Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack

 

Painting of a Panic Attack

With every Frightened Rabbit album, their sound becomes bigger and more emotional and that’s the case again on fifth studio album Painting of a Panic Attack. But Scott Hutchison’s lyrics and vocals stop it becoming just another “Big Music” album. Not that there’s anything wrong with Big Music, but there’s already plenty of bands doing that and doing it very well. The lyrics are personal, there’s no grand themes here, despite the sound of the album. They’re perhaps a bit more positive than on previous albums, but there’s still enough grim reality to keep it Frightened Rabbit. One of the best aspects of the album is when those negative lyrics are set to the most anthemic sounding songs.

The opening song on the album is one of the stand-outs; Death Dream starts out forlorn with mainly just piano, then it builds gradually with layered vocals, a unique guitar sound, strings, and some Beirut style horns, until it reaches a stunning but understated crescendo. The strings and horns return to even greater effect later on Little Drum.

The second track is single Get Out, where the abruptness of the chorus comes as a bit of a shock first time, but after the second listen makes sense. It’s one of the more positive songs on the album, a love song, but not that you’d know it on first listen.

The best examples of the anthemic songs with a sombre message are the “twin” tracks I Wish I Was Sober and Woke Up Hurting, whose titles speak for themselves. Then there’s the positive stories, but with a twist of course, like Still Want To Be Here (“Fuck these faceless homes and everyone who lives in them, But I still want to be here, want to be here”) and the hilariously backhanded compliment An Otherwise Disappointing Life.

Another stand-out is 400 Bones; not your conventional love song, but lyrically beautiful (“This is my safe house in the hurricane, here is where my love lays 200 treasured bones”).

Break and Blood Under the Bridge are probably as close to pop as the album gets, both are very melodic and radio friendly (musically at least).

The album ends with Die Like a Rich Boy -a suitably grim ending for a classic Frightened Rabbit album.

(There’s a deluxe version of the album with three extra tracks, which are all excellent and make it worth getting the more expensive download or any of the physical formats.)

Gig Review – CHVRCHES – Glasgow – 2 April 2016

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Remarkably, Chvrches hadn’t played their home town since 2014 (they’ve been too busy literally touring the world). Back home for one night only, they played at the massive Hydro arena, which goes to show the meteoric rise in their popularity in a few short years. Though Chvrches may be only a few years old, the three band members have been around the business a long time and singer Lauren Mayberry makes a point during the show of rhyming off the many bands they’ve been part of over the years with varying degrees of success.

Supported by Shura and The Twilight Sad (a past band of Martin from Chvrches) the crowd were well warmed up for the arrival of Chvrches.

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Never Ending Circles opens the show with its massive riff. For a brief moment when Lauren starts to sing it sounds like her voice might get lost in the cavern of a place but from the second line in she is belting it out and it stays that way for the rest of the show. She barely put a foot wrong, other than clattering the stage with the mic during Science/Visions.

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They promise new songs and old songs, meaning songs from their first album The Bones of What You Believe and songs from their second album Every Open Eye. We hear the majority of both albums, and both are as well received as each other. The crowd are up for it, but really come alive on Tether, a highlight from their first album and stand-out song of the night for me. The song was just made to be played in a massive arena like this and the guitar just makes it soar – although they are really an electronic band, I would love to hear them make more use of guitars in future.

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Straight after Tether is an excellent extended version of Playing Dead with Lauren on drums, ending with her lying on the stage, from where she starts Science/Visions. Martin takes over on lead vocals a couple of songs later and I’m surprised how much he gets the crowd going, especially on Under the Tide, where we get a mass sing-along. He even gives a shout out the to guy in the crowd who is “taps aff” – the Glasgow phrase for being shirtless.

The main set ends with second album highlight Clearest Blue and the place is literally bouncing. For the encore we get the beautiful Afterglow and another mass sing-along on The Mother We Share.

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An excellent show all round, from Chvrches and the support. There is also a refreshing lack of cameras on show, although the downside of this is a lack of quality video footage. I’ve found a couple of decent ones though, so enjoy:

Tether

The Mother We Share 

Set List

Never Ending Circles
We Sink
Keep You on My Side
Make Them Gold
Empty Threat
Tether
Playing Dead
Science/Visions
Gun
Bury It
High Enough To Carry You Over
Under the Tide
Recover
Leave a Trace
Clearest Blue

Encore:
Afterglow
The Mother We Share

Crowd photo from Chvrches Facebook page. All other photos my own. 

 

 

The 10 Best Albums of 2015

 


 

1. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

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I had a feeling Chvrches could do a pop album and remain a bona fide electronic band, but I had no idea they could do it this brilliantly. It’s still unmistakably Chvrches but catchier, more melodic, vocally superior and bolder than their debut. BTW, they’re from Glasgow, but I’m not biased!


 

2. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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A very close second to Chvrches, Waxahatchee’s third album is much more accomplished than the first two, but without losing any of the indie charm. 

 

 


 

3. Thomas Kercheval – We Were Here

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Every genre of rock imaginable (classic, folk, alternative, to name a few) all performed and produced by multi talented, multi instrumentalist Tom Kercheval. And proceeds go to charity, so buy it people!


 

4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

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Not the world’s best guitarist or vocalist, but her style suits her songwriting perfectly. This isn’t your usual singer/songwriter stuff though, it’s proper rock n’ roll.

 


 

5. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

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Normally a 90 minute album described as a ‘rock opera’ would have me reaching for the eject button, but this is tremendous. More of a punk/folk/rock opera though.

 


 

6. The Orb – Moon Building 2703 AD

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After the relative disappointment of The Orb’s last album, this was a real surprise return to form. There’s only 4 tracks but as you would expect from The Orb, the tracks average about 13 minutes each! 


 

7.Aaron Weight – Flying Machine

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An album full of great melodies. For a relative unknown it’s impressive that it features a duet with Laura Cantrell, and equally impressive that Shaun Williamson appears in the video for Proper Chronic Lonely.


 

8. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

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‘Concept album’ is another term that would make me reach for the eject button. Not this time though as Public Service Broadcasting bring us this brilliantly atmospheric album about the 60s and 70s space travel heyday.


 

9. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

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Another 90 minute album on the list and this one is epic. The best Iron Maiden album for many years.


 

10. Best Girl Athlete – Carve Every Word

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I’m always wary of the ‘next big thing’ tag and when I first heard these songs in acoustic form I was a bit underwhelmed. But when I heard the fully produced album I realised what all the fuss was about.

 

 

 


See you in 2016 folks!

Album Review: The Vaccines – English Graffiti

I mostly listen to music through headphones and whilst my current set are not studio quality, they’re decent enough to cope with any type of music and give a good listening experience.  So I was surprised when I hit play on English Graffiti, the third studio album from The Vaccines. It was so loud that I had to swiftly remove the headphones for fear of damaging my hearing, but checking the volume, it was on my normal setting.

Start again – still too loud. Turn down volume, that’s better. But wait –  it still sounds too loud, so loud in fact that the sound is all distorted. Only it’s not loud anymore, just distorted. Something is wrong with my headphones, try another set – just the same. Must be the device? Try another device – still the same.

After skipping through a few tracks I  came to the conclusion it must be a flawed download or something. Almost every track sounded heavily distorted, as if it had been recorded with the meters in the red the whole time. The bass is hard to hear, lost under a hail of distorted drums and guitars.

Here’s one of the worst offenders

I did a quick internet search to see if there was a known problem with the download. But it turns out it’s just the way it is. I did find this article where they say they wanted to make an album that would sound terrible in 10 years, but sorry guys it sounds terrible NOW!

http://www.nme.com/news/the-vaccines/82370

I don’t know the first thing about recording music, so I don’t know whether it’s the production, engineering or something else that has made it sound this way. Whatever it is, the result is that the album sucks. Which is a real shame, because The Vaccines are a great energetic, melodic band with two great albums behind them. I’ve often gotten into a band after only discovering them at the third or fourth album and I’ve got to say that if this was my first experience of The Vaccines I would be in no hurry to listen to them again.

It sounds like there might be some good songs here too, I just can’t listen to it long enough to tell.

Score: 2 suns out 10 (1 for actually writing some decent songs and 1 for having the sheer balls to try something this stupid)

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Here’s one they made earlier, which shows how good they CAN sound!

Gig Review: Ride – Glasgow Barrowland – May 22nd 2015

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Ride All

It only took them 21 years, but the wait for Ride to return to the Glasgow Barrowland was worth it. Seen as one of the UK’s most influential bands from the Shoegaze scene, Ride were always more than just a shoegaze band, which stood them apart from their peers. Their sound encompassed different styles from psychedelia to garage rock and even pop.

Almost as soon as they split in 1996 fans have campaigned for a reunion and, inspired by the unlikely Stone Roses reunion, it finally happened in 2015. After a show in their home town of Oxford, then a short tour of the USA, the European leg of their tour kicked off in Glasgow at the iconic Barrowland.

Just like the Ride shows of the past it began in dramatic fashion, with the band not taking to the stage until long after the lights went down, the crowd getting more and more frenzied the whole time.

Mouse Trap from second album Going Blank Again was a surprise opener, followed immediately by Chelsea Girl from their debut EP. In fact the whole set, with the exception of one song, was taken from their early EPs and first two albums. Black Nite Crash from their final album Tarantula did feature, but there was nothing at all from Carnival of Light, perhaps not surprising when the band themselves dubbed it ‘Carnival of Shite’!

For a band who hadn’t toured for 21 years it was remarkable that they could play an almost two hour set with the same energy as they did in their heyday. Loz Colbert was an unstoppable force on drums, Steve Queralt on bass was the usual quiet man, but a driving force, and dual front men Andy Bell and Mark Gardener took turns at both creating a magical atmosphere and knocking the life out of their guitars.  No more did the guitars get a beating than during Seagull, the opening track from their debut album Nowhere. This was also the point where the famously chaotic Barrowland crowd lived up to its reputation. I’ve posted a clip of this song as an illustration of how difficult it can be to hold a camera bang in the middle of ‘The Barras’.

The only gripe for me was the lack of Nowhere, the bands most ‘shoegaze-y’ song, but they more than made up for it with a glorious Chrome Waves and an epic version of Drive Blind, which ended the main set.

The encore included early track Like a Daydream and ended with biggest hit Leave Them All Behind, another epic, which pretty much sums up the whole show.

I don’t know what the future holds for Ride, but hopefully it won’t be another 21 years before we see them again.

Set List:
Mouse Trap
Chelsea Girl
Twisterella
Polar Bear
Seagull
Sennen
Cool Your Boots
Black Nite Crash
OX4
Dreams Burn Down
Time of Her Time
Chrome Waves
Paralysed
Taste
Vapour Trail
Drive Blind

Encore:
Like a Daydream
Leave Them All Behind

Full video of Dreams Burn Down, from debut album Nowhere:

Partial video of Seagull, a good insight into what it’s like in the middle of a Barrowland crowd!

Album Review: Thomas Kercheval – We Were Here

If you’re a fan of Scottish rock band Big Country, you’ll love this album. Even if you’re not and you just enjoy quality rock music, you’ll still love it. Tom is a huge Big Country fan (as some reading this will know) and this is obvious in the album’s overall sound. He even played live with Big Country once, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. The album is self produced but this is no lo-fi bedroom portastudio effort; it’s highly professional sounding, but without being overly polished, which is a bigger crime in my book. What makes it more remarkable is that Tom plays all the instruments (according to the CD booklet) with the exception of some additional vocals, and the wind which is ‘courtesy of nature’. As a Big Country fan myself I can hear influences from the whole of the band’s career, from their first album right through to their later work and even demos and B-sides, but without being able to actually pinpoint particular songs. Well maybe just the once with the One Great Thing-like ending on The Ones Who Love You. There is even a track – Quasimodo – that is distinctly Skids sounding (you probably know this already but in case you don’t, the Skids were Big Country founder Stuart Adamson’s previous band.) There are a number of stand-out tracks, the best being Lonely Rider. It has a whole album’s worth of guitar parts crammed into one song, but every one fits perfectly and it never sounds cluttered. And if the guitars are not enough there’s even some keyboard bagpipes. Tom is a multi-instrumentalist, but even his talent doesn’t extend to the bagpipes, or maybe he just doesn’t own a real set, or doesn’t want to drive out all of his neighbours. Flicker is another of the stand-outs and is the most radio friendly song from the collection. It’s a song about love saving you from a destructive, or at least an unfulfilled life. Lyrically the album inhabits much of the Big Country territory, with songs about love, family and war. All except Window Unit, which appears to be a song about air conditioning, but it’s none the worse for it! This song actually contains my favourite lyric – “And you could never see how the weight of world kept pulling on me, and you’ll never understand all the strength you can find in a trembling hand” – poetic.

There are some much heavier moments to be found, particularly Melt Away with its menacing bass-line and lyrics. Then there’s the acoustic lull which gives way to an almighty scream that sounds like he’s channelling some Norwegian rage, followed by a top notch classic rock guitar solo. The album ends on a much lighter note with Papoose; Tom shows his versatility again with a bit of banjo and one of the best vocal performances. It’s hard to find fault with this album at all but if I’m being overly critical I don’t like some of the vocal effects, but strangely they work fantastically well on the female vocals on Flicker. I know we’re only in April so there’s much new music to come this year, but I’m already certain this album will make my end of year top 10.

Score: 9 suns out of 10 dc7ejqKc9

You can preview “We Were Here” on both Spotify and Reverbnation, at

http://www.reverbnation.com/thomaskercheval

The CD is also available at both CDBaby and Bandcamp at:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thomaskercheval

and

http://thomaskercheval.bandcamp.com/releases

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Album Review: The Prodigy – The Day Is My Enemy

There are few musical guilty pleasures like a new album from The Prodigy. Sadly The Day Is My Enemy does not offer much more than that.  It’s not a bad album, there’s just nothing new here. On the plus side there’s been no mellowing with age; The Prodigy are still hard as nails 25 years down the line.

Most of the tracks are of the hard edged dance variety that you would expect from this band.  Opening track The Day Is My Enemy sets the tone – it sounds like a chainsaw – and that ferocity pretty much lasts for the duration of the album. No doubt these songs will still go down a storm at the summer festivals.

There are a couple of high points – Rhythm Bomb is gloriously old school and Beyond The Deathray sounds like it would be a brilliant live opener that would have a crowd whipped into a frenzy before the beats kick in. The low point is Nasty, which sounds like a Prodigy parody (yes, even more so than Firestarter or Smack My B**** Up!)

The Prodigy were groundbreaking once, but it’s been a long long time since they could claim that. So the wait for another Music For The Jilted Generation continues – not only one of the best dance albums ever made, but one of the best in any genre. While they may never reach those heights again, hats off to them for sticking with it and never compromising.

Score: 6 suns out of 10

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Normally at this point there would be a link to something from the new album, but here’s an oldie instead.

Ferocious or what!

Album Review: Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

Public Service Broadcasting‘s previous releases have been based on, strangely enough, old public service broadcasts; mainly British wartime broadcasts.

The Race For Space puts a soundtrack to the 1960s & 70s space race heyday using broadcasts from the time.  All the major firsts are covered – first launch, first man in space, first woman in space, space walk, lunar orbit and lunar landing. The soundtrack is largely electronic with virtually no vocals other than the broadcasts themselves.

The tracks are in chronological order starting off with The Race For Space, which takes JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech and puts it to a heavenly chorus that sounds like the voice of space itself. Sputnik is next, with a hypnotic electronic beat and synths which build and build to a crescendo, adding in layers of sound and crashing drums along the way.

The first single from the album, Gargarin, sounds slightly out of place, with its funky guitar and brass. As a standalone track it worked well, but it disturbs the mood of the album somewhat, in particular because the following track Fire In The Cockpit is a very sombre affair which covers the Apollo 1 fire which killed three astronauts.

Right in the middle of the album are two tracks which perfectly capture the mood of the events they recount – E.V.A. which covers the first man to walk in space, and The Other Side, about the first manned lunar orbit. You can feel the tension and then the joy as each mission is successful.

Valentina is clearly about the first woman in space, but is the only track that doesn’t use any broadcasts from the event. Instead it is a largely instrumental guitar track, with the only vocal being an evolving chorus of the name ‘Valentina’.

The album ends on two tracks which cover the lunar landings. Go! cleverly focus on the landing, rather than the first moon walk, and Tomorrow completes the race for space with the final departure from the moon by the Apollo 17 mission.

So, an early contender for album of 2015, and even if electronic music is not your thing, it’s at least a good history lesson.


Album Review: Idlewild – Everything Ever Written

Scottish indie rockers Idlewild return with their eighth album – Everything Ever Written.  Since their last album, frontman Roddy Woomble released his second and third solo albums which disappointed (his first was superb) so expectations were low for Everything Ever Written. Instead they have delivered an excellent album which mixes the best of Woomble’s solo folk work with Idlewild’s familiar rock.

Collect Yourself is a good rocky opener and is followed by single release Come on Ghost. The single was enjoyable, and it was good to hear Woomble’s distinctive voice back once again on an Idlewild song. But it sounds poorer when heard in the context of the album; it lurches along at an uneasy pace and is easily surpassed by other tracks on the album as a single choice.

The standout track, and obvious single choice, is Nothing I Can Do About It. This is Idlewild doing ‘big music’ and doing it brilliantly. Big guitars, galloping drums, some Elbow-esque strings and a sprinkling of piano all add up to a huge sound, but the female backing vocals are what really elevate the song, in the choruses and the wonderful “ooh ah, ah, ah’s” in the outro.

The second highlight is (Use It) If You Can Use It. This is one of a couple of tracks where Woomble’s voice has a much more laid back quality than usual, but still manages to retain his distinctive tone. The song has shades of The Charlatans’ North Country Boy, which is a good thing, and it has an epic playout, an almost live jam affair, with funky bass, soulful keys, piano, horns, squealing guitar, and maybe even the kitchen sink in there somewhere.

If you’re still looking for the Idlewild of old, look no further than On Another Plant, the rockiest track from the collection which burns out beautifully.

Lyrically the album is more mature than before, no doubt down to the band nearing middle age. There are songs of regret and bitterness, beside songs about accepting and even embracing old age. Some of the more obvious examples include “You know I worn out my ambitions, I soaked them in wine”, ” In my dreams I am always young”, “Do you ever get the feeling that I made important decisions far too late in life” and the simple but effective chorus “There’s nothing that I can do about it”.

I don’t ‘get’ all the lyrics though, and I wish I could figure out Radium Girl, because it’s a great song which adds to a strong finish to the album, which includes the atmospheric piano and vocal number Utopia; the perfect ending to a highly enjoyable experience.


Album Review: Belle and Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

It’s hard to believe this is Belle and Sebastian‘s ninth studio album, but then I still think of them as a new band, when actually next year (2016) will see their 20th anniversary.

 

Nobody’s Empire kicks off the album in typical Belle and Sebastian style, gentle and melodic with personal, confessional lyrics. The rest of the album is not as typical, in fact it is eclectic to say the least. After second track Allie it goes all dance, in a definite departure from their usual style. The Party Line has throbbing bass and funky guitar, and Enter Sylvia Plath is, dare I say it, full on Eurovision. The electronic songs, of which there are several, have a slightly Pet Shop Boys feel; perhaps after eight albums they’re going after a little more mainstream success or more likely they just wanted to make an album you can dance to. Not that you couldn’t dance to their previous releases and I’ve always imagined the average Belle and Sebastian fan enjoys dancing alone to them in their bedroom.

 

It’s not all synth pop though and there’s plenty to keep those looking for the classic Belle and Sebastian happy, like Ever Had a Little Faith? (which could have come right out of a Belle and Sebastian song name generator).

 

Other highlights are the blistering guitar outro on The Book of You, The Cat With The Cream with its delightful strings and vocal harmonies, and the jazz/Cossack hybrid of The Everlasting Muse. I told you it was eclectic!

 


Official video for Nobody’s Empire. Contains some nice vintage clips of Glasgow, including a couple of shots of the city’s greatest artwork: