GIITTV: Mike Dennis – Junction 19 EP (Independent)

Mike Dennis is not your typical Bristol MC. Combining his classical violin, a strong loop pedal performance and a grounded knowledge in production; his work is an interesting step forward into the future of hip-hop and rap.

His latest EP Junction 19 is his next release after the album Smiles and Cries from last year. It is paired with the upcoming Junction 29 EP and respectively they’re based on the motorway slip roads that grant entry to Bristol and Cardiff.

Junction 19 begins with the title track describing Bristol from a perspective only someone living there could give. Layered not only with personal connections but sonically layered too; the track’s production is inspired by the loop pedal performance it would have been written for. Juxtaposing beautiful violin strains against well crafted generated beats, the first track sets up the sound of Mike Dennis’ style.

Following the title track, ‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ is a remix of a previously released song. Again, the track is extremely layered, but possibly too much so – barely leaving room to breathe under the weight of extra production. Whilst the second verse is less built up and easier to understand, the remix does leave a little to be desired and is too overcome with samples and additional instrumentation to stand out on this EP.

Shining through however is ‘UnDo’ featuring JB Nichols – the solo endeavour of Rob Nichols from Cardiff band Junior Bill. The smooth & clear production is also accentuated by sharp stabs of violin and drum beats. Strong, beautiful choruses sit in between understated verses with a dark bridge that once again builds in the loop pedal style. Nichols’ voice swoops throughout the track, bringing a new style unheard from the singer before.

The next track ‘OK KO’ is a disappointment after this. Whilst rap can often be very “on the nose”, you’d expect something different from Dennis. Unfortunately, this track dates itself quickly, concerning itself with Donald Trump and Theresa May and social media trends and pitfalls. Hip hop tends to be more exciting when it breaks away from these clichés and escapes the boundaries of just stringing sentences together.

‘Things’ is a great anti-consumerism track, much better than a lot of cringe-worthy modern diatribes. The fantastic production includes a beat that’s hard to resist head bobbing to and little licks of violin come through from the second verse – which is clearly Dennis’ aural trademark. The song’s concept about “things that I didn’t buy” is layered with humour and irony with an exceptional rap flow.

Finally ‘Learned How To Be’ finishes off the EP on the upbeat. A personal rap about how Dennis “learned how to be cool”, it puts the typical story-telling rap against unusual production and with a similarly unusual flow but still includes clever wordplay that makes you smile. Bouncing between rap and melodic vocal lines, Dennis uses his features well (in this case Amy D) without need for guest verses but with a simple “Rihanna hook” (for want of a better term).

Junction 19  sets out to be a sort of concept EP from the start, but instead is more like an assortment of more recent music from Mike Dennis. Whilst some tracks (‘UnDo’ and ‘Things’) are undoubtedly strong and interesting, others (‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ and ‘OK KO’) could have been left off to create a more cohesive release. Undoubtedly though, it sets up great expectations for the next EP Junction 29.

Junction 19 is released independently on May 7th, 2017

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GIITTV: Maximo Park – Risk to Exist(Cooking Vinyl)

There are enough reasons at the moment to hate society and every single worthless, piece of shit, twatface person in it. To that end, it’s commendable to know the mighty Maximo Park, part swooning North-East Morrissey bibiophiles, part vulnerable Conor Oberst confessionalists complete with heart-in-throat voice quavers are still, unfalteringly, sensitive, good eggs.
However, on Risk to Exist, their sixth(!) album, I sort of wish they’d just created a Tumblr if they wanted to get this shit off their chest so literally, and concentrated more on writing some BANGING CHOONS like the literal millions they have under their belt already.

Initially turning heads with subtle but disarmingly accurate missives on intimacy, love and self-reflection, while simultaneously smacking you round the chops with several elegiac choruses after the other (often within the same song), this time Maximo Park are mad. They’re mad as hell. Well, mad enough to make an album full of wincingly on-the-nose songs about Brexit, the migrant crisis, Syria, benefits sanctions and Nigel Farage, largely set to a backdrop of insipid, nondescript-ish funk jams.

Risk to Exist the title track is promising enough, containing the classic sonic about-turns, close to the bone observations and warm synths the Park have perfected since A Certain Trigger in 2005. Profits from the single and accompanying video went to a migrant charity aiding rescue efforts at sea; call it Brexit Music (for a Film)*

What Equals Love is more classic MP, a bollocks-and-fannies out disco stomper on the well-worn subject of the mystery behind lasting relationships (although silly Paul Smith – we all know the equation for love is desperation, loneliness and the fear of dying alone 🙂 ).

However, I’m not gonna lie: I didn’t enjoy this album and most of the lyrics just made me cringe. I don’t mean to get all Katie Hopkins about this, I reeeally don’t, but I feel little enjoyment in a record so worthy and self-conscious, with none of the urgency or excitement of the usual Maximo Park experience. It is a disappointing album – especially since their last album, Too Much Information, was fantastic.

In the recent past, Everything Everything‘s peerless Get to Heaven was a masterpiece of spittled, moving lunacy at the horrors of the world, and the new British Sea Power album is also a graceful example of a band of auteurs adjusting their gaze from their own inner world to reacting to the constant concrete punches to the face of life in the world today without resorting to David Brent-tier cringe antics.

One of Maximo Park’s most popular songs, My Velocity, shows they’re perfectly capable of tackling the issues of the day – in this case Britiain’s recent wars – with wit and a lightness of touch (“are you willing to resist?/for people you’ve never met/the devil’s wheel revolves/but it needs to be reset”) pretty much absent from Risk to Exist.

Without any sort of bite or weight to these songs, this protest album is nearly as inane and banal as some Tory shitbag saying Brexit means Brexit adnaseum with no extra plan to follow it through.

*I know that didn’t really make sense in context, but I’ve thought of it now so it’s going in the review. DON’T STEAL IT. DON’T STEAL IT. (c) Laura Prior 25/04/2017 DON’T STEAL IT.

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GIITTV: Cotton Wolf – Life In Analogue (Bubblewrap Collective)

Cotton Wolf, a Welsh duo comprising of Llion Robertson and Seb Goldfinch, seem to exist in the same stratosphere as folk such as Luke Abbott, whose Holkham Drones album provided me with a means to send my then baby son to slumberland on long journeys through glorious countryside, and I will be forever grateful for that reprieve!
Life In Analogue is a similarly hypnotic (albeit far more varied) work, though the chances of it now sending a now hyperactive seven year old even vaguely bleary eyed are probably somewhat remote, I suspect…

No matter, for the pair’s first outing for Bubblewrap is full of dreamy aural landscapes like ‘Lliwiau‘, which feels rather like we are bathing in the most natural of spring waters while staring up in awe at the beauty of a Swiss mountain. Or a Welsh one at least. This is due, at least in part, to the breathy vocals of the wonderful Alys Williams, which elevates an already fine composition into something capable of leading our minds gently into a somewhat nirvanic state. A Class A drug but without the comedown, if you will.

The whole shenanigan kicks off with ‘Glosh‘, which sprinkles its love dust over everyone before going all Disclosure on us, like the local barber is shaving the back of your neck whilst performing intricate dance moves in a surprisingly graceful manner. There are certainly shades of some of the ‘big hitters’ here too, the longest track ‘Cage Of Light‘, amongst others, evoking comparison’s with the likes of Massive Attack, all the while retaining its own sense of self – you could never level any claims of copyist grandeur at Cotton Wolf; those soul-stirring swathes of strings give them a niche all of their own.

One can quite confidently reason that Kraftwerk have played a major role soundtracking the lives of Robertson and Goldfinch too, specifically towards the closing stages of Life In Analogue, where the pulsating ‘While Night Grows‘ evokes Karl Bartos at his very best. This is probably the key track, for me, as it feels like the journey from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood and perhaps even beyond. A lot of the compositions here do possess that gentle otherworldliness that makes for a compelling listen and only improves with subsequent spins, especially those with Williams as the vocal helm.

Often, this is musical cinematography at its best, and as a result, Life In Analogue is a real winner of an album, especially if you’d rather escape the real world into a fantasial dream version instead. And let’s face it, these days, who doesn’t?

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GIITTV: Video Of The Week #30: Monkoora – Bocx

Monkoora aka Scottish artist Julie Fern Crawford just released her awesome new EP ‘Nuclear BB’ last week, and it’s rammed full of brightly imaginative playful off the wall femme-tronica, that’s at times brutal, at times funny, at others skewed attitude is bold, dynamic and artistically exciting. Lyrically exploring sexual politics and identity, existentialist philosophy and desire, standout track ‘Bocx’ is a miniature personal diatribe on a jumbled up, unjust, materialistic, ‘fucked up world’.

Monkoora gleefully mashes together elements of psychedelia, hip-hop, chiptune and rave, she blends rusty saws, autoharps, whistles and detuned ukuleles with crisp, lucid beats and multi-layered vocal harmonies distorted vocoder hooks. It’s the sound of breaking conventions of pop down and rebuilding it with your bare hands, it’s the sound of wanting progress but watching it take ‘fucking ages’, chewing up and spitting out the strictures and expectations of roles and spitting them out. We have the premiere of the video, watch it above.

2016 was a big year – she composed the music for four short ‘Survivor’ films for the charity Rape Crisis, produced a short video for BBC The Social, and was nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2016 Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs). Her debut show at Glasgow’s Old Hairdressers was accompanied by art from I’ll Be Your Mirror and Kris Kesiak, and since then, she has supported Let’s Eat Grandma, Shield Patterns, DJ Rebecca Vasmant, and played at the Havana Glasgow Film Festival.

Dates:

3rd June – Hidden Door festival
7th June – Hug and Pint (with Kite Base – Ayse Hassan from Savages’ new side project, tbc)
12th August – Clamjamfry festival

More TBA

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GIITTV: Honeyblood – The Crescent, York, 24/04/2017

Honeyblood have just stolen a march on Jeremy Corbyn. No sooner had the Labour leader announced that were his party to win the next general election they would introduce four new bank holidays, the Scots duo have gone and reconstructed the entire working week. Monday is now officially the new weekend.

It is suddenly Saturday night all over again in The Crescent as the community venue is transformed into one big non-stop party; it is hot, very sticky, and the place has become one sweltering mass of cheerful humanity. And it is all down to Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers.

Since last seeing Honeyblood almost two years ago now, Tweeddale and Myers have clearly placed their collective foot firmly on the creative and dynamic gas for they are barely recognisable from the unit who appeared in that tent at Deer Shed Festival.  In the interim, they may well have released their second album, Babes Never Die – where they jettisoned the low-fi template of its self-titled predecessor for a much tougher, more independent spirit – but it is the huge spurt in their individual and joint belief where the changes are surely felt most.

Launching straight into the friendship-gone-bad karma of ‘Justine, Misery Queen’ and arriving some 13 songs later at the rattling valedictory salute of ‘Killer Bangs’, Honeyblood career through the complexities of human relationships with a smiling defiance smeared across their face and an undeniable strength in their heart.  

We get the new record in its entirety. You really don’t want to get far too close to ‘Ready For The Magic’ for fear of catching its highly contagious strain of pop-punk fever. And whilst the dreamy somnambulism of ‘Walking At Midnight’ does offer a chance to draw breath, the rest of this powerful set is peppered with fierce, full-blooded, foot-to-the-floor belters, fit-to-bursting at their melodic little seams. And, hell, if all of that isn’t quite enough, just to add to the celebratory party atmosphere we even get the chance to wish Cat’s cousin Julia a communal ‘Happy Birthday’.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Honeyblood at The Crescent in York can be found right HERE

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GIITTV: Join the #SaveWomanbyStreet march this Saturday in Cardiff!

This Saturday, organisers of the Save Womanby Street campaign are encouraging people to take to the streets to preserve the beating heart of the Welsh capital’s music scene. Following news of the closure of Four Bars at the start of the year, the threat to the Full Moon club and other businesses that come from a proposed Wetherspoons hotel and proposed adjacent potential property developments to Clwb Ifor Bach (including other factors such as gentrification and austerity that make the environment tough for live venues) a petition was started that’s reached around 8,000 signatures and the support of the likes of Frank Turner and Gruff Rhys.

Since then a positive campaign has been waged by the folks behind Save Womanby Street mobilising, venues, music fans, promoters and musicians around a very worthy cause of preserving the music quarter of Cardiff. They have been encouraging concerned residents to send letters to their councilors and now they seek to gather representatives from all political parties, urging them to make commitments to enshrine the streets value in the cities music offering and in the long term looking for a wider strategy for music culture in Cardiff and Wales. Speaking as a music fan, writer and promoter the existence of these venues and businesses is crucial to the viability of a vibrant and diverse music scene and nightlife in this city, and vital to musicians who are just starting out.So I personally urge you to join in support of the march if you can this Saturday!

Meeting on Womanby Street from 4pm and begin the march at 5pm. There will be gigs, there will be events, they will celebrate the street across the weekend.

Save Womanby Street organisers are urging you to join them to add weight to the cause this weekend “On Saturday 29th April, we will be marching on Cardiff City Hall to demand protections for our live music venues. Womanby Street is the beating heart of live music in south Wales. If this street doesn’t exist, your next favourite band wouldn’t either.

We ask all Cardiff venues, bands, music lovers to join us on Saturday to march in solidarity and celebrate this wonderful place. Womanby Street is under attack, we ask for you all to step up and join us.”

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GIITTV: Gallops – Bronze Mystic [Blood & Biscuits]

Just a year after the release of their debut album Yours Sincerely Dr Hardcore in 2012, Wrexham noiseniks Gallops split up. Three years later, almost to the day, they decided that the band still had more to do, and announced their return. Their time away has not been waster. Where Dr Hardcore was brittle and spiky and in debt to math rock experimentalism, Bronze Mystic feels weightier, more sure-footed and muscular.

Sonically the main shift has been from an angular, more guitar-focused sound to something with more of an electronic sheen. Mark Huckridge from the band puts some of this down to a house move. Apparently he now lives next to a car park where the “throbbing sub-bass of boy racers has helped inform the rhythmic ideas for the record”. This much is apparent from the start: ‘Shakma’ has real swagger throbbing away behind the plucked guitar and flickering electronics. The relative isolation of Wrexham from the bigger music scenes of the north means they’ve been free to experiment without much of an outside influence. This has led to the retro-futuristic sci fi and video game sounds of the likes of ‘Pale Force’ and ‘Graverobber’ giving the band more of an individual feel. Where their previous record felt like it fitted somewhat with a lot of instrumental, math rock bands, Bronze Mystic stands Gallops in a much more unique position. The album has more to do with Battles‘ more interesting moments than Foals‘ early work, whereas previously it felt like they were starting from the latter and straining for the former.

It’s an exciting development, and where most bands would struggle to deliver on such praise, Gallops exceed expectations. The album is packed with energy and ideas, the slow build of ‘Meta’ a highlight of an album full of them. Placid moments of Blade Runner-style soundscapes are intercut with jagged sparks of synth and thumping bass. There’s a lot to admire here, but just as importantly, a lot that you can dance to as well. And live they can deliver in spades, so don’t miss them. You’ll be hearing a lot more from Gallops if their newfound enthusiasm is anything to go on.

 

Bronze Mystic is released on 21 April on Blood & Biscuits.

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GIITTV: EXCLUSIVE: Sisteray ‘Queen’s English’ Video Premiere

‘Queen’s English’ is taken from ’15 Minutes’, the new recording project from Londoners Sisteray. A brutish anti-brexit guitar song, with an urgent guitar pop sound that hints at the likes of the Smiths and the Jam: at once retro and yet fresh with their attitude. Both the song and video sum up the frustration and anger at a system that doffs its cap to the idiots in charge, we have the premiere below.

The band’s new recording project entitled ’15 Minutes’ is out now on Vallace records, takes its inspiration from the famous Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Produced and mixed by Rory Attwell (Test Icicles, The Vaccines, Palma Violets) at Lightship 95, East London, at exactly ‘15 minutes’ of music over 5 songs.

Guitarist Connolly adds, ‘Now more than ever, people seem to be given 15 minutes and 15 minutes only. It’s not an album and it’s not a single. It’s simply a statement about the times we are living in.’

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GIITTV: OPINION: Styles over Substance

Boy bands and girl groups have been splitting up almost as long as boy bands and girl groups have been around. As the dust settles, when the fans’ weeping and gnashing of teeth subside, the popularity and commercial success of a now splintered band ensures a ready-made audience (or market – to be more mercenary about it) for any individual member that wishes to continue making music.

We know that great artists can and have come from pop bands. Michael Jackson, George Michael and Beyoncé all started their careers in bands. No one would dispute their contribution to modern music. Even if someone doesn’t enjoy acclaim straight away, critical attitudes can change given time. When Justin Timberlake first started releasing music as a solo artist universal acclaim didn’t just fall into his lap. Once presented with knowledge that his creative partnership with Timbaland was so collaborative, hats were doffed in Timberlake’s direction.

That said, creative input is not a necessary factor when judging the work of a girl or boy band. A succession of assured and varied pop singles can do wonders for critical acclaim – just ask Girls Aloud or Sugababes (versions 2 and 3, mostly). Good will is extended to former members of these groups, should any more of them emerge with solo projects. One Direction, while having had a similar birth to Girls Aloud, have never been afforded the same recognition. But being huge, especially in America, means that music press and pop commentators are eager to find out what they would do next.

Zayn Malik jumped ship before the split happened and was first out of the traps with Pillowtalk – a thoroughly modern r’n’b song, with all the detail and high production standards of a Drake or The Weeknd single. After that, Niall Horan brought out the acoustic This Town  in the slipstream of Ed Sheeran. Louis Tomlinson was next, providing vocals for a Steve Aoki club tune. So far, so unremarkable.

Two weeks ago Harry Styles released his debut single – Sign of the Times. Details emerged in March that his forthcoming album would include nods to David Bowie and Queen. While that has yet to be heard, all we have to judge him on is two songs – the single and the bluesy, country-tinged Ever Since New York, which he performed on Saturday Night Live at the weekend.

With six credited writers and two producers it’s difficult to give Styles the kudos (if any is on offer) for Sign of the Times. While some of us know that great things can come from pop stars working with great writers, holders of more militant anti-pop sentiment are only too happy to point out that this is music created by committee and that anyone who likes it is falling for marketing. These charges are all true. This is a product manufactured to do a job and it does that job. Whereas most music is contrived, Sign of the Times feels a touch calculated. Two of the six credited writers also turn their hand to producing and were drafted in to engineer the song to exact specifications. These men – Jeff Bhasker and Tyler Johnson – have worked with a dazzling array of clients; Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Drake, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys, Robin Thicke, Mary J Blige, Lana Del Rey, Pink, Taylor Swift, Dido, One Republic and John Legend. Jeff Bhasker has five Grammys sitting on his mantelpiece.

Given those artists as markers for the kind of song that Styles might release, it’s refreshing to note that it doesn’t very much sound like one might expect. If you’ve not heard it, it’s well over 5 minutes long, begins for all the world like Stereophonics attempting an Embrace piano ballad but happily, it builds from there to a stout-hearted rock ballad that has had people citing Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Oasis and Meatloaf. Most interestingly it has a few magnificent touches that prevent it from plodding the whole way through. It’s not something a One Direction fan would expect. But defying expectations is one of this song’s strengths. It tries hard to be epic and almost achieves that.

On the downside, lyrically it is poor. It spans the range from trite to peculiar. We’re supposed to be comforted by lines like “Everything’ll be all right“, “We don’t talk enough“, “We gotta get away from here” and other useless advice. The falsetto sections seem strangely fixated by bullets. It’s here that the writers really should have made more effort. Pair this with all the touchstones of ‘70s rock – massed choirs, strings, double-tracked vocals, pre-chorus drum fills – and all indications are that Sign of the Times is nothing more than a well studied pastiche. It does build rather well and depending on how generous you are, it does a reasonable job displaying some dynamism in the top line vocal.

But Sign of the Times hasn’t been released in a vacuum. The timing of this release creates a context within which it can be assessed. The charts of 2017 have been deluged with Ed Sheeran songs and tropical house tracks. If you don’t know what that is – it’s a sort of chill out genre with syncopated and exotic percussion, Balearic guitar, and (eugh) pan-pipe. Even some of Sheeran’s recent songs have been infected by that sound. The Top 40 has not been this homogenous since the 1950s – so much so that when Steps re-emerged with their disco-tastic Scared of the Dark in March it was greeted with joy in many quarters. Sign of the Times has been attracting praise purely because it doesn’t sound like everything else around at the moment.

There’s also been a backlash against Styles. Early reports of his immanent debut contained references to David Bowie. An emotive proposition given that Bowie’s status has almost now been elevated to god-like since his passing, last year. There may be vague stylistic similarities but no one is seriously thinking that this guy could follow in Bowie’s footsteps. For comparison, someone like Lady Gaga was much closer to being the new David Bowie for about two years at the turn of the decade. And that suggestion didn’t happen after just one song. In essence, and to be generous almost to the point of apologetic, Harry Styles hasn’t paid his dues yet.

On top of that, it can feel pretty galling to any emerging or struggling artist to see the likes of Styles being handed a successful solo career on a plate. He didn’t have to write his own song, he’s had oceans of coverage, a spot on Saturday Night Live and the controversial comparison to Mr Bowie to attract listeners who would not normally be interested in music from a one-time boy band member. Then again, for well over 50 years careers, coverage and stardom have landed at the feet of a multitude of individuals and bands that may not have necessarily worked for it. You can either take this as part of the reality of the music industry or continue to bemoan that fact and in the process become an old grouch. Choosing the first option allows you to be unencumbered by the idea of authenticity and perhaps even – shock horror – enjoy some of pop music’s riches.

In one sense, Harry could be framed as the next step in the approximation process that went The Beatles – Oasis – Embrace; a spot that has been occupied by Robbie Williams at various times over the last two decades but never quite had this much classicism piled on top. Sign of the Times is a sort-of 7th generation photocopy of Hey Jude; a tick box exercise for every aspect of an epic rock ballad.

He’s got lucky, though. Our standards have dropped and the bar has been set low. Right now, ears are ready for it more than they have been in a long time. He’s taking advantage of that and it’s hard not hope for a new, interesting, male pop star when we’ve had precious few in recent years. Harry Styles might just have what it takes.

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