albums - sep 2011
It's not often you get to use the words 'Brazilian', 'British' and 'collaboration' in the same sentence, is it? The Bottletop Band’s Dream Service creates a very nice fusion indeed, a collection of songs assembled by Brazilian Mario Caldato Junior (who had a hand in a lot of the Beastie Boys recordings), and recorded by a collection of Brazilian and British musicians over the last 2 years in 3 cities: Rio, LA and London. They’ve trapped some of those sunny Brazilian rhythms in the music, rock’n’roll and beats infused with ‘Tropicalia’ puts a real spring in your step! The only thing it possibly lacks is a fairer sprinkling of female chanteuse, VV Brown features on wonderfully Brazil-funky opener 'Voices' and Eliza Doolittle sings on 'One In A Million', the album's first featured track, and sounds scintillating. Then the men run away with all the other tunes, although to be fair Dream Service doesn't fire any duds.
Bottletop is actually a UK charity which has supported many educational projects around the world and helped young people to take more control of their lives. The Bottletop Band was put together by artists who wanted to raise funds for the organization and make people more aware of its work. So it's heartening to know people contributed so freely, and a pleasant surprise to hear a charity record which isn't a pile of tosh! For me, the highlight would be a song like 'Fall Of Rome' featuring Babyshambles' Drew McConnell, a slice of high-octane power pop, set to an infectious drum roll beat and twangy surf guitar. Charlatans’ Tim Burgess and Super Furry Animals Gruff Rhys also play their parts (‘Be Together’ and spacey title track, respectively), and the dance songs towards the end with Fink (‘You’ll Get Nothing’) and Shogun (‘A Message’) keep the music ticking over before the sun sets!
This year sees Damon And Naomi celebrate their 25th year together as musicians; marking the occasion is their first new album in four years, which follows hot on the heels of recent Galaxie 500 re-releases, a DVD collection and last year’s UK tour.
Michio Kuriharas’ guitar playing opens the first track ‘Walking Backwards’, adding a psychedelic tinge to the folk leanings on display, and the results are impressive. As on previous releases, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang share vocal duties, their voices beautifully complimenting one another. A gorgeous dosage of piano seems to have been prescribed for this release alongside a measure of alluring violin; both help to produce a record that is very easy on the ears but never dull or bland.
In these days of bloated and therefore often compromised albums, it is always refreshing to hear an album that has been raised with love and restraint, happy to live in its nine- tracks -long skin. Time to draw the curtains, light an incense stick and curl up on the sofa to be eased by this enthralling album.
Almost everyone has by now heard 'Pumped Up Kicks', a song to all
intents and purposes designed for a footwear advert. This isn't neccesarily
a bad thing. I like 'Pumped Up Kicks', it's exactly the insistent,
tunefully effusive and musically credible track which is one minute
on your personal player and the next is wafting out of the speakers
of the chain pub you nipped into for a Friday pint, acoustic air conditioning
for a demandingly hot summers afternoon. Then it turns up in a Reeboks
ad and then again as a backing track for a C4 sports programme (canoeing,
ice hockey, Aussie rules football or similar). MGMT can do it, can
Foster The People?
I haven't heard an album like this for a while, and this isn't because
bands don't write blues influenced songs replete with melodic guitar
riffs, groovy prog rock keyboards and headbanging percussion anymore.
Of course they do, it's just that albums like 'Feet Fall Heavy' don't
often find their way to my inbox, at least I think that's the reason.
Drawing upon influence from the 60s blues boom, 70s metal, adding
sequences of spoken word sampling and crunching it all up into a near
mesmeric wall of blisteringly powerdriven 21st century rock n roll,
Kill It Kid's first album is already getting the major league thumbs
up from the music establishment, although exactly why is something
one or two people might find mildly baffling. Kill It Kid aren't playing
by the usual rules, and one reason their second album is making such
an impression is that their mixture of trad blues and electronic influenced
rhythms has the stamp of actual originality about it.
Scott McCloud’s musical C.V. grows ever more impressive with this latest release from his current musical vehicle, Paramount Styles. Demonstrating his diversity, ‘Heaven’s Alright’ is a complete departure from the noise rock of Girls Against Boys and instead features a ‘classic’ sound more akin to the music of Lou Reed, David Bowie and alternative bands of the 1990s such as Bob Mould’s Sugar and Deus.
Album opener ‘Take Care Of Me’ with its “…was it a nightmare where you came from?...” lyric opens proceedings ominously, clearly displaying the album’s and author’s intent. ‘Amsterdam Again’ opens with McCloud’s strummed acoustic guitar before being beautifully dosed with a diet of ear-catching harmonies. Stand out track ‘Give Us Some Time’ is McCloud at his finest, a three-minute slice of perfect radio pop with an instantly infectious melody, reminiscent of Husker Du’s best moments; it consequently sets such a high standard that the remainder of the album struggles to live up to it. However there are still very good tracks to be found, a number of them proving in time to be real growers requiring continued listening. Never afraid to experiment, the opening of ‘The Greatest’ features a symphonized backing, New Order in style, and soon spawns another well-crafted song. Featuring McCloud’s at times half-spoken, and later half-growled vocals, the initial lo-fi ramblings of ‘Come To Where You Are’ are particularly arresting before the song descends into a frenzied, impassioned and chaotic finale; a perfect album closer.
I just about got it when the The Strokes arrived in a blaze of NME-emblazoned glory back in 2001. Their debut Is This It? certainly shifted the tectonic plates of music back towards more guitar-driven bands, even their hardest critic would be forced to admit they had some energy and style, they were young and posh, after all! And if burnout was inevitable, a lot of good still seems have come out of The Strokes camp recently. When Albert Hammond Jr heard Dead Trees debut ep Fort Music in 2007, he was so impressed he invited them to tour with him. Spending time in Portland, Oregon, they bumped into … guess who? More Strokes, as they helped Fabrizio Moretti and his side project Little Joy take their music out on the road. What with Julian Casablancas’ half-decent solo album Phrazes For The Young and Hammond’s due diligence, the whole hiatus thing has spawned a lot of musical activity, and The Strokes latest album Angles won them back many plaudits with all its surprising twists and turns. It ain’t over, as they say, ‘till it’s over …
Dead Trees and The Strokes are clearly fellow musical travelers, and indeed Moretti and other members of Little Joy appear on their latest album Whatwave, actually their second full-length release. Although originally from Boston, they are now based in Los Angeles, which shows in the music, infused with nice summery guitar redolent of West Coast bands like The Byrds and Crosby, Still and Nash … in short, it’s beautiful! But there’s also a sort of New York punchiness about the sound, with the sort of angular chord sequences that characterized a lot of the work of artists like The Velvet Underground, Richard Hell/Robert Quine and, most notably, Tom Verlaine, particularly on his early solo material. For example, a song like ‘Older’ tucked away towards the end of the album sounds so familiar you can almost reach out and touch it, no doubt referenced from something like the 1969-era Velvets with that groaned backing vocal and lovely wash of dreamlike guitar. It's easy to forget after all the crazy psychedelia and art rock experimentalism which avantgardist John Cale brought to the first 2 seminal albums, that for the rest of their short career Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground settled back with guitarist Doug Yule to craft some of the finest melodic guitar-based songs of the era. A lot of the material on their 1969 eponymous album and 1970’s Loaded has now entered the song-writing vernacular and is surely, whatever side of the Cale-watershed you take, a mark of freshness and excitement in music. So that’s quite a lot of influences to ‘bottle’ on one album, a credit to Noah Georgeson’s production duties, a similar spirit to his work on Devendra Banhart’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon released in 2007.
The album kicks off with 'Slow Faze' and it’s that late-in-the-day lazy summer feeling, sun setting over the mountain, lengthening shadows, basking in the warmth with a few beers, but then Reed’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ flashes to mind with all that melancholy … but before we can get too maudlin ‘Slow Faze Fast’ splashes us with cold water, with Strokes-like battering ram drum (courtesy of Moretti, no doubt), some neat guitar work and a singer’s drawl, it doesn’t sound a million miles away from … The Strokes! The lovely blast of summer energy is a clever little trick which gives Whatwave a nice musical focus at the beginning. 'My Time Has Just Begun' is beautiful bubblegum pop with a killer chorus. ‘World Gone Global' has the inevitable ring of Edwyn Collins/Orange Juice about it. 'Rayna' again almost sounds too familiar, like 'The Blue Robe' on Tom Verlaine's Dreamtime, and has that odd Beatles Abbey Road Harrison key-change on the medley of songs. So quite a few ‘ghosts’ show up, and I can’t decide if it’s a highlight because or in spite of … anyway certainly worth checking out Verlaine’s album again. And could 'Comfortable Kids' be a back-handed compliment to the posh boys that helped them so much?
“Who are all these comfortable kids?
Who are all these idiot friends?
It’s an odd standout moment because there’s the tears of suffering people usually reserve for Reed’s stories on Velvets 'Jesus' or ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, as those characters desperately try to find redemption but only ending up with the paranoia of 'Sunday Morning'. Perhaps this kind of melancholy can be rehabilitated into summery joy in all the madness? ‘Arrows’ has that driving West Coast wooziness and ‘Play Your Hand’ is still quite bubbly, but the day is drawing to an end on ‘Punch For Punch’. ‘Mexican Politics’ is definitely one for the road before we settle with garage band style ‘Mid Faze’.
Nobody’s re-inventing the wheel on Dead Trees’ Whatwave, and there are moments which sound eerily familiar, like the band are on some kind of time-travel circa 1967-1970. But it was the freshness and inventiveness of this time which turned many of us onto the sound in the first place, and now it’s part of the musical landscape both sides of The Pond, people are going to enjoy it as long as the quality is as good as it this. And some of us, by the way, aren’t getting any younger:
“See it all unfold before your very eyes
Formed in 2009 when main composer Gianluca Cucchiara began collaborating with singer Mirko Petrini and guitarist Fabio Staffieri, Sunday Recovery were later expanded to a quartet. ‘Coma’ is the debut album from this Italian band. Opening track ‘Private Joke’ comes snarling out of the traps, quickly settling into its stride with aggressively spoken vocals and gnashing guitars. Easy comparisons can be made with Bush although throughout its chorus the track also strongly reminds of Muse’s ‘Muscle Museum’. During ‘I Know Better’ the listener is witness to Petrini’s Layne Staley (Alice In Chains) impression and although his attempts are encouraging he is let down by some very weak lyrics. Unfortunately the album seems to play its strongest cards early and it isn’t long before songs begin to sound increasingly similar with very little to distinguish a number of them. Strangely upon investigation it appears Gianluca Cucchiara is not listed as a band member but instead as a producer and arranger and that the majority of the lyrics are not credited to band members. Technically some of the instrumentation is very strong, particularly when Fabio Staffieri is able to pull out his menacing guitar riffs and solos, but ultimately this is an extremely forgettable album. 4/10
From Scotland, releasing their music on a Belgian label, a quick
glance over Stonethrow's biog reveals that they're a near textbook
example of a band which has already made a significant impression
on the mainstream world of TV soundtracking (C4 Sports, one or two
lucrative advertising contracts) and notched up 7 figure Myspace plays,
without very many of the hipster community even aware of their existence.
It's quite possible to argue that a band already this succesful don't
actually need the added media attention of in depth interviews and
personable appearances on weekend magazine shows, and Stonesthrow
themselves aren't exactly inviting the music and other presses round
for a beer and some in-depth structural analyses of the visual and
literary influences which inspire the ten tracks on 'Judas Or Rebel'.
Not that kind of a band.
Jack Beauregard is Pär Lammers and Daniel Schaub from Berlin and they share their name with a character played by Henry Fonda in the film ‘My Name Is Nobody’. ‘The Magazines You Read’ is their sophomore album and is “…an album about fighting to define your own opinions about yourself and the world, despite all its questions and answers…”
Featuring crystal-clear vocals that often remind of Phil Collins and strangely Jack Johnson, each track is accompanied by synthesised backing, giving the release a very 1980’s feel. Unashamedly pop throughout, songs such as ‘Hollywood’ are often upbeat but extremely reliant on a very repetitive chorus. Other tracks, particularly ‘What You See In Me’, are reflective and subdued, contrasting well with the lights-in-air atmosphere created by closing track ‘Gold Mine’. Alongside previous comparisons there is also a strong likeness to Coldplay, albeit in a heavily diluted form.
Having played, and also written, as part of Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band, as well as having toured with Broken Bells, Nik Freitas returns with another solo album. Now incorporating electronic instruments into his music, ‘Saturday Night Underwater’ is consequently a departure from his previous recordings.
Many influences can be spotted throughout the album and certain inspiration appears to have been taken from the late Elliott Smith alongside the aforementioned Bright Eyes. The album is opened by its title track, a beautifully melodic and anthemic song fit to grace a number of classic albums. There are also nods to TV On The Radio during the second track ‘The Light’; an excellent example of how to combine acoustic guitars with a subtle electronic backing. As a whole, ‘Saturday Night Underwater’ is drowning in gorgeous melodies and interesting arrangements. The production itself pushes the vocal to the forefront of the mix, showcasing Nik Freitas’ heart-warming voice and lyrically interesting songs.
This is an immensely enjoyable album which deserves to be blasting from the national radio stations. Having escaped the spotlight of our music media for a number of years this release should hopefully change this criminal anonymity. 8/10
Phaeleh a “… multi-instrumentalist and beat conductor…” from Bristol returns with the follow up to his debut album ‘Fallen Light’.
Opener ‘The Cold In You’ reminds instantly of the ‘classic’ Bristol sound of Massive Attack and Portishead with its sultry beats and haunting female vocal provided courtesy of Soundmouse. However Phaeleh appears intent on not recording any kind of tribute or one styled album and following track ‘Caustic Storm’ increases the pace considerably with its dub step leanings. ‘Perilous’, featuring the vocals of I-mitri, is reggae infused and contains a heavy skanking backing track and despite initially feeling out of place again clearly displays Phaeleh’s ambition and creativeness. ‘In The Twilight’ combines a spliced soulful vocal sample, guitar licks, refined strings and shimmering beats to produce a perfect summer soundtrack. Closing track ‘Should Be True’ hints at the Balearic sounds of the 1990’s and again uses a sampled vocal to create an entrancing conclusion.
Despite totalling only seven tracks, each track clocks in at over five minutes. This is an ambitious release covering a number of very different genres but one that ultimately succeeds in mastering them all leading to an obvious comparison with the incredible ‘Leftism’ by Leftfield. ‘The Cold In You’ deserves to feature on the same blogs and pages that are currently raving about SBTRKT. 8/10
The Left are no strangers to rock'n'roll, of course, although it's not always a very harmonious relationship. Who could forget the infamous Red Wedge Tour of 1987, with the likes of Billy Bragg and Paul Weller and Labour's dismal election campaign? And just when we thought things could only get better, the Blair government started wooing Britpop bands Oasis and Blur with so-called 'Cool Britannia' ... yuk!!! In the 80s, The Redskins did restore some political cred. to the music, with some good tunes served up with hard-hitting revolutionary lyrics, but then it all ended in tears in the usual way, touting betrayal! Chumbawamba's anarchist politics looked interesting for a while but then got buried beneath a one-hit-wonder and some red paint thrown over John Prescott. Punk legends The Clash, surely the ultimate poster boys of the left, had their politics skewed by CBS and drug-induced madness. So rather curious bedfellows, radical politics and popular music, luckily nobody's got into bed with David Cameron yet, so be grateful for small mercies. Not ones to put this cart before the horse, Thee Faction's message on Up the Workers! is 'nostalgia' left, but they've thrown in some rousing goodtime rock'n'roll with blues and R&B, in fact it sounds like hardly a day passed since 1975 and Dr Feelgood's Down By The Jetty.
Living legends of left-wing agitation, the band fight their politics the only way they know how, through tireless activism and campaigning. If the name isn't overly familiar to you, it may be because they allegedly chose the path of ideological purity and underground politics in the 80s during the heyday of Thatcherism and the Miners Strike. Actually, very few people can remember those early days, although I believe their gigs have even been compared to The Sex Pistols at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, you had to be there, Brother! But when the walls of British socialism came tumbling down in the 80s, the boys from Reigate, those ‘saviours of the left’, suddenly disappeared off the political radar. Rumors abound: many cited personal and ideological splits within the band, one member is said to have splintered and joined the SDP, but the truth was far more complicated, a tireless quest to rediscover their true socialist roots in what was left of the Iron Curtain, followed by adventures on Yugoslav legendary pirate radio station B92 before civil war broke ... the stories flow thick and fast from the beer glasses of socialist stalwarts and founding members of the band, guitarist and chief agitator Babyface and 'Marx, My Main Man' singer Billy Brentford … but anyway enough of me, read the story in their own words: http://theefaction.wordpress.com/
The point is that in Thee Faction’s world of socialism, the revolution starts at closing time comrades … probably!?! It's that sort of message that will suit the punters who of an evening don't mind a bit of revolutionary politics mixed with their music, especially if its infused with the blues. Face it, in Cameron's 'Big Society' Britain there's plenty to get the blues about, so let's kick up the jams with some music from the top drawer of British rock. On Up The Workers! you can hear influences like The Who, Small Faces, Dr Feelgood and Graham Parker. But did they jettison the hard-hitting political message? Well, let's find out:
“Every day I’m gonna be protesting
Album opener '366' with message fully intact, Brentford's vocal has
something of the Roger Daltreys about it; in fact, if you don't mind
your politics served up comic-book style Thee Faction may be for you.
Most reviews I've read so far criticize them for their politics, but
personally, I'm happy to draw a line under that, try to suppress a
wry smile and just enjoy the music.
'Deft Left' is a stylish piece of blues in which the left (rather than the devil!) has all the best tunes, I'm sure the lyrics are ever-so-slightly-tongue-in-cheek, and the song plays out with some nice guitar Angus Young-AC-DC-like theatrics courtesy of lead guitarist Nylon. 'Ready?' is the familiar clarion call of the left to replace the capitalist 'casino' with socialism, but how seriously should we take a song that refrains with the words “The beauty of Marx was that he was talking in 1850 … but I'm talking swiftly!” And even I draw the line at 'Marx, My Main Man', with its Showaddwaddy doo-wop ending:
“Marx my main man, it's a mighty manifesto
'Customer' is a bit more hard-hitting and tempo-raising. 'Do Your Bit' is also no slouch with some more fired-up rock'n'roll and lets Brentford open up full throttle and belt out the ending with full-on heavy metal guitar again. Maybe we can forgive them 'Angry' even if it does sound a bit like ZZ Top, but Jimi Hendrix always did say Billy Gibbons was one of the greatest political agitators … erm, sorry, I mean guitarists.
Kassandra Krossing, keyboards and backing singer with the band, takes the lead on 'Only', and warns the faithful wittily that all the political games we play, political correctness gone mad and 'right on' attitudes won't amount to a can of beans because “Only Marxism and Leninism can set us free”. 'Conservative Friend' is charmingly British, but by the final gasps of 'Capitalism Is Good For Corporations' the message is beginning to sound a bit Spinal Tap! Perhaps I'm getting the wrong end of the stick here, Britain may be preparing for the next great leap forward and I'm just out of step with the masses … anyway, it's 15 minutes before last orders so let's get another round in!
Pastiche and comicstrip it may be, Gorillaz now surely have a rival on the left, but make no mistake about it, the music of Thee Faction is begging to be taken seriously. Rest assured, left-wing politics and music will never get it right, but this band prove it doesn't have to sound like the Gang Of Four. Dr Feelgood were the kind of British pub rock that we do best, and if they weren't actually into left-wing politics, well they darned well should have been, that's all I can say … on Up The Workers!, the ghost of Lee Brilleaux and Karl Marx lives!
Tunnels is Nicholas Bindemann, whose own music collection contains
some of the very best 70s and 80s electronica. We know this because
first track 'Crystal Arm' really sounds a lot like a very interesting
evening in Sheffield in 1978, an until today unreleased recording
of a forgotten and until now unheard collaboration between the Human
League and Cabaret Voltaire, playing Kraftwerk albums backwards and
intoning Bowie song titles over the ensuing hissing and thudding.
This really is what the track sounds like, to the point where had
the album introduced itself as exactly that, recently remixed by Martyn
Ware, I would have probably swallowed the entire story without question,
scales and bones and all.
No, not Jim Carroll. Are they related? Jim Carroll was a 70s Warhol acolyte who released a really tremendous album entitled 'Catholic Boy' in 1980, and no-one who heard the single from it, the vitriolic and desperate 'People Who Died', ever quite forgot it, including me. Jim Carroll also wrote a book called The Basketball Diaries which was made into a film starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Interesting guy, look him up. Also look up Marc Carroll. I first heard his music in 2003 when a copy of his 'Ten Of Swords' mini-album album reached me and I then thought his songs contained the depth and resonance that memorable singer songwriting requires, and I was sort of pleasantly surprised to hear that he's kept making music. His PR speaks of one or two business difficulties in the eight years since I first heard his music, and perhaps that's the only reason I and others haven't heard more of him.
So while I'm wondering if 'In Silence' is a compilation or an entirely
new release, it's maybe best to just let the songs tell Marc Carrolls
own stories for him, and he's an undeniably talented and accomplished
songwriter whose style fuses traditional folk and garage punk elements
not entirely together, there being more than one string to Carrolls
particular bow. The phasing psyche pop of 'Love Over Gold', the more
obviously folksy 'Against My Will' and the atmospheric keyboards of
'A Way Back Out Of Here' show that his own style of performance has
developed significantly since I first heard his work, and that these
songs do deserve the wider audience that circumstances have so far
denied Marc Carroll. He might even have made a better album than his
namesake Jim ever did.
Farewell Poetry are “… a collective of Parisian musicians and an Anglo-Saxon poet and film maker…” and ‘Hoping For The Invisible To Ignite’ is released on Gizeh records, coupled with a DVD containing a live performance alongside a black and white film to partner the opening track.
Haunting and entrancing at times, explosive at others, this album appears determined to take even the most hesitant of travellers along for its eventful journey. Opening track, ‘As True As Troilus’, features a female spoken vocal that leaves a mesmerising effect lingering long after the track has finished. Initially accompanied by an edgy drone-like backing, half way through the twenty minute epic a volatile storm of orchestration appears to break loose from its moorings endeavouring to destroy all in its path. Seemingly calmed, the storm appears to subside leaving ‘All In The Full, Indomitable Light Of HOPE’ (parts 1 & 2) to depict the ravaged beauty left behind. Patiently the orchestration begins to signal the possible return of the destruction before being exposed as a false alarm leaving the simplicity and splendour of ‘In Dreams Airlifted Out’ to close proceedings subtly.
Even if you don’t get the cunning play on words of the title (and let’s face it, only anyone who has grown up in the East Midlands and knows that the minor hillocks there are called The Wolds coupled with the knowledge that the band are from Lincoln have got a chance of knowing what’s going on) there’s so much more to enjoy here.
Despite it’s rather DIY presentation and partially lo-fi production, there is a wealth of complexity at work here in no small part due to the masses who make up the Dead Baby Parade. There’s brass, woodwind, strings, all sorts thrown into the mix of what sounds like an extremely well stage-managed jam session. From the very opening of ‘Midnight Spies’ slide guitar and sax (?) combo, it’s clear that The DBP produce some classic sounds with contemporary twist of the knackers that makes you sit up and take note. All of this going on and then there is the fantastically rich vocals which take in the likes of Jim Morrison and which is best displayed in the minimal ‘The Past We Saw’ a beautiful outro track of just voice and guitar performed with masses of reverb which makes it sound like a hymn – stunning.
There are repeating themes of the blues, such as in ‘Itch Neon Gimp’ (which should be equally lauded for its name as its music) and ‘Firelighters’ before final track ‘Flower’ combines this bluesey vibe with a sprawling Second Coming-esque Stone Roses sound. It’s all a bit trippy, best listened to after a pint of red wine and in good company and definitely worthy of a bit of credit outside the Wolds. 8/10
Eight years on from their beginnings as Cheltenhams answer to BRMC,
The Duke Spirit may congratulate themselves. They've produced an album
that's as spectacularly noisome, as bone splittingly grandioise, as
downright powergrindingly brilliant as any, and I will say absolutely
any other band of their generation either has or now can make. Really,
that good. Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Strokes, Libertines, Muse, Foo Fighters
... The Duke Spirit are jostling for position at the top of the festival
line ups and, on the strength of the twelve tracks that constitute
'Bruiser', they've as much right to that position as any of their
better known contemporaries.