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Rewind: The Minutemen - Felt Like A Gringo

Great acoustic version from the masters, circa 1985. Via Verbicide

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4th Jul 2012 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Robert Pollard

4 New Albums

It's been a while since I checked in with former GBV frontman Robert Pollard's release schedule (June 11th 2008 in fact) and a belated effort to do so now quickly unearths a whopping 4 new records. The kind of output that makes even John Frusciante look lazy. With Pollard's usual hit-rate in mind, I was expecting at least four new tracks for my ever expanding best-of-Pollard playlist.

Boston Spaceships - Brown Submarine - Sept 16th 2008 - 3 Stars
First up is the debut album from Pollard's 'new' band - the Boston Spaceships. A collaboration with former GBV band mate Chris Slusarenko (also featured in The Takeovers) and Decemberist John Moen, the band marks an effort to re-capture that 'full band' sound that has been missing from many of Pollard's post-Guided By Voices projects.

Go For The Exit starts the record with a slice of classic Pollard, as thoughtful lyrics wind over a simple guitar, before exploding into power chords - while Ready To Pop threatens to re-visit the successful magic of GBV's final album, but somehow never quite takes off. There's little in the way of experimentation here, so the simple-but-fun Rat Trap provides a welcome break from the otherwise even footing of much of the album, which is generally operating on cruise control, with only two songs even building beyond the 3 minute mark.

Circus Devils - Ataxia - November 11th 2008 - 2 Stars
The Circus Devils has been a longer-running side-project for Pollard, partnering with producer Todd Tobias and brother Tim Tobias. Ataxia marks the sixth full-length from the project and like a musical desk drawer, the record is packed full of sound bites and ideas while largely remaining a little incomplete.

Not dissimilar to one of Pollard's own art collages, the record has countless moments that catch your attention and a scattergun approach will always hit a few targets. The meandering epic Fuzz In The Street fails to gain any traction, while promising moments appear with the unfulfilled mystical intro to He Had All Day or the Procol Harum-esque spoken word of Stars, Stripes and Crack Pipes.

Just as your patience may be wearing a little thin however, another bonifide gem is polished out of the album's rough diamonds - as the gentle intro of The Girls Will Make It Happen gives way to a pounding drums and hypnotic lyrics that thunder along at a relentless and engaging pace.

Robert Pollard - The Crawling Distance - Jan 20th 2009 - 2.5 Stars
After the excellent albums Off To Business and Normal Happiness, Pollard seemed to be finding his stride in a world without GBV and the hit rate was soaring. Sadly the magic has momentarily gone again and we're back to the plodding middle-lane driving of tracks like No Island or It's Easy. Lyrically, as ever, there's plenty of interest - but without fully developed musical backing there's little to really grab your attention.

With the turbulent peaks and troughs of most Pollard records there's nearly always a killer track but, unfortunately, here the sea is calm and little breaks the surface. As a consequence, there's no real stinkers either, but I'd gladly drop a couple of tracks in return for that one diamond.


Boston Spaceships - Planets Are Blasted - Feb 17th 2009 - 2.5 Stars
A mere five months after their debut, the Boston Spaceships are back with a sophomore effort - Planets Are Blasted. Rather than build on the strengths of the original however, the record unfortunately misses the mark, lacking muscle and falling back into the one-dimensional trap that plagues much of Pollard's projects. Big O Gets An Earful tries to build up a wall of sound before fading away and Canned Food Demons makes a brave effort to bring the album up a notch, but it's too little too late. Sounding like it was recorded in parts, the record again lacks that power generated by a full live band holing up in a studio for 9 months. Or 9 days for that matter.

Circus Devils - Gringo - April 14th 2009 - 4 Stars
Before I'd even finished writing this review (quite literally) details of another Circus Devils album arrived in my inbox - their seventh album, Gringo, due out on April 14th on Happy Jack Rock Records.

It's arrival was not a moment too late. Forget the descriptions ("1970's Morricone-esque with a South Western flavour") and focus on the music, as Gringo is the easy highlight of this current run of releases. The album's more acoustic bias immediately dispels the tinny studio sound that has marred many of the releases cover here and in stark contrast to the Circus Devils' last record there's a full sound with a cohesive approach and multiple layers of interest. The epic Monkey Head takes the prize for album highlight, with a sprawling - almost prog - approach played out through booming acoustic guitars. Thumping sing-a-long Easy Baby ebbs and flows beautifully while Witness Hill wraps up an engaging record with suitable style.

Thanks Bob, I'll check back in six months.

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27th Feb 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Lords

Everyone Is People

Gringo

One listen to the Lords sophomore album and it's hard to believe that buried under the weight of scuzz soaked riffs, dirty blues arrangements and howling vocals lie three lads from Nottingham. Sounding a lot more like a bunch of unwashed Thin Lizzy fans, with Everyone Is People Lords deliver an effective if not familiar mix of the afore mentioned Thin Lizzy, the slinky grooves of ZZ Top, the trippy might of Hendrix and some early Soundgarden thrown in to really pad it out. But as helpful as reviews are that name check a multitude of sound-a-likes Lords bring enough of their own muscle to this album to make it a lot more than just a sum of its parts.

Their 2006 debut album, It Aint A Hate Thing, It's A Love Thing, was something of a side project for the 3 band members who were all in other groups but since then Lords have grown into the gravitas of their name and have come back with a sound that expands on the blues-rock success of bands like The Black Keys by dousing it with an obvious love of DC hardcore ferocity and the expanse of 70's rock. The Things We Do For Money is the flagship tune here and does everything you'd want an album like this to do. Treating the funk of The Meters to dirty, driving guitars, it holds a good amount of tension before dropping into the rhythm with amazing satisfaction.

Much of the album does follow this lead, with simmering formless arrangements introducing most songs until, with an imaginary nod of the head, all the band members fall into line and the riffage begins. But instead of being predictable this structure gives the songs the feel of a free jazz jam. It's not all high octane riff-offs either with tight-lipped shufflers like The Boat Don't Float shifting down a gear and building tension and the violins and cello's on opener Good Dog Bad Dog providing the mix with subtle texture and unexpected warmth. Everyone Is People wont change your life but it will certainly make it that much more entertaining.

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17th Oct 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Soe'za

7 Obstacles

Gringo

Of late it seems that any music that has really caught my imagination and got me all excited (in the way that only good new music can) has tended to have been shipped across from America or Canada. Seemingly most of the new British Made bands rising to the top seem to follow the same unremarkable formula. However, happen as it gives me great pleasure to say that this sterling album from Soe’za has only been and gone and been made by a large bunch of fertile minded people from the South West of England.

Judging by their stats the band get two thumbs up from me: 7 or 8 people (since seeing Broken Social Scene live again I’m convinced that more is more), two drummers (name me a bad band who has two drummers), a pleasant blend of his’n’her vocals (harmonious), a cello (hello), the usual bass and guitars (check), and – best of all – a French Horn that rounds the sound marvellously (nice brass).

The album has a vital and urgent intensity throughout (shown best on ‘Don’t Bother Coming Home’) which is nicely balanced by a couple of warming instrumentals with the French Horn taking centre stage. They’ve been compared to Fugazi and Deerhoof, but if that means nothing to you then what you’re looking at / listening to is, simply put, your Alternative-Art-Rock-Improv-Noisy-Punk-Indie-Post-Hardcore genre. Which sounds a lot better than it reads.

Now then, I’ll admit that I don’t always pay close attention to lyrics (I can easily like a great tune with poor lyrics, but great lyrics over a rubbish tune might well pass me by), but some of the pleasantly odd rants and rambles did stand out here. Such as on ‘Any Road’: “Peering through the glass / there is an old dear / scrutinising the cream cakes / how long will they last?”. Sadly they never reveal the sell by date, but happily there are several more moments of bizarre lyrics which, with the occasional hint of that West Country lilt, they ably pull it off where others might not.

7 Obstacles confirms that brass is underrated and underused and that there are some really interesting British bands out there drawing up their own musical blueprints. All told, happen as I think this album is tip-top and one of the most interesting I’ve heard for some time.

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25th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Souvaris

A Hat

Gringo

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.

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28th Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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