Saturday, 16 July 2016

Martha - Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

DIY indie-punks Martha's second full-length album, Blisters in the Pit of my Heart, is finally here, and it doesn't disappoint. After such a strong debut with Courting Strong, it must be a relief for the band to have successfully overcome the second-album-hurdle.

The album opens with the energetic Christine, setting the tone with it's urgent cry of "I've been messed up in the head since I finished watching Threads",  followed by Chekhov's Hangnail, a song that manages to make the line "when it rains, well it really fucking pours" sound beautifully sincere.

It's chaotic without ever missing a beat, the spiky riffs reminding me of bands like Helen Love, Bis and Kenickie. Their trademark harmonies, with all four members singing lead on different tracks, are still one of the bands most defining features, and one of the things that made me first fall in love with them.

Storytelling is also something Martha have proven themselves to be good at, and that side of them gets a chance to shine too, especially on Goldman's Detective Agency, which sees the band re imagining 19th century anarchist Emma Goldman as a private investigator, dedicated to stopping corruption.

Ice Cream and Sunscreen is definitely a standout track; clocking in at just over two minutes, it darts across the spectrum of human emotion without ever stopping for breath, as well as providing the catchy refrain that gives the album its title.

Like everything Martha does, it leaves you desperately wanting more. I love bands who aren't ashamed to sing in their own accents, and Martha's Durham-voices combine perfectly with the sincerity of their personal-meets-political lyrics to produce a sound that is distinctly their own.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Happy Accidents - You Might Be Right

I always love it when bands manage to successfully combine melancholy lyrics with happy, poppy melodies, and, with their debut album, Happy Accidents prove themselves to be one of those bands. Opening track But You're Probably Wrong sets the tone, with its hook-laden introspective lyrics; "In a world where it's look down upon to vent, so much of worth will not be said."

Lyrically, a recurring theme of this album seems to be how to live alongside unpleasant situations. With most songs, there's an underlying sense of unease that you can apply them to either the world as a whole, or to a more personal experience like dealing with social anxiety. As a socially anxious person myself, Leaving Parties Early strikes a particular chord in me as Rich sings "I'm left wondering if there's something wrong with me."

Facts and Figures sees Phoebe's vocals being pushed to the forefront, and seems to be becoming more relevant each day in this country: "Impossible scene pervading every room I'm in / But if it wasn't routine, not sure that I'd be functioning."

The band strip things back on I Can't Wait To Get The Hell Away From You, which shows off Rich's ability to expose his innermost feeling while still remaining beautifully articulate.

If you're an indie-pop fan who hasn't checked out Happy Accidents yet, then get on it, especially if you're into bands like Martha, Johnny Foreigner, Colour Me Wednesday and Great Cynics.

Happy Accidents are a band that prove you can still have fun while talking about more serious subjects. They wear their insecurities on their sleeves, and by doing so, their album makes you feel less alone in your own struggles.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Martha + Grotbags + Doe + T-Shirt Weather - Soup Kitchen, Manchester

After narrowly missing out on seeing Martha last year (car problems), I think it's safe to say I was sufficiently excited about finally seeing them tonight.
T-Shirt Weather were the first band on, and had me hooked straight away. I hadn't had a chance to listen to them before tonight, but I'd read good things about them, and wasn't disappointed. For anyone else who hasn't yet heard them, they're a pop-punk band from Durham. And I mean, like good pop-punk.

Does anyone remember when Sky had a channel called P-Rock? I used to love that channel, and listening to T-Shirt Weather was like watching all my pop-punk faves again, but without the underlying misogynistic lyrics that I chose to blissfully ignore. I'll definitely be listening to more of these guys.
Next up was Doe, who I'm already a big fan of. Having just announced the release of their debut album in September, tonight's set list gave us a taster of what to expect (perfection, basically). If you like the sound of their track Sincere which was put online this week, then you'll love it. Their songs manage to be upbeat and danceable, with the 2-guitars-no-bass setup often lending itself to an underlying tension reminiscent of early Sleater-Kinney.

The venue didn't really start to fill-up til towards the end of Doe's set, which is a shame because they (and T-Shirt Weather) definitely deserved a bigger crowd.
Grotbags came out to a now-packed room. Describing themselves as "two big lads and two streaks of piss", they delivered a set of solid pop-punk, ending with a cover of Little Mix's Black Magic. As their name, self-description and choice of cover may suggest, Grotbags seem very much about just having some fun, and that feeling transferred well from the stage and into the crowd.
Finally, it was time for Martha. Their soon-to-be-released new album Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart has been streaming online all week, and I'd be surprised if anyone in the room hadn't been listening to it in preparation, as each new track was greeted like an old favourite, as they kicked things off with Christine and Chekhov's Hangnail.

Meanwhile, staples like 1997, Passing In The Hallway and Bubble In My Bloodstream had everyone shouting along.
The drum kit, with it's play on one of Martha's lyrics, had served as a reminder all night of how downhill things have gone in this country in the space of a week. I can't imagine many Right-leaning people feeling at home at a Martha gig, so I think it's safe to say that there was a universal sense of anxiety, anger and a need to just be around people who share your point of view.

This was reflected by the band, as JC admitted to wishing he had something positive to say about it, but not knowing what he could possibly say. For 45 minutes though, Martha managed to make the world feel like it was an okay place and reminded me why I love their music so much.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Forgotten Pop Stars: Leilani

Obscure and/or forgotten about pop stars are one of my favourite things in the world. THE WORLD. That's why I've decided to add a new regular feature to this blog, where I pick from the huge list I've compiled and feature one of these long-forgotten gems of the music world.

My first pick? LEILANI.
Yep, in 1999, Leilani happened. Clad in fishnets and goggles, for a short time, she would regularly show up on the likes of CD:UK and Top Of The Pops. She was briefly signed to ZTT and released three of the most magnificent pop songs of all time, the first of which was Madness Thing.
I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate the lyrical genius within this song - "When your boyfriend comes home early to find you sucking on a Curly Wurly; don't you just hate the madness of it all?"


"When your baby's just been born, when the nun has just been shorn; don't you just love the madness of it all?"


"When your boobies are too small, and when your boyfriend is too tall; don't you just hate the madness of it all?"

The real madness of it all was that this song entered and peaked at only Number 19, while its follow-up (and my personal favourite Leilani song) Do You Want Me only reached Number 40.
A third single, Flying Elvis, was released, before Leilani seemingly evaporated from the world.
Contain your jealousy, but before disappearing, Leilani toured with Boyzone and I got to witness her magic in the flesh. Tragically, despite recording a full album, no full-length was ever released. I've come across people on forums who have somehow acquired it, but for now, I'm left with a Curly Wurly shaped hole in my life.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Adam Ant + UK Feds - Sage, Gateshead

After last years Dirk Wears White Socks anniversary tour, Adam Ant is touring again, this time in celebration of his Kings of the Wild Frontier album.
Tonight's opening band was The Police tribute band The Clash tribute band UK Feds. They played well and interacted with the crowd, but honestly, I'm just not a fan. Maybe it was what sounded like a forced Jamaican accent from the vocalist, who has clearly fallen victim to White Reggae Voice syndrome (I just made that condition up right now). Maybe it was the way they came across as a middle-class stage production about Teh Punx. Or maybe it was just the uninspired, by-the-numbers formula the band seem to have stuck to religiously when writing their songs.

ANYWAY. Onwards and upwards...
Adam Ant took to the stage with his band, launching straight into KOTWF's opening track Dog Eat Dog. Having two drummers is pivotal to the album's sound, and this was, of course, recreated live by Ant's current drummers, Andy Woodward and Jola.

While last years DWWS was, visually, a no-frills affair fitting of the album's art work, there is no shortage of colour this time around (perhaps reflecting the stark contrast of KOTWF's colourful album cover to its predecessor?). Every song was accompanied by bright lights of varying colours, with Don't Be Square (Be There) being particularly enhanced by this addition.

After playing through KOTWF in full, Ant played a mix of older material, picking from both his solo and Ants back-catalogues. It was a great mix of crowd-pleasing hits, like Goody Two Shoes, Prince Charming and Stand and Deliver, alongside album tracks and b-sides like Zerox, Lady and Car Trouble.

The energy of Ant and his band never faltered throughout the set, despite playing for almost two hours. The night was brought to a close with an encore of T-Rex's Get In On, and Physical. Let's hope for a Prince Charming tour next!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bis + Big Zero + ILL - The Deaf Institute, Manchester

Less than six months in, and 2016 is already a great year in terms of going to gigs, not least because I have now seen Bis twice (and trust me, I'm ready to make it a third time if they come back!).
Tonight's opening band was ILL, who I've been a fan of since seeing them  open for Jack Off Jill last year. While I love their loud and chaotic post-punk sound, they're not for everyone - thankfully though, most people in the crowd tonight seemed to like them. Their political lyrics burst with energy against the noisy, at times jarring, backdrop they create. My personal highlights were Secret Life ("true story", as keyboardist/vocalist Harri Shanaham informed us) and Ill Song, a song takes a look at the government's destruction of the NHS with their distinctive politics-meets-dark-humour lyrical style.
Next up is Big Zero, who are kind of like what might happen if Weezer and Devo had sex while watching Back to the Future, and gave birth to a band baby. A couple of their songs blended together a bit, but overall their music is catchy and fun (they're at their best when they don't hold back on the synths), and the band certainly don't lack any energy when it comes to performing.

While I admire their dedication to the image they've created for themselves, I can't help but feel like it seemed a bit forced at times - the constant stating of "we are zero" after each song, for example (we get it, you like Devo!). Definitely worth checking out though, and I'm interested to see how they develop as they release more music.
By now, the venue was packed - thankfully, we only had to wait 15 minutes for Bis to take to the stage. Starting off with School Disco the whole room was dancing like they were part of the coolest dance competition that never was, and they didn't stop until the last note was over (seriously, I feel like some of the audience members deserve their own mini reviews for their dancing!).

The set list was, like in Glasgow, made up mostly of the band's early material, with their two newest songs fitting in seamlessly. My personal favourites of the night were Teen-C Power, Keroleen and Kill Yr Boyfriend. As I said in my last review, I hope the new songs are a sign of more new material to come!

Bis are a band that I would happily go see live everyday for the rest of my life. For now, I'll just settle for listening to them obsessively at home. I'm assuming there are people in the world who don't like Bis and, to be honest, that's a scary thought. Anyway... Teen-C Power!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hidden Figures

I came across an article a few days ago on a film that's being made, called Hidden Figures, and it immediately piqued my interest. It tells the true story of African-American women who were mathematicians and parts of NASA's space program during the Civil Rights era.

In a bid to stay ahead of Russia in the space race, the agency hired the smartest people they could find. After World War II, federal agencies had to cope with the shortage of male candidates by hiring actual, real-life women. Shocking, I know. Women were seen as being more detail-oriented, with small hands that were better suited to repetitive tasks on the adding machines, and came with advantage of being paid less than a man for the same job. This also freed the male engineers they did have up for the more "serious" and analytical projects.

So, not only did agencies like NASA have to start hiring women, they also had to start hiring African-American women.

Despite the skill of these women, segregation and isolation still reigned; women were placed in separate rooms from men, and the black women were separated from the white women, and nicknamed "coloured computers". During lunch breaks, they had to sit at a "coloured" table in the cafeteria.

A few years into the program, the unmarried white women were housed in a fancy dorm, while the unmarried black women were left to find their own accommodation in town.

It's no secret that history is full of white-washing, and it's important that stories like this are told. There are probably so many other stories like this that we don't even know about yet, so many people who never got the credit they deserved.

As I said, I found this whole story interesting, and decided to write about three of the women who'll be portrayed in Hidden Figures.
Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) worked as a mathematician. In 1938, she became the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school at West Virginia University, and was hired by NASA in 1953. She was one of the many women who were essentially the agency's "living computers" - replaced when actual machines became available.

Among her achievements are calculating the trajectory of Alan Shepard's flight, making him the first American in space, and calculating the trajectory for Apollo 11, which took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon. In 1962, when NASA used computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, they asked Johnson to verify the numbers.

Johnson would also plot back-up navigational charts for astronauts, in case of electronic failures.

In 2015, she received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to America's Space Race.

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) also worked as a mathematician. She started working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943. In 1949, she was promoted and became the agency's first black supervisor, and one of very few women supervisors. She used her position to help other women progress through the agency, helping them to get the promotions or pay rises they deserved, and worked in that role for nearly a decade.

In 1958, segregated facilities were abolished. Vaughan joined the new Analysis and Computation Division, a racially and gender-integrated group working with electronic computing, and became an expert FORTRAN programmer. She retired from NASA in 1971.

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monae) began her career as another "computer", specialising in reducing data from wind tunnel experiments and from aircraft data on various flight experiments. Throughout her career, she was aware that minorities and women weren't advancing as fast as they should have been, and started analysing the data to see what was holding them back. She found that, in addition to the obvious glass ceiling, a lot of time it was simply down to lacking a course or not being given the right assignments, and set about discreetly advising women on what they needed to do to go from Mathematician to Engineer.