What We've Been Listening To This Week...Yard Act, Eyesore and the Jinx, Velvet Starlings, J.Zunz, The Utopia Strong, Protomartyr
By Jon Milton
Finally! April saw the release of ‘The Trappers' Pelts’ the excellent debut single from Yard Act, a Leeds based band compromised of Ryan, Sammy and George of Treeboy and Arc, and vocalist James Smith. This week the band returned with another piece of gold in ‘Fixer Upper’. Where The Trappers' Pelts saw the ghost of Mark E Smith recant a lucid tale about neo-liberalist values, Fixer Upper brings us a more John Cooper Clarke-like telling of Graeme, the archetypal overbearing self made man whose keen to let everyone know just how well he’s done. The band have an album planned, which on the strength of these two tunes and others played at the Dork Homeschool Fest, should be something to look forward to.
We featured two new releases on the blog on Friday, The Exile Parlour by Eyesore and the Jinx, and Karmic Lemonade, the latest single by Velvet Starlings. The former contains four quality tunes that combine intelligent, witty and acerbic social commentary with inventive, incisive noise which you can read about here. The latter marries Cream’s confident riffing with the Doors Hammond heavy vibes with a bit of Kula Shaker thrown in and you can read about it here.
Our other single of note out this week is Four Women and Darkness by J.Zunz, a solo project from Lorena Quintanella, one half of Mexican duo ‘Lorelle Meets the Obselete’ taken from her forthcoming album out on Rocket Recordings, ‘Hibiscus’. The song is a bit of a trip, swirling voices building around a mesmeric sonic background, building into an epic crescendo. Its well worth checking out alongside its video, which you can see below.
Equally mesmerising and immersive is the latest album from The Utopia Strong. 'Dreamsweeper' has just one track, 37 minutes in total, although it is available in parts 1 and 2 if you’d prefer. Part of a run of self released limited edition vinyl that has managed, within a day of release to have a copy appear on Discogs for over three times its original price, Dreamsweeper is a recording of a performance given at Oslo in Hackney in September last year. If you love experimental trippy music and are prepared to take the time to zone out to this, its well worth the effort. Give it a listen here.
Given the rash of albums released on the 17th, we deferred reviewing ‘Ultimate Success Today’, the new album by Protomartyr until this week so it could get a proper listen. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) its been inspired by lead singer Joe Casey having a mid life crisis brought on by their debut being reissued, with the band playing and recording it as a single unit and following similar daily routines. Titled after ‘get rich quick’ infomercials, most of the lyrics were written by Casey on the spot.
Now I have a confession to make. Lots of people have raved on about Protomartyr, but I’ve really struggled to get in to them. They just seem a bit bleak. Sometimes however you just need something to get you over the line and it might just be this album. The music seems lighter and more intricate than what I’ve heard before, its subtleties less dominated by its vocals, with even flourishes of jazz coming through.
Ultimate Success Now begins with Day Without End, sounding like a seventies Lalo Schifrin cop movie score, and then moves into a series of well constructed, powerful songs that culminate with the reflective Bridge & Crown and Worm in Heaven. Overall its an extremely compelling work and one that may serve as the best introduction from which to explore the band's music.
By Jon Milton
US Indie Rockers Velvet Starlings entertain our eardrums with a sparkling new tune out today on US label SoundX3, called Karmic Lemonade. It’s the second to be released from their Love Everything, Love Everyone EP, wearing its 60’s influences proudly on its sleeve.
The band is another ridiculously young but exceptionally talented bunch, led by 17 year singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Christian Gisborne and featuring Daniel Kostenko on drums/percussion and Tiaday Rocke on bass guitar. And if you’re feeling old and inadequate having read that, you’ll be delighted to know that they’ve been going for over 2 years, having released their first record in 2018 and have played all over the USA (including SXSW), Sweden and London.
Karmic Lemonade marries Cream’s confident riffing with the Doors Hammond heavy vibes, while mixing in a bit of Kula Shaker in the process. The song fizzes along (sorry, couldn't help it!), has a real swagger about it and it’s rather catchy too.
Continuing the nod to the 60s and 70s the video was of course filmed in Laurel Canyon, home to Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, The Byrd’s and so many more great artists.
The band expect to gig in 2021, and you may be wise to catch them if they play at smaller venues while you can, as they’ve got that commercial edge that will no doubt see them rapidly picking up new fans along the way.
By Jon Milton
A couple of weeks ago we interviewed Eyesore and the Jinx and their debut EP is released today, and very good it is too. The Exile Parlour EP features two previously released songs 'Leisure Time' and 'Nightlife', which both received extensive airplay from 6 Music and the likes of KEXP and two new songs Dinner, in the Exile Parlour and The Ballad of Big Joe.
Lyrically the EP’s common thread centres on how people’s behaviours change, particularly in the pursuit of pleasure. Nightlife focuses on the nightly turf wars in Liverpool’s Seel Street and Leisure Time observes the average Brit’s unique approach to local acclimatisation when on holiday.
The two new tracks explore narrative song-writing and are therefore more story based, with the EP’s title track according to singer/bassist Josh ‘set in an online fetish forum for people with a fetish for isolation, amongst other things’ and ‘The Ballad of Big Joe’ written around the time that the Harvey Weinstein story broke out about ‘a sadly all too familiar story of a powerful man who abuses his position and is ultimately undone by his own sense of entitlement, and is quite rightly held accountable when he thinks he's above accountability’.
Production duties come from Girlband’s Daniel Fox, and you can hear a bit of his influence in places – wonderful rashes of discordant guitar breaking out in the chorus of Nightlife and throughout Big Joe for example, both of which made me think of the wonderful ‘Asbestos Lead Asbestos’ single by World Domination Enterprises from many a year ago.
Intelligent, witty and acerbic social commentary and inventive, incisive noise – what more could you possibly want?
Released on Eggy Records, the rather elegant, grey coloured vinyl version of the EP can be purchased via https://smarturl.it/THEEXILEPARLOUREP, so keep that in mind for payday next if you don’t have the readies to hand right now.
By Jon Milton
Home Counties got themselves noticed when they released their excellent debut single Redevelopment in March this year and have certainly drawn more attention with the release of new single Dad Bod, its title inevitably bringing wry smiles to the faces of many, including yours truly!
Newly signed to Alcopop Records, home to Ditz, Gaffa Tape Sandy, False Advertising and many more, the band will be releasing their debut Redevelopment EP on digital and (cream vinyl) physical format in early September. With a second EP already written and planned, I caught up with Will, Connor and Barn from the band to chat about Dad Bod, their (re)development and how they are starting to establish their true identity...
First things first – is that a recorder on the track?
What was the inspiration behind writing Dad Bod?
Will: Lyrically? It started more jokily – Dad Bod sounds quite funny in a low voice, and I came up with this verse which rhymed stereotypical middle calls Dad things that sounded quite funny with wordplay, and the chorus obviously didn’t take much lyricism just repeating the word Dad Bod over and over again, but the second verse is a bit darker, addressing a more sinister side to middle class masculinities. I didn’t intend it as any mission statement, which it has been portrayed as in the press. It just started off as funny and ended up serious, as a lot of the songs I tend to write go!
Leading on from that, is the Dad Bod a physical state or a persona?
Will: The songs not really about the shape of someone’s body at all – it’s about a cultural association, gentrification and maybe about a sense of cultural superiority. Part of the lyrics talk about different gender relationships and power dynamics - not saying that everyone that’s a middle-class man is poaching or anything though, but it’s a song that references stereotypes and is an exploration of characters.
What reactions have you had from those with Dad Bod’s in the music industry?
Will: We had a reaction on a Bristol radio station, BBC Bristol where the guy thought it was hilarious
Connor: He laughed for the next 30 minutes about it…
Will: He said he couldn’t stop laughing at the way Dad Bod was said, the way the recorder was played – I think most people take it tongue in cheek – it’s obviously not the most serious song ever, and that’s represented in the music of it, it’s all wonky and silly. I think people have received it well generally
Barn: there’s not been much lyrical backlash, they tend to talk more about the instrumentation.
Connor: talking about when they were 5 years old learning to play the recorder
I guess as a name its always going to pique people’s interest and get people talking.
Will: Yes, it’s very much a buzz word of our time isn’t it? It’s another of these made up cultural phenomenon, interesting to pick it apart, even if the lyrical matter is somewhat detached from the specific meaning of someone’s body shape.
Redevelopment was a great way to introduce the band – how pleased were you with its reception?
Connor: Immensely - it was such a redevelopment (laughs) from our previous project, with people snatching interest, and it was very flattering that people wanted to get in touch with us and find out more, and that there was a positive reaction to it.
And the front cover, where is that?
Will: Aylesbury. I did my dissertation at Bristol Uni on town centre redevelopment in Aylesbury and I had all these old photos that I loved, so grainy and so beautiful and depressing which I thought worked pretty well. We haven’t released the cover work for the EP yet, but it’s a similar type of thing.
Connor: also Aylesbury!
Will: I’ve become quite obsessed with redevelopment in Aylesbury. I don’t think anyone’s ever thought of Aylesbury’s redevelopment as much.
What made you pick Aylesbury?
Will: Its where we grew up. People hate Aylesbury these days, talking about how the town’s changed for the worst and how the sixties ruined it, but I love all the sixties stuff in Aylesbury. That’s what Redevelopment is all about, people’s fake sense of nostalgia, an imagined past they never actually lived.
Dad Bod and Redevelopment both seem observational – is that a standard approach to song-writing ie detached from your own personal life?
Will: Yeah – I’ve never tended to write emotional songs, although they sort of are emotional. I like taking things that are mundane, picking them apart and making them interesting. I think that with Haze (their previous band) it was a lot of social commentary which was more outwardly left-wing which makes me cringe a bit thinking about it. But with Home Counties the lyricism’s very..
Barn: …the insights are more subtle.
What are the other songs on the EP about?
Barn: ‘That’s where the money’s gone’ is about tax havens, and about the British media’s perception of tax, Europe and the EU.
Will: Its more about language – it’s fun and playful rather than serious and grating. A very simplistic summary of the debate around referendum.
Connor: It was written around the time of the General Election
Will: Chugging is about London
Barn: About the gentrified culture of drinking in Shoreditch
Will: Similar to Dad Bod actually – the double standards of people, giving off a good impression of themselves, and just talking shit. Raoul is about Raoul Moat, and the 2010 media representations, about how the press portrayed him as this Rambo like figure, this masculine hero, Ray Mears even, which is bizarre because if he wasn’t a white guy he’d be portrayed as a terrorist. Addressing how the media represented that and how it was seen in the public’s imagination.
How did the deal with Alcopop come about?
Barn: they reached out to us
Will: ..after Redevelopment came out and were really excited about it and wanted to do an EP. We always had this idea that we were going to have this EP called Redevelopment. We wanted to drop it in January, but we’re glad we didn’t now. But they got on-board and came up with a whole plan of releases and we liked the sound of it so we joined up. And Jack who runs it is so lovely, the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. So enthusiastic, a real clear vision about things should be.
Barn: We’ve gigged a lot with Ditz which I think has helped the relationship. That’s probably how they heard of us.
You were in a band prior to this, can you tell us more about them, why they came to an end?
Connor: we came up with the Haze project when we were 14, and now we’re in our early 20s we’ve just evolved as people, and we had Barn and our new bassist Sam join, so it felt right to leave that behind and start something completely different. And as Will’s been saying the song-writing has changed and is less explicitly obvious and more tongue in cheek
Barn: It was very ramshackle and punk as well
Will: We were very loose…
How have you found the process of launching a band just as lockdown has kicked in?
Barn: It’s worked quite well – we’d recorded before, and now’s pretty much the ideal time to release because a lot of people are listening to music, so to have that while we’re not gigging has been quite fortunate. We’ve had loads of time to write and think about the band more, about what we’re going to do, plans and stuff.
Will: I’ve liked it – I haven’t had to work as I’ve been furloughed, so I’ve been able to write songs and jam with friends, and we’ve come up with the next EP already…
Barn: …which we probably wouldn’t have got around to doing if we’d been working. It’s been quite well timed as we’ve been building the aesthetic of what Home Counties was, so there’s quite a lot of inspiration and a lot of new ideas. We’d only just understood what a synth was as lockdown was happening.
Will: Our next EP is going to be more defining of us, the band we are now rather than the current EP. Redevelopment as an EP is very much January and the music we were making in January. It feels like a different band now. The next EP will be more coherent in a way.
Connor: This is very much a transitional EP from Haze to Home Counties – there is still elements of who Home Counties is in there.
What is the sound of Home Counties then?
Barn: More Talking Heads and less Parquet Courts!
Will: It’s a lot dancier, lyrically tongue in cheek and more democratic in terms of the collective process. In Haze I wrote everything. Now everyone comes up with songs and singing duties are dispersed a lot more. It feels like us as a group of people
Barn: The songs are written more with a studio vibe rather than for the live environment.
What’s next? Is there a big plan?
Will: We’re taking it as is comes and just enjoying making music
Connor: we don’t take ourselves seriously and I think our music reflects that – I don’t think there’s a ‘we’re going to be headlining Glastonbury next year’ vibe
Will: I don’t think that’s healthy – it kind of sets you up for disappointment. Its good to be optimistic though, we’d like to progress.
By Mark Glenister
After what seems like a long hibernation, we start to wander out into the ‘normal’ world after weeks of lockdown, isolation and in some cases fear.
We are greeted by a world that looks like the one we abandoned all those weeks ago, but its not quite the same – like one of those puzzles where you have the same picture, but one of them has been slightly altered, and you have to look for the differences between the 2 pictures.
Some of the differences are obvious: people wearing face masks, queuing to get into shops, social distance signs wherever you walk. Pubs and restaurants have re-opened in most places now, but bookings are needed for both, and the days of just wandering into a pub and spending a few hours with friends are some way off just yet. That way of life may never return if you believe some of the many predictions being thrown around in the wake of an inept government who failed at every level to deal with this pandemic and are now blaming everyone but themselves for the 40,000 plus deaths.
Less obvious, but a key to the difference between Normal and New Normal, is within the music industry, and how bands and fans are having to adapt to life within lockdown and beyond. As music fans we have been starved of tours, seeing the usual group of friends at gigs, and missing that feeling of energy and connection that you get at gigs (well at most gigs anyway). I spoke with singer songwriter Tom McRae recently, and he said this about playing live and the connection between artist and performer:
“the reality of live music is that its sort of a magic trick, it helps if the person on the stage is good with something to say, but gigs work because 90% of the show is the audience, they bring that energy - its where your energy as a performer meets the energy of the audience somewhere halfway in the room, and it becomes this third thing that neither of you are in control of; that’s the amazing thing about live music and that is without drawing analogies to diseases, its infectious’, you stand next to someone who is singing, literally your heart beat will start to beat in time with theirs”
So, during lockdown, gigs and tours have been cancelled and music venues have closed. The closure of venues bought both artist and fans together, in a community based around ensuring that once live music can return, the venues will still be there to play in.
With a promise now of Government funding, it looks like this campaign has been successful. For a while it galvanised everyone, and the lack of tours or new music was forgotten about for a short time. However, as lockdown continued, music fans once again felt starved of their lifeblood, some bands released new songs, and in some cases albums. Other artists did streaming gigs, some in aid of charities and some just to be able to play music again, but with social distancing that became hard if the band didn’t all live together.
Now, as restrictions are slowly being lifted we have had a spate of artists announcing paid streaming gigs, Nick Cave doing a solo show at Ally Pally, IDLES doing 3 different live streams and LIFE have just announced a live gig experience like no other – All of this is great, but its not what the fans really want, and having spoken to a lot of artists over the past few months its not what they want either.
Recently the BBC had a ‘virtual’ Glastonbury weekend, showing entire sets of some of the greatest performs to grace those mythical stages, in some cases the sets have never been seen in their full length before. These performances are still available now and it was whilst watching the Stormzy set from last year, it dawned on me, that for the foreseeable future this is our new gig experience, this is the difference between the two pictures. There is no doubting that Stormzys’ set last year is possibly one of the most iconic and ground-breaking in the history of that famous festival. It was a powerful, emotional, raw and sometimes beautiful performance, that had the thousands in attendance mesmerised, and the viewing public at home stunned into silence. I sat it watched it again, yes it is still magnificent, but its not like being there, it doesn’t (no matter how good an HD TV or Laptop you have) have the same impact as being part of that sea of swaying fans.
Now I know the IDLES, Nick Cave and LIFE Streaming gigs will be good, and I will no doubt watch some of them if not all, because I want to support the bands I love, not because I feel this is the way forward. This cannot become the new normal, sterile gigs watched via your phone, tablet, laptop or TV, no connection, no sense of energy, no sweat, no aching limbs after stupidly going into the mosh pit.
Playing live is what the bands and fans crave the most, yes we will support these bands by buying merch or streaming the odd ‘live’ gig, but it does not, and will not make up for the proper live experience. It’s a facsimile of the real thing, speaking with Frank Turner earlier this month he gave his thoughts on streaming gigs;
“What lockdown and the whole livestreaming phenomenon has done has really very like precisely and scientifically isolated what’s good about gigs. I think livestreaming is great for the time being, it’s not a terrible replacement and blah blah blah, and even the minor sense of community with the comments coming through on the screen. But its not being in a fucking gig, James (From Crows) doesn’t crawl on your fucking head during a live stream, and I miss that . . . . We miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering, the sweat – now it may be a while before we are allowed to do that again, but the positive is that that’s become very very clear that it’s a very uncopiable experience”
Its spot on, a live gig is an uncopiable event and as Frank so rightly says as fans we miss the crush, the gig, the buzz, the noise, the gathering and the sweat. These are all reasons why music fans go to gigs night after night up and down the country, in 100 cap rooms at the back of pub to large arenas, the live experience is the ONLY experience, and this feeling is across all ages, I’ll let my fellow 51 year old Tom McRae have the last words on this;
“Even at 51 I want to be sweating down the front, I want to have my drink nudged over me, I want to feel that energy going through the room of people singing, laughing, falling quiet and that’s the beauty of live music which nothing else does”
If a band you love does a live stream, support it as it will bring in some much needed revenue, but don’t lose sight of why we all love live music!