Archive for January, 2013

Being that the album isn’t officially released until 18th February and considering how much effort, money and deliberation has gone into the finished work, it seems only appropriate that any seminal listen of the debut Rose Parade record be as careful, private and thorough as possible. Despite most of the songs having been publically available in live or demo form over the past couple of years, this moment is sure to be a milestone in the burgeoning Ayrshire independent music scene and deserves to be treated as such.

Consequently, one finds oneself digging out one’s highest quality pair of headphones and sitting down on a dreary Scottish Sunday afternoon to absorb the eponymous work from start to finish, the only distraction being occasional pensive sips from a mug of steaming coffee.

And one is not disappointed…

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Midnight Wine provides an absorbing and atmospheric opener, allowing approximately twenty seconds of gentle wavering feedback and plucked strings to guide the listener gently towards a window to the mind of the Rose Parade quartet, before an unrepentant trifecta of assured chords, jolly glockenspiel and stomping kick drum ushers in a distinctive and instantly congenial vocal, thereby hauling said listener through said window and permitting no option of escape until the boys have had their say.

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Now, when you have an album that flows from start to finish, as one complete and considered work – which, let’s face it, is the mark of a quality offering – it’s generally desirable to set an enduring tone, for the entire piece, with the first lines and Midnight Wine’s contribution is no exception…

“Summertime has got me crazy, sitting laying in the sun.

I took my love and we got crazy but now I’m sitting by, by my loaded gun.”

In just a few bars, the listener is handed a perfect summation of the Rose Parade modus operandi – the opening line conveying happy and contented connotations of an easy life made up of long, hot, lazy days tying in with the pleasant and cheerful foot-tapping rhythms forming the calm and measured surface of the sound, juxtaposed with a nod to an unsettled mind and abrupt ruminations on violence which point to the darker depths of the band’s occasionally murky, often longing and nostalgic, lyrical content.

As the song progresses, the continuation of this lyrical theme melds with a timeless quiet-loud aesthetic and a guitar tone harking back to the golden era of the rock scene. As well as providing a succinct outline of intent, track one succeeds in emanating what is sure to be a cross-generational appeal and giving subtle rise to the notion – in the mind of anyone within earshot – that picking up a guitar might just be the perfect idea.

On the subject of Rose Parade’s cross-generational appeal, it is impossible not to notice the similarity of the track titles A Better Pill to Swallow and The Dark Side of the Sun to those belonging to The Jam and Pink Floyd, respectively. At first glance, this is easy to interpret as either coincidence or an acknowledgement of the influence of iconic bands of the past on their own sound. However, after hearing the album several times over and feeling the resultant assurance of this band’s prowess and bright future, this nod to the work of such iconic bands begins to feel more like a subtle acknowledgement and confirmation of their own confidence that this is the first major step on an exciting and fruitful upwards trajectory.

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A song-by-song analysis would only serve to cheapen the first-listen experience for others, so prudence suggests that the way forward is to examine some of the more obvious standouts and then look at the work as a whole.

The majesty of the album opener aside, looking to The Sea of Lights and Grace will exhibit material destined to, someday, warrant a slew of main stage festival appearances. Grace, in particular, feels like the track people will point the unconverted to in future, as they relate the story of the time they saw Rose Parade perform in the kitchen of an Ayr flat, long before their success.

Appearing just past the halfway mark, the instrumental Friday Night Fight provides a welcome pause for reflection, while keeping the pace going as it leads towards the captivating pairing of upbeat rhythm and doleful lyrics that is Sue.

Violent Tides and closing offering The Dark Side of the Sun serving to showcase the more sparsely introspective end of the material, the latter’s claustrophobic vibe, equal parts beauty and menace, warning that “time won’t heal too deep of a wound” and closing on the cryptically chilling refrain of “totally honest, totally honest.”

To go back to the idea of an album working as a whole, the achievement of this admirable feat can be seen in the way track one tails off effortlessly into the opening of Awake Tonight and even the later inclusion of the glockenspiel is vaguely – yet knowingly – reminiscent of the opening offering. As the album progresses, subtle lyrical throwbacks to previous tracks combine with the group’s own signature melody and consistently accomplished guitar and vocal work to ensure the continuation of this seamless eleven track journey.

There are moments which evoke long nights of lonely reflection, choruses which provoke sing-along moments while getting ready for a night on the tiles with the mates and tunes that perfectly soundtrack an exhausted but cheerful Sunday teatime, looking back over a weekend well spent.

Rose Parade’s debut is the sound of Scottish Indie rock and roll ticking all the right boxes.

It would be wrong to do them the injustice of spending too long comparing their sound to that of more established acts. With that in mind, let’s just say that their pop sensibilities should appeal to consumers of the more mainstream branches of rock and indie – there are actually, as much as this is a potential bone of contention, echoes of Be Here Now-era Oasis, which are certainly not unwelcome and are subtle enough not to be derivative – while the wistfully introspective lyrical moments and incorporation of quirkier elements into their sound should serve as a draw for the more involved or refined music fan.

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As far as criticisms go, for this offering very few are possible. That said, there are consequences of creating such a thematic and whole-sounding debut record which so perfectly encapsulates the sound previously plied on the live circuit.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is difficult to see where the band will go from here. As much as what is displayed in this first record is a most impressive achievement, it would be a tragic waste of Rose Parade’s talent and innovation if they didn’t now seek to push their sound in a new direction. How well this goes, only time will tell.

For now, however, the band should be riding high on a wave of success of their own making.

Such a triumphant debut must be celebrated and there could be no better way of doing this than to play the shit out of it at every live opportunity.

Rose Parade is officially released on 18/02/13 through the band’s website, iTunes, Amazon and Play.com.

The band will play an album launch show in Glasgow’s 13th Note on 01/02/13.

Rose Parade on Facebook

Rose Parade on Soundcloud

As far as energetic guitar and drum two-pieces go, the now defunct As In Bear were phenomenal. So, also, are their forebears Bronto Skylift. However, with that said, let’s give Young Philadelphia their due and try to avoid beginning the feature by drawing comparisons between them and – presumably – their influences.

An energetic guitar and drum two-piece, consisting of brothers Jason and Graham Costello, Young Philadelphia – who may or may not be named after the Paul Newman-led 1959 film – are currently making waves in the same pond previously terrorised by Bronto Skylift and As In Bear.

Aye, the operative word in the first paragraph was try, right!?

In setting up, drummer Graham angles himself and his notably sparse kit – clearly having neither the requirement nor the patience for toms, floor or otherwise – an unapologetic ninety degrees left of the position your average stick-merchant would opt to face in the quaint Soviet-themed venue.

The guitarist, on the other hand, doesn’t look to have any intention of joining him on his chosen path of radical positioning and this moves the critical mind to wonder whether this difference in stance might be a metaphor for a soon-to-be-witnessed variation in stage personae.

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Upon finishing farting about with his effects pedals and whipping round to face his accomplice, in the process throwing a dirty big bastard of a spanner into the works of the previous proposition, Jason shoots a glance that sees the siblings wire straight into a criminally infectious rumble of percussion melding with chords which then proceeds to crash into a furious ear-splitting din of Converge-like proportions.

Hands fumble for ear plugs – with at least one observer being seen to stuff pieces of ripped up napkins into his lugs – and thus begins a set as abrasive as it is cathartic, seemingly not least for Graham who appears to be utilising his kit as a sort of conduit through which to channel a legion of horrific personal demons. Judging, that is, by his apparent compulsion to attack each of its components with every fibre of his being, bodily flinging himself repeatedly into the meagre percussion station as though intent on actually ploughing through it.

A casual observer happening through the door of Bar Bloc would be forgiven for interpreting the scenario as Jason having taken the stage and deeply immersed himself in a solo guitar performance, which has enraged one spectator to the point where he has hastily assembled half a drum kit and set about piling into it in a sort of “this is what you’d get, ya bastard, if all these people weren’t here” type gesture.

Let’s stay with the analysis of this ferocity for a second, lest it not be done absolute justice…

Fringe flailing, Graham bounces on his drum stool – to an extent that sees him actually rising inches clear of the leather – to ensure that every thrashing blow counts, throwing so much of himself into his performance that he is, at points, close to lying prostrate atop his snare. Each time, he succeeds in regaining his composure for just long enough to scream unintelligibly in the direction of his brother (an entirely futile gesture, given the decibel level, and one made evident only by the contortion of his mouth and visible strain of his throat muscles) before the sheer effort involved in manifesting such aural terror forces his head to loll back down again.

Standing directly in the firing line of this onslaught, Jason succeeds in holding up his end of the performance by harnessing the primal force of the drums and hooking it into a groove reminiscent of that purveyed by early Rage Against the Machine. This, of course, is rendered all the more impressive when one considers how bass-dependent such a sound was and reconciles this notion with the fact that this is just one man with a guitar, responsible not only for injecting melody into the madness but also for pitching his output appropriately in order to be heard over his partner’s fury.

The brothers are an excellent pairing, appearing as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type entity, with one thoroughly out of control and the other deftly meshing the fruits of this lunacy with his own offerings to create some of the catchiest noise currently doing the rounds.

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As regards the audience, reading this may conjure up images of a seething whirlwind of bodies but, although those in the frontlines of the cramped performance space alternate between appreciative nodding and Lemmy-esque devastation of their neck tendons, the crowd as a whole seems rooted to the spot in a sort of trance. So enraptured are the most recent slew of Young Philadelphia converts that it wouldn’t seem entirely outlandish to envision the guitarist passing out tumblers of toxic Kool Aid – without word or expression – and the crowd unquestioningly knocking them back in tandem.

It is obscenely difficult to tell when one song ends and another begins but by the time the performance is halfway through, not a single intelligible word has been spoken. Going by the aforementioned way in which the Bar Bloc patrons stand transfixed by this sensory assault, however, this is an omission that goes entirely unnoticed or unfelt by the majority of the crowd.

Somewhere towards the end of the set,  a list of thank-yous – the first clear oral offering of the evening – paves the way for a segment of pedal manipulation and atmospheric fret-picking, coupled with a sparse series of snare raps, which soon enough careers into another cavalcade of chaotic volume.

As far as the music itself goes, as catchy as it is, it wouldn’t be the first choice for the soundtrack to a long drive or a run. In a live context, however, Young Philadelphia are an awe-inspiring force and positively worthy successors in the Bronto-Bear bloodline.

And what an awesome name!

Young Philadelphia on Facebook

Young Philadelphia on Bandcamp

Sipping a glass of water that tastes like old beer – and reflecting that this is wholly in keeping with the somehow endearing but positively shitey decor and stench of Sleazy’s – thoughts turn to recent promotional allegations of a near sold out show and the mind works hard to marry this up with the smelly basement’s sparse strands of disinterested looking patrons.

Fortunately, the venue does busy up a bit as the support acts cease and desist and Shelf:Life take the stage, with consciousness of the disappointing start to the evening driving them to toss out a pleading “we’re Shelf:Life and we’d appreciate it if everyone would stand up.”

A band formed as a result of the members’ simultaneous enrolment on a Commercial Music course, these chaps are the most recent musical darlings of The University of the West of Scotland, in the same vein as Drive-By Argument – who enjoyed a brief stint in the spotlight when one of their songs was used as entrance music for some American sporting team.

Sixteen Sixteen Six and Shelf:Life have crossed paths once before – in this very same venue – and it has to be said that the opening of the last performance was drastically more exciting, featuring as it did an atmospheric intro tape and an audience made up of a whole lot more people.

At the time, although the performance was not reviewed, this use of an intro tape seemed a very ambitious and self-assured move, given the band’s youth and lack of experience. However, tonight’s show has no such frills and, in hindsight, this absence will prove most poignant.

Whereas – the first time around – Shelf:Life came across as being uncannily sure of themselves, tonight’s gig sees that attitude stretched dangerously close to the point of arrogance, billed as it is as the band’s Last Hometown Headline Show of 2012.

Let’s just take a wee reality check here…

This isn’t Biffy Clyro performing Blackened Sky in its entirety – in a deliberately intimate venue – in an effort to give something back to their original fanbase; this is a relatively unknown and unsigned band, formed just over a year ago, playing in the biggest venue they can currently hope to come close to filling.

Just saying…

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Covering this gig has been a truly tough task. Shelf:Life are a talented set of musicians with adequate stage presence and some catchy tunes but, in spite of all this, something just doesn’t quite add up.

The performance simply isn’t a visceral or fierce enough experience to live up to their self-imposed hype; there’s enthusiasm but no real sense of urgency or hunger. It very much seems as though they’ve spent so long being told – and telling themselves – they’re the next big thing that they’ve been left with an intrinsic acceptance of their own perceived grandeur and a subsequent lack of that excited fire that propels bands who are just starting out.

Even the part of their set which is supposed to be the heaviest moment – a shouted refrain of “blow my fucking brains out” – lacks any sort of genuine bite. It feels like watching an established band perform a song they’ve played a million times before, having forgotten all the emotion involved in its creation.

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The main problem with the earlier-berated cocky billing is that it suggests a band already scraping the heights of superstardom and the aforementioned lack of past gimmickry reflects this misguided sense of status, as if the amount of effort put forth to make the gig a standout experience is irrelevant because the very presence of Shelf:Life in their ‘hometown’ is enough to draw the crowds and satiate the punters. 

This is risky when you’re still a long way from being an established act, outside of your place of learning.

This aside, however, tonight’s performance is lively and tightly choreographed, with a constant – and undeniably lovable – exuberance emanating from bassist Stuart, who lets rip frequent grinning bellows of “Glasgooooow!”

The music itself is enjoyable enough but, at the same time, nothing you haven’t heard before from other burgeoning Scottish guitar acts. Of course, Twin Atlantic et al have achieved huge levels of success, so it stands to reason that this lot may soon enough be courted by the same moguls currently guiding other such bands on an upwards career trajectory. In fact, the band have been working with Scots engineering maestro Bruce Rintoul on their debut EP.

Another way of wording this would be to explain that Shelf:Life are very good guitar pop music. The inescapable reality that every chorus sounds like an over-indulgent Hogmanay reveller roaring ‘whooooooo-oooooooooah” in varying rhythms according to the song makes the material enjoyably catchy yet unoriginal in the same way that the chorus of every R&B pop song relies on generic auto-tuned lyrics about decadent lifestyles.

They have an accessible, universal appeal because they’re not writing about anything overly challenging or pushing their sound in any new direction. They’re just making a cheerful noise and seemingly having fun while they do so and, in fairness, there’s really nothing wrong with that.

When you add all of this up, it becomes clear that this is a band who are being very shrewdly groomed for success and doing a fairly good job of marketing themselves as a triumph – the gripe about the cocky billing is one that probably wouldn’t occur to the casual punter in for a pint and some music – without actually having achieved a great amount as yet. The question of whether or not they are worthy or capable of such success is a moot point at present, as the current priority for the band should be to work on being – and enjoying being – an unsigned band and finding their own sound.

To give in to these apparent delusions of grandeur and continue to market themselves as more of a success than they actually are could see Shelf:Life rise to great heights of fame. However, it could also see them end up like the musical equivalent of a child actor, bitter and regretful that their premature – perceived or genuine – prominence robbed them of what should have been their golden years.

If you’re immediately huge, you have no glory days of starting out to fondly reminisce about. When bands return to where they started out and play real ‘hometown’ shows, it should be a throwback to the days when such labels were alien concepts to their innocent and exuberant mindset.

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It is essential to note that the songs introduced as the band’s older material – which bring back fairly fond memories from last time around – are much more lively and exciting than their newer material, seeing the band purvey more gratifying levels of energy and vocals which play less heavily on the Scots twang. Perhaps these indicate a time when the band had a more realistic view of where they sat.

Also very impressive is the offering of a free demo CD, which provides a nice change from the typical unsigned artist’s manoeuvre of directing potential new fans towards a Soundcloud or Bandcamp page. As much as it may appear to amount to the same thing, it’s still more gratifying to be handed something tangible.

The crowd in front of the band tonight seem to lap the performance up, especially towards the end of what is undisputedly a back-loaded set, baying for the boys to take their “taps aff” – with drummer Iain happily complying – and enthusiastically chanting the “there’s a creature in the water” refrain of one of the evening’s final songs. This considered, Shelf:Life are clearly popular amongst their peers and are evidently able to entertain an audience.

They could well be destined for great things but it’s up to them whether they play into the hands of those looking for the Next Big Scottish Guitar Act or take the time to have some fun and create their own style and sound.

Definitely one to revisit in future.

Shelf:Life on Facebook

Shelf:Life on Soundcloud