Monday, 11 July 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Ungdomskulen - Gimme Ten


I blame Radiohead. In the current music scene, it would seem that it isn’t enough to agonise for months over the writing, recording, producing and mastering of an LP; music fans expect more. Spearheaded by ‘In Rainbows’ ‘pay what you like’ policy and the release of ‘The Universal Sigh’, bands are increasingly looking to unconventional gimmicks by way of marketing tactics. One trio amongst the ranks is Norwegians Ungdomskulen with their ‘Gimme Ten’; ten songs released over the course of two weeks and compiled for free download from Soundcloud.

The accompanying press release assures the listener that, despite the record clocking in at under ten minutes, it is without any compromise on intro, verse and chorus”; however, the resulting affect is inescapably, sonically strained. The opening track ‘Elle’ showcases a strong start with jagged, angular math-rock elements that draw inevitable comparisons with Kingston scene starlets Tubelord and Meet Me in Saint Louis; these are, however, spoiled by the droning vocal that dominates. ‘It’s Official’ and ‘Your Soul’ also hint towards are more consistent melody but these are not given a chance to develop, nipped in the bud by the LP’s ruthless as well as frustrating brevity. You cannot deny Ungdomskulen’s ambitious broadness of sound, veering wildly from the melodic funk akin to Florida’s Twin Shadow to the hip hop beats of !!! (chk-chk-chk) to the epic, thundering rhythms of Talons. However, this amalgamation of influences compressed into ten songs, most under a minute in length, results in a confused variety of sounds that fail to create a sense of cohesion. Perhaps the most bizarre victim of this almost schizophrenic method is ‘Take It Back’; at best, a faintly amusing Foo Fighters parody, at worst, a baffling face-melting-guitar-badda-bleep-badda-bleep muddle.

Although the threesome show glimmers of promise at times, their lack of consistency and absence of a united sound leaves ‘Gimme Ten’ as a jumbled collection of tracks akin to a catalogue of randomly assembled samples. Intending to stretch and defy musical and industrial convention, they seem to have run out of steam. And at just eight minutes and 37 seconds.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

SINGLE REVIEW: To Kill A King - Fictional State

When you regularly write about new music, you are constantly bombarded (and occasionally overwhelmed) with it from all sides, a lot of the time; however, this arduous process is made all the more worthwhile when you discover something truly special. This week, it is in the form of the debut single ‘Fictional State’ from Leeds locals, To Kill A King. Signed to the increasingly popular Communion alongside the likes of Treetop Flyers, this quintet has repeatedly drawn comparisons with Ohio band The National; these are not entirely misplaced. Ralph Pelleymounter’s velveteen vocal is certainly reminiscent of Matt Berninger’s similarly sensual tones but there are also shades of Villagers’ tenderly crafted folk and Arcade Fire’s earlier, more unruly material circa ‘Funeral’.

The track presents a pleasing mix of both beautiful melodies and thought provoking lyrics as well as a motley crue of genres in just under five minutes. ‘Fictional State’ opens with the sinister hum of a piano and the delicate, stripped back strum of an acoustic guitar twinned with Pelleymounter’s vocal as he wonders upon the nature of friendship and love (“we’re standing holding hands just as friends, there’s no love, with no love the world would surely end”) which flows with seamless elegance. The refrain of “what a state, why don’t you stay?” runs throughout, tying together the willowy simplicity of the first half with the rousing raucousness of the brass section that closes the track, spiralling into dizzying cacophony.

Written for The Whiteboard Project

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


I don’t know about the readers of The Whiteboard Project, but I often find myself in quite specific musical moods which only a few artists will satisfy. When Wye Oak’s new single ‘Fish’ landed in my inbox, it just so happened to hit the spot perfectly. A colder, reflective end to a hot day, my sunburnt knees still smarting, wrapped in crochet on the patio, soundtracked by Jenn Wasner’s haunting alto. Although Wikipedia helpfully labels the Maryland duo as peddlers of ‘indie folk rock’, ‘Fish’ presents a darker side than your Johnny Flynns and your Goldheart Assemblies put together. A steady pulse and deep piano murmur lays the track’s foundation with layers of delicate guitar and Jenn’s velveteen vocal creating a full, lush sound akin to Beach House and Lykke Li’s ‘Wounded Rhymes’. An almost scuzzy buzz underlines the chorus, contrasting with the soaring vocal to marry with Andy Stack’s crashing cymbals. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Wye Oak is that it all seems so effortless, you can feel it all wash over you, sink into your veins as Jenn breathes ‘ghost of your bones’ like a warmer, richer Romy Madley Croft. Gorgeous, dark, mellow, sounds from this Baltimore duo.

Just one question: Wye Oak, where have you been all my life?

Written for The Whiteboard Project

SINGLE REVIEW: Yuck - Shook Down

My first experience of Yuck was a dodgy radio rip of ‘Holing Out’; with the scuzzy thrash of their guitars buzzing mercilessly on my laptop speakers, I got a pretty instant impression of the four-piece. However, their first record was surprisingly a lot mellower than I had bargained for. The latest single from their self-titled debut, ‘Shook Down’ falls into the softer side of the spectrum whilst still retaining the rhythmical flair that defines them as a quartet. Like Lovvers’ sophisticated older brother (Lovvers’ guitarist kicked me in the head Offset Festival, albeit accidentally), ‘Shook Down’ is all acoustic guitars and a laidback, harmonised vocal like a 90s stoner lover anthem. The leading, nonchalant hook, layered over their distinctively grungy guitars makes the 3:27 akin to a lighter, breezier Pavement as Daniel Blumberg chimes: “You could be my destiny, you could mean that much to me.” This influence is especially prominent when the instrumental strips back to the bassline and the warm vocal suggests we “turn the lights out, turn them slow.” ‘Shook Down’ is a lazy, Sunday morning love song, frayed around the edges from the ever glorious Yuck. Long may they reign.

Written for The Whiteboard Project

SINGLE REVIEW: The Heartbreaks - Jealous Don't You Know

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of The Heartbreaks until recently. However, despite being a relatively new band, these four Lancashire lads have already been rubbing shoulders with the likes of NME-favourites Hurts, ex-Libertine Carl Barat and Brooklyn babes The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Having recently relocated to Manchester and released their mega new single “Jealous Don’t You Know”, they’re giving everyone every reason to sit up and listen.

Thankfully shunning the association of Manchester with watered down lad rock (yupp, I’m looking at you Oasis, Twisted Wheel and co.), The Heartbreaks’ influences lie more on the Morrissey side of things. Buried beneath catchy hooks, driving guitars and throbbing basslines are romantic souls which they themselves admit – “I’ve never been man enough for you”. This track is something of a mixed bag though from start to finish; combining the Arcade-Fire-esque swelling drums which open the single with the dancey funk of the bridge’s bassline, reminiscent of New Order circa Temptation. This is no bad thing as lead vocalist Matthew’s raw falsetto laments – “Tonight I sleep alone, try to sleep off this lust”- tying the track together, supplemented by the tender harmonised “oohs” of the chorus. At a generous just-over four minutes, the track shows ambition and scope for bigger and better things from this quartet; they are not to be underestimated!

Written for The Whiteboard Project