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albums - February 2015


The Highway - 'Enter To Exit'

The Highway write songs that are quite often seven or eight minutes long, and they are also one of those four piece bands that manage to sound as if there are more than that many of them. Perhaps there are, but only four of their members are publicly credited with playing on 'Enter To Exit' but if you've a taste for their gritty take on urban rock that delves into alt.folk and something that I haven't heard any bands apart from The Highway doing. Those lengthier songs aren't just chorus and verse repetitions, they're given defined mid sections and developed beyond their three chord three minute origins On 'Too Bright' this leads to a string section, an array of percussive improvisation and a spoken word finale to bolster the guitars and drums and conventional rock vocals of a Brooklyn band that are very definitely onto something.

The Highway aren't the first band I ever heard taking an alt.folk format and improvising around that, or that started a song sounding like one thing and ended it sounding like another, or wrote songs longer than three and a half minutes, of course they aren't. Their second album, 'Enter To Exit' isn't just a more assured garage punk band developing musically, it's a continually evolving set of songs that can contain any backing musicianship you can think of and the real skill behind The Highway is that they (and their numerous so far uncredited associates) make what could in less competent hands have turned into a sprawling self indulgent mess of an album into a vital and tightly controlled 50 or so minutes of music that brings with it a hallmark of actual originality.

I got genuinely enthusiastic about hearing 'Enter To Exit' and not without reason : there isn't a spare second of its music that doesn't carry a stamp of inspiration and the songs don't ever appear to sound forced or about to collapse under the added backing that moves from one style to another with practised ease or even just their length. Bringing all of your influences and ideas together as The Highway are doing is a bit courageous even for a band with so much to call upon as they obviously are, but this is an album that is a quite real classic of some as yet unnamed genre and I only hope it finds the audience it actually deserves.



White Noise Sound - 'Like A Pyramid Of Fire'

White Noise Sound didn't form as a band, they assembled. I haven't until now heard of a band describing their formative processes as such but that phrase says a lot about WNS and how they see themselves and also how they want us to see them, not as a group of like minded individuals getting together to play music but as a cohesive unit, disciplined and sharing a common goal, even as a machine. Given that WNS convened (to use my own phrase) in 2006 and 'Like A Pyramid' is their second album, if they are a machine they're a very, very slow one. Or just a very methodical and purposed one, dedicated to producing seamless slabs of electronica and possibly studio perfectionists in this field. Or perhaps they've also got demanding day jobs and can't put as much time into their music as they'd like.

So the wait may have been a lengthy one since 2010's self titled debut but one thing is very obvious, in the intervening five years WNS have perfected their take on full on drone rock and power driven electronics. The sonorous bass synth notes that first track 'Heavy Echo' opens with set the tone of the entire album and the track itself, while it contains somewhere the influence of the Horrors in their 'Skying' phase, rumbles in and out of hearing before the song really has a chance to begin and it's followed by 'Bow', a ballad that might've sat more comfortably nearer the end of the album as third track 'All You Need' is the probable album highlight, WNS loosen up a bit with a song that recalls quality Europop such as Robyn's more esoteric moments and 'Can't You See It' contains traces of 'Radioactivity' era Kraftwerk amongst its sequenced glissandos.

Getting into the second part of the eight tracks on 'Like A Pyramid' and I began to wonder if five years between albums isn't a bit too long, even for a band of WNS's undoubtable abilities. Right where you might expect to hear some some cleverly turned guitar acrobatics, 'Red Light' keeps the momentum relentlessly glacial, sounding ponderous and repetitive right where 'Like A Pyramid' needs some invention and a break from what is beginning to sound slightly too formulaic and as the album lurches towards its conclusion there's less of WNS and more of their instrumentation as the drum machines and sequencing seems to take over entirely until last track 'Feel It', which is positively demanding an Aphex Twin remix, or similar.

I've wound up liking 'Like A Pyramid' a bit less than I think I should and I'm not entirely certain why. Something in its production gives the electronics a cold, even a soulless sound, to a point where 'Like A Frozen Pyramid' might've been a more accurate title, or that there are moments throughout the album that need an audible acoustic guitar, some phased percussion or even a cataclysmic farfisa keyboard riff to really prevent those low frequency bass generated tones from overwhelming the songs, which is what more or less happens throughout the eight tracks of 'Like A Pyramid'. I'll listen to it again though.



Ty Segall Band - Live in San Francisco

It's been a hectic six years or so for Ty Segall, crowning his almost tireless output with last year's Manipulator album, a great eclectic mix of songs which encapsulates all his major influences. There's no real boxing-in the wunderkind of psych-rock, Segall is just as likely to turn out an acoustic ballad (like on 2013's Sleeper album) as stoner rock (his side project Fuzz with longtime band member and guitarist Charles Moothart, a great throwback to the 70s dinosaurs of rock like Led Zep or Deep Purple), along with his trademark garage rock revivalist stuff from 2009's Lemons and onwards. Manipulator marked a change in approach, though, more 'studied' and deliberate, spending longer on each track until he got exactly the sound he wanted. The results are spectacular, from the Beach Boys homage of the title track through to late-60s psychedelia 'The Clock' and 'Green Belly' and crowd-pleasers like 'The Crawler' and 'It's Over' (very much like the spiked blues of White Stripes and all Jack White's offshoots).

It's onwards and upwards for Segall, shooting more and more rockets into the stratosphere, but he doesn't seem to mind getting deep down and dirty with the great mess of rock'n'roll either. And that's why, alongside the lightly dazed psychedelic pop of his latest release Mr Face, an ep of new material with Famous Class Records, John Dwyer's (Thee Oh Sees) Castle Face label is putting out a performance of the Ty Segall Band as part of its series Live In San Francisco. Segall is now based in LA, but cut his teeth in the San Francisco psych- and garage-rock scenes. These songs were recorded during two hot sweaty nights last year, at the hot nightspot of the city The Rickshaw Stop, and capture well the atmosphere of Segall and his band. Regulars Charlie Moothart (guitar), Mikal Cronin (bass) and Emily Rose Epstein (drums) are all on board to power their way through the set, amps ablazing throughout the general din and rowdiness of the event. Live In San Francisco works well within its limitations to provide a noisy riot of music!

People have written Ty Segall makes his guitar howl like a wounded dinosaur, I suppose that would be a Tyranosaurus Rex? The recordings here are frenetic, sludge guitar and distortion immediately slapping you across the face on 'Wave Goodbye' offering a clear signal of intent if one were actually needed. He glams up the vocals, too, Alex Harvey style. The band let the song breathe a little in the middle, before the belting climax eclipses everything. It's full-on for the next 9 songs, 3 more from Slaughterhouse, the band's first album in 2012, with the garage punk of the title followed by more proto-punk 'Death', Cronin's killer Stooges bass intro. speedily followed by Segall and Moothart's classic 60s garage guitar tones drenched in reverb. The slow build-up to 'I Bought My Eyes' is only a preamble to more battering ram heavy rock guitar.

'Feel' was an early airing of the song that would appear on Manipulator, considerably more earthy here with power-riffing so typical of classic early Led Zep, while 'The Hill' and 'Thank God For The Sinners' are from Segal's Twins released around the same time as Slaughterhouse, as is 'What Is Inside Of Your Heart?' which closes this set of recordings. Although the last 3 are actually from a prog-rock concept album, the band take them apart to forge something more raw and resilient. 'Skin' and 'Standing At The Station' embrace some of the earlier material, Spizzenergi-style punk rock.

The party's almost over … as if!? The guitar is cranked up just one more time, and rock fury ensues … Live In San Francisco is actually the fifth in the series, and follows White Fence, Icky Boyfriend, OBN IIIs, and Segall's Fuzz. The recordings are mastered on tape which gives them a gritty quality, and while they obviously nothing compares to actually being there, the recordings leave you with a sense of the visceral power of this kind of music … come on Kasabian, Rock'n'Roll lives!!

Matthew Haddrill


Bob Marley And The Wailers - 'Easy Skanking In Boston '78'

Bob Marley would have been 70 this year, 7th of February to be exact, and as part of the celebrations of his life and works, House Of Marley are releasing this live album, recorded on the same tour as the 1978 live album 'Babylon By Bus' and if this means that there isn't any unreleased studio archive to remix then, I'm not complaining as 'Easy Skanking' is a startling reminder of just why Bob Marley was and is such a massive international star, and what a stunningly good live band the Wailers were in their heyday. If you haven't heard any Bob recently or have sort of forgotten about him, or only remember one or two of his chart hits such as 'No Woman', 'Three Little Birds' and 'Could You Be Loved' then this collection could have you wondering why there aren't more Wailers albums in your collection. Featuring some inspired performances of songs like 'Jamming', 'Exodus', and the title track, 'Easy Skanking' will get you actually skanking around your home, singing along to the ones you actually know and buying all sorts of things from the House Of Marley shop, if not actually flying out to JA to pay homage to that island's most influential and still actually worshipped musical export. A reminder that while the Wailer's edges were in some ways toned down for chart success the live show they were capable of was, on a good night, almost without equal. New headphones, please.



Diagrams - 'Chromatics'

Sam Genders has had, at his fingertips, the ability to record a quite remarkable and memorable album. He's had some greatly talented musicians to help him record 'Diagrams', including members of the Smoke Fairies, numerous name London players, and a producer (Leo Abrahams) who has worked with (it says here) Ed Harcourt, Wild Beasts, Marianne Faithful, David Byrne and Brian Eno. This could prove both a blessing and something that isn't exactly a blessing, and I wonder if Leo Abrahams ever worked with Coldplay as, if there's one band to whom Diagrams appear to owe a significant creative debt that band is, yes, you know where I'm going with this. Nothing wrong with that in measurable quantities, lots of bands have looked to Chris Martin and friends since 'X +Y' sort of had people talking about them as if they were the new Pink Floyd, in the mid 00's. But I might not be exactly the right person to play something that more than slightly resembles Coldplay right now in 2015. Definitely not when songs like 'Desolation' are virtual rewrites of 'Speed Of Sound' to a point where Coldplay might consider litigation, a lot like when they themselves had a legal tussle with Kraftwerk over a guitar riff (the song was called 'Talk', look it up), and also because I saw Coldplay on the 2000 NME new bands tour, thought they were a bit rubbish and my opinion hasn't changed much. Diagrams and, by definition, Sam Genders, wouldn't necessarily agree with me, but listen as much as I could it all just sounds like lazy songwriting from a lot of talented people that had the capacity to make a much more interesting album, although reading the small print of the PR I notice that Diagrams are at time of going to press in China, where some of their audience probably think they sound like Oasis. Not taking any risks at all, Diagrams aren't.



Populare Mechanik (Wolfgang Seidel) - Kollektion 03 (Compiled By Holder Hiller)

Populare Mechanik's Kollektion 03 is part of a series of curated works that celebrate Sky Records, the Hamburg-based label that became a hub for many Krautrock, Kosmische and Electronic artists during the heyday of German progressive rock in the 60s and 70s. Sky went on releasing material up until the 90s, although mainly back catalogue stuff by that stage. They were very much the 'guerilla' label of those times, releasing things quickly and independently, often recordings with very limited pressings (including cassettes), so appropriately enough Kollektion 03 (which follows Kollektion 01 curated by Stereolab's Tim Gane and Kollektion 02 shared between Lloyd Cole and Joachim Roedelius, to give you a flavour) involves a collaboration between 2 of the great unsung heroes of German underground music of the last 30 years.

Populare Mechanik was a very free-floating post-punk and jazz outfit formed by Wolfgang Seidel who had originally played drums for rock band Ton Steine Scherben in the 70s, but became better known for his work with electronic artist Conrad Schnitzler at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab venue in West Berlin. Schnitzler's novel approach to recording involved combining pre-recorded tracks on different cassette machines (he actually had 3 suitcases, each crammed with 9 cassette players, which he lugged about everywhere for both recording and live performance!) and seeing what came out of the whole sonic experience! You can hear a lot of these influences on Kollektion 03, part of Populare Mechanik's cassette output in the early 80s, but selected by singer-songwriter Holger Hiller, himself no stranger to experimentation. The former vocalist with Palais Schaumburg started out with artists like Walter Thielsch and Thomas Fehldman and became famous for his pioneering sampling techniques in electronic music. Hiller released a steady stream of solo material through the 80s and 90s, a regular on the John Peel Show, and ended up as a producer for Mute Records.

Populare Mechanik is largely about jazz improv, combining saxophone and other free-form playing with a particularly intrepid range of rhythms and percussion. One wonders whether the division of labour between Seidel and band members Matthias Sareika and Lars Jeschke was as free-floating as the music, but 'Sequenza' (as he was affectionately nicknamed by Schnitzler) would have had a lot to do with the percussive effects, of which there are many varied and interesting.

So if you're looking for something slightly leftfield, you've come to the right place here. 'Gleis Dreieck' pits random bits of noise against atmospheric brass, and 'Fur Ein Paar Deutschmark Mehr' repeats the trend, both suggesting a whiff of Miles Davis in his experimental element. These sonic meanderings thread their way through Hiller's selections, like on 'Oranienbar' with its metallic sounds and sequencer noises that sound like a fan, doubtless heavily influenced by the early Schnitzler work like 1980's Consequenz. Vocals are sporadic and sprinkled throughout these songs, but mostly for effect, although the seductive woman's voice on 'An Die Hoffnung' (“In The Hope”) sounds like she could be singing Kurt Weil's 'Alabama Song (Whisky Jar)', and the rather Dadaist-sounding 'Wiedereingegliedert' (“Again, Incorporated”) with the street announcer strikes a chord. 'Gib dem affen zucher' (another weird title, “Give The Monkey Sugar”!) collects together radio voices in a montage, and standout track 'Fabrik' booms gently in the distance with some discordant piano and trumpet set to further chanting, the slight return that follows no easier on the ear, but no less penetrating either.

The album's best moments are probably the dub experiments, like bass heavy 'Scharfe Schnitte No.1' very funked-up and post-punk, shades of the early Metal Box PiL with Jah Wobble, and equally slo-mo 'Sauer Im Regen' (“Sour In The Rain”) with its nice airy drum 'fills'. The band are in their element when they're pushing their experimental limits, like on more avant-garde 'Schlad Die Weissen Mit Dem Rotten Keil No.1' almost minimalist with 'classical' xylophone playing set to all the clanking noises. On Kollektion 03 , the nice atmospheres often reflect their enigmatic titles, like 'Smog' with its textural smudginess.

The value of music of this kind is surely what it leads to. Aren't we all listening to music in elevators these days, as Brian Eno once remarked, it's more a question of which floor we get off at? Holger Hiller's selection from this bunch of post-punk oddballs is eventful sonically. True, I never really got to sing along, but parts of this jazz-improv. from the vaults of the German 80s underground scene became etched on my musical brain. The sleeve notes for the release (put out by Indigo imprint Bureau B in Hamburg) contain an interview between Hiller and Seidel where they review the function of rock and pop music over the last 45 years! So Kollektion 03 doesn't always make for an easy listen, certainly not a pop creation in any meaningful sense of the word, but that's the beauty of experimental music, now if you'll just excuse me …


Matthew Haddrill


Jack Name - 'Weird Moons'

“Ground Control to Major Tom/Take your protein pills and put your helmet on/Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)/Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)/Check ignition and may God's love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)“

To my mind, there's always room for a bit more re-imagined cosmic pop, and Jack Name is yer man with a celestial plan! His associations with Ariel Pink and White Fence are pretty clear, although wherever he hangs his laptop these days there's usually a battery of odd electronic devices and amps lying around to soup up the galaxy somewhat. A similarly intense and creative compositional style to unsung hero Tim Smith and the Cardiacs, perhaps, sort of sprawling, the great thing about artists like Ariel Marcus Rosenburg and Jack Name is that when they have an idea they just run with it, the rest of us catch up somewhere further down the line. It's endearing, and progressive for an artist, of course. But who said anything about pop?

So the 'enigma' that is Jack Name works under various aliases (Fictional Boys and Muzz), hangs out musically with Tim Presley/White Fence, Cass McCombs and Thee Oh Sees (whose record label Castle Face release his latest material), so there's certainly a handy platform to build on. Weird Moons is the follow-up to last year's Light Show long-player debut. While that one was more an electro-pop release, shades of early Eno, Chrome, even Gary Numan, with some decent singalongs (if you could get beyond the odd 'chipmunk' vocals) like 'Pure Terror' and 'Out Of Sight' (check out the amazing video on YouTube), this one takes a more experimental approach which explores tropes of electronic music around a lunar theme.

It's more 'Weird' than 'Moons', has to be said. The falsetto on the opener 'Werewolf Factory' wavers around its slow loping rhythms and unhinged guitar, placing him somewhere out on the experimental end of the Krautrock stratosphere, while 'Under The Weird Moon' is also congested with electronic sounds (something like the Clangers TV series!) and a high-arched guitar, Name's vocals buried somewhere deep in the lo-fi mix with almost playground-like vocals in the background. Luckily, this time his voice humanizes all these weird noises.

I told myself to persevere. 'Lowly Ants' is another adventure for the listener, stomping away on a repeated bass and drum pattern with echoey vocal effects. Definitely a nod in the direction of Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti and all those 60s sci-fi re-imaginings. Also hard to know what he had in mind with 'Running After Ganymede', its hard metronomic beat and marching vocal sounding familiar, something of Steven Morris/New Order's hypnotic playing, with nice freaky sinister sounds in the distance and an odd wispy female vocal underscoring his own. The pattern is deepened on 'Waiting For Another Moon', that kitsch synth lifted from somewhere or other, maybe even the moon itself? 'Watcher Talk' is bolder and fuzzier, with a nice hook in the middle and swirls of keyboard to go with the growling vocal. It's another stomp, getting used to that now, and almost a pop song, probably where MGMT might have ended up had they followed their latest experimental direction.

So after a very strange beginning, Name clambers back into the spacecraft re-asserting himself. For me, the standouts on Weird Moons are the floaty pop ballad 'Lo' because of his nice childlike patter vocalese and the Eno-esque keyboard (like the one on Another Green World that was used for the Arena TV series), and the wonderfully lolling closer 'Something About Glenn Goins', gentle and airy with nice keyboard vignettes to fill the song out atmospherically, something Bowiesque from the Low period (obviously!), and even a 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' psychedelic bit nicely tagged on at the end.

And that's it, about 25 minutes all told. Stick with it if you're coming to Jack Name for the first time. Music's not always meant to be an easy listen. His wilful inventiveness may be his undoing in a world of manufactured pop, but the next generation of writers will come for him for inspiration, no doubt, if he's not left the capsule by then.

Matthew Haddrill


Kyshera - 'Circles'

Sometimes the press release does it all for you : “Lyrically, the album is a concept album & a story based around a central character & the journey of his life in the modern age. His rise from the bottom to the top of our consumerist, celebrity culture only to realise that in doing so, it came at the price of losing everything that was 'real' and on the last song, he dies alone.” I can handle the idea of a concept album Kyshera but, did you need to give away the ending like that? I enjoy a good story well told as much as anyone but when did you last read a book, see a film, or even read the notes for another concept album that gave away the plot before you had even turned its first page or finished watching the adverts, or as much as listened to the first track? Alright then, I'll forget about the concept part and just listen to 'Circles' and I won't question why track 11 is titled 'Full Circle' and track 12 is titled 'The End'. Kyshera's music is melodic hard rock, verging on thrash and with some sort of Foo Fightersy touches and alright as it goes for modern metal nowadays, except that the explication ruined it for me a bit. All the very best heavy rock, from Led Zep onwards, contains a kind of mystery at its core and while the Rake's Progress storyline has something going for it, less is sometimes more when keeping the listeners enthralled is necessary. Actually, forget what I just wrote and listen to 'Circles' with its tracks on shuffle mode, when it becomes a zombie apocalypse soundtrack.



Duke Garwood - Heavy Love

Duke Garwood's Heavy Love is the classic blues slow-burner, with its generally dark undercurrents and murkiness pressing themselves on you each time you listen. A lot of praise has already been heaped on Mark Lanegan's current go-to guitarist-cum-arranger-cum-songwriting partner (indeed from some very highly respected sources, not least Lanegan, himself!), and while it's probably safe to say the Messiah is still holding off on a second visit, Garwood's 4th solo release is certainly worthy of the attention it's been garnering.

You can be forgiven a sense of familiarity. The multi-instrumentalist has worked his charms in many places since his backpacking-squat party years trotting all over the world, most notably recording material with The Orb, Archie Bronson Outfit, and even playing clarinet on the Savages impressive debut at the end of 2013. Strange the 'odd-job' boy seems cagey about stepping into the limelight himself, although actually there's been a stream of releases since 2005, usually whenever Garwood vanishes off to a hut somewhere like Bon Iver, as on 2009's When The Sand Falls.

For many, 2013's collaboration with Lanegan was the first chance to get to know Duke Garwood properly. Black Pudding is a low-key affair though, nothing like the great Screaming Trees rock'n'roll showdowns Lanegan began his career with, but with the arranger's simple stripped-down approach (mainly guitars), the whisky-soaked tombstone vocalist wouldn't have had it any other way. Like the title track, interestingly played in a flamenco style, or the gospel and blues of 'Pentecostal', both nicely dissect where Lanegan is at after his recent collaborations (QOTSA, Isobel Campbell, Soulsavers …). There's also the fine wandering blues of 'Shades Of The Sun', while 'Driver' slows things down beautifully to create big cinematic atmospheres.

And The working relationsip continues on Heavy Love, recorded in Josh Homme’s Pink Duck studio in Los Angeles, this time with Lanegan handling the production duties and allowing Garwood to indulge his own vision of the blues. Sounds are layered atmospherically, heading off into those wide open spaces again, no doubt located somewhere in the heart of the “deep south”. This time it's a trail that snakes round into something darker and a little more sinister … man, he definitely got the blues!

The nice shuffling opener 'Sometimes', with its classic walking bass strutting alongside Garwood's cool murmurings, or the drift of the title track, current single, where the sparsest of guitar sounds matched with the faintest of vocals, both leave you in a state of trepidation. Romanticize a Mississippi sunset at your peril, this is more the south of 'Snake Man', the hypnotic charge of its voodoo drums coarsing through the veins, and the epic drawn-out closer 'Hawaian Death Song' or redemptive blues of 'Burning Seas' (just guitar and a little menace in each line: “Come and lay your head down/Burning seas they guide us in/My love and me, we're bound by sin”). Yes, the unsettled feeling of the album tells you things are not quite as they should be and somebody's gonna pay ... distinct shades of Robert Johnson at the crossroads and other great Delta blues legends in Garwood's oeuvre.

It's hard to find any weak links. 'Disco Lights' stands out for its wailing guitar riding alongside the conventional blues phrasing, “I take one look and I smell sweet trouble flooding over you” sings Garwood, quite magnetic with backing vocals delivered, I think (?), by Jehnny Beth of Savages. The more atmospheric 'Suppertime In Hell' with its magical-sounding steel string is like something Daniel Lanois or Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column would have conjured up. The guitar tones create a spacious atmosphere, although Garwood tones it down on 'Sweet Wine'. This darkspun folk sounds like something you'd associate with artists like Devendra Banhart or the outlaw country artist Waylon Jennings (”well sweet was that last cup of wine, and so is that tune”), a lovely organ in the background serendading the brooding ballad. 'Roses' continues some of the work he did with Lanegan on Black Pudding, and 'Honey In The Ear' is even better, with its heavy atmosphere and creeping mellotron backing (again the singer nails it: “with the dirt on my back it's hard to reach/creatures walking in my yard, walking thorugh my yard/well I used to like em, used to like 'em/but this room is like Sunday morning/It scares the heart of me/pour some honey in my ear/it's ringing so loud”.

The key is to settle back and let the whole thing wash over you. On Duke Garwood's latest album, the 'odd-job' man has clambered centre-stage at last, surrounded himself with the right people and let the good rise to the surface. Heavy Love is a heavy-hearted vision of the blues, shaped with a producer's ear for the cinematic and dramatic. Garwood like Johnson made his pact with the devil, now he can shuffle off into the blood-red Mississippi sunset …

Matthew Haddrill