Album review: Baby Queens ‘Baby Queens’ – “Their greatest strength is their ability to break down walls between genre and time”

Published on AfterDark (06 Nov 2016) – CLICK HERE to view

Dean Hodge reviews the eponymous debut album by Cardiff R’n’B fusion band Baby Queens (released through Strangetown Records on 28 October 2016).

Tracklisting: Tired Of Love/Melodi/Had My Heart/Hear Me/You And I/By The River/It Feels Like/Forever/Spiritualize/Unite/Red Light/Samsara

baby-queens-copyirght-baby-queens

Having followed them for a lengthy period of time and thrown around the lofty words ‘long-awaited album’ in much of my previous reviews, it comes as a massive relief to be able to finally review an actual album by Cardiff’s Baby Queensthe female five-piece who serve up a hypnotic and harmonious aural cocktail that is shaken and stirred with R’n’B-infused pop melodies and garage rock-imbued hooks.

The Welsh quintet can pose a two-edged sword to any music journalist or press figure. On one hand, you would need a list longer than your arm for the myriad of genres the band could justifiably fit into with petite ease. But it poses something of a quandary on how exactly to articulate or market their sound within one genre or within a single tagline. Additionally, it is just as much of a challenge in how to thread together the numerous stitches of the band’s sound into a cohesive whole, and capture the raw energy of their live sound onto record. This is perhaps an obvious factor as to the why the wait for a debut album has dragged on for what seems like an infinite amount of time. At least it has so in the eyes of many of their fans – or their ‘New-Jack Army’ if that could be considered a suitable royalty-inspired nickname for their fan club – who have been licking their lips over the prospect of a full-length album by the five-piece.

Not content with just putting out sub-standard recordings of the music that they have been pouring their heart and soul into writing while balancing day-to-day jobs, the band take a decidedly more meticulous approach. For them, the production should be just as important, and just as emotionally ambitious, as the songs themselves. Additionally, so much can happen within the realms of life and love in the space of a couple of years, that can only serve to enlighten and enrich the creative nous. Continue reading

Review: Sŵn Festival 2016 – “Providing musical memories for ten glorious years, and hopefully more to come”

Published on AfterDark (26 Oct 2016) – CLICK HERE to read article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from the 10th anniversary weekend of Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October 2016).

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

Photo provided by BBC Cymru Wales (Photographer: Simon Ayre)

The sight of instruments and amps being wheeled from numerous white vans into one of the various venues in Cardiff. A sea of pink and red balloons dotted around the city streets and inside said venues. People walking around with glitter etched across their face as if it an acceptable form of everyday attire. These are images that have become very much synonymous with the annual orchestrated cacophony of chaos that is Sŵn Festival.

Like a song that reminds you of an iconic scene from your favourite film as soon as you hear it, these images are a visual accompaniment to the many moments of musical magic that have come to define the Welsh festival. Artists have marked their breakthrough here. Friendships (and relationships) have been formed. The odd Jager-bomb has been consumed here and there.

They are moments that indeed now span an entire decade for those that have shared the journey of Sŵn right from the beginning – and four years (and counting) worth of musical memories for me. With local music venues fighting an uphill battle to remain relevant in the current streaming-dominated music industry, the support of these venues and the ability of city-based festivals like Sŵn to highlight the independent scene, is more vital now than ever before. So the Welsh festival marks its tenth birthday by providing more of the high-calibre new artists that have come to define the ethos of Sŵn. Continue reading

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge Interviews Leif Erikson – “I want to ensure, when writing songs, that they retain a little bit of mystery”

Published on AfterDark (19 Oct 2016) – click here to view article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to Leif Erikson lead vocalist/guitarist Sam Johnston ahead of the band’s upcoming appearance at Sŵn Festival in Cardiff (23 October).

Leif EriksonLondon quintet Leif Erikson‘s choice of name – inspired by the famous Icelandic explorer – is perhaps an apt one for their dreamy, dexterously-produced indie-rock sound. They bridge elements of the jangly guitar hooks of The Stones Roses and pre-Screamadelica Primal Scream, the angular melodies of Joy Division and the shoegaze grooves of Ride. Within wide lyrical landscapes – of life, love, loss, lament and everything in between – the band churn out cathartic melodies like unearthed diamonds, and chisel at them with lean guitar riffs and polished vocals. Ahead of their eagerly awaited return to Cardiff this weekend (23 October) – as part of the line-up for the 10th anniversary edition of Sŵn Festival AfterDark’s Dean Hodge spoke to lead vocalist/guitarist Sam Johnston about the band’s plans for new music, growing up in London and the inspiration for their songs. Continue reading

Sŵn Festival 2016: AfterDark’s 10 must-see artists

Published on AfterDark (16 Oct 2016) – click here to access article

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge previews the 10th anniversary weekend of Sŵn Festival (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 October) and picks his 10 recommended artists.

10 Must See Artists Swn (Copyirght AfterDark)

Cardiff‘s own curtain-closer to the festival season Sŵn Festival returns once again to numerous venues around the Welsh capital for a whole weekend – showcasing the cream of upcoming artists that are sure to be the soundtrack of the years to come.

Like the one music-obsessive in your social group that continually claims bragging rights to knowing the best new artists before anyone else does, Sŵn prides itself on bringing future headliners and chart-hasslers directly into some of Cardiff’s petite venues. Artists like Temples, Alt-J, The Vaccines and Disclosure are just some of the acts to have graced the Welsh festival on the way to the ‘toppermost’.

Now in its 10th year, Sŵn shows no signs of going stale with its ear still finely attuned to the freshest sounds – and this year’s line up is sure to have something to please everyone whatever their aural tastes. AfterDark’s Dean Hodge handpicks his own ten artists to look out for this weekend. Continue reading

Live review: The Bluetones – TramShed, Cardiff, 19 April – “The band raise a gin and bluetonic to twenty years since their soaring debut”

The Bluetones TramShed 1 (Copyright Nick Evans)

Published on AfterDark (21 April 2016)

Dean Hodge reviews the band’s Cardiff leg of their ‘Jukebox’ 20th anniversary tour, at the recently opened TramShed venue (support from The Standard Lamps). Photography: Nick Evans.

For a band often considered part of the blossoming Britpop scene of the mid-1990’s, The Bluetones were far more inspired by the harmony-laden guitar-pop of 60’s US West Coast bands such as The Byrds, than by the British songbook circa-Kinks and Small Faces that informed the sound of much of their peers.  But timeless singles such as Slight Return and Bluetonic have ingrained themselves in the psyche of many of those who were in their twenties when the band started, as well as those lucky enough to discover them since.

Having initially parted ways, the band have reformed for a one-off tour as they raise a gin and ‘bluetonic’ to twenty years since the band’s inception and the release of their soaring debut album Expecting To Fly – an often overlooked, but scarcely overpraised, classic from the 1990’s British indie scene.

Their return to Cardiff coincides with the recent arrival of the ambitious TramShed venue in Cardiff, which in a short space of time has established itself as an integral part of the Cardiff music scene, filling the gap for a suitable ‘medium-sized venue’ that Cardiff has lacked for so long. Its thousand-strong capacity makes it suitable for housing the audience for this gig – albeit many of whom are in their late 30’s to 40’s and whose youth was fortunately soundtracked by the Britpop era. Continue reading

Review: DimSŵn 2016 – ‘A premature serving of Sŵn’s 10th birthday cake, with just as much rich sonic filling’

Published on AfterDark (14 April 2016) [click here to view]

Dean Hodge reviews some of the acts from this year’s DimSŵn Festival in Cardiff , 9 April. (Photography by Nick Evans)

Anelog (Copyright Nick Evans)

Anelog, The Moon Club (Photo: Nick Evans)

If its older sibling Sŵn is the headline act of the festival season, then the younger DimSŵn is the inaugural support whetting aural appetites for the soundtrack to our year ahead. With the tenth year of Sŵn approaching, DimSŵn was in some ways a premature nine-and-a-half old birthday celebration – a mere slice of the Sŵn birthday cake full of the rich sonic filling and rare flavours-of-the-month that this defiantly Welsh institution never fails to mix up.

As is often the case at Sŵn, it falls on the slim guitar-adorned shoulders of a singer-songwriter act to open proceedings. So DimSŵn 2016 gets under way in Undertone with Merthyr Tydfil chanteuse Bryony Sierthe first in a line of acts representing the Forte Project stage. She manages to inject a unique edge into the country and folk genre with a voice that sounds more Memphis than Merthyr, and melodies cut straight from the heart. Continue reading

Horizons/Gorwelion 2016: Dean Hodge Interviews CaStLeS – ‘Our live shows are an opportunity for us to do something exciting and inventive’

Dean Hodge speaks to Dion Hamer from CaStLeS (Cestyll) – one of this year’s Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 artists.

Castles 2 (Copyright Horizons)

Members: Dion Hamer, Cynyr Hamer, Calvin Thomas 

When listening to garage-psych trio CaStLeS (or Cestyll in Welsh), you only have to close your eyes and you can convince yourself that you’re back in the 60’s again. Their staunchly authentic sound is a kaleidoscopic blend of psych-infused surf-rock and West Coast influenced guitar-pop, filtered through a late 60’s lens.

The North Wales band have been meticulously honing their distinct style while managing to exist fairly underneath the radar for a while now. But while the ‘sound’ is one thing, are the ‘songs’ good enough? Recent singles like PartDepart and Foresteering are strong hints at a band who have belief in their craftsmanship, and are ready to emerge from the shadow.

Dean Hodge spoke to CaStLeS member Dion Hamer about the band being selected for the Horizons/Gorwelion 2016 scheme, their ambitions for the year ahead, and their two upcoming albums. Continue reading