Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Spring Offensive

I first became aware of Spring Offensive six months ago, despite their name, a war reference which I assumed belonged to a metal band, they blew me away with jagged guitars, memorable vocals and innovative song ideas. At the time, they did not have a bass player but they were gaining attention in their place of birth Oxford and their self released EP was selling quickly. I caught up with vocalist Lucas Whitworth on the eve of their debut mini-album 'Pull Us Apart' to ask him questions about Spring Offensive and their latest release.

Hey Lucas, first and foremost can you explain who Spring Offensive are and how you came to existence?
We're a five-piece from Oxford who write music with guitars, bass, drums and vocals. I'm sure you've already heard the “friends meet at school, don't really fit in, end up forming a band” story so I won't bore you with it again.

Both your EP and your new mini-album are quite bright and poppy in places, was that a conscious decision you made on becoming a band or has it just developed over time? Are you conscious when you create songs that you want sections to be anthemic and sections to be quirky and different?
We've never thought of ourselves as being a pop band, or an “alternative” one either, for whatever that term is worth. When we released our EP, we were surprised when people described it as “danceable”, because it was almost the opposite to what we had in mind. All the bands that we're into are obviously making the music they want to, and we're just trying to do the same. I'm not saying it always works, and we tend look back on most of our songs and think, “Fuck, I wish we hadn't done that”, but by that stage it's too late. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that we'll keep on writing music until we run out of money or songs, and it doesn't matter what that music sounds like as long as we think it's right at the time. If people find it poppy or anthemic or quirky, then that's up to them; you can think whatever you want about it really, but the conclusions you draw will probably be quite different from our own. I think that genre labels are only really useful for marketing, and it's certainly not something we take into consideration when we're writing.

Do you think that Oxford has had an effect on your sound?
Absolutely. We moved here as a band (three of us were living here already) last year, and as soon as that happened it became quite clear that there are better bands than us, and that feeling of friendly competitiveness among your peers drives you on to improve. Contrary to popular opinion, Oxford doesn't have a “sound”. We've got bands making amazing music, but it's not a question of either simply producing overly cerebral reinterpretations of Radiohead or the sparse “math-pop” or whatever you want to call it of Youthmovies or Foals. I think that the “Oxford” tag gives lazy reviewers an easy get-out. We had a review recently that said we sounded too much like Radiohead, which is ridiculous but understandable if someone has never heard any genuinely contemporary local bands like Stornoway, Ute or The Winchell Riots. It's not that you expect people to have done, but it's worth pointing out that there's more to this city than dreaming spires and 'OK Computer'.

Lyrically you often have a storytelling quality to your music, what inspires this?
We try and write songs that are actually about something rather than generalised emotions, and often this will take the form of a narrative, yeah. 'Pull Us Apart' has specific moments in it which are about definite stories, like 'Every Coin' (being forced to eat the contents of your wallet) for example. But there's more to it than that. The whole record has a through-line and recurring themes, but they're not imposed upon the listener at all. Again, you don't have to listen to this record and try and work out what we were thinking when writing it, but, if you want, you're very welcome to. Our new EP, which will be out before the summer, will take the idea of telling a story even further still.

You self released your EP, did you ever expect it to sell out and what do you expect the reaction to the mini-album to be?
To be honest we were shocked that anyone liked it at all! Though we'd never actually released anything, we'd been going as a band for quite a few years, and achieving absolutely nothing. The EP was pretty much the last throw of the dice, and even hearing one positive reaction would have been enough to validate ourselves and what we were doing. But the extent to which people praised it and bought it was genuinely humbling and uplifting. We're under no illusions that doing this full time as a career will take a huge amount of work and might never happen due to the saturated nature of the market, but it's comforting to know that some people, any people at all, care. It never really occurred to me at the time, but being invited for a BBC 6 Music interview by Tom Robinson off the strength of one song (he'd only heard 'A Let Down' at the time) is pretty damn special. 'Pull Us Apart' doesn't have any obvious singles like that one, although I firmly believe that all the songs on it and the way in which they work together have far more about them. I don't think people will “get it” as much; it's not as instant or accessible, but we're fiercely proud of it. Having said that, in a strange way, though the album isn't officially out yet, we've already moved on from it. As long as it speaks to some people, it's done its job as a piece of music. And once that's happened, all that matters is the next record.

All of your current success has come off your own effort, are there any plans of working towards getting signed?
The DIY thing is cool, but it's also exhausting. Everything up until this point has been trial and error, and a lot of mistakes and blind alleys have led to the occasional moment of “success”. Using the word “success” is interesting as well, because how do you define that? Your parameters for what is successful change as you go along. We've certainly had no financial success, but every time you take a step up the ladder, you realise that the next one is even harder to get to: square two is always the new square one. Getting signed would be lovely, but it isn't the be-all and end-all. If we were to sign, it would have to be with a label that cares about what we're doing as much as we do.

Do you have any plans for a tour?
If everything is right with the world, we should be heading on our first tour this time next month. But we've had bad luck with this sort of thing in the past so we're keeping our fingers crossed at the moment.

What do you feel about UK chart music currently and where do you see yourself in relation to that?
For obvious reasons, what we do is considered to fall within the same broad category as people like N-Dubz; this is mostly because it's easier as a starting point to call it all music. But in reality we're not even close to doing the same thing. It's not a question of better or worse, just that the two are incomparable. We're ambitious, but we've got no plans to get into the charts, not in its current state. We've just had the misfortune of living through the poorest ever decade of pop music, and there aren't many signs that this will change any time soon, plus Radio 1 have already started phasing guitar music out of their playlists. A cursory glance at the biggest selling records of the 00s would be enough to make you lose faith in the industry if it weren't for great bands making untrendy music. For example, of the top 10 biggest selling singles last decade, there were five covers and four reality TV acts. Compare that even to the 90s and you'll see what I mean. Pop music is fucked, and no one's doing anything about it apart from exacerbating the problem. We've just got to keep writing the music we want to and hope for the best, ignoring the Simon Cowells of this world and hoping they go away or die a death.

The music industry has notably been in meltdown for a couple of years now, do you feel that has worked in your favour as an up-coming independent do it yourself band, or against you?
Yeah, like I say, the music industry is something that we have absolutely no interest in at all. I mean, we're fascinated by it, but it's not something we want to be a part of, if it can be helped. The music industry is paradoxical; how can you formalise and package and sell what is meant to be creative? Yes, I know its a necessity within an economic system like ours, but surely it's wrong that the people who run it have little to no idea about music itself. And, while they might now be getting what they deserve for the way they've treated the art-form, the bands are suffering as well. Most bands are DIY, and in our case it's not like we made an active decision to do it, but it does mean that we get complete creative freedom, and we don't have to pay any attention to how the rest of the industry is doing. Right now, we can do whatever we want. That's a really fucking good feeling.

Spring Offensive's debut mini-album will be released in March 2010.

Spring Offensive Myspace

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Eyedea & Abilities - By The Throat

Eyedea & Abilities, possibly the strangest name I have heard for some time, return to the underground hip hop scene for the first time in five years since acclaimed sophomore album 'E&A' with its follow up 'By The Throat'.

I am not exactly brimming with knowledge on the hip hop scene but I know that mainstream wise, it is full of copy cat groups offering a watered down version of groundbreaking urban music to a young audience that is more than happy to accept this just to fit in with certain crowds. Having heard some of the dullest uninspiring chart music recently, Eyedea & Abilities are a complete breath of fresh air, even for someone who doesn't necessarily like this style of music. Dark and brooding, it starts with 'Hay Fever', driven by a distorted bassline and MC Michael Larsens gritty vocals and lyrical content, even the input of singing on this track is used to add to the atmosphere of the track, rather than make it accessible. 'Spin Cycle' is a hit single in the making, memorable guitar work layered over real upbeat drums rather than programmed ones, as the MC'ing skips in time with the drums until the chorus kicks it into radio friendly almost indie-esque singing. 'Burn Fetish' originally sounds akin to The Fugees until once again, it breaks into a catchy chorus with Larsen rapping "Empathy is the poor mans cocaine and love is just a chemical by any other name", it is dark stuff lyrically and even musically, much akin to Eminem in that sense but with less mainstream polish and more innovation.

'By The Throat' definitely won't be everyones cup of tea. It is fundamentally a hip hop record but with a dark emotionally rock side to it, perhaps a more urban version of Rage Against The Machine without the fret wanking and angry at every single thing in the world rather than just concentrating on the politics. I hear alot of records and have in the past at least, heard alot of hip hop and Eyedea & Abilities are one of the few acts I have enjoyed and the only one in the genre I could say at this stage, are pushing boundaries within the genre. You can't really go wrong with 'By The Throat' if you enjoy hip hop.

4 / 5
Spring Offensive - Pull Us Apart

Spring Offensive are a band who first caught my eye with their self released EP last year, that happened not only to be hugely promising but also garnered great reviews and eventually sold out, something that is relatively unheard of from small bands and shows what a following they actually have. The new year then, brings something that I was begging for at the end of 2009, a mini album from Spring Offensive.

Much like the EP, 'Pull As Apart' is accessible indie pop, its edgy and different enough to perhaps not be openly commercial but at the same time still urging to be accepted in the likes of publications like NME. Opening track 'I Found Myself Smiling' is dark and haunting in its guitar work and a really understated way of starting an album, most albums begin in a full steam ahead fashion, Spring Offensive seem happy to just draw you in and force you to listen closely from the first moment. Lead single 'Every Coin' is a standout track starting with minimal drums and claps while Lucas Whitworths intelligent stories involve your brain before the melodies subside and a jagged distorted guitar melody comes in. The drumming work really drives this track and makes it an anthem that will be clapped along with in the near future I am sure. 'The Cable Routine', my favourite song from the previous EP has found its way onto their debut album and it really deserves to. Its often the case that tracks can't make the transition from an EP to an album and sound out of place but 'The Cable Routine' fits perfectly midway through this record and shows an intimate, emotional side which Spring Offensive rarely seem to offer. 'Everything Other Than This' is full of jagged guitar melodies that you can imagine in early Youthmovies EPs but with the hooks that you could expect to find in their latest and sadly final album.

I must say though, I am not as blown away by 'Pull Us Apart' as I was by their EP. It isn't that there are any bad or even average songs, because there aren't. It is a good solid debut album but in places I just can't feel myself saying that I must listen to it again and even though there are many great vocal and guitar hooks, nothing has stuck into my skull and forced me to play the song in aid of getting it out of my head. However, with Youthmovies now defunct, it would seem fitting that Spring Offensive should take their place because 'Pull Us Apart' is an album of confidence and maturity way beyond their years.

3 / 5

Sunday, 14 February 2010

I was a late comer to Frightened Rabbit, finding their awe inspiring album 'Midnight Organ Fight' only just on the tail end of 2009. It hit me straight from the off though with its high pace energy and pure emotion, it was both upbeat but downbeat, poppy but alternative and most importantly it was relateable for anyone who has been in a failed relationship. 2010 sees Frightened Rabbit return with their much anticipated new album 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks', I caught up with the band before the release to find out if their ever growing fanbase and the glowing acclaim for their last album put pressure on the recording of this new release and more importantly, I queried on how the new album would sound and where the band plan to go on from here.

Firstly, for those who don't know Frightened Rabbit can you explain who you are and how you came to exist as a musical entity?
We are now a five-piece from Scotland, and we exist solely for the purpose of entertaining people in the same way Blind Date used to on a Saturday night. It's about love, lust, loss, heartache and blue language. And so is Frightened Rabbit.

Influentially, you seem to flit from folk to indie to pop, sound wise how did you intend Frightened Rabbit to be and how do you feel that has developed in regards to each album and onto the forthcoming release?
I think we've always intended to make pop music, with catchy hooks and major key joy. I suppose it's tinged with a little bit of dark matter, but I find that friction interesting. Each record for me presents itself with the opportunity to explore how we can explode a simple song out into a sprawling arrangement. I suppose the new record is our most layered and detailed to date. I've always wanted us to release a huge sounding record, and I suppose this one is it.

Midnight Organ Fight received alot of media acclaim, with that in mind, do you feel any pressure with the release of The Winter of Mixed Drinks?
There is some pressure, but it's healthy if you use it in the right way. First and foremost, I wanted to make a better record, and I think we've done that - I didn't want to disappoint anyone. However, I am fully aware that for anyone who has lived with the organ fight for a while, the first listen or two to this one may be a little weird, being naturally less familiar to them. That's a good thing though.

You seem to have quite a skill at naming your albums, could you divulge as to what The Winter of Mixed Drinks actually means to you?
I'm glad you like it! I think we've all had odd, lonely, fallow periods in life, where you find yourself detached from everything, drifting and lost. That's what it means to me, but most importantly, it's the moments of joy afterwards during recovery that defines the dark period.

Lyrically Midnight Organ Fight was romantically bleak, especially on songs like Poke. I read that you don't feel like you can release another break up album so I am curious as to what themes you feel the lyrics cover this time around?
The main vein of imagery seems to be related to the sea. I've used the loose backdrop of a journey out to the ocean but it needn't be taken literally. It's still an album about being a slightly faulty human being.

Musically, how do you feel you have progressed on the new album and what do you think new member, Gordon Skene has added to the band?
Gordon has brought a new dimension to the band in a live sense, both sonically and by being a right good lad! It's always refreshing to have new opinions and thoughts brought to the band and Gordon has certainly brought that already.

Upcoming shows include some shows in Australia, followed by a tour in England. Do you expect a hectic touring schedule in support of the new album and what countries will you be touring?
Hopefully we'll be all over the place. Touring is the lifeblood of the record once it's done, and it's important to go out and play the songs to as many ears as possible. I'd love to go to Japan, as we've never managed to go there. If there's somewhere people want to see us, we shall go!

Frightened Rabbits, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks is released via Fatcat Records on March 1st 2010 and they begin their UK tour on March 4th 2010.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Mumford & Sons - The Cave

No-one really could have predicted Mumford & Sons mainstream success with their debut album 'Sigh No More'. A progression up the folk ranks and underground success yes, but to see the album in the midst of the top 10 in Tesco, rubbing shoulders with Robbie Williams' latest steaming pile of rubbish alongside the absolute mockery that is the Susan Boyle frenzy, was absolutely mindblowing and put a smile on my face every time I happened to see it.

'The Cave' is the third single from Mumford & Sons astounding album and comes quick on the heels of 'Little Lion Man' and 'Winter Winds', both great songs from the album that also did considerably well in the singles chart although, perhaps not half aswell as the album has. With that in mind, I am not sure what the point of this release is. If you are a fan, chances are, you'll have the album, you'll have played it to death by now and you'll be wanting a new album already. If you aren't a fan, 'The Cave' will do nothing to persuade you otherwise, you just don't like NME endorsed folk music and you won't like this, you just wouldn't and I wouldn't expect you too. Also, lets be honest, every man and his dog has heard Mumford & Sons, unless they have literally been living in a cave, so in terms of exposure, this release comes across as irritating and unnecessary more than anything.

Labels views on single releases aside, 'The Cave' is one of my favourite songs on the album. Upbeat and anthemic, Mumfords vocals ooze passion and emotion as intruments slowly build up into a rousing country-western sound with the loud bass drum driving the song as the fast played banjos adds depth. I can remember first hearing this song and thinking that not only will this song encapsulate alot of peoples feelings and drive them to want better, it is also completely fresh musically in a folk scene that has been copying itself for far too long and that is still completely how I feel about it months on.

Not heard Mumford & Sons?

Then firstly, where the bloody hell have you been?!?!

Secondly, listen to 'The Cave', it will show you what Mumford & Sons are about and its an amazing track.

4 / 5

Monday, 8 February 2010

Frightened Rabbit - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks

Frightened Rabbits last full length album, 'The Midnight Organ Fight' was well received by critics and fans alike with myself personally thinking it was a touch of genius, blending indie, pop and folk sensibilities with a lyrical content that was emotional and relate-able whilst still remaining slightly tongue in cheek. It is this that makes the Scottish five piece almost a shoe-in for the break through British band to the start of the new decade, especially when you consider the pure tripe that we had to suffer during the tale end of the last one. Is 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' an album that is going to help Frightened Rabbit break through the ice and into the media eye or will it push down upon them, causing them to sink faster than the Titanic post iceberg?

'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' is much like its predecessor in many ways, vocal tone wise, Hutchinson still sounds very Biffy Clyro like but with more emotion, this is something I admired before and it is something that still heavily works on this album. Opener 'Things' is sonically challenging with feedback creating the background of the track as a snare roll builds up accompanied by a bright guitar melody as Hutchinson repeats 'I never need these things'. Lead single and one of the stand-out tracks 'Swim Until You Can't See Land' is bright, poppy and media friendly with its sing-a-long chorus, which given time, will stick into your skull so comfortably you'll be unsure as to how you ever lived without it. 'Skip The Youth' annoying builds up with feedback and drums for over a minute before it finally settles on a sunny guitar melody that will make you smile every time. The songs charm comes in the form of the backing vocals which in certain sections, especially the chorus, really add to the atmosphere of the song, making it feel more emotional as the drums build to a pop frenzy. My favourite track on the album however, has to be 'Nothing Like You', more upbeat and indie than Frightened Rabbit have ever been, the second single starts off sounding slightly like The Killers but with integrity, never losing speed in its three minute spell. It is easy to see why this is the second song to be released from the album as it really does showcase the band at their best, both different but mainstream at the same time.

It isn't without its negative sides though, both 'The Loneliness & The Scream' and 'Man/Bag Of Sand' come across as pointless tracks that you would happily skip, especially interlude 'Man/Bag Of Sad' which offers absolutely nothing in terms of sound or invention but on the whole 'The Winter Of Mixed Drunks' is what I, as a fan of the band expected. A more mature well rounded release, more capable of mainstream success than the previous albums but on the whole, is it really as good as 'The Midnight Organ Fight', I'm going to side with no.

3 / 5

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Stopmotion Men - What Now?

The Stopmotion Men, a three piece band from Cardiff, Wales have been progressing nicely in the Welsh alternative scene since their inception in 2006 gaining support slots to the likes of The Automatic and The Feeling amongst others alongside airplay on South Wales Radio and Sky TV. The new year brings their new EP 'What Now?' followed by a release launch gig at Cardiff's Globe on the same date, so is it fair to say that big things are perhaps afoot for the Welsh three piece?

Despite being on a small independent record label run by their friends, The Stopmotion Men initially stand out due to the great production on 'What Now?'. Greg Haver who has produced Manic Street Preachers and Super Furry Animals to mention just two of a long list of standout acts from his career has done an amazing job here and if The Stopmotion Men get to make an album, he should be at the helm, no doubt. Stand out track 'Spit And Chew' is an absolute mammoth of a song and sounds huge for a three piece band, adorned in rich orchestral sounds sounding much like Biffy Clyros 'Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies', a gem from their successful 'Puzzle' album but with Eddie Vedder vocals and more intent. Vocalist Geraint Connor is actually a huge selling point for The Stopmotion Men because he is so versatile. On opening track 'What Now?', Connor hits the heights of all the big time grunge stars and doesn't sound out of place at all, while on 'Hurt You' he is more than happy to show his fragile side as you hear his vocals emotionally crack in melody. The use of piano really does make a difference to the EP aswell, adding beautifully eerie elements to each track, how Ben Wilson manages to be a complete monster of a drummer and play piano at the same time, I will never know.

From the start to finish of 'What Now?' you get a sense that The Stopmotion Men are probably what Biffy Clyro want to be in terms of their orchestral sound, reaching the grandiose heights of a modern day Muse but without losing rawness like they have of late. This is the beautiful and sorely missed sound of Aereogramme mixed with the legendary Pearl Jam perfectly and to be honest, The Stopmotion Men are easily one of my tips to be signed by a major label in 2010 because on the strength of 'What Now?', you'd be a fool to suggest anything other than that they are going to be absolutely massive.

4.5 / 5