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Vantastival 2018 - Saturday Review

  • Published in Live


We’ve arrived by the banks of the Boyne in perfect tent pitching weather. The skies are cloudy. There’s a pleasant breeze. But it’s still very warm. Now in its ninth year, Vantastival is the unofficial start of summer festival season in Ireland. The June bank holiday wouldn’t be the same without it. Featuring a fully home-grown line-up and independently run (with sponsorship from some big brands), it’s established itself as the true home of quality independent music in the country.

With the tent up, food is the first priority and it’s great to find Lala Poutine set up here. The Canadian dish is hard to find in Ireland, so it is a genuine treat to dig in to the many variations of chips and curds. King Kong Club contest winners Where’s Luke kick things off on the Firestone stage with some accessible but earnest rock. Amid the rough hewn planks of the Woodland stage, Kilkenny’s The Southern Fold blend bluegrass and southern rock to great effect. The lead singer’s ZZ Top beard matches his gruff bluesy voice. They have a sweet, soothing sound accentuated by the male/female duo on vocals. It’s only when the pair duet on a cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ that I realise I’ve seen them before.

The sun eventually emerges and soaks the Boyne Valley in baking heat so we skedaddle to the shade of the Woodland again. The festival’s recycling drive is being ably assisted by a troupe of children in hi-vis vests walking around with plastic bags and encouraging the grown-ups to finish their beer so they can take the empty cans. MG favourites Nix Moon played a storming set here last night, if the videos on Facebook are anything to go by. They’ll have won a few more fans in the run up to the release of their debut album. The band are still here and looking remarkably fresh as Sun Mashene hit the stage. The five piece play some loud rock with noticeable influences of ‘90s Manchester guitar pop and undertones of shoegaze.

Back in the Firestone tent, Navan’s Chinese Newspaper are immediately the most impressive act of the day so far. A four piece guitar band who have mastered all the tropes of rock 'n' roll, their songs are packed with ideas and creative play. They are by turns light and tuneful, then crushingly heavy. In his shorts and funky shades, the lead singer is the spit of a young Olga from The Toy Dolls. It’s quite fitting too, as both bands have a similar magpie approach to music, even if they don’t sound alike. The drummer may resemble a hipster Trump but he has the chops to get away with it. He switches from funky to double-bass-pedal insanity with the twirl of a stick. Chinese Newspaper’s energetic and original music draws in an enthusiastic and eclectic festival crowd. They sound like the finished product already. If they can transfer that industry and inventiveness to the studio, they’ll do well.

Elephant take to the main stage. There’s a Future Islands vibe from the music. Front man Shane Clarke sings in a falsetto to a guitar he wears “Beatles high”. He and the guitar are engaged in a duet, and the band fill out the sound to main stage proportions. This band, that he refers to as “the next stage in the evolution of the group: Elephant 2.0”, are unobtrusive but essential to the big sound. It’s simultaneously familiar and different: very much in the vein of Future Islands so.

And that’s the end of a very hot summer’s day outside Drogheda. Tomorrow, we have Exiles, Thumper and our old friends, Makings to look forward to. Goodnight!


Elephant - Sky Swimming

  • Published in Albums

Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck make up dreamy beach pop duo Elephant. With one foot firmly outside of the box they formed whist studying back in 2010 and began to make music with a £10 charity shop bought Casio. Now using a guitar, a keyboard and wondrous vocals, Elephant capture the feeling of relaxation and bottle it in musical wonder that is Sky Swimming.

Rivas and Pinchbeck's weary-pop melodies float seamlessly between delicate keys and synthesis. Rivas wispy vocals harmonize and dissolve into high pitch rhymes that capture the feeling of falling down a rabbit hole. The cool tone of ‘Shapeshifter’ drips into a wave of strings that harnesses the sunny glow of fellow band Summer Camp.  

Sky Swimming is an album for romantics. The wistful notes move freely, almost lost with no direction like walking through a wood at midnight. ‘Shipwrecked’ and ‘Torn Tongues’ hum is quite ominous. Smokey backing vocals and weirdly edited chorus in ‘Shipwrecked’ adds a gothic undertone to what seems sugary sweet.  

‘Torn Tongues’ is one of the most memorable songs on the album. The catchy chorus flickers like a flame in the darkness. Pulsating keys flounce around shedding a ray of light onto bizarre lyrics.  Immersive vocals sit predominate throughout the album. The well-crafted instrumentals at times seem forgotten about under the harmonies created.  

‘Exclusive Youth’ is one of the more playful tracks on the album. Rivas’ voice jumps from peculiar lyrics to delicate wails. Allusive synthesis and pitchy keys add a sense of nostalgia to a soulful '60s pop sound. The vocals are almost hypnotic as they dance with the glittering string arrangement in ‘Golden’.

Amelia Rivas’ vocals are tainted with a whitewash of melancholy brittle haziness. Each songs sound is mirrored and reflects another which at times makes it hard to differentiate between the tracks. The delicate vocals and sorrow filled lyrics in track ‘Come To Me’ could shape clouds on a loved-up picnic for two.

Sky Swimming is a great album to begin with for Elephant and does indeed capture the duo's contemplative sound. Lavish vocals melt into washed up piano keys in homage to retro pop. At times it lacks the distinctive pleasure that comes with most favourable debuts. Sky Swimming is a gentle breeze instead of a windy gale, which may cause it to be undeservedly overlooked.

Sky Swimming is available from iTunes here or from amazon via the link in the Media section below.

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