Review: Personal Best – Arnos Vale

The sun’s coming out, everyone’s feeling less gloomy and summer seems like it’s just around the corner. Sounds like the perfect time for a new Personal Best record to come out, yeah? Well, you’re in luck – Arnos Vale is out this week and it’s absolutely cracking.

Of course, that’s to be expected with the melody-wrangling superteam that is Katie, Tom and (at the time of recording) Lou, who have an impressive back catalogue of hits from their time in Bedford Falls, Attack Vipers and Caves respectively. It starts out strong with ‘If You Meet Someone In Love’, which instantly hits you with a wall of full-on riffage and perfect singalong opportunities. Katie’s vocals strike the perfect tone, and it’s impossible not to join in. Perhaps that’s the most impressive thing about Arnos Vale – at every step of the way, you kind of feel like you’re part of the gang, and that’s what music should be all about. It’s impossible not to relate to tracks like ‘Human Nature’ or ‘This Time Next Year’, and it makes you want to pick up a guitar or a drumstick yourself. After all, if being in a band can be as fun as Arnos Vale makes it seem, why aren’t we all doing it?

For all the brilliant chorus-and-riff bangers, Personal Best are not afraid to get a little weird in places either. The verses in ‘Poor Old You’ are backed with this brilliant, spidery riff and ‘This Is What We Look Like’ has a real grungy chorus with some fantastic distortion. Arnos Vale gives everyone a chance to try out something a bit different to their usual projects, and although the record has some super 90s vibes, it still sounds totally fresh and completely unique.

Arnos Vale is an absolute gem of a record. Unflinchingly honest and often beautiful, Personal Best have put together 24 minutes of solid joy. It’s super posi-indie-pop and it makes no apologies for it. Although Lou will be moving on to different things, there’s no doubt that the next Personal Best record will be just as fun. However, for now, know that Arnos Vale exists and the planet is far better for it.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Pale Angels – Imaginary People

The bastard child of punk, grunge and britpop, Pale Angels hail from the unlikely home of Swansea, Wales via Jersey, USA. A Transatlantic combo of road veterans who between them have spent time in Crimes, The Arteries and The Ergs amongst many others, their experience pays off in an explosive record that sounds far louder than their three-piece line-up would imply. Album number two Imaginary People is released on 6 April via Exeter’s Specialist Subject Records, responsible for absolute bangers from the likes of Caves, Above Them, and Bangers themselves of course! Following on from debut LP Primal Play, frontman Mike Santostefanso’s slacker drawl leads the way through a varied mix of styles from acoustic-led indie jangle to the trademark sounds of nineties Seattle.

The opening salvo hits hard with three hook-laden anthems straight out the gates. ‘Lapin, Lapin’ has a deliciously yearning vocal line over a slowly building crescendo and a guitar riff that could have come straight off ‘In Utero’. This is followed by ‘I’m Nobody’, which cranks up the overdrive to stoner levels, and my personal favourite ‘Wild Vile Flesh’, a speedy thrasher that just sounds downright dirty. The chorus also reminds me somewhat of a Distillers song (in a there’s only so many chords in punk way, not a Gaye/Thicke lawsuit way), which is always a good thing! The trio’s years of songwriting expertise are clearly on show with singalong vocal lines galore, and you just know they’d slay it live. Later on in the record, the guys up the reverb to deliver some surftastic guitar riffs that could easily soundtrack a spy film as quickly as they could level your local dive bar venue.

Imaginary People does have a few unexpected low points though. Midway through the album, ‘Schizophrenic Affair’ sounds worryingly like Oasis in stark contrast to the punk fury unleashed in the first fifteen minutes. More unfortunate still is the ninth track ‘Dreamer’, which meanders through six boring minutes of nothing much. An underdeveloped non-song, I felt like hitting the skip button halfway through but held out until the bitter end to find little more than the death knells of an unrelenting tambourine and a spring reverb-drenched guitar that just won’t give up even after the track’s natural and much-needed end. In fact, while bands always get bonus points in my books for attempting a full-length album instead of the constant slew of EPs, this record could do with losing a fair few minutes of aimless wandering and focus instead on the short sharp hooks, of which there are many! The closing track absolves for the sins of its predecessor with a brilliantly shouty chorus and dissonant guitar riff. Another six-minute number, here the seconds don’t feel wasted as it builds throughout to a gloriously noisy conclusion.

Ultimately you don’t come to grunge expecting reinvention. It is a genre steeped in yellow smiley-face branded history, and to that end Pale Angels deliver the goods. The overall sound of the album is spot-on too, with colossal guitars erupting over disgustingly thick and fuzzy Muff bass. The production is fittingly live and raw, it’s certainly refreshing to hear drums that sound like an actual kit is being played in the same room as the rest of the band – a point missing from many over-engineered and sample reinforced rock records today. With tunes to match, ‘Imaginary People’ is well worth picking up and certainly serves as a far more fitting legacy to a certain Mr Cobain than the latest posthumous documentary doing the rounds. Flannel up and fuzz out, Pale Angels are leading the charge for grunge in 2015.

3.5 out of 5 high fives!

Interview: Isaac

Burner, the debut album from Nottingham’s Isaac, is bloody great. Into big punk rock tunes? You’ll find plenty here. But there’s also a hell of a lot of thought too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not massively intellectual and inaccessible record, but it’s smarter than the average punk record, both in its structure and its lyrics. Burner is full of heart (and heartbreak), and grabs you right from the off. It’s been stuck in my car stereo for weeks, and I just can’t get enough. So, I threw a bunch of questions at Daniel, Andrew (Shanks) and Dave to find out just how you put together a record as good as Burner.

So… Ted Leo, huh? A train-ride home after a show can’t be the whole story so tell me, what’s the origin of Isaac?

Daniel: Well, we were all friends before that Ted Leo show. Dave and I have played in bands together for years and I know Andrew cause we both work at the same place, but we hadn’t really hung out that much as the three of us. Shanks and I had talked about wanting to play in a band that tried to do similar things to Titus Andronicus, Fucked Up, Bob Mould, Superchunk kind of stuff but the three of us going to that show really cemented it. It was the first time the three of us had really hung out for an extended period of time together. We pretty much just drank and talked about bands we liked for 48 hours straight with a stunner of a Ted Leo show in the middle of it all. How can you not start a band after seeing Ted Leo? Seriously.

Shanks: If you asked the 3 of us at any point what the unifying factors of Isaac are we’d say it’ll be that pitchfork brand of punk, name checking Ted Leo and Fucked Up, burritos and giving each other the right amount of constructive feedback that makes us grit our teeth and get on with being in a band. We’re not going to say anything cliché like “we’re a band of brothers and we’ll never be separated,” but we’re definitely a band of cousins who all live close to each other so hang out more than cousins should.

Dave: Don’t forget bourbon …

You’ve been a band for a while now, but this is your first full-length album, as opposed to an EP. What inspired you to push forward and go for a full-length record this time?

Daniel: Simple answer – YOLO. I’m kinda ‘go big or go home’ in my attitude to putting music out. If you are going to do it, just go for it!

It was a gamble in terms of having enough material to justify a full length but we feel like it’s paid off. We actually split the recording of the album over two sessions, which ended up having a six-month gap between them, so that meant the second session of recording had this added pressure of living up to the first set. I think if the second set of tracks hadn’t been as good we’d have ended up just putting an EP’s worth of tracks out but luckily it went well!

What’s your typical songwriting process?

Shanks: There’s no set way we do it, but I normally come in with an idea, we play it and see how it goes. I think we’ve heard enough music to know if a song is working or not. I’ve been writing songs for about nine years, but it’s only now that I’ve realised how to do it logically. When you grow up just hearing stories about how songs were written, the myth of a song y’know, you think “oh we need to write a new song. I’ll just take these sleeping pills, mix them with red wine and coke and then in about 15 minutes I’ve rewritten No Woman No Cry,” but unfortunately it’s a craft you have to learn and practice.

Dan: Could you attempt to write No Woman No Cry using that recipe?

Dave: It usually starts with us getting food. That sets us up. We usually add bits on at the last minute to tracks, but the main structure always is pretty solid. We may change it up a bit for the next record.

You’ve got equal parts huge punk rock bangers and slow burners (haha see what we did there?) on this record – which is your favourite to write, and which is your favourite to play live?

Daniel: It definitely feels like more of a challenge as a band to play slower things well, so I always like getting them to a point where we are as confident in them as the fast bangers. I appreciate playing them live ‘cause it gives me a break from the fast stuff! Our set is pretty relentless at the moment though, it’s all fun! DIPLOMACY!

Dave: I won’t sit on the fence! I think when you know a track works and sounds great you can’t wait to play it live. For me it’s ‘Ghosts’, which is probably the first song that was naturally a collaborative effort.

Shanks: Last summer, we were gigging a lot and looking at the bands playing at the same time. Everyone wanted to get ‘rad’ and jump around and be that ‘live’ band, but when we first played ‘Weeder’ as a band we realised we didn’t need to be anything like those bands. I remember reading about Black Flag and how they used to have these really long practices where they’d play the set half time and just chug through the songs, and I remember vividly, Dave said to me ‘should we play any slow songs?’ and I was like ‘nah no way, we’re not a slow band’. Then 12 months later, we’ve got two slow songs on the album and they’re some of the best songs we’ve written. I think writing ‘Weeder ‘and ‘Chirpse’ pushed us along a bit, but still, even though we have the slow there’s no replacement for a one minute and 50 second bike riding, coffee-drinking punk song like ‘Turtleshell Sunglasses’ or ‘Slab Square’.

You don’t really do backing vocals, which is a bit unexpected with this type of music, EXCEPT on track 10 where there’s this glorious ‘woah’. How come you went for that, and what inspired this style?

Daniel: I personally want to try and commit as hard as possible to the parts we’re playing, full sweatband, Neil Pert workout stuff, so I can’t let trying to sing as well get in the way of that!

Dave: I can’t sing at all, I leave it to the professionals. Unless it’s Gold by Spandau Ballet at karaoke, I’m out.

Shanks: Who doesn’t love a glorious ‘woah’? It’s the kind of sound that’s indicative of the music we play.

Lyrically, it’s all about real life, real moments and real emotions. How important is it for you to focus on personal experience when you’re coming up with lyrics?

Shanks: If by chance you listened to the album in a certain order you’d hear a true story of a year in the life of somebody dealing with a break up and all the insecurities and anxiety that go along with it. When we formed, we were all in a similar space emotionally so all the lyrics, as harsh as some of them sound now, felt totally justified at the time. Anybody who says songwriting isn’t therapeutic is a liar – we’re a long way off writing our rock opera, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about it.

Burner is coming out firstly on your own label, Golden Triangle Records, but is being released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in a couple of months. Why did you decide to split the release like that?

Dave: Err, because why not, mate? Not sure there is an exciting answer to this! The truth is though we’re totally blown away that Don’t Ask were even interested in putting out anything we’re doing. Feels everyone involved in the label and all the bands on the roster are all coming from similar places ideologically and musically, so it’s great to be a part of that.

Burner’s release is just before your own Clear Your Throat Fest, which is now in its second year. How do you pull your lineup together, and which band are you most looking forward to seeing there this year?

Shanks: We pick the lineup the same way you’d make a mixtape – we start with one band we want to see then think “who’d be cool to see them with?” We get a lot of people asking to play, which is incredibly flattering considering we’re still at our humble beginnings. We’ve started talking about CYT 3, and that’s going to be something special – we’re going to cast the net a bit wider and really push to make it bigger and better. I’m probably most excited about seeing Bluebird, Happy Accidents and Woahnows, but every band on the bill is worth watching.

Daniel: I’m very excited about seeing Doe. One of the good things about the lineup is that it’s made up mostly of bands we have played with in the past and we’re friends with. So Doe are probably the only band on the line up I’ve not seen before so NO PRESSURE DOE.

Dave: It’s always a great day, all of the bands who play are different in application but definitely have the same ethos and that’s what it boils down too. I’m pumped about seeing Austeros again, I’ve had their last EP Lessons Learnt on repeat for the past six months.

Any other tours coming up? Where’s the best kind of venue to see you guys in?

Shanks: We’ve always got things in the pipeline so the plan is to try and do as much as we can before the year is out. We haven’t really played anywhere too unusual to be honest, but we’ve talked about trying to play on a boat. The logistics are going to be ridiculous if we want to pull that one off.

Dan: We could play next to a boat, that’d be easier. We may have even already done that and not known about it. Plenty of boats about.

Dave: I like playing the more quirky shows, like at The Rathaus (Legendary house show venue) in Southampton or on top of a sewage pump station in Cornwall (that did happen years ago). We always like going out on the road, Shanks gets his bum bag out, which has a permanent bottle of Rose sticking out of it. I usually put dinks in our hire car and seem to get away with it, so it’s a laugh a minute. Expect more of that in 2015!

Isaac are Daniel England (drums), Andrew Shankland (bass/vocals) and Dave Deighton (guitar). Their debut record Burner is digitally out now on Golden Triangle Records, and will be released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in May. You can pick it up now on Bandcamp. They should totally play Thekla in Bristol because that is a boat.

Review: Not Scientists – Destroy to Rebuild

You don’t often here of punk from France. Maybe France isn’t a very punk place. Maybe the British as a people aren’t as open to French punk as we are American punk or Scandinavian metal. Maybe we just haven’t noticed we’ve been listening to French punk for years. Not Scientists are a punk band from France, and had they not started their press release with this titbit of information, I would have been none the wiser. Destroy to Rebuild is their first album and it showcases a band with plenty of potential, and a few excellent tunes to back it up.

The LP begins with ‘Window’, which slowly builds with layer upon layer of distorted, reverb drenched guitars before a huge drum fill brings the whole band in. It has a summery feel and catchy vocal refrains. The whole thing is punctuated with woah-oh’s and comes across like a lo-fi Foo Fighters. Lo-Fighters maybe?

Next up is ‘I’m Brain Washing You’ which firstly, has a great title, and secondly sounds like a fantastic, previously unheard Against Me! jam. It is a pretty standard pop-punk tune but what really lifts it is the weaving, melodic guitar solo.

This is an album which is not afraid to where it’s influences readily upon its sleeve. There are touches of Bad Religion in ‘Broken Pieces’, Rise Against-style vocals in ‘These Heads Have No Faces’ and the aforementioned Against Me! in the album highlight ‘Disconnect The Dots’. The album’s closing salvo, ‘Barricade’, comes down somewhere between At The Drive-In and Blink 182, which is a weird crossover you didn’t know you wanted to hear, but it works and it is impressive.

Overall, Destroy to Rebuild contains some really cool moments but some of the tunes are a little too carbon-copy-close to this band’s inspirations to really stand up on their own. When Not Scientists do something a little bit out of the ordinary, as on the reggae-flavoured ‘Wait’, it all comes together, and this band show they can be phenomenal. What Destroy to Rebuild offers is a whistle-stop tour of modern punk without a convincing identity of its own. There are glimpses of something interesting here though, and this is a band who will only get better.

3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Patrons – The Momentary Effects of Sunlight [EP]

UK-based hardcore outfit Patrons are a band to remember if their self-released second EP The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is anything to go by. The new EP is small and subtle, standing only at four tracks, but they’re four tracks exploding with passion and technical ability from a band who are promising to carve their initials firmly into the heart of the hardcore scene. While large parts of the EP could comfortably be called melodic rock, Patrons manage to bring a variety of different sounds and influences into this short space. Elements of punk are not hard to hear, with some emo and progressive sounds coming to the fore as well.

The intro works to lure you in with simple string-work and gentle vocals, slowly building the momentum until the chorus hits you with the volume turned up to max, the hooks come flying in and the vocals get a hell of a lot more gruff and aggressive. With the exception of the single line of vocals screamed while standing back from the mic (a technique I still fail to understand the point of), opening track ‘Lost Age’ really delivers as a crafted entry into the alternative/hardcore genre. From the teasing beginning to the funky breakdown and powerful reoccurring outro, Patrons are right on the money here.

‘Circus’ kicks in a lot faster and it is here that I start to hear why there have been comparisons to Thrice and Biffy Clyro thrown around. There are a lot of the same melodic rock sounds dominating, as the last minute or so takes over and steals the show again with a quality breakdown closing out in riffs and crashing cymbals. The only criticism would be that in such a short EP, is it different enough from the first track? It slides smoothly from clean guitars and vocals into a crunching wall of heaviness – just as ‘Lost Age’ did – but little else is on offer.

So what we need is something a bit different… Enter third track ‘Old Rain’. The song may be short, but it is full of riffs and hooks. The track is simpler than the first two, with a more consistent tempo which helps the vocals take centre stage. Even after the first listen it is clear that ‘Old Rain’ has the potential to be a fan favourite, with emo-esque lyrics of standing tall despite all of the pain life throws at you.

Patrons end the EP with the sort of song usually reserved for full length releases; a seven-minute epic of passionate vocals and even more melodic riffs: ‘Blood Symphony’ is a pretty darn good note to end on. It does follow a similar clean-to-dirty formula as the first two tracks, but it brings enough variety in to keep the listener interested for the whole song. Technically it doesn’t try to overcomplicate things and become two-songs-in-one, but it provides enough avoid the trap of sounding too ‘samey’ and going on for too long. It provides a balance of lyrically ‘releasing anger’ and ‘building up confidence’, another pretty emo trait, closing out happy in the knowledge that this song will get stuck in your head.

As far as EPs go, The Momentary Effects of Sunlight is a solid release which shows more than a glimpse of what this band is capable of. They’re not breaking down the boundaries of hardcore, but by introducing other influences they manage to craft a refreshing sound which makes it easy to see why Patrons have caught the attention of many different publications so far this year.

4 out of 5 high fives!