Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths: July 2014

Canadian dance-punkers Death From Above 1979 are back and sounding as vital as ever. It’s been ten years since the duo combined monumental fuzz rock riffs with danceable beats on 2004’s ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’, but their influence can still be heard in everyone from Bloc Party to DZ Deathrays. One of the biggest influences on my own music making I was beyond excited when the band announced that they would be touring and releasing new music this year. The result is ‘Trainwreck 1979’, taken from upcoming second album ‘The Physical World’, and it’s an absolute belter! Known for his huge bass tone that renders the need for a guitarist useless, it’s easy to forget that Jesse F Keeler also plays a mean synthesiser. His time making electro in MSTKRFT has clearly paid off as the new single is packed full of luscious string pads, twinkling arpeggios and a piano hook that lifts the chorus up. Matched by Sebastien Grainger’s trademark drawl and thundering drums it is clear that the two-piece are back to show the current crop how it’s done. The single is out now and the album is due in September.

A couple of months back we revealed how minds were blown by Emperor Yes at this year’s Great Escape in Brighton. It seems we weren’t the only ones wooed by the electro pop trio’s charms as the band have announced that they are now working with the fantastic Alcopop! Records to release their debut album later this year. First single ‘Paramesse to Tanis’ is a psychedelic tour-de-force of abstract lyrics about pulling mountains across Egypt accompanied by choppy synth chords, Phil Collins aping 80’s drum fills, and quirky sound effects. The vocoder backing vocals that dominated earlier releases have been replaced by floaty indie boy harmonies, but the change is welcomed by this listener at least as, contrary to popular belief, one can have too much robot voice. Definitely one to check out for fans of Friendly Fires and The Flaming Lips.

I want to end this month’s round up (don’t worry keytar fans, check the paragraph below) by introducing some of my favourite synth-based music from the local area. Michael D Wynn is a producer/musician from Worcester, who has been playing a variety of instruments in countless bands but is now focusing on electronic music. He was responsible for one of my favourite releases of this year back in January, combining contemporary pop hooks with analogue beats and Microkorg riffs ‘The Careerist / Pinks’ with Flossie-T on vocals is a must-hear. Check it out on Soundcloud and harass him to make more like this!

Another band from the Worcestershire area who have been making waves in the music scene are Shatter Effect. I first came across this group, who combine noughties indie rock with male/female vocal trades and catchy synth parts, a couple of years back and they’ve been going from strength to strength with each subsequent single release, always complemented with visually stunning videos. The band are currently in the studio recording new material and I’ve been constantly checking their social media for updates, as the results will undoubtedly be excellent.

Keytar Bear on - UK punk and alternative zine

Finally… Keytar Hero time! Here at TwoBeatsOff we like Boston (as in the city, not the soft rock band… okay, fine, both). it’s the home of hardcore troubadours Defeater as well as ace punk/emo label Run For Cover Records. Well, now we have another reason to love the Massachusetts capital as a Prince-loving anonymous man dressed as a bear has been spotted riffing out on a keytar, busking away whilst, in his own words, ‘killing racism’. Perfect. Keytar Bear, we may be 3000 miles away and we will probably never cross paths. But from behind a laptop in a middle-class haven of the Cotswolds, for services to keytardom and equality, we salute you.

Rise of the Two-Piece Band – Why Now’s a Great Time to Ditch Yr Bass Player

I’ve just returned from this year’s 2000Trees Festival and one of the things that struck me was the sheer amount of bands with only two members, leaving audiences wondering where they were hiding the extra guitarist or keyboard player! From Blood Red Shoes to Slaves, God Damn to Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip it seems that two is the magic number.

With new music on the horizon from stalwarts of the power-duo line-up Death From Above 1979 and the likes of Royal Blood and Drenge popping up on daytime radio there has never been a better time to ditch your lazy third band member, make dwindling gig fees go further, and claim some extra space in the van! Check out my top five new or underground two-piece bands that prove that whilst bigger isn’t always better, less is certainly more!

Looking like you wouldn’t want to spill their pint and sounding like a cross between Gallows and the glory days of Dischord Records, Slaves are quite simply brilliant. From the unlikely hallows of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Laurie Vincent plays guitar through a wall of distortion whilst Isaac Holman skits around the stage playing a stand up drum kit and shouting. Live highlight ‘Girl Fight’ is only 15 seconds long, which says it all… Slaves are way more punx than you.

Also see: yr dad’s punk vinyl collection from the 80’s.

DZ Deathrays
If there’s one thing that two-piece bands like more than leg room its fuzz! This Australian duo play thrash punk that is loaded with the hairy stuff! Emasculating bassists everywhere, guitarist Shane Parsons has mastered the art of making his guitar sound like the apocalypse with double the amps and a floor full of effects pedals, whilst drummer Simon Ridley body-bangs his way through the gig smashing cymbals and eardrums in equal measure! Adding an extra guitarist for a few songs at 2000 Trees this year almost seemed unnecessary as they lit up the stage with pure party-starting fury. New album ‘Black Rat’ is out soon but in the meantime check out their often NSFW videos online.

Also see: Death From Above 1979, God Damn.

Slingshot Dakota
Carly plays keys. Tom plays drums. Between them they make happy-sad emo-pop with soaring melodies, intricate rhythms and thoughtful lyrics. The female/male vocal interplay and overdriven keyboard textures fulfil the absent-guitarist role as well as that of at least two other members. Latest release ‘Dark Hearts’ is out now on Topshelf Records.

Also see: Matt And Kim, Summer Camp.

Guitarist Jacob Campbell and drummer Dylan Chieffalo from Pittsburgh make feels-laden shouty 90’s emo in the vein of I Kill Giants or the recent output from Modern Baseball. Interlaced with film-audio samples and with titles such as ‘Do You Have A Kurt Vonnegut Book In Your Backpack?’ their latest release ‘Bantamweight’ is available on pay-what-you-want download from Bandcamp.

Also see: Nai Harvest, Playlounge.

Powder For Pidgeons
Another guitar and drums duo from down under that play the kind of hook-laden alt rock that takes Foo Fighters three guitars to pull off. Dirty low-down riffs and pounding drums, they’re everything a two-piece band is supposed to be.

Also see: Middle Class Rut, No Age.

2000trees 2014: The Definitive TwoBeatsOff Overview

This year, I decided to put a big middle finger up to Reading and Download. I said sayonara to Sonisphere and a big ol’ screw you to Glastonbury. No, this year, I decided to do something a bit smaller and a bit more local. I decided to do something where I didn’t need to camp, where I could just hang about and check out some stuff I’d never heard of before, and where I didn’t need to pay in excess of £200 for the privilege.

This year, I had a bloody nice time at 2000trees.

There were a lot of highlights, so I’m going to give everything nice headings and make it easier for you to dig out the good bits. There were a lot of great bands over the weekend, some gourmet food choices and plenty of glorious sunshine to keep us all going. Beautiful.

The one band you should have seen were…

The Blackout were on absolute top form this weekend. Those lads from Merthyr know how to party, as Sean Smith demonstrated early on by storming into the crown and starting a circle pit around himself. If you’re just a fan of witty stage banter, then The Blackout have you covered – during ‘We Are The Dynamite’, Sean Smith gave a bunch of uncool non-participants the choice of ‘have fun like everyone else or fuck off!’ And there were plenty of other golden moments too. But all in all, The Blackout have a great selection of big rock stompers, all of which came out to play at 2000trees and simply made the festival for me. Great stuff.

The five new bands you’ll love are…

Slaves – this two-piece punk band from Royal Tunbridge Wells are rowdy, abrasive, witty and disgustingly noisy. Entertaining to watch, unbelievable to listen to. Definitely your new favourite band and my top discovery of the weekend.

DZ Deathrays – it’s all about guitars and drums this year and nothing else. DZ Deathrays played a blinding set of scuzzy garage-punk thrashers to finish off the weekend. If you like it loud and proud with extremely catchy riffs, these guys are for you.

Youth Man – these Birmingham punks are equally terrifying and mesmerising. A bit doomy in places, a bit frenetic in others, they’re completely captivating. The music’s stupidly smart, and the live show is bloody mental. We reviewed them a while ago and loved them.

I, The Lion – if you like big Biffy Clyro-esque sounds but with more guitar smashing and lyrics that make even less sense, you’ll love I, The Lion. These Cheltenham locals opened up the Saturday and set the bar incredibly high for everyone else to follow.

Jamie Lenman – can you count Jamie Lenman as a new band? I will anyway. You may not have heard him as a solo project rather than as the former front man of the now-defunct UK titans Reuben. This year, he did a proper hardcore set based on the ‘Muscle’ side of his incredible album Muscle Memory (see our best of 2013 for more) and drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival.

Okay, the other bands you should have seen were…

Gnarwolves, Johnny Foreigner, The Bronx, Blood Red Shoes, Arcane Roots, Tall Ships and The Computers were all pretty good as well. However, special mention goes to Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, who blasted out an amazing set of beats and bars. A massive rave went down on Thursday night, and it was great to finally catch DLS VS SP live!

The one band you’re going to miss are…

The last Kill Chaos set ever happened at 2000trees. Gutting. At least we’ll still have the records, right? PromisesPromises only just came out after all! I only discovered them last year on Jamie Lenman’s first solo tour and I am sad to see them disappear already. Here’s to seeing what happens next…

The most surreal festival moment was…

Seeing Dave McPherson off’ve InMe stroll out onto Jamie Lenman’s set to do a bit of screaming, without actually knowing the words, was a little bit bizarre. I know he was playing this weekend, but InMe were never really a shouty band at all. Kind of weird but mostly wonderful.

The best food stall was…

Props to Wide Awake Café for their delicious iced lattes and veggie burritos! Check them out at a festival near you.

The coolest item of merch was…

Uh, 2000trees sunglasses for a fiver? Yes mate.

Festival Dickhead of the Year Award goes to…

There was a guy who sat down under a tree and pulled out The Diary Of Anne Frank to sit and peruse on Friday afternoon. What a knob.

So, will we be doing 2000trees again? The answer is a great big resounding yes. What a good festival.

Review: New Town Kings – Pull Up & Rewind [EP]

New Town Kings - Pull Up & Rewind reviewed on - West Midlands punk, ska and reggae

It’s been a while since New Town Kings were assaulting the airwaves with their infectious brand of reggae-tinged ska. Since their second album M.O.J.O. and a fairly relentless touring schedule, they’ve had a bit of an issue with frontmen, replacing former vocalist Chris with the enigmatic Dabs Bonner. The result is this outstanding four-track EP.

Much more politically charged than their previous outings, Pull Up & Rewind is a fairly daring record. Lead single ‘Change’ is trad ska at its best, and is surprisingly intricate given its simple structure. Dabs’ vocals are absolutely spot on, and it’s really refreshing to hear a song of this nature calling for positive change, rather than just being a standard rant against the authorities. It’s about having to move forward – a sentiment that New Town Kings have no doubt had to embrace in the past 12 months. Although I keep expecting the track to speed up, but it never does. It doesn’t need to – it still manages to retain its power as an upbeat, but slow jam. ‘Luna Rosa’ meets my demands for speed, and the dual vocal approach in this reggae love song is really fun. I’m glad to see that New Town Kings have retained that same sense of fun that made their last two records so great. As far as the sound goes, it’s not a huge progression on M.O.J.O. but they already had that nailed. However, each song is tighter, and there’s more of that reggae flair coming through. Plus there’s some fantastic keys in tracks like ‘Grabbed My Hand’, some clever lyrics and perfect summer vibes. It’s punk for people who don’t like punk – ‘Cool The Pressure Down’ does a great job of hiding a wider political agenda under sweet ska rhythms and some bloody fantastic trumpets.

New Town Kings might have been testing the waters a little bit with Pull Up & Rewind, but have come back swinging to let everyone know that they’re still one of the best ska bands in the UK today, if not the world. Their next album is due out by the end of the year – if it’s anything like this, it is going to be massive.


4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Farewell, George!

It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to George this week. George is an incredible writer, and he’s published some fantastic articles in his two years or so with us. It’s been a pleasure to be able to show you his work, and we wish him all the very best for the future!

We’ll be linking through to all of his pieces on the Authors page, if that tickles your fancy.

We’re also on the lookout for fresh talent. If you fancy writing reviews and/or features for us, email with some samples of your work. Positions are voluntary, but you’ll be able to get your hands on some great music and share your passion with 5,000-10,000 unique visitors a month. I earn basically no money from this and every scrap we get from advertising goes on hostage costs. So we all do this because we love it – and that’s why I’ve kept this place going for nearly six years.

xoxo – Robyn

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