Tag: album review

Record review: Tom Grennan ‘Lighting Matches’

TOM GRENNAN Lighting Matches [Insanity/Sony] There’s something very endearing about the rise and rise of Tom Grennan. Firstly, five years ago he didn’t even play an instrument. Or consider himself…

TOM GRENNAN
Lighting Matches [Insanity/Sony]

There’s something very endearing about the rise and rise of Tom Grennan. Firstly, five years ago he didn’t even play an instrument. Or consider himself much of a singer. And like Richard Ashcroft before him he had a talent for football which almost took him on a different path. But then fate – and Chase & Status – intervened and boom; everyone wanted a piece of him. Confidence grew and he now carries that party-time swagger that thankfully is backed up with the talent.

The Bedford native has a rasping bluesmen voice that defines him as an artist. Musically he has a few different facades, largely reflecting who we works with on each song. Overall you’d probably categorise him as a sort of widescreen indie pop machine. His aim seems effortless and accomplished with a definitive joie de vivre. He’s the Harry Kane of pop! Not that the story of this album is purely one of joy. It’s triumph over adversity, as his words reflect a distressed young soul finding his way in a frightening big world. And who doesn’t relate to that? “I was made out of nothing, you were made out of gold” is one telling phrase on the ballad ‘Lucky Ones’.

Adam Gammage, Danny Connors and Tom Grennan on stage at Bedford Esquires

The album holds great interest for anyone connected to Northampton, as it contains the talents of two local luminaries. Danny Connors plays guitar, provides vocals and co-wrote recent single ‘Barbed Wire’, whilst Adam Gammage plays drums and percussion. They both tour with him too. It’s a terrific match-up, their chemistry clear to anyone from any of their recent live performances. In Fraser T Smith and Dan Grech he’s gone with producers who has crafted humongous hits for Adele, Stormzy, Plan B, Liam Gallagher and Tom Odell [to name just five]. The music is probably closer to a Blossoms though in structure – keeping it pop by focusing on a simple guitar or horn riff, and letting Grennan’s delivery take centre stage.

Almost everywhere you look here you will find gold. Opener ‘Found Out What I’ve Been Looking For’ is a bouncy anthem that will set the festivals alight this summer. ‘Royal Highness’, with its syncopated rhythms and inherent grit, repeats the Ibiza-soul trick that John Newman had going on fairly recently. ‘Barbed Wire’ displays a similar motif, making that retro-soul, horn-inflected sound comeback into the mainstream, just when it had seemed its time had passed. It should come with a warning: this song is likely to cause an outbreak of grinning and kitchen singalongs.

‘Aboard’ has a real maturity to it, Grennan promising not to “fuck around no more”. The band certainly don’t mess about with a tight arrangement that carries enough light and shade drama to make you think he’s a shoe-in for a  future Bond theme. The title track is another catchy yet bravely honest homage to his determination to strive for a better life. If it’s not the next single then heads need to roll somewhere – it will win over a million hearts from the first playback. ‘Sober’ is a touch Hollywood with it’s string parts darting everywhere, but still works out lovely as Grennan’s charm is undeniable. ‘Something in the Water’ was his debut release and reflects his initial soul balladry background. He’s outgrown that format now, but this number still contains the magnetism which bought the world to him.

Lighting Matches is not 100% fireproof though, which is no major surprise for an album that runs to a value-for-money 56 minutes. ‘Run In The Rain’ is Adele-saccharine cliche, ‘Lucky Ones’ can’t decide what it wants to achieve as it plods along alchemy-free [like late-period Oasis], and ‘I Might’ is singer-songwriter mundanity that he should have left on the cutting room floor. There’s always a worry that this collaborative creation-through-committee approach, so prevalent in modern music, might stifle the flow, but Grennan holds it all together even during the weaker moments. And even after all the dancefloor anthems the album puts forth he can leave you emotionally floored at the end, via his X-Factor-style offering ‘Sweet Hallelujah’.

It’s sixteen tracks feel like drinking stops on a big night out. They’ll be exultation and laughter, they’ll be a disagreement or two along the way, moments to think about packing it in. Then they’ll be redemption and hugs at the end. New Boots’ message to Tom is simple: nice one son, the next round is on us.

Words Phil Istine, photos David Jackson

Tom Grennan signing copies of his debut album at Bedford Esquires

 

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Record Review: Venus Fly Trap ‘Icon’

VENUS FLY TRAP Icon [Glass Modern] Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as…

VENUS FLY TRAP
Icon [Glass Modern]

Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as a trio from the ashes of their other projects by Novak brothers Alex and John, they rose phoenix-like to be a central part of the local scene of the late-80s [and you can read all about those early days in the latest, fourth, instalment of the Have Guitars…Will Travel book series]. Fifteen or so ex-members later and the last three albums have been the work of core duo Alex Novak and Andy Denton. Indeed Icon completes their trilogy that began with Zenith in 2004 and continued with Nemesis in 2011.

This record is probably the strongest of the trio, taking all the ideas explored so far and crystallising them into short, sharp, energised songs. If you are unfamiliar with the music, then imagine a PiL-like band playing Taffey Lewis’ bar in the original Blade Runner film. A sound rooted in the dark wave/electronica sounds that emerged post post-punk, but one that isn’t confined only to that world. Dystopian sci-fi rock from Northampton means everything from Bauhaus to The Cramps, The Stooges to Sisters of Mercy. The VFT sound is instantly recognisable, but never falls into the trap of being too repetitive. Indeed, after the scene-setting instrumental title track that pulses with film dialogue, each of the remaining eight tracks could be pulled off the album and released as a single. The one track that already has been, ‘Vitesse’ [see below], is pure Blitz kids synth-pop with a memorable hook placed above the motorik underbelly, whilst Novak mixes up his automobile and love interest metaphors to great effect.

The love theme continues on the crunchy ‘Voodoo Voodoo’ and the cinematic ‘Flashback’, both which revel in the VFT interest in the psychedelic. The characters within this pair reveal themselves more and more on each playback, as you catch new parts of the story. The middle of the album is dominated by the slightly epic ‘Deadly Nightshade’, which warms of the dangers in human relationships, where you can find “instant karma in the perfumed garden”. The track is the most sonically pleasing on Icon, as it transforms from beatific to angry and back again continually on its six minute journey.

‘Return of the Sidewinder’ kicks off a trio of culturally-referencing tunes. This song, named after a 1968 TV episode, gives nods to fellow Midlands heavyweights: Bauhaus in the lyrics, and The Specials in the ‘Ghost Town’-esque musical pallete of smokey dub reggae. ‘The Genesis Of The Daleks’, meanwhile, was a 1975 Dr Who series, and the Delia Derbyshire-indebted opening gives way to post-punk guitars and throbbing synth patterns. The song is surely a love letter to those childhoods that were both scarred and enlivened by existential television dramas.

‘Puppet’ seems to take the lead from ’50s pulp fiction from Philip K. Dick, but this time taking the music in another direction into dream pop. It’s a tender lullaby – well it would be if the intonation of Novak [“you’re just my puppet”] wasn’t quite so unsettling. Icon finishes with ‘In The Moonlight’: a Paisley Underground-style acid-folk slow waltz with a Hammond organ dominating the canvas, and some superb background harmonies that drifts us ever farther away from the darkwave idea from whence they came. It’s a fitting ending to a formidable album that, if it is to be their swansong, sees them very much go out on a high.

Phil Istine

Icon is out June 29th via Glass Modern

*Interview with frontman Alex Novak*
NB: You’ve said this is the last studio album.
AN: Probably; more than likely. Never say never. It’s just the length of time it takes to write and mix tracks seems to take longer each time. Does the world need another VFT album? We will see…

There’s quite a bit of diversity going on here; musical references to reggae and dream pop, for example.
We never set out to write in one particular style, just see what comes out of various ideas, see where it takes us. Our inspiration comes from many points of reference.

That’s always been a VFT strength – you always look beyond the “dark wave” tag.
VFT certainly has a dark psyche at the core, but we like to layer it or dress up with different costumes. We tap into many influences.

Keeping one band going for over three decades without a break is remarkable. What’s your secret – sheer, bloody-minded drive?
Its had more twists and turns than a rattlesnake, shedding many skins over the years. Change keeps it fresh. We are the Doctor Who of music – transforming a constant metamorphosis.

‘Icon’ is out via Glass – a label who you have history with, via your old band Religious Overdose.
Full circle – my very first release was on Glass. There’s a symmetry to it all. I like Dave Barker the label boss, and the band’s he has released over the years. It feels like home for us.

Will you continue the band as a live concern in future years?
We will see what reaction this album gets, and take it from there…

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Stevie Jones & The Wildfires ‘Angels and Sirens’

STEVIE JONES & THE WILDFIRES Angels and Sirens Stevie Jones & the Wildfires are a rock group from Northampton. They released their first album in 2016, Stratigraphic Heart, and this…

STEVIE JONES & THE WILDFIRES
Angels and Sirens

Stevie Jones & the Wildfires are a rock group from Northampton. They released their first album in 2016, Stratigraphic Heart, and this is the follow-up. Composed of thirteen songs, most written by Jones, with a couple of covers by other songwriters [George Borowski, and Ian Babington]. The band consists of Stevie Jones (guitar/vocals), Vassilis Damitriadis (guitar), Jake Patrick (drums), and Bob Dabrowski (bass), with guest Autumn Dawn Leader often appearing on piano and vocals. LA guitarist Janet Robin (String Revolution, Lindsay Buckingham Band) and top Leicester harp player Sean Clutterham also provide guest appearances.

The opening title track starts off slow and steady, before speeding up the pace as the song progresses. It’s a song that makes you want to sing/dance along, with a catchy chorus. Along with the lyrics that seem to be about lost love, this song has great fire and passion behind it. It’s slightly reminiscent of Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, with an old-school English rock vibe. The following song ‘Neon Underground’ uses some unusual instruments in the beginning, giving it a Western feel with its use of harmonica. It has some awesome guitar solos. Near the end of the song the instruments drop out which showcases the vocals rawness before the music returns to finish the song.

‘Whitewash’ is very interesting as it uses clips from news and adverts to begin the song. The lyrics talk about what the TV presents to you – Royal babies, celebrities, etc – instead of broadcasting any of the real things happening in the world. The lyrics “They kept us in the dark for too long now” is an obvious reference to what the media shows us. The song ends with police sirens and chaos. This track it a very down to earth, with a clear message.

‘The Garden Path’ meanwhile has a peaceful and tranquil feel and is out of step with the general tone of the album; however it’s a welcome attribute to the album, giving it variety. Again, this song seems to be about love, and love lost. This song still maintains the rawness of rock, but keeps a calmer vibe through the musical accompaniment and backing vocals.

‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ brings back the rocky fast-paced feel to this album. It brings to mind a rock/swing mash up, the lyric content talks about how the writer will never fall in love again, seemingly after a relationship breakdown. It’s a really emotional song if you listen closely to the lyrics, though this could be overlooked with the upbeat tempo and happy-sounding vocals.

This album contains a reoccurring theme of love lost and heart break. It also incorporates a Western and acoustic feel into the rock, which gives the overall album a good mix and something everyone would enjoy. It is really impressive they have used their platform to talk about something like ‘Whitewash’. The album takes a more peaceful and mellow approach in songs like ‘The Garden Path’ and ‘Polly Anna & Me’. Recommended.

Katie Montford

Angels and Sirens is out Friday March 2nd, order here

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Midnight Brewers ‘Midnight Melody Highway’ album review

MIDNIGHT BREWERS Midnight Melody Highway Midnight Brewers are a Northants-based duo, consisting of Hamish MacNamara and Ross Snaith, who write and record music from their bedroom studios. Last year they…

MIDNIGHT BREWERS
Midnight Melody Highway

Midnight Brewers are a Northants-based duo, consisting of Hamish MacNamara and Ross Snaith, who write and record music from their bedroom studios. Last year they released two EPs and their debut album. So far in 2018 their single ‘Midnight Melody Highway’ has been played on radio stations, including BBC Radio Northampton. They describe themselves as a mix of genres, though there is a definite alternative influence to their grooves.

Title track ‘Midnight Melody Highway’ is an instrumental song you could certainly relax to, starting with a steady drum beat then kicking into action. Halfway through the song takes a major turn to reveal something quite action-filled; the instrumentation changes to a heavier feel, ending the song with a fade out of an arpeggio riff.

Elsewhere ‘Doctor’ starts off gradually with an upbeat tone, slowly adding more instruments as the song progresses. The tone changes part way through the song, giving it more of a pop influence. The song cleverly uses sound effects to transition into the second part of the song. The lyrics have a clear meaning, which revolves around the idea of a patient relying on a doctor. This could be related to the suggested doctor theme, or could relate to love/matters of the heart, or even drug use. After the lyrics drop out the song seems to take influence from rock using a guitar solo, before ending abruptly. Overall this album has a feel-good, relaxing vibe. Check it out if you like pop-rock with progressive ideas.

Katie Montford

Midnight Melody Highway is out now to download/stream

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