Shoegaze-heavy warm up gig for a long overdue comeback tour. Still generating a hypnotic wall of sound.
12th Apr 2016Read more 4 star reviews
Album art is the true loser in the digital music war, so it's nice now and then to flick through your music using the Wall of Sound app. The image above is a random slice of my collection. Not bad if I do say so myself, which reminds me I haven't listened to Candy Apple Grey in a while.
Bonus points to anyone who can name all the others.
Deerhunter's Bradford Cox continues his creatively lucrative side project with a stunning followup to 2007's Let The Blind Lead Those Who Cannot Feel. Adopting a more introspective addition to day job's astral soundscapes Let The Blind was conceived from the loneliness of a hospital bed and emanated as a whisper from the cracks of Deerhunter's wall of sound. After the unbridled confidence of Microcastles. Cox reintroduces Atlas Sound with renewed energy and the results are impressive.
Logos is the sonic equivalent of an overexposed photograph. Bleached out with excessive warmth the vocals are absorbed by each sound that gets introduced into the intricately structured sonic compositions. As light permeates every corner of these songs details are washed out with sound creating the trademark dreamscapes that accompany all of Cox's music. But as with Deerhunter it's the moments where the album pulls focus and these otherwise hidden details come into sharp view that the power is unleashed. A prime example is the transition between the lethargic An Orchid and the emerging skip of Walkabout. Similarly the presence of the epic Quick Canal in the middle of the record resembles a fire-break in a forest. As its delicate rhythm creeps into view and stretches out over eight blissful minutes it's like stepping out of the thick undergrowth into a magnificent clearing. Laetitia Sadier's otherworldly vocals blow through the song with such refreshing lightness.
Musically this album is a treasure chest of ideas and sounds. Much like Let The Blind we get programmed clicks and bleeps that jostle against buried acoustic guitar and muffled drums support airy melody that shuffles along awkwardly. Cox's words almost trip over themselves in their reluctance to pick up any kind of pace. The result can be akin to a fine rain that ends up soaking you right through. But it's a welcome soaking.Read more 3 star reviews
Everything Goes Wrong
You'd be hard pushed to find a 'best of' list in 2008 that didn't feature this Brooklyn trio's eponymous self titled debut and so the expectation for the followup must have been something of an issue to overcome after such blanket praise. With it's raw punk riffs and flattend-out off-the-cuff-vocals it dazzled with immediacy, excitement and spontaneity - qualities that can easily be eradicated with the slightest bit of pressure from expectation. And when you read that the followup Everything Goes Wrong took double the time to record and is a longer record the signs point to a disappointment. However when that recording period was six days instead of three and the carefree notes of opener Walking Alone At Night greet your ears you'll only chastise yourself for such pessimism.
Everything Goes Wrong is a much darker affair than it's predecessor. With a sombre weight, the girls have jacked up the pace evolving their bubble-gum garage rock into full-on punk rock bursts. There's not such a reliance on the pop melody and seems to draw its influence on the hardcore scene more than the shoegaze tendencies that ran through the debut. All this is to it's credit however and this sophomore album effortlessly sidesteps any pressure by sounding like it was unaware of the pressure in the first place. These changes have been made without the record sounding aware of itself in the slightest. But this is no fresh-faced first-time sound. Far from it, it's a mature sound that has evolved and one that they can start to call their own. There isn't the stand-out joy of their first record and many of the songs come at you in a similar package. But the result is a wave-upon-wave effect that, after repeated subjection, sweeps you up and you're theirs.
The record may be more somber and more aggressive but the sweet vocal melodies are more beguiling as a result. They wash over the feral background easing everything into the distance and taking the listener with them. This form of attack works best on the longer songs and with few of the debuts cuts making it past the two minute mark it's quite a shock to see a good few four minuters here. Can't Get Over You and the soaring Out For The Sun never let up in pace and build a wall of sound around you that is impossible to escape even if you wanted to, and the vocal harmonies on Double Vision cast a blissful spell that seems to sum up the whole record. There's nothing better than a sophomore album that only serves to justify the debut and this builds on the success of 2008 with startling maturity and subtlety without seeming conscious at all. As they plod on to higher ground Vivian Girls cast a spell in their wake while seeming blissfully unaware of its potency.Read more 3.5 star reviews
100 Club, London
This must be the first time I've gone to a gig purely for the support act - and though San Diego hot-tip The Soft Pack were entertaining enough, it was Titus Andronicus that was the main event for me last night. With wall-to-wall framed pictures of past legends looking on expectantly the 5 young punks form New Jersey had a lot to live up to, and they certainly didn't disappoint. Instead they kicked the shit out of that place like it had just been built.
With just one LP under their belt they played like legends themselves carrying a self confidence born purely on the knowledge that any one of the songs off The Airing Of Grievances would tear this place down. The wall of sound that holds up the LP was erected in monolithic form on stage with awesome drumming standing shoulder to shoulder with the muscular 4 pronged guitar attack. Front man Patrick Stickles led this crew looking like a 70's era Scorsese - he throttled the mic and shrieked venomously and it seemed more genuine than any performance I've seen in a long time. It's easy to look longingly at the pictures that adorn the walls of this infamous venue and feel that whatever existed then can never repeat itself, then take a look at the stage and a rare feeling tells you that this is the real deal.
They've made an unexpected album of the year, and while their influences are abundantly clear they are mere jumping off points for a truly unique style of punk. They play songs that should really last for less than a minute but are morphed into epic monsters - and they play out these monsters with the tightness of a longtime ensemble. I've enjoyed the album so much this year (it was slim pickings until they came along) but I was so pleased not to see a bunch of skinny jeaned kids rehashing other peoples performances. Instead I bore witness to a fucking hard punk gig, but one played out with intelligence and bucket loads of passion.Read more 4 star reviews
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.Read more 3 star reviews
The Airing Of Grievances
If the year 2009 was a person and one of your mates he'd be a right bore. He'd be constantly broke, sighting the credit crunch at every given opportunity - and he'd probably spend most of his time dreaming up ways to shaft you of all your money. Now if The Airing Of Grievances - the debut album from Titus Andronicus - was also one of your mates, he'd have blugeoned 2009 by now, dumped his lifeless corpse into landfill. Not for the reason that he's a diehard optimist - far from it - in fact, he'd be a vicious little fucker, but he just wouldn't stand for any of this namby-pamby fear mongering that goes on and so far The Airing Of Grievances is the only album to kick the broke ass of 2009 firmly and squarely between its limp little cheeks.
Here are some facts, Titus Andronicus are 5 guys from a small town called Glen Rock in New Jersey, a safe suburban enclave to the west of New York City. The Airing Of Grievances is their debut album following a pair of 7" singles and an early EP, it's got 9 tracks, its 45 minutes long and it's fucking brilliant.
If only I could stop there, but in order to justify my massive wage packet I must go on. The Airing Grievances is essentially a punk record but it's way more complicated than that. It's a pit-bull that thinks it's an alsatian, a punk record that thinks it's an Explosions In The Sky record. At times It can sound like Conor Oberst fronting The Wedding Present and at others it could be No Age fronting the E Street Band. It's supremely muscular and feral and yet highly sophisticated. Singer and chief songwriter Patrick Stickles has a voice like a bandsaw cutting through sheet metal, it's almost constantly out of tune and really couldn't give a shit and it stands proud in front of a deafening wall of sound that is the rest of the band. As in all music it's the relationship between this voice and this sound that holds the key to the albums success. Stickles can morph his voice into a blunt instrument of such power and venom as if it's his only way of smashing through this wall of guitar breeze-blocks that constantly towers above him.
From the opening "Fuck You" howl of Fear And Loathing In Mahwah, NJ this record pummels relentlessly, it's massive musical structure rising slowly like a great city being raised from the oceans depths. Each song adds something different to the mix with this huge sound receding to allow room for punctuating guitar work on Fear And Loathing or the driving rhythm of My Time Outside The Womb. Joset Of Nazereth's Blues balances this might with Springsteen style harmonica while the title track foams at the mouth as Stickles spits the mantra "You're life Is over" repeatedly and eventually being joined by the rest of the band for a climactic finale. But it's the two tracks that follow that this record has been building up to. No Future, Pt 1 and No Future, Pt 2 The Days After No Future transform this record from a fiercely original punk pop album to something stella. They play out as one track and together stretch out over more than 14 minutes. It's one of the only times in the record that the tempo slows down and allows a brief breather. But as Pt 1 builds from this breather like a far off wave it drops into Pt. 2 and all hell breaks loose. Massive instrumental juggernaughts speed off at great speed and really open up the album into something magnificently ambitious.
The track lengths grow as the album progresses and so does the confidence. Stickles' vocals stand shoulder to shoulder with the awesome sound that props it up. He howls, screeches and moans over these huge riffs but always sounds raw and unhinged. The whole record sounds like a basement punk tape while effortlessly stretching out over enormous ground. It's this odd juxtaposition that defines their success. As Stickles shrieks on the title track "No more cigarettes, no more having sex, no more drinking till you fall on the floor, no more indie-rock, just a ticking clock," The Airing Of Grievances is a calamitous voice of doom and with a pounding fist draws a line under much of the music I've heard in a long time.Read more 4.5 star reviews
A Place To Bury Strangers
Often hailed as New York's loudest band, A Place To Bury Strangers unleash an impenetrable wave of noise with this solid debut. This is feedback-drenched garage rock that exudes muscle with every song. Their influences can certainly be heard through the fog with My Bloody Valentine and Jesus And Mary Chain being the most obvious but through the course of the record this sound becomes all their own.
Fusing clattering beats, driving, effect-dripping guitar and deeply buried vocals APTBS create a wall of sound that slowly advances toward you like the walls of a dank, creaking chamber. The speed with which this advance takes place varies greatly but the consistent element is its towering presence. Opener Missing You lays down a foundation of guitar that sounds like its being played through gravel but is brought to electrifying life by the lead guitar melody that soars over the top. To Fix The Gash In Your Head builds on a layer of programed beats that come at you like a machine gun. The contrast between this muscular music and the slow, muted and Joy Division-like monotone of Oliver Ackermann is the defining feature and as he calculatedly plots "i'll just wait for you to turn around, and kick your face in," the result is quite arresting. The Falling Sun ploughs a different course, that of painfully slow yet astral grandeur, but the destination is the same.
Like San Francisco's Wooden Shjips, APTBS have one setting and that is BIG but the fascinating thing about this debut is hearing them use this setting to treat various tempos and scales. On the awesome Breathe it's quite mesmerizing to hear this vast sound being employed in a steady, rhythmical way, it's like watching a giant handle a feather.
This record is like unearthing an 80's shoegaze classic that' been buried for years under a mountain of noise. It swirls with narcotic mesmerism and while the spell works its evil magic your head is slowly caved in with terrifying accuracy. Whether they come at you slow or pound your face to dust as quick as lightning the result is total annihilation. It's good stuff.Read more 3 star reviews
The Hawk Is Howling
Scottish post-rockers Mogwai are back, with The Hawk Is Howling - their sixth studio album. Wall Of Sound are the label this time, with Matador releasing the record in the US.
The obtusely named I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead starts with a delicate piano, before building slowly as bass, guitar and drums layer on top of each other, steadily heightening the intense atmosphere. There are no vocals or lyrics of course, and as Jim Morrison didn't play guitar it's hard to know what he's saying. In fact, without lyrics the song titles are all we do have to decode this album and work out what Mogwai are trying to say. Thankfully "The Sun Smells Too Loud", "I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School" and "Thank You Space Expert" spell it out in black and white.
While titles like these might offer little in the way of explanation - seeming more like very personal thoughts and ideas - they do add a certain intensity and suggestion to the music, however misleading they may in fact be. Eschewing some of the more left-field experiments of previous records, the album plays a fairly straight bat - with most songs concentrating on a slow-burning intensity that leads to eventually reward, rather than the more pummeling up/down sound of some of their post-rock contemporaries. Where Explosions In The Sky virtually never fail to deliver an unmitigated rock-out, some of these songs do tend to boil a bit too long - failing to bubble over and ending instead in anti-climax by going for a more constant atmospheric approach, raher than hugely distinctive peaks and troughs. As a result, much of the album can slip by unnoticed - all thorurughly fine, but just slightly dis-engaging.
Mogwai have always seemed to have a bullet-proof mystique to them, from their cult name, through obscure concerts on Scottish islands, to the superior artwork of this and other records - dismissing potential commercial projects to work on the likes of the Zidane movie. The Hawk Is Howling does nothing to damage that reputation, instead just becoming another piece of a diverse cannon of work, much of which doesn't quite encapsulate the band as it seems like it should.Read more 3 star reviews
Random Spirit Lover
With their third album Sunset Rubdown present you with 2 options. (A) You could buy the album and listen to it a lot of times or (B) You could attach a balloon to a hose pipe, turn on the tap as far as it could go and put your face close to the ever expanding sack of tension. The result would be the same except for one difference. With option (B) you would get a more than refreshing blast in the face as the balloon bursts showering you with water. With option (A) the balloon would burst every 30 seconds and instead of a torrent of water pouring out, great birds of prey would launch forth from their captivity showering gold dust from their outstretched wings on any one lucky enough to witness this magical splendor.
Random Spirit Lover tests the elastic limits of both the album as a structure and your listening patience. It is crammed full of the most complex and intricate music heard since their last record and by building tension constantly it looks you square in the eyes and asks "how much are you willing to take?" Spencer Krug is the tour de force behind this project and it was his exquisite turn of phrase that dazzled in last years Shut Up I Am Dreaming. This time it's the grand musical arrangements that sweep you up in their daunting majesty and carry you away to lands never seen by the human eye. The songs give a fleeting glance to convention hinting at chorus and verse but bleed into one-another so completely that it would be impossible to separate this record into singles.
From the word go The Mending Of The Gown comes out of the blocks at an alarming pace. and the pounding piano and screeching guitar do their best to keep up with Krug's impatient vocals that tumble out like a rapid stream of consciousness. The songs are crammed with more instruments than are healthy and with multi layered vocals an all-encompassing wall of sound is created. This is where the listener can easily become overwhelmed but the album is cleverly paced with just enough pauses in this sound barrage to keep you onboard, like the opening drum/vocals on The Courtesan Has Sung. This slight glimpse of space makes the monstrous guitar that welcomes back the wall of sound seem even more thrilling.
Krug's work is always high drama and this album more than most has an unquestionable theatricality to it. His lyrics are steeped in antique narrative and invoke wild, fairy-tale imagery of magicians and courtesans or riding around on leopards throwing dead birds in the air. But with the addition of the music Random Spirit Lover is more akin to an opera both in its scale and ambition and in the fact that quite often you don't have clue what is going on and frequently think about leaving. And this time will come for us all believe me. The first prong of this attack is with the arrival of Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns. It is obviously the stories dream sequence where all rules are forgotten and the song descends into an unbearable spiral of synthesizers that never let up. And they continue through the next track like a nightmarish approach of madness. Thankfully the albums crowning glory rises triumphantly from this hell like a winged savior. The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back To Life is is the song to bring this record back to life. It;s a galloping, sword wielding knight riding into adversity. But sadly its bravery is soon overcome by Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot! Having been kept at bay for so long the fierce wall of sound returns bigger and fiercer than ever. It's wrath quashes our brave Knight into dust as the sound swells to terrifying levels and the entire structure of this record is threatened more than ever.
As you can see this music brings out the drama in us all and that is why it is such a special thing. It's like a girlfriend you just can't stay with but have to make yourself leave. It's a high maintenance ball buster that sometimes you just want to strangle but its ability to thrill at a moments notice and to transport you to far off places makes it virtually impossible to dismiss. It wont be the one you'll settle down with but it will claim a place in your heart forever.
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.
San Francisco's Film School are a band built around frontman Greg Bertens. Formed in the late 1990's, Bertens has recruited members and slowly put out albums and EPs before signing to Beggars and becoming a more permanent band. This album sees a few line up changes - most notably the addition of female bassist/vocalist Lorelei Plotczyk who answered a Pixies-aping personal for "Someone into Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary".
Swirlies, Seefeel and Bardo Pond are the name checks on this album though, and while Film School's live show and previous album had me thinking of The Cure, Hideout owes more that a passing nod to the brilliance/pretentiousness of My Bloody Valentine. Hardly surprising due to the fact that MBV's Colm O'Ciosoig appears on the album.
Opener Dear Me and follow-up Lectric set the scene perfectly, with a wall of sound that builds and builds with pounding drums. Produced by frontman Bertens and Mixed by Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Stephen Malkmus, The Shins) the album is a huge leap forward from 2006's self-title album, which confusingly was their second. Rich and textured, the records feels like a lot of time, love and attention has been put into it. The effects are set to stun and while on several occasions things look like they are going to drift away, the sonic theatrics are kept in manageable chunks and the album remains strong and focused without the directionless ramblings that MBV had a taste for. While the admittedly Cure sounding Two Kinds, with it's bass and 80's John Hughes keyboard sound starts promisingly, it's doesn't quite deliver but tracks like the juggernaut sound of Sick Hipster Nursed By Suicide Girl swirl up a pummeling sound that builds up to a crashing drum finale.
All music has a nod in one direction or another, and shoegazing is a direction that gets little attention in these skinny jeans obsessed days. In my book it would be more than welcome to mooch back into the limelight.
Food For Thoughtlessness EP
Dylan Donkin used to be in a band called Echobrain with ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newstead. But don’t let that fool you into second-guessing what he sounds like. In fact, listening to new EP Food For Thoughtlessness it’s possible that Mr Donkin himself isn’t exactly sure what his sound is. But first a bit of post-Echobrain history:
After the band were caught up in a lawsuit with rival band called Echodrain (who’d have thought a band called Echodrain would have lawyers?), Donkin decided to do one and headed to Hawaii, where most admirably he developed a music teaching programme to help parents and children interact musically. And it’s that sort of optimism, coupled with an inevitable laidback Island vibe, that runs through the 6 songs.
It’s a few stadium sizes away from metal monsters Metallica, but this isn‘t just one surf dude and his guitar a la Jack Johnson. Like Alec Guinness playing 8 members of the same family in Ealing classic Kind Hearts and Coronets or Eddie Murphy playing fat clan The Klumps in Hollywood film: Nutty Proffesor 2, the 6 songs that make up this EP may share the same mellow genetics, but are varied enough to showcase the considerable talents of Mr Donkin.
In mood, it’s a record of two halves (or 'sides'). Single Make a Choice is effortlessly upbeat in a hazy lazy kind of way. You can almost hear the Hawaiian tide breaking on the shore, as a slide guitar works its way over simple bass lines and gentle brushwork on the drums on Diatom Blues and what’s not to like about putting handclaps in a song called Depression Yesterdays. For the second half Donkin, ever sensitive, gets a bit darker. Fall Through The Wall and its slightly reverbed vocal recall Jim James or Neil Young. Instumental The Commonaut is probably the most interesting, a talented yet troubled piano, drunk and misunderstood, wails at the world as a quiet lead quitar agrees and a small choir commentates. And finally, Yolk bids farewell like a slightly more positive unplugged Kurt Cobain.
It will be interesting to see how Donkin pulls this altogether on a full-length album; will it sound like an album rather than simply a collection of (very good) songs? Until we find out, the Food For Thoughtlessness EP is an intriguing and excellent appetizer, whetting the appetite for the main course to come.
There are some feelings in life that you simply can't beat. I'm not talking here about the grand feelings of joy or euphoria that come with such landmark events like having your first child, no I mean the kind of everyday, low key moments that produce an indiscribable feeling of utter satisfaction. Like the first sip of an ice cold beer after work on a hot summers evening, or sliding your foot into brand new socks, or finding a forgotten favorite album for £2 in a second hand record store, or putting on an album by Blonde Redhead who seem to be able to produce moments such as these with blissful ease.
Ever since 2004's Misery Is A Butterfly my heart has been in love with this band. There is something about Kazu Makino's sweet soprano vocals that make me sigh with delight. They ache with sadness yet float with effortless grace over the claustrophobic wall of sound that underlie them. She has the ability to gently take your heart by the hand and carry it away on the most perfect of melodies. Misery Is A Butterfly was the first album where this quality was brought to the forefront, moving away from the bitter squall of their Sonic Youth inspired sound of previous albums and now with 23 the change is well and truly complete.
The title track chimes in with an eery emptiness that is then discarded as you are pulled close and smothered by sound. The first glimpses of Makino's voice sees the spell cast once again and the love affair re-ignited. The voice is more energetic here and though it will always contain the traces of melancholy that make it so addictive it's more soaring and wonderful than ever on these first two opening tracks. With The Dress things open up a little and as the music is stripped down we get more space to look around and really appreciate the delicate nuances of this band. As usual vocal duties are shared between Makino and Amedeo Pace who's contributions bring valuable muscle to the proceedings with songs like SW and Spring And Summer Fall.
It's hard to talk in depth about these songs for fear of breaking the spell. Blonde Redhead's music is hypnotic, rapturous and holds within it a kind of mystical wonder that is almost impossible to pin down. They make beautiful pop songs but there seems to be something more, something special that once it has touched you you feel privileged. So with this new album my heart is once again buoyant.
I find it near impossible to sum up the sound of TV On The Radio and when I try to think of an equivalent in order to aid my description I find myself stumped. But one thing I did discover in the majestical surroundings of Camden's Koko was that with two and a half albums strong this Brooklyn 5-piece know exactly who they are and what they are doing.
With it's numerous balconies dripping in ornate decoration and rising skyward to a huge revolving glitterball, Koko is a venue like no other and the view from the stage must either thrill or daunt any band. The addictive thing about TV On The Radio is their grasp of restraint. Their sound is so complex and threatens to explode but rarely does so I was interested to discover how this style would cope with a venue such as this. Dirty Whirl, a highlight from the new album Return To Cookie Mountain crept in humbly with hushed atmospheric sampling and front man Tunde Adebimpe's sweet whistling. This built up slowly and then the band unleashed their sound. It was the sound of twenty men and it was awesome. Adebimpe is the lynch pin to the dazzling show TV On The Radio offer. His theatrical dancing, thorough exploration of the space around him and inexhaustible passion and energy is electrifying and like nothing I have seen before. And his voice, well damn that boy can sing. Often constructing beautiful harmonies with guitarist and vocalist Kyp Malone, Adebimpe's voice more than filled the hall.
The stage seemed cluttered with the various machines that make this sound so unique. The standard drums, guitars and vocals are all fed through samplers, loops and distortions to produce a wall of sound that is oozing with texture. As expected Wolf Like Me was an instant highlight. As the only drum heavy, rock-out tune on the album this is as close as this band come to a standard song, so for it to emerge crisp and triumphant from the murky bog of noise was a delight to which the hungry crowd responded accordingly. Earlier songs like Young Liars were treated to the same extended format with the music slowly fading away to leave Adebimpe's exposed vocals to bring it to a close.
Not all the songs worked with the live treatment and this is due to the intricate subtleties that are so important to their sound not to mention the obvious sound problems experienced by Kyp Malone. I Was A Lover opens the new album with such hollow beauty, but that was lost here. The dense texture that is crafted around this song simply swallowed up the vocals reducing them to just another element in this texture. But this was a minor complaint and was soon forgotten as a free standing bass drum was brought on to the stage to herald the start of Let The Devil In. This was pounded on by at least two other band members as the crowd were encouraged to sing along. Adebimpe opened the song with dulcet vocals only to produce a mega-phone which he proceeded to shriek into as more and more previously unnoticed musicians joined the stage beating a myriad of cymbals, drums, tamborines, you name it. The result was a near tribal stampede of sound that refused to stop. It built and built to epic proportions and launched this gig into memorable territory.
After the dazzling My Morning Jacket show in September I got to thinking, "What separates the good gigs from the great gigs?" I have seen many a great band showcase their back catalogue with expert precision but have often been left feeling slightly flat. These gigs were as good as their albums, but the great gigs go further and make you feel like you are witnessing something specific to this moment, something spontaneously crafted and bigger than the music. This is what was happening at Koko that night, a live event that would be lost in any other format. All too often I leave a very enjoyable gig but mentally tick that band as 'done', the opposite was the case here and as I emerged from my grand surroundings into a rainy night I hoped this would not be the last would see of TV On The Radio.
You Can't Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts
This is the debut full-length offering from the Toronto based sextet and it further goes to show that the mighty talent that has been flooding out of this country for years is not looking like subsiding. Their sound has been compared to the baritone seriousness of Interpol but The Diableros bring a welcome change to this style injecting furious urgency and a passion that leaves Interpol's Paul Banks' vocals sounding slightly laboured and sluggish. For me this album continues the good work already done by bands such as Interpol but take the music to places I always want Paul Banks and his merry men to go every time I listen to them.
One of the stand out tracks, Push It To Monday, saunters in with a Springsteen-esq "Born To Run" bass line and with the introduction of Pete Carmichael's vocals we soon have a true 'hands in the air' classic The Boss would be proud of. While Tropical Pets has an arrogant swagger worthy of Oasis in their Supersonic heyday.
The Diableros have more in common with The Wedding Present than any of their countrymen. As on albums like Bizarro or Seamonsters the vocals here are so under produced they are barely audible over the 'wall of sound' guitars that frequently attack your ears. At first I thought this was going to be a problem but then realised what effect this under-production had on the overall feeling of the record. It gives it a certain immediacy and rawness that is only found when a band play live and the audience is left stunned by the sheer energy of what they are seeing. You really feel exhausted at the end of each song, as so much emotional ground seems to have been covered in such a short and frantic space of time. This is quite a rare feeling with a lot of indie music these days as if the bands don't quite have it in them to grab you by the scruff of the neck and kick your arse.
I could go on and list so many instances where this is happens on this record but none so satisfying as on the album closer 'Golden Gates.' It starts off with a marching drum beat and simmering vocals then, as if shifting up to a hidden gear, it accelerates to a stomping finale that really evokes the defying sentiment of the albums title, "You Can't Break The Strings On Our Olympic Hearts," and for a glorious moment you profoundly believe this to be true.
One of the hot tickets at this year's South By South-West music thing, Australia's Wolfmother are kicking out retro proto-metal - a la early Black Sabbath, with a tinge of Zeppelin and a psychadelic haze of Iron Butterfly. Like no-doubt every garage band of the late 70's was trying to do.
The first couple of tracks are properly proto-proto metal, with thumping riffs and not many lyrics. Apple Tree still has few lyrics, but is a bit more interesting and makes you realise how metal the White Stripes sometimes are. The White Unicorn is the stand-out track, which actually builds up a bit and changes pace - where the others are mainly one thundering wall of sound. Looking forward to more. Would like to see these guys live.