Album Review: shame – Songs Of Praise

Review from Ben Forrester

Looking at the cutesy, Beach Boys-esque cover of this debut album from London based youngsters shame, you would think that you were about to listen to a dream-pop record. The name of the band and song titles on the other hand suggest something on the bleaker, post-punk side. It becomes apparent when listening to ‘Songs Of Praise‘ that pretty much both of these assumptions could be considered as correct.

My first taste of the record was recent single ‘One Rizla‘, which musically is a breezy indie-pop tune, that swoops in, guitar lines crisp as a freshly ironed shirt and a sprightly, head bobbin’ groove to get the kids swaying at shows. It was the vocal that threw me off the scent a little, as front man Charlie delivers his lines with a bite and attitude that doesn’t automatically go hand in hand with the instrumental. It works though, giving you a sense of intrigue as to how this sound will translate onto a full length.

From the moment the rhythm section punches in on opening track ‘Dust On Trial‘, it would seem that shame aren’t a band that want to stick to the script. There is this taught energy to the track; soaring yet frantic guitars mash together with bellowing vocals that makes for a thrilling opener. Two tracks heard and I am even more interested as to what else this record is going to bring.

For the rest of the record, we’re stirred back and forth into a melting pot of the sweet and the sour. In places it can be gritty, the bass lines get sleazy on ‘The Lick‘ and the guitars get prickly on ‘Gold Hole‘. In other places, it can have quite a brit-pop swagger to it, especially as the guitars melodies come out swinging on ‘Tasteless‘ and ‘Concrete‘, which I can totally see being heard on the Match Of The Day credits. But underneath most of these tracks lies an intensity between the rhythm section and the vocals that brings a whole different dimension to their dynamics. It’s youthful and free but it’s also murky and not afraid to get its hands dirty.

In my mind, it sounds like a mash of those two Eagulls records, with the wide eyed stare of the debut but the more considered, vintage pop melodies of its successor. In some places you may get a King Krule vibe in the gruff, scruffy vocals, while the cleaner sounding instrumentals could remind some of breezy pop heroes Real Estate. Basically, shame seem to have a grasp on the current indie scene, I mean they’re only young lads so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these bands were a blueprint for their sound. I like the fact they’re not shying away from having different influences and try to throw it into the pot all together to give a fresher spin on some classic musical methods.

Songs Of Praise is very much the sound of a young band finding their feet. It’s a varied collection, with the whole album acting as this confident dance between sprightly brit-pop and snarling post-punk. Ultimately, this album is all about energy, atmosphere and being in a moment. It’s this combination of ideals that makes for a compelling listen. It may not set the whole indie world alight, but shame have stoked a fire that will most certainly burn bright throughout 2018.

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Album Review: The Xcerts – Hold On To Your Heart

Review from Ben Forrester

For a band that have been going since the turn of the millennium, The Xcerts have never lost their fire and still strive to write the most heartfelt rock songs around. Their previous effort, ‘There Is Only You‘, opened new doors for the trio and dawned the start of a new era, with an extremely powerful set of rock-pop bangers behind them.

In the second half of last year we had three new singles thrust at us, showing off this sparkling 80’s inspired pop sound that immediately started up the hype for a new album. Finally, after a four year wait, The Xcerts are back with their fourth long player ‘Hold On To Your Heart’ and on first listen there is no denying that this is their stadium rock moment!

The Dark‘ breaks the band’s tradition of opening an album with a short intro track, instead going straight for the heartstrings with a 3 minute piano ballad. Frontman Murray pours his heart out immediately with such yearning lines as “It’s 2am and I’m surrounded by love but all I see is dark“. The Xcerts have always had to write records during difficult personal periods and although this is another album conceived through grieving, they don’t let it consume them this time round. This is very much an album about hope and self rehabilitation, with its glossy pop production that amps up it’s heart-on-sleeve demeanour.

Previous singles ‘Daydream‘, ‘Feels Like Falling In Love‘ and ‘Hold On To Your Heart‘ shine bright with stick-in-your-head choruses and a fist in the air attitude, clearly influenced by their love of classic rock songwriters from Petty to Springsteen. The rest of the album follows suit and to say this album has hooks is an understatement! The title of every song is refrained in their respective choruses, each one as gut wrenchingly sincere as the last. From the sax-driven pomp of ‘Drive Me Wild‘ to the sugary pop rush of ‘First Kiss Feeling‘, every song is designed to release an ear-worm into your brain, ready to bury each line deep.

Even when the band take things down a notch, they still bring out the big guns. ‘Cry‘ matches the epic crescendo of their previous albums closer with another moving vocal take from Murray and more honking sax solos, while ‘Show Me Beautiful‘ is the most perfect modern day ballad soaked in warm synths and skipping electronic beats.

I think fans of the band’s earlier material may find this a bit too sickly sweet, but for the most part this feels like a natural progression for The Xcerts. There has always been a pop centre in what the band do, but ‘Hold On To Your Heart‘ takes those sensibilities and runs off into the sunset with them. I think this more exaggerated approach to power-pop songwriting honestly suits them.

It’s hard not to be be charmed by this record. There is such an empowering quality to these tracks, which has prepared me to say goodbye to a band that have been my best kept secret for so many years to become the mainstream concern they deserve to be.

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Album Review: Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Young Adult

Review from Ben Forrester

On first listen to the debut Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly album, there was no way you could not be engulfed by the passion and sincerity coming from its creator Sam Duckworth. Lyrically, it was a perfect balance of personal and political, whilst musically it blended electronica, emo, folk and indie for some seriously stunning results. Sam went on to make three more records as Get Cape before deciding to retire the project in 2014 to concentrate on other musical ventures.

So, here we are four years on and Sam has decided to don his cape again and bring back his much adored moniker for a fifth Get Cape LP. In a world full of uncertainty with an increasing sense of doom, it seems that a new Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly album is needed to help comfort and empower us once again.

From the off, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be the heart wrenching electro-emo expected and instead what we get is a charming set of indie pop songs. Opening track ‘Adults‘ is a perfect pop tune that gently builds into a glorious ending of bright trumpets and a warm chorus of voices. Tracks like ‘Just A Phase‘ and ‘Animate‘ are similar in bringing sparkling pop sensibilities right up in your grill, almost forcing you to sing along. Musically, it’s a very playful album but lyrically Sam is still as thoughtful and intuitive as ever.

Always‘ acts as the emotional centrepiece here, with the chorus refrain of “Don’t be scared now you’ve got this, I’ll be by your side, always“. Dealing with themes of anxiety and the responsibility of age make this such a relatable moment. I’d go as far to say that those feelings act as a key theme throughout Young Adults‘, which explains its title.

There are subtle electronica references throughout the album but for the most part this is a full band affair, with upbeat drums and pleasant acoustic guitar strums taking up most of its sonic pallet. It seems that Sam wants to let the melodies really shine through on this record and not get too overcrowded, but there are still little flourishes here and there that help bulk up these unapologetically catchy tracks.

I will admit, there’s a few songs in the track-listing that don’t quite move me as much as others, and it can be a bit too predictable both musically and lyrically at times. But there are enough good tracks to save it and prove Sam’s worth as a great, honest songwriter. He has a real knack for writing songs with a sense of intimacy that make you feel like he’s singing directly to you. There is a warmth to his vocal delivery that is genuinely comforting.

The more I listen to this album, the more I respect the fact that Sam didn’t revert to his heartfelt teenage self. This is an up to date snap shot of the Get Cape story. He’s no longer crowded in a barrage of  teen angst and genre mash ups and has managed to refine his approach into making something that has heart but at the same time doesn’t take itself too seriously. From one young adult to another, this is a relatable and enjoyable return to form.

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Live Review: And So I Watch You From Afar at Manchester Academy 2 24 November 2017

Review from Ben Forrester

You’ve got to hand it to And So I Watch You From Afar, they are totally one of the hardest working bands going. Since their formation in the early noughties they’ve not stopped, releasing an album pretty much every two years and spending the time in-between touring it relentlessly, then making the next one! It strikes me that they like it this way, having done it for nearly 10 years now. And with each new release the venues only seem to get bigger, so I am thrilled to be in the modest surroundings of the Academy 2 this Friday night to catch these math-rock mavericks!

What makes this show even better is the support from Wrexham based outfit Gallops. We thought Gallops were dead and buried when they abruptly split in 2013, but last year they rose up from the ashes with live shows booked and a new album in the works. Said new album, ‘Bronze Mystic‘, was released earlier this year and the band have spent the rest of 2017 touring it hard.

Tonight the three piece plough through tracks from the new record, displaying its many shades. ‘Pale Force’ is a majestic opener, driven by luscious synths and pulsating beats, while ‘Shakma‘ is all about big, punching electronica stabs with playful, electro hooks that smash into you with throbbing bass. Gallops have really pushed the electro side of their sound on this new record and live it sounds really big and thick sounding. In fact, closing track ‘Darkjewel‘ is probably one of the most intense yet righteous techno tunes I’ve heard in a long time. They’ve got the tunes and the live sound down; it’s good to have Gallops back, lets hope they don’t disappear anywhere soon.

As mentioned earlier, And So I Watch You From Afar work hard and rarely take a break. This is very much the case for their live shows. I mean, they’re nearly at the end of a two month tour and they seem completely energised and give it both barrels tonight for 90 minutes of power! I really enjoy watching ASIWYFA as individuals; guitarist Rory is their sprightly leader, bouncing around the stage like his shoes have springs in them. Guitarist Niall and bassist Johnny head bang in unison, looking tough as fuck, while drummer Chris pounds away at the kit like he’s trying to kill it! Coupled with a shit load of flashing LED lights with the odd strobe chucked in, it’s a full on rock show that we’ve got here and it’s properly enthralling!

I will admit, I wanted to hear loads of stuff from new album ‘The Endless Shimmering‘ that this tour is in support of, because I think it’s their best album in years! We get three tunes from the new record which favour its heavier side. ‘A Slow Unfolding of Wings‘ and ‘Terrors of Pleasure’ both manage to be groovy, crushing and majestic all at the same time, while ‘Dying Giants‘ is probably one of their most monstrous tunes to date and is just relentless with breakdown after breakdown. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the three new tunes, but there’s some really epic and beautiful moments on the album that I think would sound stunning live.

However, I am all for the pretty much greatest hits set that we get tonight. The quartet smash through select cuts from all of their records to date, including a balls out rendition of ‘S Is For Salamander‘, which is the firework opener from an early EP. They also chuck in a few surprises from their debut album, but it has to be live staple ‘Set Guitars To Kill‘ that steals the show with its mile a minute riffage assault!

Due to the more progressive, dynamic side of their latest record, the band seem to lean on their first two records to compliment this change of pace. I mean, ‘Search: Party: Animal‘ is a fucking huge moment from the ‘Gangs’ album and it is an incredibly exciting opening to the set, with its high end guitar hook and groove ridden drum track.

Every time I see ASIWYFA, they always play with such conviction and come across as humbled between each track. Rory seems to end most songs with “Thank you so much”, which gets more heartfelt as the night goes on. I just can’t help but love this band; their passion is clear to see in a live capacity and there has always been this natural progression in making their live shows bigger and better each time they tour. Tonight, they put on a truly exciting rock show with songs that match the rooms size, leaving the whole room sporting ear to ear grins! Another triumphant set from the Belfast boys!

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Live Review: Employed To Serve at Rebellion in Manchester 7 November 2017

Review from Ben Forrester

In terms of the hardcore scene here in the UK, Employed To Serve are definitely this years main success story. They’ve spent the year supporting some extremely upcoming rock acts, including Black Peaks and Milk Teeth, as well as dropping one of the best heavy records of 2017 with second album ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun‘. Their popularity has only blossomed as the year has progressed and it makes sense for them to end it on a headline lap of glory around the UK.

I get down to Manchester’s best new rock venue Rebellion just in time for main support Pijn. It’s also been a pretty good year for the local collective as they’ve spent the year gaining a lot of traction thanks to their beautiful yet brutal debut release ‘Floodlit‘. Although there are three core members in the band, I like how there is a revolving cast of musicians that join them for different shows. Tonight they play as a quintet, with a lap steel player and cellist joining the ranks.

We hear a good chunk of tracks from their recently released live EP ‘Tanzaro House‘, from the bustling bass lead groove on ‘Blush Unseen‘ to the theatrical, Godspeed-esque build of ‘Eyde‘. It’s hard to not get submersed by the bands beguiling blend of doom, post-rock and black metal, each player seemingly fully involved in the part they play, which makes for an enthralling set. At the start of the year I professed Pijn to be one of the country’s most interesting and exciting new progressive acts, and I stay firm on that opinion as I witness tonight’s set.

Employed To Serve don’t mess about and get straight to it, starting off with the first three tracks from the new album. On record these tracks run straight into each other, making for a blisteringly brutal start to the record, so it makes sense that this is the way they open up tonight’s set. From the tech infused mosh rock of ‘Void Ambition‘, straight into the hardcore bite of ‘Good For Nothing‘ that races into the gigantic riff in ‘Platform 89‘, it really is an attack on the senses. The cabs rattle, each band member is either sporting a fully nasty riff face or is covered in hair as they bash around the stage in unison.

As a huge fan of The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, I’m eager to hear as many tunes off it as possible as I think it’s a really well put together record, each track bursting with energy and ideas. Luckily, we get nearly all of it and the band seem keen to show off the different tones of the record. From the super quick grind of ‘Half Life‘ to the epic build of the title track, it’s clear to see that this is a well oiled unit as songwriters and musicians.

It’s also great to hear a few gnarly tunes from their equally awesome debut album ‘Greyer Than You Remember‘. As the record that introduced the band, I go to full head banging mode hearing tracks like ‘Watching Films To Forget I Exist‘, which still sounds as crushing as the day I first heard it.

With it being a gloomy Tuesday evening, tonight’s crowd seem a little quiet in the movement, which does get pointed out by guitarist Sammy throughout the set, although there are a small bunch of highly energised kids who try their best to get the pit moving. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite ready to get into the pit myself, but with a set this heavy and brutal, it’s hard not to raise your fist and bang your head. Everyone in the room definitely seems transfixed on this thunderous set, especially when they close on the incredibly raging breakdown of ‘I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)‘.

In terms of the live show, Employed To Serve have got it down; the tunes are massive and brimming with attitude whilst the band are tight, loud and full of rage. Having been blown away by their records over the past few years, Employed To Serve have lived up to their title of being the most face melting metal live act the UK has to offer right now! Don’t sleep on this band.

Check out our review of ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun’ here!

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Album Review: Human Pyramids – Home

Review from Ben Forrester

I remember hearing an early demo of Human Pyramids and being completely blown away by these lush, majestic orchestral arrangements that were lovingly composed by ridiculously talented musician Paul Russell. In 2014, Paul released debut album ‘Planet Shhh!‘; a heartwarming affair, full of rich brass tones, soaring string work with a rock band kick underneath which made for an utterly explosive set.

Three years on and Paul has travelled the world for both work and pleasure, ending back up in his native city of Glasgow. He’s also spent this time juggling parenthood for the first time, as well as working hard on a fresh batch of Human Pyramids tunes. The results of these new, sparkling adventures can be found all over the second Human Pyramids album ‘Home‘.

Louise‘ is a spectacular opener! Drums tumble, a 16 piece orchestra falls with it before being interrupted by a choir of angels that sound like they’ve just smashed a tub of blue smarties. And that’s just the first 20 seconds! This is probably the closest Paul has gotten to writing a tune that sounds like his math-pop band Axes. It’s all sprightly drum fills and spiky guitar chords that transform into sharp yet strong noodling as strings pluck and synth bass throbs. It’s a whole heap of fun and it’s clear from the off that HP are going for nothing short of jubilation on this record.

The arrangements throughout the album are completely breathtaking. For the most part, each track builds on a melody that just grows and grows into something giant, ready to burst into a million stars. Basically, it’s uplifting shit! ‘Shaking Hands‘ is a brass soaked beaut, ‘Canned Thunder‘ is a percussion lead carnival of ecstasy, while ‘Crackle Pop‘ is a majestic crescendo of bold beats, blossoming strings and fuzzy guitars. These are just a few of the many examples of the multicoloured bursts of splendour on offer here.

Although there are many moments of melodical bliss here, for its majority, Home very much captures the euphoria of seeing this project live! It’s really a sight to see nearly 20 musicians on stage together, jumping and swaying along to these energy filled compositions and I can imagine tracks like ‘Big Data‘ and ‘Your Flag’ really lifting off in a live capacity! It really has to be handed to Al Gunby, who drums on the whole album and brings quick fire percussive workouts to the fold and on these tracks in particular, shows off his skills as a total powerhouse behind the kit.

There is a no doubting that Home is a celebration of an album. It’s like a 45 minute firework display that never tires, each firework as tantalising and joyous as the last. Paul has really pushed himself as a composer and producer on this collection and totally steps it up in terms of arrangement, sonics and composition. In a world getting gloomier by the day, Human Pyramids remind us that there’s a lot to be thankful for and Home feels like a beautiful, bright light at the end of the tunnel.

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Album Review: Jamie Lenman – Devolver

Review from Ben Forrester

Jamie Lenman will always be known as the frontman of post-hardcore heroes Reuben, but since emerging from the shadows as a solo artist back in 2013, he has put some serious effort into becoming the solo entity that he deserves to be known as.

His comeback effort was the mammoth 22 track double disc monster ‘Muscle Memory’, which was half an extreme metal/hardcore hybrid of heaviness and half a melodic, stripped back blend of blues, country, folk and jazz. Backed with his knack for an ear worm hook and an earth shattering riff, this was a triumphant return from an incredibly talented and well-loved songwriter.

As Jamie had taken his time to make this album and had given vague plans as to what was to come next, there was worry amongst fans as to whether we’d hear another album from him again. At the very start of this year, a brand-new track appeared and thus the hype train arrived at the platform. Throughout the year, we’ve had a couple more singles come through which had many chomping at the bit and then finally came the announcement of second album ‘Devolver’.

Always one to keep evolving and pushing forward as a musician and songwriter, Jamie returns with a heart on sleeve rock-meets-pop opus with plenty of twists and turns on the way.

All the singles that we’ve heard so far appear here. Opening track ‘Hard Beat’ builds from a simplistic guitar line backed with a shaker to transform into a drum driven rock monster, with Lenman’s powerful vocals harmonising and overlapping making for a particularly huge introduction. ‘Waterloo Teeth’, ‘Hell In A Fast Car’ and comeback track ‘Mississippi’ are all fierce, swaggering rock tunes with choruses for days and beefy, sassy riffs that’ll make you stick yer neck out! When you hear the singles you think this is going to be a straight up party record, but Lenman has far bigger plans here.

Body Popping’ has got this rapped vocal in the chorus, which comes out of nowhere considering the brooding, melodic rock demeanour that dominates it, but it totally works and makes for a fully enthralling composition! ‘Comfort Animal’ is a short and sweet switch up between a lo-fi full band instrumental that sweeps into haunting piano chords, surrounded by glittering electronics for hair raising results.

Then there’s the title track, which closes the album in the most theatrical and frankly epic way. It starts as a heartfelt ballad type pop tune, with Jamie passionately claiming “I am irrelevant”. This then moves into a big fuck off breakdown as distorted guitars and thunderous drums get stuffed down your ears to then transcend into a final rendition of the chorus which is just humongous! I sense that Jamie Lenman’s mantra for this record is ‘go big or go home’ and Devolver takes no prisoners here in delivering an album that demands your attention and never lets it go!

Although, the biggest surprise on this record for me, as a mega nerd, was to find a rehashed Reuben tune in the tracklisting. I remember hearing the opening groove for the track ‘I Don’t Know Anything’ on a studio diary video that the band put up nearly 10 years ago now. I never found out what the track was until now and boy, was it worth the wait.  The groove alone is enough to make every limb in your body move uncontrollably but when the strings come in and lead the track to a gargantuan conclusion, you can see why Lenman has taken his time with this track and it is undoubtedly his finest power-pop song to date.  I think I shrieked when I first heard this and I hope a load of Reuben nerds join me in losing their shit over this.

What I love about this album is how you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s an eclectic listen, not in an overcrowded way but in an extremely thrilling and enticing way. This is definitely a rock album with a very strong pop centre, but it’s all its other little reference points that make it an incredibly brave and sincere album, made by someone that loves music of all forms. There is no denying the strength of the songwriting and the ideas here; this is the flamboyant, over the top, heart on sleeve album that we wanted and needed! All hail King Lenman!

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