Review: Florence & the Machine – Glasgow S.E.C.C. 12/03/12

Originally published for IAreYeti.

For a woman only two albums in to her career, to be selling out arenas, within a matter of minutes, around the country is quite an incredible achievement. What many people may not realise is just how dedicated and adoring fans of Florence & the Machine are, but this was made abundantly clear on her ‘Ceremonials’ arena tour.

Despite fantastic support slots from Spector and The Horrors, all the crowd seemed to care about was Florence, which was a shame considering how great both band’s sets were. For such a new and relatively unknown band, playing arenas at this stage in their career would probably be quite daunting for Spector. However, they have a distinct enough sound and style to allow them to hold their own in that kind of situation and, hopefully, gain a few new fans in the process.

Following them were The Horrors, who continue to prove, with every album they release and every live performance they give, just how much they are developing as a band. Being able to perform seven minute songs, like the brilliant ‘Sea Within a Sea’, well live, without allowing your attention to drift away from the song is one of their greatest qualities. Whether supporting Florence & the Machine was a smart move for the band, considering the different audiences they appeal to, doesn’t really matter because they are and always will be an incredible band.

As the lights went down in anticipation of Florence’s arrival on stage, the crowd cheered and descended in to synchronised chants of “Florence, Florence…”, during what seemed like a never-ending wait. Eventually, Florence appeared on stage, dressed in a black embellished cape, from behind her church-like set piece – a fitting choice considering all the religious references on new album, ‘Ceremonials’.

Kicking off the set with two tracks from her new album, beginning with ‘Only If for a Night’ in to ‘What the Water Gave Me’, Florence proved that, not only can she fill arenas, but that her songs fit perfectly in these kinds of venues. If there is one word to describe Florence’s music, it is big and it is the grand, epic nature of her songs which allow them to thrive so much in an arena, where they don’t seem too over-powering.

However, the stripped back version of ‘You’ve Got the Love’, a song which Florence has pretty much made her own, also worked well and allowed her the opportunity to sing without all the usual shouting and lengthy notes. Old favourites like ‘Dog Days are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ were sung back at Florence word for word, so much so that she could have stopped singing and the crowd probably wouldn’t have noticed and would have kept on going.

With endless shouts of “I love you, Florence”, between songs, coming from crowd members, Florence clearly had her fans wrapped around her finger, in whose eyes she can do no wrong. To have so many dedicated fans at this point in her career is a great asset and means that Florence & the Machine can only really get bigger and, hopefully, better.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Review: The Civil Wars – ‘Barton Hollow’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

Americana may not be a genre that translates well in to UK culture, but when an immensely talented band comes along, the genre of music becomes irrelevant. Having met a few years ago at a song-writing master class in Nashville, Tennessee, singer-songwriters, Joy Williams and John Paul White, developed an instant musical connection and went on to form The Civil Wars.

When listening to their debut album, ‘Barton Hollow’, it’s difficult to imagine the pair performing separately; neither stands out above the other, as their voices compliment each other so beautifully, it would feel almost wrong to hear them apart. There is something about the connection between the two that comes across so vividly on their debut, producing one of the most captivating and touching albums to come from an American act in a very long time.

The duo themselves have said that their band is best summed up on their song ‘Poison & Wine’: a powerful ballad about the difficulties of being in a committed relationship. Beginning with a haunting blend of quite simple guitar and piano chords, while White and Williams sing line after line respectively, the song starts to build as the pair unite to sing “I don’t love you but I always will”. It is one of the most poignant songs on the album and gives you an interesting insight in to the relationship between White and Williams.

Eponymous track, ‘Barton Hollow’, is the only really upbeat track on the album but it does its job brilliantly. The song resembles a typical ‘deep-South’ piece of American country music, heavily influenced by White’s musical roots. It is probably the heaviest moment on the album but still manages to keep in tone with the rest of the album and is yet another example of how well the pair work together. It is the moments when they sing together in crescendo that really have the goose bumps affect, during the bellowing chants of “oh” and while repeating the lyrics: “Keep walking / And running / And running for miles”.

Considering the short time frame that White and Williams have known each other, it is incredible to imagine just what these two will be capable of as they continue to work together and develop their sound. For two incredibly talented singer-songwriters in their own right, there is undoubtedly a great deal of tension and stubbornness between them, when it comes to writing songs. However, none of this comes across on ‘Barton Hollow’, where their partnership comes across as composed and harmonious; making for one of the most beautiful sounding debuts of the year so far.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Review: Dry the River – ‘Shallow Bed’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

Read any article about East-London five-piece, Dry the River, and a comparison to Mumford & Sons will, undoubtedly, appear somewhere; the only problem with this is that the two aren’t actually that similar. Yes, they may tend to follow the same format in their songs – by that, I mean, they start slow and gradually build towards a big ending – but there’s a lot more depth to Dry the River.

Peter Liddle’s falsetto tones steer the album through its heavy folk-rock tracks but also through its slower ballads, which allow him to show off his lyrical abilities more clearly. Since appearing on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 list, a lot of hype has surrounded the band but with the hype also comes questions over whether they can live up to the hype. Their debut album, ‘Shallow Bed’ proves that Dry the River are not your typical ‘hype band’.

‘New Ceremony’ is a perfect example of the Mumford-esque song structure the band seems fond of, but compared to those of the former, Liddle’s lyrics actually make some sense. Although difficult to decipher, at times, behind his belting vocals are some pretty great lyrics: “We’re wise beyond our years / But we’re good at bad ideas, my love”.

‘The Chambers and the Valves’ is probably the album’s stand-out track, as the best vocally, musically and production-wise, where the band completely come together. The track’s chorus is so catchy you won’t be able to get it out of your head for a good while; similar to that of ‘No Rest’, in which Liddle’s wail of “I loved you in the best way possible” rings right through you.

At times, the vocals and, subsequently, the lyrics can be overridden by the heaviness of the production, which is a shame considering how good Liddle’s lyrics are. However, calmer tracks like ‘Demons’ and ‘Bible Belt’ save the album from descending into a bit of a headache and allow some breathing space in between all the drum-pounding and guitar-thrashing.

For a debut album, ‘Shallow Bed’ shows some serious promise for Dry the River – packed full of powerful and emotive songs to capture your attention and leave you intrigued to hear what the band do next.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Review: The Machine Room EP Launch – The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh 03/03/12

Originally published for IAreYeti.

To celebrate the release of their debut EP, ‘Love from a Distance’, up-and-coming Edinburgh five-piece, The Machine Room, held a gig at The Wee Red Bar on Saturday night, with support coming from Zed Penguin and Blank Canvas. With three very different sounding acts lined up, it was set to be an interesting night.

Opening the gig was Zed Penguin, who began his set as just him and his guitar, before being joined by friends to play bass and drums on a few more songs. The lack of crowd members at this point made Matthew Winters’ solo half of the performance all the more intimate in such a small venue. To say his music is to an acquired taste is an extreme understatement, which is not to say it is bad, just perhaps a bit odd. Maybe if you were on a road trip through the American deserts, the songs would have more of an impact, but in this tiny venue it just didn’t seem to fit. However, when the band joined him for the remainder of his performance, the music sounded a bit fuller and seemed almost reminiscent of Josh Homme’s work on ‘The Desert Sessions’: it’s a bit psych-rock, a bit stoner-rock but quite blues-y at the same time.

Following on were Blank Canvas, whose upbeat indie-pop songs managed to get the increasing crowd up and moving. For a band that appear so young, their sound is surprisingly mature and is not just an emulation of every other wannabe Arctic Monkeys indie band. Their combination of smooth, dreamy melodies with deep, brooding vocals make for a collection of catchy, yet intriguing songs. Previously released single, ‘By the Fire’, is a great example of the kind of ‘pop songs with an edge’, or ‘heavy pop’, as WU LYF have described their music, that the band tends to create. While the band’s influences do come across in their sound, it is not obvious enough for it to be boring and over-done, as they put their own twist on the dark indie-rock style made popular by the likes of Joy Division and Interpol. Blank Canvas is definitely a band to look out for.

Then came the headliners, The Machine Room, much to the crowd’s delight. Popular singles, ‘Camino de Soda’ and ‘Your Head on the Floor Next Door’, were greeted with cheers and applause from fans; the latter of which has an opening lyric so ridiculous, it’s actually quite brilliant: “I’ve never felt so good since I sang Away in a Manger / I’ve never felt so bad since I went down on a stranger”. For a band to be able to put their songs across live as well as they do on their recordings is a rare skill but the fact that each member is as good as the other at what they do in The Machine Room makes this possible to achieve; something you wouldn’t expect considering the style of their music. As the band’s performance drew to a close, the crowd were left wanting more, with fans calling out for “one more tune”; a promising sign for a band still very much in their infancy.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Review: Marina & the Diamonds – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 26/02/12

Originally published for IAreYeti.

In what was to be a showcase of new material from her upcoming album, ‘Electra Heart’, Marina & the Diamonds did not disappoint. Along with brilliant support in the form of Eugene McGuinness, London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire was set alight with talent on Sunday night.

Looking suave in a silk shirt, with a freshly styled quiff, Eugene McGuinness swaggered on stage and launched straight in to his new single, ‘Shotgun’, showing the crowd what he was all about. When introducing himself, McGuinness commented on how nobody in the crowd will have any idea who he is but that was no issue, as they would by the end of his set.

With a name like Eugene McGuinness, you would not usually expect such an effortlessly cool performer, with a very old-school rock’n’roll vibe about him. But it is not just McGuinness’ style that is so appealing; most importantly, he also has great songs like ‘Lion’ and ‘Thunderbolt’ to hold a crowd’s attention.

In a change of musical style, when the crowd had sufficiently packed in, Marina graced the stage, dressed like a flower girl at a wedding, and performed a beautiful rendition of recent single ‘Radioactive’. Accompanied only by a piano, Marina was able to show off the operatic tones of her voice, which don’t always come across on her recordings.

While lyrically her new songs may still surround the same old themes, highlighting her fascination with the US and the American Dream, the sound seems to be a lot more 80’s influenced, with electronics and synthesisers featuring more heavily.

Not to let anyone down, Marina played plenty songs from her debut album, ‘The Family Jewels’, including popular singles ‘I Am Not a Robot’ and ‘Oh No!’, much to the crowd’s delight. Ending with an encore of ‘Fear and Loathing’, a song from her upcoming album, followed by hit single ‘Hollywood’, the gig drew to a close.

With a predominantly male audience declaring their love for Marina in between almost every song and constantly commenting on how hot she is, it was quite difficult to take her seriously. However, she is a very good performer, with a large enough collection of great pop songs to get even the most timid of crowds moving. If only she would lose the cuddly toys and heart-shaped stage props…

Overall Rating: 3/5

Review: Sharon Van Etten – ‘Tramp’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

America’s answer to Laura Marling, Sharon Van Etten, is one of those many artists with plenty of talent but a serious lack of recognition. Her music is simple, understated and to the point, which is what all the best music should be. Her third studio album, ‘Tramp’, is about moving on and learning to be at peace with one’s self; a significant progression from her previous two albums, which mainly dealt with the issues of heartbreak and despair. For Van Etten, song writing seems to be a cathartic release and you can really hear the emotion in every lyric she sings, a skill which many modern artists fail to achieve. With the perfect combination of exquisite lyrics and haunting vocals, ‘Tramp’ is certainly not an album to be missed.

On lead single, ‘Serpents’, Van Etten sings “You enjoy sucking on dreams” with such a sharp tone of resentment in the lead up to the chorus that her anger rings right through you. Then, after that sudden burst of angst, it all begins to calm down a bit. The poignant opening lyrics of “I was a child / I wasn’t worried” on ‘In Line’, accompanied by the slow-paced drum rhythm and echoing wails in the background, make it one of the most haunting songs on the album.

To take the listener on a journey is one of the best things an artist can do on a record and this is something Sharon Van Etten achieves brilliantly on ‘Tramp’: it draws you in, hooks you and, ultimately, allows you to feel part of something. From the despairing laments of “I want to be over you” on opening track, ‘Warsaw’, to the beautifully expressed moments of closure on tracks like ‘We Are Fine’, where Van Etten declares “Everything seems clear / And we’re alright”; ‘Tramp’ is the kind of album that you will not be able to forget quickly.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Review: Maverick Sabre – ‘Lonely Are the Brave’

Originally published for IAreYeti.

Having been born in Hackney and moving to Ireland at an early age, it’s difficult to figure out how Maverick Sabre discovered the soulful tone in his voice which is prevalent on his debut album ‘Lonely Are the Brave’. Since featuring on tracks with the likes of Professor Green and Chase & Status, Maverick Sabre has become a favourite amongst many of the UK’s popular hip-hop and urban artists. His music cannot be referred to as soul in the traditional sense; instead it is a more modern, grittier kind of soul music, similar to the style adopted by his close friend Plan B on ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’, with the themes ranging from injustice and racism to relationships and adolescence. With the vocals and lyrics seeming to become less and less important in current music, Maverick Sabre’s take on modern soul is like a breath of fresh air.

Re-mastered versions of tracks, such as ‘I Need’ and ‘Sometimes’, from his 2010 ‘The Travelling Man’ mixtape show how Maverick Sabre’s musical influences have expanded and developed, as well as showing a clear increase in production levels. Latest single, ‘No One’ is a brilliantly produced track, reminiscent of the sound on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ album – an artist Maverick is often compared to. The song tells the story of an unfaithful ex-girlfriend, on which Maverick bitterly declares “I gave you everything I could and you never gave a thing”. For a male artist nowadays, Maverick’s lyrics about relationships are honest, bold and, quite frankly, more relatable than the tales of ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ told by many hip-hop artists.

But Maverick does not simply write about past relationships, he also tackles much bigger themes. On ‘I Used To Have It All’, Maverick’s voice sounds so perfect that you almost don’t notice how insightful the lyrics are: “Living in this world where they tell us we’re nothing without money to show and represent us”. For a man of his years – he is only 22 years old – his lyrics express a deep analysis of his surroundings and society as a whole. His exploration of the unjust nature of the police system on ‘Shooting the Stars’ is so in-depth and descript that the lyrics have a much bigger impact than those on some of the other tracks: “How’s a kid supposed to feel when he’s always getting stopped cause the area he’s from man gun you down if you run?”

For someone who speaks with one of the most mixed up accents you may ever hear, Maverick Sabre delivers the vocals on his songs so beautifully and eloquently that you can’t help feeling soothed by his music. However, it is not just his voice that is so appealing about this album; his lyrics are incredibly powerful and thought-provoking, tackling current issues in our society. In a culture where youth crime, racism and discrimination are constantly topics of discussion, Maverick Sabre tackles these issues with a mature and profound outlook, as opposed to simply lashing out on everyone or anyone who can be blamed. The album is deep, interesting and wonderfully produced and will undoubtedly earn Maverick Sabre some well-deserved praise.

Overall Rating: 4/5