EP: Berries – ‘Live From Big Smith Studios’

Fuelled by the riff-driven melodies of Nirvana, the massive choruses of Biffy Clyro, and the punk rock attitude of Riot Grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, London based trio Berries have spent the last five years releasing an incendiary blend of grunge and garage rock, culminating in two explosive extended plays; 2016’s Those Funny Things and 2019’s Lies.

The three-piece – consisting of Holly Carter on guitar/lead vocals, Lauren Cooper on bass/backing vocals, and Lucie Hartmann on drums/backing vocals – recently signed with London-based label Xtra Mile Recordings, dropped the single track ‘Copy’, and have now released their latest EP, Live Sessions from Big Smith Studios; a collection of four tracks recorded live in Antony Smith’s studio.

Opening Live Sessions from Big Smith Studios, Berries immediately launch into a live rendition of their latest single ‘Copy’, a high-energy performance that gives the riff-laden track even more of an edge. Lauren’s raucous bass-lines, Lucie’s pounding drums, Holly’s distinctive lead vocal delivery and scuzzy guitar hooks are so flawless that you would be forgiven for mistaking this for the original track; if not for the various nuances between the two (“Don’t copy it exactly / Rough around the edge”).

The remaining three performances – ‘Dangerous’, ‘Silent’ and ‘Lies’ – are live versions of their respective tracks taken from the EP, Lies. Recorded for John Kennedy’s Radio X show, along with ‘Copy’ and ‘Lies’, ‘Dangerous’ is the highlight of Live Sessions from Big Smith Studios; an infectious collision of drum strikes, pulsating bass guitar, and distorted riffs combining indie, grunge and punk to cause a euphoric shock to the senses. Holly creates a sense of danger with her haunting lyrics, inspired after travelling home late one night after a gig: All of the thoughts and feelings of walking the streets alone at night and the different personalities you meet on the way.

Recorded for the virtual single launch of ‘Copy’, the band let loose on ‘Silent’, channelling the spirit of punk rock, and evoking Black Sabbath at the same time, with a fast-paced rhythmic foundation that elevates the track’s off-kilter hook, leading into a metallic breakdown that will have you banging your head! ‘Lies’ concludes the EP with a seemingly effortless performance oozing razor-sharp guitar licks, duelling drum and bass grooves, sassy vocals, and intense shredding.

Raw, complex, and full of little flourishes, Live Sessions from Big Smith Studios showcases the band’s signature style and strength as a live power trio. And it won’t be long until Berries are able to replicate this noise in front of a live audience! Worthy of repeat listening, this four-track extended play will scratch that rock and roll itch until we can all get together, drink warm beer, dance, and sing along with Holly, Lauren, and Lucie.

Watch the live video for ‘Dangerous’ here:

Live Sessions From Big Smith Studios is out now, listen on Spotify and download/buy here.

Ken Wynne

Photo Credit: Cae Sato

EP: Bitch Hunt – ‘Shapeshifter’

Bitch Hunt have just released their debut EP and we couldn’t be happier. The non-binary alt-rock four-piece (and I’m sure there are plenty of other hyphenated terms you could apply – this is a band with range!) are alumni of the 2017 edition of London’s First Timers Fest – a festival with an impressive track record of assisting in the formation of some of the best music coming out of the city in the last few years (Big Joanie and Charmpit both played their first gigs at the festival). As such, it’s been something of a wait for this debut EP for those of us who were already aware of the band, but the wait has proved to be very much worth it.

Shapeshifter offers a shimmering collection of five songs characterised by a lo-fi aesthetic and heartfelt lyrics. EP highlight ‘Eau Claire’, which was released as a single back in April and described by us as “perfect punk pop”, is a nostalgic song (though a nostalgia with the rose-tint wiped clear) written about singer Sian’s time spent in a Wisconsin town of the same name. Fittingly then, Twin Peaks fans might even detect a hint of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack in the slacker bassline in the verse here, but a closer point of reference might be The Breeders’ ‘Oh!’ from 1990 album Pod. There’s a similarly woozy feel to the guitars and vocal delivery which accentuates the bittersweet content of the lyrics. In fact, the EP as a whole warrants favourable comparison to the early 1990s output of Kim & Kelley Deal’s band. That’s not to say there is anything derivative about this, though, Bitch Hunt have carved out their own distinctive sound and on this track in particular there’s a real sense of a landscape portrayed in the breadth of the sound – no mean feat considering the relative simplicity of the arrangements.

Closing track, ‘I Wanna Be Un/Happy’, showcases another side to the band’s sound. Here the guitar and bass interweave in a manner reminiscent of Interpol on the verse before the song bursts into life in the chorus. The contrast hinted at in the ‘Un/Happy’ of the title is reflected in the difference in sound between the doom-filled verse and uplifting chorus.

A spiky guitar part on ‘Identity Clinic’ provides the clearest link between what appears to be some of the influences on this EP – ’90s britpop a la Elastica & the bluesy end of the early 2000s garage revival (White Stripes, Black Keys etc). The lyrics are disarmingly open while remaining playful – “leave me out to cry”, we’re implored – and listening to the EP as a whole, the listener is left with the feeling that this mix of honesty, heartache and a sense of humour might be the defining characteristic of Bitch Hunt’s songs. ‘Out of Eden’’s biblical references serve a similar purpose – playing with our familiar understanding of phrases to provide counterpoint and illumination to what appears to be a story of two relationships – one destructive and the other restorative.

The EP can be bought for the low low price of £5 over on the band’s bandcamp page and has been released by Reckless Yes – a label with impeccable taste – so this reviewer would urge you to do so. It’s a real treat.

Shapeshifter, the new EP from Bitch Hunt, is out now via Reckless Yes.

Gregory Metcalfe

EP: Joely Smith – ‘that’s when gd neighbours become gd friends’

thats when gd neighbours become gd friends, the wonderfully titled EP of demos from Joely Smith (usually found playing with London-based indie/pop-punk band adults) seems to have arrived almost by accident. For Smith, the process of recording these demos allowed her to let go of a group of songs which she didn’t feel necessarily fit with the sound of her band and declare them “finished”. For us listeners, Smith’s need to record is a gift – this EP is beautiful.

This might not be a universal experience, but there’s something deeply nostalgic about listening to demos – at least there is for anyone who spent their teenage years trawling through social media/pre-social media fan boards/whatever came before that (tapes passed round the playground?! Delete according to generation) for any sign of ‘lost’ recordings from their favourite bands; scratchy demos of songs which existed in far more polished and famous versions elsewhere. The act of listening to something half-formed, a glimpse into the process of writing your favourite songs, has a magical quality all of its own. That’s not to say that any of the songs in this EP sound unfinished or half-formed – quite the opposite is true – but that the aural aesthetic of demos carries an inherent warmth and charm. When that aesthetic is married to the down-played charisma of song-writing like Smith’s, the end results are rather magnetic.

Though the music here differs distinctly from adults, the same sense of humour and warmth runs through both projects. The EP opens with ‘Womankind’, a lofi hug of a tune. A fuzzy guitar and voice are joined, after the introduction, by bass, drums and a second guitar line (all played by Smith) and the whole thing comes together in a manner reminiscent of Graham Coxon’s solo work – a punk sound distilled through a warm and unassuming persona; the edges taken off, aggression stripped out, but the heart remaining very much in place.

Smith has explained the EP as consisting of songs which “didn’t fit within the adults sound“, and the evidence of that is in the eclecticism on show here. ‘Notice’ is filled out with a lengthy synth-led instrumental passage in the middle (which is not nearly as ‘prog’ as that description makes it sound), and there’s shades of ‘80s alternative bands like Beat Happening to songs like ‘Pale’ and ‘Light’. There’s something distinctly ‘90s about the EP as a whole, though – the guitar fuzz and mellow vocal delivery recall Pavement, the song ‘Light’ earns comparison to some of Pixies’ more melodic and less frantic work (‘Hear Comes Your Mind’ comes to … err … mind), and the melodic sensibility of Brit-pop bands like Elastica and Blur (the latter in their less pop moments) is present throughout. 

Smith has declared no intention whatsoever to perform these songs live, and no ambition to work further on solo material once she’s able to resume playing regularly with adults. So, we’ll have to be grateful for what we’ve got: a six track EP which manages to be both ambitious and lo-fi, varied but cohesive in sound, funny and sad (sometimes simultaneously). 

Listen to that’s when gd neighbours become gd friends on bandcamp now:

Gregory Metcalfe

EP: King Hannah – ‘Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine’

More than three years ago, I saw King Hannah for the first time. Way down on the bill, in a support slot at what, I later found out, was only their third ever gig. Mesmerised, I wrote a live review that termed them “real music for grown-ups”. Fast forward to just a couple of months ago, and they’d signed to the Berlin indie stalwart, City Slang (home of Anna Von Hauswolff, Arcade Fire, Lambchop, and more). That same day, they dropped their first video for the re-issued ‘Crème Brûlée’ and now comes their debut physical release, a six-track EP with a natty special coloured vinyl edition that comes in cream. Along with another video for second single ‘Meal Deal’, the EP’s release finds the band, whose music centres around lead singer Hannah Merrick and guitarist Craig Whittle, in form that’s as stunning as their live set from the days of Summer 2017.

Longer than some albums, calling Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine an EP is a reflection of King Hannah’s capacity for understatement, with its two singles both more than six minutes, and understandably dominating the record. ‘Crème Brûlée’ is still the standout, for me, despite the band’s insistence that the song really is simply about how much Hannah likes the titular dessert.  It seems likely to have been the song that most prompted the band’s comparisons to Mazzy Star, but there’s also a wry, detached sense of longing in the vocals’ laconic Nico-drawl. Much like the dessert itself, the song’s exterior shell is a thin covering over something far deeper – in this case, Hannah’s lyrics sit on top amongst its opening, but once they drop a little over halfway in, the layers of instrumentation spill out, led by a crooning, carousing, alt.country guitar line courtesy of Craig.  

Either side of ‘Creme Brûlée’ are two tracks that demonstrate opposing sides of King Hannah’s take on the genre. The upbeat ‘Bill Tench’ finds Hannah musing on a possible future life in Paris, but veers more towards mature US alt.rock. There’s a sense of road journeys, with the feel of a car passing distant landscapes, in the taut lines of lead guitar, the acoustic giving pace, and the bass sketching out melodic rhythms. Perhaps the neatest trick of all is the way in which Hannah’s lingering, longing vocals make words rhyme, even when they have no business doing so. 

Penultimate track, ‘The Sea Has Stretch Marks’, is a much sadder, slower number, with more lilting guitars and a semi-spoken section from which the EP takes its title. That being said, there’s a picture painted here too, with the song’s flow of guitars into and out of  electronic reverb mimicking the waves of the sea in its title.

‘Meal Deal’, at some seven and a half minutes, is the more epic of the two singles, combining observational story-telling in its Courtney Barnett-esque lyrics with a sound that’s more reminiscent of The Handsome Family. Underpinned by low-slung bass, and led by twangy acoustic and electric guitar, it’s a song in three parts – which may give some explanation to the ‘sandwich, snack and a drink’ combo referenced by its title. Starting as a light-hearted tale of moving houses and spiders in the bath that need a feed, its meandering style comes to a more dramatic mid-point, at which Hannah’s vocals become doubled and echoey. “I can’t keep a secret”, she intones, as the guitar sounds grow more ominous, before an instrumental two minutes rounds out the track.  

The remaining songs showcase the band’s ability to create atmosphere – opener ‘And Then Out of Nowhere It Rained’ commences the EP, with its sounds of rain and gently strummed guitar that build to something more broodingly oppressive, whilst Hannah’s voice rolls around the track. Closer ‘Reprise (Moving Day)’ embodies the post-rock tendencies that King Hannah flirt with throughout the EP, with a swirl of garbled recorded voice, thudding percussion and a deep bassy electronic sound, followed by a largely instrumental opening two minutes.  It shifts style after that to a single strummed guitar and Hannah repeating the lines “Moving Day will come a little closer / I got some moving for you” before a feedback whine closes things out.  

There was always something real about King Hannah. In the video for ‘Meal Deal’, Merrick stares at herself in the mirror, backstage at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, looking every inch the alt.rock star in the making, like the hybrid offspring of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. And, with a lead guitarist as gifted as Craig Whittle, steeped in the kind of musicianship that comes from growing up listening to Jackson Browne and Neil Young, she has the perfect foil. Already capable of producing the kind of songs that it takes most acts years to craft, King Hannah might just be about to tell the world what’s on their mind.

Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine is out now via City Slang Records. And make sure you catch King Hannah taking over our Instagram this Wednesday, 25th November from 6pm!

John McGovern

Photo Credit: Lucy Mclachlan