Connect with us


Ed Harcourt – Strangers

Strangers marks the third full-length in four years from prolific British songster Ed Harcourt



Strangers marks the third full-length in four years from prolific British songster Ed Harcourt (four if you count the 2003 re-release of his early EP Maplewood), a spasmodic musical soul who isn’t afraid to draw from an amalgam of otherwise unrelated influences. Harcourt, now 27, was rumored to have a backlog of over 300 songs by the time he put his debut, Here Be Monsters, to tape in 2001. In defining his aesthetic motivation, he has name-dropped the likes of everyone from jazz legend Chet Baker and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (of “I Put A Spell On You” fame) to acutely modern acts like the Beastie Boys, Perry Farrell and At The Drive-In. While all of his influences may not be promptly apparent, Harcourt’s brand of tuneful, piano-based pop is indeed a savory musical curry, full of spunk and wildly varying concepts that somehow coalesce into a truly captivating listen.

In actuality, the best approximation of Harcourt’s sound would be that of Badly Drawn Boy, crossed with the more august melodic moments of The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft (for those of us naïve folks who believe that Ashcroft has indeed had moments where he was not august), with a voice that can’t help but remind you of Jeff Buckley in spots. The once-important but now going-out-with-a-fuss indie legends R.E.M., whose tastes seem to hold more weight than their music these days, thought highly enough of him to take him out on tour with them last year. Anyone who heard Ron Sexsmith’s last album, Retriever, got a dollop of Harcourt’s piano stylings on “From Now On,” imbuing the song with a vivacity that had been absent from most of Sexsmith’s previous work. Those who were paying attention could have taken it as a nod to the material present on what wound up being Strangers, and they wouldn’t have been too far off. And golly, it’s even got a kazoo.

The album-opening “The Storm Is Coming” lives up to its title, rolling out with an atonal guitar squall and arena-rock beat, joined midstream by Harcourt’s piano and a vindictive chorus (“The storm is coming / It’s gonna make a beautiful sound / I hope it turns your life upside down…”). In contrast to his multi-dimensional orchestrations, Harcourt’s lyrics are pleasantly direct and heart-on-the-sleeve, which he goes as far as to tell you himself in “This One’s For You.” “Born In The ’70s” is a cheeky, driving number that finds him scorning his traditionalist elders. He volleys deftly from tempo to tempo and melody to melody; from the Verveian bombast of “Let Love Not Weigh Me Down,” he drops off quickly to the frail emoting of “Something To Live For” and “The Trapdoor.”

The always-humble Noel Gallagher mentioned in a rare felicitous moment that he wished he’d written “This One’s For You,” which is no less than high praise from a now-descended Britpop deity who actually had an entire genre named after him. The Gallagher name might be innately associated with a certain degree of twatness, but no one’s second-guessing Noel’s musical pedigree. Noel might even enjoy the simple irony in naming a song “Loneliness” and then playing it as an uptempo, major-key pop song.

If the Keane album can catch fire in America for reasons I have yet to discern (besides it being warm, cuddly and completely inert, which while being enough for many people, is SO not rock), there’s no reason to believe that Harcourt can’t get some steam behind a tune like “The Storm Is Coming” or “Born In The ’70s.” The only thing that might hold Harcourt back in the States is that we don’t take too well anymore to radicals or free-thinkers, of which he is both. But make no mistake about it; there are two kinds of pragmatists: Bad pragmatists (I’m looking at you, Craig Nicholls) and good pragmatists. Ed Harcourt is safely in the company of the latter.



The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!



It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

Continue Reading


Allweather – Through the Floor

Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen



Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.

It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.

“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.

For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.

(Paper Street Cuts)

Continue Reading

Popular Things