Albums of 2014 #14 - Bird - My Fear & Me

Bird
My Fear & Me
Baltic Records. Released May 19th.

Long time favourites Bird, currently in a somewhat uncertain state after what I'm hoping is little more than a name dispute leaves them without a band name released their wonderful debut full length My Fear & Me via Baltic Records earlier this year, a release that conjures up dark spirits that go far beyond the original Warpaint and Daughter comparisons.

Bird 2014 is/was an altogether bigger force, an expanded quartet who weave hypnotic, sprawling grooves with seeming ease, transporting you to ethereal plains with vast, echoey soundscapes and haunting atmosphere. Opener "Ghost" lets you straight into the secret, mystical and rhythmic, moody and beautiful with brilliant bass propelling forthright percussion and shimmering guitars to provide a steady heart-beat for Adele's siren-call vocal to first enrapture you fully.

"A War" is quite simply delicious.. Stronger and more foreboding than anything that has come before, it encompasses everything I've come to love about Bird; a dominating tribal beat, Adele's brooding vocals and pulsating bass rhythms which slowly rise from darkly-hued embers to a soaring peak of delicious harmony and chiming guitars. 

"Sea of Trees" hits hard with driving, Cure-esque intensity whilst early song "I Am The Mountain" returns almost unrecognisable from its former self, now a monstrous, cinematic epic and one of the albums stand-out tracks with this luscious, earthly swirling instrumental groove to close it.

"The Rain Song" starts with swarming, atmospheric percussion and ringing bass-lines, hushed vocal tones keep the spiritual side of the band front and centre but soon enough it explodes amongst tribal drum beats and searing guitar textures, a break of deliciously dark and beautiful harmonies only hastens the emotional outpouring of the final aural storm. I can't not mention "Blue" either, an intimate, beautiful ballad that closes this wonderful debut on it's softest most beguiling moment. 

We should all be crossing our fingers in hope the band return next year with a new name and the same wonderful music.


Bird #7 - A War

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Hot on the heels of the wonderful "The Rain Song" comes the Liverpool quartet Bird's latest single "A War" (taken from their forthcoming debut My Fear & Me and due via Baltic Records next month). I've been listening to this non-stop since last night and even though it's something I feel like I say every time I write about this band, this is perhaps their finest moment yet...

It encompasses everything I've come to love about Bird within three and a half minutes, the dominating tribal beat that propels the track makes it hard to call it a slow-burner but from an ambient opening, Adele's hypnotic vocals and thudding bass rhythms slowly rise from darkly-hued embers to a soaring peak of delicious harmony and chiming guitars. "A War" is quite simply delicious.

There is an album tour to follow in June and your attendance should be mandatory - this band is even better live - dates.

Bird #6 - The Rain Song

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Bird are another of those bands who I've been excited about for a few years now, with a couple of stunning EP's already under their belt 2014 is already shaping up to be the year they finally break out with the release of their debut full-length My Fear And Me scheduled for May. First though comes the single "The Rain Song" on Feb 24th.

The track is of course a stunner, the (now) Liverpool quartet have yet to produce anything but. Starting with swarming, atmospheric percussion and ringing bass-lines you can instantly feel the progression of the band, Adele's haunting, ethereal tones keep the eerie, spiritual side of the band front and centre but Bird 2014 is an altogether bigger force (and more akin to the dynamic live show) with the addition of permanent guitarist Christian Sandford and soon enough "The Rain Song" explodes amongst tribal drum beats and searing guitar textures, a break of deliciously dark and beautiful harmonies only hastens the emotional outpouring of the final aural storm. Immense.

Tour dates are promised soon enough, add the album to your 'to buy list' now.


Bird #5 - Intro (Ghosts)

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I've long supported Bird on this blog, from their first EP Phantoms released over two years ago now to the latest Ophelia, I've been bewitched by their intoxicating combination of ethereal harmonies, haunting beats and beautiful alternative-folk arrangements.

So much so that I included the Liverpool based quartet (with the recent addition of Christian to the fold) in my 'Tips for 2013' posts. That love increased even more over the past couple of months when I caught them live again (I've now seen them five times), firstly at The Great Escape and then in June at a Beautiful Strange night at The Black Heart when I saw them deliver their most captivating performance yet, a set of almost entirely new material that combined all their trademark starkness and dark-beauty with powerful percussion and rocking guitars rarely heard on their recorded material (to date). It promises much for the future and it is new material that brings about this post today...

Yesterday Bird announced that they have started to record their debut album and shared an acoustic version of a new track "Intro (Ghosts)", a track I can recall from their recent live sets, here the rhythmic, tribal energy of the drums propels Adele and Sian's perfect siren-like harmonisation and is sure to make many a heart flutter.

To sign off this post I'll keep it simple - Bird is a band you should be following.

The Great Escape 2013 - Friday Review

Straight on with day two of The Great Escape and Friday starts with a period of stewing around the lanes drinking excessive coffee and then running to Hove and back to wash away a few of yesterdays ales. Kill or cure, that's the motto with running.

A shower later (you'll be glad to know) and I'm at Above Audio awaiting Embers. The quartet come quintet (with the addition of Sophie from PINS on violin) are crammed onto the tiny stage and soon they are producing the sort of mind-blowing landscapes which their tracks so far had indicated. It's loud, very fucking loud and knowing nods of approval to friends in between their wonderful tracks indicate that's also immense. Still new to the live arena as Embers, there are no signs of mishaps as wave after wave of expansive, shimmering noise and punctured drums combine with three way vocals and sharp violins. When/if Embers return to next years festival, it'll be somewhere more bigger than this. The fact that they come across as genuinely nice people only increases the already high affection I hold towards this band.

Next to the aptly titled venue Smack, a venue that hosted some not-so-secret 'secret shows' during the weekend, Friday's hottest lunchtime ticket (free) was for Wolf Alice, luckily I'm early and after a long, name-checking off a list queue I'm near the front (the show was rammed and the stage elevation tiny - I can't imagine those near the back could see much) in time for the start of the set.

The band have been much hyped in the blog community over the past six months and the show delivers on the louder, grunge-pop front from fuzzy guitar driven opener "Fluffy" to closing track, their latest single, "Bros". Ellie's voice isn't quite allowed to shine and the softer earlier beginnings of the band are displaced for a loud, very 90's sound - it works well in the surroundings of a sleazy looking club and the reception they receive is suitable of the 'buzz' heading their way.

I stick around because next up are Findlay, I’d heard good things about the North West artist from a number of friends, I can see why they are hooked, the show engages from the beginning with a feisty, spunky set of fast-tempo rock & roll songs with beasty riffs led by a front-woman who commands your attention.

After a walk through the lanes I slow things down next in the Fountain Head to see Anna Lena & The Orchids playing a stripped down set, a new track sits perfectly amongst those from her wonderful debut EP and it sounds almost perfect. Anna's beautiful vocals combine with subtle electric guitar and backing harmonies from an artist I’d see later in the weekend, Farao. It’s Norway day too and there are a few flags are flying high and so they should.

I head to the courtyard next to try and see another Norwegian Susanne Sundfør but it’s impossible to get near it and instead I decide to have a couple of hours of wandering around Brighton and food.

The evening session starts with one of the acts I’ve been most looking forward to all weekend Golden Fable. The venue is a dimly lit basement (as so many are in Brighton) and I wasn’t anticipating it to suit the bands graceful beauty but I’m more than pleasantly surprised that with the addition of an excellent (really excellent) live drummer the band merge their choral wonder with a fuller, heavier sound and I’m instantly blown away. The set continues to astound and is met with a great reception by a vast crowd – as glowing an endorsement as any.

I head promptly to the Fountain Head to see Emma Gatrill, last year her show at the Fishbowl was one of my weekend highlights and I was hopeful for more. Those hopes were soon dashed when I walked through the door at the venue – which was still operating as a pub with a hired PA by the fireplace – there was your typical Friday night mixture of drunks and belligerents in attendance whom seemed oblivious to the attempts of Emma to quieten them even a little, her delicate harp melodies and beguiling vocals are all but lost amongst this setting and it’s a devastating shame. Thankfully the funnier side of the situation is made by most.

I head around the corner to The Basement where Bird are due to play. Unfortunately there’s another problem completely out of the bands hands. The organisers decided (for whatever reason I cannot say) to change the running times of this show three times (and later send a message out recommending the show some four hours after Bird had played) and it seems word has not got out about the reschedule of the gig, the attendance is far less than they deserve. Thankfully they don’t let the sparse splattering of punters put them off and Bird deliver a fantastic set of almost entirely new songs which bodes extremely well for their future, entwining harmonies and haunting, brilliant melodies, yet again Bird confirm themselves as one of my favourite new bands.

 As perverse as it sounds I head back to the Fountain Head next for The Mariner's Children, another act I’d seen at last years festival in slightly better conditions. The hope was the drunks had moved on by now. Naturally they hadn’t and there is a little delay before the band take to the ‘stage’. The number of people watching the gig out numbers those not by now and it’s a real shame that the chatter of those dis-interested folk rises above the instrumentation. Amongst everything there are some beautiful harmonies and the louder songs taken from their recent EP release almost drown out the noise too. Excellent.

I grab another beer and wait for This Is The Kit. Kate and Rozi soon start and I’m close enough to almost be able to ignore the surroundings and immerse myself fully in their craft. I’m delighted than near the end of the set “Earthquake” is played as I missed Kate playing that on my previous This is the Kit gig. From the start they engage the audience (those paying attention) fully and even bring a couple of girls forward to add harmonies – they actually sound ok too – this is a band who should be household names by now, such is the depth and grace of their songs and it’s wonderful to see them in a tiny Brighton pub.

With music at the Fountain Head finished I head across the road to Blind Tiger. The Adelines are a new band to me who I discovered and blogged about prior to the weekend, their set successfully merges the melodic shimmering guitar based sounds with punchy drums and dreamy vocals best seen on their debut single “Alleyways”. An enjoyable set from a band you’ll probably hear more from here.

Last but not least for the day in the same venue is Cut Ribbons, they sound a lot tighter than last year and louder too and the venue is deservedly full as their sky-scraping guitars and power-pop rhythms merge with soft-sweet dual vocals.

By now it’s past my bedtime an evening drinking has given me 2am munchies so I regrettingly hit the seafront chip shop and head home with other waifs and strays.

Friday with a dozen full sets, almost all of a good quality and a couple of exceptional ones from bands who will be on my must see lists the next time they hit town – The Great Escape has a few uses indeed.







February 2013 - A Month in Music

February came and went in almost the blink of an eye. It's not the shortest month of the year for nothing but we were treated to many musical treats (I'm not talking about the Brit Awards). My February was dominated by a few (familar) artists.....

Gig(s) of the month.

The Joy Formidable - La Botanique, Brussels - 1st February
Caitlin Rose - The Haunt, Brighton - 25th February / Dingwalls, London - 27th February

I saw both my favourite current acts twice in February and I'm not even going to attempt to split them here (I'll be seeing them both in March to, just to warn you). The Joy Formidable started my month off with a road trip to Brussels. I'd already heard some of the new album live the previous year and also seen the band at a Rough Trade in-store in January but this was the first time I'd seen TJF on the Wolf's Law tour.

New tracks "Tendons" and "Forest Serenade" fit instantly into the set amongst main-stay favourites "The Greatest Light...", "Whirring" and "Spectrum" though no place yet (and understandably given it's orchestral backing) to my favourite from the record "The Turnaround".

The Joy Formidable are a truly excellent live act, they put their entire bodies on the line and give a 90 minute lesson in rock show performance. Deadly riffs from the new album collide with Ritzy's beautiful vocals, effortlessly shifting from ethereal wonder to venomous spite in the blink of her wide open glare. Equally appreciative of the crowd a drunk American finds her way on stage to 'dance' towards the end of the set and then remembering a lad who'd crash landed during a stage diving attempt the previous time the band were in time - that sums up The Joy Formidable perfectly, a nicer all round band you are not likely to find. As amazingly talented one too.

Despite admitting to having release day /opening show nerves during her performance at Brighton's The Haunt, Caitlin Rose never really exhibits any such traits (besides the odd ramble in-between songs), her pure vocals melt hearts as she (and her wonderful band) race through her new album The Stand-In interlaced with memorable tracks from her 2010 debut Own Side Now.

Early set favourites "No One To Call" and "Only A Clown" showcase her matured sound, polished, slick and exuberant, there's a confident swagger to her band and their ballsy country-twang riffs and then of course there's Caitlin herself. I've never heard anyone control their voice as well, and with such devastating ability as Caitlin Rose, it's perhaps why everything she's leant it too over the past three years I've lapped up like a kitten does milk. Though it's the delicious - not your wedding song - "Pink Champagne" that floors me best, full of emotive grace and beauty whilst the closing swagger of old favourite "Shanghai Cigarettes is met with heartily appreciation by the crowd.

It's a wonderful set that's memorable throughout, the opening half of the set could easily be a greatest hits set for her forthcoming festival appearances. I expect it will be. The lack of an early curfew in London led to its attendees's joining Caitlin and band in a sing-along finale of "Bottles", a superb, smirk-inducing moment to end any night.

Album(s) of the month.

Caitlin Rose - The Stand-In

I'll let the real reviewers give proper plaudits to this LP as a whole, they've already been doing in their droves but I'll no doubt give a few mentions of my own between now and my end of year lists...

My love affair with Caitlin Rose's music goes back to spring 2010 when I fell for her incredible talents with "For The Rabbits", the lead off single for her debut Own Side Now. That summer I saw Caitlin over a half dozen times in the space of a few months and fell in love with her record, it's soon become by far and away my most listened to record of recent time. Therefore it was only natural to approach the follow up with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, The Stand-In had big boots to fill, in the end, any worries were put to bed on my first play through. The album instantly hits you with stylishly crafted numbers and luscious lyrical depth.

The songs are bigger and more polished, we've already heard the rocking "No One To Call" and the albums next single "Only A Clown" follows suit, it should be the track that takes Caitlin from main-stay of blogs and critics to Nashville's biggest export, with killer hooks aplomb her clear vocals it's a track made to seamlessly flown through wireless's around the world.

Album highlights are throughout, "Pink Champagne" is a stunning heart-breaker, a cover of the Felice Brothers' "Dallas" (an ode to Caitlin's home-town) is plain gorgeous while "Old Numbers" ends the album with an unexpected jazzy stomp. The Stand-In s the album may be called, a joke about the long gestation period of the Own Side Now period, but here, a real star is found.



Runner up.
Veronica Falls - Waiting For Something To Happen

Another second album that raises the bar for the artist involved, ;Waiting For Something To Happen shows a marked step-up for Veronica Falls (but also one that has much in keeping with their debut). From the opening bars of "Tell Me" to the wisful closure "Last Conversation" you are treated to a deceptively simple indie-pop sound that is pure, charming and genuinely wonderful. Part of their magic is their knack of making their tracks sound like something you're already familiar with.

"Teenage" is perhaps their finest moment to date, a pure, unadulterated pop tune that's as bright and catchy as anything we've heard from them before. "Buried Alive" is playful and infectious from the off and combines the bands infinite charm, fuzz-pop hooks and ominous sense of immediate death. All wrapped up within three minute of sweetly-sung, quick-paced wondrousness. Veronica Falls have refined their own sound and Waiting For Something TO Happen is it at its succinct, effortless best.




EP of the Month.

Bird - Ophelia

I was already pretty excited to hear Ophelia, Bird's third EP before its title-track floored me, it is perhaps Bird's most ambitious (and best) track to date, starting with a deep bass line and psychedelic guitar patterns it highlights a different side to the bands previous recorded output, one I've previously encountered in their live show, a hypnotic and sprawling groove that hooks you in even before the 'signature' Bird sound enters, soon enough Adele and Sian's majestic harmonies flutter siren-like with grace and beauty to send you to heavenly plains.

I'm as much of a fan of "The Waltz" though, easily one of the most beautiful things you're likely to hear this year, taking the ethereal and haunting comments to a new plain as it gradually builds up around a steady percussive heart-beat and orchestral flourishes. Spine-tinglingly gorgeous.



Single of the Month.

Haim - Falling

From my "Falling" post February 13th:

I often debate the necessity to post about bands that have 'made it' on my little blog, the chances of you discovering Haim here two months after they topped just about every 'tips for 2013' are minimal at best but here I am posting about the Los Angeles trio once more because they've (once again) come up with an absolute killer track...

Brimming with typical Haim confidence and adrenalin "Falling" combines all the attributes that have garnered so much attention so far, anthem like production, funk-laden hooks, gorgeous harmonies and tight rock guitars. Their topping of the BBC sound of 2013 list led me to read quite a few mumblings of dislike aimed at the act, something that was a bit of a surprise to me, I'd somewhat foolishly believed Haim had managed to win over almost all quarters. In my opinion the "back-lash" that followed was little more than playground squabbling - we can't all like the same thing, especially what's become popular after-all.

"Falling" is available now digitally with a 10" vinyl version released on April 1st - pre-order from Rough Trade - unfortunately there are only remixes on the flip-side. Expect UK dates soon. - a show at Heaven on April 24th goes on sale tomorrow - presale instantly sold-out so act quick.



Discovery of the Month.

Lotte Kestner

(text below from my post of February 11th)

Lotte Kestner is the solo project of Trespassers William vocalist Anna-Lynne Williams from Seattle. Her third album (but my introduction point) The Bluebird of Happiness and was released this week via Saint Marie Records (available via Bandcamp), its lead track "Cliff" is bloody lovely too...

Essentially a bare-boned ballad made up of little more than swirling keyboard strokes and soft strings flourishes it holds its weight due to the devastatingly beautiful and intimate nature of Lotte's emotive delivery and the absorbing ambience she manages to create with her minimalistic arrangements. Blissful and tinged in sadness, "Cliff" is a track that will stay with you long after it has finished.

There's a whole treasure chests worth of Lotte Kestner music to delve into on her bandcamp page too.

Bird #4 - Ophelia

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Bird were one of my favourite discoveries (or you could almost say re-discovery after I originally posted about the band under an almost completely different line-up back in July 2011) of the second half of 2012. A couple of stunning live performances and a magical, otherworldly EP Shadows propelled the Liverpool trio into my 'Tips for 2013' lists. Now with a new EP, Ophelia, due for release on February 14th via Jack to Phono Records (and a two week long UK tour starting the day after - full dates) they've already started filling columns in publications a bit more lofty than this - check out this weeks NME if you don't believe me....

To preview the EP we've been treated to its title track "Ophelia", Bird's most ambitious (and perhaps best) track to date, starting with a deep bass line and psychedelic guitar patterns it highlights a different side to the bands previous recorded output, one I've previously encountered in their live show, a hypnotic and sprawling groove that hooks you in even before the 'signature' Bird sound enters, soon enough though Adele and Sian's majestic harmonies flutter siren-like with grace and beauty to send you to heavenly plains.

I'm away on the London date on March 2nd, come back soon please. I'll add an EP pre-order link here when I find one - digital pre-order via iTunes.

Tips For 2013 - Part One

The next four posts are going to be my Tips for 2013 posts, I know some people find these sort of posts pointless but I'm a geek at heart and geeks do love a list... I know many of you will feel the same, I'm limiting myself to a thirteen acts this year - well it will be 2013 -  which meant a few difficult decisions and the acts will be listed alphabetically, starting with four today and then three acts following in each of the next three posts.

As with last years posts, my tips aren't necessarily acts I'm tipping for stardom (though a few perhaps will hit / already are close to the mainstream) but are a thirteen new acts (I'm not tipping artists that have already released an album) that I believe you should follow over the year ahead, without further rambling...

Just Music That I Like's 13 for 2013 - Part One:

Alice Jemima - Facebook

I think I blogged about Alice Jemima more than any other artist in 2012 so her inclusion in my tips for next year is the logical next step, a year which has seen an increasing number of people become equally smitten with Alice and her sublime music ("By Your Side" taken from her recent, self-released EP All The Boyfriends has amassed some ten thousand plays in a couple of months), if you're not yourself, taken a listen below and you'll soon understand why...

Possessing a voice that defies beauty, Alice's calm, soft whispers will caress and charm even the hardest of souls as her intimate lyrics melt glaciers. We've been spoilt throughout the year with Alice releasing a number of tracks on her soundcloud page, tracks like the aforementioned "By Your Side", "Far From Here" and "First Love" are all as close to perfect as you can get, delivered with her trademark grace and elegance throughout, Alice's gorgeous, tender vocals and shimmering guitar patterns create the sort of music that can only become to backdrop to dozen (hundreds/thousands soon?) of people falling in love.

I'm sure 2013 will see Alice to continue to grow as an artist and performer, perhaps it's too soon to be demanding an album, she's still only nineteen, and I'll be here saying similar words this time next year in my tips for 2014 posts, still one thing I do know is that I'll be amongst those first in line to hear what Alice delivers next.



Bird - Facebook

Bird were guaranteed their place amongst my bands to watch after two recent live performances blew me away, firstly upstaging Tamaryn at the Lexington and then just a week later playing another stunning with the wonderful PINS.

The Liverpool three piece are led the celestial voice of songwriter/bassist/guitarist Adele Emmas with Sian Williams providing stunning guitarscapes and complimenting harmonies alongside Alexis Samata on the doom-laden drums. Those live sets saw the trio bring to life their recent Shadows EP with a live power and grace, equally dark and mystical with rich swirling guitar tapestries and superlative defying harmonies, it was like being transported to an otherworldly place of pure, spiritual beauty.

On record Bird offer the perfect combination of delicate ethereality and melancholy, the haunting "Shadows" will intoxicate while "Monsters" is another that hints at future greatness where intricate guitar plucks weave around repeating kick drums to create the chilly ambience in which Adele's vocals soar and entrance. Bird's music is dripped in emotion where ghostly harmonies and textured arrangement beguile in their beauty.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing more of their eerie fairy-tales in 2013.



Daughter - Facebook

'I almost picked Daughter in my 2011 tips, I did include them in my tips for 2012 list, when in-so-fact it's going to be 2013 when Daughter becomes a household name'. I said that just a few days ago on my review of 2012's tips. This time around I'm positive I'm right.

2012 saw Daughter sign to the mighty 4AD and sell out shows on both sides of the Atlantic while releasing just the one single (the incredible "Smother"), with an early 2013 UK tour similarly close to selling out two months in advance and various TV placements the trio are perfectly placed to make a mark as one of the acts of 2013 (this post was written prior to the announcement of the BBC Sound of 2013 poll but surely a place their beckons?).

2011's EP's The Wild Youth and His Young Heart highlighted Elena Tonra as a prodigious talent, possessing such natural beauty and grace with her breathy vocals and spellbinding songs, backed by deftly subtle instrumentation Daughter's haunting melodies, combined with some of the most intimate, remarkable lyrics of this generation that will, in my opinion,take Daughter as far as they want to go.

If Daughter aren't on the short-list for the Mercury album prize with their debut album (as yet unannounced but due in 2013), I'll eat my proverbial hat....



Embers - Facebook

Another act returning from last years choices (I did say they probably would) are Manchester's Embers, a band I've mentioned twice in the past couple of weeks so it's quite difficult not to repeat some of my words of gushing praise "a ground-breaking, a seven minute journey beyond comprehension that is truly, truly stunning". That's the sort of superlatives the quartet must have got used to after a few weeks of positive reactions to their incredible live video "Hollow Cage"...

I've read comparisons to Muse when they were good and Hope of the States time and time again, it's easy to see why but "Hollow Cage" isn't the only majestic thing these Northern boys have done. Exuding ambitions far beyond most of their peers their early demos "Days Turn Into Weeks" and "Without Fear of Favour" introduced dark aural storms capable of rendering you speechless, building and building upon unsettling atmospheres, ferocious, powerful and hugely complex. Their now sold out debut 7" Tunnel Visions added some studio polish to the terrifying soundscapes and through colossal crescendos of echoing sounds came across like the end of the world. Epic, cinematic and extraordinary.

Now "Hollow Cage" seemingly has given Embers some breakthrough from UK blogs to column inches in the sort of things that A&R guys look at and I'm pretty sure Embers have had more than a couple of availability inquiries recently. Will 2013 bring their debut album? I don't know, it may still be too soon, I do know that Embers are one of those rare bands that you need to embrace, physically moving, emotionally touching, I can't wait to sample their live show.