After building a reputation as paragons of the live performance, Deadletter soars even higher with ‘Binge’, a biting incantation on intoxication. In a world of nicotine patches, ‘don’t talk to me before my morning coffee’, and Klarna payment plans for your new shoes – frontman Zac Lawrence preaches at a world which demands everything immediately all the time. Instant porn, instant music, instant dating, and instant celebrity content have made us all shallow and impatient, and it’s hard to tell if ‘Binge’ is a call to arms against our current evolution or a sardonic ‘so what?’
‘Binge’ brings us a collage of post-punk, funk, and new wave. Written in 25 minutes back in January, Lawrence credits a formula of “drumline, bassline, lyrics, seasoning” to Deadletter’s creative process. It’s an organic recipe, all bare bones and knuckles and knees, building the skeleton of what a song needs before adding sinew and tissue. The drumline is of Alfie Husband’s doing, and along with George Ullyot on bass the beat shoots straight to your muscles and gets you moving, all whilst scratching an impossible itch in the back of your skull. The guitar riffs from King and Bates combined have an almost Bowie sense of movement, bringing the glam that ‘Binge’ tells us we aspire to. Poppy Richler fleshes out the instrumentals on the saxophone, further demonstrating how the current post-punk scene’s revival of a horn section is a truly wonderful thing.
If there’s one thing that you can rely on from Deadletter, it’s that they bring an extroadinary energy to every song, every performance, and every music video. Lawrence is adrenaline incarnate, on screen and stage he doesn’t just move his mouth he entertains with his entire physicality; his movements are percussive, his body is an instrument in and of itself. He is a frontman that steps down into the audience and growls in their faces while moshing along with them. Whilst premiering ‘Binge’ on BBC Radio 6 yesterday afternoon, Steve Lamacq said of the band that they “have an uncanny chemistry on stage” before describing their performance at this year’s Great Escape Festival as having a significant impact on the audience.
With their EP ‘Heat’ due for launch in November, ‘Binge’ provides us with enough Deadletter to keep us satiated for the time being – But we want more, because we are greedy little wretches and life’s a binge. The band are currently touring the UK, with dates featured below, so catch them while you can.
18th August – The Blue Moon, Cambridge (Music Venue Trust Tour)
19th August – Chameleon Arts Café, Nottingham (Music Venue Trust Tour)
20th August – The Star Inn, Guilford (Music Venue Trust Tour)
21st August – Beautiful Days Festival, Devon
23rd August – Duffy’s, Leicester (Music Venue Trust Tour)
24th August – Elsewhere, Margate (Music Venue Trust Tour)
25th August – The Grain, Frome (Music Venue Trust Tour)
27th August – Reading Festival
28th August – Leeds Festival
16th September – Head Of Stream, Newcastle
17th September – The Flying Duck, Glasgow
18th September – Bootleg Social, Blackpool
20th September – Sidney and Matilda, Sheffield
21st September – Oporto, Leeds
22nd September – The Castle Hotel, Manchester
23rd September – Polar Bear, Hull (Supporting Yard Act) SOLD OUT
Pet Sounds is one of the greatest albums of all time. There’s no doubt about it.
Released by The Beach Boys in 1966, it peaked at number 10 on the charts, which was actually considered a disappointment seeing as how successful the band had been at the time. While modern critics have come to understand how groundbreaking this album is, at the time, critical reception was also more mixed than previous albums, with some recognizing the album’s intricate genius while others were confused by the dramatic change in sound and tone from the albums of yesteryear. After all, the last Beach Boys album before this point was the empty-headed fun of The Beach Boys Party!
Within a year, however, the tides turned: following Pet Sounds was the single “Good Vibrations,” a compositional masterwork that shot to #1 on the charts and restored The Beach Boys in the public eye, at least for a moment.
“Good Vibrations” was intended to be one of the songs off of an album called SMiLE, a collection of sounds that would go in even more bizarre and interesting directions than its predecessor. However, Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness and drug use, as well as anxiety over how the public would view the album, ultimately led to the album being shut down, at least for the time being. Some of the recordings for this album were quickly compiled into Smiley Smile, which confused many and did not perform well on the charts. This sudden halt in momentum was highly detrimental to both Brian’s mental health and the band’s status as stars, and for many, this is where the story of the Beach Boys ends. This could not be farther from the truth.
From 1967 to 1974, The Beach Boys proved themselves to be remarkable composers, lyricists, and musicians, even with the dwindling participation of Brian, though he still contributed songs and ideas from time to time. Starting with Wild Honey and ending with Holland, there were ideas and gems abound on each tracklist.
Wild Honey seems to be The Beach Boys dusting themselves off after Smiley Smile. The title track, standout single “Darlin’” (which shot to a refreshing #19 on the charts), and “How She Boogalooed It” proved that the boys could still have fun while advancing themselves as musicians. Other songs such as “Let the Wind Blow,” “I’d Love Just Once to See You,” and “Aren’t You Glad,” serve as foreshadowing to what was to come from the band in the future, with comprehensive melodies and thoughtful pacing. Carl Wilson also continues to prove himself as a vocal powerhouse on this album, his singing on “Darlin’” being particularly impressive.
Friends, released in 1968, is one of the most overlooked albums in the band’s discography. The vocal stylings and song structures give off the sense that this album is the perfect pairing of pre-Pet Sounds pop sensibilities and post-Pet Sounds musical knowledge. “Anna Lee, The Healer,” “Passing By,” and the title track have an innocence to them that harkens back to days on the beach while refusing to stop moving forward. Dennis Wilson also begins to come out of his shell on this album, writing the songs “Little Bird” and “Be Still,” which are both beautiful songs and serve as indicators of where Dennis’s writing would go in the future. Overall, the album feels very appropriate for the time and features some of the strongest vocal concoctions from the band, particularly on the chorus of “Anna Lee, The Healer.”
20/20 sees the band emerge from the gentleness of Friends with a newfound grit and energy while still preserving their melodic roots. The first two tracks on the album, Mike Love’s perfect nostalgia bait “Do It Again” and a gloriously performed cover of The Ronettes “I Can Hear Music” kick the album off in style and even got some love from the record buying public. The tight, punchy pop of “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” is punctuated by loud, surprisingly distorted guitar licks throughout, while “All I Want To Do” features some of Mike Love’s most passionate lyrics yet, making the song a fun listen. However, the album isn’t all late 60’s coarseness: newly minted member Bruce Johnston has his moment in the spotlight with the piano instrumental “The Nearest Faraway Place,” and Dennis Wilson’s gently swaying “Be With Me” serves as a stunning power ballad. Other standouts include Al Jardine’s jaunty take on “Cotton Fields,” the soothing waltz “Time to Get Alone,” and the surprise SMiLE compositions “Our Prayer” and “Cabinessence,” which, while they don’t entirely fit the feel of the album, are still mind blowing musical experiments.
The 1970’s kicked off with Sunflower, one of the band’s greatest albums. The Dennis composition “Slip on Through” kicks things off with gusto, followed by the soulful “This Whole World” and “Add Some Music to Your Day,” the latter of which features incredibly rich vocal harmonies. “It’s About Time” still stands out to this day as one of the band’s most grandiose, powerful tunes; it would become a killer live track in years to come. Ballads such as Bruce Johnston’s “Tears in the Morning” and Dennis Wilson’s classic love song “Forever” showcase a new dimension of the band’s softer side. The sonic experimentation on this record must be noted as well, with the cavernous opening of “Dierdre,” the proto-dream pop of “All I Wanna Do,” and the intricate, multifaceted “Cool, Cool Water,” the latter originating during the SMiLe sessions, showcasing a band not just evolving with the times, but leading the pack.
1971’s Surf’s Up features an even more eclectic mix of material. The album kicks off with the catchy yet urgent “Don’t Go Near The Water,” an environmental message that still holds up today, sadly. Following this song is “Long Promised Road,” which serves as a reminder of how amazing Carl’s voice is. Other standouts on the album include the sunkissed Bruce Johnston classic “Disney Girls (1957),” the thoughtful and atmospheric “Feel Flows,” and the incredibly bleak, Brian Wilson-penned “‘Til I Die.” Capping off the album is one of the more famous SMiLE cuts, the title track. Featuring multiple segments that coalesce under a dusky, murky instrumental and obscure lyrics, the song is yet another example of Brian Wilson’s compositional abilities.
In the following year, the band released two albums, both featuring new members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, formerly of the band The Flame. These albums, Carl and the Passions – So Tough and Holland, showcase a band that is confidently wading into the future. At this point, The Beach Boys had begun to see renewed critical acclaim and a steadily increasing presence at their live shows, though record sales were still lacking. They were embracing a new image, and with that, they kicked down the door in 1972 with some of their strongest work yet.
Carl and the Passions opens with “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone,” a funky number that shows off a groovier side of The Beach Boys. It features intricate vocal harmonies, tight guitar solos, and stabbing piano hits that roll it along at a quick pace with Ricky’s drumming. Blondie gets his first shot at the spotlight with the strutting “Here She Comes,” on which he proves himself to be a strong vocalist. “Marcella,” is a quintessential 70’s Beach Boys track, with its sultry piano, lush guitars, rich production, and stacked vocals that flow every which way during the chorus of the song. “Make it Good,” is another spacious, beautiful Dennis Wilson ballad, with his vulnerable vocal backed by a Hollywood-esque wall of orchestration and vocal harmonies that could bring a tear to even the most hardened listener’s eye. “All This is That” feels like a late 60’s cut, with its meditative themes, blissful harmonies, and mellow vibes. Ending the album is “Cuddle Up,” another Dennis ballad that closes the curtain with a deeply emotional bow.
Later that year came Holland, truly a spectacular album. These nine songs feel like the culmination of years of growing and maturing as artists. “Sail On, Sailor” is a powerful and entertaining opener fronted by Blondie, and its swelling 6/8 time instrumentation gives it an appropriate seafaring feel. The surprisingly sludgy and austere “Steamboat” follows, with Carl’s plaintive vocal acting as a beacon within the murky low tones of the instrumentation. The next three songs, “Big Sur,” “The Beaks of Eagles,” and “California” all comprise a suite known as The California Saga. The fact that The Beach Boys even attempted a song suite is commendable, but the songs included are even more so. “Big Sur” is a charming waltz powered by harmonica and pedal steel guitar. Dreamy lyrics describe elements of California that are often overlooked, such as its forests. “The Beaks of Eagles” is a stunningly creative piece, featuring spoken word sections accompanied by flute flourishes, piano, and ghostly harmonies. In contrast, there are also sections of the song that roll merrily along, as if to break the tension. Finally, “California” is a euphoric, grown up version of the 60’s sound, with Mike Love harkening back to multiple iconic Californian sites such as the Big Sur Congregation and the farmhouse in the sycamores. It’s a lot of fun and is probably the most authentically “Beach Boys” the band had been in years.
The second side of the album starts off with “The Trader,” a stalwart piece of music with its head held high before things quiet down after a sudden key change from D major to C major halfway through. “Leaving This Town” stands as Blondie and Ricky’s highlight during their time with the band, with haunting piano chords, heart wrenching lyrics, and a synthesizer solo of all things burning the song into the mind of the listener. “Only With You” stands out as one of Dennis’s most beautiful compositions. Velvety piano mixes with faint, heavenly strings in a way that has hardly ever happened, with the watery production actually helping the song’s graceful nature. Finally, “Funky Pretty” ends the album with some quality lyrics from Mike Love and an applause-worthy instrumental from the band. Also of note is the companion EP to this album, Brian Wilson’s fairytale Mt. Vernon and Fairway, the intriguing instrumental and descriptive narration making it a strange listen that proves that Brian still had something to say.
After 1974, with the release of the hugely successful best hits compilation Endless Summer, the dream was over, and the music that followed largely revolved around trying to repeat past successes, chase pop trends, and cover oldies. However, the music produced in 1967-74 proves not only that The Beach Boys were far from adrift after Pet Sounds, but that each member could shine in his own right. Even the worst cuts from this era demonstrate that the band was fighting into the future, discovering new and interesting ways to express themselves. Although not nearly enough people know about these classic albums, for those who have listened to them, they will always stand the test of time as musical classics.
Alien Chicks’ explosive new single ’27 Stitches’ was released last week to a truly epic reception at the Brixton Windmill. Joined by other hot bands on the scene, Cowboyy and A Void, the most likewise stylish of London’s music lovers gathered to watch Alien Chicks’ captivating lineup tear up the stage.
Fired-up fans left with a healthy fill of sweat-fueled mayhem and some carrying a small vial of the band’s shared bathwater around their neck. The band’s upcoming music video may give us some much-needed answers around that…
The genre-defying Welsh language trio Adwaith hit their home music scene hard in 2015 and have since brought their spellbinding sound and punching attitude to stages at Glastonbury, Green Man and many others across the UK. The larger British music scene has quickly embraced the band’s extraordinary energy and our prayers have just been answered with Adwaiths new album Bato Mato. Fresh back from their weekend at Glasto, we spoke to Gwen, Hollie and Heledd about the album’s reinvigorated sound and their hopes for carrying Welsh language music to a mass of new listeners from across the world.
James: Hey guys, how was playing Glastonbury?
Hollie: Crazy. What a mad experience.
Gwen: It’s just so massive, it’s impossible to see all the bands you want to see. But we did keep finding new things.
James: I heard that a festival had something to do with starting the band in the first place, why don’t you tell me a bit about that.
Gwen: Well Hollie and I have known each other since we were babies. We went to this Welsh festival in 2015 and after the festival, we thought; well we both play instruments, why don’t we start writing music together? We started off with a few covers, which were truly awful, what covers did we try to do?
Hollie: Oh dear, we tried to do ‘Build a home’ (The Cinematic Orchestra) and we attempted some First Aid Kit as well. But we started getting annoyed with ourselves so we thought; let’s sack this off and do our own thing.
James: Do you think those covers will ever see the light of day?
Hollie: There were no recordings of them thank God.
James: Going back to the festival where it all began, which bands did you see which really inspired you?
Gwen: I think that year Gwenno was playing and a band called HMS Morris. At the time there weren’t any female musicians on the Welsh festival scene, so seeing them made us think that it was something that we could do. So we went back and started writing then had our first gig in September 2015, which is where Hollie and I first met Heledd. We didn’t have a drummer and luckily Heledd happened to be there, so we were very lucky she came to the gig.
Hollie: Thank the lord!
James: I imagine that getting a band started in Wales must be very different to doing it in a major city like London. Would you say you guys are from a pretty rural area?
Hollie: Oh yes definitely rural.
James: Was it difficult finding places to play in the early days?
Gwen: We were lucky to have this venue called The Parrot in our town and that’s where we Hollie and I saw our first bands and eventually played our first gigs. We were very very lucky to have the venue because I don’t think we would have started a band without it.
Hollie: Definitely not.
Gwen: Or even have had the opportunity to play gigs if it wasn’t for that venue. The Welsh music scene there was very supportive of us and particularly of Welsh language music as a whole.
James: Would you say that there are a large amount of Welsh artists performing in the Welsh language now, or is it something which has yet to cross into the mainstream in Wales?
Gwen: I think it is quite hard for Welsh language artists to break out. I think our audience is mostly outside of Wales but industry-wise, it is still quite hard to get support sometimes. We’ve been looking for a booking agent for quite a while now, and a lot of them have said ‘you’re great but you’re singing in Welsh.’ So it is still quite hard but it is getting better and you see more artists breaking out of Wales and doing more gigs outside of Wales which is really nice to see.
James: This new album, Bato Mato, tell me how important it is to you.
Hollie: It’s so important to us, it’s our little baby.
Gwen: I’m hoping it exposes Welsh language music to a big audience and it’s kind of the next step now after the last album Melyn. We’re just excited to see where it takes us. Melyn took us to some crazy places so I’m hoping this will let us continue on that crazy journey.
James: What was the writing process behind the album like?
Gwen: We wrote most of it after a trip together to Siberia. We did a gig out there and I think it was just such a crazy experience from start to finish that we just couldn’t not write an album about it. We were very inspired by the landscapes and the people and these big industrial abandoned buildings. It was a bit grey and a bit bleak. We came back and we just had to write an album, it was during lockdown so it wasn’t how we would usually write together; sending ideas back and forth. It wasn’t ideal but lockdown gave us a bit of a break to work on our sound and the tracks.
James: Did the album turn out how you expected when you first imagined what it might sound like?
Gwen: I think we had a vision for it, we definitely knew we wanted it to sound a lot more developed. Compared to the last album I think the pop songs are more ‘poppy’ and the dark songs are darker. Everything is more intense and saturated. We knew we wanted to do that. I don’t think we envisioned it quite how it turned out but it’s definitely turned out better than we hoped.
Hollie: When we went to the studio we had loads of weird instruments that we had no idea how to play, just to see what sounds we could make by experimenting. You can probably see one of them behind Gwen right now.
James: Oh yes, what is that, Gwen?
Gwen: It’s a Zhongruan, which is a Chinese instrument. It’s very bizarre looking and I’m still not really sure how to play it.
James: I’m sure you’ve noticed a big shift in the music scene where bands are becoming more experimental with their sound, breaking down the barriers of genre and even working against their own established sound. Has that resonated with you guys with the new album?
Gwen: I think all of our music tastes are very different and diverse, so it made a lot of sense to write an album that wasn’t genre specific. I think that’s how you make and keep music exciting.
James: What’s next for you guys? Are places like London becoming your new home or are you more interested in trying to break a bigger music scene in Wales?
Gwen: We want to make Welsh music a big thing. World domination is the end goal. I think that the Welsh language in music has previously been frowned upon by people outside of Wales and people in Wales. So that’s really urged us to want to spread the Welsh love and to play Welsh music around the world, and then to open doors to other bands to do the same.
Heledd: I feel like we definitely want to stay in Wales too and create a bigger scene there, and also inspire more people there to want to embrace music.
James: I mean I for one would love to see more bands singing in their own language. I love bands who sing in their own accents and so to make your language a part of your music is really great. So what’s the immediate plan after the launch of the album?
Gwen: We’ve got a little tour lined up and some festivals coming up soon, with hopefully some gigs abroad by the end of the year. Just to gig the album as much as we can.
James: I’ll be sure to catch you guys playing soon. Any upcoming gigs in London that I should know about?
Hollie: Oh yes! Moth Club on Tuesday the 5th of July. Come down!
Adwaith’s new album Bato Mato is out now via Libertino Records. Catch them at Moth Club on July 5th. Tickets on DICE.
If you look up the word “Underrated” in the dictionary, you’ll find this band.
Formed in Manchester in 1999, Working For A Nuclear Free City was an alternative, nu-gaze, boundary-pushing band that undoubtedly inspired and paved the way for countless bands and artists. With a career that spans just under two decades, the style and sound of their music were constantly evolving and redefining genres, resulting in an eclectic, inspiring, and impressive discography.
The band’s self-titled debut album was released in 2006 and quickly gained acclaim from a number of major media outlets, with the BBC stating: “it’s the way that [WFANFC and The Longcut, another British music group] have distilled Manchester’s history into an exciting future brew that makes them important.”
Clocking in at just under forty minutes, the album plays like a hazy yet intense dream. One minute you’re floating through melancholic tones with tracks such as “The 224th Day” and “Pixelated Birds,” only to then be slapped in the face with fuzzed up bass riffs and striking drum beats on tracks like “Troubled Son” and “Dead Fingers Talking.” The overall sound is experimental and innovative with a carefully crafted mix of pulsing synths, punchy percussion, infectious gleaming guitar riffs, and distorted swirling vocals that all culminate in a compelling explosion of varying styles and genres (which can be said for their entire discography).
Album two, 2008’s Businessmen & Ghosts is just as striking, if not more. Featuring a re-release of a handful of the songs from the self-titled debut, this album’s duration is almost three times the length of the previous record – a staggering one hour and forty-four minutes long. However, with a sound of this calibre, even this almost two-hour listen will leave you wanting more.
The first new song on the album, “Rocket,” is a melodic, acoustic-driven, upbeat groove with atmospheric harmonic vocals that not only haunts your subconscious until you find yourself humming the tune days later, but also lets you know that this album is probably going to steer away from the previous sonic palette.
Further indication of this is “Sarah Dreams of Summer.” Maybe hinted at through the name, this is a breezy and carefree sounding tune with warm guitars and organs that sit cleanly around layered vocal harmonies reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s arrangements for The Beach Boys.
Fast-forwarding through the album, heavier tracks like “All American Taste” and “Eighty Eight” with their catchy bass riffs, phased vocals, and forefront vintage-tinged drum beats, sound like the love-child of Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, the latter of whom is cited as an influence of the bands. Other influences include artists like Primal Scream, Yo La Tengo, Devo, Bill Evans, and Yes. If you weren’t already curious enough to go and immediately jump into their music, I would hope that the combination of these names was the final push you needed.
Much like the growth between the two albums mentioned above, the sound of Working For A Nuclear Free Town’s music only expands over the course of the later (and unfortunately final) records, solidifying them as one of the most creative, defining, and timeless bands of the 2000s – and one that, rightfully so, should be a treasured part of your record collection or streaming playlists.
With the multitude of genres, labels, and categories that exist within the music industry, having a commonly identifiable sound is probably the safest way to go, especially for the sake of being commercially viable. Although, sometimes that can take away from the music, as well as the feeling it evokes. Whilst it might be difficult to pinpoint the exact style of Working For A Nuclear Free Town’s music, what is clear, however, is that this is the sound of a band who was never afraid to take risks, regardless of the cost or outcome – and that should always be celebrated.
Coordinated chaos reigns supreme in the music of Animals As Leaders.
Their meticulous breed of progressive metal is a daunting beast that grooves to an unfamiliar pulse, the alien heartbeat of instrumentalists Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes, and Matt Garstka. Originally a vehicle for Abasi’s solo work, the project underwent a gradual evolution up until the trio first recorded together for 2014’s The Joy Of Motion, an album that immaculately showcased each of their distinct skillsets and set the stage for their future as a band. With the release of their fifth record, Parrhesia, the reasons for their success are clearer than ever.
Initial listens to Animals As Leaders tracks can be intimidating, even for seasoned veterans of the genre. The erratic rhythms and intense textures that define their sound are rarely digestible from the get-go, and they have no qualms with overwhelming the audience.
Take for example “Arithmophobia,” a promotional single from The Madness Of Many. Rather than take the chance to draw in new fans with simpler material, they presented what can only be described as a complete and total mindfuck. Those brave enough to stick around for repeat listens, however, are handsomely rewarded. Honing in on any of the individual instruments reveals a world of sonic delights while taking on the track as a whole opens the mind to beats and melodies that have no right to be as memorable as they are.
Our first taste of Parrhesia came in the form of the aptly titled “Monomyth,” and in many ways, it seems equally impenetrable. Where the key difference lies, though, is in its length.
At only three minutes, it manages to distil the dark magic of “Arithmophobia” into a much more accessible package. It retains the mystique in its writhing melodies yet shows a level of focus atypical of progressive music, primarily revolving around the dichotomy between two closely related sections. When it does depart from the main form, it does so to offer respite from the mania – a transcendental breakdown slows the pace, gifting the listener with something more tangible before they are violently dropped back into the fray.
Much of the album follows suit in this fashion, teetering on the fault line between cataclysmic and euphoric. “Gestaltzerfall” effortlessly bridges the gap in passages that are as dense as they are achingly beautiful, while late cut “Thoughts And Prayers” divides its attention more distinctly across soft and heavy moments. Reyes proves his worth on the latter with a rousing solo that stands out as one of the band’s most emotional.
“The Problem Of Other Minds,” meanwhile, delivers a glorious soundscape of interwoven guitars and synths, backed up by a hefty drumbeat from Garstka. Released alongside a stunning music video directed by Telavaya Reynolds – who also designed the album sleeve – it is a foil to “Monomyth,” boasting a lighter tone and some soaring leads from Abasi, and is Parrhesia’s shortest track.
If there is an easy entry point to the record, this is it. “Asahi” allows its contemplative harmony to linger, a lush build that gives it new context within the tracklist.
Though it’s by far their briefest outing, Parrhesia packs in something of everything that makes Animals As Leaders great. From breathtaking highs to the earth-shattering lows of “Gordian Naught,” it expertly weaves between consonance and dissonance, sprinkling both in equal measure into standout tracks like “Red Miso.” It may take some time to warm up to its more uncompromising moments (namely “Micro-Aggressions”) but ultimately, that’s half of the fun; the more you listen, the more you become accustomed to the turbulence. Once it works its way into your brain, listening to the album is a completely different experience.
Animals As Leaders often evoke the sublime in that their music is equal parts astonishing and terrifying. With that in mind, their music might not be for everyone, and it’s okay to feel that it’s too much. Take it slowly and let it flow over you, though, you may find yourself swept away by a sound like no other.
The Children of the Pope—judging from the band’s name alone, you know you’re in for something good. Taking “fucking hallelujah!” as their slogan, they describe themselves as a “…religious group from South America and Europe currently based in London.” The band’s intense love for “…dirty guitars, manic shouting, and surrealist melodies,” culminates in just the sort of sound that would have gone over big at the Troubadour in ’68, and holds audiences spellbound today. The band’s rise since their formation in 2018 (in the “grimiest parts of South London,”) has been meticulously documented on video and film by Lou Smith, and they’ve shared stages alongside the likes of Insecure Men, Brian Destiny, and Honkies.
Their latest single “Junkie Girlfriend” is out today on Isolar Records. At first listen, it’s a tune that manages to be simultaneously fresh and nostalgic. Opening with jangling guitar and backing vocals reminiscent of early Beatles stuff, the Parlophone sessions …but no, wait, breaking away in a sharp shout from the sha-la-las come lyrics to shatter the illusion of finding comfort in nostalgia because here we are again, in the same old narcotic mess, the girl with the golden arm and the needle sticking out of it.
Beneath the upbeat vocals, the neat, almost martial drums, the jangling tambourine and bright guitar trailing down like drops of mercury, it’s all fun and games until somebody shoots a mainline, as the narrator notes of his paramour’s coping mechanism: “the way you smile atme/when you find your vein again.” Rather than getting tangled up in typical romantic tropes, the lyrics offer a gritty perspective into a fraught relationship and all the vacillations and sadly unanswerable questions that go with it: “What can I do/Over you?”
Have a look at the band’s manifesto:
Take it seriously or snap your fingers at it, react as you please, but, have a think. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle—are we still in the thick of it? Its plot still a daily truth for millions? Sure. It’s prescient as hell, always has been. Even before it was written it was true. We’ve been post-Eden longer than memory reaches; it gets a little tiring, out here in the moral desert. To find such substance, such brazen intention, in a rock n’ roll outfit during an era when minds have become so collectively warped that it’s somehow considered acceptable to call Maroon 5 a rock band, is a welcome oasis indeed. As Pete Townshend said: “All good art cannot help but confront denial on its way to the truth.” Denial is a real blood sport these days, and the Children of the Pope are confronting it head-on, in the quest for some kind of truth. It’s out there somewhere. We just gotta keep looking for it.
I’ll start off this article with two words: two drummers. I’ll add another two for good measure: no bassist. That’s right, Pons is a three-piece band featuring a guitar, vocals, drums, and more drums. They’re truly a sight and sound to behold.
Pons formed in North Carolina in 2018 shortly after the two founding members graduated high school. The two members in question are Sam Cameron, who sings and plays guitar, and Jack Parker on drums. Shortly after, the duo released their debut EP, titled They Look Like People. The EP features five loud, noisy, raw tracks that only hint at the power Pons was yet to harness.
At first, progress was slow for Pons due to Jack attending college at the University of Vermont, where he became part of the short-lived but very popular emo band Boys Cruise. However, behind the scenes, the duo was still keeping the flame of Pons alive. After releasing a few more songs and embarking on a mini-tour in early 2019, the floodgates opened. That summer, Pons released Dread, their second EP. With this EP, they went on their longest tour yet, traveling from North Carolina all the way to Canada and back. This ambitious outing showcased the incredible work ethic that powered the band, and it was only the beginning.
As fall came around, Pons continued to build on the momentum of the previous summer. Sam moved up to Vermont in order to continue working on new material and play shows in the area. They also expanded, introducing auxiliary percussionist Sebastian Carnot, also known as DIE the Monk, at a show in September. While based in Vermont, the trio built up a reputation for pulling out all the stops live. One of their most popular antics was ditching their instruments and shouting lyrics discordantly over a pre-recorded backing track, wading out into the audience and dancing maniacally as they did so. The addition of a second drummer also meant that their shows became even noisier.
After releasing their debut album Intellect in 2020, Pons once again made a drastic move: they relocated to New York. Despite the high saturation of strange and unusual bands in NYC, Pons immediately stood out due to their raw power and noise. They began playing shows all over the country, darting from one state to another on a whim. Oftentimes, they would pay visits to Vermont, where they were still heroes of the underground. This included playing a show at Higher Ground with Vundabar.
Fast forward to today, and Pons are often cited as people’s favorite band to see live. Their commitment to their sound, style, and persona has also helped them stand out in a world where weirdness is often watered down and turned into a commodity. Their fierce work ethic also makes them stand out as a beacon for other underground bands that are looking to make a name for themselves on the road. Even if Pons’ music isn’t your cup of tea, their determination and passion will have you keeping your eyes on them.
The band’s latest single, “Leave Me To My Work,” is out now on all streaming platforms.
I’ll never forget when I began listening to Scottish band Glasvegas. In seventh grade, I started branching out from the music I heard in the car or on the radio and almost accidentally started listening to them. My dad had received their 2008 self-titled debut album from my uncle, and because of that, I began listening to it. I immediately fell in love with the atmospheric, dense sonic world that Glasvegas created on the album. Songs such as “Geraldine,” “Go Square Go,” “Daddy’s Gone,” and “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” tackled emotional themes while enveloping the listener in swirling guitars, rumbling bass, and simplistic yet effective drums. Although singer James Allen’s vocals were obscured by such a thick Scottish accent that I often had to look up the lyrics to understand what was being said, I still adored the album and still do to this day.
It turns out that I was not alone in my love for the album. After its release, it ended up going platinum, a big feat for an indie rock band. The band had actually formed years earlier in 2003, slowly working and building a fanbase over the years through constant touring, free demos, and a music video for the demo of “Daddy’s Gone.” This slow build in recognition meant that the album was a deserved smash hit, and Glasvegas enjoyed the benefits their self-titled album reaped.
In the years that followed, the band released two more albums: EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \\\ in 2011, and Later…When The TV Turns to Static in 2013. Sadly, these albums did not perform as well critically or commercially as the debut album. Following the release of Static, the band’s output dried up with the exception of a small tour in 2014 to support the album. As the years went on and the band continued to remain silent, it seemed as though they had broken up. Allen’s struggles with drug use also painted the future of the band in a bleak light.
However, the band suddenly reemerged in 2018 to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the debut album. They went on tour and re-released the album with a gold cover. They also released demos of the debut album to all streaming platforms. Then, three years later, the unexpected occurred: Glasvegas released their fourth album. Titled Godspeed, the album contains eleven tracks, two of which serve as interludes. Each of these tracks creates a world that not only harkens back to the debut album but also expands on it. The track “Stay Lit,” despite the title, is actually an acoustic guitar-driven track that has a morose, haunted feel to it. “In My Mirror,” one of the standout tracks on the album, pulses with a sense of urgency and contains some of Allen’s most impassioned vocals to date. “Dying to Live” runs in a similar vein, with Allen practically spitting out the lyrics in desperation over a tense instrumental. The tracks “Keep Me A Space” and “My Life Is A Glasshouse (A Thousand Stones Ago)” echo the first album with their sweeping textures and grand soundscapes.
It is nothing short of staggering that Glasvegas were able to make such a quality album after eight years. However, it is also not outside of the band to pull something like this off. After all, this is the same band that existed for five years before their debut album, slowly honing their sound and polishing their craft. Clearly, work ethic is a major part of Glasvegas’s ethos, which is something that must be admired. Many other bands would have folded under lesser circumstances, but with Godspeed, Glasvegas proves that they are made of tougher stuff.
It is a hot summer’s day in Central London and my friend Millie and I are jumping up and down screeching along to“Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex. Their flat above the Charing Cross Road holds some punk memorabilia that belonged to their late mother, with the face of Johnny Rotten staring down at us from a high-up corner as we mosh in the living room. The song came to me as a godsend, at a point where I briefly lived with Millie at the end of 2016, a year of my life that was fuelled by sex and anger. When I first heard Poly Styrene utter the words, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’” I saw myself walking into sixth form covered in hickeys and bruises, I saw myself in screaming fits against my family, and I saw myself kicking and cursing at bully boys in the primary school playground. It is a call to arms for angry girls everywhere, and 44 years down the line it still holds that same electric energy that first hit the punks of London in 1977.
In the award-winning 2021 documentary Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, we watch Celeste Bell explore her relationship with her mother, Marianne Elliot-Said, known to most as Poly Styrene. No stone is left unturned as Celeste guides us through lyrics, diary entries, and some of her darkest memories of being raised by a woman struggling with her demons and the price of fame. The result is tender and loving, full of forgiveness and understanding, as well as being one of the most intimately painted portraits of an artist that you could wish for. Her lyricism ekes through every second, actress Ruth Negga providing a voice for long-lost diary entries and poems. As for her vocals, writer and musician Vivien Goldman put it best: “Everybody always talks about ‘Oh Bondage! Up Yours’ because, in a way, just that sound cut through a sort of glass ceiling of what ‘women singers’ could do with their voice.”
Before writing this, I asked Millie what the song means to them, to which they sent me a voice note: “‘Oh Bondage’ vibes with me because it takes a very fun and powerful outlook on sex, especially because there was a point in time where sex for me was inherently tied to abuse. To me, it’s all about reclaiming the fun and the power in the midst of the submission and the darkness and the horror. Does that sound insane? Don’t publish this if it sounds insane.”
It doesn’t sound insane, the song holds a ferocious sexual female power that was ahead of its time. Kink and BDSM have recently become more openly discussed in mainstream culture, but there was a point where having the mere implication of bondage had X-Ray Spex barred from the radio. It’s hard to think, in the desensitised and hypersexual age we live in, of the impact that a mixed-race woman had on listeners when she first sang about her complex relationship with ideas of domination and submission. Much like the Sex Pistols with “Submission,” featured on the infamous 1977 album Never Mind the Bollocks, Poly Styrene took inspiration from SEX. Owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, the store was a centre of gravity for the London punk scene in the 70s. However, the inspiration she derived from the shop wasn’t truly about fetish or sexual expression. In a 2008 interview with Mojo, Styrene said:
“Most people think it was a kinky S&M song. But it was about breaking free from the bondage of the material world. I come from a religious background and in the scriptures, the whole idea of being liberated is to break free from bondage. I had an idea of the bondage of slavery and all those images in history like the suffragettes or slaves being chained up. When I saw Vivienne Westwood’s shop (SEX) and all her bondage trousers it symbolized all the other bondage elements I’d grown up with.”
Despite Poly Styrene’s main messaging within most of her lyrics being anti-capitalist and against consumerism, it is no surprise that everyone walked away from “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”with their own meanings behind the song. Religion ties hugely into people’s relationship with sex, and in some elements, it ties strongly into BDSM communities. The 1970s were a very transformative period for the feminist movement, who co-opted the song as being about liberation from patriarchal oppression. It is also important to note that the year of the song’s release was the year of the Battle of Lewisham. In the wake of the unlawful arrests of twenty-one young black people following a series of muggings in South East London, the National Front organised a march from New Cross to Lewisham as a means of intimidating local black communities. They were met with thousands of counter-demonstrators, who in turn were met with extreme police brutality, whilst the National Front had an escort to safety. The rage of the song matched with that of Black communities across the UK, even the US, and this rage still rings true when you think of the police brutality that is still more than prevalent for these communities over forty years later.
Marianne was born and raised in Brixton, not far from where the riots took place. She was growing up half-Somali in an age where being mixed race was still commonly referred to as being ‘half-caste’. As seen in other X-Ray Spex songs, such as “Identity,” “Oh Bondage! Up Yours”also shows us Poly Styrene as she wrangles with her sense of self. Domination vs Submission, White vs Black, two cultures within her that were always at war in the world around her. In the documentary, Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers says this about London’s mixed-race youth: “In a way, we were embraced by punk and a part of punk because it was full of people who nobody else wanted. We were welcome because we were already outsiders.”
But as punk shifted to the mainstream, who was looking out for Poly Styrene and women like her? Throughout the film, we hear stories of Sex Pistols and bandmates belittling her, of her aversion to the idolatry that came with fame, and of her entire career being pulled from beneath her feet after she was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. The speed and mania of the corporate music industry weren’t designed to be productive for women like Marianne, it was made easy for white male musicians and designed to create products for consumers, two glaring points against her entire being and ethos. Punk died as soon it became a sellable product, and in my eyes, Poly Styrene got out before it probably would have killed her.
As I said earlier, it is no surprise that everyone walks away from “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” with their own meanings behind the song. They’re all correct, and there’s really no wrong answer. Where someone sees freedom from oppression, someone else sees freedom of sexuality. Where an individual could take it as an anthem against capitalism, another could read it as a sermon to free them from religious trauma. What ties all of these causes together is the fire in Poly Styrene’s voice, and the rage that each of us can relate to. It is a testament to her power and how she presented herself to the world, that so many can take so much from a mere 2 minutes and 45 seconds. It’s a song that says, “Fuck you,” “Fuck me,” and “I don’t fucking know,”’ whether you were Poly Styrene calling it out to the violent crowds in the Roxy and CBGB, or if you were two furious 18-year-olds unleashing it upon the streets of Soho in 2016.
I have some advice for you, should you choose to take it. Go read the news, listen to “Oh Bondage! Up Yours,” and let yourself be angry. Let it run its course, let your eyes glow red before you take that rage and do something magnificent with it. If not for yourself, then do it for Marianne.