Category Archives: Reviews

Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People [Review]

The topic of Frank Turner’s music has often taken a backseat in media due to recent controversy over his political affiliations and the release of his best-selling autobiography, The Road Beneath My Feet. However, Turner is back in true folk-punk style with his latest LP Positive Songs for Negative People, an album which seems set to divide fans and have critics questioning whether it’s time for Turner to change his tune.

The album doesn’t burst into life so much as break softly with gentle lullaby The Angel Islington. It’s a delicate melody that sees Turner crooning of rebirth, singing ‘I resolve to start again, to wash my feet and cleanse my sins.’ Indicating that we can expect a refreshing album of positivity, Turner doesn’t disappoint as he launches into leading track Get Better, a raw and powerful slice of the traditional Frank that we know and love, complete with loud vocals, fist-pumping drum beats and crowd-clapping breaks. The album continues in a similar vein of jaunty pianos and upbeat lyrics with The Next Storm, but following track The Opening Act of Spring is an oxymoronic piece that continues with spirited instrumentals yet is contrasted heavily with lyrics of turmoil and struggle. However, in keeping with the theme of the album, there is a dash of sunshine in Turner’s gloomy vocals, stating that ‘I can dream of going back outside when the rain and thunder’s done’.

Following tracks Glorious You and Mittens are the album’s blinding highlights; Glorious You’s classic guitar intro is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and is a refreshing tune with upbeat guitar patterns, loud, repetitive choruses and dance-inducing drum beats. It isn’t difficult to imagine this song being played to thousands at a summer festival and seeing those thousands belting back the infectious chorus. Mittens is a sincere ballad that entombs bitterness and sadness yet still leaves the listener feeling cosy. The song culminates with a gloriously gritty and heartfelt climax that transcends into a gentle termination, all the while filled with raw emotion and passion on Turner’s behalf. This is Frank at his best – expressive yet stirring. Far too often we see Turner preaching to the masses, whereas it’s his personal touches that truly make his tracks shine.

It’s a shame that a track as beautiful as Mittens jumps to the train wreck that is Out of Breath, a two-minute mess that travels at break-neck speed and sits awkwardly next to its mid-paced predecessor. Similarly, Demons is a forgettable and cliché track that detracts from the few gems on the album. The lyrics ‘at the truth we have arrived, god damn it’s great to be alive’ are cheesy at best and tarnish the latter half of Positive Songs alongside tracks Love Forty Down and Silent Key.

However, explosive track Josephine shines bright, and it’s anthemic from the start. ‘Whoa-oa-oa-oa’ pop-punk style choruses and a passionate, goose bump-inducing, confetti canon climax make Josephine a stand-out track from the album. It’s here where we truly see Turner’s progression from 2013’s Tape Deck Heart; it’s experimental and sees Turner leaning away from his folk-punk tendencies and more towards mainstream rock. If released, this song would be the radio’s darling.

Bizarre penultimate track Silent Key tells the tale of Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut aboard the tragic space shuttleChallenger. Esme Patterson joins Turner for an awkward harmony, and the track concludes in a blaze of gritty guitars andTurner’s trademark shouty vocals. Silent Key is an unsettling track of death, contrasting sharply with the album’s tragic finale,Song For Josh, a touching elegy to Turner’s friend Josh Burdette. This is the only song on the album to be recorded live, and it was performed at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC where Josh worked. The track is the most haunting on the record and is faintly reminiscent of Frank’s 2008 track Long Live The Queen. His voice can be heard to be breaking at points and the raw emotion conveyed makes the song a memorable tribute to Turner’s dear friend.

Perhaps the album can be seen as a reflection of life, opening with a track of birth and renewal and culminating with two songs that centre on death. The fact that the album both begins and ends with a heartfelt acoustic melody gives the album a sense of resolution and circularity. Positive Songs seems like Frank’s way of showing us that life, like Positive Songs, has both bright and dark moments that we must try and see positively, because after all, we’re not alive for long.

Positive Songs has its peaks and its ditches, and many listeners will feel that Turner could have done better. However, the songs that are done well are spectacular, and, thankfully, those that aren’t are easily forgotten.

Young Guns – Ones and Zeros [Album Review]

In the past year, Young Guns have undergone an exciting rebirth, exploding back onto the British and American rock scene with the release of their third studio album, Ones and Zeros. With a three and a half year wait since the release of Bones, which saw them rise to the top of the charts and have a seemingly endless series of UK/EU and US tours, it was uncertain whether Young Guns would sink or float in the increasingly choppy waves of the alternative music scene. They could have played it safe, made a ‘Bones II’ and be done with it. But they didn’t.

Opening track Rising Up instantly indicates the new direction that Young Guns are headed, drip feeding a smooth, melodic flow of synth beats before detonating into powerful bass-heavy rock. Immediately, Ones and Zeros oozes confidence and an energy that persists throughout the rest of the record. This is prevalent in I Want Out, a jaw dropping blend of slick bass rhythms, crashing drums, intricate guitars and thunderous gang vocals expertly intertwined with bursts of synth that makes for a show stopping dance hit. Memento Mori is another shining example of Ones and Zeros transcending genre barriers – rhythmic drum beats, repetitive choruses and periodic outbursts of ‘hey!’ are reflective of the more mainstream influences on the album, yet the track still keeps its groundings in rock.

However, although Young Guns have energy and vigour in abundance, they also demonstrate their gentler side with Lullaby and Die on Time. Both songs commence as slow, soft tracks that steadily build up into a ballad-like climax complete with pianos, deafening drums and hard-hitting, elongated notes from vocalist Gustav Wood. Both songs are solemn and emotional gems, the rubies on the treasure chest that is Ones and Zeros.

The peak of the album comes in the form of Speaking In Tongues, an anthemic godsend of a song that’s not only a stand-out track from Ones and Zeros, but is a highlight of Young Guns’ entire musical career. A fiery explosion of deep bass riffs, violent drums, powerful guitars and Gustav Wood’s dynamic vocals, this track firmly cements Young Guns’ place at the forefront of the British rock scene.

Ones and Zeros is beautifully indefinable. Its irresistible mixing of genres and styles reflect the complicated and often unstable writing process that has consumed Young Guns over the past two years. Ones and Zeros was written between the US and the UK, and this influx of influence is reflected in the final product. It is an amalgamation of the past three and a half years: copious amounts of experience, changes in their styles of writing, the band being torn apart and reborn stronger, louder, better.

It’s different from anything they’ve ever done, but it’s also different from anything most rock bands have done. It’s a beautiful hybrid of pulsating electronic beats and fiery anthemic riffs – it’s bursting with creative genius, and it’s a risk that is certain to pay off. Although this may be an exciting new direction for the five-piece, there are some things that never change. They’ve never lost the energy or the dynamism demonstrated in All Our Kings Are Dead and Bones and, as usual, Gustav Wood’s breath-taking affinity for lyrical poetry is humbling. This album is revolutionary, and Young Guns are going to dominate the world of music like they’ve never done before.

10/6/15

What’s this? Another record from Front Porch Step romanticising unhealthy obsessions with girls? And just in time for Christmas! After all, you have nothing better to spend your cash on, do you?

Being a follow up to his 2013 debut LP, Aware, it’s no surprise that opening track A Lovely Mess shows slight progression from what was a spectacular album. Soft harmonies from a backing choir make a welcome appearance and more intricate guitar work show that Front Porch Step, aka Jake Mcelfresh, has matured musically – even if he has the emotional age of a fifteen year old.

Heaven Sent is more of a lullaby, but is nothing new from what was already done on Aware. The Early November’s Ace Enders’ guest vocals are supple in contrast to Mcelfresh’s hardened voice, but the duality is successful and easy to listen to.

Mcelfresh puts a modern, acoustic twist on Bing Crosby’s I’ll be Home for Christmas, but the song tragically falls short of the original. Whereas Crosby conjures the image of a tranquil couple cuddling by the fire, this is one of an over-enthusiastic boy singing his solo in the Christmas nativity. His vocals are too harsh to pull off the aged crooning of Crosby, and you’ll be thankful the track is only two and a half minutes long.

Perhaps the saving grace of the EP is the title track, Whole Again. Mcelfresh is at his best, showcasing his impressive lyrical proficiency with a vigorous passion to a simple but pleasant tune. Whole Again slowly builds up into a full-band instrumental that is far from disappointing. Crashing drums and a blues-style guitar solo culminate the track, and it’s nice to see Mcelfresh experimenting with different approaches to music.

Although there are highlights on this EP, you should probably just buy the LP Aware if you’re interested. It has more variety of theme (spoiler: one of them actually isn’t about an unattainable girl), similar songs and no covers. Congratulations, Front Porch Step, you are Taylor Swift with talent and a beard.

2/12/14

The new generation of pop-punk is one of the hottest topics surrounding the current rock scene and last year, New York quintet State Champs secured their spot in the limelight with their first full-length record, The Finer Things, which was undoubtedly one of the best debuts we’ve heard in a while. Since then, the boys have been busy teasing us with the anticipated release of their acoustic EP The Acoustic Things, the Sunday morning to The Finer Things’ Saturday night.

The EP primarily consists of renditions of older songs: Elevated, Deadly Conversations, Hard to Please, Simple Existence and Easy Enough. The majority are replicas of their originals, with nothing new to offer besides an acoustic guitar – some listeners may feel a bit cheated at the lack of imagination shown in these performances. Far from being purely acoustic and stripped of all else, tambourines and finger snaps fill out the spaces previously occupied by drums, with the occasional piano key making an appearance in Elevated.

New tracks Leave You In The Dark and If I’m Lucky are reminiscent of Mayday Parade’s 2011 self-titled album, with the occasional added grit from vocalist Derek Discanio. These two songs are pleasantly delicate and soft, brimming with the emotion and angst that keeps these tranquil tracks firmly in the pop-punk frame.

Probably the highlighting feature of The Acoustic Things is that by toning it down, State Champs perfectly showcase Discanio’s mix of soft and gravelly vocals that the electric originals just can’t expose. The Acoustic Things is a great treat for existing fans, but if you’re on the fence about where to invest your cash, The Finer Things would be a far better investment.

14/10/14

Kids In Glass Houses – Peace [Album Review]

Tracklisting:

  1. Peace
  2. Drive
  3. Set My Body Free
  4. V-I-People
  5. Novocaine
  6. Storm Chasers
  7. The Runaways
  8. Up All Night
  9. Black Cloud
  10. Night Crawler

 

After their 2011 release In Gold Blood reached the Number 1 spot on the UK Rock Albums Chart, expectations for their new record have been higher than Lindsay Lohan, but Welsh quintet Kids In Glass Houses are back with a vengeance in the form of their explosive new pop album, Peace.

Opening with the title track, it’s unquestionable that Kids In Glass Houses have evolved into something phenomenal. Erupting with energy and instantly establishing itself as a masterpiece in the band’s extensive discography, Peace is a rare gem that will lighten any mood and have you yelling the lyrics until you’re hoarse. It would seem that Kids In Glass Houses are aiming to release the guilty inner pop junkie in all of us and clearly they were not messing about when they said they ‘wanted to inject the fun back into ourselves’.

Unsurprisingly, the album does have an electronic underbelly and traces of computerisation can be found as vocalist Aled Phillips croons the infectious chorus to the Drive, the first single the boys released from the album. Set My Body Free and V-I-People also consist heavily of electronic dance elements, but these songs would be nothing without the feisty guitar riffs and powerful drums that earned Kids In Glass Houses their current status. All of these songs follow a similar route as Peace, with an energetic and robust kick to complement the catchy lyrics and contribute to the fun and carefree theme of the album so far.

Fifth track Novocaine has a darker and more solemn undertone and, although the chorus is lively and loud, it helps to balance the pace of the album. This continues with Storm Chasers, a powerful track that tells a tale of sorrow and regret and has vocalist Aled belting out his emotions with a passion.

Although the album picks up with The Runaways, it can be said that the second half of Peace is a more serious yet relaxed side to the new Kids In Glass Houses. They’ve toned down the usage electronic synthesizers and reverted back to what alt-rock is all about – pulsating drum beats, powerful guitar riffs and earth-shattering vocals that aren’t just about dancing and having a good time. Up All Night sings of a lost love, Black Cloud is a tune that screams of defiance and determination and Night Crawler is an anthemic and solemn finale full of torment and anguish.

With only ten tracks, Peace is short but sweet and each track is worthy of being a top-selling single. All that’s left to tell is whether fans will appreciate the poppier sound of Kids In Glass Houses entering a new era.

3/9/14

Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know [Review]

Just when you thought they’d fallen off the face of the earth, Steel City’s finest Arctic Monkeys return uninvited into the heart of Britain’s music scene with the spine-chillingly electric second single from their fifth upcoming studio album, Do I Wanna Know?

            Drummer Matt Helders immediately feeds a thread of strong and steady beats, enabling O’Malley’s bass and Turner’s ominous guitar riffs to speak volumes with their brooding and surly tones that ooze sex appeal and are sure to entice the hearts of thousands in a live audience. At once, it is clear that this is a song crafted with the intention of following a heavier and darker route for a more mature and experienced band that has surfaced from the depths of light-hearted songs such as I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor and My Propeller. This is shown perfectly when the song climaxes into a chorus of ‘crawling back to you…’ complete with falsetto call-and-response from Helders and infectious twangs of Alex Turner’s guitar that hang heavy with subtle angst, artfully mirroring the tenor of R U Mine?, the debut single from their forthcoming album AM. 

Still, Alex Turner sticks to his Yorkshire roots with sullen colloquialisms such as, ‘do you ever get that fear that you can’t shift the tide that sticks around like summat in your teeth’ – a reminder that yes, this is still the humble band from Sheffield that had a fast track to fame in 2005.

Consequently, this is a promising taste of the long-awaited album set for release on 9th September. It is saturated in depth and torment yet is still easy on the ears with its infectious rhythm that will surely imprint itself upon the minds of many. This is a mellow and easy-going tune which may not tickle the fancies of everyone, least of all those who are still yearning for ‘the old Arctic Monkeys,’ but it is undeniable that Arctic Monkeys have more than proven themselves over the years and this end result is remarkable for the little band from Sheffield that have definitely earned their stripes.

03/09/2014