Guest Post by Peter Smith
If anyone tries to tell you there is no good music coming through, or that rap, grime and trap is the only stuff out there, tell them to go through the list of over 200 artists playing the Reading and Leeds festival at the end of this month.
There is such a variety of acts, through many different genres, and plenty to engage those of us with somewhat more traditional rock-based tastes. So here are just ten that caught my attention as I started working out my Clashfinder schedule and how I can get round about 70 bands over the three days, which is what I usually manage.
But let’s start with perhaps the weirdest act on the bill …
Poppy (sounds like everything from Shirley Temple to Slipknot)
Poppy is the “Andy Warhol of the internet generation”. Or maybe not. She is a young US singer, who hides her true self behind a “character” she plays, Poppy, a Barbie-type creation with an annoying little girl voice. But her album Am I a Girl is a surprisingly effective Lorde/ Taylor Swift electro-pop mix, and the 25 minutes of ICU on Spotify could almost be Brian Eno. Then Scary Mask starts out like the Carpenters, before turning into Slipknot… your guess is as good as mine in terms of what on earth she is going to do at Reading and Leeds! She’s on the metal / rock stage, so that might be a clue.
Anteros (Blondie, No Doubt)
If Anteros don’t make it with their own very enjoyable 1980s style pop/punk, then they can certainly do well as a Blondie tribute act. Lead singer Laura Hayden is also a model and could give Debbie Harry a run for her money in the looks department, and she can sing too. Songs are more than acceptable substitutes too ...
Cassia (early Vampire Weekend, Talking Heads, Graceland period Paul Simon)
Northern trio with a distinctive afro-beat sound, very summery, tuneful, and with occasional depths to the songs that certainly make them ones to watch. Their debut album exceeded my expectations and is one of the highlights of 2019 so far.
Kawala (Simon and Garfunkel, Jack Johnson)
This north London duo blend skilful harmonies, acoustic guitar and folk/pop tunes, but with touches of more contemporary rhythms and vibes to make a very pleasant noise that avoids MOR but will be great on a warm afternoon, we suspect!
Sophie and the Giants (Florence and the Machine, Maccabees)
Sheffield based indie pop with huge choruses, strong tunes and fronted by Sophie who has a great Florence (of Machine fame) type soul-tinged emotion-filled rock voice. This band really sounds like a major act in waiting – one song going viral will break them.
Sea Girls (U2, Bombay Bicycle Club)
Not girls at all – four fairly normal looking blokes form London, in fact. We saw them on the Introducing stage at Reading last year, but their material since them shows growing confidence and maturity. The basic approach is classic “indie”, but they embrace big, almost U2-like choruses now, and are clearly aiming for stadiums rather than niche venues.
Twisted Wheel (Libertines, The Enemy, Oasis)
This Oldham rock trio formed in 2007, but have been away for a while. Back together with their ramshackle indie-punk, they have energy and limited sophistication, but hey, we need a bit of this alongside “the new Warhol” and so on! This could be brilliant or a disaster at the festivals…
Æ MAK – (Pet Shop Boys, Bjork, the Unthanks)
Fascinating Irish band, brainchild of Aoife McCann, with two female front-people singing in complex folk-like harmony (note the use of open fifths). The music is more electronic pop than folk though, with other influences (e.g. African), but the quirky vocals give them a pretty unique sound. They deserve to go global, really, and YouTube suggests they can cut it live, too.
Stand Atlantic – (Blink 182, Foo Fighters, Green Day)
Australian pop-punk with charismatic and talented front-woman, Bonnie Fraser. Chunky pop choruses with big rock guitar, but some sophistication (and Fraser) lifting them above the mass of similar bands.
Cavetown – (Nick Drake, Isaac Gracie, Ed Sheeran)
Already huge on Spotify, Robbie Skinner is Cavetown. He is a young Cambridge singer songwriter, with nice under-stated voice and intelligent lyrics, and he can write a catchy chorus too. Mother is a professional flautist and father is Director of Music at Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge University… it’s in the genes, you know.
Remind us of: the Cure, Joy Division, Death Cult/early Cult, early U2, Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, David Holmes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Public Image Limited
Links to songs in blue
The Wikipedia definition of ‘Post Punk’ describes it as ‘a broad type of rock music that emerged from the punk movement of the 1970s, in which artists departed from the simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock to adopt a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and diverse influences’. 40 years on there is now an exciting new wave of post punk, and at its heart are the Murder Capital.
The band come from Dublin, and have very much become the doyens of the press, critically lauded even before they released anything based on their electric live performances. Their first single release was ‘Feeling Fades’ which made its debut early this year, subsequently followed by ‘Green and Blue’, ‘Don’t Cling to Life’ and just last week ‘More is Less’. Their debut album ‘When I have Fears’ was released on Friday, and has garnered a heap of critical praise.
I grew up on a staple diet of post punk with a bit of Goth thrown in here and there, so listening to the album has been an interesting experience. It’s almost been like revisiting my past and waking old memories that I’d previously tucked away.
The original post punk influences are very clear on ‘When I have Fears’. Opening track For Everything could quite easily be mistaken for ‘Horse Nation’ by the Cult or ‘One Hundred Years’ by the Cure. It’s a powerful start that’s complemented by the thrashy More is Less which seems influenced by IDLES, who the band have previously supported on their tour.
The pace slows with Green & Blue, which evokes Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘All my Colours/Zimbo’ and Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, and then slows further with the excellent Slowdance I and beautiful Slowdance II and On Twisted Ground. Within this section there are hints of U2 and the Cure from their Faith album, particularly on On Twisted Ground which is reminiscent of ‘All Cats are Grey’.
Feeling Fades ups the tempo, still within the Cure territory, sounding like the Hanging Garden from ‘Pornography’ with shades of Killing Joke thrown in. Don't Cling to Life sounds like a cross between Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Transmission’ mixed with fellow countryman David Holmes’s ‘I Hear Wonders’. An element of David Holmes’s ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’ from the same album permeates How the Streets Adore Me Now before the album closes with the menacing Love Love Love which could easily have found itself on an early Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy album.
Overall it’s a very good album and the placing of the songs give it an excellent structure. If I’d heard this as a teenager I’d have it on repeat and loud, just like I did with the bands that have clearly influenced this record.
It is however slightly let down by the production – the vocals are too high in the mix for my liking which doesn’t do them any favours and the bass is submerged where it should really be driving the music alongside the drums. Nonetheless this is a promising debut and it will be very interesting to see where they take their music to next.
The band are touring extensively in October. I’ve not seen them yet but it will be interesting to see how they sound live compared to record. As mentioned above they’re supposed to be superb live, so if you can get to one of their gigs do so. I’d also recommend checking out some of the other new wave of Irish bands – the likes of the Melts and Silverbacks for example, as there’s some seriously good stuff brewing there.
Reminds us of: Oasis, the Stone Roses, the Damned
Links to music in Blue.
The first time I heard ‘Shakermaker’ by Oasis I was blown away. I’d been steadily falling out of love with guitar music for a couple of years at that time, but hearing that I was seriously impressed. A great tune, well written, oozing with swagger. I’d hoped that they’d make a great album after that, and so they did with Definitely Maybe, which I put on the other day and thought that it still sounded wonderful.
I was reminded of that Shakermaker moment in May of this year when I heard Stupid by the Boho’s for the first time. There are definite similarities between the two bands in terms of production and overall sound, as well as that sense of confidence that comes out and says ‘we know we’ve made a great song here’, although they don’t seem to be benefiting from the same level of hype that Oasis had when they first emerged.
Having merrily feasted on ‘Stupid’ I wondered if they could get anywhere near to that standard again with their next release, but reassuringly they have. Already Dead came out at the end of June and it’s also a cracker.
The band come from Liverpool and have been around for about 3 years. Lead singer Finn Power has the distinction of being John Power of Cast’s son. Similar to another of the North West’s great bands the Stone Roses, it would appear as though the bands’ early output is pretty forgettable compared to these latest two singles. As with the Roses, Stupid and Already Dead represent a significant evolution in the same way that Elephant Stone and the first Stone Roses’s album was.
‘Stupid’ starts anonymously with a muted guitar refrain before launching into a powerful riff, soon accompanied by a very confident vocal that absolutely revels in its scouse roots. It’s an immense song that culminates with a wicked riff. Already Dead follows a similar pattern, with the guitar and vocal sound really giving the band character and identity, with a Led Zep like break in the middle. Stirring stuff.
It will be interesting to see how the band develop over the coming months. By all accounts they toured nationally with Cast late last year, but since Stupid came out I haven’t seen them play a single gig outside of their native Liverpool. If that continues I can’t see them building up a massive fan base, which is a real shame. Musically they’ve set the bar really high with these two singles, and hopefully the quality of their output will continue in the same vein.