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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock

Ten Years On: The Drums’ Prodigal Son, Portamento

Portamento’s album cover. Courtesy of Pitchfork

Saying that something is life changing is dramatic. However, in the case of indie-rock band The Drums, I can make this statement with absolute certainty. They shaped my music taste, influenced my songwriting, and provided the soundtrack to some of my best memories. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the best albums of that decade, in my humble opinion. The production, the songwriting, and all the subtle flourishes and embellishments present within those twelve songs is unbelievable, especially for a debut album. There are few other releases like it.

In 2011, the band released their second album, titled Portamento. In an Instagram post celebrating the album’s tenth anniversary, band leader Jonny Pierce mentioned how the album was considered to be a flop, a victim of the “sophomore slump.” He is not wrong in saying that. Compared to the debut album, the reviews for Portamento were noticeably lukewarm. According to Metacritic, the average score for the album was a 64. YouTube music critic TheNeedleDrop gave the album a 5/10 after praising the debut album. Fans were confused by the album, and I will not hesitate to say that I was as well. After spending so many listens absorbing the shimmering guitars, beachy harmonies, and lovesick lyrics of the first album, I did not know what to make of Portamento, and as a result, I shoved it aside.

Portamento differs from the debut album almost immediately with the song “Book of Revelation.” The production is less shiny, and the tone of the song is more sullen than even the darkest moments of the debut. Jonny is also singing in a much higher register than he did before. On the debut, his singing was safe and fit the music like a glove, whereas on this album, he is pushing the envelope. Considering how flamboyant Jonny’s live presence is, this change makes sense. It also shows that he is not afraid to take risks to get his point across. 

As the album continues, it throws more curveballs at the listener. “What You Were” and “Money” feature a much higher emphasis on synthesizers than on previous releases, with various keyboard stabs poking through the thin fabric of guitars. The latter also features some interesting vocalizations that will surprise many fans of the debut album. The dive into synths hits its peak on the song “Searching For Heaven,” which is all synthesizer and saves for some haunting vocals. 

However, ten years on, it is safe to say that Portamento has aged remarkably well, turning many of its skeptics into supporters, including me. I love many of the songs on this album. The emotion is more potent, more urgent than on the debut album. While that album dealt with love in a way that was melancholy but also tinged with sunshine. It was broken hearted but still had its composure. Portamento, meanwhile, does not hold back any punches, with its lyrics lacking the poetics of the first album but packing more of a punch, such as on the song “If He Likes It Let Him Do It.” The songs feel brutally honest, and the listener can feel whatever Jonny is feeling without any doubts. 

The music is also far more dour, but not to the detriment of the listening experience. The aforementioned “Money” was the first single off the album, and it is one of the catchiest songs The Drums have ever released. Despite its breakneck pace, each instrument is tight to the groove. The lyrics are a bit more tongue in cheek, with the chorus “I want to buy you something / But I don’t have any money” being wryly humorous and relatable.

At the end of the day, I will always adore the debut album, and it is to this day my favorite Drums release. However, I owe Portamento an apology. It is a stripped down, emotionally turbulent album, and an experience completely separate from the debut album. Once you separate Portamento from The Drums, it shines in its own light, where it belongs.

The Drums Circa 2011. From left: Connor Hanwick, Jacob Graham, Jonny Pierce

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Indie/Indie Rock Reviews

Review: Billie Marten – Flora Fauna

Billie Marten has returned with her third album, Flora Fauna. Back in January when its release date was announced, I immediately called dibs on writing about this record. After stumbling upon Billie’s music through the wonders of Spotify around this time last year, I have been fully captivated by her ever since. A sound so euphoric and otherworldly, her music is the embodiment of stepping into a stray patch of light where the sun managed to peek through. 

With a two-year gap between Flora Fauna and its predecessor, Feeding Seahorses by Hand, I fully believe that it was well worth the wait. Each song is masterfully crafted with an almost entrancing sort of magic that envelops you in a warm embrace. With a voice comparable to silk, effortlessly gliding through the soothing instrumentals of each track, a moment of bliss is promised the second you press play. 

“Garden of Eden” was the first track unveiled to the public, and it is—without a doubt—one of my favorites. Everything about it is utterly stunning, but do not even get me started on that chorus. It’s one that makes you feel truly alive and elated to be so. Evoking feelings of freedom and contentment, this track has been on repeat. I mean, can you blame me? Absolute goosebumps.

In an Instagram post, Billie writes:

“It’s about the competition to grow and constantly be better, about how we all desperately need to be fed and watered and given space to thrive, and yet we’re so subscribed to this idea of pushing and evolving that we’re not actually doing the living part.”

“Creature of Mine” and “Human Replacement” were the other two tracks revealed prior to the release of Flora Fauna. Both of these songs are divinely rich and mellifluous, and although they bear different musical qualities and approaches, they complement one another magnificently. Out of the two, I would choose “Human Replacement” as my personal favorite; the lyrics, the band, the melodies… everything.

The meaning behind this track is significant as well. Shedding light on a devastating reality, Billie emphasizes just how unsafe every little task can be for women. Her impactful words have a thunderous music video to match, and I strongly encourage you to give it a watch.

You’re just not safe in the evening

Walking around

You could be taken

You’re just not safe in the evening

No room for doubt

Human replacement

“Ruin” is another show-stopper. I’m obsessed with how the instruments interact with each other in this song, going from somewhat of a playful riff in the verses to a brilliant explosion in the chorus. It’s an extremely clever arrangement that undoubtedly serves its purpose in telling the story lyric by lyric. On that same note, these lyrics are incredibly compelling as Billie expresses her personal struggles with self-love. 

“If I spoke about another person the way I do about myself, it would be horrific, it would be bullying,” the young singer confessed in an interview with Independent. “I was really not good on tour. I was so tired and cold all the time and couldn’t project my voice.”

The album in its entirety is mystifying. Each individual second in every song dances into one another so intricately, it’s impossible to only listen to one. With additions like “Liquid Love” and “Walnut,” why would you, anyway? This is a record you genuinely want to take the time to appreciate in full.

Like what you hear and live in the UK? You can catch Billie Marten on tour later this year, so grab tickets while you still can!

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Indie/Indie Rock Reviews

Review: Chase Cohl – Dear Dear: Volume I

As the sun leans in closer for a warm embrace and Mother Earth takes her first steps towards revitalization, the time has come to celebrate spring’s long-awaited arrival. So, what better way to welcome it than with a brand new release that is so beautiful, it’d make even the most gifted of songbirds envious? 

Chase Cohl’s EP Dear Dear: Volume I is absolute euphoria. Consisting of four tracks, it embodies a similar feeling to surrendering your skin to the divinity of sunshine; it is nothing short of pure comfort and invigoration. This is my first proper introduction to the enormously talented singer-songwriter who, also, explores the worlds of fashion and poetry. Hearing these songs for the first time felt like coming home after a long and tiring journey, intoxicated with the pure joy of being right where you want to be. 

Dear Dear begins with “Special Situation,” a song so blissful and pleasing to the ears, it’s only right to stick around for more. The backing harmonies paired with the flawless intertwinement of Cohl’s voice and the dreamlike, vintage instrumentals make this song an undeniable winner in my book. If you’re in search of a song to dance along to with a glass of wine, look no further.

Track two, “Take It Like A Man,” took on the role as the EP’s single, and it did its job phenomenally. It’s what I had first heard from Cohl while aimlessly scrolling through Instagram just mere days ago, and I knew right off the bat that I needed to write about her. After (very quickly) falling entirely entranced by the song’s colorful, 1960s-inspired sound, I genuinely could not get it out of my head. Watch the music video here!

“Still Crying,” despite bearing somber lyrics about the woes of break-ups, carries such a playful and bright tune. The back-and-forth between Cohl and the backing vocals throughout the chorus is truly satisfying and addictive to listen to. On top of that, its bridge dips into an enchanting pool that lulls you into a brief daydream just before getting right back into the song’s upbeat magic once more.  

The fourth and final track, “I Can’t Live Without You,” just might be my favourite. It paints an image in my head so effortlessly, and I could easily see it as the score to a film’s montage scenes. Despite it being the EP’s shortest song, it possesses so much beauty and airiness that you pay no mind to its duration. It strikes something deep within me that is impossible to shake, and to say I adore every single aspect is an understatement. 

In short, this is one masterpiece of an EP. Elegance and perfection can be heard all throughout, and because I am a newer listener, I will most certainly be taking a dive into more of Chase Cohl’s material (and you should, too!). 


To stay in the loop, be sure to follow Chase Cohl on Instagram and Spotify!

(Cover photo by: KRISTIN GALLEGOS)

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Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Reviews

Review: Pale Waves – Who Am I?

A lot has happened in the time since Pale Waves released their first album. Despite the various trials and tribulations, one of which including a tour bus crash, the Manchester indie-rockers have proven that nothing can get in the way of creating absolute magic. Consisting of 11 tracks, Who Am I? taps into the beloved, nostalgic sounds of the 2000s, and going through each song helped me feel more like the ideal, cool-older-sister trope commonly found in movies of that era (Kat Stratford, anybody?). 

In comparison to 2018’s My Mind Makes Noises, their sophomore album presents a newfound edge that helps listeners unearth a more authentic version of Pale Waves. Now, don’t get me wrong; I absolutely adored their debut record, but it only scratched the surface of what they have to offer. That being said, it’s undeniable that they have begun to grow more into their own, unique sound, and my god, it is completely game-changing. 

I honestly wasn’t expecting this sort of switch-up at all. From the moment they released “Change,” I knew we were about to witness a brand new, monumental chapter in their career unfold. With a blissfully catchy track and a visually stunning music video to match, it makes sense why this is the way Pale Waves decided to kick off this new era.

Who Am I?’s dizzyingly romantic second single, “She’s My Religion,” brings forth some much-needed LGBTQ+ representation, and it sure as hell doesn’t stop there. “Tomorrow” beckons those who are struggling with their sexualities to take a deep breath and remember, as the lyrics emphasize, you cannot choose who you fall in love with. Not only that, but it also encourages fans who are grappling with their mental health to stick around and see that the world won’t always have you feeling trapped. It’s a truly gorgeous song that wields an impactful message we all need to be reminded of every once in a while.

Ben, I know that you love a boy

Sexuality isn’t a choice

Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong

Won’t you just keep hanging on?

And Kelsi, I know life drags you down

Growing up in a small town

Always the odd one in the crowd

You know I’ll never count you out

This sort of vulnerability seen throughout the record is perhaps one of its most striking features. There’s been a distinct progression in songwriting that opens up more personal discussions, ranging from the intimacy of sex and queer romance (“Wish U Were Here”) to the ever-looming uncertainty that comes with reaching a mental and emotional low (“Who Am I?”). Seeing this newfangled sense of self from lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie, as well as the unapologetic comfortability that has come along with it, is incredibly refreshing. It introduces something notably special into their music, and the novel openness and sincerity found throughout this record have put them on track towards becoming a force to be reckoned with.

In short, Who Am I? is a wildly impressive sophomore album. Honest and bold, this record uncovers a new side of Pale Waves that marks a significant turning point for the band. Every track offers a different story that listeners can relate to and appreciate, and they all form a wonderfully cohesive collection of songs without sounding samey or repetitive. This could very well become a defining record for Pale Waves, and I’m eager to see how well it treats them.

Listen to Who Am I? on Spotify.

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock Reviews

Review: Pillow Queens – In Waiting

It’s a real surprise that after the release of two impressive EPs and supporting several big-name bands from IDLES to Future Islands that Dublin based Pillow Queens haven’t had people shouting about them left, right and centre. Nevertheless, their experience with fellow artists fronting the current rock movement and a knack for turning out sonically rich songs in their own right has proven that they’re an indie force to be reckoned with. All things combined they’ve just delivered a record you didn’t realise you’d been ‘In waiting’ for but after a listen won’t be the same without.

The album encapsulates a hazy sense of hope and instantly has you hooked on all manner of components from sweeping melodies, flourishing tones and lo-fi layering. Together, the result is ten all-star tunes from the female foursome that met on a basketball court in their hometown (a fact that I had to drop to further emphasise that they’ve been cool since the get-go). There’s an almost magnetic draw in the first few twinkles of the haunting ‘Holy Show’ and you’re instantly connected as soon as Sarah Corcoran’s crooning voice pierces through. From that moment up until the last echoes of closing track ‘Donaghmede’, the band take you on a journey where you can’t help but feel all of the emotion that their songs are created and delivered with. Each track seamlessly melts into the next; ushering you into a new stream of thought before you even have the chance to realise, leaving you in a dreamlike trance-ready to become the monarch of your own pillow. 

The journey doesn’t just happen as one tune flows into the next though; you’re taken on a voyage with each individual song. Not only are they gentle and melodic but also fierce and rocking, transitioning as effortlessly as one of this era’s most iconic alt bands Wolf Alice. ‘Handsome Wife’ is a great display of how they start gracefully, then seamlessly build to raspy exclamations and when ‘A Dog’s Life’ gets going it delves into even edgier territory with grungy guitars and more punk-like chants in a prominent Irish twang. Overall, I’d compare the Queens’ arrangements to a crisp winter morning, sun piercing through the clouds and glistening on snow; bright and refreshing but not without a hint of gloom and bite.

There’s an abundance of stand-out elements besides their progression too, like the poignant folk cries repeated at the end of the self-love reminder ‘HowDoILook’ that help to provide a shining example of their flawless transitions into the emotive melody that is ‘Liffey’. Further messages of positivity can also be heard in fan favourite ‘Gay Girls’; a wake-up call to people of strict religion and those alike that there’s no need to worry when it comes to different sexualities, featuring a catchy hook and accompanied by a cracking music video. It’s exciting to hear more top tunes from such empowering female representation in the rock industry, using their talent to draw attention to causes that many listeners will care about just as much as they clearly do. I also love that they have a rock ‘n’ roll attitude with regards to their opinions and approaches, saying “feck em” to any critics of Corcoran and accompanying vocalist Pamela Connolly’s accents for example and instead embracing their roots; using them to their advantage in adding to the raw emotion to their sound.

I believe the ride that is listening to ‘In Waiting’ can best be described in the final words of ‘Harvey’ as the expansive sound truly leaves you feeling as if you’re ‘floating ten feet off the floor’. Earnest and atmospheric, claims of coming up short in the heartfelt ‘Brothers’ evidently aren’t in reference to their album as it’s an absolute beauty and I can’t wait to watch Pillow Queens flourish like their songs and take everyone by storm.

Categories
Punk/Rock Reviews

Review: IDLES – Ultra Mono

Direct, divisive and darkly humorous, if you’re looking for an album that packs all of these qualities as well as a major punch then look no further than Ultra Mono, the third studio album from Bristol rockers IDLES.

Since receiving critical acclaim upon the release of their aptly named debut album ‘Brutalism’ in 2017 the band have consistently stayed true to themselves in speaking the truth- no matter how harsh. Frontman Joe Talbot refuses to be defined by genre and continually denies claims that they fit under the ‘punk’ umbrella despite comparisons to likes of Shame and even Fontaines D.C. a band at the current forefront of the genre. One thing there’s no denying though is that they’ve truly developed their own distinct sound. A belligerent beat creates a mechanical feel that ticks along at the heart of their music; more so on this album than ever before, helping to seamlessly transition between tracks and allow Talbot to fire off his often frenzied but equally thoughtful lyrics.

Blunt political statements are a prominent driving force behind both their music and in recruiting steady support from many however, the same proclamations also result in severance from others who feel they’re too judgemental. They recognise the irony in these opinions though and in no way care that it repels, continuing to speak their mind and confronting any hate in witty lyrics with examples including “there’s nothing brave and nothing useful, you scrawling your aggro shit on the walls of the cubicle” dominating second track ‘Grounds’. There’s no shying away from other charged topics either with passion filled songs on the likes of white privilege, toxic masculinity and feminism; even bringing onboard Savages Jehnny Beth to practice what they preach by featuring some defiant female vocals on ‘Ne Touché Pas Moi’ further driving home their beliefs of equality.

Ultra Mono encapsulates a feeling of doom simmering inside most listeners given the current climate. A sense of terror looms throughout but unlike many that internalise this, they break through the surface to address the sense of urgency and need for action by exploding in exciting anger with raging riffs and aggressive vocals. This, combined with the military coherence created by their rhythm section leaves you steadily riled up throughout the record, resulting in a sense of unity against the common enemy, building the “strength in numbers” referenced again in Grounds. There’s plenty more to the record than anger though; from the surprisingly tender ‘A Hymn’- a melancholic vessel for channeling their emotions and delivering opinions in a softer way, to the comically propelled Model Village, with a sinister undertone that that feels so familiar you can’t help but laugh. All tracks combined, you’re left submerged in an oppressive atmosphere, ready and raring to escape the constraints of the everyday and confront whatever darkness is on the horizon.

The main concern on the run-up to this third release was that the band wouldn’t channel the boldness they exude in their songs when it comes to exploring new grounds (no pun intended). To a certain point, this worry has been addressed as the band worked with producer Kenny Beats, infusing a touch of his hip hop background right into the record’s veins and also collaborated with jazz-pop pianist Jamie Cullum on ‘Kill Them With Kindness’ for a further twist. Despite this, they don’t venture too far from previous material but it’s clear to see that they’ve sustained a real direction and are more focused on upholding their own belief in what they should be, delivering something for existing fans rather than pleasing everyone and converting anyone that opposes.

As a whole, Ultra Mono is a strong follow up to their previous Mercury Prize nominated album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ that couldn’t have come at a more apt time. The driving feeling evoked in their tunes looks set to continue, helping to thrust them forward and prove that when it comes to speaking up about what they believe in, Idles wont be staying idle.

Listen to Ultra Mono on Spotify now.