Category Archives: Music

Review: Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson made his directing return this year with Hacksaw Ridge, a war movie about a pacifist, this level of contradiction was surely worth a watch.

This movie goes some way towards repairing the damage of Gibson’s previous slurs and misdemeanors.

Gibson’s return marks ten years out of the director chair and when asked why he took up this project he replied Hacksaw Ridge is a “story well worth telling…..it’s a war film but it’s beyond that, it’s a love story,”.

The level of contrast between the love story on the homefront and the gore of  heated battle assures that this is a movie for all.

The movie traces the true story of war hero Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield,  as he battles with his religious conscience and his determination to be involved in the war.

Andrew Garfield as war pacifist Desmond Doss

Andrew Garfield plays the role with dignity and strength, armed with a great southern accent the former Spidey really paints the character perfectly.

The appearance of Vince Vaughan as sergeant Howell also adds a level of comic affect in the multifaceted movie.

Mr Vaughn plays the leader of Doss’s ragtag division, his display as hard love preparing the recruits for battle is both hilarious and real.

Doss’s love interest and later wife Dorothy Shutte is played by Aussie actress Teresa Palmer.

Ms Palmer puts in an emotional and gripping performance a far cry from that in the remake flop of Point Break in 2015.

It was a brave decision by Mr Gibson to make such a film of such contrast and conflict, from war to romance to comedy, so much various in genre……

But some how it works, from the loved up whirlwind story on the homefront to all to real scenes of blood and gore.

This movie is most certainly going to be added into the arsenal of war greats beside Saving Private Ryan and Platoon, even if it did not get this recognition at the Oscar’s with La La Land stealing the show.

Ed Sheeran – “Divide” album review

Image result for ed sheeran album divide

Following the success of his 2014 Grammy-winning and best-selling album, the Suffolk singer-song writer, Ed Sheeran has returned with yet another chart topping sensation. Released on 3rd March 2017, the album “Divide” allows us to delve into the life of Sheeran as many of the tracks feature snippets of his childhood, love-life and rise to fame.

“Divide” features sixteen tracks and to round it off, there is even a track exclusively dedicated to Sheeran’s 26th birthday.
Whilst many would argue that the album gives off an “ego-maniac” vibe, at the same time, with his bright ginger hair and adorable, quirky nature, we can’t help but excuse Ed for now!

The album is introduced with “Eraser”, a declaration of intent, mixing hip hop with a chorus of layered vocals (where Ed shows off his rapping skills). The track also addresses – in minute detail – the trials of Sheeran’s life, career and status in the industry. The lyrics mention everything from “singing in the Lord’s house” as a child and the dramatic shift of being without, “a nine-to-five job or a uni degree” to winning international awards.

However, unlike previous projects, Sheeran takes time in his new album to reveal his Irish heritage. The track, “Nancy Mulligan”, is a full on Irish traditional song whereby Sheeran pays tribute to his grandparents, particularly his grandmother (who the track is named after) from County Wexford, Ireland.

This track features Belfast based traditional band Beoga who also feature in the song, “Galway girl”, which depicts a blend of Irish folk tradition and Ed’s signature acoustic pop style. In his lyrics, Ed channels traditional Irish folk storytelling by describing an encounter with a vivacious Galway girl in a bar who “played a fiddle in an Irish band” and danced the night away with him. The instrumental influence is clear in the track, resonating with that of Van Morrisons, “Irish Heartbeat” with the similar fiddle and uileann pipe sounds.

The album features many incredible songs. However, I must admit, the track, “Castle on the hill” (a guitar-driven pop song that pays homage to Ed Sheeran’s upbringing in the English countryside town of Framlingham) is my preferred track of the whole album. The reason being, it is one of those songs whereby you cannot help singing along too, with its catchy beat including Ed’s impressive guitar rifts.
Since disappearing off the radar, Sheeran has returned with his finest album yet in my opinion. It is both well-timed and rip-roaringly fun, another example of his still-evolving craft.

For more information:

http://www.edsheeran.com/music

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ed-Sheeran/e/B001LHZOLG

https://www.youtube.com/user/EdSheeran

Ham Sandwich Rocks Belfast

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Irish indie rock band Ham Sandwich made their first appearance at The Belfast Empire Music Hall on Saturday 16th April and showed audiences they’re far more than a funny name.

The band who hail from Kells, Co. Meath formed in 2003 and consist of Niamh Farrell (lead vocals), Podge McNamee (vocals, guitar), Brian Darcy (guitar), David McEnroe (bass), Ollie Murphy (drums).

I first came across them on a sweltering hot day in July 2013 when they supported Mumford & Sons at their concert in Phoenix Park and was instantly drawn to their high-energy stage presence, interesting indie rock style, and not to mention the rare sight of a female at its fore front.

They have released three studio albums since their formation – Carry the Meek (2008), White Fox (2010), and most recently Stories from the Surface (2015), which reached No.1 in the Irish album charts. All of their albums were released on the band’s own independent label – Route 109A Records.

The band stands out from a visual perspective because of its petite pixie-like vocalist Niamh Farrell, with her powerful yet sweet vocals and commanding presence. She certainly proved on Saturday’s gig that she can hold her own while sharing a stage with seven big bearded men.

Watching them onstage reminded me of the female-fronted bands that were heavily prevalent in the 90’s, such as the Pixies, Letters to Cleo, The Cardigans, No Doubt, and the Cranberries (to name but a few) all featuring powerful charismatic women in bands where all the other members are male. The genre of rock music is definitely lacking its power queens so seeing a female commanding the room with haunting vocals is certainly refreshing.

Playing a mix of old singles and new releases, Ham Sandwich showcased their distinctive version of indie rock. Their singles “Ants”, “The Naturist”, and “Models” are always great crowd pleasers; but they introduced their newer music with songs “Apollo”, “Fandingo”, and “Illuminate” from the new album. These are songs I hadn’t heard and was really impressed with the new material.

The audience also got a treat when the band covered Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love” which suited Farrell’s vocal style perfectly and gave the audience the feeling of being in a funky 70’s disco – but without the tack & cheese!

I was a fan before this gig and Ham Sandwich definitely did not disappoint.image

To see more of Ham Sandwich please click below:

http://www.hamsandwichmusic.com

http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Ham-Sandwich-tickets/artist/1424213

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdvFFXOWkvU

In Review: Anno Stamm – No One Else EP

http://www.allcityrecordlabel.com/
Image by All-City Records http://www.allcityrecordlabel.com/

Dublin based record label All City Records are not known for releasing conventional music. In fact, they have acquired a reputation for being purveyors of the eclectic and the extraordinary. For anyone who is familiar with the abnormal sounds of Berlin native Anno Stamm, it comes as no surprise to see him release his No One Else EP on All City.

On an aesthetic level you could easily overlook this record, but it would be to your detriment. A generic black record sleeve, familiar black vinyl, and an unassuming piece of record art could easily mask this peculiar auditory delight. Despite being a three track EP, it perfectly showcases Anno Stamm’s versatility as he blurs the lines between techno, house, and deep house. The eponymous first track “No One Else” is probably the obvious pick of the bunch for most DJ’s. Powerful sub-bass, catchy chopped vocals, and accentuated snare patterns combine to create a cleverly nostalgic, retro style floor filler.

Listen to and but the No One Else EP at: https://annostamm.bandcamp.com/album/anno-stamm-no-one-else
Image by Lars Stöwe. Listen to, and buy the No One Else EP at: https://annostamm.bandcamp.com/album/anno-stamm-no-one-else

 

Of all the tracks on this record the A-side will probably get the most plays, but it is on the B-Side that things get really interesting. Think of the melody of your favourite childhood nursery rhyme, or the melody of a music box. Now imagine that someone has warped the pleasant sounds and jingles, and layered them with a distorted kick drum, creating a track so sinister, that it would not seem out of place in a nightmare. If you can imagine what the might sound like, you might understand what the second track of the EP, “Charge It Up To My Account”, sounds like. Far from being a typical techno affair of relentless beats, the drum loops merely set the pace for this off-kilter melodic masterpiece. It is a pity that this track was selected as the B1 on the record, because although it is by far the most intriguing and creative track of the release, it is likely to be overshadowed by the A-side, as often is the case with many vinyl releases.

As we put the turntable needle down on the final track, the artist takes us in another direction completely. He rounds of the release with a blissful and relaxed deep house offering. “Sensing Social Sirens” changes the mood with its beautiful string and pad sounds, proverbially transporting us to a much different place from the previous tracks. Each track could have been produced by a different artist. Each track has a different sound. All tracks were created by Anno Stamm, a man who epitomises ingenuity. Given the fact that many EP’s have four productions, the consumer in me notices one problem with this EP, one that could also be attributed to the quality of the music; there are not enough tracks.

For more information about Anno Stamm and his music see: http://www.anstam.com/

 

Confessional ‘Carrie and Lowell’ Sufjan Stevens’ most affecting album yet

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Sufjan Stevens’ career seemed to reach its apex with the critically acclaimed Illinois (2005), a 74-minute concept album based on the American state from which it gets its name. Featuring orchestral arrangements, an array of instrumentation, and lengthy, comical song titles, the overblown but expertly crafted album was included on several best of the decade lists.

Chicago – Illinois

2010’s The Age of Adz received a mixed response from critics, and it seemed that the thirty-nine-year-old Michigan songwriter would never top Illinois. However, by returning to his folk roots and creating a highly impassioned, lyrically centered album, he may have done just that. Named after his deceased mother and stepfather, on Carrie and Lowell Stevens takes a step back from his favoured themes (in particular his fascination with American History), to contemplate issues of loss and redemption. His mother, Carrie, battled mental illness and substance abuse, and died of cancer in 2012, and Stevens’ memories of childhood visits to Oregon to see her and his stepfather form the theme of many of the songs.

On “Fourth of July”, the album’s most darkly affecting moment, he sings of a dialogue between him and his mother (“Well you do enough talk, my little hawk, why do you cry”), concluding on the repetition of the phrase “we’re all gonna die” as the song fades.

 

Stevens examines his Christian beliefs on penultimate track (and the album’s first single), “No Shade in the Shadow of Cross”, in which he struggles to find solace in his faith in the aftermath of the troubles he and his family have experienced.

 

Such weighty themes, and his return to his folk rock origins, may cause some to fear that the actual music is an afterthought, but Stevens’ sense of melody remains untainted: electric guitar on “The Only Thing” and keyboards on “Should Have Known Better” and “All of Me Wants All of You”, subtly complement the album’s emotional crescendos. Nor is Carrie and Lowell a downer; rather than being depressing for its own sake, it is a candid reflection of his life, and a sense of deep, genuine love for his mother and stepfather is evident from the first track to the last.

‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, ‘All Night Long’

Last night Lionel Richie took the Odyssey by storm. After three years, he made his return to Northern Irish soil. Opening with All Around the World, Lionel took the audience on a journey, transcending the generations making up the buzzing audience.

At one point in the show he described how there are three types of fans. The Commodore fans, the Lionel fans, accompanied by, Stuck on You. And finally, the generation which was brought along by their mothers. This is the generation in which I fell into on the night.

At first, the thought of going to a Lionel Richie concert, stumped me, I only knew a handful of songs but did I enjoy it despite this? Of course. His on-stage persona got everyone on their feet from the camaraderie with the audience and his energetic performance it all added to his live presence, which made for a truly enjoyable evening.

Last night my ears were tainted with reminisces of how many times  “we danced to that song” or unfortunately, “cried to that song” from my mum and godmother who have been friends for 40 years. It was obvious that the older generation lived their lives through his music as there was a song suited to every emotion.

Lionel Richie was himself, very aware of the different stages in the life of his fans that he touched: “when I was in love, you were in love. When I was sad, you were sad and when I was angry, you were angry”. The comical sentiment that he exuded leant a great element to his performance. Spanning from his hits, Three Times a Lady to Hello and Dancing on the Ceiling. The latter, was a veritable crowd pleaser; everyone got on their feet and sang their hearts out, almost drowning out Lionel’s own voice.

Writing this piece I can feel the excitement brewing inside me again as I remember last night. For a man who has been preforming for many a year, there was no sign of age slowing him down as he ran across the stage encouraging audience participation, just to note, not much encouragement was needed.

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Lionel Richie’s personality shown through each performance and the sincere gratitude he has for the support of his fans throughout the years was tangible.

Lionel still has a few dates left on his tour so get your tickets on Ticketmaster, quick.

“Musicians are taught to accept the dole”

Musicians are not being taught to think like business people, they’re being taught to think like someone who’s been given the dole” remarks Daniel Jacobsen, founder of Diatribe Records and musician, known as ‘Zoid’.  Daniel used to be organising the release of niche records with his label, all in the genre of jazz and electronica. Diatribe’s focus was experimental, non-commercial music – the emphasis was art. Recently, Daniel’s had a change of mindset, leaving his label business to one side and engaging in personal pursuits – teaching and creating music. But why the change? “Artistically I wanted to refocus, and you can’t really focus on a label when your interests musically are somewhere else. You need to be into every release.”

Daniel Jacobsen performing at Red Bull Music Academy, Melbourne, 2006
Daniel Jacobsen performing at Red Bull Music Academy, Melbourne, 2006

Daniel explained that his label, Diatribe Records, relied heavily on Arts Council funding, and this drove him away from the company he created, “Diatribe runs financially – exclusively by Arts Council Ireland funding. It’s just the way the jazz music scene and the contemporary classical music scene works. It’s not commercial music and doesn’t look like it ever will be. It just rubbed the wrong way with me – how we put the money together.

 

The funding behind Diatribe’s existence is described as a “contentious point” to talk about by Daniel, and notably funding for independent arts is considerably different in Northern Ireland. There is significantly less funding available for art projects in Northern Ireland. Arts Council NI state they have £13 million ready to support arts projects within the country – compare this to the Arts Council of Ireland, who have a poultry €56.9 million (£47 million) to spare on similar projects. That’s over three times as much funding available throughout Ireland when compared to Northern Ireland. With regards to individual support, the Northern Irish Arts Council will provide up to £1,500 per project – in Ireland, €10,000 (£8,240) is available per project.

 

Yet, this could be a great safety net for artists to have behind them in Ireland – the ability to develop a project with serious financial pedigree. It’s safe if you get it” explains Daniel. “In the longer run it’s very impermanent. You never know if you’re going to get a grant the next year because there’s a lot of competition for grants. You have to have a good track record – some people say they never get them. I had a good track record though, Diatribe has a good track record, they get a lot.

 

Diatribe Records
Diatribe Records logo

Surely, the sense of freedom the artist feels is enormous by getting financial support? “You think when you get the funding you can do whatever you want, but it just doesn’t work like that. You put an application in writing, I’m going to do X. Y. Z. and then they [Arts Council of Ireland] either say yes or no. If they say yes, then you get the money and you’ve to do what you said you’re going to do – but you already got the money. It’s weird, it takes away all the drive,” explains Daniel. “I’ve heard of people owing the Arts Council three projects while living in Berlin, living off the money”. Daniel reflects with a purist sentiment, “the only way to make music worth listening to, is when it’s driving you really hard – that you have to do it.”

 

Daniel himself has a sharp tongue, candidly putting his point across and elaborating with precision. Years of experience echoed in his words. Despite this, our conversation could pass as a lecture, his elaborations full of wisdom and knowledge rather than open-ended arts talk.  As he spoke about past experiences Daniel sounded very business saavy. The excess financial backing the Arts Council provided in the past has moulded his business ethos into stoicism. In contrast, he claims, being a musician at the beginning of his career made him “anti-business.”

 

Daniel claims his music went down an “extreme” path, and it’s true his sound was zealously complex. Daniel Jacobsen or Zoid would often combine Jazz composition with electronics and glitch noises [click here for a review of Zoid’s recent release]. “Jazz training’s what I blame for that… I think in any arts school, there’s a focus on being the most original and the most inventive and you have to be different from everyone else. You end up going down a really extreme path. That’s what happened to my music before. It was quite extreme, in terms of… everything.” [click here to listen to Daniel Jacobsen’s previous work]

The first 'Zoid' release (2012) - a huge volume of work featuring jazz musicians across Ireland
The first ‘Zoid’ release (2012) – a huge volume of work featuring jazz musicians across Ireland

The word before means much throughout Daniel’s previous words, as Zoid is changing, becoming increasingly minimal and accessible in musical form. You might even be able to dance along while listening his recent release. Daniel reflects, “You can’t have everything complex. I used to do everything complex.” [click here to listen to unreleased work by Daniel Jacobsen]

 

As the interview began Daniel recounted his steps while starting up Diatribe Records, “I used to work in a petrol station and there was another guy who worked there – we’d just sit in another room when there was no cars coming in, listening to techno and talking about setting up a label. We put out two 12” vinyl’s of techno, one was mine, and one was a very good DJ and producer, Alan Doven. That was the start of Diatribe. After that – we didn’t do anything for seven years… It was an exercise in losing two thousand quid!

Business was at the forefront of his comments throughout our Skype conversation – mistakes, awareness, failure. Yet for the first time in his career, business has become an extension of his art.

Album Review: Zoid – Lyphyz Drumdrops

When Daniel Jacobson, aka ZoiD, was putting together a previous compilation record using jazz musicians, the musicians must have wondered how on earth it was all going to gel together.

ZoiD’s music is so texturally rich, with many electronic beeps and snarls that fitting in the natural timbre of jazz between the electronic bits seemed over zealous—yet it worked in such an uncomplicated way. It was simply electro and jazz living harmoniously together. It even ‘gets you humming’ said the Irish times. The trade-off, however, was simple. ZoiD restrained himself a lot of the time. He stuck by using minimal electronic noises, often dictating the rhythm and structure of a tune, letting the jazz instruments carry the emotional pulse.

With his latest, Lyphyz Drumdrops, Jacobsen is completely working alone, and one suspects a heck of a lot more free. Not resting on a specific genre throughout, the four tracks that make up this short EP are all different from one another. Individualism is at the forefront of this new work.

 

Artwork for Zoid's fifth release, 'Lyphyz Drumdrops' (2013)
Artwork for Zoid’s fifth release, ‘Lyphyz Drumdrops’ (2013)

First track, “jazzfishegg3,” has an old Autechre vibe about it—something ripped from LP5. Its energy is snappy, and there are noisy padded sounds panned across the stereo field. As the track progresses ZoiD strips the tune down into something minimal, with a dance-techno beat as the focus, put alongside psychedelic synth noises. “East Berlin 1966″ is one jaunty, disjointed number. As a guitar plays throughout, the rhythmic drum machine spits a beat out, the samples sounding entirely made by someone making the noises with their mouth. It all comes together as a perfectly sequenced beat-box alongside out-of-synch guitar chords.

Indeed, this is experimental territory. “Richman’s Folly” is similar to ZoiD’s earlier work with the jazz musicians. Central to the track is jazz musicianship, and ZoiD plays second fiddle, working around the jazz timbre with an arsenal of electronic noises and sequences. The difference here is that he’s much more manipulative in comparison to his previous work; the entire tune speeds up and slows down as he wishes, with glitch drum sequencing overtaking the tunes rhythmic undercurrent. Final tune, “rye,” is an upbeat little number. It has a ukulele frantically strumming chords alongside a synth-padded keyboard, playing a complicated melody. This is not so far from chiptune territory—the sounds of “rye” are mostly lo-fi and played at a high tempo—with a lot of the tune feeling like it’s intended for a videogame chase sequence. It’s delightfully quirky in full flow.

 

Lyphyz Drumpdrops by ZoiD

ANGEL OLSEN – BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS

“Burn Your Fire for No Witness” is the second full-length LP by Missouri-born singer-songwriter Angel Olsen.

This LP, for this reviewer’s money, is of exceptional quality: lyrically and musically.

“Burn Your Fire for No Witness” marks something of a departure from her 2012 full-length debut, Half Way Home, and an even greater deviation from the marker she threw down in her 2011 break-out EP Strange Cacti.

Both of those releases were distinguished by Olsen’s most enduring qualities: stark honest writing coupled with rich siren-like vocals. The addition of a backing band and the prominence of grunge-era electric guitars buzzing in slacker elegance throughout much of this album, does little to change that.

What we have here is a collection of eleven beautifully crafted songs in equally simple but refreshingly effective arrangements: some of them are quiet, others are audibly much louder than what we’re used to when it comes to Angel Olsen.

What both these kinds of song manage to do is provoke and excite as well as humble in equal measure (“Hi-Five” and “Iota” spring to mind immediately), as Olsen has always done.

“Burn Your Fire for No Witness”, from a lyrical standpoint, is somewhat less opaque than any of Olsen’s previous work.

No one could accuse Olsen of being prescriptive in her approach to song-writing: her’s is wildly cosmic but ultimately very visceral – real.

Many of the songs on this LP deal with loneliness and estrangement within relationships and love more generally. Compared with her previous work, Olsen is evidently more confessional and frank in her writing.

“Unfucktheworld” is one such example of this and shows Angel Olsen at her very (usual) best. The album opener is a track that would not sound out of place on any of her previous work, but with the addition of John Congelton to this project is quite telling here: Olsen’s voice is almost a dull hum throughout, as if played through a tube amplifier. The effect is hauntingly beautiful.

All things considered, the opener here is Olsen’s default setting: voice and acoustic guitar draped in wet reverb driven by frank riveting lyrics. The real treats on this album come later in the shape of ‘new’ tracks – the raucous, sultry and louder numbers – “Forgiven/Forgotten”, “Hi-Five” and “Lights Out”.

As far as sophomore albums go, this is impressive. If this marks a change – a new direction – it is a positive one. As Angel Olsen’s overall sound evolves so too will her appeal widen, and that for me is no bad thing. On the strength of this album’s lyrics alone Olsen’s career should reach the cosmically spectral heights that bely her general ethereal aesthetic. Her voice may not be for everybody, but as a work of art this album has to be admired for its frankness and bravery.

Silhouette see off songwriters’ festival

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Portstewart Songwriters’ Festival concluded on Sunday night with an intimate gig from Silhouette.

The Anchor Bar was the venue for the charismatic Shauna Tohill to showcase her talents with her band. The small bar quickly filled up as the band grabbed the crowd’s attention with slow rocker ‘Running Against The Wall’. Shauna’s voice shines on the catchy chorus and a driving bass line had heads nodding.

The funky ‘Volume Destroyed’ displayed the vocal harmonies the band is capable of with a perfect pop swagger. ‘Precious Time’ followed, a bluesy number with an epic outro that showed just how tight the band are.

The crowd settled down once the opening vocal harmonies of ‘Little Voices’ worked their magic with a sense of longing and desperation, but the room was immediately picked up with what the band called their wild card, ‘Rip Up My Heart’. A fun rocky number, it differs from the usual Silhouette style but it served its purpose as a great bit of fun to pick the crowd up with some chunky riff work from the band.

Shauna grabbed the spotlight with ‘Put The Silence on Hold’ and ‘Foxes’, which both served to show just how special her voice and song-writing talents are. The former is a great ballroom ballad off their debut EP and shined in the set. After getting the crowd laughing saying ‘Foxes’ came from a time when she genuinely considered running away and living with a pack of foxes, Shauna delivers some powerful vocals, full of introspection with an emotive chorus.

New song ‘Can You Feel It?’ showed the maturity in Shauna’s song-writing with some powerful lyrics and vocal work building up to an eye-widening breakdown in the bridge.

Naturally, the set finished with the famous ‘Can’t Keep Up’. Shauna joked that we were all probably sick of it by now, but that definitely wasn’t the case as the crowd joined in with the infectious intro and ended the night on a high.