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Ciera Littleford

LIVE: The Joy Formidable @ Gorilla

WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD

The Joy Formidable released their first EP A Balloon Called Moaning just over 10 years ago, and have only perfected their lively brand of indie rock since then. With four studio albums under their belt, the band has amassed a great deal of success, including supporting Foo Fighters in 2018.

The Welsh trio, hailing from Mold in Flintshire, ignite the intimate Gorilla with their infectious energy as a boisterous start to the weekend. Electronic beats and rapidly oscillating lights fill the room as the band – Ritzy Bryan on guitar and vocals, Rhydian Davies on bass and backing vocals, and Matthew Thomas on drums – take to the stage and launch into the intense Y Bluen Eira, the Welsh-language opener of their latest album AAARTH. Bryan’s fast-paced, monotone vocals interrupt a heavy guitar riff that’s enough to knock you off your feet. This spirited set-opener certainly sets the tone for the rest of the night, with none of the members losing this vivacity.

 

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Joy Formidable

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The trio hark back to their early days with I Don’t Want to See You Like This, a gripping track from the band’s first album The Big Roar (2011). They have everyone’s rapt attention by this point, with Ritzy chanting ‘A bridge splits November’s sky, I’m in two halves inside, this is the past right here, I choose to leave it here’ in her sugary yet resolute vocals that still sound as fresh as ever. The single’s B-Side, Ostrich, is played a little later; the fuzzy guitar riff echoes around the room, the type of signature Joy Formidable riff that was a motif for the entire debut album. The crashing cymbals and and a thunderous, rolling drumbeat gel perfectly with the constantly moving crowd, who continue to do so as the band launch straight into yet another non-album track, Passerby, a bonus track from the trio’s third album Hitch (2016), which admittedly had its issues, evidenced by its reluctance to feature much on the setlist . The band’s dynamism and the reception of their fans, however, is proof that even a knock such as that isn’t enough to faze them.

The night soon undergoes a shift in tone as Davies swaps out his bass for an acoustic guitar. The usually raucous A Heavy Abacus is substituted for a more subdued acoustic version; it’s charming, but seems like an odd choice for a song that has such potential to be a real crowd pleaser at its maximum volume. It could be justified as a segue into another acoustic track; this time it’s Underneath the Petal from Hitch. Despite the track’s softer tendencies, The Joy Formidable’s intensity refuses to wane. They’re always impeccably in sync with each other and with the crowd; between songs they banter with each other and audience members rendering Gorilla even more intimate than it already was.

The encore is a delightful mix of the band’s back catalogue, including The Leopard and the Lung, Y Batteg Ateb, and Whirring. It’s the latter track that gets fans most excited; a lot of people have presumably been waiting for this all night. The joyous guitar and tinkling of the keyboard, almost filled with a kind of childlike wonder, reeks of pure nostalgia. It’s amped up by Bryan’s crisp vocals, belting out ‘All these things about me, you never can tell, you make me sleep so badly invisible friend!’ as many sing-alongs.

It’s a fun-filled set, but the unexpected absence of early track Austere is felt, and the darker, heavier Buoy would have been a welcome addition to an otherwise mostly upbeat second half. But if there’s one thing for certain, The Joy Formidable are still as tight as ever, and they know how to put on a good gig.

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ALBUM RELEASE: Ex:Re – ‘Ex:Re’

WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD

Elena Tonra, of Daughter fame, has a knack for devastating her listeners. Her solo venture, Ex:Re, is a break-up album guaranteed to make you weepy this winter. At first listen, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is as another Daughter LP, but pay attention and you’ll discover a new, deeply personal perspective from Tonra.

The name of the project is pronounced ‘x-ray’, as it’s a profoundly introspective exploration into the self, following a break-up. Tonra explores the concept of an old relationship being some sort of ghost or specter; the wistful lyrics and somber guitar bring this conception into being.

‘Where the Time Went’ is an apt – and beautiful – opening track, covering a myriad of emotions: the despair-tinged line ‘I will leave this empty-handed’ to the quiet anger of ‘I will ruin you in a second’ sets the tumultuous tone for the rest of the album. ‘Romance’ is an almost seven-minute long hard-hitter, its synths and perkier beats not quite masking the melancholy of Tonra’s husky pleas: “I wanna know who you are, I wanna know who you were”. The lo-fi sounding instrumentation which slowly builds in urgency towards the end, coupled with Tonra’s mournful voice and lyrics, is a combination that secures its listeners; we’ll be staying until the end.

Tonra’s vocals are more prominent on Ex:Re than on her previous studio releases, which is clear on ‘The Dazzler’ and ‘Liar’, which both feature gorgeous vocal melodies; crisp, clear, and contemplative, much like the entire album itself. ‘5AM’, accompanied by piano, and final track ‘My Heart’, characterised by brief silences and the slow repetition of its riff ensure that we’re not coming away from this album on a happy note, which is expected.

Ex:Re offers its listeners a raw and honest depiction of heartache, accompanied by sometimes tender, sometimes intense arrangements. Guitar so delicate it is as if it’s careful not to tread on your already (by the end of the record) fragile state, soft drums, and infrequent but sorrowful strings pepper Ex:Re, creating one forlorn and dreamy affair that you’ll find yourself coming back to.

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LIVE: Pip Blom @ Night & Day

WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD

All the way from Amsterdam, Pip Blom bring a fun, nostalgia-tinged set to the intimate Night & Day Café. Starting solo in 2016, 20-year-old singer and guitarist Pip – the band’s namesake – began making music on her own, before putting together a band comprising of drummer Gini Cameron, Casper van der Lans on bass, and Blom’s very own brother, Tender, on guitar. Now 22, Pip and her band-mates have honed their sound, finding their niche.

The band gel well together, providing their short yet gutsy set a steady, invigorating energy that keeps us captivated throughout. A couple of songs in, the band launch into crowd favourite ‘Hours’, a lo-fi hark back to PJ Harvey’s early albums. Pip Blom, in all of their grunge glory, are reminiscent not only of Harvey, but also The Breeders, who they supported earlier this year.

However, the band’s youth helps to put a completely fresh spin on the indie genre; we all know there’s an abundance of guitar bands out there at the moment, but Blom and her band-mates are so in touch with the current musical landscape that every tune they put out – gathering an ever-growing fan-base here in the UK – is exciting and new.

 

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Pip Blom – my other Dutch faves. Amazing stuff. #pipblom

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This merging of old and new, and the band’s relationship with their instruments and each other, is evident on ‘Come Home’. The rolling drums and jangly guitar riff build in intensity, while Pip quips ‘I’ve lost track of what you think, I don’t mind, I think it’s quite amusing, we both know you’re not that type’ before jumping right into its catchy chorus. It all glues together brilliantly and the momentum never slows.

This youth and enthusiasm for music is translated perfectly on stage – Pip is always smiling, and the band are always exchanging exhilarated glances with each other; even some clothing is removed less than halfway through the set. These rising stars are a band worth seeing, especially if you can catch them now before their inevitable move onto bigger crowds and venues.

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LIVE: Car Seat Headrest @ Albert Hall | 07.11.18

WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD        PHOTOS BY PIRAN ASTON

In February this year, Car Seat Headrest released a re-recorded and reworked edition of their almost cult-status 2011 album ‘Twin Fantasy’, giving those familiar lo-fi sounds a new lease of life. Frontman Will Toledo seems to have a knack for revisiting old pursuits. Their first album ‘Teens of Style’ being a rework of Toledo’s material prior to getting signed by indie label Matador. It’s full of angsty lyrics about teenage love and mental health, which is translated vividly in their live shows.

 

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And then I saw Jesus…

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Car Seat Headrest are a rollercoaster of a live band. They open with ‘Cosmic Hero’; its slow-burn matching the gorgeous surroundings of the Albert Hall and the moody fog and blue lighting. Both band and crowd are stood quite still for now, whilst frontman Will Toledo is hiding behind his shock of black hair, but by the time he’s belting out “I will go to heaven! I won’t see you there!” everyone in the room is invigorated with a new-found energy.

The rest of the set unfolds in a similar fashion: sometimes Toledo is subdued and somewhat self-conscious, while other times he’s dancing like no one is around. The crowd seem to follow this energy, too. Car Sear Headrest have a dedicated following and they seem to gel well with the dynamics of the band, watching in hushed awe one moment and thrashing around the next.

The band launch into ‘Bodys’, a spirited and cathartic track from ‘Twin Fantasy’ that encapsulates the spirit of the band and Toledo’s prolific song-writing efforts. A personal highlight comes around halfway through the set, with ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ from 2016’s ‘Teens Of Denial’ LP. The song, inspired by ‘post-party melancholia’ and the documentary ‘Blackfish’, is a roaring, anthemic track that keeps the audience hooked on every single word, dark imagery and all.

The momentum never really slows, even when Toledo reverts back to his endearing shyness – his bandmates are able to keep up the intensity. The atmosphere is electric ‘til the very last second, and Car Seat Headrest leave an impression; they’re as monstrously fun as you’d expect from their enigmatic, multi-layered discography.

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LIVE: Elder Island @ Soup Kitchen | 31.10.18

WORDS BY CIERA LITTLEFORD        PHOTO BY DAVID THOMAS SMITH

Much of the buzz around Elder Island at the moment seems to be trying to pin down their unique feel, aiming to condense it to a just a genre or two. But that’s what’s so exciting about this Bristol-based trio – their eclectic mix of bass, loops, and funky guitar riffs, with some cello thrown in for good measure produces a vibrant sound that makes for easy listening and an even better live experience.


As their set begins in the Northern Quarter’s Soup Kitchen, it’s clear from the off that it’ll be an energetic, lively gig. The crowd doesn’t stop moving throughout, and neither does the band, because it’s hard to keep still when the sound of hit ‘Bamboo’ with its insanely catchy melody and beats fills the room.

Elder Island’s debut album ‘The Omnitone Collection’ is due for release in February 2019, and the band play a few new tracks. It’s usually a hit-or-miss situation at any gig, however, every single song is met with raucous applause. The trio don’t slow down once, turning the venue into a disco with a dreamy twist with their relentless beats and mesmerising synths.

‘Black Fur’, from 2016’s ‘Seeds in Sands’ EP, proves to be the climax of the night. It starts as a slow burn but as a crowd favourite, it has everyone singing every word through a massive grin, standing up on the benches that line the edges of the room.

Katy, David, and Luke truly are a dynamic trio onstage – adding to the rich synth sounds, singer Katy’s vocals are an instrument on their own. It’s possible that her voice is part of what sets the band apart from some generic electronic bands around right now; it’s got a kind of sophistication and luxuriance to it that sounds just as refreshing live as on the record. It comes into play particularly on tracks ‘Hotel Beds’ and ‘Bonfires’, which hark back to the golden era of house music – confirmed when Katy gleefully tells us that there’s time for one more song, before the band launches into Crystal Waters classic ‘Gypsy Woman’. It’s a perfect fit for Elder Island, who tells the crowd they only really play it at festivals – and for a few minutes, we’re transported from a cold, drizzly October night to a sunny field in the height of summer.

Elder Island are a must-see. If you’re on the fence about seeing them on their current tour (supported by FAVELA and Dirty Nice), bite the bullet and get that ticket. They really know how to bring their hypnotic tunes to life and it’s tons of fun.

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