Wednesday, 31 March 2010
I don't know why I've sat on this since Jan and not posted, maybe its 'cos I'm a dick. Any ways there's this dude going by the name of Vacation Dad and his story is just gutting.
They say that recession is a good thing for music and maybe, yes, without the hard shit Vacation Dad wouldn't of put out tunes that frankly warm the cockles of your soul. They soar like a bird playing in the summer breeze, like a joyous sigh of an innocent escape. There's a weight to VD's tunes but you could lift them with your little finger, they move you with just a breath, like the wind from a falling tree.
In essence its lovely stuff that makes me want to run around fields in the sun. And Vacation Dad has put together a whole album of the stuff! You can get it here and his myspace is here. I hope the lad gets signed, he deserves it. Here's the story in his own words, and his sound track to accompany it.
Vacation Dad - Hemp Scented Body Lotion
"i started flirting with this girl
she was married
then we sex in a tent one thing led to the other
we dated for a while
then we broke up cause i suck
then i got laid off cause the economy is bad
i had a real job one with
i recorded this to make myself feel good
i am in love with zachary zimmerman
these songs are about his body
This is my last album review for a little while - Im heading home to Australia for a few weeks over Easter - so I thought Id make it a double bill. As has been fairly clear over the short course of this blog thus far, Sonic Masala deals mainly in rock, and noisy rock at that (hence the Sonic of the title). However we aspire to recognise musical merit of all shapes and sizes (where we deem fit of course!) And so Im going for two albums that are decidely lower-key than usual.
Broken Social Scene are in institution, both of music in general and of the Canadian music scene in particular. The band have a turnstile of coming and going talent involved in their pastiches of musical genres, their only predictability being their unpredictability. We have seen member take flight on their own merit (Feist; Emily Haines, both as a solo artist and in Metric), and band members put out gear with Broken Social Scene flourishes (Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning in particular).
One band member that has flourished in his own world is Owen Pallett. the violin extraordinaire, he is the man that the likes of the Arcade Fire go to to bolster their string arrangements. Under the moniker of Final Fantasy, Pallett released a quirkily enjoyable album a few years ago called He Poos Clouds. Nuff said there. And although his newie, Heartland, is more generic in its title, and under his own name, it contains all the quirky elements that we have come to expect, this time in a lusher, more densely layered context - and is all the better for it.
Heartland showcases everything that is Owen Pallett, so it is great that he places this album under his own name. He is a true one man band - its hard to fathom how one person can create such intricate landscapes to let his musical vision dance the light fantastic in. The various percussive instruments, brass and strings, intermingling with electronic flourishes, are hard to fathom - so much is going on that each listen provides a new gem to gawp at, to savour, to fall in love with. The soaring opener "Midnight Flourishes" throws you straight into his world, with all of these elements on offer from the get go, and there is no letting up. "Lewis Takes His Shirt Off" is a five minute opus that enraptures as well as amuses; "Tryst With Mephistopheles" is a kaleidascopic amalgam of Postal Service twitches and Sound of Music grandeur and pomp (imagine Julie Andrews twirling around in a field of multicoloured flowers, fireworks going overhead, psychedelic stop motion creatures tugging the hems of her skirt...no, I cant either...); "Flare Gun" comes across as a relation to something we would expect to hear in a Tim Burton directed Fantasia. And that is the key - this is truly a fantasy world we have entered, akin to Pallett's previous moniker. Now if only Burton's Alice had fallen down Heartland's rabbithole... This is something that I wouldn't normally champion - but I cannot get this album out of my head. A true album (Ive been saying that a bit this year...), it grows - no, morphs itself into you. Surreality has never been this fun, infectious, and beautiful.
Jason Collett is another active Broken Social Scene collaborator that has released an album this month, Rat A Tat Tat. We have mentioned his activities already this month - being a influence in the works of the band Zeus - so its time to monitor his own work. And what he has produced is pop folk mishmash that has its hand in Dylanesque territory, though with more 70s rock stylings and influences. "Rave On Sad Song" is a barroom drunken pint clinker, the honky tonk on the piano, the gentle strummings of an acoustic song, the effortless chorus. It builds from here, from the T-Rex meets Sgt Pepperish "Lake Superior" to the whimsical wonderings of "Winnipeg Winds". It is heavily influenced by other artists - nay, albums - but has Collett's swagger and pop nuances well in check.
It seems a little unfair to have these albums side by side though - Rat A Tat Tat is a lot of fun, but lacks the fantastical (there's that word derivation again) immersiveness that Heartland dishes out in spades. If this was a showdown, Pallett would take the undisputed crown. As they stand on their own, they are two terrific albums by two talented troubadours.
Owen Pallett - Lewis Takes His Shirt Off
Jason Collett - Rave On Sad Song
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Bit of fun this one, I've just got back from a four day road rally across Europe, well Holland, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and back to Holland. It certainly felt like the whole of Europe! So this slice down the road of 1996 sums it up rather well. Oh and one tip, don't get lost down a Dutch back road, they've got loads!
Cake - The Distance
p.s we finished 27th out of 105, not that great.
I've been enjoying the new The Strange Boys album, Be Brave, these past few weeks. The L.P dropped way back in dark days of early Jan but with the sun finally poking its head out its head recently the record seems to make more sense now. This particular track gives me a warm fuzzy feeling so I had to share.
The Strange Boys - Laugh At Sex, Not Her
And The Strange Boys are playing London at ICA 21st April, bringers of spring delights indeed.
Daily Void provided that much needed nihilistic hardcore bludgeoning that you most definitely needed. They have been pumping out their musical violence on a variety of small outlets, and are currently celebrating their current 12" The Eclipse of 1453 through Sacred Bones, this brand of deathly violent noise punk is a cold, cathartic shiv to the soul. Fucking love it.
Daily Void - Psychic Violence
Monday, 29 March 2010
I saw The National play a small gig at Brisbane's The Zoo one sweat January night in 2008. I liked their album Alligator, and loved Boxer - and live they are truly amazing. Their new album High Violet is out soon - below is a taster of what to expect...
The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sunday, 28 March 2010
I dont know much about Broken Water - came across their name a few times in SXSW wrap ups - but a small listen to their gear off debut LP Whet (put out by Night People) explains the excitement being generated. Evoking the ghosts of indie fare that haunted Subpop's hallowed halls prior to the explosion of Nevermind, yet adhering to some of those guitar-driven aesthetics, the Olympia three piece amble their way along in a glum fashion, their eyes to the floor. I can really see this making an indelible impact in a packed bar shut off from the sun, soaked in whiskey and beer. Think Hazel, a dash of Low, with some of that lo-fi reverb sound that is very in vogue right now, but used to greater effect, inducing a psychedelic grind. I am massively impressed, and am searching for this album frantically - I think this will be a definite grower for me.
And as a special treat, I have not one, not two, but THREE tracks for your perusal. I really rate these guys...
Broken Water - Heal
Broken Water - Dead Light
Broken Water - Kamilche House
Friday, 26 March 2010
A lot of musical influences come from friends and family. You know - raiding your parents' record or cassette collection, being forced to listen to your older sibling's 'new music' that you 'won't get', etc etc.
Of course, it can come from people you admire for not just their musical taste, but their commitment to all things aural. My collaborator in crime on Sonic Masala, Paul, is definitely in this category. Others I think of in this vein are the trailblazers whose lives and careers have revolved around discovering good music before anyone else - the late great John Peel immediately springs to mind.
Coming from my own Australian background, the only radio station that had any kind of finger on the pulse of good music is/was Triple J. The 'king'pin of this national youth station was Richard Kingsmill, a DJ who for years had coaxed all who would listen to get involved in music of all facets, from all over the globe. He was/is the Antipodean Peel. So when he strongly recommended something, you made it top priority to check things out.
Much can be said about Scottish indie music at the moment - that Frightened Rabbit are finally garnering plaudits ad nauseum for their latest LP and live performances, thus having new found fans scurrying for the back catalogue; that bands with names like We Were Promised Jetpacks can offer moody atmospheric works that belie their monikers; that Glasvegas is shit. And whilst there has always been a section of Scottish music devoted to darker, edgier rock, until recently most surface dwelling music listeners would adhere Franz Ferdinand or Belle and Sebastian as being the mainstays of the country's musical scene. It is refreshing to see that bands that have been revered on their home soil are spreading their influences abroad, and tonight one such band, the Twilight Sad, get to show London its wares at the Relentless Garage.
First though, we are treated to Wild Palms, a London band getting a lot of press in certain circles for their exciting presence and prescient music. Im not sure if I got the right band, because neither were present here. Sure, there were some strong numbers, but most of it was filled out with padding, generic disco pop rock ditties that every man and his Korg are plinking out these days. I couldnt even say that the bands theatrics managed to apply the foundation necessary to cover such imperfections. The lighting show seemed to be run by someone with ADHD, and the smoke machine worked overtime, but all was underwhelming.
That is pretty much my description of what I saw tonight. I had been looking forward to see Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra for some time. Having been a long Godspeed! You Black Emperor advocate, and having listened the shit out of Silver Mt Zion's first LP He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms..., this was a must see event.
Paul and I got into Electric Ballroom just in time to catch Alexander Tucker playing his layered one man soundscapes. Armed with only a cello, an electric mandolin, many MANY effects pedals and his voice, Tucker produced a half hour of intricate psychedelic aesthetics. It is a little ramshackle but nonetheless impressive performance, and a perfect precursor for the main act.
When the band amble on stage, the Ballroom is rammed with people, and every single punter is in for a treat. Without much preamble, they launch into the one-two assault of "I Built A Metal Bird"/"I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings Of Other Metal Birds", a 15 minute plus opening that sets into motion one of the best gigs I have witnessed in quite some time. The gig - 2 hours, 6 songs - is breathtaking, blistering, beautiful, boisterous, beguiling. Frontman Efrim Menuck is in scintillating form, his much maligned vocals an absolute highlight, particularly on tracks of latest album Kollaps Tradixionales. There Is A Light, the second song of the night, is so much more mesmerising than its recorded version, and we get a better notion of how this group works. Dual violinists Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss trade lightning bolts of screeching strings, their instruments augmented by the sometime haunting, oft-times beautiful harmonies. David Payant, the 'newest' member of the band, is tight in all the right places, keeping everything tied together. The most underrated member of the band in my opinion, double bassist Thierry Amar, is brilliant, and the way he deftly wields the cumbersome instrument is a true sight to behold. This five piece (as it stands - the bands line up and personnel have changed extensively over the years) are sublime, no more so on final song of the main set, "One Million Died To Make This Sound" from their 2008 effort Thirteen Blues For Thirteen Moons. The ebb and flow of their sonically illuminating creation is post rock, orchestral wonderment, and the interplay of their vocals defy belief.
I know, im gushing. But it truly was an amazing performance on so many levels. There was so much interplay between Menuck and the audience too - some topics covered were David Cameron, jay Reatard, topless double decker buses, the highly unlikely return of Godspeed (and his insistence he is a member of the Specials), 6 Music, the band's aversion to pop music - all of which was highly amusing. Some people grumbled near me that there was too much talk - but songs of such magnitude need time to breathe - and retune! But it was another element that I feel is missing in most bands - that open willingness to not only connect with the audience, but to include them in the performance. To me, it added to the overall experience, pushing it through the glass ceiling and into the night time sky.
When they came on for a final song - "Microphones In The Trees" off their Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP of 2004 - they were taken aback by the sheer force of applause at their return. When the lights came on for good, it was with conflicted heart that I beat my retreat. Such a transcendant performance shouldn't ever have to end, should it?
I Built A Metal Bird/I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings Of Other Metal Birds
There Is A Light
God Bless Our Dead Marines
1 Milion Died To Make This Sound
Microphones In The Trees
Thursday, 25 March 2010
The Besnard Lakes grace our presence here next Wednesday, 31st March, at Cargo, supported by the wonderful Wolf People (featured earlier here on Sonic Masala). The Canadian band, based around husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, Besnard lakes are an apocolyptic indie group who create dense layered textures that provides a near perfect darkness. A darker Arcade Fire with a predilection for dirge, Besnard Lakes' 3rd LP, Besnard Lakes...Are The Roaring Night enamours its listeners with epic sounds, quiet/loud dynamics, and an band that delves in the fine balance between the haunting and the bludgeoning. Its gonna be a great gig - make sure you're there.
Besnard Lakes - And This Is What We Call Progress
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Surfer Blood have already been shackled to the 'Next Big Thing' ball and chain, but have also been heralded as the forebears of a resurgence in surf rock. Both of these labels are a little unfair. Surf rock in many respects is a niche genre - what these Floridian boys offer is more akin to slacker guitar rock, having more in tune with Rivers Cuomo and Stephen Malkmus than Brian Wilson and Dick Dale. Furthermore, the 'Next Big Thing' these days is a detrimental rather than a monumental banner to attain - these guys have so much more going for them than a cover of NME and a spread in Rolling Stone's Whats Hot in 2010.
But in some ways they bring it on themselves. The broad sunny anthems inclement in their admittedly infant oeuvre, added to their moniker and the name of their debut LP, Astro Coast, would seem to push them forth into the surf rock arena. And they're from Florida - I mean, come on! And they are clean cut, fun loving boys who are blowing all and sundry away. And they have been namechecked by NME's current 'Next Big Thing' The Drums - I mean, seriously!
But as they say, the proof is in the pudding, and a cursory listen to debut LP Astro Coast accentuates Surfer Blood's propensity for big hooks, bigger melodies, and total domination - in a sunny way of course. What grabs from the outset isn't that we have travelled back in time to a place of sun, surf and longboards, but to one of cardigans, black rimmed glasses and Converse High Tops. Opening tune "Floating Vibes" epitomises this notion - swirling guitars hitting with a one-two beat combo that could drive the most elementary of high school cover bands forward, until the bassline chimes in to remind us why Fountains of Wayne used to be cool. Then vocalist John Paul Pitts starts in. His warm harmonics are as much a driving aesthetic of Surfer Blood's appeal as those swirling, shimmering, beautiful guitars. And shit - are those strings I hear in the coda? The boys have ambition.
The album continues in such a rollicking fashion, but also highlight the highlight of many indie bands at their peak. Single "Swim" has been about for a while, but reaches its zenith here, all reverb in an arena vocals, crunching riffs, sparkling Weezer of Blue Album era finger picking, and anthemic choruses. "Take It Easy" is Vampire Weekend like in its Afro beat and soaring vocals, and yet is not smarmy in its tongue in cheeky artiness (yes, I really dont like Vampire Weekend unless someone else is doing it - so sue me!). Harmonix mirrors Arcade Fire, whilst Pitts' voice reaches the rafters as James Mercer does in some of his best Shins work.
But is this mere aping better bands?
No. Why? Because Surfer Blood have written amazing, classic, rock tunes, that's why. Astro Coast is amazingly crafted, and I dont mean in some elegaic, convoluted, overtly ambitious way. It is simplistic in its notion of what makes a good tune tick. Like their compatriots Japandroids, they are young guys who are enjoying playing their instruments - and whilst that two piece deal out scuzzy guitar rock with youthful zeal, their essence is identical - life is great! So yes, the intricacies of many a modern indie classic have been observed and praised, but its time that we harken back to days when guitars were played, drums were flayed, and everyone had a good time. Thank you Surfer Blood - you've served your purpose well.
Surfer Blood - Floating Vibes
I do love my 70s rock. As cliched as people try to make Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath/et al out to be, they knew how to make fucking great rock music. There are many bands that take elements of these gods and make them their own - White Hills comes to mind of a band that I have seen recently that invoked that feeling - but only a few fully embrace it and come out on top.
Earl Greyhound is one of them.
Originally a two-piece consisting of Matt Whyte and Kamara Thomas, they have been kicking around since 2002 in NYC. They brought in a drummer, Chris Bear, but he left the band in 2005 to try his luck with a little known band called Grizzly Bear. However it wasnt long before they caught the eye of The Root's guitarist Kirk Douglass, who introduced them to friend and Gold Crowns drummer Ricc Sheridan. The line-up became complete.
They have just released an LP, Suspicious Package.
Earl Greyhound - Ghost and the Witness
Last week I told you about the new album by Quasi, American Gongs. I even gave you two songs to sample. Have you bought the album yet? You should have - its fucking awesome.
Well, it was also brilliant to hear Sleater-Kinney's incendiary drummer Janet Weiss (and her beautiful harmonies!) on record again.
So I thought Id share three tidbits of Sleater-Kinney info that is likely to have you salivating.
First of all, Carrie Brownstein has her own blog, Monitor Mix. Its a goodun - check it out.
Secondly, Brownstein is in a movie! With The Shins/Broken Bells' own James Mercer! And its supposedly very good! Its called Some Days Are Better Than Others. Check the trailer below and make up your own minds - Im intrigued enough to check it out, even though it does smack a little of trying too hard for indie cred - but as I said, Brownstein + Mercer = must see.
Thirdly (and most importantly), Brownstein mentioned in an interview with IFC that a Sleater-Kinney reunion is definitely a possibility - and that she has hopes that in the next five years they will be firing on all cylinders again! This is great news indeed. Time to dust off One Beat and The Woods and have a Sleater-Kinney playlist today methinks!
As any Radiohead fan can attest, the band's brilliance is just as influenced by the weird wizardry of guitarist/multi-instrumentalist wunderkind Jonny Greenwood as it is by frontman Thom Yorke. If this was ever in doubt, a listen to the two film soundtracks he has scored - BBC human documentary Bodysong and PT Anderson's oil-drilling drama/horror opus There Will Be Blood (which he should have won an Oscar for - seriously, he wasnt even nominated! Babel was good, but not that good...) - will have you in thrall with his amazingly textured compositions.
So it is with an enormous amount of excitement that I can say that Greenwood is scoring again - this time for an adaptation of seminal Japanese author Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, to be directed by celebrated Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran (Vertical Rays of the Sun, The Scent of Green Papaya). It is a a bit of a way off, although the genesis of the score is said to come from a piece he has written called "Doghouse".
We will keep you informed. In the meantime, hunt down Greenwood's other soundtracks, watch the films, and read the book.
And fingers crossed (although highly unlikely) that the above picture can become reality this time around!!!
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Zeus, the Greek god of Gods. Ruler of Mt Olympus. God of the sky. Bearer of the thunderbolt. About to be played by Liam Neeson. Very now, in the then.
Zeus, the Toronto four piece. Melders of extreme influences - Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Syd Barrett, John and Paul. Purveyors of immaculate denim and moustaches a la The Band. Very then, in the now.
Zeus are (as is the way right now) splashing South By South West in sepia tones and fire tinged edges, in their first stage of taking over the world and dragging it back 30 years, into a world of 'classical' rock pop. Chaperoned by Broken Social Scene collaborator and influential singer/songwriter Jason Collett, the band, the core dreamings of kindred spirits Mike O'Brien and Carlin Nicholson, Zeus aim to bridge the Pro Tools era of now to the days of achingly simple harmonies and 45s. The guys dont have plans to tour Europe or the UK any time soon - slowly but surely - but it certainly is refreshing (?) hearing these vintage sounds in such a lovingly and engaging manner.
Zeus - The Sound of You
The Album Leaf have been a stalwart of the post-rock/folk/art trail for many years and many releases now. The brainchild of Jimmy LaValle, Album Leaf have been very prolific, releasing all kinds of LPs, EPs, singles, remixes... Their latest, A Chorus of Storytellers, continues their journey of folktronic introspectiveness. Whilst he has carved his niche into the sonic specturm and doesnt have to offer anything new, the album still strives to offer more, with Sigur Ros-consigned swirling etherealness and Explosions in the Sky-like spidery guitarwork transcending the simplistic compositions on display.
They are also playing at the prestigious Bush Hall tonight - hope you have some tickets burnt into those clammy hands of yours! (Unless you are going to Thee Mt Silver Zion at the Electric Ballroom - in that case, more than fair enough - if not, then any excuse is no excuse!!!)
Album Leaf - Stand Still
Holy Fuck were one of my favourite aspects of The Breeders curated ATP last May. Their self titled LP is also a cracker. So I am elated to be able to share with you the first 'cut' from their follow up album. They tore SXSW apart, and their ascendency looks set to continue unabated. Enjoy!
Holy Fuck - Latin America
Monday, 22 March 2010
White Fence is dirty. Murky. Muddy. Totally immersed in the lo-fi movement. A hell of a lot of fun, of course. And all the concoction of one man - Tim Presley. He's just released his debut 12" through Make A Mess Recordings. It intrigues me - as I mentioned, White Fence is a lot of fun - but Im not sure if it is necessarily any good, particularly in the context of what precedes it - so many bands are already doing this. Anyway, check it out yourself.
White Fence - Destroy Everything
Fair Ohs and a Leeds outfit Spectrals have a new split 7" out today on Tough Love. The perfect mini soundtrack with Spring finally poking its head above winter's parapet (maybe Brendan will even stop moaning about the weather now!) Spectrals have long coveted my attention and Fair Ohs' itchy reverb drenched afro-punk went down a treat when we saw them at Rest is Noise a few weeks ago. Here is one track to lure you in, three more await you on the 7". As good as daffs!
Fair Ohs - Hey Lizzy
More of that 'heavy shoegaze that's emerging from Chicago' I mentioned in my Implodes post on Friday. It seemed rather unfair not to post about Disappears. Not sure if this really fits the shoegaze mold but molds are made to be broken, eh? The Chicago foursome have just finished a tour with Tortoise, no less, and are about to roll out with the previously mentioned Woven Bones. Album Lux is out in April I think. Check their blog here
Disappears - Lux
Double Dagger have a new E.P. Masks coming out today. Also They've just posted a bunch of dates in May to support their new E.P. Happy Days!
Wed 12th May - UK - Nottingham - Spanky Van Dykes
Thu 13th May - UK - Leeds - Nation Of Shopkeepers
Fri 14th May - UK - Sheffield - Bungalows and Bears
Sat 15th May - UK - London - The Rest Is Noise
Sun 16th May - UK - Bristol - Start the Bus
Mon 17th May - UK - Cardiff - Arts Centre
Tue 18th May - UK - London - Cargo
Wed 19th May - Ireland - Dublin - Whelans
Double Dagger - Pillow Talk
They are playing the Half Moon on April 18, and are bound to be touring around summer, so immerse yourselves in Air Formation's aural beauty.
Air Formation - Stars & Knives
Air Formation - Three Years Pass
I love being struck dumb by a beautiful woman wielding the weapon of music. It happens on a fairly regular basis for me - what can I say, Im a romanticist at heart (...ahem...) Zola Jesus is my current favourite. The pseudonym for Nika Roza Danilova, also known for her cathartic work with Former Ghosts, Zola Jesus offers moody meanderings interspersed with shimmering atmospherics, booming bass drums and her iconic voice coming out of the ether. Her Stridulum EP is a cracker, a genuine step up from her two albums The Spoils (Out on Sacred Bones) and Tsar Bomba (on Troubleman Unlimited), both out last year. Zola Jesus - the siren that will lure my ship onto the rocks...
Zola Jesus - I Can't Stand It
Sunday, 21 March 2010
Errors were one of the first signing to Mogwai's impressive Rock Action Records. They are a Glaswegian 4 piece whose brand of "post-electro" has impressed many a fan since their inception in 2004. They released Come Down With Me last month, an album that not only confirms their status as one of the premier acts in their genre, but shows a level of confidence and ingenuity that not only allows for exciting times ahead, but for the future of instrumental rock. Although comparisons with the likes of Battles aren't exactly unfounded, Errors are their own wild beast, and one that are nigh on impossible to resist their charms.
Errors toured here earlier this month (sadly I missed their Scala show), but are likely to be back soon. Also check out their physical releases - Errors and Rock Action put a lot of effort into their vinyl. Anyway, here's the opening track off Come Down With Me.
Errors - Bridge or Cloud?
Scotland indie music is full of fare that are varying degrees of doom and gloom - or so the critics would have you believe. And they are differing degrees of quality - for every Twilight Sad, you get a Glasvegas. So I was rather surprised when Glasgow-via-Edinburgh's We Were Promised Jetpacks' new EP The Last Place You'll Ever Look crossed my desk. The name struck fear into my heart - shit, do we have another musically talented but socially and personally vapid bunch like...I dont know, Glasvegas? All worries were promptly dispelled however - the EP is an accomplished affair, and somewhat rare - at this point in time the lads only plan to physically put it out as a tour only offer, although it will become available digitally in due course. They have now piqued my interest - the quality on show here highlights why they are supporting the likes of Frightened Rabbit - and worth your while to check em out.
We Were Promised Jetpacks - A Far Cry
Having culled current and former members from the likes of Isis, Halifax Pier and Neurosis, Red Sparowes goes to great pains to distance itself from those popular merchants of doom. And for the most part, it’s right to disassociate itself from the propulsive assault—the post-rock band’s most dramatic moments arrive in undulating waves rather than crashing full bore on the listener’s head. The band takes a page from Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor's epic soundtracks and marries them to the sinister buzz of early Sonic Youth for a uniquely disquieting sound.
I came to these guys via viral association - whereby a search engine or site (think Amazon) gives you recommendations based on what you have viewed/bought (an article on this 'phenomenon' to follow soon...). This was one of the few they got right.
Red Sparowes are about to launch their 3rd LP, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer. Produced by Toshi Kasai (Tool, Melvins), who also engineered their Aphorisms EP of 2008 (released as a 12" in 2009), the album promises to be a progression on their pursuit of the perfect balance of darkness and light. Expect an album review in the upcoming weeks. While you wait (hopefully in anticipation), sample a track from it below.
Red Sparowes - In Every Mind
Standard Fare are currently assaulting South By South West in Austin, Texas, one of the many bands trying to make an impression on the pundits, critics, labels and scouts that flood the sleepy US town every March. The Sheffield three piece are well prepared, going armed with their sunny power pop that has the ability to light up the darkest dankest beer-stained tavern. They are bound to make many a new friend, what with their electric and jubilant live shows and the dropping of their debut LP, The Noyelle Beat, next week. They are also doing an extensive tour of the UK over the summer.
Standard Fare - Dancing
Saturday, 20 March 2010
Quasi have been around for quite a while, having put out various sized and themed releases through Kill Rock Stars and and Touch and Go. They are also the "side project" of Heatmiser's Sam Coombes and Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, ably supported on this album, American Gongs, by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks' Joanna Bolme. Of course Quasi has outlasted both of those outfits (especially regrettable in Sleater-Kinney's case), but they have remained a niche oddity rather than a supergroup of sorts.
This is all about to change with this album. And they are actually touring it rather than sticking to Portland gigs, which will do much for their rotation. The album finally showcases Coombes' supreme axemanship and Weiss' authoritative drumming, and is further augmented by the fact that American Gongs is a proper album, with well constructed and cohesive songs. The Lee Ranaldo sounding "Little White Horse" and bluesy barroom glitter of "Rockabilly Party" show the band at its best sans the long workout jams (which are a treat live), whilst "The Jig Is Up" and "Everything And Nothing At All" denote their mournful, whiskey-soaked side. Quasi are a band that deserve to be noted - not just due to the superior musicianship of the parties involved, but to the fact that they are a fucking good band.
Quasi - Little White Horse
Quasi - Rockabilly Party
Its amazing to see the tidal surge of lo-fi acts getting major cred in the music industry in the past year. Industry buzz, combined with the ever expanding reach and power of the internet as a means of promoting music, has allowed many a bedroom swamp dweller to four track their way to semi-acknowledgement. A quick look at the bands swinging by Austin, Texas this month for the South By Southwest Festival is testament to the fact that scuzzy garage guitars, surf rock tendencies and 60s chamber pop sensibilities are, like, so ‘in’. And whilst I may say all of this slightly tongue in cheek, I am happy for this occurrence to be taking place, as there is a high percentage of good acts being discovered just through their mere association with the bandwagon juggernaut.
One band that seems to be riding the very crest of this tidal surge is the Dum Dum Girls. Growing from the solo thrashings of singer/guitarist/ Dee Dee, the past year has shown a meteoric rise for the now four piece group, as members from Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts (two bands firmly entrenched in this world) have helped Dum Dum Girls crawl from the sea, develop limbs and opposable thumbs, and consequently attempt to take over the world, a lo-fi Godzilla.
At least, this is what much of the media hype surrounding them would have you believe.
In actual fact, Dum Dum Girls is still a band in its infancy, and its an enjoyable childhood to adolescence to adulthood experience to watch. Having released a series of singles and mixtapes for the likes of Captured Tracks and Zoo Music, Dee Dee has gradually expanded on her pop-punk romanticisms to include more bombast, more grrl riot, and a lot more melody.
Which brings us to I Will Be, the official debut album by the Girls out on Subpop Records. It is the first recording where Dee Dee has put music to tape with her bandmates in mind, and it shows. Aided by friends in high places (Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs lends a hand on the album; Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez turns up for a duet), a masterstroke of a producer (pensmith of My Boyfriend’s Back and purveyor of gems from Blondie, The Voivoids and The Raveonettes, Richard Gottehrer) and a strong label showing full unabashed support (Subpop being the seminal logo it is, its nigh on impossible to get better publicity), this is a diamond in the (surprisingly not so) rough.
Opening track “It Only Takes One Night” is a clear indicator of things to come. It is vintage Dum Dums, and vintage Gottehrer – gone is more of that fuzzy hazy sound that is synonymous with compatriots Vivian Girls, and in comes a sound more in line with the 60s girl rock groups and early punk rockers that the band clearly emulates. The reverb, cool but tough vocals, insistent rhythm section – it is the Raveonettes’ seminal Whip It On era noir pop, a decade on. Other songs, such as “Bhang Bhang, Im A Burnout” and “Oh Mein Me” show the sunny Shangri-Las influence in heavy repose. Dee Dee doesn’t change anything she has done in the past, with each song sticking to its purpose, eleven songs in total, only two breaking the three minute barrier. It is also great to hear a clearer version of two earlier Dum Dums tracks, “Jail La La” and the aforementioned Dee Dee/Welchez duet “Blank Girl”.
And it is this that makes the difference, and indeed makes this album more than just a sum of its parts. Gottehrer’s involvement is a masterstroke, providing the materials and know-how necessary to bring Dee Dee’s vocals to the forefront, distinguishing each instrument, and effectively bringing the Girls out of the garage and into the spotlight. I Will Be is what many others in this newly minted throwback genre have aspired to create – a true representation of ‘that 60s sound’, an honest homage, and a refreshing reinterpretation. These girls ain’t so dum(b) after all.
Friday, 19 March 2010
The start of this year has been a bit hit and miss for me on the music front, don't get me wrong there's been some great albums out in the first three months of the year but when I look back at the start of 2009 I realise just how high a pedestal 2010 had to reach. One album that really set 2009 off to a blinding, crashing, hammering start was the debut 12" from Action Beat, The Noise Band From Bletchley. So good I bought it twice!
More a force of nature than a band, the ever expanding and contracting Action Beat are truly, the epitome of the word 'awesome' live. The torrent of noise crashes over you with the force of an apocalyptic hurricane, braking bones and winning hearts and thing is, you'll love it, you'll lap it up, even though it hurts. Wrapping you up in their man made maelstrom of raw energy this really is a band who want it hard, fast, epic and fun.
On record the Action Beat don't let up with the torrent, but form a tighter, more cohesive whole, binding their unstoppable force to hit home with a focused barrage of energy. If they do ever pause, its only to hit you harder.
Last year I was lucky enough to catch Action Beat twice at 113 and Baldwin's Boudoir, Dalston. It might of destroyed me but both times I would of happily gone for back more and more.
The next opportunity you'll have to chatch Action Beat live in London is at the Blues Kitchen with the ever mighty That Fucking Tank as part of the Camden Crawl, it 'll be a good way to go out!
Action Beat - Le Chap
Action Beat - Manic Face
Another band to open my ears recently, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets. This is heavy, psychedelic grind, like the rumble of a on-rushing train, bound maybe for Mexico from Missouri. Their 7" Room 8 - Swingin' Vine, came out earlier this month.
Jerusalem and the Starbasket - Gulf of Mexico
The fuzzy Chicago quartet Implodes have been floating around blog land recently, and thier track Meadowlands has been burying me neck deep in its dark, scary shoegaze fuzz for a while. Dark is the word here, like the rumble and hum of an oncoming swarm. Implodes push a haunted brand of the heavy shoegaze that's emerging from Chicago at the moment. I wait with bated breath for more.
Implodes - Meadowlands
It's Friday, so time for a cover. I have to admit a good indie cover is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, so each Friday, just because, I'm going to pop a 'good' indie cover version. Now it could be debatable that the indie cover version is anything but cheesy, so I have some simple principles to what defines a 'good indie cover song'.
1. The cover must be of a recognizable song, otherwise, what's the point?
2. The covering band must add something to the track that the original never had, otherwise, again, what's the point?
3. And finally, it's got to be fun. No one likes a band taking a cover too seriously, 'cos then they're just like those shit cover bands down the local pub who think they're God's gift to music. Genius never rubs off.
So to kick us off below is a excellent example of a great indie cover, from the much missed Dustin's Bar Mitzvah (subject of future post, I promise). Thank fuck its Friday, enjoy!
Total Eclipse Of The Heart - Dustin's Bar Mitzvah
When I first heard this track, it was early 2006 and I was trawling the internet, settling on the Subpop website for the first time in quite a while. It was a revelatory hour or so for me, as I also discovered bands like Rogue Wave, The Helio Sequence, Holopaw and Fruit Bats. But it was The Funeral that caught me, and still does to this day. Its simple melancholic guitar plaintively screams BALLAD!, and yet as soon as Ben Bridwell opens his mouth I was stricken. The production is glossy and seamless, the entire musical palette on hand permeating the speakers to overtake your senses, happily in awe at a song that indelibly is invoking the inevitablity of a funeral.
Honestly, I cant remember a song that I played over and over consecutively on first listen as I did that day. Liars' Scissor has been the pick thus far this year, and even so I only listened to it five or so times before plugging it in with the rest of my playlist, waiting eagerly for Sisterworld's imminent release.
Even so, when they toured Australia at the eve of that year, I opted not to see them, instead spending my hard earned dough on Tapes 'n' Tapes and the Mountain Goats. I am yet to see Band of Horses - and wont see them this time around either (the April 12 show at KOKO already sold out, and the June 9 show at the Roundhouse selling fast). Still, all I need is my headphones and the epic production values that make this song positively shimmer, despite its subject matter, and Im golden.
Band of Horses - The Funeral
Thursday, 18 March 2010
Hortlax Cobra. Good name. It is the side project of John Eriksson, of Peter Bjorn and John fame. Not so good name (or band). Hey they are OK - that whistling song was catchy, before driving many to suicide due to ridiculous over rotation and product placement overdrive - but I like the new sound a little more. Its got a definite Kraftwerk/Notwist sound to it - it is ultra simplistic - and its a little innocent in its lustrous wonder. Eriksson claims that Hortlax Cobra is a futuristic pop/art amalgam, and that he was inspired by paintings, collages and sketch drawings when creating these sounds. Definitely worth checking out, that's for sure.
Hortlax Cobra - This Time That's It
Pivot are one of my favourite Australian acts out there at the moment. They are good friends with my best mate's brother (who was their photographer back in their Sydney days), and they have relocated to London (along with another amazingly unique Aussie outfit, Snowman), and they are amazingly affable chaps that are brilliant at what they do - tight, atmospheric, damn catchy indie electronica rock.
Furthermore, Pivot - Pike brothers, guitar guru Richard and drumming demon Laurence, and electronomaniac and all round nice guy Dave Millar - are currently putting the final touches on their 3rd LP, following up the out-of-nowhere explosively impressive Make Me Love You and the assured brilliance of follow-up O Soundtrack My Heart.
Laurence will also feature on a Bill Callahan live CD where he took over drumming tour duties.
They are truly special - their gig at Hoxton Bar and Grill in May last year was a ephemeral sweatbox of writhing limbs - and will be touring again soonish. They are currently doing SXSW (arent they all?) plus scoring support slots for the likes of Morning Teleportation, Nice Nice, You Say Party! We Say Die!, and the impressive Quasi. They need to be heard (and seen) to be believed.
I will do an album retrospective of them soon (I am that keen for people to start listening to them...), but for now here are two remixes the boys have laid down in the past few months. The first was done for Warp Records 20th anniversary, a reimagining of Grizzly Bear's 'Colorado' off their Yellow House record. The 2nd is an example of probably the ONLY time you will see the Temper Trap mentioned on our blog. Not that they are deplorable - not just my cup of tea. Pivot makes them palatable here though - especially around the 2 and a 1/2 minute mark - quintessential Pivot. More to come!!!!!
Grizzly Bear - Colorado (Pivot remix)
Temper Trap - Fader (Pivot remix)
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Two gigs in succession. Not that big a deal - Ive done 5 gigs in 7, plus Glastonbury, plus ATPs etc etc... But when you have a bad back, any length of time standing can be quite difficult, regardless of its purpose. Last night it was Mono, which was truly an aural experience that justified the pain suffered afterwards. Knowing I was backing up though, I took some anti-inflammatories and some steel will and roll along to Embankment.
Heaven, a well-known gay club under the arches just off Embankment Tube, has opened up to live music bills of late, in an attempt to make itself a musical mecca on the London live scene. With the likes of Deerhunter, Holy Fuck, A Place To Bury Strangers, Surfer Blood, Caribou and Broken Social Scene playing there in upcoming months, it certainly is booking well. Furthermore, the venue itself lends to an amazing concert vibe - cavernous arena, high stage, light show already in place, amazing sound system... And although the drinks were steep, I am impressed with what can happen here.
I wander in, Red Stripe in hand, just in time for Josiah Wolf to sit himself down at the drum kit which is set up surreptitiously at the front of the stage. Drummer for headlining act WHY?, Wolf's stripped back folksy kitsch is quite far removed from his day job, although it holds some of that wit and charm. Its a short set, made up of only three tracks from his debut album Jet Lag and a couple of covers, but as he stated in the beginning, 'Im just gonna settle you into the evening before we take things up a little.' He served his purpose well.
Next up is Popular Damage. I knew nothing of this threesome before they came onstage, although they have done a remix of an XX track which they played halfway through the set, and have remixed Digitalism and Tegan & Sara in the past also. They definitely show a lot of promise - something akin to Chew Lips, although nowhere near as shit - but I came away thinking that it all was a bit too busy. So many sounds were being thrown into the mix that although the songs were catchy in parts, they didnt add up as a whole. Overall, space was needed, something that the listener can get a grapple of. As it was, Potential Damage put on an energetic show - vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist/effectist (see what I mean?) Nadine was having such a good time on stage that you couldnt help but get into it also - but for me, they showed a lot of potential, but didnt provide the damage their moniker suggested.
Third on the bill was Berlin's I Might Be Wrong. The five piece evoke mid 90s indie pop rock, and whilst their influences come across as rather obvious, it is not detrimental in the slightest. Singer Lisa appears demure and yet assured as the frontperson, her vocals soaring hauntingly throughout the tapestry painted by the other bandmates. The band dynamic on stage was strange - the bass and guitar being put at the back - it detracted from the set only a little, as the band went through a tight track list mostly from current LP Circle The Yes. An enjoyable gig from a band I endeavour to find out more about - maybe as soon as I get home...
It isnt long before headliners WHY? storm the stage. The band are quite large in their home country, and tonight it shows - it feels like Ive walked into an American college student union from the accents that surround me. The threesome have swelled out to five - and again the guitarist and bassist are relegated to back of the stage, this time to accomodate for keyboardist Doug, drummer Josiah and frontman (and Josiah's brother) Jonathan 'Yoni' Wolf. The man is a quivering ball of energy, prowling the stage as he breaks into first song 'The Hollow'. WHY? play tracks off a number of their albums, not relying on their more indie and laid back current LP Eskimo Snow. And it is clear from the crowd that they know what their public want. The band is a weird hybrid, with Doug's Wurlitzer and effects pedals, combining with Josiah's drumming and occasional glockenspielling, intermingling with spiky and controlled fretwork at the back, augmenting Yoni's quasi-rapping rants and quirky movements (kissing his fist; walking like a penguin; roundhouse kicks). He is an uber geeky hip-hop genius, with his storytelling evoking a weird marriage of the Hold Steady and KRS-1 (not that they sound like either...), and their sound changes from generic college indie to more elegaic folk to more frenetic compositions... Overall though it is a huge amount of fun, and is musically accomplished to boot. There is a lot of fist pumping and lyric shouting around me in the crowd tonight, and although I couldnt claim to have the back catalogue knowledge of those diehards, I was sad to see the lights come up at the end of the set - bad back or no bad back...
Forest Swords is a one man band - an enigmatic producer and musician who hunkers down out Wirral/Liverpool way. His musical leanings are indicative of his geography - the dark stringwork and guitar at times akin to F@A! era Godspeed! You Black Emperor, reverb soaked vocals, dub-step sampling, tribal drums, all providing a cold, enveloping presence. Its actually quite brilliant. He has just released his first LP, Dagger Paths, which includes this amazing cut, 'If Your Girl', which according to the Fader is an Aaliyah cover. Interesting. He also put out a mixtape, which had remixes of Burial+Four Tet and Wild Beasts, which is well worth a listen. I really really like this album - source it out. Its haunting and quite dark, yet utterly addictive. Also below is one of a 'triptych' of Forest Swords' videos, all available on Vimeo.
Forest Swords - If Your Girl
So we come to January 2010, when it is announced that Mono would be playing the Scala in March. I scrambled for my tickets, thinking that they would sell like hotcakes. Which surprised me so much when, last night, there were many a punter lining up to buy tickets at the door. My exasperation needed to be quickly doused by a feverish scull of an alcoholic beverage. But no biggie - I would finally be seeing them tonight, and they wil be great...they will be great...
And how. Their set being cut down to their more intimate, straightforward style - Takaakira and Yoda (guitar) bookending Tamaki (bass) out front, with the drum kit and imperial gong that is the domain of Yasunori holding proceedings at the back. Fully clad in black ( as always - I have not seen a picture of them since their genesis in any other colour), they ambled onstage to much acclaim, giving small bows before starting into one of the most sonically immersive performance you could ever hope to participate in. It is almost impossible to describe a Mono gig (or indeed any of their ilk - Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai comes to mind) in normal musical terms, as their 'set' is not easy to define. Although it is clear that they play seven songs all up, made most clear by the short breaks in between (funnily enough), the songs are placed in order to evoke an emotion - to cast a spell. Indeed, the crowd were in total thrall, allowing each song to build up in increments, the guitarists either seated on chairs or hunched over their effects pedals, Tamaki swaying softly as her bass drove these musical behemoths forwards, Yasunori dutifully tying everything together at the back. And when each song exploded - as Mono songs are wont to do - its not so much a release, as a realisation; an epiphany. This is heavy music, but not as you know it. It is beautiful - it is cathartic - it is dark, and yet golden. When Takaakira and Yoda meet together with their squalling distorted guitars, its like two massive acts of Mother Nature coming together as one, leaving everyone dumbstruck. The fact that any song could not stand out as a highlight is a testament, not to the mediocrity, but to the attitude of the songs - that they all informed each other, so that it was an experience rather than a series of songs like your average set list. Meticulously and emotionally performed, all without a single word spoken - a truly amazing gig.
Now with the gig over, Im not sure what to do with myself. I still rue the lost opportunity of missing Mono on their 'birthday', but am filed with awe at the display that I have just been privy to. They move on to storm the world once more, touring relentlessly. And it wont be that long before they are back, Im sure - that is, if you can wait that long. Im not sure that I - or anyone who witnessed them tonight - can.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Josiah Wolf - The Trailer and the Truck
Josiah Wolf - The Apart Meant
Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra, in all its guises (A Silver Mt. Zion/The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band/Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir/Thee Silver Mountain Reveries), have struggled to get the acclaim that they most rightly deserve. The sole reason why is due to Silver Mt Zion (as they'll be referred to for the rest of this review) being formed by Efrim Menuck. Who? Just one of the core members of the seminal underground instrumental rock giants Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Mt Silver Zion was initially formed in 1999 so that Menuck could learn how to score music and do his own thing. Now, five albums in, has he and his collective managed to sneak out of his former band's all-encompassing shadow?
Whilst initially the band followed Godspeed's process of using samples instead of proper vocals to drive their compositions, Menuck has grown into a very comfortable leading man, his vocals (and indeed his music) moving forth at a great, and somewhat frenetic, rate. So much has been made of the evolution of this band , and indeed Menuck's vocals/lyrics, due to their genesis that it is often difficult to distinguish between the disappointed and the petty, the believers and the haters. And whilst the most notable difference in the two bands' sound are the vocals, and they have never been more prevalent than on new LP Kollaps Tradixionales, this is just one of many differences to Mt Silver Zion and their new album that not only makes them unique, but makes them an exciting and relevant band on their own merits.
'There Is A Light' is the most epic track on the album, and also serves as its opener, showing the ambition and grandiosity that have been mainstays of the band since their inception. What we also get is what I (and I imagine many Silver Mt Zion fans) have wanted in a while - an amalgam of the graceful soaring compositions of their earlier releases combining with their more angular and angry rock jams of latter years. So in the opening track we see the music rise and fall, an ebb and flow that reaches higher highs and lower lows with each try, yet never losing sight of its message of hope and self-worth. It is a truly beautiful piece of work, and as the strings, brass and percussion intermingle even four minutes into the 15 minute showcase the listener is in awe, showing that Menuck certainly has grown as a composer over the past decade.
It must be said though that this band is still very much the Rock Band that Menuck has been pushing it towards, as is evidenced by the new addition of tight drummer David Payant, and he is put to work on the next 'piece', the one two punch of 'I Built Myself A Metal Bird' and 'I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings Of Metal Birds', a dystopic maelstrom of grinding exultation, Menuck's creaky wail a constant throughout, ranting at us:
That little star went out,
Your little eyes went out...
Luckily for you, you can see it in all its glory at Camden's Electric Ballroom next week, Tuesday 23rd March. Tickets are selling fast. It truly will be a sight to behold, so have a taste below.
Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra - There Is A Light
Ive been intending to post about the Morning Benders since I received their Big Echo LP some weeks ago. It is quite brilliant. In only the third month of 2010, I already have a bevy of brilliant albums kicking around my headspace - Fang Island has been a particular favourite - but Big Echo may just be pipping them all. Their big sunny dreamy slacker surf pop anthems are a true antidote to a lot of the 'downer' music that is in vogue at the moment - and also (almost) washes the bad taste out of the mouth that is Vampire Weekend or Weezer's Raditude. I want my indie pop to shimmer, radiate, enrapture, infiltrate. I want to tap my toes and move my head unknowingly. I want to wake up in the morning, look out at a sunny vista, put on the headphones and know that today is going to be a fucking awesome day. Morning Benders will do all that for you with Big Echo, in spades. No hangover - just drinks in the park, in the sun, all day every day.
PLUS - the rumours are that these guys will be hitting our shores in the midst of summer Festivus madness - I wouldnt want it any other way!
Morning Benders - Excuses
Monday, 15 March 2010
Another Austin trio doing the rounds in blog land at the moment. Pure Ecstasy push a lo-fi, reverb-heavy, cavernous sound. The vocal seems to almost roll in from across a heat haze soaked landscape almost choking you with it's eventual thickness. If you're lucky enough to be going to going to SXSW them you can can't them there. The 7" Voices/Alexandria single on March 23rd on Acephale Records.
Voices - Pure Ecstasy
In Brendan's review of Dum Dum Girls gig a few weeks ago he mentioned comparisons to The Raveonettes. Almost in a response they've put this cover out... Great minds think a like?
Heart Of Stone (Raveonettes Cover) - Dum Dum Girls
Jersey's Titus Andronicus have reached ambitiously for the stars on their second LP, The Monitor. With a running theme of the American Civil War (a bloody theme that certainly has ties with their moniker, taken from the incredibly violent Shakespearean play of the same name), the band have strived hard to expand upon their propensity to display their literary influences whilst rocking out with distorted guitar interplay and punk vocals. They have had to weather both 'Next Big Thing' status and the disdain that comes with such a title, and are now ready to unleash themselves on their own terms. Its a great cohesive effort, and where in other hands may have been an unconsidered mess, The Monitor, regardless of its collective theme, is a great rollicking record.
Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union