Moose, Octopus and the Importance of Performance

Local bands and small-scale acts suffer from an incredible number of disadvantages. Whether an excuse or a justification, the exploitation suffered by musicians is often just a matter of fact the trade. Limitations in sound, opportunities and various other components which create a better atmosphere for the performance are a given for bands working on a low budget, but the two main components which can’t be deprived from the artists are songwriting ability and stage performance. Recent performances from local bands Moose and Octopus perfectly reflect my thoughts and criticisms with small-scale bands and, in addition to a summary of the events, I wish to emphasise how these criticisms apply to many other smaller bands and how they undermine the quality of performances in general. 

Moose

 

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(Image poached from their Facebook page)

 

First on the chopping block are Moose, a self-described Groove Metal band from Wales. A more than competent band in their own right, the band display more than enough compositional ability with their recent EP, Courage, Enlightened & Doubt. The music seems to pay large homage to Alternative Metal bands of the late nineties and noughties and blends this influence nicely with clear influence from heavier bands of the same era and some more recent. Though a varied influence does benefit the larger product as a whole, this variety does work to undermine the consistency and add unneeded contrast to tracks such as Obstinate, which seems a little torn between inspirations. Various aspects of the music show great understanding and appreciation for the flow of the songs and I’m more than satisfied with the level of the production, particularly regarding the drums. I feel the music would benefit from a more exaggerated vocal distortion to better capitalise on the clear Lamb of God influence but this isn’t a deal-breaker by any stretch of the word. The EP boast a respectable 19 minutes and five tracks of great sounding and interesting music.

 

Where Moose ultimately let me down was with their live performance. Talk to me about amazing live performance and I will always mention Robbie Williams at the Etihad last year. Obviously, you’d expect a better performance when so much money is being thrown around, but very little of this is owed to the funding behind the performance – I credit this incredible event to the absolutely masterful level of effort and commitment to the performance and visual aspects of the event. A great performance transcends the limitations of a musical performance and shapes the event into a phenomenal and heartfelt experience. I feel a gig should either serve as a conduit to a series of emotions and thoughts presented by the act or a riveting and engaging form of entertainment with the use of music. This performance had neither. To refer to my previous point, I don’t credit these aspects to funding, but to the lack of charisma and effort on behalf of the band or artist. Though aspects relating to the sound of the music were more than satisfactory for the performance and the instrumental and vocal performances were as good as I’d hope to see, there seemed little to no effort to engage the audience or even retain the support of the previous performers. The atmosphere fell flat between songs as silences emerged and a lack of on-stage movement made for a fairly dull visual show and served as an incredible hindrance to the potential of the band, with on-stage movement and atmosphere being fundamental to the flow of a loud Metal band. My almost total lack of interest in the show prevents me from recommending seeing the band live, but the music itself is a fantastic investment for any Metal fans and I would highly recommend listening to their EP.

 

Octopus

 

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(With no artwork available, this octopus will have to do)

 

Next in queue are Octopus, another local Manchester-based band currently in study at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. In contrast to the aforementioned Moose, Octopus incorporate various influences from a number of genres to form what they refer to as “Tentacle Rock” but I respectfully refer to as Indie Pop/Rock. Another perfectly serviceable band with obvious creative potential, Octopus suffer from many issues with performance and, with no online content or released music, I find it harder to find to gain a true appreciation for their efforts and music. 

 

A major advantage, and potentially one of the best aspects of the event, was with the venue itself. Hosted at Night People, the band benefited from a superior sound, atmosphere and visual display – elements enjoyed by the fantastic Thea Brooks and Hover Bored, the support acts for the night. With four pints down, I had hoped for a fantastic show from a group of great guys but was sadly left underwhelmed. Though the music handled variety with an intelligent and thoughtful mentality, the performance lacked a well-planned flow and seemed to end on something of a low point. This lack of flow can be attributed to many things, the obvious in this case being technical issues which brought the event to a standstill for what felt at least ten minutes, but I feel a larger problem was the lack of comfort between songs and on the stage in general. Like Moose, the members performed with a clear proficiency in their playing and what little movement they used made for a far more interesting visual show, but I don’t really feel confident that they worked anywhere towards their potential. Octopus find themselves in the awkward position where I can’t provide a typical “yay or nay” as their lack of an online presence makes for a totally inaccessible band and the inability to hear or even follow the band. The performance leaves me struggling too because they just didn’t let me see what they were really capable of. I find myself in the position of being unimpressed but convinced they possess more potential than was on display that night.  

 

Fucking performance, dude.

 

With so much competition already, I can’t stress enough how important it is to perform both to the best of your ability and in a way that engages or entertains an audience. The stage in no place for discomfort, silences and awkwardness – it’s the setting for an incredible experience to emerge for bands and audiences alike. When you take to the stage you become something different and something far greater. When you take to the stage you become responsible for how every person in the room feels by controlling the energy and setting an example of how everybody should interpret the event. Pray tell me, dear readers, what energy is a performer going to create if they don’t give it their every effort? Obviously there is only so much you can do, but it’s the job of the performer to commit to perfecting everything they can and carrying through a true display of effort and conviction.

 

Bands may piss and moan, but there is only so much they can blame a lack of support from an audience and there is only so far people are responsible for failing to attend concerts. We live in a more isolated state than ever and people will prefer the warm comfort of home to that of a band that doesn’t truly work to engage them, and you can’t blame them! Consider your image, contemplate your movement and, above all, be interesting! Above all else, a band is providing a service and a product when they enter the stage and there should be no feeling of entitlement from any performer – especially from a small scale, local band.

 

There are two things I expect from any band I go to see; an incredible on-stage performance and well-written songs. Nailing this will win all the love I can offer and believe me, it makes my job a LOT more pleasant. We all just want to be impressed and if a band manages that they will succeed hugely.

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Bleachers – Gone Now (album review)

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(official artwork for the Gone Now album)

After the last torture I endured I thought I would give myself a break and listen to something completely new, hoping that the sense of discovery would cheer me up and draw me from the foul condition the last album left me in. I don’t feel like I quite achieved that with this album, but anything is a step up from the crap I sat through before.

So I had no idea who this band were prior to my “dart at the wall” approach to picking albums to review. As it turns out, they’re Indie Pop/New Wave band from New York who aren’t as good as their genre is interesting. Starting in 2014, they haven’t received much mainstream success yet – which does surprise me. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like they deserve more success, they just have that typical Imagine Dragons-wannabe sound that everybody seems to be going for these days and it’s disappointing to hear. As a die-hard fan of 80’s Pop and New Wave music, I had higher expectations of this band and I just feel disappointed.

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(listen to this instead, it’s a good album)

The album started off with a typical and acceptable dynamic, but as it went on it just began to sound more and more like some run-of-the-mill contemporary Pop album with nothing to differentiate it from what it is attempting to imitate, except for what felt like an embarrassingly poor approach to the mixing – evident in the dreadful sound of the kick drum, which remains throughout the whole album. It’s hard to explain, but as the opening song continued the production quality just kept falling. Listening to it, I felt the volume creeping up and down and the inconsistency just threw off the dynamic flow of the first few songs. Continuing through the album, everything just unravelled into an inadequate and poorly-performed mess, with the only original ideas sounding out of place and schizophrenic.

Every aspect was uninspired and a dull example of pure shoddiness, with everything close to good just being an almost direct copy of the aforementioned Imagine Dragons and everything bad just being a cheesy and embarrassing mess. It could be that I just don’t get this kind of mainstream sounding Pop shit, but I feel like it totally lacks any true identity – it seeming more like a reflection of modern Pop music than an actual project. Honestly, through the album I didn’t hear anything I particularly liked until the track Goodbye, and that was purely for the bass line – in fact, the bass line is the only thing I like in the song.

Like some of the albums I have previously reviewed, I just found this to be a really lazy album. With a severe lack of good and well-executed ideas and legitimately poor production in places, I would advocate giving it a pass and finding something better. If you want Indie Pop then listen to Imagine Dragons, if you want something cheesy and electronic then listen to The Ordinary Boys – both offer studio-quality albums and a more immersive and enjoyable feel. If you like commercial Indie Pop but don’t want to be associated with mainstream music because you’re too “alternative”, you should listen to this and then get over yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody else. With a total lack of identity, nothing to engage you in the album and generally awful sounding ideas, this release has proven to be a huge disappointment and a dreadfully boring example of mediocrity. The vocals sound like shit for most of the album too.

I See You – The XX (album review)

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(image taken from I See You official album cover)

If you have read my previous reviews you will probably begin to notice a pattern between the albums I have been reviewing – they are all recent releases from this year and vary from the more mainstream bands and acts. I wanted to address the balance in this review by looking towards a more well-established band, which drew me closer to The XX. For those who may not be aware of this band, The XX are an Electronic Indie group from London who have developed a reputation for their balance of experimentation and emotion, often focusing on personal themes such as insecurity and rejection.

Unlike my previous reviews, I have a pre-existing opinion on The XX – and it is generally a positive one! A number of years ago they were recommended to me alongside Bonobo, and this helped influence me into listening to a number of electronic acts and encouraged me down a path of more chilled and calm music – so at the beginning of this album I had my worries. The calm and emotional feel of Coexist and their self-titled album was a large part of why I loved this band so much and I felt like they were really easy to connect with on a personal level. The opening tracks of I See You seem to begin with a whole different dynamic, and though I can appreciate the attempt at variety, I feel it comes as a detriment to the album, given that it dismisses a large part of their individual appeal.

The band have always varied from traditional Pop music, in large part due to their emphasis on space and unusual effects and I can see that this effort still exists in this latest release, if to a far lesser degree, but I just don’t feel as strongly about the emotional content of the music as I previously did because, in my eyes, this album lacks the more organic feel the previous albums had. I feel like heavy effort has been made in this album to appeal to a more mainstream Pop audience by making the songs more predictable, but this could be a result of my own familiarity with their music. There are obvious exceptions to this statement, of course – such as their track Performance.

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(image sourced from official live promo webpage)

This next criticism is actually a pretty big deal for me, and that’s in regards to the flow of the songs. Again, this may be a result of my familiarity with the band – but I can see clearly how all of the songs either begin on a low dynamic and follow a rising gradient throughout the song, or they remain on the same low dynamic throughout the whole song. Saying that, however, I feel like the band does handle this well by optimising both vocalists to their ultimate potential and also incorporating wonderful use of atmospheric bass and various guitar layers.

As the album progresses, it shows clear signs of improvement as it settles into a style they are clearly more comfortable with and, though it does little to vary from their pre-existing sound, it does serve as a wonderful display of talent and fresh ideas – though tracks such as On Hold and Dangerous make me worry about the direction of the band. I have always been a fan of how the band handles flow, space and feeling and I feel like this album does much to showcase this, but I find it hard to recommend it over their previous albums. Still, fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy – and it is clear that they’re focussing more on the higher dynamics, more organic instrumentation in places and better production in most areas, which does give it enough variety to be worth the investment. I’d be unfair to dismiss that the band have definitely improved in almost eery technical basis, but I feel it came at the cost of heart and pure emotion.