Category Archives: Brit-Pop

Matthew and the Atlas: Other Rivers

MatthewAtlas_OtherRivers

Matthew and the Atlas: Other RiversThis album is a metaphorical exploration of what’s possible in life. Matthew and the Atlas often use nature as a stand-in for the complex emotional trappings that they feel in everyday life. With elements of bluegrass and synth pop, they weave their stories in a dream-like haze that is all their own. Lead singer Matthew Hegarty’s deep and sorrowful voice takes you by the hand and gently guides you through this world.

‘Into Gold’ begins the album, and like any journey, they are choosing not to look back. The song seems to be about moving on and not being afraid to burn the bridges behind you, which many might agree is at the very least a courageous choice.

Perhaps the most striking thing about ‘Pale Sun Rose’ and much of the rest of the album is how seamlessly the banjo is incorporated into the music. The instrument is prominent, but it is but one aspect of a larger style that has some synth as well as more contemporary elements. It is by no means a folk song as one might think. In fact, the synth strings in the final act of the song almost overtake the vocals along with everything else.

‘To The North’ is steeped in metaphor. It’s unclear how much of the nature imagery is meant to be literal and how much is figurative, but in any case, the song does feature a powerful mix of the synthetic and the organic in terms of instrumentation.

Later in the album the theme of debate begins to arise. ‘Out Of The Darkness’ is a diatribe against Hegarty’s own self doubt. It’s basically a break up song for the aspects himself that hold him back.

“Everyone you know one day will surely die, but everything that dies in some way returns” is the sentiment that kicks off the argument in ‘Everything That Dies’. It’s the point/counterpoint argument between pessimists and optimists that will go on forever. The instrumentation makes it clear that our hero prefers the latter.

The album concludes thematically with the concept of ending and loss, beginning with ‘Nowhere Now’, which is a fight against death. Moving on from the funeral, we jump to ‘A Memory Of You’. Unlike the context might suggest, this song is not about someone who has passed away. To the contrary, this song is about a relationship that’s in the past and this has moved the vocalist to lament, “We’re older now, and yes, we’ve grown apart”. This song is one of the most organic-sounding on the album — there are no synthesized aspects, no keyboards. It is simply a song where a man sings about a relationship that was difficult and is now done.

The album ends with the procrastinator’s anthem ‘Another Way’. In this song Hegarty tells us that, “someday soon he’ll live as he should have lived”. The song does not sound like a lament; it sounds aspirational. This song puts it clearly out there with no metaphor and no allusions. It’s simply the way things should be, and he is the one who needs to change. It’s a powerful message to go out on…7.2/10

 

‘Everything That Dies’

Let’s Wrestle: Let’s Wrestle

Let’s Wrestle: Let’s Wrestle- If Let’s Wrestle aren’t already the men you’ve grown to love, soon you may have a change of heart. With a gnarled paintbrush in one hand and a brimming cup of caffeine in the other, the lively Londoners paint particularly drippy watercolor pop-rock songs inspired by Eddie Argos’s school of mundanity-inspired outsider art, while additionally brandishing an incomparable schoolboy charm. Early tracks like their debut single ‘Song For Abba Tribute Record’ and their aforementioned theme song, as well as their appropriately infantile album covers, exhibit their endearing quirks, which are equal parts engaging and amusing.

The comedically awkward and hopelessly pathetic demeanor of a pre-Fakeblock George Michael Bluth comes to mind on Let’s Wrestle’s self-titled third record, as frontman Wesley Gonzalez blunders through each of its thirteen heartsick, yet seemingly kindergartner-friendly, sing-a-longs. As their first non-cartoon album cover suggests, the band has matured somewhat since 2011’s Nursing Home, as they focus more on the former clause of their mission statement (“to write songs that make your soul crumble as well as making you smile, sing along and clap your hands”) than the ever-evident latter.

After reminding their listeners that they’re “the good guys” on the peppy opener ‘Rain Ruins Revolution,’ the majority of Let’s Wrestle is fueled by an inside-looking-out mindset literally depicted on the cover and literately backed by such longing lyrics as “you won’t notice me/ as long as I resent you quietly”. Gonzalez has stepped into the role of the tragic clown whose invisibility has inspired bitter thoughts, an evident increase in sleepless nights, and a presumed necessity for Vince Guaraldi’s somber accompaniment. At his most optimistic, Gonzalez promotes his independent spirit on tracks like the ironically titled ‘Care For You’ and the apathetic ‘Don’t Wanna Know Your Name,’ while the heartfelt closer confesses his unwavering loyalty in an unsettlingly voyeuristic fashion. The title itself, ‘Watching Over You’, is a bit creepy, but Gonzalez assures us that he has “good intentions.”

Instrumentally, though, the band continues to produce bold guitar riffs, animated basslines, and frisky drumming, only showing maturity in the consistent inclusion of a hearty acoustic guitar (prominently featured on lead-off single ‘Codeine and Marshmallow’) and fawning string sections. Tracks like ‘I Am Fond Of You’ see Let’s wrestle with maturity, pitting classical strings against the aggressive guitars featured on the Steve Albini-produced Nursing Home, while experimental highlights include the aptly hazy ‘Opium Den’s’ saxophonic drones which splatter easel-wards until the portrait is rendered entirely unrecognizable, as well as the almost-too-high-pitched-to-understand tweemale vocal accompaniment of Veronica Falls’ Roxanne Clifford on ‘Pull Through For You,’ which comfortably holds its own against all the boys’ noise.

If the thought of Let’s Wrestle growing up scares you, rest assured these man-children are merely on the verge of musical pubescence. We still catch glimpses of their endearing immaturity in brief references to Danger Mouse bedsheets and, perhaps more importantly, mother-deterring guitar play. Surely Art Brut is a generous comparison for the young Wrestlers, but their self-titled confirms that, like their eccentric contemporaries, they’re able to entertain with more than mere quirkiness…8.4/10

I Am Fond of You

Drowners: Drowners

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Drowners: Drowners- Unfortunately for Drowners the most common word associated with them so far is typical. I can only imagine that when your frontman is Matt Hitt- a modeling Englishman turned New Yorker, and your songs are reminiscent of The Smiths and Arctic Monkeys it is to be expected. But honestly, as much as the internet is trying to spin that as a bad thing, I’m going to have to disagree. Drowners may not be creating a new genre or blowing your mind with dramatically creative guitar riffs but they aren’t trying to either. Instead their self-titled album is more like homage to what the radio has forgotten; simple, fun and self-written rock music. They are guys who make music because they love it… and so do the ladies.

Drowners starts off with ‘Ways to Phrase Rejection’. It’s no secret that Hitt knows how to rock the subtle accent but guitarist Jack Ridley III’s basic but not boring accompaniment is what really drew me into the album. It fits perfectly in the track one slot because it shows you what you’re going to get if you continue listening. It’s short, sweet, and has this wonderful mix of inspirations that seem to have migrated with Hitt. Drowner’s are pretty much the love child of 70’s New York punk and British Pop. They continue to reveal this on the song ‘Long Hair’, borrowed from their previous EP, Between Us Girls. While track one leans more towards the Brit Pop influences this one is more on the New York side. If you close your eyes you can almost smell the sweat and cigarettes of a drunken crowd in CBGB’syears ago. Plus Alexa Chung is in the music video, which is pretty cool.

The first single, ‘Luv, Hold Me Down’ shows off their lyrical skill with lines such as “In a simple skirt you caused a ricochet/ of courting boys who watched you walk away” as Hitt sings about a girl he can’t help but chase.  Most importantly though, the timing is worthy of butterflies. Hitt draws out the perfect words at the perfect time and the vocal layering is spot on.

Watch out… because ‘Watch You Change’ is going to get stuck in your head. The catchy chorus repeats, “There’s not a shoulder cold enough for me to give her”- a line I’m sure we all wish we could’ve thought of on the spot after a fight with an ex. Sure it can get a little angst-y but we’ve all been teenagers and Drowners are proving themselves masters of sad pop music, so it isn’t hard to forgive.

Lyrically ‘Pure Pleasure’ might be my favorite track off Drowners. Hitt serenades listeners with great one-liners like “I planned my jokes before I see you” and “In a dream I had it all made sense”. Not to mention instrumentally it is fun and easy to dance to but still has the rawness of bands like The Smiths and Television that have seemingly lent so much influence. Following is ‘Bar Chat’- a slightly darker ditty, well, instrumentally anyways. I imagine this one being great live. This is where the mosh pit begins. Which we can all find out soon enough, since they will be going back on tour this April, traveling everywhere from Texas to Canada.

The longest song on the album ‘A Button on your Blouse’ makes sure you haven’t forgotten that Matt Hitt is from South Wales. The Pulp comparisons are undeniable but surely it is without the stigma of a copycat.  ‘Let Me Finish’ begins with a brisk bass line sucking you into the upbeat song about temptation. Hitt lets us in on his all to familiar feeling that arises upon seeing someone you like much more than they like you.  One of Drowners strong suits is their catchy choruses, and this is one of their best. Though the next track, ‘Well, People Will Talk’ is fierce competition.

For those of you who prefer the old fashion way of listening, compact disks and the like, ‘Shell Across The Tongue’ is the last song. And I kind of think it should have stayed that way, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  While it is not my favorite track on the album, like a good concluding paragraph, the song finishes the album well. It continues the trends of the rest of the album; it is spirited, catchy and Hitt’s smooth, vintage voice compels his relatable lyrics. Most likely though, you will buy Drowners off iTunes and it will end with the digital bonus track ‘You keep Showing Up’ a slow acoustic song that just doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s in not a bad song, but it comes off as an afterthought.

Drowners was a pleasant surprise for me this week. I was having trouble finding something I really wanted to write about and I’m happy to say that I think it is a very solid compilation of a wide range of influences from bands that are so universally treasured. It’s great to see a modern take on such beloved music… 8.9/10

Pure Pleasure

Whales In Cubicles: Death In The Evening

Whales In Cubicles: Death In The Evening - This album by Whales In Cubicles is about discovering yourself and your place in this world. It begins, as you might expect, with a break up song. ‘Yesterday’s News’ is your typical I’m-obsessed-with-you-but-you-don’t-like-me-anymore rock song. The guitars on this one really add a lot, though. The solo during the bridge punctuates the entire song and the drummer really stands out as well.

The drummer is given another chance to shine during ‘We Never Win’. The hurried desperation and frustration are ever-present in this anthem for loss and it is the drummer who keeps the ship on track. The drumming and timing is essential to the kinetic nature of the song. The lines “we never win because we’re fine with it” and “we never tried, but that’s just half of it” elevate this song from a woe is me whine to a self aware tool for motivation.

The melody of ‘All The Pretty Flowers’ makes whatever the band would like to say enjoyable. The message however, is perhaps not the most uplifting. “I could sit down for hours and watch all the pretty flowers fade away” The metaphor follows a description of the mundanity of everyday life both funny and sad. The song is about of urban life and the concept of baring witness to a myriad of human experiences, but in a voyeuristic and detached manner. The concept is as beautiful as the melody, if only for its universality and truth.

‘Across America’ chronicles a road trip exactly where the title suggests. What you might not expect is the existential examination that is revealed. “Is this the life you wanted?”, “Are you still wondering why no one has yet saved you?”, and “When the end does come does it come suddenly?” are all thoughts that may arise when you have to pee and you’re still in goddamn Indiana (no offense to Indiana; it’s just no fun to drive through you).

The concept of self discovery gives way to that of changing the outside world beginning with ‘Nowhere Flag’. The song is about choosing a side. “The nowhere flag is all in flames”. They want you to get mad. ‘Wax & Feather’ is a song involving the tragic Grecian character Icarus. The song is less of a cautionary tale to the youth then it is an acknowledgment of what happens to those who “try to break the chains of violence”. Like the tragic story upon which it’s based, this song is about the punishing nature of fighting the status quo. The concept of fighting is explored further on ‘I Knew It’. The author is “tired of fighting you”, “tired of hating you”, and there’s “nothing that we need to prove”. The fight is over and terms of the truce are being decided: “Do you want to be the one that said, ‘I knew it?’”

The album ends with the eight and a half minute opus ‘Find Your Way’. The music builds and swells. You get the feeling of importance, and perhaps that’s the difference – so much of the album is about the futility of life, isolation and defeat, but this song feels different. There feels like there’s something more. Whales In Cubicles leave you with hope…8.2/10

All The Pretty Flowers