Review: Darwin & The Dinosaur – A Thousand Ships

Darwin & The Dinosaur - A Thousand Ships reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - British punk, rock and alternative blog

You know how all of the good rock bands say that they’re fuelled by a near-lethal concoction of sex, drugs, and booze, yeah? Well, no, actually, because today we’ve got a ‘delightfully British’ helping for you all in the form of Darwin and the Dinosaur (D&tD), a band who keep their energy levels topped up with a not-so-dangerous mix of pot noodles, tea, and biscuits. What could be more British than tea, biscuits, and rock’n’roll eh? I like them already.

These guys sound like some sort of nerdy dream, you say? Well you haven’t heard anything yet. Calling Norwich home (a city with a castle and two cathedrals … they seem pretty proud about that), the band promises energetic shows filled to the brim with ‘dad-jokes’. D&tD’s drummer, Joe, runs the N.L.A – Norfolk L.A.R.P (Live Action Role Playing) Association, while the guitarist and backing vocalist, Steve, has apparently appeared as a supporting actor in every single Harry Potter film.

Nerd heaven.

Oh, that isn’t enough for you? Well I should probably let you know about their debut album A Thousand Ships which is being released in March (and in case you’re not excited yet, they have a freakin’ narwhal on the album sleeve! You know the one, the unicorns of the sea, with the most impressive but pointless horns in the animal kingdom). With a range of influences from Thrice to Fleetwood Mac, the four-piece Norwich outfit give a stellar account of themselves in this full-length debut (but we always knew they would – take a look at when we checked out their 2012 EP here).

Vocalist, Alan Hiom, provides far softer vocals than you usually get from similar bands. He also manages to keep a hold of some British pronunciation, showing you don’t have to bow to every Americanism in order to get a kick-ass sound. This blend of vocals is actually a pretty good metaphor for the entire album, which manages to capture a diverse range of styles and genres without ever sounding over-ambitious or confused. In fact the production is completely squeaky clean (without being over-edited).

One track which captures this variety of styles is ‘Hand in Hand’, with infectious verses, which are still stuck in my head, and a bouncing, ‘popping and punking’ chorus. The ability to seamlessly switch between the heavier metal-inspired instrumentals to a more pop-punk sound (as well as plenty in between) is a real highlight of the LP. The whole album conveys great technical skill, well crafted melodies, and a whole load of emotion.

A special mention has to go to ‘Riff Town Population – You’, which is quite simply a fantastic track. There is wonderful grit about it, sounding like a shout-out to great British rock acts of the past, and it sounds like a song pulled straight from the live scene. As one of the heavier songs to feature on the album, it also keeps a great melodic core, boasting D&tD’s dynamic range of talents and influences. I can certainly hear elements of Hundred Reasons and Reuben in there, while they create a sound of their own as well. Serious kudos for these guys.

A Thousand Ships has a great feel to it as an album. Some bands’ debut releases can smash into a cliff-face when they sacrifice the feel of a a whole album by just throwing together the best tracks they can record without a thought for how they go together; others get sucked into a vapid maelstrom when they spend too much time concentrating on the ‘overall sound’ and fail to deliver any stand out songs. D&tD manage to sail A Thousand Ships between these threats. It’s heavy, loud, and fast, but it also has a melodic chilled-out element in the middle.

What more can we say? You need to check these chaps out.

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4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: I, The Lion – Run [EP]

I, The Lion - Run reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands rock, punk and alternative blog

Post-punk is a bit of a funny label to play with. Readily applied to bands like Biffy Clyro, Thrice and Reuben, it seems to be a catch-all for anything that just sounds big these days. It would be far too easy to lump Cheltenham’s I, The Lion in with that lot. While it’s clear that the trio take influence from a few of the noisiest bands around, you’d be hard pressed to find a record that has the same heart and ambition as Run.

The EP is a technical masterpiece, to say the least. Recorded and produced by Jason Wilson at Stakeout Studios, who’s worked with big names like You Me At Six and Fightstar, was a clever move, helping to enhance and consolidate what is already an impressive signature sound. Everything about Run is huge, from the infectious riffs to the ambitious choruses. If you’ve ever seen I, The Lion live, then you’ll know that it is actually possible to make that level of noise with just three people, even if it seems unbelievable for now. Take lead single ‘Hold Strong’, for example – right from the start, you notice the sheer force of the drums and the incredible level of control in the melody. Then, when Chris’ vocals start to feed in, they’re just the right side of gruff, balancing perfectly against Elliot’s higher backing. Each element in ‘Hold Strong’ is so intricately crafted, and that carries through the entire record. ‘Icarus’ is perhaps my favourite track, with its playful opening riff that leads into a crushing breakdown right from the off. But, for those of you who like their stuff to sound epic, then ‘Bonny Island’ crashes through any expectations and totally rewrites them – a complex, time-signature bending pure rock pounder with riffs that Incubus would be jealous of.

However, it’s not just the fact that I, The Lion are completely on top of their game musically that really makes Run such a fantastic record. Lyrically, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s just another pile of metaphor on metaphor at first glance, but if you listen closely, Run is a thrilling, emotionally intelligent ride. From start to finish, it’s an exhilarating experience, and it’s impossible not to see the love and attention that has been lavished upon these four tracks.

Run is a statement of intent – I, The Lion have arrived, and they’re here to stay in your stereo. One of the most exciting new bands in the British scene, I, The Lion are perfectly poised to overthrow the alternative rock hierarchy and triumphantly claim your adoration as rightfully theirs.

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

You can read our interview with I, The Lion about how Run came together here.

Interview: I, The Lion

I, The Lion on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands rock, punk and hardcore blog

I, The Lion are well known in Cheltenham town. And with their latest EP, Run, they’re set to be well known throughout the country, if not the world. Run is a masterpiece, full of heart and absolutely massive riffs. I caught up with Elliot and Chris following the release of Run to find out a little bit more about how it all came about, and just how they manage to create such an incredible and unique sound.

What’s the typical songwriting process for the band?

Elliot: Most of the time it starts as a basic idea from myself, like a riff or chord progression. Then I’ll show Chris and it starts to to get the intricate after a few tweeks. Nath will then have this idea in his head and add his wizardry drumming to complete our style. So over all it’s pretty much a combination of all of us sharing an idea and developing it to the best we can make it.

So Chris, you started off playing drums, then moved to guitar, before finally settling on bass – how has that shaped the way you come up with songs?

Chris: I think it has helped me to understand what the others do and what’s possible for one person to play, although the others constantly break the possible barrier. Playing drums has really helped with my rhythm, so it’s helped me to work with Nath (drums) as tightly as possible and allow Elliot to flow with his lightening fingers. Plus bass is the instrument of love, right? Guys? Right?

Elliot: Errr yeah, love. Good for you!

What was it like working with Jason Wilson? Did his direction affect the songs in any particular way?
Elliot: Sometimes it’s difficult having someone come in and give you their take on your songs, but it felt like throughout the entire recording process Jason knew exactly where we wanted our sound to be. He’s a perfectionist just like us, so being able to record to such precision was exactly what we wanted.

Has Elliot moving to Reading affected you as a band at all?
Elliot: Surprisingly, not as much as you’d think! The distance forces us to be proactive to ensure we’re seeing each other for rehearsals, lil jams or even just a beer. At this point, four years in, we don’t need to practice every week anymore and it’s all pretty much second nature.

How do you achieve such a massive, intricate sound with just three of you? Is there any pedal trickery, for example?

Elliot: We get asked this a lot of shows, it’s a mixture of a couple of things, really. Like you said, pedal trickery plays a minor part, I’m a major tech head and have been developing my tone for the best part of a decade. Also, the ridiculously thick guitar strings we use play a big part. My Gibson has bass strings on it because the electric string equivalent felt like a flappy sponge, and Chris’s lowest string is thicker than a telegraph pole. Oh, and also having a drummer that hits his kit so hard something breaks pretty much every song. True story.

What is your favourite bit of kit that you just couldn’t do without?

Elliot: For me, it’s gotta be my SG. There’s something amazing about the pickups on it that make any tone sound incredible.

Chris: For me, it’s my tiny but mighty Orange SP212 cab. It’s so small but it can still cause an earthquake.

You’ve played most of the songs from the EP live already. Has that affected the final version of the songs much?
Elliot: When we write new material, it goes though a lot of rehearsals to ensure its ready for gigs or recording. We’ll keep picking at it to get everything we can out of that song, so anything we play live it’s pretty much the final product. The four tracks on this EP in particular have never changed since conception.

You’ve got quite a distinctive sound, very different from your contemporaries in Gloucestershire. Is it ever a bugger to find a bill you really fit into?
Elliot: Oh yeah, it’s almost impossible! The number of metal shows we were put on to when we started was ridiculous. Me and Nath are metal heads deep down but our sound stuck out like a sore thumb. These days, we just accept whatever bill were put onto and give it all we’ve got.

You did a fair few festivals last year, including local favourite 2000trees. Are you considering a similar run this year?
Elliot: Definitely! Festival season is just ace, it’s such a different vibe to touring but both are equally awesome.

I, The Lion are Chris Evans (bass/vocals), Elliot Withers (guitar/vocals), and Nath Priday (drums). Their latest EP, Run, is out now, and the band will be touring the UK from 25 February.

Robyn’s Top 10 Valentine’s Tracks for 2015

I normally do an ‘anti-Valentines’ playlist every year. I try to be witty, and pick songs that are all about death and hate and horror. ‘Last Caress’ by the Misfits has topped my list virtually every year since I was 18. But this year, I decided that I should actually take the spirit of the season properly and come up with a list of songs that are actually about love and mushy stuff and all that stuff… kind of.

10) Millencolin – Fox

Okay, okay, so I’ve got to get a joke song in there at some point, and I figured I’d get it over and done with first thing. Millencolin’s heartfelt punk rock love letter to their car is brilliant. A perfect example of how great Pennybridge Pioneers is, it’s a fun-filled ride from start to finish.

9) Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – See Her On The Weekend

The whole AM In The Wilderness record is incredible, but there are certain songs in particular that left an impression on me. I’ve found that the older I get, the less I want to hear about your stereotypical adolescent romance, and I want to hear about something real. See Her On The Weekend is one of those such songs – just simple musings about life and the love that comes with it.

8) AFI – End Transmission

Davey Havok’s Bonnie and Clyde-esque tale about running away into the sunset is probably the best thing about Crash Love. The first verse is hopelessly romantic, and even if there aren’t any of signs of Davey’s signature ‘oh!’, it’s still pretty fantastic.

7) Lanterns – Happiness Pt 3

To be honest, I could have picked any of the ‘Happiness’ trio, but Pt 3 just is this perfect exaltation of love. I’d be loathe to say you need romantic love to be happy in life, but ‘Happiness Pt 3′ explains just how happy someone else can make you feel. Plus, it has an absolutely gorgeous build-up towards the end.

6) The Lawrence Arms – Fireflies

‘Fireflies’ is a tale of love long lost, but it’s definitely earned its place on this list. It’s one of the best songs on The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it’s probably the smartest in this bunch. If you don’t totally fall head over heels for Chris’ vocals, then you’re probably soulless.

5) Sugarcult – Lost In You

I adored this record when I was a kid, and I thought that ‘Lost In You’ was the prettiest little thing. Lots of the record was typical pop-punk fare, but ‘Lost In You’ was something deeper. It’s a catchy track, and it made me want to have the kind of love that led to that kind of heartbreak.

4) Descendents – Talking

The Descendents always keep it real. ‘Talking’ is all about frustrating long distance relationships and trying to keep it all together over the phone. In typical Descendents style, it’s as honest as it comes. It’s hard not to fall in love with Stephen Egerton’s infectious riffs, and the line ‘Maybe we’ll fall in love when I get home’ will get stuck in your head for days.

3) Say Anything – Crush’d

Out of all of Max Bemis’ proclamations of love, Crush’d is by far my favourite. Branded with the typical Say Anything wittiness, it’s a gem of a track, lurking on their oft-forgotten self-titled record. It’s a total love letter to his wife Sherri, and it’s bloody wonderful.

2) Candy Hearts – I Miss You

‘I Miss You’ is just lovely, earnest pop-punk joy. If a red velvet cupcake could be a song, then this would be it with sprinkles on top. But it’s also totally real – Mariel’s lyrics indicate a fear of handing yourself over completely to one person, but at the same time, there’s a great sense of excitement about being so in love.

1) Brand New – Soco Amaretto Lime

Do I even need to explain anything? Brand New’s anthem about the end of adolescence is the sweetest love song of all time.

Review: Atlas Losing Grip – Currents

Atlas Losing Grip - Currents reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - British punk, hardcore and metalcore blog

Ambition is not a bad thing. If it weren’t for ambition would At The Drive-In have made Relationship of Command? Would Iggy Pop have gone solo? Would Nirvana have made Nevermind? That said, at times on Atlas Losing Grip’s second LP Currents, there is perhaps a little bit too much going on. This is the sound of a band exploring – no, exhausting – every single idea they have, with a mixed bag of results.

Currents opens with a big, moody two minute Metallica-esque instrumental before finally breaking into a rattling barnstormer of a verse in track one, ‘Sinking Ship’. Make no mistake, this is not punk: this is pure, neck breaking thrash metal. You have big galloping riffs, rapid-fire drums and a touch of cheese in the big anthemic chorus. There are twisty sections and it is difficult to keep up with the amount of ideas being thrown at this piece of music. Could this be a pioneering release in an oxymoronic new genre? Is this the birth of prog-punk?

Next up is the slightly less head spinning ‘The Curse’. This tune is much more accessible and mid paced, with another one of those massive choruses slotted in for good measure. It sounds a little bit like The Wildhearts. The album follows this formula, with a mix of thrash metal and anthemic punk; imagine Bad Religion covering Iron Maiden and you’re close. There’s some good stuff here. ‘Unknown Waters’ and ‘Cynosure’ showcase a band confidently going about doing what they do best. ‘Downwind’ is a particular album highlight, rumbling as it does at a high rate of knots with some brilliant Thin Lizzy like swirls of twin lead guitar.

Confusingly though, despite making no mention of Satanism or the devil anywhere throughout the album, Atlas Losing Grip made a big deal in the press about their new album lasting 66 minutes and 6 seconds. Now, first of all, as a pedant I know that 66:06 is not the number of the beast, and secondly, because of the length of the album, there is a lot of filler here. You get the overly sentimental acoustic work out of ‘Closure’, six minutes of ‘Kings and Fools’ that meander away but don’t ever really go anywhere, and ‘Ithaka’ which – excuse my language – is 11 minutes long for fuck’s sake. There’s a big embarrassing chorus that sounds like it was ripped directly out of a Dragonforce song and about 2 and a half minutes of sea noises. The album may well be 66 minutes and 6 seconds long but some of those minutes are a total waste.

In fact, over the second half of the album, it really loses its way as Atlas Losing Grip saw fit to really run with their ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ philosophy. There really is no need for the two bars of electronic drum samples in ‘Through The Distance’ and I’d have given the album an extra high 5 had they not bothered recording ‘Cold Dirt’ which is within touching distance of being a straight up Bon Jovi piano ballad.

Currents then, is a frustrating listen. There is probably a full album’s worth of cracking stuff here; it’s just bolstered by a lot of really bad stuff. Not one person in the studio ever stopped and said “maybe this is a bit too much lads.” Not one person said “are you sure this is necessary?” As a result, Atlas Losing Grip sound like a band wrestling with their identity, who have made an album that is all at sea.

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2 out of 5 high fives!

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