Sunday, 11 October 2009
Saturday, 26 September 2009
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.
Friday, 25 September 2009
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.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
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 www.thelineofbestfit.com. 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
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Part Chimp begin a new slog round this sceptred isle in support of their new album Thriller (released 21st September) in sunny ole Folkestone at The Bar Below on Friday 18th September. I for one will be attending. Come without ear plugs if you're a masochistic motherbitch. It will be aces.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
He tried not to look at the face inches from his. He already knew that the boy was dead. Fear lingered at the edge of his consciousness, terrible and pervasive, refusing to be cowed into submission. His hands gripped the steering wheel. It left his hands bleached a deadly white pallor. He felt the blood coarse through his veins, rushing at the temples. His body had never felt so alive and so inactive. Short though his breathing was he still felt as though all his other senses had been heightened.
But this passing fancy soon left him. Frank felt a broken husk of a man, a withered shell. With the greatest of efforts he undid his seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out. The fresh air hit him immediately. It enlivened him; the sound of the breeze rushing through the leaves had never sounded so melodious. He took a deep draught of the air and felt his chest expand and contract as his breathing returned to him.
He pushed the door to, fearful that the sound of it clanging shut would disturb the still of the early morning. Frank looked around him. He had come to a halt on a narrow country road, wooded on both sides. The trees were dense and no light yet penetrated them. He had driven all night, paying no heed to his road. He had no clue as to his whereabouts.
The sun had not yet risen fully, but in the cold gloom Frank could make out enough details to give him an inkling as to where he could be. Above him was a narrow red brick bridge. Its cold austerity was purely Victorian. Frank could perceive a path, faint yet distinguishable, from the road that led upwards.
He made for the path and, after his jaded legs had become accustomed to the incline, made it to the apex of the bridge. Here he found blighted relics of a railway line that had once passed through the woods, rusting and forgotten. But not by all. He peered forth and as his eyes became inured to the murky light he saw that deep rutted paths led from the old line, which was raised from the woodland floor. Here and there lay agglomerations of leaves, which Frank absent-mindedly stumbled into, but no other sound pierced the silence. He turned and walked to the edge of the bridge. Below him was his car, with the body of the young boy spread across the bonnet and windshield. Had he knocked him down or had he jumped from the bridge? He could not remember.
The empty and silent wood unnerved him. Frank scrambled down the slope and moved back towards his vehicle. The gloom was lifting. Somewhere the sun was shining on a verdant field but as yet no shaft of light invaded the copse.
Frank was not a big man, in fact he was probably of below average build, but as he approached the car he seemed to shrink even further. It was as if he was willing his body to fold in on itself, to withdraw from the terrible scene in front of him.
Yet curiosity is a terrible thing. It has destroyed men, caused the ruination of countless lives, led to death, disease, starvation and, eventually, dust. Men of much greater moral fibre, fortitude and application than Frank had been laid low by their curiosity. It had led them into dark holes, places populated by sullied peoples, to dim avenues of the mind and soul.
The sensible course of action was laid out in front of Frank. It would mean an admission of culpability, of guilt, a stain on his persona. His whole life thus far had been an attempt to predicate his existence and control all outside his events. Though a wholly impossible and futile exercise, he felt it important and completely necessary to achieve this.
The sensible and proper course of action was one phone call away. A divulgence of fault that would lead to acts of contrition between himself and those that he loved. His public and private faces would have to meet. He pulled his phone from his pocket. No signal coverage. Frank turned his head to look at the boy. He was slim and couldn’t be more than sixteen. His body possessed that terrible fragility of adolescence. Frank saw himself in the stalk like limbs and shuddered. He reached out his hand; it quivered as it touched skin. The boy was still warm, but it was a fleeting trace. Soon it would drain from the body until there were no last vestiges left.
Frank walked away from the car, rubbing his fingers. Where they had made contact with skin they itched. He felt revulsion subdue him. He looked at his hand. It looked as if it had been blanched by the contact. The morning gloom was lifting. As it cleared glimmers of light would soon fill the wood and road. Far off Frank heard the echoing of birdsong, twittering as they awoke from slumber. The gentle, pealing sound had a palliative effect on him. His heart rate reduced and he felt the blood in his veins begin to flow a little easier.
The road rose as it approached the bridge, so that by standing under it he found himself on the crest of a hill. Looking back the way he came he couldn’t see far, only the road for a few hundred yards twisting into the dense wood. Yet before him the wood opened up and he could see across miles of farmland, green and brown and yellow like a vast checkerboard. Already on the horizon was a dim haze, testament to summer’s intrusion into the autumn months. Frank shivered. His skin felt thin and paltry, he was sure he has never felt as cold as he was now. Gathering his jacket about his shoulders he had a faint fantasy of escaping into the sunshine that slowly spread across the land. He felt a chill within his bones that seemed to attack his very core.
Frank felt the need to think, to be alone. What was to be his course of action? He started walking down the hill, his movements slow and peculiar, until he reached the edge of the wood. The sun was continuing its inexorable rise, zealously striving for the heights. Frank wished he could still its course, so that all remained in darkness. Out there all the land was laid bare; it seemed as if there was not another place of shelter for miles. Frank turned back to the wood. Inside was a haven. He lowered his gaze to the floor in order to avoid looking at the car. Feet guiding him blindly he walked back into the trees.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
The second album from Simian Mobile Disco duo and producers James Ford and Jas Shaw brings with it the familiar baggage of heightened expectations and a plethora of guest vocalists. The division between the electroclash mixes and the purer dance tunes of their debut Attack Decay Sustain Release are now more clearly demarcated. Indeed their albums betray their past allegiances in indie band Simian as they both inhabit a traditional album format, rather than their wide-ranging, scopious DJ sets. This has always been the problem with 'dance' records – stranded from the 12” format most songs feel isolated, a collection of songs rather than a seamless whole.
Moroder-esque throbbing synth bass welcomes the album on 'Cream Dream' before Gruff Rhys continues the electronica work he began with Super Furry Animals and carried throughout the recent Neon Neon album. The retro stylings pulsate and resonate. Groove, texture and rhythm are instantly asserted across the album, but while the dynamics are all in place it feels listless and forced.
On an album such as this the quality and performance of the guest vocalists is paramount. After Rhys' crooning, Chris Keating's stream of consciousness delivery on 'Audacity of Huge' is a welcome change of pace and his Patrick Bateman-esque lament just about stays the right side of satire. Beth Ditto, in a move reminiscent of Hercules vs Love Affair recruiting Antony Hegarty for 'Blind', discovers her inner Candy Staton on 'Cruel Intentions' amidst glistening and perfectly realised programming. It is the standout track, and Ditto's fine vocal turn is far better than anything off the latest Gossip album. Elsewhere Alexis Taylor and Telepathe guest on 'Bad Blood' and 'Pinball' respectively but both songs lack the requisite tension, drama or release to hold your interest.
'10000 Horses Can't Be Wrong' is the best of the three tracks without a guest vocalist, with its glitch beeps and cascading analogue synths. By the time you get to 'Synthesise' however the lack of variety on display starts to wear the listener down. An album shouldn't be a chore to listen to, should it? In the past SMD haven't just blended genres as much as they have ravaged and pillaged leaving hulking husks in their wake, but here they tread a variety of well worn dance furrows.
As an album Temporary Pleasure provides just that; a glossy, unadulterated, voluminous façade covers the work, but it fails to engage beyond this on either an emotional or structural level. Again, it feels forced rather than instinctual. There is nothing wrong with the production work, but song structure, melody and a sense of excitement and narrative are desired in a record and these are only provided on rare occasions. Much of what is on offer is muscular and metronomic dance, supposedly designed to be played in sweaty Balearic clubs or amongst the dross and bilge of city bars. But sneak on a Chemical Brothers record after this and you'll see where Ford and Shaw are going wrong.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Could these avaricious bastards be any more retarded? I have watched this video so many times this week, it is full on car crash television.
Reasons why I hate this;
It took them eight years to write this shit. Ooh it's about shared experiences, and at one point they had to get jobs in admin as they couldn't get jobs in the music industry. That is probably due to a chronic lack of talent chaps.
In five minutes they namecheck (in relation to their sound); glam, late 70s soul (ie the glossy, proto-disco soul), punk, Iggy Pop, James Brown, David Bowie, Shirely Bassey, The Smiths and Brian Eno.
They describe their approach to music making as "knocking up some beats...mashing a hybrid of styles". Oh I cringed deeply. Then they go on to say they're like"Delia Smith style, PsycheDelia Smith". That probably took him years to think of. "Oh I'll definitely throw that pithy comment casually into the first big interview we do because I'm a massive spaffcock". Then they talk of how they made sure they were all in their tiny studio together, even if they didn't need to be because they weren't playing a part. Umm...that's what bands are supposed to do numbnuts. They surely are the most moronic band I have ever had the misfortune to watch be interviewed.
Sony BMG banned this video when first posted, and the original has the best quotes - including one about how they're about having fun and liken themselves to going to work in fancy dress or drinking mojitos at 11am. The frontman also likens himself to Brian Eno in that he is not a musician and just goes in and bashes around with things until he gets a sound.
There is a fifth member somewhere, but she seems to have been erased from history. Only some arms and bangles still exist in the video.
'Just Because' and 'Lord Forgive Me' are apparently quasi-religious odes with all the allegorical depth of a pool of concrete.
Someone's put them up to this - the whole video is a stream of buzz words and themes, namechecks and hyperbole. It has to be a viral. Because otherwise they are the biggest cast iron idiots in the world.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Nevada City is a township of just over 3,000 in rural Northern California but one that has been populated by artists, hippies, Senators, actors, poets and writers. It also was the home of the first Californian Gold Rush where a huge seam of gold was discovered by prospectors, “found by the old buzzards who roamed the hills” like those in Central City from On The Road.
Alela Diane is one of the souls that inhabit Nevada City. This is important because Diane's music is rooted in traditional forms of American music. Her ouevre is an evocation of pine covered mountainsides, miners shacks, campfires with beans and franks cooking, plateaus and plains. The Sierra Nevada is deep in Steinbeck country, so these associations aren't unwarranted and Diane certainly draws upon the topography of California. There is something so evocative for a non-American of these paradigms of Americana that is hard to keep from being swept along by utterances such as “California hills could surely welcome us back home”.
'To Be Still' is the title track from Diane's sophomore album and is a meditative and lyrical evocation of folk pastoralism. This isn't to say that Diane is a revivalist concerned only with antiquity and content to trade on folkisms or archetypes. Instead Diane uses the frameworks of folk and blues without becoming reverential, yielding poignant narratives all told by that beautiful, plaintive voice. 'Fat Mama' sketches a tale of a housewife in a faded backwoods town - “she cooks and she washes and carries on all day long” and acts as a companion piece to 'The Ocean' from To Be Still. There is a similar honesty and depth of interpretation at its heart.
The sparse melancholia of her debut The Pirate's Gospel has been augmented by an increase of, in her own words, “instrumental filigree”. This is particularly the case on 'To Be Still'. Woozy sighs of dreamlike pedal steel guitar accompany Diane's vocal, as clear as still water, alongside finger-picked guitar and mallet drums.
Despite this newfound ornamentation there is an economy in phrase and execution across the three tracks. Diane's diction is less cluttered and an unhurried approach to production and songwriting yields great results. Yes, heritage acts are marketable right now (see also: Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom etcetera ad nauseum) but the quality of Diane's work allows her to also transcend any attempt at positioning or typecasting.
This article was originally produced for http://www.thelineofbestfit.com. To view the music review of To Be Still EP by Alela Diane please click on the article title.
Saturday, 1 August 2009
2009 has been characterised in it's musical output by a rejection of homogenised, male guitar music. Electropop has become an increasingly important and privileged genre, but one that has its own rules and conventions that few choose to bend. For some genre is an article of faith. Not so Liverpool's Wave Machines. With their background in art collectives and interest in reclaimed instruments (ie obsolete, broken and toy instrumentation) they set out the songs as high-concept conceits.
Electronic and dance music has always possessed a sense of otherness, and Wave Machines capture this sensation intermittently. My initial appraisal of Wave If You're Really There is that it is an album by a band divided in their sense of purpose. They seem unsure whether they want to be a traditional 'indie' band replete with live instrumentation and 4/4 time signatures or a far more rhythmic, sequenced, danceable and electronic affair. I'm not sure that at the end of the album they or I or you will have a definitive idea either.
The album starts with the minimal electronica of 'You Say The Stupidest Things', a lovelorn paean and the considered and infectious 'Carry Me Back To My Home'. Vocalist Tim Bruzon's lyrical witticisms and unconventional delivery mark out these early tracks.
But after this downtempo and somnabulant start the album is polarised by the electro songs such as 'I Go I Go I Go' and 'The Greatest Escape'. These are perfectly serviceable as homages to Heaven 17 or early Depeche Mode, and as long as they are viewed as kitsch they can be enjoyed. We've all read/watched American Psycho, and they are treading the line at times.
It's when they move into late era Orange Juice territory and when they step outside of the naturally limiting boundaries demarcated by the two genres they have chosen to work in that Wave Machines find greater success. The title track combines the two disciplines to a better extent, while the organic throb and hum of closing track 'Dead Houses' captures the reflectivity of the lyrical imagery perfectly. The falsetto of 'I Joined A Union' sounds painful, but the blissful euphoria of the track offsets the wilfully oddball (and bold) vocal style.
But it is 'Keep The Lights On' that is the standout track on evidence here. The air of resignation is tangible as evidenced in the tired synths and syncopated drums, a sense of drama and tension beneath those quiescent and subdued vocals. Then out of nowhere 'Punk Spirit' arrives with its trad chord sequences, washes of piano and Bruzon mournfully lamenting the loss of his “punk spirit”. It is a fine song, but desperately out of character with the surrounding material. It isn't always a bad thing that an album sounds like a mix tape, but going from Arab Strap to the Pet Shop Boys is a leap of faith too far.
Overall then an album of glossy instantaneous delights, strange sequencing and eclecticisms that promises much for the future.
Like this review of Wave If You're Really There by Wave Machines? Then leave a comment, or check out the band's MySpace http://www.myspace.com/mywavemachine.
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Sidling into the limelight, Hannigan for the most part eschews Rice's spartan approach, instead choosing to flesh out her songs with brass, piano, strings and various other vintage and esoteric instrumentation. However she does retain certain structural schematics that fans of Rice will identify; slow building crescendos, a predilection for atmospherics, texture, mood and nuance. But there is a lightness of touch in the arrangements and lyrical themes, and a refusal to correspond to a Celtic archetype, that sets her apart.
What is also evident is the change in Hannigan's vocal work now that she is recording under her own name. On O and 9 her voice was cracked at times, with an incredible amount of drama and tension invested in it. But Sea Sew contains an immediacy and playfulness that is partly down to Hannigan's conversational tone. Hannigan's vocals are also extremely malleable, able to adapt to a broad spectrum of styles. This is important because as the album develops it becomes clear that it falls into three distinct shades; winsome folk, sophisticated pop and dark alt-country.
“I don't know if you write letters or if you panic on the phone, I'd like to call you all the same, if you want, I am here...” So goes 'I Don't Know' and it is an unashamed love song that screams POP CROSSOVER at you in a hysterical voice. Marketing and PR guys and label bosses and award ceremony bigwigs and Barclaycard must be rubbing their hands and eyes and cloacas and visceras and other varied body parts in glee. It is a harmless ballad with a big chorus, but I was left questioning its authenticity. In fact after the opening folk gambit there are various songs that demonstrate pop sensibilities. The best of these is 'Keep It All' - a brooding, pulsing pop song situated somewhere between Feist and Bat For Lashes, with Hannigan's dark vocal take playfully subverting the previous track's unashamed 'pop' proclivity.
The enjoyment of an album often relies on lots of small elements, and this is particularly the case on Sea Sew. The polka feel of 'Sea Song', the brass, banjo and breathy vocals that end 'Splishy Splashy', the wheezing harmonium of 'Lille', the contrapuntal pizzicato violin on 'Keep It All' and then the droning and discordant string work with a glockenspiel playing the counter-melody on 'Courting Blues' aren't just disparate elements but taken together they add to a confident and composed performance.
Hannigan's songs are naturally introspective and concentrate on an inward-looking, self-referential world . This homespun approach, further evidenced in the kitsch crocheted album sleeve, can be charming at times but is unmistakeably twee. The lyrical imagery is peppered with whimsical non-sequiturs, quaint turns of phrase and references to mundanity (knitting, food and tea). Which brings us to the Mercury nomination. What Hannigan has produced is a deeply personal work and it is a shame that she is being desperately shoe-horned into a particular category as a result of the nomination, for it is a strong debut that showcases her delicate voice and imaginative syntax.
This article was originally produced for http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/. To read the music review of Sea Sew by Lisa Hannigan on the site please click on the article title.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
A Casa Verde is the debut solo album from The Wedding Present's American bassist and confirmed Anglophile Terry de Castro. The twelve songs contained on the record are all cover versions, each one originally written and performed by a friend or previous musical collaborator. Released via frontman of The Wedding Present David Gedge's label Scopitones, it is an album that is irretrievably in thrall to its influences yet subtly reworks and reinvents the source material.
Whether a vanity project or a way for an artist to recognise and pay dues to their influences collections of cover versions are an intriguing yet not always successful concept. An obvious antecedent to A Casa Verde would be David Bowie's Pin Ups, a collection of songs by his late 60s contemporaries many of whom he had shared stages or played in studios with.
De Castro refines the original material through her own aesthetic; the sonic palette on each song is extended to include brushed drums, piano, banjo and steel guitar which augment the original framework. And the overall effect is unmistakeably American in its aspect. That de Castro should have chosen such a palette is not surprising, despite the fact that she has spent the best part of the last two decades dividing living between Britain and America. Migrants traditionally suffer three dislocations; loss of roots, linguistic and social. So it is no surprise that for her first solo effort de Castro remodels the majority of these songs with the wide-eyed innocence of Americana.
The album opens with 'Dalliance' and is a case in point. The Wedding Present's original, the opening track from 1991's Seamonsters, was produced by Steve Albini and is in equal parts taut, wiry, frenzied, vascular and rapacious. However de Castro's version reduces the urgency and intensity settling instead for an intimate depiction of the lamentation and heartache that is at the song's locus. Acoustic and pedal steel guitars are gently layered alongside de Castro's hushed vocals which are at once feminine and masculine. The song itself reverses and interrogates gender roles, with Gedge in the original version singing from the viewpoint of a jilted mistress.
This sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The songs occupy a sphere of dark country tinged ballads ('Glorious', 'The Sun Is Always Sweetest' ) or upbeat indie-pop ('America in '54', 'The Great Avalanche'), while torch song 'To Love You' by Goya Dress (who de Castro also played bass with) closes the album. The album is most successful during these quieter and reflective moments, particularly when Astrid Williamson (one of the songwriters de Castro pays homage to) lends her ethereal backing vocals.
A Casa Verde is an attempt to document and interact with a life spent working as a musician. The extensive annotated sleeve notes reveal an intricate web of personal histories, while the whole project is suffused with nostalgia as it peers into and then honours the past. As a listener it was also nostalgic to read band's names long forgotten...Cinerama, Drugstore, Goya Dress, Downpilot and other 90s alternative staples. Suddenly being 15 and reading fanzines you got by sending £1.50 and a stamped addressed envelope to a remote part of the British Isles (more if they sent a cassette) feels a very long time ago.
It must be said that de Castro is comfortable enough in her capabilities as a musician to not be awestruck by either the song or the songwriter's own personal mythology. This means that she is able to sufficiently adapt the relevant songs to her strengths. Making sense of life through music is the spirit of the album, and it is an ethos to be commended. Covers albums are rarely essential but Casa de Verde does standalone as a charming take on myth and an appreciation of the songwriting tradition.
This article was originally produced for http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/. To view the music review of A Casa Verde by Terry de Castro please click on the article title.
Sunday, 26 July 2009
Music festivals are strange beasts. Don't listen to what anyone tells you, they are the worse place for listening to new music. Stuck inside a diaphanous tent, sides flapping, surrounded by people who have made their own clothes in an attempt to look like Oberon and Titania that are lost in an eddying swirl of hallucinogenics. All this while attempting to listen to a group of people desperately trying to convey their 'sound' to a disparate bunch of half-interested spectators. It isn't the most conducive atmosphere to discover or actually hear new music.
Spread around Merton Farm high above the cathedral city of Canterbury, Lounge on the Farm (LOTF) has grown into a bustling family-orientated festival. Children's wristbands have a space to write their name and their parent's mobile number on. What a lovely idea. And it is actually on a farm. You peer through rusted fences to see men in luminous jackets shovel dung and feed cows. The main stage is in a cowshed. Albeit one that has a bar and vintage chandeliers hanging from the rafters. But still smells of excrement. A strange choice, as you can't just grab a drink and sit and idle away the day watching the main stage acts in the sunshine all day. Hohum.
Things get off to a slow start on Friday. After orientating myself around the small site I settle upon the Sheep Dip tent, the lineup of which promises a whole host of alternative goodies. After the post-rock stylings of Up C Down C fellow Men of Kent Kid Pang's mini-narratives of degenerates, dead rappers, pikies, revolutionaries and varied other pariahs and factotums are welded to a sound that takes its cue from a clutch of great American hardcore bands then fetters it to something much more British. But not in a prosaic or parochial Union flag waving sort of way. It's British in that it looks at the giant morass of shit and flaccidity that we find all around us and laughs in its face. Like Peter Cook fronting Shellac, but not quite.
Casiokids' blend of perfectly honed Scandinavian pop gives way to a euphoric and heady rush that provokes a wellspring of devotion from the crowd. They are the first band to make this feel like a festival, packing out their tent and getting a great reaction from the crowd with their groove-laden-elastic-analogue-bliss. Their live vocals are staggeringly good, particularly on 'Fot I hose' and 'Togens hule'. Over on the main stage Wild Beasts ply their portentous, swollen and frankly risible indie-soul. While the lead singer's efforts to mimic Antony Hegarty are laudable, I have a sneaky suspicion that his vocal affectations cover up a significant lack of talent.
Canterbury is a pretty liberal city, with two large universities and a strong history in progressive academia but because of it's small size and ecclesiastical tradition it has always been seen as a cultural backwater. BBC South East seem to be keen to redress this imbalance with many features appearing of late on the counter-culture scene of the late 60s/early 70s that spawned Soft Machine, Caravan and Gong amongst others. LOTF is the perfect launching point for this campaign of revisionism as Gong headline the Further Field. Formed by Aussie Daevid Allen, they peddle through a back catalogue of vaguely psychedelic soft rock. I was going to stay for the first hour of their set but after a couple of songs decided to grab a drink before watching the headliners in the Cowshed.
The Horrors' second album caught a lot of people off guard. We are so used to bands arriving almost perfectly formed (shaped by PR/marketing firms), drowning in hyperbole, that it is a genuine shock for a band to re-cast themselves. Their gradual evolution from Farfisa organ led Victorian horror schtick to one of the most genuinely exciting British bands was a surprise, but in unshackling themselves from the staccato Gothic shocks of their debut they have become a genuinely exciting band. Don't be fooled by claims that their songs are mere composites.
Tonight's set draws largely from that sophomore album and the band are on it from the start. A drone of oscillating feedback announces 'Mirror's Image' while the squall of guitar and Faris Badwan's commanding yet languid vocals are captured perfectly live. And heck do they look the part. Striding around the stage, black clad and brooding. The dark romanticism of 'Who Can Say' and 'I Only Think Of You' are aired, while the pulsing 'Three Decades' encapsulates the nightmarish vision of their first album but updates the sound. The motorik bass and clipped drums of 'Sea Within A Sea' close the set, with the wash of immersive synthesis accompanying the band as they exit the stage.
There is a desire for acceptance and camaraderie, with frontman Badwan revealing he was born in Sidcup and therefore has Kentish roots. Little does he know that the majority of Kentish folk see Sidcup as nothing but an appropriation, a grey hinterland of tower blocks, grotty newsagents and second hand car dealers before you get into London proper. They also acknowledge that the distance between the crowd and the band contributes to a poor audience reaction, mainly due to the biggest photographer's pit I've ever seen. The only misstep in terms of songs played however is 'I Can Only Think Of You'. On record its dark melancholia is delivered through droning waves of saw-filter synths, but live it becomes dirge like and leads an exodus for the bars and other tents. Shame, because a lot of people missed their now usual encore of songs from Strange House. The energy of 'Count In Fives' and 'Sheena Is A Parasite' eventually transmits itself to the crowd, but despite a strong showing most wander listlessly to the camp site.
Saturday is also off to a slow start as the site wakes up from the excesses of the night before. Jeremy Warmsley and The Wave Pictures both feature in the Sheep Dip tent and their aching, tender, heartfelt take on indie is both endearing and beautiful. The Temper Trap hail from Melbourne and are fresh from a potentially career-breaking performance at Glastonbury. Expect a big push from their label, but they are a cut above the usual NME/Radio 1/TopShop endorsed indie tripe doled out to the masses. 'Sweet Disposition' may sound like U2 on helium but it has a wonderful vocal performance from frontman Dougy Mandagi and the rest of their set is equally accomplished and hook-laden.
The Aliens are a curious band, capable of producing luxurious and spatial psychedelic sounds while also being incredibly frustrating due to their singular lack of restraint. But tonight they are on form. Early singles such as 'The Happy Song' and 'Magic Man' are performed with aplomb alongside songs from their latest album Luna, a less accessible but by no means less enjoyable collection. Snatches of sets by DJ Format, Tom Middleton and DJ Food in the Hoedown tent are also all enjoyed before heading on to the main event.
Do you remember UK hip hop? Besides Big Dada's excellent stable of artists, there really isn't much out there to recommend now that the scene has fractured and distended and everyone is pretending they knew all about dubstep and grime ages ago. The truth is that hip hop in the UK is the victim of it's own success, conflating to the point of mediocrity. But there is some alabaster in amongst the shit, shining through. Rodney Smith takes the stage, outsized sunglasses, outsized couture tracksuit jacket, outsized....you get the picture. “I've seen the future and the culture seems corroded” is the refrain from opener 'Again & Again' and its loping dub melody finds the crowd unsure. The majority are, slightly sadly, here because of Run Come Save Me and its singles 'Witness' and 'Dreamy Days'. Such is the lot of headlining a festival, and Manuva takes it in his stride, knowing full well what folk have come to hear. After a brief dalliance with that bass intro, 'Witness' is unleashed and the crowd goes predictably mental. Hopefully more of those will investigate Slime And Reason because it is a great record.
Manuva's work is suffused with dread and a sense of dub heaviness. This ensures that those ebullient dancehall singles stand out, but he still manages to sneak in the sonically darker and more developed 'Movements' from his debut. Didactic, playful, imaginative, allegorical – despite being beset with sound problems tonight the set proves Manuva remains one of Britain's brightest talents.
The crowd, much larger than for the previous night's headliners, stumble out to try and catch some of the remaining nightlife before the midnight curfew. My night also took a turn for the worse, but I'll save that for the autobiography. Lets just say it ended watching pig farmers who were high on a combination of amyl nitrate and metholone load massive hogs into giant furnaces. Feeling as though I was Dante teetering on the precipice of the Inferno I stumbled away to sleep in the boot of my car, dreams of porcine faces and knuckles pressed against glass haunting me.
Sunday can be described in one word: pain.
But beyond the physical and mental sensations I was experiencing there was a lot of music to cover, starting with Alessi's Ark on the Bandstand. Shorn of the fussy ornamentation that threatened to consume Notes From The Treehouse her songs are allowed space to gently weave their magic. Sitting on a haybale nursing a coffee, it is the perfect start to a Sunday.
But here lies the problem with the festival. I now have roughly 5-6 hours to fill before anything of note is on again. So after catching a little bit of Mr Scruff's marathon six hour DJ set I head home for sustenance and to sleep.
Billy Childish is a personal hero of mine; artist, poet, author, photographer, moustache wearer, critic, journalist, publisher and musician. Much like The Fall and Mark E. Smith, he's spent the last 30 years deconstructing rock and roll. Riffs and ideas are purloined from 'rock', then decentred and purified. His belief in amateurism and the elemental is fundamental to his work. So the ramshackle performance of staccato garage rock by Childish and his backing band The Members Of The British Empire is not surprising, but the tracks from their album Thatcher's Children are raucously greeted by a boozy (and noticeably more middle aged) crowd. Whether Childish would appreciate some thick-about-the-middle types pretending they know what constitutes punk is a moot point. Anyway, just to hear Childish's Medway twang over the primitive clatter is a genuine pleasure. He has become an irascible iconoclast railing against modernity (and postmodernity) across the years, and tonight proves he hasn't lost his bite.
Edwyn Collins is a brave man. A stoke in 2005 left him without the majority of his motor functions. He had to teach himself to perform all of the everyday tasks we take for granted, and then those extra ones which make him such a gifted songwriter and musician. That he was able to overcome such a gruelling period of rehabilitation, and then the MRSA which he subsequently contracted, is testament to a strength of spirit and conviction that we could all learn from. When his solo song 'Girl Like You' is performed, there is a genuine warmth from the audience towards this man. And what a glorious song! It still sounds great, like a Scottish Elvis impersonator covering a Northern Soul tune. 'Rip It Up', his first band Orange Juice's signature song, is played and I couldn't keep the smile from my face. The feet don't lie, it got me moving. The performance is wistful and tender, while the absurdist message remains the same.
You have to feel a little bit sorry for Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. They seem to be the victim of a form of inverted racism from the mostly white, liberal, middle class music press. Every review essentially poses the question; what can two white boys from Essex know about hip hop? It is a pertinent question, and a lot of the opprobrium sent their way seeks to address this issue. Scroobius Pip is still enthralled of his heroes (KRS-ONE, Sage Francis, Mos Def, Eric B) but if he is allowed to develop the subject of his ire it may eventually become less obvious and better directed. Hip hop is a means of expression; who expresses it shouldn't be determined by the listener, only its merits and qualities.
Rant over. They start with 'Beat That My Heart Skipped', and the tone of righteous indignation continues throughout with 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' drawing the biggest cheers of the night. The call-and-response structure, the rampant listomania of the track, deconstruction of deities and the acute observations of modern social mores are all perfectly performed. New material is aired tonight and despite no-one having had a chance to hear it yet it provokes a great response. They always look like they're having the time of their lives on stage and play with passion and skill.
While it may never challenge the 'heritage' festivals, LOTF can continue to grow into its niche of a small, family-friendly festival that is mercifully free from advertising and the patronage of varied music/radio celebrities (Jo Whiley, take a bow...). The attempt to position the festival within a local musical and cultural tradition was commendable, but misguided and redolent of provincialism. Greater thought needs to go into the planning of the acts – the headliners themselves were all fine additions,and the Hoedown tent was full of excellent DJs and acts but the problem is in attracting a more consistent level of artist that will attract punters beyond the locals. But then what makes a festival – the acts on display or the 'experience', however hackneyed and commodified that notion may be? Or is it the £85 weekend price tag...
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
At some point there will be a review of this album on the blog, but for now you need to be heading to their last.fm page and checking out the album. Then downloading it while you wait for the physical release, obvs...Click on the article title to check it out
I'm loving this. He was supposed to be at Lounge on the Farm last week but pulled out. Fecker.
MARK E. SMITH
I've been listening to The Fall all day in the car and was going to try and find a live video to post, but then I remembered this. Gillingham won as well, cashback.
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Saturday, 4 July 2009
Apocalypse Now (1979) – The high watermarks of Brando's early career make recommending Francis Ford Coppola's atmospheric and lyrical reimagining of Joseph Conrad's novella The Heart of Darkness as essential seem strange. But everything about this film is perfectly realised, an incredible feat considering that Coppola shot millions of feet of film, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack and they started principal photography during monsoon season. From the stark opening sequence of 'The End' by The Doors sound tracking a napalm airstrike, to Martin Sheen's haunted countenance and those incredible cameos by Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper the film draws you inexorably inward. In Conrad's post-modern novella Kurtz is a lucid commentator on the barbaric reality of colonial Africa, whereas Brando translates this into a series of quasi-philosophical and barely comprehensible vignettes. As an exploration of the insanity and horror of modern psychological warfare and neo-colonialism it stands alone. Initially Brando's performance drew criticism, but his disassembling of various acting techniques now makes perfect sense. In the context of the film it can be seen as a continuation of his method style of acting. The Redux version ties together various plot strands and adds linking scenes which contribute to the depth and power of the film, while the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is a fascinating insight into the making of the film.
Approach With Caution
One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – Marlon Brando took on directorial duties on this post-modern Western after removing Stanley Kubrick, while early drafts of the screenplay were worked on by Rod Sterling (The Twilight Zone creator), Sam Peckinpah and Calder Wallingham before being completed by Brando and Guy Trosper. Yet another Brando film with a troubled gestation period, but it certainly has it's moments. The title comes from a line Brando (Rio The Kid) utters to Sheriff Longworth (played by Brando's lifelong friend Karl Malden) - “To these people you're a one-eyed jack, but I've seen the other side of the card”. Brando directs in a straightforward, unfussy fashion that allows the action and scenery to dominate. While what he was trying to achieve is clear (a subversion of Western generic conventions and exploration of psychological drama through Freudian devices) it feels strangely unrewarding at times, with curious lulls between episodes of hyper-real violence. I'd rather watch Brando as Stanley Kowalski slowly being driven mad in a claustrophobic apartment in steamy New Orleans than staring moodily out at the Monterey shoreline. He was always good as a caged animal, barely able to restrain his rage and disgust. Of note: It was the only film Brando directed, Paramount's last feature shot in VistaVision and the brothel in Twin Peaks was named after the film.
The Island of Dr Moreau (1996) – Uncontrolled adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic SF horror mashup, in which Brando stars as the eponymous doctor who is experimenting on animals in order to make them more human. David Thewlis, Val Kilmer and Fairuza Balk add support to what could have been an interesting allegory on the morality of genetic engineering. Instead the tone of delirium, awful acting and heavy-handed direction from Richard Stanley (who was replaced mid-shoot by John Frankenheimer) contribute to a terrible film experience. Stanley was apparently banned from visiting the set so came back disguised as an extra in order to see what was happening. He should have stayed away. Thewlis plays his part as if this was a period (ie 19th century) adaptation, while an overweight and unprepared Brando is horrendous. Watching it again felt like rubbernecking at the scene of a tragedy.
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Monday, 8 June 2009
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Prior to the release of Microcastle, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox professed a deep love of the more obtuse end of 1950s/1960s 'pop', and spoke of how he planned to integrate this into Deerhunter's forthcoming album. While this didn't quite work out what it did highlight was that on Microcastle, after the disturbed and emotionally cathartic squall of their early releases, Deerhunter discovered a new found simplicity.
They have entered a stage in their career development where identifiable musical traits are evident. Vocal harmonies and double tracking, the use of vocals-as-texture, repetition, elliptical song structures and narratives all backed by a propulsive rhythm section have become familiar tropes. The EP is split between the sumptuous avant pop of 'Rainwater Cassette Exchange' and 'Game of Diamonds' and the garage-rock of 'Disappearing Ink', 'Famous Last Words' and 'Circulation', and all these traits are in evidence. Commencing with choppy, reverb-soaked guitars and syncopated bass notes, Cox's fascination for pre-Beatles pop (doo wop and girl groups) is heard in the saccharine opening harmonies of 'Rainwater Cassette Exchange'. This allure takes an increasingly classicist route on 'Game of Diamonds'. Gentle brushed percussion, a languorously strummed acoustic guitar and elegant piano combine to provide a sumptuous backdrop for what is potentially Cox's most beautiful, and most frail sounding, vocal performance committed to record so far.
'Disappearing Ink' and 'Circulation' offer a reconfiguration of the garage rock template, and sound as if the Strokes had added a dose of wistful melancholia to their output rather than degenerating into cod Guns N Roses numbers and karaoke Pogues parodies. The former is relentless, galvanised by Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauver's vigorous rhythm section antics with Cox keening vocals searching for the meaning in words, while 'Circulation' takes this approach but augments it with a dolorous coda.
Nostalgia is a key component of Deerhunter's appeal. There are familiar and obvious antecedents to their 'sound', yet it is the combination of these varied strands of alternate music history that make Deerhunter such an intriguing prospect. Time is frozen, elided, refracted and decelerated, memory is doubled and captured, woven into the very fabric of the recording through the use in 'Circulation' of a collage of radio broadcasts. Hell, the EP has even been released on a cassette format. This reverence for an apparently long abandoned technology displays an attempt at preservation of more fragile and outmoded practices. But these guys are just as comfortable recording on laptops as on tape; they understand the relevance of their influences and lineage and absorb this without allowing this reverence to become too cloying.
Bradford Cox's health issues are well documented (he suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a rare degenerative disease) it is true that it informs the lyrical preoccupations. Or more correctly, it informs our reading of his lyrical preoccupations. Running throughout the EP is an absorption in mortality and disease. The title track, much like 'Agoraphobia' from Microcastle, contains a plea for passive annihilation (“Destroy my mind and my body” is much akin to the plea for the disembodied audience to “Cover me, cover me, comfort me, comfort me”). This predicates the listener as an uneasy spectator, drawn into Cox's stark memories. Mortality and death are approached in lyrical fragments (“Ashes and cinder...I've counted every grain of sand”). This makes the doomed romanticism of statements such as “Do you believe in love at first sight” all the more evocative. The whole edifice is teetering on the point of consumption, which becomes literal in 'Circulation', and particularly its coda. Fragments of found sound and the phantasmagoric descending notes of the organ slowly, inexorably consume and asphyxiate the song.
An EP implies transience, slightness, a place to capture experimentalism. The LP is the place where artists make their mark, make bold artistic statements. But Deerhunter are aware enough to realise the cultural import of the EP, and what role it has historically in an artists development. Just as Fluorescent Grey developed the themes of Cryptograms while simultaneously pointing in a new musical direction, Rainwater Cassette Exchange streamlines the deceptively straightforward sensibilities of Microcastle. The spectral, luminous fog that descends on the middle section of the album is enhanced by dub influenced tape hiss and a similar grasp of spatial possibilities.
While Deerhunter seem to have temporarily expunged the experimental side of their music, no surprise given that both Cox and Pundt have used their respective side projects Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza as outlets for the more esoteric side of their creativity, Rainwater Cassette Exchange offers a simpler and more unreserved joy. Across their short yet prolific recording career they have already offered a distillation of 50 years of American guitar music. Stunning.
Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Prog, in its contraction, has become a journalistic shorthand for musical excess. 200 Tons of Bad Luck, the second release from Crippled Black Phoenix following 2006's A Love of Shared Disasters, is a contraction of two albums (The Resurrectionists and Night Raider which are still available to buy via their label Invada as a deluxe box set) and is an album that has progressive tendencies. I mean that in the best possible way. Grouped around Justin Greaves, Crippled Black Phoenix are a revolving collective that attempt to realise his vision. They have been described as a “post-rock supergroup”, mainly due to the fact that Dominic Aitchison, bassist in Mogwai, is involved and Greaves' own musical past. Having been the drummer in Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard, Greaves is consciously attempting to distance himself from any scene and instead has created a pulsing, cinematic release that celebrates the unbending human spirit, shot through with flashes of humour and positivity.
The progressive tendencies are most starkly realised on the 18 minute suite 'Time of Yer Life/Born for Nothing/Paranoid Arm of the Narcoleptic Empire', beginning with a sampled motivational speech by Evil Knievel, given while visiting a school, over plaintive minor key chords before building on these themes and moving seamlessly between movements. Knievel comes across with all the false bonhomie of the confidence trickster, a sinister presence rather than an enlightening one. The second movement is announced with a simple guitar figure before descending into an Isis-esque breakdown, and then finally abandons itself into arpeggiated synths and a (whisper it) guitar break worthy of Gilmour. At 18 minutes it is by some distance the longest track on offer here, but is never ponderous or lugubrious. All the familiar post-rock tropes are in place, but they are not dealt with in a hackneyed way. It characterises much of Crippled Black Phoenix's work; uplifting and stirring, with no bleakness or negativity.
Then there's the stoner rock elements in songs such as 'Rise Up and Fight' and '444' which both combine desert blues with the sort of quadraphonic synthesiser sections that sound as if they were programmed by Alan Parsons for the Dark Side of the Moon sessions. '444' also contains several Eastern-influenced chord progressions which are a common aural theme throughout the album, and comes across as Eastern drone filtered through QOTSA. The reverb soaked guitars of 'Wendigo' are similarly slowly consumed by strings, horns, the drone of a harmonium and then finally an Eastern motif.
There are various tone poems included on the album. 'Crossing The Bar' utilises a sawed cello and intricate, finger-picked guitar before the pulsing beat subsides to a skeletal piano motif that drifts dreamily into a synthesised ending. The hymnal plainsong of 'A Hymn for a Lost Soul' takes a group vocal over a simple piano motif, but it in its simplicity the tenderness and heart at the centre of the hymn shine through.
There is a black humour at work here. It can be evidenced in the song titles, the lyrical themes and the snippets of carnival music and other textures that contribute to the album. It can be evidenced in the spoken word samples chosen to illustrate various sections of the album (“We gotta loudspeaker here and when we go into battle we play music very loud...” from '444' and the aforementioned Evil Knievel speech). Considering Greaves' battles with post-traumatic stress disorder and varied personal problems this black humour is not unexpected.
Post-rock implies some form of rejection of rock's ethos, which makes their description as a 'post-rock supergroup' a falsity. They embrace a number of splinters from various 'rock' genres and weave them into the fabric of the album. This is why, essentially, an attempt to classify their music or relate it in terms of the personalities involved is futile. To describe them as a supergroup belittles the talent and skill on show; it implies a triumph of ego, whereas the album is about a sublimation of ego. On an album such as this there has to be a willingness to let go on the part of both performer and listener. Learning to forget.
The album rewards patience, and at 70 minutes it is long by modern attention spans, but stick with it. On their second album Crippled Black Phoenix liberally mine a wide range of genres and musical ideas. A good album should be a journey, should demand patience, and 200 Tons of Bad Luck does just that.
This article was originally produced for www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk. To read the music review of 200 Tons Of Bad Luck by Crippled Black Phoenix please click on the article title.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
On record Deerhunter invoke a sense of wilful and selfless abandonment, a hypnotic, chiming effervescent fog amongst ambient drones and distorted walls of noise. From the garage squalls of Turn It Up, Faggot! and Cryptograms to the growing sophistication of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont and the sumptuous 'pop' of Rainwater Cassette Exchange and varied other recordings, their canon contains a wistful and doomed romanticism. For a group who constantly sound as though they are on the brink of being consumed or obscured by the music they create, the task at hand will be to create something tangible live.
First band to perform on the night were Maryland based trio Baby Venom and they do so with an unmistakeable verve. Unfortunately they are let down by technical proficiencies and the formless nature of some of their compositions which undermine their otherwise charming naivete, although they slowly begin to win over the sparse crowd. Extra Life hail from NYC and peddle a combination of Gothic avant-pop and progressive post-rock. No amount of labels placed on them can describe how painfully awful they are as a live proposition. The first line intoned by frontman Charlie Looker is “I remember when you couldn't cook your own dinner...” They never really recover. Looker's vocal affectations place him somewhere between Maynard James Keenan and Mark Greaney of JJ72. In a strange sort of cultural exchange the vocalist talks with an American accent but sings with an Irish inflection. The over elaborations of their set are not matched by technical ability, and much of what they are striving to achieve doesn't come off.
So after two underwhelming (and unrelated – neither band are on tour with the main act) support acts Deerhunter take the stage to Bruce Springsteen's classic outsider anthem 'Born To Run' and immediately conjure up walls of shimmering, ethereal noise. The intensity is not slackened at any point during the early numbers, as songs bleed mercilessly into one another. Vocals as texture, rhythm, repetition – these are all key facets of Deerhunter's recorded output and are equally as vital to the live 'experience'. Sound design (courtesy of their sound engineer) allows them to add space and dynamic to the performance, for Bradford Cox's vocals to be drenched in reverb, elongated and subsumed within the soundscapes. 'Fluorescent Grey' and 'Wash Off' are particular highlights.
Biggest cheers of the night go to the Microcastle material, with previous single 'Nothing Ever Happened' the first to be aired. Driven by its propulsive rhythm the urgency and immediacy provoke the heartiest response from the crowd. The new tracks aired provide further evidence of the growing maturity of the Deerhunter sound. Given that both Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt have used side projects (Atlas Sounds and Lotus Plaza) as outlets for the more experimental side of their musical personae it is no surprise that the new material has a more straightforward sound, although the demarcation is not as obvious. The title track from their latest EP Rainwater Cassette Exchange is played, showcasing their appropriation of various strands of 60s psyche-pop, doo wop and girl group into their song structures. 'Saved By Old Times' is stylistically similar in both mode of delivery and sonic adventure, until the outro is drowned in a sea of noisy melodrama which is near deafening.
After a brief interlude they retake the stage and launch into 'Cover Me (Slowly)' and its companion piece 'Agoraphobia', which is sung live by Bradford Cox rather than Lockett Pundt who sings the album version. 'Agoraphobia' in particular is a real gem, with the harrowing tale of constriction and abandonment translating successfully to the live arena.
Deerhunter are gradually settling into their role as an important band, with an impressive back catalogue to draw from. They truly were on top form, with Bradford Cox keeping the crowd constantly entertained with banter and breaking into half-formed cover versions. However it is the band's effortless renditions of the waking dreams their songs inhabit that is the star attraction.
This live review of Deerhunter was written for www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk
Monday, 18 May 2009
A frayed, tattered American flag adorns the cover of Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, with the fifty stars of Old Glory replaced with a cosmic, tie-dye swirl. This is important, because in Akron/Family's work the constant friction between collectivism and individualism is at large, and much of their work concerns itself with interconnectedness between nature and humans. When questioned on how they view their music Miles Seaton (one of three multi-instrumentalists in the band) replied “The music functions simply as a sound or a sonic story of a communal structure”.
This sense of togetherness, of how we relate to each other, is experienced in the chaotic group vocals of opener 'Everyone Is Guilty'. Phrases are repeated until they become mantra. Full of throat and heart, they almost cling to each other, no surprise given that after 2007's Love Is Simple founding member Ryan Vanderhoof left to join a Buddhist centre. One of the less imperceptible lyrical fragments on the album is “Last year was a hard year for such a long time”. Losing a founding member has that effect on bands, and you could forgive them for untethering themselves in the aftermath of an admittedly amicable split, but in this case it has re-enervated Akron/Family. Seth Olinksy moved from Brooklyn back home to rural Pennsylvania (also the childhood home of third member Dana Janssen), and in doing so the band have discovered a sensitivity and optimism. The response to the line goes “This year's gonna be ours”, and the whole album is imbued with this sense of hope.
Musically they oscillate between styles, from the heavily percussive, Afro-inflections of 'Everyone Is Guilty' to the pastoralisms 'Set 'Em Free' and the more mood based programmed electronic subtleties of 'Creatures' to full on hypnotic psychedelia on 'Gravelly Mountains Of The Moon', a heroic and non-ironic prog song title, to the fuzzed-up freak garage on 'MBF'. They can lithely and quickly switch between these styles and genres, a key component of the multi-instrumentalist's arsenal. The overall dynamics of the songs contribute to a much broader and coherent aural canvas, and the constant segues and juxtapositions between styles are well rendered, with an impressive breadth of influences that are all subtly woven into the mix. Previously their releases were de-centred, while Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free harbours a focused approach throughout, although there are still incongruous elements that don't quite sit right in the middle section of the album. A minor gripe, but one that stops the album getting a higher score.
There are obvious similarities to Animal Collective, in both name and deed, and these comparisons are inevitable. Listening to 'River' you are drawn almost inexorably to this conclusion, with it's combination of shimmering atmospherics and military rhythms. But listen again, and beyond the approach to sound collages, subject matter and melody there is a rawness, a keening and bruised sense of hope. The rousing finale of 'Sun Will Shine' and 'Last Year' is where the album's bliss almost reaches a tipping point.
Their third release finds Akron/Family conceptually less constricted than before, less wilfully obtuse, and the new found freedom allows them to be even more creative than before in their search for self-definition. The challenge has always been there for Akron/Family to harness their improvisational tendencies and sense of community and togetherness on record, and with their latest they have succeeded to an extent. For a band with such a chaotic (and always evolving) live sound and a keen improvisational bent, getting the songs down on record is always going to pose a challenge, yet Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free is a satisfyingly coherent snapshot of where they currently are. It's not a release that attempts to be definitive and provide answers, remaining cryptic until the end. Togetherness is the key. Don't worry, if there is hell below we're all going to go.
This article was originally produced for http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/. To read the music review of Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free on the site please click on the article title.