Sunday, 14 March 2010

Crude Futures - So So Modern

So So Modern's live shows are a thing of calculated, intense beauty. Taking to the stage in primary colours, clad in shamanistic cowls and cloaks and with banks of primal synthesisers in front of them they tap into our collective cultural memory banks in an almost quasi-pagan ritual of Day-Glo pantheism. Playful and subversive, these Antipodeans have been kicking around the UK and Europe for a while now and released a singles and EPs compilation in 2008 (Friends and Fires + 000 EPs which was also released via Transgressive), but this is their first album proper. Having toured extensively they have honed their skills across the best part of a thousand shows, and their music is predictable tightly rendered as a result. Herein lies the perennial question surrounding the majority of over hyped, strategically positioned modern music; can an exciting live proposition bridge the gap and deliver on their promise and make a first album that doesn't quell the hype or incite the naysayers?

Across the album a template emerges of taut, angular post-punk interspersed and lacerated with driving polyrhythms, gang vocals, Afrobeat guitars and math-rock pretensions. If we're going to be cruel, So So 2005...there is even some woodblock hitting malarkey on 'Be Anywhere' that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rapture record. But to paint them as revivalists would be disingenuous and unfair. Immediacy is the key on tracks such as 'The Worst Is Yet To Come', which is a blast of off-kilter synths and cacophonous vocals, like Liars on uppers, which slowly convalesces into something much prettier and harder to pin down. The drone of noise that welcomes 'Be Anywhere' offer a dislocated, unhinged texture while the gleefully humanist approach of 'Island Hopping/Channel Crossing' is nicely counterpointed by a breakdown that slows and regresses the song to its core element.

Where the album really makes sense is on the longer, more progressive tracks. Opener 'Life In The Undergrowth' possesses tautly meshed guitar lines that are underpinned with a disconcerting wash of synthesis that gradually weaves in and out of key. Oscillating bleeps of noise, pulsing bass and a reverb soaked guitar figure add to a sense of tumultuous decay. 'Berlin' is the touchstone, the heart of the album. Rhythmic sequences of motorik arpeggios collide, eliding time. Euphoric rushes of synthesis and guitar rise to meet each other before a subtle key change stretches and elongates the song, eventually completely folding it in on itself, providing a glimmering layer of sound that expands then contracts. It captures the mechanised, industrialised pulse of a city; white lights on grey concrete, the sense of movement and of being part of something but also the converse of this - the 'lack' that is at its heart. Connection with the environment around is is promoted but there is a stilted emotional distance present. 'Dusk And Children' is in comparison languorous in tone, structured around a deceptively simple combination of harmony, melody and samples that eventually surges into a crescendo of optimistic rapture.

Music can be an aurally coruscating experience, and this trio of songs feature an ambivalence of melody and emotion that is both invigorating and perplexing. In their words the album "explores the burden of optimism in a constantly 'apocalyptic' reality". Without wishing to further burden the arid wasteland of semi-intellectualism their music is a response to the pressure of postmodernity and its incumbent cultural practices. It's all about togetherness. Or something like that.

Crude Futures is an album of immense promise and satisfaction that is contagious, fun and involving while the signposts for exciting new tangents are also evidential. There are blemishes and rough edges, but that is part of their charm, and amongst the differing and varied musical spheres traversed here they are on their way to finding that elusive sonic identity all of their own.

This article was originally produced for To view the music review of Crude Futures by So So Modern and to explore the rest of the site, please click on the article title.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine's Day.....

So yeah, it's Valentine's Day. Daniel Snaith knows where it's at. If you like this then go here to listen to a new mp3 provided by the lovely people at The Line Of Best Fit.

Shameless, abhorrent self-promotion - Jairus promo vid

Yes yes yes it is disgusting and a throroughly despicable act but someone has to do it. We've all stuck our own name into Google at some point, this is basically the same. So here is a promo video for my band Jairus' EP which will be due out in 2010. The song is called 'Turn, Heel', I'm tickling the ivories and it is fun fun fun.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rotten Pear - Andrew Vincent

Andrew Vincent is proof positive of the sheer abundance and quality of the music scene in Canada over the last decade, ably demonstrated by The Line Of Best Fit's very own regular feature Oh! Canada. Little known outside his homeland, Rotten Pear is Vincent's fifth album and the first after a five year recording hiatus. Bereft of his former backing band the Pirates, the album is lent an air of intimacy by being recorded at home in Toronto with producer Jarrett Bartlett.

The album veers between gently plucked accoustic numbers and a reconfiguration of garage rock, replete with primal stand up drumming and scratchy guitar, which is counterpointed with Vincent's baleful vocals. Occasionally rambling lyrivs are wedded to subtle subversions of the construct of 'rock' music across the album, culminating in the friction between the subject matter of 'Going Out Tonight' and its breezy, soulful execution. Elsewhere the gossamer thin strands of melody that shift and sway during 'Sleep To Dream' offer a subtle change of pace, as does the cello and woodwind driven title track. Perhaps the only misstep is the cover of Kate Bush's 'Hounds Of Love' which closes the album. The ubiquity of both the original and the Futureheads version mean that while the song isn't 'untouchable' subsequent versions will have to bear comparison. Woozy and somnabulant the song is stripped down to its core elements. A diverting if not entirely successful version, but Vincent has plenty more arrows in the quiver across the album.

Rotten Pear is at its strongest in its striking use of narrative, shifting seamlessly between different modes and themes throughout. The narrators are good time boys with a beer in hand and a quick quip on their lips, losers, drifters, vagrants while the songs are populated by acne scarred youths, wannabe songwriters and down at heel drug addicts. There is a filmic sensibilty to the songs, portrayed in the diner scene in 'Diane' and the barely contained violence of the bar brawl in 'Under Your Thumb'. The existential tension of 'Going Out Tonight' and the irony laden 'Canadian Dream' display a keen sense of Vincent's personality, a Canadian Sisyphus watching a clay covered beer can roll back down to the plain. But while the songs display a weariness and melancholy, Vincent always conjures the right turn of phrase to add warmth to the most desperate situation.

The songs find expression in an emotional, tragic-comic vein. Vincent writes intelligently with clarity of purpose and melody, and across the breadth of the album proves himself adept at capturing the sensation and minutiae of a situation. It is this precisness of the record that lends it such warmth.

"In a sports bar in the middle of town, all the guys gather round, With their sweat pants and acne scars, one by one, they ask you out" ('Hi-Lo')

Vincent's voice has a delightfully lived-in appeal, full of a gentle old-fashioned naivete and the album is testament that a good song and melody needn't claw at the face of your consciousness but can gradually envelop you with a sense of beauty and control. Self-deprecating, funny, occasionally adventurous, nostalgic and beautiful - Rotten Pear proves to be Vincent's most satisfying and complete release to date, mining a deep seam of emotion and experience which deserves a wider audience for his work.

This article was originally produced for To read the music review of Rotten Pear by Andrew Vincent and explore the rest of the site, please click on the article title.

Boys of Summer - Andrew Vincent

This is a little treat for all of you that may occasionally happen upon this blog and find it a right laugh-riot. Things in the real world took their toll as 2009 got old, so I haven't been able to write anything for a long time. However somewhere above this beautiful ukulele cover of Don Henley's magnificent 'Boys of Summer' there is a review of AV's latest album, and a wonderful little pindrop it is in the world of processed, mechanised sounds. Enjoy.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Part Chimp - The Bar Below, Folkestone 18/09/09

You know what you will get with Part Chimp. Noise noise noise noise noise noise noise noise noise noise...Noise like a vacuum, sucking and bellowing. Guitars so overdriven they sound as if they have started oscillating. Thunderous, frenetic drums above a groove-laden fuzzed up, fucked up bass sound. Monolithic riffs. Instruments and equipment that looks archaic, as if they’ve been dredged from another era, perfectly matching their primal sound. There is succinctness and clarity of purpose to their noisemongering. The fat is trimmed, expunged, obliterated. Within that vacuum, there are waveforms of noise you can lose yourself in. Imagine how your testicles would react if confronted with me in pink lingerie. There's a picture on my profile. Check it. That’s right; they would shrivel and try to burrow into your prostate. Or if you're a lady, your lady parts would die. A similar reaction occurs to your ears when confronted with Part Chimp live; they attempt to invert themselves against wave after wave of sound, to find solace within your cranium. The same is true of other ‘noise’ bands, but Part Chimp are different. Secretly they would like to a pop band, because secreted in every song is a melody of transcendental harmoniousness. You just have to wallow across the sonic mire to get to it. But it’s there, waiting.

New material is aired and sounds great, alongside earlier songs like 'God Machine' which was fantastic; the chiming guitars and upper-register vocals showcasing their more melodic side. Of the new songs the trio of 'Dirty Sun', 'Sweet T' and 'Tomorrow Midnite' all possess that dirty ass groove and grasp of dynamic that make Part Chimp such a good band.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Get Color - HEALTH

The inference is present in the album title: GET COLOR. On their debut record HEALTH appeared wilfully obtuse, ready to astound us with their noise credentials and communal sensibilities. On their follow up they leave behind to an extent the harsh and occasionally atonal metallic passages of noise and bombast, massaging them instead into stricter structural frameworks. It could be said that they eschewed beauty in their earlier work. Now splashes of colour and warmth are added to the dislocations to great effect.

The signs of this were first sown back in March with the release of ‘Die Slow’ as a single. On release I was unsure as to whether it is a continuation of the work started by remix album Disco or a signpost toward a brave new direction. It sounds not unlike NIN without the chest-beating, or if somebody had enervated Drum’s Not Dead era Liars from their (beautiful) but somnabulant tone poems. This tells only part of the story. It stands alone but is perfectly absorbed within the album. Techno-metal sounds like the worst subgenre on earth, but it isn’t that far from the truth. A dirty arpeggiated synth announces the track before being overpowered by a pounding beat and bestial guitars. This is then juxtaposed with the prettiness of the hook laden chorus that drags it from sounding inhumane to something much more carnal and elementary.

Suitably wrong footed by HEALTH displaying an unabashed commercial nous on ‘Die Slow’ (they admitted in interviews that it was written to be a “Top 10 single”), the rest of the album is a refinement of their aesthetic. Opener ‘In Heat’ commences with a hazy, amorphous, indistinct passage of noise that is brutally interrupted by tribalistic drums and glass-like guitars.

HEALTH’s output is industrial music in the way that This Heat or Throbbing Gristle could be considered industrial. ‘Death+’ takes an agglomeration of samples then adds shimmering synths, descending and traversing and playfully interacting with the rest of the song. Cut and shut noise, barely audible processed screams – the whole thing becomes a vast, dissonant edifice of sound. This is explored further on ‘Eat Flesh’, with harsh slabs of metallic noise that sound like the death cry of a T-1000, gradually ossified beyond recognition. These intrusions are perfectly amalgamated into the mix. The abrasions are still intact but with a greater accuracy and precision and beauty. A simple dichotomy it may be, but it is clear and present on tracks like 'Nice Girls', with its aching melody ripped apart by thunderous drums and face-ripping shrieks.

The album contains many beautiful moments amongst the abrasive elements. The sunclouds of noise and dream like plateaus of ‘Before Tigers’ are echoed in the brief interludes of ‘Severin’ (named after the Banshees bassist or the ex-Aberdeen midfielder perhaps?) and the fathoms deep, dub-like moments of ‘We Are Water’. Both latter tracks contain exhilarating guitar breaks like shards of broken glass that wouldn’t sound out of place on Metal Box. Album closer ‘In Violet’ is the longest song on the record and throughout its six minutes fourteen seconds of ambient drones, glistening electronica and spectral atmospherics it conjures vast panoramas and open spaces before slowly being consumed by looped synths. Austere, fragile, beautiful.

There is a detachment in the melodic abstractions of Jake Dzusik's vocals. Amidst the chaos they appear ethereal and heavenly – processed, mutated, androgenised and amputated from their source. A layer of texture rather than a focal point, they anchor the music and provide respite from the uncompromising nature of the music. Unfathomable though the lyrics may be, the melodies are resonant and have a humanist element to them.

Impeccably programmed and arranged, Get Color is the moment that it all makes sense. Nine defined songs that both standalone and combine seamlessly. Their debut was self-recorded over nine months at LA venue The Smell, whereas this time around they have taken the traditional route and recorded in a studio with an engineer. Whether that has led to a newfound clarity of purpose is unclear. Spending nine months of your lives obsessing over pitch correction and drum sounds can probably take it out of you after a while. What is a surety is that HEALTH have stepped up on this record, and released an exciting, cerebral triumph of an album. It really is THAT good.
This article was originally produced for To view the album review of Get Color by HEALTH on the site please click on the article title.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Everything Goes Wrong - Vivian Girls

Comprised of a trio of female Brooklynites, Vivian Girls' eponymous debut was over in twenty one minutes, a heady reconfiguration of girl group harmonies, garage rock and 80s era bands on the Sub Pop/SST rosters forged into an identifiable whole. It sold out on their own label Mauled By Tigers in less than ten days, leading to a re-issue by California based label In The Red. On their sophomore release they promise a longer and darker listen, and to a certain extent this is realised. At thirty six minutes it isn't a stretch, even by modern attention spans and it is only marginally more introverted than its predecessor.

A hazy chord doused in reverb announces the album opener 'Walking Alone At Night'. So far so C86 you may think. What stops it sounding like some form of cultural artefact is its overarching energy and dynamism. Each song contains a cacophony of melody that hits you from every side and points you towards a new primitivism. There is something thrilling about that classic 'rock' lineup, especially in the right hands, and this record proves that such limitations are easily surmountable. From the four drum clicks that announce the song proper I'm hooked. By the time the second track 'I Have No Fun' breezes past barely three minutes have elapsed. The old one-two. Cassie Ramone's vocals trip out of her mouth, hardly legible – but that's not the point. The words create a sensation, a feeling, rather than containing some didactic message or truths. Vivian Girls possess the ability to make me realise that the gap between my current self and my teen self is ever widening, and that remembrance of those times is receding at a furious rate.

Everything Goes Wrong contains various songs that are, for want of a better phrase, torch songs. 'Tension' is the most obvious Spector-esque tune on display, albeit a homespun, lo-fi version; those pounding, rhythmic toms are offset by echo laden vocals, stretched to breaking point and minor key guitars. 'The End' features the most sultry harmonies on offer over an exhilarating, opiate rush that more than echoes Hüsker Dü at their best. Ramone's vocal is especially beguiling, while the ramshackle guitar break could have been lifted from any early Meat Puppets recording (see also that four, maybe five at a push, note guitar break on the jangly 'Can't Get Over You'). The chord progression, awkward vocal phrasing and slow beat of album closer 'Before I Start To Cry' will have you scratching your head while picking up a copy of Weezer's debut and thinking; “What the fuck happened to these guys, why can't they write songs this good any more?”

While listening to the album many different influences clamour for your attention but it never becomes derivative. Music that obviously channels past influences creates a doubled image – inside the reception of the music lie false memories, attempts to commute with the past and recover what is lost. This will always be the case with acts that have revivalist tendencies (that isn't the backhanded compliment that it sounds like), but while others may convey an elegiac relationship with the past Everything Goes Wrong is alive. Despite the properties you can attribute to it, the album is nostalgic without being reverential. Recent releases by Deerhunter, Crystal Stilts and others point to the fact that the locus of 60s girl groups is still hugely influential (especially in the States) and this is evidenced in the teen melodramas of Vivian Girls' songs. But it is testament to the songwriting that you no longer just think of the Shangri La's filtered through Nuggets-esque garage rock when you hear them, but think instead of Vivian Girls.

The thirteen songs on display may be variations on a theme, but they are an expansion of their excellent debut. By their second album Vivian Girls have carved a sonic niche for themselves which may be limiting and the frames of reference borrowed but it is one that remains evergreen. Questions linger on whether they are authentic/inauthentic, but when music is this good you forget everything else and just wish you were watching them in some salubrious Brooklyn joint.
This article was originally produced for To view the album review of Everything Goes Wrong by Vivian Girls on the site please click on the article title.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Fiction Of Her Dreams - Dial M For Murder

I am going to clear the decks at the start of this review because otherwise it will become suffused with comparison and analysis of Dial M For Murder's fine debut album will be irreparably damaged as a result. And yet...they are heavily indebted to a slew of reference points and similar sonic palette to an American band whose name begins with 'I' and whose singer has recently released a solo album under a pseudonym. There, the weight is off...

On their debut Fiction OF Her Dreams Swedish duo David Ortenlof and Andy Lantto have conjured an album of (in their own words) “dark wave indietronica”. Think brooding, plangent minor key guitar chords, tired synths and clipped vocals infused with a surprising lightness of touch. As the album progresses there is a gradual widening and contrast between the dolorous haze of the lower key numbers and the deft indie-pop of previous single 'Oh No' and songs such as 'Hell No', all fuzztone driven bass and angular, jagged guitar.

What Dial M For Murder capture so clearly in their songs is a sense of emotional vacuity, of sleaze, of the underbelly of a dark sepulchral city someplace in the frozen north of Europe. Aesthetic is obviously important for this duo and they capture that sense of claustrophobic, somnabulant chiaroscuro perfectly throughout the record, with the swirling atmospherics of the maudlin 'NYC (Now You Care)' in particular perfectly matching its tale of disconnectedness and isolation.

If I was cruel I would say that this album has arrived five years behind the curve. Brevity is the trick; the ten songs that comprise the album are over in less than thirty minutes. This may sound self-effacing – after all if an album's good surely it should last longer. But structurally the songs are simplistic, and having dispensed with a drummer the lack of naturalism and instinctual feel are replaced with a military precision which suit the short rushes of music.

Comparisons between Dial M For Murder and other bands of this ilk are valid, but unfair and injudicious. It may lazily anchor a review but it is not as if Dial M For Murder are completely hamstrung by their sonic references. It also fails to appreciate that Fiction Of Her Dreams is an album of ten excellently realised dark indie goodies.

This review of Dial M For Murder's debut album Fiction Of Her Dreams was created for the lovely chaps at Wanna see the review on the site? Click on the article title and then explore the rest of the excellent posts on display.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Seasons In The Sun - Nirvana

This is amazing, why haven't I seen this before...I love how ramshackle it all sounds, the obvious timing issues, Cobain's rudimentary drum pattern and cracked vocals. The home movie footage is pretty aces too.