Tuesday, 24 May 2016

On Song: Wild Beasts 'Get My Bang'

"No getting it right, no getting it wrong...just getting it on"

It can be pretty hard to improve on perfection. Universally celebrated for their fantastical approach to everyday intimacy, Wild Beasts are a favourite band around these parts for good reason - sometimes pretentious but always provocative, they simply see things on a deeper level than most. With 'Smother', they created our favourite record of all time - a capsule of what it means to lose yourselves to the ruins of romance.

With this morning's announcement of their upcoming neon-daubed fifth record 'Boy King', they cement their return with a renewed aggression. The album tracklisting reads like a dream - excuse us while we stitch 'Alpha Female' onto the backs of our grubby denim jackets, and speculate on what level of grandeur a song named 'Eat Your Heart Out Adonis' might sit. But let's for now focus on it's lead single - the sleazy, satisfying and ultimately surprising 'Get My Bang.'

Everything that makes Wild Beasts so wonderful is here in abundance - rapid wordplay, dual frontmanship and lyrical memoirs of the modern lothario. Layer on basslines encrusted with grotty funk, snaggle-toothed guitarwork and a darkly joyous video, and you have something new - something crafted to perch suggestively atop a Radio 1 playlisters knee and whisper in it's ear the way none of their previous material could. Wild Beasts have spoken at length in interviews about their intent to let each album to occupy a completely different world to the one prior, and this definitely ticks that box - it would have seemed incredulous a few years ago to imagine them dropping this sort of groove driven party-starter as a follow-up to 'Smother, but next to 'Present Tense' it makes sense, pushing their experimentations with electronics that little bit further.

There's something very malicious about 'Get My Bang'. From it's (lewd, rude and) crude title to it's seemingly knowing pastiche of RnB music videos, it hints at an altogether less subtle approach going forward. In parts, it reminds me of the progression that their labelmates Arctic Monkeys made with 'AM' - letting the 90s hip-hop influence inform the music in a much more obvious manner, putting an emphasis on the 'call and response' chorus structure that's so synonymous with west coast rap. Coming from a gang of working class white boys from Kendall, it's a thrilling juxtaposition.

There's something deeper than just a quick fumble in the dark though. Not just a statement of seedy intent, the very phrase 'get my bang' creates the image of a gunshot, a parable for how the surrender of lust will ultimately be the demise of red-blooded man. It's daubed on the walls of the house in the backdrop of the video; 'death to all betrayed'. Twisting itself from 'get my bang' to 'bang gets me' as the chorus subverts, it's a familiar Wild Beasts narrative - testosterone wrestling with the fear of something much more fallable... 'we live in alter egos'.

I can't wait to see how this fits in the context of a record - whether they will dismiss their softness entirely in favour of a more instantly accessible sound, or whether this is just another facet of their eternal quest to depict every angle of masculinity. Considering their previous output, I would expect the latter but forgive them either - Wild Beasts are a band who keep you safe in their arms.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Live At Leeds 2016 - The Review

Ten years in and the humble Live At Leeds festival has grown in both size and stature. Where once before it was just a place for all the hipsters of West Yorkshire to gather, it's swelling line-up of 200+ bands for a relatively low pricetag of £32 makes it a genuine attraction for new-music hungry noisenicks right across the country to come and experience things oop north.  

As Leeds dwellers ourselves, it's clear that as the years have passed, Live At Leeds has really grown into itself, taking true advantage of just how eclectic it's city's landscape has begun. The streets feel busy but not claustrophobic like years previously - the influx of new bars, venues and cool hangouts like Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall since we last reviewed the festival in 2013 has meant that Leeds city centre is more equipped than ever to deal with the increase in foot traffic. Let's not forget the huge presence of the First Direct Arena either, keeping all the press action in one contained space leaving music fans to room free about the city. 

(Photos courtesy of Andrew Benge

And roam they do. 45 minutes before Leeds o2 Academy even opens for the day, the queue stretches long enough that it reaches the tip of the next venue. The reason is Mystery Jets - comeback kids who's latest album 'Curve of The Earth' has seen them move from colourful art-rockers into something with more promising longevity. A huge part of this is clearly the shot in the arm that their member mix up has created - new bassist Jack has the affability of a shaggy-haired kids TV presenter, doing most of the talking and flinging himself about the stage with an infectious enthusiasm. The album naturally forms the majority of the afternoon's set - they open with Telomere which proves just how robust a live offering they have become. Oldies 'Serotonin' and 'Flash A Hungry Smile', go down well, but it's 'Blood Red Balloon' that really fills the space, a spacey journey that computes pleasingly well with the 'three pints in' haze of the audience. 

(Photos with thanks to Giles Smith)

Strong planning brings us handily close to Leeds Beckett Student Union, where we arrive in time to catch our old housemates band Forever Cult. Friendly nepotism aside, it's clear they've come on leaps and bounds since we last saw them - an increase in focus is evident as they tear through old and new tracks with barely a hitch. 'Winter's Glow' draws a succession of floppy-haired pogo-ers to lose their shit on the front row, as does newbie 'Seafood', wonderfully obnoxious with it's 'Not My Problem' refrain. A hometown offering, they emphasise LAL's potential as an A&R mans dream day out. 

( Photo by Andy Smith

Speaking of buzz bands, it doesn't get more hype than Spring King (Leeds University Union). Made famous overnight thanks to that Zane Lowe endorsement, they're pleasingly down-to-earth on stage - clad in oversized ADIDAS and thanking the crowd repeatedly with a genuine air of surprise at the turnout. Luckily, the music lives up to the legacy - they start strong with a quick 1-2 of 'Better Man' and upcoming album title track 'Tell Me If You Want To' that sees a crowd member crawl onstage before being swiftly booted off by security. The air is thick with youth - the moshpit has an average age of 17 and is an overwhelmingly jolly affair that is more hugs and free love than punky aggression. It's wholly befitting of Spring Kings appeal - a bunch of talented kids making young, exuberant pop rock.

(Photos by Jenessa Williams)

It's fair to say that no critique of Los Campesinos! is going to be particularly bias-free around these parts, but it's equally fair to say that their co-headlining set at Leeds University Union is a triumph. While Gareth may joke about people wandering in to see them just to kill time before Circa Waves, they win over casual and placate fans alike with a high-energy set that covers the majority of their career. 'Avocado Baby', 'My Year In Lists' and 'What Death Leaves Behind' all sound particularly strong, but it's the 'Tory Boy' line in closer 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future' that really hits home in this northern venue. 

(Photo by Jenessa Williams)

Maybe it's the copious red stripes, or the  sweat in the late-night air, but our long-forgotten crush on We Are Scientists Keith Murray comes flooding back like the stuff of #indieamnesty dreams as soon as they begin the closing show of the night. Potential objectification aside, there is no avoiding the fact that even after sixteen years in the business, he has barely aged a day. Luckily, neither have the hits - 'Chick Lit', 'The Great Escape' and 'It's A Hit' (literally) are delivered with the razor-sharp precision that only playing the same songs a billion times can make. Tracks from their week-old record Helter Seltzer do drag a little at times, but their Flight-Of-The-Conchords-worthy stand up keeps the momentum flowing, as does a particular touching rendition of 'After Hours' that gets the couple standing behind us snogging like the world could end at any moment. A fitting end to a glorious day, we're already looking forward to seeing what Live At Leeds comes up with in it's next decade. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

On Song: The 1975 'Somebody Else'

"Our love has gone cold/ You're intertwining your soul with somebody else"

I've never liked The 1975. It wasn't a deep hatred or even anything particularly rational, but they always struck a bit of a 'meh' chord - I found their vocals somewhat irritating gimmicky, their lyrics bland and their media persona over-confident. Being brutally honest, I was of complete belief that their success was to be a flash in the pan, a teenage romance that would only last out the summer.

Luckily, I also believe in humble pie. When 'Love Me' was released in early 2016, I surprised myself with how instantly I was enthralled by it. Perfectly dissecting our ugly fascination with celebrity, it was everything The Ordinary Boys tried to do back in 2006, orchestrated with a far defter hand. I was slightly less into it's follow-up (Ugh!), but then I read an interview with the band's lead singer that changed everything all over again. Talking to NME, I don't remember the exact quote, but  he explained that their album, the celestially named 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it' was designed to reflect society's changing interests, and that the meaningless of labels in millenial culture meant that they purposefully set out to make a record that encapsulated everything in music at the moment.

Along with the album campaigns impeccably orchestrated artwork (rose quartz pink, not-coincidentally pantone's colour of the year), this concept really lit a lightbulb within me creatively and personally. We live in a time where we're encouraged to try to be everything - to experience, to experiment, to educate and also to edit. Nothing is designed to be permanent - more a fluid 'project' where things are constantly written and re-written (Kanye's The Life Of Pablo as an excellent example of this.) In many ways, I feel like a millennial sore thumb - I've always been comfortable with familiarity, with pushing envelopes one prod at a time rather than the whole way. The things that scare me most are the things I know are difficult to maintain as permanent - life, health and love. Combined with an almost unhealthy level of perfectionism, it's the reason why it takes me so long to relax, to trust and to accept.

This goes some way to explain why it's taken me three full paragraphs to get around to distilling the reasons why I both love and am terrified by 'Somebody Else', the linchpin of The 1975's latest record. For the past four years, the most majestically positive force in my life is that of love. I'm extraordinarily lucky to know the joy of being safely nestled in a relationship that is overwhelming positive - supportive, encouraging, emotionally available, selfless even. I whole-heartedly believe that I've found my soulmate. To imagine being with a different person is to imagine sawing my own arm off 27-hours style, and yet I'm sure it's in all of our natures to have moments where you're so happy that you have to wonder when it's all going to go wrong, even if there is absolutely no evidence to suggest as such. Where you imagine the parallel universe in which they are in love with somebody your complete opposite. My pessimistic nature and the relationships I see under strain around me can't help but make me morbidly wonder what that would be like from time to time, and it's a feeling that makes me feel a little sick and wonky, like walking up the stairs in the dark and putting your foot down on a step that isn't there.

That's what this song sounds like to me - that sick squeezing feeling of ominousness, the fragility of the very act of tying your life so tightly to another human who has the power to leave at any time. Sure, the surface meaning is of being cheated on, left for another, but I also think it's about the part of yourself you have to leave behind when you devote such a huge part of your being to somebody else. When you have to ask yourself how much your own life would unravel if they were to leave, and what that says about your own happiness. Perhaps I'm getting carried away with the Tumblr-glitter of what is ultimately a very typical pop song, but there just seems to be something darker about those 80s-worthy synths. And it's those depths that have turned me into a 1975 convert - what was once a cheap meal ticket is now multi-sensory and gloriously, devastatingly addictive.