ep review ~ 'waves collide' ~ gnarkats

by 08:57
For fans of: Mojo Fury, Havana House Party, General Fiasco

Sometimes things just fall in to place. Though the number of boats missed by promising bands over the years is heartbreaking, something, somewhere ensured that this year would not be the same for Belfast's Gnarkats. Slots at Spectrum Festival alongside a rejuvenated Mojo Fury, loyal audiences in attendance at an ever growing number of their shows and warm praise from everyone from BBC Radio Ulster, to The Thin Air have saw this band go from nowhere to become Belfast regulars in the space of a year. Encore NI had a listen to their hotly anticipated debut EP 'Waves Collide'...

One listen in and the only thing obvious about Gnarkats music is their absoloute refusal to follow the indie rule book. With the shortest song on this record coming in at an impressive 4 and a half minutes, it's clear this is a band with something to say and once more, they say it with passion. An intriguing blend of riff heavy rock and indie hooks, they've carved out a sound championed by the likes of the much loved Havana House Party, amongst others. That's not the only thing they share with their Antrim contemporaries, and just as their EP 'Demons' soundtracked much of 2011, Gnarkats are hoping their newest effort can do the same for 2017.

The forboding rumble of 'Running From You' sets the tone for an EP dancing between menace and melody, the lyrics often alluding to something darker beneath frontman Caolan McAuley's assured vocal. The subtle piano line in the chorus adds a nostalgic twist to a dark pop song.

'Can You Feel It' offers similar sentiments, but with a melody more immediately enchanting. Bouncing at the pace of a maudlin General Fiasco, it's in a straight fight with the swirling title track which succeeds it for the highlight of the EP. Beginning life as an ambient pop song in the mould of Go Wolf or Beauty Sleep, 'Waves Collide' builds to a triumphant close via ASIWYFA and A Plastic Rose, ending up somewhere in between. It's ridiculous and pulsating in equal measure, the sound of a band having the time of their lives, recording songs that feel like genuine insights into those lives.

(Photo by Chordblossom)
Then comes 'Sorry', an epic seven minute finale filled with gang vocals, dance worthy riffs and the carnival atmosphere that has followed this band at every gig they've played this year. There's even room for a sample of the iconic 'I'll give you the moon' scene from 'It's A Wonderful Life', previously hidden by Modern Baseball for a similarly emotional effect on 'How Do I Tell A Girl I Want To Kiss Her?'. On both occasions the moment has been perfect, the songs have been right and for Gnarkats it brings down the curtain in triumphant fashion.

By the end of it all you can't help but feel you've been taken on a journey by Gnarkats, one you'll be revisiting more than once.

Taylor Johnson

'Waves Collide' is released this Friday.

record of the week | '3am rituals' | girlfriend

by 09:43

Girlfriend ~ '3am Rituals'
For fans of: Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia, Sister Ghost, The Smiths

When  My Bloody Valentine released 'Loveless', their sonic tsunami of a second album into the world, an unsuspecting public wasn't sure how to react. Trawling through the archives, one review compared it to 'A beautiful bomb, going off right in front of me' and it is with this in mind that we fast forward nearly 25 years later to the present day. 

Same city, different times, and as everything in the world continues to alter at a rapid pace, four young women in the north of Dublin refuse to accept the grim reality they are confronted; the result? '3am Rituals', their debut EP...

Opening with the raucous 'Kill Them All (Your Feelings)', the punk that lies at the heart of Girlfriend's music is given centre stage, with singer Hana Lamari's vocals cutting through a wall of distorted guitars. What's clear from early on is Girlfriend's unwillingness to channel any one genre or sound, an attitude '3am Rituals' benefits from to no end. Whilst the grit of Lamari's vocals command your attention, Girlfriend leave enough melody to keep this overdriven track firmly in your consciousness. There's echoes too of 'All We Know Is Falling' era Paramore, but with significantly more vitriol on display.

'Don't Come To My Funeral' then marks a complete change of pace, highlighting the versatility of this band. Be it a quiet lament to self doubt or an untouchable fear of the dark. it makes for one hell of a tune. Layered upon delicately haunting vocals and sounding straight off of a 'Meat is Murder' bootleg. This is followed by 'Pissbaby', the hidden gem of an EP full of them. The eclectic nature of this EP continues, as the songs central 90's fuzzed out riff floats through Lisa Rogers' hypnotic bass line. This is the track which had me falling in love with Girlfriend, and after repeated listens that love only strengthens.

'Nirvana Lodge' is a terrifying poem set to the most foreboding of riffs imaginable as Hana Lamari nearly breaks down at the mic, living inside the abstract world Girlfriend have painted themselves. Make no mistake, it's a fucked up tale, and makes no apologies for it.

"and he hates her, and he loves her"

'The Stuff You Think About Late At Night and Never Tell Anyone About' is the track most indebted to the EP's title, both in nature and sentiment. A dark glimpse into a haunted mind, the screams in the background make this entrancing listen hard to stomach, the pain is visceral, the scars still visible. Building to a crescendo their Dublin counterparts My Bloody Valentine would have been proud of, this may be the most brutally honest song of the year. Comprising of arguably the best lyrics on the record ("There's safety in self-destruction, because at least you know where you're gonna go"), 'The Stuff You Think About Late At Night..." will live with you long after you finish listening to this very important record.

In an ever changing world we need more beautiful bombs to explode around us. '3am Rituals' is one such beautiful bomb.

Taylor Johnson

slow dance to sad rock ~ two bands and an indie revival

by 12:24

Stepping on stage within the sweaty confines of Voodoo in Belfast at the end of this Summer, Philadelphia's Modern Baseball didn't look like a band carrying the weight of an entire movement on their shoulders.

Finally crossing the finish line of a month long UK and Ireland tour for their latest album 'Holy Ghost', the four young American's looked much like the adoring crowd gathered in front of them, albeit with more shorts on display. Quirky tee's (drummer Sean Huber sported his iconic 'Up the fucking Lagan!' number two nights in a row), baseball caps and the sort of exhausted happiness that Belfast audiences seem to radiate so naturally, this was a special night in every sense. Three years earlier they played the same venue, to a much smaller crowd and though reports from that night remain sketchy, the reaction of pure euphoria they generated seems to have been the same as that warm night in Belfast. Having followed this special band through each of their Irish tour dates, I witnessed first hand the kind of joy their sad songs inspired in people of all ages, race and social group. Modern Baseball's deeply personal songs, held (and continue to hold) universal appeal.

Pure joy...Modern Baseball

Roughly 49 miles away from their native Philadelphia, in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, lifelong friends Brian Sella and Mat Uychich were making similarly emotional indie-folk-pop in their bedrooms. Eventually evolving into the four piece they are today, The Front Bottoms would go on to become the other half of 2016's emo-movement, both bands crowning their rapid ascent with the coveted support slots for emo-pioneers Brand New on their (at time of writing) latest arena tour. These were two bands that started by picking up guitars at house parties and playing anywhere with a floor to sleep on; but just how have these two most unlikely groups rise so quickly? Here Encore NI offer's some potential answers...

1. Thoughtful Lyricism.

Whilst both bands find writing a killer hook as natural as breathing, a more important detail of the 'Mobo'/ 'Front Bottoms' story revolves around their use of the English language. Both bands write songs people want tattooed on their skin forever. Can their be a bigger compliment?

If lager-loving hedonism defined the 90's before them, then sensitivity, nostalgia and love-lorn regret may well define the present. If you are to compare how both bands chose to open their debut studio albums, the regret-tinged parallels are clear.

"Please fall asleep so I can take pictures of you and hang them in my room, so when I wake up I'll be like 'yeah, everything's alright' "
~ The Front Bottoms, 'Flashlight'

"I wanna start from the top, maybe like a do-over, replace the voices in my head with blind innocence..."
~ Modern Baseball, 'Re-do'

The Front Bottoms released their debut album in 2011, to a limited reaction. Any reviews they did receive all seemed to follow a similar pattern, best summed up by Sputnik Music contributor Sean Q who wrote; "despite all of the laughs that the quirky indie-pop duo might produce, the emotional response from this album is nothing less than overwhelming."

The following year Sputnik Music would cement their position as the pioneering website of this new emo-movement, becoming one of the first music sites to review Modern Baseball's debut 'Sports'. Just as The Front Bottoms did a year earlier, Mobo had a limited, but positive reaction, their lyrics also singled out for special mention.

"The lyrical concepts don't seem particularly unusual for this genre of music, but the way they are written is unique."

Just as The Smiths and The Cure had entwined humor with tragedy years before them, so it seems Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms do to. Take 'Father' from The Front Bottoms debut, a song that could just as easily been from the pen of Morrissey, as it could The Mountain Goats.

"I have this dream that I am hitting my dad with a baseball bat and he is screaming and crying for help, and maybe halfway through it has more to do with me killing him, than it ever did protecting myself."

2. The World Today ~ Contemporary Issues.

Neither Modern Baseball or The Front Bottoms are political bands. You won't hear any slogans in their lyrics a-la-Manic Street Preachers and you'd be hard pressed to find a member from either contingent endorsing anything more than Ian Farmer's 'Cherry-Cola' t-shirt. That said, when there's a big issue in the wider world to be addressed, neither are likely to go hiding either.

Take The Front Bottom's 'Handcuffs' for example. A fan favourite from the split EP they released with rapper GDP in 2015, it's the story of a young man's fight against the system after killing a police officer during a violent arrest. 

Modern Baseball can also hit hard when the moment is right. For their contribution to the "30 Days, 30 Songs" playlist in October of this year they wrote 'Bart To The Future Part 2: The Musical' a track containing the lines:
"Trump Goes To Tucson
The tick, tick, click of the stink bomb
Three weeks time till tour takeoff
And I, Turn on the TV
File for divorce from my country"

3. A hope for the future.

There's never been a greater focus on mental health in the world than right now. New statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) shows that today suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, In 2014 UK based charity Samaritans recorded 6,581 suicides in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland alone.   Modern Baseball's co-frontman Brendan Lukens has been incredibly open about his own personal battles with anxiety and depression; not just in his lyrics, but in the mini-documentary 'Tripping in the Dark', where Luken's goes into serious details about the silent battles he faced in the years leading to and during the recording of Holy Ghost.

There was a time when mental health was never mentioned in the music industry, or indeed any industry. Thankfully Mobo and The Front Bottom's openness on such subjects keeps a door once shut, now firmly open.

4. Perfect timing.

At a time when bands that once carried the emo-torch began either disappearing or growing increasingly irrelevant, Mobo and The Front Bottoms filled this very particular hole. Whilst bands like Dashboard Confessional gradually lost touch with a new generation and others, like Paramore for example, began either loosing members or breaking up entirely, there was a space for some plucky young upstarts to follow in their footsteps. Batter up!

Tour Hotline ~ a hotline fans can text or call during a show if they feel unsafe in the crowd

5. Unstoppable songwriting.

In ten years time, when the musical landscape has shifted once more and bands playing in their bedrooms tonight are selling out arenas, what remains from any era are the songs; and at the heart of both of these bands are back catalogs to rival any.

For every person crammed into rooms across the United States and beyond to see these bands, sing their words and forget who they are for a night, that is what will live longer in the memory than anything else.

There may be no reason for their success truer than this, and long may it continue.

Taylor Johnson
If you like these bands why not try ~

Junk Drawer ~ Belfast

Sleeping Outside ~ North Coast

Hot Cops ~ Belfast

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