track of the week ~ 'the modern mercury' ~ the sea, close by

by 04:41

Name: The Sea, Close By
Genre: Alt-Rock
For Fans Of: Ben Kweller, The Boxer Rebellion, Charlie Simpson
Location: Ballymena

The first track from Ballymena's finest alt-rock three -piece's debut album, 'The Modern Mercury' is a harmonious-acoustic song of real beauty.

Lyrically we see Greyson at his introspective best. Indeed, from the opening line there's a resonating quality long term fans will immediately gravitate towards;"and everything returns full circle", and so it proves, as 'The Modern Mercury', (in it's echo chamber simplicity), does feel like a homage of sorts to the bands long history. Running via the Paper Man days and Greyson's first band 'Vampires & Secrets', right into the present. Ironic of course, given Greyson himself doesn't even feature vocally once throughout the track, that instead being left to Bassist Kate Cannon's haunting and delicate vocals.

'The Modern Mercury' is The Sea, Close By at their best. Sparse and alluring, it's impossible to say if the rest of the brilliantly titled 'Duke' will be of a similar nature ~ though even if not, this song will remain a testament to the days of busking competitions, bongo drums and long Summer nights spent on acoustic guitars, dreaming of everything.

'So get up and make your bed, start breathing...
there are voices in your head'

If 'Duke' can capitalise on the incredible amount of work they've put in thus far, The Sea, Close By may not have to dream for much longer.

Taylor Johnson

single review ~ 'go' ~ pleasure beach

by 09:29

Name: Pleasure Beach
Genre: Dream-Pop
For Fans Of: CHVRCHES, Arcade Fire, Echosmith
Location: Belfast

Ah, Pleasure Beach. Every so often a band comes around almost fully formed; the look, the style, the sound. To paraphrase Thom Yorke, everything is quite literally in it's right place. With Belfast's newest synth-wave, come dream-pop band, we see a perfect example of that. Teeming with a positively free-state America feel, 'Pleasure Beach' have found a niche within a niche, their own brand of electronica a distinct and fresh approach from what we're used to.

Despite only releasing one single to date (and yet to make their live debut we might add), Pleasure Beach exude a beautiful confidence. Blossoming from a male//female vocal dynamic, debut release 'Go'  resonates like the alternative ending to Arcade Fire's indie classic 'Sprawl ii (Mountains Beyond Mountains)'. It sounds like the end of a Californian pier. Like halcyon days and un-brushed hair. If that makes sense.

As a debut, things couldn't really have gone much better here. Provided Pleasure Beach can follow this up with more original ideas, they could grow to be very, very good indeed.

Taylor Johnson

Check out Pleasure Beach's debut single below⁞►

encore introducing...'rat boy'

by 17:30

Name: Rat Boy
Genre: Grime~Punk//Hip-hop
For Fans Of: SLAVES, Mike Skinner, Jamie T
Location: Essex

There's a sort of 'hip-hop' renaissance taking place across the UK at the minute. Whilst America has always seemed content with it's Kanye's and it's Biggie's, (big names with bigger attitudes), the British fast-talking enthusiasts of this world have always been a tad understated. Be it songs about life's perpetual pointlessness, political grievances or popping pills in a Birmingham nightclub (See "A Grand Don't Come For Free"), on this side of the pond we seem to think deeper and keep things much small scale. Even when tracing it back to Arctic Monkey's groundbreaking debut 'Whatever People...' (heavily influenced by UK garage//grime), it seems we'd rather sing along to the sound of a fight in a taxi rank, than rich blokes sipping champagne in a Jacuzzi. This, is where 19 year old Jordan Cardy comes in.

Fresh onto the grime scene, Essex born Cardy, known as 'Rat Boy', takes that authentic UK hip-hop sound and smothers it in optimism. Rat Boy's latest single, 'Sign On', is a crescendo of electric guitar, melody and a flow so uplifting it makes the dole queue seem almost attractive. Yet disguised within the happy-go lucky nature of Cardy's songwriting lies some pretty tragic truths that will no doubt strike a chord with more than one British teen.

A match made in heaven? Rat Boy & Morrissey
"It won't be long before I sign on, is it right or is it wrong, all my money it's all gone...young, dumb, living off mum, waiting for the right time to come"

It's this happy//sad dynamic which is perhaps his greatest strength. There's a beautiful irony about sounding so triumphant in a shit situation.

Rather brilliantly, Rat Boy lists his only influence as Morrissey; perhaps our greatest maudlin songwriter ever. Knowing that Salford's most famous lad spent many a year signing on, how amazing a moment would it be to see him cover Rat Boy's ode to the economically challenged? Or better yet, a grime version of 'This Charming Man'...stranger things have happened!

Now signed to Parlophone Records, it may be a while yet before you see Rat Boy down your local benefits office. The future looks bright.

Taylor Johnson

Check out the video for Rat Boy's latest single 'Sign On' below⁞►

ready? set, rock ~ the rise & rise of hot cops (chapter 1)

by 17:26

Encore NI would like to extend a massive congratulations to those cheeky otters Hot Cops, a band we have featured many times on the site, for their inclusion in this year's 'Radio 1's Big Weekend' Introducing line-up.

Making some of the most raucous, emotive indie in Britain today, Hot Cops success comes as no surprise. Both lyrically enchanting and sonically haunting in equal measure, they are a band to believe in and something very special indeed.

So bravo Hot Cops. Keep doing your thing and remember to invite us to your future vodka-filled swimming pool parties with Louis Walsh and the dragons from Dragon's Den*.

Taylor Johnson
Encore NI

*Celebrity entourage may vary

single review ~ 'the sea' ~ silences

by 03:50

Name: Silences
Genre: Alt-Indie
For Fans Of: The Thrills, Sigur Ros, Ciaran Lavery
Location: Armagh

Silences just seem to get better and better. The brain child of songwriter-come-front man Conchúr White, each release seems to to shine a little more light on his sepia-toned band. 

'The Sea'  is a delightfully ambient affair, very much in the Sigur Ros mold, if a little more melodic. There's a gloriously affirming rise towards this tracks end which sets it up for stadium heights, even if Silences feel more like a sunshine-festival band. Built around a simplistic acoustic guitar line, Silences again display a truly wonderful appreciation for the little things. For a young band, they found their sound remarkably quickly, a tribute to White's vision. 

Lyrically we again see White at his love-lorn best, a tale of hope, mapped by the water's edge.

 "This ship saw piers, but you know you are its lighthouse, don't you dear?" 

Most impressive of all? 'The Sea' is not a Coldplay styled money-maker. It's an indie song very true to it's writer; but it sounds big. Too big, you feel, to remain only for Northern Irish ears.

Silences are making all the right noises.

Taylor Johnson

(mini) album review ~ 'sea legs' ~ ciaran lavery & ryan vail

by 09:47

Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail
Genre: Sea~Folk
For Fans Of: Damien Rice, Keaten Henson, Tired Pony
Location: Belfast

Ciaran Lavery ~ Facebook//Twitter
Ryan Vail ~ Facebook//Twitter

A collision of worlds. The gentle, rousing voice of Ciaran Lavery, intertwined with the visceral soundscapes of electronic artist Ryan Vail. An intriguing collaboration, not by any means guaranteed success.

This is a record sounding every bit like it's surroundings. Recorded in the beautifully apt rain-drenched tides of Donegal, 'Sea Legs' takes it's listener on a wind swept journey, artfully crafted to a quiet timelessness. The skits which break up the record act like soliloquies, a reminder of where each track starts and duly remains. Subtly broken by low-fi rainfall and the rolling of waves, each and every track on this mini-album maps a new journey, an alternative ending. Yet there remains that North Coast feeling. This could not have been recorded anywhere else and will resonate with those by the sea.

Vocally, Lavery is at his absolute best, particularly on 'Nick Cave's Band'. Vail too, offers some fine backing; no easy feat alongside such a distinguished voice. The balance between this record's spoken word interludes and background noise blends harmoniously, with the acoustic guitar and piano flowing through it. If Damien Rice overindulged on his third major album release last year, Vail and Lavery have went the opposite direction, their minimalist approach evoking a similar ambiance to the near-flawless 'O'.

This is an album of real beauty. A warm release, filled with soulful, touching songs. The only slight disappointment is that Lavery & Vail remain so established in their respective fields. 

If 'Sea Legs' really is a one record project, then what an intensely beautiful legacy to leave.

We hope it's not.

Taylor Johnson

punk rock lives ~ a thank you

by 16:52

Modern Life Is Rubbish wrote it's name into Northern Irish folklore on Friday night, or rather, Serotonin did. Left out of the venue due to difficulties, and facing a room full of their disappointed fans,  the band displayed the sort of steely grit and determination you'd like to think Terri Hooley would approve of. 

Setting up a make shift stage on the terrace of The Granary cafe next door, the band waited patiently as Sister Ghost and Hit The B Button shook The Pavilion to it's foundations inside, both bands creating mosh-pits along the way. As the buzz inside continued to grow, I took to the stage to remind the audience that something special was happening. That history was being made and health and safety regulations ignored. Upon moments of being asked, each person inside made their way to the street and what followed will live long in the memory of all those lucky enough to have seen it.

Storming through what was essentially a 'Greatest Hits' set, Serotonin's ramshackle set-up of acoustic guitars, bongo's, a banjo and the voices of their make-shift choir  filled the night air and got the people dancing. As their loyal fans grew louder, the carnival atmosphere continued spreading down the Ormeau Road. 

As social media began to catch up with what was happening, rumors soon escalated. "'UTV live' are on the way!" cried one passer by, whilst others said the same about the police. As more and more passers by gathered, the noise just got louder. Indeed, one guy ran on 'stage' and promptly whipped his shirt off, somehow capturing the spirit of the evening even further.

Already it's been deemed 'the gig of the year'. To us, it's not about that. It's about that moment, a small act of rebellion against a modern age more concerned about living by the rule book, than freedom of expression. 

It was special and such a pleasure to be a part of. 
Thank you for keeping it real.

Taylor Johnson
Modern life Is Rubbish

track of the week ~ 'redesigned a million times ~ and so i watch you from afar

by 07:26

And So I Watch You From Afar have became one of Northern Ireland's greatest exports. A tidal wave of melodic guitars, over the years we've seen them hover over the borders of math-rock, to Explosions In The Sky level post rock and everywhere in between. We've seen them loose members, re-group and tear apart venues all over the planet. Now back with fourth album 'Heirs', this latest effort, 'Redesigned A Million Times' is possibly our favorite tune of theirs to date. A bold statement? Absolutely. Allow us to explain...

Bursting with melody, 'Redesigned A Million Times' balance of nostalgic synths, arms in the air vitality and that singalong verse//chorus refrain feels like a set clincher. From the very first listen, there's a "sun-down at a festival" feeling that remains impossible to shake. The North Coast four piece, whether consciously or not, seem to have channeled that youthful abandon that only their home town can match, into this four minute blitz.

Even finding room for a classic breakdown, And So I Watch You From Afar's harmonious qualities are often overshadowed, understandably, by their incredible musicianship. Yes, they are quite brilliant. and yes, they've honed their craft to a tee. Though don't let that cloud your enjoyment of what may be the band's best 'song' (not composition) to date.

Taylor Johnson

'loris' go acoustic ~ 'yeah'

by 06:33

Loris' electronic-pop star is in the ascendancy. Buoyed by the phenomenal success of debut Ep 'Yeah', the trio have just been announced for 'The Great Escape' Festival in Brighton, gained significant airplay from BBC Radio 1 and are selling out shows regularly throughout Belfast.

Their latest release, (an acoustic version of their Ep's title track), shimmers with trademark Loris verve, led by Mojo Fury's Mike Mormecha on percussion. Recorded in the tranquil surroundings of Lisburn's beautiful Millbank Studio's, somewhere between the stripped back minimalism, pristine vocals and Summer sunshine, lies a pretty obvious truth.

Loris are excellent. Don't miss out, catch their performance below⁞►

Taylor Johnson

'fairly local' ~ music news

by 04:48

As we sit upon the brink of another find Summer of local music, we felt it would be an ideal time to round up all the amazing things happening across the country right now. So here, in as convenient a list as we could possibly muster, are five things to check out this week...

 1. Hot Cops & Leo Drezden play live session for Smalltown America 

Belfast's Hot Cops rapid ascent into the hearts and minds of the general public took another leap forward recently, as they performed live at Smalltown America HQ alongside Dublin's firmly established hazy rock queens-Leo Drezden. Firing out a selection of old and new tracks, the enormous sounds of 'Decay' and 'Six' closed a special set for the three piece. The label is of course home to the likes of PØRTS, Axis Of & Jetplane Landing; and if this performance is anything to go by, Hot Cops stand up proudly, amongst such elite company. 

Although the live session is no longer available for streaming, keep an eye out on the Smalltown America website for re-releases ~ or go see Hot Cops live. 

In fact, just do that.

2. New Volume Control team continue strong start 

Capitalising on their quality debut gig in the cosy confines of The Oh Yeah Centre, this years new Volume Control team took some of Belfast's finest up North to the Nerve Centre, Derry//Londonderry. Headlined by former Glastonbury performers The Wood Burning Savages, the high quality bill also included Serotonin (playing a selection of new songs alongside fan favorites like 'Cold Coffee'), a significantly funkier  Hurdles and a whirlwind of heavy-energy from R51.

(You can catch Serotonin live at this Friday's installment of 'Modern life Is Rubbish' in The Pavilion Bar, Belfast ~ £5 entry)

3. Matthew Duly unleashes new project...'Shadow Police'

Whitehead based singer-songwriter Matthew Duly's dulcet tones and nostalgic songwriting has never left him short of admirers in the Northern Irish music scene; but last week the man behind the quiff unveiled 'Shadow Police', a two piece dream-pop duo already in possession of a lead single. Rooted somewhere between New Order's chaotic visions and Twenty One Pilot's melody driven chorus', Encore NI fully expects the synth drenched duo to achieve great things.

Hear the track below⁞►

4. 'Jealous Of The Birds' steal the nation's hearts...

A few months ago Naomi Hamilton was just another bedroom musician, making sweet sounds for no one in-particular. Indeed, upon the release of her debut Ep 'Capricorn', the pianist's only ambitions were quite literally "that the songs sound like a real friend talking". 

Just over a month later and her pseudonym  'Jealous Of The Birds' has become the hype act in Belfast, with 'Capricorn' gaining acclaim from everyone from legendary local producer Rocky O'Reilly, to Radio 1's Phillip Taggart. Somewhere between Jealous Of The Bird's sea-breeze melodies and soft, sweet tone lies a darkness more suited to the North Coast, than her native Portadown. With such confidence radiating from these home recordings, a studio release is an exhilarating prospect.

Already gaining interest from the likes of Smalltown America, 'Jealous Of The Birds' is a name worth remembering. Find her debut Ep below⁞►

5. Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail to launch new album 'Sea Legs' on SS Nomadic

Having racked up over 11 million plays on streaming site 'Spotify', there's a certain inevitability to the success of the awesome Ciaran Lavery. Collaborating with electronic Ryan Vail, his latest release 'Sea Legs' promises to be a special record, the acoustic songwriter's craft now molded, it seems, for stadia far beyond our own shores. In such an intimate and unusual setting, this promises to be one of the gigs of the year ~ tickets available now.

Taylor Johnson

ep review ~ 'bomber' ~ robocobra quartet

by 15:57

Name: Robocobra Quartet
Genre: Baroque-Punk
For Fans Of: Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton
Location: Belfast

Oh what I wouldn't give to be one of them. 

To be tied to bohemia's wrist like a lover. To carry books of gravitas down rain splashed side streets. Staring through  every cloud, as my racing mind pours over man (un)kinds greatest musings.To find coffee shops surrounded by books and people who can explain to me why Schrödinger's Cat maybe never died at all. 

This is how I like to imagine the lives of Robocobra Quartet, a four piece no longer shrouded in the mystic veil of 'what's going on here!?'. 

The quirk has died, and alongside it any chance of new Ep 'Bomber' riding off it's predecessor's wit and charm. Choosing a lone marksman as it's protagonist, (note, those hoping for a coming of age//romantic prose may give up now. "Where do the ducks go?" Who the hell cares!) each track on this short release chronicles a story caught somewhere between fantasy and reality.  

'98-01' acts as a bridge from the band's explosive beginnings, as frontman Chris Ryan lays down the type of visceral word-play with which his group have thrived. The electronic sweep percolating it's opening bars is a refreshing change of pace, and though it's unlikely to be a homage to the early 2000's, remains appropriate none the less. Better still, Ryan's trademark delivery continues to evolve here; each gasp, pause and tongue tied soliloquy landing verbal blows to the listener ~ even if you are made to wait for that knock out punch. The premature ending of this song's brilliant, brass breakdown is the only slight frustration on a great opening.

Following on and 'Wicker Bar' see's Robocobra's groove return, Nathan Rogers' bass riff acting as the catalyst for the first real display of Ryan's arsenal of one-liners.

"It pumps 42 million times year round...and I suppose I broke my heart in a literal sense'

As vital to the story as 'Wicker Bar' undoubtedly is, it's this songs flawless transition into the fantastic '80-88' which remains it's most endearing quality. This is despite some fine, synth like effects lurking just beneath the flow of drummer-come-frontman Ryan. By contrast '80-88' is a darker wave of menacing bass, powerful vocals and tension building saxophone. Whilst such theories are often confined to the musical dustbin, it's worth mentioning that there's something distinctly 'Cold War' about this particular song's dark undertones and palpable uncertainty. Are we wrong with that assumption? Almost certainly ~ but that's not the point, keep up!

Final track 'Flickering Blinds' finds our musical hero's at their raw, emotive best. A tune already given a run out in the auspicious confines of the Mandela Hall, this closing number acts brilliantly within or without 'Bomber's patchwork narrative. As close to a musical cliffhanger as sonically possible, Ryan's farewell to his audience see's him proclaim "I watch through flickering blinds...I watch through flickering blinds...". Neither triumphant, or definitive, this final act brings proceedings to the open-ended climax it was crying out for. 

Though not a particularly massive leap away from what we know make's them great, 'Bomber' does answer one vital question. The faith remains. Robocobra Quartet are not short of ideas. 

Sequels rarely outperform their original counterparts. As Robocobra Quartet continue to improve however, 'Bomber 2' may just prove the exception to the rule. If they choose to return here, that is...

Taylor Johnson

'Bomber' is released April 21st

gig preview ~ volume control x set the stage

by 07:03

Two cities. two venues, twelve acts. The Oh Yeah Centre's Volume Control team have done it again, teaming up with the Nerve Centre's Set The Stage project to put on two nights of amazing local music from two of Northern Ireland's most vibrant music cities.

On Friday 10th April, members of the Nerve Centre's Set The Stage team will be heading to Belfast to showcase some of Londonderry's finest talents at the Oh Yeah Centre.  Kicking off the night is acoustic artist Jason Flynn, followed by Shoot TheMessenger, Riot Upstairs and Lost Avenue. Belfast will be represented by the brilliant Foreign Affairs and abandcalledboy.

Then on Saturday 11th April, the team from the Oh Yeah’s event and industry enterprise project Volume Control will make the journey to Londonderry for another full event at the Nerve Centre. Taking to the stage will be acoustic act Cahal, followed by The Clandestines, and Belfast's own Serotonin, R51 and Hurdles. The final performance of the weekend will come from The Wood BurningSavages. Here's our verdict on why the nights are worth going to.

#1 A chance to see new talent from outside of Belfast. 
Oh, Belfast. Our humble capital, which has spawned some of the finest musical talents to come from Northern Ireland. But who would give up the chance to see some emerging talent from the city that gave us The Undertones? Riot Upstairs are a fine example of this, a four piece indie outfit fronted by Hannah Richardson. Their pop-punk influenced tunes are infused with youthful charm, but rest assured, the quartet mean business, as declared in 'Third Round' "We may be cute, but we bite."

#2 Two line ups packed with brilliant bands.
Let's face it, there's nothing worse than going to a gig and having to suffer through dodgy support acts with your best 'I feel sorry for you so I'm going to smile and pretend that I'm enjoying this!' face. There will be no trace of that at these gigs, as every single artist on each bill has been carefully selected to bring you guys the best of authentic local talent. One band guaranteed to impress are Encore NI favourites, R51. Fresh from the Oh Yeah Centre's International Women's Day event, R51 are dedicated to producing hazy dream pop with big hooks and even bigger vocals from frontwoman Melyssa Shannon.

#3 Hearing local talent in intimate venues. There's nothing better than leaving a gig with that sweaty satisfaction that you've had a better night than all of your friends, with the temporary tinnitus and bruises to prove it. Both events at the Oh Yeah Centre and the Nerve Centre offer you the chance to get up close and personal with some brilliant bands in venues that have seen not only local acts but huge UK bands from Kasabian to The 1975.

Both gigs are open to all ages, and entry is £5. Doors 7pm, with an early finish at 10.30pm. For more information visit the Volume Control Facebook.

Lauren Johnson

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