By David Winlo
Search for ‘The Mountain Goats’ on the internet and you’ll find all the images and information you’d expect to find about the well-balanced, mountain-dwelling animals, but you’ll also discover a band, still surprisingly unknown after more than 20 years of music-making, who have just released their sixteenth studio album, entitled ‘Goths’.
Continue reading The Mountain Goats’ ‘Goths’ Builds on Under-Explored Elements of Their Musical and Personal Pasts.
By David Winlo
Everyone’s favourite Swedish power metal group is back, with another concept album. Upon hearing the first single from The Last Stand, titled ‘The Lost Battalion’, I must admit I wasn’t sure we were in for a worthy successor to the fabulous Heroes album. I didn’t exactly mind the change of style, as style changes are often very positive, but this felt like a step in the wrong direction, musically. When hearing the rest of the album though, the song fits in very well between two somewhat livelier tracks.
I immediately liked the story of this first track, of an American battalion making a last stand under terrible conditions whilst lost in the Argonne in France during WWI. The whole album is once again filled with an array of astonishing stories from history, this time all of dynamic ‘last stand’ battles. This album is more wide ranging than any previous effort from Sabaton, both musically and geographically in terms of inspiration. By track three we have visited Greece, Serbia and Scotland. By track nine we’ve been as far as South Africa and Japan. Long-time fans will be pleased by the new subject matter, which along with the general theme of last stands makes for a fascinating and lyrically exciting album.
Sabaton are a band who tend to stick to a formula when writing music. In some bands, this gets annoying very quickly. With some variations to it though, Sabaton have filled this album with soaring solos, catchy riffs and their classic and addictive keyboards. Fans of the band’s energetic live shows will enjoy some of these new songs. Personal favourites include ‘Blood of Bannockburn’ about the Scottish Revolution, ‘Shiroyama’ about the last stand of the samurai, in which every one of the last samurai was killed, and ‘Winged Hussars’ about the Polish Hussars and their role in the Battle of Vienna.
If you are a history student, or you have a non-academic interest in history, this album and this band are high on my list of recommendations to you.
Image from Sabaton.net
By David Winlo
Billy Talent have always shown a mixture of themes in their lyrics, mainly focusing on relationships, trust and politics, since their 2003 self-titled debut album. As of their 2012 album ‘Dead Silence’ though, the main focus has moved slightly from relationships and trust to politics. This is shown clearly on their new album, right from track one, ‘Big Red Gun’, an anti-gun, anti-Donald Trump song – something I’m sure we can all agree is needed these days.
The album’s central and titular theme, that we as a society should not be afraid of “heights” (in a metaphorical sense, of not limiting ourselves or our efforts to improve ourselves), is effectively conveyed throughout, both through Ben Kowalewicz’s lyrics and singing, and the band’s music. Billy Talent is known for their unique style, which has not been lost here. Fans of Ian D’Sa’s guitar work won’t have to go far on this album to find yet more original riffs, and a fair few interesting guitar solos. Jordan Hastings, drummer of Alexisonfire, also deserves special mention for his excellent work filling in for the band’s usual drummer Aaron Solowuniuk, who was unable to play for the recordings of ‘Afraid of Heights’ due to an MS relapse.
As yet unmentioned highlights include ‘Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats’, which speaks of class struggle and our unsustainable treatment of the environment, ‘Louder Than the DJ’, which serves as an anthem for rock music, and ‘Leave Them All Behind’, which tells us not to listen to those who tell us what we can’t achieve and instead to let go of our worries of failure and, to put it simply, just go for it. I recommend this one to anybody struggling with an essay in the coming academic year!
Readers who are fans of Billy Talent or their new album may be interested to know they can catch the Canadian punks on Wednesday 12th October this year in the LCR. I look forward to seeing you there.
Image from Billy Talent’s website
By Khalea Robertson
Indie darling Jack Garratt first made his way into my consciousness when he was featured as part of the Burberry Acoustic Youtube series in 2014. There, it was just a boy and his piano. His voice and visible passion captured me and I had to find out more. Little did I expect to find out that it was not just a boy and his piano, but rather a boy and a plethora of instruments, with a particular fondness for synthesizers, looking to carve out a his own little niche in the Electronic R&B subgenre. Phase is Garratt’s debut full length album and having been crowned the winner of BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll, he has some hefty expectations to live up to.
Garratt claims to not be catering to the clubbing scene, but with nightlife’s proclivity for electronic music driven by prominent bass and frenetic drum machines, it’s hard not to imagine the majority of this album fitting perfectly in that environment. Allowing him the benefit of the doubt, what he may have been suggesting is that he puts some effort into mixing that sound with sensitive, sometimes sweet lyrics about the ups and downs of love, not just laying mindless choruses atop techno tracks. He does manage a fairly even blend on some tracks such as Worry and The Love You’re Given (my personal favourite), in which he also shows off his rather impressive falsetto. Special mention also to Surprise Yourself, a very radio ready record (with almost a hint of One Direction – make of that what you will) that combines gentle vocals with a rousing chorus.
Yet I found myself developing a certain fondness for the moments where he dialled back the production elements a bit and let his inner coffee shop singer-songwriter take centre stage. I Know All What I Do is a simple tug at the heartstrings that ends way too quickly while making you reconsider that long-standing animosity that you may have held for the drone of bagpipes. It got me thinking that although Garratt may enjoy experimenting with his assortment of electronic production tools, and don’t get me wrong, he does it well, I would enjoy a purely acoustic album from him just as much or probably even more. And the only thing the closing track, My House Is Your Home, did was cement that belief. It is an utterly gorgeous understated piano ballad that seems to have been recorded live and at its climax, is full of the rawness of a Gospel performance.
From what I have seen online, Garratt seems to thrive off of being live on stage, using that adrenaline to push him to create something unique for each audience, constantly reworking his own music. I am absolutely buzzing to see what he brings to the LCR on April 21st.
Image from MTV
By David Winlo
For Muse’s 2015 album, they promised fans a move away from the orchestras and computer effects seen in 2009’s ‘The Resistance’ and ‘The Second Law’ of 2012. A move fans hoped would take them back towards the simpler three-piece set up that gave rise to their breakthrough album, ‘Origin of Symmetry’, in 2001. Last year they delivered the result of this decision: Drones.
From its title and cover art alone, we could see this was going to be a politically-influenced album. Whilst some bemoaned this theme becoming more common in their lyrics in recent years, there were no complaints from me. Matt Bellamy uses his protagonist to explore themes of being under control, the longing for for freedom, the rebellion this longing causes. Yes, there are bands that ‘suit’ such themes better, such as Anti-Flag and Rise Against, especially when bringing political themes into the mix as well, but Muse do succeed on this latest effort.
Musically, the album is slightly mixed with regards to Muse’s promise of a direction-change. In some areas they do well – Chris Wolstenholme provides ‘Mercy’ with some interesting moments in the bass, and Matt Bellamy once again shows off both his unusual custom guitar and his ability to create strange yet captivating guitar solos. Drummer Dom Howard has a less attention-grabbing role, but nevertheless has his moments, with strong and fitting beats and fills throughout the album. In other areas they let us down slightly – the riffs, whilst fun, are not as complex as fans of tracks like ‘Plug in Baby’ are used to, nor bass lines as imaginative as such songs as ‘Hysteria’.
Despite this slight lapse in creativity and in their typical style, Muse show us another aspect to their sound, another small range of styles they can make their own.
Image from Muse’s Website