Review: Tammy King – Higher Paradise

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.
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Recorded at Wolverhampton university, Higher Paradise is the debut solo EP by Tammy King. The 21 year old has recently been seen plying her trade on the X Factor tour and supporting agit-pop-amazon P!nk, following a bout of sessioneering. The Warwickshire native has a number of songs on YouTube,  showing her skill at singing covers.

More importantly, this era of her development shows her moving away from being a session/sideperson towards being an artist in her own right, something that has evidently been her focus since day one. A fairly bare-bones affair, with King accompanying herself for the most part, Higher Paradise contains 4 original compositions, two with a full band.

First things first-King has a stand-up voice. Lots of control and dexterity, and a fearlessness to go for the big intervals. Occasionally the guitar work falls short, as evidenced on the KT Tunstall-ish ‘You Can’t Take Me Alive’. The production is extremely uneven, as though it was simply recorded and not mixed. In truth, an artist who has plenty of studio and live experience shouldn’t have let this through, and the conveyed feeling is one of naivety and slapdashery.

‘Living In Disguise’ is a significantly improved showcase of Kings’ ability. Melodically more astute and aware, better balanced, and despite the low-rent lyricism, the verses are slow-burning and tense; less is definitely more in this case. As ‘Fossils’ stumbles into view, the slack-as-a-bag-of-ties playing starts to rear it’s head again. The backing track carries aBeverley-Knight-unplugged vibe, though the vocals sound like they were recorded in a different studio with other people.

Final track ‘Scent On Your Skin’ weighs in with slide guitar, tenderly muted country drums, and a well-judged vocal performance from King. Four songs of this calibre would have been great-King sounds much more comfortable and personable in this style than reaching awkwardly for second hand gospelisms.

There is absolutely no question that King has a serious voice, capable of a great deal, but is hamstrung in this instance by an unforgivably incompetent production and some disappointing musicianship. The whole recording has a hesitant air, which may stem from first-time jitters about her own material. There’s an abundance of natural skill and a proper set of lungs to build on here, but Tammy needs to decide who she is.

Watch for future changes, as there’s a warm, gentle voice underneath these songs.

Review: Backhand Saloon – Creature

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. www. fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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Recorded during a period of some upheaval and ascendancy, Backhand Saloon’s second release takes the template laid down by Crooks & Curses and forces it through a fine mesh screen. The quintet’s southern-flecked hardcore has evolved into a more formidable creation.

Creature is a bolder, more expansive record than its predecessor, setting the band up for a more aggressive, powerful ride. Cassiopeia blurts into life with singer Harry’s declaration “In the beginning, there was nothing”. Far from a rehash of old glory, this is manly step forward.

As the record presses on, it becomes clear that there are two Backhands at work; the more delicate side(Thorns, most of Creature, the opening bars of Prometheus), new to this record, and the rough, all savage beatdowns and roaring. These two entities exist side by side on Creature, with the bands ability to inject tenderness and into their brick-hard riff work showing a maturity uncommon in many hardcore bands.

In many ways Creature is more of a suite than an EP; each track stands alone perfectly, but the band’s evolving songcraft is as clear as open water. Mora and Prometheus are crushing, the band trying to power out of the speakers with force alone. Taken as a snapshot in time, Backhand sound tense but determined, the youthful joie de vivre of Crooks & Cursesreplaced by the grown up, self-aware beast of Creature. Taking the title track through to the end of Prometheus alone would have made a great EP, but having Cassiopeia as a opener shows how far they’ve come. 

At the end of all this is Acid Fang, which sounds great live, but on record sounds like an afterthought; having the record end with Mora would have been a true cliffhanger. Backhand have a well-deserved live reputation, and as they are currently out on tour this can only improve. Having released the single Hollow Heart with their new lineup, the band has tightened, grown more aggressive, more confident.

This is a good record by a good band, who are evolving into a great band. The next record should be a genuine game-changer, and I await it with baited breath. Ace.

Review: Avante Black – Make A Mess

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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Over the last ten years, my faith in music has been alternately eroded, bouyed, crippled, and rebuilt, as I watched the charts devolve into a revolting parody of the true cultural battleground that they were, even into the early 00’s.

However, following the collapse of the old industry, and the adaption of bands to new mediums, something fantastic happened; unless you were another boyband/girlband type or the flavour of the month, you were underground. Forcing bands to develop in the old ways, but to communicate with each other in a more direct and global manner, has yielded some great results, and so it is with Avante Black.

‘Make A Mess’ is a change of pace from this globally-fed outfit. Two Swedes, and Italian, and a London bloke on drums, Avante Black have produced a series of singles that made even jaded old me take notice. While songs like ‘Drug Money’ and ‘Imaginary Love’ are by turns informed by shoegaze, splinters of Joy Division, and what souds like a less-than-ideal fiscal circumstance, ‘Make A Mess’ feels more mature, full-figured, and direct. Ottilia’s voice is less sorrowful than previous efforts, especially ‘Drug Money’, and while there’s plenty of hints of shoegaze and that most apalling of epithets, dreampop, I believe Avante Black to be harder than that.

Beginning with electronics that immediately made me think of the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Make A Mess’ then decides to head to a righteous crossroads where the most serious aspects of the Cardigans, Unforgettable-Fire-era U2 and early Sneaker Pimps meet to discuss their extreme genuine-ness. So often with bands of this nature, much is made of the beautiful frontwoman, something exacerbated by videos and live performances being sexualized in some manner, but that is not the case here. I watched a live Sofar rendition of ‘Drug Money’, and it is my belief that the band genuinely and truly want to sound like this, something for which I have true respect. Ottilia both looks and sounds like she’s telling real stories, recounting events that truly took place, something that is in too short a supply in pop music.

There’s a dark edge to this single, which made me listen to it a number of times, with enough going on between the guitar and electro-bits to hear different things each time. I’ve got to give Avante Black props for balancing these two elements, so often at war, with poise and understanding, and for ensuring that neither is a lead instrument, which gives the song greater mass. While the band will no doubt be offered the opportunity to have their songs sell things like phones or perfume – such is the way in this time period – they are a proper band, no messing, and everything I’ve listened to so far firmly raises my thumbs in approval.

Top job.

Review: Bad Sign – Square 1

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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Basick Records is home to a number of progressively-minded heavy bands, and is a home-grown, UK label. It’s been home to acts like Enter Shikari, the sky-tearing Ion Dissonance, Blotted Science, The Algorithm, and in this instance, Bad Sign.

‘Square 1’, their new single, is a more temperate, though no less meaty, extension of the bands’ own sound. While it is not unheard of for bands to wane in aggression as they age, here that is not the case. Watching their older material like ‘Rebuild’, ‘Confession’, ‘Intermission’ and ‘Closure’, it seems like Bad Sign are becoming what they desire to be. While earlier material reminded me of Tool – and their guitar tone of Pelican – those big, hooky vocals and allusions to faith-orientated matters gave the whole thing a different feeling.

I can imagine this going down especially well live, heavy as it is without being crushing. I have to mention the close-harmony singing as the song closes in on its third minute, which in itself points to an interesting and possible direction for the band. It would be nice to see them running further with their template, which, while hardly orthodox, feels like it is in a constant state of development. It is almost as though the band have written their material to suit their ability, something that sells them a little bit short.

Listening to this single in the company of its older brothers and sisters, I get the feeling that there’s so much more to come out of Bad Sign, and that in time, they will produce a truly killer record. No faint praise or wishy-washiness here; if they stick to their guns and hone what’s here, they will naturally blossom into a serious, brick-hard contender, something I would love to see.

Review: Blood Command – Cult Drugs

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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Norway is a place with a defiant, intriguing musical history. Home to some intense conduct in the shape of Kvelertak, Darkthrone, and Tiger Fysisk Format labelmates Jagged Vision, as well as pop alumni A-ha, it seems both meet and right that a band such as Blood Command would rise from this forest-y, frozen land.

Building on a serious number of road miles, healthy reviews, end-of-year-list placings and more besides, ‘Cult Drugs’ comes out of the blocks with both arms swinging, and immediately there is a problem. Everywhere I went online there were statements that this is a punk band, a melodic hardcore band, and so on. The superb production on this record, and, I would add, on songs of theirs going all the way back to 2010, is, if anything, more industrial than anything else. There is something deeply European about the feel of it all, from the way the band present themselves live to the urgency, the welcome lack of sunshine that abounds on this single; the Distillers wish they were this forceful.

I must stress that besides the labelling issue, I’m into this. In one of those unusual situations, Blood Command sound infinitely heavier than they look, something that was comfortingly confirmed in the live footage I saw. Though it would be incredibly lazy to compare them to Blondie, whom they sound absolutely nothing like, it would be fair to compare them to Paramore, though Hayley’s lot have never sounded like grown-ups, and this is a far cry from the slightly-wounded bubblegum conduct for which that band is known.

‘Cult Drugs’ is a big, well-written single from a band who both acknowledge their sound but are not bound by it. There’s plenty going on in here and very little let-up, and the acoustic versions of their material have the same revved-up edge and gravitas, even with 9/10th’s of the sound missing. If you were into the harder side of pop-punk as a teenager but life has knocked some lumps out of you, check this out; it’s perfect.

Bra gjort.

Review: Jet Rewind – Someone Else

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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The other day I was waiting for a bus. I didn’t have my headphones with me, and I had no data left to gawp at the internet, so I was left to experience the grey sky, fresh drizzle, and indeterminate timespan that would pass before the juddering, clown-filled vehicle that I needed arrived.

At the end of this excrutiating nothingness, there awaited the warm company of a good friend, a few beers, laughter and chat, and though I knew that this time would draw to a close, the peaks outweighed the troughs, and I forgot all about the dull beginning.

The point here is that it’s perfectly fine to wait as long as something is going to happen. As I hung my laundry on this uninspiring Saturday afternoon, I listened with a keen, expectant ear to Jet Rewind’s first single, issued through Admirable Trait Records. Alright, I thought, this is sunny enough; I bet the chorus is sweet and shimmery, saccharine and swell, and will enthuse me to ride my bike to the beach house where my girlfriend lives, where we will laugh about sad songs and drink cocktails and dance with our shoes off.

This was not to be. Nothing happens. There’s a line in here that says ‘Running away like you don’t really care ’bout nothing/but nothing is something to someone else’. I wish I was someone else, someone who could have their sonic requirements fulfilled by the luke-warm, tepid, water-cooler smile that is this song. It’s not a lot to ask – even an ‘ahhh’ harmony over the chorus would have done, something to lift it up; there are times when it sounds as though the drummer wants to hit a big cymbal for some punctuation, and damn it all if I don’t hear him holding back. Madness!

If I were trying to advertise the mature clothing line for Marks & Spencers, this wouldn’t be extreme enough. Jet Rewind are pleasant, but not very pleasant, exciting, diverting, or comforting; by the same token they are not depressing, enervating, irritating or vexing, they are mild. I’m sure time will grant perspective for the band, and they’ll hear how ineffectual this record is, but in the meantime, I hope they take this review as a kick in the pants and understand that their songs don’t have to burn heaven, or kill the rich, or fix the economy, but they have to do something!

Hnnnnghghghhh!

Review: The Devil Wears Prada – 8:18

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine. http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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Christian metalcore, as a genre, has no shortage of detractors. Many source its fundamental unlikeability to its implied, often third-tier piety and identikit nature. Today, let’s put all that to one side and look at the music exclusively.

After reading the hype about ‘darkness’, ‘relentlessness’, lyrical misery and so on, one can be forgiven for expecting, at the very least, a properly heavy record. Production wise, there’s lots of chunks, chest-out ambience and plunging bass, with the ubiquitous backwards cymbals during empty moments in the beatdowns. Adam K, of gurning warriors Killswitch Engage, acted as executive producer with Matt Goldman, who worked with The Chariot, giving the whole record a dense, modern feel. That was a good omen; initially, at least.

Hereafter, my tolerance for this album evaporated. 13 tracks of overly plaintive, hope-withering bluster was too much, and by the half-way point of Sailor’s Prayer I was considering a future without sight or hearing. In an attempt to find something to like, I forced myself to listen to 8:18 over and over again. Of all the tracks contained therein, War’s chorus stood out, as did some of the quieter moments, the saccharine jubilation in squeals that is In Heart managing to pull itself from the wreckage.

The vocals, however, were agony. The brattish, unlikeable, sputtering yelps of a slackjawed shrieker boiled every drop of my blood. In the hope that this was a new, ill-advised direction, I consumed TDWP’s back catalogue, only to find the same material, with even more hateful vocals. Dangerously toxic even if coming from a teenager, these are the worst kind of look-at-me screams, the sound of someone professing brutality without any of the danger.

8:18 is a record TDWP fans will love, delivering as it does a toothless stream of single-minded, unimaginative, cro-magnon melody, an abundance of empty lyricism and a total absence of new material.

Not great.

The Bottom Half

Like most of you, I see people write things online that make me very angry. Not sad, not disappointed, but angry. Angry not because they have said those things, or for their lack of understanding, callousness or ignorance, but because regardless how heinous the declaration, not matter how cretinous, impossible, or untrue the statement, someone will get into it with them, creating a turbulent pocket of needless discourse.

‘Needless’ is perhaps a casual term for something profoundly important, and yet ineffectual at the same time; it is essential that human beings have debate, that we don’t all agree with one another, as this approach, if literally applied, would bring stagnation. Imagine if every statement made was unilaterally agreed upon – would we ever move forward? ‘Guys, the earth is flat’. ‘Well that’s that done. Cool.’

Of course this is an extreme example, but there’s nothing wrong with the principle. However, when debate exists between two or more people with no effect other than to piss each other off, nothing is achieved other than the strengthening of the resolve behind those ideas. What makes matters worse is when we start name calling, or even worse, using hateful slurs.

This is the golden age of the Asshole, where everyone has both the right and the opportunity to say whatever the hell they want, whether it needed to be said or not. In fact, the more it didn’t need to be said, the more likely you are to find it. If you want a neat synopsis of this, go and read any of the comments on trumps’ Twitter feed, pick up your jaw, and come back to this post.

Some of the things I’ve read even in the last couple of hours are incredible. Click on any picture, any video of anything, and there’s a fight going on. If the video says ‘I Love The Colour Blue!’, scroll down and you’ll be see someone saying ‘so u h8 purple u f*g lol fuk u’, or alluding to their religion, skin colour, clothing, height, fiscal circumstances, mental ability, upbringing, parentage, taste, or any number of the other things that we as a species deem worthy as avenues for direct hatred.

The Bottom Half of The Internet, as a friend of mine once described it to me, is a miasmic, turbulent pool, where grievances are aired in their millions. Post occurs. You get mad, and reply. Sneering/hateful/violent response is issued. You get madder. Your measured/condescending/pious reply gets up the arse of the person/people on the other end, and you spend the next hour locked in rampant conflict with a total stranger; meaningless because you’re trying to change the mind of someone who is absolutely not interested in changing their opinion, the same way you’re not budging on what you think.

Once, and only once, I posted the most innocuous of comments on a video on YouTube, only to receive the most unbelievable abuse from a total stranger, which escalated to threats of violence and assertions that I was an unclean lady’s body part among many, many other things. It was at this time that I decided that I could experience a lot of the internet without interacting with it, and have kept to this, outside of Facebook.

Because on Facebook, you’re fighting with your friends, or at the very least, people you’ve met or know, and so there is an inherent accountability. Fighting with strangers on Twitter, or some of the horrific stuff I’ve read on Tumblr or Instagram, seems to be infused with this idea that there are no consequences for anything you say, where anyone who disagrees with you opens themselves to as much bile as you can squeeze into the character limit.

The next time you find yourself drawn into this sort of behaviour, close the program, and think about what you’re doing. You’re not a great political leader trying to solve a humanitarian crisis. You’re on the toilet, telling a racist that they shouldn’t be a racist, which is like telling a tree not to be made of wood.

If you want to make a difference, don’t be a penis to other people because you can, or shout down anyone who disagrees with you. Recognise that those individuals who spout hateful polemic online have no courage to do it in real life, and they’re posting it online because you can’t punch them in the face from there.

This doesn’t mean your cause isn’t just, honest, or right, but the best way to make a change in the world is to do it in real life, so go out there and do it.