EP Review :: The Xcerts – Slackerpop

“The four stripped down tracks are worth the price of admission alone…”

This year has been a big one for The Xcerts. They’ve played to crowds across the UK and Europe, which included a tour in support of Charlie Simpson. With Charlie taking a crack at acoustic stuff, it only seemed fair that the Xcerts boys do the same. They couldn’t exactly blow the roof off the venue before Charlie came on, armed only with a six string, could they?.

Of course not everyone (that includes yours truly) got to see these ‘alternative’ versions, so it’s great to have a few of them here on this re-release of ‘Slackerpop’. These ‘alternative’ versions make up the majority of the EP and, whilst they all sound cleaner and softer than the originals, they all work really well. ‘He Sinks, He Sleeps’ really stands out: Not only does it sound so different to the Scatterbrain original, but it’s got this really eerie quality to it that had me hitting play again and again.

The four stripped down tracks are worth the price of admission alone, but let’s not forget that ‘Slackerpop’ is still one hell of a tune. It’s one of my favourite tracks off Scatterbrain and I can’t help but be reminded of, Xtra Mile alumni, Reuben (RIP) every time I hear it. Aside from that, everything here is a brand new listening experience. You might have heard the originals, but that doesn’t mean you should pass on this EP. If you saw them in the summer, you already know you’re in for a treat!

EP Review :: The Gaslight Anthem – iTunes Session

“…it shows the kinds of influences that have made The Gaslight Anthem the band they are today”

Though we’ll have to wait until 2012 for the next Gaslight Anthem full length (the band’s first release on a major label, no less), they’ve helped ease the wait with something (sort of) new. The boys from New Jersey have released an iTunes Session – an EP, comprised of covers and alternative versions. It’s their SideOneDummy swansong, but is it as sweet as it sounds?

Usually something like this would come down to if you liked covers or not. Personally I like to hear my favourite bands’ take on other people’s work, but that really didn’t matter here. Each track has that distinct Gaslight Anthem sound that means if you haven’t heard the original version of a particular song, you can listen to it without feeling like you’re missing something. In fact, it might be better if you haven’t heard these songs before. I doubt there’s many out there who’ve yet to experience ‘Baba O’Reilly’, but you never know.

All in all the covers are great. Hearing Brian and co take on stuff from Pearl Jam, The Who and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers was interesting. They’ve made these classic songs their own but, at the same time, done them incredible justice. At the very least, it shows the kinds of artist that have made The Gaslight Anthem the band they are today. Tom Petty in particular stands out as a big influence on Brian Fallon’s vocal style, so it was really cool to hear him covering ‘Refugee’. Not only that, but they might just turn a few people onto a band they might have otherwise dismissed. You never know.

Alongside these covers are two from the band’s back catalog. The version of ‘Navesink Banks’ is relatively unchanged from it’s initial release, but ‘Boxer’ feels like a completely different song on here. It’s more sombre than the version found on American Slang, and that alone has a massive impact especially when it comes to the lyrics. The original feels like the story of a triumphant prize fighter, whereas this version seems to come from someone a little more down on their luck.

Despite how well these covers and alternative versions panned out, I feel the majority of Gaslight fans will be coming to this EP for one thing in particular. Previously unreleased track, ‘Our Father’s Sons’ follows that familiar Springsteen-esque formula that Gaslight have become known for and won’t disappoint those who’ve been waiting to hear a proper version instead of that demo that’s been circulating the internet for some time.

Though it’s not necessarily what Gaslight fans would have wanted this year, what’s here is great. The boys are on top form and, if anything, it’s interesting to see the kind of artists that have inspired one of today’s biggest bands.

EP Review :: Louise Distras – Heartstrings On A Handgrenade

“What can begin is a ferocious lyrical onslaught, can become something light and mellifluous in the space of a few seconds.”

Louise Distras is one of a plethora of people in the UK picking up an acoustic guitar, writing songs and playing shows. The thing that sets her apart from the majority of young upstarts is that she’s actually got some talent. Heartstrings On A Handgrenade is the third release from the Wakefield-based singer/songwriter, and it provides the perfect introduction of Distras’ brand of acoustic punk.

Upon first listening to her EP, it was clear that Louise’s music was heavily influenced by many of the artists who tread this path before her. Whilst she’s drawn many a comparison to, Distillers frontwoman, Brody Dalle in the past, it became quite clear that it was, in fact, an Englishman who was one of her heavier influences. That man would be Frank Turner. Now there’s no doubt that Frank has influenced many of today’s aspiring singer/songwriters, but it was a combination of the upbeat, punk-tinged instrumental and slightly melancholic look at society that immediately sparked the association between his music and what I was hearing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from derivative. Louise certainly has her own style and it’ll become apparent to anyone who listens.

It’s that style that makes all the difference. What can begin is a ferocious lyrical onslaught, can become something light and mellifluous in the space of a few seconds. It can send a song in a completely different direction and you’ll be singing along with words professing some pretty dark situations in no time. This is particularly prevalent on, single, ‘Blue On Black’. The bleak outlook described in the lyrics is offset by a combination of Distras’ upbeat singing and the happy-go-lucky whistling, proving you don’t have to be morbid to get your point across. Not only that, but they’re catchy too. I had that track stuck in my head for days! That being said, the change in pace and ferocity can often be a little jarring to listen to.

Louise’s vocal style is the one thing that sets her apart from many of her peers, allowing her to bring something to the table that you might not have seen before or even expect. From a songwriting standpoint, the three included on this release are solid acoustic punk tunes that do little to disappoint. If you’ve yet to hear what Louise Distras has to offer, Heartsrings On A Handgrenade is a great introduction, that’s for sure.

EP Review :: Ciaran Lenehan – It’s Never Too Late

….this is three slices of heartfelt angst telling tales of old loves, weekends and the “safest place to get some sex.”

It seems that acoustic folk rock is here to stay, with a constant stream of new artists coming in each and every day. It’s the easiest to create, right? One guy and a guitar, simple. But every now and again an artist comes along and makes the formula all the worth-while, Ciaran Lenehan is a Dublin based artist who has taken this age old recipe and made it taste great again.

Actually, to say Ciaran conforms to the one man, one guitar style isn’t a hundred percent true. The E.P in fact contains a full band setting with drums, bass and even some piano elements, this gives what perhaps might be a very bare sounding E.P and fantastic boost, filling each track with passion and gusto which creates an atmosphere that the listener cannot help but be drawn deeper into with each and every track.

As far as similarities go, Lenehan fits nicely into the clique of puck rockers turned folk artists, though to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t come from any previous punk band background. Artists like Dallas Green, Frank Turner and Thrice famed Dustin Kensrue seem to play heavily into Ciaran’s influences though there is a clear indication of his musical roots going much further back with elements of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and even Elvis ,the latter being heard heard in the vocal melody of E.P opener Too Late.

The E.P itself plays in an interesting way and this is where Lenehan has proved himself skilful in the art of arrangement. With only three songs to choose from it seems it would be a difficult to achieve any kind of fluidity between tracks but on It’s Never Too Late this has not been done to a decent standard, it has far surpassed that. The songs flow gracefully into each other and this helps emphasise the emotional content of the E.P.

Lyrically this is three slices of heartfelt angst telling tales of old loves, weekends and the “safest place to get some sex.” All of this is cantillated with Irish accented vocals which, other than giving a unique twist in voice department, makes the heavy folk elements of the sound seem all the more genuine.

Ciaran Lenehan’s It’s Never Too Late is a debut E.P worth listening to. The fantastic production on the record pushes three great songs filled with honesty and heart into the foreground of a music genre that seems to be so often filled with bland mediocrity. For an initial release to feature such a solid grasp on how to write a great song is so rare these days and I personally cannot wait to hear more in the near future.

EP Review :: Rob Bywater – Break

Break shows Rob Bywater weave his brand of poetic folk-rock with the aplomb of a young Billy Bragg.

To say the past 5 years has been filled with an abundance of hopeful acoustic acts would be an understatement, incalculable scores of solitary standing musicians who look and sound like the past seven hundred before them, making the slightest bit of noise before disappearing into the woodwork again without leaving any kind of mark or impression on countless open mic audiences. That’s why it is such a refreshing change of pace to hear an E.P like Rob Bywater’s Break. Whilst yes, it is another slice of acoustic, one man-one guitar, serenades Bywater has combined melodious guitar with broken, heavy accented vocals to deliver a sound with a stripped down honesty, telling tales of money struggles and bar room evenings.

Within the first twenty seconds of the E.P the listener is instantly drenched in the melody of title song Break, which plays out like a new anthem for an England struggling to make ends meet. Though I wouldn’t say this is a wholly political record, there are little call outs for what must be issues important to this songwriter, Bywater manages to deliver these without becoming preachy in any sense. The song features a strong prominent chord progression that lasts throughout, with the addition of backing vocals by one Miriam Hennesey-Mann adding a mellifluous tonality which brings a sweetness to the rugged timbre coming from the lips of Bywater.

The second slice, Man At The Bar, echoes similarities of the early days of Frank Turner, with a simple set of chords as the backing for a story which would fit perfectly in the pages of any Charles Bukowski novel. A beat up barfly facing his own mortality, with little to no hope for the future, attempts to bring the protagonist of the song to his level of pessimism. Bywater cleverly switches around the mood of the track in the second verse with the lines, ‘With a song on my lips and at my fingertips, I know that I never can lose,’ making this the perfect mantra for any struggling artist who might be considering throwing in the towel.

Pints Of Beer And Guitar Strings follows a similar suit as the previous giving another hard hitting sing along song with the potential to lift the spirits of any listener who has poured heart and soul into their art with little financial success. Rob Bywater is telling the listener that money is not the be all and end all of happiness with the vocal hook, ‘You cannot buy what I’ve got.’

The E.P winds down with Won’t Be Home For Quite A While, a song which could be considered Bywater’s “tearjerker,” though there is no mention of love and romance. The melodies and arpeggiated  guitar track give it a heart wrenching quality reminiscent of The Commotions singer, Llyod Cole’s, solo project.

Break shows Rob Bywater weave his brand of poetic folk-rock with the aplomb of a young Billy Bragg. If this, his third official release, is anything to go by then I’m sure Rob Bywater will continue to climb and rock, pushing through the mediocrity and placing himself toe to toe with the great U.K acoustic acts. Johnny Flynn, Emmy the Great and the afore mentioned Frank Turner to name a few.

You can buy Rob Bywater’s latest E.P Break plus his previous efforts at his website here

You can also “like” Rob Bywater on facebook, keeping you up to date with gigs and other information regarding the songwriter

EP Review :: Rival Sons – Rival Sons

Forgotten how to rock? Take two of these and see me in the morning.

Rival Sons

Southern California is a rich and affluent corner of the world when it comes to music. Whether that be from the hazy, psychedelic days of The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash or The Eagles to harder acts like Guns N Roses by way of The Beach Boys, this sun kissed haven of beach bodies, glitzy showbiz phonies and Pacific ocean breezes offers up another fresh bunch of vocalised young men. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are introduced to Rival Sons.

Having spent the past three years paying their dues in the clubs and bars of SoCal, a relatively tradition route into the business that is often overlooked and bypassed in the modern, digital era. This retro, non kitch, throwback is in perfect keeping with the style, harmony and even subject matter of the Rival Sons, a hard rocking, hard working American band with a wonderful sound and penchant for their audience.

Fronted by impassioned Jay Buchanan who’s smooth whiskey vocals sound like their fuelled by passion and velvet smoke, this four piece band are a refreshing breath of fresh Marlborough air in the modern, hard rock era. Their self titled debut EP displays amply what this group can go on to achieve if given the opportunity.

Starting with the high tempo, in your face, full frontal nudity tracks, “Get What’s Coming” and “Torture” lead guitarist Scott Holiday smashes his way into the listener’s head whether they like it or not. With hard hitting, pulsing riffs and hooks, the distortion of his amp and ability to turn a grinding, down and dirty strum into the delicate, almost ghostly solo on “Get What’s Coming” dance eloquently with Buchanan’s vocals.

With a Bonham esque drum intro from skin slammer Michael Miley kicks of the third track “Radio” as Holiday’s fret flicking finger dancing crashes through the walls and into the fore. A percussion heavy track, bassist Robin Everhart provides a temporal spine in which the all out action, wild vocals and at points experimental sound of the track fly recklessly around his solid, steady performance.

In quiet contrast, “Sacred Tongue” is an acoustic, southern charmed song that oozes the passion and ability that Rival Sons possess. This, coupled with the crescendo bursting, ear drum thrashing final tracks “Sleepwalker” and “Soul” stand as a considerable, comprisable and compelling introduction to this classic rock inspired four piece.

There is wonderfully energetic and inspiring comparisons to classic and hard rock giants of a by gone era to be found in the music of Rival Sons. Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and even the cockney charm of Thunder can be heard in their music. As the media proclaims that Rock is dead and pop is the new Queen(?) it is warming and compelling to know that there are still artists out there unashamed to grab a beer, hook up a stack and let her rip. Rival Sons will be touring with Judas Priest on their UK tour throughout July.

Jonathan Whitelaw

Tour dates, info and album availability are available at the band’s official website: www.rivalsons.com

EP Review :: Cynics – Dave & Angela

“Cynics have managed to capture the highs and lows of life as a young guy or girl living in the UK without seeming contrived or cliched”

I was first introduced to Cynics back last year, although I loved what he was doing, I thought that maybe the rest of his band couldn’t make it. See, for quite a while now, Cynics has just been one man, the enigmatic, Giles Bidder. His debut release, Stones I’ve Thrown, was one of the best things I heard last year and I’ve been clamoring for more ever since. Now a full band, Cynics have been working on some new tracks – three of which make up the ‘Dave & Angela’ EP.

I’m just gonna come out and say it, the title track is fantastic. Just the other week I was cursing Giles for having me listen to this track about seven million times (definitely not an exaggeration) over the course of about four hours. If you can listen to a song on repeat for that long and still love it it’s got to be quality, right? Whilst it definitely feels weird hearing Cynics as a full band at first, the addition has added a new and welcome dimension to the sound that will melt away any apprehension you might have about Cynics going full band. It’s a light upbeat song that you won’t be able to get out of your head (trust me!) and you’ll want nothing more than a bit of sun and a cold beer.

‘Moorhen’ is a more downbeat track than the opener and kind of feels like the aftermath of the events described in ‘Dave & Angela’. The process of waking up and knowing you’ve got to find your way home is never good, and this track captures that sentiment perfectly. Simplicity and relatability are qualities that come through in all of Cynics’ songs, and it’s this that makes me want to listen to anything they put out.

The third and final track is probably the best on here. ‘Twenty Five’ is another tale of a good night with friends and all the things that come from that. Like the opener, it’s a more upbeat song, and it caps the EP off nicely. In three tracks Cynics have managed to capture the highs and lows of life as a young guy or girl living in the UK without seeming contrived or cliched. This is something that can only be achieved if you’re writing what you know, and it’s clear that’s the case here.

You can download ‘Dave & Angela’ free of charge from Kind Of Like Records. You can check out more Cynics-based stuff here.

EP Review :: White House Band – The Stimulus Package

A hardened New York Rapcore group try to usher in a new era for a long forgotten genre.

The White House Band

It would seem that there has been a generation that has gone without a recognizable, enjoyable and musically talented rapcore and rap metal band. Where in the early nineties these bands were aplenty, Cyprus Hill and Rage Against the Machine were the industry leaders, now it would appear the market is more focused on either side of the fence, rap or metal. Hoping to buck this trend are White House Band who have released their latest EP The Stimulus Package

Back in the hazy, long gone days of the early 1990s and beyond, the world of popular music was vastly changing. Long gone were the pseudo androgynous bands of the new romantics and in their place was a much more focused, genre defining series of acts that cared little for transposing themselves across multimedia formats. The girl and boy groups were still in their infancy, hard rock had gone the way of the dodo, all to the tune of Bryan Adam’s caterwauling and grunge was the new everything.

It is no surprise then that with the emerging hip hop scene, a fiery and charged form of music that was still arguably purist, far from the overproduced “Fergulicious” nightmare it has become today. Bands such as Cyprus Hill, Rage Against the Machine and Body Count found their voice and the willing ears of millions around the globe in the form of blistering, hard guitar riffs to the tune of the deeply moving, hard lesson lyrics of traditional rappers.

And so it came to pass that this form of musical protest, a classic being Body Count’s more than controversial “Cop Killer”, was quietened. Not silenced of course but merely curtailed, washed up in the wave of highly pristine, shiny hip hop made for the people not by the people but how the people were viewed from the glistening towers of L.A record labels.

So, with a guaranteed format and a glaring hole in the market, White House Band bring a formidable arsenal into battle. With this, their second major EP release, The Stimulus Package invites the listener into a hardened, head thrashing world that it perhaps had forgotten all about.

The opening tracks, “Wassup” and “Grown Ups” are traditional rapcore numbers, their pounding lyrics, potent and dangerously realistic, exalted above thrashing drums of Elder Merchant and lighting guitar of Fernando Martinez. David Beats, the gravel voiced, attitude ladened vocalist continues his tour de force throughout the six tracks of the album with continual force, conviction and passion that had come to be expected of a band plying their trade in both the modern industry and this genre in particular.

One particular highlight of the EP comes in the form of the fourth track, “That’s My Ish”. Forming a cerebral bond throught the six minute musical mayhem, the talents of the band are clearly placed on display as being viciously raw and delightfully stripped down to basics. Merchant’s ear shattering drum solo half way through make the listeners weep, all in the best way of course. His percussion partner, Corey Lonas’ obvious engineering talents backstage are also brought to the fore during this track, his bass and tempo at the heart of the whole song’s focus.

In all the EP is a very strong, powerful statement of musical intent, a refreshingly arrogant taste of a music genre that has for too long remained stagnant and neglected. The White House Band have every potential to be part of a new wave of rapcore and rap metal acts, the vital components of musical talent and obvious passion being well and truly put in place, if the genre should decide to experience a certain renaissance. With trouble in the middle east, a Conservative government in Downing Street and the coat tails of a recession, the world is not that different from the glory days of the aforementioned big bands. Who knows.

Jonathan Whitelaw

Check out the band’s official website for download/purchase details: http://thewhitehouseband.net

EP Review :: Glassjaw – Coloring Book

“It may only be six tracks but its exciting enough to bring the hardcore GJ fans out of the woodwork!”

After about 6 years of line up changes and on and off hiatus’, the future of GlassJAw was uncertain. The band seemed to be falling into that hopeless pit of “where are they now” artists who, every few years, appear at some local dive and force out a half-arsed acoustic or DJ set. Luckily, in 2010, fans were treated to an EP known as Our Colour Green consisting of five tracks which seemed to be more than enough to keep the groups loyal following on their toes until the release of this new EP, Coloring Book. (or Colouring Book, as it is to us Brits!)

To say that this is one of the most awaited releases of the past half a decade would be an understatement. It may only be six tracks but its exciting enough to bring the hardcore GJ fans out of the woodwork!

Stylistically the EP is very different than any of the previous works by the band. There is still definitely the elements of post-hardcore that the band are so famed for, but there is also a great deal of experimentation within the record. This is not to say that previous Glassjaw efforts have not been pushing the experimental boundaries. The band have been doing so since day one! This EP has a great deal more in forms of composition and production techniques, mostly likely due to the release being produced by Guitarist Justin Beck instead of the familiar Ross Robinson.

To write a review of a GJ EP and not mention the vocal talent of Daryl Palumbo would be insane. Thankfully, Coloring Book does not disappoint. There is minimal ‘screaming’ within the record, it could even be argued there is none but I doubt this will be a problem for fans of the band’s heavier tracks. It’s difficult, near impossible, to complain about Palumbo as a vocalist when he not only pushes himself to the limit of his vocal ability, but also attempts to reinvent himself as an artist release after release.

On the whole, Coloring Book isn’t a complete new direction for GlassJAw, but the changes are there and they may come as a shock initially. Stick with it, it’ll grow. This is by no means the greatest piece of work the band have ever released, but its fucking A-OK.

Tracks such as Miracles in Inches and Daytona White without a doubt will soon become fan favourites requested regularly at any future GlassJAw shows.

Ian Critchley.

EP Review :: Jay Rodger – Jay Rodger EP

“There will be no happy endings”

This seems to be the overall theme of the Jay Rodger EP. But don’t panic, there’s always a glimmer of hope conveyed in his somewhat resonant and poignant voice and his playful acoustic style. As well these acoustic grooves and his distinctive voice, his frequent use of vocal harmonies and melodic hooks contribute to defining him as an artist. All of his songs utilise these aspects however the opening track “Overnight” is comprised of only electronic instrumentation which doesn’t occur on any other track on the album, which is a little disappointing, but it’s a welcome addition to a primarily acoustic EP. However the same temperate and somewhat spooky atmosphere can be found frequently throughout album. The track itself is one of the most original and interesting songs on the EP, and one of the best mixed/recorded. And again, his distinct voice and use of vocal harmonies make this track very much his own.

Much like the first track, the second one “120%” is very much a relaxing affair; this is where Jay really comes through as an acoustic artist. Musically speaking, this song is the epitome of subtlety; it features an extra guitar track that upon first listen I didn’t notice. The guitars are working in complete harmony with one providing short melodies that are truly the icing on the cake.  His talent for constructing the most pleasant and catchiest of choruses is definitely evident in this song, after just a few listens you’ll find yourself singing along. This will also occur in such songs as “Darling” which seems to be the most light-hearted song on the album, lyrically and musically speaking. The lyrics deal less with heartbreak/mistrust etc and more with amusing anecdotes claiming they are all “because of you” – possibly aimed at the love interest that seems to be so frequently mentioned throughout the EP, and therefore in keeping with the theme of the album.

Two of my favourite tracks on the EP are “Love Hurts”, and “Can’t touch your skin”. My most enjoyed part of the EP is in the chorus on “Can’t touch your skin” because it’s the most climatic point of the EP and features the most instrumentation. But the chorus on “love hurts” is definitely the catchiest and most “lovable”. In these two songs the verses act as a great build up to the point of the song that you’ll remember most, especially in regards to lyrics. However the most welcomed aspects of these songs is the addition of some percussive sounds and the addition of some very subtle piano playing, and also in “I’ll wait” you’ll find some lovely harmonica playing switching between the background and the foreground. Even though these additions are quite simplistic and minimal they are very effective in embellishing the relationship between the guitar and vocal, adding another dimension to his music.

As well as proving to be a more than adequate multi instrumentalist, he also proves himself  as a sufficient lyricist; he avoids cliché’s very well, which I find is usually the downfall for most love songs. At no point in the EP does he ever say plainly “I love/d you” which for an album strictly dealing with love, is quite a lyrical achievement.

One of the most interesting thing I find about Jay is when the music is more upbeat and light hearted it doesn’t necessarily mean the lyrics will be too. This gives me as a listener two contrasting vibes to digest. This results in those negative feelings and emotions behind the lyrics to present themselves in a more delicate and attractive way, and overall giving a more playful listening experience. Although in such songs as “Moments of silk” the music correlates very much with the lyrical content. This is where we can find that eerie and somewhat ghostly atmosphere as I mentioned before. I believe this song is best described as an adagio lamented lullaby; the tempo unhurried, the lyrics solemn, and the guitar and vocal tender and compromising.

If you’re looking to sit down, relax, and reflect on what the music has to offer, then I recommend you give Jay Rodger listen. Because of the calm and gentle nature of the music I find myself using it to unwind after a day or work, or when my days been real shitty. It helps me relax and I find it quite therapeutic. I believe I’ve captured the essence of the EP in the songs I’ve described, and it’s a definitely worth a listen if your into acoustic/soul/folk vibes.

Some final thoughts:  There is a consistent theme of heartbreak, mistrust, jealousy, suspicion and doubt throughout EP. It becomes abundantly clear after listening to the EP that his music is an organic expression of real events and true experiences that he’s been through, which as a listener I can respect and relate to. By the end of the EP you’re left wondering “Who is this girl, and why did she do him so wrong!?”

You can stream his EP in its entirety on his MySpace www.myspace.com/jayrodger.

Recommended Tracks:
Can’t touch your Skin
Love Hurts

Similar to:
Jack Johnson
The shins
Imogen heap
Bon Iver