Glass Animals – Zaba

Under the guidance of new label Wolf Tone and legendary producer Paul Epworth (who’s worked with Adele and Friendly Fires amongs other high-profile artists), the Oxford quartet have produced a debut album with such a broad sonic palette it’s difficult not to completely lose yourself in it. Just a small disclaimer before you do so though: run this through big speakers or decent headphones – it’s necessary if you want to experience the full effect of their considered arrangements.

But, first things first, it’s important to note that the album’s title is derived from William Steig’s fantastical novel The Zabajaba Jungle where a boy embarks on a dreamy adventure through a vividly imagined jungle full of fantastical creatures and visceral vegetation. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re looking for ethereal escapism. If you can’t read, Zaba does a spectacular job of crafting a similar environment to get lost in. It opens with ‘Flip’ where mellow textures set the mood and provide a foundation for the track to build from as it swells uncontrollably.

‘Black Mambo’ however takes you somewhere more serene where treble-filled tinkles rattle around in a more barren soundscape. But lead single ‘Pools’ encapsulates the philosophy surrounding the album best. Tribal drums provide an earthy spine while woozy synths and gauzy guitars add gloss. And beneath Dave Bayley’s breathy vocals, you’ll find brittle critters scuttling along the forest floor with vitality.

As you traverse farther into the dense jungle, you realise that Glass Animals aren’t just another new band with promise. Their appreciation for texture and timbre is not only lustfully executed but arranged with a sleek balance that ensures every click and hum plays an important part of building a vibrant but believable soundscape. Sometimes, tracks can be accused to creating a world that’s too distant and intangible. Close your eyes with Zaba coursing through your ears though and you’ll feel as if you can touch every layer and sense the life that it breathes.

So when the ‘Intruxx’ breaks in with its limited vocals, you have all the space needed to admire the reverb-swathed layers as it leads into the second half of the album. ‘Hazey’ has a delicately judged blend of rumbling bass and glassy twinkles that seem to bounce off each other in symbiotic harmony.

After finding yourself in the percussive density of ‘Wyrd’, their oldest track ‘Cocoa Hooves’ provides a welcome breather where instead of fighting impenetrable vegetation and busy insects, you can just float above the canopy in comfort. But the comfort is truly resolved in the tranquility of ‘JDNT’ where mellow vocals waft across warbling synths and that trademark twinkle that glistens in most of their tracks.

Despite the colourful journey Glass Animals take you on, each song occupies a specific terrain of the album’s soundscape in the same way the layers do for the each track. You can appreciate each territory as its own or all of them together examining their relationship with each other. And that highlights not only the mature confidence that Glass Animals exude but also their comprehension for the vitreous bonds sounds share. It’s almost as if they’ve found a way make noises appear sentient…

 

You can stream Zaba on their interactive website right here.

Adult Jazz – Spook

Even with the plethora of sounds we have on tap, my ungrateful ears still struggle to remain attentive. Not even Glass Animals’ debut album was doing the trick – don’t worry, it’ll still be reviewed. But another earmarked band knew what I wanted.

With a dreamy aesthetic that drifts aimlessly from one intangible moment to the next, Adult Jazz’s ‘Spook’ is a wonderfully crafted 9-minute gem. It’s ridiculous to think these guys only played their first live gig back in November considering the maturity and confidence that exudes throughout this track. The swirling transitions are seamless while the sense of yearning is borders on being transcendent.

So if you are ungratefully greedy, there’s more than enough textural beauty here for you to drift off too.

Phoria – Emanate

Despite the abundance of bands and delightful sounds experienced over the Great Escape weekend, Phoria were, unsurprisingly, a particularly memorable highlight (amongst others). This week, we’re bringing you their latest track ‘Emanate’ which conjures a transcendent quality as if born from the core of a distant world or in the case of their gig at TGE, the foundations of St. Mary’s Church.

Brewed from their typically understated intros, ‘Emanate’ finds itself nestling in soothing textures punctuated by hand-clappy beats. Be patient however, and you’ll find yourself launched into a euphoric climax. Like most instances of euphoria, it’s short but that brief moment of bliss is enough to detach you from the present and on to a parallel timeframe.

Within the cavernous space of a church where the natural reverb heightened their sound even further, Phoria make truly spine-tingling music. Somewhere in the not-too-distant haze, a debut album is looming. Loom faster.

The Great Escape Festival 2014

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While the wind and rain lashes across the south coast trying its best to dampen everyone’s mood, spirits remained high. It’s a festival and there’s music everywhere! Even trendy clothes store, Beyond Retro, hosted a handful of bands on Saturday. No reason to be glum here then. But if the afternoon’s rain wasn’t enough to usher me into shelter then the abundance of music certainly did.

With such feeble decision-making skills (in fairness, the number of choices was bewildering) there was only ever one place to go – the grungy Green Door Store which lies in the belly of Brighton station. German Haus put together the afternoon’s set complete with free pretzels for added authenticity. And with BBC’s Vic Galloway hosting, it’s no surprise that the German music scene is garnering serious attention again. In fact, Germany are now the third largest producer of music.

The pick of the afternoon is between CLAIRE’s powerful electro-pop or Still Parade’s self-titled dream-folk. Vocalist Josie-Claire Bürkle’s was wonderfully endearing with her sweet but subtly timid demeanour when speaking. When performing however, she was gleefully energetic and could have done with more space to spread her wings and stomp her feet. But if you prefer your electronic textures to be more extra-terrestrial, Still Parede’s elongated atmospherics and spacious arrangements gave their tracks life that every NASA scientist yearns to find.

However, transporting us to distant and beautifully untouched worlds is bit of a specialty for Phoria. You can imagine that under the cavernous ceiling of St. Mary’s Church, their atmospheric post-rock was accentuated further still with a climactic quality that could rival any religious parable. But there’s no time to dwell. Some furious legwork was required.

Firstly, a quick dash down the coast to see Fyfe at Digital. But their late start meant I had to leave the moody electronica behind just as I was getting into it. Next up was a short journey to The Warren for a long-overdue experience of Russian Red live. Lourdes Hernández was expectedly twee on stage commanding each song with her wistful vocals whilst staring into the distance with a forlorn look personifying each of her tracks.

No time for a drink yet though with a scuttle towards Komedia to hear Pawws’ 80s-influenced eletro-pop. But the vibey synths might belie the lyrics about relationship issues. It’s not all gloomy though, especially when Lucy Taylor therapeutically sings, “I can make you feel better” in her alluringly high-pitched tone. And if you think you recognise her (like I did) that’s because you might – she played keyboard on Kele Okereke’s solo tour and the flute on some live shows of MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’.

Such is the cyclical nature of a day, I ended up back at Green Door Store. With the venue rapidly filling up in anticipation of East India Youth later on, a thick balminess hung in the room and not even the breezy folk-pop of Tennis could alleviate it. Grumbling Fur’s psychedelic electronica suited the venue much more. The duo have an innate ability to judge each texture perfectly and use them conjure the most beguiling layers.

They say “save the best ‘til last”. And it could have been that way if East India Youth wasn’t ravaged by sound issues. It wasn’t even just balance problems – the bass guitar didn’t come through at all. But William Doyle’s frustration with modern technology poetically spilled into his performance with the guitar being thrown to the ground in a manner that Paul Simonon would have sympathised with. In the end, he slumped to ground fiddling with disobedient pedals before finally leaving with a “fuck this shit” look on his face.

Day two began at Audio with September Girls. The Dublin five-piece have taken 60s girl-group pop and given it a smoky, purple glaze (or maybe that was just the lighting) and cut it with fuzzy guitars and reverb-soaked vocals. Bassist Paula Cullen has serious swagger and look that made sure I daren’t make eye contact.

The sunny warmth of the afternoon summoned a yearning for an outdoors gig. And if the feel-good light of the mid-afternoon wasn’t enough, Oscar’s DIY approach to miserable indie-pop immediately endeared, as he pleads, “I can’t live without you” with a Morrisey-esque croon. The candid lyrics couldn’t have suited the bare Shipwright’s Yard more – it literally looks like somebody’s garage.

Theo Verney’s scuzzy rock would have been fitted right in but no; Coalition was the choice and most definitely the wrong one. With long hair draped over his face and a gnarly gurn, the pedal-stomping local personifies garage bands better than a garage band playing in a garage.

Although it lacks the authenticity of St. Mary’s Church, the brooding sound of Lyla Foy was affectionately embraced by the Unitarian Church. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste though as people sporadically trickle out but the saccharine singer-songwriter nonchalantly reacts, “Oh yeah, fuck off. Go.” Perhaps they couldn’t handle how vulnerable the songs were as they hung naked in the tranquil air.

Anyone who stayed for the next band would have experienced a sharp and sudden sonic adjustment as Oy took to the stage with tribal rhythms and stories inspired by travels to Africa. Weaved between the feet-stomping beats were pulsating layers of electronics that intoxicated and enthralled in equal measure. Everyone becomes energised and beckoned off their seats while vocalist Joy Frempong flicks a small doll to trigger visual cues.

The end of the day was bit of mess. Not even the privileges of a delegate pass can bypass a lengthy one-in-one-out queue for Royal Blood. Luckily, I got into the Corn Exchange just in time to see the Brighton-duo launch a predictably relentless assault on my ears helped no doubt by the wall amps surrounding them. Ben Thatcher was hitting the drums as if David Cameron’s face was on the skins. It’s really no surprise that the duo have arms like tree trunks.

But while fortune was on my side for Royal Blood, The Haunt had a queue that didn’t move for over an hour due to a rather tasty three bands comprised of Public Access TV, special guests Peace and Fat White Family. This is a problem that blights The Great Escape every year and is one major reason why they will never be able to charge premium prices for standard tickets. A disappointing end to day two indeed.

When you’ve been walking around all day, The Great Escape really isn’t any less fatiguing than a typical field festival despite the luxury of modern amenities. There was a temptation to have a lie-in but I had to see Fé after missing them the night before due to my persistence to see Fat White Family.

It was worth it though as Fé caressed the Komedia crowd with their wistful pop songs that would be perfect for long, sun-dappled afternoons in the middle of nowhere. It’s rare to find guitar-pop that doesn’t sound stale but here it is simultaneously being upbeat and pensive. The reverie continued with Blessa’s shoegazey dream-pop punctuated by soaring guitars and Olivia Neller’s mawkish vocals. That pretty much set the precedent for much of the day.

Belgian singer-songwriter The Bony King Of Nowhere (which might sound like a Nordic metal band) weaved poignant folk songs so soft and quiet that the entrance located right next to the stage proved to be an inconvenient distraction. Bram Vanparys conjured a sound that made you yearn to be somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was far, far away. And there was something poetic about seeing him stand as this isolated figure singing vulnerable songs of love.

Afterwards, CHAMPS also summoned similar emotions; their melancholy folk-pop sound reflects the solitude of life on the Isle of Wight where the brothers grew up. You’re left with a sense of longing but you’re just not quite sure what. Probably love and human warmth. On stage, their introspective stares gave them a Simon & Garfunkel dynamic while the leftie, rightie guitars provided symmetry that only added to their poetic aesthetic. The brothers once told The Guardian “We both love that sense of awe you get hearing voices in a cathedral”. Well here are, listening to your dreamy voices in a church.

To be honest, finishing the festival like that would have suited me perfectly. As a habitual dreamer, there’s something about music that can encapsulate a world our brains can only conceive whilst sleeping. Instead, any lingering dreams were shattered by Trust’s dark synth-pop that shook the Prince Albert off its foundations before Shiny Darkly calmed the venue down a bit with a sound that perfectly reflects their name.

The very last band though was Clean Bandit. Their popularity meant a one-in-one-out policy was inevitable but entry was imminent with MØ finishing up shortly. Obviously, having a number-one hit always helps but their buoyant stage presence got The East Wing into a jubilant mood. Yet despite all the playful on-stage interactions, their mish-mashed sound sometimes felt like a poorly put-together humpty-dumpty. It was certainly an entertaining gig but as an idealistic dreamer, it’s not the poetic ending I always hope for at the end of a festival.

There was another disappointment too. The festival organisers always make a big deal about their text service which keeps fans up-to-date about secrets gig. But many of the texts I received during the festival weren’t particularly appealing as I enacted only on one of them – Yumi & The Weather playing a wonderfully stripped-back gig in Brighton’s Sealife Centre. It was nice surprise to see that her tracks still have life without all the textured electronics.

This surprise gig encapsulates the festivals much better. At the worst of times, music can be found in just about every pub and venue in Brighton. But when The Great Escape is on, a festival that is unabashedly all about the music, you’ll find dreamy harmonies and meandering melodies creeping out of every crack and crevice. One spritely fish was so happy wriggling along to Yumi & The Weather that even the confines of a glass tank couldn’t dampen his mood.

Oh Rose – That Do Now See EP

Sometimes, you will chance upon that sound that perfectly synergises with the emotions you currently feel. A moment you pine for in those lonely hours of the night. One that will captivate you until the sun is ready to light up the skies again.

And so it is, at the end of a long bank holiday weekend that Oh Rose provides the perfect soundtrack for weary minds and heavy hearts. That Do See Now EP revolves around the haunting melancholy of Olivia Rose’s vocals and the fuzzy instrumentals that surround it only enforce the sullen weight that drapes from every track.

‘Prom’ opens with guitars that turn seductively sludgy while Olivia rises above it with alluring affection. But Oh Rose is at their most luminescent with ‘Out Of Sight’ where the dark spaces allows the emotionally-charged track to breathe. But at this precise moment with these omnipotent sentiments swirling round my head, the forlorn sense of longing of ‘Into The Chorus’ captures the feelings perfectly. Not only that, but this eternal yearning hangs as still as night so you curiously gaze at it wondering what it is that you’re looking for.

In the naked dark of the night, you don’t always like what you see. But it’s in this vulnerability that Oh Rose appears most deviant, asking you to join them in a candid embrace.

Royal Blood – Little Monster

It was a crying shame when Royal Blood didn’t win BBC’s Sound Of 2014. Perhaps it’s a sign that the world isn’t quite ready for a hard rock revival yet. But we certainly are. And so is Jools after giving the duo a slot on his show last week.

‘Little Monster’ is their latest single and continues their unashamedly loud approach to music that has Josh Homme approvingly nodding. The bluesy riffs hook you in with vigour and you’ll just want it to keep hitting you. Despite the two-piece setup, you’re never left wanting an extra dynamic no doubt helped by Ben Thatcher’s potent drumwork.

You really don’t need any imagination to envisage how this sound translates on to a live stage. Royal Blood are playing at The Great Escape this year and believe me; people are going to go wild to the sound of their ears being shattered.

Alpaca Sports – Sealed With A Kiss

A few weeks ago, an argument about the portrayal of emotions in Art ensued between a friend and myself. The basis of my – obviously correct – argument was that happiness can be quite one-dimensional while melancholy is more profound and therefore more capable of genuine poignancy. But if you keep this interpretation in mind and accept a breezy record for what it is then have no problems with Alpaca Sports’ lovable debut album.

With a name like Alpaca Sports, a debut album titled Sealed With A Kiss and an opening track called ‘Just For Fun’, you already know the tone that this twee little band from Sweden are setting. From the off, you’re warmed by a saccharine charm in the innocent nature of their cutely crafted pop songs emphasised when frontman Andreas Jonnson naïvely sings “Every tear is a lesson learned/That’s what my mama said.”

Dulcet strings, jangly guitars and lively handclaps all blend together to leave you with echoes of previous indie-pop bands like Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura and even C86 pioneers The Field Mice. It’s no wonder then that Sealed With A Kiss will have you dreaming of young love whilst singing along to reminiscing lines: “Whenever I close my eyes, I can still remember the time you put your arms around me.” For some though, the record may be too twee. You’d be forgiven for squirming at some of the lyrics.

I remember when you kissed me for the first time,
in the pouring rain
How the sunbeams used to welcome us each morning,
when I held your hand

But this is why you shouldn’t take an album like this too seriously. It’s just a little bit of innocent fun punctuated by an endearing series of pop songs that culminates with a blissful final track ‘I Was Running’. It’s not an album about meaningful themes or technical intricacies. Instead, it portrays themes typical of an indie-pop band but in a simple, innocent manner that’s reflective of young love and its many peculiar quirks. And above it all, you’ll find it very difficult not to frolic about to the spirited bounciness that’s a hallmark of all great pop songs.