Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Elia & The Low Tears - 'The Reprieve' Rainbow Reservoir - '400 Imperfect Rhymes' EP (New Releases)

Elia & The Low Tears – The Reprieve (Released Aug 25th)

Few single press releases contain specific reference to lyrical content; fewer still divulge any direct lyrical influence. So when Elia & The Low Tears state the lyrics to new single ‘The Reprieve’ have been informed by Jean-Paul Sartre's novel of the same name we confess to being a little intrigued. After all; this is a book that that deals with life in France leading up to the Munich Agreement, the agreement that allowed Nazi Germany to annex large parts of Czechoslovakia; and you shouldn’t need reminding what happened next.

With this information, newcomers to ETLT’s music could be forgiven then, for thinking we’d be
reviewing a dark brooding single etched with fear and panic, but far from it.  The synths and electro percussion are reminiscent of Vince Clarke’s early Yazoo days circa 82/83, whilst Elia’s understated vocal weaves successfully through the bleeps and arpeggio lines to pleasing effect.  It’s not as infectious as the jubilant ‘Violins’ that first brought them to our attention, but worthy of your time all the same.

Be aware though, that taken in isolation the electro accents of ‘The Reprieve’ show one facet of a band who also draw on pop, soul and RnB;  even Joni Mitchell is referenced. Balancing those ingredients is not always going to be easy or even successful; but as Sartre said “Commitment is an act, not a word.”

Rainbow Reservoir - 400 Imperfect Rhymes EP

Music can bring people together like no other art form; it can also be divisive, dividing generations and tribes and so shall and should it always be.  In a Microcosm, Rainbow Reservoir has achieved this very feat in the Eartwister office. It’s left to me then, to attempt to settle the dispute.

There’s a childlike quality to the melody construction that not only makes you feel you could tap them out on a one octave glockenspiel with ease, but also renders them strangely familiar. It’s here that we find our divide, as there is no doubt that many will find this melodic approach too twee. Others however, will cuddle up to its familiarity and cradle it like a newborn.

Personally, I have no problem with the latter, but can’t help feeling the cause is deeply wounded by double-tracking the lead vocal, it simply bleeds the character from Angela Space’s voice. Laid bare as in the lilting ‘Blue Crab’ it’s like a cross between Nico’s ‘Femme Fatale’ and Suzanne Vega, and all-the better for it. . If only opener ‘City Bike’ and the otherwise catchy ‘Siegfried! Oh, Siegfried!’ had been given similar treatment.

This is lo-fi pop folk that embraces imperfection, with Space’s off-kilter perspective on travel, romance, life and death providing the palette for her carefully crafted lyrics. It’s the sort of music that craves vocal honesty; one good microphone, one great performance (warts-and-all), a touch of reverb, done.

My failure to settle the office dispute suggests Rainbow Reservoir’s music will continue to divide opinion with equal passion; for an artist not necessarily a bad thing. Love it or hate it, just don’t say it’s alright. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Mat Motte & the People That Hate Him - 'Summer Song' & Bang Bang Romeo - 'Revolver'

Mat Motte & the People that Hate Him – Summer Song

We’re a little late on this, but as the rain bounces high off the tarmac we’ll to put it down to synchronicity. 

In ‘Summer Song’ Mat Motte may have well have struck gold, for no matter how long it takes for radio to fully get behind this sardonic ode to an English summer, it shall remain relevant. Catastrophic global warming aside; wheel it out for next year’s Glastonbury, Wimbledon or any time you wait in vain to fire-up the barbecue.

Confident rather than complacent, ‘Summer Song’ bears all the marks of an apprenticeship well served. It’s an assured slice of dirty pop with Motte’s askew (fat-trimmed) lyrics scoffing from the get-go. Motte’s return from the marshes brings a certain sense of defiance that’s most welcome and should the live shows make it north of the Watford Gap , don’t forget the invite.

Bang Bang Romeo – Revolver

Bang Bang Romeo’s ‘Revolver’ arrives hot on the heels of the well-received ‘We Were Born’ EP, that had Huw Stephens reaching for the play button, making lead track ‘Carnival’ his pick of the week. The bands roots lay somewhere between late 60’s psychedelia (think Jefferson Airplane ‘Crown of Creation’) and cinematic rock. Indeed, as Anastasia Walker belts “Your heart is holding my revolver” I can’t help but visualise flaming silhouettes of naked beauties and 007 drawing his trusty Walther PPK.

The vibrato guitar is nice, the riffs strong, and the rhythm section tight as the proverbial tick. However its Walker’s vocal that provides the real gloss here. When the power’s off her voice has low-end warmth I’d like to hear a lot more of, whilst at full tilt a belt to rival Adel, and a real sense for the dramatic.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the 4 bar chorus never doubles up, meaning I barely have time to reach for my lighter, let alone get my arms in the air.

We managed to miss them on their last visit to Manchester which is something we’ll have to remedy on their return in September.

Released 1st September

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bentcousin - Dizzy & Boy Names - Instant Ambition - Single reviews

Bentcousin – Dizzy

Hell-‘bent’ on rinsing the last drop of joy from the summer, Bentcousin pay homage to salad days and costal skylarking with sunny disposition to spare.

‘Dizzy’ is stripped to the waist uncluttered pop; free from the post-production burden forced on many a counterpart, which is exactly why it works. Amelia’s vocal, true to form, is understated and endearing; sitting somewhere between (the late great) Kirsty MacColl and Miss potty-mouth Allen. Her delivery is breezy and devoid of unnecessary frills which helps make it believable, not always the easiest trick to pull off.                                                 
 The Brighton based twins seem to understand that everything has its place and keep their arrangements neat and tidy. Even the cameo addition of a Rascalesque grime bridge fails to jar, whilst the lo-fi guitar solo that borders on the shambolic is a real pleasure.

So where does ‘Dizzy’ rank in the bent scheme of things? Well, whilst not pushing our collective buttons in the same way as the delightful ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, it’s still worthy of a new feather in that cutecore cap, and it should prove a no-brainer for radio. We say, treat yourself to a paddle and a stick of rock, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

Boys Names – Instant Ambition

This should be simple enough, electro pop meets RnB summer jam, does what it says on the tin right?  Well…..not quite.

It starts well enough; with bright reverb-coated guitar and finger-clicks that have you cruising South Beach with the roof down, but sadly from here on in the lines become blurred.
Patrick Seeburn’s vocal is breathy in a George Michael ‘Fast Love’ sort of way, but it fails to dominate proceedings as you hoped it would.  In particular the choruses lack that killer blow, the vocal choosing to meander around the guitar line rather than seeking its own melodic space.  Elsewhere, it all feels a little forced, with parts defiantly bolted together with little regard for the instruction manual. This includes a mid-song 8 bar key change that left all at Twister Towers sceptical to say the least.

That said. Its still early days for the London outfit and we’ll certainly be back to check out future releases.  As Oscar Wilde astutely noted “Ambition is the last refuge of failure” instant or otherwise, so keep the faith boys and girls.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Candy Says - Live @ the Fallow Cafe Manchester

Julia Sophie Heslop’s reincarnation from brooding rock chanteuse, to 60’s tinged underground pop starlet is quite remarkable. To tinker with a successful recipe is one thing, but to throw out the cookbook altogether? Well fear not, evolution is a wonderful thing and this metamorphosis is doubtless one that Candy Darling herself would delight in.

Countdown complete, a brief nod to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Candy Says’ (source of the band’s name) and the Oxford quartet launch into ‘On the Radio’, which it’s certain to be should they choose to release it. Sugar coated harmonies, neat hooks, a touch of vocoder, sharp percussion and hats that put me in mind of Audrey Hepburn in ‘Two for the Road’; what’s not to like?

On introduction Candy’s sound appears stripped down and uncluttered. Yet scratch the surface and the songs glisten with tiny ideas like glitter on a child’s face. You get the feeling the shackles are finally off for Juju; there’s an excited smile on her face and  a sense from here on in anything goes.

The riff driven ‘Ta Robe’ snarls like a PJ Harvey meets Peter Gunn offspring, whilst Juju andElisa’s vocals trade blows. Amidst organ swells and Indian bells ‘Kiss Kill’ romps across the dancefloor and has the Ting Tings wishing they’d had such a weapon for that difficult second album. Not to mention it’s got handclaps, I’m a complete sucker for handclaps.

Single, and pop gem ‘Favourite Flavour’ blurs the lines between decades. The percussive intro is a dead ringer for The Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’, and I can’t help thinking that Phil Spector would love to have spent some studio time with Candy.  The lilting ‘Dead on Arrival’ is a sublime piece of writing, the second half of which, much like the Velvet’s, shows just how emotive two chords can be, as Elisa sings achingly, “ I just don’t know where I come from. I just don’t know where I can be found”.

‘Melt Into the Sun’ is a real earworm punctuated by a military cadence, and like the following ‘Dreamers’, a song that highlights the importance of Mike Monaghan and Ben Walker’s contribution to the Candy sound. Rhythmically-sussed, melodically literate, and economic in allowing JuJu and Elisa space to weave their spells.

To catch them in such intimate surroundings is a real pleasure, all be it one that won’t be repeated as bigger stages surely beckon. As they close proceedings with ‘Super Heroes’, you don’t have to be Peter Parker to sense Candy Says are something to Marvel at. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Parquet Courts, Suzuki Method & Spector - New Releases Reviewd

Parquet Courts –‘ You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now’

When Parquet Courts dropped their debut album last year, folk were queuing to herald the new sound of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course the new sound proved to be the old sound, but there’s nothing wrong with that if you can pull it off. The reference points are still there, Pavement on fast-forward, a little Modern Lovers and of course The Strokes; so thankfully is the attitude.

Fuzzed guitars, discordant lead lines and a guitar solo that sounds like a stylophone on steroids, all delivered with the sort of easy swagger only obtainable when you just don’t  give a s**t, a skill not easy to achieve. 
Toothache's better than heartache baby, I've figured that much out
And I thought I knew a thing or two about the blues, but you've got me wonderin' now

Parquet Courts' spiritual home would surely be New York’s CBGB’s. Sadly no more, we suggest you find a dark venue where your feet stick to the floor and wait for their arrival; we have a feeling you won’t have too long to wait.

Suzuki Method – ‘Sherbet’

When Suzuki Method introduced themselves via debut release ‘Country Cousins’ back in May
there was little doubt the Salford outfit had embraced their musical heritage, and we liked it.  Five months on and the follow up ‘Sherbet’ certainly shows signs of development.

The mancunia electro and 80’s house vibes are still present and correct, but added  is a lushness in production and greater regard for dynamics. The interwoven looping guitar lines and synth are suitably delay-drenched and a real pleasure. They give way to falsetto vocals and a fully fledged chorus, where the hook, although still subtle, is a little more to the fore than its predecessors.   It has a touch of ABC (that’s 1980’s Sheffield sophisti-poppers not the Jackson 5 1970 hit) about it, all-be-it with strong dance floor leanings.  In ‘Sherbet’ Suzuki Method have taken a large stride in the right direction, but one can’t help feeling they are still one killer hook away from dance floor domination; that’s should they want it of course.

 Spector – ‘Decade of Decay’

There was a time not so long ago when Fred Macpherson’s confidence seemed to know no bounds, always something to say, always ready with a witty quip. So read into it what you will when I tell you Spector’s return sees Macpherson call for reinforcements. They come in the shape of Dev Hynes, (better known as Lightspeed Champion to you and me) to share the writing duties.

Dev has of course written for the likes of Florence and the Machine, Diana Vickers and The Chemical Brothers on their 2007 Grammy award winning album ‘We Are The Night’. So what has Mr Hynes bought to the Spector party. In truth it’s hard to say. The tune’s pleasant enough and sees Fred plumbing the depths of his lower vocal range, supported by pulsing bass, synth sweeps and the usual scratchy guitar fare. The descending ghostly backing vocals are a nice touch and as you’d expect the hooks are pretty strong. 

That said, ‘Decade of Decay just doesn’t stir my passion one way or the other. I would neither rush to change the station nor reach to crank the volume up. 

As I check to make sure the song’s abrupt ending is indeed the ending and not just a ghost in the machine, I find myself hoping for Spector’s sake that this is not a portent of things to come? 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Da Do Do Do - Da Don't Don't Don'ts !

It's hard out there for bands starting out, so don't make it any harder 

I’ve been an artist, worked for record labels and in artist management. I’ve lectured in Music Business & Professional Practice at Salford University and run Freeflow UK, an initiative to support up and coming artists in the NW of England.  Currently I’m the Northern correspondent for The Hit Sheet magazine, Editor of the Eartwister music blog and DJ whenever I’m paid to.

In the last month my inbox has been littered with requests for reviews, invitations to live shows, and video links that have all too often left me bemused.  Such has been my frustration I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how your musical world looks from the outside-in.

If it’s ok, I’d like to start with the biggest stick in the box. The internet is both a wonderful and dangerous beast, just ask the folks at Wikileaks. In music terms it’s become the indispensable tool for artists and consumers alike, as much part of the fabric as TVs out of hotel windows, huge major label deals and Top of the Pops ever were.
For all artists, the opportunity to communicate directly with their fans, promote their brand and sell their wares has become a truly powerful weapon. With such a weapon at your disposal, the pressure on young bands to pull the trigger is often overwhelming. If you’re not posting, tweeting, updating or adding content it must feel like you’re standing still.  The tendency then, is to rush.

In no particular order, let’s start with You Tube.

When reviewing a new band or artist I always do a You Tube sweep.  You Tube is an area that many new bands manage badly and is often very revealing.  The simple rule is to only post content that you’re happy for everyone to see.  Two examples here should make my point. I know of several bands that play parties and weddings on the side to supplement their income and earn money for studio time, equipment and fuel to gigs etc. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong in that, we all have to earn a coin. The trouble is that some of them trade under the same name when performing in two different guises. Do you really want footage of your drunken rendition of ‘Knock On Wood’ to appear above the latest original you’ve slaved over in your You Tube listings? Keep the two separate, first impressions and all that…..

Likewise, many acts like to record their rehearsals, but posting this footage is a no no. It’s the sort of footage you only give fans access to once they’re hooked, and only then if it shows you in a good light. If I wanted to watch you practise and mess about with a half arsed cover of ‘This Charming Man’ I’d pay to watch you rehearse, I don’t, keep it private. Remember that the competition out there is fierce, it’s a buyers’ market and stats show that press, radio, labels and punters form an opinion in the opening 30 seconds of a You Tube video.


Don’t bands make demos anymore??? When I put my reviewers hat on it has two distinct settings. Demos: When bands send in demos I understand that this is work in progress, they are getting ideas down and the recordings may lack gloss. The chances are they were done on a tight budget or even a home studio and almost certainly un-mastered. That’s not a problem, it gives us an idea of what the band are about and we know there is more to come. It’s actually exciting to get demos. You know you’ve caught a band on the ground floor and it’s great to watch them progress.

Singles & EPs

As I’ve alluded to, it seems these days the moment a band leaves their first studio session they stamp a label on the recording announcing it as a single release. 

Once I hear the words single, EP or album I’m automatically expecting the finished article and the quality that’s associated with an official release. So, when recordings lack the quality you’d expect in a finished article you’re often left disappointed.  Only when a band believes they’ve achieved the best they can with a song/recording would I release it as a fully-fledged single. I've talked to countless acts a year after releasing their first recording as a single who say, “I don’t know what were we thinking, we’re a completely different band now”  You can release and sell Demos on iTunes as well you know, there’s no shame in it.  

Blueprint Studios have hosted the likes of: Elbow, Justin Timberlake, Smokey Robinson, REM and many many more. A few basics from this illustrious establishment.` 

'Work out a budget of how much money you have to spend. This way we’ll be able to advise you on how many tracks you will realistically be able to complete to a high quality standard. It is better to record fewer tracks to a high quality than to rush through loads in a small amount of time.

Make sure you are ready and all your material is written and arranged. Don’t waste valuable time and money in the studio on things that can be done at home or in the rehearsal room. This point can’t be stressed enough.

Remember, we are not here to A&R your material but to record/produce it to the highest standard possible. However, we are more than willing to share our expertise if you request it.  Knowing what you plan for the recordings is always a help; demos, obtaining gigs or a single release etc.  If you’re inexperienced in a studio setting don’t over-stretch yourselves, the learning curve is half the fun and all bands get better with time.

If you’re working with a either an in-house producer or someone you’re bringing in, discuss production ideas ahead of the session. If possible pass on a rough demo of the songs or arrange for him/her to see you live at a gig or in the rehearsal room. It can also be useful to hand over reference CDs that serve as a good example of production styles you are trying to achieve.'

For more tips or to make a booking visit  www.blueprint-studios.com


When you’re starting out no one wants to waste good money (particularly in the present climate) watching you practise. Get it right in the rehearsal room first. When you think you’re there, try putting on a small invite-only show, not only for friends and family but try inviting a couple of local promoters along too. Friends and family will find it difficult to do anything other than blow smoke up your arse. A local promoter or similar will tell you if you’re ready to head out on the circuit and probably give you some practical advice on where to start. It’s in their interests after all to put on good bands, and from your point of view it can be very disheartening stepping on stage before you’re ready.

Ben Taylor – Events Manager at Sound Control - soundcontrolmanchester.co.uk
On approaching promoters:

I've been on both sides, as a band and a promoter. It’s always tough, but to try not to ram quotes and blurb down the promoter’s throat.

My advice would be to get 1 or 2 recordings down, ideally on Soundcloud or something easily accessible for promoters. Keep your email fairly brief, explaining genre and any sort of promotional tools in your armoury. Most importantly, try and build a relationship with venues/promoters.

Gorilla marketing, teasers via a Facebook/twitter page; make it as interesting and exciting as you can for your fanbase, leave people wanting more.

Looking to get a review?

If you’re looking to get some press there are some pretty easy dos and don’ts. Firstly, (and I know it sounds simple) read the blog, website or publication you are approaching and like their Facebook page. There is little point in sending your hard-core electro meets Gabba with bagpipes to your local indie blogger. At best you’ll have wasted your time, at worst you could end up with a review that concludes with the words ‘Shit sandwich’.  Research the people you’re approaching, they’re certain to do the same with your band. If you’re a complete unknown try the personal touch rather than a mass generic email, (find out the reviewer's name for example) it’s likely to make you stand out from the crowd if you make the effort.

If you’re submitting tracks make sure there is a link to a stream (Soundcloud etc).  If a reviewer
requires a download or hard copy they are sure to ask for it. Having thousands of downloads in your inbox makes for a royal pain.

Supply accurate and relevant information. I recently completed a review that stated the band had been together for a year and had only 10 gigs under their belts and this was their debut recording. The band in question contacted me post publication to say they’d been together 3 years and this was their 4th recording. The info on their Facebook and other social media pages begged to differ. So, check the info on all your online outlets and keep it up to date. Better still; include the right information with your submission in the first place.

If you’ve not heard anything or seen your review published then it’s fine to send a follow up email, perhaps even two, but don’t go crazy. Stalking a reviewer is unlikely to help. They probably just don’t like your music and it’s time to move on. With luck, they’ll come around in time and you’ll have the last laugh, until then avoid badgering, it reeks of desperation.

Lastly, if you’re going to submit your hard work for review it’s wise to develop the skin of a rhino. If we all loved the same music the world would be a pretty dull place, but that does mean a glowing review is not guaranteed. There’s nearly always a line that if taken out of context you can use to your advantage. Other than that, stay positive and move on.

There is loads of advice out there for bands to get the most out of social media; the use of instagram live at gigs is a personal favourite of mine, particularly snaps of your audience from the stage.  For now however I think I’ll leave it there, the backlog of tracks I have to listen to is getting bigger by the minute. I’ll leave you with this; be as good as you can be, pay attention to the detail and don’t rush.

You can Follow Simon Ashby on twitter @SimonAshby1

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Lottery Winners - Manchester Academy 3

‘Time to put your prejudice aside ’

I’m glad I slept on it before putting fingers to keyboard to write this review. It gave me time to put Saturday night’s show into perspective and try to put into words why The Lottery Winners personify the definition of dichotomy for an industry paralyzed by the thought of risk, or perhaps just plain scared of actually having a really good time.

You see TLW are a pop band with a capital P.  They may have an indie underbelly but make no mistake this is pop music; and quite possibly the best pop music to come out of Manchester since Nigel Martin Smith cobbled together you know who in 1990.

(Yes I know they’re from Leigh in Lancashire, but let’s give our American readers a fighting chance)

The trouble is that pop bands aren’t supposed to look like The Lottery Winners, not as far as the British Phonographic Industry is concerned anyway.  Whilst for too cool for school indie fashionistas they represent what is likely to be a guilty pleasure, but oh what a pleasure. To all of the above I say it’s time to put aside your prejudice and give The Lottery Winners the great big hug they crave.

Tonight the band is in their element, surrounded by friends and converts as they deliver one sing-along after another, with frontman Thom Rylance conducting proceedings in his usual affable manner. As Rylance pulls the strings like a master puppeteer it would be easy to overlook Rob Lally’s deft guitar lines or Katie Lloyd’s considered melodic bass, the pair also providing faultless harmonies and counter melodies that cheer the soul. Imagine Berry Gordy had shaped The Smiths with The Housemartins on backing vocals and Prefab Sprout sticking their oar in at every opportunity and you’ll just about get the picture. Behind it all sit Joe Singleton’s drums, sharply executed and to my absolute delight containing no unnecessary clutter, just as it should be.

Current single ‘Learn To Sleep’, the wonderful, ‘Curtains’, ‘Artificial Flowers’ and ‘Something To Leave The House For’ are all received with open arms before the band are joined by ex Inspiral’s frontman Tom Hingley for a cameo performance of ‘This Is How it Feels’.

Rylance’s between song banter is both witty and  self-deprecating in equal measure. Yet,if I could change anything (and I'm still not sure I want to) it would be to put the limiters on, if only so the band could squeeze  a couple more gems into their set. After all, there are songs that fail to get an airing tonight that many a band would kill for. That said, I expect I’m in the minority here and both gut and head tell me it’s never going to happen so let’s move on.

As the a cappella strains of the timeless ‘Emerald City’ fade to the applause it deserves, the band quite rightly finish with the exceptional ‘Pillows’ (surely a single in waiting?) and we’re done. 

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; The Lottery Winners have songs stuffed with more hooks than a fisherman’s jacket. All they need is for a major label to grow some balls and put their hand in their pocket, the rest as they say will be...... Just imagine this year’s Brit Awards with The Lottery Winners in place of Tom (dull as S**te) Odell………Worth tuning in for I'd wager. 

'Learn To Sleep' is Out Now. Available from iTunes