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Creators Monthly Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock Uncategorized

An Analysis of The Beach Boys: 1967-74

The Beach Boys during the late 60’s-early 70’s. From left: Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson

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’s album cover

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 album cover

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 album cover

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 photo from the Sunflower album cover

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. 

Surf’s Up album cover

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 back cover, featuring new members Ricky Fataar (fourth from left) and Blondie Chaplin (second from right)

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.

Holland album cover

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.

Carl Wilson during the Holland sessions

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.

Categories
Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock New Wave Pop/Indie Pop Why We Love

Why We Love: Young Guv

Ben Cook, the man behind “Young Guv”

Instagram has changed my life in many ways. On the bright side, it has given me many international opportunities, such as writing for this brilliant magazine. On the negative side, it has rendered my attention span so useless that chances are, I reached down and stared at my phone screen before I even finished typing this sentence (I actually didn’t. There is hope for me.). However, in the former category, I have been introduced to countless new songs and bands thanks to a mixture of advertisements and random posts on the site. 

Recently, I was scrolling mindlessly through my phone when I stumbled across an artist by the name of Young Guv. I vaguely recalled having seen the name before, but I hadn’t investigated further because I figured he was just another rapper. However, I stopped on the post that had come up in front of my indifferent eyes and took a listen to the clip. Immediately, I emerged from my stupor as the chorus of the song, which was called “Only Wanna See U Tonight,” floated into my ears. The song had the trappings of late 70’s power-pop mixed with the sheen of mid-90’s alt-rock. Shining guitars popped out over crisp drums, melodic bass, peppy tambourine, and the almost saccharine vocals of the project’s mastermind, Ben Cook.

Stunned, I played the clip over and over again before it occurred to me that I ought to go and listen to the actual song. I listened to it a few times and enjoyed it greatly. It almost felt like a guilty pleasure; surely this was some cynical cash grab. The production was too clean, the vocal harmonies too ear-catching, the guitar tone too sunny. However, over the course of the past month, “Only Wanna See U Tonight” has repeatedly floated back into my head until I relent and listen to the song again.

I then took the big risk of exposing myself to the rest of Young Guv’s catalog. From the beginning, I was worried that Guv’s other songs wouldn’t stack up to the pop glory of “Only Wanna See U Tonight,” so I approached them with trepidation. I was proven joyfully wrong. “It’s Only Dancing” brings the energy of the earliest days of new wave, with guitars caked in the chorus and the drums providing an insistent and instantly groovy treadmill for the song to run on. The song brings to mind Joe Jackson, Rick Springfield, and Bruce Springsteen. If you told me that this song was from 1981, I would absolutely believe you. Even the production works on that level, which is a surprising feat in a world where a lot of pop stars try to ape the 80’s “sound” by throwing atmospheric synths on their music.

Other gems in Guv’s catalog include “Lo Lo Lonely,” which cranks the distortion to a point reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub and Weezer. Emphasizing the influence of the latter band, Cook’s vocals ooze through the song like Matt Sharp’s on The Rentals’ sophomore album Seven More Minutes. Moving in the complete opposite direction is “Caught Lookin’,” a song that sounds like what you’d get if you stuck Mac Demarco in a DeLorean. Gently plucked acoustic guitars meet swirling synths and grooving bass. The overall feel is funky and suave, which is punctuated by female backing singers and a subtle drum machine that hits at just the right moments. An airy saxophone firmly ends any debate.

Overall, Ben Cook and company have shown that they can write some real fine songs. They accomplish the difficult task of writing guitar pop that isn’t overproduced but doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. Their next release, a double album consisting of Guv III and Guv IV, is expected on March 11th through Run For Cover Records.

Young Guv, courtesy of Run For Cover Records
Categories
Punk/Rock Reviews

Brian Destiny: “You’ve Got to Be Doing Something with Love.”

Brian Destiny and Nathan Saoudi are the same person. Most of the time. 

Nathan, with his mop of dark curls and film star grin, is perhaps the most constant member of south London rock n’ rollers the Fat White Family, helping to write the band’s material, as well as playing keyboard and providing backing vocals. In his elder brother Lias’s words, he’s the “anchor” of the band, the emotional bomb diffuser, the only stable element in a roomful of exceedingly reactive molecules. 

Nathan is the Fat White Family. He’s the eerie, funhouse cascade of keyboard that kicks off “Bomb Disneyland.” The bouncing, delirious chords of “Touch the Leather.” The addictive melody of “Feet,” (inspired by the siren call of Algerian rai and good, old-fashioned disco, with three million streams on Spotify and counting.) No Fat White Family gig is complete without Nathan going manic at the end, dragging his keyboard over and playing it on his knees, occasionally using his skull, his nose, or his teeth to coax unearthly sounds from the machine, sonically lacing together Lias’s frenzied screams and Alex White’s Maceo-Parker-on-acid sax, into something beautiful yet apocalyptic. 

The Fat White Family are often derided for their punkish behavior (boozing, drugging, and participating in constant public tiffs with other bands) but musically, they’ve produced some of the most exciting, innovative sounds of the past decade. It’s a case of the public not being able to see the forest for the trees. C’mon, guys: Beethoven is here. Liszt is in the building. Open your eyes. Open your ears. 

The band has spent the last ten years in a relentless cycle of writing, recording, and touring. The pandemic stopped it all, but Nathan’s not one to bemoan what can’t be helped. He’s kept busy working on his newest solo venture, a band called Brian Destiny, along with the launch of his own record label, Dash the Henge. 

And so, on the day before Halloween, I find myself at Earl Ferrers pub in Streatham, where Nathan’s new label digs are situated, waiting for the man himself. Earl Ferrers has a plastic skeleton at the piano, and the makings of a toxic-slime green punch at the bar. Nathan appears, wearing a Fred Perry jacket, track pants and impossibly white trainers, and leads me up a winding staircase to the headquarters of Dash the Henge. 

It’s an open, airy room, with big windows looking out over the street, “like Paris,” Nathan says, as he brews tea and sits us down at a table covered in rolling papers, hastily scrawled setlists, vitamin bottles, and a half-eaten bar of Lindt 90%. The only sign of the Fat White Family is a stomach-lining-pink amp shoved into the corner, branded with the band logo. Speakers and shelves of well-loved vinyl line the wall, and a laptop blasts Miles Davis. (“I’ve only recently got into jazz, about two months ago,” Nathan admits. “I’m just going through all the big guns. Helps me relax.”) 

There’s something about the sparkle in his warm brown eyes that makes me think of the old Bing Crosby tune, “It’s Just the Gypsy in My Soul.” (Maybe he’ll hate that, but it’s true.) He’s started his new band, Brian Destiny, partly because he: “wants to make people dance. I like people dancing.” 

Brian Destiny is his alter ego: “My friend in Northern Ireland, he was called Brian. He was the first person that whenever I was sixteen, I just started playing guitar and he was quite serious, and he was like ‘You’re all right at this!’ and I wasn’t. I was shit. I hate playing guitar. So, I dedicated the name to the first person who gave me encouragement, music-wise.”

Despite the fact that Brian is, in a manner of speaking, his spiritual other half, Nathan doesn’t see himself as helming Brian Destiny. He doesn’t feel in sole possession of the band. “(Music) is like God’s language… my brother said a good thing the other day; he said, ‘singing is praying twice.’ If you look at all the best musicians in the past, I swear they’re all believers in God. All those blues guys, all those classical boys, Elvis Presley, the Beatles. There are all kinds of religious elements inside. To neglect that just makes me think that you’re not very open to another way of life. If you’re not open, how can it be good for creativity? Believe whatever the fuck you want, but no one can control music. You can only temporarily harness it. It can’t be controlled,” he explains. 

Brian Destiny at Dash the Henge HQ, shot by @stiff_material.

Growing up in Northern Ireland in the Noughties, Nathan’s interest in music was piqued by Top 40 giants like Michael Jackson and Dire Straits, as well as: “Motown, that stuff I fucking love…My dad was obsessed with Cat Stevens, and the Eagles, so I got into them very young. Bob Marley… I love that song, ‘Bad Boys.’ The hits, the big tunes. Eminem, Elvis Presley. I love ‘em all.” 

 “I DJ’ed. Got a pair of decks when I was 16. Just in my room. Techno. Guitar I wasn’t as enthused by, but I still liked it because I saw it as a way to get into the music world. I still love techno. I’m doing another thing called Soft Tip; I don’t know if it’s techno or house, but it’s fucking dance…” 

He pauses to take a deep draft of strawberry smoothie from a blender—pre-gig nourishment, he’s playing with Alex Sebley’s band, PREGOBLIN, later on, at a venue in east London. The idea for a solo project in the form of Brian Destiny surfaced sometime around 2019: “It came about after the third Fat Whites album. I started writing a lot at that point.” His highly anticipated EP Brian’s Got Talent was recorded before lockdown but remained unfinished until early this year.

Writing for Brian Destiny is a serene process compared to writing for the Fat Whites, where so many fertile minds clamor for track space. Nathan’s favorite method is simply wandering around London until inspiration strikes: Long, solitary, walks are how most of Brian’s Got Talent was written.

“Whenever I walk more than two hours, I always get something. If you’re walking around somewhere that’s a bit isolated, you can just start singing. Strictly reclusive places. Sometimes I pick up litter when I’m walking…there’s more purpose to it. If everybody didn’t go to the gym but just walked around ferociously hunting litter, the whole country would look tidy. And these are problems that the old boys from like hundreds of years ago, that we all romanticize about, the painters, the poets—they didn’t have to contend with litter as a fucking one of their banes, did they?” 

The album’s first single, Is it Gonna Be Love? neatly sums up the differences between the Fat Whites’ and Brian Destiny’s musical missions. “It’s my basic philosophy, isn’t it? Love. I know it’s a loaded term, but if you can’t find something to do that you love doing, then it’s kind of like…pointless, isn’t it? Whatever it is, you’ve got to be doing something with love. That’s it. That’s the solution.”

Lou Smith, (the Fat White Family’s longtime photographer, documentarian, and friend, who often visited the Fat Whites during their tenure in Sheffield where Nathan ran the studio in which the band recorded their third album, Serf’s Up) says: “There was no social life in Sheffield, it was grim, freezing, grey, rainy, horrible. So, he built up that studio there, Champzone…he’s developed a very strong sense of what he wants. He’s definitely on a mission. And he knows how to get the best out of people…”

Running Champzone was good practice for Dash the Henge, which Nathan started because, “I’ve always wanted to have a little label. He drops the astounding comment that music wasn’t his first plan in life, but, as he says: “I wanted to have a laugh. And it’s good for community, isn’t it?” 

In an era defined by increasing feelings of isolation due in part to social media, close communities are at last being recognized for the precious commodities they are. Starting his own record label seems to be a continuation of Nathan’s desire to meld a tight creative community. Since establishing himself in the new headquarters of Dash the Henge above Earl Ferrers, he’s initiated open-invitation jam sessions, an everyone-gets-a-seat-at-the-table affair called Avant Practiced. There’s free curry afterward, and an inevitable slew of photos of some of south London’s best musicians gathered into a tiny room, riding the sonic waves wherever the music takes them, on Instagram the next morning. 

Nathan wants the two-headed beast of Avant Practiced and Dash the Henge to function as a think tank for local musicians: “You’ve got to make it plausible to do research, otherwise it’s just all this talk. Everyone has to rely on one another, but whenever you’ve just got an impulse to make something, and then you’re relying on someone who doesn’t quite understand that impulse, that’s when people start to get frustrated. You’ve got to make a little space…”

Liam May of Trashmouth Records, (the first label to sign Fat White Family, over a bottle of cheap sake, back in 2012) says of Nathan: “It’s impossible to quantify the kind of lubricating influence Nathan has on a band as dysfunctional as the Fat White Family. But the truth is, they wouldn’t have been able to move forwards, backwards, sideways, or anyways without him. Maybe it’s the casualness with which he picks his nose that has the power to disarm even the most searing animosity and crippling self-doubt? Who knows? It’s never easy to explain genius, and the beauty of magic is always in its mystery. . .”

Brian Destiny’s debut EP, Brian’s Got Talent, is out on Dash the Henge records in January of 2022. You can follow him on Instagram @briandestiny and @dashthehenge. His recent single, Is it Gonna Be Love?, is available to stream on all platforms.

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock Punk/Rock

Indie Idols: Crywank

The 1980s were a wild time, to say the least. Teenagers were rebelling – as per usual – and creating their own kind of lifestyle, diverting the general expectations of growing up and maturing that had dominated previous decades. Fashion was outrageous, attitudes were eccentric and controversial, and all of this was reflected in the music. Punk emerged from the underground and, in a symbiotic relationship with the youth, the face of music was forever scarred for the better. Bands like Sex Pistols and the Ramones exploded onto the scene expressing anarchy and distrust in the establishment, loudly displaying their political agenda and providing a voice for like-minded young people. Throughout the decade, punk influenced countless subgenres and subcultures, encouraging political freedom and rebirth of the most riotous kind, while also merging with others to create completely unexpected, but lyrically brilliant, hybrid genres.

This month’s Indie Idol embodies the spirit of punk while exhibiting its versatility within other genres by displaying elements of anti-folk – a musical movement established in the 1980’s to “mock the perceived seriousness” of the decade’s popular music, serving as a protest through clever lyricism. Crywank, a band spontaneously conceived by Jay Clayton in Manchester in 2009 upon receiving their first guitar, expresses a more personal kind of anarchy, announcing displeasure with mundane realism we have all probably felt from time to time, as well as dealing with more serious issues like mental health. I Am Shit from the band’s 2013 Tomorrow is Nearly Yesterday and Everyday is Stupid album, for instance, serves as a criticism of one’s self, overthinking everything you have said or done, and being stuck in a loop of self-doubt and inadequacy. The lyrics are hard-hitting and emotional, with a characteristic DIY-nature that adds to the charm and meaning of the song.

Arguably, Crywank takes a more comedic stance in some of their productions, helping to lighten the typically downbeat mood of their work while fitting to the anti-folk genre, still providing that dramatic social commentary the band and sub-punk genres are known for. Songs like An Academics Lament on Barbie, which comments on the irony surrounding the suggestion that Barbie is a feminist icon for young girls, having had over a hundred different jobs, many in typically male industries, while also being subject to strict and traditional female beauty standards that fail to represent the vast majority of women. Or Tin Foil Hat Crew at the Student House, which discusses constantly being monitored by companies online and other politics while also featuring the highly intellectual lyric, “Slap my thigh call me messy sweaty petty silly sausage,” from the duo’s 2017 Egg on Face. Foot in Mouth. Wriggling Wriggling Wriggling. album, for example. Both of these songs also demonstrate Crywank’s musical diversity by embracing a sound vaguely similar to that of Parklife by Blur, with more melodic speech rather than general singing, while still harking back to their punk-inspired roots – which are especially evident in the final few lyrics of Tin Foil Hat…, “Don’t Be Evil, Ooglie-booglie-googlie-booglie.”

(Check out Story of the Lizard and the Sock for another dark comedy-esque song)

The group’s most recent and final album, Fist Me ‘Til Your Hand Comes out My Mouth, a name that most definitely reflects the outrageous and uncensored nature of the 1980’s punk movement, features an eight-part story about friendship and its effects on the band. And, as the title I Love You but I’ve Chosen Me… suggests, the importance of loving oneself before attempting to love someone else. The album is, overall, fairly different from Crywank’s previous seven albums due to a larger focus on instrumentalism, such as in The Best, poetry, similar to Jamie T’s use of Sir John Betjeman’s The Cockney Amorist poem in his debut single Sheila, and a more upbeat sound – the existentialist lyrics are still going strong, though. 

The band seems to have steered clear of music videos in the traditional sense, preferring to upload live versions or random rehearsal sessions onto their Youtube channel. However, the few music videos that have been created for their most recent album all exude a sense of incomplete chaoticism that perfectly reflects the sentiment of their whole musical catalogue. The videos tend to be stylised in a low budget arts-and-crafts-type manner using watercolour (Egg and Spoon) and torn paper (Ego is a Phoenix) to depict the narrative while making the meanings of the songs feel more tangible to the audience and, once again, hinting at the homemade elements of punk style. Album art for the band is definitely something to behold, ranging from a simple photo of a shelf adorned with wooden cat sculptures to a fluorescent drawing of a two-headed monster with the iconic World War II “Kilroy was Here” doodle looming above. However, I feel as if the variation in album art reflects the large range of topics and emotions discussed and felt through the band’s work and does show progression in the bands freedom of expression over time.

Unfortunately for all who love them, Crywank’s musical career is coming to a voluntary end after their next North American tour, which has been postponed to 2022. However, their music and merchandise will continue to be available on dogknightsproductions.com until it is all sold out. In the meantime, check out Memento Mori and Hikikomori, my two favourites by the band. 

Categories
Punk/Rock

GUESS WHO’S BACK – Amyl and The Sniffers

GUIDED BY ANGELS is the brand new single from the now legendary Melbourne Punk-Your-Pants-Off-Rockers, Amyl and The Sniffers.

The bands new ‘old-school rock’n’roll’ album COMFORT TO ME is out on September 10th. Pre-order and BE READY.

Categories
Pop/Indie Pop

The Wonderful World of Walt Disco

The Glaswegian glam pop outfit Walt Disco have been making waves in the European indie scene since their debut EP Young Hard and Handsome was released in September of 2020. Consisting of six members, James (lead singer); Finlay (guitar and keyboards); Lewis (guitarist); David (synth); Charlie (bass); and Jack (drums) the group’s appearance is reminiscent of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and mid-1970s Brian Eno with a dash of ABBA thrown in for good measure. 

Yet Walt Disco somehow remain totally unlike any other band that has gone before them. They have a distinctly 21stcentury feel, a fervent embrace of unapologetic self-expression and decadence (the intensity of which stems possibly from the increasingly alarming structural malfunctions seizing up our current way of life on Earth.) The band have quickly forged their own signature sound, inviting listeners into a colorful realm of rock n’ roll that Dork Magazine has dubbed, “Walt Discoworld.”

The group recently released a single entitled Selfish Lover, accompanied by a video featuring the band parading around an abandoned mansion decked out in glam rock deshabille and kabuki theatre-meets-Pierrot makeup. The Selfish Lover release coincided with an announcement that the group had signed to Lucky Number Records and were planning a tour of the U.K. to promote the single.

On behalf of Totally Wired, I recently caught up with lead singer James Potter and guitarist Finlay McCarthy for a chat on myriad topics ranging from writing pop songs on computers to raiding Grayson Perry’s closet, to the tour gigs they’re most looking forward to. 

The interview occurs on Zoom, because, well, of course: it’s 2021. James Potter appears on the screen first, their dark curly mullet pushed back over their ears, and shortly after, guitarist Finlay McCarthy pops up, sporting a Mick Jagger-y shag with the tips dyed blue. “I’m in!’ he crows, after exchanging suitably chummy greetings with bandmate James. (“Thank you, it’s a mess,” he says self-deprecatingly when I compliment his hair.) 

We get down to business, starting with the simple stuff: How did the band members originally meet? “Over the space of a couple of years. Me, Dave and Lewis were in the original line-up and then Finlay joined at the start of 2019, then Jack joined during a long tour in autumn 2019, and then Charlie joined in around December 2019,” James explains.

I ask what the main inspiration for starting a band was. “I suppose, personally, it’s just because it’s like the only thing I’m good at,” Finlay says. “Ever since I started playing guitar when I was like, 13, I was just like, ‘Ok. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna leave school and find people to play with…And I’m gonna take a part-time job until it works.’ And now it has.”

I inquire after who the primary songwriters in the band are. Do they all contribute equally, or do they have a Lennon/McCartney thing going on where some work on melody and some write lyrics?

 “I don’t think it’s ever been six of us in the same room, but all six of us contribute,” James says.

“We kind of had to look at the way we were creating over lockdown. And we found that a lot of it has come from writing through the computer rather than jamming in a room,” Finlay explains.

“I think often I find lyrics from the feeling an instrumental will give me,” James muses. “So it’ll be quite a lush instrumental often before I start writing lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics’ll come early but more often than not, I have to have a real feeling and emotions already from the music and find something from that. Because a lot of people won’t listen to lyrics. So, you don’t always even need lyrics, but melody is the main thing that moves people in music. And you need the right words to fit a melody.”

Walt Disco behind the scenes of their ‘Selfish Lover’ video, photographed by @m_adeleinegrace

We move on to discussing the band’s latest single, a high-energy pop number called Selfish Lover, written during lockdown: “Yeah, it was like, April last year,” James recalls. “Lewis sent a garage band demo. We really liked the energy of the instrumental. We just wanted to make it a wee bit more circusy and interesting, so we gave it the intro bassline and the sort of slightly swingy feel…”

Despite having good bones, the song took a lot of “chipping away,” at before it reached its final state, Finlay says. James grins and admits, “…the guitar riff, the middle eight and the first chorus one, was a guitar riff we stole from another song that didn’t quite make it…”

“You stole a riff from your own song? Self-piracy?” I laugh. 

“Yeah, we stole a riff from our own song because the rest of the song just wasn’t strong enough, but it had a really good riff. So, we were like, fuck it, we’ll just put it in this song…David Bowie plagiarized his own songs all the time,” James says. I mention how much James’ voice reminds me of Station to Station era David Bowie on certain Walt Disco tunes, and the conversation turns to the band’s musical inspirations and influences. 

“Having six of us, there’s quite a mishmash, but we all share very similar interests, like the Associates,” Finlay says. “We got really into electronic music over lockdown, cos all we were trying to do was write pop songs. And sometimes you just wanted to switch off and listen to a beat or a cool sound. That kind of seeped into the pop songs that we were trying to write.”

James delves deeper into dissecting the band’s writing methodology: “We’d often start with these quite complex, experimental electronic tracks and then complete that as its own little thing, and then send it over to a different computer and then view it differently… and then once the bass and guitar are on, give it a pop structure and pop melody. That’s the most successful writing process we’ve had.”

Walt Disco behind the scenes of the ‘Selfish Lover,’ video. Photographer: @m_adeleinegrace

The conversation veers from songwriting to another crucial part of Walt Disco’s collective artistic practice: getting dressed up. Thinking of the flamboyant mix of costumes in the Selfish Lover video (where the band wore everything from thigh-high black leather boots to baby pink satin corsets, housewifely 1950s half-slips, faux fur wraps and leather harnesses,) I ask if they have a favored designer or stylist.

“For the Selfish Lover video we were working with a stylist called Jack Shanks…he’s great,” James says. “He’s kind of the same build and the same height as all of us and that means he’s got lots of great things in his own wardrobe that fit us, and then we’ll always bring lots of our own wardrobes to the shoots. 

“Once everyone’s dressed, I make sure I have a look at everyone, ‘cause I love styling. It’s quite funny when everyone’s ready, and then I go round and am like: ‘I need to have a line-up,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘You’re not done,” and “you’re not done.’” They laugh. “Sometimes they’ll get a wee bit hurt and I’m like, ‘No, it’s for the video.’ It has to be right.”

“It’s always been something that’s been a big part of the band, even before we worked with stylists. Getting ready in the dressing room was always fun,” Finlay reminisces fondly.

I ask if there are any particular designers or fashion icons whose closets they’d like to raid.

“I think the one for both of us would be Grayson Perry,” James says, and Finlay oohs in agreement. “Definitely one of the biggest fashion icons of this century.”

I ask which artists first sparked their interest in music as kids, and Finlay looks a bit sheepish. “This may sound totally mad, but I didn’t like music when I was little. I just wasn’t interested in it, at all, until I got to high school. But I remember in my music class, we got a temporary music teacher that showed me ‘My Iron Lung,’ by Radiohead, and I was like ‘That’s cool.’ That kind of sent me down the rabbit hole.” 

James hasn’t heard this story before, and seems vaguely disappointed that Finlay’s “musical awakening,” took the form of Radiohead: “…a shame,” they say. Finlay thinks for a moment and adds, “It’s probably subliminal, but my mum was playing a lot of Kate Bush and stuff in the car, when I was little. I didn’t like it then, but I do now.” 

The soundtrack to James’ growing-up years was very different: “There were a lot of very guitar-y CDs in my house. Also, my parents would put on Queen and Scissor Sisters all the time, but I can’t remember if it was my request or not…it would kind of make sense if it was. I remember the CD player and the sound system were a real centerpiece of the living room when I was six or seven.”

I say that with the music industry stopped in its tracks for so many months, returning to the previous cycles of promo, releases and touring must feel almost alien in its strangeness. 

“You get used to your face not being anywhere, and then it’s everywhere!” James agrees, laughing.

Starting in July, Walt Disco are set to embark on a thirteen-date tour staggered over the course of four months. I ask which gigs they’re most excited to play. “I’m excited to go back to Edinburgh. That’s my home,” Finlay says, face lighting up. “And the gig we played there in October 2019 was the biggest gig we’ve ever played. Can’t wait to go back and play an even bigger venue.”

After so many months of forced stagnation, live music is back in action, and so are Walt Disco. 

Tickets for Walt Disco’s 2021 U.K. tour are on sale at: https://www.songkick.com/artists/9265324-walt-disco/calendar

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock Punk/Rock Uncategorized Why We Love

Why We Love: Press Club

Spotify’s Discover Weekly is a wonderfully exciting place where you can unearth artists specifically tailored to your tastes and it is what led me to a band that has been described as “one of the most exciting young prospects in rock music.” Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Press Club’s gritty garage-punk sound first blessed the ears of Bandcamp listeners in 2017 with the release of their single Headwreck, a hazy two and half minute anthem clearly expressing the band’s true unadulterated passion and determination that has continued to shine throughout their two subsequent albums, Late Teens and Wasted Energy.

Influenced by bands like Brand New and Hüsker Dü, the energetic and chaotic sound of their music can often be seen to juxtapose the peaceful and laid back vibe that their narrative music videos exude, an effect that is especially evident in the video accompanying Suburbia, a personal favourite of mine and their most streamed track on Spotify. The calm everyday visuals of the video create an anticipatory tension throughout that reflects the angsty nostalgia of old relationships and moving on, a feeling that I am sure many can relate to. Lead singer Natalie Foster introduces dream-like vocals that explode into punk fervour, a technique common in Press Club’s discography, in Crash and Same Mistakes for example, and gives the band that irresistible indie edge and attracts an audience atypical to the punk genre.

The band tends to embody a kind of “go with the flow” attitude, creating music with ambiguity allowing the listener to interpret the meaning in a way unique to themselves and, as Foster revealed, deciding upon song titles and even their band name by throwing ideas around and seeing what felt right. Many of Press Club’s songs do, however, deal with quite heavy topics enabling an emotional connection to form between the band and the listener over similar shared experiences. Twenty-Three, the concluding track to their Wasted Energy album, for example, discusses topics such as drugs and how you can’t hide from your actions.

As a band notorious among its fans for delivering loud, atmospheric gigs and tirelessly touring around Australia, Europe, and the UK, racking up a huge number of shows in the last few years, Press Club should 100% be at the top of your “bands to see live” list. They will not disappoint.

Photo by: Ian Laidlaw

Listen to Press Club on Spotify now.

Categories
Soul/R&B Why We Love

Why We Love: Black Pumas

Psychedelic-soul band Black Pumas captured my full attention with their transcendent GRAMMYs performance just a few weeks ago. My mouth hung open throughout the duration of their stage time and, accompanied by several colorfully encouraging words, I couldn’t stop shouting, “Oh my god!” 

I didn’t need any more convincing whatsoever; I grabbed my phone, saved their music, and followed them on social media. They very quickly had me in the palms of their hands, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. This group hailing from Austin, Texas serves as the definition of a powerhouse, and I have a good feeling that they will be the catalysts of a much-needed musical revolution. If you missed their performance or are simply entirely new to Black Pumas, I implore you to watch it immediately

Bandmates Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada, through the help of a friend, united in 2018. Shortly after the release of two singles (“Fire” and “Black Moon Rising”), Black Pumas dropped their fiery self-titled album on June 21, 2019. That same year, the GRAMMYs nominated them for the “Best New Artist” category. With a total of four Grammy nominations now under their belt, it’s absolutely criminal that they walked away empty-handed. To the GRAMMYs (and any other awards ceremony, for that matter): Do better. 

With sold-out tours, numerous television performances, and a recent achievement of taking the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Emerging Artists Chart, this is merely the beginning of a prosperous career for Black Pumas. This immense, ground-breaking talent that they possess is awe-inspiring. Everybody, and I mean everybody, needs to put this band on their radar. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The entirety of their discography is unmatched, despite it being just the beginning. Coated in a dizzying richness that provides a similar feeling to taking a sip of warm coffee on a cold morning, their music fully envelopes you. I am completely and entirely bewitched; whether I am just listening to their record (original, deluxe, and expanded deluxe!) or watching videos of their performances, I find myself falling more in love as the minutes go by.

Every single aspect of each song, whether it be the heavenly, euphonic vocals or the electrifying instrumentations, is expertly crafted. I cannot stress enough how one-of-a-kind this band is. Seriously, stop whatever it is you’re doing and listen to Black Pumas. Go on then; go!


To stay in the know, follow Black Pumas on Instagram, Twitter, and Spotify.

(Cover photo by: JACKIE LEE YOUNG)

Categories
Indie/Indie Rock

Lucia and the Best Boys: Poised for World Domination

Lucia Fairfull, the frontwoman of Glaswegian indie pop sensations Lucia and the Best Boys, is an ‘80s haute couture fever dream. 

Her constantly evolving sartorial presence keeps the group’s image in a state of constant flux, refreshing and revitalizing, but it’s her voice that’s the real star. I’ve never met anyone who’s found it directly comparable to another artist’s; it’s uniquely moving, sometimes vigorous, bright and soothing, sometimes edged with the purring rasp of a femme fatale in a noir film.

 The band’s recent EP The State of Things (released in 2020), features four tracks, Perfectly Untrue, Somewhere in HeavenForever Forget, and Let Go.

Perfectly Untrue is the smash hit of the EP, with nearly 700,000 Spotify streams thus far, an impressive feat indeed.

(Two intriguing remixes have been made from the EP, a Forever Forget remix by Dream Wife and a Let Go remix by synth sensation Jessica Winter. Both are guaranteed to be the high point of any two a.m. solo dance party, something we’ve all gotten very used to during the series of lockdowns.)

On Let Go, Lucia’s powerful, resonant voice soars and dips into deeply satisfying husky notes. It’s a delicate, touching ballad, and the subject matter is surely content that all of us can empathize with.

Overall, they’re break-up tunes that are just as satisfying to listen to when you’re happy as when you’re heartbroken. The Best Boys manage to keep up a level of emotional relevance few bands achieve.

It’s going to be very exciting to see what this powerhouse group will accomplish next… I wait with bated breath.

Today, Scotland– tomorrow, the world.

Header Photo Credit: Oli Erskine

Categories
Why We Love

Why We Love: Black Country, New Road

Black Country, New Road’s debut album For the First Time has been named Rough Trade’s album of the month for February. It’s a tremendous honor for a first album, and it’s well-deserved. The young band have already achieved more in their debut than most groups do over the course of their entire existence. The seven members have forged a sound that defies categorization. There is no genre that fits Black Country, New Road, a lucky thing indeed, because it has forced them to create their own.

For the First Time is a music nerd’s delight, a veritable 7th heaven of listening pleasures. It’s the kind of album that you listen to ten times all the way through on the first day of having it in your possession. You’ll want to unpack the dense, layered sounds, to figure out exactly what’s being said in each lyric, to identify every instrument and every influence.

Each one of the six tracks on the album is stellar, but Sunglasses is my favorite, segueing between mellow rhythms and full-out punk screaming, then (somehow) sliding smoothly into emotional descriptions of the irritations and fetters of relationships and life within a family, and through it all the meditation, gripped like a life-line: “I am invincible in these sunglasses…” It inspires an odd mixture of elation and chills, and the need to share it with someone else immediately. In other words, it’s on its way to being a classic.

Black Country, New Road are an orchestra for the future, “the new classic”(al) for spaceships. On more than one level, it’s something we all need to listen to; it’s something we all need to hear.

You can find Black Country, New Road on Instagram @blackcountrynewroad, on Spotify and on Bandcamp.

Header Photo Credit: Max Grainger