Single review: Baby Queens ‘Melodi/Had My Heart’ – “Crafting intoxicating harmonies that stick in your head for days is what they do best”

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by Baby Queens (released on 13 November 2015).

Copyright Baby Queens.The new double A-side single by Cardiff quintet Baby Queens – released on Cardiff’s Strangetown Records label – succeeds on two fronts. On one hand, it reaffirms them as the next big band you need right now in your life and in your record collection – or streaming playlist in a more modern context. On the other, it paints them as the atypical nightmare of the average marketing-brained music journalist who find themselves in a quandary as to what exactly to label them as.

For one, Baby Queens model themselves as, or at least on the forefront give the first impression of being, a girlband. But musically speaking, they are far removed from any connotations to the label, not least because they actually play their own instruments and write their own tunes. Then there is the music behind the faces. On first listen, it’s R’n’B – influenced pop but imbued with garage rock guitars. Or it’s indie-rock with a dash of reggae. Or it’s hip-hop laced with doo-wop harmonies. The countless musical threads are enough to send your head in a spin faster than the script of a Quentin Tarantino film – and aptly their music would be a suitable soundtrack to one too. Continue reading

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Album review: Oktoba ‘Smoke Signals’ – “The singer avoids the usual traps of one-man-and-his-guitar debuts with his inaugural offering”

Published on AfterDark (17 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the debut album by Brighton artist Oktoba (released on 29 October 2015).

IMG_5213Brighton. A town renowned for its seaside pier, its increasing obsession with artisan coffee shops and its famous house music scene. For all its notable features though, It’s the last place you’d expect to produce a homegrown Americana/folk singer. Yet artist Chris Athorne – better known by his alias Oktoba – is a defiant exception to that logic.

On his debut Smoke Signals – recorded with producer Tim Bidwell at Brighton’s Clockwork Owl Studio – his husky vocal and brittle string melodising are given vast room to roam over a breadth of ten tracks. The titular track and opener Smoke Signals sets the template for what follows in eloquent fashion – lyrics that paint stories of the disillusionment of adulthood and the yearning for true love, soundtracked by plaintive folk melodies and velvet harmonies. From the dreamy optimism of the opening track, to the closing paean to loneliness and the healing power of love on You to Me, the debut is a snapshot of the transition between youth and adulthood that anyone in their mid-twenties or older can relate to. Continue reading

Review: Sŵn Festival 2015 – “If the previous two DimSŵns were slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, this year was the full aural cornucopia”

Published on AfterDark (14 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the performances from this year’s Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (6-8 Nov 2015). Photography by Tess Seymour.

Cristobal and the Sea. Copyright Tess Seymour.

The venues: Buffalo/Clwb Ifor Bach/Four Bars (Dempseys)/Gwdihw/Ten Feet Tall/Undertone/The Moon Club/The Abacus Rooms

Like many, it was great for me to see Sŵn Festival return to Cardiff in its original multi-year form after a two-year spell. The previous downsized DimSŵn events did a fine job of filling the gap in between and keeping the Swn faithful happy, but at last we could now enjoy a whole weekend of arguably the biggest musical ‘street party’ in Cardiff.

The slightly later date for this year’s outing (due to a certain rugby tournament) meant that the days were slightly shorter, the evenings slightly darker and the weather slightly colder (or perhaps not much colder as it is the Welsh weather after all). The quality of the music and the atmosphere though, remained of the same high calibre as it did before.

If the previous two DimSŵn outings were merely slim pickings of the Sŵn fruit tree, then this year’s event promised to be the full cornucopia of aural richness. Having such a plethora of talent gracing some of the city’s venues is both a blessing and a curse, as it leaves a dilemma as who to see or which act could be an as-yet-undiscovered favourite. Continue reading

Single review: Afro Cluster ‘Basic Questions’ – “A wall of funk-driven fury, fuelled by a respect for the roots of soul”

Published on AfterDark (4 Nov 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by AfroCluster (released 9 Nov 2015).

AfroCluster

In my last review of Afro Cluster’s preceding single They Don’t Know featuring Helena-May (released New Year’s Day this year) I described it as ‘four-minutes of pedal-to-the-floor doo-wop funk layered with shimmering beats, brash horns, smouldering guitar licks and topped off by a sultry vocal turn from Miss May which elevates the track to another level of sophisticated sass.’

My verdict was really just a short and sweet sampling of the sonic beverage that lays within the track. The music purely does all the talking by itself and if it was a mouth, it would need an excessive amount of cooling mints to cool down the fire that echoes from its belly.

The gap between They Don’t Know and their upcoming release Basic Questions (featuring Greg Blackman) has certainly done much to heighten the appetite for more of the same soaring level of smouldering soul-driven hip-hop. Any chances of feeling short-changed by their new release can be laid firmly to bed, as Basic Questions answers any such apt inquisitiveness in the same manner that They Don’t Know did. Continue reading