Continuing his trawl through the talent fest that was this year's In The City, James Masters picks out some of the bands that caught his eye during those 3 blistering days.
Carlis Star – Bedroom Demo
Considered one of the sparkiest bands at ITC and sufficiently different to make something of a splash, Carlis’ Star’s melodic indie comes on like a cross between early Radiohead, the sun kissed soul of Pipettes and The Beach Boys and the harsher US rock sound of The Pixies or Throwing Muses. The demo’s sound’s softer than I remember them live with the harmonies and keyboard swirls of tracks like “I want to live forever (but only for a while)” and “Too Damn Long” combining upbeat thrashier elements to pop sensibilities and suss. Confident, elegant and with hooks a plenty, given that Carlis Star’s debut gig was only twelve months back, they display a lot of talent, potential and promise already.
The Convictions – Demo EP
With cues from Motown, Stax and Jazz brought in on a modern, effervescent mod-indie-pop take on guitar bands, The Convictions sound in style like a boys own take on Amy Winehouse’s musical output; all blazing, dancey riffs junxtaposed alongside great musicianship, strong vocals and a dramatic, bouncing brass section. “Time Is My Healer” and “Don’t Stop Moving” grab the attention with their lively, stirring, unabating melodies, both of which are highly radio friendly whilst the slower paced, zesty and soulful “In Time” along with the Beatles-esque “Tonight” show the group’s versatility and sharpness.
Disko Biskid – No Chemicals (Footworkz)
An interesting, diverse and intriguing EP this which I have no idea how I picked up but am mighty glad I did. Skanking rock, hip-hop blues which at times mixes the cow-bell country and gnarled vocals of Alabama 3 to the late Eighties funk driven indie hip hop of the likes of The Soup Dragons or Neneh Cherry. A Jamiroquai-esque vocal dominates the Freak Power-ed “So You Think You Can Dance” while the Definition Of Sound / Massive Attack aping, b-boy bashing “Tin Foil Bling” and the elegantly Balearic vocal of the Soul II Soul styled “Space ‘N Time” show that there’s plenty of production talent here. Lyrically highly amusing in places as well, there’s a certain dishevelled poise and obtuse humour to Disko Biskid which make them fresh, classic and highly groovesome. Well worth giving a look.
El Policia – Demo EP
A gutsy effort which opens strongly asserting its credentials from the off with the 97 seconds surf pop punk of “All In Your Head.” A Lydon-esque drawl with a backing track which sounds like it was stolen from the Undertones studio in the late Seventies, it’s a confident opener. Onto a long form song next, “Start The Conversation” is a more accessible slice of mod inspired indie, driven merrily along by a series of repetitive hooks, whilst the cd rounds off with the angry, aggressive furore of the sub three minutes, “You Love Me Too”. Assertive, hard-hitting and snarling with masses of spirit, El Policia seem to have the wherewithal to develop beyond their influences.
Far From The Dance – Be Ferocious EP
Obvious subscribers to the self evident rule that demo tracks need banging intros, Far From The Dance impress immediately with their US indie style which takes on the influences of The Guillemots, Manic Street Preachers and The Killers in turning out their very well produced grunge. Looking somewhat like a cross between Russell Brand and ZZ Top in their cover photos, the AOR love-in is disturbed by the surprising trance influenced rock hybrid “2nd Home” and the more tuneful, rising blues of “Don’t Cry”. A very good, up-and-coming rock band who seem to keep an eye on their classic influences as much as the modish sounds of “now”.
Gecko – Flags EP (Manchester Music)
ITC regulars and Mancunian stalwarts Gecko apply their long-standing fascination with the Gallagher brothers to this EP as it brims over with shades of Oasis, Doves and other classic Mancunian bands. The phenomenal opening guitar riff of “Flags” backs up its statement of intent with thunderous drums, anthemic guitars and nifty keyboard tinges which have already seen it played locally on XFM and The Revolution. A classy, confident, mature sound rounded off fully with the on-it presence of lead singer, Sam, second track “Bigtime Charlie’s” raucous, duelling guitars rail eloquently against the predominance of coke-heads on the scene today. Closer, “The Cardigan Boys” displays a greater range as an acoustic number, resplendent with Northern grit and poignant prose for the lyrics, reminding one of The Stone Roses’ early acoustic numbers.
H.E.Y. Featuring Denise Johnson – Demo EP
Denise Johnson, sometime vocalist with Primal Scream, A Certain Ratio and many more besides, has often been overlooked as a singer in her own right but her excellent, diva-esque vocal range has always marked her out as a cut above. With new band H.E.Y., her searing talents take centre stage in a swooning big, band take on Mancunian rocky blues, old-school soul and original Stateside R&B. Accomplished and accessible, H.E.Y sound like the ultimate party band, driving, effective and full of life with bold tracks that take in the influences of Stax, Atlantic, Phil Spector and Nutbush City Limits era Tina Turner. One for the “to see live” shortlist.
Jakakoyak – Demo EP
With Portishead styled shuffling beats and grisly Tom Waits drawled vocals, Jakakoyak’s mellow, catchy laidback folktronica has already caught the attention of Sunday Best and fellow Welsh personae, Super Furry Animals. Best described (by me at least) as off-beat, weird-ish, mogadon acoustic pop with jazzy tinges and smoky beats, Jakokoyak’s lilting guitar lines, elemental breakbeats and casual vocals create a late night, boulevard of broken dreams, empty city streets mood and prove a very sultry soundtrack.
Linda’s Nephew – Demo EP
Feisty, wilful and animated, Linda’s Nephew bang out synth driven, thrashy indie in blink and you’ll miss them sub three minute packages. With a fiery nonchalance and raw vigour, they’ve a lot of promise, sounding a little like an early Linkin’ Park on the demo’s opening track, “Health Challenged Survival”. A change of pace and more traditional sound follows on the second tune “God Dammit Leroy” which follows the well worn Smiths / Killers’ take on modern guitar bands but Linda’s Nephew return to their more naturally obtuse sound with final track, rounding off the EP with the keyboard driven, almost Inspiral Carpets a like, electronic funk rock of “Michael Barrymore”. A blistering two tunes there with bags of potential to boot.
Lost City Ramblers – Lost City Ramblers
Across some eleven tracks, the Lost City Ramblers hand one, less a demo and more a full album and one that keeps up its quality throughout. A messy, sauntering garage rock and country soul hybrid, its direct aggression, monster percussion and finely tuned musicianship mark it out. Their style’s rather like The Zutons if reaching for a modern day comparison but there are far more nuances of legendary bands influencing the band here, the likes of Muddy Waters, early R& B influenced Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, and the Velvet Underground here. Although the style could be termed regressive, the content keeps its up to date smarts and although it’s difficult to isolate stand-out tracks, the contemporary blues of “Junkie”, “Child Of The 80’s” and “I Was A Teenage Assassin” highlight that Lost City Ramblers have assembled a mature and accomplished sound in their two years together thus far.
The Low Lights – Demo EP
With their sharp, punkish tinged, uptempo angular guitar led modern indie calling to mind contemporaries the Arctic Monkeys and forebears The Jam and The Undertones, The Lowlights bouncy, nippy verve combines blasé, sneering vocals and scuzzy guitars to create a vibrant tenacity all of it’s own making. A band of 19 year olds, their teenage kicks seem entirely suited to the current, young indie kid scene as the disco pop mod of “Listen To Me”, the building intro to “Persephone” and the male Pipettes swing of “You & I Should Go Dancing” all back up why their reputation appears to be growing across the industry and media. The Lowlights may claim to have hauled themselves straight outta the Cardiff gutter but with the right spins and turns along the way, The Lowlights could find themselves mixing in far loftier circles.
Lucky Star – Demo Ep
Yet another of Manchester hippest bands, Lucky Star might prove to be something special, combining menacing basslines to post punk elements alongside scratchy vocals and terrific guitars hooks in a diverse, intriguing and inventive take on modern indie guitar bands. The Ska and Techno influenced “Hit & Run” bounces along well enough and the neo Gogol Bordello intro to “Shaking Bones” shows a level of innovation. With good songwriting and a nice bit of class, other tracks “False Start Upstart”, the more melodic “Turn Away”, and the slightly darker “See You Alone” are all way cool, catchy and assured. Could see this lot doing a hell of a lot of damage out live as there’s plenty of action knocking round here. Dead, dead good.
Lyla Foy – Demo EP
Sounding much like a more demure and well behaved Lilly Allen in places, Lyla Foy’s bouncy, breezy, lightweight pop has an almost swing, lounge feel with its hints of Serge Gainsbourg, Nancy Sinatra and Nursery-eque vibes. Coy, commercial, girly pop tinges dominate the first two tracks “Back & Forth” and “Silly Me” whose elegant touches and lyrics make them especially radio friendly. A deeper, more emotive edge dominates the final acoustic track “Great Unknown”, whose wavering imploring vocal and “Goodbye My Lover” style guitar line show upcoming promise and that this young lady could mature very well as an artist.
Merchandise – Album Sampler (Cityscape Records)
Reminding me of Squeeze and The Housemartins, this slightly effete light jazzy pop might appear deceptively simple but it’s well arranged and produced, almost guaranteed to have the listener skipping down a sun kissed Summer avenue. It sounds totally ideal for the soundtrack of any Working Title romantic comedy and places itself right in the territory of Everything But The Girl’s early gear. Great vocals, even better harmonies, nice keyboard stabs and well structured songs, Merchandise’s soulful, fluffy-ness is backed up by being well crafted and measured. All in all, a very good debut.
Really liked these lads when I saw them live and the demo doesn’t disappoint either. Bringing forth a groovy sense of Mancunian melancholy and threat, they pursue a more modern stylish take on traditional singalong baggy. Somewhat Doves, a touch of James but with smart, updated edges, the choruses prove bonanza, hands in the air, “have that” moments married to shuffling, shoulder swinging beats. Very Second Coming inspired, especially on the intro to the stirring “Plastic Cherry Girl”, The Moods are tuneful, deep and direct enough to wow many an audience.
The Naturals – Anticipation EP (Buy Our Records)
The Naturals proved one of the major discoveries of ITC 2007 and the amassed major A&R’s in the room can’t be wrong all the time as The Naturals’ modish, punk-esque indie seems to benefit from an exuberant, access all areas, zesty, joie de vivre. From the anti-politic, there’s something wrong with “Number Ten” to the vivid waves of guitars on “Silent Riot”, The Naturals already have plenty to bring to the table. The catchy, nervy anthem in waiting “Concrete Sea” could be their breakthrough track, an ideal radio track with a snappy refrain that “it never gets any easier” while a change of pace to the more melodic, Doves a like, “Boxes” with its Ian Astbury styled vocal and reverberating, slamming guitars displays a great versatility. Already sounding way older than their years, these kids certainly named themselves right.
Nomad Jones – Demo Ep
Apparently taking on the Jilted John role in his song-writing , Nomad Jones’ graceful acoustic tales of relationship woe prove both acute and touching. A high end vocal performance taking in love, longing and loss, Nomad Jones exhibits more talent in his little finger than the likes of James Blunt will have in their whole career. Nippy guitar work and great ability all round across the three tracks, especially the exquisite strings on “Slow Down”. It’s all a little bit forlorn and “my baby left me” but he’s young, raw and worth keeping an eye out for. If Nomad Jones song-writing keeps developing, his powerful live demeanour could see him up there with the likes of Damien Rice and that company of balladeers.
The Nouvelles – “Bon Genre”Demo
Again another Manc band with a lot, indeed so much to answer for. Only a two track demo but with enough knockabout fun and humour to satisfy even the most cynical. The I Wanna Be Your Dog style “Baby Doll” kicks it off with surfs up guitars, an Iggy-esque drawl and sumptuous, succulent pop drops. Second track “Pogo Stick” is even better, an early Mondays type anthem that calls to mind “Do It Better” and “Fat Lady Wrestlers” with its repetitive “coochy coo” lyric and funk, driven guitar breaks. Perfect for the likes of Get Loaded and clubs of that ilk, The Nouvelles sound like they’re having a barrel of laughs and I’d wager that most of you would too.
Six10repeater – Heart & Minds EP (Roughboy Records)
Grungey, American sounding indie with strong vocals at the helm, Six10repeater’s EP stays thankfully just about the right side of heavy rock for this reviewer. Kind of like a harder edged Transvision Vamp, driving, surgent guitars on “Today Somehow” tie up to a “kicks like a mule” melody. Second track “Farewell To The Fall” is a more dreamy, Fall Out Boy type MTV rock staple where a great video could make all the difference while the dark, rich tapestry woven by final tune “Hearts & Nails” shows what a well produced demo this is. Ideal for an afternoon slot in a rockier festival running order a la Reading, it’d be interesting to see how this lot would go down.
The Vipers – Fear Of The Readheads
Wearing its wickedness on its sleeve, the dark, Buzzcocks, riotous traditional rock punk of The Vipers comes armed with same malevolent spirit that unites the Cramps, MC5 and Xtrmntr era Primal Scream. With a nod to Kafka on its forceful first track, “Josef K” which snaps vigorously that “they made me a monster” and the EP continues from them in a relentlessly demonic vein of underground thrash fuelled US grime rock. An uncompromising six tracker of intense three minute marvels like “Little Princess”, “Roaches” and “Your Eyes”, The Vipers heavier credentials hopefully wont stop them reaching the audience they deserve.