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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.

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SINGLE RELEASE: EKKAH – ‘JUST A THING’

WORDS BY: EMMA DAVIDSON

The queens of the modern day disco revival Ekkah have hit us with newest track Just A Thing, a certified heartbreaking, hypnotic dance floor filler doused in flirtatious funk just in time to rescue any kind of valentines disaster. Of course, the track has that distinctive sparkling synth sound that Ekkah so flawlessly fixate but this time it develops into a millennial pop classic with a slapped bass sound worthy of featuring on a Grandmaster Flash mix. 

 

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Shot something very nice yesterday, watch this space…

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Just A Thing follows behind the bands latest release Homesick that retains that tight, indie disco sound. Rebekah Pennington and Rebecca Wilson have once again established themselves again as the hottest stars on the newly inviting sequin laden skyline. The track explores the expectations we have in love. It tells us It’s okay not to fall in love and to love yourself before anything else, a stern message that preempts anything too overwhelming.

Their glittering, hopeful music is so desperately needed during these bleak early months of the year in which we’re all lacking our high levels of vitamin D and kicking ourselves for not sticking to that new years resolution that tried to stop us gathering an abundance of fridge cheese. Just A Thing is the glimmer of hope and boogie inducing spring-time song that paints a glowing smile across your face and depicts that bit of sunlight we’ve all been craving. Ekkah are that friend you need that grabs you by the hand and drags you to the pub for a few beers and some Friday night karaoke and there is no doubt that Just A Thing will be your next drunken slur into the microphone.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Foals – ‘On The Luna’

WORDS BY CRAIG HOPKINSON

Foals are back, as though they had never left, and they are here with this very cryptic, cowbell heavy, lyrical conundrum; On The Luna, the second single release taken from the unreleased album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, due to be released 8th March this year.

Packed to the brim with slick and punchy ‘80s keyboard synth sounds, rhythmic lead guitar riffs and that old symbolic rock essential; the cowbell, banging away like a metronome throughout the whole piece – On The Luna is an instant indie rock anthem.

Lyrically,  I am at a complete and utter loss with this song. What the hell are you boys going on about? Although, Foals did very kindly transcribed the lyrics of the song which were then left for us curious enquirers to read in the description of the YouTube video. However, after close inspection of said lyrics, I’m still non-the-wiser. There are a few bread crumbs here and there though, which elude to perhaps a somewhat subtle message in the song. The lines;  “Trump clogging up my computer” and “Agitator. Extricater. Won’t you come evacuate her” lead me to believe this could be some sort of politically driven song, making reference to Trump. But again, I have no clue.

The production, as always with Foals, is anthem inspired and full of awe. Lots of reverb and delay on the heavily layered vocals, tonnes of intonation on the lead guitar and then some very  deep, synthesised pad sounds that give the song its signature, choral effect. They just sound massive. I can hear that they record in an old hall, or a very large room. This also adds to the sound described.

What gives this song its salt has to be the silky voice of lead singer and guitarist, Yannis Philippakis. When a Foals song plays, there tends to be a yearning feeling pulsating from the front-man that is unique to this band and gives them the instant familiarity and the likeability that they now have as an institutionalised U.K. indie band. Welcome back Foals, we missed you!

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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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SINGLE RELEASE: Working Men’s Club – ‘Bad Blood’

WORDS BY JAY PLENT

Indie newcomers Working Men’s Club bring a sharp electro flair to their new single Bad Blood.  Combining influences from across the 70s, 90s and ’00s, there’s plenty to like if you’re a fan of clean-cut post punk with a little synthetic edge chucked in for good measure. Sonically it feels a little rough around the edges, much in the way your favourite nightclub might. Despite the sombre title, the track is violently upbeat, the band taking angular stabs at good ideas throughout, some of which land, some of which don’t.

Opening with sharp drums and mercilessly clean bass hits, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this track for a forgotten ’80s B-Side, as it embodies much of the fun, party-wise atmosphere of most of the era’s pop hits. Whilst comparisons can be made with Talking Heads, the track actually has something of a B52’s vibe. Much like a love shack, it’s sleazy and carefree, but with plenty of fun to go round. Guitars chug along, with riffs occasionally entering to enliven the texture, and the peppy synth that slams in with the choruses provides the track’s best uplifting moments.

All that being said, Bad Blood doesn’t fully realise its potential. A few new elements trickle in, yes, but not enough to keep things really interesting. There’s no progression or change that really pricks up the ears. Though the initial rhythm and yelping vocals are very characterful and fun, eventually the track just devolves into repetition. The band clearly have potential, and were they to embrace more of the madness of Talking Heads, who repeat only if it builds to a larger overall wall of sound, it’d be a serious step up.

However, despite this, Bad Blood does feel very distinct from any other new bands rolling off the perpetual conveyor belt of music. Also, as much as the repetition will be a hindrance to some, it works in the track’s favour in the sense that it is very catchy, and much as the chorus begs of us “be happy when the sun shines”, so to will you feel happy when this track plays.

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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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TRACK RELEASE: Albert Hammond Jr. – ‘Fast Times’

WORDS BY JAY PLENT    PHOTOS BY MANC WANDERER

In the wake of his previous album FRANCIS TROUBLE, Albert Hammond Jr. has followed up with a new cut, FAST TIMES. Accompanied by a light-hearted wilderness-based video, it seems that there’s little intention by the artist to take the track too seriously, encouraging us to do the same. 

The immediacy of the start is great. You could easily drop FAST TIMES into any road trip playlist and find it fitting snugly, and given the amount of car coverage in the lyric video, that’s probably a very conscious decision on Albert Hammond Jr.’s part. Though largely unassuming, the song has a peppy upbeat mood to it, a cheery, throwaway bit of indie pop that’s jumpable, but not life-changing. As is par for the course with his work, there are very heavy Strokes vibe ongoing; the rough and ready feel could’ve been ripped straight out of Comedown Machine, as could the to-and-fro guitar and bass interplay.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s usual jerky guitar work is on point, and the high octane crunchy lead guitar feels like a voice all of its own. Some subtle backing vocals add a little depth, as do some clicks of percussion the odd electronic sample. However, as on the nose, as his lyrics are usually, this is a bit of a bludgeoning. Lines like “school’s out, found a ride, saw some friends, we got high, Friday night”, maybe deliberately simplistic, but come across as lazy, un-inventive and frankly boring.

Albert Hammond Jr. sounds like every kid in school who does nothing but talk about how much weed they did at the weekend, with little but borrowed personality from more interesting people to get by on. The conclusion, with its sliding, highly revered guitar solo is by far the most interesting inclusion; it polishes off the track nicely. Still refusing to embrace much beyond the conventional band layout, Albert Hammond Jr. continues to pump out pleasant but unmemorable tunes. People craving experimentation or boundary-pushing will find no such excitement in FAST TIMES.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Pond – ‘Daisy’

WORDS: DOM TAYLOR

Australian outfit Pond are a band who never seem to stop working. Their newest single Daisy is from their upcoming album Tasmania, their eighth studio album to date since their conception just over 10 years ago. It’s said to be the sister album of their more poptastic 2017 album ‘The Weather’.

Daisy  is the opening track of the album and the third release before the record is unleashed on March 1st. The band continues to prove that you can have both quality and quantity in music. The sublime switch-ups and serene soundtrack carry lead singer Nick Allbrook’s eccentric vocals as smoothly as ever. This song along with the rest of the album was masterfully produced by a friend of the band and fellow Australian Kevin Parker.

The lyrics, however, seem disjointed, hinting at a theme or message which is challenging to grasp even after multiple listens. The accompanying music video shows the band roaming around the Kulin and Nyoongar Nations land in their native Victoria, and respect to the Indigenous peoples who inhabit it is paid in the opening title. In the press release, the band described the album as a “dejected meditation on planetary discord, water, machismo, shame, blame and responsibility, love, blood, and empire”. If you’re hoping the video will shed some light on the meanings and feelings they’re trying to evoke on the song, you may be disappointed.

Arguably however this is all part of the charm of Pond. A band who clearly truly love the art of music producing and songwriting, getting all of their thoughts and feelings about the world onto paper with no ulterior motive other than to entertain, accompanied with timeless, ethereal soundscapes which never fail to disappoint. Pond play Primavera Sound this summer as well as the French festival We Love Green in June. You can catch Daisy and the other two singles Sixteen Days and Burnt out Star on all major streaming platforms, and the album ‘Tasmania’ from March 1st.

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SINGLE RELEASE: Nick Waterhouse – ‘Song For Winners’

WORDS BY CRAIG HOPKINSON

Nick Waterhouse certainly is an old-school rhythm and blues player; there is no doubt about that. Taking obvious influences from Jazz, blues and soul; this Los Angeles singer and songwriter hurtles the listener back, way back, back to when television was in black and white and a rumour of a new, taboo infused musical genre was afoot – rock ‘n’ roll – ‘The devil’s music’.  

Nick’s latest single, Song For Winners, is exactly that, an original rock ‘n’ roll track and it sounds like it was recorded in a ‘wall of sound’ fashion, recording all the instruments in one take, like producer Phil Spector, one of the architects of modern music production and executive producer of the famous song Be My Baby, recorded with The Ronettes 

In terms of production, the instrumentation used on this track is off the chart. Nick and the production team at Innovative Leisure Records have graced us with a whole trove of awesome sounding sections; from brass, including a very sexy saxophone hitting the lower shelf every now and then, lovely backing vocal harmonies throughout, an array of jazz and soul influenced percussion sections and a drummer with more swing than Tarzan.

 

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@jeebz_flatt on piano with @nickwaterhouse opening for @allenstone at @930club November 21, 2018. Shot for @chunkyglasses

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The use of a 1950’s Shurre 55 microphone, or the Elvis-styled microphone, if you will, gives authenticity to the piece. I’m also pretty sure that isn’t an effects plugin the producers have used to get that iconic, muffled microphone crunch on the lead vocal, it’s the real deal. To round it all up, Song For Winners has definitely won me over. Well done Nick, I’m a fan. It’s a cool sound, paying homage to the traditions of rock ‘n’ roll, recorded in the old Phil Spector, Wall of Sound-way. One take, all in one room. It has a great energy to it and really showcases Nick, the other musicians, and the production team, as the great blues players they are. It almost sounds effortless.  

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SINGLE RELEASE: Pip Blom – ‘Daddy Issues’

WORDS BY CRAIG HOPKINSON

Daddy Issues by the awesome punk inspired, Dutch indie band, Pip Blom, is first and foremost a driving song. A song that should be played, whenever possible, at high volumes in the car on your drive to or from work. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this song was picked up by the advertising department of a major car manufacturer and used as the backing music for a television advert. You heard it here first.

The song has such a cool sound. It reeks of ‘70s punk and seems almost lazy and effortless, but it’s only the illusion of laziness. It has a swung vocal style amidst a solid and tight drum section, grungy and distorted punk chords and an amazing arrangement. The three-chord lead, chorus, and vocal melodies are all very catchy too.

Pip Blom, named after their lead singer of the same name, are an Amsterdam based outfit who seem to take influence from British punk and indie music with this almost Manchester-indie sound. Pip’s voice is refreshingly familiar and gave this song the light tone that was required to contrast against those distorted and punky lead and bass guitars.

 

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Pip Blom 28.01.19 . @pipblom : @we_broke_free : @60mpc : @ivw_uk

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The production of the track seems very professionally worked, with some great multitrack instrumentation and a lovely touch of mastering, post-production. Although the lead and bass guitar melodies are quite basic, the overall musicianship of the piece is strong and it feels like any laziness or loosely played lead melodies are played so for effect to give a sense of satire or tongue-in-cheek.

This band reminds me of The Clash and Pip is like a much sweeter sounding Joe Strummer. But the band are equally as energetic and intense, and believe me; that is a bold statement. With a sharp and satirical rhyming couplet, passionate lead vocals and a punk-influenced indie groove, Pip Blom are a revitalising revisit to a much longed for indie sound.

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