Tag Archives: 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album

May 2013

Indie-pop angsters Secret Rivals have followed the crowd-funding route for their debut album, and this reflects their aural aesthetic – no-nonsense DIY tales of domestic struggles – really quite well.

The first song, This Tragedy Writes Itself, is a sort of proto-Placebo with its single synth line, vocals and bass line meandering into each other, overlaid with dissonant chords. The stand-out track is last year’s single Once More With Heart, its intro betraying their love of The Cure and its lyrics seemingly epitomising the album’s themes (Clouds’s “I’ll decide when you’ve had enough” is almost spat).

The most striking aspect of their sound is the Clouds-Jay female-male vocal dynamic: while the former comes across tender but strong, the latter seems obstinate and vulnerable, giving that uncomfortably tense feeling of being stuck in a room with a quarrelling couple (putting the listener in the position of drummer Reece, presumably). Bits of their delivery in Panic/Don’t Panic even remind me of John Lydon’s neurotic and agitated Public Image Ltd yelping.

The repetitive hooks are great for jumping about wildly to – the physical energy that must have been exerted in the recording is so palpable that it feels that mere listening is not enough. While some acts show so little conviction in their live performance that it comes across as little more than a marketing tool, the full Secret Rivals experience demands a live viewing.

A degree of scrappiness is pervasive; there’s charm in exuberance, but the charm in flailing around can wear thin after a while, and that’s where this album often veers. Their predilection for vocal melodies based on chord triads gets a bit wearing after a while too. However, despite the nagging hooks, no song’s point is overlaboured or welcome outstayed, the nine of them weighing in at a Ramones-esque 29 minutes.

The album ends with the title track, an acoustic, Jay-led near-ballad that sounds unlike the other songs but which sums everything up nicely, with an air of resignation in reconciliation: “How come I’m the one who always ends up undone?” – the way arguments often end.


From Nightshift, May 2013

Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP

November 2013

The atmospheric slinky drama of the lead song of Vienna Ditto’s latest EP, Ugly, evokes a glorious red velvet-draped, dusky cavern of deception and intrigue, with space-age synths redolent of Jean Michel Jarre in his 70s prime and crunchy drums framing seductive slide guitar twangs.

The slower and measured By Way Of Apology is reminiscent of the claustrophobic electro-blues of some of Depeche Mode’s ballads and their main songwriter Martin Gore’s albums of covers, not least by way of Hatty Taylor’s voice, whose vibrato-soaked insouciance here creates an unconvincing testimony. In Stop, a seemingly defiant tale of a parting, sinister spaghetti western jangly chords, spooky half tones and unusual percussive experiments convey a Twin Peaks level of festering distrust.

With this collection, the “voodoo sci-fi blues” duo conjure up a more effective image of Westworld-esque double-crossing robot duels than that term could in itself; there’s some malicious intent going on, and all the better for it.


From Nightshift, November 2013

Jessie Ware

O2 Academy, Oxford
11th March 2013

South Londoner Jessie Ware’s debut album, Devotion, was a pop album that popped up in many critics’ best of 2012 lists – no mean feat. All the while, I hadn’t been able to shift the fact that she reminds me of mid 80s Stock/Aitken/Waterman-backed pop-soul chanteuse Princess. Great as Princess’s voice was, her material didn’t exactly set the world alight, and Jessie’s voice had hitherto unmoved me, too; it seemed too measured, perhaps without the depth promised.

However, on tonight’s evidence her voice seems to have matured, and it’s stunning. Her brand of pop/soul/R&B – to which she graduated successfully via the now requisite urban/dance collaborations, most notably with SBTRKT and Sampha – recalls such exemplars of the genre as Sade; Sweet Talk is basically a faster Your Love is King with fuzzy guitar instead of saxophone. She’s still restrained and subtle – there’s no superfluity of either notes or feeling – and as such, she far more effectively conveys lyrical meaning than the melismatic foghorns the charts are stuffed with these days. Her voice has convinced me that I’ll be her Night Light, there when she goes to sleep; I don’t have many doubts that in her and her baby’s Wildest Moments, they could be the worst of all.

While her vocal performance is stronger than her recordings led me to believe it might be, her aura – her stage presence – doesn’t quite match it for me. It’s not the chat – she is as charming as Adele between songs, dedicating songs to her brother and cousin, and giving shouts out to her mum and aunt on the merchandise stand – or her poise; I just feel, tonight at least, that she hasn’t found the perfect balance between these and the elegance of her voice yet, but it’s quite exciting that it’ll develop as her stature grows, and that there’s more to come.


From Nightshift, April 2013


The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
13th February 2013

Kodaline were on the BBC Sound of 2013 longlist, but they’re not new; as 21 Demands, they came second in the Irish TV talent show You’re A Star in 2007, their single topping the Irish charts. They’ve progressed from jangly busker fare to – well, not something entirely original.

Tonight they launch with Lose Your Mind, with some quite pleasant Simon and Garfunkelish harmonies and a 70s psychedelic vibe, then Pray, which has an odour of wispy goth balladry in its reverb. From One Day I get the full force of Snow Patrol and rock week on The X Factor, and Counting Crows and Travis from Perfect World. By Love Like This, with its banjo, harmonica and touch of the Mumfords, I think I’ve got the measure of them.

Recycling for a new era: it’s nothing new, and it works. Shakin’ Stevens built a career on it. But the more it happens and the older I get, the more cynical I am about it – despite the good intentions of the musicians involved. Not that this lets Kodaline off the hook. They have swirls, builds, falsettos, anthemic aspirations, everything. But everyone places the fine line between beauty and dreary MOR rubbish in a different place, and that’s not just because of marketing.

It’s odd that we’ve already got to the point at which bands sound so heavily influenced by Coldplay; as generational shifts go, I can see where the dads who complained about Ocean Colour Scene in my youth were coming from.

The Matt Cardle-esque All I Want sums it all up: catchy but boring, epic but drab, influenced yet uninfluential.

If there were ever a young band created in a lab for the sole purpose of appearing on Later… with Jools Holland, or even just for those redemptive montages at the end of Holby City, it’s Kodaline: peddlers of the finest melancholic mediocrity.


From Nightshift, March 2013

Major Lazer

O2 Academy, Oxford
2nd May 2013

MAJOR LAZER MAKE SOME NOISE! A thwunk as I am hit in the face by sweaty naked torso. Repeat. For me, that’s how tonight ends. And starts. And it’s pretty much what happens in between too.

Seemingly a collective since American producer Diplo shed his original partner, British producer Switch, tonight Major Lazer comprises two very enthusiastic dancers, an MC who loses his top very early on but not as early as a good part of the audience, another DJ, and Jeremy Renner lookalike Diplo, whose clambering over the DJ booth/set looks precarious at best.

Their most recognisable collection of beats and squealy top line, Pon De Floor, the one sampled by Beyoncé, gets at least two airings. Some of their other collections of beats and squealy top lines may well have had more than one airing too, but my attention span is too violated by the frenetic activity to have caught them all. The overexcited mixes are carefully composed from stuff that was often originally far more mellow, like the new album’s first single, Get Free.

I’m pretty sure that DJ sets used to consist of longer tracks than one per minute and reminders of the act’s name far less often than every three seconds. This is a rampaging melange of toasting, horns, dancehall, dubstep, flags, horns, samples, “Everybody touch the roof!”, Harlem Shaking, drops, reggae, throwing shirts on stage, reggaeton, soca, crowdsurfing, “A message from Snoop Lion!”, a dripping ceiling, confetti and ska.

I leave not quite believing that they’ve finished and feeling I’ll be unable to do anything but build myself up to a drop every thirty seconds for at least the next few days. Or maybe I’ve been doing that all my life already. It’s hard to tell.

OXFORD HOW YOU FEELING? Pretty exhausted, thanks.


From Nightshift, June 2013


O2 Academy, Oxford
25th October 2013

Earlier this year, two years after their modest showing at the Eurovision Song Contest, Blue released their “comeback” album, Roulette, named after their gamble in releasing it themselves. Unfortunately, by that point, the Blue credibility ship had sailed (though some would argue it was never in harbour in the first place).

It’s certainly not their voices; tonight Duncan says no other band except maybe perennial revivalists Backstreet Boys has the harmonic spread, and he’s got a point. It’s not necessarily the genre, either; boybandry might have moved on to guitars and floppy hair (again), but soul and r’n’b are still going strong in various forms elsewhere. They just weren’t around long enough, popular enough in their heyday or away long enough to draw on the level of nostalgia the reformed Take That did. The age range of the (almost exclusively female) crowd tonight is wide, but Blue have just got Radio 2 written all over them now, and it’s odd that the newer stuff they play tonight isn’t more in keeping with that demographic.

Their intermittent dance routines are unexpectedly energetic and slick – I was expecting far more “we sit down, we stand up, we lean”, as Simon so masterfully put it in The Big Reunion. Simon’s naff raps and the odd “remix” bits – which seem to be a live addition – delight the audience but don’t fit; songs like the otherwise flawless All Rise really don’t need them.

The members are easy to pigeonhole – the cool one, the ridiculous one, the one off the lottery, the one who mistook a cashpoint for a toilet – and perhaps having more personality in their hair than the whole of The Wanted have works against them, as, vocally at least, Blue are stronger together than apart, and they need to get back the momentum they lost.


From Nightshift, December 2013


O2 Academy, Oxford
9th March 2013

Space are usually lumped in with other Britpop bands of the mid-to-late 90s in the national memory, but they fitted the “pop” – in the genre sense – much better than Suede or Oasis. The “Brit” part also deftly characterised the Liverpudlians; lots of the bands of the time were quite austere, but Space gave a somewhat wry side glance at life.

They actually hung on until 2005, with dwindling success, but like so many of their contemporaries, they (Tommy Scott and Franny Griffiths from the original lineup) recently reformed. Understandably, tonight they concentrate on their first two albums and the most recent, as if their other two – the delayed and eventually unreleased Edwyn Collins production Love You More Than Football and the 2004 relative flop that preceded their split, Suburban Rock ‘n’ Roll – never existed.

From the old stuff, for every Avenging Angels and Neighbourhood there is a Charlie M and Mister Psycho – juxtaposing the macabre with the mundane, and making light of it. The 50s jangly spookiness, organs, rockabilly and mariachi stylings are still present in the newer stuff, but it’s even darker, if anything: Crying on the Webcam is just creepy, She’s in Love With a Boy in a Body Bag apparently combines Sergio Leone with necrophilia, and the frantic, Madness-esque album title track, Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab, definitely has an air of “sod it, let’s do what we want” about it. Burn Down the School continues the extraordinary-things-happening-to-everyday-people theme of their biggest hit Me and You vs the World, which has a ska-punk makeover tonight.

They finish with a medley of Dark Clouds and La Bamba – a natural segue – and stalker tale Drop Dead, “One for the fans,” Tommy explains. And with that, he jumps into the grateful crowd, revelling in their long-standing appreciation.


From Nightshift, April 2013


Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP – November 2013

Blue – O2 Academy, Oxford – 25th October 2013

Major Lazer – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd May 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album – May 2013

Jessie Ware – O2 Academy, Oxford – 11th March 2013

Space – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th March 2013

Kodaline – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 13th February 2013