65daysofstatic review for Songkick.com

65daysofstatic liveI’ve been a fan of Songkick for a few years now and now it seems this online music diary is now branching out into band reviews.

The latest Songkick competition invites music fans to review their favourite live band in no less than 200 words. If you submit your review before 31 July, you could win $500 of festival vouchers.

Still buzzing from the fantastic eighth edition of 2000 Trees, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring, so here’s my review of the 65daysofstatic live experience:

“For many a rock fan 65daysofstatic have been the gateway drug to instrumental music and their live show plays a big part in that. Whether they are mid-way through a festival line-up, headlining their own show, or a humble support act (as they have been for Hundred Reasons and The Cure), they always create a memorable atmosphere.

The crowd is always hugely involved and it’s well worth getting down towards the front to experience the full force of noise when the bassline kicks in.

Their music is by turns ethereal and rave-inducing, with their 2010 album ‘We Were Exploding Anyway‘ acting as the touchstone of their career. ‘Go Complex’ is a particular live favourite with a dramatic shift in dynamics from the electronic intro to the hard rock outro.

But it is the more drawn out slow-building tracks that leave the most enduring impression, and the full ten-minute version of ‘Tiger Girl’ is an experience worthy of gracing any festival mainstage.

Their most recent full-length release ‘Wild Light’ has more of a cinematic feel to it, and the light show the band brought on their latest tour was stunning and tightly synchronised (although a little oppressive at times).

As an instrumental band, 65daysofstatic don’t have a traditional frontman, but the guitarists do talk to the crowd between songs and bass player Simon Wright acts as the rabble-rouser in chief, ensuring that the crowd always feels connected to the band despite the lack of vocals.

See them now while their tickets are still cheap – they will change the way you think about instrumental music.”

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Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (Album Review)

Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything album cover art

What with Spotify and Grooveshark and advance streaming and album playbacks and the rest, it’s never been easier to listen to album before you buy it. By the same token, it’s never been easier to make a snap judgement.

Luckily most Elbow fans will know that Guy Garvey and co’s work doesn’t yield up even half of its brilliance on a first listen through and, sure enough, ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ is the definition of an album that gradually grows on you.

Anyone expecting a rehash of 2011’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ or the 2008 Mercury Prize winning ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ will not find it here. Instead, you’ll get more joy comparing the new album to ‘Cast Of Thousands’ or even ‘Asleep In The Back’.

Opener ‘This Blue World’ is unashamedly slow-burning and hints at the mid-life crisis element that Garvey alluded to in promo interviews. However, the shoe-gazing doesn’t last too long and from here the pace gathers and the ideas swell.

‘Charge’ is a tempestuous yet understated track with bursts of orchestral brightness in the chorus, and then we come to ‘Fly Boy Blue / Lunette’. This six-minute marvel is right up there with the finest tracks Elbow have ever recorded.

An insistent bassline is punctuated by flourishes of tenor saxophone in the stomping, swaying chorus, before the bravado gives way to a sweeping outro that is humblingly beautiful. Garvey murmurs timelessly elegant lyrics that will serve as a fitting epitaph when the band decide to eventually go their own ways:

“I’m reaching the age when decisions are made / On life and liver and I’m sure last ditch / That’ll I’ll ask for more time / But mother forgive me / I still want a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a bundle of smokes in my grave”

Next up is the lead-off single ‘New York Morning’, which is the closest this album comes to radio bothering catchiness and true mainstream appeal with the first proper guitar lick on the album. The choruses get progressively grander and grander until it’s hard to resist singing along.

Then comes the Elbow nostalgia – ‘Real Life (Angel)’ has shades of ‘Grace Under Pressure’, while the studio outtakes and laughter at the start of ‘Honey Sun’ are strongly reminiscent of ‘Leaders Of The Free World’.

‘My Sad Captains’ is a touching tale of hungover camaraderie, but the true climax of the album comes on the title track, which swells and swells across seven orchestra-laden minutes to an anthemic climax. However, you won’t find yourself harking back to ‘Open Arms’ or even ‘One Day Like This’, more the carnivalesque joy of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

It wouldn’t be a proper Elbow album without a quixotic closer (preferably a waltz) to leave you with something to think about, and ‘The Blanket Of Night’ fills that role nicely with militaristic overtones, lilting strings and eerie synth.

When I first heard this album, it was in a Canary Wharf pub as part of a poorly organised album playback, where the subtleties were lost amidst drunken business chatter and a lot of background noise. That is the worst way to listen to this album.

Instead, grab a decent pair of headphones and go for a nice long way through a busy city (preferably New York). Your ears will thank you afterwards.

Top 20 albums of the year 2013

It’s been a great year for rock and indie, with a decent number of big-name releases and very few instant turkeys.
Double-albums, disco flourishes and drop-ins from famous friends dominated the agenda. It was a tough call picking a number one, but that’s exactly the tradition I’ve started here, so for the sixth year in a row, here goes…

1.) Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

Oozing effortless cool, irresistible riffs and a roll-call of big-name cameos as long as your arm, QOTSA’s sixth studio album is a proper stunner. Every track warrants its place in this blockbuster of a record, which boasts guest appearances from the likes of Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, Alex Turner and Elton John (no, seriously!). In fact, pretty much the only thing I don’t love about this album is the punctuation of the title.

Download: Smooth Sailing, If I Had A Tail and Fairweather Friends

2.) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

It took eight years for the world’s favourite French electro duo to get back in the studio to record another LP, but it was easily worth the wait. Teaming up with Chic‘s Nile Rogers inspired a new sound that was more based on live instrumentation than samples. ‘Get Lucky’ was the single of the year by miles, but the record is book-ended by the barn-storming ‘Give Life Back To Music’ and the phenomenal drum-led instrumental ‘Contact’.

Download: Give Life Back To Music, Contact and Touch

3.) Biffy Clyro – Opposites

Only a truly special band can release a double-album that doesn’t feel flabby and overblown. Biffy Clyro aren’t quite at that level just yet, but they’re getting awfully close. ‘Opposites’ is their biggest sounding record yet – leaving aside the numerous singles, ‘Woo Woo’ is life-affirmingly anthemic, while ‘Different People’ is their most ambitious track in years.

Download: Victory Over The Sun, Little Hospitals and Different People

4.) Arctic Monkeys – AM

That this album should bear Arctic Monkeys’ initials seems utterly fitting, since ‘AM’ is where the band showcases the sound they’ve been building up to over the past five years. Alex Turner is back to his lyrical best on ‘Arabella’ and ‘RU Mine?’, although the most effective moment comes when he borrows the poetry of John Cooper Clarke on touching finale ‘I Wanna Be Yours’.

Download: Do I Wanna Know, Knee Socks and I Wanna Be Yours

5.) Editors – The Weight Of Your Love

On their fourth studio album, the Birmingham gloom-mongers get back to what they do best, ditching the euro-synth stylings in favour of guitar and piano-led love songs. Tom Smith’s voice sounds more urgent and monumental than ever, and while the record trails off towards the end they’ve more than made up for this slight let-down with a string of euphoric live shows.

Download: Nothing, Formaldehyde and A Ton Of Love

6.) Scholars – Always Lead, Never Follow

The temptation to rush out your first album must be overwhelming, for reasons of pride, passion and pure finance. But the long gestation period truly paid off for Scholars, whose debut is a thrilling affair, packed with acrobatic vocals, punchy riffs and even some At The Drive-In style experimentation.

Download: Hydrochaesin, Bad For Business and Scaredy Cat

7.) Arcade Fire – Reflektor

With a little discipline and some judicious editing, this could have been the album of the year. Hell, it really should have been the album of the year. However, by teaming up with hipster-in-chief James Murphy, Arcade Fire allowed their fourth studio album to drift into self-indulgence in quite a few places, which is a real shame because when they hit the mark, it’s truly electrifying stuff. Glastonbury is in for a real treat in 2014.

Download: Here Comes The Night Time, Flashbulb Eyes and Joan Of Arc

8.) Everything Everything – Arc

The eclectic indie rockers have refined their sound on this their second album without losing their exuberant and experimental edge. Elaborate melodies and inscrutable rhythms make for 2013’s most adventurous album, this side of Daft Punk.

Download: Cough Cough, Radiant and Duet

9.) Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

The Hampshire songsmith’s world domination plans gathered some serious pace this year with a clutch well-written singles that littered the alternative airwaves for most of the first half of the year. But, as ever with a Frank record, scratch beneath the surface and there is real depth and true heart to discover.

Download: The Fisher King Blues, Four Simple Words and Plain Sailing Weather

10.) City and Colour – The Hurry and The Harm

Dallas Green is clearly settling into his stride here on his fourth solo album and with his former day job Alexisonfire sadly bisbanded, there is nothing holding him back from becoming this generation’s Elvis Costello.

Download: Harder Than Stone, Thirst, and Ladies And Gentlemen

11.) Placebo – Loud Like Love
12.) 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
13.) Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory
14.) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
15.) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
16.) And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures
17.) Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
18.) Electric Soft Parade – IDIOTS
19.) Travis – Where You Stand
20.) Sam Duckworth – Amazing Grace

Looking forward, 2014 should be just as jam-packed, with new records from Blink 182, the FoosMaximo Park and Brand New (hopefully) all in the works. Until then, I’ll leave you with my video of the year, enjoy…

Editors – The Weight Of Your Love (album review)

Editors The Weight Of Your Love album art

After a near four-year absence, Editors are back with their fourth studio album ‘The Weight Of Your Love’.

And whilst many will label this album as a return to their original guitar-based style, there is plenty of evidence that the band has evolved and matured during their break.

For starters, founding member and lead guitarist/synth player Chris Urbanowicz has left, and his searing tremolo is notably absent.

In his place, Justin Lockey takes on lead guitar responsibilities, while Elliott Williams provides keyboards, backing vocals and additional guitars.

Despite all these changes, Tom Smith’s vocals still sound as rich and powerful as ever, albeit with far less falsetto than on 2009’s synth-led ‘In This Light And On This Evening’.

A more straightforward song-writing style is immediately noticeable, which Tom credits to the influence of bands such as REM and Arcade Fire.

‘The Weight’ kicks things off with a brooding stomp that bursts into life with orchestral flair, recalling Elbow‘s recent rich and densely layered arrangements.

The lyrics are as bleak and honest as ever, with Tom imagining how he would cope if he outlived his long-time partner Edith Bowman and suggesting that love can be overwhelming and almost intimidating at times.

‘Sugar’ bristles and buzzes with a Kings Of Leon-esque bassline before lead single ‘A Ton Of Love’ raises the bar yet further with a punchy riff and an instant classic of a chorus…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Jimmy Eat World – Damage (album review)

Jimmy Eat World Damage album cover artIn the turbulent world of rock music, emo veterans Jimmy Eat World are a reassuring constant, with the same line-up sustained for nearly 20 years now and a new album arriving more or less every three years.

For their eighth studio album, the Arizona quartet has gone back to basics, recording on analog tape in producer Alain Johannes’ Los Angeles home.

Former Nine Inch Nails collaborator James Brown was brought into digitally mix the record, but Trent Reznor-inspired grunge this certainly ain’t.

The result is a fuzzier, rougher edge but with the same warming centre, particularly on opening track ‘Appreciation’ and standout song ‘How’d You Have Me’, which both chime nicely with their 1999 album ‘Clarity’.

That said the band have not completely turned their backs on the atmospheric rock sound curated on 2010’s ‘Invented’.

‘Byebyelove’ builds to a distortion-drenched finale, before ‘You Were Good’ strikes a mature, peaceful and reconciliatory note at the close of the record.

As always, there’s something strangely comforting about the sound of lead singer Jim Adkins‘ brave optimism against a backdrop of melancholy…

To read the rest of this review at Virgin Red Room, click here.

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls live in London

Frank Turner - Tape Deck HeartIn the week that his fifth studio album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ was released, Frank Turner was in a distinctly upbeat mood.

The former frontman of hardcore punk outfit Million Dead hasn’t always had an easy ride since he made the transformation into folk-rock troubadour seven years ago. Overnight sensation, he is not.

But with a hit single (‘Recovery’) under his belt, not to mention a headline show at Wembley Arena and a cameo at the Olympics opening ceremony, he is now well-equipped to not just sell out, but truly own venues like the Kentish Town Forum for many years to come.

Warm-up act Larry and His Flask did a tremendous job of getting the capacity crowd moving with their turbo-charged hobo blues. If Seasick Steve ever joined Gogol Bordello, it would sound something like this.

After a minor technical delay (possibly relating to a live YouTube stream of this gig), Turner took to the stage with standout anthem ‘Four Simple Words’. This looks set to become a fan favourite with its dynamic juxtaposition of dancehall waltz, chest-beating punk and the irresistible refrain: “I want to dance”.

From here on the show progressed like a greatest hits compilation, with Turner freely flitting between all five of his studio albums. Recent album cuts ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘Good & Gone’ were met with the most muted responses, suggesting…

To read the full article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Green Day – Uno! (album review)

Green Day Uno! new albumFollowing two rock operas that sold 18 million copies worldwide was never going to be easy. Choosing to do so with a triple album has only made things even harder for irrepressible Californian punk rockers Green Day.

The whole concept of a double album has seen great acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers flounder, while even the Foo Fighters struggled to keep up the quality levels on their 2005 double-disc effort.

Undeterred, Green Day have come out with a triple album, starting with ‘Uno!’, which is due to be followed up by ‘Dos!’ and ‘Tre!’ as separate releases staggered over the next four months.

And for the first time in many years, Green Day have come out with an album that doesn’t really contain anything new.

Lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong said in a recent interview that making albums has become “a lost art form”, but this doesn’t really seem like a cohesive composition, more like 12 singles in a row. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have expected much more from Green Day, but they have raised the bar with their highly ambitious last two albums.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Mumford & Sons – Babel (album review)

Mumford and Sons - BabelPressure, what pressure? With three years of expectation on their shoulders, Mumford & Sons have finally followed up their monumentally successful debut album (which went multi-platinum on both sides of the Atlantic) with a record that they describe as “unashamed”.

‘Babel’ picks up where ‘Sigh No More’ left off, as the band stick to the recipe which got them where they are today. Produced once again by Markus Dravs (the man behind the most recent Coldplay and Arcade Fire albums), all the key hallmarks are present in these 12 tracks, from three-part harmony vocals to rapid banjo arpeggios and the odd orchestral flourish. Those hoping for a David Bowie-esque reinvention will be left disappointed; there is not a track on here that would sound out of place on the previous album.

The direct and uplifting title track sets the tone and foot-stomping tempo for the first half of this record, while ‘Whispers In The Dark’ keeps the ball rolling nicely. Lead-off single ‘I Will Wait’ is a definite highlight with a simple, yet fantastically sing-able chorus and a rousing crescendo.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Yes, Prime Minister – Chichester Festival Theatre Review

Yes, Prime Minister at Chichester Festival Theatre review Jim Hacker David Haig Sir Humphrey Appleby Henry Goodman“I’m not so sure about a hung parliament – hanging would be too good for them,” quips Sir Humphrey Appleby, and there are plenty more puns where that came from.

Yes, Prime Minister has returned and politicians across the country will sleep much less easily as a result. During the 1980s, the BBC TV series was a roaring success; over five series (including three of the original incarnation Yes, Minister) it won over the most unlikely of fans, including Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.

Paul Eddington played the endearingly incompetent Jim Hacker MP, who was given to grand public gestures and Churchillian declamations, whilst Nigel Hawthorne provided the perfect accompaniment as the devious Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey who sought to rein in Hacker’s idealistic tendencies.

Three decades on and the show’s co-writers (Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) have added edginess and controversial views to their already bursting arsenal of political irreverence and acidic public sector satire. After the sad deaths of Eddington and Hawthorne, the creators have moved to cast David Haig (The Thin Blue Line, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Henry Goodman (The Damned United, Notting Hill) in the main roles. Haig’s turn as Hacker manages to combine statesman-like cunning with bumbling ineptitude, but sadly misses the loveable vulnerability that Eddington brought to the role. Goodman takes Sir Humphrey’s Machiavellian deception to a whole new level, whilst keeping the basic justification that what the PM doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

The plot nonchalantly juggles various hot-potato topics, including Middle Eastern oil imports, illegal immigrants and teenage prostitution. The section most likely to cause offence amongst liberal theatrical types, however, is the flippant treatment of climate change as the ultimate panacea for politicians looking to distract attention from their current failings. Referring to his proposed green reforms, Hacker boasts “even if it doesn’t make any difference, no-one will know for at least 50 years.”

It is in the second half, though, that the heady blend of intellectual farce and quick-fire wordplay starts to drag a little. With escalating volumes of spirits ingested, Hacker becomes increasingly desperate and absurd in his behaviour, and you suddenly become aware that this is new territory for the franchise. At no point are subtle concepts such as sympathy or compassion entertained which, whilst unsurprising, is a little disappointing as the play edges past the two hour mark.

Despite its discreet shortcomings, the return of Yes, Prime Minister is almost perfect in its timeliness. With the political uncertainty of a Hung Parliament a ripe topic for satire, this production will run and run. A West End transfer is surely inevitable. Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this show outlast the Lib-Con coalition it so superbly lampoons.

Yes, Prime Minister is on at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 5th June www.cft.org.uk

Article first published by Open Magazine

Album Review: The Automatic – Tear The Signs Down

You may remember The Automatic from such pop-rock atrocities as (what’s that coming over the hill is it a) Monster (?) and (let’s go see) Raoul, which plagued the airwaves in 2006. Since then, however, the band have undergone a major transformation with the unceremonious ditching of keyboardist/screamer Alex Pennie and the recruitment of alt-rock pioneer Paul Mullen (formerly of yourcodenameis:milo).

The Automatic, Paul Mullen, British Rock Band, Rob Hawkins

The Automatic are clearly out to prove the doubters wrong on their third record and to a certain extent, they achieve this. The eerie keys and syncopated rhythms of album opener Insides makes them sound closer to Radiohead or Muse than Scouting for Girls or the Hoosiers. Their transformation is down, in no short part, to the prominence of Paul Mullen, who joined the band in 2008 for their sophomore effort This is a Fix and has since installed himself as the creative fulcrum of the band…

Read the full article at inthenews.co.uk