Review: Doe – First Four

Doe - First Four reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, indie and alternative zine

Today we have the joy of introducing you to the DIY indie punks Doe, heralding from North London. A band very much in their infancy, Doe have only been treating audiences to their brand of indie-punk for 18 months; in that time they have put out four EPs, which have now been collected in to the imaginatively named First Four LP. They haven’t just been sat in a garage somewhere jamming; the busy bees have been touring across the UK and Europe, including a 2014 tour with another band we hopefully brought to your attention, Pale Angels. I can honestly say that they are shows I’m sad I missed.

What do Doe have to say about themselves? Well, not a lot, but we like what they do say; their ‘About Us’ section simply states: “Doe likes feminism, horror films and brown beer.” They already sound good in my book. In terms of what they actually sound like, it becomes immediately obvious that although they are developing their own catchy DIY-ish sound, there seems to be something missing. That something is a bass player. With a three member line-up of Nicola (singing and playing guitar), Matt (playing guitar too) and Jake (for the male vocals and drums), the lack of a bass player is noticeable, but it isn’t necessarily a lack that holds them back. The songs crafted across the four Eps that make up this new release are made in a way that, while it is obvious that there is no bass there, wouldn’t necessarily be improved by its introduction. That’s nothing against Doe either, if anything it is a complaint, there is an alluring charm to their stripped back sound.

The LP is made up of thirteen tracks of indie punk pulled straight up from the 90s. It wouldn’t take a trained ear to hear elements of Weezer and Helium in there. The girl-boy shared vocals harmonise nicely, without feeling like you’re just listening to a sing-a-long conversation like We Are The In Crowd. Nicola and Jake’s vocals fit perfectly with the hooks of the battling guitars, to great effect on ‘Unrested’ in particular. There are even moments when my mind is thrown back to Imogen Heap circa her Frou Frou days, especially at the opening of ‘C.A.E.’

‘Let Me In’, the first track you’ll have the joy to hear, is full of the energetic drums and whiny guitars you’d hope for from a slice of indie punk, with Nicola’s vocals building in strength throughout the track. The vocals are strong, and subtle when the need to be, with the fast paced ‘Nowhere Girl’ being a prime example and a personal favourite. It isn’t all about the vocals though; many of the tracks have great hooks and melodies to get the charmingly crafted tunes stuck in the listeners’ heads.

All I would say against the release is this: it is four EPs put together. It sounds like four EPs put together. When a band crafts an album, you want to hear great individual tracks and Doe have that, but you want it to be more than a collection of stand-alone songs. When you listen to the First Four LP you can enjoy every song, but it’s not clear that you’re meant to enjoy them all together as an experience. On this compilation, a full listening can cause feelings of familiarity and repetitiveness. It isn’t unusual for the same techniques to be used across separate songs and EPs, especially when they are used well and to great effect, but if they are all put together it does devalue the individual uses a little. Doe have a great sound, some bloomin’ good songs and nice EPs, but stuff it all into the same package and maybe you’ve just got too much of a good thing.

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3.5 out of 5 high fives!

Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [October]

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Keytar Cat Man. Because it’s Halloween.

We’ve already reviewed the new Minus The Bear b-sides and rarities collection elsewhere on TBO but here’s a timely reminder if you’ve yet to check out the frankly ace Lost Loves. Electronics man Alex Rose gets plenty of chance to showcase his usual mix of Pink Floydian atmospheres and synth hooks, with the ripping electro lead on ‘Surf-N-Turf’ and twinkling arpeggios of ‘Walk On Air’ being particular highlights.

Over the past few months we’ve consistently banged on about Emperor Yes, who first came to this column’s attention after a stunning set on the Alcopop! stage at Brighton’s Great Escape earlier this year. The psychedelic synth-poppers’ debut full-length An Island Called Earth is finally out and sounding expectedly fantastic. For the real nerds out there you can even pick it up on cosmic green vinyl infused with real meteorite dust! For the rest of us be sure to grab the download or CD and check out the synthesiser-led delights of ‘Wasps’, ‘It’s The End Of The World’, ‘Mirror’ and… well the whole album – it’s a beaut!

Scottish trio Chvrches have been busy with new music this month, not only announcing they’ll be contributing new track ‘Dead Air’ to the Hunger Games soundtrack, but also releasing single ‘Get Away’ as part of Zane Lowe’s re-scoring of Drive. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t quite hit the heights of perfect debut album The Bones Of What We Believe, but it still has their trademark retro textures, analogue percussion and a tasty trancey lead. It’s a definite grower and one that you won’t be able to avoid if you listen to the radio at any point over the coming weeks! There’s also a fantastic cover of Bauhaus’ ‘Bella Lugosi’s Dead’ scurrying around the Internet at present, which is perfect for your Halloween playlists!

Bloc Party mainman Kele Okereke has a new solo album out following 2010’s indie dancefloor slaying The Boxer. Trick is more straight-up dance music than anything he has done to date but the sublime songwriting and achingly cool vocals bring a much-needed uniqueness over his contemporaries. In many ways it is an indie-friendly gateway into the increasingly wanky world of commercial house music (thanks for making everything so borrrrring Disclosure) with hipster-friendly garage beats and late night soundscapes forming a gritty salute to London’s nightlife, whilst recalling lyrical themes from his day job’s masterpiece ‘A Weekend In The City’.

These New Puritans scared the shit out of me when I first heard ‘Orion’ among the usually safe surroundings of an NME cover disc. It was overwhelmingly bleak with droney keyboards, modern classical influences, and incessant drum rhythms outlining frontman Jack Barnett’s vocal monotones and lyrical intellectualisations. Earlier singles ‘Numbers’ and ‘Colours’ may have been more typical indietronica, but they always had a defiant stance to do things their own way and be impertinently different. Continuing to divide, confuse and amaze, they have certainly never been boring. Therefore, the release of new live album Expanded should come as no surprise, featuring a full 35 piece band of orchestral instruments and percussion, an array of synths and electronics and even ‘ultra bass singers’ (take that dubstep!). It’s certainly an interesting take on bringing electronic-infused music to the live arena, and it’s well worth watching the accompanying video online. Not one to listen to in the dark though!

October’s Keytar Hero award finds a home with Canadian queen of perky synth-pop, Lights. Her music may not be everyone’s cup of tea with its saccharine Disney-pop sheen (I shamelessly dig) but nobody can deny that she’s been loyal to the keytar as her long-term live performance companion ever since her early days of hanging out with the pop-punk kids at Warped. If you need any further convincing just type ‘keytar lesson with Lights’ into your YouTube search bar for hilariously awesome ‘advice’ from 2009 such as name your keytar so you take better care of it, understand the differences between keytar and regular keyboard, and make sure its plugged in. She even gives a demo of the Phil Collins mega hit ‘In The Air Tonight’ on solo keytar. She’s one of us…

Review: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – s/t

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK rock, indie and alternative zine

The new record from Andrew McMahon is ambitious. So ambitious, that he’s released it under yet another name. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is really Andrew’s first solo album proper, given that Jack’s Mannequin became a full-band project, and is very much a pop album in the way that Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate were not.

For the potentially wary, it’s not a huge leap away from his solo EP The Pop Underground, and of course, Andrew’s signature sound is still very much there, loud and proud. However, there’s a much greater electronic influence in AM In The Wilderness than in any previous projects, and there’s plenty of fantastic synth lines running throughout. And that’s just part of it – the sheer breadth of style that AM In The Wilderness encompasses is incredible. From huge pop numbers like ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ to gospel-inspired ‘Canyon Moon’, and beautiful piano-led tracks like ‘Rainy Girl’ to 80s-styled finisher ‘Maps for the Getaway’ (which sounds like it would fit fantastically on The Breakfast Club’s soundtrack), no two songs sound the same. Each track has its own individual timbre, and yet as an album, it all works together perfectly.

The record also holds a delicate balance between old and new. On the one hand, there are plenty of songs about the forthcoming birth of Andrew’s daughter, Cecilia. ‘See Her On The Weekend’, ‘Rainy Girl’ and of course, ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’, which is the shining star of the album, all reflect on this huge event in different ways, culminating in a wonderful tribute to a baby girl. But there’s a lot of looking back and soul searching as well – ‘High Dive’ and ‘Black and White Movies’ are all about past relationships, and ‘All Our Lives’ is simply a fantastic take on life, its potential difficulties and eventually moving on. It’s an incredibly introspective record in places, bold and decisive in others, but ultimately uplifting at every turn. ‘Maps for the Getaway’ in particular is simply about making it through, and it ends the record on a triumphant, yet poignant note.

The fact is that Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness is a lot of different things. It’s a beautiful example of emotionally intelligent songwriting, immersed in stunning melodies and gorgeous metaphor. It’s brutally honest and genuinely heartwarming. It’s daring, and yet another step further from Andrew’s pop-punk roots. And above all this, it has the potential to be his greatest record yet. Fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin will love this, but then again, so will everyone else.

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5 out of 5 high fives!

Q&A – Guerrilla Monsoon

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Guerrilla Monsoon are a band from Birmingham who write big, punk rock bangers. Veterans of the Midlands scene, these guys have been in more bands than you can count. You can hear echoes of days gone past all the way throughout their tunes, but together, they create something completely different and pretty damn exciting. Their forthcoming EP, Big City Plans, is an explosion of melody, gruff voices and fast tempos, and it’s no surprise that the band got picked up by Paper + Plastick and Beach Community before their first anniversary.

I fired a bunch of questions at Lewis Bloor, one of the guitarists/vocalists in the band, and he came back with some pretty interesting answers. Read this, then buy the record because it’s ace.

You guys have got a rich heritage from bands like Cannons and Tanks (who by the way, I adored – went to virtually every show you did in Leamington), Shermer, Hopewood et al. How have you taken that experience and turned it into something which actually sounds quite different to those bands?

Thanks for the kind words! To be honest, I don’t think that we’ve actually changed all that much with regards to our individual playing styles, it kind of all just clicks. Mark is playing his noodley guitar lines, John is letting rip on the drums, I haven’t actually changed the way I’ve played guitar since I was 16 and in bands that basically wanted to be Texas Is The Reason, and Rob plays bass like he’s in The Bouncing Souls. It all just fits nicely. Mark and I do our clean/gruff vocal trade-offs and it just seems to compliment the rest of the music. It’s nice to find a bunch of guys that are happy musically together that fit so well.

You’ve managed to pick up support from two excellent labels, Paper + Plastick in the US and Beach Community over here. What does that mean to you personally, and what does that mean for the band moving forward?

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. To get this kind of backing as a new band is amazing and totally unexpected. We recorded a few songs at the beginning of the year and just sent them off. It’s pretty old school really – we’re no YouTube hit band, we haven’t got thousands of likes on Facebook, we don’t have a million followers on Soundcloud… We put up a few songs for free on Bandcamp and it all came from there.

Moving forward, it means that we get to do a lot of amazing things that we didn’t think possible. We get to play Fest in Florida for starters… That’s a massive deal for all of us. Hopefully, if people like our record, we’ll get the chance to tour and play with some amazing bands. I think we’re going to totally indulge ourselves with that. On a personal level, that’s one of the main reasons I’m in a band, just so I get to play with bands I like!

Big City Plans is a combination of new tracks and older ones – was the decision to split them like that purely down to that, or was there a bigger reason for grouping the way you have?

We recorded five songs, we then recorded two songs, we then recorded three songs… we put two of them out a few months ago on a split and there were eight left. The “older” songs on there are only older by a couple of months, but we’d already put them up on the Bandcamp. After a little bit of chat we just thought it’d be nice to bung them all on. They were all re-mastered and had a few mixing issues ironed out, but eight seemed like a nice number for a bigger EP or mini-album.

What’s your songwriting process like?

Tears, frustration, anger… actually, it’s quite nice. Mark comes up with songs he writes himself and we work it out as a band, or Rob and I work on some riffs together and songs come from that. Or, we just jam in practice and make a row with some chords and rhythms. Mark writes the majority of lyrics and we both work out our vocal lines from there. I write the odd batch of lyrics but I’m my own worst critic and I’m never really that happy with them.

Where do you take influence from when writing (not necessarily musically either!)?

Life. Write about what you know, it’s a lot more honest and sincere that way. Our influences are pretty much everything we’ve all grown up with. We’re not kids anymore and we’ve all had a fair amount of life experience, love, loss, regret, recovery, ups, downs… pop it all into a great musical blender and leave the top off.

Lyrically, there’s a lot of ground covered on Big City Plans. Is there a unifying theme threaded throughout the record?

Real life. That’s all we know. Changes around us and within ourselves. Our relationships with each other, our parents and our friends.

You’ve been touring the UK at the moment, and you’re headed off to Fest later this month – what’s been your best tour moment so far this year, and what are you expecting for Fest?

We’ve toured with quite a few bands (if you call tour more than three days in a row) and we’ve made some really great friends from that. We’ve got up to some ridiculous things and it’s been a great summer, so it just adds to the experience. Best tour moments are when there are actually people there that have come to see us! Over the last few weeks, we’ve noticed people actually singing along which is amazing! Fest… I’m expecting a hangover. A big hangover.

As performers, what makes the perfect show for you?

We all give it 100% every time – if it goes without hiccup, it’s amazing for us. Things happen though, like the breaking of strings, john throwing his sticks at us, Rob hitting me or Mark with his bass. We take it all in our stride though. Again, if there are a few people watching it’s great!

Who are your favourite bands to tour with?

All the bands! We’ve met so many great people already and we hope this continues for as long as possible.

The new record’s out on 28 October. We’re dead excited, but how would you convince someone who might be on the fence of the power of #team_monsoon?

Haha, this record has already had that many “releases”, it’s quite funny. The digital date for release was the 6th October, but as we were on tour that week it went onto Spotify/iTunes a week early. Then the vinyl turned up in the UK early so we started selling it at gigs. The pre-order for the vinyl for the UK and US went up earlier this week and officially gets sent out on the 28th October just before Fest. We’re so used to doing it DIY style and getting it out there as soon as we can, and we just can’t hold back. I reckon we’ll be a little more organised if/when we get the chance to do an album… And if you’re on the fence, we suggest you get off before you get splinters and come join the party!

Guerrilla Monsoon are Rob, Lewis, Mark and John. Big City Plans is out on 28 October on Beach Community (UK) and Paper + Plastick (US). Check these dudes out on Bandcamp already.

Review: Misgivings – Delete History [EP]

Misgivings - Delete History reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, hardcore and alternative zine

Hailing from Southsea but formed over beers in Hamburg, Misgivings make exactly the kind of noise you might expect them to. They trade in a kind of fast and loose punk style while retaining a melodic edge on this, their debut EP Delete History. And while it might start off promising enough, Misgivings are, unfortunately, a band who find themselves making missteps into pitfalls that many other punk bands find themselves guilty of.

The EP kicks off promisingly enough with ‘Century’, an insanely catchy bit of Bad Religion style punk with gruff vocals ripped straight from a Husker Du release. The writing and arrangement of the song has been thoroughly thought out and it quickly builds to a great, clattering conclusion. There are punk bands the world over who would kill to have a song like this in their catalogue.

Next up is the brilliantly titled ‘It’s a Bone, You Lucky Dog’ which after a sweet, melodic guitar intro turns into a pretty standard pop punk tune. Give it a bit of polish in terms of the production and mix and stick a pretty boy singer in there and you might as well be listening to Blink 182 or Taking Back Sunday. These guys know how to write a catchy song, it has to be noted.

From here on in though, the problems emerge. Misgivings are seemingly constricted by their expectations of what a punk band should do that they forget to have any ideas of their own. The songs on Delete History fail to make much impact when each of them sticks so rigidly to formula. It must be stressed that these are in no way bad songs, but surely there’s only so many times you can hear big intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle 8/chorus before it starts to get dull.

Misgivings are in no way a bad band and they certainly know how to craft a tune. If Delete History demonstrates anything, it is that there are bags of potential on show here, and this band just need to work on finding their own niche. It is a pleasant listen, it does nothing wrong, but will you remember it when it’s over?

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3 out of 5 high fives!

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