Album Review: Wand – Laughing Matter

For a band that only formed six years ago, Wand haven’t wasted any time since their formation. We’ve had a release from the LA outfit every year since 2014 that has seen them progress from fuzz rock hopefuls to the fully fledged psych-pop voyagers they are today.

Laughing Matter‘ is most definitely Wand’s most ambitious project so far, clocking in well over an hour with 16 new tracks to get stuck into. Naturally, the five piece take us down many avenues across the track-listing but for the most part this is a continuation from the cosmic indie rock of previous LP ‘Plum‘. But with an album being at this length, it does flicker between straight forward pop moments to more drawn out, expansive pieces.

It’s quite a trick to be able to pull off writing a breezy little indie tune but also know how to captivate a listener through huge sprawling epics. ‘Airplane‘ is the nine minute centrepiece here that sees keys player Sofia take the lead through a laid back bass line. The melody locks you in but it’s the layers of guitars and synths that keep you there, fully engaged in this bewildering piece.

Although I do enjoy these more blissful yet widescreen moments, I tend to favour when the band trim the fat a little and it’s tracks like the fuzzed up ‘Walkie Talkie‘ and the beautiful ‘Thin Air‘ that really steal the show for me. I must admit, I miss the three minute howlers that were all over their earlier material, but there is no denying the beauty in the dreamy-psych tendencies they’ve developed; ‘Hare‘ and ‘Rio Grande‘ have come at a perfect time, acting as the most spot on sun basking soundtrack.

Something that came to me when listening to Plum was the little nods to 90’s era Radiohead, especially in the guitar melodies. On this record, frontman Cory does give quite a convincing latter day Thom Yorke impression in the vocals, which certainly suits some of the records dreamier moments. It’s pretty hard to pull off a Thom impression without sounding like you’re taking the piss, but Cory seems very comfortable in his vocals abilities and it seems like a very natural way of singing, subconsciously taking queues from King Yorke.

My thoughts on ‘Laughing Matter‘ are similar to what I thought of Ty Segall’s mammoth effort ‘Freedoms’ Goblin‘; when it’s good, it’s excellent and you can’t help but bathe in the brilliance of the songwriting and performances. But it’s the length of the album that puts me off a little with some of the experimental tracks stunting the flow of the albums prominent moments. But I understand that this is the sound of a band throwing it all in and discovering new sounds whilst adding on to their foundations. It’s this approach that makes me think their masterpiece is just around the corner, therefore meaning that ‘Laughing Matter‘ is a solid stepping stone into greatness.

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Album Review: Memory of Elephants – Beachballin’

I’ve always thought there was something in the water down in Bristol. Not only is the scene there always thriving but every band seem to give it everything. Memory of Elephants are the city’s premier math-rock group and since their formation around 2013, they’ve given it both barrels, both through a series of well loved EP’s and an absolute shit-ton of blistering live shows.

Their ever increasing following has been eagerly awaiting an album from the three piece and after a successful funding campaign late last year, Memory of Elephants are finally ready to unveil ‘Beachballin‘.

The first thing I got when initially hearing this band is that all three members are total music nerds. It’s clear that they try to inject as many of their influences into their music as possible. In a scene where many bands seem to be rehashing well trodden avenues, Memory of Elephants blend everything together for something that comes across with genuine passion and excitement.

You can tell that guitarist Toby is a Shoegaze addict, as he brings dreamy and fuzzy together in perfect harmony on atmospheric opener ‘Psychological Extras’ and later on the climactic ‘Herb Is The Toothpaste Of The Soul’. I also love the jazzy, soulful stylings of bassist Ben with the precise yet muscular drum work of drummer Sam. It’s rare that you find three players with a unique personality gel so well together.

I feel like the record was mostly recorded live as you can feel the trio’s energy and passion come through in spades on twisting, riffed up epics like ‘Teflon Wombat’ and ‘I Just Karate Shit my Pants’. I can hear nods to so many incredible bands but it’s not duplicates, just pure homage with their own spin. Something I think a lot of mathy bands can take note from.

If you’ve witnessed the band play live you would have probably been hypnotised by the turbo-prog meets psych set closing madness that is ‘Tiles, You’re Dead’. To my absolute delight, this closes the record and sounds as mind melting and engaging as it does live, its 10 plus minutes keeping you locked in and fully captivated. Just wait for the end for pure stink-face results.

Experimental, brave and overflowing with great musicianship and forward thinking ideas, Beachballin’ is a really superb debut. This is one for the nerds make no mistake, dive in and swim around in all its glory.

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Album Review: Idlewild – Interview Music

There are some bands that grow old with grace and I feel like Idlewild are the definition of this. The Edinburgh formed outfit have never seemed to have lost their arsenal of fans since their early 90’s formation, partly thanks to their knack for writing indie-rock anthems. Sure there’s been a punk era, a stadium rock era and even a bit of a country era, but they’ve always wrapped it up with hooks that will stick in your head forever.

‘Interview Music‘ is their eighth studio effort and with it being four years in the making, it’s perhaps their most ambitious record to date. Featuring 13 tracks and clocking in at just under an hour, the now five piece weave through some sounds you’ll be very familiar with as well as moving into some fresh new territory.

Opening track ‘Dream Variations‘ bridges the gap perfectly between the huge alt rock prowess the band are known for while chucking in a dreamy, psychedelic centre. I’d say that this is probably the bands most exciting opener since ‘You Held The World In Your Arms‘ blew everyone’s minds on 2002 classic ‘The Remote Part‘. Those that thought that album is just everything (like me) will be pleased to know that tracks like ‘All These Words‘ and ‘Same Things Twice‘ hark back to the massive rock pop tones that helped make the band’s most triumphant release.

But of course, this is just one of many flavours this album has to offer, as we get proggy on the albums superb title track as well as letting the groove pop vibes sink in on ‘There’s a Place For Everything‘. When they get it right, they really get it right as this holds some of their catchiest and most sincere songs in years! However, there are a few many moments that just seem a little half baked, with some slightly over trodden melodical phrasing that is a little on the filler side. Personally, I feel like this album is a wee bit long and a more refined tracklisting might have made for a tighter set.

For the most part, ‘Interview Music‘ is a really charming record with some extremely memorable moments that go toe to toe with the classics. Ultimately, what is great about this record is that after over 20 years of being a band, Idlewild are still striving to experiment and explore new avenues and they sound confident and invigorated doing it.

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Live Review: Employed To Serve at Rebellion in Manchester 29 March 2019

Surrey based metalcore mavericks Employed To Serve seem very much the frontrunners of the UK’s heavy scene right now, having made two brutally brilliant albums and terrorising audiences around the world with an ear bursting live show. It makes total sense the quintet have signed a major label deal to release their third album, which drops in May. Tonight we are at a packed out Rebellion Bar in Manchester for an exclusive headline show to kick off a busy year of touring in support of this highly anticipated release.

The band enter the stage all dressed in matching windbreakers donning the new album cover on the back and the band’s initials on the front. Although everything is impressive about tonight’s set, it’s the fact all members make it through still rocking the windbreaker that I find especially impressive. But down to the tunes. The set opens with ‘Force Fed‘, the first track we’ve heard from the new LP and it sounds as ripping live as it does on record, with an intro that reminds me of early Slipknot, breaking into a proper tough guy hardcore riff that gets the pit moving immediately.

I must admit I was desperate to hear as much new material as possible from ‘Eternal Forward Motion‘, but the band keep us on our toes with three new tracks including recent single release ‘Harsh Truth‘ and another cut which I didn’t catch the name of. Everything new we hear sounds fucking crushing, the riffs are as sharp as hell, the breakdowns make me wanna put my head through a glass door and the vocals are as fearless and heartfelt than ever. I have a feeling that this new album is going to go heavier and deeper than before and I can already hear this becoming the most important metal record of the year.

For the rest of the set we get straight bangers, mostly lifted from their faultless sophomore effort ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun‘. I saw the band a few times during the promotional run of this record but it still sounds ridiculously fresh and exciting, from the sky scraping ‘Lethargy‘ to the thunderous groove of ‘Good For Nothing‘, the whole room is lost in a barrage of head banging or screaming their lungs out back to vocalist Justine. They never let the energy get lost though as guitarist Richard punches the air and screams along with the front row whilst other guitarist Sammy demands circle pits and, along with Justine, makes sure the room is constantly moving while they deliver these Metalcore monsters.

I’m almost a little bit sad when the set finishes tonight as I could easily hear the whole thing again. Employed To Serve not only put on a solid live show but they have a whole army of brilliantly written tunes that go from soaring melodies to fucking punishing breakdowns. Particularly with these new tunes, tonight they seem unstoppable. I predict seeing them tear apart a room twice this size on their next visit up north!

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Album Review: Crows – Silver Tongues

Crows feel like they’ve been a band forever when in reality they only formed four years back. I think the reason for my thinking is due to the fact that they’ve made their short time as a band count. After relentless touring and a string of solid EP releases, the London foursome finally signed to Balley Records, an upcoming label ran by man of the moment Joe Talbot (of Idles fame). With things constantly moving in the right direction, Crows are ready to unveil their debut album and as a band that always give us both barrels, consider us prepared to delve in deep.

The albums title track is an explosive opener that comes crushing down with this stonking stoner style riff. It’s five plus minutes takes you through multiple time switch ups, a bellowing rhythm section, screeching guitars and intense vocals on the knife edge. It’s a thrilling start that leaves us with the question of where the band will take us next. The simple answer is – everywhere. There’s quite a lot of different sounds and ideas that are worked into this album, all bound together with a sense of togetherness. It’s the tightness of the band and conviction in their performances that brings these songs together for a strong set.

For example, ‘Demeanor‘ comes in at track two with just under two minutes of pure punk fury, whilst the following track ‘Empyrean‘ is this totally euphoric indie-rock track. It’s the versatility in the track listing that gives it such power because you just don’t know what’s around the corner. Each member contributes to the sheer ferocity of the record; bassist Jith and drummer Sam keep it bolted down with brute force, while guitarist Steve and vocalist James are left to tear the walls down with either sky scraping melodies or doom impending noise.

Another thing I like about Crows is how they combine their influences to inflect more detail into their noise, something a lot of the current punk crop don’t always consider. I can hear the obnoxiousness of METZ, the psychedelic expansion of latter day The Horrors and even a fuzzy sprinkling of early BRMC. It’s punk rock for sure, but it’s their nods to noise, psych, doom and garage that are most striking here. As far as debuts go, this shows a huge amount of promise with sharp songwriting and blistering performances. ‘Silver Tongues’ makes Crows a very exciting prospect indeed.

CROWS A/S/L – Available here!

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Album Review: American Football – LP3

The comeback of American Football was always going to divide opinion. To be fair, the band made probably the most influential emo record of all time so with its follow up coming 17 years later, I could understand some of the scepticism that surrounded it. Personally, I thought the Chicago outfits second self-titled LP was a beautifully matured piece that was shrouded in shimmering melodies, with the right balance of melancholia. In this current climate, you find that reunions involve a tour and an album, then straight back into the abyss, so it’s great to see American Football go against that and come back once again with another full length.

There’s been quite a few teasers in the run up to ‘LP3′, including a few collaborations which were definitely talking points when the track listing was first released. It felt like the second album was the band dipping their toes back into the water, so to speak, so as you can imagine, there’s a lot more expansion and forward thinking on this latest set. Opening track ‘Silhouettes‘ is a gleaming example; a gorgeous 7 minute epic of an opener driven by the band’s signature intertwining guitar melodies, centered around a Steve Reich influenced xylophone motif. Reich has always played an influence throughout the band’s discography, but here they really hone into a new sense of space and atmosphere which makes for some truly beautiful compositions.

Uncomfortably Numb‘ is equal parts heartwarming and heart-wrenching as guitarist and lead vocalist Mike Kinsella is joined by Paramore’s Hayley Williams for a poignant duet about the stark contrasts of youth and adulthood. As always, American Football’s lyrical content is very introverted and personal, but it’s the use of guest vocalists like Hayley, Rachel Goswell (Slowdive) and Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk) that feel more outward than before. There’s always been a strong conversational element to the lyrical delivery, but it’s the use of additional vocals that give you a bigger feeling that we’re all in this together and need to talk out loud to one another.

For the most part, LP3 is a mid-paced and atmospheric affair, but this doesn’t stop the band’s rhythm section Nate Kinsella and Steve Lamos from sinking into the groove and pepping things up a little bit. Tracks like ‘Heir Apparent‘ and ‘I Can’t Feel You‘ do bring a slight bit of urgency into proceedings and it’s hard not to get stuck into Nate’s super strength bass work or Steve’s unique drumming style that manages to feel tight and loose at the same time. A difficult trick to master, I must say. Although the band’s more glimmering moments are bound to steal the show for many, I must say it’s these groovier moments that take the highlight crown for me.

There’s been a fair few comparisons to Mike’s solo project Owen on the band’s updated sound, with some fans feeling like these songs have been taken over by the frontman. Although I do definitely get that same sense of grace from the Owen material, this is not the Mike Kinsella show by any means. American Football has always been about locking in with clever grooves and spell bounding melodies and LP3 is as perfect an example of the band’s chemistry as ever. I know the more polished, elegant sound may not resonate with the die-hards, but it’s time to move on. American Football are boldly pushing things forward and the results are simply stunning.

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Live Review: The Twilight Sad at Gorilla in Manchester 27 February 2019

Two months into 2019 and I can firmly say already that this is the year for The Twilight Sad. Not only have they just released probably their best album, but it smashed the charts up in its first week and they’re currently on a sold out run of UK shows playing their biggest headline shows to date. After years of graft, things seem to be paying off for Scotland’s goth pop princes and slow down they will not!

Gorilla is packed out tonight following an abnormally hot day in February and thankfully the air con is switched on. Proper sweat box that venue I tell ya. Anyway, not only am I completely buzzing for The Twilight Sad, but I’m really pleased about tonight’s support coming from A Mote of Dust. This project is actually quite new to me, but its founder Craig B is an artist I’ve followed for many years now, being in incredible alt rock bands such as Aerogramme and The Unwinding Hours.

Craig is joined by pianist Graeme as they take us through a spell bounding set of folk tinged acoustics, post-rock theatrics and subtle electronica flourishes. This is all topped by Craig’s stunning vocal, which are of an angelic quality and you can’t help but be drawn in by the sincerity of his delivery. It’s a completely spellbinding performance which makes me extremely eager to check out the duo’s new record, which drops this very week.

After a warm up show last night in Glasgow, The Twilight Sad take to the stage this evening looking focused and ready to smash their biggest headline show in the fair city of Manchester. So what do you do when you’ve just made your strongest set of songs so far? You play em all! Every song on new album ‘It Won/t Be Like This All The Time‘ gets aired tonight and sounds absolutely huge!

From the intense yet energising opening ‘[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]‘ to the full on post-punk outrage of ‘Girl Chewing Gum‘, the supercharged attitude of front man James is ever captivating and the whole room is behind him. Although it’s hard not to take my eyes off James, they are averted to the front row of the crowd who are completely engrossed in every note and every word. It’s really heartwarming to see and you can’t help but join in, especially on the massively catchy hooks that dominate ‘I/m Not Here‘ and ‘Videograms‘.

Although the new tunes take focus tonight, we still get some classics thrown in and first album favourite ‘Cold Days From the Birdhouse‘ is as breathtakingly beautiful as it ever was. Another pleasant addition is the band’s infamous cover of Frightened Rabbit’sKeep Yourself Warm‘. This is of course a tribute to FR front man Scott who tragically passed away last year and the rendition tonight is stunning, epically loud and there’s not a dry eye in the house.

For a band that specialise in being miserable, The Twilight Sad sound life affirming this evening. With a set of goth pop bangers this strong, 2019 will go down as the year an already great band got even greater.

Read our review of ‘IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME’ here!
(Photo Credit: Debi Del Grande)

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