Review: Hydrograd

Afternoon altrocklifers! I’m currently away enjoying myself at Bourne Free pride festival, but luckily for you I took some time out on Friday to review the latest record by five piece Iowa band Stone Sour.  Excitement for the band’s sixth studio album, Hydrograd, started to build back in April with the release of lead single, Fabuless.  You can watch the music video here:

The album itself opens with a cheeky “hello, you bastards” at the beginning of introductory instrumental track YSIF, which summarises Stone Sour’s alternative rock style in a two minute package.  Great riffs, churning bass and inventive drum fills form the meat of the track, with electronic samples, distorted backing vocals and gentle piano adding something a bit special.  Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Corey Taylor is front and centre throughout the record, and that makes sense: Stone Sour is very much his baby, the long-running side project to keep the Slipknot vocalist occupied.

I can understand why Stone Sour decided to release Song #3 as the second single for the album.  It’s easily one of the best – and most radio friendly – on the record, with fantastic lyrics, great drums, and a fantastic guitar solo wrapped up in a fairly punchy four minute package.

Speaking of Taylor, his vocals are just as strong as ever throughout this album.  He switches between melodic verses, occasional crooning, and jarring shouts with ease that betrays his experience.  Since the departure of Taylor’s Slipknot co-member Jim Root back in 2014, this is the first full length record with new lead guitarist Christian Martucci, and he fits into the line-up extremely well.

Hydrograd features fifteen tracks and clocks in at around an hour long, which more than makes up for the four year wait since the second half of House Of Gold & Bones Part Two was released.  Honestly, there are a couple of more generic tracks which could have been shaved off the track list without negatively effecting the album, such as Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb & So Am I) and the country inspired St. Marie.

Overall, if you consider yourself a fan of Stone Sour, then I think you’ll be pleased with their latest musical offering.  Is Hydrograd as ambitious as their two part concept albums?  Maybe not. But the fact remains that this album is a solid alternative rock offering, full of strong single-worthy tracks accompanied by a number of more chilled ballads.  So whilst their latest record doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of House Of Gold & Bones Part 1 & 2, it’s still a great offering in its own right.  I mean, let’s be real, is Corey Taylor capable of producing anything other than fantastic?  I think not.

Highlights: Knievel Has Landed, Song #3, The Witness Trees, Thank God It’s Over, Mercy, Somebody Stole My Eyes

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Review: Hear It Calls

Hi altrocklifers! Today I’ll be reviewing the latest EP by up-and-coming Texas band, The Naked Tungs.  The four piece band put out the five track EP, Hear It Calls, yesterday, following the release of their single Valium And Vodka earlier this month.  The band have a fun, garage rock sound, and I’m excited to introduce this band to my readers.

The Naked Tungs Hear It Calls EP cover

The EP begins with opening track Someone Else, setting things off with a catchy and upbeat guitar solo, which repeats throughout the song.  Female vocalist Sarah R. provides the vocals for this track, and whilst her voice might not be technically perfect, her attitude comes across really well.  The last 30 seconds or so of the track is made up of an awesome instrumental, notable for its interesting drum fills.  Lyrically the track talks about how people can change under the influence of drugs, and this theme of partying, drugs and alcohol carries on throughout the rest of the EP.

Next up is the EP’s title track, Hear It Calls, this time sung by male vocalist Hersh C.  The higher pitched guitars and more focus on cymbals, as well as the slight echoing effect on Hersh’s voice, gives the song a more indie feel compared to others on the EP.  This is a really fun track which adds to the party vibe mentioned in the lyrics running throughout.

My favourite track on Hear It Calls is definitely Valium And Vodka, and I can understand exactly why the band decided to release it as a single.  The track is a great summation of The Naked Tungs’ sound as a whole: Sarah’s vocals are at their strongest here, and the instrumentals feature a strong bass line, interesting plucked guitar features, and inventive drumming.

The EP’s penumtilate track is All Of This, possibly the most grungy track on the EP, which suits its low-fi production perfectly.  Hear It Calls is then rounded off by Its Alright, the longest track on the EP at over six minutes long, which really lets the band stretch their creative muscles and just jam.

You can listen to Hear It Calls on the band’s Bandcamp page, or alternatively stream it on Spotify – just pop The Naked Tungs into your search bar.  If you’re a fan of Band Of Skulls of Wolf Alice, I reckon The Naked Tungs are a band you definitely need to get into.

Review: Make The Best Of It

Afternoon altrocklifers!  Today I’ll be reviewing the latest album by Maryland band Have Mercy.  Formed in 2011, the band now only has one official member – vocalist and guitarist Brian Swindle – following the departure of its other members last year.  I’m excited to hear how their third full length album, Make The Best Of It, will sound in comparison to their earlier records, put together when the band was still a five-piece.  It was the video for Have Mercy’s 2013 track, Let’s Talk About Your Hair, that got me interested in this band, so I was excited to hear Coexist, the first single released from the album released on Friday.  You can see the music video for the track here:

I can absolutely understand why Coexist was chosen to be the lead single for the album: it manages to wrap up the Have Mercy sound into one concise, three minute track.  Muted verses are contrasted by a rough-around the edges, almost shouted chorus, and the combination of rumbling drums and simple yet effective riffs gives the song a real stadium filling vibe.

On to the record: Make The Best Of It begins with Smoke And Lace, a high tempo track full of undulating bass, crashing drums, and a catchy chorus.  It’s full of energy, and to me the perfect album opening track.  This album is anything but predictable, shifting from almost pop-punk offerings such as Begging For Bones, to the melodic and gentle guitars of Ghost.

Something I’ve always enjoyed about Have Mercy is vocalist Swindle’s vocal technique: in their earlier releases his voice sounded much more gravelly and rough around the edges, and there was definitely more uncontrolled emotion and aggression.  Now, however, his vocals are much more focused and precise, and it’s obvious that he’s developed his technique over the years.  There’s still plenty of emotion, but these emotions are put across in a more refined way.

An example of this is the dark and angry Reaper, where Swindle fantasises about the death of his ex’s new boyfriend.  The pre-chorus riffs fading to simple feedback when Swindle first sings “I cut the brakes on his Camaro” gives the track a creepy atmosphere, emphasising that threat.  Good Christian Man is easily my highlight of the album: it’s an extremely melancholy song both instrumentally and lyrically, and his struggle to reconcile his beliefs as a Christian shows Swindle at his most vulnerable.

Plus, I’m not sure how they do it, but Have Mercy has a way of creating incredible atmosphere with their tracks.  Whether it’s the layered guitars or cymbal heavy drums which create almost a white-noise effect, the Have Mercy listening experience stands out from other similar bands.  Signed to Hopeless Records, the so-called emo revival, and recent influx of new alternative/indie/rock bands that this band is part of, can seem crowded.  However, I think Have Mercy  stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Considering the band’s radical upheaval last year, the title of Make The Best Of It could very well be an indicator of how Swindle felt about the album: these circumstances are less than ideal, but let’s try to work with what I’ve got.  The results?  An album which exemplifies growth as a musician, and achieving above and beyond personal expectations.  If you weren’t sold on Have Mercy as a band before, now is the time to listen up and pay attention.

Highlights: Coexist, Begging For Bones, Reaper, Good Christian Man

Review: Same Sun Same Moon

Little Hurricane are a rock and blues duo from San Diego, California, formed back in 2010.  Over the years the band have released three records, including an album of cover songs, and Friday marked the release of their fourth album, Same Sun Same Moon.  The first single from the album, OTL, was released last month, and you can watch the video here:

Now, on to the album.  Same Sun Same Moon begins with the title track, which is a bassy, upbeat start to the record with cutesy, optimistic lyrics.  This leads into Bad Business, a more bluesy number with a grungy, guitar led chorus.

This record is anything but predictable.  Tracks shift between high tempo, riff heavy sounds and more indie, acoustic vibes, keeping the listener guessing as to where the record will take you next.  There are also occasional touches of brass, ukulele and piano which demonstrate that Little Hurricane are willing to experiment a little with their music, and don’t let themselves be restricted by the ‘blues’ label.

I’m a big fan of frontman Anthony Catalano’s vocals throughout this record.  His voice can be clear and crisp, or rough around the edges, depending on the tone of the track, and I really like that versatility.  Plus, the occasional female vocals from drummer Celeste Spina add a pleasant, soft contrast to Catalano’s deeper voice.  Plus, it helps to illustrate the evolution of their relationship –  since forming the band, the two have fallen in love and married, as discussed in OTL.

I also like the combination of drummer Spina’s indie/bluesy playing with programmed electronic beats.  This combination helps to add a more pop-sounding vibe to some tracks, like the bridge and chorus of Isn’t It Great, as well as a more grungy sound to tracks like March Of The Living.

This was my first listen to Little Hurricane, and I’m a little sad that I’ve been missing out on their music all these years.  It almost defies belief that such a well-rounded, mature sound can come from just a two-piece.  If you’re a fan of groups like Band Of Skulls or Foals, you definitely need to get this indie/blues duo on your playlist, stat.  Same Sun Same Moon is a great all-round record, with compelling lyrics and an upbeat, hopeful sound.

Highlights: Bad Business, Take It Slow, Mt. Senorita, Slingshot

Review: Mallory Knox, Cambridge Corn Exchange

Last night, I was lucky enough to see Mallory Knox perform live for the second time.  Last time I caught the band live was at Leeds Festival in 2014, not long before the release of their second album, Asymmetry.  This time, the band are touring to promote their third record, Wired.  

First off, however, I’ll talk about the support acts.  Scottish act Fatherson were first to take to the stage, and this was my second time seeing them perform live – the first time was when they supported Enter Shikari on The Mindsweep tour.  In all honesty, I thought their performance took a little while to kick off, so maybe the first 20 minutes of their set was a bit lacklustre.  Their last couple of songs, thankfully, picked up the band’s energy levels and managed to get the crowd jumping.   Here’s the video for Lost Little Boys, one of the tracks the band played last night.

Next up were fellow Cambridge band Lonely The Brave. Unfortunately their performance was marred by a few technical issues: lead vocalist David Jakes had a number of issues with his microphone and in-ear headphones, so there were a few awkward pauses between songs whilst the problems were sorted out.  Otherwise, the band’s performance was spot on, just as good as when I saw them supporting Deaf Havana in 2014. Check out Black Mire, one of my favourite Lonely The Brave tracks:

Finally, Mallory Knox took to the stage.  Their performance was very strong throughout the night, with the entire band working together like a well oiled machine. Lead vocalist Mikey Chapman had some trouble with his voice, declaring about halfway through the set that his voice was “fucked up”, but he managed to power through and perform the rest of the set.  Plus, backing vocals from bassist Sam Douglas helped to fill any gaps.

The band’s set list was very strong, with a great mixture of tracks from all three of their albums.  They probably got the strongest reaction from the crowd whilst playing Lighthouse, Beggars and Wake Up from their debut record Signals, but it seemed like the crowd were equally happy hearing songs from Asymmetry.  The tracks from Mallory Knox’s latest album went down very well, and even though Wired was only released a couple of weeks ago, a decent portion of the crowd were singing along to the tracks.  Here’s the video for last night’s opening track, Giving It Up:


So there you have it.  Mallory Knox put on an awesome show, and if you have the opportunity to see them live, you’d be silly if you didn’t take it.

Have you already seen Mallory Knox live on their Wired tour?  What did you think of their performance?  Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

What’s in my shower? | Cruelty free skin and hair care

Since I started on my cruelty free journey, I’ve written a few posts about my experiences discovering new brands of skincare and cosmetics.  Today I thought I’d go over the cruelty free products I use on a daily or regular basis in the shower, to keep my hair strong and healthy, and my skin moisturised.  Now, I understand that there are many different skin and hair types, and there are different products available to suit.  Here’s a summary of my hair and skin type, so you can figure out if the products I use would suit you!

Hair type: Thick normal type curly hair, with dry ends.
Scalp type: Sensitive scalp, with some dry, flaky areas.
Facial skin type: Combination – mainly dry but with a very oily t-zone.
Body skin type: Mainly dry, with oilier patches on my chest and back.

So without further ado, I’m going to go through the products that I use in the shower, whether they are used daily or multiple times a week.

 

The first thing I do when I get into the shower is wet my face, then apply a thick layer of Lush’s Cup O’ Coffee face and body mask to my face, using the coffee grounds to exfoliate away any dead skin.  I then leave the mask on for the rest of the shower, to let the oils sink in and moisturise the dryer areas of my face.

Then, I wet my hair and rub the Lush Soak And Float shampoo bar over my head – usually four or five strokes will provide enough suds, as I have pretty short hair!  I then use my hands to rub the bubbles into my scalp and along my ends, and rinse immediately once finished.

Next comes conditioner, and I have two conditioners that I use on alternative days.  First is the Superdrug Extracts raspberry and macadamia nut conditioner, for coloured hair.  It has a great scent and keeps my hair in good condition, but isn’t quite moisturising enough for my dry ends.  Second is the Noughty To The Rescue moisture boost conditioner, which I use on my ends to give them an extra moisturising boost.

Now it’s time to wash my body.  I put on my exfoliating shower gloves, then use some of my favourite shower gel, Lush’s The Olive Branch.  It has a lovely fragrance, and the olive oil helps to keep my arms and legs from getting too dry.

However, once a week I like to mix things up a bit.  Instead of using The Olive Branch, I use some of the limited edition Rose Jam shower gel, which has the most beautiful fragrance, possibly in the history of all fragrances (yes, I’m obsessed).  This is then followed by smearing a generous layer of Lush’s Ro’s Argan body conditioner on my arms and legs.  I also occasionally use my Bubbly shower gel, to stop my showers getting boring.


So, that’s the lowdown on my shower routine!  What do you think of these products? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Wired

Friday marked the release of Cambridge band Mallory Knox’s third full length album, Wired.  Hype for this record started building when the band released its lead single and opening track, Giving It Up: you can watch the music video for the track here:

Giving It Up is a fantastic opening to the record, with its bassy, grungy introduction and vocalist Mikey Chapman changing up his usual style to favour a falsetto in the chorus.  In fact, I pre-ordered the record on the strength of both the lead single and Better Off Without You, so it’s safe to say I have big expectations for Wired.

The second track, California, is an awesome song with summery vibes, and not just because it references the golden state in its title.  Its huge chorus with layered backing vocals bring to mind the image of driving down a palm tree lined boulevard, with the windows down and car speakers blasting.

Lyrically the record is even more personal than the band’s previous efforts: For You and Better Off Without You discuss bassist/vocalist Sam Douglas’s struggle with mental health and use of antidepressants in a raw and honest way.  These tracks are definitely the jewels in the Wired crown: Mallory Knox are at their best when being open, honest, vulnerable, and willing to take chances.

Another favourite is the gorgeous Falling In Love: it starts slow and quiet, with the focus on the emotion in Mikey’s voice, which builds with more layers of raw vocals and powerful guitar riffs as the track plays out.  Plus, Lucky Me is arguably Mallory Knox’s most aggressive track yet, and I absolutely love it.

That’s not to say that Wired is perfect, however.  Midnight is a pretty generic track, with little imagination in terms of the instrumentals or its lyrical content.  It’s not an awful song, don’t get me wrong, but to me it screams “filler” and the album wouldn’t have suffered if it hadn’t made it on to the final track list.

Overall, it’s obvious that Mallory Knox have grown and matured as a band when comparing their latest album to their previous records, Signals and Asymmetry.  The band have grown together, and are experimenting with new musical elements without leaving their signature sound behind.  The band’s incredible atmospheric choruses and thought provoking lyrics have evolved and simply become better and better over the years.  Mallory Knox are already doing pretty well for themselves, but I predict Wired will help launch the Cambridge lads towards further success.

Highlights: California, For You, Lucky Me, Saviour, Mother

Afternoon tea at Blanchards, Sleaford

Now, if there’s one thing we Brits love, it’s a good pot of tea, some sarnies and a slice of cake or two.  Back in December, my sibling and I promised my Nan that we’d take her out for afternoon tea as part of her Christmas gift, so on Tuesday we made good on our promise and headed to Blanchards Coffee Shop in Sleaford, Lincolnshire.  Better late than never, eh?

I’ve been to Blanchards many times, and I’ve always enjoyed their English breakfasts, jacket potatoes, and especially their homemade mushroom soup.  However, their afternoon tea service takes things to the next level.  The cafe is family run, having been established in 1922, and you can really sense the amount of pride and care that goes into running the business.

We were greeted at our table with a huge teapot, because honestly, you can’t beat a good brew, can you?  After pouring our tea, these two cake stands laden with sandwiches, cakes and scones appeared, and these photos don’t do justice to just how magnificent the spread was.

Blanchards are happy to cater to different diets, so my being vegetarian wasn’t an issue.  I tucked in to my sandwiches filled with cheese and salad, cucumber and cream cheese, and egg mayonnaise.  My meat-eating counterparts also had thick-cut ham sandwiches which looked very impressive.

We then moved onto the scones, which like everything else is hand made on site.  They were delicious, full of raisins, and the strawberry jam and clotted cream is the perfect accompaniment.

Then, on to the selection of cakes.  The selection you get during an afternoon tea varies depending on what they have on offer that day, and in our case we had rocky road slices, a lemon curd/drizzle cake, and meringues with fresh cream and fruit.  I’m not a big fan of lemon so I didn’t try that cake, but my Mum and Nan reassure me that it was delicious.  The rocky road cake was made with very rich dark chocolate, with fruit throughout to stop it from becoming too sickly.  The meringues were absolutely perfect; crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, accompanied by slices of strawberry and blueberry.

The best part about this wonderful afternoon tea?  Blanchards only charges £10 per person for great service and a very generous quantity of food and drink.  If you’re ever in Lincolnshire and find yourself near to the market town of Sleaford, I would highly recommend stopping by – even though Blanchards requires 24 hours notice to prepare an afternoon tea, the wait is definitely worth it.

Where’s your favourite place to have a traditional afternoon tea? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Safe In Sound

Lower Than Atlantis are a British four-piece rock band who are celebrating ten years since their formation this year.  It seems fitting, then, that Friday marked the release of their fifth studio album whilst still riding the wave of success following their self-titled fourth record.  Hype for Safe In Sound began back in August of last year with the release of  Work For It, and excitement built steadily until the album dropped this week.

Jumping straight into the review, it’s obvious from the first track that more effort has gone into post-production on Safe In Sound than on the band’s previous records. A number of tracks feature either autotuned or artificial echoed lead or backing vocals, or programmed drums or clap sound effects.  Plus, Boomerang is probably the most heavily produced track in Lower Than Atlantis’s discography. Overall I think these added electronic elements have paid off: they certainly help each individual track to stand out from the rest of the record, and the end result is an extremely polished album with few rough edges.

However, the band’s ability to write catchy choruses and creative riffs layered with guitar solos has not been compromised.  Drummer Eddy Thrower has taken his playing to the next level, with a number of inventive drum fills peppering the record.  Another thing that hasn’t changed over time is lead vocalist Mike Duce’s signature velvet-smooth voice.  Lyrically the record still discusses similar themes to previous records, which shows that even though their sound might have changed slightly, Lower Than Atlantis are still, at their core, doing what they do best.

My Safe In Sound highlight is by far Work For It.  It’s probably the heaviest track on the album, and it’s whoa-ohing chorus is perfect for crowds at gigs and festivals to shout back at the band.  I also love the lyrics to Could Be Worse, which discuss every day stresses and struggles that everyone listening can relate to.

The last few tracks of the record seem to lose their way a little bit.  I Would and Money are tracks chock full of lyrical cliches, and to me it feels like there wasn’t a massive amount of thought or effort put into the songwriting.  I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore is a pretty downbeat track, which seems out of place on the record.  Thankfully, Safe In Sound ends on the high note of A Night To Forget, a great party track with an uplifting chorus.

Overall this record is hit and miss, and although the hits do outnumber the misses, I had higher expectations for Lower Than Atlantis’s fifth record.  I think the band struggled to find the right balance between their rock/hardcore roots and pop influences, and because of that the record was slightly confused.  Safe In Sound was overall enjoyable, but I hope that their next record has a more cohesive sound.

Highlights: Long Time Coming, Work For It, A Night To Forget

Review: All These Countless Nights

Deaf Havana are an English five piece alternative rock band who have been performing and producing punchy rock tracks since their formation in 2005.  All These Countless Nights was announced last August during the band’s performances at Reading & Leeds Festival, and the excitement for the album has built gradually over the past five months.  The single Trigger was featured as Daniel P Carter’s Rockest Record on his BBC Radio 1 show, and you can hear the track here:

All These Countless Nights is the fourth full length album to be released by Deaf Havana, and I’m very excited to hear how the band has progressed over the past 12 years.  Their sound has shifted over the years, from hardcore guitars and harsh screamed vocals, to a more lighthearted rock vibe with 100% clean vocals and big stadium-filling choruses.

The album opens with Ashes, Ashes: it begins with a deceptive acoustic introduction before singer James Veck-Gilodi’s vocals pick up passionately and the drums and lead guitar kick in.  The “whoa-oh”ing backing vocals help to build layers of atmosphere, as does the delicate piano playing within the verses.  The record then leads into Trigger, easily one of the strongest songs on the record with a chorus full of emotion and drums more complex than you might expect from a song of this genre.

One of my highlights of the record is L.O.V.E, a moody ballad discussing the darker side of love with an electric guitar solo from Matthew Veck-Gilodi and a great instrumental running from about the three and a half minute mark onwards.  It’s the longest song on All These Countless Nights, clocking in at almost five minutes in length, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been dragged out; more that the instrumentals and vocals have been given the breathing room they need to create the biggest impact.

Each track contains features which help them to stand out from the rest, from Fever’s grungy guitars, to the fantastic guitar solo in Pretty Low, to the acoustic-led Seattle.  But what does stand out to me as a whole is the band’s ambitions and desire to succeed, grow and reach more fans than ever before.  Whereas previous records sung about regrets and sadness fuelled by booze, songwriter James takes these feelings and looks forward more optimistically than ever before. If Deaf Havana continue to produce cracking records like this one, they’ll surely reach the success they deserve.

Having listened back to some of Deaf Havana’s older tracks to refresh my memory, I’ve found that vocalist James’s voice has improved and strengthened massively over the last 12 years.  He wasn’t the band’s original front man, but he’s definitely settled into that role now.  His tone is great, and I’d argue that he’s much better at conveying his feelings through the sound of his voice than ever before.  Some older Deaf Havana fans much prefer the band’s earlier music, but to disregard their more recent records is to disregard how much these guys have grown and improved as musicians.  If that also includes changing their sound, then so be it.  I certainly think the band have changed for the better, resulting in All These Countless Nights, their strongest album yet and another contender for one of the best records of 2017.

Highlights: Happiness, Fever, Pretty Low, Seattle, Pensacola, 2013