How To Swim – Niagarama

HTS

An inescapable transfixing, Niagarama the new album from Scottish chamber pop band How To Swim seduces with an irresistible charm and almost devious artistry which simply enslaves the imagination and passions. It is a deliciously varied and adventurous escapade, a melodic emprise which is as unafraid to tease and tantalise as it is to lie romantically upon the ears and senses. In many ways the band is still a relative secret, inexplicably escaping so far a spotlight which their new full-length definitely suggests they deserve, but now with its unveiling you can only imagine and expect that whisper of recognition to soon become a roar.

Formed in 2000 by vocalist/guitarist Gregor Barclay, How to Swim has persistently intrigued and ignited thoughts with their releases and evolving sound. From a rawer encounter the band has developed an orchestrated pop which devours ears as vivaciously as ears devour it, with Niagarama the pinnacle of the band’s rise so far. Numerous line-up changes have come within the life of the band and now from a complement of personnel reaching double figures the band has become a lean mean pop machine featuring members of The Second Hand Marching Band, The Martial Arts, and the now-defunct Mother and The Addicts, but a sextet just as potent in presence and weight of invention as ever. The new album also sees a wealth of talented guests helping realise the songwriting and imagination of Barclay and the Glasgow band, and the exploration of ‘the loss of youth and how we process it’, the album’s core theme amidst a pungent metaphor indicated by its title. It is a magnificent beast of enticement, one to have feet dancing, imagination painting, and emotions reflecting.

Released on their own Personal Hygiene Recordings and the successor to the acclaimed Retina (or More Fun Than a Vat of Love) of HTS cover2010, Niagarama takes little time to fascinate and subsequently bewitch as Niagara opens up the fun. From a haunted intro the song cups ears with poetic keys and the coaxing expressive tones of Barclay, his voice a slightly gravelly but alluring enticement which fits perfectly within the piano melodies and emotive strokes of strings from their manipulative bows. It is a surprising entrance into the album, a potent croon which does not ignite senses and emotions but certainly stirs them up nicely for the following triumph of Small Parts Moving. The second track instantly grips attention with discord kissed rub of violins immediately courted by darker bass hues and great twisted teasing of guitars. The song is soon in full control of the emotions as it hits its stride, brass and vocals adding their descriptive hues to the emerging narrative. Bouncing with the appetite of pure pop but equally twisting it with an invention which crosses numerous styles and veins of sound, the track dances eagerly like a mix of James Cook and Union Starr.

With an inspired rapturous hunger now in place the following Bacterium feeds it again with its insatiable bait complete with a swagger clad melodic tempting and rhythmic shuffle matched by vocals and brass. An essence of Young Knives brings further depth to the persuasion, whilst the mischievous heart and swing of the song simply enslaves body and soul. It is a glorious romp matching its predecessor in setting an early lofty plateau for the album. With mesmeric devilry to the guitars and the gait of the encounter, the band envelops the listener in a weave of feisty seduction which is straight away pushed to greater success by Too Old For A Crush (To Be Endearing). With firm rhythms aligned to imagination clasping swipes of riffs, brass, and elegant keys, all under the spell of the excellently blended male and female harmonies, the song is an irresistible temptress; a seductress which steals even greater submission through sudden blazes of intensity and concussive voracity. It is a scintillating waltz of beauty and ferocity, a dramatic show with the carnivalesque suasion of Tankus The Henge and the rapacious ingenuity of 12 Stone Toddler, yet rigorously unique to How To Swim.

Both It Doesn’t Even Have To Be You and I Need A War keep the album in control of attention and greedy appetite, if without quite matching earlier heights. The first recalls the fluid warmth of eighties bands like The Lightning Seeds which soak radiant melodies and brass flames with extra infectiousness skirted by the emotive strings which constantly provide the colour for emotions and thoughts to cast their individual premises. Its successor from a slow and charming vocal/acoustic embrace glides in on a seventies pop like breath, with again strong blends of harmonies to fill its emotional embrace. It is an appealing start but one which does not take a firm hold until a rhythmic adventure and a web of guitar sculpted ingenuity takes over the tempting. The song then swiftly moves into unpredictable scenery which entwines both aspects of its intent for a thoroughly satisfying sultry proposition.

The brief INTERMISSION: The Dead Cat Bounce steps in next for an ok diversion before the jazzy waltz of Long Division takes ears on another seventies bred mystery with exciting rewards. The song merges funk and pop into its lively yet smouldering saunter to capture the imagination once more before the potent Bark steps in to steal the passions all over again. Managing to be melancholic and excitingly buoyant simultaneously, it an effervescent whirlwind of invention and emotions, the track is gorgeous with keys and strings along with the ever inviting vocals taking top honours.

The album closes with Animals and All That We Wait For, two songs which certainly in the case of the first are almost toying with thoughts, inflaming their creativity with a weave of inspiring musical imagination. An electronic simplicity marks the first of the pair whilst a vocal caress within a flight of engrossing strings and absorbing melodies ensures the final song brings a compelling last incitement to bask in. The song takes longer than most to convince but with a riveting Walker Brothers like sixties magnificence to its emerging grandeur, it is another immense highlight of the album.

Niagarama is quite sensational and surely the key to taking How To Swim into the recognition and burning spotlight they have long suggested through their music and invention that they deserved. Pop does not get any better than this, or as imposingly impacting, a must release for all.

Niagarama is available via Personal Hygiene Recordings now @ https://howtoswim.bandcamp.com/album/niagarama

https://www.facebook.com/howtoswim

9/10

RingMaster 16/06/2014

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Mark Morriss – A Flash of Darkness

Mark Morriss

     The Bluetones was a band which never really grabbed our attention, certainly nudging it numerous times across their thirteen hit singles and three Top Ten albums, but never making that incisive move to enthral as they did so many others. Former band frontman Mark Morriss though has had little problem managing to not only awaken but gripping that focus with his second solo album A Flash of Darkness. Consisting of eleven provocative flights of imaginative indie pop with a folk underbelly and soaked in evocative colour, it is a mesmeric adventure bounding eagerly and vivaciously through reflective and tempering shadows. Released via Acid Jazz Records, A Flash of Darkness is a masterful seduction and for our minds the best thing the singer songwriter has unveiled.

     The album follows Morriss’ debut album Memory Muscle of 2008, a folk-infused encounter featuring string arrangements from the legendary composer David Arnold which never really rustled up major attention. From the splitting up of The Bluetones in 2011, Morriss has engaged in successful solo tours as well as writing and performing with Matt Berry on his recordings and shows as well as creating his own prog outfit The Maypoles and writing music for David Walliams’ award winning Children’s audio books. A Flash of Darkness continues the musician’s solo adventure with a smile and swagger which enlivens the sounds and invention rippling through the release, the latter aspect a subtle coaxing rather than the loud toxicity you feel it might have been in someone else’s hands.

    The title track opens up the proposition, a song one originally written for a short-lived musical project of Morriss and Berry 1656207_635396076509138_2127819875_ncalled The Swedish Twins. A sultry Morricone bred call and ambience wraps the ears first, tower bells and whistles sculpting the scenery before the song falls into a sixties pop tasting embrace with the recognisable tones of Morriss adding their warmth to the climate. That mentioned vaunt soaks the song, a brass jazz temptation teasing greater emotion the way of the track whilst the tango of guitar invention and heated harmonies only intensify the virulently irresistible bait. Visually evocative and tenderly commanding, the opener is a sensational slice of songwriting, an artistic adventure to set things off on a real high.

    Whereas you can almost add a touch of The Wonder Stuff to the first song, its predecessor Consuela with its gentler yet no less infectious presence, has an eighties flavouring which induces thoughts of The Bluebells and occasionally The Lightning Seeds. Keys add further romance to the persuasion alongside that offered by the melodies and excellent vocal expression. Potent in sound and draped in provocative imagination fuelled hues, the track takes the passions by the hands and whisks them around that summer drenched eighties dancefloor with elegance and contagion before making way for the folkier and rhythmically punchy Guilty Again. A piano crafted beauty immediately kisses thoughts as vocals and a rhythmic prodding skirts its elegance but as with all songs it is one facet of evolving and expanding adventures. Like a lingering smooch, the track strolls with a boisterous gait flinging its happy melodies and hooks around with joyous enterprise to invite and ignite the same pleasure in its recipient.

    Both the mesmeric It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time and the enjoyable cover of The Shins’ Pink Bullets engage and treat with resourceful radiance and splendour, though neither can grip the same high level as previous songs. Despite that neither leaves satisfaction empty or provides weak enticement, diversity and ideas persistently leading the imagination into a submissive grin whilst the next infection under the guise of Low Company unveils an enveloping breeze of lyrical and melodic suasion in another sixties/seventies air to seduce from start to finish.

    Life Without F(r)iction  with its country twang is the next to lift feet from the floor, its bouncy heart unfussy and impossibly tempting before the best song on the album, This Is The Lie (and That’s The Truth), steps up to run its addiction coated fingers through the passions. An acoustic croon with Morriss offering a minimalistic lyrical and musical bewitchment, the track is pure aural manna, additional sirenesque harmonies and small bursts of energy bringing a creative virulence upon ears and emotions. It’s tempting borders on molestation but is simply melodic alchemy at play, the same toxin running through the veins of Space Cadet. The song with a wider brush of sounds and invention smothers the ears in a celestial ambience around thick and deeply permeating melodies, the result another exceptional fascination.

    The album closes with firstly another cover, this of Kavinsky’s Nightcall, which without earning the same ardour as the original material still leaves emotions enthralled, and the slow burning Sleep Song, an exceptional track which took time to make its strongest case but over time evolved into another big anthemic highlight. The pair closes up A Flash of Darkness in fine and endearing fashion leaving a return into the release a demanding option, a choice consistently rewarded each and every time by Morriss in one of the early albums of the year. Whether The Bluetones is a lure or not for you, this is one pop album you must not bypass without delving deeply into.

http://www.markmorrissmusic.co.uk/

9/10

RingMaster 24/02/2014

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Union Starr : Everything We Say & I Can Feel It

It may have taken ten years to reach our ears but the incredible debut album from Union Starr earlier this year was a definite worth waiting for event. Falling Apart Together is a magnificent collection of melodic heartfelt songs which simply turn any sky into one of blazing sunshine. The new double A-sided single from the album offers two of the ripest melodic fruits within its vibrant body and for those yet to discover the delights of Falling Apart Together makes for a very tasty introduction.

Formed by Roger Wells and Jason Applin with ex-The Sundays drummer Patch Hannan coming in not long after, Union Starr is a collection of musicians who know and understand how to mould melodies and emotion into something which plays and entices the heart. The tracks which make up the release alone offer two of the finest emotional caresses upon the senses you could imagine and enjoy. Released through Woodenhouse Records, the single graces our ears from August 13th and brings views and ideas from the band on love and its experience. As marks their music on the whole both songs explore an elegant mix of warm pop and singer songwriter sounds of the seventies with a British awareness and craft. There is also a strong eighties indie feel to their sounds which bring to mind just as vividly the likes of The Lightning Seeds and The Bluebells as they do Crosby Stills and Nash.

Everything We Say is a mesmeric weave of stirring heated guitars and heart driven emotiveness through songwriting and vocals. Its touch is warm and smooth yet with an edge which offers up the whole story which comes with every real love. There is a definite Skylarking era XTC feel to the song for a secondary enchantment to the already sirenesque pull of the song. With a subtle but strong infectiousness the song is a summer day delight, its premise conjuring eager whispers of couples within the rays of the sun and heart to thoughts. The song has a sound which arguably only English bands can conjure no matter their influences; its presence caring, touching, and openly delicious.

Second song I Can Feel It provides the ear with another golden field of warm and contagious sounds. There is a folky pop air to the song to offer a different bewitching to its companion though both bring a dreamy almost meditative atmosphere upon the senses. The song is a soft and gentle romance of infectious melodies and beautiful harmonies which remain just as fresh after the hundredth listen to how they do on the first aural kiss.

If you are yet to discover Union Starr than the double delights of Everything We Say and I Can Feel It is the most majestic doorway to their wonderful world of sounds. Catch the songs on The Reputation Radio Show too on Fridays nights from 9PM in the UK.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Union-Starr/303985109621182

RingMaster 10/08/2012

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Union Starr : Falling Apart Together

It has taken ten years from their conception for UK rock band Union Starr to reach this point and the release of their debut album Falling Apart Together. Knowing a decade has been spent on the journey of the music enclosed within the vibrant walls of the album, though obviously not the whole time was spent making the release, one in many ways kind of expects something special. The two previous singles taken from the album made suggestion that those hopes might be met but now as Falling Apart Together unveils its glorious beauty the truth is the album more than satisfies those expectations. The debut album from Union Starr is a magnificent collection of melodic heartfelt songs, a treat to brighten everyday no matter the dark it offers and a sunshine fiesta to excite the body into open worship.

      Union Starr is a collection of musicians brought together around the core of Roger Wells, Jason Applin, and ex-The Sundays drummer, Patch Hannan. It was as mentioned ten years ago that the seeds of the band began with close friends Wells and Applin exploring a musical relationship. After their first show the duo found themselves working with producer Nick Hannan and for their second attempt at recording material added Patch Hannan to the mix. This January saw the release of the single I Know About Art and a keenness for their sound growing as well as strong acclaim. Now that the band has unveiled Falling Apart Together it is impossible to see anything other than unbridled enthusiasm heading their way.

From the moment the infectious charm of opening song Landing Lights engages in a romance with the ear the album incites a warm glow and inner smile, with the face soon to follow. The song caresses the heart with dazzling harmonies, mesmeric melodies and an eager energy that lifts one up in tender embrace. The song is the first of ten which all connect with the emotions like they were born to be the closest of friends. With intelligent touches making songs unpredictable and always intriguing, Union Starr provide instant evidence of their outstanding craft and creativity.

Tracks like Friend, Everything We Say, and I Can Feel It provide the ear with a playground of glittering soft indie pop laced with American folk textures and flavours. Each song a spring day of freshness and a sultry summer of bewitching melodic ingenuity. To describe their sound is not easy, the harmonic and melodic brilliance that shines out from every song unique but as each track graces the senses the influences stated on the press release of Crosby Stills and Nash, The Band, Vivian Stanshall and Sid Barrett are apparent. To that though you can add bands like The Lightning Seeds, latter XTC, and The Bluebells to get a taste of the feast within Falling Apart Together.

Every song is a gem but some tracks glow with an even greater radiance. The latest single Photograph is a heady splendour that one just immerses into from the opening siren like notes. Passionate and heartfelt the song plays with a light and warmth that one takes in deeply and when the keys add their own eager voice it is bliss. The likes of the gorgeous Bluebells and first single from the album I Know About Art, continue the excitement and exhilaration upon the senses. The latter song invites the listener into its swagger and confident expression of reality with a pure blend of melodic surety and bedlam bordering discordance. Showing the diversity of the band in songwriting and ability the track is sublime and is only surpassed by one other.

That honour goes to the inspired I Kept Knocking, a track that flexes its muscle and brings a stirring primitive quality to the vibrant body surrounding it. Throbbing as heartily as the melodies pulsate, the rhythms, bass, and wonderfully hypnotic groaning synths instinctively spark up the fires within. It is a musical bruising that one just loves to press time and time again.

     Falling Apart Together is simply impressive, a musical ice cream to relish time and time again. It may have taken a long time for Union Starr to get there but every second was worth the energy and effort.

RingMaster 22/03/2012

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