Friday, 30 March 2012

Mewithoutyou - Ten Stories

When I first saw Mewithoutyou it was at an all dayer. I didn’t know who they were and their vocalist Aaron Weiss came out looking like a modern depiction of Jesus, rambling like a madman. I didn’t really ‘get’ it at the time, but the moment I heard Catch for Us the Foxes I knew I’d watched a great band at that gig and not really known it. Catch Us the Foxes saw the band unfairly lumped into the punk, emo, post-hardcore scene although it was clear they didn’t fit there with the religious folklore theme of their lyrics and subsequent albums Brother, Sister and It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright saw their more rock tinged side make way for an experimental folk sound with a lot more emphasis on the lyrics.

Mewithoutyou’s fifth and latest album Ten Stories is a culmination of everything that the band have done before. February 1878 is clearly the sequel to January 1979, a rocking brooding little number full of distortion and intelligent angst that gets under your skin in exactly the same way as the bands earlier material did. Foxes Dream of the Log Flume has the deep grooving bass lines, rhythmic drumming and classic vocal delivery that first compelled me to be interested in the band. While songs like Elephant in The Dock and Aubergine have the feel of the bands more folk elements but Elephant in The Dock especially has a twisted and dramatic undertone to it making it less twee than what the band have created previously.

Since Catch for Us the Foxes I haven’t found Mewithoutyou as infectious. Ten Stories doesn’t really change that feeling but it is great to see a rock band continue to progress, adapt and challenge their sound. I can’t see this winning the band any new fans but for old fans, I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy with this album.

3 / 5

Friday, 23 March 2012

Deer Tick - Divine Providence

I first heard Deer Tick on their debut War Elephant which to this day I still hold a high regard for. The problem is, that since War Elephant, well, Deer Tick haven't quite lived up to my expectations and even though last album The Black Dirt Sessions received some downright tasty reviews, it still didn't compare to the alt-country folk that Deer Tick had on display on their debut and quite frankly, I have now lost faith in the band.

Enter their latest album, Divine Providence.

In interviews on the lead-up to this album the band said that they wanted to show the riotous, raw sound that they have live and with Divine Providence they've achieved this, betraying their sound that I loved on War Elephant in the process and warping themselves back to the sixties where it seemed fashionable to play fast and play loud.

Opening track, The Bump, has a Rolling Stones feel to it and encapsulates the sound for the rest of the album with its jangling guitars, John McCauleys raspy vocals and not to mention a country and western Jools Holland-esque piano entrance mid-way that makes me question whether I've stumbled into some re-make of a scene from The Alamo. Let's All Go To The Bar is a rousing two hundred miles an hour drunk of a song complete with group vocals that makes me actually want to go to the bar and mindlessly bottle someone for looking at me funny. Lead single Main Street is a little more from what we've come to expect from Deer Tick with its simple bass drum led rhythm section, an underlying organ and the first real vocal hook for a chorus with McCauley shouting 'Goodbye time, you ain't on my side', it's a bit Jet, it's a bit Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but it really is good. And luckily it isn't all balls to the floor upbeat stuff with tracks like Make Believe that show that Deer Tick have a more sensitive side (a sensitive side that features female backing vocals no doubt) and help to give the album a better flow.

The problem with Divine Providence isn't that it is bad, because it really isn't, in fact, I would go as far to say that it is a good album. The problem is that listening to it is like watching the high school dance scene out of Back To The Future. Yeah sure, I like Back To The Future as much as the next geeky guy, and I like the sixties sound as much as most avid music fans do but all this record does is show how uninventive this era is for music. We're constantly stealing ideas from classic bands and the time has surely come for us to be more creative with the output of music surely, after all, who is going to want to listen to some knock off of Rolling Stones or The Stooges when they can just sift through their records and listen to the real thing?

So final verdict: It’s no War Elephant, but it does go some way into restoring my faith in Deer Tick.

3 / 5

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Oxford band Gunning For Tamar burst onto the scene with the art indie sound of Deaf Cow Motel which instantly led to magazines like Rock Sound hailing the band, while Youthmovies fans like myself breathed a sigh of relief, finally a band to take up their mantel! I caught up with the extremely humble band on the cusp of releasing new EP Time Trophies through Alcopop! Records to ask all the important questions…

Firstly I have to ask straight off the bat, what do they put in the water in Oxford as it seems to be the breeding ground of some brilliant bands...
People in Oxford like to drink straight from the Thames, it’s actually a little known fact that no-one in Oxford has taps in their houses and that we all go to the river every evening to get our liquid supplies. It can get quite erotic when it’s a full moon, so you have to be careful.

Anyway, that’s the source. The secret’s out…

Have Oxford bands like Radiohead, Youthmovies and Foals had an influence on you wanting to be a band, and the style of music you create?
I remember listening to Youthmovies at university before I lived in Oxford and thinking they made this amazing music with so much freedom and unexpected turns which really appealed to me. I got into them around the same time as 65daysofstatic and both those bands blew my mind at the time. Radiohead and Foals are both bands we love too, the level of creativity and drive in both bands is inspiring.

I wouldn’t say though they ‘directly’ inspire what we write in a really obvious way but we do listen to them.

What would you say the main inspiration has been musically on the band then, and would you say that your influences have changed at all between Deaf Cow Motel and Time Trophies?
I think between us we’ve got a pretty wide set of influences.

D’Arcy our drummer is a big Deftones fan in terms of the drumming style. While recently I’ve been completely in love with a lot of different artists, in particular Alt-J and The Xcerts. I’ve always had a strong love for bands like Hell Is For Heroes, Biffy Clyro, Million Dead and Oceansize too. I was listening to those guys when I really started to want to be in a band, so we are influenced by them for sure. And Dan, our guitarist, likes a lot of electronic stuff. So yeah, we have a wide range of influences which is good I guess as it allows us to keep an open mind as to where we might take Gunning For Tamar.

Your debut release Deaf Cow Motel received some really good press from the likes of Rock Sound, did this surprise you at all?
Oh man, it was great!

I mean we were completely happy with those songs and loved them, so the fact other people were responding to them too was awesome. Rock Sound are incredibly supportive of new bands and such a vital part of the whole system of getting bands exposure.

I think we’re still finding out where we want to go with this band and that EP was the first collection we’d released, so hopefully people will hear a development on the new tracks from those.

Your new release Time Trophies is out on March 19th. Did you approach the writing and recording of the release in a different way to Deaf Cow Motel and how do you feel it differs musically from that release?
We went and recorded again with Tom Woodhead and definitely think there was a greater understanding between us as to what we wanted to do. We knew each other better this time. Plus we were fans of Forward Russia from a few years ago, so it was pretty surreal for us first time round as we were his fan boys then! Now he’s just Tom to us; an awesome dude and producer. He’s ace to work with and completely immerses himself in what he’s working on.

Dan and I write the songs, and we always approach the writing the same way for this release and the last. I think we’ve found a formula that works for us. One of us will normally have the seed of a song and then we take it to each other to expand upon, until it makes it to the rehearsal space and becomes a full band monster. It’s a pretty strong filtering process, it means that we all have to like the song or else it ends up in the corner in a pile with all the other discarded ideas. Making it completely democratic like that probably means writing is harder and we disagree more but it’s the way that works for us!

The Time Trophies release is a nifty wristwatch package. Can you shed more light on it, what the package actually involves and who came up with the idea?
We met up with Jack (Head of Alcopop! Records) after sending the tracks to him and pitched the EP idea and we all agreed that to release it on a watch would be something that we’d all love to do. Jack’s got a track record of releasing things in different formats and we’re a band who want to try different things with our music and releases, so it was a perfect fit.

You get the limited orange wristwatch and five tracks on the record that come in the form of a download code that is tucked into the pocket on the back of the watch. Two of those tracks are remixes made by Maybeshewill and Johnny Foreigner! Both insanely good! Pretty much constantly in love with all the music that they make.

I do think that the wristwatch is a great idea. Do you think that creating new innovative styles of releasing a musical product is something that new, upcoming bands should do to stay ahead of the curve and persuade music lovers to buy their product? And do you have any potential ideas of how you would like to package your next release after Time Trophies?
There’s a company called ACDSleeve and they’re amazing for helping you make packaging for your releases and have really cool ideas to make the package more interesting. So there are people out there willing to help you make a more appealing object if you want to go a bit further than just a plastic wallet for your CD. It definitely makes it more appealing for music fans if what your buying looks like you’ve actually put some love into it. I mean, that’s why people still buy vinyl, as the format itself is so beautiful with all the artwork and everything. And now that you can add downloads to these type of releases, there’s really no reason why you can’t try and make it special.

Saying that, I have no idea what we’ll do for our next release.... maybe a Tamagotchi?!

There is a tour to promote Time Trophies, where are you playing, and what can fans expect from your live shows?
We’re playing around the UK in March with label friends and dangerously good looking rogues Jumping Ships. Then in May we’re taking in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany before heading back to play more shows in the UK. A portion of the May shows have been announced but got a few more to come before we set off!

Hopefully fans will love us more after the live show, else we’re not doing our job very well! When I go to shows it really makes me switch off if who you’re watching looks like they’d rather be at home. So we definitely don’t look bored. That’s what to expect first and foremost. We’ve been told we’re heavier live too. That’s probably true. To be honest, we just ignore our own songs and play 30 minutes of death metal every night!

Beyond this release and the tour supporting it, are there any plans for a full length release?
In all the build-up to the Time Trophies release and the preparation for the tours we’ve been writing a lot and have been into the studio to record some demos that are intended for a full length. We’re trying some new songs out on the tour, so there will be some songs that people won’t recognize.

The music industry is in a terrible place right now, how important are indie labels like Alcopop! to underground bands and fans?
I guess if you look at it from a top down view, I can see where people think that the ‘industry’ is in a bad way. Perhaps the ‘industry’ side of it is struggling but from where we’re sitting, there’s a crazy healthy amount of amazing bands coming up through the underground. So at a certain level at least creatively, it’s in an extremely healthy place.

If you put it in monetary terms, of course it’s not great but if you want to start a band, making money shouldn’t be your primary goal in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I think anybody that is seriously committed to any form of art would love for it to allow them to survive and not have to work shit jobs in an office or a shop, me included, but we don’t sit around waiting for loads of money to come into our bank accounts. We do this because we love making music, playing shows and hopefully giving people something to enjoy.

Labels like Alcopop! and Big Scary Monsters give people reasons to commit and support the bands. Music fans will support labels and bands, pay for music and build relationships with them if they’re given enough reason to and I think that’s where those guys work so well.

What do you think it is about labels like Alcopop and Big Scary Monsters that get people so commited to them? I know music fans who will literally buy a record from a band they haven't heard just because they are on a specific label. Why do you think there is such a passion?
I think they’ve built up a level of trust with fans of their labels, where people believe in the judgment of these guys maybe? And for these labels to continue to release the next potential favourite bands of music fans they need the support of passionate people and people are consistently coming through and supporting them. It’s really great - genuine music fans wanting to support new talent.

And labels like Alcopop, Big Scary Monsters and also our previous label Walnut Tree aren’t run by assholes. They’re run by awesome guys just wanting to get good music out to people and I think that can play a part in people wanting to support them.

You have some fantastically talented label mates, as well as many other up and coming Oxford bands around you. Who is most exciting you right now, who are you tipping for big things in 2012?
Well, they’re really great friends of ours but even if we didn’t know and love them as men, it’d be Spring Offensive. Absolutely amazing band and they make incredibly exciting music.

Yeah, I’m a huge fan of Spring Offensive, they have just grown as a band and this year could be huge for them. Okay, last but not least, the most important question. You have five words to sell Time Trophies. What are they? Go!

You can check out the band and buy new EP Time Trophies via

or catch them on tour at these dates:

March 2012
19th - Beercart Arms, Canterbury, UK
22nd – Avondale House w/ Jumping Ships, Southampton, UK
24th – *ep launch* The Cellar, Oxford, UK
25th – Old Blue Last, London, UK
27th – The Hope, Brighton, UK
28th – Buffalo Bar, Cardiff, UK
29th – Trinity Bar, Harrow, UK
30th – Shipping Forecast, Liverpool, UK
31st – The Chameleon, Nottingham, UK

May 2012
2nd - Cellar Bar, Gent, Belgium
3rd - Kulturkaffee, Siegen, Germany
4th - Rockbox, Luxembourg, Luxembourg
5th - Musikbunker, Aachen, Germany
8th - TBA, Hannover, Germany
9th - Emokeller, Essen, Germany
10th - Den Trap, Kortrijk, Belgium
11th - The Great Escape, Brighton, UK
15th - The Croft, Bristol, UK
18th - Tubman, Hastings, UK

Friday, 9 March 2012

Tall Ships - T=0

Anyone who knows me will know how much of a massive Tall Ships fan I am but even that wasn't enough for me to like their last single and I was left proclaiming that despite the brilliance of their first two EPs, maybe the band had lost their way.

T=0, the first single from their forthcoming debut album (finally!) goes some way to alleviating any doubts I had about the band going off the boil and the album being a complete disaster. It's based around one single riff repeated over and over, you know...just in case you wanted it stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It's a bit Cave In or a bit Biffy Clyro, and yet there is something reminiscent of Joy Division, although I can't quite put my finger on why that is. It isn't until one and a half minutes in, the half way mark on the single, when the riff drops out and the instantly recognisable vocals come in and it actually starts sounding like Tall Ships of old with emotionally insightful lyrics, before the riff comes back in just to make sure that Rihanna's Umbrella or Britney Spears' Womaniser doesn't manage to worm its melody back in your head over the sound of this brilliantly distorted riff.

T=0 sounds to me like the mark of a band growing again. From their self titled EP to the There Is Nothing But Chemistry Here EP the band changed three fold, and T=0 sounds very much like a band progressing, a band maturing, and I have to say that having heard this, I have high expectations that the album will be in my top ten of the year.

4 / 5

Thursday, 8 March 2012

School of Seven Bells - Ghostory

Where has this new uprising of love for ambient shoegazey acts come from? Sure shoegaze bands have always been in the background, or at least bands clearly influenced by shoegaze and ambient music, but only now are we seeing the likes of School of Seven Bells with the release of their third full length album, Ghostory grasp a handful of mainstream popularity.

School of Seven Bells were formed by Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines fame, so that's one tick next to them, alongside Alejandra and Claudia Deheza although Ghostory is the first release that sees Claudia take a back seat, turning the act into an official two piece. Ghostory as an album encapsulates the new NME popular side of ambient music. I'm a huge M83 fan, but it's their latest album that strongly describes this new School of Seven Bells release. The same sickly sweet swirls of eighties synths, that light breathy female vocal, songs that seem to build and build forever until they reach a plateau of well...beautiful nothingness - but then, what do we really expect from acts that clearly spent their youth listening to My Bloody Valentine? Yeah, I admit, I like it, it's great, but there's definitely a sense of predictability to it all.

Occasionally though, School of Seven Bells do something different (like the brass section on M83's Midnight City, these moments don't happen often so when they do it's like wow fuck, that feels brave!). Low Times has a really cool bass line and a simple yet driven drum beat that really gets the track grooving in a way that only a Secret Machines member could around a wonderfully simple yet effective vocal delivery in the chorus. While stand out track, Scavenger, has the feel of an old sci-fi film before it busts out into a strange ambient pop territory with high end synth work doing all the melody making until a delicious soundscape of a chorus. But the rest of the time, it can feel like a cloudy dream of aimless keyboard sounds layered down on top of each other until you can't even remember what song you are on.

Ghostory is a good album, but not a great one. When the Secret Machine grooves rear their heads it becomes an interesting listen, but for the rest of the time it's just a couple of musicians with too many fucking keyboards.

3 / 5

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ben Howard - The Wolves

When I first heard Ben Howard some two or so years back, I instantly knew that he would gain popularity with his approach on music bridging the gap between the serious talent of José González and the more laidback style of Newton Faulkner's first album, and that prediction has come to fruition with the success of Howard's debut album, Every Kingdom.

Latest single, The Wolves, in a brief summing up, starts with a strange vocal melody that embeds itself in your skull until you're whistling it for the next week (ooooh ooooh oooh ooh) and aside from that is most admirable for Howard's delivery when singing passionately to fan favourite lyric; "We lost faith, in the arms of love". If you haven't heard Howard's music before (where have you been?!), then he is probably best described as laidback folk. He's hardly pushing the boundaries of being a singer songwriter, but what he does, he does remarkably well and The Wolves goes some way to proving that (although there are better tracks from his album).

The Wolves, frankly, is a strange choice for a single. Not only has it featured on an EP before Every Kingdom was released, it's also been released as a single before and even as a fan this choice of single seems pointless, unnecessary and well from a collectors perspective, it takes the piss (which is why I'm marking it down, nice one Island Records). But while I am of the opinion that everyone has heard his music, maybe this little track will go some way to pick him up some new followers which would only be a good thing as he certainly deserves as much attention as possible.

3 / 5