Monday 30 June 2014

Visiting Diplomats - Bret Harte Road EP

EP review by KevW

The shoegaze revival has kind of gotten out of hand now. Firstly, several years on and it's showing no signs of relenting, in fact, if anything it's gaining momentum. Plus, the genre in its various forms is probably bigger and more popular now than ever before, so maybe this isn't a revival at all, it's a coming of age. Some bands, as is natural with any type of music, see where the boundaries are and try and stretch them a bit further, whereas others are more than content to focus their energies on writing and recording the best songs they can within the general realm of the style. Hailing for Portland's fertile musical streets are Visiting Diplomats, and they fit the latter category. Their EP 'Bret Harte Road' could be straight out of 1991, a year than many see as the pinnacle of shoegaze the first time around, but with a little bit of 4AD's alt-rock from the same era thrown in for good measure.

Yes, this means that you've likely heard this kind of thing before, but with tunes as good as 'Brings Me Down' it matters not. The distortion, the melody, the wall of noise; it's a tried and tested combination and they deliver the goods as well as most who are drinking from those dreamy waters, and they know how to nail a chorus and allow those guitars to chime when needed. The driving 'Pressure' might remind you of early Catherine Wheel, a band who would later embrace the aforementioned alt-rock, even working with 4AD stalwart Tanya Donelly. The sound is allowed to expand for the slowly rumbling and looser feeling 'The Hardest Easy Thing' which isn't too far removed from the material Yuck have been producing since their line-up reshuffle. Despite their name, we hope this isn't just a passing visit.

Visiting Diplomats' website

Stream or buy the EP

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Penny Orchids - Worse Things

Album review by KevW

The music that Penny Orchids make is all over the shop. Thankfully, that shop is a record shop, and is one that's filled with winding, dusty shelves laden with rare gems that have been acquired from many eras and many areas of the world. From Nick Cave murder ballads to Morricone soundtracks to traditional waltzes, folk tales, baroque recordings that have rarely seen the light of day and verbose storytelling from days gone by. It's a dusky, musky, dark shop tucked away in a back street where barely a person sets foot. It's a treasure trove of interesting ideas, sights, sounds and styles and it's been devoured by the London collective and transformed into an album that's captivating and mysterious in equal measure. 'Worse Things', as the title may suggest, has an occasional nautical theme (as the saying goes, "worse things happen at sea") and lyrically could feasibly be released as a written collection of poetic short stories.

Split into two halves of five songs each, the first side is dedicated to outlaws, down-and-outs and characters that could be described as either unsavoury or unlucky, but probably both. We set sail straight away with 'One More Drink', a rampant and jaunty baroque-jazz-electric-folk concoction (with Western leanings) that tells of treacherous seas and murderous sailors committing mutiny. Transmitted straight in from one of the aforementioned Westerns is the orchestral 'Your Vacant Eyes', and here the subject of the story has "evil in his eyes" and possibly a lot more evil on his tortured mind. 'Eliza Battle' is a pensive and melancholy waltz that laments the loss of a ship on its maiden voyage with a chorus of voices lifting this almost Celtic sounding folk song higher until it becomes quite stately. As if it was just a casual, everyday event, the baroque folk-rock of 'Trinidad' begins by stating "I commandeered a ship today, sometimes life works out that way", although the journey to the Caribbean with its steel drums doesn't sound as though it was particularly successful, as the character tells of being put in a wooden box and then placed on a funeral pyre. But suddenly the music takes a turn for the exotic and we're transported to those sunny shores under better conditions. Lastly, 'The New World' is a short, solemn, almost church-like instrumental that brings the first section to a close.

There's a noted step up in tempo as the plodding shanty 'Maloney Does New York' begins the story of an Irishman "leaving the old country behind" to make his fortune. The saxophone is very prevalent and brings a smokey atmosphere to the adventure as Maloney joins up with the Jewish mafia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 'Maloney Has A Change Of Heart', realising that he may have gotten himself in a sticky situation, all to another stomping melee of instrumentation. Maybe Cork was a safer option after all, so he packs up and runs, leaving his mistress behind him. It appears that Atlantic City is to be his next destination, as the story is interrupted by a brief radio transmission. 'Radio Advert For Atlantic City' promises it's a place where dreams come true, and so he takes his family there with barely penny to his name. No life story of this kind would be complete without gambling being involved, and so he places all he has on a bet. 'Maloney Is Riding High Again' sees our hero (?) shacked up with another mistress and children who will inherit the money he made by reading the cards. It's a lively, baritone hybrid of music from so many of the shop's shelves, as Maloney grows old and fat on his wealth. 'Shell Beach' concludes the adventure and this time it's a female vocal that takes the lead, suddenly lessening the intensity that's been ever present. A pretty piano number, this is maybe 'Worse Things'' most accessible and conventional song, then it fades away before returning with the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Penny Orchids have let their imaginations run wild with this album, and you could easily get lost in all the musical nooks and crannies they have to offer.

Penny Orchids' website

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Sunday 29 June 2014

Nothing For Breakfast - Nothing IIII Breakfast

Album review by KevW

Rock music is a broad genre, and Italian band Nothing For Breakfast are happy to absorb it in its many forms, not being troubled by snobbery or aiming to be ruthlessly cutting edge. A glance at their influences will give you a handy overview of some of the forms that can be found on this debut release, written, recorded and produced by the four old school friends that make up the band. There are big-hitting classics like The Beatles, trendier, more alternative types such as The Strokes and Blur, right through to the commercial indie of The Kooks and The Wombats. As such, this will be a set of songs that will have a broad appeal, but will perhaps alienate a few people at times.

There's nothing particularly revolutionary about any of these songs, but each is well made and well produced. The indie-rock of 'Stranger' gets things off to a good start with a breezy buzz of guitars and slightly toned-down vocals; it's almost The Strokes tidied up a bit. In fact, that band's guitars and lazy drawl can be found elsewhere, perhaps most notably on 'Yes It's OK' which is another highlight. 'Drunk Shoes' brings in a little funk and it's nice to see Nothing For Breakfast playing about with their sound a bit more, recalling Talking Heads on occasion. If you are of the more alt-rock persuasion, then the more earnest delivery of 'Pretty Girl', with its Kooks covering Kings Of Leon chorus, might not be to your taste, although it's perfectly fine. Pop fans will have no worries about 'Mrs Queen' but it does see the band opting for a more commercial sound that could perhaps be described as garage-lite. Once again though, it's a decent track.

The main point of contention for indie fans will be 'Caught Her Tonight' which should probably be appearing on some US teen TV show, although they do it well enough. Almost in total contrast, a cover of Nirvana's 'Drain You' is included as a bonus, yet, much like the approach taken on the rest of 'Nothing IIII Breakfast', it's like Nirvana given a good shower, being made to brush their hair, and dressed in some nice new clothes without any holes. These guys have made a nice enough album here and have the ability to write some good tunes, but it would be nice to see them letting go of their pop leanings and turning into alternative stars like those they probably look up to the most.

Nothing For Breakfast's website

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Saturday 28 June 2014

The Hertz Complex - A New Habit EP

EP review by KevW

"Potential". That was the word we used to describe Irish/Canadian group The Hertz Complex when featuring their single 'Bassy' last summer. Well, they've had a year to grow, to ready their sound (which was perfectly fine already) and to prove us right by living up to that expectation. Time for a sigh of relief then, as debut EP 'A New Habit' makes recording good tunes seem easy. Somehow, 'Bassy' sounds even stronger here; more vibrant and unique than before. The band have spoken of wanting to take post-punk to new places, and while this has really manifested itself in combining other areas of rock, punk and indie music, it works, and this is largely down to the strength of the songs and their willingness to play around with different ideas, something which results in a musical canvas that's painted in a more complex manner than it first appears.

New single 'Maybe I Know' is anthemic but without any of the bravado, it boasts a strong melody and guitars that wind their way around the song, taking you on a journey as they do so. Those extra details in the background only serve to enhance the experience. It's not often that a band cites unsung '90s heroes Whipping Boy as an influence, but anyone familiar with the likes of 'Twinkle' or 'We Don't Need Nobody Else' might just find a bell ringing in their heads on occasion. 'No Control' is something of a contrast, stripping the instrumentation back more so that it's the vocals that act as an affecting focal point; not being stuck with one formula is obviously an asset to any decent band. The closest The Hertz Complex come to traditional post-punk is probably the chugging 'The Boxer Rebellion' which even throws in some classic rock riffing. It's less experimental perhaps, but again it shows another string to their bow. So, a year on and these guys have delivered, and it feels as though it was never in doubt.

The Hertz Complex's website

Catch them live:

31st July, 93 Feet East (150 Brick Ln, London E1 6QL)

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Matthew North - still THINKING? still DREAMING

Album review by KevW

In a career spanning over two decades, Matthew North has embarked on several musical journeys, from starting out as guitarist in goth-influenced band All Living Fear to more recently being a member of folk/prog/indie group Secrets For September. So when it comes to the various branches of the rock family tree, he's a well versed man. It was in 2009 that North began performing solo, and now he delivers his first album under his own name. It can be tempting, especially if you've covered full-band formats and more electrified set ups before, to strip everything down to just one man and his guitar, although the results of such endeavours are often far from exhilarating, so it's great to hear that there's more substance to 'still THINKING? still DREAMING'.

For the most part, although varied, this is a record that adheres to convention; structures, subjects and instrumentation don't offer many surprises, and this is something that leaves us with the songs on display, not hidden behind any smoke and mirrors. Writing about personal experiences (or at least that's how it feels) is bound to mean that some tracks are quite reflective, and this is the case with 'Blue Sky' which looks back on difficult times and a relationship that didn't quite work out, yet it still picks out positives, and this is a trait that we first heard on single 'Something Memorable' where once again both sides of the coin are shown. The arrangements to 'I See You' and 'The Future' work all the better for their simplicity, allowing the twinkling guitar and lyrics to take centre stage.

When there is a change in the format, such as folky numbers 'Just Can't See' and 'Fortunes Light', it offers a nice contrast and variation. 'Still Thinking' ramps the pace up and again shows another side to Matthew North, this time a more upbeat, indie type sound; sat at the centre of the album it acts as a highlight. 'Still Waiting Part 1' and 'Still Waiting Part 2' are obvious focal points and again deal with sadness and the times when life deals you a bad hand, especially '...Part 1' which is as close as we get to classic acoustic rock. The second part is starker, swapping guitar for piano and letting those vocals cry with more anguish than we've hear elsewhere on 'still THINKING? still DREAMING'. The electronics add yet another element and it's a curiously haunting way to finish off what is a confident, varied yet accessible first solo outing.

Matthew North's website

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Friday 27 June 2014

Feelin' Just Fine: 7 Days, 7 Downloads!

Here are the best free downloads to land in our inbox this week. For a continuous playlist, scroll to the bottom of the page.

The Sea The Sea - Captives

'Tis the time of year when songs that mention the summer are released in their droves, but if only they could all be as good as this. Oxford's The Sea The Sea were more of an indie band with post-rock leanings when we heard their EP from last year, but new track 'Captives' sees them evolving into a streamlined alt-pop beast. A new EP is due later this year.

The Sea The Sea's website

One Finger Riot - Give Me A Drug That Works Forever

Continuing a slightly nautical theme, L.A.'s Faris McReynolds, AKA One Finger Riot, will be releasing his album 'The Sea' at the end of July, and from it is the gorgeously hazy and softly buzzing lo-fi indiepop tune 'Give me A Drug That Works Forever'.

One Finger Riot's website

SIN COS TAN - Love Sees No Colour

Finnish duo SIN COS TAN sound remarkably good on synth-pop number 'Love Sees No Colour' which has a big chorus and a dreamy atmosphere, but upon discovering they previously worked together in underrated band Villa Nah, it's perhaps no surprise they can knock out tracks of this standard.

SIN COS TAN's website

alansmithee - Alan Smithee

'Alan Smithee' is the second song this year (after 'The Almighty Alan Smithee Blues') in which Livingston's alansmithee have referenced their own name, which itself is a pseudonym. This track sounds as though it could have been released by Chemikal Underground in the late '90s, and that's a high compliment. This is a nicely building scuzz-rock tune with piles of atmosphere.

Download 'Alan Smithee' for free by heading here

alansmithee's website

YUS - Superbeats

Arizonan musician YUS has just released his wonderfully exotic, chilled electronica album 'Talisman'. As well as a remastered version of ace single 'Nowadays', you can grab the sparking, gently pulsing and laid-back 'Superbeats' for free right here. If you've been looking for a soundtrack to taking it easy while the weather's warm, then this could be the album you've been after.

YUS' website

Stream or buy the album

Tripwires - Total Fascination Stuff

With a woozy sound that combines shoegaze with indiepop and then throws in some lovely harmonies, Reading's Tripwires have been on our radar since we first heard single 'Catherine, I Feel Sick' last summer. New track 'Total Fascination Stuff' is another slice of beautifully oscillating noise mixed with some sweet melodies. They really should be getting more attention.

Tripwires' website

Silent Rider - Six Years

Their forthcoming EP might be called 'Rave Love', but free single 'Six Years' is a much more downtempo affair than that title would suggest. Here, Silent Rider use a combination of electronic sounds and guitars to craft a song that quietly creeps up and massages your ears.

Download 'Six Years' for free by heading here

Silent Rider's website

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Thursday 26 June 2014

Artist To Check Out: Ívar Páll Jónsson

Article by KevW

How does the thought of an indie-rock opera sound? Quite off-putting I'd imagine, but you'll probably be pleasantly surprised by 'Revolution In The Elbow Of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter', a concept album and upcoming theatre performance conceived by Icelandic composer Ívar Páll Jónsson. We've had no sneak preview of the show (it opens in New York in August), but the concept album is ambitious, occasionally outlandish but importantly contains some great tunes. With a release date of July 15th, 'Revolution In The Elbow...' has, naturally, been mentioned alongside similar projects such as The Who's 'Tommy' or David Bowie's 'The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust...'.

There is a slight hint of '70s rock to some of the tracks, and you wouldn't be surprised f you were told that 'We Played The Game' was written in that era, but it's a rollicking ride. 'The Legacy Of Elbowville' is much more modern though, and brings in elements of trip-hop, soul, drum and bass and alt-rock to create one of many songs that work perfectly well as stand-alone tracks as opposed to being one cog in the wheel of a much bigger machine. The simple guitar riff to 'Midas Reborn' offers a glimpse of grunge before the song expands into something far grander and more ambitious; theatrical elements do creep in from time to time but don't get in the way too much if you're just here for the music. Positioned somewhere between 'Lady Stardust' and a Britpop ballad with an experimental edge, 'All We Need Is Confidence' is ironically-named, because given the songs that Ívar Páll Jónsson and co. have created for this project, confidence is something they're far from lacking.

Ívar Páll Jónsson's website

'Revolution In The Elbow...''s website

Pre-order the album

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The Bordellos -, you're really nothing

Album review by KevW

The Bordellos are doing a good job of having a pop at today's vacuous chart stars, having released the EP 'Bring Me The Head Of Justin Bieber' last year. New album 'will. i. am, you're really nothing' continues this with a nice play on words from the Smiths song. The LP is available to download, but really we should nudge you in the direction of the CD package. How does the new album, another new EP called 'Extra Smooth' and the aforementioned Bieber-baiting EP sound? It comes with artwork from Phil Wilson of reformed indiepop legends The June Brides and has the total cost of a fiver. I think anyone who knows a bargain when they see one should be jumping at that offer. Unless the new album's a load of old cack of course, which it's not.

It would be fair to say though, that 'Will. I. Am., you're really nothing' isn't exactly a sugar-rush of bouncy guitar tunes, in fact it's quite dark and forlorn for the most part, and it's not until you've given it two or three spins that the songs start to grab you, but it's worth waiting for. Kicking off with a track called 'Between Forget And Neglect' goes some way to indicating the tone, and lines like "loneliness is such a haunting sound" drive it home even further. It's no dirge though, and there's a nice complexity to the different sections of sound that overlay each other; light piano, creaking guitar, a sparse, ticking beat and a plethora of background noise; they don't sell you short on the attention to detail. There's something of the Syd Barretts about 'Moonface', although vocally it's quite different and treads the line between being morbid and somehow pretty. There's a definite sadness to 'Straight Outta Southport' too, yet it's maybe the most affecting song on the album and twinklingly pretty. A similar vibe is found on 'The Sweetest Hangover' with a deeper vocal that's not too far removed from certain Tindersticks or Nick cave tracks.

The lighter tracks vary somewhat. 'Elastic Band Man' sounds a little like early Beck, it's almost upbeat and has a much poppier melody, although this is purposefully dragged down by a vocal that's deliberately dead-pan, so it ends up being somewhat confusing but definitely works. "Give me soul, give me youth" is the rallying cry that begins 'The Gospel According To Julian Cope' ("if you don't love in rock 'n' roll you don't love life") which offers an upbeat, scuzzed-up slice of D.I.Y. alt-rock that has a hint of the man himself about it, and Cope gets another mention (along with many other musical heroes) on the equally distorted 'My Dream Festival'. With cheap electronic beats and guitars that are fuzzed to within an inch of their life, The Bordellos take another pop at dour music on 'Public Execution - Gangnam Style' - some sample quotes: "There is plenty of room for Mumford & Sons under the sea, but no place on my radio or TV", "BBC Shit Music play cutting edge music with safety blades", mocking the so-called "alternative" BBC radio channel who play it rather more safely than they really should. The Bordellos sign off with 'will. i. am, you really are nothing' and it serves as a highlight, bringing in some vintage sounding organ and echoing vocals that are married to a '60s-style pop song given a more modern makeover. It's highly unlikely that they'll bring about the fall of modern pop music, but long may they continue trying.

The Bordellos' website

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Wednesday 25 June 2014

VIDEO PREMIERE: Gitar - New Martyrs

Single review by KevW

When you take someone who's released acclaimed material using samples, scruffy beats and found sounds, and put them in a group with a guitarist from a rock background and a drummer trained in jazz, then the results are either going to be an ugly mess or a fresh new take on how a band should sound. Toronto's Gitar are that musical melting-pot, and it shows on new single 'New Martyrs'. Taken from their forthcoming album 'Active Cultures', this track is thankfully not an ugly mess. In fact, you could perhaps file it alongside other genre-benders like Beck, Mr Scruff or even The Beastie Boys, although it's closer to indie-rock than hip-hop, but elements do creep in from all over the place.

"Trudging" probably isn't a word that's used as a compliment very often, but the beat here fits that description and is just perfect; it calls to mind fellow experimenters Gorillaz and their track 'Clint Eastwood'. The loose groove coupled with some almost grungy guitars gives a slight college-rock feel, but with a break for some jazzy brass to add another dimension, and then a hint of ska finding its way into the tune, 'New Martyrs' becomes something of a collage of styles, all combining seamlessly to forge Gitar's unique take on alt-rock. Having a video that can boldly be described as psychedelic, yet totally shuns colour, is another unusual but successful trick. So it's definitely fresh then, and a welcome distraction from the plethora of identikit alt-rock bands doing the rounds. A few more songs like this and Gitar could find themselves with quite a following.

Gitar's website

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Tuesday 24 June 2014

Persian Rabbit - Persian Rabbit

Album review by KevW for

OK then interesting genre fans, what do you make of "dark hippy style"? It probably sounds as though it was intended to describe The Doors' more harrowing take on what you might find when you "break on through to the other side", but French band Persian Rabbit share little in common with L.A.'s dark lords. How about "chamber post-rock"? That's what the press release goes for, and to be honest it's far more befitting of the music made by this quintet, all of whom arrived in this collective from other bands, perhaps making this the world's first chamber post-punk supergroup. It's definitely an intense one, and there is a sense of the post-apocalyptic about the desperate and often harrowing noise they create.

The eight tracks on this eponymous album vary in length from around the three-minute mark on the textured but squalling 'Made Of Ice', which recalls the military-style gloom and layered arrangements of Hope Of The States, to over eight minutes on 'Ginger', a song that's more in line with post-rock and at times comes on like a distant, lost Radiohead track; oddly it touches on both industrial and folk music, but it does take you on something of a journey. 'Before The Crowd Knows' also brings to mind HOTS and again is constructed from many different parts, perhaps summarising just what it is that Persian Rabbit are all about. At times, these tunes are more impressive than lovable, but you get the impression that that's kind of the point: Persian Rabbit aren't looking for cosy, universal hits. 'Inside Hole' teeters on the brink of becoming a trip-hop track, and you do get the faintest echo of Portishead.

It's been a long time since combining the likes of cello, harmonium and double bass with regular rock instruments has been considered to be stepping outside the box, yet this approach gives an extra dimension to 'The Sound From Beyond', perhaps one of the more instant tracks here (although don't go expecting a big, memorable chorus or anything), and 'This Whole Machine' may be a little more palatable to people with more conventional tastes. 'Persian Rabbit' is likely to be a record that will appeal to those who prefer to properly listen and digest the music that's on offer; there's a lot going on with these songs and common structures aren't adhered to. At the same time, we're not looking at dull virtuosity that will only attract the attention of chin-stroking musos. This is a complex but very good album, and while it may not be the easiest of listens, ultimately it is a rewarding one.

Persian Rabbit's website

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Monday 23 June 2014

Kick To Kill - Dreams

Single review by KevW

Glasgow's Kick To Kill have sporadically been releasing singles since 2007, gathering many plaudits along the way. We picked up the story in 2011 with 'Black Kisses' and then 'Avalanche' six months later in 2012. Not only did the quartet have the songs, but they made sure they brought the best out of them in the studio by enlisting Iain Cook from celebrated electronic band CHVRCHES to co-produce, and his style neatly brought an authentic edge to their post-punk sound; it was always a genre that looked outside of the conventional rock band format, and so it continues to do so (or the good bands do at least). Given the surge in interest in that particular style that was happening around then, it seemed like Kick To Kill were destined to ride the crest of the wave of the revival. But then it all went a bit quiet...

Could it be that Kick To Kill have missed the boat? Well, firstly, even with superlatives being hurled at them from all corners of the music word (including by us), the band never had an overly commercial sound and never appeared willing to compromise their vision and clean things up to make them chart-shaped. They've always been a group who seem determined to do it their way, and such bands do achieve great success without storming the top ten. A glance at some of the quality acts they've supported backs this up: The Fall, A Place To Bury Strangers, John Cooper Clarke... all cult heroes with big followings. So hopping on a passing bandwagon was likely never part of the plan. In new single 'Dreams', Kick To Kill simply affirm what we already know. This is more prime post-punk with sharp electronic beats and a dark underbelly. The obvious comparisons have been thrown at them, but really nothing is a direct match, and this is another factor that makes them so appealing; there's a familiarity here but also an individuality. It's no throw-back either, it sounds totally current. So these guys haven't missed any boats, because that's not what they're here for. They're here to do their thing as, when and how they like, and this is what continues to make them an interesting proposition.

Kick To Kill's website

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Sunday 22 June 2014

Just Lions - Great. Okay EP

EP review by KevW

Being an Englishman and seeing our football team (The Three Lions) get knocked out of the world cup in the group stages for the first time since the 1950s, I'm neither feeling particularly great or okay. There are no escaping lions in music though, and regular readers may be aware of I Fight Lions, Jupiter Lion, Lion Bark and Silent Lions, all of whom we've featured in the past. Still, our woeful defending isn't the fault of Portland, Oregon band Just Lions, who are actually doing a good job of making things seem a little brighter with their forthcoming new EP 'Great. Okay'. In fact, their alt-rock sound takes you back in time a little to the first half of the '90s, perhaps even 1994 when the US held the world cup themselves and England failed to even qualify... I digress, but I'm not bitter or anything!

The powerpop blast of the title-track has a fresh and breezy strum combined with just a touch of distortion and nicely blows the cobwebs away. It may be that college-rock scene that they're tapping into here, but they do it in a way that shuns direct imitation and keeps their sound lively. The poppier and more jaunty 'Everything Goes Away' affirms this by introducing a slightly more individual sound. There's even a hint of Queen about the guitar solo, and we don't find that in the indie-rock category very often. It's a catchy number though with some nice harmonies and a memorable hook. The raw power is ramped up a few notches for final track 'On The Road, and particularly its gritty intro. Harmonies are prevalent once more and the melody here could well be the strongest of the lot as the winding riff wraps its way around the song, resulting in a highlight. Our Lions may not have been firing on all cylinders, but as for these ones, well, if I had to pick from the two words they're offering in the title of this EP, I think "great" would be the one to go for.

Just Lions' website

'Great. Okay' will be available from June 30th on Bandcamp

Catch them live:

Just Lions EP Release // Animal Eyes // Bear & Moose
June 30 at 8:00pm in PDT, Mississippi Studios

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Saturday 21 June 2014

National Pastime - Houston EP

EP review by KevW

Poor Kal George. He must feel like the odd one out being in a band with two guys called Andy and another called Andrew. This new EP from Exeter indiepop band National Pastime is a good cross-section of their career to date, mixing tracks from recent album 'All Our Yesterdays' and 2010 debut 'Bookmarks'. It's a great introduction to the group, with new production courtesy of Andy (yes, another one) Fonda. As is par for the course with National Pastime, we're looking at three-minute guitar-pop with a DIY feel and a definite inspiration from unsung British guitar bands from the past.

There's no messing around, no needless soloing, just lots of melody and plenty of quick-fire pop hits. 'Houston' revives Bowie's Major Tom character and places him inside a tune that could have come from the Glasgow underground. 'Run With Me Now', 'When Not If' and 'Running Scared' will be a little fresher in the memory, but the former still sounds full of feeling and full of yearning; almost begging for things to be better as the guitar chimes away and keyboards flesh out the sound, giving a sweeping effect. A similar format is used for 'When Not If' and 'Running Scared', but both work and both cement the sound and vibe that National Pastime are aiming for. This is a cohesive selection of tunes, and while it may be a familiar one, the classic sound prevents it from sounding tired. There's plenty of life to be found here.

National Pastime's website

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The High Wire - Found In Honey

Album review by KevW

Having somehow missed out on the debut album by Anglo-Canadian group The High Wire, it was their single 'Odds & Evens' that first caught my attention. What happened with that song would become a familiar pattern. After a few cursory listens it sounded like a reasonably good, slightly lo-fi indie/alt-rock song, but fast-forward a couple of weeks and a few more spins and the song had transformed into a stunningly good track that had firmly lodged itself in between my ears with no plans on leaving any time soon. It would go on to become one of my personal favourite tracks of the year. Then came album 'The Sleep Tape'. Aside from the aforementioned single, almost all of the tracks operated in the same way: they were nice enough at first, yet give them time and they transformed into an incredibly strong set (apart from 'It's No Secret', an instant classic and one of the best tunes of recent years; really, if you don't know it, you should rectify that right away).

So the London-based trio make "growers" then. In which case, their plan of releasing a handful of tracks from new album 'Found In Honey' over the last year seems like a good move. It began about twelve months ago with single 'LNOE' and, surprise surprise, despite having a neat melody, some quite fetching strings and a good arrangement, it doesn't half sound much better now than it did then (and it was great the first time around). 'LNOE' makes perfect sense as the new record's first taster; it's powerful, confident, and it employs their technique of snatching elements from a variety of genres. The big beats could be from a thudding, industrial electro-rock track, there's the string quartet, there are samples, there is drama. It's a seismic song that takes indie and dreampop and injects them with a dose of imagination that would be strong enough to earn them a drugs ban if they were athletes. Next was 'Under A Spell', and this took a similar anything goes (so long as it sounds good) approach. With a few months passed, the melody gets etched into the brain, and the electronica and chopped up beats are neatly counterbalanced by soft vocals. The High Wire are keen to have their own sound, and they duly deliver, with a killer chorus to boot. 'Still' gave us the twinkles and grandeur that we knew the band were capable of, with the chorus of voices blending dreampop with something that has more muscle, especially as the guitars and synths fire up like a machine running in the background. Softer of melody and more thoughtful with it was 'The Thames & The Tide' which held onto a little of 'The Sleep Tape''s wooziness.

Each of the singles benefits from a few plays, but each is quite wonderful, and each is firmly a track by The High Wire; they've been searching for their own sound, and if there was any doubt as to whether they'd found it, that doubt can now be put to bed. As good as that quartet of songs are, they're not necessarily the highlights. 'Last Invitation' is almost folky, until those layers of vocals and washes of strings transform it into a more substantial and majestic opening track. Alexia Hagen's vocals have become something of a trump card. Combine them with Tim Crompton's voice and the match is perfect. The slightly psychedelic 'Radio On' has a '60s vibe but with a modern sound. Again the melody and strings take it to the next level, and breaking for some scuzzy guitar gives a little more edge. It's another touch that most bands wouldn't have even considered including. The High Wire don't really conform to conventional structures as rigidly as some. This fact is emphasised again by 'Cinch' where they start off as if they're about to give us a simple acoustic number, yet before long some organ creeps in, voices appear from the mists and a thumping beat takes us away from anything as potentially "normal" as that. Bowing out with the closest they come to a rock song, '20,00 Streets' is gritty guitars and a harsher feel, or at least that's how it starts. Again, that combination of beats, voices and strings lift the track higher and this has almost become The High Wire's trademark.

The only tune not mentioned so far is 'Angelspeech', but that's just us leaving the best to last. Really, this is as close as 'Found In Honey' comes to 'It's No Secret'. The same twinkles and irresistible melodies are in place, but a more experimental, gospel-influenced R&B sound is used; on paper it sounds a bad idea, but in reality it's a stunner and perhaps the best here. Put simply, The High Wire should be much better known and more widely appreciated than they currently are. Perhaps the reason they're not is due to the fact that it sometimes takes time for the songs to really hit you and show you just how good they are, but if you're a music fan then you should afford this album that time, you definitely won't regret it.

The High Wire's website

'Found In Honey' is out on July 14th

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Friday 20 June 2014

Good Times: 7 Days, 7 Downloads!

Here are the best free downloads to land in our inbox this week. For a continuous playlist, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Money For Rope - Ten Times

From Melbourne's rich music scene come Money For Rope who've just thrown out 'Ten Times', a delightfully enthusiastic and melodic guitar-pop tune which has a surfy twang and a chorus that's as big as their homeland.

Download 'Ten Times' for free by heading here

Money For Rope's website

The Broken Needles - Bound To Fade

Also from Melbourne, The Broken Needles release their second album 'Holy Coast' today, and from it is the gorgeously lush and cinematic baroque-pop of 'Bound To Fade', a song with a mightily impressive arrangement that should be on heavy rotation just about everywhere.

Download 'Bound To Fade' for free by heading here

The Broken Needles' website

Seabright - Fall For You

Californian artist Seabright has taken the very essence of what gives songs a summery vibe, bottled it, shaken it about until it's a wonderfully skewed psychedelic liquor and poured it out for us to lap up. 'Fall For You' sounds like sunshine from a parallel universe.

Download 'Fall For You' for free by heading here

Seabright's website

Leggy - Sweet Teeth

Blasting us with some beautiful melodic fuzz are new Cincinnati band Leggy. 'Sweet Teeth' is a surging ball of garage-punk energy and is taken from the band's debut EP 'Cavity Castle' which is available to download in full for absolutely nothing.

Leggy's website

Cloud Seeding - Kaleidocycle II

Conceived as a singles project for Brooklyn guitarist Kevin Serra, Cloud Seeding's seventh release is an atmospheric, psychedelic instrumental that very much fits the name 'Kaleidocycle', even though we're not sure exactly what that means. It's stellar stuff though.

Cloud Seeding's website

Faux Flux - You Know

'You Know' finds Brighton trio Faux Flux taking their electronic indie sound, nailing a funky beat and some retro synths to it and then letting a pop melody shine through, resulting in a song with some crossover potential and a distinctly chilled groove.

Faux Flux's website

Formes - The Power Of Now Part 1

Sometimes, improvised jams can be excruciatingly dull. If you get it right though, then you can uncover a new musical path into the unknown that listeners will be more than willing to follow. That's what Dewsbury's Formes did recently, so here's the first part of three-section psych odyssey 'The Power Of Now'.

Formes' website

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Thursday 19 June 2014

Paul Cook & The Chronicles - Radar EP

EP review by KevW for

For the last few years, Paul Cook & The Chronicles have provided the perfect soundtrack for those late night moments, perhaps after a few glasses of your favourite tipple, when you begin to reflect on all the “what ifs” and “might have beens” about lost or unrequited love. Because of Cook's highly likable voice, such pensive songs don't sound dreary or downtrodden; the lightness of tone somehow acts as the silver lining around the clouds of sadness. First recorded for last year's 'Volume 2' album, 'Radar' has been given a substantial overhaul here, becoming the most accessible, most “pop” recording he's made thus far. This new, more upbeat, jangly and harmonious version further cements the feeling that, despite the unhappy times, life will go on and optimism will follow in the morning after: as if the music is a way of ridding these emotions for good.

Backing this more universal indiepop track are two new songs that are perhaps closer to Cook's regular sound. Both 'Universe' and 'Destroyer' are simpler in arrangement and more acoustic, but no less touching. What has been a constant with all of Paul Cook & The Chronicles' recordings is the sense that he's a regular guy, he's someone you'd go for a beer with, he's your mate (albeit one who's pretty nifty when it comes to writing and singing). 'Universe' has an intimate, personal vibe to it, as though it's just Cook, his band, and you: it almost feels like you're being given a sneak preview of a song that they haven't performed to anyone else yet, and of course, the lyrics are a bit like reading a personal diary or perhaps a private letter to someone who's “the whole Universe” to the author. Maybe 'Destroyer' takes this personal touch a step further, as the guitar and voice are given a gentle backing that gradually becomes richer, all adding to the effect. There are plenty of solo artists or bands who are led by one man and his guitar, but few of them connect on this level.

Paul Cook & The Chronicles' website

Stream or buy the EP

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Wednesday 18 June 2014

Sixth Minor - Wireframe

Album review by KevW for

The trouble with a lot of experimental electronic music is that, unless you have a particular interest in such sounds, it can be almost impenetrable to the casual listener. Naturally, this is the case with any niche genres, especially those at the forefront of new sonic exploration, but when these things are watered down or an attempt is made to make them more palatable to a wider market, you end up with people like Skrillex. Sixth Minor can hardly be described as daytime radio fodder, but they do create a noise that will cross over into other sections of the musical spectrum. Formed in Italy in 2007, it's taken a while for their first full-length to reach UK shores, and when you learn that their take on experimental electronica is inspired by post-rock and ambient music, you can pretty well see the pop fans running for the hills.

'Wireframe' is cutting-edge, it is entirely instrumental, and you probably would describe these eight tracks as soundscapes, yet, unless you're expecting One Direction, it's a very listenable and engaging set. Sure, the glitchy, atmospheric, pulsating 'frozen' may edge past the seven-minute mark, and the forbidding and stark 'greyhues' flies past eight, but both have substance, both are layered and don't get stuck into the ease of repetition. The latter even stomps its way to becoming a cranium-shuddering electro-rock monster. If you're looking for something a little more song-based, then Sixth Minor manage to provide without compromising their vision.

Perhaps it's the use of more conventional instruments like guitar and real drums that give the intense and careering 'eser' its accessibility, providing an easier route into their low-end sounds and quaking sonics, but whatever it is, it certainly works. After that introduction, the bleaker side of things is ramped up for 'blackwood'; a little more left-field but just as intense and verges on metal. 'etif' is a little lighter, as its jumbled beats are married with chiming guitar and the sense of urgency is replaced by something a touch more accommodating without losing any of the pace, although it offers up a crunching mid-section before bowing out with an array of twinkles. Ambient interlude 'last day on earth' allows you to get your breath back before the stabbing, jagged 'hexagone' slaps you awake again. The most abstract of all is 'outro', a track that's a mess of bleeps and glitches and chimes, all piled on top of each other, and it's really quite charming with it. Don't expect Sixth Minor to go platinum any time soon, but whatever your taste, give them a try. You might just find something you like.

Sixth Minor's website

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KynchinLay - Drink Me

EP review by KevW

It's pretty much exactly a year ago that Liverpool group KynchinLay came to our attention with single 'Public Execution', and since then they've impressed with subsequent releases 'Leave Me Alone' and 'DogFathers'. The band actually go back a while longer, so although we're latecomers, it's been a pleasure to discover their music at last. New EP 'Drink Me' compiles the trio of singles from last year along with the songs 'Live Free Or Die', a solemn number that looks at just how skewed the world really is, beginning as though we can expect a simple acoustic track, but adding lush, gospel-inspired backing vocals and organ that gives a retro feel, and also 'MyHeart' which is perhaps closer to their general post-punk sound, although, as with other songs, there are plenty of other flavours mixed in. Here, the chugging riff is counterbalanced by a lead vocal that doesn't seem as angry as the music suggests it could be, and this adds a little extra colour. Building towards an ending that verges on the epic, some nice lead guitar enhances things further.

The singles sound even better when grouped together like this, and with 'Leave Me Alone' opening the EP we get a great introduction into the way the band take darker sounds an add splashes of light. In this case it's the Super Furry Animals-esque "ba ba ba-bas!" that catch the ear, but again KynchinLay allow the song to build. 'DogFathers' is something akin to The Specials collaborating with The Stranglers and persuading The Beach Boys to chip in with some backing vocals. It's touches like this that transform what could be rugged punky tunes into something more interesting. This track also shows that the trio can do diversity pretty well; whatever the reference point, it's a pop song that lies underneath. Lying at the centre of the record is 'Public Execution', and it does act as something of a focal point. Grittier that some of their material, the first half in particular could have come from an album by Magazine or a band of that ilk. By the time we hit the two minute mark, more melody and harmony appear like the sun shining through parting clouds. It's another example of how KynchinLay play around with existing styles yet forge their own identity. We might have been five years or so behind many of their fans, but we're glad we stumbled upon these guys nonetheless.

KynchinLay's website

Buy their music

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Tuesday 17 June 2014

Matthew North - Something Memorable

Single review by KevW

When you learn that someone was brought up on a musical diet of Lonnie Donegan, Staus Quo and The Human League, it's nigh on impossible to imagine what their own compositions might sound like. That's at least three generations spanned before Devon musician Matthew North began playing in bands and releasing records, and when he did it was more inspired by Sisters Of Mercy and The Cure than the styles of the aforementioned artists. This was the late '80s with his band All Living Fear, a group who are still going today. More recently, North has been a member of Secrets For September, an indie-pop band who we've featured in the past.

Skip to the present, and alongside those two projects, Matthew North is set to release his debut solo album 'still THINKING? Still DREAMING', and is preceding it with chiming acoustic single 'Something Memorable'. With a simple arrangement, this is a track that's low on the histrionics, instead relying on the strength of the actual song to carry it through; there's not much to hide behind. It can be a bold move when we're in a world saturated by blokes with acoustic guitars, but North's style doesn't follow trends, and this is to his credit. The chilled style is made for summer, and the electrified end section catches you by surprise and adds another dimension. It's been a long and winding road for Matthew North, but if this is where it's led him then it was one worth taking.

Matthew North's website

Buy the single

Catch him live:

2014 - June - 19th - Exeter - Picturehouse
2014 - June - 20th - Norwich - Jurnets Bar
2014 - June - 21st - London - The Islington
2014 - June - 22nd - Hadleigh - The Eight Bells
2014 - June - 23rd - Bristol - Mr Wolfs
2014 - July - 26th - Exeter - Casa Maroc

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Inutili - Music To Watch The Clouds On A Sunny Day

Album review by KevW for

Not a fan of twenty-minute psych jams? You'd better get your coat then. The rest of you, stick around, because Italians Inutili manage to get themselves into a deep groove and remain there – and unlike so many others in the drone/psychedelia field, you don't get bored after five minutes, and you don't come out the other end feeling as though you've just wasted nearly three quarters of an hour of your life listening to a couple of repetitive improvisations by one band, when you could have listened to a dozen classic tunes by any other. Neither track on new LP 'Music To Watch The Clouds On A Sunny Day' seems to drag on, and both feel much shorter than they actually are. With a handful of exceptions, this is something of a rarity.

The album title is really quite appropriate, although the noisy fug that we hit around the halfway point of the equally appropriately-titled 'Fry Your Brain' could just as easily be suited to getting off your box in a darkened room to. With a bobbing, looping bassline that recalls Wooden Shjips, and jagged fragments of piercing noise that could be sampled from a live Spacemen 3 performance, 'Fry Your Brain' is deceivingly funky. You almost don't notice the feedback and the fuzz because that groove sits at the front and gets into your brain. It's going to be a challenge not to use the word “hypnotic”, so let's get that out the way. Before Pink Floyd realised they could sell millions of records by trying to be all profound, they used to whip up a similar din under the guidance of Syd Barrett. Like those early improvisations, this track manages to be simultaneously repetitive and meandering; keeping on the same path but never getting stuck in a rut, especially as it careers towards a cacophonous climax.

The second track, 'Drunk Of Colostro', has more of a live feel, and may even have been recorded that way. Just how much is pre-planned before it's committed to tape isn't clear. Again the bass is the anchor to which everything is tied, but this time the screeching guitar is a little bluesier and from the start it begins dousing the song with feedback and scree as though the instruments are on fire. As for watching those clouds on a sunny day, well, after a while it feels as though the sun is about to be blotted out by storm clouds. There's a brief respite as the noise backs down a bit, leaving some sharp lead to cut through, but before the first half of the track is done the sky begins to cave in, taking your eardrums with it. Relaxing on a sunny day might be one use for the music of Inutili, but there are plenty of others, not least inducing tinnitus. In the best possible way though.

Inutili's website

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Monday 16 June 2014

Lights That Change - Rainbow Over Your Shoulder

EP review by

We previously introduced you to the debut EP and 'Beautiful Soul' single by Lights That Change, which is a collaborative musical project spearheaded by producer Marc Joy and is based out of Mold, North Wales. We were just as excited back then as we are now to present you Lights That Change's latest EP 'Rainbow Over Your Shoulder'.

Fran Ashcroft, who previously produced Damon Albarn, among many other notables in his lengthy production career, had this to say about Lights That Change: “In the world of neo-shoegaze, it simply wipes the floor with all those murky bedroom-wannabe-4AD bands, with a clarity, structure and confidence rarely seen in the genre; yet still atmospheric, sensitive and free.” Certainly a solid evaluation, but I'd say this also extends to dreampop and ethereal wave, as LTC seems to be no one-trick pony.

Particularly the ambient/ethereal tracks 'Cherokee Blessing' and 'Moccasins Snow and Rainbows' are stunning and haunting in equal measure, while 'Toxic' and 'Flying' bring to mind reminiscences of the wave pop Cocteau Twins were creating in their middle years, and 'Happy Space' brings them more into indie pop territory.

In the same way as This Mortal Coil, Lights That Change also seems to represent an eclectic revolving door of collaborators, with Marc at the foundation. While Lisa Von H contributed vocals for this and LTC's previous releases, you can look forward to other vocals by other guests in the near future, as Marc Joy has been working with a variety of artists on future releases. The next to be release is a double A-side single featuring Italian diva Allegra Lusini and Elain Humphries.

Lights That Change releases music through Ear to Ear Records, which is also based in Northern Wales, and has been getting steady airplay on BBC Wales over the past year or so. We shall drop you news about the new LTC single closer to its release.

Lights of Change's website

Buy the EP

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The Tablets - The Tablets

Album review by KevW for

Despite having a sound and a name that implies The Tablets are a band, this album is in fact largely the work of Mexican-born, Brooklyn-based musician Liz Godoy who wrote, arranged and co-produced her debut with the assistance of Pissed Jeans and Male Bonding engineer Brenden Beu. Released in her adopted homeland last year, 'The Tablets' has now hit the UK and, just as the saying goes, a spoonful of sugar helps this particular medicine go down. As a solid block of work, this is an appealing record, although the songs that burn brightest and will likely live longest in the memory are those where melody and a certain stateliness is most apparent.

There are a mixture of influences running through these songs, which are built from drum machines, Beu's scuzzy guitars, Godoy's keys and a voice that belongs on early 4AD releases. Sometimes it's good to save the best for last, but in opening with the title-track, The Tablets leave themselves with a tough act to follow. With parts borrowed from The Breeders, Suicide and JAMC, they get off to a flier. Mind you, when The Legendary Pink Dots cover 'I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty' follows, it may be less immediate, but the Raveonettes-with-added-organ sound is still impressive, switching to a more girl-group inspired end section (Raveonettes fans should also check out 'Pray A Fight', although this isn't quite so effective). The organ sticks around for 'Bookmarks' which combines Halloween atmospherics with shards of bright guitar and the jangle of the percussion.

'Sugar Coated' perhaps sums things up; its harsh sonic textures should appeal to the noise lover in you, but the pop element is never too far away. The whole '60s girl group meets fuzz rock and Suicide sound is evident again in the bizarrely-named 'Who Killed The Electric Blanket?'. The dark, jarring electronic beats of 'The Cuts' is offset nicely with a good layer of scuzz and Godoy's harmonies which later flower into the melodic stateliness that brings out the best in what The Tablets do; this general vibe is repeated on 'Armistice', whereas 'Vladimir' uses a similar atmosphere and development but could be a Crystals cover, resulting in another high point. Despite being fashioned from the same ingredients, 'Stranger's Light' is somehow more rooted in '80s pop, albeit the more mysterious fringes. In contrast to the upbeat opener, 'The Tablets' ends on a more solemn note with 'Flowers', but as with most of this album, the song builds and changes until we have jagged drums and crunches of guitar. The lo-fi, melody-over-noise thing has been done to death in recent years, but in adding layers of organ and those sometimes harsh electronic beats, The Tablets have managed to breath some new life into the genre.

The Tablets' website

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Sunday 15 June 2014

Foxhound - In Primavera

Album review by KevW for

Despite so many bands and musicians making classic records and achieving huge success while in their teens or barely into their 20s, (The Beatles, Kate Bush, Brian Wilson...), it can still be surprising when you learn just how young some genuinely accomplished and inventive groups are. The members of Italian band Foxhound were all born in 1992 and are already on their second album, one that's mightily impressive, mature and teeming with ideas. The four-piece seem to be in the habit of naming albums after certain events in their life: 2012 debut 'Concordia' was named in tribute of the shipping tragedy that struck their country, and the follow-up, 'In Primavera' is in honour of their appearance at Barcelona's Prmavera Sound Festival last summer.

Hot-footing it from one sound to the next, Foxhound show not only a diversity in style between different songs, but a non-formulaic approach to individual tracks too. 'Fitness' switches from an ornate and atmospheric intro, through to a slow, alt-rock section before changing to a stomping groove that's not far from The Rapture when they were in their pomp. This dance – almost disco in fact – element is taken further on the hit-shaped 'Erase Me' with its quite lovely backing vocals; it's touches like this that give the band an extra advantage that so many indie/dance crossover acts lack. The bassline to 'Out' could have graced any classic funk or disco tune, but here it's used in a more experimental fashion that avoids the polish and kitsch that could arise from such musical ingredients. They even add flashes of modern dub to the funky 'I Just Don't Mind', further playing around with sounds they've absorbed on their travels, bringing in a scorching squall of guitar for even more colour. 'I Don't Want To Run Today' also borrows from dub and funk, with intricate beats and bursts of brass that come and go as the song meanders along, even breaking for a rapped section. It's as though they've been blending guitar music with other genres all their lives.

Some kind of credit should be given for naming a song 'Summer Yeast'; it seems to have little connection to the lyrics, so someone has an interesting imagination. This is another with single potential and it goes without saying that it gives pigeon-holes a wide berth, flitting about but never losing cohesion. Imagination is as evident on 'Stars (Anytime That You Want To') as any tune here, with their familiar groove being interrupted by blasts of harsh noise and gradually slowing down to a plod and ending abruptly. Afrobeat manages to creep into the more pensive 'That's The Sky' where it collides with math-rock and vocals that are almost spat out; it's another curious but surprisingly successful combination. When they slow it down, as on the string-laced 'Gasuli', they have equal success and still maintain a certain uniqueness. The signs were there on opening track 'All Alone On My Own': with a deliberately distant-sounding intro disguising a deep groove, it never sounded as though this was going to be a conventional indie record, and ending with a song called 'My Life is So Cool' just about sums up Foxhound. These are four very talented young men with an entire world of music to explore, and on 'In Primavera' they do just that. This is both fun and bursting with ideas, it's no wonder they're happy to admit they're enjoying themselves.

Foxhound's website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

Catch them live:

July 10, 2014 - By Ambria zogno (BG) @ Ambria Music Festival
July 14, 2014 - Bologna @ Another Festival (w / The Dandy Wahrols, The Horrors)
July 15, 2014 - Segrate (MI) Another @ Festival (w / The Dandy Wahrols, The Horrors)
20 July 2014 - Marina Di Ravenna (RA) @ Hana-Bi
July 23, 2014 - Padua @ Radar Festival
July 27, 2014 - Brescia @ Musical Zoo Festival
August 3, 2014 - Pederobba (TV) @ Pedepalooza Festival
August 30, 2014 - Ponte A Cappiano (FI ) @ Mangiomusica Festival

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