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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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

Sŵn Festival 2015: AfterDark’s 15 acts to watch out for

Published on AfterDark (28 Oct 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge previews this year’s Sŵn Festival (6th – 8th November) and picks his 15 acts to go and see.

Swn cover pic

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

After a brief two-year spell in hibernation and having briefly submerged under the guise of DimSŵn both early this year and last year, the musical behemoth that is Sŵn Festival returns to Cardiff in its original multi-day form. If you don’t currently have anything planned for the weekend between Fri 6th – Sun 8th November, then you may want to put this in your diary.

Right after the clock hand strikes five on Friday, the biggest musical ‘street party’ in Cardiff (co-founded by Huw Stephens and John Rostron) officially gets under way in Abacus and continues all through the weekend. True to form, the line-up this year is a eclectic mix of artists from every conceivable genre, among them a handful of names you’ll likely be hearing more from.

As Swn co-founder John Rostron stated in his previous interview with AfterDark, “We want Swn to be a platform for newer or under-the-radar acts to play to a bigger audience, and to encourage our attendees to discover acts they wouldn’t normally listen to, or be able to easily discover anywhere else. The popularity of an act is very difficult to determine as people’s opinions of how great or established an artist is are extremely varied, and I think that in itself is one of the great things about music.”

With that philosophy in mind, AfterDark’s Dean Hodge has sifted through the Swn playlist of the some of the acts playing this year and compiled ’15’ artists that are likely to be a hit at Swn Festival 2015. Just the matter of condensing into such a number is an audacious task and we’ve likely missed a few good un’s. So read through our handpicked fifteen and judge for yourself how we’ve fared…. Continue reading

Review: Maddie Jones ‘Colour Me In’ EP – ‘A sonic palette of pristine rock ’n’ roll brushed with Maddie’s distinctly deft touch’

MADDIE JONES 'COLOUR ME IN' EP

Published on AfterDark (14 Oct 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new EP by Maddie Jones (released on 23 Oct 2015).

Tracklisting: Could You Be My Rock ‘n’ Roll/Deadliest Little Fever/Push Back

Mistress-of-all-trades Maddie Jones has firmly asserted herself as the chameleon of the female singer-songwriter scene, with her debut album Vita Brevis an eclectic tapestry of songwriting that weaves in and out of any genre in distance, underpinned by Maddie’s distinct voice.

She remains as reliably unpredictable as ever with the release of her latest EP release Colour Me In, taking her sound down a more electric route with the immaculate melodies of her debut swapped for bruising riffs. Miss Jones’ faultless vocals remain as ever though, as does Charlie Francis (REM, Future of the Left, Sweet Baboo) on production duties. Whatever sound or genre Maddie can be pigeonholed into is essentially up to the listener to decide for themselves, an answer eluded to in the EP’s title and artwork.

The chugging blues-rock riff of Could You Be My Rock ‘n’ Roll gets the ball rolling with Maddie delivering an ultimatum to the listener as well as the lyrical subject of her affections. “I came out with an aching in my chest/I wanna find someone who’s different from the rest”. It’s as effective a call-to-arms to the dancefloor to join Maddie in shaking the dust off and dancing the blues away as any opening lyric. The presence of co-writer and guitarist Matthew Evans from Welsh garage-psych wizards KEYS certainly sprinkles a further dosage of 70’s dust over this four-minute stomper of a track, and you can almost smell the scent of bourbon and leather jackets throughout. Continue reading

Review: Some Kind Of Leader ‘The Flake’ – The band test the musical waters once more with a propulsive acid-tinged hook’

 Some Kind Of Leader 1

Published on AfterDark (18 Aug 2015)

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the new single by Some Kind Of Leader.

Tracklisting: The Flake/My Lord/Two Pair (feat. Cara Elise)

Following the technicolour indie rock of their debut album Dog Club released last year, Cardiff rock revivalists Some Kind Of Leader make a welcome return with newest single The Flake (released on Broken Yoke Records).

Produced by Cian Ciarán (of Super Furry Animals and Zefur Wolves fame) at Strangetown Studios in Cardiff, The Flake sees the band testing the musical waters once more with a propulsive acid-tinged hook anchored in late 80’s jangly guitar-pop and the early 90’s indie-rave scene. The track opens on a surging riff which glides along a spiral of hypnotic techno-adorned synths plucked straight from the heydays of the Hacienda. The influence of Mr Ciarán from the other side of the production board seeps through here, with his leftfield approach adding a further dosage of 90’s dust to the track. Continue reading

Review: Super Furry Animals, Cardiff University Great Hall, 3 May 2015 – ‘A welcome reminder and a literal jolt to the senses of how much we’ve missed them’

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews the third and final leg of Super Furry Animals’ 3-date gig in Cardiff last weekend.

Super Furry Animals

Published on AfterDark (8 May 2015) – CLICK HERE to read article

As far as mammoth comebacks goes, this particularly breed of mammoth is as big, as brash, as colourful and particularly as ‘furry’ as they come. In some ways, Welsh sonic meddlers Super Furry Animals – returning for their first gigs in Cardiff in six years at the Cardiff University Great Hall – never really went away in the first place.

All five members of the group – Gruff Rhys, Guto Pryce, Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford, plus brothers Dafydd Ieuan and Cian Ciarán (see AfterDark’s interview with him here) – have been working on their own various solo projects, while their music continues to be an eternal soundtrack for indie raves everywhere. However, their return to action was a welcome reminder and at times a literal jolt to the senses of just how much we missed them. Furthermore, it testified how much their inbred, technicolour-infused brand of rock ‘n’ roll – delivered in a mystical Welsh lilt – is needed in both in these grey, election-dominated times and the bland chart music-dominated landscape. Continue reading