Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Album Review: 1,555 Syllables That Mean Everything by Jake Martin (by Emma Prew)

Jake Martin is a Brighton-based DIY singer songwriter who plays songs that could loosely be described as ‘acoustic folk punk’. I heard about him and his new EP thanks to an email from Aaahh!!! Real Records via Bandcamp (You know those emails you get because you’ve previously bought something from that label or band but really should turn off because you get loads of them… except sometimes you discover gems like these!). Jake Martin wasn’t a name I was familiar with but I was instantly drawn in by the artwork – clearly the work of Dan Allen – and soon discovered that his sound was right up my street.

1,555 Syllables That Mean Everything is a four track EP and the first of those four songs is called May Your Venue Never Die. This is a song that I think, if you’re reading this blog, you will or at least should wholeheartedly agree with and believe in. May Your Venue Never Die is about not wanting to lose another independent music venue to corporate giants and property developers – something that is happening all too often across the UK. So the subject matter certainly had me hooked but what about the music? The song starts out with some simple acoustic guitar but before too long there’s some violin and banjo thrown in as well – the violin actually has a striking solo part that precedes the chorus. I wasn’t sure if this EP was simply going to be purely solo acoustic guy (yes, I stole that from Gaz Brookfield) so, although that would have been fine by me, I was pleasantly surprised to find more going on. The banjo is probably my favourite of the folkier instruments so the start of the second song, Mountains, immediately had my attention. The gentle melody had me nodding along as I took in the words – by this point I’m well aware of and enjoying the great messages and stories that are delivered in Jake Martin’s songs. Mountains is about how we can quite easily get used to our standard everyday life – working to pay the bills and put food on the table, sitting on the sofa in the evening, etc. but never really ‘living’ – without thinking about what we could actually have or do if we wanted to. We can move mountains if we want to. After the second verse, what was a moderately paced track is injected with a energy in the form of an instrumental breakdown. With this comes an increase in volume and a singalong bridge that really is the highlight of the song – ‘If you’re not pissed off, It’s time to listen.’ Although it did instantly remind me of some very similar lyrics from King’s Lynn ska punk band Faintest Idea – that said, the sentiment is still true whichever voice is singing in.

The first two songs on 1,555 Syllables That Mean Everything tackled some fairly important subjects but did so in an uplifting and positive manor. The third song, To All The Ones I Love, is by contrast a somewhat sad but honest outpouring. To All The Ones I Love is about feeling like you’re, of your own choosing, far away from your friends and people that you care about and wanting to let them know you’re sorry for all the times they have been let down by you. Jake sings of how he’s often only ‘home’ for a short period of time and in that time he is most likely still attached to his guitar. The instruments manage to retain a brightness that contrasts with Jake’s words and mean that the song doesn’t simple become a downhearted and sombre tune. The song’s subject made me properly stop and think about how difficult it must be to have a ‘normal life’ whilst also being a touring DIY musician. I’m so grateful that musicians like Jake do what they do so that people like me can enjoy hearing their songs live – I’m almost certain I couldn’t hack it myself so thank you. Finishing off the EP is a song titled We Sing The Words All Wrong. From that title and the opening chords of the song, I was anticipating that this was going to be a fine closing song – hopefully with a singalong element to it. I was not at all disappointed. The song progresses steadily with the level of passion in Jake’s vocals increasing as well as the volume. I’m often reluctant to mention Frank Turner in reviews of anything vaguely acoustic-based as I feel like that can often be a cop-out comparison to make. However, We Sing The Words All Wrong definitely has a bit of a Ballad Of Me And My Friends old school Turner feel to it and I’m all for that (especially when I’m not so fussed about Mr Turner anymore). The bridge says it all – ‘Won’t you sing from your heart, Or never sing again.’ Oh and the whole song is definitely one big singalong, complete with whoa-ohs. Perfect punk rock, acoustic or otherwise.

1,555 Syllables That Mean Everything is available to stream and download on the Aaahh!!! Real Records Bandcamp page now and you can also find Jake Martin on Facebook.

This review was written by Emma Prew.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Album Review: Canadian Businessman by Canadian Businessman

It's always nice when a fantastic release comes out of nowhere. That was certainly the case for new Manchester based band Canadian Businessman. The three piece, formed of Stand Out Riot's Tessa, Ben and Francis released their debut self titled EP just before Easter to little fanfare. Being a fan of Stand Out Riot I previewed it immediately and was gobsmacked by how good it is. It jumped right to the top of my review list.

While Stand Out Riot play a unique mix of ska, punk and gypsy music, Canadian Businessman is a straight up punk band. As in Stand Out Riot Ben plays the drums but for Canadian Businessman Tessa swaps her violin for a bass guitar and Francis swaps his trombone for a guitar. Francis and Tessa also share vocal duties. Now we've got that important information out of the way, let's get on with the review!

The opening track is titled Original and begins in a fantastically upbeat way. I'm actually reminded of Francis's other band, Leagues Apart, as there is that dirty sing-a-long punk rock sound to the song. Francis takes the lead on the song with Tessa supplying some fantastic harmonies throughout. Original is a positive sounding song about reassuring yourself that despite everything it's going to be alright. As you would expect, the chorus is brilliantly catchy and it won't be long until you're singing along quite gleefully. I loved the breakdown section where Francis and Tessa trade off vocals along with a bass solo before building to the finish. Next up is the song Giant which starts off in a relatively heavy fashion before Tessa's vocals come in. Even after years of listening to Stand Out Riot, I'd never realised just what a beautiful vocal she has. It's great that she's given the chance shine here. Francis comes back in for the chorus and the pair display some awesome harmonies once again. The song has a pretty lengthy outro with some high energy buzzsaw guitars ending the song with some aplomb.

Holes reminds me of a more upbeat Above Them. This is honestly one of my favourite songs of the year so far. There's a chugging stop start to the song before an intense Francis comes in with some of the most intense and urgent vocals on the EP. There is a section in the song where the vocals become distorted alongside the guitars to create an interesting sound. This leads to the song's big highlight at the end of the track - a big gang vocal finale where everyone can sing-a-long! The EP finishes off with Warm Welcome. This track is one where the band show off what a great bunch of musicians they are thanks to some fantastic solos throughout the song with Francis's guitar playing in particular standing out. Tessa again handles lead vocal duties beautifully as she sings a song about not feeling as welcome in a scene as you first thought you were. The three part harmonies towards the end of the song, as the band sing the line "I've never felt so cold", are excellent. The layering is incredible. A fantastic way to end such a great EP.

When we get to December and we start thinking about what our favourite releases of the year are I'm expecting Canadian Businessman to feature quite highly in mine. This is so good. I hope there are plans in the works to play these songs live at some point and that band do some more bits like this.

Like Canadian Businessman here: https://www.facebook.com/canadianbusinessman/

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Gig Review: Popes Of Chillitown Album Launch Show at New Cross Inn 11/5/18

2018 could go down in history as the year ska punk made its big comeback. Legends such as Random Hand and Lightyear are back at it, Sonic Boom Six are still wowing crowds all around the UK, Call Me Malcolm have just put out what's potentially the best ska punk album of the past ten years, The Bar Stool Preachers have a new album imminent that I'm hearing great things about and I have a feeling we also might see something new from Faintest Idea before the year ends. London based band the Popes Of Chillitown are the band that I think are leading this new wave of ska punk bands into this exciting new era. The Popes have just released a brand new album titled Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard which has been getting rave reviews – check out what Dan Peters had to say about it here. To celebrate this release the Popes, with the help of Be Sharp Promotions, threw an album launch show at the New Cross Inn. The Popes are renowned for being an incredible live band so Emma and I were very excited for the gig.

The first band of the night were just about to get started when we arrived at the New Cross. Codename Colin are a band I've been trying to see for a while now, since I came across their excellent cover of Feeder's classic Just A Day on the YouTube. They play some fantastic ska pop punk that is full of energy and will get even the saddest of people smiling. Codename Colin also had some exciting news for the people who got down to New Cross early – they've won a competition to play Slam Dunk South at the end of the month. This is a great opportunity, well done gentlemen. We only actually had two thirds of Codename Colin in attendance for the gig as two of the horn players unfortunately couldn't make it. That however did not stop Codename Colin putting on a fun show. Mostly playing songs from their debut EP Outgunned, they soon got the crowd warmed up nicely with the tracks Declan and Losing Touch standing out. On Declan in particular I was reminded a bit of Operation Ivy's Jesse Michaels when Codename Colin's lead singer, Charlie Gabriel, sang. In a live setting these songs definitely pack a bit more of a punch than the recorded versions. It's not a ska punk support band without a cover or two and Codename Colin dutifully obliged with fun covers of Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More Time and Five's Keep On Moving, both of which went down really well with the crowd. If you're off to Slam Dunk South this year be sure to check out Codename Colin. They're also back at New Cross in July for Level Up Festival.

Up next were a band I knew very, very little about however Be Sharp Promotions Paul Smith was very excited to see them. He spent a good portion of time telling my why 3dbs Down were the best band ever and even stating that Be Sharp wouldn't even exist without them. He also told me that 3dbs Down play melodic punk rock with hints of ska. He didn't tell me that the band featured three lead singers who deliver some of the best harmonies I've seen in years. Musically, of course 3dbs Down were fantastic but what I really fell in love with was the vocals. I adore bands that have multiple singers. Very often it's a case of one of the singers sings the entirety of a song and the other singers do the same on other songs. That's not the case for 3dbs Down. They take turns in doing verses, lines and choruses on their tracks and it works so well. The vocals complement each other brilliantly and give so much life to their songs. The four piece from Gravesend only play a couple of shows each year so catching them live is a real treat. It also makes me feel less bad that I've never seen them before, as I can't remember the last time I saw a band without ever listening to them before and being so impressed. 3dbs Down absolutely ruled and I fully understand just why Paul was so excited.

The main support act of the evening were The Foamers. This long running band would now be playing to a huge New Cross crowd who seemed just as excited to see them as they were the Popes Of Chillitown. The Foamers formed in 1996 and split in 2004 gaining a tonne of passionate fans along the way. They've since reformed and play shows here and there, including a slot at Level Up Festival last year. That was my first time seeing them and I thought they were great. This time they were even better! The crowd loved them and skanked, moshed and sang throughout their whole set. Combining street punk and ska to brilliant effect, the four piece played a set that could easily have been thought of as a headline set. All bands should put as much into their set as The Foamers did no matter what their position on the line up is. So many people have such fond memories of the Household Name/Golf Records era of punk and ska in the UK and it's such a treat to still have the opportunity to see those bands every now and then. I've no doubt that The Foamers played a big part in influencing many of today's skacore bands and I just think it's great the band still come out and play shows.

If the gig had finished with The Foamers I'm sure the now packed New Cross Inn would have gone home happy but we still had the evening's headliners still to play. The Popes Of Chillitown are big favourites in South London so it was only right that their album launch party was at the New Cross Inn. The big crowd gathered around the front of the stage in anticipation for something special happening. And for the next hour that's what they got. You'll have to forgive my lack of knowledge on the new album as I wanted to hear it live before I listened to it properly. Plus my memory of the song order is a little fuzzy, as I just stood in awe of this awesome band. I believe that they started the set with a handful of songs from Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard that immediately had the floor of the New Cross vibrating because of the high intensity skanking that was taking place. It had me slightly worrying how much more this floor could take! The Popes are one of the most watchable bands in the UK scene. They are effortlessly slick along with having seemingly an endless amount of energy. This only amps the crowd up even more and, as the set progresses, things only get rowdier and rowdier. It was great seeing the new tracks getting the same amount of love as the old favourites. Whilst the band were playing To The Moon we were treated to a new extended version where they blow the power and do a little improv crowd chanting before the power gets fixed and they play the song all other again. I'm sure this was all supposed to happen. If you've not seen the Popes yet then you are really missing out. There aren't many better live bands in the UK and there isn't a single band like them sonically. They take ska, punk, reggae, dub and some hip hop, put it in the blender with some relentless energy and have mixed together a whirlwind of a sound that cannot be ignored. On the basis of this album launch show, I can see Work Hard, Play Hard, See You In The Graveyard being a big catalyst in pushing the Popes Of Chillitown to big things.

This review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Top Tens: Jim & Dan from Reuther's Top Ten Punk Rock Influences

Jim's List:

My uncle inspired me to play guitar, but this band made me want to start a band of my own. Really, I think it was the theatrics of Kiss that caught my attention more so than the music. My young self would frequently day-dream of being Ace Frehley playing guitar solos on stage. When I started middle school, I convinced my parents to buy me tickets for their concert.

Sum 41
This band was my gateway into punk music. I was a little too young to appreciate Green Day when Dookie came out, and still didn't have the attention span to explore more than the radio hits when Blink dropped Enema. When Sum 41 released All Killer No Filler I was hooked and listened to that record almost constantly front to back. I use to skateboard with my friends and have that album going. From there I started to dive deeper into punk music.

The Loved Ones
Dave Hause is one of my favorite songwriters. When I discovered The Loved Ones, I was hooked. Everything from the lyrics to the guitar riffs are weighted in meaning. Plus they're one of those pop punk bands that's not overly produced which makes them standout in a world of overproduction.

The Suicide Machines
I have to throw love to The Suicide Machines. I was really into punk/ska music in high school, and while they weren't my gateway into the scene they sure provided the soundtrack to many nights. With them being from our hometown of Detroit, it made it even more inspiring to see them out there touring and making records. Their shows are always packed and so much fun.

Against Me!
I feel like Against Me! is one of those bands that everyone can agree on. The first track I heard was "You Look Like I Need A Drink" from a Fat Wreck E-Card that a friend sent me. I had never heard a band like them before and remember being blown away by the intensity. The music is just raw and honest, and would inspire anyone pick up a guitar and write a song of their own.

Dan's List:

The Flatliners
I remember I first saw The Flatliners around 2005 after they released Destroy to Create. I was in a band at the time that was opening for them at a VFW Hall – I was immediately hooked. Such tenacity, such energy. I picked up that record and it most definitely honed how I wanted to play, both as a member of a band and a drummer, if that makes sense? It’s been amazing being able to hear their progression through the years, resulting in their best record and one of my favorite records of all time, Cavalcade. Even though they've outgrown their older sound and I miss it, I'm really optimistic for their career to continue. The drumming of Paul Ramirez alone is enough to make this band #1 on my list.

Less Than Jake
These guys were my first favorite band. I forget who it was exactly that gave me the record Losing Streak, but god damn, the first song alone was enough for me. Just poppy, catchy, energetic – I had to have more. I literally became obsessed with knowing everything about the band – collecting every record, knowing what the lyrics all meant, their Pez obsession, etc. I remember seeing them for the first time in early 2006 and every single expectation I had was met and exceeded. Years later, I've been able to share the stage with them numerous times and put out records on their labels. Safe to say my younger self would be quite pleased with my older self.

No Doubt
Say what you will about ND, but they changed the game when it came to mainstream rock. When Tragic Kingdom came out and dominated the charts, it was a surprise to some people, I'm sure. This came out when I was pretty young, but I managed to hear it and get a copy – it really just hit all the notes I wanted to hear and some I didn't even know I wanted, but loved anyway. It definitely had something to do with my initial love of ska, before I even know what that was.

The Suicide Machines
"But Dan, Don't you play in a band with Jay?" Yes, this is true. That really doesn't stop TSM from being one of my all time favorite bands. I feel TSM had an interesting evolution in their sound and presence throughout their career, which really just means they have something for everyone. Do you like fast, poppy ska punk? Go ahead and give Destruction By Definition a spin. Harder punk? Battle Hymns. Political punk? War Profiteering. It's really been great to share the stage with these guys so often and just lends to how much of an inspiration they've been. I remember first getting my hands on Destruction By Definition in High School and was just blown away that there was a band (from Detroit, no less) that hit every mark for what I wanted to hear at that time. Since then, they've been in the regular rotation.

Green Day
I feel like this doesn't really need a huge explanation. For a band to hit the mainstream with such an important album as Dookie and then remain relevant and popular to this day is certainly saying a lot. I first heard Dookie from my older brother who bought it – it took a few years for me to actually understand how amazing this record was and then that just led me to their subsequent albums which I still have on regular rotation. It really doesn't get more classic than that album. Their most recent years of music aren't exactly my favorite, but it's just very impressive they're still able to pull it after all these years.

Stream and download Reuther's new album Like A Ghost here, like them here and check out our review of the album here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Album Review: Back From Hell by Satanic Surfers (by Dan Peters)

There are a handful of albums in each of our lives that changed the course of that life forever. Perfect storms of melody, tone and content that speaks to us like nothing else and becomes something we define ourselves by. For me one of those albums was Hero Of Our Time by the Satanic Surfers. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this fact many a time but it never hurts to say it again – Satanic Surfers are a band that I hold incredibly dear to my heart and are one of the first on my lips when people ask about my all time favourite music. I write these intro paragraphs before listening to albums and it’s with great trepidation I once again, after 12 years away, get to put on a new Satanic Surfers album. Back From Hell is their brand new fresh-off-the-press album and my heart is hoping for an album of the year contender. Let's see.

Back From Hell is a masterpiece of skate punk beauty that takes everything I already loved about the band and amps it up to 11. The end.

Ok, so maybe I’ll give you a little more. Back From Hell is both incredibly raw and yet far better quality than everything that has come before. I’ve grown up with SS albums and can say for sure that this is the best they’ve ever sounded. Whilst not polished to a poppy sheen, everything is crisp and clear and the levels are complimentary. This is maybe the first album of theirs that doesn’t blow my eardrums when switching to another song on a playlist because the song is played way quieter than everything else. This is a good thing because Back From Hell absolutely has to be played LOUD!!

From opening track, The Usurper, this album is blisteringly fast and goddamn it shreds! There are screaming guitar solos aplenty in amongst lighting riffage and Rodrigo Alfaro is at his very best vocally. I gave Atlas Losing Grip my attention while he was with them but he really feels at home here and gives an incredible performance throughout.

All the Satanic Surfers tropes I’ve come to expect are here in abundance – the crazy riffs, the pace, the tongue in cheek politically aware humour, particularly in the cheeky Anthrax homage “Madhouse”. There’s also a lot in here that shows that Satanic Surfers have grown in the last 12 years. The vocal harmonies are truly excellent, Bad Religion quality this time around. There’s also a lot more nuance outside of the fastest songs that allows outside influences from all sorts of other musical genres to infuse what could essentially be a dictionary definition of skate punk into an album with charisma coming out of the seams.

As far as skate punk albums go, I may be hard pressed to find something I’ve wanted to listen to more in the last decade than this. I hold Satanic Surfers up on a pedestal as the very best to have done it. I’m happy to report that Back From Hell more than satisfies every expectation I had and more. It’s not just a rehash, it’s a band coming back stronger and better than ever before. Am I biased? Unashamedly, yes I am, but imagine how high my bar had been before listening so if I’m still glowing then that should be an incredible endorsement.

Stream and download Back From Hell here: https://satanicsurfers.bandcamp.com/album/back-from-hell

Like Satanic Surfers here: https://www.facebook.com/satanic.surfers.official/

This review was written by Dan Peters.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Album Review: Death From Below by The Palatines

The Palatines are three piece pop punk band from McAllen, Texas. The band formed in 2016 and feature Javier on guitar and vocals, Richard on bass and vocals and Jeff on drums. In August of 2016 the band released their debut EP, Never Made It, and then in February of 2018 they released their first full length album, Death From Below. I first found out about it after browsing Bandcamp and being attracted to the album's artwork – which you can see below. It's quite striking. So the artwork is great but is the album? Only one way to find out!

Take It Back is the album's opening track. The Palatines play fast paced melodic pop punk music in a similar vein to bands such as The Copyrights or The Dopamines but I'm also reminded of Face To Face's lead singer Trevor Keith on the vocals here. Keith has one of my favourite voices in punk rock so I have no complaints there. Take It Back is about regretting your actions and wanting to be able to make up for them. Up next is the song Ten More Minutes. It starts with an alarm going off and a cameo from Wonk Unit's Alex getting quite annoyed with it. This introduction really gets your attention and you soon find yourself in a fast paced pop punk jam about not wanting to go to work. I loved the music throughout the song – it's 100% energy from start to finish and flies by, before you realise the song is done. Dilemma is more of a mid-tempo song that jumps between melodic punk rock and buzzsaw pop punk brilliant. The vocals are layered wonderfully with some superb harmonies during the chorus. It's about wanting to break up with someone but being scared of losing everything because of it.

The fourth song on Death From Below is named Denise The Grease. It's a short, rapid fire, fun song about having a crush on a waitress. This isn't a song that's going to change the world but it does put a smile on my face. I can definitely get on board with that. The silliness continues on the next song, Gross Girl. Keeping up the fast paced pop punk, Gross Girl is simply about your girlfriend being quite disgusting. It's actually quite a sweet song when you think about it as he still loves his girl despite all of this grossness. I particularly enjoyed the ending of the song when they just spell out the word "gross" repetitively, really allowing for some great audience participation. Following this pair of past paced tracks is the more melodic Mina Doesn't Know. Unlike many of the previous songs, Mina Doesn't Know builds into the song before we hit the vocals. I really liked this variety and it happened at the perfect time to prevent the music becoming stale. This feels like one of the more accomplished songs musically with some excellent fills and solos included in the track.

Demons Whispering continues this more melody-driven style of punk rock. This song, in truth, really reminds of Face To Face. Face To Face's music always has this incredible energy that is hard not to get swept away by. I get the same feeling with The Palatines, particularly on Demons Whispering. Take A Left Turn has a guitar tone that might you might expect to hear from The Lillingtons or Teenage Bottlerocket. That kind of sci-fi pop punk sound that I just adore. The track is about how strange and alien-like the suburbs feel and how all is not as it seems. I think this is really clever songwriting from The Palatines. Using a sound that is associated with sci-fi punk to help set the scene of the song's topic. Then The Palatines take us down a completely different path to the one we've been on for the previous eight songs. Illuminatty Lite begins as an angry hardcore track that's sure to get folk really amped up. The band spends the first two thirds screaming the lines "illuminatty light, you can't stand me, I can't stand you" over and over again. This is a ferocious side of The Palatines that I quite enjoyed. When we get to the final portion of the song we get The Palatines we, by this point, know and love as they revert to some classic pop punk and sing about why they don't get on with the "Illuminatty." After a brief piece of Googling I found out that this is a team of body building gym types who believe they are the elite but secretly cheat. They do sound like bad eggs.

The tenth song, Take The Reins, explodes out of the block with some big vocals. This is a melodic sing-a-long with more of a mature skate punk sound. It also feels more driven, with the tempo rarely straying from its path. There is a wonderful intensity in the vocals that really keep you interested in the song, which is about wanting somebody else to take control of your life so you stop making mistakes. Burnt Out By Xmas is The Palatines' anti-Christmas song. It talks about not having energy to celebrate the big day and not having any money to buy people presents. It's a short and sweet song that's incredibly infectious. Considering the subject is kind of sad, the sound of the song is actually quite joyous and features plenty of great gang vocal "whoa-ohs." Falling Off tackles the issue of addiction and in particular falling off the wagon. This is one of my favourite songs on Death From Below. The opening guitars made me feel like something big was about to happen and that feeling was certainly correct. It's a very powerful song that I'm sure plenty of people will find relatable and hopefully might help anyone who is struggling to stay sober.

Grave Misfortune is another big highlight from Death From Below. It features some rapid fire vocals that just blew me away and really had me eager to see where the song goes. It's about being a person who lives in great comfort before losing their job because the company has moved out of town. I love this super fast paced pop punk that's also super catchy and great to sing-a-long to – so long as you've got the energy to keep up! The penultimate song is titled Run Red. It's a love song of sorts. It talks about going to prison for attacking someone because you were protecting your girl. It's one of the more unique topics for a love song but The Palatines do pull it off expertly with the lyrics really painting a great picture of events. The fifteenth and final track on Death From Below is named Girl In The Ocean. As I always say, a band should save their big epic for the final song and The Palatines certainly do this. It's a mid-tempo melodic punk jam that is about the break up with a girl who made a lot of sacrifices for you and feeling bad because of it. Obviously it's quite a sad feeling track and is filled with plenty of emotion. This is definitely the most emotional track on the entire album and a great choice to finish things off.

Why is it that so many of my best Bandcamp discoveries are because of awesome artwork? I love this style of pop punk and The Palatines have put out one of the best albums in this genre in quite some time. I thought that at fifteen songs long it might drag a little bit but it flew by and kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. The vocals are just superb and are backed perfectly by some great, great tunes. If you love bands like Teenage Bottlerocket, The Lillingtons, Face To Face, The Copyrights, Dear Landlord, The Dopamines, or any of the other bands like this, then Death From Below by The Palatines is essential listening.

Stream and download Death From Below here: https://thepalatines.bandcamp.com/

Like The Palatines here: https://www.facebook.com/thepalatinestx/

This review was written by Colin Clark.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Album Review: Utopia by The Lab Rats (by Emma Prew)

The Lab Rats are a folk punk duo based in Manchester, formed of Molly Yates (Bolshy) and Adam McKeon (Wadeye). I wasn't aware of them until they were announced for Manchester Punk Festival 2018 – they were one of the very first acts to be announced in fact – and I checked them out on the MPF sampler on Bandcamp. I then forgot about them until it came to sorting out my Clashfinder for the festival and I highlighted that I wanted to see them. (At the time of writing this, MPF hasn’t happened yet but, at the time of this being posted, it most likely has happened – hopefully I got to see Lab Rats live in the end!) Looking them up again, I found that they released a new 7-track album, Utopia, on Pumpkin Records at the end of February. I quickly made up for lost time and listened to it as soon as possible. Here’s what I thought.

Utopia opens with the compelling swaying motion of Refugees Welcome and a combination of acoustic guitar and mandolin. But despite the song’s lovely melody, this is not a happy nor care-free song. The way in which the story is told through its lyrics is an interesting one as the song is a conversation with a refugee, asking them questions – ‘Did you risk life just to get to the shore?, Have you travelled all this way to be free from a war?’ – but also being sympathetic and telling them that they are welcome. This is not nearly as aggressive as your average ‘protest song’ and I particularly liked the song for that reason. Next up is Song For A Friend. The mandolin plays the leading melody here while a banjo – at least I think it’s the banjo, which is listed as also appearing on this album (Joel McCarton on violin and banjo), but it could be the acoustic guitar – plays a more bassy-sounding backing. The instrumentation is great but its the vocals that really stood out to me. Molly really showcases what an excellent set of vocal chords she has here, with some almost bluesy, soulful oooh-ooohs at points. Overall this is a fairly melancholic but powerful track that reflects on not always knowing how to feel in certain situations.

The third song on Utopia is a faster paced number titled Keep Smilin’. Keep Smilin’ opens with some strummed guitar chords and a more intricate mandolin part. Lyrically the song is about standing up to your own anxiety and trying to stay positive but also knowing that you’re not the only one who feels this way – ‘I know that it’s not just me.’ It feels like a bit of a call to arms for anxious types and people with mental health problems which is a great thing. Lead You Home follows up next and there is definitely a banjo present here, alongside the mandolin and acoustic guitar, bringing another level of ‘folk’ to the duo’s sound. The violin makes its first appearance in Lead You Home as well, giving the song perhaps a fuller sound than previous tracks. The song is about having friends that will be there for you and make sure that you not only get home safely but also that you have a home to go to. The repetition of ‘We will lead you home.’ felt especially empowering. Friends Not Food is a somewhat slower paced song and this steadiness really allows the vocals and lyrics to be the main focus. Friends Not Food is a letter, of sorts, to meat (and dairy, I assume) eaters who are in selfish, denial about what they do (according to The Lab Rats, at least) – ‘And you don’t think about it, All the things that you do, Say that it weren’t done with your hands, So it’s nothing to do with you.’ This is definitely a vegan and anti-animal cruelty anthem although it will no doubt be a bit controversial for some listeners. I’m a vegetarian and I feel a bit guilty for not being a fully fledged vegan after listening to this song because I do agree with the message.

The next song is possibly my favourite on Utopia. Breathe opens with a sorrowful yet atmospheric violin part which gives way to the vocals of the first verse and a simple acoustic guitar backing. This is a song about wanting to escape the city, with all of its pollution and fast pace, for a simpler and more nourishing space – the forest, for example. The violin returns for the chorus which, although initially fairly sad, is actually quite hopeful – ‘And take me into the forest, And show me the beauty, I’m yet to see, And take me up to the mountains, And show me the wonder, So I can be free.’ As a lover of nature and being surrounded by trees, I can completely relate to this song – although I do at least live in a town and not a big city like Manchester. A beautiful song regardless. The final song on Utopia is Stop This War. Kicking things off in a mid tempo fashion, things soon increase in speed and volume – at least until the vocals come in for the first verse. However the volume and passion remains. As you can probably tell by the title of this song, this is a protest song of sorts against war – but not just armed conflict type war; wars between atheists and religious people, wars between hunters and hunt saboteurs, wars between the activists and oppressors. The song has a great combination of slower verses, followed by more mandolin intricateness and then a faster paced and passion fuelled chorus. ‘How long do we have to fight before you stop this, Stop this war? Stop this!’

What a great album this turned out to be! You can check it out for yourself on Bandcamp here. And like The Lab Rats on Facebook here as well.

This review was written by Emma Prew.