Category Archives: Album reviews

The Go! Team – The Scene Between

go teamThe Go! Team’s Mercury Music Prize nominated debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike! (2004) was an album that helped nudge me off-course from my typical teen oeuvre of pop-punk sensibilities. But come on, I was 16. Of course I was listening to a lot of Blink 182 and Sum 41, because that’s what everyone (or my friends at least) listened to. And that’s why Thunder, Lightning, Strike! was such a revelation for me. It was like nothing I’d heard before. It was weird and a little wacky. It ripped up and tied together all sorts of samples, from a Black Panther Party chant, to the theme from Ironside by Quincy Jones. But most importantly of all, it was interesting, full of depth and presented new layers on additional listens. It’s an album I owe a debt to for helping to expand my own horizons. To prove a point, last year I reviewed a psychedelic album by a band featuring the lead singer singing only in Cambodian (The Cambodian Space Project). Would this have happened without The Go! Team? Who knows. But maybe this blog would have been about my fandom for Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, and the colour beige, instead of what it is.

Jumping ahead 11 years from Thunder, Lightning, Strike!, The Scene Between is The Go! Team’s fourth full-length, and on paper alone sounds like a fascinating proposition. It sees ‘the band’ returning to their sample-loving roots somewhat, although now the band is just front man Ian Parton working solo, although not entirely. He set himself four rules with this record: Melody would guide the song, samples would be treated as an instrument rather than a basis for the song, the production would vary across the song like flipping the dial on a radio and the singers must all be people he’d never previously heard of.

We’re used to a range of different vocalists flitting across The Go! Team records, so the concept of having vocals from a bunch of mostly bedroom-DIY vocalists isn’t a stark change, but is a neat concept. An initial concern that this may come across as gimmicky doesn’t come to fruition, as none of the vocal styles sound out-of-place or shoehorned into a track where it doesn’t sit well.

Of Parton’s four rules (now he sounds like Descartes), the third rule brings me the most joy. The constant tectonic movements of production changes leaves you juggling and trying to grasp the percussion as it slips out of grip and metamorphosis’s into something else. On lead single ‘The Scene Between’ it’s at its most riotous, bringing a fuzzed-out ramshackle barrage of percussion instruments that shift and change during the chorus.

‘Walking The Jetstream’ is another highlight, with Parton’s four rules uniting perfectly. The verses build gradually to beguiling choruses, as a memorable melody combines with windswept drums producing a cacophony of noise.

Some tracks do tend to seep into each other as they struggle to be easily identifiable as unique amongst the album. This leads to a slight samey feeling at times, causing a craving for something a little more salty and sour to cut through the sweetness. Like a ‘The Power is On’, for example. But I should stop harping on about that debut album. There’s lots on The Scene Between to enjoy. The record as a whole is a saccharine-sweet bundle of fun, full of teeth-rottenly-good indie-pop noise.

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Horses Playing Harps Top 10 Albums 2014

jocoThat strange gap between Christmas Day and New Years. Perfect for hibernating, returning to Netflix for another free month and watching so much Jonathan Creek you’re positive there’s a killer monkey hiding in the rafters. That and reflection of course. Granted, I haven’t looked at mine for quite some time as I’ve given up shaving and would rather avoid seeing just how bad my Celtic heritage is growing out of my chin.

So, a Top 10 album list. My favourite part about it is, despite best laid plans of mice and men, no matter how many predictions anyone can make about a forthcoming year, the majority of music that you fall for just comes from nowhere. And not just brand new bands with debut albums (Adult Jazz, Honeyblood, Thumpers), but also bands that have been around the block a few times (Spoon, DFA1979), or a second album that was my first exposure to them (James Vincent McMorrow), and a noughties rock band stalward going solo (Gerard Way).

I spend (probably too much) time thinking about why a debut album by a new band can be so much more impactful than a second or third album, and I think part of it is the allure and shinyness of all the new parts. A new vocal sound to wrap your head around. A fresh take on a genre. But much of my list this year is actually just disparate parts of things that have existed before becoming better. The two guys  in Thumpers have been a part of Friendly Fires previously. Gerard Way was of course the front man of My Chemical Romance. And interestingly, my number one album of the year – while offically speaking a debut – comes from the ashes of an older band.

Sorry #10-6, only #5-1 get a write up. Mainly because I’m getting a little hungry:

#10 – Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else
#9 – Thumpers – Galore
#8 – Spoon – They Want My Soul
#7 – Death From Above 1979 – Physical World
#6 – Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien


#5 – Superfood – Don’t Say That

hoSuperfood, a Birmingham-based four piece, and Britney Spears, that one who shaved her hair n’ that, are more similar than you might think. Britney Spears is currently some (too lazy to research) months into her Las Vegas residency (maybe it’s finished already, who knows). Superfood have spent the past 14 months or so playing a residency in Oxford. If memory serves, they played the Art Bar at the tail end of 2013, and in 2014, have played in support of Wolf Alice, in support of We Are Scientists, and headlined the NME New Breed Tour with #4 on this list), all at Oxford’s O2 Academy. So, practically a residency. I have the Superfood popping candy. I have the Superfood coasters. I’ve seen them more often in 2014 than most of my own family.

Nonetheless, when I saw them at the Wolf Alice show and the We Are Scientists show, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of them. Their debut came out just before the NME New Breed Tour show in Oxford, and I fell for it. I wasn’t really expecting to either. I’d heard scraps and scrapes of singles online, but it wasn’t until I heard the whole thing that I really got it. It’s a happy-go-lucky kind of record, channeling the likes of Supergrass, with memorable hooks and hazy lyrics. Here’s hoping they come back to Oxford even just once more, they must be sick of us by now.


#4 – Honeyblood – Self Titled

skelI always read about a band’s history, almost as much as I always remember how I first got to listen to them. Sadly, and inexplicably, for Honeyblood, I cannot remember. I heard ‘Killer Bangs’ somewhere, I’m just completely lost as to where/why/how. What I can remember is seeing their debut self-titled LP was available to stream before its release on Pitchfork Advance, and I found myself listening to it several times a day for a week. The opening 20 seconds on the first track, ‘Fall Forever’, instantly told me that this was going to be something I was going to enjoy. Honeyblood are one of many two pieces that I have an affection for. In their case, with just a guitar and drums, they still contrived to create something so big, so noisy, and so smart. But more than that, it was probably the album whose lyrics I enjoyed the most out of the Top 10 I’ve put together. Replete with savage witticisms, snarking jilted exes, and wrapping it all up with a 90’s alt-rock gazing sound. I also had the enormous pleasure of seeing them play live, with their performance of ‘All Dragged Up’ a highlight, played at double speed with such energy.


#3 – James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical

postPoor James Vincent McMorrow. I came so close to forgetting to including this, not remembering that it came out all the way back in January 2014. But fortunately, somehow, I remembered. Despite January typically being the most depressing month of the year by quite some distance (for us Brits at least), this record helped. For whatever reason, I never heard his debut LP, but i caught ‘Cavalier’, the opening track on Post Tropical, on a ride home from work. Probably through pouring rain, grey skies, umbrellas. You know, how they usually portray England in the movies. Well, they are right, some of the time. Another lazy comparison ahoy-hoy, but I was quickly reminded of Bon Iver, one of my al time favourites. The falsetto voice, the brass channeling through the tail end of ‘Cavalier’, percussion leaping from timid to thrashing. The album plays a similar trick but is still completely captivating. I adore ‘Gold’ (the track below) for that melody in the chorus, as his vocal leaps several steps higher, all within two words. And now January 2015 is almost upon us, it’s probably a good a time as any to give it another listen.


#2 – Adult Jazz – Gist Is

gistMore than anything, I’m enjoying the dichotomy between my #1 and #2. But you’ll get to that soon. Adult Jazz are a Leeds based band who take ponderous indie-rock to the absolute edges of its possibilities. Every note, every vocal, every song structure just gets pulled apart like Stretch Armstrong. And that’s why I love it. We all want instant gratification these days, but the way they form a song, it makes it all the more worth the wait. Like that trade-off between taking a beer out of the fridge before it’s cold (yeah I’m thirsty, what of it). Some comparisons have been made to Alt-J, but these lot are a whole lot loopier. Somewhat indecipherable lyrics, coupled with coy little guitar lines which occasionally descend into marvellous off-kilter breakdowns. Like #1 in this list, it’s not a record I’d want to break down and divide, as it’s such an excellent listen as a whole. However, below is ‘Donne Tongue’, which spirals into its sticky end from about 3:20 onwards. All aided and abetted from that softly-softly-catchy-monkey opening.


#1 – Issues – Self-Titled

issuesIt’s a bit of a leftfield winner from me. I’ve spent the last year and a half expanding my knowledge of what might be called post-hardcore / metalcore / etc from my affection of Alexisonfire years ago. What they did so well was, even with all the noise and heft of their sound, they’d create such excellent melodies and hooks, blended with the clean and heavy vocals.

As for Issues, I have the wonderful Daniel P Carter of radio / a million bands / general rock god fame to thank for setting me onto them. I heard ‘Sad Ghost’ thanks to his radio show and was suckered in on that oh-so-soulful clean vocal hook in the chorus. As for the album itself, it’s still yet to grow old for me. It plays that neat trick of presenting you with a couple of songs you think are your favourites straight-up, but further listening changes your perspective. Sure it’s heavy, but it’s life-affirming stuff. A deserved number one.

Moose Blood – I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time

oosemoA year and a half ago, I ranted and raved about a debut EP that, for me at least, evoked the spirit of a seminal record – Brand New’s Deja Entendu. At the same time, I was railing against my own apathy towards listening to artists of a similar vein. Well, 18 months and one Spotify Premium subscription later means I am now au fait with everything considered part of the ‘emo revival’, (although I still think emo is a bit of a gross term). For example, Into It. Over It.? All over it! Touché Amoré? Oui Oui! Modern Baseball? More of a rounders man, but you get the picture.

So it’s with some excitement that I’ve been following Moose Blood – responsible for the aforementioned debut EP – and the news that they got picked up by No Sleep Records for their debut album. The label is a U.S. indie, home to a whole raft of excellent bands, including two of the three named above in my best efforts to be pun-tastic. The band flew out to the U.S. to lay it down, and returned with I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time, an album that showcases everything that made so many people excited about their initial output.

While both a theoretical and literally name-checked reference point may be Brand New – with their dark and morose slant on life and death – this is, for the most part, an aspirational record. It easily evokes memories of young love, of times when you would invite someone round to “watch American Beauty” (on ‘Gum’), and “make you watch High Fidelity, on a Sunday, maybe someday” (on ‘Bukowski’).

So they are strong thematically, but this record goes beyond just what’s happening lyrically. For example, ‘Kelly Kapowski’ is more than just a retro name check. It presents a twitchy, over-caffeinated call for something approaching an unrequited crush, while channelling pop-punks finest guitar riffs. Closer ‘I Hope You’re Miserable’ sounds super-heavy, channelling the likes of Gnarwolves with its yelped vocals blurring into grunge-lined anthemia. Over the course of the record, they easily switch gears, and previous single/E.P. tracks like ‘Boston’ and ‘Bukowski’ sound somewhat more urgent and more focused in their latest guises.

Above all else, what keeps me coming back is how much of an honest and stark record it is, yet  a record that leaves you with hope. Allow me one final Brand New reference, but let me use it to explain why these guys are different to them. Brand New typically stick their bleak, emo-slow jams at the end of the record (‘Soco Ameretto Lime’, ‘Play Crack The Sky’), and so leave you feeling a little, well, emo at the end of a listen. Moose Blood front-load ‘I’ll Keep You In Mind From Time To Time’ with ‘Cherry’. It’s a dark way to start, particularly with a line like: “She’s not mine and it fucking kills me, she won’t look at me that way.” Following this opening, the album grows with moments of excitement, love, and happiness. By the end we’re finishing on an upbeat note, well, ish: “I guess I’m feeling better,” even if we’re now chanting for another’s misery on ‘I Hope You’re Miserable’.

This is a band worth getting excited about. It’s a mature and beguiling debut album by a band that, surely with 10 years more of records behind them can lead some lazy blogger somewhere comparing them over and over (three times I’ve counted?) to some new up-and-comers. Truly, it’s something many of us should be hopeful for.

Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield

forcefieldJust before turning the ripe old age of 25, I discovered a concept known as a mid-mid life crisis. Y’know, one of those made-up millennial generation fads, this one based on the idea that you don’t have to be 40 with a mortgage and kids to experience a mid-life crisis. I turned 25 and lo-and-behold, self-diagnosed myself as having a mid-mid life crisis. This generally involved being more of a shambles than usual, committing some minor criminal offenses, wanting to leave my job and start a record label, and making a spectacular mess of any potential relationship. With hindsight, and a year to look back at it, of course it wasn’t a crisis. I was still trying to adjust to the fact that I wasn’t a student anymore, as much as I might act like one.

Tokyo Police Club’s brand new record – Forcefield – got fired over to me in the early, bleak days of a British January, and it has brought all those memories flooding back. I guess it helps that the vocalist was also born in 1987 (and has the same name as me), so is also going through the whole ‘I’m not twenty anymore but definitely not thirty either’ feeling.

Lyrically it’s a record full of anxieties, ideological escapism, and dealing with life’s little adventures. Of course, being Tokyo Police Club, it’s all wrapped up in perfect indie pop-rock noise. So often, on a first or second listen to a record, you’ll think it’s either a ‘lyrics-first’ album [Los Campesinos!, I’m looking at you], or a ‘music first’ album. Forcefield somehow manages to be both of those things at once, which is a rare quality.

Looking at the band’s back catalogue, they’ve never strayed over 4 minutes for a single track. This feels like a reflection of their ability to distill all of their ideas into easily digestible little nuggets, filled with more hooks than you can shake a stick at. So seeing that the opening track of Forcefield is over eight minutes long makes you afraid that they got really into The Mars Volta during that four year gap since Champ. But instead, we’re presented with an epic triptych that nimbly and cleverly journeys through the stages of a relationship. At the beginning, it’s just hope and excitement of getting together with someone, speaking in the future tense: “I want you wearing my t-shirt,” all with the puppy-like over-zealousness and energy reflected in the tempo. The middle section wakes up in a fuzzy, half-asleep state, as vocalist and bassist David Monk realizes the mistakes that he made. This then sends us tumbling into recriminations as he apologises for his behaviour and speaks of the relationship in the past tense, but in TPC’s typically hilarious and astute manner: “If I was I lighthouse, I would look all over the place / If I was an asshole, thank you for keeping a smile on your face.”

On a track like ‘Miserable’ we’re greeted with a positively sunny sounding opening as Monk wants to “move to the Bahamas with ya.” But as with ‘Argentina’, the track descends into introspection as he confronts the reasons behind this sentiment: “Act nice but my body’s falling apart / dress rich but my body is falling apart / keep going but my body is falling apart, I wanna travel to the future and get away.”

Sonically, the record is imaginative enough to give it staying power, with the odd curveball thrown in to make sure you’re still paying attention. ‘Toy Guns’ has a whirring bass line in the verses that drops frequently like some pesky six-year old kept on unplugging the bass amp. Either that, or the guitarist got the final call on the mix. ‘Tunnel Vision’ rattles thunderously with a bass-driven intro, and rolling drums in the final, emphatic chorus.

I would never refer to myself as being a writer, because firstly, no matter how David Duchovny makes it look in Californication, just saying this to someone will not make them sleep with you, and secondly: David Monk manages to put into words these bizarre thoughts that float around all of our heads so acutely, whereas I am the aforementioned shambles. Tack that onto the fact that this band know how to write a catchy beast of a song and they’re on to something special.

HPH Top 11 Albums of 2013

End of year list time. Granted, it’s now 2014, but I like to give the previous year time to Settle, to let the Arc of the year finish. I mean, for Yeezus’ sake, this year wasn’t anything like (The) 1975? Well, the idea of trying to shove album names into this intro died a death as soon as Lorde made my list.

After much thought and deliberation, I decided I couldn’t make a top 10 album list. I had narrowed it down to 11, and couldn’t kill another one off. There were plenty more albums I was tempted to include, but generally it was because of one or two standout tracks on the record. Instead, I wanted to reflect the complete nature and structure of an album.

Of course, taste is completely subjective, and several of these records ran parallel to events in my own year, helped but not necessarily indebted to their position in this ranking. For example, I listened to the Lorde album endlessly as I went to and from Istanbul in November, and the Disclosure album soundtracked my trip in the summer to Canada. But these two records in themselves are faultless and flawless things.

What I find really interesting with the list that I’ve ended up with is how many are debut albums. It’s why I’m so passionate about this music hunting thing, and why I adore the irreverence of predictions for the year ahead. I mean, who knew of Lorde 12 months ago?

So my list shows the Lorde album as number one. It’s a record that I’m still yet to get tired of. There’s such simplicity to the record, never going too far beyond vocals, percussion and synths or guitar. But every track has such intricate depth and beauty. Lyrically it’s smart and acerbic, no more so than on the album closer, ‘World Alone’ where our internet-fatigued generation is pulled into focus with lines like: “Maybe the internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks.” In a year with so much media content generated as a result of popstars and artists behaving like idiots, the opening and closing lyric of the album crystallises the irrelevance of it all. “Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk // Let ‘em talk.”

Top 11
Lorde – Lorde
Disclosure – Settle
The 1975 – The 1975
Paramore – Paramore
Arcane Roots – Blood & Chemistry
Foals – Holy Fire
Everything Everything – Arc
Danny Brown – Old
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Kanye West – Yeezus
Peace – In Love

Lonely The Brave – Backwaters EP

It’s the time of year when (s)he’s writing his list and checking it twice. No, not Santa of course, but every music journalist in the land is writing some kind of end of year list. For me, the far more exciting and interesting lists are those detailing who to get excited about for next year. And for me, one name I firmly expect to be bandied about is this lot – Lonely The Brave.

Their Backwaters EP has been on a heavy rotation in Horses Playing Harps Towers in recent days. While reading up on them, I found a wonderfully apt description of their sound – gimmick-free rock music. I’m not sure why this resonates so clearly with me, but I think it’s spot on. Lyrically they tread some captivating ground, particularly on the title track of the EP. And besides that, they write some proper-earwormy hooks that have nestled right into my brain. They also set out their stall by covering Andrew Bird, one would think an artist that not too many of their musical ilk would consider referencing. All-in-all, an excellent EP, and a band I look forward to hearing more from, and hopefully seeing some of too.

Classixx – Hanging Gardens

So as has become the habit for me recently, I’m a little late to something brilliant. But it’s fashionably late, a well-timed lateness. For those overseas readers, the UK has been hit by a sweltering heatwave, and just in the nick of time, I’ve found my summer album. We all have them. Last year was probably Passion Pit, and the balaeric beast of a summer album from Delorean the year before. Well this year, it’s Classixx.

classixThe L.A. production duo only released their debut LP Hanging Gardens at the end of May. But everything about it screams summer. From the 80s Olympic- pastiche album art, to the warming house-funk vibe of the record itself.

The standout single ‘Holding On’ recalls the likes of !!!, Daft Punk in their Discovery era, and a little of Roger Sanchez. So share in my summer (minus some inevitable sunburn) and make this your summer album.