SHORT & SWEET
Fallen Leaves - 'That's Right' (Parliament Records 2009)
The opening guitar riff - a cheeky little quote from the Who's 'Anyway, anyhow, anywhere' - sets the tone for the latest Fallen Leaves album. If you want half-an-hour of expertly crafted riffs & jangles, backed by a tight, pounding rhythm section, check this out. Its a generally fast & urgent ride, driven hard by Rob Symmons' wondrous guitar playing. The album abounds with sharp & clever arrangements & riffs, showing that yer trad beat group can still master a variety of sounds & textures. There's a nice interplay between lead & backing vocals too - and maybe a few more subtle Who references (an occasional Daltrey-style stammer, for example). I'm sure I detect a few 'Happy Jack' style 'la-la-la's' on 'Is She Somewhere'. Really, anything here could find a place on something like 'Nuggets' - but with its own distinctly British feel. No fake American accents for these guys.
The Fallen Leaves are as West London as Shepherds Bush Market or a traffic jam in Wandsworth, & their sound is based on the kind of mid-60's punchy, economical garage-type rock that ruled the area then, through groups like the Who & Small Faces - as well as people like the Action, Downliners Sect, the Creation, Yardbirds, & Garry Farr & the T-bones. Their ideal gig would probably be at somewhere like the Toby Jug in Tolworth on a hot summer night in 1966. 'Vendetta' cunningly references that year's Batman theme (as covered by the Who, naturally). 'The International Brigade' (as referenced in the back-cover artwork) gives deserved respect to the guys who were on the right side in the Spanish Civil War, & boasts a fine guitar fade-out.
The sound's clear & sharp, without any fuss or polish - very much like the Fallen Leaves live, in fact. I saw them several times last year *recognize a couple of these songs from the live sets - but most of the songs here are new to me.
'When you're gone' slows things down, to bring it all back home at the album. Sure, its on the short side - but no-one's wanting or expecting a double concept album or 20 minute solos from Fallen Leaves. Equally, there are any number of classic Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Clash albums clocking in around the thirty minute mark.
Its very much a case of what you see with the Leaves, and this album does indeed do exactly what it says on the tin - a cool, consistent blast of garage-flavored rock, lovingly & economically rendered. Once again, the Fallen Leaves show they deserve their place in the great history of the West London music scene.
And, do I get a prize? - This is a rare Fallen Leaves review that doesn't mention Subway Sect - til now, that is...
BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE - 'Who Killed Sgt Pepper?' (A Records, 2010) + "One" ep" My Bloody Underground" (A records 2009)
Although they've been going for nigh on 20 years, Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) are probably best known from the excellent 'Dig!' film a few years back. Their trademark sound is a dense, swirling contemporary psychedelia - think MBV/Spacemen 3 time-travelling to drop acid with the Stones & the Velvet Underground in 1966. Typically, though Anton Newcombe - the group's main writer/singer/guiding light - in his Mr Contrary mode, didn't like the film at all & claimed he was manipulated & misled in order to present a pre-determined story, contrasting strung-out untogether losers BJM with up & coming bright young things, the Dandy Warhols (anyone heard of them lately?!? No, didn't think so). Anyway, I can't help having a soft spot for a group who, until recently, had their entire back catalogue available for free on their website - which pretty much sums up their relationship to the music biz or minor considerations like making a living.
They're an awesomely prolific group too, with vast slew of albums behind them, the latest - 'Who Killed Sgt Pepper?' - following hot on the heels of last year's overlooked 'My Bloody Underground'.
There is undeniably a Marmite/love 'em or hate 'em quality to the group. At times the mantric trippy drone malfunctions & is just monotonous, & Anton's voice is no thing of beauty, although its usually well suited to the mood of the music. He's always been quite upfront about the group's inspirations - the classic 60's psychedelic era, punk attitude, Joy Division/post-punk, and even a dash of shoe-gazing - but sometimes this can just turn into 'spot the influence/reference'. Albums are generally a tad too long - there's usually one crap track - & the obsession with wacky titles doesn't always work (e.g. 'Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills Peg'?! Why do that when titles like 'Strung Out in Heaven' are so much cooler?)
Well, hopefully that's dealt with the opposition, because otherwise the BJM are a formidable sound, playing an ageless trans-generational psychedelia, like waves in a sea-shell. The new one - 'Who Killed Sgt Pepper?' - is their best album in years, just over an hour of swirling shimmering dronefest. The opening track. 'Tempo 116.7/Dangerous Levels of Sobriety' (titles again!) is a distant descendant of songs like 'Baby You're a Rich Man', with its dense mix of distorted sounds. Things take a slight detour for the riffy 'Tunger Hnifur' & good old terrace favourite 'Let's Go Fucking Mental' (no joke! but the Shed Boys never had tabla & sitar). After that we're back with deepy trancy drones, pulsing bass, a woman's voice floats in & out of the mix with 'This is the First of Your Last Warnings' & 'This is the One Thing We Did Not Want to Happen'. The vibe deepens with the fuzzed out distortion of 'The One' & the paranoid druggy atmosphere of 'Someplace Else Unknown'. 'Super F****d' lives up to its name, before rounding off with sky-burner 'Feel it' & 'Felt Tipped Pictures of UFO's', a real change of mood & pace, ten minutes of ambient loops mixed with John Lennon's famous 'Jesus Interview' & sundry other voices.
As the Sgt Pepper referencing title hints, in a lot of ways this album's an exploration of what original 60's psyche - oriental strings, sitar, tablas - might sound like with modern technology - loops, samples - & drugs thrown into the mix, plus the knowledge of all the weirdness that's gone down since the halcyon summer of Sgt Pepper in 1967. This release was preceded by an ep, 'One', which is worth checking out/selectively downloading for an album out-take, 'Bruttermania' & a different version of 'This is the First Warning'.
Anyway, it must be a first for two successive BJM albums to be on the same label (their anarchic multi-label back catalogue is a collector's dream) - last year's 'My Bloody Underground' seemed to slip by almost unnoticed, which is a shame. As the title implies, the musical focus this time is the fascinating early 90's era when My Bloody Valentine & especially the 'Loveless' album were a huge influence, & as the MDMA crossover between dance & indie started to really bear fruit. It’s another long album - nearly 90 minutes - with the characteristic blend of spaced-out vocals & deeply layered psyche backdrop. Personally I prefer the new one, but there are still some fine tracks here, particularly towards the end. And of course. some sublime & some ridiculous song-titles! Apart from the Paul Mac one, we get 'Who F*cking Pissed in My Well' (nice tablas though), strung-out comedown tale 'Just Like Kicking Jesus', & 'We Are the N*ggers of the World' (which turns out to be a terribly tasteful piano instrumental).
Tracks like 'Who Cares Why' are archetypal BJM fuzz-tone freakouts, but its from 'Automatic Faggot for the People' (yeah, I know,,,) that things start to really gel. The next track, 'Darkware Driver/Big Drill Car', sounds like the Shadows on ketamine, before the drugs start to really kick in with 'Monkey Powder'. Final track 'Black Hole Symphony' (wonder who thought of that title first?) is another ten minute warped fade-out.
In some ways BJM are like an American counterpart to the mighty Fall - though not in direct musical terms - with charismatic, visionary, erratic mainman Anton Newcombe accompanied by any number of different members over two decades, encompassing any number of styles of music, & a chaotic back catalogue - not to mention a commitment to endless touring (endless Australian tour at time of writing). Whatever - take a listen, and surrender to the drone...
DEPTFORD BEACH BABES - "Sunbathing on a vinyl floor" (Rim 2010)
Winter blues getting you down? Well, here's a musical cure for S.A.D. from the Deptford Beach Babes. Brevity might be an unknown concept to the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but here we're back to a tight, focussed little album of surf rock & more. The Beach Babes clearly love the classic twang & vibrato of surf music, & its legendary elders like Dick Dale. There's a few other cool influences going on too, especially a kinda Calexico/Latin feel to some of the best tracks, like "Laga Beach", "B-Feeling" & "Finlandia 5-0".
Otherwise, "Vahim" maintains the tradition of great surf instrumentals, while there are some really good songs too, like "Floored" & "Gypsy Temptress". There are also a couple of cover versions - Dionne Warwick's "Walk on by" & Nina Simone's "I put a spell on you" - I can imagine these tracks working great as live numbers, but they don't really work here for me, they've been covered so many times before.
There weren't too many waves or beaches last time I was round Deptford, but it doesn't matter when you love the music - and have a sense of humour - like the Deptford Beach Babes. If you need a warming sound & something to put a smile on your face on a cold day, check this out.
THe DBB are Ella Guru, Charley Stone, Jane Ruby, Vivki Churchill, Surfer Simon + some like-minded guests.
This is a follow-up to their 2006 Rim debut, "Hawaii SE8" I'm sure they're a great live experience (judging by some of their myspace photos), & they've got dates at:
Feb 20th - The Grosvenor, 17 Sidney Road, Stockwell SW9
Mar 11th - album launch at The Stag's Head, 55 Orsman Rd, N1 (Old St tube)
Reviewed by Den