Tag Archives: review

Indiepop Half-dayer, Firebug, Leicester, 9 March 2019

A shorter version of the much-loved Indie day at Leicester city centre venue The Firebug, with a quintet of fine acts in an ideal venue.
First on were Boarder, a power trio establishing themselves locally. With guitar fuzz and echo driving the sound, super-deep bass and merciless drumming they were a gale-force of stimulating noise. Their recorded work is at an early stage but especially the slower ‘End Of The Day’ and their first single ‘Black Hole’ sounded full of potential.

Low-fi duo Panic Pocket performed sharp and ironic personal tales, bringing the audience into their world. The subtle guitar and mini analogue keyboard interweaved with the dual vocals and concise evocative words like ‘…you left me all alone in the dark……I walked home, via Morrison’s car park…’, from ‘Don’t Get Me Started’. They celebrate mundane ephemera, modern disappointments and on the lead track from their forthcoming EP ‘The Boss’, the pointless stresses of the workplace. Excellent.

I first encountered Derby quartet Pet Crow when they released their debut album https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/06/14/pet-crow-a-simple-guide-to-small-and-medium-pond-life-lp-released-march-2017/ and finally I get to see them on stage. Their live sound is a perfect balance of aggression and restraint; the luminous, compelling vocals sound like they are from a alternative universe sometimes aligning with ours as the three musicians hammer their instruments at a hyperactive work rate, as well as painting light and shade. I really enjoyed this brilliant set, especially the strangeness of ‘Harold And Maude’.

Wolf Girl played a fine set drawn mostly from their second album, along with oldie ‘Middlesexy’. ‘Moody’ is a strong opener, showing how the band use their twin guitarists and vocal layers to create a full power-pop sound. ‘Dream Partner’ is a retro treat, ‘This One Summer’ is a holiday hit while the bass driven ‘Maths In The Real World’ gives way to a killer chorus. ‘Samson’ is sparse, sharp and hypnotic with a catchy chorus (‘…Samson, don’t you look handsome…’) that all makes a sort of sense.

Headliners Personal Best are soon to release a new album and several tracks from that were featured tonight, along with ‘Love Is On Your Side’ and ‘This Time Next Year’ from debut LP ‘Arnos Vale’ and 2014 song ‘The Tide’. They are a band with a great strength and depth in song writing who lift their live sound into a punching, sparkling platform for tales of relationship angsts and optimism. Finally the stately descending guitar introduction heralded their anthem of diversity and tolerance ‘This Is What We Look Like’, which grows in stature with every listen, and was the best possible ending to the show.

https://boarder.bandcamp.com/
https://panicpocket.bandcamp.com/
https://petcrow.bandcamp.com/
https://wolfgirlband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/personalbestrocks
https://www.facebook.com/stnpresents/

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Emzae : Another Lesson Learnt, single released 22 March 2019

Emzae is a singer and electronic musician who has been recording and performing her own songs since 2014. After various demos her debut long-player ‘Double Life’ was an ambitious concept album about a fictional pop singer. It showed her versatility and range; from the frenetic 80s synthtastic pace of ‘Alter Ego’ and ‘We Hate You’ to the leisurely atmosphere of ‘Lounge’ and compact pop template of ‘Star Sign’.

Impressive indeed, then follow-up singles opened up new landscapes – starting with the much streamed ‘Lucid Dreaming’ (a dream during which the subject is aware that they are dreaming) which was a simple structure with a seemingly infinite number of textures and colours to frame Emzae’s entrancing vocals. Four experimental remixes added to the intrigue.

Recently ‘Glory’ started with an electric piano introduction then added echoing semi-ambient keyboards and bass lines. As the track built up with percussion and strange slowed-down vocal interventions weaving with a catchy hookline it was a darkly satisfying composition.

So now we have a new single to accompany some live dates in the UK. ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ is an atmospheric, assured track; throughout an electronic drumbeat drives the narrative with the words addressing the idea that society pressures all to find love in order to be secure and complete and how that can lead to wrong choices.
‘…I want to belong, just like anyone….in our quest for unity we get ourselves burnt….’, like many of her lyrics, the heartfelt emotion comes through in her haunting vocals. The instrumentation is complex and confident, the messages strongly expressed. Finally that pulsing beat stops, leaving just the multi-tracked voices to drift off into the ether…..

https://emzaemusic.com/

Ward Thomas, Junction, Cambridge, 1 March 2019

A sell-out Cambridge crowd arrived early for the appearance at the Junction of two rising stars of UK Alt-Country music. Opening the show were The Wandering Hearts, with the central trio augmented by extra guitar and upright bass. First song ‘Fire And Water’ had the immediacy of many of their tracks, with a tight, rhythmic verse turning into a huge chorus. The combination of two female and one male voice gives their spot-on harmonies the lustre and depth of classic period Fleetwood Mac, shown off especially in the airy, ethereal ‘Burning Bridges’. There is a harder edge to ‘Rattle’ and finale ‘Devil’ is a pacey, pounding crowd-pleaser with a redemptive hookline. An excellent start to the show and the Junction’s sound system has never sounded better?!

Ward Thomas
are riding high on the impact and chart placing of their third album ‘Restless Minds’ and tonight they featured all but one of its tracks. Twin sisters Cathy and Lizzy play acoustic guitars and blend their voices in harmony to mesmerising effect, as well as trading solo lines and responses. Combined with a band that can switch from subtle acoustic backing to a big part-electronic contemporary sound Ward Thomas have structured an immaculate show.

Some of the songs on the new LP are reflections of modern mores and impacts on the individual; the nurturing of social media self-appearance on opener ‘Lie Like Me’ and a longing for the removal of these new conventions on ‘No Filter’ and ‘Same Love’. These ideas make for bold pop songs, delivered with power, but for me the emotional core of the show is the resigned melancholy of the ballads spread through the set. From the betrayal symbolised by ‘Guilty Flowers’ to the beautiful melody and despair of ‘Hopeless’ (a song I saw them perform during their ’15 cities in 3 days’ in-stores promotional tour!), they sing from the heart.

‘Little Girl Sorrow’ is a waltz with an undercurrent of optimism and best of all is the gospel chords and big chorus of ‘One More Goodbye’. They introduced this as one of their favourite songs; I’m not surprised, it is one of mine too, it is brilliant.
It is not all wrenching at the heart and mind; ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is an up tempo acceptance of the world set to a warm and positive instrumental backing and ‘I Believe In You’ is a celebratory and glorious three minutes. Lots more highlights too including their debut LP being represented by a medley of faster songs which shows how their sound has developed over their three albums.

An encore of the pensive, thoughtful ‘This Too Will Pass’ was followed by a grand finale, with The Wandering Hearts back on stage to add to the vocals on a scorching performance of signature anthem ‘Carry You Home’…..still resonating with me now as is the rest of this memorable show.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.thewanderinghearts.com/music/

Moonstrips : We Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, LP released January 2019

A recently released album from Cambridge quartet Moonstrips; a follow up to ‘Glimpses’ from 2016.

1. Heading For Dust Kicking off the collection is this riff-driven burst of rock energy, motoring along like a late 60s Who single. A brilliant effects drenched guitar solo kicks in near the end.

2. Suzette Previously released as a single this sublime two and a quarter minutes of garage rock has the constantly frustrated narrator detached from the mysterious Suzette ‘….you have so many faces, I always see them in many different places…’. There are plenty of instrumental and melodic twists and turn crammed into this compact track.

3. Ride To The Centre The original trio has now added a saxophone to the line-up and on this medium-paced track its plaintive theme line punctuates the vocal and threads effectively through the whole song, finally letting loose at the end.

4. Out Of Phase A lyrically dense, thoughtful piece with a riff reminiscent of Bryan Ferry’s twisted version of ‘The In Crowd’. Lounge music with sharp edges as the sax snakes subtly into the song.

5. Had To Find Out This is my favourite song; heard live it is a tour de force as the slow waltz time is pushed to its limits. Starting with just guitar and sax and a suppressed drum beat, the bleak lyric gradually builds up the tension of the narrative. Finally the guitar jumps to the front of the mix with a strident solo, counterpointing with the sax.

6. WLYYYY
The title track is as strange and striking as the cover art, where a giant hare bestrides a motorway blocking the transit of an ice cream van following a sign directing it to moonstrips airport. It is an instrumental spectacular; busy bass and drums, yearning saxophone notes and guitar using all the tools and noises in the box to thunderous effect.

7. Reasons To Be Fearful Back to basics riff for this one, the faster tempo giving it a lighter, funkier feel than the rest of the album. Enigmatic lyrics keep an atmosphere of paranoia ‘…don’t read that book, throw it on the fire, its message hurts you and the author is a liar….’ The sax punctuates the track with a jazzy solo, before the big finish.

8. Think Happy Thoughts
A pastoral, relaxed end to the album, built around a repeating guitar figure and pedal bass note. Never straying far from this structure the track eventually drifts off into the ether.

A formidable live band, Moonstrips have attempted to crystallise the energy and intrigue of their stage performance into these grooves. I think they have succeeded…

https://www.moonstrips.com/

Benz : Erazor, EP released February 2019

A new EP from Benz, the performing name of Swedish composer and singer Ebba Salomonsson. Moving easily between dense, layered instrumentation and a sparser sound these three tracks represent some of the diversity and range of her ideas.

1. Swing My Soul A distant undulating keyboard, echoing drum beat and the song begins with the cryptic lyric ‘….I guess the light blew up in my face…..I couldn’t turn away…’. The loose tempo and beguiling vocal is a heady concoction, before we reach the big title hookline. A languid trumpet sound interweaves with an avalanche of guitar noise for the climatic last third of the song, as the words turn to regret ‘…we used to live like moments would come back….now I got no more to give…’

2. Erazor The deceptively loud introduction gives way to a lighter than air vocal on a joyous pop song with a tune that sounds so perfect and natural you wonder why nobody has thought of it before.
There is some tension in the lyrical sentiment though; the doubts of ‘….I fear your heart is going numb…..love me until your heart breaks…love me until it don’t…’ soon give way to the frustrations of ‘…keep on falling apart, keep on heading the wall…’. The guitar keeps bursting back into the mix and the whole thing motors along like a War On Drugs A-side. This gem of a song is released simultaneously as a single.

3. The Smile The dissonant mellotron heralds a lush, sensuous soundscape of synthesisers and a smooth, rich voice over a stately pace set by an insistent but muted drum. Another classy melody and words revolving around the ‘smile’ of the title. ‘…keep her head in the breeze…in hope she’ll feel alive and see what’s left of me… oh, that smile she gave to me…’. The extended instrumental coda features the smoky trumpet sound again.

This is a lovingly-crafted set of songs, brought to life by top quality musicians. Excellent!

https://www.facebook.com/BBENZMUSIC

BansheeVa : debut album, released February 2019

The debut long player from BansheeVa, one of Cambridge’s premier live psychedelic bands finally arrives. The album starts with the pacey fire of ‘F.O.Y.C’, a short burst of instrumental power built around staccato drums and a stop-start guitar figure. Clocking in at less than two minutes ‘Woman From Mars’ is more of a retro piece with full-on late 60s sound. It is ‘Space Invaders’ when the trio go into controlled power-drive with a full band propulsive riff and the welcome appearance of some indecipherable shouted vocals blended into the mix.

‘Janus’ is the god with two faces, looking into the future and back into the past and so represents a perfect manifesto for the psychedelic genre; on this track the core musical idea is a repeated single note but adorned with complex drums, a manic guitar solo and ultimately bludgeoning the listener into submission. In a good way.

Every Cambridge band that inhabits this musical territory is going to be aware of the ghost of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd and I have seen BansheeVa play ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ as a feature of their live set. I sense that the languid ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ is a spot-on tribute to mid-period Floyd with its laid-back instrumental colours, distant vocal and loose but always interesting guitar touches.

The final fourteen minute track is a widescreen, cinematic epic – the solo guitar arpeggios introducing the piece are gradually blended with a stately bass then the thunderous laying down of solid metal chords builds an effective platform for some more otherworldly vocals. Over this first third we get a guitar solo and dive-bombing synchronised with the bass. The track does not let up; the doom-laden bassline sounds like a portent to Armageddon and a deceptively quiet section allows some contemplation before it all kicks off again.

This is a loud and louder unrestrained debut, well worth the wait.

https://www.facebook.com/BansheeVa

The Twilight Sad : It Won’t Be Like This All The Time, LP released January 2019

The fifth album from The Twilight Sad, prime exponents of big sweeping soundscapes and playing out of emotional traumas. Describing themselves as a ‘…Scottish band who enjoy making miserable music…’ they share some musical territory with the Cure, including support slots on their tours and a Robert Smith vocal cover on one of the Sad’s best songs ‘There’s A Girl In The Corner’.

Everything is in place on this new collection; illustrated perfectly in the first song (10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs) from the opening line ‘…we’re hanging on by a thread and you keep bowing your head…’ to the big glorious sound when the full band kicks in. There are many cryptic titles along the way such as ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’ with one of the heaviest introductions to a percussion driven piece. ‘The Arbor’ is dark and thoughtful, with a repeating guitar triplet figure and super deep bass. ‘VTr’ was a trail single for this album; an uptempo almost optimistic sounding song with one of the best vocal performances on this album.

‘Sunday Day13’ is a slower impassioned track ‘…will you always be mine?…please don’t ever change your mind…’, heart wrenching lines over mixed keyboard backing.
The echoing piano drifts away to herald another previous single ‘I’m Not Here (Missing Face)’, an epic, unrelenting pulsing rhythm, sustained guitar notes and a catchy but pessimistic hookline with various versions of ‘…I can’t stand to be around you any more….’. The sentiment continues in ‘Auge/Maschine’ ‘…I can’t believe you’re happy…’, a brilliant song powered by huge skysaw guitar. ‘Keep It All To Myself’ is a lighter, quick waltz and probably the most immediate song on the LP.

And there are three more excellent tracks too; it is a superb collection, an intense, demanding listen in one go but unearthing treasures and extra depth as you accept it into your consciousness.

http://thetwilightsad.com/