As I walked out of seeing Big Deal play in the rather cramped, smelly (venues that would rather sell food than have bands play is becoming increasing popular and is absolutely infuriating), poorly equipped Stillery venue in Camden the other week I tweeted a picture of the band along with words something similar to 'Big Deal have taken it up another notch on the new stuff. Can't wait for the new album'. Well two weeks later and we have the first sign of its imminent arrival, the wonderful "Veronica".
The track is the perfect marriage of what Big Deal do best, entwining gorgeous dual vocals with shimmering guitarscapes that cause heartbreak and dreamful nostalgia in equal measures before rising to the most earth shattering of finales. "Veronica" is huge. Big Deal should be huge. Go listen to them.
They support Drenge in London in a few weeks but I was silly and never got a ticket (Pins are also supporting). Enjoy it your lucky fools.
Big Deal waste no time following up last years June Bloom with a new EP Sakura, due July 15th via Mute. For now we've been treated to it's lead track "Always Boys", a song which reaffirms the band as one of our most under-rated acts, rising from a mellow, spacey introduction to big, soaring highs with a real feel of summery pop and addictive sing-along verses.
The guitars fly in from different angels, driving hard and laying the scuzz on thick ever-propelled by a runaway percussive beat. Alice takes on sole vocal duties on the track, her voice smooth and dreamy and the result sounds like it should be the soundtrack to your summer, a rich and expansive noise that keeps on giving.
The last week was spent looking forward to 2014 with my own series of ten 'Tips For 2014'. I'm pretty happy with the list and look forward to seeing how they get on next year (and the same goes for those who I listed as ones to watch in 2013 that never released anything like Alice Jemima or Bird). This week sees the focus switch to my favourite releases of 2013, I wrote a short-list (well I guess a long-list) of albums I've been listening to the most this year and it came to about 34, I whittled down slowly to what you'll find posted over the next seven days. The order changes depending on what time of the day so don't take much of it all that seriously. There are obviously hundreds more albums released this year that I've not even heard, that's one of the reasons I prefer to say 'my favourite' rather than the best, everything here is my subjective opinion.
2013 was a good year for albums of me. The artists responsible for my favourite album of 2009 (Editors), 2010 (Caitlin Rose) and 2011 (The Joy Formidable) all releasing an album alongside some of my all-time favourites, I'll leave the introduction there to avoid further spoilers and get started. They'll be posted here at a rate of four albums a day for the next six days followed my number one on Sunday. That's if I get all the words written on time - It was my Daughter's first birthday last week so I've been a little bit preoccupied with real life.
I'm kicking off this years album run down with a band that I belatedly fell for in 2013, Big Deal. June Gloom is their second album and leaves behind the whimsical folk of debut Lights Out for a big, soaring guitar pop album full of addictive hooks, relentless energy and songs that recall the youthful memories of falling in and out of love.
The best starting point is "Dream Machines", it instantly radiates like the carefree summer anthem it should become with glistening guitars and robotic beats complimenting the dual toned vocals of Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood. "In Your Car" and "Swapping Spit" both adopt a similar formula built around familiar power-pop foundations with distorted fuzz and echoey drums whilst "Teradactol" is a completely different monster formed around a cacophony of noise and aggression.
There are softer acoustic moments that reward equally, opening track "Golden Light" starts as a languid beauty full of saccharine-sweet vocals and perfect harmonies before punchy beats breathe new life into it while the dreamy bliss of "Pristine" is perhaps the most intimate and personal track on the album. June Bloom sees Big Deal become a fully realised band clearly having fun and making some pretty sweet noise too - long may that continue.
The self titled debut by Mackenzie Scott's Torres was one of my early year highlights, an affecting but beautiful listen throughout (perhaps too difficult a listen for some) introducing a versatile voice that will knock you for six with a stirring group of songs that provide a white knuckle ride of powerful and devastating emotion.
The track which propelled Torres to the attention of many blogs was the six minute tour-de-force "Honey", a fractured, raw anthem to rival the likes of EMA, full of breathtaking intimacy ("Everything hurts but it’s fine, happens all the time") and intensity with progressive shades of darkness contrasting between Mackenzie's velvet-toned vocal and her accompanying fuzzed-up guitar strums.
The brutally honest "Jealousy and I" possesses one the most personal lines I've heard all year, "I'm suffocating you I know, it's just the way I know to love" amongst bare-boned guitar shimmers is someone pouring out their heart and the result is as spine-tingling a moment as music will give you. The stark and un-rushed "Come to Terms" is equally spellbinding, an acoustic ballad with a heartfelt melody that is beautifully simple and complex at the same time - melancholia has rarely sounded so good.
I can't really do a Torres review without mentioning the gorgeous "November Baby" either, a moment to saviour, bruised, personal and oh so damn beautiful.
Something a little different than my list pick now. The only pure pop album on my list (I decided against including Haim because half their debut was released last year and covered by me at length then). Oh Land's third LP (I keep reading second but that's ignoring Fauna) Wish Bone is nothing short of mood-enhancing brilliance which flutters around multiple genres within 13 dance-floor friendly Scandi-pop anthems.
Nanna Oland Fabricius doesn't just have an effortless knack of producing music full of dynamic energy and propulsive rhythms, she's also got a truly stunning voice and writes brilliant pop hits. "Renaissance Girls" could almost be a sister track to earlier songs "Sun of a Gun" and "White Nights", full of clattering beats and ultra-infectious rhythms topped by Nanna's soaring vocals - it's about the best power pop song I've heard all year.
Wish Bone is an album that doesn't stay on any beaten track, there's the pure Robyn-esque pop of the quirky and brilliant "My Boxer" or the funk-laden groove of the infectious "Pyromaniac" and "3 Chances" (possible the first song to mention both kittens and zombies), a beautiful, saccharine sweet ballad amongst softer, heart-felt moments like "Love You Better" but "Bird in an Aeroplane" is perhaps the best indication of Oh Land's glittery charm.
Esben and the Witch return with 'the difficult second album' Wash the Sins not Only the Face and produce something that's just as impressive as their debut. Of course the prevalent mood here is stark, chilly beats built around swirling, creeping guitars but Rachel Davies ethereal vocals are more prominent this time and the beautiful scary mood reaches more towards the half light realms of haunting dreamscapes.
Of course there are terrifying moments, "Iceland Spar" though opens the album with typically Esben-esque noise, instantly scorching out your heart with uncontainable energy where pummeling drums and heavy guitars collide before parting for Rachel's chilly vocal chorus, the contrast between the two continues throughout and imposes itself with wondrous levels of claustrophobia. "Deathwaltz" similarly deals in dramatic atmospherics, though not quite the grim death-march the name indicates, shimmering guitarscapes offer a kaleidoscopic tapestry not heard from the band before, creeping with a mysterious intensity amongst unsettling swirls and Rachel Davies haunting, creatures of the night air chanting.
"Despair" is a short and sharp blast of a nightmarish whirlpool whilst the pulsating "Yellow Wood" builds and builds to a truly stunning climax yet my highlight is the soft, haunting intimacy of the icy ballad "The Fall of Glorieta Mountain", a delicate thing of true beauty it sends shivers right through me. Of course, being and Esben and the Witch album we're not allowed to end in blissful melancholy and the track is followed by "Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night", a foreboding finale of epic drums and searing guitars.
An overdue post, surprise! I've been meaning to post about Big Deal again since before The Great Escape in truth but it's now almost a month since I saw them their for the first time, a set that was dramatic, thunderous and full of perfect energy for a Saturday night.
Since that th duo / expanded live quartet have released their second (and aptly titled) album June Bloom and shared a new single (also available on 7") "Dream Machines", I'll concentrate on the singles for ease (and because there are numerousgreatalbumreviewsalready, if you want one of those)...
"Dream Machines" instantly radiates like the carefree summer anthem it should become with glistening guitars and robotic beats complimenting the dual honey-toned vocals of Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood, you can almost reach out and touch its youthful beauty during its three minute long emotive roller-coaster. Earlier single "In Your Car" uses a similar forumla, strong power-pop with distorted fuzz and compelling drums bursting straight out of the gates, June Bloom sees Big Deal making tracks that they are clearly enjoying to make, playful, pretty and wonderful - it's a triumphant success.
Seemingly in the blink of an eye it’s the last day of the festival. After another early morning wake-up, breakfast and numerous cups of coffee I head to The Mesmerist to see a band I've featured a couple of times recently, Keebo.
Their early set time doesn't do many favours and the punters that have managed to dust themselves off early all have a beleaguered look about them. The sound is muddy too which doesn't help but amongst all that there are some wonderful textured guitar sounds and intricate melodies entwining with smooth, blissful vocal harmonies. There's obvious potential here and Keebo are very much a band on the up, I’m looking forward to hearing them again soon.
I rush all the way to The Hope to catch another new band I've recently featured but not seen live (until now), the London based Sisters. The fact they are playing in a real venue makes a huge difference and although I arrive mid-set I’m compelled by the large, loud sound the trio are making, grunge-riffs and ferocious beats combine with dreamy, nonchalant vocals and the audience is entranced – an exciting act is found.
Next I head to Komedia (via a quick trip to Pompoko) to watch an act I’ve followed for a while but had never actually seen live, Mary Epworth. The time-keeper at Komedia is clearly still enjoying the job as Mary has started and my watch still hasn’t hit her apparent stage time. The set gradually builds in power as more members of her backing band join the stage (and then spend much of the set moving around instruments) and is met by a large audience. Her strong voice is given plenty of room to shine amongst organ, guitar and drums and it’s a wonderful set, there are real haunting moments and beguiling ones too as Mary crosses the boundaries of multiple genres in half an hour and then just before we are about to be treated to one final, solo the time keeper is back and that’s it. Over. Still what we got was a real treat for those in attendance
I stick around for another new (live) act to me Wall, yesterday’s set in a Church might have been a more grandeur setting but here I can get close and that intimate feeling is fitting because Lyla’s hushed vocals and her bands subtle instrumentation is beautiful and touching and makes your hairs stand on end. Her ‘biggest’ tracks to date bookend the set “Magazine” and “Shoestring” and a genuine talent is definitely confirmed.
After I head back to The Mesmerist, the place is rammed. The ‘Blog Up’ meeting is currently in progress but besides a brief chat with two bloggers I already know Robin from Breaking More Waves and Saam from Faded Glamour I stay low profile. I’m not very good at introducing myself and anonymity is pretty good too.
I’m here to see a band I’d never heard of before, local act Iyes- though given the crowds clearly a lot of people had – unfortunately they have some technical problems with their electronics and have to scrap their normal show in favour of a short acoustic set, for me at least it works perfectly and they pull of it off effortlessly with a few smiles too. The vocals are stunning and I made a mental note to check out the ‘real’ band afterwards.
I decide there is time to do a quick run and after four hours of standing on my feet I rush back to my room, run a quick 5k (Brighton is perfect for these short runs up and down the seafront) and return to The Mesmerist in good time to see Embersfor the second time in as many days. Worries about the sound in the pub managing with the sheer intensity of their music prove unfounded and as with yesterday it almost blows the roof on the room. I won’t repeat my praise again but suffice to say this band is incredible - 'The' unquestionable find (although I'd already 'found' them) of The Great Escape 2013.
A change of tempo next as I head to the festival’s main hub to see Farao performing on the hub ‘stage’, the only outdoor show I saw at The Great Escape this time around and it is almost sunny too. Farao have the sort of devastating harmonies that linger in your brain, so beautifully written and delivered by Kari’s gorgeous, ethereal vocals that make the listener fall effortlessly in love with them.
It feels weird to be in Audio – the darkest in a City of dark venues – whilst it’s still sunny outside, I’m here for Parlourand it’s very busy for a super early show - and afterwards when I leave there is also a massive queue waiting to go in - the next act on were NME buzz band Superfood who may or may not be good, I’ve never heard them – the sound guy takes a while to get the sound anything like right but eventually Parlour shine with a whirling cocktail and wonderful shoegaze, shimmering guitars are radiant and fuzzy and beautiful daydreams occur, the only track I'm familiar with before "My Love" sounds even better live so it's a win-win set.
I’m then left with an evening for which I didn’t really have any plans, after numerous clashes over the weekend I found Saturday night a little on the light side – unless you are a fan of electronica. I decide in the end to go and sit in Blind Tiger for Big Deal (who annoyingly directly clash with Drop Out Venus, the other band I’d have liked to have seen) so I taste a few acts I’d never heard before.
The first of which were Australian act Dune, unfortunately there is no sign of Frank Herbert and their dance friendly eltectro-pop, whilst enjoyable enough, seems out of place at 8pm. An early morning set, ironically in one of those dark and dingy venues I’ve been talking about rather than on the white walls of Blind Tiger, when people had enjoyed a few more drinks and were up for a boogie would have suited themh more, they are surprisingly enjoyable still with thick bass-lines combining with an engaging front-woman and although I doubt I’ll be queuing up at their album launch, the set passes quickly.
Next up is a girl making a bit of a name for herself, Chloe Howl, I can see why. Her sound combines mainstream with electro-pop, it’s a combination that has worked with blogs over the past twelve months and her three tracks on YouTube are at a million plays in total. It's not really my genre and her biggest song so far "Rumour" doesn't do much for me but her smooth vocals are win me over on the beautiful and undoubted highlight "I Wish I Could Tell You".
Afterwards YADi arrives to an alarmingly empty stage which gives me immediate pre-gig worries. No amps, no guitars, no keyboards. All the sounds come from the drummer whose beats add to a backing track whilst YADi dances around the stage. I’m not sure if it’s the Doom Bar I've been drinking a little to quickly or whether the combination of Eastern chimes, pummeling beats and pop is now ‘my thing’ but I quite enjoy it. Closing track and lead track from her recently released EP The Blow is the clear peak, again I’m not sure they’ll be a round two but it’s fun and in spirit of Eurovision which is happening at this exact same time, fun is good enough for me.
Big Deal prove they are deserved headliners of the night almost immediately, an expanded sound means their duo are now a quartet and the more minimal beginnings are put to bed in favour of a lively, grungy sound. Earlier that day it had been commented to me that the most frequent word on this blog is probably fuzz and here I am using it again, fuzz is definitely apt here, “In Your Car” and “Teradactol” are the two big (and familiar to me beforehand) tracks in the set, dramatic and thunderous, with album two due very shortly, Big Deal are set to be just that.
That’s your lot. The Great Escape 2013 comes and goes in three whirlwind days. Overall it has been a good year if not my favourite ever. Thoght I'm sad it's over and I’ll be back again next year without any doubt.
Thinking of coming next year? Aside from arriving at a venue before doors opening I didn't have to queue once so don’t let people saying they couldn't get in anywhere put you off coming next year – it’s all, as I've said before, about being prepared. There are the niggling problems which seemingly occur every year such as lack of updates over the weekend about schedule changes and some poor venue choices for bands but overall The Great Escape organisers do a fine job and it should be an essential part of a new music fans diary. Only three hundred and sixty days until the next one! Oh, buy your tickets when the Super Early Bird tickets go on sale. I paid £35 for the whole weekend - later a Saturday day ticket was that same price.
I saw Big Deal play over a year ago now, they were *ok*, a duo with delicate acoustic instrumentals combining with entwined male/female harmonies, it should perhaps have ticked my boxes a little more than it did but sometimes it just doesn't, for little or no apparent reason.
This though, their latest single, does that and more. If you'd have told me this was the same Big Deal I saw perform live (I think at The Lexington) I'd have laughed at you. The track "Teradactol" is a completely different beast with Big Deal now a four piece, a colossal, fuzzed-up monster with galloping drums and distorted guitars howling around the ethereal harmonies.
"Teradactol" is the first track taken from the bands forthcoming second album and certainly has me salivating for more.