Live Review: Adrianne Lenker at YES in Manchester 17 January 2019

Adrianne Lenker is a relatively new name to me. It was the release of her latest solo record ‘Abysskiss‘ in October last year that completely stopped me in my tracks in all its beautifully understated glory. But for many, Adrianne is a New York based singer songwriter that has stolen their hearts for many years both as a solo artist and fronting lo-fi indie pop band Big Thief.

Needless to say tonight is a sell out, as I enter the doors of new Manchester venue YES for the first time. I’m upstairs in the vibrantly decorated ‘Pink Room‘, ripping off several layers as I go from the chilly city streets to a toasty little room full of excitable but calm Lenker fans.

As expected, the crowd tonight are super polite throughout the hour long set, with the only heckle of the evening being “You are brilliant, please don’t stop“. There’s another moment where Adrianne takes a little longer to tune her guitar into one of many different tunings, the crowd therefore beginning to chat, getting louder and louder. But as soon as she strikes the first chord, there is immediate silence and poise, which makes me realise that she has the room in the palm of her hands as they hang on every word and every note.

It’s not hard to see why though as the set tonight is full of incredibly well crafted songs, her voice full of grace and beauty, with her guitar playing wonderfully intricate and accomplished. It’s one thing being good at playing but it’s another backing that up with great songs and Adrianne has this in abundance, weaving between songs from her two solo records as well as treating us to some brand new songs. There is such a sense of focus as she plays, her head always nodding and her voice seemingly effortless but gracefully powerful.

Thank you for coming out tonight, it means a lot, it would suck if you weren’t here“; one of Adrianne’s charming in between quips we hear this evening, cementing tonight’s set as just a lovely, humbling swing into the head of a genuine songwriting talent. She is brilliant, I hope she doesn’t stop.

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Album Review: The Twilight Sad – IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME

The Twilight Sad have always worn their hearts on their sleeves, but it’s how this Scottish outfit take their influences and weave them into something unique that makes them such a treasured act. It was only a matter of time before things started ramping up, thanks to alt icons The Cure, Editors and Mogwai taking them out on the road to play the bigger rooms they so deserved to be heard in. Naturally, it’s this change in pace that informs the energy and vigour that cuts through ‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME‘. Don’t get it twisted, they’re still the kings of gloom and this fifth album is deliciously goth-y, it’s just been dialled up a few notches.

The singles that have been released in the run up to the albums release have all shown a sharper focus in the melody department and the rest of the record definitely follows by example. The goth pop anthems come out swinging here, shrouded in melancholia but matched with a strong feeling of euphoria. I could probably argue that every track fits this description, but ‘I/m Not Here‘, ‘Auge Maschine‘ and ‘Keep It All To Myself‘ are highlights, all different in tone but all hit that sweet indie rock rush.

Guitarist Andy MacFarlane has always acted as musical director for the band and here he wistfully combines ice cool 80’s synths and noisy 90’s guitars with a post-punk spirit and industrial intensity. This is something we’ve seen the band touch on in previous releases, but everything here is in bold with an apparent sense of urgency. ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting‘ and ‘Girl Chewing Gum‘ especially see the band pushing their sonic envelope whilst smashing out absolutely huge choruses. It feels like they’ve found out what works best for their sound and gone three sheets to the wind with it.

And of course we have to talk about the band’s fearless vocalist James Graham, who has always provided the cherry on top with his enigmatic and impassioned vocal style. But here, as is the theme of the record, it takes a step up as he gives some of his most affecting and gutsy performances yet; opening track ‘10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs‘ displays his range in full force and sets the bar ridiculously high for the rest for the record. As you can imagine, he totally fucking delivers.

Ultimately, the songwriting is just incredible, melodically solid with some truly spellbinding performances. It holds the euphoric edginess of their last two records, but mixes the grand atmospherics that runs through their earlier material. It feels like The Twilight Sad have spent their career trying to find their definitive sound and they have totally nailed it on ‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME’.

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N0V3L release ‘To Whom It May Concern’ video ahead of EU Tour

One of the main things that first grabbed us about Vancouver based “multimedia collectiveCrack Cloud was their hypnotising videos, particularly the latter half of the incredible ‘UNCANNY VALLEY!’ and the aerobics class dance-a-thon that brings it to a head-spinning close.

Having had a few of its members side-step to form N0V3L, the new project leans more towards that new-wave, danceable post-punk and – to be frank – it’s had us going a bit crackers ever since we discovered them….

N0V3L have now made their musical film debut with the captivating ‘To Whom It May Concern’, taken from their self-titled debut out in February (available for pre-order here). But before that they head over here from next week for a run of EU dates (full list here)!

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Album Review: You Tell Me – You Tell Me

Comprised of multi-instrumentalist’s Peter Brewis and Sarah Hayes, You Tell Me was a project formed from a chance meeting that acts as a musical dialogue between its two creators. As fans of both Peter and Sarah’s day jobs in excellent bands Field Music and Admiral Fallow, this is definitely a collaboration we are excited about.

What hits instantly is how you can hear both of Peter and Sarah’s distinct personalities weaving together in perfect harmony to create a new voice. Opening track ‘Enough To Notice‘ is the perfect marriage of Peter’s theatrical composing and Sarah’s timeless vocal style. Its pretty orchestral swirls sit perfectly underneath Sarah’s warm yet rich voice for a deeply comforting start.

Majestic indie pop songwriting is the route to these songs (recent single ‘Clarion Call‘ very much a stunning centrepiece), but with this being a meeting of minds, there’s a lot more to dig into. ‘Get Out Of The Room‘ is a tension builder, centred around plucky acoustic strums, organ drones and twangy electric leads while ‘Water Cooler‘ is a twitchy alt pop gem that Field Music fans will be sure to get their groove on to. You can very much tell that the relationship between the two musicians is formed upon a love of musical and mutual tastes, it sometimes feeling like we’re sat with them as they graciously swap ipods between them.

Peter has such a distinctive way of arranging and producing, always indulging in beautiful sonic flourishes and memorable hooks, which is clear to hear throughout You Tell Me. But what Sarah does is elevate these flourishes and hooks to the next level, with extensive vocal range and an arsenal of wonderfully conducted counter melodies. There are moments where the duo take us on a prog-pop journey, especially in its final three tracks, leading us through angelic crescendos of vocal harmonies and grand piano tinkerings, leading to a gorgeous conclusion as Sarah sweetly croons over a string quartet.

After a busy, glutinous festive season, You Tell Me are here to bring you into the new year with a charming and refreshing album. Full of fine detail but still oozing beauty, Peter Brewis and Sarah Hayes have proved themselves a songwriting match made in heaven.

Read our interview with You Tell Me here!

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This Woman’s Work: An Interview with Sarah Hayes of You Tell Me

(Photo Credit: Andy Martin)

…We’re trying to get as far South as we can…”

It’s early afternoon midweek and whilst I cling onto a radiator for warmth at home, Sarah Hayes – member of indie-folk outfit Admiral Fallow and now one half of You Tell Me – calls from the comfort of a tour van, one she’ll soon become accustomed to over the coming fortnight. As part of You Tell Me, a collaborative project with Field Music’s Peter Brewis, the coming week will find them in record stores up and down the country to promote their debut album, hitting thirteen stores across nine days. First stop: The delectable sounding Pie & Vinyl in Southsea.

The pair first met in Aberdeen back in 2016 as part of the Emma Pollock curated ‘Running Up That Hill: A Celebration of Kate Bush’. Hayes played keys as part of the house band, picking up solo vocal duties on ‘This Woman’s Work’. Brewis, one of the guest singers along for the evening, was said to have been blown away by her rendition.

That’s what he said.” She says with a laugh. Whilst the pair had not met previously, both were familiar with the other’s work. Following their introduction, the pair conversed regularly, the idea being that Brewis may produce the songs Hayes had been working on. As it turns out, these initial rumblings would soon lead to the formation of the band.

I had just started writing some songs, but I didn’t really know what home could be found for them.” Says Hayes. “I hadn’t really done it that much before as well, so I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. I grew up in Northumberland and my Mum and Dad still live in the area, so I’m down quite a bit for various reasons anyway, so I was down in the North East and I just dropped by the old Field Music Studio.

Their forthcoming debut record would end up being the last recorded at ‘Field Music Recording HQ’, the studio that Sarah tells me might not yet have been reduced to rubble but soon will soon be, the Brewis brothers having moved to a new location and the building scheduled for demolition. Quite the swan song for the studio.

I dropped by there and we just kind of got chatting after that.” Continues Sarah. “But the Kate Bush gig for sure was the first time we met and it was the first time it kind of sparked off chatting and the idea of a collaboration.

The brilliance of their introduction and soon to blossom collaboration via meeting at a celebration of the work of Kate Bush can be heard in their output. A starting point for You Tell Me, heart-stopping debut single ‘Clarion Call’ or recent single ‘Foreign Parts’ bring to mind ‘Never For Ever’ era Kate Bush and one can side with Brewis on being blown away by the vocal of Hayes.

Quite early on, we sent a few emails backwards and forward and talked a bit about different possible musical reference points and jumping off points.” Says Sarah. “Kate Bush seemed like a good place to start, mainly ‘cus of the gig but also because we were both interested in the different things that she does. It was definitely mentioned as a touch stone, but it wasn’t really conscious…

There were were a few others as well.” She continues. “The Blue Nile was another one, early Rufus Wainwright, Randy Newman, stuff like that. That was just to get us going really, to start us off. Then we had a handful of songs – from myself and Peter wrote some as well after that – and we just sent them backwards and forwards.

In terms of themes, its communication that runs throughout the record –  talking, listening, wanting to be able to say something but being unable to or even coming up with a retort long after the fact (album track ‘Jouska’ is named after the hypothetical, imaginary conversations people play out in their head). The subject matter only became apparent to Brewis and Hayes when lyrics were being compiled and the duo were deciding on a name for the project.

…I suddenly thought – a lot of these are about conversations or thinking of the dialogue you have in your head and communicating things.” Says Sarah. “It just appeared really, but It’s something that I think about quite a bit… The idea of social anxiety definitely has a part to play, there’s a couple of songs that deal with that in different ways. ‘Invisible Ink’ is one of them. ‘Invisible Ink’ deals with anxiety and it’s a bit more full on, then the ‘Foreign Parts’ version of it is trying not to kind of take it too seriously, almost see the humour in it as well. That idea of social interaction and that being difficult sometimes, that’s one of the strands to the whole communication thing.

Communication extends too to the musical conversations made between Peter and Sarah as part of the collaboration, with You Tell Me being her first foray into this type of project.

That’s quite new for me.” She says. “I think it can be hard to establish a way of communicating musically sometimes… I’d never really done any collaboration like this before so that was one of the new things about it, but it worked pretty easily really and quite early on, so that was good.

We joke that this ease may be down to Field Music Recording HQ, her journey into this collaboration softened somewhat on Brewis territory (“I think so…” She laughs. ”They’ve got some quite special curtains that are in the studio. Really lends a special atmosphere...”) One thing that does come up however is the idea of escaping your comfort zone through doing new things. Having previously only written instrumental music and arrangements, interpreting the lyrics of others or working with traditional songs, the process of writing lyrics was another first for Hayes.

There was a lot of different reasons why it was out of the comfort zone.” She says. “The idea of writing words, for me, was new. Working with somebody new and getting that communication going and for things to work, having a proper equal collaboration – which can be quite hard to establish – that was new.

The other thing was in the actual recording process.” She continues. “We wanted to try and capture more performance… It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but honest performances, not be too worried about perceived flaws that you could easily beat yourself up about and make loads of edits… We tried to just capture longer takes and that was sort of new for me. That was definitely something to get over and get out of the comfort zone. Now that it’s all done and we’re about to put it out there, I’m really glad we’ve done that – we’ve really pushed ourselves with it.

The album recording itself, timewise we sort of took our time – it took about a year overall, but when we were together we had to be quite efficient, because we usually just had a few days. We tried to be organised and get as much done as we could in the studio, but also allow ourselves the freedom to experiment a bit, try different sounds. It wasn’t a case of everything was written and then you go in and record it, we were sending ideas backwards and forwards and then experimenting a bit in the studio as well.

Both have gone on record to say that their self-titled debut was produced during a difficult period of time, the studio offering a chance to divert attention (“It felt like I was going to focus on something else for a bit.”) Having a string of firsts as part of You Tell Me, it’s obviously been of some benefit to break away from her comfort zone and as such, the pair are already looking forward and towards further collaboration.

“The whole comfort zone thing, it’s like – it can be a bit hellish at the time, a bit torturous…” She says. “But then you can look back and you do feel a sense of achievement with it and it keeps you feeling challenged. There’s other things we’ve been talking about, ways we might use our voices and all sorts of different things we can do in the future. We’re just kind of putting it together at the moment.

That’s something we’ve been talking about.” She says, adding with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of van journeys over the next week anyway.

For a full list of live dates and to grab a copy of the record, click here!

(Photo Credit: Beth Chalmers)

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