single review ~ runaway [go] ~ 'ashes'

by 17:53

We all love runaway [GO]. For years the darlings of Belfast's indie-pop scene, the band built around those hair raising harmonies of Fiona O'Kane and Dave Jackson are looking increasingly likely to join Mojo Fury and 'And So I Watch You...' as our next indie success story.

Any worries that front-woman Fiona may pursue the poison chalice of the solo career seem to have been laid to rest (for now at least) as runaway return from their recent UK Coffee House-tour refreshed and with a debut album ready to, well, go. Taking on the baron wasteland of mainstream pop may seem like a noble quest on paper, but in order to actually achieve such a feat takes a back catalog of consistent brilliance; Thankfully anyone present at the bands last Limelight gig will be able to vouch that they have more than enough fire power in their setlists to blitz most festival regulars, usually doing the rounds with tired material (we're looking at you Courteeners).

The first single to be released from their upcoming debut record, 'Ashes' is the sound of Runaway [GO] coming out fighting. All the key characteristics with which they built their fan base upon remain; Fiona's glistening vocals, the slow build to another crashing crescendo of a chorus ~ but there's a new found wisdom to be enjoyed here. If early singles like 'Alligator' simmered with a youthful verve, 'Ashes' is altogether more grown up. It speaks of hope, while stressing quiet caution, opening a more mature chapter to the bands long history. The key here remains rooted in the groups dynamic vocalists, playing off each other as always, yet remaining fresh.

Though we would perhaps like to hear more of James Lappin's melodic guitar work (too subtle?), the songs piano led opening more than makes up for it. Lyrically, the song works around the empowering 'And I'm running, I'm running away, from the ashes of all my old flames', a beautiful line and one it's not hard to imagine being sung back to them by bigger and bigger crowds.

This is a very exciting time for Northern Ireland and a truly fantastic time for our music. Don't be surprised to see 'Alive' make waves across the nation. Though they may soon outgrow us, Belfast should always be grateful to Runaway [GO].

Taylor Johnson

& Hear an acoustic performance from the band 
on their latest tour here⁞► 

For fans of: CHVRCHES, Arcade Fire

autumn/winter round up

by 06:57

Due to an incredibly hectic schedule of gigs, meetings and various radio projects, it's been totally full on here at Encore NI over the last few weeks! As a result here's a concise round-up of everything that's been taking place in and around Belfast for you, complete with reviews!

1. The Sass release new EP 'Be Free'

A lot has been written about Belfast lads The Sass. Forced to change their line-up multiple times and forced into a sporadic gigging schedule that had halted their progression somewhat, the 60's inspired outfit are now reaping the benefits of consistency, as new EP 'Be Free' beautifully demonstrates. Marking a definite progression, both stylistically and lyrically, The Sass have graduated from the surf-pop melodies of singles gone by to a more mature sound, reverberated riffs now working in sync with their jangling guitar persona. Frontman Colm Donnelly has also never sounded better; be this down to his delight at the bands evolution from their humble beginnings, or simply a boost in confidence is hard to say, but whatever it is, it's working. 'Be Free' is a gently swaying, maudlin take on 21st century love and life, the Morrissey inspired 'Lucy' the gem in the crown. In fact, it may be worth mentioning that the French verses in Lucy are perhaps Donnelly's finest to date. Lyrically breaking new ground, only Damien Rice has attempted such a feat in recent years. Exciting times.

2. Loris release video for new single 'Yeah'

After a near sell out EP launch in The Bar With No Name, electro-pop trio Loris unveiled the video to title track 'Yeah' yesterday. Showing a clear progression from their early days, the band have proven their ability to maintain the sparse production of earlier singles, while adding new flavors to the mix. For one thing, it's darker, hinting at a hidden aggression previously buried under an avalanche of synths. Francis Mitchell's vocals are also sounding more assured, as Loris continue to grow into their own niche on the electronic spectrum.

3. His New Atlas completes English tour

The brainchild of singer-songwriter Eoghan O'Hagan has been threatening to blow up on the big stage for a while now, the Armagh native's recent English tour reinforcing this fact. Riding off the back of his massive sounding 'Torn Out Lungs' EP, (a record of great depth) O'Hagan took his band on the road for a three date tour of the countries capital and Liverpool, playing to great crowds and continuing to forge his hard earned reputation across the water. Now back in Belfast, don't be surprised to see His New Atlas play bigger and better venues as his stock price rises.

4. Gary Lightbody & The Assembly ~ 'This Is All That I Ask Of You'

Who else but Gary Lightbody would assemble a band of some of the most promising musicians in Northern Ireland, to write and perform a one off acoustic ballad for charity? 'This Is All That I Ask Of You', see's the Snow Patrol front man duet with the likes of Ryan & Eimear of Wonder Villains fame, SOAK, Sillouette and David C Clements in a track much more in the mold of his side project Tired Pony than the indie anthems he's known for. A track based around the bands obvious vocal talents, each melody has been carefully crafted, resulting in a stunning live performance in the heart of Stormont. Now on sale for 99p, all money earned from the songs release will go towards The Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust. For further information head to Snow Patrol's official website.

Taylor Johnson

live review ~ oh volcano ~ mandela hall, belfast

by 13:28

Supporting the mammoth Twenty One Pilots on the final date of their first world tour was always going to be a tall order, thankfully our own Oh Volcano made it look, quite literally easy. 

Armed with a series of big hitting electronic pop songs, the band, a fairly new entity it has to be remembered, sounded much more assured than expected. Debut single 'Oceans' had the crowd really moving, managing to capture the swaying likability of CHVRCHES, through a maturer finished product.

Entrancing synth lines and catchy choruses define the two-piece's sound, casting ambient shadows across their infectious melodies. Front man Owen Strathern has totally transformed his indie aesthetic, while maintaining the ferocity of his vocal. Tight guitar work interweaves between progressive house, all the while hinting at something deeper. For a two piece band with no drums to capture an audiences attention, (particularly that of Twenty One Pilots dedicated following) takes real persistence, a trait Oh Volcano possess to no end. 

Clearly enjoying their new venture, Oh Volcano looked fully captivated by each of their own songs, almost as much as the crowd themselves. Adding to the already exciting atmosphere that had made it's way into the building.

Brimming with 80's influences, Oh Volcano already sound like a future cult band. Having only scratched the surface of this new acts potential, expect their stock price to rise with each future release.

Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Broken Bells, CHVRCHES, New Order
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single review ~ scott anderson ~ 'is this the end?'

by 02:51

Scott Joseph Anderson is one of this country's good guys. A passionate musician and lover of local music, he has contributed more to the Belfast music scene than many may realise. Be it through his tireless efforts with hard rockers Aquatramp, or his one man pursuit to watch as many local gigs as humanly possibly, The Titanics new bass player very rarely sits still. This may go some way to explain why the release of his debut solo album 'Small Exxxplosions (Part 1)' really comes as no surprise. Here Encore NI takes a look at his latest single release...

'Is This The End?' is Scott Anderson's ode to uncertainty. While it's standard practice that the bass line which runs throughout it's 6 minutes is a weaving, trippy highlight (it's the least we'd expect from a man known for playing a six stringed bass) what does catch us out is the songs beautiful interludes. Sweeping outro's of piano and synth combine over Anderson's sparce and distant vocals, making for a waltzing echo chamber of Glasvegas proportions. This is the song at it's best and adds a new string to Andersons bow, who's more emotive side is understandably reigned in for his other bands.

The entrancing nature of Anderson's melody's unfortunately leaves the content of much of his lyrics unexplored, however a brief read over them and you'll be rewarded with a prose far deeper than anything the multi-instrumentalist has worked on before. Indeed, the entirety of Small Exxxplosions is every inch the solo record, honest, revealing and deeply personal. At times, it's home made aesthetic can make it a difficult listen,  but a rewarding one none the less.

"I remember thinking, I needed you with me, through happiness and's easy to write this all off, as being over, and under the cover of the merciless eyes of the sea"

If Anderson was to enter the studio for a polish of Small Exxxplosions, 'Is This The End?' would surely be dedicated the appropriate treatment as well. It's a track of genuine feeling and hopeless faith.

Praise must also go to Anderson for his dedication to the DIY ethics that has shaped his career so far. (Almost all of the recording for his album was done at home, each music video hand made). It must be mentioned, however, that in order for his work to earn the airplay it richly deserves, at least some part of the mastering process may have to occur professionally. It's simply unfair that a pop-act can enter the studio with a half written melody, and emerge with a certain top 10 single through careful production alone; though this is sadly the world we find ourselves in. Subtle undertones of guitar and a richer piano sound would benefit this track, though the basics have been done well. The thought of a maudlin string section bursting through it's crescendo (think Badly Drawn Boy's 'The Shining') may also elevate it to it's true potential.

Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Badly Drawn Boy, Arcade Fire, Devotchka
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live review ~ ni music prize 2014 ~ sullivan & gold, robyn g shiels, more than conquerors and therapy? ~ mandela hall, belfast

by 13:17

In a year in which the flame of local music was ignited brighter than ever, competition for this year’s NI Music Prize was, understandably fierce. Of the twelve nominated acts, the difference in style and presentation could not have been more eclectic, though one thing each nominee had in common was quality. From the doom laden sludge rock of Slomatics, to Sullivan & Gold’s soft acoustic numbers, it was a great mix. Walking into the exciting venue of the Mandela Hall, Encore NI realised that our own hesitance to predict a winner was one shared by all; it really was that tight and a tribute to the quality of albums on show. Before the Oh Yeah Centre’s Stuart Bailie could announce the winner however, there were time for some performances from the acts, as well as a headline slot for legends ‘Therapy?’. Taylor Johnson was on hand to give his thoughts…

Proving they are so much more than a band to fill the New Ancestors shaped hole left in Belfast, Sullivan & Gold opened the evening in a confident and assured manner. Minimalist arrangements allow their songs to flourish on the big stage, an appreciative audience falling quiet enough to allow tracks like ‘Jigsaws’ to be embraced the way the band intended. Crisp, Fleetfoxes inspired harmonies remain key components to the ex ‘Good Fight’ two piece’s sound, though when required they have no problems in kicking things up a gear. They've clearly not forgotten how to work an audience.

Sadly, the solemn sound of Robyn G Shiels was rather drowned out by the time he took to the stage. Perhaps suffering for his lack of backing band (instead braving the stage with only an acoustic guitar in hand), Shiels has to be admired for his commitment to his art. Never once phased, he continued to press on with a collection of soft, pain ridden anthems - often tinged with regret, but delivered with purpose. The banjo led backing provided a Springsteen-esque touch to his maudlin tales, unfortunately the running order derailed a potentially pivotal performance in the evening. Shiels, however, simply proved his professionalism (at one point mockingly declaring he was ready to ‘get this party started’). Knowing all that mattered where those who did listen, for them he produced a subtly beautiful performance.

What this night badly needed was a band to shake it's foundations, a specialty of final performing nominee's More Than Conquerors. Completely at home on the Mandela's huge stage, Belfast’s hardest rocking sons have been slightly more absent from the gigging scene here than many would like; a fact underlined by the vibrancy of this storming set. Opener ‘Pits Of Old’ now sounds like a bona fide classic, effortless and exhilarating in equal measure. Ending on the brand new ‘Red’ was a brave move, but one that ultimately paid off, the band displaying a more anthemic side to their hard rock. With front man Kris Platt on top form throughout, this was the perfect way for More Than Conqueror’s to remind you why they’re amongst our top talents.

More Than Conqueror's produced a blistering performance...

Finally it was time for the triumphant return of Therapy, though not before the nights winner was announced. For his last album ‘Blood Of The Innocents’, the honour went to Robyn G Shiels, a gracious and worthy winner. Those who perhaps didn't give the man their full attention during his earlier set were surely wishing they had of now!

Hyped to perfection by Across The Line's Rigsy, the legends powerful rock was always guaranteed a strong reaction, (in many ways the quality of their performance was almost secondary to their actual presence) but in a truly special homage to their 1994 release "Troublegum", the Ballyclare natives played their hearts out. Sounding tighter and more invigorated than in years gone by, tributes to punk hero’s The Ramones acted as a reminder, if one was needed, that the band in front of us deserve equal high praise. Angular riffs and sing along chorus' propel ‘Therapy?'s sound, but more importantly the punk spirit which forced them into the nations consciousness has clearly not deserted them. Introing tracks with reworkings of John Lennons 'Nowhere Boy' show the band are clearly not short of inspiration either, peppering their set full of unexpected trick shots. Cameos from Snow Patrols Nathan Connelly & a passionate performance from Tony Wright of Verse Chorus Verse were only overshadowed by a brief (and awesome) cover of Joy Divisions "Control".

It was a truly special night for Belfast and the climax to another great year of music. Encore NI would like to congratulate the Oh Yeah Centre and Volume Control teams for their work over the year and all those who contributed to such a great evening. We can’t wait for next year.

Taylor Johnson

gig review ~ scratch my progress ~ hurdles, hot cops, matthew duly, r51 & serotonin

by 06:36

This year the highly coveted Scratch My Progress program took on five of the country's top young talents. Bending the rules ever so slightly to accommodate the incredible talent in the city, the scheme opened its doors to one more act than usual, giving them the chance to record a track, take part in a professional photoshoot and get quality advice from music industry bigwigs. The climax of the project took place in The Oh Yeah Centre, as the scheme showcased its talent in a one off gig to coincide with an EP launch of each band's recorded track. Having covered many of the chosen bands on display before, Encore NI was keen to see how the scheme had benefited Belfast's best...

Opening a show of this class seemed a daunting task, not so however for alt-rock stalwarts Serotonin, who demonstrated great maturity in a set of conviction. Lucy Loane has clearly grown into the front woman mould, her on-stage persona now as defined and confident as she is off stage. The Scratch My Progress experience has clearly done Serotonin the world of good, a rawer, Sonic Youth inspired sound beginning to take shape. You have the feeling this rawer sound has always been within them, but now they are really starting to feel it themselves, as their manic audience clearly agreed. Serotonin had a crowd up and dancing literally from pulsating opener 'Cleanse Me', making a great start to the evening. Future single "Peel" paints the most promising picture of their future, in a set full of highlights.

(R51 ~ mesmerising noise rock...)
Then came a revived R51, the five piece playing with a renewed intensity on stage. Purpose flew from every riff of Jonny Woods guitar, Aaron Black's synth adding an extra layer to their beautiful chaos. Thankfully Melyssa Shannon has retained the melodic entrancement in her vocal, Kate Bush remaining an influence. Without doubt, R51 provide the biggest performance of the night, influences of post rock past leaving their mark on an enthralling set; think Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia bred with Radiohead. A real spectacle.

Singer/songwriter Matthew Duly showed his charisma from the moment he took to the stage. Using an Elvis Presley styled 50's microphone, the Whitehead native worked his way through a collection of beautifully honed material, his falsetto stronger than ever. The newly recorded 'Summer Days' seems more refined since it's last outing, but the dual power of epic closer 'Ghost In Your Memory' (which remains Duly's lynchpin) and the climactic 'Different Colours' were definite highlights. Provided he wants it enough, Matthew Duly could be one of this countries best acoustic artists to emerge in years.

Penultimate act Hot Cops once again proved they are a very big band, with a very big sound. New single "Origami" shone in a setlist minus any of the material from their stunning debut "Another Teen Age". Carl Eccles' frontmanship is a truly important entity for the band, his relaxed demeanor a vital component in their rock & roll machine. This is not to dismiss Hot Cops rhythm section, providing a brooding, dark spectrum which casts a shadow over much of the three pieces set. Without question "Mum rock anthem" 'Decay' stood out. Heart warming and desperate in equal measure, the entire crowd were soon singing along, even those hearing it for the first time. A truly special song. "Cause I don't wanna feel it any more..."

Eccles also provided one of our favorite pieces of on stage banter..."Thanks for coming everyone, stick around cause Hurdles are on next and they love to party."

(Hot Cops ~ punk~poetry)
Finally Hurdles made their way on stage and yes, they certainly do love to party. Playing a selection of tracks from their debut EP 'Where To Start', new guitarist Thomas Bannon looks more assured than ever since joining the indie-pop quartet. Tracks like 'Roadrunner' ("I'm a big fan of Looney Tunes" admits Hanna) sound somehow bigger than in previous outings, though perhaps that is simply down to Hurdles enjoying themselves more. Ending on their newly recorded single 'France', a three minute belter of a pop tune, (that seems destined to soundtrack nightclubs across Europe) the bands new found 80's disco elements took the forefront.

It was a fine night for local music and the overwhelming appreciation for all those at Scratch My Progress was evident. This years graduates are surely the projects finest to date, raising the bar even higher for next year! We can't wait to see who makes it on to this brilliant scheme ~ it clearly makes a difference!

Taylor Johnson
Photos courtesy of  Carrie Davenport.
Serotonin: For fans of ~ Sonic Youth, Pixies ~ Facebook, Twitter
R51: For fans of ~ Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia, Radiohead, My Morning Jacket ~ Facebook, Twitter
Matthew Duly: For fans of ~ Glen Hansard, Jeff Buckley ~ Facebook, Twitter
Hot Cops: For fans of ~ Pavement, The Shins ~ Facebook, Twitter
Hurdles: For fans of ~ Two Door Cinema Club, The Strokes, Daft Punk ~ Facebook, Twitter

gig preview ~ modern life is rubbish ~ aaron shanley, havana house party, salford lads club, sonja sleator | pavilion, belfast

by 08:54

Encore NI is proud to announce the next line-up of our monthly gig night 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'. Headlined by the incredible Aaron Shanley, the night has grown beautifully since it's debut back in May and has led to some of our favorite ever local music moments.

Who can forget the dance hall created by headliners Echo Raptors? The tears streaming down faces after an emotional performance by His New Atlas? The headbanging electricity and improvised DJ set after Frank&Beans, or the mammoth  crowd brought along by The Sass for their set ~ Which included 'The Bar Fly' himself, the infamous subject of many of their songs!

Oh how we swayed to the spontaneous acoustic singalong by Runabay, long after the soundman had went home and tripped out to the psychedelic vibes of Surfhouse and Bloom. Even as recently as last month, Serotonin's Ben Bryson executed The Pavilions first ever stage dive, writing his name into Belfast folklore in the process?

Yes, Modern Life Is Rubbish has and continues to be, a wonderful night indeed. New friendships have been born and romance has even blossomed ~ but it couldn't happen without you*. From day one, our audiences have been nothing short of superb ~ we've not had one poorly attended or lackluster crowd and for that, we thank you. Here's a rundown of each act and why our next will be another memorable one...

Headliner: Aaron Shanley
Genre:Acoustic // Indie
Download: Sometimes People Just Fall Out Of Love, Amy, Here Without You, She's So Easy To Hold, Trouble
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Whether entrancing audiences with his soulful, acoustic honesty, or letting his wilder side out through his Startled Space Moth side-project, Aaron Shanley is one of Northern Ireland's finest acts. Regularly praised by many (this website included) for his touching style and stunning vocal, he is an artist that simply cannot be missed. Having recently returned from extensive gigging in London, expect an assured, emotional performance.

Band: Havana House Party
Genre: Indie
Download: Monsters, Conscience & The Martyr, Memo

Lauded as the future of indie for a few years now, Havana House Party are now starting to build on the hype created by their awesome 'Demons' EP. Thrilling, dance invoking indie is where they made their name, but tracks like 'Conscience & The Martyr' hint at a darker edge below the spotless surface.

Band: Salford Lads Club
Genre: Indie
Download: No releases (yet)

The mysterious Salford Lads Club took shape after the disintegration of previous acts. The brainchild of Tony Connolly, frontman of the awesome and much missed Surfhouse, expect a Stone Roses style burst of grooves and dancey rhythms.

Artist: Sonja Sleator
Genre: Acoustic
Download: San Francisco, That Night, Snow
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Personally requested by Aaron Shanley himself,  Sonja Sleator has established herself in Belfast through hard work and a never ending gigging schedule. With a debut EP already under her belt and a repertoire of songs not short of honest (sometimes painful) emotion, Sonja Sleator's own brand of upbeat pop is sure to kick proceedings off brilliantly.

If this isn't enough for you, don't forget our full indie//alternative//local soundtrack, all situated inside one of the city's best bars. We're not gonna lie, we are incredibly excited. We hope you are too.

Taylor Johnson

 *or Chris the soundman, one of the coolest humans on the planet. Thank you Chris!

album review ~ the velvet underground ~ the velvet underground and nico

by 08:50

This week Encore NI takes a look at one of America's most influential bands, the artistically acclaimed Velvet Underground. Their seminal debut was recorded back in 1966, at the dawn of the Summer of love and amidst a back drop of uncertainty, as the American war machine began ripping through Vietnam. Though you'll find no revolutionary statements here, well, not unless you're big into drugs, which many people were. Here Taylor Johnson takes a look at one of rock and roll's most definitive records and asks the question: was it really that good?

A lot can be said about The Velvet Underground. Most of it overwhelmingly positive, and for good reason. Primarily, The Velvet Underground were cool. Think of every possible combination of essential band criteria: Born and raised in New York City, a nonchalant, effortlessly brilliant front man and management in the shape of art hero Andy Warhol. Not convinced? Add the gorgeous German model Nico to backing vocal duty and songs of an increasingly sex-dominated nature. Come on, who wouldn't want to be in The Velvet Underground? 

Brian Eno once commented that although only 30,000 people bought a copy of 'The Velvet Underground and Nico, "every one of those people started a band" ~ so just what made this cultured art-rock album the phenomenon that it was? Surely a cool image isn't enough? Is it?  (No, it's not)

Opener 'Sunday Morning' sparkles from the first second. It's gentle harmony and effervescent texture makes it a perfect declaration of intent, with Lou Reed in great form. This album's production is often praised for it's delicate texture, and it's no more prevalent than here. Everything from the floating, hazy bass line, to Nico's reverberated backing vocals also add an extra layer for the listener. 'Sunday Morning' could be the most relaxed admission of drug fueled paranoia in history. Or, if you'd prefer, just another description of a Sunday. "Watch out, the worlds behind you, there's always someone around you...and I'm falling, I've got a feeling I don't want to know"

'I'm Waiting For The Man', see's Velvet Underground begin to release their rockier potential. Slightly dirtier, punk like distortion proves a strangely beautiful contrast to Reed's Dylan-esque spoken verse. The inclusion of bluesy piano (that later Noel Gallagher would borrow somewhat for 'Mucky Fingers') adds a new dimension to a song that rarely threatens to go anywhere, the chords almost rooted to the spot. Having said this, the groove and riffs that run parallel to Lou Reeds vocal give this track enough to move forward. It's engaging, uplifting, and another massive irony that such fast paced virility could prove the soundtrack to lyrics like "Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive"...

At manager Andy Warhol's request,  Lou Reed penned 'Femme Fatale' about actress and socialite Edie Sedgewick (right). The prose is typical Reed, though lead vocals were gifted to Nico for this one. Initially, the German's unusual tone comes across rather harsh, at odds with the lounge styled backing. After a few listens though, you begin to appreciate the singer for what she is. Although you'd rather hear Reed crooning through the verse on this sleepy, dream like track, you do see the artsy endeavor in the finished product.

'Venus In Furs' gives the first glimpse into Underground's foresight as an influential band. The brooding psychedelic vibes which radiate from start to finish may also be a manifestation of their singer's altered mind-set ~ it's dark. Seriously dark. The use of accentuated violin and the bizarre soundscapes which follow never really settle, even in the musically lighter chorus ('I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years, a thousand dreams that would awake me, different colours made of tears'). Inspired by an obscure Austrian author (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch if you must know...), 'Venus In Furs'  may be owed some amount of gratitude by the likes of The Doors ~ or more recently our own Joshua Burnside.

'Run, Run, Run' see's The Velvet Underground revert back to their blusey roots. A standard rock and roll tune, perhaps without 'I'm Waiting..."'s melody, this tracks obscure solo's and uneven finish gives it the artsy edge many bands could never emulate. Those that did, reinvented it slightly and called it punk. Though it has to be said, for all it's quirks, there remains an inexcusable predictability here. It's followed by side 1 closer and Andy Warhol's favorite, 'All Tomorrows Parties'. The soft guitar intro may be one of Lou Reed's best, integrating brilliantly into the piano. This may also be Nico's best vocal performance, particularly on the chorus. A window into the New York socialite scene of the time, it remains a refreshing insight from a band firmly part of 'the in-crowd' ~ a first at the time.

If Lou Reed had been keen to hide behind metaphors in previous tracks, 'Heroin' does not shy away from it's obvious influence. A simply beautiful cry for help, here Reed attempts to explain the mythology behind the drug and how it helps him become 'Jesus' son'. A synth driven quest for the truth, 'Heroin' ends with the kind of tragic cacophony usually reserved for Shakespeare's literature. "It will be the death of me, Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life". 

Here Velvet Underground make their biggest nod to mainstream rock, with The Rolling Stones pouring out of 'There She Goes Again'. Lou Reed is again in fine form, in a track you imagine was recorded swiftly in one of his brighter mindsets. On the contrary, 'I'll Be Your Mirror' slows proceedings back down again, as the philosophical ponderings again resurface on this relaxing song. By this stage, we are well accustomed to Nico's unconventional twang and are indeed warming to it.

'The Black Angels Death Song' returns back to Bob Dylan territory, long winded verses running into the tracks surreal accompaniment ~ like listening to Sgt Peppers, on acid, inside the mind of the mentally ill. The dissonance throughout the track, coupled with it's loud-hissing feedback, really begins this albums slide into artistic oblivion. Finale 'European Son' is even weirder again. Cited by some as the first 'metal song' alongside The Beatles 'Helter Skelter', it's psychotic bass lines and floury of noise makes little, to any sense and retains this madness to it's conclusion. Rampant, it becomes almost a challenge to find a single melody within it's cavern of insanity. It is, in all honesty, a sad end to a great album. The crash comes courtesy of bassist John Cale hitting a stack of plates with a metal chair. It makes little to no sense and yet, after sitting through five of it's seven minutes, is difficult not to finish.

In truth, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' is not the precious haven of rock and roll jubilation as 'Sgt Pepper' or 'The White Album' once was, but nor was that their intention. Somewhere amongst the wall of noise and dark lyrics, I like so many others fell in love with New York's coolest art project.

Just one listen and you will too. Just don't be expecting any light. Lou Reed turns every one off on his way out...
Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Bob Dylan

live review ~ tim wheeler ~ oh yeah centre, belfast

by 04:50

When the front man of Northern Ireland's loudest rock and roll band releases a self-reflective solo record, you realise the times are beginning to shift. For years Tim Wheeler has been our nations most revered raconteur of love and youthful abandon, Ash producing some of our greatest anthems. New album 'Lost Domain' carries many of the hall marks of it's authors most impressive traits; high on melody, not short on sing along quality and more of the fine guitar work which helped establish him as the indie hero of an otherwise scarred nation. Now back to play the album in full, Taylor Johnson gives his views...

What must be remembered here is that 'Lost Domain', Tim Wheeler's first solo album, will forever be associated with the tragic loss of his father which inspired it. As Wheeler's family and closest friends joined his army of fans in the Oh Yeah Centre last Friday, the emotions of this very personal homecoming were bound to impact the gig itself, and why not? Each carefully crafted song from the album was given it's chance to capture the crowd ~ and rarely did they waste their chance to do so.

The stunning 'First Sign Of Spring' and it's minimalist arrangements proved a moving snapshot into Wheeler's troubled mind, finally grasping at the first signs of light. "I still speak to you and I feel stronger...when I'm, lost I will hang on". 

'Vigil' provided a touch of the grandiose, a big, big tune. It filled the Oh Yeah Centre and really had the place rocking, the echoing cries of 'You are not alone' summing things up pretty concisely. Lyrically, Wheeler seems to have found more of himself on this album than ever before; finding a philosophical maturity brought on more by honesty than anything else. "The beauty of this life, everything you've known, in time we have to let them go..."

An encore of classics 'Goldfinger' and 'Oh Yeah' were never in danger of  producing anything less than the rapture of an Ash gig. (Members of Wheeler's road crew would later comment that 'Oh Yeah' was a late addition to the set ~ "You can't not play that Tim, this place is named after the bloody song!") though it was his old bands swan song which proved the highlight. Voted one of our nations greatest ever anthems (and singled out by Noel Gallagher as one of his favorite songs), 'Shining Light's piano led delicacy perfectly summarized the feelings of the night. It was an intimate performance, for an emotional occasion and a genuine pleasure to witness. The superb Tony Wright joining Wheeler on stage only heightened the feelings that you were witnessing something rather special indeed.

A proud night for Belfast.
Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Duke Special, Stephen Fretwell, Foy Vance

single review ~ kris d marsden ~ 'dear dad'

by 07:05

Acoustic singer-songwriter Kris D Marsden's latest release see's a snapshot into the mind of a man in some degree of emotional turmoil. Rich in the sort of soft, Donovan inspired production that would make it onto any indie-romance film's soundtrack, 'Dear Dad' is Marsden's ode to his late father and a touching tribute indeed. The subtle integration of piano lies delicately amongst the anguish laden vocal, though it's difficult to concentrate on much beyond the sentiments of a song so deeply rooted in it's authors conscious.

Making no attempt to hide the blindingly obvious struggles of a bereavement can be risky business (clichés can be a dangerous game to play), but in this case each lyric carries an endearing quality, soft and relatable. There are no plastic emotions here. The only concern for Marsden will be capturing the songs quiet ethereal qualities live, as without it's careful arrangements it may fall away to a crowd. Having said this, 'Dear Dad' perhaps commands attention at it's most simplistic. "Sometimes in my mind I swear I can hear's been ten years too long, ten years to realise you're gone and I miss you"

Taylor Johnson
For fans of: Willamette Stone,  Neil Young, Elliot Smith
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single review ~ treehome ~ 'keep our loving discreet'

by 13:30

No stranger to the gig circuit, Treehome frontman Ben Flavelle-Cobain looks more at home on stage than he does off it. Add to this confidence a watertight rhythm section and you have all the ingredients of a truly exciting act. The most interesting aspect of Treehome? Their age. Perhaps the term 'youthful verve' has never been so apt. Taylor Johnson took a listen...

Here, Flavelle-Cobain and his band of groove-loving cohorts have produced their finest work to date. A clear choice for single, 'Keep Our Loving Discreet' burns with a passion matched only by its catchy melody. The scrutiny this young band place on their jams speaks volumes for their work; maintaining a tight balance between exuberant riffs and punchy, hook-filled rhythms.

Sam Green's bass floats through the track's core almost hazily, acting as an almost innocuous conductor to the madness which surrounds him. Behind the drum kit, Michael Culbert produces a lesson of controlled punctuality. He remains in no danger of missing a single beat, yet pushes the boundaries enough to ensure you'll be air-drumming your way through consecutive listens.

If traces of Liverpudlian indie-makers The Coral's earlier psychedelia lie beneath Treehome's surface, it is seemingly not their main influence. That accolade must surely fall to legends The Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose soulful groove is plastered all over this polished four minutes of funk.

The band's lack of punkier aggression matters little, (that will never be their scene), as Flavelle-Cobain's smooth tones more than make up for it anyway. If there is to be one criticism, it comes in the songs falsetto'd breakdown. By no means is the additional female vocal a poor performance, on the contrary, it does its job well. However, when you hear Treehome's front-man fully going for it himself, the need for alteration almost seems unnecessary.

If this is the start of the road for Treehome, it looks a very promising road trip indeed.

Taylor Johnson

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