Wednesday, June 29, 2011

YACHT: Shangri-La

     In celebration of the new Call of Duty map-pack and zombie level, 'Shangri-La', released yesterday, I'm going to review YACHT's second album of the same name. Yep, I'm that sad. Hailing from Portland, this American electropop group consists of core members Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, with a few other artists supporting on tour. Originally the solo project of Becholt, Evans was enlisted as a full-time member in 2008, a time from whence the band became known as a two-piece outfit. This record is widely considered to their second, despite Jona releasing three full-length lps prior to Evans long overdue recruitment. 'Shangri-La's sound then, is one of happiness and playful experimentation. It's ear candy for the people who can afford to take it in and 'get' it, much like that Battle's album, 'Gloss Drop'. This is similar, be it with more vocals and an air of synthpop that harks back to the late 80's. It's a trip into an alternative, skewed universe, smothered in pink candyfloss. It grooves, laughs, dances, dreams, and discards all responsibilities!
     The opener, 'Utopia' runs wild in a city formed around a child's imagination. The vocals are quirky but flow brilliantly with the beats. Evans' singing is fantastic, fluctuating between high and low notes without feeling messy, and supported by Becholt's equally as interesting lower range. The words fit into the melody perfectly, with the repetition locking effortlessly with the atmosphere. The said soundscapes are filled with pink balloons, giant water slides and mountains of chocolate. It's a smile-inducing parallel universe that floats and bobs with laughter. The next track however, is very different. The playful rhythm is still there, but in a manner one could liken to a madman burning books. 'Dystopia' is immediately darker from the offset, with the lyrics littered in the occasional swear-word, painting a messier, more hectic picture. The way the words are sang are great though. The short and recognisable vocals are beats in themselves, and manage to remain strangely happy, despite the lyricism. It's simply wonderful to explore the way this album is created, it really is. There is definitely no shortage of originality in these ten tracks.
     This is such a feel-good collection of songs though, if you haven't cottoned on to that feeling yet! Laptop wizardry emphasises the irresistibly whimsical hooks and almost alien sound these guys promote. It's like nothing you've heard before, which is reason enough for you to check this record out! ' Love in the Dark' is an alien encounter, though one which excites and compels rather than frightens, with it's haunting electronic whirrs and War of the Worlds-esque mystery. Some might consider the whimsical hippy vibe as annoying after repeated listens to the album, but for me it manages to create, like the first track, a utopia to which I can escape the monotonous and unimaginative world of politics and work. Some of the tracks are a little low in regards to the vocals from Evans, but the outstanding shine of other songs easily outweighs this little niggle. It's frankly, inspiring!
     The passion and building adrenaline on 'Beam Me Up' is a gorgeous and indulgent two minutes, and the thought-provoking monologue of 'Paradise Engineering' feels gripping where it could have felt lost and out of sync with the rest of the record. The real clincher for me however, is the finishing and indeed, title track, 'Shangri-la'. It slows down considerably, which works very well as an ending five minutes. After the upbeat and drugged-out feeling the other nine tracks emulate, this is a much more serious, but no less happy morning after. It's like waking up after a dream to a street caked in snow, glittering in the fresh morning air. The surreal, psychedelic state has dissolved, with a fraction of that child-hood joy seeping into reality, making life feel just that little bit better!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: F# A# ∞

     Strange post title, I know, but that's the name of the album and indeed the name of the band. When I want to sit back and contemplate, I put this record on. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a post-rock group from Canada, which still feel as revolutionary today as they did back in 1997, despite conforming to the genre in every way. Long songs, minimal vocals and songs split into acts? Sure. They've managed to remain true to the definition of the genre, while creating beauty and desolate soundscapes within their music, a feat matched by very few. Have you ever wondered what the apocalypse would sound like?  Would it be like walking through your old house, cold and alone, remembering the good times and choking back the tears? Friends begging for food on the street? A rumbling storm gathering on the broken, smoking skyline? Is it a howling dog screaming into the silent night? Would you accept it and wander into the flames, admiring it's spectacular beauty and embracing death? Would you deny the undeniable? This band have encompassed all of these nightmares, to create an epic, sincere soundtrack. A soundtrack that throbs and thunders and beholds. A soundtrack, to the end of the world...
     The track number on this record weighs in at three. Don't however, be tempted to consider this a quick album to listen through. The longest act, for indeed that's what they are, runs for a considerable twenty-nine minutes. That's right, half an hour, but in my mind, half an hour of bliss. The first section of the record is entitled 'The Dead Flag Blues' and is definitely the most desolate of the three. It stands, surrounded by death and racking coughs. The drone that pulls itself along in the dirt only highlights the noiseless atmosphere. Crackling flames, scuffling animals. The wind blows. Imagine a desert. Then take that feeling and lay it down upon a city, void of life and lacking joy. A stern and sincere monologue comes in, backed by beautiful instrumentation and relating the thoughts of a broken man, in a manner both poetic and provoking. These are the last visions of a man once thought strong, weakened by the haunting loneliness that hugs his heart. Trains chugging away lead into somber wails. Crying children weeping over the skinny bodies of their parents. At the end of all this misery though, guitars emulate a realisation. A realisation that this is all we have left, that we have to enjoy the last remnants of millions of wonderful years. Tinkling bells mark the end, and I'm emotionally drained. Consuming curiosity however, prevents you from stopping. You have to listen on.
     'East Hastings' contrasts fantastically with the end of 'The Dead Flag Blues'. A furiously desperate preacher builds the noise to fever pitch, before falling in defeat to the inevitable, impending fate. This slows to a quieter guitar, lacking in hope and leading the desolate march to the hill from where earth's final moments will be privy to your teary, bloodshot eyes. The march is long, the tension building with the speed of the track. Painfully, you run to the crest, the sight hitting you like the shockwave from some immense explosion. The land below you is ripped, torn and crushing. It burns with a light reflected from the blood-red sun. Clouds flee and car alarms die. Horror, epitomised.
     The last track, 'Providence' is the longest, but as such required more of your attention than the previous two. The silence is haunting. After the time spent listening to the groaning, thoughtful sounds, silence on this track is eerie and in a way required, in order for you to take in the epic, beautiful soundscapes that were sprawled across the vast wastelands and deserted cities. I was and still am blown away by the sheer story-telling and atmosphere this record manages to create. This is in itself the best post-rock album out there. A tantalising and gripping glimpse into a future hurt and lost and burning at the hands of  a saddened God. After listening, you take for granted simple pleasures, biding your time for the moment when you can delve back into this epitaph of despair, an epitome littered in the glorifying hopes of men and the forever prevailing will of mankind...

Monday, June 27, 2011

White Lies: Ritual

     Sophomore albums are famously difficult to pull off. White Lie's second album, 'Ritual' has unfortunately fallen into this wet, soggy ditch, having tumbled from the mound of praise built up by the first record. The band are a London based trio who wallow in post-punk revivalism, with their sound likened to that of Joy Divison and Interpol. But that's just it. Sure, there are some dance sensibilities thrown in, but they sound like a disco at an old peoples home. The catchiness from 'To Lose My Life' is gone. The guitars are quieter. There isn't any riskiness to the music. Their debut didn't really have that much either, but at least the melodies were half decent. It just feels rushed and not all that memorable. Trust me, I'm not just saying that in order to throw in a negative review. I have listened to this album quite a few times, but on each occasion I've felt the urge to switch to something else. I want to love this, I really do, but after all my efforts to do so, I'm afraid I just can't!
      It is airy though, and the bubbly synthesisers work to create a consistency that's important in an album. I can't help but feel however, that the band shove into the limelight elements to the music that, well, shouldn't be. The production is bland and unoriginal and even corny in parts. Take the opening track for example, which could have been one of the best on the record, 'Is Love'. The atmosphere suffocating the song emulates a forced industrial-dance feel, and the sickening wacka-wacka scratching that makes it way in causes a nausea that's about as edgy as a bowling ball. Although the riffs are decent, the lyrics ("scarlet like a papercut / milk going rancid on the table") are disconnected and weigh down the eager instrumentation. Worst of all however, is the fact that nearly every other track follows suite in promoting a pompous grandeur. White Lies have tried to live up to the passionate, honest sound of 'To Lose My Life'. Instead, arrogance is pursued.
     I'm probably being too harsh. Some tracks are very emotional and work well, queue 'The Power & The Glory'. Overall though, it just doesn't work. Their debut record did, because it felt a lot more thought-through, and that maturity revealed itself in a big physique sonically. This record however, is lazy and feels rushed. The band still try to remain anthemic however, coaxing forth my 'arrogance' label in regards to sound. I'm disappointed, but also pretty sure that White Lies are much better live.
     'Strangers' is the best track though, I have to say. The hook and melody is definitely the best on the album, a clear contrast to say, 'Streetlights'. The vocals on the latter song are dire. C'mon, just listen to the lyrics, "bored girls and sad boys / dull roads to anywhere", and tell me they aren't terrible. Chorus wise, it's not a bad track, but the vocals ruin it, balanced on a luke-warm and boring melody. 'Peace & Quiet is another of the few bright lights that momentarily lifted my mood. The synthesisers here are great, and the vocals are higher in parts, with crackling lyrics overlaid in a very likable manner!
     The album ends with 'Come Down', which flows a little better than most, with it's moody and contemplative air. There are some higher notes hit, but in the end, it just adds to the list of songs on this record that are about as exciting and unexpected as a runny nose in winter. It simply doesn't command my attention at all. These ten tracks are going to wither in the cold shadow of 'To Lose My Life', which I recommend if you can't bring to ear any Joy Division or Interpol. Unoriginal and rushed, it's ostentatious loftiness fails to ignite any spark for me I'm afraid. And I really am. I'm not ashamed to admit that my repeated attempts to 'get' this record have failed, and that my angry disappointment better have made it's impression on the review. Stay away unless you're an absolute fan. Which I was.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekly Classics: Bob Dylan: Hurricane

     This is Weekly Classics #2, with a relatively unknown Bob Dylan song, Hurricane. This is an interesting song that not many people know, despite it being one of his most successful 70's hits, and even being present on of of his many greatest hits compilations. It is one of his few protest songs, which campaigned against the imprisonment of boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter. It has a fantastic groove, and even those who aren't fans of Dylan's voice will be able to appreciate the harmonica and violin sections to the brilliantly upbeat track. There's a story behind this song as well, accumulating alleged acts of racism towards Carter, lending themselves to a furiously passionate and lyrical journey that I'm afraid to say, you're just going to have to listen through! Check it out through the Youtube video below. An absolute classic, look out for the third installment next Sunday!

Iceage: New Brigade

      These guys are an aggressive noise-rock Danish group, with 'New Brigade' just released as their debut album. Weighing in at twenty-four minutes, there is something captivating about this record, despite it's arguably short play time. It demands your attention with it's mash-up of genres that  do mash-up amazingly well. It's a downer. It's a rainy day lp. It could be considered a no-wave album, with it's abrasive and rebellious swagger. It's older Joy Divison-esque. It's noisy. It's uncontrived. It's simply lovable and fantastic!
     With all these different tones, and considering the relatively short length for an album, you would be mistaken for assuming that the sound would be messy and confused. On the contrary however, the record wears proudly the badge for cohesion, with all the emotions nailed into the same wall with an angry enthusiasm that's hard to snub. Variety-wise as well, these teenagers emulate a maturity beyond their years. They mix exactly the right amounts of instrumentation and singing, loud and quiet, to create a record radical and yet faithful to the genre, radiating a breathless, reckless charm.
     The album opens with a vocal-less intro that thuds and thunders, the groaning echoes of demonic beasts building to a climax overcast and moody. The real opener, and star of the show, 'White Rune', is noisy in slapping a coat of garage aggression upon the shield of the band's Joy Division influences. The warm bass throbs and the vocals are apathetic in their slurred passion. The hook is great. The melody is surrounded by this gritty guitar and pounding drum beat. It's a confident album starter, to say the least, and one I admire!
     'New Brigade' leads on from 'White Rune's squealing reverb finish, and is the track from whence the record title is taken. For me, though, it's not the best, despite it's jittering and tense feeling sonically. 'Remember', however, is strangely uplifting in parts, which contrasts ever so nicely with the tracks surrounding it, like rain in a sweltering summer. 'Total Drench' spins and spins in a headache inducing rollercoaster of sound. The guitar and chord progressions on 'Broken Bone' fall into a steady lo-fi groove, even with lyrics muffled by the backing track. 'Count Me In' is furious in it's speed, smudging the line between thrash and punk to form a crazy mess, but a mess executed perfectly. All these songs contribute towards the twelve track emotional roar that this album encapsulates.
     'Never Return' marks the end of the record, and at three minutes is the longest track here. Despite this, I don't feel as though the time isn't as well spent as during other songs. The builds and climaxes are good, and the balance mentioned before is still prominent, but I'm kinda of the mind that the same effect could have been achieved in less time. This wasted time could have been instead given over to 'You're Blessed', which finishes the album on a fabulous high. As I listened, I couldn't shift the fact that this song, and the prolonged notes in particular reminded me of another track from a different album. As I pondered, the answer came to me. 'Mr. Driver', from the Black Lip's lp, 'Arabia Mountain'. That song and this sound amazingly alike, but seeing as in my mind you can't get enough of a good thing, the comparison didn't bother me long. And that's that. Record over.
     At the end I was left breathless, and immediately went back to the beginning to hit play. If you're intent on listening to 'New Brigade', I suggest turning the volume up on a cloudy evening and sitting by a campfire. Feel the heat warm your cheeks and the honest, passionate post-punk from Iceage warm your heart. A stunning collection of songs that breath new life into an ignored genre, mixing styles to create one all their own. Inspiring.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bon Iver: Bon Iver

     I'm gonna try and keep things varied on the blog by writing this review straight after listening to the album for the first time. It might fail, but then I might get a better straight-up opinion of the record. The lp in question is one I've been eagerly awaiting for a while now. After reviewing Bon Iver, or Justin Vernon's debut full-length, 'For Emma Forever Ago', which I loved, you can imagine my anticipation for 'Bon Iver'. Some may disagree, but for me, I think this lp has definitely lived up as a sequel to the excellence that preceded it!
     I was worried at first, if I'm to be honest. Gone is the bleak simplistic folk, one man and his guitar feel the first album had, which could be attributed to Vernon's time alone in a cabin. In comes an actual lineup, with other artists contributing to the sound. This means there are a lot more instruments on this album, and like I said, at first I was worried the record wouldn't catch and manage to charm like 'For Emma' did. Fortunately, as I listened, I came to the conclusion that I don't think I would have wanted Bon Iver to do more of the same, however good that was. There is a sense with this album of development, in both sound and attitude. Like Bon Iver's fame, the sound has grown, but not in a way to make the music sound arrogant. With this, the vocals also feel more relaxed, with the singing sang in a deeper register than before. Not everything has changed though. Still remains the honesty. Still remains the soothing and surreal purity. And still remains the brilliance.
     The songs feel less hurt than before, with Vernon concentrating on cities rather that a failed relationship, but there is still a mournful, dreamy and thoughtful air to the music. These emotions are channeled particularly well on the opener to this ten track record, 'Perth'. The somber guitars float on clouds of angelic undertones, with the undeniable vocals lead by an almost militant drum beat. The accumulation of sounds throughout the middle sound majestic and royal, hitting heights only dreamt of by the previous album. It was the next track, 'Minnesota, WI' however, that startled me the most, with it's relatively low vocals compared to anything we've heard before. There are higher notes hit, but I found that even when the voice is deeper, it's still instantly recognisable as Bon Iver's!
     'Holocene' is one of my personal favourites. This reminds me the most of 'For Emma Forever Ago', but the added instrumentation is executed perfectly. Subtle claps run through the backbone of the track and the vocals, even when not the most understandable, carry a certain great joy and emphatic weariness. Other good tracks are 'Towers', with it's beautiful melody, and 'Wash', with it's piano and subtlety deserving of respect. 'Calgary' was the first single released from this record, and it's electric guitars contrast wonderfully with the sonically thick bass line. All the while though, these tracks manage to ensnare and retain your attention in the best possible way. Outstanding effort.
     As a conclusion, I find it fitting to talk about the closing track to 'Bon Iver', which for me, is the most shocking, even more than the quite startling vocals on 'Minnesota, WI'. 'Beth / Rest' is autotuned. Yes, you heard me correctly. That thing that used to be used on X-Factor to make the contestants sound better? It's been used here. After I got over the initial surprise however, I decided I didn't mind it. It gives the vocals something. The higher notes are distorted in a very dreamy way, and the lower pitched instruments fluctuate ever so slightly. It makes the whole track feel very surreal, as though viewing the world through a stain-glass window. It marks the end of 'Bon Iver', which for me is, like I said, a very worthy successor to 'For Emma'. I for one am going to be listening to this for a long while, and I can only recommend that you do too. The music has developed into something immensely beautiful, which floats and drifts on heavenly clouds of sound. I simply adore it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jim Guthrie: The Ballad of the Space Babies

     This is going to be a strange review. Jim Guthrie, a Canadian singer-songwriter, according to Wikipedia, has recently released this, the soundtrack to an IOS game I've been playing, and enjoying, for quite a while now, called Sword and Sworcery. The game itself is more of an experience than a game, with a heavy focus on sound and music. In-game, each track has a purpose that amplifies every second of the adventure to a point almost transcendent. On record, however, I cannot help but feel as though if you hadn't played the game, and without the art style and effects of that, the sounds would come across as almost lost. They're great, but for some will be separated from the journey that makes them outstanding. Nevertheless, I would assume that the only people interested in purchasing this soundtrack would be people who have played the game, and who while listening would be visualising the said game around them. Therefore that previous problem is ironed out straight away, and shouldn't cause much bother to what I assume is the target audience. Matched with the IOS experience, this record makes for an equally impressive and surreal flight over lands only splayed out in our wildest dreams!
     As a start then, there are a few different tones to this record. Throughout the twenty-seven tracks, there are menacing atmospheres that lead into ones more playful. Bleak soundscapes fuse into sonic walls of noise that are splattered in the electronic chiptune paint which feels both very fantastical and reflective of the game's unique and inspiring art style. Experimentation with sampled sounds and noises also works extremely well, with the hums and prolonged notes providing depth that's a joy to jump into. One of my favourite tracks, 'The Prettiest Weed' has two versions, with the remix strangely retaining more of my admiration. The said remix sounds decidedly more mysterious, with the haunting piano plinks drawing forth a muffled, reverb heavy drone that oozes fear.
     The opener 'Dark Flute' is the tribal walk through an overcast forest, with the raindrops softening the ground and the smell wafting between the leaves. This is in part probably due to the game's raining effect, but as I tried to block out this image, the atmosphere refused to diffuse. 'The Ballad Of The Space Babies', from which the record takes it's name, is also crucial to a section of the adventure. The ethereal 'space babies' float and sing in a way not unlike angels ascending to heaven. I have to admit that these thoughts are heavily influenced by what I saw and played through, which leads me to the conclusion that the record needs to be paired with the game to have the maximum impact.
     'The Whirling Infinite' has the same sort of apocalyptic thunder-cloud that looms over 'The Prettiest Remix'. That, matched with the contrastingly upbeat 'Little Furnace' marks the end of the first half of the record and the start of for me, the more interesting twenty minutes. 'Cabin Music' feels the most stark and bleak, with a few sincere pinpricks of hope piercing the paper sky. The next two songs, 'Battles 1' and '2' are obviously meant to be fight music, and the beating heart and sharp intakes of breath certainly emulate this. The ritualistic drums on number two also imply a foreboding sacrifice and uneven matching that I can't help but love. 'Mushrooms' then arrives, startling with it's Mario-esque pitch and feeling. There definitely isn't a shortage of variety on this lp, which is an element important for me, especially on one as long in track number as this.
     The last few songs feel almost like a last stand, and having not played this far into the game, I'm jumping with anticipation. 'Death To Everyone's unholy screams and organ drones. 'Confronting The Wolf's sense of fear and snow-covered fir trees, your breath billowing into the crisp morning air. 'Activating Trigons' is another of my favourite tracks, with it's electronic hums and climaxing notes reminding me of goose-bump inducing movie moments, with it's conclusion having a similar effect. The finisher 'And We Got Older' gives the impression of a warrior returning from war. His emotions and physical well being are in tatters, but repair themselves when his wife runs from her house, tears streaming down her face. Some parts of this record, I realise by the end, are truly stunning, but have been made more so by playing the game. This album is like a body bar the arms. It's still functional, but half as beautiful without them. Think of it like that, and if possible, get both!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Villagers: Becoming a Jackal

     Time to get back into the flow of regular reviews again, I reckon. 'Becoming a Jackal' is the debut and only album from Irish band Villagers, a quintet fronted by Conor J. O'Brien, who's previously been involved in a similar group, The Immediate. Released last year, this eleven track record has been partial to critical acclaim, even being nominated for the Mercury Prize. It's easy to see why though, with it's haunting pop melodies and eerie folk sounds giving the album a ragged personality, trudging with noted enthusiasm.
     The first, 'I Saw The Dead' is a menacing experience, with it's eerie notes and swirling melody. The drums on those five minutes are strangely tribal and ritualistic, beating along as they support the almost alien vocals, that remain high and surreal throughout. Repetition at the end leads you into a false sense of comfort before the startling finish, which ends the track perfectly, for me. The happier songs to the album include 'Becoming A Jackal', 'Ship Of Promises' and 'That Day', all of which remain jolly and decidedly more relaxed than others. Indeed, 'That Day' and 'The Pact (I'll Be Your Fever)' sound to me the most poppy, or at least the ones with the most noticeable pop sensibilities. None, however, ruin the album, and their soothing nature definitely deserves a listen.
     Some songs on this record though, are very beautiful, to say the least. Sure, there are upbeat tracks, but the ones that shine as truly sincere and stunningly deep are the slower ones, that throb and swell and cry, sending notes and emotions to run and tug at your heartstrings. 'The Meaning Of The Ritual' for example, retains an atmosphere gently melancholic in it's feeling. A brother has died and your village has walked to the top of a misty mountain-top where, believe it or not, a depressing understanding of the world comes to light. The lyrics to every song on the album are also fantastic, painting a vivid picture in your mind the way good music always does. 'Home's backing vocals are touching, and the bare intimacy of 'To Be Counted Among Men' makes for a thought-provoking journey that's easy to get lost in, marking it out for me, as a future folk classic.
     My favourite song from this selection of eleven, however, has to be 'Pieces', which sends heartbreak down every vein of the track. The bleak high vocals break with passion in parts, with the backing piano building and building to climax in a jackal-like howl from O'Brien. Without this, his vocals could have sounded perhaps a little corny and depressed, but with the effects and eerie orchestral churning at the end, it remains playful and amazingly effective. The five minutes also have some of the greatest experimentation present on the record, which is another attribute I admire. Overall, this album has everything a good folk album should. Strong and imaginative lyrics. Passionate vocals that aren't afraid to stand alone and bleak amongst a rabble of simple guitars and pianos. It has all of these things and more, offering an immersive eeriness and wealth of sincerity that makes this record a joy to listen through over and over again. The only thing I would say is that perhaps the over sensitive feeling most of the songs emulate might make some people throw up all over it's mushiness. I however, loved that passion and am eagerly awaiting Villagers' next effort! Make sure you check them out before then though!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Jazz Station: 5 CD Collection

     First off, there's a few things I need to get out the way. Firstly, how are you all liking the new design of the blog background!? Huh? Yes, I know it's dashingly cool. Secondly, as a follow-up to yesterday's new segment  we'll be reviewing a special one off compilation album, just to mix things up a bit! Lastly, thanks to Morgan for lending me all five discs from this monster collection of classic jazz! As a greatest hits album, this review will probably be relatively short, but c'mon, how can you snub jazz?
     The genre standards are all here, and still bring a smile to my face. Frank Sinatra's cover of the 1958 classic 'Jeepers Creepers' is there. There's also a  variety of Louis Armstrong tracks, from the live version of 'Hello Dolly' to the mesmerising 'St. James Infirmary'. It would be impossible to list every fantastic artists on this collection, but here's just a smattering. Charlie Parker's inspiring musicianship. Woody Hermann's eccentricity. Nina Simone. Glenn Miller. Dinah Washington. Billie Holiday. Every jazz great makes their presence felt amongst the folds of these records, as well as a few you mightn't have heard of, but will probably love. For me, the modern youth have lost touch with classic jazz. They're busy with rock music and electronic dance beats, which are all fine, but simply don't sooth and calm as much as listening to these tracks. There is a careless reminiscence that floats from the songs, which often makes you want to both laugh and cry. It's smokey black and white bar scene rocks and sways in it's muffled blanket of sound that you just want to curl up in and fall asleep with.Frankly, just stunningly beautiful.
     When I burned the cds to my iTunes, I found that many were muffled or crackly. For me though, this didn't matter. The old feel was, instead of smeared, amplified by the recording quality. There is a lot of variety within the albums as well, which was a surprise for me while listening through them. There are both crackly, and crystal clear recordings. There are both male and female singers. There are upbeat and then slower tracks, as well as studio and live recordings. The track order is set up in a way in which no song is exactly the same in tone or sound to the one directly after or before it. It was, instead of the labour I initially thought listening through all one hundred and one tracks would be, an absolute pleasure. Like I said, this is a pretty short review, but that shouldn't put you off checking out this collection. Jazz is a stunning form of music that for me, is lost with the modern generation. So all you teenagers who think jazz is a load of rubbish, give this a gander and tell me it didn't bring a smile to your face!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekly Classics: The Coasters: Down in Mexico

     Instead of a review, today, I've tweaked the design of the blog (so you did notice!) and thought to start another string of posts. These will be weekly, and will hopefully bring you some classics that I'm sure you'll love! Most of you will probably recognise this song from the 1970 re-recording for Quentin Tarantino's film, Death Proof, which isn't actually that bad a movie! The original track however, was recorded in 1956 and is for me, a R&B classic from Los Angeles doo-wop quintet, The Coasters. Written by songwriting team Leiber and Stoller with the group, the three minutes that make up 'Down in Mexico' feel fresh even now. There is that element of story-telling that makes what The Coasters do so fantastic. The lyrics bop and groove along with a brilliant melody that warrants any music lover's attention. Check out the Youtube video below to hear this absolute gem!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fucked Up: David Comes to Life

     First off, if my parents are reading this, Fucked Up is the name of the group. Therefore swearing is allowed! Hailing from Toronto, the sextet play a form of hardcore punk, and back in 2003 released one of my favourite EPs 'Police'. If you're looking for a repeat of those short bursts of straight forward and furiously angry rock though, you're in for a surprise. Not that Fucked Up haven't shifted around sonically before, but 'David Comes to Life' could be considered radically different. It's a concept album. That's right. A punk. Rock. Concept album. On the one hand, I'm glad the group are trying something new, but for me, it just doesn't work. The story behind the lp is unwieldy and complicated, and by trying to squash it all into the record, the band lose the simplicity punk rock should, in my eyes, try to emulate. Not that there aren't good songs, but instead of getting geared up, I find this album a labour to listen through, and frankly, a labour to love.
      That doesn't mean there aren't spots of brilliance that shine throughout the record. The instrumentation is competent, and the production, recording and concepts are all thought out well. The problem I have is mainly with the way the band use these ingredients. The mellow moments are in my opinion ruined by the vocalists screams, due to his lacking ability, much like WU LYF's singer, to create dynamics within his voice. The lyrics he sings, however, aren't half bad, filled with gorgeous imagery and details I can't help but adore. Basically, if the story had been shortened and simplified, then I can imagine myself not loving, but enjoying this more than I actually do. An overworked concept is this album's downfall, sucking out the punk simplicity and energetic speed that these eighteen tracks so desperately need in order to conform to my ideals of the genre.
     Those complaints though, are with the overall impression the album gave, and within that, there are tracks that I can put on repeat and listen to over and over again. 'Queen of Hearts' is one such song. Coming straight in with a fist full of aggression after the loud climax of 'Let Her Rest', this track powers along with some outstanding guitar. Being the first time when the vocals are present, they blow you away, and the passion far out does that of the female singer that comes in throughout the four minutes. The female voice therefore feels very unemotive and bleak in comparison, even though they are a much needed element to the concept. 'Running On Nothing' has slightly toned down screams and more understandable lyrics, making it another favourite of mine, with 'Ship Of Fools' and 'A Little Death' coming in close second with their drums and catchy melodies. All tracks manage to retain an aggression though, which unfortunately gets annoying and repetitive by the end of the record. I'm sorry I have to keep coming back to the concept, but if it was shorter and less complicated, there would be less tracks, with many of them probably gaining a simplistic edge that none really have at the moment.
     Listening to this album over and over again has been a complicated and head-ache inducing journey, which has probably been reflected in this complicated review! Simply put, if you want some simple punk rock with all the appropriate aggression, then avoid this. If you want a lengthy and repetitive trek, with a few fantastic views along the way, give Fucked Up's full length lp 'David Comes to Life' a listen. I'm just not promising anything.

Friday, June 17, 2011

WU LYF: Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

     WU LYF claim to be a movement. The 'Youth Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation' are one of the more interesting quartets to appear on the music scene recently, but are certainly not the first. Clouded in a deliberate and mysterious smog, with their Wikipedia page deleted numerous times, the press and media have flocked to this particular band like moths to the flame. They refuse interviews, don't pose for photo shoots, and in an age arguing about injunctions and where nearly everything can be Googled, the group's obscurity seems strangely captivating. Although their marketing campaign is effective, it's not revolutionary. Bands like '!!!' and the 'Borstal Corduroys' have experimented with going offline, though arguably with less success. Personally, I have to admit to being drawn into the hype, but I congratulate the band for their ingenuity. The music videos are shot by their friend, and the album cover is also created by a mate. The sound, though flawed, is also a breath of fresh air to the lately rather bland psychedelic rock scene.
     Their downfall is though, entirely their own fault. Their riddle-filled updates and intention on remaining obscure has created an air of mysterious presence. A veil that, when ripped away with this release, reveals a band that doesn't quite live up to the image they've been very careful in crafting. The group's sound, rather than being modest, is amplified to a level that feels arrogant, with huge noises echoed around the recording studio come church, creating a wall of noise that was obviously intended to make the Manchester quartet sound big. I can't help but feel that the tone to the music from these guys would have worked better had it not been bolstered by the anonymity that in the end, appears almost laughable. Yet, from the embers of regrettable cons, pros have arisen. Due to all the speculation, people have dreamed about the sound they hoped to hear. Therefore, when they do actually listen to the record, they overlook some details (like how WU LYF sound incredibly like Gomez) in a state of near denial. You have to admit that the band have grown themselves into a fascinating social monster that intrigues the best of us, with their almost cult-like secrecy.
     Recorded in a church, and with prominent organ sounds playing away, reverb is lathered on many of the  tracks here, unifying the songs in a way that feels noisy. Instead of using the reverb to amplify vocals or guitar effects, it's used consistently to make them sound bigger, and more impressive than they actually are, which I mentioned before. At the start of the album, and in particular on the opener, 'L Y F', these sonic atmospheres work well, before you realise most of the remaining record follows suit. Vocals wise, it's pretty much the same story. At the beginning, the unique croaky vocals work extremely well, before that feeling is ruined by the fact the singer doesn't know when to vary his pitch or tone. Even on one of the slower songs, 'Such A Sad Puppy Dog', the vocals still sound like a slowed down version of everything else. Tolerable just about sums it all up.
     Worst track? 'We Bros'. It's throbbing bass is more prone to giving you a headache, leading the song to collapse into a mess that feels sickening rather than interesting. The second half involves some better harmonies, but the same chord progressions and drum patterns make this just another boring track. Favourite song? I'm split between two. 'Dirt' has nice drums at the start which unfortunately fall into the same patterns seem on everything else, with '14 Crowns For Me & Your Friends' sounding the most thought through, but ultimately revealing nothing special. The album closes with 'Heavy Pop', a relatively nice finisher that slows down a lot while still retaining the aggression and summer rebellion that make what WU LYF do sound fresh. I was impressed at a few points in this record, but as for an overall feel, I came away from 'Go Tell Fire to the Mountain' rather dazed and dizzied for all the wrong reasons. Arrogant in parts and lacking in variety, I would ask people to ruthlessly ignore the build up this album, concentrating on the music itself which in the end, I'm afraid I'm not in love with.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Foals: Total Life Forever

     Foals are an British indie rock band formed in 2007 that incorporate dance and chill wave sensibilities with, to the trained eye, early math rock instrumentation. I had been aware of this, the groups sophomore album, for a while now, but have been putting off the review. Thanks to Patrick and Jack though, for persisting in their wanting of said dissection! Having listened to their debut record, 'Antidotes' in preparation for this post, I come to the conclusion that Foals have moved away from their much more upbeat, and perhaps more daring sounds to bring to light a much more mainstream feel that loses that edge in places. Nearly every song is wallowing in a chill atmosphere and quiet moodiness that is far from terrible. The quintet emulate a passion for what they do which is hard not to love, creating a rainy day blanket of sound that's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in.
     Unfortunately though, after the few listens required to write a review, I realised I enjoyed the debut better, even after only an hour with that record. The first is, summed up, a guitar driven pop album with catchy melodies and memorable lyrics, with the slower songs trembling with a subdued intensity that feels fantastic. Compared to this, the band have changed a great deal, losing the great lyricism, with hooks only memorable due to repetitive singing. Still, I feel as though this album is a breakthrough of sorts, just not in the direction the debut lp pointed. For me, the first is a greater pop rock album, with 'Total Life Forever' a chill wave record that appears more thoughtful in production, but in the process losing the eccentricity many had loved from before. I could imagine many slamming these eleven tracks as uninspired, with hardly any getting particularly loud.
     Despite this, I do like the album for a lot of reasons, and would definitely recommend it to everyone. The production is smooth, with some fantastic guitar effects and drums work polishing the straightforward and almost blissful and bleak soundscapes. Don't look to get excited, as this definitely steers away from that route, laid out by 'Antidotes'. Songs like 'Spanish Sahara', which is one of my favourite, emphasise my point perfectly. The track starts in a hospital ward, with it's headache inducing glare dampened by grieving tears. The beats are there, throbbing in the background, building and building to some of the loudest moments on the lp. Even then, I turned my speaker volume up in order to get that goose bump feeling from very emotional climaxes. The first time I heard that track, riding along in the car, with rain sliding down the window, I was awe-struck, which makes me think that in part, situations and environments make this album great. I'm must say, throughout this review, I've been split on whether my opinion's positive or negative. Argh!
     This album isn't without variety either. 'This Orient's vocal beats that come in throughout the song, making this one of the faster tracks. 'Fugue' is a glitchy tale of a man void of possessions, contemplating the decision to jump. Only forty-nine seconds long, I would have perhaps liked this, the shortest song, to have been extended, but it's end marks the start of 'After Glow', which gathers some of the noisiest sounds and more passionate singing on the record. Other noted flashes of brilliance are 'Blue Blood's crystal clear vocals at the start, and the song's climactic nature. 'Miami' has an outstanding melody and groovy beat to it, as well, with 'Total Life Forever's vocals noticeable deeper in parts than other tracks, which I enjoyed.
     Overall, I must say my opinion is mixed. On the one hand, I'm loving the quieter, chilled soundscapes forged by the tracks on this album, but then I miss the excitement sparked by the band's debut. For me, on many levels, the sounds on both records are completely different, so you should really check out both before making a decision on which you prefer. I reckon the first slightly clinches it, but that's really only personal opinion, and one you may very well disagree with. If you enjoy music to be listened to on a rainy day and which can be mused upon, definitely check out Foal's sophomore lp, 'Total Life Forever'.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Poor Lily: Poor Lily

     Here then, my music dissectors, is a punk album of note. Poor Lily are a trio from the Bronx that whack out energetic screams of Dead Kennedys-esque satire, laden with jagged personality that feels straight up and honest. Bringing punk back to it's crazed, rebellious basics, the band is made up of Max Capshaw on guitar, despite being best know for his drum work, Dom Baiocco and Adam Wisnieski. Twenty-three minutes and thirteen tracks long, this album is available for free from the group's website.
     First off, the amount of tracks and the length of the album means that most songs don't break the two minute mark. Rather than hindering the quality of the record though, this only lends itself to hit the listener with punch after punch of noisy, aggressive rock that varies enough while also retaining an enjoyable unity. The vocals remind me of teenage punk bands, but the age of two of the band members mean they bring distinctively older sounds to the table, which adds some very likable 80's maturity to the record. Structure wise, as well, many songs on this could be considered strange, with only a few conforming to people's usual, verse-chorus style make-up. Looking deeper than the top layer of mindless guitar riffs and screaming vocals though, however good they are, reveals thoughtful, interesting production that make this album, for me. And all for free! 
      The recording quality on some songs is also a little rough, but the band uses this distortion to their benefit, playing it off as nothing, with the thrashing guitar covering it up on more than one occasion. '800 Jerks' executes such a method brilliantly, with the screaming vocals building to a fantastic climax at the end. 'In Gravitas Veritas' is one of my personal favourites from this album, with cleaner drums and melody at the start backing a brilliant narration. Another climax brought to my attention a pattern within the sound on repeated listen. As is the nature of the style of music, the songs build and build throughout the song, accumulating in a breathless and energetic finish. Not a bad thing, and indeed one that is done well, I might have preferred a little more imagination to match that of the lyricism, production and instrumentation. Still, a complaint I only noticed on repeated listen, and one that probably won't occur to most people!
     'Hey Fucko' has a great guitar solo half way through and towards the end, with 'Head of Flames' and 'He Tried to Lam' matching the high standard laced throughout the tracks. The satirical lyrics mentioned before are particularly prevalent on track nine, 'Regular Guy', with the vocalist singing like a grumpy old man who seems to like doing things himself. As an a retaliation to people's angry glares, the band pound out the words "I'm not a monster, I'm a regular guy!" Absolutely outstanding lyricism matched with outstandingly furious guitar riffs and a cock-sure drummer, this makes for great listening.
     The album ends with 'Right on You', a song by which the singer, well sings more, rather than screams, with once again, a gorgeous finishing solo from the trio. The ultimate track opens with a reverb heavy drone that lies just beneath the surface throughout the song, but with it being one of the shorter tracks, I feel down heartened by such a relatively weak finisher to the record. Left wanting more though, I suppose that's a good attribute for the album to be associated with! Lovers of straight forward punk aggression should love this, and it's available to download for free. Highly recommended, check this out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Battles: Gloss Drop

      'Gloss Drop' is the sophomore lp from New York experimental quartet turned trio, Battles. Formed in 2002, and with their first record 'Mirrored' released in 2007 to critical acclaim, many were troubled by the group's decision to drop quite pivotal member Tyondai Braxton in 2010. Rumours flew as to whether the band would continue to work, and the release of the single 'Ice-Cream', with guest vocals from Matias Aguayo, only served to stoke the flames. Understandable fears over the quality though, are fortunately misplaced!
     Compared to that first album, this one for me, seems friendlier and more accessible, while maintaining that level of experimentation we've come to love from Battles, even through their loss of a much loved figurehead. The energy you might also expect to falter, but the group has managed to retain their heart-pumping, adrenaline fueled dance rock rollercoaster to create something fantastically easy to jump around to. Variety wise, this twelve track record is also brilliant, with the guitar always finding new ways to lace the tempo and the synthesisers and the drums together in a fusion that just works. There is simply a rebellious youthfulness to the tracks on this album that reminisces on times past, a feeling I for one am glad about. In short, this is a worthy successor to their great debut.
     The first track rumbles into play, with moody synthesisers that support video game bleeps, be it lathered in atmosphere and playfulness. The drums then burst onto the scene, carrying the tempo and changing the dance beat to fall into a different pattern, one that fluctuates in it's adventure-esque dynamics. The end is filled with chiptune beeps that hide in an almost resigned manner some ominously deep and booming notes. Now might be a good time to explain that most of this album is instrumental, with a few guest vocals making their appearance hear and there. The first single is one of these, and as such is one of my favourites. A summery guitar riff introduces grunts and snorts that sound rather... rude, shall we say, but nevertheless, they make you grin and tap along to the rhythm they create. Matias Aguayo's fun vocals also make you dance along, with words that change up in dynamics and pitch, in keeping with the album's experimental nature. An ending equally as smile-inducing as the start, this has to be one of the most fun songs I've heard all year! While on the matter, another great ending is that of the following track, 'Futura', with it's reverb heavy guitar melodies. Excellent!
     'My Machines' sounds decidedly noisier than others, with it's math rock drum beats smothered in vocals, guitars and tinkling notes, all of which merge to form a bustling sound I really enjoyed. The ending's post apocalyptic grinding is also worthy of note, I have to say. The subsequent track, 'Dominican Fade' has a  very Latin American vibe to it, with festival like drums and claps audible at the back. 'Sweetie & Shag' is, as the name suggests, a sugary track that produces the only female vocals on the album, with Kazu Makino doing the girls proud. One of the quieter tracks on the record, 'Toddler' has next to no beat at all, though with the sounds made up of synthesised piano notes that rest on a soothing base of mellow reminiscence. A song that adds more variety to an already varied album, I don't think it was needed, but was beautiful all the same.
     As we draw to the conclusion of this review, I think that pretty much every track from this selection of twelve is brilliant, so in my overview of songs, I've undoubtedly left  some outstanding ones out. The lp ends with 'Sundome', a track Jamaican in nature, which is probably due to Yamantaka Eye's noteworthy guest vocals. The ending is abrupt, leaving the listener wanting more, though after a short rest, considering the upbeat and relentlessly fun feelings the album emulates. If you like experimentation, if you like dance music, but most importantly, if you want to smile, then go ahead and try some of Battle's sophomore effort, 'Gloss Drop'.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Black Lips: Arabia Mountain

     The Black Lips are a garage rock and self-proclaimed flower-punk quartet hailing from the city of Dunwoody, Georgia, with Arabia Mountain their sixth full length album. The band came to my attention late in 2009, a few months after the release of their fifth lp, 200 Million Thousand. Their sound was one of lo-fi and grimy, whisky breath rock, and while this latest effort retains the same energy, it's production is much cleaner and accessible. The transition from that sound to  more of a pop attitude is executed brilliantly!
     The style of sound from these guys has always been relatively the same, with the only difference separating albums being the quality of the production. From their first record onwards, this became progressively cleaner, with a shock for many on 200 Million Thousand, when the recording quality dropped. On this latest album, I'm happy with the new direction of the group, with their attitude polished by the crisp production, rather than being muddied by the lo-fi cloak it wore before. Lyrically, this sixteen track keeps the fantastic hooks, melodies and quirky verses that make the Black Lips great, but the amount of songs and the length of the album means some tracks are quite short and similar in tone. All sixteen are good though, and there are none that I hate, but it's just pretty hard to distinguish a few tracks from others. But that's really my only complaint!
     The first two and a half minutes kick the album off with a bang. 'Family Tree' is amazing lyrically, with a killer hook that sticks in your head. The beauty of this track however, is the passion with which those lyrics are sang. With every member singing and a saxophone support, there are screams in this that echo previous  punk efforts. The quirky Wombats-esque lyrics are prominent in 'Spidey's Curse', a song reflecting on Peter Parker being, 'defenceless, so defenceless when he was a kid.' The vocals are hard to describe, but are very enjoyable, in both this and another track, 'Mr. Driver' especially.
     'Mad Dog' is another one of my favourite tracks. With another saxophone, there is an interesting dialogue that steps in and out of this song, adding much needed variety to the album. The singing is aggressive as they snarl the lyrics over a pounding drum beat and harmonic backing vocals, creating a phenomenal two minutes that just rock.
     Two tracks on, 'Bicentennial Man' has a very western feel that emulates the wild west cowboy attitude the album cover presents. This is because of both the twang of the guitar, I think, as well as the deeper, gruffer sounding voices that sing their way through. Elements that match perfectly to create a near perfect song with a near perfect hook. 'Go Out And Get It' has sharper, shorter lyrics, lending themselves to more of an upbeat feel, while 'Raw Meat' contributes to the same pot with it's whistling melody. 'Bone Marrow' is also a fantastic foot-tapper, with it's musical saw, 'doo be doo's and smile inducing clap beat. Frankly, every song is the same, and on a passive listen it would be hard to distinguish tracks. Take the time to listen carefully though, and you'll be rewarded with a joyous collection of melodies and hooks that are easy to rock along to.
     The end isn't as good as the start though, I must admit. 'Noc-A-Homa' is one of the more lo-fi sounding, join in and scream songs, which felt a bit repetitive. The last track feels very psychedelic in it's approach, which doesn't fit in with the rest of the album for me, and doesn't end the record on the high level with which it began. I simply couldn't understand the last ten seconds as well, which are just as important as the first. A crackling sound of a man trying to sound like a frog and then a disjointed beat for about five seconds? I'm pretty sure Black Lips could have thought of something better. Even so, the album as a whole is a great one, full of catchy hooks, passion and melodies to die for. Grab it if you love garage rock, and I'm sure you won't  be disappointed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Within Temptation: The Unforgiving

     First off, despite being labelled as such, I don't consider Within Temptation to be a metal band. This Dutch sextet lead by Sharon den Adel have always in my mind conformed to symphonic rock, steering further and further away from Gothic and metal in general, as their discography progressed. An exception would have to be made on this latest release though, which is wrapped in hard rock and 80's metal; a concept album lathered in pop infectiousness. The Unforgiving is story-driven, centering around 'Mother Maiden', who seeks to raise the dead in an effort to defeat evil. Written as a counterpart to a comic book, the album is accompanied by three short films. 
     Before we really get stuck into the review, this isn't for everyone. This is a soundtrack, filled with predictable riffs and bring guitar solos. The impressive with this album however, is very impressive. Sharon's voice is powerful, and the eighties influenced arena rock lyrics get stuck in your head. This is no subtle, quiet pop-rock album. These twelve tracks are anthems, intended to be played loud and rocked along to. Symphonic, immersive soundscapes are supported by the story, introduced in the first track through a dramatic monologue. Surprisingly conventional in regards to the level of experimentation, the amount of adrenaline and power that pumps through your heart definitely makes up for it.
     The very noticeable eighties influence is slightly overwhelming in parts, even threatening to throw the record into the abyss of cheesy pop. 'A Shot in the Dark' is the main offender, with a smothering, overdone chorus that would drag the song down if the rest of the track wasn't so catchy! All of the songs have this factor to be honest, in that they all have fantastic hooks and melodies that are very hard to sniff at. 'Faster' is another, with Sharon's voice singing fairly bland and uninteresting subject matter in a song that's rescued by the sheer passion and anthem like power these guys emit.
     'Fire and Ice' has to be one of my favourites. It starts with an ominously dark and incredibly cinematic build up that changes to accommodate more hopeful sounds that are sprinkled in tinkling piano plinks, for lack of a better word. The dynamics on this song are also brilliant, with the piano suddenly drowned out by the climactic drums. Vocal-wise, also inspiring, with Sharon's voice switching between the saddening and the angry in a fantastic emotional journey highlighted by the wailing backing track and beautiful ending.
     The metal elements to this album reveal themselves prominently in tracks like 'Iron', a mid-record stomper that carries the story and keeps it flowing. Another song that feels more Metal than other tracks is 'Murder', with it's reverb heavy vocal effects and yet again, catchy lyricism and infectious hooks. The atmosphere surrounding this track in particular however, is one of dark regret and revenge, with words like 'I'm about to hunt you down' and 'I'm about to cut your wings away'. Great spine-tinkling power and emotion!
     Ending on a spellbinding high with the adrenaline fueled 'A Demon's Fate' and the vulnerable 'Stairway To The Skies', this album is one of the best of it's kind. An ending emulating forgiveness and a pleading death rounds the record off in a way one would expect a concept album to, leaving the listener's heart pounding and breath shaking. For at least another day, the hooks are stuck in your head, leaving your mouth to send them out in the form of hums and whistles. A twelve track symphonic masterpiece, it's anthems bursting at the seams with guitar, drums and powerful rock vocals, this record deserves it's place in history as the conventional album that managed to capture your mind and keep it. Music lovers, the purchase of Within Temptation's The Unforgiving is a must.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See

     If you don't know who the Arctic Monkeys are by now, then you've been living under a sound-proof rock for the past nine years. Indie rock quartet lead by Alex Turner, and whose first album remains the fastest selling debut in British history, are under debate by many. Their first and second albums are definitely their best, with 'Humbug' a less infectious third. The question poised on everyone's lips is 'will this  latest twelve track return then to their former glory?' They're on the right path, but are just not quite at the end of it.
     A comparison to their earlier work then. Humbug, which you may or may not have enjoyed, did show the mature side to the band, trading in the catchy and infectious for the darker, moodier tracks. On this latest release, the Arctic Monkey's have taken a step back to try and re-enter the light that emerged from their first two records, throwing in the hooks and accomplished lyricism that made the original albums great. The problem I have, is that when these four guys emerged with 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not', it was a post-punk revivalist effort that was one of the first modern albums acclaimed for it's journey into the weird. That was a while ago, and now, I must admit I'm slightly underwhelmed by this album's convention. Still, there is much to love!
     Released as singles are the worst tracks on this record, which baffles me in a way. 'Brick by Brick' is a suffocating garage rock song with misplaced backing vocals and lyrics about wanting to 'rock and roll'. C'mon, but that to me seems like laziness regarding subject matter. The hook and guitar leads aren't badly done, but the song oozes a yawn inducing concept that has been done over and over again. The second, 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' is, well... just look at the title. The lyrics on this track, and on the album in general feel very corny in places. I was impressed at first by the strong, prominent riffs and power to the vocals on this track, but on repeated listen I got bored. There is hardly anything original on this record, if I'm honest. Memorable hooks that you can hum along to are thrown in, but are surrounded by stuff that has been done before, and in my mind done better.
     Now for the good remarks, even if there are very few. 'Piledriver Waltz' is one of my favourite songs, with a melody that is head and shoulders above the other eleven tracks. The story behind the track is also fantastic, which I love. The closer to this record is also pretty nice, and not just because it marks the end of the forty minutes that make up the album. Overall though, the sounds on this album feel outdated, emulating the pop tunes and sensibilities not seen in the band's third record. This factor to the music, on reflection, makes me feel as though the Arctic Monkeys are trying to reminisce and remember the old, rather than create something new, which is fine. A step in the right direction for the band I reckon, creeping away from their later work and heading more towards the feel we got when the group first exploded onto the music scene. A lukewarm effort from a band many admire, I'm not disappointed as such, but would have appreciated more originality and maturity than what I heard. If you're a fan, check the album, but don't expect to be blown away.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Squarepusher: Feed Me Weird Things

     Released in 1996, Tom Jenkinson's debut record as Squarepusher dropped during the July of that year and has not been forgotten. Considered by myself to be one of the greatest debut albums of all time, Feed Me Weird Things is a fascinating fusion of drum and bass, a genre I don't usually appreciate, jazz and early acid experimentation, all of which accumulate to form an epitaph of brilliant music. The problem with Jenkinson's work after this album though, is the constant comparison to this, arguably his best ever.
     One of the first connotations the words drum and bass bring to mind, and indeed a feature seen in most traditional drum and bass records, is the use of mindless and fast beats. These are usually devoid of variation and made for the drunk on a dancefloor to appreciate, despite their lacking mindframe. Not that that isn't fine, as this album does incorporate these elements, but just in a manner separate to the usual dance music sounds that I've been exposed to. Take the second track, for example. 'Tundra' starts with slow and soothing hums that emulate the name of the song, with the beats then coming in over the top. Coming in as one of the longest tracks, this has to be one of my favourites!
     The waves of beats roll in and out on the tide of the serene, jazz infused backing track. The sections of drum and bass fade in and out over the top of the glitchy and surreal hums that wade through the peaceful swamp of sound that makes up this song. Throughout this twelve track record actually, there is a sense of perfect balance between the drum beats that throb and swell, and the jazz instrumentals that swing and reminisce.
     'The Swifty's very tribal sounds match well with the croaking frog-like noises that emerge from within this song, lending themselves to create a fantastic atmosphere. Certain saxophone solos are also beautifully incorporated! A superb ending filled with ominous heartbeats and metallic drums lead into the fluctuating drone that marks the start of the next track. Sounds with an almost muffled feel work their way through these four minutes to a startlingly abrupt finish. The striking sampled sounds from 'Smedleys Melody' make for added variation to this already varied album, as do the chiptune beeps and solemn echoes at the start of 'Windscale 2'. Simply awe-inspiring!
     'Goodnight Jade' is another one of my favourites from this collection of twelve. The lack of prominent fast beats and the presence of throbbing heart-like beats makes the listener feel like they're underwater, floating through another world with eyes wide open. Discovering a new planet and silently taking it in before your eyes shut as your final breath leaves you. The track straight after has a similar atmosphere, though slightly more pressing and with more urgency in feel than it's afore-mentioned successor. The alien bleeps that also run through the middle of 'U.F.O.'s Over Leytonstone' match the song's title perfectly. As the album draws to a close, I feel saddened by it's end, in a good way.
     'Future Gibbon', the track that finishes the album, definitely feels the noisiest, with it's glitches and short pauses for breath. This song fades in, and eventually fades out. As I listened to the last sounds ebb away, I sat for about five minutes, as I usually do, and contemplated what I'd heard. I came to the conclusion that this was a record that feels right in nearly every corner, and one that I'll never forget. Drum and bass fans. Jazz fans. Experimental fans. Squarepusher is an artist you have to hear, without question!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The King Blues: Punk and Poetry

     'Punk and Poetry' is a fierce and very relevant album that makes points on a lot of today's political and social issues. It's lacking ability to be relevant in ten years time though makes this record one that won't become a classic. This doesn't necessarily mean some parts aren't good though, don't get me wrong! The King Blues are a six member alternative, punk rock band whose sound infuses folk and reggae elements to create something very different within today's mainstream music scene. Having looked over their previous albums in preparation for this review, I feel as though this album lacks in both the catchy lyricism and raw passion seen on their earlier records, I'm afraid. The lyrics are well written, but simply not as good. For those who are used to The King Blues, I expect this will be a bit of a let down, and personally, I would stick to their earlier albums.
     This twelve record is relatively short, weighing in at only half an hour long. It starts with 'Last Of The Dreamers', a song about people who dream about a better world, but are forced to suppress them. The track leads into the next well enough, to a song that retains the most anger on the album. Electric guitars and synthesisers grind, supporting gruff, aggressive lyrics and vocals from Johnny Fox. He sings with a passion on this track that feels very reggae in parts, before screaming out the chorus. The political message and power in this song emulates their previous efforts and makes this one of my favourites.
     'Dancehall' starts with some pretty old fashioned sounds which I liked, but the vocals brought to my attention a factor I didn't. Fox doesn't sing, but then he doesn't rap on this song either. It's more, talking to a backing track. The next track, 'The Future's Not What It Used To Be' is better, with a good beat and not too aggressive, but passionate lyrics that are actually sang! I'm not going to spend long on 'Five Bottles Of Shampoo' either, a song many people seem to enjoy. I don't. The lyrics are well written, but these two minutes for me, are ruined by the rubbish backing track and again, the not sang, but then not rapped vocals. After being told this track was one of the best, I am unfortunately, dissapointed.
     I do get what the band are trying to do, but I simply don't feel it. This album is a mixture of genres, from the hard rock on 'We Are Fucking Angry' to the power pop feel of 'Dancehall', and those clashing emotions don't work well to create a watertight, solid effort from start to finish. Tracks like the last, and 'I Want You' feel far too mainstream compared to the rest of the album, and on some songs the backing tracks feel lazy and unsuited. 'Five Bottles Of Shampoo', I'm looking at you. There are glimpses of brilliance that go back to the fantastic lyricism and power on previous albums, but as I whole I don't think I'll be returning. The twelve songs on this half an hour record feel like a couple of teenagers who want to appear politically aware, and I think many people will listen to this to appear similar in maturity. A step in the right direction for punk, this album didn't do it for me. Shout out to Anton though, for requesting this album review. I'm sorry for the negativity!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Meanwhileproject.Ltd: The Joey Burns EP

     Dear dissectors. Please don't shrug this EP off as another couple of free tracks available as such because of their unimportance. Instead, take quarter of an hour out of your evening, stick some headphones on and race across the wide west on your dashing stallion. What began as a one man project in 2008, founded by German, M. Adam, Meanwhileproject.Ltd has collected together a variety of musicians and singers for this latest release. Leading up to 'The Judas Hole', a lp expected to drop later this year, 'The Joey Burns' is a five track soundtrack, in their own words, to a film that was never made. Some great indie pop astride a gallant rock horse, this EP hits home.
     The first track starts with a brilliant sampled voice that warns the listener of an impeding fate should their friends stay out in the damp. This arising trepidation builds and reveals itself through the drums, plucking guitar and very cowboy sounding atmosphere, which is one that effortlessly merges with the second track. 'That Day Joey Burns Offered Me A Job' is the only track that's going to be on the lp, and is one that starts with some fantastic guitar. The singing isn't half bad either. Instead of the crackly, lo fi quality I was expecting, I was met with some in tune vocals that ooze summery content. The lyrics feel well written, with some brilliant melodies and catchy hooks. Love it!
     The third track sounds decidedly more electronic than the previous two, but still manages to retain a wild west attitude underneath the synthesisers. The atmosphere though, even within the fifteen minutes the EP comes to, adds contrast that doesn't feel needed as such, but is welcome all the same. The penultimate track is the one that steers the most away from the mainstream, for me. The song starts off with tinkling bells that introduce some Spanish talking and strange vocal grunts and singing that seem to match the whistling barren desert scene the music is trying to induce. Thoroughly enjoyable!
     The last track emulates the same sort of feel as the first track, bringing the EP to a settled conclusion. The electrified vocals from the third song are back, but are hardly understandable over the guitar and drums. A second vocal comes in, which is less so, and repeats some lyrics a bit too much through the second half of the track. A classic fade out into nothingness marks the end of the EP, a fascinating journey through the wild west, endearing till the end. Like Meanwhileproject.Ltd's own description of the five tracks, they sound as though  they were made for a movie that never was. Absolutely fantastic, and an absolute must. Download for free at their Free Music Archive page.

Is Tropical: The Greeks Music Video

     Hey music dissectors! This is a fantastic music video from Is Tropical, a trio from London. I would talk about the music, but you can't really pay attention to it over the guns, explosions and screaming kids in this video! Brilliant effects, brilliantly funny, just watch it. Hopefully I'll get to review the album from whence this track comes, when it drops, but until then, just check the video out. If you are interested though, and because I want to make this post a little longer, the sound from these guys is one of catchy dance beats and care-free pop. Thoroughly enjoyable though, so again, stop listening to me, and watch the video!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Acid Reign: Diversity

     Having been sent this album by Uncommon Records, and after a few listens, I came to the awkward conclusion that there are plenty of things I love about the music, but then some things I wouldn't listen to again. I therefore come to believe that this is a very mediocre, and in parts, quite an arrogant record. Acid Reign aren't the British thrash metal band from Harrogate, even though they share the same name. They are in fact, a rap trio from Los Angeles, made famous by the music scene LA Underground.
     Starting with the bad then. 'Diversity' contains some tracks that are unnecessarily vulgar, and some that sound plain, well, bad. 'Kiss Ass' is the worst track from this selection of sixteen, in my eyes. I am all for aggression and passionate anger in both rap and rock music, but this takes it to a whole new level. The song starts off, covered by a veil of crowd cheers and a pleasant drum beat. This veil is then ripped off by the claws of language and frankly, quite corny singing. After a while, this becomes almost bearable, but, as the song ends, a brick is thrown through the window of the song. What sounds like a torture scene, with a man urinating in anther's mouth with a bystander shouting, 'What is he doin'! Completely unnecessary, and an element that completely ruined the album, for me. In my eyes, rap music is a way of releasing aggression without physical violence. This track therefore, rubs a layer of grime into an otherwise pretty good album. Disappointing.
     Having said that, there is a lot to love about this record. The experimentation and sampled is executed well, as there is a good mix of rap and singing that adds diversity to the album, pun intended. The second track, 'The Man', is backed by fantastic gypsy sounding instruments, and the chorus is pretty catchy. 'Love Vs. Hate' and 'People Take Charge' are my favourite tracks, for various reasons. The latter is full of contrast, with the backing track made up of composed classical music that feels strangely suited to the lyrics and feel of the song. There is also again, a fantastic chorus. 'Love Vs. Hate' starts and is continuously interrupted by a foreign singer which again, contrasts nicely with the rest of the album. I also love the dark humour present on tracks like 'Devils Talk', with the Devil obviously attempting to sing and then angrily giving up at the end.
     As a whole album, there is definitely a playful feel to some tracks, but then the lyrics on others uncover overstressed ideas about violence and gangs, a side to the music some mightn't enjoy. On the subject of lyrics, an important factor in rap music, these aren't badly done. The mixture of rapping and then hybrid rap singing makes for an interesting listen, an experience amplified by the thoughtfully written words that more often than not, match the atmosphere the sound of the songs are trying to induce quite well.
     Overall, this isn't the best rap album out there, a downfall pushed down by one song that stands out as deliberately and thoughtlessly produced. There are glimpses of brilliance here and there, but after repeated listen, there is a lot of mediocrity that doesn't plead with me for another. A good effort though, I will definitely look out for the next installment in Acid Reign's discography.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Free Mixtape from the blog!

     I wanted to try something different here, so I thought to make a mixtape. The selection of tracks are composed from free albums that I've enjoyed over the past month, and weigh in at eighteen. Now for the apologetic part. I'm afraid I've never done this before, so when you open the zip file, you'll find eighteen tracks and an alternative album cover. Apart from that, the songs won't be in the right order, and when you import them into iTunes the tracks will probably separate into a few different albums. All of this, is my fault. I'll post a track listing so you can manually put the tracks in the right order, but other than that, I think you'll enjoy it! Coming it at an hour long, the songs are:
1. 'The Lusty Summertime' by The Agrarians
2. 'Creepin' Crazy Time' by Big Blood
3. 'She-Wander(er)' by Big Blood
4. 'Playing Games' by CatNip Tea
5. 'Greater Vultures' by Coma Cinema
6. 'Caroline, Please Kill Me' by Coma Cinema
7. 'Blue Suicide' by Coma Cinema
8. 'Plumy Tale' by Dumbo Gets Mad
9. 'L'Uomo Senza Nome (Joey Burns Intro)' by Meanwhileprojectltd
10. 'Demon Inc' by Mors Ontologica
11. 'Street Fighter 5' by My Mind
12. 'Come On' by Shearer
13. 'Pirate Anthem' by Shearer
14. 'Drunk' by Stray Dogg
15. 'Devil with the Devil' by The Underscore Orkestra
16. 'Balancing Act, Chosen Kale Mazel Tov' by The Underscore Orkestra
17. 'Soft Illusion' by Teleidofusion
18. 'Eye' by Stray Dogg
In order to download, follow the link and wait for the countdown to end.