Anna of the North – Lovers review

anna of the north

Originally published for The Skinny.

Album title: Lovers
Artist: Anna of the North
Label: Different Recordings
Release date: 8 Sep

Norwegian-born Anna Lotterud’s vocals sound wistful and fragile over New Zealand-born Brady Daniell-Smith’s minimalist 80s-influenced synth-pop beats on this debut record under the Anna of the North banner. On lead single Someone, Lotterud sings, ‘I’m only human baby / Need someone to come and save me,’ and it sounds like she really means it. Like any great pop vocalist, Lotterud’s vocals have a truly authentic sensitivity to them that works even on the more upbeat tracks.

Ironically, however, the more upbeat-sounding tracks are the more scathing lyrically. ‘Don’t want your body / Don’t want your love / She just wants your money, honey, open up,’ sings Lotterud in an almost rap-like flow on Money, highlighting the duo’s hip-hop influences. The sharpness of the production and the pace of the vocal delivery is a contrast to the whimsical nature of the rest of the album, as is the case on the tropical house-influenced Fire.

Anna of the North succeed where so many other synth-pop acts fail, in being able to produce expansive electronic pop that is both poignant and uplifting. Pop sensibilities meet with emotive lyrics on Always and Feels, blending sadness and hopefulness in a way that the duo continually manage to execute so well. Loversmay be a break-up album, but it’s one full of optimism, and more than a few catchy pop choruses.

Listen to: Money, Feels

https://www.facebook.com/annaofthenorth/

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Sløtface – Try Not to Freak Out review

slotface

Originally published for The Skinny September 2017 issue.

Album title: Try Not to Freak Out
Artist: Sløtface
Label: Propeller Recordings
Release date: 15 Sep

Heavily influenced by the riot grrrl movement, Sløtface’s lyrics have a pretty obvious feminist slant. All their songs are written from a female perspective and many address issues that affect women, despite frontwoman Haley Shea being the only female in the band.

On album opener Magazine, the band challenge modern-day body image ideals and beauty standards for women, asking ‘what the hell is an ‘it girl’ anyway?’ and reminding us that ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit.’

Not all the songs are political though; many of them revolve around the mundanity of being young and not knowing where your life is going. On Galaxies, Shea sings ‘All we ever seem to talk about is puking our guts out,’ and on Pitted, about being ‘Dressed in black / Bitching on a kitchen counter in the corner with my girls,’ at a party she didn’t even really want to go to.

Sløtface’s songs reach out to a disenfranchised youth, much like the pop-punk bands that dominated the airwaves in the late 90s and early 00s did. Although the band members may be too young to remember that time, they are doing a good job of making those who can nostalgic for it.

Listen to: Magazine, Pitted

I Predict a Riot: Sløtface interview

slotface

Originally published for The Skinny September 2017 issue.

Back in the early 90s, Bikini Kill frontwoman and riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna would go on stage with ‘slut’ written on her stomach in lipstick in an attempt to reclaim the word. Now, over twenty years later, Norwegian four-piece Sløtface are still fighting that exact same battle.

“If you had something with dick in your band name then I don’t feel like it would be interpreted in as harsh a way,” says frontwoman Haley Shea of the band’s decision to change their name from Slutface to Sløtface in April last year. They were forced to make the change following struggles with social media censorship, as a result of having the word ‘slut’ in their name. “It was really frustrating to us but it was also an interesting process to go through and the discussions we had to have around why we thought it was important to keep it made things really clear to us,” says Shea.

Shea, along with guitarist Tor-Arne Vikingstad, bassist Lasse Lokøy and drummer Halvard Skeie Wiencke, formed the band aged between 16 and 18 in their hometown of Stavanger in Norway. Initially, the name was merely intended as a bit of fun and wasn’t to be taken too seriously but it quickly grew to become more of a statement than they had first intended. “We wanted to be provocative and edgy and keep some kind of weird, messed up punk ethos alive,” says Shea. “But as we started to write more feminist-oriented lyrics and we learned about slut shaming and the SlutWalk movement, we thought it fit the themes we were trying to write about. Then it became a really important cause for us to keep it, which was ironically when we had to change it.”

The band struggled to gain any real exposure early on in their career because of their name, due to the lack of access to daytime radio play in English-speaking countries, continuously being flagged as pornography by Facebook’s algorithms, and being unable to be advertised for upcoming gigs and festival appearances. “In the end, it was just causing us so much trouble that we felt like we were spending more energy on that than actually writing music,” says Shea. “We thought if we make this small change then we can still reach a lot more people and the message in our songs comes across just as clear in the music as it does in the name.”

Now all in their twenties, the band have graduated from writing songs about their teenage angst to writing songs that address the confusion and anxiety that comes with figuring out adulthood. Their debut album, Try Not to Freak Out is jam-packed full of catchy pop hooks and clever, witty lyrics that prove them to be far more advanced than their years. ‘Patti Smith would never put up with this shit,’ sings Shea on album opener Magazine: a clear sign of the band’s feminist, punk influences. The track is intended to sound like “an early 2000s rom-com high school movie soundtrack,” says Shea; and that it does.

Although Sløtface are too young to remember the late 90s/early 00s pop-punk golden era, they are one of the bands currently leading its resurgence. “I think there’s definitely some of that in it but it’s just hard for us to know the bands that people compare us to because we weren’t alive when they were really big,” says Shea. “We obviously hear some of the 90s and we think a lot of the sarcasm and irony that we use has a very 90s sensibility about it.”

It wasn’t until the band discovered the riot grrrl movement though, after watching Sini Anderson’s 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, documenting Kathleen Hanna’s legacy and her struggle with Lyme disease, that they really seemed to find their voice. “That’s when I feel like I understood more what the whole movement was about,” says Shea. “It was the first time I felt like I’d found punk music that was directly discussing issues that I was dealing with in my everyday life, regarding being a woman and feeling like you didn’t have the space you deserved in punk and in the whole scene.”

Since then, they started writing songs told directly from a female perspective, with titles like Angst and Shave My Head, and joined the likes of fellow DIY punk bands Diet Cig and Adult Mom in campaigning to make their gigs safe spaces for women to enjoy live music. “I think for me, and a lot of women, it’s just been one of those things – you’re trained that you have to accept people touching you inappropriately if you want to be in the mosh pit,” says Shea. “Mostly, we just think it’s really depressing because it’s exactly the same thing that riot grrrl fought for in the 90s and it’s been twenty years and it’s kind of slipped off of people’s radars.”

In recent years, many bands have spoken out against sexual harassment at gigs, and it’s not just female-fronted bands. Most recently, Brendan Ekstrom of Circa Survive walked off stage mid-song during a gig in St. Louis in July this year to help a woman in the audience who he witnessed being sexually harassed. Peace, Drenge and Slaves, amongst many others, have also taken to social media to condemn any kind of sexual harassment they have been made aware of at their shows.

This sparked the Girls Against movement, created by five teenage girls in the UK in October 2015, following one of the founding members’ experience of sexual harassment at a Peace gig in Glasgow. The movement encourages anyone, not just girls and women, to share their experiences of sexual harassment or unwarranted attention at gigs in order to establish a discussion around the topic and introduce a change in the way certain people behave at gigs.

“We want to make sure that we talk about it as much as we can and try to be really concrete about protecting people at our shows but also talking to other bands and getting new ideas about what we can do,” says Shea. “We were in the States at SxSW and we did this interview with a feminist radio station based in DC called Femchord. They told us about how Speedy Ortiz have a phone number that’s posted around at their shows that you can text to get in touch with security anonymously if you want to tell them about something that you’re not comfortable with that’s going on.”

The band have since trialled the method at some of their gigs but believe they could be a lot stricter about putting their own rules in place at their shows and be more explicitly clear that their gigs are a safe space for everyone to enjoy live music. “There are people who have been pretty accommodating and have printed out signs for us and set up a designated person, but we feel like we might need to be even more strict about it and print out our own signs and hang them up,” says Shea. “We’re just going to try to be even more DIY about it for the venues that are maybe too small to be able to accommodate it because of their time or budget constraints, so we’ll just take it into our own hands even more.”

It may have been twenty years since riot grrrl fought for the same issues but with a new wave of DIY punk bands like Sløtface willing to continue the fight then hopefully it won’t be long until people stand up and listen again.


Try Not to Freak Out is released on 15 Sep via Propeller Recordings 
Sløtface play Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 9 Oct and Broadcast, Glasgow, 10 Oct

https://www.slotface.no/

Kate Nash @ The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 1 Aug

kate nash

Originally published for The Skinny.

Teasing us early on with a brief version of Foundations (it is the second song on Made of Bricks after all), it’s pretty evident there are more than a few ex-indie kids in the room: the type who, ten years ago, carried copies of the NME around in their Gola satchels and were still trying to come to terms with The Libertines splitting up. It’s clear Nash is saving the full version for later though, once the crowd has been fully warmed up.

Following this up with an epic, punk rendition of Mouthwash, any disappointment at Foundations being cut short is quickly forgotten. Nash thrashes around the stage, belting out the words in an exuberant scream, making it clear she’s no longer the delicate piano-playing indie princess she was ten years ago.

Coming towards the end of her set, we finally get the full version of Foundations we are all waiting to hear and it can only be described as suitably rapturous. Not for the first time tonight, the crowd sing every word back to Nash at the top of their lungs, in between turning to their friends to do the same.

With the encore largely made up of Nash’s newer material, it’s clear to see how much she’s grown as an artist. Behind her cute exterior, there is a real punk within Kate Nash and those who doubt that simply need to witness her live to be proven wrong.

http://www.katenash.com/

 

Growing Up: Dan Croll interview

dan croll

Originally published for The Skinny July 2017 issue.

The music industry can be a very cut-throat business at times, and Dan Croll has learned that the hard way. Last year he found himself dropped from his label, left with no management and stuck with the task of trying to find a way of releasing his second album Emerging Adulthood. “I had already pulled the trigger on the album,” says Croll. “I had released One of Us and started to release another single then found myself without any support around me, so I had to start again very quickly.”

Luckily, Communion Records came to the rescue. The label had previously included Croll’s single Marion on their New Faces compilation album in 2012, alongside the likes of Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard and Gotye, so as fans, they agreed to release his new album. Croll had turned things around for himself very quickly, with it seems barely a minute spent to dwell on the situation. This he says is due to his competitive nature, born out of a childhood spent consumed by sport. 

“Up until I was about 17, my life was so dominated by sport and I think naturally playing that much competitive sport made me very competitive, not only with other people but with myself as well,” he says. “Once I had got over the immediate shock of it and I felt quite down, there was a real resurgence to compete with these people who I wanted to prove wrong and with myself to get back on my feet, so the competitive spirit kicked in.”

By the time Emerging Adulthood had been given a release date, however, some of the singles taken from it were now over a year old: One of Us was first released in October 2015, second single Swim in August 2016. But since the album had already been recorded, Croll felt it was appropriate to keep things as they were. “They’ve been around for a bit longer than some of the other tracks but they still belong together in my eyes, on the same body of music,” he says.

Given the success of his debut album Sweet Disarray and, particularly, its lead single From Nowhere, it may seem surprising that Croll found himself in this position. But achieving the same level of commercial success again was not his only concern. “Even when you take a step away from that and think to yourself ‘I want to do this for myself’, for me that’s still not the case because I have to support seven of my closest friends,” he says. “Admittedly, it’s commercial music I want to make, pop music that can be played on the radio, but I want to come at it from more of an alternative angle.”

The album was recorded in Maze Studios in Atlanta with producer Ben H. Allen, who won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for his contribution to Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 album St. Elsewhere. As well as writing all the tracks, Croll also set himself the challenge of playing every instrument on the album.

“I really wanted a hard contrast from the first album where that was quite DIY in its approach,” he says. “When I approached it this time round, I wanted to do what people would consider the more professional way or the more appropriate way and try that out, where I gave myself a time limit. I wanted to write it in five months, record it in two months and I wanted to play every musical instrument on the album.”

In the heat of Atlanta, however, this wasn’t always easy. The way in which Croll describes his drum recording sessions sounds reminiscent of a scene from Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning film Whiplash. “The room that I recorded drums in didn’t have any air conditioning so it was like recording in a sauna,” he says. But being as competitive as he is, Croll refused to give up and let anyone else step in, instead suffering through the smouldering heat to finish the recordings.

Croll’s music style is not exactly fitting to the music scene in Atlanta, known as the birthplace of trap music, so it seems an odd choice of location to record his album. “It was quite tough to do an album there because there wasn’t a scene that I could engross myself in that was similar to my music,” he says. But what did impress him was the dedication to and passion for live music.

“What I really enjoyed the most out there was the local radio set-up,” he says. “There were hundreds of stations locally but they weren’t in radio stations or offices, they were the clubs themselves, so they would live broadcast the radio from the club. Everything was so live and energetic.”

Croll himself is admittedly bit of a live music snob. In the past, he has voiced his dislike for artists using backing tracks when performing live, something he says stems from going to gigs and noticing the corners being cut by certain artists. “I think it’s a bit of a muso thing,” he says. “But some gigs I went to where I loved the band’s album, you go and watch them and it was almost robotic how similar it was to the album and part of me thought that just felt like listening to the album.”

Vowing to make his live shows a different experience to listening to the album, Croll and his band only use backing tracks when absolutely necessary. “While I use some elements of backing tracks myself, it is the absolute last resort and it’s only if me and my other four members physically can’t play that part but we need to have it there,” he says. “That to me is what makes the difference, that kind of last resort thing.”

Engaging with his fans is very important to Croll and, with a predominantly young fan base, this means spending a lot of time communicating with them on social media. Despite managing and running all his own social media pages himself, he didn’t feel he was achieving the kind of engagement he desired. “There were some very heavy periods where I found myself on it a lot and after spending all of this time on it, I still felt like I was no closer to my fans than I was when I started,” he says.

To combat this Croll launched a ‘Dial Dan‘ hotline, a project where he releases his phone number to his fans over a week-long period and takes as many of their calls as he can. “My one rule is that I can’t hang up,” he says. “A lot of people rang me and I managed to take 258 calls in the first week.”

Part of this engagement also involves him encouraging his younger fans to participate in politics. In the run up to the June General Election, Croll consistently posted on social media urging fans to vote, while not so subtly sharing his own personal voting preference.

“I think everyone should be active in it, especially musicians and anyone who appeals to a younger age range because there is a very clear divide at the moment in our country of young and old,” he says. “Obviously it’s a fine line, you want to push people to vote or register and try and direct them to what you feel is good, also keeping them in mind, but you don’t want to be in people’s faces, so it’s trying to find that balance.”

Croll’s dedicated fan base and his own competitive nature seem to have been the key factors in allowing him to get through a very tumultuous year. It seems apt then, given the circumstances, that his new album be called Emerging Adulthood because over the past 12 months, Dan Croll really has had to do a lot of growing up, and fast.

Emerging Adulthood is released on 21 Jul via Communion Records
https://www.dancroll.com/

 

Noga Erez – Off the Radar review

noga erez

Originally published for The Skinny.

★★★★

Album title: Off the Radar
Artist: Noga Erez
Label: City Slang
Release date: 2 Jun

There is a distinct air of chaos on Noga Erez’s debut album Off the Radar, stemming mainly from the experimental, industrial electronic beats. It’s an expansive sound that has drawn comparisons to Björk, M.I.A. and FKA twigs, and for good reason. Working in collaboration with her creative partner Ori Rousso, the pair have created a sonic landscape that stretches across all areas of electronic music. The intensity of the sounds allow the political undertones on the tracks to shine through in an incredibly visceral manner.

Dance While You Shoot challenges the corruption within the Israeli government, and Pity was inspired by the live-streamed gang rape of a woman outside a nightclub in Erez’s hometown of Tel Aviv. The latter sees Erez addressing what it’s like being a woman in a man’s world, using imagery of ‘a skinny cat in a dog’s lap’, over military-style drums and a pounding bassline. There are some downtempo moments though: Worth None is Erez at her most Björk-y, Global Fear merges a trip-hop beat with Erez’s woozy vocals and album closer Junior is a sprawling ambient sonic journey.

Despite being an album filtered with political statements, Off the Radar is by no means a solely political record. Erez personalises her experiences so as not to be preachy and although references are made to political situations, they are never the sole subject matter. For only being her debut, this is an incredibly accomplished record, which carves out a distinct sound that captures and captivates the listener. Noga Erez should really be on your radar.

Listen to: Toy, Global Fear

Pixx – The Age of Anxiety review

pixx

Originally published for The Skinny June 2017 issue.

★★★

Album title: The Age of Anxiety
Artist: Pixx
Label: 4AD
Release date: 2 Jun

Try to imagine for a minute what it would sound like if Nico fronted an 80s synth band; now, stop imagining because that’s exactly what Pixx’s debut album The Age of Anxiety sounds like.

It’s pretty evident that 21-year-old BRIT school graduate Pixx is a big 80s head, blending the gothic post-punk of Siouxsie Sioux with the avant-garde synth-pop of Kate Bush, but she does it all with a modern electro-pop twist.

There are straight-up pop bangers all over The Age of Anxiety, with stand outs including Grip, Romance and Waterslides. Many of these tracks are likely to make listeners nostalgic for 2007-era electro-pop, when artists like Uffie, New Young Pony Club and CSS were certified popstars but also indie icons.

On the other hand, there are also some tracks on the darker end of the spectrum, where drone-y, distorted guitars play a bigger role, particularly on the menacing Toes and the Bauhaus-esque, gothic wonder Your Delight.

There are certainly some great tracks on the album but as a whole, it does seem slightly confused. It can be quite difficult to follow at times, as tracks jump from upbeat electro-pop to lo-fi indie to gloomy gothic rock with no real consistency.

With more thematic clarity and less of a throw in everything and the kitchen sink attitude, The Age of Anxiety could have been a phenomenal debut for Pixx. Despite the high quality of many of the tracks, however, there’s just a bit too much going on for it to all make sense.

Listen to: Romance, Toes, The Girls

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/6CFP5J38IuNjqXhgmzupdh