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

SINGLE REVIEW: Friendly Fires - Live Those Days Tonight

The last encounter I had with St. Alban’s band Friendly Fires was at last year’s Reading Festival in a writhing mess of flailing limbs and Ed MacFarlane’s snake hips. As their lead singer sweatily strutted and shimmied his way along the barrier to the rhythm of dance-y synths and frantic cowbells, I realised what an exciting three-piece this band were. Back then their set predominantly comprised material from their explosive, Mercury-nominated debut album, hence my surprise when I heard the latest offering from the disco trio.

Although aesthetically there hasn’t been much of a shift of direction, something feels different to me on ‘Live Those Days Tonight’. Maybe it’s the retro, fade-in chords that open the track, maybe it’s Ed MacFarlane’s crooning “don’t hold back” or the slightly harebrained Late of the Pier-esque synths that underscore the layered interlude towards the end of the five minutes. Friendly Fires’ music has always had the brilliant quality of seeming to be intensely well-structured chaos.

Sadly, this single doesn’t seem to have captured that raw, jungle energy of the first album that crawled under your skin and was almost feverishly addictive. There is less of the hedonistic, carnival fun of the first album (see the funky ‘Lovesick’ and almost feral ‘Kiss of Life’), ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ is a little too polished, too sleek, (dare I say) a little too Ministry of Sound. The jolty, math-rock guitars and thumping percussion give me brief hope at something with more allure but these are vastly overshadowed by layer upon layer of over-produced dance floor-friendly synths. Although a vastly more ambitious track, Friendly Fires are more at home (and, well, better) when they’re stripped back to groovy basslines and primal beats and MacFarlane is doing less crooning and more yelping. I hope the boys will realise this for themselves and I’ll be waiting for them, with open arms. Until then, I’m just a little bored.

Written for The Whiteboard Project

SINGLE REVIEW: Chapel Club - Blind

Some bands simply refuse to be labelled. Other bands let their influences shine through to such an extent that it is easy to locate them within a specific genre. Native Londoner’s Chapel Club, for me, find themselves in the latter category and their latest single ‘Blind’ perfectly illustrates why. From the crashing wave of dense guitars and cymbal-heavy percussion to the stripped back verse, simply a solemn voice and the solitary throb of a bassline. It’s all a bit…familiar. Editors, Glasvegas, Hurts, White Lies; countless bands have channelled the dark desperation of Joy Division in recent years, some with more success than others. Taken from their debut album ‘Palace’, the quintet has included all the usual suspects – mellow, subdued verses, a deep, velveteen vocal (of which I am quite fond) building up to an intentionally climactic chorus, led by a soaring guitar riff. Lyrically, the track borders on poetic, delivered by Lewis Bowman’s resonant bass, with much of the same thematically; mourning for the death of a passionate, overwhelming love affair and the resultant heartbreak, as Bowman laments he is too busy with regrets.’ It is clear what Chapel Club are aiming for with ‘Blind’ and it is a shame that their well-crafted musicianship is void of much originality. I really want to like them but, unfortunately, I’ve heard much of it before.

Written for The Whiteboard Project

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

SINGLE REVIEW: Foo Fighters - Rope

Their frontman Dave Grohl has recently been awarded with prestigious NME Godlike genius award, it has been just over two years since their last album and their previous six have been Grammy nominated. I think it’s fair to say, from the very beginning, Foo Fighters have set the bar sky high. On the eve of the release of their new single, ‘Rope’, from their upcoming album ‘Wasting Light’, it is certainly no different. And, as ever, Grohl and Co. certainly do not disappoint.

Lauded by long-time fans as some of their heaviest material yet, the Foos do not shy away from their deep-rooted rock credentials whilst also clearly incorporating influences from Grohl’s super massive super group Them Crooked Vultures. Heavy, choppy riffs form the meaty underbelly of the track, complimented by Grohl’s signature rough-around-the-edges vocal propelling the track forward, punctuating the 4:19 with regular, hedonistic interjection of “yoooow!” Compared with previous hits such as “The Pretender”, Grohl’s vocal is, to some extent, tamed by Taylor Hawkins’ smoother tones melding to almost-delicately harmonise amongst the rawk.

My personal highlight comes when the track escalates into a brilliant noisy climax of thumping guitars and face-melting guitar slides, showcasing the intense technical ability that lies at the heart of everything this band do. Classic, excellent, moshtastic Foos.

Written for The Whiteboard Project

Thursday, 10 March 2011

SINGLE REVIEW: Crystal Stilts - Through The Floor

With last year’s release of albums from the lo-fi Best Coast and Wavves and Lovvers’ debut the year before, I think it’s safe to say that the garage rock revival is in full swing. And much like that of Blue’s upcoming Eurovision appearance, this is a revival that I welcome with open arms. Best of all, the widespread success of aforementioned Californian (and, err, Nottingham) bands has seen a number of similarly scuzzy new bands rise from the woodwork. One of these bands joining the ranks is Brooklyn locals Crystal Stilts with their new single “Through The Floor”.

Despite being short and sweet at just 1 minute, 55 seconds, “Through The Floor” provides a injection of much needed sunshine into an otherwise arctic March. All of the usual suspects get an airing by the quintet: a driving rhythm established by thumping percussion, grungy guitars offset by a jangly tambourine and a vocal drenched in reverb. All of these elements messily flung together have an endearing quality to cast me back to hazy cider-fuelled summer afternoons. However, unlike their American cousins, the focus is not so much on drawling, cutting vocals but rather on the instrumental itself. In fact, the lyrics to “Through The Floor” are almost incomprehensible, shrouded by the heavy drums and tattered guitar riffs. Contrasted with the upbeat, poppy tambourine is the weight of the track which lies with the deep vocal drawing comparisons with Ian Curtis of Joy Division fame. This mix of overt brightness and darkness results in Crystal Stilts’ delightful discord that makes them so distinctive. “Through The Floor” is a slice of sunshine-laced garage rock that will make you feel like it’s summer inside…if not out

Written for The Whiteboard Project

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

SINGLE REVIEW: Lykke Li - Love Out Of Lust

I love Lykke Li. I feel I should establish that from the off. I’ve been an avid follower from the outset and this Swedish songstress has the ability to inspire devotion in everyone who experiences her music, both on record and in a live arena. This was proven when I saw her at Latitude Festival 2009 in a whirlwind of chiffon, leather, fur, percussion, gospel singers and dry ice. She captivated every audience member from start to finish.

Lykke’s latest single, Love Out Of Lust, showcases a similar aesthetic to that displayed on her 2008 debut “Youth Novels”; a collection of simple, polished, rhythmical pop songs. However, this 4 minutes, 43 seconds also sees an exploration into a more layered, ambient approach to making music. Taken from her upcoming album “Wounded Rhymes”, the deep, haunting hum which underlies the track is offset by the feather-lightness of Lykke’s soaring tones. The lyrics are both sugar-sweet and simultaneously laced with melancholy as Lykke breathes: Rather die in your arms, than die lonesome.” The heavy throb of layered percussion is a key component, driving the track forward and fast becoming Lykke’s trademark.

That’s not to say that this track is utterly devoid of light; the choruses offer a distinct sense of optimism as we are encouraged to “dance while you can…for life is like a flameand the ashes for wasting”. This is accompanied by high pitched whistling and textured “oohs” bringing to the track to its dreamy height. It’s difficult to draw any substantial comparisons; a little Beach House but more torn around the edges, a little Girls but perhaps with less bite. I think it is fair to say that a true individual is to be found in Lykke Li and “Love Out Of Lust” marks the beginning of a very exciting second chapter in this Swede’s career. Roll on album number two!

Written for The Whiteboard Project

Saturday, 5 February 2011

LIVE REVIEW: Los Campesinos! w/ Grouplove & Summer Camp @ Shepherd's Bush Empire, 2nd February

Los Campesinos! have no ordinary fans; they have some of the most fiercely loyal and terrifyingly dedicated fans around. And I am proud to be one of about one thousand, huddled in a tight knit group of merchandise-clad teenagers at the practically cavernous Shepherd's Bush Empire. Tonight's gig (the octet's biggest London show yet) is a 14+ affair which makes for a buzzing atmosphere, ultimately culminating in a lot of walking advertisements for Topman and synchronised dancing en masse. Being surrounded by people significantly (four years accounts for a lot) younger than me results in a combination of: pride that they aren't at a JLS concert, fear that I'll be suffocated by the boys' stench and jealousy that I wasn't this cool at their age. The last time I was at this venue, I was screaming at McFly that I wanted their children. Nuff said.

Kicking off this evening's indie pop proceedings are newcomers from across the pond, Grouplove. For a new band which are presumably unknown the majority of the audience, their Surfer-Blood-y, The-Drums-y rhythms are greeted to echoing whoops and cheers from every corner of the venue. The five piece themselves have a formidable stage presence with glittery masks, a long haired hippy of a bassist and a man with, quite simply the voice of an angel, holding the attention of the audience for the duration of their 30 minute set. Next up are the hotly hyped duo of Summer Camp; one part Jeremy Warmsley, one part Elizabeth Sankey. I had been anticipating this performance for a while now, having fallen head-over-heels in love with their Young EP, released in September of last year. The perfect indie couple take to the stage and glide their way through a synth-heavy collection offset by Elizabeth's chiming vocals, Washed Out and Active Child influences shining through strongly. A set highlight is the darling "Ghost Train" but, overall, their sound doesn't quite translate to this venue and I'm left feeling slightly unfulfilled.

These feelings don't last for long, however, as the lights dim once more and the excitement is palpable. I stand on tip-toes in my Docs (damn these teenage boys are gangly), seeking a peek of Los Campesinos! as they file on stage to ecstatic cheers and shouts of "Gareth I want your sperm!" (witty bunch too, this lot) The eight-piece start with third LP opener "In Medias Res", the crowd shouting every word back to Gareth from the off; "I'm leaving my body to science..." inheriting an even eerier quality when chanted by every audience member packing out the West London venue. An old favourite is next in the form of first album feature "Death to Los Campesinos!" and shit really kicks off to the sound of a vicious glockenspiel and cries of "SHUH-GAR!" The consistent brilliance of Los Campesinos! back catalogue is perfectly showcased on this rainy, February evening as tracks from the first, second and third albums sit happily side by side and are greeted by the same unfaltering enthusiasm by the crowd. The only lull in the set comes with the addition of two new songs coming soon to Heat Rash subscribers (a fair few attendees tonight, I presume) - "Four Seasons" and "The Black Bird, The Dark Slope". These newbies see the band moving away from the schizophrenic energy of "Romance Is Boring", towards a mellower sound. This is short-lived, however, as I am hurled into a heaving mass of bodies for a duo of loud and sweaty hits - "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" and "Romance Is Boring". Teenager angst hits its peak as I revel in the delicious hedonism of screaming "OH, WE KID OURSELVES THERE'S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING, BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE!" Gareth is, as ever, ferociously energetic, spitting out every syllable of "Romance Is Boring" and hurling himself around the stage like a firecracker. Between-song banter is, as ever, at a minimum, the frontman only pausing to joke "This is a song about beer" before launching into Budweiser advert soundtrack, "You! Me! Dancing!". A large circle is cleared in the middle of the floor as the tension builds and the track erupts to a euphoric climax, the crowd morphing into a heaving mass of failing limbs.

The absolute, without-a-doubt highlight for me though, isn't these moments of madness but rather the one of clarity that I experience, having been spat out of the moshpit. My chest heaving, t-shirt stuck to my back, laces undone as the haunting throb of "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future" begins. This is a moment of absolute calm, the audience joining in every word that Gareth gives them (as ever), hands swaying and even a few (okay, a lot) of tears shed on my part. The most poignant, heart-wrenching moment is the desperate shriek of "you could never kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue again!" echoing in the rafters. It's at this moment that I realise that Los Campesinos! are the most beautiful, brilliant band that I have ever experienced. I adore them, and so do the other 999 people in the room.

Setlist (with thanks to Rhys)
1. In Medias Res
2. Death To Los Campesinos!
3. Miserabilia
4. A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; Or Letters From Me To Charlotte
5. This Is How You Spell, "HAHAHA, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics"
6. Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1
7. Four Seasons
8. The Black Bird, The Dark Slope
9. Straight In At 101
10. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
11. Romance Is Boring
12. You! Me! Dancing!
13. The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future
14. Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks

15. Knee Deep At ATP
16. ... And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

INTRODUCING: Foster The People

In an age of increasingly wacky experimental music (Baths’ Cerulean blew my mind to pieces) and an increasingly, well, appalling mainstream (yepp, I’m looking at you Bieber), the middle ground has been bereft for quite some time. However, filling the happy-medium shaped hole in our hearts is LA residents Foster The People. So underground that they’re even out of Wikipedia’s grasp, this four piece are being touted around the interwebs as the new MGMT. This comparison isn’t entirely misplaced with the quartet marrying the best of the Brooklyn band’s first album (i.e before they took a “new direction” and their music suffered for it) and The Drums circa Summertime EP (i.e before their album dropped and we realised that they’re about as exciting as magnolia paint) This combination of sugar-sweet harmonies, driving basslines, whistling and handclaps results in the catchiest pop music around.

Their three-song EP has just been released on iTunes and Amazon MP3, featuring their most popular track and currently top of my most played list, 'Pumped Up Kicks'. The four minutes, twelve seconds opens with an insanely infectious bassline, tying the track together and complimenting Mark Foster’s signature vocal; a dreamy mix between Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and the legendary Julian Casablancas of Strokes fame. Adding a ray of sunshine to such ice-cool proceedings are warm, Grizzly Bear-esque harmonies and whimsical whistling providing the backdrop for a potential summer anthem. The band feature in the line-up for this year’s Coachella festival in Cali-forn-i-a and look set for big things further afield. Check them out at or

- Written for The 405