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Thursday, 30 October 2014

'Picture Me Gone' by Meg Rosoff


*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Picture Me Gone' is the first Meg Rosoff novel I've read, but I'm coming away from the experience feeling distinctly disappointed and still filled with questions, which is frustrating as heck when I'd heard so many good things about her books. 
'Picture Me Gone' tells the story of Mila, a 12 year old Londoner who goes on a trip to New York with her father in an attempt to find her father's best friend who recently left home unexplained. As you can expect by that summary, the majority of the story is based around the mystery of where Matthew has disappeared to, why and whether they can find him.
The writing style of this novel is one of the most unusual things I've ever read, but it's not in a good way. All of the speech is reported, meaning that none of the talking is actually placed in quotation marks. At the start of the book I found this quite jarring and unpleasant, but by the end of the novel I was used to it so it wasn't affecting me too badly, but there were still some sections in which the reported speech and the general narration of the scene were easily confused. An example of this would be "Use a plate, Lynda says to Jake, and picks one up from a shelf behind the table. I take it from her and she thanks me, then turns back to Gil. I really do wish I could help. But I don't have any idea of where he might be. I don't even know who his friends are." The first time I read this, I read the "I really do wish I could help" as part of Mila's internal thought structure, to which I thought that she could easily help just by passing him the plate, but after another read through I realised that it was back to Lynda's speech to Gil, which wasn't exactly obvious at the first encounter. I still can't actually find a good reason for the decision to use this writing style; yes, it could have just been chosen to make the book seem edgy and unusual in a market that hasn't started to repeat itself extremely frequently, but it still didn't exactly make sense and if other Meg Rosoff books are written in this style I don't think I'm going to be picking up as many as I had planned to. 
Similarly, Mila's voice is very unusual, to the point that it just doesn't combine well with her character. She's a twelve year old, which is very obvious through many of her actions (such as getting stroppy and sending Matthew some pretty abrasive texts, or getting angry with her father and proceeding to throw snowballs at their motel window), but her voice is that of a much older person to the point where it becomes uncomfortable to read. Sometimes she seems more childlike, but if a twelve year old announces "How did it come to this? The furious me hurling snowballs at a motel window? The me despising my father?" it just seems she has much too much self-awareness to only be twelve and, with the first half of the novel including her complaining multiple times about how little knowledge she has about the world due to her age, it just doesn't seem to compute.
Despite the fact that I didn't particularly understand why Mila was written in the way that she was or why the writing style was chosen, there were other issues that led to me coming away from this book feeling more muddled than resolved. Towards the climax of the novel, after Mila and Gil have met up with Matthew, she looks into Matthew's eyes and just knows that Honey the dog was in the front of the car on the night that Matthew's son Owen died, which is why Owen was sat in the back, and she just knows that Matthew is planning upon killing himself. It appears that by jumping to conclusions she finds the right answers, because when she confronts Matthew about planning to kill himself he isn't outraged or in denial, but we never really get any answers as to how she works this out so easily. Throughout the novel she is apparently using the power of perception to analyse situations and work everything out in record time, but it would be really nice if we got to see the signs that caused her to jump to that conclusion, instead of just the description that "I meet Matthew's eyes. [...] It sucks me down into a furious black fog, a muttering hell. I struggle in the cloying dark". Similarly, in the last two or three chapters, Mila describes herself as going into their heads instead of as just being extremely empathetic and working out their emotions through that type of observation, so I'm left with a confusion about when the shift was made. 
The final thing that annoyed me about the novel was how open ended it was left. From what I know this is a standalone novel, but we never find out whether Matthew does actually commit suicide, we never get any more details about Catlin, Mila's best friend, and that just leaves me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Throughout the novel it was telling us the parallel stories of two best friends: Gil and Matthew, Catlin and Mila. But we never get any kind of resolution with Catlin and Mila's story - we know that Catlin's parents have gotten divorced, she's been smoking weed and drinking a lot and she has basically ignored Mila for the last however many months, but we never find out whether they actually become friends again or whether she's actually looking for a resolution. It just seems a bit pointless to follow the story of two teenage schoolgirls who are attempting to revive the friendship between them, just to get a lot of random flashbacks and the knowledge that she wants an Easter egg not for the chocolate but as "a sign". 
Other than these negatives, I can appreciate what Meg Rosoff was attempting to do with this novel. It sets up a lot of good questions about how we know when we're really grown up (despite the fact that they're being placed by a twelve year old) and the differences between adults and children in the cold light of day. Mila's questioning of "I wonder at what point a child becomes a person" and then saying later "I want to go back to being a child" demonstrates perfectly the problem in society of everyone attempting to grow up too fast and then regretting it, and her comment about Suzanne being "one of those people who thinks that just because I'm young I'm blind to what's true and what's not" is something I've personally experienced multiple times. I do think that this novel is most definitely centered towards a younger audience, as any older readers might feel negatively towards some of Mila's actions and observances. I will admit I did think she was being rather childish when she discovered that her father had been lying towards her, as in the grand scheme of things that wasn't the worst thing that he could have done, but I can understand where the novel was coming from and what she was attempting to deal with using it. I might read another of her novels in the future, but at the moment I'm not completely obsessed with the idea. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

'Cavalier Youth: Special Edition' by You Me At Six


I reviewed 'Cavalier Youth' when it was first released all the way back at the start of the year, and this is what I said then:


"Following the release of lead single 'Lived A Lie' and follow-up 'Fresh Start Fever', my expectations of You Me At Six's fourth full-length were raised pretty high. Their third release 'Sinners Never Sleep', released just over two years ago, reached number 3 on the UK album charts and inspired a live DVD of their biggest headline show to date, aptly titled 'The Final Night Of Sin'. With TFNOS being the highest point of YMAS's career to ate, the follow-up needed to be spectacular. 
However, it falls short of the mark. In the past I've criticised Josh Franceschi's lyrics for being lazy (an example being during 'Crash' when he croons 'I know I've said this all before'). This is still a major fault with their newest release. Opening song 'Too Young To Feel This Old' contains the lyric 'what happens next, who cares?' which immediately makes me answer 'I don't'. 'Win Some, Lose Some', 'Cold Night' and 'Wild Ones' are too slow and repetitive, causing the feeling that something essential is lacking in this album that has never been absent in a YMAS release before. 
The album picks up drastically during 'Hope For The Best', with a fast paced intro which grabs the audience, the lyrics 'I hope for the best, I prepare for the worst' showing that despite being a band that can sell out Wembley Arena, Franceschi still has doubts and he hasn't let the fame get to his head. 'Love Me Like You Used To' is another high point on the album and when Franceschi demands 'Love me like you used to [...] just love me like you need me' fans are not going to refuse.
'Be Who You Are' is, for me, the biggest disappointment on the album. After the speedy delivery of 'Love Me Like You Used To', it feels awkwardly placed in the track listing, making the album sound more mix-and-match than a final, polished product. With a run-time of 1:48, the song sounds unfinished and incomplete, with the cliched sentiment 'You are my little star' making me feel sick for the sugary sweetness.
Followed by the uplifting and inspiring 'Carpe Diem', soon to be a stadium anthem adored by all YMAS fans, 'Be Who You Are' just seems inconsequential and unnecessary. 'Carpe Diem' feels more honest to YMAS and, along with 'Lived A Lie' and 'Fresh Start Fever', is one of the only songs that I could envision at any point in their back catalogue. 
It's good to see the band going in a new direction and you can definitely feel that the experiences that they gathered during their last album cycle have impacted their writing style, as you can feel that they're aiming towards stadium fillers, even if they do miss the mark on a few songs. Old YMAS fans will not be turned off and they're likely to gather a few more in, especially with the close 'Wild Ones' giving an atmospheric feel that will appeal to London Grammar fans and will be massive on the festival circuit this summer. I just can't imagine this album having as big an impact on YMAS's career as the game-changing 'Sinners Never Sleep'."


Apparently 'Cavalier Youth' was destined to have a big impact on You Me At Six's career, because it ended up shooting to number one, their first album to reach such a high position. I have always had a disconnect with You Me At Six recently released albums; it took me three or four months to like 'Hold Me Down' and a good few listens to appreciate the skill and talent showcased on 'Sinners Never Sleep'.
However, I still don't really understand why everyone is so enamoured with this album. I still love the singles ('Lived A Lie' and 'Fresh Start Fever' respectively) while 'Room To Breathe' and 'Forgive and Forget' seemed extremely forgettable the first time I heard the album but now they're probably my two favourite tracks after experiencing them live at Alexandra Palace back in April. 'Hope For The Best' and 'Carpe Diem' are still brilliant, but as a whole it still doesn't feel like a cohesive collection of songs, so I still feel like I'm walking away more confused than satisfied by this release.
So you might be wondering "if you didn't like the album that much the first time around and you still don't particularly love it now, why did you order the re-release?"
Partially because of the beautiful repackaging; the black and white is reminiscent of 'Sinners Never Sleep' and I think it's so well designed, with amazing photography.
But the main reason?
There is a simple answer to that question - the acoustic tracks.
Since the release of their Record Store Day vinyl back in 2011, I have been a strong advocate for You Me At Six to do an acoustic, unplugged album, so with these five tracks I get a bit of a taste of what I've always been craving. Acoustic You Me At Six is far better than normal You Me At Six and I could argue this until the cows come home. After experiencing their secret set at Reading, in which they played these five songs, I knew I had to pre-order it and I've been anticipating its release for the last two months.
The rearrangement of 'Lived A Lie' is much better than the original song, and the original is probably my favourite song off of 'Cavalier Youth', so it gets off to an extremely strong start. Second up, 'Fresh Start Fever' and I'm in equal parts impressed and disappointed how raw and exposed Josh Franceschi's voice is. There are pieces that seem a bit too raw and badly sung, but it adds to the emotion in the song and it makes you feel as though you're experiencing something really important. Too many bands nowadays use too many effects on their music, even when attempting to get a live sounding recording, so these Dean Street Studios sessions are brilliant. I still don't like 'Cold Night', so I wasn't in love with the acoustic because it still felt too boring, but 'Room To Breathe' is breathtaking. Out of all of the acoustics, 'Room To Breathe' is definitely the standout one - the guitars are brilliant and Josh's vocal is completely on point. In my opinion songs like this suit his voice much more, as sometimes during their songs I feel as though he's pushing and straining his vocals but his voice sounds so much better when he relaxes into it more. 'Wild Ones' seems like a strange one to conclude the five tracks, because after 'Room To Breathe' it just falls a little bit short. Regardless of that, it's still a really good reissue and if you haven't already picked up 'Cavalier Youth' I'd recommend getting it if you like You Me At Six doing acoustic stuff. If they don't play any acoustic songs on their February arena tour with All Time Low I'm going to be extremely disappointed, so I hope they include a couple of these to shake things up a bit.

Tracklist:
Too Young To Feel This Old
Lived A Lie
Fresh Start Fever
Forgive and Forget
Room To Breathe
Win Some, Lose Some
Cold Night
Hope For The Best
Love Me Like You Used To
Be Who You Are
Carpe Diem
Wild Ones
Lived A Lie (acoustic)
Fresh Start Fever (acoustic)
Cold Night (acoustic)
Room To Breathe (acoustic)
Wild Ones (acoustic)

'Asymmetry' (Deluxe Edition) by Mallory Knox


The first thing I need to say about this album is that the design of it is absolutely superb. The front cover is a kind of shiny foil and the fold-out includes four lyrics (pictured below).






It's so unusual to see an album designed so well, and so uniquely, that it put my expectations for the quality of the music through the roof. Based off of the first three releases from this album ('QOD II', 'Ghost In The Mirror' and 'Shout At The Moon') as well as the song they debuted at Reading Festival ('The Remedy') I already knew I enjoyed some of Mallory Knox's new songs, but the album as a whole?
I don't even have the words to describe how utterly impressed I am.
Opening track 'Ghost In The Mirror' has already gathered a lot of fans in the few months since it's been released and, although I wasn't too impressed when I heard it for the first time at Slam Dunk Festival way back in May, it has most definitely grown on me. It sounds a lot like 'Lighthouse' from debut album 'Signals' which left me feeling a bit anxious in case the album wasn't a progression but was instead a repetition, but this anxiety was completely unfounded.
The standout tracks that show how much Mallory Knox have developed and improved are definitely 'Getaway' and 'She Took Him To The Lake'. 'Getaway' is absolutely beautiful, with the repetition of "tell me you're okay, cause you're dying just to tell me you're not" sure to evoke emotions amongst many fans, while 'She Took Him To The Lake' is the first song I've ever heard that is over seven minutes that has held my attention until the end. Normally I am a strong advocate for songs less than five minutes as I do have an extremely low attention span, but I cannot even describe how perfectly written and performed this song really is. One of the things that sets Mallory Knox apart from the crowd is that the backing vocals are always equally as good as main vocalist Mikey Chapman, or in some instances even better. This is one of the latter occurrences. "Tied up, she took him to the lake to watch him drown", is the best imagery that they paint throughout the album, but with Mikey singing "If it's you that makes the first mistake, then it's me that makes the last" being one of the most emotional and impassioned lines I've ever heard in a Mallory Knox song. Seeing the play time at 7:20 automatically filled me with dread, but in just one play this has become my favourite Mallory Knox song and I can imagine it being atmospheric and received perfectly well in a live environment despite the length.
Despite the fact that those two songs are my standouts, the others are all equally strong and successful. 'Dying To Survive' starts off feeling rather grungey, which is unusual for Mallory Knox, but I was disenchanted by the end of it because of the inclusion of siren sound effects in the backing track, which is just being done by everyone recently. 'Shout At The Moon' didn't impress me too much the first time I heard it because it sounded so much like the songs Mallory Knox had put out in the past, but it's grown on me and I can definitely appreciate the subtle nuances that make it one of the best songs in a pretty flawless album. 'Fire' includes Mikey Chapman showing off his vocal skills in a way he hasn't really done before and it's good to see the band growing in confidence, because they really have a talent that puts them ahead of the game for upcoming bands.
However, despite the fact that they're ahead of the game, you can definitely see the influence of their peers upon them. 'Heart and Desire' includes a "lover, lover" repetition that echoes Don Broco's 'Here's The Thing', but there are also aspects of the album that could fit perfectly on a Deaf Havana or a Lower Than Atlantis release, showing the friendships weaved in the upcoming British rock scene are not likely to be ripped apart because of higher album sales or a more popular single.
The final song on the normal album is 'Dare You', which is pretty obvious because the minute long introduction is epic and impressive in a way that never seemed to be achieved on 'Signals'. It's the perfect conclusion to an amazing album but in my opinion, if you haven't already purchased 'Asymmetry', it's worth purchasing the deluxe edition just for the final three songs. 'Piece Of My Heart' sounds like something that could have come straight off of 'Signals' and 'QOD II' has already gotten a lot of love as it was the first song that Mallory Knox released before the second album announcement news, but it's the third song, 'Glimmer' that really stands out. The song is filled with country influence meaning it's something completely different for Mallory Knox, but it's also so unique and original I don't think I've ever heard anything like this song before.
I went into this album so worried that it was just going to be 'Signals 2' but this is one of the most exciting releases of 2014 so far, and with only a few weeks to go I think it's going to be in a lot of the best album of the year lists. While the number one album spot this weekend is likely to be handed to Taylor Swift, Mallory Knox deserve it a hell of a lot more, so I hope they get a good debut spot for a brilliant album. If you can get along to see their November tour you definitely should; not for Frank Iero's UK debut tour, but because Mallory Knox are an exciting band and they're only gonna get bigger from here. If they don't headline a show at Brixton Academy next year I will be extremely surprised.

Tracklist:
Ghost In The Mirror
Getaway
Dying To Survive
Shout At The Moon
Fire
When Are We Waking Up?
She Took Him To The Lake
Heart and Desire
Lonely Hours
The Remedy
Dare You
Piece Of My Heart
Glimmer
QOD II

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'Sweet Damage' by Rebecca James


*This review will contain spoilers!*

Wow. 
There are not even enough words to describe how impressed I am by this novel. 
'Sweet Damage' tells the story of Tim Ellison, a twenty-ish guy who is lounging around, not really doing anything with his life apart from working in his fathers restaurant. He's lodging with his ex-girlfriend, Lilla, and her current boyfriend, Patrick, so tensions are high which is what causes him to move out. He moves to a large house called Fairview, one of the largest houses in all of Sydney, moving in with a reclusive young woman called Anna London. Anna is suffering from agoraphobia, so Tim is giving a very low rent price in exchange for him keeping her company and buying things from the shop for her. 
And then things get creepy. 
Tim wakes up in the middle of the night, sure someone is watching him. Then he hears footsteps following him home from a night at work. A birthday present gets delivered for him - a box full of spiders that quickly take over his room. A mysterious message written in red appears on the wall. Tim automatically assumes Anna is behind the creepy goings-on, but the truth is much worse than that...
The reveal comes very quickly in the last fifty pages of the novel, meaning for a little bit before that it starts to drag. When you know there's going to be a big reveal and it's slowly building up to it, it definitely raises the anticipation but it made me extremely impatient; surprisingly, it was absolutely worth the wait. 
Along with the main plot line of what the hell is going on here what is all this, there is the more emotionally centered and heartbreaking story of Anna's past. Anna is suffering with agoraphobia and depression following the death of her son, Ben, who drowned a little over six months before the novel commences. It takes a lot of time for Anna to open up to Tim, so there are a lot of questions waiting to be answered over the first half of the novel, but I think the revealing and Tim's subsequent dealing with the new information on her past was handled so amazingly well. I was extremely impressed with seeing agoraphobia tackled in a novel anyway; I've never seen another book about it and I found it very interesting getting inside Anna's head and learning more about how the disorder really makes you feel about yourself and about the world around you.
I hated Lilla's character from the beginning, so the fact that the big reveal ended up with her being an absolute psychopath didn't annoy me but it definitely did surprise me. I'm normally good at seeing hints coming along the way but there were a lot of little things (the mention of Anna's fathers affairs, Tim seeing the satchel in Lilla's house) that I let slip through my net because I thought they were completely irrelevant, so I was very happy to actually be surprised by the ending of a novel for once. It's reminiscent of 'Blood Brothers' (if you haven't heard of it, it's a play about two twins who are born to a poor mother; she gives one away to a rich family to give him a chance of a better life and then everything kicks off when the poor son finds out that his twin is loaded) but that's not a negative, it's really good to see a modern twist on it and the female point of view as well.
Tim is probably one of the best male narrators I've ever experienced; too often they're painted to be inconsiderate, unemotional and fearless, but Tim demonstrates all too well that he can be terrified and in love, so I enjoyed seeing a male character so in touch with their emotions. 
I haven't read any other Rebecca James novels, but I'm definitely going to keep an eye out in future because this is one of the best books I've read in the entirety of 2014. It blends horror/spooky elements with enough mystery to keep you guessing, but it's also a contemporary new adult novel with Tim and Anna's developing relationship and them learning how to be together and to know each other. I'd definitely recommend picking up this book, especially if you can get hold of it before Halloween because it's the perfect atmospheric spooky read for this time of the year. Not many books make my heart race but this was indeed one of them! 

'Wolves' by The Blackout


In my opinion, 'The Best In Town' by The Blackout is one of the best albums of all time. If I had to choose my top five favourite albums, it would most definitely be in it and because of that I have been disappointed by their last two albums, 'Hope' and 'Start The Party'. When they announced the Kickstarter for 'Wolves' there wasn't a question in my mind that I was going to help fund it, because any new The Blackout music is better than none, even if it doesn't fit into my particular liking. 
But now, The Blackout are back.
'Wolves' is a return to form the likes of which I've been waiting for for a long time. Just under nineteen minutes, it's a tour de force showcasing a combination of their best moments across the years. It couldn't possibly be any better than it is.
Opening with the title track, 'Wolves', which was released back in September (and now has a stunning music video, which you should check out), my only complaint about this song is the effect on the vocals throughout the verses. When a band has a vocalist like Gavin Butler, no effects are needed; his voice is absolutely amazing by itself and it would be much better if he was allowed to shine. However, even with that complaint, it's still one of the best songs The Blackout have written and released in recent years. 
'Liars' is my personal favourite track on the album, as it seems the one that is most likely to be able to fit on 'The Best In Town'. Sean Smith's screaming is one of the focal points and I can imagine in a live environment this would get an amazingly good reaction. The repeated "Take me to the hospital" is reminiscent of the end of 'Higher and Higher' and the frantic repetition is one of the things The Blackout do best. 
Third up, 'Pieces', the song that sounds most like it could fit onto 'Hope'. The "woah-oh" sections also point towards working well in a live environment, but as a whole the entire EP could fit well into their setlist. With their upcoming November tour (featuring support from When We Were Wolves and Yashin) rapidly approaching, I hope that you all get tickets, as I'm sure it'll be an improvement on a setlist that was already completely amazing. You can't beat The Blackout's live performance, so if you're on the fence about going along you must do it. 
The start of 'Hold On' is like a kick in the teeth with how heavy it is and the chorus is one of the catchiest things I've heard in a few months, while finale track 'Chains' is atmospheric and beautiful in a way The Blackout have never attempted before. If you've never listened to this band before, this is the perfect gateway, as it blends all of the aspects they've ever succeeded with in the past in an absolutely genius way, while still sounding unique and original. Similarly, if you're already a fan of The Blackout and you haven't yet heard this album, that's a massive mistake. 
The only major problem with this EP is that it's so damn short! Despite the fact that it's only just been released, I'm already getting excited to see where the band go next. They've gone back to their roots, they've gone back to what they do best - it can only get better from here.

Tracklist:
Wolves
Liars
Pieces
Hold On
Chains

Kids In Glass Houses - Reading Sub89, 27/10/14


Sadly, compared to last night's performance, Save Your Breath seem to a fall a little short in connecting with the crowd, which makes the first half of their set seem unnaturally forced. It's a shame because, musically at least, they're still on the top of their game. While vocalist Kristian Richards might not be throwing himself into the crowd as often as he did last night, it's still one of the most energetic performances I've seen Save Your Breath put on. However, the crowd seem largely unresponsive until the midpoint of the set, which left the beginning falling a little flat. Similarly, they don't seem to talk to the crowd as much as they did at Oxford, possibly because of the general passive attitude in the venue. When playing 'Skin and Bones' the acoustics in the venue make Kristian's voice seem much rougher than they did last night, and not necessarily in a positive way, but the song is still so beautifully performed that it doesn't even matter if the vocals aren't completely on point. They played exactly the same set as at Oxford, which was both unsurprising and incredibly pleasing, as when a band can get a setlist that well crafted it makes sense for them to play it on multiple occasions and by 'Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy' most of the crowd was dancing and singing along, possibly because a lot of people arrived after their set began. 

Setlist:
Lessons 
Maps
Fake It Like You Mean It
Skin and Bones
Touchpaper
Stay Young
Harrow Road
Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy

Despite the fact that the crowd seemed quite complaisant throughout the majority of Save Your Breath's set, that completely changed during Kids In Glass Houses performance. 'Undercover Lover' with the small snippet of 'Dancing on the Ceiling' was much better executed and received and 'Drive' managed to incite one of the biggest dance-alongs I've ever seen at Sub 89. 'Fisticuffs' had an amazing extended outro that was so atmospheric it gave me goosebumps; the extension was extremely well performed and it gave a hint towards where Kids In Glass Houses could have gone in the future, if this wasn't their fourth from last ever show. All of the members shined again tonight: Philip Jenkins bringing in 'Artbreaker I' with his drum solo was even more impressive second time around, Joel Fisher's solo during 'Animals' has always been one of the all time highlights of 'In Gold Blood', Shay's backing vocals seriously point towards the possibility of being a vocalist in the future and Iain Mahanty's guitar section has always been my favourite part of 'The Morning Afterlife', and it will continue to be for a very long time. 
The only complaint I have about this entire set was Aled Phillips' acoustic version of 'Raise Hell'. Despite the fact that the Oxford show was both sold out and a larger capacity, as soon as Aled started talking and singing the entire venue was both captivated and focused, silent apart from singing along. However, at Sub 89 the crowd talked over Aled introducing the song, including his reminiscing of playing in Reading with Hundred Reasons back in 2006 and never before having played a headline show in Reading. The crowd continued to talk throughout the acoustic, which just seemed so incredibly rude and lacking of respect. Aled's voice is even more beautiful in an acoustic environment, so the fact that the attendees were in the presence of something so amazing and just seemed to dismiss it really annoyed me. I understand that it's highly unlikely that the crowd were silent at Oxford; possibly I was in a better place or the venue had better acoustics, but it was still the only low point out of an extremely amazing set. 
Starting the encore with 'Peace' was a stroke of genius because it united all fans, old and new, in the send-off of an amazing band. During 'Youngblood (Let It Out)', on the line "pitch black" the venue lights all went out; it proves what a brilliant band Kids In Glass Houses really are in that the entire time the lights were out everyone was still completely captivated, cheering the band until they burst back in with the second half of the song in a moment that was triumphant and spectacular. 'Saturday' was always going to be one of the best received songs, so finishing off with the double hitter of that and 'Matters At All' cemented in every attendees mind just how flawless this band really are. Going to two shows in a row, I thought I would have a clear favourite and would end up being disappointed with one of the performances, but with a band like Kids In Glass Houses you can never be let down by their live show. 
At the end of the set, I managed to get a setlist and a pick (the other pick in the image is the one my mum caught) and it's the first time I've ever managed to do that, and it means so much to me that it was from one of the best live shows I've ever seen.

Setlist:
Artbreaker I
The Best Is Yet To Come
Give Me What I Want
Undercover Lover (with a small cover of Dancing on the Ceiling)
Drive
Fisticuffs
Easy Tiger
Dance All Night
Animals
Diamond Days
Lilli Rose 
Sunshine
Raise Hell (acoustic)
The Morning Afterlife
Hunt The Haunted
Artbreaker II 
-
Peace
Youngblood (Let It Out)
Saturday 
Matters At All 

And with this, the last time that I will ever see one of my favourite bands live, I'm making an appeal to you, and that appeal is: 
If you support music, prove it. 
Outcry Collective. Pegasus Bridge. My Passion. Elliot Minor. Futures. Attack! Attack!. Pure Love. Sharks. Summerlin. The Dead Lay Waiting. We Caught The Castle. Your Demise. Jody Has A Hitlist. Canterbury. LostAlone. Kids In Glass Houses. 
All of these amazing bands have split up in the last few years, making such a dent in the upcoming British rock scene. If we want the British music scene to continue to thrive and expand, we need to make an effort as fans to support bands. Don't complain if they don't tour near you - if you love them that much, travel to them. Don't illegally download their songs - go to a show and buy their CDs. Don't go to a show and buy so much alcohol you can't stand straight and you will never be able to remember the gig - that causes you to spend more with less benefits for the band you're seeing.
With the cost of living soaring every year, the likelihood of a new wave of bands being plentiful and talented is extremely low, because people just won't be able to afford the risks of travelling around the country in a van without another form of solid income. Yes, there have been a few success stories in recent years (look at Mallory Knox, who had an extremely successful debut album in the form of 'Signals', or Asking Alexandria and Neck Deep, who made it in America before their names were even known over here), but we want more successes and less break ups. I don't know if all the bands above broke up because of financial reasons (think of My Chemical Romance; bands can break up because of reasons other than money, sometimes it just runs its course) but the fact that most of them are smaller, lesser known bands points towards that exact conclusion.
If a band you don't know go to a club near you, take a risk and go and see them live! I stumbled upon Young Guns, Don Broco and Fearless Vampire Killers in a tiny venue in Swindon, before any of their debut albums were released, and now look at where they are! You never know if you'll find your latest obsession for the tiny cost of a fiver. Take a risk, you probably won't regret it. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kids In Glass Houses - Oxford O2 Academy 2, 26/10/14


Unless you've been living under a rock for the last eight months, you'll know that Kids In Glass Houses announced their split all the way back in February, so this farewell tour has been a long time coming but it doesn't make it any less bittersweet. As one of the most successful bands coming from the Welsh music scene in a long long time, their split didn't (and still doesn't, to me) make any sense, and their live shows cement that disbelief even stronger in my mind. 
Starting off with a soundcheck party before the show, they gave fans an opportunity to both request rarely played songs and join them onstage. Opening with my personal request, 'Secret Santa' (don't judge me, I've never made it to any of their Christmas shows and this was my last chance!), they spent the next hour running through a short set of their most loved and least played songs before meeting and signing things for everyone. During 'Maybe Tomorrow' Beri Simmons joined them onstage to sing with them and during 'For Better Or Hearse', despite the technical difficulties that delayed the start of the song, they had a girl called Rachel playing the trumpet. It says a lot for this band that their soundcheck set was better performed than many bands full sets; Aled Phillips vocals are always absolutely stunning and musically the guys couldn't perform better. The technical difficulties weren't annoying in the slightest, because Aled's quick and witty banter was entertaining enough to watch for hours and the tiny 'Minority' cover the performed was hilarious. I've never seen a show where Kids In Glass Houses as a whole have looked so relaxed; the break up sucks, definitely, but it's obvious that it's taken a weight off of their shoulders and they're having much more fun on this tour than I've seen them have before. 

Soundcheck setlist: 
Secret Santa
Maybe Tomorrow
Minority cover
For Better or Hearse
Lovely Bones
The Florist

The main show commenced a little over two hours after the soundcheck ended, with support band Save Your Breath igniting a spark in the audience that had everyone dancing like crazy. Opening with the intro music from 'The Walking Dead' they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand for their entire set. The majority of their set was comprised of songs from their newest release, 2013's 'There Used To Be A Place For Us', and seeing their live set since the release of that album makes it obvious how much they've developed. I saw Save Your Breath in this same venue when they were supporting The Blackout at their 2011 Christmas show and their set back then was, sadly, rather forgettable. But it's a completely different story tonight. Speeding through their set, vocalist Kristian Richards spends more time in the crowd that he does on stage, demonstrating an energy that I haven't seen Save Your Breath perform with before and where before they were forgettable tonight they are breathtaking. Even when slowing it down to perform 'Skin and Bones' acoustically, it doesn't put a dent in the overall energy that they're oozing in their set, it just proves how beautiful Kristian's voice is and how well they write their lyrics. This is their third tour supporting Kids In Glass Houses, so it makes sense that they are the support on their last ever tour, but it's about time Save Your Breath start headlining venues this size instead of just supporting in them. 

Setlist: 
The Walking Dead intro
Lessons
Maps
Fake It Like You Mean It
Skin and Bones (with Kristian playing acoustic guitar)
Touchpaper
Stay Young
Harrow Road
Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy

I have seen a lot of bands live; tiny club bands, festival headliners, arena fillers. And based on this performance, Kids In Glass Houses are better than the majority of them. All of their songs are catchy and easy to sing along to; they've found the perfect formula for writing hits and from their first album they put themselves so far ahead of the crowd that it was difficult for them to get any better, but they succeeded with 'Dirt', their second release. While third and fourth albums, 'In Gold Blood' and 'Peace' respectively, might not have been so perfectly polished, they're both still better than most of the albums that have been getting churned out into the world in recent years. In my opinion, the setlist was the perfect blend, showcasing all of their greatest hits from the last eight years. It was 'Smart Casual' and 'Dirt'-centric, but when songs written that early in your career are that good it's always going to be impossible to step out from under their shadow. 
Bursting on to the stage after 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien' is played, it's automatically extremely high emotions in the room and they just get higher throughout the hour and a half set. They played all of the songs you'd expect them to play and more, and everyone in the room was singing and dancing along, showing just how many fans this band has managed to accumulate in less than a decade. Throughout the set all of the members get to show off their talents; drummer Philip Jenkins started proceedings by performing a drum solo before 'Artbreaker I', with Iain Mahanty, Shay and Joel Fisher all having their own solos throughout the set. Sometimes it's easy to forget how talented they all are apart as well as combined; if songs sound effortlessly written and run so smoothly the band seems to be more of a machine than a coming together of separate parts, so it hurts to now see the separate parts going their separate ways. I don't know what the guys are planning on doing after the split but I really hope some of them carry on with music. It would be a crime against the music industry to lose an amazing band and a group of talented individuals.
There is nothing I can fault about this entire performance. The lyrics of 'Undercover Lover' are extremely true; we aren't going to find another band as good, or as original, as Kids In Glass Houses, for a very long time. Despite the sad occasion I haven't seen a band receive a reaction this effusive in months, and playing 'Hunt The Haunted' is a stroke of genius; "A wake's a party, have a good time." Instead of mourning the death of Kids In Glass Houses, for this tour everyone is celebrating their life
and their legacy. History won't be forgetting this band any time soon and I feel sorry for anyone who never managed to experience their live shows as they are completely flawless. Aled closed the night by saying "Even now, at the end, I can't explain to you how fucking unbelievable it is to see this many people singing our songs back at us," and thanking Oxford for being there for the band over the years. After relating an anecdote about playing Give It A Name tour earlier in the set, it's obvious that Oxford holds a lot of good memories, so it's good that they've managed to return to say farewell. 
After the encore, when the band were walking off stage, 'We Are Never Getting Back Together' by Taylor Swift was played, so if you're still filled with the hope of them changing their minds it's time to come to terms with the fact that the end is KIGH. 

Setlist:
Artbreaker I
The Best Is Yet To Come
Give Me What I Want
Undercover Lover (with a small cover of Dancing On The Ceiling)
Drive
Fisticuffs
Easy Tiger
Dance All Night
Animals
Diamond Days
Lilli Rose
Sunshine
Raise Hell (acoustic)
The Morning Afterlife
Hunt The Haunted
Artbreaker II
-
Peace
Youngblood (Let It Out)
Saturday
Matters At All


I'm seeing them again at their Reading show, so I'll probably do a more in depth review about that show, I'm just feeling very overwhelmed and emotional about the whole situation. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

'Stella' by Helen Eve



*This review will contain spoilers!*

I don't think I have enough words to describe my hatred of this novel. I don't understand how it got published and I hope no one else reads this book, because it's one of the biggest waste of spaces I've ever experienced. 
'Stella' is a typical teen drama, along the lines of 'Pretty Little Liars' but with no likable characters and no redeeming factors. It tells the story of new girl Caitlin Clarke, who is absolutely in awe of the perfect and popular Stella Hamilton: the queen of the school, the ruler of everyone, blah blah blah. So far, so extremely average.
The actions of the characters fit better in a young child's book (putting their hands in the middle and chanting "Stars aligned!" is absolutely pathetic; I am a teenager and I know lots of teenagers and none of them are as childish as this), but there are so many things in this book that I utterly condemn, it makes me physically burn with anger:
1) It promotes anorexia. Not in a "I'm just gonna touch upon this here and then leave it", but in a shoving it down your throat that you will never amount to anything unless you starve yourself. As someone who has struggled with eating a lot in the past, I'm automatically very wary of books that include this issue, but promoting it? That's absolutely ridiculous! There are enough media outlets trying to convince young girls to starve themselves, we don't need published books encouraging them to as well. How does this book promote anorexia, you ask? Let me put a few of the quotes that are included:
  • "She never eats. It's amazing."
  • "It means we can eat, or more accurately, not eat, any time we please."
  • "Stella didn't eat a bite."
  • "After Fourth Form you don't get picked on for being skinny."
  • "[They] only ate visually appealing food in public. If they ate anything at all, that was."
  • "I no longer ate junk food."
  • "You've got so skinny I doubt any of mine will fit you."
...Is it just me that thinks this is absolutely inappropriate? None of the girls get any ill or receive any negative attention for it either; none of them get warned that they should probably start eating again, or that they really need to look after themselves, or that they're going to end up seriously damaging themselves. I think that is extremely inappropriate for a published novel that is aimed towards young girls. Whoever let this book get published with all of that content is ridiculous. 

(On a side note; If you want to read a good book about anorexia, read 'Wintergirls' by Laurie Halse Anderson. She deals with the subject matter so well and it doesn't promote it at all, but rather teaches you exactly why it's a terrible disease and an attitude you should not adopt.)
2) It promotes promiscuity. Yeah, yeah, I know that's not a massive deal for anyone anymore, because society has completely changed how people think about one night stands and sleeping around, but again I have a problem with this sort of conduct being encouraged towards young girls. Stella constantly convinces everyone else to sleep around, despite not having done it herself and being to embarrassed to admit that, when really it's better to encourage people that losing your virginity is not the be all and end all, it's just another step along a very long road that you can take your time to walk along. 
3) It promotes alcohol and drugs. Again, for an older reader I'm used to reading books about this so it's not a big deal to me, but when there is a twelve year old character drinking wine, getting drinks bought for her by older men and smoking it seems like something has gone seriously wrong there.
I'm sure you're thinking "well there must be some redeeming factors in this novel!". Well you would be wrong there. Generally in a book that has a double narrative that are fighting against one another, you're supposed to like one character more than the other. As Caitlin is the first character we encountered, I assumed that our liking was supposed to be swung towards her, but by the end I absolutely despised her. If you make a big point of saying how much you hate the way the school is run and then turn into the evil overlord you've been attempting to overthrow, you are ridiculous. Therefore, this novel is ridiculous. The ending is rushed; where it could have been fleshed out well to cause some actual real life in danger conflict it's over in two or three pages, contrasting to the long dragged out high school arguments that really could have done with being cut down. And with the open ending hinting towards a sequel, I highly hope that's not going to happen. 
I cannot recommend this novel. If you ever think about picking it up, please just put it down and run away. I've lost precious hours of my life to this book and I'm never going to get them back. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

'The Rosie Project' and 'The Rosie Effect' (Don Tillman #1 and #2) by Graeme Simsion

I'm reviewing these two books together because I received an ARC of 'The Rosie Effect' through Goodreads First Reads (thank you, Goodreads!) so I'm mainly reviewing that book... But I'm ashamed to say I hadn't actually read 'The Rosie Project' before so I'm just gonna write out a few thoughts and feelings about that. If you're only interested in reading my review of the first book, only read the first half and if you're only interested in reading my review of the new release just scroll down until you see the picture of its cover. 

The Rosie Project:


*This review will contain spoilers!*

'The Rosie Project' tells us the story of a geneticist, Don Tillman, who creates a questionnaire in the attempt to find the perfect wife. His best friend, Gene, introduces him to a barmaid called Rosie, who is completely and utterly incompatible with Don, but he still decides to help her in her quest to find her biological father. 
The first thing I need to say is that I absolutely love this novel. I didn't know too much about it going in, mostly because I was extremely attracted to the book cover which was the main reason I purchased it (the second reason being that a best friend of mine read it extremely recently so I was more intrigued by it). A quick warning; Don's narrative is quite hard to get into at the beginning (reminiscent of Sheldon Cooper from 'The Big Bang Theory') but if you persevere you will not be disappointed. The changes that Don undergoes throughout the last hundred pages of the novel are inspirational - if you've ever been looking for the motivation to change something about yourself that you don't particularly appreciate, this is the novel to push you towards doing it - but even before he changes parts of his personality he's very easy to empathise with. Claudia's implication that he could be on the Autistic spectrum isn't explicitly confirmed, but if he is this is also a brilliant novel to allow a wider public to understand how Autism sufferers feel on a day to day basis while communicating with others. 
In equal parts a romance and a comedy I'm sure this book will mostly appeal to women, but it also tells an inspiring and heart-warming story about how someone regarded as an outsider can fit in if given the chance and the motivation. At the start of the novel Don is a man who has a Standardised Meal System dictating every meal that he eats, organises most of his thoughts in list formation and is living by schedules that are both unbreakable and not flexible in any way, which is an extreme opposite to the lives that I'm sure most of us lead. Rosie is the complete opposite; absolutely disorganised and always late to every meeting. The fact that these two can be compatible is both surprising and endearing, bringing hope to many people who might believe they can never find love as they are. 
The main plot line is quite obviously focused upon Don and Rosie's unconventional love story, but even the secondary plot focusing upon Don's best friends Claudia and Gene is compelling and intriguing. Gene is also a geneticist (which isn't as ironic as you'd think, as it's psychologically proven we're driven towards careers that are linked with our names) who is attempting to undergo a project to sleep with women of every nationality due to his open marriage with Claudia. I was automatically extremely against this idea, but the way that the novel deals with Claudia finally understanding her misgivings and starting to doubt her decision teaches a great lesson about communication in a relationship. Oftentimes people will make a decision and assume that it is set in stone, no matter how much they end up questioning it, so this is a great novel to tell people that they really do need to speak up instead of quietly seething under the surface. The end of the novel resolves with Gene and Claudia attempting to solve their marriage issues, while Rosie and Don are living a married life in New York, so it will be extremely interesting to see where these characters end up in the sequel. This isn't my favourite book ever, as some of the disagreements between Don and Rosie that diverted them from being together earlier just seemed unnecessary; yes, it helped Don develop more but it was obvious that they were going to end the novel together so at points it seemed a bit cliched and dragging, but moving onto the sequel with Don and Rosie together will probably be better.  
I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book for a very young audience (there is some use of strong language) but if you're 17ish or above it seems like the kind of read that would be incredibly enjoyable. The mystery of who Rosie's father is keeps you guessing until the very end and some of the language in the book is quite specialised, so if you're looking for an intellectual read that will keep you hooked this is definitely the book for you. 

I'm not going to dwell upon the first novel too much, as I am mostly focussing this review upon the sequel, 'The Rosie Effect', so if you haven't read the second book yet - stop scrolling!

The Rosie Effect:

*This review will contain spoilers!*



One complaint I have about 'The Rosie Effect' is the book cover. I know I received an ARC so I don't know if the final cover is different to this one, but the fact that the font has changed from the look of the original novel really annoys me. However, I do really appreciate the fact that Graeme Simsion's name is now in the lobster red colour, which has swapped with the green for the apple. Small details like that get a lot of appreciation from me. 
Before I start this review I need to remind you that I was reading an ARC of 'The Rosie Effect' that I won through Goodreads First Reads. I can't imagine any of the big details having changed too dramatically, but if your transcript is different to mine I apologise!
When reading a sequel to a book that I've really enjoyed, I'm always filled with a sense of fear and, unfortunately, it was correct to be worried in this instance. 'The Rosie Effect' picks up with Rosie and Don ten months after their marriage, on the day that Rosie discovers she's expecting their first child. The premise was extremely interesting; seeing the development of Don's people skills to appreciate and cope with Rosie was lovely and heart-warming, so I assumed it would be the same in the second book, but unfortunately I was left rather disappointed. 
The problem was not with the writing, which I still extremely enjoyed, or with Don who I still absolutely adore, but with Rosie. I understand that women experience a lot of emotions during pregnancy due to hormones and other worries, but Rosie's responses all seemed to extremely selfish. There is a massive difference between being self-sufficient and being inconsiderate to the people around you that you are hurting. I know that part of this problem is probably because Don is our protagonist, so we want to empathise with him and feel more adjusted towards his emotions, but it just made Rosie seem entirely irrational and unpredictable. In the first novel Rosie was by far my favourite aspect, so it was a shame that this was ruined for me. No matter how hard Don tried, it wasn't the effort that she was wanting him to put in, which I just felt was absolutely unbelievable. However, I also know that I'm not the best to judge their relationship, as I have never been married or pregnant, so I can't understand the motivations behind her actions in the slightest. 
Another issue I faced was the dissolution of Gene and Claudia's marriage. At the start of the book we discover that Gene has been caught cheating again, so Claudia has thrown him out, but other than acquiring the knowledge that Claudia has moved on with Simon Lefebvre (one of Rosie's prospective fathers from the original novel) it feels like the story line is left untied. Claudia and Gene never have a conversation or a resolution of their conflict, so it just seemed a bit unfinished; similarly at the end of the novel we find out that Gene's children, Eugenie and Carl, are visiting him in New York for Christmas despite the fact that Claudia doesn't trust him in the slightest and therefore would be unexpected to allow their children to fly to the other side of the world to see him. However, despite their relationship not getting the closure I would have enjoyed, I did enjoy the burgeoning relationship between Gene and Lydia towards the end of the novel and it would have been interesting to see where it went. Yes, this novel is 400 pages, but it just doesn't seem enough when the characters are so immersive you want to experience the rest of their lives. 
If you absolutely completely and utterly loved the first book, I'm sure you'll love the second book without a question. Don's character doesn't change at all, attempting to re-implement the Standardised Meal System and still automatically calculating the BMI of every person he encounters. The prominence of Dave, the Fat Baseball Guy he met on his first trip to New York, and his wife, Sonia, was one of my favourite things about the entire novel. Their relationship is both realistic and rational which makes it a lot easier to relate to than Don and Rosie's relationship, so they probably overtook the race for my favourite couple in the series. If you didn't absolutely love the first book, I'm sure you'll still enjoy the second book, but it might be a bit harder to enjoy. 
I don't know if there's going to be a third Don Tillman novel, but if there is I really hope there is less of the ridiculous conflict. The first novel managed to juggle ridiculous scenarios with emotional scenes perfectly, but some of the trouble that Don got into in this second novel just made me feel exasperated. If I could wish for anything from this series it would be a retelling of the second novel from Rosie's perspective, so she seemed less irrational pregnant woman and more woman attempting to look out for the needs of her unborn child. The way it's written at the moment she just seems incredibly impulsive and it doesn't come across as endearing or acceptable behaviour. The implication that she's in love with another man and is leaving Don for him broke my heart; even if someone is being the most unemotional person in the world you shouldn't attempt to push them away with lies.  
Despite all of my negative comments I actually really enjoyed this novel and I can't wait to read more from Graeme Simsion in the future, hopefully soon. I love his writing style even if I don't necessarily love all of his characters all of the time (and face it, a character is much better if they have faults! A flawless character would be a boring character) and I love the fact that I learn more from Don's scientific vocabulary than I ever did during science lessons at school. If we do encounter Don Tillman again in the future, I can't wait to see how his role as a father develops with practical experience rather than theory. 

Monday, 6 October 2014

'Lower Than Atlantis' by Lower Than Atlantis


When Lower Than Atlantis signed to Island Records back in early 2012, everyone thought that the album that followed would be the one that changed their lives, so when 'Changing Tune' didn't go as well as expected, I don't think anyone had any ideas about where they would end up heading with their fourth album. With a tumultuous couple of years and an awful lot of uncertainty, the first single from their eponymous album, 'Here We Go', was released in June with vocalist Mike Duce ominously announcing that if things didn't go to plan with this album, it could be the end of them.
But after hearing this album, I don't think that's going to be happening. 
Quite frankly, this album is a triumph. Mike has always been accused of being a miserable bastard, but this is the most upbeat and positive Lower Than Atlantis that I think I've ever heard. 'Here We Go' is a battle cry of epic proportions, proclaiming "Come and have a go if you think you are hard enough" and challenging all of their critics to hit out at them following one of, if not the, most successful singles of the year. This sentiment is further developed on later, with a lyric in 'Criminal' stating "Is it really selling out if we just used them for their funds?". Second track 'Ain't No Friend' features a dance influence grounded in their rockier roots perfectly demonstrates the fact that this is a new Lower Than Atlantis, and a better one, than ever before. They've got the balls to stand up for themselves against critics and label bosses and the balls to make risky decisions, both of which make for a brilliant band. 
Despite the fact that I think this is probably one of the best albums of the year, there is an off moment in the shape of penultimate track 'Just What You Need'. Coupling echoey vocals with dance undertones seems uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of the chorus, which is of a much more conventional and enjoyable sound. 
But other than that, everything is absolutely magnificent. 'English Kids In America' was one of the most well-received songs at Reading Festival back in August and when a song that's only been released for a few weeks gets a sing-along of those kinds of proportions it proves that something big is coming. People have been ranting and raving about 'Emily' since its release last month and, although I don't really think it lives up to that level of hype, it really demonstrates a softer side to Mike, who admitted penning the song about his dog Rosie. Similarly, in 'Words Don't Come So Easily' the emotions are also shoved to the forefront, displaying the lyrical prowess that has resulted in Mike writing for the likes of McBusted and 5 Seconds of Summer in recent months. 
However much I hate to disagree with a man that I deeply respect, the lyric of "I'm only gonna waste your time" from 'Time' is completely incorrect. 'Lower Than Atlantis' was anything but a waste of my time. One of my most anticipated albums of 2014, I am pleased to say that I am not disappointed at all. For a band that I greatly admire but wouldn't describe myself as being a huge fan of, that has changed with this album. I am completely converted. The lyrics that Mike writes are completely flawless and, in my opinion, I think that lyrics are the most important piece of any song. 'Damn Nation' really gets you thinking, while 'Live Slow, Die Old' is much more inspiring than the YOLO message that seems to be preached by most young people in recent times. The lyric "Everyone dies, I'm gonna have fun until then" perfectly sums up this album. With the music industry starting to struggling due to the rise of illegal downloads and piracy, so many bands are packing their bags and moving on with their lives (see: Canterbury, Kids In Glass Houses, Jody Has a Hitlist), so the fact that Lower Than Atlantis have managed to fill the majority of this album with fun and positivity is impressive. Even while changing labels and nearly not making this album it shows that music is their passion and they aren't giving in any time soon, as well they shouldn't. 

Tracklist:
Here We Go 
Ain't No Friend
English Kids In America
Criminal
Words Don't Come So Easily
Emily
Stays The Same
Live Slow, Die Old
Damn Nation
Time
Just What You Need
Number One

'Lift A Sail' by Yellowcard


I have always liked Yellowcard, but I've never loved them. Seeing them live (twice!) at Warped Tour UK at Alexandra Palace last year, I thought that was beginning to change - their live show is energetic and charismatic the likes of which I haven't stumbled across very often. I have been anticipating the release of 'Lift A Sail' for quite a while now and, sadly, I'm rather disappointed. 
Starting off with 'Convocation', a beautifully haunting instrumental introduction, was both intriguing and confusing. This is not a Yellowcard that I've heard before and that theme continues throughout the majority of these thirteen tracks. I'd heard about the fact that Yellowcard had switched labels to Razor & Tie and had announced that this album was going to be less pop-punk and more rock, but I hadn't really considered the implications of that announcement. The implications being that, honestly, this doesn't sound like a Yellowcard album. 
I'm not sure if it was just me that got the feeling, but many of the songs sounded similar to Jimmy Eat World, resonating a vibe that would have fitted perfectly at home on 'Futures' or 'Clarity'. 'Transmission Home', 'Crash The Gates', 'Fragile and Dear' and 'Lift A Sail' were all songs that I had this problem with and when the majority of an album sounds like it could be coming from another band that's not a positive thing. However, despite the fact that the songs didn't sound like Yellowcard, they did all sound extremely good. 'Transmission Home' and 'Lift A Sail' were both anthemic and had a soaring atmospheric that sent chills down my spine, with 'Crash The Gates' having a "ohh, ohh, ohh" moment that will be electric in a live environment. 
Other than these exceptions, I absolutely adore the rest of the album. 'Make Me So' is the only song that really feels like it could fit on to a previous Yellowcard album and I can imagine this being the favourite song amongst the hardcore fans, but development is not always a negative thing. The inclusion of 'Fragile and Dear' with its dance undertones and the auto-tuning on vocalist Ryan Key seems like a modern choice included to show how the band are attempting to stretch their reach and try something different, but to me it just grated on my nerves. When the vocal is impressive enough without any effects they're just completely unnecessary. 
My favourite moment is a toss-up between the unexpected and absolutely brilliant collaboration of 'The Deepest Well' with Matty Mullins from Memphis May Fire and 'Madrid', which I think is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in a long time. However, a lot of the songs on this album are very beautiful musically and lyrically, with 'One Bedroom', 'California' and 'MSK' (which has an amazing introduction by Sean Mackin, by the way) all seeming as though they wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack of 'The Vampire Diaries', 'Pretty Little Liars' or some other teen movie-esque type show. 
As a whole, I wouldn't call the album bad, but it just doesn't seem very cohesive. The jumping between fast and slow songs gets a bit draining, but I understand why it was organised in such a way as having all of the slow songs together might have made it boring. Individually the songs are all pretty good and I would definitely recommend checking it out, but it's not the best of the nine Yellowcard albums even though some of the songs are definitely the best that they've done.

Tracklist:
Convocation
Transmission Home
Crash The Gates
Make Me So
One Bedroom
Fragile and Dear
Illuminate
Madrid
The Deepest Well ft. Matty Mullins
Lift A Sail
MSK
My Mountain
California

Friday, 3 October 2014

Decade - Swindon Level 3, 02/10/2014


Not many bands choose to perform concerts in, or even around, Swindon, so a line-up as stellar as the one at this show is highly unusual for our little town. 
Opening band With Ghosts are local, so you probably haven't heard of them, but I recommend checking them out because you won't be disappointed. The first time I saw them, as opening support for Don Broco, they didn't really stand out all that much, but in the past two years they've definitely been working harder and honing their craft. The results are easy to observe. Musically they don't exactly stand out from the crowd (with some songs sounding similar to You Me At Six and New Found Glory), but their lyrical content places them miles above the rest for new and unknown bands. If With Ghosts don't experience larger, widespread success at some point in the near future it will be a damn shame. They're recording their debut EP next month, so hopefully you'll be hearing this name more very soon. 
Second up were Hey Vanity. Their set was comprised mostly of new mini-album 'Blindfolds', which is a perfect example of the talent rising through the UK rock scene. The members of Hey Vanity had already experienced quite a high level of success with their previous band, Fei Comodo, but it's great to see the fairly new band getting a great reaction too. New song 'Playground', performed for the fourth time at this show, demonstrated which direction Hey Vanity were going to be heading with their new music and it definitely shows a lot of promise. Some of their older songs sound quite similar and seemed safe, but the new tune proves that they're extending their music to appeal to a wider audience. I can't wait to see what they bring with their next release. 
The band I had the highest hopes for at this show was Light You Up, who definitely did not disappoint. They were one of the bands I'd been hoping to see at Slam Dunk festival back in May, but sadly the queue was too long so we missed their set time, so seeing them live tonight was highly anticipated. I cannot praise the energy of frontman Tom Napier enough; while the previous bands had been great musically their stage performance was rather static, but Light You Up bought the exact opposite to their set. Tom was in the crowd more than he was on the stage, even performing half of a song hanging off of the balcony in the venue. I haven't heard many of their songs before, but their newest single 'Always Wanting More' (featuring Alan Day from Four Year Strong) which was only released yesterday received one of the most energetic crowd reactions of the night. The lyrics 'All we've ever known' couldn't seem to apply better because despite the fact that Light You Up are one of the least experienced bands on this line-up, they also seemed to be the most passionate and dedicated to their craft. If you don't pre-order their album, 'All We've Ever Known' you're making a huge mistake. 
Finally it was time for the headliners, Decade. This was my fifth time seeing Decade, so I knew what I was expecting from their live show, but for the first time they really stuck in my mind, seeming more memorable than they have before. I don't know if this is because of the experience they've gained while touring 'Good Luck' but never before have I seen Decade looking this confident in the music that they've created. You can't exactly call Decade genre-smashing, but they perform the pop-punk conventions perfectly, showing that the UK really is the place to watch for upcoming pop-punk bands. One of my complaints with their debut album is that it was extremely well written lyrically, but some of the songs sound too similar to distinguish between them easily. This is still an issue in the live environment, but by playing the entire album in full interspersed with older songs 'Won For Sorrow', 'Never Enough' and 'Low' it breaks up the similarities enough to keep their set interesting and not draining. 'I Don't Care' is still the stand out song for me, but the crowd were reacting amazingly well to the entire set, proving that their fanbase is growing and it's an extremely dedicated one. When I reviewed Decade supporting Mayday Parade I was not as impressed as I was tonight, showing that an extra seven months experience is a lot in the world of touring. Their banter is still lacking ("Can you tell how well our banter on stage has developed?" "Well we just do the music part, we're not charismatic...") but when the songs are this fun to dance to that is hardly an issue. If you can get along to see Decade supporting We Are The Ocean next month I would highly suggest you do as I'm sure that will be a night to remember. 

Setlist: 
Fools Gold
Callous
Woke
Coffin
Won For Sorrow
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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

'Half Bad' (Half Life #1) by Sally Green



*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Half Bad' tells the story of Nathan Byrn, a Half Code (meaning half White Witch and half Black Witch) whose father is the most notorious Black Witch who exists and whose mother kills herself before the start of the novel. Nathan's father has absconded, due to being hunted by the Council, whose job is to capture and torture Black Witches, usually resulting in their deaths, as a way to protect White Witches from harm. As a Half Code Nathan is worried that he will not be able to receive three gifts on his seventeenth birthday, which is problematic because Black Witches die if they do not experience their Giving ceremony.
I have been eager to read 'Half Bad' since it was released back at the start of March and, while it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I also wouldn't describe myself as being disappointed.
One of the first things that surprised me about 'Half Bad' was that Part One is told in the second person, before Part Two jumps into first person narrative. There are a few other examples of this switch throughout, but that is definitely the most prominent one of them, however as it occurs so early towards the start of the book it made it quite difficult to get into. It was an unusual choice and it was well-executed, but it wasn't particularly my cup of tea.
Similarly, the sheer amount of Gifts that were on choice was overwhelming and seemingly endless. Off of the top of my head, the Gifts ranged from: transformation, shooting fire out of your hands, stopping time, controlling the weather, a invisibility mist, healing, potions, a creepy mind-screaming noise and mind-reading. But it seemed to be that every time I thought I'd been exposed to the full range of Gifts on offer another one just popped up out of nowhere. It is good to have surprises throughout the book, but it might have been better if there had been a section of the novel where Nathan could have described all of the currently known Gifts, so more could later be discovered but it wouldn't be getting to the stage where there were a crazy amount of things to keep track of.
Another complaint about the novel was that it felt like a lot of questions were being left unanswered, or only vaguely answered, but knowing that this is part of a trilogy some of those answers could be coming in the later books. I just couldn't stop wondering why Nathan was so uneducated and unable to read; is that because he's a Black Witch, or because of a different reason? Him and Gabriel touched upon it later on so it seemed like it could be a characteristic of Black Witches, but then Gabriel can read absolutely fine so that wouldn't have worked. Also, it seemed to be touched upon a few times that Nathan was the only Half Code, but that wasn't completely confirmed. If he is, it does seem like the Council was going to way too much effort with the Notifications for just one boy, but he is the son of the most powerful Black Witch who exists so I guess you can't be too careful. Similarly, can Witches ever die from old age? The only deaths we experienced were murders or suicides, so is that even possible? And where was the novel mostly set? We had sections in Scotland, Wales, London and Liverpool, but there's no information about where Nathan was born and grew up (unless I missed that when I was reading, but it would be a big thing to just pass over).
My only other problem was that all of the way through the book Nathan would "throw a few swear words in there too" or "curse" but then at just one singular instance in the book he said "F***!". It could have been really effective if it had been uncensored, but as it was censored it just seemed like an unnecessary addition.
Other than those problems I absolutely adored this book, so much so that the problems hardly lessened my enjoyment of it at all. I can't ever remember reading a novel about Witches that I've liked as much as this one. It seemed really original and, despite the fact that it was obviously based on racism with the Blacks versus the Whites, the subject matter was handled delicately and very well, meaning I kept thinking of it being quite similar to 'Noughts and Crosses' by Malorie Blackman (which is another novel that plays with the conventions of racism but still tackles the problem straight at the heart). I just found that 'Half Bad' really made me think about the meanings of good and bad. Were the Whites good because they were doing things with the best of intentions, or is any type of killing inexcusable? Were the Blacks automatically bad because they were murderers, or can anything be forgiven if there is a good enough reason behind the actions?
It was a quote from Mary, the elderly White Witch and ex-Council member who Nathan visits on her birthday, that really made me think. "[White Witches] were are bad as Black Witches, as bad as fains, as bad as them all." Good and bad is all so subjective; there are two sides to every story, so the people hearing the Whites side of the story will automatically be prejudiced to the Blacks and vice versa.
I can't wait for the second novel in the Half Life trilogy, 'Half Wild', to be released at some point next year. The novel ends on a massive cliffhanger and I can't wait to see which characters Nathan goes on to reacquaint himself with in the future. There isn't a single character I don't want to read more about: Gabriel, Ellen, Arran, Deborah... Even Jessica in her own special way. Sally Green has written an amazing debut novel and I can't wait to experience more of her work soon.