Sunday, 23 November 2014

Robocobra Quartet - Knotweed/Witch Hunt

There's no greater pleasure than coming across a local band who sound like nothing else that Northern Ireland has to offer. That's why it was great to be introduced to Belfast group Robocobra Quartet back in July with their single "Artbook Flipping". Its release helped the band to pick up quite a bit of local attention, and the band's subsequent live gigs have received heaps of praise, including the approval of Tom Robinson.

So there's no better time to check in with the band and the release of their latest double-A side single (remember when they were still an actual thing?) "Knotweed/Witch Hunt". The songs see the band mix improvisational jazz with "acoustically sampled melodies" (which we think is the same thing as interpolating) and hip-hop influenced rhythms and spoken word vocals from Chris Ryan*, which come together to create a cacophony of downbeat yet brilliant sonic explorations.

Of the two songs on offer, the highlight would be slightly less chaotic "Witch Hunt". The song is based around a melody by New Jersey saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and is an amalgam of a rather groovy bass line, duelling saxes, and some deadpan lyricism ('How did blue-collar Bruce get to be known as "The Boss"? And if this schedule's not right, how do I know if I've just missed the bus?').

Robocobra Quartet are the sort of band that even if you don't necessarily enjoy their music, you have to admire their drive, ambition, and pure originality. Their sound might be quite a challenging listen, and one imagines that if they tried their hand at a more 'accessible' sound, they would lose that spark of genius that makes them so unique in the first place. However, if you're willing to invest you time in them, you are going to fall in love with something very special indeed.

"Knotweed/Witch Hunt" is available now on a pay what you like basis.

*who's involved in another band we've featured on TMB before.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Jepettos - Closer E.P

It's been a few months since we heard from The Jepettos, the Belfast 'lullaby-folk' group fronted by husband and wife duo Mike and Ruth Aicken, but it's fair to say that quite a lot of people have. After all, the band have somewhat unexpectedly, yet welcomely, become of the most popular local artists on Spotify. Two of their songs, including most recent single "Orchard", have racked up over a million streams on the service, whilst at least six others are current north of 100,000. Given the royalty rates Spotify offers, that's probably only earned them enough to buy a packet of Fruit Pastilles, but it's great to see them picking up such a massive audience.

And that audience is only going to grow further, with the release of their new E.P, "Closer". The E.P contains four tracks that the band wrote for a play developed by the Re:Play Theatre Company for children with PMLD. The first track, "Shimmer", harks back to the sound of the song that first brought The Jepettos to our attention all those years ago, "Goldrush". Next up is "Meet The Aliens", a hand clap dominated song that sees Ruth joined on vocals by a children's choir, which reminds us a little bit of "Raconte-Moi Une Histoire" by M83 in some places.

Up next is the endearingly sweet sounds of  "The Mission", a song that contains one of my favourite chord sequences ever. The band finish with a bang in the form of "Shooting Stars & Fireworks", a song that is about as raucous as a band like The Jepettos are ever going to get.  The song is like a more playful, ukelele led younger cousin of the sort of track that might have appeared on the last Elbow record.

"Closer" is an absolutely lovely E.P from start to finish - it's like an aural comfort blanket. Although the songs have been written for a younger audience, there is enough sweetness and gorgeousness on the E.P to charm anybody of any age.

The "Closer" E.P is available to buy now.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Public Service Broadcasting - Gagarin

Public Service Broadcasting are back.

This is not a drill. I repeat, Public Service Broadcasting are back.

It is with great pleasure that we can say that J Willgoose Esq. and his esteemed colleague Wrigglesworth will be releasing their 2nd album early next year, and we at The Metaphorical Boat cannot be any more delighted. This blog have been keen supporters of the band since early 2012, and we were delighted when more and more people warmed to them, to the point that by the time they released "Inform-Educate-Entertain" last year, the album crashed into the chart at #21, with the band's selling out some large venues whilst promoting the album. And of course, they were not only responsible for this blog's top album of 2013, but also the top song of the year as well, with the wonderful "Signal 30".

So it goes without saying that we have been awaiting their follow-up album with much excitement, and it looks as if it's going to be a fantastic one indeed. "The Race For Space" will see the band looking to the stars as they give us a musical accompaniment to the Cold War space race between the USA and the Soviet Union between 1957 and 1972, using vocal samples taken from the time. As recent weeks have demonstrated, there is still an insatiable appetite from the public to learn more about the world beyond our atmosphere, so there couldn't be a better time for Public Service Broadcasting to, as their maxim states, teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future. Although I loved "Inform - Educate - Entertain", a few people felt that the album didn't have a real theme running through it, unlike their earlier "War Room" E.P, so hopefully theming a full-length record around a central concept will help to silence the doubters.

And finally, the band have just made available the first single to be taken from the album. "Gagarin" takes its name from Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and is very atypical of what one might expect a song honouring a Soviet cosmonaut to sound like, given that it's a funky, brassy disco number that sounds more like a theme tune to an 80s cop show, and a ruddy brilliant one at that.

Unfortunately, if you watch the music video, the chances are you won't be able to hear any of that, as you'll be laughing so loudly that you won't be able to hear anything the first time. The music video sees Willgoose and Wrigglesworth don space suits for a sophisticated, hilarious choreographed dance routine that's as ridiculous as it is informative. If this goes viral, I will not be shocked. We may have just found the winner of the internet.

Welcome back, Public Service Broadcasting. I look forward to the launch of their new album, and given that they've already sold-out two nights at the National Space Centre in Leicester, they are undoubtedly going to be blasted off into the stratosphere.

"The Race For Space" will be released on the 23rd February 2015. "Gagarin" will be available to download from 1st December for people who pre-order the album from the band's website.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Thoughts on the Northern Ireland Music Prize 2014

So, on Friday the 15th November, the Northern Irish music industry came together and declared, in their collective wisdom, that the best album of the last twelve months was "Blood of the Innocents" by Robyn G. Shiels, beating out eleven other rivals to scoop the big prize. Here are some brief thoughts from The Metaphorical Boat on the ceremony and the award itself:

1. For the 2nd year running, an older singer-songwriter came home with the prize - After the inaugral prize was won last year by Foy Vance, the victory for Robyn G. Shiels sees the current strike rate for male singer-songwriters of a certain age remain at 100%. If this trend continues next year, then you're unlikely to win if you are under the age of 35, lack a Y chromosome, and have friends.

2. Robyn G. Shiels would not have been my choice of winner - As any keen reader of this blog will undoubtedly know by now, our vote for the prize went to Wonder Villains, so it was disappointing that "Rocky" didn't take home the prize. However, I thought that if it wasn't them, then either Mojo Fury or VerseChorusVerse would have taken home the prize. "Blood of the Innocents" never really hooked me, and his performance on the night didn't do enough to win me over. Still, that's the thing about the democratic voting process, there's always going to be at least one person unhappy with the outcome. And at least he was there on the night to pick up the prize, unlike last year's winner.

3. The ceremony part of the evening remained pretty decent - Just like last year, the visuals and videos for each nominated album were well put together, adding to the excitement of the event, and once again Rigsy did a good job of compering the evening. Just three nominated acts played this year (five graced the stage in 2013). Aside from the aforementioned winner, folk duo Sullivan and Gold and storming rockers More Than Conquerors graced the stage. Perhaps not as much diversity as last year's performers, but I dare you to find one person that wasn't blown away by how fantastic More Than Conquerors were on the night. Had the votes been counted after that performance, I daresay the eventual winner might have been a little bit different.

4. Despite my misgivings, the inclusion of Therapy? was a canny move - when it was initially announced that 90s alt-rock legends Therapy? would receive a lifetime achievement award at the ceremony, I was initially sceptical, as I felt it would detract from the ceremony. Whilst that might still have been the case, it was still a great decision - their inclusion got a lot of people talking about the ceremony beforehand, and Mandela Hall was completely packed by the time the band took to the stage. If just a handful of people who had came especially for Therapy? discovered some hitherto undiscovered artist as a result, then that can only be a good thing. Mike Edgar's speech before handing the band the award, which contextualised the band's music in terms of the music scene that came both before and after them was just wonderful - if he ever writes a book about the Northern Irish music scene, I would be the first in line to buy a copy. And of course, Therapy? blew everyone away with their performance of their 1994 album "Troublegum" in full (an album which, incidentally, was nominated for the Mercury Prize that year).

5. The ceremony has got some press - A quick Google search reveals that the announcement of the winner has been covered in the Belfast Telegraph and Hot Press Magazine, as well as other local media outlets. It's also nice to see that one of the more respected music blogs worldwide, Nialler9, has written about it, so hopefully quite a few people outside of Northern Ireland will be made aware of the award. I've said this before, but it bears repeating - unless the ceremony is covered extensively both within here, and further afield, then the prize runs the risk of falling into self-congratulatory back slapping, rather than a ceremony that deserves to be taken seriously, so if you see any decent coverage of the award from further afield, please do let me know.

6. The NI Music Prize should be back next year - even if more than half the crowd were there just to see Therapy? rather than the ceremony itself, the hefty turnout for the event should see the NI Music Prize back again next year. If (or when) it does, I imagine that they'll follow the same format as this year and finish with a performance from a legendary Northern Irish act to supplement the ceremony. If so, the smart money would be on either Ash or Divine Comedy.

7. I've smashed my own record for "closest distance I've ever been from Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol - I was sat 5 feet away from Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol for a large proportion of the ceremony, which smashes my original record of approximately 200 feet (from when I saw the band at the Odyssey Arena a few years ago). Why I am so excited about this development, I still cannot fathom.

So congratulations to Robyn G. Shiels at winning 2014 NI Music Prize, so here's a song from the winning album, "Hello Death" -

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Daveit Ferris - This Is Your Captain Speaking

Following a near death experience at the end of last year, Derry musician and former Mascara Story frontman Daveit Ferris decided to pour his creative energies into his music. And by all, we certainly mean all, for Daveit is about to launch "365 Sparks" a project that will see him release a new song every day during 2015. He's certainly not someone who does things by halves.

To whet our collective appetite before the project steams ahead, he's released an E.P of songs to give us a taste of what to expect. Of the tracks on offer, our highlight would be "This Is Your Captain Speaking", a song that should silence the doubters who might think that as output increases, quality takes a nosedive. The song is a pretty darn impressive alternate-rock song that is just screaming to be playlisted on Kerrang! Radio, such is its heavy, driving, early Fall Out Boy-ish sound. Plus, if The Metaphorical Boat is ever in need of its own theme tune, we'll have this one very much on file.

It's a pretty impressive taster for the project, and we wish Daveit Ferris all the very best for the upcoming year. And we very much expect a few of them to pop up again here in 2015.

"A Taste of 365 Sparks" is available to download on a pay what thou likes basis. 365 Sparks begins in January.