Exitmusic – ‘Passage’ – Album review

Originally published: NME

United in matrimony and music, Brooklyn-based duo Devon Church and Aleksa Palladino embrace their Radiohead-inspired moniker in sound and sentiment. Their debut album proper, ‘Passage’, quivers and quakes with the cinematic electronics and emotional abandonment of a soundtrack to Armageddon. But for all its bleak, dark fissures, bright and tender lights serenely burst out with hope. Opening title-track and ‘The City’ flicker like lit candles, before burning bright at their core of ruinous drums and Palladino’s femme fatale vocal. ‘The Modern Age’ blossoms as a pop noir anthem, while the ruminating close of ‘Sparks of Light’ sedates its final stirring throes.

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Laurel Collective – Electricity Showrooms, Hoxton, London – Live review and Q&A

Originally published: The Stool Pigeon

Collective by name, collective by nature. Over the four years that the London-based experimental pop outfit have carved a name out for themselves on the city’s DIY-scene, they have whittled their original nine members down to five following the release of their debut mini album Feel Good Hits of a Nuclear Winter in 2008. Good job, too: there is hardly enough room to swing a cat by its pyjamas around the Electricity Showrooms, let alone accommodate a troupe of that size and a throng of Old Street hipsters bursting out of their denim shorts like over-egged muffins.

Yet, the sad fact of the matter is that Laurel Collective could easily go unknown beyond these dingy basement shows. In a time where internet hyperbole reins as king and court over the making and breaking of a band beyond the trend-setting blogosphere, there is little buzz surrounding them. They are a group noted in certain London circles, which in invariably cool depending on which indie clod you speak to. But their debut album Heartbeat Underground (released May 28 via Tape Club Records) deserves better than back alley whispers among music mongering cliques.

Their show is packed with the same energy and enthusiasm as their kaleidoscopic-pop debut attests. Opener ‘Fax of Death’ lopes along to a joyous afro-beat jaunt, whistle-synths and a rousing choral break. Bob Tollast’s vocal is clear and deadpan as he opens with the line: ‘Men in the banks with their golden tanks are crushing me’. One half of the band’s ebony-ivory vocal duo, he plays the awkwardly enthused white guy; pogoing around the illuminated floor like it was 1997. Martin Sakutu (formerly with Basement Jaxx) is his gregarious counterpart, adding a soul-soaked vocal while stepping it out like a Temptation.

Despite their differences, the band harmonise like a barbershop quartet on hook-laden tracks like ‘Cheap’ and ‘Sunshine Buddy’; and move with all the ease of Barcelona’s midfield four around their small quarters, playing makeshift percussive instruments that add to the rhythmically buoyant underbelly of tracks like ‘Jelly Bird’ and ‘Heartbeat Underground’. The latter being their darkest, avant-pop tune of the night, sounding like a stripped back Animal Collective. But light is shed and shared again when they finish on ‘Cruel Thing’, handing out whistles and tambourines to a cavorting crowd. Inoffensive, intellectual pop at its most radiant.

How you doing?

Bob Tollast: Well, I’m locked out of my house. It’s not a bad day for it, I guess. There are some kids having a water pistol fight, though. I’m worried I might get caught in the crossfire.

Could be worse. Could be real guns…

BT: Yeah, this is London after all…

Where did the name Laurel Collective come from?

BT: Basically we used to play music under a laurel tree our drummer’s garden and it just stuck. We didn’t put that much through into it, really.

You formed from two different bands, right?

BT: I was in a band with Martin and Olly called Panacea, but I was also producing stuff with our drummer.  It just sort of came together as a collaboration/collective, in the end. There were nine of us at one point.

How did you whittle the other four out?

BT: Well, a relation broke down…

You’re the curators of In The Woods festival. How’s the new line up coming along?

BT: It’s still early days, but we have Kwes, Stealing Sheep, Peter and Kerry, Alt-J and Maia confirmed.

How’s your recent tour been going down? Good of you to do it all for free…

BT: It’s been going well. Although our tour van did run out of petrol after the first 300 metres, which was fine after tracked down some fuel. We’ve lost money on this tour, so I doubt the next ones will be free at this current rate. It’s been good to get out of London; some of the places we have been, I don’t know, people just seem a little bit more excited about live music.

It’s been four years since you have released your mini album. Why has it taken so long to put out your full-length debut?

BT: We wanted to take our time to develop our sound, find our feet sonically and produce it ourselves – which was quite a long learning curve.

You’ve spanned quite a few genres on your debut. Is there anything that you’ve tried to avoid or not wanted to sound like?

BT: We never really wanted to go down a too obvious road, really. I mean, I can’t imagine us ever making a straight up dubstep album, let’s say.

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Alabama Shakes – ‘Boys & Girls’ – Album review

Originally published: The Stool Pigeon

It comes with little surprise that Alabama Shakes has Jack White wailing man-tears from his throbbing, blues beef heart. The release of their eponymous EP in 2011 tapped into the southern rhythm and blues scene as if it had never before seen the light of day before the rise of the internet, leaving The Black Keys’ decade-long rise to fame appear laborious in comparison. The Alabama four-piece’s highly anticipated debut LP, Boys & Girls, at best is an ode to its soul-driven, gospel-inflected roots; at worst, a bad cocktail of the above that wears thin around its denim crotch after a few listens, leaving its arse hanging out. A record crammed with sugar-coated singles, each being unidentifiable from the next.

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Lower Dens – ‘Nootropics’ – Album review

Originally published: The Stool Pigeon

The title of Lower Dens’ sophomore album, Nootropics, references their interest in transhumanism – the use of technology to extend human capabilities. A pompous concept, for sure; yet after millions of years of human evolution, man has reached a point where he is now dumber than his phone. Fortunately for the Baltimore-based four-piece, they can find their way around tune, pinpointing emotive landmarks on their record’s journey. The carousel waltz of opener ‘Alphabet Song’ ushers the listener in with kid gloves, before the darker odysseys of ‘Lamb’ and ‘Candy’ delve deeper into Galaxie 500 territory. But it’s the motorik undulation of ‘Brains’, where Jana Hunter’s languid, mantra-like vocal builds and breaks against its pulsating rhythm, which really puts this band on the map.

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Weird Dreams – ‘Choreography’ – album review

Originally published: NME magazine

https://thomasaward.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/weirddreams-choreography.jpeg?w=300

Surfing on a wave of Beach Boys-inspired psych-jaunts and cooing doo-wop harmonies, Weird Dreams’ debut is awash with pop’s primary colours. Yet ‘Choreography’ is more than a watered-down pastiche of it luminaries’ work. Instead, the East Londoners have conquered where others have since failed: scoring pop in all its simple pleasures for an instant, enjoyable and intelligible record. From the bright and bounding Girls-style guitar hooks on ‘Vague Hotel’ and ‘Holding Nails’, to the juxtaposed XTC riffs that puzzle together to make ‘Faceless’, its indie innocence would be too much if it wasn’t for the darkened, bittersweet hue of their Lynchian narrative.

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Miike Snow – Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden – Live review

Originally published: NME magazine

If the trio behind Miike Snow have proven anything from their careers thus far, it’s that they know how to produce a clean and crisp pop tune. While American-born singer/composer Andrew Wyatt aided and enriched the likes of Carl Barât and Mark Ronson’s most recent offerings, the Swedish songwriting team of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (Bloodshy & Avant, respectively) are better known as the chaps that penned Britney Spear’s Grammy-winning ‘Toxic’ – and saving her shorn head from the career chopping block in the process. They know what it takes to collaborate and compose pop music with all its fragility, guilty pleasures and clarity, which their 2009 self-titled debut went on to prove. So what the France is that awful, discordant din being vomited from the speakers?

Blurp Blurp Blurp, Blurp Blurp Blurp. Miike Snow are two songs into their set at The Swedish Museum of Photography when the smoke machine triggers a flappable fire alarm system into action. The procession-like drumming that was driving ‘The Wave’ (the opening track to their forthcoming album ‘Happy To You’) is now stumbling to a panicked stop, and the venue is gripped in a state of paralysis. It’s not the airing that they would have wished for their new material, but the doors are flung open and the –2 °C ‘Swedish Spring’ breeze puts their pop embers on ice for 45-minutes.

Their return is cool and calculated. Christian and Pontus man a TARDIS-like console with esoteric dials, buttons and lights, and weave ‘Cult Logic’, ‘Bavarian #1’ and ‘Burial’ into the next. Humoured by their false start, Wyatt is animated and at ease; his vocal maintaining a beautifully detached quality that haunts each track.

Kick-starting their tour in front of a courteous home crowd, much of their set is spent gauging the new songs. ‘Paddling Out’ flourishes with contagious, dance-driven hooks; ‘God Help This Divorce’ and ‘Black Tin Box’ mirror Phil Collins at his best; while ‘Devil’s Work’ tenses and releases with a Stone Roses baggy whomp, rousing horns and stuttering drums. Previous album singles ‘Black and Blue’ and set closer ‘Animal’ have a new, loping life to them, proving their weight and Miike Snow’s glistening pop credentials.

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S.C.U.M/Big Deal/Toy – NME Awards Show, Bush Hall, London – Live review

Originally published: NME magazine

The ink has barely had time to dry on the A4 paper that is being hastily Blu-Tacked to the front door of Bush Hall. A small group of lads in their late-teens gather around the notice: ‘TOY WILL NOT BE PLAYING DUE TO ILLNESS’. They mutter in monotones, shrug their shoulders in unison, and make their way to the nearest pub. For some, Friday night hasn’t kicked off with the psychedelic tones that they would have wished for.

But the show must go on. At least you would think. Big Deal stumble out of the blocks with a pop, whistle and wheeze through the speakers thanks to some shoddy sound engineering. Their mellifluous debut album, 2011’s ‘Lights Out’, doesn’t particularly loan itself to such a din, and there is a brief moment where the girl/boy duo of Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood appear more sombre than usual. Opener ‘Chair’ puts a smile on the face of the crowd, at least, as their vocals entwine in a lover’s embrace and sonically waltz around the ornate Bush Hall. What they lack in a rhythm section makes them reliant on what they do have in an ear for a heartfelt guitar hook and gorgeous melodies, which shine through in ‘Cool Like Kurt’, ‘Swoon’ and the beautiful ‘Seraphine’.

Headliners S.C.U.M are quite the antithesis, in comparison. Led by the histrionic Thomas Cohen, the London-based quintet take to a stage blitzed with strobe lighting and a whir of synthetic noise. Many parallels have been drawn between themselves and The Horrors, and it’s plain to see why. Their motorik beats and Moog/Korg orchestrations lend themselves to that of their luminaries; not to mention bass player Huw Webb’s movements on stage miming that of his brother, Spider. But S.C.U.M do come pulling punches of their own, landing them with a well-rehearsed precision. Cohen is captivating as a frontman as he flounces across the stage part Morrissey, part Curtis during ‘Amber Hands’. ‘Faith Unfolds’, driven by Melissa Rigby’s metronomic drumming talents, unfurls with heavy romanticism, while closing track ‘Whitechapel’ encourages some lysergic dance moves from the crowd with it’s The Farm-inspired baggy beats.

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