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Promo Promo: 3D On Jupiter

Beefy solo track from Massive Attack's 3D with Congolese musician Jupiter.

Says 3D: "In 2007 I went to the Congo with Africa Express. I was lucky to hang out and listen to some pretty amazing musicians, Jupiter among them.

"This track is built with an unknown modular synth from Munich, a Moog and a Vermona drum machine, with help from Euan Dickinson and Tim Goldsworthy. And mixes by Bruno Ellingham. I wanted to mirror the energy and message in the song without complicating it. The b-side is a more relaxed and melodic using a Prophet 5 and a jupiter 8.

It is the second release on the Battle Box label, which is made and distributed through The Vinyl Factory. Paul Insect has designed the covers and label art. Everything is screenprinted and limited in number."

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18th Oct 2013 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Melvins

The Bride Screamed Murder

Ipecac

This is the first proper Melvins release for two years and the third to feature Jarred Warren and Coady Willis from Big Business. The two preceding albums (Senile Animal, Nude With Boots) were chock full of twin-drummer assaults and memorable tracks that somehow combined the best of the Melvins sound with that of Big Business. This new release has its moments, but ultimately fails to satisfy.

Speaking as a total fan-boy, I can't say I'm not disappointed. I've travelled more miles to see this band play live than any other. I've always loved the new ideas that come with shifting line-ups, and lived with this new release for a month before posting my review, but I can't get over the fact that this album is (at best) hotch-potch, and at worst, weak.

It's certainly diverse - the opening track The Water Glass is a rallying cry for the Melvins massive - all military cadence drumming and boot-camp chanting. OK, a bit baffling, but perhaps it'll work live. Things suddenly look up with track 2 - Evil New War God. This is the best track on the album - classic Melvins chunk winding into a doomy synth assisted riff during it's outro. Great stuff, but from here on in, the pickings get much slimmer. Pig House starts out promisingly enough but ends up in a rock-bolero - that most hackneyed and corny device. Even if it's meant to be ironic, it still sounds cheesy.

I'll Finish You Off is next - and to my ears it sounds just like a Big Business track. I'm not hearing much Buzz and Dale in there. Electric Flower follows and this could be said to be the other highlight of the album. Hospital Up comes next, which sounds like a track that might have been left off Nude With Boots - it starts well but dissolves into two minutes of faux-jazz fucking around. The joke wears thin after about 20 seconds. Inhumanity And Death is a bit incoherent - a stitch-together of left-over riffs, or orphans that don't really get along with each other. Then we get an 8 minute version of The Who's My Generation played as a sloppy bar blues. Once again, the irony is lost on me - it's just boring. The Melvins have done some awesome cover versions over the years (White Punks On Dope, Promise Me) but this doesn't come up to scratch.

The album winds down with PG x 3 - a folksy tone-poem played through three times - on melodica, a-capella, and on fuzz guitar. It ends with a child's voice counting numbers and looping on the number 4. I quite like this, but it's not exactly Steve Reich. Perhaps that repeated number 4 is reminding us that there are four people in the Melvins, each with equal input. Perhaps - but I'm not sure if this serves as a declaration or a disclaimer.

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#HarrisPilton

3rd Jun 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Album Leaf

A Chorus of Storytellers

Sub Pop

The Album Leaf’s new record ‘A Chorus of Storytellers’ is a very nice album. They’ve been recording for the last ten years and are signed to Sub Pop records, which should tell you something, although I’ve never heard of them before. Possibly because they’re so nice. You know like one of those people that you get introduced to when you meet a friend, say, outside the cinema. Who’s that with Alex, you think. You say hello, shake hands – even if it’s a girl. It feels a bit odd shaking hands with a girl but then kissing someone you don’t know is a bit odd too. They seem very nice. They don’t say much but look friendly enough and while you end up chatting to your friend they smile and laugh along with the jokes. You’ve got to go in, your film’s about to start. Plus you still need to get popcorn (mix salt/sweet of course) so you say “Nice to meet you!” and never think of that person again.

So, uh, yeah that’s this album. Warm and electronica-tinged, some vocals but mainly instrumentals. Definitely not unpleasant to listen to. Not really saying anything though. Like if you’re at a party in one of those bars where you have to shout everything although you haven’t drunk enough for the shouting to come naturally. Just as you’re thinking to yourself about how stupid it is that these places actually make you have to get pissed as a basic operating requirement. You’re about to head to the bar, or better still maybe just disappear entirely when someone says hello. You don’t even recognise them but they know your name. It’s bad enough forgetting someone’s name but forgetting their whole face is terrible. Eventually you piece it together, you ask if they’ve seen Alex, yes, he’s coming down later. Then that’s it, you’re just making excruciating small talk with someone, desperately scanning the room for one of your friends even though you hate people who scan the room, and so you’ve become something that you hate and all because this person is just nice.

Oh yeah, sorry, the album. That’s what happens. You start off listening to it – then four or five minutes later you come out of a train of thought and remember you were supposed to listening to it.

It would make good film soundtrack music. It’s melodic and courses with pleasant emotion and I can imagine Gael Garcia Bernal doing something cool up the side of sunbaked mountain with ‘A Chorus of Storytellers’ playing in the background. But I’d get someone else to write the main theme.

3/5 (Although if you’re building an Ikea wardrobe it gets 5/5)
 

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25th Jan 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Promo Promo: The Longcut

Nice old-school promo up for the new single Repeated from Chimp favourites The Longcut.

New album Open Hearts arrived a couple of weeks back, while Repeated in out today on Melodic.

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26th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Part Chimp

Thriller

Rock Action

Let's face it - Metal, as a musical form, is a bit crap. There are so many traps for the aspiring metal band to fall into - the hair, the clothing, the posturing, the silly artwork and the must-have body art. There's also all that singing in a monster voice stuff, and striking serious poses like the guitar solo is burning the fingers. Anyway, I thought that was why Grunge got invented - so that bands could crank up the guitars without putting on any spandex. Sadly tho', Grunge got hijacked by the MTV brigade - all looking for that big hit record with angsty vocals and the distorted guitars. That's why we have to suffer Nickelback these days. Naturally there were a handful of stalwarts who stuck with the original Grunge blueprint of maximum chunk with no added bullshit. A special mention for Dinosaur Jr and The Melvins.

London's own Part Chimp are the closest thing the UK has to Grunge's original manifesto. Let's be clear about this - they are super heavy, inventive, melodic, and original. Thriller is their 4th album, and could easily put them on the map as serious contenders in the world of sludge. There's no bullshit, the vocals are neither cookie-monster nor demonic shrieker, and the riffs are solid enough to build oil-rigs on them. The album kicks off with Trad - possibly the finest track on the album right up front and there's nothing wrong with that (refer to Led Zeppelin II). When you've got a riff like this, why make everyone wait for it? I was humming this bastard all day after I heard it. The album delivers a high standard of mid-tempo riffs and low-slung sludge - winding down for the last couple of tracks with the kind of slow doomy grinds that the Melvins got so right on Bullhead. They have a new approach to the music which is shared by the likes of Tweak Bird or Big Business - metal - but not as we know it, Jim. Even on record everything just sounds REALLY LOUD, and they have a reputation for being deafening live. If that sounds good to you, then check out this record and go see them on their forthcoming tour.

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#HarrisPilton

23rd Sep 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Cave Singers

Welcome Joy

Matador

Rising from the ashes of Pretty Girls Make Graves, the Cave Singers have quickly expended beyond the success of that band and carved out a nice niche for themselves. Debut record Invitation Songs was an unknown quantity, bringing a certain mystery and uniqueness that was initially a little difficult to crack. Was it a guy singing? A girl? Marge Simpson? Are they taking the piss? Once those initial questions had settled down a little, the record settled in to become an easy stand-out of 2007.

There's certainly less mystery to this new record, but instead just a welcome anticipation that this is going to be good record. On first listen there's certainly little disappointment, but the initial reaction is 'here's some more Cave Singers' - 10 new tracks that sound like a direct expansion on the first album. Repeated listening quickly dispels that simple notion.

Over the course of opener Summer Light and second song Leap, the album ramps up to a higher tempo than Invitation Songs and it never looks back. The eclectic folky sound of the debut is subtly pulled back, stripping away some of the washboard and the melodica influence and giving way to a more traditional rock sound. That sound is bolstered by the production of Colin Stewart, who returns to man the decks after the debut, plus stints producing favourites including Black Mountain and Ladyhawk.

As the record settles in, the evolution of the band's sound starts to emerge, with them now sounding somewhat more grown into their sound. Songs are belted out with a more self-assured style and what was something of a novelty with the first record is now the definitive sound of an accomplished band. Songs like Townships, At The Cut (mp3 here), Beach House (mp3 here) and VV have an instant familiarity, sounding like old classics that you haven't heard in a while.

Warm, nostalgic, rocking and powerful - this is the ghost of Fleetwood Mac, channeled through the Pacific Northwest with magnificent success.

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15th Aug 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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John Vanderslice

Romanian Names

Dead Oceans

John Vanderslice is not the kind of artist that you’ll find gracing the front cover of Q magazine. A media hooked on hyperbole and the shock of the new is probably not going to pin any hopes on a new album from a tried and tested over 40year old singer songwriter and I doubt his record company will reach the FTSE 100 on the back of him. Roman Names could possibly end up camouflaged amongst the masses of CDs in you local charity shop, before finding itself unsought in the 50p bargain bucket and eventually becoming asphalt in a the A127 between Bedford and Luton. If this were the fate that beholds Romananian Names it would be a little unfair, because the album stand up incredibly well to repeated listening.

Romanian Names could have been easy to dislike, it could have been classically ordinary ‘singer/songwriter by numbers’ material, the kind of catchy but empty nonsense that often appears on Radio 2 and is loved by those who own ‘Friends’ box sets and are slowly losing the will to live. All the classic ingredients are there, it’s mid-paced, melodic and it has light fluffy Jose Gonzalez-esque vocals. What really redeems Roman names from AOR graveyard is the subtle experimentation, the strange overdubbed vocals, the electronic landscape lurking quietly behind many tracks. All this happens without ever coming close to indulgence, in fact one of the highlights of the album is its lack of fat; the longest track weighs in at 3min 57 and after 12 song you’ve only invested just over 37 minutes. The album doesn’t suffer from over-reach, it doesn’t suffer the pretence that it’s going to be a classic album, and while there are some pretty ordinary tracks here, Vanderslice has the confidence to keep the songs short and so maximises their impact. The better tracks are also the most quirky, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Sunken Union Boat’ wouldn’t feel out of place on an Of Montreal album - although they do lack OM’s camp weirdness. Best song on the album is ‘D.I.A.L.O.’, which sound like reigned in and cleaned up ‘Soft Bulletin’ era ‘Flaming Lips’. Worst is ‘C and O Canal”, a song so sickly melodic it sound as if it was made with the intention of appearing in an Apple Nano advert - the irony being, if this album is to eventually sell shed loads, this track will probably be the reason.

I doubt Romanian Names is going to set the world alight, but nor does it fall into the trap of being the only thing worse than being bad - which is being ordinary. It has enough confidence and invention to be well worth a listen and if you do happen to find it in the at your local charity shop. I implore you to rescue it.

 

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21st May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Dag For Dag

Shooting From The Shadows EP

Saddle Creek

Dag For Dag are brother and sister Sarah Parthemore Snavely and Jacob Donald Snavely and while hailing from Southern California they now reside in Sweden. This is their debut EP and while being constructed out of some quite simple and well tested ideas is utterly infectious none the less.

As will be clear from the opening bars of first song Ring Me, Elise the whole thing centers around one guitar chord and rarely strays form this path. But who needs complicated backing texture when you have a vocalist as beguiling as Sarah. She instantly renders the bare bones guitar sound a cavernous and unhinged driving force. With an alto tone that hollows out your eardrums she picks this song up and scatters it into unexpected and thrilling territory. Things climb down from these lofty heights into progressively more pensive areas from here on in with the delicately melodic Pirate Sea and the haunting simplicity of Words. You Holler, You Scream and Better Now evolve Sarah's voice into more and more unhinged madness with the gritty guitar constantly threatening to drown her.

The remix that concludes this EP slightly lets the side down with its slick production making clean work of this rough diamond approach. This is incredibly simple music that really shouldn't be so pleasing, but it's the passion of the two siblings that drives this record and make it so listenable.

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6th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Domino

So here it is, Animal Collective's much anticipated ninth studio album: Merriweather Post Pavilion (apparently named after their favourite venue) arrives with similar claims that greeted their previous few releases; namely that these would be proper songs, rather than the sprawling sketches that characterised their earlier work. The fact that none of the songs clock in at over six minutes, does seems to suggest a new more disciplined agenda.

Opener In the Flowers doesn't quite fit this claim; with its plodding build, it feels rather like a prelude and is slightly underwhelming. However, moving into the blissful My Girls, it all begins to make perfect sense, with Panda Bear's melodic stamp all over it and is utterly delightful. Then the stomping, playful My GIrls take things in a positively sing-a-long direction by Animal Collective's standards.

From there on in, it is apparent that the sound on Merriweather Post Pavilion has evolved markedly since Strawberry Jam, and on the whole it's a lot more accessible record. This time around their reliance on samples and loops seems to have focused them, such on the stripped back Daily Routine (Guitarist Deakin is absent from this record). Yet Animal Collective's real skill is their ability to extract melody from the strangest of places and as the album goes on it slowly seeps deep inside your head.

So whilst Animal Collective remain an acquired taste and are not ever likely ever to make something that isn't hard to categorise, Merriweather Post Pavilion is as an original, joyous and warm album that you're likely to find this year.

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14th Jan 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Guns 'N Roses

Chinese Democracy

Polydor

So it's finally a reality, the album no one, least of all Dr. Pepper (that's not what a company needs in a credit crunch), thought would ever materialise. But it has and as expected it has brought with it the tidal wave of opinions that accompany every move Axl Rose makes. Listening to, and to a much greater extent, forming an opinion about Chinese Democracy is damn near impossible while employing your regular critical faculties. It's hard to compare it to previous Guns N' Roses material, seeing as their last studio album was 17 years ago and Axl is the only original member left. And Axl's dominating presence on the record is the only thing linking it to the previous work, as musically it is a different band all together and fiercely contemporary. It would be a different story if Axl had disappeared for 14 years and now reemerged with a comeback album in order to pay some bills, but as we all know that is not the case here. By all accounts he hasn't done anything else but make this record for 14 years, so to review it is like reviewing history and seeing as I am a long way from where I was 14 years ago it's hard to know if I'm disappointed in Chinese Democracy or if I lost interest in its concept a long time ago.

With this record Axl Rose reveals himself as the Colonel Kurtz of the rock world, or actually of the whole world. Lost long ago, way up the river of obsession and self-delusion, he works beyond the boundaries of reason endlessly creating things that mirror himself. In this likeness comes Chinese Democracy, drifting out of the mist from a place no man has gone, a bloated monstrosity so impressive in size and construction and displaying elements of genius but often swaying with uneasy insecurities. And like Joseph Conrad's character you stare back at him with awe, dazzled by the ambition but all the time filled with terror at the mind that could conceive of such a creation.

Excess has always followed Axl Rose both in his music and his lifestyle. Use Your Illusion was flawed, but few have managed to pull off the double album like he did back in 1991. It too was an over-ambitious project that was filled with fat, over-stuffed, gluttonous songs that aimed for the stars with every note. They often failed but it was hard to fault a band that had produced such perfect punk-rock ferocity in Appetite For Destruction only to set a rocket under all that and change forever what any fan had thought or appreciated about them before. All the signs were there that this was going to be a vastly out of proportion project. Axl has always tended towards the epic and with songs like November Rain and Estranged we saw his gigantic vision expressed, but then with songs like Coma we saw how it could all get out of hand. It's no surprise then that left to his own devices and devoid of the more direct guidance of Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan that Axl would be free to express his tendency to swell each song out of all proportion and cram as many elements into every second of his sound. This is the main critisism here but then it was always going to be.

Underneath the colossal weight of production you can hear some great songwriting. The title track opens the album with some force and with his Mr. Brownstone growl, Axl reinstates himself in our lives and it's good to have him back. As expected, Better is the high point of the album. It's a real powerhouse of a song and shows us how far this songwriter has brought his sound and yet at the same time shows glimpses of the feral energy that got us all hooked in the first place. It also shows how different the guitar playing is now compared to the melodic skyward playing of Slash. It's much harder on this record and the way the guitars chug with the force of a freight train on Better affirms that this is a totally different band than before. Shackler's Revenge sees the same guitar train chug but then unravels into an epileptic guitar solo the like of which this band have never provided in the past. Then there's the impressive Catcher In The Rye or the bewildering Street Of Dreams...enough...this has to stop. Having scratched the surface of what makes this record work I see before me, in my mental landscape, a vast chasm of points I feel the need to express, this must be what Axl lives with on a daily basis, and much like this records history any reviewer faces the same temptation to keep writing and writing. So with that in mind I move swiftly and brutally on to the concluding paragraph.

Ultimately, Chinese Democracy poses more questions on its arrival than it did as a myth. All the way through I find myself scratching my head in puzzlement at some of the bizarre twists and turns that Axl takes his band through. But I don't know if this confusion is down to the fact that I too am 14 years older. My formative years were spent with this band blasting in my ears and I can't say that I was chomping at the bit to get another taste. Few things on this earth are worth waiting such a long time for, except maybe actual Chinese Democracy, so now that it is here I can't say I am disappointed, all I can say is that I don't think I really like it but I do think that it's pretty good. The bright light that is Axl Rose has in no way dimmed as a result of this release, it hasn't tarnished the moments of perfection that soundtracked my younger days and all-in-all it's a very impressive event.

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#BC

24th Nov 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Jaguar Love

Take Me To The Sea

Matador Records

Fans of disbanded Seattle bands Blood Brothers or Pretty Girls Make Graves , may be excited to know that certain members of each (Cody Votolato and Johnny Whitney from BB. Jay Clark from PGMG) have joined forces, relocated to Portland, formed Jaguar Love, signed to Matador records and now released their debut album "Take Me To The Sea". Those same fans might also like to know, that while the complex and creative intesity that marked previous incarnations remains in place, the hardcore brashness has been smoothed down into something altogether more melodic. Not too melodic mind, as they have already snagged a support slot for leading rockers Queens Of The Stone Age in the States. Those fans need fear not either, Johnny Whitney's unique vocals are certainly present, correct and unique as ever.

And here's the crux of the matter; personally I've never engaged with either of those two former bands - so I'm taking no emotional currency with me into "Take Me To The Sea". The tunes are indeed complex, interesting, well put together, energetic and all the rest of it - but there is no escaping those vocals. Some of the more favourable critical comparisons out there include "pure Bolan-esque glam" or "Robert Plant on Steroids". Some of the less favourable "...like Perry Farrell after a sex change" or this gem..."..like a child being tortured". I'm in the latter camp - and while the music maybe "At The Drive-In', the vocals are definately more "Alvin The Chipmunks", which unfortunately makes the album pretty much unlistenable.

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#chimpovich

9th Sep 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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XX Teens

Welcome To Goon Island

Mute

Add one more X to this band and you've got a world of Google strife, but without it you've got a five piece London band who spew out endlessly pleasing, driving art-rock (what the fuck does art-rock even mean?) very much in the vein of bands like The Fall. Formerly known as Xerox Teens, this band have recently signed to Mute for their debut - Welcome To Goon Island. It's pretty much a DIY record which sweeps from genre to genre throughout but always manages to maintain the frantic pace. Front man Rich Cash yelps and screams like a twisted David Byrne but can slow it down to a deep spoken word delivery reminiscent of Damon Albarn. Rolling basslines lay down the cover fire as raging drums and driving guitars leap forward dragging with them all sorts of things that make a musical noise. The result is a impenetrable broth of sound that treads fearlessly on the right side of anarchy and the wrong side of politeness.

An idyllic strumming harp heralds the coming of this debut, then in contrast to its gentle emergence comes the erratic beat and frenzied vocals for opener The Way We Were. This pace and enthusiasm is something you get used to on this record as song after song continues the full throttle drive of this group. B-54 employs the spoken word over 4/4 beats that are quickly layered by the rhythm guitar and crashing cymbals

The ultimate success of this debut is its wide sphere of influence and inability to fall neatly into classification. It squeals with raw punk sensibility but will lace the potion with structured and melodic horns like on Ba (Ba-Ba-Ba). Every composition threatens to come apart at the seams but holds tight to structural elements with driving rhythm and rising melody repeatedly acting as pillars around which the unruly kids play. It has the open-mindedness of a group at the start of their career as guitar is often traded in for saxophone or trumpet. Lead single Darlin' illustrates this perfectly as the brass fanfare announces. Then as the crashing din of every drum in the room storm the stage Cash's muffled and distorted vocals dart fleetingly in and out of audible range. To make things stranger and even more textured the relentless beat is curiously joined by delightfully melodic and thoroughly out of place Caribbean steel drums. With military percussion bringing things to a close Cash confuses us even more with the repeated lyric "the chinese are comin," just as the closing bars are dominated by an electrifying african bongo drum solo.

All these conflicting elements in less capable hands could be a disaster but under the guidance of this band it all works. The only thing that does seem a bit shoe-horned is Brian Haw's monologue that finishes the record. The song itself For Brian Haw is the bands final sonic attack but the lyrics rarely stray further from the title and as Haw's voice fades out with the sound of Parliament Square traffic it does seem like a political statement tacked on to the end of the record. XX Teens may be a part of a slightly over subscribed genre and though they wear their influences proudly if not obviously on their sleeves it doesn't detract from this impressive debut. They fail to live up to the creativeness of many of the bands they reference but their enthusiasm and energy bode well for the future.

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#BC

3rd Sep 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Jay Reatard

Singles 06-07

In The Red

As the title may suggest, this compilation covers a very short space of time for this energetic songwriter, but one listen and you'll see that Jay Reatard has produced more quality material in one year than many bands get to in a life time. Jay Lindsey has been around for a while fronting various bands, but most notably The Reatards, which was actually just him alternating between vocals, guitars and a beat played out on an up-turned bucket. His recent solo work consists of one album, 2006's Blood Visions and a whole host of singles and EP's that are now out of print. So In The Red Records offer us this 17 song run through that collects together all these rare loose ends and the result is a startlingly consistent sonic clenched fist that repeatedly pounds your face for 38 minutes.

Opening track Night Of Broken Glass will let you know exactly what to expect from this collection as it launches in to screams and machine gun punk rock like a slightly polished Beastie Boys a la Heart Attack Man. Another Person is slightly more melodic, incorporating swirling synthesizers around the rapid drums and Reatard's voice that assumes an almost 80's New Wave monotone. The refreshing thing about Jay Reatard is that he never tries to do anything else but punk rock, but that's not to say that this collection lacks variety. Every song sounds like Jay Reatard but to write this off as a punch-in-the-face punk hammering would be wrong. Songs like I Know A Place and Hammer I Miss You keep a healthy pace but allow more percussion and melodic vocals with the latter evolving into a blanket tone of rising group vocals that seem remarkably majestic. Don't Let Him Come Back rides on a Monkey's-like rhythm section and is quite pedestrian by Reatard's standards.

But then, by contrast, you get the twin assault running down the middle of the record beginning with It's So Useless. Sounding like a possessed Marc Bolan, Reatard creates a near perfect punk song with the chorus being shrieked in time to crashing cymbals gladly recalling my Sham 69 days. All Wasted is slightly less abrasive but manages to merge the New Wave monotone with So Useless' catchy chorus, this time ending with the repeated chant of "All zombies are wasted, all zombies are useless to me."

For all its might and pace this is well crafted and slightly over polished punk rock. I may have described it as a clenched fist but I wouldn't be surprised if the fist had well manicured nails, maybe with glam-polish and relatively soft skin. Reatard's voice is very melodic no matter how much he tries to hide it. You do start to cry out for more short, sharp bursts like It's So Easy or Blood Visions with their classic punk urgency and pogo capabilities. This collection is less Black Flag and more Pop Levi, but at the same time he gives you enough indication that if it came to it he'd kick Levi's ass in a punch up. But if this doesn't satisfy your Reatard cravings then look no further. Having recently found his home at Matador, we lucky people get another round up of Reatard with the imaginatively titled "Matador Singles '08" compilation hitting stores on October 6th. The two compilations should undoubtedly show this guy as an artist of unrivaled energy and enthusiasm who seems physically unable to stop spewing out quality rock at an alarming rate.

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#BC

25th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Roots

Rising Down

Def Jam

"Better dead bolt the door, it aint safe no more" raps Black Thought on this, the tenth LP from the Phily heavyweights, and he's clearly referring to the new world we now find our selves inhabiting but his words could easily be seen as a warning cry to all other crews because Rising Down will demolish the competition. It's a foreboding record that tells of a growing unrest in America but does it with intelligent vision that, instead of sounding preaching, gathers us all behind it and commences its march on the system. The Roots have tirelessly crafted intelligent hip hop but this record manages to steer clear of the overly serious work that crops up in this genre. Rising Down is serious as fuck but it seems necessary, sincere and dangerously capable of making a difference. In mainstream hip hop there seems to be a limited number of routes out of the mothership. There's the dick-swinging/thugged out route favored by the likes of Fiddy, the "I shop so much I can speak Italian" bling rhymes of Kanye or the well trodden and yet important route of the political, championed by Chuck and the boys. The Roots have never really made their choice, choosing to keep their options open, so Rising Down sees them take a step nearer their choice. With some expertly employed guest vocals from the likes of Mos Def, P.O.R.N., Talib Kweli and Common each song plays out like a cross section of deep civil unrest. But aside from the guests this and every Roots album is about Black Thought. His relentless delivery adds the weight to this sound and as he flows over ?uestlove's flawless percussion you really want to listen.

Mos Def is given the mighty honor to open this record and he does so with style over a deep drum beat that simmers to a guitar sample that Shadow just wishes he made. Black Thought backs him up with his signature intensity "Everything's for sale, even souls, someone get God on the phone," sounds the chorus before Styles P flows off the back of Black Thoughts vocals perfectly. As an opener this song establishes the tone quickly. The guest vocals provide a varied platform for its darkly twilight drizzle and it has to be a strong contender for the best song this group has made. Get Busy storms in with raw drum beats and Black Thought's angry growls stabbing from the depths while 75 Bars (Black's Reconstruction) sees his lightning tongue rattle off lyrics like a gatling gun. Besides the intro these first three full songs come as a set and lead you deep into the heart of the record before you have time to worry if it's any good or not. They're the united front and they're impenetrably solid.

The two elements that make this record shine is its use of guest rappers and The Roots penchant for live instrumentation. Hip hop's been around for a while and you'd think by now that any keen follower would have heard his fair share of dope beats but with every release - and particularly this one - The Roots manage to craft such well rounded head-nodding perfection. I Will Not Apologize unites both these strengths and sees P.O.R.N. and Dice Raw rhyme over the sickest, most sleezy beat that bumps lightly around their perfectly crafted flows. It's like a mission statement read out on a relentless protest march with the guest's awkward style of flow complementing brilliantly that of Black Thought's. Criminal and Singing Man take a smoother approach but the effect is the same, accompanied by a more melodic structure they turn down the heat but continue to pile on layer after layer of simmering anger most frighteningly seen on Singing Man where Truck North assumes the role of a suicide bomber.

With the help of Wale and Chrisette Michele the penultimate track Rising Up seems to be the after party for those who stayed behind after the protest. It's a clever antidote to opener Rising Down and features such rhyme nuggets as Wale's "good rappers aint eatin', they Olsen twinnin'." Had it finished the album Rising Up would leave the listener with a profound sense of optimism for the future and the possibility of change. As it happens the upbeat Birthday Girl closes things and serves as the only misplaced step on this otherwise flawless record. The political route has often been on their map but The Roots have never strived to be Public Enemy often leaning heavily on a more soul-infused sound that provides their records with a rich variety of intensity and light relief. Rising Down opts for this variety a lot less than its predecessors and so the inclusion of the jaunty sing-along closer really dilutes their message here, thinning out the album. But like a fine wine this album, though tapering out at the edges, provides serious body throughout.

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12th May 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Tapes 'n' Tapes

Walk It Off

XL Recordings

Like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the success story of Tapes 'N Tapes was born amidst the constant hum of the blogosphere. Their 2006 debut The Loon came out to rapturous praise with its infectious pop hooks and set up quite some expectation for their next move. CYHSY's answer to this expectation was with two fingers as they delivered Some Loud Thunder, a difficult and curious followup that stubbornly refused to accommodate the strengths that may have arisen from their debut. By hiring the producer of Some Loud Thunder, Dave Fridmann, TnT seem to be only too aware of these comparisons and though the result is not the same they too have delivered a curious sophomore effort.

From the outset it's clear this Minneapolis 4 piece intend to raise the stakes as Le Ruse screeches in to view and Josh Grier's vocals ride a wave of crashing cymbals and calamitous riffs. The increased might in the music and venom in the vocal delivery is an instant plus point but all this is shrouded in a curious muffled production that you instantly start to doubt your equipment. The opening track on Some Loud Thunder had me perplexed in the same way to the point where I now find it unlistenable. Headshock shows the same underproduction with the bass line that thunders at the chorus threatening to obliterate any recognition that might have come with the melody. Blunt does the same thing as it builds to a deafening concoction of drums and driving guitars and as you strain to hear the rumbling bass line your patience starts to fray.

Though this lo-fi quality lurks in pretty much every corner of this record the more melodic numbers manage to escape its blight. The slow-to-build Time Of Songs chimes with a wonderful clarity with Grier's melancholic mumble "I'll pull you from the bottom and i'll leave you on the floor." Say Back Something is a welcome break with it's down-tempo strums while Lines shuffles along at an uncharacteristically lazy pace until the military rhythm and taught guitars start to build to Grier's repeated vocal, "Over lines." This song sees an intelligent structure that is sometimes lacking in other songs like the slightly limp wristed Anvil.

But pretentious production aside, two of the strongest tracks on the record come in the form of Hang Then All and the album closer The Dirty Dirty. Hang Them All shows this bands ability to deliver a hook. It's a tense whirlwind of a song full of swirling organ and clipped, punchy guitars. As is often the case in this record Grier's tight lipped vocals build things to a head with the rousing, repeated chorus bringing the song to a rapturous close. Walk It Off is an exciting run and no matter how trying the going is you'll be glad you stuck it out when you get to The Dirty Dirty. It's the longest song on the album and it takes this band into new territory. Rumbling guitars and relentless drums give it a steady, driving pace which never lets up. Grier's vocals are deadpan and refuse to rise above the tone set by the rhythm. The song actually goes nowhere and continues at this formation until eventually fading out making it a questionable choice for the final track, but as questions were heavily on the agenda from the start here it seems a fitting way to finish.

The introduction of pillar after pillar of load-bearing riffs makes this follow-up a brave step forward. It's not breaking down any new musical frontiers but expands on the strengths of their debut nicely ...but just as I start to get excited about it the question of production undoes it's trousers and urinates on my fire. Bands like The Wedding Present recorded some of their best works with obvious production deficiencies but now that technology has improved their sound has benefitted enormously. As with CYHSY, this band have everything at their fingertips and with such credits as Mogwai and Mercury Rev to his name, Dave Fridmann is a master of his craft - so the insistence on this lo-fi style smacks of pretension and ultimately drags this otherwise promising and gutsy record down.

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7th May 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Why?

Alopecia

Anticon

Returning from the recent staff snowboard trip I stopped off at San Francisco's Amoeba Records and picked up my copy of Why?'s Alopecia. It seemed a fitting place to purchase this Bay Area artist and so with that and a few other missing pieces to the Anticon puzzle I embarked on the 10 hour return journey to London. Maybe it was the severe lack of sleep, or the numerous injuries that plagued my aged body - but on returning home I was all set to hit the Chimp office with a rather disappointing review of this record. After the few disjointed play-throughs on the plane, this follow up to 2005's delightful Elephant Eyelash lacked it's predecessors energy and edge. It seemed to be a pale and overproduced shadow of the work achieved by Yoni Wolf in the past.

So having started this relationship on the sunny Californian shores it took a prolonged 2 hour traffic jam on a rainy Thursday night on the A3 for the love affair to begin. Anticipating a half-hour journey, this was the only CD on my person and after about 4 back-to-back plays this record stared me square in the face with astonishing honesty and made me ashamed of the thoughts I had formed in my pitiful mind. Yoni Wolf's transformation from lo-fi, underground hip-hop to melodic indie-pop seemed to be near completion on the recent Hollows EP and I guess my initial disappointment was wrapped up in that fact. I have always been in favor of this transformation as throughout Wolf's work with either cLOUDDEAD or Reaching Quiet his gift for a melody was always there but under used and during the first half of Alopecia it is heavily exploited.

Alopecia is made up of two halves and most of the deal makers occur in the latter part of the record. From the outset it's obvious that the production has never been slicker. Wolf has always been the figurehead of a lo-fi, homemade sound but things have changed. The Vowels Pt. 2 kicks off proceedings with short, plodding steps and it's clear this hike in production quality is being put to good use. This shiny, crystal clear melody loosely glosses over the dark themes that run through this record. Sex and death is pretty much it, making Alopecia far more twisted than its predecessor. Lines like "faking suicide for applause in the food court of malls" are the norm here not to mention, "sucking dick for drink tickets and the free bar of my cousins Bar Mitzvah." Death usually relates to Yoni's own demise and is always delivered in rosy, tongue-in-cheek candy wrappers. Fatalist Palmistry begins "I sleep on my back cos it's good for the spine and coffin rehearsal.

Wolf's vocal range is what makes his work so listenable. He can go from the low, shuffling rap of Good Friday to the nasal melody of These New Presidents and his writing is so surreal, bustling with imagery and so meticulously pronounced that your ear is forced to attempt to decipher each verse but rarely succeeds . On the unnerving Simeon's Dilemma Wolf assumes the role of a stalker and describes his obsession with a certain female by way of high pitched singing tones which makes the content even more cringeworhty.

As heard on the recent EP, The Hollows carries the weight here with a rarely heard increase in volume by means of grinding guitars and crescendo vocals. The Fall Of Mr. Fifths marks the turning point of the record. It's way more in line with Wolf's earlier Anticon work with rapid delivered spoken verse and surrounded by textural atmosphere. A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under continues the spoken verse with rain-drop-like keyboards trickling down around it, it's a simple and all too short piece of work but emerges as one of the finest moments on the record. The other comes in the form of By Torpedo Or Crohn's. This was the other stand out track on the EP with a remix by Dntel, but this version is slower and allows much needed room to truly appreciate Wolf's art.

It's an art that is second to none and the distance this band have come is astonishing. Though darker in tone Alopecia is a definite progression from the airy Elephant Eyelash. Its another step to the honing of their direction and it's quite rare to see a band with direction these days. Wolf crams so many ideas into every breath of this record that it will take a lifetime to uncover it all. The shame I feel at my early judgement now serves as a reminder of the depth and complexity of this album, to not like it is to not get it i'm afraid.

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11th Apr 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Throw Me The Statue

Moonbeams

Secretly Canadian

Stacked at my bedside is a pile of books patiently waiting to be read. The tower shoots up at Christmas and crumbles as the year proceeds. Some I haven’t got round to yet, some I don’t much fancy and a select few will be saved for the summer holidays; page turners of the light and breezy variety who will hopefully be perfect for whiling away spare hours in the sun. Moonbeams by Secret Canadian debutants Throw Me The Statue is the musical equivalent of the holiday read. The first time these particular moonbeams shone down on me was whilst waiting for bus in February’s pre-dawn drizzle prompting an immediate judgement that I can’t stand this. Not now at least. Haiwian guitars and blasts of sunshine blown throw jaunty horns are not meant for winter morns but could be the perfect soundtrack to endless summer evenings. Throw Me The Statue could be worth waiting for though.

If the best way to judge a man is by the company he keeps then Throw me the Statue’s frontman, Scott Reitherman, must be assessed as one who is a savvy delegator with an ear for a talent. Reitherman provides a strong foundation of melodic tunes and wryly observational lyrics but it is his collaborators who lift this group from being forgetful to forget-me-nots. Happiest Man On The Plane suggests that left to his own devices Reitherman might prove to be little more than a poor man’s Willy Mason. If he rejected the ‘man with guitar’ route then This is How We Kiss hints that maybe he would be best pleased peddling Nu-Metal lite. Luckily this is the only song retrieved from Blink 182’s reject bin.

If Reitherman has drawn the outline then it is the rest of Throw Me The Statue who have added the splashes of colour. This is an album packed with beats, synths and horns which could have graced the Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot, Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump or the Super Furry’s Guerrilla. When they lighten up and let the good times roll Moonbeams illuminate the spot. Stupid Stone is the muffled sound of festival stages and tents over yonder, Old Believer should best be heard through the sun roof on a bank holiday drive to the coast and if Lolita doesn’t elevate your summer shin-dig from a civilised afternoon barbie to a swinging all nighter then no song will. Let the sun shine in.

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12th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Cadence Weapon

Afterparty Babies

Big Dada

Recently I was having Quite an animated conversation with a Quality journalist friend of mine who writes for a Quintessential music magasine, the name of which I shall not Quote. When I asked him what he was listening to at the moment he sighed and told me of his disillusionment with the current music scene and said he only listens to old stuff now. His point was that no one makes complete albums anymore, they just make collections of singles. "Quite the opposite" I replied but then struggled to think of any examples to back me up. Well now I have one and if you're reading my friend, you may Quote me on that.

"My Dad said I was an afterparty baby; this goes out to all the accidents out there; keep on making mistakes." And so goes the dedication featured on Do I Miss My Friends, the opening track on this followup to Cadence Weapon's critically acclaimed debut Breaking Kayfabe. " I wanted to make music that afterparty babies were created to," explains Cadence Weapon aka Rollie Pemberton. Acting as a testament to Rollie's first influence, his father, Teddy Pemberton, creator of the Black Sound Experience Radio show and introducer of hip-hop to Rollie's hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Afterparty Babies is a hectic journey through the world of club nights and house parties. This theme is explored through stories of friends, crews, nightmare DJ nights, hometowns, heroes, media and fashion.

Musically this is quite different from its predecessor. Where Breaking Kayfabe led with swirling, back-breaking electronic hip hop this one opts for a more electro/techno pace that serves to remove this artist from the hip hop roots that he may have once planted. Having seen him slot in a Joy Division cover at his London warm-up show last year, it's no surprise this album has moved on considerably from the debut and is the product of an artist open to a healthy array of musical influences. Pemberton presents an interesting juxtaposition between this thoughtful 'Wonder Years' style reminiscing and the harsh electro sound clash that carries it.

In my review of Breaking Kayfabe I was compelled to compare Cadence Weapon to a rampaging Terminator hell bent on destruction. It was a tenuous link I admit and made partly out of boredom of review-writing and also because 30 Seconds had a chorus that sounded a bit like The Terminator chase music. So I can't help feeling a sense of irony when mid-way through Afterparty Babies the song Messages Matter features a sample from Kindergarten Cop. " Who is your Daddy and what does he do?" comes the line and with it some interesting questions. Is Afterparty Babies the Kindergarten Cop to Breaking Kayfabe's Terminator? Are we seeing the human side of the cyborg? In a sense yes. It's not as hard hitting or relentless as the debut, it definitely has a lighter feel to it, it's more enjoyable and while you're jumping along to the uncharacteristically housey beats you know he's undercover and at the start of the movie you saw him kick someone's ass.

This may differ from the debut in all the ways mentioned earlier, it may be more melodic, spacious and palatable but let it run its course and you'll see it's just as tough as Breaking Kayfabe. It plays out like a night out clubbing but in reverse. It starts off strangely downtempo with Do I Miss My Friends? and by the end it's full on techno. There's no wind down, no gentle walk home with a kebab, it leaves you at top tempo to find your own way out. At the live show songs like In Search Of The Youth Crew and Real Estate were instant crowd pleasers and they don't disappoint here but instead become repetitive anthemic chants to Pemberton's Afterparty generation. True Story and Getting Dumb are electro master-classes, chucking in vintage house techniques with cuts and scratches and all topped by the most intricately crafted rhymes. It's certainly an album of 2 halves with the final few tracks providing the weight to this extraordinary record. Pemberton exited the stage at the Amersham Arms to House Music. It had the crowd jumping like a bunch of idiots and it has the same effect here. It's a dirty, crazy five and a half minutes. It swirls and bleeps to clapping beats and air-raid style sirens and it rules. By the time we get to the album closer We Move Away the techno conversion is complete. The club is in full swing and after a while the music even overtakes the creator and rises to a life of its own ending the album in almost 2 minutes of banging beats and grinding synths that threaten to go on until first light.

This has the feel of an album released by a well established hip-hop name that suddenly breaks from tradition and goes out on a limb, thus alienating hardened fans. It's exciting to see an artist do this so early and I can't imagine Cadence Weapon ever settling into a style. With this album he joins the ranks of MC's like Aesop Rock and Buck 65 as creators of their own style of hip-hop, constantly evolving and gathering up every influence and experience in their path. I am already eager to hear what this guy's got up his sleeve next and I bet I can find a Schwarzenegger link in it somewhere.

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10th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Diableros

The Diableros Aren't Ready For The Country

The Diableros' first album You Can't Break The Strings On Our Olympic Hearts was made on a shoe string but was a musical rags to riches tale. It stood proud as one of the best albums of 2006 and 2 years on it still holds its place. Since its release the Toronto band have seen their success spread way beyond their Canadian borders but still remain a well kept secret over here. But some secrets are best unkept and their follow up, though not a massive progression only goes to confound this fact. If you got on at the ground floor with these guys you'll find the second floor has much the same decor but is more spacious.

Taken it's title from Neil Young's Ready For The Country, this record sticks to the script set by its predecessor. It's the slightly more grown-up older brother, more far reaching yet more mature, it's bigger and slightly more controlled but also lacks some of the spirited, wet-behind-the-ears passion of the earlier record. But when you set the bar as high as they did from the get-go then this is to be expected.

Some familiar elements remain firmly in place for this second installment but are refreshed with a more varied pallet of tempo, intensity and emotion. The wall-of-sound barrage that dominated the first album and drew comparisons to hey-day Wedding Present is still standing tall here but is often punctuated with rhythmic guitars like on Nothing Down In Hogtown. They also show a more melodic and sometimes easy-going side on songs like Any Other Time with its pedestrian tempo and understated instrumentation which provides more space around Pete Carmichael's strained vocals. But even when this does occur the melody is always supported in part by the frenzied guitars that come so rapidly that they end up merging into one all engrossing wash of sound. The talent of this band rests on their ability to control this sound and they rarely get it wrong. A misuse of this wall-of-sound technique would make every song blend into one but they are well aware of the power they hold in their hands and never abuse it. It can start off subtle like a gentle buzz then ever so gradually swell like a rising wave and before you know what's hit you it looms overhead, it's shadow swallowing up everything underneath including Carmichael's often distorted vocals.

The rising intensity of songs like Ever-Changing and No One Wants To Drive with its soaring guitars and tales of kids getting high are cut from the same cloth as earlier favorites like Golden Gates and the spectacular Push It To Monday and remind me what lit my fire about this band in the first place. These songs are created with urgency and grit but don't fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously. This album all the reasons the first record was so great but also suffers as a result of this similarity. It doesn't reach the same lofty heights but stays on the lower ground and covers more of it. It shows The Diableros as a more well rounded band that thankfully are no one hit wonder. There's nothing more embarrassing than backing a band early on only to see them crash at the second hurdle. So thanks boys, I still have my job.

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8th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Harrisons

No Fighting In The War Room

Melodic

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.

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7th Jan 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Miracle Fortress

Cargo, London

December 5th 2007

Following the release of their superb debut album, Miracle Fortress were over in Europe for a brief mini-tour, with this support slot for Black Mountain being one of two London shows. It's not often a support band becomes unmissable and Miracle Fortress did not disappoint.

A brief delay in sound checking was worth the wait, as the bombastic sound of Five Roses was energetically recaptured in their live show. Although the album is essentially the work of one man, the live band is a fully fledged unit with plenty of power. Whirrs, Maybe Lately, Little Trees, Fortune - all sounding like organic, melodic, hypnotic cacophonies. The only problem with much of this whirling wall of sound approach is that it's often not that entertaining to watch on stage, as without a strong stage formation and with the disadvantage lot of instrument changing there tends to be a lack of focus.

Once underway however, they seemed unstoppable - taking in a John Cale cover and a new track in addition to a good chunk of material from Five Roses. A great album, from another great Canadian band.

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6th Dec 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Celebration

The Modern Tribe

4AD

I had a quick listen to this in the car with Chimpovichs’ brother – who has been accurately dubbed a musical Mr Miyagi. (Coincidentally, our journey home was from a football match where he’d scored a crane-kick goal that Daniel LaRusso would have been proud of). However, much like watching all four Karate Kid films back-to-back we were glad when it was over.
 
Now, the original review ended here, but conscious that while the might of Miyagi-san's wisdom is rarely wrong, the car stereo may not have given it a fair run for its money. I can’t remember if the bass was on / was off – and as such I gave it another couple of listens. (You’ll be pleased to know I think I’ve run out of lame, unrelated, out of place, Karate based links).
 
So - The first thing to say on the second album from this Baltimore three piece Celebration is that it is actually pretty good. The melodic, beat driven art rock (?) tunes here have a kaleidoscope of layers while the stirring vocals of Katrina Ford lend a hot blooded rousing jolt. She’s got a set of lungs on her, oh yes, but she can also do soft and tender too..
 
The chief creative mind in the band pulses in the head of Sean Antanaitis. According to Wikipedia he plays Guitar, Guitorgan, Organ, Wurlitzer, Piano, Moog Pedal Bass, and Electronics and, according to the photos on their website, all at the same time. David Bergander - who ONLY plays the drums - maintains a steady and inventive beat throughout and he creates the setting for many a deep groove.
 
Now. Let’s say you got annoyed by the inability of this review to enlighten you as to the ‘sound’ of this band. Then, in a red rage, you break all the rules governing self-defence and launch an attack on me, force me in a choke-hold to encourage me to namecheck bands that have influenced this sound. What would I cough up? How about: the Cocteau Twins, Moloko, a hint of the intensity of Arcade Fire and, if I had any breath left in my oxygen starved lungs, a touch of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
 
Judging by what I’ve read, I think this lot may well enhance their reputation with their energetic and engaging live shows. According to their web-site, your woman, Katrina, “wishes a violent death upon the era of glum audience members motionlessly watching glum bands with glum arms crossed” and dances around in the crowd as they get everyone going.

This whole experience has taught me that the secret of Karate is in the heart and mind. Not in the hands.

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3rd Oct 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Animal Collective

Strawberry Jam

Domino

Listening to Animal Collective records is akin to listening to the sounds inside the brain of a child genius who’s hopped up on a cocktail of Ritalin and Prozac and suffering all the known side effects of hyperactive paranoid neurosis. In a good way.

Weaved waves of hypnotic beats are mixed with samples and guitar loops to produce a sometimes awkward, but always interesting experimental sound. All this complimented by the brilliantly bonkers vocals of Avery Tare (supported by some beach boys-like harmonies). One moment singing melodically, then howling like a mad banshee - the innocence, intensity and soreness in the voice, while sounding like nothing else I’ve heard, fits the feel of the songs perfectly.

Listening to Animal Collective can sometimes be a bit challenging. The album opens with some awkward beats and crackles and beeps, but don’t be put off as everything comes together to produce a right rollicking song about monsters – Peacebone.  The stand out tracks on Strawberry Jam are Reverend Green and Fireworks. The former, it’s speculated, is about the things you see living in NYC and contains, I think, one of the best/funniest lines on the album: “Bulimic vegetarian wins weight contest”. The latter, I’m certain, is my current favourite song.

New York based Animal Collective - made up of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist - all do their own stuff and all seem pretty prolific and I think this is their 8th long player together. (Panda Bear released a brilliant solo album earlier this year – Person Pitch – which is well worth a listen). Pound for pound, I’m not yet sure if Strawberry Jam is as good as their 2005 album Feels, but this is still a contender for album of the year if you ask me.

Listening to it I have to wonder how the bejesus they come up with such abstract ideas for their tunes. However, if they’re gonna keep on serving up delicious treats such as Strawberry Jam then I hope they keep taking the tablets.

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10th Sep 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Aesop Rock

None Shall Pass

Def Jux

It's not often that I can start a review of a record by an underground hip hop artist and thank one of the biggest corporate giants of our time for providing us with the only taste of this guy since 2003 - but if it wasn't for Nike commissioning Aesop Rock for its inspired series of jogging tracks our hungry ears would have had very little to feast upon since the triumphant Bazooka Tooth. And Nike's interest is the result of a steady rise in the shares of this Long Island born MC/producer since his first album for Def Jux Labor Days, what some regard as his finest stroke. So None Shall Pass, his fifth proper full length has been long in the making and much anticipated by any hip hop head with a brain.

Aesop Rock is a rare commodity indeed these days, an artist who is truly pushing the envelope and who, if you're into him, has never put a foot wrong and is pretty much guaranteed not to. Some criticised the Nike piece, but for the purpose it was made to serve it did the job and though it was stripped of the free flowing lyrics I can imagine it would be good to jog to if I could ever get out of this chair. So with None Shall Pass we get our guy back where we want him and with production duties shared between Aesop himself, Blockhead and El-P the result is little short of dazzling.

Things have changed since his last record and though this is still unmistakably Def Jux much of the production has been simplified and the claustrophobic machine-beats are played down in favor of more linear, live sounding instrumentation. This leaves space for Aesop's fables, and though this has always been his strength they seem to rise to the top here and it's damn near impossible to keep up. There's no dick-swinging bravado with this guy, just complex stories bursting with mind boggling imagery and all told with lyrical dexterity that defies belief.

With the title track Aesop provides us with one of the easiest entry points to his sound in a long time (Nike discounted) It's built around a pretty straightforward beat and melodic loop and with Aesop's lyrics it rolls along relentlessly. As is often the case your ears try desperately to keep up with this lyrical pace as juicy nuggets of the English language are dropped teasingly close to our understanding but as soon as we've stopped to gather them up Aesop's way ahead. I mean when the opening lyric is "Flash that buttery gold, jittery zeitgeist wither by the watering hole, what a patrol, what are we to heart huckabee art fuckery suddenly?" How are we expected not to feast on this. Unlike militant label mates El-P or Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock often appears to take a different route but on closer inspection lyrics like "sign of the swine in the swarm when a king is a whore who comply and conform, miles outside of the eye of the storm" he shows a clear opinion of the current state of our world.

Bring Back Pluto encompasses this albums best assets. It has a plodding and delicate bongo beat that is still bass heavy enough to comfortably float the words to the surface. As does the awesome Fumes. The pace here is recreational compared to this guys previous work but as always vast swathes of texture are lurking in the background and at the half way point these textures cleverly manage to flip the beat around to a momentary quickening of speed without you even noticing.

But as much as I enjoy and appreciate this sunday stroll pace it sure is good to get moments like Citronella where the Jux machine starts grinding out stomping, gut-wrenching bass and wooly, static-frothed beats. This is brought to a climax on Gun For The Whole Family. Any album on this label wouldn't be complete without the whole Jux family getting involved and with previous songs featuring the familiar sounds of Cage and Mr. Lif it's here that label boss El-P weighs in and interestingly it's the erratic apocalyptic beat that suits El-P's frenzied style more than Aesop Rock's and it's really the bosses moment and not Aesop's.

The last track Coffee is a real departure for Aesop Rock. The beat is backed by distant vocal harmonies but then as if out of nowhere we get singing, yes, singing, and it's not just any singing, it's John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats. It would be hard to predict such a partnership but since moving to San Francisco these two artists have been collaborating and this is the first glimpse of the fruits - and it's fantastic. It also shows the kind of creative mind we are dealing with here. None Shall Pass is a hip hop record and never claims to be otherwise. It's full of deep beats, cuts and scratches and everything you'd want from a hip hop record but oh so much more. If you can decipher it you'll see a whole host of source points that go way beyond this genre. It's like reading a Kerouac novel at double speed, actually it's like reading a vast collection of short stories with no punctuation. It's a turbulent sea of words that stretches on for miles and you know that if you dive in you'll get embroiled in a whole torrent of forked-tongued, whiplash trouble but you do it all the same. After all these opportunities don't come around all that often so you'd be a fool not to.

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28th Aug 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Taken by Trees

Open Field

Rough Trade

After serving for 11 years as the voice of Swedish indie popsters The Concretes - as well as contributing unmistakable vocals to last years Young Folks single from Peter, Bjorn & John - Victoria Bergsman decided to leave The Concretes behind to go solo, taking her love of trees to conjure up the name Taken By Trees.

The acoustic guitar and single drum of Tell Me set the pace for the album, which is minimal melodic pop. Like a Scandinavian Camera Obscura, or a regular Stina Nordenstam, the album is built almost entirely around Victoria's attractive voice. There's not much suggestion of depth to the lyrics, just breezy pop that ambles along without causing any offense. Songs are often story-telling tales in the third person, with some minimal instrumental tracks making nice use of pipes and atmospheric effects. Lost And Found sounds like an ideal choice for a single, with the lovesick delivery sounding more than a little like fellow Swedes The Cardigans.

It's all pleasant enough, but lacking the heart or emotion to make it powerful. It ends up as nothing more than pleasant pop that provides nothing new, and you may feel like you have heard it all before.

The back up vocals of Hours Pass Like Centurys beef things up a bit, and the effects and xylophone of Ceder Trees starts to offer something a little different, but it's not really enough and is definitely a case of too little too late. It's all at the same level and is very conventionally structured, with verse / chorus / verse all the way through - but that's pop I guess. It's all pretty much reliant on you falling for her sexy voice and if you just go with the flow that might well be enough.

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24th Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Victor Bermon

Arriving At Night

Hefty

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

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25th Mar 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Longcut

You Got The Love / Idiot Check

Melodic

Chimpomatic favourites The Longcut are back with a limited edition Double A 7" on the fantastic Melodic label out of Manchester. A bonus track from the recording sessions for A Call And Response, Idiot Check is a toughened up version of their sound, using their trademark pounding rhythms and minimal vocals to great effect.

You Got The Love is exactly what you might be suspecting - a cover of the club classic. Hearing any band cover a classic like this always has interesting results, and this is no exception. It's beefed up and raw, with the Longcut's signature style seeping through.

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19th Mar 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Earlies

Scala, London

If it were possible to capture the screech of the last tube train on a Saturday night grinding along the rails and then morph it into an urgent melody you’d probably end up with a sound similar to Maps - support act for The Earlies’ Scala show. You’d probably be mighty glad you caught that musical tube too revelling in the cacophony rather than bemoaning Mayor Ken’s extortionate price hikes.  All of which acts as a rather neat introduction to The Earlies.
 
Anyone familiar with the ‘sardines in a can’ closeness of commuter’s bodies on a rush hour Victoria line train will have recognised the tight squeeze of fitting 11 members of this Anglo-US ‘prog-rock-folk-psych’ combo and their various musical instruments on the small Scala stage.  But rather than whinging about having someone’s arm pit in your face, ruing the look you know your boss will give you for being late or imploring the girl listening to James Blunt too loudly to turn it down this journey is nothing but a pleasure.
 
The stage might be small but the sounds, and the Earlies’ ambitions, are big. This lot don’t do things by halves. Why have one drummer, flutist or melodica player when you can have two? Where other acts might drown each other out or trample on each other’s toes the Earlies just egg each other on to better things. They’re like kids daring each other to jump from an ever-higher branch of a tree.  And all this is delivered with such child–like earthy warmth; introducing No Love they announce ‘this song is about love and shit’. No need to apologise for the ‘shit’ when love is expressed as sweetly as this!
 
The sound, and indeed image, of The Earlies is of an overgrown school orchestra. The music teacher has nipped out into the corridor to sort out a fight and so left to their own devices the kids rock out to the sounds that please them most. Think of the opening to The Simpsons – the part where Lisa stuns the rest of the orchestra to silence by veering off into a freeform Sax solo. The Earlies are only the orchestra that Lisa deserved. They would have had the gumption to stick with her, providing the accompaniment to whatever musical imaginations she might have conjured.  Singing ‘it’s alright to let yourself down tonight’ your reviewer was tempted to reach out to tap the ‘fists aloft’ guitar player on the shoulder and say ‘don’t worry mate, you’ve no let anyone down tonight’.  Check em out, you won’t be disappointed.  

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7th Mar 2007 - 6 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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L. Pierre

Dip

In 2002 Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat made one of the most beautiful electronica albums I have ever had the joy of hearing. Hypnogogia laid down thick, all consuming washes of sublime classical samples while slowly fading in the most delicate of beats. The contrast of the warm, earthy strings and these cold, electronic constructions was just perfect and gave the listener exactly what his ear and heart wanted to hear. 2004's follow up Touchpool employed similar tactics, the strings became more earthy and the beats moved more towards the foreground. The beauty was still there but somehow failed to seduce the same way it's predecessor did. It was almost as if the perfection of Hypnogogia didn't need to be improved or even followed. I wanted it to exist alone and this follow up, great as it was, was treading on hallowed ground.

So next year we are to be treated to the next installment. L. Pierre is not so much of a side project now - following the surprise split of Arab Strap - and "Dip" sees Moffat move his sound into new territory. "My favorite L. Pierre tracks have always been the quiet ones so I wanted to pursue that mood and record something gentle and lovely," he says. "I also took a shine to field recording and bought myself a little Minidisc recorder, which I took on holiday to record some natural ambience." "Dip" is a stripped down revision of the previous sound. It's as if Moffat has looked long and hard at his work and meticulously identified which elements are working and which to discard. The looped, sampled percussion has all but disappeared and the musical orchestrations that remain have a more organic, live sound. Nature plays a big part in this album. The sound of crashing waves introduces and concludes the record suggesting the infinite cycle of life and greatly contrasting the clinical electronica that went before.

If Touchpool gave us too much of what we want, Dip does the opposite. The epic second track Weir's Way spends the first eight minutes on the most sublime orchestral wave then just as you think it's all coming to a close he hits us with the kind soft, synth beat that dazzled us before. The result is huge. He withholds this from us for so long that when he finally decides we are ready for it it's power is awesome. Except for the erratic drum beats of Hike this is all we get. The rest is majestic yet humble arrangements of cello, trumpets and keyboards and not a beat in sight.

Dip is the sound of Man becoming Nature, city becoming country, land becoming ocean. It is the unequivocal sound of an artist stripping away the real from the unreal, the true from the fake, and though I am left in a frustrating state of dissatisfaction something in me understands why this was necessary.

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15th Dec 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Song Of The Day: Volume III

I try and keep my Song of the Day compilations running in a genuine order - so I can play them in the office for years to come, without a surprise Black Sabbath heavy bootleg popping up after an acoustic Stina Nordestam ditty. That said, I also try and keep it genuine to what I really had a hankering for that morning.

For the last few days I've had one song on my mind, and strangely it fits the bill.

Better is included on the bootleg Whenever It's Done and is allegedly off Guns and Roses' ever-delayed album Chinese Democracy. I can't describe how sceptical I was that Axl could ever stage a come-back, but now I'm not so sure. It's classic G'n'R, heavy but melodic. It's got some modern touches, and doesn't sound dated - but it presses all the right nostalgic buttons too. Love it.


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Song Of The Day: Volume III

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12th Nov 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

Working For A Nuclear Free City

Working For A Nuclear Free City

Melodic

This is a promising debut from the Manchester quartet and it benefits greatly from its release on the always-worth-a-listen Melodic record label. Known better for complex glitch-pop electronica like that of Minotaur Shock or Lucky Pierre, Melodic have tirelessly strived to give us innovative and engaging music. Their artists have always been eclectic and so it's no surprise that a guitar band such as Working For A Nuclear Free City should attract their attention. The spirit of The Stone Roses lives on in these guys, but their use of electronics sets them apart from the 90's Manchester scene fusing The Longcut, Primal Scream and Ian Brown with a sound all their own.

The scene is set beautifully with the opening celestial grandeur of 'The 224th Day', which builds you up gloriously only to drop you suddenly into the dirty beats of 'Troubled Son'. The earth shaking bassline mixes ominously with the murky vocals that make this record so interesting. It is described as techno music played on guitars and from this opening display that description seems pretty apt. 'Dead Fingers Talking' has enough arrogant swagger to have been penned by Ian Brown himself and firmly reawakens rocks danceable side.

The band started off as an instrumental trio and only recruited vocalist Ed Hulme 2 days before their first live gig. This is the key to the success of their music. They have created a wonderfully sophisticated blend of dark, beat driven rock, washed out indie bliss and programmed electronic instrumentals that really aim for the stars. It's a very well paced album and the use of minimal, orchestral down time brings added weight to the moments of might. Once you have them pegged as Manchester's new Roses as in the astral psychedelia of 'Over', they blast you with sonic noise until you retract that comparison. 'Innocence' is 'Fools Gold' meets David Axelrod and breaks into the most shamelessly funky bass twang heard since Starsky and Hutch, while 'Forever' chugs along effortlessly on a bass heavy beat that gradually fades into the cinematic soundscape of the closing track 'The Tree'.

Having started Stone Roses and finished Philip Glass you really question what the hell you just listened to. This band set up comparisons only to dash them with a sound so refreshingly open minded that it's almost impossible to predict the way forward for them. Describing their mission with this debut they claim "We want to create an alternative to the retrospective trend in music, to get the focus back on something innovative." So as Kasabian are busy claiming rights to the musical throne they'd do well to keep an eye on the rear view mirror for the challenger speeding up behind them, more than capable of steeling their self appointed and somewhat imaginary crown.

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31st Oct 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Yo La Tengo

I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

How do you describe Yo La Tengo's music? At times jazzy, tender, melodic, hypnotic instrumentals, and full out rock and roll songs. In their new album, they have returned to what they do best; toying with musical forms to create a messy, but melodic album. The album opens with an epic sprawling 11 minute track Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind.

Stylistically the album is all over the place and some might say incohesive - but don't let that put you off.

Ira shows his vast talents here, from crooning on Mr Tough or Sometimes I Don't Get You, to going full out rock and rolling Watch Out For Me Ronnie or The Room Got Heavy - with Georgia's delicious voice helping to soften the edges. They have so much heart in the centre of their songs, beautiful and delicate melodies that help to anchor what at times can veer into crazy directions.

I've given up trying to pin them down with a definition. Embrace them with both arms, you won't be disappointed. They are clearly not afraid of you... and you shouldn't be afraid of them.

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4th Oct 2006 - 3 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

The Letting Go

Something has happened to Billy, he's not so depressing anymore. During 'Lay and Love' he eulogises about a woman. 'From what I've seen, you're magnificent, you fight evil with all you do… From what I hear you're generous. You make sunshine and glory too. When you walk in things go luminous.' What's going on? What happened to the Billy that made me feel my life is so much better having heard how tough his life is? Is she the one he's in love with? But then why not? For someone with such poetic sensitivity, he's bound to find love.

I really could preach about Bonnie Prince Billy forever, how special and rare his talent is etc. I love the way he peppers biblical references in his previous albums. The thing about Bonnie Prince Billy is whenever I listen to his songs I get lulled into a false sense that I'm listening to something very pretty and sweet, only to be stunned he's actually singing about the very opposite of that - sometimes dirty sexual encounters, at others times kinky affairs. 'No Bad News' is a fine example of this, a very melodic song about someone bearing bad news – by far the best song here, and the most accessible. His melodies don't always immediately hit you, they take time. But once they do you really do feel like you've worked for it – and you feel an ownership to it. "The Letting Go" in some ways has lost that edge, as it is more accessible, but that edge has been replaced giving us a fuller, meatier album. This is a fantastic album with beautifully crafted songs.

'The Letting Go' has a female vocal to complement Will Oldham's coarse voice - vocal harmony of the highest order. At times these songs feel like duets. There are drum beats too – we're talking electronic beats - but having said all this we're still talking about Bonnie Prince Billy and even when he attempts more accessible songs they still have something no singer can get near. His lyrics are like little Raymond Carveresque stories, full of poignancy and wonderment.

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25th Aug 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Show Your Bones

Wichita

This wasn’t an album I was anticipating with baited breath, but it has slowly made its way to the top of my recent purchases pile.

Show Your Bones
is the follow up to 2003’s critically acclaimed debut Fever To Tell which never seems to impress me as much as it does everyone else. It's a bit like the album equivalent of Reservoir Dogs. While I consider it a fantastic piece of art and have the utmost respect for it, it’s not something I am likely to stick on over lunch. There is only so much pummelling I can take and Show Your Bones has impressed me for this very reason (the Tarantino comparison stops here, Show Your Bones is no Pulp Fiction) It has retained the grit and muscle of its predecessor but seems to give a gracious and subtle nod towards commercialism. It is more rhythmical, more melodic and just more appealing.

This is evident from the opening track Gold Lion, with its acoustic strumming being slowly obliterated by the inevitable wave of dirty guitar. Way Out follows a similar pattern and Fancy finds us in more YYY familiar territory with the Karen O’s trademark growl/banshee wail scratching its grubby nails down the wall of guitar and percussion. But the stand out track has got to be Warrior. It starts like a song you might stumble across on some far off obscure stage at an alt folk festival but soon picks up its feet and starts running with the line “this road’s gonna end on me.’ I’m sure it will at some point, but on this evidence there seems to be a lot more road ahead.

This album smacks of a follow up that will make die hard YYY fans scoff at people like me for preferring it but as Brakes say in Heard About Your Band, “You shared a cab with Karen O, OO,OOO,” roughly translated means ‘I don’t give a shit.’

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5th Apr 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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