Judas is available at:
9th August, 2017
LIKE yesterday’s review of Party Fears…
there is going to be some constructive criticism - and then some positives. Looking at Circus Wolves and it seems there is a real opportunity for the guys to strike and claim big success. I shall come to that but, for now, a look at artists who need a few tweaks and improvements of their social media. I mentioned this when addressing Party Fears – the Berlin-based band – who, despite their great music, had very little information about them. This is the case with Circus Wolves who, I feel, need a lot more information online. The way I review: I pick artists that have an interesting story and aspects I can write about - whether that is where they are based or the theme of their latest track. Those points give me things to write about and a new aspect to delve into. Circus Wolves have a past and they met at some point; their music is influenced by various artists and their latest track, Judas, has a background. It would be nice to see this information revealed online so people like me – and fans discovering their music – had something to work on. The same can be said of photographs as the guys have nice faces: get a camera out and let’s see more photos online. A lot of bands put live shots online because they feel that best represents who they are and what their music is about – feeling awkward regarding posing and having official shots. All the best bands have to have photoshoots and, if done with someone you trust, it can lead to some great results. It is something I am saying more and more to artists: it doesn’t matter if you are brand-new or are releasing your first song: everyone has enough money and resource to get photos taken (no excuses).
In an age where iPhones and technology are rife; we call can, and often do, snap our daily lives. Professional photographers are less prevalent and demanded than before so it is necessary to preserve their great work and employ them. Getting some great images and shoots online makes the social media pages more attractive. It, literally, puts faces to names and means people can connect with a band/artist more easily. There is such a weight of artists emerging who all offer something slightly different. There are going to be acts that have lots of photos and information and, to me, I am a lot more likely to go their way. I hope Circus Wolves take encouragement because they have a lot of positives. There are a few snaps online but they could benefit from putting a couple of dozen genuinely good ones up – taking advantage of their natural surroundings/city and getting a profile photo of all of them for their Facebook. The same goes for biography: put some effort into that so journalists are more likely to come their way and contact them. Anyone who says their music will do all the talking and save the day is severely naïve and arrogant – not that the boys are claiming that. I hear artists that say this and, rather weirdly, I hope they fail so they realise how crucial the visual/written aspect of music is to success. I will move on from this point because, when going forward, I want to address band/artist names and distinction; Manchester and the music of the North; building a local fanbase and how this year’s mainstream music is impacting the underground. I will start with the band’s name, ‘Circus Wolves’, and alongside their music, it is a huge positive.
I am far less interested in those artists with few fans/information/songs because, not to blow my own, there are loads of blogs out there who are happy to review the minnows – I have been doing this nearly six years and have a very visual blog that requires those artists who appreciate that. The boys of Circus Wolves appealed to me with their name because, in the industry today, we are seeing so many artists pick predictable options. I am not sure what a ‘circus wolves’ might be or whether one should have them in that environment but that juxtaposition is attractive. Maybe there is a particular relevance but, unless the band has revealed it in an interview, I am not too sure. Again, like images and information, one might think a name is not that important – you’d be wrong and feel free to punch yourselves in the face on my behalf, son! These aspects are EVERYTHING and if you have few images, little information and a predictable name, people are going to walk straight past you. When I compile my weekly Playlist – a collection of all the best new tracks released in the week – I do come across new artists that I have to put through Google. This week, I encountered three acts who had the exact same name as others! Others had ridiculous names – all in capitals or all in lower-case – and you get depressed at the lack of thought and intelligence. I like Circus Wolves because the is something that stands in the mind. It is always hard naming a band and ensuring you do not go for the obvious. Luckily, the guys do play a combination of circus music with aimless, snarling Rock sounds. They have a more sophisticated sound but I am hooked to the name and where it might have come from. Alongside images and information; I find a lot of depth and interest in a name. There is always a reason for calling yourself something or other and it is a tag a band/artist carries with them everywhere. In terms of definition; there is a definite sense of intensity and physicality with Circus Wolves – a playfulness and melody that balances out the harder moments. I shall leave this point now as I wanted to move on to Manchester and the music coming from there.
This year; the city has faced more challenges and hardship than any other time in living memory. Its football teams might occupy two of the top-three places – Manchester United at the top of the summit – and the people are going about their merry way but, a few months back, Manchester was subject to an awful act of terrorism that claimed multiple lives and immeasurably injured many others. I bring this up because there is a resilience and tenacity to the city that is deeply impressive. That attack, outside an Ariana Grande concert, hit the Manchester Arena and shook the city. It was an awful happening and one that could have broken the people. Instead; they came together and showed an immense amount of love and strength. The determination to continue life as was always the case is one of the reasons so many people, myself included, love Manchester. It is a wonderful place with some of the nicest people around. The music scene reflects a certain resilience and passion one can apply to the people. A lot of attention is paid to the musicians of London but we all know how strong the scene is up in Manchester. Current mainstream artists like Everything Everything show what Manchester is capable of but there is a new wave of artists emerging putting the city firmly back on the map. Cabbage and Lungs are two acts that have gained attention from BBC and look set to make a huge break very soon. Cabbage, especially, are getting a lot of airplay on the BBC and appealing to stations like (BBC Radio) 6 Music and (BBC Radio) 1. Pale Waves and Tom Walker are very different acts but are getting people talking. The former mixes sounds of the 1980s – drawing comparisons to Madonna and Talking Heads – whereas Walker has a commercial polish but, happily, there is enough personality and originality to make you think he could be a standout songwriter in years to come. BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens has already tipped Dantevilles for great things and it seems like that faith is being repaid – the boys have played some big dates this year and look set to break into the mainstream before too long.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
Take a listen to Black Helicopters, False Advertising; Josey Marina, Maddy Storm and Rose & the Diamond Hand as there is a collection of eclectic acts that deserve your time. I shall not go into detail about each and every one of them but, suffice to say, there is ample quality in that collection. Circus Wolves can rank alongside them and show what vibrancy and quality is coming out of Manchester. It is a city that grows and explodes with life, wonder and appeal. This year has been a stellar one for Manchester acts and, I think, they have produced finer music than London. Maybe it is a turning of the waves but Manchester is showing greater consistency and diversity than London right now. I might be missing something but that is the way I view things. Circus Wolves have that perfect base to grow and build from. Not only do Circus Wolves have a host of nimble and exciting artists around them: the live scene is bustling and there are so many great venues they can take advantage of. I am not sure what their touring schedule is like but, remaining in the city, they have a lot of venues that would welcome them. The Deaf Institute is one of the best small-to-mid-level venues in the country and a natural go-to for the finest acts around. I am not sure whether the guys command the same level of demand needed to fill that space but it is somewhere they should definitely consider. It is a fantastic space and has played host to come terrific musicians. They also have The Castle. Located down Oldham Street; it is an old-style pub that has been rejuvenated and refurbished to give it a modern twist. Gorilla, down Whitworth Street West, is a fantastic space for live music and possess great intimacy and warmth. Conversely; Soup Kitchen – down in the Northern Quarter – is a little darker and more ‘characterful’. Night and Day and Gullivers are a couple of smaller venues that would be perfect for Circus Wolves – they have played the latter but seems like a spot they should play a lot more. I am not certain what the band is planning for later this year but it seems they can string together a winter mini-tour of the city. I do not know how long it will take them to fill The Deaf Institute but they could certainly play all the other venues I have mentioned. They are not reserved to Manchester but I know they have a few gigs around the city – supplementing these with spots at, say, Gullivers and Night and Day, might afford them more attention and new fans.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
I will move on to the music very soon but, before going on, I wanted to look at local attention and how the mainstream is impacting music. I know Circus Wolves have been getting a bit of love from BBC Manchester Introducing. They have just spun Circus Wolves’, Judas – which I shall come to soon – and there has been a great reaction from people on social media. It seems like they are being heard and getting under the skin of the local tastemakers. Trafford Sound, a local station, are playing their music and it seems, slowly but surely, the band are building a reputation. It is vital, if you are in a city like Manchester, learning to walk before running. Many might want to shoot out into the world and get themselves out to the masses. You cannot do this without gaining that local support. In order to do this; one has to make their music visible and create sounds that people want to play. The chaps of Circus Wolves are getting these plaudits and it all seems very positive. I imagine, when Judas gets even more exposure; they will be under the radar of stations in London and the bigger options down here. From there, they will get gig demands and be able to jaunt down here and play some of the awesome venues in the capital. I would like to see Circus Wolves play here but, for now, they have a city to conquer. There are, as I have shown, so many great artists in Manchester so it is vital keeping focused and busy. The band are not going to rest anytime soon but, looking at their local peers, it seems many bands have their own site and a lot more information on social media. I hope Circus Wolves go hunting for a label/management because they have the quality and innovation to reap big rewards. I am not certain what they have planned in that respect but getting their music to the ears of the independent labels in the city would be a good start. They could approach P.R. companies and labels in Manchester and see whether they’d consider backing the boys. It is not being pushy or too forward: merely, a way of showing confidence in their music and proving they want to succeed.
The last point I wanted to raise concerns the mainstream and how tastes are changing. Last year, in terms of the best albums, I felt Hip-Hop and R&B were the more favoured genres. Certainly, in terms of the finest of the crop: these were the genres that saw the finest results. This year, whilst there has not been the same explosion in R&B as last year – there are other genres and sounds starting to get attention in the mainstream. Last week; Queens of the Stone Age released Villains – to massive critical acclaim and approval. It is one of the band’s best albums ever and, in a Rock scene that seems to be wilting, they have given it a huge boost. I am confident there will be one or two other big Rock releases very soon – Jack White is working on stuff – and there are some fantastic Indie bands making waves in 2017. Pop still has a huge place but I am pleased to see some Indie/Rock options coming back into fashion. Whilst Rock is still in trouble – some weak releases and few great records to cling onto – there are Pop-Indie, Rock-Indie artists that are intriguing me. The success of certain genres/artists impacts on the underground. They will see what is happening in the mainstream and take encouragement from that. Circus Wolves are a blend of Indie and Rock and, if those genres were in severe trouble, might feel a chance to ascend to the mainstream was not a possibility. It seems their brand of music is in-demand and capturing plenty of minds this year. Judas, Circus Wolves’ current single, is more lo-fi than a lot of sounds coming from the mainstream and is a perfect song to get the live crowds involved and engaged. I predict the Manchester band will continue to grow and evolve their sound and time goes on. The artists that do best in the mainstream are those who change things and grow with every release.
Let’s consider Judas – as it has been getting a lot of great press the last few days. The openings chords and percussion gives the song a spirit and appeal. It is an instant start and a strong opening salvo. The percussive crack signals the guitar come forth and do its work. That is what happens and, within a few seconds, you are in the midst of a busy and appealing song that, without a word being sung, seems to compel imaginative interpretations and visions. It is a crisp and clean sound that has a polish to it – whilst being edgy and muscular enough to please the Rock elite. Mixing Indie and underground Rock embers together is a hard thing to do but that is how Judas starts out. It has a bit of gloss but the passionate and strong opening from the boys provides the testicular conviction to separate it from the alcohol-free alternatives in the mainstream. The likes of Radical have reviewed the single already and raised some interesting points. The band seemed destined to return to nine-to-five jobs and fading back into normal life. Judas is their reaction to a potential black hole and, whilst they do not reinvent the wheel; they do provide a much-needed kick of excitement into a genre that is becoming predictable and stagnant. Local contemporaries such as Cabbage provide a fierier and more political sound: Blossoms a more shiny and mainstream sound (one I am not a fan of). They seem to be fans of U.S. bands and the guitar music of the late-1990s/early-2000s. What one gets is nostalgic blast combined with a flavour of the Manchester streets. One, in the song’s title, hears biblical relevance and the nature of betrayal. Lead singer Guy Davies seems positively louche and lizard-like when backed with twinkling strings and multifarious sonic fabrics. In terms of tonal comparisons; one can see a little bit of Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis in his voice.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
There is a sense of struggle and confusion coming from the frontman. He is not getting his voice heard and maybe, whether it is a relationship issue, he is not getting the attention he deserves. Having done everything possible; there is that sense of anger. It is never fully articulated in an outburst: more a reserved and defeated acceptance. It is nice hearing the balance of coffee-hue vocals – they are dark chocolate and have huskiness to them – and the lighter composition. It is never a slight background: each note and element adds to the central dynamic and drives the song forward. There is a contrast between the nature/pace of the vocals and the composition that means Judas differs from most songs out there. It is, I have said, not a radical reinvention of the Indie music but does show how many different sides there are to the Manchester sound. What one gets from the early moments is a song that accepts love has hit the rocks. The vocal gets more intense and impassioned as the penny drops. Maybe there is a sense things could be salvaged and rebuilt. It seems (the hero) needs to leave the girl and go on his way. Perhaps unwilling to accept things have ended; that pain and loss come out in the vocal performance. The band is not willing to follow in anyone’s footsteps and stamp their identity and D.N.A. right from the off. It is a complete performance that does not put too much focus on the vocal. So many bands are reliant on the lead but there is such a brotherhood and connection within Circus Wolves. They have played together for a while but there was a fear, given the gap between releases, they’d be a bit rusty. That does not seem to be the case here. Producer Bob Cooper brings the best from the band and, with the gigs they have performed over the years, the guys have enough experience and expertise to produce a song that convinced and endures. The hero has borrowed heartstrings and is living to forgive. The song moves through a distinct set of stages.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
The first pieces together the breakdown and coming to terms with what is happening. From there, there is the processing portion. The aggression comes through and an execration – that release is palpable and electric. Now, we see the hero accepting and progressing. It is almost like he is going through the stages of grief – without the overt depression and denial that one usually experiences. The wordplay gives the song freshness and differs from a lot of the cliché-ridden sounds one hears from many acts. One would not expect – looking at promotional shots of the boys – that sort of vocal to come from the frontman. They are all hirsute chaps and have a friendly and loveable demeanour. The intensity and sound that comes from the vocal remind me of the powerhouse American performers of the past. Judas has that old-world evocative nature but is a song that sounds modern and relevant. There is a definite lust after U.S. sounds and stadium-sized ambitions. The girl is not a machine, it is said – that tells our man what he can dream about. The skin is peeling and, maybe rashly, there is that anger and denial that follows acceptance. One would like to see some moving on but, in this moment, there is that recrimination and judgement. The girl has not been pure and honest; still trying to dictate and control the hero – this is causing all manner of emotions and possibilities. It is fascinating seeing how the song evolves and goes through these cycles. Towards the end; the vocals continue to growl and drive with anger. Our hero accepts he has to move on but cannot help be caught in a web. The girl is not the sun above: she is “death from above” and continues to make his life harder than it needs to be. There are few bands that can pack as much into a song as Circus Wolves. They have penned a song that can ably work in an arena or larger venue; create atmosphere in a small space and get the local crowds jumping. It has the appeal to go further and get airplay on various different stations. It is not too niche and reserved for a particular demographic. I can imagine it doing well down here and the BBC radio stations – it has a wide appeal and impossible to dislike. Hopefully, Judas signifies a new phase of creativity from the Manchester band – they have been away from the scene a little bit. Despite the break, they sound as fresh and engaging as they did back in 2015. They have picked up new sounds and inspirations; strengthened their core and seem determined to remain in music for years to come – there is every sign that is a very real possibility.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
One would like to hear a production sound a little less polished as, at times, it does seem a little too slick – maybe, stripping away some of the gloss would afford the song a more natural platform and augment the true emotion of the lyrics/sound. The instrumentation and vocals are superb and they do not require that much attention and machinery. Cooper’s main strength is getting the lads together and producing a song focused and professional. Few would have expected that given a two-year hiatus but that is a credit to him. Judas continues to amaze and scintillate as it goes past the half-way stage. Guitar breaks provide the vocal a chance to rest and demonstrate the strength of the strings. These parables/passages provide more story and give the song a real emotion and physicality – you keep imagining the story and how it is progressing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris 'Badger' Drayton
I shall wrap things up soon but wanted to see what lies ahead for Circus Wolves. They are one of those Manchester bands that feed and vibe from the city. The people, the sounds and smells: all powerful sources of inspiration for a group producing music that differs from anything out there. Earlier on; I laid out a series of artists and venues that seem to define what Manchester is all about this year. I think there are opportunities for the boys to either support or collaborate with a lot of those acts. One cannot deny how busy and dynamic Manchester is so there is a lot of potential for the band. Their Annie Baby E.P. was released a couple of years ago and, since then, they have been playing and releasing the odd single here and there. It is time for them to strike and, whilst most artists release albums/E.P. in spring/summer – so they get those festival call-ups and release music when gigging most – there is a lot of potential releasing material in the winter months. I am desperate to get myself to Manchester because I appreciate what a rocky year its people have had. That notable tragedy is still fresh in the memory but has not dampened the spirit and strength of the population. They are spirited, together and loving as always: this is reflected in the music that is among the best I have heard in many years. What I am seeing, in Manchester acts, is a diversity and consistency many cities lack. I have mentioned London and, has been the case in previous years, they have stolen all the headlines. There are some hungry and wonderful artists coming from Manchester – a chance for the northern city to gain some acclaim and attention.
The Circus Wolves lads will be looking to get as many gigs as they can and are working hard to ensure they are kept in the local mindset. In the past; they have played spots like Dublin Castle and The Deaf Institute – not packing it out but a respectable crowd – and have played on local stations and some great spots already. I am encouraged to see they have already rocked some of the best venues in Manchester so let’s hope they keep the momentum strong. I am not sure whether there will be an E.P, arriving but it seems, given the success and attention Judas is getting; they will want to release something full-length- maybe a three/four-track E.P. would be appropriate? That is down for them but one thing they do need to do is get their social media sorted. The boys have gained a lot of love from Manchester but, to keep their name in the minds of people further afield, people will want to find something a bit more image-focused and informative. I stated how difficult it is finding out the band’s history and what they are all into. There are few professional shots and, given the fact the band has played some fantastic dates in the past; promoters and labels will want to see a selection of great images they can use for their posters/promotion. I shall put this to bed now but, before doing so, it is worth saying how well Circus Wolves are doing and the ground they have made up. This past year has seen them make big strides and perform around Manchester. They have a lot of ambition and energy and it would be great to know where the guys are heading right now. Maybe there are a line of gigs coming up but, looking at their Facebook, I cannot find a set of dates. They seem content and happy in the camp and that all comes out in their music. Judas is their strongest offering to date and a slight change from their older material. The sound is a little more polished and fresh but it does not come across too glossy and mainstream – containing the right amount of swagger and rawness to appeal to their loyal fanbase.
The mainstream Rock/Indie best are doing their hardest but I have seen so many disappointing albums arrive – from artists you expected would do a lot better. It is the underground, unsigned acts that seem to be producing the best music. Maybe they have less to lose and are freer to maneuver (unsigned acts) and I am a very pleased to see so many promising artists get kudos. I am not sure which of them will get to the mainstream – and when that will happen – but the likes of Circus Wolves have the ammunition to do the job very soon. The boys have played some great spots around Manchester but I feel there are a lot of fans around the North that would want to see them visit them. Down here; we have some great venues in London they have yet to play. That demand will come when the band releases an E.P. so, when that happens, I feel they’ll get the attention and gigs they deserve. The homecoming gig at Gullivers was a triumph and it seems like the lads have a lot of buzz and potential. I would like to see that continue and ensure they remain focused and consistent. The fact they have new material will please people – leaving a gap after an E.P. of that size can be a big risk – and see how the remainder of their 2017 pans out. Judas is a strong and engrossing song that hints at new direction and ideas. It is all in their hands now and, in one of the best cities in the world, they have the support behind them – so many places they can play and local stations they could get their music heard on. Judas is a defiant statement from a band who are becoming local heroes. They need to get more material out but I am sure that is a matter of time. When that does happen, I have every confidence they will...
GO very far indeed.
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