I've never seen The Haunt fuller than tonight, and rightly so – northern diamonds Field Music should be selling out venues of this size (and considerably bigger) if there's a God, and that God likes thoughtful and inventive British pop/indie. Coming on to a rendition of 'Abide with me', specially arranged for horns, it's the first touch of class on display this evening – it is Sunday after all.
All Saints Church in Hove is a spectacular venue to say the least, so I was intrigued to discover that Canadian indie band Half Moon Run would be performing there, and very interested to see how they would deal with playing in such an enormous space. The church really is massive, with colossal gothic arches and a 70 foot high ceiling – cathedral-like in its dimensions. Fortunately, the show was very well attended and as the audience helped soak up the sound – first potential pitfall avoided – it didn’t sound like a boombox in the batcave.
“I saw you licking a dollar bill / I'm in the graveyard if looks could kill”
That’s quite an opening line to an album – profound, playful and hooky. It captures Miike Snow’s iii neatly, but when you consider Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg’s (also known as Bloodshy & Avant) background as writers of Britney's Grammy-winning 'Toxic', it’s a fairly safe assumption to expect a hook or two. Add Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow’s third member) and his work with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for the hookiest hooks in hook town!
Opener 'My Trigger' sets the scene with big beats, off-the-wall vocal manipulation and an off-the-chart hum/whistle factor. It sounds like Stevie Wonder being pulled backwards through a kaleidoscope by Bill Withers on a unicorn. It’s this deeply imaginative subverting of popular forms that makes Miike Snow such a joy, and iii so impressive. It’s pop, but not as we know it – sonic adventures with proper tunes as the end result.
It’s not only the musicianship and production that flit and flicker between recognised norms and unchartered territory, the subject matter is often remarkably versatile, too. For all its glibness, “Genghis Khan” might feel like a tongue-in-cheek commentary on possessiveness, “I get a little bit Genghis Khan / Don’t want you to get it on with nobody else but me”. However, it’s easy enough to pick up on wider strokes around selfishness and insecurity, or other little demons and monsters within.
Whereas there is an undoubted leaning towards playfulness and fun within the writing, I Feel The Weight thuds in with a refreshing candour:
“And it's only me to blame / Cause I pushed the truth away
And pretended to be happy / Tonight, I have to say I feel the weight”.
Who would have thought that an auto-tuned ballad could be so soulful? Yet that’s exactly what this is. Heartfelt, languidly sexy, as each passage melts into the next, this track packs an emotional punch that hits the listener off-guard after a succession of radio-friendly cuts, but in the context of the album it is the perfect track for the perfect moment, as light turns to dark and things get interesting.
Back Of The Car follows – like Tom Petty’s Don’t Do Me Like That crossed with Blackstreet’s No Diggity. Just when you think it is going to kick off, it drops… dubstep-style and the song simmers sinisterly.
For me, though, the album’s centrepiece is one of the more straightforward songs. Yes, Heart Is Full has a craftily engineered sample of jazz and soul vocalist Marlena Shaw as its core, but it’s a barnstorming song with bombastic brass, crammed with fantastic phrasing, diction and – of course -hooks. It’s an exciting fusion of jazz and hip-hop distilled through pop.
I’ve read some disparaging things about Andrew Wyatt’s vocals, pointing out a supposed fragility, but I personally see that as a useful tool to provide a bitter to balance the sweet or a sad to temper the happy. Whatever your take on Wyatt’s voice, it’s pretty hard to deny that his melody making is nothing other than brimming with musicality, from his jazzy phrasing and clipped diction in Heart Is Full to the syrupy beauty of I Feel The Weight. iii’s melodies are never anything less than very strong; never a note wasted.
As the album flows from light to dark, it is readily apparent that Miike Snow are not in the habit of missing a trick, dropping a detail or filling space for the sake of it. Even the bonus digital track (A Run The Jewels remix of Heart Is Full) feels essential. Not only is it a fresh take on the album’s star turn, but I can’t help but think that finishing on elegant, feel-good Longshot (7 nights) would have been too straightforward.
We’re kept waiting a good 10 minutes from the point where Rosie Lowe’s band take to the stage until Lowe makes her appearance, but boy, what a way to make an entrance! Gliding through the crowd assembled at the Hope and Ruin, Lowe is tall and slim and sleek – like a model from a glossy fashion magazine. Her speaking voice is equally as glamourous as she addresses the room with a hello and the band ease into the opening song, built around a hypnotic vocal sample with soulful, spare keyboards. Lowe slides seamlessly through the gears as the song grows into a glitchy swell of electronics, sub-bass and brittle percussion, and bubbles and foams with delayed vocals. It threatens to uncoil, but never does. There’s a regal refinement and poise at play.
Tuff Love are not tough to love – you hear their music and it just makes you want to get involved by bouncing across the room along with the other Tuff Lovers. Having met them briefly after an awesome gig at The Prince Albert early in 2015, they are also bloody lovely people. Residing in Glasgow, Tuff Love are lo-fi sun kissed guitar pop duo Julie Esenstein (guitar, vocals) and Suse Bear (bass, vocals), enlisting the help of drummer Iain Stewart when on the road. Resort brings together three already released vinyl only EPs, including the sold out and much sought after Junk and Dross EP (currently being sold on Discogs for £30 and £50). All of which were recorded, produced and engineered in Suse’s flat, and maps the band’s progression in sound and confidence by starting with their first release in May 2014 to their most recent Dregs EP that was released in November 2015.
The album starts with the brilliant debut EP Junk. To someone who has never listened to Tuff Love, ‘Sweet Discontent’ perfectly sums them up – open and emotional lyrics matched with beautifully laid-back melodic aggression. You are shown the simple yet effective approach to the bands songwriting, with ‘Flamingo’s breezy vocal harmonies and frenzied guitar poppieness which is followed by the more mellowed and woozy grunge in ‘Copper’. As debut EPs go, Junk is certainly scintillating.
The Dross EP is without a doubt the band stepping up and raising their game. We are given five fantastic scuzzy indie-pop songs that straddle the shoegaze-grunge fence. Opener ‘Slammer’ tentatively crawls off the mark with a relaxed groove, but builds in intensity to its chorus (“I’ve got rage”) almost in a half rush that picks you up along with it. ‘That’s Right’ then explodes with catchy punk pop guitars, producing one of the shining numbers on the album. The songs innocence and immediacy along with Tuff Love’s trademark interweaving vocals well and truly shows the bands intent. The tracks that follow (‘Sebastian’, ‘Doberman’, ‘Cum’) all demonstrate a move forward in recording – still holding onto its unassuming lo-fi brilliance but gaining clarity and sophistication in its production.
The relatively recent 10” vinyl release, Dregs EP, is an irresistible listen. An exuberant confidence fills each song and it’s pretty mesmerising. Tuff Love’s ear for a catchy chorus and melody continue, bringing together a nostalgic soundtrack for a lost summer with juxtaposing dreamy rhythm and melancholy lyrics. ‘Crocodile’, ‘Threads’ and ‘Amphibian’ are some of the bands best songs to date (not to take anything away from the others), while the final song on the album, ‘Carbon’, shows the bands ambitious side by being more of a beautifully lulled ballad that once again highlights Julie and Suse’s dazzling vocal harmonies.
Their sound is addictive and infectious – the more you hear it, the more you will like it. Yes, you can hear influences all over the place (Pavement, The Breeders, Nirvana, Queens Of The Stone Age, Brit pop, … etc) but Tuff Love have developed their own signature sound that has become so instantly recognizable. As for their debut album – Resort is more of a Best Of compilation of the past couple of years, merely missing the fantastic Record Store Day single ‘Groucho’ (only available on Discogs for £50) from their discography. Perhaps it will be on their next album.
The Brewis brothers have, very sensibly, not tried to follow on from 2012’s “Plumb”, an impeccably conceived and sequenced album that plays more like a suite than a pop/rock LP. Like many intelligent musicians do, they’ve moved on to different things and sought to avoid repeating themselves. “Commontime” sees a much funkier approach with deep cuts, long jams – and their love of Prince coming to the fore. Some classy pop and a wider selection of contributions from other musicians (including Peter’s wife, Jenny Brewis – a family affair indeed) chart their continued development and evolution as writers.
Lead single and album opener, “Noisy Days Are Over” sets the template – and the bar high. It’s very accessible pop with a funky groove and intricate cowbells, packed with layered details, yet with a sense of space. The seamless intermingling of the brothers’ voices is pure alchemy and the widened range of vocals has a playfulness that sits well with the tone of the song, a tongue-in-cheek musing on growing up:
The noisy days are over and here we are instead / Why don’t you get to bed like everybody else?
At 6 minutes in length, it is so full of character (the “Sign ’O’ The Times” era Prince saxophones are a real highlight) that there’s no danger of it outstaying its welcome. It’s actually over before you know.
There are other funky highs present in “Don’t You Want To Know?“, a cheeky shuffle full of finger-lickin’ bass and snappy snare work. There’s a wonderful live feel to the track, capturing the magic of performance and giving it a celebratory feel. Closer “Stay Awake” is bright and breezy, full of elegant interplay and unexpected asides with a flawless vocal. Much like a lot of the subject matter on the album, it deals with the trials and tribulations of being in a relationship:
You don’t need to worry about me / Not since you taught me to talk it all through. Who knew?
Maybe I need just an hour of sleep and you need that, too?
The lightness of touch often belies some very solid material on “Commontime”, and with songs like “Disappointed” and “They Want You To Remember”, there’s a nice squeeze of Squeeze over the top. “It’s A Good Thing” provides a real ‘80s hue, too – in the spirit of Talk Talk with Prince-inspired boy/girl vocals boasting a variety and range of voices. Its seemingly plain chorus is sneakily catchy, too – it’s crafty in every sense.
“The Morning Is Waiting For You” and “Trouble At The Lights” point towards an ever-increasing confidence and maturity. Whereas (penultimate album) “Plumb” had the bombastic opus “Start The Day Right”, “The Morning Is Waiting For You” could easily cover similar ground but remains understated, and its sumptuous horns are reined in to let the song breathe. “Trouble At The Lights” is also held back, but there is more push-and-pull present, and when it does open out, it’s with full-on Queen operatic harmony and a dark, pounding outro.
At 14 songs and a running time of just under an hour, it is a fairly long album, and I do wonder if all of the tracks are essential. Still, it feels slightly ungrateful to complain about being given too much material by Field Music – it’s a bit like bemoaning having too many sunny days in summer. However, it’s like they’ve released a good, long album as opposed to a short, sharp classic. Whereas that might feel like a bit of a downer, I’ll leave you with an oft used sporting phrase which seems entirely appropriate – “Form is temporary. Class is permanent.” Field Music will be back with yet more brilliant music; of that there is no doubt.
Do you like big vintage guitars? Do you like huge drums? Do you like dreamy, layered harmonies and whimsical melodies? Yes? Well, you’re in the right place.
Recorded at The Besnard Lakes’ own Breakglass Studios in Montreal, “A Coliseum Complex Museum” is all about guitars – red hot ones, white hot ones, wobbly ones and trippy ones; it’s awash with references to a time when Guitar was King, Prog was Queen and Psychedelia was Prince and Princess.
Opening with “Bray Road Beast”, The Besnard Lakes go all “Lucy In The Sky” on us, only to ratchet up the intensity and drown us in a deluge of seismic shoegaze; reverb dripping down walls of guitars and valleys of voice. It’s big, but “Golden Lion” is bigger, with madcap guitar sounds and a juggernaut of a chorus. “Pressure Of Our Plans” completes a bold opening threesome and offers a more varied instrumentation and vocal arrangement – all in all, it’s pretty anthemic stuff.
“Towers Sent Her To Sheets Of Sound” and a little later, “Necronomicon” offer deeper cuts and a druggier tempo. The warbling guitars of “Towers” are something of a focal point, but like most Lakes’ compositions, this track offers cyclical vocal refrains served as swirling harmonies and sections that sound like the needle has momentarily got stuck on the record. “Necronomicon” is the closest thing to pop The Besnard Lakes produce – despite the watery guitars, there are layer upon layer of hooks floating in there. Clocking in at 3:39, it actually ticks just about every box required of a single.
The crowning glory of this royal banquet of guitars is “Plain Moon”. Its darkly driven, heavily psychedelic verses are countered by a half-time chorus of supreme elegance with an unexpectedly delicious Beach Boys-style vocal breakdown. It is chock full of imaginative parts, all imprinted with BL DNA, and has the most glorious false ending I’ve heard in quite some time.
“Nightingale” is a tense and moody affair, sitting well on the album as the penultimate track. There’s a dark Spaghetti Western feel and the lapsteel solo at the end lends a distinctly “One Of These Days I’m Going To Cut You Into Little Pieces” air to proceedings. “Tungsten 4: The Refugee” brings things to a close, probably tipping the scales as the most vintage sounding of the lot. I bet you could have fried an egg on their amps at the time of the recording. It’s another track with lots of counterpointed instrumentation and a welcomed bit of swing. As it propels itself towards the big finish, it does turn into a bit of an guitar orchard, but it’s good fun, and Television fans will love it.
At 8 meaty tracks, “A Coliseum Complex Museum” feels about the right length. With such swathes of sound and intensity, you won’t be craving for more. And, despite overwhelming vintage production, there is more to it than really, really cool guitar sounds – it just takes a bit of finding in such opaque mixes. It feels like a project that has been very true to its brief – in a way, it sounds exactly as the title suggests: big, dense and deeply entrenched in history, but I for one would love to hear a wider range of instruments on future outings.