Wildflowers – Let It Go

We’ve been fond of Wildflowers at BrightonsFinest since we invited them to headline one of our monthly nights at The Hope last summer. They were an exciting live band back then and since have had plenty of opportunity to hone their show from touring with the likes of Tom Odell and Robert Plant. This EP comes in advance of their debut album ‘On The Inside’ (which we expect to see before the year is out) and has already smashed into the top 40 on the iTunes chart.

Sonically the EP is consistent and professional; title track ‘Let It Go’ introduces us to a really immaculate studio sound; acoustic guitar, piano and percussion backing luscious vocals and those fantastic harmonies that are a signature of the band’s sound. Unfortunately although I want to love the EP I can’t help but think ‘Let It Go’ sounds like it could have been written for a life insurance advert. There’s a summery vibe and cheerful lyrics about letting go of your issues to get on board with the fun that’s happening around you and maybe that’s the problem: it lacks edge. It’s catchy but in a saccharine way; it’s folky but in that modern commercial way that sold a million Mumford & Sons albums to middle aged mothers. To my ears it owes more to James Blunt than Bob Dylan – it lacks those caustic and bittersweet elements that transcend genre and make us believe in and feel for an artist.

Siddy Bennet has a fantastic voice filled with character which is under-utilised until the last song on the EP. ‘Tell Them I’m Your Woman’ begins with an acoustic guitar riff that sounds like it could be lifted straight from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ but when we get to the chorus we’re treated to some of that Alanis Morrisette influence the band talks so much about. They sound good channelling 90’s American alt-rock and Siddy allows her voice to reach for its gritty potential while singing about a lover who has attracted lots of rival interest.
 
While there’s plenty to like about this EP I didn’t feel there was much to sink my teeth into. I hope they’re saving some of the excitement and dynamics that are so evident in their live shows for the full length album. There’s lots and lots of potential here, some classy musicianship and great vocals but overall I find the EP lacks soul which is frustrating because we know they’ve got it in abundance.
Adam Kidd
 

grasshopper – Circle Time

Grasshopper’s new EP ‘Circle Time’ starts with an eerie thirty seconds of searching keyboard instrumental before the first proper track begins with a bass slathered in so much chorus it could be The Cure in 1982. ‘Rico’s Revenge’ is almost an instrumental, getting through two atmospheric minutes before restarting and leading us to a short, nostalgic vocal refrain. The nostalgia seems odd when you consider how young the minds that created this music are, this is the second EP from grasshopper and they’ve been playing the Brighton circuit for two years now despite the fact we suspect the average age of the band is a mere seventeen.

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Moulettes – Constellations

Formed 12 years ago it took The Moulettes a while to really get going, releasing their debut album on the Southampton based musical co-operative Sotones in 2010. Since then they have based themselves in Brighton, toured with the likes of The Levellers, headlined their own tours, released the acclaimed second album The Bear's Revenge, and become a regular fixture on the festival circuit.

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Birdeatsbaby – The Bullet

 
‘The Bullet’ is the second single from Brighton based Birdeatsbaby’s third album ‘The Bullet Within’ due out in the summer. They released ‘Ghosts’ as a first single last October to help feed ‘the flock’ (their faithful fan club) but this feels more like a proper introduction to me. ‘The Bullet’ is big, bold and bombastic where ‘Ghosts’ was plaintive, sparse and beautiful. Here rock drums and wide-angle guitars take centre stage when the previous single was all about shimmering adagio strings and arpeggiated piano.

‘The Bullet’ is exciting from the off, led by Mishkin Fitgerald’s strong vocal and piano it manages to showcase all the best things about the band: their musicianship, originality and not least their skill at arrangement. This song takes you on a real journey but never loses its momentum. Lyrically I feel like they’re exploring the trials and tribulations of choosing a creative path over one that is seemingly more sensible, but that may just be me reading between the lines and seeking metaphors. It could equally be about a doomed relationship.
 
Birdeatsbaby are a band whose macabre image has been fully realised from the start, but, from the strength of their latest singles, it feels like they have finally found the sound in the studio to match it. Self-funded (the band impressively raised £11,000 on kickstarter to help promote the album) and recorded locally with producer Forbes Coleman at Audiobeach Studios the sound is richer and more detailed than their previous output and bodes extremely well for the new album which we await with bated breath.
Adam Kidd

Thought Forms / Esben and the Witch – Thought Forms

 

Thought Forms/Esben and the Witch (split LP)

Brighton's Esben and the Witch (EATW) are known for their heavy, uncompromising post-punk aesthetic, largely involving a basic set up of just bass, guitar and drums. Last seen in Brighton performing a live score to the Argentinian film La Antena as part of last year's Cine City film festival, they are at their most comfortable in experimental, noisy, 'nightmare pop' making mode.
On 'No Dog', a rumbling distorted bass meets crashing drums and overdriven guitar, before the song segues into a quiet, snail's pace passage followed by Rachel Davies' typically foreboding vocals. Slowly, but surely it builds before the cycle is completed and repeated.
The eight minute plus 'Butoh' is even more elemental, several moments of visceral catharsis dotting the 'tune' which is little more than an experimental jam, but remains spellbinding nevertheless.
Having left the 4AD label, EATW are crowd funding in order to raise the necessary funds to record their next album with Steve Albini.
Meanwhile Bristol's 'Thought Forms' (also a trio; two boys, one girl) four tracks on offer somewhat mirror EATW, the alternating cycle of quiet, loud is equally dark and foreboding, but with a touch more of the 80s alt-indie, and a little less experimental and instrumental. Sound of Violence and For The Moving Stars are both obviously influenced by the likes of 80s icons Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, but remain fiery tracks that mean business.
This highly unusual split LP offering (split singles were more common in the punk and post-punk eras) will be available on vinyl or digital platforms, and is being released via Geoff Barrow's (of Portishead fame) Invada Records imprint.
Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey - Going Back Home
What an inspired coupling! The vocals of Roger Daltrey and the Telecaster guitar of Wilko Johnson. Although both qualify for bus passes these days and are only four years apart in age, fame came to them in different decades, Daltrey idolised at an early age with The Who, while Johnson only came through a decade later with the pre-punk, pub-rocking Dr. Feelgood, who at their height reached number one in the album charts with Stupidity, a live album released in 1976.

38 years later, Johnson may be about to enjoy his second number one album, ‘Going Back Home’, with Roger Daltrey on mic duties instead of the late Lee Brilleaux.

Johnson, rather miraculously, is alive and well (as well as he ever was…), having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over a year ago. This most efficient and ruthless of diseases, even by the standards of cancer, hasn't claimed him as yet and in fact seems to have stabilised, allowing Johnson to gig here and there and carry on living his normal existence. Perhaps the combination of impending death and a sudden hit has no doubt left him scratching his bald pate, in wonder at this crazy world.

Recorded at Yellowfish Studios, deep in the Sussex countryside and produced by Manic Street Preachers long-time producer Dave Eringa, Daltrey lets rip, sounding very comfortable in going back to his R&B roots, singing to a batch of songs written by Johnson over the course of his life, many of them consciously and thematically harking back to his young man days, when it seemed that girls were always on ones' mind… Even the length of the album, a little less than 35 minutes was how it was back in the 60s and 70s golden days of vinyl.

Apparently done in a rush, the album has perhaps benefited from this. There's nothing better to focus the mind than a time limit and the possibility of death any day. In any case, this is how they both used to record; quickly, with minimal fuss, quick judgements made and very focussed on the job at hand. The result is one of the albums of the year.

Daltrey's voice was always an acquired taste. But here, his voice is more controlled, deeper, richer and sounding very much like an R&B singer of one of the bands Daltrey would have enjoyed listening to in the early 60s.

Johnson, meanwhile, hasn't changed his style much over the years, although it is slightly less frantic than in the Dr. Feelgood days. He is 66 after all, but his original percussive plectrum-less rhythm style is as sweet as ever.

The simple guitar, bass and vocal set up is augmented by some splendid keyboard work by Mick Talbot and Steve Weston lets rip on the harmonica here and there.

Lyrically, this is good-time throwaway stuff, the sentiments expressed those of much younger men. The inclusion of Dylan's ‘Can You Please Crawl Out of Your Window’ only heightens the sense that Johnson was only doing no more than was necessary to complete a song. But no matter, Johnson is recalling the spirit of his youth, doing what he does best and together with Daltrey and a batch of superlative musicians, ‘Going Back Home’ is Home Sweet Home indeed.

Jeff Hemmings
 

The Kooks – Down

The Kooks recently unveiled a new song ‘Down’ which is due for release alongside three brand new tracks on 20th April. This is the first new material to come from the band since 2011’s ‘Junk of the Heart’. ‘Down’ has been described by the group as a mission statement for their forthcoming fourth album and it is a major departure from the more familiar sound of earlier releases. This time round they have worked very closely with hip-hop artist Inflo, who is credited as both co-writer and co-producer on ‘Down’.

On first listen I have to admit I honestly thought this song might have been a joke. To my ears Pritchard’s already distinctive vocal sounds like a caricature of itself. The surprise change of sound, from crisp indie pop to a more sample-led hip-hop inspired production is jarring. It seems to be a bit on the cluttered side: there are several layers of vocals and jangly guitars competing on top of what sounds like an old skool hip-hop break but may well be their drummer sampled and layered with percussion. After repeated listens The Kooks clear ear for melody wins out and I find myself warming to the track.

It seems The Kooks are taking a bit of a gamble by trying an approach which may alienate a lot of their core fan base. You have to respect them for trying something new and following their muse but for a lead single this just seems kind of messy. Here’s hoping they’ve got better material hidden up their sleeves and this is just a little teaser to break people into their new sound.

Adam Kidd

 

Royal Blood – Little Monster

I first heard of Royal Blood when they were named on the longlist for ‘BBC Sound of 2014’ last December. “Sound of…” is a poll of critics and music industry figures aimed at rooting out promising new talents and Royal Blood ended up being the only band on this years list.

Even then I wasn’t quick to jump on the bandwagon at first because I was suspicious having never heard of them, despite them being hailed as a local band (arrogantly I assumed I’d heard of all the local bands worth hearing about). I was also irked that this years only band were a 2-piece and, at a knee jerk, I was prepared to write them off for only being half a band without ever hearing them. When I finally listened I was blown away!

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Elli Ingram – The Doghouse

Last year Elli Ingram dropped the Sober EP on the market, and the market reacted very favourably, a spotlight suddenly being shown on this teenage Brighton prodigy, particularly via the excellent video and imagery of Mad Love, which depicted Ingram as an older looking, spooky looking suburbanite, wrestling with the demons of over indulgence and 'mad love'. With some very natural vocal chops that takes a little bit of Adele, a pinch of Amy Winehouse, plenty of old school r'n'b inflections, and which overlays some startlingly inventive production work courtesy of Felix Joseph and Aston Rudi, Ingram has the the ingredients to become a home grown r'n'b starlet. Furthermore, and judging by her recent performance in Brighton's newest live venue, The Bermuda Triangle, the sounds created here are being translated into a full band set up, a groovy and very capable r'nb, funk and soul outfit.

After Sober, now comes The Doghouse, another five track showcase, and her first for Island Records. It's another step up as preparations are made for an assault on the nation's consciousness, if all goes to plan…

While Sober set the stage with its r'n'b pop flavours, Doghouse is a little more adventurous, a little more of a detour down the alleyways of leftfield r'n'b, but still with an ear for a good tune, a recording of a rousing, Martin Luther King-esque church sermon begins When It Was Dark, a slinky, cacophonous number that also features gospel backing singers, hammond organ, and sax. The production throughout is adventurous, experimental, neatly combining elements of old school funk, hip hop and funk sounds with a contemporary nouse.

All Caught Up was recently made Zane Lowe's Hottest Record of the Week, and again shows off her impressive voice; a controlled yet emotive instrument that she developed and fine-tuned over the last few years, mainly with just guitar or piano as accompaniment when playing live. All Caught Up is slowed down, deep and textured r'n'b, and even features a little bit of slap bass deep in the mix, as well as some more horns, also deeply buried horns, a feature of the production work on this and the last EP.

C'Dawha is largely a showcase for Felix Joseph who throws everything but the kitchen sink on this mash-up, even Ingram's voice is put through the mincer. A strange experiment, but again a demonstration that this is more than just about Ingram – she has bonded well with the boys over the last two EPs, and they've been given plenty of freedom to show off what they can do.
Gangsta Blues has a strong hip hop undertow, while final track The River goes back to Ingram's roots, a laid back and stripped back acoustic-based song that is largely shorn of production wizardry. A very nice antidote indeed, and essential in showcasing her as a stand-alone artist, capable in any setting.

'Slow the world down so I can find myself' she intones on All Caught Up. It's plain that Ingram isn't overly concerned about finding a route to commercial riches, she has too much of the 'artist' inside her, a talent that, combined with the right production work, could nevertheless reach for the stars.
 
Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 

Hidden Brighton – Hidden Trail Records

Hidden Brighton - Hidden Trail Records

Hidden Brighton – Hidden Trail Records

Hidden Trail Records
We all know a lot of musical creativity resides in this fair city of ours, but even for, ahem… seasoned music journos like myself, it never ceases to surprise me how much there is. 20 years ago we were proud of the fact that The Levellers were from Brighton, and that some 'new wave of new wave' band called These Animal Men were our next big hope. Today, the list is almost endless. There is no scene as such, just lots of different musical tribes, collectives, families, friends and fans, exploring music for the innate pleasure it contains. But there is a friendliness about the musical scene that seems to encourage this large pool of creativity, this melting pot of influences that result in the, almost invariably, interesting and well-thought out creations on show via this compilation from a fledgling local label, and obvious big-time music fans.
 
Here you'll find some ace garage rock courtesy of Flash Bang Band, female-fronted indie in the form of one-definitely-to-watch Kill Moon, the Warpaint-esque Hella Better Dancer, the haunting shoegazing sounds of The Hundreth Anniversary, the harmony-drenched minimal acoustica of Self Help Group, alt-country flavours courtesy of both The Standard Lamps and The Raving Beauties (who feature Lucky Jim's Gordon Grahame), and the gorgeous indie-folk sounds of Woodland Blue.
Two highlights are the baroque folk textures of uber talented Ellie Ford, a harpist, guitarist, singer songwriter, and also artist: it is her beautiful artwork and design that makes up the gatefold CD version of this release; and the final track, a truly fabulous piece called Swamps, by Us Baby Bear Bones, a track that has already received plaudits for its audacity, it's clear musical vision, superb arrangement and structure, and above all it's drama.
 
You'll be doing your bit for Brighton music by spreading the word, even if it's just one track you like. Hidden Brighton is a nice idea – we all like to have our secret passions and personal delights – but much of this deserves to come out of the shadows… There is, after all, a big world out there!  
 
Profits from proceeds are going to Grace Eyre, a local organisation that supports people with learning disabilities.
 
Jeff Hemmings
 
and Resident Records: www.resident-music.com

Band & Track listing
 
1) Kill Moon – Shine
2) Hella Better Dancer – Sleeptalking
3) The Raving Beauties – Arrows
4) Flash Bang Band – Thinking Above My Station
5) The Standard Lamps – The Cracks
6) The Self Help Group – Kings (Alternate Demo)
7) The Hundredth Anniversary – Last Drive
8) Woodland Blue – Seventeen
9) Fiona Sally Miller – Chalk It Up
10) Ellie Ford – A Word to the Wise
11) tiNhearT – A millioN winterS
12) Kokopelli – How To Be
13) Us Baby Bear Bones – Swamp