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Tom Branfoot

SINGLE REVIEW: Trudy and the Romance – ‘The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen’

WORDS BY: TOM BRANFOOT

Having recently announced that their debut album Sandman will be released on May 24th, Liverpudlian mutant rockers Trudy and the Romance treat our undeserving ears with yet another ice-cream float of doo-wop with a scoop of punk. 

The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen is a cinematic wall of sound, with nods to 40’s Disney flicks (check their cover of Baby Mine from Dumbo) and 50s acts such as The Teddy Bears or Dion & The Belmonts. All their nostalgic influence being stated, they also deliver a heavy, crushed guitar tone akin to Iceage (especially their latest single Broken Hours) and vocals in the same league as King Krule, as well as thick, full bass tones and Phil Spector-esque drums. 

 

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Howdy and Goodbye Austin, Texas. Forever in our hearts @sxsw Thank y’all for watchin’ 💋

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The vocals on Doo-Wop Spacemen are subdued in comparison to previous songs such as the quivering impetus of My Baby’s Gone Away. More like crooning to the girl next door as opposed to hollering at an ex-beau. Trudy always excel themselves in backing vocal duties and these are as blissfully reverb-soaked as ever, provided in part by soulful existentialist Brad stank, even complete with a splattering of schoo-bop-doo-wop’s. This song gives an indication the album may contain a self-reflexive narrative throughout.

Trudy are an amalgamated act who never fail to disappoint with each release. With this new single they appear to have refined their sound to a self-assured and recognisable niche, sounding much more mature and considerably different to most formulaic acts in the indie scene at the minute. Cinematic and lush, any one of their ditties wouldn’t seem out of place being lip-synced by Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet by David Lynch.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Blue Bendy – ‘Closing Sound’

WORDS BY: TOM BRANFOOT

Closing Sound is an amalgamated oeuvre, halfway between a late night jazz fusion orchestra and a New York no wave song. Blue Bendy are a relatively new sextet from South London (one could only imagine how hard it is to coordinate schedules). Opposing the fast-paced, vulgar imitation of the current South London scene, Blue Bendy appear to be gifting unto us a different perspective from The Wasteland. Having done the rounds at South London’s obligatory The Old Blue Last and The Five Bells as well as a magnetic show at Manchester’s own institution Gullivers (for the launch of Yellow Thursdays zine), at which I also performed, Blue Bendy have been on the radar but also careful enough to not release any music, an eagerness that lets many new bands down.

With the introduction of this debut single sounding like a lo-fi hip hop interlude, the song constantly evades clear definition. Front man Arthur Nolan decorates the desolate jazz-punk orchestration with gloriously dismal poetic crooning – think Iceage, Horsey, King Krule – counterpointed by keyboard player Olivia Morgan’s dissonant vocals, in a dystopian Nancy & Lee type fashion. 


Closing Sound is a song where every instrument has its place, autonomous yet providing the same wave of energy to propel the song forward. Angular bass lines and janky guitar riffs sit below the light and seemingly hopeful keyboard motif in the latter half. Trapped under the cacophonous whooshing and feedback, turning the wheel towards its logical but untimely end – as Nolan mutters some inaudible proverb. It’s a bleak and untameable song, clearly coloured by London itself, the gurgling, inescapable black mass. Whilst hard to define, it doesn’t beg the need to be defined, it’s a black cloud of collisions with a crack in the sky and an orange street light glowing. 

Closing Sound by Blue Bendy was released by London record label Permanent Creeps on 22/02/19.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Foxygen – ‘Livin’ A Lie’

WORDS BY TOM BRANFOOT

Foxygen have been one of the most diverse out of all the millennial revivalist bands, covering everything from soft rock to rock opera to blues and psych-rock. With their previous album ‘Hang’ being an orchestral musical theatre soundtrack meets Fleetwood Mac’s mid-break-up frenzy, I don’t think anyone had an inclination to which nostalgic path Foxygen would steer toward. 

Considering multi-instrumentalist Johnathan Rado’s departure in the world of production, racking up some impressive notches on his sound desk having produced Whitney,The Lemon Twigs, Father John Misty and Alex Cameron’s forthcoming album, I was surprised that Foxygen would continue to release music.

Livin’ A Lie sees Sam France’s vocal delivery, and choice of language, sounding more similar to Take Care era Drake and The Weeknd rather than Mick Jagger or Todd Rundgren. ‘You come up to me at the show, and you even stole my fuckin’ clothes’ drawls France, sensuous and swaggering. Contrasting Foxygen’s insistent handholding and guidance from rock history’s most devilishly handsome bands, Livin’ A Lie shows an acceptance and appropriation of modern pop music, whilst still retaining what makes them a quintessentially diverse band. 

 

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Icymi: “Livin’ a Lie” from ‘Seeing Other People’ out 4/26. Link in pf.

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The second chorus of this grinding slow-burner erupts into a coalescence of Fender Rhodes, rip-roaring guitar, vocoder, and perfectly crisp drums, alongside astute and reflective lyrics. This moody lament feels the most honest and sincere that Foxygen have ever sounded. Leaping from the far-out lyrical astro-babble of Cosmic Vibrations to the genuine and provocative lyricism of modern age relationships in Livin’ A Lie.

Even the music video shows France and Rado shedding their glam rock facade and appearing as sharply dressed individuals navigating their spheres. From the ruins of their discarded guises is borne a true reincarnation, Foxygen have dropped their pretences and affectations that seem to have failed them in the past. ‘Seeing Other People’, the new album by Foxygen is out on April 26th, 2019 on Jagjaguwar.

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LIVE: Bodega @ YES

WORDS: TOM BRANFOOT      PHOTOS: PIRAN ASTON

Ordinarily, bands don’t sell out two consecutive dates at the same venue without having something really special about them. Such is the outlook I had about to see Bodega live in YES’ rapidly popularising pink room, soon to host northern soul legends Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. 

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, or to be more accurate, from the shadow of Parquet Courts and gaining exponential interest at SXSW 2018, Brooklyn based punk band Bodega released their debut album Endless Scroll last summer. Totaling just over 30 minutes in length, the album provides condensed, vivacious and irrepressible energy which their live show harnesses and gives space to explode.

Support comes from Beijing based duo 工工工 or, decoded and script-stripped, Gong Gong Gong. Overall a flat performance, only hitting their stride after wading through droning, psychedelic blues numbers which culminate in a deep throbbing motorik rhythm with the bass permeating the chest cavity in a way only Swans can do best. The bassist here is pulling the wagon along, providing some groovy, smoothly-angular riffs a la Tina Weymouth. Talking Heads seem to be an inspiration to this group as a recurring rhythmic motif throughout is one extremely similar to that of Psycho Killer. An interesting melting pot of inspiration nonetheless. The percussive guitar work becomes gradually grating throughout their set, sounding more like Bo Diddley playing a washboard than anything.

Through a duly-deserved barrage of cheers and amidst the pink smoke Bodega man the stage. Hurtling through a couple of powerfully pithy art-punk hits, homaging The Ramones with a 1,2,3,4 count in, the band are slowly unleashing their potential energy. Adorning a black top with white handprints painted on, singer/drummer Nikki Belfiglio, is both magnetic and alluring whilst being completely in control of her strong feminine sexuality. The masturbatory hymn Gyrate showcases her Joan Jett style vocal delivery as she simultaneously swings a light box above her head and drums with the other hand – not missing a beat. 

Radio favourites How Did This Happen?! and Jack in Titanic (dedicated to all the handsome boys in the room – at which point I blush) are played to a full crowd who would rather stand listening to the music and watching the display as opposed to going crazy. Which is a testament to the band’s captivating quality.

Lead singer Ben Hozier has a sardonic approach to lyricism whilst still keeping the truth at the centre, a perfect mix between Andrew Savage, Mark E Smith and James Murphy. Clearly, an ethically driven songwriter, pointing out members of the crowd whilst he wavers at the precipice of the stage shouting “And you! And you! And you! And you!” as if everyone on this earth is to reconsider their actions at the failure of the world. Most impressive is the fact that when we regard the obvious influences of Bodega, no melodies, rhythms, lyrics or platitudes from their antecedents have been regurgitated, their music is wholly fresh.

An extended rendition of album-ender ‘Truth Is Not Punishment being the pre-encore ender, culminates into an apocalyptically screeching, enveloping the room in a tense frenzy of perfectly accumulated noise. Guitarist Madison Velding-VanDam is a master of their craft, falling with the guitar in a Stop Making Sense-style and providing meticulously crafted tones and melodies.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gig, Bodega are a quintessentially American band, who have a clearly refined and politically adept outlook to music and performance. With no lyrical clichés in sight, they are harnessing an endless store of post-frontier energy, responding to current social issues without being hackneyed. Their live show seems to say “if we don’t do this now, we never will”. A staggering performance in the true faith of their ethos.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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ALBUM RELEASE: James Blake – ‘Assume Form’

WORDS BY TOM BRANFOOT

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and producer James Blake’s 4th LP seems to provide a numbing acceptance to the plaguing and instinctual longing located within his unique brand of somber and reflective music. ‘Assume Form’ is a contented softening of the answerless intensity of his previous works and, as a result of being less emotionally devastating, allows both us to appreciate in a different manner and for Blake to explore foreign subjects and styles.

Although Blake has never shied away from rap music, (he even co-inhabited a mansion in L.A with Chance The Rapper in 2016) this album leaves a definitive sneaker-clad footprint in the aural realm, with features from Travis Scott, Metro Boomin and the legendary André 3000. The eponymous title track is a display of Blake’s poetic sensibilities, drifting atop piano motif’s and bit-crushed percussion. A classic James Blake blueprint song, with lyrics seemingly about re-materialising after a dark period of mental health and connecting with humans again. ‘Mile High’ sees Metro Boomin sharing production duties whilst Travis Scott soars above the liquid smooth beat with his melodically confident flow, albeit subdued in accordance with Blake’s signature vocal accompaniment.

A self-assured, late-night R&B track which feels as fresh as the rest of the album, even though it’s in keeping with a popular formula. ‘Tell Them’ features upcoming American soul singer Moses Sumney as well as co-producer Metro Boomin. With cues to earlier feature tracks such as ‘Life Round Here’ (featuring Chance The Rapper) however without the hard-hitting songwriting, including trademark synths and heavy beats with airy and glossy instrumentation, a vaguely forgettable track.

‘Into The Red’ feels like the McCartney/Lennon technique of incorporating two songs in one, however, if McCartney sounded like Bon Iver and Lennon sounded like Future. As Blake states on iTunes, this number is about a woman in his life “who put me before themselves and spent the last of their money on something for me. It was just a really beautiful sentiment”, the swelling crescendo in this song reflecting such a sentiment. Spanish, saintly-namesaked singer ROSALÍA adds a bilingual breeziness to this upbeat pop song, their vocals work wonderfully together over the mellifluously rolling beat.

 

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Manchester, Bristol, London. Tickets for April shows are on sale now at www.jamesblakemusic.com

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Opening with some sample splicing akin to Kanye, ‘Can’t Believe the Way We Flow’ surges into a gospel-style movement, cut off to allow room for Blake’s silver-smooth vocals to lay themselves down over, Blake taking hints from hip-hop production all throughout this number. ‘Are You in Love’ adapts the traditional James Blake formula, moving through jazz chords on a Prophet 8 synthesiser, billowing into a vocal layered, screaming soundscape, however quite lyrically simple – questioning the elephant in the room of a blossoming dalliance.

Three Stacks’ cameo on ‘Where’s The Catch?’ caught the eye of many hip-hop heads, a fitting beat, and dark piano motif, makes up the introduction with Blake, once again, talking about his new lover “we delayed the show we kissed so long”. The titular vocal riff sits over a searing guitar lick as André 3000 introduces his ‘heady verse’ which tackles paranoia and anxiety, (as does previous single ‘Don’t Miss It’) Three Stacks’ verse showcases his legendary flow with impressive an array of assonance and consonance. The track rolls out with the comforting notion that “everything is rosy”, a noticeable departure from the emotional dirge’s on his previous records.

Personal highlight ‘I’ll Come Too’ is a touching straight forward song, musing on wanting to follow your lover everywhere they go “I don’t want to go home/should we drive from zone to zone”, tackling the obsessive power of love through the language of men opposed to the poeticisms of ‘Assume Form’. ‘Don’t Miss It’ surfaced a few months ago but, here, Blake gives a rundown through what this egomaniacal and anxiety-ridden track is about: “moments I (sic) didn’t enjoy when I should have/Love’s I wasn’t a part of/Heroes I met that I can’t remember the feeling of meeting/Because I was so wrapped up in myself” using his trademark pitched up and spliced vocals. Album finishing ‘Lullaby for My Insomniac’ brings an oceanic blanketing to the record with a choir of vocals and falling pads.

‘Assume Form’ is a grounded and assured body of work, considerably less left-field and refines the ‘James Blake’ formula with a stronger magnetic leaning to rap music. However, these songs lack the emotional intensity of Blake’s previous records, and songs such as ‘Radio Silence’ or ‘Retrograde’, ditching the spaciously monstrous instrumentation for more subdued R&B beats. With some forgettable songs, such as ‘Power On’, ‘Tell Them’ and ‘Are You In Love?’, this album feels lackluster at times, however, it serves as an important record in the progression of James Blake’s music.

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LIVE: Francis Lung @ Gullivers

WORDS BY TOM BRANFOOT       PHOTO BY CINECARAVAN

Being the first glitter party hosted in ex Wu Lyf bassist Tom McClung’s hometown of Manchester, this evening had to be as big a hit as it was in London. McLung and co have been releasing music under the moniker Francis Lung since 2015 with their last song released 3 years ago now. Gold streamers were pinned to all four walls of Gullivers’ ballroom creating a very faux decadent seedy atmosphere from the outset. The addition of free records, glitter and sweets went down a treat with the crowd too making the event feel like an adult school disco.

 

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Glitter party @gulliversnq #francislung

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Secret Admirer walk onto the stage looking like a group of post-grad pub goers fit with beards and glasses they certainly dress the part for their Americana tinged jangly indie pop. After a couple of lackluster standard guitar pop songs, the band plays ‘Perfect Specimen’ which is exactly that of a song, with moving melodies and a captivating structure, the band seems to be hitting their stride at this point in the show. Sun-drenched Kurt Vile esque love song ‘Reassure Me’ sees the bassist taking the role of vocalist with a smooth, rich voice this song feels like a Californian day dream and features a very Velvet Underground inspired guitar and organ solo which takes their set even higher.

After finishing the song the singer makes a great musicians parable “teach a man to fish he’ll eat and he’ll eat for a lifetime, teach a man to jam in C and we’ll be here 15 minutes later” filling a room with hearty laughter. A highlight of Secret Admirer’s set for me was ‘The Dream Isn’t Over’ which really made use of the Club Silencio feeling stage, fit with Stop Making Sense trademark standing lamps. Stunningly somber, the song began with guitar and electric piano, before the addition of drums and second guitar to build up to something that sounded like a lovelorn deep cut from Beggars Banquet.

Francis Lung mount the stage with singer and guitarist McClung looking the most Thom Yorke he ever has, with his signature cream Fender Mustang and tied up long hair, soon to be extravagantly let down in an immeasurably rock and roll fashion. The band played largely new material at the glitter party, which marks a notable shift from the glossy, funkier pop songs of their EP’s, to a more psychedelia inflected Rundgren style of songwriting.

‘Too Right’ with its woozy guitars and flawless vocal harmonies sounds like it was made for the silver screen and would fit perfectly on the soundtrack to an American indie film playing at Sundance festival. A rendition of ‘Give It Back’ from the band’s first EP is a foot-stomping classic sounding a lot fuller and more powerful than the recorded version. After a couple of new songs, McClung announces they have just finished recording an album which will be out later this year with a single coming out on February 1st which gains a thunderous response. Among the new songs ‘Necessary Love’, seemingly a nod to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, fit with mellotron strings and an interesting chord progression is a clear indication that the band has polished and redefined their sound.

Commanded by McClung, upon the notion that it was high time for some audience participation, the audience begins clicking, shadowed by a reverb-soaked guitar which emits sonic secretions of what is to be fan favourite ‘Selfish Man’. A note for note display which transports the crowd back to the indie heyday of 2014, with palm muted riffs à la Foals and Klaxons. ‘Dance 4 Sorrow’ is another flawless rendition which everyone in the seedy, red-lit ballroom moving and, in turn, cheering on a rambunctious drum solo.

No glitter party would be complete without a best-dressed competition, which is incited by McClung, urging those who believe they’re the best dressed to the front to be showcased by the crowd. Amongst the glitter-clad girls is a stereotypical polo wearing dad who, when asked his name, replied ‘old man’, to booming applause and laughter. An unexpected turn proceeded this party contest as the band moves through a 70’s soft rock cover of Roy Orbison’s classic ‘You Got It’, where both keyboard players in the band really shine alongside gorgeous vocal harmonies. Francis Lung played a brilliantly tight set, showcasing their new material which will be out this year, the glitter party theme along with all its trappings made for a night different to that of a normal gig and resulted in high spirits from everyone.

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