Album Review: Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Frank Turner Be More Kind
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I consider myself lucky that I got a sneak preview of this new album when I saw Frank Turner play in Vancouver last year. He’s been a favourite artist of mine for many years now, to the point that the very idea of a new record is super exciting. I’ve held out for it for a long time.

Was it worth the wait?

First up, I must mention that this album feels different. The last album signaled an upturn in mood – the very name denotes a shift to a more positive mentality. And following on from that, Be More Kind certainly boasts a happy-go-lucky vibe.

Admittedly, I was unsure about this record at first. It signals a fairly drastic change for Turner. But then, thinking about it, he has always drawn influence from many places. A hardcore kid gone singer/songwriter, dipping his toes in folk, country and rock along the way. And although this record sounds more campfire than punk rock, it’s still a great listen.

For most of this record, Turner has dropped the punk sound, but raised the punk ethos. It is a political record, albeit gently. Turner copped flack in the past when he flirted with political messages, receiving attacks because of his privileged background that included an education at Eton, and because his message didn’t align with that of many of his fan base.

But recent world events have been catalysts that shifted Turner’s stance, drawing him back to political songwriting. He implores us to fight injustice and hatred, to reclaim identity and join in solidarity against the rising face of nationalism. “Sand In The Gears“, Turner’s last release prior to Be More Kind, was the sound of defeat. Trump had just been elected, and Turner’s response was wanting to hang out at the bar or a punk show and forget about the world.

Thematically, “1933” follows on from “Sand In The Gears” with this desire of wanting to escape realities by hanging out at the bar, but slowly emerging from such a passive stance with a call to action – this time drawing parallels between the rise of Nazi Germany and current world events.

On the whole, Be More Kind compels us not to escape reality, but confront it. This is never more obvious than the track “Make America Great Again”, which takes Trump’s slogan and uses it against him, examining the aspects of America that make it a great country, and highlighting that those elements should … er… trump (?) the negative things that we’ve been associating with the USA in recent years.

It’s a weird call to action, considering the man who wrote it is a Englishman with a history of clearly patriotic songs. What right does he have to comment on the state of America? But I get it. I’m a New Zealander, and I love America too. I don’t blame the country as a whole for the actions of their government – much like I don’t often stand by the actions of my own government, even though they are supposed to represent me.

I can see this being one of the more divisive songs on the album. I enjoy both the music and the message, but picture it rubbing some people up the wrong way.

I don’t love Be More Kind as much as some of Turner’s other albums. I have no issue with the pop songs, but too many tracks are slow and drag down an otherwise catchy and fun album. Title track “Be More Kind” is just too tame for my liking, as are “Going Nowhere”, “The Lifeboat” and “Get It Right”. “21st Century Survival Blues” gets a borderline pass from me – almost worth skipping but with a redeemable chorus. It’s the folky songs that bring the side down.

That said, I’ve absolutely adored “There She Is” ever since I heard Turner preview it in Vancouver last year. It’s a slow burner that still sustains energy throughout.

I feel harsh saying this, but I have my critic hat on. I like Be More Kind, but it really is a case of singles that stand out, with filler sandwiched between them. “Don’t Worry” is a fun, carefree number – Jack Johnson meets “The Bare Necessities” complete with hand claps. “Little Changes” is a catchy wee ditty, with an infectious beat and horns. “Blackout” and “Brave Face” are both upbeat and enjoyable, as is the calmer “Common Ground”.

The verdict? Not a strong cohesive album, but still good enough that I’ll keep listening to it. And I’m still super excited to see Turner and The Sleeping Souls play when they come to New Zealand in November.

A cheesy quote springs to mind. Recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi featured a new character Rose, who says something that left me reflecting long after the film had finished:

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

And I think that line sums up the message of Be More Kind. Fight injustice with kindness, make the racists ashamed, show compassion, celebrate life… Be more kind.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: The Sun Burns Bright – Through Dusk, Came The Light

sun burns bright through dust came the light
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Bear with me when I try to explain The Sun Burns Bright.

The Sun Burns Bright is a solo project from Chris Garr, of Birmingham, England. It is also a Coastlands side-project.

Wait… what?

Garr contacted Coastlands guitarist Jason Sissoyev when he was writing this album, just discussing music in general. The two became pen pals, trading recordings back and forth as they collaboratively wrote an album over the course of 6-8 months. Coastlands drummer Richard Keefer added his beats, and then other Coastlands guitarist Jordan Patrick created the album art.

So we have a trans-Atlantic collaborative solo side project. Got it?

Through Dusk, Came The Light is an exercise in serenity. Tranquil notes, picked with care and precision.

As one has come to expect from the genre, there are serene passages, later with added percussion, which crescendos later in the piece, only to return to the calm soon after. It’s post-rock by numbers, but that isn’t always a bad thing. We find comfort in the familiar, and the warm tones found within Through Dusk, Came The Light only add to that homely feeling.

It’s a beautifully recorded album written with deliberate, exact notes and gorgeous tones. Which is surprising when you consider how it was recorded. That is, on iPads.

Now I know that most serious musos use Mac computers. I’m not a serious musician, so I couldn’t tell you why. But as a teacher, I’ve got very strong opinions about iPads. They’re cameras that don’t capture an image as well as a cheap point and shoot, computers with less functionality than a laptop, and overall horrible devices that create addicts of children in the name of “education”.

I can’t ever see myself changing my mind on this argument. But I cannot argue with the results here. This record sounds great. You won’t ever find me advocating for the use of iPads, but if Garr can create an incredible album like this through the use of Garageband and an iPad then I’ll accept that they have their uses.

Garr proves more then adept on guitar and composition. He explores aural textures with dynamic awareness and subtle layering. And Keefer’s deft drumming perfectly complements the music, adding thunderous energy without overpowering. 

Through Dusk, Came The Light takes the listener on a journey. From the epic climax of album opener “The Glass Is Always Full”, to the sweet melody of “Never Departing Shadow”, past the grandiose “Sky, Wand and Waves” to the sweeping solos of “Home Is Not A Place, It’s A Person”, to the final glitch infused pads of “Silhouette In The Shade”, this is an album that continually moves forward and treads the path of beauty.

The Sun Burns Bright isn’t the most original. But nor is it a tired imitation. It’s a solid début that appears to have already earned Garr a decent following from what I see online.And those fans have a lot to look forward – Garr is already working on album no. three, before even releasing his second one!


The Sun Burns Bright links:

Youtube album link: https://youtu.be/JoDhgwX7CsU

Joseph James

Ranges EU Tour 18: Lyon and Freiburg

Ranges Hard Rock CAfe Lyon
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Ranges Hard Rock CAfe LyonDay 3
Tuesday 8 May
Hard Rock Cafe, Lyon, France
w/ Cloud Shelter, Lodz

Everyone was in a great mood. Both nights of tour so far had been great, with good attendance, friendly people, great food and new experiences in foriegn cities. It was a welcome change from America, where people make less effort to support the music scene.

Tiffany and her grandmother provided a breakfast of toast, fruit and homemade honey and jam. The sun was shining with intense heat and we drank in the peaceful noises of birds chirping as we sat in the garden eating.

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

It felt like a long drive to Lyon. I didn’t to get to see as much of Lyon as I’d seen of Paris, but Zeidler and I went off to find something to eat while the band soundchecked. We found a neat plaza behind the town hall which featured a stunning water fountain with steam that arose from the noses of the horse statues. We had some difficulty ordering, but eventually managed to order some crepes and had a nice meal before heading back to the venue.

The Hard Rock Cafe in Lyon stands among one of my favourite venues I’ve ever been to. Anyone familiar with the chain will know what to expect – a restaurant/bar, merchandise shop, and plenty of music memorabilia to look at on the walls. This one was relatively new (two years old, I believe), sat next to the Rhone river.

Most dedicated venues feel dingy. I’m sure you know what I mean – gross toilets, graffiti and stickers, sticky floors, dark spaces. Hard Rock was none of these things. It was bright, clean, had good access, they provided a nice meal and a good green room. And as an actual venue it was awesome. It sounded good, and the lighting was fantastic.

Cloud Shelter Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Cloud Shelter

First up was Cloud Shelter, featuring promoter Jean Sebastian on drums. They kicked the night off with a solid set of post-rock, crescendo rich and dynamic. The place was fairly packed already at that stage, showing that either Jean Sebastian is a great promoter, Lyon has a supportive music scene, or both.

Lodz Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Lodz

Lodz’s set began with an impact, launching straight into their hard-fitting energetic music. It was gloomy, atmospheric and heavy, touching on Deftones territory. Daylight had faded by this point, and the orange streetlamps shining in from outside added to the visuals onstage.

Lodz Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Lodz

The lights were simply great, adding a whole new dimension to the experience. Cloud Shelter had Edison bulbs on light stands, reminding me of Ranges’ set up on their American tour. Usually Ranges play with their own lighting rig, synced up to the backing track. But it wasn’t feasible bringing so much gear overseas, with airline fees being as expensive as they are. I’m beginning to have second thoughts about that lighting rig. I certainly helped Ranges to stand out last year, but these European shows have been even better without them. Plus they’re easier to photograph without their own rig.

I’m wondering if the lights are always this good at Hard Rock Lyon, because there were so many photographers in attendance. I sparked up a conversation with one couple who lived about an hour from Lyon. They were simply delightful to chat to. Come to think of it, everyone was friendly and happy to be there. Lyon gives off great vibes.

I’ve seen Ranges play close to 20 times by this point. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen Declaration AD play that many times – and I used to live with them! And I’m convinced that this is the best Ranges show I’ve seen. All the elements were there – receptive audience, good numbers, good audio mix, nice venue, great lighting, and the band played well. The crowd were lapping it up. At the end of the hour-long set the band went backstage and the audience began cheering and chanting for an encore. This placed the band in an awkward situation. Usually they just pay their piece and that’s it. This was a first – having the crowd demanding an encore. They didn’t even have any other songs ready to play. But there’s no way they could get away without a few more songs, so they returned to the stage played another two songs.

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Jerome from Cloud Shelter hosted us in his apartment. Mark, Wilson and I grabbed some pizzas from a fantastic little shop nearby, and we spent most of the night talking rubbish at Jerome’s. They had French alcohol called Pontelier Anis (made in a neighbouring township) that we drank. It tasted similar to sambuca, and changed colour from transparent to cloudy white when you add water.

CJ and Wilson slept in the van, fearful that some local goon may try to break in a steal the musical gear inside. Zeidler was segregated to the lounge as penance for his bear imitations the night before. Mark, Joey and I cuddled up in a cozy space in the next room, where we slept for about for about three hours.

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Day 4
Wednesday 9 May
Slow Club, Frieberg, Germany
w/ Nonsun

Touring takes its toll on one’s body. Long days spent sediantry in a van, unhealthy diets that consist mostly of gas station food, and lack of sleep all begin to wear you down. We had a blast in Lyon, but only a few hours sleep before the drive to Frieberg.

Slow Club was a cool venue. Almost polar opposite from the modern Hard Rock Cafe, it was a more traditional style club. They cool thing about it is that it is a community resource, run and operated by volunteers. There was something reassuringly familiar about it. And the best thing about it is that there was a studio apartment upstairs, with bunk beds that remind me of school camps and a small kitchen. Staying on site is amazing – taking away the process of packing up and driving to a place to sleep at the end of the night.

In other ways it was vastly different from other places I’d been. People smoked inside the venue. This was outlawed in New Zealand well before I was old enough to go to bars, so the only times I’ve ever experienced people smoking inside is at casinos in Las Vegas. There was even an ashtray fixed to the wall between the urinals in the bathroom. The staircase and hallway featured artistic photos that reminded me of the band Pussy Riot – controversial images of topless women with ski masks.

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

After sound check Joey and I went to check out a local attraction with a friend of Jared’s. Frieburg Munster cathedral, like most cathedrals, is a gorgeous building with large spires, stained glass windows, ornate sculptures and an overall awe-inspiring feel. My favourite feature was the many gargoyles – all different from each other. They had a mass on when we went inside so we chose not to stay long, but it’s always worthwhile seeing even the smallest sample of a new city.

Ukraine-based Nonsun recently signed to dunk!records. They play music so heavy and slow it’s oppressive. Zeidler described them as making Glacier look cheerful. I don’t like that style of music so I stayed upstairs and rested while they played.

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Apparently that rest was inadequate. I helped Mark set up his drums for the Ranges set, and then sat down on a couch next to the bar to watch the set. I managed so catch maybe half, but true to form, I dozed off half way through.

There were only six bunks upstairs so I pulled out a spare mattress and slept on the floor. The next morning I was told that everyone was kept up by loud German singing all night. I was so exhausted that I never noticed a thing.

On to Zottegem, and dunk!festival!

Ranges Hard Rock Cafe Lyon

Photos and words by Joseph James