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The Walkmen

You & Me

Fierce Panda

"When I used to go out I knew everyone I saw / Now I go out alone, if I go out at all" so sang front Walkman Hamilton Leithauser on ‘The Rat’, which along with ‘Little House of Savages’ was the other ‘Hit’ from ‘Bows and Arrows’, the New York Five Piece’s second album  released in 2004. Well the good news for Hamilton, four years and 2 and a bit albums later (2006’s Hundred Miles Off was followed by a cover album of John Lennon and Harry Nillson’s 1974 Pussy Cats) is that he seems to have found some significant company to which to devote plenty of material from their latest ‘You & Me’ (the title of which could be a giveaway, the album itself certainly was, with proceeds from the first two weeks of digital sales going straight to The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer centre in New York).  The even better news for the rest of us, is that this already great band just keep getting better.

“You know I’d never leave you and that’s just how it is” (On the Water), 
“I tell you I love you and my heart’s in the strangest place, that’s how it started and that’s how it ends” (In the New Year)
“You are the morning and I am the night” (Canadian Girl)

Are just a select few of the lyrical bouquets presented by Leithauser, as beautifully gift-wrapped as ever by the vintage instruments favoured by the band.  Ok, ’You & Me’ has actually been out for the best part of a year, but as past releases have proved, there really is no point rushing into conclusions on a Walkmen record, once in, it’s going to stay with you for a long time, maturing with every listen.  Take ‘Seven Years of Holidays’ for example, there, amongst the reverbed guitar and sparse-distant drums, lies the subtlest of string sections - quietly elevating this previously unassuming track up into the favourites after the twenty-something listen.

But picking favourites from ‘You & Me’ is a fairly pointless exercise, whereas 'Bows and Arrows' and ‘A Hundred Miles Off’  had their clear and immediate standouts, ‘You & Me’ is built up of fourteen parts to make a devastatingly beautiful whole.  For me they are up there with The National as America’s standout band at the moment, if sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent, rocking tunes is what you are after.  6 months in, I’m still waiting for a different album to come along and knock it from its heavily repeated listen perch.  Great Stuff.

#Music
#chimpovich

23rd 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.

#Music
#BC

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

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Red Riding

(dir. Julian Jarrold)

Channel 4

Got a feeling this is going to be one of the TV highlights of the year. Taken from David Peace's quartet of cult novels, C4's trio of feature-length dramas covers life in Yorkshire during 1974, 1980 and 1983. It's a world infused with the dark spectre of the Yorkshire Ripper, a dark time in the UK's history when police corruption, a pervasive brutality and institutional misogyny all contributed to a background of paranoia while a serial killer ran loose.

It's an atmospheric, sophisticated work, beautifully shot, impeccably acted. Stories start in one, finish in another; loose ends abound, just like in real life. 

Andrew Garfield's a cocky young journo trying to convince his editor he's found a serial killer in the first film, 1974 - and then finding himself drawn into property magnate Sean Bean's dark world. The reliably great Paddy Considine plays a Manchester cop called in to investigate the Yorkshire force's casework in the second, 1980. David Morrissey returns in the third, 1984, to try and unravel the case. The excellent cast is filled out by Warren Clarke, Rebecca Hall, Gerard Kearns, Eddie Marsan, Maxine Peake and Peter Mullan - all working at the height of their game, with gruff take-no-prisoners dialogue like "this is Yorkshire - we do what we want around here" peppered through the terse script.

Peace also wrote The Damned United, which is getting a cinematic release as well Mar 27 - think he's going to be doing v well in 2009's end of year lists...

#TV
#chimp71

21st Feb 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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iPhoto '09

I've got my mitts on a copy of the latest version of iPhoto - Apple's photo management software, and I'm loving it. It's got three great new bonus features: Maps, Syncing and Faces.

Geotagging has been picking up momentum for a while now - and with more and more phones and cameras coming with built-in GPS, it's only going to get bigger. Geotagged photos are now all pulled together on a map, with the co-ordinates reverse coded to show location names, allowing you to search for places and find photos taken there. Pretty nifty. Adding locations isn't a big feature yet, but any locations added in Flickr can be synced using the next new feature.

Just when PhotoCopy had launched their excellent Flickr syncing program, Apple have added Flickr-syncing to the mothership - and it works perfectly. Any set of photos can be used to create a Flickr set, which then uploads to your chosen account. Any changes made to the set or the photos (adding tags, changing title etc) are automatically updated online, and even more impressively any changes made online are synced back to the program.

With more and more services becoming available to run sophisticated photo sites using Flickr (1, 2, 3), anyone can now manage a detailed photo site using just iPhoto.

Here's an example using the Chimp surveillance data.

Finally, iPhoto now uses facial recognition. If you saw this on CSI you would dismiss it as implausible, but it actually works incredibly well. As you first set it up, it scans through your library and marks any faces it thinks it has found. You can then click these and add a name - and as the names build up, the program quickly suggests other photos with that person in. It's right maybe 70% of the time, which makes tagging these photos super easy. You can then search your library for a name, and bingo - all the photos of one person in one place. The tagged photos work pretty much like Facebook's photo tagging, so as expected you can now upload directly to Facebook, keeping all that data in place.

I wasn't intending this to sound like a software review, but there's no denying how it's turned out. The best photo management album out there just got way better.

CSF - 4.5 Stars

#CSF
#Photography
#Tech

2nd Feb 2009 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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.

#Music
#marmot

14th Jan 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pavement

Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedance Edition

Domino

The Pavement re-release juggernaut continues at full-steam (wait, didn't the last review start like that?), with album number four now getting the super-deluxe treatment. Perhaps more than the previous efforts, Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition is truly jam-packed with goodies, stretching it out to an epic 155 minutes.

In the overall canon of Pavement's work, support for Brighten the Corners may be a little divided. The album sold considerably more that it's predecessors - and features a couple of bonifide hit singles in Stereo and Shady Lane - but much of the scattergun rambling charm of the earlier albums had perhaps been polished away. In retrospect, the album shows a logical progression in the band's sound, and pre-dates the evolution of Malkmus's excellent solo albums - and can hardly be labelled as 'conventional'.

Sure, the chorus of Stereo is catchy and conventional, but it's surrounded by unhinged guitar work and primal vocals - not to mention the spoken word interruptions ("I know him, and he does" retorts Bob Nastovich in his best Wayne's World voice, "And you're my fact checking cuz".). Shady Lane crams a 20 minute epic into less than 4, while the show-stopping Embassy Row commits an orchestrated guitar riot to tape.

Conventional, perhaps not - but if you take Spiral Stairs' slightly out of place efforts out of the mix (Date W/ IKEA, Passat Dream), the original album is at least pretty cohesive for a Pavement album. Bring the collected b-sides into play however and it's a different story, transforming this into a sprawling, but thoroughly engaging trip.

Outtake/B-side The Hexx has already been featured on Domino's Worlds of Possibility compilation (albeit in a more concise form than the versions here), while Beautiful As A Butterfly and Cataracts lead into the raft of additional tracks that formed the b-sides of the singles from this period. The highlight of the rarities section of this release has to be the Radio 1 Evening Session, which provides studio quality recordings of the band running through The Hexx, Harness Your Hopes and Winner Of The, with the undisputed highlight being the band's cover of The Killing Moon - a track that provides perfect ammo for a stretched-out work-out.

Admittedly things taper away with some of the other live tracks from the era, but as the zany double barreled finale of Space Ghost Themes I & II come around (from the Space Ghost Coast To Coast TV show), the notion that Pavement had entered a more 'straight-forward' mainstream period is a distant theory.

While the Crooked Rain and Wowee Zowee re-releases arguably watered down their excellent starting points, Brighten The Corners here seems even better that the original - perhaps due to me approaching an album I perhaps was overly dismissive of from a fresh perspective. Either way, as these re-releases have shown, this was an incredibly productive band - kicking out 2 1/2 hours worth of decent material per album cycle, while the young pups these days struggle to produce a 12 track album and a couple of b-sides.

#Music
#CSF

2nd Dec 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Waltz With Bashir

Ari Folman

Bridgit Folman Film Gang

Powerful examination of guilt, war and repression from Israeli director Ari Folman. Shot in the rotoscoped animation style that both Richard Linklater (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) and Ralph Bakshi (American Pop, Lord Of The Rings) have used, it's a docudrama take on his time in the Israeli army, as he searches through his past to try and uncover lost memories of a mission in the Lebanon. 

As he travels the world to meet up with old friends and people he was in the army with, we circle round ideas of how people deal with the horrors of war, the guilt of living and the terror of being witness to unspeakable horror. The choice to animate the story allows it to float effortlessly across time and space, weaving together his memories as other people open up the moments his mind has blocked for over twenty years. 

It's the collision between the warmth of seeing old friends and the brutality of their time in the Lebanon war that makes this film such an intense experience. It's been criticised for soft-pedalling the Israeli position, but it seemed to be much more concerned with trying to understand how our minds work to comprehend the shock of war rather than the morality; how people can carry on living after seeing how terrible people can be firsthand. 

#Film
#chimp71

3rd Nov 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Gomorra

(Dir Matteo Garrone)

Fandango

Two kids decide to take on the local crime boss. A mafia-funded tailor decides to moonlight for a Chinese sweatshop. A politician looks for new sites to dump toxic waste. A mob money man decides he's had enough. A grocery boy gets drawn into an escalating turf war.

Dizzying reinvention of the mafia movie, based on the nonfiction book by Roberto Saviano. Far from the glamour of The Godfather or even The Sopranos, this is more like a Naples version of The Wire. We're thrown into the middle of five stories, which build up a crushing portrait of a city in chaos; it's not so much that the system has failed here, but that even the crime culture which has stepped into the void seems to have spiralled out of control, light years from the honour amongst thieves myth we've seen time and again. 

It's beautifully shot, with the housing estates where the bulk of the action takes place rising up like decaying Mayan pyramids. Scenes are artfully constructed, with details like a freshly manicured hand or a statue of Jesus being winched down an estate balcony standing out amidst the action. That's not to suggest that this elegant movie glosses over the trauma and social breakdown - far from it. Violence is ever-present, brutally casual and everyday. It's a bewildering experience, as we float from story to story and back again, wondering how they connect - and also wondering how any of the characters can possibly hope to escape the lives they've found themselves in. 

At 137 mins, it's a long haul, but well worth it. Strong contender for one of the films of 2008.

#Film
#chimp71

1st Oct 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sebadoh

Harmacy

Sub Pop

THEN: Sebadoh's eighth album and their fourth for Sub Pop, saw the Massachusetts (rotating) 3 piece pick-up the succesful formula of its preceeding release, Bakesale. That 1994 smash reached the dizzy heights of number 40 in the UK albums chart, thanks largely to toning down some of the more off-the-wall ideas that marked earlier records and focusing on a more consistent sound, with more emphasis on 'songs'. Harmacy picked up that baton and as a result (and perhaps inevitably) was the band's most mature release at the time.

NOW: More mature maybe, but that's not to say the imagination and slight eccentricity that has secured Sebadoh an intensly loyal fanbase (guilty) is not present here. With songwriting duties split largely evenly between Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein, it weaves and bobs at differing pace; from the jaunty, effortless pop (Ocean / Can't Give Up) 3 chord punk (I Smell A Rat) rocking instrumentals (Sforzando! / Hillbilly 2) and painstaking love song (Willing To Wait) all held together with a tighter production than previous releases. Basically, Harmacy sits comfortably in a formidable canon of releases from these indie rock legends.

SUB POP SAYS: "Since each member of Sebadoh writes songs, their sound can be very different from one song to the next. Where once we heard three voice screaming at once, now they talk in harmony"

KILLER TRACK: Always tricky to pick a killer from the mixed bag that is a Sebadoh record, but of the nineteen here and in the interests of fairness I'll go for (Jason's) Mindreader and (Lou's) Ocean.

NEXT: 1997 - Pidgeonhed - The Full Sentence

#Music
#chimpovich

13th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sunny Day Real Estate

Diary

Sub Pop

THEN: 1994 and Sub Pop was at the top of its game. Others such as Touch and Go, Blast First, Amphetamine Reptile, Cargo were all dishing out quality fayre, but it was the Seattle label that remained the go-to choice for hard-rocking anger and good times. So Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary caught a lot of people off-guard. Mostly it was singer Jeremy Enigk's voice, this guy sounded like he could actually sing - and it sounded like he was singing about intensly personal themes too, hence 'Diary' I suppose, this couldn't be right from the label who gave us Mudhoney, the band who sang about being drunk for 24 hours. Add to that the slightly creepy and childlike artwork of the record and it felt like Diary was a step in a new direction. Luckily, whilst making us think, it also rocked. Hard.

NOW: Little surprise that Dave Grohl called up rhythm section Nate Mendel (bass) and William Goldsmith (drums) when putting together his new project Foo Fighters in 1995, the drumming especially is awesome across the whole album. Take opener Seven for example: nearly five minutes of constant rolls and fills across a track that was a permanent fixture on many a mix-tape made around that period (to both guys and girls - evidence of the rocking and sensitive all-roundess of the group).

I hadn't listened to it for a while and seemed to remember the intensity level dropping off after Seven and In Circles, but no, the quality remains consistently high across all eleven songs. From the blistering Rounds and Shadows, surreal Grendel and Pheurton Skeurto and the epic 47 and 48. It's fair to argue that Diary was amongst the first Emo records, but don't confuse it with the cynical bullshit of today, there is far more intelligence to Diary than simply plastering on a bit of eyeliner. A classic of classics.

SUP POP SAYS: “Sunny Day’s key members have seemingly engaged in just about every rock cliché imaginable.”

KILLER TRACK: Seven

NEXT: 1995 - Pond - Practice Of Joy Before Death

#Music
#chimpovich

12th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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This Is England

(dir. Shane Meadows)

Big Arty Productions

With bullies making his school life a misery after his dad is killed in the Falklands, 12 year old Shaun falls in with a gang of local skinheads, who accept him as one of their own and treat him with respect. However, when older skinhead Combo returns from a stint in priosn, the group splinters as their beliefs are brought into question. What is being a skinhead? Is it a harmless interest in music and fashion - or a more militant belief in keping England "British"?

I'm rocking up two years late to this party, but yet again I wish I'd got in on this earlier. Following on from his magnificent Dead Mans Shoes, Shane Meadows delivers a masterful film - and an outstanding critique of British society and culture. Side-stepping the two usual British cliches of cockney gangsterism and kitchen sink drama, Meadows portrays a vivid sketch of 80's Britain, telling his stories form the common perspective rather the London-centric world portrayed on the news.

Thomas Turgoose is a revelation, effortlessly portraying the coming-of-age of cheeky protaganist Shaun - as he smokes his first joint, drinks his first beer and gets his first snog. Stephen Graham is an equally compelling Combo, undermining the leadership of the group, poisoning them with his mis-informed rhetoric.

Meadows keeps back from the action, but I'm pretty sure his seemingly improvised dialogue and effortless directorial style are actually fast becoming well-honed crafts. I'm surprised he hasn't yet been picked up by Hollywood, or maybe he's just not interested. Turgoose returns for his next movie Somers Town, which has been scooping awards around the world. Surprisingly, that has been revealed to have been funded by advertising agency Mother on behalf of it's client, Eurostar. Make of that what you will....

#Film
#CSF

1st Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Dark Knight

(dir. Christopher Nolan)

Harrowing. Searching. Compelling. If only Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight stopped there we could have possibly emerged from the Greater Union cineplex on Sydney’s George Street unscathed.

But Nolan wields his artform masterfully and knows his audience only too well - even when we don’t ask for more, he knows we want more and he delivers.

To watch Dark Knight is to undergo a cinematic interrogation. And it’s unsettling from the outset to confront not just the many questions Nolan is asking – good vs evil, right vs might, ambition vs reality and the many vs the few – but also the way in which he is asking them.

From the gritty opening frames of a bank heist you get the feeling Nolan has jumped into the trench right alongside you and that’s a pretty ballsy statement of claim from the guy who knocked out the flawless Batman Begins. Blockbuster sequels too often become cinematic comfort food. Nolan could have gotten away here with dishing up more of the same and most of us would have still come away pretty happy... y’know, a bit of moody darkness against the backdrop of some dazzling special effects, a couple of explosions and the odd menacing baddie... anything that erodes the travesty of Michael Keaton’s vaudevillian portrayal of Batman.

Instead, like so many of the characters in this film Nolan has turned his back on the easy option. The results are mind blowing and along the way he has produced a film every member of an entire generation wishes they could have made.

Believe the hype, Heath Ledger’s Joker will go down in history as one of the greatest silver screen performances and it’s almost a subconscious reflection of one of this film’s powerful recurring themes, the many vs the few, given the richness of the cast. Nonetheless it’s rare to see an entire cast come so totally to grips with a screenplay and deliver it in unison. Ledger, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Nuff said.

It’s almost as if Nolan and his gang realised early on just how potent a brew they had on their hands. As this flick tears through its paces they start to pull off tricks, twists and turns simply because they can. And it works. When Batman swoops to deliver swift justice to a Chinese fugitive in Hong Kong, it’s Caesar Pelli’s 88-storey IFC that looks as if it was created as a prop for this flick and not as the most astounding skyscraper in a city of astounding skyscrapers.

Treading through the many reviews (this one included) that have emerged in the whitewater of Dark Knight’s release around the world one thing becomes clear – words alone are simply not enough to describe what occurs during a tumultuous two and half hours on screen. In any event, anyone who has seen it will be deeply affected in one way or another. Do yourself a favour and waste no more time trying to decipher what they’re trying to tell you. Pad up, get yer helmets on and get yourself a good seat.

#Film
#BigE

17th Jul 2008 - 4 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Grace Jones

Meltdown 2008, Royal Festival Hall

Grace Jones is the sort of star you can't quite believe actually exists. When she arrives on stage, it's like she's been beamed in on some hyperlink from Venus, or you've been transported into Studio 54 on Tatooine - not like you've just walked in from a sunny evening off the Thames. You hear a lot about stage presence, of artists captivating audiences, but when you see someone of her immense talent, playing at such a high level, you start to realise what can be done in the live arena. 

The first sight of her is the new video for Corporate Cannibal - monochrome shots of her distinctive face, distorted, stretched out, morphing into weird shapes - a simple effect, that captures and accentates that feeling that's she's not quite from this planet. 

Then, when she finally arrives, there's the physical presence - towering up the outsized steps on stage, instantly recognisable behind the screen and the smoke. 

There's the costumes - for a while it's pretty much a new outfit for every number - each throwing different shapes into the enormous fan onstage, huge capes billowing into the corners of the stage, impossible stilettos, nutty hats...

Then, there's the voice - with all the spectacle and show you almost forget just how great it is. The deep, dark, sultry drawl that propels classics like Pull Up To The Bumper, lifts into some astonishing notes and phrasing on torch anthems like La Vie En Rose, before punctuating it all with some hilarious stage banter that kills off any ice queen trivia. 

It's a great set - packed with all the hits - and a couple of new ones, which even she doesn't know (so she just makes it up). The band are super tight, a charged, tense version of that dub-disco sound that Sly and Robbie pioneered for her. Love Is The Drug is kicked out at almost punk speed, with a thin green laser shooting down onto a mirror ball bowler hat she's wearing, the lights splintering off at a hundred miles an hour - an amazing, kinetic effect that makes it look like she's frenetic, when in fact she's standing still, almost taking a break. 

She's also probably the only artist called Grace you'll see who's got the nerve to sing Amazing Grace. Is it a cheeky joke? A nod to her divatastic reputation? A homage to her religious upbringing in Jamaica? Or all of the above? Whatever, it's an apt description, and another classic moment in a great show.

#Music
#Gig
#chimp71

23rd Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Onion Movie

(dir. Tom Kuntz, Mike Maguire)

20th Century Fox

For 20 years now, The Onion has delivered unparalleled satire of American life in its many forms. Originally (and still) an actual newspaper, The Onion is perhaps best known for their website, and they've also successfully published a series of brilliant books which further the cause of exposing and laughing at hypocrisy on a global scale. The Onion's humour has always been sort of middle-brow. There are tons of intellectual jokes throughout their work, but it's always balanced by a well-placed and timely cock joke.

Things could have turned out quite badly for this project. It was pretty much stillborn, then resurrected, and is now being released direct to DVD. Everyone involved in the project thought the material was not strong enough for a theatre release, and therefore I had a slight worry that Onion humour might not translate to a screen format, that it might be too long-winded or spend too much time extracting every ounce of humour from a topic: but the movie delivers at a great pace and (even better) does not rely heavily on material from the website and books. It's a fresh experience, and funny as fuck. Essentially, this is Kentucky Fried Movie as done by the Onion (KFO anybody?) and notably one finds the name David Zucker (Airplane etc) in the producer credits.

It's also great to report that the movie has high production values - a super glossy look and great cast. There's some neat continuity gags, themes which are returned to from different perspectives, tight dialogue and it's beautifully edited. For a comedy film these things are often secondary, but not in this case.

You'll laugh, you'll wince, and you will nod in agreement as the movie drops smart-bombs on self-inflated idiots. No-one is safe. From the Islamic terrorist training video, through trailers for Steven Seagal's latest action movie (Steven Seagal IS Cockpuncher), and an awesome sequence which involves a hip-hop Wigger being recognised as truly black (only not in the way he wanted) - this is a work of comedic and satirical genius. Highly recommended.

#Film
#HarrisPilton

18th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Bella Union / Sub Pop

Hailing from Seattle, 5 piece Fleet Foxes have been causing quite a stir locally and while Sub Pop have long been Seattle's finest they thankfully they stuck to their "only sign bands from Seattle" code to snap up this band - as let's face it, that's a code that has seen more than a few happy exceptions recently (The Shins, Postal Service, Oxford Collapse, Flight of the Conchords (!?)).

Using heavy precussion, multiple vocals and a giant dollop of campfire guitar acoustics, Fleet Foxes gently rustle up an epic granduer that you often won't see coming. Everybody's talking about the Crosby, Stills & Nash sound that the band have, but it's just as valid to compare them to contempories like My Morning Jacket and label-mates Band of Horses - as all rely heavily on a powerful voice to carry the dense, sophisticated music. While there's a definite nostalgia to Fleet Foxes, it never seems like pastiche or parody - just fun, passionate music, with a depth and quality way beyond the band's slender years.

Thankfully there's a healthy dose of Young in that Crosby, Stills and Nash sound and while the hymnal harmonies might be the obvious USP here it's the rockier numbers that have grabbed my attention. The sweeping guitars of Ragged Wood build in beautiful climbing chords, while the pounding drums and keyboard provide the backing for a grand narrative on Your Protector. Thanks to more examples on the Sun Giant EP (English House and Mykonos in particular) it seems clear that this is an element that has plenty of room for development within the band.

For a debut album this is a pretty stellar release and you can only hope that things are going to get even better from this band. Fantastic.

#Music
#CSF

2nd Jun 2008 - 4 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Jim James

St. James' Church, London

May 22nd, 2008

By performing under his innocuous stage name, these one-man shows by My Morning Jacket front man Jim James often go unnotticed in the listings, but as anyone who has attended one can testify - they are overlooked gems in the My Morning Jacket schedule.

On this occasion lead guitarist Carl Broemel was in tow to provide some back up and the venue was spectacular. Could there be any better setting for James angelic voice than a church? James himself seemed awstruck by the venue and often lost himself in the darkness of the room, with only some low-key lighting picking the stage out of the darkness. Opening with Tonight I Want To Celebrate With You, the venue perfectly projected the bands gentle sound and as the two of them worked through acoustic masterpieces like Golden, the duelling guitars filled the room.

It Beats 4 U got a low-key workout which highlighted the passionate lyrics, while newsongs like Sec Walkin' and Librarian were perfectly suited to the venue - sounding much more part of the catalogue here, out of the context of the eclectic new record. Thank You Too really soared, with great guitar work from James - who often over-shadowed his counterpart Carl Broemel, who's presence sometimes seemed distracting from the otherwise captivating focus of the show. Left truly solo for a spell in the middle of the set, songs like The Bear got a flawless presentation for the front man, as the gentle acostics built up before letting loose into a torrent of guitar usually reserved for a speaker facing three-man jam.

James and Broemel returned for an encore and after a hymnal intro from Sam Cooke's I Thank God, they took on an ambitious rendition of Touch Me I'm Going To Scream (Part 2). The haunting electronics of the Omnichord made for an experience far beyond your average acoustic show, with Broemel's soaring slide guitar this time perfectly complementing the electronic beats and vocals.

As the echoing beats faded away there was time for one more and the drums continued into a great rendition of Anytime, before the eccentric cape-clad front man left the stage again - hiding under his cloak like a victorian sideshow oddity. Outstanding.

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23rd May 2008 - 4 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Black Mountain

Scala, London

May 18th, 2008

You're might be getting a bit bored of us raving about Black Mountain by now, but what can I say? With In The Future still holding it's current album of the year status for me, the band were back in the UK for the ATP festival and a European tour and I didn't want to miss them playing another smaller venue, before they certainly get bigger and bigger.

Playing a set consisting almost entirely of material from In The Future, you feel almost like you have flashed into the future yourself and are sitting at one of ATP's own Don't Look Back series - where bands perform their classic album in it's entirely. While it may have taken a couple of songs before the band really found their stride in terms of pace and power, it didn't take long and once they did they were firing on all cylinders. Never dropping a beat or letting the tension slip it's a remarkable show, best described as being run over by a freight train. In the best possible way. If you're not onboard by now, what are you waiting for?

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20th May 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Four Tet

Ringer

Domino

Say what you like about Four Tet but "same ol, same ol" is unlikely to be included. Having put out a rather under-par fourth album in 2005 with Everything Ecstatic and following it with ongoing collaboration with Steve Reid this 4 track EP is the first piece of solo material we've been given for a while, but boy was it worth the wait. Having slightly exhausted his form of cut-up beats and calamitous percussion, he crafts here a more minimal and deep techno formation that hints at conforming but always keeps it's hand hovering dangerously over the sabotage button where the slightest press could send the beat spiraling off into glorious irregularity.

From the opening title track to the closing disco percussion of Wing Body Wing these songs take in deep breaths of space then exude from their every pore sublime ripples of sonic richness. At over 10 minutes in length Ringer is a stunning way to open this EP. The sense of space is achieved by the slow build up and gradual layering of vast swathes of tone and delicate beats that climb upon eachother, higher and higher, until they stand proud, surveying this endless landscape. Ribbons drips with moist lushness while Swimmer rides the wave of a constant, resonating tone then slowly fades in erratic cymbal beats that swirl from one ear to the next with anarchic confidence. Wing Body Wing pulls focus on Hebdon's trademark recuttings of jazz breaks and brings them into line with a deep heartbeat and almost african rhythms. Gentle melody tip-toes around this rhythm making way for driving bursts of synthesizer.

This EP heralds a very promising direction for Hebdon. This is techno made with an afrobeat/krautrock sensibility and it may be minimal but this artists grasp of detail is very much present. Every moment of this record has been viewed under a microscope but the result sounds effortless and joyous. It beats with an unstoppable pulse and shields its eyes from the glaring sunshine ahead as it looks forward to the expanding horizon it has just created.

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15th Apr 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Orphanage

(dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)

This is the directorial debut of Juan Antonio Bayona and together with screenwriter Sergio Sanchez they have produced a modern ghost story that uses time honored traditions of horror and suspense to create a truly chilling piece of work. It centres around a small family unit, Laura (Belen Rueda) her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their adopted nine-year-old son Simon (Roger Princep), who return to the barren, coastal orphanage where Laura spent some of her childhood in order to re-establish it as a home for handicapped children. Pretty soon she becomes aware of a new set of 'imaginary' friends that seem to join in with Simon's carefree games. Innocent treasure hunts soon lose their charm when the treasure becomes something you really care about.

The less you know about the plot of this film the more you'll enjoy and succumb to its intrigue. The Orphanage has been brought to the screen by executive producer Guillermo del Toro - who clearly shines as a major influence here. Like the dazzling Pan's Labyrinth it delves deep into the imaginary worlds of a child's imagination and the fear that can arise from an adults inability to follow. Like del Toro's own film The Devil's Backbone, The Orphanage recognises and exploits the basic fear we all have through the vulnerability of children.

In a genre populated by countless teen-slasher films this film's superior grasp of the things that make us all scared is stunning. Both aesthetically and stylistically this is a traditional horror film in the sense that it all takes place in an old house full of dark rooms and even darker secrets. The fear is delivered with restraint and tension recognising that there is nothing more scary than what we create in our own minds. But their is an inevitable contemporary unease that presides over this story. The constant stream of child abductions that populate our news broadcasts and the recent horrors that have been uncovered in the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey all serve to enhance our dread at the events that unfold.

This film may be subtle in it's fear delivery approach but there were several moments where everyone in the cinema screamed uncontrollably. The film opens with the young Laura facing a tree saying "one, two , three: knock on the door," then turning around to see how close her friends have approached, so when, as an adult, she is forced to repeat the same game in a darkened room in order to tempt the child- ghosts out of their hiding places the fear was tangible and audible throughout the cinema. There is also a 'jaw-dropping' car accident and a sack-masked child to scare the living daylights out of you as well.

Ever since The Shining I have been intrigued by a film that claims to be truly frightening but have been disappointed on many occasions. It doesn't seem hard to push our fear buttons but so many film makers repeatedly get it wrong opting for gore and violence over suggestion and subtlety. Together with Alejandro Amenabar (The Others) this crop of directors have an intelligence and sensitivity which, when put withquality acting performances, create some truly terrifying cinema experiences.

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4th Apr 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Freaks & Geeks

(creator Paul Feig)

Set in early 80's Michigan, Freaks & Geeks follows a group of outsiders through a year of high school. Former mathlete Lindsay attempts to up the cool stakes and graduate to hanging around with the pot-smoking Freaks, while younger brother Sam and his geek friends explore the expanding possibilities of life in high school.

Whether they're receiving surprisingly compassionate sex-ed from Coach Fredricks (Biff Tannen to you and me) or just getting a plain-old beat down from some seniors, the story lines here have universal appeal that no 80's kid could forget. In fact, I doubt a kid from any era would have trouble relating to the episodes covered - which is surprising given the relative commercial failure of the show, which was cancelled after one season despite critical praise.

While it cannot be overlooked that the show owes a massive debt to 70's slacker classic Dazed and Confused, it addresses many of that movie's shortcomings and handles a lot of the topics in a more plausible manner, providing depth to the lives of the good and bad kids and even the parents. Due to its length (18 episodes), it also allows the characters and storylines to fill out much more completely, never feeling forced when it drops in era references to the likes of Led Zeppelin or Foghat, like Richard Linklater's film so often did. Unforgettable moments include an episode where the young geeks befriend a new hottie, scored entirely by Billy Joel tracks - or a true Rocky moment when the tables are turned and the geeks get to pick the teams for school baseball - and literally catch out the jocks.

While it doesn't quite have the writing confidence that Aptow found with his small-talking pop-culture dialogue in Knocked Up, it's all pretty convincing and the acting is uniformly good. Linda Cardellini's Lindsay walks the line between wanting to get good grades vs wanted to be cool very convincingly, while the younger geeks are played with a subtlety well beyond their acting experience - John Francis Daley (as Sam) and Martin Starr (as Bill, later to play 'Cocaine Era Scorsese' in Knocked Up) in particular. James Franco also justifies his more recent A/B-List status as the occasionally troubled, always charming head Freak - Daniel Desario.

Things tail off slightly in the last couple of episodes, where you can't help feeling that the seemingly cancelled run tried to shoehorn too much in - but all in all this is expertly crafted, unmissable television.

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19th Mar 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Black Mountain

Cargo, London

December 5th 2007

Gigs don't get much better than this. 2005 favourites Black Mountain have put the side-projects to one side and got back in the ring with a new album In The Future - due January 2008. Having been enlisted to play this weekend's ATP Festival, the band lined up a few warm-up dates around the UK - with the London gig happily a mere two minutes from our office. Just when this gig couldn't get any better, one of this year's favourites - Miracle Fortress - get lined up to support and for the first time in a long time, not missing the support act became a priority. You can read a quick review of their performance here.

Singer Amber Webber introduced the band through the haunting Night Walks, before Stormy High got things really moving. This classic heavy number may be new, but there was no reluctance to get into it from the crowd. Songs like Lighting Up The Sky and Evil Ways find the guitar and bass onslaught building a wave of noise that is impossible not to get swept up in.  Old favourite Satisfaction was requested from the crowd but given short shrift as the set-list was strictly warm-up, consisting of all but two of the new album tracks, plus Thirteen Walls from a tour 12" on sale at the show and only a couple of older numbers.

Where the debut album showed great potential, the new material really finds the band hitting their stride and the power behind these songs is immense. Blood Meridian front man Matt Camirand is a supporting player here, providing a solid bassline from the back, along with the powerhouse John Bonham-esque drumming and moody moog electronics. While Stephen McBean is clearly the leader of the band, they all have a strong input into the stage presence - all mic'ed up for backing vocals and all happy to chip in with the stage banter. McBean has a great voice however and the change in pace for the accoustic Stay Free provided a chance for him to reclaim centre stage.

Not unlike getting mugged in slow motion, the non-stop onslaught is a strangely rewarding experience. Without being cheesy or predictable, the songs hit the highs and lows in all the right places - just where you expect them. As songs like Tyrants wind down, you find yourself hoping for one last barrage of guitar thunder, but you still aren't prepared for the ferocity with which it is delivered.

The earlier call for Satisfaction was addressed as the band came back on for a riotous rendition of that debut album favourite plus another oldie No Hits. Hopefully they're now feeling suitably warmed, as I'm certainly ready for more.

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6th Dec 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Beirut

The Roundhouse, London

Last year, Beirut's first album was a beacon of light in a skinny-jeaned indie world. It seemed oblivious of it's contemporary musical context with its myriad of cultural references but unfortunately the follow up continued the concept all too closely and the love affair dwindled. Well last night it was reignited.

Any band lucky enough to play at the Camden Roundhouse starts off with at least one star for the venue alone, but the points soon notched up as the multi-instrumental troupe assembled on stage. From the first blasts of the trumpets my heart was confused. I felt like I was on holiday and stumbled across a local band and yet I was looking at a young punk in an unassuming jeans and t-shirt who looked like he'd been dragged from the crowd by someone shouting 'come on Zach, you can sing Balcan music.' As the slow notes rang out I imagined drowning my sorrows in a small fishing port with my fellow villagers as we bid farewell to the brave men soon to set sail, even though we all new some of them would not return. And when the tempo rose it was like we were celebrating their return.

There wasn't the slightest hint of pretension with this band. As Zach Condon took to the stage to a rapturous crowd he launched head long into this beguiling music. With trumpet slung over shoulder his voice seemed to be coming from another time, another culture and another body. In between vocals he would join his band in an onslaught of triple trumpets and the hair stood proud on the back of my neck, there was even a triple ukulele showdown on Brandenburg. Songs from the debut Gulag Orkestar brought the loudest cheers with treats like The Canals Of Our City sounding like a million heart strings playing in unison. Postcards From Italy was a whirling cacophony of musical pleasure that from its first pluck of the ukulele had the crowd swooning in pure middle-class joy.

It really is hard to fault this experience. Aside from Condon's effortless presence and spectacular voice the music that surrounded him was spectacular. Crisp and clear it raised the roof of this unique and truly fitting venue. As I queued for the toilet after all this had drawn to a close, the R'n'B playing faintly over the stereo was an affront to my ears (even more than usual) and I realised that it was going to be hard rejoining the world after such an all encompassing and magical experience.

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12th Nov 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Radiohead

In Rainbows

Radiohead's 7th album will forever be referred to as much for its content as the method by which it greeted our hungry ears. On 10th October we were literally 'given' the first morsels from this truly unique band since 2003's Hail To The Thief, but that wasn't the only great thing about that day. As a youngster I can remember the magical feeling that came with the arrival of a long awaited album. You would count down the days until it was released trapped in a glorious, internet-free vacuum of anticipation and speculation. Then when the day finally came the first thing on your mind was getting to that shop and claiming your copy, nothing else mattered in those days.

Fast forward to the present day and things have changed considerably. You rarely need to wait for anything now - leaks or promos arrive in your iTunes like it ain't no thang, and anyway even if you are waiting for something to be released by the time you get it your head is already littered with countless 'expert' opinions that it's hard to form your own. Well, last Wednesday we were all equal. Currently label-less, Radiohead took control of their property and gave it to everyone at the same time - no leaks, no promo copies and therefore no opinions. We were all free to make up our minds, not only on how valuable it was to us but what we thought of it. I felt a twinge of that magic return last week as I downloaded my copy and it's stayed with me throughout every play of In Rainbows.  I remember where I was on the release of pretty much every Radiohead album and Wednesday 10th of October was a special day indeed.

So, in the democratic spirit with which this record was released it seems fitting to apply such ideals to its scrutiny. So here are some Chimps early takes on the whole In Rainbows thing, and it ain't law it's just, like, their opinion man... - BC

People who have protested for years to me about Radiohead, have been approaching me recently saying; ‘Have you heard the new Radiohead album?  It’s Great!’

It is great indeed, a popularity that has not been the result of any concessions made by the band. ‘In Rainbows’ is beautiful, challenging and yes, repeat it, uplifting. It is the end of a sometimes lonely journey that has led them through the hinterland of ‘Kid A’, ‘Amnesiac’ and the not-to-be-ignored solo project by Thom Yorke last year; ‘The Eraser’. 

‘In Rainbows’ would not the subtle and lushly layered album it is without those earlier explorations, masterfully combining the art of melody (which the band claimed to forsake after ‘OK Computer) and laptop experimentation.  The ten songs are underpinned by Phil Selway’s tight framework of drumming and percussion, a structure which allows us to really appreciate the wonder of Yorke’s flying voice.

I heard that Muse were ‘the new Radiohead’.  That crown is still taken.  Indefinitely.  Enjoy the moment.

I paid 8 quid by the way.  A sum arrived at after several phonecalls, a lot of deleting,
re-entering and inner moral debate.

- LG - 5 Stars

Stand out tracks are Nude and All I Need. Yorke's vocals act as such a powerful instrument. Radiohead's best moments as a band come when they achieve the perfect balance between explosion and quiet - and this album isn't quite up on the explosive stuff. With these songs having being written and recorded over time, it feels the album lacks the cohesion of their finest releases.

The band should be commended for their release strategy, as the music industry certainly needs re-modelling. Having said that, it's any easy risk to take when you're seven albums deep on the back of millions in sales. Quite how it might work for new musicians I'm not so sure.

£3 and 3.5 stars - CJ

More than any other recording artist, one feels one should react to a new Radiohead album in the same manner one might to the unveiling of a controversial piece of contemporary art. One must try to connect with what one hears on a much deeper, esoteric level.
 
It is unquestionably, and unequivocally, a piece of Art. Beautifully challenging, not just to the individual listening, but on a far higher plane it is pointing the gun; the finger; the stick not only at the music industry, but society as a whole. In accessing the album the conch is passed to the world and is asked: What is music worth? What is art worth?
 
One parted with £4, as one is tight and would have bought it in the sales. (Though one wishes one had paid one pound as that would have made for a better punch line). - Locochimpo

The release of this album was an absolute bolt from the blue. Everyone knew album seven was past due, but no-one could have predicted a release this radical. As CJ mentions, it's a no-brainer when you're 70 millions albums deep in sales - and realistically it is not a suitable model for 99% of the bands out there. Why not just forget your worries about piracy and still release a CD? The labels don't have any problems knocking very recent releases by the likes of Kasabian or Kings of Leon down to £3 in HMV, so they're obviously covering their costs.

I've never had a problem either downloading music for free or paying for it if it's good. In fact I'm a conscientious thief, often stockpiling copies of albums I've downloaded, or shelling out £30 for a shoddy live box - as compensation for someone giving me a copy of a studio release.

The bottom line these days however is that CDs are fast becoming a thing of the past. I have shelves and shelves (or boxes under the bed these days) of CDs that have literally never been played on a CD player. They arrive, get ripped to digital and then filed away. Sleeve notes might get skimmed over on the way home. Radiohead have a always put great stock in their artwork, and I have a couple of the limited editions album's with Stanley Donwood's artwork. They're under the bed too.

I'd love to get the £40 discbox, but realistically it's not what I really want - as I'm not going to hang it on the wall like some sort of pseudo art collector. I want the music, and I'd most likely shell out the extra just to get the extra tracks. I plumped down £3 for the download and will pony up for the CD when it lands (hopefully) next year some time, just for the extra music. Promise.

And what of the music? I loved Hail To The Thief and saw it as a climax to their progressive work on Kid A and Amnesiac. I'm glad Thom Yorke's diverted his tinkering to his far-from-satisfactory solo record and put a bit of welly back into this, but it does feel some what incohesive in places, sagging a bit in the middle. Minor nit-picking though. It's a new Radiohead album and it's better than 90% of what's been around recently.  - CSF - 4.5 Stars

The start and finish of a Radiohead album have been a along fascination of mine. Having made some of the best music of this and the last century Radiohead have always had an annoying habit of chucking in the odd duff song towards the mid way point of an album then another at the end. OK Computer, Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief are definitely top heavy but I can't put the same claim on In Rainbows. This is one of the most consistent albums they've made.

Like Kid Amnesiac's wailing trumpets the new sound for this year is the blues guitar and its presence on 15 Steps is a great contrast to the stuttering electronics. Bodysnatchers was a stand-out powerhouse at last years live shows with the dirtiest riffs we've heard for years and Reckoner and House Of Cards have an excellent direction-less quality, maintaining the same beat and tempo throughout both songs in their own way suggest that they could go on for ever. Which leads me on to the main complaint, length. The album itself seems very short and many of the songs end way too abruptly.

But finally they get the ending right. Kid A could end so well if it wasn't for Motion Picture Soundtrack but a lot of the others start to tail off from about track 6. Jigsaw Falling Into Place is a future classic and one of the finest songs on this record but the spooked out lethargy of Videotape gives a powerful sense of finality to the album. All in all this one of the most complete pieces of work from Radiohead in years. You can hear every album they've made in this one including Pablo Honey and it still works. - BC - 4.5 Stars

The first listen of In Rainbows for me was an instant connection - it just sounded better than anything else I've heard for ages. There's an aura of confidence, of a band sitting back and enjoying playing together, the sound of people with something to say and the skills to say it.

Don't know if I've remembered this correctly, but I'm sure there was an episode of Later... once where Billy Corgan was on with Zwan (his post-Pumpkins project) and you could tell he really thought he'd changed the face of music etc again - and then you could see that vision crumbling while he watched Radiohead - who really had. (Almost as good as the time Dylan played Donovan one of his new songs.) The other thing I always remember about them was seeing them play Victoria Park in 2000, and just being amazed at how they'd managed to get so many people to listen to really out-there, avant-garde rock - and absolutely love it.

They just seem ahead of the game somehow - yes they've got record collections filled with Aphew Twin and Autechre - but it's translating that into rock and singalongable songs that makes them work so well. Love the ballads on this one - House Of Cards is as close as I think I've ever heard them get to a love song. Stormers like 15 Step and Bodysnatchers are huge. There's a real sense of them having taken the experiments of the past and learned how to incorporate them without trying so hard this time round, leaving it all feeling like complete, fully formed collection. You somehow want to inhabit this album - or maybe just hear it loud and live. Personally, I like the fact it's concise - it's one of the few albums this year where I've wanted to listen to it altogether, in order - and then go back to the beginning again.

To pull all this off, and then top it with the added "hey we know it's 2007" move of all the download/boxset options makes them feel connected to the world we've all found ourselves in. Totally agree with BC above - it does feel special to let everyone get it at the same time. As someone who grew up waiting months, sometimes a year for albums to be shipped out to the colonies from England, it's weird to click and instantly get stuff these days - does feel like this has somehow put some of the excitement and fun back into music. Would love to know how the experiment's done - real drag it's not chart eligible, but maybe that's all pointless and irrelevant now too... C71 - 4.5 Stars

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19th Oct 2007 - 3 comments - 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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Monkey: Journey to the West

Palace Theatre, Manchester

The flagship event of the Manchester International Festival is an ambitious one: An opera with music by Damon Albarn, designs by Jamie Hewlett and direction by Chen Shi-Zheng entirely in Mandarin. The two-hour work involves a cast of 45-odd martial artists, acrobats and singers - and in the case of Fei Yang, who plays Monkey, often all three simultaneously.

The event is nothing short of spectacular. The opening sequence, with animations by Hewlett, which deals with Monkey's birth (hatched from a giant egg, which was expelled from a great stone) is perfectly coordinated with the live music. Later in the scene, which switches effortlessly to the live players, Monkey with other monkeys climbs up the bamboo trees - which is reminiscent of the scenes in Crouching Tiger and Flying Daggers, except that these people are really doing it.

The story, which many chimps will be familiar with, is a Chinese classic. Monkey is obsessed with seeking immortality and magical power, and travels over continents to find a teacher. He eventually finds Subodhi, a Taoist master, who teaches him how to fly on a magical cloud that can carry him on great distances, and the art of transforming himself into anything he wants.

He then dives into the Eastern Sea and finds the Old Dragon King to whom he boasts of his prowess and requests a weapon to equal his ability. The King gives him the magical iron rod, which can change from the size of a needle to the size of a mountain, and is so powerful it holds down the ocean floor.

Monkey travels to Heaven to demand recognition of his power, and gate crashes a birthday party for the Queen Mother of Heaven. Incensed that he was not invited along with gods and sages, he wreaks havoc - eating all of the heavenly peaches, each of which takes 9000 years to ripen and bestows an extra thousand years of life. He fights with all of the gods and sages, winning every battle, and proclaims himself a Great Sage Equal to Heaven. The Queen Mother of Heaven eventually pleads with the Great Buddha to step in to get the Monkey King under control. Monkey is imprisoned under the palm of Buddha.

Five hundred years later, the Buddha sends the goddess Guan Yin to find a believer to journey to India to bring the Holy Scriptures to China. She chooses Hsuang-tsang, a handsome, devout Buddhist monk and gives him the name Tripitaka after the Scriptures themselves. Guan Yin enlists Monkey to protect Tripitaka and they embark on their journey, finding Pigsy and Sandy on their way and offering them the chance of redemption in return for their service. They encounter many adventures and obstacles on their Journey to the West.

The text, which alternates between spoken word and song is delivered entirely in Mandarin, the inclusion of subtitles which are hard to read due to the heads of the people in front, help only a little. Surtitles wouldn't have worked here either, since the theatre has a huge amount of restricted-view seating. That aside the story is easy to follow, and it is often the case in opera, even those sung in English, that you cannot hear the words.

The sound-world is exotic and far from conventional. The orchestra consists of some western instruments - 2 violins, cello, trumpet, trombones, tuba and percussion - as well as instruments from China such as the Pipa, Zhongruan and Zheng, which are all string instruments. Damon Albarn also includes a substantial amount of electronics, including an Ondes Martenot (as used extensively by Jonny Greenwood), and keyboards. Also in the pit are 9 singers who contribute to the overall sound, often wordlessly. All of the music is amplified too, which adds a further dimension to the sound. The entire opera is held together by the young conductor André de Ridder, who can be seen cueing the singers on stage - often whilst they are suspended mid-air, mid-flight and mid-fight.

The music is a mixture of Ennio Morricone (particularly Farewell to Cheyenne, from Once Upon a Time in the West), Philip Glass (circa Koyaanisqatsi), and Tibetan Buddhist chant. Albarn manages also to avoid writing music that sounds Chinese, whilst simultaneously doing exactly that. His gift for melody and riff-making are also pleasingly evident here.

Taken as a whole, then, this opera does what opera should do at its best - it entirely captivates for the duration of the show. I was completely caught up in the story, the music, the animation and the action on stage. I couldn't help thinking though, whether this opera was successful because of the huge spectacle, and if the lavish production was stripped away it would be as impressive. It is certainly as big a production as those found at the Met in New York, or the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Rumour has it that the production will be transferred to London at some point. It moves to the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris from late September. I saw cinematographer Christopher Doyle after the show, perhaps he will be making a DVD of this run. Definitely worth seeing.

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#cnrth

5th Jul 2007 - 6 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wilco

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

For a while now Wilco have been the final frontier when it comes to live music. In the last few years many of the greats have been ticked off my list and tonight the final pillar was going to fall. Wilco certainly didn't disappoint. You could divide this gig into two distinct sections - before Jeff Tweedy addressed the crowd and after. Ploughing through 3 choice cuts from the new album and some Wilco classics including I Am Trying To Break Your Heart it seemed Tweedy was here to do a professional job and get the hell out of there. Then the surprisingly charismatic frontman decided to include us in their fun and the whole night took off. And after that it went pretty much as I'd expected, which is good - as I expected nothing short of greatness.

Wilco have never been the kind of band to come out punching with soaring anthems or fancy pyrotechnics so it wasn't until mid-way through that their brilliance fully seeps in and you stand there totally porous to their genius. That's when songs like At Least That's What You Said, Hummingbird and A Shot In The Arm envelop you in their warmth and you are forever changed. Glen Kotche's drumming was, as expected, the back bone to this stunning performance, and new signing Nels Kline frequently took new tracks like Impossible Germany and the beautiful You Are My Face to dazzling heights as he frantically throttled the neck of his guitar. But it was the awesome rendition of the epic Spiders (Kidsmoke) that totally stole the show and took it stellar. I have always considered A Ghost Is Born to be Wilco's finest and this reinforced my opinion. During the 10 minute marathon of climbing guitars, heavy drumming and swirling sound effects this band became something else. This song alone puts them in their own category and though Sky Blue Sky sees them opting for time out of this category for a while their place will always be guaranteed. It was a pleasure to be in the company of this band and its music.

BC - 4 Stars

As a powerhouse band Wilco seem to be getting better and better, with some great contributions from the new boys coming up through the ranks, and notably the Clapton-suited summer signing Nels Cline up front proving some major firepower. Jeff Tweedy holds his own in a guitar duel however, of which there were plenty - mostly more full on and rocking than I could have ever anticipated.

In a live setting the quiet/loud formula of many of the tracks was more apparent - even on many pre A Ghost Is Born numbers, and certainly on beefed up renditions of some of the Sky Blue Sky highlights, such as Side With The Seeds. Many of the more low-key songs like Poor Places and Via Chicago were given a fleshed out majesty by the full band that made them sound better than ever with the finer details or the effects, keyboards and backing vocals more richly presented. Surprisingly the big stand out for me was Woody Guthries Airline to Heaven, which found the band firing on all 6 cylinders to magical effect.... and there was even room for an extra Nels Cline solo.

After the crowd got into the swing of it, Tweedy lightened up and things really picked up getting better and better. This is a man I never thought I would see doing the running man, but there you go. With two extended encores it seemed like we were in Wilco heaven, and with the introduction of Bill Fay for a rendition of his Be Not So Fearful we were provided with a touching tribute to some of the bands roots and influences. Fantastic.

CSF - 4.5 Stars

just to add to the dedicated tweedy-watchers above. for some reason i had them filed in the wrong side side of my alt country factfile for years, have to say i'm glad we've put in the conversion hours at chimp towers to get me up to speed. have only really got round to absorbing the last two albums, but enjoyed everything they played. totally concur on Spiders (Kidsmoke) being the stand-out moment - love those loooong jams where everything cruises and then explodes. Impossible Germany had a great solo to finish it off, loved the freak-out stuff on Via Chicago and that last Bill Fay track was a very sweet closer. never really noticed the beatles influence on the wilco sound before, suddenly felt like i was watching a kind of US indie version of Wings (a good thing in my book). great playing from the whole band, and good to hear a band rocking out without just turning up the amps to 11. 

brought 3 other newbies w me; all walked out converts which leads me to award a pretty conclusive...

4 Stars - c71 

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22nd May 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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The National

Boxer

Beggars

The National are a rare and special commodity indeed, they seem to exist in an alternate reality all of their own. They have an almost Teflon power to repel any concrete judgments that aim to stick to their ethereal outer surface. Though they never claim to make music that breaks boundaries, creatively they exist in a bubble. Their sound recalls artists like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen but even as I write this my head's telling me "well not really." Artistically they follow their own path religiously. You would never catch Matt Berninger penning an openly anti-war lyric,  instead he expertly crafts word groupings that defy imagination and meaning yet inspire a certain magical imagery that is totally unique to them. The write up on their myspace page puts it perfectly. "The band sings about the kind of dreams that ruin lives, and they make of those dreams the kind of music that saves them."

With Alligator, their 2005 debt for Beggars Banquet, The National pricked up the ears of music critics, bloggers and any one with a heart and at their London gig at Koko they looked openly stunned as the rapturous crowd sang along ecstatically to ever line. It's easy to create honest and unadulterated art in virtual obscurity but how do you do it when your last album genuinely changed lives? Well, Boxer is how.

This follow up contains not a single trace of self awareness. It is as honest and unique as its predecessor and for that reason is like discovering the band all over again. It uses Alligator as a starting point and goes deeper, plumbing newer and far more richer depths of sound and mood. Musically they show a remarkable maturity using great washes of strings to block in their dream-like landscape then send out a resounding boom across this land with pounding piano and the best drumming this band has ever produced.

From the outset it's pretty clear we're in for a treat. Fake Empire is just the kind of opener you want to hear from a band with this much expectation. A rumbling piano counts in Berninger's voice which is gloriously baritone and heralds the first glimpse of the awesome drumming we see so often on Boxer. Mistaken For Strangers has more bite to it, with chugging guitars accompanying the pounding drums. Songs like Green Gloves and Slow Slow just ooze from the speakers with thick, all consuming quality. Slow Slow's gently strummed structure ticks along with a majestic string accompaniment and  ends up soaring on a beautifully toe-tapping rhythm. Matt Berninger writes with almost stream-of-consciousness fluidity and his strange tales of diamond slippers, gay ballets on ice and rosie minded fuzz seem to drip from his tongue with such ease that it's quite hypnotic. Unlike previous albums Berninger never raises his voice on Boxer and the blood curdling scream of songs like Sad Songs' Available and Alligator's Abel has all but vanished. Instead we get a voice almost unfathomable in depth which seems to be used as much as an instrument as a conveyor of narrative.

If I had to include one slight complaint it would be the choice of ending on the record. Gospel brings things to a close on a relatively week note especially as the song preceding it is so wonderful. In my opinion Ada would end this album with more of a lasting power with its haunting melancholia and gently simmering unease. But it seems foolish to dwell on this as you'll rarely be listening to this album once and pretty soon you'll have had it on repeat so often that you wont know how it ends.

This album has a strange power. Its depth is slow releasing and after the third play you'll wonder if someone has switched cd's on you. The myriad of layers encoded in its rich tapestry will reveal themselves to you with ever emerging magnificence until its overall splendor will have you open mouthed in awe and wonder. If it hasn't got you after the fifth listen then there's something wrong with your brain or your audio equipment. You can't do much about your brain but if it's the latter then I recommend hiring a Bentley for a weekend and giving it a go on that stereo. Believe me, it'll be worth every penny.

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

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Dinosaur Jr.

Beyond

Pias

Listening to Beyond, the first album featuring the original 3 members of Dinosaur Jr (J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph) since 1988’s Bug (and a subsequent falling out), I was going to write at length about an old interview with Mascis on Snub TV - but, sure enough, YouTube and Wikipedia fill in the back story there. What struck me was the stark contrast between Mascis the interviewee and Mascis the musician. As he himself points out “There’s nothing going on anywhere really, so you might as well sit where you are.” I can’t imagine the Mascis School of Motivation is over subscribed, but put a guitar in the man’s hands and he’s off and running, screaming fury and love, all articulated over the space of 6 strings and a fretboard. 

This is what we want from Dinosaur Jr. Mascis’ shy, laid-back but sweet vocals, hiding behind some simply stunning electric guitar work. Extended solos and walls of effects might be the stuff of Spinal Tap gimmicks and indeed Barlow himself had a couple of digs at Mascis when first starting up ‘rival’ band Sebadoh (“Pedal hopping like a Dinosaur” he sings on Gimmie Indie Rock), but such is Mascis’ mastery that the guitar is the integral part, the character and essence of each song. Now, with Murph back behind the drums and Barlow, surely one of the hardest Bassists around (in playing, if not fighting terms), reconciled and ready to rock, the rhythm section is there to add the muscle behind Mascis’ wanderings and meanderings - you want a power trio? Here you are.

After almost 20 years apart it is in-keeping with the Mascis’ persona that the first song is called Almost Ready and yep, we’re straight into a blistering solo and ‘immediate classic’ territory.  Almost Ready kicks down the door of Indie Rock 2007 and politely screams ‘What the fuck’s up with this party?’ Less of an edge, but no slacking in quality for the poppier Crumble.  Then early favourite Pick Me Up - 6 and a half minutes and what a journey.  The opening riff could be lifted from a scene in an 80s movie, where the baddie is finally getting the upper hand, all adrenaline and activity, working through a chorus that sees Mascis singing - dueting with his guitar before concluding with a 3 minute guitar solo (that’s three minutes). Awesome.  Play it alongside No More Shoes by Stephen Malkmus to get an idea what these two heroes are all about. 

After all that hi-octane, it’s time to bring things down a bit, with Lou taking over vocal duties on Back to Your Heart.  I’m on record as a huge fan of Sebadoh and a large part of that is down to Barlow’s song writing - so when he’s backed by the power of Dinosaur Jr. it’s a no-lose situation.  This Is All I Came To Do lifts the mood again and whilst the title may or may not refer to guitar solo-work, the song contains a couple of beauties.  Drummer Murph gets to flex on Been There All the Time, laying down some powerful rolls as the band rock out. Hard. Mixing things up, they follow the harder, darker, metal-er(?) It’s Me with the light and airy We’re Not Alone and I Got Lost, which has Mascis’ falsetto voice, sitting atop acoustic guitar, tom rolls and a cello. Lou and his bass take centre-stage for Lighning Bulb before What if I Knew bids us fairwell in the way Mascis knows best…that’s right, a blistering solo.

It’s good to have them back. Since re-forming in 2005, they are amongst a very select group of bands I HAVE to see if they tour near me - and I look forward to seeing them punishing the Marshall Stacks with Beyond.

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30th Mar 2007 - 5 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Letters From Iwo Jima

(dir.Clint Eastwood)

Does anyone else have what I have with Clint Eastwood's films? I never rush to see them and then I watch with moderate expectations but invariably come out loving them. I really should learn by now. 'Letters From Iwo Jima' is up there with his very best, and is a great, great film. I thought the Best Picture category was fairly weak this year but it is a travisty that this didn't win. I guess they owed Scorsese one.

Seeing the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective is a clever idea and Eastwood explores this deftly. When the 'isn't war pointless' buttons are pushed it is done so in a refreshingly level headed and clear eyed view. The storytelling is always objective and the situations and characters rounded and three-dimensional.

The film is littered with great performances; Ken Watanabe's sympathetic General Kuribayashi, who retains his dignity despite the heavily stacked odds and the hopeless situation. To counterpoint the his perspective, we also follow the story of Saigo (played by Kazunari Ninomiya), a reluctant conscript who is no ones idea of the a war hero, least of all his own.

I used to think of Eastwood as an actor who directed pretty good films but make no mistake, he is a great director that can sit easily alongside the very best.


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13th Mar 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Kings Of Leon

Because Of The Times

RCA

Although many bands have a far more pedestrian schedule, Because Of The Times seems like a long time coming - with the Kings of Leon taking a casual 3 years to follow up their last record. Debut Youth and Young Manhood was 2003, Aha Shake Heartbreak came in 2004 - with only the measly Day Old Belgian Blues EP offered to fill the gap. Forget that non-starter though, as they are back with a top quality album - and they are suffering from a heavy does of 'Awesome Third Album Syndrome'.

With Knocked Up, things start with a track pretty much guaranteed to tick a few boxes with me. 7 minute opening tracks have a habit of appearing on some of my all-time favourites - At Least That's What She Said being the most obvious example. It shows that a band have a certain confidence in their sound and are happy to turn the rules on their head, and in this instance it's a confidence that is well placed. The moody bass line sets the scene for the slow build up to the inevitable unleashing of guitars that does not disappoint.

The sound on this album is stripped down and bare - working in all the right places with the minimum of fluff and fan-fare. Caleb Followill lets his wild instinct take over as his unrestrained screeches confidently lead the band into edgy territory on Charmer, while the wall of guitars on McFearless are surely destined for a back-lit, smoke machine filled arena - complete with strobe lightling. Although the sound seems less 70's American than before (I never could quite pin down exactly who) it does have a more distinct sound of it's own here, as well as pulling in a wider range of influences - with even a touch of Police reggae on Ragoo. The heavy bass-line of My Party, or the Edge style guitars of True Love Way and Arizona are accompanied throughout by superb drum lines that could have been lifted from Sunday Bloody Sunday.

There are also quite a few brat-pack-80s-prom overtones that work well, adding a well placed bit of nostalgia to tracks like True Love Way and giving the band a bit more of a grounding in the same popular culture as the rest of us - rather than the mythical 70's vibe that they seemed to have on their previous records.

While their own style vs substance ratio was never in question, marketing-wise the Kings of Leon have often been lumped in with the likes of The Killers and Kaiser Chiefs in that play-all-the-festivals-but-somehow-not-taken-all-that-seriously-category, as their relative lack of success in their homeland shows (noted on Fans). Hopefully this album will move them in the public eyes away from the hype and into the serious camp - with the likes of Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Radiohead.

This is the first album in ages that actually feels like a complete work to me - perhaps even more so than their own previous efforts. A good album should play out like a good career - cracking debut (Knocked Up), a solid couple of tracks with some experimental touches (Charmer, On Call), then a track that takes what has been learned and puts it to awesome effect (McFearless). The album is full of hearty meat and potatoes with the centre forming a solid core to the album, capturing the mood and tone of the record as a whole.

It's already an easy contender for album of the year (about the 4th contender so far I think and it's only March), and should prove to age even better that Youth and Young Manhood and Aha Shake Heartbreak. They may not be as old and grizzly as they sound, but the Kings are certainly maturing with age.

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8th Mar 2007 - 32 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Arcade Fire

Neon Bible

Rough Trade

In 2005 the Arcade Fire gave us Funeral - and with it music was exciting again. No sooner had the music industry heard all 10 songs that it set about desperately trying to find the next source of this feeling. The well timed release of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah saw that band ride this wave with another stunningly exciting debut. So it's 2 years on and Clap Your Hands got in there first with their reply, so what of Neon Bible? Is this a one trick pony? Well, what do you do after such a powerful debut? As we are seeing with Some Loud Thunder, the answer is to play it cool and take it all down a notch. No such idea ever crossed the mind of Win Butler and co. when making Neon Bible. The agenda is clear here, take everything great about Funeral and times it by ten - reveal the iceberg. It's the sound of a band who know full well that they make big music. The best word to describe Neon Bible is massive. If you intend to listen to this album you will need to brush up on 'The Platoon Position', as mid way through the opening track Black Mirror you'll find yourself in need of a suitable body position to justify such grandiosity. It's triumphant music which is surprising considering all the previous themes of death, resentment and wasted life are at its heart and the inclusion of war and the demise of America it's thematically pretty bleak. Musically and stylistically it hasn't changed much from Funeral although it seems quite obvious that someone's been listening to Bruce Springsteen. So with the immortal words of The Boss "Just wrap your legs round these velvet ribs and strap your hands across my engines,"  I will begin with what will undoubtedly become a tired and over-used driving/cars metaphor to describe this album.

If the opening track with its rumble of thunder and deep, pounding drums is akin to the feeling of getting behind the wheel of a high performance vehicle then Keep The Car Running is the point where you come over the brow of a hill and see the open road ahead. The delicate guitar strum at the start hints at the pace ahead and makes your heart flutter with impending excitement.

Title track Neon Bible is the early stop at the service station to refuel when all women and children hear the words they dread. "Get what you need cos we're not stopping again." And with Intervention we are most certainly back at full speed. It's the grandest song on the album, shit it's the fucking grandest song this side of God Save The Queen (National Anthem not Sex Pistols.) Anyone frowning at my use of cuss words will see that they certainly are justified. Starting with a chapel organ the size of St Pauls Cathedral if every hair on your body doesn't stand on end consider yourself paralyzed. I don't know how this song will be played live as no building with a roof could possibly contain it.

Black Wave is pure Blondie with it's sublime melodies courtesy of Regine Chassagne, who until now has been the power house behind the backing vocals. Ocean Of Noise brings things down a notch with it's washes of strings and soft vocals but the driver of this car wasn't joking when he said we wouldn't be stopping again. This was merely a momentary drop in intensity before the full mariachi band bring this song to a glorious close.

The Well And The Lighthouse comes in with rapid pounding drums and Butler's frenzied vocals forever building and with Antichrist Television Blues The Boss really comes to the forefront. With it's strumming acoustic structure, passion fueled tales of working for the minimum wage and unstoppable tempo this would make Bruce wish he'd written it. As do many of these songs this one builds and builds to such tremendous heights then suddenly stops and makes you think that had it not stopped so suddenly you could very easily have shit yourself with joy. Windowsill is more of a slow builder but guess what, it lifts you up on yet another earth shattering wave of sound and rings you out at the end.

The inclusion of No Cars Go is the only questionable element to this album. Having heard its original form on the early EP this feels like all too familiar territory and even though it's been working out since its first appearance its inclusion here still feels a bit unnecessary.

Things are brought to an exhaustive close with My Body Is A Cage and please welcome back on to the stage, the huge fucking chapel organ. "My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key," sings Butler "Set my body free." This song is the end of a movie, it's the unfeasible tracking-crane-shot that lifts from close proximity and keeps on lifting, encompassing everything, showing us the whole picture. And with it's climax your body drops from the Platoon Position and though all your senses try to stop you, you press play again.

So to put this tired metaphor to rest, this is an awesome journey that covers a lot of ground. It never hits traffic, it sometimes slows down for safety reasons while passing through small villages but never opts for monotonous motorway driving and always takes the scenic route.

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

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Inland Empire

(dir. David Lynch)

Another Mobius (s)trip from the dream world of David Lynch, Inland Empire pulls out from Mulholland Drive and dives off the DL DV deep-end. There's just no-one else making films like this.

Laura Dern holds it all together, in a pretty nuts performance that ranges from high-camp melodrama to neo-realism (sometimes in the same scene). It's up there with Naomi Watts's Mulholland Drive - at times you're checking it's still her because she seems so different throughout her multliple scenes. When you talk about a performance having great range, it's rarely meant in such literal terms.

In one strand, she's Nikki, an actress playing opposite Justin Theroux's Devon in On High In Blue Tomorrows, a film directed by Jeremy Irons (helped by Harry Dean Stanton), that turns out to be a remake of an ill-fated, incomplete movie called 4/7. In another, she's Sue, her character in Blue Tomorrows, who's having an affair w Theroux's character.

Early on, in a tabloid TV interview with Dern's real-life mother (and Wild At Heart co-star) Diane Ladd, she's warned to avoid womaniser Devon's on-set reputation. This is where it all starts to melt into itself, as if both Sue and Nikki are dreaming each other.

Throw in a Polish version of their reality (the original version of the film?), a group of prostitutes hanging out and occasionally bursting into choreographed dance numbers, a bunch of hardware-obsessed circus folk, cameos from Grace "Sarah Palmer" Zabriskie, Julia Ormond, William H Macy, Mary Steenburgen and Lynch himself (Bucky the lighting guy!) and a sitcom starring three rabbits (voiced by Laura Harring, Naomi Watts, and Scott Coffey and based on Rabbits, a 2002 Lynch short), and you've got a classic, unhinged, pure Lynch experience. Baffling, engrossing, funny, dark and moving all at once. It's made all the more exciting by being shot on DV - you get the feeling it's given him a fresh perspective on Lynchland, and suggests that it's a medium that's finally getting an aesthetic of its own.

Inland Empire probably won't win over any new fans, but if you've ever wanted your very own red room, it's a winner.

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#chimp71

23rd Jan 2007 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Robert Pollard

Normal Happiness

Must Destroy

The ever-prolific Robert Pollard is back (again) with a new solo LP Normal Happiness. The press release explains how The Beatles or The Who might release two albums a year and that was the norm in those days, and should not be frowned upon now. They seem to be overlooking the fact that between 2005's Beneath A Compound Eye and this second official post-Guided By Voices solo album Pollard has put out another 3 side-project albums on which he is clearly the captain of the ship - The Takeovers, The Keene Brothers and Psycho And The Birds. Plus that Bubble soundtrack mini-LP.

Putting side-projects aside for a moment, this is clearly a Robert Pollard solo album and the closest thing we're going to get to a new Guided By Voices record for the foreseeable future. Where the side-projects are defined by their lack of definition, Normal Happiness is a fairly coherent record - featuring 16 concise chunks of pop-rock which barely clock in at over two minutes each. It follows the late-GBV era of Half Smiles Of The Decomposed in style, playing clever lyrics off against musical themes and concepts. As usual it's a roller-coaster of variable quality, but rather than me giving you a general consensus, let's get specific.

1. The Accidental Texas Who - Near perfect. Bob's outrageous comedy English accent at the start sets the tone for the album and makes the track seem like throw-away brilliance, effortlessly changing gear. 5 stars.

2. Whispering Whip - A moody opening starts the song well, but once that trump card is played it looses a bit of direction. 3 stars.

3. Supernatural Car Lover - A future Song Of The Day. Flawless power-pop, with a catchy underlying guitar lick powering it along. 5 stars.

4. Boxing About - Effortless and beautiful. 3.5 stars.

5. Serious Bird Women (You Turn Me On) - Megaphone vocals undermine this ballad, which stretches a bit thin. 3 stars.

6. Get A Faceful - Catchy, but slightly plodding. Like watching Carl Lewis do the 100m in 13 seconds. 2.5 stars.

7. Towers And Landslides - Starts and ends abruptly, once the mission of the song has been accomplished. 2.5 stars.

8. I Feel Gone Again - A low-key number that starts acoustically and builds into 70's sounding power pop of the Toto calibre (but about 8 minutes shorter). 3 stars

9. Gasoline Rag - Quirky stop-starting number with good production and a galloping chorus, but it's a bit thin on the lyrics. 2.5 stars.

10. Rhoda Rhoda - Average musically. M.O.R. 2.5 stars.

11. Give Up The Grape - Plodding, but nice key changes and a more lyrical drive. 3 stars.

12. Pegasus Glue Factory - Blending in musically from the previous track, the album is now coming back together. This great-title of a song could be a Genesis b-side, building up to an improv sounding jam. 3.5 stars.

13. Top Of My Game - Finger picking and lyrical. A fresh start. 3 stars.

14. Tomorrow Will Not Be Another Day - Starts in the middle, like a back-from-the-break lick on the Dukes of Hazzard. Would have liked it to be more of a Skynyrd 10 minute jam. 3 stars.

15. Join The Eagles - Contemplative and lyrical. A possible tuba on the end. 3 stars.

16. Full Sun (Dig The Slowness) - With simple lyrics recalling his own GBV songs (the carpenter's and their wives), there's little room for vocals here - giving way to a superbly building musical jam, packed with bleeping synthesizers. Back to the best. 4.5 stars.


So, there we have it. 50.5 out of a possible 80. 3 stars. Tracks 1, 3 and 16 make it into my ever expanding best-of-bob-projects playlist. The record seems to literally reference Guided By Voices themselves in several places (both musically and lyrically), bringing a nostalgic feeling to some of the records like a magic wand. As we've recently seen with GBV's lo-fi peers Sebadoh and Pavement, when is more too much? If I'm honest I'd be hard pressed to name any GBV record as a flawless classic, but the flaws are what made them classics, and this just follows that same logic.

#Music
#CSF

21st Nov 2006 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Subtle

For Hero: For Fool

Anticon

I haven't heard a hip hop album this original since the last Subtle album. Formed in 2001 by Anticon's Jel (Jeffrey Logan) and Doseone (Adam Drucker) Subtle took their time getting started. After a few singles and 2 EP's, Summer and Autumn, they finally got around to their debut full length in 2004. A New White was a multi layered musical masterpiece that vaguely clung to the fringes of hip hop fusing programmed and live beats, with electronics, strings and Dose's expertly delivered vocals. Their stage show was equally magnificent with a white top hat and tails clad Dose springing around the band like a court jester possessed. While on tour in 2005 their bus skidded off the road paralyzing keyboardist Dax Pierson from the chest down. It seems a small miracle this album was ever made due to the seriousness of Pierson's injuries not to mention the fact that much of the harmonica and backing vocals come from Dax himself.

But thankfully it was made - as it's yet another forward thinking piece of Anticon splendor. Since the demise of cLOUDDEAD and Themselves, and with Deep Puddle Dynamics being less than productive Subtle has become the main vehicle for Doseone to flex his outstanding lyrical muscle and with Jel on beats, Marty Dowers on woodwind, Jordan Dalrymple on guitar, Alex Kort on cello and the afore mentioned Pierson, Subtle's sound is textured to say the least. The key to their success is their grasp of contrast, light and dark, blur and focus, chiaroscuro if you will. Their multi layering of samples, instruments and sometimes indecipherable spoken and sung vocals create a pea soup like fog of sound that is then punctuated by its opposite. Sharp beats and Doseone's acutely pronounced prose spring from this fog at a thrilling pace but never become formulaic, quite the opposite. Much of Subtle's music is confusing and can often make the listener feel as if he is involved in a private conversation of which he knows nothing about, the music never goes where you think it will and although the theme of human pointlessness and the general decay of society is graspable the delivery is often in the form of surreal word play that moves on quicker than you can keep up.

As a whole For Hero: For Fool adopts the same contrasting form that each song does. A Tale Of Apes I & II usher in the fog with the use of post rock mush, Boards Of Canada style nostalgia-synth and Kraftwerk electro pop while Middleclass Stomp swamps you with it's glorious power-cord pop. The three main points of sharp focus are the hip hop extravaganza of Midas Gutz, the unashamedly danceable The Mercury Gaze and the jaw dropping Return Of The Gaze. Here Jel lays down the most complex beat of clicks, scratches and stabs with Doseone's rapping coming in softly at a pace that defies comprehension, he never misses a beat, he doesn't even breathe. His nasal delivery seems to take on the same properties as the electronic, stop-start beat and an accompaniment of gentle acoustic guitar and brushed cymbals culminating in wailing guitar and crashing drums makes this the finest moment on the album. Vocal dexterity is Dose's forte and when put with Jel's masterful grasp of the textured beat the result is an aural delight.

Hip Hop was born from the deconstruction and reassembling of other genres and for that reason remains one of the most versatile music forms. It's creative perimeters are huge. There is nothing it can't borrow, steal or sample. This scope is expressed perfectly in the music of Subtle who seem to see no limits to how far they can stretch this genre. In the hazy, surreal fog of For Hero: For Fool boundaries and classifications are simply not visible.

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27th Oct 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Strokes

First Impressions Of Earth

After 2004's disappointing second album Room On Fire, I had almost zero interest in checking out First Impressions Of Earth when it was released back in January. I stumbled across a copy a few weeks back, and since then is has been slowly grinding me down and winning me over.

The raft of Strokes imitators that have emerged over the last few years have forced the band to move further and further forward, and the song structures of this album are much more involved and complex than Is This It?'s catchy pop rock. The superb opening track You Only Live Once starts things off with a great bass line and the rhythm section builds up the trademark catchy pop into a fine rock sound. Heavy rocking first single Juicebox then ups the pressure straight away and gives the polished album a sense of urgency.

The development of the band's sound really starts to show them off as more of a band than just a backing band for Julian Casablanca's lyrics. It is the guitars that shine on nearly all of the stand-out tracks, with Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr's dual guitar's adding an important layer to the sound. The cascading guitars of Heart In A Cage or the singing guitars of Red Light bring almost as much personality to the band as Casablanca's voice.

The album dips slightly towards the middle, but recovers well, with Ize Of The World's building up an ever increasing pressure, until it abruptly ends. Red Light finishes the album off, and at 14 tracks and 52 minutes it is by far the bands longest release.

After this surprise turnaround I went back to Room On Fire, thinking I must be wrong there too - but it's still a stinker (...for now).

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7th Oct 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pearl Jam

The Point, Dublin

Having seen Radiohead earlier this year, and with My Morning Jacket coming up in September and MC Hammer in done 1990 only Pearl Jam and Wilco remained as the pillars of my music taste yet to be seen live. Now, after one memorable night in Dublin, Wilco stand alone.

This could have gone either way, as I have been into this band since I was a kid and although I love the new album it rarely gets played when a Pearl Jam mood grips me - often losing out to such classics as Vitalogy or No Code. I was quite surprised to find myself at the front of a seething mass of frenzied fans as I thought it was just me, CSF and a few other Chimp affiliates that still followed this band. Apparently not. Even though the Dire Straits sounding Inside Job is far from being my favourite track on the new album I was very grateful to hear its slow steady build up as the opening track. Had a more anthemic opener been chosen I fear my rib cage would have collapsed under the pressure of 7000 foaming, sweaty fans. This calm intro didn't last long as the band began to race through a string of the best of the new stuff, with the mighty World Wide Suicide being a crowd favourite.

From then on the order of the day was 'hands-in-the-air-platoon-moment-classics,' and it was simply dazzling. Given To Fly had the fans in a blissful state of euphoria and the wonderfully extended version of Daughter was followed by the live favourite Better Man which saw Vedder's voice being drowned out by the swell of a 7000 strong sing along which couldn't help to send shivers down the spine. As if this wasn't enough the first act was brought to a climactic finish with the phenomenal Rear View Mirror, Pearl Jam's finest moment in my opinion. It's a pretty epic song at the best of times, the bands Bohemian Rhapsody if you will, but tonight it was extended beyond my wildest dreams. It dipped and soared and seemed as if it would never end until finally it burst into a climactic crescendo with every light in the house being called upon.

Two encores later and just about every classic you could possibly wish for (including a cover of Dublin favourite The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy) and I was truly exhausted. Every time I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Eddie Vedder through sweaty bodies and other peoples wet hair plastered across my face he looked to be having a really good time. Lots of banter with the crowd made us feel that this was an important night for him and the band as well as us, and after a lengthy rendition of Neil Young's Fuckin' Up Vedder thanked the crowd for welcoming them back after six years and humbly departed the stage.

It was clear to see the bands unity after 15 years of playing together as they often huddled together and jammed furiously, as if alone in this great hall. In true Donnington Monsters of Rock style they all stepped aside during Even Flow for a five minute Matt Cameron drum solo which was simply ossum. My only criticism was the shear size of the venue. I gave up fighting for my life while straining to see anything along time ago and even though it beats sitting it's far from ideal. Apart from that it was everything I expected and much, much more.

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25th Aug 2006 - 9 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Diableros

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.

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7th Aug 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Zappa Plays Zappa

Manchester Apollo

finally getting to hear zappa's music live is a pretty special thing if you've grown up with it, and I assumed it wasn't going to be possible after the great man smoked his last cigarette. wasn't quite sure what to expect with this dweezil zappa-fronted band - mawkish nostalgia? natalie cole plays nat king cole style weirdness? slightly embarrassing outing from someone who can't actually play as well as frank?

the set starts with some live footage of zappa and the mothers from the 1973 live at the roxy set - montana and another one i hadn't heard before (there's always the odd fifty albums or so to catch up with in the zappa archives)... then as frank retunes his guitar, dweezil and the band walk out, and kick into a storming version of hungry freaks, daddy followed by help i'm a rock - tracks i really thought i'd never hear live.

things just kept getting better from there - great sound, the band have been seriously drilled by dweezil (who's also nailed the style of frank's solos - inca roads was truly awesome - not a note-for-note transcription, but like he's absorbed the sensibility of the zappa tone and is channeling him on that trademark SG) - he's got them to the point that zappa had with his bands where he can direct them to change time signature, feel, who's soloing etc etc with a hand signal - jumping from bass to sax mid-bar - really impressive musicianship, but also highly entertaining (yes, humour DOES belong in music when the jokes are this good). having napoleon murphy brock who sang on loads of the 70s classics made it even more authentic - he's the voice of that great era, and is a real performer, as well as a great sax player.

the only downer came when the power on dweezil's mega guitar rig disappeared. rather than throwing a strop about it, he kept the audience in the loop, looked visibly disappointed and apologised profusely - you could tell he just wanted to put on the best show possible for his dad's fans, and the fact that the ability to switch from one cool sound to another was going to throw him off his game. the band launched into pound for a brown which they hadn't tried before, but eventually they had to power down the whole venue to sort it out.

bar time.

this could have been a drag, but the fact that they then came back with steve vai for some extra insanity on the solos front made it all ok. having someone who can literally do anything on a guitar is sometimes too much, but in this context, where the rest of the band are up to the challenge of making zappa's avant garde rock work, it's what you want. squeezing crazy notes out of his signature ibanez jem guitars, he's a joy to watch, freaking out, noodling at 100 miles an hour, then trading licks with dweezil in a real guitar-fest showdown. actually prefer dweezil's solos, but it's pretty cool to see someone going that far out. as chimp north points out, vai's the devil to dweezil's ralph macchio in crossroads.

the time lost meant that we missed out some other highlights that they had planned like city of tiny lights which we would have loved to see. also no terry bozio who has been playing trying to grow a chin, i'm so cute etc from the sheik yerbouti era.

but we did get to see them trying something they hadn't before - the screen dropped down, to let frank back on stage, filmed in a nutty 80s jumpsuit - soloing with dweezil's band playing. bit elvis, but still cool.

giving it 4.5 due to the lost time etc, but we're not holding it against them. if you love zappa, this band are kiling ugly radio.

other trivia facts from chimp north:

he's playing an SG because that's what he thinks of when he thinks of frank playing and it gets him in the frank zone
they're not frank's actual guitars though - didn't want to risk losing them on tour
they're in talks with gibson to produce a signature zappa model.

ps pic from manchester coming soon…

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2nd Jun 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Time Of The Wolf (Le Temps Du Loup)

(dir. Michael Haneke)

This is a powerful film which not only lingered in my thoughts for days, but which gave me, and those who saw it with me, vivid nightmares. Although the story of people trying to survive in the aftermath of a disaster is nothing new, Haneke's bleak vision of an imploding society packs not only a punch but also a long, increasingly unbearable squeeze. The cinematography lends a stunning realism: night shots really look like night, the fog shots are eerily beautiful - these all conspire brilliantly to drag you further into the nightmare. Rhythmically, Haneke is masterful, and the acting - especially by Isabelle Huppert - is excellent. From start to its hair-raising, Tarkovsky-esque finish, Temps du Loup is something of a miracle, capturing our disparate natures down to the core.

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22nd May 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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cLOUDDEAD

cLOUDDEAD

In 2001 artsts Doseone, Odd Nosdam and Why? Put out an album that would truly erase any label or genre they and their collective had been previously assigned. cLOUDDEAD's self titled debut is a collection of 10" singles comprised of six different movements each featuring a guest vocalist. This probably sounds pretentious and it so easily could be but the group navigate the rocky ground between up-your-arse, self indulgent, clap-trap and pure genius with expert ease and always remain on the right side. It is impossible to pick out tracks as the whole thing is one big murky bog of samples, atmospheric beats and textures that see Dose and Why? emerge every now and then with vocals that defy imagination and conjure up worlds only visited in dreams or nightmares.

It is so hard to describe this piece of work. There are no comparisons that can be made. It is one of the purest things I have ever heard. More than any other album from the Anticon collective this epitomises the ethos of this group, and that is one of limitless expression and the constant commitment to genre defying art. They have never topped this album for me, but have come exhilaratingly close many times. Genius.

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

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Pearl Jam

London Astoria

As one of the last gigs on my list of all-time favourite bands, having not seen these guys had always nagged at me. I had been too poor as a student, out of the country for one tour and then after the death of some fans at the Roskilde festival in 2000, Europe had been off rotation for the last couple of Pearl Jam world tours. I was resigned to eventually seeing the band at the enormo-arena-dome some time past their peak - and convincing myself that I wasn't disappointed.

Recently, things started to look up. A well invested fan club membership led to a great 7 inch single, but the golden ticket was a heads-up on this one-off warm up show at London's Astoria. Chimp Jnr managed to snag the tickets, which sold out in 1 minute and ended up going for £450 on eBay. It crossed our minds to cash them in and fly out to Seattle, but even there a 20,000 seat Arena could not offer the same opportunity as a 1600 seat venue on home turf.

The gig had a quick turnaround and before we knew it we were queuing down the side of the Astoria, round Soho Square and back onto Oxford Street. Some of the eBay tickets had apparently been confiscated, so some persistent fans did get a chance to get last minute surprise re-sale tickets on the door. The touts dropped their tickets to £250, while security guards checked the ticket numbers as some fakes had been circulated.

The atmosphere in the queue and inside the venue was electric. It obviously wasn't just us that had been holding out to see them, and when the band came out the place went crazy. A quick acknowledgment that it had been a long time set the scene, and then we're off with new single World Wide Suicide. As noted, this is a bad title, but as a song it was a great start - thundering, off new album Pearl Jam, but still one that the fans could get into. That was followed by Life Wasted and Severed Hand from the new album, which subdued the crowd slightly as they are still relatively unknown.... Two more new songs followed, but these were current b-side Unemployable and Christmas b-side Gone, which is already one of my current favourites. So things were picking up, and then they really took off with Even Flow.

From then on things only got better and better. The band pulled highlights and rarities from their 15 year back catalogue, such as Sad, I Am Mine, Leavin' Here and Given To Fly mixed in with a couple of the new tracks. There was a healthy dose of revived songs from black-sheep album Ten (which out sold Nevermind for you haters out there) including an awesome ramped up version of Why Go? The Indie Goth Revival is over, long live Grunge.

The highlight had to be an impromptu sing along to Betterman, where Eddie Vedder literally hardly sang a word. The entire crowd took over in a spine tingling moment, reminiscent of Black on the Benaroya Hall album. Visibly moved by the crowd response, the band came back for two encores until finally the end had come, as Mike McCready plucked the opening notes of traditional set-closer Yellow Ledbetter. Everyone sang along and the band even dropped in a few notes of Nobody's Fault But Mine as a nod to Robert Plant, who was in the crowd with his son. After a bow the band started to leave the stage, before the overwhelming reaction from the audience genuinely changed their minds. Eddie Vedder called them back for one more... a storming rendition of Alive. As one of their only UK hits, this is often how they are perceived by those who know little of their later work. It was an unashamedly 90's moment, and I realised that after 15 years of progressing onwards they are now looking as much like the grunger's of the early 90's as ever.... and I love it.

All in all it couldn't have been a much more satisfactory conclusion to my quest.... although thanks to a man on the inside we are off to see them taping Later with Jools Holland tonight.

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25th Apr 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

This album took a few plays to really get it but then it just seemed to click and I went from finding it slightly annoying to thinking it was the greatest thing I had heard for ages. And it is. Granted it starts off bad but the second song gets the greatness well under way. A lot of bands have emerged recently that quote Talking Heads as their main influence but none sound as similar as this one, yet despite that it is one of the most original records to grace my eager ears. Details Of The War was a stand out track from the start. As is quite common throughout the album the song construction is the interesting thing with its lack of any verse/chorus/verse structure and the lazy ‘I really can’t be bothered’ vocals building up slowly on a rolling bass line to a fantastic peak. The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth follows on nicely. It has a certain nostalgic sound to it with a very New Order bass line and towards the end it threatens to disappear off into a mammoth Wedding Present style guitar solo but sadly not many bands have the balls for this.

I really could go on to talk about each track as there is something to note about every one but I may as well skip to the last one as it simply rules. Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood is an awesome piece of work. It starts off with a guitar strumming pace that will get every head nodding and foot tapping in audible range. Alec Ounsworth’s vocals glide in with expert ease and we are off. The pace stays the same to the very end as the vocals trail off into what should be a very grating repetition of “child stars, child stars, child stars…” This song sounds like it could go on at this pace for another 15 minutes at least and really it should but instead it stops abruptly as if your mum has come into the room and can’t stand any more of this guys voice and pulls the plug.

And really that is what we should all be doing but we aren’t. We love it despite our brains yelling how annoying it should be. This band has received so much word-of-mouth hype and for once it is all well placed. Clap your hands and say fuck yeah. (sorry for the cuss word but I feel it was necessary..)

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24th Apr 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The National

Alligator

Along with Arcade Fire this album was one of the highlights of 2005. I wasn’t that familiar with The National before this but soon became obsessed with Alligator. It is so infectious and unlike anything I can think of. Lyrically this album is fascinating. Curious and often beautiful poetry is delivered with deep, baritone restraint by front man Matt Berninger. The often confessional subject matter is strangely hopeful and yet tinged with melancholy

The National hail from Brooklyn (or is it Ohio - Ed.) and yet have little in common both thematically or musically with the New York house style we are used to hearing. Lyrics like “My bodyguard shows her revolver to anyone who asks and yes she comes to attention when you come up to me too fast,” and “Come be my waitress and serve me tonight, serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon,” hint at a surreal and yet romantic view of this world that thought provoking and touching. It’s hard to break this album down into standout tracks as it is such a complete work of unrivalled originality but if I had to I would say Lit Up, Friend Of Mine and Geese Of Beverly Road simply rule.

Alligator is the reason I constantly find myself trawling through the new releases, because every so often you come across something like this that moves you with its beauty, its honesty and its quality. The trouble is that everything else gets judged accordingly and I am rarely satisfied now.

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10th Apr 2006 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Matthew Herbert: Plat Du Jour

Victoria Rooms, Bristol

Dr and Mrs Chimp were served a feast of tasty treats at the Matthew Herbert Plat du Jour gig in Bristol's Victoria Rooms last night. Loud and manic sounds, great visuals, intriguing smells, white wellies, fishy balloons, and crunchy Worcester apples were all cooked up into a real assault on the senses. Serving suggestions will never quite be the same again. Make reservations for next month's Barbican gig now. And as for Dani's constume: 'We're lovin' it'.

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5th Sep 2005 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Weezer

Brixton Academy

I’ve been a big Weezer fan since they started, and I’ve waited a long time to see them, so right off the bat you know they’re getting a good rating. Prejudices aside however, it was great to be seeing an actual functioning band five albums down the line – rather than these one-record upstarts (Ambulance), or reunion monsters (Pixies). Rivers Cuomo is truly the Woody Allen of rock – a few shakey moments here and there in the past, but live it’s all highlights.

Tired of Sex is a great opener on the Pinkerton album, and it made a great opener here. A quiet start, revving up to a rocking finale – with sound in Brixton sounding way better than usual.

After that it was crowd surfing and singalongs all the way. Undone and Say it Ain’t So sounding awesome, Buddy Holly kicking in after a disguised intro, Beverly Hills and We Are All On Drugs sounding great of the new album and then all the way through to a feedback finale with Hash Pipe for a as a second encore.

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20th Jun 2005 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Dinosaur Jr.

The Forum, Kentish Town, London

June 8th 2005

There’s been a lot of reunion style gigs recently… mostly with pre-Nirvana bands getting some praise that they maybe missed out on first time round. The original 3 Dinosaur Jr. albums have recently been given the full re-release-with-bonus-tracks treatment, and this mini tour is a kind of support for that. Lou Barlow and J Mascis fell out shortly after Bug, and it wasn’t until Lou climbed on stage for guest vocals at an Asheton+ Asheton+ Mascis+ Watt Stooges gig that they even really talked, so things have obviously gone far enough that they’re playing together... but not far enough that they’re actually communicating. Not that anyone could hear anything over their legenary thundering volume.

The set was an onslaught of very loud, very heavy, very fast classic Dinosaur tracks, pulled from a democratic balance of early favourites - with the post-Sebadoh Lou getting a few more vocals slots than he maybe would have first time round. He even commented that he hadn’t ever sung a couple of the tracks live, but that didn’t cause any problems. It’s kind of nostalgic for us and them really, knocking out the now-classic album tracks like The Lung, Freak Scene, Just Like Heaven, In A Jar, and getting the huge support that they always deserved.

Extra half star for old times sake.

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14th Jun 2005 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Batman Begins

(dir. Christopher Nolan)

As a lifelong Batman fan it's pretty much a given that you're setting yourself up for disappointment by getting excited about the prospect of a new film actually being any good. when the first michael keaton one finally came out (after being announced, oh, about 10 years before it did) i was kind of into it, but the more i went back to it, the more holes appeared and the more i thought "hang on, this just isn't the so-called dark vision that we'd been promised." basically it ended up being the first point at which i started to get annoyed with tim burton's sub-goth meanderings. anyhow. that's another point. quite liked the second one, thought val kilmer and george clooney totally sucked (obviously)...

so with that in mind, i was still kind of holding out for this one to be good - aranofsky sounded like a promising director, but actually i was happier with the idea of christopher nolan - loved memento, really enjoyed insomnia, and thought he was probably someone who would get it right. wasn't too sure about christian bale, but was happy to reserve judgement as he hasn't made too many real duffers.

in a bat-shell: it's as good as it looks in the trailers.

it sets up the bruce wayne mythology elegantly, without resorting to mindlessly mucking around with the established storyline too much: joe chill kills martha and thomas wayne (rather than the joker), young bruce is brought up by alfred (michael caine, remembering he can act).

his wilderness years are handled nicely - throwing himself into the criminal underworld to try and understand where they're coming from, then winding up training with the ninja-like league of shadows lead by the mysterious ra's al ghul. (ok, they're called the league of assassins in the comics, but never mind.)

don't want to get too much into the plot beyond that, as it unfolds in a really satisfactory way that seems to have avoided coming out in spoilers so far, so here's a brief list of other stuff that worked:

the batmobile. an urban tank that rocks.

the batcave. suitably low-tech - it actually is a cave, complete with lots of bats, water pouring down, mud, etc.

christian bale: seems like the right age to be suitably traumatised into thinking dressing up like a bat to fight crime might actually be a good idea. is a way more convincing bruce wayne than any of the other screen versions. also it feels like he's growing into batman, putting on a lower, more growly voice when he's got the costume on etc.

gary oldman. really looks like the jim aparo/ dick giordano version of jim gordon, and here he's a street cop too, so hopefully they'll work up the relationship between him and batman in the sequels (chimp75's got an inside source who says they're all signed up for 2 more...)

the scarecrow. a much less-obvious villain for batman's debut - not so well known, and also fits in with the overall "fight your fears" theme.

the city. actually looks like a living city, rather than some blue screen exercise/studio set. sort of a cross between new york and hk.

wayne enterprises. nicely handled boardroom b-plot.

the effects. very little overt CGI - none of that spiderman stuff where he looks like a computer game everytime he jumps around the city.

katie holmes. always a bonus.

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4th Jun 2005 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Copland

(dir. James Mangold)

A New Jersey sheriff tries to bring justice back to his town, which is almost entirely populated by a corrupt group of NYPD. After the wackness of Identity, I went back for a re-evaluation of Copland, and can still report it is an awesome movie. While the set up is a little contrived, that is quickly surpassed by the performances in this movie. Almost every actor in this movie puts in a great performance, from De Niro through to Janeane Garofalo. Sylvester Stallone is particulalry great, putting in a touching and sympathetic performance as the local hero left out of the loop... which only serves to remind us that he never followed this break into serious acting with anything else. It's awesome to see DeNiro and Keitel in a scene together again, with an instant history and presence to both character's. "I gave you a chance and you blew it!"

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16th May 2005 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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