HEALTH – DEATH MAGIC review

DEATHMAGICWhilst Death Magic could be deemed HEALTH’s sixth album, two remix album and the Max Payne 3 soundtrack make this offering their third studio album, and first in six years. Yesterday marked the release of the band’s latest full length, keeping up the self-assured brilliance that’s rattled up critical acclaim on previous occasions. On Death Magic, the LA four-piece show that just because they’ve been out the game for a while, doesn’t mean they’ve lost their knack.

It’s the controlled, deliberate opening of two minute Victim that demonstrates the work needs to be taken as a forty-minute bundle over a series of individual tracks; nothing that starts so powerfully wants your undivided attention. Overbearing, plunging, synths eventually let up to the snake-like hiss of vocals in a rather mechanical fashion, cut off sharply before the pop fizz of Stonefist breaks out. Loops of vocals beckon you into the record, whilst trance-like instrument urges you to zone out, at the same time as hooking you on every minute change.

A sharp shift to rapid percussion draws on HEALTH’s experimental rock influences, again with deep instrumental flurrying up chaos, make the ever-changing sound seem to warp time. Enthusiasm begins to emerge through Flesh World, momentum building up to swoop down and return to the industrial, stop-start, futuristic taste of Courtship II, a sense of impending doom woven into every dip and dark undertone.

The anxious twitch that opens Dark Enough soon fades out among the smothering synthesisers, rising to the surface in the vocals and pushing into the cracks left between hooks. Life is a perfect sample of Death Magic – there’s the sparkling optimism fusing into the synths, whilst on-the-surface bright vocals reveal darker lyrics that tackle almost existential issues in monosyllabic ten word snaps; “Life is strange / We die and we don’t know why”.

Gunfire intensity percussion and haunting vocals take turn to hold the attention with Salvia, whilst the album’s first single New Coke has an ebb and rise that’s kept under close control, intermittently reviving itself with pulses of energy. L.A. Looks has the familiar lick of a song you’ve heard a thousand times before, with the repetitive hooks honing in on that home comfort among jumpy, jarring instrumental.

A depressing edge returns to penultimate Hurt Yourself, the layering vocals splitting the sound and touching on the psychedelia flow of the music, again prominent in closing Drugs Exist. Easing away from the pointed and exaggerated vigour that appeared in the earlier album track, the close comes subtly, apologsing for the mess and chaos left by the previous belters.

Meandering yet with a resolute determination, Death Magic sounds rather like HEALTH’s minds were cut open, pulled apart and blended together, letting the deepest thoughts rise to the top.

You can watch the video for New Coke below.

Tramlines – Musical Rundown

After our general overview and top ten points of the Sheffield three-dayer, let’s get down to the meat of it; the musical peaks and troughs of Tramlines.

Friday night saw a contrast of acts of the main stage – though that is the beauty of multi-genre festivals – with the intriguing sounds of Ghostpoet wrapped up with compelling stage presence being one of the weekend’s first acts at Ponderosa. Though the sound quality was strong for a festival, a mark of praise that applied across the weekend for indoor, outdoor and a lot of the Fringe venues, there wasn’t quite the power to enthrall the crowd as much as felt deserved.

Kent two-piece Slaves managed to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, involving the crowd probably more intimately than expected (which you can read about here). With a tornado of chaos they took to the main stage and tore it apart, less fuzzed up that the frantic studio sound you’re used to hearing, but with no compromise on the energy front for it. Clear vocals kept the focus on their lyrics ranging from whacky to political, whilst losing enough control to demonstrate their ability to freewheel into madness at the drop of a hat.

Although The Charaltans felt a somewhat under-delivering main stage headliner, on the other side of the festival Anathema were giving one of the best performances of the weekend in City Hall’s Basement. With a powerful brand of cinematic classic rock, the band delivered blast after blast with Lee Douglas’ vocals remaining a striking highpoint of the set, and their raw performance leaving an atmosphere of almost literal jaw-dropping awe.

We Are The Ocean took over Leadmill as the Friday night headliner, sticking another pin in their path to success with fan favourites Chin Up, Son and Young Heart laying side by side with recent Good For You and Holy Fire. After the long wait for their return, it’s strikingly clear that the Essex quartet are right on track to the top of their game and ready to mark their space in the alt-rock music scene.

Saturday night headliners Basement Jaxx were among those to encounter trouble warming with the crowd, though inhibitions seemed to loosen a little by the time closing Where’s Your Head At came around, but bizarrely the problem hadn’t been so prevalent earlier on in the day. In fact, Sugar Hill Gang’s mid-afternoon set easily had the greatest crowd reaction of the weekend, with nigh on everyone in the packed out arena joining in – and with queues to get in stretching the best part of a mile, it’s no wonder the embankment around the arena was also packed with people partying to the set.

Saturday’s highlight again came from City Hall’s headliner, And So I Watch You From Afar. Instrumental rock has a power little else does have, and the Belfast quartet made the best of this with a truly captivating execution. I’d go as far as to say they made me fall in love with live music all over again, and should you ever find yourself with the opportunity to see them, I urge you to take it. Nay, I urge you to hunt down their nearest gig to you, and beg, borrow and steal to go to their show.

Post-headliners, the city came out with some of the best DJ sets of the weekend, with Mike Skinner of The Streets (no surprise that he closed the set with Fit But You Know It) appearing at O2 Academy before Basement Jaxx showed up for the second time that day – thankfully the crowd replied with a little more enthusiasm this time around though.

Neneh Cherry provided her unique blend of pop, R’n’B and hip-hop with unabashed enthusiasm rather early to a slightly sparse crowd; Sunday’s whole line up seemed to be running early and although the great medium of the internet allows updated times, when the vast majority weren’t expecting to have to check for updates and would probably have stuck to their programmes – if anything, music is usually known for running late (but we’ll get to that later).

The festival’s Fringe sees all sorts of unusual characters take to the stage, with a handful of not-quite Oasises thrown alongside a bunch of wanna-be Pulps. My highlight of the free events came with female-fronted Scarlet at Crystal, a glorious brand of indie-pop with a tight performance that should have earned them a place on the main line up.

Two pieces seemed to be a big point for energy over the weekend, with Sheffield’s own pair Nai Harvest kicking out riffs and mania at Queen’s Social Club on the edge of the city. Off the release of their new album Hairball, the shoegaze duo delivered a torrent of reckless abandon that had the packed room enthralled. No one else over the weekend came across quite so comfortable on stage and with quite so much thorough enjoyment.

Sunday’s highlight came again from Leadmill in the form of political punk-folk artist Billy Bragg. The excellence of his performance needs no explanation and he managed to prove he can still go at live gigs with as much gusto as ever, taking the set on for an extra half hour whilst the odd one or two were crammed into the packed-to-capacity venue; somehow I feel it would’ve been a wide choice after Wu Tang Clan pulled out to upgrade Bragg to the main stage, but there you go. This was a performance to inspire every person in the crowd, and one that closed the weekend on high spirits.

Elasea – Where I Belong review

ELASEAWHEREIBELONGThe moment this EP started I knew this was going to be the average English rock band EP. A fairly standard intro for many current wave of rock bands from the UK. And like all of those bands that struggle to distinguish themselves and create their own unique style, Elasea falls into that category also unfortunately. It also doesn’t help that the vocalist sounds very similar to Lower Than Atlantis singer Mike Duce, which essentially takes away the chance of them having a distinct sound to others in the genre.

With that said, the EP isn’t bad. Slightly derivative and doesn’t leave me feeling much towards the songs, they all play through without much standing out and not much is remembered by the end, which isn’t good since it’s so short you’d expect to. Perhaps it’s the lack of hooks; the choruses aren’t memorable and they don’t feel like ever actually happened by blending in with the rest of the song. The guitar riffs tend to fall to the back of the mix and that doesn’t help the tracks flow with any kind of melody, but when the guitar is more prominent they sound fairly bland.

The title track starts off in quite a bright way, but then of course the “chuggy riffs” come in and it turns pretty boring, especially the chorus. Then there’s breakdown part towards the end which was tailor made for young teens to mosh at a small gig. Time Is Against Us goes for something a bit more punchier and it works better for them even it’s not that original. Similar with the closing track, an obligatory, fairly basic acoustic track with guest vocals from Alex Gale, which has a nice tone to it. The track adds electric instrumentation toward the end, sort of attempting If It Means A Lot To You by A Day To Remember, but not reaching it of course.

My thoughts overall aren’t much more than an just an average EP in a saturated genre with nothing new at this point. There will be people who’ll enjoy this however, fans of Lower Than Atlantis, early You Me At Six, bands similar to this, just without the pop flavour.

You can watch the video for Lost In The Dark below.

The Maccabees – Mark To Prove It review

MACCACOVERAfter three years, The Maccabees have broken their post-Mecury Prize nominated Given To The Wild silence with latest Marks To Prove It, released yesterday on Fiction Records. The eleven track release has been working up a small storm of anticipation for itself since the release of the title track on May 11th and subsequent follow-up Something Like Happiness. “These new songs are a reminder of why we started the band,” says Hugo White. “With the enthusiasm to play music that’s exciting and makes us excited.”

It’s the acclaimed title track that takes the spot of opening the release, as instrumental gives way to tentative vocals that in turn swell into a surprisingly addictive chorus. The undertones and layers of sound are important to note, as though they only add depth in the album’s commencement, they become vital as it develops – also mark moments in the intriguing backing that sound ripped from a spooky stage of Mario Cart.

Second Kamakura picks up on a similar pattern of understated verses accompanied by powerful choruses, and a cleverly done close is one of the few things that stops the song entirely slipping over your head. Look at the lazy, dreamy sound of Ribbon Road featuring vocals that add a Bombay Bicycle Club slant to the style, seen again in WWI Portraits – there’s a feeling that unless you turn the music up and force yourself to focus on it, you’ll reach closing Dawn Chorus and realise you’ve just spent forty one minutes waiting for something to happen.

Unsurprisingly, as with Mark To Prove It, Something Like Happiness is an exception to this atmosphere of apathy and withheld energy, with a bright and captivating sound that seems to expand and fill all the gaps the majority of the album leaves. Spit It Out is another to boast some weight, after a minute intro that’s either taunting or infuriating breaks into a cascade of slamming indie rock, constantly begging, “what are we doing now?” with a mania that seems as though Orlando Weeks has been possessed.

When you can find your attention enough to see that it’s not an album entirely of musak, it’s easy to empathise with the level of detail and the open, airy sound the record’s been to heavily praised for – the stark contrast from Spit It Out to Silence is a clear pointer, and River Song‘s undertones are definitely worth a mention. Penultimate two and a half minute snapshot Pioneering Systems is a clear example of how the album deserves attention – among all the atmosphere are laced lines such as, “you had a vision you were cutting your son’s head”.

Though it might be a record which will totally pass you by on the first listen, give it a shot. Marks To Prove It doesn’t possess the usual ratio of radio hits to sentimental ballads and therefore may mean it misses the mark with the thrill seeking indie rock audience, but it’ll pick up attention among those who are will to pay it some in return.

You can watch the video for Marks To Prove It below.

Pack Mentality EP launch at The Vic Inn, Derby

Last Friday, one of Derby’s best known venues became the launch pad for the release of the debut EP from melodic metalcore band Pack Mentality, Chronophobia. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that The Vic’s sound quality leaves something to be desired, and it’s a good test of both the band’s technical accuracy and their character to see how they fare with it.

Opening the bill were Reading’s Falling For Stacey, a pop-rock quintet formed back in 2012 and commencing the night with a brief blast of determination that could’ve set them up for the style of stadium rock they seem to have the “look” for, if it weren’t for almost all of the vocals being lost. The chance to come into their own could’ve come from the instrumentals, but a few sloppy moments knocked the edge off these too, and even at times where they tried to encourage the crowd there seemed a slight lack of enthusiasm. In the end they came across as a band who’d done the time rehearsing to themselves, now needing to grit their teeth and get their fair share of live show practice in to nurture and grow their potential.

Requin Blanc played their part next, with clearer vocals leading to a greater impact from the band, but not without detriment to the quality as the set wore on – a handful of pitchy moments and moments of cracking were the price to pay. An old-school cover of You Me At Six’s Save It For The Bedroom was the set’s clear highlight, as well as one of the peaks of the night, with vocalist Jack Bridle keeping the closing refrain fresh in a way that I strongly believed no one but Josh Franceschi could. Yet another band fallen victim to the venue’s sound quality, but certainly a band who refused to go down without a fight.

Final support We Fight Like Kids were strong contestants for the most enthusiastic of the night, but like their debut EP (which we checked out last October here), there seemed to be something lacking. Clear harsh vocals made a spectacular show against the frontman’s clean ones, more touchy in their consistency; moments were of the understandable quality the other acts had shown, whilst some were so good there was a whiff of backing track around them. We noted their studio work lacked some “umph”, and despite the energy, similar gaps were present in their live show.

Rightly so with the night being their own, headliners Pack Mentality stole the show with the air of musicians who’d more experience than a “debut” release would suggest. Frontman Daniel Kevan cut no corners in upping the sound quality, holding the set after the first track till the adjustments were made to make the best of a less than ideal situation. Humble but confident, this start up added to the band’s demeanor as an act who knew they were good but weren’t able to show off to the best of their abilities, instead ready to go into it with fierce enough determination to display what they were capable of.

As well as showing off the EP’s work which came down as a mix of new We Are The Ocean and old Deaf Havana, most notably the atmospheric opening to The Ocean and instantly memorable Salvation, the band threw in a pair of covers to keep things fresh. Silverstein’s My Heroine proved vocally straining but well polished, and closing Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble seemed more for fun than technical accuracy, but fun it was, and served a good end to the night.

Credit where credit’s due, the bands all put in a good effort for what was available, and an enthusiastic crowd seemed unfazed by a few dodgy moments. Later this week we’ll be checking out Pack Mentality’s Chronophobia in full, with a track-by-track of it and a few words from the band.