Sunday, 20 May 2018

Irish Playlist #028: Laura Elizabeth Hughes, Oh Joy, The Felonies, Old Hannah, FIELDS and more

Laura Elizabeth Hughes - The Dark

Info: On our latest independent Irish playlist here on REMY we have quite the varied mix, as always there has been so many solid single releases in recent weeks which I've enjoyed and you might too. Without further ado....

1) Laura Elizabeth Hughes - 'The Dark'

Taken from her forthcoming EP which releases on the 8th of June, new single 'The Dark' from Laura Elizabeth Hughes opens bare, which immediately makes it feel personal to the listener. The unfolding of strings and piano are like a time-lapse of petals opening and closing again, and each time they re-open everything feels brighter. The most invigorating aspect though is Hughes' voice, a perfect (and quite rare) example of staying true to your own vocal and not trying to emulate anyone else, it's painfully and beautifully clear.

2) Oh Joy - 'Cab Sad'

The Joy, one of my favourite melancholic mood-meisters of the last 3 years, new single 'Cab Sad' kind of summarises everything about the see-saw of feelings and sound they gravitate around. For some reason every time I see this one performed live I get emotional, in a 'it's okay, you can still feel something' kind of way. It somehow sounds raw even though it's audibly not. I prefer my indie-rock despondent with only a glimmer of hope at the end of it, and Oh Joy give me all of that, there's a little bit of Manic Street Preachers in those harder rock moments too. 'Cab Sad' is taken of the Dublin trios forthcoming EP Good Grief which is released on the 8th of June.

Oh Joy - Cab Sad
Oh Joy

3) The Felonies - 'Berlin Blues'

I was most honoured to premiere 'Berlin Blues' upon release at the end of April and now that the band have gotten with the times and migrated the track to Spotify I wanted to include it here. Back then I noted the track was; "a blistering pipe-bomb of punk-rock anarchy, a race to the finish-line of noise between each of the band members from the very first second, vocals, guitar, bass and goddamn drums trying to smack each other out of the way toward that incendiary climax." It truly is, frenetic, frantic, and a vocal assault to the senses, I don't think I'll ever get sick of this one.

4) Great White Lies - 'Red'

I loved this track straight away from Donegal's Great White Lies, the opening is a dead ringer for Portishead's iconic album Dummy and Beth Gibbon's vocal. Written as a riposte to her experiences on the campaign trail for the current Referendum, Siobhan Shiels shares the experience which led to her writing the track; "This song was created in reaction to the current referendum going on in the south. I'm a repealer who was handing out leaflets, I approached who I envisioned to be a group of lovely older ladies, who turned to me and began shouting "murderer" at me. Their vitriol was a shock to me since my idea of older ladies would've been my gentle granny, yet these ladies weren't. Hence the song was created."


5) FIELDS - 'Some Kids'

It's always a good news day when the FIELDS quartet conjure up some new choonage. Last week they released latest single 'Some Kids', probably one of their most delicate tracks to date, they still manage to push those opening soft tones forcefully onward to a euphoric crescendo that never gets too far ahead of itself. I'm also really enjoying O'Brien's vocal here, he's pretty much reached the stage now where he can manipulate an understated delivery into a powerfully emotional release.

6) Old Hannah - 'Find You'

There's absolutely something very special about Sligo / Dublin four-piece Old Hannah, the music they've released to date from EP's Irish Boys and Iron Wood, and more recently single 'Follow' from forthcoming album Borealis, stand up ably against established US indie-folk artists. 'Find You' is desperately soothing, irons out the creases on your troubled soul and brings balm to heavy hearts. They're the type of band whose song-writing I really want to be fully alone with and absorb with no distractions. Very much looking forward to the debut album.

7) Elkin - 'Honey'

Dublin-based folk-pop group Elkin released their debut EP, Bad Habits, on the 12th of May last week with a launch night to follow this coming week on the 25th at The Cobblestone in Smithfield. Originally a duo of Carla Ryan and Ellen O'Mahony, Peter and Robert Kelly are now on board, and the breadth that allows is noticeable on the EP which is quite varied. Of the four tracks I've most enjoyed (for now) 'Honey', uplifting and brimming with feel good vibes, the harmonies and piano compliment each other in terms of balance very well. There's a bit of a Nicks / McVie / Buckingham thing going on too.

8) Electric Shore - 'Someone New'

Electric Shore's track 'P.S.' from their debut self-titled 2016 still remains one of the great hidden gems of the last two years in Irish music, Fine Young Cannibals beats, INXS bravado, a hint of post-punk and that guitar riff. New single 'Someone New' is in some ways a big leap in how they've honed that early sound, the improvement in production is noticeable, but they've retained that early grittiness. The persistence of the drums on this track are highly impressive, rollicking almost unaware of what is going on around them, the percussion is just delightful. Good, solid, indie-rock that's simply not just your run of the mill setup.

TabloidTV - Something New

9) TabloidTv - 'Something New'

An almost apologetic opening guitar progression leads into some steady bebop rhythms from indie-pop quintet TabloidTv on new single 'Something New' ahead of their sophomore EP release. This is what I imagine the very first bedroom jams of Glasgow's Belle and Sebastian might have sounded like, twee pop they were described as when they started out, sounds derogatory but it isn't. There's definitely a gap in the emerging Irish music scene for what TabloidTv are putting on the table, and 'Something New' grew very quickly on me, this is interesting.

10) TWOS - 'DJ Requiem'

Galway band TWOS' opening salvo, single 'Sad Fags', was a chaotic punk-infused melee, with rip-roaring riffs and a heavy approach, on latest single 'DJ Reqiuem' they've stepped back quite a bit. Their lyrics are observational and drawn from their immediate environment, with the current single inspired by late night performances behind closed doors at parties in their home city. What I like about this track is how rough and ready it is, there's a purity at this very moment and time, but also a peek through the curtains out the window to something potentially bigger.

Video: Feibhár - Porcelain Throne

Feibhár - Porcelain Throne - Repeal the 8th

Feibhár - Porcelain Throne

Info: 'Porcelain Throne' is a spoken-word video by Dublin musician Feibhár in collaboration with director Lyndsey Lawlor, produced by Take2 Productions. It is an unflinching examination of the real, actual, experiences of Irish women, focusing on the turmoil and the heart-break they face to this date due to the 8th Amendment in the Irish Constitution. Isolation and abandonment are the key themes, and of course, the absence of choice.

"Is í Éire an tír de chéad míle fáilte, bu we don't welcome change".

EP: Classic Yellow - Ophelia

Classic Yellow - Ophelia
Photo: Lisa Rogers (minus Ciarán Traynor!)

Info: Classic Yellow are a four-piece alternative-rock band with, well, a bone fide classic old-school sound running through everything on debut EP Ophelia. As someone who was went on a decade-long journey (and still is) from early 1960's pop-rock á la Rubber Soul, to 60's psych nuggets, garage rock of The Monks, balls-out rock of Sticky Fingers and I-IV and finally blues-rock and prog-rock (King Crimson, Alan Parsons Project), I can hear bits of everything and more across these four tracks. I mention all of this because the appeal is inevitably massive to me personally as a result.

Opener 'Biscuits' is a smooth and gloriously flirtatious piece of late 60's English blues-rock, bitta John Mayall, a lot of Johnny Winter, yes sir, I am loving this instrumental mardi gras, and the guitar-playing is perfection with a solid rhythm section trundling at high-tempo towards the finish line. The final 60 seconds are also quite Floydian.

Classic Yellow pull back a bit on the title-track, 'Ophelia', and it certainly jumps right up to a more modern sound, think The Walkmen's Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (2002) or pretty much anything from The Radio Dept., shorn of the extra instrumentation. It's a dreamy and meandering 5 minute plus number, and that mood and feeling carries it along with ease, it passes quicker than you'd expect because you are transfixed on the hazy care-free attitude on display.

'Magic Maker' is great, it's straight up in your face, and vocally it has that archetypal 60's psych quality, quivering in the distance but distinct. The break bang on the middle point of the track sees the stage suddenly disappear from underneath the band as they fall into a trippy Yellow Submarine / LSD-induced wormhole.

Ophelia wraps up with 'Ghosts' and we return to the expansive free-form guitar-rock of its opener, this is trippy AF. I'm arguing with myself, do I hear a studio version of a lo-fi Tame Impala track, or something else? I think it's something else, and that something else is Classic Yellow. What's evident across the entirety of the EP is that the band don't do formulaic, they don't sick to convention and follow the verse-chorus-verse, 'it should sound like this here' rules, they let it ride, and it sounds just wonderful. I hate being parochial, but I'm a little bit proud these guys are from Dublin (you should also listen to their debut Double A-Side 'His Master's Voice' / 'Cheese From Wisconsin')

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Saturday, 19 May 2018

Single: Elephant - Happy feat. KT Ball

Elephant - Happy

Info: Dundalk act Elephant (Shane Clarke) has shared the latest single from his forthcoming second album, '88, which will be released on the 20th of July. The track 'Happy' features Just Mustard's KT Ball on vocals and was released on Thursday this week. 

A solitary phone ring, 'Hi', and stop. We launch directly into the pleasure zone, no build-up, just right into the centre of the circle, surrounded by a retro-neon electronic aurora borealis. The vocal duet here is really something special, I think of 80's equivalents, but they are all a bit lifeless and lacking colour in comparison to 'Happy', the electric guitar is glorious, unashamedly playing with the most base gratification we desire. Musically we have a square with a diagonal line right across it, in one triangle there are classic 80's electro-pop and rock influences, and in the other it is decidedly contemporary. Kavinksy's 'Nightcall', Beach House's Teen Dream, Fever Ray's 'If I Had a Heart', but so much brighter than any of these. Another kaleidoscopic electro rush from the mind of Clarke, here's to '88.

Elephant launches his new album '88 live at The Grand Social, Dublin on the 24th of August with support from Montauk Hotel, and tickets can be purchased here, 

If you can't wait that long, be sure to catch him on the VW stage at Vantastival on the 2nd of June at 7pm. 

Elephant The Grand Social - Montauk Hotel

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Album: Tim Muddiman & The Strange - Domino Blitz

Tim Muddiman - Domino Blitz

Info: Last week Tim Muddiman independently releases his second album 'Domino Blitz' via his own label, Gun Street Music. Tim is well known as long-term band member of chart topping electronic music pioneer and legend Gary Numan.

Independently minded and musically directional 'Domino Blitz' goes to places that most people could hardly dare dream in a world gone crazy and controlled by the 1%. It speaks of a less corporate existence and concentrates on the things that make humans flow into places that are full of wonder and navigates a journey of strong mixed emotions throughout the entire album.

There's a notable difference between Tim Muddiman's 2016 album Paradise Runs Deeper with his band The Strange, and latest solo LP Domino Blitz. The former was slightly darker and more industrial, whereas his latest offering seems to see him consciously spread his wings and dabble in a wider variety of rock influences from across a number of decades. 

Opener 'Broken Down Superstar' has an undercurrent of mid to late 70's glam rock, an unusual mixture of the theatricity of Alice Cooper and the brooding mood of Marc Bolan. 'Thrill' has an off the beaten track blues club mood, you picture Muddiman on a spotlighted stage with wisps of smoke hanging in the air, crooning into a vintage Shure microphone to a darkened room filled with invisible characters. 

Tim Muddiman - Get It On

The first single from the new album, 'Get It On' is by far the darkest and heaviest, in an interview with Muddiman in January he described the track as a backlash, and it certainly feels like that. It's vivid, and this is expressed very well in the music video, an homage and call to arms to the downtrodden and those cast out by society. His affinity for the blues shines through on the album's title-track, full-bodied riffs warp and bend around a restrained but anguished vocal, in some ways it is a real Cirque du Soleil moment, the tone is macabre, desolate and unsettling and another example of how visual Tim Muddiman's music can be.

'From the Hills' is classic Muddiman, a country-blues whiskey bar vibe abounds, you imagine your protagonist wandering through a dusty Western town, Salem witch trials era. An early blossoming unrequited love that shifts from optimism to despair. Just by its title, I knew 'Rat Ballads' was going to be another door which opens into the disconsolate underground world that features regularly throughout Domino Blitz. Muddiman's song-writing excels on moments like this, the manner in which he turns his worldly observations inside-out and digs deep into an introverted transformation to the dramatic and bleak. The outside world seen through our eyes isn't real, it's a distorted mirror, and inside his imagination is where we find the real reflection.

Following the bristling and border-line honky-tonk of 'White Dove', we arrive at 'Burn the Witches', again so much of this album is thematically built on a foreign and ancestral landscape, it's probably the most overt encapsulation of the derided minority which inspired the songs on this album, chased and harried to an unforgiving extinction. We close with the aptly titled 'Out of this World', because we have been from the LP's very beginning. Without labouring on the point and giving the impression that it reflects how you feel when listening to Domino Blitz, Muddiman is masterful at conjuring up the barren wastelands that traverse from times long gone, and into a sort of post-apocalyptic future. Broad as that may sound, this story is absolutely focused on the individual character in each scene, their fears, personal struggles and victimisation. Domino Blitz is a fine mixture between the twisted graphic novel, and a clandestine forbidden cinematic experience, it's as real as it is fantasy, and that is it's most powerful attribute.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Single: Baba - I, Defy

Baba - I, Defy

Info: 'I Defy' is the second single from Dublin singer-songwriter Baba and it's pro-woman, pro-choice, pro-equality and pro-doing what the hell you feel like as long as you aren’t hurting anybody.

Following on from her gentle debut single 'Empty Arms', Siobhan Lynch is back and she’s packing a punch in the shape of 'I Defy', a fiery pop song that challenges traditional gender roles. 'I Defy' is a response to a man in a pub who told Lynch that any woman who has a one night stand 'is a slut' and 'deserves everything she gets'. Shocked that anyone could still think like this, Lynch wrote the chorus on her way home from the pub and by the next day, the rest of the song’s mission statement was complete. Produced by Gavin Glass, there’s a sense of well-timed urgency to 'Defy'. Using religious imagery and poetic flair, Lynch has penned a song that reflects the conversation that women are having across the world.

Locally here in Ireland, and internationally, you could say Siobhan Lynch, aka Baba's latest single 'I, Defy' couldn't be more timely, but has there ever really been a time when the message wasn't relevant? Or sadly will still be this time next year and the year after? Clunky pop beats and hand claps attack from the very beginning, it feels lazy to state it given the title, but the track is undeniably confident and defiant. Despite its message, Baba manages to remain somehow calm, nonchalant and upbeat in her delivery, which is ultimately how we should feel too. Don't give in, but don't let the fight bring you down either. It's a distinct move in sound from last year's atmospheric debut 'Scrape & Crawl', and shows that Lynch isn't into sitting on laurels when it comes to getting her point across lyrically, which is most refreshing.

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Interview: James Darkin @ Herbert Place Studios, Dublin

James Darkin - Herbert Place Studios - Niall O'Kelly Photography
Photos: Niall O'Kelly

Info: On a sunny morning myself and Niall set off for Herbert Place Studios to interview producer James Darkin (Hozier, The Funeral Suits, Gavin James), where he operates with Marc Carolan (Muse, The Cure, Snow Patrol) and John Hanley. "Coffee, tea, water?" we were offered straight away, and would find out over the course of the next two hours that an open door and big welcome was a central part of the Herbert Place team's ethos, even if you arrive late...without delay Darkin took us on a thorough tour of the studio, which was beautiful, including an oasis of calm garden in the middle of the city out the back.

From the band room we were led into the control centre, where every imaginable piece of recording equipment was held. The main console was a behemoth, the state of the art SSL 4032 G Series used by the likes of Dr. Dre, more buttons than a Cadbury's factory. For someone like myself with zero knowledge of music production equipment I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume and array of knobs and switches, but Darkin took the time to explain what everything did, and how it worked, inputs and outputs, a stack of pre-amps, and software tools. How the myriad of technological pathways between the console and where the band performed during recording in a separate room communicated with each other. His passion for his craft was self-evident, as he explained to us in detail how different producers worked with the equipment, down to the level of what tracks on famous albums we would hear certain effects on, and how musicians set up their instruments differently to compliment studio recording equipment for the best sound.

James Darkin - Herbert Place Studios - Niall O'Kelly Photography 1

REMY: To kick off, tell me about your background in music, I presume being involved in bands and making music is where your path to production began?

James: I played in very basic garage bands in Roscommon where I'm from originally, at the very early stages, no gigs or anything, just as a teen. I wasn't really buzzing on my own musicianship, I couldn't really play for shit to be honest! So I started getting into electronic music in my early teens, influenced by some of the big 90's electronic bands. My parents played Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams in the house when I was a kid so that was my first introduction to music, followed by rock / grunge, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. 

My mind was first really blown though when I heard The Chemical Brothers and Leftfield and all that kind of stuff, I knew how a rock band worked, a guitar worked etc., but I'd no idea how these guys were making the sound they did, I never knew that I could do that, someone from Roscommon doesn't make that kind of music I thought, that's 'over there'. That changed when I started DJ-ing in my late teens, reading magazines and looking into what kind of equipment they were using, and started slowly getting into the production side, with two turntables and a mixer. 

In one magazine I saw Liam Howlett (The Prodigy) had a Roland TB-303, the classic bass module, I found one in BuyandSell magazine shortly afterwards, hopped in a taxi to Mount Brown and bought it off the guy, but later found out that it was slightly different to Howlett's, I'd acquired an MC-303. It's an all in one module, with bass, synth, sampler, sequencer and basic drum machine, very difficult to use, you need an instruction manual for the instruction manual! But this was where I started mixing tracks, in 2001-2 I started going to clubs, a regular attendee at the Red Box, and then going back to parties afterwards and playing tunes I'd made on the Roland and transferred to mini-discs, I hadn't a notion at that stage what I was doing though and knew I had to learn more about its functionality.

REMY: Did you feel your 2016 album Go No Matter What which was received very well by the likes of Hot Press, describing it as a "thrilling debut", was the culmination of all of those years of sounds poured into one place?

James: Go No Matter What was a sound that I had in my head for fifteen years, but I could never get it out, I could never make that sound with the Roland, that fusion of organic and electronic instruments, it could only come out when I had figured out how to use the technology. I also wanted it to be a mixture that lay somewhere in between my favourite albums, I wasn't really looking at modern electronic acts. I love really industrial stuff, Trent Reznor, huge fan of his, Hans Zimmer, to fuse those two with Richie Hawtin, Tale of Us, Trentemoller, with a bit of Leftfield and some Prodigy, sprinkle them all together and see what comes out, that was sort of the natural end product of the album.

REMY: How did yourself, Marc and John come together and decide to launch Herbert Place Studios together last year?

James: I worked with John in Temple Lane Studios for many years, I was there as head engineer for 6 of them, while Marc worked with JJ72 and Muse (who he has been with since 2001) which was where his path crossed with John, who toured with band's including Cowboy X as a drummer, so they go back years together. Marc had his own studio here which was called Suite Studios, and John was working for Sun, the pair of them go back a long way together. I had a room in Temple Lane where I'd been for 12 years and I was chatting with John one day and felt it was time to up and move, so when it came to Herbert Place Studios, it made a lot of sense, the infrastructure was in place, we just had to talk to Marc and see how we could make it work. It was November 2016, and at the time studios weren't in great condition, they still aren't, a lot of studios had closed down so it was a big commitment which we approached tentatively together, with baby steps and thankfully it's gone really well so far.

James Darkin - Herbert Place Studios - Niall O'Kelly Photography

REMY: You’ve worked with some great rising bands on the alternative scene here in Dublin which I’m a big fan of such as Vulpynes, Bitch Falcon, Sub Motion, Pursued By Dogs and probably one of the hottest new tickets in town right now, The Murder Capital, it must be exciting catching these groups at the outset and then watching their journeys afterwards?

James: I love it, working with fresh and enthusiastic young bands, they're keen, eager and mad for it, looking at all the equipment. A lot of bands have good technical knowledge these days, a lot of artists have their home studios nowadays, they're well up on all of that. But when they come into an environment like this we want them to get the vibe that they are entering a creative zone, some studios don't have that atmosphere. We want there to be an air of something when they come in, a creative infection, it's great to see bands come in and watch everything get boosted; their game, playing, approach, feeding off everything. 

REMY: What has been your most memorable moment since opening the doors here?

James: The biggest buzz is meeting all of the new artists we've worked with, having an idea at the outset that you think something could work, and after a huge amount of effort to ensure it happens, everything comes together. From that, artists being happy with what we've done, them leaving and telling people they've had a positive experience here after making some great music. So to summarise, it's watching the process from start to finish with acts, trying new things in recording, and everyone being excited and satisfied with the final outcome.

REMY: Finally, what’s the most important advice you can give to someone thinking about going into the world of music production?

James: Go for it, it takes time and commitment, don't be afraid of failing and stick at it, you mess up, you start again, and build those blocks from the bottom up once more. You don't have to be a musical genius or an amazing musician, you just have to love what you're doing, dedicate yourself to it, work hard, and put everything into it. 

After we finished our interview and left, the positivity I'd seen from bands on social media and had conversations with face to face during my time interviewing them with The Sound Feed was reflected in my own experience. Not only was Herbert Place an aesthetically pleasing studio to visit, from when you enter into the band room with its Georgian wooden floors, but the generosity with both time and hospitality of our host (including PJ!) was heart-warming. As Darkin said when we concluded our interview; "It doesn't matter if you come in here just to read the phone-book, if you are a famous well-known musician, or are just starting out and recording your first ever track, each person will get treated with the same respect and attention regardless, and that's our ethos."

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

New Album Releases: May - Gaz Coombes, Courtney Barnett, Ash, Parquet Courts, Jon Hopkins and more

Gaz Coombes - World's Strongest Man

Info: REMY's monthly new album releases round-up returns for May, featuring singles already released from albums coming out over the next two weeks (and the week just past) in the above playlist, with a video or two to boot! Truth be told I've felt that 2018 has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in terms of ear-watering (yes) albums, ones I'd classify that upon hearing them I get the gut urge to purchase the physical copy as soon as possible. But May, oh my, it's brimming, and there are even more albums than the 11 here that I am keen to spend more time with. Essentially there is probably at least one, if not two or three of your own albums of the year on this playlist from just a single month.

It's a hard push, and I'll be a little bit torn, because you always like what's new best, at least for a while, but I'm thinking Gaz Coombes' World's Strongest Man might surpass the love I had for Matador. I'm still in right in the thick of enjoying the shit out of Irish band Just Mustard's debut LP Wednesday which was our Album of the Month for May, including their track 'Deaf'. Sydney's Courtney Barnett makes big leaps and bounds with new album Tell Me How You Really Feel, it sounds like a record from someone with a far larger back catalogue (on this playlist, easily an album I'll be running to buy on wax).

Parquet Courts - Almost Had to Start a Fight / In and Out of Patience (Live on KEXP)

Parquet Courts' seventh studio album since 2012's American Specialities also looks set to be their piéce de resistance, Wide Awake! is a hook-heavy modern day punk banger, these are the songs that people who don't like The Ramones felt like they should like. Alongside a most welcome return from the mighty Ash and their latest album Islands, where we have single 'Annabel', I'm (again) falling in love with Damien Jurado, it's been 10 and 8 years since I was smitten by Caught in the Trees and Saint Bartlett, and now The Horizon Just Laughed feels like his Carrie & Lowell from Sufjan Stevens.

There's also seriously good albums from a hopping Jon Hopkins in Singualarity (wow, electronic orgasm), Beach House's 7, a gorgeous return from Ray LaMontagne with Part of the Light and super electro-pop magnifique sounds via Chad Valley on Imaginary Music, an artist who never fails to bring an involuntary smile to my face. I reiterate that this is a monster month for album releases and there is loads to check out so get out there and find even more.

Jon Hopkins - Emerald Rush

Release Dates:

Out Now:

Just Mustard - Wednesday

Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed

Gaz Coombes - World's Strongest Man

Jon Hopkins - Singularity

May 11th:

Beach House - 7

May 18th:

Ash - Islands

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Parquet Courts - Wide Awake! 

Ray LaMontagne - Part Of The Light 

May 25th:

Chad Valley - Imaginary Music

EP: Bellew - Bang!

Bellew - BANG! Dundalk

Info: Last month Bellew released his debut E.P. 'Bang!' in the Spirit Store. Along with recording, mixing and mastering the blues rock E.P, Bellew played and programmed every instrument on Bang! bar the keyboards which were played by David Burke (Swords based keyboard wizard).

The 24 year old bluesman from Dundalk played with 3 different bands on the night of his E.P. launch. First accompanying Tara Tíne (Author Songstress and Hallion) on electric guitar, followed by lead guitar duties with Harry Hoban and the Brothers Kane and then with his own band (Shane Byrne of Pizza Pizza records on Drums, Kieran O'Surfer on double bass and electric bass, David Burke on piano, organ and ambient guitar and Tara Tíne on Bodhrán and vocals).

No other Irish EP will shoot an arrow straight onto the bullseye of my blues heart this year, that's for sure. Bellew's Bang! captures all of the old blues albums and 45's I've managed to accumulate over the years on vinyl. From John Mayall (and by association then teenager Eric Clapton), Albert Collins, early-Stones and even some Neil Young and Bert Jansch. A wide and wild spread.

The EP's title track begins proceedings and I admit I was a little shocked at what I heard, I wasn't expecting such proficiency, and mostly because I just haven't heard it apart from on said records, especially from an Irish act. This one is all Mayall & The Bluesbreakers with Clapton for me, think 'Steppin' Out', at 3:33 the fire is lit, this solo is fucking heaven to me.

'Diary of a Night Owl' has that Jansch acoustic intro á la 'Angie', but also tips its hat rhythm-wise to London trio America's classic 'A Horse With No Name' but without the morose slow tempo. Then comes 'Lu Blues', again Bellew displaying he can play some fine blues on acoustic just as well as on electric. There's a very slight swamp-blues tinge and he pings those harmonic notes off the fret-board like a cowboy whose bossin' it.

Wham! or Bang! even, a wave of rip-roaring and rolling guitar riffs come in rapid succession one after the other on '53', it's slightly outrageous and I love it. An expertly dropped break at 1:20 lasts less than 9 seconds and the electric guitar is off scorching again. It's quite chaotic and difficult at first listen to take in exactly how much Bellew is throwing at us here, and we're all the better for it. His vocal very much in the mid-60's cross-over zone when rock music was first dipping its toes in psych and garage.

Final track 'Black Sea' reminds me undoubtedly of my biggest hero on its opening bars, Rory Gallagher, it's like a submerged version of 'A Million Miles Away' on the Irish Tour album. Then it starts mixing psychedelic tones, before moving into James Gang territory. I love this, it's very care-free and free-flowing and genuinely feels like the artist is having fun, whilst sharing it around generously. 

An EP like Bang! provides me with a lot of excitement, there just aren't that many Irish blues-rock acts right now when you consider the swell of other genres which would have been unheard of 10 years ago in the greater music scene, but are now blooming such as hip-hop and electronic. In some ways this may work against Bellew, is it a reflection of a lack of appetite? I don't think so, more a lack of exposure to a very-skilled  (nowadays) sub-genre of rock music. If he keeps building it like this, they will come.

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Monday, 7 May 2018

Single: Jon Dots - Kamera

Jon Dots - Kamera

Jon Dots - Kamera

Info: Dublin alternative-pop act Jon Dots has shared a brand new single in the shape of 'Kamera'. It's quite a shift in sound in many ways from what we've heard on Dots' previous (and quite voluminous) output such as last summer's Impossibly EP. The upbeat pop characteristic is still there but that's about it, his previous dalliance with varying hybrids of classic pop stemming from a mix of Elton John / Beach Boys / Roy Orbison sounds make way for a 90's dance-pop sound with electric guitar thrown in for good measure. 

The first few seconds of the intro have a 'Born Slippy' feel, but that only lasts 6 seconds when we are shuffled into a lovely mix of indie / dance and pop. Thematically I'm guessing Dots is alluding to a voyeuristic obsession with a muse who is a stranger, who is unaware of the protagonists existence, who falls in love through the screen on their phone. A modern take on 'watching you from afar', not in a creepy way mind, but an observation on 'knowing' people purely via devices. Of course it could have an entirely different meaning altogether. I loved it, he makes it all sound so easy, an idea comes into his head and he puts it down with little fuss, another 'window down and play it loud' zinger from the pop supremo.

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Sunday, 6 May 2018

Album of the Month: Just Mustard - Wednesday

Just Mustard - Wednesday

Info: Just Mustard are a five piece band from Dundalk, Ireland. Mining influence from post punk, trip hop and lo-fi electronic music they combine broken hip hop beats, chorus laden bass hooks and abrasive guitar noise with ambient, haunting vocals.

'Wednesday' is the debut LP by Just Mustard. In creating this record they made a conscious effort to provide the listener with the experience of hearing the band in a room, in their natural state, with little to no polished, glossy, post-production magic. Recorded by David Noonan (Just Mustard) in their home studio in Dundalk with additional recording by Chris Ryan (Robocobra Quartet) in Start Together Studios, Belfast.

"In creating this record they made a conscious effort to provide the listener with the experience of hearing the band in a room, in their natural state...". On this count, among many others, Just Mustard achieved their goal on debut album Wednesday with great aplomb. Not only does the listener hear the band in a room, they are in the room with them. The first thing that struck me listening to the album, and one which is very rare, was how the drums in particular play such a core part of how the entire LP plays out, they are central to feeling you are in such close proximity to the sonic grind of the tracks. 

Opening with 'Boo', Just Mustard immediately land you in their trademark distorted screeches, echoed ethereal vocals and mercury guitar-playing. It's quite a hair-raising experience when the percussion pounds mechanically with cymbals on the 3:45 mark, and between then and 4:15 I could listen to this sequence on loop forever, something very special is brewing.

'Curtains' rakes distorted riffs through your head like a rusty chainsaw, again listen to the hollowed out bass drum and cymbal, right to the forefront of the track, I love how unpolished this sounds, it reminds me of the filthiest and most nonchalant moments of The Pixies. There are screaming lost souls burning eternally in hell via the vocals and the rising, bending scorch of the guitars creates a wanted and desired discomfort.

With 'Feeded' Just Mustard take pause and spend a moment in the shoe-gaze territory they visited on occasion on earlier releases such as their debut self-titled EP. It's dream-like, a little bit like how Beach House were at their very beginning, but without the gloss of the production. Vocals are hypnotic, and the underlying current of strict adherence to repeated rhythm compounds that state of escapism.

Just Mustard - Pigs

Aside from the assistance of the gifted Chris Ryan in production, the band retain full creative control over all aspects of their music, and the background of Noonan and Ball in visual arts finds its expression in their music videos. With 'Pigs' we reach peak-Mustard, without labouring on it, the percussion here is just so damn delicious. The sound on the track is heavily industrialised, like a pumpjack moving up and down on a desolate rural landscape in black and white. Those 5 minutes and 40 seconds just fly by, and with this track I think we have a piece of music that moves far beyond the plain of being great, it's outstanding, and one you would offer up if you were to introduce the band to a new listener.

'Tainted' was one of the early tasters we got for Wednesday when it was released back in September 2017. The vocals are pied-piper like, beckoning you innocently to the edge of a cliff before pushing you into the sea with a violent but hushed whisper. In their live performances JM become entirely immersed in their music, they leave the room when they're on that stage and this track always brings back memories for me of how lost you get when witnessing them disappear down the rabbit hole of distorted pandemonium. 

Another early sample from the new LP was 'Deaf', it's a happy-go-merry moment on the album, painted on a wide canvas of calm. Pixies pop back again with Noonan's spoken word converting into a Black Francis screech that is exhilarating and another solid hairs on the back of your neck experience, it feels like a euphoric release, and it is. 

Delving further into their experimental playbook, Just Mustard play grim reaper again with the haunting wail of 'Tennis', a hand grips your elbow and pulls you into the underground, two coins on your eyes as the ferryman unties his rope and you drift off to Hades. This is the soundtrack to sleep paralysis and your absolute worst nightmares and fears, numbed and the loss of control of all faculties, you are now a stiff.

'Pictures' draws the wine velvet curtain down on Wednesday, bass-line and drums wound up tight together just before grating electric guitars enter the milieux. I want the track to descend into absolute chaos, to shock me in some way, and it does, again I could listen to that segment of the track endlessly just on its own. The machine grinds to a halt, it's tired, its work done, we're speechless. With Wednesday I feel like I've heard an album and collection of music that had me in awe when I was a teenager and first started out on a voyage of musical discovery. Music obviously excites me now more than ever, but you never quite recapture that overwhelming feeling of absolute raw wonder that say, for example, hearing Nevermind for the first time, or Doolittle, albums like these made you believe in magic, and I'm very grateful to have that feeling again with Just Mustard's outstanding debut. I don't do ratings on the blog here, but if I did this would be one of the easiest 10/10's ever.

Wednesday is available now on all major streaming services, and most importantly, on vinyl via Pizza Pizza Records or the band's own Bandcamp page (below).

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Irish Playlist #027: Susie Blue, Maria Kelly, Gavin Glass, Central Hall & More

Susie Blue - She's A Keeper
Susie Blue - Photo: Megan Doherty Photography

Info: We stretch our latest Irish independent playlist out to 12 tracks to begin May, featuring some brand new Irish acts and some pleasantly familiar faces, with a handful of great music videos thrown in for good measure.

We open with one of our favourite solo artists of recent times, Derry's Susie Blue and her spell-binding latest single 'She's A Keeper', it draws all sorts of early 90's lo-fi rock nostalgia flooding back, with a bit of 80's pop balladry thrown in for good measure. This could definitely be one of my favourite tracks of 2018 so far, with some absolutely gorgeous guitar riffage thrown in to the final moments.

Fragile, delicate and tender tones drop like beads of rain down a window on Maria Kelly's latest single 'Dark Places', despite its cold demeanour, the track is somehow lifted to a hopeful outcome, something Kelly does time and time again with great ease, but intricately. This is a piece of music that creates a very powerful sense of isolation and introspection, it's hard not to let your thoughts wander away with themselves, needless to say the music video written and directed by Kelly herself captures all and sundry.

Maria Kelly - Dark Places

I'm really enjoying the new single from Waterford band Central Hall, mixing funky beats with some zinging guitar face-melters, the four-piece go hook-heavy on 'Social Awareness' and pull you all around the place with the stop-start motion of the track.

Belfast rock troupe Gnarkats remixed by fellow Northern Irish maestro Arvo Party? Yes puhleeeease! 'Enigma' gets the sci-fi treatment, all of the descriptives spring forth; post-apocalyptic, dystopian, nightmarish. David Lynch's Dune springs to mind, and the whole universe is falling apart.

We stay in Belfast for the new single 'For A Little While' from singer-songwriter Stephen Jones, aka Glass Wings. The build-up is great here, looping guitar picking and the subtle drone of strings all pave a path to an uplifting and impassioned finale to take a unique approach to the genre.

The hugely promising talent of Wexford's Rachel Grace shines through on her latest single 'You Don't Know', which is taken from forthcoming EP Routes. Grace's vocal is dexterous and spirals through a wide array of styles, from rn'b to soul and pop, an ear-catching latest serving from an act we can expect to see and hear a lot from over the coming years.

I'm going through a big indie-pop n' rock phase at the moment, and all thanks to the rising quality of output from Irish acts. 'Higher' is the debut single from Cork trio True Tides who are currently Dublin-based, it has a classic winning indie-pop formula, but the band aren't afraid to deviate from any strictures with a notable and very energising shift occurring at the 2:16 mark. It's feel-good and all the pieces are put together so well to achieve that mood. 

True Tides - Higher
True Tides - Photo: Ruth Medjber

A chap who is kind of killing it in the Irish pop zone right now is A.Smyth, his third single, 'Coming Back To You', Smyth glories in attaching his indie-rock background into his music. Thankfully he also applies a notable variety in each of his singles to date, with the current track eliciting the joy of mid 90's North American pop-rock.

A.Smyth - Coming Back To You

It can be a little bit intimidating sometimes as a music reviewer when it comes to describing the music of producers, especially house-hold names on the Irish music scene like Gavin Glass, but ya just have to put on your big boy pants and get on with it. Glass' latest single 'Thirty Somethings' was one I had the pleasure of catching live last summer. I find it quite relatable for reasons I shall not go into here! The theme deals with reaching a point in life when you are supposed to have your shit together, but external forces and your own despondency from fighting against the tide lead to personal helplessness and apathy. Musically there's hat doffs to early-noughties Irish indie-rock, a little bit Bell X-1 circa Music in Mouth and also I can't shake Liverpool band Space out of my head when I hear that little warbling effect that backdrops the chorus.

I always need some grunging hard-rock in my life, and the latest slice is delivered by Cork trio Mindriotmt's new single 'We Owe You Nothing', sitting somewhere on the spectrum between early Foo Fighters and Metallica, it opens with a brooding bass-line which almost immediately makes way for the metal crash, bang and whallop. Of course I'm at my happiest when they devolve into the chorus' nuclear meltdown and the heavy bass and guitar riff are bang on the money.

Dublin pop-rockers No Audio Dialogue whipped out a new single recently in the shape of 'So Scared', staying true to their 90's rock roots it has a high-energy swagger, packing an upbeat snappy punch into just 2 minutes and 10 seconds. 

Wexford-based Dubliner Alice Lynskey has released her debut single 'Devil In Me', comparisons have been made to Lana Del Rey, and while I get that in terms of the genre, I feel like her vocal stands apart from such an allusion. There's a really solid balance between contemporary pop singer-songwriter material and an older classic chanteuse sound á la a more restrained version of Connie Francis. Either way, Lynskey has left herself with plenty of scope for expanding her sound in different directions following this impressive debut.