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Callum Mitchell-Simon

SINGLE REVIEW: Sundara Karma – Little Smart Houses

WORDS BY: CALLUM MITCHELL-SIMON

Sundara Karma started out from humble beginnings, formed in 2011 as a high school band in Reading. They releasing their debut singles via Soundcloud, before several years spent developing their sound, releasing the odd EP, and touring alongside the likes of Wolf Alice. They came on leaps and bounds upon the release of their 2017 debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect, which featured huge singles She Said, Olympia and Happy Family.  They’re set for bigger things in 2019, with a new album Ulfilas’ Alphabet due on March 1st on Chess Club/RCA, and a headline slot at Live At Leeds in May, preceded by a huge headline UK tour in April.

 

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With their spiky guitar riffs and heavily stylised art-rock leanings, they bring to mind a hungry young Franz Ferdinand or Foals. The Guardian even compared them to the likes of U2 and Arcade Fire. A daunting comparison maybe, but these guys seems to understand this crazy old rock and roll game – they dress up and play their respective parts with aplomb, lead singer Oscar “Lulu” Pollock in particular doing his utmost to channel a modern-day Bowie (this writer came close to seeing them live in 2017 at Y-Not Festival, but that turned out to be the fateful year that the whole thing was rained off).

Their return is heralded by new track Little Smart Houses. Whilst their debut was itself a very fine record, it, by and large, stuck to a set palate of influences, like a band finding their feet. This time around they appear much more confident to stretch out their sound. This is bolstered with some inspired 80’s touches, such as Pollock‘s heavily indebted Duran Duran-esque vocal inflections. A bouncy, guitar-led intro is abruptly halted by some stop-start vocals, before a wave of shimmering electronics bridge into a rousing chorus. Pollock sings of yearning for a broadening spiritual awareness “free yourself and you will conceive, a life beyond your wildest dreams”, and the habits we inflict on ourselves to prevent us from achieving this “We’ll stay inside because we’re torn and dumb, kept warm in little smart houses”.

It’s a bright, technicolor slab of indie-pop, with slick, polished production. It’s a confident artistic step forward, likely to keep the returning fans happy, whilst winning over many more new ones in the process.

Like this? Read up on all of our blog posts HERE 👀

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ALBUM RELEASE: Woman’s Hour – ‘Ephyra’

WORDS BY: CALLUM MITCHELL-SIMON

It’s been a long five years since we last heard from Woman’s Hour, when their stunning 2014 debut LP, Conversations, swiftly put them on the rise to becoming a household name, alongside the likes of contemporaries The xx & Daughter. They were a band with their own distinct identity and sound, and an incredible run of singles to support them, including Darkest Place, Her Ghost and In Stillness We Remain.

However, a lot can happen in five years. A relentless touring schedule, and the now fevered anticipation now placed on the band, added to their pressures. They began recording demo material for a second LP, but following a tense number of sessions, in 2016 the band decided to call it a day, citing “deteriorating mental health”. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when the remaining band members decided to reconvene in an attempt to finish the recording process that they started, which leads us to their present state, and their new, final album Ephyra. A band, not quite fully with us, but here in all their honesty to present their hard toiled over work. It’s a definitive take on the time old “difficult second album” story.

First track and lead single from the LP Don’t Speak sets the tone for the record from the start. It presents itself as more of a mood piece than a conventionally structured song. The title, plus a few more fragmented lyrics, are repeated over and over various shifting and modulated soundscapes, like an ever-changing state of mind, in flux of it’s own self.

This continues into second track From Eden To Exile. There’s a jittery, restless feel to the song, with several false starts and snippets from other songs and spoken word excerpts before the central melody kicks in. The effect is like a radio dial constantly being re-tuned, unable to settle on a frequency. This restless energy is found again on second single Luke, which builds itself up over a single synth line. “Am I shouting in a vacuum? Can you hear me?” lead singer Fiona Burgess calls out, before a simple chorus of a repeating piano note and the word “breath”, like a mantra to encourage a state of calm.

This sums up the album as a whole. It’s breathlessly inventive at times, a real artistic step up for the band. You can hear them really pushing to create something unique, not to settle on a sound that will define them. It’s impeccably produced – the songs don’t fit into set forms and structures, they’re much looser and free-form, compositions that seek to explore various emotional states. They reflect a fragmented, scattered state of mind – constantly shifting and changing in rhythm and tempo. The off kilter effects on I Can’t Take You Seriously, which starts off relatively straightforward, a clear guitar line guiding the way, then begins to build upon wave after wave of electronics, with various vocal modulations and pitch bends making it feel as if the foundations of the songs are slipping away from underneath you. There’s a pervading feeling of tension underlying the album, an edge, a sense of darkness, that all is not well. This informs and infuses it’s way into the sound and texture of the music.

The flip side of this, however, it that there’s not a great deal of consistency to be found.There’s no tracks on here that lift it to a level of greatness, and nothing to match some of the peerless work on Conversations. It can feel patchy at times, like a work in progress – which, in fairness, is what this record always was. It’s A Blast and Removal Of Hope in particular don’t feel fully finished, and wrap up before having made a distinct impression.

The band have been unflinchingly honest in saying that this is an album pieced together from the fragments of original demos, recorded in their hometown of Kendal. In their own words: “They contain the thoughts, memories, ambitions, fears and sleepless nights that have come to define the narrative of our lives over the last three years. These songs are letters to you, and once you’ve sent a letter you can never ask for it back”. It’s not a perfect album, but deliberately so. It’s an honest record, capturing a band in a state of uncertainty and complete emotional honesty.

Hopefully we haven’t heard the last from Woman’s Hour. They are one of the most deftly creative and emotionally resilient bands around at the moment. If not, then this album acts as a bittersweet finale for their story, a taste of what could have been.

Like this? Read up on all of our blog posts HERE 👀

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SINGLE RELEASE: Mini Mansions – ‘GummyBear’

WORDS BY CALLUM MITCHELL-SIMON

Mini Mansions mark their return in 2019, following up from their 2018 EP Works Every Time with GummyBear, the first single taken from their new album, Guy Walks Into A Bar…, set for release on July 26th. The LA outfit were founded in 2009 as an offshoot project by Queens Of The Stone Age bass player Michael Shuman, and have sporadically loitered around the mid-levels of the indie pop scene over the past decade. They hit a high in 2014 with their hit track Death Is A Girl, and have collaborated with the likes of The Last Shadow Puppets, Sparks and Arctic Monkeys (Alex Turner even pops up on their track “Vertigo”).

The new single can in fact be taken as a direct sequel to the Monkeys fifth album AM, picking up the baton precisely where they left it. The mid-paced glam stomp that opens the track clearly brings to mind R U Mine, with an accentuated bass line enforcing the groove of the song. A chunky synthesizer riff contrasts nicely with a subtle organ line that sits underneath the song, neatly adding a layer of depth to their sound. Shuman croons his way through as many tongue-in-cheek puns as possible, “Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”, and the track culminates with some rousing soul-tinged vocals. It’s a song that even after the first listen just gets under your skin, and like their best work, it keeps moving at a steady beat until your feet can’t help but move along.

Whilst it does little to reinvent the well trodden wheel it follows on from, it’s a slick, distilled number, with some interesting little developments to their established sound. It acts as a tantalising taster for their new album, and is destined to sound huge across festival fields this summer. Mini Mansions are currently supporting Arctic Monkeys out on their Australian arena tour, and will be back on UK shores in May.

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lump mcr live

ALBUM REVIEW: LUMP – LUMP

LUMP pose a curious proposition to start off with. A collaboration between folk’s leading lady Laura Marling, fresh off the success of one of her finest albums, 2017’s Semper Femina, and Mercury Award-winning producer/composer/general noise maker Mike Lindsey, best known for his work with folktronica outfit TUUNG, LUMP sees both artists accompanied by a dancing, shaggy-haired Yeti as their mascot. Naturally. A wholly niche musical genre in which LUMP sit proudly seems an apt way to describe this debut album from the duo, with Lindsey’s website biog itself describing the work as a “cyclical drone journey”.

Sonically we are more in Lindsey’s world for this album, but for Marling this is a bold and actually quite natural expansion, following on from the loose experimentation in form over her past few albums. Vocally her range impresses throughout, and comes across as much an instrument in its own right as much as a vessel for the song’s lyrics – numerous vocal overlaps, effects and different textures only adding to the intended cyclical feel. Marling’s lyrics often enter an ethereal, otherworldly, place – “I am a rage of colours across the sky/I am a blaze of colours formed of light”, she sings on ‘Rolling Thunder’, adding to the spaceless feeling of experimentation that the album as a whole strives for (and often succeeds in reaping).

On the whole, tracks start off in quite minimalistic fashion before gradually building up to a lush sonic soundscape – a good comparison point would be Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz which proposed similar work almost a decade ago. For LUMP, things start with a low key melancholy ‘Late To The Flight’, before the loose, airy sound of ‘May I Be the Light’ builds to a stunning finalé with its closing refrain “You know it’s a sign of the times”. Following this are the albums two highlights – the heavily atmospheric and dramatic ‘Rolling Thunder’ (for my money the albums best track) and the self-titled debut’s funky lead single ‘Curse of The Contemporary’.

However, few albums are flawless. LUMP does become a bit too self-aware and ponderous at times after these highlights, especially the final number ‘LUMP Is a Product (Credits)’, where the repeating refrain of the title makes its point about consumerism in the same way that Arcade Fire messed around on ‘Everything Now’ last year (albeit with a little less razzmatazz). It should also be mentioned that with each track typically spanning at least five minutes, there are a couple of numbers that don’t quite merit the added running time. In particular, ‘Hand Hold Hero’ and ‘Shake Your Shelter’ don’t seem to go anywhere extra after a while and you feel that they could have wrapped up much sooner.

Saying that though, it’s not all bad. What impresses most on LUMP is the balance between the acoustic and electronic components on each number – nothing feels forced or just put somewhere for the hell of it in the hope that something gels. All elements within the tracklist compliment each other and work together in a very organic way to sound like one complete piece of work.

Lindsey’s production is clean and crisp to a point throughout LUMP – listen if you can on a decent pair of headphones to appreciate the satisfyingly chunky bass lines. There is a clear depth and even split between all instruments, without a jot of sound going to waste. Pink Floyd-esque overlaps between songs add to the impression of the album becoming a singular piece of work and not just a collection of songs haphazardly bunged together. The sequencing of LUMP works particularly well too, with each track complimenting the next and the pace & tone of the music shifting to keep ears constantly engaged.

As Arctic Monkeys proved so very divisively on last months ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’, we are moving ever further into a “post-genre” landscape, where we see big artists unafraid to move away from the established sounds that they have built their success on, with little regard for the die-hard fans who just want to hear “the old stuff”.

Surely the best artists are those who, like Radiohead‘s late 90’s shift in sound (and earlier than that Bob Dylan controversially “going electric”), commit themselves to exploring and expanding their horizons regardless of what the outcome might be. If that is the case, LUMP surely are that – a curious and bold experiment that might not always hit the mark, but harbouring nothing short of standout tracks. Whether Marling and Lindsey decide to join forces again remains to be seen, but LUMP can be viewed as a thrillingly creative double act, and much more than a side project for either artist.

LUMP are playing a limited run of shows to support the new album, calling at:

June 5/6th, London, Oslo

June 8th, Cardiff Festival Of Voice 2018, Wales Millenium Centre

June 9th, Bristol, Rough Trade

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Courtney

GIG REVIEW: Courtney Marie Andrews @ Gorilla

Courtney Marie Andrews arrived in Manchester for the latest date on her UK tour with a wave of anticipation behind her. This past few months alone have seen her awarded with “International Artist Of The Year” at the UK Americana Awards, and last month she released her latest LP ‘May Your Kindness Remain‘ which was received to universal acclaim, charting at #1 on the Euro Americana charts. This follows on from a whirlwind 2017 for Andrews releasing her stellar musical piece, ‘Honest Life’, an album that significantly boosted her international profile as well as winning over many new fans (myself included).

Supports

First onto the stage at an almost sold out Gorilla is fellow country folk singer Twain. He brings a very intense and intimate sound to his set, very much akin to Jeff Buckley. Twain’s interactions with the crowd are shy and sparse, regardless his set is received by an attentive bunch. Twain’s music is natural bedmates to Andrew’s Country stylings, with his latest album “Rare Feeling”, is out now via BB*ISLAND – I recommend a listen!

This level of attention carries over onto the main set when Courtney and her band arrive – the crowd is captivated into silence from the first number, a brooding moody stomp through her latest albums final number ‘Long Way Back To You’. From there on in the band are in full flow, barely pausing for the next hour and a half, ploughing through the majority of her past two albums with a few lesser known tracks thrown in for good measure.

A Full Band Performance With one of Folk Rocks Most Delicate Songstresses

The band are clearly tight-knit and perform like a well-oiled machine. As Courtney mentions, the group of talented musicians have been performing together for several years, and this relaxed camaraderie is evident throughout. However, it’s Courtney that is the main attraction tonight, and her soaring vocals are the true highlight here – they pull the whole performance together and leave for some truly awe-inspiring moments. Her voice is pitch-perfect from the first note until last, showing off Andrew’s impressive and expansive range. Despite this, her unmistakable country twang shines through and adds real texture and distinct character to each and every song.

One of the key things that makes Courtney’s music so interesting is the genuine sincerity in her lyrics that really strikes a chord. Despite her lyrics predominantly focusing on the melancholy, there’s an overall optimism in the delivery that translates into a very inspirational feeling.

Despite the amazing experience created this evening, there were a few tiny niggling letdowns. Given her clear confidence as a performer, Courtney comes across as very shy when addressing the crowd. Some more interaction with the audience would have been interesting. The times where she pauses to give background and insight into the next song really lends them an added impact. One other minor gripe and this is digging for faults really, is that each song has been tailored to involve the full band playing – at times this works to help flesh out and amplify certain numbers, but at others it has the tendency to take away from the stripped back intimacy that’s evident in the song.

As mentioned, the majority of the set is derived from her past two albums, the most recent material, in particular, is well received, especially her latest single ‘Took You Up’. Most notably the title track from the new record ‘May Your Kindness Remain’,  closes the main set, moving the audience. Closing to thunderous applause, the whole band clearly quite moved by Manchester’s passionate response to their showcase of talent.

They return for a brief encore, playing an amped up version of ‘Irene’, one of the highlights from ‘Honest Life’. They also bring Twain back on stage for one final number, covering Little Feat’s ‘Willin’. Every Band member taking over lead vocals for a portion of the song.

One of the finest and most passionate voices of her generation, Courtney justified the hype this evening. Her UK tour rounds up at London’s Islington Assembly Hall this week.

Courtney returns to the U.K later on in August for the following dates:

16th – Green Man Festival, Wales

19th – Little Rabbit Barn, Colchester

20th – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

21st – Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich

22nd – Talking Heads, Southampton

The new album, May Your Kindness Remain, is available now via Loose Records and is one of the finest records you’ll hear this year. You can see what I had to say about it here.

 

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COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

Courtney Marie Andrews certainly hasn’t taken any short cuts in reaching her well earned recent success. Having started her career performing from the age of 15, she has six albums under her belt already, for several years was an auxiliary member of Jimmy Eat World (playing keyboards and backing vocals on their 2010 album ‘Invented’) playing with them over several tours. Her breakthrough though came with last years ‘Honest Life’ LP (still my hands down favourite release from 2017, discovered via an article on Laura Marling‘s last album), a stunningly beautiful record which deftly showcased her skills as a singer and lyricist.

Courtney now returns just over twelve months later with the eagerly anticipated new LP ‘May Your Kindness Remain’. She describes the inspiration behind the new record as “coming to terms with depression and the reality of the world we’re living in.” Despite this seemingly dour outlook, the album gives a feeling of overall optimism and faith in the human spirit, with a warm, enveloping sound from start to finish.

Both lyrically and sonically this is a step forward for Andrews – nothing too bold or dramatic, but across the album there is a sense of growth and development with informed influences like gospel making a big impression. Soulful backing singers add real texture to several numbers, most notably the title track and the final number ‘Long Road Back To You’.

The album was recorded in the space of eight days and there’s a real feeling of freshness to the sound overall. The songs are clear and concise, with next to no overproduction (Andrews co-produced the entire album, alongside renowned producer Mark Howard, whose past collaborations include Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris & Tom Waits). The whole band are on top form throughout, but overall undoubtedly this is Andrews show. There’s a real sense of artistic intent stamped on top of the work and – most significantly – this album sees Courtney use her voice more than previously as a focal instrument in it’s own right, more than just a vessel for her lyrics. Her diction is crystal clear, and her range is pushed much further than her earlier work without losing its intimate underlying feeling or authentic country twang.

The lyrics themselves range from the heartfelt, confessional, tone straight from ‘Honest Life’ that’s heard on ‘This House’, to ‘I’ve Hurt Worse’ where Courtney takes a darker & more sarcastic turn of phrase, listing the ways in which her useless lover treats her. The line “Mother says we love who we think we deserve” twists the emphasis on to how much a persons self-worth is projected into a relationship, to heartbreaking effect. There is real craftsmanship woven into her lyricism, songs which might well sound cloying and overly sentimental in the hands of lesser songsmiths, but here there’s an authentic sense of truthfulness to her words.

Overall, this is a stunning record with the essence of an artist pushing their sound & reaching their peak at the same time. There is an effortless flow to the whole record, which crucially never outstays it’s welcome at a lean ten tracks. Undoubtably one of the years musical highlights so far.
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The album is released Friday 23rd March on Fat Possum/Mama Bird. Courtney will be out on tour across the U.K with her band throughout April, calling at the following venues:
 
 
For more on the latest releases, head here.
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typhoon

Gig Review: Typhoon @ The Deaf Institute

Typhoon certainly make a unique impression on first glance. An eleven (eleven!) piece indie outfit from Portland, Oregon, their sound is most easily described as “occasionally sounding a bit like Arcade Fire“. Their music often contains complex arrangements and orchestrations, and ranges from quirky experimental fare on their early recordings to a more focussed and anthemic quality on their more recent records. Their latest acclaimed LP “Offerings“, released last month on Roll Call records, is split into four “movements”, Floodplanes, Flood, Reckoning and Afterparty, and tackles, in a quote from the band, “the perspective of a mind losing its memory at precisely the same time the world is will-fully forgetting its history”. Foo Fighters they are not.

 

Given the prolific output of Typhoon, with four LPs and a sting of EP’s under their belt already, it’s quite a surprise that this gig is only their second ever in the UK, following on from a performance at The Lexington in London earlier in the week. Recently the band have opened for the likes of The Decemberists, The Shins and Belle and Sebastian, all of whom they would surely sound in good company with.

Of the eleven members, seven take to the stage tonight (it’s hard to see how many more would fit on The Deaf Institutes cosy setup). Their music takes on a constantly shifting, almost prog-like form, rarely settling on the same rhythm for more than a minute. This can seem quite unsettling at first, but the band are a tight unit, performing changing melodies and time signatures at a seconds notice.The band Typhoon most bring to mind personally are Manchester Orchestra, with their canny ability to shift from harsh, louder segments to softer, more intimate moments with ease.

Lead singer and frontman Kyle Morton keeps an observant eye over all of this, striking an intense, solitary figure in the middle of the swelling music at times, before prompting the band into a cathartic mass singalong at others. The banter with the crowd stays light hearted throughout, bringing some levity to the set (“what’s good to do in Manchester then?” Kyle asks at one point. “Get drunk!” is the immediate response. “Yeah, I think we’ve heard of that one”, he quips back.)

At times the sound mix doesn’t quite work, with so much going on that on occasions the bass and keyboards get lost amongst everything, and the two drummer setup (always a bold move) doesn’t always give the same depth of sound as on record. Violinist and second vocalist Shannon Steel is a standout performer however, her clear, high voice and sweeping string contributions bringing a really soothing counterbalance to the often frantic riot of conflicting sounds.

It’s not a packed out crowd tonight for Typhoon, but a keen and attentive one for sure. It feels like the band could have played much longer, in fact they do stretch out the final part of their set by a couple more songs to much approval.

Typhoon play two more dates in London this week, before heading out across Europe for the rest of the month.

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Queens of the stone Age - Gig Review - Manchester Arena - MCR Live Blog

Gig Review: Queens Of The Stone Age @ Manchester Arena

Queens of the Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme has been talking a tough game of late. On his bands latest tour, he wants to simultaneously start a party and riot. He has every reason to sound confident, their latest Mark Ronson produced LP “Villains” has been received earlier this year to almost universal acclaim, and also became their first release to top UK album charts. The band sounds refreshed and revitalised, not that they’ve ever released a bad record, but their equally brilliant last effort “Like Clockwork” was more of an introspective and broody affair. This time round, the band want the audience on their feet.

 

Support is provided by Broncho, who gave a pretty unmemorable set to be honest. All their songs have the same kind of plodding sound to them, and the singers lyrics are completely indecipherable (so much so that me and my friend start a game filling in what we imagine he’s singing). They would maybe sound better in a smaller venue where their music might carry more impact, but here in the arena their sound is just lost in the void. Unfortunate.

This false start then gives way to a sharp jolt as the Queens hit the stage, to the heavy groove of “If I Had A Tail”. They then proceed on a blistering rampage of tracks, barely pausing for the entire set. The ferocity with which they attack their numbers knocks you off your feet like a force of nature. They dart this way and that across their career, and we’re already four songs in before they even play anything from the new LP, the Led Zeppelin-esque funk of “Feet Don’t Fail Me ” bringing us up to date. The new material sound incredible live, and mixes in seamlessly alongside the rest of their back catalogue.

The entire band are as tight as a drum, it sounds like they’ve been playing these latest tracks for years already. For an outfit with over twenty years behind them already, they show no signs of slowing down or slackening off. They take nothing for granted and hold nothing back. Song after song, they perform a rug pull on the audience – you expect a pause for breath, a change of pace. Nope. The ridiculously catchy “The Way You Used To Do” thunders straight into “Millionaire”, before “No One Knows” sends the crowd into an absolute frenzy, particularly its climax, which features an insane drum solo from Jon Theodore. Even their slower tracks, such as “Make It Wit Chu” and “I Appear Missing” are beefed up, and their sound fills the entire arena.

A good chunk of the set is derived from “Like Clockwork”, which has aged very well in the past few years, tracks like “Smooth Sailing” and “I Sat By The Ocean” drawing huge responses. One of the nights highlights is “Villians Of Circumstance”, closing track from the new album, its massive chorus line “close your eyes, and dream me home, forever mine, I’ll be forever yours ” already igniting a mass singalong (FYI, check out this haunting version of the track on Jool Holland if you’ve not already).

Josh himself struts and swaggers like Mick Jagger around the stage, defiantly lighting up at one point, before proudly declaring to all “Manchester, I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little drunk right now”. I’m unable to quote much else of what he says, because A. it’s probably not publishable, and B. I don’t think even Mr Homme could keep up with what he was spouting off. He attempts to lead these “tipsy” monologues into seguways for the next track, to various degrees of success. Pointing to a topless guy in the crowd and asking “why does he act the way he does? I have the answer! Because he “Goes With The Flow”…” lands well. “Manchester, you have a “Head Like A Haunted House!”. Not so much. The guy oozes confidence and also volitility – it’s a miracle that the set is kept together, which adds an extra element of thrill and danger to the evening.

It’s a slick setup, with large metronome-like lights scattered around the stage, acting as both multi-coloured mood changers and also punching bags for the band. Before you know it, they’re at the end of the set, having carved through a hefty chunk of their back catalogue with plenty of untouched material – only one track (Little Sister) from one of their finest albums “Lullabies To Paralyse” makes its way onto the setlist. These guys could have played for twice as long and still have had plenty of tracks left over. They finish on the heavy jam of “A Song For The Dead” before leaving the crowd to piece themselves back together again.

I head to work early the next morning feeling just a tad worse for wear and rough around the edges. I imagine Josh feels pretty much the same. But then thats the Queens ethos, in making the most of the moment and living for the now. Or to put more aptly, go with the flow.

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Travelling Band

GIG REVIEW: THE TRAVELLING BAND @ THE DEAF INSTITUTE

Manchester’s The Travelling Band have been steadily carving out their own niche of “Mancunian Americana” over the past decade. Since their debut LP Under The Pavement back in 2008, their steady stream of singles, EP’s and full length albums has seen them build up a loyal fan base, and has taken them to stages around the world, notably at the Glastonbury Festival, when organiser Michael Eavis personally selected the band as his New Talent award winners.

The band released album number four “Sails” back in August on their own label Sideways Saloon Records, to greatly positive reviews from the likes of Clash Magazine, The 405 and Louder Than War. They have also had a few recent re-jigs to the lineup with core trio Adam Gorman, Jo Dudderidge and Nick Vaal now joined by Harry Fausing Smith (sax, violin, clarinet) and Sam Quinn (bass) following the departure of original members Mugger (guitar) and Spenny (bass). It’s this lineup that hit the stage at The Deaf Institute tonight.

The Travelling Band are supported by Pale Seas, a dream-pop outfit who have gained comparisons to Elliot Smith and Beach House, whom have recently toured with an array of credited bands including Stornoway, Beach Fossils and The War On Drugs. They present an energetic, polished set with some catchy and incredibly well-structured numbers, and plenty of Oasis-esque guitar reverb. The highlight in their set being their very entertaining drummer who flails as if his life depends on it, sparking comparison to that of Animal from the Muppets.

Their latest album Stargazing For Beginners is out now on Abbey Records.

Now for the main spectacle. From the moment The Travelling Band take to the stage, they have the entire crowd completely on their side – this is a triumphant homecoming gig, with many friends in attendance. Chants and in-jokes between the band and the crowd run throughout tonight’s set, and its this charm and patter that is central to the bands appeal. They clearly have a great affection for the crowd and The Deaf Institute in particular. “Manchester, it’s so good to be home” declares singer Jo “we’ve toured all over the country, and we can confirm that everywhere else is absolutely shit“. Their DIY ethic extends as far as their merch stall where tonight the band are selling, amongst other items, homemade tea towels, bath bombs and some very hyped up chili sauce. They’re also a charitable bunch, giving a percentage from all the nights takings to Children In Need. Nice lads.

The band bring their music to life in a way that elevates so much more than on record. They have such a wide patchwork of influences that can be heard woven throughout their sound; from traditional folk, to straight up indie, with smatterings of Brit-pop and psychedelic vibes all added in the musical blender. The Travelling Band excel at creating textures and atmosphere simply and effectively – the duel harmonies of Jo and Adam giving each song a distinct feel. The band pull everything off through sheer passion and hard graft, and it’s evident to see that these guys are having the time of their lives up on stage.

There’s a brilliant sense of musicianship going on with band members switching up places and tossing instruments to each other, Arcade Fire-style, between songs. This keeps proceedings sounding fresh and vibrant as each player approaches their instrument in a different way, mixing up the bands sound in the process. Best of the talented bunch is Harry, who (between each number) seemingly rotates between bass, guitar, violin and saxophone. There’s a marvellous bit of stage flare at the end of the set where he dives onto the bar mid saxophone-jam to mass applause – understandably so, too.

There’s also a real sense of creating an occasion with this show – the highlight being the main set closer ‘Sundial’. What made this track a stand out was headliners asking the audience for a bit of hush before going completely unplugged and acoustic for a spellbinding number, during which they all decent down into the middle of the crowd for a mass in-the-round singalong. Magical stuff.

They push their set right up to the edge of their curfew – “just seen the security guard glancing at his watch, classy“, quips Jo – before a couple of high energy, E-Street band style numbers leave the crowd on a high.

The Travelling Band continue their UK tour throughout the rest of November. They’ll be hard-pushed to find a more enthusiastic and up for it bunch to play to than their home crow (as most band’s might expect), but their heartfelt, passionate set is one not to be missed.

November tour dates:

TUE 21 NOVEMBER –The Borderline, London
WED 22 NOVEMBER – Fat Lil’s, Witney, UK
THU 23 NOVEMBER – Hare & Hounds – Venue 2, Birmingham
SAT 25 NOVEMBER – High & Lonesome festival 2017, Leeds
SUN 26 NOVEMBER – The Bodega Social Club, Nottingham

For the best events happening in Manchester, head here!

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THe War On Drugs - Gig Review- Manchester Gigs and Events - MCR Live Blog

GIG REVIEW: THE WAR ON DRUGS – O2 APOLLO

With the release of 2014’s “Lost In The Dream”, Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs were thrust into the spotlight almost overnight. Their blend of classic rock mixed with ambient, drawn out soundscapes had them hailed as successors to Bruce Springsteen & Neil Young. Their stages suddenly expanded, which suits the epic sound of many of their best tracks. Earlier this year they released their fourth LP, “A Deeper Understanding” on Atlantic Records, to universal acclaim. The album is an expansion of the styles and ideas explored on the previous LP, with a slightly slicker, more refined sound. It’s a sure bet for inclusion on many Best Of 2017 polls, and had the 02 Apollo filled with anticipation for this evenings show.

They’re preceded by a short but powerful set from Montreals The Barr Brothers. They have a nice range to their sound, with an interesting use of slide guitar and harp giving their music an extra few dimensions. The audience don’t seem too engaged with them however, it would be good to see them in their own capacity. And hey, wouldn’t you know it, they’re playing The Deaf Institute next January. One for the diary. Their latest album “Queen Of The Breakers” is out now on Secret City Records.

Once The War On Drugs hit the stage for their main set, they immediately begin to tear through their back catalogue, heavily derived from their past two successful records, but with a couple of well placed tracks from their earlier works, the fast paced “Baby Missiles” in particular bringing to mind Arcade Fires “Keep The Car Running”.

Their softer, quieter numbers such as “Strangest Thing” work best in this space, as you’re able to hear better the full range of their sound. Everyone in the six piece band is on top form, with particular highlights being John Natchez, who’s saxophone playing adds real depth and texture, and drummer Charlie Hall, who pulls together all the band members around his tight, rhythmic playing. Front and centre of course, is band leader and guitarist Adam Granduciel. Many songs in the set seem to exist solely in service to his virtuoso playing, the traditional structure of verse-chorus-repeat falling to the wayside for his lengthy epic solos. When someone exudes this much talent at their instrument however, no one in the room is complaining, with jams ending in mass applause from the crowd.

The use of lighting works well to reflect the nature of each song, from an under-the-water style turquoise haze washing over the band during “An Ocean Between Waves”, an apt all-red washout for “Red Eyes” and a shimmering multi-coloured backdrop which really sets the mood for “Thinking Of A Place”, the guitar solo for which sets off a huge response not even halfway through the ten minute plus number.

Song on the whole follow a similar structure, weaving and building to dramatic crescendos, the most effective being main set closer “Under The Pressure”. The build for the drum line to kick in teases the audience to it’s limits, pushing the song out to almost five minutes before the drum kit is suddenly lit with a single spotlight and an almighty Phil Collins-esque beat is let loose to mass euphoria.

Chat from the band is brief bar a few thank yous and some heartfelt praise for Manchester. However, tonight the music does the talking for these guys, and when they take off into their own space they operate like few other bands around at the moment.

The bands world tour takes them next to Europe, the States, and Australia, before hopefully some festival dates back on these shores next summer.

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