Kristian Bell – Backfire Album Review

Cable Code – 2021

Kristian Bell, best known for providing distinctive lead vocals and guitar for his grungy/psychedelic band The Wytches, has released his first solo album, entitled Backfire on the band’s own label Cable Code Records. Since the release of The Wytches’ debut album Annabel Dream Reader in 2014, the band have been consistently working with a DIY ethic that bleeds into their music perfectly, making it feel all the more genuine. The three albums and handful of EPs that the band have released since their formation have demonstrated Bell’s ability to perform with a raw and deranged sounding intensity, whilst at times retaining a strong tenderness and delicacy, the latter informing Bell’s debut.

In 2019 Bell and fellow bandmate Mark Breed released Stereo Buzz, under the aptly named Mark and Kristian Band, which took a distinctly softer approach than the sound of The Wytches, often weaving between slow, drawn-out psychedelic guitars and sprinklings of humour in the lyrics (for example “Smoke it to the Roach”). Sonically, Bell’s solo album is more reminiscent of this project, yet retains its own sense of individuality and maturity, showing drastic lyrical growth from the early days of The Wytches.

Album opener and lead single “That’s A Lovely Thing” is reminiscent of nostalgic 90s rock, seeping with a homemade sensitivity and warmth. The guitar tones paired with jolting drums combine perfectly to accompany Bell’s voice, which is well-suited to the overarching sentimental atmosphere. Another standout track is “Backfire”, which often feels like a deranged-sounding Foxygen track. Bell takes an approach that harks back to Annabel Dream Reader, allowing his voice to mutate and move through the track with little regard to sounding polished. This grunginess is equally addictive and mesmerising to listen to.

The album weaves through these moments of intensity with relaxed, melancholic tracks that feel like a musical representation of the days slowing down and drawing in at 4pm; Bell could not have chosen a better time to release the album. Tracks like “Have to Ask” and “Walking Song” demonstrate Bell’s ability to sing in an effortlessly higher and gentle pitch, accompanied by slow and strategic guitars. The textural palette of “Walking Song” is so intricately crafted alongside the sadness of Kristian’s voice, which makes it another memorable moment on Backfire.

The album could have benefitted from more songs with the same intensity of “Backfire” as opposed to the majority of the tracks having a similar tempo, which leaves the album feeling slightly stagnant in the middle. But fear not, the album picks itself up quickly, with “Spotlight” echoing the guitars of Mazzy Star, and the unforgettable “Dog in the Ditch” demonstrating rich albeit lugubrious story-telling.

Bell combines the melancholy sounds of influences such as Elliott Smith and Big Star with the trademark gothic undertones that are ever-present in all of his work. From Annabel Dream Reader to Backfire, Bell has proved himself as one of the most genuine and hard-working musicians in the industry, consistently putting out work that feels truly authentic. Backfire is an overall strong debut album from Kristian Bell, and more solo work is highly anticipated.

Listen to the album below!

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Chartreuse share new single “Only You”

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Chartreuse have released new single “Only You”, the second single from their upcoming EP Is It Autumn Already?, set to be released on November 19th. This follows on from “Things Are Changing Too Quickly” released earlier in the year.

Chartreuse continue to be utterly entrancing in every aspect. The darkness that lies within their songs is something truly haunting and captivating at the same time. With melodies that roll over of crooning piano lines and cinematic violin sweeps, Chartreuse capture desperation and intoxication at its core. Fleeting from upbeat breakdowns to melancholic passages, you can never tell where they will shift to next. “Only You” is like driving a winding road down a dark lane at night, the hidden unknowns are lurking waiting to be uncovered by the beams of sound that pass over them.

Listen to the new single below!

Witch Fever announce debut EP ‘Reincarnate’, share new single

Photo by Debbie Ellis 

Manchester’s Witch Fever have today announced their debut EP Reincarnate, set to be released on October 15th and on 12″ vinyl on December 3rd. Pre-order here. The announcement comes alongside the release of new single “In The Resurrect” which will appear on the EP. This follows on from previous single “Reincarnate“.

Speaking about the EP singer Amy said:

“This is the first time we’ll be releasing something longer than a single so it’s very exciting for us! The EP doesn’t really have a singular meaning behind it, it’s a mix of what our favourite songs to date were! Some of them we wrote and finished during the lockdown and some are a few years old. The overall lyrical content is a cross between biblical and horror imagery as a way to explore empowerment, catharsis and anger. It’s about owning my sexuality, my body and channelling my anger through music. With every piece of music we write we want to break the boundaries of a typical ‘Witch Fever’ song and push ourselves as musicians to keep evolving and getting out of our comfort zones! The more brutal the better!”

They have also announced that they will be supporting the political grime meets punk duo Bob Vylan on their UK Tour at the end of this month through to August, and are still set to play Wave Before The Kick In The Chest in Leeds, and Burn It Down in Devon. Tickets available here.

Listen to the new single below!

Tracklisting:

1. Reincarnate
2. In The Resurrect
3. Abject
4. In Birth
5. Initiation
6. Bully Boy

Oversize share new single “Drive”

Photo by Connor Laws

Bristol 5-piece Oversize have today shared new single “Drive”. Formed just before the pandemic took hold the band sought to refine a sound that draws inspiration from the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr. whilst tying in elements of New Wave and Shoegaze.

Kicking into action with a grinding yet subtly melancholic riff, Overdrive’s new single is packed with full blown untampered energy. Their mixture of emo-core and shoegaze is to be marvelled at, these boys are ones to watch.

Listen to the new single!

Fiddlehead – Between The Richness Album Review

Run For Cover Records – 2021

The term ‘Supergroup’ more often than not is associated with one time projects that might seem interesting at the time but ultimately do not live up to the expectations or sounds of the band members main musical projects. This is not the case with Fiddlehead. After beloved emo group Title Fight announced their indefinite hiatus in 2017, hardcore fans were craving more bands that channelled Fugazi, Jawbreaker and Lifetime just as they did.

Formed by members of Have Heart, Basement, Youth Funeral and Big Contest, Fiddlehead’s first record Springtime and Blind, which came out in 2018, filled that niche incredibly well. I was lucky enough to catch them at the New Cross Inn on their December UK tour where they were welcomed with open arms and a fuck load of stage-dives along the way.

For vocalist Pat Flynn, grief has no expiry date, no time limit and absolutely no one’s place to tell someone to “Get over it”. Alluding to the passing of Flynn’s father, we have a life affirming intro to Fiddlehead’s second full length record on “Grief Motief”, a quote from poet E.E Cummings; “I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart. I am never without it. Anywhere I go, you go.” Following this, the Boston quintet launches into hard hitting instrumentation, Flynn giving us the long term symptoms grief we all must face when faced with a sudden loss of life; “Wake up and fall apart, sleep in and fall apart.” 

At face value, the songs follow a similar structure from last time, albeit with slower tempos in some areas, and Flynn occasionally unleashing his shouted vocals, not heard since members of Have Heart released a one off EP under the name ‘Free’ in 2015. The guitars still have that signature melancholic rock tone that feels familiar but just as impactful at the same time. Guitarist Alex Henery has a bigger role in terms of backing vocals, especially on “Get My Mind Right” and “Million Times”. Much like in Basement, his vocal contributions serve mostly to intensify the chorus rather than a dual singer-songwriter dynamic. They work incredibly well and help solidify the catchiness of each sticky vocal hook into aggressive chants when the group inevitably start playing live shows again.

As an academic himself, “Down University” is a recognition of the pressures in education to succeed painting an all too familiar picture in your head with the line; “Rising pressure and stress to measure up to standards set so high in your mind”. On the upside, Flynn urges the listener that all the prestigious American colleges listed are merely names, with the following mantra “You are worth more than your degree”. It’s a relatable tune that will undoubtedly bring comfort to those like myself who have struggled or are struggling to succeed and make their families proud. Shawn Costa’s drum fills are a notable highlight on this track, giving you the energy to jump off the nearest thing in your room and pretending that shows are still happening as normal.

“Stay in the Blue” and closer “Heart to Heart” show Flynn directly addressing his son Richard, who shares the same name as his late father. It is an optimistic side to the songwriting that feels warm and hopeful as well as deeply relatable. These songs are not only meant to be a time capsule of sorts but could also be passed on to anyone who’s recently brought a child into the world. These cuts also resonate the most emotionally, with gritty melodies and ear-worm worthy charm.

Ultimately, the world needed more Fiddlehead after Springtime and Blind, and we got more than we asked for, helping all of us to regain balance and catharsis in these uncertain times. I have no doubt in my mind that with time this will go down as one of the finest emo/post hardcore records of the 2020’s thus far.

girl in red – if i could make it go quiet Album Review

AWAL – 2021

Norweigan bedroom pop queer icon Marie Ulven aka girl in red has had quite the anticipation built up coming into this album. From her early days of releasing the Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 EP’s Ulven gained a following for her catchy, warm and explosively queer bedroom pop recordings. She was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2020 Norwegian Grammy Awards and her singles “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” and “We Fell In Love In October” are certified gold in America. She now returns with her debut full length album that is bundled with queer love, open sexuality and more than a few infectious melodies.

The first thing you realise about this album is Ulven’s transition from breezy guitar tunes to weaving in elements of hyper pop to create ballads of love and longing. Following on the trend of the likes of Claud and beabadoobee, Ulven has made sure her sound is exciting as possible. From the moment this album starts with “Serotonin” you’re welcomed in with music that’s travelling at 100 miles an hour. Moving through passages of glowing riffs, rapped verses and distorted solos there’s never a moment you don’t feel like you want to run around in the rain whilst crying. And this explosive sound is one that continues throughout most of this album. On the candid “Did You Come” Ulver wastes no time building intensity over rolling beats, cascading guitars and downcast piano lines as she explores jealousy of sexual ability with an unreserved mark. “Roll your tongue, make her come 20 times, Don’t tell me to relax or try to get me back, I’m packing up you bag” she declares with an abrasive unforgiving drive. It’s in these candid moments that Ulven is gloriously defining a new generation of sexual identity by being openly plain-spoken.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this album is Ulven’s newfound anthemic songwriting flair. On “You Stupid Bitch” Ulven moulds together elements of pop punk and indie rock to create the ultimate lovesick banger. It’s chorus of “You stupid bitch, can’t you see, the perfect one for you is me” will be sure to be belted out by adoring fans at what will surely be an eventual big run of festival lineups. And on “Rue” Ulven blends turns the folk ballad outset into a dystopian ballad of intoxication. “I try to get it off my mind, to leave it all behind, don’t wanna make it worse, i’m gonna make it worse” she declares as the haunting soundscape around her builds. She’s locked into this connection that she knows is doomed to fail, yet strives at every moment to push it towards reality.

Even in its most tender moments Ulven brings every sound to devastating heights. On “midnight love” she builds through swaying layers of piano rolls and plucked guitars. All whilst the club-like beats pounds like a tender heart in the background, eventually crashing into a sea of impassioned and reverb drenched vocals. She even evokes the nostalgia of early 2000’s pop on “I’ll Call You Mine”, through its swinging beat, Ibiza dance floor infused slow burn chords and emphatic emotional bursts she turns tender longing into an assured queer anthem. With the climax finding that delicate balance between intensity and unrequited tenderness.

Towards the backend of this album though Ulven seems to reach an emotional plateau in which the heights and depths of the opening run of tracks seem to be dulled down and feel slightly underwhelming. On “Apartment 402” Ulven looks to lay find an answer as she contemplates her place in the world. But sonically this song doesn’t offer much else that hasn’t been heard earlier in the album, with the cascading soundscape and exaggerated piano. The intensity of the song never seems to reach its climax, rather just fading out after a few verses of beat driven disparity. And closer “it would feel like this” the album transitions into the closing credits as strutting violins swoon over a melancholic piano line that just feels slightly too awkward to big the closing finale of an album that’s built on emotional intensity. As if you’ve reached the peak of this emotional mountain and now are listening to the music in the elevator on the ride down.

With that being said it’s clear to see how and why Ulven has gained the level of acclaim she has up to this point. By spearheading a new generation of openly queer storytelling through power ballads of love and regret she’s furthering the movement of ability to love freely. And that’s what this album is at its core. A story of love, regret, longing and sexual frustration set to a backdrop of explosive soundscapes.