Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Spring Offensive curate Beard Museum - St John the Evangelist Church, Oxford 15th June 2013

Having previously played in a variety of quirky venues from living rooms to museums, a beautiful church in East Oxford seemed the perfect setting for a musical extravaganza hosted by local lads, Spring Offensive. With so many great releases coming out of Oxford lately, an evening of Oxford bands was sure to be a good one (it's worth checking out Seb Reynolds' musical guide to the city here).

The evening began with acoustic sets in the chapel of the church - a tiny room that made for an intimate environment. With The Ruby Kid acting as a compère, the audience were treated to some spoken-word poems, and despite only a few admitting to being hip hop fans, it was clear the crowd appreciated his impressive ability to spout such powerful lines so charismatically. 

The musical proceedings got under-way with the unconventional looking Sweet William. With his wild mop of ginger afro, I'm wasn't to sure what kind of music to be expecting, but he lived up to his name, with soothing vocals and an unassuming persona. Coming into the centre of the crowd to perform one of his songs was a nice touch, and I instantly warmed to his reserved and gentle, but nonetheless powerful music. 

Adam Barnes continued in much the same fashion with melancholic songs, and dulcet melodies, and yet the differences between the two singers were clear. Barnes, joined by a keyboard, sang with an assurance that exuded his confident, but humble manner. Playing acoustic versions of tracks off his latest EP, his stripped back set was refined but elegant, perfectly matching the ornate setting. 

The final band of the acoustic section was Salvation Bill, a western/country trio, whose energy was infectious. Littered with eccentricities (including a fake crow attached to the guitar strap of the lead singer), their set was one of the most fun I've witnessed in a long time. Dedicating a song to their neighbour's dog, they sang of a dog who howls throughout the night, even inputting some spectacularly accomplished howling into the song. 

Pixel Fix's set in the main body of the church marked a definite change in the tone of the evening, with their heavy guitars and sample pads. Despite being utterly charming (the lead singer repeated on numerous occasions what 'a pleasure' it was to be playing there), their music had an angrier edge to it, and a raw sound that was exhilarating and refreshing at the same time. They were clearly young lads, but their music was accomplished and assured, and they had a confidence which made it seem like they had been around for years - they're definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming year.

After the excitement of Pixel Fix's set, Peter & Kerry seemed a bit dreary in comparison. Whilst their songs had catchy melodies and pretty harmonies, it was all a bit too twee for me, and it was hard to distinguish one song from another.

By the time Spring Offensive took to the stage, the venue was packed not only with loyal Oxford fans, but fans from further afield as well - a testament to the success they have had in recent months and their increasing popularity as they finally gain the recognition they deserve. Lead singer, Lucas Whitworth, was the perfect front man - he had good banter with the crowd, and commanded the stage like a master conductor, though when you're well over 6 foot perhaps it isn't so hard to do..!

Opening with the beautifully haunting No Assets, the band instantly captivated the audience, and set a high standard which they maintained throughout their set. Playing Synapse to Synapse to a live crowd for the first time that evening was a daring move, but it paid off - the melancholic vocals fit perfectly in the majestic setting of the church, and it wasn't hard to see why they'd chosen that particular venue for their set.
Not Drowning But Waving closed their set, and despite having to restart after Matt Cooper accidentally pulled out his guitar lead, it was a stunning finish to a wonderful evening of Oxford music.

For more photos from the evening visit the NotAnotherRainySunday Facebook page

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: Don Valley EP - We Aeronauts

We Aeronauts: Don Valley EP

EP: Don Valley
Label: Beard Museum
Best track: Out of the Don Valley
Rating: 7/10 

Now that summer's just around the corner, what better accompaniment could there be than We Aeronauts' jangling indie-pop? Despite numerous lineup changes over the past few years, and band members living in various parts of the country, they've overcome the odds to produce a wonderful new EP with Oxford's Beard Museum.

Through the Door is a gloriously upbeat start to the EP. It perhaps verges into 'twee' territory at times, however, the rich layers of guitar help anchor the track, and give it an edge to prevent its sugar sweet vocals from taking over. Chestnut Tree continues the summery vibes with its infectiously catchy melodies. The mix of vocals from Anna Wheatley and James Cunning seems reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian, whilst still retaining its own unique blend of poppish melodies and rich layers of instruments, that make the song such a joy to listen to.

The second half of the EP takes a simpler, more laid-back approach - a wise choice, as four tracks of chirpy, overly happy vocals could have been over the top. Instead, Distance Learning, has a more soothing quality, perfectly capturing the peacefulness that summer can bring, as well as the sunshiny happiness that the earlier tracks seem to paint. However, it's not until the final track that the band really show the true strengths of their musical ability. Out of the Don Valley has a refreshing innocence, starting with only ukulele whilst Wheatley sings with such clarity, and even when the song builds up with Cunning's intertwining vocals, its simplicity is not lost amongst the instrumentation. The trumpet solo, rather than sounding too overpowering, complements the paired back nature of the track, and is a welcome addition.

Across the whole EP, We Aeronauts harness a genre of pop that's incredibly catchy, and although this makes for easy-listening, it would perhaps be a trial to listen to a full album of relentlessly upbeat melodies. Yet, for four tracks, the tone is just right - the perfect summer EP. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Single review: Calling Out Your Name - The Epstein


Out today on Zawinul Records is The Epstein's beautiful new single, Calling Out Your Name. Starting with Olly Wills' gentle vocals, the track gradually builds up with violins and drums to a spine tingling finish with gorgeous harmonies and rich layers of guitar. Wills sings with such a determined sincerity, it's not difficult to believe him when he sings 'If you walk away I'll search the whole earth', and that's much of the charm of the band - the lyrics convey such genuine emotion it's clear Wills believes every word he utters. It's a stunning effort, and here's hoping it finally gets The Epstein the attention they deserve. 

The Epstein will be playing in Oxford on 27th June and London on 30th June. 
For more information visit:
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