Ward Thomas – “Restless Minds” Review

Ward Thomas manage to perfectly encapsulate a sense of freedom of expression throughout their music. Throwing around themes such as feminism, social media, overdependence on online validation and toxic relationships, this album will feel like a personal diary to many millenials. Yet Ward Thomas’ emotive sensitivity and overwhelming positivity manages to empower and lift others up, which is just what music is made to do.

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The music industry has been granted a breath of fresh air with the burgeoning success of Hampshire born twins, Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas. It is hard to classify the discography of Ward Thomas into one universally suitable genre. Their older records have undeniable country influences – their last album ‘Cartwheels’ is characterised by mellifluous harmonies set against the twang of a guitar and earthy instrumentation.

But their latest album, ‘Restless Minds’ which was released on Friday 8th February 2019, is in a sonic realm of its own. Experimental yet coherent, the record documents a coming of age in the digital age. Through carefully crafted lyricism, we are presented with an exploration of deep themes such as the impact of social media on mental health, the #MeToo movement and the ebb and flow of relationships in the modern era. By transcending traditional boundaries, both lyrically and instrumentally, Ward Thomas are evolving their sound in a musical awakening – and I for one am all for it.

I will now give a short review of some of the stand out singles in the album:

1. Lie Like Me

This was the first song I heard from the album, and I stumbled upon it completely by chance thanks to Spotify’s music recommending algorithms. The instrumentation has an immediately compelling hook to it – the thumping syncopated drums contrasted with the staccato electric guitar make it almost impossible not to nod your head along. The accompanying lyrics add an extra dimension to the seemingly conventional pop crossover production. From the opening line “It looks like Heaven / it feels like Hell”  we are immediately faced with the juxtaposition of real life and the shimmery reflections of reality we see on our phone screens. “I want you to lie, like me” is repeated throughout the chorus, and the word ‘lie’ was left ringing in my ears as I scrolled through post after post of ostensibly perfect posts on Instagram. So many sunsets, brunches and selfies that are obscured by filters – it is no surprise that artifice can be the deep rooted cause of so much anxiety.  It seems that Ward Thomas have hit the nail on the head with this one.

2. Never Know

This track draws you in with its strong percussion and chant-like vocalisation, with the harmonies being on point as always. Shying away slightly from their country roots, this track has more of an indie pop characterisation. The song takes on another layer once you delve past the instrumentals and pay attention to the lyrics. “If you wanted I’d have been that someone / But you didn’t so I’m not your number one” – Ward Thomas have stated that this song is:

For anyone who has been rejected in a friendship, relationship or in work. But out of that rejection comes empowerment and a sense of freedom and release which gives you the courage to do what you believe in and be yourself.” (Source: thankfolkforthat.com).

This sense of empowerment and liberation is a running motif throughout the album, and adds another dimension to the listening experience. Not only is the music toe-tappingly catchy, but the meaning behind the words and the messages portrayed are likely to stick with you through real life hardships.

3. No Fooling Me

Restless Minds lurches seamlessly from country inspired pop tracks into more stripped back, piano driven ballads. ‘No Fooling Me’ belongs to the latter category, This song speaks once more of betrayal, of a relationship turned sour – but the overarching theme is once again a jubilant defiance and refusal to be kicked down. “You can take me anywhere you like but can’t you see / That there ain’t no way in hell you’re fooling me?” You mustn’t be fooled by the delicate, dreamy background acoustics – Ward Thomas are proving their strength throughout this entire album, in more ways than one.

Overall,  Ward Thomas have produced a universally appealing record that will delight music fans from all genres and backgrounds. The album was written alongside co-writers such as Rachel Furner, Jessica Sharman and Rebekah Powell, and Ward Thomas have discussed the co-writing process, “we left all our egos at the door and expressed exactly what was on our minds“. To me, Ward Thomas manage to perfectly encapsulate this sense of freedom of expression throughout their music. Throwing around themes such as feminism, social media, overdependence on online validation and toxic relationships, this album will feel like a personal diary to many millenials. Yet Ward Thomas’ emotive sensitivity and overwhelming positivity manages to empower and lift others up, which is just what music is made to do.

Rating: 5/5

 

51348041_356510965190566_9094065655497359360_nPhoto: Ward Thomas after their performance at HMV Liverpool, as part of their Restless Minds roadtrip 2019.

Analysis: ‘Rose Coloured Boy’ by Paramore, Music Video (2018)

This video really relates to the band’s struggles with self-identity and how to preserve a genuine image while the modern day media machine runs rife with commercialism and capitalist motivations. Things are not as sunny as they seem in Roseville.

On the 5th February (also known as ‘National Weatherperson’s Day’), Paramore released the fourth installation of their After Laughter music video collection. The video was for Rose Coloured Boy – a song that features lyrics such as “low key, no pressure / just hang with me and my weather” and uses meteorological themes throughout, so National Weatherperson’s Day seems a very fitting day for release.

The music video was directed by Warren Fu, an American music video director and designer, who has also directed promos for Daft Punk, HAIM and Depeche Mode. Wu’s influence is tangible, and artistically this is one of Paramore’s most visually cohesive music videos to date. The cinematography (by Byron Werner) is delightfully retro with lots of subtle throwbacks to broadcasting in the ’80s – there is even a homage to Bill O’Reilly’s meltdown live moment. But as well as being aesthetically solid, with lots of ’80s retro paraphernalia scattered throughout, the video alludes to a deeper message which I will attempt to untangle in this article. Buckle your seatbelts, things are about to get analytical…

The video opens with a shot of Hayley, fully dressed up in glorious ’80s news anchor attire (all credit for band costumes, hair and make up go to stylist Phoenix Johnson and Brian O’Connor) staring at her reflection in a mirror, taking a few deep breaths. Seconds before the first beat of the poppy refrain begins, Hayley finds her center of balance and composure and manages to paint a big fake smile on her face – a smile that is strained with the weight of trying to keep up a facade, that conveys pain behind the glassy unblinking eyes. It is an ominous start to an externally upbeat video, and sets the tone well for what is to come – the motif of ‘fake happy’ strained smiles will continue to pop up again and again as the video spirals into it’s existential climax and bounces back again.

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Now we are launched into a montage – an opening sequence to a fictional news show broadcasting from Roseville, a town with an overwhelmingly rosy outlook (and a nice nod to the song title). The lyrics ring out loud and clear – “just hang with my and my weather” seems particularly pertinent as an image of Taylor struggling against a storm with an umbrella flashes on screen. It ties back to the album’s first single, Hard Times, and the lyrics “walking around with my little rain cloud” – the meteorological metaphor can be linked to mental health struggles, as depression is often characterized as a ‘dark cloud’ hanging over people’s heads, invisible to all but the individual. But the vibrant retro colours and plastered smiles seen in the music video juxtaposes the darker themes lying underneath, and this is the undercurrent message of the whole song. Despite the happy front we put on in order to fit in with society, it is never anything more than a mask used to conceal the true emotions bubbling deep down.

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We are then introduced to Hayley the news anchor, Zac the sports correspondent and Taylor the weatherman in chronological order. Taylor’s weather map shows “sunny” weather everywhere – not a drop of rain or sadness to be found. The video is creating an incredibly happy, optimistic atmosphere that is as unsettling as it is artificial. However, we are snapped back to reality in between scenes as we see the band members’ smiles instantly fade to reveal cynical expressions of pure frustration – they are one hundred percent done with this bullshit, and they are not afraid to show it. The cut-glass transitions between ‘off screen’ moments where they are all fidgety with irritation, to the instant ‘on screen’ fake smile, performance artifice is as smooth and slick as flicking on a light switch. The lighting actually reflects the change too – it is darker, duller when the band members are not live, but as soon as the show is broadcasting, the camera angles change, the studio lights are on – it is lights, camera, action in its most literal sense.

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We are then shown an array of studio guests – ‘Bogie the Dog’ (the weather predicting dog) and Summer Goodson (‘Happiness Guru’) – an explicit, satirical mockery of the oft ridiculous nature of media entertainment. Summer Goodson is promoting a book – ‘Real Happy’ (perhaps a direct link to the song Fake Happy?) which just adds to the feeling of pretense and disingenuous happiness. We are then taken backstage with the band, and this is when the ‘big shot execs’ make their first appearance. A particular highlight from this scene is one of the boards in their presentation is showing the ‘sweet spot’ between being content and neuroticism – ‘happy’. This is foreshadowing the scenes to come, where we see what happens when the sweet spot is exploited and we tip into the extremities. Hayley then turns to face the mirror and we are given a shot that reflects the one in their old music video Playing God (2010). The look on her face holds a thousand expressions and emotions – but we are starting to see a more vulnerable person, not just a puppet held up by the strings of the media. It is time to take the “rose-tinted glasses” off and face reality, no matter how painful it may be.

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The tone of the video shifts as Hayley starts chasing a mysterious figure in a trench coat, only to find out that it is hollow and vacuous and there is no real person there at all. This leads to the highly emotional, philosophically challenging climax – the facade is well and truly shattered and we are left questioning the foundation of everything we know: who are we? How much of our actions are performance? Are we truly happy? Hayley finds herself in an undefined room filled with television screens, all of them projecting videos of herself yelling mantras like: “Smile more!”, “Be happy!” and “Drink more coffee!” Then the images change to a younger, child version of Hayley delivering the first piece of genuine news that we’ve encountered so far. The child Hayley then asks: “Hayley… what are you doing? This isn’t you. Who are you?” This is it. ‘Who are you?’ Those three words that carry enough philosophical weight to launch anyone into a spiral of existential dread. It really relates to the band’s struggles with self-identity and how to preserve a genuine image while the modern day media machine runs rife with commercialism and capitalist motivations. How can a band stay true to themselves and relatable, whilst the industry these days treats bands like a commodity – to be marketed and packaged up and sold? By addressing these questions, Paramore remind us that in order to be true to ourselves we have to look past this and remember what is really important.

After a Bill O’Reilly style breakdown, the band launch into a rebellious, bold performance and the cinematography has shifted from rosy to a deep, evocative red. To the crew’s horror, the band are finally pushing past the norm and expressing who they really are. It is a euphoric epiphany that is both exciting and cathartic in equal measures. However, the very ending goes back to the opening montage. It is very much like the Fake Happy video conclusion where after the chaos and destruction and creative outpouring of originality – it just goes back to the facade and the fake happy smile. Everything is covered up and concealed again for the sake of social convention. It is a harsh reminder of the world we live in today, but it could not have been more masterfully executed.

Watch the video here!

 

 

Featured image credit: growupheather (reddit)

 

News: CHVRCHES Third Album

CHVRCHES are a unique, effervescent spark in the ’80s-synthpop genre and their music has always been the result of a coalescence of various influences. It is hard not to get swept up in the hype that is swelling as the result of social media teases and subliminal hints but I am sure their sonic revival will be explosive yet simultaneously stay true to their core. 

With their last album, Every Open Eye, being released in late 2015 it has certainly been a long period of limbo for CHVRCHES fans. Leaving their fans tense with anticipation, the synth-pop trio from Scotland have been dropping teasers and hints on social media for months but no solid information has been revealed – until now, that is.

Their third album (branded as #CHV3) is a follow up to the critically acclaimed debut album The Bones of What You Believe, and UK chart conquering album Every Open Eye. But band members Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty seem to be paving the path for musical expansion as they have started working with the producer Greg Kurstin who is known for working with the likes of popstars Adele and Pink. Mayberry, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, spoke about the radical departure from their idiosyncratic dark synth-pop sound that characterised their first albums. “[Kurstin] pushed what we were doing to be bigger in some ways, but he also pushed us to be weirder. He’d be like, ‘If the vocal melodies are as sweet and as precise as this, why don’t we make these other sounds so f-ed up and gnarly and strange?’ I loved that“, Mayberry recalls.

So, what do we know so far?

1. The new single is called ‘Get Out’

The trio recently performed a social media cleanse, wiping all tweets and Instagram posts and leaving an almost ominous blank slate in the album’s wake. They then released this post on Instagram, which is captioned ‘GET IN’. The short video clip shows Mayberry slowly and delicately painting a heart/cross hybrid symbol on a mirror with lipstick, with an eerie screeching instrumental that then devolves into a heavy, retro-style synth refrain that would not be out of place in a Stranger Things episode.

If run through Shazam, the song is revealed to be called ‘Get Out’ and is listed as a song by CHVRCHES. ‘Get Out’ by CHVRCHES is also a listed song on Genius – a huge online collection of songs lyrics and musical knowledge.

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2. ‘Get Out’ will be previewed today on @ALT1053Radio

The Bay Area radio premiere of the new CHVRCHES track ‘Get Out’ will be previewed today (Wednesday 31 January) at 12:30 PM. This was confirmed on the radio station’s Twitter account.

3. A variant of this will be the album art

Fans of CHVRCHES on Facebook were offered an early peek at the album artwork by entering an automated chat with the official CHVRCHES Facebook page. We can see that the heart/cross hybrid image is a motif that was echoed earlier in the Instagram video – these recurring themes are symptomatic of the band, whose previous album names have been carefully selected lyrics from their songs.

4. Their sound will change – but it’s a musical growth and evolution

Due to the change in producer and self-proclaimed musical redirection, it is clear that we can expect some degree of evolution in CHVRCHES stereotypical genre. However, Mayberry says:  “when I listen to the record, I feel like it’s the most pop stuff we’ve done and also the most aggressive and vulnerable at the same time. It was about really leaning into those moments — and also wanting there to be a real humanity and character to what we’re saying.” Doherty, in a separate interview, backs up this notion of building on what they already have, as he states: “we’re taking everything that we stand for and taking it to another level“.

 

CHVRCHES are a unique, effervescent spark in the ’80s-synthpop genre and their music has always been the result of a coalescence of various influences. It is hard not to get swept up in the hype that is swelling as the result of social media teases and subliminal hints but I am sure their sonic revival will be explosive yet simultaneously stay true to their core. Let’s just say, I can’t wait to see what they can deliver.
Photo credit: taken from the Glasgowist

Review: ‘The Rush’ (2017) by NightPulse

Zawaideh has a penchant for dark, sultry electro instrumentation that would not be amiss at an ’80s disco.

The Rush, released on 26 January, is the latest single from singer, songwriter, producer and drummer Lena Zawaideh (who performs under the pseudonym ‘NightPulse’). This musical project is Zawaideh’s first solo venture, though she has a reputable drumming career behind her – she was the drummer for Shaun White’s ‘Bad Things’ and also has a YouTube channel formerly dedicated to drum covers. It is evident throughout her three current released tracks that percussion and rhythm are her “lifeblood” and a strong backbone to the tunes she produces – impressively tight, intricate high hat patterns are symptomatic of her music. Yet Zawaideh describes wanting to “express herself in a way that rhythm cannot” and so ‘NightPulse’ can be seen as a journey of self expression and discovering an identity beyond one that just a drum kit can offer.

Zawaideh’s latest single The Rush is the newest chapter in her musical self discovery. Sonically, it follows the theme of her previous two singles – Hold Tight and Delirious. Zawaideh is the master of dark, sultry electro instrumentation that would not be amiss at an ’80s disco, with a subtle RnB undertone (another shameless shoutout to the masterful high hat work – seriously, Lena, hats off to you – no pun intended). The Rush stands apart from Hold Tight and Delirious however, and in my eyes is some of her strongest work to date. The layered synth gives a delicious electronic texture alongside the driving disco beat, and each phase melts seamlessly into the next rhythmical transition – the pace changes a few times but there’s no disconnect. This is a solid track; well balanced and for me more cohesive than it’s predecessor Delirious. Both however share the same dark, sultry tone and this is something I predict to continue with future releases.

The message at the heart of The Rush is a symbolic reflection on time. Zawaideh explains that the song is all about the feeling of “chasing elusive highs” and it is supposed to describe the “journey to insanity”. She portrays this message in eloquent rhyming couplets throughout: ‘A high velocity bittersweet descent / I’m all about the journey ’til the bitter end’. As mentioned before, NightPulse is a musical project that is used to explore identity and can be interpreted as a journey of self discovery. So when Zawaideh sings of being ‘all about the journey ’til the bitter end‘ the lyrics resonate as being particularly retrospective and self reflective – which implores us to connect with them on an even deeper level.

NightPulse is indeed a journey – and it is one that everyone needs to be on board with now, as Lena Zawaideh is only just getting started.

 

 

Photo credit: taken from NightPulse Music website

Spotlight: Orla Gartland

Think: Regina Spektor meets Imogen Heap and has a musical baby in the form of a ginger, guitar-playing, impossibly cool Irish lady. Something like that.

Who is she? Orla Gartland is a 22 year old Irish singer/songwriter from Dublin, who has just been chosen as a New Momentum Artist.

What is her sound? She has recently evolved from folk-pop with an electro twang and indie-synth undercurrent (see Lonely PeopleClueless and Human) to funk-inspired guitar, loop-pedal heavy ballads with impossibly catchy hooks (see Imposter, Impossible and Change). Think: Regina Spektor meets Imogen Heap and has a musical baby in the form of a ginger, guitar-playing, impossibly cool Irish lady. Something like that.

Where do I find her music? Gartland’s main channel of communication, and predominant reason for her initial popularity, is her Youtube channel. As with most social media savvy millennials, you can also find her on a multitude of alternative sources: soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify… But for the latest updates, sticking with Youtube is a safe bet. It is, after all, home to the infamous ‘yellow wall videos’, which only the hardcore dedicated fans will remember.

Which songs should I start with? In January 2015, Gartland released her second official EP Lonely People, which showcases some of her best work to date. The production and execution is slick, and Gartland balances punchy percussion, funk-inspired bass and echoing reverb with her mellow vocals which are as sweet and smooth as honey. The eponymous track ‘Lonely People‘ is carried by it’s heavy, lurching instrumentation that ricochets from beat to beat. Yet as the depth of the lyrics kick in – ‘This feels like a race against the clock‘ / ‘maybe youth is wasted on the young, our loss‘ – you can’t help but sense a tone of urgency as Gartland laments time slipping away as fast as sand between our fingers. ‘Souvenirs‘, the second track on the EP, is often compared to the groovy alt-rock riffs of The 1975. It is followed by ‘Whispers‘, a stripped back, bittersweet ballad about the fading away of a relationship accompanied mainly by a soft guitar melody. Gartland’s sonic range is diverse and she masters each genre with an idiosyncratic ‘Orla’ twist – there is an ethereal quality to each of her tracks, supported by a heavy instrumental backbone. It’s hard to grasp in words, but her sound is undeniably unique.

As well as her original tunes, Gartland’s covers are well worth a listen – she puts a funk spin on songs which you never think would work with the twang of an electric guitar backing, but somehow it just does. Particularly noteworthy covers include: ‘Everywhere‘ (originally by Fleetwood Mac), ‘Torn‘ (Natalie Imbruglia), ‘I Wanna Dance with a Mountain That’s High Enough‘ (… I’ll let you figure that one out).

Why should I listen to her? Gartland is a genuinely talented, passionate new musician and I am often blown away by her innovative spin on popular tunes and modest mastery of the guitar. Her live performances are equally impressive, and having spoken to her briefly after a gig one time she is impossibly sweet and humble about her incredible talent. Rather than putting herself on the pedestal of musicianship, Gartland is firmly rooted and her lyrics are universally meaningful – she wants to use the channel of music to truly connect with others. Her dynamic, fresh music will have you dancing around your room while her deep, introspective lyrics will also give way for reflection and contemplation. I foresee huge things for Gartland in the near future, so watch this space.

 

If you are convinced, consider sponsoring Gartland on Patreon in her newly-formed “Secret Demos Club”. This link is here.

 

Photo credit: provided by artist, Orla Gartland

Concert Review: mewithoutYou

Overall, the concert was a raucous, raw culmination of fifteen years of stylistic evolution and the energy pulsing through each track is unforgettable. Despite not being a fan of mewithoutYou before this concert, I left with a taste of their essence and a hunger to hear more.

Details: The O2 Arena, London, Friday 12th January 2018

Setlist: Torches Together, Goodbye, I!, Red Cow, Nine Stories, Timothy Hay, Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume, January 1979 and All Circles

Trying to describe the sound of mewithoutYou to someone who had never heard them before is a tricky task for even the most reputable music critic. It is not overly-dramatic to paint them as ‘genre-neutral’ – or at least admit that their heavy, cymbal-clashing tunes transcend the superficial boundaries of stereotypical categories. The first layer of mewithoutYou is a solid indie rock sound, but delve deeper and you’ll find yourself lurching from folk, honky-tonk ballads to experimental post-hardcore rock. For a casual listener (like myself), it can be easy to dismiss their music as being ‘strange’ and at times monotonous but repeated exposure to their extensive discography helps deepen an appreciation for their unique sound.

It is a bitterly cold January evening and I find myself standing among a huddle of excited fans – the anticipation is palpable, practically emanating in waves from the crowd. The headlining main act this evening is Paramore, but we are being treated to a warm up set from American rock band mewithoutYou – who have traveled all the way from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to be with us here tonight. The band consists of vocalist Aaron Weiss, bassist Dominic Angelella, guitarists Michael Weiss and Brandon Beaver and drummer Rickie Mazzotta. One fundamental feature of mewithoutYou‘s music is their choice to include spoken-word intertwined with half-screamed vocals, creating a surprisingly poetic lyrical atmosphere.

From the first moment that they all appear on stage, mewithoutYou waste no time in kicking off with a burst of raw energy that ricochets and creates ripples through the rest of the set. Drummer Mazzotta is a visual spectacle – his drum kit shakes and vibrates under the weight of his enthusiastic snare flams and thumping bass drum that act as steady backbone to the eccentric set. Guitarists Weiss and Beaver, and bassist Angelella, are slightly more laid-back: they are sturdy, swaying silhouettes against a smokey haze of a backdrop. It is hard however to peel ones eyes away from lead singer Weiss – he moves around the stage with the charisma of a performance artist, suddenly crouching or veiling himself with his cardigan as he wails wax lyrical into the microphone. His movements are erratic and lack all sense of inhibition, which captures the essence of mewithoutYou perfectly.

It takes a certain level of focus and concentration to tune into the lyrics and they appear somewhat esoteric: only those with a deep prior understanding could appreciate them fully. But when one does grasp them, they show themselves to be truly masterful. Weiss is a philosopher, and he is unafraid to test the limits of lyrical expression as his songs cover a broad range of subjects including sex, religion and politics. One of my favourite songs from that night, Red Cow, has roots in the Bible. “Green figs fall from the Nebraska sky” is a nod to the Book of Revelation, where the figs are an analogy for stars ‘unscrewing from the depths of space’ (source). However, Weiss has spoken openly about the limitations of language and the danger of linguistic interpretation, especially of his lyrics. He says in an interview:

That’s one reason language needs to be held at a safe distance, kept in its proper place in terms of what we expect of it. This is especially true as we address more abstract, deeply meaningful topics. There’s just a lot of room for slippage and miscommunication.

Overall, the concert was a raucous, raw culmination of fifteen years of stylistic evolution and the energy pulsing through each track is unforgettable. The music is a glorious conglomeration of prog rock, indie folk and spoken word, but despite the lack of certified genre it is quite easy to become lost in the sound as each track lurches into the next. The lyrics, weighing heavy with ideological imagery and metaphorical interpretation, give their songs a linguistic edge that compliments their sound. Despite not being a fan of mewithoutYou before this concert, I left with a taste of their essence and a hunger to hear more.

Photo Credit: Rock Sound, (c) Ben Gibson

Review: After Laughter (2017), Paramore

We are embracing a musical awakening – it is time to appreciate the shimmering, synth-heavy, 80s-pop inspired tunes that earmark a new phase of Paramore’s open-ended journey.

Paramore have never been the type to confine themselves to easily-definable categories – they are a truly genre-neutral band, whose members change from tour to tour and are always in flux. Yet despite the constant shifts in sound, vision and image their identity remains strongly intact. Paramore’s discography represents a transition – a journey of self-discovery and emotional catharsis, that concludes in the latest chapter: After Laughter. Paramore have transcended the constraints of musical definition and this album takes huge leaps to depart from their sound of the past fifteen years. Yet despite the sharp juxtaposition of this record to its predecessors, we are not shutting the door on the punk-rock, power riffs that characterised Paramore’s adolescence. Instead, we are embracing their musical awakening – it is time to appreciate the shimmering, synth-heavy, 80s-pop inspired tunes that earmark a new phase of Paramore’s open-ended journey.

After Laughter, Paramore’s fifth LP, was released on May 12th 2017 and features the singles Hard Times and Told You So. The record bravely ventures into new sounds and unexplored genres, yet the execution is so slick it’s easy to forget that this album is a follow up from the punchy rock melodies that characterised their previous records. The album feels partly like a tribute to the Golden 80s era of synth-heavy, energetic, rhythmic anthems, and the band cite the likes of Blondie, Talking Heads and The Bangles as their inspiration. Yet the fluid grooves and hypnotic lyrics in After Laughter are in their own musical realm – this album is all about breaking boundaries and surpassing classification, and so it stands strong on its own without comparison.

A large amount of this musical revision is down to guitarist Taylor York who is one of the primary songwriters of Paramore, and often cited as the reason they are still together, and he lays a lot of the musical groundwork. Heavily textured riffs and reverb are symptomatic of York, and it is clear that great care is put into crafting every single layer. The result is a crisp, cohesive melody accompanied by intricate rhythms from drummer Zac Farro, and raw, powerhouse vocals from lead singer Hayley Williams.

It is hard to fully dive into After Laughter without a basic understanding of the context and history surrounding the creation of the album, and this contextual enlightenment adds an extra dimension to the lyrics marking them as exceptionally relatable. The construction of After Laughter feels like a compendium of the band’s personal history – over the years, there have been lawsuits, members have left and rejoined and friendships have been tried and tested. Hayley has subsequently spoken of her self-doubt and battles with anxiety and depression, and the dark lyrics behind bubblegum-pop, shimmery singles like Hard Times and Fake Happy are a testimony to the creative outlet that music can provide. Her strength emanates in every word she sings, and her voice conveys a tone of vulnerability yet also undeniable robustness.

The undercurrent theme that runs throughout the album is the concept of maturity – of growing up and changing (mirrored by their musical evolution) and of viewing hardships in life as formative in shaping the person you have become. The first single on the album, Hard Times, is a charming, light, poppy tune littered with marimba-jingles and crunchy hi-hat grooves. However, the song’s lyrics are a testimony to hitting ‘rock bottom‘ – Hayley yearns for a ‘hole in the ground‘ to dig herself into, until  it’s ‘alright for [her] to come out‘. She is bravely accounting that feeling that so many of us identify with but are often too apprehensive to confront – a feeling of inescapable hopelessness. The universality of this feeling is explored in Fake Happy – an indie-electronic ballad, which acts as a form of sonic catharsis – the chorus, with it’s impossibly catchy hooks, implores you to sing along and feel the weight of the lyrics. The accompanying music video, directed and produced by Farro, reinforces the meaning of the words. We watch Williams dance jubilantly around New York City, amidst a utopian sea of anonymous, ‘fake happy’ faces. Yet at the end she turns around to reveal an identical ‘fake happy’ face – ‘oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too‘. We may be be projecting artifical displays of happiness for the sake of social convention – but we are not alone in doing so.

The album takes a sharp narrative turn with Idle Worship and No Friend (which was originally intended as an outro to Idle Worship). We continue to explore the theme of maturity but this time through the band’s opinion of the idolatry of musicians in society. Paramore have matured as a band, but so too has their outlook (and scepticism) of the industry. Idle Worship shows off some of Williams’ most impressive vocals on the record, and when put against the echoing gravelly melody it stands out to me as one of the most striking songs on the album. Hayley criticises the godlike status that is ascribed to artists: “We all need heroes don’t we? But rest assured there’s not a single person here who’s worthy” – she also uses religious metaphors to hammer home a message of stark reality. As much as the band appreciates the adoration and outpouring of love that fans supply, it is tiresome to constantly be placed on a pedestal and subsequently be met with expectations that are impossible to achieve. They are only human. Part of life is accepting our flaws and imperfections. The follow up to this track, ‘No Friend‘ is a mind-boggling work of musical genius – featuring the vocals of Aaron Weiss (of the band mewithoutYou). It is an emotional spoken-word piece performed over an experimental discordant guitar and bass track. The lyrics are ambiguous and complex, but there are mirrored motifs and echoes with Idle Worship that seem to suggest that the song is also alluding to the notion that it is dangerous to idolise musicians with blind faith – we all have our personal demons and we need to unite in our collective human-ness rather than raise individuals to an impossible standard. There are many lyrical references to past songs that imply that No Friend is a nostalgic look back at Paramore’s history – an exciting and turbulent journey with plenty of twists and turns.

But although the band may have been through periods of uncertainty and flux, one thing has remained certain throughout. Paramore are not ones to give up without a fight, and the strength of the relationship between the current members is a testimony to the far-reaching depths of true friendship. In their latest live shows, the band have never looked happier and the radiant smiles bursting from the band were echoed enthusiastically by those in the crowd. Growing up has not been easy for the fans either, but the feeling of going through personal pain and troubles and emerging on the other end is a triumph that is encapsulated perfectly in this record. One must ignore and disregard the voices crying out about the ‘old Paramore’ and reminiscing too heavily on the pop-punk soundtrack of their youth. There is a time and place for appreciating older records, but now is the time to embrace change. Paramore has matured and grown up and evolved into brand new shades, yet their fundamental identity shines stronger than ever.

 

 

 

Photo credit: DIY magazine