Category: Reviews

Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit

Album, Music, Reviews February 23, 2017

Originally published and still available on Born Music 15/11/16.

“The guy that made Treats would hate Jessica Rabbit,” so said Derek Edward Miller in a recent Rolling Stone interview. The guitarist of electro-rock duo SLEIGH BELLS is pertaining to their 2010 debut album, in which their brash aggression juxtaposed with a sickly pop core sliced through the indie rock’s more trivial pursuits. In the eight years and three albums since then, the band have bullheadedly battered onwards with their relentless barrage of sound, but with their latest release – the aforementioned Jessica Rabbit – breathing new life into their formula, Sleigh Bells are relinquishing the shackles of their own ambitions.

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Whereas the late noughties were bludgeoned by a crass stampede of wobbling dubstep and interchangeable indie-fodder that slid, ungraciously, into the abyss, Sleigh Bells stuck out like a sore thumb. Here was a band that somehow sounded nothing like what had come before, and even after the triumph of Treats, when it came to originality, the only competition they faced was themselves. Take but one listen of recent single ‘I Can Only Stare’ and it becomes clear that Sleigh Bells have shirked the self-consciousness and are wholly, willingly trying to shake up their own formula. It is a bold, booming, pop anthem, slick and streamlined in a way that wouldn’t go amiss if instead sung power-house style by Lady Gaga, yet with enough quirk in vocalist Alexis Krauss’ delivery to remind you that this isn’t made for the charts.

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Still Corners – Dead Blue

Album, Music, Reviews September 20, 2016

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (17/09/16).

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Some believe in fate, others don’t. Fate suggests faith, and for those that don’t believe, perhaps serendipity would be better. From the moment they met some seven years ago, Still Corners have existed in a serendipitous cocoon, for their every decision seems to be a fortuitous twist of possibility.

Their well documented conception began in 2009 when Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray met by chance on a train platform on a commute to London Bridge where, when their train failed to stop at their destination, they bonded over a mutual love of books and music. She was now going to be late for choir whilst he, somewhat conveniently, had a position for a vocalist that needed filling. It was her turn on a double A-side that got the band signed, and since then they have been on a steady incline with their blend of electronica and dreamy pop.

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NOTS – Cosmetic

Album, Music, Reviews September 20, 2016

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (04/09/16).

Turmoil: a sense of unrest, disturbance, confusion. Two of these factors can apply to NOTS, though it’s safe to say that ‘confusion’ is certainly not one of them; there is no confusion here, just intent, attitude, and a shit-tonne of noise.

Memphis, Tennessee is not a place one normally associates with a bristling punk scene, but it proved the ideal place for the foursome to nurture their sound over the years, initially playing in multiple bands with NOTS themselves seeing members come and go via a near constant revolve of their door. Charlotte Watson, for example, shifted from the drums to wield bass only to find herself with sticks back in her hands once again shortly after, and – from an audience perspective, good! – for she certainly sounds at home there. The band could not claim to be the same were it not for her pummelling attack on their second album Cosmetic; it is, after all, the linchpin in their sound.

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MUNA – “Loudspeaker” EP

EP, Music, Reviews May 13, 2016

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (12/05/16).

Being on the cusp of change, on the brink of no return that is burgeoning adulthood, it is tempting to latch tooth-and-nail onto the vestiges of your adolescence to avoid the discomfort of growing up. Formed in their college days in an autumn bunk up in their university dorms, MUNA is, first and foremost, a sisterly bonding experience between three friends who are in the middle of crossing that void, with a detour via heartache. Except where many of us left that experience at bitching over pizza and singing Fleetwood Mac songs into our hairbrushes, the trio – namely, Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson – picked up their journals and synths and put our own sanctimonious wallowing to shame.

In this manner, the journey through their debut EP Loudspeaker is akin to flicking through the pages of your sister’s diary; you know that you shouldn’t, but its impulsive reading, so yes – just one more page, and you’ll tuck it back under the mattress like the good sibling you are. It is a confessional compilation of pop songs; you can relate to the pangs of longing and hesitation when your object of desire looks that hot in that shirt, until you remember how much of a douchebag they were when they said that thing the other day, and – in your defiance – you come to the conclusion that they’re really not worth it.

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White Lung – “Paradise”

Album, Music, Reviews May 3, 2016

This piece was originally published and is still available in its entirety on The Girls Are (02/05/16).

Common consensus dictates that if you’re going to do punk, then you’d better be perpetually pissed off about something – or everything. There is no harm in that, of course; the majority of us would much rather hear a voice stout and passion-fuelled over a blathering Bieber-lite any day, but what if you just got sick of being the vessel for vital issues? What if those issues are no longer your own? What if you just weren’t as angry as you used to be?

Being content or, god-forbid – happy – can be make or break for a band that has constructed their identity from its antithesis and were you even just to flit around their back catalogue to date, Canadian trio White Lung would have sat comfortably inside that vein – until now, for whilst their unchecked fury of yesteryear has seen them obliterate our perception of what modern-day punk is or should be, their fourth album, Paradise, is extracted from a more peaceful place.

That is not to brand it mellow (definitely not); the band attacks its imaginary adversary with true grit and relish. Cramming ten songs into 29 minutes is 29 minutes well spent when each track is as well-crafted and deliberate as the ones that assemble Paradise. The vigour of Anne-Marie Vassiliou’s drumming is paralleled only by Kenneth William’s squealing/whirring/gurning guitar (delete as applicable) and through songs like the rampant savagery of ‘Dead Weight’ or ‘I Beg You’, vocalist Mish Barber-Way is a steadfast and commanding presence; if the full-throttle melodic riot has failed to grab you by the throat, then she is pinning you to the floor and ramming it down your until you change your mind or be damned.

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School of Seven Bells – “SVIIB”

Album, Music, Reviews February 25, 2016

Originally published and still available at The Girls Are (23/02/16).

Each of us have experienced the merits of what a healthy relationship can provide, be it romantic, familial, or that of nurture and support, however it is one of a rare nature that seemingly transcends these virtues into the realms of spirituality. School of Seven Bells was built around this very supposition. Originally hailing from New York as a three piece comprised of the remnants of two bands, Alejandra Deheza (On! Air! Library!) and Benjamin Curtis (Secret Machines) struck an instant and intangible connection that would tie their lives and visions together for almost a decade. Now, it is time for their circle to close with their fourth and final album, SVIIB.

Deheza described the summer of 2012 as ‘one of the most inspired summers of [their] lives’, but in a swift and tragic turn of events Curtis was diagnosed with a rare form of T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma just months later, and died in little more than a year following his diagnosis at the age of 35. Recouping through the devastation at the loss of her best friend and writing partner, Deheza relocated to Los Angeles to work with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, her aim being to finish the last project she and Curtis had started together in his memory, using as much of his contributions as possible.

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Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

Album, Music, Reviews February 13, 2016

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (05/02/16).

Pause a little to reminisce upon your teenage hopes and dreams. Found them? Did you dream of being unfeasibly cool with the aesthetic of Debbie Harry, talent of Johnny Marr with a healthy dose of lyrical sentimentality to boot (or was that just me)? Transitioning from bedrooms to stages was of course, an inevitability (in your mind), yet if you were so inclined to research a little on East Coast export Sunflower Bean, you would find that their conception reads much like a screenplay of a romanticised, Americanised, coming-of-age drama (albeit, one of a akin to an indie daydream).

Hailing from New York, guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Farber met Julia Cummings when their previous bands Turnip King and Supercute! played a show together. As it transpires the stars did align, as fast-forwarding three years to the present day they are about to unveil their debut album Human Ceremony.

Garnering press with lucidly energetic pop, the trio make good on the promise of more of its ilk, alternating seamlessly between dreamy psychedlia and fuzz infused anthems. The dark, surfy tones of old favourite ‘2013’ sound just as good now they have been suitably weathered in, with the falsetto turn of recent offering ‘Easier Said’ recalling a fabled melancholy summer. Even in their scattier and more energetic moments, the trio deliver their songs in an unerringly accomplished manner; ‘Wall Watcher’ has a deft swagger tucked under its big, grooving bassline whilst the wriggling riffs and deadpan vocal of ‘This Kinda Feeling’ hint at a lurking aggression. Similarly, the delicate ‘Creation Myth’ descends into the remnants of short-lived metal phase before recouping once again.

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LIVE: Warpaint – The Institute, Birmingham (20/03/15)

Live, Music, Reviews February 11, 2016

photo © J. Brewster used with permission.

Originally published in March 2015 on my former blog (now Kayleigh Watson Illustration) and still available in full.

Many would claim that to be a great band, you must be able to replicate your recorded sound perfectly in a live setting. Immediately, if that were perquisite, a great many bands would be left in the rubble; for many, it is nigh on impossible once their recordings have been layered over and over and mixed to within an inch of its life. There are other bands though, that are best relished in person. Warpaint is one of those bands. Whilst their albums are lucidly exquisite, comprehending it in person is an wholly different experience.

The four-piece delve into their accomplished yet criminally small (2 albums, 1 EP) back-catalogue with aplomb; this is not merely a case of cherry-picking, with songs from both their first album The Fool and 2013’s self-titled effort being aired in equal measure. Fan favourites ‘Undertow’ and ‘Keep It Healthy’ captivate the crowd, whilst tracks such as The Knife-esque ‘Disco//very’ and the rattle and stomp frenzy of ‘Elephants’ whip onlookers into a frolic, so much so that the free-spirited cavorting of a group at the front sparks singers and guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal to mimic their dancing as the show progresses.

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DU BLONDE – Welcome Back To Milk

Album, Music, Reviews May 26, 2015

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (13/05/15).

In choosing to live life as a creative, it is pre-empt that change is not inevitable, but essential to survive. In her own battle, Beth Jeans Houghton has had nothing short of a metamorphosis, and whilst it is neither a Miley Cyrus-esque display of attention-grabbing tongue-wagging, nor the flat, faux curveball of radio-darlings Mumford and Sons, it is instead a far more authentic growth that brings Houghton closer to her finest form of superhero artiste provocateur.

Of course, a brazen project needs a strong name and Du Blonde fits the bill. Muscular, sassy and perfectly personifying Houghton’s new and ballsy sound, Du Blonde pejoratively slays her previous life as the psych-rock chanteuse of her band, The Hooves Of Destiny. Her first work under her new moniker is essentially a rediscovery, with Welcome Back To Milk being a bullet of spiky rock that tears through speakers. One listen to the audacious swagger of single ‘Black Flag’ proves that Houghton means business, the pound and squeal of various instruments permeating into the thunderous ‘Chips To Go’ where Houghton unveils her vocal dexterity in equal measure. She croons and screeches though a mere two-minute burst of energy, and talking of such, this collection is full of them.

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TORRES – Sprinter

Album, Music, Reviews May 7, 2015

Originally published and still available on The Girls Are (06/05/15).

Many believe that when we push ourselves to our limits, great things are achieved. Whether it be latching onto something treasured, chasing our dreams with reckless abandon, or dissective introspection, fortune rarely favours those who don’t push.

With Sprinter, Torres is pushing. The Nashville bred songstress – also known as Mackenzie Scott – returns with an emotive second album that sees her challenge her psyche and channel her discoveries through her music. Sonically, her chosen medium is comprised of jarring extremes that, whilst at times they grate with their forceful dynamic, serves as a metaphor for Scott’s maelstrom of feeling.

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