Timothy van Sas
Timothy van Sas

Monday, 30 January 2012

I Give You My Flesh

King Charles - Loveblood released on the 20th February

Back in 2007 King Charles looked set to breakthrough into the indie pop mainstream. Having dropped out of Durham University, he embarked on successful tours with Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale, then spent the following year writing his debut album. Towards the end of 2008 his burgeoning career was stopped in its tracks, as he suffered a near fatal skiing accident. Despite a lengthy recovery process Charles refused to give up and in 2010 he reignited his career by becoming the first Brit to win Nashville’s prestigious International Songwriting Competition. This accolade prompted Island Records to sign him and helped secure a US tour with Mumford and Sons. King Charles remained relatively quiet until late last year, when he returned to the airwaves with an excellent new single called “BAM BAM” and completing his comeback from the almost dead.

“Loveblood” is Charles newest single and the next step in building momentum for the spring release of his debut album. The track is an interesting slice of throwaway indie pop that borrows heavily from Vampire Weekends Afro guitar rhythms and the songwriting style of Marc Bolan. Whilst in theory this is a marriage made in heaven, on “Loveblood” the marriage isn’t wholly successful. The problem is that whilst the track is easy to enjoy, it’s also easy to ignore and therefore forget. There’s nothing quite catchy or iconic enough on “Loveblood” to make it stick in the mind and I think on this occasion King Charles might struggle to find his way into the upper echelons of the charts. Yet he is a talented artist full of promise, whose quirky pop persona make him well worth your attention and whose brush with death, might just be the source of inspiration required to propel him to stardom.

King Charles will be performing in Huddersfield at Tokyo, 24th of February, with support from We Were Evergreen, auditCONTROL and Tokyo Corner. Tickets are available at www.wegottickets.com

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Take My Earthly Life

Back in 2009 I stumbled onto “Mary,” a home recorded demo, by Alex Schaaf, who performs under the moniker of Yellow Ostrich and was immediately spellbound. Schaaf’s creative use of layered, haze heavy vocals gave texture and rhythm to an otherwise sparse composition, marking him as a talent worth following. The track eventually made it onto his first album, The Mistress, which got picked up by Barsuk Records and was released last year.

Schaaf obviously doesn’t believe in wasting time and is readying the release of his second LP, Strange Land by giving away the lead single “Marathon Runner.” The track shows that Schaaf has managed the move from home recording to full studio without losing the lo-fi charm of his early works. Retaining the fuzzed out vocals, but this time against a denser production to create a sound that sit’s snugly between the upbeat moments of Bombay Bicycle Club’s, A Different Kind Of Fix and college rock stalwarts, The Mountain Goats. A marriage which is very pleasing to the ear indeed.

Strange Land is released via Barsuk Records on March 6.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The City Is My Church

M83 - Leeds Stylus 20th Jan

I’m not a religious man, I don’t go to church and I don’t believe in a higher power, however during M83’s virtuosic performance of “We Own The Sky,” I had a spiritual awakening. As sound waves crashed against me, my note taking ceased, the aches of my body were replaced with a tide of euphoria. I was mesmerised, entranced like a stooge touched by a faith healer who had instantly cured all of my ill’s and for the briefest of moments, life was perfect.

In truth the sceptic in me was expecting something far less impressive. I thought I’d be watching in disappointment as M83 front man, Anthony Gonzalez, pissed around with sequencers and twiddled knobs in a vain attempt to replicate the soaring soundscapes of his albums. I was wrong, so very, very wrong. From the moment that Gonzalez and his cohorts arrived on stage to the very last note they played, M83 were nothing short of breathtaking.

When they opened on a pitch perfect rendition of “Intro” from new album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the bar was set high and it just continued to raise. Gonzalez delivered every track with supreme, but never misplaced confidence. I watched on in utter awe as Gonzalez entered a musical trance to deliver a performance, where “Midnight City” thundered overhead and show closer “Couleurs” almost descended into the maddening haze of Daft Punk’s “Derezzed.” A performance where no track felt like it would ever be played the same way again. Where each diversion from the original recordings took songs which already sounded gigantic and made them gargantuan.

Not once did they play with anything other than total dedication to their art, transcending the confines of the dimly lit room and dragging me along with them. It was the same sort of experience as watching a congregation sing in praise to a God they have total faith in and for an hour I ascended to the ‘80s inspired worlds of Gonzalez’s creation. If escapism was a religion it’d be called M83, Gonzalez would be the messiah and I’d be a believer.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Aglow in the dark?

The Shins – Simple Song

It’s been 5 years since The Shins last album Wincing The Night Away and I think I can speak for the majority of alternative music lovers out there in saying, "they’ve been missed." Even though I enjoyed James Mercer’s side project, Broken Bells (with Danger Mouse), the results of that partnership where at best, mixed. On “Simple Song” Mercer has applied the lessons he learnt from Broken Bells to beef up The Shins sound to terrific effect. Moving the band into stadium pop territory without leaving behind the delicacy of their previous work, in fact everything on "Simple Song" is quintessentially 'Shinsy (and yes that's a descriptive word). When you consider the increase in popularity they've enjoyed during their hiatus, these sonic tweaks are smart. As they're likely to find themselves closer to the headline slot at festivals, where a few weightier songs won't go amiss. Hopefully I'll get the chance to watch them live soon.

The new album Port Of Morrow is released on the 20th March

Monday, 16 January 2012

Rising Talent #1 - Cloud Nothings

On last January’s self titled album, Cloud Nothings Dylan Baladi created an album full of catchy Lo-Fi indie rock, that was high on memorable guitar hooks but lacked a little character to really stand out. What a difference a year makes. Since November, Baladi has drip fed three cuts from his new album, Attack The Memory and each track oozes confidence.

The first, “No Future/No Past” is the least immediate of the three. Baladi builds on an initially sparse piano, gradually adding layers of growling vocals, drums and guitars. Allowing the whole thing to reach a simmer until it finally boils over, letting loose a barrage of dirty riffs and snarls that will keep you coming back. It’s a massive change in direction and recalls some of the sound of Lo-Fi legends Archers Of Loaf.

The 'Loafs influence is more pronounced on the other two tracks, especially on “No Sentiment” which doesn’t quite match the glorious idiosyncrasies found in the ‘Loafs songwriting but is suitably moody and no less potent. On the last cut, “Stay Useless” Baladi fuses his Strokes like knack for writing a toe tapping chorus and hook with the ‘Loafs sound that to produces a genuine indie crowd pleaser. It’s only been 3 years since Baladi left collage to pursue a career in music, it’s starting to sound like he made the right decision.

Attack The Memory is due out on January 24th via Carpark.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Heard you say suicide in your sleep, just get on with it

Sleigh Bells - Born To Lose

Just before Christmas, Sleigh Bells unleashed the first track from their second album Reign Of Terror and initially I felt a little disappointed. Not because the track sounded bad but because I had unfeasibly high hopes that they’d be crafting an album full of pop tracks like “Rill Rill.” Unlike that standout, “Born To Lose” follows the blueprint established in the rest of their debut album Treats. Using massive guitar riffs, call and response vocal shouts with machine gun like electronic beats but here they’ve added a little more polish. As time wore on my disappointment faded, realising that despite a two year wait they still sound intoxicatingly bold and that no other band has come close to replicating their template for melodic brutality. So regardless of my ongoing hopes for the rest of the second album (this after all is only the first taster), “Born to Lose” is still a treat for musical thrill seekers. One that has all the heady release that attracts listeners of ‘bro step’ but with a cool, shoegaze detachment that’s adored by indie hipsters. Suggesting that Sleigh Bells adrenaline fuelled music will find a far more receptive audience this time round.

Sleigh Bells - Born To Lose by Mom + Pop

With you by my side, Everything will be all right

The XX’s self titled debut was a nocturnal album, best listened to in the comfort of a dimly lit room at stupid o’clock at night. At first listen Open Eyes, a taster demo of their second LP, is more of the same. The recording is sparse with a whisper of speaker hiss in the background making it more intimate sounding than their previous recordings. Croft’s vocals fit perfectly, sung with in a breathless hush that warms and shimmers like flecks of dust given shape by rays of sunlight. Each listen evokes memories of mornings spent in bed with lovers and the comforting feeling of waking up next to someone you know cares for you. Essentially it’s still the XX as you’ve always known them, but this time it’s morning after the night before, and it’s every bit as beautiful.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

I’ve Always Had A Thing For Dangerous Women

Sow Mare Bitch Vixen - Fionn Regan

Just before I started my Christmas vacation I watched Shane Meadows excellent TV mini series, This Is England ’88. It’s soundtrack alerted me to a new album by Fionn Regan, an artist that I had not completely forgotten, but had neglected to check for a while. Since then, I’ve been catching up on Regan’s latest album, 100 Acres of Sycamore and whilst it still doesn’t match up to his unforgettable folk debut, The End Of History a couple of it’s songs are well worth a listen. “Sow Mare Bitch Vixon” is one, it’s sparse sounds of delicately picked acoustic guitars and whispered violins are held together by Regan’s beautifully resonant voice. What’s really surprising are the lyric’s, Regan, who tends to overuse metaphors, has shown uncharacteristic restraint and kept them simple. This gives the song elegance, which in the face of the bratty verses being pumped out by Ed Sheeran, is a timely reminder of how haunting one man and his guitar can sound.

Friday, 6 January 2012

[edit] radio’s top ten albums of 2011

At the beginning of December my brain entered into a contract with my ears. The deal was that at the end of a months worth of procrastination I’d have come up with a top 10 albums for the year. A month later I decided on two things, that a) 2011 was a year that lacking in truly great albums and b) I really fucking hate making these lists.

Initially I struggled to find 5 albums that I’d be prepared to put [edit] radio's name to but eventually ended up with about 14 that merited a mention without being truly great. I also had to discount two records that I couldn’t be objective about, due to them being made by two of my best friends (Sorry Ben and Barry). Until finally, I’ve reached my decisions (at the expense of my own sleeping patterns) and these are [edit] radio music blog’s top ten albums of the year:

10. Balam Acab - Wander / Wonder

If I had an award for meditative album of the year, Balam Acab (AKA Alec Koone) would have to win. The 20 year olds debut LP has been the soundtrack to all the novels I’ve read since its release. It’s 8 tracks are a work of subtle beauty, that whisper and haunt the ears with delicate ‘witch house’ melodies that were in such vogue last year. A musical fad which has reached a graceful coda on Koone's Wander / Wonder.

MP3 - Oh Why

9. M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

It's been three years since M83 (AKA Anthony Gonzalez) released his last album, Saturdays = Youth, and by the sound of Hurry Up We’re Dreaming that time hasn't been wasted. Across this double LP he delivers some of the years most epic soundscapes, which like the rest of Gonzalez’s music is inspired by eighties popular culture.

So far, so great right? Well, yes and no, whilst there is no doubt that the album has its share of dizzying heights like ‘Midnight City,’ (probably the best song of the year) ‘New Map’ and ‘Steve McQueen.’ It also has a fair share of songs which act as the foundations of these musical set pieces and are just too subtle and indifferent to stand out. It’s an album that will probably continue to grow on me over the next year and will improve in its standing as it does so. For now despite the albums surprising accessibility and obvious ambition, it has left me cold and wishing Gonzalez had condensed the best parts of two good disc’s onto a single great one.

MP3 - New Map

8. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Let England Shake is the result of a seismic change in PJ Harvey’s approach to music and a landmark album in an already incredible body of work. Whereas her previous records were passionate and introverted, Let England Shake saw Harvey painstakingly research Britain’s history in war until the album ended up as a form of musical documentary. The record still sounds distinctly like Harvey, but this new academic approach shows she is ready and capable of turning her considerable talents to the wider issues of politics, society and religion. Providing her music with a new mine of inspiration for the coming years, which is an exciting prospect for fans and critics alike. In the case of Let England Shake the bleak subject matter makes the record worthy of it’s art with a capital ‘A’ label, but also difficult to endure in it’s entirety. Maybe that was exactly Harvey's point?

MP3 - Written on Forehead

7. Panda Bear - Tomboy

Panda Bear’s (AKA Noah Lennox) previous album, Person Pitch (2007), was one of the best albums of the last decade. It’s sprawling ten minute plus songs owed as much to the repetitive nature of dance music as they did to the melodic charms of the Beach Boys. So it was difficult to see how anyone, even a musician as prodigiously talented as Lennox, could follow up that masterpiece. This year he delivered his best shot and came close to repeating the act with Tomboy. Those expecting more of the same may be left slightly disappointed, but when you’ve created an album that perfectly captures your artistic intent, why try to do the same thing again? On Tomboy, Lennox unsurprisingly goes for something new, simplifying his song structures to a more conventional runtime of four minutes whilst keeping his sonic palette as fresh and avant-garde as ever. This give’s Tomboy one quality that Person Pitch didn’t really have, accessibility, which isn’t something you usually associate with music this challenging.

MP3 - Last Night At The Jetty

6. Gauntlet Hair - Gauntlet Hair

Last year I was seriously taken by Gauntlet Hair’s debut single, “Out Don’t,” a gloriously raucous, reverb soaked, fist pumper. It was an artsy, Lo-Fi take on the stadium rock-pop served up by chart topping behemoths like Coldplay or U2. It had a catchy as hell melody, lyrics that are nearly indecipherable (in a different way to Coldplay’s generic tales of nothing), but still delivered an emotional punch. All these qualities could be found in abundance on their self titled debut LP, which seemed to underwhelm the musical blogosphere upon it’s release, but captured my attention. Sure the album is only 9 tracks long and each track sounds similar to the last, but what's important is that each is delivered with a gusto and thrust sorely lacking amongst most of their contemporaries. If they can find a way to pair back the reverb, make better use of silence and sharpen the vocal elements without losing the energy that makes them sound so vital, they’ll win themselves many more admirers.

MP3 - My Christ

5. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

The highest placed debut album on our list, comes from South Dakota’s EMA (AKA, Erika M. Anderson) and is probably the most emotionally wrought debut LP since Elliott Smith’s, Roman Candle. Anderson’s violently bold songs are often uncomfortable to listen to, but constantly captivating because of her extraordinarily skilful arrangements and songwriting. Whereas most modern contemporaries like Lana Del Rey or Feist give their music another dimension by sounding cooly indifferent, Anderson’s sounds like she’s ready to take a razor blade to her arteries and bleed herself dry. This makes Past Life Martyred Saints sound like a form of creative therapy, used by Anderson to expel her own demons. The track ‘Marked’ which we previously blogged is a disturbing highlight on an album that will leave scars on anyone who dares to listen.

MP3 - Marked

4. Real Estate - Days

This record wasn’t originally in [edit] radio's top 10 albums of the year at all. For various reasons I’d overlooked it’s beach bum inspired melodic charms and it wasn’t until I listened to it whilst on a train did I began to revere it’s qualities. Sometimes context is everything. It has since revealed itself as one of the finest albums to travel to that I ever heard. The record has a warm and calming quality that when listened to on the move, make even the most mundane of commutes dream like.

Musically the guitars are the highlight, shimmering and swaying on a warm summer breeze, covering up what is a somewhat average rhythm section. In amongst this interplay of guitars are some deliciously hazy vocals, that provide some of the sweetest choruses that you’re ever likely to hear. The track ‘Easy’ is the best example of this and is my favourite track on a record full of highlights. The record is not without fault, as although the vocals are sweet they lack personality, which is something that lead singer, Martin Courtney, will have to work on if they are to realise their obvious potential and make a truly great album.

MP3 - Easy

3. Wild Beasts - Smother

The trouble with making ‘art rock’ is whilst your music is easy to admire, it’s not always easy to enjoy. The same troubles plagued Wild Beasts debut album, the baroque inspired Panto Limbo. Which was thematically brilliant, but polarised listeners in the same way marmite does toast eaters, due to Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto shrieks. On their follow up, the funk infused Two Dancers, Thorpe toned back on the glass shattering vocal’s and the band began to sparingly use bassist/keyboardist Tom Fleming’s sultry northern baritone as a counterpoint. It was a large step forward, and tracks like 'This Is Our Lot' and 'Hooting & Howling' filtered across into the indie mainstream.

On this years record the band have made another step forward, with the minimalist sounding but sexually active Smother. Sonically the album draws as much from the compositions of Steve Reich, as it does the pop sensibilities of the brilliant Talk Talk and there’s a far greater delegation of vocal duties from Thorpe to Fleming. By making the best of each vocal quality, Wild Beasts, spin ten sensual tales of late night sex, lust, and above all vulnerability. Tracks like 'Plaything' prove their commitment to sharing their darkest fears and intimate desires on record. It's this willingness to be at the mercy of their listeners that resonates to dazzling effect and set the band apart from the norm. Given their rate of improvement it's not hard to imagine that someday, Smother may eventually be seen as one of Wild Beasts lesser albums,which is an exciting prospect indeed.

MP3 - Albatross

2. Bon Iver - Bon Iver

In 2008 I fell in love, not with a women but with a record. A record which whispered introverted tales of loneliness, guilt and heartbreak, that took hold of my inner emo and still hasn't let go. That record was Bon Iver’s (AKA Justin Vernon) debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, which has the kind of back story that sends music journalists into a trouser wetting frenzy. At the time of it’s recording Vernon had acrimoniously broken up with his band (and girlfriend), was sick with mono and decided to retreat from the world to a secluded cabin in the wild. He emerged with one of the most memorable debut records of the last decade and begun a whirlwind three years that would see him win a legion of fans, tour the world, collaborate with superstars like Kanye West, start a side project and put out another well received EP.

With this in mind it’s fair to say that the last three years of Vernon’s professional life has been a resounding success, so I have one question, why does he still sound so fucking miserable? Why do all the song’s on his second album, Bon Iver still sound like he’s ready to drink himself to death on whisky? The answer I’ve come to is, I don’t know, and to be quite frank I don’t care. I don’t care that some of the romanticism of his music has been lost because he didn’t record it on vintage music equipment in a cabin that was so basic, he had to risk frostbite by taking bare cheeked craps in the snow. All I care about is how his new music sounds and on his new album, the self titled Bon Iver, he has made exceptional use of a full studio to create a record which is sonically superior to his debut. This is exemplified on the elegant choral pop of ‘Calgary’ which exhibits the misty eyed synths and deft pacing that makes the entire record such a joy. Despite this newly rendered production, it’s Vernon’s voice that still remains his most affecting instrument. Throughout Vernon sings like he’s rubbing his eye’s in wonder and disbelief at the praise that has come his way since emerging from the dark solitude of his cabin. A disbelief that’s washed away in a haze of synths and horns on album closer ‘Beth/Rest,’ as it dawns on Vernon that he’s talented enough to deserve it.

MP3 - Calgary

Throughout my month of procrastination, one record that never once slipped from the reckoning for the top spot, was Pete & The Pirates One Thousand Pictures. A record that took over 3 years to make, where you can hear how every month, day, hour and second has been spent in crafting the best album to grace the record stores this year.

Their debut album Little Death was an indie pop gem that has some of the catchiest songs you’re ever likely to hear. Tracks like ‘Come On Feet’ and ‘Mr Understanding’ are danceable, feel good, crowd pleasing treats. On One Thousand Pictures they've trumped that album entirely and created an enthralling set of songs that are menacingly sinister, yet wonderfully playful, which have greater sophistication of sound, composition and songwriting. After just one listen you’ll involuntarily sing along to the warped melodies and phasing guitars of ‘Come To The Bar,' or to the angular rhythms of ‘United’ and after extended listening you'll realise that the tracks which make up this very british sounding album, are something much more than throwaway indie pop.

The truly impressive thing about the record is how distinct it sounds within such a populist genre. There aren’t many (if any) bands or acts that can vocally harmonize as well as Thomas Sanders and Pete Hefferan, even fewer that know how to write the sort of melodies and choruses that make the best use of this talent. By focusing and improving the qualities that made them stand out in the first place, they've become even more distinct. Which is a rare commodity in an industry that seems hellbent on throwing up so much faceless sounding bile.

They should be applauded for their steadfast insistence that the record would only come out when they were 100% happy with it. Too many bands think short term when it comes to their musical output, rushing to release a second album to the ruin of their own reputation. It was something that Pete & the Pirates weren't prepared to do. The result of their self imposed standards of quality has produced a record that reveals more of itself with each listen and is the only record worthy of being described as ‘great’ this year.