Theatre Review: ‘Christmas Eve Can Kill You’ – Lyric Theatre – 26/11/15

“Y’see Christmas Eve, it’s like instead of watching a soap where people are acting out real life, this is real life acting out a soap, y’know what I mean?” this idea of the dramatism concerned with Christmas Eve is one which fuels the premise of “Christmas Eve Can Kill You.”

Written by Marie Jones and directed by Dan Gordon, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” transports its audience back to Belfast 1992 on Christmas Eve. It follows Belfast cabbie man Mackers (played by Tim Loane), as he taxis an array of comical and intriguing characters around the city for their various festive and some… not-so-festive activities.

A sparse stage set up consisting of a wire taxi car is at the centre of the stage throughout the entire performance with rapidly changing traffic lights in the background as a constant reminder of the city going by. Opening with various passer-bys walking rapidly by one another armed with gifts and Christmas radio adverts playing as a maddeningly familiar backdrop, the manic hustle and bustle of Belfast City Centre shoppers on Christmas Eve is reflected.

If you’ve ever wondered about the characters that a cabbie must encounter during a shift and the strange glimpses into people’s lives that come with the job then “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” will answer some of these curiosities. “I tell ya here and now, if this taxi could write a book” are Mackers opening words that confirm the not-so-average people that have sat down in his taxi. With many more to come in the duration of the play, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” shows that what happens behind closed doors comes to life in his taxi and how the lives of people around us seem perfect simply on the surface and through the image they create.

From the very onset the play is filled with Northern Irish colloquialism that ensures it has a sense of locality and familiarity unique to Northern Ireland. Rhyming off areas and streets of Belfast that would be familiar to so many in the audience, the play holds a certain nostalgia.

Mackers’ first customer of the evening comes in the form of a turkey armed husband (played by Dan Gordon) hell bent on getting his fill of festive cheer in the pub rather than at home with his wife. Throughout the play the common perceptions and stereotypes of Christmas are challenged with the idea of Christmas as family orientated having gone awry already.

Indeed, Mackers collects three bickering daughters (played by Tara Lynne O’Neil, Katie Tumelty and Louise Parker) who are going to meet their mother (played by Julia Dearden) at the pub. Not enthused about having to do so and arguing the entire journey about it, family coming together at Christmas is familiarly conveyed as never going as smoothly as it should.

With snippets of old familiar Christmas songs audible as Mackers drops off his customers at various locations, the fact that he is apart from these festivities is underlined. Exclaiming that “Christmas is abnormal” we see that through trying to distance himself from the festivities and simply being an onlooker unlocks interesting perceptions about “the most wonderful time of the year” …supposedly.

Collecting a BBC actor from Aldergrove provides a particular comical highlight of the play. Daniel De Monte (also played by Dan Gordon) is a pompous character whose posh English accent sounds so at odds with the Belfast brogues which have thus far pervaded the play. Asking to be dropped at the “Or-meyo Guest House” on the “Or-meyo road” has everyone in the audience in stitches. This continues when he tells Mackers how he is starring in a Northern Irish drama set in “Mega-Berry prison.”

The disparity between these two characters comes to a particular peak whenever De Monte asks Mackers to drive past the Divis flats so he “can see how the loyalists really live.” This type of localised, Belfast humour is a particular hit with the audience. Practising his lines in the back of the taxi, De Monte’s actions for this Northern Irish drama are all comically violent and contrast sharply with his refinery. As he gets out of the taxi Mackers tells him that the Sandy Row is just around the corner if he wants “to see how the Republicans live.”

Towards the end of the play, Mackers laments that all he wanted was “to stand on the outside, be an onlooker” yet throughout the play he consistently becomes involved with the drama of ordinary people’s lives despite his own wishes. From bringing someone who was attacked to the hospital, collecting an elderly woman who wants him to pretend he’s her son and a young girl who’s having an affair with a married man, the complicated nature of seemingly ordinary people stands out starkly. Mackers job as a cabbie becomes transmuted into the role of a son, a therapist and a counsellor. Above all “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” shows how complicated people can be, even beneath all the humour that the play excels with.

The cast’s ability to seamlessly jump from one character to another in a play that is so jam packed with unique and comic characters really stands out in the duration of the evening. So adept at adapting to different character’s roles throughout the night, you would be forgiven for not immediately recognising the actor or actress from a previous scene. Indeed, this skill at performing such a diverse range of characters and subplots is a testament to the talent of the cast.

“It’s just another scene in life’s great soap” Mackers says in one of his monologues. Through witnessing the various comical domestic disputes taking place in Mackers’ taxi the audience are confronted by what we’ve always suspected about Christmas: it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be and it never plays out the way anyone wants it to. Yet this still won’t stop anyone from having a certain lopsided fondness for the holiday. “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” comes to the conclusion that perhaps the only way to get through the various, inevitable Christmas related calamities and domestics is to laugh them off, because a perfect Christmas is simply an illusion limited to adverts.


Live Review: Years and Years – Mandela Hall – 4/11/15

2015 has been massive for Years and Years to say the least. Awarded BBC’s Sound of 2015 and topping the UK album charts with their album “Communion”, their single “King” and not to mention “Shine” reaching no. 2, their rise to fame through the duration of the year has felt meteoric. Rapidly selling out the modest venue of the Mandela Hall, Years and Years feel absolutely destined for larger venues. A somewhat smug feeling pervades the evening that those in attendance at the gig will be able to say in a few years from now that they were around for the band’s modest beginnings.

The support band for the evening were London based Nimmo. Launching the night off in a suitably electro fashion, Nimmo is certainly an act that can adequately warm the audience up for Years and Years through the similarity of their electro infused sounds. Fronted by Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlet, Nimmo sound somewhat like The xx meets Disclosure. Their combined vocals, reminiscent of La Roux and Janele Monaé respectively, compliment one another especially on their song “Dilute This.” Overall their set delivered an eclectic mix of electronic, synth sound combined keyboard that lends a layer of variation and brings to mind the piano infused string of hits Jess Glynn has belted out.

Years and Years were welcomed to the stage by the eagerest of screams from their audience. Getting their set off without delay front man Olly Alexander proceeds to bust some questionable dance moves that continue almost relentlessly throughout their set. Energetic and with impressive vocals right from the onset it’s established very early that Years and Years sound pretty impeccable live.

When “Desire” has the audience singing along almost instantaneously, Olly Alexander looks blown away by the enthusiasm of the audience. Indeed, right the way through Years and Years set, Alexander seems, through laughter and looks of disbelief, not quite able to grasp the position he is in and the ability he has to very easily get a crowd clapping and singing along to something he and his bandmates created. It’s quite heartening to see this throughout the gig as the band clearly are still not attuned to the extent of their fame or at least still delighted by it.

The following song “Worship” further demonstrates the devotion of their fanbase as Alexander is at times inaudible under hundreds of audience member’s voices singing along word for word. “So Belfast is pretty good then?” Alexander says laughing filling the silence only to have the audience screaming once again.

As the band work through their synth infused, electropop set list with the audience in rhapsody, Years and Years skill at creating outstanding pop music really stands out. Alexis Petridis wrote that “Communion” “feels weirdly like a kind of omnipresent, nondescript background noise, the music you always seem to be listening to without actively choosing to – while queuing in shops, or waiting in cafes” The exact opposite however feels at work in the duration of the evening as Years and Years demonstrate the irresistibly catchy nature of their music.

Yet soft, piano charged song “Eyes Shut” suggests a whole other layer to the band’s sound that moves beyond mere electropop. Exploring a sound that is more comparable to the likes of Sam Smith, “Eyes Shut” is emotionally charged yet manages to retain that quality beckoning you to sing along. It is a particular highlight of the show as it showcases that Years and Years have deceived us into thinking they are simply an electro pop band when there is much more at work in their sound.

Their cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” however quickly brings the focus back to electropop. It’s one of those fun, unlikely covers that actually adapts really well to Alexander’s Sam Smith-esque vocals and the signature, synth infused Years and Years sound that has become so well known.

Closing the evening with an encore consisting of – of course – their chart topping hit “King” it undeniably ends the evening on a high note. Unlike many pop bands and artists today, Years and Years flaunt how skilled as musicians they actually are. Alexander’s vocals are immaculate right the way through their show and there’s no nasty surprises in not matching the sound of the album. It seems like a pretty safe bet that next time Years and Years are in Belfast they’ll be playing a larger venue but for now they seem to be enjoying the onset of their fame.

Theatre Review: ‘Ghost Stories’ by Pan Narrans Theatre – Accidental Theatre – 29/10/15

“The most significant contribution that our large brain made to our approach to the universe was to endow us with the power of story.” These are the words that ring out as an introduction to a night centralised on the ability stories have to captivate their audiences. An office transformed into a small theatre, The Accidental Theatre is tucked away on the fourth floor of the Wellington Building on Wellington Street just opposite Belfast City Hall. Although small the Accidental Theatre was boasting a large bill of writers, performers and poets all coming together through a passion for telling stories.

Appropriate to the story-telling theme, the stage set-up is a few bookcases of worn out books and a chair in the centre. It all has a very lived in feel enhanced through sparse lighting perfect for the intimate setting. Kicking the night off is a performance of Edgar Allan Poe’s horror classic “The Raven” performed by Michael Patrick.

Poe’s classic although typically understood as a Gothic horror poem is transformed by Patrick into a comedic performance of an eccentric and dishevelled man encountering the visitation of a raven to his abode. With the raven being simply a soft toy hand puppet played by Patrick himself, there is a great deal of humour through watching the ridiculousness of the man’s fearful reaction to the raven’s repeated screeching of “Nevermore!” A particular highlight is when it perches on an audience member’s head and also when Patrick takes a seat from an audience member to watch and mull over the raven perched at the other end of the room. Other comedic moments include reading “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” for which Patrick shows the audience a book simply titled “FORGOTTEN LORE”

Continuing with the comedic horror element is a poetry reading by Phyllis McKenna. Her first poem “I Woke Up This Morning” humorously reflects on a date that takes a somewhat macabre turn. Her conversational, colloquial poems tell comedic stories such as “Mountain Lonely” that recalls the reader’s being stranded in the Divis mountains where “white lines are no longer a safety feature.”

Delving into a more classically horror orientated realm and away from comedy is Peter Fahy’s performance of Faust as Mephistophles. Dressed in a devil costume his chilling performance although simply one of spoken word still manages to be both unsettling and captivating especially after the audience has been eased into the evening through comedy.

The fourth act of the evening “Acid” is an original piece both written and performed by Gavin Turtle. Confused and unsettled, the protagonist enters the room with the sounds of rave music in the background. Gathering from his phonecall that he was at a rave and has taken two acid tabs the performance shows that there is a much darker side to partying and things certainly take a dark turn within this performance. With the setting being an abandoned warehouse with a mirror hanging in front of him, staring into the mirror and humming he steps through and the audience is left with a very dark and ambiguous ending.

After an interval the next performance is from “The Dead School” by Patrick McCabe, adapted and directed by Jim O’Hagan and performed by Owen McCavana. Looking dishevelled McCavana enters the stage wearing a get up that leaves a lot to be desired: a coat, shorts and bare feet. In a performance that toes the line between comedy and horror, it begins with the audience being shown how to cut onions and tomatoes to make chilli. Urging the audience to “massage” skin off onions and wielding a knife around, McCavana’s performance shows the underlying danger beneath a crazed and unhinged character. What begins as deliriously happy and filled with dark humour sinks into darker, more unsettling realms as his character has flashbacks to a career as a teacher. As the voices of his pupils sound in the theatre, he asks the ironic question of “Did he really think he could get in my head?” As the performance comes to an end with McCavana repeatedly punching a pillow he is pretending to be his pupil, the audience are left with the chilling words “There wasn’t so much cheek out of him after that.”

Original piece “Butterflies” written by Jonathan Baille and performed by Holly Hannaway certainly doesn’t offer any light relief from McCavana’s unsettling performance. A very sparse setting with simply a chair and a spotlight is all that is needed as Hannaway delivers an extremely enthralling story of family and mental breakdown. Although it is shown at the end that her character is telling a doctor her story, up until that point it feels as though she is speaking directly to the audience. An extremely emotionally fuelled performance that excels in making the audience unsettled through its troubling details, it shows that human beings can be haunted by more than mere ghosts. As Hannaway is dragged out of the room by the silent and foreboding doctor the audience is left to draw their own troubling conclusions.

Catherine Rees and Patrick McBrearty’s performance of “The Weir” by Conor McPherson very much stays true to the ghost stories element of the evening. Beginning mid conversation, the setting is in a haunted house as Rees urges McBrearty to tell a ghost story. As he recounts the details of a story about a young girl using a ouiji board that seems to summon up a spirit of a woman, the audience are left hanging on to his every word. Conversational, the audience are left feeling as though they are eavesdropping on two strangers’. Rees follows the first story with her own about her young daughter dying in a swimming accident. While McBrearty’s character is sceptical about his story, Rees’ character is completely certain that her daughter rang her asking to be collected. As the two stories finish that eeriness after hearing a ghost story is palpable.

After the last interval, the final act of the evening “Murder on the Dancefloor” provides some comic relief to what was a pretty heavy second half. Written and performed by Gary Crossan, Christopher Grant and Stephen Coulter, it also features Rosie Barry. The four make up rivals in Northern Ireland’s disco dancing competition. Based in 2002, much of the comedy in the performance is through the hindsight the audience has on that particular year. A particular highlight is how the prize for the competition is a £25 Virgin Megastores voucher accompanied with the line “I’ve the rest of my life to spend that Virgin Megastores voucher – they’re not going anywhere.” Ending the evening on a lighter note “Murder on the Dancefloor” has its audience in stitches from the very onset.

Pan Narrans “Ghost Stories” although quite laid-back felt like a community of theatre, poetry and literature lovers coming together to celebrate the art of story-telling. With such a variety of performances it catered for all tastes and was the perfect way to kick off Halloween. Ranging from fun moments to dark, troubling moments it was a captivating evening by all accounts and showcased just some of the great talent in the arts sector that Belfast has to boast of.

Theatre Review: ‘The Night Alive’ – Lyric Theatre Belfast – 9/10/15

The first night of Conor McPherson’s ‘The Night Alive’ kicked off the Belfast International Arts Festival which runs until November 1st. After running in both London and New York, the Lyric Theatre are hosting the Irish premier of the play in co-production with the Dublin Theatre Festival.

‘The Night Alive’ follows a few days and nights in the life of Tommy, a middle-aged man separated from his wife and children. Living less than comfortably at his uncle Maurice’s residence, right from the onset Tommy’s life appears the very image of squalor. Such dilapidation is showcased right throughout the play with a delightfully detailed set that displays two single beds either side of a small room, a dirty kitchen beside the back door and a mantlepiece crammed with junk. Akin to a particularly grotty student house, the detailed set is immediately striking, sufficient for the duration of the play and sets an atmosphere of hard times.

The play kicks off in the aftermath of Aimee being attacked on the streets with Tommy and a blood soaked Aimee entering through the back door. With barely enough money to keep his room lit up Tommy is immediately shown to be a character without much money to his name but a willingness to reach out and help others despite this. Offering up what little living space he has so that Aimee has somewhere to stay, an unlikely friendship of sorts begins.

‘The Night Alive’ is comedic from the onset despite unfavourable circumstances and subject matter. It makes light of a heavy situation when Tommy offers Aimee some Bonio dog biscuits and confesses that he doesn’t actually own a fridge.

The passage of time within the play is executed with expertise through atmospheric lighting that allows the audience to differentiate between morning, day time and evening. With a darkened set but changing lighting to be seen outside the set’s window ‘The Night Alive’ conveys the reality of the atmospheres of early morning, late night and everything in between with striking proficiency. Although perhaps a small detail, it really enhances the play and easily allows the audience to witness the mastery of stagecraft that McPherson is exhibiting.

The morning following Aimee’s stay at Tommy’s sees the arrival of Tommy’s “associate in the business” the bumbling but lovable Doc. Tommy and Doc are a duo that could somewhat accurately be described as Del Boy and Rodney, and Withnail and I, meets Father Ted and Dougal. Arriving with a bag of stolen turnips and potatoes Doc is a comical character from the onset. Some delightfully Irish humour is provided when Amy asks why he’s called Doc and finds out he’s actually called Brian but got called Doc because Brian was just “a bit long.”

Arriving back again in the middle of the night with a bag of chips to share between the three of them, Doc becomes something of a “third wheel” beside Aimee and Tommy’s blossoming friendship. They both sit opposite one another for their chips on an extremely low key date type situation. This is comically accentuated through Doc offering them pepper from a giant pepper mill which is fundamentally at odds with the decrepitude of their situation.

When Aimee and Tommy run out to the shops to check the lottery numbers, Doc is left on his own to tidy up. It is at this point that the play hinges between comedy and utter tragedy when an unnamed intruder enters the house. The unassuming Doc simply believing he is a friend of Tommy’s doesn’t question the suited gentleman. When the thud of the hammer hits the back of Doc’s neck, the play enters the realm of the hugely unsettling. This unexpected and troubling development from a henceforth comedicplay is extremely jarring and serves to show just how engrossing the largely unremarkable lives of these ordinary individuals had become.

Any comedic elements that follow in the duration of the play are marred by this tragic attack on an innocent character. Through Uncle Maurice’s bleak meditation on life, death and raising Tommy from when he was boy, the question “What happened to all the sweetness?” rings through with particular significance. Although Maurice appears at first as a sensible character that counterpoints the unhinged and scattered life of Tommy, in these moments that force us to contemplate life he is shown to be just as clueless and frustrated as everyone else.

‘The Night Alive’ weaves together comedy and tragedy impeccably well. Although shocking, the tragic element lends something more substantial to a play that deceives its audience to be almost wholly comedic in its genre. Despite bleak situations and unsettling actions, what shines through the most is the human strength the characters show to carry on regardless and with hope of something better in the face of constant adversity.

Album Review: ‘Music Complete’ – New Order

With a music catalogue dating back to the early eighties and a further history with Joy Division dating back to 1976, it’s amazing to consider just how long New Order have been on the music scene and the amount of music they have managed to produce throughout the years.

Couple this with their faith in upholding a truly unique sound that has stood the test of the past 35 odd years and you have a really exceptional band. “Music Complete” their tenth studio album has reached second place on the UK album charts. While at a glance it seems surprising that a band who have been around as long as New Order are able to permeate this high into the 2015 UK music charts, it really isn’t that surprising at all when you hear the album.

There is always the fear with bands and artists that have been around for as long as New Order that any of their new releases somehow won’t measure up to the musical tastes of the modern audience. The idea that they reached their peak in the eighties and that their sound will somehow seem aged because of this is very much a potentiality.

Yet, New Order have managed to achieve a delightful measure of experimentation with modern dance/electro music coupled with a loyalty to that unique, inherently New Order sound. If you compare say, New Order’s very first single “Ceremony” with “Academic” a track off “Music Complete” while the latter has a more modern feel to it, that ability to create a helplessly appealing but simplistic guitar riff lies at the bottom of both these tracks. Weaved throughout “Music Complete” is loyalty to a sound that can only be accurately described as absolutely New Order.

First track “Restless” is an appealing combination of steady guitar and some glorious but tasteful synthy goodness. Bernard Sumner’s Frankie Goes to Hollywood-esque vocals are as prominent as they ever were and with a nice guitar solo thrown in too, it gets the album off to an intriguing start.

The Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowland produced the track “Singularity” which begins with an odd, distorted but nonetheless interesting sound that you’d be forgiven for mistaking for Metronomy. Fast paced electro accompanied with the chorus “One day at a time, inch by inch. For every kiss on lovers’ lips. For lost souls who can’t come home. Friends, not here, we share our tears.” These lyrics are deeper and more complicated than we have come to expect from New Order.

The Hot Chip-esque track “Tutti Frutti” wouldn’t feel out of place in a nightclub and is a particular highlight of “Music Complete.” For the chorus Sumner’s vocals are accompanied by La Roux’s Elly Jackson and it really enhances this upbeat track. The band also take a leaf out of Clean Bandit’s book combining violin with electro tracks adding another interesting layer to the song.

“Music Complete” alternates from upbeat tracks such as “Tutti Frutti” “People on the High Line” and “Plastic” to more emotionally fuelled and intense tracks such as “Stray Dog” which features Iggy Pop’s reading of a particularly bleak poem by Sumner alongside some instrumentals that are at subtle moments distinctively Joy Division-esque.

Final track “Superheated” bring the album to a triumphant close. Fast paced and featuring vocals by Brandon Flowers, it is fast paced and upbeat but with an emotional undercurrent through a violin and harp infused opening. With simplistic lyrics that lament a relationship gone wrong it ends with the repeated lyrics of “It’s over…” for an overall appropriate ending to the album.

“Music Complete” is overall an ambitious album that will appeal to both long time New Order fans and indeed any one unfamiliar with their music. This is achieved through an adventurous fusion of a modern, electro/dance sound with their unmistakable unique style remaining instated throughout.

Live Review: Owen Denvir EP Launch – Sunflower Pub Belfast – 26/09/15

The intimate venue of The Sunflower bar made the perfect setting to showcase and promote some of the thriving musical talent that Belfast has to boast of. Although the evening was main act Owen Denvir‘s EP Launch, overall it felt more as though it was simply three friends getting together to play some music.

Kicking off the evening with a finger-picking guitar set was David Brown Murray. Right from the onset he manages to gauge that uniquely captivating quality that finger-picking guitar style has the ability to bring about, leaving the audience with no doubt as to his talent as a musician. Immediately fast-paced with a layered sound, it at moments has something of Latino influence but moves beyond this into an unashamedly creative sound that is extremely fun to listen to.

A highlight of the evening was his cover of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from the film Flashdance. Not immediately a song that would strike you as working particularly well adapted to guitar never mind finger-picking guitar and without vocals. Yet it worked extremely well and the novelty of hearing such a popular song creatively reworked into the finger-picking style confirmed the audience’s investment in the music. Covers work particularly well for David Browne Murray due to how different the sound is from the original yet how seamlessly he has been able to translate the song into the finger-picking style.

Other covers included “Cavatina” from the film Deerhunter. Undeniably Simon and Garfunkel-esque, it provided a touch of repose from the up until now, fast-paced sound. He finished his set with a cover of The Beegees “Stayin’ Alive” which was immediately recognisable to the audience. It’s infectious rhythm even managed to get a couple up and dancing. Yet such a short set ultimately left the audience looking for more.

Next up was Hannah McPhillimy who started off her set with her song “Kindness.” Sang simply with the accompaniment of her ukulele, this ensured that her distinctive voice stood out. Simplistic but charming, her songs enthral right from the onset. Her voice and musical style are Gabrielle Alpin meets Regina Spektor, with a bit of Laura Marling thrown into the mix in places too for good measure.

In her second song “Heart” the influence of Regina Spektor rings out markedly through both her vocals and her piano style. With ardent, conversational lyrics that mull over relationships and our place in the world, her songs have a maturity and a relatable element that renders her music memorable.

Alternating between her ukulele and the piano throughout her set, Hannah showcases her talent as a musician in the space of her short set. You are left with the feeling that you have discovered an artist who is really something quite special.

The evening progressed from finger-picking guitar to piano and ukulele infused folksy vibes and over to acoustic goodness with the third and final act of the evening, Owen Denvir. His first song of the evening “Jack Hammer” is a slow but utterly infectious tune that flaunts from the onset, Owen’s impressive vocal range. With a simplistic but memorable chorus “My heart beats like a jack hammer” it is an undeniably catchy song that piques audience’s attention from the onset.

Although catchy, “Jack Hammer” sets the tone of good old bittersweet melancholia infused acoustic music. While Owen very much keeps to the musical expectations of an acoustic artist, he does this with evident talent and a passion that shines throughout his set. His emotionally fuelled singing on songs such as “Coast of Spain” and “Stones from Paris” has the ability to keep the audience rapt by verses that hope for better times in sunnier climes and the difficulty of keeping relationships adrift when geography gets in the way.

One of the highlights of his set however was his duet with Hannah for the track “Staring at the Sun” the second track of his new EP. With a chorus of “I still hold a light, a little light for you” this song approached a more lighter, feel good territory of sound with both Owen’s and Hannah’s voices complimenting each other right the way through the song.

This more uplifting theme is continued right into the next song that Owen explained was written and performed as the first song at his brother’s wedding. With an instrumental intro played on the viola it definitely has the feel of a wedding song as it is right from the onset both uplifting and emotional in sound. The addition of the viola certainly made for an interesting turn from acoustic expectations and added another intriguing dimension to the evening. Owen manages to hit the high notes perfectly in this song and with a chorus of “It’s easy to see that you and me are meant to be” it’s easy to envision this at a wedding.

Owen’s set goes above and beyond the expectation of him as simply an acoustic artist. While this element remains intact for most of his set, it becomes evident on certain songs throughout the night that he is exploring a more experimental and varied sound that rings more of Ed Sheeran than say James Morrison. Describing how he’s “Gonna go hip hop” on a ranty song about an old boss, you are met with a sound more likely to make you dance than to contemplate life and it adds an interesting layer to his sound. Overall it displays a progression as an artist and a willingness to explore sounds outside the sometimes predictable nature of acoustic music. It highlights a certain maturity as an artist and will ensure in the longrun that his sound retains and welcomes interest.

Album review: Darwin Deez “Double Down”

It has now been six years since New York band Darwin Deez bounded into the alternative music scene with their self-titled debut album. Best known for their first single ‘Radar Detector’, its up-beat and quirky sound has become synonymous of their music catalogue overall.

However, this is the problem with latest album Double Down – it sounds almost exactly the same as their first… and second album. While it is somewhat admirable to hold on to their unique, up-beat sound it is also slightly tiring to hear songs that have little variation. It feels like they are going after the safe option and sticking to what they know works. While there is no denying that Darwin Deez can write irresistibly catchy songs, a large majority of the songs on Double Down feel like attempts at attaining the same degree of catchiness that has worked so well for them in the past. The result is an album filled with songs that are difficult to differentiate from one to the other.

Yet, this isn’t to dismiss the album without merit. Darwin Deez have released two singles from Double Down, the first being ‘Kill Your Attitude’. It is easy to see why this song in particular was chosen to be released as a single – it retains that ever-beloved element of whimsical guitar riffs while also building another substantial layer of musical exploration that most of the album feels bereft of. Overall, it feels like a much more confident song because it isn’t so reliant upon the energetic sound that brought them attention as a band in the first place. With an impressive guitar solo incorporated and more vocal range than the majority of the album, ‘Kill Your Attitude’ is the most ambitious offering within.

This isn’t the limit of musical experimentation however. ‘Rated R’ has a lo-fi, heavy sound that contrasts sharply with the sound we have come to expect from the band. Having front man Darwin Smith’s voice against a grungy guitar and drums combo is what makes this ‘Rated R’ stick out so much. His voice and the obligatory guitar riff have become part and parcel for Darwin Deez’s fan base. With lyrics “We can slip into the theatre showing Fight Club, who cares about nightmares anyway?” and “You can kiss me on the mouth, I like the way that feels,” this song is a nostalgic reflection on the awkward transition from being a child into being an adolescent, having a crush on someone. These lyrics combined with the unconventionally heavy sound serves to encapsulate a rebellious, experimental sense to the song that pairs with the subject matter in a pretty clever way.

Penultimate song ‘Right When It Rains’ manages to catch the Darwin Deez speciality – irresistibly chirpy and infectious, positive vibes. It’s these moments that make Darwin Deez’s music so impressive and almost makes you want to excuse the handful of other songs that somehow just feel like rip-offs of this sound. With simplistic lyrics that include “Let’s go dance in the storm, if lightning strikes I’m ready for it” it is the kind of song that has the capability to lift your mood right away and bring even a tiny grin to your face.

‘Right When It Rains’ beside ‘Kill Your Attitude’ really hits the nail on the head for Double Down and ensures that the band undoubtedly has the potential to get that balance of retaining their unique sound whilst exploring other sonic avenues at the same time. Fingers crossed for album number four.

Also published on