Music Reviews

Kate Nash – Leadmill

April 2013

“If you take anything away from this gig, I want it to be this: be whoever you want to be and let nothing stand in your way.” Truer words were never spoken by 25 year old Kate Nash, initialised cat ears nestled in her dark hair and red lipstick playing on her mouth as she thrilled the crowd as Leadmill’s latest headliner.

After debut album ‘Made of Bricks’ topped charts in 2007, and second album ‘My Only Friend Is You’ took on a more girl-band sound, the singer-songwriter’s is now touring with her third album ‘Girl Talk’, a riotous and punk-ridden collection of songs. Whilst the more pop-happy streak has faded, the London born girl is still following her outspoken and tongue-in-cheek roots. All be upstanding – Kate Nash is back.

Nash opens with tracks from her new album. Song ‘Sister’ begins as a beautiful, heartfelt lilt; ‘There was this cool, cool girl /She was about your age/ She kinda had your smile’ before Nash breaks into raw, unrestrained cries. It’s a side to Nash we haven’t experienced before, a sharp move from her cutesy, witty side.

Her promotional single ‘Under-estimate The Girl’ is equally distortion-heavy and for want of a better word, a bit shouty. Nash owns the stage in her ruffled red dress, electric guitar in tow, but there were definitely a few bemused faces in the crowd. Lyrics, “If you choose to hate the ones you love/ You’re probably making a big mistake” are such a far step away from her first album you can’t help but wonder if she’s alienating some of her hard-core fans.

However, nothing can take away from her brilliant stage presence, regaling cheeky anecdotes between songs to the delight of the crowd; “I met The Kooks at the airport one time and when they asked me what I was doing, I told them I had just brought a new tin whistle. So I ended up sat in a bar with The Kooks playing them a tune on my new whistle. When they walked away afterwards, I remember thinking, ‘What the fuck just happened?’” It’s clear from her winks and giggles that she’s loving what she’s doing, and you can’t help but love her in return for that.

Nash returns to favourites from her first album much to the delight of the audience. ‘Do-Wah-Doo’ starts the crowd screaming, arms flung in the air and feet stamping as Nash jumps into the crowd to dance with her adoring fans.  ‘Foundations’ is met with equally enthralled screams. It’s clear this is what the audience has been waiting for – Nash at her most fun, fruity and clever.

Miss Nash may have made a leap of faith with her new album but there’s no doubt she’s still winning people’s hearts with her smart-tongue and passionate attitude to new music. There was definitely individuals leaving the gig with a new girl crush, and who can blame them really? She’s a devilish treat to the ears.

Blake – Start Over

Released 2nd February 2013

Can you remember the dark days in your pre-teens, where amongst the angst of finding true love and adapting your movements to fit your suddenly disproportionally long limbs, coming home to a Take That’s greatest hits was the only escape?

Listening to Blake’s latest album sends you so far back into that acne riddled world, you expect to stay there, cringing and tear stained with a copy of Jane Eyre pressed against your chest.

The all-male quartet, started in 2007, has in fact gone from strength to strength after reuniting as friends through Facebook. Their mix of eclectic classical and pop harmonies proved popular with their debut album selling half a million copies. They have toured worldwide including the Philippines, China, Australia, Italy and South Korea.

Despite flawless vocals, their opening track ‘Living on Sunshine’ does nothing if not spur nauseas at the unashamedly upbeat and jovial lyrics – “Just your kiss, chase the dark, from my eyes, from the bottom of my midnight heart.”

Its perkiness suggests a theatre production, perhaps the finale in Annie, where the boys run on stage in tail coats and glittery hats, while a dog in a tutu sits in quiet humiliation in the corner

In merry irony, member Jules Knight is leaving the band to chase an acting dream. You can see why.

Yet, their musicality is undoubtedly excellent; songs ‘Amazed’ and cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ showcase the singers’ impressive vocal range, along with shimmering cymbals and chirpy horn section. It is undiluted talent without need for electric drum kit and voice corrector.

The conundrum remains that Blake are quintessentially corny. You finish the album torn between reaching for whiskey and a flamboyant maroon jacket.

It’s the stuff Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dreams are made of. It’s just not anyone else’s.

Originally reviewed for Forge Press

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom

Released September 2011

Music is a selfish pursuit. Even if you had asked the heavily-quiffed 17 year old John Lennon why he was making music, his reply is unlikely to have been, “For others.” I hope to Bon Iver it was, “Because I fucking love it.” And that’s how it should be.

Then Ben Howard entered my world and I began to wonder if anything that makes you feel this good can ever be labelled egoistic.

In classic teenage angst style, I was lying in my darkened attic, staring at the stars through the skylights to the crackle of David Bowie on vinyl when my friend insisted on playing his newly purchased copy of Howard’s debut album ‘Every Kingdom.’

“It’s good stuff,” he promised. “I know you’ll love it.” And it was there, lying on a battered futon and inhaling wood smoke through the open window that I fell in love. And boy, did I fall hard.

Howard’s career has gone from strength to strength. In April 2012, he sold out at the Bowery Ballroom in New York and the same year, Shepherd’s Bush Empire was filled with adoring fans for two nights running. Word-of-mouth fever and Howard’s passion within the surfing community has emboldened his success, so much so he now has his own army of screaming girls to rival any teenage boy band’s entourage.

Growing up in the wide open spaces of Devon, Howard’s music has the delicate intelligence only years of listening to artists such as Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell can bring.

Some mistaken individuals may compare Howard’s mellow, acoustically submersive sound to that of America’s Jack Johnson, or Jason Mraz.  Truth be told, they are fields apart. Not in talent, but the intimacy their music brings.

The album opens with ‘Old Pine’. In his husky, gentle voice, Howard depicts an altogether rural image, lyricism involving sandy toes and summer sun; ‘Careless and young, free as the birds that fly, with weightless souls.’ Even the most bourgeois being can’t fail to imagine the creak of smoking driftwood and sting of salt water on legs. The guitar is played rested on his knees, fingers deft and skilled to produce clever and intricate riffs. It’s golden musicianship.

‘The Wolves’, despite the melodic fluency and fast-paced tempo, suggest more dark than light in Howard’s metaphorical woodland home. “Falling from high places, falling through lost spaces” he all but shouts; “We lost faith, in the arms of love.” Externally cliché, but Howard’s sincerity and all but unique tone make for a song that is full of soul and empty of convention.

Whilst popular tracks, ‘Keep Your Head up’ and ‘Only Love’ stand out in this album, listeners are left in no doubt of the infectious beauty that runs through every song. With artists churning out electronically produced hits every week, it’s a pleasure to sit back and experience simple music between a man and his guitar.

With the same irony of Jessie J blinking her heavily mascaraed eyes behind her trademark fringe and simpering, “Music isn’t about how you look,” Howard sings, “All this apathy you feel will make fools of us all.” Unless you are misfortune enough to be a possessor of a stone heart, detachment is not something you are likely to be riddled with when listening to ‘Every Kingdom.’

You could put it down to my romantic idea of how acoustic folk should sound, but Howard creates an inescapable seducing of the ears and if you’re lucky, your heart as well. Don’t fight it. Just listen. There is treasure hidden here.

Originally reviewed for carpemusica.com

No Doubt Push and Shove

Released September 2012

In the last eleven years, a lot has happened to music. Lana Del Rey with her bee-stung lips and lavishly back-combed hair stole the world’s heart with her cinematic pipes; Mumford & Sons continue to prove why bow ties and tweed will forever remain cool, and, unfortunately, Nicki Minaj has led many to question what the hell is happening to the 21st century if a hair dye fetish and a huge bum are all it takes to earn $14 million. But who’s bitter?

It has been just over a decade since band No Doubt’s last album. Mostly down to Gwen Stephani’s success as a solo artist, their unique recipe of reggae fusion, ska punk and pop rock was lost since their last studio album Rock Steady was released in 2001. Thankfully, their new album ‘Push And Shove’ proves they are not behind when it comes to making an impression on the music scene.

The album opens with Settle Down, a playful ska-reggae piece, proving Gwen Stephani has enough kudos in the music world to still get away with lines such as “I’m hella positive for good.” It’s decent, chirpy summer music, and as an opening sets a good tone for a band that have only just finished blowing dust off their dog-tooth trousers.

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The song Sparkle is heavy in swaying reggae beats, with trumpet solo to boot, happily putting one in mind of evening seaside sunshine and a Peter Andre-esque fellow wandering out of the waves.

Modern influences of Dubstep are heard tantalizingly throughout the album, such as in Looking Good where we leave the bouncy reggae tone for something more club-ready. Which is no bad thing. I can honestly say that as a dance track at 2:30am in a night club, it’s not bad at all. Looking Hot and Push and Shove mirror the catchy dance tune, the busy beats and lively bass line showing No Doubt at their best.

‘Push And Shove’ lacks the spark that made Hey Baby and It’s My Life such great singles, but it’s still enjoyable, fan-pleasing stuff. The lyrics “Never ever gonna be the same” suggests bittersweet reminiscing of the golden days of No Doubt,but as a comeback album, it’s nothing to be sniffed at. And nobody had to resort to using blue hair dye.

Originally reviewed for Liberty Belle Magazine

Silver Pyre – AeXE

Released November 2012

A wise man by the name of Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know.” It’s sound advice. Writing a book entitled “Life as a Student” loses its panache unless the author in question has burnt toast in his hair and a ‘Men At Work’ triangle in his bedroom.

It’s clearly what Silver Pyre’s leading man Gary Fawle was angling for. Growing up in Somerset, he uses influences from archaic Britain, drawing on ancient architecture and the industrial past of the West Country to shape his music.

Fawle incorporates use of synths and electronic beats juxtaposed with the gentle twang of an acoustic guitar; a hybrid of dance and folk if you will.

It’s inevitable that Danny Boyle’s opening Olympic ceremony soundtrack springs to mind after just a minute of listening.

The sheer amount of clattering cymbals, synthesisers and tinkle of metal-on-metal harks back to an era where coal was king and you couldn’t recognise your father unless an inch of dust was sitting in his wrinkles.

This much Fawle has gotten right. But that’s about it.

I have the upmost respect for artists who take inspiration from what they love, but the rolling hills of the West Country can only provoke so much in the world of synthesised beats.

The insistent clanging and rattling begs the question of when and how you can listen to AeXE.

It’s too distracting as background music and is too slow to be dance.

It’s the Tarzan of the music world; where does it truly belong?

The first song “Copper Findings” is the least convoluted. Fawle’s breathy tones penetrate the free-fall of sounds long enough to realise there’s an Ian Curtis emptiness to his voice.

But I stand by Twain’s advice. Write what you know, but leave out the bit about archaic tools. Please.

Originally reviewed for Forge Press

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