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.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Part Chimp begin tour in Folkestone 18/09/09

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

All Wheels That Have Turned

Frank could not tell what was perturbing him more; the fact that his car would not start, or the body strewn across the bonnet. Fear gripped him, leaving him shaking and stricken with terror. It made the most mundane of tasks seem insurmountable to him, a feat too great for a mere mortals hands. Eventually a semblance of calm began to stake its territory in his troubled mind, led his trembling limbs and guided his hand to the key still in the ignition. Start the car, reverse, and drive away. It seemed so simple, so casual, and yet so remote.

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.
(This was a piece of writing I submitted for a short story competition a couple of years back, thought y'all might like to read it)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Temporary Pleasure - Simian Mobile Disco

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.
This album review of Temporary Pleasure by Simian Mobile Disco was written for the lovely chaps at The Line of Best Fit. Click on the article title to read the review on the site, or go to