15th Jan 2015Read on Twitter
(dir. Matthew Vaughan)
V enjoyable superhero flick that does exactly what it says on the tin. Adapted from the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, it follows the adventured of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) a high school fanboy who asks a simple question and then follows it to its logical conclusion: why hasn't anyone tried being a superhero?
After a few half-assed encounters with some low-level street thugs (basically involving him having his ass-kicked), his scuba-suited antics get picked up on YouTube and he becomes something of a local hero. This brings him to the attention of a far more organised duo - Hit Girl and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage on great form) - who show him (and us) what real-life vigilantism would actually look like - basically, some unhinged people running around with a lot of guns and weapons.
The action is fast-paced, the nods to comic books on form without being overbearing (one flashback scene all told with comic panels is brilliant), and the dialogue a deft balance between hilarious and daft. Aaron Johnson (last seen as the young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy) is an engaging lead, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin in Superbad) has a good sense of comic timing, and it's always good to have Nic Cage in a role where you don't hate him for not being as good as he used to be. 12 year old powerhouse Hit Girl is a force of nature too, she gets some of the best lines, and this could easily be a breakout role for Chloë Moretz.
Chuck in the odd disarmingly moving scene, some gore-packed fights and a plot that keeps just the right side of almost-believable, and it's a winner. Totally not suitable for kids though, will be interesting to see how well it does without an underage superhero audience packing it out (although, let's face it, there are probably more than enough grown-up superhero fans around these days...).Read more 4 star reviews
My initial reaction to 'Dag för Dag', was to obsess inappropriately over the umlaut at the centre of the band's name. I can now confirm that 'Dag för Dag' translates literally as 'Day by Day' (not some marketing executive's idea of a promotional tool) and that not only in name but in music too, these guys are the real thing.
American-Swedish-brother-sister team, Dag för Dag, released their first EP in May '09 and now come back at us with debut album, 'Boo'. For the most part these thirteen (excepting the bonus, previously unreleased) tracks brood and boil with the intensity of a Nordic winter. Things dip at the album's centre and a little preening could have shorn off the dreary, introspective gloom that infects tracks like 'Silence as the verb' and 'Light on your feet'.
Parthemore Snavely and Jacob Donald Snavely exchange vocals throughout the album, but it is Parthemore who really drives the sound. Her voice tussles with the guitars and, at its best, explodes with a Siouxsie-like energy.... (at its worst there are a couple of dangerous 'Cranberries' moments lurking in there, when the female vocals wail a little too sincerely....)
'Boo' is most successful when the raw sentiments expressed in the lyrics are complimented by boisterous guitars and some determined drumming. Along the way it steps on a few toes; BRMC are in there, the Cure too and most blatantly Arcade Fire when on the (excellent) 'Animal', Parthemore shrieks 'Let's Go!' repeatedly as a counterpoint to Jacob's lead vocals. It's to their credit that 'Dag för Dag' have enough personality to make the music stand out inspite of these comparisons. I'm guessing that Live, these guys should make for a dag gawn good show....Read more 3.5 star reviews
(dir. James Cameron)
Yes, they do look like overgrown smurfs running around some Ferngully-like forest that's been designed by Roger Dean in the style of a giant 3D Yes cover - but so what?! This is an amazing film experience - and one that looks loads better than in does in the trailers (for once).
The story's pretty generic once you break it down - basically a Dances With Blue Wolves eco-friendly adventure in which our ex-marine hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) ends up thinking that the natives he encounters on Pandora, the alien planet he's been sent to, might have a better way of thinking about the world. You know, be nice to the planet, and it'll be nice to you maaaan. His job is to try to encourage them to leave their home so the nasty human corporation he works for can start mining the huge deposits of "unobtainium" - and if they don't vacate pronto, the military hardware is going to kick in ASAP and BLOW SHIT UP!
But don't worry about all that - it's just an excuse to let you wander around the world's biggest 3D landscape, amazingly rendered, detailed and immersive - it's the film that this new wave of 3D tech has been waiting for. At times it feels like the start of a whole new wave of game/film hybrids, like you can see where they're going to go with it all once they figure out how to let you play this film. For now though, it's a great ride - would totally recommend the full-on 3D IMAX combo.
The interaction between Sully (a wheelchair user) and his avatar is all pretty interesting, mirrored with the chunky military exo-skeletons and the way the Na'vi communicate with their animals - by plugging their tails in! Sigourney Weaver - the only Cameron vet on this mission - is her usual credible self, even if we've seen her do the hardass to perfection before. It's long, but you can imagine wanting to spend another few hours in this Pandora's box. The plot's generic, but the experience isn't - 4****Read more 4 star reviews
The House That Dirt Built
There's an air of disappointment in the Pilton household surrounding this release. Last Year's debut album from The Heavy delivered a couple of tracks which I could not shake from my head - and the blend of rock riffs, funk loops and soulful vocals really worked. This follow up starts out well, but doesn't have the consistency of the previous release.
Opening up with two pretty strong tracks - Oh No! Not You Again easily lives up to the debut's promise, and that's tailed closely by How You Like Me Now, which also packs a mean punch. Now, I usually count diversity as a plus point when bands stretch out into other territories, but in the case of The Heavy, I think this may be what lets them down. Sixteen is a well produced song - a waltz in the haunted carnival or cabaret style - but it sits uncomfortably alongside the riffs and the soul. Short Change Hero and Long Way From Home have the right ingredients but come out sounding kind of corny - but the worst offender has to be the aptly named Cause For Alarm. This is a truly horrible track - Cod Reggae produced by someone whose skills lie in other areas. Really, it's a toe-curler, and not a million miles away from Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Why lads? Whose idea was this?
After that, I couldn't get back into the record - even the sweet riffing of What You Want Me To Do couldn't take away the dreadful taste left by Cause For Alarm. Overall then, the album is about 50 percent good, and 50 percent other than good, which is not as consistent as last year's release. Shame. I really wanted this one to be better, and was willing each track to be a good'un as I played it through. Let's hope they can nail it down for a third album.Read more 2.5 star reviews
I didn't read up on this band before I listened to the album - but I knew it was going to be a kind of post-rock instrumental album released through Ninja Tune subsidiary Counter Records. If that conjures some kind of aural image in your mind's-ear, you can be pretty sure that's what Cougar sound like. You could put them on the same lineup as Tortoise without upsetting anyone, and the production on the record is lightly peppered with some of those super-slick Ninja Tune flicks and flares. What's weird about this record is that it exchanges post-rock's jazz leanings for more of a world music or folk texture, and this doesn't always hit the spot. The other thing is that it has many tasty ingredients such as beefy sound, great playing, dynamics and variation - but they combine into a dinner that is served in a somewhat over-polite manner. Even the parts where the guitars crank up and it goes all metal just seem a bit too reserved, a bit too clean. The drumming is outstanding throughout, while final track Absaroka is the understated shining gem of the whole collection - since it taps into an American folk sound that is more typically played by Bill Frisell.
This track stands up easily alongside fellow Ninjas Jaga Jazzist, but much of the remaining album suffers from over-bake. Ninja are good at coaxing terrific second albums out of their artists, so Cougar could be a band to keep an eye on.Read more 2.5 star reviews
With relatively few UK gigs under their belts, it's always nice to have Pearl Jam in town. Assuming they aren't one of your most hated bands, of course. As noted by the band, their first UK gig was at The Borderline in '92 - and they were often described as being 'full of energy'. Probably because they "only played eight songs" - a long way from tonight's three-hour-plus show in front of a packed house. So packed, that Eddie Vedder wisely hypnotized the crowd into taking a unified three steps back about four songs in, reminding everyone of why they were away from Europe for so long before.
With the band maturing gracefully, and the Ten reissue garnering such nostalgic praise, it's hard not to suspect that Pearl Jam may be winding things down somewhat. Tracks from imminent new release Backspacer didn't make much impact, while the set was packed with often overlooked tracks from the earliest (four) albums.
Surprise opener Release was a highlight, plus plenty of favourites from Vitalogy, the spine-tingling Footsteps, personal favourite Light Years - as well as obligatory singalongs Black and Betterman, plus the rousing encore of Crazy Mary.
While you might expect the enormodome proportions of the O2/Millenium Dome to make for a stale atmosphere, with the right band it makes for an exuberant party vibe. We're all here to see Pearl Jam, but with the beer stand so easy to get to you'd be foolish to pull the usual trick of backing up your toilet breaks to the end. And so evolves a new dilemma: where to take your break. With so many favourites flowing easily it's a tough descision, especially when unknown newer songs provoke a mass exodus/bigger queues. Like choosing which kid to throw out the boat first, I went with Rats, while BC chose lesser known b-side I Got ID and CJ bizarrely chose Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town. At least he was back quick.
If you hate them, you hate them, but if you love them you'll wish you had been there for a typically roof-raising performance from the definite 'grunge' (ha!) rockers.
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
I Got I.D.
Rats (with a bit of Michael Jackson' Ben)
Blood (with a bit of Atomic Dog)
Love, Reign O'er Me
Do The Evolution
Better Man (with a bit of Save It For Later)
I've put the best part of the setlist into a Spotify playlist here.Read more 4.5 star reviews
What if Sterling Cooper walked down Sesame Street?
Anyone familiar with the 1988 film Police Academy 5: Assignement Miami Beach, will surely agree that the old maxim “If ain’t broke don’t fix it”, is one of life’s truer wisdoms. Unluckily for fans of wise-cracking Mahoney, producers of the Police Academy series were too short-sighted to adhere to it. Luckily for Dinosaur Jr. fans, whilst J.Mascis may have lost sight of it for a short period, he’s largely maintained faith in an exceptional guitar talent, a perfect accompanying voice and a seemingly effortless knack for great song writing.
After a much publicised break-up and lengthy seperation, 2007’s Beyond saw the original line-up of Mascis, Lou Barlow and drummer Murph re-unite to produce one of the year’s standout records, picking up the powerful sound that always saw them stand apart from the Grunge crowd they were often unfairly and lazily lumped in with almost 20 years previously. Now, with the three still in happy harmony it seems, they offer us the gift of “Farm” - essentially more of the same and praise be to that.
Less an axe, more an entire tool shed, the guitar in the hands of Mascis is always a pleasure to behold. Just 10 seconds of opener Pieces is all it takes to reassure us we are in familiar territory, with the Mascis guitar taking centre stage, countered by his subtle voice and the bass and drums of Lou Barlow and Murph not shirking back-up responsibility. The feelgood I Want You To Know, bounces along with a singalong chorus that has potential for serious live favourite. Ocean In The Way slows down the tempo, but keeps the effects pedals down to sound like a fuzzed up Neil Young. Lou steps up for Your Weather, I’ve said it before and it’s undoubtedly an obvious observation, but a Barlow song on a Dinosaur Jr. record always sound like Sebadoh as played by, well, Dinosaur Jr… which, well, rocks.
The wah’d guitar that screams over the intro lets us know that it’s Mascis back at the controls for Over It. Close-to-8-minuter Said The People darkens the mood, whilst the funky riff of See You picks it back up again. Lou’s given the honour of rounding it all off with Imagination Blind, a suitable stomper bringing the curtain down on yet another solid offering from the thankfully unbroken and unfixed Dinosaur Jr.Read more 4 star reviews
(dir. Gavin Hood)
Another does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Marvel outing. It's Wolverine, and the story of how he got to be Wolverine. You know he won't die in the process because he made it all the way to X-Men 3: The Crap Stand, so there's no need to worry about any of the scrapes he gets into along the way. Anyone you've heard of from the others will also make it, with a good chance that any newbies we encounter along the way won't. If you can get over that, it's fine.
As in the other films, Hugh Jackman's early Clint charm pulls the whole thing along. He's got the chops and the sideburns, the claws and the cigars, and enough personality to make the film work. There are long passages where this is totally all you need, and it's quite fun seeing him acquire his jacket and chat about his life-long love of motorbikes etc.
It's efficient stuff, ably directed by Gavid Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) until the obligatory blow-out ending - another one that suffers from the "hang on bad guys, just wait there while I do this thing over here for a moment and um, yes, ok, I'm ready for you to come and fight again now" syndrome that affects so many of these films. It's fine for them to ask us to believe in a chap with a metal skeleton and super-insta-healing and all that, but really, it sucks when films fall apart with basic lapses in logic. We get all the way to Stryker's evil scientist hideout - but then there's no-one there with him apart from some lab coat henchlady - he's in the US Army! Come on! Where's all his super secret soldiers or whatever?!
Liev Shrieber is a decent foil as Sabretooth (although all he and Wolverine seem to do is run at each other every 20 minutes or so); Danny Houston makes a decent Colonel Stryker and there are various other mutants along the way to please Marvel fanboys: Gambit (magic cards), The Blob (super blobby dude), Bolt (power over lightbulbs - played by Lost refugee Dominic Monaghan), Deadpool (chatty assassin), John Wraith (played by will.i.am - seems to be a bit like Nightcrawler except with a cowboy hat) etc etc.
It's nowhere near as lame as X3, and is all fairly entertaining, but it's hard not to wonder when we're going to get a whole new set of characters or worlds to get into, rather than fleshing out long-established franchises.Read more 3 star reviews
What The Horrors first album Strange House alluded to and what Primary Colours only serves to confirm is that The Horrors are in essence a pastiche band - begging, borrowing and stealing from rock n roll’s history and then repackaging and re-releasing. Re-invention should not be considered a criticism, but you could easily have expected Primary Colours to be more of the same, a method Oasis have been executing for well over 15 years. In fact, Primary Colours is very different to its predecessor, slower, measured - and where Strange House took the Goth punk of The Cramps and blended it with the sixties psychedelic weirdness of acts such as Screaming Lord Such, the influences running through this LP are altogether different.
On hearing the introduction of opening track Mirror Image, your first reaction may be that you’ve been given the wrong album. Where are the gothic organ sounds and sixties surf bass-lines? Here you’ll hear phasing, pitch-bending distortion; and may assume you have been handed a lost My Bloody Valentine album in error. Vocalist Farris Badawan’s first appearance confirms it’s the right record - but even then his performance resembles Brett Anderson with slightly larger testicles; gone is the aggressive scowl that dominates Strange House. Unfortunately this doesn’t end with the first track and while the My Bloody Valentine motif runs through most of the album, this is unfortunately no Loveless. More like a cheap market version of MBV, doing remixes of other bands: The Cure on Mirror Image, The Psychedelic Furs on Primary Colours, or Siouxsie and the Banshees on I Can’t Control Myself.
What is lacking from Primary Colours is the energy, the aggression, the uncontained vocals and the simple but effective musicianship of Strange House. No band has an obligation to be defined by genre and it would be wrong to demand it (although I‘m tempted to say any band employing the Madchester drum break employed in Do You Remember has no right to call themselves The Horrors, EMF yes, The Charlatans maybe, The Horrors no). What disappoints most is, while they were never going to be the most original band, they were at least unique. Strange House wasn’t perfect, but it was different and refreshing, best of all it sounded like the antithesis to the entire rolling basslined, high-keyed anthems that were and are still dominating the current music scene. If Strange House was The Horrors as mavericks, this is The Horrors falling back into line - if Brandon Flowers sung Scarlet Fields, it could easily be a Killers track (remixed by the counterfeit My Bloody Valentine of course).
This is not to make Primary Colours sound like an obituary, because there are some undoubted highlights. New Ice Age, despite the over production retains its energy, I Only Think Of You is strong enough to survive the Boards Of Canada treatment and the production on I Can’t Control Myself works well. Best of all is Sea Within A Sea, the epic 8 minute closer which starts like Joy Division’s No Love Lost and ends like Portisheads The Rip (unsurprising, as Portishead’s Geoff Barrow co-produces the album).
Where Strange House compelled you to throw yourself into the mosh pit, Primary Colours encourages you to stand at the back and listen with your arms firmly folded. Some may consider this progress but it could easily alienate many existing fans. It will probably get 9/10 from the NME and be described as The Horrors ‘maturing’, if that’s true it’s them reaching adolescence, talented but unsure, full of doubt and overly influenced by their friends. Somewhere there’s a great band trying to get out, but this album leaves you confused as to whether they’re a studio or live band. At some point they’re going to have to make that decision.
Read more 3 star reviews
2007 favourite's The Heavy have a new album, The House That Dirt Built, in the pipeline - and you can download the first single for free. Oh No! Not You Again is available here, with guest vocals from The Noisettes' Shingai Shonowa.
This album sounds like a great deal of work has gone into it; the songs are interesting, the instruments are all played nice and tight, and the production sounds really full and clear, but I have to confess I'm struggling with it because of the vocals. The Rank Deluxe offer up a confident and thoughtfully crafted album full of indie rock which should, by rights, gain them a lot of attention and maybe some airplay. Once again, it's the sound of early 80's post-punk which informs the band's sound, and in the Rank Deluxe's case the influence seems to be both The Ruts and The Beat (bands with a tad more intelligence and creativity than many of their counterparts). The guitar playing stands out - a tight and schooled American approach to indie rock along the lines of Albert Hammond Jr, and the rhythm section is totally on the case with snappy disco rhythms and reggae influenced basslines. So where does it all go wrong? For me, the stumbling block is the vocals - singers Richard Buchanan and Lewis Dyer have made the decision to sing in a resolutely cockney accent, which is no doubt their own speaking voices. They both have good powerful voices, excellent range and accuracy, but the upfront nature of the glottal-stops, flattened vowels and dropped H's detract in no small way from the band's music.
I'm sure it's an approach the band must be happy with - an unambiguous declaration that The Rank Deluxe are a London band - with colours nailed securely to the mast. This may win them some fans because singing in your own accent is somehow more "real" but could limit their appeal to audiences north of Watford, or on the other side of the Atlantic. Lyrically solid, musically adventurous and sonically charged, the album has few low-spots and works better on tracks like Innocence where the cockneyisms are less emphatic and more relaxed. Basically, this is what Hard-Fi would sound like if they were any good - and one or two listens will make your mind up. I won't be listening to it much, but I have found myself humming the melody of Doll Queue all week, so they must be doing something right.Read more 2.5 star reviews
I first encountered Vetiver whilst trying to catch some sleep on an overnight flight. Within two songs of 2006 album ‘To Find Me Gone’, I was tranquilised into as peaceful a state as it is possible to achieve whilst contorted into your economy seat.
Vetiver’s sound is a gentle, acoustic collective of guitar, piano and percussion. Their new album, ‘Tight Knit’, follows the template previously established; simple songs flavoured by a West coast breeziness reflecting the band’s San Francisco home. There is an undercurrent of hippy carelessness that charms without ever choking you on flower petals.
‘Tight Knit’ is a lovely album, layered with tumbling guitar riffs and vocal harmonies that kick credit crunch blues into the long grass. Achieving this without ever being saccharine is impressive. With the added tonic of cheerful, upbeat interludes like ‘Everyday’, Vetiver leave you as refreshed as a morning dip off the coast of Big Sur.
Read more 4 star reviews
Best Live Band - Zu
Sneaking in at the last minute (saw them twice in December) come Zu, an instrumental group consisting of Drums, Bass, and Baritone Sax. This, you might think, is not a recipe for success in these modern times but Zu have an unconventional approach to their sound which has to be heard to be believed. The honking Baritone is barked hard through overdrive and fuzz, the Drums played with power and true flair, while the Bass (?) seems to perform the role of just about everything else a band could need - metal guitar, brass riffs, sweeping electronics and some of the deepest low-notes known to mankind. The result is the sheer chunky heaviness of Helmet with the experimentation of Krautrock. No chance of the mix sounding empty with this trio - you just keep wondering who is doing what, and how the hell they can sound like that. Expect unusual time signatures, a party atmosphere and a monstrous sound.
Best Album - The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent
Thirty years into the turbulent history of The Fall, Mark E Smith is reunited with producer Grant Showbiz and, it would seem, the joy of making records. Imperial Wax Solvent is arguably the best Fall record ever, capturing something that was often hinted at during the previous three decades but never so consistently nailed. Thing is, MES has a great band these days and it sounds like he really digs what they can do, and this in turn produces some great vocal performances and lyrics from the main man. The titles tell you a lot:- Wolf Kidult Man, Latch Key Kid, Senior Twilight Stock Replacer, and 50 Year Old Man. One track is called Can Can Summer, and once it hits the main riff you realise why :- this is the Fall album where MES comes closest in sound to the group he has long-admired - Can. Smith's wife Eleni Poulou makes a considerable contribution to the album with way-cool squelchy analog synths and one lead vocal on the magnificent I've Been Duped (in which you'll hear her sing something about two hairy men digging up Scotland. Brilliant). But central to the proceedings is the wry old goat himself - clearly enjoying himself, sounding happy and enthusiastic, better recorded and lyrically sharp as ever. I've played this album all year long, and can't wait to hear the next one.
Best Game - Far Cry 2 - Ubisoft Montreal
The Far Cry franchise got off to a spectacular start in 2004 with the release of the original PC only game. Stunningly realistic landscaping, open fields of play and extremely smart (cunning even) AI enemies. A great start for any game series, which had console owners chomping at the bit. Sadly, the console based adaptations of the first Far Cry did not live up to expectations, with less diversity to the scenery, dumber AI, and on-rails game play. This was a big disapointment to anyone who'd played the original PC version, leaving console owners feeling rather short-changed. Far Cry 2 can be considered the first proper follow-up to the original, and it even raises the standard by several notches. Coming up to this release, Ubisoft were pretty confident about FC2's landscaping and weather modelling but it's not until you've seen the game running that you'll truly appreciate how spectacular this game looks, and how well it plays. Set in Africa, the story-line is mature and non-patronising, playing as a first person shooter with 50 square kilometers of free-roam play area. You choose your missions and when to do them, leaving you free to just roam about fighting off attacks from just about everyone you encounter. The AI is back to being cunning, the gently unravelling story is compelling, and the action is full-on. Sadly, there is one problem with this otherwise-perfect game:- many Xbox 360 owners have had their game's save files corrupted (all of them) by some mystery bug when they get to 88 percent game completion, forcing them to start all over again. That's a serious glitch and one which Ubisoft should be trying to address without delay. Luckily, I only encountered one single corrupted save file, losing only half an hour of progress. I checked my stats when I completed the game and found that I had enjoyed almost 60 hours of gameplay without ever getting bored.Read more 5 star reviews
A Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending Time In
After numerous acronyms and name changes John Dwyer settles on Thee Oh Sees as his latest incarnation and The Master's Bedroom sees this Bay Area musician belt out churning garage rock in a manner that doesn't take itself too seriously and is so effortless that you will keep on listening despite its repetitive nature.
Sounding something like the B-52's - devoid of all production niceties and jamming furiously in a disused aircraft hanger - Thee Oh Sees create here a dirty assault on your ears but with the best of intentions. Dwyer's vocals are filtered through what sounds like a loud speaker and are often shadowed by Brigid Dawson, whose high-pitch accompaniment adds melody and texture to this muddy concoction. The pace is furious and unrelenting with pounding guitars chiming and jangling forth with delightful energy while being encased in crashing cymbals and pounding rhythm. Songs like opener Block Of Ice and Poison Finger take a punk intensity but inject a pop melody to keep it all sweet. The music is vicious but the overall feeling is palatable and it's all down to the insistence on the pop hooks that force their way through the muck. The only step down from this pace is by way of the thick psychedelia in songs like Grease. These songs employ the same density but at a slower pace they seem almost impenetrably gooey.
While The Master's Bedroom isn't quite so interesting as some of its lo-fi drone rock counterparts that have been lighting me up recently, they certainly have a place in what's going on in California musically at the moment. With only a handful of tempos and a limited sonic palette this album does lack variety but all the same it rocks hard and that's good enough for me sometimes.Read more 3 star reviews
Looks like reality might be emulating art, with rumours spreading that long standing US Vogue editor (and inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada movie) might be getting the boot to make way for her French counterpart. More interesting perhaps is the fact that Gawker seem to be using Poladroid to make their graphics.
If Vampire Weekend sound like a bunch of private school kids who lace their tales of life on campus with the exotic sounds of their worldwide travels then Abe Vigoda are their less fortunate counterparts from the state school downtown who too embarked on journeys to far off lands but decided to quit school and stay there. While there they became ensconced in the local cultures and were in turn shielded from any notion of cool and their musical need to make loud noises was bathed in age-old, sun-baked traditions, this being the result.
Since their debut Kid City, Abe Vigoda have forged their own route to musical notoriety and in the process have stumbled haphazardly across what can only be described as 'tropical punk.' Hailing from L.A. Abe Vigoda are a four piece that vacate the emerging scene that surrounds the Smell club and along with contemporaries like Mika Miko and No Age are causing quite a stir with their complete musical abandon that comes at you like a black hole that, having sucked in so many musical genres is now spewing them all out the back end in a form so unrecognisable it's thrilling.
Kid City was this band's warning shot, emerging from their camp with abrasion and venom, and having got everyone's attention has paved the way for Skeleton. Skeleton is certainly less abrasive and as a result gives room to the myriad of elements that make up their sound. Having said that it still packs a punch and though the teeth have been filed down slightly it still aims to dominate completely. From the opening moments of Dead City/Waste Wilderness there is little let up as each song is jettisoned with reckless ease. Guitarists Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez fire off punk ditties that manage to embody their surroundings of either the steel drum of the Caribbean or the gentle melodies of South America. The mix of the hard punk sound with the warmth of these two distant elements is instantly jarring but electrifying none the less. Neither sits well together and with the under production of Vidal's muffled and inaudible vocals this should, in a sane world, be pure noise. But thank God this world is anything but sane.
Skeleton is an album very much unaware of its surroundings in musical terms but all too aware in creative and geographical terms. Unlike with their debut, Abe Vigoda have paced this album perfectly and allowed just enough space to infiltrate their 'blanket' pace to keep the listener interested. Kid City came at us like a record with so much to say and not enough time but Skeleton has more maturity but still manages to retain the sketch-book like spontaneity of their original sound. In a year where Vampire Weekend's debut and No Age's Nouns have unexpectedly delighted my hungry ears it seems all too perfect that Skeleton should fall between the two. The record rolls along like a ball of knotted shoe laces which makes it very difficult to pull out and separate individual elements - but if you stop trying and just appreciate the knot as a whole you'll see it's a pretty amazing thing.Read more 3 star reviews
(dir. Shane Meadows)
Young runaway Tomo leaves Nottingham and gets the train to London's King's Cross, before getting mugged and losing all his posessions. He falls in with Polish immigrant Marek, who has moved to England with his father - a builder at the new St. Pancras station who passes the evenings drinking with his mates. The two boys develop a friendship with french waitress Maris - all the time growing closer themselves.
Shane Meadows black and white follow-up to his superb Dead Man's Shoes and This Is England takes a simple premise and fleshes it out with outstanding performances and a lightness of touch. The film realistically portrays the birth of a friendship and the genuines camaradarie between two boys from different circumstances and the pains of growing up - and the acting is superb, particularly from Thomas Turgoose, who displays a baffling assuredness and confidence for a fifteen year-old.
Some controversy surrounds the film's production - as it was revelaed that it was produced by advertising agency Mother, on behalf of it's client, Eurostar. While the sponsors input is not overt in the Casino Royale sense ("Is that a Rolex? No, Omega"), it is present and it's most substantial effect is possibly the restriction of the film entering the kind of difficult territory that Dean Man's Shoes or This is England delved into. Without any real antagonism, the film doesn't move forward very far and settles instead for being a funny and charming portal of a new friendship, rather than explore the notions of immigration, homelssness and exploitation that it merely touches on.
Even though Tomo can't possibly have a passport the boys don't bunk the train, but manage to take a trip to Paris (only two hours away!) in search of their first love. This scene perhaps sums up the film's best aspects, with the earlier black & white photography serving as a counterpoint to this eventual Super 8 nostalgia that looks fondly upon coming of age. At 75 minutes this serves as more of an EP that a full-length, but it provides enough evidence that Meadows has a mature confidence behind the camera that shows yet more promise of great things to come.Read more 3 star reviews
Slime And Reason
In the hip hop Olympics Roots Manuva has always been Team GB's only hope - and since his remarkable debut Brand New Second Hand in 1999 he has continued to produce brutally honest work that - while encompassing hip hop, dub, ragga and funk- manages to sound essentially British, but at the same time different from all other sounds that trickle from the UK hip hop scene. His 2001 follow-up Run Come Save Me saw Rodney Smith gain wider acclaim being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and took the dark subtleties of BNSH and mixed them with a new found penchant for the 'pop hit'. Lead single Witness was voted greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection. In 2005 came the the introspective Awfully Deep which, while receiving its dues in musical acclaim, was largely misunderstood by Smith's gathering throng of fans.
Thankfully Slime And Reason is unlikely to suffer the same injustice and is a dazzling return to form for our reluctant hero. Trying to narrow down this emcee's strengths is something of a challenge. He's done more than most for UK hip hop and yet his beats need only the slightest nudge to stray from their hip hop root. He can hit us with a crowd pleaser like Witness then retreat into the introspective shadows for the rest of the record. Despite his success his rhymes are laced with the insecurities of the common man and so as a result he's able to counteract his critical acclaim with the kitchen sink wit of a hip hop Morrissey. Slime And Reason incorporates all these contradictions and is a marvelous summation of his career so far. It plunges into the textured depths of Run Come Save Me while tapping the money-making hit machine of Witness to a fuller effect. The beats crunch with electro futurism and yet this album more than most draws on a sound of old.
The record seems to be divided into 2 halves and each half draws on a different source. The Jamaican record label Studio One provides the sonic source material with a grass roots dancehall flavor running through much of the first half of the record. This is where the carnival atmosphere is created and by track 7 we've been given more hands-in-the-air but shakers than on all his albums combined. Opener Again & Again is a ramshackle celebration of Smith's inspirational roots with its looped brass section sample bobbing to the swagger of the rhythm. Do Nah Bodda Mi is a stand out moment here and is almost certainly set for dance floor greatness this summer. Produced by dancehall maverick Toddla T, it's a no holds barred romp featuring lightning guest vocals and contrasted monotone Smith rhyming. Buff Nuff assumes a similar tempo and is as shameless as things are ever likely to get. Sadly this song suffers greatly under the shadow of the recent Flight Of The Conchords song Boom - and together with Smith's attempts to entice a female by offering her a lift on the handlebars of his push bike, this song is virtually impossible to take seriously.
The second half draws on his hip hop influences and is a lot less fun and with songs like It's Me Oh Lord it does tend to get bogged down in its seriousness. However, this contrast is what we love about this emcee. He really has a lot to say which, in this genre, can sometimes be a rare thing. We see his bare boned insecurities about success and money in 2 Much 2 Soon and the trials of a family man reduced to a "long streak of piss" nursing a "lethal concoction" in a local pub. Well Alright with its examination of Manuva's place in the music business and The Metronomy produced Let The Spirit are two of the best and most worthwhile tracks on here and will be the songs that take this record back to the greatness of the debut.
The album begins with Again & Again's line "A lot of people don't know about Smith, how I came to the scene and came to uplift" and ends with the subdued The Struggle. With bookends like this its easy and yet curious to see Smith's sense of vulnerability in this life and this business. He's been a household name in hip hop circles across the world for some time now and this fourth installment can only project him more into people's consciousness. But his charm and lasting appeal may well reside in the fact that no matter how big this album gets it will always be a case of "The struggle continues on".Read more 3.5 star reviews
The Hann - Byrd - EP
In anticipation of their recent LP Bits, Brooklyn rockers Oxford Collapse put out this 5 track EP as a quick appetiser. Sub Pop take a back seat on this one, with small label Comedy Minus One running up the 500 copy vinyl-only release. Not to worry if you're not a vinyl junkie however, as thanks to the digital revolution it's also available at your local download store.
The trade mark dual vocals of Micheal Pace and Adam Rizer are in full effect from the very start, as Internet Cafes in Micronesia are amongst the subjects covered in Bikini Atoll, before the vocals slip away and the song moves into a pounding instrumental jam. The call and response of Among Friends (mp3) doesn't quite take off, before bassist Adam Rizer takes a more central vocal role on The Pilgrim.
Things pick up with the almost line-dancing style of Genetic Engineering, peddling an amusingly sarcastic positive message. This more thought-out approach makes for a more engaging song - and once you are past the bizarre hip-hop intro, Bikini As Hole continues the approach, bookending the album with a beefed up re-working of the opening track.
While finding the band in their most familiar form - counterpoint John Hughes-esque stories of guys at parties over frenetic jangling guitars and pounding drum tracks - there's a more adventurous approach to the later music here, building on the success of Remember The Night Parties with a more considered sound. The songs don't quite have the same punch just yet, but for a mid-season EP it's a worthwhile effort. Let's hope things have beefed up for Bits, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow.Read more 3 star reviews
After the nostalgia trip of my recent Welcome To Hell revival, I thought I'd run a weekly series of skate classics. Here's Natas Kaupas - who pretty much invented street skating - from the video Street of Fire, from 1989.
Check out Skip Engblom (Skate legend, played by Heath Ledger in "Dogtown And The Z-Boys" - the movie not the documentary) as the jailer.
Musical legacy: My first encounter with fIREHOSE (Brave Captain is the song here), this video single handedly kick-started my personal post-punk revolution, with a soundtrack composed almost entirely of SST Records bands: Minutemen, fIREHOSE, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Descendents and more.
Bonus fact: Natas went on to work in graphics for Quicksilver and designed the logo they've been rocking for the past ten years or so.
Never Never Love
Pop Levi (aka Jonathan Pop Levi) builds on the promise of 2007's The Return to Form Black Magick Party with this collection of upbeat tambourine-shaking 60s-flavoured boppy songs.
As you'd expect from someone who started out playing bass in Ladytron, there's a strong element of electronica here, but it's blended in with a groovy sensibility - fat Human League-style synth basslines over handclaps in Dita Dimoné etc. You can almost imagine Austin Powers getting down to this if he showed up in a club in 2008 (not to imply it's a joke album, far from it, but there's a lightness of touch to a lot of the tracks here - a track called Mai's Space, and the YouTube-friendly video for Semi-Babe for example).
Might be one of those albums that works better as something to plunder for a mix-tape (or whatever the kids are calling them these days - hit Wannamama, Dita Dimoné, Oh God (What Can I Do?) or Never Never Love for a satisfying sample) but overall it's a fun summery sound.Read more 3 star reviews
Don Cheadle in some "the truth is complicated" CIA action, Traitor; this year's life-affirming family road trip Diminished Capacity, with Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda and Virginia Madsen "people don't age like fine wine - they age like meat"; mascot-comedy Kabluey; Kiefer biding his time until the next 24 in Mirrors; Encounters At The End Of The World - trippy off-the-map stuff from Werner Herzog; new trailer and animated prologue for Hellboy II (watch out for Luke "Bros" Goss there)
Nude With Boots
This year sees the mighty Melvins celebrate 25 years together, basically a silver jubilee in a big smelly dress. There's an interesting "timeline of grunge" on Wikipedia's grunge music page which shows the births and deaths of the various bands associated with the sound of Seattle: it's underscored by one constant bar-line labelled The Melvins, the band formed by guitarist Buzz (King Buzzo) Osbourne back in 1983. They remain the unsung heroes of American rock, having been Kurt Cobain's favourite band, and spawning Mudhoney in the process. For 90% of their existence, King Buzzo's loyal partner has been drummer Dale Crover, and together with a Spinal Tap style succession of bass players they have ploughed a deep and individual furrow through the battlefields of heavy rock.
These days (the) Melvins operate as a four-piece, with the already established duo Big Business providing bass and a second drummer, and all four members providing vocals. Nude With Boots is the second album for this line-up and it evolves nicely from its predecessor (a) Senile Animal. The Kicking Machine starts things off with the twin drum kits pounding out a peg-legged funk peppered with extended guitar riffs and vocal harmonies. It's about as close to a Melvins manifesto as you could get - if this track grabs you then you're going to like the album. The songs are memorable, and the sense of a band working this out together is very strong. The influence of Big Business comes through a lot more, Jared Warren's vocals are a terrific counterpoint to Buzzo's grizzled growl and Coady Willis works instinctively with the veteran Crover.
Like most Melvins albums, there are parts that will grab your attention first (The Smiling Cobra, Suicide in Progress) and other parts that make more sense once you've heard them a few times. The last couple of tracks on the record tend towards the experimental noise-rock side of their sound, rather than ending with a knockout punch. More of a spiked punch. There are rumours that the band is planning to visit the UK later this year to celebrate their quarter century in a big way. Watch this space, and, buy this rekkid.Read more 4 star reviews
St. James' Church, London
By performing under his innocuous stage name, these one-man shows by My Morning Jacket front man Jim James often go unnotticed in the listings, but as anyone who has attended one can testify - they are overlooked gems in the My Morning Jacket schedule.
On this occasion lead guitarist Carl Broemel was in tow to provide some back up and the venue was spectacular. Could there be any better setting for James angelic voice than a church? James himself seemed awstruck by the venue and often lost himself in the darkness of the room, with only some low-key lighting picking the stage out of the darkness. Opening with Tonight I Want To Celebrate With You, the venue perfectly projected the bands gentle sound and as the two of them worked through acoustic masterpieces like Golden, the duelling guitars filled the room.
It Beats 4 U got a low-key workout which highlighted the passionate lyrics, while newsongs like Sec Walkin' and Librarian were perfectly suited to the venue - sounding much more part of the catalogue here, out of the context of the eclectic new record. Thank You Too really soared, with great guitar work from James - who often over-shadowed his counterpart Carl Broemel, who's presence sometimes seemed distracting from the otherwise captivating focus of the show. Left truly solo for a spell in the middle of the set, songs like The Bear got a flawless presentation for the front man, as the gentle acostics built up before letting loose into a torrent of guitar usually reserved for a speaker facing three-man jam.
James and Broemel returned for an encore and after a hymnal intro from Sam Cooke's I Thank God, they took on an ambitious rendition of Touch Me I'm Going To Scream (Part 2). The haunting electronics of the Omnichord made for an experience far beyond your average acoustic show, with Broemel's soaring slide guitar this time perfectly complementing the electronic beats and vocals.
As the echoing beats faded away there was time for one more and the drums continued into a great rendition of Anytime, before the eccentric cape-clad front man left the stage again - hiding under his cloak like a victorian sideshow oddity. Outstanding.Read more 4.5 star reviews
For a number of quite obvious reasons, it’s not very often that I compare myself to Arnold ‘The Governator’ Schwarzenegger, nor for that matter Hulk ‘The Hulk’ Hogan or perhaps for younger readers Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. However, listening to the debut album ‘Worldwide’ by the much travelled The Death Set, got me thinking of the pumped-up trio of Strongmen-turned-actors - more specifically the fish-out-of-water genre of films that each turned their not inconsiderable hand to. I’m thinking Arnie’s Kindergarten Cop, the Hulk’s Mr Nanny and The Rock’s recent fodder Game Plan, each of which feature our macho and mature heroes lost and cut adrift in a world of small children and high energy.
I’ll make no claim to macho, but am inevitably maturing and on first listen found Worldwide a disorientating experience, like finding yourself in a classroom of screaming kids and an empty crate of red bull. Making the Go Team sound middle of the road - it’s hard to stomach in one sitting. 18 songs in 26 minutes gives you an idea of the frenetic pace and energy of the album.
The band were spawned in Australia, temporarily based themselves in Brooklyn before settling in Baltimore, attracted by the city’s abandoned factories and their potential for holding kick-ass parties, and it’s seeing footage and photos of those kick-ass parties (ie Live shows) that help paint a bigger picture as to what The Death Set are all about. It’s a raucous affair, with the band placing themselves out on the floor, amongst the fans, with no shortage of blood, sweat and beer. They bring to mind the photos of Glen E. Friedman, who documented the US Hardcore scene of the early 80's – whereas punk back then was played at breakneck speed and driven by anger, The Death Set play at breakneck speed, but seem to be angry at anger, naming as they do, comedy and positivity as major influences.
I regard a bunch of those Hardcore bands as early personal favourites (Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Black Flag). but there is no way I could maintain that pace and energy and inyourfacefuckyouness as the years pass. So, The Death Set, whilst cajoling a bit of nostalgia, aren’t going to be on heavy rotation in chimpovich palace, which of course is my problem and not theirs. Whilst they’re burning down the scene and hosting kick-ass parties, I’ll be lamely heading to the gym, trying to transform this gut into something nowhere near approaching Hulk, Rock and Arnie proportions.Read more 3 star reviews
After a ten year hiatus, trip-hop pioneers Portishead are finally back with a new studio album - Third. Rumours have been flying around that this was in the works for a good 5 years, so it may come as something of a surprise to actually have it playing on your stereo. Reasons for the hiatus have never been explained, other than the members "keeping their heads down" with other projects. Beth Gibbons had the most notable success with her album with Rustin Man - Out Of Season, while Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrows have been mostly operating behind the scenes, producing and remixing bands as varied as The Pharcyde and The Coral.
The limelight is clearly a place this band don't like to be and the trauma that seems to be involved in them making music seems intense. Stepping back may have been the only answer, although by ducking out you can surely do little more than increase the pressure on your eventual return, which may explain the drawn-out production schedule of this third record.
With the driving drums of thumping opener Silence, the pressure builds immediately before abruptly pulling back as Beth Gibbons' haunting vocals quickly suck you back into the presence of your old favourite band. Where Dummy and Portishead had the big, expansive feel of epic movie soundtracks, Third takes a much more minimal and I suppose 'modern' approach. By modern, I mean 80's rather than 70's - as where the widescreen sounds of Dummy recalled Lalo Schifrin's 60's and 70's film scores for the likes of Dirty Harry or Bullitt, Third has a distinctive 80's sound - recalling the electronic horror scores of John Carpenter or the sci-fi future of Vangelis.
This is a record that makes very few concessions and takes no prisoners, which should be commended for such a mainstream, high profile release. The brash goobledegook electonic interruptions of Hunter, the distorted intro to Machine Gun or the abstracted Jazz solo towards the end of Magic Door do not make for immediate, easy listening - but every sound has its place and nothing feels overcooked. The superb production counterpoints every rough edge with a moment of magic, such as Machine Gun's desolate, Blade Runner-like finale.
The Rip is the sublime high-point of the album - reminding us of everything that was so ethereal about Portishead's original output, but bringing a newer sound and dimension to the music. Starting with a rising electronic pulse, Gibbons' vocals lift the song up into the clouds before hypnotic, pulstating scales recalling the analog electronica of Jean Michel Jarre or Giorgio Moroder take over, letting the song fly off on its own.
Beth Gibbons' subsequent solo career seems to have upped her presence in the band, with some notable tracks focusing on the less-electronic themes she followed with her solo album - notably the wireless-radio-era sound of Deep Water. An album like this creates a demand for the sound you know, the sound you remember and the sound you love - but this new found eclecticism adds a further dimension. The highlights here certainly tick those retro boxes - but not without the introduction of some welcome new touches.
Bands like Portishead defined this sound, so it's no surprise to hear them pushing it further and moving it on - even with trip-hop at this mature stage. The anticipation for this record may have created a seemingly unachievable sense of expectation and in some ways I can't help but be a little disappointed. Every single track is not a bonifide masterpiece from start to finish, and some feel like they could have been developed further; but there are many highlights and it stands proud as an excellent record. The Rip is worth the price of admission alone and is one of several tracks to suggest that the highest of expectations can sometimes be soundly beaten.Read more 4 star reviews
You Don't Know
Throughout Ninja Tunes 18 year history the Ninja Cuts compilation has been a landmark event in itself. The label has always prided itself on its varied array of artists working in more styles than is healthy which inevitably made a compilation that was both challenging and riveting. But where other Ninja Cuts have served to showcase the labels past releases this, the 5th in the series, has a far greater agenda. Aptly titled You Don't Know it aims to alter your preconceptions of what you think you know about this label, and it does this with ease. The main reason for this is that they now have 2 other labels operating under the Ninja umbrella and all are featured on this 3 CD compilation. Big Dada and the newest addition to the family, Counter, both radically side step the Ninja norm and when put together for the first time on one compilation the result is baffling. Long term Ninja institutions like Mr. Scruff, Bonobo and Coldcut sit alongside their Big Dada counterparts like Roots Manuva and Mike Ladd. Then if you chuck in new label Counter's poster-boy Pop Levi you really do start to question just what exactly is the Ninja sound.
But it's not just this amalgamation of labels that mixes things up here. This is not just any old best-of compilation, it showcases artists and releases from the past but rarely in their original form. Most songs are rare or unreleased or feature special edition remixes by artists such as Modeselektor, Tiga and Susumu Yakota. There are some live recordings from Cimematic Orchestra and inter-Ninja collaborations between Mr. Scruff and Quantic. If you're a dedicated follower of this label then this approach gives this compilation more importance and relevance but it can, at times, make for difficult listening. Not only has the tracklist been treated to a brutal visit to the blender but within each song there is radical alterations and mix ups.
There is so much going on here that it's hard to know where to start. There's a definite agenda running through each CD but it's so expertly disguised it reveals itself as more of a feeling than any coherent theme. CD 1 features what you would vaguely call the core components of the original label. Mr Scruff, Amon Tobin and The Herbaliser all feature but the highlight has to be The Cinematic Orchestra's To Build A Home. It's a treat on their new album and it's epic grandure really lifts this first CD. It's beauty is highlighted when taken out of the context of a concept album and put amongst the strange folk that surround it here.
CD 2 keeps things pretty regular with smooth cuts from Blockhead, Bonobo and RJD2. Kid Koala puts in an awesome guitar cut and paste extravaganza while Homelife's Seedpod makes a well earned return. We also get a remix of Coldcut's classic Atomic Moog. CD 3 really takes things up a notch and it's here where the 'You Don't Know' title really explains itself. Kicking off with Manuvadelics manic version of Roots Manuva's Chin High we're soon into nose bleed territory with The Qemist's drum and bass belter Drop Audio. We get guided through the more avant-guard vision of Big Dada with cLOUDDEAD and Mike Ladd and DJ Shadow puts in a rare and exceptional performance with the fantastic sample heavy Bring Madlib Up. The CD ends with a curios change up of beats with the house infused remix of Coldcut's Walk A Mile In My Shoes courtesy of Tiga and Switch's remix of Pest's Pat Pong.
Though all this really does convince the listener that we don't know it sometimes makes for an incoherent listen. Showing us that there is so much about this label that we don't know can also show us that there's a whole side to it that we don't want to know. Putting up old favorites then remixing the shit out of them can be a bit of a turn off but overall screams of bravery and the willingness to progress that has kept this label on top for so long. It's artists like John Mathias and Pop Levi that make this compilation interesting. They successfully remove it from the Ninja sound we have known for years and stop this sound from becoming a cliché of itself. They sometimes make the old sound, from the likes of Mr.Scruff, sound really dated and show that had this label not moved on with its own ethos and expanded its view with Big Dada and Counter then there really would be no need for it today. In the run of Ninja Cuts compilations this one is by far the most forward thinking and far reaching. It may not be as comfortable a listen as the previous ones but that's clearly not their intention. We may hit the skip button occasionally but we must eventually salute the direction of this label.Read more 3 star reviews
(dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Aging gambler Sydney takes struggling John under his wing - helping him raise money for his mother's funeral, then taking him onboard as his protégé. Just when things start to go well John's love for an occasional hooker gets him into trouble and Sydney's past catches up with him.
The Reno setting provides a nice downbeat counterpoint to the usual Vegas gambling movie but Anderson's art direction and cinematography style of expensive-looking-normality aren't quite honed yet, and the photography is often a little off the mark with focus and compositions. The movies strives for the unpredictability of something like David Mamet's House of Games, but the script is a little laborious, trying to be twisty-turny like Elmore Leonard but a lot of the characters just don't have the depth.
Gwyneth Paltrow is miscast as the hooker, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly put in calling card performances that would lead them onto bigger things - even if it was Anderson himself who answered the phone. It's Phillip Baker Hall's movie though, and he exudes presence in every scene like a timeless star of the seventies from an alternate universe.Read more 3 star reviews
Hold On Now Youngster
WIth a rousing battle cry of "1,2,3,4!", sprawling Cardiff 7-piece Los Campesinos! arrive on your speakers like a mini-bus full of students on trip up to a Hoxton art gallery.
The Ramones-esque names, wacky song titles and personality that the band seem to have in bounds will certainly go a long way to propel them into mass popularity, but their success comes from the punchy delivery of their call and response style - male counterpointing female, then teaming up for a rousing chorus. Obvious maybe, effective certainly.
While enthusiasm goes a long way to pasting over the cracks of the band's fairly limited range, their pocket book poetry and student theorising of This Is How You Spell "Haha Ha, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux - Romantics" is a little hard too bear, and at times you might feel like your on a mini-bus trip up to and art gallery in Hoxton.
Comparisons to early Wedding Present or Arcade Fire seem a litlle misplaced, as Los Campesinos! lack the depth and musical breadth of either of those bands - at any stage of their careers. By far the longest song here, You! Me ! Dancing! shows some promise, trying to mix it up a bit, adding a slow-building intro which builds up nicely before reverting to the exisiting formula.
While it's hard not to get spent along in the boundless enthusiasm, there are very few specific tracks or highlights that can be pulled out here. It's all the same. All inoffensive. All fun.Read more 2.5 star reviews
Rough Trade Shops - Counter Culture 07
In this new dawn of flagging record sales and mass closures of your favorite music shops it seemed a strange time for Rough Trade to expand its empire and open the impressive uber-shop that is Rough Trade East, but I guess if anyone can do it thy can and now that it has its own cafe at the front this new Counter Culture compilation is what you'd likely endure if you closed your office for a day and set up camp in the Rough Trade cafe. Needless to say it wouldn't all be what you were looking for. Having ditched the assistance of some of the major labels that aided the release of the previous Counter Culture series this one has been put together independently by the Rough Trade shops themselves. This is quite evident from the tracklist as some of the selections you just know are the choices of a minority nerd group that really doesn't give a monkeys if the customers don't like it, they're ignorant so why should they be trusted? But then there are some really big hitters that never fail to deliver.
Over the years I have often used these Rough Trade compilations as a way of discovering new musical territory previously untrodden by my delicate and sheltered ears. I first came across Sufjan Stevens on a Counter Culture CD and have looked forward to similar discoveries ever since. Though expertly compiled and a darn good listen throughout this outing unfortunately serves up little in the way of surprises. A quick glance at the tracklist will hint at some immediate stand out moments of last year like Battles' unrivaled and mighty Atlas or Of Montreal's avant-pop gem Gronlandic Edit. Pete And The Pirates provide some ramshackled indie-punk magic from their album Little Death with Come On Feet and Dan Deacon's d.i.y roadrunner-rave is perfectly expressed in The Crystal Cat. But at a glance I would have expected these to be some obvious high points and was slightly disappointed not to be proved wrong. There were exceptions however with Julian Cope and the dirty rock tornado of No Age pricking up my ears but the prize would have to go to Dan Le Sac Versus Scroobius Pip for Thou Shalt Always Kill. This is a razor-sharp pop-culture critique that providing you can keep up is a lesson to us all. Lessons like never to question Steven Fry or watch Hollyoaks are of course a given but the line, "Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover, thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover," is really something else.
So as the stand out song on this exceedingly mixed bag its wisdom casts a new light on the compilation itself. After being told repeatedly not set up bands as false idols and to think for yourselves you do start to look over these choices as just someone's opinion. But on a brighter note the whole thing comes impeccably presented in a 2 CD set with 20 page colour fold-out booklet and full sleeve notes and just serves to prove that the supposedly lifeless corpse of the record shop has some breath left in it after all.Read more 2.5 star reviews
It's not just great TV coming out of Baltimore these days. The city's raised profile seems to have given birth to a rising music scene - hopefully keeping the kids off the streets of Hamsterdam. Ninja Tune's own Counter Records label have harnessed the power and signed electrifying band The Death Set.
Turning their backs on the traditional stage, the band set up in the dancefloor to kick out their brand of frantic disco punk ....like a post-rave Minor Threat. Check out You Tube for some surveillance, or check them out live when they play Bardens in Dalston on February 15th.
They have a four track single - MFDS - out February 11th and a whopping 18 track album (which clocks in at 26 minutes, Ian Mackaye would be proud) out in April.
No Fighting In The War Room
Clearly, the challenge to anyone reviewing (or listening to) The Harrisons' debut album will be to not think of the Arctic Monkeys. Thing is, it's spikey, indie guitar music with a bit of a dancefloor edge sung in a Sheffield accent and peppered with the Yorkshire flavoured lyrics. How's that NOT going to sound like the Arctic Monkeys?
Unfortunately this puts the Harrisons very much in the shadow of their more famous counterparts - however good the songs might be, they're just not as original or as tight as the AM's brand of New Yorkshire. Believe me, this is not merely lazy journalism - check it out for yourself and add your comments if you don't think it sounds like the Monkeys.
But where Alex Turner and co have brought a snappiness and progressive edge to their sound, the Harrisons fall on traditional indie songwriting and rhythms which end up being several stops short of original. I don't think this will hold them back too much - already established with the NME crowd and getting radio sessions, I'm sure they'll do okay, but if spikey indie pop is your thing you might be better off waiting for the next Young Knives album.
The internet is awash with lists of 2007 highlights at the moment, offering a counterpoint to our own recent efforts. Pitchfork have pitched in with their mega-exhaustive lists for their Top 50 Albums, Top 100 Tracks and Readers Favourites as well as various break-downs from their contributors. Fistfulayen have a nice round-up, not dissimilar to our own - following up an insightful Wilco review back in June. Steely Dan + Lynyrd Skynyrd = Allman Brothers
Ain't-it-cool have their movie round up posted, with the double hitter of There Will Be Blood / No Country For Old Men taking first and second. Appropriate, as at this point they seem to be two fairly interchangeable films in my mind.
The Guardian meanwhile have rounded up a few tips for next year, again (perhaps unsurprisingly) not dissimilar to c71's own top tips.
Heads up for '008.
In Rainbows (Disc 2)
If you were expecting this addition to the most talked about record of the year to be to In Rainbows what Amnesiac was to Kid A you will be slightly disappointed. This is 8 songs but only 26 minutes long and serves as a worthy accompaniment to the original record. It differs both in pace and mood to In Rainbows and seems more like preparatory sketches after being dazzled by the finished painting. They don't have the same level of rich production, they are of a much more relaxed tempo and lack the same breadth of direction that their counterparts have. Having said that they manage to take all the uncharacteristic warmth of In Rainbows and turn it inward to the more haunting and desolate place we are used to seeing this band.
Where the first disc ends this one picks up with the opening Mk1's solemn piano chords echoing Video Tape. Many of these songs use the piano to create the sombre mood that dominates this record and with the help of soaring strings like on Go Slowly, Amnesiac's Pyramid Song becomes the main comparison for the first half of the album. It's not until Up On The Ladder that the mood shifts. This is a lip-curling rumble of a song that plods along full of tension on the minimal beat and deep guitar and though it threatens to explode it exercises merciless restraint and just fades away. The explosion is left for the following song. A crowd favorite at last years live shows Bangers And Mash is the muscle behind this record. Grinding guitars and Yorke's frenzied vocals lift the tempo at a vital point and as it all collapses in a heap of exhaustion the dust settles on the sublime closer 4 Minute Warning. It's a cavernous and empty song with the vocals brought right forward to an intimate closeness. It finishes this mini album off in the manner by which it started. Sedate and withdrawn, these songs are the less approachable and introvert cousin of the first record and actually have more in common with the haunting and empty feel of Kid A or Amnesiac than any of the more recent songs.
Having lived with In Rainbows for some time now it is emerging as one of the most complete Radiohead albums to date and for that reason it's hard to add anything to this. But this second disc avoids the 'add on' feel and shows us the darker underbelly of its predecessor. The disc comes with a generous helping of Stanley Donwood in the form of more than 60 digital artworks and even more behind the scenes band photos. The whole disc box is a treat to explore and really reignites the lost art of the record sleeve. The throwaway nature of the albums initial release is reversed with this exquisite packaging and elaborate presentation. It will probable go away into the cupboard now but will be something to treasure none the less.
Great Vengeance And Furious Fire
Sweet Zombie Jesus! First thing I noticed on this record was what appeared to be the ghostly voice of Curtis Mayfield floating in like a spirit superfly from soul heaven. Turns out it's a bloke from Bath, and this the debut album from The Heavy is a pretty good showcase for the band's collective talents. I must confess that this one was a slow grower for me - the tracks are pretty brash and in your face and that initial pop tang had me dismissing the whole affair on first play, but then the old MP3 player shuffle worked it's magic on me (more than once) and I was hooked. This album is chock full of riffs - Zeppelinesque slabs of chunk in a distinctly low-fi sample and loop setting with the aforementioned vocals of Swaby soaring over the top.
The two opening tracks - That Kind of Man and Colleeen lay down the manifesto pretty succinctly, while the occasional slower bluesy numbers give the whole thing a bit of mood relief. There's even a bit of a Stones thing going on in places, but all the while with this magnificent voice making much more out of the riffs. On the whole it's a great debut, and refreshing to hear rock and soul mixed together in a good way - as opposed to all the bad ways we've had to endure in times gone by. The low-fi thing is a real positive factor in this - make it too clean and it just becomes vanilla bullshit, but the grunge element somehow puts Swaby's voice right back in the day of early 70's crunchy production. Good work fellas.
Palace Theatre, Manchester
The flagship event of the Manchester International Festival is an ambitious one: An opera with music by Damon Albarn, designs by Jamie Hewlett and direction by Chen Shi-Zheng entirely in Mandarin. The two-hour work involves a cast of 45-odd martial artists, acrobats and singers - and in the case of Fei Yang, who plays Monkey, often all three simultaneously.
The event is nothing short of spectacular. The opening sequence, with animations by Hewlett, which deals with Monkey's birth (hatched from a giant egg, which was expelled from a great stone) is perfectly coordinated with the live music. Later in the scene, which switches effortlessly to the live players, Monkey with other monkeys climbs up the bamboo trees - which is reminiscent of the scenes in Crouching Tiger and Flying Daggers, except that these people are really doing it.
The story, which many chimps will be familiar with, is a Chinese classic. Monkey is obsessed with seeking immortality and magical power, and travels over continents to find a teacher. He eventually finds Subodhi, a Taoist master, who teaches him how to fly on a magical cloud that can carry him on great distances, and the art of transforming himself into anything he wants.
He then dives into the Eastern Sea and finds the Old Dragon King to whom he boasts of his prowess and requests a weapon to equal his ability. The King gives him the magical iron rod, which can change from the size of a needle to the size of a mountain, and is so powerful it holds down the ocean floor.
Monkey travels to Heaven to demand recognition of his power, and gate crashes a birthday party for the Queen Mother of Heaven. Incensed that he was not invited along with gods and sages, he wreaks havoc - eating all of the heavenly peaches, each of which takes 9000 years to ripen and bestows an extra thousand years of life. He fights with all of the gods and sages, winning every battle, and proclaims himself a Great Sage Equal to Heaven. The Queen Mother of Heaven eventually pleads with the Great Buddha to step in to get the Monkey King under control. Monkey is imprisoned under the palm of Buddha.
Five hundred years later, the Buddha sends the goddess Guan Yin to find a believer to journey to India to bring the Holy Scriptures to China. She chooses Hsuang-tsang, a handsome, devout Buddhist monk and gives him the name Tripitaka after the Scriptures themselves. Guan Yin enlists Monkey to protect Tripitaka and they embark on their journey, finding Pigsy and Sandy on their way and offering them the chance of redemption in return for their service. They encounter many adventures and obstacles on their Journey to the West.
The text, which alternates between spoken word and song is delivered entirely in Mandarin, the inclusion of subtitles which are hard to read due to the heads of the people in front, help only a little. Surtitles wouldn't have worked here either, since the theatre has a huge amount of restricted-view seating. That aside the story is easy to follow, and it is often the case in opera, even those sung in English, that you cannot hear the words.
The sound-world is exotic and far from conventional. The orchestra consists of some western instruments - 2 violins, cello, trumpet, trombones, tuba and percussion - as well as instruments from China such as the Pipa, Zhongruan and Zheng, which are all string instruments. Damon Albarn also includes a substantial amount of electronics, including an Ondes Martenot (as used extensively by Jonny Greenwood), and keyboards. Also in the pit are 9 singers who contribute to the overall sound, often wordlessly. All of the music is amplified too, which adds a further dimension to the sound. The entire opera is held together by the young conductor André de Ridder, who can be seen cueing the singers on stage - often whilst they are suspended mid-air, mid-flight and mid-fight.
The music is a mixture of Ennio Morricone (particularly Farewell to Cheyenne, from Once Upon a Time in the West), Philip Glass (circa Koyaanisqatsi), and Tibetan Buddhist chant. Albarn manages also to avoid writing music that sounds Chinese, whilst simultaneously doing exactly that. His gift for melody and riff-making are also pleasingly evident here.
Taken as a whole, then, this opera does what opera should do at its best - it entirely captivates for the duration of the show. I was completely caught up in the story, the music, the animation and the action on stage. I couldn't help thinking though, whether this opera was successful because of the huge spectacle, and if the lavish production was stripped away it would be as impressive. It is certainly as big a production as those found at the Met in New York, or the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
Rumour has it that the production will be transferred to London at some point. It moves to the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris from late September. I saw cinematographer Christopher Doyle after the show, perhaps he will be making a DVD of this run. Definitely worth seeing.
In a music scene overrun with convoluted titles such You Say Clap Your Hands We Say Yeah Yeah Yeah's (is that right?) it's a joy to review this album called A Hat. It would be such a shame if it's brief title was the only reason this record was a joy to review and thankfully it isn't. Following on from their 2005 album I Felt Nothing At All, A Hat is a smoldering powerhouse of instrumental muscle very much in the same vein as Tortoise or Explosions In The Sky but has a healthy spattering of Battles as well.
As if making up or the album's title these songs are anything but brief. Not counting the first intro the shortest song here is over eight minutes and the other 3 are all around the 14 minute mark and for a band that produce uber serious, post-rock marathons they lighten the load with their titles. The second track builds on airy, spacious melodies but gets progressively louder and harder until it finally bears its teeth in pounding guitars and drums, would you believe it's called Quit Touching My Ass?
Hand or Finger? is less sprawling and is more immediately accessible both in its length and spiky guitars and pounding drums. The album finishes on a long-haul of swelling guitars and wave upon wave of crashing symbols that suddenly drops away in place of a home straight of funky bass lines and delicate electronics, and all this under the title The Young Ted Danson.
Each song plays like a soundtrack to its own movie. They change tempo repeatedly, sometimes taking their time and sometimes giving out no warning at all. A strange sense of narrative drifts through them that really holds your attention. This way they maintain the lyrical structure but stay purely instrumental.
Souvaris have a healthy mix going on here. In formal terms they fit perfectly with their post-rock counterparts but with playfulness and a clever ear for the pop hook they manage to pull themselves out of the self-indulgent fog that often lingers for too long in this genre. There is a refreshing sense of irony about this album that if it were a person would be fun to hang around with but would also be capable of great depth. They'd back you up in a fight but could quite easily have caused it in the first place.
more new planet news - they've found some super-earth.
If that's no enough however, check out NASA's remarkably similar image of the day:
The New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took this 2-millisecond exposure of Jupiter at 04:41:04 UTC on Jan. 24, 2007. The spacecraft was 57 million kilometers (35.3 million miles) from Jupiter, closing in on the giant planet at 41,500 miles (66,790 kilometers) per hour. At right are the moons Io (bottom) and Ganymede; Ganymede's shadow creeps toward the top of Jupiter's northern hemisphere.
Two of Jupiter's largest storms are visible; the Great Red Spot on the western (left) limb of the planet, trailing the Little Red Spot on the eastern limb, at slightly lower latitude. The Great Red Spot is a 300-year old storm more than twice the size of Earth. The Little Red Spot, which formed over the past decade from the merging of three smaller storms, is about half the size of its older and "greater" counterpart.
Arriving At Night
After a full on evening of five-a-side football on a ruddy cold March night, this album managed to find itself warming my cockles, and more to the point relaxing me enough to wind down within about four tracks. It opens with the pleasant Farewell Lunch For Laura which has a slightly smoky jazz orientation with minute snippets of a soft Coltrane sounding sax sample. Victor Bermon's Arriving At Night is aptly titled, as it's one of those ambient albums that many folk will encounter for the first time after a slammin' night, having gone back to someone's house in order to relax some. It's essentially a collection of bright melodic soundscapes incorporating some loosely plucky acoustic guitar and other string instruments, dreamy Rhodesy type Vibraphone sounds and drifting jazzy rhythms. There's actually something a bit TV or film soundtrack sounding about this whole album, and in fact the track Famous Discussion kind of reminded me slightly of the delightful theme music to BBC2's Arena programme.
Photographs Are Not Memories is about as rocking as it gets which is track 3, having thought it was track 2 until I double checked so that may give you the idea of how this album blends together somewhat. In fact if anything it does tend to sound a tad samey but then personally I find most albums in this ambient vein tend to.
This is Victor Bermon's debut album for Hefty Records. Don't rely on it to get you up and out of bed in the morning but it's warm and optimistic. You could certainly do worse than finding this as the soundtrack to your nocturnal arrival at a foreign destination
Does anyone else have what I have with Clint Eastwood's films? I never rush to see them and then I watch with moderate expectations but invariably come out loving them. I really should learn by now. 'Letters From Iwo Jima' is up there with his very best, and is a great, great film. I thought the Best Picture category was fairly weak this year but it is a travisty that this didn't win. I guess they owed Scorsese one.
Seeing the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective is a clever idea and Eastwood explores this deftly. When the 'isn't war pointless' buttons are pushed it is done so in a refreshingly level headed and clear eyed view. The storytelling is always objective and the situations and characters rounded and three-dimensional.
The film is littered with great performances; Ken Watanabe's sympathetic General Kuribayashi, who retains his dignity despite the heavily stacked odds and the hopeless situation. To counterpoint the his perspective, we also follow the story of Saigo (played by Kazunari Ninomiya), a reluctant conscript who is no ones idea of the a war hero, least of all his own.
I used to think of Eastwood as an actor who directed pretty good films but make no mistake, he is a great director that can sit easily alongside the very best.
The Hours is the brainchild of Martin Slattery and Antony Genn - veterans of various bands and production credits from Unkle to Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. Slattery's keyboard work for the likes of Black Grape is an instant reference on the album, which begins well with a tense opening piano beat that threatens to explode but never does. This is the structure of much of the album and it really works. Antony Genn's vocals are intense and urgent and come at you with an Interpol-like might. These are epic songs and this is totally down to a great use of restraint. The rarely let go and so retain the tension throughout the album.
Lyrically it's a mixed bag. All In The Jungle repeats the excellent line "The greatest comeback since Lazarus" and builds up a nice boxing story with Ali fight samples over the end, but then a few tracks later you get this..."I love you more than all my hooded tops, I love you more than Tony Soprano and for those who don't know me that's a fuck of a lot." The song has the same tension as the other songs but the lyrics are laughable. They seem to be tongue in cheek but are sung with such seriousness. I mean who doesn't love Mr. Soprano and every now and again I could be seen in a hooded top but I wouldn't use them to declare my undying love for someone. Unfortunately this song undermines things and makes for the rest of the album difficult listening - emphasised later on with a dose of fucking swearing. I like a dose of Explicit Lyrics as much of the next time, but it's so unnecessary here that it just seems trite in the context of these often operatic storylines. It's like sitting through a family gathering when your 90 year old granddad could come out with anything at any time and you're just waiting for it.
The slow jams like Icarus don't work as well as the others. They fall into the Coldplay/Snow Patrol grey area and are left behind by the strength of their pent-up counterparts. Murder Or Suicide disappears off into a fantastic piano based instrumental pounding session which really hammers home the fact that the piano is definitely man of the match here.
This is a debut with more than its fair share of promise but it seems far too aware of itself. It's too literal and sometimes takes itself way too seriously. It's no surprise that Jarvis Cocker is a fan of these guys as storytelling third-person lyrics are his forte but The Hours don't have the kitchen sink wit that made Cocker's work so original.
It's no secret these days that the kids are wearing the rock trousers and they're in danger of showing up their older and wiser counterparts when it comes to sheer quantity of quality. The much favored Arctic Monkeys are still fresh from a prize winning debut and we already have enough new material from them to fill another. Likewise Working For A Nuclear Free City gave us their self titled debut late last year and here we are in January with a fantastic 4 track ep of songs not only new but that display a definite progression.
This ep shows a more mature sound and will go some way to dispel the Stone Roses comparison which was so tempting in their debut. Opening track "Rocket" shuffles its feet beautifully for the first half then explodes with a cacophony of just about every instrument available and the result is thrilling. The boys do it again with "Heaven Kissing Hill" which starts with an Arab Strap style monologue which then opens up into soaring instrumentals. This song ends with the same beard stroking spoken word but soon crumbles into laughter showing this bands refreshing ability to not take itself too seriously. Another great instrumental master-class follows then things are brought to a close with "Stone Cold". This revisits their earlier Roses sound but still works and judging by the first 3 tracks and this songs title this closer could be the bands way of laying to rest their previous influences and preparing the ground for new seeds. But we shall have to wait and see what's in store for this band but if this little taster is anything to go by it could come at any time and the chances of quality is pretty high.
The Return To Form Black Magick Party
Ninja Tune have always been a label full of surprises. It has stretched and flexed to accomodate the ever increasing and varied tastes of its creators, but with Pop Levi they seem to have met their match. So they created a spin-off label just for him and give us the debut offering The Return To Form Black Magick Party. Only an artist of shameless arrogance could describe their debut as a return to form - and that's exactly what we have here. Born in London, Pop laid his early musical roots in Liverpool then moved to LA in pursuit of the 'magick' that he sees at the very heart of great music. Making up one third of free-thinking, post rock trio and fellow Ninja's Super Numeri, then playing bass for Ladytron Pop decided to go it alone and released his first EP "Blue Honey" on Counter Records in September last year. Then hot on its heals he gives us this. Mark Bolan is an instant point of recognition in Pop's sound but throughout this album we see glimpses of Prince, Dylan, Hendrix and even Jack White. But as with all quality music these influences, don't in any way confuse the sound that Pop has crafted for himself. That sound isn't easily explained as it keeps on changing. There's a very hand crafted feel to it with layers of acoustic and electric guitars punctuating washes of percussion, but this all often fed through some sort of machine and the Pop Levi sound is churned out the other side.
From the opening single, 'Sugar Assault Me Now,' it's quite clear that this is the doorway to a world far removed from our own. A world of astral energy where reality and disbelief are suspended and anything is possible. The first two tracks get things started at break-neck speed with a cacophony of stabbing guitars, fuzzy bass and more than enough hand claps. Things are taken down a notch with '(A Style Called) Cryin' Chic' with its folk blues meanderings over textured percussion. 'Skip Ghetto' shows Pop's sensitive side with a beautiful dreamy, acoustic little number only to be bitch slapped once again by the most Bolan of songs 'Dollar Bill Rock'.
The whole album follows this up and down formation, painting a very rich picture of this mans talents. It's contemplative and at the same time immensely uplifting. It's relaxing and floaty then foot tappingly addictive. It can appear to be conforming to every current fashion then rejecting it all in an instant. 'The Return To Form's' listening experience is just as up and down. On the first few plays it is thrilling and refreshing but I have to admit that the constant use of repetition in the lyrics does give it an air of emptiness. But hey it's pop music and not every moment has to move you to tears. There are plenty of moving moments here but most of them are on a level totally their own. The album makes you move and it makes you want to tell people about it. It oozes so much arrogance and confidence that it can only have been conceived by an artist with a very unique outlook on making music. It was a wise move for Ninja Tune to create an environment for this man to shine - as he has a lot to say and if this debut is anything to go by he has a myriad of ways to say it.
There is an episode of Father Ted, where a drunken Father Jack gets stuck in a cupboard with the world's most boring priest. I was reminded of that scene whilst listening to 'Anti-Anti' from Atlanta's Snowden. Not that I had an urge to down a bottle of Toilet Duck and swear at nuns - it's just that after a few listens I was sapped of any will to write about it.
It's not the songs themselves, which are nicely played and put together. It's more singer Jordan Jeffares' monotone voice that does it. He sounds so bloody bored and miserable, it is as if he himself can't wait for the songs to end. Of course there's nothing wrong with misery, as the Emo hordes will no doubt pasionately concur and which their obvious inspirations - Interpol - do particularly well. But whereas Interpol's songs work on building layers of atmosphere, the Snowden tunes are more punchy and direct and Jeffares' vocal sits moodily on top of it all - like a pissed off teenager at a family function.
In isolation it's fine, I heard title track "Anti-Anti" before the rest of the album - and was immediately taken by it. It's probably the most upbeat and easily the strongest on here. To be honest there's not a bad track as such, obviously a lot of thought has gone into it and the music itself is interesting, working best in 'Counterfeit Rules' and 'Stop Your Bleeding', where the tempo is kept relatively high.
But as a whole, its just too mopey for me. To cheer him up, I might buy Jeffares some helium ballons before he records the next album, which even if they don't lift the mood should lift his voice a touch.
Some Loud Thunder
No sooner have I compiled my best of 2006 list with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's stunning self titled debut coming in at number one when it's follow up, slated for a January release, lands in our laps. They say the second album is always the difficult one and this must be made all the more so when your debut received such overwhelming critical acclaim. Some Loud Thunder is certainly not what I was expecting and after the first few listens I was quite disappointed not to be dazzled by the energy that was present on the first album. I would like to tell you that now after about 25 plays it has solidified it's place in my 2007 list but I can't. I am enjoying it a lot more than I was, but there remains a slight whiff of disappointment still.
The structure of the first album was was quite relentless with many high points, few lows, some nicely placed instrumental breathers - all of which culminated in a fantastic finale that just made you want to start the whole thing again. This time it's a different agenda. It's a much more low key affair with really only one obvious peak coming mid way through the album. Most of the songs seem as if they are building to something but never do and while they have virtually abandoned the instrumental fillers they have adopted a slow burning sound that whispers rather than shouts. This new approach at times produces some beautiful moments and really challenges the listener to stick with the program but also makes parts of the album quite laborious.
So, purely on the strength of their debut I have persevered with this one and have come to see it in a new light. Instead of viewing it as the weak follow up to a fluky start I have a sneaky feeling that this is the work of a band that intend to be around for a while. It seems their debut was designed to get our attention and all the praise that this brought has provided them with the creative space to explore new territory. This could be the album that calms things down and eases off on the pace that quite often leads to a bands early demise, or it could be just plain crap. - BC (3 stars)
Some Loud Thunder is by turns intense, moving and powerful. There is barely a bum note on the album and the song writing and music have taken on a depth and scope beyond Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The album sounds quite like a movie sound track in places and a lot of the music often seems very familiar - regularly sounding like a reprise to a track you never heard.
This quality is also it's flaw and the first few tracks sound like a slow building intro into the album, before the remaining tracks quickly sound like tghings are winding down. With the exception of the obvious single Satan Said Dance there is no middle ground on the album and it feels like it is missing it's heart. The album never quite grabs hold of you as a complete piece of work, and it lacks the cohesiveness of the first record. The infectious, awkward quality of their previous effort is also noticeably absent.
The relative lows are no where near as annoying as the ditties on album one, and the album remains almost completely solid in quality - but also lacking in the giddy highs of Yellow Country Teeth, Is This Love, Home On Ice or the countless other peaks on the rollercoast ride of the debut album. Some Loud Thunder's main flaw is in it's pace. Improved track sequencing and editing back of some of the tracks, plus a couple more more tracks would have made this an instant classic, rather than just a solid follow up - CSF (3.5 stars)
Here's a song by song break down:
1 - Some Loud Thunder. The album starts abrubtly, with the band mid-flow and sounding at their most Talking Heads. This seems an odd place to start as it sounds like a mid-album track. This song makes it clear that this isn't going to be an album like the first one. No real chorus to speak of but some nice rhythm and hand claps. Hopefully the shocking sound quality of this track is due to the promo only featuiring a rough mix, that will be improved by January.
2 - Emily Jean Stock. This seems a better place to start but sums up the first half of this record. The whole song seems to brew like it's building up to something but never does, but it has a lot of the harmonies that made the first album so listenable.
3 - Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles In The Air And Burning? A very low key affair and continues the steady build up of the record. It simmers up to mid point then plateaus nicely into a harmony filled home-straight. A bit like a Radiohead b-side, with a few tuning up/washing up sounds.
4 - Love Song No.7 (mp3). The beautiful piano opening of this one mark it pout as a definite highlight. The sparse, atmospheric atmosphere smake sit sound like a love song rising out of the chaos of a sound check.
5 - Satan Says Dance. This is where the album peaks and it's tempo puts the previous songs into context as you realise that everything has been building to this point. It is the one song that recalls their previous work as we are treated to the rolling drum running pace that made the last record so electrifying. They have thankfully updated this format with a myriad of electronic bleeps and tweaks that lay down a rich tapestry of sounds, sounding like tuning up chaos in a kids music class. We get the familiar repeated vocals of and the odd "alright now" which certainly gets the toes a tapping. This song rises like a polished, crisp gem from a murky pool to become the standout peak of this album, and a certain single. "No whips, no chains, just dancing, dancing, dancing". Welcome to Hell.
6 - Upon Encountering The Crippled Elephant. This is the only instrumental ditty here and and makes fine use of the stereo recording format. It's as if you're walking down a deserted street and in the distance a lone figure approaches, as he gets closer you realise he is playing the accordian and you stop and cautiously watch as he passes you by without so much as a glance, then he is off on his way into the distance once more. That is unless he bumps into Damon Albarn and spends the afternoon in an East End music hall.
7 - Goodbye To Mother And The Cove. This is a beautiful song that starts off with a delicate high pitch plucking and ever so slowly builds. Sounding like a reprise to earlier themes, the vocals are dripping with melancholy and help to gently carry the tune to the military drum finale.
8 - Arm And Hammer. The acoustic strumming structure of this song never seems to go anywhere and the vocals jar more than ever making this one of the weakest tracks, which should probably have been relegated to b-side status.
9 - Yankee Go Home. The free-wheeling of the first album is a distant memory on this methodical and well-planned track. The first of several finales.
10 - Underwater (You And Me) (mp3). This could be the closing credits to a film. The pounding drum beat gives the mood a light feel and never changes all the way through. It is accompanied by a floating bass line and clanging bells that have cropped up frequently throughout the album, again echoing the idea of reprise and themes of retreat. Sadly it's not the final track as it's monotony seems to draw things to a close nicely.
11 - Five Easy Pieces. The monotony is continued however here on the album closer. An acoustic structure this time provides the background to the reverb-heavy distant vocals that wine and wail and threaten never to stop. They are punctuated every now and again by the gloriously dreamy bass line that really makes this song a fine one to bring things to a close.
Rough Trade is going digital with a new mp3 store, launching soon.
A feature of the site will be a counter-to-digital service for unsigned bands wishing to sell their music digitally. Bands can sell it on the website complete with Rough Trade's potential endorsement.
Sounds good, but no details on price or anything yet. Pretty sure you won't be able to use your Zune credits though.
(dir. Larry Charles)
Anyone familiar with Borat would no doubt agree that he is the funniest and most outregeous of Sacha Baron Cohen's 3 characters, and during his sections in the Ali G In Da USA show we were appalled and dazzled by his shameless interviews - and much like Ali G his ability to extract the truth from narrow minded middle America. This film is all that, plus a whole lot more. You get the normal encounters with people of such jaw dropping ignorance, culminating in a stadium full of Rodeo fans who cheer passionately when Borat greets them on the mic with words to the effect of "May your president drain the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq." You get livid feminists, furious commuters, angry aristocrats, man-eating Jews and Pamela Anderson.
Although his TV show was so successful, things like that often fail to translate well onto the big screen - and when stretched to 90 minutes they can become tiresome. But this got it right. The plot was good enough to sustain your attention and formed a believable platform for his comedy. It was a non-stop romp across the U.S and A and the comedy was pushed to it's absolute limit. There were moments of such shock and awe that provided images that will be burned on to my memory for ever. He got himself into situations from which most people would be hard pushed to walk away with their lives, but his masterfully acted naive charm got him through every time. The comedy was relentless and there were countless moments where the audience laughed until they had nothing left. Not all the jokes were necessary though and his constant attack on the Jewish community became too uncomfortable to snigger at towards the end - but it was the visual gags that worked so well, like the shocked faces of New Yorkers as Borat calmly masturbated on the street to a window full of lingerie-clad mannequins, or washed his underpants in Central Park, or opened a suitcase full of chickens on the subway.
It's all pretty stupid stuff and I did feel slightly embarrassed asking for two tickets to Borat when there were such heavyweights to be seen like The Departed or Romanzo Criminale, but who cares - I haven't laughed that much in years and continue to smirk to myself when images of naked male wrestling enter my mind. Pure genius. High Five.
Loney, Dear is the brain child of Sweden's Emil Svanangen and this outfit is often described as the one man band with nine members. Whatever that means is a mystery but it does go some way to describe the sound of Sologne. Loney, Dear's blend of DIY indie-pop and lo-fi folk brings to mind solo artists like Stina Nordenstam or Mugison, but the rich tapestry of sounds that is woven around his most delicate of lyrics could be compared to experimental indie kids Grandaddy. All of these comparisons only go a fraction of the way to describe the originality and arresting beauty of this album.
From the first two songs you would be forgiven for thinking that this was yet another record of oh-so-chart friendly, run of the mill, male singer/songwriter crap but wait until you hear The City, The Airport and if you have any heart at all you will reevaluate your earlier judgments, discard your heavy robes of cynicism and jump head first into Sologne's warm waters. It starts of with a cheap casio synth beat overlaid with Svanangen's musings of "the city, I don't want another life that's killing me," then expands like a great bird into a cacophony of instruments, backing vocals, wails, shouts, you name it. It's the childlike equivalent of Radiohead's Let Down and rises and rises with such effortless grace that you want it to go higher and higher. And from here on in it's pure quality. Le Fever is a lonely, melancholic tale but continues the swell of emotion with increasing instrumental textures. Come to think of it, they all do. Songs like In With The Arms creep in with gentle folk sadness then slowly rise to a tearful euphoria with lines like, "Off with the boards, off with what's keeping you down, in with the arms." It's quite exhausting as each song starts you low then lifts you up. We get a little break with the Money Mark style instrumental organ ditty of Grekerna, then the final euphoric blow is dealt in the form of I Lose It All. It's a shame this doesn't end the album as it reaches heights way higher than any thing else as it ticks along at a steady pace then eventually explodes into a piano heavy, drum pounding, Rocky running up the steps glorious piece of crescendo magic that will leave you hands in the air and eyes to the sky wasted.
I do hope I'm not building this up too much but it's just such an honest piece of music akin in charm and emotion to Sunset Rubdown's Shut Up I Am Dreaming and each song on Sologne could be the closing soundtrack to a desperately sad film but as you dry your eyes it's genuine beauty reassures you that everything's gonna be alright. If last year was the year to look to Canada for the best in indie music then in 2006 Sweden is launching a typically Scandinavian counter attack. It's restrained, measured yet unfathomable in its quality and creativity. My only fear is that this quality could easily be undone by a Vodafone advert and then I would have to disown this album. Providing this doesn't happen, Sologne may just make my 'best of 2006' list.