Starting out as a humble blog in 2011, we have gone from news and reviews to acoustic sessions and more, interviewing the likes of Everything Everything, TTNG, Enemies, Mike Vennart, Piglet, CHON and Delta Sleep. From seminal bands to the DIY scene, we cover a wide variety of math and post-rock oriented music, feature regular reviews, host giveaways and produce acoustic sessions.
An Ode to Math Rock Ancestry and an Indie Pop Hereafter
For many a young person drifting hopelessly through those
angst-stricken teenage years, music is the greatest comfort. Guiding lyrics
sang in heartfelt tones can sooth in times of trouble, elevating an unassuming
frontman into a sage of the stage. Reminiscing to oneself about having
witnessed passionate performances from gigs past can bring about a warm nostalgia.
In music scenes underground and with bands underloved, this is often
accompanied by a feeling of privilege for having been one of the 30 or
something strong audience, marooned inside a dingy venue taking shared solace
in the evening’s escape. The pure release in the intimacy of these moments sets
aside any lingering awkwardness of being in a room that everyone wishes was
less empty. Nervous bands feel all-the-more appreciated, deservedly, as those
hearty singalongs and well-timed nods prove the audience’s attentiveness and
familiarity with the music.
Having seen them a dozen or so times in the past 8 years, Tall Ships embody
these experiences like no other band. Ric Phethean intonates profound mantras
with a sheepish innocence, an uncertainty that belies his impact in the room.
Lyrics explore both the introspective and the exultant whilst instruments march
along in tandem; the pensive plods along the keyboard in Vessels or Ode to
Ancestors flow flawlessly into the pent-up energy of Hit the Floor or Plate
I remember with limpid clarity the moment I heard ‘Oscar’ for the first time.
On a tour preceding the release of Everything Touching, new tunes were working
their way into the set. Out of an enchanting glut of songs filled with familiar
sing-along anthems came a riff I had not heard before, from a band that – on
recollection, I realise - were primed to air new material but also nervous
about the abreaction they knew they were about to undergo. As the song rose
to its crescendo (in that typically-tall-ships manner) I heard for the first
time the line ‘I love you more than you know’; a heartfelt refrain pouring from
exhausted lungs. Then bassist Matt Parker, crouched and cowering in the ache of
the moment, paused and took respite, summoning enough energy to longingly and
heart-wrenchingly reach for a lightly crumpled photograph of a loved one,
sellotaped to the cabinet of his bass amp. ‘Oscar’ is about familial bonds,
friends, ancestry and the joy of the unspoken contracts we assume with the
people we love and care for. I’ve no compulsion to know who it was that Matt
was paying tribute to so touchingly, to know that they ‘share more than blood’ and that their ‘heartbeat is the most important thing’ to him served to consecrate
that moment as one of the most moving I have experienced from live music.
Approaching Tall Ships’ long-awaited second album with this
rich personal history behind me was difficult. Having waited an extra month due
to pressing problems, the time that had elapsed between the release of Will to Life - first aired back at
ArcTanGent in 2015 - and the first full playthrough was nearing two years. How
would this new album land, mixing upbeat festival songs by now so familiar with
newer, mellower and more mournful offers. Long time collaborator and producer
James Field had become a fully-fledged member, reducing the live performance
workload of Ric to the benefit of his
already engaging performance style. But how might a fourth man wholly focused
on the keys in the studio play out on the album?
Any nervous anticipation I had was shattered and reconciled about a minute into
the album. The opener Road Not Taken
is a perfect harbinger of the contrasting styles to come, the split
sections encapsulating the yin and yang
of the album in one bifurcated song. Once the stripped-down opening has settled
in, and whispered vocals and synths have passed, the band punch in with full
percussion and guitar, giving a satisfying glimpse into the indie rock anthems
to come. Amongst the most radio friendly of these anthems are the two tracks
released as music video singles, Will to
Life and Mediations on Loss,
featuring thumping rhythms and nods to old influences like Biffy Clyro, with
massive hook-filled choruses and a crunchy guitar-driven tone. On the softer
end of the pop spectrum, Lucille
darts in with an interlocked rhythm section reminiscent of early Bombay Bicycle
Club, though Tall Ships make their own mark with a chorus of vocal lines -
taken from all parts of the song and interwoven - that works so surprisingly
well as an ending cacophony. Testament to the true accessibility of this album,
Lost & Found features a short
guitar riff that sounds like the Arctic Monkeys track ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’,
showcasing the indie band making ballads with a nostalgic 80’s tone.
Ending on a note of relative optimism, Day by Day is a bittersweet anthem for repair and renewal, a chance
‘to redefine why it is you live your
life’. These sentiments define this charming track as it fights its way
towards being optimistic but ultimately remains grounded in the futile mire of
reality: ‘we need to do something before
we get too old.’ The tone is at
times upbeat, the lyrics never too saccharine, the sad reflections thus far end
with a glimmer of hope, like watching a split of daylight radiate between two
A word for the two tracks hidden away on the C side of the
vinyl could not go amiss. Something of a concealed title track, Impressions createsa purposeful backdrop of layered synths as Ric roars out with a
lyrical drive-by of the albums themes. A wallop of uplifting guitar slowly
builds in a cinematic moment of anticipation reminiscent of their debut album
closer, Murmurations; this fiery post-rock instrumental as engrossing as Rock
Action era Mogwai. Meanwhile, Purge
finishes the offerings of this album with a little guitar groove, jumping and
darting, whilst the vision of Impressions is brought to a close with a plangent
As ever, Tall Ships’ drum work is understated, a highlight
from Everything Touching being the simple fx-laden beat that starts and
underlines Idolatry. Once again – and more ear-catching than ever - Jamie shows
how best to serve the song by writing simple, crunchy motifs with the odd beat
chopped off, reverb slapped on or percussive tone changed, as to excite the ear
on the first listen but to let it settle in hypnotically upon repeat.
Meanwhile, Matt’s complimentary bass riffs range from the pulsing grooves in Lucille to the thumping persistence of
Meditations on Loss to the warm and
wide undercurrents of Home.
Along this well-trodden path from largely instrumental,
intricately looped and angular math-rock towards a more careful pop sound sit
bands like Enemies and, more recently, Waking Aida. Similarly, Tall Ships’ turn
from dense loops of interwoven riffs to an indie pop tone traces a clear path.
From the spoken word samples on their first EP, to the big swooning vocal lines
on ‘Chemistry’, to the more vocally driven parts of Everything Touching, now we
have the complete package; nine tracks where vocal hooks don’t just adorn great
riffs as an afterthought, but provide the foundation for the song. The stories
and sentiments told feel as if they are influencing the style of the
instruments for the first time in the band’s work.
Resultantly, the song structures are built around the
lyrical drive too. And so, although the band have adopted a more indie alt-pop
tone, outside of the radio-friendly singles they still have a penchant for
longer songs with unusual musical throughflows. This pushes them to rewarding
places. Ric’s unwinding narratives compel the band to forego the traditional
verse-chorus set up in favour of one long, building and unfolding track that
slowly envelopes those brave enough to listen attentively. In doing so, the
band avoid a feeling of disjointedness; no longer treading back along old paths
with a chorus repeated wholesale, but forging a new one on which Ric’s
evocative message can develop. This allows songs like Home and Petrichor to
germinate organically, to be as immersive sonically as the lyrics are in their
Since the release of the B-side Send News from 2011’s single Hit
the Floor, I have been enamoured with Tall Ships at their most delicate.
When the bombast of pulsing drums and angular riffs subsides, you are left – in
Idolatry, Ode to Ancestors and another B-side, Life Goes On - with layers of
vocal, ripples of piano and delicate refrains to sing along to. For this reason,
the lilting Lost & Found is
without a doubt my personal highlight of this release, and arguably the best
showcase of Ric’s unique ability never to waste a good lyric on a half-hearted
melody, but to propel each line into significance with a memorable one.
Lyrically, Ric writes the textbook for demonstrating how profound it can be to
never worry about profundity, but to know the first words that come to mind
often capture the idea at its most transparent and honest. On this theme, it is surprising that after the many
years the band have had to self-produce the album, achingly crafting every
single note and tone of each overdub, the album still sounds the result of an
effortless, unstudied process.
A common criticism from those that have been following the band since their
guitar loop-driven early days is that they’ve lost their exciting mathyness.
This was perfectly crystallised to me at ATG in 2014 when (in a drunkenly
slurred Scottish accent) a young man confided in me his belief that ‘Tall Ships
are wee bit too poppy.’ Well, I’d obviously argue after having written this
ludicrously long review, I think they’re exactly poppy enough: utterly
hypnotic, effortless, memorable, but still showcasing intricate, complex and
thoughtful songs with stunning musicianship and a ‘less is more but 5 sets of
backing vocals and 3 synth tones still aren’t quite enough’ sort of feeling. A
masterful album and their best release to date. Another minute would be too
intense to bear.
Having reflexively purchased a ticket upon seeing the immense
line-up for last year’s StrangeForms only to find myself unable to attend, I
was thrilled to witness the incredible festival for the first time this year.
And what a year it was, making up for missing last year with a wealth of friendships forged, conversations relished and most importantly, great bands
enjoyed with that mixture of attentiveness and bewilderment that math-rock
In the early Saturday afternoon at the charming DIY space Wharf Chambers, tepid
bursts of sunlight shone into the beer garden as punters gathered in surprising
numbers to hear local lads Classically Handsome Brutes open the festival.
Whopping guitar riffs and thudding bass made for an unsettlingly crunchy sound;
the roaring songs always featuring stop/start stabs both as impossibly hard to
anticipate as they were tightly performed. Next followed Lost Ground and a
subtle change of pace. The first and most delicate vocals of the festival
soared over intricate guitar parts, often contrasting with emphatic bass and
complimenting jazz-tinged drum work. The set was emotional and engaging, with a
sound more lustrous than the sum of its three-pieced together parts.
Off to a great start! The Real Junk Food Project was serving up
exquisite food on a pay as you feel basis, fine pale ales were being liberally
guzzled inside a venue with the most homely and vibrant feel. An assortment of
merchandise and t-shirts colourfully wallpapered the gig room as everyone
gleefully quizzed each other in anticipation of their prospective favourite
bands to come.
From a line-up brimming with an assortment of three piece bands,
Steve Strong stuck out as a tantalising prospect of hearing noises just as
full, songs just as enthralling and some of the best drumming of the weekend.
Guitar loops were tightly controlled and effortlessly built upon, stripped back
from the mix and thrusted in again. Each time the cacophony had found its
place, it was given new life by quick and breathtakingly pinpoint percussive
work. A stunning performance and a unique chance to see how carefully chosen
rhythmic changes can structure a song.
Back to three pieces, this one less time-signature twisting,
more groove-fronted power riffs from Memory of Elephants. A tasteful ear for
melody was wrestled with as the bass and guitar interlocked with precision to
create beefy math-rock at its best. The balanced instrumentation was evident,
as the bass shared as many central motifs as the guitar, both musicians tightly
synced as if one brain splitting into four hands, blasting sounds through two
octave pedals and smashing your eardrums to pieces one spasmodic riff at a
time. ‘Who The Fuck Is Runcorn?’, the closer from their second EP, was the
pinnacle of the set for me as each stop-start and stab shifted focus around the
stage, from ballistic drum fills to bass thuds to guitar screeches. Drums drove
the songs with tasteful builds and insanely tight flourishes atop the ride
cymbal. Occasional roars demonstrated just how fun it was to be upon the
I took brief notes for the scarily brutal performance of Fall of
Messiah, but they seemed so apt ill reproduce them here verbatim: “A voice so
piercing a microphone is surplus to requirement. Sounds like This Will Destroy
You thrown in a blender and turned up to 11.” That really says it all, I think.
My next memory - of bands, not elephants - was of the hypnotically spacey,
painstakingly crafted masterpieces that are Poly-Math songs at full tilt.
Perhaps VASA, who I’m assured played before Poly-Math, were so jaw-droppingly
awesome that they melted the part of my brain that makes memories, for a short
period of time about as long as their set. Not to worry, Poly-Math were here to
rescue my fragile constitution with warmly curated prog-rock. Bass and drums
interlocked, jolting and grooving freely whilst a guitar funnelled through an
expansive pedalboard turned neat riffs into spacey wails. The performance was
mesmerising, as hands wandered along the guitar neck as if a man strolling
along a boardwalk, only to find himself alone at the end, meeting the ocean in
a frantic storm, in layers of rapturous guitar and pulsating beats. Take a
standard prog song, put it through a washing machine on a spin cycle and you’ve
got Poly-Math at their psychedelic best.
To continue the hypnosis, Gallops took to the stage. Technical
issues were overlooked as a patient and jovial crowd took the time to ready
themselves, using the respite to mentally prepare for the synth-driven,
danceable anthems ahead. The wait was more than worth it. Such a carefully
crafted sound pits layers of guitar against layers of synth, colliding in a
maelstrom of warm noise so atmospheric and so colossal that it opened up a
blackhole and sent them in a time warp back to the 80’s, picking up a few
cues from synthpop along the way. Gallops make something like ‘tropical
math-rock’, with drum pads crunching out over real drums, battled with and battered
in the most rhythmic and danceable way. ‘Tropical’ is actually rather apt, as
the smooth wash of electronic textures build and twist, the temperature rises
and attendant bodies groove throughout the room; it’s not long before the
breeze of a synth sound has spun in on itself and whipped up a tropical storm
of electronica and massive guitar lines, warbling like the din of a cyclone.
And with that, day one was over.
The second half of this review will be written through much hazier recollections,
as the Saturday night ambled on into the early hours and the Sunday left most
feeling the distinct sting of tiredness. The double-espresso shot of noise
everyone needed on the Sunday afternoon came in the form of the fearsome Irk.
Post-hardcore mixed with mathy tropes, the guttural, raspy screams of the
vocalist splattered out over the most tonally warped, gruesome sounding bass
guitar I’ve ever heard. All in all, Irk brought warmth and colour to the pallid
faces of the those hungover bodies that had dragged themselves down in time to
Ear-splitting kept to a minimum, the crowd picked themselves up
for the contrastingly happy, upbeat sound of A-tota-so. Three musicians have
never looked more in control of every note and drum stroke, as they intricately
wound their way around tappy riffs and melodic bursts, before sinking into
muddy noisy sections with equal control. Best snare drum sound of the festival
goes to this set; what a piercing din was made, what a penetrating crunch from
a batter head so tight the sticks pinged off it like a trampoline, atop which
thrived a most gymnastic and dextrous display of drumming. Drums often proved
more than a rhythmic backdrop for guitars to dance over at this festival, it’s
only as much as you’d expect from thoughtful math-rock, but none did so more
effectively than that of A-tota-so.
As a math-rock lover born in the flat, tediously homogenous
farmlands of Lincolnshire, I used to find myself stranded away from festivals
like this, lamenting the dearth of good bands in my area. Enter Bear Makes
Ninja, Sleaford’s answer to the void left by the vocal driven math-pop-rockers
of yesteryear. Think Tubelord at full ferocity, with harmonies abounding as a
most bright and crisp guitar tone gives way to a most distorted one. All the while
at the back of the stage, beefy drums were navigated with the most robotic,
metronomic precision I have ever seen in such a noisy band, with pounding snare
and cymbals laid down flawlessly. Not to mention this was done whilst the
drummer simultaneously soared away with lustrous backing vocals. Stunning!
Tackling parts this technical and channelling them into a fully structured song
with three part harmonies and memorable hooks is a difficult task, but when
they get it right, boy do BMN get it right. The ascending hallmark riff of
12345 (a favourite from our review of debut album Shenanagrams) was one of the most memorable parts of the weekend for me, and that is as
high a compliment as I know how to give from a line-up so saturated with
There were so many great bands on the Sunday that – although
it’s too late for brevity – I’ll stick to my personal highlights. Taking to the
floor, in the most literal sense, where Scotland’s finest post-rock, math-rock
hybrid band, Dialects. With pedalboards this big and musicians using them as
they wield guitars like proverbial axes – chopping and turning through the air
with a dangerous energy – there was no room for math-rock this animated on such a stage. Standing at crowd level, guitars swelled with heart warming reverb, mind-melting tapping, frantic
riffs filtered through delays and tones purpose-chosen; Dialects are an immense
force on this scene, giving every ounce of energy to every song. Through the
unique dynamic between the two guitars - one controlling and modulating the
riff, one experimentally hacking at and bending strings - Dialects create cathartic
songs to lose your mind, and all of your troubles, to. Just bring earplugs and
watch out for the stray sway of a guitar neck whirling around (see below) as energetically
as the riff it’s bringing to your ears.
Axes return to the stage was as fun a finale to the festival as
anyone could have wished for. Remembering the intricacies of songs long since
played live was a thoroughly entertaining process to watch; intimate and
light-hearted, as cheery and spirited as the wonky riffs and jangling math-rock
they willed themselves to construct. Thankfully, the audience had done their
homework, urging in each new stab and stall to arise and break with head bobs
of great precision. The band had a look of astonishment at the music their
fingers were carving out of their fretboards. Twiddly, fast tempo riffs bobbled
along over chunky bass rumbles, dipping in and out of different time signatures
with formidable control and with a perfect balance between the two guitarists,
wrestling with each other and both winning. A euphonic and emphatic finish to
Overall, my first time at StrangeForms did not disappoint. The music was
incredible, of course, of this I could scarcely wish my expectations to have
been passed, such was the brilliance of the line-up. But it was the atmosphere
of the place I was thankful to have experienced. Here, there and everywhere
people discussed the music and the musicians, the sets and the scene with
voracious interest and excitement. Why is this scene so generous, warm,
considerate and always the nexus of many an interesting conversation? Perhaps
it is because many of the audience are in some way involved in the scene,
creatively, artistically, from t-shirt designs to posters, PR and promotion,
record labels, distros, videographers and writers – the passion is still
somehow infectious in a crowd where everyone has already caught the bug. The
joy of each head bang, of each pedal-tap induced wall of sound is lost on
no-one; unique to this epicentre of musicians, artists and listeners is the
feeling that everyone has taken time to totally immerse themselves in the
scene. This noisy world is one of few where everyone is so friendly and
familiar with everyone else, so buoyed in collective anticipation by a good
line-up at the next of many events, from Bristol to Brighton, Leeds to London
and beyond; there are no half-hearted math-rock lovers, and few are more
passionate than Bad Owls about good music and good people.
band that took to the stage, I’d like to heartily thank Stewart and Kerry and
everyone else amongst the Bad Owls team for putting on such a great weekend of
Lilly Legit is a truly prolific songwriter, having released an EP, a full-length album and most recently a 4 track collaboration all in the space of just over a year. Blending electronic elements with bursts of piano, his characteristic math-rock sound has something to add to the chorus of guitar-less alternative music that has found favour in recent years with the likes of Mouse on the Keys and Tigran Hamasyan.
Today, we bring you some of Lilly Legit’s most refined work to date, the single ‘Spectrum’ taken from a forthcoming release set for January 2017. Darting piano phrases are densely layered to create a mesmerising gauze of time-twisting, jazz infused instrumental music. Listen to the premiere below and ready yourself for the next release from a musician who combines the maximum of intriguing math-rock complexity with the melodic range and delicate textures of piano-driven music.
After two EP’s worth of mind bending guitar licks channelled into the slickest math-pop around, The Yacht Club have unplugged at least one of their guitars and taken to a rich, warm, emotional acoustic sound for their new EP ‘Fall’. Today, we bring you EP closer ‘Put Your Life In A Box’ - a contemplative and immersive track, fitted with Marcus Gooda’s characteristically delicate vocals, dribbles of piano and atmospheric washes. The new sound comes courtesy of an updated band line-up, now a 5 piece with the addition of third guitarist and keys player Jack Holland.
There’s something of the confessional charm of Owen in the track, with the refined melodies and gently wandering guitar lines to match.
As the tension in the song softly builds around wistful lyrics, “I can’t miss you more…” the song gives way to an uplifting soft-rock ending. Fall is here, and the music on it is sure to be your best companion as loneliness creeps in and autumn begins it’s melancholic advance.
Fall EP is out on the 25th November with a limited cassette run available through Beth Shalom Records. Look back here for reviews and pre-orders in the coming days.
Enemies’ third and final album, Valuables is set to be
released on December 9th by the inimitable Topshelf Records. The
news of this album broke with a heartfelt farewell; the warming sentiments therein assure us
that this last foray into a symphony of melody, layering, intricate instruments
and soothing vocals will be honest and emotional. The lead single ‘itsallwaves’
is testament to this, a polished, pulsing, anthemic and airy few minutes of
dancing guitar phrases, glued together by smoothly soaring vocals. We sat down
with Lewis Jackson and Mark O'Brien in the midst and
mists of ArcTanGent festival this year, and gained a few insights into the
process of writing Valuables.
"itsallwaves" by Enemies (official video) - YouTube
TMRB: So the album is finally finished!
Mark: Yes! We started in the
studio in January and recorded for two months and then we went on tour in the
US for 6 weeks. When we came back we just kept recording and recording and
recording, it took a long time.
Did it take so long because you were pushing yourself outside of your comfort
zone with what you were trying to do?
Lewis: I think with every record we’ve tried to do that
anyway but with this we knew we wanted to do something different. But we didn’t
know how to do it or even have a picture of what that exactly was, so it
definitely took longer because of that.
Why did you decide to put the single Play Fire out such a long time before?
Mark: See, it was kind of like a kick up the arse. We
had a good chunk of material written at that point, we thought well we’re not
far off now, let’s just put out a song to show people we still exist and that
we’ve moved sonically in a new and interesting direction. I think we just
anticipated that after Play Fire it would only be a matter of months before
we’d have everything wrapped up.
Lewis: When we were looking at all the material we
had we thought ‘Oh ok, so we can release Play Fire and the record will be
released a month or two after and it’ll be fine’…and then it went on for months
and months, we only realised the other day that Play Fire is like a year old
Mark: A lot of songs just got completely axed
and we thought ‘we can do better than this.’ TMRB:
So in setting yourself a challenge with adding vocals, do you think it was a
natural place for you to go but maybe not a natural process to actually do?
Mark: Yeah definitely, it feels right to do it. A lot of the music we listen to
is vocally oriented, not massively vocal heavy but we like bands that use
vocals in an interesting way to add a new texture to the music. It just felt
right to us to move in that direction but it was like learning a new
instrument. Doing the music became second nature but when it comes to vocals
we’re really cut-throat about what’s good and what’s not.
Did that mean that you had to rewrite music to make it compatible with the
Mark: Yeah we left a lot of space for vocals when we
were writing this album. Leaving space was a big part of writing the album
anyway, instrumentally too. We realised we didn’t have to layer the crap out of
something when a simple vocal line over it will make it really pretty. It was
pretty considered all the way through but definitely challenging because you
know, when you’ve been playing guitar for 15 years or whatever - you’re used to
it, but learning to use your voice and figure out what register works best for
your voice takes a bit of time. But it has been a very enjoyable process.
What was the process like with vocal production, do you use overdubs as a
writing tool or do you write your harmonies together as a band?
Mark: It’s all very much just sort
of fumbling around in the dark in the studio. I will generally just lock myself
in a room with a mic and just play through the song like ten times and just
improvise some really like off-the-cuff stuff. Then I’ll go through all those
ten sessions pick out the best bits and go ‘okay, this is kind of an idea of
what is working melodically in the song’ and then I might structure lyrics
around that. But when we come back to it later we’ll probably end up cutting
half of it, rewrite, edit, it’s very iterative. It’s definitely not like,
coming to practice with a ‘Oh I’ve written this song about….summertime! Just
need you guys to arrange it!’
Lewis: Haha, will you please do that, it would make our lives far easier…
Mark: Everything we do is a bit like fumbling around in
the dark, it has great results but it doesn’t lend itself to a speedy release
We’re you worried - as I think some of your fans might’ve been - that by
incorporating vocals and with a new direction you were sort of going away from
what made you Enemies as a band?
Lewis: I think you always run the risk of that.
With our album ’We’ve Been Talking’ we could’ve continued as a band and made
that sort of record over and over, but for us musically that would’ve made no
sense. We always wanted to progress, most bands want to be able to progress and
keep going, with us it was never really an option to always stay as an
instrumental band. Yeah, you can worry about losing people but I think when you
believe in what you’re doing so much then that shouldn’t really matter; your
fans are going to understand and so many of them have, and then they get to
come on the ride with you. But yes, you’re always going to alienate some people
when you try something new.
You previously described this album as being your approach to pop music. Have
you listened to and absorbed more pop music in recent years? I know that
likes to warm up to Ellie Goulding…
Lewis: Oh yeah he’s like obsessed with doing that
sort of stuff. I think all of us over the past few years have listened to a lot
of pop music, and an array of different music generally. I think we always try
and let that seep in, it unconsciously does that anyway. But the fun of being
in a band is always being able to trying something new, keeping it interesting
How much have you experimented with songs you maybe can’t play live, like you
did with the guest singers on Night Hawks and Northwest from Embark, Embrace?
Mark: We’ve probably done that quite a bit again on
this album. It’s a blessing and a curse, I think it’s important to treat an
album as an album and not necessarily get caught up in the ‘how can we make
this work live’ thing. If you’ve got a wealth of material that you can use for
your live set then it’s fun to even maybe have half and half, we’ve kind of done that again on this album. We’ve got a friend of ours in a really great band from home, she’s called Louise and she’s singing on one of the
realised very quickly after the release of Play Fire that it doesn’t really
work live, we played it at a couple shows on the beginning of the US tour and
it always just felt a little off – it’s a song we compare to This Orient by Foals…
Lewis: Yeah, they wrote that in the studio, they never played it as a band
before but when it came to the album being released they played it once at a
show and they said it just never worked and so they never went back. Play Fire
is a very similar story to that because it was written in such little weird
segments. It was really strange, we tried it live and it just didn’t work. But
with the new record we definitely think most of it is going to be able to
pulled off live, far more than Embark, Embrace.
Because your music has a mixture of delicate melodic parts and sort of rawer,
more energetic stuff, you’ve managed to tour with everything from punky bands
like Prawn all the way to post-rock like Toe. Have you absorbed anything
particularly from playing with such a mix?
Mark: I think we’ve always kind of walked a tightrope
between the two worlds which is basically a good reflection of our broad
influences. We’ve been on tour with Weatherbox a lot and they were a hugely
influential band, particularly on We’ve Been Talking - all of the guitar sounds
were very much influenced by Brian Warren’sguitar work. I think if we find
ourselves touring in a particular scene for a while we very much try our best
to remove ourselves from that scene. In the US we did a lot of shows that were quite
emo, pop punk and post-hardcore in their nature and I think we all just came
back and just tried to be as chilled out as possible in the finishing part of
our record….because we just….we just don’t like to do what everything else is
So it solidified what you were already doing, you felt like you’d been going in
the right direction?
Lewis: Yeah it gave us that extra jump to kind of
go even further into it. It was nice to have that extra push and to break up
the studio time. We started in the studio in January and the tour started in
March so it was nice to leave the studio and get some outside perspective on
what we were doing. You can easily spend too much time in the studio and you
have no idea what your music actually sounds like, we got to go away from it
and come back and that was really good for us.
Enemies live at ArcTanGent 2016 - Photo by Zarif Miah
I noticed recently that
Eoin’s pedalboard has been massively reduced in size, what was the thinking behind this, was it for the album?
Lewis: Yeah, he basically bought one pedal that
ended up changing everything. I sort of convinced him…he had a big array of
pedals and I’ve had an M9 for a while, and he was using a few different loop
pedals. Between the looper on the M9 and all the fx, he had a go one day and
was just like ‘okay, I need to buy this.’ About a week later we were in the
studio and it was like ‘oh your pedalboards gone!?’ He has the M9 and then like
a holy stain and a chromatic tuner, and that’s it! He’s nice and simple these
days, I think he prefers it that way.
Eoin has previously played the drums on a few album tracks and in the live set, did you continue
that for the new album?
Mark: It probably matches Embark, Embrace - there are
two or three songs it exists in this time.
Micheál have to write those parts or are they more spontaneously
jammed? How do they come about?
Lewis: To start with, it mostly exists if we’ve
written something and we think it needs that tiny extra bit of something. We’ll
try double drums on it and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Mark: It’s really interesting to
watch the two guys figure out their parts. Both drummers need to drum something
a little more relaxed than something they might traditionally do. It’s really
interesting watching them make space so that when they go to do a fill it works
in a back and forth, sort of canon, call and response type of thing.
Has there ever been a point on the tour when you’re lugging two drum kits
around and you just think ‘this is not worth it’?
Mark: That is the last 9 years of our life!
Lewis: Haha yeah, when we decided to do it we thought it was going to be a great
idea. It slowly becomes ‘why do we do this!?’ It’s so much fun but when we
start to do even like small tours, we don’t have to get just one drum kit - we
have to be that pain in the ass band that’s like ‘Oh, we actually have two
Mark: On the first day of SXSW we
had to go to a guitar centre and pay like $700 for a drum kit….and you know at the
end of the tour you’re going to be getting rid of it because you can’t fly it
Lewis: And it’s not like you can
return it like absolutely bashed to bits…
Mark: It’s totally worth it though because on stage it’s
always an absolute show stopper in the set.
Lewis: It’s nice to see people engage with it, on stage it just sounds huge.
TMRB: Tour plans?
Mark: We have a big gig coming up in Dublin on the 18th of December - it’s
the biggest show we’ve ever done, it’s like a 1500 capacity venue. Vicar Street is the name of the place and that will be the album launch.
Album Artwork for Valuables Released December 9th ________________________________________________________________
Sincere thanks to Enemies for sitting down with us, writing this album, smashing the ArcTanGent stage for their last time and for the wonderful music. All the best to each member of the band in their future endeavours. The three albums you have made will always be on heavy rotation at TMRB HQ. Follow the links below for more Enemies info:
Everything Everything aren’t a band that you’d immediately pin down as being influenced by the likes of Shellac or Fugazi. Their pristine pop music is a far cry from the musical milieu in which math-rock germinated; much cleaner than the noisy onslaught of post-hardcore, more uplifting than the pensive intricacy of emo. But with their penchant for atypical rhythms, interlocking, cascading, pulsing and punching grooves and sometimes overwhelming complexity - they channel some decidedly mathy tropes. This is evident in the courageous and unrelenting melodies that define debut album Man Alive, all the way through to the subtle rhythmic choppiness of Warm Healer, the closer from 2015’s top 10 album ‘Get to Heaven.’ In all that they do, Everything Everything demonstrate an instrumental prowess that lives up to their reputation as a genre-defying band, whilst playing with a unity and cohesion that post-rock and math-rock have long embodied.
Intrigued by these parallels, I spoke to EE’s bassist Jeremy Pritchard
in the warmth of Truckfest’s blazing sunshine. Probing about math-rock and time-signatures, I hoped to gain some insight into the mind of a musician partly nourished and greatly influenced by the 90′s post-this and post-that climate.
Photography: From ‘Arc’ Album Artwork Sessions
TMRB: The Truckfest programme describes Everything Everything as ‘genre-hopping’ - one of the genres you have been associated with is math rock, you’re actually on a Wikipedia page for ‘list of math rock bands’…
JP: Oh really, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that. In a way that’s quite an accolade…well I don’t know because it’s essentially meaningless isn’t it, all genre labels are meaningless. But I’m glad that it’s at least recognised as an influence.
TMRB: How aware are you of the term, what does it suggest to you?
JP: The term itself is probably as valuable as any label, I don’t think being labelled math rock or art rock or being labelled punk rock or hip hop - or whatever is - is particularly damaging, it just helps people put you somewhere in the spectrum. These things can be restricting as well, but I don’t think we’ve ever suffered from that, partly because now we’re called 'genre-hopping’ which becomes a genre in its own right. The term is obviously american isn’t it, because its not ‘maths rock’?
TMRB: I think it was coined or adopted by Steve Albini…
JP: Oh really he came up with it? Well that doesn’t surprise me.
TMRB: Do you embrace the term - because some people think it’s a bit elitist?
Well yeah, but that’s kind of on an individual basis really. I neither reject it nor embrace it…it’s just a label.
TMRB: You once said there were no genres that you haven’t learnt something from…
JP: Yeah I think so, even if its something we don’t like, something we should avoid. I couldn’t claim to know a great deal about the current grime scene even though we have definitely absorbed some of the sonics and production techniques from it. But when we were younger we’d pride ourselves on having a huge variety of influences….and math rock, post rock - whatever you want to call it - was sort of my pedigree, it was what I brought to the band.
TMRB: So bands like Shellac, Slint, Don Caballero etc, which I’ve seen you mention in the past, how did you come to know them and how did they influence you?
JP: Well I’ve got a local history with the genre because I grew up in a town called
Tunbridge Wells in Kent which, unusually - for what is basically a very safe Tory seat sandwiched between London and Brighton - had a great DIY, punk rock, post-hardcore, math-rock and post rock scene. I’d started to notice it because I was really intrigued by a band called Joeyfat who were like the elder statesman of the local scene, they had been going since the early 90’s. They were playing kind of post-hardcore - in a sort of Fugazi vein - with a really, really unusual vocalist. They were an absolutely amazing band, they honestly sound like nobody else. They also weren’t like anything I’d listened to before…I loved Radiohead and Blur and The Beastie Boys and The Beatles and The Beach Boys and all that kind of stuff, and then suddenly I took this step sideways and started to get immersed in this kind of Americanised rock world through Joeyfat. I also discovered more stately post-rock bands like Slint, Unhome which were a Joeyfat spin-off and another really great band in the scene called Charlottefield. They were also absorbing similar influences and were a really great band.
TMRB: I saw you tweet about finally seeing American Football early this year…
JP: Ah, American Football are quite interesting because I see that as like…well when emo was just called hardcore. This was before emo became My Chemical Romance, which I wasn’t into but I totally respect as a kind of codifying of the genre - they were really effective those bands but it wasn’t for me. American Football kind of bridged the gap between that sort of ‘academic’ math-rock and emotional hardcore, I suppose.
TMRB: I wanted to ask about a very old song called 'The Kids are Obese’ which reminded me of Never Meant, with the opening drum beat and twinkly, descending guitar phrase…
JP: HA! I haven’t listened to that for ages! Well, Never Meant is on an amazing…an amazing record. I hadn’t thought of the two as being similar but you’re right, I can see what you mean.
It’s because we were a 4 piece band, in those days there were no electronics we just got ourselves up and running as quickly as we could by putting 2 guitar amps and a bass and a snare drum in the back of the car and we’d get out and do all these gigs. And so we sought any way you could embellish that traditional 4 piece rock sound, which is what all of those bands did really well, because none of it recourses to solos and there’s very little male egotism in it. There’s a great quote from Simon Reynolds talking about post-rock - whatever you choose that to be- which is that it’s ‘rock instruments used for non rock purposes.’ There’s this kind of orchestral servitude involved and its all about playing as a unit and the sound of the band as a whole without being able to pin down 'this is the groove’ and 'this is the top line.’ It’s a rejection of all those traditional rock tropes and I definitely appreciated that.
And of course, there’s the absolutely hugely addictive nature of listening to unusual time signatures. For a long time I’d count in 7 or 5 more than I would count in 4, that just felt more natural to me.
TMRB: Well, I notice in the song Warm Healer there’s a very elusive 6/4…
JP: Yeah, we do a lot of that and we do a lot of 3 bar patterns that essentially amount to the same thing.
TMRB: Was that the song you wrote first for Get to Heaven?
Yeah, it was. Alex already had that groove and we built it up from there and John put a vocal on it and it ended up being pretty unchanged from the original idea.
Everything Everything - Warm Healer - YouTube
Do you see it as a sort of segue between Arc and Get to Heaven, because the rest of Get to Heaven is a little bit more uplifting…
…more poppy. Yeah, that was sort of deliberate because the subject matter was pretty dark and we wanted to get out of that kind of juxtaposition. So yeah Warm Healer is kind of a transition, and in fact, in terms of the writing process that’s probably true. We also knew once we’d written that song, that because Arc had been quite an insular, headphoney, personal sounding record, that we didn’t really want to tread over as much of that ground. We set Warm Healer as the bar for ‘this is as delicate and tender as we can get’ and everything else is going to be kind of…hard.
Is that why songs like ‘Only as Good as My God’ didn’t make it onto the record, because it also has that kind of softer feel to it and you thought, 'we don’t want anymore of that’?
Oh yeah, like ‘Sleep in Pairs’ as well. Yeah, exactly. But also to be honest, all the bonus stuff…we don’t love it. We tend to conceive an eleven, twelve track album with a beginning, a middle and an end…and a proper through-path. You’re suddenly encouraged to stick 5 or 6 songs on the end of it and its not the greatest exercise but I appreciate that it’s just part of marketing records now. We stuck ‘We Sleep in Pairs’ on it as an interlude to kind of bridge you out of the album proper and into the other stuff - which we did love but couldn’t find a place for on the album.
So there’s 6/4 in Warm Healer and then you’ve got Weights which are both album closers with more unusual time signatures. Is there something a bit cathartic and expressive in the last track being rhythmically different?
Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before but you’re right. I think it’s good having maybe 40 minutes of four-to-the-floor and then suddenly there’s this release at the end of it. I hadn’t thought of it but that’s true.
Is it particularly incumbent on you and Michael to come up with the atypical rhythms?
Not really, it’s more of the whole band, but I tend to look for excuses to do it. Sometimes we’ll just cut half a bar out or we’ll take one bar off the four bar pattern…in the way that the Pixies did really well. They cut all the fat off the arrangement of the song because they could get the same idea in, in a more interesting way and in fewer beats per bar.
On that note, do you think that some of the success post-Man Alive has been writing really concise choruses?
Yeah I think so, and I think we wanted a bit of that. Man Alive was a kind of smoke and mirrors exercise in obfuscation and trying to keep people at arms length. We were very aloof and it was born out out of young insecurity and not wanting to be remotely cliched, to the point where we were keeping people locked out of what we were doing, which was not really intentional. We really tried to open that out on Arc a lot more and then Get to Heaven was a recapitulation of the bloody mindedness of Man Alive, but with all the songwriting qualities that we’d learnt on Arc.
So that transition between Man Alive and Arc, was that self-critical or did you take extraneous critiques of your work and go 'okay, maybe this is what were doing wrong.’ I know Jonathan recalls listening back to Man Alive sometime later and realising he filled every moment with him singing?
Well we needed that time away from the work so we could critique it more objectively, but I think though that actually, that particular thing of filling every available space hasn’t really gone away, even if it went away for a little bit on Arc. We’ve still got songs like Blast Doors which are really fast paced…
In a world that has a lot of sanitised, anodyne lyrics - or what Jonathan described as ‘middle-class men talking about love’ - where on the spectrum from apprehension to excitement were you about doing something unashamedly different?
I was very apprehensive. But some of it was exciting, and exciting on a visceral level when we were recording it and we’d see the lyrics or hear the words for the first time and think 'this is really touching, literally touching’. But I also expected to piss off a lot more people than we did. With songs like No Reptiles, well it’s always been touchy that song because it’s never not relevant: every other week some other atrocity makes it more controversial and that was indeed the point of it. That’s why it exists in the first place.
Do you sense any irony on stage about performing at festivals to people who have no wi-fi, are away from 24hr rolling news, have come to escape all that, and you provide them with a means to do it whilst still talking directly about it?
Yeah there’s definitely that. But then I think its easier for bands not to do that and if you can just write about having a good time or some kind of romantic situation, you’ll probably go further quicker….but it is ultimately shallow.
Everything Everything - No Reptiles - YouTube
With the lyrical themes coming from such complex sociopolitical terrain - how did you go from that complexity and try to make it coherent in such a terse song, because you don’t want to be too facile?
No, exactly…and that one line in No Reptiles in particular is so exposed and so stark. We looked at other ways to express the same idea but we couldn’t find anything that would beat it or that would put the point across in the same way that was maybe less nasty. But the nastiness and the meanness in it is a part of it. It’s very difficult to talk about that line.
I think it’s also a bit of a comitragedy because when John wrote it he said it’s literally about the feeling of being a bit fat as well. And that’s a 21st century thing, we’re all sat in front of screens all the time and we have to actually have annual memberships to go to specific places to use our bodies which I find just bizzare - and that is very telling of our evolution as a society. That aspect of it is all wrapped up in the same line…also the american gun control or lack of: there’s an awful lot contained in that one part, and we tried to find other less contentious ways to do it and we couldn’t do it. I’m really glad that we stuck with it because as a result it really strikes people.
TMRB: So from apprehension to excitement, there’s no regrets with it now for how you're seen as a band?
No. I don’t think so. I think we know that there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to think about it, who just think 'look at these fucking weirdos?’ and I’m okay with that. We all are. We’re starting work on our 4th record now and we’re very conscious of who we are and how we got there and quite comfortable with it now. Get to Heaven was quite a confident record…born out of massive insecurity actually, it was really hard to make, it was really hard to do. Where to go now is the real question?
It’s been exactly a year since my personal favourite album of 2015 was released, and barely a day since has gone by without a ceremonial play through. Delta Sleep’s debut album Twin Galaxies was released via Big Scary Monsters in the grip of summer this time last year, it’s infectious math-rock and post-hardcore synthesis catapulting the band to ArcTangent and Truck Festival, to tours in Italy and to the music shelves of Japan. In the year since, Delta Sleep have played sets at Leeds’ famous Dirty Otter Fest and at a blockbuster night in Brighton supporting TTNG and Tangled Hair, where - as well as playing to an enthralled crowd - their set was live streamed by Small Pond to a glut of dedicated fans. Their set at ArcTanGent last year landed with such aplomb that they have been invited to come back to Fernhill farm this year as a ‘thursday returning act’, further cementing their place as one of the math-rock scene’s most exciting live prospects. As the one year anniversary is upon is, it is a great time to celebrate such a sterling record; new songs are working their way into their live set to replace the old and the second run of vinyl is being pressed. Equipped with reflections on the album from the band members themselves, here is the most thorough retrospective I’ve ever had the joy of writing.
The first track to be revealed from Twin Galaxies was the debut single Lake Sprinkle Sprankle, a natural choice that proved itself to be the album’s catchiest track and an ecstatic gateway into D-Sleep’s deeper complexities. This first taster showcased two important things. Firstly, having introduced two new members to the band in the form of drummer Blake and bassist Dave, the jazzy rhythm section was on full display for the first time. ‘I’m quite a free and easy drummer, to the point that I don’t really have anything written down’ Blake affirms, ‘Dave really solidifies my parts and syncs in with me.’ Secondly, Lake Sprinkle Sprankle continues Delta Sleep’s unique interplay between the two guitars, as the quieter middle section rises to a euphoric ending.
The inimitable groove of Delta Sleep is best demonstrated in the riffs of Spy Dolphin. It wanders off into laid back pop riffs and culminates in the catchiest, punchiest outro in 7/8 ever to be recorded. Featuring a bar or so where the groove melts into half-time, the intricacy is painstaking, each new section flawlessly moves into the next, if there’s any startling start/stop, its intentional and still maintains the accumulated flow of the song. As Blake, the drummer with arguably the hardest job following all the shifts and stabs asserts ‘We don’t want it to be too different part to part, the songs have to flow. If the songs are quite intricate, they have to be engaging for the listener, they have to feel like they’re a part of the journey and so we try to get the transitions right.’
Spy Dolphin’s natural counterpart, Spy Turtle, is by contrast delicate and immersive; as far submerged into layers of electronica as the narrator is into the depths of the ocean. Whilst the story follows a sudden departure; ‘avoiding all debris, swim to the bottom of the sea’, this album’s shift into electronic music is refreshing; a controlled dip into a place that Delta Sleep have a clear appreciation for: ‘We all love different kinds of electronic music, hip-hop, jazz…I’d love to branch into these places more’ confirms Dev. For Blake, these experiments demonstrate the freedom of being outside of the rehearsal room and in the studio, ‘It’s a very organic process when we’re in the rehearsal space, we kind of bounce off each other. I think things like electronic touches and production are like the sweetener at the end of it all.’
Straight from the onset of Uncle Ivan, and the encounter with the squid like beast that adorns the cover artwork, you can’t help but notice the overarching theme of this album; the lakes, oceans and seas abound. The carefully crafted lyrics chronicle a journey, from floating in to treading water, drowning in and exploring the sea, always - as the words on Daniel Craig David cry out – in search for more.
Twin Galaxies wears its aching heart on a sleeve saturated with this type of evocative, oceanic imagery. Ebullient and soothing with a gruff edge, Devin Yüceil’s characteristic vocals mark chapters in a long tale of nostalgia, decay, repair and hope – all grounded in the fear and sometimes the comfort of the deep ocean. The sentiment is fond enough to capture interpersonal turmoil but poetic and profound enough to apply more widely to the ebbs of life; take ‘the shoreline disappears as I sail forward on this wooden wreck, in search of more’ or ‘don’t stray your path, what you’re searching for will come’ as good examples.
Whilst the storytelling is candid, some of the album still feels laid back. The metaphors are immersive but once they’ve grabbed your attention, the melodically crooned vocals become a gateway to exploring complexity, the intricate rhythm section and the playfully interwoven guitar lines. Whilst the storytelling concept is neatly threaded through the album, breaks for unfettered instrumentals, whispers of electronica in Spy Dolphin, soaring harmonics in Aspetta and the airy tapping sections of 21 Letters all work as one to plunge the listener’s interest beyond the surface of the lyrics and into the hypnotic depths of the music. For lyrical themes so serious, it’s clear in the boisterous chugs that open Uncle Ivan and the frantic rock pulses of Hungry for Love that Delta Sleep aren’t always taking themselves so seriously.
‘I don’t like putting too much thought into that kind of stuff.’ asserts Glenn.
‘It should be sort of in the moment and fun and if it makes all of us laugh it doesn’t really matter what the song’s called, it’s all about having a good time. I wouldn’t want to call a song “and the trees did weep and the leaves did bloweth through the air” or any of those stupid long song names…
‘It makes it too conceptual’ Dave adds.
‘The song names come about as a bit of a joke to begin with - something that we find funny, an inside joke - but funnily enough with the album, to me it makes sense backed with the lyrics.’ Dev appears to know exactly what he’s talking about, the task of squaring sentiment with the bands playfulness is resolved in his thoughts; ‘the whole album is a long, full story.’
Whilst getting lost in lustrous instrumentals, complex tapping wizardry and time-evading riffs is an essential part of the math-rock charm, with each and every live set Delta Sleep prove there’s nothing more wholesome than an old fashioned sing along. From old favourites such as ‘Jesus Bill’ to the relentless grooves of ‘Spy Dolphin’, having heartfelt lyrics to be frantically yelped by the audience really makes Delta Sleep a joy to see live. This aspect of their performance is something that, as they move forward, is set to garner them more support. Indeed, on their biggest tour yet opening for TWIABPAIANLATD and mewithoutyou, the important process of airing old material in front new ears proved fruitful.
Combining all of the time-twisting playfulness of mathy music with calculated smatterings of post-hardcore, prog and electronica, Big Scary Monsters rather eloquently billed this album as ’10 tracks of brilliant math rock which will stick in your head for days.’ This is as close to the truth of this album as you’ll get. After a complete change of the rhythm section, after the old demos had long since disappeared from the internet and after the first EP had time to settle, the unstable ground was well navigated by Delta Sleep. The land was bound to show itself - as the album closer Stronganthy so beautifully recites through the warm whisper of gang vocals - and Twin Galaxies was created.
This finished full-length displayed their most exciting and most daring work to date and helped propel their live set to its most memorable. With new members and a new album, Dev believes, ‘It feels like a totally new band, it feels like a fresh thing to us.’ Well, it might be a year old now but Twin Galaxies still feels fresh and exciting to us too; inspiriting and heartfelt, smooth with carefully injected grit. As we look back on Colour, Pennines and MMISL as pioneering in the balance of vocals and complex instruments, Delta Sleep are the present day bastions of this type of engaging math rock; the legacy of Twin Galaxies will surely be cemented as one of the strongest vocal-driven math rock albums ever crafted.
Bag yourself a lovely CD alert: released June 24th, Lilly Legit - ‘New Beginnings, Old Habits’ is a lovely piano-lead mathy album in the ilk of Mouse on the Keys. Head over this page to stream a single from it called 'Dispute’, follow the bandcamp link for a sweet CD pre-order.