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The Horrors

Primary Colours

XL Recordings

What The Horrors first album Strange House alluded to and what Primary Colours only serves to confirm is that The Horrors are in essence a pastiche band - begging, borrowing and stealing from rock n roll’s history and then repackaging and re-releasing. Re-invention should not be considered a criticism, but you could easily have expected Primary Colours to be more of the same, a method Oasis have been executing for well over 15 years. In fact, Primary Colours is very different to its predecessor, slower, measured - and where Strange House took the Goth punk of The Cramps and blended it with the sixties psychedelic weirdness of acts such as Screaming Lord Such, the influences running through this LP are altogether different.

On hearing the introduction of opening track Mirror Image, your first reaction may be that you’ve been given the wrong album. Where are the gothic organ sounds and sixties surf bass-lines? Here you’ll hear phasing, pitch-bending distortion; and may assume you have been handed a lost My Bloody Valentine album in error. Vocalist Farris Badawan’s first appearance confirms it’s the right record - but even then his performance resembles Brett Anderson with slightly larger testicles; gone is the aggressive scowl that dominates Strange House. Unfortunately this doesn’t end with the first track and while the My Bloody Valentine motif runs through most of the album, this is unfortunately no Loveless. More like a cheap market version of MBV, doing remixes of other bands: The Cure on Mirror Image, The Psychedelic Furs on Primary Colours, or Siouxsie and the Banshees on I Can’t Control Myself.

What is lacking from Primary Colours is the energy, the aggression, the uncontained vocals and the simple but effective musicianship of Strange House. No band has an obligation to be defined by genre and it would be wrong to demand it (although I‘m tempted to say any band employing the Madchester drum break employed in Do You Remember has no right to call themselves The Horrors, EMF yes, The Charlatans maybe, The Horrors no). What disappoints most is, while they were never going to be the most original band, they were at least unique. Strange House wasn’t perfect, but it was different and refreshing, best of all it sounded like the antithesis to the entire rolling basslined, high-keyed anthems that were and are still dominating the current music scene. If Strange House was The Horrors as mavericks, this is The Horrors falling back into line - if Brandon Flowers sung Scarlet Fields, it could easily be a Killers track (remixed by the counterfeit My Bloody Valentine of course).

This is not to make Primary Colours sound like an obituary, because there are some undoubted highlights. New Ice Age, despite the over production retains its energy, I Only Think Of You is strong enough to survive the Boards Of Canada treatment and the production on I Can’t Control Myself works well. Best of all is Sea Within A Sea, the epic 8 minute closer which starts like Joy Division’s No Love Lost and ends like Portisheads The Rip (unsurprising, as Portishead’s Geoff Barrow co-produces the album).

Where Strange House compelled you to throw yourself into the mosh pit, Primary Colours encourages you to stand at the back and listen with your arms firmly folded. Some may consider this progress but it could easily alienate many existing fans. It will probably get 9/10 from the NME and be described as The Horrors ‘maturing’, if that’s true it’s them reaching adolescence, talented but unsure, full of doubt and overly influenced by their friends. Somewhere there’s a great band trying to get out, but this album leaves you confused as to whether they’re a studio or live band. At some point they’re going to have to make that decision.

 

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27th Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Titus Andronicus

The Airing Of Grievances

XL Recordings

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.

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25th Feb 2009 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires

XL Recordings

This infectious debut from the St Albans trio was overlooked at first by my discerning ears, but has slowly seeped into my consciousness and is now a regular feature in my life. I think the initial reason for its rejection was its obvious references and slightly annoying upbeat jaunt. Taking their influences from mainstream dance sounds, 80's new wave, German techno and the classic pop hooks of Prince they make a sound that fuses expansive shoegaze indie sensibilities with driving beats and the result is surprisingly interesting.

Lyrically they are hardly taking by the throat the more weighty topics that challenge us today - themes of jumping in a pool and dreaming about moving to Paris are among some of the issues addressed here - but this hardly matters. Front man Ed Macfarlane's vocals soar like blazing rockets over the lush, synth-washed sonic background. On stage he shakes and gyrates spasmodically with top button firmly fastened on his crisp shirt like a modern day Ian Curtis, but he controls much of the synth sounds and forms the epicenter of this formation. They seem to do what Bloc Party used to do but without the contrived self-awareness. With tales of losing yourself on the dancefloor, many of the songs cleverly reference some classic pillars of house music. On Board is the most blatant as it begins with what could be a TV On The Radio sound but feeds in the baseline from The Source feat Candi Staton's You've Got The Love, while later on Skeleton Boy has the subverted feel of 90's dance hit You're Not Alone.

The longevity of an album such as this remains in question. Music that makes you feel this good must be full of evil trickery that will eventually reveal itself and leave the spell broken - but for now, I'm lovin' it.

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19th Nov 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Cool Kids

The Bake Sale EP

XL Recordings

Here we have 2 teenagers from Chicago rocking fly gold chains and cheap NWA type sports hats, who assume a pastiche of a bygone era of 80's hip hop so brazenly that you'll question why you love it so much, but love it you will. Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish give us their debut release The Bake Sale EP, a ten track collection of stripped down, minimal beats that form the sturdy foundation for their well crafted rhymes that cover girls, bikes and breakfast cereal and all that lies in between. The english language is expertly broken down into a series of syllables that are piled on top of one another like kids building blocks. The simplicity of their delivery and subject matter disguise their complex arrangements forcing multiple plays and before you know it this EP will be under your skin.

Opener What Up Man opts for the spoken beat with rhythm being formed of the words tick, tick, clap, tick, tick, bass. It's like a DIY, Ikea flat-pack song that unfolds and dazzles with its blatant simplicity. Lead single 88 taps the retro vein with shameless confidence as does Gold And A Pager which takes its lead lyric from Ice Cubes NWA line "Fuckin' with me cause I'm a teenager, with a little bit of gold and a pager." With the deep clap beats this tune is methodical and clinical in its delivery but while assuming this plodding pace you can really take your time to marvel at the complexity of this groups writing. Bassment Party takes its influence from a Miami Bass rhythm and picks up the pace perfectly but still refrains from over complicating things.

"We're the new black version of the Beastie Boys," claim this band and that group's album Paul's Boutique is certainly brought to mind here. This ain't rocket science, it's clever, but humble about it - which makes for a dazzlingly simple album that while nodding blatantly to the past comes across as effortlessly now. Hip hop bands that take their influence from the old school tread a perilous road that soon runs out of steam. We all love the old school but it evolved for a reason and the Cool Kids inject enough of their own contemporary ideas into their sound to separate their fate from the likes of Jurassic 5. The Bake Sale is a refreshing debut indeed and one that will surely be on this reviewer's top 5 list come Christmas.

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19th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Ratatat

LP3

XL Recordings

LP3 is the follow up to 2006's Classics and unlike its predecessor it was recorded in a very short space of time. Mike Stroud and Evan Mast recorded LP3 at Old Soul Studios, a large old house in a the small town of Catskill in upstate New York, and this change of venue has had a significant effect on the Ratatat sound, sort of. Though the core qualities remain intact there is a much fuller emphasis on keyboards and live instrumentation rather than programmed beats. All this is layered over their trademark swathes of synths and complex beat arrangements to form a rich tapestry indeed. The problem is, all this occurs in the first half of the album and is soon forgotten by the time we get to the end.

Mi Viejo uses delightful percussion over delicate guitar conjuring images of mysterious far off lands and as it plays out with a bongo drum solo it fades into Mirando, another complex amalgamation of swirling organs and rich percussion. Whereas Classics relied on guitar as its main sound, LP3 embraces a much wider array of musical instruments and sources from the hand-clap-like beat of Imperials to the skipping piano of Brulee. These touches raise the first half from the rest and see them standing proud as beacons of a way forward.

The beats do occasionally slip into synthesized obscurity that often flattens the record out and forces many of the songs into the background. Instrumental bands such as this have to work hard to raise each song from the sea of beats that sits stagnant below and without doing this many of these songs can slip by unnoticed. Songs like Dura and Shempi are well crafted but fail to move the sound on from the other albums and while retaining a core sound across records is admirable if little is brought to the table in terms of new thought, an unmemorable 40 minutes can slip by quite easily. I am not saying that is the case here but the key points where the listener is alerted all seem to happen in the first half with the rest of the record trailing off into mediocrity. The same guitar/organ swirl permeates nearly every song and threatens to bury all the delicate complexities that delight during the early stages. By the time we get to the album closer Black Heroes the band themselves seem bored and ready to finish which is in direct contrast to how they started, both on this record and their career in general.

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11th Jul 2008 - 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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The White Stripes

Icky Thump

XL Recordings

After the success of Jack White's near-permanent side-project of last year took off, the rumours flew that The White Stripes were to be no more. Only a fool would fall for that gag though, especially from a band that has a history of telling fibs and only needs a few days to record a new album. They spent a whopping 3 weeks recording this one, and it shows.

Lead single Icky Thump follows the method we've seen before of a banging radio friendly single that's track one on the album, but if I'm honest it hasn't had as much impact on me as either Seven Nation Army or Blue Orchid did. However, where those two tracks seemed like the only track on each album of that ilk, Icky Thump does sit in with things here more harmoniously.

Judging by the suits on the cover there's more than a nod to Gram Parsons and Emmylou going on here. You Don't Know What Love Is sees Jack White taking his lessons from The Raconteurs and creating an FM friendly 80's rock track.... with a touch of country. It's straightforward, but immediately engaging, oozing with personality. The production quality is definitely up on their previous efforts, which has a always been a bug-bear of mine. I never understood why using vintage equipment shouldn't result in such basics as a consistent volume level.... The Beatles and The BEach Boys always managed OK.

While the production quality may be up, the inconsistency is present in the style of the songwriting which seems to never offer the same idea twice. There seems to be few common threads running through the themes of the songs, and it very much sounds like a compilation album. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues is a heavy-handed down beat number, with vaguely obnoxious guitars. Conquest is a cover of Corky Robbins, complete with Mexican trumpets. Prickly Thorn makes an impression with it's infusion of bagpipes, although it leads into St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air), which unfortunately hides Meg's vocal contribution in cut-up tape tricks. Great title though.

Things sound tired with Little Cream Soda's rambling jam with chat. The focus seems to have been lost and the stop/start dynamic of this track and Rag and Bone in particular is already sounding a little tired - although Jack's line about "doghouse, outhouse and ...." show that he's obviously a Tommy Lee Jones fan.

I'm Slowly Turning Into You and A Martyr For My Love For You form a great centerpiece to the album - finally something a bit more serious, sitting somewhere between the outstanding musical edge of the The White Stripes and the more straightforward style of The Raconteurs. They seem much more thought out and complete than a lot of the album, and give the ever present glimpse of what a great album the band could make if they cut their output level by three and harnessed more of their live brilliance on their records.

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23rd Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Elvis Perkins

Ash Wednesday

XL Recordings

I haven’t quite cracked the elusive unifying theory of why I like or dislike a certain song, but what I’ve sussed out so far is that the music I love the best is the music that makes me feel something. Be it happy or sad. I can only guess, having spoken to none of my musical icons on the subject, that such music must have been made by people who were genuinely feeling it.

After the first listen to “Ash Wednesday”, the moving debut album by Elvis Perkins, you get the impression that this man feels an awful lot of the melancholy that the age in which we live in can inspire. It might just be that the first listen to this album coincided with me turning 30 and the hangover that it brings, but it really struck a chord.

His take on alt.folk draws from other troubled troubadours both past and present. With a nod in the direction of Willy Mason, a crib sheet of cryptic Dylan poems and the warmth and feeling of Ray Lamontagne, Perkins has done his homework, but nicely woven the sources together rather than simply plagiarising the lot.

The album opens with the ace While You Were Sleeping which starts off with just his laidback vocal over his acoustic and is subtly built up to fill your speakers with some fine full blooded soul searching by voice and band alike. Those heights are briefly reached again on the excellent Moon Woman II, but the rest of the album is a more sombre and introspective affair.

Seeing him play live, as Muxloe and I did last week (supporting the aforementioned Willy Mason), he injected more joy in the performance than is present on the album. His backing band throw themselves into some of the songs with the gusto of an old rag time funeral marching band, but not losing the emotion of the songs.

After already being convinced of the album and its integrity, I learned that he lost his father (actor Anthony Perkins) to AIDS in the early nineties and that his mother was killed on board one of the planes on September 11th 2001. It suddenly became obvious that the feeling of end of the world hopelessness captured on this album is undoubtedly genuine.

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3rd Jun 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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