albums - january 2013
For all that it was recorded in 1980, the reissue of Martin - one
half of influential late 70s NY electronic duo Suicide - Rev's first
solo album retains its coherence and credibility over three decades.
Now, this shouldn't surprise anyone already familiar with either Suicide's
two albums or any of either Martin Rev or Alan Vega's work since,
but if you're new to this particular darkened corner of CBGBs era
Noo Yawk then you might find yourself questioning whether the album
really is over thirty years old, such is the combination of Rev's
technical prowess and a skillful remastering of the studio tapes that
lets us hear exactly how it must've sounded in the studio then. Martin
Rev was a jazz pianist before he took up doing what he could with
the then available technology, and some cleverly handled effects make
the most of both the one note synths and (important this) the tinny
sounding rhythm boxes that could ruin even the most carefully composed
synth experiments of three decades ago. If Martin Rev was from Berlin,
we'd make documentaries and drop his name amongst some of those Krautrock
pioneers - Can, Neu, Tangerine Dream - without so much as blinking.
He's from New York, and as a consequence has retained some kind of
obscure mystique that has indeed seen his music drift into shadowy
obscurity, which is perhaps a little unjust. 'Martin Rev' is certainly
the most innovative US electronic album of it's time, and anyone with
even a passing interest in electronica will appreciate this reissue.
This, if you're in the mood for some funky Eurojazz inflected singer
songwriting, is an album you will immediately take to your heart and
treasure. The Swiss chanteuse's fourth album, Sophie and her band
press all the right buttons and several others to bring us an artfully
cool and relentlessly enjoyable 12, or 17 depending on which version
of the album you buy, tracks of modernist bop and gracefully performed
balladry, given an added impetus with the soulful musicianship and
Sophie's own sultry vocal, sort of like Sade if she was from Berne
or Adele if she kept goats in the foothills of the Eiger mountains,
except that where those other artistes songs possess a mainstream
gloss, Sophie Hunger's music retains its Speakeasy edge throughout,
even when she's displaying her skills as a pianist and verging into
spoken word terrain. Now a seasoned industry veteran, 'The Danger
Of Light' also has the confidence of experience in Sophie's songwriting
and performing and you will want to hear it repeatedly, along with
checking out her other three albums which are every bit as listenable.
Ah the Olympics. So much apprehension followed by so much pride. Same could be said for Blur’s reunion concert that took place on August 12th as part of the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony… Well okay, maybe without the apprehension; seeing as it was more of a re-reunion concert (see Hyde Park July 2009), we knew Albarn, Coxon, James and Rowntree still had the chops to wow festival sized crowds. As dramatic as the 2009 reunion was, their 2012 performance was arguably more so. There had been new material ‘Under the West Way’ & ‘The Puritan’, as well as rumours Blur had recorded an album’s worth of new material (later confirmed by producer William Orbit the sessions had indeed taken place only to be halted on the instance of an unsatisfied Damon Albarn). Plus there was the occasion of course. Even the biggest sport sceptics (me included) couldn’t help but be swept up in a patriotic wave of enthusiasm the 2012 Games created. Last summer’s Olympics were a very British occasion, and what better way to wrap it up than with a very British band.
Like a nervous sprinter the concert starts with a little wobble, clearly overcome in the moment Damon Albarn lets the excitement get the better of him and practically yells out 90’s Britpop classic ‘Girls & Boys’. Things soon calm down and Blur find their groove with ‘Tracy Jacks’, ‘Beetlebum’, ‘Coffee & TV’ and ‘Out Of Time’…
All the hits are here of course, ‘Country House’, ‘Tender’ and a fabulous, if little up-tempo, guest vocal from Phil Daniels on ‘Parklife’ (well you would wouldn’t you?). Blur know how to work a crowd, and work it they do: “This is ‘London Loves’ and we love Laaaandon”, yells Albarn. Joy oozes from the speakers, they don’t sound like a band in their third decade, there’s verve, there’s energy and there’s passion.
The real treat here though is Graham Coxon, a man with a genuinely unique, emotive and exciting guitar style. Grooving and rhythmically stabbing his way through the earlier material and then flawlessly chugging and thrashing through the post-Britpop years. He plays loose, ferociously and when needed tender, it’s like listening to magic.
ParkLive, like any great live album, captures the moment. The band are having a blast, (there’s genuine joy in Albarn’s voice), you can hear the crowd singing back, lapping up every moment… this feels like a freeze-framed moment in history. I would challenge anyone to listen and not fall a little in love.
Now there's nothing quite like expanding on the basic CD cover format
to enhance the appearance of your album, and if he never gets an award
for anything else Robert Vincent should receive some recognition for
the remarkably designed sleeve of 'Life In Easy Steps', which is basically
a small hardback book with pages of lyrics and photos with a bonus
EP tucked away at the back, easily the most expensively designed album
cover I've seen in years. It's all about the music though, and Vincent's
design department might've given him something to live up to here.
So have Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Travelling Wilburys and Grateful
Dead, all of whose influences are audible throughout the eleven tracks
at various moments. This, make no mistake, is MOR writ large, and
undeniably pleasant as it occasionally is, you can, as a well known
comedian used to observe with catch phrase regularity, see the join.
There's just one slide guitar too many, one recognisably mid 70s turn
of Californian phrase over the acceptable limit, it's just too blatantly
over produced for Robert Vincent's publicists to continue to describe
him as a 'searingly honest Liverpool singer songwriter' on his website,
although late night radio audiences probably won't care very much
about where he's from or exactly how much effort his producers have
put into creating this glossily perfected work of crowd pleasing Americana.
If he'd just stuck to sounding a bit like David Gray no-one would've
turned a hair, but 'Life In Easy Steps' is a very expensive and overdone
first album by any standard, including its sleeve.
‘Tunnel’ is the third album from Leeds based alt/rock outfit Five Mile Island. It’s an accomplished piece of work. They cite Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Television and Joy Division as influences, which would be a fairly accurate description of the melting pot that is ‘Tunnel’.
It’s a rather pleasant album full of well written rock songs, my favourite being album opener ‘Heliland’; which has a dreamy, mid tempo psychedelic feel… it really wouldn’t sound out of place nestled on a Yo La Tengo album.
Following the dreamy optimisim of ‘Heliland’, Five Mile Island wring out all the hope with the gloomy track ‘Avalanche’. Things pick up again with ‘Last Exit’, a song I can imagine listening to while driving along Route 66 at sunset … and from then on we’re pretty much cruising back on the mid tempo beat. The album is stooped in Americana (with the Yo La Tengo/Sonic Youth influences) but keeps a very British feel, (picture a Spaceman3/Mansun Hybrid).
The only time Five Mile Island really fails is on penultimate track ‘Zero Sum’, the opening riff sounds really exciting, but then the band kick in and all promises of rocking out quickly fade. Imagine the beige Scots, Travis trying to “kick out the jams” and that’s the kind of effect you have here.
The album struck a chord with me, I guess because their favourite bands are some of my favourite bands, and they really do their influences justice. Stylistically it’s not as urgent as I’d like; for every few mid tempo tracks Yo La Tengo would record, they’d throw in a rocker (like ‘Sugar Cube’) to shake things up. And here lies my only real criticism of Tunnel, it’s too one dimensional, from the third track onward the band have their formula and they stick to it.
If, like me, you like your alternate rock from the Sonic Youth / Spacemen 3 / Yo La Tengo Stable then you’re not going to be disappointed. Five Mile Island have a great sound and there isn’t a stinker on here, it’s a really solid album. If there was just a bit more variety and a change of gear it’d be a great album.
I really can’t get on board with this album. Post-punks Ulterior (a bit more Gary Numan than Joy Division) present their second LP ‘The Bleach Room’. It’s a really low budget electronic affair with a back bedroom studio feel. In Ulterior’s favour they’ve spent time creating an authentic post punk aesthetic. Their sound is a dark, brooding, electronic one, with synths, distorted rhythmic guitars, relentless drum machine beats, distant futuristic vocals (think vocal fx of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy .NUXX’). It’s been put together well, there’s lots of attention to detail and thought been put to creating their soundscape. Little touches, like adding flange to the drum machine on ‘Body Hammer’ are great, but for me the plaudits end there.
There are a few guitar parts that have potential (like ‘Cool TV’) but they soon give way to the same monotonous vocal. Imagine a bored Bono forcing out an emotionless ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ on take number 548.
Ulterior boast The Bleach Room “stands to be loved or hated”, which to me, sounds like a pretentious way of saying: “if you don’t like it, then you just don’t get it”. I don’t hate this album. But there’s nothing to shock or repel, delight or enamour the listener here; just a collection of ten tracks of electronic instruments played in the same key, in time with each other.
I live near enough to Wales to listen to new music shows on Welsh radio, and I've heard several bands that sound a bit similar to Howl Griff while doing this. I wondered if I might've uncovered a whole new scene of Welsh indie going on - TaffPop? but then decided that overemphasising the nationality of Howl Griff or any other band from west of Chepstow is a bit of a cop out when actually writing about their music. There's definitely a connecting thread to some of the other newer Welsh bands I've heard, whether singing in Welsh or English, and it's an undeniably mid 90s influence that's combined with minimal production and some inventive lyrics: 'Shark Fins In The Sky' is the first very memorable song title of 2013, and with the band describing themselves as Anglo-Welsh-American Psychedelic Rockers you may guess that we're in for some quirkily Barrettesque moments.
What I don't quite get is the album's production, which if you're
going to start bandying words such as 'Psychedelic' around needs a
bit more put into it. I can appreciate that there's much to be said
for for concentrating on the instruments and putting the effects boxes
back in the Dave Fridmann cupboard, and there's probably a conscious
decision at work around the mixing board to keep things a bit minimal
and pared down, but it's only with sixth track 'Meet My Maker' that
'Fragile Diamond' starts to sound more like a full album and less
like the demo sessions that were of sufficient quality to find their
way onto the final product, which is my only real criticism of 'Fragile
Diamond', it contains slightly too much reverb for my ears. You could've
said the same about Kaiser Chiefs though, and as ninth track 'Rose
Of Emily' takes the Rockabilly train perhaps as far as Memphis, Howl
Griff have just about won me over.
The raucous power chords on opener 'Gods Are Bored' herald the return of Antipodean metalheads The Datsuns on their latest album Death Rattle Boogie. Exploding onto the scene with their eponymous debut in 2002, they've pretty much been ploughing the same furrow since, with some intense bad-assed rock and blues drenched in acidy-garage-punk. The odd change of producer (Led Zep's Jean Paul Jones produced their sophomore Outta Sight Outta Mind in 2004) and personnel (drummer Matt Osment was replaced by Ben Cole shortly after 2006's Smoke & Mirrors) have hinted at progression, but this band and their charismatic singer and bassist Dorf De Borst essentially stick to their guns. Strange then that on Death Rattle Boogie, even though there's plenty of fist-shaking at The Man and Sabbath-esque metal brandishing, they still sound a tiny bit unsure of themselves.
Status Quo were never dragged far away from formula rock, and AC/DC built a whole career on sounding like themselves. To some it's an endearing quality: remember Live Aid and how the Quo opened with 'Rocking All Over The World', a perfect statement for the occasion, and we all like to see a schoolboy in shorts headbanging, don't we ... erm, maybe not!! But rock music seems to be all about these iconic statements, emblazened by the likes of Alan Freeman or Tommy Vance all over their Friday Night Rock Show. Not 'Arf Mate!! So an element of nostalgia, for sure, and The Datsuns are part of this long line of retro-tastic bands that give the new generation of kids just what they want (The Darkness, anybody?). Trouble is, bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Queen even, were never truly happy resting on their laurels. Pomping things up or releasing a concept album, The Datsuns are certainly no Pink Floyd or Yes, but on their latest album as well as their hi-energy garage band schtick they're trying something different!
So on songs like 'Gold Halo' (the single), 'Bullseye' and 'Brain Tonic', they tread a conventional path, the single starting off with the organ sound of Ian Paice and the riffing of Richie Blackmore, vintage 'Fireball'/'Machine Head'-era Deep Purple, and the song really builds into something which no doubt Deep Purple would have stretched out to at least 10 minutes! The Datsuns wrap the whole thing up in just over 4, and with lyrics like “Your love is under attack, yeah there's blood on the tracks from your heart it's a fact ...” it does sound rather like Spinal Tap.
The best moments on Death Rattle Boogie are when the band mix things up a bit. 'Axe Thrower' is a throwback to Marc Bolan and T-Rex with their 'Metal Guru' or 'Children Of The Revolution'. 'Skull Full Of Bone' oddly sounds like Beck, no stranger to change himself, faster-paced and with some programmed beats. 'Shadow Looms Large' sounds like cousin to fellow-Antipodeans Tame Impala's recent Sabbath-esque 'Elephant'. With its rampant driving beat and bass, and nice simple no-frills guitar break towards the end, this is rock'n'roll distilled to its primeval 70s glam form. 'Wander The Night' would be my album standout though, entering with a subtle reverb-heavy keyboard intro. like The Zombies classic 'She's Not There', or some or other70s film soundtrack. This track ambles along in such an unassuming way for 4 minutes, even traces of The Doors 'Riders On The Storm', but then suddenly explodes into life with the ubiquitous heavy metal power chords. The pace change smacks you in the face and socks it to the man once again, surely like all great rock music really should. They strayed from the formula for 4 minutes but then came romping back, so everybody's happy!
Elsewhere there's 'Fool's Gold' with a nice bluesy Allman Brothers lick, and 'Goodbye Ghosts' with some great playing by Phil Somervell, a bit like Lowell George of Little Feat, and with its honky-tonk piano, the band show off some classic blues playing again. 'Colour Of The Moon' really showcases Dorf's singing, sounding vaguely like Eric Burdon of the animals. 'Helping Hands' and 'Hole In Your Head' have that flat-out garage-band metal-head feel, fast and furious, referencing psychedelic era again, You Gotta Have Moxie formula again.
At 14 slightly overblown tracks the album sprawls. If they'd handed them over to a producer like Todd Rundgren no doubt would have made a whole double-concept-album out of them. There's a raucous excitement about the way The Datsuns play which will always pack a crowd for a live show, but the services of a studio tactician will ensure the band move forward and don't become a parody of themselves like the big hair bands of the 80s in L.A. in Penelop Spheeris's film 'The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II'.
I’ve got a confession… I’m not a huge Metal fan. There is said it. Ah man alive it feels good.
I don’t know what it is, I mean, I love the aesthetic. I like my drums relentless and pounding, my bass deep (ideally distorted) and I like my guitars filthy… But I also need a little sugar in my salt. I need melody and/or madness. Also I find metal a little too dumb and a little too macho, like it’s got something to prove. You could laugh at Nirvana and they’d take it on the chin, you couldn’t laugh at Guns’n’Roses, you’d piss Axl right off and you’d probably make him cry. Finally –and worst of all, I find it too theatrical.
So imagine my dismay to open up my jiffy bag of CD’s and there staring at me is a pencil crayoned man holding aloft flaming sword, riding a dragon over a mountain top, and the words “MEGACHURCH 2 Judgement Day” staring back at me.
Megachurch I’m happy to report aren’t just your run of the mill metal band. For a start they’ve ditched the 6 stringed gee-tars in favour of a two bass guitar combo, which compliment some fantastic virtuoso drumming. This is a metal album, but in a no frills Motorhead vein. It’s a stripped back recording that really shows off the dynamics of the duelling bass guitars, none so more than the track ‘Battle Hymn of the Republican’.
With no vocalist in their ranks Megachurch instead sample, pitch-shift, cut and paste audio bites from televangelists. The god fearing, angry, right wing rants compliment the rage simmering in the music they’ve been carefully set to. It’s a clever combination and makes for a rewarding experience on repeat visits.
Philippe Petit - Extraordinary Tales Of A Lemon Girl Trilogy Chapter III: Hitch-hiking Thru Bronze Mirrors (Aagoo Records)
This is the third and final chapter in the ‘Extraordinary Tales Of A Lemon Girl Trilogy’ “…depicting a ‹‹fruity›› Lemon girl’s nonsensical journeys to oneiric lands…”
Focusing predominantly on an acoustic sound concocted by a rich palette of instruments ‘Chapter III: Hitch-hiking Thru Bronze Mirrors’ also features all types of weird clanging, clashing, scraping, pinging, ponging, rattling, droning, plucking, chiming, twinkling, plinking and plonking. At times these sounds feel beautifully appropriate and create an almost spell binding atmosphere. At other times they feel like a reception class music lesson where sounds are randomly created instinctively with little or no forethought (which is not necessarily a criticism). Repeated listens have begun to reveal an inner beauty to this release, hidden upon initial listens, and thoughts then soon move to the possible visualisation of this unusual narrative.
Ok, let’s deal with the white elephant in the room. Fuckshovel – it’s a terrible name. It’s the kind of name a giggly 6th form college band would call themselves. Why no one has told them this I don’t know. Maybe they have. They probably don’t care. They should. Fuckshovel is the kind of name a band uses when they don’t take themselves seriously, which is a disservice, because there’s a lot to take seriously from “Fuckshovel”.
One of the hardest things to capture on a record is the essence of a live performance, the spark that the collective bring; either to a stage whipping up audiences, or the buzz they generate for themselves during rehearsals. Each member can play their instrument perfectly in the studio, but it will often just sound like the sum of their parts. It’s a hard task and kudos to these guys because they’ve done it. ‘This Is What We Are’ is a genuinely exciting recording of enthusiastic rock metal performed by a band with something to prove.
Jon Stone’s vocals are engaging and hit all the right spots, he’s from the Eddie Vedder school of rock. There’s also an American tilt to his voice that reminds me of Everclear frontman Art Alexakis, but Stone packs a more metallic than vulnerable punch.
Despite this engaging vocal and exciting group performance there are issues with this debut. Firstly the drum sound is weak, so much so it’s overpowered by almost everything else. The guitars sound great, the metal riffs and power chords stay strong throughout, and those vocals hit all the right spots… but the drums sound wet, flat and pops along in the background. (It sounds to me like they’ve been processed through a lot of compression?) Drums on a record like this should be able to tear down walls. These would struggle to tear down wallpaper.
My second issue is the guitar. It sounds excellent and it’s played with a lot of heart, but the riffs just aren’t there. Take track two, ‘The Antidote’, the song has all the emotion and feel you want from a stomping rock song, but after it’s finished it’s instantly forgettable. There’s no hook, nothing that lingers in your head.
It’s the same story for most of the record, I’ve enjoyed listening to it over the past few weeks mainly because of its energy. Nestled mid album Schizophonic is a great track, but that aside I can’t imagine I’ll be revisiting it again.
Get this band a handful of hooks and into a studio with an engineer who knows how to record drums and we’d have something special.