Review // Blood Red Shoes @ The Academy, Manchester

I went to see Blood Red Shoes in Manchester, this is what I thought. Published on Freedom Spark  

Blood Red Shoes once again graced Manchester with their presence this year, this time accompanied by Slaves and DZ Deathrays. The occasion called for leather jackets, thick black eyeliner and a mosh pit mentality – and my efforts were not in vain.

Due to a lack of organisation on my part (nothing to do with a few early pints), I missed DZ Deathrays; much to my disappointment because, having given them a listen before the gig, they sounded wicked. However, I arrived just before Kent based duo Slaves graced the stage. Pint in hand and dancing shoes at the ready I became fully engrossed in their cheeky (and very loud) performance. Who would have thought that two lads could create such an immense sound?! If you’re into head banging, pugnacious music – this is it. Drum heavy and vocally straining, the guys absolutely killed it; everyone in the crowd from student to, well, the not so young, was taking full advantage of hammering all available floor space, (and each other).  Finishing the set with ‘Girl Fight’ couldn’t have been a better choice – if you’re not familiar with this song, give it a listen; it’s a crowd  pleaser.

A well-deserved break was in order before Blood Red Shoes were set to come on and after refreshing our drinks; the crowd were ready for more – dirtier dancing. To my slight disappointment, the band started out slow, beginning their set to a comparatively calmer audience. Luckily this didn’t last long and after playing a few tracks from their second studio album Fire Like This all was forgiven. With all the confidence and allure that a well rehearsed, practised and perfected band should, the duo hooked the crowd and held our attention all the way through till their epic finale. By which time the sweat dripping from eager mosh pit attendees was sufficient enough to blur my vision and leave me utterly drained. Showers were in order all round.

If you get the chance to catch them any time soon, I would highly recommend it. Maybe take a towel.

Review // The Horrors – ‘Luminous’

My review of The Horrors’ ‘Luminous’, published on Freedom Spark  

The Horrors’ self-produced and 5th studio album was released this week – excited? You should be.

The genre dissecting, boundary surpassing, friendship dividing band that is ‘The Horrors’ set out to deliver, and that they do. A strong start to the album with ‘Chasing Shadows’ sets a scene of delirium descending into tie-dye darkness, a confused bleakness; an oxymoronic tapestry of sounds. The combination of krautrock, psychedelic ballads and wavering guitar harmonies prefaces the impending musical mosaic that is to be the rest of the album.

If you wanted epic (which obviously you did), track 7 – ‘I See You’ is just this. In the same manner in which ‘Explosions In The Sky’ captures even the most naïve of listeners, as does ‘I See You’ – ensnaring them in a progressive build up towards a mighty crescendo, like the sirens of Sirenum scopuli.

And then, just to throw you off the scent ‘Change Your Mind’ is a comparatively still, solemn and slow track. A constant and comforting drumming backdrop, as provided by Joe Spurgeon,shoulders the dulcet tones of Faris Badwan – a heroic partnership.

In the family of musical relatives, Luminous is a third cousin. Distant in style but bearing the hallmarks of its predecessors and influences – Interpol, Siouxsie And The Banshees and Sonic Youth, to name but a few. The Horrors began as a maelstrom of influences, out of which they have created and become a band that is fresh, persuasive and unique. Their ability to dance between genres and their constant twisting and turning, has allowed them to create something both comprehensive and enchanting.

Review // Lykke Li – ‘I’ll Never Learn.’

My review of Lykke Li’s ‘I’ll Never Learn’, published on Freedom Spark  

A heartfelt self-portrait of an album, I’ll Never Learn reveals pain, beauty and charm. A step back from the livelier previous two albums, the Swedish ‘sugar pop’ star holds her heart on her sleeve and the listener in her pocket; enchanting, as she is bold. Having said of her latest release – “I only thought I knew what heartbreak was until this record” – you know it’s going to be something special, and that it is. 

Surrendering to sadness, Lykke Li succeeds in chronicling feelings of heartbreak, sorrow and turmoil in just 9 short songs. Some of which are reminiscent of Placebo – hypnotising and bleak, while ‘Never Gonna Love Again’ echoes the late 80s, early 90s popular love songs. Quite the contrast.

Track 5 – ‘Gunshot’, sounds like what the soundtrack to Tarzan would do if it was produced by Sigur Rós  – and that’s not meant to demean the track in any way; I both love Tarzan and Sigur Ros, and in fact, the influence ofSigur Rós is palpable throughout many tracks on the album. This purely demonstrates her talent at utilising a number of different instruments in an interesting and refreshing manner and is testament to her as a singer songwriter rather than a pop star. It is this talent that turns what could be another lackluster collection of gloomy love songs into something quite the opposite.

Maybe it’s going too far to call the album self-effacing, but, there’s a real sense of modesty behind the album that was perhaps less apparent in her previous work. Lykke Li refuses to succumb to the familiarity of a traditional love ballad. ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone’ is the track that comes closest to the common recognition of a ‘love song’ and yet it holds it own – lyrically more than instrumentally perhaps because the sincerity of her words are inescapable, nevertheless, it delivers something unique.

The album will be available on iTunes this week and it’s highly advisable to purchase it at the next available opportunity, like now.

Review // Blueprint Blue – ‘Undertoad’

My review of Blueprint Blue’s ‘Undertoad’, published on Freedom Spark  

Blueprint Blue are a London based three piece made up of Huw Webb, Melissa Rigby and Elliot Hayward, and put bluntly, they are the band you wish you’d heard of earlier.  On the 5th May, they are releasing their debut EP – Undertoad and lawks- a- mercy it is hot!

If you’re a stickler for authenticity then you won’t be disappointed; the album was recorded and thus produced live and with the help of Joshua Hayward from The Horrors. The band’s sound is raw, complex and self-assured – if they slip up (rarely) it’s kept in. In a world of auto-tune that is pretty darn refreshing.

The album consists of 4 tracks. The third, ‘Scared Of Your Mother’,  demonstrates the skills of every member since you get a glimpse of every instrument’s sound. The synergy of the steady drums, the Neil-Young-esque vocals and the characteristically prominent guitar – along with the fact this is all LIVE – assures us of the absolute trust each member has in the other’s ability and you can’t help but love it.

Track 4 stood out the most, at almost 9 and a 1/2 minutes long that’s not a massive surprise. With all the effortless charm and dexterity of a long forgotten Hendricks’ B-side, ‘Panic Attack Blues’ invites the already wistful listener on a safari of lengthy, indulgent and confident manipulation of the electric guitar and conjures nostalgia for something we probably never owned. Either that, or it makes you really want something you can’t have, like the ability to produce 9 minutes of consistently brilliant music…maybe.

With the risk of digging my own grave of OTT compliments – these guys are awesome, you should all listen to them NOW and then go out and buy their music, and catch them live (usually somewhere in London).

Review // Sheen – ‘Sheen’

My review of Sheen’s ‘Sheen’ for Freedom Spark, published Mar 9, 2014

London 6 piece Sheen is made up of members not just from London but spanning Wales to Poland – and their varied influences have come together to create their self-titled album released last week. Haven’t heard it yet? Now is your chance.

By way of comparison, and really just so you can get an idea of the band, they bring to mind a combination of Warpaint and 2:54; the most striking resemblance being the enticing, ethereal and enveloping sound of the female lead. Maybe I’m biased but the prominence of female vocals parading so powerfully in any band is a definite plus! Aneta’s seductive voice really takes centre stage in every track and is set off beautifully by the backdrop that is the rest of the band.

There’s certainly a soft sort of dreaminess about their sound, which is sort of unexpected considering how much noise the band actually makes – something you are reminded of in tracks such as ‘Skylarks’ and ‘Lunaire’. But the album as a whole definitely serves up the more slumber inducing than the head banging, with tracks such as ‘Hey’ and ‘Edge of the Sea’ you could practically be snoozing.

In the same way that Explosions in the sky have the power to make you feel as relaxed as a cat by the fire – you find with Sheen that despite their often ferocious guitar playing you are just happy to sit back and chill. Whether sitting in the sun or simply pondering life – whatever your penchant, this album is the perfect accompaniment.

Unfortunately, this album release is tainted with sadness with the news that the band are soon to split. Luckily, they have one last show! So, if you’re in London on 13th March – get down to the Macbeth for what promises to be a memorable live performance.

Review // Temples – ‘Sun Structures’

My review of Temples’ ‘Sun Structure’ for Freedom Spark, published  

Firstly – a pretty apt name so 10/10 of there! The album as a whole kind of made me want to go dancing in the desert, not that I’ve ever done that before but I reckon this album would be the perfect accompaniment. By the way, you probably won’t believe me but I got that feeling before I even listened to ‘Sand Dance’!

For the album as a whole – think Beatles and Tame Impala, blend the two and this album would be the product. It’s reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s hippy haven with its hazy, echoey vocals and its rework and embodiment of psychedelic rock at its best.

‘A Question Isn’t Answered’ (track 8),  a personal favourite, has a particular sense of bringing up the past with chorus like vocals and rocky instrumental intermissions. The final track of the album, on the other hand is much softer. I got a sense of a Broken Bells mixed with TV On The Radio vibe from it: a nice juxtaposition to the opening track, ‘Shelter Song’, which in contrast to its title, doesn’t seem too ‘sheltered’. It does, though, start the album excellently and with a sense of urgency, screaming ‘listen, listen and keep listening ‘cos it gets even better’! And like the eager impressionable listeners we are, we do our duty with open ears.

Not only is this album great but it was totally self produced by the four lads from Kettering and if that doesn’t ooze confidence and allure then I don’t know what does. Anyway, if ever you need to be drawn out of your winter hibernation filled with puddles and broken umbrellas then this is the way to do it.

Review // Breton – ‘War Room Stories’

My review of Breton’s ‘War Room Stories’ for Freedom Spark, published Jan 25, 2014

So, it’s the New Year and people are hungry for music top ups, for refreshment, the next party so to speak. Music junkies everywhere are looking for their next fix, Youtube is waiting for its newest sensation and bloggers are like hunter-gatherers in spring. All we can hear is the ravenous echoes of ‘more more more’ – kind of like a creepy Rachel Stevens.

Ok so I’m not necessarily saying that Breton – the creators of the album I am about to review, satisfy the insatiable appetite of the headphone whore BUT they are wicked and that deserves some attention in itself.

I (ashamedly) admit I knew nothing about the band prior to this invitation but was soon to find this more of a blessing than a curse – discovering a band is like finding a fiver in your back pocket, satisfying and you want to tell everyone about it.

I’m going to make this simple, Breton are like a combination of Foals, Two Door Cinema Club, and a producer I haven’t quite managed to put my finger on… They’ve got range, intrigue and diversity and they’re totally addictive – mainly because you don’t know what to expect next.

You’ve got ‘Got Well Soon’, a kind of dark resurrection of Hot Chip combined with varying degrees of, I want to say Chemical Brothers… but I’m open to suggestions. And then on the other end of the spectrum you’ve got recent single, Envy – a song that you think you recognise because of its catchy riff for sure, but it catches you out. The strings combined with the steady drums make it memorable but the over all effect is not one of repetition – although of all the tracks this is probably the one you’ll be repeating.

‘Closed Category’ has got vocals that are like a bucket of sounds falling down an empty well, bouncing off the sides on the way down, that kind of echoed silence that’s so attractive in a singer’s voice (my opinion obviously).

‘Fifteen Minutes’, the final track of the album kind of mimics the first in its overall presentation; comfortable drums and a recognisable build up which are all things pretty commonplace in indie bands we know and love. Weirdly, and potentially purposefully, the repeat use of the word ‘return’ as the track comes to end brings us nicely to thereturn to the first song of which the latter is it’s closest match in sound and production.

This is my favourite band of the moment, and this album is currently resting at the top of my 2014 list, but it’s early days of course – but I’ve got to get myself some live tickets and I suggest you all do the same too.