Cheatahs – XOYO (19/01/2015)

My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr, Ride. It’s a strong selection of bands for the London formed four piece to be compared to. With early EP’s ‘Coarse’ and ‘SANS’ full of knock off J Mascas riffs, and latest LP ‘Mythologies’ mimicking the dreamy shoegaze feel of Loveless, they’ve showed glimmers of talent. It’s earned them a European tour, kicking off here in London.

Channelling the lethargic vibe reflected in their first two albums, Cheatahs look like they’d rather be anywhere else in world; uninterested and bored. Occasionally nodding along, they only address the crowd to flog their ‘limited edition’ merchandise.  It wouldn’t kill them to act like they give a shit, and would go a long way towards maintaining everyone’s focus.

The misty basement of XOYO does the band no favours. Despite signals to the mixing desk, they are inaudible, even after the 3 guitarist all gave singing a go. However, what they lack in vocals they make up in visuals. The light system, arguably the best at a venue this small in London, captures the mood and tone of each track perfectly, basking the band in an eerie red glow during “Sunne” and rapid strobes stressing the tempo for closer ‘Su-pra’.

The guitar driven older songs the band built their base on stand out the most. ‘Geographic’, off their debut album, showcases a punchy, catchy chorus that sparks some movement in the crowd. The moody, menacing chords of ‘In Flux’ rebound off the walls, soaking the audience.  ‘The Swan’ displays the dizzy peaks the band can reach. The dampened rock riff cuts through the fog, finally drawing the attention of every head in the room. Echoey, distorted guitars blend together to send a grungy wave over the sea of nodding heads, climaxing in a breathless finale. A truly spectacular song.

It’s the synth based reverb packed tracks off second album ‘Mythologies’ that let the show down. The spacey ‘Murasaki’ lacks energy; aside from distinctively average keyboard melody, there’s not much there. ‘Signs’, a sprawling mass of lazy drums, airy synth and lo-fi guitars, does the job and nothing more. It feels like they’ve tried to be creative but there’s no impact. They’re disorientating and unfortunately just dull.

They weren’t setting the world alight 4 years ago, but at least they displayed potential; more than can be said for their latest releases. It’s the quality riffs off SANS and their self-titled debut that truly stand out. As it stands, they’re a long way from moving up. They need more Dinosaur Jr, less My Bloody Valentine.

Hinds – Ace hotel, Shoreditch (11/01/2016)

You get the feeling Hinds won’t play a venue this small for a while. With a headline slot at the 1,500 capacity KOKO approaching next month as part of a world tour, their focus will be turned to bigger and better things; it’s definitely a step up. Tonight, however, it’s a sell-out launch party for the Spanish band’s debut ‘Leave Me Alone’ at the Ace hotel in Shoreditch, and the room is packed.

They gauge the buzzing atmosphere half an hour before kick off, diving excitedly into the crowd as if it’s the first gig they’ve ever played. Surprisingly, their first song is fairly toned down. Opening with the leisurely, moody track ‘Warning With The Curling’, written back in 2014 when they were still known as ‘Deers’, the crowd sways along, content. Ana takes over the vocals for this one, with Carlotta harmonising with the kazoo, and it’s an endearing start to the gig, although slightly tame.

Both Ana and Carlotta share the singing for most of the tracks on their debut. They began 4 years ago as a duo, covering Bob Dylan in their home town of Madrid, before composing the early songs as Deers in 2013. Best friend Ade and drummer Amber joined in early 2014 after the pair released a demo featuring fan favourites such as ‘Bamboo’, which initially granted them some commercial traction. 2 years on, they’ve finished their lo-fi garage pop first album, and there are no surprises they cite the likes of The Strokes and Mac DeMarco as their influences.

Visually, Hinds are a 4 piece all female Spanish outfit, with matching red guitars and top knots. They fit in easily with the alternative Shoreditch crowd, despite not sharing the native tongue. This is their second album launch party of the day; Hinds played Rough Trade East a few hours before, only a couple of hundred meters down the road. But for a band that played 16 shows in 4 days during their recent visit to the states, they’re not fazed. They seem genuinely happy to be on stage again.

The upbeat, warm guitar riff of ‘Warts’ rings out across the room as they spring into two songs from ‘Leave me alone’. The jaunty melody is instantly embedded in your head, and as Ana and Carlotta sing back the guitar tune, they transport you to a sunny day in Spain. That said, the song feels a bit empty, absent of much substance. Similarly, ‘Fat calmed kiddos’ is memorable, although still lacking in any real punch. With a powerful baseline and constant tempo changes, it’s a decent song, but doesn’t quite reach expectations. ‘Between Cans’, an older song featuring Ana and C screaming baby back and forth to one another, is pleasant, but again is nothing special; it’s not hard to see why it didn’t make the cut for the album.

The pace quickens about half way through, and the show really starts to liven up; finally some of Hinds potential shines through. ‘Easy’, one of the best songs of the gig, encompasses their poppy garage rock sound perfectly. Punchy, scuzzy guitar riffs, packed full of energy, finally get the crowd going, as the girls sway about on stage. ‘Bamboo’ receives a warm reception, as the crowd demonstrate they know some lyrics. The raw vocals of Ana and Carlotta intertwine around each other like ivy up a wall, complimented by jangly guitars, teasing a snapshot of their song writing ability.

‘Garden’, the lead single off the debut, goes down a storm as expected. It showcases their strongest talent as a band, the ability to write brilliant riffs with a distinctive sound. After a few more fillers, they head off. Launching into a cover of Thee Headcoatees’ ‘Davey Crockett‘ for the encore, Carlotta confesses they were once told to ‘never play a new song in the encore’, to the relief of most of the crowd. It was an explosive end to a dynamic performance with some outstanding songs and a few just falling short.

“We’re so excited to play KOKO” Ana gushed to crowd, acknowledging it’s a scary prospect after only just releasing their debut. You’ve got to admit it’s going to be a challenge. The pitch black, low roofed, intimate venue was perfect for the lo-fi sound they’ve tried to perfect. It won’t easy to take it to the next level.

Top 10 albums of 2015

2015 was a unanimously impressive year for the music world, with a combination of stand out albums from a variety of genres. Here’s my take on the best of them.

 

10. Grimes – Art Angels

This slightly-more-pop-slightly-less-experimental is the catchiest of the year. It’s Grimes at her best, using her remarkable talent for to create pop songs with a twist. The combination of quality pop and innovative ideas provide endless replay value.

9. Demob Happy – Dream Soda

The fuzzy rock debut from UK outfit Demob Happy didn’t received much international attention, but the roaring guitar hooks and pumping drums make this a standout album. This tight and well produced record might not be the most original, but it’s certainly enjoyable.

8. Marietta – As it were

Also driving the emo revival scene are Marietta, who have found the perfect formula for an emo-pop-punk record. Expressive lyrics, hooked filled chorus’s and integrating guitars produce a spectacular garage album with a slightly math rock feel, and some of the most creative songs of the year.

7. Dilly Dally – Sore

Aggressive, raspy vocals meet grungy guitars and driving drums to create a raw and powerful debut for the Toronto outfit. Its punk meets post grunge, and you can’t help but nod along.

6. The world is a beautiful place & I am no longer afraid to die – Harmlessness

The 8 piece’s sophomore record once again proves the emo scene is not dead. With a more grandiose feel, combinations of harmonised vocals and experimental instrumentation produce an emotive album. There’s lots going on, but it’s executed so well.

5. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit

After the success of her double EP, the Australian songwriter charmed critics with her mundane lyrics and lazy guitar licks. She’s a real song writing talent, and debuts it excellently on this album.

4. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Another unbelievable album from arguably the greatest song writer of the last decade. This album focuses around more heartfelt themes, in particular his mother’s death, leading to an extraordinarily deep, thoughtful and outright powerful record. Sufjan’s lyrics are the best they’ve ever been, and the slower sound with a hint of folk perfectly showcases the emotion in this record.

3. Bully – Feels like

An absolutely astonishing debut from Nashville band Bully. Powerful guitar riffs combine with raw vocals to create a distinctively 90’s grunge sound. This record is packed full of energy and won’t leave you bored.

2. Jamie XX – In colour

A record that has been heavily anticipated since he first experimented away from the XX in 2011, it was hard for any to call it a disappointment, despite the hype. A truly original record, the combination of bangers and intimate tunes, all with the same underlying experimental electronic tone. It’s the perfect combination of unique and accessible.

1. Kendrick Lamar – To pimp a butterfly

There is nothing that can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said by the hundreds of critics fawning over it. It’s an incredible album in every possible way; from its complex and extremely relevant social themes, to the intricate and ingenious lyrics, and most importantly in my opinion incredible actual song writing talent. This one will be remembered for years to come.

Jaws – Barfly, Camden (03/12/15)

As Jaws stroll out onto the tiny stage at Camden’s Barfly, barely older than the crowd before them, a symphony of high pitched screams greet them. “It’s been a while since we’ve been here” Jaws frontman Conner Schofield murmurs into the microphone as the mob jostle to get as close as possible and the band prepare to dive straight in. It’s clear it’s going to be a lively one.

Jaws broke through in 2012 as part of the ‘b-town’ indie music scene with the likes of Peace and Swim deep, releasing their debut album ‘Be slowly‘ in 2014. Since then, Peace and Swim Deep have both produced sophomore records to relative critical acclaim. With UK tours supporting the likes of the Libertines and the 1975 respectively, it would appear they’re had slightly more commercial success. Jaws have everything to prove tonight.

Fuzzy, heavy guitars cut through the Barfly, as energetic first single ‘What we haven’t got yet’, the first off the new album, kicks the gig off. You’d only have to listen to a couple of songs to visualise Jaws’ demographic; most of crowd here were not legally old enough to drink, and the majority look like they’ve nicked some vodka off their parents and downed it in an alley before coming in. With dreamy, upbeat and generally likeable tunes, they’re the kind of band slightly edgy 17 year old girls go nuts for.

Jaws progress into a few of older songs to get the crowd in the mood, not that the throb needed much encouragement. They dutifully sing back to the words to ‘Home’, a moody, driving tune from their debut, and ‘Toucan surf’ from the band’s first EP, a song that reflects the chilled out and twinkly sound of Jaws’ early days. Each one ended with a chorus of screams, seemingly getting louder each time.

The crowd settle down slightly as a couple of new songs are trotted out. While Swim Deep changed up their formula for their second album with obvious success, these new songs, although sounding promising, lack any real originality. They hint Jaws’ second album might not take a more diverse and inventive direction from their first, a disappointing prospect given the potential for development and the fact their latest single is arguably their best yet. Time will tell.

By this point, as is the case with the majority of sell out gigs at the barfly, its hot, the floor is sticky and sweat is starting to condense on the ceiling. A fairly worn out looking Connor gives a nod to his dad and soundman, before giving a shout out to ‘Girls Against’. Guitarist Alex then launches into ‘Be Slowly’, the title track of their debut and a real highlight of the gig. A tune that could have been plucked out of a Cure record, it prompts the slightly more rowdy lads to lift up their mates and a few crowd surfers make the very short journey around the small venue. As Conner sings “I feel so happy, today”, the front half of the room bounce around and the back smile along; although it’s not a ground-breaking song or gig, everyone is having fun. It’s clear that’s what this show is all about.

With the last two songs two early singles from their debut album, the crowd turn it up a notch. A surprising large and very friendly mosh pit breaks out for the melodic and almost dreamy ‘Surround You’. Every teenager seems to know every word, and they really let the band know. Jaws haven’t missed a beat tonight; 3 years of touring has tightened their performance up and Connors vocals have been spot on, which with the majority of the tiny room providing backing vocals is no mean feat. Fan favourite ‘Gold’ wraps the gig up, and with a quick thank you they were gone.

While the gig was certainly enjoyable, it was hard to shake the feeling that it could have been any indie pop band up on stage. The songs, although catchy and entertaining, are stuck between not being accessible enough for mass appeal and not being original enough to warrant critical acclaim. That being said, they’ve clearly got more to give, and their second album will be one to watch out for.