Category Archives: Album Reviews

‘TOPS – Sugar at the Gate’ Album Review

After the success of 2014’s Picture You Staring, Montreal’s TOPS moved to LA to write their much-anticipated follow up. Described as a “teenage fantasy” by vocalist Jane Perry, Sugar at the Gate was recorded in a mini-mansion and former brothel in which the band were living in. But with this new setting and high expectations, has it affected TOPS’ psyche?

Arriving with the skeletal beat of Cloudy Skies, fluttering guitars transcend as Jane Perry’s celestial vocals glide into a sea of enveloping synths. Perry’s exquisite voice carries onto Further, which finds TOPS really pursuing the soft rock tag as luscious keys nestle next to velvety percussion. Seconds Erase, with its halcyon instrumentation, is utterly gorgeous and fits perfectly next to the flute embellished I Just Wanna Make You Real.

However, TOPS make sure to not compartmentalise themselves to this aesthetic across the record. The sensual Marigold & Gray is full of groove, whilst the lyrical delivery of Cutlass Cruiser has a low-key attitude running throughout. Dayglow Bimbo is full of lo-fi sounding guitars and Topless even has an almost trip-hop vibe to its beats and atmosphere.

As for the album’s bona fide centrepiece, that’s where Fleetwood Mac-esque Petals comes in. A sun-kissed journey down California’s west coast, this laid-back yet driving ride really captures the band’s relocation to LA.

With Sugar at the Gate, TOPS’ ability to craft such an eclectic bunch of tracks is a real testament to their existence. Setting them apart from the plethora of indie rock bands that have become far too comfortable with their sound, TOPS have refused to remain stagnant and have created a record that, not only thoroughly belongs alongside the rest of their discography, but also opens up numerous avenues in which they can explore in the future.

7/10

Liam Egan

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‘Ulrika Spacek – Modern English Decoration’ Album Review

Every year there’s always a handful of albums that pop out of nowhere and end up being some of the year’s best. Hidden gems that rise through the ranks and give the world hope that we won’t be subjected to the plethora of banal indie landfill for the rest of our lives.

One album that fits this hidden gem bill is The Album Paranoia by London psych-rockers Ulrika Spacek. Released early last year, this wonderfully brilliant debut experimented heavily with krautrock and shoegaze. This has resulted in Ulrika Spacek quickly becoming one of the UK’s most intriguing bands and they have even had Slowdive singing their praises.

Now just over a year since the release of The Album Paranoia, Ulrika have returned with Modern English Decoration. Recorded, produced and mixed entirely in their shared house in East London, does this album live up to last year’s efforts and can it help propel Ulrika into the deserved spotlight?

From the off, Ulrika’s leanings to krautrock are ever present. Mimi Pretend is a steady and melodic krautrock jam that wouldn’t have gone amiss on TOY’s debut record, whilst Silvertonic ensnares you with its mesmerising outro. Elsewhere on the LP, the title track Modern English Decoration is incredibly woozy and feels like you’re tripping out after too much cough syrup. Full of Men is one of the album’s most interesting tracks, with its subtle build and satisfying pay-off.

Dead Museum arrives with a swaggering fuzz filled introduction and eventually transforms into a thick and sludgy colossus. Everything, All The Time is similar with its wicked and evil guitar lines. Resulting in a fuzz laden onslaught towards the track’s climax, Everything, All The Time is easily one of Ulrika’s best tracks to date.

Saw a Habit Forming‘s vocals warble like a track off of King Gizzard & The Lizard’s album Quarters, as they melt into a bed of guitar pedals and effects. Ending on stark and piecing metallic guitar strokes, Saw a Habit Forming bleeds into Victorian Acid. With a menacing bass and twisted vocals, Victorian Acid plays out like My Bloody Valentine thrown into a blender with a bunch of screws and bolts.

Unfortunately, there are moments where Ulrika fall short. The rather forgettable Ziggy gets lost amongst the rest of tracklisting and, by the time Protestant Work Slump rolls round, it already feels somewhat familiar.

Whilst not as immediate as their debut, Modern English Decoration is a brilliant next step for Ulrika. Though it may seem like they are covering tried and tested territory at times, Modern English Decoration is an intricate, sharp and utterly rewarding listen. Honing their sound and paying homage to their clear list of influences, Ulrika Spacek are on their way to greatness.

7/10

Liam Egan

‘Baby Strange – Want It Need It’ Album Review

Since their inception in 2012, Baby Strange have become the revered heroes of Glasgow’s music scene. Known for their raucous and rowdy live shows, the trio have achieved almost cult status through their constant touring and dedicated fanbase. Johnny Madden (vocals/guitar), Aidan McCann (bass) and Connaire McCann (drums) have backed this up with a constant stream of tracks over the years, which have never left either fans or critics disappointed. This immense graft has reached its inevitable resolution, with the Glaswegian indie punks now releasing their debut record Want It Need It. But does it live up to the wait?

Fan favourite Pure Evil begins the album and, after all these years, it still sounds as wicked and malevolent as it did back in 2013. Benefiting from being re-recorded for the album, Pure Evil’s opening riff is unforgiving and cuts into you deep. The bass from Aidan is angsty and captures the magic of Baby Strange’s live shows. Throughout the chorus Madden sings “Ooh ah, tired of my generation. Ooh ah, I only wanna be alone. Ooh ah, I’m tired of my own throne.” This is the perfect example of Baby Strange doing what they do best, writing lyrics that are begging to be chanted at the top of your lungs. Pure Evil’s chorus is so infectiously catchy and it is just the beginning of the trio showcasing their incredible songwriting capabilities.

With great group vocals and the urgency of a band who want to conquer the world, Nude is a perfect slice of traditional punk that harkens back to the early days of The Clash. This is then followed by 2015 single Pleasure City. A swaggering ballad that is topped off with a sweltering guitar solo that invokes uncontrollable hysteria.

California Sun is a shimmering piece of west coast garage rock. Madden croons about how he’s had his heart broken into two, whilst the sun-drenched melodies glow with ambition and prosperity. Then juxtaposed by the sultry VVV, Baby Strange turn into this threatening goliath. Carried along by an imposing and gooey bassline, McCann dominates the track as he looms over you like a nightmare that can’t be shook. Documenting someone who is in a relationship where their partner “just violates me” but also makes them “feel so high from this”, VVV is one the LP’s most interesting songs lyrically. Reassuring themselves that they’re “not sick, i’m just trying to find my new thrill”, VVV is a track that is worth taking some time to think about and dissect.

Another track that has gone under the re-recording treatment is Friend. With fuzzed out vocals , Friend comes and goes before you know it. Raw and bloody, Friend is Baby Strange at their purest and it’s fucking fantastic. Next is Trouble, another Baby Strange classic. A mix of early 2000s nostalgia and Baby Strange’s bite and prowess, this post-punk revival track is flat out fun and totally compelling.

2014 release Distance Yourself makes it onto the album, and what an addition it is. Madden’s guitar wails like it’s possessed, whilst the McCann brothers build the song’s minacious foundations. The choruses are rapturous, as Madden sings “They try to take our night, they try to take our fun”, which leads into the frenzied finale. Electrifying and hectic, Distance Yourself is one of Baby Strange’s best.

Human, a standout moment on the tracklisting, sees Baby Strange with their most driven and developed track to date. The chorus is anthemic and is ready built for big venues. Alternatively, the track’s intensity will excel in the small and sweaty boxes that Baby Strange have come accustomed to. In their four years of being together, Human really shows how far Baby Strange have come along as a band.

Finishing on the title track Want It Need It, Baby Strange close the album in classic punk fashion. Claustrophobic and fierce, Want It Need It bullies you into submission. As Madden sings about drugs and how “this comedown is messing up my head”, drummer Connaire performs with such power and momentum that it totally exhausts you. With abrasive guitar and an unapologetically mean bass, Want It Need It perfectly ends the album with deranged pandemonium.

Coming in at just under 30 minutes, Baby Strange have done something truly remarkable on Want It Need It. It’s an album where every track has earned its rightful place and all ache to be heard. It’s a tour de force of indie fused punk that gets everything right. One of the finest and most well deserved albums of 2016, exciting times lay ahead for Baby Strange.

9/10

Liam Egan

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 – Review

Piece written by Nothing Left Unsaid’s Liam Egan for The Black Wax, check it out!

The Black Wax

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Even though it’s only been out for just over a month, it is hard to imagine life without Stranger Things. The Netflix exclusive series has become a cult hit almost overnight, garnering thousands of fans worldwide. Helmed by the Duffer Brothers, the eight part series follows a group of kids who are trying to find their friend who goes missing. We’ll refrain from spoilers in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s certainly one of this year’s stand out TV series. A mixture of E.T and The Goonies, with a dash of Twin Peaks, Stranger Things is the perfect homage to the 80s.

But it’s not just the series itself that has gained a lot of attention, the soundtrack has been praised by fans and critics alike as well. Tracks like Joy Division’s Atmosphere and New Order’s Elegia are peppered throughout the series, with also a brief appearance from Toto’s…

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Album Review : Foals // What Went Down 

A review on Foals’ new album What What Down that we wrote for Setlisted.

Setlisted


When Foals headlined Bestival a year ago and announced that they would be taking a break of up to 18 months, fans mourned for days. However the heartbreak was over 10 months later when Foals resurfaced and announced that their new album would be released in August. Frontman Yannis Philippakis promised fans that it would be their heaviest and loudest record to date and first single What Went Down especially supported this claim. Having preformed secret sets at both Reading and Leeds Festival during the album’s release weekend, we can all finally delve into what this latest record has to offer as we all recover from R&L disease.Opening with What Went Down, Foals expose themselves at their most aggressive and savage. The pulsating krautrock beat is such a violent rush that makes you feel like you’re being chased by a predator. Yannis’ vocals are abrasive and fierce, to the point…

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‘Peace – Happy People’ Album Review

“We’re just the same old Peace. The four boys from the middle of England doing what they do best, doing the only thing they can”, this is what frontman Harrison Koisser had to say about their new record Happy People a few months ago. Now that release date is almost upon us, we can all judge if they are still the same old Peace. Still the same lads in fur coats creating tracks for a generation of teenagers who don’t really have a band who really represent them. Could Peace be that band? Possibly. In Love laid down the foundations, now it’s time for Happy People to build on that.

Beginning with a flurry of melodies that have a really Caribbean/Reggae feel to them, O You instantly shows that Peace have matured musically since the release of their debut In Love. With the introduction of strings, O You sounds like a more grander and sophisticated Peace. However this sound isn’t to impress and get people to take them more seriously, it’s more just used to make a cracking tune. Also who do they really need to impress? Peace have one of the best fanbases around and have stellar live performances to back them.

From here we tick into Gen Strange. Starting with sound of a clock, this ode to Britpop bounces and swaggers around like Liam Gallagher on acid. Frontman Harry sings ‘How do you do it? How do you do it so good?’ and this brings up the question, how do Peace do it? Being able to capture the bagginess and funk of Britpop but also sounding current isn’t an easy task. The only other band who manage to pull this off are fellow Birmingham lot Superfood.

Next on Happy People is single Lost On Me. Peace fans will be more than familiar with this track. A twisted love song that’s about infatuation, Lost On Me has this funky hook that’s infectious. The chorus is so contagious and could even make Alistair Darling bust some moves. Lost On Me is one of Peace’s more poppier moments in their discography but it shows that Peace can make a superb pop song.

With Perfect Skin Peace address a subject that not many bands address, especially an indie band from Birmingham, and that’s body image. It begins with Harry listing the compliments of someone then backs them with qualities that he doesn’t like about himself. Obviously this probably is more of an observation and Harry is singing about society as a whole and how we want ‘perfect skin’. It’s a unusual subject matter for them to take but it works. It’s important that bands like this talk about these issues as it impacts alot of their fanbase. This track doesn’t just rely on its lyrics, the chorus packs a mighty punch too. It bursts out of nowhere with so much conviction as Harry sings ‘I wish I had perfect skin’. In the latter half there is a heavy bass solo along with a guitar solo that helps round off this unexpected yet fascinating track.

From the title you’d think Happy People would be a joyous track full of colour. The type of track you’d want to hear whilst at a music festival on a sunny day. Well, that’s not the case… It’s a rather dark odyssey that you’d expect Foals might release. The guitars reverberate to create this massive expansive sound that makes it sound like it was recorded in a cathedral. With ethereal backing vocals, Peace ask ‘Where did all the happy people go?’. The whole track sounds like a less raw poppier version of WU LYF. Again another odd choice for Peace to take but it works and it results in one the best sounding tracks production wise on this record and in fact all of their discography.

Someday is the first acoustic track Peace have recorded and according to Harry he was the only one who really wanted it to go on the record. He described it as a classic breakup song and boy he’s not wrong. Someday could honestly make a grown man shed a tear. Accompanied with his acoustic guitar, Harry sings about how it’s a ‘lonely, lonely life’ and how he wishes a certain person that ‘they’ll find someone to love’. Electric guitars reverb in the background to create an amazing atmosphere. There is one point in the track where it’s just an instrumental and it hits you right in the heart. With sharp cold synths that soar upwards and shimmering echos of guitars, this is the most beautiful moment on Happy People. I’d even say this is probably one of Peace’s best songs.

Just like Lost On Me, Money should be instantly recognisable to anyone who has been following Peace these last couple of months. It begins with this addictive riff that is so sharp and catchy that it cuts right into you. The bass is incredibly groovy and this gets turned up a few notches when the song has breakdown. This builds towards the final chorus and you find yourself wanting to move your hips like Shakira, okay that may be an exaggeration… Money finishes with a Bloodshake-esque crescendo that results in warped and psychedelic guitars that fade away as they squeal like they are in pain. Money is you’re textbook Peace with a funkier spin on it.

I’m A Girl is another track on Happy People that’s on a topic that doesn’t get really addressed by the indie scene. A track about masculinity and how it defines people, I’m A Girl has tonnes of attitude and is massive middle finger to conservative society. The guitars snarl and the bassline thumps to the point where this track wouldn’t feel out of place on Superfood’s debut. It’s just a really fun track that will no doubt go down a storm live.

Despite all the positives Under The Moon is a misstep for Peace. They try and recreate a track with the same vibe as Float Forever or California Daze and it doesn’t really pay off. It takes the steam out of the album and doesn’t really go anywhere. Unlike Someday which felt like it had meaning and purpose to be there, Under The Moon doesn’t and frankly falls flat. I’d even go far enough to say it’s Peace’s weakest track… Sorry lads but it’s true. It should have really been a B-Side or a bonus track on the deluxe version. In a ideal world, Flirting USA should have had it’s place in my opinion. However we don’t live in a perfect world do we?

The final track on Happy People is World Pleasure, a track that Harry said nearly blew all of their budget. Sounding like Pet Shop Boys West End Girls mixed with Blondie’s Rapture, World Pleasure is certainly a track where Peace are exposing their influences. The instrumentation is so lush with orchestral strings, bass solos and baggy drums. The later half of the track sounds like Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ has had a child with The Stone Roses ‘I Am The Resurrection’. World Pleasure finishes off Happy People is a perfect fashion.

So has this left us ‘Happy People’? Early singles suggested it would be a funky groove-fest but tracks like Happy People (ironically) and Someday provided more somber moments. It is however a good follow up to what is arguably a very strong debut. With interesting song topics and catchy choruses, Happy People is a brilliant second outing with the Brummie lads that doesn’t disappoint, well apart from Under The Moon but we’ll ignore that for old times sake.

8/10

Liam Egan