Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hot Vestry: Dust EP

     Having listened over these six tracks for the third time, I'm still amazed by unsigned Mancunian band Hot Vestry. Having been sent a link to this EP's free download, and having promptly done so, I've come to the conclusion that we should all keep a very close eye on them. Composed of three guys, Harry Ward (bass guitar, synthesizer and vocals), Will Taylor (lead guitar, percussion and vocals) and Joe Ward (drums and percussion), 'Dust' is filled with simple alternative rock. It's brimming with a youthful passion, an element that can probably be attributed to the age of the band. Every member is sixteen, which, considering the maturity with which they play, is pretty impressive. They're not the best young rockers I've ever heard, but hell, if this is their output at sixteen, I can't wait to see what they imagine in a few years time. There is aggression. There are simple infectious choruses, but the lack of noticeable hooks make most of the tracks sluggish. Only one number here doesn't hit the four minute mark, which ends the EP nicely. The others though, tend to repeat certain sonic phrases a little often, which is starting to become a little tedious on fourth listen. A lack of pronounced scope and size here also causes a loss of power on repeated listen, but taking into account the age of the members, this can easily be righted as they mature. Like I said before though, it's going to be interesting to watch this incredibly skillful and enjoyable group change, evolve and develop with time.
     Opening with the title track, there is a subtler, softer restraint present in the beginning that breaks free half way through. From the half sung/half spoken vocals, relayed over harmonised notes, there comes an entirely different feel that contrasts with the opening perfectly. The passionate cries of “You’ve got to help me!” and  the intriguing repetition of "You’ve got suspicion in your eyes" break up the central riff well enough, but the whole song highlights another nagging problem. Too much instrumentation. With the energetic feel that the instrumentation suggests, I wanted more vocals and less filler sound, though this is probably more of a personal problem. In the end, I did enjoy the track immensely.
     'Turn On' basically does the same, be it slightly toned down, which leads unsurprisingly well into the slower number 'Snakes in the Grass'. A relatively stark intro leads the meandering guitar, but this less energetic effort highlights the vocals here. Especially on the lyric "This is the future not the past", you can hear the thick and characteristic accent, and the band's obvious desire to remain firmly planted in the 'alternative' genre. I absolutely love the vocals on 'Dust' come to mention it. They carry a certain relaxed element. Instead of appearing over-done and stressed, they sound decidedly uncaring in their delivery. I can listen to this EP and relate extremely well with the singing and the lyrics they relay. There is a definite grounded and honest emotion these guys emulate, and one I think they should try to maintain throughout their predictably long career!
      The baton of speed and energy is picked straight back up after being dropped by 'Snakes in the Grass'. 'Blood For Tears' is introduced through a fantastically confident drum beat and ends with shout-along vocals that hover above a backing track eerie in the image it conveys. A strange city void of people that, instead of appearing unnerving, transforms into the careless playground of our dreams. Outstanding. 'Be The Real Man' carries this soundscape, with similar backing vocals, but the real show-stealer is the finishing song, 'Commiserations'. All of the problems I mentioned before? They don't apply at all. Varied pitch from the singer and experimentation in sound all accumulate under the roof of the shortest track here. And by God it works. While the rest of the album is good, this closing track hits you with all the loudness and aggression that's needed in order to squeeze another listen from your ears. Hot Vestry are a band worth keeping an eye on. While all my qualms do come into play, it's the easiest thing in the world to forget them while you listen. You're way too busy rocking along to heed any attention to the length of the tracks, and that particular issue is only noticeable on repeated run-through. Considering the age of the band, I'm unashamedly impressed by what they've managed to achieve. Mark my words, this EP is the start of something huge. And as it's free, I plead you to support the band and give it a gander. To the group? Bravo! Bravo and well done!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

They Might Be Giants: Join Us

     Despite the modern album art, which suggests to me a fun and youthful record, They Might Be Giants have been going for a long time. If you've never heard of the band, they formed way back in 1982, and have released fifteen albums, even if some of them are aimed at children. Yet the album cover stays true to their sound. They are arguably one of the most fun and quirky groups out there, but for me this effort doesn't carry the same strength or colour as in say, 'Lincoln', which remains one of their best releases. There are still the great hooks and melodies and lyricism that we're used to, and for one just coming into They Might Be Giants, my disappointment will probably go unnoticed. If you're familiar with their work however, the feel surrounding this album has, dare I say it, matured. A fair few individual tracks do hit the spot, but the overall sound is, in my opinion, lacking. That being said, the production is clean, and after four years of working with a child audience, I appreciate that even as it is, 'Join Us' is a huge accomplishment for the band. I guess I'm just underwhelmed, but at the end of the day, even when compared to their earlier output I can't deny that I did crack a smile more often than not. I've never been the strongest fan of They Might Be Giants though, I have to say. For me, the whole structure of their songs is very generic. The guitars and drums have all been heard before, and it's most definitely the lyricism and delivery that gives them their originality. But then, they're not serious are they. Their sound has, like I said before, matured, but they're still just trying to make people laugh and have a little fun.
     Opening with 'Can't Keep Johnny Down', I wasn't taken aback when noticing it felt a bit short. Looking over the length of each of the eighteen songs, two of them run over three minutes. Two. Still, this isn't unusual for TMBG, and it does allow the album to change up and stay fresh. 'Can't Keep Johnny Down' kicks things off with an unsurprisingly generic sound, from the drums to the guitars, and like all the tracks could have done with a little originality. 'You Probably Get That A Lot' isn't memorable at all and merges with the previous track a little too much for my liking. 'Old Pine Box' is a lot better. Its cheery clapping beat and higher vocals work well together and contrast nicely with the deep grinding guitars at the beginning of 'Canajoharie'. The passionate vocals didn't strike me as immediately hilarious as on songs such as 'Cloisonné' either. On said number, the vocals are turned up to a (deliberately) laughable falsetto, in order to take on the voice of a raindrop. That's right. A song in which a raindrop talks, or rather sings to the listener. But rather than sounding decidedly immature, it's actually rather quaint and charming.
      The latter half of the album is better than the first, for sure. 'When Will You Die' marks the death of the first section with a fantastically dark song about rejoicing because of someone's passing, and another of the better numbers comes into play. 'Protagonist', with it's finger-snapping beat and chill melody feels very bar band, with a distinctive difference between singer and backing vocals. 'Judy Is Your Viet Nam' is a lot harder in it's delivery, but it's lyrics are once again, very unique to TMBG. After the wistfully soft 'Never Knew Love' comes 'The Lady And The Tiger', a song introduced by whistle-backed rap/talking? The atmosphere around this particular track is deep and moody, which contrasts nicely with the others. One of the best examples of the band's quirky lyricism is also here, with "Do you surmise it’s wise to have laser beams emitting from your eyes?". I know. But the weirdest is yet to come. For some, the vocals and electronic experimentation on 'Dog Walker' will be off-putting, but for me they're the most hilarious part of the record! They also highlight TMBG's ability to actually do something instrumentally that sounds somewhat unique, an element I long to see more of from the band in general.
      Overall, I'm not going to deny that I didn't enjoy this record, but there are a few things that didn't appeal to me. Firstly, the generic song structure. Sure, some songs threw in a bit of much-needed experimentation, but as a whole I wanted them to sound more unique, rather than simply replay unique lyricism. That's a problem I've always had with They Might Be Giants, but still, it's a qualm I had with 'Join Us'. Their sense of fun and colour and strength also faltered on this particular effort in my opinion, and if I could, I would try to steer the band clear of the path to maturity. I'll certainly check out their next release, but I won't be returning to this latest one very often. I guess it's just not my cup of tea.

'When Will You Die'

Friday, July 29, 2011

Little Dragon: Ritual Union

     If you'll care to remember back to my review of this band's debut album, you'll see that I enjoyed it immensely. I'm not going to go into the same amount of detail regarding these guy's background, but you'll find they've had a lot of publicity of late. Vocalist Yukimi Nagano collaborated with David Sitek (of TV on the Radio) for his solo effort, and all four members helped on Gorillaz record 'Plastic Beach'. Once again however, Swedish pop sensation Little Dragon have been revealed as a band confident in their own ability. 'Ritual Union' is their third full-length effort, and has changed up for the second time. From 'Machine Dreams' sonic shift into a more accessible realm, and one that succeeded their anonymous debut brilliantly, 'Ritual Union' surprised me. I was half expecting Little Dragon to play off that second lp and grow bigger and simpler, a move that would have probably attracted a fair few fans. Their dropping from independent record label Peacefrog certainly suggested such a thing, but then what did they do? They had to come right around and sucker punch me with a pillow. Instead of turning up the gas, they lower the heat to an enticing simmer. This isn't an elaborate effort. It's a summer evening meal, lit by candles and the setting sun. It combines both the dark and thoughtful lyricism of 'Little Dragon' with the more rhythm focused sound displayed on 'Machine Dreams'.
     A few qualms then. For me, this feels less instantaneous when compared to previous releases. After a while I accepted this though, but in looking for a more sensual and brooding sound, I wanted some tracks to run for longer. 'When I Go Out' is an absolute beauty, running for six minutes like the soundtrack to a short film. Others, while not immediately 'short', feel a little cut off when you're listening through the whole affair without pause. That being said, I most definitely found that sensual element. Yukumi’s vocals draw you in and weave their way through every song, luring you into a sense of uninterrupted relaxation. Rather than drawing you to a sunny field though, you're led into a moody, smoke-filled part of town. Dark moments intersect the lighters ones here, but it works. They flow together really well, and in the end, I honesty forgot those little quibbles.
      Kicking things off with the title track, 'Ritual Union', a repeated groove lays out the structure for the rest of the album. Through the backbone of every song here runs a simple sonic foundation, upon which melodies and sounds are layered. Not wanting to become repetitive however, these initially straight lines swirl and curl and progress along with the music. It's truly fascinating to listen to. A tinkling keyboard leads into the second number 'Little Man'. A quirky upbeat rhythm is highlighted by short catchy notes in a manner almost chiptune in its delivery. Once again, the vocals aren't forced, but carry a level of calm and subtle feeling that's hard not to love. The intriguing little 'la la la's of 'Brush The Heat' flit above a high pitched whine which deepens to introduce 'Shuffle A Dream'. One of the more accessible and catchy choruses on the album, the layered vocals work to add variety. 'Please Turn' marks the half way mark with it's startling booming notes and oppressive buzzes, but really, every song here is worthy of note.
     Other outstanding sections to 'Ritual Union' include 'Precious' and its organic drums. Said glitchy drum beat is jumped upon by higher vocals that somehow manage to feel decidedly darker. Effects-wide, whizzing noises and vibrating drones make this one of the more experimental tracks, in my eyes at least. 'Summertearz' feels barren, but the windy quietness at the beginning is soon infiltrated by playful humming and a simple drum pattern. Harmonious vocals come across as tribal as well, but this is played off extremely easily, and your ears have no trouble wandering around the noises. The finisher, 'Seconds' wallows in the swamp of nostalgia, which is an element attributed heavily to the reverb on the singing. The backing track is a quieter one, and the vocals float above it's repeated rhythm. It's a peaceful dream after a day filled with wondrous sights and sounds. Although not the strongest and boldest album I was expecting, this effort works just as well. Instead of progressing off the second record, Little Dragon tone things back down. This is relaxing electronic pop at its very best, in an album I whole-heartily recommend.

'Shuffle A Dream'

Music Video// The Newds: Go Getter

     I've recently been sent this video from The Newds, of their first completed song, 'Go Getter', and in all honesty, there is something undeniably enjoyable about the incredibly cheesy track! From the charming self-shot video to the hilarious lyrics, there is a working man's honesty behind the music that is very easy to relate to. A Mancunian group, (I seem to be getting a lot of them recently!), influences cited include Pink Floyd, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, to name but a few. So take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to listen through these humour-laden verses and tap along to the catchy chorus, all the while watching some grown men act silly. It's thoroughly enjoyable, and if you enjoy it as much as I did, drop them a comment over on Youtube or show your support via Facebook. Me? I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for their debut album when it drops!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mutineers: Friends, Lovers, Rivals

     I'm not going to lie. As a Gronow, I'm probably biased towards Mutineers, seeing as their bass player is a fellow of the same name. However, putting that to one side, I've been requested to cast a glance over the Mancunian quartet's debut record, 'Friends, Lovers, Rivals'. A band formed back in 2009, and with this album released as last year drew to a close, the whole affair is a musical gem, be it one whose shine has been dulled by the untouched shelf of obscurity. In taking it down and dusting it off though, I hope this album will get the audience it deserves. It's a secret that needs to be shared and a well-kept promise that needs to be broken. The production is clean and the melodies conform to that invulnerable level of pop perfection. Unlike some indie pop outfits however, Mutineers manage to give their sound a grown-up maturity. These guys aren't kids, lamenting a regrettable fling. They're men whose hearts have been broken more than once. Their recollection of thought retains an honesty and passion and sadness that's both distinctive and rich, making for an effort crafted with emotion, and which evokes the same. Frankly? 'Friends, Lovers, Rivals' is the very definition of a hidden gem.
     That being said, no debut release comes without its downsides. By citing Echo and the Bunnymen and Suede as influences, a decidedly similar feel to some tracks becomes noticeable. A hint of Delays springs up in a few parts as well, and it's true that the vocalist Nicholas James Mallins holds a certain Smiths quality to both his voice and lyricism. Namely in 'My Words Desert You', a line from which reads, "Please don't take me home tonight". A nod back to 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', by fellow Mancunian band? Perhaps. I think I would have preferred a little more originality, but the charm here most definitely carries the flaw. A few songs blend into each other on repeated listen, and a couple of tracks feel a little manufactured as well, but in the end did I really mind?
     Opener 'Infidelity' feels very anthemic and cinematic in scope, with its harmonious guitars grooving over magnificent synths. It's one of the many bigger songs here, with the vocals light and poppy but still comfortingly strong. These contrast ever so nicely with the delicate tenderness of others, but like I mentioned before, melody tends to bleed into melody to the point of reminding yourself what track you're actually listening to. The next number 'Shadow Kisses' is one of my favourites. The thought-provoking chorus is brilliant; "In death, love and squalor the sordid details were removed, straight from the heart of a suicide girl". Straight after the strangely appealing note upon which 'girl' is sung however, comes a whole 'nother nostalgic melody that I'm not afraid to admit hit a heartstring or two.
     'The Landlord's Daughter' is another great track after the not so memorable 'You Used To Be Okay'. It's lyrics talk of a boy with braces, being bullied at school, but this still feels very mature in its delivery. 'Alone In Our Ideas' stumbles upon another noticeable influence, and one cited on their myspace page as such. These four-ish minutes sound unmistakably like the Cure, from the pop melody to the higher notes to the stadium-ready sound they're trying to emulate. That's not a bad thing, but it is noticeable throughout the album when you listen through for the second time. The finisher, 'Hyde Road' is arguably one of the most endearing to appear from pop even today. It's inspiring lyrics are desperately sang; "she said ‘you can’t see me without my make up on’, I thought you’d never looked better", and catchy wailing closes the album. In closing however, that undeniably great hook draws you back, and you can't help going back to the very start!
     In the end, this isn't the best pop record out there, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bassist Iwan Gronow, you've done the name proud, and I for one will be looking back through this album every so often. In eagerly awaiting the next release, I eagerly suggest you check these talented artists out. Because despite the strong influences, they've crafted a distinctive feel that's all their own. Nostalgic atmospheres fueled with passion and executed on a level of emotion that I've missed in modern pop. Don't let this musical gem get dulled by the dust of obscurity. Let it shine and proclaim the name! Mutineers!

'Shadow Kisses'

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Miles Kane: Colour of the Trap

     This is rock and roll from an artist after the retro crown. Said crown is currently held by Beady Eye's 'Different Gear, Still Speeding', but Miles Kane is on the mission of the sixties revivalist. It's an unashamed effort from former frontman of The Last Shadow Puppets, who said about 'Colour of the Trap'; “it makes you feel like a real man”. You get the sense that this guys lives in times past. He's a rocker who likes a good suit, a good-looking girl and insists on the best wine from a restaurant. Why does he have to appear on the album cover, I hear you ask? "Because I just had to" comes the reply. Despite this confidence, some things stop this album soaring to the heights it was obviously meant to fly at. For starters, it seems Kane can't quite appear from former band-mate Alex Turner's shadow. It's true that he has crafted somewhat of an individual sound and style, but Turner's song-writing influence is blatantly apparent to those familiar with his work. Secondly, while there is a pleasant retro pop feel surrounding a handful of tracks, the record overall lacks the raucousness fans of The Last Shadow Puppets might have been expecting. Asking myself, 'when's it going to kick off?' throughout took away from the album on first listen, but there are still a few stand-out songs here that I enjoyed.
      One of my favourite tracks here is actually the opener, 'Come Closer', with it's foot-tapping drum beat and personality laden 'whoa's and 'ahh's. The tune is catchy enough to grab the listeners attention straight of the bat, which I liked. The next song, 'Rearrange' works well as the summer single it's supposed to be, but is immediately overshadowed by the pop ballad 'My Fantasy'. Soppy lyrics could do with some work, and personally, it does require something a tad more distinctive than it did, but in the end it adds a nice variety to the album as a whole. 'Counting Down The Days' is the track most lathered in nostalgia, but hardly anything, bar the melody, really works. Lyricism filled with clichés is loaded onto the back of a hippy van and by the end, you just want them to stop prancing about and get on with something else. Kane duets with Harry Potter star Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour) on the psychedelic 'Happenstance'. There is a build up later on in the track which doesn't really deliver. There was, like I mentioned before, the sudden anticipation for a great climax that well, didn't. 'Quicksand' is another upbeat effort that contrasts nicely with the sixties-esque duet, and it's catchy hook is noteworthy.
     'Inhaler' is one of the better tracks, simply because it makes me imagine how good the others could have been. Reverb on the vocals adds a sense of age to the song, and the vocals themselves are gruff and feel a lot more passionate than others, even with it's asthma-related title that immediately dismisses any sensual thoughts. Another psychedelic effort, 'Kingcrawler' doesn't work half as well as it should have. The power is there, but it's broken up with 'ay ay ay's that sound gimmicky and annoying. There's a pretty cutesy melody on 'Take The Night From Me' that's pleasant while it lasts but ultimately unoriginal to it's core. The long-awaited Puppets reunion on 'Telepathy' is only very nearly one of the better tracks here. It's one for the long-time fans, who are pretty much happy with anything. 'Better Left Invisible' is another favourite of mine, pretty much because of the unique beginning. From then on, it dissolves into lyrical rubbish, yet again. Closing on title track 'Colour of the Trap', it's another ballad. It finishes the album well enough, with it's subtle rock and roll softness backing the summery verses of a sixties ball. Before I get to the conclusion of the review, then, shout-out to Anton for requesting it.
     There is nothing revolutionary about this record. It's a simple twelve-track collection that harks back to the 'good ol' days' of rock and roll. The production here is excellent, and in that sense, considering the revivalist element to the music, I reckon a little grime and microphone reverb would have gone a long way. A little more well, 'oof', in terms of vocals and rhythm wouldn't have gone amiss either. As it is though, 'Colour of the Trap' is a solid solo debut from one ambitious fellow. Perfect? Not at all. Great? Undeniably so.

'Come Closer'

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

RIP: Amy Winehouse

14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011
     At 3:54 in the afternoon on Saturday 23rd, Amy Winehouse was pronounced dead at her home in London. Many people won't feel sorry for her death, considering her state of health and numerous drug related problems. Despite her issues however, you can't deny that her voice was a powerful one. It revived British soul and coaxed female musicians to appear from obscurity. It was a voice laden with personality in a modern pop era in which everyone sounds the same. Her songs were often heart-breakingly honest, an attribute to her work many people related to. One of her most well known lyrics: "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no..." was a denial by Winehouse to the world, and a denial that ultimately took her life. So, even after being a success at 24, she had so much more to offer, and despite the jokes anybody makes, didn't deserve to die aged 27. RIP.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972

     Tim Hecker, a Canadian based musician, toured with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. That's all you need to know. If you remember back to my review of that band's album 'F♯ A♯ ∞', you'll find I was moved greatly, and still return to that magnificent record every few weeks. For me, Hecker's latest lp, released at the start of this year, embraces similar emotions and creates the same barren landscapes, be it with a different, more electronic-based sound that I both admire and adore. 'Ravedeath, 1972' is the ambient drone of a post-apocalyptic world. It's the overpowering silence and distorted emptiness of a land void of human touch. Hazy mirages flit back and forth through the unswept clouds of dust and dirtiness that clog the air. Breath and bodies gone, the city is cold. This soundtrack follows your wandering, directionless footsteps like death stalking the old. Far from being inhuman though, it lets you wander. Sympathy from death for the last soul standing, teary eyes bearing witness to the cleansing of Earth, and the fall of all mankind.
     Remnants of human interaction are here, from the piano to the guitar, but these sounds have run ragged, without structure or leadership. The noises have sprawled into a beautifully chaotic mess as our firm grasp on music loosens. Sound itself has evolved and taken over, flying high above the crumbled sin of man, the embodiment of feeling fleeing a futile planet. In contrast with 'F♯ A♯ ∞', you're alone. There is no-one to argue your fate and no arms to hug you close. Split into a more manageable twelve tracks, you soon lose all sense and despair begins to merge with despair. Throwing track-names aside, nothing matters while you listen through these fifty minutes. The sun is a murky brown, flickering and twisting in pain. It kept our world living, and as it watches life destroyed, it lets out a cry like nothing heard before. Every child shouts for their mother and every animal whines. Tsunamis of sand crash into buildings, but the din is muffled by your unheeding ears. Despite all this, Hecker manages to retain a serenity that broods life's mysteries.
     Melodies play second fiddle to texture and instruments are used expertly well. A solemnity ensues from the pipe organ on the rhythm-less opener 'The Piano Drop', and 'Analog Paralysis, 1978' amplifies the album's feeling of location. As sounds bounce off walls and the sonic image glitches, Hecker's work sounds decidedly progressive, especially when compared to his earlier work. That's the only real difference between his past albums and this though, because Hecker's changes from record to record are very subtle. That being said, every release from him has been of a standard head and shoulders above many modern post-rockers, and this album is no different. One of the qualms I had upon first listen however, was the length of some of the songs. I think the two tracks mentioned above could have been extended a little, to expand on that vast feeling of being forgotten, but the three epics here definitely make up for that. 'In The Fog' and 'In The Air' both have three acts, if you will, with 'Hatred Of Music' split into two sections.
     Overall then, this is a sonic path you can't stray from. There is nothing backwards, but there is nothing forwards either. Yet a surreal inkling of hope powers your tired legs to move and your broken heart to beat. This record is a thing of unimaginable beauty. It is the end of everything, but an end that reveals more than you can every hope to learn. An epiphany through sound as you wander. Like Noah astride the flood, the world is cleansed and you're chosen to witness it's dying breath. Your entire being is heightened through 'Ravedeath, 1972', which should be reason enough for you to lend it your attention. Like 'F♯ A♯ ∞', this is an epitaph of how sound can evoke the deepest emotion.

'The Piano Drop'

Sunday, July 24, 2011

JEFF the Brotherhood: We Are The Champions

     JEFF the Brotherhood are a Nashville duo who actually slipped under the radar for me until 2009's 'Heavy Days'. They formed way back in 2001, releasing their first lp, 'I Like You', in 2002, and boast a current discography of six albums, along with a pretty cool live recording. Their sound is a tad unoriginal though, in that it takes influences from many different artists. The group have been likened to The Ramones, and this eleven track album feels like the direction people wanted Weezer to take for a while. Indie rock sensibilities make love to classic rock guitars here, with a nice attempt at variety that's truly charming but doesn't really work. The passion and energy here doesn't stop tracks merging in parts, and the lyric writing is most definitely not the best. The production is inspired, but in my opinion the little individuality that's here gets suffocated by that inspiration. I think I would have just preferred an actual influence, as opposed to the dedicated reproduction of sounds that we've already heard before. After the hazy psychedelia that was 'Heavy Days', I'm underwhelmed by JEFF the Brotherhood's latest lp, which does include those elements, but frankly, doesn't execute them half as well. I'm not in love with this record, but like most of their stuff, it is fairly enjoyable while it lasts.
     That being said, there are a few stand-out badges this album wears. The first being the opening number 'Hey Friend'. It's grimy, reverb-laden guitars have a great groove to them and when the phased, heavy sounds eventually fade-out and the distortion ceases, the quirky lyricism is introduced. A tale of a lad telling his friend he fancies their mother. While most of the lyricism here is predictable and boring, this particular track is wonderfully unique. The variety I mentioned before is most noticeable however on the next song, 'Cool Out'. The sound takes a harder edge, with the faster drums and guitar emulating a breathlessness that I really enjoyed. The lyricism though, feels like it's there because it has to be, rather than because it has something to say. Effects-wise, they're the only real individuality here, and were the only thing that stopped this record from losing my attention completely. From the propeller blades at the start of 'Shredder' to the muffled nostalgia of 'Endless Fire', this album's production is polished extremely well, but unfortunately no amount of decoration can prevent a structurally bad house falling down.
     The electric guitars on 'Ripper'. The folky tambourine and hilariously high wailing on 'Health and Strength'. The free-for-all playfulness of a post-apocalyptic world on 'Wastoid Girl'. Those three are the only remaining tracks that did anything for me. The rest all sound the same and sonically merge together. 'Diamond Way', 'Stay Up Late'. 'Mellow Out' has a nice guitar solo but even that highlight is eventually dulled. I guess there just isn't anything all that original on this album. The influences, from Weezer especially don't appeal to me. I don't dislike Weezer at all, but if I wanted to listen to a Weezer sound, I'd just go and listen to one of their records, as opposed to this exceptionally good imitation.
     Overall then, I don't hate this effort from JEFF the Brotherhood, but I certainly think they've put out better stuff in the past. There are some good effects, and the production is outstanding. My main complaint is the lack of half-decent song-writing skills throughout from this American duo, as well as their glaringly obvious homage to other artists. If they'd taken their influences and worn them a little subtler, then I can easily imagine myself setting my iPod to repeat and rocking along to their energetic and passionate sound. I don't dislike this album, but there's nothing on it that makes me want to listen to it again.

'Hey Friend'

Weekly Classics: The Pixies: Monkey Gone to...

     First off, due to my being able to embed mp3s, the weekly classics segment is a lot less clunky, as I don't have to post a Youtube video. Also, this protects from the danger of the video owner removing it from Youtube or indeed from the blog itself. I've got a review lined up for later, but for now let's check this track out. 'Monkey Gone to Heaven' is my personal favourite from The Pixies' 1989 effort 'Doolittle', which has since been cited as one of the most influential records of all time. This was one of the first alternative albums I listened to, so this song and indeed the whole album, retains a certain nostalgic charm. From the gruff chorus to the deep vocals, the track is carried by an undeniably brilliant structure and inspired melody. So take three minutes off and have a gander at a classic.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd

     Before I get into the review, I hope you've noticed the brand spanking new look of the blog! I think it gives the site a lot more warmth and personality,and hope you enjoy it too! Sweeney Todd is one of the longest running characters ever imagined. First brought to life in 1847, there have been numerous reinventions of this famously dark man. This review however, is on the musical version. Not the 2009 movie soundtrack, which is the main Google search result, but rather the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage masterpiece. Running for just under two hours, this double disc collection is simply astounding, with it's length helping that complete envelopment which makes musicals so good, and this one of my favourite. If you've seen Tim Burton's movie, which I have, you'll understand this better, but lots of individual numbers have been understandably missed out. The main one being the short ballads of Sweeney Todd. The first of these is the prelude, and not wanting to ruin the story for you, I've put that as the embedded mp3 down below. In short, I never get bored of this and I'm sure you wouldn't either. It's one of the darkest and most fantastic musicals ever written.
     That being said, the dark theme based around revenge, murder and hatred is offset by lighter tracks. The deuteragonist Mrs Lovett in particular has a few happier tracks, but ultimately falls into the pit of despair as the musical comes to it's dramatic ending. With that line of the play running straight and true, another weaves it's way in and out of the protagonist's. A tale of love and youth contrasts with Sweeny's loss of such things. All of these varying matters might make the musical sound busy and complicated, but the storylines all intertwine from the very beginning to the very end, making for a very gripping and interesting story that you're required to follow. Also, unlike other musicals, where the voices sound alike, thus making a solely audible experience flawed, each character here has a unique sound, making this a uniquely brilliant affair. Frankly, you just need to listen.
     Without giving too much of the story away then, here are a few stand-out tracks. Of the most subtly oustanding elements here for me, are the ballads of Sweeney Todd. These poke up four times throughout the musical, and are sang from the point of view of people standing by. This not only gives the sense of a story being told, but carries that story along magnificently. They're the interludes between acts in a way, and as well as being exceptionally performed, the music in them is orchestrated beautifully. The acting from Len Caribou is also excellent. He sounds decidedly older than Johnny Depp if you've seen that film, but that's a good thing. There is a sense of a man, broken and treated terribly throughout his life, and in a way there is something a lot darker about a man your father's age killing people. Mrs Lovett also sounds more like a poor Londoner and Judge Turpin a dirty old man. Song-wise, each and every one is written with a passion that comes across and makes this a polished work worthy of it's acclaim. From the catchy 'Green Finch And Linnet Bird' to the hilarious 'Pirelli's miracle elixir' and 'Parlor Songs', they are all absolutely inspiring, and true theatrical classics.
     It's quite hard to write about the songs when you don't want to spoil the story, or it's exceptional surprise ending. And I really don't. You need to listen through the whole twenty-nine tracks yourself in order to truly experience the impression it leaves. I've listened to most of the great musicals, and this is on par with the likes of 'Les Miserables' and 'Phantom of the Opera', if not better. It's gripping and ever-fresh sound draws you back to it again and again. It's a dark and thought-provoking mix of both the humorous, catchy and serious, all of which fuse to create something varied and attention grabbing. This isn't like one of our usual reviews, but needs proclaiming. This is  must, so check out Stephen Sondheim's musical epic, 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Discussion: Slipknot

     First off, I'd better make this clear. This is my opinion, and people are going to disagree with it. That's not a 'might' disagree with it, people will. This was sparked by an argument on the Facebook page, after I decided to put my foot down and not review Slipknot. Why? Well, I hope some of my points against the band can be highlighted here.
     Firstly, I don't dislike metal music at all. It's true that I prefer heavy metal over death metal, but I appreciate both genre as I do many others. I can't understand why so many people enjoy Slipknot though, when there are much better alternatives. Secondly, I don't dislike the singer Corey Taylor, and in looking into Stone Sour, I have to admit his voice holds a certain quality. That quality however, is not put to the best of use within this band.
     Their appearance is an off-putting factor, let's be honest. Look at the photo above and tell me that these grown men aren't mentally disturbed in one way or another. I think that sure, they might want to make an impression, but the line between being offensive to religion and being powerful has been well and truly crossed by that crown of thorns. I want any fan of Slipknot to come and tell me why that particular creation is at all necessary and in any way respectful to other people's beliefs. Their image, or more their masks, say to me that these guys want to be a gimmick. They want to be marketable and sell albums rather than record good music, and this is an element to their thought process that doesn't appeal to me. Many great metal bands have created a legacy for themselves without the need to dress up and sell themselves as a marketable scheme. I don't get it.
     If I went to see Slipknot perform live, you know what I'd be called? A maggot. Personally, and this really is personal, I don't want to be called a maggot. I get it. Slipknot fans survive off the music like maggots, but this for me seems very degrading, even if it is meant as an aggressive crowd-pleaser. That in itself says, "we're better than you", and I simply can't relate to that. I don't know about other people, but another argument against them for me, is the number of band members. If they need nine members in order to sound as they do, I have no trouble saying many individual members lack in skill. That being said, Joey Jordison is an excellent drummer, and like Taylor, is wasted in this group.
     Lyrically, no one can say that Slipknot's lyricism retains deeper meanings and thought-provoking content. Here's a thought to ponder. Read the line: "‘I wanna slit your throat and f**k the wound." This has allegedly provoked murder on two occasions, both of which involves numerous stabbings and even, as the line read, a throat slitting. On another occasion a teenager dressed like Joey injured three people and cut the throat of another. Even the names of the albums suggest dark and violent themes. Take their early release, 'Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat'. Rape and murder are both acts hinted at within this record.
     You know what, I think I finally get it. Sure, some kids might be disturbed already, but I'm pretty certain Slipknot's 'work' acted as a catalyst for their violent reaction towards others. The band members wear masks. Because they want to make an impression? No. They want to hide from the public view, so when things do happen, they know they won't be recognised. I personally won't be listening to Slipknot, and would appreciate it if such an album request was avoided. I'm sorry about sounding peeved, but the subject matter does anger me greatly I'm afraid. Please feel free to comment and tell me why I'm wrong.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zombi: Escape Velocity

     I actually forgot about this record after I first heard it. I've been meaning to review it for a while, but just haven't got round to doing so, a mistake I hope to correct now! Zombi are a space-rock duo consisting of Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra., the former of whom has a prominent career in b-movie soundtracks. 'Escape Velocity' was released this year as their fourth full-length lp, and it's another solid effort from the group. Taking into consideration Moore's previous work, it doesn't take a genius to deduce that the band specialise in a very soundtrack-esque style of rock. Despite this, the sound from them has progressed and changed over time, as all progressive bands probably should. From 2006's 'Surface to Air' to the 09 album 'Spirit Animal', Zombi began to steer away from their use of synthesisers. This lead to the latter album ending up a lot less spacey, with an incorporation of bass and electric guitar making it a heavier, more rock orientated epic. 
     This record however, reinvents Zombi's sound yet again. It manages to tone it down slightly, while retaining that thought-provoking, story telling element that makes their music great. A basic collection of songs built around drums and synthesisers, the only complaint I have is a small one. Three years after their last release, 'Escape Velocity' is only half an hour long? A slight disappointment, but that's only because I like it quite a lot!
     Far from being stark and empty however, which you might infer from their relatively lacking number of instruments, Moore squeezes the most out of the things he's got. Every negative space is filled with synthesiser after synthesiser in a way both imaginative and immersive. Fuses are immediately lit by the opening title track, whose detached synth passage merges slowly with catchy, head-nodding drums. This album for me, sounds decidedly progressive, but here and there you can hear respective harks to the bygone legends of space-rock. Other-worldly sounds (which seem present in a few albums lately) fill the remainder of the first track, with an abrupt ending introducing the remarkable 'Slow Oscillations'. Besides being great, it's the only track here that's below three minutes long, making it the perfect choice for today's embedded mp3. The airbrushed album cover feels very sci-fi, and this number is an outstanding emulation of that concept. It's quick and airy synthesisers contrast with the deeper, throbbing backing track, and the image of a space-ship's corridor, bright and futuristic, is drawn in your mind. The next eight minute monster, 'Shrunken Heads', is the second longest on the album, with it's mesmerising reverb and undeniable mark of producer Giorgio Moroder. Dance beats and trance sensibilities thrill.
     Coming to the final two tracks, I admit that I lied. I actually have two complaints. The first being the length of 'Escape Velocity' and the second being it's coherence. With most of the tracks running for a fair amount of time, if you're not used to Zombi I can see a lot of the sounds coming off as directionless. I personally don't mind this, but for me, that factor has been amplified, obviously unintentionally, for this release. That being said, the next track 'DE3' is simple awe-inspiring. From the fade-out of 'Shrunken Heads' comes this epic anthemic masterpiece. It's like watching a star die. From the emptiness of space explodes a light, beautiful and almost angelic. As it unfurls, you look through the vast clouds of dust and see another world, colourful and warm. That too is being destroyed, and you realise slowly that nothing lasts forever. I'm not going to start another paragraph to close, but I feel as though 'Time Of Trobules' isn't suited to be the closing track. It's not a bad song, but the tired fade-out doesn't seem the most dynamic and exciting way Zombi could have ended. Overall however, this is another solid effort from one of the greatest pair of modern prog-rockers. This experience is cut shorter than I would have liked, but in the end, it's thoroughly enjoyable, and well worth half an hour of any music lover's time!

'Slow Oscillations'

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amon Tobin: ISAM

     Check out this album cover for a start. I've found the biggest size and sharpest resolution out there, and frankly, it's beautiful. Digital release-wise, there's another with a butterfly on it, but I think I like this one more. I thought I'd review Amon Tobin, seeing as we've covered a pretty experimental artist today already, and this album, 'ISAM' is pretty recent. I first got into the Brazilian musician/producer after listening to the millennium record, 'Supermodified, which is often cited as his most accessible release. Looking back further though, to 97's 'Brigoldae' and even the relatively unknown 96' effort 'Adventures in Foam', you can definitely see the change in style from them to this. One thing that he's managed to retain and refine however, is his use of sampled sound. One of his more intriguing records for me, is 'Foley Room', an album recorded entirely in this manner, creating a style more or less completely his own. 'ISAM' is his latest effort, released a couple of months ago, and certainly conforms to this self-built image. As such, some of his greatest work is on here, but there is one major flaw. The first two thirds are excellent, but the last stretch falters a little too much. It's not cripplingly bad, but it reveals a cuter side to the music that for me at least, feels out of place and slightly uncomfortable.
     With his early releases, Tobin started to define drum and bass, but I found that one of the most enjoyable elements to his music for me, was his work with jazz. Instead of fusing jazz and electronic like say, Squarepusher though, Tobin went and took samples straight from jazz music, which ended up sounding pretty cool. What I can safely say however, is that this record is completely different. It's so far out and experimental, lacking in both accessibility and simplicity, I'd venture to say this is a very difficult album to 'get'. Even with myself being a fan of Tobin's discography, it took me a couple of months to grasp the concepts within 'ISAM'. Despite this, when you do reach that level of understanding, the feeling is incredible and certainly well worth the struggle required to reach that peak.
      I'm actually amazed by this album. Tobin is in his own words, sculpting sounds, rather than songs, and the production and quality of the texture makes for sonic mind-bending when listened through some good quality headphones. Although the jazz is gone, and although the drum and bass is gone, the sound here remains as fresh as some of his earlier output. 'Journeyman' kicks of the album with the biggest and most varied collection of sampled field-recordings you'll ever hear. Alien eggs hatch from bubbling, gurgling pods. Delicate tinkling and fluctuating scuttles. The depth of the track varies as well, from the in your face melodies to the background ticks and knocks. The sound isn't overly oppressive, but you're thrown into the unknown, surrounded by an eerily dark fog.
     Out of the mist float ghosts, wailing and moaning. Noises flutter and emerge before flying back into darkness. This really is a musical experience, if ever I saw one. The again, very alien and advanced technological sounds of 'Goto 10' are outstanding. Doors open and landing pads fall. Lights flicker and clouds of pressurised gas escape. You can almost visualise the aliens approaching, serene and magnificent and frightening. 'Surge' incorporates some racing car sounds at the start, and a strange vintage atmosphere smothers the rest of the track. This leads into another: 'Lost & Found'. The building of sound and the saddening singing of a solemn female mark this out as a conceptual masterpiece, focusing on the mortality of humans through the immortality of life itself.
     Skipping past the abstract vocals on 'Wooden Toy', we come to the last third of the album. 'Kitty Cat'. The vocals are very pop-like, even through the slightly creepy air that smothers the track. In Tobin's defence, he does try and make this change in style flow, through 'Calculate's soothing ticking and happier feel, but it just doesn't work. In truth, 'Kitty Cat' and 'Bedtime Stories' aren't bad songs on their own, but in the context of the album I personally don't feel as though the contrasting atmospheres compliment each other very well at all. That being said, Tobin manages to retain throughout this record, a consistent professionalism that feels confident in itself and the noise it produces. Even though I'm not in love with the last third as much as I am with the start, I appreciate the quality of the music. Trust me when I say that this is a very hard album to fully comprehend, but if you manage to eventually do so, the reward is like nothing you've ever beheld. So persevere, listen again, and prepare to stare into the heart of sound itself.

'Goto 10'

Jon Hopkins: Insides

     I'm going to have to start off with a complaint, I'm afraid. Jacob, your requests are causing an unbalance within the blog. Every album you've suggested has been brilliant, and this one is no different! I'm actually rather surprised about Jon Hopkins, in terms of what he's been up to. He's made quite an impression on Brian Eno, an artist I appreciate a lot, and was even asked to co-produce the Coldplay album 'Viva La Vida'. 'Insides' is his third full-length album and first with Domino Records, released in the May of 2009. Therefore, it will be, and has been for me, the first record many will hear from him. As such, this is an almost perfect commercial debut, but there are a few shallow gashes here and there that lower it's long-term value. It's certainly a varied album, but these relatively constant changes in style reveal Hopkins' weakness. He is a competent performer in all of these contrasting feels, but rarely comes across as a master of any. Most of the sounds have been done better before, but having said that, the production and craftsmanship throughout covers the problem more often than not.
      The record opens with 'The Wider Sun', a track you can hear below on our snazzy new flash player! Hopkins merges the classical and the electronic here, with sounds used amazingly to create the mournful image of a Scottish tribe. The bagpipe-like instruments are tinged with a serene hum, lamenting a loss and yet somehow recognising that life ultimately goes on. 'Vessel' is, like I said before, a different style. It is still very quiet at the start, making for a good transition from the previous track to this, but as it progresses we discover a faster beat, highlighted in sonic glitches and the air of an other-worldly apocalypse. The ending of this track hits you like a ton of bricks. It's extreme thuds and buzzes get your pulse quickening as you run from a mechanical giant, filming the end of the world on your shaky handheld camera. For me though, the calm emulated on the first track is outstanding, hence it's appearance as the blog's first embedded mp3. Enjoy!
     'Insides' is instantly colder though, with it's whispers, glitches and subtle undertones obscured by sound. A chilling nightmare engulfs the track within the haunting melody. It makes no attempts to hide itself however, and after a while the noise erupts, unafraid and frightening. As I listen through for the third time as I write, I realise how wrong my initial complaint was. This guy, although perhaps not the best at certain styles, plays to his strengths, creating a soundtrack, epic in it's orchestration and refinement. You are always discovering new things here, be it the subtle effects or the stunning atmospheres. I have found this album gripping, saddening and thrilling, and these emotions, though not provoked in the the best way I've seen, are executed with a passion I greatly admire.
     Running through most of the remaining tracks relatively quickly then, 'Wire' is one of the catchier songs, with a pretty inspiring climax half-way through that makes your head bob along with your infectious grin. 'Colour Eye' however, is a ghost story, crying down the empty train line, eyes frantic as they fill up with tears. The electronic noise here, though experimental, works well in creating a paranormal soundscape that I adore. Made all the better by the slower mid-section and rainy finish, this leads into 'Light Through The Veins', which in my opinion is one of the weaker tracks. It feels very, 'commercially viable', during the first half, in that the melody and backing beat feel very poppy, without the originality seen elsewhere on the record. 'Small Memory' is heavily classical, but this quieter, slower vision makes for teary-eyed time alone. It's serenity is beautiful, despite it's rather underwhelming conclusion. The closing track is similar in feel, but the ending (thirty seconds of silence) allows you to sit and contemplate what you've heard. 'Insides', in the end, while perhaps not the best album out there, makes an admirable lunge for the crown. Now one of my favourite electronic efforts, this was a hidden gem for me, and is one that I eagerly encourage you to investigate for yourselves.

'The Wider Sun'

Monday, July 18, 2011

Washed Out: Within and Without

     Remember back at the very start of May, when I voiced my excitement over the upcoming Washed Out debut? No? Well, the lp dropped little under a week ago, and after getting stuck into it, here's the review. Washed Out is the musical pseudonym of 28-year-old producer and singer-songwriter Ernest Greene, whose 2009 EP 'Life of Leisure' caught the blogosphere by surprise,  and even fronted the ultimately false 'chillwave' movement. His sound has changed slightly from that to this however, for better or for worse. It's ethereal synth-pop, blissful in it's feathery texture, which concentrates heavily on atmosphere rather than lyrical pronunciation. I wasn't disappointed with this sonic shift as such, but some elements to the nine tracks could have been done better. The sugary reverb does nothing to sharpen the blurred vocals, but in Greene's defence this creates a very nostalgic and almost dream-like quality to the sound. I get the impression this is an album focused more heavily on production and sound than vocals and lyricism. This is perfectly fine, but I guess I would've just preferred a stronger, clearer voice to pull me through the haze, rather than wandering within it, without any discernible direction.
     Did you see what I did there? Within, without? Bah. 'Eyes Be Closed' opens the album relatively well, but that and 'Echoes' pretty much repeat ideas found on previous efforts. The latter in particular has vocals that echo, making them not very understandable at all. Like I said before though, this lack of articulation makes for a very mesmerising and relaxing track, be it with a lack of strength behind the brilliant production that brings it down a notch. 'Amor Fati' grooves along nicely, but again, I feel as though it could have been more forcefully lead. In the case of this track, it's like having a stretch of empty motorway while sitting in an open-top car. Instead of speeding along with the wind in your hair however, you crawl along at a snail's pace, with the sun burning your neck. These are all bad observations, and at times I do feel underwhelmed. I can't help but think though, that without the hype and outstanding EPs, this would have appeared better than it is. For a debut album, it's certainly not bad at all and a lot better than some I've heard, but in comparison with previous efforts, it doesn't live up to expectations. A shame, really.
     Having said that, there are glimpses of ambition and progression here that differentiate 'Within and Without' from the three EP's prior to this release. 'Far Away' is fantastic. The groove is mellow, and as such is one of the few tracks where the vocals feel well-matched to the feel. The instrumentation here is also some of the best on the record, from the wind-instruments to the tinkling bells. These all merge together and bring to life Greene's breathtaking vision of a misty mountain, glorious in it's unparalleled primal beauty. The relatively high vocals on 'You and I', matched with the soothing melody and delicate air. The relative simplicity of the title track 'Within and Without'. The relative clarity of the vocals on the finisher 'A Dedication'. These are all elements I enjoyed within this record, but relatively. Without the other tracks to compare to, would these have been as good?
     I can't deny that this is a solid debut album, but Greene's back-log is part of my complaint with it. Having released some inspiring stuff in the past, has he lived up to the expectations for this album? For me, not really. I just can't shake the feeling that this is an extended EP, rather than a fully formed full-length record. Many of the song's here, although good, don't sound any different to stuff we've heard from him before. Taking this as a debut album though, without considering any of the EPs, I have to admit I did enjoy it. It's full of dreamy soundscapes and whimsical vocals. It's a relaxing effort that, while not all that memorable, managed to enthrall. You never know, but I hope I enjoy Washed Out's later output more than I did this debut lp. It was just a tad underwhelming, for me at least.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

System of a Down: Toxicity

     Thanks to Yates for requesting this album review for a start. System of a Down, or SOAD, are an alternative metal, hard-rock quartet from Southern California, but considering names like Tankian and Malakian, their Armenian roots are apparent. Formed in 1994 after the splitting of previous group Soil, 'Toxicity' is their sophomore record after 1998's eponymous debut. After a bit of research, I gather that that debut was overlooked by many hard-rockers, with mainstream recognition only really presented with the release of this fourteen track album. Their sound is remarkably original, carrying the label: 'nu-metal', a very interesting sub-genre from a musical viewpoint. It's a fusion of metal and other styles, from hip hop to, in this case, hard-rock. I'm not going to lie though. When I first heard this record I was put off by it's complexity and chaotic nature. After repeated listens however, it grew on me. The experimental structures and sounds. The varied vocals, angular guitar and razor-sharp rhythms. They all infuse with each other to create a feeling both aggressive and in parts, thought-provoking. Sonically, it eventually falls into place amazingly well, due in my mind to the more pronounced melodies than were present in the band's previous effort. This is a hardcore journey, brutal and adrenaline-pumping!
      This isn't the best nu-metal record ever recorded though, let's be honest. The lyrics are funny in places, sure, but that most definitely doesn't mean they work. First and second listen-throughs they strike you as creative and slightly humorous, but beyond that they grate and annoy. They pose the question, what were these guys taking when they wrote this album? Really, I don't know. Even my own label can be disputed, with many classing the band as more alternative metal than a fusion of metal and rock. Overall though, this is a fun record whatever it contains and whatever label it carries. Yes, there are bad tracks, but then there are fantastically good ones. You just have to accept it for what it is and not look into it that much. It's catchy. It's original. It's a distinct release from a distinct bunch of guys that's become, even if you don't agree with it, a bona fide classic.
     The opener, 'Prison Song' pounds and thunders with a classic metal sound, whispers filling the silence until the vocals kick in. This is a stupidly varied track, from the sampled voice to the singing to the high pitch verse to the slowed down section half way through. A political message kind of carries this though, furious in it's chaotic demonstration for freedom. The more pronounced melodies I mentioned before are noticeable in the first single 'Chop Suey', which received more radio airtime than usual, despite it's subtle suicide-related lyricism. System of a Down manage to keep their aggression and style while maturing with a commercial sensibility that in the end brought them a great deal of success. The next track however, 'Bounce', is one of the most annoying things I've heard in a while, with the repetitive nature of 'pogo pogo pogo' matched with the ridiculous story. It's incredible in it's ugliness, but it doesn't really take away from the album as a whole.
     'Atwa', 'Toxicity' and 'Psycho' are all slower, with toned down vocals that still retain a dark attitude. 'Atwa' in particular feels in part very 'classic rock', an element that surprised me, in a good way. 'Aerials' finishes the album exceptionally well though. Just after half way, experimental wind-instruments float above tribal drums and ritualistic voices. It's a fascinatingly mellow ending to an album that was for the most part, loud and aggressive. Political undertones highlight the agitated passion here in a way both gripping and rebellious. It softens the blow with humour and heightens the pain with vocal power. It's not the best record out there, but it's certainly a unique one. Hold 'Toxicity' aloft and let it's accomplished light refresh the faces of worn out rockers. Let it thunder and let it roar.

Weekly Classics: The Animals: House of the Rising Sun

     'House of the Rising Sun' is a song most famously covered by The Animals in 1964, but has been around much longer. According to The Animals keyboardist Alan Price, this track was originally a sixteenth century folk number, but in general it's author is unknown. It's been recorded by a surprisingly large number of people though, from Bob Dylan in 1961 through Nina Simone in '62 to Dolly Parton in '81. Sinead O'Connor even recorded a cover, as well as Muse, in their own dark manner. The Animals version is often credited as the best however, and was indeed the first real 'folk-rock' hit. And it really is. Scope the Youtube link below to listen through this revolutionary classic. You just don't get songs like this any more. Absolutely fantastic. If you've never heard this, then you're missing out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Muse: Black Holes and Revelations

     Muse are a big band. Subsequently, this is a big, big record. Selling more than 115 thousand albums during the first week of it's release during the July of 2006, this was at the time their best-selling work. Contrary to the album cover though, which might suggest a group of four, Muse are primarily a trio, lead by frontman Matt Bellamy. This is their fourth release after 2003's critically acclaimed 'Absolution', with fifth album 'The Resistance' appearing three years later. Their sound is unique, which was from the very beginning an attribute I loved. Their music roars with political agitation and cries with emotional passion and rebellious paranoia. Like the title suggests, there are moments here when you recognise and relate to the lyrics so well you have an epiphany of sorts. On the other hand, black holes of guilt and dark imagination drag your attention away from the everyday, carrying you through a world, wonderful in it's unparalleled complexity.
     When the band were young, there were lots of comparisons to Oxford group Radiohead, and in having that band's complete discography (I'm a huge fan), I can safely say Muse have shaken off those shackles. They are a strong, ambitious and hard-working outfit, using all their previous knowledge and refining it to form the legendary eleven tracks that is 'Black Holes and Revelations'. Space-rock. Pop. Glam. Symphonic and in parts operatic sounds. These elements fuse to create a immense rock hybrid, grunting and snorting as it towers above others. As it lets out an almighty scream, powerful guitars and subtle melodies fill the air and you realise, this is something really extraordinary...
     I just want to do this record justice, so I'm stressing about those previous two paragraphs. I think just showing you might be better. I have the complete discography for three bands, and three bands only. Pink Floyd. Radiohead. And Muse. The impression Muse made on me will stay with me forever as a major influence in terms of the music I enjoy listening to, and for that I'm eternally grateful. This is therefore probably going to be a persuasive review rather than an evaluative one. Also, shout-out to Anton, fellow Muser!
      'Take a Bow' kicks things off with it's other-worldly ambition, filling the barren soundscapes with orchestration and synthesised beats before closing on an epic finish. Bellamy's vocals break with passion as he relates a world collapsed and crying, putting him on a level far above many modern rock singers even now. 'Starlight' is a catchier, radio friendly track. The balance of drums, guitars and vocals on every record seem to lend themselves in making Muse feel like a complete band, with every section pulling equal weight. 'Supermassive Black Hole', with it's higher vocals stark against the swaggering deep backing instrumentation, is a song broken by sonic glitches and the furiously angry chorus. Stated as being the track that was the most different to record though, 'Soldier's Poem' is the lamentation of a land ravaged of it's beauty, and one man's struggle to replant it, tired and alone. 'Assassin' is another great number, paranoid in it's speed and thundering in it's whisky-fueled rock and roll. Every minute of this record is outstandingly fantastic, and my words cannot try to comprehend the impression it leaves. You really need to listen through this yourself!
     The album finishes with the longest track, 'Knights of Cydonia', it's catchy melody humming and it's  energetic air commanding your feet to tap and your mouth to whistle. Meanwhile Bellamy screams "You and I must fight for our rights/You and I must fight to survive", a lyric that stands out amongst the mayhem. Muse have worked noticeably hard to deliver something powerful, memorable and thoroughly enjoyable. I have no qualms in saying that this is one of the best rock albums released in 2006, and one that deserves your utmost attention. Check this out and prepare to be both amazed and awe-inspired.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dumbo Gets Mad: Elephants at the Door

     First off, I have a bunch of reviews lined up for the weekend, taking into consideration most of your wonderful suggestions! For now though, let's let that Friday feeling wash over us with Dumbo Gets Mad, and his debut album 'Elephants at the Door', a record available for free here, released sometime earlier this year. However that's about the sum total of what I know about him , apart from the fact that he's Italian and that his girlfriend contributes to a few of the tracks. On every profile and information point though, you'll find the idea behind the album. From the very start of recording Dumbo Gets Mad wanted this ten track lp to swim in the pool of psychedelia, which I have to say, it certainly does. Considering the name he's decided to adopt as well, and the Disney connotations it brings, there is almost a responsibility on him to be playful and fun, a responsibility he carries eagerly and carries excellently. A popular album from a relatively unknown artist is rare, but an outstandingly psychedelic and blissful one is even rarer. A joy for everyone.
     The sound floats around on lilos of 60's pop, but what really makes Dumbo Gets Mad even better is the fact that he takes the good out of those records and manages to merge it, and merge it well, with his own artistic vision, creating something entirely his own. I'm not saying there are influences here, 'cos there are, but unlike a record I reviewed recently, they're expertly fused with his own ideas, a gifted skill of any musician or band, and an attribute I greatly admire. This is trippy experimental psychedelia at it's very best.
     The opener, 'Limbo's Village' is a journey through a jungle, the animals croaking as you behold wonders never seen before, in a state of child-like curiosity and amazement. You find yourself falling into an Alice in Wonderland like hole, with a man wailing strangely before a Doctor Who-esque finish, leading into the best track on the album. 'Plumy Tale', with it's higher vocals grooving along the perfect bass line and subtle saxophone, lathered in a beautiful synthesised melody, is simply inspiring. Effects give this track a brilliantly playful feel as well, from the tinkling to the bubble popping, all of which highlight the harmonised chorus. This was actually the first single from the album, and for good reason. No other track here quite manages to rob 'Plumy Tale' of it's well-deserved crown.
     The remaining tracks are still marvelous though, don't get me wrong. 'Marmelade Kids' is a sight from outer space, watching the world spin and realising how small you are, but how special the human race is against a backdrop dark and everlasting. The crackling radio-like second half has a beat that slows to a relaxing hum at the very end. 'Sleeping Over', the next track, sounds decidedly alien, with it's frothing, bubbling vats and slowly flashing lights. Beeps and whizzes back the electrified high pitch voice of the extra terrestrials. Instead of sounding silly however, it works as a serious three and a half minutes. 'Harmony', with it's reverb covered vocals and upbeat rhythm skips along like a child, emulating that 60's feel so incredibly well. You wander through a vintage photograph, the houses blurred by the long-past summer sun, children laughing and playing in the street. The second half of the song, less so, but equally as magical. Great.
     Coming to a close, 'Eclectic Prawn', with both it's male and female vocals rocks along in unity against a chiptune beat, and is strangely commanding with it's powerful synthesiser sounds. Speaking of chiptune beats, 'Raymond Play' is a school play, also soothing in it's beat and calming in it's "la la la"s. There aren't many more notable tracks though, to be honest. In my opinion, the second half of the album, though tremendous, isn't quite up there with the first. The melodies at times can get lost in the synthesisers, which although detracts for some gets me personally wrapped up within the music. From a relatively unknown artist, this is a cold shower on a summer afternoon. It's refreshingly unique and sounds decidedly high on life. Again, this is 60's psychedelic pop at it's very best. It's free too, so there's really no reason to go and check out 'Elephants at the Door'!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Foster The People: Torches

      Well then, Foster The People. Brought to my attention by good friend Matty, (thanks extended his way), this Los Angeles trio aren't actually that recent, having played way back in 2009. The bulk of their releases however, as well as their rise to relative fame, have occurred this year, with 'Torches' being the band's debut studio album after the self-titled January EP. Their sound harks back in many ways to 1960's psychedelia, a move pioneered by band Echo and the Bunnymen, with pop elements creeping into the music here and there, highlighted with an electronic shine and fun dance sensibility. The vocals, upon first listen sound surprisingly feminine, a shock provoked by the fact this is an all-male group. This soon melts though, into the soothing ten track mess of this lp.
     I say mess, because 'Torches' isn't the most consistent album around, which is really one of my main complaints. The songs are pretty hit and miss as to whether they work at all actually, which is due in part to the fairly repetitive lyricism and unoriginality that creeps about under the bed of the record. By that, I mean that some may not be able to hear the fairly noticeable MGMT influence, but it is there. I hear blatant Animal Collective influences here as well, but as a fan of that group, I am probably biased against Foster the People's more accessible reimagining of that fairly unique sound. Having said all this, the mess is, when it works, an incredibly soothing and summery release from the stress of school and the headache of exams, an attribute to the record that's actually quietly enjoyable.
     The opener is deceivingly brilliant though. With it's notes building in pitch atop a catchy rhythmic wave, 'Helena Beat' is a chilled out picnic, encompassing all the frivolity of summer, with any worries and problems drifting away with the warm breeze. The next track and indeed the first single dropped from the album is another great one, with it's reverb heavy vocals making 'Pumped Up Kicks' another relaxing four minutes. After 'Call It What You Want' with it's groovy melody and "ooh, ooh ooh"s however, things kind of go downhill. 'Don't Stop'? It's unoriginal melody and overall construction are cracked panes in the stained glass window of this track. The vocals and little details to the sound are nice, but don't quite manage to carry the afore-mentioned problems. 'Waste' as well. The lyrics are good, but that obvious MGMT influence runs like a stain down the wall. The influence itself isn't bad, but the fact that it overpowers the music in a glaringly obvious manner, is.
     This is going to sound really bad now, but here we go. 'Houdini'. The MGMT influence is even more prominent here, but it might just be my favourite track. I know, with everything in the last paragraph, how can he like this song? Well, it's probably more the varied instrumentation and vocals that make it my favourite, with these elements earning the right in a way to be that little bit more unoriginal than others. 'Life On The Nickel's lyrics stand out as pretty nice, with 'Miss You's talk of letting go another stand-out three and a half minutes from this collection of forty. The album ends with a five minute stonker, 'Warrant', whose angelic start sooths as much as it's louder finish pumps.  And so, I think that's it. Overall, this isn't a bad album by far, but it's inconsistencies and unoriginality in parts lessens the collective feeling of the record as a whole. I would have prefered Foster the People, with their great vocals and ear for a good pop tune to merely craft a sound quieter in it's influences. Instead of wearing them on their sleeves, perhaps the list of influences should have been kept out of the limelight, instead of in it, which for the most part, it was. Like 'Call It What You Want' says though, "who cares?" This is a care-free record, so stop caring and take life a little less seriously! It's fun while it lasts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gel Roc: Beautiful Tragedy

     Well then, before I get on with this review, I'd just like to point out that I love this album art! Just look at it. Brilliant. 'Beautiful Tragedy' was sent to the blog by Gel Roc, a Los Angeles based Californian whose work with fellow artists in EX2 landed him within the folds of four records, collaborating on many many more. As far as his solo work goes, from what I can gather this is his second output after the 2006 release 'Laws and Flaws'. This record is one focused on Gel's career as a whole, incorporating ideas from his past work. Released on the label Abolano Records, there are several contributions here from prolific underground rappers, with the most notable for me being Open Mike Eagle, with his album 'Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes' an enjoyable hip hop release from last month.
     The sound here is very fresh, an element made all the more fantastic through Gel Roc's lyricism and the excellent scratching and overall production. There is a slight 80's edge to some of the sounds here, an old-school hip hop sensibility ruined in my opinion by most modern rappers. This sixteen track album gets back to the streets, gritty at times and experimental at others. It's a solid effort based in the very roots of hip hop, relevant and yet strangely nostalgic if you've listened to a lot of the 90's rap output. Outstanding!
     Gel kicks things off with 'Trust To Dust', a hard beat supported from below by a low, humming bass line. The lyrics recollect his daily activities, and the walls he has to break through in order to succeed. This leads into the second track, which I've very fond of. 'Autodidactic' is filled with very subtle scratching and an atmosphere amplified by the female backing track. These echo down a long, cold pipe, almost creepy in their execution. The sampled voice that runs throughout in combination with this makes for a very nice and engaging sound, and Roc's lyricism highlights, like the title suggests, a struggle in learning the hard-way, and creating your own opportunities in a difficult world.
     'Buzzin Cousins' rumbles along, recalling memories in a drugged-up, smoked-up room, light seeping through the musty old shutters. It feels dizzy and blurred, the dark melody creeping through in the background while the lyrics are repeated and overlaid on each other. It's a trip, but a perfectly enjoyable one. The next song, 'Night Alone' is introduced through the soulful humming of a sincere woman. It's a gloomy, home alone in the rain kind of track, but this comes as a great contrast to the previous tracks, even relaxing in it's relative peacefulness. 'Inside Out' has more natural sounds, with it's wind instruments and tinny drums, all compiled in a way lit up by Roc's lyrics regarding love and passion. The last of the 'relaxed' tracks is 'Empty Hellows', a song laced through with the occasional saxophone, coaxing forth a warm and mellow infusion of hip hop and jazz.
     The harder tracks fill up the remainder of the record. 'Epilepsy' is an electronic ghost-train, with a hysterical scream even thrown in for good measure. The contributing artist here adds variety to the record with his vocals, though the track is pretty unique already in it's electrified make-up. 'Corporate Indecline' is brilliant. That's it. Brilliant. No, but it really is. With a short sampled fight scene and the first few lines spat by the guest vocalist, this track is denched in blood and shivering with it's stinging bloodied knuckles.
     The album ends with a remix much harder than the original song, but the real grand finisher for me is 'Tragic Poetry'. This nine minute monster has no less than thirteen contributors, which makes for an astounding track filled with the ever-changing vocals expected. The structure and instrumentation isn't anything special, but the influences of all these different people make it stand-out enough as an accomplished coup de grâce. This record is for the most part an adrenaline fueled hunt, broken by the occassional hiding space and ended with the deathblow that is track sixteen. Heart-pumping however, you can't wait to respawn, and start the hunt again... If you don't know Gel Roc, get to.