Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Album of the Year: #1 Mac DeMarco - Salad Days

2014 has given the world an abundance of absurdly great records from the glitchy guitars of St Vincent to the poetic dark punk of Iceage. However one album jangled its way out of the cloud of brilliance and onto the top spot of my musical podium. Listening to Mac DeMarco's third album Salad Days is like meandering through the young Canadian's maze-like mind. DeMarco recently revealed to the NME that the album was largely based on his struggles with a constant touring lifestyle.

Title track 'Salad Days' kicks off the album with a bumbling baseline over which Mac fondly reminisces his youth but pledges that he has now moved on ("Salad days are gone/Remembering things/Just to tell them so long"). 'Blue Boy' sympathises with the story of a self conscious young man, DeMarco's affectionate soft vocals and relaxing guitars comfort the "blue boy". However, this calmness is juxtaposed by harsh lyrics, "Calm down/Sweatheart/Grow up" the boy is told. 

'Chamber Of Reflection' is possibly the album's highlight. A shroud of synth noise engulfs the track which consists of a plodding baseline and shimmering synth notes. DeMarco's vocals seem almost distant as he repeats a velvety chorus of "Alone again". Mac rounds off the album with instrumental track 'Johnny's Odyssey' in which bass and guitar skip along together, sunny rays of synth shine into the track here and there before the track plunges into silence. We are then left with a short message from DeMarco thanking us for joining him and wishing us farewell. 

Salad Days is without a doubt a fantastic album and it has brought me much joy since it's release in April. It is a shame that the lines between DeMarco's musical and personal lives have become slightly blurred with people scrutinising his relationships more than he would like. Despite this Mac seems to have accepted what comes with fame and having moved away from busy Brooklyn, hopefully we can expect more wonderful indie-pop goodness very soon!


An Interview With... King of Cats

Earlier this week I announced that King of Cats' debut album Working Out had made it to number three on my list of 2014's best albums. I asked the man behind King of Cats Max Levy some questions and here are the results.


What made you want to start making music?

I am not quite sure. I think I was about 14, and was writing pretty terrible poems on a daily basis. It must have started as an extension of that. Certainly not an improvement. I started king of cats before I had begun learning an instrument.


Where did the name King of Cats come from?

I used to fancy myself as a sort of cat whisperer. I used to incite little hoards of them to follow me about. They don’t listen to me any more.


How long did it take to make your debut album?

It only took three days to record, but a year to release! I am not good at concluding things.


Are there any tracks on the album that you are particularly fond of?

I think ‘ulcers’ has always been a favourite of mine. I like melodies. There is something inherently satisfying about a song tied up with melody.


Is there a story behind the album's title and artwork?

Not a story as such. I found myself pre-occupied with the ol’ body for years and years, and it seemed to me to be a rational gravitation towards releasing an album with my butt in the centre of the record. Also, I felt like I had been exploring bodily themes pretty constantly and pretty unhealthily for far too long. I am trying to stop, and the album was necessary for me to do that.


Your record has been released on Art Reeks, whats it like working with a collaborative label rather than just one?

The people that run Art is Hard and the people that do Reeks of Effort have been friends for years now. Releasing on a collaborative label doesn’t seem so different from releasing on a regular label other than for being slightly more confusing. The thing about small labels is that you have to understand how much of an undertaking it can be to release a record whilst getting on with the rest of your life. The process can be reasonably haphazard, but it feels a nice way to put out a record. I’d do it again. In fact, I will do it again very soon.


If you could invite anyone (alive or dead) to sit and listen to your album with you who would it be?

Hmm, well if you are giving me the ability to play God I think I would go into a graveyard, throw a dart up into the air and then resurrect the person closest to where the dart falls. I guess I would reluctantly let them sit and listen to the record with me, but we would certainly both be thinking of other things. I think I would see if they would let us into any megaclubs.


What can we expect from King of Cats in the future?

Loads! I am doing a split with Shunkan and recording a new album in a couple of weeks.

I have also started yelping in another band, lower slaughter. We are going to release our first record verrrry soon.




Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Album of the Year: #2 Happyness - Weird Little Birthday

Rewind to the August 2nd 2014, a bright summer's day. As I dodge guy-ropes, soft sound-waves drift into my ears. I eventually reach the small main field of Knee Deep Festival to find a group who's name I've heard banded about here and there but whom I had not properly listened to yet - Happyness. For the next 25 minutes I would be transported out of the small Cornish field and into a musical paradise.

That day the South London trio won me over not only with their beautiful indie sound but with their chilled out but hilarious persona. "This is another song about pregnancy and mother care" was murmured as the band jumped into their album's title track "Weird Little Birthday Girl". On this track frontmen Benji Compston and Jonny Allan's two guitars calmly skip along hand in hand before being joined by delicate Eels style vocals.

The band's humour can be found all over the album, from it's sleeve which claims that Benji plays (amongst other instruments) "air synths" to the lyrics such as "I see people come in twos/Just like breasts do" taken from album opener "Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)". The opener is one of the album's wonderfully chilled out songs along with tracks like "Regan's Lost Weekend (Porno Queen)". These tracks are what first lured me in as I sat on the sun drenched Knee Deep grass. Despite their slightly melancholy sound, the trio still made it work in a blissful summer festival environment.

However, the album is definitely not all calm, "Refrigerate her" is a moment of fuzzy indie rock goodness. Ash Coper's steadily beating bass drum pounds away at the part of your brain that makes your head rock backwards and forwards until it bursts into life. "Anything I do Is All Right" summons up the spirit of 90's indie rock gods Pavement as a wobbling guitar screeches and squeals.

2014 has given us more than our fair share of great debut albums from Eagulls and King of Cats (both of whom appeared in my top five albums of the year list) to the likes of Superfood and Fear of Men. Weird Little Birthday takes the prize of my favourite debut album of 2014 and I feel lucky to have been at Knee Deep on the 2nd of August to experience it's beauty first hand.

Happyness have released an epic new version of "Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)" as part of Art Is Hard Records 'Pizza Club' which you can check out here.


Monday, 29 December 2014

Album of the Year: #3 King of Cats - Working Out

"I don't work out a lot, but I think about it often". King of Cats' (Max Levy to his friends) debut album Working Out mixes together the Oxford based songwriter's insecurities and sharp wit to cook up a masterpiece of thoughtful indie pop goodness. Levy's talent has clearly not gone un-noticed, the album has been released by not one but two labels in the form of Art Reeks (a combination of Art is Hard and Joanna Gruesome's Reeks of Effort).

I first stumbled across King of cats when his track 'Summertown' was released as part of Art Is Hard Records' 'Pizza Club'. At first I wasn't sure what to think, Levy's voice is unusual to say the least, however after a few listens I was hooked. On the album we are treated to a new version of 'Summertown' which has in no way lost it's sparkle. A soft guitar accompanies Levy's beautifully delicate voice, however the comfortable sounds are juxtaposed monumentally by harsh lyrics such as "I'd have liked to see you hang yourself" and "sometimes I see your face in ageing porn stars".

The album largely focuses on bodies and their imperfections, this is evident purely by looking at song titles such as "Arthritis" and "Ulcers". The latter is a beauty, an excitable guitar and enthusiastic bass dance together like a pair of sweaty teens who are seeing their favourite band for the first time. The album ends with an equally rowdy number, 'Chugger' builds up with a plodding bass line and restrained guitars that eventually break out of their cage to lay waste to your ears in a feedback fuelled rampage.

Although Levy's unconventional voice might put some people off, it is hard to deny his song writing talent. Working Out lays the foundations for King of Cats to become a cult hero of the UK's very lively DIY scene.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Musical Love Affair: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Cellophane

It may be a bit of a mouthful but King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard is a name to remember. The crazed Australian seven-piece consist of two guitarists, two bassist, two drummers and a synth/harmonica player. The band's fifth record I'm In Your Mind Fuzz was released on December 1st in the UK and is their first for label Heavenly Recordings.

I came across the video for 'Cellophane' while scrolling through my Facebook news feed and I've been hooked ever since. Like label mates Temples on acid, the track chugs along as it's two baselines twist and turn around each other. Meanwhile guitars wobble and squeal while frontman Stu Mackenzie screeches in between an echoing chorus of "Cellophane".

The song comes with a suitably insane video in which Mackenzie is sucked into a 3D TV to join his band mates in a swirling world of bright colours and ever-changing patterns. I couldn't decide if my 3D glasses actually worked with the video's 3D effect but it was worth a try.




Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Albums of the Year - #4 The Voyeurs - Rhubarb Rhubarb

Charlie Boyer and his Voyeurs rocked my world in 2013 when they released their debut album Clarietta. The band became one of my favourite groups with their modern interpretation on the post punk genius of Television. Just one year on and they are still held in equally high regard having released yet another masterpiece!

While the majority of Clarietta was written by Charlie himself, Rhubarb Rhubarb was a more collective effort. This more collaborative approach is what lead to the name shortening and it has given the rest of the band members a chance to strut their stuff. Ross Kristian does this particularly effectively with his organ which holds together 'Pete The Pugilist' while taking 'Say You Love Him (And Choke)' to a whole new magical level.

On glam rock anthem 'Stunners' frontman Boyer cries out "baby, baby, baby" and Sam Davies swipes at his guitar before the organ of Kristian dives into a short swirling solo. On 'The Smiling Loon' Danny Stead's bass leads the band on a dizzying walk around Boyer's dreamy vocals which are occasionally interrupted as Davies' guitar howls. On title track 'Rhubarb Rhubarb' guitars twinkle while Boyer questions "why did you choose to lose?" before he plunges into a shrieking chorus of "Rhubarb Rhubarb/the fastest by far". 

There was little over a year between the release of Clarietta and Rhubarb Rhubarb however it feels like a lot has changed in that time. Boyer's Tom Verlaine hair is gone (replaced by a Lou Reed hair and sunglasses look) and the band's post-punk sound is morphing into extravagant art rock also reminiscent of the late great Lou Reed. 

Despite all the changes The Voyeurs remain one of the essential bands of my record collection. I can only hope that this time next year I am writing about an equally different but fantastic third album the modern kings of glam rock.


Sweet Baboo

Yesterday night I was supposed to see Sweet Baboo at The Phoenix in Exeter. However, unfortunately he was forced to cancel due to illness.

 I've had the pleasure of seeing the Welshman play music twice before. The first time was at the very venue he was supposed to play yesterday when he played bass with the wonderful Cate LeBon. The second time was a beautifully intimate  performance at Knee Deep festival this summer in which he dazzled a small crowd with a chilled out acoustic set.

Multi-instrumentalist Sweet Baboo (or Stephen Black to his friends) released his last album Ships in 2013. The record infused pop and folk with a slight dash of the psychedelic. Horns peep through bobbing baselines and upbeat percussion on 'C'mon Lets Mosh' while 'Let's Go Swimming Wild' comes complete with a beautifully weird video in which Baboo is made up to look like a range of different animals and is prodded by a rather large finger.

Best wishes to Sweet Baboo. I hope he has a speedy recovery and returns to Exeter soon!


Monday, 8 December 2014

Spector - Don't Make Me Try

Spector are back! Its been a while but finally we have the first sample of what the now four-piece's second album will sound like. 'Don't Make Me Try' was premiered on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show a few weeks ago and is perhaps a bit more radio friendly than 2012's Enjoy It While It Lasts but never the less, I still think it sounds great.

The song is a wash with synths from beginning to end with just a short interlude in which piano keys meander into the foreground before being absorbed back into the river of synths. Frontman Fred MacPherson continues his impeccable lyrical form from the band's debut, the man knows how to write songs.

"I meant every single word I didn't say" sighs the former Les Incomp├ętents vocalist. The track is in no uncertain terms a love song, however when you listening to it it feels like something more. The chorus of "Don't make me try/Not in front of them" draws you in, intrigued as to what or whom the song is about. The songs dark horse is without a doubt Thomas Shickle's bass which makes a late dash for the line, bounding up and down until the song fades away into the distance.





Thursday, 4 December 2014

An Interview With... Birdskulls

The other day I asked a slightly drunk Jack from Birdskulls a few questions about his band and the South West's glowing music scene. Here are the results:


Who is in Birdskulls, how did you meet and what made you want to start the band?

Me and Rory are in Birdskulls. We met at Exeter College in 2008 on a stairwell going to lessons and bonded over a mutual love of the Foo Fighters and Smirnoff Ice (blue). We were in different bands before Birdskulls for a few years before, we spent a lot of time in the same friend circles and went to the same shows. I moved to Brighton and Rory went to Bournemouth. I wrote a load of songs in Brighton and decided to start another band; Rory was the first person I thought of to be in it.


Do you think being in the South West has influenced you as a band?

From the South West in the period 2006-2011 we spent a lot of our time at The Cavern in Exeter, which has always provided, from 91 when it opened, an amazing platform for local punk and indie bands. Ok Pilot, The Computers, The Cut Ups, Brothers, Dead City Stereo, New Years Evil, El Diego, The False Arrests and Resonate (old bands).


Are there any bands from the South West who you are particularly into at the moment?

There are some great bands from the south west for sure: Cereal, Muncie Girls, The Fairweather Band, Selfish Son, The Black Tambourines, The Red Cords to name a few!


Do you think outside of Bristol there is a lack of really good venues to attract bands to the area?

I don’t think its a lack of good venues at all, I think that a lot of the bigger bands don’t see a point in coming to the less populated south west when they could just play in London. Also, for the smaller bands it is hard to tour further into Devon and Cornwall because of the costs of getting back! The cavern is one of the most important venues in the UK because of its heritage and some bands don’t even know about it! NME’s fault.


Could you sum up the South West's music scene in one sentence?

Geddon you janner.


Albums of the Year - #5 Eagulls - Eagulls

As the end of 2014 is nearing lists are beginning to pop up everywhere. Everyone has their own favourite albums and that is what makes the lists great, they get people talking (or arguing). However, none of the lists I've seen have got the top five albums on the year right yet, so it's up to me to give you the definitive top five. Here is number five:


Leeds five-piece Eagulls are without a doubt one of the UKs best live acts, their intense post punk noise makes for a sweaty night out to say the least. The band's eponymous debut album is no different, turn it up loud enough and the band, who very rarely make conversation between songs at live gigs, could almost be in the room with you.


'Nerve Endings' gets the kicks off in a shroud of feedback which is eventually broken into by a heavy baseline. Screeches of guitars echo in the background as frontman George Mitchell cries out "Theres no reason, no sense, no meaning/behind my awkward smile". The song was written about Mitchell's own troubles with anxiety making the bleakness wistfully personal.


The album doesn't get any less bleak as it goes on. 'Hollow Visions' builds up slowly before diving into a whirlpool of bittersweet guitars while on 'Amber Veins' Mitchell talks of heroin use. Penultimate track 'Opaque' comes with the album's standard whirring guitars and throbbing bass. The poetic lyrics tackle the subject of sexual abuse with Mitchell roaring "now its too late/you've found your prey/you had you way".


One of the album's stand-out tracks and a definite crowd pleaser is 'Possessed' is a tangle of post-punk noise. The track has made some notable TV appearances on Later... with Jools Holland and even on David Letterman's prestigious Late Show. The latter is a major steppingstone to cracking the US, something this angry bunch of Loiners thoroughly deserve if this fantastic debut album is anything to go by.