MIXTAPES: Way Back When

ain't no planet x comin cuz ain't not space cuz ain't not globe earth.jpgRelationships are hard to keep in your twenties. It’s guaranteed to be a decade of nonstop reflection and re-evaluation of the energy you give and have given to loved ones. UK emo rockers Way Back When are a sentimental troupe of dreamers whose art is a coping mechanism for this dilemma we all face. Despite being based between the two cities of Durham and Bristol, the band’s transatlantic sound borrows heavily from midwest emo crybabies and British math rock, eschewing angular rhythms for driving percussion and delicate, cascading guitars. Drawing comparisons between There Will Be Fireworks and Algernon Cadwallader, the band’s debut record Retrospectacular drips with misty-eyed reflections on companionship and quarter-life crisis lyrics. Lead guitarist and songwriter Kyle Hawkes effortlessly recites labyrinthine, gliding guitar passages while vocalist/lyricist Tom Lowman delivers soaring vocals with a charming English panache, with lyrics that echo the mutual anxieties of suburban towns and chaotic cities. With all this considered after dropping their impressive debut, I invited Hawkes and Lowman to curate a mix of their key influences for Retrospectacular. Stream the record below and then delve into their inspirations.

#1: Bloc Party – Helicopter (2005)

A big influence for the instrumental side of the record?

K: Yeah, originally we were gonna go more twinkly and [this song] just kept creeping in, especially with the punchy guitars.

T: I was with them up until about Intimacy, then I kinda got off at that point. I’ve seen them since they did their last record and it just seems like they’ve gotten off the board in terms of focus and being a proper band. Lyrically, I love the first two albums. Silent Alarm the most because it’s overtly political but hidden in a much more interesting way.

#2: Death Cab For Cutie – Little Wanderer (2014)

T: It was a big area of overlap for us, Death Cab.

K: When we properly started writing, I was listening to We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes a lot. That really heavily influenced us, in fact the one song that didn’t make it on the EP was just a slightly more math rock Death Cab song. I think we’re definitely leading towards the more Kintsugi era, especially with the effects we’re starting to use. Loads of chorus effects.

T: [Kintsugi] is great Death Cab album because it’s half full band and half singer-songwriter songs and does mime that more melancholic side. I don’t know if we really channeled that; Fireworks is probably the closest but with that more earnest midwest emo “feelings on the sleeve” vibe.

#3: American Football – Stay Home (1998)

K: …that was me. I feel like we tried to go for [the song’s repetition] in Fireworks, and Victoria Park has a lot of slow build-up on structure.

T: I think Fireworks definitely has it, that kind of atmosphere and repetition, and the riffs circle round and round in a way that’s not so A-B-A-B.

K: A common criticism of Tom’s: “it’s great but you need to repeat sections.”

T: Yeah, when we write, Kyle writes a riff and then I’m like, “now do that eight times and I’m gonna whine about my feelings.”

#4: The Hotelier – Your Deep Rest (2014)

K: You can definitely hear that in Tastes Like Stars and some of the heavier, bigger stuff. We actually used The Hotelier as a mixing reference in the studio. We wanted to replicate how punchy the guitars are and how the vocals sit in them mix. Originally they were a lot higher in the mix and we were like “no, bring them down.” They’re a focus but not the only focus.

T: I think they went a bit too far in that direction on the second album. There’s a few songs where it’s literally like “where are your vocals”? But there are a couple of our songs like Victoria Park and Tastes Like Stars where we want it to be a little bit harsh in places, not glossed-over or produced into everything, like bits where the guitars will glare out over the top. Again, lyrically Victoria Park [mimics The Hotelier] in that it’s songs about relationships, but not in the boy-girl sense, just camaraderie and breakdown of friendships, plus people’s general health and mental well-being being a little bit on-edge and contested. That’s really what we were getting at with Retrospectacular.

#5: Moderat – Bad Kingdom (2013)

Okay, this one really sticks out.

T: Yeah! So I was thinking about how I approached a couple of the songs lyrically, like Gomorrah and This Year’s Thief, and it’s taking what Bad Kingdom does which is taking a grand concept like empires and globalisation while at the same time feeling really personal and immediate. I aspire to do that, I wouldn’t say I get it right, but I try to pull down these bigger symbols and historical moments to run more personal stuff through them. But no, production-wise it doesn’t sound anything like it!

#6: Reuben – Song For Saturday (2004)

This is actually one of my favourite songs. You don’t share Reuben’s sound but you can definitely hear similarities in the lyrics.

T: Yeah, what I like about Jamie Lenman’s songs is that it rhymes when it needs to, but it’s mostly just his train of thought. His ideas come through in a melodic way, but it isn’t bound melodic structure or everything matching up so neatly. It almost feels like a rant that’s taken on a melodic form, and that whole album’s amazing for that. Letting things soar is something this song does really well; his melody lines always tend to reach up and hang for a bit.

Way Back When are on Facebook, Twitter and Bandcamp.

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S – Puking & Crying (2004)

Mount Eerie – Now, Only (2018)

Rich Brian – Amen (2018)


MIXTAPES: Ripple~Field

Following 2011’s Hypernebula, Ripple~Field’s new record Cyber Pulse Ultra is a conceptual piece inspired by dystopian sci-fi futures of cybernetics, transhumanism, hackers, and made-up swear words. The lyrics read like vivid diary-entries by paranoid fugitives and dreamers atop neon-lit tower blocks. For a record with a clear retro, cyberpunk flavour, the bulk of mastermind Aaron Kelley’s muses are drawn from those associated with technology. He cites videogame composers as a major influence, with games like Deus Ex handling themes of technology and humanity, as well as seminal electronic acts such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, whose optimistic outlook towards technology defined much of the extraordinary sounds that came out of the eighties. For his unique palette of geeky stimuli, I invited Kelley to curate a mixtape of songs that inspired his latest record.

Listen to the full playlist here, or check out the individual tracks below, with commentary from Kelley.

1. “The Synapse” by Alexander Brandon

“The works of Alex & Michiel van den Bos, who did the soundtracks for the first two Deus Ex games (also Unreal/Unreal Tournament, Age of Wonders, and others) were a driving force in getting me to make music from the very beginning.”

2. “Lonely Sunset” by Eve Tokimatsuri

“This song and this whole OVA inspired the vibe and aesthetic for this EP and helped fuel my enthusiasm to finish it.”

3. “Kai-Koh” by Yellow Magic Orchestra

“YMO make me strive to be a better musician and to make music that’s fresh and stand-out from other similar artists. Huge fan and I adore this song.”

4. “I Wish You” by Capsule

“More like … ‘I Wish I Could Make Catchy Dance Music As Well As Yasutaka Nakata, But Damn It, I Try’. His stuff, along with 80’s R&B and dance pop, inspired a chunk of this EP’s sound.”

5. “Ocean Drive” by Miami Nights 1984

“Best outrun electro artist I’ve ever heard next to College. Great melodies and vibes, part of the feel that I tried to reach with CPU.”

6. “Harem” by Matt Uelmen

“Replaying Diablo 2 fairly recently reminded me how much I loved Uelmen’s dark percussive intensity and the sample that he used in this track inspired me to dive into Hindustani Gamak singing styles. That lead to how I approached the last track on the EP.”

7. “Duke’s Travels” by Genesis

“Rutherford and Banks are always on my mind when I’m thinking about interesting, progressive, synth and guitar-heavy music compositions. These guys basically inspired all my instrumental noodling and Collins is one of my favorite pop vocalists.”

8. “My Fuckin’ Valentine” by BUCK-TICK

“BUCK-TICK are one of my favorite bands of all time and their electro period played a big part in the sound on this EP.”

Cyber Pulse Ultra is available now.