ep review ~ 'demo 2014' ~ apartments

by 06:26

Band Name: Apartments
Genre: Punk//Emo//Hardcore
For Fans Of: Hotel Books, Parkway Drive
Location: Belfast
Twitter//Facebook ~ N/A

Though we are not known for our coverage of the darker end of Belfast's musical spectrum, the rapid rise of power-trio 'Apartments' proves a curious read indeed. Fast-tracked from stray post-punk wannabees to supporting A Plastic Rose, the young city band seem to have came out of nowhere to take on the scene. Here we look at their beginnings, in the shape of the appropriately titled 'Demo 2014'.

Be warned, this review may make for some uncomfortable reading, as Taylor Johnson attempts to get his head around a band described by A Plastic Rose's own lead guitarist Ian McHugh as "exciting" and "downright brilliant" by promoters of some stature. Here goes nothing...

To start, I am not generally a fan of hardcore music. Anything devoid of melody or doom laden, generally doesn't sit well with me. For Belfast's  'Apartments' however, I felt I would attempt to understand their heavy world of raw energy. I expected menace, power and total commitment from these young puritans and all that and more is delivered on their opening track 'Later Days'. Though it may take multiple listens for the non-hardcore ear to adjust to drummer Ryan Butler's screaming, the noise which accompanies him is powerful and aggressive. It rises and adjusts to ASIWYFA levels, particularly towards it's crescendo. The bands use of feedback and spacial harmony is also commendable, though there's just too much anger here for me to really enjoy it for what it is. I want to understand their singer more, for one thing. You feel 'Later Days' is Apartments finding their feet and to be fair, bar the odd stumble, they stand up well.

'Nothing Could Spoil A Morning Like This' is an instrumental to further the groups live potential. Close your eyes, and you're immediately transported to the tiny confines of Draperstown's Cellar Bar back in it's hey-day. Just how well Apartments would have went down there, (alongside Axis Of and Fighting With Wire etc.), we may never know; but you can certainly imagine the place rocking. Leading the way with a Hotel Books sort of vibe, the addition of spoken word poetry over Apartments songs may be a beautiful path to cross one day ~ hopefully so!

By 'I Don't Do It On The Spot' the band have almost won me over. The tracks enthralling guitar and the desperation in their singers vocal is reminiscent of a young A Plastic Rose. While the tracks faster sections remain lost on me, it's chorus certainly packs a punch ~ it almost doesn't matter that the backing vocals appear flat, or that you still can't quite make out the lyrics. This short Demo EP somehow manages to convey a story, from it's aggressive opening, to it's triumphant finalé. If they can mirror the verve of their recordings to the live stage, Apartments could be ones to watch out for in 2015.

Taylor Johnson

'mini ep' review ~ 'moonstone' ~ alphabetika

by 04:26

Band Name: Alphabetika
Genre: Acoustic
For Fans Of: New Ancestors, The Civil Wars, Sullivan & Gold
Location: Belfast

Alphabetika are a bit of an enigma. A quick google search of the group will produce a string of promising reviews and early airplay, while any real details appear scarce. For one thing, they describe themselves as 'a new band' with 'many influences, from many genres', which, (lets be honest), could mean anything. If you want to delve deeper into this curious ensemble, you can only really take in the the low-key vibes of their debut release 'Moonstone'.

This two track EP (demo perhaps?) lays down a short and sweet foundation for a band which will no doubt be striving to fill the New Ancestors shaped hole left in Belfast's music scene.

'Sam's Song's regretful verse is brought to life through delicate piano, playing over simple acoustic guitar strums. It's hardly rocket science, but nor is that the point. A mournful take on the ghosts of relationships past, here Alphabetika seem to wish their former lover//friend a happy tomorrow; there's no malice here, if a longing for what may have been. Think Damon Albarn's emotional sucker-punch 'No Distance Left To Run', but without the desperation.

As well structured as 'Sam's Song' undoubtedly is, you feel a certain gravitas is lost through it's repetitiveness. For the most part, it's a genuinely enjoyable listen; though just as it's gentle outro threatens to explode, it ends all to abruptly. As a first track it's certainly not a bad effort ~ you simply feel it's emotional vigor doesn't quite transfer from it's authors pen.

In contrast, 'Dirt In My Bones' is the first real indication Alphabetika are a different breed to Belfast's usual acoustic veterans. Moving with purpose and intent from the outset, everything from the bands subtly brilliant chord changes in it's chorus, to it's progressive drum beat sounds exciting and fresh. This time channeling an optimistic outlook, Alphabetika seem to suit the 'plucky underdog' aesthetic much more than the usual depressing bandwagon.

Though 'Moonstone' is much too short to warrant a place on the groups mantel-piece, as a starting point there's enough to suggest Alphabetika may go on to capitalise on their early spotlight.

Even if we're not ready to throw our hats into the ring just yet...

Taylor Johnson

news ~ a plastic rose gives fans the chance to direct new video

by 12:40

Local alt-rock mentalists A Plastic Rose are shooting a video tomorrow night at the LOFT space on North Street, and they have an innovative approach planned with Bandwidth films. They are asking fans to become video makers at the one-off small capacity special event, sharing footage through a specially created site and creating their own 'directors' cut' of the evenings shenanigans. 

Singer Ian McHugh had this to say...

“We're shunning the idea that videos need to be big-budget productions by democratising the process – asking fans and filmmakers to get involved and get their hands dirty creating something with us.”

The night commences Thursday January 29th at 18:30 and is BYOB.

A night of local music history in the making. Don't miss it.

Taylor Johnson

Get involved with the official Facebook Event here

Don't forget A Plastic Rose will be releasing their seminal album 'Flickering Light Of An Inner War' with a free show at the iconic Mandela Hall on Thursday 26th February.

For more details click here...

& Check out the video to new single 'Move Islands' below⁞►

track of the day ~ the racks ~ 'it's not me it's you'

by 18:08

Band Name: The Racks
Genre: Garage-Rock
For Fans Of: The Undertones, The Strokes, The Libertines
Location: Lisburn

A Libertines styled melody, wrapped in an Undertones package. Amazingly The Racks have taken the fairly straightforward original (Rudi, Ramones etc...) pop-punk sequence and managed to make it very interesting indeed. The beauty within this groove laden piece is in it's simplicity. There's no grand production here, and for good reason. You feel that anything more would have dismantled some of it's charm, while there's just enough jangly guitar to retain a spacial harmony Johnny Marr would have been proud of.

"It's Not Me It's You" is not a perfect recording. For one thing, it's surf-inspired vibes are no great innovation. Nor are the punky 'trying to sound louder than eachother in the final mix' guitars of the verse; and yet that doesn't seem to matter in the slightest. Upon hearing it for the first time, it's damn near impossible not to envisage hoardes of 60's teenagers dancing around their VW Camper Vans to it in the Summer sunshine. It's a feelgood, upbeat track, bursting with verve and sung with affection.

The Racks are living proof that bands need not turn to a high tech computer system to create great music. (Alt-J take note) Though you feel had this been released 30 years earlier, it would have been nailed on as one of this country's punk anthems.

Between The Racks and the already established Couth, Lisburns surf-punk movement is really starting to gather pace ~ and I for one, am all for it.

Taylor Johnson

news ~ chordblossom announce new 'kickstart' competition

by 07:57

Our good friends over at Chordblossom have announced details of this years 'Kickstart' competition and as usual, the stakes are very high indeed! A competition with great pedigree, past winners include the now huge SOAK, the brilliant Those Ghosts and future pop-pioneers  In An Instant..

Aimed at giving Northern Irish artists the chance to Kickstart their year, the prizes include a single recording, music video and a slot at a local music festival to name just a few.

Kickstart is open to any musicians or bands from Northern Ireland interested in pushing themselves in 2015. All genres and ages are welcome, the only restrictions are that you are originally from NI and that you haven’t released a full length album.

Once all the entries are received, the Chordblossom team will decide who will initially be shortlisted. These shortlisted acts will be subhect to a public vote to decide the final four musicians in contention. These final four acts will perform at a showcase gig in The Bar With No Name after which a collection of local music industry experts will decide the winner of Kickstart 2015!

With such a brilliant prize up for grabs and an already successful history, Kickstart is a competition with the artists at the heart of it. Don't miss an opportunity to get your music out there!

Entries close on Sunday 1st February.

For more details head over to The Chordblossom website here.

Taylor Johnson

single review ~ r51 ~ 'absolutely nothing'

by 06:10

Name: R51
Genre: Alt-Rock
For Fans Of: Runaway [GO], Yes Cadets, Arcade Fire
Location: Belfast

A captivating first line can make or break a songs relationship with it's listener. It must be compelling, engaging and, if possible, mean something to them. With ambient dream-weavers R51's latest single they not only tick all of the above boxes, they do so in a manner that illustrates the wave of confidence they are currently riding, and then some. 

"What we got here is absolutely nothing at all"

Downright genius. Not a bad start.

Vocalist Melyssa Shannon is really on form throughout this hazy pop song, never in danger of singing outside her wide range. Shannon's expressive tone acts as the bedrock from which Jonny Woods now trademark guitar sound can flow alongside, an important element to R51's sound that has carried on from their earliest demos. It's a captivating dynamic and one they must always hold on to.

Lyrically, the band seem to explore new ground, the dark energy which threatens throughout the likes of the awesome 'Slowhound' now given a platform all of its own. , "You are nothing, you are nothing til you give them all they want". 

While the patchwork bass opening may act as a sly nod to the likes of Go Wolf, R51's unique sound is never tampered with here. If it is indeed pastiche, it's pastiche done well. The songs crashing crescendo see's them back to basics; Shannon's timeless vocals begin stretching their legs alongside a truly excellent outro of guitar and synth ~ the likes of which Damon Albarn would pounce upon without hesitation.

In all, this is very encouraging work from a band who've always had promise. It's great to see them really deliver.

Taylor Johnson

who on earth are...fat white family?

by 15:47

Name: Fat White Family
Genre: ShoeGaze
For Fans Of: The War On Drugs, Thee Oh Sees, The Cramps
Location: South London

Fat White Family are a hark back to a simpler time, when bands survived, sometimes for months at a time, on nothing but their instruments and whatever gigs they can string together in order to feed themselves. If there's a certain romanticism attached to that, you're just as likely to become disillusioned with the South Londoners when you see the name of their latest EP, the charming 'Champagne Holocaust'. As the name suggests, Fat White Family seem determined to pour acid on the Cool Britannia Movement and all those involved with it, though frustratingly this doesn't stop them being one of the UK's best young bands. Dark overtones shadow the bands haunting soundscapes, while singer Lias Saoudi stalks the stage, often half naked, in some of the most captivating live shows you're not likely to see this year. Need further proof of his 'rock 'n' roll' credentials? He said this after winning an NME award; "I hate awards shows. It's contrary to everything I believe in as an artist and musician. I find it mildly amusing but repulsive because there's all these insiders blowing sugar up each others arses," ~ We're sure that acceptance speech wasn't awkward at all.

Taylor Johnson

single review ~ rebekah wilson ~ 'one day more'

by 06:46

Name: Rebekah Wilson
Genre: Acoustic//Indie
For Fans Of: Aaron Shanley, Ben Howard, SOAK
Location: Belfast

If you're involved in the Northern Irish music scene, chances are you know Rebekah Wilson. Almost certainly the scene's biggest supporter, Rebekah has contributed more to the growth of this countries local talent than most, whether shining light upon upcoming artists, promoting gigs or simply allowing her passion to spill out onto social media ~ she really has made a difference.

 Unsurprisingly, the transition from passionate music fan, to singer-songwriter in her own right has been a natural one; resulting in 'One More Day', A demo of gentle beauty and delicate excellence. Here, 16 year old Wilson displays her ear for a melody, 'One More Day's verses pulling the listener in through waves of gently strummed guitar and soft piano. With the production giving a sly nod to Soak (and even early Feet For Wings), Wilson's voice stands her independently from her peers. Startlingly assured for one so young, Wilson's clarity and tone is filled with promise. As the song tails towards it's conclusion, an unexpected guitar driven breakdown displays a versatility rare for for even the most accomplished songwriter. For a demo, this really is impressive.

Lyrically Wilson displays yet more maturity, 'One More Day's nostalgia-inducing major key a mask to the tracks darker intentions. (reminiscent perhaps, of the late Paper Man's maudlin 'Hieroglyphics')

"One day more I feel lost,
 Each day, depleting cost,
 Without you I lose worth ,
 My heart's hit worst "

Between her array of local music contacts, her (already extensive) gigging experience and solid back catalog of original tunes, Rebekah Wilson is a name worth remembering.

Watch this space.

Taylor Johnson

encore academy ~ bands for the future

by 14:43

The internet can be a strange and wonderful place. It's made our world more accessible and allowed us to keep in contact with each other all around the world. More importantly, it's opened our ears to some awesome new bands, and tonight Encore NI wants to celebrate some of that emerging talent.

Though we always prefer to focus on local acts, tonight will see us branching out to lands beyond these shores to give you an insight into tomorrows sound.

Be kind and show em' some love.

Name: Skinnydip
Genre: Noise Rock
For Fans Of: Plumtree, Sonic Youth, Pixies
Location: South England

Sounding like they came straight out of the 'Scott Pilgrim vs The World' soundtrack, Skinnydip could kick your ass and you'd feel cooler for the experience. With a clear nod to heroes of indie bands past, the four piece take the hazy noise rock Sonic Youth and add a degree of unpredictability.

A guitar band at heart, Skinnydip are a sonic two fingers up to modern life, the establishment and dudes in suits. This could be a huge year for them, provided they want it.

Name: Bitch Falcon
Genre: Fuzzed-Out Hyper Grunge
For Fans Of: Royal Blood, Deap Vally
Location: Dublin

Clearly not even slightly bothered about radio airplay, Bitch Falcon takes the grunge tidal wave of the early 90's and drags it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Frontwoman Lizzie Fitzpatrick's punk snarl is as entrancing as the trademark wail of her band's lead guitar. New single 'Wolfstooth' does exactly what it set out to do. Not so much make you dance, as thrash away your problems.

Name: Robocobra Quartet
Genre: Baroque-Punk
For Fans Of: Fugazi, Gill Scott Heron, Frank&Beans
Location: Belfast

Saying Robocobra Quartet think 'outside the box' is like saying Kel 'occasionally enjoyed' Orange Soda. (Apologies to anyone born beyond 1997 ~ you will have no idea what that means) This band take the box, rip it apart and invent their own shapes. Then they question the very nature of shapes themselves, until the whole damn shapes system collapses, causing wide spread panic. In short, Robocobra Quartet are quite brilliant. While front-man//drummer Chris Ryan's rhythmic poetry forms the backbone of their material, Robocobra's hypnotic Victorian hip-hop then gives their message a timeless feel. Melodic, yet punchy. Intellectual, yet universal. With music to make you dance, cry and reconsider everything, you really must listen to the band to truly understand, and even then, you may never understand.

Name: Golding
Genre: ShoeGaze
For Fans Of: Swim Deep, Sleeper
Location: Brighton 

Brighton's 'Golding' are a band full of verve. Though their trippy, psych-inspired sound owes much to the B-Town wave of last year, they've done enough to warrant their own place in the UK music scene. What alienates them from their  melody drenched peers comes in Kipp Boucher's brooding vocals, the front man's drawl evoking fond memories of The Cures Robert Smith. This is no more evident than on the dynamic 'Sabertooth', the closing track on the bands debut EP 'Divas'. Sadly, everything from the bands bohemian aesthetic, to their Brit-pop roots will see them thrown in alongside Jaws, Peace and co. ~ It's up to them to either lead this movement, or break free from it altogether.

Either way, it's an exciting future ahead (and another band named after a Pokémon).

Taylor Johnson

news: a plastic rose to launch new album in mandela hall // free show

by 08:00

Alt-rock band A Plastic Rose have announced they will launch their second album 'Flickering Light Of An Inner War' in the huge surroundings of The Mandela Hall, in Belfast.

Having already released no less than four singles from the record (which comes in a stylish red & blue vinyl), the band have also allowed fans the opportunity to hear the record on Spotify before they commit to buying it. The Mandela show is certain to be a special and emotional occasion, with support on the night coming from two of Belfast's most exciting young rock bands for good measure.

Although it is unknown whether the band will dip into their extensive back catalog to pull out old favorites, tracks like 'This Side Of Winter', 'Move Islands' and the pulsating 'Happiness & Joy' look certain to form the spine of their newest set. If their last few Belfast shows are anything to go by, the prospect of a mass, spontaneous river-dance may also be on the cards...

Amazingly, the show will be a free event, which reinforces even more just how important it is to be there.

As the band reveal more and more of their new material, it looks increasingly likely that this gig will be yet another 'I was there' moment.

APRmy, your country needs you!

Date: Thursday, 26th February.
Venue: Mandela Hall, Belfast

Taylor Johnson

single of the week ~ '2' ~ oaks

by 07:25

Imagine gently lulling Sigur Ros into an electronic daze and you're someway to understanding the tranquil brilliance of '2', the new single from Belfast producer Oaks.

Though not quite avant-garde enough to warrant it's own new genre, '2' feels like the natural progression between Explosions In The Sky's mesmerising post-rock and Tycho's brooding sound.

Uplifting, yet perfectly entrancing, Oaks has captured the sound of sheer relaxation, with just enough synth left in to keep things interesting. The songs spacial harmony allows each of it's segments the room to breathe, while it's balance between dark and light leave it open to any given interpretation.

While a haunting, Jónsi-esque vocal over the top could be a welcome addition to this track, it's certainly not a glaring emission.

More of the same please.

Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Tycho, God Is An Astronaut

single review ~ catmando ~ 'recluse'

by 03:42

Swimming in ambiance, the latest effort from Derry/Londonderry's peculiarly named Catmando is at worst background noise, and at best a song of rippling intensity. Despite running ever so slightly out of steam toward the end, 'Recluse' is in no way a bad effort. The sonic backdrop laid down from the tracks opening is promising, while it's central riff's versatility means it could have been a cutting floor extra from Daft Punks 'Random Access Memories', or a Depeche Mode demo.

Though not quite doing enough to break into their stride just yet, Catmando is intriguing enough to warrant a second listen. With a sound currently oversaturated with influences, you feel Catmando will truly benefit when he/she/it decides where they want to go, instead of worrying how they're going to get there.

Taylor Johnson

For fans of: Tears For Fears, Daft Punk

the catfish effect ~ has british indie found its chosen ones?

by 07:01

For years, indie music has been the bedrock of the weirder kids' existence. For all those who found comfort in verse and chorus, who read their lyrics like scriptures and gazed upon bands and the celestial light which followed them with hope in their eyes.

Here, Encore NI will focus on British indie and its eternal search to give these weird kids, well, something to believe in. Though for us to delve into such sacred territory, we must first understand what indie music actually is. The generally accepted term, is that indie music is 'music made independently from commercial record labels', encouraging a DIY ethic.  In recent years, however, the term indie has grew into its own genre. This is one of a (generally) guitar driven sound, with meaningful or poetic lyricism at its core. Like all things, indie survives through its visionaries. It adapts, grows and evolves like any other genre, though it has always maintained its importance on certain bands. The bands for which time only strengthens, rather than erodes, their legacy.

Assuming the birth of UK indie starts with The Smiths and Roughtrade (and who would argue?), UK indie has had its baton passed successfully between acts since the early 80's, most recently held by The Libertines (between 2002 ~ 2004) and Arctic Monkeys (2004 ~ 2009). Which brings us to a greater question ~ Are Catfish and The Bottlemen ready to take on this huge responsibility? Are they good enough? Here we review their debut album 'The Balcony' and look deeper at North Wales most exciting band.

It is perhaps to come as no surprise that 'Catfish and the Bottlemen' were formed around the release of 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'; Arctic Monkey's very public soliloquy to life in working class Sheffield. Having came together while they were still at school, a young Van McCann would regularly skip lessons in order to practice with his band, setting in motion the opening chapters to their indie fairytale. Relentless gigging followed, alongside the all too familiar social media circus of emailing promoters, record labels and anyone who may give the band a kind word to stick on their home-made gig posters. As time passed, McCann and his band mates were eventually thrown out of school all together, accused of taking the band too seriously, though for them this was not possible.

"We weren't bad, we were just always rehearsing and trying to make something of ourselves. It's nice those teachers who were like, 'You're never going to make anything of yourself' are now driving to work with us on [the radio]."

But what is it that makes the Bottlemen so special? A quick scan of their social media reveals no obvious signs of genius ~ promises of 'scotch eggs' for any of their mates willing to 'like' the band page, posts asking friends to help pack out tiny bars and four lads, who loved their music more than anything else. Perhaps that's it. When you see them on stage now (as I did at T In The Park last year), the passion is so obvious, it's quite moving. Each band member is clearly having the time of their life and they make no apologies for it. Regularly taking the time to look at each other, open mouthed as the rooms of people grow around them, singing their lyrics, about their lives. 

Though it would be naive to assume that this child-like wonder will remain as they grow ever bigger, (they will get used to it) it is the feeling that Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of their own that has connected them to their audiences. Like The Libertines before them, when Catfish and the Bottlemen sing of "your friends who can fucking do one" and "missing your calls like a soldiers wife" it resonates. We've all been there, we've all felt these things, while Van McCann now sings it for a new generation. Though also like Pete Doherty's Libertines, McCann possess a truly impressive vocabulary which permeates some of their best work. Getting a field full of teenagers to shout "You're simpatico!" is a beautiful thing indeed.

As for the music which soundtracks their lyrics...well it's also brilliant. Really brilliant. Album opener 'Homesick' see's a solitary riff build to a chorus of cataclysmic proportions. It really kicks down the doors early, in a tidal wave of emotional, rock and roll that's became a regular feature of the Catfish experience. Further singles 'Kathleen', 'Cocoon' and 'Fallout' (which contains the brilliant "See I, I was a test-tube baby that's why, nobody gets me" ~ a true insight into McCann's personal life) follow a similar blueprint, though each with their own, gratifying results. The Balcony's true highlights though, remain in the lesser known tracks. 

The gentle acoustic hum of 'Hourglass', with its beautifully honest prose, is the closest thing to romance Catfish may ever get and sounds more sincere than anything we've heard in years. It's their 'Riot Van'.

                                                "And I'm so impatient when you're not mine
                                                  I just want to catch up on all the lost times

                                                     And I'll say I'm sorry if I sound sordid
                                                     Cause all I really ever want is you

Offer my hand and I'll take your name
Share my shower, kiss my frame
Cause I wanna carry all of your children
And I wanna call them stupid shit"

The swaying singalong intensity of 'Business' is eclipsed only by its catchy chorus, guaranteed to be swimming around your head for days after your first listen. "I wanna make it my business, I wanna tolerate drunk you honey". The electric charge of 'Sidewinder' shows the bands more aggressive side, in an impressive wall of sound, all the while maintaining the conviction of melody they displayed throughout the rest of the album. Closer 'Tyrants', ensures Catfish and the Bottlemen's debut would not fall victim to the 'album filler' trap that may have potentially tainted their first release. This time showing their 'breakdown' ability, it's not quite 'The View From The Afternoon', though Catfish are not trying to be Arctic Monkeys. They're simply being themselves. Which in itself, may be the truest foundations of indie one could ever hope to discover. 

Are Catfish and the Bottlemen British indies newest chosen ones?

In this writer's opinion, undoubtedly. 

Taylor Johnson

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