Sunday, 30 March 2014

E.P. Review "Make Shift" Twin Hidden



Twin hidden are, according to their facebook page, "an indie-pop duet/quintet, based in Manchester and London simultaneously, owing it all to a complex system of tubes." Their debut EP Make Shift is a quirky collection of five tremendously unique tracks that I am finding very difficult to categorise. Not that this is a bad thing, but for the purposes of describing it for review, it makes my job a nuisance. Is it good? Yes...very! What is it? I'm not quite sure... Perhaps an odd blend Arcade Fire and The Divine Comedy.

The E.P. starts with the very catchy A Berry Bursts. This song is about as straight forward as this record gets. Sounding like a mixture between Arcade Fire and Bombay Bicycle Club, it is probably the most instantly accessible track, giving only the faintest hints of the kind of madness that is to follow. The next track Plastic roses starts as a simple acoustic folk track that grows over the course of its 4 minute life into lively, somewhat dark darker version of what was offered in the first song. Beautifully layered, great rhythms and some spectacular, ethereal vocals. Track 3, Paper unicorn, is a wildly theatrical number, that starts with my favourite lyric on the E.P. "I made you a paper unicorn, it's made from a horse, just by adding a horn." Just when you finally think that you have gotten a handle with what Twin Hidden are up to, things take a serious turn towards more bizarre territory with the help of some very frantic and excited piano and string sections. It's dramatic to say the least. This is followed by, my favourite song on the record, She Never Played Guitar, which is a return to slightly more familiar and "safe" territory. An unconventional folk pop song that Neil Hannon would be proud to call his own. The closing song, Unconditionally, is a return to the theatrics. Feels a little bit like the work of the Dresden Dolls

This E.P. is not easy listening, at times, it can be bloody hard work. This is really not altogether a bad thing. There is an awful lot to this record. Once you have managed to find your way through the richly layered layered music, there is still the incredibly fascinating lyrics to start on...and believe me, there are some absolute gems in there that will have you scratching your head and rewinding just to make sure you heard it right. 

I like these guys a lot. They have a great attitude, don't take themselves too seriously (their emails to the blog have been very entertaining, and the press pack they sent was one of the most bizarre I have ever seen. Complete with wonderfully crafted CD sleeve, postcard and handwritten story about a seagull...don't ask) and it shows in the quality of their work. The record is odd as a box of frogs, but is still rather enjoyable, even if it is a bit of a struggle to figure out at times. Wildly original, dramatic, well performed, very entertaining, and well written. Fantastic first effort, I am very excited to hear more from them. Great band, and ones to watch for the year! 

8/12

Make Shift is available tomorrow from iTunes and Bandcamp.

Check out more from Twin Hidden on Facebook. Enjoy...or at least try your best not to run screaming from the madness...


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Album Review "Human Herdings" - Marc O' Reilly



I'm just going to go straight out there and say it...This may be the best Irish album I have heard in the last five years! Marc O' Reilly's follow up to his 2011 debut album My Friend Marx (review here) is an exciting mix of folk, rock, country and filthy, raw delta blues. There is not much I can say about Human Herdings, other than it is simply incredible.

This album excites from the very start. The opening track Same Side sounds like Ryan Sheridan spent too much time with Muddy Waters. Starting with a tense, giddy, almost anxious, muted guitar. It is met with some very tastefully placed bass and equally busy drums, before exploding into a powerful blues number. 

The performance on this album is something quite special. The guitar playing is marvelous, at times astonishing. the vocals are at times, soft and layered with beautiful, deep south, blues harmonies, more times they are dirty, gravelly growls, but they are always just right for the song. 

Picking out high points in an album this good is almost as difficult as finding flaws! One of the real stand out moments is You Never, a blistering blues track, delivered at break neck paceThere are moments of Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, Tom Waits, and one of the albums strongest moments Just So sounds like Mick Flannery on speed. For such a short record, this album has an awful lot to it. It is dark, manic, powerful, and raw, then it is soft, laid back and calming. It is everything you want from a folk rock album, great songs, clever lyrics, well presented and passionately delivered. The bar has been set for the standard of Irish albums this year! I can offer this record nothing less than full marks!

12/12

Human Herdings is available from Friday, March 28th. The single Reach out is available now. Head on over to http://www.marcoreillymusic.com/ and take a listen. Catch Marc on tour throughout the end of this month and April. You Won't be disappointed.

March 27th - Dublin, Whelan’s
March 28th – Cork, Cyprus Avenue
March 29th – Lismore, Roses West End Bar
April 2nd – Bristol, The Louisiana
April 3rd – London, Servant Jazz Quarters
April 4th – Leicester, The Cookie Jar
April 5th – Nottingham, The Bodega
April 9th – Leeds, Brudenell 2
April 10th – Bury, The Met
April 11th – Newcastle, The Cluny
April 12th – Glasgow, King Tuts

Taken from Marc's debut album, here is Foo. Enjoy...

Monday, 24 March 2014

Album Review "Part of the Light" - Niall McCabe Band




Recently, I featured the lead the title track from the Niall McCabe Band's debut album, Part of the Light, as the 2Day's Tune selection (check it out here). Not long after that, the album itself found its way in through my letterbox, and I really can't begin to express how glad I am that it did.

The debut offering from the Cork based soulful indie-pop rockers opens with the hugely infectious and gloriously uplifting Big Heart. When I first put the album into my CD player (yes I still have one) I was initially afraid that I would tire quickly of overly happy, poppy, catchy tunes, but by the time the chorus of big heart kicked in, I no longer cared. I just wanted more and more. 


This album however, did not deliver straight away on the promise of huge pop choruses and infectious melodies. The next two tracks are in fact far more understated and laid back. This trend seems to continue for the duration of this record. This is by no means a bad thing. A healthy mixture of  big, radio friendly toe tappers, fun/blues jams and soulful ballads is more than welcome.

There are one or two moments where some of the more mellow numbers feel a little bit samey, but this does not detract from the quality of the album in any massive way. The songs are still quite good, but by the time Miss You came on I feel a little bit like I had heard it already. 

The performances are very impressive, in particular Niall's vocals. In particular on Over and Over towards the end of the album. The production on the album is absolutely astounding each song gives the impression that it was carefully and lovingly crafted rather than simply written and recorded. Here is a band who takes great pride in what they do, and present it accordingly.



 While I would like to have heard a few more of the upbeat, energetic numbers that the earlier part of the album had hinted towards, all things said, this is a very very good album. The strongest tracks such as Big Heart (Both Versions), Part of the Light and Long Time/Hard Time are simply fantastic, but even the weaker numbers are all still very good songs, especially the very quirky and very short closing track Uke, which sounds like an odd mixture of Jack Johnson and Stevie Wonder. Expect to be hearing an awful lot more from the Niall McCabe band over the coming months. A rock solid, refreshing debut album that will be spending quite a while in the CD changer in my car(yes I also still have one of those).

9/12

Part of the Light is available now on iTunes.
For a list of dates, more music and more information about the band, head over to http://niallmccabe.com//.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Live Review - Cult Called Man - Navan, March 14th 2014



Cult Called Man are a band that have had me conflicted a little bit over the past few months. I first got to see the Ratoath 6 piece early in November of last year, when they were sharing a bill with my own band. I was mightily impressed. The evening was plagued with sound difficulties and as such things were a little bit loose. Cult Called man that evening were unique, energetic and frightfully entertaining. I purchased their debut E.P., Shoot Me(It's Just T.V.)(available here) and it spent quite a time in the CD changer in my car. The next time I saw them I was excited to see what they would be like when the potential for sound disasters was rather low. However, the second time, they did not impress me the same way they did the first time. They did not quite have the energy of the first night. They did not look as comfortable. Needless to say I was slightly disappointed. The songs were still good, the performance was fine but things just seemed slightly disjointed. Not bad, but just not quite what I had expected.

I was unsure of what to expect last night for my third installment of Cult Called Man. Whatever I was expecting, I was ill prepared for what I got. I had thought that maybe my initial experience of them was a once off good moment, or maybe I had seen more than was really there...Well...I really have to say, I was wrong to question their merit based on one somewhat less than perfect performance. These lads can play, these lads are unique, and these lads are going far. The somewhat unpredictable, psychotically disjointed nature...for want of a better term, and sheer originality of their songs is enhanced by their raw energy and clear love for what they are doing. These chaps really do dance like no one is watching. This is quite simply a fun band to go see...but asides from being fun, there is substances to with the style. Even if that style is a somewhat charming, endearing, awkward style...that's still a style right? Well whatever it is I like it. Their sound is quite hard to pin down, but there are great moments of Talking Heads, Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. New songs like Wicker Mice (which I was on the fence about after the second time I had seen them) made me very excited about the prospect of their new E.P. due later this year.


For however much I enjoyed the gig, I can't help but get the feeling that Cult Called Man are a band that are still somehow trying to find themselves. This is not a bad thing, they seem quite comfortable with this learning process and will openly tell you that they are very much a band growing. They have a very fresh, approachable attitude that will take them a long way. Look out for them around the country over the coming months and make sure to check them out if you're heading along to Vantastival this May Bank holiday weekend.

I am officially converted. Anyone else who feels like following a cult, you can follow this one here on Facebook. They won't make you shave your heads, live in a commune or engage in any weird rituals...I think
<

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Album Review - The April Maze



The April Maze are UK and Australian duo Sivan and Todd Mayhew. Their self titled UK debut is a blend of folk and blues, infused with gospel, reggae and a little taste of something darker and more mischievous that I can't quite put my finger on. The mixture of male and female vocals with an acoustic guitar and cello has been done before...nothing new there, but the delivery is something rather special. The opening track, Will I ever starts with an almost druidic chant before the banjo adds an inkling of country/blues to the proceedings. Perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the album it is followed by the devilish Oh Yesterday. The cello kicks in with an almost tango feel before being segued into playful reggae beat. This sets the standard for the remainder of the album.

This album is not just good, it is quite simply stunning. The guitars are simple and effective, the vocal harmonies are sublime, the cello, at times playful, at more times it is sinister and brooding, controls the atmosphere and mood with confidence and seems to, on more than one occasion, cheekily allude to the band's influence... And believe me, these guys wear their influences on their sleeves while all the time managing to avoid any direct comparisons. There are obvious moments of Damien Rice, but then, Fleet Foxes show up out of nowhere. One of the records strongest moments Don't Let The Bastards Bring You Down feels like KT Tunstal mixed with an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtrack. My personal favourite The Protest Song, blends seamlessly once again the dramatism of Morricone with reggae, blues and a wonderfully surprising saxophone moment that would sit as well on Dark Side of the Moon as it does on this album.

This album has moments of great ambition, but also has a grasp on subtlety and glorious simplicity that should not flow as effortlessly from one song to the next as it does...but it really does. Running gracefully from dramatic and bold to soft and emotional, this album has blown me away, surprised me and manĂ ged to keep me intrigued for the greater part of it's, all too short, 45 minute duration. This is all before I've even mentioned The Beatles covers...

Sublimely crafted, unique, and something very special!

11/12


Check out more from The April Maze on Facebook and at http://www.theaprilmaze.com/


)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Interview - Cat Dowling

I was lucky enough to catch up with Cat Dowling for a chat on Friday to discuss her recent success, the creative process, and future projects . Cat really gives the impression of a woman who really knows what she wants and has the confidence in her own ability to achieve it. Cat plays the inaugural Odessa Live "Culture Vulture" in the Odessa Club on Dublin's Dame Street, on Wednesday night (March 12th). The show is at 8pm and tickets are only €10. Pop in if you are around the capital. With comedy on the night also being provided by Eleanor Tiernan it is bound to be a real treat.




2UIB: So Cat, you're well? Things seem to be going great for you?

CD: Yeah, things are, things are busy out! I'm hoping to get in and get another album started at the end of March. So, that's the plan. For better or for worse as they say. Feck it, keep chugging, that's my plan.

2UIB: So yeah, your song, The Believer (video below), recently featured in an episode of hit US TV show Banshee, you must be absolutely over the moon about that?

CD : Yes, it was nice. I haven't seen yet, I don't have time! It's by Alan Ball, well he produced it, and I don't know if you remember, years ago, he did Six Feet under. I was I big fan of that. It was the only thing I used to watch on TV. So that's kinda cool, like it's blood and gore and the usual, but at least I like him. I think I got a lovely slot on it as well, so it was really nice.

2UIB: Have you had much of a reaction from it?

CD: Kind of, yeah actually. I've been asked to do remixes and have had a good few people getting in touch. I suppose it's a little bit weird because it's not your mainstream TV, but yeah it's nice. I've had a nice reaction and there are a few other little things in the pipeline that I'm now waiting on to be confirmed. You know, a few potentially nice things on the horizon as well.It's great because the creative teams behind a couple of those shows are big fans of what I do, so that's a big plus, an extra bonus if you will.

2UIB: So any plans now to head over to the States on the back of that?

CD: I was over in the states in October, and that was great. It was fabulous! There's another single coming out in the States, probably in May, so I might do something over there in maybe January of next year.There's a bit of a PR thing, a few bloggers are kind of getting what I'm doing. It's weird, but it's great you know, meeting people who have been listening to what I do and coming to the shows. So it's all kind of organic unless you have a big big record label behind you and I'm very much grass roots, if you know what I mean?

2UIB: Now, the stuff you are working on, your solo album, it's a big step away from what you were doing before with Alphastates. Is that more you now making the kind of music that you have always wanted to make, or is it just the way your style has naturally matured?

CD: Do you know what? It's maybe a bit of both. I suppose it's the experience. When I started out, I hadn't an absolute clue and I sort of stumbled into it. I was always very passionate about music, but I didn't really realise I had a talent. I don't mean to sound arrogant by saying that, but I didn't know I kinda had a knack for writing songs. I discovered that talent a little bit later. I started out with Alphastates and I didn't know how anything worked. It was very much a D.I.Y. kind of a thing that was going on in Dublin at the time. I remember bringing out a song called Sometimes. That was one of the first things we recorded. We genuinely had no idea how things worked and someone just said we should drop it in to RTE, and suddenly it's getting played all over the place. Then you're kind of veered into a little bit of a pop thing. People are telling you that you need another song. So you end up writing for what you think you should be writing for. Which is totally screwed up, I think. You must do what you really like. It's like with anything, you must be true to what you do. It must come from your gut, and then after that it's a risk. You don't know if people are going to like it or not, but at least you have something that's honest and comes from yourself. I don't mean "earnest" honest, but that you are writing it from you as opposed to what other people want you to do. If that makes sense? That's really important for me.Even with my next album, I had to write what I really like, something that I can stand over. Because if you do something you like, there is a good chance other people will like it, but if you don't love it yourself, I think you feel like you're a bit of a fake.When you stand up and sing songs that you don't really believe in...That's not a great space to be in.

2UIB: You said about your current album, "I wrote  The Believer in the midst of stolen moments during ecstatic, sometimes twisted, often frenetic times." Is this perhaps why so many of the songs on the album are quite short, often less than 3 minutes long. Are the songs themselves fleeting moments, is that a reflection of where you were writing the album?

CD: Probably, yeah. Also, I had just become a mum so I didn't have time.So when you don't have time, you have to use your time really preciously. I also am not really a techie person. I don't do your iPhones or snapchats. So I would be floating around, an idea would come into my head, I'd jam it, scribble down some lyrics so it's all very disjointed, but it worked. The little couple of minutes I did have were sort of magic minutes and I'd think wow, I really like that.This time I didn't have the luxury of going away and spending from 9 to whenever, all day writing an album. This is probably how I work the best. I've probably worked the best like that all of my life. I seem to work well under deadlines. When I don't have much time, I seem to use it well. I seem to excel. I jump on it like I lion, I pounce, if you know what I mean, and grab it! I suppose it just worked. When we recorded it, it was kind of organic. It just kind of flowed. I knew what I wanted, I mightn't have been the best at expressing it but I worked with Jerry who I worked with in Alphastates, and Jerry is brilliant.He is a super musician, and he co produced it as well.We had worked together before, so we had this understanding. I was very comfortable with the people I was working with. It was nice because I knew the people I was working with, it was about the song, it was about the music. When I started out as a teenager, I was listening to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The Kinks, The Who, that kind of stuff. I was very blown away by Bob Dylan...Those lyrics. But then I went very anti-folk, I kind of totally almost spat folk in the eye. I wanted electronic, I wanted synthetic, I wanted beats...I didn't want real sounds. I was listening to the experimental, sort of Leftfield stuff and I wanted that. That is kind of where Alphastates was influenced from to a degree. Now I think I've come around full circle, I kind of want to use the contemporary fraught with real, if you know what I mean? I want it to be interesting, but I want it to be real sounds! I feel like the world has become so technical, everything is so fast, everything is "to the grid."So I wanted to add a little bit of humanity to the album. Even though you can use the technology, I wanted to make it human. I find a lot of records now are all so polished, like something from a machine. I wanted something real. Like you know with someone's voice, you hear the crack, or the breaking or the whatever. I want to hear that when I'm listening to it. I don't want to hear everything cleaned out of it. Everything sounds so clean these days. Because everything is so polished when something come's out that's raw, there is a sort off a balance. I do like when something is raw, that element of realness.

2UIB: Wow haha, that just about covers any questions that I had wanted to ask. So what's next for Cat Dowling?

CD: I'm going in to get that album recorded. It's very important for me to be creative. Any of the music or the videos that I make, I like them to be something that I want. Just so I can stand over what I have done.Sometimes I have younger people asking me for advice, or what I think of something, and I just tell them to do what they love, not to listen to anything anyone else says. You must follow your own heart, your own creativity. because that's all you have. After that it's completely out of your control.

Thanks again to Cat for taking the time out to have a bit of a natter with me. Find her on Facebook, and over at her website.


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Limerick: 10 of the Finest

This year sees Limerick taking on the role of Capital of Culture. As well as this 2014 will see Indie Week Ireland relocating to the banks of the Shannon, April 23-26. Which reminds me...applications for acts to perform at Indie Week are still open and all of the relevant information is available here.

To celebrate Limerick's tenure as Capital of Culture, here is a look at some of the best acts (past and present) to entertain the rockers, skaters, students, shoegazers, indie kids and general population of the treaty city over the last couple of years.



Super Model Twins



The now defunct Super Model Twins were once the purveyors of some very catchy hooks and great sing along choruses. Having managed to turn many heads around the country and rack up some very impressive gigs under their belts (including opening for The Cranberries in Thomond Park) they seemed to, unfortunately, disappear not long after the release of their debut album Raincloud Free. The album is still available to download from here.



Woodstar



Formed in 2000, Woodstar managed to create a great buzz for themselves and an impressive fan base which counted the legendary Tom Dunne among its ranks. Unfortunately after the release of several singles, an album and getting some reasonable airplay, Woodstar have gone the way of an Irish band with huge potential and disappeared into (even further) obscurity. Enjoy their track Dumb Punk Song.



Walter Mitty and the Realists



I Couldn't talk about Indie Week without mentioning Walter Mitty and The Realists. Known for their fantastic live shows, they were the winners of Indie Week Canada 2008. Sadly, this fantastic Limerick outfit is no longer with us, but they leave behind them a fine body of work, including their 2009 album Green Light Go,  which is still available from iTunes.



Senakah


Moving on to bands who still count themselves among the active members of Limerick's vibrant music scene, here are Senakah. 2012 saw these folk enjoy great success with the release of there single Human Relations, which racked up an impressive amount of airplay. The success was helped in no small way by the very clever and entertaining video which features an hilarious cameo from David Hope. Senakah are releasing their new single Sinking this Friday, March 7th. Check out their website http://www.senakah.com/ for more information on upcoming dates and releases.



Kiernan McMullan



Originally from Nashville, Kiernan spent many years captivating audiences in Limerick with his impressive brand of acoustic folk rock, before returning to the other side of the pond. Kiernan is constantly working on new material and seems to be forever on the road! If he ever manages to drag himself back over to this side of the water, I cannot recommend more highly that you catch on of his shows. Keep up to date with his comings and goings on Facebook and over at his website.



Protobaby



Here is a band with an impressive C.V.! Having managed to get themselves a very high slot on the main stage of Polish festival Bialystock...twice, Protobaby released several singles and albums under frontman Colm McGuinness. They even managed to get a video banned from youtube! (How, I will never know..but you could not ask for better publicity for the release of your new single.) 2013 saw the departure of Colm from the band. The surprise replacement with female vocalist Aoife McLoughlin has done nothing to slow down Protobaby. Their most recent single Keep Running is available now from iTunes. Keep up to date with upcoming show and releases on Facebook.



Animal Beats



"Limerick Raised, Dublin based indie kids" Animal Beats, are playing a blinder at the minute. Having featured at Whelan's One to Watch Festival 2014, they have also played support to the likes of Royseven, The Minutes, The Kanyu Tree and Fred. There current E.P. Cheap Carnival is available now from iTunes.



Parliament Square



Led by former front man of the once legendary Limerick band, The Driven (Brendan Markham), Parliament Square is a collection of some of the cities finest and most well know musicians. A relatively new addition to the Limerick scene, they are currently working on material for an album due out later this year. For more information, head on over here.



Moscow Metro



This Limerick based 4 piece are getting ready to release their new E.P. Spirit of a City on April 11th. With shades of The National, The Cure and Interpol, Moscow Metro in their own words deal with "the subjects we don't talk about, the things we bury deep." These guys will have you gazing so hard at your shoes that you will know every little scuff on the white tips of your Dunnes Stores knock-off Converse! For more information regarding their impending release and a selection of dates go follow these fine chaps on Facebook.



Leading Armies



I'm going to be honest and say that this whole post may have been conceived as an excuse to play this video. Also veterans of Indie week, Leading Armies have been blowing audiences away with their impressive live show. These guys are going to be huge! This video featuring The Markevin Light Orchestra should explain just why...Catch these guys playing at Indie Week Limerick 2014. You will not be disappointed. Follow them on Facebook here. Limerick funk rock has never sounded so good!



I know that there are many great Limerick bands from the past and present that I have neglected to mention, but this list of 10 represents only a fraction of the great talent coming out of Limerick. Feel free to comment and mention any other bands that I have left out.