Richard Hawley’s 6th studio album came out yesterday, and admittedly I’m late to the party. Not to hearing this album, 24 hours is fashionably late, and besides, it was a bank holiday. What I’m late to is Richard flipping Hawley. Six albums in, and he’s just crossed my radar. People like to think that I have a breadth of musical knowledge and taste, but there are some serious gaping holes to be found.
I’ve heard the name before. As Arctic Monkeys won the Mercury prize way back when for their debut album, their first comment on receiving the award was “Phone 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed.” Hawley was a fellow nominee, and a fellow Tyke (/Sheffieldian). Hawley and the Monkeys have made music together since then; in fact Hawley has had many fingers in many delicious pies over the years. He’s worked with the likes of Pulp, Elbow, he even played the guitar lick in the All Saints cover of ‘Under the Bridge’. I’ve always secretly loved that song, and now I have a valid reason to proclaim my love for it out loud.
I read a review of the new album last week, and it sounded phenomenal. I’m listening to it for the first time right now, and it is phenomenal. Fuzzy prog-rock full of atmosphere, character and charm. Hawley seems particularly apt at slowly building up something thundorous and explosive, but knows how to keep everything on a leash so it never reaches a proggy Mars Volta level of insaneness (here’s a link to one track/16+ minutes of MV insanity, but I love them all the more so for it). Just the perfect amount.
So here’s a little teaser of Richard Hawley. This is the first track I heard, and I don’t really want to describe it. I just want you to listen to it. Slap on some big headphones. Don’t do anything else for six minutes. Just enjoy it.
The Cast of Cheers’ story is one of those that re-affirms the exemplary qualities of the digital age of music and helps to embody the glorious power of the internet. In 2010 they recorded their debut album Chariot in just a few days. It was only put up onto the excellent BandCamp website to download for free just as a place for friends of the band to get a hold of it . Word-of-mouth spread as it so wonderfully does, and soon enough the album had been downloaded an enormous amount of times, and The Cast of Cheers found themselves to be the first ever download-only nominee in the Choice Music Prize Shortlist last year. A label picked them up, and so an official ‘debut’ album (with a price tag and everything) is forthcoming in June. The live show is something that has been referred to with quite some reverence in the world of the blogosphere, and so a pretty epic line-up of The Cast Of Cheers and Blood Red Shoes hit Oxford last Sunday night.
A blitzkrieg of new songs were shredded through with energy, passion and a bundle of switching time signatures. While the tracks from Chariot are full of sharp, pointy energy , the new tracks feel fuller, warmer and more rounded. I guess that’s what comes with being able to be in a band as a full-time job.
They opened with a track which I’ll make a stab in the dark and say it could be called ‘No Rest In The West’. There’s such a fervent energy to this band’s live presence. As with many of their tracks, there are time signature changes a-plenty, with sharp Foals-like fretwork riding over a mixture of electronic and normal drum beats. Everything eventually crashes into each other into a riotous blizzard of noise, but it works so damn well.
There’s a lot of love for bassist John Higgins who helps provide the musical walls for the other instruments to bounce off. He does this tremendous shoulder-shuffle move when playing the bass which is part Brett McKenzie in Flight Of The Concords and part Walk Like An Egyptian. When guitarists Conor and Neil Adams get down to some insane fret work (which is pretty often) he’s shuddering around the stage as if the bass is rattling up his spine. It seems like such a ridiculous thing to say, but it’s such a pleasure to see a band enjoying playing their music live so much.
New single ‘Animals’ shows off their more poppy moves; it’s a sound that really works for them as they retain those glorious angular riffs, but they feel as if they’ve been sanded off to fit snugly within the song structure. Auricom sounds phenomenal live; there’s a gradual build-up towards a gloriously math-rock breakdown, accompanied by the keys jagging across those spine-shuddering bass lines.
The Cast of Cheers are a perfect warm-up band, and that’s not to say that that’s where they will stay, but they are such an infectious and inspired band to watch; so much so that a crowd who in theory are mostly present to watch Blood Red Shoes headline can’t help but dance along. The new album sounds like it is gloriously exciting and bursting with ideas, and the live show just brings all of that recorded energy to life.