live review ~ a plastic rose ~ button factory, dublin

by 06:35

This week Encore NI traveled down South for the triumphant return of Belfast's adopted sons A Plastic Rose, as they took to  the stage at the Button Factory in Dublin, supporting Irish legends Turn. Since their move across the water to Nottingham last year the band's stature has continued to grow, the release of new single 'This Side Of Winter' unsurprisingly capturing the attention of many big names and regularly gaining airplay on the likes of BBC Radio 1 in the process. It's been a long haul, but one which has made the lads recent rise all the sweeter for the dedicated and passionate 'APRmy', which has also recruited a new legion of fans to add to it's Belfast core. As the lads took to the stage for the last time in a remarkable 2013, it seemed fitting that our own Taylor Johnson was there, headbanging along to every word...

To see A Plastic Rose in a venue such as The Button Factory in Dublin is becoming a rarer and rarer experience. The relative intimacy of the venue, coupled by the bands position in the support slot, is one which will almost certainly be confined to the memories of the lucky few who can say they were there before long, as our boys are on the cusp of album number two and with it, a further push into the mainstream consciousness. Opening with 'Camera.Shutter.Lifes' pile driving first track 'Build From The Ground Up', APR set the tone from the opening thrashing guitar strum. Even without the orchestral effects provided on the album and at their sell out 'Farewell Belfast' gig, the power and passion was not lost as the band eased into top gear. Fan favorite 'All You Know & Love Will Die' also captured the audience, lead guitarist Ian McHugh's vocal as fierce as ever. New single 'This Side Of Winter' showed the lads radio friendly credentials, from the flawless opening vocal melodies to the incredibly catchy chorus. What's incredible about the single however, is how they've managed to capture the pure essence of their earliest work and channel that enthusiasm and energy in to a track bursting with hit potential.

The bands on stage presence was as effortlessly cool as you'd imagine, when thanking Turn for the use of their instruments while there's was back home, McHugh noted that bassist Troy Heatons bass was in fact his Nieces. 'Which will make it all the more special when we destroy the gear at the end of the gig'.

The first of many songs taking influence from the ocean, the hauntingly beautiful '...And The Sea', was delivered in perfect balance. From the pristine, maudlin intro to the big hitting chorus, every aspect as captivating as a band headlining a major festival. Certainly, it was performed with as much enthusiasm.

Another fan favorite, 'Boy Racer', highlighted the tightness and raw efficiency of the groups rhythm section, Heaton's bass playing taking center stage for the explosive breakdown, while drummer David Reid never missed a beat, in a floury of pure energy.

Perhaps the highlight of the set came late on however, as the big hitting 'Kids Don't Behave Like This' brought the audience to a sea of waving arms. Frontman Gerry Norman was in total control, as his pitch perfect vocal was screamed back to him by the now manic audience which had gathered tight to the front of the stage. Then, in an act of incredible showmanship, he gave one lucky fan the opportunity of a lifetime, bringing them on stage to sing the final electrifying chorus to a Dublin crowd well and truly in the hands of the band before them. If further evidence was needed of A Plastic Rose's humility and pure love for what they do, this was it. The fan on stage was certainly given a moment he will never forget and the loving audience appreciated it just as much. True ecstasy, it's not difficult to understand why A Plastic Rose are the band of the people.

This was followed by a beauty from the incredible 'The Promise Notes' EP, 'The Metal Man'. Wrapped in a storm of melancholy guitar, you could feel every ounce of emotion from the captivating lyrics of isolation and longing for the Atlantic ocean. As near silence fell for the mesmerising refrain of 'So Ill waste my time, like you said, like you always said, and I will shine, my light, into the sea' you truly felt at one with the band. Album closer 'Suns A Shadow' then provided an uplifting ending, as Belfast's favorite band thanked the crowd for their time and left.

Although they may not live on these shores anymore, you could feel the love and adoration of the people for a band on the verge of more major success.

As Gerry Norman declared mid way through their brilliant set, 'We're A Plastic Rose and we're from Belfast'; and with A Plastic Rose, you know they'll never forget that.

Taylor Johnson

small but massive...a year in review ~ top 10 songs of 2013

by 17:09

To cap off a fantastic year for local music, Encore NI has narrowed down, in no particular order, our list of the top ten songs of 2013. Agree with our choices? Let us know!

10. The Wonder Villains ~ '33'

During a year of cementing their position as one of the countries hottest prospects with successful gigs across the country, indie-pop masters The Wonder Villains released this gem in a floury of trademark energy and excitement. Undercut with a beautifully arranged synth hook, '33' is an anthem that spans all age-groups, filled with uplifting lines of 'staying in' and having 'rockshows'. With a debut album already in sight, it wont be long before everyones favorite villains are more than just 'a big deal where they come from'. Expect big things in 2014.
For fans of | Alphabeat | Blondie | MGMT

9. Aaron Shanley ~ 'Skyline Of Matchsticks'

Floating in amongst an album of understated beauty, 'Skyline Of Matchsticks' is Aaron's ode to the simple things in life. A stunningly serene vocal is complimented by a soft, folk guitar. Perfected by a harmonica overlay that highlights a mature and mellowed twist, to add to Shanley's beautifully crafted acoustic prowess. Listen closely and you can hear the subtle influences of a young Neil Young. The album itself, 'Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses' is arguably Shanley's best to date. Stunning.

For fans of | Donovan | Neil Young | Badly Drawn Boy

(Track 4 Below)

8.  Pretty Child Backfire ~ 'If We Can Last The Summer'

Though written sometime towards the end of 2012, 'If We Can Last The Summer' has technically not yet been released, and due to it's incredible live reception throughout 2013 it seemed to be impossible to leave it out of this final list. Encapsulating Pretty Child's fast paced, catchy indie riffs and combined with frontman Mark McAllister's trademark emotive delivery, the tracks harmonious interludes and poetic lyricism has captured the hearts of many. Long may it continue into 2014.

For fans of | Bombay Bicycle Club | The Wombats | The Maccabees

7. Foy Vance ~ 'Joy Of Nothing'

The title track from this years 'NI Music Prize' winning album has been an overlooked piece of genius from Northern Ireland's answer to David Gray. A delicate ballad, 'Joy Of Nothing' stresses the importance of reflection and clarity, in an age clouded by the strain of 21st century life. With lines like 'Calling the doves and fighter planes, sharing the sky like it's nothing strange', Foy's triumphant chorus is executed to perfection, as a soaring falsetto vocal highlights his incredible range and leads to an atmospheric finale. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the big hitting 'Closed Hands, Full Of Friends', this fantastic song is a superb addition to an album you imagine will only be appreciated more as time goes on.

For fans of | David Gray | Paul Brady | Bruce Springsteen

6. Tired Pony ~ 'The Ghost Of The Mountain'

Another title track, this time from Gary Lightbody's Tired Pony and their second album. In a release that should have elevated the Snow Patrol frontman to near legendary status, instead was all too often simply panned as another trademark Lightbody release, with REM's Peter Buck thrown in for good measure. What a shame that was, as 'The Ghost Of The Mountain' bursts at the seams with the sort of lyrics that should stand the test of time for decades. Here we get a rare glimpse into the secretive frontman's clouded mindset,  'I'm not a man, just a shadow, just a fragment, just a ghost' echoing in your head for days after the first listen. A beautiful track from an excellent album.

For fans of | Stephen Fretwell | Kodaline | Ian Archer

5. More Than Conquerors ~ 'When The Well Runs Dry'

A firm fan favorite, 'When The Well Runs Dry' is a piledriver of a track from More Than Conqueror's debut album 'Everything I've Learnt'. Running on pure adrenalin, the track has all the hallmarks of a classic rock anthem. Complete with an invigorating breakdown and encapsulating over-driven guitars, the beauty of the song lies in it's flexibility. The band have regularly performed the track acoustically for various live sessions over the year and the result is as hauntingly melodic as the original at times and would not look out of place on an alternative Deaf Havana album. A rare accolade for a passionate rock and roll band.

For fans of | 6 Star Hotel | You Me At Six | Deaf Havana

4. SOAK ~ 'Explosion'

Captivating from the outset, the 2013 City of Culture's favorite songstress Soak again showed her incredible maturity beyond her years with the release of 'Explosion'. Soaks transcendent vocal glides through a melancholic backdrop of sad guitar, as she perfectly captures the pain of teenage heartbreak with breathtaking honesty. Tours with 'Bombay Bicycle Club' and 'Tegan & Sara' has capped an extraordinary year for her, which will only get better in 2014.

For fans of | Lisa Hannigan | Martha Wainwright | Gabrielle Aplin

3. Echo Raptors ~ 'Change My Way'

From the opening notes of Vincent Caddel's shimmering guitar it's clear that Belfast's Echo Raptors are on to something special. Looking to raise the art of Brit-Pop from it's 90's resting place, 'Change My Way' is the anthemic scream from the terraces that the people of Northern Ireland have been waiting for. Brimming with confidence and earning rave reviews in the process, Echo Raptors are the pin-up boys for Belfast's indie resurrection.

For fans of | Oasis | Cast | The Verve

2. The Late Twos ~ 'The Late Twos'

Possibly the closest any band have came to emulating the Arctic Monkeys early adoration, The Late Two's have burst onto the music scene in an explosive year for the band. The pick of an already beloved back catalogue of original songs is this self titled track from their debut EP. Driven by that wonderfully catchy opening riff, 'The Late Two's' is another track that alludes to the carefree abundance of youth, tinged with 90's nostalgia and an attitude to boot. Having developed a reputation as one of the countries best live bands, the lads from East Belfast are at the forefront of an adoring legion of mods and 'mad fer it's'. Enjoy them while you can, The Late Two's may not be our hidden gems for much longer.

For fans of | Arctic Monkeys | The Libertines | Manic Street Preachers

1. A Plastic Rose ~ 'This Side Of Winter'

As A Plastic Rose's dynamic frontman Gerry Norman took one final glimpse at the adoring crowd before him at the bands 'farewell Belfast' show he made a promise. A promise that, no matter where they were in the world they would be proud to wave the flag for their adopted city of Belfast. A year on and the countries favorite sons have kept their promise and then some, releasing new single 'This Side Of Winter' just in time for the big freeze. Packed with as much APR trademark energy as physically possible, this big hitting single sent waves across the UK, gaining consistent airplay on shows such as BBC Radio 1, the likes of Huw Stephens amongst others were keen to proclaim their new found love for one of the hardest working bands in the business. Filled with raucous guitar and a beautifully melodic vocal, 'This Side Of Winter' bridges the gap to APR's upcoming second album fantastically, showing a more radio friendly edge without ever sacrificing their fantastically crafted indie in the process. With a spell binding Ian McHugh guitar solo to boot, this may be the single that launches the band into the mainstream. One things for sure though, the Belfast boys from Sligo will never change who they are, and that's why we love them.

For fans of | Biffy Clyro | Nirvana | Weezer

Taylor Johnson

'ban the bomb, free the banned its!'

by 15:53

Neil Young once proclaimed that he was proud to keep on rocking in a free world. For years, like Neil Young, the local Northern Irish music scene did the same, celebrating our diverse and eccentric talent like no country before us. That is, until very recently. In a country, however briefly, recently transported back to it's violent past with an attempted terrorist attack in Cathedral Quarter, it is to be assumed that our local music scene would come together to unite in unison in the face of discrimination and hate. Instead, for the simple crime of throwing lettuce into an unexpected audience, local punk hero's 'Bunny & the Banned It's' have lived up to their name and been black listed by a large majority of Belfast's music venues. This has outraged many and confused many more, as the band are now a thriving part of our music scene, as well as having developed a cult following in the process. Today Encore NI urges the people of Belfast and beyond to stand up and unite in the face of this outrageous decision. We want to see as many venues reverse their decision to ban the band as possible, to highlight that in a time of political discontent music will always be a unifying force, rather than a divisive one.

We say "ban the bomb, free the banned its!"

We hope you will join us.



encore introducing...'the croons'

by 12:33

As it's coming to the end of a very successful year for Encore NI we thought we'd like to feature something rather different on the site. Here Taylor Johnson takes a first listen to a demo from a young Mancunian 4 piece looking to make waves in 2014. Already armed with an obvious determination and edgy attitude, this week Encore NI  introduces 'The Croons'.

Cradled under the gentle rain of a grey Manchester sky sits a lonely train station, frozen in a simpler time where rock and roll was a way of life and the only dream was to get out of the city. It is a powerful image from Britain's past and the appropriate single artwork to a track slowly beginning to reignite a  nostalgic passion long forgotten in the baron wasteland of the 'UK Top 40'.

The track in question is the debut demo single from young Manchester 4-piece 'The Croons', a ready made indie anthem with a captivating back beat and startlingly well developed sound called 'Train Tracks'. Released inexplicably into cyberspace last month, 'Train Tracks' is a song that seeks to captivate from the off, a raw distorted guitar riff acting as the catalyst for a driving bass drum intro that builds to the songs central hook. Brimming with passion, the effortless vocal delivery at times is reminiscent of a 'Beneath The Board Walk' era Alex Turner, as the band easily step into the sort of singalong chorus The Strokes would be proud of. Subtle guitar overlays help to add a rock and roll flare to proceedings as the hypnotic drum beat never once threatens to falter.

Lyrically, The Croons natural charisma comes to the surface, as the chorus's hook  'Leave the train-tracks along my back' can't help but leave you singing along. The lads cheeky references to young love and the freedom of youth are written cleverly and delicately, with lines like 'She don't want no devotion, just enjoying the motion' easily overlooked, yet brilliantly intertwined.  As the song flows to it's pinnacle a Libertines-esque guitar solo serves to highlight the bands musicality and natural ability.

A final refrain of the chorus brings the song to it's conclusion, as The Croons first release bows out as confidently as it began.

In all, 'Train Tracks' serves as a perfect example of the undercurrent of raw passion that still remains in the pop dominated musical landscape we live in. The Croons could well be the band your kids will one day start to believe in. Until then, Train Tracks will keep them dancing.

Taylor Johnson

If you like...The Strokes, The Libertines, The Jam...You'll love The Croons.

'last vance saloon for foy as he scoops ni music prize' ~ encore ni report

by 06:20

As the dust settles in the wake of the inaugural 'Northern Irish Music Prize' it seems that all has went well for Belfast's Official Music Week. The winner, as well known by now, was Belfast's answer to David Gray, singer songwriter and all around gentleman Foy Vance, with his second album 'Joy Of Nothing'. Having listened extensively to Mr Vance over the last year and had the pleasure of seeing him support Snow Patrol at Tennants Vital (Gary Lightbody sights him as 'a personal hero') I can wholeheartedly agree that 'The Joy Of Nothing' was a worthy winner. However it must be asked, was it the right choice? Or indeed, as has been argued by certain members of the local scene, simply a safe choice? Questions must also be asked of the shortlist...were any more deserving acts overlooked due to a popularity contest? Questions have been asked in the past of this countries musical elite and the cliquey nature of the success which follows. Here, Taylor Johnson takes a look at the nominations and gives his view on who should have won the newest accolade in this countries musical history.

Foy Vance (Winner)

May I first start by saying congratulations to Foy Vance. With his soothing tones and big hitting chorus's, he was always going to be in with a good chance of winning. My only fear for Foy is that, despite his clear talent and the respect he commands from his fellow artists, he may lack the originality needed to make the step into mainstream adoration. He will always be a delight to listen to, and it's nearly impossible to deny his lyrical depth, yet following in the folk tinged footsteps of the likes of David Gray and Paul Brady  may leave him cast in a shadow he'll struggle to emerge from. Thankfully, there is very few on his level at present, but with the likes of David C Clements gearing up for album launches and extensive tours, we may be on the way to producing a new generation of singer songwriters that may not leave Foy on his own for much longer.

Overall: A worthy winner, but a safe winner.
Key Track: 'Closed Hands, Full Of Friends'

And So I Watch You From Afar

The North Coast rockers stand alone as the most successful post-rock, instrumental band to ever emerge from Northern Ireland. Which, to be fair, hasn't been a particularly difficult accolade to earn, but one you feel they would have easily been given, even with more healthy competition. Steeped in technical complexity and soaring melodic guitar solos, ASIWYFA are known for their energetic live performances and explosive creativity. Having now released three full studio LP's, the band have been touring extensively, particularly in America, where their credibility seems to grow by the week. Unfortunately you feel that, despite the loyal fan base they've acquired on both sides of the pond and at home, that ASIWYFA were unlikely to have been awarded the overall prize. Brilliant though 'All Hail Bright Futures' is, experimental, guitar driven instrumentals are never going to be to everyone's taste. Bar a few of their now classic tracks, the Portrush lads may always be considered to be a really good band, 'if you're in to that sort of thing'. Not that that'll bother them one bit.

Overall: Unlikely winners, but a deserving nomination.
Key Track: 'Big Thinks Do Remarkable'

The Bonnevilles

The brilliantly named 'Folk Art and The Death Of Electric Jesus' is the second album from Lurgan two-piece The Bonnevilles. Having gained a strong local following, the lads bluesy brand of rock and roll has drawn comparisons to Rory Gallagher and The Black Keys and rightfully so. With critical acclaim coming in from all over the globe, The Bonnevilles were always going to be contenders to win the top prize. I feel it was a mixture of the bands edginess and DIY attitude that ultimately ended their chances. The tight suits of the local music Academy were never likely to rock the boat, though The Bonnevilles certainly were.

Overall: Always a contentious choice, deserving nomination.
Key Track: 'Good Suits and Fighting Boots'

Jetplane Landing

Back with a bang after the disappointing 'Backlash Cop', you'd be forgiven for thinking that Jetplane Landing were a brand new entry to the mix this year. Armed with a bolder and more commercial sound, the post hardcore rockers seem to have finally lived up to their billing as the new 'Fighting With Wire', recently playing to a sold out Limelight, while supposedly catching the eye of several high profile labels in the process. Their new radio friendly sound and raw edge meets in perfect harmony on new single 'My Radio Heart', encapsulating the essence of a new era for the band. May well have scooped first prize, for their smooth transition into mainstream consciousness if nothing else.

Overall: Could well have won and if they continue to improve, will eventually.
Key Track: 'My Radio Heart'

Tired Pony

After locking himself in the heart of the American countryside with his various musical accomplices, Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody came out with a piece of musical  genius that has been unusually overlooked since it's release. Brimming with the sort of ethereal wonder we've come to expect from Lightbody, it seems he's been taken for granted somewhat since Snow Patrol's break from touring. Lyrical poetry in the form of 'I don't want you as a ghost, I don't want you as A fading light, I don't wanna be the weight you carry, I just wanna be the man you come home too' must surely reinforce Lightbody as one of this countries greatest songwriters, yet it was written off as simply another signature track from the Bangor born frontman. It was said Tired Pony were never going to win the NI Music Prize as only one of their members was from over here, which casts a sad and undeserving shadow over Ian Archer, who's pristine harmonies feature heavily on what is a beautiful record.

Overall: Probably the best album to be nominated, only stopped by the bands transatlantic roots.
Key Track: 'The Creak In The Floorboards'

A Plastic Rose

Sligo born alt-rockers A Plastic Rose came under unfair pressure after the release of their debut album 'Camera.Shutter.Life', as some felt disappointed by it's finalised production. This may be some of the most misguided criticism any band is likely to get this year. With a passionate and dedicated fan base in the 'APRmy', the bands recent departure to Nottingham has left a gaping hole in the local music scene that no band has yet been able to come close to filling. 'Camera.Shutter.Life' itself is a masterstroke of alternative rock energy and delicate, singalong life lessons of pain, heartache and perseverance. Listening to A Plastic Rose's debut will give any young band the drive to get out of their hometowns and dream big. They encapsulate the spirit of the local music scene and as such, have been sadly overlooked. With album number two imminent, you can't see A Plastic Rose having similar problems in the future.

Overall: Very unfortunate not to win. Our biggest hope.
Key Track: 'Build From The Ground Up'

Two Door Cinema Club

Maintaining the glittering pop edge that helped make 'Tourist History' the success that it was, Two Door's newest effort once again cemented their place as a solid and dependable indie-rock band. The release of 'Sleep Alone' marked a significant step forward in the bands journey as it made it on to the soundtrack of thousands of teenagers bedrooms across Europe on the new Fifa 14. Apart from that, it seemed to lack the hit potential of years gone by. Still an enjoyable and fun record, but it seems it was included almost out of necessity rather than on critical analysis.

Overall: What we've come to expect from one of our most established groups. An unlikely winner given other nominations.
Key Track: 'Someday'

Future Winners/Nominations

The Wonder Villains

The countries most developed pop band already have a cult following, and after a year of solid gigging and some incredible support slots, should be ready for an assault on the charts with a debut album eagerly anticipated by all. Ones to watch.

Key Track: '33'

More Than Conquerors

Just home from another successful European tour, Belfast's MTC's may feel a little disappointed they were left out this year. A stunning debut album and impeccably tight set list will see them continue to make waves in 2014.

Key Track: 'Pits Of Old'

David C Clements

Since the break up of his last band '6 Star Hotel', David C Clements has carved a name and reputation as one of the countries finest singer songwriters. With a beautifully toned voice and minimalist stage set up, next year could be significant for him.

Key Track: 'Hurricanes'

Echo Raptors

Belfast's most promising 90's inspired rock and roll band, the Raptors have went from strength to strength over the last year. Rumored to be planning a move to Liverpool in search of success, if they produce another EP like their latest offering 'She's So Free', the lads could be on to a winner. 'Change My Way' is arguably one of the best original songs written by an unsigned band at present.

Key Track: 'Change My Way'

In all, we have a lot to be excited about. The local music scene is alive and kicking - Will it continue into 2014? Only time will tell -  no pressure to the new generation then!

Taylor Johnson.

live review ~ shark week ~ maddens, antrim & our 50th review

by 11:36

More than a year ago, when I was just beginning to delve into the world of local music journalism, I went to see a young band in a tiny venue in Antrim's high street, not knowing what to expect, nor how I would be able to describe it to an audience I couldn't be sure would even care about what I had to say. Months (and 49 live, EP and album reviews) later and Encore NI is going stronger than ever, as e continue to help promote as many promising local bands as possible. It's given me the chance to interview some of my favorite bands and even travel across to England and Scotland to record with companies as respected as the BBC. Which is why, as we approach our 50th official review, It's appropriate that I should find myself going full circle and ending up at the exact same pub to watch that very band. Their name was Shark Week and tonight they return with a new sound, a new line up and a new found determination to finally break their way in to the countries growing list of potential success stories...

As the opening bars to that iconic fast paced drum beat rang out, the fortunate punters in Maddens Bar last night seemed to immediately take notice, and with good reason too. For this was the long awaited return of local hero's 'Shark Week', once the regular house band that had the people of Antrim jumping at will and screaming with approval. After a long hiatus of constant writing, meticulous attention to detail and the small matter of a major line up change, the self proclaimed 'Shark Week mark ii' had a lot to prove and an even greater desire to do just that. This iconic drum beat was swiftly followed by the delicate precision of new member Kate Cannon's powerful bass line as the band re-entered their rightful spot as headliners with a cover of Joy Division's 'Disorder'. A bold choice by any means, but particularly for a band looking to re-establish themselves on a crowd that can be hostile at the best of times. This brave opener also seemed to signify a new found intent, as although the guitar still maintained it's trademark Hendrix styled tone and the thunderous drumming of Timmy Burns remained as energetic as ever, there was a certain calm and quiet sophistication to their sound that you can't quite imagine the Shark Week of old ever wanting to attain. They seemed more in control than ever before, a clever irony considering the very name of the song they were playing.

As the gig progressed as too did Shark Week's confidence, as the three piece started to really push their explosive elements to the limit. Covers of ‘Thee Oh Sees’, as well as startlingly arranged instrumentals provided a relaxed counter melody to the garage rock roots that still remain at the heart of Shark Week’s set up. One particularly seemed to mesmerize the audience, as front man Milo Dunn-Clarke demonstrated his incredible creativity by using a capo in the place of the usual bottle neck for an outstanding demonstration of slide guitar. After which he casually remarked, ’That’s what capos are really used for…’. Other originals, including the brilliantly titled ‘There’s A Cat In The Kitchen, How’d It Get There?’ gave off a distinctly Blur styled sound, as the mellow waves of intricate guitar riffs provided Dunn-Clarke's deadpan delivery the perfect back drop with which to really shout at the audience with as much passion as deemed necessary. One of the highlights of what was an enthralling set however, came in the form of the last song on the set. Perhaps as a final nod to the Shark Week of old, the band played out a note perfect cover of Rage Against The Machines ‘Bullet In The Head’. Sparking several members of the crowd into a miniature mosh pit, the pure energy of the song even saw one fan jump on stage, grabbing the mic to join Dunn-Clarke in a faultless duet of the songs angst filled, rapid rap verses.

As the band looked to leave the stage once more, the familiar cries of ‘One more tune!’ rang out, as they went straight into The White Stripes classic ‘Ball and Biscuit’. Again, it was of the quality of a band in the midst of a massive tour, with the energy of an opening night. Yet, this was in reality a band who had been off of the gigging circuit for much too long.

It could easily be argued that this was Shark Week picking up from where they left off all those months ago, I however, saw a band looking for reinvention, rather than a triumphant homecoming. The most impressive aspect of their set lies in the fact that anyone hoping for the psychedelic tinged band of old will not have gone home disappointed, and yet, the added sophistication of their new found sound has the appeal to capture a brand new audience in the process. Shark Week are finally out of transition and their future looks much stronger for it.

Taylor Johnson.

Stand out tracks; ‘There’s A Cat In The Kitchen’ / ‘Disorder (Joy Division cover) / ‘Bullet In The Head’ (Rage Against The Machine cover)

If You Like; Nirvana, Kings Of Leon (Aha Shake Heartbreak era), Pixies ~ You'll love Shark Week

Keep up to date with Shark Week on the links below…

single review ~ "symmetry and correlation" ~ freak's

by 13:08
'Symmetry and Correlation' is out now...

Strabane is admittedly, not particularly renowned for it's musical heritage which makes the discovery of alt-rock four piece "Freak's" all the more intriguing. Adopting their name from the fantastically punctuated graffiti of the same name in the town itself, Freak's have quietly went about building a solid fan base alongside the likes of 'Those Ghosts' and 'White Male Actors', as they work to change the perceptions of a town with a lot of potential. Taylor Johnson had a listen to their single 'Symmetry and Correlation'...

A fast tempo'd bass line acts as a polished introduction to the latest alternative outfit to emerge from Strabane's new generation of rock acts. With the unmistakable tone of a 'Black Holes and Revelations' era Muse, it simply pinpoints from early on that 'Freak's', despite their fun loving and carefree nature, are a band that mean business. Soon complimented by a soothing overlaid guitar riff, the entire emphasis of the track is shifted from the dynamic to the melodic, as front man Ronan Duffy's delicate vocal set's the beautifully complex scene of 'two souls entwined in perfect correlation'. 

In terms of emotive, thought provoking lyricism, Freak's seem to be in their element and as the track continues as too does the intrigue and introspection. 'Together, we'll's better not to grow old here...'

The tracks brilliantly executed breakdown of soaring guitar riffs and almost floating vocal melody gives the second half a particularly serene quality, not dissimilar to The Velvet Underground in their free flowing prime. Throughout, Freak's solid bass and drum beat backbone allows 'Symmetry and Correlation' to flourish, particularly the distinctly 90's styled lead guitars, that works to give the track it's feelgood finish.

At it' best, 'Symmetry and Correlation' could easily have been the work of a young Thom Yorke, but what truly marks Freak's out as a band to watch out for is their ability to create a track with enough of an anthemic quality to entertain a thousand strong festival crowd, yet equally be enjoyed as the soundtrack to a relaxing evening at home.

Freak's are the sound of rose tinted nostalgia. A truly exciting prospect.

~Taylor Johnson

If You Like ~ The Velvet Underground, Bombay Bicycle Club, Band Of Horses ~ You'll love Freak's.

Keep up to date with all Freak's news on the links below...

& Listen to the single below...

single of the week ~ shark week ~ 'the mice'

by 07:45

After nearly three months left in the wilderness of the Northern Irish indie-rock scene, Antrim's most promising prodigal sons of rock and roll have slowly began to reemerge from their temporary hiatus to reclaim the hype left in their exciting wake. Expectation was high for the bands latest EP 'Dumo', the psychedelic follow up to their much talked about debut, but amidst an unfortunate build up of working commitments, higher education and abandoned recording sessions 'Dumo' was never fully released. Now though, armed with a new set of water tight covers and a revitalised  sound, Shark Week are back on the gigging circuit. Through the cloud of uncertainty that followed that hectic initial period however, came the release of two new tracks from the 'Dumo' sessions, 'Bedtime' and the anthemic 'The Mice', the latter of which we felt couldn't be overlooked as our 'Track of the Week'. Taylor Johnson had a listen...

Opening as serenely as they don't mean to go on, 'The Mice' fades into life as nonchalantly as a band in rehearsal for  a non-existent gig. Yet it's this relaxed demeanor, and the resulting relaxed vibes which follows, that set Shark Week apart from their contemporaries. They don't need an all guns blazing introduction to capture an audience, rather it's this hypnotic effect which immediately drags you into proceedings. The Pixies styled bass line executed by Andrew Burns drives the beat of the song forward, perfectly complimenting the palm muted reverb of  front-man Milo Dunn-Clarke's lead guitar. Dunn-Clarke's unique vocal delivery is also brilliantly utilised, guiding the songs complex lyricism and grunge tinged arrangement to it's now trademark  breakdown of thunderous drums and White Stripes-esque guitar work.

As the track continues, the engaging rhythms and evocative progressions which gave the intro it's spark never once threatens to fade out, instead only growing in stature. Which leads to the next explosion of sound. Rounding off the verses with the passion filled precision of a 'Aha Shake Heartbreak' era Kings of Leon, Dunn-Clarke rattles out the final verse of 'even you must see the demise..." before the entire tangent of the track is ripped apart and replaced with the organised chaos of a band in full flow. A quick build up from the impeccable Timmy Burns acts as the interlude for some terrifyingly impressive guitar solos, as Shark Week continue to step up the tempo of a track clearly created with the artistic merit of a band with nothing to prove but everything to gain. Fading out with a slightly slowed, but none the less impressive crescendo of roaring feedback and dynamic riffs, "The Mice" could well be the track that pushes Shark Week out of the underground and in to the mainstream. As long as they want it to.

Based on this evidence, it's utterly perplexing to think why Shark Week aren't yet one of the biggest names of the local music scene.

Taylor Johnson.

If You Like; Sonic Youth, Pixies, Kings Of Leon (early years) ~ You'll Love Shark Week.

Keep up to date with Shark Week on the links below...


live review ~ david c clements ~ the limelight, belfast

by 08:31

It's very unusual for a gig review to ever be written in two parts, but on this occasion I felt an exception had to be made. In support of the awesome 'Levity Breaks' came one of the local music scenes most respected and loved singer-songwriters on the circuit, (fans include Tired Pony and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody amongst others) ex 'Six Star Hotel' frontman David C Clements. Fresh from a live session on Radio Ulster's 'Across The Line', David was in stunning form, providing a most fitting introduction for what was a fine night for Northern Irish music...

From the moment David C Clements took to the stage it was evident he was an artist in a good place. Looking relaxed and confident, he opened his set in stunning fashion,  enchanting a large Limelight crowd as soon as his delicate, soaring vocals echoed through the Limelight's stone walls. Clement's pristine vocals were reminiscent of Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold, while his energetic backing band provided the indie styled back bone of Texas' post rockers 'Explosions In The Sky'. An enthralling concoction of overflowing melody, that seemed to genuinely move some members of the audience.

Clements sweet blend of atmospheric ambiance was gently fused with flourishes of melodic rock, a combination utilised to perfection in tracks like 'On The Border' with the sort of singalong chorus's to make the leap into the playlists of mainstream, contemporary radio on a national scale.

The highlight of a mesmerising set came through the last track. Delivered like a sonic wave washing over the venue, 'Hurricanes' (The opener to 'The Longest Day In History' EP) seemed to scale the ambient heights reached only by Icelandic 5 piece 'Sigur Ros' in recent years. Executed in a frenzy of passion, Clement's ability to maintain his calm demeanor throughout the explosion of sound which surrounded him, was incredible. Like watching a performance through the eye of a storm.

David C Clements is an artist destined for success beyond the confines of these shores, but until that day (which may come through the release of a highly anticipated solo album) we should be extremely grateful to have him. If you get the chance to see him live, take it. It may be a lot more difficult to do so in future.

Taylor Johnson

If you like ~ Fleet Foxes, Bon Ivor, Sigur Ros | You'll love David C Clements

Keep up to date with all of David's offical news on the links below...

David C Clement's EP, 'The Longest Day In History' is out now...

gig review ~ levity breaks ~ the limelight, belfast

by 19:17

As the final tireless melody plays out on 'Water Runs Dry', it's difficult to believe that 'Maudlin' is simply the debut of one of Belfast's most popular alternative rock bands, Levity Breaks. Since their formation in mid 2010, the band have been touted for great things. Expectations were high when two years later, they began work on the debut that never was, their 'Broken Hands EP'. After discontent over the production of the tracks, the almost complete recordings were shelved and the breakthrough that many on the local scene expected was pushed further back. That is until early this year, when a sporadic post on the bands Facebook page showed that they had just entered the studio once again. Ending in the knowledge that there was, 'Nothing to report, other than it's going very well', the hope and optimism surrounding a Levity Breaks record were once again rejuvenated in emphatic fashion. As the year progressed, the finishing touches were added and the final beats played out - all leading to tonight, as Taylor Johnson headed to the Limelight for the official launch of the long awaited 'Maudlin' EP.

As Levity Breaks entered the stage their determination was as evident as ever. Intro-ing with a Depeche Mode styled build up, the band eased into proceedings in an explosion of anthemic rock. The bands big sound was delivered with feeling and emotion, their timing and rhythm never missing a beat, despite intricate interplay between the delicately utilised synth and it's overlaying lead guitar counterpart. Amongst the groups  singalong styled melodies and big hitting chorus's came the subtle use of piano, capturing the personal touches and intimate feelings on which the songs were no doubt written on. As the night progressed, Levity Breaks purveyed this further, bringing a violinist on stage to great effect for tracks like 'Home and the Wolf'.

Drummer Eamon Lenehan stole a lot of the plaudits as the show progressed, particularly for tracks like 'First Word', with it's beautifully high tempo arrangement juxtaposing brilliantly with the resonating synth which dances through it. New track, 'The Floor' was also a crowd favorite, at times sounding like a Tired Pony track that had been rearranged with an indie twist. Title track 'Maudlin' also went down a storm, it's catchy melody and hook heavy arrangements getting the audience dancing and fist pumping in equal measure.

The eclectic nature of Levity Breaks set  meant that, at times, they looked like the closest this country has came to filling the gap left by the hugely inspirational A Plastic Rose and yet, at other stages, their electronic nature marked them as The Wonder Villains older, worldlier brother. An unusual and exciting combination.
As the band left the stage to the reception of a band playing the final night of a major tour, an encore was inevitable and an encore is exactly what the hugely pumped up crowd received. It was one of the most loving and passionate gigs I'd been too in a long time and a testament to Levity's character and talent that they have not only maintained the hype of their first recording sessions, but improved it greatly. With their dynamic vocal harmonies, honest lyricism and anthemic sonic landscape, it seems Levity Breaks are a band destined for the stadium circuit.

Taylor Johnson.

If you like; Cry Before Dawn, Snow Patrol, Editors | You'll love Levity Breaks

Keep up to date with all official Levity Breaks news on the links below...

Official Website

'Maudlin' is out now...

ep review ~ hurdles ~ 'where to start'

by 07:21

For many years the fast paced riffs of the 'indie-rock' scene had been the only genre that continually eluded the diverse musical landscape of Belfast. Recently, however, a distinct group of bands have begun to pick up the baton thrown down in recent years by the likes of The (early) Arctic Monkeys, The Twang and Franz Ferdinand. Paving the way for the Northern Irish indie outfit, have been undoubtedly Two Door Cinema Club, who's melodic jangle and polished tones have sound-tracked many a teenage sit-com. Belfast's newest purveyors of indie rock, 'Hurdles' seem to be blazing their own trail, still very much in the 'indie' category, but with an added depth and back beat that has seen the hype for their debut Ep, 'Where To Start' sky rocket, despite being one of the countries newest bands. Taylor Johnson had a sneak preview of what's in store...

Opening with the appropriately titled 'Intro', Hurdles debut Ep certainly starts as it means to go on. The technical brilliance of drummer Ross Haymes is only eluded to in the opening bars, as steady interplay between the drum and bass look to create a sense of anticipation. As a gentle, yet menacing guitar riff begins to build towards the first crashing climax of the Ep, it's the bands tight rhythm section that suitably set up whats in store. As the upbeat riff is left to resonate around the bands confident and dynamic approach, it paves the way for the title track, 'Where To Start'. Built on the kind of exciting flourishes that ensured The Strokes classic debut 'Is This It' was as influential as it was, the track beautifully sets a positive and bright tone, Nial Hanna's emotive croon proving a stunning and harmonious contrast that helps to bring the passion of the track alive. Haymes drumming again provides an incredibly strong back bone to proceedings, but the most impressive aspect lies in the bands ability to capture the energy and enthusiasm of their live performances on record - the unfortunate downfall of many promising local acts. As the song bounces along to it's climax, the bar is immediately set very high through a beautifully energised opening.

This is followed by 'Roadrunner', a slightly slower riff driven piece, that importantly looses none of the previous tracks rhythmic backbeat or punchy finish. The inclusion of subtle harmonic bells highlights a fragility to the bittersweet lyrics of isolation that course through the heart of the song. 'Back on my own, it won't make sense...', again setting Hurdles apart from many of the two dimensional pop-styled lyrics they could so easily have fallen into. A well constructed break down leads to a crescendo of crashing drums and emotive guitar solos, not disimilar to a Sam's Town-era Killers.

The synth lead ending of Roadrunner then drifts seamlessly into the Ep's lead single, 'Control'. Eoin Bleeks complex bass lines are given centre stage here, as Hurdles look to kick things up a gear. At times, the ethereal qualities of 'Control' give it a Cure like relaxation, that always looks likely to burst into life. Hanna's vocal delivery remains as committed as ever, gently weaving through the indie riff undercurrent. Indeed, the Bombay Bicycle styled refrain of  'If I could just control you, If I could just control...' may be one of Hanna's strongest and most serene deliveries of the Ep, the highnote within it as engaging as any on the indie market to date. 'Control' shows the groups ability to create an authentically original and indie styled track with enough commercial appeal to be played on any major radio station. Even the rockier breakdown towards the end of the song only serves to enhance the bands sound, adding yet another accolade to their diverse sound.

The record is then finished in style with the awesome 'Ruthless'. A seemingly obvious choice for single, delicate pop hooks are scattered over one of the catchiest guitar riffs your likely to hear this year. Fast paced and incredibly invigorating, 'Ruthless' channels all of Hurdles most melodic and vibrant qualities into a track of real style. As the singalong chorus of 'Far below, under the ocean, burning up, under the sun' plays out, the joy of Hurdles sunny disposition is emphasized once more. A wonderful ending, to a brilliant debut.

With a well developed sound and growing fan base, Hurdles have found the perfect balance between highly charged, indie optimism and effortless charisma.

If this is where Hurdles have decided to start, I predict a very bright future indeed for Belfast's most exciting band.

Review by Taylor Johnson.

If you like; Los Campesinos!, The Strokes, (Early) The Killers | You'll love Hurdles

Check out Encore NI's exclusive interview with Hurdles here.

Keep up to date with the band on the links below...

'Where To Start' will be released on October 10th ~ With a launch gig at The Speakeasy in Belfast.

encore ni exclusive interview ~ jilly st john ~ wyldling

by 12:07
Wyldling's latest single, 'Little Girl' is out now...

Last week Encore NI had the pleasure of chatting to Jilly St John, the explosive front woman of one of the countries most exciting rock acts 'Wyldling'. In a refreshingly honest interview, Jilly opens up about her musical journey so far, promising local talent and gives her damning verdict on the pop star conveyor belt of television shows such as the highly criticised X-Factor, amongst others.

Listen to the interview exclusively here... 

Keep up to date with all Wyldling official news via the links below...

Facebook |
Soundcloud |

| |

mini album review ~ seven summits ~ 'fossils'

by 10:15

 'Melody driven alternative rock' is how Belfast's own Seven Summits would 'Sum up' (sorry folks) their synth crafted sound. Citing influences from recent indie folk such as Bombay Bicycle Club to Blur's boisterous Britpop, many an influence can be derived from this album. Think of the relatively recent entourage of indie-synth bands such as Swim Deep and Peace to best place the band into the company of similar artists. Following the release of their debut self titled EP, Seven Summits released Fossils in August 2012. Now down to the business end of the review.

Most of the album is chilled, mellow and melodic, an ideal album to throw on Sunday morning and nurse a banging head from the night before, although prudent lyrics such as 'Take another bit of my heart, and throw it in the pit of a fire, cause I'd rather have a burning heart than no heart" may be too much for a recovering mind to comprehend, but wisely poetic nonetheless. That isn't to say energy is lacking however, if you enjoy a good headbang or a jaunty jive the calmed synth flute is ditched for an almost grungey/post-punk overtone in two of the stand-out tracks 'Know it All' and 'Burning Heart' which are oddly reminiscent of Joy Division, in both musicality and the strong overriding emotions expressed, particularly in the chorus. The mellow verses of 'Know it All' contrast effectively with the power of the chorus to convey what seems to be a sense of anger very clearly. Despite the unusual addition of a 'synth organ' which seems to serve no real purpose other than extra sound, 'Burning Heart' is one of the bands strongest releases, both lyrically and musically very well established.

The album unfortunately seems to fade out towards the end, with tracks 'Pig', 'On Record' and 'Okay' appearing unwilling to divulge and remain tame. The saving grace in the second half of the record is undoubtedly 'I Want Somebody', a track which emerges above the others as an engaging cacophony of sounds. Musically the track is excellent in every regard; the synth is employed perfectly, incredibly overdriven bass is a joyous inclusion and the groove is hypnotising while our minds delve deep into the complex ideas explored through the tracks introspective lyrics. The tracks conclusion leaves you desperate for it to continue, as it comes to an abrupt halt. Despite this, and the slight redemption gained from 'Twelve Signs' I can't help but feel the essence of this album could have been captured better on a five track EP, where the bands best material wouldn't be slightly tainted by what appear to be album fillers. A band with unquestionable potential, I would like to see them experiment more with the energetic side of their music, as their sweeping melodies I can only imagine would perfectly compliment a more uptempo vibe. The band's live performances have also been greatly recieved, such as their performance at this years 'Forfey Festival' where they were especially well received.

Seven Summits have the groundwork in place to launch a strong assault on the Belfast music scene and abroad, the release of 'Fossils' will only strengthen their cause. 

For fans of-Swim Deep, Peace, Pavement, Bombay Bicycle Club
Stand out tracks; 'I Want Somebody', 'Know It All' , 'Burning Heart'

Chris Hanna

gig review ~ radar presents... ~ adultrock, go wolf, not squares ~ speakeasy

by 20:58

There was a relaxed, jubilant vibe around Belfast's Speakeasy tonight, as Radar productions put on their first show in months (for free we might add) with performances from Irish DJ Adultrock, indie-pop group Go Wolf and headliners Not Squares. With the next generation of University students on the brink of flocking to the venue through the fast approaching Freshers Week, it was a chance for the old guard to let their hair down and dance amongst themselves one last time. Taylor Johnson joined the party...

It can be rather daunting for even the most experience of DJ's when faced with a small audience in a big venue, however Adultrock coped admirably in these same circumstances. The Irish DJ's trademark pounding, bass heavy grooves and antithetic melodies had those who were on their feet nodding approvingly, while those who weren't seemed to simply relax letting each song wash over them. At times, Adultrock's rhythmic bass lines was almost soothing, gently rocking the venue before picking up the face for any climactic conclusions. Despite virtually no crowd interaction, you could tell he was really enjoying the experience, his energy and constant concentration evident in every considered groove and well timed effect. Unusually, each track seemed to be very clearly defined, as Adultrock cast aside the usual layout of a DJ set in order to showcase each individual track with a start and an ending. Although this served to briefly spark a warm response from the audience, you can't help but feel he lost key momentum in the process and may have been more consistent had each track faded into eachother. In all, it was a solid set from the seasoned producer, and the fact that he almost doubled his crowd by the end of his set is a testament to his professionalism and experience.

As the lap top and complex technology of Adultrock's set was dismembered, on came the keyboard and colorful guitars of Belfast's newest Indie-pop noise makers Go Wolf. The stunning synth driven four piece thrive off the soaring, pristine vocal harmonies of keyboardist Anna Leydon and guitarist Scott Jamison. The pair have a Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan dynamic, with similar tones, but completely contrasting sounds. Scott Jamison's vocal also has the unmistakable tone of a young Brandon Flowers. From the outset, this rush of catchy melodies, reverberated guitar solos and harmonious vocal deliveries had the audience dancing. particularly the single 'Voices' which highlighted the bands commercial appeal with a song that you could easily imagine fronting the next Northern Ireland tourist board campaign, which kick started the massive success of Silhouette's 'Can't Keep Up'. Though the highlight of the set came with the beautifully written 'Even God'. Lyrically heartbreaking and honest, the depths of this song show that Go Wolf have the emotional fragility to compliment their natural enthusiasm and pop forefront. 'Discussing the reasons why, you'd wanna disappear,  it's not get left behind, but anywhere else has gotta be better than here... '. With subtle hints of Two Door Cinema Club's sense of melody and punchy lyricism, Go Wolf are fronting the 80's influenced resurgence with a refreshingly modern approach, taking the best of that periods synth driven pop and adding a contemporary spin that can appeal to a younger generation. Go Wolf are a band worth getting excited for.

Around midnight the nights headliners, Not Squares, took to the stage. Heavily synthesised, highly distorted and full of confidence, No Squares return to the Speakeasy was greeted like returning hero's, rapturous applause becoming the consistent backdrop for a now packed venue. The bands brand of atmospheric, electro house had so many influences it was at times difficult to know where they stand. Towards the beginning of the gig they delivered a Kraftwerk inspired synthesised showcase, which descended into a faster paced Daft Punk styled middle section and rounded off like Depeche Mode on acid. Don't get me wrong though, No Squares barrage of noise wasn't at any stage poor quality. Michael Kinloch's strong vocal performance was, at times, like a young James Kerr (Simple Minds dynamic frontman), although, musically it couldn't have been further from the Scottish groups ballad-rock. Keith Winter's impeccable drumming also never faltered, despite fast paced and complex rhythms and by the end of the night the group were rewarded for their tightness as a unit as the whole venue chanted along o every 'oh', 'woah' and keyboard note.You could also never be sure when proceedings had drawn to a close, as the band stopped and started several times in the final song, which although compelling for an infatuated audience, had this reviewer feeling that a quality ending had been dragged out by ten or so unnecessary minutes, though, having said that, it only succeeded in getting the crowd pumped up further. They left the stage to cheers of adoration. The peopel had came to dance and there is absolutely no doubt that No Squares allowed them to do just that.

Taylor Johnson.

Keep up to date with all the bands below by following the links.

Go Wolf
Not Squares

Not Squares 'greeted like returning hero's'

single review ~ a plastic rose ~ 'this side of winter'

by 07:15

Bursting back onto the scene this week with their first release since last years impeccable 'Camera.Shutter.Life' comes 'This Side Of Winter', the newest single from Belfast's favorite adopted sons A Plastic Rose. Armed with a sleek new logo, more hard hitting riffs and soulful melodies, and a new album in production, the conditions look perfect for a nation wide recruitment drive for the dedicated and ever growing APRmy. I couldn't wait to have a listen...

'This Side Of Winter' is the affirmation that the A Plastic Rose fan base have been hoping for. For weeks the Belfast lads had hinted that change was on the horizon once more and despite the excitement this held it also will have no doubt worried their remarkably loyal APRmy, but thankfully as the bands latest single kicks off with drummer Dave Reid's trademark enthusiasm and vigor, any worries that may have surfaced were soon cast aside for pure joy and formidable optimism. Although it has to be said 'This Side Of Winter' does mark a slight shift in the bands creative overlays. Driven by the sort of beautifully melodic guitar riff that helped to define the 90's as a period of carefree abandon, it seems that A Plastic Rose's unique brand of alternative, indie has adapted, without ever loosing the raw edge that captured their home city of Belfast's hearts. Uplifting and bright, the track also marks a significant shift in the bands constantly unwinding journey. While 'Camera.Shutter.Life' bore the pain and turmoil of attempting to crack the music industry, 'This Side...' is almost that records epilogue, showing how they have managed to evolve and adapt without ever compromising their indie roots.

The interchanging vocals that run through the high tempo verse is beautifully executed, front man Gerry Norman and lead guitarist Ian McHugh's distinctly different styles complementing each-other excellently. It leads seamlessly to the sort of chorus already destined for the festival circuit, as Norman's emotive delivery both enthralls and inspires. Throughout the tidal wave of melody McHugh's vivacious  guitar overlays add a Pixies-esque charm to a track oozing confidence.

For all of 'This Side Of Winter's vibrant melody and optimistic overtones, the lyrics can at times drift back into 'Camera.Shutter.Life's melancholic elements. 'This side of winter is long and it's hard...and I felt these horrors before...' sings Norman, again reinforcing A Plastic Rose's hardhitting commitment to retaining their raw passion and lyrical muse.

A slight breakdown makes way for a stunning guitar solo, that drifts back into the final massive chorus, that see's Norman hitting one particularly powerful high note that first made the Belfast music scene take notice of a young band with incredible potential. (See 'Superspeed', 'Colour Blue' & 'My Avalanche')

The release of 'This Side Of Winter' marks the next chapter in the A Plastic Rose story. It shows a band at the top of their game, producing a song that will no doubt delight their current fan base while making the kind of explosive impression on new fans that once came from the bars and pubs of Belfast City.

They're a band in transition, but if the release of this new single is anything to go by, they will always be ours.

Taylor Johnson

                       Watch the new music video here ~

live review ~ pretty circus presents.. ~ live @ the hudson bar, belfast

by 18:51

This week I found myself in the heart of Belfast's underground art-rock scene, in the bustling confines of the obscurely decorated and eclectically finished Hudson Bar. Hidden in the upper floors of this busy local hot-spot lies a tightly compact room filled with wonderfully radical posters urging it's punters to 'Vote JFK', spontaneous graffiti echoing the ever growing German phenomenon of 'I love you, but I have chosen disco' and a relaxed and vibrant vibe which was as prominent in the crowd as it was through it's subtle, admittedly bizarre ambiance. With the stage set and the atmosphere electric, I braced myself for a musical experience quite unlike anything I'd ever seen before...

Just as I began to adapt to the outrageously ostentatious nature of my surroundings the first band of the night took to the stage. Dressed like they had literally just stepped out of the obscure world of the BBC's cult TV show, The Mighty Boosh', it was evident from early on that Belfast's 'Bunny and the Band Its' were a band on a mission. Exactly what that mission was however, was never really elaborated upon. Bunny's unique blend of Rage Against the Machine styled hip-hop, was cleverly infused with distinct rock overtones, much to the delight of their small, but dedicated fan base. You feel that the band's eccentricities, which included amongst other's their bassist sitting with legs crossed throughout proceedings, each member wearing a distinctive mask and a skewered toy rabbit on the end of a spear as a mascot, may not have been so well received in other venues, tonight, however was quite the opposite effect. The audience seemed to embrace every unusual weapon in Bunny's arsenal, their fierce stage presence never in doubt. Despite this it may also prove to be a hindrance for the group, as the gig as a spectacle proved to be more memorable than the musical performance. Highlights of an engaging set came in the shape of 'Open Your Eyes' ('A political song...probably'), which saw the group fire chunks of lettuce into the crowd to a backdrop of eerie, synthesised  bells and well executed riffs. The bands belief in their own songs was infectious, as the audience screamed back every lyric with equal vigor and frustration. At times, the funk filled bass lines passionate backing vocals could be straight out of an early Red Hot Chili Peppers setlist. As they played off their final track, (a Bob Marley and the Wailers styled anthem proclaiming the joys of 'the weed man') you get the feeling that for all of Bunny and the Banned It's bravado and the excitement that generates, they may only be appreciated for the excellent musicians they are if they tone it down a bit. Having said that, perhaps it's the gigs that have inflatable crowd surfing palm tree's and one of the Seven dwarfs on drums that are really worth remembering. This performance shall certainly live long in the memory!

Next on the bill came Lisburn based hard rock three piece, The Runaway Bears. Initially gazing right into the heart of the expectant crowd, when The Bears finally started their distortion heavy set their explosive energy reignited the spark left by Bunny and the Banned Its. As the gig progressed, lead vocalist Nathan 'Brick' Smith's confidence improved, as he began seamlessly controlling the crowd. This came after an earlier mainly instrumentalist period, which, at times, sounded more like an appropriately chosen backing track than the full frontal assault with which Runaway Bears have forged their reputation. Thankfully these guitar driven lulls soon ascended into serenity, as the bands softer, more melodic side came to the surface. Drifting hazily like a 90's Radiohead, it was a stunning and unexpected inclusion that should be more prominent in the future. All in all, it was a tight performance from the Lisburn lads, who never once allowed their dedication to fall below the empowered standards that have won them many admirers to date.

Then came the time for the shows headliner, the refreshingly ambiguous Uncle Social. A band that have shunned the perpetual stereotypes of social networking and instead concentrated on the craft of quality song writing and effortless frontmanship. What's immediate about Uncle Social is that they have a massive sound, jangling guitar riffs and note perfect bass riffs resonating around the tiny venue, giving the audience the opportunity to once again indulge in the energy of a local band in top form. What makes them stand out, however, is there relative calm in the tempest of enthusiasm which surrounds them, they manage to radiate a quiet confidence that cannot be mistaken for ambivalence. It's as engaging as the acts which preceded them, with a minimalist approach that is many ways the antithesis of the venue itself, and yet it worked brilliantly.  Donal Scullion's strong vocal delivery is emotive, yet strikingly raw as the band got the audience jumping with their Biffy Clyro tinged rock. In an atmospheric set, Uncle Social managed to keep the fast paced tempo's momentum going without ever compromising their principles. Finding the perfect balance between languid relaxation and energy, Uncle Social proved a worthy headline act to a show filled with passion, anger and, at times, absolute madness.

Taylor Johnson

Click on the band name below to keep up to date with all their official news/releases.

Bunny & The Banned Its
The Runaway Bears
Uncle Social

rapid review ~ yes cadets ~

by 16:33
The 'Le Mans' EP is out now on Humming Records...
Name; Yes Cadets
Genre; 'Maximist Heartbreak Pop'
Influences/ Comparisons? ~ Vampire Weekend, Peace, Jaws

Riding on the crest of the distinctive 'B-Town' wave comes Northern Ireland's answer to chart topping elctro-pop outfit Vampire Weekend, the refreshingly joyous sounds and bright overtones of Yes Cadets. Having plied their trade in the underground indie circuits of Europe (gaining particular popularity in Germany), the Belfast three piece have finally got into the studio to record their debut major label release, the highly anticipated 'Le Mans' EP. Filled with the kind of sparkling, pristine pop that has had a resurgent comeback in recent times, the bands melodic rhythms and upbeat soundscapes takes the bittersweet riffs of a Graceland era Paul Simon and bring it into the 21st century. Lisa Mageean's uptempo and impeccably tight drumming adds an extra dimension to the bands breezy, engaging sound, while adding a touch of class through her infectious enthusiasm and grace behind the drumkit. Her backing vocals in tracks such as the vibrant 'Seconds In A Minute' is a perfect compliment to frontman Alan Haslam's fast paced and emotive vocal delivery. In an ever growing back catalouge, songs such as the EP's title track show a darker edge to a band determined not to simply blend into the background of a movement defined by high tempo, riff based tales of teenage heartache and halcyon daydreams. Somehow, particularly in the 'Le Mans' title track, Yes Cadets have been able to capture the serene and delicate atmosphere of albums like Ben Howards 'Every Kingdom' and add to that the indie, electric guitar based drive that could see in the start of a new movement in Belfast.

Could B-Towns UK wide assault on modern music about to hit Belfast? If this enthralling indie-pop trio is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding Yes (cadets).

To sum up? Yes Cadets are what you imagine 'Noah and the Whale' would sound like with electric guitars and a greater sense of purpose.

Taylor Johnson

Listen to Yes Cadets latest releases here & keep up to date with all Yes Cadets official news here.

ep review ~ the project sound ~ 'nude street'

by 12:38

Gently brimming underneath the surface of Belfast's bustling music scene is a young band with big potential and an even bigger sound. Formed as purely a Summer project two years ago by producer Andy Christie, guitarist Alastair Greyson and rapper Gershom Kaoma, 'The Project Sound' quickly established themselves as an exciting and vibrant three piece, pioneering the countries growing alternative hip-hop movement which has developed over recent years. Known for their passionate and honest lyricism, as well as their catchy hooks and rhythmic melodies, The Project Sound are very much at the forefront of a revolution waiting to happen, but much like short lived London outfit WU LYF they prefer to remain out of the spotlight, letting their dynamic soundscape and honest prose do the talking for them. Taylor Johnson had a listen to their latest EP...

The Project Sound are a band known for their commitment to originality and their strong mentalities, so it's no surprise to learn that their latest EP. 'Nude Street', comes straight out of the ingenious 'concept album' bracket. Based around a fictional utopia, where humanity can live without fear of judgement  and in perfect harmony, 'Nude Street' is the basis from which this EP is allowed to flourish.

Kicking off proceedings is the smooth, synthesized intro of 'Colour', a track that glides into life with the most upbeat and rhythmic saxophone solo's that sets the pace of this dancey opener. Kaoma's confident, yet expressive tone flows beautifully over the vivacious melody as the drums gradually begin to drive on the pace of the song, adding more purpose to each expertly linked lyric. As the verses fade into it's instrumental interlude, the songs engaging melody is given the freedom it needs to really enthrall, reaching heights that lead you to imagine thousands of festival goers dancing along in the Summer sun. It then leads to it's wonderfully haunting middle eighth, that see's Alastair Greyson's echoed vocals fall delicately over a soothing piano structure. The true nature at the heart of the songs meaning is then laid bare as Greyson croons; 'I'm screaming words in black and white, show me your light and that's enough', a plea to society to stop chasing the validation of others and instead to simply embrace who you are. Kaoma's fine rapping ability is invigorated for the second verse, with the first line particularly, 'Fighting for equality to be just who they wanna be'  incredibly empowering. The song fades out as melodically as it began, the breezy, dance elements retained until the final note.

This paves the way for the second track, the mesmerising rhythms of L.A.E (Love Addictive Ecstasy). Opening with a hypnotic and perpetual piano riff, L.A.E draws you in from the off. Again, creatively utilising a saxophone for an added counter melody, the song is driven forward by Kaoma's slick and measured vocal delivery. Christie's brilliant use of dramatic synths add to the pulsating atmosphere, as the song heads towards it's powerful and captivating bass drop. The line; 'You know it's ecstasy when you hear the project sound' adding an anthemic quality to a song that sets out to inspire as much as it sets out entertain. The songs unique jazz elements, fuse seamlessly with their distinctly hip hop routes, a rare and exciting combination that has rarely been fully embraced in such an audacious manner. You imagine that in any other format, it may not quite work. Yet, with The Project Sound, it is this unusual collaboration of three very different musicians that is the key to their success. With the title track reportedly still in production, this is an EP that still has more to offer, but with The Project Sounds strong message of self acceptance and self belief, you feel that these two tracks alone will continue to capture the public's attention in the meantime.

Review by Taylor Johnson

Listen to the 'Nude Street' EP on the bands Soundcloud here and keep up to date with all of the bands latest news here.

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