Album Review: The Maple State – The Things I Heard At The Party

Review from Ben Forrester

The comeback of Manchester’s The Maple State might perhaps be a little too niche for some, but for those who liked their mid-noughties indie-rock, it’s an extremely pleasant surprise! After a series of well received EP releases backed with some pretty sought after support slots in the mid 00’s, The Maple State seemed to fade into the distance after releasing a bunch of demo’s back in 2010.

But at the end of 2015, sketches of songs were sent around between members Greg, Christian and Richard. Despite living in different countries, the trio began to develop and flesh out these sketches which lead to the reprise of The Maple State and the making of their first longer player ‘The Things I Heard At The Party‘.

It’s a very interesting concept for a band that haven’t been active in nearly a decade, to get back together to make an album that fans have been waiting years to hear. On first listen, it’s clear that The Maple State’s charming pop sensibilities are in full force, but with a more considered and warm punk-rock pulse replacing the spiky punk-pop exuberance of their past.

The opening two tracks carry an indie-pop majesty that I can already hear being used on countless TV shows. ‘The Things I Heard At The Party‘ is inspired by frontman Greg’s love of one note folk songs and its simplistic melody coupled with rousing, narrative driven vocals makes for a timeless spot of songwriting. ‘Something In The Water‘ on the other hand is a straight, catchy guitar pop tune. It’s about that peppy guitar line that sweeps over the top of a jaunty rhythm that leads to a very sing-along-able chorus.

I was pretty interested to hear ‘Cold Theatre II’, as I thought it was going to act as a follow up to an early b-side that I had on repeat back in my uni days. Musically, this is far removed from the lo-fi indie ballad of yore and instead we get another sprightly guitar pop tune. It’s all mile-a-minute drums with a punk-rock chord progression that serves as an equally heartwarming moment, particularly with the reprise of lyrical refrain “It was always you“.

Although there are plenty of upbeat tracks here, it hasn’t quite got the fuzzy edge of their previous EP. This is a lot simpler and cleaner, both melodically and sonically, which gives a lot of breathing space for the vocal hooks and guitar lines to speak out. It’s a cliche for sure, but this is definitely a matured way of writing, but one that I think suits them. It’s quite evenly paced as a whole. There’s definitely a few more charged up moments (‘Winner‘ and ‘Deadline‘ being the best examples here), but for the most part it’s all skipping beats and floaty jangle pop melodies with tracks like ‘Cannonball‘ and ‘Sexy Jam‘ leading the band to blissful new territories.

The Things I Heard At The Party is the musical equivalent of meeting up with an old uni friend; they may seem older and wiser, but there is still a glint in their eye that hasn’t forgotten the old days. This rings true with the lyrical themes too, as Greg romanticises getting old and getting drunk, but still with a wise head (key lyric: “we are not the bright, young things that we were only yesterday“). A bit like the Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly album that came out last month, I found this a charming and relatable indie-pop set that is considered in its approach and sincere in its delivery. This might not change the world, but The Maple State have returned with a well needed hug of an album that I think many will embrace happily again.

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Live Review: Field Music at Gorilla in Manchester 16 March 2018

Friday evening in Whalley Range and over bangers and mash, talk has turned to Field Music and their sixth long-player ‘Open Here’. Whilst they’re no strangers in our house (I distinctly remember catching them at Tramlines Festival in Sheffield a number of years ago), it’s only been since their most recent album that they’ve become regulars at our dinner table (only musically, mind – though they are welcome to pop round should they fancy it…)

Open Here kicked off an infatuation with Field Music from yours truly, six album’s in and over a decade on from their formation. It’s credit to them that they can still hit the spot so sweetly this many records in, producing an album that even now can be a starting point for some. It’s also done wonders elsewhere too, cracking the UK Top 40 following its release. Their victory lap from said news has seen them out around the UK since early March, with Manchester being their latest stop.

Walking into the venue early doors for Mary Epworth, it feels like we’re entering the scene from Bill and Ted with the Future Council; her band clad in futuristic looking garbs in the near darkness. It’s all a bit Mighty Boosh in its presentation. A spotlight appears on Epworth as we kick into a sombre, pulsating beat, culminating in a wall of electronic driven noise with bursts of sax. We’re told of an amp mishap that struck the band earlier that day, resulting in a lot of soaked equipment, ultimately leading to a request for punters to, quite rightly, grab some merch. Funnily enough, it’s deathly quiet amongst the crowd for the humorous in-betweens during songs but thankfully this isn’t the theme for the remainder of the evening, and their final track receives much enthusiasm.

Field Music enter without much fuss, signalling their arrival with ‘Time In Joy’ – opener from Open Here. Immediately, something doesn’t feel right about the sound, everything feeling a little bit flat. As it turns out, I wasn’t wearing the best of ear plugs and they were stuck in a bit too tight! Once one of them was whipped out, we were right in the thick of it, taken in by the heavenly flute sound throughout and the stonking guitar for the close.

Single of the year ‘Count It Up’ comes out early on, followed eagerly by further LP tracks ‘Goodbye To The Country’ and ‘Checking On A Message’, both upbeat romps considering the subject matter… Everything is lively and comes with an infectious rhythm, helped in part by percussionist Damo Waters, getting some tidy licks in and putting in a right shift with all his various weapons of choice.

Disappointed’ has become a personal favourite and it sounds particularly uplifting here, with such a spine-tingling vocal from Brewis brother David. The ‘Commontime’ single comes complete with a brilliant little ending extender, Brewis offering up a blinding Dad-guitar-solo and clap along chorus for the audience to lap up. Further on, the Brewis brothers take us on an 11 year time travelling expedition into the past on ‘A House Is Not A Home’ from ‘Tones Of Town’. The evening is peppered with numbers throughout their six LP run, and we’re promised that some of these will be “super fast” as after they’ve finished, Roni Size is coming on for dessert (!)

It’s smiles all round on stage for ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, with lots of swaying shoulders amongst the crowd. On top of the catchiness of this mega-hit, we’re treated to some 80’s sitcom/detective show saxophone playing that does the trick real horror show.

The brilliant ‘Share A Pillow’ brings a rump-a-pump Beatles tone to proceedings, a song with a brilliant little backstory of difficulties in negotiating bed times with children. Equally, ‘No King No Princess’ is introduced by David Brewis as a song about gender roles and not wanting his daughter to go down the clichéd route of wanting to become a princess. Outside of its cute theme, its major highlights are the brass blasts and the joyous vocal of keyboard player Liz Corney, who provides brillo-pads vocal accompaniment.

‘Stay Awake’ is the closer for the evening, a heart-swelling number from 2016’s Commontime, greeted with deafening applause at its close. Within the time it takes to suggest that the gig thus far has been “Very good”, the band return in no time at all for a much-deserved encore. “Time is tight” we’re told as the band launch into ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’ from 2012’s ‘Plumb’. The glittering cherry on top of a set bursting with infectious, danceable pop smashers from a thoroughly charming group of individuals. Recommended.

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Live Review: Hookworms: The Lost Weekend II at The White Hotel in Salford 10 March 2018

Back in 2014, Northern promoters Grey Lantern invited Hookworms to curate a double-header at Salford’s hipster-hangout Islington Mill, with the band headlining both nights and having a number of their favourite bands joining them as support.

Just shy of four years on from those two nights, Grey Lantern had Hookworms do it all again, having the quintet down this past weekend for a two-night knees up at Salford’s White Hotel. With a new Hookworms record tickling the fancies of all and sundry, it only makes sense that both nights were long sold out. Friday night had Glaswegian duo Happy Meals, local lot Virginia Wing and knob twiddler Richard Formby in support, whilst the Saturday festivities included turns from Rattle, Drahla, COWTOWN and Pye Corner Audio.

Distant drumming could be heard across an industrial estate just a stone’s throw from Manchester Arena on Saturday evening in Salford. Whilst close in proximity to the hustle and bustle of Manchester’s town centre, The White Hotel feels completely isolated in its unassuming, dark corner. That aforementioned drumming grew louder as we made our way to the venue, turning out to be the pounding double-thumping of Nottingham duo Rattle, fully locked into a rumbling, hypnotic beat on arrival.

Elsewhere, the brilliant Drahla put out a pure-strength 30 minutes of pulling-no-punches, captivating art-y punk. With a string of singles behind them, they’re 100% on the cusp of something and they’ve crafted an infectious, super-cool set, but it was dampened somewhat by the sound in the venue. Unfortunately, this would end up being the story of the evening, as we’d soon find out.

It’s surely been a funny couple of months for Hookworms. Latest LP ‘Microshift’ emerged in early February with a head full of steam, soon finding its way into the UK Top 40. Notable amongst its nine tracks is the vocal of frontman MJ, particularly its clarity. In Salford, the vocals are undeniably strong, front and centre in big singles ‘Static Resistance’ and ’Negative Space’, the latter opening up the show and creating a stir amongst the crowd through its driving beginnings.

There’s a proper bounce amongst the crowd on ‘Ullswater’ and mega-hit ‘Radio Tokyo’, the vibe strengthened by all the colours of the rainbow pulsating behind them on the projected screens. It was in Radio Tokyo where things became slightly muddied unfortunately, with these ears only able to make out the rhythm section and the vocals on a number of tracks that followed. Not the worst thing considering the strength of the individual parts, but still…

The audio-visual brain jolt that was their performance shone the most brightly on Microshift LP tracks ‘Shortcomings’ and the dark, relentless thump of ‘Boxing Day’, both seeing the quintet fully locked into their kraut-ish, pulsating beats, the crowd quite rightly melting in the process.

A revved up COWTOWN smashed it immediately out of the gate for their post-Hookworms showing, bringing out a super-dancey opener for the remaining punters in attendance. A blinding showing from the trio, they put to bed any sound issues with their full pelt Devo vibes throughout.

Everything sounded spot on, with those hanging around getting fully stuck in and well into what was being dished out. From the bodacious glittering stunner that was ‘Emojicore’ to ‘Ski School’, an absolute peach from 2013’s ‘Dudes vs Bad Dudes’. There was even an Instantly infectious new single, which was called something like ‘Blaze ‘Em If You Got ‘Em’ – or maybe that was just an instruction? Either way, raging…

The Lost Weekend II ended up being a slightly strange one, struck by sound issues dotted throughout and a noticeable quota of knobheads amongst the crowd (potentially due to the recent Top 40 record and constant BBC Radio 6 Music airplay – and with it being a Saturday night in a venue of the moment). That being said, in hindsight, the occasional sound dip and spilt pint here and there weren’t too much of an issue for what was ultimately a double-hitter triumph of discovery across a cold weekend in Salford.

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Live Review: At The Drive-In + Death From Above at Manchester Academy 13 March 2018

Review from Ben Forrester

In terms of musical trends, I would call this past decade ‘The years of the reformation’. There has been a huge resurgence of cult bands from the early 00’s getting back together, playing live and releasing new material. Tonight we are at the Academy in Manchester to see two bands that have made solid comebacks in the last couple of years.

First up we have Toronto’s Death From Above! Since their reformation in 2011, the duo have gone onto release two more full lengths, delighting fans having left us with just one album after their initial split in the mid 00’s. It’s weird seeing them play main support in a room which they once filled only a few years back, but that doesn’t seem to phase them as they tear through a pummelling 45 minute set.

The first half of the set is seamless. The band barely take a breath in-between songs and bash through a whole bunch of riff heavy pop tunes, mainly leaning towards their latest effort ‘Outrage! Is Now‘. As a fan of the new record, it’s cool to hear massive tracks like ‘Nomad‘ and the powerful title track be blasted out, bass throbbing and drums crashing. Sebastian’s vocals seem on fine form this evening. It’s so hard to sing and drum at the same time, but he makes it look pretty effortless, especially on the raging fuzz punk of early track ‘Going Steady’, which gets the whole front row moshing like there is no tomorrow.

The second half of the set still brings the bangers, but Seb does have a couple of mini episodes on stage during tunes, thanks to his click track fucking up. He tries to make light of it, but you can tell he’s annoyed. Jesse seems super chilled throughout, smiling at Seb while he slags off the drum machine and tries to finish the set on a lighter note.

I think a lot of the crowd tonight hadn’t heard much of DFA’s recent material, so I think it fell on deaf ears a bit, but as I’d seen the band a few times over the years, I was happy to hear the new tracks and of course we had a few belters from ‘The Physical World‘ stuck in there (one of the most underrated comeback albums going). Sadly, the Academy is the worst venue for sound, so the band didn’t sound as chunky as they could have, but with a snappy set of head banging hits, it’s hard to be fully disappointed!

Tonight’s headliners are At The Drive-In, the post-hardcore heroes from Texas who made a bunch of weird but super cool records in the late 90’s and then totally smashed it with their third LP ‘Relationship Of Command‘ in 2000. That record is regarded as one of the genre’s finest releases and is still inspiring new bands everywhere, 18 years on from its release! Maybe not as prolific at tonight’s main support, ATDI released their long awaited fourth LP ‘in•ter a•li•a‘ last year in which this tour in is support of.

The set tonight is a mix of songs from the latest effort and of course plenty of smashers from Relationship of Command, opening the set on the explosive ‘Arcarsenal‘, which gets the whole room fist pumping and screaming along! It’s a solid start and to be fair the energy is pretty high on both stage and in the crowd.

It’s quite an up and down set for me, starting off high, dipping in the middle with a few slower jams from earlier releases, then kicking off again for the finale. It’s cool to hear them play some older tunes and there’s a couple behind me losing their shit to tracks like ‘Napoleon Solo‘, which is a nice moment for sure! The new songs hold up really well too, and they close their main set on comeback single ‘Governed By Contagions‘, which sounds proper huge; the chorus refrain of ‘Save yourself my darling, save yourself my love‘ is a big singalong and acts like it’s been in their set for years!

Front man Cedric has not lost his edge, throwing his mic stand all over the shop and running around the stage like a man possessed. The fact he manages to do this whilst perfectly retaining his acrobatic vocal style is pretty impressive! His onstage patter is a bit unpredictable, but I guess that’s what helps give the set a punk edge and shows that he still wants to challenge and involve the audience. All in all, there’s lots of good stuff to take away from At The Drive-In’s set tonight and it’s great to finally hear some of these tunes live.

It’s a funny one really, you want to be submersed in nostalgia, but then you have to take a grip on the fact that a lot has changed since the glory days. Tonight makes it clear that those days have passed, but both bands present to us an updated, newer version of themselves which is to be admired. And as I scream, shout and head bang all night long, I realise that the attitude and power of this music still burns bright!

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Exclusive: Stream ‘Heart Swell Intentions’ – First single from the new Peaks EP ‘Happy Medium’

I’ve always said from the start that Peaks could go anywhere and I feel that this record is very much the start of more experimentation for me as a musician.

On March 30th, Manchester based solo musician Ben Forrester is set to release his third EP under the name of Peaks – His first new release in over a year. ‘Happy Medium’ captures Peaks at its most widescreen, thanks in part to production duties from Tom Peters of Alpha Male Tea Party.

On a cold weekend in Clitheroe this past January, the pair got together and knocked out four tracks that would make up the EP, with nods to Peaks’ emo and twiddle-pop past, boasting some huge production. ‘Heart Swell Intentions’ is the first labour of love to be taken from Happy Medium and we’re chuffed to host the premiere below.

On the theme of the track and how it came together, Ben had this to say:
Some of the lyrics for this track were written about eight years ago now and it just came out when I started writing the music for this track. Not only did they fit so perfectly but they seem even more relevant to me now than they did back then. It’s a very sincere love song, I think, so I wanted the instrumental to be gut wrenching in an almost over the top way.

With the EP comes a short run of dates, including a hometown show supporting Charlie Barnes at Eagle Inn on the 22nd – Full list here!

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Album Review: Tangled Hair – We Do What We Can

Review from Ben Forrester

It’s mad to think that Tangled Hair started life as a uni project. Their debut EP was originally a piece of coursework which was then released to the public, thus causing quite a stir within the math-rock community. The fact this was a new project from two former members of the superb Colour (Guitarist Alan and Drummer Trood) definitely heightened everyone’s excitement, but ‘First‘ was a beautiful piece of twiddle pop in its own right. After enlisting the help of third member (Bassist Alex), the band went on to release second EP ‘Apples‘ in 2011 and with the odd live show here and there, we have been hankering for new material ever since.

To be honest, I didn’t think anyone was quite expecting to hear a full length anytime soon, but after years of pestering, Tangled Hair are ready to give us what we want! ‘We Do What We Can‘ features nine songs, some they’ve been playing live for a number of years and others being brand spanking new!

From the off, this is a masterclass in dynamic and melodic math-pop. ‘Keep Doing What You’re Doing‘ is a striking opener. It starts with an ascending pool of feedback, before cutting into this urgent yet wonky groove. From then on in, it’s a battle between sharp guitars and big cymbal crashes to the sweetly crooned vocals and intricate bass work. That’s pretty much how the rest of the record plays out, it’s this beautiful dance between these super tasty mathy bits, then these proper lovely melodic bits.

It’s great to hear tracks like ‘Yeah, It Does Look Like A Spider‘ and ‘Catalina‘ in recorded form after studying their previous live session format for years. I love the drama of these tracks, the builds from soft to louder and back again are just so well thought out and enticing. I can’t get over how they deliver a sweet pop hook one minute, then go into this techy, almost jazz like breakdown without breaking a sweat.

I have always loved Alan’s vocal style, but his vocals on this album are beyond sublime! He has a knack of bringing you right up close then belting it right out! ‘Keith Nash‘ is a prime example of how glorious his vocals are; every time I hear the end of the track, I can’t help but grin.

The attention to detail on this record is just astonishing. It’s just full of these amazing little ear worms, whether it’s a snappy bass line or a right in the pocket harmony (‘Camera 1, Camera 2‘ is actually my favourite example of both of these). For a three piece band, there is so much to explore on this record and it only gets better with each new listen, each idea ingraining itself into your memory.

We Do What We Can is the sound of three powerhouse musicians belting it out in the studio. No studio trickery, just well written songs performed with precision and passion. I don’t know many bands that can have this really tight math sound but give it a really loose jazz feel at the same time AND provide some proper catchy melodies in the process. Basically, this was totally worth the wait and, as expected, Tangled Hair have gone and raised the bar for math records in 2018.

Read our daft interview piece with Tangled Hair here

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Album Review: Bearfoot Beware – Sea Magnolia

Review from Ben Forrester

In terms of a DIY scene, I don’t think you can get much better than Leeds. One of the many amazing things happening in this wonderful city is Chunk; a collective that has gone from strength to strength since its initial development in 2013. It has become a hub for Leeds alternative noise scene and has only strengthened its already fiercely tight knit community. Bearfoot Beware have played an extremely big part in Chunk and subsequently the Leeds music scene.

In 2015, they released their superb debut album ‘World Owes You Nowt‘, which was filled with complex yet melodically strong instrumentals packed with twiddles, grooves and a sharp punk edge. It was such an assured debut and one that made many sit up and take notice. Here the trio return with their second album ‘Sea Magnolia‘, which sees the three piece expanding on their math infused post hardcore tendencies.

From the off, this is a loud and proud affair, as opening track ‘Point Scorer’ swaggers in with a fat yet angular groove, with guitarist/vocalist Tom delivering a biting vocal. It already sets a pretty urgent tone and that urgency only heightens as the record progresses. The playing is mile a minute here with all members putting in a right shift. I love the quick fire fills of drummer Mike, the groovy yet frantic bass lines from Ric and the spiky yet firey guitar work of Tom. This is evident on pretty much every track, but I think ‘Without A Shot Fired‘ and ‘Punk Is Violence‘ are probably their most raging tunes to date, with riffs the size of Mars! I like how they pack in as much as they can, with most tracks nudging the three minute mark, racing in with passionate throaty vocal refrains that are begging to be screamed back at live shows!

Although this is quite a concise record, ‘Knots In The Rope‘ is one of the most epic tunes they’ve written. It flickers from high energy rock to spaced out post-punk with spoken word passages. It’s one of their most exciting compositions to date and when it kicks off, you feel the heat of the sweaty little practice room this was conceived in.

You can tell that Bearfoot Beware have toured a lot during the creation of this album and this is an incredibly raw, live sounding set, but there is no denying the tightness of this trio! Everything has been cranked up a notch, in performance, delivery and songwriting, it’s so pumped up which makes for an invigorating listen from start to finish!

It seems like the noisy, edgier bands that play at Chunk have helped shaped the overall sound of Sea Magnolia. Bearfoot Beware really let rip here, the songs are harder and louder, but the compositions are still really thoughtful and technically minded. The riffs are sharper, the playing is tighter and everything is just amped up and fully charged. Bold statement alert: Sea Magnolia is a math-punk masterpiece that demands your attention.

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