The British rock group released the fourth studio album on Aug. 28, 2015. The album shows clear divide in the massive rock songs with heavy, building bass and guitar (“What When Down,” “Mountain at My Gates”) and the carefully crafted, poetic songs that let gentle guitar hooks breathe (“Give It All,” “London Thunder.”)
Friday night, Foals opened with “Snake Oil,” then “Olympic Airways” and “My Number.” With each song, the expanding instrumentals demanded the audiences’ attention. Interspersed throughout the set, “Give It All,” “Spanish Sahara,” “Late Night” and “A Knife in the Ocean” pulled back with a controlled energy that radiated through the room.
The calm buzz quickly turned to a roaring thunder during the finale of “Inhaler,” “What Went Down” and “Two Steps, Twice.” Yannis Philippakis, singer and guitarist, was overcome by the music, crowdsurfing, jumping from double-stacked speakers, and dropping to the floor – all without missing a note. Philippakis even left the stage a second time, not to crowd surf but deliberately headed to the bar for a beer before finishing the set.
I caught The Front Bottoms’ tour with Brick + Mortar and Diet Cig in Austin, Texas, on April 28 at Emo’s. The Front Bottoms signed to Fueled By Ramen in 2015 followed by the release of their third studio album “Back on Top” in September. This year The Front Bottoms are making the rounds at festivals such as Coachella, Bumbershoot, Lollapalooza and Shaky Knees among others.
South By Southwest marks a long-awaited and infamous time of year for Austin, Texas. The week-long conference runs March 11-20 and begins with film and interactive on March 11, followed by music on March 15. For music lovers, industry professionals and musicians, it’s a chaotic wonderland of all-you-can-listen showcases that transforms downtown Austin into the Live Music Capital.
I’ve put together a playlist to highlight some of the new and talented must-see artists! I will updated it as I find those good tunes. Happy listening!
Bully’s sold out show at The Parish on Feb. 4 was telling of a new rock scene. Bands like Bully and opener Diet Cig are leading the way for DIY punk bands. Bully’s guitars and bass lines easily follow a rock beat, while Alicia Bagnanno’s soft voice elevates to a rough yell, nearing the line of grunge and punk.
The band formed in 2013 after Bagnanno began recording her music at a studio she worked at as an engineer. In June 2015, Bully released its first album “Feels Like.”
Long gone are the days of The 1975’s black and white aesthetic and subversive pop songs. Teenage girls are ditching their black and white 90s grunge wardrobes for something new – pink, blue and 70s pop all over.
The 1975 announced the coming of a new era on June 1, posting a old-style typewritten note online before deleting all social media accounts. (The band is notably named after a date that was hand written in a book given to Healy: 1st June, The 1975.) While the disappearance only lasted 24 hours, the band received enough publicity of the stunt to put them on the radar of larger audiences. Fans have anxiously awaited new music since the band’s 2013 debut album was released. For the second album, it was a certainty that The 1975 was going to reinvent itself, musically and aesthetically.
Four months later, The 1975 was ready to show its new self to the world. Single “Love Me” debuted as Annie Mac’s Hottest Record in the World on BBC Radio 1 earlier this month, and it’s a time warp back to the 70s.
It appears The 1975 have taken their name at face value. It would be an understatement to say the band has been influenced by 70s and 80s pop music – rather, The 1975 are bringing 1975, quite literally, to 2015. “Love Me” features electric guitar hooks, space-age synth and keys, and vocal emphasis, which Matthew Horton for NME notes is oddly reminiscent to those of David Bowie’s “Fame,” also released in 1975.
That’s not half of it. Prior to the single release, The 1975 posted a photo of the band (pictured above) dressed in a red suit, black velvet jacket, leather pants and most notably, blue eye shadow on singer Matthew Healy. Healy had all but turned into Ziggy Stardust. It was no surprise The 1975 was going retro.
“You reinvent yourselves but you make it feel like the natural evolution,” Healy said in an interview with Mac on Radio 1. “We didn’t necessarily get in a room and start putting leather trousers on and makeup.”
It’s a hyper-glamorized vision of the band’s previously all black aesthetic. The music, however, takes a bigger leap. The 1975 was always using pop guitars and alien-sounding synth that fall in line with syncopated drums and bass. “Love Me” sky-rockets to a new level.
The music video for “Love Me,” released Oct. 28, appropriately parallels the satire of pop culture and fame heard in the lyrics. At first watch, the band looks a little bit insane, lead by Healy’s mental antics. The video takes a jab at the agencies of fame. In one scene, Healy stands in a group of cardboard cutouts of Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran and Charli XCX, among other famous artists, singing lines such as “I’m just with my friends online” and “you look famous, let’s be friends.”
While Healy said in the interview “Love Me” is about narcissism, the way in which Healy sings about the topic of fame communicates a deeper search for truth about the lives they’ve been living for the past two years under the public eye. Healy said the fans have given the band an opportunity to be truthful in their music because “it’s all about pursuit of the truth.”
The 1975 was slowly becoming a pop band, mainly due to media opinions and pressure to be identified by a genre. The music wasn’t just alternative rock, but it wasn’t quite pop. With “Love Me,” The 1975 embrace pop, but in a way that challenges the music industry to evaluate the quality of pop music it is producing. In the Radio 1 interview, Healy said he is sick that there are not enough good pop bands at a time when there is an “amazing lexicon and vocabulary of sounds” for pop music.
Healy said in the interview the 17 track album, precociously entitled “I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It” to be released February 2016, is an eclectic “magpie” of pop culture – as with the first album, every song has a unique sound.
Wolf Alice at Holy Mountain in Austin, Texas, on May 19. Ellie Roswell sings to fans during encore. Photo by Jenna Million.
I am starting a new series called Across the Pond, which will examine the music scene of England and the surrounding region. The first three posts in this series are part of a project for my public relations class. As this is a topic that interests me, I may continue the series beyond these three posts.
In the past six months I have become increasingly interested in English artists and what the music scene is like for new artists and new music. I will be posting songs, playlists, artists features and interviews, and other content. To get things started I want to introduce you to several of the undiscovered or upcoming English artists that have my attention right now.
1. Wolf Alice
If you’ve been following me, you know that Wolf Alice is one of my favorite bands right now. The four-piece London-based group is fronted by singer and guitarist Ellie Roswell. Wolf Alice’s sound comprises rock, folk and grunge elements to create songs with a roller coast of emotions from soft whispers and solo guitar to screaming and heavy bass. They released their debut album My Love is Cool on June 22, and have had huge success in England since. My Love is Cool is nominated for the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year along with 11 other U.K. and Irish acts.
2. Sundara Karma
“Vivienne” is the latest single from Reading quartet Sundara Karma. What drew me to Sundara Karma was their rhythmic drums and bass that drives most of their songs with accents of guitar hooks. Singer Oscar Pollock’s vocals bring a new perspective to dreamy lyrics about teenage daydreams and late nights. With every song Sundara Karma has released I’ve been impressed by the writing and production quality of the barely 20-year-old musicians. In the past few months the band has been gaining more traction, opening for The Wombats and Circa Waves on tour and starting their first headlining tour across the U.K. Signed to Chess Club Records, Sundara Karma are set to release their second EP soon, and have an album in the works.
Lapsley has had a slow but steady buzz around her for awhile. The 19-year-old from Liverpool has a sonorous voice that evokes emotions deep within the listener. I reviewed her single “Hurt Me” here. With the direction she’s headed, Lapsley could be a big name in pop in a few years.
4. Rat Boy
Rat Boy is a little bit of rock, a little bit of rap, a little bit of grunge and a lot of crazy. Hailing from Essex, Rat Boy has a distinct accent, and at times sounds like a teenager rapping over early Arctic Monkey garage rock songs. Rat Boy feels very much representative of teen angst, singing about everyday life in a matter-of-fact manner, and calling himself “scum” in his Twitter bio. This list might as well be a list of England’s young talent because Rat Boy also slides in at barely 19-years-old. He was featured in NME’s list of 50 New Bands of 2015, and will be opening the The 1975 on their U.K. later this year.
5. The Japanese House
The Japanese House is the project of 19-year-old Amber Bain, who remained anonymous for six months after releasing the first single “Still” which premier on BBC’s Radio 1 with Zane Lowe proclaiming it his “Hottest Record.” The music is an extreme experimental take on pop with ethereal vocals that surround the listener and layers of synth overtones that drown out the outside world. The Japanese House is produced by The 1975’s singer Matty Healy and drummer George Daniel. The 1975, whose music also brings an experimental edge to traditional pop music, has a clear influence on the production of the music, at times leaving fans to wonder if it was a side project of Healy’s. The Japanese House is undoubtedly unlike any other projects right now, so much so the music is almost alien sounding.
It’s one thing to hear someone say, “Oh my god. That band was amazing live!” and another thing entirely to experience it for yourself. This is what I had been hearing about Royal Blood for some time now. I was looking forward to seeing them play at ACL, but as the schedule gods would have it, I couldn’t make it to their set on Friday of either weekend at ACL. I was fortunate, however, to be able to photograph them at their Official ACL Late Night show on Oct. 3, and let me say, “Oh my god. That band is amazing live!”
Royal Blood are one of the few bands I’ve ever seen perform at such a high level. In the first half of the set it was very obvious both singer and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are talented musicians. They were executing heavy bass riffs and drums fills with perfection. In fact, it sounded more perfect than the album with the added surround-sound effect of the bass drum thumping in your chest and the electric riffs making the hairs on your arm stand straight. The sound produced by the two musicians was overwhelming, overtaking every corner in Emo’s, threatening to knock the walls down. It’s a wonder at festivals that their sound doesn’t magnetize every passing patron, drawing them into the electric energy.
I told myself I was going to leave the show early since their set started at 12:20am, but every song on the set list was better than the previous, convincing me to hear the last second. I felt like I was watching a set of Royal Blood’s greatest hits.Their 2014 debut, self-titled album is incredibly well written, so much so that any song on the album could very easily be a radio single or even a hit song. “Out of the Black,” “Little Monster,” “Come on Over” and “Figure It Out” all made it to radio release.
The second half of the set was elevated by Kerr and Thatcher’s performance and audience interaction. Thatcher, who remained mute throughout the set, methodically chewing gum and smashing drums, stopped drumming for a song to crowd surf, a ritual at every show, while Kerr continued to shred heavy bass lines. Kerr took his time sizing up the audience and yelling at different sections, awaiting praise as if the audience had to prove they wanted Kerr to give the performance of his life. Although Kerr remained impassive to the crowd’s cheers, he said “I’m going to try something I haven’t done before,” and continued to race his fingers across silver-plated bronze strings.
What exactly he was referring to is uncertain, but I am sure he poured his soul into his playing from that point on. I was left speechless, soaking up every second of every note flying off Kerr’s guitar, the sound reaching dangerously loud levels. It was very clear Kerr was not just playing the music anymore, he was pushing limits on his abilities and on the music, driving it to new heights. It takes a lot to be a good performer, but it takes more to challenge yourself to take those leaps on stage. Royal Blood is training to headline festivals, and every show is practice for the next stage.
I was The Maine for the 10th time on Sept. 24, and it was one of my favorites. They performed American Candy front-to-back with a few oldies at the end before the finale of “Another Night on Mars.” Lyrically this album has a lot of great songs with the comfort of The Maine’s classic sound. While there were new fans in the crowd, many veteran fans were singing along to American Candy just like they did when Can’t Stop Won’t Stop was their favorite album back in the day.
The show landed in between dates of The Maine’s Free For All Tour, in which they play malls and other odd venues entirely free for fans. It’s all because of the fans that the band can continue to make music and tour. The tour is a way for The Maine to thank the fans for all they’ve given them over the years. To supplement the free tour, they sold tickets to special shows where they performed their most recent album American Candy in its entirety.
It’s not often that you come across bands with only a debut album that can construct a such a full and commanding live sound. Ask Catfish and the Bottlemen and they’ll tell you they’ve been playing shows all over the United Kingdom since their early teenage years, even living out of a van. Now 23-years-old, frontman Van McCann is taking the bands to new heights. Filling 5,000 capacity venues and playing to 10,000s of patrons at festivals in the U.K., Catfish and the Bottlemen have come to make their mark in America. The band played at Emo’s in Austin, Texas on Sept. 22. See more photos from the show here.
Catfish and the Bottlemen exists to perform. Their songs are built for the live setting. Heavy guitar licks and massive drums resonate through the room. McCann yells lyrics like it’s his life, blood and sweat. And it is.
What the band lacks in time, they make up for in quality. The 11 song set spanned just over an hour. A notable sidetrack from the album, McCann took a solo at the end of “Homesick” – stripped back, McCann growled the first chorus of “Homesick” with only accompaniment from his guitar. Trading up for an acoustic guitar, McCann also sang “Hourglass” solo, surrendering to a beautiful crowd sing-a-long.
The full band wrapped up the set with their radio single “Cocoon,” closing with “Tyrants.” The latter serves as the perfect finale with a built-in instrumental break to close. Cymbals, guitar riffs, chorus vocals build up to the last note, leaving fans wanting more when it’s over.
All band members are invested in playing the music, but McCann is overcome with it. It’s as if the music washes over him and turns him into another being, utterly consumed by the notes flying off of his guitar. There’s no doubt he knows how to perform, but his stage presence doesn’t overwhelm the way his playing does. Throughout the set he thanks the crowd repeatedly for coming to the show in Austin. He is a man who knows the music. That’s what he does, and will continue to do for fans as long as they listen.
Catfish and the Bottlemen aren’t innovating like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, but they’re doing what they do really well: rock ‘n’ roll, big guitars and frank lyrics. It’s been awhile since a band has kept it simple while going out in a big way, and McCann recognizes that. They may not be the next radio-hit wonder-band but their cult following with continue to grow and sell out bigger venues, pushing them into the big leagues. At this rate, they could be headlining festivals in a few years.