Saturday, 30 January 2016

Daughter - Not To Disappear review

Back in the spring of 2013, following a string of critically acclaimed EPs, British three-piece Daughter swept us all up in their torrent on melancholic indie-folk with their excellent debut album If You Leave. The track 'Youth' not only became the go-to soundtrack for a host of melodramatic adverts and TV dramas, but also gained a fair amount of mainstream radio play and exposure. The concept of 'crushing sadness' is not initially that appealing when looking for new music, but somehow Daughter made it work. Each of the tracks on If You Leave were dramatic, emotive and well-crafted, so much so that the album felt far more accomplished than what you'd normally expect from a band's debut album. Nearly 3 years on, the time has come for the band to rise the bar and build on these foundations in order to establish themselves as more than just a one-album-wonder. I would say that the band largely succeeded in this challenge and came through with a cohesive and grand follow-up.

Before I heard Not To Disappear, the words 'devastating' and 'crushing' were the first words that I would have associated with the band's music. Naturally, I expected this to remain the same once I heard their new record, especially when both early reviews and pre-release singles suggested that Not To Disappear would be sonically similar to its predecessor. I would now argue that the band's sound has progressed far beyond the parameters of 'sadness' and into something a lot more open and dynamic. Tracks like 'No Care' show an exciting change of pace and mindset, upping both the tempo and the mood of the record as Elena Tonra proclaims "no care, no care in the world/I don't care, don't care anymore"; a stark contrast to the heavier and denser themes of the band's earlier work.

A highlight in both the record and the band's discography as a whole; 'Fossa' brings an exciting level of energy and melody to the record as it nears its end. The longest track on the album by some margin; Fossa makes good use of its running time with a dynamic range of concepts and sounds, ending in a blaze of indie-rock glory. The crowning moment on the record however is the stunning track 'Numbers', which despite being a pre-release only truly resonated with me when I heard it within the context of the album. It was impossible for me not to be swept up in the lush, intoxicating soundscapes, garnished with Tonra's feather-light coos amongst intricate guitar riffs. This is by far the ~moment~ of the record, just as 'Youth' was the moment of If You Leave.

Overall, this album was a strong way to kick off what is already looking to be yet another fantastic year for music. I have never been someone who expects an artist to radically change their sound from one album to the next; this approach may have worked for the late and great David Bowie, but it doesn't work for everyone. Not To Disappear features many gems that assure Daughter's healthy musical progression into the future; from the sweeping soundscapes of Numbers to the epic instrumental moments that line the track 'Fossa', it is clear that Daughter still have many tricks up their sleeves to keep us engaged with their future output.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Savages - Adore Life review

First post of 2016 y'all!

It is no secret that the punk scene is one of the most male-dominated in the music world, both past and present. Even with the incredibly refreshing and revolutionary Riot Grrrl movement in the 1990’s, one can’t help but feel disheartened by the lack of female-fronted punk bands making it ‘big’ compared to their male counterparts. The issue isn’t just representation; however, it takes very little research to find a heap of tweets, blog posts and articles about women of all ages, races, shapes and sizes feeling unsafe and/or uncomfortable at punk shows. Despite my rather limited life experience, even I am not naive enough to think that this issue is exclusive to the punk scene, but the point still stands that change needs to happen. In the metal scene for example, on the rare occasion when a female artist breaks out like Myrkur, her videos are swamped with comments about her only getting noticed because of her gender. As far as I’m concerned, good music is good music and gender is irrelevant when I’m listening to it.

This is why Savages are such an important band to have around in 2016. Even in an age where gender and identity is such a ‘hot topic’, no one gives a fuck about their gender because they are just objectively brilliant. Fronted by Jehnny Beth, their brand of noir post-punk gained universal acclaim when the band dropped their phenomenal debut Silence Yourself back in 2013. But what truly made me fall for this band was their electrifying live performances; even through my laptop screen, the band’s ferocity and unquestionable chemistry captivated me like very few other acts can. While their debut was a dark and icy affair, Adore Life, like the title suggests, is triumphant in every sense of the word.

Rather than opening with  a whisper, Adore Life kicks off with a bang in the form of “The Answer” — the gritty and erratic guitar hook lets you know exactly what you’re in for — a thrill ride. This is reflected by the blunt and urgent lyrics which swirl around a whirlpool of instrumental fire. The repetition of “I’ll go insane” among bursts of optimism (“Love is the answer”) only adds to the sense of confusion and the hysteria that engulf the track. On the other end of the scale (and the track listing for that matter); penultimate track “Surrender” is a more low-key and brooding affair, with Ayşe Hassan’s soul-crushing bassline taking center stage, with Gemma Thompson’s blade-like guitar riffs creating additional texture as the track builds.

Between these two contrasts, Adore Life is held together by the centerpiece that is “Adore”, which also marks a stunning turn in the band’s signature sound. I use the term ‘signature’ lightly, especially considering that the band only have two full-lengths under their belts. The first half of the track has a sense of restraint that feels almost alien; the guitars are reduced to soft licks, Fay Milton’s drums aren’t ‘crashing’ by any means and Beth’s vocals are almost…soft and inviting. These ‘restrained’ elements eventually cumulative into a stunning and majestic climax in which Beth reaches a sense of enlightenment – after years of searching and longing, she is finally able to say “I adore life”. It is at this moment where the record as a whole falls into place like an intricate post-punk puzzle.

Although Adore Life is far from a sonic leap for Savages, it is still a remarkable follow up to a magnetic and confident debut. The band’s four key elements are as respectively strong as ever. Jehnny Beth’s commanding vocals, Ayşe Hassan’s crunchy bass, the sharpness of Gemma Thompson’s guitar riffs and the military precision in Fay Milton’s drumming make every track on Adore Life a sonic delight. For me, “Adore” is a complete turning-point in the band’s sound and Beth’s writing, one which I hope will continue to take the band down a new path of discovery and sonic exploration. In an age where so many people are forced to shout twice as hard just to be heard, one thing is for certain; Jehnny Beth’s commanding growl is one that cannot be ignored. Long live Savages!