Tag Archives: The Blueprints

Review: Various Artists – 12 Traditional Christmas Songs (In Aid Of Radio York’s Good Night’s Sleep Appeal)

Various Artists - 12 Traditional Christmas Songs

Various Artists – 12 Traditional Christmas Songs

I don’t know about you, but I’m still not feeling particularly festive – so I thought I’d give this BBC Radio York curated compilation a spin and see if it helped to change my mood. As the title suggests, 12 Traditional Christmas Songs is exactly that – but the twist is that each of these songs have been re-imagined by one of 12 local artists hand-picked from the many acts featured on BBC Introducing In York & North Yorkshire.

Naturally, each artist has a different take on these traditional carols – Union Jill play things straight by delivering a faithful version of ‘Coventry Carol’, while Bull exemplify their slacker-rock approach to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ by only singing two lines from the original song. Elsewhere, Pip Mountjoy has her sights set on next year’s John Lewis advert with her rendition of ‘The Holly And The Ivy’, while BluesBeaten Redshaw offers an appropriately jaunty take on ‘I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In’. Other tracks distinctly suggest the influence of a particular artist: Littlemores channel early Arctic Monkeys on their version of ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, Adam Chodan imagines how Noel Gallagher might sing along to ‘Away In A Manger’, King No-One‘s cover of ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ echoes Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, and The Buccaneers take on ‘Jingle Bells’ in the style of ‘Birthday’ by The Beatles.

The best moments on the album are when the artists really make their own mark on their chosen song. Bear Station offer up a beautifully arranged version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, while Gavin Loughlin enlists the aid of two female vocalists to deliver a harmonious, minimal take on ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. Special mention must also go to Nathan Luke, whose stunning delivery makes his version of ‘Silent Night’ a real highlight – you can just imagine him bringing an entire congregation to a standstill with it. It’s The Blueprints who best succeed in putting their own stamp on their chosen song though, rendering ‘While Shepherd’s Watch’ in their signature propulsive indie-rock style – and also throwing in a little trademark humour by featuring some alternative lyrics you may remember from your school days and a cheeky nod to BBC Radio York DJ Jericho Keys.

As if all this festivity wasn’t enough on its own, all proceeds from sales of the album are going towards the BBC Radio York and St. Martin’s Hospice “Good Night’s Sleep” appeal, which you can find out more about here. You can get a copy of the album on CD from the St. Martin’s Hospice website, or download it on iTunes – and do so knowing that it won’t just be your face that it’ll help to put a smile on.

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Review: The Blueprints – The Mountaineer EP

The Blueprints - The Mountaineer EP

The Blueprints – The Mountaineer EP

York indie-pop favourites The Blueprints have wasted no time following up their 2012 EP The Shipping Forecast (reviewed here) – it’s not even 12 months later and they’re set to release a second EP entitled The Mountaineer this week. It’s also worth noting that there’s been a line-up change since I last discussed the band, with Sophie McDonnell stepping in to replace departing keyboardist Tom Williams. Sophie is no stranger to the world of The Blueprints, however, as she already featured on The Shipping Forecast’s ‘Black & Blue’. You can now stream the new EP via bandcamp using the player below, so get to it!

If opening gambit ‘Laws Of Nature’ seems familiar then it’s probably because it has an air of The Blueprints’ own ‘Walk’ about it, which is certainly no bad thing. A similarly pacey number to its predecessor, its driving verses lead in to some wonderful three-part harmonies in the chorus – which, perhaps, could be cheekily re-appropriating the words from Radiohead’s ‘Electioneering’. The song ends with an anthemic “woah-oh-oh” finale, which if you were feeling churlish you might call indie-pop-by-numbers – but if that was the case, would the result be such a pretty picture? No, that’s what I thought.

Next up we have ‘Another Breakdown’, which is perhaps the most upbeat song concerning depression that you’ll ever hear, with its swelling guitar and implacable rhythm section giving it a feel that’s anything but morose. The positive tone is aided by the fact that the song ends on a determined note – “It takes a long time to make a little bit of difference/But a little bit of difference lasts a long long time.” The record has some great lyrical hooks throughout, but ‘Skeletons’ is perhaps the pick of the bunch, with numerous memorable lines that contrast the similarities and differences between people. It combines the realisation that we’re all “carbon, red cells and DNA” while observing the way someone stands out from the crowd – “how is it you stand up and shout/when others barely have the courage to speak above a whisper?” Elsewhere, attentive Blueprints fans my recognise ‘Echoes’ from the demo version that appeared on the band’s Neon Sketches EP in 2011, but it’s much more fleshed out here – the piano takes the lead to add some muscle to the sound, while additional melodic flourishes come in the form of more beautiful harmonies.

Following the format of their previous EP to a tee, closing track ‘Icebreaker’ is a more laid-back affair than the previous four tracks – but importantly, it proves that The Blueprints are more than capable of turning their hands to something other than jaunty indie-pop. It’s expansive in all the right places thanks to its stately cello lines and the way that the reverberating guitar and piano combine –  yet it’s also restrained where it needs to be, with the bass and percussion adopting a ‘less is more’ style that lends the track additional space. Its melancholy tale of a lonely life aboard an icebreaking ship is nevertheless tinged with hope that liberation will eventually come – “a hundred days can seem just like a lifetime/but a lifetime I can wait.”

Anyone who wants more of the catchy, guitar-led songs that are the band’s calling card will find that The Mountaineer satisfies that urge admirably – indeed, it seems that the recent line-up change has only served to aid them in honing their craft even further. But perhaps the most exciting thing about this EP is that, in ‘Icebreaker’, it contains the first realisation of a previously hidden ambitiousness in The Blueprints. Should the band aspire to make a full-length record, then there’s no doubt that everyone (myself included) would be more than satisfied with an album of 10-12 indie-pop tunes – but I can’t help but wonder if their best moments might come from thinking outside of that box.

If you’re free in York on Saturday 14th September then the band are playing an EP launch show at Fibbers, with support coming from The Lottery Winners, Bull (who I really should get round to writing about), The Buccaneers and JLife (who thankfully are not some sort of hybrid JLS/Westlife tribute band). Sadly I am not free and this disappoints me greatly – so do me a favour and go in my stead would you?

The Mountaineer is released on September 14th on Sweet Sue Records.

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Review: The Blueprints – The Shipping Forecast

The Blueprints - The Shipping Forecast

The Blueprints – The Shipping Forecast

Despite being stalwarts of the York music scene, it’s actually been years since The Blueprints released a good old-fashioned EP – but the wait is now finally over, with the band having released a new five-track record entitled The Shipping Forecast at the tail end of 2012. These are songs that you may well have heard if you’ve seen the band play live over the past couple of years, but here they sound more finely honed than ever – you can hear the results below.

Opening track ‘Walk’ is as fine an opening gambit as you could possibly hope for – contrary to its title, it gallops along at an invigorating pace, a blissful marriage of shimmering guitars, soaring vocals, chiming keyboards, propulsive drumming and subtly brilliant bass. If you think the band might have peaked too early, then fear not – ‘The Wave’ is as energetic as it is heartfelt. “I could teach you, if you’ll let me/to jump and jive and be closer to me,” the band sing in impeccable harmony, before lamenting that “No-one seems to dance in the old romantic way/too busy making sure hair stays straight.”

‘Black & Blue’ really emphasises its cheery, bouncing tempo by bringing keyboardist Tom Williams to the fore, while Sophie McDonnell provides gorgeous additional harmonies to bring out the wide-eyed hopefulness of the song’s chorus. And if that’s somehow not enough bang for your buck, then ‘Staring At The Sun’ is like two brilliant songs in one – starting out life as a rousing indie-pop stomper, before seamlessly transforming into its scintillating coda.

Final track ‘The Amber Ocean’ strips things back without losing any of the band’s indie-pop sensibilities, with Stuart Allan’s impassioned vocals and acoustic guitar lent a grandiose air courtesy of Rachael Brown’s cello playing – the song feels like it’s channeling the sadly departed spirit of Grammatics, which can only ever be a good thing.

As the EP’s title suggests, the sea is a recurring theme throughout these songs – not only is it referenced directly in song titles, but it’s also used as a metaphor throughout the record’s lyrics. ‘Walk’s protagonist is described as “displaying all the traits of a maritime disaster”, while navigating the relationship portrayed in ‘Black & Blue’ is compared to sailing a ship to shore – it’s a neat touch that serves to further tie this perfectly formed EP together. The Blueprints should be immensely proud of The Shipping Forecast – here’s hoping it helps them plot a favourable course through 2013.

The Shipping Forecast is available now on Sweet Sue Records, via Bandcamp.

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Local Artist Of The Whenever #4: The Blueprints

They’ve been around in one form or another since 2004, but new things are afoot for York indie-popsters The Blueprints right now. Currently comprising of Stuart Allen (vocals/guitar), Mark Waters (bass) Tom Williams (Keys/Piano) and Russ Broadbent (Drums), the band plan to debut new material at their show at Fibbers next Friday 1st July. Not only that, but they’ll be giving away two new tracks on CD as well – so if you want to hear new stuff from the band, it’d be advisable to get yourself down to the gig. Support on the night comes from youthful funksters Hot Fudge, acoustic artist Open Invitation, and embryonic rock duo …And The Hangnails.

The Blueprints

Of course, if you’re not familiar with the band then you may want to check out their previous material, some of which you can find on Facebook or (if you’re feeling old-school) Myspace. You’ll find a selection of breezy, upbeat and melodic songs await you, including the very literally titled ‘3 Minutes’ and the mandolin-led tale of childhood playground debates ‘Spectrum Vs. Commodore’. Or, for those who wish for more instant gratification, check out this video of the band playing a stripped-down version of ‘Walk’.

Find The Blueprints on Facebook here.

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Let’s Get Cynical: January Round-up

Well, January sure disappeared fast. While I haven’t got anything that I wish to blather on at you about for 2000 words, I do have a few things I want to talk about briefly.

Glass

Glass - The Sound Of Glass

Glass - The Sound Of Glass

My first record purchase of 2010 was not a big-name, international release – it was, in fact, the debut album by York locals Glass. At seven tracks long, ‘album’ seems a bit of a misnomer, but the record does clock in at just over 32 minutes – and even with double the number of songs, Johnny Foreigner’s Grace And The Bigger Picture wasn’t much longer than that, so I guess that complaint isn’t valid.

Anyway, Glass make dark and moody rock in the mould of Interpol or Editors, with a very narrative slant – there’s even an intriguing backstory about a young boy creating a machine that can transmit art through time.  There’s something familiar and yet also new about the band’s sound, splicing their rockier influences with synths and strong harmonies to create something that feels quite theatrical. On record, the band’s vocals are a lot clearer and more prominent in the mix, drawing more attention to the often cryptic lyrics. Generally, this is to the band’s benefit, but occasionally it dampens the impact of their sound – ‘My Elan’ in particular lacks a little of the impact that it has when used as a stirring conclusion to the band’s live show. This is a minor gripe however, and overall this is a strong debut from a very promising band. If you’d like to find out more, check out the band’s website, where you can also purchase a copy of the album for a very reasonable £5, should you so desire.

The Blueprints

Supporting at Glass’ album launch were another local favourite of mine, The Blueprints. They’ve recently added a new dynamic to their sound in the form of keyboardist Tom Williams. How does this sound, you ask? A little bit like this:

Lovely stuff, no?

Hadouken!

Hadouken! - For The Masses

Hadouken! - For The Masses

I was going to write a full review of new album For The Masses, but after reading a few other reviews I realised that they’d already said most things that needed to be said. So, in brief then: Hadouken! have produced another decidedly meh album – in fact, it’s noticeably worse than Music For An Accelerated Culture. Musically, it spends most of its time in thrall to The Prodigy and Pendulum – the former, at least, isn’t a bad thing, but they don’t feel like they’re distinguishing themselves from their influences in any significant way. Elsewhere, there’s a Michael Jackson pastiche (even James himself has said that ‘House Is Falling’ has definite shades of ‘Dirty Diana’), and the opening track sounds like some sort of cobbled-together Frankenstine’s monster – drums from Klaxons’ ‘Two Receivers’, guitars that would fit on any Lostprophets track, and that electronic choir sound from Editors’ ‘An End Has A Start’. The end result strives for epic but just ends up feeling a bit flat.

James seems to have adopted a grime MC-aping, aggressive tone for most of this record, but it just sounds like he’s trying too hard rather than being in any way believable. It doesn’t help his cause that lyrically, the record veers from vague attempts at ‘anthemic’ (‘House Is Falling’, ‘Lost’), through completely banal (‘Mic Check’), and finally all the way to utterly laughable (‘Ugly’). That last track is particularly worth of mention, with James spitting “I’m gonna fuck your face up!” before delivering the bombshell: “It’s ugly like your sister!” – an insult that will surely go full circle back to the playgrounds it was plucked from. For me, it’s this pathetic sort of bravado that sums up where Hadouken! have gone so very wrong with this record. Gone is any wit, any sense of wry humour, any knowingness – largely replaced with tough-guy posturing, aggression and dumb threats. I can’t say that I was disappointed with For The Masses, as I had no particular expectations of it anyway – but that said, the days when ‘That Boy That Girl’ was fresh and exciting now seem like an even more distant memory.

Plasticines

Is it mean of me to take the piss out of lyrics written by groups who obviously don’t speak English as a first language? Not if the group in question is Plasticines, I’d argue. I pointed out the inanity of ‘Barcelona’ in one of my very first posts, and now they’re back at it again with ‘Bitch’ – a song whose opening lyrical gambit is (I kid you not) “I’m a bitch/when I brush my teeth”. What would that involve exactly? Spitting all over the mirror so the next person has to clean it up? Squeezing your toothpaste from the middle of the tube? Honestly.

It gets even better/worse though, as the second verse begins with the line “I’m a bitch/when I walk my dog” which clearly frames the singer as one of those types who leaves their mutt’s shit lying around for some unfortunate person to step in. At least when Meredith Brooks was a ‘Bitch’ she was lots of other things as well, but you, Plasticines? Well, you’re just bitches. But don’t take my word for it:

If she’s “a bitch in disguise,” what is she disguised as exactly? A hot French girl*, singing about how she’s a bitch? Brilliant, NO ONE WILL EVER GUESS!

*No offence intended if you are hot/French/a girl. Well, unless you are actually a bitch.

These New Puritans

These New Puritans - Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

I had a listen to Hidden when it was up on These New Puritans’ Myspace, and found myself rather intrigued. Their new material has a more sinister feel than the jittery post-punk of their debut, with orchestral flourishes mixed with their more familiar electronic sound. So, while I haven’t picked up the album at of yet, it’s probably a contender for ‘Album Of The Month’ – or at least “best record released in January”. Then again, I haven’t actually listened to many records released in January, so that’s not saying much so far. Decide for yourself – first single ‘We Want War’ gives you a good idea of what to expect, and they’re also offering album track ‘Orion’ as a free download via Drowned In Sound.

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This Scene Is Dead. Is This Scene Dead? – A Brief Evaluation Of York’s Music Scene

It’s fair to say that, over the past year, I’ve been far more exposed to York‘s music scene than I ever have before – a somewhat ironic fact, perhaps, but true nonetheless. Working at The Duchess for over a year has meant I’ve seen more local bands than I could ever have actually wanted to – and inevitably that includes more than a fair share of dross. When listening to the umpteenth terrible band and wishing they’d just finish already, it’s tempting to write off the scene as a whole – but are there glimmers of hope to be had? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’ll pick through some of that detritus.

It’s difficult to pick one band that sums up the bad aspects of York’s music scene – mainly because the shit bands are all awful for different reasons. Sometimes it’s just because they’re lazy copyists – take Skylights, who ply their trade doing an utterly IQ-deficient impression of The Stone Roses, or The Lookout, who desperately want to be The Beatles but end-up producing sub-sub-sub-Oasis bollocks. Sometimes, it’s the sound of band members attempting to live up to past glories and failing miserably. Take Chris Helme, who once worked with John Squire as part of vaguely popular 90s Britpop types The Seahorses – he played his last gig with his post-Seahorses project The Yards last Saturday, and it was hard work getting through an hour and a half of largely samey-MOR rock. Ex-Colour Of Fire drummer Matt Lunn suffered a similar fate after the band’s split – he now plays drums for electro-indie outfit The Officers, who aren’t even a fraction as exciting as Colour Of Fire were.

There’s also the parts of the scene that I have no real affinity with and thus hate by default no matter how lauded they are in their respective musical circles. Take local prog-rock types Mostly Autumn and spin-off project Breathing Space – a pair of bands that make me a little bit depressed just thinking about them, to say nothing of how I feel after having been forced to listen to them for what inevitably seems like an eternity. Similarly, it seems that for every decent metal band in York there are about ten utterly abominable ones. And then there are the bands who are just genuinely, irredeemably shit. I won’t even bother mentioning most of their names, but I will stop to pick on one band in particular – Astrae, who at this moment are the most terrible local band I can think of, defined as they are by the histrionic emo whining of a man who looks like Chris Crocker. Awful.

But that’s enough negativity already – the question is: “Is there any hope for York’s local scene?” On balance, my answer would be a tentative “Yes”.

First and foremost, we have The Federals – easily the most exciting thing in York right now, their support slot with The Yards last Saturday showed up the headliners for the plodding dullards that they really are. Taut, snarling bursts of no-nonsense garage rock combined with the sheer loudness of their sound makes them a thrilling prospect. They’ve even picked up a little bit of national recognition, from a somewhat incongruous support slot on The Veronicas’ tour to Fearne Cotton being papped wearing one of the band’s t-shirts. While I wouldn’t go as far to make some daft statement like predicting ‘Big Things™’ for them in 2010, I will say that if there’s one band that has a chance to really break out of the local scene, it’s them.

Speaking of which, the last York-based band to really enter the public consciousness was Hijak Oscar – largely thanks to their involvement in Channel 4’s MobileAct Unsigned and their subsequent decision to walk off the show. Well, they’re still around, and while their music isn’t not the kind of thing I’d want to hear an extended set of, they’re entertaining in small doses and certainly very good at what they do – as they proved quite aptly during their short set at Duchesstival last Sunday.

Also present at Duchesstival were a couple of bands who haven’t played for a while, but who both reminded me just how good they are. First, The Buccaneers, who sound like the garage rock band that Kings Of Leon should have been all along – arrestingly melodic howl of a vocal and all. Secondly, The Blueprints, who’ve been somewhat AWOL for a while but have returned complete with new keyboardist to brighten up our dull little lives with their sparklingly perfect indie-pop gems. Other good bands off the top of my head: Glass, who do a good line in dark, theatrical, slightly Interpol-esque rock, and Lost From Atlas, who sound a bit like Battles – and that’s always a good thing in my book. It’s also worth briefly mentioning the proliferation of singer-songwriters and acoustic artists in York – although it does make it difficult for any one person to particularly stand out, there are certainly some talented individuals out there.

So, while it’s struggled to produce acts that have really broken out of the city in the same way that, for example, Leeds has, there are still some good things to be found in York’s music scene. It’s just that you have to sift through a hell of a lot of chaff to find them.

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