Wednesday 30 March 2011

Album Review: Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

So, it's been bloody ages since Radiohead's The King Of Limbs came out. But, a Radiohead album should never be judged on its first listen; rather, it should be allowed to soak in gradually, mature like a fine wine, and... Well, that and we never actually got our act together to writing about it. Luckily for us, Monday saw the album's CD release, and now seemed a good time, having lived with it for close to two months, to look back and assess just what The King Of Limbs is all about. Oh, and we couldn't decide who would review it, so we both gave it a shot. Enjoy!

Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
Quiff Review:

We can all breathe now. We can all stop fidgeting. We can all just relax, and let it wash over us. The new Radiohead album, The King Of Limbs, is here. The wave of hype has settled into a calm tide of relief. The album doesn’t suck. In fact, it really doesn’t suck at all.

Just like In Rainbows, The King Of Limbs was an album was in danger of becoming overshadowed by its release method. However, where In Rainbows had big, obvious musical highpoints which are clearly demanding of attention (the remarkably vibrant ‘15 Step’, the fuzzy crunch of ‘Bodysnatchers’ and delicate beauty of ‘Reckoner’), The King Of Limbs revels in subtlety. The album rarely reaches a crescendo, which isn’t to say it coasts; it maturely resists the temptation, in direct contrast to its announcement, to make a fuss. But since when have Radiohead ever been ones to do what people expect of them?

Opener ‘Bloom’ sets the tone for the album’s first half, all unsynchronised beats, electronic bleeps, with an unconventional bassline. Halfway through, the track descends into a head-scrambling blur of atmospheric synths and fanfares, before coming back with a monumental kick that could even almost be described as Radiohead’s equivalent of a ‘drop’. It’s a dense, at times claustrophobic, tune that initially comes across as more of a mid-album song than an opener, though a few listens cements it as another killer first track.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Gig Review - The Naked and Famous @ Newcastle Riverside, 7/3/11

Photo by helloiain

It would be easy to mistake The Naked and Famous for yet another MGMT-inspired synth-pop band. After all, their two biggest songs 'Punching In A Dream' and 'Young Blood' are light-hearted, breezy crowd-pleasers: do they have enough depth and ambition to sustain a career (or at the very least an entire gig)?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Live, The Naked and Famous are unexpectedly moody and intense, like a heavy rock band playing instruments usually associated with twee synthpop. Lead singers Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers shout into the microphone to a backing of buzzing synths and chainsaw guitars.

The songs are expertly transitioned between, often with a brief ambient section, maintaining the atmosphere and protecting the audience from Thom's godawful stage banter ("You guys have bottles of water called Volvic... sounds like vulva").

When the aforementioned singles are let loose, the crowd leaps about sing their hearts out. Though bouncier and far more chart-friendly than the rest of the set, they still manage to fit snugly.

A note about Riverside (a club in Newcastle, which has only been used for gigs recently): The audience were packed like sardines and it was unclear whether we were allowed up to the balcony upstairs. It makes for a nice and intimate venue though.

After an abrupt ending, the band comes back on for one more song and strip away the electronica to reveal their beating rock n roll heart beneath. Rock isn't dead: it's evolving into newer forms like The Naked and Famous, who have been absolutely mind-blowing tonight.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Introducing... Stagecoach

Here's a band I stumbled across online the other week, and immediately caught my eye - London heavy powerpop five-piece Stagecoach. I must admit I was mainly drawn in by the lyrics of 'Headbangers Ball', a track which featured on a free Alcopop Records sampler, which made specific reference to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer (one of my all-time favourite shows) repeats during daytime on SyFy. So far, so awesome. A quick Spotify search brought up their latest EP Crash My Ride, and on the whole it's a twenty-minute treat of massive guitars, red-bull infused manic energy, lively group vocals, and huge melodic hooks.

The blending of heavy chugging guitars alongside intricately plucked ones, the hyperactive, intense singing, and the immense amount of fun brings to mind Dananananaykroyd, particularly on 'Hieroglyphics', 'Map to the Freezer' and 'Good! Great! Better! Best!', whilst the wonderfully throwaway lyrics with numerous pop culture references (Buffy, Star Wars, couch surfing and suchlike) is reminiscent of Fight Like Apes' hilarious, biting and sarcastic wordplay. Once you've heard 'Map To The Freezer' (definitely the best track on here), shouting "I found a map to the freezer/High fives! It's loaded with pizza!" against a backdrop of crunching, distorted guitars whilst jumping maniacally around your living room will inevitably become a staple part of the upcoming summer.

It's not a perfect EP - 'Axe Behind My Back' has a good melody, but the overly dark lyrics really don't fit with the rest of the songs, and 'Fish Tank Glow' is a strangely low-key closer for an EP otherwise bursting to the seams with youthful exuberance and vitality. However, it's a really promising listen which has made me eagerly await more material in the future, especially following the awesome 7" split single 'Not Even Giles Would Say We'll Be OK' with Johnny Foreigner which is definitely worth checking out too. If you've got Spotify, find a map to Crash My Ride. High fives! It's loaded with awesome!

Crash My Ride is out now on CD and mp3. Buy it, as well as the 7" split EP w/ Johnny Foreigner, on the Alcopop Records online shop. They're playing the Camden Barfly on June 2nd for £6 - get a ticket here. Also see them playing at Live At Leeds.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Q&A: Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Here's an interview I did with the brilliant upcoming York-based singer songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich just before he played Newcastle's Cluny2 a few weeks ago (check out the gig review here). He was a lovely, chatty guy, so buy his new EP Pictures right now. Or, after you've read the interview, whenever's good for you.

How’s the tour been so far?
The shows have been really good, people have been coming, the venues have been great, it’s super good so far. It’s meant lots of driving though. I’ve never been to Newcastle before, but I’ve got a lot of friends here and stuff.

It’s obviously extremely difficult to make a name for yourself as a singer-songwriter – how did it happen for you?
It happened really organically. I spent a lot of years just recording demos and playing gigs and trying to do as much as I could. I recorded this little EP, A Million Miles Out, in London and released that, and people really connected with it. I’d say it was a fairly organic process, I don’t really know what happened, it was really gradual. We did the first EP and a little tour, and then we started getting some radio coverage and that spread. Online blogs have treated us really well too.

What was it like to get your first proper EP out there for people to hear?
It was nerve-wracking, but I didn’t really understand how everything would snowball so fast. I really didn’t think I’d get heard.

How would you describe the new Pictures EP?
Again it’s acoustic guitar-based, but it’s a progression. Even though some of the songs are really old and some of them are new. There’s a bit more arrangement on it, hopefully stepping more towards what the album’s going to be like. I always just go into the studio with the mindset of just doing whatever’s best for the individual songs.

Any details about the album?
We’re hopefully going to release the album at the beginning of the summer, possibly around May. It’s pretty much all recorded. I recorded it with Ian Grimble, a great producer, who produced the EPs. It was great, I’m really happy with the album. Some of it was recorded about half a year ago, we’re just touching it up at the moment. It’s totally crazy, I don’t really get used to the idea that I’ve made my debut. I try to just do it as I want to hear it.

Who are your favourite music artists?
My favourite is Bruce Springsteen, I absolutely love him! I love Ryan Adams too. I grew up listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Nina Simone – my dad played a lot of that when I was young. Current stuff? I love Arcade Fire and The National, and Tallest Man On Earth.

Are you a Radiohead fan? What’s your opinion on The King Of Limbs?
I haven’t heard the new album yet. I like them, but I’m not a big Radiohead fan. I really like Karma Police and Pyramid Song.

What’s been the most exciting part of your musical career so far?
Just having people come to the shows and saying they love the music, or that it’s affected them in a special way.

You’re touring soon with Noah and the Whale – how did that all come about?
A couple of guys at the label sent my song to them, and the band really liked it and invited me on tour. I really like Noah and the Whale a lot, I love the new single, it’s a big tune! I’m really excited to be heading out with them.

Have you got any festival plans this year?
There’s going to be a lot of festivals, nothing I can confirm just yet but it’s going to be great. I’ve only done Lounge on the Farm and Great Escape, a small charity festival in Sussex, before.

What’s the worst tour food you’ve ever had?
I played in Glasgow at the end of the last year just as we were releasing the last EP, and I had some really dodgy pasta which made me really ill. And it was a five hour journey home!

Benjamin Francis Leftwich – what’s your favourite sandwich?
I’d keep it fairly simple, no more than two or three fillings. I’m going to say avocado’s good. I’m a big avocado fan. Tomato and mozzarella is good too, and tuna on occasion. Yeah, that’d be my three!

Both of Benjamin Francis Leftwich's EPs are currently only £1.99 each on Amazon - what a bargain! Get A Million Miles Out here, and Pictures here!

Friday 18 March 2011

Album Review: Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth

Anyone who's been following Quiff Pro 'Fro over the past year will probably have learned one thing - I absolutely, unashamedly love Noah and the Whale. To me, they're definitely one of the most underrated bands of the past decade, unfairly written off by many due to the commercial success of '5 Years Time', one of their weakest tracks, despite everything else they've ever done (a point I've made previously here). After 2009's astonishing but heartbreaking The First Days Of Spring, Charlie Fink and co. have returned with another absolutely brilliant album that marks, yet again, a bold step forward for the band, but with a noticable nod to the past.

If you've played The First Days Of Spring to the death, the first thing that hits you on listening to Last Night On Earth is the sheer, effervescent positivity that underpins the music. It's an album absolutely brimming with possibility, anticipation and potential. Opener 'Life Is Life' is a jaw-dropper, and a statement of intent for the rest of the album both in lyrical content ("And it feels like his new life can start/And it feels like heaven") and the production - gospel choirs, buoyant synths, and impassioned pianos combine to create an overwhelmingly hopeful three minutes. 'Tonight's The Kind Of Night' owes a huge debt to Springsteen (whose influence, lyrically from Darkness On The Edge Of Town and production style to Born In The U.S.A., can be found all over Last Night On Earth - he's even namechecked on 'Give It All Back') in a homage to the power of the night, the untapped potential of the open road, and the excitement of truly turning a significant corner in your life. As Fink succinctly puts it, "Tonight's the kind of night/Where everything could change/And tonight he's not gonna come back home".

First single 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N' may have nabbed a melody or two from The Kinks' 'Lola', but, again, Charlie Fink's lyrics stand out, making this song absolutely their own. His phrasing is simply brilliant, such that it's impossible not to be drawn to his characters. The highlight here is the second verse, in which Fink proves that he can make the ordinary sound extraordinary, creating vivid and deep personas in the space of a few lines:  "Some people wear their history like a map on their face/Joey was an artist just living out a case/But his best work was his letters home/Extended works of fiction about imaginary success". His mastery of simple but effective storytelling is apparent throughout the album's ten tracks, and just one of the reasons why this band need much more serious attention. They've come a long way since that song.

Bringing back the vast, glacial soundscapes of The First Days Of Spring comes self-proclaimed "murder ballad" 'Wild Thing', a wonderfully dark, gloomy treat in the midst of overt optimism. Apparently based on David Lynch's Twin Peaks, it's a tale of a girl who disappears for nine days, and returns "with blood stains on her shirt", "tangled hair and mud stains on her knees/Bruised ribs and rips inside her jeans". It's a brilliantly simmering listen, all crisp, icy guitars and haunting electronics, and in concerning the dark, dormant capabilities that lie hidden within people is likely to be a favourite for fans of the last album. It's a style revisited later in the album on 'The Line', a less dark but equally contemplative song with a similarly low-key feel.

In one of the most '80s sounding moments on the album (of which there are many), 'Give It All Back' combines new wave guitars with a marimba, creating a pop melody highly reminiscent of The Cure. It's also one of the most personal points on Last Night On Earth, as Fink switches from third person accounts of different characters to his own memory of playing a cover of The Beatles' 'Don't Let Me Down' in a school assembly. It's a heartwarming reflection as Fink surmises "I know for me that performance lives and never grows old", and one that remains a genuine highlight.

Following gorgeous piano interlude 'Paradise Stars' (which, at just 1.30, makes you wish it went on much longer) comes the fantastic 'Waiting For My Chance To Come', yet another dazzling pop song that cements Charlie Fink as a truly brilliant songwriter. It begins with an impossibly sunny sounding Rumours-era-Fleetwood Mac-esque acoustic guitar, before being backed up by one of the most noticeable uses of strings on the album, once a mainstay of their style, but scarcely seen here. With a shining chorus, it's yet again a brilliant example of the positivity oozing from every pore of this album, with a sense that there's always something amazing waiting just around the corner.

Simply put, final track 'Old Joy' is absolutely stunning, a beautiful, intimately epic piano ballad. Following a bustling, joyous album full of ideas and possibilities to a simple, pure closer is a wonderfully brave move that pays off brilliantly. Packed with emotional heft, 'Old Joy' concludes the album with the closing sentiment "Forget the things that get away/Don't dream of yesterday", an apt and laconic summary of everything that has come before. It's a phrase that'll refuse to leave you for days, with a lasting quality that may perhaps go unappreciated by some, but will truly remain with many.

Last Night On Earth is a bold, confident step forward for Noah and the Whale, and one which will hopefully see them earn fans from many who were less than impressed with their early output. The sterling pop songwriting and '80s style production on display here brings to mind Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977, I know...) and Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A., which is certainly no mean feat, and the fact that this album deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two is a ringing endorsement. It's a brisk listen at thirty three minutes, but one that, thanks to Charlie Fink's incredible lyrics and fantastic delivery, will stay with you far longer than just this summer. Last Night On Earth is not only a classic in the making, but, to quote Fink himself in 'Give It All Back', truly "a victory for the kids who believe in rock and roll".

  • [mp3] 'Life Is Life' - Noah and the Whale
  • [Free mp3] 'Wild Thing' - Noah and the Whale 
MP3 files removed by request.

Last Night On Earth is out now - listen to it here on Spotify, and buy it here on Amazon.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Album Review: MEN - Talk About Body

With a giant pink triangle on the album cover, song names like ‘Who Am I To Feel So Free’ and an androgynous lead singer, MEN feel like a band designed exclusively for the LGBTQ community. Which is fine - but unfortunately, it feels like it's simply covering for the severe lack of musical talent on display.

Talk About Body is the debut album from MEN, who are the latest project of cult lesbian icon JD Samson (previously of Le Tigre and, more recently, an appearance on Christina Aguilera’s last album).

If you’ve ever listened to Le Tigre or the Tigre-inspired Brazilian band CSS, you’ll know exactly what to expect from MEN: electropop with a sprinkling of guitar rock over the top. Where Samson’s new band differs is a more playful attitude, with less atmosphere and more catchy beats.

Unfortunately, Talk About Body has two underlying issues. Firstly, that the sound explored by Samson et al has already dated in the ever-changing world of dance music, with plenty of indie bands having combined synths and guitars to much more interesting results within the last decade.

The second problem is considerably more fundamental. Simply put, these aren’t great songs. The melodies are basic, the choruses are shout-happy and the songs that do show potential go on for far too long. Quieter jams later on the album like ‘If You Want Something’ are more interesting than any desperately fun tracks like ‘Credit Card Babie$’.

MEN may claim to focus on “the energy of live performance and the radical potential of dance music”, but on Talk About Body, the band definitely appear to have forgotten about the latter.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Gig Review - Mausi @ Newcastle Cluny, 3/3/11

Photo courtesy of Jazzy Lemon - thanks!
Last Thursday saw Newcastle's Mausi take over The Cluny to launch their fantastic debut single 'Follow Me Home', three-minutes of purely distilled melody with a chorus that refuses to leave your head for days. The evening brought together a whole host of up and coming local talents for a wonderful showcase of the best new bands that Newcastle has to offer.

Tomahawks For Targets played an entertaining set featuring tracks from their debut EP The Total Collapse Of It All. Mixing indie, pop, art and funky basslines, they had a strong sound with a decent stage presence. They played with precision and focus, with some great tunes to back up their technical command. There is, however, a catch - these guys sound exactly, and I mean exactly like Everything Everything. From the guitar arrangements, to the sprightly lead vocals and harmonies, and occasional intrusions of electronics, there are extremely overt echoes of Everything Everything in Tomahawks For Targets sound. That's not to detract from their songs or live performance; both were excellent, however at times they were uncomfortably close to sounding too much like another band. Tomahawks For Targets may need to find their own variation upon this style of music to avoid being branded plagiarists and to retain their own identity.

Next up were Boy Jumps Ship, who were treated much better by The Cluny's sound than the poor mix they were subject to supporting Dinosaur Pile-Up at the o2 Academy2 earlier in the week. With a heavy pop-punk sound, they're not particularly my sort of thing, but for what it was, it was an energetic, passionate performance full of crunching guitars and gang vocals, a combination which could see them do well in the future.

But, of course, the band everyone came to see was Mausi, who proved that they have tons more impressive tunes in them yet. Opener 'Racecar', with its pounding drums, tight bassline and euphoric 'whoa's sounded brilliant, with female vocalist Daisy Finetto's voice proving particularly strong on stage. 'Follow Me Home' B-side 'Kiss So Slow' also sounded huge live, with a massive chorus which seemed to come from nowhere. It was a lively performance, with excellent drumming, spot-on vocals and a surprisingly full sound that made the single and EP tracks more vibrant than ever.

The decision to include a cover in the set was a well-judged one - Rihanna's 'What's My Name' brought rapturous cheers from the packed-out crowd, and ensured that the atmosphere reflected the event; this was a party and a celebration just as much as it was a gig. As reflected by 'Follow Me Home', there's an almost effortless catchiness to Mausi's music - in a live setting the energy and enthusiasm of the songs was remarkable. It was almost impossible not to move to them.

'Follow Me Home' inevitably closed the set, and it sounded even better live. A slice of summery power-pop in the vein of Phoenix and Sky Larkin (as covered in our Introducing... Mausi feature), the heart-pounding drums came to the fore onstage, and the chorus sounded even more intensely high-spirited than on record. It was a triumphant set-closer which certainly merited the calls for an encore which Mausi duly obliged.

Overall it was a fantastic evening which furthered the impression that Newcastle still has a local music scene to be reckoned with, and left audiences hungry for more Mausi releases in the future. If there was only one criticism of their set, it's that at only eight tracks, the audience was left wanting more, which, let's face it, isn't really a criticism at all.

Mausi's debut single 'Follow Me Home' is out now. Buy a physical copy on CD here, and find it on Spotify here.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Quiff Pro 'Fro Live 2: Quiff Harder Podcast

Today Elliot and myself went back on NSR to do the second of our focused, professional and enthusiastic live radio shows, and here in case you missed it (you scoundrels) is the show in podcast form!

In this episode, we play a selection of tunes that we've had on heavy rotation in the three months since our last show (some of which we've blogged about, some of which we haven't), discuss the disappointing new Arctic Monkeys track, Ben is shocked by Elliot's lack of Elbow love, and Elliot makes a controversial song choice.

Enjoy it!
p.s. Elliot also sings. It's beautiful.

Surfer Blood - Twin Peaks
Foxes In Fiction - Bathurst
Noah and the Whale - Tonight's The Kind Of Night
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Computer Magic - Grand Junction
Arctic Monkeys - Brick By Brick
Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way
Radiohead - Little By Little
Elbow - Lippy Kids (Live at Blueprint Studios)
Deadmau5 vs. Far East Movement - Ghosts on a G6
Fight Like Apes - Lend Me Your Face
Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)

Quiff Pro 'Fro Live, March 9th 2011 by quiffprofro

Friday 4 March 2011

Arctic Monkeys' Brick By Brick: Showing Signs of Erosion?

So, a new Arctic Monkeys track appeared online within the past few hours, and it's a bit of an oddity. I was a huge fan of Humbug, which seemed a real maturation of their sound, taking in new ideas whilst retaining some sort of recognisable identity as the Arctic Monkeys. Alex Turner's brilliant wordplay moved away from prostitutes hanging around Sheffield to dark, psychedelic circuses and not-so-subtle sexual metaphors (hello, 'My Propeller'), drawled in sultry, murky tones, whilst Josh Homme's fingerprints could be seen all over the desert-rock production values. It was a brave move, and one that really re-ignited my interest in the band, particularly as it seemed to be a proper album - a body of work which successfully captured where the band was and how their music sounded at that particular time. Exciting, too, was the transformation of Turner from Sheffield-lad-in-a-tracksuit from the Whatever You Think I Am... era to a bona-fide rockstar, clad in a leather jacket and sunglasses, regardless of the weather.

So, on to the new track. No-one yet knows if it's a new single, or even if it'll be on the new album at all. However if it is from a new album, it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the tracks end up sounding. The Arctic Monkeys have never yet done the same thing twice - the difference between Whatever You Think I Am... and Favourite Worst Nightmare is obviously less than the progression to Humbug, but none of their full-lengths could be accused of being particularly samey. Therefore it's to be expected that the band seem to have again evolved.

To be honest though, the track seems pretty weak, and a real step back from the rekindled promise of Humbug. Where that record oozed in mystique and high production whilst still retaining some massive melodic hooks and charm, 'Brick By Brick' has a bit of a Beatles '60s jangly rock'n'roll sound to it, which could have been a good move, but the lyrics are disappointingly bland and the catchy melodies are seemingly absent. At first, the vocals don't even seem to sound like Alex Turner - though Humbug was a record with predominantly American sensibilities, Turner's Northern English twang was always there at the forefront, reminding listeners of the bands roots. There's some decent guitar soloing on the track, but that's not really what you look for in an Arctic Monkeys track.

Who knows, maybe the rest of the new material can return some of the old magic and restore promise for the band. On this evidence though, there's a chance that Arctic Monkeys' fourth album could be the first real blip in their discography.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Gig Review - Benjamin Francis Leftwich @ Newcastle Cluny2, 27/2/11

After my recent moderate disillusionment with the consistency of gigs and crowds in Newcastle, I have now concluded that the Cluny and the Cluny2 really are the best venues in the city. An obvious conclusion, perhaps, but on the evidence of the overall atmosphere of the place, as well as the quality of the artists it attracts and the sound mix, it deserves to be praised for putting on gigs as brilliant as that of hotly tipped York-based singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on Sunday.

Support act The Sorry Kisses provided an extremely surpring set, stripping back the huge Nine Black Alps-esque grungey guitars of their studio recordings for a wonderfully low-key acoustic performance that reflected an impressive musical versatility. Recent single 'Sunstorms' from the duo's third album Keep Smiling sounded lovely in its unplugged incarnation, with pitch-perfect, crisp vocal harmonies. Hayley Hutchinson's delicate vocals were initially reminiscent of a British Caitlin Rose in the first few songs, during which Sam Forrest plucked at a bass, lending the tracks a slightly American country feel. I was, frankly, pretty amazed to hear the difference between the live acoustic sound and their recorded material, however the adaptability of the songs and the band itself was very impressive, and provided a great live show in its own right.

Ben took to the stage with a confidence belying his age, and immediately the crowd became silent, hooked on every strum of a gorgeous new guitar (bought specifically for the tour, he excitedly explained). New single 'Pictures' sounded even more personal live, with the Cluny2's brilliant acoustics providing a perfect sound balance which allowed the lyrics to shine through. With tracks from debut EP A Million Miles Out, the upcoming follow-up Pictures as well as his forthcoming debut, due early summer, it was a fantastic showcase of old and new material that acted as both an introduction to the music, and a strong argument for the hype he's currently receiving. He looked extremely comfortable onstage, with some charming anecdotes and crowd interactions.

Aside from a few noisy folk on the balcony (who were soon told by a justifiably cross crowd-member to "shut up or fuck off", to a host of cheers), the atmosphere was captivating - you could have heard a pin drop, such was the effect of Leftwich's music on the audience. These songs might not be anything particularly new or radical, but they're well-written and warm, a winning combination that can be heard best on set-closer 'Atlas Hands', certainly the highlight from the first EP, and an excellent way to finish a mostly enchanting evening. With tunes like this, Benjamin Francis Leftwich could, and certainly should, be onto something big.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich's new EP Pictures is out on Sunday 6th March. Pre-order it on Amazon MP3 here.