Album Review: Blanket – How To Let Go

Review from Ben Forrester

Blanket pretty much exploded onto the alt-rock scene at the start of last year with their debut EP ‘Our Brief Encounters‘. The Blackpool based outfit are made up of four musicians who had been playing in bands of varying styles for years, finally combining forces for their most ambitious project. To be fair, Blanket have not fucked around since their formation. Last year saw the quartet tour hard in support of the EP, ink a deal with Music For Nations and finish work on this here debut full length.

How To Let Go‘ is an album that tugs at your heart strings from the word go. Its title track opens up with a sky scraping piece of post-rock; dramatic piano chords and soaring guitar work fill up your ears, sounding like the musical equivalent of standing at the edge of the biggest mountain with your arms aloft. It’s that sense of euphoria that runs through the record, coupled with theatrical twists and shimmering melodic motifs that pack an emotional punch. If you enjoy the orchestral like majesty of Maybeshewill or possibly the more considered, electronic pulse of later day 65daysofstatic, you’ll get a real buzz from this.

There’s quite a few reference points on this album I’ve picked up on, but it’s when Blanket start combining sounds together that this piece really starts to shine. ‘Worlds Collide‘ brings vocoders into the mix for some purely stunning harmonic results, ‘This Moment Right Here‘ really lets rip with more building vocal work punctuated by a colossal riff, while ‘Let The Sleepers Awake‘ starts with a melodic hardcore inspired melody. It’s these little glimpses into different sonic pallets that keeps it varied and interesting.

Probably the most striking moment in the tracklist is penultimate track ‘A Sky Filled With Ghosts’. It’s reminiscent of alt-rock weirdos Mew in places, especially in the sweet falsetto vocal delivery, while its instrumental flickers from subtly textured indie-rock to hard hitting alt-rock. But it’s the return of the vocoded vocals that make for an extremely climatic conclusion that is nothing short of hair raising. I remember seeing the band play this live last year and was hoping that it would sound just as eventful as I remembered.

Many have called Blanket a cinematic rock act and you can clearly tell that a lot of these songs have been composed with either imagery in mind or inspired by film. I think that’s part of its charm, it’s a very widescreen sounding piece and each track paints a vivid picture. I read that the band formed ideas for the album by jamming in their home conservatory, inspired by watching life go by, concentrating on the skyline. It’s that visual that sells this album to me – it might not have the most original sound, but feelings of ambition and emotion flow thick and fast through it.

The stronger moments on ‘How To Let Go’ come from when Blanket are either rocking out or letting the vocals come through, but I do think they tend to let the post-rock rule book get in the way at times. However, in the same breath, it’s the restraint into these neat little alt-rock nudges coupled with truly stunning production that makes for a genuinely compelling and effective debut.

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Album Review: Jo Passed – Their Prime

Review from Jay Stansfield

Opening up like a cross between Tortoise and Grizzly Bear, ‘Left’ has some lovely Beach Boys-esque key changes and there’s even some bursts of Broadcast and The Beatles with all its lovely swelling, sporadic strings and lush production. It really comes into its own with an almost Sonic Youth ending and 60’s sub-bass riffs and is a great opener to an album full of perfect pop-length songs.

MDM’ could be how the The Flaming Lips would have turned out if they’d formed a supergroup with The Pixies and Pavement. A twisty, wonky, tubey guitar solo cracks its way round thick distorted guitars as it drives and thumps along. The vocals have a familiarity about them, not unlike Of Montreal or Beach House, and they’re a lovely contrast to the meaty sound of the boshing drums and crazy electric axes.

Glass’ thrusts us into a U.S. Maple or Captain Beefheart vibe, with the guitars, arpeggiated bass riffs and drums, but the vocals are what set this apart because they float all over the top like a smooth, soft warm feeling and it’s great to hear this juxtaposition of brash wonkiness and sweet reverberated melodies akin to Elliott Smith. ‘Undemo’ has a lovely majestic feel, with some tickling math-rock elements in the breaks amongst the proggy marching snare drum and exploding arse-synth ending.

Repair’ sees the album almost going down a Pink Floyd meets Grandaddy post-rock vortex and so far this album is an absolute corker, with some wonderfully inventive creativity, interesting structures and an approach that is clearly battling against boredom, giving the big middle finger to convention and the big thumbs up to originality. The production is top class.

R.I.P’ throws us into a waltz and then out of a waltz and then into a waltz and then out of a waltz and we’re awash with beautifully performed jangling electric post-rock guitars. This band have a really nice blend of styles about them and are clearly not afraid to push out some experimental sounds amidst the hooks and melodies.

Saying any more about this album without listening to it would be an injustice and all that can be said now is to wrap your ears around it, bask in its majesty and let it whisk you away to places only alternative post-rock grunge crazies dare to wander. Oh and people who appreciate original and creative sounds. That’s most important.

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a/s/l: Sam Evian

Remember the days of the old schoolyard? Remember when Myspace was a thing? Remember those time-wasting, laborious quizzes that everyone used to love so much? Birthday Cake For Breakfast is bringing them back! 

Every couple of weeks, an unsuspecting band will be subject to the same old questions about dead bodies, Hitler, crying and crushes.  

This week: New York native Sam Evian!

(Photo Credit: Josh Goleman)

a/s/l?
29/m/Brooklyn.

Have you ever seen a dead body?
i’ve seen dead things.

Who is your favourite Simpsons character?
Lisa.

What T-Shirt are you wearing?
plain white t.

What did your last text message say?
i think the best way to learn is to just start doing.

What’s the last song you listened to?
you know more than i do’ by john cale.

How did you meet the people in your band?
went to high school w/ austin and met the others in brooklyn… back when I used to play shows every week and go to shows every night. now those venues are all dead and have been replaced by condos and more rich white ppl.

What’s the first record you bought?
beatleshelp’.

What was your favourite VHS growing up?
Rocky and Bullwinkle’.

When was the last time you cried?
2 nights ago.

Have you ever kissed someone & regretted it?
no.

Best Physical Feature?
dunno?

Worst physical feature?
im a noodle.

Reasonably ok/not bad feature that you’re not fussed about?
im a noodle.

Do you have any pets?
i wish.

Ever picked up any injuries on tour?
sure.

What did you do for your last birthday?
had a lot of friends over and made them dinner.

Name something you CANNOT wait for?
end of capitolism (sic).

Do you have a crush on someone?
my girlfriend.

What’s the shittest experience you’ve had as a musician?
playing piano’s in NYC on a friday night.

If you could go back in time, how far would you go?
Italian Renaissance.

How do you want to die?
quietly.

What’s your favourite thing about pizza?
accessibility.

What are you craving right now?
pizza.

Have you ever been on a horse?
no.

What did you dream about last night?
flying.

If you could go back in time and kill the baby Hitler, would you?
Yes, but I would prefer to go back in time and try to convince all the imperialists of the early 20th century to take mushrooms, kill their egos and find peace for the world.

Do you like Chinese food?
yes… esp szechuan.

Have you ever been on TV?
yes.

Ever meet someone famous?
yes.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
well rested.

You, Forever’, the new record from Sam Evian, is out June 1st 2018 on Saddle Creek! Pre-order it, why not – click here!

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Dick Straightener Of The Week: Ty Segall – She

Trust Ty Segall to put a Hot Chocolate cover on an album and have it be one of the most raging things across its 19 tracks. I say one of, namely because his latest opus, ‘Freedom’s Goblin’, also features the mind-boggling, throwback stunner that is ‘She’!

A 100% dick straightener make no mistake, it howls along in all its 70’s metal glory, daft guitar solo’s galore, wig-out central. Shut the door, whack up the volume and tell your Mum you’re not coming out for 6 and a half minutes!

For those of us lucky enough to live Up Norf, Ty is coming to Manchester next month, bringing his Freedom Band to Gorilla on June 5th!

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Live Review: Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival 2018

Review from Fran Slater

What do you picture when you hear the words ‘Folk Roots Festival’? Banjos, Morris Dancers, and men with massive beards? Well this couldn’t be further from what you would have found in the Hope Baptist Chapel in the early evening on Saturday as Logan & Manley took to the stage. Loops, drum machines, Lauryn Hill covers and mashups of classic reggae tunes were not what I’d been expecting when I sat down but, when combined with Logan’s incredible voice and Manley’s majesty on the guitar, it quickly became one of the highlights of the weekend. And it wasn’t just their covers that got the crowd going. With self-penned tunes such as ‘Lead the Way’, ‘Remember This’ and ‘Heal,’ it will be a surprise to see Logan & Manley still playing to such small crowds this time next year. They were so good that we saw them twice, and might even argue that their set in a packed Mooch Café on the Sunday afternoon was even stronger than the first one. A group to keep an eye on, for sure.

But none of this is to say that tradition and the expected folk tropes aren’t a huge part of Hebden Bridge’s biggest annual festival. These were, in fact, central to two of the afternoon slots on Sunday. Will Kaufman kicked us off in Hope Baptist Chapel. His set was an example of many of the most important folk traditions, taking in some storytelling, a little bit of protest, a history lesson, and a demonstration of a huge amount of talent on a variety of instruments (including those banjos you pictured earlier).

Will’s entire set was actually based on interpretations of Woody Guthrie songs, some of which were just lyrics he had found while conducting research for the three books he has written on the legendary singer. Perhaps most enjoyable were the two songs Guthrie penned about a certain Fred Trump, the father of a now not very popular President you might have heard of. Guthrie actually lived in flats owned by Fred Trump and wrote the two songs once he found out that Trump was doing all he could to prevent black people from moving into his properties. ‘Trump Made me a Tramp’ received a particularly rapt reception from the audience and was the high point of a very strong set.

Kaufman was to have his thunder slightly stolen just an hour or so later, though. Another singer built very much in the traditional folk mould, Ewan McLennan was perhaps the most impressive musician to take the stage at the Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival this year. A stunning voice, aided by a beautiful Scottish lilt, and a hard to master style on the guitar, made him stand above much of the competition. He also taught us that, no matter how much you spend on having a banjo made to your exact specifications, it will always sound better if you push a kitchen sponge inside the back of it!

McLennan’s set was a mix of his own songs, interpretations of traditional tunes, and a couple of covers. It was probably his rendition of Dylan’sShelter From The Storm’ that really stood out, but I was glad to be there for everything he played. A wonderful performance that left you wondering why he wasn’t more well-known on the world stage.

Friday evening and Saturday afternoon also saw a few performances that deserve a mention, even if they were slightly less to this reviewer’s personal tastes. Launching the festival in the Hope Baptist Chapel were three bands who all put on a really strong show. Reggie & the Krayfish were a three piece who performed all of their own songs and put out a mix of strong harmonies and the weekend’s most impressive harmonica performance. Roger Davies and his band were incredibly cheesy, but a hell of a lot of fun. And the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band got the whole crowd out of their pews and dancing in the aisles, even while the seven of them had to stand almost stock still due to a lack of room for them on the stage. Saturday afternoon saw a focus on Americana and Bluegrass in The Trades Club and the standout act in this little set was definitely Cousin Pearl. Really stunning vocals and an impressively slapped double bass bought the session to a close in a manner befitting what was already looking like being an amazing weekend all around.

Perhaps the best thing about the Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival, though, is the fact that you can come along and witness some fantastic music without buying a ticket at all. Gigs in the Trades Club and Hope Baptist Chapel will cost you (and possibly a little more than they should, if we’re being honest), but a fair few of the pubs and cafes will feature performances throughout the day and there’ll be the odd thing happening in the town square. A highlight of these is always the evening sessions up at the Fox and Goose, where musicians will appear and disappear as they see fit and jamming sessions will turn into some of the best sets of the weekend.

One performer stood out from the pub sessions we witnessed this weekend (another that was so good we saw her twice). Listed as Magdalen Bath for her performance in Drink! on Saturday afternoon and simply as MAGDALEN for her Sunday evening slot at The Shoulder of Mutton, this young singer songwriter had that little extra something that made everyone sit up and listen. A lovely voice and talent on the guitar isn’t always enough, but when you are able to put together some very interesting and unique lyrics in the way that Magdalen does, then you definitely have that extra opportunity to make it. Another one to watch out for and a great way to top off a fantastic festival as the sun went down on Sunday.

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Album Review: Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Review from Ben Forrester

The sound of a guitar being down tuned acts as the opening moments of ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel‘, the second album from song writing maverick Courtney Barnett. In complete seriousness, I got a total doom-rock vibe in these first five seconds; it’s an instant scene setter for something dark and gloomy. But as a slacker style guitar melody comes in, we are immediately thrown back into the hazy indie-pop world we’ve come to adore from Courtney. There is a tension and an atmosphere to ‘Hopefulessness‘ however that puts an edge to her usual wry demeanour. With self-assuring lines like “you know it’s okay to have a bad day”, this track comes from a personal place, making me think that the album’s title could play a big part in its lyrical narrative.

This assumption seems correct as the album progresses, thematically centred around Courtney’s inner thoughts and feelings on both a personal and world wide level. As expected, it’s the more politically charged moments that pack the biggest punch. First single ‘Nameless, Faceless’ leads the way, calmly calling out internet trolls in the verses before elevating into a fuzz-rock slap of a chorus as CB waxes lyrical on gender equality. Then there’s ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’, a straight up punk-rock banger that spits in the face of misogyny, matching the sarcastic snarl of debut album hit ‘Pedestrian At Best‘.

There is an undeniably fierce energy that runs alongside this record that we saw only glimpses of on its predecessor. This isn’t a Courtney Barnett punk record per say, but it feels a lot more jacked up and direct. It reminds me somewhat of that latest Spook School record in places; although it’s covered in breezy indie-punk instrumentals, its subject matter is somewhat more serious.

Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Self Confidence‘ acts as the best example of this, making a sprightly, punked up pop song out of mental health issues. But personally, I think this is the right approach to address something that so many people struggle with; it should be a pop song, it needs to be sang out and we all need to sing the cheery chorus refrain of “I don’t know anything” together! ‘City Looks Pretty‘ is similar in its execution, starting off with an up tempo indie pop groove, shakers going mad, but with a reflective chorus and a slowed down outro, with Courtney the most open and honest she’s ever been, but never overbearing. It’s actually extremely comforting.

But as I say, this isn’t just punk melancholia and Courtney does take it down a notch for some really beautiful, affecting moments. ‘Need A Little Time‘ is a bittersweet pop ballad about trying to cut yourself some slack and provides a gorgeous chorus sprinkled with warm organ chords. Closing track ‘Sunday Roast‘ leads a laid back yet positive conclusion to the album, floor toms rumbling with electric guitar leads lightly soaked in reverb as it closes on the harmonious refrain of “Keep on keeping on, you know you’re not alone‘”. I’ve always enjoyed CB’s mellow moments, but with this added up-front edge, these are the moments that really take a hold on the listener, feeling like a friend wrapping a blanket around you on a cold evening.

My first thoughts on Tell Me How You Really Feel were that it’s got bigger tunes, punchier lyrics and some lovely little dynamic shifts. Although this is all true after several more listens, it completely opens itself up to you the more you listen. It gives you a kick up the arse when you need it, but it also gives you a sincere cuddle. The fact that it manages to be so fluid in its structure is the mark of its talented creator, thanks to Courtney’s almost candid charm. The levels are just right here, it’s got the perfect amount of all the emotions we feel in this current climate, from the content to the aggressive. Wrap this in a delicious layer of catchy guitar pop melodies and you’ve got another flawless set from Courtney Barnett.

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Album Review: Now, Now – Saved

Review from Ben Forrester

It’s been six years since the last Now, Now album ‘Threads‘ and it seems like the path to the Minnesota duo’s latest chapter hasn’t been as smooth as they may have hoped for. KC and Brad have overcome line up changes and writers block to create their third LP ‘Saved‘. Although there are nods to their low key indie past, there’s a push into new sonic territories here that brings Now, Now welcomingly into present day.

The simplistic acoustic strums of opening track ‘SGL‘ may seem familiar to their earnest rock past, but it’s as the track progresses that you notice a different tone to its delivery. The production is glossier, the vocals are right up front and it’s got a right ear worm of a vocal hook. From the off, it’s clear that Now, Now are onto something bigger.

Tracks like ‘AZ‘ and ‘Set It Free‘ have got that indie swagger going on, with muted electric guitars and a stomping drum beat, but as far as instrumentation goes, the college rock tones of yore are fairly subtle. This record is all about luscious synth pads and 808’s. It’s not a total reinvention as those textures were present on Threads, but they’ve been brought to the front on this record for a fresh, sparkly synth-pop spin on their sound. ‘Yours‘ is a fine example of this and sounds like the bubble gum ballad that should have been on the last Haim record.

This is a huge pop record, make no mistake, but what I find so interesting is how the band still manage to keep that understated, fragile tone that we’re used to hearing. Take ‘Window‘ and ‘Holy Water‘; both beautiful, dreamy pieces of electro-pop but both featuring these massive choruses that sound like the equivalent of jumping into a cool pool on a scorching day. There is a really interesting dynamic present throughout the record of writing catchy pop songs, but at the same time keeping their delivery luscious and sensual.

Now, Now have always carried an atmosphere in their sound and this record puts you right in the middle of KC’s diary, as she reflects on simpler times and delves deep into relationship anxieties; “If I’m so perfect baby, then how come you don’t want me?” is a heartbreaking extract to dramatic closer ‘Powder‘. KC has always written from personal experience, but with her vocals so up front, it feels like she’s really pouring her heart out here. It never feels too intrusive though, thanks to the gorgeous, sun soaked instrumentals that back them up.

This is very much an updated look on the Now, Now sound, still full of melody and melancholy, but with a tighter grip on hooks and completed with a shinier sonic coating. In short, ‘Saved‘ is a beautifully shimmering piece of modern electro pop and is bound to be the soundtrack to your summer road trip.

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