Categories
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!

Categories
Pop/Indie Pop Reviews

Looking Back: Made of Bricks

Released in 2007, Made of Bricks by Kate Nash holds a space in my memories like no other album. Unknowingly I have known this album since it came out. Bit by bit and song by song, I have been rediscovering it since starting university. 

This album was a commercial success. I still remember watching the ‘Pumpkin Soup’ music video on MTV when I was 7. Transfixed, I would sit on the carpet waiting for it to come on every day. Although at the time it was my personal favourite, it was actually ‘Foundations’ off Made of Bricks that made it to 2nd place in the UK Singles Chart. With its story-like manner and the mastering of melody, you can’t help but be drawn in. Into the bargain, it becomes a welcomed challenge to remember all the lyrics. The chorus is the most memorable part of it, as choruses usually are. Though it’s hard to have a favourite part of this song.

Another single off the album is ‘Mouthwash’, a relatable song about imperfections. Although the lyrics are simple, they are to the point and say everything they need to. I enjoy the fact that in revealing this list of things about her, Kate Nash is showing us that she is just as human as we are. Building up to the bridge, it has a very 2000s feeling to it, one that feels familiar and comfortable to me. Overall this song speaks for itself and is probably more convincing to listen to than to read about.

Side by side on the album, the songs that stand out to me most are ‘Dickhead’ – for quite obvious reasons – and ‘Birds’. ‘Dickhead’ is the kind of song you put on when you’re drunk. Somehow knowing all the lyrics, you scream them at that special someone. The guitar riff is simple but effective, slow but resounding and repetitive but groovy. The anaphoric nature of the song makes it easy to get wrapped up in the lyrics straight away. On the other hand, ‘Birds’ is quite a contrast, a love ballad of a song. Right from the start, we’re introduced to two characters who appear to be in the midst of a blooming relationship. He declares his love through a quirky comparison to birds. It’s very endearing and has the added benefactor of being funny and loveable. 

Though I could write positively about the rest of the songs on the album, I think it’s best if I leave you to discover it on your own. Enjoy!

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.

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock Reviews

Review: Declan McKenna – Zeros

The long awaited album Zeros from Declan McKenna has finally arrived and it packs a punch. And when I say long awaited I’m not kidding, with McKenna saying back in December 2019 that the album was mixed and mastered ready for release, and here we are in September 2020, after 2 release delays, finally with the album in our hands, and ready to stream.

We were treated with the gloriously Bowie inspired Beautiful Faces back in late January, a glam rock stomper that absolutely goes off, and shows a definite progression from the likes of his earlier work such as 2015s Brazil, but still pumping that distinctive McKenna sound. In fact one key element to the more matured sound McKenna’s pulling off with this one is the fact that previous work would have been recorded by himself track by track with his producer, whereas this time round, McKenna set foot to get a band together in a room and play the songs, so with a full band in mind throughout the entire recording and writing process, you can see how the sounds have gone from big to gigantic, and feel a lot more scratchier and raw, which compliments the soundscape of Zeros very well.

The album’s sound feels like it was pulled straight out of a 70s glam rock band, it’s authentic without shying away from modern craftsmanship. This ranges from the glittery candy rock of the likes of Rapture, to the phenomenal ballad Be An Astronaut, almost bleeding the inspiration of songs like The Beatles’ Hey Jude and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, feeling as if it’d fit in on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, but comparisons don’t do it justice, you can hear the influences sure, but this is NOT Declan singing over a song that sounds like it’s made for someone else, this is jam packed of McKenna’s very identity, an organic young adult’s exclamation about the world they’re encapsulated by, with issues of social media stigma to self retrospectives. One thing that is inherently Declan is his voice which has always been iconic. Let’s not beat around the bush here, the voice cracks that add to the depth of the messages he wants to get across to the pretty incredible range he has. But this album shows his growth and maturity, the once heralded voice cracks, now raspy broken screams throughout the likes of Be An Astronaut and Rapture. Declan also really flaunts his falsetto on this album, and it’s the perfect remedy for pop-rock hooks and is just an absolute delight to listen to.

There are definitely elements of folk thrown into the mix of the album too, sounds that aren’t too far fetched from the likes of Bob Dylan or Father John Misty. And I say thrown because as brilliant as this album is, it definitely feels like a 40 minute explosion. A coherent one, but an explosion none-the-less. The themes and the sounds scream disorder, in fact a word that could sum up this album is ‘Chaos’, it’s something that feels like it goes straight into your bloodstream, but the production wraps up Zeros and makes it all feel like a home for the tracks, or perhaps an intergalactic cruise ship chasing after the likes of Ziggy Stardust to escape the dystopian present we’re all subtly sinking into. One of the big messages embedded within the record is that of impending doom, lusciously soundtracked to upbeat melodies. Declan’s never been one to shy away from making political statements through his music, and Zeros is no exception. The opening track – You Better Believe!!! Greeting the listener with the wonderful opening line “You’re gonna get yourself killed” which in the current climate, has never been more true.

Zeros is a social commentary with a vibrant disguise, where upon first listen you’ll melt into Declan’s band’s 70s serenade, and where a deeper look takes a breath to show you the state of what’s around you and how the epidemic doesn’t just stop with the likes of COVID-19, but with the far greater things at stake that strike fear into every young person in the 21st Century. It’s a chaotically wonderful listening experience and you just HAVE to hear it for yourself. Album highlights are ‘You Better Believe!!!’, ‘Be An Astronaut’, ‘Beautiful Faces’, ‘Daniel You’re Still A Child’, ‘Twice Your Size’ and ‘Rapture’. So, if you’re not familiar with Declan McKenna, then get familiar. Trust me when I say you’re missing out otherwise. It’s glam, indie perfection, and was born to be dialled up to 11.

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock Reviews

Review: Nothing But Thieves – Unperson

Nothing But Thieves have without a doubt been making their mark on the indie and rock scene since their self titled debut album in 2015, with Moral Panic their follow up to the bands 2017 album Broken Machine due for release in October this year. With the lead single Is Everybody Going Crazy? Being a fabulous alt rock anthem that really felt it was written with the worldwide pandemic in mind, and the indie ballad that was Real Love Song, showing again the new sounds to expect from the upcoming album, with tighter production, brilliant riffs and catchy hooks to obsess over. The band dropped the third single, and opening track of the upcoming album, Unperson at midnight and really shows the talent this band has to offer.

An absolute stomper that’s sure to end up in your playlists and be the soundtrack to your Autumn, something that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hacienda type venue, but all the same fit right in with the hardcore scene of the last half decade. The boys behind the bangers are known for their quirky craftsmanship, with comparisons to Muse and Radiohead thrown around, and heavy hip hop inspiration within the rhythm sides of things. But Unperson shows the band expanding upon their well established sounds, with heavier hard rock guitars, electronic soundscapes, psychedelic undertones and RnB style vocals, when combined give an unmistakable Nothing But Thieves sound, but with a chaotic vibrant dystopian twist, harking more to the music embedded within a Sonic The Hedgehog game. But don’t let that fool you, this is not ‘background’ music, this is punchy, in your face rock, which makes you want to headbang and dance around your room like a young punkish Morrissey but minus the modern statements that make you question your parents record collection.

The statements written within the song see Conor Mason cry out about the abundance of people, in a modern world where demand beats supply not only with material goods, but with living, breathing people, making him question a godlike figure, convinced he’s an ‘unperson’, someone not fit for ‘public consumption’. With the internet and the millennial ‘woke’ culture, this feels like it reaches out for the kids lost in the mix, the people with desperate dissatisfaction with the world they live in, where good morals and right or wrong is too often brushed under the carpet, leaving you a whimper in a crowd, referencing being ‘another clone of a clone’ and how they ‘didn’t sign up for this’ The song reeks of the frustration of the young voices being drowned out by regressive ideology, and it’s fantastic, making it so much more impactful that way. It’s a statement begging to be heard and it definitely leaves its mark.

The song may have just dropped, but it passive aggressively invites you to come in, and really listen to what it has to say, ‘This is not what you think it is, it’s worse’, alluding to the change that is inevitable to come, which may even hint towards the changes within the bands sound too, not just it’s social commentary. Another absolutely menacing track, that leaves you grinning in suspense for the release of the album on October 23rd.