassroots blues singer?

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This is what I love and always will about music, the progression it gives people.  You might start your musical journey when you’re young, following the crowd and listening to the most recent pop. But then one day something grabs hold of you, you might hear a snippet of something on the radio and think to yourself “what the hell was that?”.  Suddenly your musical taste is on a transitional spiral to discovering something new.

It’s like a drug, once you have a taste of music you need more and more, different styles, different instruments, playing techniques, searching out your favourite artists, favourite tracks, live tracks, artists performing with other artists, first albums, last albums, the addiction goes on.

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Jools gives people a stepping stone to music they may never have thought existed.  It’s easy to find every type of music on the internet these days, but to find that music you first need to know that it exists.  Mr Holland provides this service free of charge (TV licence fees may apply!) and for this I tip my hat to him and the BBC for keeping this show on air.  Long live Jools and his sickeningly amazing piano playing.