albums - february 2017
This happens less often than I think it should. Forty years on from 1977, and I get to begin the 2017 reviews with music from a quite real survivor of those now sepia-tinged days of pins and glue. Formerly of the Prefects, who recorded two Peel sessions and broke up in 1979, you could forgive any of their members still able to pick up a guitar for mellowing into folksy musings, writing concept albums about mantelpiece ornaments, or really not doing very much at all but not so. Robert Lloyd and current band lineup are knocking it out with a renewed vigour like it actually is the late 70s and it's their third Peel session, or abrasive noise to that startling effect. I did hear their 2015 "Mind Over Matter" album and that rattled along more than convincingly, but "Become Not Becoming" seems like the work of a different band, an altogether more virulent, chaotic collection of tracks.
Perhaps some of the ideas that were developing on "Mind Over
Matter" are presented here in a complete form. Fully researching
the Nightingales/Prefects back catalogue for clues as to the band's
current songwriting direction could take quite a while, and the presence
of several Krautrock luminaries only muddles things further. Loud,
frenetic and utilising stop/start timings for no other reason than
to confuse the listener, this is, I realised, how punk rock actually
sounded forty years ago, and not exactly as it is remembered now.
Perhaps six tracks is as much as Robert Lloyd thinks we can handle
of this sort of stuff, and he may be right. Whatever their purpose,
the 2017 incarnation of the Nightingales are making music that seems
as compelling and challenging as anything they've ever done.
Some of you have already got a copy of this one. A name familiar from a hundred or more festival advertisements, often supporting on the main stage or occasionally headlining the second and third stages, there have been many similar skater punk bands, bands that combined ska influenced horn sections and thrashy emo guitar tunes, but today it seems as if Less Than Jake are the last men standing at the skatepark corral. Just listen to "Bomb Drop", the third track on "Sound The Alarm" and its three chord pop punk tune, its yelled vocal, the brass section providing an added depth to the three chord tune, and the realisation that by the time you've heard and recognised each of these elements of the track that the song itself has actually ended, which proves that Less Than Jake have lost none of their enthusiasms since they first appeared in around 2002 or thereabouts.
Anyway I checked their history via Wikipedia and Less Than Jake first
formed in 1992, which is now an actual quarter of a century ago and
by anyone's standards "Sound The Alarm" is something of
an achievement, given that the average life expectancy of a skatepunk
band is approximately twentyone and a half years less than that. Which
brings me to my next question, what did Jake have that no-one else
did? I looked again at the band Wiki page and it turns out that Jake
was someone's dog, so the Florida quintet are possibly due an award
for perpetuating the longest-running band in-joke in recent music
history. The numerous fans of the skatepunk maestros already knew
I read that what Rebuilt Electric are about is, get this, reimagining pop music. That amount of ambition will inevitably bring about results of some sort and pitching themselves somewhere between glossy 80s Eurobeat and their favourite Depeche Mode tracks (these aren't exactly the same thing), the German duo declare themselves the actual saviours of pop music and after that much excitement, the band and their album probably need to sound like a combination of A-Ha, Yello, Duran Duran and Roxette, if that was the actual idea. What "Phantom Fever" does sound like is a mash up of Kings Of Leon and, you've guessed it, Depeche Mode, whose popularity in Europe is probably unequalled amongst their 80s contemporaries. I read that there's a theme bar dedicated to them in the Estonian capital of Tallin.
Probable sometime patrons of the DM bar (http://www.depechemode.ee/),
Rebuilt Electric know that in the electro rock stakes the best idea
is to turn up the bass and drum sound and keep things a fraction on
the heavy side, which can add a gloss to even the least inspired actual
tune, which is where Rebuilt Electric could use a bit of an overhaul.
The gleaming production standards of " Live And Leave" can't
quite disguise the fact that it clunks along a bit too robotically,
for example, and the actual songwriting debt to Depeche Mode themselves
is sometimes a little too obvious, on tracks such as "Right Here"
and "Sleeping The Day" for example, and it's when Rebuilt
Electric make a slightly heavier sound and start to sound a bit like
the Stooges that "Phantom Fever" starts to live up to its
ideas, with "Wonderful Day" probably the most effective
track and "Miss Me" sounding actually inspired. Aside from
that, while "Phantom Fever" isn't quite the meisterwerk
that Rebuilt Electric may have aimed for, it's a more than just alright
electrorock album, and Depeche Mode fans will probably find much to
appreciate about it.
I had to remind myself of who originally performed "No Diggity", a song I remember although I don't think I ever knew who actually sang it. It was of course the now faintly recalled Blackstreet (with Dr Dre involved somewhere) and the song itself is now nigh on twenty one years old, or about two years older than Alice Jemima herself. I listened to the original again and it really is the kind of song that any budding folktronica artiste might think they should make an attempt at, along with other mid 90s grooves such as Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It", TLC's "Unpretty", I could write a lengthy list of other similar tracks that Alice Jemima and her band could reinterpret in their minimalist drum'n'bass style, although I think it's a bit of a strange choice for a cover version. Referencing London Grammar and the XX in more or less equal quantities, Alice Jemima has clocked up over three million plays of her version of "No Diggity" on Soundcloud, and whether as many people will hear the other eleven tracks on her album isn't an improbability.
Number crunching aside, it's the first track on the album that is
probably the strongest, at least at a first hearing. "Electric"
seems like everything is working as it should with Alice Jemima and
her band, it's not too fast, not too overproduced, the right amounts
of percussive bassline and a tune that Alice herself can interpret
without exaggerating her vocal. "Dodged A Bullet" nods towards
St Etienne and other purveyors of late 90s loungebar sophistication,
"Liquorice" and its strangely lurching rhythm recalls PIL
somewhere, "Toxic" isn't a Britney Spears cover although
you wouldn't put that past Alice Jemima by now, and "Take Me
Back" drops the clubby ambiences entirely and sounds like the
sort of folksy guitarsong that Alice started out with. Partly chart
friendly dancey fodder and occasionally unpredictable in its choice
of influences, Alice Jemima's first album is really an attempt at
an indie/urban crossover sound that I don't think I hear often enough,
or perhaps I'm not hearing from my regular music sources. That may
change if it really takes off for Alice Jemima.
From the Danish capital of Copenhagen, a partly anonymous trio - that would be Luc, Gee and C - are going to draw inevitable comparisons with the Raveonettes, the only other band from Denmark that a lot of people can name offhand. They aren't really at all like each other though. Where the Raveonettes are bubblegum pop with a dash of thrashpunk aesthetic, Silent Riders are a determinedly gloomy synth outfit that owes more to Portishead and Massive Attack than to, I dunno, The Primitives and St Etienne, and while listening to the album I was struck by exactly how more than one of its tracks were reminding me of Everything But The Girls' 1994 chart success "Missing", and that reminded me the both Ben and Tracy worked alongside Massive Attack in the late 90s. This is sidetracking way off the matter in hand, and since Silent Riders anonymity stretches as far as wearing masks onstage we aren't likely to find out exactly what their influences are, band of mystery that they are.
Probably the consistently best thing about Silent Rider's self titled
album is its production. The minimalist, darkly resonant sound of
their electronic keyboards and percussion has a vitality at its core
which matches the sullen, breathy vocal provided by a female chanteuse,
perhaps Gee or possibly Luc, a voice reminiscent of Sade, of Heather
Smalls and indeed Tracy Thorn, at varying moments throughout the albums
twelve tracks. What Silent Riders could use though, is something more
in the tune department, as track after track seems to reiterate the
same bassline notes, the same timings, the same disillusioned and
distracted tone of vocal, which would perhaps make Silent Rider's
album a good choice for a lengthy train or bus journey that you didn't
want to stay awake throughout. Good effort, Silent Riders, but next
time could you bring the guitar with you, please.
Beginning with "Draw The Line", you could expect that Days Indoors are about to evolve into a full blown synthpop outfit, with a melodic hook and a squalling guitar making the first track on "Dusty Road" one of the more memorable album openers I've heard recently. Days Indoors themselves quote influences that include Doves, Radiohead, Athlete and, just in case that seems something too Indie, they also quote Foo Fighters as a band which have in some form inspired them, so I'm a bit curious as to how this one is going to sound. Few people ever mention Athlete nowadays, a mid noughties band that I always thought didn't quite get their due, and fewer still would put Radiohead and the Dave Grohl band on the same sheet, so purely for sticking their collective necks out a bit I already decided that Days Indoors are a band I've got some time for, before hearing much of "Dusty Road" itself.
As Days Indoors themselves, you might get the idea that they only
just avoided sounding a bit 90s, adding all manner of electronic trickery
to their tracks which for some reason I thought would actually work
for much of "Dusty Road", which turns out to be one of those
albums that are memorable for the strength of songwriting more than
how the songs are played, such as "Help Me Find" and its
blistering intro which lifts the song above merely generic mainstream
soft rock, something that Days Indoors are as good at as a few more
well known bands of recent years. That also goes for "Any Given
Day", the sort of mid tempo ballad that's more difficult to make
work than it sounds, and listening to the complete album also reveals
hints of the influence of the Cure, Snow Patrol and Neil Young, and
whether those are actually there or not isn't really relevant. "Dusty
Road" is an album that more or less anyone that hears it will
appreciate at least a part of.
Every so often I get an album, usually from a not so very well known group of musicians, that either through design or accident completely nails the lo-fi guitar sound that characterises some of the best Indie music, songs played by a two guitar bass and drums outfit, perhaps with not so much in the way of production, and it's a great album. "Daybreak" almost belongs in that category, but the difference here is that Divisionists album isn't one that has been thrown together entirely by chance. The biggest clue to this is their cover of the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes", which is a song that often finds itself mentioned whenever the "what's your favourite Velvets track" question is raised, and while Divisionists version is a creditable one, it's let down by a lacklustre production which is the most notable flaw of "Daybreak" and that even one of Lou Reed's greatest songs can't quite overcome. Essentially, much of "Daybreak" sounds as if it was recorded in a cardboard box, and a damp one at that.
This is a bit troubling as "Daybreak" isn't that actually
bad an album, although the songs and production jar against one another
repeatedly. Divisionists mainman Brendan Quinn has the kind of experience
as a musician that should make "Daybreak" something more
of an experience than it is, but for all the efforts of Divisionists
- and there are some nifty sounding guitar licks in amongst it all
- "Daybreak" doesn't quite take off the way it was probably
intended to, although that isn't to say the Divisionists can't improve
on their debut. Cool sleeve, anyhow.