Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview: Red Empire

Red Empire launch their "Strange Philosophy" EP in The Village this Saturday (18th) We caught up with lead singer Craig Cahill and multi-instrumentalist Gar McCarthy as their début release is about to be unveiled to the world. We discover how they didn't let a little thing like the Liffey, get in the way of making music. How hometown dreams are about to become true and how they owe it all to the fans.

How do 5 guys from the 4 corners of Dublin come to form a band?

It was mostly through a mutual friendship. Myself and Gar had been playing together since we were 15 and similarly Richie, Dessie and Deco had been in a band together for a long time. About five years ago they went into the studio with Joe Jewell (Aslan) to start recording some demos. Those sessions went really well and they led to the lads wanting to add a singer and a keyboard player to the line-up. Luckily enough Joe knew gar and me from some previous recording sessions and at the time we were looking to move on to a new project. We already knew the lads and had met up for pints with them on a few occasions and appreciated each other's music so the scene was set. We started rehearsing together and it just clicked and here we are now as Red Empire.

How would you best describe your music?

First off, we'd say that it's full of heart. We appreciate good honest well-written songs and have never been afraid of melody - in a lot of music out there at the moment there seems to be a lack of new and honest melody. The fact that Gar and Richie are two very different songwriters from two very different backgrounds we feel we've got the best of both worlds. Richie is an instinctive ballsy songwriter whereas Gar's songwriting and study of music allows us to explore our music with greater depth.

Who are your influences?

Well, you spoke about the four corners of Dublin in your first question and because we all come from different backgrounds we're all into different music. There's a lovely cocktail of influences going on in the band from Radiohead to Orbital to Oasis to the Smiths.

Tell us about your new EP?

It's our first release as Red Empire and is therefore very special to all of us. It contains three tracks: Denial, Strange Philosophy and Hotel. We feel that it's a great introduction to the band and our sound. There's a song for breakfast, dinner and tea. It moves from a song about admitting when you've failed to one about not admitting when you've failed and finally to a song about sexuality. An unusual combo but there you go!

Tell us about the video for "Strange Philosophy" the lead track from the EP?

Well, Joe (our producer) came up with the original concept. Paul Andrews, who looks after the photography and day-to-day running of the band, was talking to his friend Daragh (Daz) Murphy who is a video Director and Editor and he came on board after speaking with us about the song and the concept behind the video. The idea behind the masks is that when people go to see a band playing live they experience being a part of the band. We felt that by giving people a random mask of any member of the band that this would increase that experience. The song itself is a movement from a cool funkiness to full-on rock. We felt that the suits represented the cool funkiness of the verses and the full-on rock is just us being us.

You are opening for Aslan in Tallaght Stadium later this year. It must be an exciting yet daunting prospect. Perhaps doubly so for the hometown boy in the band?

Yeah, we're really looking forward to it. It's going to be a great gig and we think it will be one of those legendary days out in Dublin that people will talk about for years. There's going to be a crowd of around 20,000 so it will be amazing. I grew up in the area so it will hold a special significance for me. I'm dying to play in my hometown i have to say.

How much of an influence have Aslan been both musically and personally on red empire?
Well, Joe has been a friend for many, many years. To be honest we have nothing but admiration for the way that they have worked over those years. When you look at it objectively – they’re bands who for thirty years have worked fairly continuously on the domestic market without any major label backing for the majority of that period. I don't care what level of the music industry you may be working at you have to stand back and admire that kind of drive, determination and longevity. They have created an amazing body of work of those years.

What current Irish music has had a positive influence on Red Empire?

As i was saying earlier we're all different people and we listen to different music, very different music in some cases. Some of the Irish music that's come up in conversation over the last while and that we all admire are artists like Villagers, Damien Dempsey, James Vincent McMorrow, Funeral Suits, Royseven and The Ambience Affair.

Who is the band's unsung hero?

There's quite a tight-knit group of fans that have followed us since the early days. They can point out to us when we've changed something in a song or tried something new. We would say that collectively they are the unsung heroes of the band. They give us the motivation to try new things and to improve the music all the time.

What's next for Red Empire?

First of all we hope that everyone enjoys the EP. We are constantly working on new material and allowing the songs to evolve. Since we formed we have written and recorded a large number of songs and we will be releasing another EP in early summer. We really like the idea of releasing multiple EP's with each EP having a different feel and a different atmosphere. We feel that this approach allows us to be more creative rather than being tied down by the rules of an album. We're living in the digital age and the musical landscape is changing all the time and we as a band want to exploit that. We're also thinking about writing a musical about the recession but we'll leave that 'til another day…only messin'!

Red Empire play The Village this Saturday (18th) doors 8pm Admission €5

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Bill Wells - Lemondale

Bill Wells, latest album "Lemondale" is a fine collection of classic Parisian Jazz sounds, with an added Avant-Gard post rock sensibility.  Lemondale was recorded in Tokyo in one day and features 14 musicians, including members of the local vibrant underground scene. Namely former Sonic Youth member/producer Jim O'Rourke on guitar.

The album flitters comfortably between sprightly Left Bank, cafe-culture, and dark lingering laments. While all the tracks have a soundtrack or film score element within them. "Toon City" evokes visions of a Film-Noir, Gumshoe, anti-hero, silhouetted in the shadows as the rain pours down on mean Parisian streets.  The rather more contemporary European feel of post rock originates Sterolab, is audible on "Harvest Bag" and "Courtin' Love""Invade The Pitch" is a beautiful lingering composition of weaving brass, ticking all the classic jazz boxes as it goes.

"Effective Demand" is perhaps the standout track on the album combining all the post-rock and jazz elements into one fun-filled package. Unfortunately the vocals on "Mitzu Tori" sound like a scratchy Japanese karaoke run through of a Shirley Bassey song.. Which is a pity because the music is quite good. The album's title track and closing number "Lemondale" is a bizarre reimagining of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" which adds nothing to the 1967 original by Procul Harum.

Despite these few minor blips Lemondale, is a fine collection of highly listenable and vivid compositions, expertly executed by a stellar cast of musicians. And offers a welcome distraction from the world of cardboard guitars and pointless copy and paste pop-stars.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: The Lost Brothers - So Long John Fante

It's rare to find a collection of songs with Johnny Cash and The Everly Brothers as the cornerstone of influence. Even rarer still to find it delivered with such purity and acumen, that you may mistake it to be their long-lost contemporary. So Long John Fante, by Irish American duo The Lost Brothers, is such an album. Eleven beautifully crafted songs, which would grace any artists cannon. Make no doubt about it, this is a folk masterpiece. Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech's beautiful harmony vocals are warm, nuanced, and breathtaking. Whilst the instrumentation is exquisite from the get go.  This is unsurprising as The Lost Brothers, drafted in Richard Hawley's band to accompany them. 

There's a picket fenced 50's innocence and joy of spirit on tracks like "The Goodbye Kid", and a Folsom feel to tracks such as "Oh Brother". Whilst "Bells They Won't Ring" is a vivid tale of what might have been. With a stirring orchestral backing mixed with haunting pedal steel.  "Hollow Call" sees the album turn towards a more sombre Simon and Garfunkel, style of duetting, with intricate acoustic guitars providing musical accompaniment. The Lost Brothers, excel at this style of delivery, which continues on "Golden Dawn".

Released at the tail end of 2011 "So Long John Fante" missed the "best of" fanfare it truly deserved, as you will struggle to find many better albums released last year. Hopefully it will get the recognition it deserves as award season rolls around later this year.

The Lost Brothers, play The Odessa Club on February 23rd. and support The Felice Brothers in The Academy on March 15th.

Video: Deaf Joe - Repent

The Delphi Label, have a serious eye for a tune, having brought us the wonderful Sacred Animals, and We Cut Corners, in the last 18 months. They are also about to unleash the excellent Hush Warcry's debut EP in the near future. However, it is now the turn of Deaf Joe, their in-house troubadour to reap the rewards of his substantial talents. His debut album "Burrowings" is released on Friday (17th) and should finally see him take center stage."Repent" is the first single to be taken from the album. Its a dark claustrophobic song with a suitably dark, atmospheric video. Directed by Neil O'Driscoll.

Deaf Joe:   'Repent' from Neil O'Driscoll on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Video: Ghost Estates - October

Kildare 5 piece Ghost Estates have released a video for their forthcoming single "October". It's not a cover of the classic U2 track. It's a feisty, bouncy, euphoric, composition of their own. Ghost Estates launch "October" in The Grand Social this Friday (17th). Doors 8pm, Admission €10 with a free copy of the single.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: The Quicksand Band "Approaching Rain" album launch

Album launches must be one of the most stressful experiences a band can go through.  What with all the added pressure that goes on behind the scenes, with the guest list, merch, and promotion, suddenly taking on equal importance to the show itself.  Far too often the gig suffers as a result. The bands who crumble under this pressure are usually not that good to begin with. The good bands step up and push themselves to the limit. The Quicksand Band delivered their personal best.

Support act Fear of Folk, delivered a fine set of mid tempo acoustic rock numbers, think Travis at their best, with added pedal steel and you wont go wrong. Several of their songs were of an extremely high standard. Which indicates that they are well ahead of the curve, for a relatively new band on the scene.

It was standing room only as The Quicksand Band, cemented their live reputation in front of a buoyant crowd, at the launch of their debut album Approaching Rain, upstairs in Whelans.  Hailing from Tallaght, this alt country rock quartet, follow in the dusty footsteps of Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Wilco. Delivering a range of material from breezy, feel-good, 60′s folk tinged Cali-pop, to brooding grungy premonitions of death.

Lead singer Justin Corr, has a powerful emotive voice capable of belting out big luscious notes with ease. The Quicksand Band, are very much a vocal-harmony group and the interplay between Corr and lead guitarist Phil Clarke, is at times exquisite. Clarke’s guitar riffs in the main, are classic meaty country-style riffs. But he is not afraid to delve into Harrison-esque blues territory, on songs such as “Beaming Out”.  While his solos have an alt rock guitar hero feel to them. The rhythm section of Shay “sex-face” Cosgrave (drums) and Bonezz (bass) is accomplished.

The murky, Neil Young style “Stars Appear” is an early highlight, built on a crunchy swamp riff.  Forthcoming single “Learning” is a breezy radio friendly jaunt, set somewhere between early Fleetwood Mac and Nilsson, which extends into a long expansive guitar solo. Expect to hear this track on the radio next summer. Clarke, takes lead vocals on several songs “Bury My Bones” sees him deliver his finest vocal of the evening. This song, must certainly be in the mix for single status. Having a distinctive sound, with an old west gold-rush feel to it.

The album’s title track “Approaching Rain” is another highlight. It showcases Corr’s gentler side on another radio friendly number. Midway through the track Clarke enters with a highly hummable melody line, which sets the song up for a lighter in-the-air extended finale.  Songs such as “All The Love” and “Time” further showcase the bands diverse sound.  A cover of Van Morrison’s “Warm Love” caps of an excellent performance.

Approaching Rain, is available from Tower Records and Bandcamp now. With an itunes release to follow shortly. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: Air "Le Voyage dans le Lune" Soundtrack

In 1902 Georges Méliès, pushed the boundaries of silent film, with groundbreaking special effects taking the viewer, beyond terra firma, in the first science fiction movie "Le Voyage dans le Lune". It is fitting that 110 years later, musicians at the forefront of French music were given the task of scoring this seminal piece of cinematic history, for its 2012 digital re-release.  The themes of space, and the moon have never been far away from electronicist duo Air's music.  But they were not only the obvious choice for the job. They were the appropriate choice for the job.  Méliès, would surely approve of his work being entrusted to fellow stargazers with big imaginations backed by wit, intellect, and an inbuilt sensitivity to his original production.

Air have expanded their 16 minute score into a full blown album. From the opening notes of "Astronomic Club" it is clear that Air, have taken this task, extremely seriously. What follows is an intricate collection of songs and instrumentals. It becomes apparent as the album progresses that there has been a meticulous and purposeful juxtaposition of modern and classical instruments "Seven Seas" mixes old-world instruments with futuristic electronic bleeps. While the lyrics chart a suitably ephemeral trip to the moon. The live instrumentation, especially the drums and bass, give this track an industrial feel.

"Parade" is a swaggering post-rock mix of guitar licks and throaty keyboard riffs. While "Moon Fever" echoes the classic sound of Bowie and Eno's Berlin collaborations. One of the albums standout tracks "Sonic Armada" is jammed out around an intergalactic pixie melody. Once again the bass playing is exceptional as is the keyboard wizardry.

The deathly lullaby "Who Am I Now" featuring vocals by Au Revoiur Simone, is the least pleasing of the collection.  "Cosmic Trip" sees Air creating more familiar sonic architecture, with driving basslines and hectic background bell melodies colluding, before a familiar voice emerges from the vibrant haze.  Final track "Lava" is reminiscent of Pink Floyd in their magical heyday. Thus concluding a fitting musical tribute and companion piece to "Le Voyage dans le Lune".

Soundtrack albums are often hit and miss containing too many 30 sec tracks which are paramount to the movie, but ultimately destined to be skipped over by the listener. Thankfully Air, have avoided this pitfall and the album contains only two such tracks, which are beautiful. The quality of this collection suggests that Air shall be in top form for their next album proper.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Video: The Quicksand Band - Making The Album Part 2

Several months back we brought you "part one" of Alt-Country quartet The Quicksand Band's "Making The Album" video, which accompanies their forthcoming debut album Approaching Rain.  The band have released "part two" ahead of the albums launch, upstairs in Whelans, this Saturday (4th Feb), with support from Fear Of Folk.  However, if you can't wait that long the band will be performing in Tower Records at 1pm tomorrow.

Approaching Rain was produced by acclaimed Irish Singer-Songwriter Gavin Glass and is currently streaming on the bands Bandcamp page. Check out Facebook for more info if you like what you hear.