Noise Annoys: Something in the way
Words on new music from Neil Brogan, No Matter and Karl Devlin, plus news of a Fighting With Wire reunion...
:: Neil Brogan – Things Keep Getting in The Way (album, self-released)
FIRST up this week is the new record by Neil Brogan, another home-recorded collection of top quality jangling indiepop gems by from the Belfast-based singer/songwriter and former Sea Pinks mainman.
Things Keep Getting in The Way finds Brogan crooning about everything from pandemic etiquette (upbeat jangle pop gem Please Wear a Mask – a sequel of sorts to the similarly tongue-in-cheek Not Until We're Vaccinated from last year's excellent Magnolia Day LP) and mismatched emotions (I'm In A Good Mood's breezy, reverb drenched indie guitar swing) to dodgy developers (the softly sung/strummed folksy ballad Build Back Better) and – as ever – nature/gardening (the grooving chime 'n' twang of Rose Season).
Other stand-outs include the near-perfect garage jangle of Memory Man, You Can Say No's poppy parcel of ringing guitars and wistful bemusement, and All We Know, a swoonsome/croonsome ode to making the best of it featuring one of the most memorable opening lines you're likely to hear all year: "the world is a depressing hell hole, don't you know / but seen from space it still looks beautiful".
The final song, a plaintive and pretty ballad titled You Breathe Like The Sea, suggests Brogan could do well as an acoustic guitar-wielding folkie should the janglepop well ever run dry/stale.
None of these tunes breach the three-minute mark (indeed, a couple wrap up in under two), and there are no duds among them, making the album a veritable masterclass in superb succinct songcraft.
Get Things Keep Getting in The Way into your ears now at neilbrogan.bandcamp.com, where limited edition CDs were still available to pre-order at time of press for a mere £10. You'll also find his recent single C'mon Blossom there, an upbeat romantic strummer that must have slipped down the side of the sofa when it came time to finalise the album tracklist. Oh well.
:: No Matter – Bad Chemistry (album, Brassneck Records)
CLOCKING in at a snappy 31 minutes, the latest record from Belfast melodic pop punks No Matter underlines the fact that they are also masters of brevity. While its 14 (count 'em) new tunes don't demand much of your time, anyone pining for the days when shorts were long and short, sharp 'n' snotty three chord earworms ruled the mosh pits of venues and festivals everywhere will be sticking around for repeat plays of Bad Chemistry.
The spirit of mid-90s American pop/skate punk is alive and well in No Matter, whose practice space must surely be adorned with tattered posters of Green Day, Blink 182, Screeching Weasel, The Queers, Offspring, NOFX et al. Cat (bass/vox), Dan (guitar/vox), Jarleth (guitar/vox) and Jamie (drums) have been at this for over a decade now – this is their fourth album – so clearly the love for their genre(s) of choice is deep in their blood.
If you've heard their older stuff or indeed the trio of singles released in the run up to the album – singalong pop punk boogie It's Boring, turbocharged break-up lament In Spite of You and chucklesomely titled 'what a time to be alive' skatepunk blaster S****geist – you'll have a fair idea of the cut of No Matter's fast 'n' crunchy hooks-laced jib.
The guitarists all contribute vocals, taking turns to sing lead and bolstering the majority of their enjoyably boisterous tunes backing vox and/or harmonies. The Cat-fronted songs, like the aforementioned In Spite of You, tend to stand out a bit on first listen simply because there's fewer pop punk frontwomen around and also because there's more of a hint of local accent in her powerful, emotive (not emo, thankfully) vocals than in the No Matter boys' Californianised crooning, but all three singers do a fine job delivering the kind of angst-fuelled lyrics that will resonate with the ears of teenagers and 40-somethings alike.
No Matter show their sensitive side on the likes of Unsaid, a deceptively uptempo Cat-fronted tune about a friend lost to suicide, and the melancholic melodic riffage of Jarlath's domestic violence-tinged album closer Like a Masochist, but they can also deliver snarky thrills with aplomb on tunes like Dan's gleefully breakneck banger Crowd Pleaser and Tinfoil, the latter a snappy ode to conspiracy theories that's one of the stand-out moments on the album.
Peppy production from veteran local knob-twiddlin' fader-fiddler Neal Calderwood ensures Bad Chemistry sounds as punchy and powerful as the 1990s favourites which inspired it – and no doubt it will sound its top dollar best on the limited edition coloured vinyl being released via Brassneck Records.
:: Karl Devlin – Songs of Wisdom and Woe (EP, self-released)
WHILE the honky skronkin' of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is as close as I usually get to actually listening to the blues, the new Songs of Wisdom EP by Belfast bluesman Karl Devlin was recently thrust in my direction for consideration – and consider it I have.
Unlike Jon Spencer, he ain't talkin' about the 'blooz': Karl's on a proper Mississippi delta-informed trip, as evidenced by the finger pickin' and slide-guided riffin' of EP opener Walking Blues, his take on the Robert Johnson standard.
He's also definitely from Belfast, his accent cutting through loud and proud on the lively Thoughts of You, though he also adds a little appropriately southern US-sounding sass/sauce to his delivery on peacenik lament Patience is a Virtue and the noirish, atmospheric EP closer Essence of a Dream.
If the blues is your bag then you should check Karl Devlin out – and you can do so by streaming this Songs of Wisdom and Woe from July 18 at soundcloud.com/karl-devlin
:: Fighting With Wire reform
LAST but not least for this week, readers of a similarly creaky mid-40s vintage as myself may well remember when Derry alt-rockers Fighting With Wire were the great white hopes of the Northern Ireland music scene.
Sadly, the trio called it a day in 2013 after a decade of entertaining us with hundreds of thrillingly energetic gigs, leaving two excellent albums of hook-adorned post-hardcore and grunge-informed tunes behind them in the form of 2008's debut Man Vs Monster and its belated follow-up Colonel Blood – the latter delayed by literally years after an exciting record deal with Atlantic went sour quicker than cottage cheese on a radiator, eventually getting a release with Xtra Mile in 2012.
If you haven't heard them, just imagine the Foo Fighters if Dave Grohl had kept the catchy crunchiness of their untouchable debut album as his sonic blueprint and remembered the whole Nirvana thing. Both records are on Spotify if you need verification.
Frontman Cahir went on to play with Frank Turner before forming New Pagans with his wife Lyndsey, drummer Craig moved to Canada to make a new life as a carpenter with a sideline in custom drum-kits, while bassist Jamie escaped to the Derry underground where today he survives as a soldier of fortune (not really – though I think he's now working in TV, which isn't far off).
However, the band recently announced a one-off show at The Nerve Centre on October 29, with Cherym and Parker as support. It's hard to believe it's now almost 10 years since they played their farewell show and, listening again to Man Vs Monster as this is written, the songs still sound as powerful and world-beating as they did back in 2008. Where was Bandcamp when they/we needed it, eh?
Get your tickets now via nervecentre.ticketsolve.com. Who knows – if it sells out, maybe they'll stick around for a while longer...