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