Is it only me or has this year just flown by? So fast, in fact, I left out June (don’t ask) – apologies to those I have kept waiting. We’re over halfway through 2016 and so far the year has been punctuated by the death of one musical icon after another, and yet Simon Cowell lives on – evidence, if evidence were needed, that life isn’t fair. Anyway, lot to pack into this month’s column so, in the immortal words of Rob Reiner in Spinal Tap, ‘enough of my yakking, let’s boogie’.
►Pleasure Beach – ‘Magic Mountain’
Belfast dream pop quintet, Pleasure Beach, are a busy bunch and have been ever since their debut single, ‘Go’, broke through on Irish radio and began a roll that garnered 400,000 Spotify plays. Debut E.P. ‘Dreamer to the Dawn’, released in November of last year, brought more critical success and predictions of great things in 2016.The E.P. showcased the band’s version of the indie rock ‘wall of sound’ akin to the like of Arcade Fire and War On Drugs, and ‘Magic Mountain’ builds on that sound and even expands on it a little, adding more grittiness and stadium-size drums. Clearly a band of lofty ambitions, Pleasure Beach appear to be very good at fulfilling their ambitions one by one and , as a full summer of festival appearances lies ahead, I expect their reputation to continue to grow.
► Part Time Pilots – ‘Throwing Shapes’
From the polished Indie Pop of Pleasure Beach to rough-edged, rowdy rockers – Part Time Pilots, and the difference couldn’t be more stark, but no less enjoyable. It may take a couple of listens to get past the less-than-smooth production and bluster, but the boys from Omagh are no mugs. They know what they are about and with multiple releases under their belt already in their 4 year history, they are determined to keep battering down doors with their lo-fi garage stomp. Immensely enjoyable.
►Brigid O’Neill – ‘Don’t Make Me Go To Town’
Downpatrick’s Brigid O’Neill is one of those artists who makes everything seem so deceptively easy; with vocals that seem to just float out of her mouth, music that hits the right spots without ever seeming forced or contrived and lyrics that are so simple, quirky even and yet, at the same time, compelling. ‘Don’t Make Me Go to Town’ is the perfect summation of all of the above. I love that gently swinging New Orleans feel the music has, combined with that unmistakably Irish lilt. It’s a combination that works a treat. Wonderful song from an artist who is, unsurprisingly, getting a lot of quality gigs, with some pretty big names – such as he recent Soma Festival, which featured Lisa Hannigan and Eddi Reader. O’Neill should in no way feel inferior to those illustrious name. She is a class act.
►Chris Keys – ‘City Lights’
Did I say ‘class act’? Well, the phrase class act could also be used about Belfast based singer-songwriter, Chris Keys. Everything he does is superb. And it isn’t just his performances, with that lovely sandpapery voice of his. It isn’t just the quality songs he continues to come up with – memorable, thought provoking, but never forgetting that they are songs meant to be listened to and enjoyed. No. Chris Keys is the full package and always put not only his talent on the line, but cold, hard cash – because he always releases a quality product. The last single of his I reviewed – the excellent ‘I’ll Be Home’ – featured a top quality, locally shot video – which I am sure cost a bob or two. With ‘City Lights’, Keys has gone one further as the video features real actors – Nic Hall (Dracula Untold & Lost City of z) and Russian actress, Svetlana Goncharenko. Keys is and always will be a local artist whose work I look forward to. That being so, I cannot wait to hear his debut album due later this year.
►Amanda Healy – ‘Turn Around’
I didn’t really know what to expect when I received this submission. Well, actually I was expecting more singer-songwriter-type material, which is fine, but that’s a crowded marketplace with many quality acts in NI already battling it out to be heard (see above for proof). So, even though dance music isn’t my preferred genre to review, nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised by this quirky little number from Donegal-based, Amanda Healy. It doesn’t try to be too clever or intense and there is an immediacy to the production which is very ‘street’. I understand what Healy is trying to do with the vocal, keeping it simple and almost flat. It’s very urban but, I have to confess, some of the notes that she hits or holds, just don’t sit well with me. It’s more of a stylistic preference than a criticism of her singing though.
►Denzil A.K.A – ‘Falling’
Although I love, what people often call, Grunge music, for want of a better phrase – I have my limits and I never really got into the more Punky/dissonant side of the Alternative scene. There are no Pixies or Dinosaur Jnr etc records in my collection. I understand the attraction, but it doesn’t attract me, to put it another way. That being so, I am never going to be a massive fans of Larne’s, Denzil A.K.A. – as I have said in previous reviews of his work. The band just sounds too loose to me, too out of tune and, being a vocals man, well….I am sure you can guess the rest. But, while it is my job to criticise, and I don’t shy away from it – I know there will be people out there who think this is edgy, simple, and gives the big two fingers to overproduced homogenised pop. It certainly does all of that. Check it out for yourself.
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