Fiona Stephens

At Face Value – Ivy & Echo [EP]

Tomorrow marks the release of Baltimore born At Face Value‘s new EP, Ivy & Echo. This follows their 2016 debut EP release Thick As Thieves.

First track Know It All follows the standard pop punk formula of overdrive guitars, crooning vocals, double speed drums and a bass line that follows the root notes of the guitar chords. It’s a tried and tested formula, and for fans of other similar bands such as All Time Low and We The Kings, it might be enjoyable. For someone looking for a little more depth and expansion of their usual music taste, this is perhaps not the track to introduce that.

Lead single Cinderella is much the same, the drums are hammering away under a decent guitar riff, but the rhythm guitar overpowers the riff too much, and the lower vocals are lost in the mix of the song. The chorus is upbeat and cheerful, however a lot of the vocal harmonies are drowed out by too much going on.

The EP starts to pick up at 24, Still Not Liked. The theme of the song is something a lot of young adults will relate to, particularly if they are pop punk fans. It’s one of the strongest songs on the EP, each instrument has its own place and musically the track sounds different to the previous two.

The listener can expect a change at Overcast (Acoustic), however is immediately confused when the main guitar line is performed by a clean electric guitar. There is an acoustic line too, and together they sound nice. The vocal harmonies sound great and fit the song really well. There is a random line at the end of the second verse where there is a lot of reverb applied to the vocals to make it sound like it’s sung in a church, but it’s not clear why. The overall song is the best on Ivy & Echo, however there are parts of it which aren’t as strong. It’s also not clear why this is the only ‘acoustic’ track, given that the assumed full band original isn’t on any of the group’s previous releases.

The best full band song on this EP is LOTR. The introduction is cheerful and there is a clear lead guitar line and a clear rhythm guitar part. The drums are also less busy and have a better effect on the overall sound. LOTR is followed by another strong track, Return The Slab, which is the final track on the EP. The drums rely too much on the cymbals in the first half of the song, but the vocals are balanced out better and stand out from the guitars much more. The soft harmonies really bring out the best qualities in the vocalist’s voice. There is also a nice piano melody in the outtro, an instrument which hasn’t been obviously used in any of the other tracks.

In trying to do too much, At Face Value have lost a lot of the sense of the music in Ivy & Echo. They are each talented musicians, however they don’t seem to be working together fully to really create something special. The latter half of the EP is much more carefully written, performed and produced than the first two tracks, which are disappointing enough to put new potential fans off from listening to the rest of Ivy & Echo.

I Just Don’t Deserve To Be Loved – Luke Rainsford [EP]

I Just Don’t Deserve To Be Loved is the latest EP from acoustic superstar Luke Rainsford, following the release of his second album I Feel At Home With You early last year, and is the second record to be released since signing with Scylla Records. The EP is due for release on 6th April.

The first track, Looking For Your Ghost, explores differences in dynamic, both in the instruments and the vocals. Rainsford provides soft singing, angry shouting and deadpan speaking all in one track. Second track I Can’t Keep My Promises is a short one, opening with a beautiful acoustic melody and using the lyrics “I’m looking for your ghost”, tying the previous track in. The listener just gets into the track, enjoying the long pause before An Open Letter suddenly begins with the words “Fuck this I wanna go home”. This track uses different guitar techniques not often seen on acoustic performances, such as palm mutes. The vocal harmonies in the bridge are very rarely used by other similar artists, setting Rainsford apart from the crowd.

Sweet Briar is, or so the listener thinks, the token cheerful track on the EP, and the lead single, and is available to listen to now via Spotify. It’s reminiscent of early Yellowcard if they were acoustic, talking about teenage years, and using phrases such as “I never needed a father figure” and “I spent the best part of my late teens/in all the places where I thought I’d be free”

The reverb kicks into higher gear in What I Can’t Believe, making the track sound as though it was recorded in an old church hall. This fits well for the theme of the song, which talks about struggling with feelings of letting people you care about down, which most people with probably empathise with. This theme follows into the final track, What I Hide Beneath, although this is much more upbeat and the reverb effects have been dialed down to normal levels.

Although Rainsford is an acoustic artist, he makes full use of his guitar, creating multiple lines and filling out the sound with drums, as well as perfectly harmonising his vocals to really enhance the natural talent he has. As usual he’s produced a high quality record that will leave a lasting impact on the listener, especially if they aren’t already a fan of his work.

The Pearl Harts – Glitter & Spit

Glitter & Spit is the debut album from female duo The Pearl Harts. Opening with Black Blood, immediately obvious are influences from the likes of Royal Blood and The Dead Weather in the constantly moving bassline and complicated timing and pauses, and The Pretty Reckless and Joan Jett for the type of gritty energy and talent the duo project.

The underground grunge sound continues from Black Blood all the way through Go Hard. The grooves in this track are much simpler than the previous, however complicated twiddles aren’t needed for this type of music. The track starts building up from the bridge and then just cuts out, leaving the listener wanting more. This would also invoke the same reaction in a live setting.

The Rush is very different to the previous two tracks. It has a constant guitar, bass and drum line, where Black Blood and Go Hard were very chopped and cut. It would be a good choice for a single, as The Pearl Harts really begin to show their dynamic vocal capabilities here. This is carried on into Lara.

The stripped back style comes back again in Bonfires, strongly reminding the listener again of a grungier Royal BloodNirvana influences come into play at Lost In Time, with a kick of 90s female fronted groups such as The Cranberries and The Corrs present in the vocal harmonies. One might not think these groups would mix, but The Pearl Harts found a way, and mix it well. Other similar tracks are Bless Y ou, heavily influence by Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin, and Living’s Done.

As the album moves along, the music changes from hard grunge rock to more alternative/psychadelic rock, and back again. Hit The Bottle is the most energetic and bouncy track, and will draw in fans of most types of rock.

The Pearl Harts put a fresh spin on an old classic style of rock, and in doing so, smash any gender expectations that audiences still have even now in the 21st century. They have made an album that has been honed to perfection and produced to the highest quality.

The Plot In You – Dispose

Dispose, the fourth studio album from The Plot In You is due for release tomorrow (16th February), and will be the first album to be released since the Ohions signed to Fearless Records.

There is a slow introduction into the album with first track Rigged, which is very minimalistic. Drum effects make up a large portion of the track, with guitar and other sound effects being used to round out the sound rather than detract from the overall simplicity of the track. It sounds very different to other metalcore material out there, which is a welcome and refreshing change for the genre. This slow theme is echoed again later in the album in I Always Wanted To Leave and The Sound. The stripped back simplicity of Rigged is echoed again in the first half of the final track, Disposable Fix.

Included in Dispose is latest single Not Just Breathing, which according to vocalist Landon Tewers, is about breaking off from a toxic relationship in your life. The subject matter spreads throughout the album, and is something a lot of fans will probably have experience with.

“Not Just Breathing is about cutting ties with someone who is dead weight in your life and dragging you down, always hoping for the best for that person but coming to terms with the fact that you need to move on with your life in a separate direction from them.”

Influences from other metalcore artists are at play within Dispose, for example One Last Time sounds similar to some material by The Amity Affliction, not only in the overall sound but also in the lyrical content. The title of the track is self explanatory, perfectly capturing that feeling of “one last time” with an ex partner.

Feel Nothing was the first single The Plot In You released via Fearless Records last summer. This track sounds more like mainstream metalcore singles from groups like While She Sleeps and Crown The EmpireDispose was actually produced by the Drew Fulk, who has previously produced Crown The Empire.

Later in the album there is a shift in genre slightly, starting with The One You Loved. This track sounds more like old school alternative bands like Taking Back Sunday and Angels And Airwaves. The track is catchy and still retains the The Plot In You sound. The track explores things that go wrong near the end of relationships, asking ‘what happened to the one I love?’ and ‘is there someone else?’ 

The first track that uses clean guitars is the penultimate track, The Sound. It’s clear to the listener that this track represents the very end of the toxic relationship, the lyrics claiming ‘I can’t take the sound’. Tewer’s voice sounds raw and cracked, clearly showing a lot of emotion. There is a surprise instrumental section of backing vocals interwoven with a saxophone.

The second half of the album is much more varied in terms of genre and emotion, and is much more enjoyable to listen to. Paid In Full is a particularly angry song that would get a crowd pumped in a live gig, and The Sound would be a track for fans to light their torches to. The final third of Disposable Fix, which is really where the song gets going, would also be a crowd pleaser and probably also an encore song.


Bearings Release New Video For ‘Letters Home’

Also preparing for their tour with Less Than Jake and Four Year Strong, Canadian pop-punk group Bearings have released a new video for their single Letters Home.

I think everyone has a special place in their heart for that childhood home they grew up in and the memories it holds. I still think about it all the time.” – Vocalist Doug Cousins to Alternative Press

Bearings latest EP is titled Nothing Here Is Permanent and is out now.


Four Year Strong Release Video For ‘Nice To Know’

Gearing up for their North American tour with Less Than JakeFour Year Strong have dropped a new video for latest track Nice To Know.

“Making this video was a lot of fun. From the very first phone call we had with director Cory Santilli we knew we were in good hands. We wanted the video to be weird and uncomfortable, to paint the song a different color than you might have pictured when you first heard it. Cory gave us this idea and we loved it. Being on the shoot and dressing up in weird costumes has always been an FYS favorite (and least favorite) pastime.” – Alan Day, guitarist

You can catch the group at this year’s Slam Dunk Festival on the following dates:

Saturday 26th May – Leeds City Centre
Sunday 27th May – Hatfield Park
Monday 28th May – NEC Birmingham

Shanghai Blues Release New Single ‘Falls’

The first release from the East London group Shanghai Blues in 2018 is Falls, which is available now on all good digital retailers.

In addition to the new single, Shanghai Blues have announced a few live dates with pop rockers Y.O.U.N.G

04/03/18 – Camden Assembly – London *
05/03/18 – Deaf Institute – Manchester *
11/04/18 – Hoxton SBK – London
27/05/18 – City Sound Project – Canterbury

* w/ Y.O.U.N.G

The Spook School – Could It Be Different?

Could It Be Different? is the third album from Glasgwegian indie group The Spook School, and is due for release on 26th January via Alcopop! Records. Opening with the catchy new single Still Alive, the album promises to be a cheerful hit.

“‘Still Alive’ is about no longer being in an abusive relationship. My tendency was to blame myself for not seeing the signs or leaving sooner which wasn’t helpful or fair, so I wrote this song to try and force myself out of that mind-set. In a way it’s a pretty angry song, with that anger being directed at people that carry out abusive behaviours towards others. I think there’s a kind of pride in it as well though, recognition that you had the strength to get through a shitty situation and to do what you needed to do, and that you don’t need to feel shame.” – Vocalist Nye Todd

The chorus in particular, with the repetitive lyrics of ‘Fuck you I’m still alive’ will draw listeners in, regardless of the deeper meaning behind the words.

Following Still Alive is Best Of Intentions, another upbeat cheerful track with a catchy riff. The listener is reminded heavily of cheerful rock bands such as Buzzcocks. Directly contrasting with Best Of Intentions is the following track, Less Than Perfect, which is the first track with female vocalist and bassist Anna Cory leading the main vocals. The guitars use different effects and sound more modern and distinct in the mix than some of the analogue sounding overdrive effects on the first two tracks, which of course are deliberately used for this effect.

The first slower track comes in at the halfway point of the album, and is titled Bad Year. Despite the negative sounding title, the track is written in a major key, and reverts back to the cheerful overdrive effects used in Best Of IntentionsBad Year leads into Alright quite nicely, although both songs are a little bland. However the listener is soon startled with the energetic introduction of I Only Dance When I Want To, which has a similar feel to it as Still Alive. This song is again led by Cory, and has a Letters To Cleo feel to it.

Body is a track that will strike a familiar chord with a lot of listeners who suffer with body image issues, and is a particularly therepeutic song for vocalist Todd, who is transgender. This will be partially the reason that The Spook School appeal to a large portion of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as their hopeful and upbeat music.

The final track, High School, is another slow track, sending the listener back to their own school days, perfectly capturing the feeling of nostalgia and ‘what if’. However the track never really builds up to anything, the vocals fading out and the instruments being brought into the mix more prominently before the final fade out, which is a disappointing ending to an album that inspires hopeful feelings in the listener.

Throughout Could It Be Different? the two vocalists always find a good balance without overpowering each other. Where one takes the lead in a song, the other provides a solid backing line of harmonies that add a nice touch to the songs without detracting from the main focus. Each track is relatively short (under four minutes, some even under three minutes) and contain clear sections. Every track would have a place an American high school film set in the 90s such as 10 Things I Hate About You.