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10 Wonderful Years of Wye Oak

                                                                      Wye Oak’s Site

Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack celebrate the milestone of being a band for 10 years. That is nothing to be scoffed at either there are few bands that reach that mark.

Before they came to be known as Wye Oak they were called Monarch they were working on the first album If Children (2007/2008). Their name was changed by the time of its release and the foundations had been laid for what was to become and continues to be a creative musical outlet.

If Children was first self-released in 2007 and then released on the marvellous record label Merge (Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire both on the label to. A great documentary on the label: Merge Records: 25 Years in 24 Minutes).  That first release had eleven tracks gave us that first taste. What sets this album a part from the releases that followed is that Stack sung lead vocals on a few of songs, Regret, Archaic Smile and A Low to Mow. Regret is a simple song but I do love the picked acoustic guitar and Stack sings rather well and it mixes things up. For me the title track (sort of) If Children Were Wishes‘ lyrics are clever and the metaphoric nature of them really appeal to me:

‘If children were wishes,
My mother spent hers on impossible things,
My brother was money,
My sister was love, and I was world peace.My brother, he spent it,
My sister got pregnant, and all that I’m worth,
Will only come true,
When there are no more of us left on this earth‘.

It defiantly showed the potential that the two of them had.

The Knot  followed in 2009 with it their sound took that step forward and they added to the growing number of strong songs. The duo recorded their longest tracks to date with Mary is Mary coming in at 7:36 minutes. A song of this length has to be captivating enough to keep your attention for that period of time which the track does. Moving from clean guitar and Wasner singing about someone finding s body in the back yard, whilst the other instruments build up to a slow and fitting pace. At the 3:34 mark Jenn does some great voice work. Andy then gives the song more pieces, Andy’s drumming becoming a larger part and moving the song along. Songs that I always find myself going back to are: For Prayer, Take It In Lice (XX Merge Offstage) and That I Do and Siamese (I can’t go through all the songs but they are all amazing). Siamese has one of my favourite string accompaniments to any song ever. The Knot capitalised on the potential shown on If Children and to this day is one of my most cherished records.

Image result for Wye Oak My Neighbor My Creator

In between albums number 2 and 3 there was the EP My Neighbor/My Creator (2010) which had again more fantastic songs on such as I Hope you Die which is not as evil and nasty as you may think. 

On March the 8th Civilian was released and like many was the record that got me into them, with the title track also being that song. It is also the most well known with over 5 million views on YouTube. The song incorporates all that the Baltimore pair learnt through the prior releases, magical musicianship and song writing of the highest order. Though many reviews say that Wasner’s lyrics moved up a level I personally have always thought she has had a way with words that many would love to have themselves, and has shown it on every release. On each and every album there are lyrics that have stuck with me. For example on this particular song they are,

‘I don’t need another friend,
When most of them,
I can barely keep up with,
I’m perfectly able to hold my own hand,
    but I still can’t kiss my own neck’.

So poetic. Wasner’s voice is so unique plus her gift for writing lyrics really puts them in a field of their own. With songs that are just as strong like Hot As Day which reminds me of my sleep deprived self as one lyric goes, ‘Sleep is never long enough’. One song that certainly doesn’t get the attention it deserves is Dogs Eyes. A bit off sounding but that is the charm of it. It’s the guitar a twangy, oddness rings from the six stringed instrument with it roaring into a distorted lick leading into the verses. I know that fans of the band will now how good a track it is but others wont and it is a reason why I urge you to ALWAYS go and listen to a bands whole discography and find the album songs and B sides etc.

Image result for Tween Wye Oak

Yes Tween was released only a few months ago (June 9th, 2016) but chronologically it was recorded in the time between Civilian and Shriek. Tween bridged the gap between them and allowed the fans to walk across it showing the process that the band went through to get from one album to the other. On Luxury off the eight track surprise.

Coming to the latest part of the journey, Shriek (2014). Infamy surrounds it as I really did have trouble saying the title. I kept pronouncing it shrike  like the bird and did so even after I learnt how to say it properly. My review in my student paper SCAN was the first music article I ever wrote, so it has somewhat a level of importance to me in that regard. But it is also a superb collection of songs are daring and a complete change of direction musically. A bold decision which many bands would possibly be afraid to make, but these two musicians took that risk and in doing so made my favourite album of that year.

I made sure I saw them at the Manchester Soup Kitchen on the tour supporting the album, even exams couldn’t stop me. I got there super early as I went on my own and wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to find the venue as I am not the most familiar area. So I arrived at the quaint venue at around 15:30. So I sat there with the revision notes I took with me, when I turned around to see Jenn standing there. I tried to keep my cool, and by that I mean turn away immediately. As I was ‘fan girling/boying’ internally I was thinking whether or not to go and say hello. I didn’t as they were bringing the gear in from the van down to the basement which is the area that they’d play in later. Then after they had done that and sound checked (where I heard the awesome Spiral being rehearsed) both members came back into the Soup Kitchen area (it is a food serving establishment as well as a gig venue) to get some food with their crew and supporting act. There they sat at the end of my table, a plate of Manchester’s finest grub in hand. Halfway through they moved to sit across from me on the opposite table, again I wondered if I should go say hi. But it would have been rude as they where having their tea.

Moving to the opening act, where yes you guessed it Andy stands right in front of me. Just say hi I scream internally. Nope. Silent I stayed. He soon goes and gets ready to perform. As they played I got myself to the very front and the gig was everything I hoped and more they played many favourites of mine and all the songs of Shriek bar Paradise. I still can’t get over how Stack plays the drums and the keyboard at the same time, how do you even! Anyway after the set was done I went to buy my shirt and just as I hand over the cash I look towards the stage and infront of it stands Andy.  Not one to bug or bother artists after they have done their thing I usually just leave. But as he was already talking to people I thought why the hell not and plucked up the courage to ask if he would be so kind to sign my ticket, he was the nicest and did sign it, even though I was super apologetic thinking I was bothering him and kept thanking him and telling him how great the show was.               

With every release Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack built upon their talents and have created some of the most solid records spanning the last decade. They deserve all the success and I am very grateful and proud to fly the Wye Oak flag for another 10 more years at least. 

 

 

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The Blue Stones’ Cool Tones

                                                                        The Blue Stones’ Bandcamp

Tarek Jafar (vocals/Guitar) and Justin Tessier (percussion/ back-up vocals) (two of the coolest names ever!) show that two guys can make as much noise as 10 playing their brand of blues-rock goodness.

Coming to hear them through the recommendation section on the YouTubes. That introductory song was their most famous, Rolling with the Punches, due to it being played on the hit programme Suits (airs on USA network and Dave in the UK, I highly recommended it as it’s as good as it’s soundtrack). It has a great bluesy partly palm muted lick that is the crux of the song. It is even incorporated into the chorus when the song’s title is being sung it is over the same riff. Only opening up into heavily distorted chords at the start of the chorus to add that impact and rock out, with harmonics being mixed in. As for the drums they are steady with nice little touches that add personality the same goes for the backing vocals. As a first impression of the duo I was very impressed and proceeded to listen to the rest of their EP, How’s that Sound? (2012). It is seven tracks in length and the follow up to the debut recording, The Blue Stones EP (2011).

Kicking onto the next song off How’s that Sound? is Criminals, the guitar is more in line with the drumming as they lock up at the end of each strumming pattern. It is a more aggressive with heavy pounding and playing from both members cranking up the volume for the big hitting chorus. What stood out to me though is a lead guitar line that is more in the background but shows that Jafar knows how and more importantly when to play and sprinkle a little bit of clever lead. That cleaner tone discussion leads nicely to the track All I Ever, has those clean tones at its core. Lyrically the theme is a relatable one but the phrasing is what gets a hook in you,

‘All I ever wan’ed, All I ever wanted, All I ever wanted, Ever wanted was you’.

Instead of pronouncing the ‘ted’ and singing ‘wan’ed’ for the first line changes it up a bit.

As soon as I had finished listening to that EP I moved straight onto their first which is a song shorter. You are able to see how the duo’s sound came to be. Though it is similar to the second EP but the more material the better I think you’d agree. Slowing things down a bit is Tire Tracks a number about a break up and the regret someone has over it. Taking a more classic electric blues angle to it highlights even further their direction additionally the delayed slightly phased effect on What She Don’t Know (Won’t Hurt Her) shows how good Jafar is in developing different guitar sounds.

Black Holes was sort of released twice, once in 2015 it then had to be took off the web and was re-released on April 15th 2016. Fortunately I caught it the first time around as I kept a close eye, or rather ear, on them to see when they’d be releasing new music. It was announced that the long play would be titled Black Holes and it came along with the release of the title track with the full name being Black Holes (Solid Ground) a standard form the band but the bridge is brilliant because of the phrasing and the inflections added on the, ‘I’m Fighting the Fever Again’ line with the ‘o-ohs’ and ‘woah’s’ and change up in the guitar rhythms it rocks. Tessier’s drumming capability is brought into the spotlight at the end of Midnight were the song winds down ant the guitar stops with the drums carrying on. This is not saying that Tessier‘s drumming ability is not shown on the album it certainly is but in this moment he is literally close out the piece.

There are a couple of space themed named short instrumentals on it and they are Airlock and Orbit which indeed sound as though they could go over a scene in Gravity. Coincidentally my favourite song from the band is the last on the album and that’s Magic which is fitting. It is the lyrics and power of Tarek’s voice that I really latched onto. Specifically,

‘I don’t believe in magic usually, But you changed my mind and changed my heart’.

I guess at the time I found the song I felt that way about something’s in life and it reminds me of them and how I’ve changed so it has a rather heavy emotional weight attached to it.

The Blue Stones have the ability to create great riff after great riff, stellar drumming and big pop styled choruses is a testament to Tarek Jafar and Justin Tessier abilities. Leading to some of the best rock/blues music to come out in recent times and it exciting to hear what they do next.    

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Prince: Perfectly Purple

                                         Prince- Little Red Corvette

Prince Rodgers Nelson A.K.A. Prince is one of the most coveted and influential artists of the last 30 plus years. He garnered respect from the industry, fans and musicians alike.

Sadly I never really delved too deep into any of  39 studio albums, 4 live recordings, 6 compilations, 13 EPs, 17 video albums and saw very few of the 136 music videos before his passing in April.

Obviously the music he created did not completely pass me by; I have a huge love of When Doves Cry and Little Red Corvette from my mother playing a few of his recordings when I was younger. They proved to have stuck with me as the Sunday before the tragic news broke I was shopping at my local supermarket and I walked past some courgettes. All of a sudden I was singing Little Green Courgette to the tune of that famous number. A friend I was with just left me in my little world blissfully happy and I carried on grinning from ear to ear as I thought it was hilarious. I mean who wouldn’t want to be Prince for a few minutes? We’re around the same height so I am closer than most…

Though at first that back catalogue seemed daunting but fortunately one of my friends, Tom Beeston, is the biggest Prince fan ever. His knowledge of Prince is impressive and that is an understatement. So I asked him which albums I should start with. Tom said that all his stuff is fantastic but recommended Purlpe Rain (Prince and the Revolution, 1984) and Sign o the Times (1987) as an entry point. I chucked in 1999 (1982) because it has Little Red Corvette on it.

First up on the mini Prince Tour was 1999 and it’s opening title track. Starts off with an odd but intriguing voice;

‘Don’t Worry I Want Hurt You, I Only Want You to Have Some Fun’,

Oh and fun I had going down memory lane as the classic number played through my headphones with it’s funky rhythms and Lisa Coleman, Dez Dickerson and Jill Jones sharing  joint lead vocals alongside his Royal Purpleness. The message of the song is to have fun because life could end at any moment and party!

Second is that perfect pop song that is so, so good Little Reed Corvette. As I listen to it now I can’t resist singing my heart out to every word. For me it paints a picture that is straight out of golden age Hollywood cinema, of a couple going on a date in Beverly Hills looking over a city parked in that Little Red Corvette.  But it is also is metaphor where a girl is a car from there it’s rather self explanatory. But where I always smile is the bridge where he compliments the girl on her ‘rear bumper’ and he plays with his voice showing what a vocalist he was. The slightly gritty inflection mixed into his falsetto is effortless. But then we got into the realm of songs I had not heard before. Delirious  instantly became one of my favourite ‘new’ tracks to groove to. A great 1980’s synth hooked me with it’s melody, playful phrasing, a bassline that got this usually robotic dancer doing his best disco moves all around my house Tom Cruise Risky Business style.

Coming in at 9:28 Automatic is held up by steady electronic beats and keyboard licks happily move along. With backing vocals that repeat the songs name but by going A-U-T-omatic and it these types of creative ways of saying a word differently that really drew my attention. Why say it normally? After I heard this I couldn’t read the word any other way. Not one to shy away from mixing things up there is a quality bit of lead guitar playing two thirds in but it is over some very peculiar crying sounds. Yes I was taken aback but it was something I certainly had not heard before. Kudos Sir. With a name like The Critics Love U in New York and what I had listen to so far only escalating my excitement it came on. Brilliant rhythm section fades in and Princes softly spoken words exclaim that you can dance and do what you like in the Big Apple because critics will love you anyway (I’m guessing a hint of sarcasm), proceeding into a rising chorus that confirms that critics certainly do love you in New York. Then Jazz dies on the 4th of November and wailing guitar hits you. All whilst that repetitive driving force of the drum and bass send you into a trance like state and I believed that all these professional opinionaters did indeed love me in a city I have no interest in going to nor was I in. But for those 6 minutes I was. 1999 certainly held up as a top draw record. It left me so excited to put Purple Rain on.

Pressing play on my CD player to begin Purple Rain I would have been more surprised at the church like organ and Prince’s sermon on the afterlife would have surprised me more but 1999 prepped me a little. That sermon smoothly transitions into a fun assertive beat and pounding bass fused with a poppy keyboard, distorted guitar chords add that hint of rock that he likes to throw in there. But it is still catchy as hell.

For this great musician combining pop with rock, catchy choruses and face melting guitar solos was more than easy and masterfully done.

Even blending in beautiful strings was no hard task Take Me With You‘s main element are a stunning string arrangement. Again female voices are prominent on the album with Apollina on co-lead vocal on Take Me With You harmonises to great affect with Prince’s.

Darling Nikki was another song that is famous for being the song that caused parents to freak out and the guidance label to come into existence. It’s a bit raunchy but it is such a class song musically it is more than it’s .

When Doves Cry is well you know When Doves CryPurple Rain is Purple Rain.

Having proven to be a true genius at writing hit songs that were constructed on phenomenal musicianship that is second to none. He released the more social/politically aimed album that has been said to not only be his best album but THE best ever, full stop. On Sign o the Times a couple of things stood out to me on this one: a simple bass lick making it more noticeable. Secondly fantastic lyrics i.e:

‘Oh yeah!
In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name,
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same,
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun,
Is being in a gang called ‘The Disciples’,
High on crack and totin’ a machine gun’

A song such as this serves to highlight how timeless an artist he was as this is one of a wide array of classics. To have one is a great achievement but to have more than ten is outstanding and special. Furthermore thematically it can easily be applied to today’s social backdrop. How many artists pen such songs? Very, very few.

Slow Love brings out a smoother more romantic side of the Man in Purple  with some jazz sax-appeal put down by Eric Leeds (Saxophone) and Atlanta Bliss (Trumpet, what a name) that harp back to the Motown greats. Sign o the Times is a culmination of the albums I listen to it prior. The double album is as some have said; ‘a master class’ and I’d more than agree.

Prince displays how good he is on all musical fronts, with the seemingly endless array of genres that he tackled, not only on these three albums that I have listened to. But learning from a documentary named, Prince: a Purple Reign (saw it twice it is that good) that he was constantly adapting and mastering the ever changing musical landscape throughout his illustrious and unrivalled career.    

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All Them Witches are the Freest Band Around. Plus One Beautiful Bass Guitar

 

ATW

                                                                            All Them Witches’ Bandcamp

All Them Witches are a once in a decade sort of band that are free in their approach to the marvellous music that they create.

There I was searching YouTube at 3:17am in the morning listening to many bands finding some that hit and others that didn’t. All Them Witches where one such band and they did more than stand out, the music that entered my mind was better than superb. I was what some would call ‘mind blown’. I was hooked for life.

The amount of music that they have released since 2012 is vast, 3 albums, 2 EP’s (Effervescent (2014) is psychedelic as you can get and A Sweet Release EP (2015) gets weird but I like them even more for doing so) and a live album At the Garage (2015). Releasing this amount of material in such a short time may lead people to worry that they may be inconstant. But that certainly is not the case. Every release from their first full length to the latest is beyond fantastic.

Our Mother Electricity cover art

                                                 Our Mother Electricity

Best to start with that debut Our Mother Electricity (2012) was not the first I heard from the group I’ll get into that in a moment. The very first song that you hear is named Heavy Like A Witch aptly titled. Was just one draw towards the song. The Heavy portion of the track is a little short intro which sets out the president for what music the band makes, music that is open, risky and a little off centre. It is a choral, reverb laden vocal that moves into the rock riff of Like a Witch. The transition from the choral vocals into that riff sets the the album up. Not to be pigeon holed as a rock and bluesy outfit the stunning Family Song For The Leaving is more classic in it’s structure. Parks sings over a finger picked acoustic guitar and sprinkles of lead electric guitar that at one point harmonises with him whistling. It quickly became a song that holds a special place in my heart.

Lightning At The Door cover art

                                                Lightning at the Door

Lightning at the Door (2013, re-release 2016) was actually my entry point into the four piece. The song was The Marriage Of Coyote Woman the first second had me. A clean blues guitar (Ben McLeod) line softly plays for a few bars then the bass (Charles Michael Parks, Jr. and vocals) vibes join the party, a killer harmonica walks in along its buddy, the Rhodes/keys (Allan Van Cleave), backed by the solid drums (Robby Staebler). This combination knocked me for six. The bands chemistry had the feel of a jam session. Guys just getting in a room and going, no plan or pre-produced songs playing until something comes up. It is how they create records and that’s effortlessly. Songs like Swallowed By The Sea and Romany Dagger  not only highlight this point. When Romany Dagger came on it was one of those moments where I realised that this band where going to be a favourite for the rest of my days. I thought to myself that there are few songs that are named so perfectly. With Van Cleave on violin and the guttural, bizarre Mongolian-esc vocal sounding as if the Romans themselves had created 2,016 years ago. Instrumentals are a staple of the bands musical ventures. In the re-issue the extra tracks are both instrumentals, Romany Dagger (Remended)  and Surface-To-Air Whistle.

The song that comes in as the fifth song on Lightning at the Door links to that oh so beautiful bass due to the bassline in Charles William is one of the most memorable. Parks’ bass is my favourite of all time it looks great and sounds even better. The bass modded ’72 Rickenbacker 4001 with a quirky and crazy backstory that he goes into in the link provided (from 21:03). It is just so cool with the chunk that has been cut off, the trimmed down headstock, an unusual leather back plate and the colour really appeals to me.

                                                                Parks’ ’72 Rickenbacker 4001

                    A complete classic ’72 Rickenbacker 4001

The whole bands Rig Rundown is here:  All Them Witches Rig Rundown for Premier Guitar

Dying Surfer Meets His Maker cover art

                                       Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (2015) was heralded by many as one of the top albums of 2015 (my #1: You’re Damn Right I’m Exited) explores a side that they had not done previously. A more vulnerable album as Parks stated in an insightful interview with Katherine Turman (http://www.villagevoice.com/music/all-them-witches-want-to-kick-you-out-of-your-musical-comfort-zone-and-theirs-too-7971843):

‘It’s a little more vulnerable as you’re not hiding behind a melody; you’re not trying to subconsciously rope people in through a pop lyric or a hook or anything like that. It’s just basically laying out everything that’s in your brain and sometimes just screaming at people. Sometimes that’s the only way that they will listen and get out of their comfort zones’. (Parks on speaking in songs from the Turman interview for The Village Voice).

What he said is true plus the intimacy that doing something as straight forward as speaking instead of singing. The two numbers he does speak on are ‘This is Where it Falls Apart and Blood and Blood and Sand/Milk and Endless Waters’. The former of the two shows why the band are so, so great. Whisperings of the word ‘listen’ makes you pay closer attention then add in some fantastic harmonica (played by Mickey Raphael) (it can’t just be me who loves some harmonica right?) and you have yet another amazing song to add to the seemingly endless list.

One constant through the quintet’s discography is the fearlessness and the willingness to change. Every new piece of music from them has a different aura; something about it they head down a different path every time they get together, that applies to live shows also. All Them Witches will never stop evolving and that is a quality that heightens their calibre as musicians.

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