live review ~ shark week ~ maddens, antrim & our 50th review

by 11:36

More than a year ago, when I was just beginning to delve into the world of local music journalism, I went to see a young band in a tiny venue in Antrim's high street, not knowing what to expect, nor how I would be able to describe it to an audience I couldn't be sure would even care about what I had to say. Months (and 49 live, EP and album reviews) later and Encore NI is going stronger than ever, as e continue to help promote as many promising local bands as possible. It's given me the chance to interview some of my favorite bands and even travel across to England and Scotland to record with companies as respected as the BBC. Which is why, as we approach our 50th official review, It's appropriate that I should find myself going full circle and ending up at the exact same pub to watch that very band. Their name was Shark Week and tonight they return with a new sound, a new line up and a new found determination to finally break their way in to the countries growing list of potential success stories...

As the opening bars to that iconic fast paced drum beat rang out, the fortunate punters in Maddens Bar last night seemed to immediately take notice, and with good reason too. For this was the long awaited return of local hero's 'Shark Week', once the regular house band that had the people of Antrim jumping at will and screaming with approval. After a long hiatus of constant writing, meticulous attention to detail and the small matter of a major line up change, the self proclaimed 'Shark Week mark ii' had a lot to prove and an even greater desire to do just that. This iconic drum beat was swiftly followed by the delicate precision of new member Kate Cannon's powerful bass line as the band re-entered their rightful spot as headliners with a cover of Joy Division's 'Disorder'. A bold choice by any means, but particularly for a band looking to re-establish themselves on a crowd that can be hostile at the best of times. This brave opener also seemed to signify a new found intent, as although the guitar still maintained it's trademark Hendrix styled tone and the thunderous drumming of Timmy Burns remained as energetic as ever, there was a certain calm and quiet sophistication to their sound that you can't quite imagine the Shark Week of old ever wanting to attain. They seemed more in control than ever before, a clever irony considering the very name of the song they were playing.

As the gig progressed as too did Shark Week's confidence, as the three piece started to really push their explosive elements to the limit. Covers of ‘Thee Oh Sees’, as well as startlingly arranged instrumentals provided a relaxed counter melody to the garage rock roots that still remain at the heart of Shark Week’s set up. One particularly seemed to mesmerize the audience, as front man Milo Dunn-Clarke demonstrated his incredible creativity by using a capo in the place of the usual bottle neck for an outstanding demonstration of slide guitar. After which he casually remarked, ’That’s what capos are really used for…’. Other originals, including the brilliantly titled ‘There’s A Cat In The Kitchen, How’d It Get There?’ gave off a distinctly Blur styled sound, as the mellow waves of intricate guitar riffs provided Dunn-Clarke's deadpan delivery the perfect back drop with which to really shout at the audience with as much passion as deemed necessary. One of the highlights of what was an enthralling set however, came in the form of the last song on the set. Perhaps as a final nod to the Shark Week of old, the band played out a note perfect cover of Rage Against The Machines ‘Bullet In The Head’. Sparking several members of the crowd into a miniature mosh pit, the pure energy of the song even saw one fan jump on stage, grabbing the mic to join Dunn-Clarke in a faultless duet of the songs angst filled, rapid rap verses.

As the band looked to leave the stage once more, the familiar cries of ‘One more tune!’ rang out, as they went straight into The White Stripes classic ‘Ball and Biscuit’. Again, it was of the quality of a band in the midst of a massive tour, with the energy of an opening night. Yet, this was in reality a band who had been off of the gigging circuit for much too long.

It could easily be argued that this was Shark Week picking up from where they left off all those months ago, I however, saw a band looking for reinvention, rather than a triumphant homecoming. The most impressive aspect of their set lies in the fact that anyone hoping for the psychedelic tinged band of old will not have gone home disappointed, and yet, the added sophistication of their new found sound has the appeal to capture a brand new audience in the process. Shark Week are finally out of transition and their future looks much stronger for it.

Taylor Johnson.

Stand out tracks; ‘There’s A Cat In The Kitchen’ / ‘Disorder (Joy Division cover) / ‘Bullet In The Head’ (Rage Against The Machine cover)

If You Like; Nirvana, Kings Of Leon (Aha Shake Heartbreak era), Pixies ~ You'll love Shark Week

Keep up to date with Shark Week on the links below…

single review ~ "symmetry and correlation" ~ freak's

by 13:08
'Symmetry and Correlation' is out now...

Strabane is admittedly, not particularly renowned for it's musical heritage which makes the discovery of alt-rock four piece "Freak's" all the more intriguing. Adopting their name from the fantastically punctuated graffiti of the same name in the town itself, Freak's have quietly went about building a solid fan base alongside the likes of 'Those Ghosts' and 'White Male Actors', as they work to change the perceptions of a town with a lot of potential. Taylor Johnson had a listen to their single 'Symmetry and Correlation'...

A fast tempo'd bass line acts as a polished introduction to the latest alternative outfit to emerge from Strabane's new generation of rock acts. With the unmistakable tone of a 'Black Holes and Revelations' era Muse, it simply pinpoints from early on that 'Freak's', despite their fun loving and carefree nature, are a band that mean business. Soon complimented by a soothing overlaid guitar riff, the entire emphasis of the track is shifted from the dynamic to the melodic, as front man Ronan Duffy's delicate vocal set's the beautifully complex scene of 'two souls entwined in perfect correlation'. 

In terms of emotive, thought provoking lyricism, Freak's seem to be in their element and as the track continues as too does the intrigue and introspection. 'Together, we'll's better not to grow old here...'

The tracks brilliantly executed breakdown of soaring guitar riffs and almost floating vocal melody gives the second half a particularly serene quality, not dissimilar to The Velvet Underground in their free flowing prime. Throughout, Freak's solid bass and drum beat backbone allows 'Symmetry and Correlation' to flourish, particularly the distinctly 90's styled lead guitars, that works to give the track it's feelgood finish.

At it' best, 'Symmetry and Correlation' could easily have been the work of a young Thom Yorke, but what truly marks Freak's out as a band to watch out for is their ability to create a track with enough of an anthemic quality to entertain a thousand strong festival crowd, yet equally be enjoyed as the soundtrack to a relaxing evening at home.

Freak's are the sound of rose tinted nostalgia. A truly exciting prospect.

~Taylor Johnson

If You Like ~ The Velvet Underground, Bombay Bicycle Club, Band Of Horses ~ You'll love Freak's.

Keep up to date with all Freak's news on the links below...

& Listen to the single below...

single of the week ~ shark week ~ 'the mice'

by 07:45

After nearly three months left in the wilderness of the Northern Irish indie-rock scene, Antrim's most promising prodigal sons of rock and roll have slowly began to reemerge from their temporary hiatus to reclaim the hype left in their exciting wake. Expectation was high for the bands latest EP 'Dumo', the psychedelic follow up to their much talked about debut, but amidst an unfortunate build up of working commitments, higher education and abandoned recording sessions 'Dumo' was never fully released. Now though, armed with a new set of water tight covers and a revitalised  sound, Shark Week are back on the gigging circuit. Through the cloud of uncertainty that followed that hectic initial period however, came the release of two new tracks from the 'Dumo' sessions, 'Bedtime' and the anthemic 'The Mice', the latter of which we felt couldn't be overlooked as our 'Track of the Week'. Taylor Johnson had a listen...

Opening as serenely as they don't mean to go on, 'The Mice' fades into life as nonchalantly as a band in rehearsal for  a non-existent gig. Yet it's this relaxed demeanor, and the resulting relaxed vibes which follows, that set Shark Week apart from their contemporaries. They don't need an all guns blazing introduction to capture an audience, rather it's this hypnotic effect which immediately drags you into proceedings. The Pixies styled bass line executed by Andrew Burns drives the beat of the song forward, perfectly complimenting the palm muted reverb of  front-man Milo Dunn-Clarke's lead guitar. Dunn-Clarke's unique vocal delivery is also brilliantly utilised, guiding the songs complex lyricism and grunge tinged arrangement to it's now trademark  breakdown of thunderous drums and White Stripes-esque guitar work.

As the track continues, the engaging rhythms and evocative progressions which gave the intro it's spark never once threatens to fade out, instead only growing in stature. Which leads to the next explosion of sound. Rounding off the verses with the passion filled precision of a 'Aha Shake Heartbreak' era Kings of Leon, Dunn-Clarke rattles out the final verse of 'even you must see the demise..." before the entire tangent of the track is ripped apart and replaced with the organised chaos of a band in full flow. A quick build up from the impeccable Timmy Burns acts as the interlude for some terrifyingly impressive guitar solos, as Shark Week continue to step up the tempo of a track clearly created with the artistic merit of a band with nothing to prove but everything to gain. Fading out with a slightly slowed, but none the less impressive crescendo of roaring feedback and dynamic riffs, "The Mice" could well be the track that pushes Shark Week out of the underground and in to the mainstream. As long as they want it to.

Based on this evidence, it's utterly perplexing to think why Shark Week aren't yet one of the biggest names of the local music scene.

Taylor Johnson.

If You Like; Sonic Youth, Pixies, Kings Of Leon (early years) ~ You'll Love Shark Week.

Keep up to date with Shark Week on the links below...


live review ~ david c clements ~ the limelight, belfast

by 08:31

It's very unusual for a gig review to ever be written in two parts, but on this occasion I felt an exception had to be made. In support of the awesome 'Levity Breaks' came one of the local music scenes most respected and loved singer-songwriters on the circuit, (fans include Tired Pony and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody amongst others) ex 'Six Star Hotel' frontman David C Clements. Fresh from a live session on Radio Ulster's 'Across The Line', David was in stunning form, providing a most fitting introduction for what was a fine night for Northern Irish music...

From the moment David C Clements took to the stage it was evident he was an artist in a good place. Looking relaxed and confident, he opened his set in stunning fashion,  enchanting a large Limelight crowd as soon as his delicate, soaring vocals echoed through the Limelight's stone walls. Clement's pristine vocals were reminiscent of Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold, while his energetic backing band provided the indie styled back bone of Texas' post rockers 'Explosions In The Sky'. An enthralling concoction of overflowing melody, that seemed to genuinely move some members of the audience.

Clements sweet blend of atmospheric ambiance was gently fused with flourishes of melodic rock, a combination utilised to perfection in tracks like 'On The Border' with the sort of singalong chorus's to make the leap into the playlists of mainstream, contemporary radio on a national scale.

The highlight of a mesmerising set came through the last track. Delivered like a sonic wave washing over the venue, 'Hurricanes' (The opener to 'The Longest Day In History' EP) seemed to scale the ambient heights reached only by Icelandic 5 piece 'Sigur Ros' in recent years. Executed in a frenzy of passion, Clement's ability to maintain his calm demeanor throughout the explosion of sound which surrounded him, was incredible. Like watching a performance through the eye of a storm.

David C Clements is an artist destined for success beyond the confines of these shores, but until that day (which may come through the release of a highly anticipated solo album) we should be extremely grateful to have him. If you get the chance to see him live, take it. It may be a lot more difficult to do so in future.

Taylor Johnson

If you like ~ Fleet Foxes, Bon Ivor, Sigur Ros | You'll love David C Clements

Keep up to date with all of David's offical news on the links below...

David C Clement's EP, 'The Longest Day In History' is out now...

gig review ~ levity breaks ~ the limelight, belfast

by 19:17

As the final tireless melody plays out on 'Water Runs Dry', it's difficult to believe that 'Maudlin' is simply the debut of one of Belfast's most popular alternative rock bands, Levity Breaks. Since their formation in mid 2010, the band have been touted for great things. Expectations were high when two years later, they began work on the debut that never was, their 'Broken Hands EP'. After discontent over the production of the tracks, the almost complete recordings were shelved and the breakthrough that many on the local scene expected was pushed further back. That is until early this year, when a sporadic post on the bands Facebook page showed that they had just entered the studio once again. Ending in the knowledge that there was, 'Nothing to report, other than it's going very well', the hope and optimism surrounding a Levity Breaks record were once again rejuvenated in emphatic fashion. As the year progressed, the finishing touches were added and the final beats played out - all leading to tonight, as Taylor Johnson headed to the Limelight for the official launch of the long awaited 'Maudlin' EP.

As Levity Breaks entered the stage their determination was as evident as ever. Intro-ing with a Depeche Mode styled build up, the band eased into proceedings in an explosion of anthemic rock. The bands big sound was delivered with feeling and emotion, their timing and rhythm never missing a beat, despite intricate interplay between the delicately utilised synth and it's overlaying lead guitar counterpart. Amongst the groups  singalong styled melodies and big hitting chorus's came the subtle use of piano, capturing the personal touches and intimate feelings on which the songs were no doubt written on. As the night progressed, Levity Breaks purveyed this further, bringing a violinist on stage to great effect for tracks like 'Home and the Wolf'.

Drummer Eamon Lenehan stole a lot of the plaudits as the show progressed, particularly for tracks like 'First Word', with it's beautifully high tempo arrangement juxtaposing brilliantly with the resonating synth which dances through it. New track, 'The Floor' was also a crowd favorite, at times sounding like a Tired Pony track that had been rearranged with an indie twist. Title track 'Maudlin' also went down a storm, it's catchy melody and hook heavy arrangements getting the audience dancing and fist pumping in equal measure.

The eclectic nature of Levity Breaks set  meant that, at times, they looked like the closest this country has came to filling the gap left by the hugely inspirational A Plastic Rose and yet, at other stages, their electronic nature marked them as The Wonder Villains older, worldlier brother. An unusual and exciting combination.
As the band left the stage to the reception of a band playing the final night of a major tour, an encore was inevitable and an encore is exactly what the hugely pumped up crowd received. It was one of the most loving and passionate gigs I'd been too in a long time and a testament to Levity's character and talent that they have not only maintained the hype of their first recording sessions, but improved it greatly. With their dynamic vocal harmonies, honest lyricism and anthemic sonic landscape, it seems Levity Breaks are a band destined for the stadium circuit.

Taylor Johnson.

If you like; Cry Before Dawn, Snow Patrol, Editors | You'll love Levity Breaks

Keep up to date with all official Levity Breaks news on the links below...

Official Website

'Maudlin' is out now...

ep review ~ hurdles ~ 'where to start'

by 07:21

For many years the fast paced riffs of the 'indie-rock' scene had been the only genre that continually eluded the diverse musical landscape of Belfast. Recently, however, a distinct group of bands have begun to pick up the baton thrown down in recent years by the likes of The (early) Arctic Monkeys, The Twang and Franz Ferdinand. Paving the way for the Northern Irish indie outfit, have been undoubtedly Two Door Cinema Club, who's melodic jangle and polished tones have sound-tracked many a teenage sit-com. Belfast's newest purveyors of indie rock, 'Hurdles' seem to be blazing their own trail, still very much in the 'indie' category, but with an added depth and back beat that has seen the hype for their debut Ep, 'Where To Start' sky rocket, despite being one of the countries newest bands. Taylor Johnson had a sneak preview of what's in store...

Opening with the appropriately titled 'Intro', Hurdles debut Ep certainly starts as it means to go on. The technical brilliance of drummer Ross Haymes is only eluded to in the opening bars, as steady interplay between the drum and bass look to create a sense of anticipation. As a gentle, yet menacing guitar riff begins to build towards the first crashing climax of the Ep, it's the bands tight rhythm section that suitably set up whats in store. As the upbeat riff is left to resonate around the bands confident and dynamic approach, it paves the way for the title track, 'Where To Start'. Built on the kind of exciting flourishes that ensured The Strokes classic debut 'Is This It' was as influential as it was, the track beautifully sets a positive and bright tone, Nial Hanna's emotive croon proving a stunning and harmonious contrast that helps to bring the passion of the track alive. Haymes drumming again provides an incredibly strong back bone to proceedings, but the most impressive aspect lies in the bands ability to capture the energy and enthusiasm of their live performances on record - the unfortunate downfall of many promising local acts. As the song bounces along to it's climax, the bar is immediately set very high through a beautifully energised opening.

This is followed by 'Roadrunner', a slightly slower riff driven piece, that importantly looses none of the previous tracks rhythmic backbeat or punchy finish. The inclusion of subtle harmonic bells highlights a fragility to the bittersweet lyrics of isolation that course through the heart of the song. 'Back on my own, it won't make sense...', again setting Hurdles apart from many of the two dimensional pop-styled lyrics they could so easily have fallen into. A well constructed break down leads to a crescendo of crashing drums and emotive guitar solos, not disimilar to a Sam's Town-era Killers.

The synth lead ending of Roadrunner then drifts seamlessly into the Ep's lead single, 'Control'. Eoin Bleeks complex bass lines are given centre stage here, as Hurdles look to kick things up a gear. At times, the ethereal qualities of 'Control' give it a Cure like relaxation, that always looks likely to burst into life. Hanna's vocal delivery remains as committed as ever, gently weaving through the indie riff undercurrent. Indeed, the Bombay Bicycle styled refrain of  'If I could just control you, If I could just control...' may be one of Hanna's strongest and most serene deliveries of the Ep, the highnote within it as engaging as any on the indie market to date. 'Control' shows the groups ability to create an authentically original and indie styled track with enough commercial appeal to be played on any major radio station. Even the rockier breakdown towards the end of the song only serves to enhance the bands sound, adding yet another accolade to their diverse sound.

The record is then finished in style with the awesome 'Ruthless'. A seemingly obvious choice for single, delicate pop hooks are scattered over one of the catchiest guitar riffs your likely to hear this year. Fast paced and incredibly invigorating, 'Ruthless' channels all of Hurdles most melodic and vibrant qualities into a track of real style. As the singalong chorus of 'Far below, under the ocean, burning up, under the sun' plays out, the joy of Hurdles sunny disposition is emphasized once more. A wonderful ending, to a brilliant debut.

With a well developed sound and growing fan base, Hurdles have found the perfect balance between highly charged, indie optimism and effortless charisma.

If this is where Hurdles have decided to start, I predict a very bright future indeed for Belfast's most exciting band.

Review by Taylor Johnson.

If you like; Los Campesinos!, The Strokes, (Early) The Killers | You'll love Hurdles

Check out Encore NI's exclusive interview with Hurdles here.

Keep up to date with the band on the links below...

'Where To Start' will be released on October 10th ~ With a launch gig at The Speakeasy in Belfast.

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