Tag: album review

Album review; Ashborn

ASHBORN Awakening [self-released] A band of four Polish émigrés now residing in Northampton, Ashborn have achieved much in their two year history. Highlights include winning Metal 2 The Masses which…

ASHBORN
Awakening [self-released]

A band of four Polish émigrés now residing in Northampton, Ashborn have achieved much in their two year history. Highlights include winning Metal 2 The Masses which culminated in an appearance at 2018s Blooodstock Open Air, and performing at Northampton’s own HopFest. What they’ve achieved in under 24 months shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider that band members have appeared in metal heavyweights Ghost, Grin and also DieRevers. It’s a pedigree Ashborn have brought to their debut album and ensures that Awakening is a full-on, no holds barred, metal assault.

Opening with ‘Mute’, an almost ambient piano introduction that’s textured with shades of Bach and Mozart, it’s an instrumental of ethereal beauty, poetry without words, that lulls the listener into a false sense of security. In an intelligent use of light and shade ‘Mute’ contrasts with the next track ‘Monsters’ that tumbles over the listener like a landslide. Ashborn race out the blocks with pedal pressed firmly to the metal, as drummer Marcin K fires his drums with piston-like precision and vocalist Marcin D delivers his words with a mixture of the clean and guttural. A riff-heavy affair ‘Monsters’ is akin to a five minute musical pummelling, with little respite. Again the use of sonic dynamics is put to good use on ‘Crushed Ant’, a track which bassist Peter bookends with two solos which makes the contuse music sandwiched between even more weighty. It’s a punchy song that’s given a modern hardcore feel by the lack of guitar noodling.

To record Awakening the band spent two weeks holed up at Initiate Audio and Media with Neil Hudson at the helm, and his expansive production finds the band attacking the listener from all angles. On ‘If The Walls Could Speak’ the guitars fire from different speakers creating the feeling of being under fire. Like Pantera at their most brutal it’s a song that seems to breathe as the guitar ululates in a groove metal way. The aptly titled ‘Light That Creates Darkness’ was the albums lead single. Lyrically it details the subject of nuclear Armageddon, and it’s a theme that’s mirrored in the music as the riffs erupt like mushroom clouds then fan out like radiation – the soundtrack to global apocalypse.

The album is kept interesting by tempo changes which pepper the record and also by changes of pace, most notably on the mean and moody ‘Awakening From The Death’. Like an anchor tied to a drowning man it swirls around a whirlpool while the song is punctuated with haunting interludes. The artillery barrage ‘This Is Slowly Killing Us’ picks up the pace again, and shells the listener for five minutes and with an air guitar inciting solo curtailing the song it’s all very whiplash inducing. This warlike theme continues on closer ‘We Are Going To Die’. A musical maelstrom in which drums fire relentlessly, guitars squeal as if shocked by electricity and tortured vocals float atop. It fairly races along and musically captures that brief moment in time just before a head-on car crash when there’s no chance of aversion.

Two bonus tracks appear on the end of the album and in truth they wouldn’t be out of place if they were shoehorned in anywhere on Awakening. Both of these songs appeared on the bands Demo CD with ‘Every Word’ being a more measured affair and has a metalcore feel very much in the vein of Hatebreed and Merauder. With Mietek’s guitar ringing like sirens ‘When Darkness Comes’ brings the disc to a suitably cataclysmic conclusion.

As a genre metal is much maligned and often overlooked. However along with Krysthla’s Worldwide Negative Ashborn’s debut album proves the subculture is alive and kicking and in Awakening [alongside Worldwide Negative] I’d argue they’ve not only produced one of this year’s best metal records unleashed in ShoeTown but one of the county’s best albums released this year regardless of category.

Peter Dennis

Awakening is out this Friday. Order here

Cover photo by Artur Tarczewski

 

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Album review: Nina Harries

NINA HARRIES Nina Harries [self-released] If you have not already had the good fortune to be acquainted with Nina Harries, let New Boots introduce you. Nina is a British double…

NINA HARRIES
Nina Harries [self-released]

If you have not already had the good fortune to be acquainted with Nina Harries, let New Boots introduce you. Nina is a British double bassist and vocalist hailing from Northampton. She comes from a family of musicians, she trained in western classical music for four years at the Royal College of Music under double bass professor Enno Senft of the London Sinfonietta. In the last two years of her degree at the RCM she began to work as a soloist and band bassist for several acts from the London band scene, namely The Burning Glass, John Fairhurst Trio, Barbarella’s Bang Bang, Symphonica Feat DJ Switch and the London Electronic Orchestra.

At this point Nina also began to discover a love for solo performance, and began to experiment with performing a mix of original and cover songs using only double bass and voice. She fits nicely under the ‘dark folk’ genre, but also brings with her some flavours of rock, trip-hop and EDM. She has a fantastic range – massive respect for hitting those real low notes – and her vocals appear different on every track, whilst still managing to maintain her own ‘Nina style’.

Each perfectly-formed song on Nina Harries has new, fresh influences, when compared to the previous track. You can never be sure where she will go next. The album was recorded with producer and engineer Peter Miles at his studio Middle Farm Studios in Devon, and has an overall feel of the later albums by Nico or more modern styles like music by This Is The Kit.

The album starts with a slow build and absorbs you in with ‘Heavy Doubt’, which does what it says on the tin, perfectly reflecting the feeling of doubt in the mind, but even if this is not your thing do not rest here. There are two stand-out tracks on the album, and the second track ‘Lose Yourself’ is definitely one of them. With its faster-paced rhythm and the way she bends the opening notes on the bass is reminiscent of Mick Karn from Japan. Accompanied with Nina rapping in unison, she is absolutely nailing the experience of being a woman in a male dominated musical genre. It is an immediate ‘add to play list’ moment.

Track three ‘Icarus’ has an eastern vibe and once again has a slow build; at 8 minutes 34 seconds it is the longest track on the album, but is well worth the investment of time. At this point in the album she could have gone anywhere, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint. This track captivated me, in the same way The Doors captivated me with The End. It is truly mesmerising, sit back, relax and enjoy. ‘Will; I’m Not’ is a collaboration with the album producer Peter Miles, and sticking to the view that the bass and vocals can do anything and go anywhere, Nina moves into the zone of EDM dance music. Re-enforcing the fact that she has the skills to do what ever she wants, in whatever genre she sees fit.

On ‘O’Lothsome Day’ and ‘Pendle Hill’ her vocals have a slight ASMR quality as the album moves back to her dark folk and gothic rock roots. The second stand-out track is ‘One Hard Task’, an alternative rock track which hooks you in immediately and sounds so perfectly formed. Along with ‘Lose Yourself’ they are the “check out Nina Harries” songs from this album. The final track ‘Int;;Ext;;Int;;Ext;; / Butterfly’ is a beautiful conclusion to the album moving back to the EDM-style and includes the piano, bass and of course the superb ethereal vocals of Nina.

I think it is fair to say that you cannot and should not underestimate this lady, you cannot take her for granted. This album will move you through a rainbow of sounds and is deeply captivating. But just like the butterfly, do not attempt to try to pin her down: she will sit with you, but she cannot be boxed. She is on a mission to explore all the realms available to her musical craft, and to create new ones. She is certainly one to pay attention to.

Lisa Eversden

Nina Harries is out September 13th [order vinyl and CD here]. The album launch show is the same day at Hoxton Hall.

https://www.ninaharries.com

[cover photo by Joe Brown]

 

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Album review: Krysthla

KRYSTHLA Worldwide Negative [PHD] Formed in 2013 Wellingborough’s Krysthla have been carving out their own niche in the realm of extreme metal. Their first album A War of Souls dropped…

KRYSTHLA
Worldwide Negative [PHD]

Formed in 2013 Wellingborough’s Krysthla have been carving out their own niche in the realm of extreme metal. Their first album A War of Souls dropped in 2015 and was followed in 2017 by the critically acclaimed Peace in Our Time. Their third full length Worldwide Negative comes hot on the heels of a triumphant main stage appearance at this years Bloodstock Open Air festival, and this record is the sound of a band confidently reaching maturity and standing on the verge of world domination.

By way of an introduction opening salvo ‘Negative’ is the perfect calling card. Beginning with a brief, cascading guitar motif that gently reels in the listener, it creates a moment of serenity that means when Krysthla arrive as a band they hit with the force of a hurricane: a blast beat that’s overlaid with a tortured scream breaks the still, and heralds a musical maelstrom. The guitar motif recurs throughout as Liam Turland’s powerhouse drumming dictates the pace and gives proceedings a groove metal feel as the group constantly shift gears and effortlessly switch tempos. The incendury ‘Negative’ would make a great set opener for Krysthla’s live show, and it seems destined to ignite mosh pits wherever they play. Next track ‘Reawaken’ is bookended between two punishing riffs, and the mid section evidences an intelligent use of light and shade as clean vocals juxtapose the more guttural – while the intricate guitar lines highlight the hammer blow riffs.

‘Grief is New Love’ has a real industrial, surgical feel, kinda like Fear Factory on amphetamine, the drums fire like pistons while the guitars capture the cold, brittle atmospherics of black metal. Next cut, and lead single, ‘Zero Sum Game’ continues in a similar vein, relentless without being repetitious. Krysthla have a modus operandi similar to Killing Joke, but whereas the Joke use the same riff as a battering ram Krysthla have more in their arsenal and attack your senses from different angles. Guitarist Neil Hudson also produced Worldwide Negative and his wizardry unobtrusively brings different instrumentation to the fore at various junctures, and subtly repositions the listeners perspective. Despite the band drawing on different strands of extreme metal this album has a unified feel. That’s partly due to the production, but primarily it’s the introspective lyrics that deal with alienation and the impact of our actions on ourselves and the planet. Linking all the songs thematically gives Worldwide Negative the feel of a concept album, and ensures it hangs together as a cohesive whole.

‘White Castles’ is like facing an artillery barrage as vocalist Adi Mayes tackles his lyrics with hardcore fury and sings with indignation. However the band aren’t all about pure bludgeon, as some nice guitar work provides brief respite; the band lulling us into a false sense of security before we’re attacked sonically once more. On ‘Psalm of Heartlessness’ the band have created a song that simply sounds huge and towers over the listener – threatening with a monolithic enormity. Penultimate track ‘Aurea Mediocritas’ swirls in a musical tempest with sinister guitar flourishes that suggests we’ve arrived at a dystopian future. Befitting of an album closer ‘The Gift’ is truly epic and neatly pulls all the bands influences together. It begins by thrashing like Metallica’s ‘Battery’, before undergoing a transmogrification and then sinking like Immortal’s ‘Beyond the North Waves’ which ensures the album ends of a rather ominous tone.

Artists often speak of the ‘difficult third album’ but obviously Krysthla haven’t had that problem. By refining their sound and playing to their strengths they’ve produced an album in Worldwide Negative that could propel them into metals top tier.

Peter Dennis

Worldwide Negative is out on Friday. Pre-order here

Feature Photo credit: Amplified Gig Photography

 
 
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Album review: Empyre

EMPYRE Self Aware [self-released] The opening track ‘My Bad’ sets out the template for the debut by this Northampton quartet and their wrought, minor-chord melodrama of a debut album. Solid…

EMPYRE
Self Aware [self-released]

The opening track ‘My Bad’ sets out the template for the debut by this Northampton quartet and their wrought, minor-chord melodrama of a debut album. Solid and thick rhythms; crunchy blues-metal riffs, intense-yet-introspective lyrics sung by front-man Henrik Steenholdt. Self Aware is not something that’s ever going to wash over you in the background.

Taking their cues from the likes of Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots, with occasional forays into Muse-like bombast, Self Aware is a thrilling and atmospheric ride to be on. Recent single New ‘Republic’ is the first heads-down rocker to come along, cruising confidently on those Soundgarden-style verses and Metallica vocal workouts. 

A band that’s no stranger to accomplished and almost progressive songwriting ideas, they aren’t afraid to be bold when they need to, as ‘Just A Ride’ with it’s gentle feedback passages, ably demonstrates. But then ‘Too Close’ shows they are able to be just as melodic as any classic band you care to name. Steenholdt’s wail on the latter is something to truly behold too, holding long notes with aplomb.  

‘Drive’ perhaps sees them coming too close to aping their heroes, not offering the originality that’s clearly evident elsewhere on the album.  It’s the mid album dip I guess; same applies to ‘Only Way Out’. ‘Cut To The Core’ though has a touch of the pop-punk in its rhythm, and it suits them well. The previous single, the catchy and hard-hitting ‘Too Little Too Late’, is the one to ease yourself into their world; the drums cut hard, as do the lyrics. By the time the finale, the atmospheric and epic grunge workout ‘Homegrown’, finishes you do feel emotionally exhausted, but in the best way possible.

A hard-working band, the general buzz around Empyre is there for good reason. They come alive in the gig environment, and they’ve done a great job of getting that energy in the studio across these eleven tracks, whilst still adding enough texture to warrant repeat plays. If you like your hard rock with some proggy bites then Self Aware really should be happy nestling in your collection very soon.

Phil Moore

Self Aware is out now

 

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Album review: Siderian

SIDERIAN Origins [self-released] After a lengthy hiatus [time spent writing this album], Northampton’s premier thrashers Siderian return with their eponymous debut album, and it was certainly worth the wait. Recorded…

SIDERIAN
Origins [self-released]

After a lengthy hiatus [time spent writing this album], Northampton’s premier thrashers Siderian return with their eponymous debut album, and it was certainly worth the wait. Recorded at Initiate Audio and Media Studios with renowned producer Neil Hudson at the helm Siderian have created a ferocious album that seems certain to catapult them into the consciousness of every self-respecting metalhead.

Wasting little time on pleasantries opening salvo ‘Geneva’ arrives like an irradiated warhead and proceeds to pummel the listener for four frenetic minutes. As a calling card it’s the perfect introduction to Siderian, and contains all the bands essential ingredients: from the neat time changes to the blistering guitar solos to the groove metal bludgeon, which are all wrapped up in a musical maelstrom that threatens to sweep the listener away. That groove feel is most evident on next cut ‘With the Tide’. Taking their foot off the pedal ever so slightly, it finds guitarists James Upton and James Evans firing off each other atop some amazing drumming and it’s a track that’s sure to ignite mosh pits.

With scything guitars ‘The Supplicant’ pushes thrash to the extremities and while some of that genre can be a bit goofy (think Anthrax or Gama Bomb) Siderian are operating at the darker end of the spectrum. In ‘The Supplicant’ they’ve created the soundtrack to a global apocalypse which evokes blood red and flame yellow hues. The centrepiece of the album, ‘Voices’ contains an ambient mid-section, and it’s an impressive employment of light and shade. The acoustic flourishes act as a foil meaning when the riff comes crashing in it crashes in hard and it’s further evidence of the band maturing. It’s taken almost three years since the bands inception to arrive at this album, but the timing is perfect as I doubt they would have made such a brave decision earlier in their career.

One of two tracks re-recorded for Origins, ‘Lizard Method Madness’ was the bands first single and the brutal new bridge developed on this version shows the band honing their writing skills. It’s here that the rhythm section [bassist Chris Cox and drummer John Booth] come into their own in providing a solid foundation for Dave Pope’s vocals. Ranging from guttural growls to black metal shrieks Dave weaves his vocal lines around the instrumentation which gives a nice rich texture to proceedings. Album closer ‘Oleum’ doesn’t let up the intensity, with each drum beat delivered like a well aimed punch and ensures things end as frantically as they began.

Although you can dip in and out of Origins it’s also the kind of record that’ll reward a complete listen. The intensity and aggression displayed throughout ensure it hangs together as a cohesive whole while the clear production, by putting all the instruments on an even keel, provides a unified listening experience. Armed with this excellent debut and some big gigs penned in [including dates with thrash heavyweights Vader] 2019 could prove to be Siderian’s year.

Peter Dennis

Origins is out this Friday, order here

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Album review: Maps

MAPS Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss [Mute] James Chapman, aka Maps, is an East Northamptonshire songwriter, producer and remixer. He started his electronic shoegaze efforts back in 2004, and he was picked up by…

MAPS
Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss
[Mute]

James Chapman, aka Maps, is an East Northamptonshire songwriter, producer and remixer. He started his electronic shoegaze efforts back in 2004, and he was picked up by Mute Records. His 2007 debut album We Can Create was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. These basic facts are worth restating, as one suspects that most folk under 30 in Northants would probably not be au fait with his output. Which is understandable: he’s an outskirts type of guy after all, not a fame-hungry media whore.

Now on to his fourth album, Chapman has substantially rethought his usual working process [i.e. sitting in his bedroom, endlessly tinkering] and brought in a whole range of outside players, most notably Berlin’s Echo Collective, to help with strings and things. A more collaborative approach has bought its just rewards, as this is easily his most engaging work since that leftfield debut that took the Earls Barton boy on a quite remarkable journey around the world.

The album immediately brings to mind fellow Midlanders Spiritualized, mixing the ethereal psychedelic rushes he’s always conjured from his synths and guitars, but adding the warmth of brass and a drummer [Matt Kelly] who’s loud enough in the mix to push everything eternally onwards in propulsion. The sound is a natural progression of the previous album’s approach – it’s still unmistakably Maps, right from the breathless vocals of ‘Surveil’ that kicks things off. Maps has always been about miniature symphonic pop songs, but experimenting with the form. The songs are more suites, and Chapman rarely goes for the jugular. However ‘Both Sides’ here has enough accessibility to actually be a radio hit. ‘Howl Around’ is the sound of an animal trying to escape a cage, elegantly. ‘Wildfire’ captures a very specific emotional state that is both simultaneously euphoric and melancholic. You might need a lie down after hearing it.

Such heightened themes continue throughout, and unlike most modern albums there’s no flagging towards the end. ‘Just Reflecting’ is as huge as the buildings in the accompanying video [see below]. ‘She Sang To Me’ shows he can be more serene, sedate; bucolic even. Wait for the closing ‘You Exist In Everything’: with it’s sci-fi other-worldliness it could be the soundtrack to a peculiarly English documentary film on BBC Four. Certainly it’s splendour deserves quadraphonic speakers, not tinny smartphone devices.

Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss is as bold, grand, and wholly sparkling with ideas as you could hope for. It’s great to have him back.

Phil Moore

 

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Album review: Wishing Wolf

WISHING WOLF Violet Fire [self-released] I really enjoyed Wishing Wolf’s self-titled debut album [from 2016], so I was a little worried when their new effort landed in my hands. As…

WISHING WOLF
Violet Fire
[self-released]

I really enjoyed Wishing Wolf’s self-titled debut album [from 2016], so I was a little worried when their new effort landed in my hands. As in such cases I wondered if their new effort would live up to the expectations raised by its predecessor. No fear, because their sophomore long player Violet Fire hasn’t tinkered with the bands formula too much, but it’s immediately obvious Wishing Wolf have matured as both musicians and songwriters. The riffs and lyrics that echo throughout ensures their latest opus hangs together as a cohesive whole.

Cascading guitars are a motif that recur throughout Violet Fire and here, on the quiet storm that is album opener ‘Endless’, they frame an apologetic, beseeching telephone message. The vulnerability of the words spoken create a rather ominous tone and provides a nice foil for next track ‘Stardust’. In complete juxtaposition it fairly races out of the blocks with pedal firmly to the floor. However Wishing Wolf are a band who employ a lot of light and shade, even on a track like ‘Stardust’ there are brief, almost ambient, interludes which only serve to make the faster passages more frenetic.

Drawing influence from artists like My Chemical Romance and The Used there’s, perhaps understandably, a definite American flavour to Violet Fire, but it’s more in homage than any nefarious copycatting. ‘White Rose’ is permeated with intricate guitar lines which intertwine with six stringers Ben and Kyle firing off each other. Evidently the band have spent a lot of time on achieving just the right tone for their instruments and this is complemented by vocalist Danny who, with a nod to his Stateside influences, uses his larynx like an instrument, rising in octaves at will to complement the dissonant melodies of the guitarists. This is most notable on next cut ‘Closer’, as ethereal guitars swirl, with the vocals delivered somewhere between the defiant and self-effacing. But the dynamics are again evident in the conflict of soft and loud passages.

It’s definitely an album of two halves; perceptive listeners will note a change from ‘The Last Time I walked You Home’ onwards, as the high octane fuel that powered the early cuts is supplemented by something more emotive. Sure the majestic title track contains a chugging riff but it’s tempered by a reflective tone that dominates the second half of the album. Not only is there a shift musically but also in the confessional lyrics of ‘Only Nightmares’, a truly epic track that finds the band flexing their musical chops over seven minutes. Bringing things full circle is final cut ‘Black Beauty’, which connects with the phone message of opener ‘Endless’ but lyrically ‘Black Beauty’ counterpoints the “white ghost” mentioned in ‘Only Nightmares’. It’s these dots that join throughout which makes Violet Fire such a rewarding listen on each subsequent spin.

Wishing Wolf are the kind of band with a mélange of influences as nu metal and punk elements rub shoulders with indie rock intention that owes much to the current mid-90s-emo revival. While these disparate prepossessions could leave Wishing Wolf in a kind of musical limbo what holds Violet Fire together is a strong song (and dare I say pop) sensibility that underpins the album. Even at their most sombre the songs contained herein are real earworms that’ll haunt you for days. In the genre of alternative rock that’s a rarity, and something worth celebrating.

Peter Dennis

Violet Fire is out May 29th; order below via Bandcamp

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Album review: slowthai ‘Nothing Great About Britain’

slowthai Nothing Great About Britain [Method Music/True Panther Sounds] What do you say about slowthai now he’s gone international? He might have ‘NN’ tattooed on a finger, but more importantly…

slowthai
Nothing Great About Britain
[Method Music/True Panther Sounds]

What do you say about slowthai now he’s gone international? He might have ‘NN’ tattooed on a finger, but more importantly it’s splat across every part of his debut album. The self-confessed former drug dealer knew he had to change his world, and music was his salvation. The boy in the corner – of Spring Boroughs, of Lings, of Abington – is now centre stage, catapulted into our ears and our hearts over the past year or so, with a slow drip feed of streaming singles that finally went nuclear once ‘Doorman’ gave him the sort of radio hit that can’t be ignored. His punky guileful sneer at “Great Britain” in this strangulated Brexit landscape is some great timing. The press all want a piece of him: his counter-culture quotes, his tattooed torso and his maniacal smile are all right for 2019.

“Nothing great about Britain/Tea ‘n’ biscuits/Mash, jellied eels and a couple little trinkets”

The opening salvo, the title track, pulls no punches. The video spoofs the mythology of Excalibur, and sees him – gloriously, ludicrously – knighting kids in King’s Heath. Mocking British things like royalty is a very slowthai trait; a great bit of hip-hop détournement to make you question what role things and people play in modern society. And those vivid, HBO-drama, minor chord synth stabs that precede the skittering beats is slowthai’s sound in a nutshell. Mostly recorded with producer Kwes Darko in East London, his Eski grime/00s UK rap style is brought up to date with his own particular delivery that continually fluctuates between mumbling and threatening. His flow often goes out of time intentionally for dramatic purpose, making you focus harder.

The Mura Masa-produced ‘Doorman’ is the one most will have already heard. It’s banging electronic punk attitude lights up a room when on full tilt, and brings to mind The Prodigy and The Streets as much as the grime scene. It’s spoken-word samples about glue-sniffers that begin and end the track is funny rather than cautionary, though his rhymes are more about the culture clash between the rarified west London world he now travels in rubbing up against his NN persona.

“I run my town/But I’m nothing like Boris/Tyron for PM”

‘Dead Leaves’ is pure bravado, a twitchy club bassline over tales of night-time hedonism being an everyday occurrence that doesn’t require a nightclub. ‘Gorgeous’ is a musically-dense number, another semi-autobiographical tale of running around as kids and getting up to the usual nonsense, and looking back with fondness. He quotes all those ShoeTown places that sound somehow elevated with his delivery: Southfields, Toby Fields, Blackthorn, Moulton, Spring Boroughs. Franky it’s all a bit surreal to know people in Mexico City or Los Angeles will be hearing these reference points.

‘Crack’ has an American low-slung gangsta rap/slow R&B feel, and it doesn’t really suit him. It doesn’t even sound like him. Let us move on. ‘Grow Up’ sees a guest spot from Birmingham rapper JayKae, and we’re back in familiar territory [well, the Midlands]. The two of them have different styles, the hyper-speed of JayKae seemingly forcing slowthai to hasten his  patter. They clearly connect in the middle; the track just burns throughout.

“I ain’t about that gang shit/I’m a lone wolf”

The second album collaboration follows immediately: Skepta brings his experience to ‘Inglorious’ with style, delivering with confidence and speaking random things like “directing movies like Gaspar”. The track weaves and ducks throughout, with Darko’s production skills deftly holding it all together. ‘Toaster’, meanwhile, is a little more folky, a clean guitar line backing another ShoeTown story of redemption.

“Walking through the blocks, I see the cracks/Dodge syringes”

‘Peace Of Mind’ has the catchiest hook on the album, and it’s a gem of a track. Hyping up the contradictions between your daily battles and the dreams you have at night, it’s a moment that shows how anxiety and stress can only be released through mindful rest and recuperation. That’s not a person on this planet that wouldn’t relate to that.

The Slaves-produced ‘Missing’ is as thick and pungent as you can imagine from them being involved, with a unsettling cacophonous chorus that elevates the track from the norm. Which brings us to the final song, ‘Northampton’s Child’. It’s the story of his childhood: the home moves, the booze madness, the death of his young brother. And most importantly – the love of his mother, that centred him and gave him hope. She has clearly given him strength to persevere, so shout out to Ma for her role in giving the world the talents of Tyron Frampton.

Nothing Great About Britain is a tour de force precisely because slowthai’s personalty is forceful, and the beats sharp enough to create a coherent whole. Where he goes from now – he can’t rap about NN life forever, you imagine – is just as fascinating as this piece of work.

But for now, in this game of thrones, we have a new prince in town; one that everyone can fight for.

Phil Moore

Nothing Great About Britain is out Friday / order now, or visit Spun Out on Gold St on Friday at 1pm for an album signing session

 

 

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Album review: The Venus Fly Trap

THE VENUS FLY TRAP Mars [Glass Modern] Last year Northampton’s gothic darkwave pioneers [theoretically] called time on their recording career with their eighth studio album, Icon. Whilst a strong finish…

THE VENUS FLY TRAP
Mars
[Glass Modern]

Last year Northampton’s gothic darkwave pioneers [theoretically] called time on their recording career with their eighth studio album, Icon. Whilst a strong finish to proudly rank alongside any of their previous output, it now has also cleared the decks to allow the band to return to the source, and reissue the first run of albums from the 1980s and 1990s. It begins here, the debut from 1988.

Indelibly linked to Bauhaus [through art-school connections] and the ShoeTown scene in general [he helped shape what it became], Alex Novak trod a singular path in the post-punk era, sending out snappish, gothic pulses as part of Religious Overdose and The Tempest, before settling into his long-term project, The Venus Fly Trap. Formed initially in 1986 with brother John and bassist Tony Booker, line-up changes saw Booker moving across to guitar to replace John, with Chris Evans and Dave Freak coming in on bass and percussion.

Early forays into France were received well enough to bag a recording contract with local label Danceteria, and a vinyl album was cobbled together from their first two singles. This was quickly expanded in length for a CD version a few months later, and this is what has been remastered for 2019. Ten stories high, Mars came at a time when spiky lo-fi guitars merged with experimental electronic desires; the slipstream of Pil, Joy Division, and New Order allowing folks to lap up this record as part of what we now collectively call the “alternative 80s”.

Ebullient pop this is not. Mars is more akin to weeds coming up through the Midlands cracks, and breathing new life into a guitar music scene that had reset all notions of ‘limitations’. Where anything not only seemed possible, but contractually obligatory. Novak’s pithy vocals have always reflected his film and scholarly interests, and you really need to visualise a copy of freshly-released comic The Watchmen under one arm amongst the cognoscenti to fully appreciate it’s cultural refractions. The mid-80s was a pretty dire time for many, and radical ideas in Britain were manifestly offering another viewpoint as she headed towards a Hazy Future.

The music zig-zags from the speakers, a series of dizzying, unsettling and occasionally polemic mantras. Feedback sets off ‘Shadow Whisper Mecca’, before the discotized punk-funk groove kicks in. The verve encased in the “Everybody happening” refrain gives off the confident – and very accurate – manifesto for what follows throughout ‘Mars’. Second track ‘I Get Flowers’ takes on the mantle and delivers perhaps the album highlight. It’s a pleasure to argue which is mightier over it’s five minutes – the huge R.E.M.-ish vocal harmonies, or the Cure-ish spidery guitar solo that gloriously jolts above the insistent bassline.

The two single releases became live favourites, to this day. ‘Morphine’ sees Novak being both decadent and threatening at once, deeply intoning about a desperate character over the top of their most garage band moment. ‘Desolation Railway’ meanwhile took things in a completely different direction. Seven minutes of psychedelic swirl that brings wavering synths to a morse code melody, ducking and weaving as it goes, adding explosions and film samples to ratchet up the tension even higher.

On ‘How The Mighty’ they misdirect with a soft Del Shannon-style opening minute, before the drum machine turns on and panic sets in. “Nothing remains the same” goes the chorus, which considering the twists and turn of the band over the next three decades feels rather apt. ‘Catalyst’ is some twisted dark pop that would sit happily on a Jesus & Mary Chain album. And you have to mention the experimental ‘Violins & Violence’, where the funeral pace reflects the desolate mood of a song concerning the JKF assassination and how it blandly encapsulates society’s continual bad news bulletins.

At the time Melody Maker said The Venus Fly Trap make “despair infectious”. It’s still true. Mars affects you in the gut, like all good music should. It is a sublime piece of that “alternative 80s” the industry likes to harp on about. This 2019 re-release gives us a chance to take stock and truly give them the credit they deserve.

Phil Moore

Mars is reissued by Glass Modern on May 31st

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Album review: Mali Mae

MALI MAE Personal [self-released] Now this is how to start the summer properly. Mae is a young singer-songwriter from Northamptonshire who has, with little fanfare, put together a collection of…

MALI MAE
Personal
[self-released]

Now this is how to start the summer properly. Mae is a young singer-songwriter from Northamptonshire who has, with little fanfare, put together a collection of breezy pop that is as good as anything you’ll hear on top 40 radio.

Personal, her full debut album, is a celebration of love and loss, of young hopes and dreams coming to fruition, or wishing them to. The opening song, ‘Up’, is both an exceptional and ever-so-slightly haunting pop song, but also an immediate showcase for a voice that will regularly stop your heart. The instrumentation here, and indeed throughout the album, is generally quite sparse: all minor chord piano lines, brief sections of snare playing, programmed keys. Yes her sudden mood and melody shifts are very much from the handbook of modern pop. Yet it sounds natural; and she seems totally in control of it all. Owning a song with this sort of confidence should takes years to develop. She’s barely out her teens and she’s there already. It’s actually all a bit frightening.

‘Remind Me’, which adds soft strings that come in and out of focus, ratchets up the drama a little, the chorus delivering a sustained moment of vulnerability. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to envision her sat behind a piano playing it on the X-Factor. And that’s no dig: it would melt even Cowell’s frosty heart. ‘Get It Right’ has some attractive background harmonies on it, presumably her own voice doing all the parts. The track has some real sass to it; the soulful lines at the end making New Boots think of Joss Stone in her early days. ‘This One Too’, meanwhile, is a song that drives home a defiant note, aiming higher and higher with each verse. It’s followed up with ‘Try Again’, which aims in a completely different direction. 1970s-style finger-picking acoustic guitar, and a spiritual feel. “I keep falling in and out of love/With somebody I don’t know” is a pretty heartbreaking line delivered in her hands.

Her previous mini-LP All I Know, from 2017, only hinted at what Mae could do on Personal. She’s tightened the songwriting for sure, but crucially projected a stronger presence in all areas. Like on ‘Keep Me High’, the slow-burning and sparse blues-pop number which draws favourable comparisons with another NN artist, Charlotte Carpenter.

‘Something Else’ bring a certain Joni Mitchell-esque yearning to the album, but again with that melodic certainty that all the big game popstars have in their locker. Before the album is over you get a country stummer in ‘Down To Me’, whilst ‘Bones’ darker colours hints at domestic violence and general bad relationship times. It’s a nice counterweight to some of the lighter material actually, though you’d hope it’s not too autobiographical. Closer ‘Perfect’ is perhaps sequenced incorrectly – it’s crystalline, gospel vocal really needs highlighting earlier on. It would make a terrific single, for sure.

Regardless, Personal is a true triumph; the diamond that shines from the shadows. It’s discoveries like Mae that keeps the chase in new music alive. Someone sign her up!

Phil Moore

Personal is out now via the usual digital platforms

 

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