albums - jun 2015
From Jersey’s grime and hip hop scene comes Mr West, who freestyles his way through opener “3 Flow Intro”, which is an angry stab at realism. I could imagine early Wu-Tang demo’s sounding not that far off from this. Lyrically he’s a bit off the cuff, though he knows how to rhyme, i’ll give him that. “Rush To Die” is evil from the word go, like a manic dub-step number carrying Tupac style beats backed with stabbing synthesizers. A rather enjoyable feast if I’m honest. “Slut Rock” is a sudden change to sleaze hop, though has a crudeness to it that would suit the soundtrack to a Snoop Dog porno! “The Pain I Feel” starts off lo-fi; before breaking into an industrial grime, which is filled with blaze as it attacks it’s way through a field of iconic rappers. “Man Made” features guest vocals from James Dolan, who almost sounds like Shaggy if I was to compare, though the collaboration actually works a treat. Mentions of fallen heroes such as Martin Lutha King et al. “Hurt” features Johnny Cash samples, whilst he raps over the the acoustic take of the Nine Inch Nails original. I like the ideology that surrounds it, also the drum machine more than stands out. “Single Mother’s” is like ‘Life After Death’ era Biggy Smalls, though it just sounds like a flood of words without any real meaning. Saying that, I do like the pace, also the fact he’s someone from my home town; with whom stay’s true to his influences, and that always goes a long way with me. The album goes out on “Forever Young”, which displays a cameo built around a rap outro, and much to the dismay of the Jersey Police Force. ****** 6/10
Kicks off with “Sand Vid En Grav”, which borders on Sex Gang Children and early Danse Society, with a dose of L.A death-rock to suit. I’m enjoying the repetition displayed mostly in the drums, also the high pitched synth sounds are much akin to those you might hear in a George A. Romero film. “Overallt Ingenstans” has a Batcave feel that was once blared around the clubs of Soho by the likes of goth pioneers Specimen et al. I knew when listening to this album from the Swedish record label that is ‘Peter Out Records’, that this would be a dish served up on post-punk platter. “Kains Irrlaror” sounds like an out-take from Bauhaus’s ‘The Sky’s Gone Out’ album, and is the first track to have double vocal attack. The synth outro on this is epic! “Ett Annat Satt Att Leva” has a pace to it much akin to early PIL; whilst shades of metal shower the floor, ricocheting everywhere. The drums are tribal like here, and more than works. Title track “Sanddyner Av Glas” is a thing of beauty, which proves that Sweden’s greats Hemgraven are definitely one of the finest Scandinavian dark wave groups of current times. It’s obvious there’s a prolific amount of tremolo being sprung out on this offering, that being prominent during the one note strums on each bar. The final track is “Arytmi”, which is bass heavy and has a Sisters of Mercy spark to it. I’m all over the guitar break in the middle eight, followed immensely by the bass and vocal giving it great dynamics! What a sound. ******** 8/10
Swanning their way back into our hearts with a stylishly funny French New Wave-inspired video featuring drag queen Sapphire and a bunch of Russian henchmen and clowns … what's not to like? 'Saturday Night' (“Saturday night on the town, open your arms to me/and let me dive in the waters around, your eyes are an ocean”) sounds like the classic 80s fantasy soundtrack, a taste of Flashdance, Top Gun or Beverly Hills Cop, as Yukon Blonde shed their their proggy guitars for the neon lights and synthesizers of the dancefloor.
Formerly Alphababy (the name should clue you up a bit …?), the Vancouver-based band win you over with their verve and energy for finely-crafted songwriting. Back in 2010, their eponymous debut covered a lot of bases, perhaps too many. Songs like 'Kumiko Blonde' and 'Wind Blows' have that air of familiarity of music born of many past lives, but by 2012's Tiger Talk, they'd honed their sound and morphed into 70s glamrock ('Stairway') with the sort of rich harmonies you'd expect from bands like Fleet Foxes or The Flaming Lips ('Iron fist', a misnomer if ever there were one?). Producer Colin Stewart cleverly tweaked the knobs, and upped the overall tempo with the sort of dance-crazed indie-pop MGMT and M83 have pioneered recently. On Yukon Blonde's latest album On Blonde, he's pulled it off again. With bass player Adam Newton's recent departure, songwriter Jeff Innes, Brandon Scott, Graham Jones and new recruit James Younger step up and sweep away the jangling guitars with a Giorgio Moroder/Jan Hammer-like synthesized sheen of unashamed synthpop.
'Confused' glides over its slick electro-beat and powerpop chords like an 80s 'Silver Machine', but the opener's real charm is in its catchy chorus (“You wouldn't love me like that, a love so true ...”), nod to Van Halen's 'Jump' keyboard, and an obvious love of big hair! 'Como' is equally playful, brisk, Morton Harket-like falsetto and a musical backdrop something like Human League or A Flock Of Seagulls (hopefully without all the crazy haircuts!). 'Make U Mine' has the slick synth-filled melody and dance rhythms of a Hall & Oates chartbuster, while the cleverly theatrical growling vocal on 'Starvation' menaces like the bad guys in Miami Vice. Yukon Blonde go all out for an 80s revival, perhaps like the detour Goldfrapp took on their 2009 album Head First before heading back into folktronica?
'I Wanna Be Your Man' is more of a glam-stomper, slowing things down with its Alvin Stardust vocal swagger and Glitter Band handclaps and guitar fuzz, while 'Hannah' is a break from the pace, folk-infused and psychedelic, eventually building to shimmering harmonies and powerchords, the band showing their older colours. But 'Jezebel' is heart-on-sleeves time again, a late burst of synthpop energy as the disco ball takes one final spin.
So as the 80s becomes the distant memory of a youthful Tom Cruise flying off into the sunset, or Bill Murray trying to zap ghosts with a glorified vacuum cleaner, Yukon Blonde blaze a playful nostalgic trail with their latest album On Blonde. It's an impressive and enjoyable update of the band's pop music, and matches recent works by fellow Canadians Arcade Fire and The New Pornographers in a similar style.
“Fame and fortune, how empty they can be/But when I hold you in my arms, that's heaven to me/Who cares for fame and fortune, they're only passing things/But the touch of your lips on mine, makes me feel like a king” (*'Fame and Fortune' by Elvis Presley, written by Benjamin Weisman)
Fame does strange things to people. Ask Close Lobsters's frontman Andrew Burnett, he should know. Emerging from the 'Groucho-Marxist' punk scene in Paisley, Glasgow, in the 1970s and 1980s, his indie guitar band certainly hit their stride with the John Rivers-produced debut Foxhead Stalk This Land in 1987. But they were always on a short fuse, an appearance on NME's classic C86 compilation just adding to the problems, the band developing an uneasy relationship with music journalists amidst much speculation about their future. Returning from a second mini-tour of the US off the back of their 1989 sophomore release Headache Rhetoric, Close Lobsters didn't so much as split as vanish off the face of the earth. Quite a hiatus, but Andrew Burnett, Bob Burnett, Tom Donnelly and Stewart McFayden re-surfaced with a singles collection Forever Until Victory! in 2009 and also appeared on Cherry Red's boxset Scared To Get Happy in 2013. With notable festival spots and gigs, a new single 'Now Time' and NME's re-issue of C86 as a 3-cd box last year, it seems Close Lobsters are ripe for a comeback … but did they ever really go away?
The band's early career is showcased on Firestation Towers, 1986-1989. In recent interviews, Burnett has acknowledged the influence of The Only Ones, and there's certainly something of US indie-popsters in the sonic picture that emerges on this compilation (released by their label Fire Records). Both bands burned brightly (and briefly, of course!), but they also loved to dabble. Close Lobsters produced music very much in the slipstream of Glasgow-based independent Postcard, and 'Never Seen Before' teems with the sort of discordant guitar chords that were grist to the mill of bands like Josef K and Orange Juice on the early days of that label ('Too Bloody Stupid' could easily be the long lost brother of Orange Juice's 'Falling And Laughing', for example). Earlier single 'Going to Heaven To See If It Rains' opens with a frenetic Smiths-like riff, but the solid hooks that characterize Close Lobsters' oeuvre are also reminiscent of pop bands from the Flying Nun stable in New Zealand like The Chills and The Clean ('I Kiss The Flowers In Bloom' and 'What Is There To Smile About?'), and are often mixed with the sort of intense shoegazy rush achieved by bands like Ride ( 'Lovely Little Swan' and 'Nature Thing').
The term 'classic' is over-used (and very much in the ear of the beholder), but The Wedding Present's famous cover of Close Lobsters' 'Let's make Some Plans' is surely up there somewhere. Shimmering triumphantly, Close Lobsters' anthemic original still sounds fresh as a daisy. Burnett's preoccupation with buildings chimes in well with the dirge-like vocal on 'Skyscrapers In St Mirin' and 'Firestation Towers' (from the original C86 compilation), both very catchy and driven along with infectiously funky bass. 'In Spite Of These Times' races and turns on a killer hook in the middle, the singer blazing away: “Don't let us slip through your hands” like an early incarnation of Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera, and the singer's anger on 'I Take Bribes' reminds you of the downplayed political side of the band.
File this compilation under “pop riot”. Older and wiser, it may be
worth grappling with fame once again if Close Lobsters are to achieve
some long overdue recognition. Firestation Towers, 1986-1989 helps
things along a little, reminding us what a shame it would be if we
did let them slip through our hands a second time round. And don't
forget The King's final verdict:
Since 2009, Hamburg-based Bureau B has been re-issuing rare electronic and kosmische music from the now defunct 70s label Sky. Kollektion 4 is the latest in its series of curated compilations, this time assembled by Richard Fearless of Death In Vegas. Fearless not only raids the vaults, but adds some more contemporary recordings, and his celebration of big open spaces in dub, techno and minimalism is a fascinating insight into the experimental reaches of Krautrock.
It's hard to exaggerate the significance of the German progressive rock movement during the period 1968-1977. The insensitive term 'Krautrock' was invented by a music industry struggling to categorize bands/artists each with their own take on the 'Neuland'. German progressives reacted against the post-war boom of soporific Schlager music and the tide of imported blues and rock'n'roll from Britain and America, but there was also a nasty suspicion that former nazis were still in charge of the country. With nowhere left to go, “space is one solution”, famously commented recently departed cosmic overlord Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream) in the BBC's moving documentary 'Krautrock – Re-Birth of Germany'.
Surely reflecting this ethos, Fearless's 2-hour labour of love is a cosmic tangle of hypnotic rhythms and otherworldly melodies, a sound often stripped to the bone to enhance that feeling of space. Sure, there are halcyon recordings, like Asmus Tietchens beautifully modernistic symphonic 'Falter Lamento' or the classic motorik sound of Thomas Dinger's 'Fur Dich', but experimental sounds are never far away on Kollektion 4, particularly with the influence of Neu! and Cluster. Lloyd Cole curated an entire album of Hans Joachim Roedelius's kosmische signatures on Kollektion 2, but the Death In Vegas founder's choices are more rhythm-centred and textural. For a start, Roedelius's percussion-focused partner in Cluster Dieter Moebius is heavily featured. Moebius-Plank-Neumeier's 'Pitch control' sounds Warp-like in its weird electronic ruminations and percussive layers, while more recent Moebius-Beerbohm 'Doppelschnitt' is straight-down-the-line Berlin techno, efficiently industrious with its “undercover” syncopated bass. The sci-fi futurism of the German's solo work 'B36' contrasts nicely with gothic-sounding 'Notre Dame' featuring the his trademark rubberized bass on the classic experimental recordings with Klaus Renziehausen (fyi Kreidler).
It's like Fearless is cooking up his favourite recipe and you can't leave out any of the vital ingredients. Roedelius's pastoral 'Thronfolge' balances the compilation out with melody, as does the synth loveliness of the artist's 'Langer Atem', jollying the listener along with its Samba-like rhythms and metronomic piano. The medieval folk of Ougenweide's 'Truton's Ruf' adds a peculiar array of bucolic instruments, while Riechmann's majestic 'Abendlicht' and You's sci-fi cinematic 'Deep Range' are both beautifully futuristic. For veteran experimentalists Faust, Fearless counter-intuits by selecting contemporary works. 'Kundalini Tremolo' unleashes a tide of phased chords, and there's guitar mayhem on the Radiohead-sounding 'Herbststimmung'.
Kollektion 4 confirms what we knew all along, that the influence of Krautrock can be felt more deeply than the bands who achieved commercial success. Great though Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and (latterly) Can were, Brian Eno's work with Dieter Moebius, Hans Joachim Roedelius and Michael Rother in the 70s is what fueled Bowie's trilogy of Berlin albums (Low, Heroes and Lodger), and the ripple effects of this kind of music have been been felt ever since. Richard Fearless lovingly takes us back to the source with this soul-baring compilation that gives us some idea of the true scale of the music.
16 tracks from the Paris based music and clothing label Kitsuné, and I don't only lack any knowledge of the previous three America compilations, the only band name I even vaguely recognise on Vol 4 are Toro Y Moi, and I wouldn't claim to know much about them either. Research reveals that Kitsuné is the Japanese name for a fox, and that their lengthy resumé includes Klaxons, Bloc Party, Tom Vek and a few others whom you may recognise. Time to spin the tunes then, which are a mixture of urban club sounds and indie guitar stuff and it all starts with Kacy Hill and the chill zone vibes of 'Experience' which is a bit laid back for an album intro but a smoothly paced intro to the 2015 Kitsuné experience (it's that kind of label, you don't just buy the album, it's the complete lifestyle experience) and Basecamp's 'Watch My Back' is cut from a similar cloth with its tapped out rhythms, low bass notes and mellow vocalising. This isn't only an album of club tracks though, and Dutch Party's 'Howl' brings the guitars and purposeful sounding songwriting with a tinge of Vampire Weekend in one of their more reflective moods. Beau's 'C'mon Please' is a bit bluesy in a Nerina Pallot sort of way, while Heat bring the anthemic southern rock thing with 'This Life'.
After all of this you might fond yourself thinking 'pleasant enough
but what about pushing the vibe in some less usual directions?' and
along come Metoux with the minimalist tech of 'Neighbour' and its
awkwardly timed tambourines and dubby ambience. Then there's Mothxr
whose 'Centrefold' really goes some way towards pulling the plug on
the entire party with its glum sounding vocal intro although it does
eventually shuffle into something resembling a summer anthem of sorts,
inventing the Gloomtronica sound as it does so. Stélouse lift
it again with their cheerful whistling and pop attuned instrumental
'Stroll' but it's left to Toro Y Moi to really pull it all together
with their beach party soundtrack 'Empty Nesters' and its authentically
phrased powerpop. Lastly, it's everyone report to the dancefloor with
Lonely Boy and the slightly unenthusiastic disco thuds of 'Future
Regrets' which, in fairness, is quite suitable for ending the album
with. I've heard more lively label compilations and while it has its
moments Kitsuné America 4 is a bit uneven over 16 tracks. Or
perhaps I just didn't play it loudly enough.
The latest albums release from Belfast’s ASIWYFA sees them continue their work in the genre and underline their status as arch mad scientists of danceable math rock. There’s something intrinsically genius yet unhinged about ‘Heirs’ and that is primarily what appeals to me, being somewhat of a musical weirdo.
There are a couple of tasty hors d’hoeuvres in the form of the raid fire ‘Run Home’ and ‘These Things I know’ before we settle into the album proper with the glorious amuse bouche that is ‘Wasps’. This track thrums and burbles like a finely tuned sports car in comparison to its predecessors and opens up the doorway to an increasingly vocal side of the band which has been developing since their debut album. There’s an optimism and vibrancy to tracks like ‘Redesigned a Million Times’ which acts as the perfect antidote to what can sometimes be an overly techy math approach. ‘Fucking Lifer’ also replaces the standard high notes-per-second count beloved of mainstream math rock with a more melodic sound with great effect. ‘Animal Ghosts’ is similar but this time overlays sweeping orchestrals and choral arrangements over the Gatlin gun guitars while parts of ‘Until We’re Kings’ could easily be mistaken for a Vessels track.
As an album overall, this took me a long time to get to grips with
and I’m still not sure it’s as fully formed as it could have been.
There are stretches when you might be forgiven for a sense of déjà
vu. But on the other side, there a mammoth, euphoric moments which
suddenly well up out of nowhere like a sonic tsunami and when the
whole tide goes out, it will be those lingering gifts from ‘Heirs’
which will be left littering your beach. 8/10
The members of the long-standing symphonic-rock band Rise of Realism reside in Amsterdam, Netherlands and last month they released their latest full-length titled Mirage. The indie outfit has made the album available for free streaming at its YouTube channel. Rise of Realism was formed in 1995 and is led by Andreas van Amerogen. Andreas and his bandmates have endured some tough times over the years together, including the passing of drummer Erik Jasen, changing line-ups, and band break-up. They have also had some good times, the highlights being the release of their albums, including the ambitious 5-EP set The Sides in 2012 and now Mirage.
The concept album Mirage is actually a change of pace for the rock band that previously incorporated industrial elements into its symphonic-rock sound. The tunes of Mirage are on the whole more mellow and flowing than what Rise of Realism has been known for, blending a slower, meditative atmosphere into the rock-oriented sonics. The lyrics-centered songs drift by on reflective male-focused sing-talking vocals and backed by female vocal accompaniment. Psych-rock guitars and synths swirl on ‘Mirage’, woodwinds and spacey synths float over ‘A Monumental Journey’, and softly searing curls of electric guitar brighten ‘Believe’. The contemplative pace of most songs and use of synths and woodwinds give the album a mystic New Age vibe.
While the music is involving at best and acceptable at worst, the
shadowy, talky male vocals and female back-up vocals aren’t particularly
intriguing on the more laid-back tracks. Where the band makes its
mark is on songs that recall its past, like the foreboding industrial
tone and menacing vocal growls of ‘Beacon’, and on the stylistically
retro 1940’s bop of ‘Only a Handful are True’ which features peppy,
harmonic female vocal chime, rapidly dashed off runs of piano, and
a fast-shaken beat. What truly piques the interest the most is some
of the lyrics the band has written like “There’s only a few / who
will ever be faithful to you.” from ‘One a Handful are True’, “Are
we here for nothing more than to comply?” off “Is it You?”, and “We
forfeit our dreams to the lives we live.” on ‘Believe’.
Six tracks on this release from Dutch electronica practitioner FilosofischeStilte,
or PhilosophicalSilence as he would be known were he from these shores,
and as late night Chill Zone minimalist electronics goes, or 'future
cloud bass' as Filosofische himself prefers to style it, 'Munch Palace
Vol.2' is a release that has a touch of mastery about it. It's the
work of a mixing desk talent whose excursions into dubby mix ups of
trance and hip hop rhythms take on a life almost entirely of their
own, adding a soul vibe, reining in the basslines and keeping the
percussion from crashing all over the tunes. The seven tracks segue
into each other like one long remix without going too repetitive or
relying too much on the drum patterns and, while I don't get to hear
a lot of urban tracks FilosofischeStilte has introduced me (and perhaps
you) to a modern techno sound that's definitely got something going
for it. Whether 'Munch Palace Vol 2' is an album or an EP isn't really
relevant, this is the sort of authentic RnB music that eventually
finds itself being influential in the work of other musicans. Take
a listen and you'll hear why.
I first heard Heartless Bastards in an episode of Friday Night Lights. It still makes me want to stare wistfully at someone I am in love with and catch a glimpse of them looking back. I want to think that that particular ache can be captured by a setting sun, wind through leaves and holding a gaze longer than you planned to.
I want to sway slowly and move my hips in a figure eight because the music and the heat combine to make it all you can do and I want to hold a beer bottle dripping with crushed ice and drink deep and think about a smile and the person behind it, the feel of their cheek against my neck and the palm of their hand against the back of my head. I want to run until my lungs burn and then jump far below into water because the only thing left to do was see if it was still there.
I want to believe every single lie that music believes and I want to wrap myself in them while I stand on the balcony at the back of my house and watch the sun set behind a hill. I want to listen to The Mountain, an album of such perfect American college-rock I think it might have been written by Swedes, and feel the heat of a setting sun.
Tonight I'm thinking all these things and doing not one of them except listening to some other Heartless Bastards albums and remembering every slow dusk and every quick morning. It's going to be something I repeat because I'm thinking all this because of those albums, but then again I always was a sucker for the type of college rock that wanted you to know that it understood love and hard luck but had a great smile.
I hope I never get too old for this, I hope it never seems like I should have moved along from this. I'm not ready. I don't want to.
Tonight, I want Heartless Bastards to listen to the music that makes it seem like the sun is out and that the heart makes you awake rather than lethargic. I want to shake my hips because despite anything silly and inconsequential that makes you legitimately sad, things are still worth smiling about and hoping for. A smile from someone else is as much an affirmation that Professor Xavier (zay-vee-er) was right to take on board the concept of ultimate forgiveness.
Hey, Heartless Bastards, you seem bummed out. I'm a little bummed out too. Look, it's summer and that doesn't even matter. It's fine to be sad, but there are new stars being born and that means it isn't all dead light. There are new days and possibilies ranging from attempts to change the entire world to making sure that you feel better than you did yesterday. At the end of a day involving that entire spectrum, you can make people shake their butts and want to do it all again and that's a gift. Saying that, I would slow dance the heck out of someone to this album. Take no advice from me.
You just never really know what's in your album download, or never
judge an album entirely by its cover. I like the sleeve artwork of
The Story So Far's album a lot, an etched print with all sorts of
interesting things going on in it, but what kind of album is it? I
had a look at the sleeve for a minute or two while anticipating its
contents. Probably an alt.folk album with lots of acoustic guitars
and some other folksy instruments, one of those quick paced albums
with drinking songs and gruesome sea shanties that I get every so
often. Or a more modern guitar album, something a bit shoegaze with
a lot of sort of slow songs with and some swirly sound effects, one
of those bands that base their music on a mixture of Ride and the
Cocteau Twins. Surprisingly, The Story So Far and their self titled
album are neither of these things. Instead, what their intriguing
album artwork contains is ten songs of sort of harder edged Emo skatepunk.
Their influences might include Blink 182 and Green Day but their sound
is (at least on what is their second album) a decidedly heavier rock
one that owes slightly more to AC/DC and My Chemical Romance than
to Weezer and while I don't get a lot of actual rock albums I know
what metal sounds like and The Story So Far's new release is definitely
one for the headbanging crowd.
Presently touring the US as support to the Wombats, Life In Film are one of those bands that seemingly appear from nowhere, make a slight impression on the music world and then (often) vanish into more realistic career options such as telesales, accountancy or sometimes production work on the music of other, newer bands. I know about the Wombats - there's a file of This Modern Glitch that often appears on my own music player - but why should I regard Life In Film with a shrug, muttering 'support act' under my breath as I look over their track listing? The answer to that is, I don't completely know, perhaps this is somehow connected to the tinny, muddy song mix of first track 'It's What Happens Next' and its George Ezra/Vampire Weekend/sort of vaguely Libertinesy mixture of styles that, while it's really well put together also sounds just slightly on the wrong side of manufactured. Wait a minute, the headphones aren't properly in their socket, actually it is quite a good song and supporting Indie veterans the Wombats probably isn't quite so easy after all. This has me wondering about the rationale of Life In Film though. A band that are somehow tasked with representing the entire history of UK indie music and at least parts of the US scene of the last 15 years, from Blur's '13' album right up to well, The Magic Whip. Life In Film could, if it was very dark and you knew there was a band in front of you, find themselves mistaken for the Blur of two decades ago although they don't seem to sound a lot like them (so far). Perhaps if I listen to some of the second part of 'Here It Comes' I can find some definitively Bluresque influences.
Track 8 'Are You Sure' has a lot of similarity with the album's first
track and doesn't sound anything like Blur, instead it's the Vampire
Weekend / Mockney fretboard rattling that I couldn't hear properly
at the first attempt, and while dredging the memory banks to recall
one or more of the bands that had that Mockney thing about them from
around 2008 when, if I remember correctly, almost every other track
I heard was wearing a pork pie hat and chewing a rollie, while anticipating
turning up outside Horseferry magistrate's in a slightly bashed Jag
XJ. Few of those bands went quite so full on as Pete and Carl in their
heyday and Vampire Weekend, with their preppy insouciance and neatly
phrased guitar playing seemed almost the polar opposite of the actual
Libertines and drawing these two influences together seems to be working
for Life In Film so far. Last track 'Forest Fire' isn't a Lloyd Cole
cover, it's a swaying ballad with a string section providing a glossy
undercoat to the gritty guitar riffs and crashing cymbals, and very
probably a suitably glowing closing number to their live set (assuming
they perform the songs in the same listing as they appear on the album).
But back we go to track four and 'every body got a surprise last time
/ and this time everybody's expecting the same' sings vocalist Samuel
Fry, doubtlessly reflecting on the limitations faced by the four piece
guitar band format in 2015, but the album title track is also probably
the albums highlight, energetic and inspired and possessed of the
sort of power pop melody that a band like Life In Film probably can't
go very far wrong with. So forget my superficial Blur comparisons,
appreciate that Life In Film know exactly what they're doing, and
that 'Here It Comes' is about as good an Indie guitar band album as
you'll hear this summer.
Enter the kaleidoscopic world of Liverpool's Stealing Sheep. Count them among the dizzying array of bands re-inventing British folk music at the moment, Alt-J, Tunng and Smoke Fairies, to name but a few. But the medieval folk of the trio's debut Into The Diamond Sun may have been a case of mistaken identity. On their self-produced sophomore, Emily Lansley, Rebecca Hawley and Lucy Mercer put away the strings and woodwind and are in more experimental mood. Not Real is for the most part an album of electronica and art-pop, but stamped with the band's trademark otherworldliness and delicious 3-part harmonies.
Opener 'Sequence' shakes down the band's new sonic aesthetic, shimmering synths and crystalline Warpaint-like guitars, surely a festival opener with the summer approaching, while equally catchy 'Apparition' hints at the album's over-arching theme. The blurring of reality and fantasy is emphasized in the weird and wonderful artwork for the album, by photographer Charlotte Rutherford and collage artist Louise Mason, and realized in the James Slater-directed video for the title track with its 'masked' themes. The song springboards us back into the world of 80's synthpop maestros Trevor Horn and Vince Clarke. Stealing Sheep's latest musical vision is rooted in bright melodies, sequenced beats and close harmonies, a sort of choral pop in which they insist "don't let the daytime fool you that you're not real".
Although they set a course for 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' and 'The Meaning Of Love', the band really hit their stride in the more esoteric 'This Time' and 'Greed'. The former is driven with a nicely-looped Ali Farka Toure-style guitar riff and a melody which refuses to leave your ears alone. The key change and 3-part harmonies in the middle also lend something of The Beta Band's classic folktronica to the song. 'Greed' has a similarly marching feel about it, spiced with flavours of the orient, caravans trailing across the desert, but spiralling synths instead of sitars, a salute to time travelers everywhere.
Morose-sounding 'Evolve And Expand' brings things right down, the dark and dreamy minor chords meandering oddly alongside the other songs here. The band's love of studio experimentation also got the better of them on 'Sunk', the wowzer wowzer synthesizer a bit of a 'work in progress' maybe? Never mind, by the time you reach the shimmering electronica of 'Love' and 'She' with its 80's inspired Hall & Oates pop (think 'Rich Girl'), the 32 or so minutes have left something shiny and new, but drenched in psych-suds and the arch-medieval.
'Deadlock' could easily be the album's de facto title, the song's mantra wrapped in further electronic wizardy: "It's all that you're seeing, it's all that you're feeling, it's all that you're being, just look within.” Yes, look within and you'll hear re-imagined 80s pop on Stealing Sheep's bastard son of Into The Diamond Sun. Not Real is born out of the art school students' love for studio experimentation. Recent performances of David Lynch songs at the Barbican, along with the band's collaborations with the Radiophonic Workshop on an original soundtrack to the cult 70’s science fiction film 'La Planete Sauvage', suggest 'normal' service is unlikely to resume any time soon. My only criticism would be that once you've got a taste for this sort of stuff keep going. After all, Liverpool is one of those cities that anchors groups in the off-kilter and psychedelic. Julian Cope, The Coral, even a certain band called The Beatles dabbled with the genre. Something in the Mersey, perhaps?
Walls Have Ears: 21 Years Of Wall Of Sound is the sort of monster 35-song compilation befitting of London-based independent Wall Of Sound. Founded by British impresario Mark Jones in 1994, the label started out with a big beat and nu-soul roster inspired by the 80s British underground acid jazz movement. Although initially invested in dance compilations, like the Give 'Em Enough Dope series which started in 1995, Propellerheads shapeshifting debut Decksanddrumsandrockandroll really got the party started in 1998, particularly with the Number 1 single 'History Repeating' (featuring Shirley Bassey). Wall Of Sound would take on newcomers like Royksopp with their debut Melody AM in 2001, but also welcome back veterans like Grace Jones with her 2010 return Hurricane, and Human League's Credo in 2011. Imprints Bad Magic (Hip-Hop) and We Love You (guitars) were introduced at the end of the 90s to deal with the label's increasingly diverse range of artists.
That Mark Jones enjoys a party is clear from his involvement in projects like Fabric, the Glastonbury Dance Tent and (inevitably) Ibiza club music. Walls Have Ears reflects that to some extent, party music with the occasional 'chilled' moment, but it's the album's selection of rarities which really make it worthwhile.
Don't look for subtlety in the Propellerheads' 'Take California', but with its vengeful Nixon sample followed by techno effects swamped in an overwhelming backbeat, it represents some kind of flagship song for Walls Have Ears. Royksopp's legendary dancefloor tearjerker 'Poor Leno' should get the holiday memories flooding back, and Grace Jones' 'Williams Blood' benefits from the Aeroplane “sunriser” remix, foot-friendly techno beats and a futuristic keyboard. Isle Of Wight's Bees' busking foot-shuffler 'A Minha Menina' is good-time music for bespoke party occasions, surely Wall Of Sound's raison d'etre?
Novelty selections tweak the listener's interest. BEF's 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' is dark and punky, Boy George's voiced vocal sexual and fetishistic (“losing my hand on the burning sand”). Scala & Kolacny Brothers' very odd choral version of Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters' would work well at a beach party come-down, and the Bossanova energy of hipster Shawn Lee's 'Happiness' always livens up proceedings.
The real merit of Walls Have Ears is in its selection of rarities, mostly recordings from BBC sessions. Grace Jones 'Love You To Life' on Jools Holland's Later show is strident and powerful, Ms Jones in very fine voice with gospel backing singers and a great band in tow. The Jolly Boys 'Perfect Day' also on Jools Holland rollicks in the sun once more, while The Elektrons 'Get Up' for Gilles Peterson has an unusual unpredictable quality. Akasha's 'Brown Sugar' for Mary Anne Hobbs is seductive and soulful, and when it finally comes to The Wiseguys' 'Ooh La La', you realize it's time to fetch the party poppers …
So Walls Have Ears is an enjoyable album of party treats. Harking back to the underground raves and dance movements of the 80s, it chronicles Wall Of Sound's 90s follow-up and its spreading of musical tentacles during the last 21 years. If you're a regular to this kind of music, you'll know most of it already, but like a good party they've thrown in a few nice surprises, too!
Roisin Murphy generally dazzles with her diva-like qualities and a voice that suits every musical occasion, whether it's a clubland anthem, electronic disco or something more gentle, a soulful ballad perhaps. The Irish singer is very much up for a party on her recent collaborative dance mixes with house music DJ's David Morales and Boris Duglosch (to name but a few!), but it's the more vulnerable qualities that impress on her latest album. Last year's Mi Senti ep set the melodramatic tone, and the songs on Hairless Toys are also written, arranged and produced with long-term music partner Eddie Stevens.
Opener 'Gone Fishing' has some of starry wonder of Mina's 'Ancora Ancora Ancora' which Murphy covered recently. Fluffy electro-beats are shrouded in a warm dayglow feeling generated by oddly-skewed keyboards and a concealed “held back” vocal. The song is a tribute to 80s NYC's Drag Ball Culture celebrated in Jennie Livingston's 1990 film 'Paris Is Burning'. 'Evil Eyes' purrs and soothes at the beginning, but the disco lights are flashing once again, melody and groove realized through summer-sounding Ibiza keyboard and Chic-like guitars. Murphy's voice is more strident this time, if I didn't know better, I'd say she sounded like Grace Jones on the classic 'Slave To The Rhythm'. There are a lot of these playful qualities throughout Hairless Toys, very different from 2007's Overpowered album. Steven's arrangements fuse sound and mood together with nice little vignettes, “underpowered” you might say, but the low-key approach gives the singer more freedom to express herself.
There are odd twists and turns, but the album remains coherent. The odd drum roll which preludes 'Exploitation' wrong-foots the listener before the song's hypnotic allure kicks in. The radio-friendly 4-minute version will no doubt get people's feet tapping, but the album's 9 minutes better conveys the idea of dangerous love. The minimal percussion and nu-jazz bass licks add to the NYC clubland feeling (the sort of fringe stuff producer Matthew Herbert encouraged on 2006's Blue Ruby) as the singer recounts her "so-called true story":
"Never underestimate creative people and the depths that they will go/Loneliness cruising at high speed/Ain't that a feeling you and I know well/So let the sparks fly you and I glide/Ticking like a time bomb 'til I receive your reply/Who, who's exploiting who?"
Musical gears shift effortlessly between songs, but it's Murphy's voice that makes the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Down is as good as up with off-kilter ballad 'Uninvited Guest'. Blobby electronic bass scrapes the drums off the floor, but ultimately the slinky jazz keyboard sound (something like Donald Fagen's 'Nightfly') carries the song. The singer's voice drifts, but sounds hopeful by the end: "I'll keep wandering aimlessly/Until that flickering moment of intensity/I'll form with you, stranger, recognise me". 'House Of Glass' could be 'Exploitation pt 2' with its hushed tones, but the song's tempo builds steadily as Murphy recounts unemotionally public life turned inside out ("Every glass house child is a trouble inside"). There's a lot of this working through feelings on Hairless Toys, cutting a bit deeper than the disco stuff.
Surprises, too. Stoned Americana ballad 'Exile' is a night-time come-down with its softly-delivered vocal and whirring campfire crackling sounds. The album title comes from the words "careless talk" being misheard, but like the psychologists' inkblot experiment, its meaning becomes whatever you want. On 'Hairless Toys (Gotta Hurt)', Murphy's voice emerges from pained inner reflections to soar gently choir-like against minimal piano tinkling. On 'Unputdownable', the instrument creates a watery glaze as it meets the warmth of Murphy's voice, an explosive hook transforming the album's closing ballad into a pop song.
So it's a strange but beautiful sort of party album. The emotional qualities of Roisin Murphy's voice sometimes got lost in Moloko's artistry and shapeshifting. Eddie Stevens' arrangements for the singer give her more space and allow a fuller range of expression. Hairless Toys resonates with a delicious night time groove and delicate mood shifts, but you're also left with an indefatigable urge to leap onto the dancefloor.
Hot on the hills of wonderfully poignant single ‘Beat’s Like Distant Tides’ comes the full length release from Humberside’s, sorry, North East Lincs’ very own Orphan Boy. Their recent track for Grimsby Town FC might not have been quite enough to get the Mariners over the line in the Conference play off penalty shoot out but maybe this album will finally see them achieve some of the recognition that is long overdue.
First things first, this isn’t an album packed full of singles which will leap out at you from the very first listen. Very much a slow burn, it’s full of subtle but powerful lyrics and sweeping sounds like the shifting ripples of sand on the Humber estuary. However, that said, there are multiple mini musical highlights. For instance the guitar outro of ‘From the Provinces’ sounds like Charlie Burchill’s guitar in ‘The American’ by Simple Minds, the expansive sound of ‘Clover’ matches anything by The Jesus and Mary Chain and some of the more insightful lyrics could have been written by Lord Morrissey himself.
The album is a rare thing which combines intent observation without
being self absorbed, doleful without being morbid, poignant but jaunty.
A bit like The Arctic Monkeys on downers. But not everyone needs to
write Rickenbacker laden festival singalongs – I’d prefer Orphan Boy’s
gentle Coastal Tones any day of the week. 8/10
It’s fitting that Newcastle United have just secured their Premiership status. A long-suffering, passionate fan-base have had a miserable 2015 and never seem to get what they deserve.
Many moons ago, in the early 90s, while the likes of The Stone Roses and The Charlatans were beginning to get national attention, Newcastle’s vibrant music scene was struggling to lift its head above the parapet. On December 6th 1990 six of the city’s best-loved bands played Riverside in front of an adoring crowd, then, disillusioned and overlooked by the wider world, promptly fell apart. Another long-suffering, passionate fan-base hadn’t got what they deserved. Was Newcastle just too far north to exert its magnetism on the other music hubs? Or was it something else? A charm and honesty in stark contrast to the driving ambition of the Mancs, Brummies and Cockneys.
After that defining gig only Hug struggled on. An exuberant, psychedelic rock band full of hope and passion, fronted by Gemma Wilson-Pitt, they finally admitted defeat on May 20th 1994. Road-weary and emotionally exhausted, the writing was on the wall.
I knew none of this until asked to review Mechanical Mouse Organ’s current album. I hadn’t even heard of Hug, which proves the point. Following a brief reunion in 2011, the band died for a second time in 2012, and that should have been it.
But you can’t keep good men down, and true to the spirit of their previous incarnation, Liam, Dave and George, who runs their label, have reunited with a new singer – Liam’s nephew Daryl. The result is an album with a brave, live feel, full of first takes and fresh, abandoned performances. Just as a football club can change its line-up yet still retain a quintessential identity, so MMO do not sound like a reincarnation of Hug, but they retain a warmth and sincerity which is rooted in those briefly fabulous days of the early 90s.
Influences abound – I can hear nods to The Beatles, The Who, Squeeze and The Undertones, with Daryl’s elastic tonsils embracing a journey through decades he’s too young to remember. The blend of youth and experience works perfectly. The new boy doesn’t feel like a bolt-on, but a natural part of a still evolving band.
The opening track, ‘Ill-Judged Text’ has a Pete Townshend shape to it, deceptively subtle melodies arcing through Entwistle bass motifs and drumming as committed as Moon on a wonderfully wild day. Among other stand-out tracks is the Blondie-esque ‘It’s Just Love’. With lyrics worthy of Squeeze and a passionate vocal trembling like Fergal, it’s a hit! ‘Honour System’ evokes Revolver, with a ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ drum pattern and teasing ‘If I Needed Someone’ guitar licks. Excellently recorded, controlled but ‘live’, it’s a worthy tribute to the days when great songs didn’t need committees to write them or months to be recorded. The slow, rambling ‘Call Me Up’ didn’t really do it for me but the discordant ‘Our Dave’s Song’ is fresh and challenging as is closing track ‘The Life of Me’.
All in all, the ghosts of unrealised dreams are alive and kicking and Revenge Western Records have unfinished business on their hands. There’s more to Newcastle than Jimmy Nail, Dire Straits and Mike Ashley! 8/10
Opener “Waterslide” begins sounding like a missing intro from Verve’s ‘A Storm In Heaven’ album, before breaking into a mash up of Deep Purple meets Supertramp. The vocalist borders on Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, hurling his voice over the stoner rock avalanche that has kicked this album off more than immensely. “Take A Good Look” steps into the rock and reggae pond that was once displayed during Zeppelin’s 3rd effort, so can see they have an ear for the Jones/Bonham rhythms. The brass suits the break downs to a tee and I’m blown away by some of the guitar work going on here, amazing! “The Fear” is a rapid psyche-rock screamer, hurling it’s way at the sun like a swarm of asteroids. His voice is more reminiscent of Ozzy’s here, and much suited as this could’ve easily made it’s way on to ‘Paranoid’. “I Can’t Sleep” brings them back down the path of Led, but with more intricate arrangements and Zappa style licks, followed by harmonica hooks and funk bass attack. I love memorable, yet credible tunes and this is so catchy that I’ll probably have it in my head for weeks. “Apathetic Nation” is the calmest voyage so far, embedded with minimal guitar patterns; followed by cosmic interstellar psyche-out delay, and propelled noise! “Yes She Can” is a 70s style prog-monster, climbing across Captain Beefheart’s greenhouse, but only to fall through and land on a plantation owned by the axe carrying members of Jethro Tull. It’s great to hear this type of band gracing the live music venues in my home town of St Helier along with Joe Young and the Bandits. “Start Living Easy” is a stomp filled journey through a street parade lead by Rory Gallagher. Jangling guitars complement the bass and drums before spiraling off into a burst of darkness and sonic-muse! The album ends with “Ritual”, and I’m feeling this is the pinnacle of the album, largely due to it’s laced organs and early Pink Floyd influence. Also it sounds as though it was conducted by the great Arthur Brown during it’s wailing guitars and marching drums, followed by rapid timings and Page-esque riffage. With a tad more effort in the production, these chaps could easily be in the same league as Wolfmother et al. ******* 7/10
There was a simple truth that never crossed my mind during all those formative years of indie popping. While I was concentrating on throwaway classics like ‘Can You Dig It’ and being absorbed by the brilliant arcade game graphics of the packaging, PWEI where slowly undergoing metamorphosis. The signs were there in the name – Pop Will Eat Itself – how self destructive can you get? And with Anti Nasty League they’ve taken this level of bloody mindedness and cussedness a step further by only providing a physical release from their own shop. No download chart for these guys.
The other major oversight on my part was just concentrating on the music and the increasingly industrial sound then bounding around discos like an idiot. If I’d listened it would have turned out that PWEI were becoming increasingly politicised about and isolated within the music industry. How did the message in titles like ‘Ich Bin Ein Auslander’ and ‘Dos Dedos Mis Amigos’ go unnoticed?
Without a doubt the greatest victory of this latest version of the band (with Crabbie still the main perpetrator) is the way they’ve maintained, no gestated their sense of outrage and dissatisfaction with societies establishments. The tone is set early with the rabble rousing ‘21st Century English Civil War’ repeating the mantra ‘It was war that they wanted, war that they got’ over and over up to the beautifully orchestrated outro.
Sonically this has got to be PWEI’s most sophisticated record yet. The scratchy industrial guitars still make a strong appearance the chorus riff in ‘Digital Meltdown’ is sure to be a massive crowd pleaser before doffing a cap to the past with their early synth sounds and rap bridge. But other tracks go above and beyond this and the sequencing in the likes of ‘Mental Pollution’ is as rich as any Prodigy record.
There are some unlikely targets covered– take privacy of data as one which seldom gets much of an airing in popular music scenes. ‘They Can’t Take (What You Won’t Let ‘em Have)” provides ghoulish commentary on that. But there is a consistent return to the music industry as public enemy No. 1 so it’s fitting that the bonus track is one final tirade in ‘Smash It’, a vicious 4-minute anti-establishment, anti-industry rant fit to make your ears bleed.
Sure – PWEI are one of my favourite bands so I have to declare an
interest. But I’d forgotten just how much I like them – surely the
sign of a great album. Don’t let the fact this review got trapped
on a laptop without a battery for a 2 weeks change your mind. Get
out there now, don’t listen to anyone else and make your purchase
(though don't bother looking for it on iTunes). Smash It. It’s the