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Fields – 7 From the Village EP

7 From The Village shows off the skills of a band with an unmistakable youthful exuberance, but the wariness and chops to keep the proceedings under control while not strangling the zeal of their music

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As an alternative to the regular flowery machinations that bleed from the pens of eager, trigger-happy publicists who are more than content to name-check every pertinent and impertinent musical touchstone they can wrap their minds around, the kids in Warwickshire, England-based Fields decided to take things one step further and put their money where their mouth is.

(With all due respect to Jet … or more reasonably, the person who coined the phrase that has been uttered at the juncture of countless regrettable decisions in the history of man.)

The group made a compilation disc available at their shows that placed their own songs among those from their influences and peers, highlighted by the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and Pentangle, the seminal British folk-rock group of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Pentangle’s bassist, Danny Thompson, played on both of Nick Drake’s full-group records, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, providing one logical connection; Stevens is a plausible choice when you take Fields’ eclectic and often reckless amalgamation of styles into consideration, and Moore’s influence becomes apparent when one notices the group’s employment of bracing guitar squalls.

At the same time, with such disparate touchstones, Fields retains a modern accessibility on 7 From The Village that sinks in between the cracks of the freewheeling din. Rather than just throwing names at the wall to see what sticks, it’s easy to see where the present connects to the past, and pick up the wisps of Brian Eno, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nick Drake lurking about. The melodies are strong and the hooks resonate, swelling to an anthemic zenith on the buzzing opener “Song for the Fields,” which draws the listener in with its anodyne acoustic intro and Nick Peill’s high, warbling tenor, before breaking loose at the two-minute mark and crashing across the finish line.

“Isabel” is a sweetly percolating mid-tempo stroll, set behind a drum machine that shifts seamlessly into live percussion, and a three-guitar show akin to early Radiohead records. 7 From The Village‘s vibe vacillates between a centered, soothing mellifluousness and a slightly brooding, asymmetrical sense of uncertainty that underscores nervy, jittery jaunts like “Heretic.” The parallels are drawn quickly, and they are drawn well. Fields’ earthy, rural sound seems to be predicated in major part on their ability to shift dynamics rapidly to create a natural tension and build within their songs, and they pull these tight shifts off with relative ease.

7 From The Village shows off the skills of a band with an unmistakable youthful exuberance, but the wariness and chops to keep the proceedings under control while not strangling the zeal of their music. It’s a curious, sometimes hypnotic, mostly compelling electro-folk equation that is full of life, and full of plenty of moments that will have you reaching for the repeat button. It’s rare to see a case where the vision and purpose of a young group is so sharp and well defined; they sound like wizened old veterans. It’s music appropriate to soundtrack the fragile dichotomy of life, life that might have you crushed at one moment and elated at the next. Or both at once.

(Black Lab / Atlantic Records)

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Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler

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Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.

So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.

Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.

As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.

(Hopeless Records)

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